Saturday, December 30, 2006

The meaning of life in a nutshell (and a happy new year!)

We can hear the new year coming... Actually I have almost failed to notice the fact. Now that it's time to wish your friends the same wishes you have wished over and over again, I found this moment a perfect time for reflection.

I used to discuss the meaning of life with one of my dearest friends back in Poland. These were some of the most futile discussions I have ever had, but on the other hands they were extremely entertaining. I still love doing it. It reminds me of a joke quoted in Jim Baggot's "A Beginner's Guide to Reality", this is actually a kind of parable:

One day a fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, with his fishing pole propped up in the sand and his solitary line cast out into the sparkling blue surf. He was enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the hope of catching a fish.

About that time, a businessman came walking down the beach trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday. He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach and decided to find out why this fisherman was fishing instead of working hard to make a living for himself and his family.

"You're not going to catch many fish that way," said the businessman, "You should be working harder rather than lying on the beach!"

The fisherman looked up, smiled and replied, "And what will my reward be?"

"Well, you can get bigger nets and catch more fish!" was the businessman's answer.

"And then what will my reward be?" asked the fisherman, still smiling.

The businessman replied, "You will make money and you'll be able to buy a boat, which will then result in larger catches of fish!"

"And then what will my reward be?" asked the fisherman again.

The businessman was beginning to get a little irritated with the fisherman's questions. "You can buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!" he said.

"And then what will my reward be?"

The businessman was getting angry. "Don't you understand? You can build up a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let your employees catch fish for you!"

Once again the fisherman asked, "And then what will my reward be?"

The businessman was red with rage and shouted at the fisherman, "Don't you understand that you can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend all the rest of your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won't have a care in the world!"

"And what do you think I am doing now?" Answered the fisherman.

I think you get the message. The story is quite simple, but very powerful with regard to its philosophical meaning. If you have ever pondered the meaning of life and did not find the actual answer, I can help you. The life has no meaning in ordinary sense. Practically absurdity is the defining feature of human life and to great extent it makes us realize how beautiful it is thus. In an outside view at your existence, you are absolutely meaningless and the fact that you have existed in a certain moment in time and occupied some space or not does not really change anything. This is my blanket solution, however bleak it might seem. Why is that so? The fact if eat five nuts or spit on the floor, destroy your shirt or colour your car green does not really mean anything to the universe. You are meaningless and this is your intrinsic feature. Of course, you might argue, the mundane things you might do everyday do not change the universe as such, because the very things are practically meaningless to you. Well, it's true. But even if we try to assume that you were somebody important, say Einstein, and decided to commit suicide aged twelve and thus never formulated the relativity theory, it is still the same. Your existence would be meaningless as well, because it wouldn't really take long until somebody else formulated the theory of relativity. Well, maybe the World would have to wait another ten or twenty years, but sooner or later somebody would do that. Maybe it wouldn't be named the same, but surely his theory would do for the Einstein's theory.

The absurdity of human predicament (as marvellously described in Mark Rowlands' "The Philosopher at the End of Universe") lies in the fact that it revolves around two different views on ourselves: the outside and inside view. Or, in other words, our actual achievements and their pretension. All philosophy runs on absurdity of human existence.

From the inside view, your life might be fulfilled with meaning, you have a job, you have a wife and children, say boy and girl. You wake up everyday in the morning at eight to be able to make it to your office before nine, you work eight hours and go back home where you eat you lunch. You watch some TV, presumably a movie or a football match, or some news. After a while you play with your kids a little bit and then make love to your wife. When you get the salary, you can buy some food so that your family could thrive and you change your car after several years. You make your children grow healthily and happily. You send them to college and so on. In fact the chain of events has some meaning to you because you fulfill your life with significance, you complete your "objective" and find yourself another. This is our inside view, our inside story, which works perfectly well...

