The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'philosophy'
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Yauch taught himself to play bass in high school, forming a band for his 17th birthday party that would later become known the world over as Beastie Boys.
With fellow members Michael "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Adrock" Horovitz, Beastie Boys would go on to sell over 40 million records, release four #1 albums–including the first hip hop album ever to top the Billboard 200, the band's 1986 debut full length, Licensed To Ill–win three Grammys, and the MTV Video Vanguard Lifetime Achievement award. Last month Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with Diamond and Horovitz reading an acceptance speech on behalf of Yauch, who was unable to attend.In addition to his role in the Beastie Boys (who started off as a crossover between hardcore punk and rap, taking turns to rhyme cartoonishly crude lyrics over sampled Led Zeppelin breaks, and then evolved into something more subtle though no less dynamic, even putting out two albums of instrumental loungecore grooves), Yauch, a practicing Buddhist, also made and distributed films and was involved in activism, organising a benefit concert for the rights of Tibetans under Chinese rule and, more recently, marching with the Occupy movement.
Meanwhile, Pitchfork has a piece on how MCA offered a relatable blueprint for growing up, in both his art and his life:
The Beastie Boys turned curiosity into a form of art. They wanted to know more about what was around them and learn everything they could about what wasn't. Forget about Kurt Cobain for a second: For kids like me, the Beastie Boys invented the 90s. Technology was changing fast and the world was shrinking rapidly. Between their music and label/magazine Grand Royal, the Beasties showed how to reach out and scoop up all the best parts. New York hip-hop and punk rock, Japanese pop, Jamaican dub-- all of it could be gathered and re-assembled into something that reflected who you were. This sort of cultural mixing was nothing new, but the Beastie Boys brought it to the mainstream. They were ambassadors, but their hipness didn't look down on anybody. It felt inclusive.
MCA was the spiritual center of the trio, even before he became a student of Tibetan Buddhism. There was a certain kind of Beastie Boys track that I liked to call a "State of MCA" dispatch, starting with "A Year and a Day" from Paul's Boutique. The group was known for its 70s references and corny jokes, but these MCA songs hinted at a yearning for something deeper.The piece ends with a piece of everyday philosophy from MCA:
There's an instrumental on Ill Communication called "Futterman's Rule". The only lyrics listed in the booklet say, "When two are served, all may eat." It turned out to be a reference to a community ritual that was dear to Yauch. In a later issue of Grand Royal, there was a short piece explaining that Gene Futterman was a professional chef and a friend of Adam Yauch's family. He was known for his large dinner parties and when he brought food in from the kitchen he would tell his guests: "When two are served, you eat!"
The elegance of Futterman's Rule does lend it a hint of spirituality. One eats one's food while it is hot, observing dinner as a natural continuum (instead of the top-down, "no-one-eats-until-the-chef-is-ready" hierarchical model that dominates most households). At the same time, no one eats alone (it is only once two people are served, and a social base is established for those with food, that one may begin to eat). If form follows function, the Rule is built to travel. So give it a try. And if you like it, tell a friend.Meanwhile, Stereogum has 20 Great Adam Yauch Moments.
Adam Yauch leaves behind a wife and daughter, two living parents and a world that's slightly less enlightened than when he walked on it. Here passes a true mensch.
Irony of the day: apparently books on ethics are stolen more often from libraries than philosophical books not on ethics; after adjusting for other factors (the age of books, and their popularity), books on ethics are almost one and a half times as likely to be stolen.
(via David Gerard)
Skeptic PZ Myers recounts how, when he was a child, a crazy Christian lady converted him, unwittingly, to atheism:
And then she told us to kneel down in the gravel by the side of the road and put our hands on her Bible, which we did, because at this point I was afraid if I didn't our Mommy and Daddy would find our little corpses with our throats slit and a mad woman dancing in our blood. Then she recited some lengthy vow with lots of Jesus in it, looked at us expectently with another mad-eyed grin, and we mumble-whispered "yes, ma'am" and she let us go, throats uncut, hearts still in our chests, heads still attached to our necks, while she capered off triumphantly, having secured two more souls for her lord and master. She thought. But, as you can know now, all she actually managed to do was make me aware that people who believe in Heaven and Hell are freakin' nutbag insane.Myers goes on to tear apart the ideas of an eternal afterlife, using the power of reason, starting with Hell in its various guises, from the absurdly corporeal (lakes of fire, with the damned being magically suspended for eternity in the state of a very physical death-agony; i.e., the stuff designed to scare the less sophisticated thinkers), and then working up to more subtle variations:
Other visions of Hell are a bit more sophisticated — it's a place of psychological torture, unending despair and futility, where you feel regret and sorrow for all time, or suffer because you are deprived of the presence of God. That's a bit more plausible for a disembodied self, I suppose, but still…throw a mob of people in a Slough of Despond for a long, long time, and at some point someone is going to get together with someone else and form a Glee Club, and there will be singing in Hell. And then a rugby match will break out, and there will be cheering and betting, and thespians will be pestering Shakespeare for some new plays, and before you know it, culture will emerge and it won't be Hell so much anymore.
