Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Liddell and Scott tell me that the Ancient Greek equivalent of "coals to Newcastle" is "owls to Athens".
A crocheted model of the Lorenz manifold. I've never even made a sweater. Instructions for the ambitious or foolhardy.

Via Science Fiction Blog.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Ich bin ein googlewhack.

Thank you, very odd web-searcher.

Two, actually.

I Am Become MAD SCIENCE, Destroyer of Worlds

Take that, Mr. (Oh, excuse me, Dr.) I'm-an-ex-Professor-so-I-don't-need-to-wear-a-tie-to-the-interview, and all your friends, the Better-Qualified-Than-You Bunch! Were you chosen to be a Mad Scientist? No. No, you were not. Because you didn't wear your lucky rocketship underpants!

I think I have revealed too much. To the Science Cave!

I have a job! Hee hee hee! Suckers!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Nietzsche v. Wagner

I have only two nits to pick with this excellent article. First nit:
Liébert struggles to make the case that Nietzsche was Wagner’s spiritual inferior: critical rather than creative, brilliant only in fragments, incapable of sustained flights of thought. Liébert fails to see how Nietzsche’s philosophic career was of a piece, how potent his own mythmaking capacity was, how his darting aphoristic style cohered with his conception of existence, in which the most honest theoretical man knows that the search for truth and not its supposed possession is the thing of supreme value. Nietzsche was a richer thinker than Wagner, and as fine an artist. No other post-Christian myth pierces the soul so profoundly as that of the eternal recurrence, and every other aspect of Nietzsche’s thought radiates from it. Like Wagner, Nietzsche was capable of callow monstrosity in his thought and rhetoric, and certain of his epigones were as loathsome as Wagner’s; indeed, the same Nazis who loved one usually loved the other. But of the two men there is no question who the superior was.
Eternal recurrence is the dullest possible form of immortality. It does not "pierce[] the soul". It bludgeons it.

Nit the second:
Tristan and Isolde could not understand how their moment of nonpareil bliss, which Wagner renders in the most sensually rapturous music ever written, might sustain a lifetime’s happiness in the everyday world. After peerless union such as theirs, death seems to offer the sole noble alternative to a gradual deterioration of their love. Tolstoy understood something essential that Wagner and Nietzsche did not: that the greatest part of love can survive and surpass even the most intense passion, and that what modern man most needs is not sublime myth but living truth.
I agree that Nietzsche never got it. But every time I hear the vorspiel to Parsifal, I'm convinced that Wagner did.

Still an excellent review of two books I'll probably never read. Via Arts and Letters Daily.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

This is what a trichobezoar looks like. They can kill you.

I should mention that one of the pages I found had the immortal line, "If you suffer from Trichophagia, PLEASE consult a doctor as this can be extremely fatal."

UPDATE: From the Bombay Hospital Journal
Harapanahalli Bezoar

In addition to the above-mentioned phytobezoars; this one needs a special mention for its uniqueness. This kind of bezoar is caused by a pill said to be made from the blood of a species of chameleon in combination with certain East Indian drugs. This was used by a certain Brahmin widows of the Western Taluks of Bellary District (Pre-independence Madras Presidency, prior to the formation of Mysore State, which was later named as Karnataka) to cause the slow decline and death of strangers who happened to share their table. There is a superstition among them that this mode of doing away with young and energetic men, mostly executive officials[,] paves the way for their [that of the young men, or the widows'? --me] salvation. Whatever the object might be, the bolus of food in which it is administered forms the Bezoar, with the minute pill as the nucleus, and the food around never gets digested. This is proven by the fa[c]t that even after six months the vomited bezoar, if it fortunately occurs, contains the very food in which it was administered originally. This kind of Bezoar acts in the same manner as all the others and causes symptoms akin to them.
The season is hot. Bring me snow from Korea, that I may cool my brow.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Let's check a piece of this argument, propounded by a Mr. Slavoj Zizek, by replacing a few key words:
According to a possible Roman Catholic counter-argument, the true danger is that, in engaging in biogenetics, we forget that we have immortal souls. This argument only displaces the problem, however. If this were the case, Catholic believers would be the ideal people to engage in biogenetic manipulation, since they would be aware that they were dealing only with the material aspect of human existence, not with the spiritual kernel. Their faith would protect them from reductionism. If we have an autonomous spiritual dimension, there is no need to fear biogenetic manipulation.

