Sunday, August 30, 2015

Puppies as Conspiracy Theorists: Why the Sad/Rabid Puppies Lost and Why This is Good for Science Fiction

If you haven’t been following the strange case of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies and the Hugos, see my previous posts here and here.  If you’re not aware of how the Hugo voting turned out, see the official results here and commentary here.

The evidence is overwhelming: the vast majority of Hugo voters rejected the Puppies.  As Arthur Chu observed at this year’s Worldcon, the Puppies don’t represent the majority of fandom.
The Hugo Awards
Some Puppies claim that their defeat is explained by the fact that science fiction and fantasy fandom is controlled by hyper-liberal SJWs (Social Justice Warriors), SMOFs (Secret Masters of Fandom), and CHORFs (Cliquish Holier-than-thou Obnoxious Reactionary Fanatics).  Within this acronym-laden hellscape, a conspiracy was forged that continues to operate at the deepest levels of fandom.  Or so say the Puppies.  

But as George R. R. Martin points out, it’s likely that most Hugo voters of all political stripes simply found the Puppies to be obnoxious.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Three Uses of Philosophy

Thales, the putative first ancient Greek philosopher, is alleged to have accurately predicted an eclipse in 585 BCE. If I'm doing the math right, this was 2,600 years ago this year. (If you’re not impressed, let’s see you do better in 585 BCE!).

My favorite Thales story, though, is about his reaction to people who said that philosophy is useless. He made a bunch of money renting out olive presses and in doing so "he proved that philosophers can easily be wealthy if they wish, but this is not what they are interested in" (from Aristotle's Metaphysics 1259a9-18).

Why philosophy?

I make a modest living teaching philosophy, but I could make a lot more money doing something else – banking, engineering, business, renting olive presses, etc.

Elsewhere I’ve argued that money is 21st century America’s hyper-value, a value that trumps all other values.  We admire shrewd business people and visionary entrepreneurs.  Nobody says Bill Gates was wasting his time creating Microsoft, because Microsoft makes a lot of money.

Thales could have been the Bill Gates of the 6th century BCE Mediterranean olive press market, but he chose to do something else. This prompts the question people have been asking for at least 2,600 years: Why would anyone choose to spend time on philosophy?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fortune Cookie Philosophy

I often say that my #1 dream job would be to write the fortunes for fortune cookies -- and to do so on a tiny typewriter.  I'm only half joking (okay, more like a quarter joking).  I love the idea of getting a little intellectual morsel along with a tasty cookie, not to mention lottery numbers and the fun of adding "... in bed" to the end of the fortune.

This blog post won't provide edible cookies or lottery numbers, but I have written some little morsels that might provide material for your mind to ruminate (whether you add "... in bed" is up to you).

According to Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein once said that "a serious and good philosophical work could be written that would consist entirely of jokes (without being facetious)." (One wonders if either Malcolm or Wittgenstein were joking).

I once wrote a short appendix to a philosophy paper consisting entirely of jokes (with middling results), but I think one could also do philosophy consisting entirely of fortunes.  I'm particularly excited about this since I'm teaching a bit of Chinese philosophy in my Asian Philosophy course this fall, which gives my students and me the chance to see if Confucius really said what fortune cookies say he said.  And yes, I know that fortune cookies aren't actually Chinese.

Since yesterday and today have marked Independence Day in Pakistan and India respectively, I should mention that I'm covering Indian philosophy in my class as well.  Readers wanting to admire South Asia's philosophical heritage might read these fortunes as classical sūtras/aphorisms to be expounded upon by the reader.

Monday, August 10, 2015


Sometime in the last week this blog reached a milestone: 10,000 views since I began in December! (See my first post from Dec. 23, 2014 here).

I'm sure really popular blogs and websites get 10,000 or more views in a few minutes, but I think that's pretty good for a little hobby that I started to amuse myself and to have conversations about my two favorite things: philosophy and science fiction.  Along the way I've discovered that I really enjoy blogging (sometimes even about random other stuff) and that the internet is a very strange place.

Speaking of milestones, my recent post on Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora has now been viewed over 500 times, which makes it my single most viewed post yet.

Thank you for reading whoever and wherever you are!  I appreciate it!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Melancholy Among the Stars: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

“Make a narrative account of the trip that includes all the important particulars.” – Instructions to the ship, Aurora (p. 45)

(Bibliographic info and brief plot summary here).

Aurora may be my favorite Kim Stanley Robinson novel yet.  Given how much I’ve loved his previous work, especially the Mars Trilogy and 2312, this is saying quite a bit.  And the ship itself may be one of my favorite SF characters of all time. 

Last year I attended an event at the Tucson Festival of Books in which Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR) explained his next project, the novel that became Aurora.  He explained his thoughts about the physical futility and human arrogance of the very idea of interstellar colonization.  He said people would find the novel too pessimistic.  People would hate it.

KSR’s prediction turned out to be right for some reviewers (see this one by Gregory Benford and this one from Giulio Prisco).  Others have had more mixed feelings (see this one from a fellow philosophy and science fiction blog, Xeno Swarm, as well as this follow up).  And some, like myself, have praised it (see this one on From Couch to Moon and this one on Val’s Random Comments).

I don’t find the novel to be pessimistic.  I do find it melancholy.  And beautiful.  And intensely thought provoking.  And heart wrenching.  And poignant.  And deeply satisfying.

Melancholy among the Stars

The primary emotional mode of the novel is melancholy.  Unlike pessimism, which I would define as sadness about things not turning out as they should, melancholy is a resignation about how things have turned out and a questioning of why anyone ever thought things should be otherwise.  Schopenhauer is pessimistic; Ecclesiastes is melancholy. 

Commemorating the Anniversary of my Mom's Death

My mom died 15 years ago today.  After struggling with breast cancer for about two years, she had been admitted to the hospital a week before and had taken a very sharp decline a few days earlier.  I got the call from the nurse around 11am.  She was 51.  I was 23.

I celebrate my mom's birthday every year.  See my post from her birthday earlier this year.  My celebrations usually involve a trip to Dairy Queen to get what my mom used to call a "recommended daily dose of Dairy Queen."
My ritual: Peanut Buster Parfait

I also commemorate the anniversary of her death.

The practice of commemoration

My sense is that few Americans these days do much to commemorate the anniversaries of their loved ones' deaths.  This is, however, a common practice in many cultures, especially in Asian countries.

I've been reading a little bit of Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion.  It's not rigorous academic philosophy by any means, but de Botton makes a great point about the loneliness and isolation of grieving for many people in secular cultures today.  This goes for religious people in predominantly secular cultures as well, but it's especially poignant for those of us who find ourselves without a religious community.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Reflections on a Year in the South

Aside from a little bit of international travel and a college study abroad trip to India, I’ve lived my whole life in the United States.  I grew up in the Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin), lived for about two years in Hawaii, and most recently spent nine years in the Southwest (New Mexico and Arizona).  But I had never lived in the American Southeast.  That is, until I moved to Tennessee just over a year ago. 

Stranger in a Strange Land

As with any country as large as the United States, regional variations make for such diversity in culture, language, landscape, climate, etc. that these regions are united more by political happenstance than anything else.  Having lived in several regions, but never in the Southeast, I’ve found myself once again to be a stranger in a strange land. 

Here are some things I’ve learned so far.

1. Southerners are generally chatty and laid back.