Saying It Well...

Khrystine's favorite quotes

"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."— Mark Twain

Modern Muse

Modern Muse
Adriana Lima in Elle Magazine

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts: Monet to Picasso

The exhibit was amazing. I looked at the works in a different way than most of the other people, especially the paintings. I want not only to see the painting, but to see the brushstrokes, to be inside it, to make love to it. I want to live in the world of the painting for as long as possible. In fact I was a little overwhelmed. I wanted to just stare at each painting for an hour or more in order to absorb it fully.

I was thinking of what I was looking at, and I was thinking there should be more of a physical response to it. I should faint or cry or have some outward manifestation towards so much beauty. When I saw the first Van Gogh, I found it hard not to scream or to cry. Nevertheless, I only smiled.

I am always amazed at how looking at art affirms certain aspects of my philosophy. In a painting from the blue period of Picasso, the accompanying placard speculates that it could be a comment on profane love versus perfect love. The painting features a couple on one side and a woman and child on the other. I thought very clearly, “No, sexual love is not profane.” It was uplifting to be so sure of myself for once.

My favorite part of the exhibit was Auguste Rodin. I wasn’t expecting any work by him, let alone his most famous work, The Thinker. I knew that Rodin thought that one is able to express mood through the body just as well as the face. His work truly exhibits this. It is almost strange that his sculptures don’t move. There was a rather large sculpture of a nude young man that had been controversial in his time. It was my favorite because it seemed so strong. It seemed to express a love for humanity and a quiet joy in being alive.

Overall, it was an amazing experience and I would love to go again.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Computer Ethics

Plagiarism and software piracy are illegal in the United States, and are generally agreed to be morally wrong as well. However, our world is changing fast. New words and phrases such as Napster and Random Access Memory are being invented every second. What do the words plagiarism, software piracy and copyright infringement mean?

The dictionary* defines plagiarism as “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.” As a would be writer, I find plagiarism morally reprehensible. It is the ultimate “sell out”. One who desires to achieve recognition but is so unwilling to work for it has no self-respect and likely self-esteem issues as well. That being said, as a would be writer I am also aware of influences from other authors seeping into ones work. For example, I easily could have begun this paper by saying, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that plagiarism is wrong.” I would not begin the paper this way because that statement is probably not true, but readers of Jane Austen will find it eerily familiar. The first line of Jane Austen’s book Pride and Prejudice begins “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”** If I ever write the phrase “It is a truth universally acknowledged,” is that plagiarism? It is such a nice concise way of saying things, but certainly a “close imitation” of that sentence. We both speak the English language after all, surely some words will overlap. How many consecutive words must be said and not attributed for something to count as plagiarism?

Software piracy is another tricky issue. If my boyfriend buys a bunch of CDs and then uses a CD burner to make me a mix CD for my birthday, is that piracy? Should he have bought those songs a second time on iTunes and then erased them once he had the hard copy? I suppose that would be the most moral, but no one has provided a satisfactory answer to this question. What if he takes songs from CDs he already owns and makes himself a mix? Should he have purchased those songs a second time? I personally feel that that would be rather stupid. He must pay to put them on another CD but he can build a play list on his iPod and get the same experience for free? There is the rather immoral act of defining the point until it is ludicrous. Even Rene Descartes admitted some things have to be just given. How far does our ownership reach? We can listen to music on the radio for free, but to listen to it on our computer we have to buy it? There is a logical gap here. Yet even I will agree that a mix CD seems to be in a different category than highly expensive software, or even a complete disc of one artist’s music. But the question still remains-where do we draw the line? Should we pay for radio now? (Some of us do, and enjoy it.) Should we ban libraries, which are the closest some individuals get to having a formal education? Libraries lend music and books to people all the time. I can get a CD from the library, listen to it constantly for free and if it is worth buying, I buy my own copy. I can also download a CD from an illegal website, listen to it constantly for free, and if it is worth buying, I buy a copy. If it is not worth buying, I didn’t waste my money and the musician got some free advertising out of the deal. I don’t see how this is different from radio or the library. The article on which this paper is based claims that bands do not appreciate this as they prefer to do their own advertising. This makes me question how many musicians the author actually knows. The musicians I have been lucky enough to hang out with appreciate any and all advertisements. Can you think of any other possible reason Ozzy Osbourne would bite heads off bats? Metallica’s many court cases particularly amuse me. Music has always been about protest and double checking the status quo, from Woody Guthrie to the Sex Pistols to Christian rock. Metallica has a lawsuit every time someone says their name. They even sued Victoria’s Secret-who is going to think that Metallica the band and Metallica the perfume are the same thing? A band that gave mothers of the early nineties nightmares.

