On philosophy

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

Acts 26:24, NIV

Theodore Zeldin is a philosopher. As far as I can work out, this means he gets paid to say things that nobody in their right mind would even think. I say this because a week ago I read in that epitome of news reportage, the Evening Standard (now free from all good Tube stations), that Zeldin threw a dinner party on Saturday where there was no food, but rather a list of supposedly conversation-provoking questions.

The plan was to get up to 200 people, paired with random strangers, to talk:

People in this world of superficial communication find themselves isolated and lonely and have difficulty in talking about personal things that really matter to them.

Well, all right. But this is actually a thinly-veiled attack on two mainstays of conversation and human interaction today: Twitter and Facebook: an antidote to the superficial conversations of Facebook and Twitter, to encourage people to open up to each other in more meaningful ways.

He seems amazed or surprised that at one event he organized, “they started at 7pm and some people were still going at two the following morning.” Yeah. Whatever. I used to talk through the night when I was at college, too.

Zeldin apparently has never been on Twitter or Facebook. The ability to have a non-superficial conversation does not depend on the medium, as any letter writer will tell you. More to the point, Twitter and Facebook facilitate human interaction: I have met far more interesting people through these media than I would have otherwise (the last time being a couple of Tuesdays ago at a #UKScitweetup event I organized). Some of my best friends, the very people I would open up to and discuss the secrets of the universe, I have met on Twitter or other parts of the internet. The failure to have ‘meaningful’ conversations is the fault of the people involved; indeed, a failure of vision in realizing what is possible.

If this is the state of philosophy in the 21st century, then philosophers are in great danger of becoming irrelevant. It may already be too late.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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51 Responses to On philosophy

  1. alice bell says:

    I think you need to talk to more philosophers on twitter 🙂
    Try @philosophybites for a start.

  2. Richard P. Grant says:

    Oh, fantastic, thanks! It was telling that I couldn’t find evidence of Zeldin being on twitter.

  3. Brian Derby says:

    I am not too sure if Zeldin is actually a bona fide philosopher. From web hints, he seem s more of a historian but then there is nothing wrong with that. I have always found that there are two sorts of philosophers, those that actually make meaningful contributions to the ideas of thought and those who comment on them. I cannot truly categorise where Zeldin sits in this spectrum but I have my suspicions. A good guide to how scientists regard philiosophy cajn be gathhered from Richard Feynman’s comments in his autobiography/memoir “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman” or the other one “What do you care…”

  4. Richard P. Grant says:

    Pfft. Philosopher, historian—all these humanities types are a waste of public money, aren’t they?

  5. Craig Rowell says:

    Thanks Richard….I like that a post containing ideas of meaningful conversation contains a disclaimer that comments should be kept brief because “excessively long (read boring) phrased entries will be edited” hee hee.

  6. Richard P. Grant says:

    Hah. Yes, well, if you can’t say it in 140 characters it’s not worth saying, right?

  7. Henry Gee says:

    I’ve met some of my best and truest friends through the interwebz. This might of course say more about my social skills, or those of my friends, and our shared interests, than anything else. But still.

  8. Richard P. Grant says:

    That’s more or less my point, Henry. And I want to develop it in a later post, asking the question, among other things, what exactly is Nature Network for?

  9. Henry Gee says:

    … And in next week’s programme, children, we’ll show you how to make a large hadron collider from three egg boxes, a jam jar and a piece of string.

  10. Richard P. Grant says:

    don’t forget the double-sided sticky tape.

  11. Nicolas Fanget says:

    "… And in next week’s programme, children, we’ll show you how to make a large hadron collider from three egg boxes, a jam jar and a piece of string." Henry
    Ah, so I see you’re a fan of GeekDad.

  12. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I think you’ll find, gentlemen, that the hadrons won’t properly collide without some elastic band catapults. You can easily rig these up using toothpicks.

  13. Richard P. Grant says:

    Hmm. We’re going to need more plasticine.

  14. Henry Gee says:

    You never can have too much plasticine, I find.

  15. Henry Gee says:

    … Nor gaffer tape and electrician’s cable ties, the two products that currently keep my life together.

  16. Richard P. Grant says:

    You’re talking about the proper gaffer tape, black stuff with the embedded string, that is correctly cut by nicking with a Stanley knife and then tearing, yes?

  17. Cath Ennis says:

    Did anyone, ever, actually make any of the “here’s one I made earlier” things from Blue Peter? I never did…

  18. Wilson Hackett says:

    I have just googled ‘Blue Peter’ and am now more confused than I was when I started reading this post. Is it not a nautical term, then?

  19. Richard P. Grant says:

    Oh good grief, Wilson.
    I… no, life is too short to explain. You had to be there.
    Cath, I never did, although I do have a couple of books on things you can make out of such things, and I’ve made some of them.

  20. Ken Doyle says:

    You folks could be famous, you know.
    Now I need an iPad to go with that.

  21. Richard P. Grant says:

    Oh, that’s awesome.

  22. Henry Gee says:

    @Richard You’re talking about the proper gaffer tape, black stuff with the embedded string, that is correctly cut by nicking with a Stanley knife and then tearing, yes?
    Of course.
    @Ken – splendid.
    @Cath – yes, though they never looked as good as when John Noakes made them. We could never get enough sticky-backed plastic.
    Which reminds me of an occasion many years ago when the world was young in which I was a guest on a radio program and I had to explain how snakes were ‘milked’ of their venom, and I actually got to say ‘Don’t Try This At Home’.

