Saturday, October 31, 2009


A week from today I'm supposed to share some trenchant, cogent, or at least consecutive thoughts in response to a paper to be delivered at the Tennessee Philosophical Association's annual meeting in Nashville. conference program

It pleases me that a scheduling conflict is moving the meeting out of Vanderbilt's Furman Hall, my old grad school stomping ground, into Sarratt Student Center, my other old Vandy "missing years" stomping ground. (Best job ever: "Night Manager"... but that's another story.)

The paper's thesis: psychological continuity may not be enough to establish personal identity and stable selfhood. "If psychological continuity is sparse," writes my colleague Andrew Naylor, "there may be nothing to distinguish one person from another... persons may get lost."

I wonder if it will impress any of the TPA folk if I reply by citing local singer/songwriter Jana Stanfield: "I'm not lost, I'm exploring." My goal: be just a bit more lucid on this strange topic than Mr. Deity was.

Friday, October 30, 2009

no particular reason

Stephen's report showed us Forrest Gump in a whole new light: he's a Taoist, like Pooh.

Or Gomer. (Not the "Full Metal Jacket" Gomer, Jordan, the one from Mayberry.) A sweet-tempered, good-hearted soul of very little brain, and very little distress. He's in utter harmony with his world. But can we all afford to be so simple? Even if we wanted to be? Someone's got to do the thinking, right?

Or is that where we all get in trouble?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mr. Deity's identity crisis

Seth finally gave us his very funny report yesterday, challenging us all to identify ourselves and then explain why it matters. Why should we care who we are? I blurted out something from the tangled recesses of memory and Python-obsession, about burying a cat. But that's not who I am, honest.

I am, though, a more-or-less cohesive bundle of memories that keeps losing bits, and adding some, and thinking about them a lot. Too much, no doubt. The self, as we already learned, is really hard to pin down.

But it's even harder if you're cosmo-theologically schizophrenic. Ask "Mr. Deity" and his son/father/alter ego/??? (And don't even think about the Trinity yet!)


Speaking of good books...

Thomas spoke movingly the other day of his Dad's health challenges, after a serious automobile accident years ago, and of his attempts to apply some of the happiness strategies we've discussed this semester (savoring, listing points of gratitude, etc.) in a therapeutic way.

I was reminded of one of my favorite novels, Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose. The hero of that story is an older man, bound to a wheel-chair, but still sharp and imaginatively free. His physical mobility lost, he turns to family history to occupy his days and fill his heart. In the process he learns essential things about his grandmother, his son, and his own place in the strata of time.

And then, something completely different: Will showed some of my favorite Python clips including the Bright Side crucifixion scene and the Galaxy Song. If I ever find myself confined to quarters, I'm pretty sure the Pythons will still be good therapy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

holy books

Very interesting discussion in class today, stoked by a report pointing out Biblical inconsistencies, contradictions, unflattering depictions of Jesus, and in general the ongoing failure of the devout to answer "Epicurus's old questions" that converge on what Bart Ehrman calls "God's Problem," challenging the plausibility of an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good Supreme Being. Muslim students were quick to offer their measured and respectful agreement that the Christian Bible is a deeply flawed document, reflecting the contributions of many human hands over the centuries... unlike, they contended, the Holy Koran.

"Although many Christians revere the Bible, few if any treat it with the same degree of reverence as Muslims treat the Qur’an. Indeed, it is argued that a much closer parallel in Christianity is not the Bible, but Jesus Christ: 'If Christ is the Word of God made flesh, the Koran is the Word of God made text, and questioning its sanctity or authority is thus considered an outright attack on Islam — as Salman Rushdie knows all too well.'" (A. Cline)

Far from revering the Bible as untouchable, many prominent and pious Christians through the centuries have openly challenged its authenticity. Thomas Jefferson even took scissors to it, snipping all the supernatural bits.

Some scholars contend that What the Koran Really Says
is not any more "clear, or mubin," than the Bible.

