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.

 

 

 

 

 

I AM THE MINDLESS PHILOSOPHER

YEARS AGO, I WROTE a book.

It’s a philosophy book. Or rather, it’s a book about philosophy.

…kinda sorta about philosophy.

I mean, I use the word “philosophy”. And I quote Nietzsche.

That’s all you need for a philosophy book, right?

Now, when I was a philosophy student, I used to lament (sometimes – ok, a lot of times − out loud) the fact that most of the philosophy texts I was reading – the books every philosophy student is required to read – THE GREAT PHILOSOPHICAL TEXTS BY THE GREATEST PHILOSOPHICAL MINDS – were… well…boring.

Positively dull.

If earning a philosophy degree taught me anything, I learned that reading Immanuel Kant is the perfect cure for insomnia.

Reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason = snoozefest.

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KANT’S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON CAN ALSO BE USED AS A PILLOW OR AS A MAKESHIFT  BLUDGEONING DEVICE TO BE USED AGAINST WOULD-BE AXE MURDERERS

It’s not just mind-numbing boringness that philosophy has to overcome; people just don’t like philosophy or philosophers.

Americans are notoriously anti-intellectual. The average stereotypical American doesn’t trust a guy who’s a smarty pants. And really, who can blame them?

Smarty pants people invented the atomic bomb.

They also created reality tv.

If it wasn’t for that smart guy Dr. Phil, none of us would have any idea what “cash me ousside” means.

and if you don’t know, god bless you.

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THANKS, DR. PHIL

To be fair, Dr. Phil isn’t a philosopher. He’s a psychologist.

William James was a psychologist. And a philosopher.

William James was one of the fathers of Pragmatism.

Dr. Phil is pragmatic.

Therefore, I think, Dr. Phil IS a philosopher.

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CAN’T BE ANY WORSE THAN NICOMACHEAN ETHICS

Anyway… generally speaking, there’s always been a certain amount of negativity directed towards philosophers and philosophy.

Popular culture depicts philosophers as mopey navel gazers.

If society is correct, philosophers are only good at contemplating things that, in the long run, aren’t useful.

Schopenhauer was mopey.

arthur-schopenhauer

THE MAN EXUDES MISERY, DOESN’T HE?

Wittgenstein realized logical positivism was a dumb idea – even though he was the person who invented it.

Here’s the thing: even though people think philosophers are good only for thinking about things that no normal person cares about, there’s always been a place for the philosopher in society.

No one wants to admit it; the lovers of wisdom are an essential part of the way things are.

Just think about our popular culture for a minute.

You personally might not give two poops about philosophy, but if you exist right now, your “life” is the product of a long list of philosophers including (but definitely not limited to) Hegel, Nietzsche, Leo Strauss, John Stuart Mill, Plato, and Ayn Rand.

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LEO STRAUSS: THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PHILOSOPHER YOU’VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF, AND LIKELY WON’T GOOGLE, EVEN AFTER READING THIS BLOG POST

You won’t find a critically praised tv show or movie, a failed economic theory, a celebrity-slash-deep thinker, or a dumb politician who hasn’t quoted, misquoted, paraphrased, borrowed or stolen an idea from a philosopher.

Don’t believe me?

You’d think with all the philosophy everywhere, that we would, as a society, be a little more positive about philosophers and philosophy.

Nope.

and I’ll tell you why…

Are you listening? Here’s the reason why:

PHILOSOPHERS ARE NOT FUN.

Seriously, philosophy types are not a very fun lot to be around.

At the risk of being ad hominem-y, take a good look at the nearest philosopher. LOOK.

Look at him. Or her.

Now, ask yourself – am I looking at a person who looks like they’d be fun to be around for more than five minutes?

Sure, a professional philosopher will insist that they’re fun and funny and all-around interesting people, but do not be fooled. A fun philosopher is fun – for a philosopher.

diogenes_waterhouse

I’E USED MY POWERS OF PHILOSOPHICAL SPECULATION TO DETERMINE THAT MOST PHILOSOPHERS ARE UNFUN — EXCEPT FOR DIOGENES. DIOGENES SEEMS LIKE A FUN GUY

The reason why philosophers are un-fun has to do with the natural disposition of philosophers. Philosophers operate under the delusion that every conversation must adhere to a set of absolute bullshit rules on how conversations are supposed to go.

NO AD HOMINEMS ALLOWED.

Philosophers use fancy “philosophical” words like invalid, fallacy, and this is complete bullshit, why are you even in my class!?!?! to describe conversations that don’t adhere to The Rules.

Pffft!

As much as I love the love of wisdom, I got tired of not having fun.

not-fun

I mean, sometimes rules are great. Rules come in handy. Philosophy is a rigorous intellectual pursuit and strict rules are needed to produce coherent theories and arguments.

Makin’ rules is what made Immanuel Kant the greatest Kantian philosopher of all time.

But, every once in a while, even when doing philosophy, you gotta let one rip.
and not just figuratively.

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I had a philosophy professor who told a story about a conversation they had with another philosophy professor on a plane. My professor said that the conversation got so deep in arguing over theory that another passenger sitting nearby asked them to stop talking.

The professors weren’t using vulgar language. They weren’t looking at pornography. They weren’t defecating on the food cart or having an overly enthusiastic debate to settle whether Negan or The Governor was the baddest bad guy on The Walking Dead.

They were discussing philosophy.

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FOR THE RECORD, THE BADDEST BAD GUY WAS GARETH. GARETH ATE PEOPLE!!!

