Thursday, December 31, 2009
And to SAL's question (in 2010) about dreams, I want to like Chandra's original reply: Of course. All intelligent beings dream.
But I prefer his honesty at the end, when HAL asks "Will I dream?": I don't know.
We don't know yet, if human dreams will create something wonderful. "Thanks for telling me the truth." Do we deserve it, either something wonderful or the truth? Don't know that either. We live in interesting times.
But I also like HAL's testimonial to our species: "I enjoy working with human beings, and have stimulating relationships with them."
So do I, pretty much. So here's to better decades to come. Happy New Year, all!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Thus spake Ayn Rand, in Anthem...
What disaster took their reason away from men? What whip lashed them to their knees in shame and submission? The worship of the word "We."
When men accepted that worship, the structure of centuries collapsed about them, the structure whose every beam had come from the thought of some one man, each in his day down the ages, from the depth of some one spirit, such as spirit existed but for its own sake. Those men who survived—those eager to obey, eager to live for one another, since they had nothing else to vindicate them—those men could neither carry on, nor preserve what they had received. Thus did all thought, all science, all wisdom perish on earth. Thus did men—men with nothing to offer save their great numbers—lose the steel towers, the flying ships, the power wires, all the things they had not created and could never keep. Perhaps, later, some men had been born with the mind and the courage to recover these things which were lost; perhaps these men came before the Councils of Scholars. They answered as I have been answered—and for the same reasons.
But I still wonder how it was possible, in those graceless years of transition, long ago, that men did not see whither they were going, and went on, in blindness and cowardice, to their fate. I wonder, for it is hard for me to conceive how men who knew the word "I," could give it up and not know what they had lost. But such has been the story, for I have lived in the City of the damned, and I know what horror men permitted to be brought upon them.
Perhaps, in those days, there were a few among men, a few of clear sight and clean soul, who refused to surrender that word. What agony must have been theirs before that which they saw coming and could not stop! Perhaps they cried out in protest and in warning. But men paid no heed to their warning. And they, those few, fought a hopeless battle, and they perished with their banners smeared by their own blood. And they chose to perish, for they knew. To them, I send my salute across the centuries, and my pity.
Theirs is the banner in my hand. And I wish I had the power to tell them that the despair of their hearts was not to be final, and their night was not without hope. For the battle they lost can never be lost. For that which they died to save can never perish. Through all the darkness, through all the shame of which men are capable, the spirit of man will remain alive on this earth. It may sleep, but it will awaken. It may wear chains, but it will break through. And man will go on. Man, not men.
Here, on this mountain, I and my sons and my chosen friends shall build our new land and our fort. And it will become as the heart of the earth, lost and hidden at first, but beating, beating louder each day. And word of it will reach every corner of the earth. And the roads of the world will become as veins which will carry the best of the world's blood to my threshold. And all my brothers, and the Councils of my brothers, will hear of it, but they will be impotent against me. And the day will come when I shall break the chains of the earth, and raze the cities of the enslaved, and my home will become the capital of a world where each man will be free to exist for his own sake.
For the coming of that day I shall fight, I and my sons and my chosen friends. For the freedom of Man. For his rights. For his life. For his honor.
And here, over the portals of my fort, I shall cut in the stone the word which is to be my beacon and my banner. The word which will not die, should we all perish in battle. The word which can never die on this earth, for it is the heart of it and the meaning and the glory.
The sacred word: EGO
"Ego" is rescued from dirtiness only by a balancing "we." Our sacred individuality depends on it. Socrates knew that, and Emerson. What is it about Rand that strikes so many students as "sage"? Haven't figured that out yet, but I'll bet it's from the same strain of egoism that infected Nietzsche. More on that to come.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Re “Heaven and Nature,” by Ross Douthat (column, Dec. 21):
Mr. Douthat tells readers that in the absence of an “escape upward” from heartless Nature into the arms of a God willing to “take on flesh and come among us,” human existence is a tragedy. He further says that we are “beasts with self-consciousness” who “stand half inside the natural world and half outside it.”
Really, now. There’s more to Nature than the “suffering and death” that Mr. Douthat assigns to it. “Nature red in tooth and claw” is a cliché outmoded for generations. Birth, growth, healing and nurturance are all parts of the natural order, too, even among “beasts.”
Religion is an attempt to make sense of the world. That much is necessary for survival. But “numinous experience” is not a requirement. At the risk of being a Christmas killjoy, let me suggest it can actually be a liability, by encouraging people to reject reason for divine revelation.
