Misinterpretation Station

I’LL BE THE FIRST to admit that I rarely ever read comments.

It’s not because I don’t want to read comments. I do. I would never discourage anyone from writing them, even on my blog where I almost certainly will never read them. I just never get around to reading them. My mind is always occupied by other things.

Like composing the perfectly philosophically adroit tweet inside my head and then never actually tweeting it.

I’m kidding I never think about that. Never.

When I do get around to reading comments — and I do appreciate anyone who takes the time to write one — there’s a particular kind of comment that I never fail to enjoy:

It’s the comment that starts off like, I think you misunderstand what so-and-so said…

it’s the not-negatively phrased negative comment that philosophers love to make.

Listen: I kinda know that.

It’s kinda the point.

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Sometimes I’m wrong. But sometimes… I’m wrong on purpose. 

The key to being wrong on purpose is that you actually gotta know what you’re talking about.

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It’s kind of like how people say that Marilyn Monroe made a career playing the dumb blonde, but was in on the joke the whole time. She was smart enough to know there was money to be had in playing dumb.

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OK. MAYBE NOT THE BEST EXAMPLE. I SHOULD HAVE SAID JAYNE MANSFIELD. YOU KNOW… BECAUSE SHE HAD A HIGH I.Q.

Although you’d be hard pressed to find even one professional philosopher who would admit that they were ever wrong (aka, dumb), even if they’re in on the joke.

…unlike Marilyn Monroe.

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THIS WOULDN’T BE A MUG IF PHILOSOPHERS EVER THOUGHT THEY WERE EVER WRONG

When I was a kid, I used to go to Bible study.

I know, we all do strange things in our childhood.

Anyway, while I was supposed to be reading the Bible to learn the correct way to interpret the infallible word of God, I was more interested in learning all the ways people get Bible verses wrong.

There are a lot of bad ideas about what the Bible says out there, and by golly, I was going to figure it all out.

I was ten years old.

You see… the way I see it, the one thing that makes the examined life worth living is grabbing a philosophical idea or two and then pushing and pulling the (ever-loving) shit out of it, just to see where it goes.

even if, in the end, all our pushing and pulling goes nowhere.

even if, in the end, we got it all wrong.

We all know that philosophers have a thing for an exact fit. That is to say, we (assuming I can call myself a philosopher) like the theories that not only look good on paper, but also  explain the how and why of everything and defeat all counterarguments in any and every philosophical situation — real or thought experiment.

But if you’ve lived for more than two minutes outside of a philosophy class, you’d know that the real world doesn’t work that way. There is no exact fit. Contrary to whatever Immanuel Kant may have thought about his transcendental idealism, there is no theory that does — or can — explain everything.

or in that case of Kant, explain anything.

…and that’s where all that pop culture stuff comes in.

You see folks, we can use movies, books, notable people and events, and tv shows (collectively known as “pop culture”) to push and pull on philosophical ideas. We can use pop culture as ready-made thought experiment templates, filled with characters and situations we can use to expand, clarify or even disregard philosophical ideas (in the real world) when we apply, and at times, misapply philosophy.

Is the movie Groundhog Day and exact fit of Nietzsche’s eternal return? No. It isn’t.

Is The Matrix the most philosophically correct depiction of whatever it was that Descartes said about not knowing if the world is real and all that evil demon stuff?

Nope.

Is Ferris Bueller an true Randian objectivist? Probably not.

He’s actually more of a utilitarian.

Would Descartes say that cinematic zombies don’t think, so therefore they aren’t am, so therefore they aren’t rational beings, so therefore we can regard them in the same way that we would regard a clock….or a cat?

…wait a minute, he probably would say that.

The point is, is that when you apply philosophical ideas (or theories) to something pop culture-ish, like a movie or a fictional character, there will always be multiple ways to interpret how a character is and what that character does.

…unless your name is Ingmar Bergman and you totally made your movie philosophical intentionally.

Multiple ways to interpret things correctly also means there are multiple ways to misinterpret things.  Misinterpreting (even the intentional misinterpretation) a philosophical idea or how the idea can be applied in the real world does some good, too. How else would you know if it works?

And really, not getting it right doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

Especially if you’re having fun.

And anyway, who cares? It’s not like you’re up for tenure.

