Saturday, November 26, 2011

What is this, Horse[chat]?

Cuz I am surrounded by naysayers!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Can’t & Won’t: Two Different Words

It seems to be the case that people are confused about the definitions of can’t and won’t. I think this confusion is problematic. By using these terms interchangeably, or in the wrong way, one creates a psychological problem for oneself by conceiving of one’s situation incorrectly. So, this rant isn’t about clarity of language so much as it is about psychological, mental health. Once we understand the difference between can’t and won’t, we can employ these terms correctly and deal reality as it actually is. In order to understand the difference between can’t and won’t, begin by considering these two sentences:

(A) I can’t have a baby.
(B) I won’t have a baby.

Ponder those for a moment. What is the difference between A and B?

CAN’T indicates an impossibility. If I can’t do X, then it is impossible for me to do X.
One can translate any utterance of “I can’t X” with “It is impossible for me to X”.

WON’T indicates a lack of willingness or volition, a choosing otherwise. If I won’t do X, then I am unwilling to do X.
One can translate any utterance of “I won’t X” with “I am unwilling to X.”

Now that we’ve squared away those definitions, let’s test what we’ve learned by considering these pairs of sentences to determine the sentence in each pair that utilizes the term can’t / won’t correctly:

(A1) I can’t have a baby, because of my hysterectomy.
(A2) I can’t have a baby, because I am a busy lawyer.

(B1) I won’t have a baby, because of my hysterectomy.
(B2) I won’t have a baby, because I am a busy lawyer.

A1 and B2 are linguistically correct statements. A2 and B1 are wrongheaded nonsense. Let’s assess each sentence.

A1: A1 correctly indicates an impossibility. A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of a uterus. A uterus is required for having a baby. It is impossible for a woman who has no uterus to have a baby. Therefore, it is correct to say that hysterectomy woman CAN’T have a baby.

B2: B2 confuses impossibility with unwillingness. Since some lawyers have babies it is incorrect to state that it is impossible for a lawyer to have a baby.

B1: Since a hysterectomy renders an individual incapable of having a baby, it is incorrect to say that hysterectomy woman won’t have a baby. While there is no baby to be had, the lack of a baby does not result from a lack of desire or willingness. Instead, the lack of a baby results from an impossibility of there being a baby.

B2: B2 correctly indicates a lack of willingness. It is possible for a lawyer to have a baby. Therefore, the won’t in B2 correctly identifies a lack of willingness instead of a lack of possibility.

Having assessed the definitions of can’t and won’t via these examples, we now understand the difference between can’t and won’t, and the situations in which each term can be correctly utilized. Can’t indicates an impossibility whereas won’t indicates a lack of willingness.

The Moral "Problem":

One nagging problem for the can’t / won’t distinction is the mistaken thought that a relation exists between morality/ethics and possibility. Some individuals, for example, would argue that a Christian can’t eat shrimp, because of Leviticus 11: 9 – 12. The attempt is to smuggle ethical or moral considerations into one’s conception of possibility. The argument goes like this: Even if a Christian could perform the physical actions require to consume shrimp, the belief in Leviticus would render this act to be impossible.

Which, you know, is moronic.

The answer to this problem is to ask why shrimp consumption is impossible under the Christian schema. When the Christian replies, “It is impossible because the Bible says ‘thall shall not’.” one can calmly remind the Christian that “shall” is a version of “should” and Should Is A Funny Word. The Bible’s shall does not undermine one’s ability to consume shrimp but rather it elicits an emotive response that causes an unwillingness to consume shrimp. This lack of consumption is based on an emotive response and so it falls under the purview of won’t. Remember our translations:

“I can’t X.” = “It is impossible for me to X.”
“I won’t X.” = “I am unwilling to X.”

If a person insists that their ethical or moral code creates an impossibility, rather than an unwillingness, then you may calmly reply: “So, your ethical / moral code is like having a hysterectomy, only instead of your uterus being removed, your physical ability to chew and swallow shrimp has been removed?”

If they affirm that claim, then we walk away. Slowly. Without turning our backs on them. Because they are fucking crazy people.

I think it helpful to clearly understand the meanings of the words we use, and understand the impact our linguistic utterances have on our understanding of reality. If an individual continually says “I can’t X” then that person is reinforcing the notion that X is an impossibility. But if we assess X, determine that it is not impossible, and begin to say “I won’t X” instead, then we can begin to deal with one’s actual relation to X, rather than one’s confused and mistaken understanding of the situation.

The only problem lies in discerning possibility. But that is for another rant.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - Zelda in the Sky

I’m playing Skyward Sword at the moment, and while I haven't finished it yet, what I really want to talk about is the Zelda series.

I fear that the series, as with many others, uses each iteration to make strictly mechanical changes of the sort where the locations and setting are different, the player gets to try new or modified abilities, the game is in 3D instead of 2D, etc. I expect this is so because of the emphasis on fun, which probably requires a certain level of novelty and variety to really work. If it were enough to just keep giving you the same swords and bows every time without also throwing in double hookshots and remote controlled bugs, then it would make better financial sense to just replay an old Zelda game instead of buying the new one.

The problem is that a large part of what differentiates one Zelda from the next really just boils down to what tools he’s using to solve dungeons and kill bosses. Sure, there is always at least a barebones story to justify taking Link around the world, but that story is largely the same every time. I don’t know that I’d necessarily care about that if, as with Mario, the fundamental story was kept at a superficial or silly level.

After Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, though, it sure looked like Nintendo was wanting to tell a story with a little more weight. I reckon that was about the time when they started to build a mythology around Hyrule, they began to flesh out Ganon as a character and experimented with who Link and Zelda really are. Yet as cinematic as those games are, and as relatively complex as the characters may be, I’m not convinced that Nintendo has ever felt the need to go any farther towards doing something truly good with what they have. The mid-to-late ‘90s Zelda is apparently as deep as the mythology is prepared go, while the toolset Link uses goes ever deeper.

That isn’t to say that the story in each game is interchangeable, nor that I have ignored or disliked the tweaks Nintendo is making to the relationships between characters and the particulars of the plot here and there as time goes on. But I think that’s just another way of making mechanical changes in the same way that adding a new tool is mechanical. It keeps things fresh and fun, sure, otherwise there really would be no reason not to just replay the old games, but I can’t help but wish that they could find a way to elevate the series from a franchise based on amusement and finally reach some kind of payoff for the narrative groundwork they started laying two decades ago.

As it stands, they've got a reasonable adventure outline, a villain who is often sympathetic, and a heroine who has shown herself capable of participating in the adventure. Link is still a bit intangible as a hero, but they could give him a personality easily enough, I should think. Wind Waker surprised me with its emotional punch, though I wouldn't say the series consistently does that right. On the whole, I think the stories are competent and well-crafted, they're just missing a narrative that brings all of these things together in a way that communicates something more meaningful than "be a good person and not a bad person".

Actually, I would settle for a Zelda game that uses that same message, but does so with some subtlety. I have to admit that I don't yet mind hearing the same kinds of stories endlessly so long as I have to do a little work to interpret them. It's great that Nintendo is working hard to keep making Zelda fun, I just wish they would put forth a little effort to make it interesting as well. What I really want is a Zelda game where thinking about the story is rewarding, perhaps even more so than thinking about playing the game.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chuck Norris is a Hunter

WoW's 7th Anniversary

WoW turns 7 on November 23, 2011. If you log in between November 20th and December 3rd, you can get an achievement and a little novelty item.

I think Kyle is the only one of you who still has an active account. So, yeah, log in for your achieve!