Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Back in Brighton...

...for a two-day visit with Amy, before we head back to London to catch our respective flights, she to home and I to Rome. Yesterday was another eventful one in London, with Kate, Amy and I making up for a late start by whizzing through our whirlwind tour of planned activities. We started off at Speaker's Corner, which was completely deserted, possibly due to the heavy fog and threatening rain. We walked through a chilly and quite empty Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace, then frolicked through daffodils on our way to Westminster Abbey, breezed by Big Ben and the House of Parliament and Number 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister's house) and paused briefly at the National Gallery, where Kate and I spent one and a half of the two hours we had until closing time sitting in the cafe deep in carrot soup and conversation. Then we met up with Amy, who had briefly departed to try to meet Harvardian friends at a nearby tea room which turned out to be rather sketchy and devoid of said Harvardians.

We headed off into the rain to the London Bridge area to find the Anchor pub, apparently frequented by many a literary great of old. After walking through a glorious neighborhood filled with crazy signs like "This is not a photo opportunity" and a giant "TAKE COURAGE", as well as some warnings about thieves which had Amy worried, we found the pub, and sat and drank and talked for a few lovely hours under the watchful eyes of a portrait of Shakespeare. We then went in search of an Indian restaurant for dinner, and managed to find The Bengal Clipper, at which we were attended by about seven waiters, all of whom seemed quite miffed at our failure to order drinks. We ordered a chicken curry, a chicken kebab in egg, and a spinach and cheese dish and split them all, which made for exciting variety.

At the end of the meal we glanced at our watches and were shocked to discover it was past 11, with poor Kate scheduled to leave in four hours to head to the airport and back to Rome. We raced through the rain in search of the Underground station, which was unfortunately just off the edge of the map we had brought, and all got soaking wet, since Kate and Amy decided that if I was going to refuse to get under the umbrella, neither of them would use it, either. In this sopping rush we undertook our viewing of the Tower of London ("Look, there it is!" "Where?" "That castle thing!" "That's not a tower!" "I'm soaking wet!" "Well, use the bloody umbrella!" "No!" "We have to go, guys!" "Bye, Tower!") Which I think is the only way to view such quintessential landmarks, personally...

We did manage to find the station, finally, just before midnight hit and our day passes expired. On the ride home, as we dripped slowly dry and laughed at the madness of our day, a young man slipped in just as the doors were closing on an interim stop before our own, and we remarked admiringly on his skill and agility. It was not until after we had exited the train that we realized he had had just the height, build, hair color, and cheeky smile of our Masked Avenger from the Santa Barbara road trip! And to top it all off, as we turned the corner to our apartment, a security guard car drove slowly up beside us, slowing when we slowed, stopping when we stopped, and rolling down his window. He pulled over and parked as we turned back up the street to avoid him, and as we crossed to the other side of the street to find an alternate route home, we realized it could only have been Mr. Giggles. You know, I bet he's the Masked Avenger's arch nemesis! In any event, they both clearly felt the call of the conjunction of me, Kate, and Amy, and spent the first two of our days in London travelling to encounter us there from whatever part of the world they had currently been respectively rescuing and terrorizing.

We decided to stay up with Kate as she packed and prepared for departure, to keep her company and see her through the taxi cab fiasco, in which the cab company she had called to reserve a taxi from the previous day called ten minutes before her scheduled departure to inform her that they had no taxis responding in the area, and to give her the number of another company to call. That company, too, first agreed to pick her up and then later called back saying that no one was available, although eventually they pulled through with someone, and fortunately Kate was able to make it to the airport on time to catch her flight. Amy and I promptly crashed, and headed off the next morning to catch the megabus to Brighton, where we are now. We cooked a yummy dinner of pasta with veggies, and watched the first two episodes of the delightfully cheesy 1981 BBC TV series of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. More adventures to come, as always! Love to you all!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Day Two In London

