Something, like a button, it’s something!

October 23, 2009 at 12:10 am (Prose)

This is just a little bit from the start of something. Could be a future short story, maybe even a quick-paced beginning to a novel/novella. Who knows? Not I, at the moment. But there’s actually quite a bit ahead of this that I thought through and took some prewriting notes on, so there is a story after this bit that I just haven’t/didn’t get to that I hope to use sooner or later in something. Anyway, blah blah blah, here ya go:

     At the back of the blackout two children, four and seven, sat hand in hand in hand in hand. Twenty tiny fingers were interlocked to create one entity in the darkness. And then, a child’s whisper, “I’m Millie, what’s your name?” softer than any adult voice and too soft for any adult ears to hear.
     “I’m Gideon.” Their prepubescent voices matched pitch.
     “You’re a boy.” Gideon was already at a loss for words because this casual observation told him that Millie was a girl, and although he wasn’t sure if he should act differently around her, he thought maybe he should. He just didn’t know what to do. The opportunity to do anything was denied him, as a lantern flickered on, and they quickly put the appropriate social distance of a foot and a half between them. As you can no doubt tell, that was the first time Millie encountered Gideon, when their parents happened to meet up one night when lantern oil was burning low. They were destined to become a pair of pretty capable troublemakers.
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Spaghetti Western-isms

October 22, 2009 at 10:29 pm (Prose)

This is a bit of a play on a scene from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. I always wanted to write a film noir/spaghetti western kind of story — probably because of Cowboy Bebop. But anyway, just a short paragraph of prose:

     From beneath a sombrero his gruff voice asks, “Do you know how much you’re worth?” Underneath his fluttering serape dangle soft sandalwood handles, stitched with steel to tiny hammers synced to a series of chambers, each of which is aligned to rotate into position in front of the long dark tunnel of a gunbarrel. The cloth twists in the wind, and the breeze carries the scent from the gunhandles – they smell like prayer beads. And it seems that in every gunbattle there is something of a prayer. That is all the sandalwood is: the sign of what is to come; a symbol of what must be.

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Jarre Wiki Hoax

May 12, 2009 at 12:17 pm (Critical Writing, Prose)

Ok, so it’s not a very catchy name for it, but I’ve yet to see anyone come up with a better one. There’s been a hoax, and I would be remiss if I did not say something about it, as someone who has spoken on behalf of the value of these things before.

Here’s the gist of it: a young man, someone my age actually, posted a false tidbit of information on Wikipedia with no cited source, which various news media then used in their reporting; however, Wikipedia caught the error within minutes and removed it. Shane Fitzgerald, the young man responsible, posted the false information multiple times with Wikipedia admins catching and correcting it each time within hours if not minutes. If you want more details click here.
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“Circe” from Joyce’s Ulysses

May 2, 2009 at 3:24 am (Critical Writing, Prose)

This is another older essay of mine that I found. This time the topic is the “Circe” chapter (or rather a particular passage’s relation to the chapter) from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

     The “Circe” chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses is a masterful manipulation of language that takes the lenses we have seen the world through in previous chapters and skews them, so that we might see more clearly. This nightmarish chapter perverts reality, but by doing so we see essential qualities of characters, especially Bloom and Stephen. A close look at this will be taken from the following passage taken from chapter 15, “Circe,” lines 2777-782:

               BLOOM
(cowed) Exuberant female. Enormously I desiderate your domination. I am exhausted, abandoned, no more young. I stand, so to speak, with an unposted letter bearing the extra regulation fee before the too late box of the general postoffice of human life. The door and window open at a right angle cause a draught of thirtytwo feet per second according to the law of falling bodies.

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“Ithaca” from Joyce’s Ulysses

May 2, 2009 at 3:06 am (Critical Writing, Prose)

I stumbled across this the other day. It’s a brief analysis of the “Ithaca” chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not really one of my better essays, as it is an early one, but I thought I’d share all the same.

