Monday, December 24, 2012

I'm pulling the digital plug for the holidays

As Barney (following "Frude") would say: it's therapetic

And as Jimmy would say: 

You're caught up in the Internet
you think it's such a great asset
but you're wrong, wrong, wrong

Sherry Turkle would agree. We all probably need a holiday. Back in January, god willin'... Happy New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2012


Just joined Goodreads to post a little review in support of one of my favorite novels, Richard Powers' Generosity: An Enhancement (Picador, 2010). It's the last thing we'll read in Bioethics, in April.
I was already a Powers fan, when "Generosity" came along just in time for my "Future of Life" philosophy class (Gen1, Gen2). It served our purposes well there, and I'm going to try it next semester in Bioethics. And then in Philosophy of Happiness. 

Those who like the more cerebral Powers but think this is comparatively conventional or mainstream may be missing levels of complexity that present themselves on second and third reading. My present focus, pedagogically, is on the crucial bioethical choices we'll be making in the near future that promise great or terrible consequences for what the Aussie humanist calls the future of "human nature." Powers does a great job of setting those problems & questions in motion, leaving us with a story still to be written. I'd love to see his sequel, and am even more curious to anticipate ours.

“But this is when the story is at its most desperate: when techne and sophia are still kin, when the distant climax is still ambiguous, the outcome a dead heat between salvation and ruin.”
NOTE to Bioethics students: Amazon has the paper edition for $6 & the e-book for $10. There's also a terrific audio version at

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Go for the joy

Newtown can't be undone, but we the living can still seek the joy of life. A nice counterpoint to grief and anger.

Just step away from the TV and the keyboard, from the talking heads,the endlessly looping tragedy, the spiraling finger-pointing recriminations. Breathe free.

"To experience, to engage, to endeavor, rather than to watch and to wonder — that's where the real meat of life is to be found.” Ben Saunders

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Let us eat cake

I stopped by @PresidentMcPhee's house Tuesday afternoon, with a couple of colleagues, for his annual campus holiday reception. He met us at the door and instantly remarked on what a nice conversation we had the other week, when he visited our Environmental Ethics & Action class to discuss the ACUPCC. (Let's keep pushing on that!)

And then he directed us into the parlor, where the baby grand piano was groaning under the weight of a cake designed to resemble this humble Carolina abode:
Whatcha think, Scott? Maybe next year we can persuade him to order up from Aramark an Earthship cake?

Sunday, December 9, 2012


She went to church, but disliked equally those who aired either religion or irreligion. I remember her once pressing a late well-known philosopher to write a novel instead of pursuing his attacks upon religion. The philosopher did not much like this, and dilated upon the importance of showing people the folly of much that they pretended to believe... Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh
Yes: more freethinking novels, please!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"The Nature of Existence"

I needed a grading-break. This was amusing.

Thumbs up for Druyan, Dawkins, Shermer, Solomon, & Sweeney, and the Sikh who says we're all  "learners," atheists and humanists included. Like the film-maker, I too still just wanna get to the pancakes.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Too much stuff

The real meaning of life: finding a place for your stuff.

Later, darker, more profane and more overtly misanthropic George had less flattering things to say about our penchant for collecting and consuming stuff at malls.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Get it while you can

It was one of those Sundays when the Times was full of fun and fascinating stuff (from my delighted POV) as reflected in the "most e-mailed" list.

Happiness researcher (& former Phil of Happiness author) Sonja Lyubomirsky held the top spot with her reflections on how new love fades. Another story spotlights the trend towards ergonomic workstations. And another notes another trend, of special interest to us parents of restless High School seniors: unCollege.

And there was more: Jellyfish immortality in Japan, Thomas Jefferson's hypocrisy, @brainpicker's brilliant Maria Popova, the year's most notable books... but guess what people weren't reading, despite its prominent placement on page one?
With Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Record High, Worries on How to Slow Warming
It didn't even crack the Top 20. Meanwhile, our university president was busy again this weekend tweeting his praise for our athletic teams and staying mum about the ACUPCC.

But like so many of my fellow Times subscribers, I still enjoyed my 70-degree December weekend. That's the point, after all, isn't it? To enjoy life?

