Archive for February, 2009

Which world is ours? (thought experiment)

Imagine another world different from this one. There are all the same familiar objects there – people, trees, houses, airplanes, etc. – but there are fewer ‘rules’ governing how things work. Gravity works on things sometimes, but sometimes not, so occasionally people find themselves flying. Objects can morph into one another for no apparent reason, so sometimes someone will be talking with their friend, and then the friend will turn into a pirate ship, or maybe their mother. Also, objects and characters that we consider fictitious or remote are much more likely to pop up in this world, so Abe Lincoln or Dracula might just drop by from time to time. Other than that, things go along pretty well though. People live out their lives, engaged in strings of constantly morphing events that vary in the degree of their sensibility and coherence. Some days are totally senseless, others make perfect sense. They’re used to it though, and so react to these oddities as if they were perfectly normal, and apart from their world being prone to chaos, the people are fairly normal, conscious beings like us, with just two exceptions: 1. they sleep a lot more – like sixteen hours a day, and 2. whereas our minds, when dreaming, unleash themselves from the rules of order, coherence, and normalcy, these peoples minds impose coherence, order, and rules so that their dream states are simple, orderly, and often boring in their plots – they make coffee and read the paper, clean house, or work a boring day job in them.

By now it might have sunk in. The above world is just a description of our own experience of the world from a different perspective – our dreams. In the above world, our dreams are taken to be the “reality” and our reality the dreamd. Corny no? But here are the questions that I think make it interesting : 1. What sort of evidence could you possibly have to verify which of these two worlds you live in? 2. Is there any actual difference between this imaginary world and ours? Or does the difference between them lie merely in the description of them – that is, are they different only in the language we use to talk about them? 3. Think: if you met someone and they started describing their lives in terms of the above world, how would you react to them? Imagine someone telling you they’re dreaming now, and expect to wake up in several hours to live briefly in reality, where who knows what might happen. Are they insane? Foucault talks about insanity being a socially constructed category that’s often used to exert power over and marginalize people. With little evidence for one of these worlds being the ‘real’ world, are we justified in exerting any sort of force over this person (say to force him into therapy or something) via this label, insanity?


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Call for links!

So, I wrote a post a while back about this link to the right, “Save African refugees”. It takes you to a humanitarian group that you can join, via donation, that helps destitute people in Sudan die less frequently, quickly, and miserably. I’d like to know of any other worthy causes that you know about or are a part of, so I can put links up for them too. Let me know what you know.

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550 Free-to-watch Documentaries

At (And, yes, it has Super Size Me :-).)

Thanks to Caleb C for the link.

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Great movies? (with updated list)

I think art plays many important roles in living the good life. The good life, I think, should be marked by regular, refined pleasure, and good art often offers that to us. The good life is also not lived in a vacuum of ignorance about the world around it, but requires a sober judgment of its context, and art is often a very clear window into the depths of the world. The good life is also not self-centered, but is actively engaged in promoting goodness, truth, and beauty in the lives of others, and this affecting of the world toward some end requires that we be able to make critical judgments about the world, and art simultaneously gives us a piece of perspective on the world from which to consider it, and an artifact of the world to be judged.

Because of all that, I’ve decided that I’d like to start a good collection of popular art. Right now the two dominant forms are movies and music, and I’ve got a good,  constantly growing collection of the second form, so I thought that I ought to start investing in the first. I’ve begun a list of movies that I intend to eventually own (though I may never complete it at the one-movie-a-month rate I can currently afford), but I’m sure that I’ve forgotten many movies worth owning, and simply haven’t seen a lot of the really good movies out there. So, I thought I’d open a thread for suggestions here. If you think there’s a movie really worth owning, please throw the suggestion out. I think the resulting list would probably be helpful for everyone: It’s just undeniable that one’s life is somehow incomplete if it doesn’t involve hearing out the community you’re part of when it has something to say, and movies are largely where these things are being said. I mean, really, someone who hasn’t seen Fight Club, or Braveheart really is missing out on something real, right?

So, here is the criterion: The movie has to be worth watching for something other than its immediate entertainment value. That is, it has to be a movie you can really take something away from. This will likely disqualify every Will Ferrell movie, porn, the Saw movies, etc. There’s just nothing to take away from them; their value lies purely in what you experience while watching them. We’re looking here for flicks that deliver something real. That doesn’t mean they have to be existentially earth-shattering. They just have to be worth watching, re-watching, telling others about, etc.; they have to do more than tickle. This would also include movies that are important for some more extrinsic reason (for instance, Troll 2 is on my list not because it’s great, but because it’s widely considered the worst movie ever made, and so I think it’s worth owning, at least to have a good example of very bad art – that’s significant, I think).

