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Alain de Botton is right about one thing

At the end of this video, he suggests that both sides will be out to shoot him. Yes, they will…well, I’m wielding a great heavy two-handed sword, but I’ll accept the general equivalence in intent of pointy sharp nasty weaponry and projectile-flinging guns. In this TED presentation, he advocates just adapting religion to atheism, something he calls Atheism 2.0, but which is actually just Religion 0.0 again.

This is not what the New Atheism is about. It’s the antithesis of what we’re after. We’ve had a few thousand years of the godly shuffle: here’s a temple to Zeus, he’s out so we swap in Jupiter; he’s not exciting, let’s try Isis; now Mithras; Jehovah; Jesus; Mohammed; back to Catholicism; on to Protestantism; oh, you’re atheists, eh, here’s a fine altar, hardly been used, we’ll just rededicate it to your god Athe then. New gods same as the old gods, right?

Wrong. It’s that the whole structure of religious thought is wrong, that we’ve been spending these few thousand years digging the same old pit, deeper and deeper, maybe putting a little more gilt on the shovel and roofing it over with ever fancier architecture, but now we’re saying maybe it’s time to climb out of the hole and do something different. I don’t want a new label, I want whole new modes of thought.

de Botton wants to pick and choose from religion and keep the good parts for atheism, which is a nice idea, but he seems to be totally lacking in sense and discrimination in what the virtues of religion are. And then, unfortunately for him, he picks a few examples of something he thinks religion got right, and one of them is education. Fuck me.

He suggests looking at how churches teach the ‘facts’ of their faith, and is quite enthusiastic about the importance of repetition. Repeat things five times, he says, and then you’ll master it; he just suggests replacing God and Jesus with Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Has de Botton ever been anywhere near a classroom?

Let me give an example from my teaching; I’m familiar with what he proposes. For instance, I teach genetics, and one of the big concepts there is linkage and mapping. I’ve stood up and lectured on Sturtevant’s original mapping experiments; I’ve given the class the numbers from his observations, and had them do the calculations themselves; I’ve then had students come up to the whiteboard and show everyone how it is done; and then I’ve gone through it again on the board, step by step. The students nod and smile, they understand, give ‘em these numbers and they can trot through the calculations without hesitation.

Then on the test I give them the same problem, but I change the names of the alleles, swap in a zebrafish for a fruit fly, and half the class is totally stumped. “But you didn’t teach us how to do that problem,” they whine.

Repetition doesn’t work. It’s great for memorizing dogma, but it’s awful for mastering concepts. Students don’t understand, they just learn to robotically reiterate.

What I do is very different. I give them the Sturtevant data and we work through that problem, sure, but then we try other angles. Here’s data on the recombination frequency between pairs of loci; assemble them into a map. Here’s a triple-point cross, and the phenotypes of the flies we get back; calculate a map. Here’s a problem; work it out in groups. Here’s a problem; teach your partner how to solve it. Here’s a map; work backwards and predict the frequencies of phenotypes of a cross. You invent a problem, give it to me, and let’s see if I can get the right answer. Here’s how the problem is solved in flies, and fish, and nematodes, and humans, and tissue culture. Here’s how we do it with molecular biology techniques rather than genetics. What if the traits are all sex-linked? What if this locus interacts epistatically with that other locus? What if the two alleles at this locus are codominant?

The whole purpose of what we do in the science classroom is to get the students to understand that you can’t master the concept by rote memorization. You have to understand how someone came up with the idea in the first place, and you have to appreciate how understanding the concept gives you the mental toolkit to grasp novel instances of related phenomena. I could just show them a fly gene map and tell them to memorize it, I suppose, and teach them this idea that genes have locations on the chromosome, and leave it at that, but then they haven’t really learned anything deep, and haven’t learned how to integrate new observations into the concept. They’re also going to be totally unprepared for going off to grad school, reading McClintock’s papers, and learning that sometimes genes don’t have fixed locations on the chromosome.

So you can imagine how appalled I was listening to de Botton tell us that one thing society could benefit from adapting from religion is their approach to education. That’s simply insane. If you want to improve people’s understanding, we should model learning more on those secular, progressive, well-honed methods you find in good college classrooms, not church. Church is where you go to learn how to hammer dogma into people’s heads.

That is not what the New Atheism wants. Apparently, it’s what Atheism 2.0 wants, though.

His approach to art is about as horrifying — “religions…have no trouble telling us what art is about, art is about two things in all the major faiths; firstly, it’s trying to remind you of what there is to love, and secondly it’s trying to remind you of what there is to fear and hate…it’s propaganda”. To de Botton, that is a virtue. He suggests that museums ought to adopt the approaches of the churches, and organize their art by themes and tell everyone exactly what it all means. Jebus. Can you imagine a van Gogh hanging on the wall, with a little checklist next to it telling you what it is supposed to mean, and everyone dutifully reading the museum’s imperative and making sure they’ve got exactly the right interpretation? Some excited little girl makes the mistake of looking at the painting not the placard and telling her mother, “Look at the light and color shining through the confusion!” and the guard has to tap his stick on the wall and tell her, “No, it says CONFORM and OBEY or suffer. Can’t you read?”

Worst TED talk ever — well, it’s competitive with that horrible drivel from Elaine Morgan, anyway. de Botton is one of those superficial atheists who hasn’t quite thought things through and has such a blinkered optimistic perspective on religion that he thinks faith provides what reason does not.

Comments

  1. redwood says

    I have to say I learned a lot about hypocrisy when I was in church, but I guess they weren’t intending to educate me in that. It was so nice to attend college and learn enough to kick religion down the steps and out into the cold night.

  2. says

    Oh, god (if you’ll excuse the expression). Religion teaches us the lesson of repetition? Heck, you can get that from the times table. Rote learning — repetition — is a great way to memorize the multiplication table. It works! (I believe! Amen!) But rote-memorization of the times table — as useful a little timesaver as that is in basic math calculations — teaches you nothing about what’s going on. You have to look at it and think about it and play with it if you’re going to get at the conceptual underpinnings of multiplication. That’s the message of PZ’s example: change the problem and students don’t realize their knowledge is portable and not case-specific. It’s exactly like the student who complained that he didn’t know how to factor a^2 – b^2 because I had taught him only the x^2 – y^2 version. How was he to do the problem when I wrote it with different letters? Oy.

  3. says

    So I’ve heard this guy’s name but didn’t know much about him. From Wikipedia…

    Alain de Botton (born 1969) is a Swiss writer, television presenter, and entrepreneur, resident in the UK. His books and television programs discuss various contemporary subjects and themes in a philosophical style, emphasizing philosophy’s relevance to everyday life.

    IOW, a huckster and an intellectual wanker.

  4. tfkreference says

    “we’ll just rededicate it to your god Athe then.”

    Perfect. That scene captures the essence of the attitude that atheism is a religion, and evolution is the worship of the prophet Darwin, and doctors promote vaccines to make money like quacks promoting snake oil, and…

  5. razzlefrog says

    I disagree deeply on the art thing. While art is a fantastic form of communication it can also be one of the most pretentious forms of expression out there, rivaled only by poetry. I’ve seen works where the entire point had been seemingly only to confuse. And not in a way that eventually lead to some profound observation. Label the work “artistic” and hold the expectation that people swoon by virtue of its name, seemed the philosophy.

    Ever seen a pure black canvas? I have, and if the artist’s goal was to piss me off, he totally succeeded. But I get the vague feeling that’s not what he was going for. Michelangelo’s work is infinitely better, in my opinion.

    Purposeful art, I could go for that.

