Archive for November, 2013

The Unemployed Philosophers Guild Shop at Union Square

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Want to meet a real unemployed philosopher?

Want to see all of our products in 3 dimensions with your very own eyes?

Want to even buy some of them with some physical money?*

Well if you live in the NYC area, now is your chance!

The Unemployed Philosophers Guild will have a booth at the Union Square holiday market from today through Christmas Eve. We’re there every day except for Thanksgiving. Come on by and say hi!

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Our booth, set up and ready for action.

*we also take credit cards

Happy Latvian Day!

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Today is Latvian Independence Day!

Here are some facts about that wonderful small country:

The Latvian language is one of the only two remaining Baltic languages (Lithuanian is the other).

Latvia lies on the Baltic Sea but has almost no islands while neighboring Estonia has more than 1,500 islands.

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Latvia: a land that’s perfectly fine without islands.

Throughout its 4,000 year history, Latvia has only been an independent nation for a brief period during the World Wars, and again since 1991.

Latvia is NOT the home country of Doctor Doom. That’s Latveria.

Famous people born in Latvia include Isaiah Berlin, Richard Wagner, Mark Rothko, Sergei Eisenstein and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Latvia’s national drink is Riga Black Balsam, a thick, bitter/sweet herbal liquor considered to have healing powers (have a slight sniffle anywhere in Latvia and you will immediately be plied with it). Legend says it cured Catherine the Great of an unspecified ailment.

Lavtia landscape

Latvia is a flat country. Much of the year it is green.

Latvian Landscape Winter

The rest of the year it is white.

Latvian’s mythical national hero is Lāčplēsis, which translates as “bear-slayer.” He is half-bear, which is evident because he has the ears of a bear.

Latvia is home to the world’s largest deposit of amber. It routinely washes ashore on Latvian beaches.

Latvia is crazy for choral singing. The Latvian Song and Dance Festival is a huge event. As many as 30,000 amateur singers gather to perform Latvian songs. Spontaneous mass singing began the Singing Revolution that ultimately led to the liberation of the Baltic States from the Soviet Union.

Smartass Response to a Philosopher #20

Friday, November 15th, 2013

“Only one man ever understood me, and he didn’t understand me.” – G. W. F. Hegel

I don’t get it.

Monday Morning Music: Song by Sekilos

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Music was an essential part of ancient Greek culture. The philosophers wrote about it, the poets sang to it, and ancient Greek theater was driven by it.

But what did that music sound like? A scholar at Oxford has reconstructed the Sekilos epitaph – the only piece of ancient Greek music to survive with complete notation.

Here it is, played through in a few different variations.

You can read about the reconstruction via the BBC here.

Nineteenth Century Time Travel Before H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”

Friday, November 8th, 2013

H. G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine is considered to be the seminal modern time travel story. But, it wasn’t the first.

As we posted in our last two entries, time travel stories go way back. Here are some that were written closer to Wells’ era, before he wrote his influential novel.

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Rip Van Winkle (1819)
Rip Van Winkle falls asleep in Washington Irving’s classic story and wakes up 20 years later, completely missing the Revolutionary War. Irving is more interested in criticism of post-revolutionary America than issues we’d associate with time travel, and Winkle’s “travel” is mainly a device for him to become an outside observer to the social upheavals and societal changes brought about by the war and its aftermath. Although this story is considered a time travel story, in fact Winkle travels through time the way we all do – he’s just unconscious for 20 years of it. So technically it’s a bit of a stretch to call this story a time travel story.

The Forebears of Kalimeros: Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon (1836)
This novel by Alexander Veltman is considered to be the first Russian work of science fiction. In this book, the protagonist travels to ancient Greece on a hippogriff to discover ancient secrets to leadership and military success. He visits Alexander the Great and meets Aristotle and is fairly unimpressed, coming to the conclusion that people are the same no matter when and where they are.

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A Christmas Carol (1843)
In Charles Dickens’ classic tale, Ebeneezer Scrooge travels through the course of his life under the guidance of three ghosts and visits what was, what is, and what may be. Scrooge is merely an invisible witness to these time periods, but by what he learns he is able to alter the timeline. After seeing his life play out under its current course, when Scrooge is returned to his own time, he takes action to change his future.

The World As It Will Be (1846)
In Émile Souvestre’s book, a couple are taken to the year 3000 by a man named John Progress on a flying locomotive. In the future they discover marvelous things that we now take for granted such as air conditioning, subways, and telephones. The world is one nation with a capital in Tahiti. Eugenics and genetic engineering have become the norm, breeding specific types of humans for specific tasks. And corporations and the medical industry have immense government-influencing power.

The Clock That Went Backward (1881)
Written anonymously by Edward Page Mitchell and published in the New York Sun, this story follows three men who travel from the 19th century to the 16th, and play a decisive part in a battle between the Dutch and the Spanish.

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Paris before Men (1861)
Botanist and geologist Pierre Boitard was inspired by the new theory of evolution when he wrote this time travel story. A demon brings the protagonist back to the distant past, where he confronts dinosaurs and an ancient pre-human ape-like creature.

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El anacronópete (1887)
Gaspar y Rimbau’s novel is the first time travel story to feature a machine that travels through time, the “anacronópete,” an electric-powered cast-iron box. Don Sindulfo Garcia, the machne’s inventor, travels with a ragtag crew to various times and places, such as Spain in 1492, ancient China, the eruption of Vesuvius, and the time of Noah. One interesting element to this story is that there is a fluid generated on the machine to prevent its travelers from becoming younger as the machine travels backwards. At one point in the story this malfunctions, turning soldiers brought along to protect the crew into children. Another fun time travel element: Don Sindulfo discovers that a Chinese Empress he meets will later be reincarnated as his wife.

The Chronic Argonauts (1888)
Six years before H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine, he wrote the short story The Chronic Argonauts in which a mysterious visitor to a Welsh village turns out to be a “chronic argonaut,” i.e. time traveler!

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)
In this novel by Mark Twain, a late-19th century American finds himself back in the time of King Arthur. He realizes that his knowledge of 19th century science and engineering has made him the smartest person alive, and he uses his knowledge to quickly rise to power.