Friday, May 28, 2010

A Nod to Gary Coleman

I want to mention Gary Coleman's death. It's a very sad thing. He somehow managed to remain in the public eye, especially the eye of those obsessed with pop culture. He WAS pop culture. He was the ultimate non-sequitur. It didn't matter what your show or book was about; you could introduce Gary Coleman and it made perfect sense. It was made all the funnier that it was not only Gary Coleman, but Gary Coleman playing Gary Coleman. He didn't need a character. He just was. That is something that I'm going to miss.

Monday, May 17, 2010

New York Times Introduces New Philosophy Column

The NY Times has introduced "The Stone" (cute), a column written by multiple philosophers and edited by Simon Critchley. It remains to be seen if it's going to be heavy or light, penetrating and controversial, or easy and mellow. I hope that the various authors take the chance to really put some difficult concepts of truth, justification, religion, and ethics on the bully pulpit, but I doubt it.

The NY Times primary mandate is to create compelling reading, and fitting arguments that are sometime best expressed as a list of bullet points into an essay format that also fits into a newspaper is going to be damn-near impossible. I remain hopeful, though, that we will get something other than historical discussion or simple fluff.

The Stone (New York Times)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What is Truth.

I've been tangling with the concept of truth, recently, for a book I'm working on (a philosopher? Writing a book? Shocker!). Correspondence theory is the theory that most academics accept or at least lean towards. Even there, leaning is hardly an endorsement. Basically, correspondence theory states that propositions can be true or false (grass is green) depending on if they correspond to reality.

But what is reality? If reality is determined wholly by our senses, then I see very little difference between the correspondence theory and pragmatic truth. It's in there where my mind is spending its time. Pragmatic theory is so much more powerful than I once gave it credit for.

Pragmatic theory says that a proposition is true if it's useful. Sounds almost silly, but the theory's strength lies in the definition of useful. For example, believing that God exists might make someone feel better, but that is not useful. A proposition must be usable to achieve other propositions that are themselves useful.

For example, I believe "there is a pen on my table." If correspondence theory is true, simply seeing the pen confirms that. But imagine that it's a hologram. I reach out and get nothing but air. Then, suddenly, I have two contradictory perceptions. Which one corresponds to reality? I don't think that it's answerable! The pen might be an illusion, or I might be missing when I reach. My hand might be an illusion. I can't tell.

But pragmatic theory is much better. "There is a pen on my table" is true if, acting upon that belief, I am able to achieve other things. If I need to write something, and I act upon the belief and reach out for the pen, and, indeed, successfully write something, my belief was true. If I try to act on that belief and fail to write something, the belief was not true.

That's powerful! It works with the scientific method very well, because confirmation is central to science, obviates correspondence theory (if we assume that reality is sense perception), and achieves what truth theory should achieve: giving us something to work with.

Friday, May 07, 2010

What Is This Movie About?

I came across this video on YouTube and was initially surprised at how level-headed it seemed. Then its philosophy fell off a cliff. What is it arguing against?

It starts off extolling the virtues of a country where everyone can do what they want to be happy. So far so good. Then it segues into a four-way argument between a farmer, a politician, a laborer, and a company owner. They are then offered a drink called Ism. And as Ferris Bueler warned us, Ism's should be avoided. I assumed that each person drinks the particular ism that they think will solve their issues. Namely socialism for the laborer, laissez faire capitalism for the business owner, republicanism (I think) for the politician, and I don't even know what for the farmer. Government subsidies?

Still, the cartoon loses it after it apparently just turns into a straw man argument against communism. In the creators' world, there's nothing in between America and Russia. There is no slippery slope, it's just a sheer cliff, and that negates the cartoon's thesis. I can only assume that it was made for a public so tragically uninformed that this facile argument makes sense.

I also like the usage of a Henry Ford analog to convince us. Yes. Ford is a true American success story. He paid laborers high wages. He was a capitalist. He was politically involved. He was also a a right-wing extremist who hated Jews, immigrants, and America's involvement in WWII. He initiated violence against labor organizers, and grew paranoid to the point of dysfunction in later life. Edison's not much better. I would have used Carnegie.

What The Hell Happened in 1972?

I was perusing Wikipedia, as I often do, and came across the list of top-grossing films. I take solace in the fact that Avatar is still very far down the inflation-adjusted and ticket-sales lists... Unobtanium... fuckin' hell.

But regardless! You can view this list, which lists the top grossing films for each year. You have outliers, like Gone With The Wind (and I bet Disney is really embarrassed that Song of the South was a bonafied mega-hit), but what about 1972?

It's frequently mentioned that Jaws was the first summer blockbuster, but the phenomenon seems to have started three years earlier. Previously, the top-grossing films had been measured in double-digit millions for over three decades. Thirty million here, fifty million there. But 1972 brought The Godfather and a box office of $245 million. $245 million! Alright, fine. Gone With The Wind did $338 million in the 30's. But the next year, The Exorcist, $402 million. Then $193m for Godfather II. Jaws, $470m. Rocky, $225m. Star Wars, $782m.

Over NIGHT, Hollywood started producing mega-million-dollar blockbusters. What the hell happened?