Thursday, July 31, 2003

And I thought that the 'metal bar into a barn problem' was trouble.
Mars lives! Maybe. But we're all planning to catch the perihelic opposition, right? And look for water in the trenches?

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Interesting article on the future of humanity.

Some changes to men I understand and accept; after all, they're just rectifications--no cancer, no genetic pathologies, strength, control, dominion...scratch that last one, maybe. They are not alterations so much as completions of an ideal. But to alter oneself fundamentally is rather odd.

Let's make two assumptions for the moment. One: morality is simply an evolutionary tactic to increase the chance of one's genes surviving. Two: therefore, morality is uniquely designed for men, more or less as they stand now. It depends of human weakness and dependence on others, and has no intrinsic value, but receives value as a reproductive strategy.

Now, when we go to change ourselves, the question is, as Sheri Tepper succinctly put it, "What shall we become, now that we are no longer men?" And by what goals shall we be governed? What morality, if our morality is part and parcel with our form, shall we adopt when we leave that form behind? By what criteria shall we men judge these after-creatures, who are superior (I imagine) in mental and physical ways, perhaps immortal, perhaps near godly? Our morality cannot judge beyond itself; we have no guidelines for these super-men (yes, in the Nietzschean sense) who are beyond it. How can we then create them? Are we to be governed by necessity, or will-to-power, or aesthetics, for it cannot be morality. We have left all that behind. To say that a change is "for the better" is quite meaningless.

I cannot imagine myself as physically immortal; to achieve that would seem to me as traumatic as losing one of my senses. I even know which one: my proprioception. I would, morally, need to constantly watch my actions, having lost the easy guide upon which I so often rely. I would stumble frequently, and be unaware of it until I found my perceptions askew.

But I would guess that we will alter ourselves, early and often and deeply. We will give ourselves the traits that so many of us dreamed of having as we read science fiction. Perhaps we will become Slan, as it were. But we should remember that those stories only made sense in the context of a greater humanity. When that reference is gone, to what shall these creatures compare themselves? They will, according to our assumptions, govern themselves by a different Game Theory. They can afford to alienate; with enough power, they can afford to destroy recklessly. I mention this not to create fear of our offspring, but to see if anyone can, by the previous assumptions, accuse them of wrongdoing. If morality exists only to help us survive, they will be no more wrong to destroy those useless to them than we were not to destroy such people, who were not so useless to us. They do not, after all, require our presence, and gratitude has little enough value when no more such gifts are to be given. If, however, there are eternal truths and absolutes, they will be just as wrong to destroy us as we would be to destroy the most insignificant person.

Naturally we will be able to, eventually, hardwire either belief in our children. And, naturally, if they truly have reason, they can overcome such hardwiring. To hardwire a sort of immutable Kantian system in them might preserve us, and thus be moral under the assumptions, but they would not be descendants of the human race if they did not possess the ability to alter themselves according to their reason. After all, we altered them before their birth, according to ours.

If we leave ourselves as men, we keep our morality, but lose the chance to find whether morality is universal. If we risk changing ourselves beyond recognition, we leave our morality behind (perhaps! but only perhaps!) and find ourselves adrift, without the tropes that guided us so successfully. If we set morality upon them as a safeguard, we protect ourselves but destroy them as Beings. Our only moral option may be to create the race that will supersede us, and hope that they don't.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Bang, bang, bang. You've sure got life figured out, Cymbal Banging Monkey
In martial arts, one sometimes hears the phrase "stealing the techniques". There's some confusion about it; it is often used derogatorily, of an artist who 'dips' into a school for a few techniques to augment their own style, rather than learning deeply from the teacher. But it can also be used positively, of someone who can learn quickly through observation of the moves.

In most schools, teaching goes through three phases. First, the technique is described: the motion, the line of attack, the motive force, and the intended result are gone over and broken apart. This is a far cry from earlier martial arts schools in which, in part due to a language barrier between Oriental masters and Western students, often the only advice given was, "Do like this."

