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Music and Metaphysics

In academia, philosophy on July 14, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Philosophers have such a high regard for music that even Arthur Schopenhauer, supreme pessimist of the West, ascribes to music the being of the Will. Friedrich Nietzsche, in his first important work entitled The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, interprets this by saying that music is never just an expression — for that would reduce it into an appearance or phenomenon. For him, music is the thing-itself.

Metaphysics is the quest for this irreducible there-ness of entities. The simplest way to understand it is imagining a tree in the middle of the forest, and imagining you are not there — what remains in the forest, while one is absent, is the thing-itself unmediated by consciousness and perception. Any metaphysics is concerned about the tension between appearance (or mere “physics”) and this fabled thing-itself.

Professor David Jonathan Bayot’s 2007 Professioral Chair Lecture talked about music and ontology (a branch of metaphysics) in The Alter Egos of Music, Real Presences, or Being inside a Ripe Green Grape: A Rhapsody on a Theme of Pedagogic Interfaces. The article can be accessed on IDEYA, a journal of humanities published biannually by De La Salle University. The following excerpt develops the arguments of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche using the ideas of Heidegger and Steiner.

What is music, then? What could it be? Steiner, with Heidegger’s Sorge / care within the givenness of Being as Being-towards-Death, declares that “music would stand as the alpha and omega of Sein, of being itself.” Steiner’s allusion to Heidegger’s distinction of Sein as Being “the ‘thereness’ or ‘being of’ an entity, in contrast to Seinde as being that is there as an entity” is not a mere glib to skirt the subject of music out of rational sight. The allusion to such metaphysics of distinction enables Steiner to claim for music an ontic plane of existence that “demonstrates . . . the reality of a presence, of a factual ‘thereness’ which defies either analytic or empirical circumscription,” while, at the same time, an ontological level of existence that opens itself up to “the ‘thereness’ of what lies beyond it.” The ‘thereness’ beyond circumscription has the obstinate texture of Schopenhauer’s ‘will-to-live’ and the invincible aura and aural ‘lightness’ pointing to the ontology of transcendence. And to characterize to one that irreducible ‘thereness’ of music is, for me, to extend an invitation for one to traverse the inscape of a ripe green grape while one dwells on the ‘isness’ of that Being. To put Steiner’s thought in another set of expression, one can say that music, for him, is a phenomenon while, in simultaneity, a phenomenology. In Steiner’s words, in music, “there is a there there.”

Related posts:
Heideggerese
Notes on Ulysses

Glas by Derrida

In academia, book review, philosophy on July 13, 2009 at 6:08 am

is divided into two columns. The left one deals with Hegel, the right with Jean Genet. The structure is based on Genet’s “What Remains of a Rembrandt Torn Into Four Equal Pieces and Flushed Down the Toilet”. There are also textboxes that function like annotations, but they’re not. There are no instructions on how to read this, whether you will start with Hegel first, then with Genet, or whether you are supposed to read them alternately or simultaneously (how?). The two columns are commenting on each other, using the same words differently. But you’ll notice that as you read the left column, it does sort of simulate (but does not) Hegel’s Absolute Spirit. I’m not sure about Genet’s column.

Related posts:
Book review: “The Republic”
Note on “Smart” People
Derrida on Forgetting
Aporias on 25 Random Things

Derrida on Forgetting

In academia, philosophy, reblog on July 13, 2009 at 5:56 am

Glas, 195-196b
by Jacques Derrida

“I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read. Save this or that sentence, some sentence morsel, apparently secondary, whose lack of apparent importance does not in any case justify this sort of resonance, of obsessive reverberation that guards itself, detached, so long after the engulfing, more and more rapid, of all the remain(s), of all the rest. One ought to touch there (coagulation of sense, form, rhythm) on the compulsional matrix of writing, upon its organizing affect. From what I have written, I have never retained ‘by heart’, almost, anything but these few words, on the basis of which I am doubtless becoming infatuated here with the genetic ‘first verse’ and some others. They are: ‘l’exergue et le gisant esoufflé de mon discours’ (‘the epigraph and breathless sarcophagous of my discourse’) and ‘en pierre d’attente. Et d’angle comme on pourra, par chance ou récurrence, le recevoir de quelques marques déposées’ (‘protruding like a toothing-stone, waiting for something to mesh with. And like a cornerstone as it can, by chance or by recurrence, be gathered from the registering of certain trade-marks’). Without a comma [virgule] after angle. Angle is always, for me, a tomb’s edge. And I understand this word, angle, its gl, at the back of my throat as what at once cuts off and spirits (away) from/in me all the remain(s).
I forgot. The first verse I published: ‘glu de l’étang lait de ma mort noyée’ (‘glue of the pool milk of my drowned death’).”

