Die Französischspeckfragen 
2010 is forever ago in internet time, but Daily Nous recently linked to an old item on reddit:
When I was young my father said to me:

"Knowledge is Power....Francis Bacon"

I understood it as "Knowledge is power, France is Bacon".

For more than a decade I wondered over the meaning of the second part and what was the surreal linkage between the two? If I said the quote to someone, "Knowledge is power, France is Bacon" they nodded knowingly. Or someone might say, "Knowledge is power" and I'd finish the quote "France is Bacon" and they wouldn't look at me like I'd said something very odd but thoughtfully agree. I did ask a teacher what did "Knowledge is power, France is bacon" mean and got a full 10 minute explanation of the Knowledge is power bit but nothing on "France is bacon". When I prompted further explanation by saying "France is Bacon?" in a questioning tone I just got a "yes". at 12 I didn't have the confidence to press it further. I just accepted it as something I'd never understand.

It wasn't until years later I saw it written down that the penny dropped.

It is too cute to be real, especially given that it was posted by someone whose user name is Lard_Baron. But it's nice even as an apocryphum.

Most of the comments at Daily Nous recount misheard song lyrics, which is a shame. Misheard songs lyrics are ubiquitous, but of no consequence. Nobody expects song lyrics to make sense. Misheard wisdom is a more crucial thing. As Descartes writes:
But now that I begin to know myself better, and to discover more clearly the author of my breakfast, I do not in truth think that I'll eat rashers amidst all the matters which the senses seem to teach us...


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A singular comedic formula 
The crypotnymous blogger at Slate Star Codex has posted a long list of a philosopher walks into a coffee shop jokes. It's a slight twist on the an X walks into a bar formula, for X = 'philosopher' and 'a bar' exchanged for a coffee shop. He includes a hoary Descartes joke which is usually told as Descartes walking into a bar, but he also includes lots of original material.

Several of the best form a series and rely on appearing in a long list of jokes which follow the same formula, and this excuses the lame jokes. What they lack in intrinsic hilarity they make up for in constituting part of the long list. His Sartre joke, however, is pretty weak.

Since Sartre's philosophy is indigenous to Parisian cafes, my thoughts developed along these lines:
Jean-Paul Sartre walks into a coffee shop and walks up to the counter. The barista asks him what we wants. Sartre was supposed to meet a friend but is running late, and so he ignores the barista. Looking around the cafe, he sees nothing. What a great philosophical example, he thinks to himself.

There is also a hoary Sartre joke which already fits the pattern, mentioned by one of the commenters:
Jean-Paul Sartre walks into a coffee shop, walks up to the counter, and asks for a coffee without cream. The barista replies "Alas, we are out of cream. Can I offer you a coffee without milk instead?”


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2014 in the rearview mirrow 
Years ago, I was blog-tagged to summarize the year's blogging by taking the first sentence from the first post of every month. It's become a tradition; cf. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and
2013.

Although the sampling procedure is rather arbitrary, this year strikes me as being more narrowly about my academic work than recent years: more about writing, publishing, and teaching and less in the way of philosophical rumination on current events that were stuck in my craw. I'm not sure whether I think that difference is for better or worse.

I. One of the papers I was working on when I looked for places to send short papers has been accepted at Phil. Quarterly.

II. Are digital images allographic?, a paper I cowrote with my colleague Jason D'Cruz, has been accepted at the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.

III. I made a comment in class yesterday that was a passing reference to Pulp Fiction.

IV. In a just-published article, Manolo Martínez tries to modify the Homeostatic Property Cluster (HPC) account so as to accommodate polymorphic species.

V. Although I haven't been following it closely, last year President Obama proposed rating universities using factors like affordability and graduation rates.

VI. Ergo, a new open access philosophy journal, recently posted its first issue.

VII. In discussions of peer review, somebody always mentions referees searching the internet to suss out who the author is.

VIII. When my first paper about distributed cognition was under review, one of the referees objected to my account on the grounds that it would count transactive memory as d-cog.

IX. In the waning days of summer, before the semester started, I finished up two draft papers.

X. Imagine an angel comes to you in the night, when you are feverish and in the midst of metaphysical reveries.

XI. Yesterday I learned about recent work by jazz combo Mostly Other People Do the Killing.

XII. I just posted version 1.30 of forall x.

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Ninth blogiversary, belated 
I had meant to annuate the end of my ninth year of blogging here, which fell on October 4. The total contents of the blog at that point were 367 entries comprised of 160,392 words; of those, 48 entries and 17,182 words had been written in the preceding year. So the ninth year was slightly more productive, blogwise, than the eighth.