But there is always the other story to be told, which is the outside one. According to it, your life has no meaning. It is absurd (and please remember that in philosophical terms absurd does not mean stupid It just repsesents the clash between the two views to ourselves). Practically, we are living on a meaningless planet in some meaningless galaxy and even if there are some beings in the outer space they will probably not make it here until we all die. Sad, isn't it? We have been around for infinitesimally small amount of time in context of the planets or even animals in general. We mean nothing. But on the other hand the both stories, the external and the internal one, cannot be true at the same time. They aren't simply compatible. To see it clearly you might consider the myth os Sisiphus, the diligent guy who rolled the extremely heavy stone up the mountain all his life only to learn that it would always roll down as soon as he reaches the top. He had to begin his labor over and over again, for eternity. Sisiphus' work was very hard and tiresome, it shattered his nerves and muscles each time he had to repeat it, but actually it is not the difficulty of his task that contributes to his misery. His miserable predicament was defined by the fact that (from the outside view) nothing could count as success. He never achieved anything, he never built anything because the stone rolled down forever. The task aimed at nothing.

But this is just a rendering of our own lives. In a large sense, there is no difference between Sisiphus situation and ours. Practically we do the same job, only that our tasks might be more elaborate. The fact that we lived and died is like a stone that has just rolled down the peak. As you can see, existence is futile. (ha! now I remembered the beginning of "Star Trek 8: The First Contact" with its funny Borgs repeating "Resistance is futile!")

In a detailed (i.e. inside) view, even Sisiphus' story does not seem so bleak. We can count each of his steps up tho hill as a decent achievement and we can consider his very will to do another step as a sign of power to endure and fulfillment of his existence with meaning.

You do not choose the view to your life. The views just exist and consist in the most difficult philosophical questions. You just do your job, and your sons do the same (or just similar) jobs when you die, and when the end of the world comes, the descendants of earthlings will do the same job over and over...


ad nauseam...

Ah yes, and a happy new (another?) year!

Analysis of the rise and fall of skirt lengths

Skirt lengths have changed for decades. It was once true that short skirts were considered a vulgar classification stigma of lower-class women's dress and skirts shorter than knee-length were considered to be positively shameful and indecent. Nowadays, you must be soft in the head to think so and consider yourself an up-to-date gentleman at the same time. Men like watching scantily clad girls and there is no question about it. And girls who strongly oppose wearing short skirts in most cases have simply nothing interesting to show beneath them. The fact is that not for nothing do women wear short skirts. This is done so to bare knees, legs, calves and make your legs an impeccable lethal weapon (however this loses its value when women reach elderly age).

In a nutshell, the shorter a shirt gets, the more male attention it arrests. Most men seem to be ignorant of the fact, but let’s put things straight: this is sheer psychical abuse and emotional frenzy. Worn of some certain occasions, short skirts may be a cunning gambit. Just image all those hopeless auditioners, employers, examiners, interrogators. When they loose their matter-of-fact sober point of view and acquire assessment-of-legs point of view, a pretty woman can overpower them. Indeed, a tricky way to distract their attention, isn’t it.

However, there is also some zany relationship between women’s intentions while wearing short skirts and its actual effect on other people. A gorgeous woman is conscious of the fact that it is relatively hard for a man to restrain from giving several piercing glances. But, she likes it somehow. On the other hand, stare just a second longer and you get a smack in the face. This is strange, no question about it. Women like to know they look adorably but are not always fond of being observed by lots of alert men in the street.

Another absurdity emerges when we take under consideration couples. A man loves his girlfriend wearing mini dress. He likes to be proud and he likes to swagger around with her among friends. But when he happens to notice somebody’s starved glance at his girlfriend, there seems to be a decent reason to start fisticuffs. Wearing short skirts brings in also several other problems.

Teens and even pre-teens in modern society are bombarded with messages that say look sexy, get that boyfriend(s), etc. Everyone wants to look like Brittany Spears or Madonna. Unfortunately, it sends the wrong message to the male gender, and I can't tell you how many times I've seen young girls get subjected to catcalls and rude gestures and comments from men/boys on the street, yet they refuse to change their appearance. I tell them don't advertise what you're not selling, but I'm told it's the men's problems, not theirs. Well, they're the ones who are upset, so I'd say it's definitely a girl's problem. This is indeed a decent issue for reflection.

The tradition of covering one's flesh was practiced in former centuries, not because we were prudish Victorian snobs, but because certain areas of the the body, particulary the "trunk" area, were so especially fine and of a sensuous nature that they were reserved for only one extra special person in your life: namely your husband. However, those who refrain from showing these body parts are not repressed, better-than-others types of people. And it is not because the more intimate parts of our bodies, namely the trunk area, are naughty, but because they are so specially fine and nice that they must be reserved for only the most deserving of our lives. Nowadays, this principle seems to be devalued. Most girls want to show most of their bodies to everyone around and there is no problem about it.