Well,this time the computer has all its letters, although perhaps that is because it appears to be one of those which is very careful with how it spends those letters and is not willing to relinquish a single one without a fight, which means I have to type with pretty alarming force. So if a letter or two is missing somewhere, you'll know the explanation and forgive, I hope. For insnce, this sentene has been tped without going ack to add the absent letter Silly thing. Anyway, for that reason this will be another brief post. Main exciting highlights of the day today: climb up to the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, several hours wandering through the Tate Modern Museum, and seeing Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit in a West End theatre. And, generally, just the coolness of getting to do London in the company of the marvelous Kate and Amy.
Yesterday's top moments included a huge and inspiring (Protestant!) Easter service at All Soul's (I've become rather used to the Anglican service by now), and dinner and dessert at this crazily decorated Turkish restaurant. And a good night's sleep at long last. But tomorrow is another big day, and the keyboard is driving me mad, so I shall say good night for now, and further updates later. Love always.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Brief Note From London

Hello friends! I'm sitting in an apartment in London, in the midst of the insanity created by eight people temporarily cohabitating in a two-person apartment, typing on a keyboard which is missing the letter "c", while Kate and Amy try to work out the intricate topography of sharing a twin mattress. Oh, my goodness. Kate and I are operating on two hours of sleep after a night of clubbing in Brighton and an early morning of church. This is madness. Went to a crazy Turkish restaurant tonight with about five million lampshades. More to come. Much, much more... Be afraid.

Good night!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Sunshine Days

Well, classes have ended for the spring term, and I now have a month-long break stretching gloriously before me, of which I hope to take full advantage. Exciting activities so far have included a potluck dinner with my Bible study group, for which I prepared a tuna noodle casserole with no prior experience and only half the ingredients as they were actually called for in the recipe, but which nonetheless turned out rather well (thanks, Coach Singer!), a run along dusty farm-trails amidst fields of cows, the chance to read some completely unobligatory books on free will and audience dynamics, the commencement of a new and rather risky play which I'm not altogether sure how to continue, which intends to portray God's love for humanity and its implications for our lives, and several opportunities to enjoy the weather, the countryside, and some philosophical conversation in the company of Justin, fellow cartographer of metaphysical landscapes. Upcoming adventures include the arrivals of Kate Fox and Amy Wong into my welcoming domain, followed by a trip to visit the Fox in her new Italian habitat and a week in Ireland with the flatmates and friends. So, much more excitement to come.

Wow, is that all? No ten-paragraph-long rambling? I must be losing my touch... Don't worry, I'm sure I'll make up for it in the next one. In the meantime, love and wishes of sunshine to you all (and cinnamon lollipops to those who will appreciate them),

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Another Week Whirls By

Since my return from Wales, the weather has shifted from snow to springtime with a mischevious abruptness. Daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, and their many-colored cousins emerge in hesitant force and, after a day or two of wary glances at the clouds floating oh-so-innocently across the sky, decide winter has gone for good and devote their full energy to reflecting the gleaming sunshine and dancing in the breeze. This was the ninth week of the spring term, and I have only one more week of classes before a month of Easter vacation is upon me. Time has sped by so fleetingly, I must be having fun. And indeed I am, of course. The past week has brought all manner of excitement.

I had a presentation in Writing for the Theatre on Tuesday on Dogs Barking, a play by Robert Zajdlic, which went quite well. On Wednesday, I went book-shopping in Brighton for my Science Fiction class, which was quite a fun experience--rode the train out there and spent about an hour wandering through the maze of cute shops and cafes they call the Lanes, doing as much scoping-out-in-preparation-for-upcoming-visitors as actual book-shopping. Then I came back to campus for a spontaneous hot chocolate and conversation with Sara, later joined by Gavin. I dashed home to prepare a hasty salad for our potluck to celebrate the last Skeptics of the term, where we discussed the Trinity. And although, as Skeptics always does, we had to conclude long before we had heard nearly everyone's full viewpoint nor reached any type of conclusion, there were some very interesting and insightful points raised. Among them the idea that the reason we view God as existing as multiple Persons is that we observe Him in many different places (in ourselves, throughout the universe, in the person of Jesus) and each time we observe Him, He's not just a force or fragment, but a full Person. If that makes sense. (But if you're interested in hearing more about that point/the discussion, let me know and I'll be happy to expand.)

