Archive for ‘Philosophy’

March 13, 2017

Absurdism

myth of sisyphus

Absurdism is a type of philosophy centered on the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any. The conflict itself is called ‘the absurd,’ by absurdist philosophers.

Absurdists, most notably French philosopher Albert Camus, believe that when human beings realize this fundamental absurdity the most sensible response was to  accept the absurd, and also to keep trying to overcome it. He believed that a human being could become happy by finding meaning in their relationship with the absurdity of their existence. In acknowledging the absurdity of seeking any inherent meaning, but continuing this search regardless, one can be happy, gradually developing meaning from the search alone.

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February 14, 2017

Buck Passing

willard duncan vandiver

Buck passing, or passing the buck, is the act of attributing to another person or group one’s own responsibility. It is often used to refer to a strategy in power politics whereby a state tries to get another state to deter or possibly fight an aggressor state while it remains on the sidelines.

The expression is said to have originated from poker, in which a marker or counter (such as a knife with a buckhorn handle during the American Frontier era) was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal he could pass the responsibility by passing the ‘buck,’ as the counter came to be called, to the next player.

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November 16, 2016

May You Live In Interesting Times

interesting times

crisis

‘May you live in interesting times’ is an English expression purported to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. While seemingly a blessing, the expression is always used ironically, with the clear implication that ‘uninteresting times,’ of peace and tranquillity, are more life-enhancing than interesting ones, which from historical perspective usually include disorder and conflict.

Despite being so common in English as to be known as ‘the Chinese curse,’ the saying is apocryphal, and no actual Chinese source has ever been produced. The nearest related Chinese expression is usually translated as ‘Better to be a dog in a peaceful time, than to be a human in a chaotic (warring) period.’ The expression originates from a 1627 short story collection, ‘Stories to Awaken the World.’

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October 19, 2016

Epiphany

newton

An epiphany [ih-pif-uh-nee] (from the ancient Greek ‘epiphaneia,’ ‘manifestation,’ ‘striking appearance’) is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific, religious, or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. Epiphanies are studied by psychologists and other scholars, particularly those attempting to study the process of innovation.

Epiphanies are relatively rare occurrences and generally follow a process of significant thought about a problem. Often they are triggered by a new and key piece of information, but importantly, a depth of prior knowledge is required to allow the leap of understanding. Famous epiphanies include Archimedes’s discovery of a method to determine the density of an object (‘Eureka!’) and Isaac Newton’s realization that a falling apple and the orbiting moon are both pulled by the same force. The word epiphany originally referred to insight through the divine. Today, this concept is more often used without such connotations, but a popular implication remains that the epiphany is supernatural, as the discovery seems to come suddenly from the outside.

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May 4, 2016

The Demolished Man

the demolished man

The Demolished Man,’ by Alfred Bester, is an American science fiction novel and inverted detective story, that was the first Hugo Award winner in 1953. The story is a police procedural set in a future where telepathy is common, although much of its effectiveness is derived from one individual having greater telepathic skill than another. In the 24th century, telepaths—’Espers’ (short for Extrasensory perception), colloquially known as ‘peepers’—are completely integrated into all levels of a class-based society.

Class 3 Espers, the most common, can detect only conscious thoughts at the time they are formed and are often employed as secretaries or administrators; Class 2 Espers can dig more deeply, to the pre-conscious level, detecting subliminal patterns, epiphanies and tenuous associations, and they are employed in the professional middle class—lawyers, managers, psychologists, etc. Class 1 Espers can detect all of the foregoing plus sub-conscious primitive urges, and they occupy only the highest levels of power in fields such as the police, government and medicine (such as psychiatry).

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March 1, 2016

Bandwagon Effect

Lemmings by Kyle Fewell

snowball effect

The bandwagon effect is a phenomenon whereby the rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, fads and trends increases the more that they have already been adopted by others. As more people come to believe in something, others also ‘hop on the bandwagon’ regardless of the underlying evidence.

The tendency to follow the actions or beliefs of others can occur because individuals directly prefer to conform to social pressure, or because individuals derive information from others. The former has been used to explain Asch’s conformity experiments, a series of studies directed by Polish American social psychologist Solomon Asch studying if and how individuals yield to or defy a majority group and the effect of such influences on beliefs and opinions.

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February 21, 2016

Quiddity

Merman by Sean Naylor

In scholastic philosophy, quiddity [kwid-i-tee] was another term for the essence of an object, literally ‘what it is’ or its ‘whatness.’ The term derives from the Latin word ‘quidditas,’ meaning ‘what it was to be (a given thing),’ which was used by the medieval scholastics as a literal translation of the equivalent term in Aristotle’s Greek. It describes properties that a particular substance (e.g. a person) shares with others of its kind. The question ‘what (quid) is it?’ asks for a general description by way of commonality.

