Thursday, July 23, 2009

Coming soon...

Lost University.

See especially the Philosophy 101 class on major thinkers. I'm not sure what it means to be one of the faculty for the class, but am bitterly disappointed not to be among them.


Paul Gowder said...

I'm really, really confused.

1. This is about that creepy tv show where they put everyone in skinner boxes, right?

2. Is this for real? That is, is Sharon Lloyd actually going to get on TV (I assume it's something that's happening on TV?) and talk about Hobbes? Because I'll totally watch that. Or are they just using her name in some bizarre fashion to promote the TV show?

I don't understand this at all. Help?

Jacob T. Levy said...

1) er... you're thinking of the right show, though I'd be fascinated to know the game of telephone that resulted in *that* being the description of it that stuck in your head.

2) It's not yet clear to me what it will be, but it won't be *that*. The TV show itself isn't going to feature academics talking about the philosophical content of the TV show.

I think it may turn out to be Sharon and others giving lectures that can be watched on the website, about stuff like the state of nature in philosophy and on the show (like the one I gave in January, but better). Alternatively, it might turn out to be bonus features on the DVD collections. It's certainly trying to promote the show-- but it's doing so by building on the enthusiasm and discussion within the fan base for the show's intellectual content.

3) A less dismissive attitude toward geek culture might prevent such confusion in the future!

Paul Gowder said...

Hah, well,

1) No game of telephone. Just the part of one episode that I saw involved hero-looking characters locked in skinner boxes being menaced by villain-looking characters. I saw part of some other episode where some other hero-looking character is in some kind of dungeon with a one-way mirror being menaced to do some kind of surgery on some other villain-looking character, but that's pretty much all I got. And I imagine there are fewer TV shows in which people are put in skinner boxes than in which people perform surgery...

2) Oooh, ok. I do hope it's on the website. Incidentally, does the show really have philosophical content? I seem to recall that one of the villain characters was actually named Rousseau (right?), but somehow I don't think he conformed his individual will to the general will... just saying...

3) I actually think we have an excellent division of labor here. I have no desire to watch Lost, but you like to think and talk about it, so any knowledge I need about Lost (namely: "how do I get to watch Sharon Lloyd talk about Hobbes?), I can get from reading your blog and giving you the opportunity to educate me...

Wayne Norman said...

Dude, send them an e-mail. Tell them you've actually lectured on this. Tell them which superhero fan clubs you were the president or webmaster of. Tell them: I. Am. Jacob. THE Jacob.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Wayne, coincidentally enough that's just what my new business cards and stationery say.

Paul-- yes, there's genuine philosophical content, as well as just fun little in-jokes. A large number of characters are named after political philosophers or philosophers of science, with lots of others having names of religious significance, and at least most of them are chosen deliberately and meaningfully.

For Rousseau, think 2nd Discourse, not Social Contract.

Andrew March said...

You think that the names are chosen meaningfully?

Ok, so Rousseau is primitive, but she is back to state of nature, not from it. Also, does she really display any of the virtues of pre-property human societies?

I have a harder time even thinking of what the connection to Locke and Hume could be. And wasn't Bakunin an orders-following foot soldier in a mysterious hierarchical community, rather than an anarchist?

I think the Lost website has about every possible theory and interpretation, but I don't think the names really lead you to anything insightful about the characters. Also, it wouldn't really be in keeping with the nature of the writers to give away clues so neatly.


Jacob T. Levy said...

Some bits and pieces:

Locke is a relentless builder of civil society within the state of nature in Season 1.

When he has to in effect overcome the prohibition on suicide and instead willingly take an action that he knows will lead to his death for the benefit of the greatest number, he's renamed Jeremy Bentham.

"Why is it so easy for you to believe?" Because he's a tabula rasa, ready to receive the evidence of his senses that the island has mysterious properties, not burdened by other characters' preconceptions.

Rousseau's solitary state of nature is a direct contrast to Locke's.

Hume (i.e.Desmond) is uniquely, of all the characters on the show, outside the chain of determined causation. (Well, maybe-- Faraday may have changed the rules in the last season finale. But up until then, Hume was the only character who was able to change events through time travel.

Bakunin was indeed part of an organization and followed orders. But he was also the only one of the Others to live in isolation-- and, more importantly, he's the most personally violent Other by a good long ways, and even Ben seemed to be genuinely afraid that Bakunin would just shoot him.

Andrew March said...

I knew I was setting myself up for an ass-kicking.

Props to the creators then for not allowing the naming to devolve into obvious cliches and constraints on plot. (I still think the naming is more about fun though and suggestive of themes the show deals with rather than anything coherent and neat about the characters.)

I think John Locke could easily have been named Bakunin, for example. (Alienated from wealthy parentage, itinerant, and more "anarchist" than the law-making Jack. Not interested in property rights. Also an alternative leader-figure highly threatening to Ben the way Bakunin was to Marx. etc etc.)

Andrew March said...

Also, do you think the writers knew what was going to happen in Seasons 4 and 5 with Desmond ("Hume") and the time travel causality problems? With Locke-cum-Bentham you can see how they deliberately signaled a change to reflect their plot choices along the lines you very convincingly suggested.

Andrew said...

Sorry - I am on the verge of becoming a troll here. I rescind my skepticism on the Hume issue. "The future is under no obligation to mimic the past." That is part of Hume's relationship to the button, Swan, etc from the beginning.