Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Hence, I took the next logical step and signed up for a tri-a-tri at Toronto Island. It went swimmingly and I was hooked. I did another slightly longer one earlier this year. But about a week and a half ago, I took it to another level after training 5-6 days a week all spring and summer so I could enter an Olympic distance triathlon event. It took place at Wasaga Beach on Saturday, September 10. The course consisted of a 1500 m swim, a 40 km bike ride, and a ten km run. And now I can proudly say that I am a triathlete that completed an Olympic length course in 3 hours, 15 minutes. Now I realize this time is nothing to boast about in serious athletic circles but I am just proud that I accomplished my goal of finishing the event without stopping. Besides, I am willing to wager that many readers of this post would not even get past the initial 1 1/2 km swim, let alone the rest of the race.
Of course, many of you have families, while I myself am single. While this can be at times an (excruciatingly) lonely lifestyle, it definitely lends itself well to the necessary training regimen as I don't have to worry about dirty diapers, quality time, and all that healthy social interaction stuff that psychologists are always on about when they try to deliniate what brings a contented, well-balanced life. Nevertheless, living alone does have it's advantages, at least one of which I have availed myself. My heart may be broken, or at least graffittied over with other's messages, emotionally a dysfunctional peice of organic equipment but physically, it is a powerhouse, providing energy for work, play and the strength to put up with idiots and assholes, a mainstay of my working life.
Anyway... that's enough ranting for one entry. I hope you found it interesting, at the very least in a kind of "Hey, hon - check out this delusional guy's blog! He's somekind a wacko..." But for the record, so was Jesus, Ghandi, Siddharta, Noah, Martin Luther King Jr. and many others. All I wish for you is the peace that has been provided to me through exercise. Talk my word for it - go for a walk, then work your way up to a run. You'll be amazed at how much your mental well-being improves.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
All that stress, at times on the edge of a complete breakdown, paid dividends (although the price was exceedingly painful at times).
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
To begin with, I received an email from the manager of the Service Canada office in Kitchener today officially offering me part-time work from September to December of this year, every Friday from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. This is exactly what I was hoping for: enough work to keep me afloat financially as I finish my final term at University of Waterloo but not so much as to distract from my studies. Furthermore, this gets my foot in the door and could potentially lead to full-time employment in the future.
I also got emails from both my current and former undergraduate advisors, both of whom have told me they would be willing to write me letters of recommendation, one of the major hurdles for any graduate studies application. It is fantastic to know that I have that option still open to me.
Finally, I got an email from the production editor at Spontaneous Generations telling me that the article I mentioned in my last post will officially be published on August 23. The email came with a link leading to a very polished and professional-looking .pdf of my article, so it is actually going to happen - I will soon be able to claim I am a published author!
Friday, May 21, 2010
Congratulations! Your article "Otto in the Chinese Room" has been accepted
pending revisions for publication in Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science.
Then this morning, I fired up Mail on my MacBook to find an email reading in part as follows:
I am contacting you because we have decided to publish a select group of
papers from the conference. In fact, we are starting an online undergraduate
philosophy journal that will publish the top 20 papers or so from the conference. Yours in one that we would like to publish in this journal.
Considering there were about 150 articles presented at the conference, I am ecstatic about this development!
Saturday, May 15, 2010
One such theme is sewn on like epaulets, one on each side of the main narrative, by entitling the preface and epilogue “Anonymity” and “Anonymity 2”, sections populated by a mysterious character who frames the ensuing encounter between a marginalized, wanna-be film maker and his desired subject of a film, a retired intellectual named Elster from the intelligence community, an encounter filling only four chapters. The defence consultant’s daughter comes to visit them in the Arizona desert, her time with them ending inscrutably. Connections to the frontispiece and ending text are mere hints and shadows, like waves of X-ray radiation that only later are developed so that a fracture in the bone can be seen. The violence of the desert landscape, family and film, intelligence and coincidence, all wrapped in paper like the cigarette smoked by that stalker of synchronicity, the war on terror.
