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THE PONDER TEAM Well hello there, and welcome to the very first issue of Ponder Magazine! We write for you – hobby philosophers who just cannot restrain from discussing Rawls with your date (even though he’s clearly a Locke person). We’ve made philosophy more of a pop, mushy mess, something that respects the past while spicing it up with current questions. And cussing. Lots of cussing. Enjoy this first issue and ponder safely! ­— Editor in chief, Sara Petersson

ANTON LARSSON \ dumpsterdiver and


SARA PETERSSON \ moustache groupie and


DANIEL SÖDERBERG \ devil worship and



fa lk@ p on d e r .com \ u ru k- h a i a n d


JOHAN LINDQVIST joh a n @ p on d e r .com \ b i k e r - l i k e r a n d


SIXTEN BONDESON \ amish liasion and

C H I E F CO PY E D I T O R Printing: Norrkopings printers  Publisher: Virgin Media  Accountable: Sara Petersson, 070-123 45 67  Repro: John Locke, 073-891 01 70 Advertising: Kantye West, 076-530 60 34  Address: K.Fiddy Tway 52, Norrköping

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@Kantye_West: Now i ain’t sayin’ she’s a transcendental idealist thinker. but she ain’t messin’ with no empirical realism. @Fred_Nietzsche: I had a girlfriend, but then I was dietzsched. @KimKierkegaardashian: My soul is a hollowness & everything around me is as empty as eternity. Where do I look for fashion inspiration or fun trends? @Fred_Nietzsche: Nietzsche can’t do, but he can teatzsche. @voltaire_official: Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Are you having a beer?”. Descartes replies, “I think not”, then ceases to exist. @Fred_Nietzsche: RIP God.

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8 questions

Genís Carreras

Spanish graphic designer Genís, based in London, produced the acclaimed “Philographics” series. 5. What do you see as the purpose of your job as a designer? I like to think I’m on this to make things simpler and more accessible to everyone, while making something beautiful. I’d like my work to be seen as something meaningful, able to communicate without words. 6. How has your philosophical view altered by living in a different culture and operating in another language? I’ve been living abroad for the last 3 years now, and it has been the best

time of my life so far. I discovered that the best things happen outside your comfort zone, so I try to stay away of it as much as I can. It also added perspective to my life and made me review a lot of things I took for granted. 7. What constitutes individual freedom for you? To be brave enough to go and to do whatever your will dictates without feeling attached to places, to work, to people. To be with people you like, where you want to be and doing what you really feel like doing. 1. What prompted you to do the Philographics series? I’ve been interested in philosophy since I was a teenager and I wanted to mix this with my other passion, graphic design. 2.In what ways do design and philosophy intersect? I don’t think they do! Graphic design is practical, accessible and visual and philosophy is usually seen as theoretical, complex and heavy… In my project I try to get the best from both worlds, making philosophy more visual and graphic design more meaningful.

8. Who is your favourite philosopher and how has he/she shaped your thinking? Heraclitus, one of the first ancient Greek philosophers. In one of his aphorisms he says that we can’t step twice in the same river, because the flow of water is not the same, but also because we are not the same person. Everything is in constant change and we should embrace change instead of denying it. I try to keep this in mind when people have to say goodbye or when my favourite things get broken or lost.

3. Stephen Hawking recently proclaimed that philosophy was dead – what do you think? I agree that science is now giving us most of the answers about the universe, but I think there’s still room for philosophers and artists to explore other kinds of questions: Why are we here? What’s the purpose of all this? 4. Why is philosophy important? Some people may say ‘to find the answers’ but in my experience, the more philosophy books I read, the more questions I get. I think it’s important to find a reason to do what you do. To have some perspective about ourselves and our lives and to try to be a better person. I think philosophy can help us with this.

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You wanna learn how to yolo like a philosopher? Good, cuz we all fetched you some stories about really weird thinkers who didn’t give a fuck about what common folks thought. Feel free to copycat!


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2000 1500 500

A.J. AYER 1910-1989

0 -500

HYP ATIA -415 C.A. 35 0

How to make a douche fall out of love with you: the beautiful hypatia had loads of admirers. But one day, she came across a particularily annoying one who just couldn’t stop wooing her even though she had dissed him. To make him go away (can’t do any great philosophing with a ruttish youngster hanging around) she simply showed him her used menstrual pads and said: “You love this, O youth, and there is nothing beautiful about it.” The guy gagged in shock and left. Success!

How to defend a babe in distress with class:

positive logician a.j hung around with the coolest crowd and was therefore at a party held by fashion designer Fernando Sanchez in 1987. While there, he saw legendary boxer Mike Tyson force himself onto super model Naomi Campbell. Most men would have doubted before going into a fight with Tyson - Ayer did not. When a furious Tyson said: ““Do you know who the fuck I am? I’m the heavyweight champion of the world”, Ayer replied “And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men”. Boom. While Ayer and Tyson argued, Campbell managed to sneak away. Go Ayer!


A L FRED TA RSK I 1901-1983 How to enjoy sex, drugs and philosophy:

DI OGENES 4 12-323 B .C.E

alfred tarski was one of the world’s most prominent logicians and expected ever yone to treat him like fucking royalty. In the Feferman’s biography of Tarski, it is written that he never hesitated or shifted from side to side to weave his way around people when walking through a crowd. Chest out, with quick little steps, he walked straight through the middle, expecting the waters to part. And even though Tarski wasn’t really the handsome type, he was a ladies’ man (without being a misogynist - wow!) who seduced numerous women. Then add to the mix that he was also a frequent user of drugs, especially speed (which he took on a daily basis), and fueled his lectures with stimulants.

How to be a true bad bastard: cynic diogenes wasn’t really a people person. Except living on the street like a dog, he frequently acted really fucking outrageous. Among other things, he urinated on some people who insulted him, defecated in the theatre, masturbated in public, and pointed at people with his middle finger. He also liked to rebel. Upon asked not to spit inside a magnif icent house he was visiting, he promptly spat the man asking him straight in the face. All in all, Diogenes was a mean bastard.

How to be completely fucking fearless: say anything about G.E.M. Anscombe but the lady had sass. She was a real trendsetter (well, she would have been had she lived fifty years later, anyway) who wore a monocle, smoked cigars and pipes, used foul language and went by the nickname “The Dragon Lady”. As if this wasn’t enough, Anscombe had the ability to change muggers’ minds. Once, threatened by a mugger in Chicago, she told him that that was no way to treat a visitor. It ended with the two of them walking as friends and he scolded her for being in such a bad neighborhood. Also, she always wore pants. Once in a restaurant, she was told they didn’t serve ladies in pants. She then, to much shock, simply took them off. Damn, this lady was fearless.

