- Agent Krzorxxx, you may now approach the throne.
- Your Majesty, I am overwhelmed. Allow me to express my humblest--
- Pish and tush, young fellow. Th- Agent Krzorxxx, you may now approach the throne.
- Your Majesty, I am overwhelmed. Allow me to express my humblest--
- Pish and tush, young fellow. They've given me half an hour with you, let's not waste it on empty phrases. Tell me about your latest mission.
- Sire, I doubt that the life of a minor contact agent will be of any--
- Krzorxxx, no false modesty. The Section Head is very pleased with you. He tells me you have received four commendations during the last hemi-cycle alone. He is particularly impressed with your performance on, hm, "Earth". I asked for a direct briefing. Pray begin.
- Ah, yes your Majesty. I am as always yours to command. The mission was a delicate one, the "Earth" civilization being near the Cusp but as yet by no means sure of attaining it--
- How do PsychEval estimate their chances?
- Currently about 21.3%, your Majesty. I am sorry I cannot report a better figure--
- Nonsense, Krzorxxx, you know as well as I do that it was under 10% when you left. Excellent work. Proceed.
- Thank you, your Majesty. I incarnated as a minor cleric named Emmy Noether--
- You again wished to improve the Earthlings' understanding of ethical matters?
- No, your Majesty. On this mission, we had determined that philosophy was more important. As your Majesty is aware, achievement of the Cusp depends on both--
- Indeed, indeed. Please go on.
- Yes, your Majesty. I obtained the confidence of the local priesthood using standard methods and was inducted into the fraternity as a lay member. Fortunately, I had direct access to some of the more powerful officials of the Temple of Göttingen--
- Fortunately, my foot. Good planning. Proceed.
- Yes Sire. I commenced the usual campaign of covert education following schedule 28b. Abstract algebra, algebraic topology, the use of symmetry in penetrating the veil of reality--
- This all went well?
- Very well, Sire. I believe, at any rate.
- Please tell me more about the symmetries. I have always had a weakness for that subject.
- Sire, I could naturally only sketch out the most elementary aspects. But I was able to suggest the quantitative relationship between symmetry and constancy in a way that excited the attention of a few priests. These Earthlings are not as lacking in intelligence as some people make out. I remember two in particular, "Weyl" and "Einstein"--
- Krzorxxx, your sympathy for these primitive savages does you credit, but you must keep your affections firmly under control. We cannot afford to lose any more field operatives. That is an order.
- Yes Sire.
- So, symmetries and conservation. On my home planet, as you are perhaps aware, we have a rather pleasant poem which expresses the fundamental theorem. I remember learning it when I was still a larval form.
- I know it well, Sire.
- But no doubt it was hard to translate into the Earthling tongue?
- I did my best, Sire. They grasped the ideas quite quickly. They have already advanced to an incomplete understanding of the inertial field.
- Have they indeed?
- Yes Sire. A certain "Higgs"--
- Your Section Head was not exaggerating, Krzorxxx. You have done well.
- Thank you, Sire.
- In fact, I cannot help wondering if you may not have done too well. You have observed the Prime Directive at all times?
- Scrupulously, Sire.
- There is no chance that any of the Earthlings could have suspected your true nature?
- None, Sire.
- And how can you be so sure?
- It is a little complicated to explain, Sire. I incarnated as a woman--
- A "woman"?
- Sire, the Earthlings are sexually differentiated. In the reproductive process, the "woman" occupies a position regarded as inferior due to--
- Spare me the details, Krzorxxx. If I understand you correctly, you are saying this biological curiosity is enough to protect you? There is no chance the Earthlings will notice that all their key philosophical insights over the last centicycle come from one source?
- No Sire. I know it sounds far-fetched, but PsychEval tested it thoroughly. Over 99%. They ran extensive simulations. The only Earthlings who have even a theoretical possibility of noticing are a few mathematicians.
- An obscure mystical cult, your Majesty. There are no more than a handful of them. If necessary, they can easily be eliminated.
- You no doubt understand the necessity for these questions, Krzorxxx?
- I do, your Majesty.
- Your answers are satisfactory. I confirm your immediate promotion.
- Sire, I am at a loss for words. I most abjectly--
- Save your breath, young fellow. And keep up the good work.
- Thank you, Sire.
- No need, Senior Agent Krzorxxx. Dismissed. ...more
They had been walking down the road since daybreak, but now the sun was high enough in the sky that iOf Mice and Men and Generalized Conjugate Momenta
They had been walking down the road since daybreak, but now the sun was high enough in the sky that it was starting to get hot, and they were pleased to see the little creek. They stopped and drank some water and splashed some more on their faces. Suddenly, Lenny looked at his friend.
"George," he said, "there's somethin' I gotta ask you. Why-- why're we here?"
George smiled. "Well," he said. "You know I don't hold with all that church talk. It jest seems to me like we're here to help each other. So, I help you and you--"
"No!" said Lenny impatiently. "That's not what I meant! I wanna know why're we here. One minute we was in this, whadja call it, this social-realist novel, and now we're talkin' about physics all day. How come, George?"
George shook his head. "You ain't as dumb as you look, Lenny," he said affectionately. "Not much gets past you, do it? Well, here's what I think happened. You got these two guys, Lenny Susskind and George Hrabovsky, and they're fixin' to write a physics text, and they notice their names're just like ours. So they hire us to do a little introduction to each chapter for them. It's honest work, no harm in that. And I think they may've had another reason too. You see, their book comes out of this course that Susskind gave down at Stanford University's night school. He's takin' all the science he's learned and teachin' it to his fellow citizens and helpin' put some of that back into the community. And I think he's hirin' us to say how maybe that's somethin' ol' John Steinbeck woulda liked, and he's showin' his respect to California's great national poet."
Lenny seemed to have stopped listening, and his face had that scrunched-up look it had when there was something he didn't understand. "Well, George," he said, "I still don't get it. If we ain't on the farm no more, then how come we still got Curley here?"
"Look Lenny," said George, "now you're jest plain mixed-up. That ain't no Curley, that's curly delta! It's like what they call a differential operator. See, what's special 'bout this book is the math. I've seen a slew of pop physics books, and either they got no math or they got too much. To my way of lookin' at things, a physics book with no math don't make no sense. It's like tryin' to bake bread without flour. And you got writers, like ol' Roger Penrose, that throw in too much math. He puts in the equations like he's hangin' them on a Christmas tree, and after a few chapters your eyes skim right past 'em. But these guys do it jest right. They give you an equation when you need an equation, and you look at every x and dot till you understand it."
Lenny thought carefully. "Okay, George," he said after a while. "So if Curley ain't here, then I guess Curley's wife ain't here neither?"
George smiled. "I knew you'd get it!" he said. "Curley's wife ain't in this story no more than what Curley is. See, what Susskind and Hrabovsky're doin' is real smart. They're explainin' classical mechanics, but they're doin' it in a special way. They start with Newton, and then they do Lagrange and Hamilton, and by the time they get to Poisson Brackets they've almost got you doin' quantum mechanics without you knowin' it. They slide in stuff about symmetries and conservation laws and gauge fields like they was the most natural things in the world, and you jest start thinkin' that way too. I ain't never understood none of that before, but now it seems like plain common sense."
Lenny was still deep in thought. "I see, George," he said hesitantly. "So then-- then if Curley's wife ain't here, then I don't need to get shot at the end?"
George laughed out loud. "You dope!" he said. "'Course you ain't gonna get shot! Why, everyone's sayin' already that this book's a little masterpiece. There's a whole generation of students what're gonna bless the day they found it and put their copy up on the shelf next to the Feynman."