Delillo is a master at incorporating other media into his narrative. I, now more than ever, want to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to see a videowork called "24 Hour Psycho" used as the setting for the beginning and ending of "Point Omega". As the title suggests, this exhibit is the film "Psycho" stretched and slowed to fit it’s running time to one day. The character that opens the book spends immense swathes of time in the room where it is screened, his cogitations caught on the page as they weave from one side of the film to the other, in sinister time with the silent screen showing images meant to be building a suspense familiar to an entire generation but impotent in this regard as each frame lingers, a discrete swathe of imagery. There is an irony here, showcasing Delillo's exquisite artistry, as these celluloid picture chunks, drained of their original neurotic foreboding, are used to help fabricate the creepy consciousness of the anonymous character, the resulting blanket of text smothering, swaddling the reader in the very same sort of suspense that stalked the audience with the shrieking violins of the shower scene in the original movie.
Not that "Point Omega" is solely about psychopathology, although that is one of the more interesting subtexts working at the micro-level of the individual. Another great strength of Delillo's writing is his ability to craft character detail deftly, while using those threads to sew together the big picture, giving the reader a macro-level socio-political commentary. Here again, he uses the description of another medium, the academic journal article, specifically one written by Elster, to advance an exploration of the practice of rendition by the American intelligence community. Our erstwhile filmmaker describes reading it prior to his sojourn to the desert in his attempt to convince Elster to appear in a one-man, one-take concept documentary talking about his experiences in the military-industrial complex. The published article is balanced, complete with a portrait of etymology, ideologically obscure motivation, and nested footnotes, against the stream of consciousness spool of ideas for this potential film documenting one man’s experience with politics of terror, a fine juxtaposition.
“Point Omega” may have been a quick summer read, yes, but it will occupy my mind for untold lengths. I highly recommend it. Also worth watching is Delillo reading from a CIA memo on torture.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
1. The School of Thought Conference at the University of Western Ontario
2. 'Critical Reflections': An Undergraduate Philosophy Conference sponsored by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Windsor.
Both informed me that my submission, 'Otto in the Chinese Room', had been selected for presentation! I was delighted.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
A paper I wrote last term for a Philosophy of Mind course has been accepted for presentation at this undergraduate conference, an honour with which I am quite pleased. It is entitled "Otto in the Chinese Room" and has to do with the idea of artificial intelligence and various understandings of "mind". Oregon, here I come!
Saturday, December 5, 2009
"It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." Really? 'Cause we all know where that got him - drinking hemlock and dead. But seriously, Mill has not yet, as of Chapter III, dealt with my greatest concern about utilitarianism: that the greatest happiness and least pain for the greatest number is in no deterministic way calculable. Remember that chaos theory craze of the 90s? You know, Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park explaining there is no way to predict which way the water will drip down his hand, or the butterfly flapping its wings in Japan, causing a hurricane in the Carribean, to mention but two pop culture references of thousands. Well, trite as this meme became, it did so because there is a kernel of robust validity to it. Just as we have immense trouble fully accounting for initial conditions or predicting the future states of dynamic systems such as weather, so too predicting the consequences of our actions so as to maximize happiness would seem nigh unto impossible, given all the unforeseen collateral effects all our actions have. The economists have a word for this: externalities. If you've never come across this concept, it is a fine implement to add to your intellectual toolbox: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality
Granted systems like weather can be probabilistically predicted, at least in the short term. So I can see the value of utilitarianism in that sense. But I think taking onboard cognitively the pragmatism of the sort Dewey formulated is the morality I'm personally going to espouse. To my understanding, he saw value in all the moral heuristics we have examined in this course, and, depending on the context, would figure out what each would recommend, then decide on a case by case basis. Virtue ethics, it seems to me, is best at the individual level when dealing with interpersonal issues but not technological issues. At the collective level, I see Kant's kingdom of ends as an inspiring ideal to strive for, yet a probabilistic hedonic calculus should be performed to see if there are clear, proximal consequences that should override the categorical imperative. A messy solution, I know, but hey, it is a messy world out there.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
