Tuesday, November 30, 2010


1. (Ch.4) What form of reference invites paradox?

2. What was Russell's collaborative project with A.N. Whitehead? What famous theoretical principle did Russell claim to endorse? What did he call "the right way to philosophize"?

3. What did Russell mean by his turtle analogy?

4. What philosophical confusion does Aeschylus suggest to Apostolos?

5. (Ch.5) What was young Wittgenstein say to Russell (at their first meeting)about facts and certainty, and (later) about mathematical reality?

6. In what does Russell find "redemption" from the fear of dying? What "immunized" him against nationalistic war-mongering? What did war teach Russell about language? What does it (finally) teach Wittgenstein about meaning? What does he claim to have solved?

7. (Ch.6) What did Russell fear would be the outcome of the collapse of the pre-war world's values? Why does he dislike Wittgenstein's view that logic results only in tautologies?

8. What did the Vienna Circle credit Russell with helping to make possible? Who pointed out to him his "failure"? What will there "always be"? How did Wittgenstein think the Vienna Circle misunderstood him? What was its "tragic final act"?

9. How does Russell characterize his stance towards doubt and certainty? What does he conclude about "Leibniz's dream"? What is the message of his "cautionary tale"? What position does he come to share with Wittgenstein?

10. What, according to Christos, is "our prime hope for peace, democracy, and freedom"?

Monday, November 29, 2010

lightly, carefully, gracefully

1. (T/F) The number of people with too little to eat is now falling.

2. Steven Chu says the American public fails to grasp what?

3. Michael Pollan says we do what, when we eat from the industrial food system?

4. (T/F) Large farms produce more food per acre.

5. What percentage of global warming gases can be tied to the livestock industry (and the federal farm subsidy)?

6. (T/F) Cutting energy waste in America will be extraordinarily painful, according to Amory Lovins; and energy sources must necessarily remain large and centralized.

7. (T/F) McKibben agrees that the future he's described (to p.196) would be dull.

8. What traditional choice about where and how to live does the Internet now allow us to duck? How did it enable "the most widespread day of political action" ever?

Thursday, November 25, 2010


So much to be thankful for, this and every day. Happy Thanksgiving.
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here...

We have woken after hundreds of millions of years asleep, defying astronomical odds. Admittedly we didn't arrive by spaceship, we arrived by being born, and we didn't burst conscious into the world but accumulated awareness gradually through babyhood. The fact that we slowly apprehend our world, rather than suddenly discover it, should not subtract from its wonder...

Isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it? Unweaving the Rainbow

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

backing off

1. What words will better help us think about the future than "sustainable"? Why?

2. What was Alan Greenspan's explanation of the current economic recession? What large reversal does McKibben identify as the underlying cause? What's wrong with "bigness"?

3.What's different about America's idea of itself now, compared to 1775 (but overlooking James Madison's argument in "Federalist 10")?

4. (T/F) McKibben is excited about Mars (and other big projects) but skeptical about the conservative critique of Pythonesque big government.

5. Are we still fixated on expansion and growth? 

6. What will be ironic about a Jeffersonian future? What are the "most radical words" in the Declaration of Independence? What kind of independence do McKibben's Vermont neighbors display?

7. What has cheap energy done to our sense of neighborhood and community, with what psychological impact? Is this changing? What's instructive about the Farmer's Diner?

8. What's Wendell Berry's advice?

9. "The key projects aren't national anymore," with what kinds of exceptions?

10. Why is McKibben hopeful about the future of "community"?


Secret of Life

My colleagues and I are being prompted to firm up our Fall '11 course plans, so I'm again soliciting your suggestions on my survey.

And here's another candidate:

__ The Secret of Life. Rhonda Byrne says "The Secret" is a law of attraction: the universe wants you to be rich and happy in every way you desire, you just have to put it out there. James Taylor (among other philosopher-poets) says the secret is enjoying the passing of time. William James said it's attention, and the ability to find satisfaction and sufficiency in the present moment. Albert Camus said "real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present." Barbara Ehrenreich says all of these attitudes are much too positively "bright."  This course will examine these and other perspectives. Could the secret be that there is no secret?

From FoL to SoL? It's not the greatest of acronyms (or is it just me, reminded of "S*t outta Luck"?) but I do like the symmetry of it, and the trajectory: back from the future.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

changing education

The plague of unquestioning obeisance to Bigness Bill McKibben deplores in Eaarth definitely has its correlate in our public educational establishment, and in its assembly line mentality. Can the grassroots energy of 350.org be brought to bear on that?

