Saturday, November 22, 2008

Are you dead or are you alive??

At this time of the year, walking across campus, one cannot fail to notice acorns all over the grounds.
Quite impressing this amount of acorns that an oak can produce...
Looking at those acorns, one might ask: Are you Dead or are you Alive?
(incidentally, in my younger years I was at a Busters concert ... lang ist's her... and that song was one of the "Earworms" back then)

Of course the question could be considered a category error: An acorn is not literally alive (nor really dead), but has the "potential of life". Well, well, greetings from Wittgenstein ("Die Philosophie ist ein Kampf gegen die Verhexung unseres Verstandes durch die Mittel unserer Sprache.")

But  seeds are not the only "undead" things -- some animals are really good at hitting the "pause button". Check out this fellow, the Tardigrad. If you can read German, the following is a more detailed description of this B√§rtierchen.

Meanwhile, what about the original question? It still keeps people busy, trying to define it...


From Desire to Scapegoats and Sacrifices

Just listened to the Philospher's Zone again, discussion some ideas by Rene Girard.
There is an interesting "pathway" that Girard notices:
  • Desire is "learned" from others by mimicking them -- Mimesis is the technical term.
  • Mimetic desire leads to conflict: from mimesis of appropriation to a mimesis of accusation
  • Expulsion of a group of victims (the scapegoats) can unite the community
  • This is the basis of (primitive) religion
See here for the podcast and transcript. Also of interest might be The Crowd is Untruth: a Comparison of Kierkegaard and Girard


Sunday, November 9, 2008

On Personal Identity

I just listened to

Christopher Shields on Personal Identity

Personal identity - the question of what, if anything, makes an individual the same person despite change over time - is an idea that has interested philosophers since antiquity. Christopher Shields discusses this topic in this Philosophy Bites interview.

Here is a fun little story that goes with it (part of the podcast):
A borrowed 5 drachma from B.

B says at some point: It's time to give me the 5 drachma!

A: What 5 drachma? Let me ask you a question: If we had a pile of 3 pebbles and took one away, would we have the same pile or a different pile?

B: A different pile

A: And if we added a pebble, would we have the same or a different pile?

B: Well, a different pile

A: Aha, you see, a human being is like a pile of pebbles: There's matter flowing in and out, and each time the quantity changes, we have a new and different person. Therefore it was not I who borrowed the money, but somebody else altogether. So you can't possibly ask me to pay the 5 drachma back!

At this point B smacks A in the face.

A: Why did you do that??

B: Who? Me?