Here's a mix of blog posts and essays. Some are academic, while other are just personal musings.
Here's a mix of blog posts and essays. Some are academic, while other are just personal musings.
I was watching a show on HGTV, where home-buyer leads (usually couples) are toured through 3 different homes by their chosen Realtor. I got a little caught up in the show, watching one home-buyer, an architect by trade, point to various flaws in each of the homes he and his wife toured.
I watched him pick out things, like damage to the ceiling which could indicate a roof leak, or an archway which gave a transition effect he really liked. Eventually the couple choose the second house they’d toured, I wondered if perhaps that was a common theme of the show. At least, I began to wonder if the couple always choose home #2 when the episode was over.
The next couple featured was a classic American rags-to-riches story of a couple born into lower middle-class families who now had 1.5 million to spend on a home. They toured 3 mansions…and in each mansion they went through, I was almost completely over-whelmed; and not in a good way.
Bedroom closets lined with cabinets to hold shoes and purses, the obligatory swimming pool that takes up 1/3 of the yard (I don’t like swimming, btw), tons of generic box shaped rooms (but you get that in a lot of homes). Eventually I had to ask myself who needs all that crap? Understand it’s not just the size of the house… it’s all the stuff you’ll end up having to buy in order to fill up that house. By the time your home is comfortable furnished, you’re going to have so much stuff I don’t you’ll even know what to do with it. I can’t stand it.
Call me a minimalist if you will, but I feel like the more stuff I have, the less freedom I can enjoy. What was is P’ Diddy said? “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”
Something I can stand about current homes, is the fact that they’re stuck there. You can’t go anywhere. Maybe to a lot of people that seems normal, since the alternative is to get some hillbilly motor-home. Not all motor-homes looks like the trailer parks you’ve seen on TV. Thankfully there seems to be a growing number of people who, “get it” for lack of a better term. Of course your home needs to be able to house all your stuff, but the smaller your home is, the easier it is to maintain and… when we’re talking about small homes, we can start thinking of transportation. Have a look at the Zero Pod, from Japan, for a better grasp on what I’m trying to get at.
I know, it sounds weird, trying to blend home and mobile into something that isn’t a motor-home, but personally, I’m obsessed with the concept.
The couple choose the 2nd mansion, btw.
If I’ve learned one thing from the short years I’ve been around. – It’s that you need to just do it.
(Yes, I realize that’s a Nike slogan. I can only hope Nike doesn’t own a copyright on the English language.)
I can remember back when I was in highschool, something I really wanted to do, was either make a cg movie or a video game. Often me and my friends would get together to “talk storyboard” which consisted of realizing that creativity is hard, and that playing Super Smash Bros on the N64 is way more fun. So nothing would ever get done, we’d just hang out (which was nice, but left my ambitions unfulfilled).
Something that often held me back from doing the things I wanted to do, was the feeling that I couldn’t do it alone and that my skills just weren’t good enough. Then one day I took a trip up to Seattle. A group of technical skills educators from my favorite website (3dbuzz.com – you’re welcome for the plug), were touring around some of the mainland states, and I went out to meet them when they came to Seattle. I got to sit down and talk one-on-one with the guy, Zak, who literally, taught me how to do 3d modeling and animation from the ground up.
As me an Zak talked over a couple of good burgers, I brought up my problem. I talked about how I want to do animation, I want to make cg movies, I want to make games, but I just don’t have the skills. He told me, paraphrasing here, to just do it. Doesn’t matter if I suck, just do it.
Zak didn’t mean, just go make a blockbuster film (not that he was knocking the idea), he means that the only way to get better at something, is to just do it. He told me flat out that the only difference between me and professional artists who draw for a living, is practice. If you put in the practice, you’ll come out of it with the skill. Make no mistake, it takes a lot of practice to master a skill, but if you don’t start, you’ll never get there.
Maybe this sounds simple to a lot of you, but it goes deeper than that. I know that back when I was thinking seriously about working for a video game company, so many of those companies want to hire you on a contract basis, not even as an employee, and of the few employees they’ll take, they want at least 5 years of previous experience. How can you break into an industry that wants you to have at least 5 years of professional experience before you can break into said industry? Of course there are smaller companies that make the little web-games or the mobile games, and they’ll take you in.