(via Affirmez la survie)

Related posts:
Book review: “The Republic”
Note on “Smart” People
Aporias on 25 Random Things

Faux Syllabus

In academia on June 7, 2009 at 2:48 pm

INTGAME
Introduction to Game Studies
3 units
Pre-requisite: Introduction to Cultural Studies (INTCULT), Introduction to Communication Theory (COMTHEO)
Pre-requisite to: Introduction to Ludology (INTLUDO), Hypertextual Narratives (HYPRTXT), Video Game Production (GAMEPRO)

Course Description

Just as communication theories are split between scientific and humanist perspectives — the former being positivist and the latter being qualitative, interpretive and critical in its approach — all scholarly endeavors on the subject of games are also split in the same schema. On one hand, we have the quantitative field of game theory pioneered by economists like John Nash or Robert Axelrod. On the other hand, we have game studies, which is a hybrid of cultural and communication theory.

The field of game studies has two traditional methodologies: narratology and ludology. The perspective of narratology proceeds from the assumption that the textuality of games is narrative in nature (i.e. that they are merely stories). Ludology, however, is an attempt to break from this tradition of narrativism and to conceptualize “game” as something else other than a story (e.g. game as a simulation). Ludology is useful when analyzing games like Pacman, Bantumi, Snake or any game whose textuality mereley consists of rules. For this course, we will center our attention on the praxis of storytelling, particularly the narratology of console role-playing games (RPGs), whose formal content are the novel and the film. The topic of ludology is reserved for another course.

Course Objective

To have a critical overview of the communicative aspects of computer games.

Course Outline

1. On what constitutes “gameness”
2. Meta-game-physics
3. Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad of media effects (as applied to the video game medium)
4. Story-living / on ergodic literature
5. The dynamics of agency
6. Hyperreality (Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco)
7. Elements of representation: the audio-visual interface and narration
8. Elements of simulation: complexity of controls, game goals, character and object structure, balance between user-input and preprogrammed rules, and spatial properties of the game world
9. Rules of play / game design / narrative architecture
10. Cultural framing of cyberdrama
11. The player with a thousand faces
12. Principles of narratology / ludologic studies
13. Mediality and metalepsis
14. Remediation
15. Interactive textuality

Course Requirements

1. The student is required to play and finish at least one console role-playing game from the Playstation 1 and 2 platforms before the midterm examination. All equipment are provided in the Gaming Laboratory (G412). A 20-page analysis is to be submitted before the finals. The suggested titles are:

a. Any title from the Final Fantasy series (exclude the tactical genre and MMORPG)
b. Valkyrie Profile
c. Suikoden II or Suikoden V
d. Wild ARMs
e. Legend of Legaia
f. Xenogears
h. (Your own choice, subject to professor’s approval)

2. Read the assigned scholarly article every week.

3. There are quizzes everyday based from the readings.

4. Submit exercises every week.

Student mutilates data set

In academia on June 7, 2009 at 2:46 pm

De La Salle University — a disgruntled finance major, co-author of an unfinished undergraduate thesis on debt maturity structure, performs what the University Convention Against Data Torture calls “heterodox methods in extorting valuable information from raw and untouched data sets.”

The academic police reports violent and immoral practices of mistreatment of numbers, including the bloody mutilation of the data’s upper and lower percentiles. “This is clearly an abuse of the windsoring procedure,” says an officer.

It was also established from the scenes of the crime, particularly in Excel and later on in Stata, that the variables were coerced into copulating with each other in the most vulgar manner. “We cannot tolerate how the culprit insults the numerical dignity of variables by threatening them to engage in significant relationships,” says the investigator. Three variables were identified to have been traumatized due to a linear threesome.

Furthermore, the student culprit did not discriminate on the sexes of the variables–whether they were independent or dependent, regressors or regressands, was a matter of indifference in these unethical acts. “Worse,” says the academic police, “they were also threatened to be endogenous, forcing a two-way exchange of bodily discharges.”

The said student had a nervous breakdown when the data set retaliated against his evil deeds by transgressing his a-priori expectations of the signs of their coefficients, putting his whole thesis in jeopardy.

The economics of brushing teeth

In academia, popular economics on June 6, 2009 at 12:40 pm

In The Economics of Brushing Teeth by Alan S. Blinder (1974), the author argues that economists have ignored a certain class of activities in the theory of human capital, such as brushing teeth. He says that the analysis can also be applied to equally important problems as “combing hair, washing hands, and cutting fingernails” (pg. 887).