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The path laid out for Australian-born Tim Cope was to go to university, get a job, a career, a house and a mortgage; he took the first step by getting into law. But sitting in a law library on his first day at university “felt like death,” says Cope. “And when I went to my first lecture, my heart sank.”


he lecturer, high on the podium, announced: “Congratulations for choosing law. The foundations of law mark the beginning of civilisation.” Months later, Cope was standing alone on the Eurasian steppe, a 10,000 km belt of grasslands stretching from Mongolia to Hungary with the sun coppering his face. An image of nomads galloping over the horizon

from what felt like nowhere haunted and inspired him. “I never imagined that people still lived like that in our world,” he says. As he looked out across the steppe as the last shadows ran across the land, Cope felt that the future was totally open, a “scary, but really good feeling.” Was this what Kierkegaard was referring to when he wrote about the “dizziness of freedom”, the anxiety or despair we suffer

when we have absolute freedom to choose how we live our lives? For Cope, nomadic life offered a glimpse into the nature of people before so-called civil society. Are people naturally savage, brutish and self-serving? Do we need a government or central authority to make us behave? Eurasian nomads live outside the boundaries of civil society, obeying no law except the

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laws of nature. Nomads move three to four times a year in search of pasture to feed their animals, herds of camels, horses, sheep and yaks, moving at their own pace, sometimes using old Soviet-era trucks to carry their scant belongings. Private property does not exist. There are no fences, roads or super-highways. Children don’t go to school, wear uniforms or learn national anthems. In Leviathan, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes warned that without civilisation to place restrictions on man’s self-interest, man would resort to a “warre of every man against every man.” People would live in a state of “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” He called this condition the “state of nature” and in this state every person will do whatever necessary to preserve his or her own life. To avoid this state of nature, argues Hobbes, people must accede to a social contract – beneath a sovereign authority – ceding some rights for the sake of protection. With his three horses, Cope left the old

(...) Tim Cope Is a 34 year old from Gippsland, Victoria (Australia), who is pursuing a life of adventure, writing, and film. Tim has spent the best part of a decade travelling Russia, Mongolia, and Central Asia by bicycle, row boat, skis, horse, camel and many other means. Most of all Tim enjoys coming to know people in their home environments by traveling in traditional and local ways.

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Mongolian capital of Karakorum, headed for Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and eventually onto the Danube River in Hungary. But five days into the journey, he woke at 2am to the sound of galloping hooves fading into the inky sky. He rushed barefoot into the darkness to learn that his horses had been stolen. The cold harsh wind of the steppe – its gaping emptiness – offered no protection. The following day at dawn, Cope retraced his steps. On the horizon, he spotted a herd of horses moving swiftly, a single horseman in charge. On approach, Cope recognised his two horses among the pack. “These two horses came to me this morning,” the horseman said grinning. “You must have tied them badly.” The horseman returned the horses without compensation, but insisted that Cope understand an important unwritten rule of the steppe. “A man on the steppe with no friends is as narrow as a finger,” the horseman said. “A man with friends is as wide as the steppe.” Before setting up camp in the open overnight, approach the nearest yurt, even if it’s on the distant horizon,

the horseman stressed. A nearby family will offer protection, hospitality and help. For the following three years, over 90 nomadic families gave food, shelter and companionship to Cope, saving him from the extremes of the climate – taking him in from the icy storms that rolled unpredictably across the steppe. They offered him kumis and freshly boiled mutton, reshod his horses and entertained him with the dombra, a two-stringed Kazakh instrument. Hobbes’s selfish and savage “natural man” he did not find, not until much later. Long days in the saddle offered many moments of contemplation. Cope reflected on how little he thought about time, how slowly his needs moved to predominantly concerning himself with the needs of his horses. “I started to look differently at the world. Where is the good grass? Where is the good shelter? What does the horse need?” He also thought about his parents and how they were feeling with him so far away. French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau takes a radically different view on human

nature to Hobbes. He says man is born free, innocent, happy and fundamentally good. “Natural man,” says Rousseau, is endowed with attributes of compassion and empathy. The selfish, savage and competitive nature described by Hobbes is, for Rousseau, a depiction of not “natural man” but of “civilised man”. Rousseau claims that society corrupts, separating humankind from nature. “Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains,” he wrote in his most influential work, The Social Contract. When Cope f irst cast his eyes on nomads galloping over the horizon, people living in Hobbes’s hypothetical “state of nature”, he says it was like a “childhood dream of freedom… it was like a fairy tale.” A far cry from growing up in country Gippsland, where a thousand fences obscured his path to the hills. For Rousseau, once land is enclosed for an individual’s purpose, a system of laws is needed to protect the land from others. These laws, said Rousseau, are unjust and selfish, rules that are inflicted on the poor by the rich. As the natural state moves to a civilised state, Rousseau sees human virtue turning to vice, and innocence and freedom to injustice and slavery. In nomadic society, in contrast, everything is communal, the earth just one circular tent. At night, nomads climbed unannounced into Cope’s tent for a chat, a cigarette and some fermented milk or yoghurt. Nomads take in strangers without asking questions, housing and feeding them for days, simply because that’s what’s done. And after three days, the tradition says that you can ask the stranger what his business is and where he is going. “Nomads are not poor,” stresses Cope. “If they need food they can slaughter some animals. If they need money, they can sell some animals and get some cash.” But once man is separated from his envi-

“Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains.” ronment and animals, Rousseau points out that our innate virtue turns to vice, and the nasty, brutish side of human nature takes reign. Our happiness turns to misery. Cope’s dog, Tigon, was stolen in a gold mining village, and for seven days Cope desperately searched the streets fearing the worst. Miners were rumoured to steal dogs to eat and Cope’s dealings with them did little to dispel this notion. Cut off from agriculture, miners fight each other to survive; without animals and land, the men live off low wages and contraband dealings – taking gold illegally and selling it on the black market. “It was shocking to go from this romantic way of life where people were gentle, tolerant and generous to a society where it was just survival,” notes Cope. “In the mining towns there was no generosity of spirit and the walls were up; there was a lot more greed and people were stepping on each other. I saw the less delightful side of human nature.” After finding his dog unscathed, Cope set sail with his horses on a ferry across the 3km Kerch Straight, and arrived in the Ukraine, journeying across the Crimean steppe, battling thick forest and cavernous gullies. One night he was invited to put his horses in a barn, but his horses were petrified, and repeatedly tried to barge through the door. The farmer said to Cope: “Your poor horses; it has been so

long since they were in the stables that they’ve forgotten what it is like.” Cope replied: “The problem is that they’ve never been in stables.” Looking back, Cope muses: “It just shows how conditioned people become in Europe and the West. People believe that horses are born in stables, when in actual fact, putting a horse in a stable, giving it shelter and warmth from the cold and the rain and giving it hay – while people believe this is treating the animal well – for the natural horse there couldn’t be anything worse. “The horse needs freedom; it needs to roam; it needs to graze; it eats 24 hours of the day; it is a herd animal; it hates being separated; it needs freedom; it is innately nomadic and it evolved that way. To them the stable is absolute misery. “And if you think about that in human terms, of a human locked up in four walls in an apartment in the city. That is a prison as well.” On a Sunday morning, a week after arriving back in Australia, a loud banging erupted from Cope’s front door. It was a neighbour from down the road. Cope’s dog, Tigon, had set foot on his property and the neighbour, red in the face with fury, was threatening to call the police. He was back in civilisation once more.

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I´M NIETZSCHE, BIETZSCHE! “I call Christianity the one great curse, th e o n e e n o rm o us a n d i n n e rm ost p e r ve rsion , the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are too venomous, too underhand, too underground and too petty ­— I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.”

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riedrich nietzsche born in Röcken, nea r Leipzig, the son of K a rl L u d w i g Nie t z s c h e , a L ut h e r a n pastor and Franziska Nietzsche, a devout hausfrau. His father died – mad – in 1849. Franziska lost her youngest son in 1850 a nd moved her fa mi ly to Naumberg, where Nietzsche spent the rest of his childhood with his mother, sister, father’s mother, and two aunts. He was a german philosopher and critic of culture, who inf luenced a number of the major writers and philosophers of the 20th centur y Germany and France. Nietzsche’s most popular book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885), went ignored at the time of its appearance. Full of provocative ideas, Nietzsche was a master of aphoristic form and use of contradictions. Before and after the rise

and fall of the Nazis, he was widely misrepresented as an anti-Semite and a woman hater, and many philosophers found it diff icult to take his writings seriously. Nietzsche often contradicted himself.

