Friday, April 28, 2017

Monologue: Thad, the Worst Student in Your Intro Class, Has Something to Say (McSweeney's post dedicated to Sparrow)

This is hilarious but also frighteningly accurate in more ways than one. Tom S. is a fellow traveler on the professorial road (age, status, career trajectory, etc.), and like many of us I think he'd be able to verify the accuracy of this. Therefore, this post goes out to Tom.

Just a note: This is tongue in cheek and doesn't refer to anyone in particular. Also, visit the original if you can (I do not want to steal traffic), but do pass on if you think it is accurate or funny (or both!) ...

Monologue: Thad, the Worst Student in Your Intro Class, Has Something to Say
// McSweeney's

I want to begin with a quote from Winston Churchill, and no I will not cite it, because I don't understand how that works, and I never will. "Some people's idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, it's an outrage." You may say that Churchill engineered a famine in India during WWI (or one of however many world wars there were) and his legacy is forever tarnished by the cruelty of colonialism, but he is absolutely right here. Interrupting my idolization of the old white men my parents have busts of with some boring discussion of 'colonialism' is an outrage. I demand the right the right to say whatever I want, whenever I want, without nasty remarks like "I think there were only two world wars" or "please stop calling other religions plots of Satan."

What would I say were I freed from such fetters? Well, my loose network of political beliefs is largely just what my parents what my parents and Chaz think. Why Chaz/Chaz Monster/C-Man? First of all, he has really nice hair, plus he's the number one reason I usually show up to your class hungover. And Chaz's worldview centers on the belief that 1954 was the best year of America, ever, bar none. You may said that you and many other Americans did not have full civil rights in 1954, that maybe you couldn't even have taught here in 1954, to which I reply, your hair is not nearly as nice as Chaz's.

This is not to say that I haven't faced persecution in my own life, however. As I loudly shout over other students, some have the temerity — would you believe it? — to keep talking, even when I have so clearly already interrupted them. This is an unfair attempt to silence me, to say nothing of professors grading me down solely because of my beliefs. There can be no other reason, as my grammar are perfect. I try to never split an infinitive. I never don't use contractions or double negatives, and yet I so often find my GPA is barely above the number of world wars you claim there were (wasn't there another one in the 1860s, though? My dad has a flag from it, right next to the ghost costume he wears every month except in October, for some reason.)

My main persecutor is the professor who broke a pen in half when I complained that the gays were too violent at their uprising, Stonehenge or whatever. How was I supposed to know he's one of them! I am the victim here, as you can see for yourself. "What citation format even is this," "why would you capitalize that," "this isn't Latin, it's just very misspelled," "please for the love of God just plagiarize someone, anyone, I beg of you." These are just a few of the horrible things this man has said to me, clearly singling me out as part of his agenda. I even obtained a copy of this agenda, which he tried to pass off as a 'syllabus,' and he said something about "those were the class readings" and "you were supposed to read all these things, did you not understand — actually this explains a lot." Well, I may not know 'syllabus' means, but what I do know is it sounds suspiciously like 'syphilis.' Are these the Christian values we want at one of the top ten colleges in the nation for repressing the free speech of minorities? I think not.

As an able-bodied white Protestant who was once thrown out of the Junior Republicans for being "above the threshold of racism we tolerate," I know a lot about what it's like to be persecuted. I feel for the downtrodden, like us straight guys who 'sexually harass' women — they take catcalling as a compliment! Besides, it's just biology, people! It's not a choice, like with the gays — what? Why are you looking at me like that? I read part of The Importance of Being Earnest in seventh grade once, so I'm not homophobic! Besides, one of the girls in my dorm has short hair, and I only glare at her suspiciously when I think she's NOT looking.

My point is, professors need to start treating me with the respect I deserve, rather than nitpicking my 'ideas' and 'arguments.' This undue emphasis on 'logic' and 'context' has really hurt my grades! Just because you "have a Ph.D. in political science" is no reason to tell me I need better support for my political beliefs and, quite frankly, that's a prejudiced opinion. Much as professors may want to, I won't let college change me. I am taking a brave stand against these confusing readings in "Keynesian economics" and "critical race theory" and something called "misogynoir," which, I can only assume, is one of those weird colognes daddy buys me sometimes. You may want to enlist me in your sinister agenda, but I'm not buying it. I resist your elitist talk of "mixed metaphor." I resist the oppressive demand to stop shouting over that girl with short hair just because "she actually did the readings" (I know you're all friends anyway, let's be honest here).

