Determinismi ja tahdonvapaus (Studia Varjomafia)

Tässä ovat muistiinpanoni epämuodollista Studia Varjomafia 3 -seminaaria 21.9.2019 varten. Mukana ovat myös kursiivilla merkittyinä kaksi osiota, joita en esittänyt, ensimmäistä siksi, että päätin jo etukäteen sen olevan turha, ja toista siksi, että aika loppui.

Alla on myös ladattavissa käyttämäni Powerpoint-esitys:

Annoin tälle esitykselle otsikoksi aika geneerisesti ”determinismi ja tahdonvapaus”. Olisi voinut keksiä jotain ovelampaa vaikka ainakin alaotsikoksi, mutta eipä tullut tehtyä niin. Tietenkin itse ajattelen, että olen keksinyt väitöskirjassani tavallista kiinnostavamman lähestymistavan aiheeseen. Sen otsikossa taas vasta alaotsikko on geneerinen. Koko otsikko on ”Vapauden paradoksi: Determinismi, tahdonvapaus ja vastuu”. Tai oikeastaan sama englanniksi. Niin kuin voi päätellä, käsittelen tässä esityksessä kahta näistä kolmesta asiasta, eli en sano paljoa vastuusta. Otan sen vain annettuna, mikä on ihan päin vastoin kuin väitöskirjassani, jossa kyseenalaistan kaiken.

Kysymys determinismistä ja tahdonvapaudesta on tietenkin vanha filosofinen kysymys. Se voidaan esittää muodossa ”Onko meillä vapaa tahto, vai onko kaikki ennalta määrättyä?” Tai ainakin ne, jotka eivät tunne aihetta, esittävät sen usein tässä muodossa.

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Review: Jedi Academy

This review was originally posted on Steam, with the rating RECOMMENDED.

Simply put, Jedi Academy remains the most FUN video game I have ever played. There may not be a lot else to it, but it’s an excellent, fast-paced lightsaber combat simulator.

Jedi Academy follows the adventures of a young Jedi named Jaden Korr, whose external traits are up to you, who travels to Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy after having managed to build a lightsaber on her or his own. This last bit already shows how the game is set up to be more fun: there’s no part like in Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight or Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast (all in the same series in spite of the weird numbering) where you don’t have a lightsaber yet. Of course, you do get better with it and it gets more fun in this game as well.

Jaden arrives at the Academy and is assigned as a student to Kyle Katarn, the player character of the previous games. As the same time, the Academy gets into conflict with a Sith cult called the Disciples of Ragnos, allied with the Imperial Remnant, giving Jaden plenty of Stormtroopers to slaughter and artificially imbued amateur Dark Jedi to duel with. Most of the levels aren’t directly part of this main plot, but are instead various missions Jaden is given as part of her or his training, although they often involve the Disciples of Ragnos (or the Remnant) making generic mischief. There are three tiers of such missions, based around Jaden’s overall level as a Jedi, with the actual plot happening before and after you complete each tier. Each non-plot mission gives you one point to increase Jaden’s Light or Dark Side Force powers, with the neutral powers increasing between tiers.

So the plot isn’t very deep or interesting. It’s merely perfectly adequate: there’s nothing wrong with it to distract from enjoying the action. There is one element that’s done cleverly enough to deserve praise, concerning Jaden’s possible motivation when he or she has to choose whether to pursue the Light Side or Dark Side ending (a choice up to the player), but I don’t suppose I should put spoilers here.

Okay, so that’s the plot. Now to the important part. Jedi Academy has basically the same gameplay as Jedi outcast before it, but it’s a bit better and focused more on lightsaber combat. There are still a bunch of missile weapons available, but I don’t think I’m even exaggerating when I say that 99% of the time, not counting one level, you won’t need anything else than a lightsaber. (The one percent includes things like using a sniper rifle on someone at a distance before they do it to you.) And as for what you do with a lightsaber, this game was the perfect answer for seeing the jaw-dropping Jedi moves in the prequel trilogy and wanting to do something like that myself. I have played it through again and again for the thrill of incredibly fast, Force-power enhanced lightsaber combat.