Nietzsche began to write of his intellectual maturation from an early age. During his high school and college years, he penned nine autobiographical sketches. After years of self-scrutiny Nietzsche refused to take communion, to the shock of his mother. “My dear old Friz is a noble person, despite our differences of opinion,” she wrote to her brother. “He truly interprets life or, more accurately, time and appre­c iates only the lofty and good and despises everything crude.” Rejecting his father’s faith, Nietzsche became a lifelong rebel against Christianit y. “In truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross”, he wrote in Der Anti­ christ (1888). Nietzsche was brought up by pious female relatives. He studied classical philo­logy at the universities of Bonn (186465) and Leipzig (1864-68), and became at the age of 25 a professor at the University of Basel, Switzer­l and. Among his acquaintances was Jakob Burckhardt, the writer of The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860). During the Franco­-Prussian was he served briefly as a

"When thou goest to woman, take thy whip."

“All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and ye want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the beast than surpass man? What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughingstock, a thing of shame. Ye have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is still worm. Once were ye apes, and even yet man is more of an ape than any of the apes.” — In thus spoke Zarathustra

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medical orderly with the Prussian army. Nietzsche’s military career was short: he contracted dysentery and diphtheria. In 1872 Nietzsche published his first book, Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (The Birth of Tragedy). He diagnosed in it human beings as subject to unconscious, involuntary, overwhelmingly self-destructive Dionysian instincts. According to Nietzsche, against this tendency the Greeks erected the sober, rational, and active Apollonian principle. Nietzsche considered reality as an endless Becoming (Werden). Apollinian power is associated with the creation of illusion – the plastic arts deny the actuality of becoming with the illusion of timeless beauty. Dionysian frenzy threatens to destroy all forms and codes. Only the Apollinian power of the Greeks was able to control the Dionysian flood. But all illusions are temporary, and in his “experimentalist phase” (18781882) Nietzsche saw that the loss of Apollinian spell will make the return to Dionysian actuality even more painful. But it must be noted, that the Dionysus whom Nietzsche celebrated in his later writings, was the synthesis of the two forces and represented passion controlled. In the earlier work he favored perhaps more Apollo. His thesis, however, was, that it took both to make possible the birth of tragedy. Later in life Nietzsche addressed Cosima Wagner as “Princess Ariadne” in his letters to her, and declared that the author of them is the god Dionysus. At Basel Nietzsche had become a close friend of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), and the second part of The Birth of Tragedy deals with Wagner’s music. Nietzsche called the composer “Old Minotaur.” In History of Western Philosophy Bertrand Russell remarked: “Nietzsche’s superman is very like Siegfried, except that he knows Greek.” By the end of the decade, Nietzsche became interested in the French enlightenment, which ended

in 1878 his friendship with Wagner. The composer despised the French and searched acceptance in Germany. Also Nietzsche did not accept the rising Wagnerian cult at Bayreuth, especially with its anti-Semitism. The religiosity of Parsifal was too much for him.. “What did I never forgive Wagner?... that he became reichdeutsch,” Nietzsche wrote disillusioned. Nietzsche gave up Prussian citizenship in 1869 and remained stateless for the rest of his life. In 1879 Nietzsche resigned his professorship – or was forced to give up his chair – due to his headaches and poor health. He wandered about Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, living in boardinghouses, and producing most of his famous books. Nietzsche respected that sincere and “genuine Christianity” which he considered “possible in all ages” – but Wagner’s Parsifal with its sickly Christianity clearly did not seem to him belonging in that category. In Bayreuth Nietzsche had became increasingly aware of the impossibility of serving both Wagner and his own call. Lou Andreas-Salomé (1861-1937), the talented and spirited daughter of a Russian army officer, became Nietzsche’s most painful love. “... I lust after this kind of soul”, Nietzsche wrote to her companion Paul Rée; actually he needed a young person around him who is intelligent and educated enough to serve as his assistant. “From which stars did we fall to meet each other here?” were Nietzche’s first words when he saw her at Saint Peter’s Basilica. In Ecce Homo Nietzsche praised her poem, ‘Hymnus an das Leben’ (1882, Hymn to Life), which he set to music. “Whoever can find any meaning at all in the last words of this poem will guess why I preferred and admired it: they attain greatness. Pain is not considered an objection to life: ‘If you have no more happiness to give me, well then! you still have suffering ...’ Perhaps my music, too, attains greatness at this

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point.” Possibly Nietzsche proposed marriage to her, although according to some sources he never did so. However, Nietzsche told Andreas-­S alomé that Zarathustra had been conceived as an artistic substitute for the son he would never have. In Lucerne Andreas-Salomé, Nietzsche and Rée had a photograph taken of themselves, Lou kneeling in a small cart and holding a whip over the two manteam, who are pulling the cart. Rejected by Andreas-Salomé, Nietzsche

w ithd rew into the ex istence of a tou r ist-­ scholar. He spent summers in Switzerland and winters in Italy, and published his major works in a period of ten years. Also Sprach Z a r at hu s t r a ( T hu s S p ok e Z a r at hu s t r a) appeared first in three parts in 1883-1884 and was formally published in 1892. Among his other works were Jenseits von Gut und Böse (1886), Zur Genealogie der Moral (1887), Götzen-Dämmerung (1889), and Ecce Homo (pub. in 1908, written in 1888). Thus Spoke

Zarathustra centered around the notions of the will to power, radical nihilism, and the eternal recurrence. Pain, suffering, and contradictions are no longer seen as objections to existence but as an expression of its actual tensions. In a note entitled ‘Anti-Dar win’ Nietzsche stated that “man as a species is not progressing.” He substituted the ordinary conception of progress for a doctrine of eternal recurrence, and stressed the positive power of heroic suffering.

(...) Nietzsche hugged a horse and collapsed. Although many of his ideas aren’t well known, the Nietzsche’s name is definitely recognizable. Many know he was a philosopher of sorts, but not many know the details of his life. On January 3, 1889, Nietzsche left the place he was staying and saw a horse being whipped by a cabman. He reportedly ran to protect the horse, threw his arms around its neck, and began to cry. He then collapsed in the street. Believe it or not, his life went downhill from there.

“My first dose of Nietzsche shocked me profoundly. In black and white he had had the audacity to affirm: ‘God is dead!’ What? I had just learned that God did not exist, and now someone was informing me that he had died.” ­— Salvador Dali in Diary of a Genius


n Januar y 1889 Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown in Turin, Italy. He was found in a street, weeping and embracing a horse. Nietz sche lived f irst in an asylum and then in his family’s care. His insanity was probably due to an early syphilitic infection. During his disease Nietzsche was almost invariably gentle and pleasant, and in lucid hours he engaged in conversation. Nietzsche spent his last decade in mental darkness and died in Weimar on August 25, 1900. After his death, his sister Elisabeth secured the rights to his literary remains and edited them for publication – sometimes in arbitrary and distorted form. Elisabeth had married in 1885 Bernhard Förster, a prominent leader of the German anti-­S emitic movement which Nietzsche loathed. “For my personal taste such an agitator is something impossible for closer acquaintance,” he wrote in a letter to his mother. In 1880s Elisabeth founded with Förster a German colony in Parag uay, which was meant for the “A r yans only.” Förster killed himself 1889 when his hand was caught in the till. How much Nietzsche’s illness – dementia paralytica or syphilis – affected his thinking and writing is open to speculations. During the second period of brain syphilis the patient often acts manic-depressively and has megalomaniac visions. During his manic period in the 1880s Nietzsche produced Thus Spoke Zarathustra,

