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Put on a happy face...

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 14 October 2019 04:51 (A review of Joker)

"Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?"


In Gotham City, mentally-troubled comedian Arthur Fleck is disregarded and mistreated by society. He then embarks on a downward spiral of revolution and bloody crime. This path brings him face-to-face with his alter-ego: "The Joker".

Director Todd Phillips, known for his comedy outings such as The Hangover and Due Date, gives us a portrayal and alternative version involving the famous, iconic character from DC comics.  It is also a story about a man with problems whose life spirals into a crazed mania and transformation caused by inner and external forces.  While past versions of the Joker have embodied a devious streak of driven intent, this one begins with an abused clown who is a lost soul in a city that is falling apart.  A journey that takes us on this imagined yet realistic tragic life, already in a bad state at the beginning, spiralling into the rocky path of self destruction caused partly from a failing system unable to provide help adequately.  

Film making, effects, cinematography:  

The style and visualisation experience is very much shot in a similar fashion which takes us back to the films from Scorsese... Nods to Taxi Driver and King of Comedy are present and Todd Phillips does his best to let the setting and lead do their work on the audience.  The cinematography from Lawrence Sher is crisp, clear and smooth while Gotham City feels run down, dirty, crazed, archaic, poor... On the edge of oblivion seen through this lens of clarity.  In the same way the lead character is effected by his turbulent and hard settings.  Joker doesn't need any fancy effects as the story and plot are the main vital ingredients needed to cause a stir.  That grimy feel of the city echoes and screams the same song that Taxi Driver embodied where the city is stuck in a constant quagmire of moral decay.

Story, acting, character development:  


Arthur Fleck, played by transformative Joaquin Phoenix, is a failing clown who lives with his mother Penny Fleck who he also looks after and a mentally unwell man who sees a social worker every week plus takes several medications... When he first appears he is beaten up by some teenagers who break his sign which he was using for his work.  A very sad life indeed.  He writes confused and badly spelt jokes in his notebook and idolises a talk-show host Murray Franklin, who later ridicules and makes fun out of him.  Then one of his co-workers gives him a gun to protect himself with which also goes wrong when he drops it in a hospital when entertaining unwell children.  The story often seems like one big line of events that just get worse and worse for Arthur sending him further into insanity, changing him into the Joker personality, who dances and is violent towards those who have wronged him.  Murray calls him a Joker and that is what he chooses to become.  Completely shaped by external forces that damage him even more than what he already he is.  There is also the element of what is real? in a similar light to American Psycho which suggests visual schizophrenia:  Arthur's relationship and romance with his neighbour Sophie Dumond, which I thought was one positive in Arthur's life, turns out to be not real and all in his head. Brings to mind The Killing Joke by Alan Moore where the Joker says if he has a past he prefers it to be multiple choice.  Everything in his life seems at an abysmal low.

His laugh is really haunting and quite disturbing while he talks in such an unusual way that it is quite easy for most people around him to misunderstand and turn him into a sort of outcast.  Yet he still starts with a purpose that comprises of trying to make others laugh and make them happy while at the same time not being able to make himself better.  This is a tragic story of suffering, isolation and mounting psychosis which turns out to be a temporary distraction from his delusions and abuse.

This Joker film shows us a man whose world gets turned upside down even more when he finds out he is an orphan and he ends up killing three men in the subway who were attacking him and previously bullying some other random woman.  Also the demise of his mother and idol see the man turn from abused into a abuser.  A confident, crazed, energised dancing, nihilistic clown:  Joker.  He isn't even political but ends up being a symbol for the downtrodden struggling in poverty and those resigned to outcasts by the society around them.  There is also the whole aspect with the Waynes that Fleck has which shows him searching for the truth behind elements fractured in his life such as family:  It is somewhat eerie when he talks to a young Bruce Wayne and also painful when he confronts Thomas Wayne who ends up trying to be the saviour of the city which ultimately backfires due to his rich background separating him from the everyday citizen. 

Joaquin also looks very thin, very skeletal in the film, his physical body hungry for nourishment just like he is hungry for acknowledgement and recognition with his stand up comedy.  Sometimes wondering if he exists and also suicidal, which reminded me of what Nietzsche once said — ‘The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.’  With all the pain and suffering who wouldn't imagine some sort of escape in such an extreme fashion?  Arthur has such a tortured existence in the film no wonder he dreams about ending it at times but goes on trying his best to survive somehow even if things keep getting worse in the film.  