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ALTHOUGH I’M NOT HAVING MUCH FUN WITH THE WALKING DEAD ANYMORE (sucks what they did to Carl)

So… pack a bag and come with me down to misinterpretation station!

You might just enjoy yourself doing some philosophical pushin’ and pullin’.

 

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Thinking ’bout Being Thankful (a philosopher’s Thanksgiving list)

IT’S THANKSGIVING DAY here in the States. It’s the day to gather with friends and family to give thanks for what we have — to remind ourselves that we are healthy, wealthy, and wise — despite our (my) repeated and humiliating failed attempts to keep up with the Kardashians.

That was my New Year’s resolution for this year — to keep up with the Kardashians.

I didn’t.

And for that, I am thankful.

That whole Kanye/Trump thing….

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YIKES.

Anyhoo.

As I said, Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks. I’m thankful for my friends and family. I’m thankful that I’m in relatively good health (as good as anyone eating the average American diet can be). I’m thankful, despite what seems to be a severe case of global stupidity, that I still got enough scruples to think.

And to think about thinking…

And to think about thinking about thinking…

And even though the world is seemingly infected with the dumb, there’s plenty of philosophical stuff I’m thankful for.

In fact, I’ve made a list.

  • I’m thankful that I decided to double major in college. I know it ain’t nothing but navelgazing, but I’m thankful I chose philosophy. My old professor was right. I don’t regret it.
  • Speaking of a philosophy major, I’m thankful I went to a college with a philosophy department.

If those Purge flicks were about getting rid of unwanted college majors, philosophy definitely would be the homeless guy left on the street after 7 p.m.

  • I’m thankful that my professors (and most of my classmates) were the kind of philosophy people that proved that most movies about philosophy and philosophy people are full of crap.
  • I’m thankful for Harry Stottlemeyer.
  • I’m thankful for blogging and self publishing.

Did I mention that I wrote a book?

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*The Mindless Philosopher — available at Amazon

  • I’m thankful that the internet gives any and every armchair, amateur, and occasional philosopher the chance to become the next Wittgenstein (or at least to pretend we’re that smart).
  • I’m thankful that philosophy is finally breaking away from the professional academic philosopher’s club.
  • I’m thankful that there’s such a thing as pop culture and philosophy.
  • I’m thankful that tv shows like The Good Place prove that philosophy not only isn’t just a bunch of old white dead guys, but can also be entertaining and relevant.
  • I’m thankful for Star Trek.
  • I’m thankful for The Walking Dead and Rick Grimes — and the opportunity to write year after year about the most philosophical inconsistent character on network television.

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Don’t let the Socrates beard fool you. Rick Grimes IS NOT the wisest man in Alexandria. Not even close.

  • I’m thankful I live in a world that needs welders and philosophers.
  • I’m thankful that a philosopher can challenge the gods and corrupt the young, and that “drinking the hemlock” is just a figure of speech.
  • I’m thankful there are still folks out there determined to bring philosophy to the masses.
  • I’m thankful for Zizek videos on YouTube.
  • I’m thankful for dank Hegel memes.
  • I’m thankful for my philosophical muse and bestest furkid (aka, the cat).

 

She thinks so I don’t have to.

Lastly, and most of all, I’m thankful for every one of you reading my blog. Whether you liked what you read or not, you clicked on and checked it out.

And for that, I truly am thankful.

 

 

 

 

 

The Philosophy of Ordinary Things

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I snapped this picture a couple of years ago. Nothing extraordinary, really. Just a picture of average-looking waves on a beach.

Since ¾ of the world is covered with water, the sight of waves on a beach is an extremely common thing.

Quite ordinary.

Yet, the view from such an ordinary shore, watching the unspectacular tide rolling in and out, always gets me thinking.

Even looking at a photo taken a couple of years ago gets me in the thinking mood.

In the philosophical mood.

I think of the vastness of the ocean. Of the water. And of all the millions, even billions of file forms populating the depths.

I think of how all those lives play a part in the life of the ocean, and how each of those lives plays a part in my life, and the circle of life on the planet Earth.

Looking at the waves, I think how, of all the possible worlds in the universe, I am here: how I am on this one, covered with water, not too close, yet not to far from our life-giving Sun. how unlikely it was that any life, let alone for my life, to exist.

