The Ultimate Walking Dead and Philosophy
Moral dilemmas are rich fodder for philosophical discussion, and boy, if you’re looking for moral dilemmas, The Walking Dead is the place to go. Whether we’re talking about the comic book series or the much-lauded television adaptation, hard choices abound and the plotlines are rife with moments worthy of debate and examination.
The Ultimate Walking Dead and Philosophy puts the adventures of Rick, Michonne, The Governor, Negan, Carol, Daryl, and more under the microscope, analyzing them not only through the lens of all the greatest minds in philosophy, but through the modern window of morality. Whether we’re discussing Rick imprisoning Negan in the comics or Carol’s transformation in the show, Daryl’s time with the Claimers or the Governor’s dubious sense of right and wrong, this is a smorgasbord of deep thinking.
Arguably the most interesting topic was the subject of Lizzie, the disturbed young lady with a walker fascination and a devastating impact on Carol, Tyreese, and her own sister. You could write a book alone on the topics discussed there, and this is only a drop in the bucket of The Walking Dead‘s morally complex universe.
Wayne Yuen, Editor
The Meaning(s) of Life: A Human’s Guide to the Biology of Souls
When you get right down to it, humans are incredibly complicated creatures. And yet, compared to the complex biosphere we inhabit, we’re relatively simple. How did we come to be? What does it mean to be alive?
The Meaning(s) of Life starts off with lots of rambling about biology, partially to prove the author’s scientific merit, and partially to isolate all of the aspects of how life developed on Earth – DNA, single cell vs. multicelled creatures, evolution, social development, the role of empathy in human interaction, etc. – before going after the soul itself.
It’s an impressive journey to undertake, but it made me question the author’s intended audience. He uses so much unnecessarily technical scientific terminology that he could easily lose a less savvy reader, but he couches it in a less scholarly style that would sound amateurish from a scientific standpoint.
Although it never really answers the promise of the subtitle as I interpret it – either tying the soul to human biology or describing a biological layout for the soul – The Meaning(s) of Life does provide plenty of food for thought when considering our place as cogs in the machine that is Earth.
Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It
In her introduction, Hecht reveals that she wrote this book because several of her friends committed suicide. With that tragic inspiration, it makes perfect sense that her argument is strongly anti-suicide, and she is very upfront about this. At one point, she even breaks from a reasoned discussion to offer a heartfelt plea begging the reader to keep living. Her passion is intensely powerful.
Still, despite her position on suicide, she provides a very balanced and thorough overview of how Western history has dealt with the issue. She does fully explore philosophies that support suicide, and that makes her argument better. She gives the evidence for both sides, and the reasons why suicide is wrong are simply stronger. Her book speaks very clearly to both the logical and emotional sides of its readers.
Because of its position, and the wonderful, thoughtful, compassionate way it’s presented, this book is extremely important. Hecht’s argument that simply staying alive is incredibly helpful to those you love and those you don’t even know is tremendously persuasive. Everybody should read this, and hopefully, those who need it can find the courage to keep going. I honestly believe Stay is a convincing and powerful enough book to help people when they need it the most.
Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong
Who, other than philosophy majors knew about trolleyology and its variations including x-phi (experimental philosophy)? This is a fascinating and fun read complete with the ethics questions that endlessly entertain undergraduates. If one will not consider a sacrificial murder under any circumstances, new details are added to test the boundaries of one’s core beliefs. So, if you could save five people by killing one (he is fat in order to effectively stop the train) would you do it? Enhancements can be added – suppose one could act with remote tools instead of a more personal engagement? The author, David Edmonds, is a senior research associate at the University of Oxford’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, so he is eminently qualified to review the brain teasing and moral quandaries that these types of scenarios evoke. Practical ethics deals in deep thought about the choices we make and the underpinnings of those choices whether it is race, religion, bias, nationalism, etc. People make choices based on their ethics so it is practical in the sense that society must understand the ramifications of these choices and what may lie beneath them. A very relevant and interesting look at this topic and in spite of the serious subject; it is a light hearted approach. Fun diagrams, good bibliography, notes to chapters and comprehensive index.
Adequate Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Existence
Adequate Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Existence is an exhaustive collection of philosophical viewpoints presented for a layman. Smolin presents the general reader with an overview of essays that discuss existence, our cosmos, and the many different viewpoints held by people. The simplistic wording by Smolin makes these essays easy to comprehend and gives the general reader a framework to build a better understanding of “the nature of existence.”
The essays are short but concise. Covering a wide range of diverse subject matter, the essays can be read alone or as a whole. There is a great deal of information covered by Smolin, and he does an exceptional job organizing, arranging, and presenting the vast research that is clearly evident as you read through this book. Smolin goes into great depth exploring the nature of forms and processes, which provides the background necessary to discuss the myriad of subject matter contained in this book. The book is comprised of eight parts: Essentials, Questions and Ideas, Physical Existence, Biological & Human Existence, Trends & Other Matters, God & Religion, Humanity and Final Thoughts. “We can begin to piece together the varied components of existence, creating a clearer understanding of how the world works and then proposing guidelines to help us make wise decisions and lead meaningful lives.”