But all right, let's assume God has figured out ways to permanently suppress the human spirit among all those deceased spirits, and actually has contrived a truly painful Hell, one that I can not imagine but that he can, being God and all. Now we've got the problem that the loving God we're all supposed to worship is an imaginative, creative death camp commandant, one who also maintains a luxury spa on the side.Heaven, alas, doesn't fare any better. The visions of the blissful eternal reward awaiting the virtuous (or, in more liberal theologies, everyone) all fall down on closer examination. Some seem, frankly, hellish (an eternity of singing praises to God, surrounded by puritans?), and others are either inconsistent with human nature or have the nihilistic qualities of an eternal crack cocaine binge:
A paradise is also inhuman (I know, one can get around this by arguing that after death you can't be human anymore, by definition; but then that requires throwing away the idea of life after death, which is what most people find appealing). Think about what defines you now: it's how you think, your personality, your desires and how you achieve them — by what you strive for. Finish one project, and what do you do (after a little celebration, of course)? You look for something else to strive for, a new goal to keep you interested and occupied. But now you're in heaven. All wishes are fulfilled, all desires achieved, we're done with everything we've ever dreamed of, making Heaven a kind of retirement home where everyone is waiting to die. Waiting forever.Of course, one could imagine ways around this. Perhaps there would be entire legions of angels whose job would be to lay on the entertainment, distracting the saved souls from eternal boredom in the way that one amuses a housecat (which, remember, is a territorial predator with no prey and nothing to defend its territory against) with a laser pointer. Actually, the idea of one of the newly-dead exploring and pushing against the logical constraints of a heaven, and discovering the infinite layers of distracting angels required to keep it heavenly and keep God's side of the contract to His faithful departed, and coming up against an infinitely sophisticated machinery moulded to the logical necessities (however odd) of keeping humans entertained for eternity, could be a good premise for a sci-fi (or, more accurately, phil-fi) story.
As problematic as the common Western idea of heaven is, the alternative involves the annihilation of the self as we know it in a supernova of infinite, mindless ecstasy, like a heroin overdose that goes on forever. (Blessed are the junkies?) And while that may be plausible, it doesn't sit well with the Abrahamic religions or most people's idea of heaven:
There are some religions that embrace this sublime vision of an ultimate end that does not include the mundane humanity of its believers — the Buddhist afterlife does seem to be a kind of selfless oblivion — but that does not include the Abrahamic religions. They've still got the cartoonish anthropocentric version of an afterlife, where you've got a body with limbs and tongues and penises and vaginas, and you get to indulge in the senses within certain confining rules. You get to meet Grandma and Grandpa again, and they aren't all subsumed in the godhead — they're there to give you hugs and a plate of cookies. And that's just silly. I can't believe a word of it.
In the popular beliefs of our times, the figure of Albert Einstein fulfils the role of the metaphorical "smartest human being ever", to the point where urban legends attributing factoids to (such as "we only use 10% of our brains") to various luminaries end up mutating into "Einstein said that...". So, not surprisingly, a lot of people are eager to claim the great man's endorsement for their beliefs, however tenuously.
Not surprisingly, there has been much debate about Einstein's views on religion (i.e., whether his famous statement that "God does not play dice" was an acknowledgement of a higher being or mere metaphor), with both theists and atheists claiming him for their team. Now, newly released letters from 1954 reveal that, at least towards the end of his life, Einstein regarded religion as "childish" and "primitive legends":
In the letter, dated January 3 1954, he wrote: "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.
He wrote: "For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people.The letter recounts Einstein's questioning of religion having begun at age 12.
(via Boing Boing)
Former Playboy model, reality TV star and existentialist philosopher Anna Nicole Smith has been found dead in a motel room in Florida. While much has been said about her marriages and media appearances, Smith is perhaps most notable for her terse summation of the human condition into seven words: "it's just so hard to be me", a statement which stands alongside Sartre's "Hell is other people" in the annals of modern thought.
The cause of death has not been announced. More details are here.
