George & Marshall

Marshall McLuhan‘s name can hardly be mentioned with the mention and discussion of the phrase, mantra even, “the medium is the message.”  McLuhan, the Alberta-born professor, theorist and critic was best known for his argument, simplified above, that one cannot discuss a text as being seperate from the medium by which it is presented.

He also spent a good deal of time with the daunting Finnegan’s Wake, which he compared with the development of radio and television.  From this work “McLuhan articulated his perceptions of media as extensions of the human body, and of electronic media, in particular, as extensions of the nervous system, imposing, like poetry, their own assumptions on the psyche of the user” as put by Philip Marchand on McCluhan’s website.

He also helps Woody Allen to shut this hack up in Annie Hall

George Berkeley was an Irish empiricist who took a rather peeculiar angle on the relationship between perception, material reality and the existence of God.  He is referred to, as usual, in contrast with David hume in Borges’s “Tlon, Iqbar, Orbis Tertius.”  The narrator agrees that Hume’s rejection of Berkeley stands up well in our own earthly situation, but that the presupposition of idealism in the “language…religion, letters, metaphysics” of Tlor accommodates the God-fearing, sense-trusting Irishman’s strange argument.

Berkeley’s argument has been perhaps unfairly and barbarously reduced to something like this:

If an object, event or other sensory phenomenon goes unperceived, has it fallen out of existence?  He thinks that the answer is yes, but that God’s omnipresent observation ensures us that everything we casually call “the material world” (not to get hung up on whether it still is material for Berkeley–he thinks it is not material but it’s hard to say where it is different from the traditional view of material) will exist consistently even when we turn our backs.  Thanks to God, we can confidently come to our senses and trust what they tell us, because everything exists in his mind.  Like I said this is a violent summary, but the argument can be  found in its natural environment here:  Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous

Less eloquently than Hume, but more famously nonetheless Samuel Johnson offered his opposition to Berkeley’s principle that “to be is to be perceived” by kicking a heavy stone, exclaiming “I refute him thus!”

Ian Alexander


~ by dukerogersnelson on February 1, 2010.

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