"Indeed, the Koran could well stand as the supreme example of a man-made text, worked over and doctored to an unfathomable extent, and subsequently endowed with a transcendental provenance by the associative and projective proclivities of the human imagination... 'if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence simply doesn't make sense…. The fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible.' If this is the case, why is the impression abroad, among both Muslims and non-Muslims, that we not only know what the Koran is, but what it says? The explanation lies in the fact that once the Koran existed, in some form or another, not necessarily the form we know today, people began to make up stories about it..."

I don't know if that explanation will stand, but I'm very pleased that we were all able to leave class today amicably and in agreement that there's nothing wrong with disagreeing, so long as we do it respectfully and with ears open.

Made me proud, how much better we handled our little debate than did the ranting, raving, self-righteous monomaniac and his understandably-incensed detractors in front of our student center yesterday around noon. (Read about it in the student newspaper Sidelines... here's a philosophy student's first-hand account, including Preacher's outrageous statement that women "ask for" sexual assault. Apparently it's all women's responsibility to dress modestly, so as to protect Preacher and his pals from their own uncontrollable lust. How indistinguishable fundamentalists from different traditions are, at close range.)

The poor fool was evidently incapable of noticing the irony in his long list of human types and behaviors allegedly hated by their loving Creator.

If there's a hell, sounds like, it'd be a nice place to visit: all the fun people will be there.

But maybe Jean-Paul Sartre got this one right: hell is just (some) other people.


No such thing as a selfless good deed, just because it makes you feel good? Nonsense! Friends should not let friends philosophize egoistically... or Objectivistically, like Ayn Rand.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

epicurean good

"When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest disturbances take possession of the soul. Of all this the end is prudence. For this reason prudence is a more precious thing even than the other virtues, for a life of pleasure which is not also a life of prudence, honor, and justice; nor lead a life of prudence, honor, and justice, which is not also a life of pleasure." Epicurus (341-270 B.C.E.)

P.S. Happy birthday, Older Daughter!

Monday, October 26, 2009

homo religiosus

Karen Armstrong said nice things about Richard Dawkins to Terry Gross, maybe it's time for atheists to lay off and try to understand her total view. Yes, some of it is silly. But some of it-- like the idea that religion comes from our search for meaning-- makes a lot of sense.

But, score this one for the barmaid.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Went for sushi to celebrate Older Daughter's birthday last night, her choice.

Waiting for our loaves and fish, Younger Daughter wanted to know about the ritual of Baptism. Not sure why. But yes, I started to explain: in our church there was a tradition of expecting very young children to feel the spirit and "come forward," preparatory to the full immersion that would wash away our sins. Or something.

And of course, as a diligent six-year old who'd been frightened to death of hell-fire-- not by Mom and Dad, but by the churchly agents of "good" they'd chosen to immerse us in, for our alleged own good-- I found myself moving down the aisle one Sunday as the old hymns cycled and the congregation sang. No clue what I was up to, but apparently that didn't matter. The point was not to question, but to be "saved."

So, yes: I was Baptized. Preacher must not have done it right, though. It clearly didn't take.

Thank goodness.

Friday, October 23, 2009


The Holocaust Conference at my school is in full swing. This morning featured a panel* of survivors and liberators. How astonishing to realize that there are still people among us who carry such searing, painful, impossible first-hand memories of human brutality within themselves; how amazing to see what productive lives they've managed to build, despite those horrific traumatizing experiences; and how sobering to think that soon there will be no living witnesses left to contradict the silly/stupid "deniers."

And, how right Mrs. Rosenfeld and Rabbi Jacobs were to note the hopefulness implicit in the fact that so many of those survivors, forced to carry on after parents, siblings, and other family and friends had been so viciously mowed down, returned from the precipice of death and replenished the tree of life with new generations of children and grandchildren. That does answer the deniers, with an eloquence they probably can't understand.

Conference participant Gerhard Weinberg is right: unchecked hatred fueled the holocaust. But so did weak-willed compliance and indifference. As has been said so often: evil triumphs when "good" people fail to act. It's never enough merely to have free will, we have to want to use it.