This film and story also works well as a study, as mentioned before, revolving around mental health and isolation:  Arthur is suffering from visual schizophrenia, vivid bouts of hallucinations, an extreme laughing disorder, extreme depression and on the road to a manic psychosis state when he stops his seven different medications.  He begins as a victim of violence and a series of traumatic revelations cause more strain on an already troubled individual turning him into the very thing that caused his descent into chaos.  You get what you deserve ends up being prophetic in this eye for an eye dance. 

Music, score, sound:  

The score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is haunting and a character in itself giving the film a remoreseful, sad and chilling vibe.  The scene where Joker is in the lift and dancing down the stairs sends shivers up the spine in an entrancing, hypnotic, manic state.  The transformation of Arthur into this new version of the dancing Joker shows an almost mythical trickster, a whirlwind of mania and madness, while still a prisoner to his newly formed state he isn't being bullied or oppressed anymore.  Yet even when the haunting music plays and he is slowly doing a saddened dance in the mirror, both visual and audiotry, help give the audience a startling and shocking resonance to this unwell man.  A very beautiful and emotional soundtrack.


Summary and conclusion:  

Overall, Joker gives audiences a visceral and raw experience...  We have had in the past the flamboyant and charismatic Jack Nicholson one, the incredible and masterful Heath Ledger, Mark Hamill as the animated version, and Cesar Romero in the 60s series, plus Jared Leto in Suicide Squad... All played Joker in their own unique and brilliant way.  Jaoquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker gives us a very awkward, skeletally thin, troubled take on the famous character from DC comics...  This one particularly seems mentally troubled and scarily realistic.  At times not even playing into the typical roles of hero or villian but a man who becomes more and more damaged due to bad things constantly happening to him and this makes him snap:  He kills those that have hurt him and that should be disturbing but also conflicting because he shouldn't be treated this way although the solution is far from being palpatable.  The whole nature versus nurture comes into play which partially explains the mental state and actions of such an individual.  We could put all the blame on him but it also seems the failing, underfunded system of Gotham depicted is to blame as well.  That laugh, voice and look really bring to life a tragic story of a comical clown/comedian in a delusional, isolated and negative state.  If he had help sooner would he have spiralled that far out of control?  Probably not.   Do people like this exist in real life?  Yes, and perhaps in some ways Joker is a film for people going through extreme situations and hard times with an illness, a warning of what not to do and what could happen when people are pushed too far.  I felt kind of sad afterwards yet inspired after seeing Joker because there are so many psychological layers and themes to discuss in a film and story like this, most having something to say or relate to.  We got the film we deserved that's for sure.

"When you bring me out, can you introduce me as Joker?" 

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The possibilist...

Posted : 5 years, 8 months ago on 5 June 2018 10:56 (A review of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think)

“People often call me an optimist, because I show them the enormous progress they didn't know about. That makes me angry. I'm not an optimist. That makes me sound naive. I'm a very serious “possibilist”. That’s something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview. As a possibilist, I see all this progress, and it fills me with conviction and hope that further progress is possible. This is not optimistic. It is having a clear and reasonable idea about how things are. It is having a worldview that is constructive and useful.”

Hans Rosling's Factfulness is a fun and engrossing account about how the World and humanity is in a better state than most people would dare to believe. It is told through eleven chapters that are reasons why we do not see the World factfully: CHAPTER ONE: The Gap Instinct
CHAPTER TWO: The Negativity Instinct
CHAPTER THREE: The Straight Line Instinct
CHAPTER FOUR: The Fear Instinct
CHAPTER FIVE: The Size Instinct
CHAPTER SIX: The Generalization Instinct
CHAPTER SEVEN: The Destiny Instinct
CHAPTER EIGHT: The Single Perspective Instinct
CHAPTER NINE: The Blame Instinct
CHAPTER TEN: The Urgency Instinct
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Factfulness in Practice

