a cocktail, an armchair and a good book
Cocktail: Jameson on the rocks.
I gave up, for now, on the book by Dennet. Sorry for all those glued to the computer screen, waiting patiently for another installment. No, not even I could finish reading it, so I doubt it was as fun to read the synopses. I think my next book will be Art as Experience by Dewey. In my formal studies, I never did a big aesthetic work. A little here and there, mostly Kantian, but nothing serious. I think this will be a good challenge and hopefully a good read. The thing I look forward to the least about it is Dewey’s writing. He isn’t the most straightforward, but then again, many philosophers aren’t.
Since it has been awhile, and I have left Dennet behind, for now, I think I will explain something brief and easy to get me going again. The Allegory of the Cave is a famous argument/example from Plato (espoused through Socrates) out of his work, The Republic. If you haven’t read the work, you should. It is a very interesting take on politics and social order. Anyway, I will try and make it short and sweet. Here we go.
So, there are these guys who are trapped in a cave. They are all chained up and that is how they have been their whole lives. They know nothing else and have never know anything else. To make it worse there are other people who move around in front of them and occasionally a tree and bird or whatever else may appear on the cave wall in front of them. The images are coming from a flame that projects shadows on the wall— a twisted puppet show. The hostage viewers who know only this of the world, think this is how things are. That is the real form of a bird, the real form of man, the real form of a tree and so on. And so it goes forever, that is, until the day one of them is freed.
The freed captive of this underworld stumbles around and then notices in the distance a bright light like he has never seen before. He decides to investigate. As he gets closer, the light becomes more intense until he can almost handle the absolute brightness of it no longer. But before he gives up, he notices walls aren’t around him anymore. No, his eyes begin to adjust and he notices for the first time, the true form of objects. He sees a tree as a tree, a bird as a bird, etc. He is above ground—the realm of knowledge. And what was the source of all this brightness, all this truth? The Sun. He takes it all in, studies it, and decides to share the news with the other captives back in the cave.
Desperately with all his heart he pleads and explains to the others in the cave of this real world in the light where trees weren’t one dimensional and one color. Did the other cave dwellers gasp in astonishment of such a discovery? No, they mocked this poor man and labeled him a fool who didn’t know anything. How could trees or birds or people be any different than that which they have seen and known their entire lives….
And so it goes. The wisest inhabitant of the cave is most likely dragged away by the overseers and killed or perhaps cast away as a kook. Either way, get the allegory? For Plato, there was a separation of reality between things and the ideas or forms of things. And while a shadow of a tree on the wall isn’t the truest thingness of a tree, it is still a part of reality. The form or idea of the tree was the most real for it wasn’t this temporal changing thing. Anyway, once you begin to understand the form of the good, then it acts as the “sun” that sheds light/truth to other forms. The more you realize, the further you step away from the cave of your of untruth and sheltered knowledge and into the world of enlightenment. Ahhh. But how does Plato know that this idea of forms isn’t just a more elaborate form of a cave? Unfortunately, Socrates, who Plato spoke/told stories/philosophized through drank hemlock for being too smart and shedding the truth the blinded people. Sound familiar?
Hope you enjoy and feel free to ask questions, correct, strike up a discussion, whatever.
In chapter two, Dennet builds a very simplified working example of evolution with the emphasis on avoiding harm and then works his way to explaining the difference between inevitable and determinism. For many people, including myself, grouping them together does not seem like a miscue. In fact, it seems rather like a rather basic proposition— at least when speaking of free will. Dennet would have us believe otherwise. It is not inevitable that an owl will always catch a field mouse. Over time they have both evolved and certain generations of field mice have grown very well equipped at avoiding instances when they might be caught by mice. That does not mean that they always avoid it the owl, but it does show that they are not determined to be eaten at every instance. In this crude example, evitability, as Dennet re-coins it, and determinism can work hand in hand.
Chapter Two is a long set-up for Chapter Three which seems to be a long set-up for the next chapters or so, but Dennet begins to work at explaining what I would assume to be a pillar to his overall argument. That is that the way we think about determinism and free-will as well as the way we may think of the two in our everyday lives are misguided. Once I finish Three I will get on here and update some more. Hopefully I can move through this books quickly as right now it really isn’t “doing it” for me.
Cocktail: Jameson on the rocks
Sorry for the long lay off on the blog. Since my last post, I have moved out of an old place and into a new one and started a new job. So time hasn’t really been free to do the blog. Speaking of free, I am reading a book called Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennet. If you do not know who Daniel Dennet is, then you need to listen up. He is a super smart philosophy professor at Tufts and looks a lot like Santa Clause or check out some of his cool presentations at TED.com (Dangerous Memes).
Since I have just started this book, I can only give you a rough outline of what is to come and then give you updates as I go along. Essentially, the book is about explaining how freedom can evolve from a determinist system. I am particularly excited, since the metaphysics of freewill was my focus in school.
Here is a brief excerpt to get us on the same page:
Free will is real, but it is not a preexisting feature of out existence, like the law of gravity. it is also not what tradition declares it to be: a God-like power to exempt oneself from the causal fabric of the physical world. it is an evolved creation of human activity and beliefs, and it is just as real as such other human creations as music and money.
As you can see he is not afraid to mix the two (science and freewill) up. It is hard to find a compelling argument that will can combine the idea that we are a physical being with causal interactions and yet we posses freewill.
I am interested in it right now. I will keep updating and when I get to something good I will put on the interweb and if nothing seems to grab me, I will try and write something that is more interesting. Thanks!