And now, another verision, replacement text in bold:
According to a possible Roman Catholic counter-argument, the true danger is that, in engaging in murder, we forget that we have immortal souls. This argument only displaces the problem, however. If this were the case, Catholic believers would be the ideal people to engage in murder, since they would be aware that they were dealing only with the material aspect of human existence, not with the spiritual kernel. Their faith would protect them from reductionism. If we have an autonomous spiritual dimension, there is no need to fear murder.
This exercise is a little unfair, but I think that it points out the problem with this interpretation of dualism. The Church does not (with a few exceptions) say, "You are an immortal soul, and therefore may commit murder." It says, "You are an immortal soul, and therefore may not." The material world is important; it just isn't the only one.

Moreover, I think he's laboring under a misapprehension about the nature of the soul. A man is not a body wrapped around a soul, but a body and a soul. The soul is the form of the body, and although it is obviously possible to separate the two, and although we believe that the soul continues after death, I think it fair to say that the soul is less perfect without a body. A man is the combination of soul and body; neither can comfortably exist without the other.

I don't believe that anyone would claim that the soul could not be influenced by the body. The sudden understanding of how to do it better seems to me irrelevant. Further on:
Again, we see it as perfectly justified when someone with a good natural singing voice takes pride in his performance, although we're aware that his singing has more to do with talent than with effort and training. If, however, I were to improve my singing by the use of a drug, I would be denied the same recognition (unless I had put a lot of effort into inventing the drug in question before testing it on myself). The point is that both hard work and natural talent are considered 'part of me', while using a drug is 'artificial' enhancement because it is a form of external manipulation. Which brings us back to the same problem: once we know that my 'natural talent' depends on the levels of certain chemicals in my brain, does it matter, morally, whether I acquired it from outside or have possessed it from birth?
What if the person with the singing voice takes pleasure in it not because of pride, but because it's a lovely voice? Mr. Zizek is so fixated on society's approval that he can't seem to see that a person can enjoy a talent not because they possess it, but because it is enjoyable. C. S. Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, has the eponymous character say on this subject that "the Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another." This selflessness, oddly, has no place in the philosophy of Mr. Zizek, where self is an amorphous product of a "network of social relations and material supplements".

If a person takes steroids because they need to be strong in order to complete some moral task, that seems to me a moral action. If they take them in order to beat someone else's home run record, that seems selfish and immoral. How hard is that? The question of record-keeping is best left to sportscasters, not philosophers.
To further complicate matters, it's possible that my willingness to accept discipline and work hard itself depends on certain chemicals. What if, in order to win a quiz, I don't take a drug which enhances my memory but one which 'merely' strengthens my resolve? Is this still 'cheating'?
Produce a drug which "strengthens resolve" and we'll talk. I am completely unable to imagine such a thing. I find that lack of will is not due to the weakness of my will, but instead the strength of various wills which I call mine, each pulling in a different direction. One will wants me to do something productive, another wants me to comment on irritating articles, another wants me to have a chocolate chocolate chip oatmeal cookie (not a typo; I love my wife), and another suggests a little self-discipline. Will this drug strengthen all these wills? That seems unhelpful. Will it merely strengthen one of them, the conscious one? This seems limiting and possibly tragic.

There is no question in my mind that drugs can make us stronger, smarter, faster, and concentrate on our schoolwork instead of staring out the window. What they cannot do is strengthen our will. And we should be clear about why we take them: it is not because we want to be strong, but because we want the world to be weak. We do not want to wrestle with the angels; we prefer tossing a grenade from a safe distance.

This dream of a weak world is, I think, behind any number of superhero fantasies. The impression one gets from, say, Spiderman, is not that Peter Parker has become strong, but that rather, his opponents have become weak. The bully is suddenly powerless, his (Peter's) surroundings are more malleable, and the girl is more easily approached.

And the importance of biological manipulations in this movie is no accident. Peter Parker, through changing his genes, suddenly has little to struggle with. Even the "super-villain" is no match for him in a clean fight. The Green Goblin must prey on Peter's human, all too human, weaknesses. If Peter had truly become strong, he'd have no difficulty making the decisions necessary (and wouldn't have needn't the plot device of remote-control treachery to kill the Goblin). He hasn't. The same would be true for any of us. So we're all stronger? With comparison to what? In the end, we tire of the endless Nietzschean struggle of will against will. We instinctively, and correctly, seek for something truly strong with which to wrestle. We seek to test our strength against that which makes all things strong.