*Frances Cutler Hahn, Nashville, TN
Ben Lesser, Las Vegas, NV
Eric Rosenfeld, Nashville, TN
Eva Rosenfeld, Nashville, TN

*Liberators Panel:
Jimmy Gentry, Franklin, TN
James Dorris, Chattanooga, TN

Thursday, October 22, 2009

bleeping banality

Interesting discussion of Rhonda Byrne's perennially-popular Secret this afternoon, especially with Holocaust survivors and liberators just outside our classroom door. Kristen was quite right to bring Hannah Arendt's perspective to bear on the conversation. The"banality of evil" comes as often through carelessness, critical inattention, and indifference, as through active malice. As Ingrid Smythe asked,

what can the believer in karma or The Law of Attraction possibly say about an event such as the Holocaust? Again, the believer in karma is forced to say that each and every individual got what he or she deserved and that karmic justice was served. “Whatever one deserves … he deserves by virtue of his actions and he gets all that he deserves and only that which he deserves. Nothing which accrues to a doer on account of his actions is ever lost and nothing accrues to him on account of anything other than his actions.” What about those who hold the belief that, through your feeling-state, you attract either positive or negative events? Here is a little visualization for the believer in the Law of Attraction: Imagine looking each of those six million Jews in the eye and telling every one of them that due to the negative feeling-states they were each projecting, they were all, in effect, asking for it. They got what was coming to them because, “What you think and what you feel and what actually manifests is always a match — no exception.

Like Byrne, I'm all for creating a better reality for myself and others. But like Arendt, I'm pretty sure we're going to have to do it together. The Secret, like its cinematic precursor What the Bleep Do We Know? ("debunked"), mixes physics and New Age ideas in an unsatisfying cocktail of confusion not much more stable than those serotonin concoctions Brandon told us about.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I'm ambivalent about this: there should not be a category of speech called "blasphemy" that gets free speakers prosecuted, persecuted, or dead.

But neither should theists and atheists go out of their way just to spite those who think differently than they do.

That said, I expect I'll continue to defend blasphemy by commission, omission, and grandstand applause. Just don't take it personally, anybody. I still respect your right to differ, and expect you to say that you do. Doesn't mean we have to be mean-spirited or violent about it.

Speaking of blasphemers: here's the charming side of Richard Dawkins, who really is passionate about his science. Good for him, and us. Talk on!

(P.S.-- And what a "cool" coincidence, as Alex would say, that his name came up independently in two different report presentations today. I think he's wrong to insist on an either/or between science and religion, but I also think a lot of his vaunted, reviled "arrogance" boils down to a compelling passion for "popular understanding"... and an impatience with those who won't acknowledge the birth of evolutionary "cool.")

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Many More Planets Found Outside Solar System

So why isn't this the news story of the decade? The universe evidently teems with geology, and-- who knows-- maybe somebody smarter and nicer than us. Either way, what an exceptional find... bringing the known total of planets outside our solar system to over 400. Much more interesting than balloon boys and market slides.

Monday, October 19, 2009


The local NFL franchise has sunk to a new low, after a blowout loss to the Pats that extended their season record to 0-6. Perfect time for thoughtful Titans fans (I know there's at least one, my colleague) to confront Malcolm Gladwell's stiff-arm challenge to the sport's very legitimacy. The spectacle and drama of it all is engaging, sometimes (as when the home team actually wins) even compelling. But...

But the brutality is undeniable too, as data continues to accumulate: the incidence of football-related injury, especially brain injury, rivals that of boxing (1 in 5 boxers will sustain dementia). And the sheer ugly barbarity of it rivals that of Michael Vick's old passion. The dogs of the gridiron, like those of the ring, got game.

And we like to watch.

Friday, October 16, 2009


John Lennon sang: "God is a Concept by which we measure our pain... I don't believe in magic... I-ching... Bible... Tarot... Hitler... Jesus... Kennedy... Buddha... Mantra... Gita... Yoga... Kings... Elvis... Zimmerman... Beatles. I just believe in me... Yoko and me. That's reality..."
But then John was gone, and Yoko had to carry on. She believes passionately in a world at peace, though it's obviously not yet a reality. She has found a wider "we" to believe in. Hope you can too.

The dream is definitely not over, John.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

happy pills

The Barbara Ehrenreich article I mentioned in class today... Is women's unhappiness a contrived "disease" that Big Pharma just happens to have a little pill for?