In conclusion, these things are hard to define. I have already made this paper twice as long as it needs to be, and will spare the reader details of my own philosophy of property rights except to say this: To take something that belongs to someone else, from an apple to an idea, and say that it is yours is wrong and degrades all humanity. To be touched an inspired and overjoyed by another’s creation is a love of humanity. That is the true difference, and the true line that must be drawn. We cannot force people to love truth, but those who do should not be punished for finding it-they are the one’s who know when something is worth paying for, after all.

*"plagiarism." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 23 Jun. 2007.>.

** Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Great Britain: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1999.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Constructing a Life Philosophy Paper

Why is philosophy important? Everything is a reflection of our philosophy-even the time we got up today (and our attitude upon waking). Are we “morning people” or “night people”? This is just one example of many incidents that give our views on life, whether we will or nil. It is then important to examine what those views are, to ask ourselves if they will lead to happiness and indeed, what that happiness we may be vaguely searching for is. In chapter one of Constructing a Life Philosophy, several individuals try to do just that.

We begin with M. Scott Peck. Peck sees life as a journey with various destinations or goals along the way. Each of us has a map-a complex viewpoint or philosophy-that tell us how to get where we’re going. Problems arise when the map has errors, either in where we are going or in the legend. A false map will not lead us where we want to go.

As an example, Peck tells us of “brilliant but unsuccessful” computer technician whose wife has left him and the children have gone with her. At first, the man did not appear to be very distressed about his marriage, only his children. Neither did the man seem distressed over his lack of career and financial success. As Peck talked to the man he discovered that his childhood had not been the best. While the man’s parents were not aggressive towards him, they were often neglectful. The man defended his parents, but found it hard to trust people; particularly authority figures that he believed did not have his best interests at heart. However he was very affectionate with his children, a relationship where he was the authority and therefore had the “upper hand” as it were. Peck believed that every time the man attempted to reach the destinations of familial or financial success the map would warn him not to trust the other crucial parties such as a spouse or supervisor. The man must change his map to read not to trust his parents and other people that really had let him down. Peck admits that while facing the truth may be very painful, it is necessary to reach our goals in life.

Plato also discusses the painful necessity of facing the truth. Plato, like Peck, uses a symbolic allegory to describe our search for truth and happiness. Plato describes the typical individual as living in a cave. While in the cave the individual must face the back wall on which (s)he sees shadows of everyday things like plants, animals, vehicles and such. As this is all the individual ever sees, this is his whole idea of reality. Plato then supposes he releases the individual from the chains and shows him what has been creating the shadows-small toys and models. The individual cannot believe it and it is likely that the toys will seem less real to him than the shadows on the cave wall. The individual will be in denial, much like the man defending his negligent parents in the first viewpoint. Once the individual is used to the models Plato speculates on leading him out of the cave to face the real world. The individual must adjust to the light, the wind, an entirely new and different view of reality. Like the man in the first viewpoint, it may be easy for us to slip back into old beliefs, to have a desire to run back to the cave. However, once the individual sees real plants and animals he gradually comes to appreciate them and feel how truly unrealistic the shadows were, how little his reality matched the truth. Yet were he to tell other individuals in the cave they would likely disbelieve him and even think he was trying to do them a disservice.

Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox also emphasize the importance of the story. They claim it is the stories we and society tell that shape our philosophy. These stories can be beneficial or detrimental. For example, an individual influenced by Watergate may develop a healthy skepticism of government or they become paranoid of all authority. The above stories, if incorporated into one's world view may encourage one to face hard truths, or they may influence one to create drama in a twisted attempt to discover further knowledge. The key, say Keen and Valley-Fox, is to find a story that helps an individual to achieve one’s goals. All philosophy tells a story, and all stories create a philosophy.

So now that we know that it is important to search for happiness and meaning and that truth and our stories are key to understanding, the next questions are: what is happiness? What gives life meaning? How do we go about finding it? The following viewpoints all agree it must be our decision to look for meaning and to cultivate it in our lives. However, they differ on where we should start looking.

Richard Robinson claims life has no intrinsic meaning and that individuals are entirely responsible for creating their own paths. This is nobler than many philosophies or religions he claims because it does not relieve any responsibility from us or give any blueprint for how we should act. He does advocate the ideas of brotherly love and courage as these are necessary to survival.

Charles Colson disagrees with Robinson. According to Colson, the only thing that can bring us true happiness and meaning is finding peace with Deity, particularly the Christian idea thereof. Colson tells a story that is full of wrong turns and scandal. On the suggestion of a friend, Colson prays and begins to study Christianity. Colson feels what could be called spiritual manifestation that Christ is the Savior. With the extreme differences between Robinson and Colson’s respective ideas, they both agree that the decision to find meaning is ours.