It also has a factfulness rule of thumb diagram which sums up all the chapters with quirky pictures. The various stages Hans describes also show how humanity is continuing to grow and become better equipped at dealing with current problems and also the opportunities that come with subsequent problem solving techniques. So with some examples the fear instinct means we pay more attention to scary things or with the size instinct (numerical data is often envisaged as being better than what the actual reality is...) to the gap instinct (most people are caught between a duality of extremes...).
The reader is given a book which explores various biases that may be holding us back or seeing things in a horrendous way, and how the main worldview for most people in predominantly rich countries is particularly negative and corrosive. It also doesn't become an attack on the media and journalists, but also making a case on how various sources do at times influence the masses, whether it is by genuine news or the constantly shifting stream of misinformation presented by more shadier outlets or even ones that appear trustworthy. The element of truth has a resounding echoing presence when it comes to the various problems we are all presented with, in various forms whether it is concerning climate change, ongoing conflicts in war-torn territories, levels of poverty occurring in various countries with different stages of development, economic forecasts and natural disasters, sports and technological or medical advances... Whatever the area the latter is often the most positive areas when it comes to the news we are fed from the bigger media outlets. (Obviously with a certain agenda and precedence on what they report first depending on who owns the news companies...)
What Hans cries out for with all this information being fed to us is a fact based view where we view ongoing events and happenings with a more realistic and refreshing lens. Whereas I always seem to retain a healthy scepticism and make comparisons between various sources to attempt to reach a clearer point as to what is actually going on. I did find being realistic is a necessity before reading this anyway and love the way Hans Rosling uses “possibilist” to describe himself… It is this resistance to a worldview that is often pragmatic and suffering from tunnel vision, whereby Factfulness is a compelling antidote resulting in usefulness and constructiveness. How many times do we see people moaning about the state of humanity and the World yet offer no solutions or viable alternatives? This is where the book really shines because it takes us again into that realm of problem solving where we get to work on solutions and that ongoing state of progression for betterment. The mentality behind this renaissance way of thinking is what makes it all possible and that positivity goes hand in hand with realistic actions that result from this creative process. Theory meets practicality equals beneficial results.

Overall, a compelling and digestible book that hopefully encourages the reader to view humanity and our progress in a different, more coherent manner.
Unfortunately I found out that the author Hans Rosling is no longer with us and that is a shame because he had a brilliant approach. It was also inspiring to check out his Ted-Ed talks and read this book, while also having a wonderful sense of humour as he wrote about topics and areas that effect us all and indeed making it fathomable for the everyday reader.

"“Wouldn’t you rather have few opinions that are right than many that are wrong?”

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Energy correlated with civilisations...

Posted : 5 years, 8 months ago on 5 June 2018 10:50 (A review of Energy and Civilization: A History)

“Despite many differences in agronomic practices and in cultivated crops, all traditional agricultures shared the same energetic foundation. They were powered by the photosynthetic conversion of solar radiation, producing food for people, feed for animals, recycled wastes for the replenishment of soil fertility, and fuels for smelting the metals needed to make simple farm tools. Consequently, traditional farming was, in principle, fully renewable.”

Vaclav Smil's Energy and Civilization: A History book gives us a walkthrough history (Yes here we go again!) outlining how humans have managed and obtained energy beginning with pre-agricultural foraging societies working all the way to present day fossil fuel-driven civilization.
I will list the chapters to give any potential reader a precise feel and guide to what to expect as well in this rather informative book, giving Smil's pensive perspective with extensive research:
*1: Energy and Society
*2: Energy in Prehistory
*3: Traditional Farming
*4: Preindustrial Prime Movers and Fuels
*5: Fossil Fuels, Primary Electricity, and Renewables
*6: Fossil-Fueled Civilization
*7: Energy in World History

The first and second chapter detailed foraging societies, various processes and systems accompanying hunter-gatherer groups while heading towards the origins of agriculture.
While the third part deals with examples such as cropping cycles, irrigation, fertilization and crop Diversity. Smil certainly teaches the reader about the various dynamics behind cultivation farming and the amount of knowledge as well as practical work that comes with it. We have a look at Ancient Egypt, China, Mesoamerica Cultures, Europe, and North America. It gives the reader a taste of how these ancient civilisations regarding how agriculture garnered advanced techniques to feed and nourish their populaces.
The fourth chapter was again a flourish of information regarding wind power, hydropower, biomass fuels, wood and charcoal, transportation and construction, buildings and structures, metallurgy, warfare, explosives and guns, heat and light... And so on and so forth.
The fifth mainly gives us the industrial revolution with aspects such as coal extraction, steam engines, oil and electricity, renewable energies and various technical innovations.

Overall, Energy and Civilisation: A History is another book which gives us a very educational and detailed examination which correlates the progress of civilisations with energies obtained and the various stages we have seen in most civilisations, past and present, up to the current stage/level we find ourselves at. The later chapters also provide insight into economic growth, quality of life, weapons and war, environmental changes, patterns of energy use, imperatives of energy needs and uses and looking at aspects that haven't changed. Subsequently some changes have not been deemed necessary given the scale and cost effective nature which comes with industrious projects or indeed the farming industry.
I could see this book being a very useful addition for students and teachers whether they are economists, environmentalists or historians focused on the timeline of energy development, agricultural development and civilizational progress regarding technology and resources.

“Energy is not the only determinant of … life in general and human actions in particular…. [It is] among the most important factors shaping a society, but [it does] not determine the particulars of its successes or failures.”

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The Sapiens Journey...

Posted : 5 years, 8 months ago on 5 June 2018 10:44 (A review of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind)

“Happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.”

