Monthly Archives: February 2015

Minecraft as Nietzschean playground

Minecraft-Steve-Pictures-HD-WallpaperMinecraft is a fascinating “game”. I assume most of you have played it and for those of you who haven’t, I’ll give some short background. Because of the special nature of this “game,” it will remain impossible to fully engage the subject and make our way to anything of real Philosophical value in this short piece. For that reason, and pure enjoyments sake, I highly recommend giving this deviously addictive plaything a try.

Minecraft is a combination of an open, somewhat randomly constructed, world simulator offering a creativity space and a low key action adventure role playing game. Visually, it uses a low resolution style and the basic form of all things in the world is the “block” a 1 meter cube that can be made of various materials each with different properties. These cubes can be harvested in most cases and placed elsewhere in the world allowing the player to build with them. It can be played solo or on servers with others sharing a world. The default avatar of the player is Steve, a generally blank slate with no goals, back story, or vocalizations of any language. The majority of game-play is in the rich item crafting system wherein players can create tools, armor, weapons, and parts to build machines from. The most interesting thing about Minecraft is that there are no goals beyond those imported by the player. An achievement system is in place to guide the player toward some of the games features but these are by no means necessary to enjoy the “game”. If any true goal exists in the “game” its mere survival which is complicated by needing to find food and shelter from monster attacks. But even this is only a strongly suggested goal as death only results in a return to the spawn point and dropping your inventory on the ground (there is a mode with permanent death for those who need a greater challenge). That in a nutshell is Minecraft a “game” you decide how to play with.

But what does this have to do with Nietzsche? Simply put an avatar of humanity with no allegiance to nation, philosophy, morality, law, value, religion, or even worldly comfort is given a world of becoming filled with impermanence and loss on which to express his/her will to power (here we should note that the will to power for Nietzsche is more correctly understood as the desire to create or change). That avatar is left with no culture or power greater than themselves to guide them through the hardships that will come from the world itself. In fact, we see this even in the mechanics of the “game” as the player is never given an explanation of how to craft anything but the most basic of items and from there without looking outside the “game” the player must merely stumble onto the recipes for new items. This represents an experience of the world where in the player is left to there own devices to figure out how to overcome obstacles and achieve goals that they themselves set based solely on values they create. In other terms a “free spirit” as Nietzsche called them is set into a world devoid of the corrupting forces of history to exercise their “will to power” and overcome the hardships of that world. In the process of this we see the player become a philosopher assigning meaning and value to the world only to have it destroyed by uncaring forces.

The newly minted philosopher follows Nietzsche’s cycle of the world of being through Nihilism and into the world of becoming as the player builds first what they value only to see it destroyed and then assigning value to that which can not be destroyed and finally finding the joy of impermanence and valuing a world of becoming in which one can create and destroy. With nothing to hold the player/avatar back and few if any limits on there creativity they choose to engage and overcome hardships and challenges often of there own making. They choose what to value and come to celebrate there creation. The player and avatar combine to become a virtual Übermensch (German for “Overman”). Thus, in my opinion, Minecraft represents the best model of a Nietzschean philosophy trainer ever to have been conceived.

Without meaning to, I suspect, the creators have in part noticed this same features of our world which inspired Nietzsche and made room for our humanity to guide us through the rest. It is in large part the role of the philosopher to be the observer of the conditions both of the external world and their own internal states and this is one of the areas in which Nietzsche was truly exemplary. As such, it should be no surprise to us that given some basic elements of the world and an avatar capable of receiving us that we should see his work creep in to that medium, too. But what of that avatar? It is Steve’s distinct lack of personality that makes him such a perfect blank slate for us to project ourselves onto. This phenomena is know in film making as the “neutral mask” and it is one reason the stars of action movies tend to be distant or unemotional. With no cue to tell us what a characters emotional state is we will instinctively project our own feelings in that situation onto them. It is for this reason that Steve’s complete lack of any discernible personality allows us to slip into him so completely as to become a part of the philosophical process.

Many of you will have noticed my use of quotation marks when referring to Minecraft as a game. This is because in some ways Minecraft is less a game than a toy (no clear rules, goals, storytelling, etc.) but toy doesn’t seem to cover it either because, as we have seen, it is a Nietzschean sandbox of the free spirit. Can such a powerful tool be thought of as a toy? Can a game be more true of the world than it is fantasy and still remain a game? Was Minecraft ever a game and if so which characteristics made it such? I have no good answers here as Minecraft seems to defy definition by most of the standards I know for these categories. Perhaps that characteristic itself lends credence to the notion that Minecraft is more than any game before it true to the world Nietzsche hoped to show us.

Ep 6: Beauty as a virtue; Is ugly art less “Good”?

Sean wonders if a thing is inherently better for being beautiful. Ryver counters with the question of who decides what is beautiful. Bruce suggests a evolutionary connection to aesthetics.

