Quote of the Day: Martin Zeichner on all sorts

Quote of the Day: Martin Zeichner on all sorts July 25, 2019

Here is a comment from Martin Zeichner here at ATP:

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. The first two words of the title of this post are:

Philosophy 101

I have had the bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) fortune to never have taken a Philosophy 101 class. In fact I have never had any kind of philosophical training at all. In college I did have a suite-mate who was a philosophy major but I had a different major entirely. Which major? I’m not saying. It shouldn’t be too hard to find out in this post privacy, anything-for-a buck dot com world.

I am interested in philosophy but I don’t think that philosophy can answer every question. In particular I am interested in what might be the philosophy of humor. The best answers that I have seen so far come from Mel Brooks, a comedian, filmmaker, and all ’round smart guy (what used to be called a ‘Wisenheimer’). “Comedy equals tragedy plus time”. “Comedy is when you fall into a manhole. Tragedy is when I fall into a manhole”. Those are comparing comedy and tragedy. Not all humor does that.

Take the first one. How much time does it take to turn the Tragedy of Oedipus Rex into comedy? Or Hamlet or King Lear or Dr. Faustus. If you regard satire as a form of humor, then it may take the emergence of a great satirist to do so. Such satirists are rare. As rare as great musicians or great actors, painters, or political leaders. Unfortunately, language also undergoes inflation, same as money. The word ‘great’ is a perfect example. We all have different heroes that we consider to be great. Jonathon Swift was one. Gilda Radner, Redd Foxx, Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley and Tom Lehrer were also. Lehrer (a math teacher at Harvard who once said that “Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.”) was able to satirize Oedipus Rex (and Freud), but as far as I know, he and the others left Shakespeare and Dr. Faustus alone. Tom Stoppard was able to satirize Hamlet in his play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”.

The post then goes on to compare the opinions of more recent philosopher to those of the ancients and states that it gets that it gets confusing. Indeed it does, So why does it get confusing? Disagreement is supposed to be part of the neverending search for truth. It’s a good thing. Right?

I tend to like questions more than I like answers. At the risk of repeating myself, questions keep the conversation going while answers can stop the conversation, unless they lead to more questions. In particular, I like to call ‘Why?’ the question that is often asked but is rarely answered. I first started thinking about this when I was thinking about child development in college. When a toddler continually asks why, they are not necessarily trying to be annoying, they may be testing the limits to language, When the parent shows annoyance at the question the child learns to not keep asking the question. Warning: Segue coming.

Besides Piaget, combined with my own experiences as a father, one of my major influences is Marshall McLuhan (not what you might call a philosopher, but a thinker nonetheless) When I was in High School and Professor McLuhan was still alive, I was curious about his ideas. So I picked up a copy of “Understanding Media” at a used book store. I thought at the time that his premise was interesting if not fascinating. I was uncomfortable with his conclusions and I wasn’t able to articulate the reasons why I was uncomfortable until I reached my forties and had been working for a living for over a decade.

McLuhan’s premise, as expressed in ‘Understanding Media’, was that as technology changes, people’s view of themselves and of other people (what was called when I went to college the Weltanschauung or self-and-world view.. A German portmanteau that I rarely see in use any more.) Professor McLuhan concludes that the use of a phonetic alphabet, (almost universal now. Even Ancient Hebrew is phonetic. The addition of vowels was a further refinement of the written language) as an improvements over ideographic written language such as ancient Egyptian that you can still see as preserved in museums all over the world.

The good professor also coined the term “global village” (in The Gutenberg Galaxy, I think) to describe how electronic communication (then Television) seems to be shrinking the planet. To this day, I’m not sure if this phrase has influenced the popularity of “It takes a village” (in translation) which is said to have it’s origins in African culture. Both phrases could also have been influenced by the African proverb. A common ancestor, so to speak.

I only wish that Prof. McLuhan had lived long enough to see how the internet has disrupted people’s views yet again. Television enabled a double edged sword of potentially being a tool for education and also entertainment at the turn of a dial. The internet, with it’s ability to combine text, personal video, and recorded sound (sight and sound) also has the same potential. Television was replaced by the internet before it reached its potential. Television, in turn replaced radio before radio could reach it’s potential.

I see the phonetic alphabet as an improvement over an already existing technology. Change has been accelerating since humans (no single human invented language; it was and is a long slow process, still going on.) invented language, long before a transcendent god was a gleam in someone’s eye.

The phrase “there’s nothing new under the sun” is apparently derived, in translation, from the old testament. If that phrase had any truth some 2500 to 3000 years ago, what hope do we have of ever having an original thought? And yet we do. Why is that?

This comment is already too long and I haven’t even gotten to theism vs atheism or Henri Bergson yet.

These and other questions may or may not be answered on the continuing story of “As Humanity Turns.

I thought this had some interesting asides.

I think philosophy can answer more questions than any other discipline, mainly because, as a subject, it encompasses all other disciplines!

That said, technology, and the internet, in particular, is having huge effects on society from a behavioural as well as a more abstract point of view. I would love to know the real impact it is having, especially in terms of beliefs. How is the internet affecting atheism/theism, woo and pseudoscience, extremism and so on. Although there is so much amazing and correct information out there, there is also a lot of shite that people can pick up and adhere to. Do we have a nett gain or loss? More flat earthers and anti-vaxxers or fewer, proportionally, given the internet?

I’m sure people can give me some data below to suggest a movement in erroneous beliefs in the internet age…?

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