Wednesday 3 September 2014

About Doublethink (2014)

About Doublethink

The philosophical cartoons by Youngjin Kang

The Philosopher is very pleased to add a new dimension to its studies of the great issues - a look at some of the deepest issues in maths, language and science all presented in a deceptively simple and definitely charming way by Youngjin Kang.

Youngjin is a natural cartoonist with a taste for the philosophy of science. Indeed, his academic studies (in the US) are within the field of electrical engineering, and if he has been drawing comics since he was in high school, it has had to be fitted in with the demands of everyday life, including recently mandatory military service in his native South Korea. (But at least the authorities allowed him to fulfil his obligations by working in Daejeon Municipal Art Museum!)

His method, briefly speaking, is to choose a topic and try to reduce it to just 16 frames. The narratives are not drafted beforehand but are almost 'stream of consciousness', something that might be considered unacceptable in mainstream philosophical writing, but yet somehow liberates in the format of the comic.

Why 'Doublethink'? The title is not an obvious match for some of the subjects covered, yet Youngjin says that most episodes do invite the all-important -second look - and after all, there is a duality in the format of pictures that contain thoughts within them. Youngjin says that comics convey information in multiple dimensions,  for example, between pictures (corporeal symbols) and writings (abstract symbols), thus presenting the reader with a wider spectrum of meanings because what one method cannot express can be conveyed, in complementary fashion, by the other.

Secondly, comics prevent misinterpretation. Since what is told by the writing often gets "solidified" by its corresponding pictorial representations inside a comic strip, it is much easier for the reader to grasp the exact meaning of the content while looking at comics than while looking at pure writings. And a third advantage of the technique is that pictorial language is universal.

Philosophers quite like cartoons - they seem to promise a more accessible way into dry and obscure material. But is the reassurance they offer illusory?

About thirty years ago, the Writers and Readers publishers (a radical press at the time) produced several books that used the cartoon format to present philosophical ideas, typically biographical sketches of famous philosophers, although some books also covered the 'isms'. More recently, and in a slightly different style, there have been  books attempting to investigate deep issues in ethics through lengthy cartoon stories. But Doublethink is really a unique venture and one that may even change the way philosophy thinks of cartoons - giving the method a little more respect in the way that Critical Thinking has begun to emphasise the extra insights that diagrams, mind maps and even the humble doodle can bring.

Youngjin says that one of the issues he has had to deal with is his tendency to write in a manner that sounds too academic. It is almost inevitable because the topics are heavy, but it should be minimised so as not to lose the general audience

He says "I think many writers besides me have once faced such problem as well.Whether to go deep and lose contact, or to remain in contact and miss the deep - it is a serious dilemma one is obliged to resolve (especially the ones who are obsessed with esoteric ideas)."

This way to the cartoons:
Stack 1, cartoon 1 Doublethink


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