Harari gives us an evolutionary perspective of the timeline and history of homo sapiens, from early stages to more present day ones and looking at future trends/pathways... Sapiens covers areas such as geography, psychology, evolution, anthropology, religions/ideologies, and the next steps accompanied with possibilities for humans.
Author Harari cites Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) as one of the greatest inspirations for the book by showing that it was possible to "ask very big questions and answer them scientifically".

We are also given humble beginnings regarding other upright, humanoids such as Neanderthals, homo erectus, the dwarf and hobbit-like homo floresiensis from Island Flores in Indonesia, homo habilis... To mention a few of others besides the main sapiens we see today and throughout much of our recorded human history. Harari gives us a very diverse and ancient past with all these great changes, trails and tribulations of how our ancestors adapted, survived and ultimately biology correlated with innovation turned sapiens into the prominent lifeform of the planet.

So with Sapiens Harari surveys the history of humankind from the evolution of archaic human species in the Stone Age up to the twenty-first century, focusing on our own species of human, Homo sapiens. He divides the history of Sapiens into four major parts:
The Cognitive Revolution (c. 70,000 BCE, when Sapiens evolved imagination).
The Agricultural Revolution (c. 12,000 BCE, the development of farming).
The unification of humankind (the gradual consolidation of human political organisations towards one global empire).
The Scientific Revolution (c. 1500 CE, the emergence of objective science).

Harari's larger claim when it comes to the Agricultural Revolution is that while it perpetuated population growth for Sapiens and co-evolving species such as wheat and cows, it made the lives of most individuals (and animals) worse than they had been when humans were mostly hunter-gatherers, since their diet and daily lives became significantly less varied. Humans' violent treatment of other animals is another recurring theme that runs throughout Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind.
In discussing a certain unification of humankind, Harari argues that over its history, the trend for Sapiens has increasingly been towards political and economic interdependence. For centuries, the majority of humans have lived in empires, and capitalist globalization is effectively producing one, global empire. Harari argues that money, empires and universal religions are the principal drivers of this process.

Overall, Harari manages to give a brief history of humans and excitingly arrives at areas a few of us are setting our sights and efforts upon: The direction and exponential pace that modern technology is taking (Harari seems to view it as a danger rather than embrace it fully...), where we have genetic engineering, longevity and aspirations for immortality, a look at non-organic life (Artificial Intelligence and our ongoing merging with technology...).
Humans have, in Harari's chosen metaphor, become Gods: They can create, build and often venture beyond physical limitations. It is still a fundamental responsibility to safeguard our creations and continue to explore and build upon such grandiose foundations. A worthy and inspiring read.

“A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.”

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The clash of wars...

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 23 April 2018 09:58 (A review of When Terrorism and Counterterrorism Clash: The War on Terror and the Transformation of Terrorist Activity )

"Victory in war is not repetitious, but adapts its forms endlessly.  The ability to gain victory by changing and adapting is called genius." 
 ― Sun Tzu

When Terrorism and Counterterrorism Clash: The War on Terror and the Transformation of Terrorist Activity is a very insightful book and looks at everything, from guerrilla warfare to conventional methodology regarding military engagement.  It looks at various wars throughout history and takes a look at the war on terror that escalated after 9/11. 
A very compelling and educational read with a rich quantitative analysis of the largest ever terrorism database constructed for the period 1992-2004, the results of the study are fascinating and have important implications for current U.S. foreign policy in the Global War on Terrorism. Ivan Sacha Sheehan has examined in detail, with precise data, the impact of the use of pre-emptive force in the War on Terrorism in a rather unique light for the everyday reader. 
This is one of the first publications exploring the impact of the ongoing war on terrorism on the level, lethality and frequency of transnational terrorist activity around the globe. With extremely up-to-date data, When Terrorism and Counterterrorism Clash is a critical reference to all in the fields of international relations and political science.
Also looking further into the past (From Sun Tzu to Mao and their cunning/effective strategies...):  A look at modern wars such as the war in Iraq, the Vietnam war, wars in Afghanistan, Korean war,  Iran-Iraq war of the 80s,  Gulf war of the 90s... It takes us on a journey that explores every side and their various ways of doing things.  A worthy read and accompaniment for anyone interested in current and past conflicts, while getting to the heart of tactics, psychology and various examples of engagement.  (dissecting their consequences as well as any possible flaws or merits from past scenarios...)