There are five different styles of lightsaber combat: you can use a single saber in three different stances, or two sabers or a double-bladed lightsaber, though you have to wait to get all the options. I admit all the fun I have been having is largely based on using a single saber with the Fast style. This style didn’t really work in Outcast – you kept getting hit even though it was supposed to be defensive – but now, possibly because lightsaber blades no longer hurt on contact but only as part of an attack or something, it works much better. It involves making fast attacks all the time while moving around, leading to the fast-paced combat that I love. The Medium style that you start out with is basically just an inferior version of Fast style. The Strong style is weird and kind of lame. You basically turn your lightsaber into a log: it moves really slowly but hits with so much force it bashes through defences and knocks opponents down. It’s recommended for lightsaber combat, and it’s indeed effective in it, but I really don’t see the point of making lightsaber duels (relatively) slow and clumsy when they could be fast and intense with the Fast style. I admit that getting the timing just right on a single devastating hit can be satisfying, but I don’t want to keep doing that. Finally, two sabers or a double-bladed saber are cool ideas, but I’m not so into them because you’d need to learn to control all kinds of special move combinations quickly, whereas the Fast (or Medium) style allows you to control the direction of your saber and your character’s movement intuitively at the same time. I do love fighting opponents who use different styles.

Jedi Knight had a team of Dark Jedi so that you could have lightsaber duels as boss fights. Jedi Outcast realised that wasn’t enough and added more Force users in the form of the Reborn, artificially imbued with the Dark Side and hence explaining why there were so many of them. Jedi Academy takes this a little further still, introducing weaker imbued Dark Jedi from the first level, and the Reborn later as even more fun opponents. This is great: a lightsaber isn’t just for slaughtering minor minions, it’s for fencing with another lightsaber, and the game is full of this and it just keeps getting better as you advance.

Force powers add a nice spice to this all, especially Force Jump, which helps make Jaden incredibly mobile. They can also be abused amusingly at higher levels, such as tossing ordinary enemies to their deaths with Pull or Grip. At least as important as their addition to your character’s repertoire of abilities is that they make Force-using enemies more deadly, versatile and interesting.

There IS one difference between the Jedi duels here and those in the movies, or other modern action movies with superhuman characters. It’s no problem in the game, I just want to mention it because people are saying movie fights are getting more like video games without noticing this. Someone like a Jedi in a movie fights and moves with incredible precision, all the while being inhumanly quick. Obviously you don’t get that here unless the player is a Jedi too; you’ll do plenty of uncontrolled swinging around. You just get the speed and the ability for incredible feats. But that’s perfectly fine, it still feels like you’re in the movies.

The level design is very good too. Not only are the levels designed to make use of your character’s abilities for regular combat, there are plenty of twists on them that give a chance to do something different – in some cases so different that it’s just as well it’s only one level, because it might be fun to ride on speederbikes or lose your lightsaber and go third-person shooter for a while, but only for a while. I also like the three levels, all of them different from each other, that can be downright scary because they have an element of avoiding (almost or literally) unkillable giant monsters.

The music is a minor problem in this game. It uses the same old-time Star Wars movie music as the previous games, and while that works at first, it sort of seems to get old eventually. By the last boss fights, it feels downright lazy and inappropriate that you have this dramatic scene that starts with this random doodi-doo music continuing in the background, and then generic combat music during the battle. Instead, Duel of the Fates would have been perfect for intense lightsaber duels. In fact, I’ve played music like that in the background while playing them, and it was even more awesome.

In sum, this game has really fun gameplay reminiscent of the kind of action we’ve seen Jedi engage in starting with the prequel trilogy (though stopping with the sequel trilogy). The plot is merely adequate, but who cares.

For the record, this game could be called Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast 2: Jedi Academy.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Mystery of Santa Claus

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

Some people say Santa Claus is an acceptable fiction for children to believe, others that lying to children is unacceptable. I present a different kind of critical thinker’s perspective on the matter.

Adults seem to share a pretty clear consensus that Santa Claus does not exist, but opinions are more divided on whether we should tell children he does anyway. The basic opinions I have come across are that it’s good for children to believe in magical fictions like that, or that it’s wrong to lie to children and encourage uncritical acceptance of magical beliefs.

I don’t presume to know which option is better overall. I suspect it may vary too much for us to generalize fairly. What I would like to do is add to the discussion by telling about my own experience when I was little.

I place much importance on truth and critical thinking, and I’m not a fan of magical beliefs. Nevertheless, when my parents perpetuated the charade that Santa Claus was real, I did not – or do not now – feel it contradicted these values in practice.

Here in Finland (I don’t know how universally), Santa customarily visits you in the evening of Christmas Eve. My parents could be pretty creative about these things, and they explained that he does Finland first and America later, explaining why he doesn’t use the same schedule with you. Anyway, this also meant that when Santa Claus visited, we’d get to see him.

In retrospect, the whole Santa Claus thing was always a battle of wits with us, though evidently even I was pretty easy to fool when I was very little.

During the first years, I used to think our father was really dumb, because he always got impatient waiting for Santa and went looking for him, and of course he always missed him. We never saw them at the same time…

The year I’d figured out why that was, I was all sure I knew what was going on when my father left out again and Santa came in after that – so I was totally surprised when my father did come back at the same time. Faith in Santa renewed, too, I think.

