motto lotto

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

a fiction author's first encounter with Nietzsche

I stumbled upon this fiction author reading 60 of Penguin's Great Ideas series in 60 days. His post today is on Nietzsche's Why I am so Wise. I hate to think of this as a first encounter with Nietzsche. Birth of Tragedy or Untimely Meditations, The Portable Nietzsche (minus Zarathustra) are probably better places to start.
As I continued on into “Why I am So Clever,” “Why I Write Such Good Books,” and “Why I am a Destiny,” though, my ability to fight off feelings of ennui at the author’s approach began to fade. You have to do a lot of work to get to those nuggets, those secret pockets of substance. You have to wade through a lot of self-detail that began to take on a quality similar to encountering someone at a cocktail party who responds to direct statements with long, convoluted anecdotes about their childhood. It’s possible the details are what’s important, that Nietzsche is setting out parables like some kind of five-dimensional Aesop, but the thought occurred to me that perhaps he was just a raving lunatic who had managed by simple force of will to impress his “brilliance” upon the ages. Or that in this instance Penguin had failed in their selection–that there was some essential other text I required to make this verbiage less spittle-tinged. (I fully expect enlightenment upon reading the comments on this post.)

Jeff VanderMeer Reads Nietzsche

How to win an argument with Richard Dawkins

"A great man once said it is a tragedy when scientists turn theologians in their old age. Oh wait, that was you. Get back to work!"

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

This is awesome

My latest attempt at not working is This one is particularly awesome. When you mouse over it on the webpage it says "They're both Tyler Durden."

Mike says I should say something about myself. I'm Chris. I met Mike at a "How to be a cult leader" convention he was hosting on a yacht on Lake Titicaca. Turns out it was a trap to get people into his "become a cult leader" cult. Lesson learned: don't drink the Kool-Aid. Pyrimid scams are a bitch. That about says it all.

soda should be the new sin tax?

Shaun Miller pointed out this video of Dr. Richard Daines, the New York state commissioner of health. I don't much care for sin taxes but perhaps soda could be seen more obviously as neosin given the obesity problem.

Disclaimer: I love beer, especially homebrew which is probably more healthy (in moderation).

Monday, December 22, 2008

not guilty

The case that I blogged about a while ago finally went to a jury trial today. Luckily (?) our Armenian friend lost her job so the court did end up appointing an attorney. More importantly, the court appointed attorney did a great job. Sarah was nervous but she did really well. Only one of the witnesses for the prosecution showed up. Chalk one up for the justice system.

Good to note the positive examples, especially when you hear some of the worst negative examples.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

fighting monsters

A cliché Nietzsche quote but this one seemed apt today.

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you."

BGE #146 Kaufmann

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jorge Luis Borges on poetry, argument

Had the poet said so in so many words, he would have been far less effective. Because, as I understand it, anything suggested is far more effective than anything laid down. Perhaps the human mind has the tendency to deny a statement. Remember what Emerson said: arguments convince nobody. They convince nobody because they are presented as arguments. Then we look at them, we weigh them, we turn them over, and we decide against them.

But when something is merely said or--better still--hinted at, there is a kind of hospitality in our imagination. We are ready to accept it. I remember reading, some thirty years ago, the works of Martin Buber--I thought of them as being wonderful poems. Then, when I went to Buenos Aires, I read a book by a friend of mine, Dujovne, and I found in its pages, much to my astonishment, that Martin Buber was a philosopher and that all his philosophy lay in the books I had read as poetry. Perhaps I had accepted those books because they came to me through poetry, through suggestion, through the music of poetry, and not as arguments. I think that somewhere in Walt Whitman the same idea can be found: the idea of reasons being unconvincing. I think he says somewhere that he finds the night air, the large few stars, far more convincing than mere arguments.

This Craft of Verse p.31-32 - Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wittgensteinian foundationalism?

Bringing the views of Grayling, Moyal-Sharrock and Stroll together, I argue that in On Certainty, Wittgenstein explores the possibility of a new kind of foundationalism. Distinguishing propositional language-games from non-propositional, actional certainty, Wittgenstein investigates a foundationalism sui generis. Although he does not forthrightly state, defend, or endorse what I am characterizing as a "new kind of foundationalism," we must bear in mind that On Certainty was a collection of first draft notes written at the end of Wittgenstein's life. The work was unprogrammatic, sometimes cryptic. Yet, his exploration into areas of knowledge, certitude and doubt suggest an identifiable direction to his thoughts.

Recognizing Targets: Wittgenstein's Exploration of a New Kind of Foundationalism in On Certainty - Robert Greenleaf Brice (via Methods of Projection)
This sounds interesting, too bad I don't have access.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I'm really not sure what to say about this except maybe, "Is Laura Bush now participating in the war on Christmas?". She did say "happy holiday" instead of Merry Christmas there at the end. ;)

via Andrew Sullivan

Reading, 2009

books - Source: wikimedia commons
I thought I read a lot of books this year until I read Robert Archambeau's list. Better than what I read this past year (which you probably already know too much about if you read this blog) is what I want to read next year. If you are reading any of these as well that may guide my reading.
  • The Catcher in the Rye - Salinger
  • Breakfast of Champions - Vonnegut
  • Anathem - Neil Stephenson (I'm still in the first hundred pages.)
  • Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Joyce (started but failed to finish both of these in 2008)
  • more by Camus, probably at least The Fall and The Stranger
  • Demons and The Idiot by Dostoevsky (Camus inspired me to re-read these, still trying to get a handle on those crazy Russians)
  • Nietzsche - Karl Jaspers (Still in the first hundred pages of this as well.)
  • I and Thou - Martin Buber
  • Cycles of Conquest - Spicer
  • Huenemann's book on rationalism
  • The Golden Sayings of Epictetus
  • The Federalist Papers
  • correspondence between Adams and Jefferson
  • lots of poetry - I'm open to suggestions.
  • more essays by Orwell, Montaigne and Emerson
  • something by
    • Max Stirner
    • Stendhal
    • David Foster Wallace
    • Epicurus
    • Rousseau
    • Jung
    • Jorge Luis Borges

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Whitman on wisdom

Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.

Here a great personal deed has room,
(Such a deed seizes upon the hearts of the whole race of men,
Its effusion of strength and will overwhelms law and mocks all
authority and all argument against it.)

Here is the test of wisdom,
Wisdom is not finally tested in schools,
Wisdom cannot be pass'd from one having it to another not having it,
Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof,
Applies to all stages and objects and qualities and is content,
Is the certainty of the reality and immortality of things, and the
excellence of things;
Something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes
it out of the soul.

Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,
They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the
spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing currents.