Following from the human capital theory, each individual does whatever amount of toothbrushing to maximize his income (pg. 888). Blinder tells us that the “mother-told-me-so” explanation of toothbrushing rests on the fact that “offspring behave as if they maximize their income” since “the mother’s decisions are governed by income maximization for the child”.

The author then presents a theoretical model of toothbrushing by showing a wage maximization equation which involves the time spent brushing teeth as an independent variable:

Y=w(J,B)(T-B)+P, where Y=income, w=wage rate, J=index of job, B=time spent brushing teeth, T=time period available for working, and P=exogenously determined amount of unearned income.

Blinder puts the model into an empirical test and came up with a regression model for his data.

However, I must critique the article for relying on the value of the R-squared (i.e. “.79”) in concluding that the data confirm the prediction of the theoretical model. It is not, and never will be, the holy grail of econometrics.

Heideggerese

In academia, philosophy on June 6, 2009 at 12:27 pm

The day I attempted to write in the esoteric language of Heideggerese, this is what came out:

We will show how the ontological structure of every Lasallian student, denoted as ‘Being-in-DLSU’, discloses itself in that mode of Being that is ontically and proximally closest to Dasein-as-student — its average everdayness, and by using the ‘midterm week’ as a temporal horizon of the readiness-to-hand of the World-as-DLSU.

By denoting DLSU-during-midterm-week as ready-to-hand, we mean that the entities in our dealings (which thrust aside the circumspective character of Dasein) do not show themselves proximally as they are for themselves — we deal with entities-in-DLSU not in ontological terms, but in the mode of concern (e.g. we do not encounter DLSU as a building with white walls, but a place to take our examinations). Hence, my present preoccupation with midterm examinations in Development Economics, Law on Partnership and Corporations, and Quantitative Techniques in Business and Economics, as one having an ontic character, often stands in the way of looking at the structure of Being which these examinations possess.

Now, the lessons in my books, in their equipmentality and readiness-to-hand, suddenly bring to the fore their presence-at-hand in dealings cut to their own measure. Such dealings include the activity of reading them in Starbucks and finding out that I cannot understand the concepts. This incapability to understand disrupts my concernful absoprtion with my equipment (pages, text, graphs, pens). I then find myself along with entities which are in the mode of obtrusiveness — those concepts I failed to comprehend, which I may still understand at some other time, put me in a deficient mode of concern. This allows me to see the ‘whole workshop’ of studying, to which the equipmentality of my books and other instruments of studying belongs. It is then that the World-as-DLSU announces itself and my Being-in-DLSU is brought to the fore.

The character of insideness of Being in ‘Being-in-DLSU’  is not defined as a property of space. Rather, it refers to the formal existential expression that I am always already in a relation with my equipment which are made meaningful in the context of the totality of DLSU-as-World. This relation gives rise to dealings which either conceal or disclose the Being of entities, and in that play of concealment and disclosure, the world announces itself.

An economic policy on vampires

In academia, mundane, popular economics on June 5, 2009 at 12:54 pm

What should be our economic policy on blood-sucking ghosts of dead homo sapiens, or vampires? In Macroeconomic Policy and the Optimal Destruction of Vampires (1982), Dennis J. Snower claims that vampires’ “most conspicuous macroeconomic impact arises from their detrimental effect on the labor force”.

One section of the paper presents a Model of Human-Vampire Dynamics, stating, “myopic humans, who maximize their welfare at every instant of time, may be expected to destroy a socially suboptimal number of vampires” (pg. 649).

Snower shows a number of analytic equations which include the variable p to represent a vampire’s blood coefficient requirement, S for the quantity of stakes produced, n for the constant human procreation rate, and the constant sigma for the rate of vampire attritition through sunlight.

He presents the theorem, “If the number of stakes per vampire remains below the critical level s^c=(p – sigma) – n, it is impossible for the human race to survive” (pg. 650).

Another section deals with optimal vampire destruction. He claims that, even though the annihilation of all vampires seems favorable, it is not socially optimal to do so. The author presents a set of graphs and equations I fail to understand, but I think the intuition behind the technicality is that the supply of stakes would become infinitely large if all vampires are destroyed (pg. 653).

He says that an optimal condition would be to have a production rate of stakes that reduces the vampire population, but is sufficiently low to allow their regeneration (pg. 653).

In his suggestion for future research, he claims that his work sets the stage for “an investigation whether humans and vampires grope their way toward a Cournot-Nash equilibrium”.

I think his assumption that only stakes are able to slay vampires is too simple to be of practical value. We should also consider the production rates of rosary necklaces, crucifixes, garlics, and scapulars.

