Life as I See it podcast episode #10 Can Video Games be Art?

 

Can video games be art? Roger Ebert had declared that they couldn’t a fair number of years ago. Jeff Vogel weighed in on this topic and that lead to some discussion in my app.net stream about it. I think the answer to the question revolves around the relationship of the creator to an artwork in relation to the consumer of the artwork. In some ways, artists are unable to experience their own art because they have a very different motivation and experience. I think that playing a game, video or not, is much more akin to participating in the creation of art than it is to be the audience for it. 

 

Ebert on games not being art. He seems to rely mostly on the merits of games instead of making any sort of philosophical argument.

Jeff Vogel on video games and art. If you like old school role playing games make sure to check out his company Spiderweb Software.

Kelle Santiago’s TED talk about how video games are art. Gotta say I’m with Roger Ebert on this, I don’t find her argument compelling.

 

You can see all of my podcasts at bli.ms/u/eyes. You can subscribe using the RSS feed bli.ms/u/eyes/rss

 

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Culture and the Bible

“It rains on the just and the unjust alike. What do you think that means?”

“Oh, teacher! It means good things happen to both good and bad people.”

 

That was an exchange I had with my class in Yemen. The saying is from the Bible (I can’t remember where in there) and my first reaction to the student was that they had it completely backwards. WIth just a second’s worth of thought though, I realized that their view of what rain means is probably a lot closer to the Bible’s than my Euro-centric vision. Rain is a good thing when you live in a parched place. While we usually associate rain with melancholy, cancelled picnics, and general ickiness, they rightfully see it as a life giving gift.

It made me wonder what else we have been getting precisely wrong out of the Bible because of the culture we are in now. Some things that seem obvious to us might have had a very different meaning back then. We need to remember who was being taught to. I don’t have any hard evidence, but it certainly seems like Yemen is much closer in climate and culture to 30 AD than we are in the US. With that cultural filter put into place, let’s take a look at two different well known teachings from the New Testament.

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

This is usually seen as a straightforward appeal to pacifism by Jesus. If a guy hits you, you shouldn’t resist, right? Well, it could be a little different… The translation of that passage is pretty consistent, with most translators using slap, some use smite. The really interesting thing is that they all say “cheek.” None of them say, “If someone gives you a black eye, don’t hit him back,” or even “If someone slugs you in a bar…” No, it says if someone slaps your cheek, you should offer the other one to be slapped as well. What’s the significance of a slap on the cheek?

Even in western culture, a slap across the cheek is the universal symbol of disrespect. There is no damage involved, there are far more violent things you can do than slap someone. What a slap offers that a punch doesn’t is shame. I was warned by some of the expat “old timers” in Yemen to never slap a guy. If I got into a fight, well, that can happen. But if you slap him, he will be forced to defend his honor and that will have much worse endings than a brawl.

With that in mind, that passage may not have much to do with pacifism but with keeping your cool and not escalating things. Don’t let concepts of “honor” drive you to committing a worse sin than the guy that hit you did. Modern day Yemen, and I’m sure all of Semitic culture going waaaaaaay back has many problems with honor related violence. I’m pretty convinced this passage is addressing that instead of being a blanket exhortation of pacifism.

 

Homosexuality isn’t actually mentioned all that much in the Bible. Lots of conservatives will point to the Old Testament’s “sodomites” as a counter example but word is a really dodgy interpretation. The King James version sounds weighty, but most Bible scholars lament its awful translation. A more accurate translation is “temple prostitute.” It certainly makes more sense when read that way.

Jesus didn’t actually say anything at all about homosexuality. I think that’s significant as I put the most weight on what “The Man” says more than anyone else. But others disagree. Paul was pretty straightforward in his commendation of homosexuality though, and that’s where a lot of nontrivial discussion about it in Christian circles comes from.

My personal opinion is that a lot of Paul’s writing sounds like Paul spouting off. He certainly doesn’t sound like Jesus, and he wasn’t around for any of Jesus’s teachings. But let’s ignore that for the time being… It shouldn’t be a surprise, but there is actually a fair amount of confusion about the translation of the word Paul used that most conservatives assume is homosexual. It could mean a variety of other things instead. But let’s ignore that too and concentrate on the audience that Paul was preaching to.

One of the worst kept secrets in the middle east is how much guy on guy sex there is. To our eyes, it is clearly homosexual sex, but they have a little different view of it in Yemen. Keep in mind that guys never see any women over there that aren’t their mother or sister until they get married. Starting in puberty, guys are only with other guys. Hormones being what they are, things go on. From a western perspective, they are all engaging in homosexual acts. Over there, people tend to mostly ignore younger guys fooling around with each other. It’s a little more tricky when they are older. Yemen, like most Arab countries doesn’t consider the one “giving” to be engaging in a homosexual act. It’s my understanding that if you’re married and doing this, it’s a much more serious problem…

My point is this, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that the same behavior was going on back then. Taken in that context, I think it very likely that Paul would be addressing the guys screwing around because they are horny. That’s a far cry from people wanting to marry each other.

Maybe I’m full of it, but I really do believe that a lot of the stuff we supposedly learned from stories in the Bible have been twisted around completely. That is a translation issue, but we need to understand how big a role culture plays in understanding what is said. Somehow we need to put ourselves into the hot, arid, conservative culture of 30 AD. Yemen is about as close as we’ll get today.

mind/no mind

Have you ever heard a song that encapsulates basic tenets of Buddhist beliefs? No, neither have I, but I might have created one and I quite like it.

It all started when I stumbled across Ty Segall’s Imaginary Person.