After Skeptics a few of us headed over to watch The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, by Bertolt Brecht, a very interesting play which he wrote in 1941, while in the process of fleeing to America from Nazi Germany. It's basically a transparent allegory of Hitler's rise to power, in which a gangster named Ui gains control of Chicago, and later begins to expand into the neighboring city of Cicero, through the compliance of the blackmailed but outwardly respectable political leader Dogsborough, by promising to protect the members of the Cauliflower Trust from the outbreak of vegetable-related violence suddenly spreading across the city (at the instigation of the very heavies he is offering to provide protection). It must have been an enormously daring piece of theatre at the time it was written, although the villainizing of Hitler and those who allowed his rise to power seems a bit trite with modern historical hindsight. Still, it was a good bit of theatre, well-written, surprisingly funny, and entertaining to watch. My one quibble was that, in keeping with the spirit in which it was written, I think Brecht would have preferred the story to be applied (as it certainly could have been) to more contemporary political situations, rather than so strictly related to its original WWII background. Otherwise, though, very interesting indeed.

Thursday I went to a lecture put on by the astronomy department about the use of galactic clusters in gaining deeper understanding of the Big Bang, which ended up being way over my head, but which was impressive to watch in large part because the lecturer, having become confused about intended time and thus mis-scheduled her babysitter, was forced to give the talk while simultaneously keeping an eye on her 18-month-old son, who toddled around at her feet exploring the projector and waving around a pointer stick. A very vivid demonstartion of the type of woman able to juggle both motherhood and a serious scientific career.

On Friday I met with my Creative Drama group and, as the result of a flash of inspiration I had received about our project the day before, we finally began writing what I think will be the basic outline of our final production as it will eventually end up. It's an interesting combination of a loop of stylized "daily life" interactions (people walking along, buying coffee, greeting each other, holding open doors, missing busses, crossing streets, etc.) interrupted by a dream sequence with a series of visions of differing degrees of realism, all revolving around the potential importance of seemingly insignificant moments and tiny interactions. It's kind of a combination of the various techniques and storylines we've considered throughout the process, and I think it will be really effective once we've got it all put together. We're thinking of using video projection and city-street sound effects as well. So I'm pretty excited that that seems to finally be coming together.

Also on Friday I went for my first run since Camp last August, which felt so nice. It's a great place to run because there are beautiful trails here starting the moment you get off campus or even before. I'm hoping my getting into shape for Running Camp this summer can thus begin a bit earlier than usual. After my run, we had our usual Friday afternoon discussion group, this week's chapter being on Sin and Grace and the meaning of the phrase "As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." Again, if you're interested in a recap of the discussion, or in getting involved in it yourself vicariously through me, I'm happy to oblige. After the discussion I spent a few hours sitting out in the windy sunshine reading Player of Games (the Iain M. Banks book I bought in Brighton for SciFi) before heading out to watch some of my new friends walk across glowing coals for charity--quite a sight to see, but apparently not the slightest bit painful!

Saturday eight of us headed out to Gavin's for a six-mile walk in the countryside, with a stop midway through at a pub, and tea with scones and other goodies (although they say "scons", claiming that only the most "posh" of people call them "scones") while we watched ENgland beat Italy in a rugby match once we got home.

Just a bunch of little events, really, but it's been a while since I've written so I wanted to let you know what I've been up to, in case you were wondering. And don't worry, I only very rarely consider the fact that most people have stopped commenting on my periodic posts to be an indication that nobody's reading them anymore--I figure some of you are still out there, reading in silence and going on your way. Alternately, I'm writing for my own memory's sake and the grammatical practice. Which is fine too. But if you are still popping in for an update every now and again and would like to let me know as much, a quick comment never fails to bring a smile to my face.

