Tuesday, November 22, 2011

INCOMING!!! - Asteroids, and what to do about them

I thought to myself, what if there was an asteroid / extinction event barreling down on us, what would we do as a people in our last few days, months, years? Phil Plait from TED has an interesting look at that scenario below:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In Time - Extra Credit



"For a few immortals to live, many people must die." 






We are presented with a future world in the movie, In Time, in which time has become so precious that it has now become currency.  Somehow, our bodies are born (or implanted with a device) that begins ticking when we reach the age of 25 so that those who work get paid in time and have to buy their necessities like food and rent in time.

There are also time zones (don't think like what we have -Eastern, Central, etc., but different parts of a larger city), segregated communities that you must pay time to get into.  Just think of gated cities within a much larger city - this is a way to keep the very poor out of (what can only be assumed to be) a middle class or upper class time zone, because the more Will pays as he heads towards the wealthiest part of town, the price continues to go up.  So, in essence, there still is free passage among the city, but only if you can afford it.  But since many can't afford it, the poor are stuck in their slums.

The movie focuses most of its time on poor characters who are working day-to-day and struggling to survive.  When wages go up, the prices of goods go up, so there's no real way for the poor to get ahead.     And of course, in such a dog-eat-dog world, there are also gangsters who try to steal peoples' time - the Minutemen.  And when the clock runs out on someone, he/she is dead.  Even the timekeepers, the police of this dystopian society, are barely paid decent wages in order to stay alive.  Sadly ironic, the ones that are entrusted with enforcing the system don't get paid enough.



The rich, on the other hand, are trapped in a different kind of gilded prison.  With decades, even centuries on their clocks, they continue to look the same as they did when they were 25 even though they might be 107.  The one creepy Freudian thing is when Phillipe Weis introduced his mother, wife and daughter (Sylvia) who all looked very similar.  Sylvia and Will hit it off and that's when Sylvia said that all the wealthy needed to do was stay out of trouble and they could live forever.  Play it safe = live forever.  So, unlike Will who lives by the phrase, Carpe Diem, Sylvia never took chances until she met Will.

Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to 1. apply a philosopher or philosophic concept to any part or parts of this movie that you find apply to this movie.  2. Find a weakness in the movie, whether it be in the plot, concept, etc. and explain why.

+10 max extra credit.   
Due by Sunday, November 27.   

Monday, October 31, 2011

Blog #53 - Hanna and genetic engineering

The subject of genetic engineering / manipulation came up during Hanna, though in an unrealistic sci-fi scenario where the CIA tried making super soldiers through invitro - genetic enhancement.  But while this sounds like sci-fi now, there are a lot of things today that can be done that are NOT science fiction that are pretty close to genetic manipulation. 
 - what happens if you want a boy in your family since your family already three girls?  What could you do to increase the odds?  Picking the sex of your child can be done now w/ invitro fertilization (IVF) once fertilized eggs divided into eight cells, that mass can be tested for sex and then implanted in the mother's womb. 

- what if you really loved your dog or cat and wanted one exactly like it?  Apparently, a company existed for 2 years called Genetics Savings and Clone and was able to clone a couple of cats.  It shhut down in 2006 for reasons I can't quite fathom (besides my basic revulsion of the idea, other qualms), but here's an NPR link to a radio interview about the company when it opened in 2004 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4176651

  - Here's a more recent story from 2009 about a Korean company that cloned a Labrador Retriever for $155,000.  http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/AmazingAnimals/story?id=6762235&page=1

 - what if your only child died or had was dying from an accident and making a clone to replace the missing or needed parts was the only way to replace or help that child?   This would be a tough one for me to answer b/c I've never ever been in a situation like this, and I don't know how desperate I might get to save my daughter's life.  If making a clone of my daughter to create stem cells could help her, I would be all for it.  Chances are, scientists wouldn't have to go as far as cloning to help her since our body makes stem cells all of the time. 
 - But, South Korean scientists in 2004 were successful in cloning a human embryo using the same person's cells (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1672523&ps=rs).  The idea was to aid the woman's health, not clone her.  Even so, a recent poll in America states that 84% of Americans feel that cloning humans is morally wrong.
 - Would you be willing to be part of a genetic experiment that not only strengthened your muscles but prevented them from deteriorating with age?  Gene therapy can allow us to repair damaged cells but apparently scientists at the University of Penn have done such a thing with mice in 2004 - called "Mighty Mice."  This kind of therapy could help people with muscular dystrophy or ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  But could it also be abused by athletes and others looking for an edge, especially if they aren't injured?  Gene therapy doesn't usually show up on drug tests since it's supposed to be part of your natural body chemistry, so how do you know who's doping and who's not? 

 - if you had the chance (and it were possible), would you pick certain traits for your child before he/she was born?   Would you want a child that is more predisposed to music, athletics, math, or would you try to pick the hair and eye color and let fate take care of the rest? 

 - Is this kind of genetic selection ethical?*  Would it create a separate subspecies of humans like portrayed in the movie Gattaca - those who have been enhanced and those who haven't?  If you haven't been enhanced, you're stuck in a 2nd class citizenry status much like African Americans were before the Civil Rights movement, while those who have been genetically enhanced (those with money, of course) get the best pick of jobs, lives, etc. 

Pick at least three questions (one must include the last one about ethics*) and answer them by tomorrow before class.  Thanks.  300 words minimum. 

Sources:
Gallup Poll on Cloning - http://www.biopoliticaltimes.org/article.php?id=5736
Moral Obligation to be part of a medical research study - http://www.biopoliticaltimes.org/article.php?id=5909

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Michael Sandel and Justice


Harvard ethics professor, Michael Sandel, on the Colbert Show.

Also, here's a link to the lecture on Kant (#6) that we watched in class. http://www.justiceharvard.org/2011/02/episode-06/#watch

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Blog #52 - Blank Slate



The three statements we discussed revolved around the same issue (which I borrowed from Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature) - when we're born, how do we learn?