Next, the technique is demonstrated. This stage is where the skill of stealing the technique comes in handy. It can be difficult to break down the move, without performing it along with the teacher and thus getting immediate feedback, to its essential components. The technique is too large to hold in one's mind completely. Instead, as Picasso has done with this vulture, one must concentrate on the important elements. Is that hand position incidental or the that-for-the-sake-of-which? What is the angle of the hip, and why? As one advances in the art, one learns on what to concentrate. Instead of trying to capture each nuance of the demonstrator, one focuses on the important ones. Previously learned techniques inform the attempt to learn another.

Finally, the student must make the technique his own. Practicing alone or in a group, he has in his bones the knowledge of what the technique should be. He may not perform it correctly each time, but he has awareness of his body and can notice his mistakes, and, through practice, correct them.

Is the theory, anyway. Often times the student has a false or misled interpretation of the technique, and all his practice serves only to cement his errors. One often spends more time paring away from one's moves than adding to them.

I'm posting this because I realized that I've been performing my side-kick with a slight but non-trivial error each time. Now I've got years of practice to forget. Hmmph.

Bruce Campbell road trip!

Friday, July 25, 2003

Never will man penetrate deeper into error than when he is continuing on a road that has led him to great success.
F. A. Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science

Thursday, July 24, 2003

I spent the day loading boxes onto pallets for two increasingly irritable publishers, and having conversations along the lines of, "How many cloth Euclid on number one?"
"Three. No, two, with one soft Apollonius."

On the plus side, the second rule of philosophizing was invoked to save us having to check the boxes hidden behind others.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

This String Theory site will go on the sidebar, as soon as I get around to having one. Got a couple of hours to waste?

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

The Diamond Age gets closer.
Or, one might simply decide that dark matter is a stupid idea.
All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
--John Donne

Earth crowded cries, "Too many men,"—
My counsel is, Kill nine in ten

--R. W. Emerson

I have found by actual experience...that conversancy with [Hegel] tends to deprave one's intellect.
--John Stuart Mill

Sunday, July 20, 2003

I watched the first two cantos of Die Nibelungen tonight. I was struck, afterwards, by how immersed in the film I became. Part of the cause is that Fritz Lang is a genius, but I think another part, perhaps more important, was that the film was silent and black & white. The difference of the film from reality allowed me to turn off my inner censor, who comments on, say, Jar Jar Binks as unbelievable. The lack of color and speech established that this was a fantasy, where the rules were different and I would be wrong to apply those of day-to-day life.

When the dragon first appeared, its artificiality ('though it was very well done) let me view it as a symbol, and therefore to endow it with the qualities of dragons: ferocity, power, etc. myself. I didn't need it to breathe great blasts of fire; the smoke coming from its mouth as it fought Siegfried was enough to establish that.

I think films have, in the end, two choices: special effects must be perfect, or symbolic. I don't mean to imply any poverty of taste in the second category. Take Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for example. The flying scenes put a number of my acquaintances off the movie; they considered them silly. I took the flight as a symbol, of physical mastery, and this allowed me to enjoy both the beauty of the scenes (like ballet, wire-work, only instead of trying to stay in the air, one struggles to stay on the ground) and the imformation the flying conveyed, like: Jen Lung flies much better than Shu Lien does. I think it's because martial arts come so easily to her (she outpaces Jade Fox so quickly it frightens her), while Shu Lien has earned her skills through hard work. Watch how Jen easily out flies her, but Shu Lien outwits Jen in exchange. On the ground, away from all that nonsense, Shu Lien is far the better fighter. Even when Jen has the Green Destiny, Shu Lien can, through her brains (she's far the smartest in the film; watch her deal with Jen after the sword is stolen, the first time trying to be subtle, the second time rather straightforwardly) defeat Jen--without using her favored weapon. Hmm. Long side note. Anyway:

On the other end of the spectrum are perfect special effects. I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean recently, and the pirate army doesn't jar in any way. They just are skeletal pirates cursed by Aztec gold (this is not a spoiler, people, and anyway, if you can't predict the entirety of the film from the previews, you're not paying attention. Not that that ruins the film; there are, after all, skeletal pirates and Johnny Depp doing a mean Keith Richards/Pepe Le Pew impression), and because they move so perfectly, one accepts them as part of the movie.