  6. abb3w says

    Repetition is good for rote memorization of equations and the like so you know what they are, less useful for actually applying them more generally.

    Of course, an argument could be made that what PZ does “merely” adds variation to the repetitions… now, where have I heard a phrase like that before?

  7. tgriehl says

    Reminds me of when my high school Calc professor would write the independent variable as a drawing of a sheep, or a Jesus-Fish. What is the second derivative of 3(Jesus-Fish)^3 + ln(Jesus-Fish)? Hell if I know!

  8. jjgdenisrobert says

    Well, when I hear the title “Philosopher”, I tend to run the other way, and it takes a lot to get me to pay any attention. And Alain de Botton is a philosopher’s philosopher, that is, a person who engages in a full-on circle-jerk with other circle-jerkers…

  9. phill says

    Alain de Botton’s heart is in the right place, but his proposed actions are horrible. He’s the eiptome of Eddie Izzard’s description of the Church of England as like a man with no bones in his arms, all flopping around and no structure.

    de Botton makes a fundamental mistake. He recognises the importance of the social glue that binds people together and thinks religious institutions are an important part of that. He sees society gathering around these institutions, rather than the institutions being parasitic on people’s need for societal interactions. From this basic mistake he builds an argument based on the unargued premise that religious institutions are important because of their historical roles in society.

    One thing that anyone wanting to promote a more widespread acceptance of atheism has to deal with is that when many people turn away from religion they look for something else to replace the social value religious institutions used to play in their lives. It’s not up to atheists to create a replacement ‘church’, however, but it is important that we recognise a potential ‘sense of loss’ and understand that many people keep quiet about a loss of faith in order to remain part of group.

    de Botton cherry-picks what he thinks are the good bits of religious practices, but he picks some rotten cherries.

  10. jjgdenisrobert says

    Oh, and this goes triple when the person has a French name. There is nothing so cringe-inducing as a French (or Swiss in this case) “Philosopher”. And I can read the drivel in the original…. (I’m French-Canadian)

  11. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Jesus frigging Christ, people are already do that shit. They tend to be running totalitarian regimes…

  12. says

    What’s wrong with de Botton? What was he thinking (or was he thinking)?

    For myself, I resented the ritual of religion even more than I resented the theology.

    If he is into ritual, can’t he get enough of that at the local Elks lodge? Or maybe join a historical re-enactment group?

  13. consciousness razor says

    “A sermon wants to change your life, and a lecture wants to give you a bit of information.”

    Sermonizers and lecturers do that, not sermons and lectures, and information isn’t causally inert so lectures do change one’s life. So the difference must be something else: a sermonizer presumes to know how your life should change, given some information, and a lecturer does not. So why would sermonizing be better than lecturing? Apparently because one has a deep, sacred commitment to the belief that people buying your bullshit is more important than figuring out the truth for themselves.

    He suggests that museums ought to adopt the approaches of the churches, and organize their art by themes and tell everyone exactly what it all means.

    If it means anything. If it doesn’t, they’ll make some shit up anyway. As if some don’t already do this….

  14. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Worst TED talk ever — well, it’s competitive with that horrible drivel from Elaine Morgan, anyway.

    You may be right, but remember that Rick Warren did one. But anyway, thanks for the heads up– I’ll skip all three.

    Also: What’s up with all the philosophy hataz? Have you ever read Spinoza, Bentham, Hume, Mill, Popper, Russell, or Dennett? It isn’t all bullshit.

    Also, whats up with all of the wankery hataz–like that’s a bad thing?

  15. KG says

    jjgdenisrobert,

    blockquote><Well, when I hear the title “Philosopher”, I tend to run the other way, and it takes a lot to get me to pay any attention./

    Ah. That would explain why you don’t know anything about it.

    And Alain de Botton is a philosopher’s philosopher

    Nope. I doubt any academic philosopher would give him the time of day. Try putting his name into Google scholar: not a single article in a philosophy journal, at least on the first 5 pages (as far as I looked).

  16. consciousness razor says

    While art is a fantastic form of communication it can also be one of the most pretentious forms of expression out there, rivaled only by poetry.

    Poetry is art. It doesn’t rival itself.

    I’ve seen works where the entire point had been seemingly only to confuse. And not in a way that eventually lead to some profound observation.

    You would blame some artwork for your inability to have a profound observation?

    Label the work “artistic” and hold the expectation that people swoon by virtue of its name, seemed the philosophy.

    If people made it or did it, I call it art. That’s enough of an aesthetic philosophy for most purposes.

    Ever seen a pure black canvas? I have, and if the artist’s goal was to piss me off, he totally succeeded. But I get the vague feeling that’s not what he was going for.

    Thanks for sharing your vague feelings about other people’s goals.

    Michelangelo’s work is infinitely better, in my opinion.

    Well, not infinitely better. At least the pure black canvas you saw pissed you off. Sorry that wasn’t a sufficiently profound experience for you.

    Purposeful art, I could go for that.

    This doesn’t seem to mean anything. What purposes do you have in mind?

  17. KG says

    Sorry, blockquote fail.

    jjgdenisrobert,

    Well, when I hear the title “Philosopher”, I tend to run the other way, and it takes a lot to get me to pay any attention.

    Ah. That would explain why you don’t know anything about it.

    And Alain de Botton is a philosopher’s philosopher

    Nope. I doubt any academic philosopher would give him the time of day. Try putting his name into Google scholar: not a single article in a philosophy journal, at least on the first 5 pages (as far as I looked).

  18. says

    I disagree deeply on the art thing. While art is a fantastic form of communication it can also be one of the most pretentious forms of expression out there, rivaled only by poetry. I’ve seen works where the entire point had been seemingly only to confuse. And not in a way that eventually lead to some profound observation. Label the work “artistic” and hold the expectation that people swoon by virtue of its name, seemed the philosophy.

    Ever seen a pure black canvas? I have, and if the artist’s goal was to piss me off, he totally succeeded. But I get the vague feeling that’s not what he was going for. Michelangelo’s work is infinitely better, in my opinion.

    Purposeful art, I could go for that.

    I know you’re going to hate me for this but Art is heavily contextual. I actually have seen a 100% black canvas I would call art because a lot of skill went into the stroke work and consistency and the work was a painting of texture rather than color or shape. It was a very clever and innovative idea. Of course it’s only art because it’s against the grain and because it’s attempting to show a unique display of traditional techniques of painting.

  19. daniellavine says

    @razzlefrog:

    consciousness razor kind of got this already, but…

    Ever seen a pure black canvas? I have, and if the artist’s goal was to piss me off, he totally succeeded. But I get the vague feeling that’s not what he was going for. Michelangelo’s work is infinitely better, in my opinion

    The artist’s goal was probably to make a joke and you fell for it. Hopefully some other people saw you falling for the joke and got a good laugh out of it. But it wasn’t a complete loss for you either — it made you angry (for some bizarre reason). That’s a real human emotion, a visceral reaction to an unusual situation. Since our culture does everything it can to choke the life and vitality out of the human race this is a good thing. This is what art is supposed to do.

    Imagine if it had just been a pretty picture like you were expecting. Or even a very, very accomplished emulation of the work of Michelangelo. You would have looked at it and said to yourself, “ooh pretty” and not experienced anything much by way of human emotion. Dull prettiness is easy to find in our world and that’s exactly why the purpose of art is not to produce dull pretty things. Aping of styles that were successful in the past is also not art and never can be — because it’s obviously nothing new.

    You want pretty pictures you can always go to a mall and buy something by Thomas Kincaid, right? Art isn’t about giving you pretty things to look at.