While it lasts?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Steely Dan beyond perfection

Finally got around to watching the Steely Dan documentary that's been sitting in my netflix queue forever, last night.

Outstanding! As one of their many hired session musicians says, their goal wasn't "perfection," it was beyond perfection. They wanted to create something we would want to hear again and again. Mere perfection is tiresome. Aja and "Deacon Blues" are better than that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I'm still not sure why some atheists have such revulsion for that word. The root just means "breath," as I live and breathe.

Me too, Moses.


"...send them back into the dark ages of superstition, and ignorance, and fear? No!" STNG, "Who Watches the Watchers"

Long ago, our people believed in beings with great powers. These beings made the rains come, told the sun when to rise, and caused all life to be born, to grow, to die. -But those are just tales -- old superstitions.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Not an endorsement, just an appreciation:

Here's the mood I'm really going for today:

Just trying to keep my eyes open:

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.

After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked -- as I am surprisingly often -- why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, 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?
-- Richard Dawkins, excerpt from Chapter I, "The Anaesthetic of Familiarity," of Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1998)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Democracy and ignorance

My Vandy friends Aikin and Talisse* have another piece up on 3qd this morning. (Congrats to Scott for his ascendancy to the presidency of TPA, btw, and to Rob for being "inimitable").
"Public ignorance is disconcerting. But it also poses a serious challenge to democracy.  According to the most popular theories of democracy, the government’s legitimacy depends upon the freely given and informed consent of its people. So democracy requires there to be regular free elections; such episodes are supposed to reveal the Popular Will, which provides government with clear directives for the exercise of power, thereby ensuring political legitimacy. 
But if ignorance is as extensive as the data suggest (and losing parties comlain), elections could not possibly serve the function of expressing informed consent.  Lacking adequate knowledge of how government works, citizens are unable correctly to assign responsibility to particular office holders for public policies enacted in their name, and consequently are unable to provide the necessary directives. That is, under conditions of widespread citizen ignorance, elections do not express the Popular Will; rather, they simply place some in office and remove others, willy-nilly.  Elections, then, are exceedingly costly public events that achieve nothing more than what could be accomplished by a coin-toss..." 
continues at 3quarksdaily

*Also, don't overlook their Reasonable Atheism: a moral case for respectful disbelief, among many other masterful (and sometimes provocative) collaborations.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Carl Sagan Day

A cosmic celebration of Carl Sagan Day is in order, beginning with a brief rendition of just a few of his best words. I'm dedicating my next slice of apple pie to his memory, and to the future of his vision.
 “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”  
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” 
“Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.” 
“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” 
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”  
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


For all who are displeased with the results of the election, or excessively pleased: keep it in perspective. The moment will pass. "We must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Democracy in America

It's election day, at last. I agree with Chris Stevens: the idea of an election is much more interesting than the election itself, especially when the the will of the people does not coincide with my own. But the act of voting is a defining moment in any case. It's Existential.

Then again, depending on how the balllot crumbles, I may find myself agreeing with George Carlin this time tomorrow. Hope not. But if I do, I'm sure I'll get over it.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Is the Book of Mormon benign or benighted? Guess it depends on how seriously you take it. Richard Dawkins takes it seriously enough to ask:
Bishop Romney, why don't you repudiate the Mormon curse on black people and the Mark of Cain?

Maybe he really believes...

The late great Hitch got the last word on why Mitt's faith is any of our business.

It'll be over soon

Promise, Mommy? Totally feeling the little girl's pain. Where's Bill Clinton when you really need him?

Wonder if Mommy got Michele's tweet: "It's 9 pm. Have you read with your child today?"

Our politics really has become an unpleasant partisan mess, as reflected in the latest episode of "This American Life." I hope the little girl and her generation will grow up and fix it. Time to consider a parliamentary democracy, maybe? Our two parties are no fun.

Too bad the little girl can't appreciate the humor of Chris Rock.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Nashville, then & now

I asked my students recently if they'd been watching the new ABC series "Nashville." No. Well, had they seen the eponymous classic Altman film?

No again.