And let me suggest: "numinous" experience takes many forms, and is often mistaken for pedestrian ordinariness. Mysteries abound, transcendence is just a step away. Don't short-change the possibilities inherent in the everyday.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
And speaking of evolution and religion... "According to Nicholas Wade (How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures) religions are machines for manufacturing social solidarity. They bind us into groups. Long ago, codes requiring altruistic behavior, and the gods who enforced them, helped human society expand from families to bands of people who were not necessarily related. We didn’t become religious creatures because we became social; we became social creatures because we became religious. Or, to put it in Darwinian terms, being willing to live and die for their coreligionists gave our ancestors an advantage in the struggle for resources.
Wade holds that natural selection can operate on groups, not just on individuals, a contentious position among evolutionary thinkers. He does not see religion as what Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin called a spandrel — a happy side effect of evolution (or, if you’re a dyspeptic atheist, an unhappy one). He does not agree with the cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer that religion is a byproduct of our overactive brains and their need to attribute meaning and intention to a random world. He doesn’t perceive religious ideas as memes — that is to say, the objects of a strictly cultural or mental process of evolution. He thinks we have a God gene..."
What does he mean, "we"? And what's so great about being bound into a group, when your group is small and exclusive? But that's Robert Wright's point: our groups are expanding, "evolving," becoming more inclusive. But "we" are still killing one another over our different religious commitments. That's Christopher Hitchens' point. They're all correct. So who's right? And who's really dyspeptic?
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Eight months is not what Stewart Brand and his friends at the Long Now Foundation call "long-term thinking." They want us to start keeping time on a 10,000 year cycle.
That's still a drop in the bucket, "cosmic calendar"-wise, but it sure puts the 24-hour news cycle mentality to shame. It may just be the change we ultimately need, if life on this dusky orb is to have a long-term future.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
More pointedly: environmentalists had high expectations for Copenhagen. Are they right to be disappointed and discouraged? Should they keep their shoulders to the wheel? Yes and yes.
McKibben is the very voice of clear-eyed radical engagement, unblinking realism, and sweet reason. He rightly points out that even the sharpest politicians don't seem to grasp the uncompromising urgency of our predicament. A caller rightly pointed out that the issue is not the survival of planet earth, but the tenability of our continued human presence here. The more our leaders delay, the more irrelevant we become.
Political incrementalism is clearly inadequate to the challenges we face, but we must persevere. The alternative is too hopeless to contemplate.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Today, for instance, I got to run Younger Daughter to her friend's for a play-date, half-way across town. Two and a half hours later I got to go back and accompany them both to "The Princess and the Frog"-- cute, nice Happy message ("Dig a little deeper," find out who you are and then you'll know what you need. Love, of course.)-- then back to friend's house so she can help bake Christmas cookies.
Arriving home again at last, just as the sun dips out of sight on this short Solstice afternoon, I learn that Older Daughter needs something to eat and, guess what, a ride. So it's back to Green Hills to meet her friends for dinner and a move.
How will I spend my evening? I figure I have 45 minutes off, 'til it's time again to run the shuttle. And the shuttle today is a monster truck, a Chevy Silverado. It was the only replacement rental they could give me, while my Corolla's in the shop.Shortest day of the year, indeed.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
*Solomon & Higgins, A Passion for Wisdom: A Very Brief History of Philosophy
*Richardson, William James: in the Maelstrom of American Modernism
*de Botton, Consolations of Philosophy
*Critchley, Book of Dead Philosophers
Everyone will also be encouraged to find a volume of popular philosophy that speaks peculiarly to an interest of their own, and either write or do a class presentation about it. (Jimmy Buffett and Philosophy, anyone?)
If the Critchley title sounds too morbid, I promise you it is not. Mortality was never so much fun, in fact. Here is the author, surveying a very brief history of how Big Questioners have shuffled off our humble coil. (Best exit line, seasonally appropriate just now, was from Wittgenstein: "Tell them it was a wonderful life.")
Saturday, December 19, 2009
SOUTH BEND, IN—Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of All Mankind, and current defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, said Monday that He would not accept Notre Dame's 3-year, $5.6 million offer to coach the Fighting Irish. "I love Notre Dame and respect their football legacy, but no matter what you've accomplished before coaching there, once you're a Golden Domer, the expectations, frankly, are unrealistic," said Christ, whose family has been involved with the university since its founding. "I've had people turn on Me before, and it really put Me through hell. But even more importantly, I've made a commitment to stay with the Blue Raiders through 2015."
Friday, December 18, 2009
*Comte-Sponville, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality
*Solomon, Spirituality for the Skeptic
*Hitchens, Portable Atheist
*Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow
*Hecht, Doubt: A History
*Wright, Evolution of God
(And if time permits, a new novel by Debra Goldstein, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God)
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Thank you, whoever you are, you're very welcome. I hope you got a good grade.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Conservatives warn of lawsuit as atheist takes office in N.C. city
Tenn.'s constitution contains similar ban
RALEIGH, N.C. — Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell believes in ending the death penalty, conserving water and reforming government — but he doesn't believe in God. His political opponents say that's a sin that makes him unworthy of serving in office, and they've got the North Carolina Constitution on their side.