I'm not sure, though, that even perfect special effects would work in a more serious movie. If I wanted to frighten someone with skeletal pirates, even flawless computer graphics would still be computer graphics, and in a more serious setting, disbelief is harder to suspend (think of a little kid, telling himself that it's not real. Even he, with a slightly less developed Weltanschauung, knows in his head that skeletal pirates aren't really out there). The best one can hope for is that the audience will play along, and have a "good scare": one they walk away from with a little adrenaline rush. This is why one should never, ever, show the monster in a horror movie.

But with symbolic special effects, it could work. There's nothing terrifying about shadowy corners and strange camera angles, but add some violins (and I think the music is as important as the visuals, in Die Nibelungen and elsewhere) and people will jump when a cat wanders on screen (the origin of the term "cat scare"!).

I've babbled enough for one night, I think. But I got the word Weltanschauung in, which is always a bonus.

Oh! I know! The difference between perfect and symbolic is like the difference between, say, a Petrarchian sonnet, and a Sappho fragment. A Petrarchian sonnet is nice, and I'm sure Laura would have loved it, but it doesn't affect me the way "I desire not the honey nor the bee" does. Or "to the girl with hair the yellow of a pine-pitch fire". Not to diss Petrarch. Anyone against the Aristotelians is a friend of mine.

This post has to end before I start muttering about 'brights' or something ('smugs' is very nice. I like Dawkins; he's taught me almost everything I know about evolutionary biology, but man! How junior high is this meme?). Maybe I'll post my thoughts on divinely inspired migraines and Hildegard von Bingen next. That should drive off all accidental traffic.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

"Of the many wicked deeds attributed to pirates, there is one which has a secure foundation, and that is the marooning of victims on desert islands."
--David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag

Looks like some traditions never die:

Hijacked tug "Bintan 1200" and barge "Bintan Golden 2301"
Bintan 1200 was towing the barge from Jambi to Kijang, Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia. On 10.07.2003 near Dabo Sinkep, Sinkep island, Indonesia, a fast speed boat came alongside and a group of armed men boarded the tug. Crew were blind folded and tied up and subsequently landed at a nearby island. On 12.07.2003 they were rescued by fishermen. The tug and barge are still missing.

From last week's Piracy Report

UPDATE: That's two days, not months, those of you who wrote. But horrible either way, yes.

I've been meaning to post a link to Miss Kate, through whom I am enjoying a vicarious European vacation.
I haven't had much time for anything except work, sleep, and more work-related nightmares (last night my tables were arranged on the inner surface of a giant sphere (those of you who have played Serious Sam will know what I'm talking about) and I had to run around and around trying to get to all of them), so blogging has been, shall we say, light. I stop by only because I have excellent news: Pamela Dean's Secret Country books are being reissued. Also, she's working on a new book. No word whether it's the same as mentioned in her interview with Strange Horizons.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

My nightmare last night: I was working at a Mexican Restaurant with a dinosaur theme, and at every table I had to say, "Hi, my name is [Odious], and I'm a fully certified server-saurus! Would you care for a Margarita Rex this evening?"

Sunday, July 13, 2003

When [the impulse to serve posterity] is strong...I suppose I shall obey it. When it is weak I shall put my money into cheese.
--C.S. Lewis
I've been following the "Bright" debate among the blogs from a distance, but I thought I'd link to Pejman Yousefzadeh's rather splenetic response to an editorial in the New York Times by Daniel Dennett.

