Tuesday, March 29, 2005

125 questions

What is truth? Is there truth? Absolute truth? Approximate truth? Dualistic truth? Gestalten truth? Intuitive truth? Embodied truth? Can we ever have a reliable arbiter of justice? Are ethics objective? Are they subjective? If so, are they relative? Mutable? Fixed? Gendered? On what basis can we ever teach other human beings anything? Is there a line between education and paternalism? Is all teaching coercive? What are the determinants of human behaviour? Must we always acknowledge our assumptions? How should we make assumptions? On the basis of usefulness? Pragmatism? Happiness? Coherence? Is there an external world? Do other minds exist? What are metaphysics? Do metaphysical ideas exist? What is existence? What is perception? What is the limit of reliability of sense-data? What are the limits of logic? Does logic apply to (the abstracted philosophical) God? Is there an (abstracted philosophical) God? Is the question meaningless? Is it so important as to elude categorization? What is the good life? Is the good life attainable for all? Does humanity stand or fall together? How should society organize its production? Efficiently? Equitably? Randomly? Nepotistically? Neo-liberally? Are human rights a house built on sand? Are they a powerful simplifying assumption? Is war avoidable? What is the limit of pacifism? How should humans relate to the rest of the biosphere? Where is technology taking us? Are we alone? Should we embrace this world? Selectively? Arbitrarily? Madly? Do we renounce it? How should we teach children about death? Should we value carefree playing? Is the media rotting our minds? Does doubt corrupt? Can drugs replace other forms of transcendence? Is transcendence subljective? Are all dichotomies misguided? Is less really more? What is art? What should be the role of art? What is the scope of art? Just how powerful is scientific inquiry? How shallow is reason? How deep is emotion? What is love? Does love spring from the good life? Is true altruism possible? How many of the above-mentioned concepts have non-nebulous definitions? What are the limitations of precise language? Just how useful a tool is langage? Rationality? Manual dexterity? Keen eyesight? What are the limitations on embracing dualisms and multiplicities? Is socialism the God that failed? What is the source of stochastic effects? What are mathematical objects? Is history linear? Cyclical? Progressive? Regressive? Uplifiting? Degrading? What is meaninglessness? What is meaning, anyway? Is everything permitted? Is human egocentrism to blame for all social problems? What is the difference between friendship and romantic love? Between love and marriage? Betwene marriage and sex? Between children and trophies? Between careers and schoolyard games? What will save the world? Does the world need saving? What is imagination? To what extent should one engage in politics? Do other people exist? Does mind-body duality hold? Does materialism hold? Are all acts ultimately selfish? Does reductionism hold? Are there any alternatives? Is evolution gradual or a punctuated equilibrium? Do emergent properties hold any value? What is an object? What is a property? Can linguistic concepts be reflexively defined? Can the underpinnings of mathematics be mathematically defgined? Metamathematically defined? Recursively defined? What is hope? What is happiness? What is evil? Does evil exist? What is inspiration? What are things? What are sets and categories?

And finally, the most awe-inspiring yet unanswerable question: why is there anything at all?

Consider: "...[Plato's] method of reaching [his] conclusions, by a precise process of honest and careful step-by-step searching after absolute answers, has been, and remains, the one great distinguishing feature of the European way of thinking. It underlies the impossible search for perfection which has given rise to Europe's science, politics, psychology, education and much of its angst."

Monday, March 28, 2005

People of the book

I'm attempting to undertake a survey of the world's great religious literature, but I'm not sure how far I'll get, considering most of these works lose my respect when they start prattling off about that horrifying brute beast, the Unbeliever. It's all pretty much baseless ad hominem attacks in the vein of "the unbeliever is a fool", "they must die", "did I forget to mention they are fools?", "God will smite them", and so on ad nauseam. To be fair, many of these books have wonderful flights of idealism, agreeable moral perscriptions, poetic passages, hope for humankind and proscriptions on sheer lunacy that masses of people often undertake. But when they start with baseless hatred, they stop having my ear. The principle works thus: if they have such a shitty, shallow undertanding of the motives and goals of the Unbeliever (i.e. me), then they lose my trust in matters I haven't considered.

