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Dennett on Intuition Pumps and Moist Robots

DanielCDennet

Daniel Dennett, the author of more than one class reading here in Philosophy and Film Land, is featured in recent New York Times piece. Sample:

Human beings, Mr. Dennett said, quoting a favorite pop philosopher, Dilbert, are “moist robots.”

“I’m a robot, and you’re a robot, but that doesn’t make us any less dignified or wonderful or lovable or responsible for our actions,” he said. “Why does our dignity depend on our being scientifically inexplicable?”

Read it all here.

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Occasional Writing for T38 – A Brief History of Time

There are several versions of Errol Morris’ A Brief History of Time available on YouTube. One is embedded below, though you can easily find others if this one disappears.

Sadly, the film is not available through services like Netflix, and the DVDs on Amazon do not play on standard US DVD players. So YouTube it must be. Sorry for any and all confusion about this.

Anyway, here are your prompts:

  1. One of the questions which the film raises is whether something which is endless (or infinite or immortal)  could have meaning. Hawking seemed to discover purpose in his own life only when he was diagnosed with ALS, and he flirts with the idea that a steady-state universe would be pointless. What do you think: would an endless life, whether for a person or a universe, be a pointless life?
  2. At one point Hawking says that our universe has either one of two fates in store: heat death or big crunch. A third possibility is that Hawking is wrong, and we’ve got something else in store. While the fate of the universe is out of our hands, it’s not irrational to hope for one result or another. Is one of the options preferable to the others?
  3. Luck or chance plays a large role in the film. It seems to be only chance at the quantum level that allows for the existence of so-called Hawking radiation. Likewise, it appears to be only chance at the more human level that turns an extremely bright young man into a groundbreaking cosmologist. Does, then, God play dice with the universe, as Einstein denied and Hawking affirmed?

You know the deal. Please turn this assignment in no less than 24 hours before class on T38.

The Killing Moon

Echo

Near the end of Donnie Darko, during the Halloween party and the trip to Grandma Death’s house – and, of course, right before Frank and Gretchen are killed – you can hear an old song by Echo and the Bunnymen called “The Killing Moon.” I wouldn’t want to make too much of this (who? me?), but the name of the band (Bunnymen – get it?) and the lyrics do a nice job of steering the viewer in the direction the film is taking, as Donnie’s mysterious fate becomes clear. I’ve embedded the video (via YouTube) and included the lyrics (courtesy of Lyrics Freak) below.

I should also say that Echo was a great 80s band which doesn’t really get its due. During the decade, they did work that was, in my opinion, as good (or nearly so) as that done by bands like U2 and R.E.M. that we now think of as dominating the era. This is, I grant you, a highly eccentric opinion. And I certainly don’t deny that a lot of other bands came out of the 80s and developed in interesting and exciting ways that Echo didn’t. This was in part because they broke up in 1988 (the year Donnie Darko is set) and in part because their attempts to regroup after the death of their drummer Pete de Freitas never really worked (again, in my opinion). I don’t know; maybe you just had to be there. But I was. And it was awesome.

Under blue moon I saw you
So soon you’ll take me
Up in your arms
Too late to beg you or cancel it
Though I know it must be the killing time
Unwillingly mine

Fate
Up against your will
Through the thick and thin
He will wait until
You give yourself to him

In starlit nights I saw you
So cruelly you kissed me
Your lips a magic world
Your sky all hung with jewels
The killing moon
Will come too soon

Fate
Up against your will
Through the thick and thin
He will wait until
You give yourself to him

Under blue moon I saw you
So soon you’ll take me
Up in your arms
Too late to beg you or cancel it
Though I know it must be the killing time
Unwillingly mine

Fate
Up against your will
Through the thick and thin
He will wait until
You give yourself to him

Fate
Up against your will
Through the thick and thin
He will wait until
You give yourself to him
You give yourself to him

Donnie Darko’s Philosophy of Self-Improvement

Donnie 4

Donnie has a lot to say, but his contribution to the self-improvement literature is often thought to be especially endearing:

You want your sister to lose weight? Tell her to get off the couch, stop eating Twinkies and maybe go out for field hockey. You know what? No one ever knows what they want to be when they grow up. You know, it takes a little, little while to find that out. Right, Jim? And you. Yeah, you. Sick of some jerk shoving your head down the toilet? Well, you know what? Maybe you should lift some weights or take a karate lesson. And the next time he tries to do it, you kick him in the balls.