For those who missed Paul's Monday report:

Wittgenstein, Russell

1. Gottlob Frege rejected what starting point in philosophy, and founded what new movement? What was his view of mathematics? What did he mean by "sense and reference"?

2. Who were the two English philosophers Frege inspired to try and define math in terms of logic? Who said mathematical systems cannot be entirely defined and are necessarily incomplete?

3. Which branches of analytic philosophy are Ludwig Wittgenstein mainly associated with? What did he claim he accomplished with his Tractatus? What did he consider the proper relation between language and the world? What was his last philosophical pronouncement (for awhile)?

4. Carnap and the Vienna Circle Positivists said all philosophical problems are really about the structure of language, aka _______. Who did they hate? What is the Verification Principle? What did Karl Popper turn it into?

5. When he began philosophizing again, how did Wittgenstein see language? Was its function still to picture the world's facts? What role did he now see the philosopher of language playing?


6. In his 1939 speech, Bertrand Russell compares what to being "your brother's keeper"?

7. (T/F) The "forbidden books" in his grandfather's library included all nature and philosophy books?

8. What showed Russell the "only way towards reality," whose power came from ______?

9. What moment ignited Russell's life?

10. Which philosopher's dream revealed Russell's vocation to him? What was it?

11. How did mathematics resemble the Indian cosmos?

12. Frege says the aim of logic is what?

13. "Ignorabiumus" means what?

Monday, November 22, 2010

wave of reason

Bertrand Russell:
When you are studying any matter
Or considering any philosophy
Ask yourself only: what are the facts,
And what is the truth that the facts bear out

Carl Sagan:
Science is more than a body of knowledge
It's a way of thinking
A way of skeptically interrogating the universe

If we are not able to ask skeptical questions
To be skeptical of those in authority
Then we're up for grabs...

Carolyn Porco:
The same spiritual fulfillment
That people find in religion
Can be found in science
By coming to know, if you will, the mind of God...

Cosmology brings us face to face with the deepest mysteries
With questions that were once treated only 
in religion and myth

The desire to be connected with the cosmos
Reflects a profound reality
But we are connected; not in the trivial ways
That Astrology promises, but in the deepest ways...

Never let yourself be diverted 
By what you wish to believe
But look only and surely
At what are the facts

Symphony of Science

high tide

1. Thinking "with special clarity about the future," Bill McKibben says we must break what 200+ year habit?

2. (T/F) McKibben is a fan of Tom Friedman.

3. What are McKibben's predictions for the next decade?

4. Who's the "world's greatest company" and how did they spend the last decade? What's their prediction for the next half century?

5. Why will "fighting off the next Katrina" be more expensive? Why is "Eaarth" more expensive in general?

6. What's not "green" about China's new investment in railroads? Why is it "easy"?

7. What is the Pentagon's "grim" prediction of abrupt climate change? How can we avert it?

8. What did the Club of Rome announce, in 1972? What was the initial response? Who proposed "Buddhist economics"? How did the White House respond?

9. What's McKibben's view of "collapse porn"? Are our best days ahead of us?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

nashville cats

Hello, Kitties. That's Zeus on the inside, and the unnamed interloper who's been eating his food for a few weeks now on the outside. Guess he needs a name, he's clearly here to stay.

Friday, November 19, 2010

a new Congressional climate

I've been told there are "well-respected scientists" who deny the reality of anthropogenic global warming. I've not read them, and I'm pretty sure these guys (as reported by Elizabeth Kolbert)-- the new GOP leaders in charge of solving the problem--  haven't either. 
“The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen, that it is harmful to our environment, is almost comical.” John Boehner, Speaker-elect
“'As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.' I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be for His creation.” John Shimkus, candidate to chair the House Committee on Energy and Commerce
“When it rains, we find shelter. When it’s hot, we get shade. When it’s cold, we find a warm place to stay.” Joe Barton, also a candidate for that post 
Well, I'm glad somebody's being honest about climate change. But that's not them. 

Maybe they just need a few reading suggestions, to supplement their Good Book. Some other good books: Kolbert's own Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Jim Hansen's Storms of My Grandchildren, James Garvey's Ethics of Climate Change, and many of the titles on Grinning Planet's list. Climate Debate Daily is a good resource too, with a whole (misleadingly-symmetrical) column devoted to "dissenting voices."

