Archive for February, 2001

February 28th, 2001

» Locke and Descartes: a dialogue

Wednesday morning came softly over time before time, and as Farmer Brown stepped out of his modest, white-washed farm house, he realized he had nothing to do that fine Wednesday. The fields were covered in snow, the machinery was all repaired, the house and barn were clean, the live-stock tended. As anyone who has seen a movie about working on a farm knows, there is never this sort of free time for a farmer. So Farmer Brown decided to take advantage of it. He decided to spend the day in contemplation of Life, the Universe, and Everything.


There was a road running alongside his house. To the left was town, and basically all other civilization that existed in that time before time. To the right… Well, Farmer Brown wasn’t sure, because he’d never been to the right. So today that’s where he went. Right. He didn’t know it, but he was actually going terribly, terribly wrong.

He strolled through the snow over hill and dale, valley and creek, until, five minutes later, he got bored of strolling, and stopped to sit on a convenient rocky outcropping across from a cave of sorts.

Suddenly, to his great surprise, a great uproar arose from the cave, and a wild-eyed man tumbled out, raving and gesticulating madly, his hair shocked in every direction, his beard knotted around his knees. He recognized the man right away, because back then everyone knew everyone else. It was a moment which would one day become legend, the core myth of countless civilizations. It would even one day become a made-for-tv movie.

Locke: “No innate ideas! Descartes bad! Ugh!”

Farmer Brown: (puzzled) “Pardon me?”

L: “Innate ideas bad. Universal principles — bah! We all born stupid. Some stupider.” (He jerks his thumb back toward the cave.)

FB: “You mean we’re not born with ideas already in our minds? You would think that at least the things which everyone knows would just exist there.”

L: “Ha! Hahaha!” (He pauses to wipe away a bit of foam at the corner of his mouth.) “Ask an idiot about your ‘innate ideas’!” (He jerks his thumb toward the cave again. FB wonders if it’s a nervous twitch.)

FB: “Well then how do we get our ideas, John-boy?”

L: “Ha! Experience! Senses!”

Descartes: (hobbling out of the cave) “Senses boo!”

L: “Who asked you, old fart?”

D: “You did, just a minute ago! ‘Ask an idi–’”

L: “Oh! Right.”

(They argue for a while; it deteriorates to fisticuffs, and FB gets up to leave.)

L & D: “Wait!”

L: “Mind/body dualism!”

D: “Yes!”

L: “I knew we could get along.”

(They embrace.)

D: “See, FB, we have an innate understanding of the mind and body. It’s all about divisibles and indivisibles. We don’t need the senses! All we need is the acid of doubt. Oh, oh! Wait a second, I’ll get some — I have a jar back in the cave…”

FB: (confused) “FB? Since when am I –”

L: “You’re on acid, old man! It’s the senses that prove we have a mind and body and that they’re separate!”

(D, having broken away and moved toward the cave, turns on L again. A fight ensues.)

FB: “Wait, wait, boys!”

(They stop and stare at FB.)

FB: “If the mind and body are separate, how are they related?”

D: “Dur… No, wait, I know this one!” (Long pause. Crickets chirp.) “Can you come back to me?”

L: (mysteriously) “Powers…”

FB: (backing away) “Uh, I see. Well, boys, it’s been real…”

(D and L glare at each other and, forgetting FB, fall to again, screaming and pulling each other’s hair. FB flees.)

February 26th, 2001

» predeterminism: just say no!

I have an 8-10 page paper due Wednesday on Locke. I haven’t even finished the reading. Whee! Normally I’d be freaking out right about now, or at least working on it, but a curious sort of apathy has taken hold of me. Only it’s not normal apathy. It’s (shudder) optimism. And it’s all my dad’s fault.