Famous atheist Daniel Dennett has a near-death experience, fails to recant his conviction that there is no God/Heaven/Flying Spaghetti Monster/glorious afterlife:
Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say "Thank goodness!" this is not merely a euphemism for "Thank God!" (We atheists don't believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.And while he forgives those who prayed for him, he chides them for wasting their time doing so when they could have expended the effort on something that would have made a difference:
I translate my religious friends' remarks readily enough into one version or another of what my fellow brights have been telling me: "I've been thinking about you, and wishing with all my heart ... that you come through this OK." The fact that these dear friends have been thinking of me in this way, and have taken an effort to let me know, is in itself, without any need for a supernatural supplement, a wonderful tonic. These messages from my family and from friends around the world have been literally heart-warming in my case, and I am grateful for the boost in morale (to truly manic heights, I fear!) that it has produced in me. But I am not joking when I say that I have had to forgive my friends who said that they were praying for me. I have resisted the temptation to respond "Thanks, I appreciate it, but did you also sacrifice a goat?" I feel about this the same way I would feel if one of them said "I just paid a voodoo doctor to cast a spell for your health." What a gullible waste of money that could have been spent on more important projects! Don't expect me to be grateful, or even indifferent. I do appreciate the affection and generosity of spirit that motivated you, but wish you had found a more reasonable way of expressing it.
(via Boing Boing)
Nick Bostrom (director of the "Future of Humanity Institute", who also argues that it's likely that reality is a computer simulation) speculates about the possibilities of neural enhancements:
There was a talk at this conference on 'virtue engineering' by James Hughes of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies in Hartford, Connecticut. He spoke about the idea of using technology to enhance moral behaviour. A lot of people have trouble with impulse control, for example, and they might benefit from pharmaceutical help.
In the context of marriage, an interesting possibility is the use of pharmaceuticals to regulate the pair-bonding mechanism. There are a small number of hormones, such as vasopressin and oxytocin, that might help us form bonds with others. It could be possible to prevent the levels of these chemicals from trailing off, and to infuse romance into fading marriages -- like a technological form of counselling.
Philosophers have solved one of the great conundra, the question of which came first: the chicken or the egg. The answer: the egg came first, even if you implicitly exclude non-chicken eggs:
Genetic material does not change during an animal's life. Therefore, the first bird that evolved into what we would call a chicken, probably in prehistoric times, must first have existed as an embryo inside an egg.
Professor John Brookfield, a specialist in evolutionary genetics at the University of Nottingham, who was put to work on the dilemma, said that the pecking order was perfectly clear: the living organism inside the eggshell would have the same DNA as the chicken that it would become.Of course, the conclusion is not entirely indisputable, especially in the non-reality-based community:
Creationists, for example, will argue that if God created Adam and Eve, he probably had a spare five minutes to knock up a chicken as well.
Towards a Unified Understanding of the Human Condition, a fairly elegant model of all human endeavours and concepts:
All of life, you see, exists somewhere within the space delineated by the movies Reservoir Dogs, Being John Malkovich, and The Princess Bride. Each of these three movies represents the extreme outer limit of one aspect of the human condition. All of humanity--all religion, all philosophy, all creation, all expression, all experience--falls somewhere within the space marked off by these three movies.
An interesting piece (from a US ex-Republican) positing a single axiomatic principle, originating in the Puritan experiment in the American colonies, from which all conservative ideology can be derived. Similarly, the first principle of lifestyle liberalism, which says basically that punishing "deviants" from the one true lifestyle is unnecessary and/or unfair, and what conservatives don't grasp about liberal economics (here "liberal" is used in the US colloquial sense, and basically means everything other than "strict user-pays" and that old Reagan/Thatcher trickle-down voodoo). (via tyrsalvia)
What does a radical Muslim lesbian look like? Probably something like Irshad Manji, the Canadian-based author of The Trouble with Islam, a manifesto for a new Islamic reformation, for which she has received very specific death threats:
The core concept in Manji's thought -- and that of all progressive Muslims -- is "itjihad". It's a simple idea, and devastatingly powerful. Itjihad is the application of reason and reinterpretation to the message of the Koran. It allows every Muslim to reconsider the message of the Koran for the changed circumstances of the 21st century.
"For example, the next time you hear an Islamo-fetishist, an imam of the ninth-century school, wax eloquent that Muslim societies today have their own forms of democracy thank you very much, we don't need to take any lessons, right there, ask him a few questions. What rights do women and religious minorities actually exercise in these democracies? Not in theory, but in actuality. Don't tell me what the Koran says, because the Koran, like every other holy book, is all over the map, OK. No, tell me what is happening on the ground." She continues, her voice hard and rhythmic, "Tell me when your people vote in free elections. Tell me how many free, uncensored newspapers there are in your 'democracy'. There is, I believe, such a thing as the soft racism of low expectations. And I believe that there is more virtue in expecting Muslims like anybody else, to rise above low expectations, because you know what? We're capable of it."