In the ears and minds of a pair of philosophy professors, a discussion about philosophy is something suitable to engage in around an airplane full of strangers. However, for the other passengers, being stuck in the fuselage of a jet aircraft (involuntarily) listening to a couple of philosophy enthusiasts talk about whatever it is that overthinkers talk about, had made an otherwise somewhat entertaining plane trip intolerable. UNFUN.

PHILOSOPHERS MAKE THINGS UNFUN.

Think about it: think of all the fun times you’ve ever had. Were there party hats? Yes. Mixed drinks? Probably. Strippers dressed as firemen? Undoubtedly. Was a philosopher involved? Absolutely not.

No fun time ever involves philosophers.

…except for maybe Diogenes.

In his 1748 treatise An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, the Scottish philosopher, David Hume (1711-1776), wrote, “Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.” Hume understood the necessity of philosophy, but he also knew that there’s more to life than philosophy. Namely, Hume knew that life is to be enjoyed – to have fun.

In his last days, Hume told jokes, played cards, hung out with his friends.

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ANY GUY WHO WEARS A JACKET THIS FLASHY PROBABLY KNOWS HOW TO HAVE A FUN TIME

And that’s what brings me to this. This blog.

Serious philosophers take philosophy things way too seriously.

There’s nothing worse than telling a good philosophy joke to a philosophy pro and getting nothing but a blank stare because the mofo takes philosophy too seriously to see the humor.

 

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IS THIS THING ON?????

 

Some people study philosophy for the sake of understanding the theory. Some people get their jollies discussing theories.

This is not that kind of blog.

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I think a part of enjoying anything you love is to be willing to take a bit of the piss out of it.

So, what would a philosophy blog written by someone who avoids deep theoretical philosophical discussions… someone who thinks skimming is sometimes just as good as actually reading an actual book… someone who thinks the answer for any philosophical question can be found in an episode of Star Trek look like?

You’re looking at it.

This blog is my philosophical mission. I call it mindless philosophy.

I AM THE MINDLESS PHILOSOPHER.

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I am a philosopher; but, amidst all my philosophy, I am still a man.

I’ve said, from the moment I decided to start a blog, the first aim of The Mindless Philosopher is to have fun. I love philosophical discussions, but, truth be told, The Mindless Philosopher is not above name calling, writing pedantic blog posts of somewhat-deep philosophical analysis based on a misinterpretation, emotion-based arguments or the tried and true ad hominem attack.

 

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IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, “YOU’RE A FUCKING MORON!” ALWAYS WORKS

 

Yeah, I know it’s not PHILOSOPHY, but PHILOSOPHY isn’t entirely the point of my blog. I’m not a professional philosopher, I don’t have tenure and I’m not getting paid to do this. I’m just a schmo who got an undergrad degree in philosophy and decided to use it as an excuse to watch way too much tv.

And write a blog about it.

Listen:

You know what’s got a lot of philosophy in it?

TV shows got philosophy. So do movies.
And music
And books

And former reality tv show hosts who become president of the United States.

 

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CAN’T BE ANY WORSE THAN PRINCIPIA ETHICA

Sure, taking philosophy out of academia and applying it to your favorite tv show can be a daunting task. It’s messy. Theories sometimes don’t work, and sometimes you have to stretch a theory to fit.

Sometimes you discover that your brilliant philosophical analysis of the brave protagonist has been an exercise in how to misapply a philosophical theory.

In the end, I guess if I had to explain why I do this – why an amateur deep thinker (like me) would dare to venture into the world of philosophy − I truly think that anybody can be a philosopher. You don’t need to attend university or have a PhD to ponder life’s big questions. If we’re talking about the human condition, it makes sense to bring philosophy out of the academy and into the real world.

Because that’s where the people are.

 

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LOOK AT ALL THESE NOT-PHILOSOPHER PEOPLE WAITING TO LEARN PHILOSOPHY!

 

Thinking philosophically doesn’t require that anyone read the complete works of Bertrand Russell or understand the Hegelian dialectic. You don’t need to know who Slavoj Žižek is or that he’s called the Elvis of philosophy to do philosophy.

Anybody can do philosophy. Anybody should do philosophy.

You see, we can use philosophy to understand things.

 

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AT LEAST TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE HELL THIS IS ALL ABOUT

 

If a philosophy degree is an interesting path to poverty, I might as well have some fun with it.

…and do a little bit of mindless philosophy along the way.

 

My New Year’s Resolu – Oh, Nevermind.

It’s the end of the year.

2013 is over and done. Onward to 2014!

 

i can't believe it's been a year

 

The end of the year means taking the time to assess the important things: Life. Relationships. My credit rating. Blog views.

 

You know,  the important stuff.

 

Unfortunately, being the cynic that I am, thinking about life inevitably leads to thoughts like this:

 

ending one minute at a time

 

Thanks a lot, Chuck Palahniuk.

 

And of course as the end of one year approaches, we mark the occasion by making resolutions.

Or as I call them, my annual list of unreasonable goals and broken promises.

 

stop lying resolution

 

The funny thing about New Year’s resolutions is, even though I absolutely know that I’m never going to stick to my resolution, I can’t not make them. Not making a resolution leaves me feeling like I’ve gone somewhere and left something behind. Like driving to the beach only to realize that I’ve left my towel at home.

 

You can’t go from one year to the next without making a resolution. That just ain’t American.