Feminism made women miserable. This, anyway, seems to be the most popular takeaway from "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," a recent study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, which purports to show that women have become steadily unhappier since 1972.Maureen Dowd and Arianna Huffington greeted the news with somber perplexity, but the more common response has been a triumphant: I told you so... (continues)

And again, happy birthday Fritz (says Garrison Keillor):

It's the birthday of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche,born in the Prussian village of Röcken (1844). He was a philosopher who loved literature, and he experimented with different literary styles to express his philosophy. Some of his books are long lists of aphorisms, while others are written almost like novels or poetry. His most famous book, Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), describes a prophet who comes down from the mountains to teach people about the coming of a new kind of super-man, but the people he speaks to only ridicule and laugh at him.

Nietzsche spent most of his life suffering from debilitating headaches and deteriorating eyesight, and he eventually went crazy and spent his last years in an asylum. He's perhaps best known for claiming that "God is dead," but most people forget that he actually said, "God is dead … and we have killed him!" He thought that the absence of God from the world was a tragedy [no, not really], but he felt that people had to accept that tragedy and move on. He wrote that God was like a star whose light we can see, even though the star died long ago. Writer's Almanac

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Brian showed us this clip as part of his report this morning. The sound was a little faint, but the point was clear: there is meaning to be sought in our lives, but we're all too easily distracted from the search. Very Big American Corporations are one source of distraction...

Harry: That's right, yeah. I've had a team working on this over the past few weeks, and what we've come up with can be reduced to two fundamental concepts.

One, people are not wearing enough hats...*

*Two, matter is energy; in the Universe there are many energy fields which we cannot normally perceive. Some energies have a spiritual source which act upon a person's soul. However, this soul does not exist ab initio, as orthodox Christianity teaches; it has to be brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation. However,this is rarely achieved owing to man's unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia.

Max: What was that about hats again?

Here's another source of distraction:

The BBC reports that "75% of 16- to 24-year-olds say they cannot live without internet access." Oh, dear. Not exactly what I call "vital living."

But I suppose the good news is that they must, then, think there's something meaningful in life, beyond the barest "biological imperative."

Blogito, ergo sum? Maybe it's true, we're not wearing enough hats.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

harmonic convergence

Nice, unpremeditated pairing of report topics today.

Kevin explored the link between personal and collective happiness, noting the osmotic phenomenon: a happy group can rub off on you, and raise your spirits. Alternatively, a sad group can bring you down. But wouldn't it be nice if we all made it a priority to make others happy? Wouldn't the personal happiness quotient of each of us then tend to reflect the larger pool of (what the happiness researchers call) "positive affect"?

Stephanie called attention to what I think of as the Frankl approach to meaningful happiness, summarized by that little Nietzsche aphorism My formula for happiness: a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal. We can tolerate hell, which for Frankl was of course several notches hotter than T.J. Maxx, if the other side of it is atop a self-actualizing personal pyramid. Then , you'll always have Paris. Or Rochester.

Bill Gates, Mother Teresa, and Marjane Satrapi were Stephanie's examples of people who've pioneered "better methods" of flourishing (all passionately goal-oriented, notice), but they illustrate Kevin's thesis too. When you're willing to give of yourself, your resources, your time, your life-force to help others, the personal satisfactions redound.

Persepolis touches as well on my concern that "adult" emotional atmospherics can overwhelm a child' s experience, compromising her ability to find a personal identity and make a place for herself in the world.


In class yesterday we heard an earnest, sensitive, respectful explication of why, from the perspective of Islamic piety, we should not grouse about suffering. The linchpin of the argument was familiar: free will, coupled with interesting observations about gratitude, overcoming impossible adversity, and the deity having no "openings." At first I thought that meant the economy was tight all over, but it turned out to be a point about His non-animality (giving the lie to this children's book).

