Why We Never Die – The New York Times

I don’t think my son is old enough to experience these complicated, deep fears, but I remember very clearly when they struck.  I wonder how common this is across different cultures– how parents deal with these fears in their children– how I will handle this coming stage of my children’s intellectual development.  Is this a problem that is ever truly resolved in us?

Source: Why We Never Die – The New York Times

More Philosohpy in Popular Culture: I Heart Huckabees


I Heart Huckabees - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I Heart Huckabees – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

A close friend of mine recently brought up this movie and I thought I’d take a quick look at it again as a means of winding up the ignorance log portion of this blog; but also as a possible bridge to other nearby blips on the radar.  So, I watched it again, and, aside from a lot of very sexy actors and actresses (especially Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman– meow) there’s some interesting philosophical content here as well.  If nothing else, I could see using this to teach about portions of the stream of background questions of philosophy as a discipline– questions about being and knowledge and truth and action and beauty and right and wrong.

Also, a lot of the content of this film around the nature of being seems to jibe very closely with Jill Bolte Taylor’ TED presentation, here, particularly when Marky Mark is hitting himself in the face with a rubber ball.

Anyway, I’ll be paying closer attention to this genre of movies as I round out the semester in EDST 597.  I’m interested to see what particular philosophical paradigms are most closely associated with Hollywood scripts like this one…  Trying to brainstorm some other titles… of course, there’s Into the WildBeing There (1979) with Peter Sellers is another one that came up in discussing this with my housemates this evening.  The Matrix, would be another good one I suppose.  But I should define “philosophical” a little more specifically.  The Wikipedia article on I [heart] Huckabees, for instance, refers to the film as a “philosophical comedy.”  It’s not clear whether “philosophical” is in this case referring to an existing genre or is just an innocent modifier of “comedy.”  Such a delimitation along the lines of a genre– even if it’s one I invent myself– would be helpful here.  That’s why I’ve been leaning towards “popular philosophy” as the appropriate descriptor.  But that makes is sound like self-help books or something.

Perhaps Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life would fit here.  Or Life of Brian for that matter.  Beyond being didactic, which I Heart Huckabees flirts with occasionally, I’m interested in finding movies which stand up on the merits of their stories.  Jaffe and Jaffe (the characters played by Tomlin and Hoffman) are hilarious, apart from their lengthy expository soliloquies.  But the focus of the film should take a turn for the more or less explicitly philosophical.  It can’t merely be some character espousing a certain philosophy– there has to be some philosophical turn– I want to see a character doing philosophy in the film.  Like when Neo is being grilled by Morpheus aboard the Nebuchadnezzar.  A sci fi series like the original Star Trek which deals in an episodic fashion with certain philosophical problems might also qualify by this rubric.  I suppose a documentary like Examined Life would count as well.  Still need to take a look at that one.

Ignorance Log Chapter 2: The Need of a Theory of Experience

The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative (p.28).

By what authority do we know if we’ve had an educative experience or not?  Is this part of the role of the teacher?  Is it necessary to be aware of our our experiences as educative or not (i.e. through meta-cognition)?

Just because traditional education was a matter of routine in which the plans and programs were handed down from the past, it does not follow that progressive education is a matter of planless improvisation (p.29).

How did Dewey’s conception of the necessity of educational philosophy work against his view of traditional education?  What does it mean that Dewey’s conception of educational philosophy ran so thoroughly against his conception of traditional education?  Was traditional education for Dewey an “un-philosophical?”  Howso?

I admit gladly that the new [progressive] education is simpler in principle than the old…  while there is very much which is artificial in the old selection and arrangement of subjects and methods, and artificiality always leads to unnecessary complexity.  But the easy and the simple are not identical.  To discover what is really simple and to act upon the discovery is an exceedingly difficult task.  After the artificial and complex is once institutionally established and ingrained in custom and routine, it is easier to walk in the paths that have been beaten than it is, after taking a new point of view, to work out what is practically involved in the new point of view. . . [yadda yadda Ptolemaic & Copernican Astronomy] (p. 30).