He paused and spat reflectively on the ground. "No, Lenny," he said, "no one's gonna shoot you nor me nor Professor Susskind neither. Leastways, not unless they read The Cosmic Landscape."...more
As people who read books on evolutionary theory will know, mice sometimes exhibit bizarre behavior, fearlessly walking into the waiting jaws of cats.As people who read books on evolutionary theory will know, mice sometimes exhibit bizarre behavior, fearlessly walking into the waiting jaws of cats. They do this because they have been infected by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can only reproduce in a cat's digestive tract; the mouse's behavior is thus adaptive, not for the mouse, but rather for the parasite. Dennett uses this as his starting point when discussing the nature of religion. Maybe religions are like T. gondii: they are self-reproducing patterns of human behavior ("memes"), which take over their hosts and make them carry out acts whose main purpose is to further spread the meme. To Dennett, the religious martyr is like a mouse whose brain has been modified by T. gondii.
If you are yourself religious, the above may leave you feeling angry and disappointed with the author. This is perhaps not the best reaction, since Dennett (I think, anyway) is genuinely trying to understand the nature of religion without judging it. To him, the meme theory is the only one that makes scientific sense, and throughout the book he stresses that it in no way implies that religion-memes would necessarily harm their hosts. As he says, our bodies contain trillions of non-human cells, many of which are essential to our survival. Religions may be deadly parasites like T. gondii; but they could equally well be as vital to human well-being as our intestinal flora, without which we would be unable to digest our food. And although a Christian will probably be unhappy to hear Christianity called a mind-virus, she may be more willing to stick that label on Scientology or one of the Pacific cargo cults. As long as it isn't a religion you feel any personal affinity with, it does rather seem to make sense; once you're prepared to agree with that, you may reluctantly admit that the distaste and anger you feel when the reasoning is applied to your own religion could just be the meme defending itself. Evidently, an adaptation which discouraged believers from even considering arguments against their religion would be fitness-increasing.
Dennett's basic thesis seems perfectly reasonable to me as a starting point for further investigation, but I was disappointed that the greater part of the book was extremely speculative; as evolutionary theorists like to say, it mostly consisted of "just-so stories". Yes, religious ceremonies may have evolved because they improved fidelity of meme-copying, and religions may initially have increased the fitness of the populations that practiced them by helping people make difficult decisions or making them more receptive to medicinal hypnosis; but it seemed to me that these ideas created almost as many difficulties as they resolved, and were not well-supported by empirical data. On the other hand, Dennett is a philosopher, not a scientist, and his business is more to ask questions than to answer them. If he's managed to get people thinking about these issues, maybe he's done all that can be reasonably expected of him.
I could end here, but there is one point I kept thinking about that I just have to mention. Dennett discusses religion from a scientific point of view, and cannot avoid the obvious question: maybe science is just another religion? He claims that it isn't, since science is based on empirical analysis of data while religion is not, but I was not entirely satisfied with his response. A scientist's attachment to any particular theory may not be religious; but what about the scientific world-view itself? Why, exactly, should we use facts and rational debate to resolve disagreements? I've just been reading through the Dialogues of Plato, which (at least in my view) constitute one of the important founding documents for the modern scientific outlook. Socrates, a highly sympathetic character, takes nothing for granted and questions everything. He duly dies for his beliefs, and it is hard not to think of him as a kind of martyr to rationality. Why, exactly, is he different in kind from other religious martyrs, except that he is supporting the belief system that I personally happen to like?
Aaaargh, Dennett's somehow got me playing his game... I think I've been infected by the religion-as-meme meme! Didn't he say something about welcoming a response? These philosophers are so damn tricky... ___________________________________
It's hard to stop thinking about this book. If Dennett is on the right track, I wondered what other memes there might be that propagated in ways similar to those for religions; to me, the ones that seem to fit best are language, music and poetry. They're all things that spread well and demand extremely faithful copying: as Dennett says, pretty much a sine qua non for a successful meme. But how are these different patterns related? How did the meme-copying adaptation arise, and what memes was it originally being used to transmit? Is it possible that all of these memes started off as the same thing, and only split apart later?
It would be nice to come up with some way to find empirical data... ___________________________________
People curious about T. gondii may find this article interesting.
As far as I can make out from a little background reading, the origin of this book came in 1948. Jacques Monod, a highly distinguished molecular bioloAs far as I can make out from a little background reading, the origin of this book came in 1948. Jacques Monod, a highly distinguished molecular biologist who would later win the 1965 Nobel Prize, was asked by his friend Albert Camus to write a critique of Lysenkoism; at the time this was officially declared by Stalin as holy writ to which all right-thinking Marxists had to subscribe on pain of excommunication. Monod, appalled at Lysenko's mendacious pseudo-scientific nonsense, tore it to pieces. But I get the impression that he then thought a great deal about how things had got to this point, and discussed the ideas with Camus and other people. The eventual result was Le hasard et la nécessité, which came out nearly 20 years later.
Monod was evidently a very deep thinker. If you want to pin Lysenkoism on someone, the obvious culprit is Lysenko himself, and the next most obvious is his protector Stalin. Monod wasn't satisfied with blaming Stalin, or even Marx. He looks at the philosophical basis of Marxism, which, he persuasively argues, is really just another example of what he refers to as "animism": the belief that the world is somehow infused with a purpose. For a Christian, that purpose comes from God, and for a Marxist it comes from the dialectical interpretation of history.
Monod thinks that Christianity, Marxism and all other "animist" philosophies are equally off-target. In the main body of the text, he presents a brilliantly condensed account of how his work in molecular biology led him to this position; although the book was written in the late 60s, his line of reasoning still comes across as extremely convincing. Monod starts by considering the similarities and differences between three general kinds of things: living creatures, artifacts, and "natural objects". He shows how difficult it is to frame clear rules to distinguish them, and concludes that there is in fact no hard-and-fast difference separating a living creature from a crystal. In both cases, the patterns and symmetries we see come from the mathematical nature of the underlying molecular structures; crystal lattices in one case, DNA in the other. The real difference is that living creatures are vastly more complicated.
Monod goes on to elaborate this correspondance, and shows how the processes by which living creatures reproduce are fundamentally similar, at a molecular level, to those that make a crystal grow. He spends a good deal of time explaining the fascinating details of how enzymes, the complex proteins involved in the process of DNA replication, are both created by the DNA and also used by it to perform this task. He shows how these enzymes are to all intents and purposes wonderfully ingenious machines, which give every appearance of having been designed to serve highly specific purposes; but, just when you think he's contradicted himself, he goes on to demonstrate that their structure reveals they can only be the product of blind chance. There is no one running the show: not God, History, the Life Force or anything else. As Lucretius said a couple of thousand years earlier, there is just atoms and void.
After the long segue into molecular biology, Monod concludes by looping back to his starting point. Nothing in the universe, he says, gives it external purpose. We are the ones who give it purpose, based on our billions of years of inherited molecular experience; we must keep our objectivity, and be careful not to confuse facts and values. As an Existentialist sermon, I have never seen it done better. Chapeau, Monsieur. ...more
The doorbell buzzed. Manny opened to find a breast-heavy young woman in a Venusian sludge-silk blouse. She had something in her hand. Without waitingThe doorbell buzzed. Manny opened to find a breast-heavy young woman in a Venusian sludge-silk blouse. She had something in her hand. Without waiting for an invitation, she entered the dingy conapt and looked around her.
"Otis said to bring this," she said, holding out the package. "He thought it could be useful. If you're still unable to find an idea for the Dick review." Manny groaned inwardly: as usual, the powerful GodReads combine were making sure they stayed ahead. Having seized control of the Solar System's theological literature market in the takeover of 2013, they were in no hurry to relinquish their newfound power. But at least they had been kind enough to use an attractive courier. He opened the package, which turned out to contain a holovid cartridge.
"Thank you," he mumbled. The girl smiled at him brightly. "I'm Cara," she said. "Maybe I should stay around while you play it? I have some Psi powers, they might help. Augmentation of reality, revelation of symbolic structure, that kind of thing."
"Sure," said Manny absently, as he inserted the cartridge into his worn player. The machine gave a couple of angry, rasping clicks, but after a few moments began to power up. The holofield washed outwards, first engulfing Manny and Cara, then spreading to cover the rest of the room. Manny glanced around, surprised: he had been expecting a new scene to have been projected, but nothing seemed to have changed. He cleared his throat, intending to say something sarcastic, then paused.