Say what you want, but your marriage is a sin, and I will die never learning to format footnotes. The only professor I still like is that spicy little Spanish professor — she's from somewhere exotic, like New Jersey! What's that? I shouldn't call her — well, you just can't win these days.


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iPhones and Student Attention Span

I think we all knew this, but recent studies have now shown direct correlation between iPhone use (or smartphone, etc.) and decreased attention span. For some students in my classes this has become a problem. For our school it is an epidemic.

On the one hand , the electromagnetic waves produced by browsing online enact alpha waves at cycles of 8-12 Hrz, the wave cycle when the brain is inattentive or wandering. The term is "cortical idling." Same as television of course, but worse. A pleasurable, relaxed nearly hypnotic state - but one in which the brain's attention/focus is pretty much gone. Any possibility for "learning" drops out. (Even if learning is more than information recall, which it is, learning is still not happening.)

On the other hand we now also know about the small hits of dopamine released as the brain goes out seeking novelty and getting it immediately while one browses online. Dopamine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet, as it is involved with the seeking and reward system of our brain which we must use in order to survive. We must learn what is pleasurable in order to seek it out and obtain it. Dopamine reinforces that seek and reward behavior.

Smartphones capitalize on those small releases of dopamine during browsing (as observed in lab tests) but also during interactions such as "liking" or being retweeted on social media. The brain very quickly becomes addicted to these dopamine hits and the stimulation and immediate gratification associated with them. Soon the brain associates the device with dopamine and habitually and unconsciously one will reach for it expecting pleasure. As one then browses or interacts with social media, dopamine is released and the reward satisfied.

The danger is just how suggestive smartphone use actually can be. For example, dopamine is also associated with impulse control (as seen in methamphetamine addicts), as well as with emotional control and the ability to experience certain emotions. Dopamine (or addiction to it) directy affects emotions such as empathy.

Researchers are now looking into how smartphones (or here in this study daily internet use or the use of smartphones) have affected IQ and basic learning skills, in addition to affecting emotional and social intelligence (skills such as problem solving, but also basic reading and writing).

While stimulants release or act on dopamine to increase focus in children or adults with attention deficit disorder, here the brain is set to inattentive alpha wave mode first only to have its momentary bursts of attention from within lengthier cycles of inattention rewarded. And so attention becomes a fragmentary novelty-seeking pleasure mechanism, rather than a mechanism of focus which helps true, deep learning occur.

More info at the link below:

Mathematics of the Transcendental (NDPR review)

While I am not particularly "into" Badiou (I actually prefer Laruelle, as opaque as he is), my research this summer is drawing upon mathematics as ontology, and for mathematics as ontology Badiou is master.

This book - as far as I can tell from the review - offers an alternative to, and critique of, set theory.  Set theory and predicate logic have long been staples in the analytic philosophical diet.  Here a Continental figure has taken up mathematics in very different ways.  The same is true with Badiou's Plato.  There his interpretation is, well, like Badiou...but interesting nonetheless (I am referring to Badiou's rewriting of Plato's Republic. His choice for terms of translation says it all.)

Recently I heard the Badiou, as late as last summer, was working on category theory and the thought of C.S. Peirce.  Now that's interesting.

NDPR review of Badiou's Mathematics of the Transcendental HERE.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A who's who of realism today

The  list of names from the colloquium "Things in Themselves: Metaphysics and Realism Today" essentially has every philosopher you ought to know about if you are studying the moment of realism, metaphysics, and contemporary speculative philosophy today.

There are some papers in English (Brassier, among others) - as well as many questions - in English, for those of you who do not speak French.

Full playlist on YouTube HERE.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tense Bees and Shell-Shocked Crabs: Are Animals Conscious? (NDPR review)

Michael Tye, Tense Bees and Shell-Shocked Crabs: Are Animals Conscious?, Oxford University Press, 2017, 256pp., $29.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780190278014.
Reviewed by Colin Klein, Macquarie University

Most of us are willing to accept that some nonhuman animals are conscious. Primates and dogs are an easy sell. Once upon a time, it was also easy to draw the line at mammals. The past few decades have revealed surprising complexity and intelligence among vertebrates like fish and birds, however, and even the higher invertebrates such as the octopus. More recently, cautious claims have appeared on behalf of simpler invertebrates like insects and crabs. Yet does the cleverness of the honeybee really give us reason to think that it has phenomenal consciousness?

Michael Tye argues for the affirmative. Arguing from straightforward principles, he comes to the conclusion that consciousness is widespread. Along the way, he marshals an impressive array of empirical evidence,...

Friday, April 21, 2017

First review of Speculative Realism: An Epitome comes in

The review is objective in tone and very nicely summarizes what the books is about, what it does, and what its merits and shortfalls are. Overall a positive review, I am glad to report.

Review can be found HERE.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A humble attempt to introduce the philosophy of Nick Land...

Craig H. at Southern Nights blog (formerly Social Ecologies blog) has posted a very good collection of posts regarding a number of varied but centrally related topics concerning the philosophy of Nick Land. I am not sure how to pin a post, however even for my own personal interest I am going to make my way through all of the below posts (I've read closely just a few of them). It will take you (and me) some time to read and digest; although I must say that, oh, probably for the past month or so I've been curiously hovering around Land's ever-entertaining Twitter account, and his own blog Outside In (linked below) has been a long-time friend in my Feedly blog subscription app.

In what follows there is perhaps a gushing over Land's philosophy as much as an introduction, yet, it cannot go unsaid that at least in my humble opinion, his work is more enticingly interesting than anything going on today in contemporary Continental philosophy. This is not to say I take it all as true. But I do take it as absolutely fascinating and compelling. There are some very interesting ideas at work.

Let me also say this: in the posts below you'll read much about the CCRU, Accelerationism, as well as Nick Land (my favorite), and lots of other "intense" or "at the fringe things." It's justified, as that is what philosophy at its best does. But be prepared, because it all turns out to be philosophy-on-the-edges, probing time and what is real through "untimely meditations" so-to-speak, revealing an unknown as unknown. The Real. Call it what you want. What Land uncovers is not for the faint-hearted.  Thus, pretty dark stuff.

Land is indeed a genius of our time, though he is also "ahead" of our time (whatever "time" might mean - you'll see when you read the posts). Everything Craig has covered here is absolutely fascinating (again, reiterate: whether much of it is "true" is another story). Nonetheless, if one wants an education in Land's outlook, read closely the below.

So, over the next week or so I shall work my way through Craig's posts as a guide (no pressure, Craig). So far, though, if through these posts you want to know what's coming in discovering what Land is all about, imagine his philosophy something like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Cioran, Freud, Deleuze, and Bataille  mixed in a hyperstitious synthetic steroid cocktail of accelerationism, cyberpunk culture, NrX, Dark Enlightenment, CCRU, and discussion about something called "time wars" and "Studio Reality." Dizzying, but fun - we'll be dancing at the asylum, and that's a good thing .

The Awl blog puts everything rather succinctly:
Philosophically, the nineties iteration of Land was one of the most significant modern descendants of the sceptical and nihilist tradition in Western philosophy. Like his heroes, Nietzsche and Bataille, he was unremittingly hostile to the liberal Enlightenment philosophy of Immanuel Kant, which he saw as a failed attempt at replacing God with sacralized reason following the collapse of religion as source of philosophical certainty. Once set free from this religious cage, however, thought proceeded to demolish reason as well as any other claims to truth; for Land, Enlightenment notions of rationality, free will, and selfhood were naïve efforts to save human consciousness (what he called the “Human Security System”) from being overwhelmed by the senseless and inhuman chaos of the universe — Lovecraft’s “shadow-haunted Outside” — whose truth was accessible only through the communions of art, death, ritual, and intoxication (of which Land enthusiastically partook). 
Land’s greatest legacy was a philosophy now known as “Accelerationism,” a heady cocktail of nihilism, cybernetic Marxism, complexity theory, numerology, jungle music, and the dystopian sci-fi of William Gibson and Blade Runner. Land identified the critique that progressively dissolved all claims to truth as the philosophical correlate of a capitalist economic system locked in constant revolutionary expansion, moving upwards and outwards on a trajectory of technological and scientific intelligence-generation that would, at the limit, make the leap from its human biological hosts into the great beyond. For Land, as for Nietzsche, the death of God results ultimately in the desire to be destroyed, with capitalism the agent of this destruction.
To conclude, alongside Land one may wish to read his book on Bataille, something I am going to try to help me get at Land's core ideas - (and a decisive interpretation on my part of how exactly one ought to interpret and take away Bataille's conclusions determines what Land will look like for you; just like in Hegel, it depends what of Hegel one takes) - this seems to be in order for me, after I finish my re-read of Land's edited writings (1987-2007) within Fanged Noumena. Though, I may order his book on Bataille. We'll see.