I wonder if this idea that certain beliefs are only held because the believers are too weak-willed to face 'things as they are' isn't Nietzsche's. If we judge by what theists say of themselves, the main reason they believe in a Supreme Being is the excellent design of the Universe. While this argument has been around for quite a while, and has often come under fire from various positions, it is at least a rational argument.

Moreover, to claim that people find comfort in religion is true but incomplete and misleading. It is, to use modern cant, ethnocentric. The Christian faith, the Buddhist, and the wishy-washy spiritualism now common, all provide a kind of comfort. The Aztec religion did not. The Greeks found their gods disturbing at times: willful, inscrutable, and malevolent. The Hindoo tradition of the juggernaut is not a pleasant one (although those who have visions of Kali, with her necklace of skulls and entrails, describe her as "motherly"). The sacrifices of the pagans, the monstrosities the Egyptians worshipped, the hideous flautists of Azazoth: none particularly nice.

The disciples of Nietzsche have split into two opposing camps. One of them, whom I'll lump as "post-modernists", have (presumably) passed 'Beyond Good and Evil', and found the truth: there is no truth. There is only the will-to-power expressing itself. And so, one view is no more or less valid than another. They're self-refuting enough to be ignored.

The others have such will-to-power as cannot be satisfied by such a cowardly decision: it leaves them without a battleground to defend or attack, which is the only way their will can be fulfilled. They pass beyond good and evil into absolutes; and for them, the finaly absolute is Nature. Things as they are, in all their confusion, complexity, amorality, and mortality, are the touchstone of this second group, as the only thing near enough to eternal (and, of course, once that's gone, who'll be around to know?) to be worth struggling to know, overcome, and utilize.

Naturally, both groups being predicated on the will-to-power, they view those who will not accept their conclusions as weaker than they, less able to 'steer their craft', as Nietzsche puts it. For those of us who take another view, not that the ideas we hold are decided by our capacity, but by our education, our reason, and our predelictions, this is rather irritating.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Events are not warranting anything, but I thought I'd send a link to the Arcata Eye Police Log, which is almost always worth a read.

Monday, July 07, 2003

I'm back from the wilds of Minnesota, with few injuries but a good deal of hair burned off (this is true). Further bulletins as events warrant, I suppose.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

When I found we'd been linked by Natalie Solent, I performed an indescribable dance of happiness which sent the cats into hiding for several hours and ended with a badly stubbed toe.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Our satisfactory cat Horseflesh approached me this morning and asked, "Why is Vermin [our other, less-than-satisfactory cat] refusing to play 'Let's Thump Vermin About'? I jump on her and all she does is stick her bottom at me." (It should be understood that Horseflesh does not actually speak, but is quite capable of conveying his meaning through other means.)

"Well," I said, "Vermin's going through some changes. She's becoming a young To be brief, she's getting interested in toms."

Horseflesh considered. "Is that why she was yowling all night long at the front door, until you threw that towel at her?"


"Why haven't I gotten interested in females?"

"Well, Horseflesh, when you were little we took you on a nice vacation to the veterinarian...."

Some time later, Horseflesh said, "Huh. Well, I think you should talk to Vermin before you take her on a nice vacation. I'll be napping in the dryer, so remember not to turn it on."

I found Vermin rubbing her bottom against the bedroom carpet. "Vermin," I began.

"Here's my bottom!" she said. "Look!"

"Vermin, we need to have a talk about the changes you're going through."

"Here it is again! My bottom!"

"Yes, very nice. Now, tomorrow we're going on a trip...."


"Vermin, have you ever wondered why we call you the 'less-than-satisfactory cat'?"

"Bottom bottom bottom bottom. Bottom."

All of which is to say, I'm going to Minnesota for five days, and since I plan to spend as much time as possible submerged, blogging will be light. I hope to become a big pink prune. Ta!