All the details of the room were leaking away: every time he tried to focus on a specific item, it evaded his gaze. Chairs and tables relaxed into generic furniture, then into anonymous objects. The Callistan table-lamp, one of the few personal items he had managed to retain after his divorce, became an undifferentiated patch of light. He turned to look at Cara, who was fading, Cheshire Cat like. Soon only her breasts were left, then they disappeared as well. The rest of the room had gone too. All that was left was an absolute darkness. As Manny's eyes adapted, he saw that a ghostly shape was emerging from the black. It resolved into a bearded male face that seemed oddly familiar.
"Who are you?" asked Manny, more intrigued than frightened; evidently, Cara's Psi powers were somehow modulating the holovid transmission. "Are you God? Or me?" He couldn't shake off the feeling than the face was very well known to him, and that any moment he would recognize it.
The face smiled. Manny felt words forming in his mind, a disembodied voice. "I made this world," it agreed.
"Is there anything else you want to say?" asked Manny.
"Try not to kill the people you love," said the voice. "Money matters more than you think. You believe the Paraclete has left you, but it remains."
"The Paraclete?" said Manny, puzzled.
"The Holy Spirit," replied the voice. Then, with a rush, light came back, and Manny saw the familiar lines of the conapt reemerge. A cloud of acrid smoke billowed from the holovid player. Cara stood adjusting her blouse, which had somehow become disarrayed.
"I hope I have been of assistance," she said in a formal manner. Before Manny could reply, she was gone.
Manny stared dejectedly at the closed door. The memory of the transcendent vision he had received was already indistinct; something about a parakeet? And his review still needed to be written. ...more
Turgid, dogmatic, overrated and well past its sell-by.
As Einstein exasperatedly said: if Kant had only been able to stop pontificating abouThesis
Turgid, dogmatic, overrated and well past its sell-by.
As Einstein exasperatedly said: if Kant had only been able to stop pontificating about the nature of time and space, he might actually have discovered something interesting about them. Einstein, with considerable justification, felt that he had refuted Kant, and was surprised to find that philosophers were reluctant to accept his claim. To me, it seems clear-cut. Kant repeatedly tells us that time and space are not things; but Einstein's insight is that this is wrong. Space-time is, indeed, a thing that we can roughly conceptualize as a kind of invisible fluid in which we have our physical being. Matter acts on space-time to change its shape, and space-time acts on matter to cause it to move. This interplay between space-time and matter is what we experience as gravity.
Einstein has done far more than correct a detail. The most obvious consequence is that the greater part of the Antinomy of Pure Reason - a good hundred pages of Kant's book - is rendered invalid. Kant argues, roughly, that it is not meaningful to inquire about whether the universe is finite or infinite in space and time. The fact that time and space are things radically changes the situation. Contrary to Kant's claims, the whole of space-time is now also a thing. The question of whether it is finite or infinite turns out to be related to its curvature, which is something we can measure. Thus the finiteness of the universe is part of the world of phenomena, and astronomers during the last few decades have done a great deal of practical work investigating these questions.
In the field of literature, Proust was as annoyed as Einstein. The following passage from La prisonnière (presented here with the Scott Moncrief translation) eloquently sums up his feelings:
– J’y vais, Madame, j’y vais », finit par dire Brichot comme le général Deltour s’éloignait. Mais d’abord l’universitaire me prit un instant à part : « Le devoir moral, me dit-il, est moins clairement impératif que ne l’enseignent nos Éthiques. Que les cafés théosophiques et les brasseries kantiennes en prennent leur parti, nous ignorons déplorablement la nature du Bien. Moi-même qui, sans nulle vantardise, ai commenté pour mes élèves, en toute innocence, la philosophie du prénommé Emmanuel Kant, je ne vois aucune indication précise, pour le cas de casuistique mondaine devant lequel je suis placé, dans cette critique de la Raison pratique où le grand défroqué du protestantisme platonisa, à la mode de Germanie, pour une Allemagne préhistoriquement sentimentale et aulique, à toutes fins utiles d’un mysticisme poméranien. C’est encore le « Banquet », mais donné cette fois à Kœnigsberg, à la façon de là-bas, indigeste et assaisonné avec choucroute, et sans gigolos.
["I am going, Madame, I am going," said Brichot, as General Deltour moved away. But first of all the Professor took me aside for a moment: "Moral Duty," he said, "is less clearly imperative than our Ethics teach us. Whatever the Theosophical cafés and the Kantian beer-houses may say, we are deplorably ignorant of the nature of Good. I myself who, without wishing to boast, have lectured to my pupils, in all innocence, upon the philosophy of the said Immanuel Kant, I can see no precise ruling for the case of social casuistry with which I am now confronted in that Critique of Practical Reason in which the great renegade of Protestantism platonised in the German manner for a Germany prehistorically sentimental and aulic, ringing all the changes of a Pomeranian mysticism. It is still the Symposium, but held this time at Kônigsberg, in the local style, indigestible and reeking of sauerkraut, and without any good-looking boys.]
A brilliant and incalculably important book which more or less created modern thought.
The difficulty of reconciling the world of sensations with the world of concepts is perhaps the central problem of philosophy. No one, before or since, has done it better than Kant did in the Critique of Pure Reason.
I do not think it a coincidence that relativity and quantum mechanics, the great breakthroughs in twentieth century physics, were discovered by German-speaking scientists who were thoroughly acquainted with his work. Einstein's special theory of relativity crucially depends on the insight that different observers experience time and space differently. Lorentz had all the pieces of the jigsaw in front of him, but was unable to put them together into the realization that the "Lorentz contraction" cannot be conceptualized as an objective fact, but is rather observer-dependent. If he had been able to grasp this point, he would have gone down in history as the discoverer.
Quantum mechanics is an even clearer case, where the Schrödinger equation is almost a direct translation of Kant's ideas into mathematical form. The unknowable wave-function represents the noumenal world; the world of phenomena is represented by the system of operators which act on it, where the operators themselves are the senses and their eigenvalues are the sense data. Though one point is oddly reversed with respect to Kant. There is the same duality between determinism and free will, but it is the world of noumena that turns out to be deterministic, while the world of phenomena is not!
The mark Kant made on literature is only slightly less telling. As I recently discovered in Gautier-Vignal's Proust connu et inconnu, Proust was fascinated by Kant, and the whole of the Recherche greatly influenced by his ideas. I must reread Le temps retrouvé from this new perspective; I suspect that many things which puzzled me first time round will become clearer....more
Over fifty of my Goodreads friends have read Wittgenstein's Tractatus, a book which famously sets out to describe the limits of human understanding. NOver fifty of my Goodreads friends have read Wittgenstein's Tractatus, a book which famously sets out to describe the limits of human understanding. None of them have read Weyl's Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Science, which was written by another German-speaking author a few years later, with a related plan in mind. For the first chapter or so, I wondered why.
The reason, alas, soon becomes all too apparent; Weyl's book is much more challenging. Wittgenstein does everything from first principles (notoriously, the book does not contain a single reference). If you have no background at all in formal philosophy, it is admittedly a bit hard to understand what on earth it's about. But as long as you possess a nodding acquaintance with logic and denotational semantics, the greater part of it is reasonably straightforward. It promises a great deal, but, as the author himself admitted later in his career, delivers surprisingly little. All the same, it does what it sets out to do in a pleasingly poetic way which give an impression of Delphic wisdom, and as such it has acquired a stable fan club which it will probably keep for at least for the next century.