Riane Eisler advocates honor of the female Deity, as represented by and manifested in nature. If religion and society were not male dominated, Eisler insists, we would be less exploitive of natural resources and of other people. Eisler strongly emphasizes the ideal is not a female dominated society either, but rather one that is based on partnership. Like Robinson and Colson, Eisler believes we should seek each other out in order to better each others lives. Partnership, or an equal society, will encourage balance among the world which will leave us with socially and economically rich societies.

Like Colson and Eisler, Emil Brunner also encourages a relationship with Deity. He holds the belief that evidence of God’s power and love is everywhere, which mimics Eisler’s divine view of the earth. According to Brunner, the very idea that we were created by God implies a purpose. Like Robinson, Brunner claims it is our responsibility to find our individual life plan, which Brunner believes comes from God. It is likely that the results of an individual living by Brunner’s ideas and one living by Robinson’s would lead very similar lifestyles. This is very interesting considering their original idea of what gives life meaning are essentially polar opposites.

Brooke Medicine Eagle’s view is reminiscent of Eisler’s, although Medicine Eagle perhaps focuses more on the Human-Earth relationship than the Society-Earth relationship. Medicine Eagle believes that as all things are creations of Deity, all living things are children and manifestations of that Deity. Therefore all things, including ourselves, deserve respect and honor.

Despite the many differences in the various viewpoints we can see a couple themes. All seem to agree that we must constantly be striving for truth. All, whether explicitly or implicitly, accept the importance of stories and their influence. All believe that to some extent we are responsible for our own happiness-which does not have to be frightening as Robinson reminds us. All agree we must respect ourselves and other people. A trusting relationship with a higher power seems to be important, even if that higher power is our own human potential. Perhaps the most important thing we can glean from these writers is that, while there may be vast differences in belief and culture, we all to some degree want the same thing. Diversity and unity is possible, and as long as one lives with honor we can respect them.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mathematics and Beauty: A Golden Connection

Beauty is mysterious.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” “Beauty is an illusion.” These ideas make beauty seem so subjective, so transient. Surely many prefer it that way. But what of us who crave the eternal? What of the scientists and philosophers who seek truth, the artists and engineers who sense all of time in one raised eyebrow or perfect pediment? Is that for naught?

What if there was some magical property that justified the beautiful, that widened, not narrowed our definitions thereof? What if the whole world was beautiful?

There may be no magic spell, but there is however, the next best thing: an equation. The Greek letter phi is defined as the following: (a+b)/a=a/b. If we simplify these terms, we are soon left with Phi^2-Phi-1=0. As we can see, this is a quadratic equation, and the only positive solution is (1+√5)/2=1.61803399.

What does this have to do with beauty? This is where things get interesting. As we will soon see, this ratio seems almost omnipresent. We can see it in faces, in flowers, in fruit, and even in fountains. All these beautiful things often have this ratio as a common thread between them. One may argue that this is just as subjective as anything else. As we examine the history of the ratio, we shall see why this particular philosophy of beauty deserves merit.

We start with Phidias, who was born in about 430 BCE in Greece. Phidias was a sculptor, painter, and architect, generally regarded as the greatest of his time. Favored by the leader Pericles, it is generally believed that Phidias designed the statues that reside in the Parthenon. We do not know much about Phidias, and cannot say for certain he knew of the ratio, but he seems to have employed it in his work. It is for this reason we call the ratio phi, the transliterated first letter in Phidias’ name.

Our next character is the philosopher Plato or Platon, born in Athens, Greece in about 427 BCE. In one of Plato’s dialogues, Honor, he describes 5 solids, all convex regular polyhedrons. Some of these solids are related to the golden ratio. In fact, it is possible to combine the solids and find even further examples of the golden ratio. Once again however, we do not know if Plato was aware of these relationships or not.

The first record of the golden ratio we are aware of occurred in the mathematician Euclid’s (or Euklidis’) book Elements. This book is so influential, we are still required to study it in secondary schools. Euclid, who was also Greek and born in about 300 BCE, actually defines the golden ratio. Euclid described it as the extreme and mean ratio.

It wasn’t until the middle-ages and the work of Italian mathematician Fibonacci that we were able to learn more about the ratio. In his The Book of the Abacus Fibonacci describes a sequence of numbers where each number is the sum of the two numbers before it, e.g. 3,5,8,13,21 etc. It can be observed that the farther we take this sequence, the closer the ratio of any two consecutive numbers (3/5, 5/8) gets to phi. While he did not discover this sequence, he popularized it, and it is now known as the Fibbonacci sequence.

Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli, Italian mathematician and friar, wrote The Divine Proportion, published in 1509. This book was illustrated by Leonardo Da Vinci and explored how the ratio related to art and architecture. It also showed how the proportion applied to people-with proportions on the face and body being close to phi. The following quote shows Pacioli’s thoughts on the ratio:

The Ancients, having taken into consideration the rigorous construction of the human body, elaborated all their works, as especially their holy temples, according to these proportions; for they found here the two principal figures without which no project is possible: the perfection of the circle, the principle of all regular bodies, and the equilateral square.

(Emphasis added)

Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer born in 1571. Kepler was mainly concerned with uniting astronomy and physics, and in doing so was able to show that planets did not move in orbs (circles) as previously thought, but in orbits (ellipses). We were able to find that golden ratios often show up in ellipses, and Kepler later said

Geometry has two great treasures: one is the Theorem of Pythagoras, and the other the division of a line into extreme and mean ratio; the first we may compare to a measure of gold, the second we may name a precious jewel.

So far we have seen the ratio in shapes, architecture, art, people, and in the shape and movements of an ellipse. Those who think Phi is just a coincidence are losing their arguments. In the eighteenth century, Charles Bonnet, a Swiss naturalist and philosopher is finding it in plants. The spiral phyllotaxis (or leaf arrangement along the shoot of plants) going clockwise and counter-clockwise is often two successive Fibonacci sequences. We also find this in the spirals of the nautilus shell and the petals and seeds of the sunflower. German mathematician Martin Ohm begins to describe this ratio as “golden”.

French mathematician François Édouard Anatole Lucas studied the Fibonacci sequence and is the namesake of the related Lucas sequence, whose ratios also get closer and closer to phi. Lucas came up with a formula for the nth Fibonacci term, which is as follows. Fsub (n+1) = Fsub (n) + Fsub (n-1). He also gave the sequence the name Fibonacci Sequence.

It wasn’t until about 1909 that phi became the symbol for the ratio, as given by Mark Barr, an American mathematician. Today even more exciting connections are being made to the golden ratio by individuals such as Roger Penrose among others.

Gustav Theodor Fechner did studies that show that 75% of people prefer golden ratios, and subtle (highly unscientific) evidence in our culture seems to support this. Others, like George Markowsky, say it is all coincidence. But we may find that is not even the point. The point is that we find things such as order and symmetry to be worthy of our time. The point is that when we see beauty, we joy in it. H.E. Huntley says this is a response driven by an inner desire to create, and to see that it is good. He says:

Man is by nature a creator. After the likeness of his Maker, man is born to create: to fashion beauty, to originate new values. That is his supreme vocation. This truth awakens a resonant response deep within us, for we know that one of the most intense joys that the soul of man can experience is that of creative activity. Ask the artist. Ask the poet. Ask the scientist. Ask the inventor or my neighbor who grows prize roses. They all know the deep spiritual satisfaction associated with the moment of orgasm of creation.

I would add that beauty shows us our values. Do we value order & intelligence or do we value the dark primordial chaos from whence we came? Do we value this beauty we find even on ourselves? Do we value that we are perfectly made, by God or nature, to be beautiful?

I will end with the ratio as defined by Adolf Zeising.

[A universal law] in which is contained the ground-principle of all formative striving for beauty and completeness in the realms of both nature and art, and which permeates, as a paramount spiritual ideal, all structures, forms and proportions, whether cosmic or individual, organic or inorganic, acoustic or optical; which finds its fullest realization, however, in the human form.

Is that not something we can value?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The House of Chanel

The Parisian fashion house Chanel is probably among the most influential fashion lines in the world, both at its birth in 1910 and today. The House was founded by Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, more commonly known as Coco Chanel. Such iconic fashion items as the little black dress and tweed suit became mainstream because of Chanel, and Chanel number five is one of the most popular perfumes today. Chanel is also famous for it’s quilted fabric, made with a secret technique to keep it strong. Chanel’s philosophy was that style should be effortless, elegant, and tastefully sexy. The line soon became associated with wealth. Many things that are known as classic French styles were created or reinvented by Chanel, and Chanel herself seems to reflect the French aesthetic. Attributed with saying “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury” and “A woman is closest to being naked when she is well dressed”, the look is the classic idea of elegance without excess. When Karl Lagerfeld took over in 1983, the line got a new slightly more daring attitude, but is still characterized by unique designs, luxurious details, and impeccable quality.