However, how many times have we seen something great come out of the hard labor of just one dedicated individual? Minecraft, Dwarf Fortress, and more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they’re amateurs; far from it. I’m saying they didn’t need corporate backing to do what they did. They didn’t go beg the bank for a loan for them to make the games they did. Instead, they built it out of their own hard effort, they didn’t need anyone’s permission first. Now, it’s not like they just sat down and hammered out an awesome game, they had practice, and previous experience, and that was what they built on.
So now let me get to a more practical point. One thing I would love to do, is be an architect / interior architect. There’s only one problem, the college I’m going to doesn’t offer any kind of architecture program, and those colleges that do are too far away and too much money. So what am I going to do? Give up? No, of course not!
You only need a license if you’re going to practice professionally for money. Nobody is telling me I can’t design homes for virtual worlds like Second Life. Or even if I just wanted to design furniture, I can still make the CAD files for them and let people download them for free and print them off their 3d printers. Who know what that would lead to if I designed practical, comfortable furniture that can be printed off a home 3d-printer. Forget about money, what would it mean to have my small signature on everyone’s computer desk?
You will not become an awesome film director by waiting to get into film school. You will become an awesome film director by directing hundreds of shitty backyard skits with you and your friends on the weekends. You do that until you gradually pick up more, and more knowledge, tips and tricks, by just filming the ants roaming around in your back yard. Then you can move on to film school, if you so choose. Although really, if you have the skill, youtube is your best resume.
So today’s lesson is to simply, just do it! Remember, the only difference between you and someone who draws storyboards for PIXAR is practice.
“If you didn’t crave life, you wouldn’t fear death”1; therefore to have no fear is to have no desire to live. When you live in a world where your desires can materialize at the push of a button in 30 seconds or less, the only thing you’re going to want, is a surprise.
Mankind is a collection of craving and desire, without it, we become nothing, we desire nothing, we achieve nothing. Yet with it, uncontrolled, we will implode in a virtual reality tailored to our own self-centered perception.
The goal of nearly every eastern religion has been to control desire, by fostering selfless desire, over selfish desire. It’s better for you, and the community. You are able to integrate into the collective and achieve a sense of reality that ebbs and flows with the common consensus of how the world works. It’s better for the community because the community…is you, me, us, everyone.
But recently, in the West, we’ve created our own culture of Christian capitalist desire. Two world views, which stand at total opposite ends of the spectrum. Capitalism cannot survive unless people start thinking about themselves and what they want. Christianity teaches against greed and selfishness. Except in the West.
You have to have motivation in life. Motivation is key. Without it, your life goes nowhere. Logic and the Awe of God are only the beginnings of wisdom, not the end.
Desire is the vehicle of life. If you didn’t crave life, you wouldn’t fear death. If you had no desire, then you would have no necessity; the mother of invention.
We have the technological means, of changing the physical universe. Those means are only going to get stronger and stronger by the day. The real question is, what kind of people are going to use this technology? Are they going to be people who hate nature, and feel alienated from it? Or are they going to be people who love the physical world, who feel that the whole universe, right out to the extended galaxies is real one’s extended body…?2
One of the greatest virtues which we find increasingly absent, from the contemporary world today, is a sense of wonder.
Nobody finds it remarkable anymore, that you can sit in a chair, 30,000ft above sea level, for about 9 hours and then find yourself in Heathrow Airport.3
All this lack of wonder, creates another problem. Because eventually you’re going to have technology, so advanced… and so competent, that you will have control over your entire life. And what will you want then? In that push-button world where everything is delivered to you in a second…what kind of button would you wish for? A surprise button. Because what’s the point otherwise? You know everything that’s going to happen, you control everything else, and nothing surprises you anymore.2
So if you’re living, in that push-button world, and you can have anything you want within an instant and it’s delivered exactly the way you thought it would be.
You don’t know whether or not you have hands.
Brains in Vats, or BIVs, are floating brains sitting in , well, vats. That’s a metaphor really for a disembodied mind; a BIV hypothesis isn’t meant to be taken literally, it’s just a modern rendition of mind/body dualism
So, suppose you are a BIV and imagine that evil scientists are feeding electrical impulses into your brain to create the environment you are in now. This illusion, is so complete, that it is an aloe world (sp?), a virtual world which you experience with all 5 senses and is virtually indistinguishable from reality
Well, if that were the case, then you would be experiencing just what you are experiencing now. Not to mention you’d still be here, reading this
One thing you should know about BIVs, is that they don’t have hands
But something you DON’T know, is that you’re NOT a BIV
Therefore, you don’t KNOW, whether or not you have hands.
