We’ve been reading Plato’s dialogues in my class on History of Ancient Philosophy, most recently Phaedro. In this story, Socrates, at this point more of a fictional character and mouthpiece for Plato’s own ideas, describes the concept of the Forms and the relationship of the soul and the body. The priority he gives to the soul over the body is contrary to popular Athenian beliefs of the time, and of course as is the nature of Plato’s dialogues, it requires some arguing and explanation.
At the same time, in my philosophy/biology class on the intersection of Science and Human Values, we’ve been reading David Quammen’s The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution. Quammen’s history of the two decades between Darwin’s brief stint as a field biologist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle and the publishing of his theory of evolution reads remarkably well, and it paints an explicit picture of both a man and a theory not yet widely understood.
I found a nice thread connecting these two topics, and I’d like to test its tensile strength.
Essential to his all-encompassing philosophy, Plato’s concept of the Forms is one that questions the very authenticity and degree of realism of our physical reality. A simple example of a Form would be that of a circle. Expressible through mathematics, the Form of a circle, Socrates argues for Plato, is more purely circular than anything that could exist in the real world, and thus is a more real circle than the silhouette of a soccer ball or a china dinner plate.
But these forms aren’t limited to simple mathematical representations, no, there is a form for everything. No matter the subject, be it a cat or the idea of pure beauty, any thing in this physical universe is but an imperfect simulacrum of its underlying Form. The Form of a cat will always be more cat-like than any real cat could be.
Plato believed that the Forms of the good, the true, and the beautiful are what we (as bodies controlled by immortal rational souls) desire and that they are the only things that can bring us happiness and fulfillment. The good, true, and beautiful, once you know how to find them, are at the root of all that gives meaning to life. It is through reason and recollection (of what our immortal souls already knew prior to our birth) that we are able to cast aside bodily distractions to pursue an understanding of these transcendent and unchanging Forms.
Prior to the 1859 publishing of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, contemporary Victorian (and by default theistic) understandings of natural philosophy (what we would now call natural or physical science) posited species to be immutable in form, cast by a creator just as they exist now. Slight variations among a population were considered to be imperfections that, if viewed within the group over time, would average out to reveal the archetype of the species. A cat with slightly thicker hair was merely a slightly incorrect representation of Felis silvestris catus, and nothing to be concerned about. By this understanding, the slight differences between individuals in a population were considered insignificant at best and at worst a hindrance to the strict work of taxonomy.
It was with this understanding of variations within species that Darwin was dissatisfied. His qualm was this, how can one determine where one species ends and another begins, or where to draw the line between varieties within a species? Darwin instead tackled variations within populations head on. As we currently understand the application of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, slight variation manifested in an individual within a population represent the expression of a genetic stock much wider than simply the parents’ traits alone, along with possible mutation(s), and may lead to variants that have an increased survivability. By accepting that variation within a species and the variation between species are merely different by degrees, Darwin revolutionized taxonomy in ways both exciting and frightening.
The same problem that Darwin saw in pre-evolutionary taxonomy, the arbitrary degree and resolution of classification, I see in the (albeit vague) description of Plato’s Forms. To say both that there are Forms for everything, from truth to cats, and also to say that the wide variations we encounter in reality are only imperfect representations of common Forms seems to me contradictory.
Let’s return to our exemplary circle. If there is a Form for a perfect circle, couldn’t there also be another Form for an imperfect circles? Then, shouldn’t there also be a Form for this very specificly imperfect circle? What about a Form for this plate as made by a specific potter and used by my grandmother and chipped on its edge during Thanksgiving ‘99?
If such a multitude of Forms exists that there are as many forms as there are identifiable subjects in existence (that amount being infinite), shouldn’t we conclude that there is at least one form for every possibly identifiable subject? As with species or variations, where do we draw the lines between Forms? If there is at least one form for every possibly identifiable subject, can’t we say that everything is the most pure representation of its own Form?
In this way we could say that my room mate’s cat Lola isn’t just an imperfect representation of the Form of a cat, or Felis silvestris catus, but rather that Lola is the purest representation of her own Form. She is the exact representation of her genes, of her upbringing, of her physical existence, of everything she was and will be, and of cuteness to boot. Too bad she knocked over a glass of water ruining my room mate’s laptop, such clumsy destruction is in rather poor form.
Whereas most people would change, shower, or at least take off their clipless shoes, I don’t think it’s too strange that the first thing I do when I get home from riding is take some self portraits. Not too strange.
On a related note, today was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
When I first read about The OUT Campaign, I considered throwing the big red letter up on the sidebar here since “I have a blog!” and “I’m an atheist!”. But there’s a couple reasons why I didn’t, why I don’t, and why I probably won’t. Firstly, I enjoy the aesthetic control I have on my blog. While I don’t necessarily value the content less than the context, I wouldn’t be as proud of it if I had to post on, say, the MySpace blogging platform.
