Monday, April 20, 2015

DDD SUGGESTED READING LIST ~ APRIL 21


1. One of the late 20th century's greatest public intellectuals—brain scientist Oliver Sacks—writes eloquently about the suicide of another one of the late 20th century’s greatest public intellectuals—monologist extraordinaire Spalding Gray. It begins:
In July of 2003, my neurological colleague Orrin Devinsky and I were consulted by Spalding Gray, the actor and writer who was famous for his brilliant autobiographical monologues, an art form he had virtually invented. He and his wife, Kathie Russo, had contacted us in regard to a complex situation that had developed after Spalding suffered a head injury, two summers earlier.
In June of 2001, they had been vacationing in Ireland to celebrate Spalding’s sixtieth birthday. One night, while they were driving on a country road, their car was hit head on by a veterinarian’s van. Kathie was at the wheel; Spalding was in the back seat, with another passenger. He was not wearing a seat belt, and his head crashed against the back of Kathie’s head. Both were knocked unconscious. (Kathie suffered some burns and bruises but no permanent harm.) When Spalding recovered consciousness, he was lying on the ground beside their wrecked car, in great pain from a broken right hip. He was taken to the local rural hospital and then, several days later, to a larger hospital, where his hip was pinned.
His face was bruised and swollen, but the doctors focussed on his hip fracture. It was not until another week went by and the swelling subsided that Kathie noticed a “dent” just above Spalding’s right eye. At this point, X-rays showed a compound fracture of the eye socket and the skull, and surgery was recommended.
Keep reading. It's an amazing piece.

2. If you’re thinking about getting into science fiction, but you don’t want to read crappy kid’s stories about laser swords and stuff that has a lot more to do with fantasy than science, then this list of “scientific” science-fiction stories and novels is tailor made for you!

3. For the sixth time, today's DDD Suggested Reading List includes four selections from the Open University and BBC Radio 4's introductory level general philosophy course entitled The History of Ideas. I hope you're enjoying these videos as much as I did when first seeing them!

HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED US?

"The Fourth Revolution"

"The Antikythera Mechanism"

"The Medium is the Message"

"Rewiring the Brain"

Sunday, April 19, 2015

DDD SUGGESTED READING LIST ~ APRIL 19


1. Are you one of those people who thinks there's something "magical" about the Fibonacci sequence, also known as the Golden Ratio, or Phi? Then maybe you shouldn't read this essay by philosophical party-pooper Donald E. Simanek, which reads, in part:

A search of the internet, or your local library, will convince you that the Fibonacci series has attracted a lunatic fringe of Fibonacci fanatics who look for mysticism in numbers and in nature. You will find fantastic claims:
  • The "golden rectangle" is the "most beautiful" rectangle, and was deliberately used by artists in arranging picture elements within their paintings. (You'd think that they'd always use golden rectangle frames, but they didn't.)
  • The patterns based on the Fibonacci numbers, the golden ratio and the golden rectangle are those most pleasing to human perception.
  • Mozart used φ in composing music. (He liked number games, but there's no good evidence that he ever deliberately used φ in a musical composition.)
  • The Fibonacci sequence is seen in nature, in the arrangement of leaves on a stem of plants, in the pattern of sunflower seeds, spirals of snail's shells, in the number of petals of flowers, in the periods of planets of the solar system, and even in stock market cycles. So pervasive is the sequence in nature (according to these folks) that one begins to suspect that the series has the remarkable ability to be "fit" to most anything!
  • Nature's processes are "governed" by the golden ratio. Some sources even say that nature's processes are "explained" by this ratio.
Of course much of this is patently nonsense. Mathematics doesn't "explain" anything in nature, but mathematical models are very powerful for describing patterns and laws found in nature. I think it's safe to say that the Fibonacci sequence, golden mean, and golden rectangle have never, not even once, directly led to the discovery of a fundamental law of nature. When we see a neat numeric or geometric pattern in nature, we realize we must dig deeper to find the underlying reason why these patterns arise.
I'm not totally convinced that he's 100 percent on point with the rest of his take-down, but I'll admit he's made me a bit more skeptical about the kind of "numbers magic" and abuse and misuse of advanced scientific concepts by various philosophical flim-flam artists in the New Age movement. Maybe you'll get something out of it, too. Go ahead and dive in!

2. Sandow Birk is an artist who has undertaken "a project to hand-transcribe the entire Qur'an according to historic Islamic traditions and to illuminate the text with relevant scenes from contemporary American life. Nine years in the making, the project was inspired by a decade of extended travel in Islamic regions of the world." The image at the top of this page is the first page of that project. You can read (and see) the rest of it here at the artist's website.


3. For the fourth time, today's DDD Suggested Reading List includes four selections from the Open University and BBC Radio 4's introductory level general philosophy course entitled The History of Ideas. I hope you're enjoying these videos as much as I did when first seeing them!

HOW DID EVERYTHING BEGIN?