Try to figure that one out.
Though, for myself, personally, I think it makes the evil scientist look rather sad; to think they’re actually laughing over something as trivial as a BIV not knowing whether or not it has hands.
How do we give meaning to a meaninglessness life, and what gives our life its purpose? So often in life people seek to find the meaning in their predicaments, often in situations involving suffering. What I will do in this essay is argue that we must have faith in our ability to make decisions and argue that we are in charge of giving meaning to our existence. I will begin by explaining the concept of absurdity as it is illustrated by Albert Camus in his novel, The Stranger. From there, I will discuss Friedrich Nietzsche’s warning to atheists about the moral meaninglessness he hopes they will avoid. Then I will begin to offer my solution to meaninglessness by way of examples. I will use the examples of Albert Camus’, The Myth of Sisyphus, followed by an example from the book of Genesis, and lastly I will finish with Kierkegaard’s look at Abraham and Isaac. Then I will reiterate that we are the ones who must give meaning to our own lives, and take confidence in our own decisions.
French existentialist, Albert Camus, offers a good example of the silence and emptiness one is met with when one seeks meaning in life, hoping some higher power will offer it to him. In Camus’ novel, The Stranger, the main character, Meursault, is presented as being somewhat amoral, and highly complacent. In the plot of the novel, Meursault kills an Arab man, and is then put on trial. Throughout the trial, his own lawyer, and the prosecution are trying to come to some explanation of why Meursault committed the murder, while not even Meursault himself can explain his actions. The basis of the novel is rooted in absurdity. Camus wants us to be left guessing as to why Meursault murdered the Arab, his point being to say that sometimes things happen for no reason.
Another piece of existentialism that I want to draw attention to now is Friedrich Nietzsche’s, Parable of the Madman. In this parable, a madman runs into town, carrying a lit lantern in broad daylight. He comes to a marketplace where atheists have gathered and he cries out that he is seeking God. The atheists mock him a bit, after which this scene follows:
“The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God?’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
’How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.’” (Modern History Sourcebook)
Here, Nietzsche is attempting to draw attention to the contradictions within atheism that existed in his time, some of which continue on even today. Nietzsche is saying that, on the one hand they’ve liberated themselves from a controlling Heavenly force, yet they still adhere to Him in their morals. Even though society has declared itself secular, all of its concepts of good and evil are grounded in a Christian framework which derives its meaning from God. The contradiction is that these atheists whom the madman is talking to, on the one hand profess not to believe in God, while on the other ascribing to the moral values that come out of a framework which defers to Him for all things.
What Nietzsche hopes will happen, and he is simultaneously warning atheists about, is that they will abandon the religious framework of morality they are currently using. The warning is that, once atheists realize that all of their moral meanings come from a God deferring framework, they will suddenly find themselves in a state of moral ambivalence. Suddenly what was handed to them as right and wrong no longer work for them.
It is in this moment, that they will have to come to the conscious realization that they must decide, what is good and evil. They must create that meaning, drawing from within their own selves. If they look outward to the universe, hoping that a higher power will tell them they’re on the right track, then all they will get in return is silence. If they continue to seek answers out of this silence, then they will be living in the absurd world that Albert Camus paints in his novel, The Stranger, where things happen without any definitive cause. Whereas, if they take the time to recognize their own experience, and name it, definitively, then they will be able to create their own purpose from scratch and in so doing they will no longer be lost.