Here is realization,
Here is a man tallied--he realizes here what he has in him,
The past, the future, majesty, love--if they are vacant of you, you
are vacant of them.

Walt Whitman Song of the Open Road

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ashtekar's alternative to the big bang

Instead of a universe that emerged from a point of infinite density, we will have one that recycles, possibly through an eternal series of expansions and contractions, with no beginning and no end.

Did our cosmos exist before the big bang? ( 12/10/2008)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the way you think about Thomas Jefferson

If the story of the Sally Hemings liaison be true, as I believe it is, it represents not scandalous debauchery with an innocent slave victim, as the Federalists and later the abolitionists insisted, but rather a serious passion that brought Jefferson and the slave woman much private happiness over a period lasting thirty-eight years. It also brought suffering, shame, and even political paralysis in regard to Jefferson's agitation for emancipation.

Eric McKitrick has written perceptively that "the values of Thomas Jefferson's career are basic to the entire system of American culture," and "the way you think about Thomas Jefferson largely determines how you will think about any number of other things." But the way one thinks about Thomas Jefferson is conditioned as much by what others have written about him as by the inner needs of the reader in search of a hero. It makes some difference to the hero-seeker whether, on the one hand, he is convinced by the so-called historical record that Jefferson was indeed a brooding celibate Irish clergyman "holding down the lid in the parish"--in Carl Becker's words, "a man whose ardors were cool, giving forth light without heat" -- or whether, on the other hand, he considers him a casual debaucher of many slave women, as some blacks today believe. There remains, however, a third alternative: that he was a man richly endowed with warmth and passion but trapped in a society which savagely punished miscegenation, a man, moreover, whose psychic fate it was to fall in love with the forbidden woman. The fault, it can be held, lay not in Jefferson but in the society which condemned him to secrecy.

Once one accepts the premise that a man's inner life has a continuing impact upon his public life, then the whole unfolding tapestry of Jefferson's life is remarkably illuminated. His ambivalences seem less baffling; the heroic image remains untarnished and his genius undiminished.

From Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History by Fawn Brodie p.17-18

awesome flash drive

via Schneier

I imagine Sarah would accidentally throw it away.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Camus on Hegel(ian themes)

Hegel portrait - Source: wikimediaMore from The Rebel

Animals, according to Hegel, have an immediate knowledge of the exterior world, a perception of the self, but not the knowledge of self, which distinguishes man. The latter is only really born at the moment when he becomes aware of himself as a rational being. Therefore his essential characteristic is self-consciousness. Consciousness of self, to be affirmed, must distinguish itself from what it is not. Man is a creature who, to affirm his existence and his difference, denies. (p. 138)

It is others who beget us. Only in association do we receive a human value, as distinct from an animal value. (p. 138)

Then how can one live, how endure life when friendship is reserved for the end of time? The only escape is to create order with the use of weapons. “Kill or enslave!” – those who have read Hegel with this single and terrible purpose have really considered only the first part of the dilemma. From it they have derived a philosophy of scorn and despair and have deemed themselves slaves and nothing but slaves, bound by death to the absolute Master and by the whip to their terrestrial masters. This philosophy of the guilty conscience has merely taught them that every slave is enslaved only by his own consent, and can be liberated only by an act of protest which coincides with death.
A nihilist for Hegel was only a sceptic who had no other escape but contradiction or philosophic suicide. But he himself gave birth to another type of nihilist, who, making boredom into a principle of action, identified suicide with philosophic murder. [*footnote* This form of nihilism, despite appearances, is still nihilism in the Nietzschean sense, to the extent that it is a calumny of the present life to the advantage of a historical future in which one tries to believe.]
Another sort of follower, who read Hegel more seriously, chose the second term of the dilemma and made the pronouncement that the slave could only free himself by enslaving in his turn. Post-Hegelian doctrines, unmindful of the mystic aspect of certain of the master’s tendencies, have led his followers to absolute atheism and to scientific materialism. But this evolution is inconceivable without the absolute disappearance of every principle of transcendent explanation, and without the complete destruction of the Jacobin ideal. Immanence, of course, is not atheism. But immanence in the process of development is, if one can say so, provisional atheism. [*footnote* In any event, the criticism of Kierkegaard is valid. To base divinity on history is, paradoxically, to base an absolute value on approximate knowledge. Something “eternally historic” is a contradiction in terms.]
“Individuality has replaced faith, reason the Bible, politics religion and the Church, the earth heaven, work prayer, poverty hell, and man Christ.” [Feuerbach]
We must know Feuerbach’s final conclusion in this Theogony to perceive the profoundly nihilist derivation of his inflamed imagination. In effect, Feuerbach affirms, in the face of Hegel, that man is only what he eats, and thus recapitulates his ideas and predicts the future in the following phrase: “The true philosophy is the negation of philosophy. No religion is my religion. No philosophy is my philosophy.” (p. 144-146)

Hunter S. Thompson

"We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer."

Extreme Behavior in Aspen - February 3, 2003 (source)
Struck me as being Jack Handey-esque.

on being wrong

How many people can admit that they don't know?

I am a 'Cosmic Schmuck' (see: Robert Anton Wilson). I'm not always right and I am sometimes in error. I even find it difficult to discern when I am and when I'm not.

Are You a Cosmic Schmuck?

To reassess the terrain by acknowledging that interpretations change, that opinions differ and that sometimes we are wrong doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t have an opinion. In fact, it could be said that its impossible not to take a stance since taking the option of not deciding is itself a position and it clearly isn’t always the best one. Yet given this, acknowledging that your opinion is just an opinion means hopefully that one endeavours to make an informed decision. It also means that judgements are not made for the sake of judging but for the sake of understanding.

“My own opinion is that belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.”

Robert Anton Wilson

(via a virtual primate)
Yes, I also am a cosmic schmuck.

Monday, December 8, 2008

bits of rubbish


I was voted "most conscientious" in high school.


The more fully we understand our historical context, the more capable we are of unearthing our major prejudices. We don't thereby gain so much power over these prejudices; at best we gain the ability to comprehend our resonant frequencies in relation to them and tune ourselves accordingly.

To change our prejudices more substantially than that takes a more substantial force (trajectory, the moment of crossing the Rubicon, no turning back, external reinforcers generally) and has a more substantial cost: time and the exclusion of other choices because of the limitations of time and the fact that you can only be formed in some ways at certain times in life.


Q: What do I call a person who needs the carrot on the stick called heaven/hell or some sort of divine command in order to behave morally and know what morality is?

A: an immoral person acting like a moral one

Which is certainly preferable to an immoral person acting like an immoral one.