More seriously, the last point is one Karen Armstrong makes in The Case for God. We cannot imagine what the Deity really is, or even that He/She/It shares any attitudes or attributes in common with us. God is an enigma, a transcendent, transplendent mystery. A black box. This line of thought runs into its own brick wall. Why worship an enigma? Especially one that tests and tortures the faithful? (Michael Shermer's thoughts on the problem of suffering... George Carlin & "Mr. Deity"... theodicy & crummy dorm analogy)

The adversity and gratitude angles really are more compelling to me, personally. The human spirit is indomitable. Watching the presentation's video clip I was reminded of Chris Reeve ("Superman") and his heroic chin-up way of facing his own impossible challenge, near-total paralysis after a horse-riding accident.

But what does that have to do with God, unless believing in God is what enables the hero to persevere? I don't know if that was this amazing man's situation. It does not appear to have been Chris's, said by his brother to have been a devout atheist:

Q: Do you believe in the Lord?

A: Even though I don't personally believe in the Lord, I try to behave as though He was watching.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Professor Levy

Woody Allen's Professor Levy in "Crimes and Misdemeanors" was nearly a ringer for Viktor Frankl. But Levy, after sharing some trenchant observations about love and the human condition, relinquished the purpose-driven life and committed suicide. Alas. (His official view was that, although we weren't made for happiness, most of us find a way to persevere.)

"Against Depression"

If you're gonna be against happiness, must you then be for depression? Hope not.

Psychiatrist and author Peter D. Kramer is a forceful proponent of judiciously-deployed psycho-pharmacological intervention to minimize mental suffering. He first made his case in Listening to Prozac. And in Against Depression he called out those who defend pathological unhappiness as a boon to civilization, thinking of all those works of creative genius by all those sad, anguished, tortured, self-abusing artists, writers, musicians et al through the ages who, it's been speculated, might not have been so creative if they'd been blissfully medicated instead.

Kramer's clear: clinically-diagnosed depression is an illness no less than tuberculosis or AIDS. Who would ever defend not treating that, just so the rest of us could reap the artistic effluvium (and to hell with the artist herself)?

Much depends on where we draw the ever-shifting line between "normal" sadness and mental illness.

I do like Kramer's rationale for Obama's Nobel.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

not so bright

Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, is her pay-back to all the blundering friends, medical professionals and clinicians, and well-meaning strangers who thought they were helping her deal with breast cancer by telling her to cheer up.

The unrelenting message was “that you had to be cheerful and accepting and that you would not recover unless you were.” Most infuriating, she added, was the advice to “consider your cancer a gift.”

Can't blame her a bit for finding that "mass-delusional" advice unhelpful and insensitive. But she is very sloppy here when she lumps that kind of unreflective, facile, smiley-face foolishness, and New Age/New Thought spirituality, and whatever gospel it is exactly that Joel Osteen has been peddling in his Texas mega-temple, with the more serious and circumspect contributions of Positive Psychology and its long trail back to Emerson and James.

She traces the roots of the nation’s blithe sunniness to a reaction against Calvinist gloom and the limits of medical science in the first half of the 19th century. Starting with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, perhaps one of the first American New Age faith healers, she draws a line to Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science; the psychologist William James; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Norman Vincent Peale, who published “The Power of Positive Thinking” in 1952; and the toothy television minister Joel Osteen, who preaches the gospel of prosperity.

But I'm glad she got better.

Now, contrast Ehrenreich's reaction to her cancer with Winifred Gallagher's to hers, in Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life.

"Walking away from the hospital after the biopsy from hell-- not just cancer, but a particularly nasty, fairly advanced kind-- I had an intuition... This disease wanted to monopolize my attention, but as much as possible, I would focus on my life instead...

Through many months of chemo, surgery, more chemo, and daily radiation, I mostly stayed focused on taking care of business in the present-- suddenly all I could count on-- and on the things that matter most and make me feel best: big ones like my family and friends, spiritual life, and work, and smaller ones like movies, walks, and a 6:30 p.m. martini. As a result, I spent very little time and energy on the past or future, or on the suddenly very many things that seemed unimportant or negative...

That's not to say that cancer was the proverbial 'best thing that ever happened to me,' or that I'm glad I had it... [But] whenever possible, I looked toward whatever seemed meaningful, productive, or energizing and away from the destructive, or dispiriting...

She got better too, and felt better doing it. William James's concept of focused attention as the decisive element in shaping one's quality of life was her inspiration. She verified it, pragmatically, quite impressively.