Overall, When Terrorism and Counterterrorism Clash: The War on Terror and the Transformation of Terrorist Activity is also a very useful book, for any tactician or strategist (or anyone interested in the various psychologies/mindsets accompanying this dangerous game..), interested in the multifaceted murky depths of militaries or terrorists.  (Often those whom are deemed as terrorists view themselves as freedom fighters or rebelling against something they are radically opposed to...  This enemy being either militaries and various fighters, or falling into a rather complex grey area, where various groups change allegiances depending on their long-term/short-term goals/objectives.)  The big business built on blood and destruction regarding arms dealers (Or any contractors/parties involved in war/conflict profiteering...) who see war as an opportunity for profit, and view all sides as potential customers for ammunition and weaponry, also is a tragic reality still taking place with most ongoing hostilities.

Tactfully it delves into espionage, deception and how to keep up with the technologically advanced militaries, terrorists/fighters pitted against them have also had to advance and find various ways of obtaining intel.  (Those playing by the rules are sometimes outmatched by those who are not...  Other times the latest weapons and technology assure victory and superiority over any potential enemies...)

The geopolitical multi-dimensional manoeuvring seen by the big players in the World, such as America or Russia for example, have seen a constantly changing battleground when it comes to the middle east, (Syria, Iraq, Libya... In Europe the Ukraine...) and various proxies taking place that shift the balance of power in either direction regarding existing hegemonies.  

"When you want to fight us, we don't let you and you can't find us. But when we want to fight you, we make sure that you can't get away and we hit you squarely... and wipe you out... The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue."

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Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 23 April 2018 01:33 (A review of Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Ultimate Walkthrough)

"Mr. 288 told me that I understand what it means to live and to die. . . . But it’s only because I thought stopping was different from dying . . . I don’t think I really understand what it means to live and to die. Where do we come from . . . ? Do we go back there when we die . . . ? If that’s what it means to live . . . I wonder where I came from . . . ? Where will I end up when I die? Why am I shaking? What is this that I’m feeling . . . ?"
—Vivi Orunitia, Final Fantasy IX

A massive fan of the Final Fantasy series and philosophy so was avidly excited about reading this.  The beginning of Final Fantasy and philosophy: The Ultimate Walkthrough focuses on Final Fantasy 7 a major favourite and cult classic, a great story and RPG system, that exploded onto the gaming scene in 1997.  (What with mastering material, breeding chocobos to get to the gold one, a compelling villain and detailed characters, secret bosses called weapons, most or all with their unique stories, and the sub-games within a game is still worth playing and experiencing today...)
So the beginning part of the book explore FF7 and the world of Gaia... It talks us through signifiers, meanings and an apt title A Malboro by Any Other Name: The Role of Identification in Interpreting Signifiers... So an example from this part:  By “produce,” I don’t mean that players have to physically build the world of Gaia in FFVII; the game developers have already done that for them. As Henry Jenkins has noted, game designers become “narrative architects” who design and build game spaces in which players can experience narratives.4 “Produce” means that players experience the fictional world by investing preset aspects (limited sets of signifiers) with meanings of their own. These meanings are focused through the identification process. Signifiers are contained within places (Midgar, Wutai, the Northern Crater), objects (potions, materia, weapons), or other characters or monsters (Marlene, Sephiroth, Chocobos), but how players interpret the signifiers within these game elements and the sort of text they will produce through them are dependent on how players identify with the game’s playable characters.  So just about how players may identify with things/people/places on the game and either relate to or think of them.  A good opener and beginning for sure...
So other things the collaborative authors write about are the spin offs such as Crisis Core and Dirge of Cerberus generally focusing on the backstory they provide and the mechanics.

The next chapter KEFKA, NIETZSCHE, FOUCAULT: MADNESS AND NIHILISM IN FINAL FANTASY VI gets more interesting when it comes to philosophy and using those lenses to examine Final Fantasy 6...  So first mentioned is Franz Kafka (1883-1924) who was and is known in his books for unusual views of people and the world.  In other words somewhat warped but interesting.  Ironically the main antagonist of FF6 is called Kefka Palazzo and his main drive/purpose in the game is to eradicate all life.  Why?  Well he shows sadistic enjoyment when resorting to killing and also magicite, he was used as a test subject, as had an effect on his personality.
So they then explore is Kefka rational?  Through the lens of Michel Foucault (1926-1984), a French philosopher who's first work appropriately fitting here, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, explores medieval madness and its continual study, although I think the issue of rationality concerning Kefka is that he is rational, he is in control and has a choice, yet the magitite has given him some vision or knowledge regarding an apocalyptic goal regarding existence.  Also his enjoyment and pleasure when it comes to things of a sadistic knowledge do not make him irrational.  He is quite radical and extreme in his purpose (also thinks he is superior to others with narcissist and murderous tendencies) and objective while taking a great pleasure from doing so signifying no loss of control.
"In the eighteenth century, the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment was heralded as the solution to all of humanity’s problems. Foucault contended that nothing was more of a threat to humanity at this time than those who refused to employ reason—madness became the very antithesis of reason. Philosophers such as Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) even went so far as to provide us with purely rational justifications for morality. So, naturally, those whose capacities for reason were flawed came to be viewed as morally corrupt..."
The main motivations for Kefka is absolute power, knowledge and godhood, thus the writers accuse him of being arational - "not contrary to reason but outside the domain of reason entirely."
Obviously Kefka later on adopts a nihilistic view of existence which the heroes of FF6 attempt to convince him life does have meaning and worth according to them.

