The Hyperreality of the Zoo

The Hyperreality of the Zoo

    At first sight, we think of the zoo as a representation or a copy of, mostly, the wild animal world. But, actually, it is not a copy of anything real and the most we can say is that it is only a representation of itself. This is because the zoo only shows us animals which are not in their natural environment and which cannot function, behave, or live as if they were in their original habitats. In other words, we cannot see the real animal world as it is in their natural environment. Thus, the zoo can better be characterized as a hyperreal world.

    Hyperreality is a concept that has been developed in the second half of the past century. French sociologist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) uses the idea of the simulation which means feigning to have what one doesn’t have (1994: 3). Thus, simulation doesn’t have a referential being, or a substance. “It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (1). The product of the simulation is called simulacrum, which replaces reality with its representation. As Baudrillard continues, “[i]t is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real” (1-2) In other words, the hyperreal in a way simulates another reality and actually is a kind of a copy of something that doesn’t exist. Similarly, Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco describes hyperreality as the absolute fake, which attempts to improve on reality itself (1986).

    A common example of a hyperreal world is Disneyland. It is not a copy of anything real; it is a fake world. Comparatively, the zoo does not represent the real animal world, but a fake one.

    There are several things that can be noticed about the zoo. First, and the most obvious, the animals are enclosed in pens, cages, pools and other spaces so their movement is limited, and the most important, they cannot run away, swim away, or fly away. But there may be zoos with very large enclosures and the animals can move more, and by this we hope that they feel like in their natural environment. But, then, how big must a zoo enclosure be so that the animals can really feel that they are not enclosed? Maybe as big as their natural environment? Of course, the bigger the enclosure the better for the animals; at least we think so. However, this way, we may not call it a zoo anymore and actually it may really not be a zoo anymore.

    Second, the food and water are provided for the animals. On one hand, that’s a good thing, because they don’t need to worry about it. But bringing them food actually is another thing that makes it different from their lives in the natural environment. Especially for the predators. They don’t need to search, hunt, and kill for their food. They become, so to say, lazy. And they know that the food, sooner or later, will arrive. Thus, a whole way of behavior is changed and it is a change of their whole lives. It seems that these predators turn into scavengers. But even the scavengers themselves don’t need to wander about in search for their food. They also know that the food will arrive sooner or later. So they also become lazy, and just wait for their food. But should we give the predators live animals so that they can hunt them, kill them and devour them in front of the eyes of the spectators? Many would not agree for various reasons, although we know that it is what they would do in their natural environment.

    Another problem arises from these two points mentioned. Since the animals are enclosed and fed, the natural eco-system is disturbed. Or, to be more precise, the zoo represents another eco-system, different from the one in the natural environment of the animals. Usually, one enclosure may consist of animals of one kind or similar kinds, so they don’t get in close encounter with other kinds or species of animals. There may be enclosures with animals of different kinds or species, but what is important is that, as mentioned above, they don’t get in touch with their potential predators or preys. So the problem with the size of the enclosure also opens the question whether we should put in it animals of different kinds and species, as well as predators and preys. Because if we want to keep to the concept of the zoo itself—that is, same or similar kinds in one enclosure—we won’t have enough space to make big enough enclosures for every animal. On the other hand, the zoo would be so big that it would even be difficult for the visitors to see the animals or even visit all the places in it.

Next, some zoo animals may not be under the same climate as in their natural environment. Maybe for some animals change of climate may cause health problems or even premature death. But zoos may provide special air-conditioning for polar animals or warm rooms during winter for tropical animals so that they don’t feel the climate is different from their natural environment; or at least, we think so. Being under different climate and especially under air-conditioning or heating is not the same as the animals’ natural environment.

    Finally, there are the visitors of the zoo, for whom the zoo exists. Every day the animals are subject to the gaze of countless number of people. We can notice that most of the animals are perfectly aware of the visitors who come to the zoo to watch them. But being a subject to the gaze of the visitors every day changes their whole natural state. Sometimes we can see interaction between visitors and animals, which we usually evaluate as a good thing. But we may also see some animals hiding or turning their backs to the visitors. Does this show that they are not happy about them, or is it just a game they are playing? Or maybe they just turn towards or away from the sun. But if it’s any of the former two, it is a reaction to the visitors’ presence. Or we can see some animals constantly watching the visitors, so they themselves turn into spectators. All in all, being under constant gaze of the visitors is something that is typical for a zoo but not for animals living in their natural habitats.