It seems to me that his virtue ethics is very much a product of his times as well. Living in Athens, appearances accorded pretty well with roles and one could enjoy the fruits of his labour, at least in part. However, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the Information Age, such straightforward associations have been almost obliterated. Because in Aristotle's day one had a few well-defined roles that changed little and there was an immediacy to one's actions, reinforcing the notion of responsibility, virtue ethics, a morality revolving around the agent, made sense. However, things have changed (I wish there was an emoticon for understatement:|) Now longer are the fruits of many farmers self-evident. Instead of enjoying their crop, it is often sold and transported thousands of miles, far removed from the agent. Furthermore, a farmer today may have a PhD in neuroscience or be cooking crank in his barn (or both!) My point is that our roles in society are never completely obvious, and we see our identities as fluid, something I imagine would be anathema to Aristotle. A fixed identity and being responsible for action undertaken when that identity has been assumed leads, in a seemingly natural progression to virtue ethics since they help delineate that identity and holds people accountable for their actions. For example, potters in ancient Greece often used to make jugs and cups from which people would drink. Now because the potter is on speaking terms with his customers, when he makes a cup with a jagged rim, the customer knows that the cup is the result of the potter's labour and that the cut on his lip from the jagged edge is the potter's responsibility, a situation with a straightforward remedy. Now consider a plastic cup manufactured today in a factory in China. The factory produces hundreds of thousands of cups a day due to large scale automation.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I've been doing some interesting reading for a philosophy of mind course; 'The Theory of Human Problem Solving' by Herbert Simon and Albert Newell fascinated me. In the early 70s these two authors decided to attempt a general theory of the processes underlying problem solving. This was a departure from previous research in this field, which had, in large part, focused only on insight and the cognitive processes involved. They begin by delineating some general propositions, which their paper goes on to elaborate upon in the body of the essay. A search through a problem space during human problem solving is a plausible idea. In fact, the structure of the problem space is so important it can delineate possible programs as functional or impossible to implement, thus having a large impact upon behavior. Perhaps they could be blamed (or praised) for the death of disco. The sartorial structures were just completely unsustainable: high heels for men (with dead goldfish inside), pants and dresses so tight it’s a wonder people could walk in them, let alone dance, and a plethora of Quaaludes, a hypnotic that turned your legs to jelly, obviating the ability to dance. This is an example of a problem space with obvious and drastic effects on problem solving. If you watch the ‘Simpsons’, Disco Stu says its true!
Another really interesting text that crossed my cortex was 'Connectionism and Cognitive Architecture: A Critical Analysis' by Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn. Connectionism was a theory very much in vogue in the 80s, the Madonna of the theory of mind. However, academia, like pop culture, has its own trends and fashions. The public’s music tastes swung back towards guitars and real instruments after growing weary of the tinny constraints (at that time) of synthesizers, culminating in the early 90s with the grunge movement. In an analogous manner, the academic community began to challenge connectionism and its limitations. This paper is one of the first to attempt this, making Fodor and Pylyshyn akin to the Pixies or Black Sabbath, both progenitors of the grunge sound. They begin with an introduction to Connectionism and its clash with Classicism, pointing to problems with Connectionist diagrams that claim to be Representationalist, a claim that is reevaluated. Connectionist models and the part mental processes play in them are examined, instigating a preliminary assessment of the ideas of ‘productivity’ and ‘systematicity’. In this light, they end by redefining Connectionism as a theory different from what was accepted wisdom at the time. Fascinating stuff but I think I might smash my TV if the authors got their own reality show like Ozzy Osbourne did.