Statement #1 - The Blank Slate concept is still influential today - fairly divided the classes.  The BS idea influenced policies in education and politics today as students mentioned regardless of whether the concept was valid, but in 3rd hour wondered how DNA fit into the whole scheme.  Some of you asked - to knock the concept down - how do babies know how to roll over or lift their heads?  How do they know how to suck right away?   How could they have learned those skills if they've never had any interaction w/ other babies?   Babies are constant learning machines, but are they truly blank slates?

 - in Pinker's book, he discussed how the civil rights and women's equality movements cemented the BS concept further in the public's mind, because these movements showed that once treated equally, women and minorities would flourish like white men (hence, we're all equal). 

Statement #2 - Mankind is basically good but society corrupts him/her - this one was a lot tougher to decide upon b/c students could agree w/ part of the statement but disagree with another part.  It seemed that a group of people ended up in the "I Don't Know" category.  This concept has been influenced by the discovery of the New World and the comparison of the Native Americans to Europeans.  The Europeans, in their conceit, couldn't understand how the Native Americans seemed to live in relative peace and harmony (compared to the Europeans and their religious wars), and many philosophers and writers felt that it was a lack of civilization, society or religion that kept the Native Americans conflict-free.  Pinker states that this concept is called the Noble Savage.  Mankind is good, but that society or complex structures and forms, according to Jean Jacques Rousseau, are what finally corrupt mankind. 

 - However, many of you were focused on the romanticized version of sociopaths (Dexter, Hannibal Lector) when discussing good or bad.  Do our actions make us bad or are there just bad people?  Is selfishness bad?  What about self preservation?  In many ways, the phrase, "the apple doesn't fall from the tree" could apply - we follow our parents' lead when we're young until we actually forge our own value unique system.


Statement #3 - When we die, our essence or soul leaves our body - this divided the class like the 2nd statement, because some weren't sure whether or not we had a soul and wanted proof.  Also, we discussed what was someone's essence?  A memory held after the person was gone?  His/her impact on others?  Are we just renting our skin and bones while we're here (thanks, Switchfoot!)?  Some classmates mentioned the impact of ghost-like experiences as well as religion that have helped them through this difficult question.  Are we just worm food when we die or is there something more?

 - Pinker's concept here is called "ghost in the machine" after Gilbert Ryle's ideas about the mind and how Descartes approached mind / body dualism.

Pick one or more of these statements to add to the discussion.  Your answer is due by Thursday, October 27th before class begins.  Minimum of 250 words. 

Steven Pinker's website: http://stevenpinker.com/ 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog #51 - Philosophical Interpretations of Inception

After reading a few chapters of the latest book that examines the intersection of pop culture and philosophy, Inception and Philosophy: Ideas to Die For, I thought to present a few of the interpretations of the movie.  Take a moment to look at each of these and pick one that you think fits the movie best.

1. Since the movie depends upon technology, the dreams aren't actually dreams but a computer simulated environment ("shared dreaming was created by the military so that soldiers could fight each other and not die") designed by an architect like Cobb or Ariadne. The biggest problem with these simulations is that there is a virus in it named Mal (mal-ware), and she has obviously screwed things up.  However, since such a machine / computer is so rare, it's hard to find or obtain a new one.  So, it's not like Cobb or Arthur can get a new one at Target. 

2. Rene Descartes' question - How - if at all - can we know whether the world we experience while we're awake is real or not? - really fries your noodle if you think about it too much.  So I am asking you to apply this question not only to yourself (part 1) but to the movie (part 2).  In the movie, the characters have totems to know whether or not they're dreaming.  But we don't have them to help us out, so how do we truly know?

3. In 1974, philosophy professor Robert Nozick came up with the thought experiment, "the experience machine" from his book,  Anarchy, State and Utopia.  Nozick asks us to think about a machine that would give us whatever desirable or pleasurable experiences that we could imagine (by plugging our brains into it - Matrix?) in a way that we could not distinguish between reality and this machine life.   Nozick asks, if given a choice, which would we prefer, the machine or real life? 

4. How is the movie a metaphor for skepticism / doubt / Socrates?  Socrates has stated that the only thing that he truly knows is that he knows nothing.  One of the consistent things about Inception is that the movie keeps its audience guessing as to what is the true level of reality - whose dream is real or is the movie's reality truly real?  If the movie keeps us guessing or making us doubt, can the movie/director act as a philosopher?

5. This tangent should truly be called an addendum to question #2 because it asks you to answer the unanswerable, but what if we were all just brains stuck in a jar full of nutrients that kept us alive, and much like the Matrix, that we are in some shared dreaming space or computer simulation?  In the album art below for Pearl Jam's BackSpacer by Tom Tomorrow, the band members are controlled by a vat in a jar. 

However, if the brain had ALWAYS been in the jar, according to Hilary Putnam's 1981 book, Reason, Truth, and History, would it have had any experiences like walking or eating an ice cream cone or playing in a sandbox?  No, Putnam claims, b/c the only things the brain could experience would be that of its vat-existence.  Or in essence, if you've never had any interaction or experience w/ the real world, then you can't really think thoughts about that world and tell whether or not those thoughts are real.  This is called the causal theory of reference. 
 - Do you agree with Putnam's dismissal of the brain in the vat theory?  Why or why not?  Or are you unsatisfied w/ this explanation?  Why?


Due Wednesday, October 19.  250 words minimum. 

Brain in a vat discussions - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_in_a_vat
Nozick's experiment - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experience_machine

Friday, October 14, 2011

Who's Your Philosopher? Teams

The teams are locked!  Let's get ready to rumble.......

1. Descartes - Asia, Patrick, Rebecca and Bria. 
2. Karl Marx - Leah S., Emily A., Charlie and Patrice. 
3. Ayn Rand - Emily N., Jake R., Rachel and Ryan S.
4. Immanuel Kant - Ryan W., Alan, Wes, Oran, Ari and Jack

5. Cicero - Amber, Leah D., Alexis T., Kiara, Philip, Courtney and Khadijah.
6. Galileo - Crystal, Angelina, Alexis B., Brittney, Cheyenne, Melissa and Ellie
7. John Locke - Sydnee, Jasmine, Alyssa, Simay, and Harry
8. Slavoj Zizek - Nick, Alex P., Nona, Claire, Elyse, and Simon.
9. Jean Paul Sartre - Will, David, Sam, Chelsee, Katie, and Jacob S.

