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Posts tagged as “Philosophy”

People who can think

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I was going to start this article by tossing up a shout out to taidoblog, andy fossett's in-depth analysis of taido, but it then occurred to me that taidoblog is only the most recent of a whole category of blogs and articles that I've only recently started to notice, and even more recently started to truly admire: people who can actually think.

The object of inquiry of andy fossett's taidoblog is taido, his (and my) chosen martial art. This alone would capture my interest, but what's always struck me is not just andy's subject, but his method. He puts deep thought into his chosen interest: he maps out the landscape of practice, critically evaluates existing opinions, formulates radical new ideas, and puts them all to the test. He's not afraid to boldly throw out bad traditions OR to slavishly follow traditions that work, at least until he has learned all he can and/or developed something better.

Big Jimmy Style is the platform of Jim Davies, a similar investigator whose chosen interest is research and science. He and I don't see eye to eye in areas like healthy eating, environmentalism and voting, but I don't personally know anyone who puts deeper thought into artificial intelligence and cognitive science research - what it is, why it's important, how it should be done, and what it's goals are. Jim regularly holds my feet to the fire in our private correspondence, and in his blog he continues the tradition of calling bullshit when he sees it and constructing frameworks that help him tackle hard problems.

The strength of Gordon Shippey's Vast and Infinite comes from his clear personal philosophy, strong scientific training and strength of character. While at this instant his blog is suffering from Movable Type's "I'm busy this month" whitescreen, Vast and Infinite is the sounding board for G'hrdun's ongoing exploration of what works in the work place, a topic of deep personal interest that he explores from a clear objectivist ethical perspective informed by his psychological knowledge, scientific training and personal experience. If you watch long enough you'll also see scientific/libertarian analysis of modern political and scientific developments.

Scott Cole's The Visual Writer has always been overwhelming to me: there are more ideas bouncing around on his site than I've ever been able to mine. For a long time I read his articles on the theory of writing stories but his philosophical articles are just as interesting. While there are some areas he and I might disagree on particular points, on the majority of writing topics he's explored more issues that I was even aware existed.

And then of course, there's Richard Feynman's blog The Smartest Man In the World. Actually, it's not, and he disliked that title, but we can only wish Feynman hadn't died before blogs came to being. In lieu of that, I can recommend The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, which, despite some people's complaints that it rehashes his other books, does a good job of putting in one place Feynman's essential thoughts about the scientific method, the importance of integrity, the difficulty of not fooling yourself.

The point of me mentioning all these people is that they're good examples of people who are thinking. They aren't just interested in things; they're actually cataloguing what they see, organizing it, judging it, evaluating it; deciding what they want to do with it and formulating opinions on it. In andy's writings in particular he goes further: he's not willing to settle just for opinions, but must go test it out to find out whether he's are full of shit or not. And at the highest level, Feynman integrates challenging his own ideas and reporting the results of his challenges into the very core of the his being - because he who sees the deepest is the man who stops to clean his lens.

That's what I want to be when I grow up.

So go check 'em out.
Because everything is interesting if you dig deeply enough.
-the Centaur

Starving Art

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It amuses me that the last article on this site was on "Dedication"... posted immediately prior to a two-month hiatus in the production of this site. In that article I challenged David Mamet's view that only the starving can create art - that the comfortable have crutches to lean on which prevent them from taking the steps to excel. No, I argued, the key to creating art is dedication to the task - achieving a level of focus that enables one to put other tasks aside and complete what really matters. But it has become clear to me in the intervening months the wisdom in Mamet's words. I have seen all too many people fail at things they cherished because they were too comfortable. With a nourishing job at hand, I have seen myself and others drawn off by sparkling distractions, curling up with our comfortable movies and plays and dances and parties while the things that we can achieve - and tell each other and ourselves that we want to achieve we want to achieve - fritter away further and further into the distance. It is as true for professionals as it is for amateurs. Case in point: the world of comics. Three of my favorite comic books - Albedo AnthropomorphicsThe Authority and Planetarywere canceled, or hang on the edge of being canceled, because their creators could keep a schedule. Now, I know some of the reasons behind the delays; and sometimes they are good ones. But in the end, delay after delay in any enterprise leaves fans feeling lost, participants feeling betrayed, and ultimately all concerned must move on to new devices when their interest finally dies. So perhaps it is true that it is not necessary to be starving to produce great art. But if the author or artist is not so hungry for their art that they are willing to put it above all else, their art will starve, and we are all left poorer by it. - The Centaur