  20. davidcoburn says

    Thanks for posting your thoughts on this PZ.

    The thing that particularly irked me was de Botton’s advocacy for paternalism. He seems to be suggesting that people want to be treated like children and atheism needs to do this for them. I thought we were trying to get people to act more like adults in the more important sense of the word.

  21. Art Vandelay says

    Antiochus Epiphanes:

    I was thinking Warren as well but then I noticed on the sidebar of your link there is a TED talk from Billy Graham and then another from some Anglican Vicar on why God would allow the Tsunami. My curiosity got the best of me on that one.

    Answer: God doesn’t “do” things. God is “in” things. What does it mean to be “in” things? I don’t know. If we knew, it wouldn’t be God.

  22. says

    The thing that particularly irked me was de Botton’s advocacy for paternalism. He seems to be suggesting that people want to be treated like children and atheism needs to do this for them.

    He may be half right. From No Longer Quivering, apparently the women who sign up for that are attracted tot he idea that it frees them from responsibility, presumably the males too just it moves responsibility from them to their imaginary friend. That seems to me to be a bug not a feature.

  23. Irene Delse says

    jjgdenisrobert,

    And Alain de Botton is a philosopher’s philosopher

    Nope. He’s a pop philosopher, a media and culture pundit, not an academic heavyweight.

    There is nothing so cringe-inducing as a French (or Swiss in this case) “Philosopher”. And I can read the drivel in the original…. (I’m French-Canadian)

    Pro-tip: please don’t conflate together all those who speak French, even when you are one yourself. France and Switzerland are both in Europe, and both have a francophone population (though in Switzerland it’s a minority), but there the similarity ends.

    You might as well compare Ireland and England, or Australia and New Zealand, on that basis. Good luck avoiding being torn to shred by the citizens of both countries, after that.

    Anyway, I’ve always thought Germans were the crème de la crème of philosophers ;-)

  24. says

    Anyway, I’ve always thought Germans were the crème de la crème of philosophers ;-)

    I’ve heard people defend that by saying that the German language is well structured to convey abstract ideas like that.

    Of course I’ve also heard Chinese use similar answers for why Chinese were/are so great at philosophy.

  25. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Art Vandelay: *erk* I hadn’t noticed the sidebar.

    Irene Delse: Your last sentence made me snort.

  26. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I’ve heard people defend that by saying that the German language is well structured to convey abstract ideas like that.

    Maybe. For reasons that are unimportant, I was trying to read a passage of Heidegger’s Zeit und Sein a few weeks ago. I found the language to be impenetrable. I am not fluent in German, but rarely have difficulty reading it…I suspect that many of the terms were being used unconventionally, hence the difficulty.

    Anyway, it made my head hurt, and I eventually gave it up to play Sporcle.

  27. mudpuddles says

    I watched that talk yesterday and got a completely different message from what PZ has picked up.

    I thought de Botton was saying simply that a good way of combating religions is to co-opt some of their techniques and use them for rational purposes or to promote freethought. Like (for me) organising Reason Rally pretty much reflects the methods of the Catholic Church in organising its prayer rallies (pilgrimages or whatever) for centuries.

    On the repeptition thing, I thought he was really slagging off religious brainwashing… and I thought well, when religions are incessently spouting the same airy-fairy pleasant-sounding horse shite its easy to see how the less scientific mind and non-skeptic can be taken in, so the skeptical community should combat this with their own constant repeating of key messages about the scientific method and the importance of asking the simple question “how do we know that what we are told is true?”

    And as for calendars, hell yes! Every calendar you will get in Ireland displays dates of religious events. Let’s have a sceptic’s calendar that displays the dates of famous milestones in science, such as the birthday’s of Darwin, Galileo, Kepler, the publication dates of Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica and Mendeleev’s first periodic table, Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron, or Watson & Crick’s discovery of DNA… as well as dates of major freethought events such as Skepticon, regional atheist meetings, Reason Rallies etc., and with awesome images of science and nature.

  28. DLC says

    I used to enjoy the TED talks, but lately they’ve been rather less than stellar. Now this one is, well, Crap.
    No, it sullies the good name of crap.
    Well, perhaps the next one I come across won’t be so bad.

    Question: how do you make “no religion” into a bloody fucking religion, when I became a bloody atheist to get away from fucking religions, you vacuum-headed weasel!?

  29. rr says

    Religion is about making and keeping people stupid. If there’s one thing the human race doesn’t need, it’s more stupid. If religion was about something real outside the human brain then the scientific method would have become a sacrament in Newton’s time.

  30. Brownian says

    Repetition doesn’t work. It’s great for memorizing dogma, but it’s awful for mastering concepts.

    And we see this same “You didn’t teach us that problem” issue whenever Ken Ham explains why Christianity is the only true religion out of its 100,000+ competitors. Instead of realising that all religions tend to pick from the same set of themes, much like all languages pick from the same set of phonemes (the set of sounds humans can meaningful make and hear), he picks up on some superficial uniqueness, declares that it’s the only relevant uniqueness, disregards all the other uniquenesses of all other languages, and he’s done. That’s not knowing. That’s the opposite of knowing.

    And the philosophers of atheism 2.0 seem to do very much the same thing.

    “Atheism lacks x, y, and z,” they declare.
    “We know,” we reply, wondering why certain types always seem to think the most mundane and trite observations are groundbreaking.
    “Well, atheism would be better if had x, y, and z.”
    “What? Why wou—”
    “Hear me out! Religions in general, have x, y, and z! Atheism doesn’t! Religious people are happier/more content/more charitable/prayerful/likely to own blue cars than atheists! Therefore, we should incorporate x, y, and z into atheism, (and solve my anxiety disorder/feelings of loneliness/feelings of discontent/publishing gap on my CV).”
    “But religion A doesn’t have x, adherents of B don’t practice y, and z is pretty much a Catholic thi—”
    “There is atheism and religion. And while religion suffers from all sorts of irrationalities and logical inconsistencies, it has always been better than atheism—until now!”

    It’s very likely that this is my own confirmation bias, but this sort of thinking is much more common among those raised as atheists or liberal moderates than those atheists who are apostates from raised less moderate religions.

  31. drmattdoom says

    His hilariously undignified response to a negative review “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make” is probably only time I’ve ever enjoyed anything by him.

  32. Brownian says

    And as for calendars, hell yes! Every calendar you will get in Ireland displays dates of religious events. Let’s have a sceptic’s calendar that displays the dates of famous milestones in science, such as the birthday’s of Darwin, Galileo, Kepler, the publication dates of Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica and Mendeleev’s first periodic table, Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron, or Watson & Crick’s discovery of DNA… as well as dates of major freethought events such as Skepticon, regional atheist meetings, Reason Rallies etc., and with awesome images of science and nature.

    But these calendars of religious events serve a purpose. You’re supposed to pray to that saint, or sacrifice to this deity, or meditate on that concept or whatever. While it’s great to celebrate Darwin’s birthday if you like doing that sort of thing, unless it comes with a day off and flying car, count me out. I hate potlucks already.

  33. uncephalized says

    PZ, you sound like a really good teacher. I wish half of my professors had been as dedicated as you while I was getting my BSME–maybe a tenth were, or close. Those classes were always the most enjoyable while also being challenging, and always resulted in superior mastery of the material.

  34. Denephew Ogvorbis, OM says

    The guy’s name is All-On-de-Bottom? Accurate description of his prescription.

    (Yes, I really did go there and I am not proud of it.)