Details and roles for this project will be coming by Monday.  Thanks.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The winners of your votes are....

29 votes cast in Pt. 1
1. St. Thomas Aquinas - 19 votes
2. Rene Descartes - 16 votes
3. John Locke - 21 votes
4. Karl Marx and Immanuel Kant - 9 votes each

31 votes cast in Pt. 2

5. Ayn Rand - 11 votes
6. Jean Paul Sartre - 9 votes
7. Slavoj Zizek - 11 votes.

Now we need to add a Natural Philosopher / Greek / Hellenist philosopher and Middle Ages scientist. 
Ancient dudes:
 - Plato
 - Aristotle
 - Democritus
 - Epicurus
 - Cicero
Middle Ages
 - Galileo
 - Newton
 
Please pick one for each. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Blog #50 - The Adjustment Bureau




***DANGER - SPOILER ALERT - If you haven't seen The Adjustment Bureau but still want to, do not read any further. 



While we watched the Adjustment Bureau, I had several questions as did many of you. Here were a few of them:
1. Who was the Chairman? Did Norris and / or Elise see the Chairman during the film or was it earlier in their lifetimes before the film ever began?
2. When Harry said to Elise and Norris that the Chairman rewrote the plan, the book showed a blank space ahead for the two of them.  What do you think that meant? 
3. Alexis and Cheyenne asked why there weren't any female adjusters.  I didn't have an answer for them as to that question.  I also criticized the film's Western / Euro - centered bias when it talked about giving mankind free will during the Roman times and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Assess the film in light of these flaws. 
4. Is Harry the Chairman?  Why or why not? 
5. Think about Harry's crisis of conscience when Elise and David broke up for the 3rd time (when he left her at the hospital), and he asked Richardson about the rightness of the plan.  Put yourself in one of the adjusters' shoes and try to make sense of it all when you're only given part of the picture. 
6. Looking at Harry's statement at the end (see below), what do you think is the filmmaker's message? Why?

“Most people live life on the path that we set for them to afraid to explore any other [path]/ Sometimes, someone like you comes along and knocks down the obstacles that we put in your way. People should realize that free will is a gift that you’ll never know how to use until you fight for it. I think that’s the Chairman’s real point. And maybe one day, we won’t write the plan, you will.”
Pick two of these questions and answer them for tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 5 before class begins. 
250 word minimum.  Thanks. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Blog #49 -Source Code blog has arrived

*******SPOILER ALERT ******* IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM, DON'T READ.

We talked a lot about the film, Source Code, and how it relates to Plato's Allegory of the Cave.  I don't know if it's a perfect fit, but what is?  I think further research is needed for this topic and if you guys can find it pertaining to the film and Plato, that would be great (don't forget to read the illustrated handout for more details). 

The film opens up some questions about fate that I don't think it really answered or that we really touched upon too much.  When Capt. Stevens kept being pulled out of the SC and back into his "capsule," he saw these glimpses - call them deja vu, precognition, whatever - of himself and Christina at Chicago's Millenium Park and the big chrome bean.  These scenes occurred even before he felt like saving anybody on the train or understood his situation - as if he was headed towards that future "alternate universe" no matter happened.  Could it be that every obstacle that Stevens ran into (or literally ran into him - see below!) kept him moving towards that inexorable future? 



What about the morality of using Capt. Stevens as a lab rat for the Source Code?  It's obvious by the end of the movie that he's in a terrible state of physical trauma, and that only his mind is the most complete and functioning part of him.  At points in the film, it appeared that Dr. Rutledge was "torturing" Stevens by sending him back into the memories of Sean Fentress only to be blown up again and again.  We did mention that Capt. Stevens, as a member of the U.S. military, most likely, had signed away his rights to do with his remains as his parents wished.  However, it is hard to imagine a father wishing this for his son.  And by the end of the film, if it has reset and everything starts anew, Capt. Stevens will continue to be used further in the GWOT (global war on terror). 

Lastly, how do you explain the ending?  Goodwin and Rutledge have no knowledge of the previous day's events (if those events even occurred - but they had to have existed somewhere, b/c Stevens sent her the email - it came from somewhere, sometime, right?).  And at the end of the movie, it looked as if the whole day had been reset, Capt. Stevens was alive and in his previous "state of being," in addition to the bomber being caught and the initial train bombing never having occurred. 

Questions to choose from:
1. How could the filmmakers have changed the film to make it more or less like Plato's cave?  Explain your reasoning. 
2.  What role did fate play in this movie?  Why?  Or, did fate play no role at all and why not? 
3.  Did the military cross the line with the use of Capt. Stevens' body and mind for the Source Code?  Why or why not? 
4.  Is the ending a new "movie reality" (for lack of a better term)?  Why or why not?  Is it possible that Stevens' determination somehow merged the alternate universe with the movie's original reality? 
  

Pick one of the following questions and answer it as fully as you can.  Stay in the nuances of the question as long as you can.  Your response should be a minimum of 250 words and is due Wednesday, Sept. 21 before class begins. 

Online articles to check out if you have time:
"Here I Am: The Identity Philosophy of SC" - http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/opinions/here-i-am-the-identity-philosophy-of-source-code.php
"Who is Sean Fentress?: A (Completely Serious) Exploration of What Happened After the End of Source Code" - http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/opinions/what-happened-after-the-ending-of-source-code.php 

Friday, September 16, 2011

ConquerNewWorlds.jpg
Daily comic from Gaping Void comics

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Examples of Reflection Posts

How to reflect on Sophie’s World - according to 5th Hr.


  
• Start with what you think an idea is, then read then reflect on which was best.

• Reflect on the questions the philosopher asks in the book.

    Who am I?

    Why am I here?

• Take one idea and discuss it/reflect on it.

• Talk about your reaction to the actions of Sophie.

• React to a single chapter.

• React on the book in general.

• Think of the metaphorical significance of what’s going on in the book.

     Hermes the dog

• Your thoughts on what the philosophers thought/said.

• Reflect on why Sophie is targeted by the philosopher.

• How the natural philosophers focused on one element.