    The lives of the zoo animals are thus changed. Their behaviors are different. When we watch them we don’t see the real animals. The zoo world is a simulation, a fake world that attempts to represent itself as real, but, actually, considering the points mentioned above, it is hyperreal.

 

References:

Baudrillard, Jean. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Eco, Umberto. (1986). Travels in Hyperreality. Translated by William Weaver. Orlando FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.

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Does God Eat?

Does God Eat?

     Human beings and other living creatures, as we all know, are constituted in such a way that they need food in order to prolong their lives. Sometimes, or in some religions, people are prone to think of dead people as if they had an afterlife in another world. By that reasoning, it might be believed that after human beings die they still need food in the other world. One phenomenon of the ancestor worship developed in ancient China and later brought to Taiwan is also the food offering.

     Once I was participating on a family ancestor worship ceremony in the south of Taiwan where food was also offered to the ancestors. Suddenly, one of the family members asked me if Christians also offered food to God. I said, “No, God doesn’t need to eat.” As soon as I said that, I got inspired to some thinking about whether God could eat or could not. I don’t want to enter into discussion of God’s existence or try to find some inconsistencies in the idea of God. And I certainly do not want to offend anyone. If someone does feel offended, I deeply apologize. I just want to share some thoughts that might or might not be interesting, but if at least one person finds them interesting, that would be enough for me.

     It is clear that God doesn’t need food to prolong his existence because God is eternal. By being eternal it means that his existence does not depend on food. If we say that God is eternal as long as he eats, that would mean that if one day he stopped eating for any reason, he might die, and turn out that he was not eternal. So when we say that God is eternal, it means also that he doesn’t need to eat. Furthermore, God is seen as perfect. As such, he doesn’t need food. Only imperfect beings like us need to eat. If God needed to eat, then he would not be perfect.

     Another question would be whether God could or could not eat? We all know that God is also omnipotent. He could do anything he willed. So if we say that God could not eat, it means that he would not be omnipotent, because there is something he could not do. Thus, we must allow that God could eat. That is, God as omnipotent, could will and do anything, so he could also will to eat. And as long as he willed to eat, he could also produce food for himself. Let us see this explained with the use of logical syllogism:

God is omnipotent.

Omnipotent beings could eat if they willed.

Therefore, God could eat if he willed.

     To say that God does not need to eat and that he could not eat are not the same things. He doesn’t need food, but he could eat if he willed. Therefore, by accepting the idea that God is omnipotent, we must also accept that God could eat.

Continue reading “Does God Eat?”

The Fallacy of Descartes’ Joke

The Fallacy of Descartes’ Joke

     Jokes about philosophers can also be funny. But one substantial thing for a joke on а certain philosopher to be funny is the audience to be familiar enough with that philosopher so that they can understand it. In that case, when we want to tell a joke, we have to know whether the audience is familiar with the philosopher of the joke. If they are not, we might come upon that uncomfortable silence after telling the joke in which we only hear the fading away of our laughing.

     At this point, I want to say something about the joke on the famous French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650). Almost everyone had heard Descartes’ famous dictum “I think, therefore I am”, so upon hearing a joke about it almost everyone can lough. Here is the joke:

 Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender asks him, “Would you have the usual?”        Descartes replies, “I think not”, and instantly disappears.

What makes the joke funny is that while the existence is related to thinking, the non-thinking is related to non-existence. The logic of the joke is that when Descartes thinks, he is, but when he thinks not, he negates his being and so cannot exist anymore.

     However, this joke is based on a complete incorrect interpretation of Descartes’ dictum and his philosophy in general. It presupposes that the thinking is the cause and the being is the effect. In that case, if something thinks, that something is, and if it doesn’t think, then it isn’t. Then how about a rock? Descartes takes for granted that a rock doesn’t think, but he doesn’t deny its existence. Or maybe a rock exists because we think about its being when we see it or touch it? But then if I think of a rock somewhere on a top of a mountain, does it really mean that it is there?

