Reality, Authority, Reason

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Strangely, with the publication of the Talos Principle video game, and now some sort of additional content, some people have started suspecting that this blog may constitute some sort of marketing trick, or perhaps merely an elaborate joke on the part of one of its writers. Some go even further and assert that Straton of Stageira himself is a fictional creation, a character invented to tie the game’s narrative to both philosophy and mythology via the (definitely genuine) figure of Talos.

I’ve been asked to provide proof of my existence, or at least of the existence of the works that I write about. Initially I intended to do this, but as the queries have multiplied, I have begun to wonder whether this is the right choice.

After all, should it not be possible for anyone to deduce the truth from the facts currently available? It’s not my word – my authority as someone who has a PhD – that matters. Authority, as Straton so frequently reminded us, must be questioned. The only thing that truly allows us to separate truth from falsehood is reason.

Does Straton of Stageira exist?

Am I a real person?

Is the Talos Principle an invention?

The answers to the questions can be found through research, through the collection of facts, the formation of hypotheses, the application of logic. If this blog has served any purpose, then let it be as a reminder of the need to question, to consider – not to slide into nihilistic despair, but also never to let ego and the desire for simple answers get in the way of critical thinking.

Real or not, that’s all I have to say.

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Existence

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So, uh, some people on the internet seem to believe that I don’t exist. In fact, they seem to believe this entire blog is some sort of elaborate marketing exercise, or maybe an act of trolling. And instead of adapting the work of Straton of Stageira, the Croteam game actually invented Straton.

Which presumably means Croteam also invented my PhD, which is a real relief, because it was a lot of work and I’m glad I didn’t have to do it myself.

Seriously though, folks: it’s just a game. A pretty good game, but nevertheless just a game. And this is just some old WordPress blog that never really went anywhere. I have no deeper secrets to share, no hidden levels to tell you about. I can’t even give you a hint about the upcoming DLC, because I hadn’t even heard about it until five minutes ago when I did a Google search. (Will I buy it? I don’t know. The story seems interesting, and I enjoyed the original, but I don’t know if I’ll have enough time to pay it properly, and I don’t want to use a walkthrough. So we’ll see.)

Oh, for those who asked about the documentary. It does look like there’s a version floating about that’s been edited into an advertisement for the game. It’s actually just a fragment of the full version, so basically I’m still looking.

(I’ve written to Croteam to ask where they got the footage, but haven’t heard back yet. Then again, I only sent that email an hour ago.)

Review: The Talos Principle (Croteam)

Reviews

Croteam

Wow, that took a while. I kind of zoned out and forgot to finish this review, but then a flurry of activity in the comments (apparently due to the game) made me decide it was time to stop loafing about.

I’m not exactly a great gamer. I played Myst and Riven back in the day, but it seems my brain cells have decayed a fair bit since then! That is to say I struggled badly with some of the puzzles… but I refused to give in an use a walkthrough. And unlike Myst and Riven, I actually finished this game!

And what did I think of it, I hear my near-nonexistent readership ask.

I liked it. It wasn’t what I expected, but it’s interesting.

To be fair, I’m not sure what I expected, precisely. I mean, how do you adapt a philosophical principle into a game? I expected something on the educational side. Instead, I got sort of a classic sci-fi story that uses the Talos Principle more as a lens through which to consider the various ideas presented than as an historical subject. There are some interesting biographical bits about Straton of Stageira himself in there, so that’s cool, but the game is more concerned with materialism and the impact of the principle on its characters. So – how do you deal with death when it suddenly becomes very real? How do you think about civilization when your own existence is so limited? And so on.

The game doesn’t exactly take sides or argue for a single specific philosophy, but it doesn’t sink into the mire of postmodernist wishful thinking, either. It does assert the existence of a single, specific, observable reality – it just wants you to figure out for yourself what it all means. Straton would approve. It’s also rather positive on the subject of the human species, which I found refreshing.

I should mention that I didn’t get all the stars, and I did end up watching the third ending on YouTube. Some of the secrets are just too well-hidden for me, I guess. The built-in hint system is also somewhat bizarre, but it didn’t actively bother me or anything. The graphics were pretty, the music was excellent, and the voice acting was much better than in any of the games that I played when I was younger. I can even say that I was genuinely moved by some of it, which I did not expect.

All in all, I’m glad this exists.

