“Nonsense” Questions and “Operatic” DVDs

Diary 8/25 to 8/27/22: Wittgenstein quotes and Hawking radiation; the riddle of existence; A Deadly Place DVD package; Caroline Winkler again.

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

{8/25/22} continued.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, in the Philosophical Investigations: “464. My aim is to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense.”  I had this quote in mind as I was contemplating something I read in one of the new books that I received yesterday.  The author is marveling that something like his mind, or any mind, can exist in something like the universe we live in.  He doesn’t marvel that something like atoms can exist, because he takes atoms for granted, though he’s never seen one.  I’m assuming that imaging technology hasn’t yet accomplished the feat of snapping a picture of an individual atom, though if it hasn’t, I suppose it will in a decade or so.  However, that won’t change anything about the marveling, or the disguised nonsense question of “Why?”

Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)

We assume that we understand the building blocks, when we don’t, and then we marvel at the structures those blocks create.  Indeed, it seems that we don’t even understand the absence of building blocks—I, at least, don’t understand “Hawking radiation.”

Hawking radiation is black body radiation that is theorized to be released outside a black hole’s event horizon because of relativistic quantum effects. It is named after the physicist Stephen Hawking, who developed a theoretical argument for its existence in 1974.[Ref omitted] Hawking radiation is a purely kinematic effect that is generic to Lorentzian geometries containing event horizons or local apparent horizons.  Wikipedia.

This is the definition that starts the Wikipedia article; I can’t understand the definition, though I recognize that I misunderstood what this radiation is.  I had thought it was the particles “spontaneously generated” from “empty space,” which then combine and neutralize each other so that they go out of existence.  Perhaps that’s called something else, all of which is beside the point.

That point being, the puzzlement expressed by the unnamed author (which I suppose I should quote but don’t wanna) is nothing more than the kind of question everyone asks herself (circa age twelve) about her own existence and/or mind, which has never been satisfactorily answered by science or religion (of course, I’m an atheist).  The questions are “disguised nonsense,” which a bit of reading in philosophy helps you turn into “patent nonsense.”

Darwin (filtered through my brain) has the best answers, IMHO:  You exist because your parents had sex; you have a mind because it helps you produce more offspring.  These answers are wrong because they substitute another of Aristotle’s categories of causation for the one implied by the question.  I don’t know what those categories are (let’s see…proximal cause, efficient cause, material cause, ultimate cause?  Almost just empty labels to me), but apparently Wittgenstein didn’t read Aristotle, either.


Most delightful of dreams—see my Dream Journal.

Irene is supposed to come by to clean my apartment.  I think it likely that she’ll show, since she always needs money; but will she do any cleaning?  I decided a couple months ago not to give her more than $40 per month.

Resumed reading my Collected Quotations last night, Lin Yutang and Bryan Magee, lots of pages between these two.  Dr. Lin is fun and thought-provoking; I should print that separately and read to the group tomorrow.

Dr. Lin Yutang (1895-1976)

A 10-movie DVD package from Hamilton, called A Deadly Place, was predictably terrible.  The best of the bad lot was The Day of the Animals, in which Christopher George, Leslie Nielsen, Michael Ansara, and others are dropped off on a peak in the Sierras for some obscure purpose while news reports of ozone depletion grow increasingly threatening.  The animals go crazy and attack the hikers.  The script and acting are rather awful, though I suppose the radiation can be blamed for the erratic behavior and bad choices of the group.  What’s very good about the movie is the animals:  quite a lot of them (mostly birds), and well handled, even frightening, though a man wrestling with a cougar for about a minute would, I suspect, come out of it with more than a minor scratch on the cheek.  The other nine movies aren’t worth mentioning.

Totally bored this morning.  Watched Caroline Winkler for twenty minutes about interior decoration trends she hates.  I care nothing about “interior decoration trends,” which amounts to “ways to sell junk to fools.”  But Winkler is funny, so this falls in the category of amusement—I’m seeking amusement at 7:40 am.  I’d do better to continue reading my CQ.


Watched two good DVDs:  Die Tote Stadt and Curse of the Golden FlowerDie Tote Stadt is an opera by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and it’s been a favorite for decades.  The DVD is of a live performance from The Opera National Du Rhin in 2001, with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig, starring Angela Denoke and Torsten Kerl as “Marie-Marietta” and “Paul,” respectively.  The music is lyrical and romantic, the story is essentially a psychodrama—in Act 3 Paul says, “What have I lived?  No, what have I seen?”  The score places heavy reliance on the two principals, who in this case are both excellent.  I cannot fault the performance of anyone in this production, except perhaps the film’s Director, who favors closeups of the singers—opera singers generally are working very hard, and to watch their faces too closely I find distracting and harmful to overall enjoyment.  The settings and costumes are “modern” and nothing much to talk about, which was true of the one other DVD I’ve seen of this beautiful opera.

Curse of the Golden Flower – 1
Curse of the Golden Flower – 2

Settings and costume, however, are, to my mind, the real “stars” of Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), a story of “games of thrones” of the T’ang (?) era in China (i.e., 900-and-change AD), and just about as “operatic” as the Korngold piece.  I’ve never seen such elaborate staging in a movie—it starts off jaw-droppingly elaborate and ornate, and never loses that quality.  The story is a sort of Greek tragedy.  Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li, two of the most familiar of Chinese thespians, star in this amazing movie.  Scores 65% from both critics and audiences, while the “consensus” sez:  “Melodrama, swordplay, and CG armies—fans of martial arts epic will get what they bargain for, though the baroque art direction can be both mesmerizing and exhaustively excessive.”  Surely, “exhaustingly” would be more appropriate here.  But this is filmmaking on an epic scale, with astonishing battle pieces that make one think of The Lord of the Rings of Peter Jackson and a plot that Shakespeare might have loved:  incest, murder, and palace intrigue.

The Hemlock Club meeting today was nothing special, given a slow start (I was sitting alone from 8:00 to 9:30 or 10:00).  No appearance from Sam, alas—I’ll have to try writing to her c/o her former place of business, since I don’t have her home phone number.

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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