About Daniel Podgorski

Daniel Podgorski is a Californian author, essayist, researcher, and web developer. On The Gemsbok, he provides art reviews (on books, games, and movies) and philosophy articles. His areas of expertise are literature and philosophy, with most of his academic research (as well as most of his informal research) focusing on intersections between the two. He has had poetry, short stories, and articles published in various academic and literary journals. His short fiction has placed first (and as a finalist) in both competition and conference settings.

[Topics: Anthropic Principle, Logic, Physics]
Tautological Wisdom:

The Anthropic Principle, Carl Sagan, and Accounting for the Simplicity of the Physical Laws

 

Carl Sagan Sketch by M.R.P. - The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence - Brandon Carter - Anthropic Principle, physical laws

Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

I should start by saying that I am well aware that Carl Sagan was not (in the strictest sense) a philosopher. His areas of expertise, as you may well know, were biology, physics, and mathematics. But he was a scientist who, unlike many of today’s most famous science advocates, had a deep respect for and interest in the humanities.

Indeed, in Sagan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book on contemporary neuroscience and anthropology, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, he writes (when concluding a section on the research results concerning the partial specialization of the two halves of the brain), “I think the most significant creative activities of our or any other human culture—legal and ethical systems, art and music, science and technology—were made possible only through the collaborative work of the left and right cerebral hemispheres” (Sagan 195).

And in that same book, Sagan references and engages with philosophical work by Plato, St. Augustine, Sigmund Freud, and Henry David Thoreau (among others). I have striven in this series to stress the need for mutual respect, mutual education, and even fruitful overlap between philosophy and science, and have upheld other individuals who endorse that confluence. Carl Sagan was one such individual.

Toward the end of The Dragons of Eden, Sagan engages briefly with the topic of the comprehensibility of the universe (in a passage from which I draw a lengthy quotation below). When I first read that part of his book, it occurred to me quite suddenly that Sagan, while not spot-on in my reckoning, was pointing toward a very promising low-level explanation for the seemingly remarkable notion that the fundamental physical laws strike us as mathematically simple—or at the very least comprehensible. In order to explain my interpretation of Sagan’s thought, I would like to first briefly discuss a closely related subject: the Anthropic Principle.

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[Topics: Anthropic Principle, Logic, Physics]
Tautological Wisdom:

The Anthropic Principle, Carl Sagan, and Accounting for the Simplicity of the Physical Laws

was last modified: April 27th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980]
Peopling Picaresque:

On the Well-drawn Characters of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

 

Introduction:

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole sketch by M.R.P. - characters, picaresque

Sketch by M.R.P.

The publishing history of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is a morose one to recount. In 1969, at the age of 31—after struggling for years with anxiety, paranoia, and depression, which were in turn catalyzed by the successive rejections of his works for publication by notable figures in the publishing business—Toole ran a garden hose from the exhaust of his car into an unventilated cabin, killing himself. Eleven years after his death, in 1980, Toole’s novel was published after his mother shared it with writer and enthusiastic reader Walker Percy. In time, it became an international success, and A Confederacy of Dunces posthumously won John Kennedy Toole the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.

I mention all of this not merely to set the scene and sow sadness, but to establish the proper context for today’s topic: the development and embodiment of unique characters in Toole’s novel. A Confederacy of Dunces is a work of picaresque fiction, meaning that it follows the wayward exploits of a singular or iconoclastic protagonist as they attempt to navigate a variety of societal strata and scenarios. Toole was himself a singular person: a gifted scholar, a witty presence, and a troubled mind; and as a result, his protagonist is perfectly drawn for his project, while all of the other characters that Toole created are equally vibrant.

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[Work: A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980]
Peopling Picaresque:

On the Well-drawn Characters of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

was last modified: September 1st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Defense Grid: The Awakening, Hidden Path Entertainment, 2008]
Towering Tower Defense:

In Praise of the Gameplay, Execution, and Aesthetics of Hidden Path’s Original Defense Grid

 

Defense Grid: The Awakening screenshot with mid-game challenge level - Hidden Path Entertainment - tower defense game

Introduction:

The topic of today’s article is a game which is roughly eight years old, and which resides in the curious genre of tower defense: Defense Grid: The Awakening. I call tower defense a curious genre because the formula of tower defense is a simple one, and yet one which is rather often poorly executed. For this article, I just want to talk about what that formula is, and how Hidden Path managed to impeccably nail it (in addition to doing other things right).

It is amazing to me that Defense Grid is almost a decade old now, as I first played it less than two years ago and, due in no small part to its economical aesthetics, the game still felt fresh and new. In short, it has aged incredibly well so far. Indeed, what is perhaps most striking is the fact that so very many tower defense games have been produced in the eight years since Defense Grid released, which by and large continue to make the same mistakes that Defense Grid so gracefully and thoroughly avoided.

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[Game: Defense Grid: The Awakening, Hidden Path Entertainment, 2008]
Towering Tower Defense:

In Praise of the Gameplay, Execution, and Aesthetics of Hidden Path’s Original Defense Grid

was last modified: July 11th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather, 1927]
Personal Ethics and the Old West:

The Unique Form and Common Values of Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop

 

Willa Cather - Death Comes for the Archbishop - ethics, Old West, CatholicIntroduction:

One of the first books covered in this series was one of my favorites: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. And, as I said in relation to Wells’ Moreau in that earlier article, it is the case that even if today’s book, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa CatherDeath Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather - ethics, Old West, Catholic, were not well-written enough to be worthwhile throughout (which, also like Wells’ novel, it fortunately is), it would still be worth reading so as to provide context for its extremely insightful and satisfying ending. But that said, I would like to set the ending aside and encourage you to check out this curious piece of semi-biographical historical fiction.

Death Comes for the Archbishop so stretches the boundaries of conventional plot development that its status as a novel is widely debated. Willa Cather herself preferred to refer to it as a narrative rather than a novel. Rather than a series of events which build to a climax, the text is comprised of nine small vignette-esque sections (and a prologue) which present periods of time and experiences that are thematically interrelated.

All nine sections cover portions of the life of Bishop Jean Marie Latour, the novel’s protagonist. Bishop Latour is a reserved, efficient, handsome Catholic official. In accordance with the will of the Cardinals, Latour is removed from his post in Sandusky, Ohio and sent to take charge of the parish of the New Mexico territories, (then) recently annexed by the United States, and build up a diocese there.

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[Work: Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather, 1927]
Personal Ethics and the Old West:

The Unique Form and Common Values of Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop

was last modified: July 23rd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: prog.1, Vector Arcade, 2016]
Pithy Platforming:

On the Strong Visual Design, Strong Thematic Gameplay, and Light Content of prog.1

 

prog.1 screenshot with late-game level - Vector Arcade

Introduction:

Today I am writing about a somewhat unique take on a common indie gaming design trope: casting the player in the role of a computer program. It worked for A Virus Named Tom and it worked for Thomas Was Alone; but does it work for Vector Arcade’s new platformer prog.1?

I played through all 48 of prog.1‘s levels three times prior to writing this review (my reasons for doing so are available below as well), and I am ready to provide my assessment. The general form of my experience with the game is that I am mostly pleased with it. I enjoyed the gameplay, loved the visual design, and found the story energetic. But I also found the game light on content and had a number of minor nitpicks.

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[Game: prog.1, Vector Arcade, 2016]
Pithy Platforming:

On the Strong Visual Design, Strong Thematic Gameplay, and Light Content of prog.1

was last modified: June 25th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski