A favorite image from UK Hip-Hop/Spoken Word artist Scroobius Pip:

I swear we sat for hours before words were introduced.
Just relaxing in a world, below the fights and abuse.
Below the weapons of war, below the cars and the ships.
And then when he felt I understood he slowly parted his lips

“The pen is far mightier than the sword”, he said,
As he stabbed his pen in my leg and the ink mixed with the red.
“With this action I inject the gift of knowledge instead
Of all the other cluttered thoughts that will clog up your head
But if at any point you take the spoken word just for granted
These words will stick in your mouth and fall out broken and parted”

It didn’t hurt for some reason but I could feel a change inside
But I hadn’t really understood what his words had implied
I thought id wait for his next words with my mind open wide
And with the guidelines that he gave me I would try to abide
Again much time passed with silence being the topic
But the serenity was such bliss I had no words that could stop it.

Here’s the whole song, one of Pip’s earliest works, 1000 Words:

Posted in Literature | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas!

From A Christmas Carol:

   Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion! But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!

Later, from Scrooge,

 ‘Good Spirit,’ he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: ‘Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life?’   The kind hand trembled.

‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!’

In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him.

Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.

Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!

Posted in Literature, Philosophy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Tsunami: Watching Moore’s Law

In 2008, Nicholas Carr posed the following question: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

Among the many reactions to both the question and the article in which it appeared came the ominous prophetic voice of Danny Hillis:

“Nicholas Carr is correct in noticing that something is “Making us Stupid”, but it is not Google. Think of Google as a life preserver, thrown to us in a rising flood. True, we use it to stay on the surface, but it is not for the sake of laziness. It is for survival.

The flood that is drowning us is, of course, the flood of information, a metaphor so trite that we have ceased to question it. If the metaphor was new we might ask, where exactly is this flood coming from? Is it a consequence of advances in communication technology? The power of media companies? Is it generated by our recently developed weakness for information snacks? All of these trends are real, but I believe they are not the cause. They are the symptoms of our predicament.”


“Our problem is not so much that we are stupider, but rather that the world is demanding that we become smarter. Forced to be broad, we sacrifice depth. We skim, we summarize, we skip the fine print and, all too often, we miss the fine point. We know we are drowning, but we do what we can to stay afloat.”

A year or so ago when I first came into contact with this discussion I was amazed at the estimates and known numbers involved in the creation of information. It is easy to forget the scale of Moore’s Law, and I doubt that the numbers are really comprehensible to us anymore given their sheer size. Here’s a rather new estimate in graphic form based on work done by Martin Hilbert (University of Southern California) and Priscila Lopez (Open University of Catalonia). The study is on our capacity to store information. (I found this through Kevin Kelly’s blog The Technium.)

For information on the amount of information that has already been created, the jury is still out. The University of California, SanDiego has a study dedicated to the question here. In 2000 and 2003, researchers at UC Berkely made valiant efforts at tracking the amount, but the numbers in those studies are nowhere near what we see today. What can be said is that there’s a LOT of stuff out there in both cyberspace and analog data-types. To get oriented, The Economist has an article series from last year that is a good overview of what’s going on.

Of course, a vast majority of the information out there we will never see, but that’s a scary thought when we think about how much stuff we are bombarded with every day. We are adrift indeed, and the water keeps getting deeper.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Zero-Point for the Holidays

Here’s an interesting little paper from Otto Bollnow entitled Lived-Space. It’s an excellent example of Phenomenology at work, a study of interaction between the self and the world it moves in. I bring it up both for your pleasure and because I tend to think of it when I change between what Bollnow calls Zero-Points in the work. Zero-Points are the central locations of orientation and organization in lived space, they are your “home” in both the strong and weak senses of the word.


Posted in Philosophy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Passing the Grave of Johannes Climacus in Spoon River Cemetery

If you haven’t come into contact with Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, then I beg you to stop reading this and go buy it. I am quite serious. (If you lack the two dollar price of the Dover Thrift edition, then you can make do for now with this.)

I have rekindled an interest in the 214 graveyard voices of the Anthology recently, and this has led to particular interest in the few voices given no proper name. One of these has me thinking about Kierkegaard and the moods:

The Village Atheist

Ye young debaters over the doctrine
Of the soul’s immortality,
I who lie here was the village atheist,
Talkative, contentious, versed in the arguments
Of the infidels.
But through a long sickness
Coughing myself to death
I read the Upanishads and the poetry of Jesus.
And they lighted a torch of hope and intuition
And desire which the Shadow,
Leading me swiftly through the caverns of darkness,
Could not extinguish.
Listen to me, ye who live in the senses
And think through the senses only:
Immortality is not a gift,
Immortality is an achievement;
And only those who strive mightily
Shall possess it.

Now for some gross conjecture and projection: Perhaps this voice is nameless because a town filled with unbelieving believers would have nothing to do with him. Perhaps nobody knew the name of a pariah, or even worse, he wasn’t seen fit to have one on his headstone. Perhaps he was this unloved by the crowd of inauthentic lovers who buried him. I wonder, too, if his torch of hope and intuition isn’t the struggle upwards from the aesthetic to the ethical and, ultimately, the theological. Maybe, just maybe, this person saw the struggle involved in belief. But in all of this there is little in the way of evidence.