If there's still a debate to be had, let's have it. Let's not allow our "leaders" to pass the buck to God.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Where to, Humanity?"

1. "Man does not live for pleasure. Only the Englishman does." Which Englishmen in particular did Nietzsche probably have  in mind?

2. What theory, now famously associated with whom, did Alfred Russell Wallace nearly claim as his own? What momentous questions does it pose?

3. Nietzsche suggested that humans are a bridge from what to what, throwing what into question? What did he mean by "the last man"? What ethical philosophy did he imply "the last man" would favor?

4. Why did Nietzsche like the ancient Greeks' view of suffering, and what did he like about Greek tragedy? What did he dislike about Christian redemption, Schopenhauer's pessimism, and scientific optimism? What was his view of technology? What did he consider the meaning of life?

5.What did Nietzsche mean to imply about life with his "eternal recurrence" thought experiment?

6. What school of philosophy thrived in St. Louis in the 19th century? What is the sensibility of traditional ("classic") American philosophy? Which American revolutionaries do our authors name as "philosophically talented thinkers"? What has been the "routine" stance of the American public towards philosophy?

7. Which American "anarchist" inspired Gandhi and King? Which American Hegelian-humanist considered nature inherently spiritual? Which radical empiricist said religious beliefs may be justified if they help us make sense of our lives? Who called himself a pragmaticist? Who began as an "evangelical" Hegelian and later insisted that children learn best by doing? Which Harvard student of James's defended "black pride"?

8. What is "pluralism" in philosophy?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

thin film of life

I love the coincident cosmopolitan serendipity of today's two FoL reports, converging as they did on Carl Sagan and Pale Blue Dot on our first day with Bill McKibben's Eaarth. Marie commented on Jeremy Rifkin's "empathic civilisation" and quoted the passage beginning: "There are places... where the natural world has all but disappeared." Our "thin film of life" is all we've got. Why do we fight over it so incessantly?

Then Jason played the Symphony of Science's "unbroken thread"... 

...heralding a more "glorious dawn."

Is there intelligent life on earth? Well, there was. Maybe there will be again, in the future.  

Or, maybe we should just say: there can be a future only if there is... only if we're still evolving.

P.S. I hunted for the Flaming Lips Bonnaroo video you said I'd like, Harrison, is this it? Guess you had to be there. But the Alan Watts "conversations" are unquestionably great.

complexity, simplicity

Coming to terms with our "tough new planet": complex, not complicated.

Eric Berlow: How complexity leads to simplicity | Video on TED.com

welcome to eaarth

1. How does Bill McKibben compare his new book to The End of Nature? What's his "only real fear"? How has he personally increased his own engagement in environmental issues?

2. What's happened since "Earthrise"? How much smaller is the Arctic ice cap than it was in 1968? How about the Antarctic? What's happening with coral reefs?

3. What's wrong with emphasizing the threat that climate change poses to our grandchildren?

4. How much CO2 can the atmosphere sustain, by current estimates, without threatening the ecological life-support systems on which human life depends?

5. What did NOAA announce, on "the most auspicious day of environmental news in the global warming era"?

6. Does McKibben consider a reduction of carbon emissions to 4% below 1990 levels a good target goal?

7. What's his view of the belief that earth will be just fine even if humans "do themselves in"?

8. What's a good EROI? Are solar panels an example? What will a shift to coal guarantee?

9. What's simple about global warming? What's complex and interesting about it?

10. Where (besides iTunes) can you find increasing numbers of Beetles, with what results?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nietzsche, Mill...

1. (T/F) Nietzsche was probably a Nazi, though he thought of philosophy as a benign vocation.

2. What did he see as the central problem of modern man? Who were his greatest early influences?

3. (T/F) Nietzsche said his critique of Christianity was a temporary mask, reflecting the flux and transiency of everything.

4. What is the fundamental distinction in Nietzsche's theory of art?

5. What did Nietzsche call Christianity? Why? What did he call Kant and Mill? What did he mean by "Ubermensch"? Which of Nietzsche's ideas did Freud like?

6. What is Utilitarianism? What are some of the leading objections to it? How did Mill differ from Bentham?

7. What was the main principle of Mill's On Liberty?

8. Who invented a "religion of humanity" but also predicted that his optimistic and socially progressive philosophy, called _________, would replace religion? What stages did he say would lead to that development?