     For Descartes, it is the other way round. If something thinks, it means that something is; for if it wasn’t, it couldn’t think. There are things that can think, like I, you, and the others similar to us, and there are things which do not have the ability to think, but they still are, like rocks, tables, trees etc. My thinking is only a prove that I am. It is not that because I think, therefore I am, but it is because I think that I know I am. Even when I doubt my existence, there must be someone or something that doubts. Or, as Descartes explains, even if there is some kind of evil demon who deceives me and makes me wrongfully think that I and the world exist, there must be someone or something that is being deceived and wrongfully thinks that I and the world exist; and that someone is I. Even when I say I am not, or I think not, even then I think, even than I am.

     I am sorry if I spoiled the joke, but I promise that next time I hear it I won’t do it, I will just enjoy the fun with the others.

Ancient Chinese Thought and the Invention of the Computer

Ancient Chinese Thought and the Invention of the Computer

        We may say that the theoretical background for the invention of the computer was established through the work of certain philosophers. Usually most of the credit is given to the German philosopher-mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) who invented the binary system. It is a number system of two values, 0 and 1, which in terms of a machine language represent the two phases “off” and “on”. This was the foundation of the digital technology which today is used by every computer, calculator and smart phone.

       Recently I read an article that gives credit to these philosophers and traces the origins of the idea of the computer more than two thousand years ago. Starting from its more recent predecessors such as George Boole (1815-1864) and Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)—the pioneers of the so called mathematical logic—and going back through Leibniz, the author finds the foundations of the idea of the computer in the logical system developed by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.). This is completely acceptable since we consider Aristotle  as the father of the logic. All in all, logic is a philosophical study of correct reasoning including the attempts to finding a perfect language, which in turn are necessary for the operation of the computers.

        The article also mentions many others who had contributed to the development of the idea of the computer. However, I will focus here on Leibniz and say something about what is not said in it. He was familiar with the ancient Chinese classic The Book of Change (Yi Jing) which was originally used for divination, but later many philosophical comments were appended to it. The book contains sixty-four pictograms consisted of six lines—so that they are called hexagrams—and there are two types of lines: broken __  __ and unbroken ____ . They in a way represent opposites and are called yin and yang. They are also alternatively called female and male, dark and bright, cold and warm and so on. It is believed that this system was invented by Fuxi, the legendary founder of Chinese culture, who first made combinations of three lines, thus coming to eight trigrams, and than combined each trigram with the others and itself, coming to sixty-four hexagrams. Thus, each hexagram is a different combination of the lines.

         We can see the striking similarity here with the binary system of 0 and 1. However, I do not intend to say that Leibniz got the idea from Fuxi’s hexagrams. He was working on his binary system for years and he learned about them when he was coming closer to the final version. It may be that the discovery of The Book of Change made him think that he was not insane since someone else invented something similar long time go, which encouraged him to complete his work. He got familiar with the hexagrams through the correspondence he had with Joachim Bouvet, a member of the Jesuit Mission in China. And, actually, Leibniz himself commented on the hexagrams in his work. His binary system was published under the title An Explanation of Binary Arithmetic Using only the Characters 0 and 1, with Remarks about its Utility and the Meaning it Gives to the Ancient Chinese Figures of Fuxi.

          I do not want to imply that it is this ancient Chinese classic that had direct impact on Leibniz and can be credited for the invention of the computer. Such a statement would be too exaggerated. We cannot neglect Leibniz’s Western educational and scientific background including the familiarity with Aristotle’s logic. However, we cannot also neglect the fact that before publishing his binary system, Leibniz was already familiar with The Book of Change.

On Government

On Government

     Plato said that the philosophers should become kings or those who are kings should become philosophers. (See: Republic, Book V) What did he mean by philosophers? In short, they are those people who understand the reality. The reality is not grasped by the senses but by the reason. Through senses we can know beautiful things, good things, and so on, but by reason we can know the beautiful itself, the good itself and so on. Thus, the objects we are experiencing with the senses are only shadows of the reality. This is explained in his famous Allegory of the Cave. In it there are prisoners who can only see shadows on a wall from the people and things moving behind them, but they cannot see the real people and things behind them. The philosophers are people free from the chains of the cave and can go out and see the reality and understand the highest good. Just because of that, they are the only ones who are best suited to be kings.