She took courage from Emerson, too. "To fill the hour-- that is happiness."

And that, finally, is what I want to say to my friend whose little girl was diagnosed with diabetes.

Believe this

LA 5, StL 1. My team folded its tent much too quickly this year. I need a little consolation, in the form of a reminder from Crash Davis that baseball's only a game, & lots of things are more important. "This I Believe" was never so frank...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

my place

Man-cave, manspace... sounds silly, but by whatever name-- mine is Little House-- it's sacred. Michael Pollan was way ahead of the curve on this, as on so much else, in A Place of My Own.

Much that I treasure, including an Earth stove, a couple of comfy old recliners, a large old restored roll-top desk that's followed me everywhere forever, and books and files and photos and personal affects of all kinds, and wireless Internet access-- is here. If such spaces really reflect (as Sam Martin says) "who we are," then I probably ought to take better care of it.

Mustn't be too quick to discount the value of tension-free homeostasis, in a home away from home.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Socrates uses his head

A midterm presentation this morning on futbol and philosophy was all the excuse I needed to run this clip. (I wonder if any of these guys can play left field? The Cards could use a defensive replacement in the late innings there.)


Happy birthday, John Lennon... born on this date in 1940, in Liverpool, U.K. Can you imagine him, can you imagine yourself, at 69? You may say I'm a dreamer...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

all you need

I love midterm presentations! Today's discussion and performance were educative, entertaining, and even inspiring. I'm inspired.

The obvious soundtrack to complement Terrica's & Bob's reports will have to include more Grace Slick. J.Geils. And some Lyle Lovett. ("I love everybody" is good, too.) Jimmy Durante (also "Make Someone Happy"). Satchmo. Who else?

Oh, yeah. I know it's a cliche, and I kind of dissed the sixties ideology that it encapsulates in class today...but this really has got to be on there too:


Dodgers' pitcher Randy Wolf's "ignorance & bliss" comment stirs memory of other baseball wit & wisdom. It's not all from Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, and Ebby "Nuke" LaLoosh.

For instance, there was Johnny Damon's statement in 2004 explaining why he and his Red Sox teammates called themselves idiots: "We try to eliminate the thinking, and we've tried to let our natural abilities take over. We don't think. If we use our brains, we're only hurting the team."

Johnny's helping the Yankees now.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

coming home

More first-rate presentations in class today. Wore my Cards cap, in an irrational attempt to sway the baseball fates as "my team" prepares to take on the Dodgers in round 1 of the MLB post-season.

Older daughter last night dismissed my interest in the Twins-Tigers tie-breaker:"It's not important, it's only baseball." (Some Yankees fan she is!) Then, totally subverting her own position, she flipped on "Dancing with the Stars." Watching Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols is at least as worthwhile as watching Tom DeLay and Donnie Osmond trying to "move it." (Admittedly, their partners may be a bit more worthy of scrutiny.)

I have slightly conflicted allegiances in this series (but only very slightly), since LA is managed by Joe Torre, one of my favorite Cardinals from yesteryear. '71 was his best season in the bigs, .363 average to capture the batting title. My Dad and I went to every Friday night home game that year, my freshman year of High School. (My freshman and I will have to make a different memory, looks like.)

So it was nice to lead off this morning with a report on "Baseball & Philosophy," all about the significance of home as a safe destination. The late George Carlin was really good on this theme, one of his cleaner presentations.

And then, another theme George had strong views about: religion. One of the more interesting questions to arise this afternoon: is religious indoctrination a form of child abuse? Richard Dawkins has written, insistently, that there is no such thing as a Muslim, Baptist, Catholic, or Atheist child... only children of Muslim, Baptist (etc.) parents. Others agree. Dale McGowan says it's in kids' best interests to be parented beyond belief.

There's no reason to think kids can't be raised to value ethics, spirituality, and diversity, is there?

And, my own special hobby-horse: why aren't we acquainting kids with comparative religion and philosophy in elementary, middle, and high school? I know why, but... why not?!