I was surprised. If there'd been a popular show or film called "St. Louis" when I was 20 years old I'd for sure have been watching, looking for insight into the strange doings of my peers. (Judy Garland's "Meet Me in St. Louey," set in 1904, didn't quite provide that.) But I guess it's just all too familiar to them to sound entertaining.

Atlantic has an insightful piece on how pop country culture mirrors the changes in my adopted hometown. An interesting and occasionally, as they say, "surreal" place to live. I got here just after Altman, and was thrilled to discover "the city’s most eccentric civic landmark, a scale replica of the Parthenon." I love living in a place of such glittery excess, surrounding its own borrowed temple of wisdom. What would Socrates say?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dads writing to daughters

Happy birthday Older Daughter!

I shared with you the lighthearted letter Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his "Scottie" in 1933. Here's one from William James to his "Peg" in 1900. Good "manly" advice for us all, if we ever need it.

"Your letter came last night and explained sufficiently the cause of your long silence. You have evidently been in a bad state of spirits again, and dissatisfied with your environment; and I judge that you have been still more dissatisfied with the inner state of trying to consume your own smoke, and grin and bear it, so as to carry out your mother's behests made after the time when you scared us so by your inexplicable tragic outcries in those earlier letters. Well! I believe you have been trying to do the manly thing under difficult circumstances, but one learns only gradually to do the best thing; and the best thing for you would be to write at least weekly, if only a post-card, and say just how things are going..."  (ContinuesWilliam James - Letter to daughter Peg - 1900)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Trees & bridges

We're looking at the French Existentialists today in CoPhi. How they love their metaphors!  Camus with his Sisyphean stone, Sartre with his nauseating black knotty chestnut tree roots...
The chestnut tree pressed itself against my eyes. Green rust covered it half-way up; the bark, black and swollen, looked like boiled leather... I realized that there was no half-way house between non-existence and this flaunting abundance. If you existed, you had to exist all the way, as far as mouldiness, bloatedness, obscenity were concerned... In the way, the chestnut tree there, opposite me, a little to the left. And I—soft, weak, obscene, digesting, juggling with dismal thoughts—I, too, was In the way.
I like trees, myself . They're never in my way.

Simone de Beauvoir played with a problematic bridge metaphor in The Second Sex, attributed to D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley. "The bridge to the future is the phallus." So that's where Bill Clinton got his "bridge to the 21st century" metaphor.

"Thought and action have their roots in the phallus." Now we're really mixing metaphors."Lacking the phallus, woman has no rights." Man, on the other hand, is "polarized upwards, towards the sun and the day's activities." Hmmm.

This is all pretty Freudian, and even metaphysical with its implication that gender relations are forever a struggle for dominance and control. I prefer the implication of bridging as an equal connection of mutual respect. But so did de Beauvoir, of course. That's her larger point: that neither male nor female is by nature supreme or subordinate; inequality is cultivated and imposed. We can decide not to do that. Why don't we, then?

Why? I suspect it's because we're wedded to some bad metaphors, or maybe just a bad interpretation of some neutral ones. We were talking about this yesterday in Environmental Ethics, where most of us are tree-huggers and bridge-builders of a sort.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pulling his own strings

Puppet-Einstein illustrates a version of free will: when you form good habits, your choices habitually coincide with your intentions and you're "free."

For instance: I'm a habitual walker. On Saturday afternoon, typically a time of relative immobility for me, I happened upon this article on the importance of moving. So I did. Could I have done otherwise? Pretty sure I could, but the habits of a lifetime converged with the impulse to get up and go. So I went, and I enjoyed my walk. It felt like a free choice to me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Breathtaking optimism

I finally tracked down one of the best things former Chancellor Gordon Gee (now at Ohio State, again) ever said during his tenure at Vanderbilt.
"One of the best things at Vanderbilt, which, as you all know, is a campus full of “best things,” is a huge Lucite-and-bronze sculpture in a glass case in front of the Stevenson Science Library. The sculpture depicts, in angles and dimensions of Lucite, the unfurling unfoldment of the universe, and within that unfoldment, the interests of science in all arrays: ganglia and galaxies; a plesiosaur skeleton and a cityscape; ammonites and molecular structures; girders and retorts. It all rests on the backs of twisting primeval dragons, and the sun and the moon

The whole form and sweep of the thing takes your breath away, because it is charged with the optimism of atomic-age science, the optimism of space-age science – that amazing, exhilarating faith in the human potential to sound not only the reaches of space, but also the depth of our beginnings, and meanwhile continue to make a more livable civilization right here on this earth. Unfortunately, what one wonders now, gazing at this great jagged glass-and-bronze construction, is whether its dreams and expectations are still current..." 