     Earth, Wind, Fire, Water

• If you could ask Sophie/the philosopher/the author a question, what would you ask?

• Put yourself in Sophie’s shoes.

If you have any other suggestions, post them in the comment section.  Thanks. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Example of Connection Posts

So, I was driving to school this morning, Wed. 9/14, and I popped in a mix CD I had labeled "Love and Jams" and the first song was by Owl City called, "The Real World."  There is a line in the song that goes:

"Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn't want to live there." Video link to the lyrics and song.



I thought that this was an interesting concept: why would the singer like reality and perceive it to be lovely but not love it enough to live there?  Where did he live when he wasn't visiting reality?  Where did he call home?  There are a couple of lines that say, "from the green belt balcony, the wildfires look so pretty/ the ponderosa canopy, I'd never leave if it were up to me...", this leads me to believe that maybe the narrator is an animal or an alien with a removed view from above.  Maybe an angel? 

Then I started thinking about how other people perceive reality: they see life as a mess of tangled decisions, fatal mistakes, and lost opportunities.  I personally choose not to see life like that because when I did, I wasn't very happy with myself or my choices or my outlook on life.  So, I gradually changed my perception so I didn't dwell on the negative so much.  It helped that I was working regularly and loved what I did, and got married.  But did the change in attitude occur first or the other things?  Or simultaneously?  I don't know. 

Owl City's official website: http://www.owlcitymusic.com/

Ideas for connections brainstormed in 5th hour:
How to connect to Sophie’s World/philosophy/the real world:


-comics
Ex: Google "philosophical comics" -- I got over 3 million hits on Google and thought this one was pretty cool.



-movies

Ex: Men in Black marble connection

Ex: The Lion King-Fate or Free will?

Ex: Pocahontas Song about stepping into the river twice

Ex: "Never Say Never" Justin Beiber

Ex: Horton hears a Who

Ex: Matrix (is it worth it to know what you will see at the top of the rabbit’s fur?)

-music

Ex: Panic at the Disco dream lyrics

Note: If you use a song, try to quote the lyrics or maybe find a video to put in your blog

-Books - compare SW to other books you've read (shudder Twilight?)
-Connect something to Socrates’ six virtues

Monday, May 16, 2011

Blog #48 - Interpretations of Inception





I am glad that we watched Inception together as a class because our discussions afterwards confirmed my initial feelings about the movie when I saw it last summer - that this was a movie that could be like The Matrix and be both entertaining and work on several different levels of philosophical interpretation. I'm going to toss out a bunch of questions for you to consider, and please pick two to answer before Tuesday's class.



Questions to choose from (pick two):

1. Near the end, Mal (or her projection) in limbo makes a pretty good case that Cobb is lost in his own dream and can't tell one reality from another. Do you think that this is a plausible alternative?  Why or why not? 


2. This blog from Moviefone.com outlines six different interpretations of the film (and also five plot holes - see next question). Read it for more details on each of the six interpretations, but I'll just list each of them below. We have talked about some of them in class.

** If you decide to tackle more than one interpretation of Inception, this will count as your two questions.

a. All of Inception is a dream - are we ever really shown reality? Whose dream is it, anyway?

b. Everything after the test sedation is a dream - after Yusuf's chemical test, do we see Cobb spin his totem and see it fall properly?

c. Saito is the architect and pulls a Mr. Charles gambit on Cobb - instead of a job audition like Saito said, maybe Saito is trying to extract something from Cobb?

d. Ariadne is Cobb's therapist trying to help him get over Mal's death - This is an interesting and plausible take on the movie - found here http://halphillips.tumblr.com/post/822919795/inception

e. We do see reality in the movie (first train ride in Japan, Paris, Mombasa), but Cobb is in a dream at the end - could this explain why the totem never falls at the end of the movie? This interpretation apparently hinges on the idea that the children don't appear to have aged. Plus, we don't see how Saito and Cobb get out of limbo.

f. What we see is what we get - that we are presented with a reality at the beginning of the movie (train ride in Japan) and that Cobb is back in the U.S. at the end of the movie.



3. What do you think were the movie's biggest plot holes? We had discussed a few, and I wasn't satisfied with a couple of the answers - which sounded like filmmakers' excuses instead of decent rationales. Provide one or two examples (you might want to read the blog link mentioned at the beginning of question #2 to help you out if you forgot) and explain how these holes do or don't affect the movie.


4. Evil genius theory - we had discussed this in class and it didn't get much traction, but I wonder if it's possible to show that either Saito, Mal or Cobb could be the evil genius manipulating everything we're seeing. Or could it be the film maker Christopher Nolan?



5. Is Inception really just an extended metaphor for films? In a previous blog from last semester, I posted a link from Wired, and I traced it back to its source, so I'll quote the author's take on Nolan's film:
"The film is a metaphor for the way that Nolan as a director works, and what he’s ultimately saying is that the catharsis found in a dream is as real as the catharsis found in a movie is as real as the catharsis found in life. Inception is about making movies, and cinema is the shared dream that truly interests the director."

Here's a link to the whole post: http://www.chud.com/24477/NEVER-WAKE-UP-THE-MEANING-AND-SECRET-OF-INCEPTION/



My question is, do you buy this interpretation of the movie? Why or why not? What kind of implication does it have for us as film watchers - this shared "dream space" of watching a movie together? Did Christopher Nolan just perform inception on all of us because it's now an idea, like a parasite that won't go away? :)



6. Comparing the dream/reality rules in Inception and (if you've seen) The Matrix, why do you think they're vastly different? How does Descartes' dualistic theory about the mind and body being separated work for one movie but not the other?



7. When Saito asks Cobb to take a leap of faith, he's asking Cobb to believe in him and Saito's ability to fix Cobb's problems. In some ways, Saito almost acts like a deity in this movie because through him, almost everything is engineered to work. He is the Prime Mover or causal agent - Cobb and his team are sent on their mission because they failed to extract vital info from Saito for Cobol Engineering. They are tasked to help destroy Saito's biggest competitor (Fischer), and when it's all said and done, Saito returns from limbo after many many years (remember, Mal and Cobb didn't look like they had aged when the train ran them over after just 50 yrs together, but Saito was wrinkled and withered) and supposedly sweeps away Cobb's murder warrant. What is Saito, really? Is he just a very powerful man or is he something else? Why?