Sean asks if there isn’t a “Bigger” or more grand notion of beauty that extends beyond desire. We also learn a little about his “Preferences”. The guys discuss art history and the aesthetics of other cultures both past and present. Sean questions the notion of a universal aesthetic and the guys wonder about how our survival pressures affect that which we appreciate. The guys juxtapose different ideas of beauty. Bruce points out that all cultures have some form of beauty and ponders what that means.

The discussion moves to “Ugly” art and the power inherent in causing reactions both good and bad. The guys get into literature as art and how the grotesque can be as powerful as the beautiful. William S. Burroughs work gets some attention as well as HR Geiger. Discussion breaks out of what the purpose of art is and what that means to the value of beauty. Sean Points to photo journalism as a form of narrative art that uses “Ugly” art as a means to communicate. And the distinction between remembering or preserving and communicating gets tossed around. Ryver brings up how art can help us remember the major events of history and our emotional reactions to them. Music takes the conversation into heavy metal as a chaotic and “Ugly” artistic medium. Bruce suggests a list of art categories: decorative, recording, and cathartic. Sean suggest that propaganda as art is its own category. Bruce asks if this opens the door to advertising as art? Professor Metal tells us about his employees and Ryver talks about propaganda as advertising for ideas. Bruce talks about propaganda as a form of preserved or commemorated idea in a world of quickly changing culture.

Moral Kombat

Sean – Deontology

Bruce – Virtue Ethics

Ryver – Utilitarianism

Khan Bot – Soundboard

“A madman who has threatened to explode several bombs in crowded areas has been apprehended. Unfortunately, he has already planted the bombs and they are scheduled to go off in a short time. It is possible that hundreds, if not thousands, of people may die. The authorities cannot make him divulge the location of the bombs by conventional methods. He refuses to say anything and requests a lawyer to protect his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. In exasperation, some high level official suggests torture. This would be illegal, of course, but the official thinks that it is nevertheless the right thing to do in this desperate situation. Do you agree? Would it also be morally justifiable to torture the mad bomber’s innocent wife if that is the only way to make him talk?”

The guys all stipulate that torture is ineffective as a means of extracting information.

Ryver comes down in favor of torture if it has the potential to save lives. Bruce refuses to torture on the basis that the torture reflects on him regardless of the outcome. Bruce suggests that consequentialist moral systems are the same means by which one justifies the bombing in the first place. Ryver counters that the situation we are discussing has set values and that torture has at least the potential to save lives. Bruce and Ryver go back and forth a bit over whether we should analyze based on factors outside the dilemma. Ryver suggests that the potential good of many lives outweighs disregarding the rights of one person. Bruce counters that we cant be morally superior if we take bad actions.

Professor Metal rules in favor of Ryver and Kahn Bot tabulates final scores…Kinda.

Sean takes the last word to speak about the relationship between beauty, culture, and meaning in the quickly shifting landscape of the internet.

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Ep 5: Authenticity in the age of Photoshop; Is seeing still believing?

The guys discuss the idea that fictions could be more “authentic” than the realities they derive from.

Ryver defines Artifice and Simulacra.

Sean asks us to consider art and the role of representation.

Bruce points out the connection to altered and airbrushed images in history to our current notions of image editing.

The philosophers talk about the democratization of creative tools and the history of photos and fakery/ trust.

Ryver asks us to consider what we mean by authenticity and whether or not the spirit of the thing might not be more “authentic”.

Bruce expounds on how that relates to truth and our notions of it and how that translates to the history of science, epistemology, and ontology.

Sean introduces the idea of perspective as editing and the guys talk about how “true” our perceptions are in the first place.

The guys dig down on what it means to design technology for the perceptions of the majority.

Ryver brings nostalgia and the idea of our internal states change the “truth” of what we perceive.

Bruce and Sean debate the notion of truth and its role in our understanding of the world.

Sean wonders if we can “enhance” too much and the guys probe the idea of what value the “ugly” truth can have, and what role that has in understanding are and photo journalism.

A discussion breaks out of Arthur Schopenhauer’s metaphysics

Sean gets into the idea of intent, Ryver brings up dadaism and Sean responds by broaching the topic of expressive inference and we learn about Professor metals decoration tastes.

Kahn Bot is back for… Moral Kombat!

Round 2

Sean vs Bruce

Sean – Deontology

Ryver – Utilitarianism

Bruce – Virtue Ethics

“You are a “Guest” in one of Professor Metal’s re-education centers . A “Learning Facilitator” is about to hang your son who tried to escape and wants you to pull the chair from underneath him. He says that if you don’t he will not only kill your son but some other innocent “Guest” as well. You don’t have any doubt that he means what he says. What should you do?”