Well, you can’t fault Donnie for being overly concerned with moral dilemmas or touchy-feely stuff. And he’s right about not knowing what you want to be when you grow up. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

What Happened to You, Man? You Used to be Cool.

Bart to the future:

Occasional Writing for T36 – Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko

Okay, Donnie Darko is hard to understand. I get that. So I’ve written up a few ideas here. If you find yourself confused, you might want to have a look. Here are some prompts to write on:

  1. Why does Donnie have to die in the primary universe (if, indeed, he does)? In trying to answer this question, it might help to remember that in conversation with Dr. Thurman, Donnie claims that “the search for God is absurd…if everyone dies alone.”
  2. Kenneth Monnitoff claims that “If we were able to see our destinies manifest themselves visually, then we would be given a choice to betray our chosen destinies. And the mere fact that this choice exists would make all preformed destiny…come to an end.” Donnie responds that this is false if we “travel within God’s channel.” What does he mean? Is he right?
  3. Donnie Darko engages quite a lot with Back to the Future, as I try to establish here. Perhaps most importantly – the heroes of the two films use time travel to try to save the lives of those they care about. What do you make – philosophically – of these connections?

Please choose one – and only one  – of the prompts to write on. As always:

  • Please limit yourself to 300-500 words;
  • Please post your assignment as a comment to this blog entry;
  • Please do all of this no later than 24 hours before class begins on T36.

Back to the Future and Donnie Darko

Future

I’ve been trying to track the connections between Back to the Future in Donnie Darko. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Donnie jokes about Doc Brown’s DeLorean,
  • The number 8 (as in going 88 mph) is an obsession in Donnie Darko. See here for some nice homework on this.
  • George and Donnie are very intelligent but socially inept teenagers who make an attempt at creative writing (science fiction for George and mopey poetry for Donnie),
  • Science-obsessed Roberta’s hair-style bears more than a little resemblance to science-obsessed Doc Brown’s,
  • Both films poke a bit of fun at the fashions of their time (1955 = malt shops, poodle skirts, and aloha shirts, while 1988 = smurfs, motivational speakers, and Duran Duran),
  • Both films poke a bit of fun at presidents and presidential candidates from the 80s (Reagan in Back to the Future, Bush and Dukakis in Donnie Darko),
  • Both films comment on the racism of their time – e.g., African-Americans are shown in primarily subservient roles, Marvin Berry is called a “spook,” Cherita Chen is told to “Go back to China, and, of course, there are the Libyans,
  • Both films feature freak weather events over one of their central locations,
  • Both films involve time travel, (obvious, yes, but I had to mention it),
  • Both films have bald high-school principals,
  • Both films have their share of teenage drinking and sex (along with pious-minded condemnation of it),
  • Marty and Donnie both “accidentally” set fire to houses (though Donnie later does this on purpose too),
  • Marty goes to the “Enchantment under the Sea Dance” at his high school, while Donnie simply floods his,
  • The heroes of the two films use time travel to try to save the lives of those they care about (Doc Brown in Back to the Future and Gretchen in Donnie Darko),
  • Marty’s trip to the past allows George to overcome his fear of rejection (“If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything!”) and have a fulfilling marriage to the woman he loves. This sort of simple-minded fear vs. love dichotomy is what nauseates Donnie when Jim Cunningham preaches it at his school.

What have I missed?

Donnie 3