Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lunch Chat (9/27): The Self

Hopefully you were able to check out our screening of "Being John Malkovich" last night. What a wonderfully wacky movie!

The movie got me thinking about the idea of "the self". Like many concepts that have received philosophical attention, the self seems in one sense totally accessible and unproblematic — it's just my consciousness, my internal monologue, my beliefs and desires, &c. — but in another, it is rather elusive. What makes me me? In virtue of what have I persisted over time? Is my conception of my "self" a product of a particular cultural or religious background? Where is the self "located"?

If any of these questions seem interesting and/or you like pizza, stop on by the Philosophy Lounge (62 Coleman Hall) on Thursday at noon and we'll see if we can make any sense of them.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Philosophical Film Tuesday: "Being John Malkovich"

"I mean, it raises all sorts of philosophical-type questions, you know . . . about the nature of self, about the existence of a soul. You know, am I me? Is Malkovich Malkovich? . . . Do you see what a metaphysical can of worms this portal is? I don't see how I could go on living my life the way I've lived it before." — Craig Schwartz

Being John Malkovich
Tuesday 9/25, 7:30PM @ The Campus Theatre
413 Market Street in Lewisburg | $2

With an introduction by a very special surprise guest!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lunch Chat (9/20): Is Enhancement Cheating?

I saw this column by Alva Noƫ in NPR's 13.7 blog called "Making Peace with our Cyborg Nature" stimulated by the Lance Armstrong doping controversy. He says of Armstrong:

He is a trailblazer. One of the greats. He didn't win races on his own. No, like each of us in our social embeddings, he created an organization, one drawing on other people, and the creative and effective use of technology, the mastery of biochemistry, to go places and do things that most of us never will, and that no one ever had, before him. That we now attack him, and tear him down, and try to minimize his achievements ... what does this tell us about ourselves?
What indeed? Assuming that Armstrong did dope, are his achievements diminished? Were his actions unfair? What ought to be allowed in sport? We'll chat about this on Thursday the 20th at noon, in the philosophy lounge (62 Coleman Hall).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Philosophical Film Tuesday: "The Truman Show"

"We accept the reality with which we're presented." — Christof

I'm not giving anything away by saying that The Truman Show is a story about "Reality TV" on a grand scale. This genre had been around for a while in 1998, but hadn't yet seen anything like the explosion of popularity that occurred in the 2000s. Like The Matrix, the film raises some hard questions about the nature and possibility of knowledge and the nature of reality — Is Truman's world real for him? Does this differ for his "friends" and "family"? Does he even have friends? — but in a strikingly different way.

Come see, Tuesday the 11th at 7:30PM in Trout Auditorium (in Vaughan Lit; free admission, all are welcome)

We'll be back at the Campus Theatre on September 25th; more screenings here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lunch Chat (9/13): Science Fiction as Philosophy

I've been reading and thinking about science fiction and its connection to philosophy recently — primarily because of my Philosophy and Film course — and came across this nice little piece in the io9 blog: "The Philosophical Roots of Science Fiction".

I'm sure plenty of people have thought harder about this than I have, but what defines this genre? Suppose I wrote a fictional story about a tangled romance in the Royal Society and how it indirectly lead to Newton's Principia Mathematic. Would that count as a "science fiction" story? It seems to me clearly not! So what's the key ingredient? Perhaps it's some level of "fantasy" — something out of the ordinary occurring? But then why the focus on science? I wonder if this is an accidental association: science is often an enabler of technologies that seem fantastic (or that we can imagine might lead to fantastic possibilities). It's a literary device for generating willing suspension of disbelief. (A lunch chat participant from last week sent me a link to this fun short story that seems to have this feature: invoking an "infinitely powerful computer".)

If that's so, then perhaps the core of the genre is better thought of as philosophical fiction. Of course, similar problems with this definition crop up too — imagine a tawdry romance novel involving some academic philosophers [yawn...]. Help me think this through, literary, science, philosophy, computer-science, (and so on)-types! I'll give you some pizza in exchange. . . . As usual: noon in 61 Coleman Hall; Thursday 9/13.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Philosophy Lunch Chat (9/6/12): Are You in a Computer Simulation?

Might we be living in a computer simulation? Unlike the humans' "envatted" predicament portrayed in The Matrix, might we in fact be simulations — computer programs with consciousness? Oxford philosopher and futurist Nick Bostrom has offered an argument — "The Simulation Argument" — that suggest that this might in fact be quite likely! "Whoa...."

Given that we'll be screening The Matrix on Tuesday, I thought we could start Philosophy Lunch Chats this term by considering this even more radical possibility. Bostrom has assembled quite a lot of different presentations of this idea — see, e.g., this whole website (!) complete with many links to papers and more popular outlets — or better yet, just have a listen to this discussion on the Philosophy Bites podcast and stop by the Philosophy Lounge (Coleman 62) at noon on Thursday.

About Philosophy Lunch Chats
(Nearly) Every Thursday from noon to 1PM during the term, interested faculty, staff, students, and community members get together to chat about some philosophical topic over pizza in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. There's nothing to sign up for, and you won't get a grade, ever. Feel free to be a regular or show up just once. For more information about Philosophy Lunch Chats or to offer suggestions for future chats (warmly welcomed), contact Professor Matthew Slater <>.

The Matrix @ The Campus

The first of the Philosophy Department's Philosophical Films Series for the Fall will be playing at the beautiful Campus Theatre on Tuesday, September 4th at 7:30PM:  The Matrix! 

So get out your trench-coats and nighttime sunglasses and get ready to start questioning the nature of reality! I'll offer a few pre-screening remarks on radical skepticism and the possibility of indefinitely-stacked matrices.

Check back here or bookmark the series page for more opportunities to enjoy some great films that ought to stimulate some interesting discussion. Next up, another skeptical hypothesis: are you sure that your friends and family aren't really all actors?