In any event, I'm looking forward to my upcoming month-long Easter holiday, peppered with such excitement as visits from Kate and Amy, a trip to Rome, and a week in Ireland with some of my flatmates and their friends. My love, as always, to all of you, wherever you are and whatever you're up to, and I hope all is well in your life.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A Weekend In Wales

Surgeon General's Warning: If you have not eaten recently, it is recommended you do so prior to beginning to read this post, lest you risk perishing by starvation before reaching the end of it.

Translation: This will be a long one.

Well, I have arrived home safe, sound, and slightly more culturally enriched from yet another guided excursion, this time to the neighboring country of Wales (which is snuggled up along the southwest border of England, for those who weren't quite sure). And quite a full adventure it was, too. So full that you might need to digest this recap in several sittings. Therefore I shall commence my description forthwith.

It all began with a train ride to London Thursday night, in order to be present for the departure early Friday morning. And as I was there for the evening anyway, I figured I might as well seize the opportunity for some London theatre, and had thus procured for myself a seat at Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical The Woman In White. Although my seat was up in the nosebleeds and my view was obscured by a number of handrails forcing me to contort in my seat to actually see the actors, the show was quite enjoyable. The set--a mechanized collection of giant curved white walls on which backdrops were projected with impressive technical skill, leaving the stage itself wide open to the actors--was quite well-done, I thought, and the music was fantastic, of course (although you can't help picking out bits which seem pulled straight from some of his previous shows, but I suppose that's unavoidable).

The plot, which focused on a pair of sisters (a pretty one and an "ugly" (read, she has brown hair (gasp!) and is tall (no, that too?!?)) one) both in love with a young artist (guess which one he falls for) but the pretty one has promised to marry this rich guy who turns out to be a jerk, which they would have known if only they had listened to the ethereal Woman In White who's been floating around the whole play warning them (and who happens to be the spitting image of the pretty sister). Don't worry, the ugly sister gets her moment of romance (art-boy falls for her eventually, once her sister's been pushed out of the picture and she puts on a revealing enough dress), although it doesn't last long before she's forced to give him up again. Hm, sorry, is my cynicism towards shallow appearance-based romance showing through? Really, though, other than that, it was a really good show.

After the play, I headed on to a nearby youth hostel to spend the night before heading out early the next morning to meet my fellow tourists. There ended up being 26 of us, all told, boarding the coach and heading off to the land of the red dragon. On the way, we passed through Windsor, and right by Runnymede (the field where the Magna Carta was signed).

We crossed over the River Seven on the longest bridge in the UK, and headed to our first stop: Caerleon, site of a number of Roman ruins from the days when the Empire stretched this far north. We saw the remains of an old ampitheatre as well as the only remains of Roman barracks in all Europe. There was also a Roman Legionnaire Museum with various bits of armor and other artifacts. Unfortunately, we only had an hour to take all this in before it was off to our next destination of the day: Caerphilly castle (the second biggest castle in Britain, after Windsor). The castle was pretty neat, and quite well intact. Very castle-y. Then we had some time to wander around the town, and I took the opportunity to buy some of the local, apparently famous Caerphilly cheese (a crumbly, feta-like cheese which turned out to be quite tasty) and have a soundly British dinner of fish and chips.

That night we stayed in a hotel in Cardiff (the capital city). The next morning we went, first, to the National Museum of Welsh Life, an outdoor museum consisting of thirty-some houses and other structures built across Britain at various points in history and reconstructed stone by stone on the site. So you could wander around from house to house, see the furniture of the times, ask questions of the museum representatives sitting in front of the various fires, and generally get a feel for life in different kinds of houses in various centuries. I thought this was a very neat form of museum indeed, and with good old Walter Lowrie (my Roots of Western Expression professor)'s encouragement to "Use your historical imagination!" echoing in my mind, I found myself delving deeply into the life experiences of my British ancestry. My favorite places were the tiny Unitarian chapel from 1777, the one-room schoolhouse from 1880, the recreated Celtic village, and the row of 6 iron worker's houses each decorated in the style of a different year from 1805-1985 leading you in a time-travelling journey from one to the next.