 

New-year-resolution-2014

 

Ok. I know that 9 out of 10 resolutions anyone makes at any time of the year are made to be broken. And to reduce my chances of failure, I’m not going to vow to lose weight or to become a better person (whatever that is),  And as a philosopher, I know that consistently making and breaking promises to myself violates Kant’s Categorical Imperative. So, I figure, in order to actually achieve my goals and to maintain any kind of philosophical integrity,  that this and all my future New Year’s resolutions shall be more realistic  – that is, accomplishable.

 

 

MAKING NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS ALWAYS MAKES ME THINK OF SISYPHUS. HE DIDN'T ACCOMPLISH HIS RESOLUTION, EITHER.

MAKING NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS ALWAYS MAKES ME THINK OF SISYPHUS. HE DIDN’T ACCOMPLISH HIS RESOLUTION, EITHER.

 

 

I’m gonna limit my list to stuff I can actually do.

 

So , without further ado, I, The Mindless Philosopher, hereby resolve to:

 

  • Stop shooting smack (I thought I’d put one at the top of my list that don’t really do, so this one should be easy).
  • Get outside more (and by “outside” I don’t mean periodically poking my head out the front door to check if the mailman has dropped off the stuff I ordered from Amazon).
  • Pick a political philosophy and stick to it.
  • Write more on epistemology and metaphysics (writing on ethics is too easy).
  • Finish writing my second book.
  • Start writing my second book.
  • Stop calling myself a sapiosexual (no one knows what that is. and it sounds pretentious, anyway).

 

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I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THIS WORD MEANT UNTIL THIS YEAR, EITHER.

  • Read something other than true crime books.
  • And on that note, stop watching Mob Wives.
  • Get a Twitter account (No, wait, scratch that one. I’m not going to tweet anything).
  • Learn how to walk in heels.
  • Lighten up my attitude towards Aristotle (the homunculus is no reason to discredit a philosopher’s entire philosophy).
  • Get over my obsession with Morrissey.
  • Devote my Sundays to something other than watching The Walking Dead.
  • Contribute to the Pacifica Network (On second thought, I might actually break this one).
  • Stop wearing pajama pants in public.
  • Stop quoting Nietzsche out of context.
  • Actually read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
  • Admit that I don’t always have to be right.
keep calm i'm always right

WHO AM I KIDDING, I’M ALWAYS GOING TO BELIEVE I’M RIGHT

 

  • Acknowledge that Severus Snape is not a real person and that I cannot marry him.
DOES NOT HAVE A PROFILE ON MATCH.COM

DOES NOT HAVE A PROFILE ON MATCH.COM

 

And finally, stop being so cynical.

 

That last one might not happen this year. I am a philosopher, after all.

 

imnotcynicalLOGO

 

You know, I don’t know if I will break any (or all) of my resolutions by year’s end. If I’ve learned anything from David Hume, it’s that what happened yesterday can’t tell us what will happen tomorrow, next week, or even five minutes from now.  There are literally millions of reasons to break a New Year’s resolution.

No, really. If there are parallel universes the reasons are infinite.

I can imagine pajama pants sweeping the runways during New York Fashion Week. I could find a whole new reason to hate Aristotle.  Or VH-1 could give Big Ang another spin-off reality TV show…

 

Or I just might open my door one warm day in April to find Severus Snape delivering my Amazon order for  Farscape the complete series.

Ok. Probably none of that will happen.

 

But there is one resolution I know I will fulfill this year – and that’s to wish everyone a  Happy New Year.

Here’s to 2014 and a new year of happy thinking!

 

Philosophically yours,

TMP

Cumberbatch? How ’Bout CumberHOT

“Chuck Klosterman wrote that science fiction is philosophy for stupid people. He’s right. But in a room full of philosophy lightweights, the guy who watches Star Trek is a fucking philosophy genius.”  The Mindless Philosopher

I am a fan of science fiction.

If that’s an indication that I’m stupid, I’d be the last person to figure that out.

Like many sci-fi fans, I eagerly awaited the theatrical reboot of the Star Trek franchise. When it was announced that J.J. Abrams would be helming the reboot I nearly soiled my drawers in anticipation.

TMI?

After all, I thought. A Star Trek reboot directed by the guy who did Lost and staring the guy who played Sylar on Heroes could not go wrong.

Apparently my assumption was incorrect.

If you asked the die-hard Trekker crowd, plenty did believe that there was something terribly wrong with a J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek reboot.

Worse than a mining disaster on Praxis wrong.

The “wrong” was that for the first time in Star Trek history, a Star Trek movie based on the original characters created by Gene Roddenberry would not feature the original actors.

This was and is (still) very upsetting to some Star Trek fans.

I don’t see how they could have been angry. William Shatner may be a thoroughly entertaining actor, but there is no way Shatner could pull off playing a young, Starfleet Academy-aged James Kirk.

Not to mention DeForest Kelley and James Doohan are dead.

That alone would complicate getting them to play their original roles.

However, I, unlike many Star Trek purists, enjoyed the 2009 reboot. But then, I liked Star Trek: Nemesis. So there you go.

So when the Star Trek prequel/sequel came out, I bought a fresh pack of Tena and bought a ticket to see the movie.

Ok, I admit it. I’m an action fan. I was raised on Star Wars. There I said it. I said Star Wars.

Those movies had Jedi, and Wookies, and lightsabers, planet battles, the Force and stuff.

This is Han Solo. He is a Corellian badass. Where he goes, action follows.

han solo

This is Surak. He is a Vulcan philosopher. He convinced Vulcans to ditch their emotions.