9. Which philosopher coined the phrase "survival of the fittest" and (according to most mainstream evolutionists) badly misapplied evolutionary ideas to society in general?

10. America's new philosophy, represented by Peirce, James, and Dewey, was called __________. Dewey also called his view ____________, especially as applied to __________. 

11. Which major American philosopher (a colleague of William James's at Harvard, btw) did not like pragmatism? Name a recent American pragmatist. And: what recent Harvard philosopher wrote A Theory of Justice and opposed inequality? Which of his colleagues disagreed vehemently. And which other recent Harvard philosopher (who I met in one of my professors' kitchen in 1978, btw) said experience is a "web of belief"?

12. What French "vitalist" said there's a "life force" powering "creative evolution" in the universe? (William James loved this guy.)

13. What German thinker opposed Cartesian rationalism, said we don't know ourselves or our minds well at all, and emphasized the hidden power of sexuality... but is still not considered a peer, by many philosophers?

"Bus, do your stuff"

Jaron Lanier seems to imagine the future of pedagogy as a ride on the Magic School Bus. [wiki] “In the future, I fully expect children to turn into molecules and triangles in order to learn about them…” Cool, take me into the ballgame. This was always my favorite episode, of course:

Monday, November 15, 2010

gadget quiz 5

1. (T/F) Lanier thinks of nature as a (very special) person.

2. (T/F) Lanier concedes that the new digital humanism he defends cannot rival The Singularity's "hope of an afterlife" achieved through technology.

3. What is neoteny, and what is it good for? What do children want, and where do they get it (besides parents and peers)?

4. What are Lanier's predictions for the future of software and of medical progress?

5. What's the most obvious aspect of digital culture? What's good and bad about childhood?

6. (T/F) Lanier enjoys verbal accounts of non-verbal experience.

7. What's Lanier's prediction for the future of education? What childhood-less species taunts us with clues about potential human futures?

8. Why is Lanier so excited about the possibility of "postsymbolic communication"? What are its implications for Platonic realism and metaphysics in general, and for our future?


Antonio Damasio (Descartes' Error, Looking for Spinoza) has a new book, Self Comes to Mind. He talked about in on SciFri the other day.

I like what he says about creativity and consciousness:
Without consciousness--that is, a mind endowed with subjectivity--you would have no way of knowing that you exist, let alone know who you are and what you think. Had subjectivity not begun, even if very modestly at first, in living creatures far simpler than we are, memory and reasoning are not likely to have expanded in the prodigious way they did, and the evolutionary road for language and the elaborate human version of consciousness we now possess would not have been paved. Creativity would not have flourished. There would have been no song, no painting, no literature. Love would never have been love, just sex. Friendship would have been mere cooperative convenience...
I think he's been reading some James. And maybe Lanier. He said some gracious and charitable things on the radio about philosophers, and about how he doesn't think neuroscientists can figure it all out by themselves.

Good. Many minds are better than one.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


John Lachs still has the best formulation of what we need to do, moment by moment, to gain steady life satisfaction. We must learn "to enjoy activities at the time we do them and for what they are..."

In shifting our gaze to the present we must not, and need not, forget the future. But here, in the attentive present, is where life must be worth living.

And what does it mean to be attentive is this way?
Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German. -William James, Principles of Psychology
If only doing were always as easy as knowing

Saturday, November 13, 2010

atheist hymn

Steve Martin was a philosophy major, stand-up comic, and motion picture star. Now he's a pioneering gospel songwriter:

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Law of Peoples

We're talking about John Rawls tomorrow at the Tennessee Philosophical Association annual meeting.

It's Duke's Owen Flanagan, author of The Really Hard Problem, on personal and narrative identity tonight, in the keynote: "all the interesting facts about each person [are] about the particulars of his or her story, not in the fact that he or she has a story." Sounds like an anti-Rawlsian perspective. Anti-Randian, too. Can't wait to hear the details.

