Sam Harris is nothing if not interesting. He is someone whose ideas I can disagree with substantially, but I still hunt out his thoughts, I still readSam Harris is nothing if not interesting. He is someone whose ideas I can disagree with substantially, but I still hunt out his thoughts, I still read his writings. Free Will is a brief book about a complex subject. The thesis it seeks to prove is that free will is an illusion. The book is short and clearly written, so I do not want to get into a lot of detail here. Suffice it to say, Harris claims that we cannot know why we choose to watch something, why you are reading this now, etc. That if we took the time to really reflect on our experience, our thoughts, we would not be able to answer the question: Why am I reading this blog right now? At least not without a constructed narrative in hindsight. All our decisions, all our choices, all the reasons we choose why we choose something remain impenetrable to a final answer. Genetics. The fortune or misfortune of where, how, and to whom I was born. And so on. How is one free to choose if we cannot know why we choose and why there is good scientific evidence to indicate that our choices are acted upon prior to our knowledge of that choice.
I'm not sure I buy Harris's argument, but I have not yet formulated a potential reason why. Regardless, it is worth reading. ...more
Astonishing book! Now when people toss around "paradigm-shift," I now have a context for where that concept originated. It speaks to the influence ofAstonishing book! Now when people toss around "paradigm-shift," I now have a context for where that concept originated. It speaks to the influence of this small book that a complex idea is boiled down to something used as a cliche....more
Excellent introduction to the topic with a well-reasoned argument, that Chalmers smartly does not push too far. He is setting up what he considers theExcellent introduction to the topic with a well-reasoned argument, that Chalmers smartly does not push too far. He is setting up what he considers the beginning of a philosophy of consciousness. Here is the now famous "hard problem"--we written and enjoyable to read...without shying away from technical philosophy....more
Philip Ball is one of my favorite authors, and this book does not disappoint. Ball as usual combines history, art, philosophy, religion, science, andPhilip Ball is one of my favorite authors, and this book does not disappoint. Ball as usual combines history, art, philosophy, religion, science, and more in a thorough and well-written biography of Chartres Cathedral....more
I have recently finished Roger Scruton's "Beauty," which I had been reading slowly over a period of time and have referenced previously in this blog.I have recently finished Roger Scruton's "Beauty," which I had been reading slowly over a period of time and have referenced previously in this blog. This is a generally conservative approach to "beauty," but conservative in that sense of "is change necessary or is this change for the sake of change?" Or as Scruton puts it: "the relentless pursuit of artistic innovation leads to a cult of nihilism."
Scruton is clearly on the side of Edward Hopper over Mark Rothko. I very much enjoy both, but an interesting point (and one that I do not think Scruton raises explicitly) arises when comparing the two as representatives of modes of art. Hopper maintained the figurative -- was in essence a traditionalist despite the Cubist and abstraction revolutions that occurred during his lifetime. Rothko never really was at home with figurative painting, abandoned surrealism, and moved wholeheartedly into abstraction. For many years, Hopper was rejected as "important" because his art was, well, traditional. Rothko sought innovation in form. Hopper was not anti-innovation, but his innovations are less obvious. But innovation for innovation's sake propelled only innovation...Cubism, abstraction, abstract-expressionism, etc. (or romantic to modernist to post-modernist to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, etc.) It seems that once innovation became important, the "ism" associated with that innovation fell to the past as old faster than in previous centuries of art. A symptom of an incorrect emphasis in artistic endeavors, perhaps? Interestingly, Scruton comments how many of the modernist experiments in literature and music were attempts to reclaim tradition: "And it [the great modernists:] sees the goal of the modern artist not as a break with tradition, but as a recapturing of tradition." Scruton cites T.S. Eliot of "The Four Quartets" or Arnold Schoenberg's "Moses und Aron." But think of Igor Stravinky's neoclassical repertoire: "Pulcinella," amongst others.
I am, in the end, very sympathetic to Scruton's book because he finds, as I do, a value in beauty: "For beauty makes a claim on us: it is a call to renounce our narcissism and look with reverence on the world." He acknowledges that decay, horror, and ugliness are not to be excluded from "beauty," but that art can find a path through those to the value of humanity in this world. Beauty is not about avoidance but about embracing. Scruton's view of kitsch is particularly interesting in this regards. Kitsch "is a world of commodities to be consumed, rather than icons to be revered."
I think it will be very easy to dismiss Scruton for too easily dismissing popular art or being seen as an elitist listening to opera and not in the real world, but I think that is to miss the point of Scruton's agrument, one in which he never defines what beauty is. It seems to me that Scruton is not out to tell us what is beautiful but, instead, is out to inform us of the value of the beautiful, which is far more important. Many will disagree with me about Rothko's paintings as beautiful (Scruton does), but when we talk about Rothko's work, we should ideally be discussing its value as something beautiful. What we must avoid is the overthrow of beauty in art because we have lost the sense of the beautiful in the world. ...more