I use the term "moral" in this way because the answer to the question "whose morality?" is ours. Meaning the culture in which our moral identity has been cultivated. The shape of this formative culture is increasingly varied and variable because of our increased use of technology to communicate across societies and cultures. Isolating your moral identity to your religious belief system or something else ideologically singular leaves you limited, blinded and dishonest. Refusal to take religious identity into account would also be a mistake.

"Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious? Or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"

The Euthyphro [text | wikipedia]


Culture and language define the character of our consciousness.

Our consciousness is the ground from which everything else grows. It defines the parameters of everything else. It's analogous to the box in the expression "thinking outside the box" but it's the box that's impossible to think outside of. Not that it can't be shifted and changed but it can't be changed via thought experiments or propositional assent. Or at least I can't easily see how that'd be possible.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Camus on Nietzsche

From The Rebel

Surgeons have this in common with prophets: they think and operate in terms of the future. (p. 65)

Instead of methodical doubt, he practiced methodical negation, the determined destruction of everything that still hides nihilism from itself, of the idols that camouflage God's death. (p. 66)

If nihilism is the inability to believe, then its most serious symptom is not found in atheism, but in the inability to believe in what is, to see what is happening, and to live life as it is offered. (p. 67)

Christianity believes that it is fighting against nihilism because it gives the world a sense of direction, while it is really nihilist itself in so far as, by imposing an imaginary meaning on life, it prevents the discovery of its real meaning. (p. 69)

A nihilist is not one who believes in nothing, but one who does not believe in what exists. In this sense, all forms of socialism are manifestations, degraded once again, of Christian decadence. (p. 69)

He dreamed of tyrants who were artists. But tyranny comes more naturally than art to mediocre men. (p. 75)

From the moment that the methodical aspect of Nietzschean thought is neglected (and it is not certain that he himself always observed it), his rebellious logic knows no bounds. (p. 76)

There is freedom for man without God, as Nietzsche imagined him; in other words, for the solitary man. There is freedom at midday when the wheel of the world stops spinning and man consents to things as they are. (p. 78)

For Marx, nature is to be subjugated in order to obey history; for Nietzsche, nature is to be obeyed in order to subjugate history. It is the difference between the Christian and the Greek. (p. 79)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

contextual work

Still, I actually think most of the hard work that needs to be done in the world is contextual work-- convincing people to be kind to one another in spite of their insane ideological perspectives and differences. Attacking the particulars that need fixing as contextually as possible and orienting those who share your views on the particulars towards the change you're trying to create. That's the shortest distance between two points. That means you need to elevate the good examples inside religions along with condemning the violent and fundamentalist aspects.

Human psychology is really odd and religious belief is even more odd. In most cases you're unlikely to change religious beliefs. So the idea is to target those beliefs that most desperately need changing and use all resources at your disposal to do so.

Friday, December 5, 2008

political conversation

M: Since Obama is shutting down Gitmo I guess the question now is where will they transfer the inmates?

E: I hadn't thought about that, where will we put them?

M: My vote is we send them to a ranch in Crawford, TX. He made the mess...

E: That's a difficult problem. I'm still stuck on the fact we couldn't get the guy impeached. I'm putting my efforts behind whorePAC.

M: whorePAC?

E: It's my political action committee devoted to organizing prostitutes who are willing to be deployed to the White House on a moment's notice. Since congress won't impeach a president for more obvious reasons we have to resort to these more tried and true methods.

It's the only way I see to guarantee our ability to impeach when necessary in the future. Plus, whorePAC will create a new kind of American hero.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

back from Thanksgiving vacation

from the Smoky mountains just above Laurel falls
We've been in Virginia and the Smoky mountains (with the in-laws) for the past week and arrived back in town late last night. The photo above links to the album. One of the pics has a black bear in it though it's a bit hard to make out.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

an anti-metaphysical approach to existential meaning

Stumbled upon this thesis a while back--
The anti-metaphysical approach to meaning does not say ‘this is meaningful that is not meaningful’ but it says ‘there can be different meanings’. So a metaphysical approach to the meaning of life can also find a place for itself in the anti-metaphysical one. Neither later Wittgenstein nor later Nietzsche tell what the meaning is but say that meaning can be divergent. Anti-metaphysical approach to meaning does not lead to a nihilistic attitude as Heller claims but rather by introducing multiplicity of grounds and diversity of meanings it gives room to different remedies to our existential problems. The right answer to our existential problems is the one that leaves us in peace that we do not need to be concerned about anymore. But this peaceful state of mind cannot be achieved via one kind of method. Sometimes a nice poem cures our existential illnesses and sometimes just the voice of another person in the house makes us feel at ease.

Nietzsche and Wittgenstein: An Anti-Metaphysical Approach to Existential Meaning
Serife Tekin - [pdf] [abstract]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

reading over the holidays

I've been reading The Rebel by Camus and I intend to read The Fall pretty soon. I'm not really far enough along to know what I think about it yet but his difference between a rebel and a revolutionary is interesting to me so we'll see how it goes.

Bob lent me his copy of Niel Stephenson's Anathem so I'll start reading that. Hopefully it'll pull me in.

Sarah and I might read a bio of Thomas Jefferson together. You gotta love Jeffersonian pluralism--
The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free enquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free enquiry been indulged, at the aera of the reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged. Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.

Notes on the State of Virginia

Monday, November 24, 2008

Peter Hacker on Wittgenstein

A number of Peter Hacker's recent papers are available from his website. (PDFs)
Philosophy: a contribution, not to human knowledge, but to human understanding’, forthcoming: Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures, 2007/8

Gordon Baker’s late interpretation of Wittgenstein’ published in G. Kahane, E. Kanterian, and O. Kuusela eds. Interpretations of Wittgenstein (Blackwell, Oxford, 2007)

The relevance of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of psychology to the psychological sciences’, forthcoming in Proceedings of the Leipzig Conference on Wittgenstein and Science 2007
via Methods of Projection

Sunday, November 23, 2008


M: Last night I talked about what it means to experience thinking. Did you want me to explain what I meant by that?

S: I guess so.

M: Well, I said, "I'm more interested in practical knowledge but theoretical knowledge has some practical value."

S: Right, and I really didn't see how that was relevant to what we were talking about.

What were we talking about initially?

S: I was talking about how I learn by doing.

M: Oh yeah, and I said, "I think everyone actually learns by doing but some people fool themselves into thinking they know things without the relevant practical experience."

That's really not a good statement by itself because there's a specific type of experiential knowledge gained through the process of thinking and that too has practical value. It still doesn't constitute practical knowledge but experiencing thinking related to a subject area has its benefits. To put it another way, thinking is something you're doing.

The problem is that people sometimes mistake having collected information about a subject with knowledge of the subject. It's not a good idea to diminish what can be gleaned solely through the subtleties of experience.

S: Who talks like this?

