Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Taste of the blood upon his martyred lips, O pensioners, O demagogues & pay-men! This death was his belief though death is a stone. This man loved earth, not heaven, enough to die. The night wind blows upon the dreamer, bent Over words that are life's voluble utterance. — excerpt, "The Men That Are Falling" - Wallace Stevens
Happy Birthday Wallace, you salty old dog.
Wallace Stevens (October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955) was an American Modernist poet. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, educated at Harvard and then New York Law School, and he spent most of his life working as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems in 1955.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Friday, February 15, 2013
|International: Amazon to sell used e-books?|
Amazon has a patent to sell used e-books. When I first scanned the headline, I thought it must be some Onion-esque gag, and I'm sure I wasn't alone. Used e-books? As in, rumpled up, dog-eared pdfs? Faded black-and-white kindle cover art, Calibri notes typed in the margins that you can't erase?
Barely-amusing image aside, used e-books are for real. Or at least have a very real potential to become real. See, Amazon just cleared a patent for technology that would allow it to create an online marketplace for used e-books--essentially, if you own an e-book, you would theoretically be able to put it up for sale on a secondary market. Read more
USA: Longfellow Books, Maine
While many bookstores in the Northeast closed early and opened late after the Friday night blizzard and lost power for a time, sadly Longfellow Books, Portland, Maine, suffered disastrous water damage. But the community turned out to help recover the stock and restore the bookshop. Read more
USA: Amazon patents scheduled recurring deliveries
Chris Meadows writing in Teleread has highlighted not only the latest patent for reselling 'used' digital content but another one concerning recurring delivery of products'. It would appear that if someone buys a consumable product, Amazon will be able to send the purchaser another delivery without that repeat order being placed.
Obviously it is too soon to see the wording on the purchase screens, but if it is not made clear that, when the original order is placed it is (a) a one-off, or (b) a repeating order, the company will be inviting some strife. Read more
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Friday, November 30, 2012
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
In In Defense of the Accidental, the German Odo Marquard addresses the perennial question of human freedom. What is freedom? Is it possible? Doesn't causality or necessity, by God or nature, preclude human choice? Doesn't Fate determine us? Marquard says no:
What makes a human being free is not zero determination--the absence of all determinants--or the superior force of a single determinant, but a super-abundance of determinants...By codetermining man, each of them--so to speak--guarantees him latitude (distance) in relations to the others, and protects him from the sole determining clutches of a single power, in the face of which he would be powerless, on his own. The principle is: "[Divide and escape!]."
In the sense that there is not one fate for each of us, but rather many conflicting fates--many chains of causation, interacting with one another--human freedom exists in overdetermination.
American philosopher Daniel Dennett agrees, sort of, maybe. In Freedom Evolves, Dennett attempts to reconcile causal-determination (e.g. the laws of physics) with human agency. He does so partly by arguing that real-world causation is so complex that it might as well be indeterministic.*
*(This is a simplification of Dennett's argument, and in any event, he also claims that indeterminism doesn't help get you to freedom. The essence of his position rests on a categorical distinction between talking about stuff qua agents vs. talking about stuff qua stuff.)
Fate vs. freedom seems like an important subject. I don't mean capital-F Fate, with the three old crones on their spinning wheel of Destiny as in Greek fables, or the unidentified force for good which guides Scott Bacula through history on Quantum Leap, or the Force of Luke and Darth. I think we can meaningfully talk about "fate" without assuming authorial metaphysics. All I mean by "fate" is the vast set of events which lie outside my control, the fact that very nearly everything which happens in my life happens in spite me rather than because of me. (I.e. Marquard's titular "accidental.")
Like, what could be more relevant to my life than the question of whether my life could--or can--be different than how it is now? Where things get tricky on this question is when you think about how the very answer I give to this question--"I am free," "I am fated"--affects the answer. Because it does: fate-believing people act fatalistic, and freedom-believing people behave freeishly. As Henry Ford said, "Whether you believe you can do something or you believe you can't, you're probably right." The self-referential nature of this pickle is kind of like the weird, logical slipperiness of the paradox "This statement is false."
Per psychologist Julian Rotter ("row-ter"), this is pretty much what happens with most people: "People with an internal locus of control believe that life outcomes are largely under personal control and depend on their own behavior. In contrast, people with an external locus of control believe that their fate has less to do with their own efforts than with the influence of external factors." This is part of a principle known as "reciprocal determinism," according to which a person, their behavior, and their environment all interfere with one another, like bumper cars running into each other. Like Marquard's overdetermination, reciprocal determinism creates indeterminacy through conflicting determinisms. Whether or not indeterminacy is helpful to those who hanker for human freedom is a separate question, but it's certainly comforting to think about.
My own suggestion on all of this is that we don't know whether we're free--not necessarily because freedom is inherently unknowable or anything, but just because we don't really seem to be clear about what "freedom" means per se, outside of specific contexts like prison. But what seems most useful, if maybe not true, is the advice of an old teacher: "Fate governs, but broadly." Maybe like the false choice between nature vs. nurture as the determinant of who a person is, the choice between free will and fate is an illusion: fate sets the rules and limits, and human freedom navigates within them.