Once you begin baring your body, people start looking at your thighs, your midriff, and your breasts, and what can these things express? To dress so skimpily suggests that you have little else to offer, and you use sheer blackmail. This tells others nothing of your true self. Your clothes will attract the kind of people that fit the message. Do you want a bunch of worthless no-account men to follow you home for one night?

When you walk past those awful magazines at the checkout in the grocery store; those women's magazines featuring "sexy" women scantily dressed, do you ever hear a man say, "Wow, doesn't she have a wonderful smile?" or "She has such kindness in her eyes." Nope. Because there is so much flesh showing, the men are not even noticing those other things. And that is what you will do if you wear those short clothes.

Sometimes it happens that some girls dress scantily whereas they really shouldn’t. Sometimes a short skirt can spoil your whole image and turn totally against you. You must be really sure whether it suits you or not. That would prevent a disaster. And, last but not least, before dressing so, check if there is appropriate weather.
Though it is not right, lots of people assess you within a glance. Bearing that on mind, you must know that shortening your dress doesn’t have to have the same effect on everybody. Some people may look at you contemptuously.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Coke, society and hyper-reality

Let's start with Coca-Cola... Huh. This is going to be fun, but I do believe it is one of the worst drinks in the universe. It doesn't taste good, it has no smell, it makes you burp or fart and in addition it is extremely sweet and unhealthy for you. Of course I do not have to mention that this is NOT an energy drink so you cannot expect to grow wings as soon as you have drunk a can of it. In fact, it's colour resembles burnt motor oil and... And why don't you just drink a juice instead, or even a coffee if you happen to be a caffeine addict? Ok, let's leave this aside.

Baudrillard (and McLuhan as well) argues that we construct a reality based on models of how we would like that reality to be, not on the reality itself, so for that matter Coca-cola (or Coke?, what is actually the matter with the names?) is the good example here. Coke has very strong emotional links to American psyche and the cultural identity of all citizens of the united states. It has emotional links to the masses who feel a part of the image. Coca cola is intrinsic, its name has become a product itself. People do not desire (that's the way I think, since I hate this drink) the content of the can, they just desire the very connotations it could create as a part of the image. However, the taste seems a part of the whole product and that's why they haven't changed it for years. Well, of course they could, but people would not buy it anymore because it wouldn't be the same drink then, or would it?

This is superreal, this is a kind of reality we create in our minds (or brain, if you happen to be a dualist). This is just a common social image we create ourselves.

If you want to learn something interesting, maybe you would like to ask yourself a question: What does the Santa Claus look like? Of course he is a jolly fat guy with reindeers by his side, he is wearing long white beard, a red hat and red trousers and red jacket. This was exactly what they made him look in Coca-Cola's advertising campaign in the late 1930's. The red and white colours were meant to be with accordance to a bottle of Coke. Isn't it interesting?

Nature of reality in "The Matrix"

Sometimes, when I write my posts, the thoughts seem to be flying so fast that I am quite obviously not able to put it all down... At times what I want to express seems so elusive that I have to think it over several times before actually writing it in the blog.

Getting to the point, my friend has somehow urged me to some pondering upon the nature of reality as such and that is why I decided to organize my thoughts in this topic. Writing helps me a lot because I makes my thinking more precise and refutes all irrelevant or self-refutable ideas. Writing, as I see it, is essential to rational thinking and you can believe me or not, after reading a hundred pages on philosophy, ranging from Parmenides (or Heraclitus for that matter) to the beginning to modern philosophy (as understood with the coming of the name of the famous french philosopher - Descartes) or even to such radical critics or thinkers like Baudrillard, McLuhan or Donna Haraway, your head literally starts burning and your thoughts might as well be compared to butterflies.

There are some things in popular culture that can be referred to as anchors for starting some interesting philosophical musings, and I really came to consider Wachowskis' "The Matrix" a decent movie to do it. Why? Well, it is quite simple - you rarely find a Hollywood movie being a very successful blockbuster, an action movie, an intelligent reflection on humanity's bleak condition and notice that after several years it is broadly discussed in almost all circles, starting from movie fans and ending with computer graphics zealots and amateur philosophers. All right, let's do it!