  35. daniellavine says

    @Brownian:

    Instead of realising that all religions tend to pick from the same set of themes, much like all languages pick from the same set of phonemes (the set of sounds humans can meaningful make and hear), he picks up on some superficial uniqueness, declares that it’s the only relevant uniqueness, disregards all the other uniquenesses of all other languages, and he’s done. That’s not knowing. That’s the opposite of knowing.

    Great analogy! My favorite part about this is that phonemes differ slightly from language to language (and dialect to dialect within a language) and that speakers of one language often have a lot of trouble distinguishing phonemes that are not distinct in their own language. For example, many Spanish speakers have trouble distinguishing between “v” and “b” and many Russian speakers have trouble distinguishing between “v” and “w”.

    So applying the analogy to Ken Ham’s uniqueness arguments, it’s not that the religions don’t actually have unique features. It’s that the features of Christianity are ingrained in his mind like the phonemes of the English language so that he’s completely blind to the unique features of other religions. He has a strong “Christian accent” that makes him sound like an utter ignoramus to most of us.

  36. Denephew Ogvorbis, OM says

    are … [more] likely to own blue cars than atheists!

    [looks at parking lot]

    Shit. I wondered why I got a blue car. And am happy with it. And content with it.

    Does this mean that I am now a religion?

  37. mudpuddles says

    Hi Browniuan,

    Yeah I get that point but still, a calendar filled with notable dates might be a good thing for those interested. I rememebr my own biology teacher in secondary school had a calendar where she had marked in a few birthdays and other dates. I’ll never forget the day she asked one of my class mates to go to the calendar on the wall and read out what day it was. “Today is Charles Darwin’s birthday”… and we had a full class reading from The Voyage of the Beagle and Origins. Another day it was the invention of PCR and we had a brilliant class on biotechnology. Schools need more of that stuff.

    Aside from all that scientific stuff, I’d love a FTB calendar filled with cool images, little pieces about freethought and atheist organisations, and dates of skeptic events for the year ahead.

  38. Brownian says

    I’m glad you found it useful, daniellavine, and I really like your “Christian accent” concept.

  39. otrame says

    If the black canvas was the one in the modern art museum on the mall in DC about 35 years ago, then you didn’t spend enough time looking at it, friend. Ever just barely stop yourself from falling into Nothing? I spent some time with that one because I wanted to figure out how the effect was achieved. The paint was all one color, but the brush strokes…..

    And no, I wasn’t imagining it. Several people came up while I looked at it. Most took a quick look, snorted, and asked how much taxpayer money was spent on that. One or two paid enough attention to get the effect.

    The thing is, in general, I, too, prefer reprentational art. Because that is easy. But try stepping outside your comfort zone and really look at art that does not appeal at first glance (at least at the museum level). Sure much of it will still not appeal you (enjoyment of art is extremely individual), but in some cases, you find there is more to it than you saw at first glance.

    As for the OP, yeah, this guy’s notions of what is good about religion and how to teach needs some serious rethinking.

  40. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    The artist’s goal was probably to make a joke and you fell for it.

    In the case of Malevich’s Black Square it was a pretty good $250,000 joke!

    Although some of the schools were certainly playing jokes, you only have to look at many of Rothko’s works to see that the main criticisms levelled at big blocks of colour are generally from those who only rate representational art, such as the Michaelangelo mentioner above, and abstraction becomes non-art in their minds. Usually with an associated a five year old could have painted that comment.

    The limit in the UK a couple of years back was an exhibition of plinths with title labels… that really was minimalist, though an extreme minimalist would have dispensed with the plinths XD

  41. Brownian says

    Oh, for sure, mudpuddles. I get that.

    I’m just being snarky because I’m chronically pissed that I live in the future (I was born in the past) and don’t get to live on a space station. Secular, scientific, or religious holidays won’t ever mean much to me so long as I have to celebrate them on stupid ol’ warming terra firma.

  42. Brownian says

    Does this mean that I am now a religion?

    There’s a test for that. Find a self-hating atheist and see if he starts identifying all the ways in which you are better than he is.

  43. jjgdenisrobert says

    @KG: I care about as much about “academic” philosophy as I do “academic” theology. In fact, I often find myself having great difficulty distinguishing the two…

  44. Brownian says

    In the case of Malevich’s Black Square it was a pretty good $250,000 joke!

    I’ve seen Voice of Fire, and I quite liked it, as much as I can like any piece of visual art that’s not a landscape I can mentally insert myself into. (Really, that’s all my stupid brain cares about in art. “Ooh, and I’d build a little cabin near that windmill, and over that hill is where my friend would live, and I’d ride that sea serpent to get there quicker…”)

  45. daniellavine says

    @Serendipitydawg:

    I should be a little clearer what I meant by “joke”. I don’t mean a “haha, joke’s on you” kind of joke. I’m using it as a sort of metaphor, playing off the fact that jokes usually function by creating a sort of contradiction that the listener has to try to sort out. I think that appreciating a work of art is in many ways like “getting” a joke though usually requiring more effort and knowledge on the part of the audience.

  46. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    jjgdenisrobert:

    In fact, I often find myself having great difficulty distinguishing the two…

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. However, my lack of surprise says more about you than it does the discipline of philosophy.

    I wonder what other academic pursuits you don’t care about.

  47. kreativekaos says

    I agree with most of the critique around de Botton’s talk, and some of the stuff I heard in his talk I found curious to the point of thinking, ‘Is this really an effective way of advancing an atheistic consciousness?’

    I think [phill @ #12] had sifted out the essence of the discussion around de Botton’s talk, namely that de Botton (and others) have been trying to make a point about the need for a core or focus around which to build (or rebuild) a sense of human social solidarity in the face of–slowly but thankfully–waning religiosity within a strengthening and growing movement for objective truths and an atheistic world-view.

    I think de Botton’s talk is yet another stab at trying to address what some view as a threat of social/existential emptiness that some see as posed by atheism. Some atheists have this feeling, and probably most, if not all, theists.

    The issue is essentially one of consciousness-raising,… of being able to present–and teach– a view of the universe and our place in it as inspirational, in and of itself, based on fact and reality– a job of real ‘heavy lifting’ here.

    As reflected in anthropology and social science, we are very social, cultural beings. As such, I’ve always felt the core of conquering the problem religion and all the negativity and conflict it generates is, and remains, a social and cultural one. It is a difficult cultural inertia to overcome, and one that I personally have felt–as so many other changes in culture and society– may only change as those who prop up and exploit ‘old-world’ ways of thought die off,… and newer generations take root to propagate new ways of thinking, and new ways reinforcing a sense of social solidarity WITHOUT trying to bury objective truths. And for something like religion, that is a very slow process.

  48. says

    I think de Botton’s talk is yet another stab at trying to address what some view as a threat of social/existential emptiness that some see as posed by atheism. Some atheists have this feeling, and probably most, if not all, theists.

    From personal experience, religion does not do much to fend of existential crisis and awareness. it just causes you to stifle those feelings and nervously laugh them off until they re-emerge as a stress or eating disorder.

  49. KG says

    jjgdenisrobert@49,

    Yes, you’ve already demonstrated your invincible ignorance, there’s no need to do so again.

  50. What a Maroon says

    To take the language analogy further: we pick up the language(s) of our caregivers and the society around us. Some of us are only exposed to one language as children, and for us monolinguals it becomes very difficult to learn new languages as adults or even to understand that there are other ways of organizing a language. Whereas people who grow up with two or more languages are much more sensitive to the differences between languages.

    Also, us USAians are especially susceptible to monolingualism.