     In Ulysses, Bloom is attributed his closing thoughts on the day in the penultimate chapter, “Ithaca.” This is appropriate, since Molly is given even a greater say and sway in the concluding chapter.
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Searle vs. Quine — Behaviorism & Language

April 26, 2009 at 2:14 pm (Critical Writing, Philosophy, Prose)

“Behaviorism, Meaning, and Reference: Because Searle Meant Rabbit”

     In an article titled “Translation and Meaning,” W.V. Quine takes a look at behaviorism as it pertains to language, and through that logical enquiry determines that meaning and reference can either be said to not exist as we normally conceive of them, or are trivial at best. John R. Searle responds to Quine’s conclusion in his article “Indeterminacy, Empiricism, and First Person.” In the article, Searle works to refute Quine with several alternative assessments of his own. Quine’s claim is bold, but it seems to rob language of much of what we would normally consider its intrinsic value, and this alone would make many people wish to agree with Searle. However, based on Quine’s original article, we can see how Quine would have responded to Searle, and are forced to conclude that Searle’s counterarguments do not manage to successfully dismiss the results of Quine’s enquiry.
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Hume, proportioning beliefs to evidence

April 24, 2009 at 7:19 am (Critical Writing, Philosophy, Prose)

Hume says that a wise person proportions his or her belief to the evidence. What does he mean by this?

     This idea is actually at the core of Hume’s constructive argument, as he creates his definition of causation and reasoning. The statement itself comes from a fairly easy to accept bit of reasoning. When we choose to believe in something, we do so for a reason. That reason is typically some sort of preference. For instance, we could choose to agree with one philosopher because he is easy to read and understand, although his argument does not seem as sound or as well supported by evidence as another philosopher, who we might also choose to agree with. The wise person agrees with the philosopher who has more evidence, as his argument will be better supported; also there is the possibility that the wise person agrees with neither person because there is insufficient evidence for both arguments, or there is sufficient evidence to the contrary of both arguments.
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Hume on miracles, once more with feeling!

April 24, 2009 at 4:03 am (Critical Writing, Philosophy, Prose)

What does Hume mean when he says that “the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience”? Is Hume right? Why or why not?

     This comment comes from Hume at the close of Enquiry: 10, “Of miracles,” and it sums up the results of Hume’s rigorous treatment of miracles in a sort of tongue in cheek way. A reasonable person needs a miracle in order to believe and follow Christianity, but miracles themselves are shown by Hume to be unreasonable. The two possible readings of a “miracle in his own person” are similarly playful with how they condemn miracles. We can take faith to be miraculous and in that sense a splendid and wonderful thing that allows us to transcend our insufficient capabilities to comprehend and interpret the universe, but then again a continued miracle within ourselves could also indicate a sort of continued fallacy. Again, if miracles are unreasonable, then the way that they inspire faith in us is actually something that takes us further from accuracy and truth, rather than helping us cross a chasm that our understanding normally cannot. I would argue that Hume thinks miracles are wholly unreasonable and that we should not buy into them. He is quick to show the problems and fallacies inherent in miracles, and the multiple readings of the closing statement certainly have some lingering sarcasm. Essentially, he finds it somewhat amazing that people can even come to believe in such a thing, and their continued belief in it is a miracle to him because it goes against everything we know as human beings.
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Hume and Necessary Connection, again

April 23, 2009 at 12:07 pm (Critical Writing, Philosophy, Prose)

Hume really think that we have an idea of necessary connection?

     The simple answer to this question is no. Hume does not think at the start of Enquiry: 7 that there is a consensus as to what a necessary connection is, and by the end of the essay, what we think a necessary connection should be is not possible to have. We begin with a conception of what philosophers have basically been trying to get at with the term necessary connection, and throughout that working model is polished into an idea. But we discover that the resulting idea is not something we can actually use with the definitiveness we previously had assumed we could. We can have something like necessary connection, but we cannot actually have necessary connection. I would even go so far as to say that we do have an idea of necessary connection, but that we must be wary of it because it obscures the way things actually are.
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Uncertainty and Ontology: Doris Lessing’s Wordless Statement

April 20, 2009 at 5:36 am (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

It’s alive!

