I went to the opening rounds of the Sony Open the other day, where lesser known players qualify to compete. But at the same time top players practice on outlying courts and spectators can view them from close up. I had the pleasure of watching Gasquet from only a few feet away, paying particular attention to his legendary backhand. It is indeed gorgeous to behold. I tried to absorb the entire Gestalt and indeed the next day hitting on the court I felt a bit of channeling from him. They key is not lose your nerve and revert to the slice. Also noteworthy I observed Li Na hitting with her rather tubby husband, who smiled sweetly whenever she ripped one by him, which was often. Behind them Gulbis and Dolgopolov traded serves and returns of incredible power and style: the Latvian and the Ukrainian enjoying themselves in Miami. I thought : this is a lot more fun than philosophy!
The Inter-nets today contain a lot of Content that falls short of proper standards of courtesy and logic. There are these Bogs you can go to, some Liter and some Darker, and some just Dingier, where Postings are Uploaded and whatnot. On them Comments are Web-paged for all to Scroll, and many of these resemble Spam in their odor and taste (and I have no wish to defame that noble mystery meat). Onlining has become an addiction. People attempt to Inflame others by means of Cyber Texts of shoddy construction. Boggers Google others and try to Download people they don’t like. There is so much Amo–ninity that enables such Googling to go Instantly Viral, which can cause headaches and stiffness in the joints. Then some Trolls lurk between the Nets and poke their Keyboards into other Surfers’ eyes. Mouses are exploited. Whoever made these Inter-nets should Filter any unwanted Noise and Moderate Sites where Webs are cast on innocent Hackers. We should Delete all this Junk from our Hard Drive, so that the toxic Cloud clears and people can once again Click in peace. We don’t want civilization to Crash.
In addition, Twittering is best left to birds, and only cuts the length off of thoughts.
I read Tina Fey’s book on the plane back from Mississippi. Perfect plane reading. As everyone says, it is extremely funny, with sudden injections of glorious vulgarity. That we would expect, given her screen credentials. But what struck me more were its respect for intelligence and its moral acuity. So I recommend it as a textbook for right thinking. It opens with a discussion of how people react to the scar on her face, delivered when she was a child by a man who intentionally slashed her. It makes you shudder to think you might fall into one of her categories. And it brings a streak of tragedy into the humor that follows. Her feminism sounds all the right notes, to my mind. I could quote many lines from the book but here is one I particularly liked, from the chapter “The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter”: “O Lord, break the Internet forever, that she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers”. Amen to that, Tina. Also fascinating: how she created 30 Rock and got on SNL. Funny, yes, but also shrewd and honest–the scar behind the joke. It reminds me: I have never known a humorless original mind.
I just returned from giving the annual Dunbar lecture at Millsaps College in Jackson Mississippi. My title was “The Good Life as Thinking Well”, and my lecture was all about the importance of cognitive virtue. I also spoke to two classes of students, one on Kant’s moral philosophy and the other on my mysterian view of the mind-body problem. I am glad to say that it all went well and that the people I interacted with were intelligent and sympathetic, both faculty and students. Meanwhile other issues have arisen in the philosophy profession, about which sensible people will reserve judgement until the facts become clear (if they ever do). What I would urge is that different cases be treated differently and people should not all be tarred with the same brush.
One thing I would suggest to people who feel they have been wrongly accused and unjustly treated by those in power is to resign in protest, assuming this is feasible (which I realize for many people is not). This is often the only way to register one’s disapproval and it sends a clear message.
Since quitting UM (in disgust and indignation), I have been restructuring my life around Plato’s famous trinity. I don’t mean the trinity of truth, beauty and goodness (because of course I have been doing that); I mean the trinity of philosophy, sport and music. As Plato says, each of these three needs the others in order that the soul should not sicken by going too far in one direction (hence music, for example, corrects the excessive roughness that comes from exclusive attention to sport). The intellect, the body and the emotions are served, respectively, by Plato’s trinity. For me, philosophy goes on, one way or another; but I have had more time for sport and music since I stopped teaching and other professional activities. Tennis, trampoline and archery have occupied my athletic hours; drums and guitar take up my musical time. I sense a Platonic harmony in these three types of activity, just as if each compensates for the deficiencies inherent in the others. It is an experiment in living: test to see if Plato’s theory of the happy life works. I have had these three aspects to my life for many years, but now I am explicitly focusing on balancing and deepening the three elements of the divine trinity. So far, I like it.
I recently installed a full size competition-level trampoline in my garden, having left trampolining some forty-seven years ago. I used to be a keen trampolinist back in my gymnast/pole vaulter/diver days. It’s gradually coming back, though the fear factor is more pronounced these days. Everyone agrees that trampolining is fun (though strenuous) but what is the metaphysics of trampolining? As I happily bounce, I ponder this question–the bouncing philosopher. It has something to do with using gravity to defeat gravity: being both subject to gravity and free from it. And that is human life: bound freedom, spirit-in-matter. You come down, inexorably, but you go right up again, with a quick flex of the legs. Danger and possible death shadow your every bounce. You keep rebounding from an unstoppable downward force–up to heaven and then dragged down to earth again. Then there are the aerials, in which you twist and turn in the air–the weightless moments, the miraculous landings. But most of all it is the exhilarated dread: yes, you soar, but you might bounce off the edge at any time. You become very aware of the fragility of your neck. But you keep on bouncing anyway. What’s a neck in the larger scheme of things?
I was saddened to hear of the death of Jonathan Lowe. He was an excellent philosopher, with a strong independent mind, and very productive. Also a very likable and decent man. When I last saw him in Miami a couple of years ago, he reminded me that he had sat behind me during our B.Phil exams in 1974, though we were not friends at the time. He had come to Oxford from Cambridge after studying history; I had come from Manchester after studying psychology–so we both had a lot of catching up to do. He also was born in 1950, a fortnight after me (on March 24), and had spent his boyhood in Kent, like me (he Dover, me Gillingham). In addition, he spent most of his career in Durham, where I was born. I wish I’d had the opportunity to know him better, but our careers were spent in different places. Anyway, his work lives on.
The “royal pardon” of Alan Turing is far too little far too late. But I am glad to see it. This story is so shameful that it needs to be etched firmly into everyone’s mind. When I used to lecture to students about the Turing Test I always made a point of telling the story. The injustice and stupidity of the old “gross indecency” laws and of prevailing popular attitudes are simply staggering. But please don’t think we are now free of such evil, especially where sex is concerned. I suggest we all respect an “Alan Turing day” once a year. Let me also add that apologies, however “royal”, are no substitute for right action and real restitution.