M: I'm insane.

You unnecessarily complicate matters.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the sum of all human wisdom?

"As for you, Maximilien, here is the secret of my conduct toward you: there is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death, Maximilien, in order to know how good it is to live.

Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget that, until the day God deigns to reveal the future to man, the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words: Wait and hope."

Alexander Dumas (Edmund Dantés - The Count of Monte Cristo)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

the center cannot hold

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats

Source: The Second Coming (poem) - wikipedia

Monday, November 17, 2008

midnight regulations

Most recent presidents passed a bunch of midnight regulations on their way out. It looks like GWB has once again found a way to make himself stand out, even at this late stage in the game.
Why do Presidents wait till the last moment to push through changes they’ve had the power to impose all along? Legal scholars have advanced a variety of explanations; these range from megalomania (each Administration tries to extend its influence into the next) to simple distraction (federal agencies, like ninth graders, have a hard time focussing until they’re up against a deadline). Under the best of circumstances, experts point out, rule-making is a laborious process; many of the regulations published toward the end of the Clinton Administration—such as a rule limiting the amount of arsenic allowed in public drinking water—had been the subject of years’ worth of hearings and scientific review.

But none of these explanations is adequate to the current situation. What distinguishes this Administration in its final days—as in its earlier ones—is the purity of its cynicism. White House officials haven’t even bothered to argue that these new rules are in the public interest. Such a claim would, in any event, be impossible to defend, as just about every midnight regulation being proposed is, evidently, a gift to a favored industry.

Midnight Hour: Comment -Elizabeth Kolbert (
Like a zillion other things that would have been big news in a more competent administration, these will be a few more that fly under the radar because of the more prominent crises we face.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

the right to crypto is the neo "right to bear arms"

xkcd's alt text --

"It's totally a reasonable modern analogue. Jefferson would have been all about crypto."

Friday, November 14, 2008

estimates of the near term probability of human extinction

via slashdot
It is possible for humanity (or its descendents) to survive a million years or more, but we could succumb to extinction as soon as this century. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S. President Kennedy estimated the probability of a nuclear holocaust as “somewhere between one out of three and even” (Kennedy, 1969, p. 110). John von Neumann, as Chairman of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee, predicted that it was “absolutely certain (1) that there would be a nuclear war; and (2) that everyone would die in it” (Leslie, 1996, p. 26).

More recent predictions of human extinction are little more optimistic. In their catalogs of extinction risks, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees (2003), gives humanity 50-50 odds on surviving the 21st century; philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that it would be “misguided” to assume that the probability of extinction is less than 25%; and philosopher John Leslie (1996) assigns a 30% probability to extinction during the next five centuries. The “Stern Review” for the U.K. Treasury (2006) assumes that the probability of human extinction during the next century is 10%. And some explanations of the “Fermi Paradox” imply a high probability (close to 100%)of extinction among technological civilizations (Pisani, 2006).

Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction - Jason G. Matheny
My thoroughly unscientific guess? 90% probability we'll destroy ourselves within the next 200 years.

I'm an optimist.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"The Labyrinth"

Anthropos apteros for days
Walked whistling round and round the Maze,
Relying happily upon
His temperament for getting on.

The hundredth time he sighted, though,
A bush he left an hour ago,
He halted where four alleys crossed,
And recognized that he was lost.

    "Where am I?" Metaphysics says
No question can be asked unless
It has an answer, so I can
Assume this maze has got a plan.

If theologians are correct,
A Plan implies an Architect:
A God-built maze would be, I'm sure,
The Universe in miniature.

Are data from the world of Sense,
In that case, valid evidence?
What in the universe I know
Can give directions how to go?

All Mathematics would suggest
A steady straight line as the best,
But left and right alternately
Is consonant with History.

Aesthetics, though, believes all Art
Intends to gratify the heart:
Rejecting disciplines like these,
Must I, then, go which way I please?

Such reasoning is only true
If we accept the classic view,
Which we have no right to assert,
According to the Introvert.

His absolute pre-supposition
Is--Man creates his own condition:
This maze was not divinely built,
But is secreted by my guilt.

The centre that I cannot find
Is known to my unconscious Mind;
I have no reason to despair
Because I am already there.

My problem is how not to will;
They move most quickly who stand still;
I'm only lost until I see
I'm lost because I want to be.

If this should fail, perhaps I should,
As certain educators would,
Content myself with the conclusion;
In theory there is no solution.

All statements about what I feel,
Like I-am-lost, are quite unreal:
My knowledge ends where it began;
A hedge is taller than a man."

Anthropos apteros, perplexed
To know which turning to take next,
Looked up and wished he were a bird
To whom such doubts must seem absurd.

W.H. Auden

Monday, November 10, 2008

"typical Rocky Mountain toughs"

William James's version of empiricist and rationalist temperaments-
Now the particular difference of temperament that I have in mind in making these remarks is one that has counted in literature, art, government and manners as well as in philosophy. In manners we find formalists and free-and-easy persons. In government, authoritarians and anarchists. In literature, purists or academicals, and realists. In art, classics and romantics. You recognize these contrasts as familiar; well, in philosophy we have a very similar contrast expressed in the pair of terms 'rationalist' and 'empiricist,' 'empiricist' meaning your lover of facts in all their crude variety, 'rationalist' meaning your devotee to abstract and eternal principles. No one can live an hour without both facts and principles, so it is a difference rather of emphasis; yet it breeds antipathies of the most pungent character between those who lay the emphasis differently; and we shall find it extraordinarily convenient to express a certain contrast in men's ways of taking their universe, by talking of the 'empiricist' and of the 'rationalist' temper. These terms make the contrast simple and massive.

More simple and massive than are usually the men of whom the terms are predicated. For every sort of permutation and combination is possible in human nature; and if I now proceed to define more fully what I have in mind when I speak of rationalists and empiricists, by adding to each of those titles some secondary qualifying characteristics, I beg you to regard my conduct as to a certain extent arbitrary. I select types of combination that nature offers very frequently, but by no means uniformly, and I select them solely for their convenience in helping me to my ulterior purpose of characterizing pragmatism. Historically we find the terms 'intellectualism' and 'sensationalism' used as synonyms of 'rationalism' and 'empiricism.' Well, nature seems to combine most frequently with intellectualism an idealistic and optimistic tendency. Empiricists on the other hand are not uncommonly materialistic, and their optimism is apt to be decidedly conditional and tremulous. Rationalism is always monistic. It starts from wholes and universals, and makes much of the unity of things. Empiricism starts from the parts, and makes of the whole a collection-is not averse therefore to calling itself pluralistic. Rationalism usually considers itself more religious than empiricism, but there is much to say about this claim, so I merely mention it. It is a true claim when the individual rationalist is what is called a man of feeling, and when the individual empiricist prides himself on being hard-headed. In that case the rationalist will usually also be in favor of what is called free-will, and the empiricist will be a fatalist-- I use the terms most popularly current. The rationalist finally will be of dogmatic temper in his affirmations, while the empiricist may be more sceptical and open to discussion.