"The Big Bang"

"Hindu Creation Stories"

"Thomas Aquinas and the First Mover Argument"

"William Paley and the Divine Watchmaker"

Thursday, April 16, 2015

DDD SUGGESTED READING LIST ~ APRIL 16



1. See that photograph, above? It's a pretty good photograph. And now, if you'd like to hear the story behind that photograph... just click on this link right here.

2. Here's a sad little single page comic strip featuring the thoughts of an aging, ailing dog as his master brings him to be euthanized by a vet. It's heart-breaking and simple and lovely and very well done, despite the grim subject matter.

3. For the third time, today's DDD Suggested Reading List includes four selections from the Open University and BBC Radio 4's introductory level general philosophy course entitled The History of Ideas. I've decided to present all four animations from each general philosophical theme at the end of every Suggested Reading List from now on until I reach the end of what they have for me to plunder. So now, on to...

WHY ARE THINGS BEAUTIFUL?

"Diotima's Ladder: Lust to Morality"

"The Best Rectangle in the World"

"Edmund Burke on the Sublime"

"Feminine Beauty: A Social Construct?"

Monday, April 13, 2015

DDD SUGGESTED READING LIST ~ APRIL 13


1. If you enjoyed the audiobook version of Philip K. Dick's classic sci-fi short story Beyond Lies the Wub, to which I linked in a recent "DDD Suggested Reading List", then by all means, check out this awesome collection of Philip K. Dick print and audio stories provided by the fine folks at the Open Culture website! You can get so many classic "philosophical fiction" vein that the Bladerunner creator pretty much pioneered back in sf's second Golden Age heyday!

2. You remember that Portlandia episode where an artist giving a class on how to create truly disturbing and shocking artwork suggests that one need only appropriate the image of Ronald McDonald and put it into some kind of juxtapositionally twisted contextual frame?  This page adheres PRECISELY to that particular satirical aesthetic. See above. Then see the link for more of the same. A LOT more of the same.

3. For the second time, today's DDD Suggested Reading List includes four selections from the Open University and BBC Radio 4's introductory level general philosophy course entitled The History of Ideas
The series will eventually span 60 episodes grouped under 15 general philosophical concepts. Each concept (or "theme") gets four episodes, and each episode is accompanied by a 2-minute animation. I've decided to present all four animations from each general philosophical theme at the end of every Suggested Reading List from now on until I reach the end of what they have for me to plunder. So now, on to...

HOW CAN I KNOW RIGHT FROM WRONG?

"Kant's Axe"

"The Trolley Problem"

"The Life You Can Save"

"The Is/Ought Problem"

Friday, April 10, 2015

DDD SUGGESTED READING LIST ~ APRIL 11


1. As a citizen of Canada—one who counts members of the First Nations among his very best and most cherished of friends—I can’t help but feel a deep sense of shame over the fact that it took  the BBC to tell the story of the Red River Women. I suppose the slimmest of silver linings here is that a world class broadcaster has finally produced a substantial piece of interactive online journalism on this grisly subject, which has for far too long been like an invisible chorus of silent screams in the darkest frozen night-pits of Hell. The erudition, professionalism, and sensitivity brought to bear via this production goes a long way towards rectifying the near-criminal journalistic negligence that has for far too long been the norm in Canada regarding this subject. I won't be reproducing any portion of it here. Instead, I insist that you go to the BBC's Red River Women project page and read it in its entirety at your earliest possible convenience. Be sure to watch all the related videos. I consider it a duty for every Canadian, even if only to acquaint oneself with the mind-numbing numbers involved, and to look into the eyes of those tragic, beautiful souls that have already been lost. Dear friends... I am literally hereby begging you to read this website and begin trying to deal with the information it contains.


2. Okay then, after that brutal and traumatic information assault—or perhaps prior to it, in case you’re saving the BBC’s interactive Red River Women websites for later—maybe you can be excused for seeking out a small sliver of escapist fantasy. To that purpose, I give you an amusingly British audiobook recording of the classic Philip K. Dick science-fiction story, “Beyond Lies the Wub”, about an unfortunate alien creature who happens to be both an erudite conversationalist and indescribably tasty when roasted with root veggies.

3. Finally for today, the Open University and BBC Radio 4 (yes, them again) have combined forces to produce a quite excellent introductory level general philosophy course entitled The History of Ideas. The program's website is rich in information and resources, complete with archived radio programs and primary materials (most of which is in the public domain). It's a real treasure trove for anyone interested in uncovering the intellectual foundations upon which the world's most important human structures rest (or, occasionally, teeter). 

Eventually, the series is slated to span 60 episodes grouped under 15 general philosophical concepts. As part of this series, each concept gets four episodes, and each episode is accompanied by a 2-minute animation, narrated by Stephen Fry, Gillian Anderson and Harry Shearer, executed in a handsome and humorous style that really helps get the basic ideas across. You don't really need to listen to the whole series in order to appreciate the animations, so I've decided to present all four animations from each general philosophical concept at the end of every Suggested Reading List from now on until I reach the end of what they have for me to plunder. So let's get started!

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FREE?

"The Harm Principle"

"The Free Will Defence"

"The Libet Experiment: Is Free Will an Illusion?"

"Freedom and Security: Freedom at Any Cost?"