Photos from Ottawa trip

The trip to Ottawa was extremely enjoyable. Ottawa is not like toronto – it has a landscape. It has hills, rivers. There are power dams in Ottawa because there are raging rivers from which huge amounts of force can be set to work and set aside for others’ use.

I like Ottawa. I like public servants – they are an interesting breed, like Hobits. Everyone is fond of Hobits but wouldn’t want to be one. When I arrived at Ottawa I was at a party for public servants, thrown by one of my favorite public servants, A. The party had one of my favorite themes: being Scottish, and one of my favorite drinks: Scotch. I don’t have a picture of Scotch, but I have a picture of M, an Ottawogian public servant:

I’ve been told it isn’t proper to call them Ottawogians, that the preferable term is “Ottawons”. However, “Ottawons” is a dumb word, so I will not use it. If you ask me for a reason why it is a dumb word I will impercinate the most powerful argumentative method that analytic philosophers have devised, and look at you as though you are crazy.

But enough about Robbie Burns parties and Ottawogian public servants, the real reason I went to Ottawa was to spend time with M and M:

And mostly spend time with them I did, including a fabulous Pizza dinner on Sunday:

Public art exploration on Saturday:

And, while M was at work on Monday, public-servating-it-up, M and I went downtown to take advantage of our rights as can-speak-French Canadians (as opposed to French-speaking Canadians) to have a tour of Parlimant in French. It felt a bit noodly for us, both French Immersion kids, to be given a tour by ann anglophone fully in French. The tour was excellent – we were the only two on it. Although, at one time she did speak in English to me, and it felt like a very high law had been violated (not altogether surprising, it was the law of “do not speak English in class!) Compliments to M for the excellent tour (yes, her name was M as well).

And just for good measure, here is the best photo I took in Ottawa. It almost makes the expense of shooting real film worthwhile.


There was once a girl who valued health, and on this basis she became vegetarian. Actually she became Vegan. Soon after, that girl decided to further restrict her diet to raw food only. She felt that raw food would help her further pursue her goal of health. Unsatisfied, she decided that despite these restrictions her body was still full of toxins and impurities – so she decided to fast for a week. She had the choice between a fast with no food whatsoever, or a soft fast which would have incorporated juices and some greens – you know which one she picked. After fasting for a week, she felt not yet purified and decided to continue for another three days. After ten days of drinking nothing but tea, she decided that the tea she had ingested was in fact a toxin and further purging was required to rid her body of its toxins. She decided that since she had been fasting for so long already, that she should first resume eating for the sake of fasting again, this time without any toxins whatsoever. However, although she forced herself to eat in order to further detoxify in the future, she found the process frustrating – she had begun to see food only as a collection of toxins. So, as she repeated the process – eat to gain strength for the sake of further fasting, each time she ate less and fasted for longer. While mentally she still understood that her body required food to further detoxify, she developed a bodily dislike of food – her body would no longer accept even the most health giving of foods without a fight. Finally, she was no longer able to eat anything. She was no longer able to fast, only to try to eat, which made her sick. Her body began to produce toxins to expel any food that she dared put inside. Her body began to rot. Her will to eat slowly passed, it was easier, she said, not to eat.

And thus she passed away – on her gravestone it is written, “SO here lies M , because it was easier, she said, not to eat.”

Plane of Consistency

What “really exist” is the plane of consistency, which is the virtual plane on which all possible contingent connections are already drawn as potentialities. At the same time, the plane is only real insofar as you build it – you build a regime of signs that opens those possibilities as things your body can do.

The charge is idealism: what really exists are just connections which can be essentially known.

The response is, it’s not idealism because that would seem to imply intentionality, that the ideas are in your head.

The response is, no one really thinks meanings are in the head, meanings are relations bodies have to other bodies.

The response is, in what sense is that idealism then?

The response is – it’s idealism because the logos is inscribed right there on the structure of the real.

The response is, sure, but that’s just what philosophers do, they come up with concepts which apply to the real and can be applied in various ways in various disciplines, including politics, science, art, cooking, cycling, etc…

The response is – no, but being loves to hide itself. The response is, then you are the one being the metaphysicien, what are you accusing me of?