What a character. Kefka seems to personify exactly the sort of nihilistic, cynical, life-is-meaningless attitude that people might associate with, well, with philosophers! Existentialist philosophers, to be precise. This, however, would be a gross oversimplification. The existentialist movement represented by writers such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) more accurately expresses a belief that while life may lack an objective purpose, we are each born into the world with the ability to decide for ourselves what is meaningful. Nietzsche, in fact, recognized the potential dangers of a nihilistic outlook, particularly in a world that rejects God.  Yet he also saw in this the potential for an even greater justification for existence than philosophers had given before.

I think the closing part sums it up quite well for <i>FF6</i> and exploring the motivations driving the characters:
Was Kefka truly mad? Or did he cause a change for the better in the world? At the conclusion of the game, amid the various happily-ever-afters and credits, we find a party of characters who have learned a great deal about themselves and how to live in the world. Although they may have lived satisfactory lives before, they were unenlightened and questioned nothing. The struggle against Kefka brought them face-to-face with the negative influence of magic—of religion, control, and authority—and tasked them with learning to live without it. Perhaps some may think that an ideal world is one in which the gods of magic remained frozen, or where a benevolent ruler usurped their power and handed down a new meaning that would bring us peace, prosperity, and purpose. If what Nietzsche said has the ring of truth, however, then Kefka’s rise and fall represent the best possible situation. In the end, a world without magic is not entirely blissful, it is not utopian, but neither should we expect it to be. Our Heroes will struggle in this new world, but their biggest struggle will also be the most rewarding, for it is the banner under which philosophers have always served: the struggle to find meaning itself when none is given.

So anyway briefly other chapters JUDGING THE ART OF VIDEO GAMES: HUME AND THE STANDARD OF TASTE</i>, <i>PART TWO:  PLAYING THE GAME-BUT WHAT IF IT’S NOT A GAME? and environmentalism in real life learning a lesson from FF7 (Mako similar to fossil fuels?),  further explored in GAIA AND ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS IN THE SPIRITS WITHIN regarding the sci-fi FF film based on the game series....
Enjoyed the Virtue Ethics: Aristotle, Aeris, and Sephiroth and from my quote at the beginning enjoyed the later parts about Vivi from FF9:  Stopping’s Effect on Subjective Values: Morality, Knowledge, and the Value of Life explores his character and how he determines what is good or evil:  Vivi focuses on a sort of moral life and existence while asking many deep questions concerning life in a very philosophical way.

Worth a read whether they are looking at ancient philosophers like Epicurus (and his pursuit of happiness + view of death not being a negative.) or game characters like the issue of Cloud's identity (his quest to validate his existence, define himself and prove himself or find out who he really is.) the book at times makes very thought provoking comparisons and examinations from either an existentialist lens or environmental or ethical ones.  A very good introduction to the world of philosophy and how it can be used to view the world of Final Fantasy.

"While “going green” is certainly all the rage these days, why would Sakaguchi Hironobu and Kitase Yoshinori, the game’s designers, create characters who rage against the energy infrastructure on which a video game depends? Though the game’s imagined world ultimately reflects ecological concerns in the real world, it does not simply reject all notions of technological development. Instead, it evokes Shinto spirituality in the digital landscape of the game in order to encourage a symbiotic relationship between real-world human technology and the natural world."

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Humanity as a reflection of existence...

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 23 April 2018 12:58 (A review of The Transhumanist Wager)

“The Three Laws:   1) A transhumanist must safeguard one's own existence above all else.   2) A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible—so long as one's actions do not conflict with the First Law.   3) A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe—so long as one's actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.”