Dedication

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Can only the starving create art? To David Mamet, a truly accomplished actor must have nothing to fall back upon. In his book on acting True and False, Mamet argues that a career alternative or a convenient inheritance acts as an emotional crutch, without which an actor must stand to face the rigors of their art with the courage necessary to excel at it. This view is not new. Sun Tzu argued centuries earlier in the Art of War that a general should burn the bridges behind his army once they have crossed the river into enemy territory, for there is nothing they cannot accomplish when standing upon death ground. But is it truly necessary to cut off all your options to be a success? This “death ground” philosophy recognizes the power of commitment: great achievement is almost impossible without it.The philosophy breaks down when it argues that it is necessary to face death to achieve true commitment. Certainly it is not necessary for obsessive-compulsives, who throw themselves into absurd tasks in the face of their survival rather than in service of it. Archimedes, a man who claimed that, given a long enough lever and a place to stand, he could move the world, is perhaps more famous for running naked down the street after having discovered the principle of displaced volume, and was so obsessed with his work that he was ultimately run through by an invading soldier who became incensed when the scientist ignored him to work on a diagram. A gruesome end for a committed man, but perhaps these obsessive traits survive because in a more balanced degree they can motivate someone to great achievement. Science fiction writer Larry Niven had inherited money — and thus the luxury to expend ten years of his life perfecting his craft. For Niven, an inheritance was not a crutch but a lever, enabling him to ultimately producing Hugo-award winning stories. Niven is not alone in dedicating himself to his work to achieve greatness. The director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy quoted a local New Zealand saying that summed up his work ethic: “One job at a time, every job a success.” Victor Hugo had this attitude, sentencing himself to “terms” in his study … years of isolation that produced masterworks like Les Miserables. This kind of focus is not practical for everyone. Some have lives to fall back upon, and others have lives they cannot abandon. I do not think David Mamet would suggest that someone with an inheritance must give it up to become a great actor — and clearly Victor Hugo did not need to abandon his wife to become a great writer. However, commitment is not just necessary for artists trying to achieve masterworks or soldiers trying to vanquish their enemies; instead, it is necessary for everyone. For a time, the graduate student must put aside his social life— or fail to finish his thesis. For a time, the programmer must put in the extra hour to root out the last bug — or be drawn into a treadmill of endless maintenance. For a time, the part-time deejay must tune out the requests of his friends — or find that that the club goes dead because the right tracks are not cued to play. Everyone comes to a point in their lives when the goals that really matter become truly difficult, and where achieving these goals requires focus upon them to the exclusion of all other distractions and enjoyments which arise before them.  No matter how skilled or strong we are, each of us will face a stone too heavy to lift unless we put our other baggage down. This strength — not the strength to carry the stone, but to put other baggage aside — is dedication, and it is the key to achievement.  Dedication is not a mystic elixir, available only available to the impoverished or the imperiled. It is a fundamental attitude towards life, and it is available to everyone — great and small, rich and poor, facing death or living life.  Some accept this burden, and are rewarded with the things they most truly desire; others turn away, and leave the sour grapes to others. Not everyone can be a great writer, or a great actor, or even a great plumber — each person must find their own stone to lift . But it is possible for each and every person to face their personal challenge, to stand up to the breach with courage, and to step across the chasm to their own death ground — to that place to stand where they can, with the right lever, move the world. - The Centaur