Update: The Dodgers took a "sluggish" 5-3 win in an uninspiring game that went on much too long. But it was worth waiting for LA pitcher Randy Wolf's post-game quote: "Ignorance is bliss, and we gotta lotta bliss." Follow it, Randy.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

nonsense, anxiety, revolution

Well, this is great news, with midterm essays about to start pouring in: nonsense and absurdity make you smarter, "disorientation begets creative thinking."

Just kidding. Mostly. But there's a downside, too: "studies have found that people in the grip of the uncanny tend to see patterns where none exist — becoming more prone to conspiracy theories, for example. The urge for order satisfies itself, it seems, regardless of the quality of the evidence."

And for those of you who are anxious about midterm essays and presentations, you can take solace from Jerome Kagan's research. Some, anyway. Don Williams said it (and Bob McDill wrote it) best: guess we're all gonna be what we're gonna be. Don't panic.

Presentations today were very good, nothing to panic about at all. Plato's myth of the cave does indeed speak to our theme, Eric, even if I think the happiness of the complacent prisoner is not all it could be. And I agree, Megan, most of us do chase the material mirage of happiness far more than our reading list would imply. The money changers and home-wrecking philanderers should be first up against the wall when the revolution comes. (I hope everyone knows I'm joshing. I still want to see the Plan.)

hey to Goober

I've been waiting for an opportunity to mention Mayberry's resident philosopher. He didn't get tenure, but it was fun while it lasted. Thinking about Barney's Rock naturally put me in mind of the time "Goober [made] history."

"It seems like the me that is really me and was bein' held back by the I that I am is comin' out all over my face."

That was the fictive television filling station attendant Goober Pyle, Gomer's cousin, in Andy Griffith Show episode 196 ("Goober Makes History"), reflecting on growing a beard and discovering his inner philosopher. Goober had to shave—not with Occam's razor but Floyd's—to rediscover "his self": a cautionary tale for all professional thinkers.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Pop goes philosophy

The Open Court series of pop culture and philosophy just keeps on going and going...

Baseball, Beatles, Buffett, Colbert, Python, iPod, Star Wars and on and on, and that's just the beginning.
Forty-five titles are already in print, and these are on tap:
  • Anime/Manga and Philosophy
  • Soccer and Philosophy
  • The Rolling Stones and Philosophy
  • Martial Arts and Philosophy
  • Twilight and Philosophy
  • Monk and Philosophy
  • Doctor Who and Philosophy
  • The Boston Red Sox and Philosophy
  • Facebook and Philosophy
  • Futurama and Philosophy
  • The Onion and Philosophy
  • Rush and Philosophy
  • Breaking Bad and Philosophy
  • The Dark Tower and Philosophy
  • Dune and Philosophy
  • Neil Gaiman and Philosophy

  • There must be something here for everybody, I confess I've never heard of some of these. It's not high scholarship, but there's a lot of good & accessible philosophy. (Take note, Intro students still looking for a topic. And if you can't lay hands on a copy at the library, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Davis-Kidd, or wherever, check out Google books online. We found Bob Dylan there. Thanks for digitizing, Sergei!)

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    almost true

    Also in the news this Sunday:

    The Times features no funnies, but this is fun: Monty Python turns 40 (!) this year, will reunite at the Ziegfeld Theater on October 15 (sans the late great Graham Chapman), and starting on the 18th the Independent Film Channel will devote a week to the Pythons, broadcasting an episode a day of a new documentary called "Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut)"...

    "Now for something completely different":

    Parade reports that 25% of Americans call themselves "spiritual, not religious," and half of them say they never go to church. 60% think "all religions have validity," and 66% expect they'll connect with the dead on the Other Side.

    Or on this one. What many understand by "spiritual" includes psychic swindlers like James van Praagh and John Edward, the latter featured this morning on CBS Sunday Morning. 20% say they've already been in touch with spirits. Coincidentally, that's how many watch Edward and van Praagh on TV.

    The oddly one-sided emphasis of the CBS report was on reconciling belief in psychic phenomena with one's religious or spiritual prejudices, as opposed to squaring it with (say) logic, reason, and evidence.

    What fun the Pythons could have with all this. Oh yeah, they did already (in "Life of Brian"). Well, here's Michael Shermer having some fun. Accelerating Intelligence News