I see the tranquility of the waves and how peaceful it looks from the shore; how it all looks from a view on the beach.

I think of my part in all of it.

My obligation to others – human and non-human. To the other people standing on the beach, looking out at the ocean, wondering about the life beneath the waves, their place in the universe, and about all those other people standing on the beach thousands of miles away.

All of us wondering what it all means –

If it means anything at all.
I think of this.

While standing on an ordinary beach.

Writer’s block is a complete jerk

I can’t write.

Nah, that’s not right. I’m writing right now. This blog post.

Right now.

See, the thing is, I’m supposed to be writing a book. Since I decided to do this “writing philosophy” thing professionally, and I’ve already written one book on the subject, to consider myself an actual writer of philosophy I have to write.

Books, not blogs.

I really don’t even think what I have is writer’s block. After all, I am writing this blog post right now. I can write blog posts fairly easily. I once wrote eight posts in one day. (Really, I did). What my problem is, is that I’ve got some kind of philosophical performance anxiety. I’m right about to jump in the sack with some W.V.O. Quine but instead of something, there’s nothing. Instead of ED, I’ve got PD — philosophical dysfunction.

I don’t think there’s a pill to cure it, though. No Viagra for philosophers.

Man, that analogy was bad.

I remember sitting in my philosophy classes thinking (I realize arrogantly so) that writing stuff about things I’ve been thinking about shouldn’t really be that hard. I like philosophy. I like writing. I thought, if becoming a writer of philosophy means all I have to do is think about stuff and write it down, it should be easy peasy, right? I mean, come on, I said to myself, if my professors could do it, there was no way in hell that I couldn’t pull it off.

i totally blame these people for filling me with philosophical delusions

Heck, the guys on “Philosophy Talk” make chatting about philosophy seem not only easy, but downright fun and entertaining.

these are the hosts of “philosophy talk”, John Perry and Ken Taylor. do not be fooled by all the fun they seem to be having. it is highly unlikely that doing philosophy (even of you’re having fun) will get you your own radio show.

I’ve been writing on the same six pages of my book for three months.

I guess I was wrong.

I guess it’s not too late to change my mind about writing philosophy.

If I give it up I suppose that I wouldn’t have to think up any more bad Quine analogies.

this is W.V.O. Quine. in case you were curious.

… I wonder if that topless club is still hiring?

Thinkin’ about thinkin’

I’ve been watching too much TV. For someone of my age and level of education, I shouldn’t spend any time, let alone spend an entire day watching 27 DVR’d episodes of Tosh.0. I shouldn’t derive any pleasure whatsoever watching a little girl play with a dead squirrel, the cinnamon challenge or a kid splitting his taint with his skateboard. I’m a philosopher, I tell myself. I’m better than this. I tell myself I’ve been spending so much time on my back watching television – on my sofa, on my bed, even laying prone on my living room floor; that I’m in danger of becoming one of those people that sits so long in one place that I fuse to a piece of furniture and a rescue crew has to extract me from my house using a chainsaw and a forklift.

I’m a philosopher, I tell myself. I’m better than this.

But every night when I watch TV, I’m even more convinced that thinking philosophically isn’t as FUN as my college professors said it would be. Everybody on TV seems to be much happier once they stop doing all that terrible and emotionally upsetting philosophically-oriented thinking. This isn’t just my opinion. Modern science tells us that thinking is a prime cause of stress, and stress, as we all know leads to disease and early death. I’m no medical doctor but I think it’s safe to assume if thinking in general makes one’s life stressful, then thinking philosophically must be a highway straight to joining the choir invisible. Even if Socrates said that the point of philosophy (i.e. thinking) is to prepare us for death, I can say with confidence that I’m not planning on dying any time soon.

Besides, I’m pretty sure that the double rainbows guy didn’t read Plato, Nietzsche or Sartre to ask “What does this mean?” … All that guy did was look at a couple of rainbows.

After approximately fifteen minutes of contemplation, I decided to give up philosophical thinking. Watching reality television is better than contemplating reality. I concluded if I’m going to think about something other than philosophy, I’d think about the least philosophical things imaginable. This is what I thought about:

I’m pretty sure at one point in my life I’ve eaten dog.

Which is better: bikini or hipsters?

My inexplicable attraction to Rachel Maddow.

Painting my toenails pink.