I will write these traits down in two columns. I think you will practically recognize the two types of mental make-up that I mean if I head the columns by the titles 'tender-minded' and 'tough-minded' respectively.


Rationalistic (going by 'principles'),

Empiricist (going by 'facts'),

Pray postpone for a moment the question whether the two contrasted mixtures which I have written down are each inwardly coherent and self-consistent or not--I shall very soon have a good deal to say on that point. It suffices for our immediate purpose that tender-minded and tough-minded people, characterized as I have written them down, do both exist. Each of you probably knows some well-marked example of each type, and you know what each example thinks of the example on the other side of the line. They have a low opinion of each other. Their antagonism, whenever as individuals their temperaments have been intense, has formed in all ages a part of the philosophic atmosphere of the time. It forms a part of the philosophic atmosphere to-day. The tough think of the tender as sentimentalists and soft-heads. The tender feel the tough to be unrefined, callous, or brutal. Their mutual reaction is very much like that that takes place when Bostonian tourists mingle with a population like that of Cripple Creek. Each type believes the other to be inferior to itself; but disdain in the one case is mingled with amusement, in the other it has a dash of fear.

Now, as I have already insisted, few of us are tender-foot Bostonians pure and simple, and few are typical Rocky Mountain toughs, in philosophy. Most of us have a hankering for the good things on both sides of the line. Facts are good, of course--give us lots of facts. Principles are good--give us plenty of principles. The world is indubitably one if you look at it in one way, but as indubitably is it many, if you look at it in another. It is both one and many--let us adopt a sort of pluralistic monism. Everything of course is necessarily determined, and yet of course our wills are free: a sort of free-will determinism is the true philosophy. The evil of the parts is undeniable; but the whole can't be evil: so practical pessimism may be combined with metaphysical optimism. And so forth--your ordinary philosophic layman never being a radical, never straightening out his system, but living vaguely in one plausible compartment of it or another to suit the temptations of successive hours.

William James
Pragmatism - A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking Lecture I
Source: Project Gutenberg

clash of human temperaments

The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments. Undignified as such a treatment may seem to some of my colleagues, I shall have to take account of this clash and explain a good many of the divergencies of philosophers by it. Of whatever temperament a professional philosopher is, he tries when philosophizing to sink the fact of his temperament. Temperament is no conventionally recognized reason, so he urges impersonal reasons only for his conclusions. Yet his temperament really gives him a stronger bias than any of his more strictly objective premises. It loads the evidence for him one way or the other, making for a more sentimental or a more hard-hearted view of the universe, just as this fact or that principle would. He trusts his temperament. Wanting a universe that suits it, he believes in any representation of the universe that does suit it. He feels men of opposite temper to be out of key with the world's character, and in his heart considers them incompetent and 'not in it,' in the philosophic business, even tho they may far excel him in dialectical ability.

Yet in the forum he can make no claim, on the bare ground of his temperament, to superior discernment or authority. There arises thus a certain insincerity in our philosophic discussions: the potentest of all our premises is never mentioned. I am sure it would contribute to clearness if in these lectures we should break this rule and mention it, and I accordingly feel free to do so.

William James
Pragmatism - A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking Lecture I

Source: Project Gutenberg

Friday, November 7, 2008

a warning

They served their nonsensical, unknown god; we serve our rational god, whom we know most thoroughly. Their god gave them nothing but eternal, torturing seeking; our god gives us absolute truth--that is, he has rid us of any kind of doubt. Their god did not invent anything cleverer than sacrificing oneself, nobody knows what for; we bring to our god, the United State, a quiet, rational, carefully thought-out sacrifice.

Yevgeny Zamyatin We

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tell Obama your ideas for how to change the country.

The form is here.

fix this, Barack

Vote on the issues you want to see changed.

Optimistic that he'll be paying attention but worth a shot.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

this is a great idea

The Libertarian Party UK 1984 campaign is this week delivering a copy of George Orwell's prophetic novel to every Member of Parliament. The books will be inscribed with the words, 'This book was a warning, not a blueprint' and will arrive at Parliament on or before November 5th - a date of well known historical significance for that building.

Every MP to receive a copy of Orwell's 1984
We should get some sort of similar project going here in the US.

Monday, November 3, 2008

partisan reading lists

The pattern was always the same. There was one group of readers who bought conservative books and another that supported liberal authors. The maps Krebs made of Americans' book-buying patterns pictured two swarms: liberals on one side and conservatives on the other.

There were always one or two books in the middle-books both sides read, connector books between readers who otherwise had little in common. In Krebs' first map in 2003, the connector book was What Went Wrong, Bernard Lewis' book on the Islamic world. The books in the middle would change with the times, but there was always something both sides were reading in common.

Until last week.

The Big Sort : America's Partisan Reading List

Sunday, November 2, 2008


quotes of the day

"We seem to believe it is possible to ward off death by following rules of good grooming." - Don Delillo

"Children are all foreigners." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated." - Alec Bourne

"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." - Albert Einstein

via The Quotations Page

Thursday, October 30, 2008

does Nietzsche's morality have space for genuine love?

Most other systems of moral value are other-oriented: morality, after all, is meant to limit our behavior for the sake of others. But, for Nietzsche, others have value only insofar as they may, in one way or another, encourage our own strength. Indeed, given Nietzsche’s will-to-power psychology, it is hard to see how any genuine concern for others can even arise, except as a kind of sickness. If Nietzschean health is a flourishing of drives, each of which is concerned with its own strength and enhancement, then the only way I can will or desire your own flourishing, for your own sake, is if some of my drives are somehow twisted toward the ends of your drives. In other words, some part of me has to be tricked and turned into a pursuit for your own sake. That, technically, is a Nietzschean sickness. But that, on the other hand, is just what love is: a selfless concern for the welfare of another. Nietzsche is free to redefine love any way he likes, of course, but that would not change the fact that love, as we know it, is a disease, in Nietzsche’s view.

The closest Nietzsche’s philosophy comes to allowing for the possibility of healthy love is when a superior individual is so full of power that it pours out in all directions in a flood of noble generosity. But this again is not quite love as we know it, since it is not at all focused on others. It is accidental, and the lucky recipients of this generous outpouring could easily be replaced by others without affecting the attitude of the great soul. My love for you, we like to think, is more about you than it is about me, and that is simply what should not happen, according to the standards of Nietzschean health.