How to read your own books

In academia, popular economics on June 3, 2009 at 5:02 pm

You love buying books, but once the titles are in your shelf, you just kind of stare at them and read books you do not own.

It makes sense. Books you lend are transient, while books you own are permanent. You just want to maximize limited privileges (library, friends, anyone?). That’s why a criterion I use in buying a book is that I shouldn’t want to read it right away. But ten years have passed and I still have dusty Austen, yellowing Twain and crispy Dickens, untouched like wrinkled virgins. How many of us are guilty of this cognitive bias?

Perhaps you should turn to economics. It’s time to get over what Richard Thaler calls the endowment effect, which makes us value the things we own more than what they were worth when we did not own them.

Thomas Schelling, whose work on conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis won him the 2005 Nobel Prize, proposes an art of self-management he calls egonomics. He says each individual has a kind of split personality — for instance, one part wants to read the books in the shelves, while the other wants to play a simulation game instead.

You can force a cooperation between two conflicting parties through precommitment, which is a strategy that Schelling recommended in nation-state wars. The idea is for you to cut off your options to retreat or give up, hence making your threat credible. The credibility of the threat will deter the conflict, and the end result is avoidance of war (“you go to war to prevent it”).

Precommitment can cure the endowment effect. Simply threaten yourself to let go of your books, and see if you still won’t read them. The only catch is that the threat must be credible. Leave no option of retreating.

I did this by auctioning my books on eBay, where there’s a constant threat that a book will be sold. When someone bids for a book, I quickly pick it up from my shelf and read it before finally shipping it to the customer. I would feel sorry for myself if I did not read the books before letting them go.

Game Theory of Washing Dishes

In academia, popular economics on June 3, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Ben and Jack are roommates in a condo unit. Someone cooked dinner and did not wash the dishes. Each person has two possible choices: to wash the dishes or not. Let ‘Y’ be to wash the dishes and ‘N’ to do nothing.

Since each outcome will produce a pair of strategies, we will signify the pairs as (Y,Y), (Y,N), (N,Y), and (N,N). The first item in each pair is Ben’s choice, while the second item in each pair is Jack’s. The four possible outcomes are:

1. Ben will wash the dishes, Jack will do nothing (Y,N)
2. Ben will do nothing, Jack will wash the dishes (N,Y)
3. Both will wash the dishes together (Y,Y)
4. Nobody will wash the dishes (N,N)

Now we need to know which outcomes are preferred and which are not. Let’s assign a “payoff” for each outcome to signify what the roommates want and care about. The following figures are units of pleasure or utility (the higher, the happier) from the point of view of Ben:

3 if Jack will wash the dishes alone (N,Y)
2 if both will wash the dishes together (Y,Y)
1 if nobody will wash the dishes (N,N)
0 if Ben will wash the dishes alone (Y,N)

But Ben’s payoffs apply to the other roommate in reverse, so that Jack’s payoffs are:

3 if Ben will wash the dishes alone (Y,N)
Same payoffs for (Y,Y) and (N,N)
0 if Jack will wash the dishes alone (N,Y)

A roommate’s best-case scenario is to get the other to wash the dishes. The worst-case scenario is that a roommate will wash the dishes alone while the other slacks off, because we assume that resentment is costlier and more disadvantageous than having a dirty condominium where nobody washes the dishes (N,N).

Now let us set up the matrix, where each pair has the form (Ben’s payoff, Jack’s payoff).

Outcome and Payoff Matrix (please ignore the dots)

…………………Jack

………………….N       Y

Ben………. N  (1,1)  (3,0)

…………….Y  (0,3)  (2,2)
If you’re Ben, should you wash the dishes or not? Pause for a moment and think about it.

Assuming Ben is rational, the best answer is N, he will not wash the dishes. Why? Because whatever Jack chooses to do, Ben’s payoff in choosing N is always greater than his payoff in choosing Y. If Jack chooses Y, Ben’s choosing N will have a payoff of 3 while his choosing Y will only have a payoff of 2. If Jack chooses N, Ben’s choosing N will have a payoff of 1 while his choosing Y will only have a payoff of 0.

Hence, N strictly dominates strategy Y. But assuming Jack is also rational and utility-maximizing, he will also choose N, so that the outcome is (N,N) and they both get 1, which is Pareto inefficient.

Lesson: rational choices can lead to bad outcomes.

This example constitutes what is called the prisoner’s dilemma in the Game Theory of applied mathematics. Game Theory is a study of strategic situations. Strategic situations are situations where a person’s success in making choices depends on the choices of others.