  51. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    @daniellavine,

    Sorry, I was being a bit flippant there!

    You are quite right that most works of this type are offering a challenge to the perception of the viewer. It extends to music, with 4′ 33″ perhaps being the most extreme example, and literature (though I can’t for life of me who produced a book with blank pages – I have it in my mind that I have seen one discussed in an article that relates to this type of art… maybe I imagined it and my magnum opus awaits :D)

    I have to say that I find it easier to relate to representational art, even impressionism or pointillism, but the abstract schools throw up a lot of works that tickle my sensibilities (I am too much of an artistic simpleton to be able to offer any coherent criticism, I just know what I like XD)

    I do keep hoping to catch 4′ 33″ on Radio 3 so that I can complain that it was too fast/slow, depending on whether the announcer cuts in too early or late.

  52. Gunboat Diplomat says

    The methods of religious education in the Ireland “the land of saints and scholars” was well portrayed in the Irish journalist Peter Lennons award winning documentary from the 1960′s called ‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWo74HqncMs

    What a great way to educate the masses in critical thought eh??

    Of course he doesn’t even deal with the issues of clerical sexual abuse we now know was rampant but neiher does he deal with the issue of systematic physical violence which was meted out on a daily basis to every student in these schools.

    They used to say of the British navy that its ‘tradition’ was rum sodomy and the lash. Religious orders in charge of education has the same tradition only the victims never even get some rum.

    A genuine quesiton for Alain deBotton – if hes so hot on religious led education how would he like to take a class where to make a mistake or pause or stutter deserves a slap across the face or a crack of a wooden duster on the knuckles or on the top of the head?

  53. chigau (同じ) says

    What about academic “philosophy” and academic “theology”?
    What about “academic” “academia”?
    “Eh”?

  54. Irene Delse says

    @ Antiochus Epiphanes#30:

    The English language’s hospitality to foreign idioms is a lot of fun. ^_^

    @ uncephalized #39:

    Seconded! I love the idea of devising a problem and giving it to the prof to solve! Or to teach stuff to fellow students to see if I’ve really understood (and not be unpleasantly surprised the day of the exam)…

  55. daniellavine says

    @Serendipitydawg:

    Sorry, I was being a bit flippant there!

    Not at all, I wasn’t being clear. Obviously there are contemporary artists like Banksy who do treat the whole thing as kind of a joke (in the normal sense of the word) so I probably should have been more specific about what I meant.

  56. Brownian says

    From personal experience, religion does not do much to fend of existential crisis and awareness. it just causes you to stifle those feelings and nervously laugh them off until they re-emerge as a stress or eating disorder.

    I wonder how many of those theists who espouse religion as a soft solution to the human condition were raised in non-moderate religions before becoming atheists. I suspect not very many.

    When people talk about the feelings of community that church brings, I’m reminded of people who laud living in small towns because everybody knows you and you know everybody. Well yes, it is wonderful sometimes that everybody knows you and you know everybody. But the ugly, flip side to that is that everybody knows you and you know everybody. There’s a reason that many teenagers, especially those who are queer, liberal, or just plain different head for the big cities as soon as they can. It’s absolutely wonderful if you fit in and you’re like everybody else, but it’s hell if you don’t and you’re not.

    Frankly, I need to see something more than some pie-in-the-sky bullshit that if we somehow fake it we’ll have all the pros of small town life like stickball in the field with the boys on summer holiday, and none of the cons like the murder of gay kids.

  57. consciousness razor says

    It’s very likely that this is my own confirmation bias, but this sort of thinking is much more common among those raised as atheists or liberal moderates than those atheists who are apostates from raised less moderate religions.

    I figured the opposite was probably more often the case. (Finke would be an example, but he’s also a philosopher, so he may not be typical.) Perhaps it’s more like those who were very devout than those in “less moderate religions,” but those tend to go together a lot of the time anyway. If someone’s life had been very heavily dominated by religion, it seems like they’d more likely feel as if something very significant was missing whenever they left their religion. Then again, I could see how liberal faithheads more often just enjoy the pomp and circumstance without caring as much about dogmas, so their feelings about that in particular wouldn’t need to change much whenever they make the relatively inconsequential step of getting rid of their beliefs (such as they are — sometimes it seems like they barely had any religious beliefs to begin with).

    ——

    In the Rothko Chapel

  58. duphrane says

    @8,

    I like the idea of purposeful art too, but I don’t think that we should make the mistake of making all art need to conform to conveying some transcendent meaning. It’s entirely possible to look at a piece of art that conveys a particular message, surrounded by art that has different meanings (or no meaning beyond being in some way eye catching), and see it for what it is.

  59. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    @daniellavine,

    Obviously there are contemporary artists like Banksy who do treat the whole thing as kind of a joke (in the normal sense of the word) [...]

    Absolutely a case in point because he has somewhat subverted overt and ironic humour to make his point, and he uses the medium of graffiti, so that causes all sorts of pearls to be clutched.

    Not to say many artists haven’t well and truly taken the piss… obligatory Marcel Duchamp joke referencing his work Fountain, though a more appropriate overt joke may be his Mona Lisa with a beard and ‘tache.

  60. kreativekaos says

    ..Ing @ #54:

    I see what you’re saying and fundamentally agree.
    Although that’s the perception by most, religion and religious ritual (Jebus, do I hate ritual of any kind) it’s a double-edged sword, since a sense of social belonging or solidarity through religion also is/can be a crutch, or simply an excuse for socializing or having that ‘group’ feel with those in the society not able or willing to come to grips with truth or a reasoned world-view.

  61. Irene Delse says

    Art with meaning? And useful meaning, at that? Good luck, Mr de Botton.

    During the Renaissance and Baroque Age, the Roman Catholic Church was a big believer in commissioning works of religious art as a means to teach the masses and bring them closer to God. Consequently, it gave the artists wide new opportunities to study human anatomy, geometry and colour composition – and enabled rich prelates to keep around portraits of half-naked courtesans in the guise of Mary Magdalen, Dalilah, Susanna or Bathsheba.

  62. Brownian says

    @63, consciousness razor:

    That’s equally plausible. I’d forgotten I’d written the part you’d quoted, why is why I went on to say much the same thing with my small town analogy.

    Like I said, I suspect this is my own confirmation bias being raised Catholic and having the typical self-flagellation that goes on with that being externalised when both of my older sisters became teenaged unwed mothers.

  63. says

    Fair warning: Art rant ahead.

    One example of good “all black” paintings: I believe they were hanging at a “generic” chapel (no built-in religious affiliation, for use by any religion). The lighting was good, so that you could see the brush strokes. The artist didn’t take a paint roller and go up and down, he went through a lot of organic curves with a large brush.

    Of course, if I were to encounter a perfectly “flat” black painting that wasn’t just a computer printout, it’d get my attention because I’d be looking for brush strokes or whatever means they used to evenly spread the pigment with the same sense of curiosity I have about a magician’s performance. Heck, even if it was a computer print out, I’d probably spend a little time looking for subtle variations.

    One other example of a flat color painting I liked: It was pretty uniformly a red-orange color. What made it interesting was that it was on a very large, very irregular canvas.

    In fact, I’m feeling slightly inspired to try an amateur paint experiment with uniform color, now. Though I should probably shelve that idea for when I’ve got a place to put it.

    Anyway, another art point I think I should make: The desire for photorealistic paintings went downhill after cameras. Not as much point to hone skills like that when a camera can do the same… Though one thing I think would be amusing: An artist known for highly abstract paintings unveils a classical realistic painting just to poke a little fun at those who said he couldn’t do it.