8. Those of you with AP Psych experience, help us out on some of the brain / dream logistics. The way that they explain the dream rules in the movie sound plausible, but what is realistic w/ regards to dreams? Shared dream space isn't possible, is it? Any other psych insights would be greatly appreciated here.



9. Arthur mentioned it briefly on how the technology for the shared dreaming was created - by the military so that soldiers could fight/kill each other without truly maiming themselves in reality. Plus, the character played by Michael Caine, Mal's father, seems to have been the one who taught Cobb how to do what he could do. In many ways, I sense the hints of a "prequel," not a sequel for this movie. Unlike the Matrix (which probably should have been left alone instead of having 2 sequels), it might be interesting to explore how the technology for this type of thing was developed and most likely stolen. If it takes 10 years in between movies like it did with Toy Story or Tron, then so be it. What kinds of possibilities do you see in a prequel or, even if you don't agree with me, a sequel?


Some additional points and counterpoints to theories in the movie - http://inceptiontheories.com/inception-theories-points-counterpoints/

Blog #48 will be due Tuesday, 5/17. 150 words for each answer, 300 words total.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Blog #47 - Science and Religion - Incompatible or Two Sides of the Same Coin?

I don't like making either / or arguments nor posing them so I will try to leave some wiggle room in the blog, but as we read through the cautionary tales of the scientists of the Renaissance, it makes one wonder (from a 21st Century perspective), what all the fuss was about.  Just because science discovered new things did NOT mean that religion was less relavant to peoples' lives, but the Catholic Church perceived it that way, and in many ways, evolution today is that old battle in a new disguise. 

Let's see what had happened to some of the Renaissance thinkers and scientists:

File:Brunostatue.jpg
A statue stands at Campo de Fiori in Rome where
Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600. 
 1. Giordano Bruno - (1548-1600) - he was an Italian friar and mathematician / astronomer who proposed that our Sun was not only at the center of our solar system (building on the work of Nicolas Copernicus) but that it was a star and that the universe was infinite.  He also developed an amazing memory based upon mnemonics (word games used to remember things - HOMES for the names of the Great Lakes), but his opponents thought he used magical powers to enhance his memory.   During his lifetime, he alienated and offended the clergy and prevailing scientists wherever he went by challenging Aristotelian science and many aspects of the Catholic religion including:
  • Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic Faith and speaking against it and its ministers.
  • Holding erroneous opinions about the Trinity, about Christ's divinity and Incarnation.
  • Holding erroneous opinions about Christ.
  • Holding erroneous opinions about Transubstantiation and Mass.
  • Claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity.
  • Believing in metempsychosis and in the transmigration of the human soul into brutes.
  • Dealing in magics and divination.
  • Denying the Virginity of Mary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno).
The Vatican and other historians debate whether Bruno was killed b/c of his scientific beliefs or his contrary beliefs in the Catholic Church.  Looking at the list above, it's safe to say that he questioned just about everything that was divine within the religion (if these charges are true). 

2. Galileo - In 1610, the famous Italian astronomer published one of his more famous books, The Starry Messenger, in which he described some of his new-found discoveries using an improved telescope.  He found mountains on the Moon, four moons of Jupiter, possibly nebulae, the phases of Venus, and the potential existence of sunspots.  All of this, again like Bruno, contradicted prevailing Church and scientific beliefs (especially the idea of a permanent, unchanging perfect universe made by God).   Galileo's sarcastic and very blunt style of destroying his enemies through his writing did not do him any favors, and in fact probably created more enemies or prevented people from defending him. 
  - By 1615, a whispering campaign had become a shout, and Galileo was summoned before the Roman Inquisition to defend himself and his beliefs.  The cardinal who heard the case, Robert Bellarmine, was willing to settle for accepting Copernicus' heliocentric universe as theory but not as a physical fact, in a compromise to save Galileo.  Early in 1616, the Pope and the Inquisition Board found the Copernican system to be heretical "prohibiting, condemning, or suspending various books which advocated the truth of the Copernican system" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_affair).  Galileo agreed to the terms b/c he wanted to live and continue to find evidence to support his beliefs and his own personal works would not be banned. 
 - In 1632, new pope Urban VIII asked Galileo to publish a book discussing the heliocentric and geocentric systems but not to advocate for the heliocentric one.  Galileo structured the book as a dialogue between three scientists, one for the Copernican system, one for the Aristotelian system and one who is impartial.  The geocentric / Aristotelian scientist sounded like a dunce while the Copernican scientist scored points after points on the geocentric system.  Galileo could have eased up in his argument, but he buried the geocentric system it - see animation link here and the problem with Mars' orbit - http://www.astro.utoronto.ca/~zhu/ast210/geocentric.html  Pope Urban banned the sale of Dialogue b/c he felt that he had been portrayed as Simplico, the Aristotelian scientist, though Galileo may not have meant it that way since he and the Pope were supposed to have been friends.  It's a possibility that Urban was also under fire for not going after heretics enough to the Spanish cardinals' liking, and by allowing the publication of Dialogue w/o rebuke, the Pope may have compromised himself. 

In his trial in 1633, Galileo was found guilty of having promoted the Copernican system and was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.  Also, none of his book, past or future, would be published for the time being.  Three theologians sat in judgement of him, not scientists. 

Your job:  you can use modern day examples, but explain why you think that science and religion either are or are not compatible with each other

Minimum 250 words.  Extended due date to Tuesday, May 10.

Sorry about the delay.  This wikipedia link examines science and its compatibility with several religions. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Blog #46 - Hellenism today


I kept wondering how Hellenistic philosophy applied to today's world as we briefly discussed it on Wednesday.  I didn't have a lot of time to really go in depth with it, so I included summaries and bumper sticker slogans that could apply, but I still didn't feel like it was enough.  So, I thought, why not dig into this school of thought on the blog?