Ignorance Log Chapter 1: Traditional versus Progressive Education

Progressive Education in the 1940s (YouTube)

The above video does a pretty good job of presenting what most people in the first half of the 20th century must’ve had in mind when they thought of “Traditional” versus “Progressive” education.  But what exactly does Dewey mean when he uses these two terms?

As Dewey’s soundbite from the close of this video notes, Dewey’s idea of Progressive education consists in, above all, preparing students for an ever-developing future, not, as Hannah Arendt concludes, in somehow burdening children with responsibility for the present or, as proponents of Traditional education would have it, of giving children an opportunity to absorb some knowledge of the past.

But does Dewey see these distinctions as absolutes?  Are Progressive and Traditional modes of education always completely distinct and, if so, how do we tell the difference?

These are questions that Dewey sets up in his first chapter of Experience and Education.  To be answered later in chapters 2 and 3.

Dewey sees school as a uniquely organized institution, as distinct from Family or other social institutions.  Does school organized around Deweyan principles of Progressivism blur this distinction?  What is it that distinguishes the “traditional school” in this way?

Dewey refers again and again to a sort conception of the world as constantly changing.  What is the nature of this change?  How does Dewey conceive of change?  Is he referring to people changing as subjects or to the world changing as the object of experience?  Or both or something else?  How does the world change?  Again these questions are I think answered ultimately in the following chapters, but it will be good to come back to these, even though they’re not exactly central questions.

Dewey asks a lot of his own questions as a means of further unfolding his arguments.  Here are a few of those from Chapter 1:

The problem for progressive education is:  what is the place and meaning of subject-matter and of organization within experience?  How does subject-matter function?  Is there anything inherent in experience which tends towards progressive organization of its contents?  What results follow when the materials of experience are not progressively organized?

In Chapter 4 Dewey is going to dive headlong into questions of authority and control which are hinted at above in this discussion of “organization.”

I don’t want to apologize for Dewey– anyway it would take more than a scholar of my stature to prop him up.  But more than that I am really curious about his beliefs with regard to Empiricism.  Westbrook claimed that Dewey was not a Positivist, but does this mean that he was not a Realist?  Actually later on in Chapter 3, Dewey outlines what is basically a Constructionist view of knowledge production, so that definitely rules out Positivism, but he was keen to decenter epistemological questions anyway in favor of metaphysics (e.g. of experience) and ethics (i.e. Democracy).

Dewey poses the following question towards the end of Chapter 1, and I believe that it is perhaps THE central question in E&EWhat is the role of the teacher in progressive education?  That’s definitely one I’ll want to expand on later and in my final essay.

Final question for Chapter 1:  When Dewey writes,

We may reject knowledge of the past as the end of education, and thereby only emphasize its importance as a means… How shall the young become acquainted with the past in such a way that the acquaintance is a potent agent in appreciation of the living present?

Does he recognize the submersion of the past and present in hegemony?  Is the recognition of a “living present” the same as a historical view of the present?

More to the point:  Is it possible that Dewey recognizes the problems of traditional schooling without recognizing their root causes in systematic inequalities and injustices in society?  I don’t think Dewey would have used the word “hegemony” at any rate, but perhaps the phenomenon that he describes later as “educative experience” depends upon some recognition of systemic injustice at play.

Paulo Freire: liberation theology and Marx (subtitled) – YouTube

Paulo Freire: liberation theology and Marx (subtitled) – YouTube.

on transcendentality.  How is the translation on this one?  Need to go back and have a listen for that small detail.  Also, is it the same transcendentality of, say, Thoreau?  Into the Wild?  Need to find out more about the Highlander School in Mounteagle (and later Knoxville and elsewhere) in Tennessee.  I’m wondering if there was ever any cross-talk between the Highlander folks and the Black Mountain folks across the Blue Ridge from them…

Does the Highlander School still operate?  Isn’t there some family connection to the highlander school?  Was my great grandfather a student there at one time?  Or have I imagined that anecdote…  That would make an incredible epistolary novel…  digging through letters from Highlander School people… wonder if there’s an organized archive of Highlander materials somewhere… maybe in Knoxville?