After that we were taken to Brecon Beacon National Park for a glorious walk through the countryside, past a number of waterfalls and quite a few herds of mostly friendly sheep. Quite stunningly beautiful--the pictures can't hope to do it justice, of course. That night we stayed in an environmental study center in Abergavenny, which was quite nice, actually. We were dropped off around 7 and left to our own devices, so I, having seen a sign for a theatre as we drove through the town, decided to venture out to see if I could locate it and take in a local show. Which I did manage, in fact, to do. They were playing Orpheus In The Underworld, a rather racy (at times) and slightly cheesy modern musical version of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which was a glorious bit of amateur community theatre which was quite impressive, actually, for what it was. And always a fun experience, not only watching the play, but watching the local regulars who see every show and know the actors and get all the inside jokes they've scattered throughout the script.

The next morning we started off at the Big Pit National Mining Museum (or Pwll Mawr, as it is in Welsh--w is a vowel over there (makes sense, if you think about the name, really) which makes for some disconcerting-looking words), with a tour of an old coal mine. The most interesting part of that, besides being amazed and disturbed by the cramped, dangerous, and otherwise generally unpleasant working conditions, was the rant our tourguide (an ex-miner) went off on about what a stupid idea it had been to close down the mines, and how they'll just have to open them up again when they run out of other energy sources, which will happen any time now. Amazing how he can stick those sentiments in between telling us how hard the work was and how many terrible ways one could die in the mine shafts.

After lunch back in Abergavenny, we headed off to our final stop of the trip--Tintern Abbey, the now-abandoned Cistercian monastery made famous in the title of Wordsworth's poem (Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey). It was destroyed by marauding Protestants (the cathedral, not the poem), so the roof is gone, the statues have been removed, the stained glass smashed out of the windows, many of the stones carried away for other uses, and grass now covers the floors. Basically, all that remains is the hollowed shell of the chapel, being slowly but surely reclaimed by its surroundings. Except, of course, for the nearby giftshop! Once again, we had only an hour to enjoy the peace, solitude, and beauty of the ruins, which barely gave me the time to compose my own poetic response to the atmosphere--admittedly rushed and a bit stilted, but nonetheless, I thought, as good a way as any to enjoy the time there. I include my poem below, hoping it won't be judged too harshly, as I did have to make sure to be back on the bus in time to avoid spending the rest of my days amidst the crumbling stones.

Lines Composed Inside Tintern Abbey

Nature, sprung directly from God's hand
This man-made stone creation doth reclaim;
For all its soaring pillars, proved less grand
Than He for whom 'twas made's eternal name.

Now glass no longer hinders the sun's glints
Through pointed arches upwards racing, filled
No more in second-handed human tints,
But by Creation, dipped in sunset's gild.

A roof no longer blocks the soul's ascent,
But shining Heaven pours in from above,
And on the breeze which through the church doth vent
Soar winged messengers of God's Natural love.

For men move on, religious tables turn,
One order waxes as another wanes,
But from these stony ruins may we learn
That in all times and places, God remains.

Not Wordsworth, but hey. Anyway, after the Abbey, it was time to head home again to Londontown. We arrived there around 8pm, and I began the final portion of my adventure--getting back to campus. Which proved a more harrowing process than was absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, the underground line I needed wasn't in operation for the evening, so I had to take a rather more roundabout route to Victoria station. Once I arrived, I was unable to find the scheduled 20:32 train to Brighton on the display board, realizing just a minute too late that the 20:32 to Hayward's Heath was the train I in fact wanted, as all trains from Hayward's Heath to Brighton had been suspended and temporarily replaced with a bus service. I then settled in for the hour's wait for the 21:32 to Hayward's Heath, but before the proper platform was displayed I noticed Brighton up on the board as the destination of the front four cars of the 21:17 slow train, and decided to take my chances with that. After some confusion regarding which cars were the "front four", I managed to find a car announcing Brighton as its destination on the scrolling marquis above the door. A moment later, just as the train pulled away from the station, however, the announcement suddenly changed to a different destination entirely. Concerned, I traversed the train in search of a car still headed for Brighton, but was unable to find one. I did manage to band together with several others also aimed towards Brighton, and after some conference amongst ourselves and with an attendant a few stops down the line, decided to wait there for the aproaching Hayward's Heath-bound train, which, we were assured, would get us there quicker.