  23. Cath Ennis says:

    I remember trying once. We didn’t have any double-sided sticky tape, and my Mum said she wasn’t going to buy any just for this, so my sister and I tried the next-best thing – looping normal tape back on itself with the sticky side out. Needless to say, it didn’t work, we couldn’t get past the first stage, and we never tried again!

  24. Richard P. Grant says:

    Double-sided sticky tape was one of those mythical things that only existed on TV.

  25. Richard Wintle says:

    Getting back to your question, “what is Nature Network for“, I have an answer: it is for killing time waiting for the page to load/refresh/authenticate your login.
    I’ll check back in a week or two to see if anyone’s responded to this comment.

  26. Alejandro Correa says:

    I remember when I was very small (approximately 3 years) made in plasticine 20 species of dinosaurs, my parents were happy, they thought it would be a great artist.

  27. Richard P. Grant says:

    @RW: Hah.
    Alejandro, were your parents happy that you turned into Henry Gee instead?

  28. Alejandro Correa says:

    Ha, ha, ha!
    No. I still have a lot ……
    It’s like comparing a Saltoposuchus with a Triceratops

  29. Alejandro Correa says:

    Pardon, I don’t want that me wrong interprets. Me and Henry are different.
    Maybe resemblance thoughts.
    But ÂżWhat is Nature Network?. I don’t know

  30. Richard P. Grant says:

    I’m glad we got that cleared up, Alejandro. Henry must be relieved.

  31. Alejandro Correa says:

    Henry is insistituible, is a specimen in extinction.

  32. Henry Gee says:

    I am relieved. But not half as relieved as Mafeking. Or Lady Smith.

  33. Richard P. Grant says:

    /Wonders what Zeldin would make of this.

  34. Bob O'Hara says:

    Henry –

    Which reminds me of an occasion many years ago when the world was young in which I was a guest on a radio program and I had to explain how snakes were ‘milked’ of their venom, and I actually got to say ‘Don’t Try This At Home’.

    Followed by Cath –

    I remember trying once. We didn’t have any double-sided sticky tape, and my Mum said she wasn’t going to buy any just for this, so my sister and I tried the next-best thing – looping normal tape back on itself with the sticky side out. Needless to say, it didn’t work, we couldn’t get past the first stage, and we never tried again!

    Me: that poor snake.

  35. Richard P. Grant says:

    Rather, it sounds like the snake had a lucky escape.

  36. Ken Doyle says:

    @ RWintle (a bit late, but…): I have the same issues, with pages taking forever to load. Maybe it’s all a plot to keep North Americans off NN.

  37. Kristi Vogel says:

    We’re going to need more plasticine.
    Did you see the program with James May’s plasticine garden at the Chelsea Flower Show? Even better than the full-size Lego house and slot car race track.

  38. Richard P. Grant says:

    Unfortunately not, but I did hear about it. Awesome.

  39. Kristi Vogel says:

    I’ve only seen three episodes of the program so far, but the concept is very entertaining. Makes me slightly wistful, though, because I don’t think anything similar could be pulled off in the US. Too many people expect to be paid for every little thing that they do. [/cynical]

  40. Henry Gee says:

    When Crox Minor got hold of a lot of Plasticine, this happened:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/cromercrox#p/a/u/0/GbgqpYOIO4o

  41. Kristi Vogel says:

    I loved Crox Minor’s film – it’s brilliant!
    A friend and I made a stop motion film on the Battle of the Alamo, when we were about Crox Minor’s age. We used jointed paper figures, instead of plasticine. It was for history class – you know we Texans are indoctrinated with local legends and propaganda early in life.

  42. Richard P. Grant says:

    TOTES AWESOMESAUCE!

  43. Ken Doyle says:

    That video is excellent! Was that just iMovie, or did she use another app for the stop motion?

  44. Alejandro Correa says:

    When Crox Minor got hold of a lot of Plasticine, this happened
    Yes, if it is bright! it reminded me of me when I was child.
    Clear that I invented the personages such as: “The raven and the fox” in plasticine or the “snake and the cat” and so a series of personages with both hands, where invented dialogues for each of the personages and was happy. The movements of the personages were made with my hands like puppets.

  45. Cath Ennis says:

    @Bob: I have never knowingly harmed a snake, with faux-double sided sticky tape, or any other weapon.

  46. Henry Gee says:

    Crox Minor’s film was made with zillions of tiny video clips on a Flip video camera all strung together in iMovie.

  47. Richard P. Grant says:

    Hardcore. Does iMovie import stills? I know (a version of) Quicktime Player does, which might make for less jiggery pokery.

  48. Henry Gee says:

    What happened was that Crox Minor recorded each ‘still’ as a short video clip, as short as she could manage by switching the camera on and off. We then imported the lot into iMovie and I truncated each clip to 0.3s, the shortest that iMovie allows. Some of the clips I left a little longer (episodes where nothing was happening and we wanted to pause for effect). There are probably more elegant ways of doing this but news of these has yet to reach Cromer.

  49. Ken Doyle says:

    Hardcore indeed! There used to be an app called iStopMotion (or something like it) that would allow you to control any Firewire video camera for just this purpose, but I can’t seem to find it anymore.

  50. Alejandro Correa says:

    One suggestion Cromercrox not take it badly, it is best to Crox minor route to dialogue (talking a lot with him), because that then becomes difficult to dialogue with other people, when he is older. No such cybernetics or computing or technology, only have to be tool but not all. But I’m not medical.

  51. Cath Ennis says:

    iMovie does indeed import stills. As with clips, you can hold on each shot for 0.3s and up

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