Bothwell's detractors are threatening to take the city to court for swearing him in, even though the state's requirement that officeholders believe in God is unenforceable because it violates the U.S. Constitution.
"The question of whether or not God exists is not particularly interesting to me, and it's certainly not relevant to public office," the recently elected 59-year-old said.
Bothwell ran this fall on a platform that also included limiting the height of downtown buildings and saving trees in the city's core, views that appealed to voters in the liberal-leaning community at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. When Bothwell was sworn into office on Monday, he used an alternative oath that doesn't require officials to swear on a Bible or reference "Almighty God."
That has riled conservative activists, who cite a little-noticed quirk in North Carolina's Constitution that disqualifies officeholders "who shall deny the being of Almighty God." The provision was included when the document was drafted in 1868 and wasn't revised when North Carolina amended its constitution in 1971. One foe, H.K. Edgerton, is threatening to file a lawsuit in state court against the city to challenge Bothwell's appointment.
"My father was a Baptist minister. I'm a Christian man. I have problems with people who don't believe in God," said Edgerton, a former local NAACP president and founder of Southern Heritage 411, an organization that promotes the interests of black Southerners...
In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that federal law prohibits states from requiring any kind of religious test to serve in office when it ruled in favor of a Maryland atheist seeking appointment as a notary public.
But the federal protections don't necessarily spare atheist public officials from spending years defending themselves in court...
Bothwell was raised a Presbyterian but began questioning Christian beliefs at a young age and considered himself an atheist by the time he was 20. He's an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, and he still celebrates Christmas, often hanging ornaments on his fishhook cactus...Merry Christmas!
Monday, December 14, 2009
Is that where it came from? I was blaming one of the students who plugged a flash-drive into our department computer for a power-point on Friday. Maybe you're off the hook, friend.
"'LOL,' as my children would tell you, is not the style that I want to engage the world with." Me neither.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
What does "adult" mean in this context, David Brooks? Does it mean that we must always honor the faith of our fathers, cast it in the best (not the truest) imaginable light, and villify all who dispute our particular version of orthodoxy?
"Generations of Sunday school teachers have turned Hanukkah into the story of unified Jewish bravery against an anti-Semitic Hellenic empire. Settlers in the West Bank tell it as a story of how the Jewish hard-core defeated the corrupt, assimilated Jewish masses. Rabbis later added the lamp miracle to give God at least a bit part in the proceedings."
Or does "adult" mean acknowledging the inadequacy of every self-serving version of this-- as of every-- human story?
Friday, December 11, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
All the great religions have shown time and again that they're capable of tolerance and civility when their adherents don't feel threatened or disrespected.
Bullshit. All the great religions have shown time and again that when they have unquestioned power, they use it, and they don't use it for tolerance and civility, they use it for social control and for their own protection and well-being. Robert Wright should take a few minutes to ponder the tolerance and civility of the Irish Catholic church.
OK, point granted: compassion is still a goal and an ideal, not an institutional value to be found and consistently cherished in the church-centered mainstream. I agree. But Karen's still right to urge the pursuit of that goal. No reason why atheists shouldn't be happy to endorse it too.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
I find that many are still misinformed about the injury problem in football, thinking improvements in padding, helmets, and other gear will adequately address it. Again, it's typically not the hardest hits that do the greatest harm.
"Contrary to popular belief, a concussion is not a bruise to the brain caused by hitting a hard surface. Indeed, no physical swelling or bleeding is usually seen on radiological scans. The injury generally occurs when the head either accelerates rapidly and then is stopped, or is spun rapidly.
This violent shaking causes the brain cells to become depolarized and fire all their neurotransmitters at once in an unhealthy cascade, flooding the brain with chemicals and deadening certain receptors linked to learning and memory. The results often include confusion, blurred vision, memory loss, nausea and, sometimes, unconsciousness.
Neurologists say once a person suffers a concussion, he is as much as four times more likely to sustain a second one. Moreover, after several concussions, it takes less of a blow to cause the injury and requires more time to recover."
And, there's a culture in football at every level of admiring and rewarding players who refuse to be deterred by concussion and other "minor" injuries. The NFL is finally acknowledging this problem, but whether it can be fixed is doubtful.
