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Showing posts from December, 2012

An Atheist On A Date

I kissed a girl
wearing a cross
around her neck
her lips didn't taste
like church
but her hips
felt like God
I wonder what
her pastor would
have thought
I wonder if that
cross around her neck
meant more to me 
than it does
to her.

Author - Unknown

Seeing Past the 'Digital Dualism'

"The logic of social media follows us long after we log out. There was and is no offline; it is a lusted-after fetish object that some claim special ability to attain, and it has always been a phantom....
We have come to understand more and more of our lives through the logic of digital connection. Social media is more than something we log into; it is something we carry within us. We can’t log off."

The IRL Fetish by Nathan Jurgenson

Echo and Abyss

"By thought alone I made myself both echo and abyss."
Fernando Pessoa, The Book Of Disquiet

Ahistoricism

Joshua writes at the Examined Life tumblr:

"Ahistoricism is a necessary pre-condition for every form of ideological blindness. The more ahistorical, the more fanatical.
‘Ahistoricism’ does not mean merely one’s ignorance of dates, events, and names in history, but the interconnection of those things out of which all our ideas today have evolved.  Ideas never spring from an ahistorical vacuum.  One can know many historical facts and yet have an entirely ahistorical outlook.  One may not know many historical facts and yet may possess a keen sense of historical awareness."
That is an excellent observation, and it is borne out by my own interaction with those leaning towards Islamic fundamentalism. There is a striking lack of appreciation (not necessary knowledge) of how Islamic Sharia originated and developed, and how the doctrines that seem eternal and rigid to current believers, as if handed down in this form by God, are products of scholarly disputes, interpretations, and en…

Philosophy

"Working in philosophy — like work in architecture in many respects — is really more a working on oneself.  On one’s own interpretation.  On one’s way of seeing things.  (And what one expects of them.)"
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value
(via Examined Life)

Mountains in Love: A Review of Thinner Than Skin

My review of Uzma Aslam Khan’s Thinner Than Skin for The Friday Times.

Mountains in Love
Awais Aftab

The book begins with two intriguing and sub-textually pertinent quotes, providing hints as to what the story has to offer: “It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.” (Virginia Woolf) and “There are one or two murderers in any crowd. They do not suspect their destinies yet.” (Charles Simic) Indeed, Thinner Than Skin is a tale of characters who are grappling with tenacious phantoms and stumbling towards destinies they cannot foresee.
The novel is set primarily in the background of Pakistani Northern areas, Kaghan Valley in particular, with its melting pot of communities of Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Russians, Chinese and Afghans. It is a place where old traditions and customs are laced into the fabric of geography, and the sense of enchantment is palpable and ever-present. The culture is being corroded by the presence of government officials and military convoys, and the infiltration o…

The Moral Challenge of Suffering

I do not presume that this solves the problem of suffering, nor does it imply that we should not seek to alleviate it wherever possible, but it does seem to me that there is an element of a moral challenge to the suffering we face in life. How we respond to pain and evil in our lives, and how it impacts our character is of moral significance. Confronted with suffering, we can transform ourselves for the better, with hope and courage, and by cultivating compassion, sensitivity and humility. To do so is to succeed in this moral challenge. The same adversity, however, can turn many into bitter, base, selfish and vengeful creatures. That is a moral failure. 
Of course, we do not get to experience the same amount of pain in life. There is a huge disparity, and that is unfair. It is, however, an unfairness that lurks at the very heart of morality itself.
Related post: Beautiful People

Guilt Before We Act

The following conversation from the film Liberal Arts may be considered a spoiler by some.

"It doesn't bother me." "Well, it bothers me." "Well, it shouldn't. Age is a stupid thing to obsess over. What if reincarnation is real, huh? Think about that, What if I am like thousands of years older than you?" "Okay, that's not really a sound argument." "Why not?" "Because it's like saying what if reality is all an illusion, then there are no consequences to anything, we're completely off the hook... and I believe in consequences." "No, you believe in guilt." "Maybe, but guilt before we act is called morality." 
Liberal Arts

A Testimony of Love

A testimony of love.— Somebody said: "About two persons I have never reflected very thoroughly: that is the testimony of my love for them."
Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Hyperbolic Skepticism

Hyperbolic skepticism rests on a self-defeating criterion, as Maverick Philosopher points out:
"Those who believe that it is wrong, always and everywhere, to believe anything on insufficient evidence believe that very proposition on insufficient evidence, indeed on no evidence at all."