  64. Sastra says

    Just watched the video and was struck by a couple of points. First, de Botton is far too eager to take secular or human values and grant them to religion: community, enthusiasm, education, calendars, etc.

    Generally speaking, when these take on a specifically religious orientation they become dogmatic, divisive, unthinking, and shallow. If you’re going to say but oh, let’s do them so they’re not any of those things, then you’re not modelling yourself after religion, are you? It’s rather like saying let’s look to fascist dictators to see how to motivate patriotism in crowds — only let’s adapt their techniques so that it’s a more reasonable patriotism and less likely to turn people into jingoistic mobs. “Adapt?” Why not just call it a rejection upfront and invoke a more reasonable model in the first place?

    To his credit, he tells the moderator at the end that he doesn’t consider a sense of wonder and awe at the proportions of a natural universe something that is “borrowed” from religion. But then he makes a rather silly argument over how atheism needs to be more “polite” and just ignore religious people when they talk about how they like to pray, or whatever. I’m so glad he knows where to draw the line between being a pest and being forthright — and can instruct others on the specifics so easily, and with so little specifics.

    Accomodationists are very, very big on the idea of Moving On when it comes to dealing with religion — and this is why the religious love them so (the best kind of atheist is one who doesn’t argue with me!) No kidding.

    Sorry, we atheists can’t — or shouldn’t — ‘move on’ from the main topic (whether religion is true) until we are no longer scorned, hated, pitied, and despised because we don’t believe in God.

    Ironically, de Bottom begins his talk by saying that the new extremist atheists aren’t going to say they like Christmas carols — even though IIRC both Dawkins and Dennett have gone on record as liking Christmas carols. But you can’t stuff a proper straw man with accuracy.

  65. Brownian says

    One other example of a flat color painting I liked: It was pretty uniformly a red-orange color. What made it interesting was that it was on a very large, very irregular canvas.

    If by very large, very irregular canvas, you mean ‘four bedroom walls’, then thanks, Bronze Dog. I’m pretty happy with it too, though I was a little worried when the GF™ came home with Guava Jam.

  66. consciousness razor says

    Like I said, I suspect this is my own confirmation bias being raised Catholic and having the typical self-flagellation that goes on with that being externalised when both of my older sisters became teenaged unwed mothers.

    I was also Catholic, had to endure the same sort of things, and grew up in an insulated little piece of shit town that everyone thought was just perfect for “raising families,” which is apparently code for “fear of anything remotely ‘different.’” So… I empathize.

  67. kreativekaos says

    Certainly, a highly minimalist piece of art would presumably draw a CURIOUS or INTERESTED observer in even more deeply, as they might think,
    ‘There must be something here that I’m not seeing? What could it be? ‘
    Theme, thought and reflection: one of the purposes of art (whether one likes a piece aesthetically or not).

  68. kreativekaos says

    (Does anyone feel that, instead of colleagues among the New Atheist Movement debating creationists, ID-ers and the like,… it might be MUCH more interesting for them to debate with those in the atheist sub-group like de Botton, Chris Mooney, others??? Just wonderin’..)

  69. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    The limit in the UK a couple of years back was an exhibition of plinths with title labels… that really was minimalist, though an extreme minimalist would have dispensed with the plinths XD

    Representationalist backsliders!

    A True Minimalist would have not had the plinths, the labels or even the actual exhibition. He/she/they would not have mentioned it to anyone, nor even allowed the thought to enter their minds. However, since self-satisfaction has always been a big part of the experience of being a Trendy Artiste (as opposed to actual artists who in my experience are driven by a wide range of urges and needs) I’m sure they would allow themselves a moments satisfied glow at having not had the show.

  70. epikt says

    Serendipitydawg:
    “I do keep hoping to catch 4′ 33″ on Radio 3 so that I can complain that it was too fast/slow, depending on whether the announcer cuts in too early or late.”

    Funny, I was humming that piece in the car on my way to work this morning.

  71. Sastra says

    More than one humanist/atheist/skeptic convention has had a discussion panel which contained both accomodationists and gnus discussing and debating “strategy.” My recollection is that most of the participants spend most of their time trying to debunk how the Other Side sees them. Sparks seldom fly.

    PZ has been on several of these panels. He would probably be able to give perspective on how useful or interesting they are.

    The one I remember most however was at TAM 2, well before the two sides had even been given names. Penn Gillette ripped into nice Eugenie Scott for the NSCE’s stance on science and religion. That was … awesome. And not expected.

  72. kreativekaos says

    Brownian,..interesting discussion in that link.

    Sastra, interesting ( is there a link to a video or transcript of that panel debate?)

  73. Brownian says

    Brownian,..interesting discussion in that link.

    Remember, “Tom Johnson” (Wally Smith in real life, since he’s compulsively unable to stop) is the liar who fabricated that the situation. I don’t recognise if some of the the other commenters are sockpuppets of his, though I thought some at the time were.

    Anyway, here’s some more background on the story:

    http://thebuddhaisnotserious.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/the-curious-case-of-the-youre-not-helping-blog/

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/on-the-incivility-of-atheists-tom-johnson-and-exhibit-a/

  74. Ichthyic says

    LOL

    I watched it.

    short version:

    “I’m a guy who likes the fancy rituals and trappings of religion, but don’t want the metaphysics. You should all be like me!”

    sad. nothing but projection.

  75. luiskrause says

    Accomodationst clowns are a dime a dozen.
    Finding someone to fill Hitchens’ shoes is gonna be a tough one.

  76. kreativekaos says

    Brownian, thank you greatly for those links. (Wish I had the time to keep up on every incident of deception in the never-ending efforts to discredit scientists and leaders in the NA movement.)

  77. says

    I guess there’s a market now for “what next?”, which should be taken as a victory for atheism 1.0 (whatever).

  78. zb24601 says

    He attributes some things to religion which are not exclusive to religion, such as community and morality. Then he lists those as things from religion that we need to keep. Most (if not all) of the good things from religion are NOT exclusive to religion, and we do not need to accept any religious mumbo-jumbo in order to get the benefits of those things. (In the case of morality, secular morality is generally far superior to religious morality). If that is Atheism 2.0, I’ll stick with Atheism 1.x and wait to see what Atheism 3.0 brings.

  79. rr says

    Maybe some people just can’t accept that all of the billions and billions of person-hours spent on religion have been a waste of time. They think there has to be something in it worth salvaging.

  80. jonmoles says

    I hate this take the good and leave the bad argument, at least in regard to religion. First of all, the bad is REALLY bad, as bad as it gets. As for the good, there is nothing inherent in religion that can be labeled good that doesn’t already exist in some other discipline or field of study. When it comes to religion, throwing the baby out with the bathwater doesn’t apply. The bathwater is befouled beyond use and the baby isn’t dirty to begin with.

  81. Ichthyic says

    all of the billions and billions of person-hours spent on religion have been a waste of time.

    actually it’s been far, far, FAR worse than a waste of time.

    We could only wish it had been nothing but a waste of time.

  82. Rey Fox says

    I don’t want a new label, I want whole new modes of thought.

    Are they really new though? Empiricism has been around longer than religion. Secular ethics have most likely been around longer as well.

    Anyway, I’ve always thought Germans were the crème de la crème of philosophers

    Not according to the championship match.

  83. kreativekaos says

    Rey Fox @ #91: Love the Python link!
    TOO fuckin’ funny!!!! (And being a Python fan since the mid-70′s, I thought I remembered many of the sketches. I don’t recall seeing this one (but then it’s been a long time since I’ve seem ‘em)– but it’s precious!! LMFAO at watching it.)