Surak

Notice the difference between the two?

I do.

I expect a certain amount of excitement in films, especially in science fiction. And honestly, the past few Star Trek films hadn’t been delivering much on the action front. Captain James T. Kirk used to fight the Gorn. The Star Trek: The Next Generation films just had bunch of Captain Jean-Luc Picard talking… and talking… and talking.

Kirk fought enemies like this:

Gorn

Picard fought enemies like this:

malcolm mc dowell

That’s right. Captain Picard fought an old man.

awesome kirk

Of course, the purists hated all the action.

What the purists wanted from the Star Trek reboot was the one thing that set the original Star Trek apart from the standard 1960s science fiction of its day: Star Trek, unlike its predecessors (and most of its descendents), was chock-full of philosophy. Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was a thinking man’s science fiction.

I don’t recall thinking too much while watching the reboot.

That may be (in part) due to the fact that the 2009 Star Trek reboot is a pretty straight forward (actually kind of cliché) sci-fi fare about time travel: an unintentional time rift sends bad guy into past intent on destroying the future. It’s hardly an original plot.

It’s not even an original plot for a Star Trek film.

The last time a time traveling bad guy was in a Star Trek movie, the bad guy looked like this:

borg queen 2

Time travel movies usually don’t require the viewer to do much heavy mental lifting, other than the occasional bitch at the newly rearranged plot line not keeping with established canon.

I’m guessing this is what happened when most die-hard Trekkers watched the Abrams’ reboot.

If that’s what they felt while watching the reboot, they were really missing out.

What they failed to realize is, if you could get past the lens flare, they would have noticed a little bit of philosophy going on.

Listen: If those angry Trekkers hadn’t thrown off their Star Trek philosopher’s hats in angry protest, they would have noticed that any time you discuss time travel you automatically bring in the idea of possible worlds.

And any time you bring up possible worlds, you inevitably address philosophical ideas like free will and determinism.

AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS HEAVY DUTY PHILOSOPHY.

So let’s get down to the philosophy, shall we?

But first, some plot:

In the 2009 reboot, Ambassador Spock and the Romulan bad guy Nero are sucked through a wormhole after Spock attempts (and fails) to prevent the destruction of Romulus by a star gone supernova. When Nero arrives at the other end of the wormhole, he discovers he’s been transported 20-something years into the past. Nero (for reasons that are fairly mystifying and never adequately explained) immediately fires on the USS Kelvin, a Federation starship carrying the parents of the future Captain James T. Kirk.  During the attack, Kirk’s father, Commander George Kirk, is killed an event, as we are told later in the film, that did not happen in the original Star Trek timeline.

I mean, the timeline where Nero doesn’t go back in time through a wormhole created by Ambassador Spock in an attempt to thwart the destruction of Romulus and destroy the planet Vulcan by creating a black hole with red matter and whatever. You get the idea.

An elderly, from-the-future Ambassador Spock informs the young Kirk that in his timeline, Kirk’s father lived long enough to see his son graduate from Starfleet Academy.

Here are a few more things that didn’t happen in Ambassador Spock’s (original) timeline:

  • The planet Vulcan did not receive the Alderaan treatment (i.e. it wasn’t destroyed).
  • Lt. Uhura and Spock are not (and never were) romantically involved.
  • Spock’s mother was not killed during an attack on Vulcan.
  • Kirk did not serve on the USS Enterprise with Captain Christopher Pike.
  • Humans did not know what Romulans looked like until the TOS (the original series) episode “Balance of Terror”.

If we learn anything about the philosophy of time travel (yes, I nabbed that from Donnie Darko) from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, it is that events are not static. The past and future can be changed by a seemingly insignificant and/or random event as a Romulan war bird becoming unstuck in time.

That is to say, events, past and present, are not on an inevitably determined path; events can vary drastically from one timeline to the next. Events in one timeline do not necessarily happen in another timeline. Events are not determined. That explains why it would be totally useless for the Enterprise crew to speculate or base any predictions of events in their time line on information from Ambassador Spock’s timeline.

LUCKY FOR BIFF HE WASN’T IN A STAR TREK MOVIE

LUCKY FOR BIFF HE WASN’T IN A STAR TREK MOVIE

 


But, if determinism is defined as the theory that some or all events and human actions are ordained to happen; that every thing, event or action is the inevitable result of a prior chain of causes, the fact that Nero’s appearance has thrown events a wrench into the timeline suggests determinism is false.

That means all events in the universe are manifestations of free will.

So far, there’s no problem, right?

If you think that, you are as delusional as Chekov after a fall off the deck of the USS Enterprise.

You see, in Star Trek IV, Chekov and Uhura were on the U.S. Naval ship USS Enterprise to get oh, never mind.

Ok. A common complaint with Star Wars fans is about George Lucas’ apparent disregard for continuity. It’s quite a nuisance, but by no means is discontinuity just a Star Wars problem. Star Trek has its fair share of continuity “errors”.

Even philosophical continuity errors.

Remember what I just said about determinism?

That according to the philosophy of Star Trek time travel it’s false, right?

Well …..

In the 2012’s Star Trek Into Darkness (the sequel to the 2009 reboot), the crew of the Enterprise encounters new bad guy, the genetically-altered, super-human, Khan Noonien Singh, a character originally played by Ricardo Montalban in the TOS episode “Space Seed”.