Smolin additionally includes some ideas based upon new research, for which further scrutiny and examination is warranted. “The obvious motif of this work is to embrace all components of the world and to suggest that everything is contingent upon everything else, while paradoxically allowing forms and processes to express themselves individually.” Most of the discussions cover scientific information and philosophical ideas, whereas, some of the discussions get a little more personal speaking about sexuality, self-control, religion, and state. While I may not agree with all of the contentions of the author, Smolin presents his work in a well-organized and classy form that leaves the reader open to explore his ideas.
Smolin’s essays cover diverse fields of life, philosophy, cosmology, sociology and psychology. “A key idea of adequate wisdom is the apparent duality between synergy and individualism, whereby virtually every form has its own function and structure while at the same time becoming part of another, greater structure.” It is well written and easy to understand. A worthwhile read for those have interest in this subject matter.
There is much that is mystifying in Daniel M. Harrison’s Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact and Fiction in Today’s World. Mystifying, but far from edifying. For instance, why is Butterflies classified under “Philosophy?” To characterize the book as such implies that thought-provoking analyses bolstered by the promise of plausibility might be contained within its pages. Not so. With its concatenation of logical fallacies, factual inaccuracies and cheap, drugstore mysticism doubling as ersatz vatic insight, Butterflies is an insult, rather than a contribution to that discipline. Moreover, it is difficult to decide which is more unsettling, that Butterflies has enjoyed commercial success or that this sham of a book was published—and not by a vanity press? Butterflies has been called “ambitious” and “challenging.” Those adjectives apply, but not on account of staggering insight, complexity, or originality—what makes the Harrison’s work challenging is its conceptual aimlessness.
The author often muddles recklessly through concepts and fields he does not fully grasp, from hard sciences to the humanities feigning a knowledge that his claims and blatant absence of legitimately cited research bely. In its prologue, Butterflies promises readers access to “hyper-reality,” defined as a “zone of hard-core truth.” This slighting treatment of a concept supposedly foundational for the narrative is symptomatic of the diseased superficiality that pervades Butterflies. Harrison’s definition of “hyper-reality,” elides the term’s place in intellectual history, overlooking how “hyper-reality” was a contested term of semiotics that surfaced most visibly in French Structuralism of the 1960s, a movement that would influence fields from musicology to history for decades to come. It still does. Harrison’s shameful oversimplification is either an intentional erasure, a sign of unpardonable ignorance, or tacit assumptions about the audience’s ignorance.
Butterflies has its virtues, however. Harrison brings 20th century geopolitics, globalization, and recent economic trends together with skill and in approachable, conversational prose. Also, the structure of Harrison’s work is creative. Each chapter oscillates, forming a braid between chapters on non-fiction and fiction. This interlacing of the two gradually becomes a chiasmus — fact comes to seem as improbable as fiction, while fiction adopts a degree of unrelenting brutality generally reserved for reality. Moreover, this structure harmonizes with a key theme in the book about the notional separation of those two categories.
Still, creative structure cannot forgive the lack of intellectual rigor, coupled with counterfeit certitude that pervades Harrison’s roughly non-fictional chapters. In one non-fiction passage, Harrison challenges the theory of relativity. Sadly, his obvious ignorance of basic physics makes his posturing as a Wunderkind- juggernaut ready to crush basic precepts of the field ridiculous. Elsewhere, Harrison alludes to historical moments and figures with varying degrees of inaccuracy, at one point presenting what is little more than a simplistic, unconvincing inversion of the Platonic Theory of Forms, as if it were a revelation. Is the author indulging in parody at his own expense or is Harrison merely delusional? The fiction chapters, which often glamorize a dissipated elite, high on ephemeral pleasures and hollow successes, are nearly unbearable. The reason for discomfort is not related to explicit sexual content, but because it is written so poorly (and exhibits a peculiar obsession with grounding description of girls [eerily] and women by their breasts, cup size, and all). Perhaps Harrison believes that what is provocative is, a posteriori, compelling. If the author had demonstrated the ability to use, rather than abuse, language (errors are not merely stylistic, but grammatical), these chapters might have been less agonizing to read. Though one might object that Harrison is transcending the conventions of the English language, that defense would only be valid if he had first demonstrated mastery of it. One press release advertised Butterflies as a “manifesto of the millennial age.” If so, Harrison’s work is little more than an inadvertent, likely unearned, condemnation of a generation and an epoch.
This reviewer fervently hopes that Harrison has not captured a new Zeitgeist–one where charlatans are sages and ‘wisdom’ is spouted by the ignorant or, worse, by those who prefer to pander to ignorance, rather than erase it. Perhaps he is merely constructing a vast cautionary tale. At least the Lost Generation, poised at the start of the 20th century, produced some writing that one hopes is as lasting as Butterflies is ephemeral.