My valuation of Nz’s revaluation - Charlie Huenemann

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The difference lies only in the fact that one stick of dynamite explodes once, but one book explodes thousands of times.

Yevgeny Zamyatin

Monday, October 27, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

a good question

"What does it mean to a society when a whole generation is raised as criminals?"

preface to Remix - Lawrence Lessig

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Michael Pollan's open letter to the next president

This, in brief, is the bad news: the food and agriculture policies you’ve inherited — designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so — are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a generation. The American people are paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, its provenance and its healthfulness. There is a gathering sense among the public that the industrial-food system is broken. Markets for alternative kinds of food — organic, local, pasture-based, humane — are thriving as never before. All this suggests that a political constituency for change is building and not only on the left: lately, conservative voices have also been raised in support of reform. Writing of the movement back to local food economies, traditional foods (and family meals) and more sustainable farming, The American Conservative magazine editorialized last summer that “this is a conservative cause if ever there was one.”

Farmer in Chief

a muslim's take on the Narnia books

But there was an aspect of Lewis's world which caused me great discomfort. The enemies of Narnia were from a country called Calormen, and we learned more about them as we progressed through the books - especially The Horse And His Boy. These people looked unmistakably like Saracens, medieval Muslims; the Narnians themselves looked like Crusaders. In wanting to identify with the characters, I was torn between a natural desire to be on the side of 'good', the white English children, and a feeling that I was condemned to be in the other camp, the Calormenes, the darkies from Calormen (coloured men?) with their curved swords and spicy food and unmistakable Islamic cultural symbolism. These thoughts caused me discomfort, but I still enjoyed the stories.

One specific example troubled me deeply. Whenever Muslims mention the Prophet Muhammad, they are supposed to proclaim 'Peace be upon him!' as a sign of respect. Whenever the Calormenes mentioned their leader, they always proclaimed 'May he live forever!' in exactly the same tone. It seemed to be a deliberate imitation of the Muslim custom.

It wasn't until my 11+ assessment for the local boys' grammar school that I suddenly realized the Christian religious parallels.

Imran Ahmad on the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

the loss of culture and identity


Culture (language) is the primary identity forming force.


Cultures (languages) are being destroyed by the day.


What is being lost is depth of identity or the possibilities for genuine variation in depth of identity.


We keep thinking in terms of those tiny morsels called ideologies and thereby fool ourselves into believing we aren't really losing something so valuable.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." - Orwell

"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we're not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there is no reason or excuse for committing thought crime. It's merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won't be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak," he added with a sort of mystical satisfaction. "Has it ever occured to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now."

"Except- " began Winston doubtfully, "and then stopped".

It had been on the tip of his tongue to say "except the proles," but he checked himself, not feeling fully certain that this remark was not in some sense unorthodox. Syme, had divined what he was about to say.

"The proles are not human beings" he said carelessly. "By 2050- earlier probably- all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron- they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like, 'freedom is slavery' when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking--not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."

One of these days, thought Winston with sudden deep conviction, Syme will be vaporized. He is too intelligent. He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly. The Party does not like such people. One day he will disappear. It is written in his face.

George Orwell - 1984

Friday, October 17, 2008

why I blog

I'm smart enough to put words together in sentences but not smart enough to realize the utter futility in doing so.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

does blogging herald a golden age of journalism?

For centuries, writers have experimented with forms that evoke the imperfection of thought, the inconstancy of human affairs, and the chastening passage of time. But as blogging evolves as a literary form, it is generating a new and quintessentially postmodern idiom that’s enabling writers to express themselves in ways that have never been seen or understood before. Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism.

Why I Blog - Andrew Sullivan
Might be a bit optimistic but still an interesting meditation on the medium.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vonnegut around the web today

A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.

From a blog called Off With Her Head!

So It Goes: Guillermo Del Toro Discusses His New Take On Kurt Vonnegut’s "Slaughterhouse-Five"

That's Vonnegut's way through it, and Beckett's and Kafka's and Bill Hicks' way through it; it seems to be the way I get through it, too.

Shalom Auslander describing his new memoir (
Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead.

Vonnegut on Chaos
It turns out that the Dandy Warhols recorded an entire album of songs (2003’s “Welcome to the Monkey House”) about a book of Kurt Vonnegut short stories with that title.

I am a scientist. (not-pop jukebox)

joining the commons

I just joined the creative commons network. They started their annual campaign today.

blog action day - spotlight on poverty

Papua New Guinea is but one of many developing countries in a state of poverty, and even the developed nations of the world aren’t free of it. In the United States, 37.3 million people live in poverty, 13.3 million of whom are children. Poverty is a worldwide plague with far-reaching consequences.

There is poverty at home in every country around the world. Perhaps the only system that truly transcends these boundaries and borders is the Internet, a system that gives the citizens of Earth a voice. People become something greater when they act as citizens of the planet and transcend arbitrary borders.

This is the kind of issue that Blog Action Day tackles. These are big issues, important issues, and most importantly, urgent issues. But what makes these issues so suited to the discourse and conversation of blogs is their multi-dimensional nature. There are so many factors, facets, points of view and stakeholders to consider that one book or even one library couldn’t adequately tackle them all.

blog action day unites bloggers to raise awareness about poverty
I just heard about blog action day. If I had heard about it sooner I would have participated in a less lame way. I've got The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs checked out from the library but haven't had a chance to get into it.

the monotony remains

I previously posted about some lady in Australia predicting UFOs over Alabama on October 14. It's the 15th now and it doesn't look like it happened. The aliens must have messed up their communication somehow.

The monotony remains.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

brain in a vat

Source: wikimedia commons

Orwell's Essays

It’s a shame that “Politics and the English Language” is the only Orwell essay many readers know. The essays are the essential Orwell, where his voice is at its strongest and the working of his mind at its clearest. There are too many great ones to put between the covers of a book—which is why a new, two-volume edition of Orwell’s essays, edited by yours truly, has just been published by Harcourt: “Facing Unpleasant Facts,” which gathers the narrative essays, such as “Shooting an Elephant,” and “All Art Is Propaganda,” which compiles the critical essays, like the studies of Dickens and Dalí. I made sure to include lesser-known gems alongside the more famous essays: you’ll find Orwell’s wartime diary from 1940, his dismal recollection of working in a bookshop, his review of Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” his brilliant takedown of Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” and a truly obscure piece called “Dear Doktor Goebbels—Your British Friends Are Feeding Fine!”

On November 5th, you’ll need to clear your head of a great deal of accumulated nonsense. I would suggest a long, deep, surprising drink of Orwell.