(From a fellow blogger who understands how time consuming it is to produce such things, thanks to Craig for writing such lengthy detailed posts - some of which I'll put below.)

Link, link, link...cognitive labor...ugh...but work your way through and become amazed. Here we go:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Free-writing a pensive post (Part 3b of 3)

In the last post of this series, HERE, I discussed how things had been going for my health during the last few months.  If you've been following along Part 1 is HERE, Part 2 HERE, and Part 3a HERE. Ironic, maybe, that just recently, actually, I followed up with the heart doc three months after the cardiac ablation surgery. So far so good.  And I am feeling much better.  Now on to thinking about total hip replacement.

In this post I'd like to update my readers on my academic plans, specifically my teaching but also discuss some of this past year's research.

My first First Year Writing Seminar "Meaning of Life" proved interesting.  I've always enjoyed mentoring students and so when asked if I'd be interested to teach FYWS again for fall 2017 I of course agreed.  The theme I created is "An Inquiry into the Good" which seeks to answer the question, "What makes a life a good life?" My Chair was informed by the approving Dean of Humanities that the course sounded so interesting that even she'd like to sign up - so I must be doing something right!  Very excited to teach that.  Here is the course description:
What is “the good life?” Is it having money, success, fame, or power? What is “good,” anyway? Does goodness consist in being just or truthful, in partaking in acts of kindness and beauty? Or is goodness simply what is pleasurable and thus a material matter? What if it were argued that the good we all seek is, of course, happiness. This then begs the question: what is happiness? Is being happy always good, and does goodness necessarily involve happiness? This course explores two interrelated questions: “What makes for a good life?” and “What is happiness?” The course overall conceives of goodness and happiness – whatever those terms might mean – as first and foremost a matter of self-exploration and self-realization. That is, goodness and happiness are both ideals and states to be realized and achieved. Students will read, critically interpret, and write about a wide range of philosophers who have something to say about the nature of a good life and happiness – philosophers including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, Seneca, Augustine, Montaigne, Pascal, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, to name a few. In the course of engaging the writings of these philosophers students will have the opportunity to develop critical thinking, research, and writing skills.
Next on the agenda for fall 2017 is Existential Philosophy.  I'll be using Solomon's Existentialism text like usual but am also adding my Speculative Realism text in order to read the chapter on subject-at-center metaphysics.  Given that I am slated to teach a seminar in Phenomenology in the spring of 2018 I am hoping to use the SR text for both classes to get the most use out of it.  And finally for fall is Introduction to Philosophy (one of my favorite classes to teach, actually).

Spring semester has me slated for Ancient Greek philosophy, Introduction to Philosophy, and the seminar in Phenomenology (which I am still debating how best that'd be run).

Speculative Realism: An Epitome is now published.  I am glad that that project is over, for a multitude of reasons.  Probably the most pressing was just how politicized the available literature was, in addition to the sheer paucity of available, but also reputable, literature (meaning, there was hardly any). This made the book tremendously difficult to write.  I saw authors making 90 degree right turns to avoid mentioning this person or that person, or editors of online journals (graduate-student run and reviewed, mind-you) behaving like jerks on Twitter and hence compromising even ever hoping to achieve any semblance of trustworthiness or respectability for whatever they did publish on SR, and overall just ridiculousness that was so laughably bad that I couldn't even believe it was published online to begin with (Figure/Ground was especially terrible with repeatedly interviewing the same people over and over and over again, and one other journal that shall not be named were guilty of this but with the same authors appearing in each and every single issue. But said unnamed journal is just so repetitive in who publishes in it - most articles are within the bubble, and there is nothing new or informative about it. But, I think Figure/Ground is run by undergraduate students which, well, are we now quoting "journals" online run by newly declared philosophy majors?)