Initially I must admit that I do not find the movie quite original nor the best movie I have ever seen, but you must know it if you consider yourself a part of the moder popular culture, you definitely must see it at least two times. If you don't like science fiction - make just one exception.

The idea presented in "The Matrix" has been previously exploited by several masters of science-fiction, but for some reason the makers did not really give any of them acknowledgments in the ending titles whatsoever. For that matter I could easily mention Stanislaw Lem's "Kongres Futurologiczny", William Gibson's "Neuromancer" (which served as a basis for the most of the ideas in "The Matrix", starting from the ship the chosen ones used to move in the real world) and some ideas of Janusz Zajdel. I could as well mention several more movies ("Truman Show," "Strange Days," "Thirteenth Floor") but this does not seem to make any point here. Anyway, aren't we living in the world of simulacra? Things are just copies of things and we are never meant to see if there is an original.

It is quite sure that Wachowskis have quite consciously wanted to raise awareness in Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulation" as the book appears for merely several seconds in the movie. It is a book-looking box where Neo (the lovely Keanu) is keeping his pirate copies of programs that he wants to give to the people that come to his (the girl with rabbit tattoo among them, but this is not relevant for now.) But hey! Can you see the wonderful irony here? Neo in fact does not have an original copy of the Baudrillard's book, he just uses it to hide cd's. The "book" itself is a kind of first-order simulacrum, intended to look like something completely different. Well, if we want to get a little bit deeper, we can see the strange coincidence that Neo is having just the COPIES of programs in the box. I am sure it was a kind of nice gimmick for the careful viewer. However, not having the copy of "Simulacra and Simulation" myself, I would never manage to notice it really appeared in the movie and could really mean something.

Baudrillard (he is crazy at times, but hey, I come to love him!) distinguishes three levels (actually he calls them "orders") of simulacra:

The first order simulacra is intended to leave the reader, viewer, observer or listener a little space for interpretation, since the rendering is not quite accurate. We can understand the first order simulacra in various ways, these can be just the blueprints of a builiding that seem quite accurate, bu however accurate they get, they never are three-dimensional for the simple reason that they are just drawn on a paper. These can be just human-like dummies that are used by a director in a play, and it can be simply a Matchbox car.

The second order simulation resembles reality so much that it could easily be mistaken for the real. There is quite crazy example in Jorge Luis Borges' fable "On Exactitude in Science" which tells a story of a cartographer who decided to create a map of an Empire exactly as big as the empire itself. Quite crazy idea, isn't it?

The boundaries between particular ilks of the simulacra are quite blurry and arguable, but we can for sure tell that Baudrillards THIRD order of simulation is that which we can see witnessing the matrix in the movie. The simulation is real because the people within it have no connection to the real objects even if they tried to. Neo is the chosen one and he decides to take the red pill from Morpheus to see what the real world is like. And the real world is the bleakest rendition of his most horrible dreams. Technically, Neo is born again, which is rendered by his coming out of the artificial womb into some sewer in the real world. He enters the world he has never had opportunity to see, and it is the world of the ideal objects. He is not able to see well because he is instantly blinded by the real light. He asks Morpheus why did his eyes hurt. The answer is simple: "You have never used them."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cultural Imagery, karate kicks and Matrix

I have been thinking... There is no doubt we are living in a world of Simulacra, as accentuated by the radical philosopher Jean Baudrillard. Nothing more is original, we've lost the authentic forms and began living in a world of thousands of copies, which in fact are copies of copies. This, quite accurately was the idea of Plato as conveyed by the metaphor of his "cave". We are living in a cave and are observing some phantoms, shadows of the reality outside on the wall. Shapes that cast the shadows are not visible to us in their original form, we are not able to reach outside for them and see the real ones. This seems to be a modern philosopher's bullshit, but in fact - it isn't. Let's take a deeper look.