Memory foam pillows aren’t better.

Kris Kardashian’s haircut

Dotting my “i”s with hearts when I write longhand.

Now, I could tell everyone and insist that a new philosophy-free lifestyle is intellectually and emotionally satisfying, but I’d be lying. Any philosophy professor philosopher will tell you, philosophy isn’t merely something that one does to impress other people or a bad habit that can be started or ended on a whim. Thinking philosophically is an innate part of who we are (Aristotle might call this one’s “telos”). I could avoid thinking philosophically no more than Plato would say a dog can stop participating in dogness or Holbach believed that we can violate the general causal principle (yes, I just dropped a couple of 50¢philosophy terms).

So what do I think about thinking philosophically now? Well… I realized that thinking about not thinking (philosophically) made me think that thinking is not overrated. There’s nothing wrong with watching too much TV or philosophically inappropriate with watching 13 ½ hours of Tosh.0.  I’m certain, despite my brief dalliance with not thinking, that I’ll be up to my usual navel gazing philosophical contemplation in no time. Now that I’m thinking about it, not thinking takes a fair amount of thinking, doesn’t it?

So if you don’t mind, I’m going back to do some “thinking” on my living room sofa.

I’m Pretty Sure I Know Why Philosophers Don’t Get Chicks

I think too much about things. I don’t even discriminate about what I’m thinking about. I remember that Heidegger once said something about a difference between thinking and philosophy. Heidegger encouraged taking long walks to contempate life and stuff. Good advice. Then again, Heidegger also encouraged National Socialism.

Which brings me to what I’ve been thinking about: thinking about thinking too much. It can really be a bad habit. This is a short list of what I thought about today:

  1. why are all the clocks in my house set to a different time?
  2. where is that smell coming from? (i know it’s not the refrigerator since i just cleaned that. can a microwave stink?)
  3. what’s going to happen on season 3 of The Walking Dead?
  4. i hear a meow but i don’t see my cat
  5. the toothpaste stain on my shirt is really noticable
  6. i don’t have enough gifs on my tumblr page
  7. really, where is that damn cat???
  8. three really is a magic number
  9. nicolas cage can’t be that bad an actor

With the exception of item #3, nothing that I thought of today was really worth thinking about –at least not thinking in the sense of Heidegger meant. My thoughts yielded no philosophical insight, no enlightenment, nothing. I could have literally taken my brain out of my skull this morning and my thoughts would have yielded the same result!

Can you believe that’s exactly the problem with thinking? Believe it or not, the problem isn’t when you substitute thinking for philosophy that you’ll end up thinking about the downward trajectory of Nicolas Cage’s film career, but that you don’t think about the trivial stuff  — the stuff that shouldn’t matter — at all.  You see, that’s wha Heidegger really meant when he said we should think instead of philosophize. Thinking about things that shouldn’t matter sometimes gets us ’round to thinking about the things that do.

While On A Walk

I HEARD THAT NIETZSCHE said that most (good) philosophy is done while one is on a walk.

That is to say, that getting out into the world does more to stir one’s mind than does sitting in a university, speaking to other people who do no more than echo exactly what we already think or say.

I think that’s true.

Sometimes, however, going out for a walk only results in experiences that only confirm why so many people out there, myself un-excluded, claim that they hate humanity.

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It’s not just a claim. I really do.

I thought that I would try, for god knows for what umpteenth-number time, to rid myself of the practice of seeing things so negatively.

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I thought that I would try to see the bright side of life, as suggested by the Monty Python song.

I think that there must be some higher force at work somewhere in the galaxy, because every time I attempt to see the worthiness of humanity as a whole, my hopes are dashed and I only end up confirming that people, as the Slipknot song says, equals shit.

Why the relentlessly negative and bad attitude towards people, you ask?

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To get back to Nietzsche, I was out for a walk. Nothing monumental, just a short jot before it really got (gets?) hot outside. You see, here, where I live in SoCal, there is no such thing as a gradual climb in the temperature. It’s cool one day, and 101 degrees the next. Go figure.

Anyway, I was out for a walk. Just like Nietzsche wants us to.