The rest of the journey was pretty long but uneventful--we managed to switch trains, and then locate the desired direct bus to Brighton, and, from there, there was fortunately a train running into Falmer. So four hours later, at midnight, I finally dragged myself across campus and home for the weekend after a journey very nearly as long and arduous as this story, having reminded myself many a time that, as I learned with my bus adventure a few weeks ago, travel troubles in a foreign land are not an inconvenience, they're a valuable cultural experience.

My goodness, now it's late and I must be off to bed. The posting of the photos, thus, will have to wait for another day. So do check back for those. In the meantime, I hope all is well, and that you have enjoyed this painstakingly detailed recounting. My congratulations to you for emerging in however many pieces you currently find yourself to be.

Post Script: Photos have now been posted and can be accessed by clicking on My Photos link on the right-hand sidebar.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

X Eye *ting!* Gnus ^ 03/02/05

Translation for those of you not hip to the rebuses:
"Exciting News Update"

Just a few quick notes of various levels of excitement:

  • Awoke this morning to shocking amounts of snow, which continued to fall throughout the day. Those of you who've spent long periods of time on the icy East Coast will probably roll your eyes at my Southern Californian naivete, but I still get really excited by the prospect of walking through the tumbling wintry confetti, which gives me a certain storybook thrill of adventure. Although I wasn't expecting the supreme difficulty of navigating a snowy,
    downwards-sloping parking lot when I rushed out of the flat this morning only marginally on time for a meeting with my Creative Drama group, which almost resulted in my becoming much more closely acquainted with the slush upon which I was so perilously treading than I was at the moment prepared for.
  • Did manage to successfully make it to my group meeting, and devised a structure for our presentation next Monday which might just be worthy of carrying over to our final production. In our quest to explore the process of formation of identity and the concept of the self, we've hit upon the idea of showing the crucial although often insignificant-seeming moments of clash between various ideological systems, and have decided to do so, at least for the moment, by connecting random short scenes with snapshot images appropriate to both the ending of one and the beginning of the next. What we have so far looks really neat.
  • Read C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, which is simply a fantastic book and worth a periodic re-read.
  • Tasted the full golden glory of a peanut butter and honey sandwich on whole grain bread, which has been left for an hour to allow the honey to crystallize. If you have not yet experienced this incredible phenomenon, I advise you to do so at once.
  • Saw a production of Shakespeare's As You Like It put on by SUDS (Sussex University Drama Society), an entirely student-run society that puts on some really fabulous work. They put on Little Shop of Horrors a few weeks ago, which was quite good, but tonight's show was simply fantastic. So playful and fun to watch, and done, in the spirit of the original, with significant cross-dressing (Rosalind was played by a man, reintroducing the original additional layer of gender play to the production, as was Audrey, while Silvius was played by a woman. And the girl who played Celia was professional quality, quite truly. They also really used the silly love-ditties scattered throughout the script to good effect. Wonderful!
  • Was presented with a book entitled "Free Will: A Very Short Introduction" by Gavin and Sara, a gift I will treasure forever. It's hard to articulate how precious it is when you are given, not just an appreciated object, but an expression of such clear and deep comprehension of one's self.

On a slighlty less XI* note, I appear to be coming down with some kind of illness, which has me sore-throated and losing my voice. But, back on the upside, tomorrow afternoon I head to London, where I'll stay the night after seeing the new Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Woman In White, to depart early the next morning for three days in Wales through the Arcadia University study abroad program! Quite exciting, indeed! So, expect more fun photos and recounting of touristy adventures in a few days' time. Until then, my beloveds, a wonderful weekend to you all, and infinite affection and well-wishes from my corner of the universe (provided your understanding of the geometry of the universe provides for the possibility of corners).