Eventually, I figured out that this magical person can’t really exist, but I still had no idea who it was who was playing him, keeping the mystery intact. (What I wondered afterwards was that I had somehow ruled out the correct answer, “guy my father knew from work,” for reasons I couldn’t remember later.) My little sister went on believing for a longer time but, well, she was younger.

It was all really fun and mysterious anyway. But the point I want to make from this experience is that Santa Claus doesn’t have to contradict learning critical thinking. Obviously I had some kind of a knack for it from the beginning, but anyway, for me the whole thing was an exercise in critical thinking… as well as really fun and magical. Of course, not everyone can experience both of those things at the same time.

A Feast of Curiosity and Imagination?

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

I remember Christmas always being about getting presents when I was little. However, maybe that doesn’t mean it was all about materialism.

I remember Christmas was always a much more special occasion when I was little than it is now. I don’t need to think hard about why: it’s because I used to get so much more excited about the prospect of getting presents.

There were a lot of things that I liked about Christmas – all the songs, the food, the decorations, time off from school and so on. But it was clear that presents were the number one thing. In fact, the one other day of the year that compared with Christmas was one’s own birthday; then, too, you could get some serious presents.

The obvious thought now is that such a way of spending Christmas is very materialistic. And sure, it was. It’s just that, honestly, I think it was more than that, at least for me.

In a way, Christmas was a huge celebration of waiting. Long before December, even though the advertising didn’t begin as early as it does now, I’d already be thinking about it. It was a kind of way of maximizing excitement. And in December, I’d be excited every morning to open the next door in the Advent calendar – even those chocolate ones that all have the same kinds of generic chocolates inside.

Every year before Christmas, I would pick a special present that I wanted the most of all. It might be from a toy catalog, or something I saw at a store and would always go take a peek at.

I’d spend hours and hours playing with the toy I wanted – before I ever got it. I played in my mind. I’d invent adventures around toys I’d only seen pictures of.

I can only envy the ability to get so excited about things. I can barely imagine it now. As an adult, it seems, you have to face challenges to try new things that are stressful because you might fail to get anywhere near that level. As a kid, it was enough to play at imaginary things.

Christmas would draw closer, and I’d just keep getting more and more excited, even though I’d already been at it for months. (Seriously. I can only envy that.) And then Christmas Eve would arrive. In Finland, the custom is to receive presents on the eve, but in the evening. So I’d wake up to even more excitement. There’d be all kinds of fun things to do for the day, but still, I’d be positively bursting.

And then, finally, Santa Claus would appear in person, and ponderously deal out a huge pile of presents for everyone, and afterwards, I’d get the excitement of seeing what was in all of them and the climax of getting the thing(s) I had been waiting for.

Materialistic or not, I can only remember this fondly. Besides, most of the excitement didn’t come from actually getting new things. It came from expectation, imagination, creativity and curiosity. Most of the fun I had was in my head, not playing with material toys.

Frozen Toes, or, Why You Cannot Trust an Obvious Story

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

Even if you’re suspicious about the media putting a misleading spin on things, sometimes it seems like there can’t be one – but there still is. A story I heard while in the army demonstrates this by example.

I think it’s very important to keep in mind that any story you hear might have been made with a spin that could make it seem like what it’s not. Even if it’s true, something might have been left out or exaggerated or taken out of context. You shouldn’t jump to judgments.

However, sometimes you come across a story that’s so obvious it’s clear that there can be no spin to it: it just is what it is, and no amount of rationalization is going to make it different.

Well, consider this one.

I was drafted to serve in the military for half a year when I was young – almost all the men in Finland are, and it’s not such a big deal because we don’t ever go to war. So anyway, there was this true story we were told…

At one point, a unit of men had been told by their officers to run around barefoot in the snow. Soon after, one of them had to have some of his toes amputated due to frostbite.

The obvious conclusion is that the officers were at fault and had behaved utterly irresponsibly. How could you possibly put any other spin on that? How could it not be what it sounds like?

Well…

Try this version: The officers told the privates to run around in the snow barefoot and immediately after to go warm themselves in a heated tent. The idea was to get their feet clean so that when they put on boots later, their feet would stay warm better.

You might call this hazing anyway, regardless of the outcome, but the point is, was it as bad, as dangerous as it sounded in the first place? The next part of the story answers that.

The next day, the soldier who later lost some toes put on some boots that were wet on the inside – something you are not supposed to do – and went to stand in line for the cafeteria, which took hours, in cold winter weather. And that is why he got frostbite.