Zoltan Istvan gives us The Transhumanist Wager which is reminiscent, when it comes to selfishness or egoism, to Ayn Rand.  A focus on prioritising the individual into something also similar to Nietzsche's Übermensch (Beyond-Man/Superman) where humanity proceeds to shape and/or control his/her environment, resources, living space, existential importance and an emphasis on overcoming death, a hunger for longevity.  Although prevalent for transhumanists one could say there is almost an abhorrent fear of physical destruction rather than viewing it as a transition or eternal peace.  Who doesn't want more time when it comes to longevity and preserving our complex self?  Most of us wouldn't hesitate to do more with additional time when it comes to life extension and the question of mortality.
The Transhumanist Wager is set via the present day, telling the tale of transhumanist Jethro Knights and his unwavering search for immortality via science and technology. battling against him are fanatical religious groups, economically depressed governments, and mystic Zoe Bach: a dazzling trauma surgeon and the love of his life (opposites attract?), whose belief in spirituality and the afterlife is absolute. Exiled from America and reeling from personal tragedy, Knights forges a new nation of willing scientists on the world's largest seastead, Transhumania. When the world declares war against the floating libertarian city, demanding an end to its renegade and godless transhuman experiments and ambitions, Knights strikes back, leaving the planet forever changed.

Overall Zoltan gives us, the readers, an epic tale  that is not just a search for meaning but one where the main protagonist strives to shape his surroundings, to breathe life into a utopian and libertarian experiment and to challenge the death cults (challenging any metaphysical manifestations that result in a desire or trend towards an afterlife or even the possibility of a reincarnating scenario...  Jethro quite simply put doesn't want to die and is seeking alternatives.)
A very visionary and futuristic story with its twists and turns gives us an adventure which seeks to flesh out humanistic pursuits, not bogged down or halted with dogmatic red tape, and gives a tradition of the future focused on reason, a progressive mindset and technological wonder.

"You need to put your resources into the technology. Into our education system. Into our universities, industries, and ideas. Into the strongest of our society. Into the brightest of our society. Into the best of our society So that we can attain the future."

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Compassion and survival...

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 23 April 2018 12:37 (A review of Man's Search for Meaning)

"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

The first part of the book is an autobiographical account of the authors time in a concentration camp and what coping mechanisms he used to survive and ultimately "heal" and become stronger afterwards.  It is detailed and descriptive in the sense it puts the reader in his shoes and we get to learn about capos or the SS guards who are, lets say, opportunists who lack any form of moral compass.  (Falling under psychological egoism in a philosophical sense...)  The story appeals because it shows that humans need a purpose and a motivation to cope with seeing loved ones killed or taken away;  He asks us and makes us think about what would we do and how would we be able to cope with these extreme situations and happenings?  Viktor seems to focus on love as a potential solution regarding hate...  Let us focus on this segment from the book for a few moments:  “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”  How can we apply this to loving someone who hates us and is trying to kill us?  I disagree that we need love to understand someone else (sometimes it could be true but not always and definitely doesn't apply for everyone), especially when it comes to extremists for example, however what we do need to understand another person is to examine their thinking, their values and their actions.  

The second part of the book is more about (from the synopsis) Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.
“According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”
I thought this would be ideal for teaching in a psychology lesson and also thought provoking on so many levels.  I was reminded of Socrates saying about the main virtue in life, isn't even necessarily happiness or suffering (although the whole sociological "experience" can and does shape our characters for most of us and clearly it has done so here for Viktor)  it is about knowledge.  All these different consisting parts regarding our perception and what we experience from others can improve us or give us these layers that relate to creativity and empathy (although empathy can be manipulated so should be accompanied by scepticism or defensive measures depending on who you are dealing with...). 
I can see myself reading this again and will surely be reading some more of Frankl's works at a later date.  Whether you agree or disagree with some aspects, like I did, it provides a detailed examination into the various motivations that drive human beings.

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

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Deep shades of blue...

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 23 April 2018 12:18 (A review of Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins)

“The human mind isn’t a computer; it cannot progress in an orderly fashion down a list of candidate moves and rank them by a score down to the hundredth of a pawn the way a chess machine does. Even the most disciplined human mind wanders in the heat of competition. This is both a weakness and a strength of human cognition. Sometimes these undisciplined wanderings only weaken your analysis. Other times they lead to inspiration, to beautiful or paradoxical moves that were not on your initial list of candidates.”

Garry Kasparov's Deep Thinking gives us an insightful account of the grand game of chess and the history of artificial intelligence.  It is done in a fun way and also in an educational capacity whether he is writing about the Trump election or automated assistants such as Ok Google, Alexa or Siri.  Gary also gives the reader great detail about the competitiveness and strategies that come with Chess while exploring the past rivalry between America and the Soviet Union.  (The more aggressive approach to Chess, for players in the past regarding the Soviet Union, when it came to current or upcoming grandmasters in the world of Chess...)
The human mind has a way of doing things, when it comes to intuition, speculative posturing, planning and strategized improvisation when compared to the raw efficiency regarding a chess app or program.  The comparison that explores strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the human mind and those accompanying an artificial opponent is of vital interest and importance. 
I'm reminded of one of the more recent prodigies (In the deep learning world...) AlphaGo which learnt the game of chess and history of the game mastering all possibilities, when it comes to possible moves, in the great game.  In many ways surpassing human players, where decisions are made in mere milliseconds.