And then there’s the idea of what this blog is about. While it still feels like my writing voice is shifting more than that of a pubescent teen sweating his first debate club meeting, I’m at least getting a handle on what I like to write about. There are persons who blog about atheism, and their are atheists who blog about the personal. I’d say I’ve fallen into the latter category.
While I may occasionally write about my atheism, it’s not the central focus of this blog, and on the subject of modern atheist activism I don’t feel so completely knowledgeable. Which is why I don’t feel a need to adorn my sidebar with a scarlet letter, declaring to all my rejection of theism and the supernatural.
Where my blog gives me the freedom to compulsively structure and stylize, Facebook demands that the content posted fit within their strict blue and white style-sheet. At the same time, the assumption about what kinds of information is being presented are pretty different between a personal blog and a Facebook page. While some people use their Facebook pages as landing pads for almost everything they do online, I still see the site as a kind of internet rolodex; one that lets you know what you have in common in with people in terms of friends, interests, location, and other proclivities.
One of the default categories of information on a Facebook profile, and one that is displayed quite visibly and permanently at the top of participating pages, is the person’s religious views. Since joining the site, I’ve either ignored this option and left it blank, or put in something harmless like “never ending math equation”.
I considered displaying simply and truthfully “Atheist”, but there was something holding me back. Consciously or not, I didn’t want to announce my rejection of religion. This could have been partly because of how few people I’ve found, talking face to face, who would self-identify as atheists, and partly because of the cultural backlash that exists against those who actively reject the beliefs of others.
While I may find few peers and friends around me who would unabashedly declare themselves atheists, there is no shortage of well-spoken, proud, intelligent, and inspiring atheist on the high seas of the internet, of which Greta Christina is a great example. (She also writes about sex, science, and her cats.)
It was probably Greta’s widely read post Atheists and Anger that convinced me of the importance of displaying my religious beliefs, or lack thereof. So I adjust my Facebook page accordingly, and I got responses.
One of the most notable was from a friend who, as a result, also changed their displayed religious beliefs to Atheist. They described to me in an email an instance in which a strictly religious friend of theirs had denounced them as faithless, and therefore, morally vacant. It may have been a rude awakening, but it gave my friend reason to think heavily on the way their atheists are viewed by others, the fact that many people are strongly opposed atheism, and ultimately, the things my friend loves about what it means to be an atheist.
Granted, I’ve never lost friends over my atheism, though I have apparently surprised them with it. Maybe because I don’t talk about it very often, or maybe due to preconceived notions of what an atheist looks like, I’ve found myself trying to explain my wide-eyed, naturalist, and atheist worldview to friends who “just didn’t expect that”.
I believe really strongly in living by example, at least when it comes to parts of my life that I’m proud of. As an (admittedly sophomore) student of philosophy I don’t think it’s enough to try to determine what a good way to live is, but that we must also try to live ‘a good life’. An important part of my decision to display my explicit atheism was the fact that I believe not only that faith-based belief systems are unsupported by objective observations of the world around us, but that basing one’s decisions on a belief system that is fundamentally opposed to skepticism and empirical evidence leads to poor decisions. To be succinct, I don’t think it’s possible to determine and to do what is right without first being able to release oneself from absolute faith.
Took two hours to wake up today
took two hours to wake up today
took a half an hour to get into the shower
the shower took an hour
the hard work helps the time go by
hard work helps the time go by
Lately I’ve been thinking about the regular schedule I’ve set for myself; I’ve been thinking about it in terms of my bicycle. Six days a week it’s a short and well versed commute to school or work and the same jaunt home ten hours later. When I can wake well rested and it’s dry outside, I try to ride through the park for maybe an hour before the day really begins. Long rides get postponed until Sunday comes around, and longer rides fill my imagination by Monday afternoon.
Sleep, eat, ride, school, work, eat, ride.
And this regularity is good, I look forward to it.
On a different scale, I’ve been considering what I want to do with this like of bike. I’ve developed a strong loyalty to the shop I’m wrenching at currently, along with a lot of friendship and admiration for my coworkers. I can say I wouldn’t mind working at Pullins Cyclery as long as I live in Chico. After I graduate though, I think I’d like to explore some.
NAHBS really reinforced my feelings that I’d like to try my hand as a framebuilder, but at the same time it struck me how sufferable such an endeavor might be. Less than $2,500 can buy tools for building lugged steel frames, but the investment of time and energy required to develop the necessary skills prior to this is much harder to calculate. Ron Sutphin, president of the United Bicycle Institute in Oregon, estimates one out of twenty graduates of UBI’s frame building class make a significant portion of their income framebuilding, and that fewer than one in a hundred succeed making a solo career of it.