This time, Khan (as he is called) is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.*

ONLY IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY CAN THE SAME CHARACTER GO FROM LOOKING LIKE RICARDO MONTALBAN TO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

ONLY IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY CAN THE SAME CHARACTER GO FROM LOOKING LIKE RICARDO MONTALBAN TO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

 

In the movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, reboot Spock asks Ambassador (original timeline) Spock if he had ever dealt with a man named Khan Noonien Singh.

Because Khan has become a bit of a problem. A homicidal kind of problem.

You can see the determinism problem coming, right?

Just so you know, this is what the German philosopher (and determinist), Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), had to say about determinism and what people do:

… he is connected to universal nature, and submitted to the necessary and immutable laws that she imposes on all beings she contains…Man’s life is a line that nature commands to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant.

Holbach also says:

In short, the actions of man are never free; they are a necessary consequence of his temperament, of the received ideas… by education and by daily experience… Man then, is not s free agent in any one instant of his life.

In the 2009 Star Trek reboot, reboot Spock declares Nero’s appearance in the reboot timeline so altered the course of history, that any event in the original timeline (Ambassador Spock’s timeline) is not applicable to the new timeline. Therefore, one cannot assume continuity between both timelines.

In case you missed it, the dialogue about Nero and predicting the future goes as follows:

Kirk:

You say he’s from the future, knows what’s gonna happen. Then the logical thing is to be unpredictable.

Spock:

You’re assuming Nero knows how events as predicted unfold. The contrary. Nero’s very presence has altered the flow of history beginning with the attack on the USS Kelvin, cumulating in the events of today, thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party.

Uhura:

An alternate reality.

Spock:

Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been if the continuum wasn’t disrupted, our destinies have changed.

Now, either Spock failed to watch the 2009 reboot, or even Spock does not believe that there is no continuity between both (or any possible) timelines.

Because he asks someone to make a prediction. Himself.

That’s right, in Star Trek Into Darkness, reboot Spock asks original timeline Spock for advice in dealing with Khan.

He asks the guy who said that we can’t use alternate timelines to predict events in other timelines.

WARNING: INCONSISTENCIES AHEAD

WARNING: INCONSISTENCIES AHEAD

 

Despite his prior statements, (reboot) Spock assumes that Ambassador Spock has knowledge of and/or knows how to deal with Khan.

Lucky for (reboot) Spock, Ambassador Spock’s advice works.

Of course, we the viewers, are left to assume one thing: whether Khan is played by Ricardo Montalban or Benedict Cumberbatch, Khan Noonien Singh, in any timeline, is the exact same guy.

At least psychologically so.

So psychological determinism is ok.

AT LEAST SPOCK DIDN’T TELL HIMSELF GETTING RID OF KHAN INVOLVED AN ENGINE ROOM, DILITHIUM CRYSTALS, LOTS OF RADIATION, AND THE WORD “REMEMBER”

AT LEAST SPOCK DIDN’T TELL HIMSELF GETTING RID OF KHAN INVOLVED AN ENGINE ROOM, DILITHIUM CRYSTALS, LOTS OF RADIATION, AND THE WORD “REMEMBER”

 


It’s not just Khan that is the same. There’s plenty of continuity between the two timelines.

Enough to tell yourself exactly what Khan will do.

We’re told that Nero’s appearance has thrown events into flux, however, given the predictability of Khan’s actions and psychology in both timelines, it seems that no matter what happens   whatever alternate course of action or possible outcome, some events necessarily happen in every timeline.


Here are a few examples:

  • Despite the fact that the death of Kirk’s father has turned him off from joining Starfleet, Kirk still joins Starfleet.
  • Kirk’s insatiable sexual appetite.
  • Kirk and Spock’s friendship (despite a very bumpy start).
  • Kirk Becomes captain of the Enterprise (assuming command from Captain Pike).
  • Captain Pike is injured and paralyzed.
  • Kirk cheats on the Kobayashi Maru test.
  • Kirk meets and begins a romantic relationship with Dr. Carol Marcus (we may be free to assume that Carol Marcus will eventually give birth to a son, David, who will, in turn, be murdered by Klingons).
  • Harry Mudd (and announcement about Mudd is made over the ship’s intercom in Star Trek Into Darkness)
  • Khan meeting Kirk and the Enterprise crew.
  • Khan’s crew and his willingness to kill to protect his crew.
  • Khan’s grudge against the Federation/Starfleet.
  • A “death” in the Enterprise engine room in an attempt to defeat Khan.
  • The “dead” person coming back to life.

In the Star Trek universe, Kirk must join Starfleet, Kirk must cheat on the Kobayashi Maru, Kirk must meet Spock and they must become friends, Kirk must  become captain of the Enterprise, Kirk must meet Carol Marcus, the Enterprise must encounter Khan, the Enterprise must have a problem with the fuel cells, and someone must “die“ realigning the dilithium crystals.

The similar dialogue between Kirk and Spock’s “death” scenes in the Enterprise engine room in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and in Star Trek Into Darkness not only suggests that some events are necessarily determined to happen in every timeline, but what characters say is determined as well.

 

Spock’s “death”, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

 

spock death the first time

 

Kirk’s “death”, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

kirk's death

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.

So… what are we to think about philosophy and the rebooting of Star Trek?

Well, for starters, the philosophical continuity sucks.

But more importantly, despite the high action, new actors, and lens flare (really, they need to cut that crap out), the new Star Trek fits in quite nicely with its so obvious you’d have to have the vision of a mole to miss it philosophical predecessors.