The Cure for the Campaign - George Packer

Sounds like good advice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"a rather obvious and fundamental design flaw"

But then voting season comes and reminds you that all those Americans that are individually sane and normal tend to be collectively crazy and very odd. And that's when you really notice that you're not in Finland any more.

That's when you also notice that the whole US voting system is apparently expressly designed to be polarizing (winner-take-all electoral system etc). To somebody from Finland, that looks like a rather obvious and fundamental design flaw. In Finland, government is quite commonly a quilt-work of different parties, and the "rainbow coalition" of many many parties working together was the norm for a long time. And it seems to result in much more civilized political behaviour.

Stranger in strange land (from Linus Torvalds' blog)

overheard in SLC

on the street

Biking up the street I saw a kid with a backpack on. He was crying, about to get into his mom's car.

He sobs to his mom, "my life is the worst life ever!"

As he got in and closed the door she said, "well, don't blame me, blame God! It's not my fault if your life is the worst life ever."

at a party

He says, "you're a Ph.D. candidate, your friends probably expect you to know a lot."

She responds, "They don't expect much from me at all. They think I'm just really good at taking tests."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thursday, October 2, 2008

confirmation bias

Steve emailed me about this "Talk of the Nation" show on confirmation bias-- how we believe our side by default, even when they're saying false things.

About four minutes from the end of the interview, the person he's interviewing sites a study by Diana Mutz. Steve was especially surprised that people with degrees were the least likely to engage with people who disagreed with them. I dug up what I could find on it from the internets. It turns out that stat is related to the ability of people with degrees to move more easily to a more like minded environment (something I'm unapologetically guilty of). Here's the relevant piece.

Because Americans are so mobile, even a mild preference for living with like-minded neighbours leads over time to severe segregation. An accountant in Texas, for example, can live anywhere she wants, so the liberal ones move to the funky bits of Austin while the more conservative ones prefer the exurbs of Dallas. Conservative Californians can find refuge in Orange County or the Central Valley.

Over time, this means Americans are ever less exposed to contrary views. In a book called “Hearing the Other Side”, Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania crunched survey data from 12 countries and found that Americans were the least likely of all to talk about politics with those who disagreed with them.

Intriguingly, the more educated Americans become, the more insular they are. (Hence Mr Miller's confusion.) Better-educated people tend to be richer, so they have more choice about where they live. And they are more mobile. One study that covered most of the 1980s and 1990s found that 45% of young Americans with a college degree moved state within five years of graduating, whereas only 19% of those with only a high-school education did.

There is a danger in this. Studies suggest that when a group is ideologically homogeneous, its members tend to grow more extreme. Even clever, fair-minded people are not immune. Cass Sunstein and David Schkade, two academics, found that Republican-appointed judges vote more conservatively when sitting on a panel with other Republicans than when sitting with Democrats. Democratic judges become more liberal when on the bench with fellow Democrats.

America's Big Sort (
My initial thought was that perhaps people were realizing studies like this "There's No Arguing With Conservatives" (which incidentally should read, "There's No Arguing With 'Conservatives'") had some weight to them. If the term "conservative" weren't absolutely meaningless at this point, I might consider myself one. I would prefer, where some sort of socialism must be done, that it would be done on a closer to home level-- that allows for pluralism as well as better accountability. The federal government is so distant to us that it's barely more than a concept. I know: something like that could never happen, historically the shift was necessary for civil rights (does that mean it would be the same in the present?), I'm a wishful thinker, etc. I'm just not looking forward to everything being the same.

maps of the "real" world

Here is a Telegraph picture gallery that shows what the map of the world would look like if we look at metrics other than land mass. This is what the world looks like based on war deaths from 1945-2002.

I got pointed to this from Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Update: here's the mondo version of this (

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

weighty problems

image courtesy of
Not to be confused. - Moralists who treat the grandiose, mighty, self-sacrificing disposition such as is evidenced by Plutarch's heroes, or the pure, enlightened, heat conducing state of soul of truly good men and women, as weighty problems and seek to discover their origin by exhibiting the complexity in the apparent simplicity and directing the eye to the interlacing of motives, to the delicate conceptual illusions woven into it, and to the individual groups of sensations inherited from of old and slowly intensified - these moralists are most different from precisely those moralists with whom they are most confused: from the trivial spirits who have no belief at all in these dispositions and states of soul and suppose that greatness and purity are only an outward show concealing behind them a paltriness similar to their own. The moralists say: 'here there are problems', and these wretches say: 'here there are deceivers and deceptions'; they thus deny the existence of that which the former are intent upon explaining.

Nietzsche - The Wanderer and His Shadow § 20

great big triangle UFOs in Ireland

I don't want anyone to think I'm getting behind on my UFO news. I like the stories about these mile wide triangular shaped UFOs better than the typical saucers.

*cue spooky music*
The triangular shaped image, with lights at each point, which appeared to send a red laser-type light towards earth, drew gasps of amazement from the 70 or so delegates who attended the world premiere of the footage.


A senior garda officer who was driving when he noticed the unusual light formation in the sky stopped to film it.

"There is no footage like this in the world. It is the most amazing and spectacular I have ever seen," said Carl Nally, co-founder of UFO and Paranormal Research Ireland and joint author of 'Conspiracy of Silence'.

Five days earlier, on July 29, an off-duty pilot who photographed lightning from Howth pier just after midnight later noticed what appeared to be a triangular-shaped object to the right of the lightning fork in the developed image.

And Fianna Fail Town Councillor in Trim, Jimmy Peppard, ran indoors for a camera on August 8 when he spotted a triangular-shaped object measuring "about a mile in diameter" in the sky, where it remained static for about half an hour.

We're not alone . . . politician and pilot spot UFO (
I'm still waiting out the ufologist's October 14th prediction.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I just learned about Wordle, it pulls any feed or text you give it in and creates a tag cloud type image based on whichever words appear the most. You can change the color scheme, orientation of words, etc. Here's an image using this blog's RSS feed.

Here's what Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Beyond Vietnam" speech looks like.

Wordle lets you print out any images you create to use for anything you want but if you use them on the web they want a reference to their site ( They don't make an easy way for you to get an image version of the wordle so you're left to do a screen capture (if you're in OS X, Command-Shift-4 allows you to capture the portion of the screen you select) or print to pdf.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pierre Hadot on Socrates' task

Socrates' task--entrusted to him, says the Apology, by the Delphic oracle (in other words, the god Apollo)--was therefore to make other people recognize their lack of knowledge and of wisdom. In order to accomplish this mission, Socrates himself adopted the attitude of someone who knew nothing--an attitude of naiveté . This is the well known Socratic irony: the feigned ignorance and candid air with which, for instance, he asked questions in order to find out whether someone was wiser than he. In the words of a character from the Republic: "That's certainly Socrates' old familiar irony! I knew it. I predicted to everyone present, Socrates, that you'd refuse to reply, that you'd feign ignorance, and that you'd do anything but reply if someone asked you a question."