Seriously. He’s the infernal optimist in the family. Everyone knows I like to cultivate my aura of pessimism, yet I’m constantly tricked into trusting, into knowing things will go right when I can’t know that at all. He’s always saying the foreshadowing stuff you hear in movies. “Things will work out. You’ll see.” And then they do, which is the really annoying part. So now I’m faced with this paper and a certainty has taken hold of me with amazing vigor. I will sit down and write it, and it will be good. Things will fall together, and the paper will spin itself quite nicely. So why worry?

Why worry indeed. My entire attitude is atrocious. Ah well. It’s also had me smiling and well-rested all day. Maybe it’s a primitive defense mechanism.

Going on to something that’s not really related… We’ve moved from Berkeley to Leibniz in philosophy. He believes that God knows all possible worlds, and ours is the best one. That he’s gone through all these possibilities and picked this particular reality for the actual reality because it’s the best possible. I can’t decide if this would be comforting or disturbing. Because on one hand, should this be true, all of my suffering or yours or whoever’s must be a trade-off for someone else’s happiness, which is good. On the other hand, what the hell? This is the best possible world? Think Matthew Shepherd. Think bombed abortion clinics. Think Middle East. Think Hitler. And don’t you dare tell me this is part of “God’s master plan”.

I always hated the doctrine of predeterminism, even before I knew what it was. It was another one of the big big factors in my “fall from grace”, along with nylons. I’ll tell you about it sometime. I just unbent my knee. When God was creating the world did he decide that? “At 3:37:29 CST on February 26, 2001, Rachel’s going to unbend her knee.” I know that’s extreme, but that’s what predeterminism is. There Is No Free Will. And setting yourself up with wiggle room for little things is a giant cop-out. And now you have the problem of evil. Anyway, I used to wonder about predeterminism, and if it was really true. I would sit very still and think “I can get up now or keep sitting.” I would try to thwart all of my movements being predetermined, but of course there’s no way to know. I would hold out and hold out and then spring to my feet! But maybe that was predetermined. If only I’d been able to sit a bit longer! In the long run we can’t ever know, I guess. Maybe we are all just puppets. In that case it’s been predetermined that I choose to not believe this, or to ignore it, because there’s nothing I can do about it so it doesn’t matter. You may notice that predeterminism can breed a great deal of apathy. Yes, it can.

So, in short, predeterminism sucks. And it tortures children.

February 21st, 2001

» metaphysical hoo-haa & horrible, horrible pointy things

So we’re studying Berkeley in my PHRE 337 (History of Modern Philosophy) class, and we have the most wonderful teacher. (Incidentally, I’m also her student worker. She just recommended a book called Bailey’s Cafe to me Monday as I was repairing her little model of said cafe. It sounds interesting. If anyone’s read it, let me know what you think?) She starts talking about how Berkeley wants to get rid of “metaphysical hoo-haa”, which was damned amusing in itself. His philosophy is basically that there is no matter. Instead everything is just a collection of perceptions, sort of. Or that’s all we can know about it, anyway. Everything is just an idea we have, and it exists because we perceive it. “Esse est aut percipi aut percipere.” To be is either to be perceived or to perceive. (So not only will the tree not make a sound when it falls in the forest and there’s no one around, but the tree and the forest won’t exist. So the tree won’t fall. Well, that’s before God comes and perceives everything all at once so we don’t have things winking in and out of existence. “What’s the great big cop-out of the early modern era? ‘God did it!’”) Ahem. So there’s this part in his treatise where he’s talking about being clothed in ideas and eating ideas, and I just thought that was neat. The idea of eating ideas, that is. The pointy things came in later — someone asked about Sal Costa (who is my similarly wonderful psychology teacher) and how Berkeley would explain him, because when he goes to the dentist he doesn’t need novacaine. So Dr. Alexander drew this little picture on the board, and she said something about having a tooth and how the dentist uses his horrible, horrible pointy thing on it. This all does tie in with Berkeley’s philosophy, but I don’t feel like explaining it. The funny part was the horrible, horrible pointy thing. Trust me.