And so I worry, as I am wont to do. Maybe I won’t have an eye or hand for framebuilding, maybe I won’t have the frugality or wherewithal, maybe I won’t have the salesmanship, maybe I won’t have the ambition or passion.
But I might. As long as there’s no rush to test my metallurgy, these worries weigh less than the air in my tires. For now I’m comfortable with the prospect of wrenching for years to come, riding regularly, and watching the time go by.
Woke up plenty early and did some stretches. I think I’m learning how my body works. Breakfasted on a well blended parfait of honey granola, almonds, maple syrup, blackberry jam, soymilk, banana, and old mashed raspberries.
Met up around ten for a ride with Renée, Paul, Steve and Lau. We drove about 14 miles South East to begin our clockwise ascent of Table Mountain. I’ve never been driven out of town on 99 South before, and it was nice to see the rolling foothills and erect power-towers from a different perspective. I’m still not acclimated to how beautiful it can get out here. We parked outside a small schoolhouse and pulled our bikes from the roof racks.
An hour and a half later we were sitting on the top of the plateau trying to lure cows into a photo op with pieces of cliff bars and fig newtons. We didn’t see any other riders on the way up, which was surprising considering the phenomenal weather. Starting the 800’ descent I grabbed onto Steve’s wheel and didn’t let go until we were halfway down. As far as frame materials go, steel’s what you want for long curvaceous downhills, and my Atala rode rock-solid. This was probably my third time riding down from Table Mountain on Cherokee Road, and the most confident I’ve ever felt doing it. Being able to see the lines Steve was picking and to just lay into the turns behind him was fun. I wouldn’t yet say I “Descend With Conviction”, but I’m enjoying it more and more every time, white knuckles be damned!
On the flats back to the car I meandered off the road and onto the gravel shoulder only once or twice, because secretly I want to ride mountain bikes, and because secretly I want to crash on the side of the highway. It was in these last stretches that I was able to coax some speed out of Steve and Lau, when Renée and Paul had dropped off the back. Maybe it’s just my youth, but today I felt fast.
Got home around one and muckety mucked around on the internet for about an hour before taking off the sunday riding clothes, gross. Made some warm and savory lunch out of rice, curry, french onion soup, broccoli and naan, and then proceeded to pass out on the couch while watching All The Kings Men. I developed the syndrome a few years ago watching some classic films with my dad, but now I can’t stay awake for more than an hour if I’m watching a black and white movie.
Three hours of nap later and it’s time to do some homework. Tomorrow’s supposed to be the last day of this superbly warm and sunny “February-Fakeout”, before the wind and rain return. Hitting the bed early tonight to hit the road early tomorrow morning.
So last weekend I took an eleven hour bus ride to Portland to attend the fourth annual North American Handmade Bicycle Show. For three days straight the Oregon Convention Center was packed to the gills with the dorkiest bike nerds, the biggest small frame builders, and the most interesting things on two wheels; the bike racks outside were piled high like some promethean offering to a cyclical deity.
If anything, the massive gains in attendance and the number of exhibitors since NAHBS ‘07 is a sign of good health for both the small and big end of the bicycle industry. Sure, Portland is a hotbed/brothel of bicycle activity on its own, but attendees came from near and far to look upon the bike works.
If you want real reporting on what can only be described as the best trade-show in the industry, read up at BikePortland.org or VeloNews.
It dawned on me pretty quickly that such an abundance of overwhelmingly nice bikes can glaze over your eyes and burn a hole in the back of your skull. I was only at the convention center for Saturday, and I so wish I could have had one more day to recuperate and revisit some of the exhibitors. Looking at galleries online I’m still finding cool things I missed as I wandered about the show in a drunken stupor, eyes rolled back into my head and jaw hanging slack.
Here’s what I can remember:
Ahearne Cycles - “handbuilt with love and fury in Portland, OR”
Combining traditional steel frame building with inventive new designs, Joseph Ahearne’s bikes are smartly built and packed with interesting and unique details. His custom racks and integrated frame designs set Ahearne Cycles apart. He won the award for “Best City Bike” (a very popular style this year) with the orange commuter shown below.
A.N.T. - “Alternative Needs Transportation”
Committed to building bikes that improve the mindshare of bicycle commuting, A.N.T. is a small Boston area bike shop run by Mike Flanigan and Betsy Eckel Scola. Mike Flanigan has an amazing mustache. His commuters won my heart over a year ago, but it was great to see them in the flesh, so to speak. Classic designs, dauntless utility, and a solid philosophy make A.N.T. one of my favorite small builders.
Bruce Gordon Cycles
Based in Petaluma, California, Bruce has been building custom steel lugged frames since 1974. His small company is famous for his touring and racing bicycles. A regular of NAHBS, this year Bruce took home the awards for “Best Road Bicycle” and “Best Lugged Bicycle”. Shown below, some of his titatanium lugs are just beyond comparison. Well, maybe not beyond comparison, it just wouldn’t be fair to anybody else to compare them with Bruce’s work. My friend Lindsey rides on of his older touring bike, and she is a very, very lucky lady.