Vanderbilt University Daily Register:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Who majors in philosophy?

You might be surprised. Steve Allen, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, George Soros, Thomas Jefferson... it's a very long list. [Here's another. And another.]

And why? It's the most practical major, of course. And Simon Blackburn notes that "people turn to philosophers when they feel less confident and more insecure." Bad times, good times... Bottom line is, philosophy prepares you to think and talk about everything. And the best philosophy puts it all in perspective and gives you a smile. Take it away, Eric the orchestra leader.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wendell Berry

The Mad Farmer's Manifesto
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Going Dutch

"The Netherlands is the bicycle capital of the world, with 40% of all traffic movements by bicycle. They have created a bicycle friendly country that promotes a healthier, more active lifestyle for its residents. Last year over 1.3 million bicycles were sold in the Netherlands..." And to where are they pedaling? Philosophy Night!
The Dutch, it seems, like their philosophy. In an essay for Filosofie Magazine, Frank Mulder discusses the public role of philosophy in the Netherlands.
Attention to the subject, Mulder points out, peaks each year on the Night of Philosophy. Held annually at the International School of Philosophy, it attracts a lay audience a thousand strong. As one organizer says, “The Dutch see an evening of philosophizing as a night out”: many cafes hold philosophical readings and discussions and books of philosophy regularly become best-sellers.
Mulder dates the growth of popular interest in the subject to the early 1990s, when neo-liberalism, commercialism and “hyper-individualism” began to disenchant the Dutch, whetting their appetites for fresh conceptions of society and the good life. 
Meanwhile, where I live, there's a new piece of legislation promoting a very different, very stale old conception of the good life.
House Resolution 789: Reaffirming the importance of religion in the lives of United States citizens and their freedom to exercise those beliefs peacefully.
"As if that really was a problem in our country," indeed.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bioethics at MTSU

New Course, Spring 2013
Philosophy 3345 – Bioethics
Mondays & Wednesdays, 2:20-3:45, Peck Hall 220
This course explores ethical issues arising from the practice of medical therapeutics (conventional and “alternative”), from the development of new biomedical technologies, and more largely from reflections on life’s meaning and prospects. 

     The course aims at clarifying relevant bioethical and medical issues and debates, representing various perspectives in application to present and future human possibilities and concerns (for example: genetic engineering and biochemical “enhancement,” longevity and life extension, end-of-life decisions, health care access, nanotechnology, cloning, stem cell research, mood and performance-enhancing pharmaceutical use, animal research, and reproductive technologies). 

        We’ll also explore the future of life (human, nonhuman, and trans- or post-human).

The course’s ultimate objective is to provide students with critical resources and tools they can apply in making crucial life-choices.

“Bio” means simply life, but questions about life’s goals, about appropriate means for attaining them, and about the professions devoted to sustaining life, give rise to the most basic, enduring, and fascinating ethical problems and prospects.

Primary text:


Bioethics for Beginners60 Cases and Cautions from the Moral Frontier of Healthcare maps the giant dilemmas posed by new technologies and medical choices, using 60 cases taken from the headlines, and from the worlds of medicine and science… shedding light on the social, economic and legal side of 21st century medicine while giving the reader an informed basis on which to answer personal, practical questions and decide for themselves exactly what the scientific future should hold.” [NOTE: Kindle edition available]

Course website: Bioethics - Supporting the philosophical study of bioethics, bio-medical ethics, biotechnology, and the future of life, at Middle Tennessee State University and beyond...

For more info, contact Dr. Phil Oliver,

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hail Cicero!

