Em oi! #377: Sene-can

Who's that man who isn't getting angry? Seneca!

So I came across Seneca (founder of the Stoics) the other day and immediately realized I was dealing with a kindred spirit. Seneca actually did advocate spending some time every day meditating on what could potentially go wrong in your life, because then if it did go wrong, you’d be psychologically prepared for it. Alain de Botton implies that this philosophy grew out of the fact that Seneca lived among the Roman elites, who were a fairly angry and unstable group from the emperor on down. And I actually do this quite a lot, though I refer to it as “reining in my expectations.” For example, if I had a job interview that went really well, I tell myself that they are not only not going to give me the job, but they will probably come and burn down my house for wasting their time. Then if they actually give me the job (please give me the job–you know who you are), I am surprised and happy, and if they reject me, I am less sad.

Anyway, despite all that, I couldn’t resist making fun of him a little. It could be worse, I guess–Schopenhauer advised his readers to swallow a toad every morning, so that would be the worst thing that happened to them all day…

We’ll file this under B618.L86 2013, for Philosophy (General)—Ancient (600 B.C.-430 A.D.)—Occident—Greco-Roman philosophy—Individual philosophers—Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 B.C.-65 A.D.—Biography and memoirs. Criticism and interpretation—General Works.

I should point out that in the time between when I drew this and when I inked it, my hair streak was dyed over (so I could look respectable for job interviews). You can check it out in the below photo, in which I failed to do it and maybe I didn’t even brush it this morning? And also I look a little cranky. (Hah. Take that, Cameron Russell?)

Dog photobombed me.
Dog photobombed me.

There have been so many good, philosophical articles in the news lately, from the issues of justice and punishment versus rehabilitation raised by the conviction and sentencing of Malik Richmond and Trent Mays, to the question of deciding when someone becomes a person raised by the North Dakota Personhood amendment to all sorts of interesting problems raised by SCOTUS hearing arguments on Proposition 8 and DOMA. But then Bryan posed me a fascinating problem about epistemology and free will, so I’m going to write about that. Actually, I’m going to write down the problem as posed to me now, and then next week I’m going to write about my thoughts on the issue.

Here we go: Bryan doesn’t believe in free will. His proof for this goes thusly:

  1. Bryan is a materialist, which means he believes that there is no mind/brain dichotomy–the mind is just our perception of the workings of the brain. The brain is controlled by various chemicals.
  2. Because the brain is made up of particles, if we really understood the brain (and quantum physics), we could build a computer that could predict what someone is thinking.
  3. So now that we know what someone is thinking, given a set of initial conditions, we can predict someone’s behavior.
  4. Since all choices can be accurately predicted, there is no free will. We are essentially controlled by chemicals. Free will is just an illusion we have because we ourselves don’t entirely understand the workings of our brains. But we might as well live with this illusion, because we can’t build a computer that can predict things like that.

(Bryan, you will have to let me know if I have misconstrued your argument.)

So I have been reading and thinking about quantum physics, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, Newcomb’s problem and meta-Newcomb’s problem (even rereading my senior philosophy thesis), and  also looking into the works of a lot of theorists from about 1950-present. It has been quite a knotty problem, I will tell you. If you have any comments on it, please feel free to post them in the comments section here, on FB or G+, or email them to me at ehlupton(at)gmail(dot)com. I will try to address any worthwhile opinions I receive.

Em oi! #376: นักแปล [nakplae, the translator]

I have the skills to...get bug spray for Andy and Sara's room. Possibly.

Another sketch from our trip to Thailand. This actually happened at a down-at-its-heels hotel in Chiang Mai. Eventually Andy and Sara got to move to a slightly better room…but they didn’t manage to get one with a double bed. At the time, I complained that we had landed in the Chiang Mai version of Pham Ngu Lao, a street in Ho Chi Minh City known for cheap/seedy backpacker hotels. I think, having looked at a lot of other hotel reviews, that most places in Chiang Mai are like that. It wasn’t a bad hotel, exactly…well, it was. But it was clearly a nice hotel about ten or fifteen years ago when it was built. And then nothing was updated again.

My nemesis
My nemesis

There was a fiendish device on the bedside table. You can see it in this photo to the right (and now you all know the name of the hotel, oops.). You push a button and the lights turn on or off. Somehow we managed to push the buttons so that around about five o’clock in the morning, the lights started to turn on and off by themselves. You can imagine, given how jet lagged I was, how well that went over. I thought the place was haunted. I guess this was state-of-the-art in like…1980.

I’m maybe a bit bitter because the room smelled like smoke. But later on that day, after our freaky awakening, B got sick and basically slept in the room for 12 hours. I figured at least the sheets were clean and the AC worked.

A few trial sketches of Andy.
A few trial sketches of Andy.