Albert Camus is highly fascinated by the character, Sisyphus, from ancient Greek mythology. In the version of the mythology that Camus discusses, he explains it as follows:
“It is said also that Sisyphus, being near to death, rashly wanted to test his wife’s love. He ordered her to cast his unburied body into the middle of the public square. Sisyphus woke up in the underworld. And there, annoyed by an obedience so contrary to human love, he obtained from Pluto permission to return to earth in order to chastise his wife. But when he had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun, warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness. Recalls, signs of anger, warnings were of no avail. Many years more he lived facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea, and the smiles of the earth. A decree of the gods was necessary. Mercury came and seized the impudent man by the collar and, snatching him from his joys, led him forcibly back to the underworld, where his rock was ready for him.” (BW, 490)
Sisyphus is sentenced by the gods to roll this rock up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again, and repeat the process once again, forevermore. Camus is fascinated by the absurdness of this story. There is a sense of meaninglessness to the punishment, since it is in no way corrective (Sisyphus will never again be faced with an opportunity to do what got him in trouble with the gods in the first place). Camus wants us to focus on that moment when Sisyphus is able to reflect to himself regarding his situation, at that moment when the rock has rolled downhill and he is walking down toward it. Ultimately, Sisyphus is happy, as he rolls the rock back up the hill joyfully. This is how Sisyphus defeats the punishment that has been placed before him. However there is more to it than that, he isn’t just defeating the punishment, he is re-defining it. The gods gave that eternal task to Sisyphus under one purpose, and Sisyphus has given to it a different purpose. What Sisyphus has done here, is rather than looking up to the sky, and asking why he must endure this punishment, he has created a meaning for his predicament on his own. He looked inward for meaning, rather than outward, for the purpose of his life.
Now I would like to draw your attention to the Bible, in the book of Genesis 2:19:
“And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” (Cambridge Ed.)
Here Adam is naming the animals, which is a very significant thing. By naming the animals, Adam is also defining them, in a sense determining their purpose, at least from his own perspective. Notice that when Adam is presented with a beast, Adam does not look to God for hints on what the correct name is, this is because Adam isn’t seeking the correct name; he is giving the animals their correct names. Adam is giving meaning to creation, and he is doing so by taking that meaning out of himself and he is not waiting for advice either from God or the rest of creation on as to what that meaning he gives should be.
Kierkegaard also bears a little bit of relevance on this subject. In his, Fear and Trembling, he talks about the conundrum faced by Abraham, when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Kierkegaard uses this story to elaborate on the difference between what is moral and what is ethical. In this moral dilemma that Abraham is facing, he is placed in a situation where, because God is the one causing the moral dilemma, Abraham is on his own to decide. There isn’t any higher moral authority that Abraham can look to for guidance. If Abraham were to have no confidence or faith in himself, he would be lost in that moment. He cannot look to his son Isaac for guidance because Isaac is an equal to Abraham in terms of his moral authority, on other words Isaac isn’t a moral authority for Abraham.
Kierkegaard writes, regarding Abraham:
“He acts by virtue of the absurd, for it is precisely the absurd that he as the single individual is higher than the universal. This paradox cannot be mediated, for as soon as Abraham begins to do so, he has to confess that he was in a spiritual trial, and if that is the case, he will never sacrifice Isaac, or if he did sacrifice Isaac, then in repentance he must come back to the universal. He gets Isaac back again by virtue of the absurd. Therefore, Abraham is at no time a tragic hero but is something entirely different, either a murderer or a man of faith.” (BW, 11)
Again, we see here that, while there is an absurdity to Abraham’s situation, Abraham is able to navigate this ambivalence, because he is able to decide and he is able to have faith in his own decisions. Abraham obeys God’s commandment with confidence, rather than timidity. In Abraham’s decision he becomes, “either a murderer or a man of faith”, but in either case these are meanings given to his predicament which are ultimately of his choosing. Abraham encounters the absurd and he does not look to the sky asking why he must suffer. If Abraham wanted to, he could see the absurdness of the situation he is in and decide his suffering is meaningless, but he does not. Rather than regard his suffering as meaningless, Abraham gives meaning to his suffering through his faith. He is not looking for some other high-power to confer upon him what is his purpose, instead he chooses and maintains his faith in his ability to make decisions and in so doing he chooses his own purpose.
What we have seen in these examples is that when we are faced with the absurd, we must defeat it by calling out our experience and naming it. When we do this, we cannot look outwards, hoping for the universe or some higher-power to tell us if we’ve named correctly. Rather, we have the ability to define and provide meaning to our own experience, and in so doing we can give meaning to the meaningless. Our lives are meaningless only if we are expecting our purpose in life to be given to us by some authority. What we must do, is make our own choices, with faith in our ability to decide. We must create our own purpose to give meaning to our existence.
In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom.
One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?”
“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”
“Triple filter?” asked the acquaintance.
“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to filter what you’re going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”
“No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it.”
“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”
“No, on the contrary …”
“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about
him, even though you’re not certain it’s true?”
The man shrugged, a little embarrassed. Socrates continued. “You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter – the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?”
“No, not really…”
“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?”
The man was defeated and ashamed.