But it'll be smart of us all to remember what Rawls wrote in The Law of Peoples:
it is often thought that the task of philosophy is to uncover a form of argument that will always prove convincing against all other arguments. There is, however, no such argument. Peoples may often have final ends that require them to oppose one another without compromise...
One does not find peace by declaring war irrational or wasteful, though indeed it may be so, but by preparing the way for peoples to develop a basic structure that supports a reasonably just or decent regime and makes possible a reasonable Law of Peoples.
So here's hoping we'll all be reasonable.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Environmental ethics course to be offered next semester"

On p.1 of today's Sidelines newspaper:

The philosophy department is adding a new "Environmental Ethics and Native Wisdom" class to its curriculum next semester that will offer a Native American perspective on how to live holistically.
Phil Oliver, a philosophy professor in the College of Liberal Arts, said he will teach the course, which will include curriculum from his past environmental ethics classes, such as climate change and industrial agriculture, but the new class will now include a section on indigenous people's philosophies.
Oliver said he was inspired to teach the class with a native twist after Scott Pratt, a philosophy professor at the University of Oregon, visited MTSU to lecture about how modern day Americans can learn more about environmental sustainability by examining nature through the eyes of ancient civilizations... (continue reading)

Kant to Marx

1. Kant was originally a follower of who?

2. Kant proposed to limit ______ to make room for ____ and for rational speculation about ___... ?

3. What, according to Kant, do we do to the objects of our experience, with the result that we don't have to infer or prove the existence of an external world? (This is a useful mnemonic.)

4. How did Kant reconceive Descartes' "thinking thing"?

5. How did Kant say we demonstrate our freedom?

6. Why did Kant think faith in an unproven God a "rational postulate"?

7. Who did Hegel call "world history on horseback"? What did he consider philosophy's final goal?

8. What did Hegel call the "cosmic soul" he thought encompasses all of nature (including us)? What did he see as its most important implication?

9. What Kantian thesis about knowledge and consciousness did Hegel reject? What Aristotelian thesis did he accept? What does this imply about the self? What "sensibilities" did he reject and accept?

10. What was Hegel saying about philosophy when he spoke of the "Owl of Minerva"?

11. What kind of hero were the young romantics looking for? Who did they find? What did their hero most despise in Hegel's philosophy?

12. How did Schopenhauer adapt Kant's philosophy to his own? What was his view of the point or purpose of existence?

13. What did Kierkegaard think is the purpose of existence? What philosophical movement did his view help to establish?

14. What did Feuerbach mean by "Man ist was Man isst"?

15. What did Marx do to Hegel's dialectic?

Dewey's reply to Schopenhauer (and Hegel):

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

guys & dolls

Wow. What strange synchronicity had Kendal reporting on "Love Dolls" and sex robots in FoL on the same day I had posted this comment:
...a master storyteller like Richard Powers can make a Turing scenario very lively indeed. Read Galatea 2.2, a hugely clever updating of the Pygmalion (“My Fair Lady”) story, if you doubt it. (Dennett is a fan.) Modern sculptors beware: even if it walks and talks like a lady it may still be hardware.
Or a soft facsimile.

Is this where we're headed? From virtual "friends" to inanimate lovers? Are these pathetic guys objectifying women, feminizing mannequins, or just de-humanizing themselves? Are they the front edge of a trend, related to what Kendal described as the decline of real face-to-face intimacy as evidenced by youngsters who prefer to exchange text messages to spoken words, even when they are side-by-side? Or, let us hope, are they aberrations who will scare the rest of us back into line?

For the moment, I don't know what else to say about this. It's stunning and disturbing, and I'm still half-expecting it to turn out to have been a hoax. "All the lonely people, where do they all come from?"

gadget quiz 4

1. (T/F) Lanier says cybernetic totalism has no place, period.

2. How does the culture of computationalism regard people? How does Lanier regard people?

3. What is logical positivism? How & why is it making a comeback in Silicon Valley?

4. What does Lanier think we do to ourselves when we attribute intelligence and consciousness to our software tools?

5. What encounter has refined personhood and created humanity as we know it?

6. What huge, unheralded technological innovation occurred in the last decade and promises to transform our ideas of privacy?

7. Why is the olfactory part of the brain an "Old Factory"? What does it have to do with swearing?

8. Is Lanier optimistic about automatic language translation?

9. What might be the point of being well-spoken?

10. How does the expanding Internet Cloud threaten linguistic expression?

cooking in the 3d world

In the spirit of Harrison's uplifting report the other day on his plans to educate children in the underdeveloped world, with a particular focus on nutrition, here's former Peace Corps activist Amy Smith:

Fumes from indoor cooking fires kill more than 2 million children a year in the developing world. MIT engineer Amy Smith details an exciting but simple solution: a tool for turning farm waste into clean-burning charcoal.

And here's Jamie Oliver (no known relation) with his prize-winning wish for an "all-out assault on our ignorance of food," beginning in our own back yard.

