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.

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.)

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.

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.

Poetry and Philosophy

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Came across this thought in one of Straton’s fragments (#12):

It behooves us to be cautious when particularly taken with any philosopher’s claims, and to consider whether our reaction is due to the logic of his claim or due to the poetry of his words. A beautifully-phrased sentence is an accomplishment in oratory, not philosophy, and the pleasure we take from it should not be mistaken for truth.

The philosopher must be like the architect: to write well is important, but not more important than building an edifice that will not collapse. Some philosophers construct dwellings that seem pleasant to the eye, but are traps for the unwary.

No wonder other philosophers didn’t like him!

The Talos Principle in action

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Stumbled across this on Wikipedia, thought it was funny enough to be worth sharing:

Jones was born in Virginia in 1797 and came to Union County, Kentucky in 1804. As a young man he amassed a considerable fortune as a land speculator, and after his fiancée broke off their engagement he moved to Indiana where he developed an interest in religion. He joined the United Brethren and later the Methodists, before donating 5,000 valuable acres of land east of Illinois to the Shakers. He was baptised as a Mormon by a preacher he encountered, but rejected the religion after not receiving the promised gift of tongues.[1]

Jones later encountered a “strange genius” by the name of McDaniel who preached that “man by faith can live forever”. Jones and McDaniel planned a “capital city of the world” on the site where Columbus, Kentucky later stood, a city without graveyards where members of the “live-forever” faith would reside. The pair headed east to recruit converts, but McDaniel died after being taken ill in Ohio. Jones was “very much embarrassed” at having to preach at the funeral of his “live-forever” partner. With the death of McDaniel the plans for their city were abandoned and Jones moved into politics, continuing to believe that he himself was immortal.[1]

Jones formed the “High Moral” political party in an attempt to spread his ideas. He ran repeatedly for Congress in several districts, including Paducah, Kentucky, and went on to run for President, and for Governor of Kentucky.[1] These campaigns never succeeded in getting even a fraction of the vote.

Despite this, he was not overly mocked, and was considered a harmless curiosity.[1] He was allowed to speak to large crowds, who cheered him on as he made his claims, and politicians humored his competition.

Jones caught pneumonia in 1868, and refused medical aid due to his belief that his sickness was moral at its base. He died on August 30, 1868.

It’s also kind of sad, to be honest. But truth is truth: no matter what we claim, we are made of perishable materials.