And when you're tempted to watch the NFL mayhem tonight, or whenever, consider instead checking the MLB network's schedule. Gaylord Perry is hurling spitters right this minute on channel 199 here.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
For all my football fan friends who are moping about the Titans' loss to the Colts this afternoon: it's not too late to tune in, on the MLB network cable channel, to the fabled "Sandberg" game between the Cubs and Cards, June 23, 1984. It won't turn out well for "my team" but that's ok, nobody will incur life-threatening internal injury either.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Here's a thought:
Spiritual life means mastery of oneself - no tears, no stupidities, no depression, no complaints, no praise, no blame. The opposites collapse. Where there are opposites there is no peace, no true happiness, no power. Human beings and animals are the victims and slaves of joy and sorrow, hatred and love. The lover of the Divine is above this. He does not lose his head - always calm, always in self-control, always in the same state, always all-independent. In disease and in death, in merriment and in happiness, he remains above the mind. Guru is such a person. He lives in the Light...
Here are some other thoughts, from Chris Phillips:
"It seems to me that the gurus are flourishing... There has been an upsurge of interest in the irrational." His solution: Socratic humility as a basis for respectful engagement across all our many cultural divides, and as a spur to "an enduring curiosity that cannot be quenched or satisfied by the facile responses of know-it-all gurus."
Or, to paraphrase the slightly more crytpic (and lyrical) words of Van Morrison: "no gurus, no teachers, no method." Well, no method except for the Socratic one.
Friday, December 4, 2009
"Where will synthetic biology lead us?" asks Michael Specter (author of Denialism). Some think life's about to start making of itself a creator of brand-new forms of life-- not in the Wittgensteinian sense, but for real. What might await our form of life, at the other end of that rabbit-hole?
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The fixed nature of goals also forces us to make our future skills and insights conform to an understanding of life that may no longer be valid or effective. We end up trying to force new ideas and insights into a shape that conforms to our old worldview so that they will fit our goal. Again, this has a narrowing effect on our thinking and our options.
Finally, goals can also function almost like a drug, an escape from an uncomfortable or painful situation. By focusing on a future goal, we can justify tolerating a present situation that we do not like. This allows us to justify inaction and indecision.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
More soldiers committed suicide this year than in any year for which we have complete records. But the military is now able to meet its recruitment goals because the young men and women who are signing up can’t find jobs in civilian life. The United States is broken — school systems are deteriorating, the economy is in shambles, homelessness and poverty rates are expanding — yet we’re nation-building in Afghanistan, sending economically distressed young people over there by the tens of thousands at an annual cost of a million dollars each... We still haven’t learned to recognize real strength, which is why it so often seems that the easier choice for a president is to keep the troops marching off to war."
"The goal," said [one student], "should be to obtain inner peace for yourself and do random acts of kindness for strangers." [He] calls himself a "spiritual atheist." He doesn't believe in God or the supernatural but thinks experiences like meditation or brushes with nature can produce biochemical reactions that feel spiritual.
Great, but in "Atheism & Spirituality" we're going to go a step further and ask not just if non-believers can feel but if they can actually be whatever an atheist could mean by "spiritual." "Where there are rocks," says Alan Watts, "watch out. Watch out! They're eventually going to come alive." Stay tuned.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
And as Megan says, our culture's consumerist preoccupation with stuff and celebrity trivia is a huge distraction from the challenge of long-term, sustainable, real human flourishing. Shopping is not the solution.
But neither is whining. I stand by my dawn post, and the Schulzian insight that happiness can be anyone and anything that engages and sustains your passion. Maybe that's the most sympathetic way of translating "Bashar's" talk of vibrations and excitement.
The medium was not Tara's message, "acting on your joy" is timeless wisdom, and it doesn't take a "multi-dimensional" future-world spirit with a cheesy accent to tell us so. A new attitude really can change the quality of your experience, which after all is inseparable from reality as you know it. Our oppressors (capitalist and otherwise) can't take that away.
Empirical studies have demonstrated this close link in our minds between the pursuit of fame and our desire to overcome death. For example, in experimental conditions, when subtly reminded of their mortality (but not other unpleasant or disturbing things), people expressed a greater desire to become famous, or to have a star (a quintessentially enduring object) named after them. So despite its inherent implausibility, the belief that celebrity helps us to transcend mortality seems to be more than a mere metaphor. Like Glaucus and Achilles, we really do seem to believe that it is a way of living on.
Life of Brian holds up very well after 30 years, and still has the power to shock. However, current tastes and sensitivities make it highly unlikely that a comedy group would even attempt making a film like Brian today.
That said, the film’s view of blind faith seems as apposite as ever...
Let's not mince words: it's the best parody of religion and the greatest comic film of all time, and it appeals to a wide spectrum of people including the enlightened religious. If they wouldn't make it now, that's a very sad commentary on now.