The nice thing about reading Wittgenstein - I admit it: I am one of those fans - is that it makes you feel that you, too, might be a great philosopher if only you could get your act together a tiny bit more. It's just a question of asking a few searching questions (what would it mean to say that it was two o'clock on the Sun?) and coming up with a striking metaphor or two (that ladder...) Weyl, alas, has the opposite effect. Dismayingly, he isn't even a member of the Philosopher's Union; when he presents his ID card for inspection, it says he's some kind of mathematician. Nevertheless, he turns out to have read all the classical Greek philosophers in Greek, all the medieval scholastics in Latin, and, needless to say, all the Germans. He has an intimate knowledge of Galileo, Newton, Descartes, Leibniz, Frege, Russell and more or less everyone else you can think of, all of whom he's also read in the original. The worst thing is that he doesn't even seem to be showing off; you get the impression that he moves in circles where people are simply expected to know this kind of stuff. When you complain, he gives you a puzzled look.
In contrast to Wittgenstein, Weyl has specific issues to discuss. What is the nature of mathematical truth? His brief but rigorous discussion of Gödel's construction and its antecendents in self-referential paradoxes going back to the Socratics is startlingly thorough, as is his contrast of Brouwer's intuitionistic logic against Russell and Whitehead. He has an unusual but appealing approach to the relationship between symbols and objects, which he develops in terms of group theory rather than mainstream semantics. He illustrates with examples from relativity and quantum mechanics, both of which he takes for granted. He has interesting interludes on the nature of the chemical bond, the logical basis of evolution and the reason why there is an arrow of time. Modern knowledge sometimes shows he's wrong, but when he is it's generally due to facts he didn't have available; who would ever have believed in 1926 that nature might violate left/right symmetry? His guesses are generally pretty good: among other things, he calls the Big Bang and DNA correctly before there was any hard evidence for either.
Looking around, I see a scattering of Nobel Prize winners, Fields medalists and similar people who hold the book in high regard. Weyl had an enormous influence on the development of twentieth century science and mathematics, but the things he did were so esoteric that it's hard to write popular books about them; the closest I've seen is Woit's Not Even Wrong, which one might briefly summarize as saying that that modern physics has screwed up by not paying enough attention to Weyl's ideas. Woit has also been largely dismissed as incomprehensible.
Dammit, this book has completely bummed me out: I realize that it's in fact rather difficult to be a towering genius, and a great deal of study and hard work is evidently involved in getting there. I'm going to have to drown my sorrows. Bartender, give me a double Wittgenstein with a Feynman chaser. And keep 'em coming. ...more
- No. I'm calling by intertemporal communicator from the year- I'd like to talk to John Updike.
- My name is Manny Rayner -
- Do I know you?
- No. I'm calling by intertemporal communicator from the year 2013. I -
- You'll excuse me, Mr. Rayner, I don't find this kind of thing particularly -
- Please don't hang up yet, Mr. Updike! I believe you're writing a book called Roger's Version.
- Yes, I am as a matter of fact. But I don't -
- You've nearly finished it.
- I was working on the final pages when you called. Now I -
- They're in a revolving restaurant. He starts with the consommé, she has the prawn cocktail.
- How the hell did you know that?
- I tell you, I've read it. It was published 27 years ago.
- Jesus Christ, you really are calling from the future?
- I am.
- I... I need a moment to get used to the idea. I'm sorry. I -
- Take your time.
- So, uh, so I guess I could ask who the President is and so on, but let's cut to the chase. Do people like the book? In 2013?
- It has its fans.
- Did you like it?
- To be honest, I found it absolutely unputdownable. I've been at a conference this week in the beautiful city of Seville, which I've never seen before. But any time I had a spare moment I took it out and read some more.
- Ha! Okay, you've started off the right way. Please continue.
- I loved the narrator. Roger is one of your finest creations. So wonderfully cold and manipulative and full of intellectual insincerity. He's fantastic. Verna and Esther are nearly as good. Dale is a terrific nerd. The writing is consistently brilliant, even by your high standards. Once again, you show that you are the true heir of Flaubert.
- You do know how to pile on the flattery.
- I particularly liked the oral sex scene. Surely the most perfectly realized blow-job in all world literature. No one else could have thought of intercutting it with passages from Tertullian in the original Latin, and if they had they wouldn't have been able to make it work. Chapeau, Monsieur.
- I wondered if I'd gone too far.
- No, it's a miracle that it holds together, but it does. You make your point in an extraordinarily imaginative and original way. Not gratuitous at all. I'm lost in admiration.
- Well, thank you. Other people agree?
- I am far from being the only one.
- This really is very good to hear. So was there anything you didn't like?
- As a matter of fact...
- Look, don't get me wrong. The idea of using the modern Argument from Design as the heresy was excellent. I happen to know a lot about that, and I can see you've done your homework. You present it with your usual ironic wit. But -
- But when Dale's actually going to look for evidence of the existence of God in the physical world, why does he use that ridiculous method? You don't put a foot wrong before or after, and it's such a disappointment to see you screw up at this pivotal moment. I mean, with some novelists I wouldn't nitpick, but I know you love to get the details right. It simply wasn't worthy of you.
- Look, what on Earth was I supposed to use? I'm not a cutting-edge cosmologist. I did the best I could. At least I know about computer graphics.
- I can see you do, Mr. Updike. Good old Common LISP. It made feel quite nostalgic for the 80s. But here's what you should have done.
- I'm all ears.
- You know about the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation?
- As you've read in the book, I do.
- In 1986, people are just starting to find patterns in it. There's a guy called Smoot -
- I'm sorry, you're breaking up. Please say that again.
- Smoot. George Smoot.
- Boot? It's terrible, you were completely clear a minute ago -
- SMOOT. S-M-O-O-T. He's developed methods for measuring the tiny variations in the CMBR. His team is trying to launch a satellite experiment to do the measurements. It's called Cosmic Background Explorer, COBE. You need to check it out. Dale could take the data Smoot's team will find and use his image processing expertise to develop a new way to analyze it. He could find something extraordinary. Ambiguous, needless to say, but possibly extraordinary. So COBE -
- It's so frustrating, I can't make out a word you're saying. Adobe? Did you say Adobe?
- COBE. COBE.
- Kobe? In Japan?
- COBE. C-O-B-
- You're breaking up completely.
- C-O- Hello? Hello, Mr. Updike? Are you there? Hello?
anyone lived in a pretty how town (with up so floating many bells down) spring summer autumn winter he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men(boanyone lived in a pretty how town (with up so floating many bells down) spring summer autumn winter he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men(both little and small) cared for anyone not at all they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same sun moon stars rain
children guessed(but only a few and down they forgot as up they grew autumn winter spring summer) that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf she laughed his joy she cried his grief bird by snow and stir by still anyone’s any was all to her
someones married their everyones laughed their cryings and did their dance (sleep wake up and then)they said their nevers they slept their dream stars rain sun moon (and only the snow can begin to explain how children are apt to forget to remember with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess (and noone stooped to kiss his face) busy folk buried them side by side little by little and was by was
all by all and deep by deep and more by more they dream their sleep noone and anyone earth by april wish by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men(both dong and ding) summer autumn winter spring reaped their sowing and went their came sun moon stars rain...more
Manny had liked The Book of Everything so much that he decided he would read it in the original. He ordered a copy.
"But you don't know Dutch," said hiManny had liked The Book of Everything so much that he decided he would read it in the original. He ordered a copy.
"But you don't know Dutch," said his friend.
"I don't care," said Manny.
"It'll be like when we went to to Ireland," said his friend. "Or when we went to Turkey. You bought an Irish grammar and a Turkish grammar, and after we came home you never looked at them again."
"We'll see what happens this time," said Manny.
The book arrived. Manny opened it and started reading. It was very difficult. Sometimes there was a word that looked like Swedish, and sometimes there was a word that looked like German, but mostly it looked like Dutch.
"Shouldn't you be using a dictionary?" asked his friend.
"I don't believe in dictionaries," said Manny. He carried on reading. After a while, he noticed that a lot more of the words were like Swedish or German. You had to squint at them in the right way.
"I'm starting to enjoy it," said Manny. "There's often a sentence or two I can understand."
His friend opened the book. "What does that mean then?" she asked, pointing to the words at the top of the page. She was quite surprised when Manny told her.