 

 

It’s a lovely little bit of psychedelic/garage pop, you’d be forgiven if you thought it came out in 1968. I think it was actually made in 2002. I think it is about someone trying to convince themselves that they aren’t crazy. The chorus could either be “You are an imaginary person, you’re in my head but I am certain you aren’t real,” or “You are real…” Because of the charming low-fi quality, it’s impossible to tell.

Well, I was humming it to myself the other day and I mistakenly sang the lyric, “I am an imaginary person…” I thought that was pretty funny, but the more I thought about it, the more it reminded me of zen. Zen practitioners have the unenviable task of looking past themselves, of realizing that what they think of as self is an illusion. The self can’t be your thoughts and memories, otherwise where do you go when you sleep? Naturally, this leads to some real cognitive dissonance and confusion. Apparently that’s par for the course and is the basis of serious zen. So with apologies to Ty Segall, here is the first zen psychedelic/garage pop song. I’ve modified the lyrics a bit, but imagine them in the regular music and see what you think…

 

 

say say, i can’t say what I’m tryin’ to do to me oh no oh no oh yea

cuz I’m in my head so i never go to bed oh no oh nooh no

talk talk, it’s all I do so i never talk to you oh no oh nooh yea

cuz I’m in my head so i never go to bed oh no oh no

cuz I, I am an imaginary person

I’m in my head, but i am certain I’m not real

I am an imaginary person

I’m in my head, but i am certain I’m not real

yea, I’m not real

I’m not real I am real I’m not real

 

Judging risk

Every treatment has risks associated with it. The big, bad risk for the treatment I’m on for MS is a brain infection known by the acronym of PML. It’s pretty nasty. If you’re lucky, you die from it. The ones that don’t are pretty severely brain damaged. When I had started my treatment, it looked as though the incidence of that side effect was 1 in 3000. In addition, the people that did get it tended to have a history that I didn’t have (previous use of immune sup present drugs). That’s not too bad of a risk although I would say that if given the chance to do something that had me dying in 1 out 3000, I wouldn’t do it in regular life.

The factor weighing on me from the other side is that I am in probably the worst of all demographics for MS outcomes. I am male, my symptoms showed up as motor skills first, and it also presented with lesions on the spinal cord. Looking at the data, people with those markers tend to deteriorate faster and end up less mobile than other populations. So disease management is important. Tysabri seems to be the only treatment worth a damn, despite the risk of PML, so that’s what I have been doing.

Now there is some new information out and it is making me question what to do. It turns out that all of the people that got PML also tested positive for JC virus antibodies. The JC virus is  relatively benign virus, unless you are doing something that compromises your brain’s immunity, then you can get PML. Last I read, about 60% of the population has been exposed to the JC virus. The new numbers suggest that if you have the JC virus antibodies, your risk of getting PML while on tysabri is 1 in 500.

That’s a lot worse than 1 in 3000. The risk of infection is still unlikely, but not as unlikely as I would like. The good news is that if I don’t have the antibodies, it doesn’t look as though I’ll be a candidate for PML at all, or at least until I’m exposed to to the virus… I got my blood drawn yesterday to test for the presence of the antibodies. I’m really hoping that they come back negative. If it does, I’ll continue doing my treatment. If it comes back positive, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Without treatment, there is a much better than 1 in 500 chance that I will be put in a very bad way from MS. On the other hand, it won’t kill me or damage my brain either. There really aren’t any other decent proven treatments out there.

So that’s the potential decision I’ll have to face, a more certain bad thing vs. a less certain very bad thing. Let’s just hope for a negative test result, that would make so much easier…

The limits of Logic and world views

I know that I think differently than a lot of people do when it comes to things like economics, politics, and religion. What strikes me is the reactions I get from people. There is a common belief that if someone has deduced things logically, they must be right, and therefore I must be wrong. They confuse making sense for reality.

Imagine if told someone that parallel* lines can intersect and in some cases must intersect. If that person were in an argumentative mood, they might point out that the very definition of parallel lines forbids them from crossing. If this were a political, economic, or a religious point, more times than not I would be dismissed as an idiot. I’ve gotten that reaction fairly frequently. What I almost never get asked is why I might think that way. It turns out there’s a whole bunch of other types of geometries out there, as soon as you put lines on curved surfaces, basic rules of geometry get changed.

The point is that both I and my mysterious debater can logically defend why my view is right or wrong. The efficacy of logic is limited by the initial conditions or beliefs you start with. If you think you live in a Euclidian world and I think I live in an elliptic world, we are never going to come to any agreement or understanding if we rely on logic to stake out our claims.The same thing goes for any other world view you can think of. Once you believe you know the basic underpinning of your world, everything else follows logically.

Most people do what “males sense” to them based on their beliefs. If you try to point out that any given view they have is incorrect or, too often these days, tell them that they are stupid, you won’t get anywhere because they are a long ways down the causality chain. If you want to convince them to change their mind about something, you need to go to much deeper. When I talk to people about religion, economics, and even politics, I am usually pointing out that we don’t live in a Euclidian world despite appearances and how much sense it seems to make. It takes time, but ultimately you have to convince people you live in a better world than they do if you want them to come around to your way of thinking. It may not be a great way of scoring quick points, but it does give them some things to think about. That can lead to real conversations as opposed to slogans and name calling.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to not do any of this. Gotta keep telling myself that it’s worth doing. I think it pays off long term, if only for my mental health…

 

* I am using Euclid’s definition of parallel. Loosely, that is that if there is a line and a point off that line, there is only one line that can be drawn through that point that does not intersect that line. That’s Euclid’s 5th postulate, we call it parallelism. In elliptic space, there can be no parallel lines as Euclid postulated.