All these books are excellent as group-cohesion treatises, as glorified pamphlets passed out by glorified salespeople. But as for philosophy, I might decide to stick to books that at least try to make sense, that try to persuade the neocortex without appealing to cheap in-group-out-group distinctions, that do not invoke ritual to broaden their appeal to those who can't be bothered to read the book, or those who can't be bothered to think about what they read. I can see how saying "it is written" once had appeal, when reading was that rare commodity of the powerful and was still in the abode of the mysterious. But these days, any fool can write a book, and any fool can read a book. They're just books. Perhaps the one difference between the holy books and ordinary books is that holy books make more assumptions and resort to scare tactics to bolster their arguments. They would be thrown out of any debating society.

"Don't worry, Mary. I know it's difficult, but just try to memorize the Lord's prayer and John 3:16. It wouldn't hurt to rock back and forth and clack your prayer beads and jump on one leg and bo backflips while you do this."

Lest you think I'm some sort of spite-filled bitter curmudgeon, I'll do a post later where I pick out what is good and noble in the religions of humanity. But I'm afraid it will involve mostly eastern philosophies or watered-down polytheistic religions of Old Europe: the pragmatism of Buddha, the pleasures of Bacchus and the blind eye of Odin.

Consider: "How should I know anything about another world when I know so little of this?"

Thursday, March 24, 2005


A short excerpt:

THERAPIST: So, what kind of progress do you feel you've made during your time here?
MARCEL: I've finally learned that you can never trust other human beings.
T: Go on...
M: Well, it was like with my son, right? I was always visiting him with smiles and toys so that he'd grow up knowing I loved him even though I lived in another city, even though she was probably poisoning him against me at home. But now I know that real love is measured by actions, not empty sentimentalism. And by that token, I didn't love my son very much.
T: Are you sure of that?
M: I wasn't at first. It caused me a lot of sleepless nights. You know, I'd stare at the ceiling and cry silently. I'd ask God for help in strainghtening out my own shit, you know what I mean?
T: Yes. And did God answer?
M: No. It was just a ceiling.
T: Of course. So how do you feel about your son now?
M: I don't. It's all deadened.
T: Go on...
M: There's nothing to elaborate. It was an illusion. What was it called? The "self-serving bias"? You know, I want to play the part. I want to be... I don't know... loved? Rich? There's a tingly feeling when you're accepted, but all the means of gaining acceptance are horseshit.
T: So, if you can't trust anybody, why are you confiding all this to me?
M: I'm just going through the motions. I know you have a lot of questions on that paper of yours, so I'll play along so I can get out and walk down the street. All that is just going through the motions. Maybe I'll buy myself a nice halogen light for my apartment. Then later I'll go off and get drunk. That'd be nice. You know, occassionally, I'll have to attend a birthday party or a wedding or some shit like that. At least there's more stuff to keep my brain busy out there, you know? I'll do a rosary. I'll watch a comedy. I'll fuck a hooker. It's all putty.
T: Putty?
M: Um... whatever. Anyway: can't trust, don't try.
T: We never said not to try.
M: I'll save myself the effort. So, do I get a discharge, or what?

Consider: "to not talk about science seems to me perverse. When you're in love, you want to tell the world!"

Monday, March 21, 2005


Around essay time, I always become uneasy, and my entire knowledge base buckles around me. It's not that I actively bullshit my essays and thus make amockery of everything I purport to do, it's just that I have my doubts like any human being (at least I hope that that's what human beings do). So, to deal with my doubts, I spew off a stream of academic-sounding, dense verbiage largelly devoid of meaning. Any actual essay I write is an analytical gem by comparison.

Empty verbiage is a collective effort. I encourage readers to send their suggestion on how the following passage could have been made less accessible, or alternatively, more intimidating.