  84. mikee says

    I agree with Alain – we should take the good things from religion and merge them with atheism.

    The problem is that religion does not provide anything good that atheism doesn’t already have, so this arguement is irrelevant.

  85. kreativekaos says

    “I agree with Alain – we should take the good things from religion and merge them with atheism.

    The problem is that religion does not provide anything good that atheism doesn’t already have, so this arguement is irrelevant.”

    Maybe more accurately stated as,… religion doesn’t provide anything as good or better than what fundamental social and ethical evolution has brought us to already, which is what many of the virtues of religion have co-opted over time.

  86. unclefrogy says

    art that is too large a subject for a blog post or a comment.
    all art has some purpose though not always readily perceived some art even has multiple purposes. if it is meant that all art should be purposeful that it should be easily understood and fit into some list of approved purposes being easily accessible then, who would compile such a list of approved criteria? Some of modern and contemporary art is expressly pushing the boundaries of all questions of what is and should be art and for what purpose.

    the rest of make none belief like belief is makes so little sense that I doubt any of the ideas have ever been thought about in anything more than a superficial way.

    uncle frogy

  87. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    I’m a bit sad about all this; I used to enjoy de Botton’s books and tv series – How Proust Can Change Your Life was fun; Status Anxiety was excellent; The Consolations of Philosophy had its moments; and The Architecture of Happiness made me look at buildings in a whole different way.

    But this? Blerk. Absolute rubbish.

  88. says

    He must be doing alright with book sales, there’s 20 de Botton’s for every Kant or Hume on local bookstore shelves.
    I think what PZ points out here is important, not only is religion wrong, it also takes the wrong approach, it’s a flawed method and way of knowing. I don’t think we emphasize that enough.

  89. says

    Repetition doesn’t work? I need more details on that. I just learned how make wires in SolidWorks using splines and sweep extrusions. I watched the YouTube video over and over stopping at each step and going back again and again until I got it right. Now it’s a breeze!

  90. lizdamnit says

    I watched the YouTube video over and over stopping at each step and going back again and again until I got it right.

    Practice =/= repetition

  91. satanaugustine says

    I agree with anyone who thought this TED talk was nonsense.

    Now, about the art stuff, Botton is painfully wrong about this as well. Re: the canvas painted a solid black. How would Botton categorize this? Would it go into the “Love Room” of the museum, the “Cutesy Ootsy,” room, or the “Canvases painted a single solid color” room?

    I can both understand the desire to dismiss the black canvas as “not art,” and the desire to look at it more closely, examining the brush strokes, the texture. But, it’s still conceptional art that wouldn’t be that interesting to look at. And if something qualifies as art because it evokes an angry response (as some have suggested), is Pat Robertson a work of art? Imagine instead a multicolored, semi-abstract work were you could appreciate the texture as well as the colors and the representational aspect of the art. I give you Gerhard Richter: https://www.google.com/search?q=gerhard+richter&hl=en&rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS434US434&prmd=imvnso&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=uvQYT6KyH-ru0gG715SVCw&ved=0CFcQsAQ&biw=1366&bih=643

    Sorry about the above mess. Is there a way to do hyperlinks?

    Bronze Dog at 70

    Anyway, another art point I think I should make: The desire for photorealistic paintings went downhill after cameras. Not as much point to hone skills like that when a camera can do the same… Though one thing I think would be amusing: An artist known for highly abstract paintings unveils a classical realistic painting just to poke a little fun at those who said he couldn’t do it.

    If you check out the link above you’ll find an artist who was known for highly abstract paintings who did some fine photorealistic paintings as well. By photorealistic paintings do you mean paintings that are sometimes indistinguishable from actual photographs, because I personally find that kind of art extraordinary? And it certainly didn’t go out of style with the invention of the camera. Photorealism (aka hyper-realism and super-realism) was big in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

    Richard Estes is one of my favorite photorealists. He often painted urban scenes, including storefronts with multiple layers – the inside of the store, the reflections on the store windows – complex stuff. Here’s a link to some of his work from the 60s and 70s: http://www.amusingplanet.com/2010/04/paintings-that-look-like-photos-by.html.

    EVERYONE: This is one of the most amazing paintings I have ever seen. It is a photorealist painting of a bowl of cherries by Italian painter, Luciano Ventrone. Be sure to click on the painting to make it larger. Try to find the brush strokes. I can’t: http://www.nysun.com/pics/309.jpg
    Call me crazy, but this is far more interesting and takes considerably more talent than painting a canvas black, no matter how skillfully the black canvas painting is executed.

  92. satanaugustine says

    BTW, I think John cage’s 4’33″ is a brilliant conceptual work that pleasantly enough contains content as well. It’s just that the content is different every time.

    I’ve been considering for several years now doing a dance remix of 4’33″. No one may steal this idea and anyhow, I’m the only person who knows how to execute it. I should also finally start work on my “Music for Deaf People” piece as well. I can’t decide whether or not I should combine the two. It may simply depend on the limits of my super-low-tech equipment.

  93. speedweasel says

    Some people really are just desperate to carve themselves a niche. They’ll say anything to get the audience they crave.

  94. unclefrogy says

    there is another aspect of art that is generally over looked by the none art world. That would be the experimental aspect of art especially the more abstracted work. some times it just works and therefor is successful, some times it works for unexpected reasons and sometimes the work fails in interesting ways. The artist is the one who decides to exhibit which ones and why. Just like music, also an art, no one is expected to like all of it.

    uncle frogy

  95. says

    I don’t “get” post modern art outside of its historical context. Understanding the movement and what was trying to be conveyed makes it an interesting exercise, but it doesn’t hold the aesthetic value or richness that other styles of art hold. It’s not about whether or not anyone can do it (though that does seem a common complaint), it’s just that without the appreciation of the context it doesn’t seem to convey much of anything.

  96. psattler says

    My visits to Pharyngula have, over the past year or two, dropped from daily to monthly — at best. This thread reminds me why.

    With a few strong exceptions, we get:

    de Botton — stupid
    his name — scatological
    religion — dumb
    philosophy — stupid
    Modern art (Malevich through Cage) — a sham
    “academia” — wankers
    literature — hey, what about that novel of blank pages!
    critical thinking — whatever’s left / whatever we do

    Of course, some come in and try to salvage the conversation, noting that, hey, there is *something* interesting about some aspects of philosophy, and something potentially powerful about some aspects of Modernism. Let’s not throw it all out, a few suggest. Let’s explore and maintain what remains powerful and interesting.

    And, suddenly, they sound like Alain de Botton. (Which is better than sounding, I admit, like a blowhard from the New Criterion.)

  97. KG says

    And, suddenly, they sound like Alain de Botton. – psattler

    I was one of those defending philosohpy. And, I deeply resent the notion that I resemble Alain de Botton in any way.

  98. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    but it doesn’t hold the aesthetic value or richness that other styles of art hold.

    OPINION ALERT

  99. psattler says

    Hi KG,

    I think it’s wasted energy to resent a notion, much less to resent in boldface. But I do appreciate your standing up for philosophical insight — and even (gasp) professional, academic philosophy.

    Look, I disagree with more than half of what de Botton says. His ideas go against much of how I teach literature, and most of how I think about art.

    But I saw very little direct engagement with his ideas. Therefore I wrote a post disagreeing with the disagreement, which came off mainly as knee-jerk anti-intellectualism.

