The Structure of Internet Revolutions pt.1

(I’m currently reading Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) with the direct intention of making a comparison between his analysis of scientific revolutions and our present (revolutionary) information age. Such a comparison will not be able to do justice to Kuhn but I believe his methodology to be of value when trying to understand our current information age.)

The establishment of the internet as a social medium has created a paradigm for a new science.

The tools offered by Google, Facebook, Twitter and Web 2.0 have transformed the way humans interact in an unprecedented manner. But the outdated claim that our social lives have experienced a paradigm shift in the information age has not, in my opinion, been taken seriously enough by philosophers. Philosophy can offer an interesting approach to this new paradigm and help understand the importance of such a scientific revolution. Philosophy has more to offer than the mere regurgitation of the ethics of intellectual property a lá Locke, Hegel and the school of utilitarianism.

How can philosophy operate in this technical field? Scientific revolutions, paradigms of thought, the studying of differing ages and ideologies are the playgrounds for philosophers – so why should philosophy be dumbfounded when presented with claims of a new age of information and a revolution in the fundamental way in which humans interact socially? I apologize for the rhetorical questions, I really do.

The first task of philosophy would be to analyze this paradigm in the context of past scientific revolutions. As much as one age revels in the thought of being unique, especially clever and innovative, temperance shows this attitude to be quite the norm in developing periods. Luckily, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a book (and quite a good one at that) which means my only job is to make the pieces of this information revolution fit within the structure of past scientific revolutions. The point of doing so is not to fortify the claim that a “revolution” is a revolution by comparing apples to apples but to realize what it actually means to have an apple in the hand. Without trying to become biblical, I would have to say an apple in the hand is an occasion for a new normal science.

At the heart of innovation, invention and revolution is a paradigmatic shift and, as Thomas Kuhn once told me in his aforementioned book, a paradigm is a beginning and not an end – it is “a route to normal science“. This must not be something realized in retrospect, rather, it can be a tool used to help shape the emerging science; all one needs is a little historiography (this is my shout out to Karl Löwith – wink, wink).

(Part II coming soon).

politics and education

Before this week I had never purchased and read a book written by a politician. Without turning the front cover one can intuit that the politician, through this book, is trying to sell her/himself. I ignored this reasonable “intuition” and went ahead and started reading Barack Obama’s, The Audacity of Hope. Senator Obama is trying to sell himself with this book and trying to make the reader comfortable with his way of thinking about politics. Not that this is a bad thing but might as well call a duck a duck. Obama’s book is a duck… uuh, I mean – he wrote about himself so that you will like him and that is what politicians do. I would recommend this book to people who are interested in reading Senator Obama’s view of politics in the US but be prepared to not be shocked, offended or enlightened. That being said, I’m not writing a book review but am responding to his section on education in the chapter titled, “Opportunity.”

Senator Obama has a very sympathetic view towards education. He wants to lower tuition costs, to increase grants to students and research programs, and to increase teacher’s salaries (based on performance). I agree that these things should be done and that education should be more of a priority in our government’s spending. What struck me was why he thought spending should be increased and what he expected from this increase in spending. It boils down to a direct relationship between education and the economy. Increased government spending in learning is not so much an investment in the people as it is an investment in our economy. Nicely funded research programs stocked with well educated students will help keep the US competitive in the global economy. The more people we have entering engineering/physics/computer science programs the better chance innovative companies will be created – companies that will keep our economy afloat. Tax payers and politicians are meant to be soothed by the idea that money spent on education will have a high return.

Education = money. More education = more money. While reading this I was having flashbacks of reading Marx’s Communist Manifesto. I had a bearded man in the back of my head telling me that in a capitalistic society every institution finds its value in its monetary productiveness, that every relation is a monetary relation and that education is valuable if and only if it has a high return. Areas of study that don’t have a direct translation to the marketplace are devalued. Obama isn’t concerned if we stay competitive in literature, philosophy or the study of history (etc.) because these areas of study have no monetary worth. He even suggests that high school teachers of math and science should be paid more because what they teach has (yet again, monetary) worth.

Not that this is particularly anything new. Anyone studying in the Humanities at a University in the US knows the feeling of having to pay an ever increasing tuition, seeing their department experience cuts and walking past brand new buildings dedicated to the sciences. It is also happening in Germany.

ausverkauf.jpg

To give Senator Obama some slack I highly doubt that any of the other candidates view education as something that deserves government spending because it is in itself valuable. I voted for the guy in my state’s primary and, if given the chance, will vote for him again. I am just incredibly turned off by this view of education and despair the future of our humanities.

Mr. T and Nietzsche

mr_t.jpgWhat do Mr. T and Nietzsche have in common? Their view of pity. I was thinking about this the other night while trying to fall asleep – I don’t know why but I just kept seeing Mr. T yelling at people and pitying fools.

Mr. T uses pity to exert his power over the fool. That fool is so lowly that he deserves nothing less than the pity of a much more confident, strong and bejeweled Mr. T. Being on the receiving end of this pity is never a good thing – it is, oppositely, the cruelest form of degradation. “Pity” for Mr. T is just another shiny golden necklace, another pose where he’s flexing, another way for him to show people just how much better he is than they are. To be pitied by Mr. T is to know what it’s like being a nobody, to have a mass of greatness remind you of your insignificance. T is well aware of what he’s doing when he’s pitying someone, he knows that he’s degrading them, that he’s exerting his power – he must have read Nietzsche. Not that Nietzsche would have promoted Mr. T’s actions but that he exposed Christian pity as being a way to make people feel small.

nietzsche.jpgI think it is understandable that when T belts that he “pities the fool!” he isn’t trying to be nice. What happens when the church pities? I imagine their reasons being that they feel sorry for someone, that they want to spread love, to help. Nietzsche imagines their actual reasons being that they want to make small, to subordinate, to dominate, to exert their power, to take advantage. Does the same thing happen when Mr. T yells “I pity the fool!” as when the pope says “I pity you, my son”?. Does the tone of the voice actually change what “happens”? Nietzsche expects the counter-argument which states that it is the intention that counts – T wants to degrade, the pope wants to help. What does Nietzsche have to say? Don’t believe the church – their actions are no different from Mr. T’s (he didn’t actually say this), they want to exert their power by pitying, by making people feel small. The difference is that Mr. T is honest with himself when he pities (he knows he’s being cruel) and the church isn’t (they may or may not be aware of their “hidden” intentions). The only thing I mean by “hidden” is only that a lie replaces the truth if it is repeated often enough (we are just helping, helping, helping).