So, here’s the list I’ve come up with so far. They don’t include movies I already own, but there aren’t many of those, so just add whatever you think is worth the watching. I look forward to the suggestions!

*Note: The list now includes movies I currently own and a few suggestions from the comments. I’ll periodically do this, as long as comments are coming, to keep the list updated. This should help avoid confusion, and also make the listing less about what I do or don’t have. Also, feel free to comment if you see a movie on the list which you think doesn’t deserve a place there. I’ve indicated movies I’m ambivalent on with a question mark after their title.

? = Movies I’m on the fence about. Please voice your opinion (especially) on these, if you have one.
* = Movies whose value I think lie in something other than their being good art. Explanations will follow in parentheses.
( )= Movies I can’t recommend personally (b/c I haven’t seen them), but have been strongly recommended here or in conversation.
Bold = Movies I consider indisputably excellent. Disputations are welcomed.

3:10 to Yuma
2001: A Space Odyssey
2010: The Year We Make Contact
Alice in Wonderland
Alien 3 (Originally included for being part of an otherwise good series, but the other two stand alone fine without it.)
American Beauty
American Gangster?
American History X
American Psycho?
Army of Darkness* (Perhaps the pinnacle of campy, cult classics; the third movie of the Evil Dead movies.)
Batman Begins
A Beautiful Mind
Beauty and the Beast
Best in Show
Big Fish?
(The Big Kahuna)
The Big Lebowski?
The Black Cauldron?
Black Snake Moan
The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Ultimatum
Capote? (Difficult to appreciate without having read In Cold Blood, or being familiar with the story, imho.)
Cast Away
The Cell
Children of Men
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Color Purple
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind* (Largely for its claim to be non-fiction).
Dances With Wolves
Dark City
(The Dark Crystal)?
The Dark Knight
Dead Poet’s Society
Donnie Darko
Evil Dead* (Army of Darkness is great in its own way, but these aren’t [though they’re good, and very interesting].)
Evil Dead 2*
The Exorcist
The Fall
(Fiddler on the Roof)
Fight Club? (Formerly bold, just rewatched it after several years, and I’m ashamed I ever thought it great; still worth a watch.)
Forrest Gump
The Fountain
Full Metal Jacket
The Godfather?
Good Will Hunting
The Green Mile?
Groundhog Day
Heavy Metal
(The Horse Wisperer)
I Am Legend?
Ichabod and Mr. Toad?
Inside Man (Best American heist movie)
Interview With a Vampire
Into the Wild
Iron Man?
It’s a Wonderful Life
Jurrasic Park?
Kill Bill Vol. 1
Kill Bill Vol. 2
Lady and the Tramp
Lady in the Water
The Last Samurai
(Life is Beautiful)
Little Miss Sunshine
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)?
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Manchurian Candidate?
The Matrix
The Matrix 2
The Matrix 3
Master and Commander of the Far Side of the World?
Michael Clayton?
Mirror Mask
Mission Impossible 3?
Moulin Rouge
The Never Ending Story
No Country for Old Men
Ocean’s Eleven
Ocean’s Thirteen? (Same case as Alien 3)
Ocean’s Twelve? (Same case as Ocean’s Thirteen)
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou
Pan’s Labyrinth
Pulp Fiction
Primal Fear
The Princess Bride
Rain Man
Requiem for a Dream
Schindler’s List
Secondhand Lions
The Secret of Nimh
Session 9 (Imho, one of the best horror movies ever made, and gore-free at that.)
Shaun of the Dead?
The Shawshank Redemption
The Shining
Sweeny Todd?* (Excellent example of anti-hero)
Silence of the Lambs
The Sixth Sense
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (First animated movie ever made. [Thanks Josh P.])
Star Wars: A New Hope?
Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back?
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi?
(Stranger than Fiction)
The Sword in the Stone
There Will Be Blood?
This is Spinal Tap
To Kill a Mockingbird
Troll 2* (Widely considered the worst movie ever made)
Vanilla Sky
V for Vendetta
The Village
West Side Story
What Dreams May Come (bold?)
Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory
Young Frankenstein?

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