Roman philosophy gets a bad rap, and Cicero is way underrated. Jennifer Hecht, I've noted, rectified that a bit in her Doubt: A History.
Cicero‘s wonderful dialogue with a Skeptic, a Stoic, and an Epicurean, Nature of the Gods, would have been fun to join. “Cotta” says it all: Are you not ashamed as a scientist, as an observer and investigator of nature, to seek your criterion of truth from minds steeped in conventional beliefs? The whole theory is ridiculous… I do not believe these gods of yours exist at all, least of all the uninvolved, uninterested ones like the Epicurean-inspired Disinterested Deist Deity. If this is all that a god is, a being untouched by care or love of human kind, then I wave him good-bye.
Novelists and other artisans of the well-chosen and well-spoken word (like Hecht, a poet and historian as well as a terrific philosopher) have appreciated Cicero more than most of my philosophy colleagues. There's Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, in which Epictetus gets the star treatment.

I've been listening to Robert Harris's Conspirata on my daily commute up and down I-24 lately. Simon Jones's narration is delightful.

And then there's the Victorian Trollope's compendious Life of Cicero.

The older I get, the longer my reading list grows. Cicero said that was one of the consolations of aging. He was a wise old consul, and an honest Stoic.
After the loss of his daughter Tullia in childbirth, [Cicero] turned to Stoicism to assuage his grief. But ultimately he could not accept its terms: “It is not within our power to forget or gloss over circumstances which we believe to be evil…They tear at us, buffet us, goad us, scorch us, stifle us — and you tell us to forget about them?” 
But my favorite mention of Cicero in all of literature is still from Emerson:
"Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote those books."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A philosopher finds his peace

A former student just back from Germany sends along proof-positive that pessimistic philosophers eventually get what they yearn for.

Old Artur's not wrestling with the Will anymore. Thanks, Rudy!

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Lord knows"

We're talking, in addition to Epicurean happiness and relativism and "enhancement,"about Pyrrho and extreme (though allegedly-therapeutic) skepticism in CoPhi today. With all our talk about Platonic cats I'm reminded of a scene in Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy. The nameless "man who rules the Universe" turns out, in that fable, to be a kind of Pyrrhonian.

And here's where I'll switch metaphors, from cats to fish, to suggest a useful mnemonic: Pyrrhonian skeptics, given the right mispronunciation, are like those toothy flounders who (it is popularly believed) will devour everything (beliefs included) in their path. Or will seem to, at least in your mind.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hello Plato & Aristotle!

Popped into the Sarratt Gallery at Vanderbilt this morning... was delighted to find this new art installation, on the same day I was to discuss Raphael's School of Athens (and Platonic Forms, real and Ideal cats, etc.) in class. Serendipitous. And funny.

Transgressive, too.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


George Carlin was good when sputtering obscenities to challenge restrictive regulatory rules or fuming about the corporate world's hostility to an informed and critically reflective citizenry. But he was at his best when tracing the quirks and oddities of language, playing with words, and celebrating our historical national pastime.

That's my view, anyway, offered again as football comes around to disturb my peace. The loud tailgate party outside my classroom window went on all afternoon Thursday!

But I'm going to try and not speak of this again 'til the last out is recorded in the October classic. Meanwhile, I urge you to read Gladwell and enjoy George.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The truest vision of life

I'm always looking for a new metaphor for philosophy. Here's a good old one: Wallace Stegner's borrowed "spectator bird." It's a nice vision, less manic than Douglas Adams' whale. But philosophy is no mere spectator's sport. It's for doing.

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Indigo now!"

I always have fun in class with William James's experiments in psychoactive chemistry, especially the one involving nitrous oxide and Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.
I strongly urge others to repeat the experiment, which with pure gas is short an harmless enough. The effects will of course vary with the individual, just as they vary in the same individual from time to time; but it is probable that in the former case, as in the latter, a generic resemblance will obtain. With me, as with every other person of whom I have heard, the keynote of the experience is the tremendously exciting sense of an intence metaphysical illumination. Truth lies open to the view in depth beneath depth of almost blinding evidence. The mind sees all the logical relations of being with an apparent subtlety and instantaneity to which its normal consciousness offers no parallel; only as sobriety returns, the feeling of insight fades, and one is left staring vacantly at a few disjointed words and phrases, as one stares at the cadaverous-looking snow peak from which the sunset glow has just fled, or at the black cinder left by an extinguished brand.
He was half-joking, but half not.The punchline is the "fade" at the end, and the joke's on us metaphysical seekers.

