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Trump, Barthes and Calvinball

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — not to mention Alasdair MacIntyre ]

First, Calvinball:

all_games_turn_into_calvinball 2 panel 602


If you’ve been following my stuff for a while, you’ll know I’m interested in situations where two teams or individuals are playing two different games. As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre put it:

Not one game is being played, but several, and, if the game metaphor may be stretched further, the problem about real life is that moving one’s knight to QB3 may always be replied to by a lob over the net.


Roland Barthes, the French philosopher, made a related observation:

This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxing-match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time… The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result.


So what does this have to do with Donald Trump?

Just that one of the more interesting things I’ve read about Trump’s campaign is Judd Legum‘s This French Philosopher Is The Only One Who Can Explain Why Trump Is Skipping The Republican Debate — and his key graph essentially applies Barthes’ distinction to MacIntyre’s observation:

In the current campaign, Trump is behaving like a professional wrestler while Trump’s opponents are conducting the race like a boxing match. As the rest of the field measures up their next jab, Trump decks them over the head with a metal chair.

If, like me, you find that idea illuminating, by all means read the whole thing.




Ah, but..

.. now that Go, like Chess, has fallen to the wiles of the computer, I suppose we can chuck our games of strategy books and cast our pleading glances towards the new overlords.


Throw away books? Never!!

And just for the record, here’s Calvinball, the full version:


Is Poetry plus Science a zero sum game?

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — for Adam Elkus ]

A case study in the heliotrope:

SPEC DQ heliotropes

Do we gain as much in science as we lose in poetry, when we switch explanatory frameworks?


F Scott Fitzgerald:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

How about holding two explanatory frameworks in mind?

Adam, I think you’re doing something of the sort with qualitative & quantitative approaches, right? And I quote

The work merges my longstanding interests in intellectual history and qualitative research approaches to studying strategy and decision-making and my technical interests in simulation, modeling, cognitive science, and machine intelligence programming.

What the PK Dickens?

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — conceptual echoes in a PK Dick bio-flick ]

PKD covers 600


I have just been watching Mark Steensland’s movie, The Gospel According to PK Dick, and a couple of fine parallelisms – echoes, really – struck me.

I’m going to start with one quote from the Chuang Tzu which is so often quoted it has been dulled for me, like a few other very great very over-celebrated works, Beethoven’s Fifth, and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565, among them. Finding its echo in the words of Robert Anton Wilson in this film breathes new life into it, at least for me, for this moment.

Chuang Tzu, then, from The Complete Works Of Chuang Tzu translated by Burton Watson:

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

DoubleQuote that with Robert Anton Wilson in the movie:

In 1994, I think it was, somebody put up on internet a report of my death, and no matter how much I’ve denied it, it seems most people accept that I’m still alive, but there’s a die hard minority who insists I’m dead and the CIA has replaced me with an android. And I’d be much happier if I’d never read Philip Dick, because I would just think, “Well, I know I’m not an android,” but having read Philip Dick I realized if I was an android who’s properly constructed, I’d think I am Robert Anton Wilson. So that leaves me perpetually in a predicament of not being sure that I’m Robert Anton Wilson or an android programmed to think it’s Rob– to think, talk, and write like Robert Anton Wilson. I guess I’m really grateful to Phil for that, it gives me a certain agnostic detachment, which I think is necessary for mental health.


The echo of Chuang Tzu in the words of Robert Anton Wilson occurs towards the beginning of the movie. Towards the end of the movie, we have Paul Williams, the “father of rock criticism” also talking about his friend PK Dick, who was also the subject of his celebrated 1974 Rolling Stone article:

That particular, unique personality this is Philip K Dick arises, when you and I or the three of us, or any two or three readers of {Philip K Dick, or friends of his, or whatever, get together, then we have the opportunity, as in the ends of those stories, to actually experience his presence, and it’s uniquely him. And, uh, I appreciate that, and I appreciate that in that way, I still have him in my life. And that’s definitely quite a gift.

DoubleQuote those words of Williams with these, from Matthew 18.20:

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


Gospel, indeed. and Tao, too.

Let’s get metaphysical — a quick sequence of tweets

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — From Elkus to Furnish, Tolkien to Feynman, — too tired to write, not tired enough to sleep — ripe for the twitter feed ]

The occasion of mirth:


Adam Elkus identifies the zone:

The mirth:




Meanwhile, Tim Furnish was there ahead of time, defending Tolkien & attacking IS:

And now let’s get back to those laws of physics:

Two wrongs make a right or wrong — in theory?

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — on the (Pythagorean) arithmetic of morals ]

Extermination_of_Evil_Sendan_Kendatsuba 600

Sendan Kendatsuba, one of the guardians of Buddhist law, banishing evil, Tokyo National Museum


What’s right is generally supposed to be positive, while what’s wrong is seen as negative — and as they saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

In effect, that’s saying two negatives don’t make a positive. And if you add them, that’s correct.

But if you multiply two negatives, you get a positive — hunh?

So two wrongs can indeed make a right — that’s the mathematics of vengeance — multiplicative:

And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

— Deuteronomy 19.13

And it is also true that two wrongs don’t make a right — that’s a mathematics that denies vengeance — additive.

And then there’s the mathematics of forgiveness :

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

— Romans 12.21

Patient men, desirous of the Face of their Lord, who perform the prayer, and expend of that We have provided them, secretly and in public, and who avert evil with good — theirs shall be the Ultimate Abode

— Qur’an 13.22

And what’s most interesting to me in all this, is that the mathematical formulations, additive and multiplicative alike, don’t make a feature of time — where as their moral equivalents tend to introduce time into the equation / situation — in each case, it’s the response to evil, real or potential, that is considered.

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