To Be Alive

Moments of surreal or bizarre imagery in a nice little film about enjoying life.

One weird addendum: you are seeing only one-third of the film. The film was meant to run on three screens simultaneously, with different imagery on each screen, although sometimes, I think, they synchronized.

Posted By: Paul - Sun Nov 15, 2020 - Comments (0)
Category: Movies, Documentaries, Philosophy, Surrealism, 1960s

The jokes of Immanuel Kant

We've posted before about jokes from unlikely sources, such as the jokes of Lord Aberdeen, and the jokes of King George VI. Now, along similar lines, comes a book from Robert ClewisKant's Humorous Writings . It's a collection of 30 jokes told by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Kant and humor are, I'm guessing, two things most people wouldn't associate together. And after reading Clewis's book, their opinion on this subject may not change.

Clewis freely admits this. In his preface he notes that he was "once tempted to call the book Kant’s Humorous Writings: I Wish They Existed." He goes on to say, "Readers may find the jokes to be boring or even offensive. No promise is being made that the reader will find the jokes amusing."

But Clewis also insists that the book itself isn't a joke. Nor was his intent to lampoon Kant. As he describes it, while studying Kant he realized that the philosopher's work included occasional jokes. His curiosity aroused, he thought it would be interesting to collect these jokes together, as a way of understanding what Kant thought was amusing.

Each joke is accompanied by an illustration drawn by artist Nicholas Ilic. So it's very much a book geared for a general audience. (Admittedly, an audience who appreciates offbeat, erudite material). Personally I think it seems like a great coffee table book. But then, I'm strange that way.

I've reproduced two of Kant's jokes, as well as Clewis's explanation of them, below.

Amazon link

The Merchant's Wig
There was once a young merchant who was sailing on his ship from India to Europe. He had his entire fortune on board. Due to a terrible storm, he was forced to throw all of his merchandise overboard. He was so upset that, that very night, his wig turned gray.

This joke comes from the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790), one of Kant's three Critiques. He contrasts this version with another version: the merchant's hair turns gray. But in that version, we listeners or readers become more concerned and involved. We empathize with the merchant and feel his pain more than in the first version. When it's just a wig, we are in a better position to find the story amusing. We hear the narrative as a joke rather than as descriptive speech, a real story about the world that can be either true or false.

Kant thinks that when we hear or read a joke as a joke, we need to be removed from the situation or story; we cannot have something at stake in it. He calls this disinterestedness, which turns out to be a key principle in his aesthetic theory and account of beauty. "Taste is the faculty for judging an object or a kind of representation through a satisfaction or dissatisfaction without any interest. The object of such a satisfaction is called beautiful." While the humorous is not the same as the beautiful, Kant thinks that our response to both of them requires a kind of disinterestedness. A notion of disinterestedness can be found in the writings of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper) (1651–1713) and other eighteenth-century aesthetic theorists. Today the notion of disinterestedness remains controversial. Some theorists think that the idea can be better captured by the concept of absorbed attention or focus.

Immanuel Kant

Happy Funeral Mourners
A man's rich relative dies. Suddenly he is rich. To honor his relative, the man wants to arrange a solemn funeral service. But he keeps complaining that he can't get it quite right.
"What's the problem?" someone asks.
"I hired these mourners, but the more money I give them to look grieved, the happier they look."

This is a second joke from the Critique of the Power of Judgment. Kant is using it to illustrate his incongruity theory of humor. When we learn that the mourners are happy because they are getting paid, he says, our expectation is suddenly "transformed into nothing."
The philosophical underpinning is that there are at least two levels of satisfaction at work: we feel sadness, joy, etc. (first-order satisfaction) and then can approve or disapprove of it using reason (second-order). A man can be glad that he is receiving an inheritance from a deceased relative, yet disapprove of his gladness. "The object can be pleasant, but the enjoyment of it displeasing."
The joke turns on something similar happening with the mourners. They are so happy that they are getting paid (second-order) that they are no longer able to look sad (first-order).
There is a similar anecdote in Plato's Ion, a dialogue about a professional reciter (a "rhapsode") named Ion, who aimed at moving his audience. Ion says that when he looks out at the audience and sees them weeping, he knows he will laugh because it has made him richer, and that when they laugh, he will be weeping about losing the money.

Posted By: Alex - Mon Sep 28, 2020 - Comments (2)
Category: Humor, Jokes, Philosophy, Books

Cosmic Guinea Pig

Posted By: Paul - Sat Mar 14, 2020 - Comments (1)
Category: Animals, Anthropomorphism, Humor, Philosophy

Man sues parents for giving birth to him

The philosophy of anti-natalism has been around for a while. It’s the belief that reproduction is bad because it involves bringing someone into this world without their consent and dooming them to potential suffering.