Well, looks like Oliver Sacks is carrying on in a similar vein: no nitrous or Hegel in his case, but it's fundamentally the same quest for transcendence through pharmacology. And, it seems about as likely to succeed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Walk and enjoy

Still the most useful information I've ever received at any church, on the grounds of Brook Hollow Baptist in Nashville:

Monday, August 20, 2012

David’s Journey

"...when David Oliver, a retired professor of gerontology and assistant director of MU’s Interdisciplinary Center on Aging, told his colleagues via YouTube video that he had stage 4 cancer, he led with his trademark grin. “The goal of the video was to make people comfortable so they could see that I was still David,” says Oliver, who was diagnosed with treatable but not curable nasopharyngeal (upper throat) carcinoma in October 2011. “I was not ‘David with cancer’ — even though I was David, with cancer.”" David’s Journey | MIZZOU Magazine

Amazing, inspiring story. It first caught my eye because of the phyiscal resemblance between David and my late Dad James C. Oliver, DVM (Mizzou class of '60), who passed from leukemia in 2008. I wonder if we're related? I hope so. Dad would be so impressed with David's graceful and dignified cheerfulness, and his willingness to use his own health crisis as an opportunity to educate. Good luck to you David.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Earth Days

Here's where we'll begin, in the Environmental Ethics and Activism course at MTSU this Fall.
"...abusing the environment without any thought to the consequences." 
The trailer:

The film:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

From books to banks

Felt virtuous yesterday, biking five miles to renew my auto tags (while the Corolla was in the shop). Whiled away the time in line by tweeting this:
Waiting to renew my auto tags. There once was a world-class independent bookstore here, now a bank. Sad.

And this:
Here's where philosophy was shelved at Davis-Kidd, back in the day...

Really sad.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Something human worth doing

You can avoid it, of course. Gotta choose. Give Sartre his due.
The concept of the project I find useful. Something you do in the present, and can remember doing in the past, and expect to do in the future, in order to create something. A work of art which need not be in the arts per se, but something human worth doing.
“That's existentialism, yes?” “Yes, I think that's right. I don't see how you can avoid it.” Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Solvitur ambulando

Solvitur ambulando-"It is solved by walking." Diogenes of Sinope, via Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312. Says it all.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Carry on with your religion

   My irreligion inspires me, activates my humanitarian instincts, makes me happy, reconciles me to my human nature, mortality, cosmic insignificance etc. etc. AND, I want to share all that with the religiously-benighted world.

Does my impulse to share make me no better than a proselytizing  missionary, desperately seeking personal/ideological validation through tribal association?

Maybe. It certainly makes me human. 

(See the whole Oatmeal cartoon here.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gone fishin'

Actually I hate fishin, which to me is too much like piddlin' & not enough like loaferin'... but it's just a metaphor.

And a state of mind.

Hey to Goob.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thoreau on "success"

He's not talking about James's bitch-goddess* here.
“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success.”
Happy Birthday, Henry David Thoreau: On Defining Your Own Success | Brain Pickings

*The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That — with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Carl Sagan's Reading List

In 1954 he was already taking the more expansive view of life and the cosmos for which some of us so admire him. He read "Who Speaks for Man?" and later asked "Who Speaks for Earth?" His ultimate question, of course, was always about who else than us might ever speak for the cosmos?
Besides books immediately relevant to Sagan’s work as a scientist and educator in cosmology and astrophysics, he took great care to also touch on history, philosophy, religion, the arts, social science, and psychology..." 
Carl Sagan's Reading List | Brain Pickings

Monday, July 9, 2012

Going for a deeper meaning

Andy Taylor was a wise man.
"'ve been goin' on & on, talkin' & talkin'...I've never seen anybody that knows everything... And it doesn't hurt to listen, once in a while."