First, Epicureans - as we explore most philosophy (and most likely religions as well), there seems to be a denial of pleasure or the association that pleasure is at best, a necessary evil. The philosopher, Epicurus, said that the "best sort of life...is one that is free from pain in the body and from disturbance in the mind. That sounds a rather negative credo for a 21st-century devotee of the good life."  There are so many pleasures out there in life that we have been told to stay away from or "wait until you're older."  And, in fact, Epicurus "condemned all forms of over-indulgence, and recommended a simple diet."  But, as you become an adult and temptations increase, where do you draw the line?  Was Epicurus right to withdraw into his garden with friends and live a simple life of pleasure?  How can that work in today's fast-paced, interconnected society?  Do you pull a Henry David Thoreau on everyone and go to live in the woods, simply?  Or is there something in between completing dropping out and total hedonism?

I found an interesting article online: "Epicurus Exonerated": http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/epicurus-exonerated  All the quotes above are from this article. 


Stoicism - When I think of this, I mentioned the British palace guards who tourists like to mess with and try to get them to smile.  But stoicism is much more than that, especially when dealing with such an uncertain, violent world.  This particular quote from Marcus Aurelius, one of the last great Roman emperors, could fit perfectly in our time period:

“I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill… I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman…” - Marcus Aurelius



Stoicism doesn't mean standing idly by while crazy stuff happens.  I think, in many ways, it has to do with the ways in which you react (or don't react) to all the sensationalist news, Chicken-Littles, and Boys-Who-Cried-Wolf out there in the media.  If we believed everything we saw and heard about our world that's dangerous, we'd never get our kids immunized for fear of them getting autism, we'd never buy certain brands of products b/c of an email circulating the globe about the product's danger, and we'd certainly never leave the house. 

This article, "The Modern Wimp's Introduction to Stoicism", is rather crude but funny and tries to dispel the notion that being stoic means not flinching when boys get punched in the groin: http://www.primermagazine.com/2010/live/introduction-to-stoicism 

This article talks about how to be stoic: http://www.stoics.fsnet.co.uk/#BeStoical 

 - However, do we ignore all of the warnings out there about impending doom?  Too many people ignored the oncoming freight train of death that was attached to the subprime mortgage bubble, and you see where that got us in 2008.  Too many people were busy making too much money to listen to the Pollyannas saying, "hold on a minute!"  And sometimes, sifting through the town crier's messages, isn't there just the call for moderation?  If global warming isn't happening exactly as Al Gore said it would, what's wrong with cutting back on our dependence on foreign oil and driving more fuel-efficient cars?  What's wrong with getting involved more with the 3 Rs - recycle, reuse, and reduce?  I don't know who is correct in the global warming debate, nor do I care, but there can't be anything wrong w/ America reducing its carbon footprint. 

Cynics - the ancient Greeks who followed this school of thought often rejcted materialism and strove to live life simply. Cynics today, however, at least the word cynic, generally dismiss peoples' good intentions as having ulterior motives. There is a strain of persistent disbelief and irrational thought that can lie in the cynical outlook today. With the number of politicians and celebrities that have lied to us while embracing the opposite of what they hold dear, while corporations say one thing and do the other, and our government fails to follow through on its promises, it's no wonder Americans didn't become full blown cynics before the Vietnam War and Watergate in the 1960s and 70s.




 - Has cynicism led to an unhealthy belief in conspiracy theories?  When common sense or persistent, reasoned questioing can poke holes in most of the conspiracies almost immediately, why do they still continue to stay alive?  Should we believe in our politicians and leaders and their promises, or just expect them to let us down again? 

 
Some comments in this paragraph come from: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-cynicism.htm


Skeptics - this school is probably the most easily applicable to today's world because of our almost religious belief in modern science, which practically demands a skeptical viewpoint of the world.  And in many ways, having a healthy skepticism is helpful for a scientist, philosopher, and in general, being an intelligent human being with all the flood of bogus news out there. 

Where skepticism differs from cynics is that with cynics, you've already lost before the battle has begun.  You will not be able to convince your opponent, rhetorical or otherwise, of any good intentions, etc.  If you win, the cynic will probably claim that the game was rigged, and if they win, you weren't a worthy opponent.

I believe that a healthy skepticism in today's life means many things, but I find it hard to explain it w/o resorting to cliches.  "I'll see it when I believe it."   "Proof is in the pudding." 

Craig Damrauer's print from "Modern Art" which
I think sums up the art cynic in all of us.
However, I always leave room for belief if something has been proven correct.  This can extend to just about anything in my life.  I sometimes fear that skeptics have been cast as those who don't believe in anything, and maybe that is where the confusion lies w/ cynicism. 


Your job: Pick one of the four Hellenist schools of thought and explain in 250 words or more how it applies to your life.  If you're having trouble just sticking to one school of thought, or you take issue with something I've said here, then by all means, jump into the fray! 

Due Wednesday, April 27 before class begins

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blog #45 - Fate - Fight / Accept / Avoid / Change it?

In the episode of The Unusuals, "42" that we watched in class, the whole show revolves around fate and the random (or not-so-random) ways in which our choices affect the casts' lives.   Even from the opening sequence when bad guy Frank Lutz attempts to kill Detective Walsh, a stray bullet catches Detective Allison Beaumont in the stomach (maybe to show how forces beyond our control affect us too - determinism or chaos theory?)  



We saw how Detective Leo Banks deals with his perceived fate (to die at 42 b/c of his family members who had done so). As a foil to Detective Banks, there was the psychic who wholeheartedly embraced her fate and did just about everything she could to meet it with open arms. 



 
On the other hand, Detective Henry Cole has moved away from his criminal past and reinvented himself as a religious young man and police officer. His former accomplice on the armored car heist, Frank Lutz, appears to be very jealous of Cole's transformation and demands that Cole pay some sort of restitution for this, almost like the Devil demanding his due. In the end, detectives Schraeger and Walsh cover for Cole, and Lutz ends up dead.  In essence, they approve of Cole's new life by not turning him in.



And in a superstitious way, Banks, Walsh and Delahoy refused to go into the hospital for various reasons. But, it could all be just a way of avoiding the ever-present danger of death prevelant in their job.