I can’t verify this story, but provided the things we were taught about how to avoid frostbite and so on are correct, it would also work as a fictional example of how you could totally get the impression you must know what the story is about, yet it was misleading anyway.

The obvious judgment that the officers were responsible was based on leaving things out and a confusion of causality and correlation. What they did in the first place may have been nasty (I’d personally class it as borderline hazing I wouldn’t even particularly mind, because it would be barely worse than being perfectly lawfully ordered around by officers in the first place), but it wasn’t dangerous the way the story made it seem.

I keep seeing examples of why you shouldn’t jump into conclusions about things you are not very familiar with. This story was one of the best demonstrations why.

The Beauty of Explained Miracles

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

Sometimes, people are motivated to resist any explanation of that which they find spiritually important and uplifting. At other times, it is the explanation that creates the spiritual beauty.

There’s this idea that science takes away the wonder and beauty in the world by explaining it.

But there’s also this idea that science reveals the beauty of the universe by showing more of it. I’m definitely in this latter camp myself.

Some see this revealed beauty as that of God’s design. Others do not. I think it works either way – and adding God hardly makes it all any greater than it already is.

A number of authors have expressed this idea, though it seems as though it always remains no more than the view of a large minority. For example, consider this quote from the blurb for Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman:

Consider the woven integrated complexity of a living cell after 3.8 billion years of evolution. Is it more awesome to suppose that a transcendent God fashioned the cell at a stroke, or to realize the truth: the living cell evolved with no Creator, no Almighty Hand, but arose on its own, created by the evolving biosphere? The truth is much more magnificent, much more worthy of awe and wonder, than our ancient creation myths.

Reinventing the Sacred proposes a new understanding of a natural divinity based on an emerging, scientifically based world view. Complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman does not propose somehow to insert “god” into a cold, lifeless universe. Instead he argues that the qualities of divinity that we hold sacred — creativity, meaning, purposeful action — are in fact properties of the universe that can be investigated scientifically.

The evolution of life is one particularly awe-inspiring aspect of the world. When Richard Dawkins is writing about his own area of expertise instead of attacking religion, you can feel the awe and the spirituality.

This does not mean his science is some kind of unscientific religious belief, of course. That’s rather the point here – that real science can be a source of spiritual awe. Real science with real explanations.

Obviously, when you grasp an idea like evolution and see how it explains the world, you don’t know how everything about life is explained in detail by evolution. In that sense, there is no absolute distinction between explained miracles and the awe at the thought of everything being part of a grand design by God. They are merely points on a spectrum.

Yet, some people sometimes seem more intent on preserving the miracles by not letting them be explained, whereas some at some times delight in the more detailed explanations.

I like my magic with understanding of how it works, because that allows getting in touch with it much better than saying it’s a miracle. I have an example in mind that I might come back to next week, unless some other topic pushes past it.

Could We Have Myths That Are True?

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

Myths are stories that explain our place in the universe. Mere scientific facts are not myths in this sense. But could we interpret them as myths that would then be true at the same time?

“Myth”: A word with a double meaning. It can mean an untrue belief, a misconception: “That’s just a myth.” It can also mean a religious-ish, probably magical, story about why things are as they are, like a creation myth.

I’m going to be talking about the latter meaning in this TLT, every time I use the word “myth” below.

People who study such things like to talk about how myths are not supposed to be true as such. That’s not their function; that’s not the point; that doesn’t really matter. What matters, originally, is their spiritual function. People everywhere seem to need and create myths to “explain” the way things are. I have to admit their function is not entirely clear to me, but I understand some of it.

There’s talk of modern myths or equivalents of myths, typically based on science or some Hollywood (simplified or just plain misunderstood or even made up) version of it. Well, what I think is this: Why not make better science-based myths? Myths don’t have to be true, but it can’t hurt if they are. I can see the need, even in my own life, for spiritual explanations about our place in the cosmos and things like that, but I don’t need any supernatural fantasies for that.

Now, science itself is a bit bare, the myths that spontaneously develop based on it too one-sided and reductionist (just like traditional myths, for that matter) and not necessarily purposeful and inspiring. And obviously not everyone can really understand it like the experts do. But there’s nothing preventing “deeper” philosophical formulations based on scientific fact that anyone could understand, maybe in a simplified form, that could give them a sense of what their place is in this world, implying the kind of values that people need, and at the same time be more or less true.

People are prone to confusing myths and facts anyway, apparently more than ever these days when, according to some authors, we’ve lost the old concept of a myth. Beliefs play a dual role here: both factual and spiritual. I don’t see any problem with serving both of these other than the contingent cultural habits of pulling out the supernatural at this point and looking at the natural mostly in reductionist terms.

True myths. Though that may seem surprising, it does sound good on paper. It deserves a try.