Now Manny could sometimes understand whole paragraphs. He wondered why it had seemed so hard at first. It was just a strange mixture of Swedish and German spoken with a Dutch accent. He could hear the author's voice, and it was a beautiful voice.
"You seem to be having fun," said his friend.
"I am," said Manny. "This is a very good book. It makes my head hurt a little, but it's worth it."...more
I wanted to like this classic book, but I can't do it: too many things are wrong. A shame, because I completely approve of the idea. William James, wrI wanted to like this classic book, but I can't do it: too many things are wrong. A shame, because I completely approve of the idea. William James, writing around the end of the 19th century, sets out to take a cool look at how people experience religious feeling, basing his investigation on state-of-the-art psychological theory. What do we discover, and what do the findings tell us about the nature of religion? For the first two or three chapters, I enjoyed it and thought it was going in a good direction. James is evidently intelligent and well-read, and he's capable of writing excellent prose. Unfortunately, it rapidly started going off the rails in several ways.
First, the style. Yes, James is able to write wonderfully, but a lot of the time he seems to have lost all sense of self-criticism. Above all, he just won't cut anything: the book could comfortably have been shortened to half its length. Looking around, I see many editions which have far fewer pages, so I'm guessing that some editors have done just that. In the original version, which I read, he has endless, repetitious quotations, often stuffed into footnotes which can go on (literally) for two or three pages. It's worse than Infinite Jest, where at least the footnotes are intentionally annoying and often funny. These are anything but.
Next, the science. All well and good to say you'll use up-to-date psychological theory: but psychology at that time was barely a science at all, and it shows. The "scientific" explanations are in most cases not much more than hand-waving and fanciful ideas with Latin names. There are no experiments, no statistics, no falsifiable claims. It's just a mass of case studies, selected and reported according to criteria that are never in any way made clear. Just: oh, this is interesting, let's stick it in. When you cherry-pick your data this way, you can prove anything.
To be fair, James does have an informal plan for selecting his examples, but it's one that I feel very dubious about. He says he will focus on the most extreme examples of religious feeling, since it is in such cases that we will see it in its purest form. We are thus treated to hundreds of pages of quotations from born-again converts, saints and mystics. The greater part of these passages are tedious in the extreme: few of the people in question write well. And, more important, I am not at all sure I agree that religious feeling is best studied in these extreme cases. There's an analogy which suggested itself to me more than once. Imagine that most people never experienced sexual desire, and you wanted to investigate the minority who claimed that they knew it from their own experience. I would definitely not start by reading accounts of people who were into extreme BDSM; The Story of O is interesting in its perverse way, but it would probably give you all sorts of odd ideas about what sex was like. I hate to say this, but some of the saints James discusses rather reminded me of O.
At the end, I was surprised to see James unequivocally claiming that he thought religious feeling was a good thing, and that its object was some definite spiritual reality. I do wonder if he truly believed this. If he did, why pick such bizarre and unconvincing examples? I am quite capable of being moved by religious authors: for example, I love The Divine Comedy, Ash Wednesday, Jan Kjærstad's Jonas Wergeland trilogy, Flaubert's La tentation de saint Antoine and Selma Lagerlöf's Jerusalem, to name just a few. If James had actually wanted to convince his readers, I think he could have done better. He says himself that he was a person who never experienced religious feeling much at first hand; you often get the impression that he was rather sceptical about it. He is certainly quite willing to poke fun at many of the subjects he quotes.
All in all, then, an annoying and frustrating book. If you're interested in these matters, I'd instead recommend reading Gide's La porte étroite and L'immoraliste, and Smullyan's Planet Without Laughter. They're shorter, better written, and, in my humble opinion, considerably more insightful. ...more
People new to Goodreads will not be familiar with the enigmatic BishopBarnes. When I joined in 2008, he was one of the most active members, and his wiPeople new to Goodreads will not be familiar with the enigmatic BishopBarnes. When I joined in 2008, he was one of the most active members, and his witty, erudite, provocative posts had attracted a large following.
No one knew who BishopBarnes really was; he maintained the persona of a 1930s senior British cleric with rather unorthodox religious views, who somehow also happened to be startlingly well-read in science and mathematics. He never allowed the mask to slip, and invariably stayed in character. There were several theories. Some people claimed he was a consortium of smart grad students at CERN or the Perimeter Institute; his prolific output and wide-ranging interests tended to support that idea, as did his remarkable grasp of the technical aspects of relativity theory. But he was stylistically consistent, and would CERN grad students also know Latin and obscure science texts from the late 19th century? After a while, a rumor started to circulate that he was Roger Penrose. (One self-claimed expert pointed knowingly to the way he cited Poincaré and Clifford). It didn't seem impossible; but why would Penrose spend so much time on such an obscure joke? The fact was, we simply couldn't figure it out.
His core interests were science and religion, but BishopBarnes had opinions on absolutely everything: whether quantum mechanics made sense, if bees could learn from experience, in what ways the characters of the Son and the Father differed, whether Helen of Troy might have had an unusual number of chromosomes. He was clever about deploying his 1930s outlook for maximum shock value. Some people, like me, found him hilarious, but others were less amused. After he posted his Jared Diamond review, where he solemnly assured us that scientists had determined that the sub-human Neanderthals were black while the superior Cro-Magnons were white, he was angrily unfriended by several people; there was a similar reaction to his Cyril Kornbluth thread, where he argued that "feeble-minded women" urgently needed to be sterilized "before their uncontrolled breeding undermined our race".
On the whole, though, his fans were very loyal. He had two party pieces, which we never tired of. The first involved getting into a debate with a creationist. He would begin by explaining the scientific evidence in favor of evolution (it was impressive how he never once forgot himself and mentioned DNA); then, just as they were starting to quote Biblical verses back at him, he would switch around smoothly and demonstrate that they were equally ignorant about theology. The second routine was basically the first one in reverse. This time, the stooge would be an aggressive atheist; the Bishop would start by demonstrating how poorly they understood philosophy (he was himself particularly well-versed in Kant, Berkeley, Hume and Hegel), and then proceed to show that he also knew more about science. Both setups were marvelous to watch.
One day, we discovered to our sorrow that BishopBarnes had disappeared. His account was no longer there, and all his reviews and comments had vanished. We missed him. But a few weeks ago, I made a remarkable discovery. The Bishop had gone underground! He had taken the entire body of work he'd posted on Goodreads and miraculously reformatted it all into a lengthy book. Evidently, Cambridge University Press are in on the joke: completely straight-faced, they assure us that this is a reprint of a work originally published in 1933, which in turn is based on a series of lectures delivered between 1927 and 1929 at the University of Aberdeen. Someone has even constructed a few plausible-looking Wikipedia pages.
I immediately ordered a copy, and have spent several evenings reliving the Bishop's glorious career. A single little grumble: he probably shouldn't have begun with his one-star review of A Brief History of Time. Admittedly, he's done a fantastic job of condensing down the 800-post comment thread into a coherent narrative, and I think he does more or less justify his rather extravagant claim. (General Relativity is obvious: it just follows from the definitions when you think about it carefully enough). But not everyone will want to read though this amount of tensor algebra, and personally I think he could have moved it to the end of the book. On the other hand, if he'd done that he wouldn't have been the Bishop.
"Have you read The Book of Everything?" asked Sarah. "You might like it."
Manny said that he didn't usually read translated books. But he politely open"Have you read The Book of Everything?" asked Sarah. "You might like it."
Manny said that he didn't usually read translated books. But he politely opened it and read the first page, and then the second page. Pretty soon he had read a whole lot of pages. He tried to imagine what it sounded like in Dutch, and he could almost hear the words.
"Shouldn't you be working?" asked someone.