One strong case in point was how one of the very few authors who did manage to publish a book on the subject intentionally appeared to avoid using at all costs my interview with Iain Hamilton Grant while simultaneously complaining on Twitter that he was unable to locate a woefully outdated interview with Grant published in PLI over a decade earlier which he was hoping to use for his book. This was perplexing. Further, bowdlerized histories weren't uncommon in the other two books on the subject which were published, and this further frustrated my research.  So, I did what I could.

I saw on Twitter Urbanomic liken the situation to a broken-down abomination clawing its way back to momentary attention just to remind everyone  how it had already come and gone.  True. But also maybe there is another way to put it.  First, perhaps it could be described that in writing the book it would be as if I were showing around curious onlookers the crash site and decade-old remains of a once fancy airliner that had taken off for a flight but immediately had exploded over the runway just as its wheels left ground. The second way to put it (and this is to my own detriment) would be that there once was a conversation occurring in an ornately adorned lecture hall that over a few years happened to empty out.  But yet a decade later there I am in that room, long since abandoned, mumbling to those looking in from the hallway who had become curious hearing me as they passed by. I think this analogy explains why I sometimes feel as though this publication could have been better supplanted by my own thinking on a new topic.

Ah, before I forget. There was yet another comparison which had come to mind in writing the book.  So from the viewpoint of those who adamantly pound on the table and shout "It still exists! It still exists!" I thought: These are the 48 year-olds and their friends who were once star high-school quarter backs, but show up to today's games and shout from the sidelines how the game should be played.  They even attempt to climb over that chain-link fence separating the team from the crowd.  The sad part is, they're not even at their own high-school team's game, as that high-school shut down about ten years ago.

I'm weird, I know.  I just couldn't think of any other way to describe the experience of writing that book.

Anyway, the book-writing process is done and over with - the story told, and I move on to bigger and better things.

Other publications: I wrote something much more fun - a book chapter on the philosophical ecology of John William Miller.  Over winter break one year we had a reading group dedicated to Miller (who I discovered incidentally by reading an essay that Corrington had written about him).  That essay will be published in a book called Nature's Transcendence and Immanence, edited by Oh and Lawrence.  Given that the SR book took up so much time, and also battling my health, those were the only two big projects I could find time to publish. Although, I'd say that I managed to be fairly productive enough all things considered, as a book is no small feat.  And with the Miller/ecology chapter I was glad I could turn it over on time, as I know as a former book editor myself how time is of the essence.

Teaching went very, very well this past fall and currently has been going great (one can read about this semester's classes in the second post of this series).  Actually, it is hard to believe that the spring semester is nearly over.  It feels as though it just began!  That's a good thing, I think.  Great students - and I managed to nab two philosopher majors! Very cool. I was in charge of our "Exceptional Promise in Philosophy Award" which honors undeclared non-majors who have performed very well in our current philosophy classes this semester. It is a confidence boost for them and a good recruitment strategy. But I am honored to give out the award to some outstanding students.  In particular, Continental Philosophy went very well this term, against my expectations. In fact, many students in the class were prone to volunteer excellent examples and other ways in which something might said so everyone could comprehend the theory we happened to be discussing for the day.  Same with Environmental Philosophy and Intro.  Excellent, wonderful students.  I am indeed blessed.

In any case, now I am at the fun part of the crossroads which is determining where I go from here for my next research project.  Classes are set for fall and spring of next year: An Inquiry into the Good, Intro to Philosophy, and Existential Philosophy for fall; and then Ancient Greek Philosophy, Intro, and Phenomenology for spring.

I just need to decide what I'd like to accomplish research-wise next year, or at least what topics I'd be interested in exploring.  I really need to set a new and fresh direction.  Blaze a trail.  I will discuss that in the last post of this series, part "3c."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

quote of the day

"Cosmic imbalance is the motor of reality."

- Nick Land

After Nature looks, nods in agreement, and gives a look of approval back to F.W.J. Schelling.

Friday, April 7, 2017

quote of the day

"Idealism is the soul of Philosophy; Realism is its body; only the two together constitute a living whole."

- F.W.J. Schelling

Thursday, April 6, 2017

quote of the day

"[W]e do not mean that metaphysics is one subordinate subject-matter within the subject-matter that is philosophy. The term 'metaphysics' is not analogous to the terms 'aesthetics'....'ethics' etc. It is not a subject-matter area...It is one of the functions of philosophy...."

- Justus Buchler, Metaphysics of Natural Complexes