The Disingenuous Believer

New Wine in Old Wineskins is an elegant and succinct post on how the author realized that his wholesale symbolic interpretation of Bible amounted to being disingenuous. An excerpt:
"I’ve travelled along the Christian spectrum from one end to the other, from Church of Christ to Universal Unitarianism.  In the last few years that I called myself a Christian in the late 1990s, I kept edging further and further toward a broader interpretation of the Christian narrative until I had discovered I had fallen off that edge!  In those last few years, my understanding of what was symbolic or metaphorical encompassed the whole of the Bible.  It was finally the resurrection of Jesus understood as symbolic that I had to face up to the fact that calling myself a Christian was disingenuous....
There is no reason to have a sense of loyalty to a religious narrative just because it has been around for ages.  It seems to me a lazy way of doing a kind of pseudo-philosophy rather than engaging with th…

Our Pervasive Madness

"In the context of our present pervasive madness that we call normality, sanity, freedom, all our frames of reference are ambiguous and equivocal.
A man who prefers to be dead rather than Red is normal. A man who says he has lost his soul is mad. A man who says that men are machines may be a great scientist. A man who says he is a machine is 'depersonalized' in psychiatric jargon. A man who says that Negroes are an inferior race may be widely respected. A man who says his whiteness is a form of cancer is certifiable.
A little girl of seventeen in a mental hospital told me she was terrified because the Atom Bomb was inside her. That is a delusion. The statesmen of the world who boast and threaten that they have Doomsday weapons are far more dangerous, and far more estranged from 'reality' than many of the people on whom the label 'psychotic' is affixed. 
Psychiatry could be, and some psychiatrists are, on the side of transcendence, of genuine freedom, and …

The Imperfect Language

"In this article it is argued that evolutionary plausibility must be made an important constraining factor when building theories of language. Recent suggestions that presume that language is necessarily a perfect or optimal system are at odds with this position, evolutionary theory showing us that evolution is a meliorizing agent often producing imperfect solutions. Perfection of the linguistic system is something that must be demonstrated, rather than presumed. Empirically, examples of imperfection are found not only in nature and in human cognition, but also in language — in the form of ambiguity, redundancy, irregularity, movement, locality conditions, and extra-grammatical idioms. Here it is argued that language is neither perfect nor optimal, and shown how theories of language which place these properties at their core run into both conceptual and empirical problems."
Anna R. Kinsella and Gary F. MarcusEvolution, Perfection, and Theories of Language

Life of Pi's Case for God: Two Philosophical Interpretations

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*Major Spoilers Ahead*

"We believe what we see" "...what do you do when you're in the dark?" - Yann Martel, Life of Pi
Life of Pi is a beautifully profound film, and leaves much to think about. I haven't read the novel, but friends tell me that it's over-all a pretty faithful adaptation. Yann Martel seems happy with the film as well, though he does note that the "ending is not as ambiguous as the book’s". The film is decently good and engaging for most part, but it is really the ending which takes it to a whole new level. The possibility of another version of how the events in the film happened hits you out of the blue and alters the whole perception of what had happened. I also like how the story is tied up with spirituality. To understand the film fully, one has to understand how the film makes a case for God. The film begins with a writer approaching Pi after hearing that he has a story to tell that would 'make one believe in God'. T…

Wine Barrel

"The only copy of Catullus’s poems to survive from antiquity was discovered in the Middle Ages, plugging a hole in a wine barrel. One of two morals can be drawn from this fact. Either pure chance determines what survives, from which it follows that eventually every work will lose its gamble and be forgotten; or else every worthy work is registered in the eye of God, the way books are registered for copyright, so that its material fate is irrelevant. The first conclusion, which is rationally inevitable, would in time lead anyone to stop writing; anyone who continues to write somehow believes a version of the second. But surely a God who was able to preserve all human works could also preserve all human intentions—indeed, He could deduce the work from its intention far more perfectly than the writer can produce it. Thus a writer with perfect trust would not have to do any work, but simply confide his intentions and aspirations to God. His effort, the pains he takes, are the precis…