The Gay Science, and Beyond Good and Evil. Nietzsche believed that all life evidences a will to power. Hopes for a higher state of being after death are explained as compensations for failures in this life. The famous view about the “death of God” resulted from his observations of the movement from traditional beliefs to a trust of science and commerce. Nietzsche dissected Christianity and Socialism as faiths of the “little men,” where excuses for weakness paraded as moral principles. John Stuart Mill’s liberal democratic humanism was for him a target for scorn and he called Mill “that blockhead.” His announcement of the death of God in The Gay Science can be interpreted religiously or atheistically: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him... What was holiest and most powerful of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?...” According to Nietzsche, the other world is an illusion, and instead of worshipping gods man should concentrate on his own elevation, which Nietzsche symbolizes in the Ü bermench. The contrast of “good and evil” as opposed to that of “good and bad” Nietzsche associated with slave morality. He argued that no single morality can be appropriate to all men. The meaning of history was the appearance, at rare moments, of the exceptional individual. And by creating the figure of Zarathustra he presented the teacher of the coming superman.

F i rst Nietz sc he’s work s bega n to ga in signi­f icant public notice by Danish critic and scholar Georg Brandes, who lectured on Nietzsche at the University of Copenhagen in 1888. The philosophers thoughts inf luenced among others Thomas Mann, Herman Hesse, André Malraux, André Gide, Albert Camus, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan George, Sigmund Freud, and Jean Paul Sartre. Bergson, like Nietzsche, developed his own philosophy of the creative will. Although the Nazis used some of the philosopher’s ideas, Nietzsche was deeply opposed to the collective tendencies that labelled National Socialism. Moreover, the Nazis were not good readers in general – they burned books. Nietzsche rejected biological racism and German nationalism, writing “ever y great crime against culture for the last four hundred years lies on their conscience.” Radical rightists, on the other hand, welcomed Nietzsche’s view of “Herrenmensch,” a new type of man who with his robber instincts was able to manipulate the masses and who was a law unto himself. Adolf Hitler kept a bust of him and in 1943 gave his works to Mussolini, who did not read them. W hen Elisabeth Nietzsche died in 1935, Hitler participated in the funeral ceremony. The Nazis built three years later a monument for Nietzsche.

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I grew up believing that taste is just a matter of personal preference, and no one’s preferences are any better than anyone else’s. There is no such thing as good taste. Like a lot of things I grew up believing, this turns out to be false, and I’m going to try to explain why. By: Paul Graham


ne problem with saying there’s no such thing as good taste is that it also means there’s no such thing as good art. If there were good art, then people who liked it would have better taste than people who didn’t. So if you discard taste, you also have to discard the idea of art being good, and artists being good at making it. It was pu l l ing on t hat t h read t hat un­ ravelled my childhood faith in relativism. When you’re trying to make things, taste becomes a practical matter. You have to decide what to do next. Would it make the painting better if I changed that part? If there’s no such thing as better, it doesn’t matter what you do. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you paint at all. You could just go out and buy a ready-made blank canvas. If there’s no such thing as good, that would be just as great an achievement as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Less labo­ rious, certainly, but if you can achieve the same level of performance with less effort, surely that’s more impressive, not less. Yet that doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

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Faces engage I think the key to this puzzle is to remember that art has an audience. Art has a purpose, which is to interest its audience. Good art (like good anything) is art that achieves its purpose particularly well. The meaning of “interest” can vary. Some works of art are meant to shock, and others to please; some are meant to jump out at you, and others to sit quietly in the background. But all art has to work on an audience, and—here’s the critical point—members of the audience share things in common. For example, nearly all humans find human faces engaging. It seems to be wired into us. Babies can recognize faces practically from birth. In fact, faces seem to have co-evolved w ith our interest in them; the face is the body’s billboard. So all other things being equal, a painting with faces in it will interest people more than one without. One reason it’s easy to believe that taste is merely personal preference is that, if it isn’t, how do you pick out the people with better taste? There are billions of people, each with

their own opinion; on what grounds can you prefer one to another? But if audiences have a lot in common, you’re not in a position of having to choose one out of a random set of individual biases, because the set isn’t random. All humans find faces engaging — practically by definition: face recognition is in our DNA. And so having a notion of good art, in the sense of art that does its job well, doesn’t require you to pick out a few individuals and label their opinions as correct. No matter who you pick, they’ll find faces engaging. Of course, space aliens probably wouldn’t find human faces engaging. But there might be other things they shared in common with us. The most likely source of examples is math. I expect space aliens would agree with us most of the time about which of two proofs was better. Erdos thought so. He called a maximally elegant proof one out of God’s book, and presumably God’s book is universal. Once you start talking about audiences, you don’t have to argue simply that there are or aren’t standards of taste. Instead tastes are a series of concentric rings, like ripples in a pond. There are some things that will appeal to you and your friends, others that will appeal to most people your age, others that will appeal to most humans, and perhaps others that would appeal to most sentient beings (whatever that means). The picture is slightly more complicated than that, because in the middle of the pond there are overlapping sets of ripples. For example, there might be things that appealed particularly to men, or to people from a certain culture. If good art is art that interests its audience, then when you talk about art being good, you also have to say for what audience. So is it meaningless to talk about art simply being good or bad? No, because one audience is the set of all possible humans. I think that’s the audience people are implicitly talking about when they say a work of art is good: they mean it would engage any human. And that is a meaningful test, because although, like any everyday concept, “human” is fuzzy around the edges, there are a lot of things practically all humans have in common. In addition to our interest in faces, there’s something special about primary colors for nearly all of us, because it’s an artifact of the

way our eyes work. Most humans will also find images of 3D objects engaging, because that also seems to be built into our visual perception. And beneath that there’s edge-finding, which makes images with definite shapes more engaging than mere blur. Humans have a lot more in common than this, of course. My goal is not to compile a complete list, just to show that there’s some solid ground here. People’s preferences aren’t random. So an artist working on a painting and trying to decide whether to change some part of it doesn’t have to think “Why bother? I might as well flip a coin.” Instead he can ask “What would make the painting more interesting to people?” And the reason you can’t equal Michelangelo by going out and buying a blank canvas is that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is more interesting to people. A lot of philosophers have had a hard time believing it was possible for there to be objective standards for art. It seemed obvious that beauty, for example, was something that happened in the head of the observer, not something that was a property of objects. It was thus “subjective” rather than “objective.” But in fact if you narrow the definition of beauty to something that works a certain way on humans, and

you observe how much humans have in common, it turns out to be a property of objects after all. You don’t have to choose between something being a property of the subject or the object if subjects all react similarly. Being good art is thus a property of objects as much as, say, being toxic to humans is: it’s good art if it consistently affects humans in a certain way. Brand dominates So could we f igure out what the best art is by taking a vote? After all, if appealing to humans is the test, we should be able to just ask them, right? Well, not quite. For products of nature that might work. I’d be willing to eat the apple the world’s population had voted most delicious, and I’d probably be willing to visit the beach they voted most beautiful, but having to look at the painting they voted the best would be a crapshoot. Man-made stuff is different. For one thing, artists, unlike apple trees, often deliberately try to trick us. Some tricks are quite subtle. For example, any work of art sets expectations by its level of finish. You don’t expect photographic accuracy in something that looks like a quick sketch. So one widely used trick, especially

among illustrators, is to intentionally make a painting or drawing look like it was done faster than it was. The average person looks at it and thinks: how amazingly skillful. It’s like saying something clever in a conversation as if you’d thought of it on the spur of the moment, when in fact you’d worked it out the day before. A not her muc h less subt le in f luence is brand. If you go to see the Mona Lisa, you’ll probably be disappointed, because it’s hidden behind a thick glass wall and surrounded by a frenzied crowd taking pictures of themselves in front of it. At best you can see it the way you see a friend across the room at a crowded part y. The Louvre might as well replace it with copy; no one would be able to tell. And yet the Mona Lisa is a small, dark painting. If you found people who’d never seen an image of it and sent them to a museum in which it was hanging among other paintings with a tag labelling it as a portrait by an unknown fifteenth century artist, most would walk by without giving it a second look. For the average person, brand dominates all other factors in the judgement of art. Seeing a painting they recognize from reproductions is so overwhelming that their response to it as a painting is drowned out.