 

If you missed any of the episode, it is available for free on Hulu at: http://www.hulu.com/watch/116321/the-unusuals-42 

Or, check it out below:



Questions (please do both):
1. Pick two characters from the episode and contrast how they avoid / fight / accept / change their fate.  Use specific examples from the show, and go back to the hulu link above if you need to. 
2. If you had a similar fate with one of the characters in the story, pick one and tell us how would you deal with it.  Why would you have chosen your path?

250 words minimum for your total answer.  Due Thursday, April 14. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Blog #44 - Which of the six philosophers do you agree with?

In the article, "Philosophy 101," we surveyed five major philosophers and came up with some modern-day applications / examples of their ideas. What you should do with this blog is review their ideas and pick which one best suits your own personal outlook on life or views about the world.


I. Ancient Greece


A. Plato - he believed in the idea of the perfect form, that there is a perfect concept for everything (person, horse, chair, etc.) and that everything manmade or natural on Earth is an imperfect copy of that perfect form (In the picture to the left, you have a photo of a chair, a definition of a chair printed out, and an actual chair - each one is a chair but they each have different degrees of reality to them - the farther away from the ideal form they are, the less perfect they are).

- Plato felt that achieving this perfection would be impossible but it would be important to live a good life by striving for perfection.


B. Aristotle - Some of his ideas included deductive reasoning (that we might see in cop/mystery movies or forensics TV shows), the Golden Mean (choosing between two extremes), and the feelings of catharsis or an emotional cleansing. Aristotle was also one of the first true scientists of the ancient era who had the means to study and catalogue numerous plants and animals.

- With the Golden Mean, Aristotle might feel today that a balance should be struck somewhere between being totally in touch with one's friends through social networking and cutting one's self off completely.

- Here's an interesting website about a concept called the Overton Window - the points along the scale (if you mapped out the spots between one extreme and another) at which the public is willing to accept an option.


II. Modern Philosophy


C. Rene Descartes - He is the father of modern philosophy and started many snowballs rolling downhill, but the one we focused on here was the idea of dualism, the mind and body are separate and not linked. An example the article gave was that if you died in a dream, you wouldn't die in actuality. Movies like The Matrix and Inception deal fully with this mind / body dualism. Descartes is also known for the statement "I think, therefore I am" in which in order to exist, you must first think. Quite a concept! (See link for a further elaboration on different types of dualism).



D. David Hume - This Scottish philosopher improved upon some of Descares' ideas like skepticism (that we cannot truly ever be sure of something b/c it might not reoccur - the article uses the example of a bottle breaking when knocked off of a table). Part of the reason that this type of skepticism exists is b/c of the randomness of life and the infinite number of variables that play into it (later to be called the chaos theory in Jurassic Park or the butterfly effect). Lastly, there's the post hoc fallacy, or to believe that because we see two things occur together, one must have caused the other. Let us say that one morning I get up and turn my coffee machine on, but at the same time, the dishwasher starts up. Does that mean that X (turning coffee machine on) causes Y (dishwasher turns on)? No, not necessarily.



E. Immanuel Kant - One of his biggest ideas was the categorical imperative, or in other words, putting yourself to a moral test for each of your actions. You should consider what would happen if everyone followed your course of actions and how that would impact society. Applying this standard to all of your actions would be the key to living a righteous life.

- Also, perception matters, and it differs for everyone. We can never fully perceive what we perceive b/c we are not that object which we perceive.



F. Georg Hegel - Hegel had an idea that had been around for awhile but he refined it to something called absolute spirit - a network that connected every thing to ideas, people and other things around the universe. Hegel also came up with an idea called zeitgeist (German for time-spirit) where peoples' thoughts are guided by the political and cultural atmosphere of a specific time in history. For instance, our time period represented the angry Populist revolt of the Tea Party.



Your job: pick which of these six best fits your own personal philosophy at the beginning of our class. Explain why. You may find that your ideas come from a couple different guys, so include that.  Or, if some of your ideas don't fit with any of these guys, pick one and explain. 



200 words minimum. Due Thursday, December 9 before class begins.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blog #43 - Justice and a Just Society

"Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought"
- John Rawls, 1971

Karl Marx looked at justice and equality through his philosophy that focused on workers and their relationship to their work, profit, and ownership.  He also felt that the free market did not show itself capable of solving dire social problems in England like poverty and income inequality. 

Justice appears to be concerned w/ two different types: retribution or punishment for wrongdoing, distributive (sometimes called social) justice that focuses on the distribution / arrangement of goods, benefits and responsibilities of society - this latter justice Marx concerned himself with.  He felt that industrial workers did not receive enough of benefits (salaries and bonuses for hard work and education and medical care for the public).  He had been quoted as saying, "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs," which seems to mean that despite how hard you work, you are only allowed to get what you need.

"Life is not fair, and it is a good thing, for most of us that it is not" - Oscar Wilde



Questions (please answer both):
1. What aspects of our society make it a just society?  Explain why.
2. What aspects of our society make it an unjust society? Explain why.

250 words total for your entire answer.  Due Friday February 18 by class.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Blog #42 - Inception and Philosophy

I am glad that we watched Inception together as a class because our discussions afterwards confirmed my initial feelings about the movie when I saw it last summer - that this was a movie that could be like The Matrix and be both entertaining and work on several different levels of philosophical interpretation.  I'm going to toss out a bunch of questions for you to consider, and please pick two to answer before Tuesday's class. 

Questions to choose from (pick two):
1. Near the end, Mal (or her projection) in limbo makes a pretty good case that Cobb is lost in his own dream and can't tell one reality from another. 