Bruce says he wont pull the chain and that it reflects who he is and any further deaths are the result of the “learning facilitator’s” choices. And gets “Godwin’s Law” out of the way…

Sean takes the stance that the other “guests” are the recipients of his duty. And that he must pull the chair out if it would even potentially save additional lives since he cant save his son anyway. He then attacks the notion that the “Learning Facilitator” is solely liable for his actions by suggesting that some acts set off a chain of events and that the initiator shares responsibility.

Bruce responds by pointing out that in real world equivalents of this situation the prisoner who pulls the chair out is often used as a cats paw for the guards and becomes more brutal than the guards would have been.

Sean responds that this is a slippery slope argument and that even if it has happened that way in the past it doesn’t mean that it will always go that way.

Bruce feels that virtue ethics tells us that we can only choose who to be and as such maintain agency.

Sean asks if choosing not to try to save a life isn’t also a forfeiture of agency? And attacks the idea that we cant bear responsibility of the actions of others by way of the example of passing false information. He follows up by suggesting that he has to think about the “right” action if it was someone other than him making the choice and that he would hope a fellow “guest” would choose to try to protect him by doing the unpleasant thing.

Professor Metal decides who won and Bruce takes a dip…

Ryver has the “Last Word” and discusses the erosion of trust in a world filled with the fear of deception and its effects on our ability to have connections with others.

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Ep 4: The McRib and desire; Why do we love crap?

In this episode Ryver reveals his secret superpower “the McRib tingle”. Sean declares the McRib an avatar of desire. The philosophers discuss the platonic twinky at some length and its connections to badge value. The guys talk about high vs low brough foods and how our expectations impact our experiences. Sean retells the story of Frederick the Great of Prussia introducing potatoes to the common man. The discussion turns to scarcity and value, imposed scarcity, artificial scarcity, and scarcity as the effect of value not just its cost. Sean calls out “Big Thanksgiving” and presses the idea of psychological factors impacting actual enjoyment. The guys get deeper into the notion of social status represented in food, enjoyment, and setting. Bruce brings in Epicurus and the variety of pleasures from the hedonistic to the transcendent. Ryver tries to find an objective measure for the crappiness of the McRib. Bruce suggest that “Salt, Fat, and Sugar” explained the objective standard but not the crappiness. Sean expresses a strong feeling about gizzards and defines a class of foods that turn the tables on the convention of which foods are high brough. Ryver wonders if there isnt a taboo of the mundane that titillates us to break with our food choices. The guys define the McRib as the platonic guilty food pleasure.

Moral Kombat

Sean – Deontology

Ryver – Utilitarianism

Bruce – Virtue Ethics

“All three of you (you, your wife and your son) are at the aerodrome getting ready to board your airship, when an armed officer comes around with a sniffer dog. You have all your bags on a trolley, and the dog sniffs at both your wife and your bag, and passes over it, however when he gets to your sons bag, he begins to get a bit more active.

You look over at your son and he’s looking a little nervous. You know he’s smoked a little marijuana in his time, but generally, he’s a good kid, and you certainly didn’t think he’d actually be stupid enough to bring it back on the plane with him. At first you’re quite cross that he would do such a thing and start planning your responsibility lecture, but then you realize Bali was recently taken over by Professor Metal, and they have a zero tolerance policy on drugs, meaning your son could be jailed for life, or more likely, executed, if he does have some illicit materials in his bag.

The armed officer accompanying the dog is beginning to look more stern with every sniff the dog takes and looks directly at you and asks you to open to the bag.

You do, and as the officer begins to take things out of the bag, you see to your horror that there is a small quantity of marijuana stashed in with your son’s belongings.

The officer levels his gun at you and asks “Whose bag is this?”

You realize you have to answer or be shot , but the answer won’t be easy. You see your wife in the corner of your eye, and she is about to step forward and claim it as her own; what do you say?”

Sean vs Ryver

Sean suggests that society is owed a duty that can not be ignored because it would be a personal tragedy. Ryver argues that the sacrificing himself rather than his son damages less potential because he is older than his son. Sean questions the utility of sacrificing a person who has already been trained for a blank slate. Ryver points out that we can’t know who will be more valuable in the future. Sean comes back saying that this is the underlying weakness of utilitarianism and that deontology avoids this because duty is fixed. Ryver asks by whom the duty is fixed, And sean suggests that its Professor Metal and his Death Corps TM are the arbiters of duty in this scenario. Ryver suggests that maybe Professor Metal is wrong and gets…in some hot water…

Bruce gets the “Last Word” and suggests that the scale of pleasures is a way to judge the utility of one over another. He proposes that those pleasures closer to the transcendent are more valuable because of their scarcity and cost to obtain but that even still the most refined and invested among us can still enjoy a McRib from time to time.

This TED talk has so many connections to this conversation (and its where Sean heard the story about Frederick the Great)

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