The shadows have permeated our entire universe in a sense that we can no longer be sure when we are able to see a "real" thing. Let's consider words of dr Collado Rodrigues, a professor at my university: "the simulacra have found its way to the popular culture and we could easily consider the movie "Shrek" a part of it". When we watch a scene of the princess performing "matrix-type kick" (sort of hanging in the air for a couple of seconds until really kicking shit out of somebody.) This obvious reference brings us to "The Matrix", but even in Wachowski brothers' "The Matrix" the idea of such kick is not genuine, because it is derived from old Nintendo karate games, where you could use your character to perform such kick witch delayed impact to make it more powerful. So far, so good.

But we till haven't touched the real thing. The Nintendo kick is also a simulacrum and only represents what people could see in old karate pulp eastern movies, where actors like Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan or even Chuck Norris fought in dance-like manner with thousands of enemies, defeating every single one of them.

Yet, we are still in the world of simulacra. The movie karate kicking is nowhere close to what real life fight is about. It is supposed to imitate authentic fight, but it isn't in a littlest bit dead on. In reality, when you fight with twenty opponents, they don't just calmly come one by one to get beaten when the rest of them are waiting. It is just impossible. Thus "Shrek", "The Matrix", "Nintendo", and eastern karate films are just examples we are living among copies of reality.

The man who expressed the same idea in a more accessible way was William Gibson the modern cyberpunk writer in his short story "The Gernsback Continuum," (the short story is available on the internet at taken from "Burning Chrome." He was the one who observed the link between architectural debris of 21st century and our own semiotic phantoms. The semiotic phantoms are all the things we have never seen in their genuine form, but function quite naturally in our universe. These are such things as aliens or UFO's that were never really seen by any of us, but somehow we all seem to have the general idea how they could look like.

The short story apparently has its title after Hugo Gernsback (presumably he also gave name to the famous science fiction award Hugo) who in the early twentieth century used to be an editor of pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories and shaped his contemporary America's visions of the future to come. Amazing covers of his magazines were just examples of the common illness that spread among people of America.

Every one of us continues living in his own familiar continuum, where Derrida's signifiers take their form and stay such until the end of our lives. Where does it all come from? The answer is simple - semiotic phantoms (or: ghosts) come from bad media (Gibson, 33). The bad media can exorcise our reception of reality and ensoul us with the phantoms. In "The Gernsback Continuum" the protagonists evidently loses contact with artifacts of his reality and everything he sees are examples of a kind of surrogate reality of 1980's. This is the world permeated by Art Deco (refers to a style that featured bold shapes, zigzag and geometric elements, vivid colors, and artificial materials; the movement was popular in the mid-twenties and lasted through the 1930s) and the Streamlined Moderne, which in fact have their origins in the science-fiction pulp of 1930's and 1940's or 50's.

What is the point of all of it? We cannot make assumptions of reality unless we step out of our own continuums of places, values, images, texts and contexts. But it seems virtually impossible.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Musical visionaire?

Hi again. It is my nepotist nature that made me write it: I want to recommend you a CD. It is Fantomas' "Suspended Animation" and, hell, if it isn't the most visionary and original piece of music ever made, you can find me an kill me. Mike Patton at his best, and his band good as never before.

If you wish Zappa had played metal and if you like cartoon music, this one if for you. It sounds like a little child's nightmare with mickey-mousing and terrible monsters that come to grab you by your ankles in the dead of night...

I can't get the CD out of my player and it is getting even better all the time. It is crazy, dense as shit and makes other music look sombre and boring. "Suspended Animation" is a set o thirty choppy and spastic songs that will not let you sleep to. The musical textures are thick as shit, multidimensional and utterly crazy. The quartet exploits the world of cartoon music with such ease that other modern musicians can only dream of...

Not that Fantomas feature Terry Bozzio on drums (Dave Lombardo, the former drummer, for reasons unknown to me, decided to leave the band), I can't wait to listen to their next record...


Refute Newton

I think I have conceived an interesting idea for all people who feel quite overwhelmed with the weight of the world and their problems. It consists in refuting Newton and Copernicus, but shit, let's do it.

It is very easy and you only need imagination. First of all concentrate on your legs while walking. Now think of the following three things:

1. You are not really moving your body (it is just an impression.) You are moving earth with your feet.

2. If you are going home, it is not that you move your body towards it, you are just dragging it back to you.

3. Only you can do it... (other people can't; they would tear the earth apart if they did.)

Well... Do You feel more powerful?