Just like pity is an extra gold necklace for the king of badass, pity is an extra golden ring on the hand of the pope – there to make you feel small, to make you remember who the one with power is.

Not that feeling sorry for someone automatically means you are exerting your power over them – that’s why we have concepts like “fellow-feeling”, empathy, compassion and other healthy alternatives that don’t take advantage of the second party (Nietzsche’s own “concept” is being “over-full”).

Entitled Opinions

The radio program Entitled Opinions, after a six month break, is back! I’ve made use of this Stanford funded program before on this blog – when Professor Robert Harrison interviewed the late Richard Rorty.

In recommending this program I will say that the quality of the show depends on the guest. Robert Harrison is an awesome host and has an awesomely expansive knowledge of all things literature/philosophy/general academia but he lets the guest take the floor. Sometimes this guest is a Professor who uses the time to repeat in a monotone voice a lecture she/he has given many times before. Other guests use the time to have an interesting dialogue with Dr. Harrison.

This week’s topic is Religion and Violence with historian Phillippe Buc.

(Ok, no more plugging this show on this blog… unless it inspires another post ;) ).

Heidelberg makes the news!

It isn’t often that an academic discovery is listed in my Google News Feed but I was pleased that the one I received today came from the University of Heidelberg. Our main library here made their own post on the subject and I just read the title and, for some reason, didn’t believe it. I figured they were hosting some Professor who made this discovery/was investigating the topic. I was wrong.

The director of our library has claimed to have conclusive evidence that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a portrait of (drum roll) Lisa Gheradini! Aren’t you happy you finally know? You finally know Mona Lisa’s real name… aren’t you relieved! Man that is a monkey off our backs. Imagine if she were alive today – people would constantly be asking her to do the smile.

Here is the article: Scholar Identifies Mona Lisa Model

Mona Lisa

Wolverine and Schopenhauer

When I was still in California a friend of mine mentioned that he thought that the Wolverine character played by Hugh Jackman looked a lot like the philosophy character played by Arthur Schopenhauer.

The similarities are uncanny:

wolverine

schopenhauer

 

Schopenhauer was known to be a sort of rough fellow that didn’t get along with his peers. He even had a rivalry with the leader of philosophy at the time, Cyclops… I mean HEGEL.

Spicy

I’ve decided that I would like to start learning about different spices – you know, the kind you put in food. Taste has been a sensation I have mostly neglected in my short life. The aesthetics of cooking has never appealed to me – I eat things because they make me stop being hungry. I eye people suspiciously who ask for salt and pepper at the dinner table and my salads lack dressing (or, for Europeans, olive oil and vinegar). I’m fine with my food being bland but only because I don’t know any better.

This attitude started changing last year when my half-Italian roommate almost broke down mouse as she saw me cooking noodles without adding salt to the boiling water. I defended myself by saying that I wouldn’t be able to taste the difference anyways – salt or no salt. She ran and grabbed the neighbors for back-up, each of them as equally shocked at my cave-man-esque cooking style. They made me read the package to them… the part where it says to add salt to boiling water (so cruel). I still protested at the futility of using their white diamonds. Four of them held me back while my roommate carefully rubbed salt between her fingers at into my pot of noodles. Collapsing in near tears I didn’t want anything to do with the seaweed in the pot – those kelp like noodles tumbling in a salty, boiling sea. My roommate then drained and placed the noodles on a plate. She handed me a noodle and said, “here, eat this and you will feel better” – that is when I saw the light. That week I went out and bought a box of salt. I’ve learned the art of throwing salt at noodles.

I was satisfied with my dominance over the salt + hot water formula – thus leaving thoughts of further improving my cooking outside of the thought recognizing machine. However, on Friday I watched the movie Ratatouille where there is a mouse, a mouse that has a nose for cooking good food. After having seen it I said the following to myself: “that mouse looked like it was having a pretty good time,” “maybe it is fun to experiment with different tastes” and lastly, “I wonder what happens when people have more than just salt in their cupboard.” I’m pretty lame aren’t I?

Anyways, I’m not sure how to start. I was thinking about just looking at recipes online and trying a couple of them. But do you learn how to experiment by yourself by following a strict recipe? Do I just need to do recipe after recipe until I get a feeling for what tastes good together? The other thing that draws me away from doing complicated recipes is that I cook for myself and the fact that I have a tight food budget.

When I moved to Germany people were impressed by how quickly I started cooking typical German food instead of typical American food. The secret to my success was, of course, not really caring what I ate. People ask me to prepare Californian dishes for them – I have no idea where to start. People are astonished at this – “you don’t know what people eat where you are from?” The next thing they say is, “must be McDonalds then”. I deny this fact and claim that people eat Mexican food where I’m from (followed by strange looks).

This interest in spicing things up (har har) has tumbled, trip, stumbled in an interest to learn how Californians cook and what specifically makes it Californian. You know, going back to my heritage – reaching deep into my native culture and coming back with a handful of something to throw at food.