"So the matter concerns reconceptualizing the concepts that are basic to regular functioning in a socioeconomic milleu that conceptualizes and (p)(re)conceptualizes the concept of "object" as well as the concept of "action" which is arbitrarily defined by a neo-enlightenment rationalism that conceptualizes concepts as immutable and distinct without conceptual justification. We need to develop an epistemic framework from which concepts can be reconceptualized as they are deconceptualized without fear of so-called neo-"rationalist" "objections" on the grounds of self-contradiction. For of course if we reconceptualize the concept of "right"and "wrong" and foreground the de-foregrounded "excluded middle", so popular with white male logicians, contradition becomes pluralistic, it becomes open to new and positive interpretations that allow us to reconceptualize the construction of knowledge and challenge and de-privilege middle-class white male "science" and "knowledge". The liberatory and progressive potential of embracing the previously marginalized and excluded middle. The P and not-P of totalizing Aristotelian discourse becomes contextualized in its social contexts and begins to exist on the same epistemic level with the long-marginalized (P or not-P) and (P and not-P). This system, however, is inadequate to truly capture the power of reconceptualizing Aristotle's totalizing, homonormative discourse, for it naturally marginalizes Q and R. Within our (re)conceptual framework, Q and R exist on equitable grounds as equal variables, not second- or third-place holders that only come to attention when the rules of unitary, normative logical discourse are apparently "violated", exposing the system's epistemic and moral bankruptcy from the very start. In this way, radical new programs by Lacan et al (1973), Schiever and Kostyn (1981) and Germyn et al (1981) have exposed the moral bankruptcy of totalizing logical discourse as it pertains to oppression of the female impulsive and fluid nature, as it marginalizes the black body, which in racial discourse has often been termed Q, or, perhaps even more disparagingly, not-P (ibid.). However, the metatheorietical approach to liberatory logical reconceptiualization offers yet another avenue of challenging totalizing discourse, for if we accept the notion of re-reconceptualizing matamathematics, that is, that 1) symbolic logic is derived in terms of mathematical induction which is derived in terms of symbolic logic, 2) that predicate logic is an unfinished, infineitely open- ended system which not even white middle-class totalizing discourse has been able to close, we can find a site of resistance within the derivation system of predicate logic. As Germyn et al (1981b) showed, the rule of reiteration in standard first-order symbolic derivation systems is a site of racial and gender oppression, allowing the propagation and insertion of white middle-class concepts into any  assumption scheme; however, Germyn et al (ibid.) also showed methods of resisting this idea by reconceptualizing the abstract symbols as sites of racial oppression and deconstructing them according to fluid standards briefly skethced by Kostyn (1977). From this discussion we can reasonably (intuitively) conclude that the notion of contradition is essential in modern capitalist society, since it greatly facilitates marginalization of the "other". In a system where absolute categories of subject and object persist without explicit acknowledgement of its roots in the Victorian upper-class epistemic paradigm. The analytical tools explicated in this essay are a glimpse of the means by which marginalized groups can assert their own limited power on the battlefield of late-capitalist epistemic assumptive heteronormalizing epistemology. The not-P of yesteryear has become the new middle-ground in a renormalized, reconceptualized and deconstructed logical terrain..."

All citations are fictional.

Consider: "the juxtaposition of infinite openness and prison-like crampedness that Russian Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov had to endure for 437 days in space. But, in fact, he didn't leave the hug of Earth's gravity. But the psychological strain was real."

Saturday, March 19, 2005

June 16, 1973

Seeing as the Irish jig kept the crowded immigrant staging areas of New York and Boston minimally humane, seeing as Gospel music resounds in black churches--islands in the South--as strongly as ever, seeing as powerful all-male choirs whipped up the Soviet population to resist the (worse of the two) oppressors, seeing as millions are bombarded with music which says alternately that life is worth living and that all is hopeless, I am going to make the suggestion that we have music to thank for our godless liberal culture. I've been wondering exactly why my beliefs are shared by so many people, since they--reasonably speaking--don't lend themselves to propagation. Then a large part of the answer hit me: "our" music is disseminated by the largest music industry in the world. (That is, of course, problematic in its own right.) What do I mean by "our' music? Well, all I am trying to say is that while in everyday life our rational minds are taking every little point and torturously nitpicking it, and while our minds exhaust themselves running on hamster wheels of doubt and searching, and while we pursue radically individualistic paths which make us like spots on a balloon being inflated, we find some connection with complete strangers when it comes to music.

I gues this isn't new, this notion of music as group-builder and hive-mind. But I'd like to find a way of explicitly harnessing it for I don't know what. I'll take it in baby steps. I'd like to make one suggestion: we eliminate elitist, snobbish scenesterism. It takes up too much of the energy of otherwise decent people, keeping up with endless sub-sub-subgenres and lording oltra-obscure knowledge over everyone else. That kind of music divides. Other than that, anything goes because I'm not a leader or a mastermind or an inspiration or a teacher or a guide or even a "proper" musician.