“Uncertainty and Ontology: Doris Lessing’s Wordless Statement”
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Hume X, “Of miracles” — A Condensed Version of the Argument

April 16, 2009 at 12:29 pm (Critical Writing, Philosophy, Prose)

     We proportion our belief to our experience, sometimes relying on the testimony of others where our experience is lacking, and we compare testimonies to one another, as well as with our own experience, in determining their probability. In relating testimony to our experience we rely on conformability. Someone who is told that water freezes in the cold but has never seen it may appropriately not believe the testimony because water freezing does not conform with his experience. Miracles may be defined as a transgression against the laws of nature, presumably by the Deity or some invisible agent.
     Weighing the testimony of a miracle, we would have to suppose it more miraculous that the testifier would deceive or be deceived than the miracle he purports. Otherwise if it is more likely that the testifier is deceiving or being deceived, then I cannot conclude that the miracle happened. Of course, this also assumes that testimony alone, without experience, can act as a proof of something. Yet no miracle has been attested to by sufficient men of such renowned quality and learning that they would be above deceiving or beyond being deceived, nor has any such event occurred in a location under circumstances that would render any kind of pertinent deceit completely detectable. Often, people will disregard using past experience to judge testimony when they are caught up in the passion of wonder—folklore for example, are the feats of Hercules less attested than the resurrection of Lazarus?
     Often an eloquent speaker can also induce in the many a sense of belief—the passion of well-worded propaganda speaking. This sort of talk spreads fast because it is more interesting than the day to day conversation. We can also see that many prophecies and miracles are first given to people with fewer faculties for explaining situations less commonly experienced. A great orator or prophet, we presume, has experience that we do not, and so his testimony becomes considered more reliable than our experience, just as when we are children and do not question our teachers because they know much more than we do. And when one man can convince a large group of others, that large group becomes more testimony to something with tenuous origins. We maintain these things even as our cultures become more intelligent out of a sort of tradition, or belief in our forefathers, though they knew less about the world than we do now.
     Also, consider that there are many religions, each with many miracles. These miracles give support for the religion as being valid, which is motivation for supporters to spread them. Also, if someone believes in a miracle in one religion, then they disbelieve the miracles of all others, as the invisible agent(s) in question are different. This is similar to when a judge considers the testimony of two opposed witnesses in court. The miracles of each religion discredit the miracles of the others. If we tried to conceive of all miracles being from the same deity, we would find equal difficulty in reconciling Hercules with Lazarus. Events such as these occur and are refuted in any age, yet we continue the habit. Continued talk of a miracle becomes irrefutable because all testifiers and evidence is gone, save for historical writing; though, if two ancient armies declared that they won the same battle and described it thus, we could no more capably refute one testimony in place of the other. So, no miracle has amounted to being probable, much less a proof. And thus, no human testimony can provide such force as to prove a miracle and make it sufficient support for a religion.
     Saying that an Almighty being is responsible for a miracle makes it no more probable. We cannot know the actions of such a being except, again, by experience as to his creations, which work in the usual course of nature. Religion is founded on faith and not on reason, so using reason to defend it will prove impossible. This is because even in the Pentateuch, for example, it does not seem more miraculous that it should be a falsehood than the miracles actually happened, so we cannot reasonably conclude that they did. If faith alone causes someone to assent, then they are willing to allow all that concerns their understanding to be subverted, and for the most contrary of things to replace habit and custom that are established in experience.

