Ventiak - an island somewhere in the brain

An Even Better Opportunity

18 March 2007

Survivor Ventiak has made me realise there might be an even better opportunity. Suppose Antique Roadshow visited us.

I can imagine the presenter, Hugh Scully or Michael Aspel, delivering one those intriguing little introductions that remark on the landscape or the history, mentioning perhaps, that early visit by John Furnnell and the reputation which the islands garnered as a result. Then we would be on to the programme itself and the eager punters coming forth with their offerings.

RUPERT: What have we go here then?

PUNTER: Well, it's just an idea, eh? I've always thought that the world, everything we see could be just a dream, an illusion. I mean I can't be sure of anything, can I, really? Except, maybe, that I exist. After all, if the world's a dream, there was to be a dreamer and I guess that's me.

RUPERT: Fascinating. That's a really interesting little argument. May I ask how you came by it?

PUNTER: Mmm (looks a little sheepish) I guess it was down the pub. I was arguing with Kevin about what was real and what wasn't and this other thought just came to me.

RUPERT: What you have here is a nice little piece of seventeenth century rationalism.

PUNTER: Wow? Is it that old?

RUPERT: Absolutely. We can date it quite precisely to 1637 and the publication of Descartes's Discourse on Method. Have you every come across the cogito? Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am?

PUNTER: Never heard of it.

RUPERT: Well, you've found an intriguing little variant of it.

PUNTER: Is that good?

RUPERT: 'Good' is a very tricky word but I have to say it's always interesting to realise how persistent these ideas are. I suppose you'd like to know whether this argument is worth anything or not?

PUNTER: (full of suppressed anticipation) Well...

RUPERT: Very difficult. If you went back a hundred years then a Cartesian view of the world was still very formative. These days? I'm not so sure. I wouldn't say it's worthless. There are people of my acquaintance who have a lot of confident in a Cartesian revival, but, for the most part... My advice would be to hang onto it for the time being and just see how things develop.

PUNTER: Than you. I will.


17 March 2007

I have an email, signed Another Pelican, which suggests a relationship between the absurd and clinical depression and goes on to speculate that the people who write a lot of post-structuralist/post-modern theory might be 'essentially if covertly writing about their own depressive insights'.

I'm not sure about that. I think that depression, if it is a psychological rather than a physiological condition, is mostly about getting stuck whereas absurdity is the opposite of that. If a sense of the absurd is 'a change in point of view accompanied by a dislocation of value', then there has to be value in the first place and it has to be maintained or, at least, be capable of being recovered. In other words, the absurdity of our existence is not a once and for all judgement that the world and life in general is valueless (that would be deeply depressing) but an on-going experience of the constant shifts in value that make up life's variety. Just as satire asserts the importance and significance of the thing that it pokes fun at so absurdity asserts value where it most questions meaning (and possibly even vice versa). Because, of course, meaning and value are not the same thing at all.

As for the post-structuralist/post-modern types, I am never quite sure what those people are on about. I tend to agree with Amanda on this subject: anyone who spells theory with a capital T has to be very dodgy. Felix claims to have read them, so perhaps the last word should be left to him:

'Piffle!' he says. He is on his way out to contemplate a dahlia.

An Opportunity

15 March 2007

My fan base is growing. I received three emails from eager readers within three days. Two were from the same person but we don't need to dwell on that.

One, which I suspect was Cynthia, previously mentioned in these pages, suggested a novel development from this site:

'I foresee literary tours organised for your readers. Trips to a real Pacific Island , perhaps, where punters sight-see during the day, then listen to readings of the novel before and after dinner. Perhaps the truly dedicated fan will dress up in costume in mimicry of one of the characters...

Perhaps Random House could organise a giveaway? Tickets for two, with the 5,000 th copy sold or something??'

I am not sure about that. Would it really fly? Her message did, however, give me an idea that might be a real money-spinner: Survivor Ventiak.

Two teams (or tribes) of scantily clad individuals striving together on a Pacific island through a philosophical assault course. Not swimming across a muddy, alligator infested creek carrying a coconut shell full of magic elixir for which the tribe will suffer for every drop that is spilled. No. Instead, we would have them weighing the merits of the Argument from Design, solving the Liar's Paradox or reproducing Goedel's theorem.

See the moisture glisten on their sweat-soaked brains! Picture the mixture of exhaustion and elation on their faces when they accomplish these amazing feats of reason! And finally, at the end, there would be the dramatic moment when someone got voted off. Would it be the dry logician with a mind like a digestive biscuit? Or the argumentative theologian with her insistence on a spiritual dimension? Or the classicist who thinks everything is finally down to Aristotle?

Drama, without a doubt. Really, this might be a goer. All I need is a decent agent.


14 March 2007

Hi, Janice here. He left the computer on so I thought I'd sneak in and say a couple of things. I know I shouldn't but he's so hopeless at pushing himself and somebody has to.

He's been getting these really good reviews for his book that he never even bothers to mention. There was one in the student newspaper up at the university, apparently, although I haven't seen it, and an excellent one in The Capital Times by Abby Cunane, who seems a really nice person and who said good things about this website. So, if you're reading this, Abby. Thanks, that was fantastic!

And I also wanted to clear things up about me and Rupert because I don't want anyone to get the wrong impression. I've known Rupert a long time. We were at Hutt Valley High together and even in those days I thought he was sweet but just a teensy bit dry. Like having to eat four packets of digestive biscuits without a cup of tea, you know? Some of the other girls used to think he was cute, which he is in a nerdy kind of way, but he has this terrible blokey habit of arguing on and on about something that nobody's interested in as if it was important.

Like what they were saying yesterday. It's obvious, isn't it? Knowledge is justified true belief unless somebody knows better so what's all the fuss about?

Anyway, Rupert and I could never be an item. I know too much about his personal habits, for one thing, but we won't go into that. Mind you, I have to say that if Chris wanted to introduce me to his friend Augie, it might be a different story. He sounds like a really nice guy.

A Hero of the Absurd

13 March 2007

Yesterday's excursion into the truth of science put me in mind of another deeply abstruse question - What is knowledge? The traditional answer is that knowledge is justified true belief.

For example, I know that the gin bottle is in the cupboard of the cocktail cabinet because:

    1. I believe the gin bottle is in the cupboard.
    2. I saw Trevor put the gin bottle in the cupboard (justification).
    3. The gin bottle is, in fact, in the cupboard.

This scheme of things was dramatically questioned by Edmund Gettier, whose philosophical reputation rests on a single three page paper published in the prestigious journal Analysis. Gettier, so the story goes, was in danger of losing tenure because he had published nothing. He produced his paper, had his tenure confirmed and never published anything again.

His argument was that there could be circumstances in which I might have a justified true belief but that did not, however, count as knowledge. For example, suppose it is 8.00pm. I look at my clock, which has kept accurate time for many years, and it indicates that the time is 8pm. I have a belief that the time is 8pm and that belief is justified (by the past accuracy of the clock) and it is in fact true that it is 8pm. However, suppose that at the very second I looked at the clock it stopped. Could I be said to know that it was 8pm, if I was looking at a stopped clock?

Gettier's scepticism is a beacon of comfort to lead us through the darkness of the conforming world. Trevor, I know, lights a candle to him every 14th April. This date has no significance at all except that it is the date on which Trevor first thought of lighting his Gettier candle.

I know of other anniversaries that are based on less.

Previous page

Other pages


Songs of Sysiphus

Ventiak - A Guide


What's it all about?