The response is – no, to break out of metaphysics we need to think the contingency of conceptual analysis at all, so the concepts can be bent to suit the world rather than find the perticular ones that map onto it perfectly. Philosophy is not only sketching but also reading.

The response is, that’s just privledging the body, taking one idea – body or corporeality (Korpos incedentally in German means not the fleshy earthy poetic body but the body in medicin, in scientific organization), and makes that the principle that everything follows from. What is truth? Body. What is being? Body.

The response: You see the body as the site of philosophy aswell, but you medicalize the body and re-medicalize the body in terms of all its possibility for being a conceptual schema. You reduce all history to a few structures out of which you can deduce all the possible ways of being a body in terms of that conceptual schema. The problem with this is it takes the conceptual schema as primary, not as something contingently held for as long as it is helpful.

Response: Fine, what is your criterion for helpfulness? Response: criterion is itself conceptual and provisional, the point is not to think philosophy as metaphysics – which means ontology, which means to discover the underlying logos of the world out of which you can deduce any particular event as an expression of that one idea. This is idealism – being is the kind of thing that differentiates itself and one of the products of that differentiation is the kind of being that can become a conscious intentional thinker and grasp that differentiation, and then turn that differentiation into a handbook for pushing further and further towards the underlying concept (the plane of consistency). But this supposes this underlying concept which you have never seen to be the most real thing, and therefore idealism.

Considering a PhD program in Philosophy

After speaking with the chair today, it seems like a distinct possibility that I might remain in Toronto for 5 years or more doing a PhD in Ancient and Contemporary Philosophy. I like to think the choice of what possibilities to take up as the choice of what we could do with our bodies – since the plans of actions we choose produce bodies that can do certain things and not others. Taking on this PhD project would open certain possibilities – the job prospect of teaching philosophy. The long term prospect of becoming a recognized scholar. At some point, the possibility of meeting my academic “heroes” even.

On balance, it isn’t the best school at which to do PhD in continental philosophy, but there are certain factors that still make it a good choice. For one, if I were to go to a “better” school, one at which continental philosophy was common, there were many good professors teaching the subjects I liked, it seems unlikely that I would choose to mostly abandon contemporary philosophy for several years to learn ancient Greek and read ancient texts. However, this is universally a good thing, a very good thing to do, if one wants to become a serious continental thinker in the Heidegger-Derrida tradition. The continental tradition is largely made up of those thinkers who refuse to differentiate between “philosophy” and “the history of philosophy”, and I want to take that refusal seriously. The little Greek I have picked up has enriched my understanding of phenomenology greatly, and also incidentally, of ethics.

It is specifically at this time of universal darkness, where ancient philosophy is no longer taken seriously but only offered lip service to, that the most revolutionary thing one can do in the academy is devote years of study to Aristotle.

Health Care versus Car Care

In this post, metafilter has recently asked why, if car insurance doesn’t pay for oil changes, should universal health care pay for medical check ups?

I think the mistake here is to think it would be more expensive to insure your car if the cost of changing the oil was built in. This is almost certainly false – if you take for granted that throwing out cars well before 200 000 km is a huge waste of resources, and very expensive (because the purchase cost per km of the car skyrockets), the cost of not having your oil changed is higher than the cost of having your oil changed. Thus, if oil changes were included in car insurance, overall costs to car owners would be less.

This is a good argument, I think, because unlike cars we can’t throw out our bodies and buy new ones after 50 000km (in which case it makes sense not to change the oil as often, because the long term health of the engine is simply irrelevant).

What is Empiricism?

Empiricism is the doctrine that the way to know about the world is to test it and see how it responds. These responses should be systematized according to laws which effectively predict the results of future tests. Empiricism must acknowledge that it could always be wrong – since it makes no claims that the laws it draws are the foundational nature of reality, there could always be another set of laws that do a better job at predicting what will happen as the result of tests.