As much fun as using metaphors to explain different theories of the mind is, at least one academic thinks we need to get over it. The cool thing is that the guy advocating this is actually a professor at my university: Chris Eliasmith. Check out his cybercredentials:
Past approaches to understanding the mind, including symbolism, connectionism, and dynamicism, have all relied on the metaphor to ground their theories. Discarding metaphor as a tool to build his theory but utilizing all the strongest aspects of those theories he has left behind, in 'Moving Beyond Metaphors: Understanding the Mind for What It Is ', Eliasmith
', Eliasmithpostulates a neural systems theory rooted in representational and dynamic concepts (R & D Theory). Neural representation is delineated by coding and encoding relations. These representations can be transformed by variables consisting of neural groups that determine the change by decoding. Furthermore, by cconsidering these neural representations in the context of neural dynamics, they can be perceived as control theoretic state variables, the upshot being that the operations of neurobiological systems are amenable to control theory analysis. Brilliant stuff (and I'm lucky enough to have people like him around all the time!)
Each of these articles had something worth pondering, which should be the goal of a nonfiction writer (or blogger). For example, in the first article one must learn to always be ready to think and explore outside established parameters. Likewise, the second article reminds us to challenge orthodoxy and think critically. (Incidentally, Curt Kobain was left-handed and couldn’t afford a lefty guitar, so he played his instrument upside down.) My favourite article was the third one. Eliasmith strikes me as intellectually flexible, yet with a brainstem of steel. He seems to be a pragmatist in the sense that Dewey would have used the word, something I greatly admire. Realizing there were several concepts of value in the theories he couldn’t abide by, he discarded the theories but took whatever procedure or concepts were useful to him. Furthermore, I have long thought (pretty much since I started Philosophy in 1994) that speaking about the mind in metaphorical terms has limited usefulness. If we look back over the history of the philosophy of mind, the dominant discourse has usually revolved around the technology of that time. It has been helpful in some respects but I am not sure we learned much about the true nature of mind, but rather how we see ourselves reflected in the world, an unadmitted ego validation.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Eudaimonia: a target I am aiming for but often miss, a goal one can attempt but never truly achieve, for reasons which sometimes one has no control over. For example, my recent surgery proved to be a complete failure; a lot of pain for an outcome worse than before I went under the knife. I still am not supposed to do much cardio and the lack of exercise in turn affects my concentration and attention. This affects my ability to think rationally, which Aristotle sees as the way to achieve eudaimonia.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Five months of training culminated this past Sunday, when I finished the HSBC Toronto Island sprint triathlon in 2 hours and 16 minutes. The course involved a 750 m swim in Lake Ontario (not at all gross as I was expecting), a 30 km bike and finishing with a 7.5 km run. I was in the bottom quarter time-wise, but I accomplished my personal goal of finishing the course which is all that really matters to me.
And, hey, at least I wasn't one of the 53 people who didn't finish!
The time in this picture is from the start of the first wave. I was in the second wave which started about 25 minutes after the first one.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Right, where was I going with this before I got lost in the desert? Oh yes - my point is that it can be difficult to relate to what at times feels like a different species, a species of which I have trouble conceptualizing myself being, although intellectually I know this to be true. There are other species differences too: the university species seems to have in such a manner as to have selected for various electronic appendages, the loss of which seems to have serious emotional and behavioral consequences, including increased anxiety, an inability to remember tasks, repetitive strain injury caused by the unfamiliar use a writing implement such as a pen. Furthermore, many having this evolutionary adaptation have the annoying habit of talking, loudly, to their devices in almost all settings. It can be quite distracting.
It is the paper to the left which which I am particularly pleased. I was terrified that the professor was going to be harsh grading it because of an email I had sent earlier in the term asking some questions about the assignment. The problem arose because I wrote the email in Notepad, the Windows plain text editor and added a post script there that took the form of the following off colour joke:
Q: How many Freudians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two - one to change the light bulb and one to hold the peni - I mean, ladder.