Manji offers a specific solution for undermining Islamic fundamentalism and ushering in a reformation; her plan involves diverting a large chunk of the West's foreign aid and national security budgets to small business loans to Muslim women, which would have the effect of empowering women in Islamic societies, and undermining the culture that created al-Qaeda.
This feminism shouldn't be alien to good Muslims, she adds. "Muhammad's beloved first wife Khadija was a self-made merchant for whom the Prophet worked for many years. I sometimes point out to Muslim men that if they are serious about emulating the Prophet, then they should go work for their wives."
Consciousness researcher Christof Koch claims that we are almost zombies, or rather, that the vast majority of our lives are spent unconsciously, on autopilot: (via bOING bOING)
You drive to work on autopilot, move your eyes, brush your teeth, tie your shoelaces, talk, and all the other myriad chores that constitute daily life. Indeed, he says, Any sufficiently well-rehearsed activity is best performed without conscious, deliberate thought. Reflecting too much about any one action is likely to interfere with its seamless execution.
Given the range and effectiveness of these zombie agents, Koch believes the great mystery is why we are not complete zombies. Or to put it another way: What purpose does consciousness serve? Why does it exist at all?
Consciousness, Koch argues, is a local phenomenon, residing in a specific part of the brain, and serving a specific purpose, and not an emergent property of a complex system, as some have claimed:
In principle, Koch says, there is no reason why consciousness is necessary to life. With enough input sensors and output effectors, it is conceivable that A zombie could pretty much do anything. But since every zombie behavior must be hard-wired, the more situations it must respond to, the more complex its internal mechanism must become. Instead, Evolution has chosen a different path, synthesizing a much more powerful and flexible system that we call consciousness. The main function of this innovation, he and Crick propose, is to enable organisms to deal rapidly with unexpected events and to plan for the future. As Koch likes to say, consciousness puts us online, allowing us to override our instinctual offline programming.
Which lends itself to a possible test for detecting consciousness, and thus differentiating between humans and zombies and other unconscious life:
Since zombie agents operate purely according to preprogrammed rules, a zombie would have no need for short-term memory, and hence Koch believes the absence of this feature would serve as an indication that consciousness was also missing. Consider the following situation: You see an outstretched hand, but instead of shaking it immediately, which instinct would dictate, you are required to close your eyes and wait several seconds before doing so. Koch and Crick suspect that without a short-term memory, a zombie could not do this task, or any other in which an artificial delay was imposed between an input and the associated motor output.
For the moment, he is concentrating not on humans but on biologys most common test subject, the mouse. He and his colleagues are trying to develop a mouse model of consciousness, a rigorous way of determining if and when a mouse is aware. Over the past decade, biologists have learned how to turn individual genes on and off in the developing rodent fetus. With a mouse model of consciousness, Koch could begin to explore what genes are essential for this phenomenon. One question he would like to pursue is whether it is possible to genetically engineer an animal without conscious awareness -- a zombie mouse.
Life imitates Borges: A professor in Japan plans to create a database of every human idea. Darryl Macer from the University of Tsukuba believes that the number of possible human ideas is finite and enumerable. The database is intended to shed light on cross-cultural differences and to be used to help come up with international agreements acceptable to all parties.
Research in neuroscience suggests that conscious free will may be an illusion, with decisions being made in the brain before they reach the conscious mind.
What Libet did was to measure electrical changes in people's brains as they flicked their wrists. And what he found was that a subject's ''readiness potential'' - the brain signal that precedes voluntary actions - showed up about one-third of a second before the subject felt the conscious urge to act. The result was so surprising that it still had the power to elicit an exclamation point from him in a 1999 paper: ''The initiation of the freely voluntary act appears to begin in the brain unconsciously, well before the person consciously knows he wants to act!''
Then the experimenters would use magnetic stimulation in certain parts of the brain just at the moment when the subject was prompted to make the choice. They found that the magnets, which influence electrical activity in the brain, had an enormous effect: On average, subjects whose brains were stimulated on their right-hand side started choosing their left hands 80 percent of the time. And, in the spookiest aspect of the experiment, the subjects still felt as if they were choosing freely.
Which makes sense; if cognition is a physical process, then so would be decision-making. And it could be that the conscious mind is a very small part of the processes of the brain.
I've suspected for a while that our conscious minds don't so much do the thinking as weave together a coherent internal narrative from the myriad of subconscious processes in our heads, providing a serial stream of consciousness essential to having the sense of self and the ability to introspection. So it could be that we don't consciously make any decisions, only rationalise what the physical processes in our brains do.