     Laozi had the similar idea that the sages should be rulers. Now, who are the sages? They are those people who understand the operation of the source of the world. The world comes from the so called Dao, the Way, which operates in its own particular manner called ziran, naturalness, which in practice is manifested as wuwei, non-action or effortless action. Ziran means to let things follow the natural way of the Dao and develop according to it. Thus, wuwei does not mean no action but action in accordance with ziran, that is, Dao. However, most of the people do not understand this and they function in a way that is unnatural or contrary to the way the world is supposed to function. The sages know how the Dao works, understand its natural operation and know how to implement wuwei in practice. That is why they can be the best rulers. (For more details click here)

     The only concern of these philosopher-kings and sage-rulers is the governing itself. Thus, they have at least two common characteristics. First, they are not concerned with making money. They live simple lives and get just enough to fulfill their basic needs for food, clothing, dwelling etc. Second, they do not have plans or strategies of their own; they are only following people’s needs. “The ruler has no thoughts of his own; he takes the thoughts of the people as his own thoughts”, says Laozi in Chapter 49 of his book. Thus, in governing they are only listening to people’s thoughts and do not act according to their own. It means that they govern only for the benefit of the people and nothing else.

     These kings and rulers are imagined as perfect and absolutely benevolent. However, they are not democratically elected. They are, so to say, dictators. But does that undermine their value? Is not true that maybe more than often democratically elected leaders turn out to be assholes? Is not that because they often act according to their own beliefs, not really listening to people’s thoughts? Or even because they act for their own benefit and self-interests? Nevertheless, leaving the question of feasibility and applicability of the government of the philosopher-kings and sage-rulers aside, the ideas of Plato and Laozi at least stay in our mind as an imagination of a state without asshole-leaders.

Moral Hero

Moral Hero

      Socrates refused the help of his friends to escape from jail because he respected the laws of his city. He was accused by his enemies that he “is a doer of evil, and corrupter of the youth, and he does not believe in the gods of the state, and has other new divinities of his own”. (See: Apology)He was sentenced to death by drinking a glass of poison.

       In the last days before the sentence, his friends visited him in jail and tried to convince him to escape. Most of them were rich and powerful enough to bribe the guards. They suggested to take Socrates to a far place where the hand of the Athenian law could not reach him. Socrates, however, refused. He had always respected the laws of his city and now that he was behind the bars had still no intention of breaking them. “The principles which I have hitherto honored and revered I still honor”, said Socrates to his interlocutor in the jail, his friend, Crito, who tried to convince him to escape and go to Thessaly and live with his friends. Socrates’ moral obligation was not to break the laws of his country no matter if he was accused rightly or wrongly. The whole conversation between him and Crito, where Socrates stated the reasons for not escaping, is depicted by Plato in his dialogue Crito.

        Thus, Socrates is a “moral hero”. He rather gives up his life instead of breaking the laws which he respected and followed all his life. Students are asked: Why be a “moral hero”? One student says, being a moral hero is buls..t! He would choose life. According to another, a “belief” can make someone a moral hero. If you strongly believe in something, like Socrates strongly believed that the laws should not be broken, then giving up your life instead of going against your belief is the right choice.

        No matter we agree or disagree with his choice, Socrates did what he did and he is famous for it. Now, imagine if he chose life instead. Imagine if he said: “I did nothing wrong, I am innocent, all of my friends think I am innocent and they support me. Actually, I know I am innocent. I am wrongly accused and sentenced to death, so I have the right to escape. When the laws are wrong, we have the right to brake them.” And imagine Socrates escaped and went to live in Thessaly for the rest of his life, far away from the evil Athenians who accused him wrongly.

        If he did that, he would break his own believes and thus loose the credit he has today. He would mostly be known as the intellectual midwife who by questioning his interlocutors helped their souls give births to ideas. (See: Theaetetus) And also as the one who feeling that is wrongly accused decided to run for his life. However, by refusing to escape, Socrates is a true example of advocating believes and living according to them. He set an example of a moral hero, that is, not breaking his own believes even for the cost of his life.