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Postmodernism + Hume — Second Paper Draft Intro

April 11, 2009 at 1:43 pm (Critical Writing, General, Prose)

I just finished the introduction for my rewrite of my essay on The Golden Notebook. Of course, I’ve been reading Hume, so I end up relating my idea for the structure of this rewrite and its thesis to Hume and his skepticism about metaphysics. The introduction is a little fuzzy, and I may have to do some rewriting regarding it, but I’m leaving it for now, as the thesis statement is fairly distinct, and that’s what I need to get going.
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First Draft of Golden Notebook Paper

April 9, 2009 at 12:54 pm (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

This is the first draft of my paper for my senior seminar in postmodernism concerning the structure of Doris Lessing’s novel The Golden Notebook. For those of you who follow my Twitter, you’re already aware that I’m rewriting the whole of this from scratch. This was not the most effective or clearest way of presenting my argument, so I’m redoing the whole of it, which may seem to defeat the purpose of a rough draft; though, actually this seems to be the purpose most of my rough drafts serve. There were 3 complete rewrites of the Chaucer paper. The ability to explore one avenue of discourse and find it fails is a very effective way of deciding what other avenue will have a better chance of success, which is what has happened here. Regardless, I am posting my first draft, which will eventually, hopefully, be followed by the final draft for comparison.

To view the final draft click here.
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Hume 7 — “Of the idea of necessary connexion”

April 9, 2009 at 12:23 pm (Critical Writing, Philosophy, Prose)

     Often ambiguity can arise in the sciences involving reasoning that is not common in mathematics, such as geometry. The primary obstacle is that the moral or metaphysical sciences do not have terms and ideas that are as well defined as those in geometry. A triangle is readily identified, yet a necessary connection is not. Several terms occur regularly in philosophical discourse with varied, often unspecified, meanings: power, force, energy, necessary connection. We would benefit greatly by giving precise meanings of these terms.
     To begin, we cannot think anything that we have not already felt via our internal or external senses, so our ideas are nothing but copies of our impressions. Our more complex ideas can be reduced to their simpler components, but it is often these simpler components that are ambiguous. What we need to do is discover the original impressions from which these simple ideas are copied.
     With this in mind, we begin the search. When looking at the world, there is nothing that indicates beyond a shadow of a doubt some binding element between cause and effect that we would consider a power or necessary connection. We see one ball hit and propel another, but this is only our outer senses, while our inner senses do not have an impression; there is no singular instance of cause and effect to suggest the idea of power or necessary connection. Solidity, extension, and motion are complete ideas by themselves, and do not point out what will result from them, so outwardly we cannot garner a sense of power or necessary connection. Instead, we must consider our own minds and see if these ideas can be copied from an internal impression. While conscious we are aware that we can will our limbs to move, and from reflection on this influence we get an idea of power or energy. Yet, we do not know what the energy that allows our will to command our body is, and we cannot know what it is. We still do not know the connection between the cause and effect. We do not know why we have the limits that we do—why we can move our arms but not will our kidneys to not produce stones. And even though we will our arms to move, it is the result of muscles, tendons, and so on, working in a sequence that we do not understand or readily command in order to act out the direction of our will. It seems that while we know our will can move our arms from experience, we do not know the power or energy that effects it, so our idea of power cannot come from an internal impression.
     Similarly, our ability to conceptualize and consider ideas, created in our minds, fails this test. We likewise do not know the power that allows us to govern our thoughts, cannot understand the boundaries or limits of our minds, and the ability for our minds to operate varies, such as when we are healthy or sick. This inability to properly pinpoint the impression behind power suggests that we actually learn through experience what cause is normally in conjunction with an effect without ever truly recognizing the power governing it or the real connection between the two.
     Occasionalists explain this and other instances of power they are unable to diagnose as resulting from the Maker, who gives potency to our will that it might become action. This seems to contrast with the idea of a truly powerful Deity. God is not so great if he has to check in on everything constantly; his volition alone motivating things, rather than having constructed so magnificent a realm that it can operate, to some degree, on its own—their idea suggests that the watchmaker must not only occasionally wind-up the clock but also push the gears while it operates. Philosophically, this idea is likewise unsatisfying. First of all, this lies completely beyond our realm of experience and the capacities of our operative faculties. We cannot actually be assured of this determination as there is no way for us to know it convincingly, nor can we apply this concept to any other existing concepts, as it is so far flung from our normal methods of inference and deduction to be related to them in use. And secondly, we are as ignorant of how the Supreme Being operates as we ourselves operate, and we cannot make different conclusions about the former provided the same evidence as regards the latter. We can only accept ignorance in both cases. We are left with still no means of deriving our idea of power or connection, and find that we cannot know the force behind or the connection between cause and effect. We can recognize a sequence where action follows volition, but we do not know what binds the two together, or how action arises from volition.
     Still, we do not judge based on single instances, and instead when something seems to have almost always or always been the case, it is only then that we then feel comfortable referring to one part as cause and the other as effect. In these regular cases, the situation seems matter of fact, and we presume that there is some power that creates an infallible connection between the two. The idea does not arise from any singular instance, but instead it comes from a number of similar instances that have a constant conjunction. The only difference between the singular instance and the multitude is that over time the regular instances create a habit in the mind. The transition from an object to its usual attendant in the mind is the impression from which we get our idea of power or necessary connection. This feeling moves us from the initial concept of two things being conjoined to them being connected. This gives us our more complex idea of cause and effect that all our reasoning concerning matter of fact are founded upon. From this basis in experience we can distinguish two ways of thinking of cause and effect: 1) if not for the first, then the second would not be; 2) one object followed by another where the first always conveys the thought of the second.
     We allow that effect is the measure of a cause’s power, even though we cannot distinctly identify the connection between the two. But overall, uniform experience allows us to make inferences that we cannot make a priori or upon a first experience. This feeling of connection gives rise to our idea of connection, even though really what we have is multiple sightings of conjunctions.

