Joshua Moderator
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Posts by Joshua

    I think this might be one of our better episodes on materialism, in part because of the focused effort to work out the implications of atomism and follow them through to their conclusions.

    I mainly see it as a question of emphasis--with the caveat being that what we emphasize in life colors our perception of what life amounts to while we live it.

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    Show Notes:

    Thoreau, on Lucretius and Prometheus;

    "[I was] struck only with the lines referring to Promethius (sic)—whose vivida vis animi…extra/processit longe flammantia moenia mundi.”

    "Gravity" [2013] Fire Extinguisher Scene

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    Virgil, Georgics, Book II, verse 490

    "Me indeed first and before all things may the sweet Muses, whose priest I am and whose great love hath smitten me, take to themselves and show me the pathways of the sky, the stars, and the diverse eclipses of the sun and the moon’s travails; whence is the earthquake; by what force the seas swell high over their burst barriers and sink back into themselves again; why winter suns so hasten to dip in Ocean, or what hindrance keeps back the lingering nights. But if I may not so attain to this side of nature for the clog of chilly blood about my heart, may the country and the streams that water the valleys content me, and lost to fame let me love stream and woodland. Ah, where the plains spread by Spercheus, and Laconian girls revel on Taygetus! ah for one to lay me in Haemus’ cool dells and cover me in immeasurable shade of boughs! Happy he who hath availed to know the causes of things, and hath laid all fears and immitigable Fate and the roar of hungry Acheron under his feet."

    -Trans. J.W. Mackail

    Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas - Wikipedia

    Two philosophers on motion;

    Zeno of Elea - Wikipedia

    Heraclitus - Wikipedia

    Omaha is 100 miles south of the city I grew up in, and its zoo is consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation. It was also a feature of my childhood, and we went several times a year. Among its other achievements--the largest nocturnal exhibit, the largest indoor swamp, one of the largest indoor rainforests and desert domes in the world, the largest glazed geodesic dome on earth, and so forth--was an ornangutan who could pick locks.

    Every night, zookeepers would close and lock the great ape enclosures and then lock the building they were housed in. Every morning, when they opened the building, they found all of the orangutans loose inside. This went on for some time, until at last they discovered that Fu Manchu, a Sumatran orangutan, was keeping a length of wire along his gumline. When the zookeepers went home for the night, Fu Manchu would set to work with his wire, and pick the lock on the entrance to the orangutan enclosure.

    Not only did he grasp the concept of locks and how they work, he also understood that his wire was "contraband" of a sort, and that it needed to stay hidden when not in use. And he understood that his mouth was a good place to hide it--he would always have it with him, and no one would suspect!

    The head zookeeper was on the point of firing someone for carelessness before they discovered the real cause.

    We were discussing Helen Keller on the chat this evening, and how she came to learn not just superficial things about her environment, but achieved a fully aware understanding of abstract concepts and principles. It seems to me that the brain is thirsty for information, and given the right stuff it finds a way. I can imagine a future intelligent supercomputer being as confused about the human understanding of mathematics as we are about Fu Manchu's grasp of the principles involved in lockpicking.

    "Retaining his imperium, or power to command, Torquatus was in Africa in 47.[17] There the surviving boni raised an army which included 40,000 men (about 8 legions), a powerful cavalry force led by Caesar's former right-hand man, the talented Titus Labienus, forces of allied local kings and 60 war elephants. The two armies engaged in small skirmishes to gauge the strength of the opposing force, during which two legions switched to Caesar's side. Meanwhile, Caesar expected reinforcements from Sicily. In the beginning of February 46, Caesar arrived in Thapsus and besieged the city. The boni, led by Metellus Scipio, could not risk the loss of this position and were forced to accept battle. Scipio commanded "without skill or success",[18] and Caesar won a crushing victory which ended the war. Torquatus fled the field along with Scipio, attempting to escape to Hispania, but was trapped at Hippo Regius by the fleet of Publius Sittius. Scipio committed suicide on board a ship and Torquatus either committed suicide with him or was captured and executed.[19]"


    I think I still have qualms about seeing "instinctual behavior" as evidence of a prolepsis.

    I mean I'm basically throwing out the prolepsis of the gods without hesitation, I think it's fair play to reconsider a lot of it.

    It also occurs to me to say that part of that conversation included a question from Cassius as to whether any anticipation of justice is separable from the feelings of pleasure and pain. We do refer to the "prick of the conscience", after all.

    One part of our conversation was particularly insightful on that point. Charles (to summarize) said that Epicurus' definition of justice as non-absolute and existing in mutual advantage by social convention was well above and beyond the operation of the anticipations. Steve replied that there was a considerable amount of cultural overlay, but that the prolepsis of justice might be operating underneath all that at a far more basic level. Steve's response seemed to me good, and the only way to reconcile the prolepsis of justice with what Epicurus says in the Principal Doctrines: as for example in this one;

    32. Those animals which are incapable of making covenants with one another, to the end that they may neither inflict nor suffer harm, are without either justice or injustice. And those tribes which either could not or would not form mutual covenants to the same end are in like case.

    To speak of chimpanzees and capuchins as forming covenants to protect their idea of fairness is bordering on the absurd, but the operation of fairness and compassion do seem to be present at some level. So I would, like Steve, try to draw a distinction between the mutual rational justice of the principal doctrines and the canonic pre-rational anticipation of justice, which might be present also in lower orders of animals.

    What do we think of this as a start?