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Crux: Part Two

Warning: For those of you who, lulled into a false sense of infrequency by my failure to post much while in the midst of essay-writing a few weeks ago, haven't checked the blog in a while and are just joining us, I recommend you go back a few days and read the previous installment entitled The Crux before continuing. And now:

I want to start off by saying "Thanks!" to all of you who have so far contributed to the conversation regarding the philosophical matter at hand--I knew I could count on you! For those who have pending responses, I look forward to them eagerly. Can I just say that the possibility for such encounters as this--a meeting of my favorite and most respected minds contributing to a pot-luck banquet of deep thought across continents--is quite certainly the most fantastic benefit to the invention of the internet I have yet encountered. Wouldn't the ancient Greeks have been proud?

That said, I have exciting news! This week's topic of study in Metaphysics, coincidentally enough, just happens to be precisely our current area of inquiry--free will and its possibility relative to determinism, non-determinism, and logic in general! Isn't it fabulous when things coincide like this? Thus, with the reading for yesterday's lecture and the lecture itself, I now possess some valuable ingredients to add to our menu.

First of all, there are some useful technical terms, which of course aren't necessary but are nice to have sometimes just so we all know when we mean the same thing and when we don't. Plus, they make you sound so cool and philosophic. So, in case you were wondering:

  • A compatibilist is a person who believes free will is compatible with determinism--that is, that you could have free will in a deterministic universe. (My analysis of the two types of compatibilists indicates that they achieve this belief through funny definitions of either free will or determinism.)
  • An incompatibilist, not surprisingly, believes that free will is incompatible with determinism.
  • A libertarian is an incompatibilist who believes that we do have free will (and thus, believes that the universe is not deterministic).

But the really interesting addition is an organized outline of precisely the "logical possibility" question I've been trying to isolate, as set out in several slightly different formulations in the article The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility by Galen Strawson. You can probably guess from the title what his verdict is regarding logical possibility of free will, which he bases on something he calls the Basic Argument. That argument looks something like this:

  1. Our actions are a function of how we are, mentally speaking.
  2. If (1) is true, we can only be truly free in our actions if we are truly free in our mental state, to a certain extent.
  3. We can only be truly free in our mental state if we have chosen our mental state.
  4. But we cannot be said to be choosing our mental state unless we already exist mentally, already equipped with some principles of choice (P1)--preferences, values, ideals--in the light of which we choose how to be.
  5. So in order to be truly free in our choice of a mental state, we must be able to freely choose our P1.
  6. But in order to choose P1 we must have some principles of choice P2 in the light of which we choose P1.
  7. This sets off an infinite regress, because in order to be free you must make a choice, but in order to have a choice you must have principles on which to base it, but you must also have chosen those principles, and so on.

This is the issue. So my previous question about logical possibility of free will can be restated with respect to this line of reasoning by asking whether the infinite regress is vicious--that is, whether it means that choice and thereby freedom is logically impossible or not.

There's a slightly different formulation of this argument later in the article, with some useful conventions upon which to frame the discussion:

Suppose one is in a situation in which one must choose between actions A and B. One will make this choice based on one's character or personality or motivational structure--one's CPM. One's desires and beliefs will provide reasons for A and B. One's CPM tells one which of those reasons to side with, and thus which action to choose. So in order to have freedom over one's choice, one must be able to choose one's CPM. Posit a self, S, which is independent of and yet has control over the CPM. The problem is, S will also have some structure on which it must base its decisions of what kind of CPM to construct. So in order to be free, one must also be able to choose one's S. And once again we hit the regress.

This can be looked at from the other direction, in a sense (instead of going back from the final effect to original causes, you can go forward from the original cause to try to get to the final effect), by starting with an initial S (self, or soul, or whatever). Now, imagine this initial S has no predispositions whatsoever--because only then can its choices be truly free. Is it possible for an S without predispositions to make a choice between various possible sets of principles, in an intentional rather than a random fashion? The difficulty we have with this concept is that our choices always are based on reasons. But are reasons inherent to the meaning of choice, so that an absence of reasons makes the choice meaningless? I think that is the real root of the question. And it seems to me that you can have a meaningful choice without reasons. In fact, that's exactly the meaning of the word choice. Reasons are things that back up the choice that is made, but the reasons themselves do not constitute the choice. Does this make sense? (I'm not sure, but it seems to me it might.)