"We study more than the whys and the wherefores... we go for a deeper meaning. The root, the philosophy of why things happened the way they did... What I mean is, you better study real hard while you're young. 'Cause it's hard to learn anything new when you're old."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My favorite secular holiday

The impulse to re-read Richard Ford's Independence Day is significant here...
The impulse to read Self-Reliance is significant here, as is the holiday itself —my favorite secular one for being public and for its implicit goal of leaving us only as it found us: free.
And we're as free as can be this year on the 4th, in the Magic Kingdom.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Scarcely a mention of God

"I've been ragging on Disney, psyching myself for the impending family visit with Team Rodent I've not been able to extricate myself from. But on the other hand, there's this to consider: the more than thirty-five animated features Disney has released since 1937, there is scarcely a mention of God as conceived in the Christian and Jewish faiths shared by most people in the Western world and many beyond. 
It may be a commercial decision, to embrace the godless form of magic, but wouldn't you rather wish on a star than suborn your soul to servility?" God-free in Tennessee

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mapping philosophy

"Here is an intriguing map of philosophical space... The raw data was culled from the “influenced by” section for the pages of all the philosophers listed in Wikipedia — using an algorithm. The images are startling, and the map does seem to get many of the big thinkers what seems intuitively the right size and location (though one does notice Descartes’ “star” must be too small relative to his influence). But it is unclear how effective the algorithm is at saying something meaningful about the history of philosophy and, correlatively, the history of ideas. One also wonders what a similar map drawing on the data in, say, The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy, would look like." Stone Links: A Constellation of Philosophers -

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Solstice!

"The summer solstice—also called midsummer—has long been recognized and often celebrated by many cultures around the world. The ancient Egyptians, for example, built the Great Pyramids so that the sun, when viewed from the Sphinx, sets precisely between two of the Pyramids on the summer solstice. The Inca of South America celebrated the corresponding winter solstice with a ceremony called Inti Raymi, which included food offerings and sacrifices of animals, and maybe even people. (See a picture of an Inca winter solstice festival.) Recently, archaeologists discovered the remains of an astronomical observatory in a long-buried Maya city in Guatemala in which the buildings were designed to align with the sun during the solstices. During such times, the city's populace gathered at the observatory to watch as their king appeared to command the heavens. And perhaps most famously, Stonehenge in the United Kingdom has been associated with the winter and summer solstices for about 5,000 years. Summer Solstice 2012: Why It's the Longest Day of the Year

Q: Today is the longest day of the year. How will you and your friends spend the extra time? 

Extra time? What a bonus!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why I stopped following PZed Myers

Not to pick a fight or anything, but...

I stopped following PZ Myers (@pzmyers) on Twitter about a month ago. I just noticed how much I've enjoyed not missing him, and wonder if others wouldn't benefit similarly from shutting off that particular faucet of vulgar, constantly-streaming antipathy for pretty much everyone not in lock-stop with the masher from Minnesota.

The "Why I Am An Atheist" series on his site did admittedly provide a useful template in our "Atheism & Philosophy" course at MTSU. (Most contributors, like just about all of my students, are a lot nicer than their host.)

And I confess, I took more than a little guilty pleasure in watching him skewer an ongoing parade of dunderheads in public.

But not all theists are dunderheads, and not all atheists are people I want on my team. PZed's vituperative displays of misanthropy finally got to be too much. He may be a good atheist (though not a great one), but he's not a good humanist. His human sympathies are in fact shriveled and grinch-like, his heart is at least two sizes too small, and I don't need to share mental space with such people.

There, I've said it. For what it's worth. Namaste, PZed.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Time is an illusion?

I suppose what some people (Einstein, Spinoza) mean by that is that the human perspective, from which time is all too real, is limited. True enough, but who really wants to live timelessly?

It's fun to recall Douglas Adams' Ford Prefect: "time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so." I have no idea what that means, but if time were an illusion it would be literally un-recallable, and that would be sad.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Walking in Kyoto

"It’s interesting that the pathway which links three of the world’s most important Zen temples – Ginkaku-ji, Nanzenji and Kyomizudera – is called The Philosophers’ Walk. This gives stress and emphasis to the fact that Zen is a philosophy and not a religion..." The Philosophers’ Walk | 3Di Associates – 3D Eye

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A train wreck

One of my favorite regular walks takes me safely by Dutchman's Curve, the site of the worst train wreck in U.S. history.

Nice metaphor. Like whistling past the graveyard. Accelerating Intelligence News