The Tortoise Human

How much of what makes humans unique stems from the contingent fact that biologically each of us is capable of killing every other one of us.

How would it have shaken out if we we were divided into castes, some of which were invulnerable?

Or what if we were all invulnerable to each other’s attacks, like tortoises?

My guess is there would be no hate but no love either.


Celebrity News

Billy Crystal‘s father is a beautiful, young woman and his mother is powerful, muscular man.

Brad Pitt cannot spell “imbroglio”.

When no one is observing Bill Clinton he sits slumped over, staring vacantly like a marionette whose strings have been cut.

Jay-Z  has a secret name for the disease “measles” which he changes every day at noon on the dot.

Oprah Winfrey is at all times composing pantooms in her head

Gwyneth Paltrow does not consider the Holocaust to be any more of a problem for justifying humanity than the massacres perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge.

 *** has given up his name, and his appearance, and slips through human society like a shade

Lady Gaga imposes obligations on herself which are all the more onerous for being impossible to describe or remember.

Leon Spinks is afraid of stars


Kant and the Self II

Kant did not think that empirically every representation has to be combinable with the “I think” — he made that clear in the section of the Critique of Pure Reason called “The Paralogisms of Pure Reason”.  The point is I cannot conclude that every representation (thought, feeling) can be combined with the sentence “Eric Kaplan could think that_______” because that’s not true.  There are some thoughts that empirically I can never think.  

From this I conclude that even empirically a self does not have to be unified.  So for example suppose Eric, Michael, and Matt are siamese triplets.  Michael is in the middle and can access some of Eric’s thoughts and some of Matt’s thoughts.  The whole consciousness Eric plus Michael plus Matt is not unified.  Derek Parfit talks about examples like this, but they really go back in principle to Hume and Buddhism.

But Kant does think in some transcendental sense everything is in principle combinable with the “I think” and that’s what he deduces the categories from, and uses to fight Hume’s skepticism on causation.  My problem is — what does combinable with the “I think” mean?

It seems like it has no content at all because there is no contrast class.  By definition I can’t think of any thought that is unthinkable.

But that makes me give Kant and his supporters the following dilemma:

a)either the claim of unity does not add anything to the claim of “I think”.  In that case you should say that Hume’s skepticism is simply not thinkable.  If you think it’s not thinkable then obviously you don’t believe it and that should be the end of the discussion, except maybe you owe an explanation of why Hume thought it was thinkable.

b)Or you think you can deduce some sort of unity of consciousness from thinkableness.  But how does that work exactly?  Why does think-ability require unity?  What would be an example of a collection of disunified and therefore unthinkable thoughts?

Maybe it has something to do with activity and agency?   That seems to be a big dividing line between Hume’s phenomenology and Kant’s — for Kant a thought is something I do and for Hume a thought is something that happens to me.  But agency does not require single agency — there can be group projects.  So what exactly is Kant denying when he says thoughts must be combinable with the I think?

Not rhetorical questions — I would like to know.  Any Kant scholars out there in cyber-land?


Kant, Hume, and the Self

Hume said there was no self — it was just a congeries of experiences.  He also denied that there were any necessary links between experiences.  According to Hume we can’t know that boiling water makes an egg hard-boiled — all we know is that those ideas have been associated in the past.

Kant tried to prove that there was a necessary link among experiences and that causal laws were reliable. He did so by the transcendental deduction of the categories.  Basically this says that all my perceptions have to be in principle combinable into a single consciousness — , and for them to be so combinable, they have to have an orderly connection.

But are they in principle combinable into a single consciousness?  Not if they are just a congeries of experiences, as Hume thought.

I wonder if you could run Kant’s argument the other way.  The world is an inter-connected whole.  Therefore since I am at the center of my world, I must have at least the same degree of unity as the world has.


Baby Buckets

It’s very nerve-wracking to be expecting a baby and it’s for a simple reason nobody really wants to talk about.  You are afraid the baby will be born with a problem.