What I can say with certainty is that Masters joins Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor (as well as others) in the thorough description and investigation of a tension between authentic and inauthentic Christianity in American, and therefore usually protestant, settings. All three authors, it seems to me, are deeply concerned with exploring the same waters we find Kierkegaard diving around in.

Posted in Literature | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Wittgenstein on Progress in Philosophy (Quotation)

A famous quote from Culture and Value:

“Philosophy has made no progress? If somebody scratches where it itches, does that count as progress? If not, does that mean it wasn’t an authentic scratch? Not an authentic itch? Couldn’t this response to the stimulus go on for quite a long time until a remedy for itching is found?”


Posted in Philosophy | Tagged , | 20 Comments

Short Note To Self:

Stop writing sermons, start writing philosophy. Things are getting out of hand.


Posted in Philosophy | Tagged | 1 Comment

Catching Criminals: Stopping Doing Philosophy

I had the great pleasure of attending Kelly Jolley’s final lecture in his intro course to philosophy today. In the last moments of the period he mentioned that the crux of the course as a whole had been the philosophical question and not the philosophical answer. The sentiment mirrored a recent post of his entitled “Philosophical Investigations 309: My Redacted Version” in which the emphasis of teaching philosophy fell on learning, by close proximity and active engagement with the texts, how to interrogate philosophical questions. In this way, teaching philosophy and learning philosophy are both ways of doing philosophy. Interrogating the philosophical questions involves the discipline all the way down.

This strikes me as a moment of clarity about how we “stop doing philosophy.” It seems that the ‘stopping’ claim is not about some rule for our lives, but about how we should find our way out of philosophical conundrums. This is not a “stop doing philosophy by never thinking about anything of philosophical import” kind of claim. It is not that the problems will never arise for us again once we do stop. Philosophical problems can, and do, constantly arise and will continue to arise over and over and over. We are not to dismiss them without a thought. Instead, we are called on to interrogate them, grill them like characters in a bad cop movie, beat them until they show us how they pulled the wool over our eyes. We need them to confess their deceitfulness.

It is here that we might see a moment where we deal with our meta-philosophical problem: How can we still do philosophy if we take Wittgenstein seriously? Employ ‘big-P’ Philosophy as taking the problems to be of the ‘certainly answerable’ sort, and ‘little-p’ philosophy as taking the problems to be non-problems, or farcical linguistic utterances. In this way, we stop doing Philosophy and start doing philosophy,  Philosophy’s less-vain cousin. The farce is to think that all (φhilosophy) of what we employ the term for reference to would ever stop. What should stop is only the vanity of the theoretical and the dogmatic. We might express Wittgenstein’s statement by saying “stop giving primacy to answers.” Give primacy to the language and the method of interrogation first. Let the everyday be the way we become clear about these linguistic con-men and separate them from their valuable counterparts.

The search for an easement to our problems does not point skyward out of the ivory tower, instead it points down the stairs,  through the foyer, and out into the streets.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Climacus to his Readers or: How Philosophy Is Like the Weather in Alabama

From "The New York Review of Books" 20 September 1973

"Soren Kierkegaard" by David Levine

From “A Satisfaction to Note,” the opening preface to Kierkegaard’s Johannes Climacus, sometimes called De Omnibus Dubitandem Est:

Someone who supposes that philosophy has never in the world been so near to solving its problems (to explaining all secrets) as now, may well feel it odd, affected, even offensive that I choose the narrative form and do not, in my humble way, lend a hand with putting the coping stone on the System. On the other hand, someone who has convinced himself that philosophy has never been so eccentric as now, so confused, in spite of all its definitions, so very like the weather last winter when all at the same time we heard what had never before been heard, shouts of mussels and prawns and watercress in such a way that someone who attended to a particular shout might at one time think it was winter, at another time spring, at another time midsummer, while someone who payed attention to all these shouts at once might think that nature had become confused and the world could not last till Easter—they will certainly think it right that I should also, by means of the form, try to counteract the detestable falsity which is the mark of modern philosophy; a philosophy which is distinguished from older philosophy by its discovery of the ridiculousness of doing what one said one did or had done— they will find it appropriate and will only be sorry, as I am, that the person who begins this task has not greater authority than I have.

Shouts of watercress, indeed.


Posted in Philosophy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Frege on “Begriffsschrift” and Leibniz

Here is an interesting quotation from Frege that I hope to return to soon. Jean van Heijenoort uses it as evidence of Frege’s dissatisfaction with the term ‘Begriffsschrift’.

“I do not start from concepts in order to build up thoughts or propositions out of them; rather, I obtain the components of a thought by decomposition [Zerfällung] of the thought. In this respect my Begriffsschrift differs from the similar creations of Leibniz and his successors—in spite of its name, which perhaps I did not choose very aptly.”

(Taken from a fragment dated 26 July 1919. Reprinted in van Heijenoort’s Frege and Gödel. 1970.)

In an earlier post, Of Alterations: Leibniz, Frege, Wittgenstein, I tried to parse some of the similarities and differences between Frege’s concept-script and Leibniz’s characterica universalis. This fragment seems to be an indication of the “microscope analogy” relationship between Frege’s script and the ordinary language.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment