What can we learn from LEGO?

What can we learn from LEGO? I got to be on the Part-Time Genius podcast with Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur, and we talked about LEGO, philosophy, and other things. They also quizzed me on unusual scholarships that don’t sound like a real thing, but sometimes are. It was fun!

For a little more about LEGO and Philosophy, check out my recent post on the book here.

Mangesh and Will are the creators of my all-time favorite trivia source, Mental Floss, and the Part-Time Genius podcast is their latest creation, comprising an eclectic mix of questions and zany topics. You can check out their podcast on Twitter and Facebook and iTunes.

You can listen to the podcast episode here!

Just for fun, here’s their Authors@Google talk on Mental Floss in Mountain View, California from back when we were all a little bit younger:

The Chicken, or the Egg? A Fun Science Video.

chicken or the egg? videoHere’s a fun way to pass 4 minutes, thanks to Brain Pickings for sharing the video: “The Science of Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg, Animated” —

“[P]hilosophers have pondered which came first, the chicken or the egg, as a causality dilemma exploring grander existential inquiries into the origin of life and the universe. But, it turns out, science has an answer that bypasses the metaphysical and dives right into the nitty-gritty of the tangible and concrete … like much of science — the solution may have more to do with semantics and nomenclature than with actual scientific evidence.”

AsapSCIENCE, the folks behind the video, do some excellent stuff. Definitely checking out their YouTube channel here.  (Click on the image below to find out if you’re a Team Chicken or Team Egg proponent).

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The Philosophy of Food

Have you heard about The Philosophy of Food project at the University of North Texas?

David Kaplan’s The Philosophy of Food covers a fascinating range of topics (including: Food metaphysics, Food epistemology, and Food ethics). The questions raised by food metaphysics (food as nature? food as culture? food as spirituality? as aesthetic object?) seems especially interesting to me.

The introduction to The Philosophy of Food certainly piqued my interest:

“Philosophers have a long but scattered history of analyzing food. Plato famously details an appropriate diet in Book II of the Republic. The Roman Stoics, Epicurus and Seneca, as well as Enlightenment philosophers such as Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, Marx, and Nietzsche, all discuss various aspects of food production and consumption. In the twentieth century, philosophers considered such issues as vegetarianism, agricultural ethics, food rights, biotechnology, and gustatory aesthetics. In the twenty-first century, philosophers continue to address these issues and new ones concerning the globalization of food, the role of technology, and the rights and responsibilities of consumers and producers. Typically, these philosophers call their work “food ethics” or “agricultural ethics.” But I think they sell themselves short. Philosophers do more than treat food as a branch of ethical theory. They also examine how it relates to the fundamental areas of philosophical inquiry: metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, political theory, and, of course, ethics. The phrase “philosophy of food” is more accurate. We might eventually come to think of the philosophy of food as a perfectly ordinary “philosophy of” if more philosophers address food issues and more colleges offer courses on the subject—or at least that is my hope.

But why is this subject – a footnote to Plato just like the rest of the philosophy – not yet fully entrenched as a standard philosophical subject?  Why do philosophers only occasionally address questions concerning food?” 

I was going to insert a comment somewhere about food for thought, but, sometimes those kinds of puns just aren’t worth it (and thanks to The Daily Beast for this very interesting find).

“What Nietzsche Did to America”

Here’s one of the better book reviews I’ve read in awhile.

From the Sunday Book Review, New York Times: “What Friedrich Nietzsche Did to America” —

And really, there’s no such thing as too much Nietzsche:

“With escalating intensity, he issued innovative works of philosophy that challenged every element of European civilization. He celebrated the artistic heroism of Beethoven and Goethe; denigrated the “slave morality” of Christianity, which transfigured weakness into virtue and vital strength into sin; and called on the strong in spirit to bring about a “transvaluation of all values.” The “higher man” — or as Nietzsche sometimes called him, the “overman” or “Übermensch” — did not succumb to envy or long for the afterlife; rather he willed that his life on earth repeat itself over and over exactly as it was. In later works, Nietzsche wrote with continued brilliance and growing megalomania of his disdain for the common “herd,” the dangers of nihilism and the possibility that the will to power is the “Ur-fact of all history.”

American Nietzsche by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen (University of Chicago Press) sounds like an excellent study to me. (interesting note: you can buy a 30-Day ebook license of American Nietzsche for $7.00): “Ratner-Rosenhagen concludes that Cavell, Bloom and the pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty constructed “an American Nietzsche” by drawing upon “philosophical interpretations which understood that in a world without foundations, our views of truth, language and the self are not mirrors of reality but useful fictions to explore new avenues of discovery, new sources of wonder.”

An intellectual history of Nietzsche in the United States covers a lot of ground, after all (the relationship between Nietzsche and Emerson is particularly interesting). I’ll resist quoting page-long passages here. But, here are a few of the good parts:

  • “From the start, Nietzsche’s American readers were bewitched and bedeviled … young Americans who felt estranged from their culture, and has continued to do so. But today’s inescapable and perplexing Nietzsche is not necessarily the same Nietzsche who inspired readers in the past”

  • “The German émigré and Princeton professor Walter Kaufmann almost single-handedly revived his standing with his many translations and forceful reminder that Nietzsche hated anti-Semites and German nationalists as well as woolly-headed romantics. Kaufmann’s Nietzsche was a late flower of the Enlightenment, a tough-minded rationalist with the courage to face the Darwinian revelation that there is no purpose to nature or to our existence. The true task of the overman was to overcome himself, not others, and to do so by sculpturing his impulses and thoughts and inheritances into a willed unity that could be called “style.”
  • “As Ratner-Rosenhagen shows, a later generation of American interpreters, influenced by Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, esteemed Nietzsche not as the guarantor of the individual but as its dismantler. “The ‘doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed,” Nietzsche wrote in “On the Genealogy of Morals,” and the implication was clear: If God was dead, so too were equally fictitious entities like the self. There was no objective truth, only the truth-effects engendered by the workings of power and the instabilities of language. Even as this poststructuralist Nietzsche occupied the university in the 1980s, it bred a counterreaction from conservative intellectuals.”


The New York Times | The Philosophical Novel

Great Article in The New York Times Book Review section last week. Can philosophy be literary? Can literature also be philosophical? Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Sartre would certainly be cases to argue in the affirmative. And there is lots of room for gray in between, as the opening Iris Murdoch example indicates. Both literature and philosophy “seek to ask big questions, to locate and describe deeper truths, to shape some kind of order from the muddle of the world” — but how would we go about defining the relationship between the two disciplines? Read more