Videogame?

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So apparently a company called Croteam have made a videogame based on the Talos Principle, even including some actual texts by Straton. That’s… bizarre, to say the least. But interesting! I’m not opposed to videogames or anything, I just didn’t expect one to reference this relatively obscure philosopher that only a handful of people really give a shit about.

On the plus side, maybe my PhD is now going to make me look cool?

Yeah, dream on.

Going to check this out and write some kind of review. I hope it runs on my decrepit laptop. And doesn’t have any Towers of Hanoi puzzles.

Review: The Talos Principle (Wordsworth Classics)

Reviews

Wordsworth

As cheap versions of classics go, the Wordsworth editions are usually quite decent. The quality of the paper is not superb, the fonts are a little small, but none of it ruins the book. If you don’t fetishize books as objects in themselves, and want an affordable edition of Straton, this is really OK. I’ve read some of my favourite books in Wordsworth Classics editions.

The introduction is simple and straightforward, the annotations limited but at least not offensive, and the translation, while archaic, is very pleasant. I can’t claim Straton would be amazed, but he’d probably be satisified. Especially at these prices!

(Apologies for the shitty image, but it seems there aren’t any Wordsworth covers in normal quality to be found on the internet. These editions aren’t exactly famous for their good looks, anyway, though I find them charming.)

Respect

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We know very little about Straton’s commentaries on Aristotle, but the few fragments we have, mostly via quotations by later authors, suggest Straton was both highly critical of and highly respectful towards Aristotle’s work. That’s something the internet could really learn something from. Debates don’t need to be about anger or personal offence. We can disagree with one another as thinkers while respecting each other as people.

Of course, it is well-established that many philosophers disliked Straton intensely, so the ancients weren’t really any better than we are. If they’d had the internet, they’d probably spend all their time flaming each other and posting goat pictures.

Conclusion: my goat is better than yours, barbarian!

Straton and Facts

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Writing about Straton is a tricky thing these days, as it turns out. The one thing that I most admire about Straton is that he thinks like a scientist – he’s trying to find proof, to make statements that can be backed up by facts, or at least logically derived from facts.

But so many other philosophers – and the amount becomes really staggering once you’re actually trying to properly study philosophy – rely almost purely on elaborate sentence constructs that don’t actually make any sense. They pile definition upon definition, connecting things verbally but not logically, until they’ve created something so complex that it seems like it must be true somehow. There’s just too much of it for someone to just say “well, this is all nonsense.” But it so very often is just that.

The reason this is particularly frustrating is that we live in this wonderful postmodern era, in which we’re actually more suspicious of the concept of evidence (COULD IT REALLY EXIST? DOES SCIENCE REALLY WORK? the academic writes on a computer created by scientists) than of academics who say things like “theory is a form of art” or of philosophers who build entire unreadable books on these calcified ideas, this canon of stuff that is respectable just because it’s old, without ever questioning whether half of it makes any sense anymore, especially given all the advances in science and technology. So the Talos Principle is precisely the kind of thing that will make professors raise an eyebrow and tell you about “grand narratives.”

Note to self: only talk to the professors you know to be sane. Avoid literary studies.

Lasers

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sigh

Sometimes it’s tempting to replace my dissertation with this and be done with it. (The problem is not Straton, it’s the people writing about him. That picture constitutes more of a serious argument than some of these papers I’m supposed to quote.)

Off the Grid

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I know this blog doesn’t get updated very often to begin with, but I’ll be even more busy than usual for a while, trying to finish my PhD.

(Guess what it’s about!)

Or I might just start posting Straton-related cat photos to procrastinate alleviate stress. We’ll see.

Documentary?

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I remember being shown a documentary about Straton of Stageira in school. It was one of those old cheesy 70s things that I used to make fun of and that I now realize are a thousand times better than having Oprah Winfrey blathering about Nature for two hours.

I think it was called The Talos Principle, or maybe The Mystery of the Talos Principle or something like that. I haven’t been able to find any mention of it online, and the teacher who showed it to us doesn’t seem to be on Facebook (not much of a surprise there). I have no idea who produced it, wrote it, directed it… I just remember seeing some shaky 70s video of the ruins of Ancient Stageira and a narrator explaining how little we know about Straton himself.

If any of you happen to have any information about it, or even own a copy, please let me know.