Mumbai businessman Raphael Samuel (aka Nihil Anand) has now taken this one step further by claiming that he’s going to sue his parents for giving birth to him without his consent.

His mother's response: "I must admire my son's temerity to want to take his parents to court knowing both of us are lawyers. And if Raphael could come up with a rational explanation as to how we could have sought his consent to be born, I will accept my fault."

Of course, Samuel hasn't yet found a lawyer willing to take his case. And he fully anticipates that the case will promptly be thrown out. But he's plowing ahead nevertheless.

More details: BBC News

Posted By: Alex - Wed Feb 13, 2019 - Comments (3)
Category: Philosophy, Lawsuits, Birth Control

The Existentialist Hat

In 1948, the existentialist Parisian milliner Jean Barthet debuted the "existentialist hat" which was topped by a pair of floppy hands that were supposed to symbolize the hovering "hands of fate."

For some reason, Barthet's hat didn't capture the popular imagination as a symbol of existentialist angst in the same way as, for instance, Edvard Munch's The Scream did.

However, Barthet did go on to have an extremely successful career. Wikipedia notes that he was a favorite hatmaker of Sophia Loren and Michael Jackson.

Newsweek - June 28, 1948

Des Moines Register - June 14, 1948

Posted By: Alex - Thu Sep 22, 2016 - Comments (1)
Category: Philosophy, Headgear, 1940s

Plato’s cave allegory done in claymation

[via reality carnival]

Posted By: Alex - Sun Aug 11, 2013 - Comments (3)
Category: Philosophy


UNDERCURRENTS from Michael Fragstein on Vimeo.

"UNDERCURRENTS is based on a series of interviews collected by Tobias Hülswitt. He asked different people to explain him how the world works and they came up with the broadest variety of answers."

Many thanks to WU-vie Michael Fragstein, who is part of this project.

Posted By: Paul - Mon Nov 19, 2012 - Comments (0)
Category: Philosophy, Surrealism, Reader Recommendation, Cartoons

Weird Science - Douglas Adams For The Win!

When Isaac Newton first published his laws of motion, he ushered in a new era in science where - in principle - every event could be exactly predicted if you knew the forces at work in the system accurately enough. in Newton's "clockwork universe" true randomness did not exist, since the unpredictability of an event was just a statement of your ignorance, with careful enough measurement everything from the roll of a die to the spin of a roulette wheel could be known to any degree of accuracy. Even relativity only refined, rather that displaced, Newton's deterministic new world.

That prevailing view of the universe was thrown, literally, into chaos with the advent of quantum physics, where counter-intuitive results were commonplace, effects could appear to happen before causes (or even without causes) and true randomness abounded. In an effort to return to the saner world of "classical mechanics" many physicists sought to again ascribe the apparent randomness of quantum systems to ignorance, they declared that "hidden variables" currently unknown to science had secretly determined the results. Even Einstein, whose 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect had helped found the new physics was moved to say categorically that "God does not play dice!"

But who was right? In an effort to determine this, in 1964 the physicist John Bell performed a thought experiment whereby pairs of entangled particles (ones where a particular property of the pair is known but each particle's individual contribution is not) are measured simultaneously while a great distance apart from each other. In the classical view either the results would have been determined well in advance of the measurements, in which case they should correlate perfectly, or they are separately determined by the act of measurement, in which case they should not correlate at all. Bell showed with mathematical rigour that in one particular experiment any hidden variable theory should produce a correlation of < 0.5. This became known as the Bell Inequality. At the time there was no practical way to test Bell's hypothesis, and the earliest attempts in 1972 were inconclusive, but by the 1980s the technology had matured to the point that physicists could be very confident that Bell's Inequality had been violated, at its core the quantum universe really was truly and utterly random.

But how random? Consider the quantum equivalent of a coin-toss, one that is completely fair and - as we have discovered - completely random; clearly it is equally likely to end up in only one of two states, the quantum equivalent of "heads" or "tails". We could represent each result with either a 1 or a 0, so the amount of randomness of our quantum coin is said to be "1 bit". But quantum systems are not bound to act like coins, perhaps they are more like dice or roulette wheels, perhaps a quantum system is a random as a lottery draw with literally millions of possible outcomes. It was to answer this question that a team led by S. Pironio of the Laboratoire d’Information Quantique in Brussels set up and ran their own "Bell experiment" and measured with 99% confidence just how random quantum systems are.

So how many bits of outright randomness are created by each quantum interaction? If the title didn't give it away, the answer is...

More in extended >>

Posted By: Dumbfounded - Fri Apr 16, 2010 - Comments (10)
Category: Ambiguity, Uncertainty and Deliberate Obscurity, Philosophy, Science, Experiments

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Who We Are
Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.

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