Overall, without giving too much away Deep Learning:  Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity begins, is an instant favourite for me, from Garry Kasparov.  Whether it is his vivid account of the famous match between him or Deep Blue or his encounters with the first computers that would be used for chess research and practice this is a tantalising and up to date autobiographical marvel.  (It also doesn't shy away from political matters or personal affairs which was both compelling and rewarding...)
It has humour and it has its serious moments but what is all together clear is the love of chess and the intimate relationship humanity has with artificial intelligence which is echoed in many of us chess enthusiasts and lovers of the game.

“To become good at anything you have to know how to apply basic principles. To become great at it, you have to know when to violate those principles.”

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A look at the future...

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 23 April 2018 12:08 (A review of The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond)

“I sometimes think about how easy it is for a nation to slip into complacency and ruin after decades of basking in the sun. Since science is the engine of prosperity, nations that turn their backs on science and technology eventually enter a downward spiral.”

Michio Kaku's The Future of Humanity takes place within three sections.  The first part as follows: PART I: LEAVING THE EARTH

So Michio here gives us an insightful account of past, current and future space travel... Also exploring humans terraforming and colonising possible suitable planets.  Mars being one viable choice for humanity.  Michio views the time we have lived in and currently living in as a golden age for space travel and exploration.  It is a truly incredible feat into space and what we have discovered and learnt about our solar system and beyond.  The next step will see humanity become an interstellar species where our Planet Earth is just one home out of many others.

The 2nd part is as follows:  PART II: VOYAGE TO THE STARS

So this part and sections explores the robots being used in space, the grandiose task of building a starship that will take humans even further than ever before, the Kepler framework of the Universe and all that it holds (Kepler was a key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution. He is best known for his laws of planetary motion, based on his works Astronomia nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome of Copernican Astronomy. These works also provided one of the foundations for Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation.)
I think it is also mind-blowing to perceive the observable Universe as vaster than anything we could of imagined and that as time goes on, when it comes human discovery and innovation, theories concerning the multiverse and elaborate physics or cryogenics and genetic engineering are hinting at possibilities that are allowing humans to be enabled for interstellar travel and to one day live on planets that are suitable for human life.
Robots being used on other planets or on spaceships/space stations allow for work to be done from a console, where our robotic instruments do not have to worry about oxygen or muscle deterioration, also I was thinking our robotic creations are not just beneficial for space exploration but also for underwater exploration where they can be used to reach places where humans cannot go. 

The third part is as follows:  PART III: LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE

Michio delves into immortality and transhumanism, and our search for extraterrestrial life in the cosmos, with a fascinating look into the role of advanced civilisations regarding the next steps/current trends taken towards a flourishing state of perpetual and exponential growth.  A future that goes beyond just inhabiting our current solar system and considering humanity living in other exciting and new frontiers.
Overall The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond also explores science fiction, regarding the future seen from a metalevel lens that has the tendency to lean towards or become science fact in a multifaceted realm of possibility.  It is a wonderful journey envisioning a bright and vibrant present towards a continuing flourishing future.
Whether it is focused on longevity or immortality the grand task of humanity to better ourselves, becoming an intelligent and practical player amongst the stars and cosmos, Michio gives a refreshing and inspirational book that transports the reader not just into a historical narrative but a futuristic one where the rewards and stakes are at an all time high.  Technology and scientific discovery are taking humanity beyond previous limitations and always towards vibrant, greater prospects.

"Even scientists make this mistake, scoffing at the idea that an alien civilization living many light-years away could even visit us. But that assumes that alien civilizations are only a few centuries ahead of us in technology. What happens if they are millions of years ahead of us? A million years is nothing but the blink of an eye in cosmic terms. New laws of physics and new technologies would open up when contemplating these incredible time scales.
Personally, I believe that any advanced civilization in space will be peaceful. They might be aeons ahead of us, which is plenty of time for them to resolve ancient sectarian, tribal, racial, and fundamentalist conflicts. But we must be prepared if they are not. Rather than reaching out and sending radio signals into space to announce our existence to any alien civilization, it might be more prudent to study them first.
I believe we will make contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, perhaps sometime in this century. Instead of being merciless conquerors, they might be benevolent and willing to share their technology with us. This would then be one of the most important turning points in history, comparable to the discovery of fire. It could determine the course of human civilization for centuries into the future."

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