I love that the Southern Appalachians have this tradition of resistance to the mainstream of Southern American culture that is I think much more measured, thoughtful and if nothing else a reflection of a strongly communitarian lower-middle class d.i.y. ethic in the mountains, which is muted if not conspicuously absent in the foothills south of the Smokies– in an arc from Atlanta, GA east to Columbia and the Upstate of South Carolina, north and east to Charlotte, NC and further north east still to Winston-Salem and Greensboro…  I believe it has something to do with the landscape.  But what exactly, I’m not so sure I could say…

The Net Worth of the U.S. Presidents: From Washington to Obama – 24/7 Wall St. – Business – The Atlantic

The Net Worth of the U.S. Presidents: From Washington to Obama – 24/7 Wall St. – Business – The Atlantic.

This was a pretty sweet article.  The concept was brought to my attention by the January 30th episode of the Rachel Maddow in which she reports that Romney is the wealthiest Presidential Candidate since JFK and LBJ.  I was curious to compare.

You can get that episode of the Rachel Maddow show here

Also, from that episode of Maddow: Thomas Dewey– what relation if any to John Dewey?  Need to get back to posting on the ignorance log…  still waiting on the book in the mail, but have ordered it from the library at this point… I might actually have a chance to do some of that reading this weekend when we head up to Mt. Baker.

Some Preliminary Questions for John Dewey & Pragmatism

My copy of the Dewey text I’ll ultimately be focusing on for this “Ignorance Blog” is still somewhere in the mail.  So, since that is not an option at the moment.  I’d like to take this opportunity to record some of the questions that have arisen in some reading I’ve been completing for other assignments.  These readings are somewhat more peripheral to the Dewey Oeuvre (say that 10 times fast!) than Experience & Education, and have been selected as pairs for readings in Arendt, and Vanderstraeten & Biesta.

The following are some of the questions that have arisen in the course of these readings so far:

1.  How much will the classification of a given reading in Dewey as either “Late” or “early” have a bearing on the philosophical and other arguments he is making in that particular paper?

2.  What did Dewey specifically take for granted in terms of the structures of the society he was so often criticizing in his writing?  What were his “blind spots?” (e.g. Plato’s non-treatment of the issue of slavery in The Republic)

3.  Dewey has a troublesomely macho view of American history which he gives a glimpse of at the beginning of his paper, “Creative Democracy– The Task Before Us.”  Was he taking this sort of tone for the sake of argument only?  What might a feminist critique of Dewey look like?  Surely this exists already…

4.  How is the notion of “crisis” at the heart of Dewey’s “Creative Democracy” the same or different from the “crisis” Arendt writes about in her essay, “The Crisis in Education?”

5.  What is a concrete example of how someone might “apply democracy individually or personally?” (Dewey “Creative” p. 226)

6.  How would Dewey describe Human Nature?

7. What would it mean for education to be a “correlate of intelligence?” (p. 227)

8.  How close is Dewey’s notion of individual “habit” to Bourdieu’s habitus?  How would I describe either one of those w/o an excess of jargon?  Shall I just throw this jargon out for now?

9.  When Dewey writes: “…the expression of difference is not only a right of the other persons but is a means of enriching one’s own life-experience,” does this approximate a Derrida’s “justice-as-difference?”

10.  What the heck is a “commonplace of living?” (p. 229)

11. How far will Dewey take his professed “democratic faith?”  Is this a faith in democracy (as a just system, for example) or a faith characterized by its democratic quality?  It is interesting that Dewey seems to find it necessary/ expedient to describe “the democratic faith in the formal terms of a philosophic position.”

