Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Problem of the Soul

This is still another book I've owned for over a year but haven't read yet. I actually picked this up right after (or right before) I finished my philosophy not-a-thesis on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as the title suggests it would be relevant to the topic at hand. Needless to say, I never got around to reading it and so whatever helpful insights Flanagan may have had never made it into my paper.

I'd even read an essay of Flanagan's before, in a junior-year philosophy course, though I can't recall what he argued or even what he wrote about. I still have that textbook, so once I finish this I'll have to look him up for some comparing and contrasting.

Flanagan charts the course between the perennial philosophy's view of the self and the physicalist/naturalist view of the same. Eventually I assume he proposes a thesis about the self compatible with both views, or that at least represents a compromise between the two. Being only halfway through the book, however, it hasn't come up, so I can't quite judge him on it either way. He occasionally frames his views in the context of Zen Buddhism, which is interesting but hardly surprising. Whenever philosophical talk turns towards the soul or the self, it seems that Eastern mystic traditions come up a lot.

Despite Flanagan's academic credentials, The Problem of the Soul is very much a "pop philosophy" sort of read. I mean that in all the positive ways, and none of the negative. Flanagan communicates his ideas clearly enough, with a minimum of academic jargon (always explained if necessary) that any intelligent layperson should be able to reason with (or against) him. I applaud, especially, his criticisms of evolutionary psychology, though I think his criticisms of Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA are unwarranted.

It's not quite as light and breezy as A History of the Mind, but then it's also attempting a bit more. Nonetheless, the two read quite nicely alongside each other.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What I'm Reading: A History of the Mind

This book is another one I picked up ages ago but then never got around to reading until now. Like Vodka Neat, it's pleasantly surprising!

Mine doesn't have this attractive cover; it came from the local Goodwill in a Very 90s Edition. The dust jacket on mine (yes, it's a hardcover!) has long since vanished, but I can tell you right now it wasn't this nice understated one.

Many of the books I've bought at that Goodwill over the years seem to be of a rather unique genre: the "course textbook that no one will buy back from you" genre. However, this one is a nice departure from expectations in that it is obviously more of a "pop science"/"pop philosophy" read than something heavy and dull, printed on tissue-thin paper in a tiny font. I'm only about halfway through but I already know that I'll be keeping this one around for re-reads!

Humphrey's focus is less on proving some kind of thesis about the mind-brain divide, and more on trying to document how our brains and minds may have come to be. If there is any kind of thesis being presented, Humphrey seems to be advocating for a middle course between Cartesian dualism and pure physicalism, mostly by proposing the idea of the mind and brain as parallel processes. In particular, he focuses on the distinction of sensation (the base level data received via bodily sense organs) and perception (which seems to me to be more or less qualia: the higher level organization of, and reaction to, sensations). Humphrey argues that we can have both, and that usually the latter depends on the former, but that we can also have one without the other.

Sometimes he derails into what seem to be irrelevant asides (color, ESP), but he also engages with a long, on-going philosophical discussion about brains, minds, and selves: Dennett, Nagel, and Wittgenstein all keep his speculations pretty firmly grounded.

Definitely glad I finally got around to this one!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Music Monday: The Polyphonic Spree

NPR's "Tiny Desk Concert" series warms my heart. If January has already got you down, may I suggest some holiday music from The Polyphonic Spree to cheer you up?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

101 in 1001 Update


I found two more nice tops with surprising ease! (2 - 9)

In progress:

I started reading A History of the Mind, which counts both towards a book I've owned for over a year as well as a nonfiction book. (2 - 4) (9 - 2)

I also worked on my ENG CRW project some more. (5 - 10)


None this week!

22 / 101 completed!

3 / 101 failed!

The rest of the list is behind the jump.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Science Saturday: You Rock, Rock!