"I've almost finished," said Manny without looking up. He wanted to find out if Jesus would stop Thomas's father from hitting his mother. It didn't look too good, but sometimes Jesus can surprise you. He is a very tricky person. ...more
(Geneva, late 2012. Plainpalais market, a riotous display of phallic vegetables, ill-smelling cheese and trash literature. THE REVIEWER and his GIRLFR(Geneva, late 2012. Plainpalais market, a riotous display of phallic vegetables, ill-smelling cheese and trash literature. THE REVIEWER and his GIRLFRIEND walk through the stalls hand in hand. Polyglot conversations around them.)
THE REVIEWER: Now here's a significant quote. "My methods are new and are causing surprise To make the blind see I throw dust in their eyes."
STANISLAW LEM: Mogę to rozwinąć. MICHAEL KANDEL: I can give you more details on that.
SWEDISH SHOPPER: Hej! Jag kommer ifrån Bollestad.
THE REVIEWER: And this one. "The sense of beauty leads us astray." It's like Proust, but the exact opposite. Maximally implicit rather than maximally explicit.
AMERICAN SHOPPER: I'm from Biloxi.
THE REVIEWER: A projective space? A Riemann sphere? U.P.: up. Or down, if you prefer. It comes to the same thing.
(THE GIRLFRIEND gives him a irritated look)
THE REVIEWER: [Smugly] Don't get your knickors in a twistor.
[They have reached a bookstall full of lurid French paperbacks. THE GIRLFRIEND, ignoring him, starts going through them]
THE GIRLFRIEND: Have you read this one? Les Sirènes de l'Autoroute.
THE REVIEWER: Très douce.
THE GIRLFRIEND: Les Sacrifiés du Soleil?
THE REVIEWER: Amazingly, appallingly alliterative!
THE GIRLFRIEND: La Plage aux Nymphes?
THE REVIEWER: Nausicating.
GIRLFRIEND: [Giving up in disgust] You're such a smartarse. What were you talking about? Cosmology again?
ALBERT EINSTEIN: Take one curvature tensor, contract, subtract a scalar, et voilà! Instant universe. On that mystery and not on the Madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to the mob of Europe the Church is founded and founded irremovably because founded, like the world, macro- and microcosm, upon the void. Ex nihilo nihil fit. Mais non.
THE GIRLFRIEND: Speak English, you old fart.
[EINSTEIN shrugs and calls over LAWRENCE KRAUSS and RICHARD DAWKINS to join him. They sing together in uncertain harmony]
ALBERT EINSTEIN: Space is curved.
LAWRENCE KRAUSS: But it's flat.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, that's put an end to that.
THE REVIEWER: I'm not sure I follow---
RICHARD DAWKINS: [Irritated] There is no God. Do I have to explain everything?
[EINSTEIN, KRAUSS and DAWKINS all disappear again. THE REVIEWER and his GIRLFRIEND proceed towards the Route de Carouge. A TRAM passes, on its side a Christmas-themed wine poster whose title is "La belle houx"]
THE TRAM: Brhm brhm brhm brhm-hm-hm. Brhm.
STEPHEN POTTER: [Holding wine-glass] Too many tramlines.
THE REVIEWER: A little bit cornery round the edges.
STEPHEN POTTER: Well ployed sir!
[He raises his glass in salutation to THE REVIEWER, who follows his GIRLFRIEND across the Route de Carouge. CHARLES DARWIN steps out of the Rue De-Candolle to meet them]
CHARLES DARWIN: There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers.
THE REVIEWER: [Blankly] What's evolution got to do with it?
CHARLES DARWIN: Oh, I don't know. Survival of the fittest or something. I mean, it's survived? You can't deny that? And you wouldn't expect it to if it were as crazy as it looks?
THE REVIEWER: I suppose not. But---
CHARLES DARWIN: Not only that, it's reproduced. Any number of people have copied it.
THE GIRLFRIEND: Look, just because---
CHARLES DARWIN: [Cutting her off] Well then. I rest my case.
THE REVIEWER: [To his GIRLFRIEND] So what is the fascination of the book? What revelation does it promise us?
[Enter KRISTEN STEWART, wearing a semi-transparent gown]
THE GIRLFRIEND: You can't see as much as you think.
THE REVIEWER: The opacity only makes it more interesting. Trust me.
KRISTEN STEWART: Art thou real, my ideal? it was called, and after that there was something about twilight, will thou ever? That's so inspiring, isn't it?
THE REVIEWER: [who cannot take his eyes off her] May I write a poem to your breasts? [With an insinuating leer] They say I'm good at that.
ROBERT PATTINSON: [Shoving in ahead of him] I was first.
THE GIRLFRIEND: Well fuck me dead.
ROBERT PATTINSON: Necrophilia I've heard of sillier The question is Wont ya or will ya.
[He goes down on one knee]
KRISTEN STEWART: I will. Voglio. However you pronounce it.
THE REVIEWER: But she'll be hard. Impenetrable. Like marble. Where's the pleasure of the text?
ROBERT PATTINSON: It's not hard when you're married. You need to make a commitment.
THE REVIEWER: All the same---
[THE GIRLFRIEND drags him away towards the Pont du Mont-Blanc. Halfway across, they meet THE PROPHET ELIJAH]
[They turn, following his outstretched arm, to see the Jet d'eau]
THE REVIEWER: A height of one hundred and forty metres. Five hundred litres per second. That's --- ah --- thirty thousand litres a minute. Nearly two million litres an---
ELIJAH: Yet the lake is not full.
THE GIRLFRIEND: Well of course it fucking isn't. It flows off down the Rhône.
ELIJAH: [Disappointedly] Don't pick at the metaphor.
[THE GIRLFRIEND is about to say something else but THE REVIEWER, seeing that ELIJAH is about to make a speech, manages to stop her]
ELIJAH: Regardez! Protéiforme, constant mais toujours en changement, ange annonciateur, puissance inépuisable. C'est ça, ce livre. Vous comprenez?
THE GIRLFRIEND: [Surprised at herself] Yes.
[ELIJAH bows, first to her and then to the fountain. For a moment, they all gaze at it in silence]
E.L. JAMES: [who has somehow turned up unnoticed] Holy shit!
Sad to tell, this book has never been published and does not in fact exist. I am, however, confident that a judicious application of the Ontological ASad to tell, this book has never been published and does not in fact exist. I am, however, confident that a judicious application of the Ontological Argument should be enough to resolve these minor technical problems.
As Anselm of Canterbury nearly said in 1103, many books could potentially be called Creationism for Dummies. Most of them will be imperfect in some way. But, inevitably, there must also be a perfect version of Creationism for Dummies. Since existence is a perfection, an existing Creationism for Dummies must be more perfect than a non-existing Creationism for Dummies. Hence the perfect Creationism for Dummies exists.
For more details, consult your local source of infallible truth or this page....more
I read Professor DeNuthe's book while finishing Carroll Quigley's monumental Tragedy and Hope, and it's impossible not to be struck by the many parallI read Professor DeNuthe's book while finishing Carroll Quigley's monumental Tragedy and Hope, and it's impossible not to be struck by the many parallels. Quigley spends 1300 pages giving a multi-faceted picture of world society over the first half of the twentieth century, considering it simultaneously from the points of view of macroeconomics, power relationships, weapons technology, psychology and religion. But DeNuthe, with the capable help of his editor and girlfriend, shows that a much simpler explanation is possible: it all comes down to ice cubes. At first, I will admit that I had my doubts, but DeNuthe's arguments are irrefutable. Socrates, Hitler, the Titanic, blue plastic trays... they all link together into a coherent whole. My view of the world is permanently changed.
I suppose the Nobel Prize committee will go through the motions of considering other candidates, but, frankly, they could spare themselves the trouble. Remember you read it here first. _______________________________________________
I recently came across this interesting page and immediately turned to my well-thumbed copy of World of Ice Cubes, expecting to find Professor DeNuthe's authoritative opinion set forth in his usual forthright style. Alas, nothing! But hopefully in the next edition? ...more
Nasreddin (his name can be spelled in a variety of ways) has a difficult personal problem, so he makes the pilgrimage to the capital city. He goes into the huge central mosque, and humbly asks Allah for guidance.