Of course, I intended to cut out of Notepad and paste into gmail only the body of the email. However, I got distracted, forgot about the PS, and selected the entire text. When I realized what had happened, I tried to get in touch with my prof to explain but she was away for about a week at that point. Needless, to say anxiety was high on the list of cognitive activity I engaged in that particular week. Fortunately, as soon as she returned, she sought me out in class and - get this - apologized to me for not responding to my email sooner! I apologized profusely, although at first she wasn't even sure what for. I explained how the completely inappropriate post script had come to be a part of my email. She chuckled and told me that she had much worse. The tension draining out of me was so intense I felt it might almost splash others.
And I have more good news: my success this term means I will be returning full-time to the University of Waterloo to pursue my long-held ambition of completing my degree, a unrealized goal that I feel has held me back for years. It is going to be fantastic!
Friday, April 3, 2009
clouds like static
fill the automatic sky
a television sun
Dolby winds stammer in surround
My private panoptic e`den
history makes me a man
software makes me a Poet
since the Author died
Pale fire in Xanadu
as the electric sign sighs,
sounds of the funeral pyre text,
and reveals itself like
a phosphene seraphim
This fearful angel guards me
in my e`den prison sphere
where still I wander
at the centre
of my mediated garden nowhere
to be found
as I tread the paths of paradox
a pamlimpsest sun
still static clouds
blur the illuminated sky
Monday, March 9, 2009
The two embrace, melting, molding to one another, becoming one, as if growing up from the ground. Flowers gaze up from the earth the lovers kneel upon, and share their desire. Vines, like anklets, trail over her slender ankles down toward the abyss, the entire universe. They can feel the essence of this universe in their kiss. Effacing the vicissitudes of daily life, the lovers become one. Her pale skin contrasts with his dark complexion but their differences, the infinite idols of individuality, blur into a pantheism of passion. Manly lines and feminine circles unite in a perfect chord of harmony. He leans over her with ardour, lust, intensity, eager to share his passion with her soul. Her eyes are closed but she is still able to sense the fervour of his being. Her arm encircles his neck. He cradles her head gently with both his hands. Her face betrays no emotion; she is open, vulnerable to his obsession. They breathe together and their breath is one. For them, there is no past, no future, just an immediate existence of yearning in one kiss, one love, one lifetime. Death comes to us all, but these two have the lifeblood of eternity.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I was on the way home from the gym listening, as I usually do in the car, to CBC. It was just after 9 pm and weeknights at that hour they have this brilliant show called "Ideas". This week they were featuring a biologist named Rupert Sheldrake. He has a homepage you might want to check out as he has some rather unorthodox ideas such as his theory of morphic fields and morphic resonance. Anyway, why is this in any way relevant to my life? Well, back around the turn of the century I was couch surfing at a friend's one bedroom apartment in Ottawa. Nevertheless, we managed to get along well enough for him to loan me a tape (yes, remember those dinosaurs of the audio medium?) with some hard beats on it labelled `Synthesthesia`.
Years passed as they tend to do, and I found myself back in Waterloo where I met a student involved with the university radio station, CKMS (there is a tale worth telling there presently but that will have to be fodder for another post). We became friends, bonding as I recall over psychedelic trance music, so he invited me to come and co-host his show, aptly named `Lithium Brownies`. Apt since it was just three hours of him spouting whatever insanity happened to fire in his neural network interspersed with (mostly industrial / electronica / metal) hard hitting tracks. The first day I showed up for my co-hosting duties, he pointed at the shelves covering the walls floor to ceiling and told me to pick out some CDs we might be able to both agree should be played that show. It was a fairly extensive CD library and it occurred to me that they might have a (digital) copy of that `Synthesthesia`album that had made such an impression and was definitely hard enough to meet my partner`s stringent musical criteria. Lo and behold, there it was sitting on the shelf, to wit with a green dot sticker on it, meaning it helped us fill our Canadian content obligation.
Well, on that album there was a track called 'morphogenetic fields forever'. And here is where the many digressions come back to Rupert Sheldrake, his relevance to my life and synchronicity. Here's the actual show I heard, but be forewarned: it requires Real Media player garbage.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
"Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. God does not love aggressors.
Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drive you."