    In fact, wouldn’t you say that the anti-modernism, anti-art stuff that we saw here supports at least one of the de Botton’s points — namely, that people often get upset and frustrated by art that refuses to explain itself. Stupid Rothko. Huckster Cage.

    I disagree with *both* that anti-modernist reaction and de Botton’s suggested remedy — but the diagnosis seems plausible, if not original.

    Indeed, I think that the fact you would feel the need to “defend philosophy” in a site visited by soi-disant critical thinkers supports my reaction.

    So even if you don’t resemble de Botton, I can’t help but think that you resemble me.

  100. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But I saw very little direct engagement with his ideas.

    “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence”, Christopher Hitchens. We don’t get into discussing the fine points of bad thinking, just mock it. And this is a classic example of bad thinking.

  101. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    EVERYONE: This is one of the most amazing paintings I have ever seen. It is a photorealist painting of a bowl of cherries by Italian painter, Luciano Ventrone. Be sure to click on the painting to make it larger. Try to find the brush strokes. I can’t: http://www.nysun.com/pics/309.jpg
    Call me crazy, but this is far more interesting and takes considerably more talent than painting a canvas black, no matter how skillfully the black canvas painting is executed.

    I find it really funny how people put these requirements on art.

    There are different types of art. Too many to put in neat little groups that satisfy your requirements.

    Is a Henri Cartier-Bresson photo, done out wandering around with a single 50mm lens, better or worse than a massively produced Annie Lebowitz or David LaChapelle photo? They’re different. Are those photographs better art than a Henry Moore sculpture? A William Dunlap or a Howard Finster painting? How about a Chihuly glass installation or a Miles Davis solo?

    If you feel the need to have to fit art in to nice little boxes of categories and have them all line up so you can compare them like this you’re missing the point. Are technical skills the only thing that matters? Vision? Luck? Environment?

    You are of course welcome to your own opinion, but limiting your self when appreciating art is only doing yourself a disservice.

    It’s not like judging the validity or accuracy of a scientific paper.

    /rant

    /More Opinion alert

  102. What a Maroon says

    I should also finally start work on my “Music for Deaf People” piece as well.

    Deaf people already enjoy music.

  103. rr says

    actually it’s been far, far, FAR worse than a waste of time.

    Yeah – waste of lives, waste of resources, waste of intelligence. But no shortage of people willing to sing the praises of the boot bearing down on their neck.

  104. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    We don’t get into discussing the fine points of bad thinking, just mock it.

    Is that the royal we or the editorial we? Or, once again, are you speaking for everyone without having fuckall to say?

    If you hadn’t noticed, NoR, we discuss the finer points of bad thinking all the time. Being a devoted reader of these threads has made me a damned expert in MRAs, PUAs, libertarians, AGW deniers, woo-peddlers and wackaloons of every stripe.

    psattler:

    But I saw very little direct engagement with his ideas.

    And you have done nothing to amend this, other than providing additional metacommentary*. Despite an earlier claim that I made, I did listen to Botton’s TED talk. It had very little content that I hadn’t heard many times before. There isn’t really that much to engage that hasn’t been discussed on a million other threads. But feel free to engage whenever.

    Really OT: I had never seen “soi-disant”. I learned something from your metacomment, so it wasn’t wasted, as far as I’m concerned. I also had never heard about Malevich’s Black Square. I don’t think a computer monitor does it justice, but it was fun to look at. So not a waste there either.

    *I’m normally fine with metacommentary, except when it serves only to whinge about metacommentary.

  105. thunderbird5 says

    @#6

    Add Old Harrovian to that list (Harrow Eton and Rugby are the triumvirate of English public schools).

    This is where such a belief-beggaring lack of understanding of the realities and needs of education got its start.

  106. rebeccasparks says

    Can you imagine a van Gogh hanging on the wall, with a little checklist next to it telling you what it is supposed to mean, and everyone dutifully reading the museum’s imperative and making sure they’ve got exactly the right interpretation?

    Yes, actually I can. Have you been to an art museum lately? There’s more than just paintings on the wall. There are plaques with information, a lot like this webpage about Starry Night by van Ghoh that gives context to the artist, the painting and its meaning, and its technical merit. You don’t need a guard to make sure that kids interpret paintings “correctly”–the implicit authority of the curator

  107. rebeccasparks says

    Can you imagine a van Gogh hanging on the wall, with a little checklist next to it telling you what it is supposed to mean, and everyone dutifully reading the museum’s imperative and making sure they’ve got exactly the right interpretation?
    Yes, actually I can. Have you been to an art museum lately? There is more than just paintings on the wall. There are plaques with information, a lot like this webpage about Starry Night by van Ghoh that gives context to the artist, the painting and its meaning, and its technical merit. You don’t need a guard to make sure that kids interpret paintings “correctly”–the implicit authority of the curator as an expert will suffice.
    This is how your scene really plays out–Some excited little girl makes the mistake of looking at the painting not the placard and telling her mother, “Look at the light and color shining through the confusion!” The mother looks at the placard and says, “Actually sweetie, the artist was talking about obedience. He was saying bad things could happen if you don’t follow the rules.” Gradually the girl will learn to look at the placard to understand or double check what she is seeing—and the action will be so natural that it becomes automatic.
    This is not to say that this is necessarily bad. Art appreciation is learned.

    —Sorry, it only posted 1/2 of my comment. If you can tell me how to delete it I would appreciate it :D

  108. Circe says

    Rev Big Dumb Chimp:

    I think the reason why most people have a peeve with modern art (and I have one too) is that the notion of “value” there seems to be very closely tied to reputation. A black canvas painting or this one, if made by an art undergrad, won’t fetch a 10$ bill, but would fetch a million dollars if made by someone with a reputations. Couple that with the frequent demonstrations that art critics (much like literary critics) are very often shown to engage in Sokalian “Fashionable Nonsense”. I think many people, especially those in science, have a problem with an area where the value of a work, or its interpretation, depends upon the reputation of the artist or the critic. This clashes strongly with the value system in scientific disciplines, where there are usually good enough objective criteria that in the long run (and very often, in the short run too) the true worth of a piece of work is determined independent of the reputation of who did the work.

  109. says

    It’s an old thread, but this morning I ended up remembering something and connecting it to the rote memorization thing discussed here. It was a sketch on Sesame Street I saw as a kid.

    I don’t remember the whole setup (and some details might be off after the decades), but Grover was demonstrating his mastery of counting, and Kermit led him to a group of six (plastic) pineapples stacked in a pyramid for him to count, which he did. Kermit then led him over to a stack of six blocks, in the same formation. When Kermit asks him to count the blocks, Grover breaks down and cries, telling him that he only knows how to count pineapples. Kermit faces the camera and grimaces in his signature fashion.

  110. blamer says

    de Botton, the Buddhists are already religious and atheistic.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_in_Buddhism

    The non-religious atheist recognises that religious teachings contain mistaken information about this world and this life.

    Moreover that the misinformation of religions so stubbornly resists correction expressly because its bound by religious identity and tradition. It’s that faith in the ancients (holymen/books) that particularly concerns the New Atheists. They see religious subcultures falling further behind the increasing speed of academia, particularly the sciences and ethics philosophers.

  111. says

    blamer,

    did you read your link?

    There are gods in Buddhism, though they are usually not seen as all-powerful like in your standard monotheist religion. More like saints in Catholicism, or the gods of Hinduism, I guess…

    And some gods actually see themselves as creator gods, though most Buddhist sects don’t adhere to that view. But especially for Buddhist sets worshipping Guanyin some hold this view. And see Amithaba for a Buddhist Jesus-like saviour figure.