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16 June 2009

Paul Graham on philosophy

I was tempted to headline this one “Computer Programmer Shits All Over Philosophy”:

What philosophy books would you recommend?

I can’t think of any I’d recommend. What I learned from trying to study philosophy is that the place to look is in other fields. If you understand math or history or aeronautical engineering very well, the most abstract of the things you know are what philosophy is supposed to be teaching. Books on philosophy per se are either highly technical stuff that doesn’t matter much, or vague concatenations of abstractions their own authors didn’t fully understand (e.g. Hegel).

It can be interesting to study ancient philosophy, but more as a kind of accident report than to teach you anything useful.

This is from Paul Graham’s RAQ, aka “Rarely-Asked Questions” which he explains as “questions that I’ve only been asked once or twice, but which seem especially interesting.”

Seriously though, whenever this Paul Graham (not this Paul Graham) publishes one of his essays or talks on his website, I am riveted. Clear-eyed, elegant, and thoroughly thru-conceived thought & documentation on topics ranging from the death of television to the lies we tell our kids from an artful computer programmer’s perspective.

He seems to be posting less frequently of late. That bums me out.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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11 June 2009

Two examples of “visual art” imagery as selected by (semi-)democratic processes

Below are two examples of what visual art looks like as determined by democratic processes. One was determined through a simple Google image search on the term “visual art.” The result is an answer determined via algorithm-enhanced democratic process. The second was arrived at via an open call at the New York Times’ photojournalism blog, a more selective form of democratic process governed by human will and motivation. It was subject to light editing, and the limitation that all images needed to be created via Polaroid.

Click on the images below for more information.



Democracy is a process not an all-encompassing solution to all open questions. Yet, raised as we have been in an era of it’s seeming triumph — viz, American Idol, Barack Obama, the fall of the Soviet empire — the word carries with it all sorts of kneejerk positive implications. There are, however, no absolute goods (just as there are no absolute evils). In some sectors of life & expression, democracy should be considered an, at best, ambiguous tool. (Viz, again, American Idol.) History seems to have determined that democracy is the lesser evil process for making decisions about public affairs. Its use in determining aesthetic issues remains in doubt.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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1 April 2009

Media in the Age of Digital Media aka The Cloud, The Book, Shirky & Me

Eight years ago (!?!), while freelancing for an unusually open-minded alternative newspaper called LA Weekly, I started on what I imagined as a triumverate of stories about the death of old music media (vinyl, CDs, etc.) and the birth of…something else in the era of the Cloud. I’ll summarize them in more depth below but essentially, the first effort was about Art in the Era of Digital Media, and the second was about Business in the Era of Digital Media. The third article would have to be about Media in the Era of Digital Media, but I have yet to write it.

There are a number of reasons why.

First the positive perspective: I am pretty good with artists and often able to spot progressive musical memes early on; I have a pretty solid business head on my shoulders insofar as I am pragmatic, if not ahead of the curve, about money matters; I am not, however, much of a technology guy. My hope was that someone else more directly involved in high level thought about publishing might write that third article for me.

Now, the bad news: I haven’t found that person or that article quite yet. Rays of light, however, have begun to shine through. As the collapse of old media institutions becomes more and more apparent, more people in the content industries (journalism, academia, publishing) are making credible efforts at writing my theoretical piece — one that roughly explains how media creation and consumption will look in the future. After the jump, I summarize my pieces, then point toward three recent efforts by third parties to sketch out the future!

Read more »

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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