Quiddity was often contrasted by the scholastic philosophers with the ‘haecceity’ or ‘thisness’ of an item, which was supposed to be a positive characteristic of an individual that caused them to be this individual, and no other. It is used in this sense in British poet George Herbert’s eponymous poem, ‘Quiddity.’ In law, the term is used to refer to a quibble or academic point. An example can be seen in Hamlet’s graveside speech: ‘Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures’ says Hamlet, referring to a lawyer’s quiddities.

February 11, 2016

Shabbat Elevator

kosherswitch

A Shabbat elevator is an elevator which works in a special mode, operating automatically, a way to circumvent the Jewish law requiring observers to abstain from operating electric switches during the Sabbath. In this mode, an elevator will stop automatically at every floor, allowing people to step in and out without having to press any buttons. They are found in Israeli hospitals, hotels, and apartment buildings, and in some synagogues.

The Israeli Knesset passed a special Shabbat elevator law in 2001 ordering the planning and building of all residential buildings, and public buildings which have more than one elevator, to install a control mechanism for Shabbat (Shabbat module) in one of the elevators. In 2009 senior haredi rabbis, led by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, published a religious injunction forbidding the use of Shabbat elevators on the grounds that even in Shabbat mode the user is indirectly violating Shabbat.

 

February 9, 2016

Ma

shigeo fukuda

alan fletcher

Ma is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as ‘gap,’ ‘space,’ ‘pause,’ or ‘the space between two structural parts.’ It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form, similar to the concept of ‘negative space’ in graphic design. Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements. Therefore, ma can be defined as experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.

In his 2001 book ‘The Art of Looking Sideways,’ graphic designer Alan Fletcher discusses the importance of exemplifying ‘space’ as a substance: ‘Cézanne painted and modelled space. Giacometti sculpted by ‘taking the fat off space.’ Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses… Isaac Stern described music as ‘that little bit between each note – silences which give the form’… The Japanese have a word (‘ma’) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.’

January 18, 2016

For Want of a Nail

Butterfly

camel nose

For Want of a Nail is a proverb, having numerous variations over several centuries, reminding that seemingly unimportant acts or omissions can have grave and unforeseen consequences: ‘For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.’

The earliest reference to the full proverb may refer to the death of Richard III of England at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. This short variation of the proverb was published in ‘Fifty Famous People’ by James Baldwin. Richard III is unhorsed in the rhyme, but, historically Richard’s horse was merely mired in the mud. The reference to losing a horse is directly linked to the titular character famously shouting ‘A Horse! A Horse! My Kingdom for a Horse!,’ in Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ (c. 1591).

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January 9, 2016

Afterwardsness

retroaction

Transference

In the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, afterwardsness is a ‘mode of belated understanding or retroactive attribution of [meaning] to earlier events… [from the German word] ‘Nachträglichkeit,’ translated as ‘deferred action, retroaction, après-coup, afterwardsness.’ As summarized by another scholar, ‘In one sense, Freud’s theory of deferred action can be simply stated: memory is reprinted, so to speak, in accordance with later experience.’

Closely related for Freud to deferred action was ‘deferred obedience’: again, ‘a deferred effect…a ‘deferred obedience’ under the influence of repression.’ Thus for instance Freud explored the different phases of a man’s infantile attitude to his father: ‘As long as his father was alive it showed itself in unmitigated rebelliousness and open discord, but immediately after his death it took the form of a neurosis based on abject submission and deferred obedience to him.’ In ‘Totem and Taboo’ he generalized the principle and ‘depicted the social contract also as based on posthumous obedience to the father’s authority’ — offset at times by its converse, occasional Carnival-like licence such as ‘the memorial festival of the totem meal, in which the restrictions of deferred obedience no longer held.’

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January 8, 2016

Uncanny

Freud

The psychological concept of the uncanny [uhn-kan-ee] was first described by Sigmund Freud in his essay ‘Das Unheimliche’ as something that is strangely familiar, rather than just mysterious. Because the uncanny is familiar, yet incongruous, it has been seen as creating cognitive dissonance within the experiencing subject, due to the paradoxical nature of being simultaneously attracted to yet repulsed by an object.

This cognitive dissonance (discomfort stemming from holding conflicting beliefs) often leads to an outright rejection of the object, as one would rather reject than rationalize, as in the ‘uncanny valley’ effect (people are not as affected in an emotional way by an object if it is easy to tell it is not human, but after a certain point, they start to feel emotionally about it, but feel bad emotions because it is so nonhuman).

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