And the amazing Greg Mortenson:

Watch the full episode. See more Bill Moyers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kant, Hegel, Marx...

1. What was the stance of Romanticism, which emphasized feeling and imagination, towards rationalism and empiricism?

2. Which romantic/nationalist thinker saw Germany as a "Volk" with a common cultural heritage? What did Goethe's "Faust" sell his soul for?

3. Immanuel Kant proposed a synthesis of what, involving what kind of knowledge? Who "awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers"?

4. Appearance and reality correspond to what "worlds"? Which did Kant say was knowable?

5. What did Kant find awesome? How did he answer ethical questions? 

6. Who said architecture is frozen music? Who loved dogs and introduced Kant to the French?

7.Who said "the real is the rational & the rational is real," denied the existence of unknowable things in themselves, and said everything is related?

8. What historical process did Hegel claim connects spirit, nature, and mind? When does it end? 

9. What's another term for "Time-Spirit"? What is history? What's the source of Reality?

10. What German political philosopher was heavily influenced by Hegel, adapting his dialectical method? Which one rejected everything Hegel had to say?

11. What blind, irrational force did Schopenhauer say is the "thing-in-itself" and the source of evil? How did he think wisdom could be achieved?

12. Which Christian philosopher criticized the idea of trying to capture all of objective reality while allowing the real, existing individual to "slip through the holes of the dialectical net," contending instead that truth is subjective? (Hint": he was called "The Melancholy Dane" and the grandfather of existentialism. He urged a "leap of faith.")

13. Which German philosopher anticipated Marx and "brought Hegel down to earth"? 

14. What is Marx's third stage of consciousness, and fifth epoch? What characterizes the fourth epoch? Did he agree that free competition creates free individuals?

Monday, November 8, 2010

gadget quiz 3

1. What's Lanier's reaction to the widespread interest of young people in Linux and Wikipedia?

2. What is the mashup culture doing to novelty and creativity, on Lanier's view?

3. What is it easier to imagine, when we "mystify" the Internet?

4. Does Lanier admit that he is "anti-open source"?

5.What does Lanier think of pop music in the last decade?

6. What makes something fully real?

7. What's the point of making music (or being creative in general), for Lanier?

8. Which "strand of cybernetic totalism" does Wikipedia represent?

9.Who predicted Wikipedia?

10. What's the opposite of "wikiness"?


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Happy Sagan Day!

Carl would have been 76 today. Light a rocket for the engaging and brilliant man who taught us we're all star stuff.

We humans have set foot on another world in a place called the Sea of Tranquility, an astonishing achievement for creatures such as we, whose earliest footsteps three and one-half million years old are preserved in the volcanic ash of east Africa. We have walked far. 
Our loyalties are to the species and to the planet. We speak for earth. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that cosmos ancient and vast from which we spring! Who Speaks for Earth
Carl spoke for Earth, and for the insight that beyond all our personal and cultural particularity we are still one species. He was a cosmopolitan.

We're at a crucial decision-point: will we choose the path of cooperation, mutuality, and hope? Or will we break the social contract, revert to a primitive and combative state of nature, and destroy ourselves over our selfish differences?

Carl hoped we'd lift the veil of destructive egoism and look to the future, to the stars, to our longest and deepest identity as children of light. We are billions, and we are one. Per aspera ad astra.

Friday, November 5, 2010

"circle of empathy"

The phrase is commonly associated with ethicist Peter Singer, but Jaron Lanier uses it too.

You have to draw a Circle of Empathy around yourself and others in order to be moral. If you include too much in the circle, you become incompetent, while if you include too little you become cruel. This is the "Normal form" of the eternal liberal/conservative dichotomy.
Lanier's Third Law: You can't rely completely on the level of rationality humans are able to achieve to decide what to put inside the circle...
Best guess for Circle of Empathy: Danger of increasing human stupidity is probably greater than potential reality of machine sentience. Therefore choose not to place machines in Circle of Empathy. edge.org
Empathy is essential, but it's essential to extend it in the right directions.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


1. Empiricism, which  can be traced to Thomas Hobbes' __________ theory of language, contends that knowledge and ideas must be based on experience.

2. John Locke said the mind originally is a tabula rasa, or _____ ____, until experience furnishes ideas of _________ and _________. Whose metaphysical speculations in particular did he imply were "rubbish"?

