Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Rest of the Annotated Flummeries

Philosophers spend their lives trying to develop a consistent view of the world. They fail. But anthropologists and cultural historians sometimes assume that primitive tribes somehow manage this feat.

From time to time, I get the idea of writing a general account of all the world’s great ideas as they are generally misunderstood. And then I remember that such an enterprise has been long in the works under the heading of intellectual history.

Realities are preferred because in the end they are cheaper than dreams and often require less talent to create.

The object of the game is not part of the rules since there's no penalty for ignoring it except losing, which is no real penalty if you aren’t trying to win.

Information sickness is like constipation since for the most part it only affects those who worry about suffering from it.

The self-sufficiency of the virtuous Stoic (or libertarian) is a consequence of a human world that makes meaningful individuality possible in the first place.

I don't believe in blaming the tyrants for tyranny—not because I want to let the tyrants off the hook, but because the usual demonization of the Stalins and Hitlers gives them too much credit as if a single person could create an entire world of malevolence by themselves.

Science advanced when discovery became the precondition for a new form of social climbing.

Where there really isn't anything very important to discover, the quest for truth tends to become a cleverness contest.

A dream in which I was involved in a debate as to whether Orthodox pigs are permitted to eat Jews.

The assumption is that the difficult philosophers are hiding a secret in their tortuous phrases. But I'm inclined to think the complexity of the surface is necessary precisely because the content is so simple.

We don't live under the gaze of an infinitely solicitous God, but we are embedded in a temporarily forgiving body.

Mystical philosophers have a problem analogous to avant-garde artists, but the content they have for sale— states of mind that are much the same everywhere and at all times— do not adequately differentiate their brand. Hence the need for another kind of transcendence, a rhetorical one pursued by the elaboration of paradoxes and hieroglyphics.

I could have been a successful married man in the old days when you weren't supposed to talk to your wife anyhow and marriage was just another kind of solitude.

Everything is here in this poem, having been left out on purpose.

When I found out that I had been cloned, I was beside myself.

The Encyclopedia turns up in nature even before man's arrival on the scene, for example in the sensory homunculus, which, after all, was a little possum or lizard before it was an inward man.

Intelligence is like a category five hurricane that can't keep its strength when it makes landfall over reality.

I’d rather believe I was a criminal than that my activities were the consequence of some brain dysfunction. Responsibility can also be a useful dodge, romancing the lesion instead of acknowledging it.

Like certain Romans who wanted to command armies so that they'd eventually be better historians.

Just as the planned death of certain cells is an integral part of the development of the adult animal, certain reasonable ideas have to die in order to yield a fully developed theory.

Just as it is very difficult to erase the hard disk without leaving a trace, cultural messages persist through history, though like old files, they often lose their names.

In every generation young intellectuals discover some often repeated idea in one of its recent appearances and proclaim it a great novelty. They are like someone who buys a new comb even though there are plenty of them under the sofa.

Preaching to the laity was a dubious innovation pioneered by urban heretics in the Middle Ages before it was taken up by their enemies. Just as the cops are our criminals, the preaching friars were the church’s heretics.

Reverting once again to weed
To put the chronic in fatigue

No sensible conservative encourages intense belief in anything since principles are most vulnerable when they are taken seriously.

The suspicion that being utterly clear about something might actually be clever, at least if you used the tactic sparingly and didn’t go overboard.

An apple strudel could, after all, be considered the kind of metamorphic rock that results from the application of heat at low pressure to sedimentary deposits of phyllo dough. Granted we don’t usually think of bakers as geological agents like erosion or volcanic eruptions, but the geology textbooks do consider bacteria and diatoms in this way and, under the hood, a macrobe isn’t much different than a microbe.

As was once said of a crucial moment in a badly played chess match, “I don’t see how either side can save the game.”

Mass movements sometimes take place and there have been tremendously influential individuals, but I tend to favor the theory that the activities of small groups explain most of what happens.