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Life imitates art

Or is it the other way around?

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Love…or something

During the last two semesters I’ve been occasionally involved in conversations about people falling in love with, marrying, and/or having sex with strange things. From these conversations about the real lives of real people, an interesting picture of the possibilities for human experience – the possibilities for living a subjectively satisfying life – emerges. As it turns out, those possibilities are much wider and more bizarre than we’re accustomed to think. Here’s proof:

Guys and Dolls, a great documentary on men whose significant others are expensive, anatomically correct, female dolls (a la, “Lars and the Real Girl”).

A couple who divorce after the husband is caught having sex with a prostitute…via his avatar in the game, Second Life. Not too surprising, given that they met, dated, and married in the game.

A woman who has loved many an inanimate object takes it all the way, by marrying the Eiffel Tower: part 1part 2.

A man who has been arrested for having sex with a horse. Twice. Same horse.  (I feel a bit bad for posting this, considering what he says at the end, but it’s of course up to each individual to be compassionate).

Another man arrested for (repeatedly) making some love to a picnic table.

A forum full of surprisingly decent sounding people who just happen to be in (sometimes quite committed) loving, physical relationships with their pets.

I’ve found more bizarre examples, but the voice of prudence suggests I quit a few posts ago.

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A five month-old starves to death while parents raise a virtual child online

South Korea for a while has been leading the world in cases of internet addiction, and it seems that the first two deaths directly related to just spending too much time online come from there. Several months ago a man dropped dead in an internet cafe after a nearly ninety-hour online gaming binge. Now, a couple has neglected their child to death. Apparently they would spend all their time at the 24-hour internet cafe, taking breaks once a day to run home and feed the child. This was obviously too much responsibility. In a nauseating twist of irony, the game they were playing in lieu of caring for their kid, Prius Online, is based around a newborn that the gamer is responsible for nurturing and raising.

I’d normally offer a bit of commentary on how our technology is continually uprooting us from our connections – both physical and psychological – to the organic, material world, but I have to go feed my tamagotchi.

A fuller account of the above story can be found here.

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What it’s like in hell

This girl lives it. Daily.

Apart from the fact that Aleisha will probably never develop any virtuous qualities, what’s so terrible to me about her life is that, though her life is “all about her”, she surely has no idea of who she is – where the boundary between herself and the rest of the world lies. How could you when every desire you have is instantly granted, and nothing stands in the way of your will? (Of course, she’s been raised to entertain only the trite sort of concerns that can be met instantly, all the time).

It’s the resistance that the world provides to our will that helps us locate and sense our selves, and this is a good thing. To take a simple example, you know that your hand is separate from, say, the air, because the air moves against, rather than in complete unison with, your hand. In a dark room, you know you are not near the center when you feel a wall. These resistances of the material world help us locate ourselves physically, and Aleisha has that, but she doesn’t have a more important sense of locale provided by the resistance of the immaterial, personal world.

Most people don’t like yes-men, friends who agree gladly, and without hesitation, to every thought or suggestion the other person has. This is because, in the presence of a yes-man (or yes-woman), you are all alone. There is no tangible, substantial Other there with you whom you can sense and rely on, because sensing the Other is just like sensing a wall; it happens through the Other’s resistance, in some way, to you. This is just what otherness is – a sort of resistance that lets you know where you stop and the other begins.

Aleisha lives in a world with no real Others. Some people surely resist her will, but her will is so petty, and she is so self-consumed, that she can dismiss them with no consequence, and choose to live in the world crafted and maintained by her parents – two self-less individuals who function as a mere extension of the will of a child lost in someone else’s dream of her. If she ever wakes up, it will be into her worst nightmare – a world that is not hostile, but  merely indifferent to her. Either seems like a profound sort of hell to me. One, a world in which there is only her, floating through the world-become-dream. Another, in the real world, which has become a nightmare in the face of her narcissism  which keeps her from being able to recognize the small place assigned to her.

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Depression and the Internet?, Hand-written vs. Emailed, and The Future

I saw this article on a possible link between depression and “excessive” internet usage.

The study, reported in the journal Psychopathology, found 1.2% of people surveyed were “internet addicts”. The internet addicts were significantly more depressed than the non-addicted group, with a depression score five times higher.

“Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, pointed out that, in some ways, the internet can be helpful.

He said: “To the extent that the internet encourages meaningful friendships and social connections it can be a very good influence on people’s lives.

‘However, social interaction online should not usually replace an offline social life…'”

I, like everyone else who is not an “internet addict”, agree with that last statement. But why? It’s interesting, and undeniable after some thought, that saying this – that an “internet life” should not replace a “real, in-the-world life” is to say that there’s something important about being embodied, that there’s something important and valuable about being in-the-world, and connected to the material realm, that a good life needs some connection to the world of matter, that mere information and synthesized experience isn’t enough.

How does that deeply-ingrained belief jive with, for instance, the fact that none of us hand-writes letters any more? We consistently opt for emails and text messages over the hand-written version. In doing so, it seems that we’re making the statement that it’s not so much the form (the material reality), but the content (the information) that we value. So, is this inconsistent? If so, which value will ultimately win out? If we really value form (our material existence in-the-world), we will soon have to start making some reactive changes to how we do life in a technologized world. If we value content (which, I imagine, is more the case), within fifty years, I’ll make the call that the majority of the first-world will spend the majority of their waking hours in virtual reality, and a visible, though strong, minority of them will be in meaningful personal relationships with machines.

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The New Atheist Game

Just find someone less educated and qualified than you are to defend their beliefs, and debate them! This time? Christopher Hitchens against baptist minister Al Sharpton debate the existence of God. I’m sure there’s much to learn from a Vanity Fair journalist and a college dropout verbally fumbling over the nature of religious epistemology, metaphysics, and metaethics.

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Free brain-food

I’m all about some free book learnin’. Here’s some of that for you.

TED.com – Lots and lots of free, audio or video versions of (almost all) really good talks on tons of subjects; taken from the annual TED conference. Speakers range from Richard Dawkins to Billy Graham, and everywhere in between. You can download or stream.

Libri

vox.org – There must be ten thousand free ebooks on this site, most of which you can also download as audiobooks to read. An hour a night for a few months will probably get you through War and Peace.

Scribd.com – It’s like a library that lets you just download it’s books as PDFs. I’m not sure it’s all legal though, so use your conscience.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (podcast) – It can be a little cheesy at times, but I now know a lot more about WWII thanks to his podcast on Hitler. Way better than the history lectures you’ve heard, probably.

Stuff You Missed In History Class (podcast by HowStuffWorks.com) – Little, 3-8 minute talks on some interesting bit of history. Did you know that 1 out of every 200 people alive today is a direct descendent of Ghengis Kahn? Yeah, well now you do. Don’t thank me. Thank them.

Nova Science Now (podcast by PBS) – Another podcast of short explanations/musings on some interesting facet of science. Niel DeGrasse Tyson is one of the frequent speakers, and he’s a lot of fun to listen to, and he’s probably the only large, black astrophysicist on the planet.

And of course, if you’ve not already subscribed to This American Life‘s podcast, well…you suck. All there is to it.

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