But it's one thing to be able to call something a choice, and another to call it a moral choice. Can you have a moral choice in the absence of predispositions? Well, the S would have to start off knowing about "right/good" and "wrong/evil". Does knowing what dispositions and actions are "right" constitute a predisposition of itself? I think not--being disposed to do the "right" would be a predisposition, but knowing what the "right" is might not require a disposition to do the "right"; at least, so it seems to me. So I guess the proposition I'm making, without being entirely sure whether it's sound or not, is that something can be without predisposition, but can still have comprehension of good and evil, while maintaining a free choice between doing the good and doing the evil, but remaining morally responsible for that choice. If that is possible, then we have our leap from freedom into the land of determinism. If that leap is possible, it doesn't matter if the whole rest of the process is determined, because at that point a free choice has been made.

So, what do you think? Make sense? See a hole? Let me know! Thanks again for humoring me and brightening my life (whether you happen to be a philosophical type or not). Much love.

Cultural Experimentation

Thought I'd add a brief interlude amidst the superb philosophical discourse that's happening on this blog to note a few of the ways I've been seizing my newfound freedom from obligation to experience the many opportunities available to me through my presence here--on campus, in England, away from my usual routines. For instance:

  • I've taken several fantastic if rather bracing walks in the area surrounding campus. Last Friday I took a picnic lunch across the road to the village of Falmer and ate on a park bench by a duck pond and quaint old stone church, and then ended up continuing my walk for four hours, past the village farmer's market and through the valley of Stanmer Park to the village of Stanmer, where I found a darling tea room and enjoyed a hot chocolate and British pastry, and then headed back to campus, stopping on the way back to mount a hillside for a bout of frolicking and singing praise to God. On Saturday I took another walk through Stanmer Park with Sara and Savannah, and on Sunday after church we went into Falmer to visit the duckpond, and ended up tramping home through falling snow as the sunny skies suddenly vanished behind ominous dark clouds. (See My Photos for images from the various walks described above.)
  • Friday night I baked a spinach and onion quiche from scratch, crust included, which I considered quite an accomplishment despite the simplicity of the process.
  • I finally had a chance to walk around The Lanes, one of the central shopping spots in the nearby city of Brighton. Basically a British Telegraph, for those Bay Area folk among us, or a downtown PB for the San Diegans. Lots of cute crazy shops and stalls all crammed together with masses of people wandering about browsing. This was while meeting my group for the Creative Drama long-term project we're working on. We mostly spent the time in two cafes discussing our plan of attack (the first one having closed while we were still working away, forcing us to move on), but we did peruse one antique shop in search of inspiration in old photographs (quite in vain, unfortunately).
  • Experienced the film 28 Days Later, a British zombie cult classic which was actually not bad.
  • Tasted Marmite, a distinctly British spread apparently placed on toast as a ritual of self-immolation, although apparently there are those who have been brought up on the stuff and absolutely love it. Apparently their advertising is based on the slogan "You love it or you hate it," and unfortunately, I found myself decidedly in the latter camp.
  • Was subjected to the inescapable evening pastime of British youth, namely clubbing, and found myself enjoying the experience far more than I had expected. In some ways it resembled the dark rooms, colored lights, and huge crunching masses of people dancing in clusters of your typical high school dance, but without all the fear of judgment and desperate need to be accepted, which made all the difference in the world, and then some. It gained the crucial Liz Seal of Approval as an Activity That Is Enjoyable Without Requiring The Aid Of Alcoholic Influence, although I wish for their sakes that more of those participating were aware of that fact. Nonetheless, I had fun, and may in fact voluntarily repeat the experience at a later date.

That's all I can think of at the moment. I hope you have enjoyed this brief descriptive interlude. And now, back to our regularly scheduled philosophical ponderings.