Notes about philosophy

September 6, 2010 permalink

Objects of Play

From an insightful entry on the Toy Story trilogy on Bat, Bean, Beam:

Of course the toys aren’t really toys, they are allegorical figurines that we are supposed to read human meanings into, but I want to try to be literal for a moment. There is one irrefutable truth that we learn through the films about the toys’ psychology, one trait that all of them except a pair of scarred deviants – Stinky Pete and Lotso – have in common: what they like best is to be played with by children. But it so happens that at those times they are limp and inanimate; as is the case whenever they are in the presence of people, their spark abandons them, their eyes become vacant – a point that is further underscored in Toy Story 3 by the otherwise extraordinary capacity for expression of those eyes. So what the toys derive the most pleasure from is also what flicks their off switch, reverting them to the base status of mass produced consumer objects: every Sheriff Woody, every Buzz Lightyear totally identical to any other, therefore totally interchangeable, Andy’s marker-pen branding notwithstanding.

That is curious, from a philosophical point of view. More unhappy/unheimlich psychoanalysis of the Toy Story fiction over at Frieze Magazine.

September 4, 2010 permalink

Sensing Nature

From David Cyranoski’s review of the Sensing Nature exhibition at the Tokyo Mori Art Museum:

The merging of nature and human activity harks back to earlier Japanese tradition, according to art historian Toshio Watanabe of the University of the Arts in London, who is lecturing at the gallery. The famed woodblock landscapes of Japan usually depict human endeavour coexisting with nature — unlike Western art, in which nature is an awesome, sublime force that often excludes or overpowers humans. Even in Hokusai’s famous 1832 painting The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Watanabe explains, the people don’t look panicked and no boats are overturned: “The picture is as much about the energy of the boatmen as the waves.”

Above video from the show: Snow, an interactive installation of feathers created by Yoshioka Tokujin.

March 18, 2010 permalink

Hirokazu Kore-edas ワンダフルライフ Wandâfuru Raifu (Afterlife)

From Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ワンダフルライフ (Wandâfuru raifu), released in the U.S. in 1998 as Afterlife. This is likely my favorite movie of all time. Dig up a copy at your neighborhood indie video store when you get a chance, it’s good. It’s a simple, quiet parable about life, death, loss, memory, love, and cinema, somewhere between Kurosawa’s Ikiru and Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine.

After whining for years about someone borrowing my out-of-print DVD copy without returning it, I finally looked around and discovered the vastly superior Japanese NTSC Region 2 copy of the movie. ¥3,990 later, I’m now able to enjoy it again as I saw it at the theater in anamorphic widescreen, optional subtitles, and none of the horrible digital low-pass smoothing that someone thought would “fix” the grainy 16mm film’s appearance. Time for a movie screening, I think…

August 29, 2009 permalink

Human uniqueness and the denial of death

[Geneticist Danny Brower] explained that with full self-awareness and inter-subjectivity would also come awareness of death and mortality. Thus, far from being useful, the resulting overwhelming fear would be a dead-end evolutionary barrier, curbing activities and cognitive functions necessary for survival and reproductive fitness. […] In his view, the only way these properties could become positively selected was if they emerged simultaneously with neural mechanisms for denying mortality.
If this logic is correct, many warm-blooded species may have previously achieved complete self-awareness and inter-subjectivity, but then failed to survive because of the extremely negative immediate consequences. Perhaps we should be looking for the mechanisms (or loss of mechanisms) that allow us to delude ourselves and others about reality, even while realizing that both we and others are capable of such delusions and false beliefs.

We humans are an odd lot.

From Nature’s Correspondance section, “Human uniqueness and the denial of death”, August 5, 2009. doi:10.1038/460684c;

August 20, 2009 permalink

The Virgin Spring: Like Leaves in a Storm

“You see how the smoke trembles up in the roof holes? As if whimpering and afraid? Yet it’s only going out into the open air, where it has the whole sky to tumble about in. But it doesn’t know that. So it cowers and trembles under the sooty ridge of the roof. People are the same way. They worry and tremble like leaves in a storm because of what they know, and what they don’t know.” — from Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring

June 22, 2009 permalink

“Create more value than you capture”

From an interview of Tim O’Reilly conducted by Forbes magazine, posted on his blog in longer form as “The Benefits of a Classical Education”:

“When Alexander the Great came to see Diogenes in his barrel, he was so impressed by the philosopher that he offered him money. Diogenes scornfully pointed out that he had no need of money, to which Alexander replied, ‘Have you no friends?’ I’ve always thought that Alexander had the better of this encounter. His awareness that even when your own needs have been met you can work for the betterment of others has helped me to understand that being a successful businessman can be a powerful way to contribute to society. In building a business, it’s important to remember that you aren’t just acquiring wealth for yourself, but creating value for your employees, your customers, and others whom you may never even meet. This is the principle behind one of the mottos we use at O’Reilly: ‘Create more value than you capture.’”

Good advice, and ties in nicely with today’s announcement of the United We Serve initiative.

June 10, 2009 permalink

Above All Anonymity That Shield of All

[A]bove all, anonymity, that shield of all literary rascality, would have to disappear. It was introduced under the pretext of protecting the honest critic, who warned the public, against the resentment of the author and his friends. But where there is one case of this sort, there will be a hundred where it merely serves to take all responsibility from the man who cannot stand by what he has said […]. Often enough it is only a cloak for covering the obscurity, incompetence and insignificance of the critic. It is incredible what impudence these fellows will show, and what literary trickery they will venture to commit, as soon as they know they are safe under the shadow of anonymity. Let me recommend a general Anti-criticism, a universal medicine or panacea, to put a stop to all anonymous reviewing, whether it praises the bad or blames the good: Rascal! your name! For a man to wrap himself up and draw his hat over his face, and then fall upon people who are walking about without any disguise—this is not the part of a gentleman, it is the part of a scoundrel and a knave.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga und Paralipomena, chapter 23. Quote entirely lifted from a good discussion about online anonymity and accountability on Brian Leiter’s law school blog after the outing of a psuedononymous critic by a National Review blogger. (Note: I personally lean towards anonymity and privacy as fundamentally good things, but Schopenhauer’s quote seems remarkably prescient in these days of message board trolling)

May 6, 2009 permalink

Looking at the Stars Always Makes Me Dream As

Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why? I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age, would be to go there on foot.