2. This blog from Moviefone.com outlines six different interpretations of the film (and also five plot holes - see next question).  Read it for more details on each of the six interpretations, but I'll just list each of them below.  We have talked about some of them in class. 
 ** If you decide to tackle more than one interpretation of Inception, this will count as your two questions.
   a. All of Inception is a dream - are we ever really shown reality?  Whose dream is it, anyway?
   b. Everything after the test sedation is a dream - after Yusuf's chemical test, do we see Cobb spin his totem and see it fall properly?
   c. Saito is the architect and pulls a Mr. Charles gambit on Cobb - instead of a job audition like Saito said, maybe Saito is trying to extract something from Cobb?
   d. Ariadne is Cobb's therapist trying to help him get over Mal's death - This is an interesting and plausible take on the movie - found here http://halphillips.tumblr.com/post/822919795/inception 
   e. We do see reality in the movie (first train ride in Japan, Paris, Mombasa), but Cobb is in a dream at the end - could this explain why the totem never falls at the end of the movie?  This interpretation apparently hinges on the idea that the children don't appear to have aged.  Plus, we don't see how Saito and Cobb get out of limbo. 
   f. What we see is what we get - that we are presented with a reality at the beginning of the movie (train ride in Japan) and that Cobb is back in the U.S. at the end of the movie. 


3. What do you think were the movie's biggest plot holes?  We had discussed a few, and I wasn't satisfied with a couple of the answers - which sounded like filmmakers' excuses instead of decent rationales.  Provide one or two examples (you might want to read the blog link mentioned at the beginning of question #2 to help you out if you forgot) and explain how these holes do or don't affect the movie. 

4. Evil genius theory - we had discussed this in class and it didn't get much traction, but I wonder if it's possible to show that either Saito, Mal or Cobb could be the evil genius manipulating everything we're seeing.  Or could it be the film maker Christopher Nolan? 


5. Is Inception really just an extended metaphor for films?  In Blog #41, I posted a link from Wired, and I traced it back to its source, so I'll quote the author's take on Nolan's film:

"The film is a metaphor for the way that Nolan as a director works, and what he’s ultimately saying is that the catharsis found in a dream is as real as the catharsis found in a movie is as real as the catharsis found in life. Inception is about making movies, and cinema is the shared dream that truly interests the director."


Here's a link to the whole post: http://www.chud.com/24477/NEVER-WAKE-UP-THE-MEANING-AND-SECRET-OF-INCEPTION/

My question is, do you buy this interpretation of the movie?  Why or why not?  What kind of implication does it have for us as film watchers - this shared "dream space" of watching a movie together?  Did Christopher Nolan just perform inception on all of us because it's now an idea, like a parasite that won't go away?  :)


6. Comparing the dream/reality rules in Inception and The Matrix, why do you think they're vastly different?  How does Descartes' dualistic theory about the mind and body being separated work for one movie but not the other? 


7. When Saito asks Cobb to take a leap of faith, he's asking Cobb to believe in him and Saito's ability to fix Cobb's problems.  In some ways, Saito almost acts like a deity in this movie because through him, almost everything is engineered to work.  He is the Prime Mover or causal agent - Cobb and his team are sent on their mission because they failed to extract vital info from Saito for Cobol Engineering.  They are tasked to help destroy Saito's biggest competitor (Fischer), and when it's all said and done, Saito returns from limbo after many many years (remember, Mal and Cobb didn't look like they had aged when the train ran them over after just 50 yrs together, but Saito was wrinkled and withered) and supposedly sweeps away Cobb's murder warrant.  What is Saito, really?  Is he just a very powerful man or is he something else?  Why?


8. Those of you with AP Psych experience, help us out on some of the brain / dream logistics.  The way that they explain the dream rules in the movie sound plausible, but what is realistic w/ regards to dreams?  Shared dream space isn't possible, is it?  Any other psych insights would be greatly appreciated here. 


9. Arthur mentioned it briefly on how the technology for the shared dreaming was created - by the military so that soldiers could fight/kill each other without truly maiming themselves in reality.  Plus, the character played by Michael Caine, Mal's father, seems to have been the one who taught Cobb how to do what he could do.  In many ways, I sense the hints of a "prequel," not a sequel for this movie.  Unlike the Matrix (which probably should have been left alone instead of having 2 sequels), it might be interesting to explore how the technology for this type of thing was developed and most likely stolen.  If it takes 10 years in between movies like it did with Toy Story or Tron, then so be it.  What kinds of possibilities do you see in a prequel or, even if you don't agree with me, a sequel? 

Some additional points and counterpoints to theories in the movie - http://inceptiontheories.com/inception-theories-points-counterpoints/
Blog #42 will be due Tuesday.  150 words for each answer, 300 words total.  Sorry about the wait. 
Go Packers!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blog #41 - where do ideas come from? Inception

I wanted to do this blog so that it connects our old learning from the empiricism / rationalism unit with the new stuff on romanticism and individualism, with the movie, Inception being the bridge between the two units. 

John Locke wrote about where ideas come from in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding.  Being a big proponent of the tabula rasa concept, he felt that nothing existed in our mind that didn't come from either our senses or our experience.  We could trace all of it back to its original source and we would find one of those two origins.  

However, reason tells us that the ideas we come up with can sometimes be the product of pure inspiration, an epiphany that can seem like it came "out of the blue" and into our mind.  Most likely, all of us have had some kind of experience with these moments of wonder and "a-ha!" and they can drive us to distraction or do wonderful things. 

The movie, Inception, works like this kind of idea.  In fact, the movie itself works like Cobb, the main character, implanting an idea in our own minds that we can't seem to shake.  It's not our idea, but it's a very compelling concept.  Here's one of my favorite quotes from the movie:

"What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient... highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed - fully understood - that sticks; right in there somewhere."



"Arthur: Okay, this is me, planting an idea in your mind. I say: don't think about elephants. What are you thinking about?
Saito: Elephants?
Arthur: Right, but it's not your idea. The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake."

Questions:
1. Have you ever been inspired by a movie, book, TV show, piece of music or speech or other work of art?  If so, what happened and tell us what it moved you to do. 

2. Why do you think ideas are so powerful?  Are they more powerful than images?  Why or why not? 

Due Tuesday, February 1.  250 words total. 


Here's an awesome article about Inception from Wired Magazine in their section, the Frontal Cortex:
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/07/the-neuroscience-of-inception/  Beware, spoilers abound, so be careful. 

http://www.imposemagazine.com/bytes/inception-meaning-behind-character-names  From Impose, guesses at the meanings behind thecharacters' names. 

Cinema Blend's alternative take on Inception: http://www.cinemablend.com/dvds/Alternate-Take-Inception-4692.html