Scientists discover the world's oldest rock in Western Australia. And by studying it, they've come up with a radically new picture of Earth in her younger years: there may have been oceans on Earth's surface far earlier than previously thought. As Krulwich puts it:

It is now possible to imagine that life began on Earth almost as soon as the Earth began — that life (in the presence of water) is, if not inevitable, at least very insistent. Once you've got a planet with water — BINGO! 
If that's true, chances for life in the universe suddenly improve — dramatically.
Here on Earth, life could have formed, been blown away, then formed again — and one of those times, down at the bottom of some temporary ocean, sitting by a warm vent — it stayed. 
That's what this teeny chip of a rock is now allowing us to think: that life has such potency, such urgency, that as soon as life is possible — life happens! 
That's a mighty big story to find in a pebble.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Jungle

 One of the items on my 101 in 1001 list, as I've mentioned before, is to finish at least three books I've owned for over a year but haven't yet read. Another one is to read all of the books on the TIME Top 100 Novels list. Knocking out The Jungle would be a notch in both of those belts, so I picked it up a few weeks ago.

And I can't bring myself to finish it.

I had heard before I started that it was really depressing, but I didn't want to let that be something to keep me from a book. Granted, I don't like "downer" stories, but there are plenty of books I enjoy that have sad, or at least ambiguous, endings.

But The Jungle is beyond sad. It reminds me of a Korean TV drama: just packing on more bad news at every turn. After Chapter VII, I decided to cheat and peak at the plot summary on Wikipedia to see if I felt up to continuing, to see if there was any kind of redemption or hope to be had.

Which is too bad, because Upton Sinclair is a gifted writer. Even if the story is difficult to stomach, the writing is not. The first chapter, with Jurgis' and Ona's wedding, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the book in that it isn't entirely hopeless or soul-crushing.

I also admire what Sinclair wanted to accomplish, politically and socially, with The Jungle. It's heartbreaking that the public outcry seemed to be more over food quality and safety than over working conditions and the exploitation of the poor and immigrant class. Talk about missing the point:
"I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
I don't like to leave books unfinished. It makes me feel like a quitter. Especially in this case, where it's an argument for a cause I think is important. Yet I also realize that I have only so much time in the world to invest in books—shouldn't I spend it on books I enjoy? And if I quit, should I count it as "read"?

To my purposes, I'll count it as read. I made a good faith effort, but I don't have the emotional capacity to withstand the grief/tragedy porn that is The Jungle. However, I will keep an eye out for Sinclair's other novels, to see if they're any better.

An interesting contrast piece to The Jungle is the Dutch classic Max Havelaar, written by Eduard Douwes Dekker under the pseudonym of Multatuli, a Latin word that means, "I have endured much."

In a way, the books are bilingual twins. Both are works by would-be social reformers: what the meatpacking industry was to Sinclair, colonial treatment of the native Javanese by the Dutch was to Dekker. Both wrote novels based on direct, real-life experiences: Sinclair worked undercover in a meatpacking plant to gather material for The Jungle; the events described in Max Havelaar are what Dekker had experienced as Assistant Resident of Lebak. Both works were major successes in their native languages and are now considered classics. Both can rightly be considered tragedies, in a general sense if not the technical sense.

Why can I stomach one but not the other? I'm not entirely sure. It's been over three years since I read Max Havelaar, so all I can summon in this review is the feeling I can recall upon finishing the book (as opposed to the particular details). I guess the one good thing about attempting The Jungle is that it reminded me of Max Havelaar and how much I enjoyed it, and how it really warrants a re-read.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Giveaway Update

I've mailed some more books, but as I was pressed for time during the holidays it has been understandably busy. Apologies to anyone who hasn't received anything yet, I will try to mail these post (ha, ha, ha) haste! The ones struck have been claimed but I don't have an address for them. If you want them email me a shipping address and they can be yours!


Photoshop 7 For Dummies

Computer Science

C++ For the Absolute Beginner Taken!

Foreign Languages

Teach Yourself: Japanese Taken!


The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus. Sophocles.

Just For Fun

Country and Blues Harmonica For the Musically Hopeless. KLUTZ publishers.

Dr. Laura. (Note: a trashy, unauthorized exposé biography.)

Assorted "lateral thinking" puzzle collections, four in all. Example of such a puzzle: One day, a man and his son are out for a drive. They're in a terrible accident that kills the father instantly and sends the son to the hospital for emergency surgery. Upon arrival, the surgeon says, "I can't operate on this boy, he's my son." How is this possible?


Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Al Franken

Dilbert Gives You the Business. Scott Adams.

Bloom County: Loose Tails. Berke Breathed.