These are my preliminary sketches of Andy, done to prep for this comic and Em oi! #374. I guess he’s lost a fair amount of weight since he got back to Texas, so these are not entirely accurate.

Today we went to see Oz the Great and Powerful, Sam Raimi’s prequel to The Wizard of Oz. I found that in the years since I first saw the original, the details of the land of Oz have gotten tangled up in my head with other fantasy places, like Wonderland, Middle Earth, and Australia. There were some details that struck me as kind of bizarre–why would you have a field of poppies that can cause everlasting sleep right next to the Emerald City? Isn’t that a liability case waiting to happen? The witches were also interesting, although I was sad that they went with the old trope of “dark hair bad, blond-y good-y.” Glinda the good witch, played by Michelle Williams, reminded me of Galadriel (blond hair, long white gown, kind of ethereal expression). Then I remembered that amazing scene where Galadriel almost takes the ring, but doesn’t. Wow, she’s a really interesting character in that scene. Too bad Glinda was just blandly kind. Of course it is nice to have one character who is kind, but… Also I am not sure how I feel about the turning-green-as-externalization-of-internalized-self-loathing? And of course no one can out-evil Margaret Hamilton.

There was a lot about families in it though, and a kind of magical scene where Oz (played by James Franco) glues a little china doll’s legs back on. I maybe got a little verklempt.

Now that I think about it, maybe Glinda was a bit more manipulative in the first film, since she doesn’t tell Dorothy how to use the slippers to get home until the very end of the book…

Today I got up and ran 18 miles (well, 18.25). It was an interesting run. I was up in the night with indigestion (from 2:30-4 am) and only got out of bed around 8:30, an hour later than my alarm was set for. Actually, at 8:15, Bryan rolled over and said, “Why are you still here?” I took some drugs and set out, going easy, waiting to see if anything bad would happen…but nothing did. I got tired, since I did the whole run on only 190 calories (two gels, one 90 cal, one 100 cal) plus the glycogen stored from yesterday’s overeating (the thing that caused me so much trouble). Anyway, I mostly shuffled along at 10:30-10:40 minutes/mile, more than a minute slower than my planned race pace. Toward the end, I tried to pick things up and ran a 9:54, but then my stomach started to ache and said, “Don’t ever do that again,” so I finished slow. (I wasn’t going to call B to pick me up with two miles to go.) At least I finished.

This is wandering, probably because of my weird interrupted sleep. I’d better bring things to a stopping point.

This comic will be filed under P306.94 .L86 2013, for Philology. Linguistics—Language. Linguistic theory. Comparative grammar—Translating and interpreting—Translating services. In case you were curious, if you search for the heading “translation,” all you get is class numbers related to specific translations–translating the bible, translating Emile Zola into English, etc. The correct subject heading for translation as the subject of a work is “translating and interpreting.” I had to look it up.

Em oi! #375: Another Terrible Thing Done in Nietzsche’s Name

The age of specialization is over.
Have you heard of a madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market place and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!”

Writing a thesis is simultaneously the best and most terrible thing I have ever done.

Anyway. Nietzsche! Has there ever been a philosopher with a cooler mustache? I think not. Other things Nietzsche had: Syphilis. But that’s not to say we should write him off. He grew up next door to a church–his father was a Lutheran pastor (who died when young Friedrich was four). That he later went on to propose some revolutionary ideas about man’s relationship to religion in the 19th and 20th centuries is not entirely surprising. He lived a quiet life in the mountains, because of health issues, and so he knew what he was talking about when he said that happiness comes from overcoming obstacles. That’s an older idea than him, actually; I believe it goes back to Aristotle. At any rate, Nietzsche is quite cagey and doesn’t say what he thinks the new morals he’s calling for should be like. He is pretty clear that he thinks hanging on to Christian morality is stupid and outdated. You can check out the famous passage on the death of God from The Gay Science here. (He talks about the death of God again in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.) He has a marvelous mode of writing, it’s very readable. What else? Philosophy Now magazine did a marvelous podcast about our fellow that you can listen to here. And philosopher Alain de Botton did a 24-minute episode of a longer series for the BBC about Nietzsche, and you can check that out here. It’s awesome both because the US would never air something like that (not enough desperate housewives) and because de Botton is very good at explaining the essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Is that enough links? Can you tell I’ve been doing some research? I’m having an affair with Nietzsche; don’t tell M. Foucault, I fear he would sulk.

I wrote an article on running for a local running blog called Technically Running. You can read it here if you’re interested. You can check out the last comic I did with Nietzsche in it here.

This comic will be filed under B3317.L86 2013, for Philosophy (General)—Modern (1450/1600- )—By region or country—Germany. Austria (German)—By period—Later 19th and 20th centuries—Individual philosophers—Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900—Criticism and interpretation.