LEGO and Philosophy

My new book chapter in LEGO and Philosophy is out! It’s the latest book in the Blackwell Philosophy and Popular Culture series.

This was a very fun one to work on. The LEGO and Philosophy book covers a number of thought-provoking topics — from LEGO and creativity, questions of gender and race in LEGO minifigures, Heidegger, metaphysics, and many others.

You can check out the book’s full table of contents on the Wiley website here.

In my chapter, “Building Blocks of Thought: LEGO and the Philosophy of Play” I discuss a number of ideas through LEGO, as well as some thoughts on LEGO itself.

LEGO, with its ethos of building and rebuilding, in many ways can be a helpful analogy for how philosophical thinking can lead us toward new connections between our thoughts and ideas. In that way, LEGO and philosophy invite us to question the nature of play — as well as what philosophy means to us in an everyday context. In the chapter I include a reminder that play and seriousness in philosophy needn’t be mutually exclusive. In fact, it can be more helpful to think of philosophy as “serious play.”

In other LEGO news, after a long search, the University of Cambridge has finally found its LEGO Professor! (via BBC: “Lego professor: Cambridge University hires ‘professor of play‘). You can even follow Professor Ramchandani on Twitter for his updates.

And here’s a good article in Philosophy Now, about the approach of using popular culture and philosophy: “Pop Culture ‘and Philosophy’ Books” by John Shelton Lawrence.

Authors@Google: Arrested Development and Philosophy

Kristopher Phillips and I will be at Google in Mountain View, CA to talk about Arrested Development and Philosophy. Here’s a preview of what Kris and I will be talking about today:

“Arrested Development, And Five Ways to (not) Live the Philosophical Life”.

1. Don’t be evil: ethics, capitalism, and the Bluths (“Yeah, like I’m going to take a whiz through this $5,000 suit! COME ON!“)

2. Know thyself: Tobias, Gob, and the importance of being Ann (Her?)

3. Say what you mean: the use and abuse of language in Arrested Development (“How much clearer can I say, there’s always MONEY IN THE BANANA STAND!”)

4. Learn from your (huge) mistakes: Gob and how we know what we know (“I heard the jury’s still out on science.”)

5. Tell good stories: Arrested Development and the examined life (“And that’s why you always leave a note.“)

And you can take a browse ofArrested Development and Philosophy, here on Google Books.


Authors@Google: Arrested Development and Philosophy

Kristopher Phillips and I will be visiting Google tomorrow to talk about Arrested Development and Philosophy — what could Arrested Development have to tell us about how (not) to live the philosophical life? What is it about the show’s characteristic humor that makes us love it so very much?

Brainpickings has a nice preview of our book: “Arrested Development & Philosophy: They’ve Made a Huge Mistake

And you can take a browse of Arrested Development and Philosophy, here on Google Books.

For diehard fans, be sure to check out one of my favorite Arrested Development websites: the o.p. (they do excellent work: it’s the best place to find quotes, and other various stuff you might have missed).

Arrested Development & Philosophy

Check out our newest addition to The Blackwell Philosophy and Popular Culture series: Arrested Development and Philosophy.

If you’re like me and something of a rumors junkie when it comes to Arrested Development: The Movie, you’ll also want to catch up on some pertinent bits from The New York Times and NPR, which you can visit here and here.

(And in case you missed it: The New Yorker’s “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About “Arrested Development”)

And here’s a nice review of Arrested Development and Philosophy, courtesy of And even better that it comes from one of my favorite Twitterers (@brainpicker)!


Inception: Was it all a dream?

Inception and Philosophy is now available!

And, check out Kyle Johnson’s article at Psychology Today: “Inception and Philosophy: It Was All Just a Dream.” What does it mean to think of the entire movie as a dream? Could Inception in fact be both a bad movie, but a really, really good dream? (Or vice versa?)

And whose dream was it? As Kyle points out, there are more than a handful of unaccounted for weird details within the movie (what’s with Cobb’s children at the end? what about the wedding ring?) The fun part about such wonderings, of course, is the kaleidoscopic nature of Inception itself: look at it one way, and see something; look at it another way, and see something else —

“In fact, Christopher Nolan seems to have left multiple clues that suggest Cobb is dreaming—dreaming the entire movie, even when he is supposed to be in the real world. The chase scene in Mombasa, for example, has many dream-like qualities. Not only do the overhead shots establish that Mombasa is a maze—just like one of Ariadne’s designed dreams—but agents (projections?) inexplicably pop up around every corner and the walls of buildings literally close in around Cobb—just like they do in a dream.”

No one clue is likely to ‘solve’ the movie for you, but that doesn’t mean we don’t all have our favorites —

“Still not convinced? (This one is my favorite.) The song the dreamers use to herald the end of a dream is Edith Piaf’s original recording of “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (No, I Regret Nothing.) When the song is done, the dream is over. That recording is 2 minutes and 28 seconds. Inception is, exactly, 2 hours and 28 minutes. (It’s timed down to the second; watch the count on your DVD player!) Could it be, just like with shared dreaming, when the movie is done, the dream is over?”

Which interpretation of Inception makes the most sense to you?


Also, check out this great chart of the different dream levels in Inception. Great for reducing viewer confusion.



Inception and Philosophy: What the Spinning Top Might (or Might Not) Mean

With this week’s release of the new Inception and Philosophy book, let’s take a look at some of those beguiling questions that make Inception worth watching over and over again.

Kyle Johnson has an excellent article for Psychology Today (“Inception and Philosophy: Did the Spinning Top Fall?“). It’s tempting to fixate on those closing seconds of the film — did Cobb’s top keep spinning, or didn’t it? — but perhaps that’s a bit of clever misdirection on director Christopher Nolan’s part to keep us guessing on one detail while ignoring some other clues. In fact, Kyle wants you to think about it this way: it doesn’t matter whether the top does fall or not.

There’s a great discussion in the PT article on the role of totems (“an elegant solution for keeping track of reality”  as Ariadne calls them) —

“As the film reveals, you are never supposed to let anyone else touch your totem. Why? Because they might figure out how it works—how it is weighted, or how it is supposed to behave in the real world. And if they do, the totem will not be able to tell you whether or not you are in their dream.” 

Yes, the totems serve as a way for the characters to keep track of what they think is reality within dreams– but how do they really know what they think they know?

What certainly makes Inception a fitting source of philosophical reflection is that there’s ample evidence to support multiple interpretations of the film —

“So, more than likely, the top did fall at the end of the film. Who would dream otherwise? But that tells us nothing about whether or not Cobb is dreaming. He could be in his, Ariadne’s, Mal’s…or anyone’s dream for that matter. Cobb’s totem is not reliable. And, truth be told, neither is Cobb.” 

And, check out a sneak preview of Inception and Philosophy on Google Books!

Coming Soon: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy is coming soon!

I found this to be perhaps my favorite chapter to have worked on thus far, since it was a nice opportunity to deal with two of my favorite topics — literature and philosophy — at the same time.

The mass popularity of Stieg Larsson’s crime/mystery novel series intrigues me. The novels make for fun reads to be sure. In particular, what had me thinking about Larsson’s Millennium trilogy were the conditions under which we think of a book as “popular fiction” as opposed to “literature.” We read fiction and we read literature, and perhaps we have to an extent internalized what those distinctions might mean. But it’s also extremely worthwhile to ask ourselves — why do we think of what we read the way we do?

Here’s a quick chapter sneak preview:

How do we go about deciding what the difference is between fiction and literature, if there even is one? And does it matter? Could it be that this distinction is made for us, well before we ever reach the pages of a book? We can use our experience of reading Larsson’s crime novels to consider our own definition of literature and how we come to think of literature. Larsson has provided clues for us to think about his novels as more than merely crime fiction, as Blomkvist says: “Because this isn’t some damned locked- room mystery novel.” But if we know what such a book isn’t, then what is it?

The questions of what literature is, and why we think of it as such, can lead to some rewarding discussion. I hope people will enjoy reading it — and the philosophical interludes that range from Nietzsche to Wittgenstein — and take the chapter as an opportunity to reflect on the act of reading itself.

And, of course, the brand new David Fincher-directed adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is set to debut in December 2011. Check out the cool movie trailer in the meantime:

There’s already been some intrigue revolving around the movie trailer, something of a bit of a game of musical chairs with Sony, as Wired reports (Wired: “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Trailer: This Time It’s Official“). That notwithstanding, the movie looks like it could be very good. I’m interested.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is set to hit bookstores, November 8, 2011.