Frances Cycles - “fabrication & repair, trackbikes to cycletrucks”
Awesome bikes out of Santa-Cruz, California. Joshua Muir’s lugged and fillet-brazed bicycles follow a “rich tradition of hand drawn, hand built steel bicycle framesets”. His booth at NAHBS offered up a few very unique designs, including his immensely popular cargo bike “cycletruck” with a cool steering mechanism, pictured below. Also on display were his custom designs for a track bike with a pass-through seat-tube (for an extra tight wheelbase) and a slick commuter with integrated custom fenders.
Jordan Hufnagel is a charming boy, freshly transplanted to the Portland bike scene from Indiana. One of my favorite parts of the show was spotting “Go Vegan!” emblazoned on a chainstay of his “Organic Athlete” road bike, pictured below.
Ira Ryan Cycles
Another Portland Builder, Ira Ryan has been building lugged and fillet-brazed framesets and racks since 2005. Classic randonneur styling with some very insightful modern touches, Ira’s bikes speak of a builder who is a rider first and foremost. As with A.N.T. and Ahearne, it was awesome to see some classy bike with upright bars, racks and eyelets aplenty, I guess we’re calling that a “city bike” now? His fast bikes are wicked sweet too. Props to Ira for taking in donations for Bike To Rwanda, a worthy cause if there ever was one.
I know I’ve been awful busy in real life lately, but you’re never far from my thoughts. Oh how I desire sweet respite, the kind of leisure that would allow me to dance my fingers across a keyboard and pour into you prosaic parcels of mine life.
I’d tell you of Portland, the little city that could. I’d recount the innumerable handmade bicycles polished almost to the point of fluorescence, the none too few bridges between buildings of appropriately modest heights.
I would regale you with kernels of the knowledge under my predation. How funny, you would think it, were I to quote the student who asked what Parmenides and Zeno would have thought, with their understanding of a finite indeterminate spherical unifying Being, of this student’s empty gas tank. How could it have been emptied though, responded the professor, if the motion of driving was but an empirical illusion? Chuckles, they were abound.
All this and more, Internet, if you would be mine.
For serious though? Work + School + Late night dark room hours = not much time for blagging. Failing my ability to find more hours for the day hidden beneath dirty laundry or behind the toilet paper in the bathroom closet, don’t expect anything too regular at this location. Fans of the (semi)daily covers should also hold their breath until I buy some new guitar strings.
We were talking about religion in my Human Geography class yesterday afternoon, and through a loose hands-up survey we determined that religion is not prominent in the United States, and that an atheist candidate would never be elected president. Contradictory, no?
Sheldon Brown died of a massive heart attack Sunday night, he was 65 and leaves behind a wife and two children.
Sheldon has been accuratelydescribedbymanyothers before me as an encyclopedia of bicycle knowledge, an exceedingly humorous and kind hearted man, and an incomparable resource to the cycling community.
I personally have him to thank for where I find myself today. When I first become interested in fixing bikes there was no greater boon to my education than the rich compendium of articles on his decidedly old-school website. It’s still a more accessible, funnier, and more thorough collection of bicycle information than anything on my bookshelf. His dedication to sharing his passion was fuel for my own, and for that I am grateful.
Known throughout online bicycle communities to provide warm and quick responses to questions, I now wish I had taken the time to express how invaluable his vast knowledge and compulsion to share was to me.
I’ve been playing with my new microphone a bit over the past few days, and it’s rather intimidating. The device itself doesn’t pose the threat, but rather the way in which it cleans up my act. Take for example, tonight’s cover of Grandma Song, originally by Defiance, Ohio (who have mad wicked tracks online for the free downloading).
If you listen to this track next to anything else I’ve recorded of myself lately, it’s pretty fucking spotless. No background hiss, no low-level interference, no cracks and pops. Just me and the noises I make, naked. What intimidates me is how little I know about leveling, about frequency response, about dynamic ranges. This track makes me sound like I’m ten feet away, which is probably closer than I really am though.
The original version of this song is from the album The Great Depression. Second only to Hop Along’s Freshman Year, I probably listened to this albums more than anything else in 2006. This song in particular always makes me shiver when I hear it, which sounds pretty lame now that I’ve typed it. The references to collapsing buildings and the idea of visiting a loved one in the hospital to “watch everything recede” just fuck me up I guess. Do yourself a favor and download (via .torrent) the rest of the album right now, they’re not all so sorrowful, I promise.
PS: Turns out Defiance, Ohio has a new album available online free to download titled The Fear, The Fear, The Fear. Ch-ch-ch-check it out.