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Hume 9 — “Of the reason of animals”

April 7, 2009 at 12:52 pm (Critical Writing, Philosophy, Prose)

This is a breakdown of part 9 of Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding.

I. All our matter of fact reasoning relies on analogy.
     A. We expect similar effects from similar causes.
          i.e. Hammer dropped on foot is a lot like brick dropped on foot.
     B. The degree of similarity determines the conclusiveness of the analogy.
          1. If the causes are perfectly similar than the analogy is likewise perfect, and the less similar the cause, the less certain or conclusive our reasoning.

II. Since we are a type of animal, observing this phenomena in other animals lends strength to the argument.
     A. Animals learn from experience, concluding that same events follow from same causes.
          1. This is evident when observing the habits of older animals versus younger animals.
          2. This is also evident in training an animal, where treats and punishment are used in order to encourage certain behaviors while discouraging others. The animal learns what behaviors bring treats and what brings punishment and acts in accordance with this experience to get treats and avoid punishment.
     B. In each case the animal infers something beyond immediate sensory information, which is founded on past experience.
     C. This inference is clearly not founded on reasoning.
          1. A dog does not conclude that “events must follow like objects, and that the course of nature will always be regular in its operations” (94).
          2. Still, it is clear that people do not infer based on reasoning typically, either. Children don’t do this, and neither do adults in everyday actions.
          3. Humans, like all other animals, rely on belief or custom to assume consequence in everyday situations.
     D. Animals also have instincts, which are actions that extend beyond the apparent learning of an animal and are not improved much by time or practice.
          1. Humans also have these in the form of experimental reasoning.
               i.e. A child touches a hot pan on the stove, gets burned, and learns to not do so again.
          2. This is unlike the comparison of ideas that guides our more intellectual behavior.

III. Even though people, like animals, learn things through custom, it is apparent that man is capable of higher levels of reasoning than other animals.
     A. Individual people pay better attention, have a better memory, or give more careful observation to the consequences of things, leading to differences in the reasoning of individual people. Similar variances in ability, such as to follow a chain of reasoning, are likewise responsible for these logic gaps.
     B. Different prejudices will also create errors in various reasonings.
     C. The scope of human experience is generally much more diverse than that of animals, and even varies among people to quite a degree, regarding learning, travel, interaction with both intellectual and physical spheres.

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