Consider: "Oh, mothers and fathers throughout the land / no, don't criticize what you can't understand / your sons and your daughters are beyond your command / your old road is rapidly aging / please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand / for the times, they are a-changin'"

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


You can't build a city on rock n' roll. It just wouldn't work. I suspect the foundations of any building over three stories tall would give way after a few months of being shaken all night, rattled and rolled 'till the sun comes up, baby yeah. But seriously: there is a very large list of things you simply should not be considering if you are an urban planner. You can't build and manage a city off of the particular mores of teenagers. You'd end up with block after block of houses that are just basements with chillin' rugs, televisions, cables everywhere supplying stacks of amplifiers blaring the latest craze in dissonant three-chorders with ear-piercing overtones, those curtains with beads on them that rattle as they open. You rcity would be filled with hipsters in hand socks carting monstrous bongs on those trays they use to transport overhead projectors. A city like this would have its industrial areas gutted by arson or disassembled and carted abck to the ubiquitous basements to decorate the walls as kitsch. (Who wouldn't want an industrial-strength humidifier/dehumidifier serving as a card table?) The vendors would convert to an ultra-impulse-food-based economy. You couldn't run a city off raucous gatherings and rolling street meat-markets. It's the sad truth.

Cities thrive off of prudent and boring budget allocations, not lavish costume parties where everyone funnels expensive chamapaigne. Cities thrive off of working water mains, not bathrooms with crusted vomit staining the walls and urinals and stalls. Cities thrive when there are transit systems with gleaming new streetcars, not when everyone is always dropping acid and sprawling out on the floors of said streetcars. (Though that in of itself can be interesting to watch.) Cities need planning (well, cities we'd want to live in anyway).

Where was I goinf with all this. Ah, yes. This was all a roundabout way of saying that neoliveral privatization of everything under the sun will result in a vastly changed city. Not at all the city I alluded to above, but more of a clone of Singapore, for example, where gleaming monoliths of modernity hold the fort against endless slums. I have to learn to take it to The Man in a more focused way, but that's what essays nobody ever reads are for.

Consider: "It takes hundreds of reincarnations to bring two persons to ride on the same boat; it takes a thousand eons to bring two persons to share the same pillow"

Saturday, March 12, 2005


A few days ago I got to drink with an old high school teacher of mine. Me and my friend bought the first round, and he bought us the second. We got caught up on some of the more significant happenings around our school of formation, so to speak. It turns out that the student council president decided to switch genders, which seto ff some mild controversy which was quickly extinguished. (Anyone who knows my old high school should know that it is a leftie factory, bless its soul.) Our conversation meandered from politics to death to euthanasia to old bitter stories, to newer and more insane ones. I realized somewhere in the midst of this that if I lived half the life ths man lived, I would be pleased with myself. I guess the high school years were lacking in male role models.

If we fast-forward that memory by afew hours, skip past the driving and the coffee shop, we come to me and a friend trying to walk off the alcohol in broad daylight. I remember saying something about Moloch, whose eyes were the thousand blind windows of the building across the street, and whose ivory towers stretched into the distance like endless Jehovahs. That was some mad rambling for a while as the lady with the stroller stared at me rather strangely. I might have gone on a harangue about the appendix, the organ that cannot disappear because the risks borne by a body having a small appendix are too great to make sense in any evolutionary scheme, or that might have been dasy before. This friend and I always tease out some boisterous ranting, usually featuring many leitmotif deities which apparently serve as shorthand for concepts we've expressed before and wish to gloss over for dramatic effect: the Blind Eye of Odin, Shiva, the Appendix, Moloch, minimalist composer Philip Glass, Dear Leader, and numerous other bit players in the sprawling drama that nobody else seems to want to understand.

Somewhat tired, we decided to stop in every sushi bar on the way to our ultimate destination and order appetizers and sake. That was a lot of sake, which helped fuel more ranting on the sidewalks which inevitably led to a series of other bars and stories and new faces and cleverness and twirling. Everything started twirling and then stopped and then started, depending on my disposition. The evening ended, unfortunately, on a bitterly acrimonious political debate wherein I committed myself to a position of profound pessimism, mistrust and, yes, cynicism. I wanted to be proven wrong. The most positive thing I can say about that is cynicism did not decisively win the day. But now it has me thinking and full of doubt and searching for doors to exit this room where the tar runs down the walls and the dust itself seems to scream in agony. That was my inebriated self speaking. This resulted in a series of psot attempts with depressing quotes. A series that will not end until someone or something snaps me out of my intellectual funk. This should not be confused with a social funk, though the two tend to reinforce each other.

Consider: "even if God did exist, it would make no difference."

Friday, March 11, 2005


I worry a lot. And sometimes that worry blocks out any reasonably readable sentiments. So I will take the coward's route out, and let my favourite philosopher speak for me.