My walk kind of started off nice, mostly because I literally  hadn’t been out of the house all week. I gazed at the green grass, deeply inhaled the aroma of fresh-cut lawns, and listened to the chirping birds. I was deep in thought of what I had read the night before, a chapter from Kurt Vonnegut’s Man Without A Country. In the book Vonnegut said that he likes talking to people. I don’t. But I, having newly committed myself to sunny up my personality, decided that I would at least try to enjoy the company of others.

At the very least I could get in some thinking about things philosophically.

 

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DEEP PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHTS GOING ON RIGHT HERE

 

So I was out for a walk.

I realized I was enjoying my walk because I wasn’t bothered by anyone else’s company at that time.

…since I was walking alone.

But that’s kind of besides the point.

Now, I know that there are people who, for reasons that only they and their god know, decide that they should shout out things to people walking on the sidewalk or along the road.

I’ve personally never understood this phenomenon.

Well, that’s precisely what happened while I was attempting some Nietzsche-inspired walking.

Usually, if someone says something it’s something incoherent. It’s like the person shouting whatever decided to shout something, but then decides to back down — but only after the words have already left his mouth. It’s almost always a he who does it.

 

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THIS DUDE IS GONNA SAY SOMETHING…I GUARANTEE IT

 

Usually, the words they say aren’t so clear. But his time, it was a loud and clear “fuck you!”

This really left me confused.

Not to mention that it broke my chain of thought.

Now, really. It’s not that the words themselves offended me. They didn’t. I’ve said that particular phrase to other people on more occasions than I care to remind myself. But, usually, at least in the case that I’ve used that particular phrase, the person to whom the comment was directed deserved to have it said to them. I was just walking on the sidewalk.

And when I looked to see who said it, the guy seemed pretty angry, too. He looked really pissed off.

Schopenhauer pissed off.

 

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IMAGINE THIS FACE DRIVING BY SHOUTING “FUCK YOU!” OUT OF THE WINDOW

 

How can I explain what happened to me? I thought, for a moment, that I might have done something to offend the guy in the car. I thought about what I was wearing — just a pair of blue jeans and a black t-shirt. That usually doesn’t get people that worked up. I was wearing a backpack, but there’s nothing on my bag I think would upset anyone. I had taken all of my Leftist political patches off of my bag.

Besides, I don’t think by the looks of this guy that he would have noticed if they were still there.

For a few moments, I really thought about why that guy would have said shouted “Fuck You!” at me.

For a moment I wondered if Nietzsche himself manifested in the flesh and shouted “Fuck You!” at me while I was walking?

I actually attempted to figure out if any of the (limited) list of philosophers I know of ever addressed why people feel the need to shout things to people who aren’t doing anything to them. I couldn’t think of any.

Kant probably did. He wrote about everything.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that there must be some explanation for why this is. Some deep-seeded philosophical need to express one’s ontology by shouting “Fuck You!” at people one doesn’t know.

There is, but I guess that, in the long run, the answer is psychological rather than philosophical.

That means Hume would probably know why.

 

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LOOK AT THIS GUY AND TELL ME HE DIDN’T SHOUT “FUCK YOU!” AT PEOPLE WALKING DOWN THE STREET WHILE HE RODE BY IN HIS CARRIAGE

 

There is some not-so-deep seeded need in some people to yell at people — the more shocking the statement the better. And since you’re in a car, and your intended shockee is walking, you’re long gone before the person ever gets his bearings straight enough for a proper response, whatever that would be.

What would be the proper response? An “ok, thanks buddy” or a “well, good day to you, too”?

I’m guessing that, on this subject at least, philosophers may not have spent any time thinking on why this is so; why people feel compelled to shout things at people walking down the street.

That would mean that at last there is something that philosophers don’t have an opinion about!

 

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ASKING PHILOSOPHERS ABOUT PEOPLE WHO SHOUT “FUCK YOU!” FROM CARS SHUTS UP PHILOSOPHERS BETTER THAN DUCT TAPE

 

So, I guess my queries on the subject are better directed to the headshrinker than to the guy boring his class to death with examples of Gettier problems. Maybe with the proper philosophical insight, we’ll eventually figure out how and why anyone would find the need to shout “Fuck You!” to passersby by way of some epistemic debate or metaphysical claim.

I’m more than certain that some philosopher has some opinion about it.

They can’t leave any subject untarnished by their supposedly expert thoughts about everything.

I never did get those deep thoughts like Nietzsche said I would, though.