3. Ideas, for Locke, are produced by objects having what two qualities?What did Locke intend to distinguish, with these qualities?

4. Bishop George Berkeley objected to what aspect of Locke's philosophy?

5. "Esse ist percipi" = ___...? If this is true, how do we know that things continue to exist when no one is perceiving them?

6. What was Johnson's refutation? Is it successful?

7. David Hume said we do not experience causes, only _________ that give rise to ______. They do not constitute __________.

8. (T/F) Hume was distressed by his skeptical conclusions, and was unhappy about them.

9. For  Hobbes the state of nature is a state of ___, but the natural law is to seek ______.

10. John Locke inspired American constitutional democracy and the French enlightenment, marked by the spread of what ideas? He identified which inalienable rights?

11. Leaders of the French Enlightenment rejected the Calvinist idea of innate ________ and said the aim of life is what?

12. What did Tom Paine say governments owed the people?

13. Who said mind has no sex, and rights have nothing to do with gender?

14. Who said selfish behavior would work out the the "greater welfare of all"?

15. Who said we are born naturally good ("noble savages"), in harmony with nature, but are corrupted by society?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Really enjoyed Kayla's report on transcending gender in FoL today, and the "spacecollective" video that so nicely anticipated Carl Sagan Day this weekend:

Here's another:

How we got from male-female yin and yang to outer space to lumberjacks, I'm not sure. But here you go, Kevin:

native wisdom

NOTE to students:

A reporter for the campus newspaper Sidelines is doing a story for Monday's edition on the upcoming "Environmental Ethics and Native Wisdom" course, and wants to include some students' perspectives.  If you're interested in sharing, you can contact her directly: Jeb3w@mtmail.mtsu.edu.

gadget quiz 2

1.Copies of "free culture" (downloadable music, online videos) are what kind of expression?

2. (T/F) Digital Maoism rejects all hierarchy.

3. ____________ are the new peasants.

4. What was Kevin Kelly's suggestion to artists, musicians, writers etc. who wonder how they'll make a living in a thoroughly "open" creative culture?

5. What did Ted Nelson mean by "hypermedia"?

6. What was Lanier's epiphany about how the human world works?

7. What's the psychology of "songles"?

8. How complex, open, and wild should an economy be?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

misquoting Jesus

We're excited in our department about the approaching visit in February, for our lyceum lecture series, of renowned UNC-Chapel Hill Bible scholar Bart Ehrman.

Not quite so exciting was yesterday's staff meeting, devoted to choosing between three possible lecture topics he's dangled before us. We narrowed it to "Who Wrote the Bible?" and "Misquoting Jesus."

A colleague inquired, of the latter: misquoted interestingly?

Yes, definitely.
Example: A crowd readies itself to stone an adulterous woman to death. Jesus leans down, doodles in the dust. Says, let the one without sin cast the first stone. The crowd melts away. It's one of the most famous stories in the Bible. 
And it's most likely fiction, says Ehrman, seconding other scholars who say scribes added the episode to the biblical canon centuries after the life of Christ. 
There are dozens of other examples in "Misquoting Jesus," things that go to the heart of the faith, things that have puzzled scholars for centuries. What actually happened to Jesus of Nazareth, there on the sands of Judea? Was he a small-time Jewish revolutionary or the Son of God? Both? Neither? WashPo
Find out on Feb. 18. [Fresh Air interview]

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
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But seriously,

Monday, November 1, 2010

gadget quiz 1

1. Jaron Lanier says his book is for ______, and that you have to be somebody before you can _____.

2. Being a person is not a formula, it's a ___...

3. _______ "turns thoughts into facts."

4. The central faith of early web design in empowered individuals has been replaced by what idea?

5. Who or what are "cybernetic totalists"?

6. What's dangerous about loving software?

7. Like Peter Singer, Lanier speaks of a circle of _______.

8. What "voices" do people in Silicon Valley now (errantly) think they're hearing?

9. What side is Lanier on, in the Updike-Kelly debate?

10. What does Lanier think is the relation between "user interface designs" and an "online culture of sadism"?

11. (T/F) Lanier thinks we understand the brain well enough to construct useful computer models of education and friendship.

12. Lanier says Facebook and other social networking sites reward what?

virtual reality

On our first day with Jaron Lanier in FoL, I recall that I've been chewing this bone for quite some time now. What is "real"? Does your mind make it so? Does it matter which pill, blue or red, you swallow?

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