Consider: "The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him--you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Walking down the street having a boisterous shotuing match is a rare thing for me. But at least one good idea came out of it. I posed a deceptively simple question: "who would win in a (metaphorical) fight: Pope John Paul II or legendary German chemist Fritz Haber?" It might take a while to explore the full (and ridiculous) ramifications of this notion, so once again I'm asking the reader to bear with me as I approach the matter at hand in a roundabout, meandering way.

I suppose it comes down to one's belief about what rules the world, how the world works, what ought to rule the world, and whether might makes right. I need to explain that. The Pope has the faith and belief of billions of Catholics, living and dead, that there is a world beyond this one, and that justice in this world is in a sense fixed by what awaits in the next. In contrast we have the materialist, who defended the use of poison gas in the trenches of the western front (read the article) as "death is death", and who, while living to the best of his ability, came to a dispirited and ironic end and wasted away to nothing. Offered this choice, even I want the Pope to win. But there's the litte matter of harsh reality, which we need to face, which we need to peer at unblinkingly. Only then can we see what's at the end of every fork, so to speak. And, contrary to hopes, this will not set anyone free or put anyone at peace. But it will allow one to manage a little better. Realizing that the world is a scary place will reduce temper tantrums upon being treated unfairly.

Consider: "Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. I took the view opposing him on almost everything, but he--and his God--can't hold moral neutrality against me."

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Echoes from the past

Every generation thinks society is about to fall apart. I wonder why that is? The answers are alarmingly many and complex, so I'd like to drop my question, and just offer this, to end a perfectly short post. (By the way, I think ours or maybe the next generation will have the satisfaction of being right.)

Quote from 2,400 years ago: "And when people start to need lawyers and doctors, we have conclusive proof that the education system is worthless. Men in the courts before snoozing juries, trying to get remedies by legal trickery, is a proof positive that they don't have enough education to arrange their own lives properly. Just as disgraceful is going to the doctor, not with any real malady, but because they've filled their bodies with garbage, which the pompous medical profession manages to name as some new-fangled disease."

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Maybe the reader will forgive me for temporarily lapsing into a drawn-out, possibly mixed metaphor. (As an aside, why is the literary establishment is so anti-mixed-metaphor? I mean, I think it encapsulates our modern, attention-challenged, stuff-morphing-into-other-stuff, anything-goes (but it's all pretty much equivalent attitude). The kind of attitide that leaves each to their own pleasures, desires, beauties, sexualities, beliefs (or lack thereof), styles and other practices, whereas more "traditional" metaphors comparing two and only two ideas reflect the slightly more confident, more stable and more normative attitude of an age long since passed. So, our metaphors are metaphors for our current historical moment. This has the smell of an infinite regress lurking a couple of sentences down this track of thought. So I won't pursue it. But before I drop this aside, I posit that mixed metaphors are not signs of mush-minded thinking.) Anyway, as I was walking down the street, I chanced upon a particularly thrillingly beautiful tree covered with a particularly thrillingly beautiful mixture of ice and snow. You may infer, from my rather ludicrous overmodification, that I was profoundly moved by it. But it was not the trees that moved me; the city is full of trees and snow today. No, it was the contrast between the snow/ice draping its branches fully and thickly and the light brown of the building which framed it. And from that I drew my extended metaphor. You see, if that tree is backgrounded (there must be a better word) by the sky, the snow/ice does not stand out at all. The tree is just a tree with no condiments, as it were. But when it is placed in the context of our (otherwise ugly) human edifice, it shines with a light of its own. And then I drew unwaranted lessons about humanity's place in observing the universe. Without us (or "intelligent" observers), there is nothing to bring the beauty into contrast, into relief, as it were. So, for all our problems--us as a cancer on this world--aesthetics would not exist, and with that, art, that which I feel must save the world. Molecules of frozen water would move around and deposit on trees without us, to be sure, but there would be no observer to take that in and amplify it past just photons hitting the retina; to amplify it into some crazy pattern of neural activation that somehow manages to represent "being moved", and that furthermore moves into "the abstract", and then begins to mix and match the two ideas generatively, and that communicates it by bouncing some electrons off other electrons, and maybe causes another pattern of neural activation somewhere else entirely (by this "other pattern of neural activation", I mean youm gentle reader). Photons to proteins to neurotransmiotter vesicles to sodium/potassium (a whole bunch of times) to myosin and actin to electrons to photons, starting the cycle again. How wildly improbable!

Quote from my logic professor: "I'm not here to clarify anything."