Absolutely nothing happens.
Nasreddin stubbornly continues to pray for a while, but in the end he gives up. He's on his way home and just about to leave the city when he sees another mosque, this time very small and unimpressive.
"Well," he thinks, "while I'm here, why don't I look at it?" He enters, and within a minute he suddenly knows the answer to his question.
He goes out again and looks at the huge central mosque in the distance, outlined majestically against the setting sun.
"You think you're so big and important!" says Nasreddin scornfully. "And you couldn't sort out my little problem!"
Nasreddin happens to find himself alone in the bathhouse, so he takes the opportunity to sing a few ditties. He really likes the sound of his voice as it echoes off the marble walls.
"I didn't know I had such talent!" he says to himself. When he comes out, he immediately climbs the nearby minaret and starts reciting the call to prayer. He's terrible, and people beg him to stop.
"Well," says Nasreddin unrepentantly. "If you just took the trouble to build a marble bathroom up here, you'd be able to appreciate my real voice." ...more
There's this passage in Orlando Furioso, quoted at length in Anthony Powell's Hearing Secret Harmonies, where Orlando's friend Astolpho meets Time inThere's this passage in Orlando Furioso, quoted at length in Anthony Powell's Hearing Secret Harmonies, where Orlando's friend Astolpho meets Time in person. Time is frantically busy dumping things in the Well of Oblivion. Nearly all of what is thrown in stays there, but every now and then an item is rescued by one of the local swans, who bears it away to the Temple of Fame. Powell uses this image throughout the book as a metaphor for rescuing the past.
The author of the present book, Dominique Lambert, is evidently a swan, and his life work has been to rescue Georges Lemaître from the Well of Oblivion and restore him to his rightful position in the Temple of Fame.
The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)...more
Francis Collins comes across as such a nice guy! He's clearly a very good molecular biologist - he led the Human Genome Project to a successful concluFrancis Collins comes across as such a nice guy! He's clearly a very good molecular biologist - he led the Human Genome Project to a successful conclusion, no mean feat - and he has strong Christian ideals that he's thought about a lot and tried hard to realize in practice. Here, he outlines his philosophy, a kind of theistic evolutionary creed which he calls BioLogos. It's intended to combine his scientific and religious beliefs into a harmonious whole; although it appears to work for him, I remain unimpressed, and I fear that both sides of the faith/science divide are going to see him as what Richard Dawkins memorably described as a "compliant quisling". But more about that shortly.
The core message of BioLogos is that God created the universe in order for it to contain living beings with souls - us, and any other sentient creatures that may happen to exist - and cares deeply about His people. As you can see, for example, in Martin Rees's Just Six Numbers and Before the Beginning, the idea that the universe was designed is right now perfectly respectable, though I thought Collins's cosmological arguments were on the superficial side. In particular, he in no way gives proper consideration to the multiverse theory that Rees prefers; though the comparison with Dawkins's The God Delusion is amusing, Dawkins doing the exact opposite and dismissing the design theory in equally summary fashion. It would be nice to see a balanced presentation here some time. At any rate, the modern Argument from Design in terms of fine tuning of the universe's physical constants is one of the main planks of Collins's argument to the non-believers.
The other key component is derived from C.S. Lewis (Collins is a huge admirer), and is based on universal ethical norms, altruism, and the human hunger for religion which, Collins claims, can be observed in all cultures. If God doesn't exist, why do we all feel a need for Him, and why do we all agree on the important issues about what constitutes the difference between right and wrong? Here, again, I felt that Collins was on shaky ground, and the reasoning did not convince me. Many people have tried to explain the emergence of altruistic behavior in humans using an evolutionary perspective, but these ideas are hardly discussed at all, and there is almost no comparison with other social species. Yes, it's probably relevant that ants and bees are haplodiploid, and humans aren't, so "altruistic" behavior of insects may be misleading; but naked mole rats, which are not mentioned, are also a social species, and they are not haplodiploid.
So the first third of the book was disappointing, but it picked up again when Collins turned around and started explaining to the creationists and Intelligent Design people why their criticisms of evolutionary theory were misguided. This part was excellent, and if you want an authoritative dismantling of ID I have never seen it done better. Collins first explains the holes in the often-quoted "flagellum" argument, showing how the bacterial flagellum could indeed have been created by evolution; he then quotes St. Augustine and other luminaries of the Church on the dangers of Christianity making itself look ridiculous by trying to maintain logically untenable positions. He does his best to sweeten the pill, emphasizing that he respects the motives that have led people to believe in ID, but I can't think that many of them like it. Indeed, he describes talks he's given to American Christian audiences where he's tried to explain this stuff, and people often leave the room before he's got properly started. I can see why.
At the end, he tries to wrap it all up in his vision of BioLogos. Christians, be reasonable and admit that evolution is a simple fact that reveals God's power and glory with even greater clarity! Scientists, look into your hearts and admit how much you want to feel His love! I fear very few people on either side are buying it. But, blessed are the peacemakers, and Dr. Collins is doing his damnedest to spread peace and understanding. Who knows, maybe it will do some good in the long run. __________________________________
I just have to include this wonderfully snarky quote from Russell's Science and Religion. Despite being written several decades before Collins was born, it is a perfect comment on his book:
Sir J. Arthur Thomson, as we saw, maintained that science is incomplete because it cannot answer the question why? Religion, he thought, can answer it. Why were stars formed? Why did the sun give birth to planets? Why did the earth cool, and at last give rise to life? Because, in the end, something admirable was going to result -- I am not quite sure what, but I believe it was scientific theologians and religiously-minded scientists.
Repent! Repent, I say unto ye, while yet there is time! Repent, O Goodreads Administrators, of thy iniquity and hypocrisy! For did ye not say, that alRepent! Repent, I say unto ye, while yet there is time! Repent, O Goodreads Administrators, of thy iniquity and hypocrisy! For did ye not say, that all Holy Books shall be deemed anonymous of authorship? Did ye not say, that the Playing Field should be level?
And what, now, do we see, to our everlasting shame? The Bible and the Torah have ye marked as Anonymous. Yea, also the Quran have ye treated in this wise. But the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have ye marked as the work of His mortal prophet Bobby Henderson.
Repent, I say again, and cast thyselves on His infinite noodly mercy! Fill me not with righteous wrath! Ye would not like me when I am filled with righteous wrath.
Okay, say not that I failed to warn ye...
[Diverse sound effects including insensate Hulk-like roar, money-changers being cast from temple, boiling pasta, etc etc] ...more
In response to innumerable queries from MJ and other people, this cheap, tacky PDF edition is now available to people who want to post sarcastic revieIn response to innumerable queries from MJ and other people, this cheap, tacky PDF edition is now available to people who want to post sarcastic reviews without substantially affecting their bank balance.
Well, come on, tell me what this movie's about! It must be about something. And you're the central character, or so we're assured. But how can the cenWell, come on, tell me what this movie's about! It must be about something. And you're the central character, or so we're assured. But how can the central character not say anything? How are we supposed to know what you're like?
Don't just look at me with those big eyes. Give me a hint. You mean that words are an inadequate way to communicate what we think and feel? That if we stopped talking for a minute and really listened, then we'd be able to hear the things that mattered? That most of the time we talk mainly for effect, or to fill the silence, or because we're afraid of thinking about the important things?
No, that's not it. I wondered for a moment, when you smiled... but I guess your smile meant something else. Maybe you mean that not talking says more than talking. That when we don't talk to people, we say more than when we do. That I should think about the people I'm not talking to, and the ones who aren't talking to me?
You could at least nod or shake your head. Help me see if I'm on the right track. But you don't. Why not? Damn it, this is pretty annoying. I've watched your movie five times now, and I still haven't figured it out. I'm pretty smart. It's your fault. You shouldn't be so obscure. Just explain it in normal terms. That would be a whole lot simpler.