12.  What would Dewey say are the chief alternatives to the democratic way of life? (p. 229)

13.  What are Dewey’s beliefs about “science” exactly?

OK, so, there is a baker’s dozen of questions, and that’s just to do with the first essay.  I’ll likely post some more questions tomorrow– focusing more on the second article.  Also, more thorough bibliographical citations are coming soon.

Prologue to an Account of my Ignorance: Chris McCandless’ Story as an Approach to Pragmatism

File:Chris McCandless.png – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

File:Chris McCandless.png - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

McCandless, a.k.a. “Alexander Supertramp,” was the subject of the 2007 film, Into the Wild, which comprises a fictionalized retelling of the his travels around the United States.  He would ultimately head north towards the Alaskan wilderness.  If Emerson or Whitman are the Yankee Oracles of Democracy, a figure like Alexander Supertramp is their capital-‘M’ Muse.  Supertramp is Dean Moriarty.  But his image may be copyrighted.

A close reading of the above linked Wikipedia article around this photo reveals that a great deal of care has gone into the study of the origin and context of the photo itself.  For instance, it is noted that the film containing the negative of this image was recovered undeveloped inside a camera inside the bus (pictured).  But even from this single snapshot the density of possible questions explodes dramatically: the basic W’s– who, what, where, why, when, (and how)?  The film does an excellent job of hanging flesh on these bones, but there is a great deal more opened up.  The choices Penn & Krakauer have made in their various tellings of McCandless’ story.  What was written by whom?  With McCandless/Supertramp/Krakauer/Penn there is something of a triangle of authorship similar to that of Socrates/Plato/Cornford in that edition of The Republic.  Also, there is the question of temporal organization of the film– in chapters and flashbacks– what might have been crucially lost or gained in the translation of this narrative across genres and media?

***spoiler alert***

According to the Wikipedia article, which features the above photo, Supertramp’s death was first widely reported by Jon Krakauer in a 1993 article in Outside Magazine.  Later that article would be expanded into a novel (also by Krakauer) and the novel adapted into a film by Sean Penn with an Alt Rock soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, front-man for the band, Pearl Jam.

This quotation from Byron, along with a brooding string duet open the film:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods;

There is a rapture on the lonely shore;

There is society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and music in its roar:

I love not man the less, but Nature more. . .

This project will wind up being more than a blog or collage.  For example, I think by pointing to such a specific instance of poetry invites even more questions, particularly when juxtaposed with the image of the young McCandless relaxing by his coffin.  Juxtaposed again with the final entry Supertramp makes in his book in the film:

Happiness only real when shared

In the space between these two points of text an arc begins to emerge in our imaginations.  McCandless/Supertramp/Krakauer/Penn trace an individual’s philosophical orientation from something of a Transcendental to something of a Pragmatic bent over the course of the journal/portrait/novel/biopic.


This entry is the prologue to ignorance.  Ignorance is not the absence of a line to connect the dots, here, ignorance is the willful imagination into existence of an emptiness to surround every point in the constellation of data encountered.  This is focused ignorance.  Ignorance as a philosophical exercise.  Exquisite ignorance, quaffed delicately by a connoisseur of ignorance.  Ignorance of generations.  Ignorance of suffering and pain.  Ignorance of history and ignorance of fiction, Ignorance, in fact, of ignorance itself.  And so on.

The text which will be the figure about which I drape my satin ignorance: Experience and Education by John Dewey.  My hope is that I’ll be able to get all the bloviating done up front, and so keep it to a controlled, minimal level.  I’ll count this second entry as a success in that regard, and chop-chop, now back to work, creating a sleek critique as a flying machine hovering more or less at the whim of atmospheric conditions, but with a certain buoyancy, pitch, yaw and some means of charting a course.

Hopefully, my copy of the book will arrive in the mail soon, so I’ll be able to dig right in.