Perhaps a case could made that the U.S., with it's covert incursions into places such as Pakistan and overt attacks like the first Gulf War, could be considered to have been not only to have made them the initial aggressors, but also having had the effect of driving Muslims out of such places. Thus interpreted, Al-Qaeda's actions are justified by their sacred text. Of course, it is also possible to that the actions taken by the U.S. are not undertaken against Muslims but rather criminals and terrorists hiding in Pakistan and a corrupt and brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, who invaded without provocation another sovereign nation, Kuwait. In any case, I can see why one religion, Islam, can accommodate radically different perspectives.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
February 14, 2009
It was time for a major cull. The lease on the apartment was up and there was nothing
keeping him in this burnout automotive armpit of Canada. You could
still see Detriot across the water on clear day, still the motor city
but crippled, the industry going in fits and starts as if there was
an intermittent fuel line leak. And with economic uncertainty like
that, nothing but inertia and several lingering attachments to women,
those rare few whose behaviour is truly outside the more of pair
bonding and lacks guilt about it.
Melissa. He would miss Melissa, seeing her even now, her mental image conjured with
breathtaking precision as he watched her toss her wavy red hair, and
ask yet again, 'But what do you think, dahhhrling?' He might get as
far as 'I think...' before her dowturned face, pouting lips and her
eyes upturned, each retina tripping with a psylocibin mushroom, a dim
blue glowstick beacon, strangely alienating while inviting a sense of
intimacy, especially among those immediately knew that here was
someone that had gone through an unusual cognitive experience much
like one they could remember vividly but only bright sharp shards.
Killian tried without success where he had first seen Melissa...
But enough procrastination; the cull must be pursued without mercy. He picked
up a garbage bag and strolled back to the bedroom, the bedroom that
presently had clothing strewn all about the room, some of it
discovered in the deep recesses of his closet and not worn for years.
Such items would go to Goodwill and, frankly, good riddance -
a silver shirt? Really? And are there lasting repercussions
for fashion victims? Should I be worried? These days I find I can't
go wrong with black. But what if bad fashion is like trauma,
situations that are dormant for years then SMACK, you see a long
repressed face, and suddenly you are back there, gasping for air,
knees trembling, looking over your shoulder, sure that you felt his
breath on your neck. Welcome to the wonderful world of Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a useful paradigm for understanding
what just happened to you. PTSD, while something Killian explored
and perhaps suffered from at times, is no longer a worry for him.
One Temazapam tablet and 20 minutes later, Killian wonders why he
couldn't catch his breath. But fashion, fashion could be different,
unamenable to pharmacological intervention. And the timing was just
about right. He remembers wearing the glitterati shirt to an event
at Cherry Beach, an outdoor goa / psychedelic trance party which
would have been the late 90s. Ten years later he runs his hand along
the slick synthetic fabric and wondering what he was thinking.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Pro(se) and Cons(sciousness)
Can I put something out into the illuminated ether that will be worth someone's time to read? Well, there is nothing to do but try. So this blog will be some of my annotations from underground. Dostoyevesky understood; consciousness is a disease. Today, I might call it a meme host. Regardless, there must be something in my neural net worth pushing onto the internet. The Beat generation had their metaphor and a good one it was. Yeah, they were down, they were marginalized, but they were not broken. Generation X though - something gave. The Berlin Wall came down and with idealism. The World Trade Centre crumpled and terror broke the spirit of a demographic. We are not just down beat, our troubles put to the jazz beat. We are the breakBeat generation. I put the first few lines of Ginsberg's classic into an online cut-up engine. It seemed appropriate somehow in this age of retooled samples and derivative prose. Here it is:
For Carl Solomon
|HOWL I madness, starving hysterical naked, generation destroyed by connection to the starry dynamo in the ery of night, angry fix, the best minds of my For Carl Solomon heavenly the negro streets at dawn I saw machin- looking for an dragging themselves through angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient|
Abraccess Maxwell, member of the bre@kBeat generation and the initial PoMoMeme.