Monday, January 7, 2013

I Emailed Them About Editing Opportunities Ages Ago But They Never Got Back To Me

[Redacted] Launches It's Own Selling Venue For Creative Business Owners!
Sorry, redacted, but I'm not going to take your quasi-exploitative, "You can make loads of money off of your amateur trinkets! Seriously!" business seriously until you learn the difference between "it's" and "its."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

101 in 1001 Update

In progress:

I have gone and made some additions to the list (1 - 1) (1 -2), including:

  • Read one chapter of Doktor Glas in Swedish (1 - 6)
  • Acquire three new "nice" tops (2 - 9)
  • Give feedback to Kat (7 - 6)
  • 70,000 grains on FreeRice (12 - 7)
And I've updated (1 - 3) and commented elsewhere (7 - 4) regularly! Just not here. Hah.

I also started, but did not finish, The Jungle. Review forthcoming, but I am counting it as "read" for the purposes of this list. Thus, I "finished" another book off the TIME Top 100 Novels list. (3 - 3)


None. :(


I'm officially counting my Korean language goals as failed, as I had the unwritten goal of completing those before I left Korea. While I enjoy Korean and wish to continue studying it in the long term, in the short term I now have different priorities (like brushing up on my Swedish).

21 / 101 completed!

3 / 101 failed!

Everything else behind the jump.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Pinterest Post: Sadface Edition

Most of the time I love Pinterest. In fact, I love it so much (and, to be fair, have filtered my boards and the people I follow so well) that I actually have a really hard time finding stuff that makes me look like this:

But because that's exactly how I feel right now, having sent my boyfriend on a flight back to Stockholm, I am going to indulge.


To be fair, I also got the idea for this post from a sad-making pin, on a board which I then promptly unfollowed. That's why I can spend so much time on Pinterest with so little rage; I filter out any board the instant a terrible pin appears. Here it is:

This one chafes me on multiple levels. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before, but I hate weddings. The cultural mythos of "every little girl dreams about her wedding" never really applied to me, and now that I'm at an age where my peers are starting to tie the knot, my apathy has turned into some kind of allergy. It won't be long now until an ad for David's sends me into hives. It doesn't help that, because I've started taking feminism ~seriously~ and read stuff and pondered stuff, all I can see in wedding photos is a misogynist money-grubbing industry that serves to reinforce an outmoded patriarchal tradition, which in turn gets marketed to women as "the best day of your life," as a distraction from the fact they/we get the shit end of the stick in almost every other regard.

Yeah, I have a lot of feelings about weddings.

Then pair that with The Beauty Myth and our culture of thin-worshiping (because the implied sweating is happening because the owner of the tank, presumably, wants to lose weight) and it just makes me sad. I guess there's a cute-sy ha-ha funny idea in there, but I just don't see it. "Sweating" and "wedding" are (slant) rhymes? Ha-ha?

I don't think I'm going to be a bridesmaid again any time soon; at least the few people I can think of who would ask that of me have the good sense not to get me something like this as a gift. Though you can always get one for yourself, or as a passive-aggressive dig at the bride-to-be, if you want:

That said, RufflesWithLove has other stuff that I would wear if I ever worked out in a public place. It's private yoga, calisthenics, and DDR for me, thanks. I've tried gyms and I just can't feel comfortable.

Judging by the DIY stuff that shows up on Pinterest, everyone has approximately a thousand unused Mason jars cluttering up the place. And also glitter. I'm reminded of a TV show I've never seen, Portlandia. Just replace "bird" with "glitter."

Those mason jars just need a bird and they're all set. 

This next one is a representative of what seems to be the sum total of nearly every other woman's post on Pinterest. It is also the kind I hate the most.


And the last one is another representative pin. This is the only kind of pin I see regularly, as it isn't quite as rage-inducing (normally) as the above example so I can never bring myself to unfollow the boards they're pinned on.

The concept of "fake geek girls" deserves a post on its own, but this pin is another one that bugs me for multiple reasons:
  1. "I'm better than those 'some girls' because I idolize Doctor Who, not a prince."
  2. "OMG I'm such a geek because I love Doctor Who~!!"
  3. "I still want to be subservient and secondary to the male genius hero."

To which I say:
  1. Good job on being such a ~speshul snoflaek~.
  2. Wow, you're a geek because you're a fan of one of the most popular TV dramas of all time?
  3. Fuck running with the doctor, why not be the doctor?