Some friends of friends were pregnant with their first baby, and I don’t know, I think the mother had done drugs or something when she didn’t know she was pregnant, and there was a bad result.  The baby was born with no face and no limbs.  And they did a lot of surgeries and had expensive specialists to see if they could somehow construct a face and limbs for the baby, but this turned out to push things in the opposite direction, and the baby basically became a liquid.  So they kept the baby in different buckets and jars around the house and they called it Baby Buckets.

Now the strange thing that happened with Baby Buckets was that even though he had no brain or nervous system really he was able to talk.  And this came out in a strange way.  The baby lived on this mixture of glucose and amino acids that the parents would sprinkle into the buckets like fish food.  And one time the Dad had left the USB cord from the speakers for the computers dangling and a tentacle of the baby came out and touched the USB cord and the speaker said “Hungry.”  “Hungry hungry hungry.”  So the baby was able to communicate and they gave it more food and it grew quite big.  But it didn’t really have much of a vocabulary “Hungry” “Cold” Hot” that was basically it.

Until one time that the family had been watching “The Dark Knight Rises” and accidentally let a CD drop into one of the buckets containing Baby Buckets.  And the strangest thing happened.  They heard a voice coming over the speakers. “Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” is a re-imagning of American exceptionalism in the light of the moral darkness of the post 9-11 context of the war on terror.” and an essay that went out to describe how the film re-appropriated the moral verities of the super-hero genre.

Naturally the parents were proud and tried to see if their baby had other things to say.  They dipped a variety of cd’s in Baby Buckets babies.

Woody Allen.  Nothing.

Akira Kurosawa.  Nothing.

Love, Actually.  Nothing.

The Watchmen — another articulate essay, different in details but extremely well-reasoned, about how the Watchmen was a dark re-imagning of the uses of power in the context of an America that viewed politics and morality as inherently at odds in a post 9-11 world.

It turned out that Baby Buckets had two skills:

1)Expressing the most primitive desires for physical comfort


2)Reflecting upon how American fantasy action movies reflected the darker moral atmosphere of the United States post 9/11.

The parents were eager for Captain America: Winter Soldier to come out on DVD to see what their child had to say about it, when due to a tragic happenstance, it was drunk by the family dog.

At the end of the day the sad story of Baby Buckets can’t help but make me think.  Hearing about it makes reflections upon consciousness and Wittgenstein and holism and what it means to be human rise up unbidden in my own squishy brain.  Much as DVDS elicited the remarkable response that they did from my fellow theorist, Baby Buckets!


Is the Body a picture of the soul?


The problem is picturing!  Do we understand the relationship of picturing?

How on Earth is a picture a picture of a  thing?

How on Earth is a body able to express a soul?

But we obviously know how it could be, because when we try to draw a soul, we draw a transparent body.

Does that mean that there are no souls?  No, no more than not being able to explain picturing means that nothing is a picture of anything else and there are just marks on paper.

Maybe the body is actually the video game of the soul, or the song of the soul, or the gesammstekunstwerk of the soul.

Cause if we know anything about soul we know that a piece of music can have it or not have it.



Two Native American Creation Myths

The Nez-Perce Indians tell the following creation myth.  Coyote made man from dirt and fire.  Man loved to run races.  When a man would lose a race he would feel sad because his brother was better than he was.  Man was unhappy.  Then Corn Maiden saw he was unhappy and promised man a gift.  “This gift will make it so no man will feel sad that his brother beats him at races.  Do you want it?”  Man said yes and Corn Maiden gave him her gift.  That was how death came into the world.

The Navajo have a similar myth.  Corn Maiden made man from dirt and water.  He was sad because he knew he was doomed to die.  Coyote saw his sadness and promised him a gift, to make him happy during his life before he died.  That gift was races and wars, so that while man lived he could feel about his fellow man as the gods feel about man — superior — and this would add sweetness to his brief life.