"For one thing, artists, unlike apple trees, often deliberately try to trick us."”

[ 2014  •  #1  •  Ponder ]  23

And then of course there are the tricks people play on themselves. Most adults looking at art worry that if they don’t like what they’re supposed to, they’ll be thought uncultured. This doesn’t just affect what they claim to like; they actually make themselves like things they’re supposed to. That’s why you can’t just take a vote. Though appeal to people is a meaningful test, in practice you can’t measure it, just as you can’t find north using a compass with a magnet sitting next to it. There are sources of error so powerful that if you take a vote, all you’re measuring is the error. We can, however, approach our goal from another direction, by using ourselves as guinea pigs. You’re human. If you want to know what the basic human reaction to a piece of art would be, you can at least approach that by getting rid of the sources of error in your own judgements. For example, while anyone’s reaction to a famous painting will be warped at first by its fame, there are ways to decrease its effects. One is to come back to the painting over and over. After a few days the fame wears off, and you can start to see it as a painting. Another is to stand close. A painting familiar from reproductions looks more familiar from ten feet away; close in you see details that get lost in reproductions, and which you’re therefore seeing for the first time. There are two main kinds of error that get in the way of seeing a work of art: biases you bring from your own circumstances, and tricks played by the artist. Tricks are straightforward to correct for. Merely being aware of them usually prevents them from working. For ex­a mple, when I was ten I used to be very impressed by airbrushed lettering that looked like shiny metal. But once you study how it’s done, you see that it’s a pretty cheesy trick — one of the sort that relies on pushing a few visual buttons really hard to temporarily overwhelm the viewer. It’s like trying to convince someone by shouting at them. The way not to be vulnerable to tricks is to explicitly seek out and catalog them. When you notice a whiff of dishonesty coming from some kind of art, stop and figure out what’s going on. When someone is obviously pandering to an audience that’s easily fooled, whether it’s someone making shiny stuff to impress ten year olds,

24   [ Ponder  •  #1  •  2014 ]

or someone making conspicuously avantgarde stuff to impress would-be intellectuals, learn how they do it. Once you’ve seen enough examples of specific types of tricks, you start to become a connoisseur of trickery in general, just as professional magicians are. What counts as a trick? Roughly, it’s something done with contempt for the audience. For example, the guys designing Ferraris in the 1950s were probably designing cars that they themselves admired. Whereas I suspect over at General Motors the marketing people are telling the designers, “Most people who buy SUVs do it to seem manly, not to drive off-road. So don’t worry about the suspension; just make that sucker as big and tough-looking as you can.” I think with some effort you can make yourself nearly immune to tricks. It’s harder to escape the influence of your own circumstances, but you can at least move in that direction. The way to do it is to travel widely, in both time and space. If you go and see all the different kinds of things people like in other cultures, and learn about all the different things people have liked in the past, you’ll probably find it changes what you like. I doubt you could ever make yourself into a completely universal person, if only because you can only travel in one direction in time. But if you find a work of art that would appeal equally to your friends, to people in Nepal, and to the ancient Greeks, you’re probably onto something. My main point here is not how to have good taste, but that there can even be such a thing. And I think I’ve shown that. There is such a thing as good art. It’s art that interests its human audience, and since humans have a lot in common, what interests them is not random. Since there’s such a thing as good art, there’s also such a thing as good taste, which is the ability to recognize it. If we were talking about the taste of apples, I’d agree that taste is just personal preference. Some people like certain kinds of apples and others like other kinds, but how can you say that one is right and the other wrong? The thing is, art isn’t apples. Art is manmade. It comes with a lot of cultural baggage, and in addition the people who make it often try to trick us. Most people’s judgement of art is dominated by these extraneous factors; they’re like someone trying to judge the taste of

apples in a dish made of equal parts apples and jalapeno peppers. All they’re tasting is the peppers. So it turns out you can pick out some people and say that they have better taste than others: they’re the ones who actually taste art like apples. Or to put it more prosaically, they’re the people who (a) are hard to trick, and (b) don’t just like whatever they grew up with. If you could find people who’d eliminated all such influences on their judgement, you’d probably still see variation in what they liked. But because humans have so much in common, you’d also find they agreed on a lot. They’d nearly all prefer the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to a blank canvas. Taste is subjective I wrote this essay because I was tired of hearing “taste is subjective” and wanted to kill it once and for all. Anyone who makes things knows intuitively that’s not true. When you’re trying to make art, the temptation to be lazy is as great as in any other kind of work. Of course it matters to do a good job. And yet you can see how great a hold “taste is subjective” has even in the art world by how nervous it makes people to talk about art being good or bad. Those whose jobs require them to judge art, like curators, mostly resort to euphemisms like “significant” or “important” or (getting dangerously close) “realized.” I don’t have any illusions that being able to talk about art being good or bad will cause the people who talk about it to have anything more useful to say. Indeed, one of the reasons “taste is subjective” found such a receptive audience is that, historically, the things people have said about good taste have generally been such nonsense. It’s not for the people who talk about art that I want to free the idea of good art, but for those who make it. Right now, ambitious kids going to art school run smack into a brick wall. They arrive hoping one day to be as good as the famous artists they’ve seen in books, and the first thing they learn is that the concept of good has been retired. Instead everyone is just supposed to explore their own personal vision. When I was in art school, we were looking one day at a slide of some great fifteenth century painting, and one of the students asked “Why don’t artists paint like that now?” The room suddenly got quiet. Though rarely asked out loud, this question lurks uncomfortably in the back of every art student’s mind. It was as if someone had brought up the topic of lung cancer in a meeting within Philip Morris. “Well,” the professor replied, “we’re interested in different questions now.” He was a pretty nice guy, but at the time I couldn’t help wishing I could send him back to fifteenth century Florence to explain in person to Leonardo & Co. how we had moved beyond their early, limited concept of art. Just imagine that conversation. In fact, one of the reasons artists in fifteenth century Florence made such great things was that they believed you could make great things. They were intensely competitive and were always trying to outdo one another, like mathematicians or physicists today—maybe like anyone who has ever done anything really well. The idea that you could make great things was not just a useful illusion. They were actually right. So the most important consequence of realizing there can be good art is that it frees artists to try to make it. To the ambitious kids arriving at art school this year hoping one day to make great things, I say: don’t believe it when they tell you this is a naive and outdated ambition. There is such a thing as good art, and if you try to make it, there are people who will notice.

[ 2014  •  #1  •  Ponder ]  25

26   [ Ponder  •  #1  •  2014 ]

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT This poetic view on life and earth doesn’t get much love. Ashton Kutcher has long since moved on to bigger things, but can we expect a comeback for this lovely theorem?