The philosophical lesson we learn from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, is that no matter what alternate reality they’re in, no matter what happens to Vulcan or what Khan looks like, the lives of the crew of the USS Enterprise are locked in an inexorable series of events.

No matter what they do, all roads will lead to the same point.

Star Trek is a determined universe.

It doesn’t matter how Kirk gets command of the Enterprise, he will always be captain of the Enterprise.

Kirk will always cheat on the Kobayashi Maru. Kirk and Spock will always be friends. Khan will always be defeated.

 

And Star Trek V: The Final Frontier will always suck.

 

 

 

*By the way, it is worth noting that neither Ricardo Montalban nor Benedict Cumberbatch is of Indian descent, as the name Khan Noonien Singh would indicate one’s likely national/ethnic origin to be. But hey, the French captain of the Enterprise-D, Jean-Luc Picard is played by English actor Patrick Stewart who does not speak with a French accent despite the fact that Picard was born and raised IN FRANCE.

 

 

Sources:

Baron d’Holbach. “Are We Cogs In the Universe?”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  p.681-2

Kant Totally Allows Shameless Plugs

Some time ago, I wrote a book.

No, I’m not kidding. I wrote a book. With pages…. and words.

I think it’s quite dandy.

Did I forget to mention that it’s called Mindless Philosopher: How Philosophy Taught Me Everything I Needed To Know About Popular Culture, and that it’s available on Amazon?

this is the cover of my book… just in case you feel like buying it.

Like I said, I think it’s pretty dandy.

I wrote my book with all the best intentions; namely, people would read it and become philosophically enlightened. So far, that hasn’t exactly happened.

BUT then again, Nietzsche wasn’t popular until after he was dead.

Of syphilis.

Anyway, in the spirit of shameless self promotion, I’ve decided to post the introduction of my book here.

Enjoy. It’s pretty dandy.

INTRODUCTION:

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.)

I know I shouldn’t say this, but I dislike Aristotle. Honest. I know that philosophers are supposed to get all hyped up and saucer-eyed over the ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates, Heraclitus, Thales, and whatnot, but given my druthers; I’d rather watch an all-day marathon of season two of RuPaul’s Drag Race or thumb through the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly or read the suitable-for-bathroom-reading of Deep Thoughts by Saturday Night Live resident sage, Jack Handey, or even re-read The Secret than to hear another lecture about Plato’s Beard.

I admit it. I am a philosopher.

I hate Aristotle.

Ok, maybe the word hate is a little extreme. When I was a kid, I was told never to use the word hate if I really didn’t mean it. I don’t actually hate Aristotle, as I have never met the guy, it’s just that whenever I’m reading philosophy, I’d rather be reading or looking at or doing something else.

No. It’s not even that I’d rather be reading, looking at, or doing something else. I like philosophy. I do. I’d truly like to believe that the practice of philosophy is the world’s second oldest profession (we know someone had to be around to conjure up some theory about the oldest profession). I’ve always liked philosophy, even before I’d ever heard of Aristotle or Socrates or Saul Kripke. Do you know those old TV shows where the host asks a bunch of little kids what they want to be when they grow up? Remember how some little kids know exactly what they want to do? When these kids grow up, they’ll tell you that they always knew that they’d grow up to be a doctor, a high school phys ed. coach, or an astronaut. Some people like priests and nuns even say that they were called to do the Lord’s work. Folks like that are lucky. When I think about my relationship with philosophy, if someone had asked me when I was eight years old what I wanted to be when I grew up (and I had an inkling of what philosophy is), I would have said that I wanted to spend my time thinking. I might have not have known the word “philosopher” when I was eight years old, but I certainly knew that I liked thinking about stuff. I guess I’m lucky that way.

Now, if I thought about how or why I found myself drawn to the systematic study of knowledge, morality, and existence, looking back, I suppose I’d have to say that it had something to do with jokes about Ludwig Wittgenstein and being a latchkey kid.

*     *     *     *

     I spent a lot of time alone when I was a kid, perhaps too much time alone. My mom worked evenings and my older siblings, who were much older than me, weren’t interested in hanging out with a kid still in elementary school, so instead of coming home to mom and a plate of warm peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, I came home to a cupboard full of Fruit Roll-Ups, an occasional squeeze pack of Capri Sun, and the comfort of a warm, glowing TV set. Now that we’ve grown older, many of my fellow latchkey kids have bemoaned their lonely childhood after school experiences, but from my own childhood experience, spending so much time alone after school meant that I had plenty of time to amuse myself with my own thoughts. In those hours spent alone staring at the television set, I discovered that I enjoyed thinking. I enjoyed thinking about anything and everything. My love of thinking was surpassed only by how much I enjoyed watching TV.

I’m not that old (I’m in my thirties. There. I said it), but I’m old enough to remember when MTV aired music videos 24-hours a day (I could lay down some anti-MTV rant about how the network formerly known as Music Television used to show actual music videos and now MTV is nothing but a reality TV show cesspool, but that rant has been overdone. Honestly, Bully Beatdown is more entertaining than any Adam Ant music video ever was or could ever hope to be), and I remember the big stink among music video fans when MTV added non-music video programming to its weekday line up. Those folks who complained about MTV’s non-music video programming way back when can claim they were soothsayers, and that their hubbub over non-music video TV shows on MTV fell on the same deaf ears like Cassandra warning the Trojans of their impending defeat at the hands of the Spartan army. They would be well within their rights to say so. But as every dark cloud has a silver lining, for me, the end of music television on music television shone one ray of sunshine: my philosophical awakening through watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Thank God for cable television.