    The attributes of agreements of justice:

    • Rational
    • Cultural
    • Social
    • Leading to stated or implied contractual behavior
      • With the expectation of reciprocity, without which the compact breaks down; more like a treaty between sovereign nations

    The attributes of the anticipation of justice:

    • Pre-rational
    • Evolutionary
    • Individual
    • Leading to voluntary behavior
      • With no expectation of reciprocity: More like giving a gift; maybe you'll get one in return someday

    Fernando brought up the work of Dr. Frans de Waal in the discussions on primates and the prolepsis of justice, which I wanted to start a thread about since we didn't get into it on the call.

    Moral behavior in animals
    What happens when two monkeys are paid unequally? Fairness, reciprocity, empathy, cooperation -- caring about the well-being of others seems like a very human…

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    We've been talking about this recently and I haven't been properly crediting the source, so thank you Fernando!

    Show Notes:

    Imperial Units of Measurement at Trafalgar Square

    Imperial Units of Length Melt as Parliament Burns (Science in Trafalgar Square, London)
    There is a plaque on the south side of Trafalgar Square, just behind the statue of Charles I, that is the reference point from which all distances from London…

    Research on the "newly-sighted"

    Seeing a flat plane of indiscriminate shape and color:

    At First Sight: Gaining Sight as an Adult
    It's harder than you think.

    Recognizing human locomotion:

    After a lifetime of blindness, newly sighted can immediately identify human locomotion
    Researchers find blind patients who had very limited visual exposure to human bodily movement could immediately recognize human locomotion after the removal of…

    It seems fitting here to remember that W. B. Yeats considered Lucretius' fourth book to contain "the greatest description of sexual intercourse ever written". He responded to it by writing that "the tragedy of sexual intercourse is the perpetual virginity of the soul"--in other words, that, try as they might, lovers never can succeed in becoming two in one.

    We do have this thread going, which is an excellent resource, and great for compiling this kind of information. I generally like to keep tidy formatting there and limited conversation, but Nate, your post would be a great addition.

    Bottom of page 62 and top of page 63:

    There remain the epithets "imposter" and "prostitute." For these it is the most plausible explanation that Epicurus discovered his teacher to be living a double life, preaching virtue, as all philosophers did, and at the same time practicing vice. Cicero informs us that most philosophers condoned the practice of homosexuality, and for once he agreed emphatically with Epicurus in condemning it as against Plato. The latter, as is well known, had essayed in his Symposium to sublimate this passion into a passion for knowledge. Epicurus also wrote a Symposium, in which he retorted: "Intercourse never was the cause of any good and it is fortunate if it does no harm." In the case of Nausiphanes there is another item of evidence from the pen of Epicurus: "As for my own opinion, I presume that the high-steppers (Platonists) will think me really a pupil of the 'lung-fish' and that I listened to his lectures in the company of certain lads who were stupid from the night's carousing. For he was both an immoral man and addicted to such practices as made it impossible for him to arrive at wisdom." The practices here referred to have been interpreted as the study of mathematics, but the mention of adolescent lads, of drinking, and of immorality make the true reference unmistakable to any reader conversant with the shadier side of student life among the Greeks.


    I haven't been able to find any concrete source on this. Though there are some suggestions or allusions that perhaps he had some relation in one way or another with Pythocles, whether that's in bad faith or not is hard to say given the nature of Plutarch.

    I think DeWitt infers from one of Epicurus' alleged insults against Plato or Aristotle that he was mocking them for pederasty. I'd have to find the citation, which DeWitt (from memory) implies rather than states directly. Presumably the kind of invective that gets thrown at every one at some time or other in antiquity, all though the insult passage in Laertius is confusing because the biographer himself seems to discredit every word of it.

    DeWitt occasionally cannot help himself from making bricks by first making clay...


    Dare I say that our philosophy departments need gardens?

    One of the many reasons I love Friar Laurence from Romeo and Juliet;

    The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,

    Chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light,

    And fleckled darkness like a drunkard reels

    From forth day's path and Titan's fiery wheels.

    Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye,

    The day to cheer and night's dank dew to dry,

    I must up-fill this osier cage of ours

    With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers.

    The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb;

    What is her burying grave that is her womb,

    And from her womb children of divers kind

    We sucking on her natural bosom find:

    Many for many virtues excellent,

    None but for some and yet all different.

    O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies

    In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:

    For nought so vile that on the earth doth live

    But to the earth some special good doth give,

    Nor aught so good but, strain'd from that fair use,

    Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.

    Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;

    And vice sometimes by action dignified.

    Within the infant rind of this weak flower

    Poison hath residence and medicine power:

    For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;

    Being tasted, stays all senses with the heart.

    Two such opposed kings encamp them still

    In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will;

    And where the worser is predominant,

    Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.

    I highlighted the parallel passages between that monologue and the fifth book of Lucretius in this thread. In a later passage he recommends to Romeo "Adversity's sweet milk, philosophy".

    Thank you for advising me on the many dangers of the Ugni fruit! It sounds like you have far exceeded my meager knowledge on plants. And cheers on the myrtle: I've always wanted to grow a myrtle, since learning of the connection.

    I think Greenblatt mentions that in The Swerve--as well as Montaigne's personal copy, discovered because of a marginal note, and a manuscript of the whole poem in Machiavelli's hand demonstrated by handwriting analysis.

    Friendship has changed, and one of the symptoms of this is that modern readers can't quite come to terms with the language used between male friends in the preceding centuries. People nowadays will infer romance where there (probably) was none--as in the cases of Lincoln and Speed, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Alexander and Hephaestion, and so on.

    You'll also enjoy this, from the Jesuit Review: "For us as readers, it helps to remember that friendship is, ultimately, a Christian concept. “A sweet friendship refreshes the soul,” says the Book of Proverbs (27:9)"