U p to t h E x a mp e Q u a nt u les of t m M ec h a ca l R ev o lu ti o he s e c o n ieme Ch a o s n p eo p le b mple x mbe Theor y el ie ve d th s y th st in e r ju g m h s at w e s Han er lp t w e h e d e at her d f at ho ir ec tl y cau at rasi d som se d b y oth s y stem m a re c pa things, that e ma e er D o ct , a r r t b t h w k o h e h il ing o ’s at went up ? t hem behav or M n a sto had to com io r of at ic i dow n, and a lc o ve, mig to p r e w ater birds, an that if on ly m ex et t y r a o t o r we cou ld ca r y p at t p t h l D e a an s d i p o to h n ing ta g ever y p h r tc e ct e r h a n e a d s o c o o t r o ave T f f veget hou ar ticle in th nt inen S at t l g at ion a t . Ch a e u n iver se -r e x er w w e co u ld a rou c ro s s os is e es an ht it w a hy n at u r e p re d ic t ev nd o v e ’s s r d ents fr o m y m u w here , n an ost int t he l nw is o n t he . th en E nti re g ove imate f rom ikes isla n a r t of e ann rn ments an consid a ny k in rom d ? Jo oy in e d r o sy noth p a f d st t b h i io em s el . g ow ng ie f w er e (a nH Ch aos n s to show u i ng c amm -b a s e d n d , sa d ly, n e r, p all t o u ld ar c a ut o fo g h p e u r n st e n a r d il l) ph ic s go w d, t i me , ed o n th es om i o f l it t ion s where r on g e b el ie fs , sed le s p a were v an of v i c t e a S e d r h ig n w f s m t h a h lo d u n d F re u en a k en mov ie t ip s s w cks s ito r t h at d in ve n te s c re en eep ac to e n all p s. D d p sy ch o a“ L i fe in h igh ross t h n al ys is , he re su re r. M aweso fi nds ly h e ea t he s a lco c d ed o ut fro omple m e la n m di a wa a fe t y x w ay s m the id ea d sc ap e that mal fu Nat d no y,” h of s om , or s a dor nct ions in u re e sa i t agr e d n the mind ar r is hi a t on l y h m d e e a re . t t e su h ic e the lt . g e s O ber Ac ater pr e d of trauma’s h ly sca r sc ict io e Ve nt com su ffered in ene . R i s ut n yo p u th R e r eg e l m a p e re terly ast. d o e ss io n w o u x, an ma n g li n ver t ha u can ld al lo w th u npr g f rom t aby s s d th u np r ma k e e d ic to e , p a at st t ed ict e ie r r ro r o y nt ll a c c o on is t h in g to pe dow n mem t a ble a bi l i at s h ? A ll t save t h or y la ne, p The o . Th t y of h e th e in o e r y lo p s li oi so e e in t n re t le beaut if t n at u a ma t he ba sp o t an d ok s a u l mou of b e re is zing c k g ro ru b it aw t. W Freud ’s hea ay w it h u nd? Th w h at nta ins ing b t ion sh h li y n a C o g ? t o te r ing t. Th at w a sn’t is ma h aos ch n iques th Beca a nd a loc aw a s co again based r v e lo use i at were Ch a o s t ran mp ut e n ste on linea r ca us a n a r t. Th e o s r a l use and eff g u d d e c n ry h m e C e r h n ao a y ect. t s t e st Th , n at d C omp as m eory howev e r io u t u re u re le x s y st a nag er taught u s. A n t he b n at e e s c u th m re o d d at n m s a re s ta in so e a ut o st often w to s o Ch a d isp y st em y of os ork s in p at me w mu c h l a y it s w t he u h t te e ic m h h rn m h a s, o ar a in t h t e nt s t h e caused b t ion (s t c ap np r e y the su m e mo Nat u at mo v o ma n d icta tiny pu lses of many y elst aw e) t hat requ i r re, w bl e a . r igh e e c d h o s n m en lo ome to c a lc d p t k in u t e r s a re u p o p la a k o d t t s e s t e all t ibi l it ie d up er ns of e y one he v a r . on w s . Th a of t h es, p How Ch iou s or y co t is w h it h t e mo rese e ver aos The u y Ch a h n l s d e t t fab not h o r y wa s s he w rou o s Th e a n d w hy ave em t he s e rsel f u lou b o rn g ht . . c ond h s wo e a r s g ed be a l f of rk s o fore It a ll st ar t he 2 0 But t h W ha f art te d to d aw t h cen ere is t is n o n p eo p t u r y. a not h w hen in 19 the Ch aos The le e butt 6 r Th 0 r a m an n am b ut t e e a o s r e o y n r e ed E d w ar w fl t r a nd t h L ore ntz cr a s b or hat fly eff y ef os T d eate d a w ea n so r at is t fe ct ect , he or e c e nt l he Q u ther-mo d el ? a lso y, i s ca l Re h is y c ipl i a co , o k n m n t p n a um M u te r at th v olut io ow n mat h ne t e M as sa ch echan n a nd as C hat ema deter m In st it u te u se tt s iho w it hast ud t ic a l o f Tec h n i n i st ie s c e n ic subo lo g y. L o ded t h e r a omp ! re n tz ’ d i se le x s y ste ms.

[ 2014  •  #1  •  Ponder ]  27

"Doctor Malcom did not agree. 'Life finds a way', he said." weather model consisted of an extensive array of complex formulas that kicked numbers around like an old pig skin. Clouds rose and winds blew, heat scourged or cold came creeping up the breeches. Colleagues and students marveled over the machine because it never seemed to repeat a sequence; it was really quite like the real weather. Some even hoped that Lorentz had built the ultimate weather-predictor and if the input parameters were chosen identical to those of the real weather howling outside the Maclaurin Building, it could mimic earth’s atmosphere and be turned into a precise prophet. But then one day Lorentz decided to cheat a little bit. A while earlier he had let the program run on certain parameters to generate a certain weather pattern and he wanted to take a better look at the outcome. But instead of letting the program run from the initial settings and calculate the outcome, Lorentz decided to start half way down the sequence by inputting the values that the computer had come up with during the earlier run. The computer that Lorentz was working with calculated the various parameters with an accuracy of six decimals. But the printout gave these numbers with a three decimal accuracy. So in stead of inputting certain numbers (like wind, temperature and stuff like that) as accurate as the computer had them, Lorentz settled for approximations; 5.123456 became 5.123 (for instance). And that puny little inaccuracy appeared to amplify and cause the entire system to swing out of whack. Exactly how important is all this? Well, in the case of weather systems, it’s very important. Weather is the total behavior of all the molecules that make up earth’s atmosphere. And in the previous chapters we’ve established that a tiny particle can not be accurately pin-pointed, due to the Uncertainty Principle! And this is the sole reason why weather forecasts begin to be bogus around a day or two into the future.