There are many firsts, no matter how much time has passed, that we will always remember: first kiss, first love, first non-all ages concert, first DUI… the first times that shape our lives and who we are. Every Monty Python fan remembers exactly which movie or sketch, where they were, and what they were doing when they experienced their first encounter with Monty Python‘s Flying Circus. When I watched my first episode, I knew that I thought the show was funny, but it was funny in a way unlike any other television show I’d ever seen. Monty Python’s Flying Circus wasn’t just funny, like Full House and Family Matters were funny; it was smart. The show seemed almost tailor-made for people who spent a lot of time entertained by their own thoughts. The day after my first episode I asked my friends of they had seen the incredible television that I had witnessed the day before. None had. When I tried to tell them what I saw, they were disinterested in hearing about what I’d seen. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t excited by re-enactment of the “Cheese Shop” sketch (my Michael Palin impersonation was spot on). I absolutely could not believe that my friends were unaware of, and worse yet uninterested in Monty Python.

I had discovered this wonderful thing and none of my fellow latchkey kids gave a damn about it.

I knew that my friends, even if they emphatically told me that they “didn’t give a rat’s ass” about Monty Python’s Flying Circus,had to know that they were missing out on something pretty special. They had to have seen that I had experienced the miracle of Python and I needed to share it with others. I was determined that my friends experience Monty Python. I sang “The Lumberjack Song” while hanging out with my friends after school, recite lines from the “Dead Parrot” sketch in the middle of English class, or attempt to explain to my dumbfounded and irritated friends why “Fish Slapping Dance” is so funny during lunch period. I would randomly yell “albatross!” and “my brain hurts” in public places. Nobody understood me. Nobody wanted to understand me. I felt alone. I reluctantly realized that Monty Python was the least popular thing I’ve ever encountered. Sharing it with my friends was hopeless. They would never be converted. Eventually I gave up.

For some time I was convinced that there was something wrong with me. I was completely in love with a TV show that no one else I knew cared about or wanted to see. In their eyes, Monty Python was British humor. They said it wasn’t funny. They told me the only people who were nerdier than Monty Python fans was people who like to think and I was both. So I hid my love of all things Python, stopped thinking so much, and learned to enjoy Jean-Claude van Damme movies just like everyone else. On the outside I appeared to be a perfectly normal person. I even learned to appreciate the Jean-Claude van Damme classics Bloodsport, Hard Target,and of course, Universal Soldier. Here’s the thing: I realize the reason why I became a Monty Python fan all those years ago was because there was something more to the humor than sketches with John Cleese yelling at the top of his lungs and jokes about Spam and naughty bits. I realize that it was then, during those afternoons spent alone after school, munching on Teddy Grahams, sipping on a can of Pepsi Clear that I first heard of Georg Hegel, Karl Marx, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus didn’t just make me laugh, it made me think, and for the first time in my life I started to think about what I was thinking. I wanted to know more about the men whose names I heard as punch lines. I wanted to know more, period. The something more that I wanted to know was philosophy.

*     *     *     *

     I read somewhere that an anonymous sage said, “the only difference between graffiti and philosophy is the word ‘fuck’ ”. I’m not so sure if that’s true. I may be a little slow witted, but I really don’t see the connection between the “187” scrawled in large English Gothic letters on the wall of the liquor store down the street from my house and logical positivism. Everybody has an opinion about philosophy, I guess. Back when I was a very moody, impressionable teenager, the pre-grunge era alternative rock band Edie Brickell & New Bohemians song “What I Am” that suggested that philosophy can be found on a cereal box.

That might be true.

Although not everyone may consider themselves philosophers, everyone has a general attitude on life or a set of rules that we live by; what we might call our “philosophy”. Our individual philosophies not only encompass our values and beliefs about what’s important in our lives, but our philosophies also include questions about the meaning of life, reality, knowledge, and morality. It’s probably safe to assume that most of us haven’t spent hours gazing at our navels or sitting under a bodhi tree to attain enlightenment about life’s big questions, but I doubt there is one person who has never questioned why we are here, what is the meaning of life, or what it means to be moral. The problem with philosophy is when we talk about philosophy (personal or in general), we often mistakenly assume that everyone defines “philosophy” the same way. As any professional philosopher will tell you, a clear and precise definition of the word “philosophy” doesn’t just pop out at you waving its arms and screaming, “Here I am. This is the real me. This is what philosophy is!” If we asked a hundred people what philosophy is we might get a hundred different answers. We know that the general idea of philosophy has to do with asking questions and looking for answers; but still, philosophers can’t exactly define what philosophy is. I think it’s safe to say that a roomful of philosophers will agree that the primary objective of philosophy is the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, however, a consensus on one answer to one question (that question being “what is philosophy?”). Believe it or not, philosophers are people, too, and like most people, philosophers disagree about everything. Unfortunately for philosophers, who tend to prefer concise terminology, the definition of philosophy is ambiguous at best.

So then, what is philosophy?

Generally speaking, philosophy is divided among three main branches: epistemology, the theory of knowledge, metaphysics, or ontology, and ethics.  Within the three main branches of philosophy we find diverse areas of study such as: philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of education, philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, political philosophy, aesthetics, medical and business ethics, philosophy of race, feminist philosophy, and New Age philosophy. The point of philosophy isn’t merely ask questions (although that’s important), nor is philosophy merely descriptive. Philosophy tells us how to act. Philosophy teaches us to think clearly and critically, to think about what we are thinking. Philosophy means never stop looking, always seeking, always examine our lives. Philosophy provides us with the tools we use to answer life’s big questions.