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Contest results 
The Aesthetic for Birds contest, posing the question of whether a band can be its own cover band, is over and judged. I was the judge for the contest, and saw only anonymous entries. I wrote up the results and had Christy insert the names of the winners.

Here's my report.

Crossposted at AfB; if you have comments, make them over there.

* * *

The contest grew out of a conversation between Christy and me about whether musicians adopting different personas might do a cover of a song they had recorded earlier. It would have been easy to get caught up in how to define a 'cover', but we quickly realized that the meatier philosophical question was about the identity conditions of a band. Neither of us have an account of that, so he decided a contest was in order. I agreed to be the judge, so that entries could be judged anonymously.

I expected the entries to fall into two broad categories: No, with general considerations to show that it is impossible for a band to cover itself. Yes, with a thought-experiment scenario in which we can imagine a band becoming its own cover band.

The first strategy calls for a straightforward deduction; something like this:
1. By definition: A cover version is performed by someone other than the original artist.
2. By definition: A cover band of X plays cover versions of X's songs.
3. The original band is the original artist and not someone else.
Therefore, the original band cannot be a cover band.

To my surprise, nobody quite made this argument. In fact, out of 21 entries, only four answered no to the assigned question. (Most answered yes, and one equivocated.)

Several entries presume that the relation 'A covers B' is transitive. All of those entries got set aside, because their assumption is just false. There are two accounts of cover songs in the literature. Kania (2006) argues that the target of a cover version is a thinly-specified song. Magnus, Magnus, and Mag Uidhir (2013) argue that a cover version targets a specific prior version. In neither case is the relation transitive.

Another entry invoked the distinction made by Magnus, Magnus, and Mag Uidhir between mimic and rendition covers. Well played, given who organized the contest and who secretly was going to judge it, but not ultimately persuausive.

Three entries merit honorable mention.

The entry by Roy T. Cook was the cleverest of the no answers. The author defines a perfect cover band and goes on to give a natural deduction proof that it is impossible to know that a band is a perfect cover band of itself. The definition is that "A is a perfect cover band of B" iff we cannot determine whether A and B are the same or distinct. The proof submitted cuts a corner, presuming without mention that knowledge is closed under implication. I mark partial credit.

The entry by Jonathan Weinberg was written in a nice analytic style and posed a schematic scenario for a yes answer:
Suppose band B has sound S1 at t1, and then by t2 their sound evolves to S2. Now suppose by t3 they abandon S2, and pursue a career simply reproducing their t1 songs performed a la S1. Then B at t3 is a cover band of B at t1.

This answer plays nicely with the identity conditions for a band, suggesting that later time slices of a band might be a different band than earlier time slices. A few other entries similarly relied on different time slices of the same band, but this one was clearest. However, as Cristyn pointed out to me as I was mulling over answers, fans don't actually think about bands this way as the bands get older. When a band is forced to play their old hits even though they have moved on musically, we might think it's sad but we don't call them a cover band.

The entry by Jim Hamlyn was the only one written in verse. It poses a yes-answer scenario that is similar to the one in the winning entry, but somewhat less precise. Perhaps imprecision is the price of doggerel.
A band can be a cover band
By a form of exaggeration and
By mocking, shamming or otherwise hamming
Their art as if by another's hand.

Second place goes to the entry by Eric Wiland:
A band can be its own cover band. I'll argue by example. The White Stripes would cover themselves if they were to play all their songs with Jack on drums and Meg singing lead and playing guitar. Interestingly, a solo artist cannot cover herself.

The crucial thing is that Meg played drums in the White Stripes while Jack played guitar and sang lead. We typically identify a band not just by its members but by what each member does in the band. So having everyone trades roles could constitute a different band and allow the same people to constitute a cover band. (I had to look up the lineup of the White Stripes to make sure I understood the crucial thing correctly. Points off for clarity.)

The winner is BP Morton, who wrote:
Sure! Imagine a band that secretly re-unites, pretends to be a cover band of itself, and is taken as such by its new audience. Whether they fess up or not, by posing as a cover band successfully and being taken as one, they have become a cover band of themselves.

The idea plays on an ambiguity of what it is to be the same band: The band in the scenario is the same band in one sense because it has the same members playing the same parts. The band is a new band in another sense because band identity is a social fact, constituted by the members presenting themselves in a certain way and being accepted by the audience. It's even if just being a cover band is a social fact in that sense.

Congratulations to the the winners, but I had fun reading all of the entries. Thanks to Christy for the chance to decide the matter.

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