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We can’t get an accurate f ix on the present situation, just a mere approximation, and so our ideas about the weather are doomed to fall into misalignment in a matter of hours, and completely into the nebulas of fantasy within days. Nature will not let herself be predicted. Hold that thought: The Uncertainty Principle prohibits accuracy. Therefore, the initial situation of a complex system can not be accurately determined, and the evolution of a complex system can therefore not be accurately predicted. Attractors Complex systems often appear too chaotic to recognize a pattern with the naked eye. But by using certain techniques, large arrays of parameters may be abbreviated into one point in a graph. In the little rain-or-sunshine graph above, every point represents a complete condition with wind speed, rain fall, air temperature, etcetera, but by processing these numbers in a certain way they can be represented by one point. Stacking moment upon moment reveals the little graph and offers us some insight in the development of a weather system. The first Chaos Theorists began to discover that complex systems often seem to run through some kind of cycle, even though situations are rarely exactly duplicated and repeated. Plotting many systems in simple graphs revealed that often there seems to be some kind of situation that the system tries to achieve, an equilibrium of some sort. For instance: imagine a city of 10,000 people. In order to accommodate these people, the city will spawn one supermarket, two swimming pools, a library and three churches. And for argument’s sake we will assume that this setup pleases everybody and an equilibrium is achieved. But then the Ben & Jerry’s company decides to open an ice cream plant on the outskirts of the town, opening jobs for 10,000 more people. The town expands rapidly to accommodate 20,000 people; one supermarket is added, two swimming pools, one library and three churches and the equilibrium is maintained. That equilibrium is called an attractor. Now imagine that instead of adding 10,000 people to the original 10,000, 3,000 people

move away from the city and 7,000 remain. The bosses of the super­market chain calculate that a supermarket can only exist when it has 8,000 regular customers. So after a while they shut the store down and the people of the city are left without groceries. Demand rises and some other company decides to build a supermarket, hoping that a new supermarket will attract new people. And it does. But many were already in the process of moving and a new supermarket will not change their plans. The company keeps the store running for a year and then comes to the conclusion that there are not enough customers and shut it down again. People move away. Demand rises. Someone else opens a supermarket. People move in but not enough. Store closes again. And so on. This awful situation is also some kind of equilibrium, but a dynamic one. A dynamic kind-of-equilibrium is called a Strange Attractor. The difference between an Attractor and a Strange Attractor is that an Attractor represents a state to which a system finally settles, while a Strange Attractor represents some kind of trajectory upon which a system runs from situation to situation without ever settling down. The discovery of Attractors was exciting and explained a lot, but the most awesome phenomenon Chaos Theory discovered was a crazy little thing called Self-Similarity. Unveiling Self-Similarity allowed people a glimpse of the magical mechanisms that shape our world, and perhaps even ourselves... And while you wait for the next web page to load, think about this: A snow flake is an object composed of water molecules. These molecules do not have a common nerve system, DNA or a chief molecule who calls the shots. How do these molecules know where to go and hang in order to form a six pointed star? And where do they get the audacity to form a different one every time? How does one molecule in one leg of the f lake know which private design the rest of the gang is cruising for, in other legs of the flake, for the tiny molecule a million miles away?

[ 2014  •  #1  •  Ponder ]  29

30   [ Ponder  •  #1  •  2014 ]

The delusion of

FREE WILL By: Sam Harris

“A moment or two of serious self-scrutiny, and you might observe that you decide the next thought you think no more than you decide the next thought I write.” [ 2014  •  #1  •  Ponder ]  31

"If you do become despondent, well, that was bound to happen."

“Liberals usually understand that every person represents a confluence of forces that he did not will into being - and we can be lucky or very unlucky in this respect. Conservatives, however, have made a religious fetish of individualism.”

32   [ Ponder  •  #1  •  2014 ]


ven though we can find no room for it in the causal order, the notion of free will is still accorded a remarkable deference in the scientific and philosophical literature, even by those who believe that the mind is entirely dependent on the workings of the brain. However, the truth is that free will doesn’t even corre­s pond to any subjective fact about us, for introspection soon grows as hostile to the idea as the equations of physics have. Apparent acts of volition merely arise, spontaneously (whether caused, uncaused or probabilistically inclined, it makes no difference), and cannot be traced to a point of origin in the stream of consciousness. A moment or two of serious self-scrutiny, and you might observe that you decide the next thought you think no more than you decide the next thought I write. All of our behaviour can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge. In the 1980s the neurophysiologist Benjamin Libet demonstrated that activity in the brain’s motor regions can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move. An-

other lab recently used functional magnetic resonance imaging data to show that some “conscious” decisions can be predicted up to ten seconds before they enter awareness (long before the preparatory motor activity detected by Libet). Clearly, f indings of this kind are difficult to reconcile with the sense that one is the conscious source of one’s thoughts and actions. For better or worse, these truths about human psychology have political implications, because liberals and conser vatives are not equally confused about them. Liberals usually understand that every person represents a confluence of forces that he did not will into being - and we can be lucky or very unlucky in this respect. Conservatives, however, have made a religious fetish of individualism. The ramif ications of the Big Bang are far more significant than you probably think. Not only did it give birth to the entire universe in a cataclysmic eruption in-and-of space and time, but it also determined, down to the finest subatomic detail, precisely what you ate for breakfast this morning. At least, that is if the thesis of determinism is true.

After all, the Big Bang set in motion the paths of countless particles, some of which bumped their way through 13.77-odd billion years to coalesce momentarily as your breakfast. Not only that, but some of those particles also bounced around through eons to galvanise as you. If this is the case, then not only what you ate for breakfast was fixed at the moment of the universe’s birth, but so too was your decision as to what to eat for breakfast. That flicker of deliberation over whether to have peanut butter or vegemite, or that momentary urge to drink tea instead of coffee. Those, too, were written into the very fabric of the universe. So much for free will then. Sure, it might feel like we genuinely deliberate over possible courses of action, and we feel like for any particular decision we could have chosen otherwise. But if determinism is true, then this fundamental sense that we can genuinely choose between actions is little more than an illusion fuelled by our ignorance of what the future will look like. After all, if you were really, really smart – let’s say “omniscient” – and you knew the position of every particle in the universe, and were versed in the details of all the natural laws, and you had the computational clout to run the numbers, then you could predict with perfect accuracy the entire future of the universe, breakfast decisions and all. And if you’re hoping chaos theory or quantum mechanics will save free will, well you’re out of luck. Both are, in fact, thoroughly deterministic in their own way. If genuine free will existed, it would break both theories. Don’t be too despondent about the death of free will though. The illusion of free will doesn’t imply fatalism. Fatalism says our future unfolds the way it does regardless of our beliefs and desires. Determinism says our future unfolds the way it does because of our beliefs and desires, only that the latter are themselves determined. Although, if you do become despondent, well, that was bound to happen.

(...) Sam Harris is an American author, philosopher and neuroscientist, as well as the co-founder and CEO of Project Reason. He is a contemporary critic of religion and proponent of scientific skepticism and the “New Atheism”.