Understanding what philosophy is, however, does not remove the reputation that philosophy has earned over the centuries — it’s too technical and abstract. It’s too academic. It’s a waste of time. The somewhat negative image of philosophy and of philosophers is often well deserved. Philosophy is often extremely technical, even for those who study philosophy. Let’s face it; philosophers are often guilty of missing the forest for the trees (any one who has attempted to engage a philosopher in the simple act of chit chat  may have discovered that philosophers are incapable of answering simple questions, especially if the answer is yes or no). But, as much as we’d like to leave the philosophers to associate amongst themselves in their hallowed halls of academia, their habit of using appallingly technical language and alienating nearly every other human being who engages them in conversation is no reason to throw out the philosopher with the bathwater. At least before we toss Aristotle out of the tub, we should have some idea of what a philosopher is.

*     *     *     *

    

I bet Jagger’s never read Swinburne

Have you ever seen the Rolling Stones movie Cocksucker Blues? No? Don’t worry, no one has. The story on the movie goes that the Rolling Stones wanted to make a movie about life on the road, so they hired up a film crew to document (ON FILM) what they saw. Apparently what was filmed was so heinously debaucherous that the Rolling Stones actually went to court to legally prohibit anyone from ever seeing the movie. In a world where many films are marketed as “the movie THEY don’t want you to see” (See: Faces of Death, The Wicker Man (1973), Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom), The Rolling Stones’ Cocksucker Blues is truly that movie.

* for more info on Cocksucker Blues see:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocksucker_Blues

You see, the reason why I bothered to bring up the Rolling Stones movie (don’t worry, I’m not going to repeat the title again) is because there are two kinds of unseen things in the world: the things people don’t want you to see, and the things that people (themselves) don’t see.

What am I getting at, right?

Hold on a minute, I’ll make a point soon enough.

I think that every young philosopher starts off with a mission. The mission is always this: I am going to make philosophy popular.

It’s a pretty noble goal, really. But it’s also a terribly lofty one.

I think we’d all agree (most of us, anyway)  that learning to think critically is important and that people should think about and question everything (I conclude this only because I hear at least once a day someone say that there are too many “stupid” people on the planet), but there’s one big problem with wanting to make philosophy popular and actually making philosophy popular. Namely, is anyone out there actually interested in philosophy — you know the kind with a capital P?

I’m not talking about that small “p” philosophy. You know, the stuff that Oprah talks about or some soul-rattling enlightenment you’d find thumbing through a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s The New Earth. I ain’t talking about that. I’m not talking about anything of the “philosophy” you’ll find in the religion/philosophy section at Walden Books (wait, is that even a chain of bookstores anymore?) or on the New York Times best seller list. I’m talking about Russellian definite descriptions, Hegelian alienation, Sartre’s existentialism, Nietzsche’s master and slave morality, Marx’s class struggle, and  Kierkegaard’s leap of faith. I’m talking about Derrida, Foucault, Kant, Hume, Bacon, Rawls, Plato, Descartes, Chomsky, Carnap, Heidegger, Lao-zi, Pascal, Nozick, Rousseau, Ryle, Turing, and Strawson.

THAT kind of philosophy.

And here’s where philosophy hits the brick wall. Here it goes:

Although philosophers won’t admit this, the reason why philosophy isn’t and ain’t gonna be as popular as Oprah or Snooki from Jersey Shore; the reason why you won’t hear a song about philosophy ever be as popular as that “Call Me, Maybe” song is this: philosophy is not entertaining.

Here’s a short quiz. Which would you rather watch? This:

or this:

I think I’m a fairly entertaining person (I better be or I’ve got serious trouble). I’ve been told by at least a few people who I know that I have a sense of humor. And being funny and entertaining,  I thought that my dynamic sense to entertain, coupled with my sense of well-timed snark could (perhaps) at last bring philosophy to the masses. I envisioned myself the Oprah Winfrey of the Bertrand Russell-reading set. I wanted to make philosophy popular — and I used to think that I could.  The thing I realize now is that there is no way on God’s green earth to make philosophy funny, snarky or entertaining (I would emphasize my point by throwing in an “at all” but that would be too definite).

Wait, before you argue my point, allow me to share a philosophy joke.

You might want to grab a bag… just in case.

Question: How many Kantians does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer: Two to change the phenomenal bulb; and one to explain that we might not have actually changed the bulb-an-sich at all.

Did you laugh at all at that? Or are you feeling right about now that you just wasted 48 seconds of your life that you know you’re never getting back? The thing is, philosophers find that joke funny. Now, I know you’re asking, how could someone who laughs at that joke possibly manage to make philosophy entertaining to anyone outside of a lecture hall?

By the way, if you did laugh at that joke, 1) God help you, and 2) you can find more knee-slappers just like that one at: http://consc.net/phil-humor.html.

I know that we really need to think critically, if not philosophically, at the world and our lives in (or is it on?) it. And I know that there is an audience of lovers of wisdom out there (Lord knows that there are countless numbers of Facebook pages dedicated to philosophy, including my own *shameless plug* the Mindless Philosopher), but is it possible to make that audience everybody? Is it possible to make philosophy — capital “P” philosophy — as popular as Oprah or reality shows on MTV?

If not, I’m gonna have to figure out a way to get Alvin Plantinga to snort coke off a groupie’s boobs.

Wait a minute, is there such a thing as a philosophy groupie?