On the Anything of Anything


“Anything that’s the something of the something isn’t really the anything of anything.”

– Lisa Simpson

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Priorities of Science


‘I’m very impressed with this seedless watermelon product that they have for us. They’ve done it. We now have seedless watermelon. Pretty amazing. What are they planting to grow the seedless watermelon, I wonder? The melons aren’t humping’, are they? They must be planting something. How does this work? And what kind of scientists do this type of work? I read this thing was 15 years in development. In the laboratories with gene splicing or, you know, whatever they do there… I mean, other scientists are working on AIDS, cancer, heart disease. These guys are going: “No, I’m going to devote myself to melon. I think that’s much more important. Sure thousands are dying needlessly but this… that’s gotta stop. Have you ever tried to pick a wet one off the floor, it’s almost impossible. I really think we should devote the money to these studies.”‘

Seinfeld, J. (1998). I’m Telling You For The Last Time. Broadhurst Theatre, New York: Universal Records.

On Perception of a Problem


“I think that the task of philosophy is not to provide answers, but to show how the way we perceive a problem can be itself part of a problem.”

– Slavoj Žižek

Old Ideas of Public Education


‘So people say we have to raise standards if this is a breakthrough, you know, really, yes we should; why would you lower them? I haven’t come across an argument that persuades me of lowering them. But raising them, of course we should raise them. The problem is that the current system of education was designed and conceived and structured for a different age. It was conceived in the intellectual, culture of the enlightenment. And in the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution.

Before the middle of the 19th century there were no systems of public education, not really. I mean you could get educated by Jesuits if you had the money. But public education paid for from taxation, compulsory to everybody and free at the point of delivery – that was a revolutionary idea. And many people objected to it – they said it’s not possible for many street kids and working class children to benefit from public education, they’re incapable of learning to read and write and why are we spending time on this? So there’s also built into it a whole series of assumptions about social structure and capacity. It was driven by an economic imperative of the time but running right through it was an intellectual model of the mind, which was essentially the enlightenment view of intelligence; that real intelligence consists in this capacity for a certain type of deductive reasoning and a knowledge of the classics originally, what we come to think of as academic ability.’

– Robinson, K. (2008, June 16) Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms. Retrieved from Ted.com

Kotodama


In Japan, there is a common myth of the spirit of language called kotodama; a belief that some divine power resides in the Japanese language.

The term kotodama literally means ‘the spirit of language’. It is a belief based on the idea of Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan which worships divinity in all natural creation and phenomena.

In ancient Japan, language was believed to have a spirit, which gives positive power to positive words, negative power to negative words, and impacts a person’s life when his or her name is pronounced out loud. Wishes or curses were thus spelled out in a particular manner in order to communicate with the divine powers. According to this ancient belief, the spirit of language only resides in ‘pure’ Japanese that is unique and free from foreign influence.

“What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.”
― Kobayashi Issa, Poems

Today we can observe that the diversity of Japanese society goes hand in hand with the diversity of its vocabulary, which we can see from the rapid increase of loanwords in Japanese. However, at the same time, this increases a sense of insecurity in relation to the linguistic and cultural identity of Japan.

As a result, the ancient myth of kotodama has been reinvented as a way to manifest Japanese linguistic identity through the idea of a ‘pure’ language. Kotodama has no fixed definition, and continues to transform as Japanese society undergoes changes. It is questionable if the Japanese still really believe in the spiritual power of language – however, the myth of linguistic purity persists in the mind of the Japanese through the word kotodama.

The Argument from Design


‘The next step in the process brings us to the argument from design. You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different, we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design.

It sometimes takes a rather curious form; for instance, it is argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot. I do not know how rabbits would view that application. It is an easy argument to parody. You all know Voltaire’s remark, that obviously the nose was designed to be such as to fit spectacles. That sort of parody has turned out to be not nearly so wide of the mark as it might have seemed in the eighteenth century, because since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.

When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending — something dead, cold, and lifeless.

I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that, they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries about much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions and millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out — at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation — it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.’

– Denonn. L.E., Egner. R.E. Ed. 1961. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell London, United Kingdom: George Allen & Unwin (1962) p. 589-590


Bertrand Russell delivered the lecture Why I am not a Christian (of which this is an excerpt) on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

On Stupidity and Genius


“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

– Albert Einstein