Okay, if you're going to be like that then I won't watch you any more. See if I care. I am now officially telling the world that I will not watch Persona again. Maybe that'll get a reaction. Oh, and the opening sequence. It sucks. Bigtime.
Damn it, you smiled. I didn't mean it. I will watch you again. Maybe I'll get it sixth time round.
"... a waste of time... you can read all that stuff for free online" - Paul B
"The future is an endless oneupmanship to see who can write the wittiest, most popular 200-word capsule review on fuck-all. This is Manny’s fault." - MJ
"... call it Rue Vomitorium" - David C
"... good if you read it in the original failboatese" - Vote Whore
"... almost... funny" - Traveller
"Will you enjoy this? In a word, no, unless you are a masochist" - Sean D
"Never in my life I seen a more desperate attempt to get votes" - Alfonso
"... advertising..." - Esteban
"If I'd been drinking I think it could have made me seasick" - Tabitha
"The thing about Manny... he almost never throws feces at random strangers." - Kat
"... explicit ... the author has failed ..." - Scribble
"... rattling a virtual tip jar at every opportunity ..." - Jason P
"Manny, you sure are fascinated with Stephenie Meyer" - Rowena M
"GoodReads in-jokes ... off-putting ..." - Cecily
"... book snob ... insecurity ... stupid ..." - midnightfaerie
"... sexist garbage ... if you ask me, he is off his onion ..." - Nandakishore
"... ridiculous ... dilettante ..." - Rlotz
"... pompous ..." - Heep
"... silly ..." - Stian
"... enough..." - Alan B __________________________________
Over the last couple of years, several kind people have asked whether I'd considered publishing a collection of my best reviews. I always replied that I appreciated the suggestion, but it didn't seem like a sensible thing to do. But, a few weeks ago, I started wondering whether I shouldn't give it a shot after all. If Goodreads unexpectedly folded up - these things happen - it would be so annoying to lose my writing. Self-publishing has become cheap and easy. And I've got a fair amount of experience with type-setting. How much work could it be to implement a few scripts to turn HTML into LaTeX and then upload a PDF file to Lulu?
Well, it's never quite as straightforward as you think, but here is the result. For the benefit of other people who may feel tempted to do the same thing, let me give you the key lessons I've learned from this little adventure:
1. Sign up an editor and some readers. No author can be objective about their own work; they need keen external eyes to tell them both what's good and what's bad about it. It was fortunate for me that notgettingenough, who has long-term experience with publishing, took an early interest in the project and was willing to act as editor. She ruthlessly corrected several of my dumber ideas, forced me to think about issues I'd happily have ignored, and made sure that the book was produced to professional standards. My advisory committee - BirdBrian, Mariel and Ian - read through the manuscript and gave me encouragement and helpful suggestions. They convinced me that it was worth continuing and taking the time required to make it look good. Thank you, guys! You have all been so thoughtful and patient, and I greatly appreciate it!
2. Think carefully about which reviews to include. Not groaned over my initial selection, which probably took an hour to do and had no structure whatsoever. She encouraged me to group the reviews by style and type of book, after which I saw that some things were grossly overrepresented. Even if bashing Twilight is the Goodreads national sport, I didn't need this many examples of the genre. And much as I love writing about Flaubert, Proust, Wittgenstein and Kasparov, it's likely that the average reader will not share my enthusiasms to the same degree.
3. Acquire at least a smattering of knowledge regarding copyright. As I now understand it, most quoted text that might appear in a Goodreads review should be covered by the rules on Fair Use. I found the following passage from this page helpful:
Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: "quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied..."
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that copyrighted images are generally not easy to include: the problem is that you'll be using the whole image, rather than just an illustrative part of it. Martha, my talented cover artist, had put together the following very attractive cover:
But, alas, the Estate of E.H. Shepherd thought this was an "inappropriate" use of Pooh Bear's image and politely but firmly refused to grant me permission. I didn't even get that far with Penguin (Jemima Puddle-Duck) or Gallimard (the Little Prince), who still haven't given me any clear answers. Not, in her capacity as excutive editor, made the sensible but painful decision to go for a simpler solution.
So there have been a few rough moments, but all in all I found this an interesting and rewarding experience. And now, I hardly need add, I'm curious to see if anyone is going to buy it! It's available from this Lulu page....more
This book introduces Conformal Cyclic Cosmology: an amazingly beautiful idea, which I would love to be true. Unfortunately, the evidence to date is faThis book introduces Conformal Cyclic Cosmology: an amazingly beautiful idea, which I would love to be true. Unfortunately, the evidence to date is far from compelling. But, even if it isn't correct, Penrose is asking such interesting questions that the book is absolutely worth reading.
So here's my understanding of what it's about. Penrose starts by explaining the basic puzzle, which was a key theme in The Road to Reality and has been tantalizing cosmologists in general for a good while. As everyone knows who was paying attention during high school physics, the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that entropy increases with time; the universe gets progressively more and more disordered. If you drop an egg off a table, it breaks. But the time-reverse of this process is so vanishingly improbable that you don't ever expect to see it happen. A mess of egg-white, yolk and shell will not magically reassemble itself into an intact egg and then bound off the floor onto a table.
The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)...more
They had now reached an area where the desert gave way to salt dunes and then to a substantial expanseThe Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
by J.G. Ballard
They had now reached an area where the desert gave way to salt dunes and then to a substantial expanse of water that Travis tentatively identified as the Dead Sea. His wife at first disagreed, but the Jeep contained no maps, and her knowledge of the local geography was even less certain than his; given a lack of alternate hypotheses, she accepted the label he had given it. The bitter, salty, undrinkable quality of the water was at least consistent with the fragments of knowledge they did possess. The roads had decayed with startling rapidity since the Event, and Travis negotiated his way, at a crawl, around frequent pot-holes.
The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)...more
**spoiler alert** Notgettingenough and I went to this critically acclaimed play a couple of nights ago at the West End. I watched the whole thing with**spoiler alert** Notgettingenough and I went to this critically acclaimed play a couple of nights ago at the West End. I watched the whole thing with rapt attention; Not, as she sometimes does, took a short nap halfway through. I imagined this would give me an advantage during the post-mortem, but I should have known better.
"So what did you think it was about?" she asked as we left the theatre.
"Um, dunno," I said. "Maybe a metaphor for the current state of England? I mean, here we are, rotten to the core, served with an eviction notice and a few hours to vacate the property, but we think our charm and verbal brilliance will somehow let us sneak out of it..."
"Was he supposed to be a Christ-figure?" interrupted Not, impatient with my slow mental processes.
I hadn't been alert, and as usual I'd failed even to consider the possibility. Just because Rooster Byron is a drunk who's banned from every pub in town and supplies the local kids with illegal substances while telling them preposterous lies and getting a few of the prettier girls pregnant, it hadn't crossed my mind that he might also be Jesus. Verily, the Day of the Lord cometh as the thief in the night: maybe we wouldn't recognise Him this time either, a theme James Blish also took pleasure in exploring. So how strong is the case here?
There was certainly a lot of camouflage. You wouldn't necessarily expect Christ to put a glass of tea-and-vodka down the front of his stained pants, cheat at Trivial Pursuits or recount off-colour jokes about having sex with the whole of Girls Aloud. But, just as with Lisbeth Salander, there were surprisingly many hints once you started looking for them. Why does everyone love the old reprobate so much, even the woman from the council who pins the eviction paperwork to the door of his grubby trailer? Why is he able to spread a mysterious joy and peace to so many people? (He drives a good many more mad with rage, but Jesus did that too). He claims to be a virgin birth, after an incident where a local philander is caught in flagrante and shot through the scrotum and the bullet, after multiple ricochets, ends up in his mother's panties. He's tortured and branded with a cross-shaped branding iron. But he rises again, and, at the end, he - maybe - summons heavenly assistance. And then of course there's the title.
It's a daring hypothesis, and Google turns up few other people who've had the same thought. Even though I still can't quite believe it, kudos to Not for lack of conventional religious prejudices. And whatever the message, it's definitely worth seeing. ...more