Have you ever noticed how much “mind and body” sounds like “my dead body”? Go ahead, try it out loud. For about a minute and a half during that philosophy lecture I was very, very confused about Spinoza and how my dead body could be one, deep down. One with what? And why is my body dead? Sorry — it was very funny at the time.

Ugh. I don’t feel well, and I have to leave for the German dinner in a few minutes. Bright side: Spring Break is in 9 days, and I’m a-goin’ home. And remember: Wenn Fliegen hinter Fliegen fliegen, fliegen Fliegen hinterher.

February 18th, 2001

» California & Craziness

It was my sister’s twenty-first birthday the day before yesterday, so a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my Mel-bean! Most recently, we’ve hatched a plan to possibly drive to California this summer. Yes, we are from Minnesota. Yes, this is an insane idea. That’s why it’s so appealing. “I’ve got the desert in my eyes and the western skies on my mind.” (God, I love Cowboy Mouth.) When else are we going to be able to pull crazy stuff like this? That’s what being young is all about. California sounds damned cool, too. Partially because it’s California, but mostly because Kim’s there and I claimed her for my valentine and we’d have a kick-ass time.

On a completely unrelated note: there was more craziness around Truman this evening. Stephie and Carrie and I got into Steph’s stage makeup. We decided to go scare Kyle (who’s making ice in the auditorium for the St. Petersburg ice ballet and who is going to eventually have a tribute/stalking page put up somewhere on this site in his honor). So we set out to make ourselves other-worldly. It worked, I’d venture to say. And from that, as so often happens with these sorts of things, a story was hatched.

We decided that our characters were from a futuristic Dystopian Earth. Everyone’s genetically altered, and in this society the clones created by Loxley Inc. are a dime a dozen and have no rights. So we’re clones — the scholarly one (Carrie), the warrior/bodyguard (me), and the futuristic whore (Steph). We’ve escaped, sort of, and live on our own in an abandoned (and heavily souped-up, thanks to Carrie) building. There are lots of other plot elements in there, of course, and we’re making a graphic novel — really an internet comic strip thingie — out of it. Or at least we’re planning to.

If all else falls through, at least Steph might invite me to her makeup class on the day they have to do inhuman so she can do it on me instead of herself. And if we do ever get the whole thing done out in images, I will certainly be putting a link up to it. As it is, I may even put some of the freakish pictures of us up sometime. Perhaps sometime when I’m not supposed to be in bed.

February 12th, 2001

» Bitch Fight Club

So we had Literary Society tonight. It’s a regular thing every other Monday evening, followed by Bitch Fight Club (also sometimes called Cat Fight Club, but I like Bitch better). It’s an interesting combination — we discuss literature (today it was “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber and “The Ring of Time” by E.B. White) and then we wrestle.

No, seriously. I’ve never wrestled before so they all laugh at me. They’re teaching me how, though, and the slapping I’m okay at. Plus it’s a great stress-reliever. Circling and slapping. I learned that you’re supposed to pin the other person’s shoulders, but first you have to get them down. Unless they’re already sitting, like Stephie was. Some of us still haven’t seen Fight Club (with Ed Norton and Brad Pitt…mmm…), but we’re mounting a poster campaign for Lit Society that goes something like this:

The first rule of Literary Society is you do not talk about Literary Society.
The second rule of Literary Society is you do not talk about Literary Society.

We’re also doing some other advertising, you know, for people who haven’t seen the movie. We cater to a wide audience. Or at least we try to.

Next month we’re reading some of Roald Hoffman’s poetry. He won a Nobel Prize in chemistry, but he also writes poetry and directs operas and plays and all sorts of cool stuff. He came to Truman to talk about his chemistry stuff as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar a few weeks ago, and he’s coming back in March. So we’re going to read his poetry and then have lunch or dinner with him. Ah, the sheer beauty of RCP backing. I’m excited. Though I think perhaps we shouldn’t mention Bitch Fight Club to him. Just a hunch.

On that note, I’m back to studying for my chemistry test tomorrow. Work work work, and me such a natural-born procrastinator.