[ 2014  •  #1  •  Ponder ]  33


STREET PHILOSOPHY IN MUNICH although i live in Germany, I was brought up in England and have always been impressed by British pragmatism. I still read mainly in English and whenever I am in Zurich I always go to the English Bookshop Orell Füssli. Some time ago I happened to stumble on Jules Evans’s Philosophy for Life (and other dangerous things). I was both excited and fascinated by the theme of the book. I had felt

for some time that there must be an alternative to therapy and a different type of help to tackle life’s ever increasing challenges. Through Jules’s newsletter I discovered that grassroot philosophy and philosophy clubs were popular in Britain and Jules was just launching his Philosophy Hub. Although there has been a definite move towards more ‘popular’ philosophy in Germany – several books have been top of the charts by philosophers such as David Precht, Wilhelm Schmid and Julian Nida-Rümelin (who has also done a stint in government, much like Luc Férry in France), philosophy clubs are few and far between – maybe a dozen in all. About 8 years ago I started a ‘Salon’ in my home. Gatherings that take place 8 to 10 times a year. We have a lecture, followed by discussion on different subjects, but the philosophy evenings are the most popular. I was lucky to meet several young philosophers with excellent academic qualifications and at the same time a huge talent – also rare in Germany

– of explaining difficult or seemingly complicated thoughts and theories in such a wonderful way that most guests go away with the feeling that they have finally understood things that they intuited before but could not really put their finger on. Jules mentions the dichotomy we live in nowadays and our daily struggle trying to balance what we experience in our lives and the val-

ues that are essential to us, but often seem unattainable. German society is no different and I felt that it was time to start a philosophy club and give more people the chance to profit from the insights of philosophy and seek help outside of therapy. We were very lucky to find a suitable location where the owners are enthusiastic supporters of the idea. For the philosophers, both Dr. Celina von Bezold and Dr. Karin Hutflötz, who have contributed so much to my Salon, the club is a base outside of academia. They can reach and help a wider public and advance their careers and their vision. I hope in time to found a ‘Good Life Institute’ somewhat like The School of Life in London but catering to German mentality. I know by experience that you have to let things grow and develop. We have just taken our first steps and I am hoping that other people will follow suit and more philosophy clubs or societies will take off. I am greatly indebted to Jules for his inspiration.  ­— julia kalmund

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True Detective Created by: Nic Pizzolatto Airs: HBO, Sunday nights, 9 pm TV - The new HBO-series will make you think of what really defines someone as good or evil. At first blush, “True Detective” looks like another brooding cable cop drama, distinguished primarily by the undeniable casting coup of pairing a suddenly red-hot Matthew McConaughey (and who saw that one coming?) and Woody Harrelson. It doesn’t take long, though, for this hypnotic series to begin assuming a life of its own, wrapped in a multipronged mystery and featuring one of more unconventional protagonists to walk the beat in a while. Rich and absorbing, this eight-part drama quickly vaults into elite company, offering a singular voice that’s unlike almost anything else on TV. That would come from writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who col-

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laborated on all the episodes. They have woven a story that leaps between 2012 and 1995, but the narrative is actually denser than that, delicately dropping references to past events before we see them unfolding. Harrelson’s Det. Martin Hart, a family man with issues, and McConaughey’s Rust Cohle — an enigmatic figure, brilliant but prone to visions, nihilistic thoughts and a haunted stare — have been partners for three months when we meet them in 1995. But the story opens with the two being interviewed by detectives (Michael Potts, Tory Kittles) in 2012, a decade after their acrimonious split for reasons unknown. Ostensibly, the two present-day detectives are probing a grisly, ritualistic murder that Hart and Cohle investigated, and presumably solved, nearly 20 years ago. Yet questions of what happened then are augmented by two other riddles: what eventually drove the mismatched duo apart; and why the cops are so interested in the details of this old case, and how it might relate to a new killing. It doesn’t help that Hart’s elder version is puffed out and retired from the force, while Cohle’s now sports a wild hairdo and demands

a six-pack of beer (nothing fancy, please) before he’ll finish the interview because, well, it’s past noon, and Thursdays, that’s when he starts getting his load on. Although there are some fine players on the periphery his largely plays as a two-character piece, and Harrelson and McConaughey are both at their best. (Given the number of eccentrics the former has played, it’s also interesting to think about how the show would look if the roles were reversed, since either guy would be almost equally well suited to the other’s part.) Shot in Louisiana and oozing atmosphere, the show moves slowly, but there’s seldom a wasted scene or moment. And as well-trodden as the cop drama is on TV, the hopscotching timeline and casting have managed to make the whole exercise feel fresh, or at least put a distinct premium-TV stamp on it. In some respects, “True Detective” approximates the feel of some of the best short-order British crime dramas, albeit with a distinctly American twang. And whether the series can maintain the quality of its initial flurry of episodes, so far, anyway, its aim is certainly true.


Arcade Fire Reflektor Label: Merge Released: october 2013

Her Directed by: Spike Jonze Premiere: early 2014 M OV I E - S pi k e Jon z e w rote and directed this beautiful love story about a man smitten with his computer’s operating system (voiced by a lovely Scarlett Johansson). Johansson does mesmerizing voice work as Samantha, a Siri-like voice operating system that is so charming, her new owner ( Joaquin Phoeni x) f inds her far more interesting than actual humans. She makes you believe a man could fall in love with his computer. Jonze, who wrote the screenplay, has made a futuristic movie that looks and feels realistic, creating a future land where it’s just perfectly OK to date your computer. He approaches the topic seriously, and somehow manages to make it all work. The movie not only looks beautiful, as Jonze f ilms often do, but sounds great thanks to a soundtrack from Arcade Fire. Phoenix turns in some of the finest acting of his career.

M U SIC - A f ter st u nn ing t he mainstream pop machine into a state of huffy, new school e-disbelief by beating out Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry for the 2011 Album of the year Grammy, Arcade Fire seemed poised for a U2-style international coup, but the Suburbs, despite its stadium-ready sonic g rand iosit y, was fa r too homespun and idiosyncratic to infect the masses in the same way as the Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby. Ref lektor, the collective’s much anticipated fourth long-player and first double-album, moves the group even further from pop culture sanctification with a seismic 13-track set that guts the building but leaves the roof intact. Going big was never going to be a problem, especially for a band so well versed in the art of anthem husbandry, and they’re still capable of shaking the rafters, as evidenced by the cool and circuitous, Roxy Music-forged, David Bowie-assisted title cut, the lush, Regine Chassagne-led “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus),” and the impossibly dense and meaty “We Exist.”

The Kant dictionary Free Will Author: Lucas Thorpe Published: december 2014 BOOK - The kant dictionary is a comprehensive and accessible guide to the world of Immanuel Kant, one of the most important and inf luential thinkers in the histor y of philosophy. Meticulously researched and extensively cross-referenced, this unique book covers all his major works, ideas and influences and provides a firm grounding in the central themes of Kant’s thought. Students will discover a wealth of useful information, analysis and criticism. A-Z entries include clear def initions of all the key terms used in Kant’s writings and detailed synopses of his key works. The Dictionary also includes entries on Kant’s major philosophical inf luences, such as Plato, Descartes, Berkeley and Leibniz, and those he influenced and engaged with, including Fichte, Hume and Rousseau. It covers ever y thing that is essential to a sound understanding of K ant ’s philosophy, offering clear and accessible explanations of often complex terminolog y. The Kant Dictionary is the ideal resource for anyone reading or studying Kant or Modern European Philosophy more generally.

Author: Sam Harris Published: early 2012 BO O K - A bel ief in f ree w i l l touches nearly ever y thing that human beings value. It is diff icult to think about law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, morality — as well as feelings of remorse or personal achievement — without first imagining that every person is the true source of his or her thoughts and actions. And yet the facts tell us that free will is an illusion. I n t h is en l ighten i n g b o ok , Sam Harris argues that this truth about the human mind does not undermine mora lit y or diminish the importance of social and political freedom, but it can and should change the way we think about some of the most important questions in life. Free will is an illusion so convincing that people simply refuse to believe that we don’t have it. In Free Will, Sam Harris combines neuroscience and psychology to lay this illusion to rest at last. Like all of Harris’s books, this one will not only unsettle you but make you think deeply. Read it: you have no choice.

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mind and what is it good for?

john locke and personal identity what theories to take to a

desert island APRIL ISSUE, 2014 38   [ Ponder  •  #1  •  2014 ]


Ponder magazine #1  
Ponder magazine #1  

A pop philosophy magazine.