I have little to say about the rest of the article. If I should have a wire stuck in my head which allows distant villains to control my actions, I am quite sure that I am not the agent responsible for them. Why this is considered a philosophical conundrum is beyond me, but then I'm not a dialectical-materialist. Oops! Sometimes the old ad hominem just slips out.

I'm going to steal an entire post from another blog that encapsulates the problem perfectly.
I don't need to be smarter than I am. I only want to be smarter than I am because I'm lazy, and smarts facilitate laze. But, thing is, I want to be not lazy even more than I want to be smart. 'Cause once I figure the trick of that out, I'll have enough to occupy me so that I won't feel the lack like I do in idleness. And that's living. So hop to. Hup hup hup. Argh.
I wish I could find the formula for industry. I'd bottle it and make a million dollars. But laziness or industry themselves are not the moral issue. They are only important there for what they can tell me about the state of my soul. My soul wants a cookie.

Original article found via Mr. Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Yes. It is Bad Arthropod Poetry Day.
The motherly ICHNEUMON, big
With gravid belly, flies above
The reedy pond. Upon a twig
She lights. Her only thought her love
Unholy, parasitical.
She seeks her prey the CADDISFLY,
Within whose larva to install
Her famin'd brood. They feast, it dies.
Thus most maternal one may seem
Which yet most monstrous we esteem.

--Gregor Prawne

UPON a garden's perfum'd bed
With various gaudy colours spread,
Beneath the shelter of a ROSE
A BUTTERFLY had sought repose;
Faint, with the sultry beams of day,
Supine the beauteous insect lay.

A BEE, impatient to devour
The nectar sweets of ev'ry flow'r,
Returning to her golden store,
A weight of fragrant treasure bore;
With envious eye, she mark'd the shade,
Where the poor BUTTERFLY was laid,
And resting on the bending spray,
Thus murmur'd forth her drony lay:–

"Thou empty thing, whose merit lies
In the vain boast of orient dies;
Whose glittering form the slightest breath
Robs of its gloss, and fades to death;

Who idly rov'st the summer day,
Flutt'ring a transient life away,
Unmindful of the chilling hour,
The nipping frost, the drenching show'r;
Who heedless of "to-morrow's fare,"
Mak'st present bliss thy only care;
Is it for THEE, the damask ROSE
With such transcendent lustre glows ?
Is it for such a giddy thing
Nature unveils the blushing spring ?
Hence, from thy lurking place, and know,
'Tis not for THEE her beauties glow."

The BUTTERFLY, with decent pride,
In gentle accents, thus reply'd:
"'Tis true, I flutter life away
In pastime, innocent and gay;
The SUN that decks the blushing spring
Gives lustre to my painted wing;
'Tis NATURE bids each colour vie,
With rainbow tints of varying die;
I boast no skill, no subtle pow'r
To steal the balm from ev'ry flow'r;
The ROSE, that only shelter'd ME,
Has pour'd a load of sweets on THEE;
Of merit we have both our share,
Heav'n gave thee ART, and made me FAIR;
And tho' thy cunning can despise
The humble worth of harmless flies;
Remember, envious, busy thing,
Thy honey'd form conceals a sting;

Enjoy thy garden, while I rove
The sunny hill, the woodbine grove,
And far remov'd from care and THEE,
Embrace my humble destiny;
While in some lone sequester'd bow'r,
I'll live content beyond thy pow'r;
For where ILL-NATURE holds her reign
TASTE, WORTH, and BEAUTY, plead in vain;
E'en GENIUS must to PRIDE submit
When ENVY wings the shaft of WIT.

--Mary Darby Robinson

Sunday, December 05, 2004

A Quick Clerihew About a Short-Lived Heresy

The Quartodecimans
Drew up elaborate lunar plans.
Despite their objections
The Church made corrections.

And, yeah, so I lied about disappearing. But seriously, content is going to be thin on the ground for a while.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Blogging, as it does not make me money, is going to fall by the wayside. I'll be out for about a month, both writing my own and reading others'. I had a really nice article about Multnomah Falls and autochthony, too.