In other words, empiricism does believe the world is differentiated in itself (this is the world’s reality), but does not make any claims that this differentiation will necessarily admit to a complete grasping by language and maths. Strictly, it cannot even claim that the inner differentiation of the world is such that it operates everywhere according to the same inner structures (because it does not know the inner structures, they could be heterogeneous). Although assuming that laws apply the same everywhere has turned out to be a necessary postulate for doing science, it is only a postulate and some scientists have postulated the opposite. For example, some quantum mechanics folks think the science works better if we suppose that the law of non-contradiction or bivalence do not hold in certain situations.

Given that empiricism has excellent results, some empiricists ask why they should take seriously people who take up opposing positions, such as the two kinds of idealism I described in my last post? I will give here an argument as to why any radical empiricist must take idealism seriously, and test it on its outcomes not its method:

If an empiricist is serious, he must admit that any framework that gains knowledge (defined as correctly predicting future experiments) is valuable. A usual argument would be made: empiricism is not just a theory of what it means for a framework to be true – it’s also about a method! (Testing, rationalization). However, that method is only provisional, if it turned out that testing and rationalization did not yield as good results as some other method, certainly empiricists would gravitate away, so long as the yield is still measured as successful predictions of future outcomes.

In other words, the empiricist might hold a particular method, but he can only validate that framework in terms of its cash value in terms of correct predictions, and therefore he can’t oppose that framework to some other framework and say the other one is wrong because it looks different. Thus, for the empiricist, the idealist strategy just looks like another empiricist strategy and the metaphysical different appears to be just pseudo religion (pantheism, probably).

What is there?

In this short piece I will attempt to convince you that you already hold a philosophical position on the question: “what is there?”, and that this position determines significantly the way you conceptualize your interactions in the world.

Chances are, you think of yourself as either an empiricist or an idealist. By empiricism I mean that what you think really exists are things, out there in the world, and we learn about them through science. We can know about these things to an extent, but we always must admit that its at least possible we could be wrong. It must be the case that we could be wrong about our theories because we only know them through experimentation, and further experimentation could always call into question aspects of laws, or even the endurance of those laws through regions which were previously untested. What it means for a theory to be true for empiricism is not for it to correspond to the inner workings of reality, but for it to make correct predictions when asked.

On the other hand, you might be an idealist. There are two distinct kinds of idealism: either the entire world is, in a sense, “in your head”, or, your head is the kind of thing the world produces so it can know itself. If you’re an in-the-head idealist you think that your mind or brain or self takes in undifferentiated intuition and applies laws to it such that it appears to have the forms of space and time, length and extension, gravity, taste, etc… Or, if you’re a head-in-the-world idealist, you think the world is the kind of thing which produces heads which have in them the ability to learn the right categories to grasp the inner workings of things. On both of these accounts truth means knowing what really is, the difference being what is, “what really is”? – the world or the head.

These might seem to be differences only philosophers care about – “What exists – the world or your head, or is the world the kind of thing which begets heads for its own purposes?” However, you might notice that they also have implications on how we come to know things, and knowing things is interesting to everyone (and beneficial to the human race). For the empiricist, knowing things just means knowing that the theory one has does the best in experiments. For the idealists, on the other hand, knowing things has more to do with discerning the concepts and categories we use to discuss and interpret the world – because it is actually concepts out of which the world is built. Religious world conceptions generally fit the head-in-world idealist stance, by the way.

One question often posted by empircists is why do they need to take the other two situations seriously, as they don’t seem to benefit us. The reason that the empiricist needs to take seriously the idealist positions is that if they mean what they say when they say they could always be wrong, then they could be wrong about the empiricism as well. Many successful predictions were made by science through the first millennium, for example Ptolomaic astronomy worked brilliantly. No one would take this seriously as an argument that we should not have adopted empiricism in the 17th century as the benchmark way of doing science.  So, if we’re serious about getting things right, and more right in the future, we have to be serious about calling our most fundamental beliefs about what there is into question from time to time.


Chomsky’s account of Globalization calls into question any attempt to call the current structure of global integration fair. Maybe if any IR scholars read this blog they could point out the problem with his argument, because as a member of a 1st world state it calls into question any ability to participate in the mainstream discourse, which is for obvious reasons a desirable thing to be able to do.

10 minutes of Chomsky: