Vagueness is standardly defined as the possession of borderline cases. For example, ‘tall’ is vague because a man who is 1.8 meters in height is neither clearly tall nor clearly non-tall. No amount of conceptual analysis or empirical investigation can settle whether a 1.8 meter man is tall. Borderline cases are inquiry resistant. Indeed, the inquiry resistance typically recurses. For in addition to the unclarity of the borderline case, there is normally unclarity as to where the unclarity begins. In other words ‘borderline case’ has borderline cases. This higher order vagueness shows that ‘vague’ is vague.
Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category
A non-textual one this time:
– From Wednesday’s Girl Genius strip.
The idea that a successful person should be happy has thousands of years of momentum behind it. If I was any good, why didn’t I have the easy confidence winners are supposed to have? But that, I now believe, is like a runner asking “If I’m such a good athlete, why do I feel so tired?” Good runners still get tired; they just get tired at higher speeds.
— Paul Graham. An interesting essay, which (indirectly) suggests that the reason why people seem more discontented these days is that more of them do jobs where it’s not possible to know you did the best you could. I already know that manual labour is more “satisfying” in this sense than intellectual labour, so in hindsight this idea seems obvious.
Sean, your timing is spooky. You always seem to manage to blog about something just after I’ve been thinking about the same things!
I don’t recall ever being in a long-term comfort zone. Even when I was feeling ’comfortable’, it was because I was lazy and indulgent, not making the most of life, so I felt guilty. Is this a good thing? I certainly don’t feel good because of it.
I’m at quite an odd stage in my life right now. The monkey (or id) is telling me to settle down, make long term friends, find happiness. But the other part (in psychoanalytic terms, the ego) recognises that settling down at this stage is a kind of prison, so I know I can’t be truly happy that way.
By way of a followup to a previous blog entry, I’d like to point out a dissenting opinion. Maciej Cegłowski writes some very interesting stuff about his travels; in recent months he’s been in China. And he says:
The year 2000 was supposed to bring us flying cars, flying robots, moon cities, undersea bases, bionic medicine, artificial brains, orbiting lasers, monoliths, domes, hypersonic airliners, cyborg bodies and giant space stations. Instead, when the big odometer finally rolled over, we were told to accept as the acme of Western technological achievement the autonomous vacuum cleaner and animated smiley.
Having received the shocking news that Elsmorian has never heard Tommy, I went back and listened to it again myself. While I was listening I read the Wikipedia article, which says “Townshend’s later interest in synthesizers is foreshadowed by the use of taped sounds played in reverse to give a whistling, chirping sound on ‘Amazing Journey’”. I thought “really? never noticed” and listened to it once more.
It’s funny when you revisit things you’ve listened to casually before and discover new depths. I only even noticed these funny chirpy sounds when I listened to them again just now, while they add a wonderful other-worldliness to the song, reinforcing the idea that it’s all a vision inside Tommy’s head. They sound great even today, but it was only when I realised how fantastic they must have sounded in 1969, when the album was released, that I could appreciate it properly. Bear in mind that I’ve been brought up in a musical culture where synthesisers are mundane (we call digital ones keyboards now) and sounds like that are trivial to create with the audio equivalent of the universal constructor, the waveform editor. I think it’s rather sad that my appreciation of it is jaded by having heard similar sounds hundreds of times before, as just another instrument.
It all reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s remarks about conjuring in his interview with Stephen Briggs in The Discworld Companion (my copy is the second edition), where he explains that he would probably enjoy a Discworld play, with its improvised, amateur special effects, more than a Discworld film, with big-budget CG:
I suppose I’m saying it’s the difference between magical tricks being done by a genuine wizard and by a stage conjuror. The wizard does marvellous things but it’s, well, magic and therefore in a sense mundane. Yawn yawn, he’s produced another damn pigeon, well, that’s magic for you. But when you know it’s being done by a conjuror with a hearing aid and a day job down at the building society, and all achieved by springs and elastic and secret pockets, this makes it much more interesting. Any fool can be a wizard, but you have to be clever to be a conjuror.
I think you can say the same for any look back at past innovations. It’s difficult to appreciate the cleverness of past inventors when the modern man looks at their inventions and shrugs — to him, they’re just a prosaic part of his world, no more amazing than a flint knife would have been to a caveman.
I know it’s becoming something of a cliché these days to say that (not to mention being semantically dubious), but it did make me realise: not only do we now have things comparable to PADDs, tricorders and communicators from Star Trek (PDAs and mobile phones), all of which seemed terribly futuristic at the time, we are improving on them by merging their functions (smart phones). But the robotic hoover seems the clincher to me, considering it’s one of the many tiny details in Deus Ex which gives the game a “futuristic” atmosphere.
Ironically, the one technology that is arguably most characteristic of the “futuristic” era, the most socially and politically disruptive technology ever, is the one thing the sci-fi authors never predicted, at least in the form it now takes.
(Footnote: Of course, if anyone can point me towards an SF author predicting the international, egalitarian, democratic Web in a similar form to what we have now — not to mention the FLOSS movement, which I consider an integral part of the whole thing — I’ll happily retract that statement. Note to self: read some William Gibson.)