This is why Socrates is always the questioner in his discussions. As Aristotle remarked, "He admits that he knows nothing." According to Cicero, "Socrates used to denigrate himself, and conceded more than was necessary to the interlocutors he wanted to refute. Thus, thinking one thing and saying another, he took pleasure in that dissimulation which the Greeks call 'irony.'" In fact, however, such an attitude is not a form of artifice or intentional dissimulation. Rather, it is a kind of humor which refuses to take oneself or other people seriously; for everything human, and even everything philosophical, is highly uncertain, and we have no right to be proud of it. Socrates' mission, then, was to make people aware of their lack of knowledge.
The real problem is therefore not the problem of knowing this or that, but of being in this or that way: "I have no concern at all for what most people are concerned about: financial affairs, administration of property, appointments to generalships, oratorical triumphs in public, magistracies, coalitions, political factions. I did not take this path... but rather the one where I could do the most good to each one of you in particular, by persuading you to be less concerned with what you have than what you are; so that you may make yourselves as excellent and as rational as possible." Socrates practiced this call to being not only by means of his interrogations and his irony, but above all by means of his way of being, by his way of life, and by his very being.

Pierre Hadot What is Ancient Philosophy p. 26,29*

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Richard Stallman on the big bro capabilities of cell phones

Another major concern is mobile devices. "This is an interesting example of how new problems can arise with new technology," Stallman says. "Ten years ago, I looked at cell phones, and there was no issue of free or proprietary software, because no one could install software in cell phones. But I looked at it, and said that this was Big Brother's dream: Wherever you go, they know where you are.

"Then I found out that, once they became programmable, that it was possible to turn them on remotely to listen to people. But, in the last few years, cell phones have become more powerful and turned into computers on which people can install software, so, as a result, the free software issue is relevant to them, also. And, as it happens, addressing that issue helps us address surveillance and tracking as well. If you have free software, then the phone is controlled by users, and it is possible to tell it not to send any remote signals. Also, there's at least a good chance that it will have security and won't let someone turn it on remotely."

Richard Stallman looks back at 25 years of the GNU project (

I'm sure Schneier has covered these problems in the past but its a good reminder. It sounds like a good idea to know what software is running on your phone.

Friday, September 26, 2008

who was the master debater?

I imagine's debate coverage is relevant though I doubt the link will work until tomorrow.

Here's Andrew Sullivan's live blogging of the debate.

And the perpetual reminder--

The presidential election debates haven't been sponsored by a non-partisan group since 1987.

on the financial "crisis"

It's probably a good idea to be wary when your government keeps pushing though legislation as fast as they can whenever we supposedly face a crisis. How's that been working out for us so far? Patriot Act, Iraq, Katrina, and now the financial bailout? I don't think "the decider" should be given the opportunity to decide things any more, especially not in a time of crisis.

I also don't think it hurts to take a look at Naomi Klein's take on using crisis to push through political agendas (wikipedia).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

i should also include this blast from the past

from 6/25/2007

It seems like a lot of people think the world is a place where you’ve got a ton of different packaged worldviews and your mission is to choose between them and pick one, put it on like a helmet with goggles and your world will forever be transformed by it. You “understand” the people with different worldviews because you understand their helmet.

Truly understanding people is quite different because each person’s view of the world is really their own. A person’s view of the world is mostly guided by things that are outside of his/her control (environment, culture, indoctrination, etc.). So understanding myself and my view of the world is a discovery process not a construction process. It’s similar when I change my view of the world. I read something or understand some new concept and can’t help but be changed by the concept.

I think some story like this is the human process and I think arguments about this camp vs that camp don’t really get anything done. So… I wouldn’t pair Spinoza and Einstein in that way and I view all people as having distinct worldviews. If I were to pair people by worldviews I’d probably be more likely to use culture as a metric. Culture seems to have a large impact on human behavior and therefore seems like something we could (should?) work on directly to make a better world. Looking around… “American” is what defines the people I see in regard to behavior much more than Christian or Athiest or Buddhist.

choosing camps… choosing faiths… maybe those aren’t really choices we have? OR how is it that we gain that level of control over “reality”?


This is part of the background from which that previous post may make more sense.

In a lot of ways all this is just an argument to get me out of what I consider to be nearly worthless arguments. You'd think that would mean I would think this kind of meta-argument was even more worthless but I'm a strange duck.

full context

91. If Moore says he knows the earth existed etc., most of us will grant him that it has existed all the time, and also believe him when he says he is convinced of it. But has he also got the right ground for his conviction? For if not, then after all he doesn't know (Russell).

92. However, we can ask: May someone have telling grounds for believing that the earth has existed for a short time, say since his own birth?--Suppose he had always been told that,--would he have any good reason to doubt it? Men have believed that they could make rain; why should not a king be brought up in the belief that the world began with him? And if Moore and this king were to meet and discuss, could Moore really prove his belief to be the right one? I do not say that Moore could not convert the king to his view, but it would be a conversion of a special kind; the king would be brought to look at the world in a different way.

Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry, i.e., these are what induce one to go over to this point of view. One then simply says something like: "That's how it must be."

93. The propositions presenting what Moore 'knows' are all of such a kind that it is difficult to imagine why anyone should believe the contrary. E.g. the proposition that Moore has spent his whole life in close proximity to the earth.--Once more I can speak of myself here instead of speaking of Moore. What could induce me to believe the opposite? Either a memory, or having been told.--Everything that I have seen or heard give me the conviction that no man has ever been far from the earth. Nothing in my picture of the world speaks in favor of the opposite.

94. But I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.

95. The propositions describing this world-picture might be part of a kind of mythology. And their role is like that of rules of a game; and the game can be learned purely practically, without learning any explicit rules.

96. It might be imagined that some propositions, of the form of empirical propositions, were hardened and functioned as channels for such empirical propositions as were not hardened but fluid; and that this relation altered with time, in that fluid propositions hardened, and hard ones became fluid.

97. The mythology may change back to a state of flux, the river-bed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movement of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other.

98. But if someone were to say "So logic too is an empirical science" he would be wrong. Yet this is right: the same proposition may get treated at one time as something to test by experience, at another as a rule of testing.

99. And the bank of that river consists partly of hard rock, subject to no alteration or only to an imperceptible one, partly of sand, which now in one place now in another gets washed away, or deposited.

100. The truths which Moore says he knows, are such as, roughly speaking, all of us know, if he knows them.

Ludwig Wittgenstein On Certainty

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Emptying Hell"

A samurai in the employ of the provincial barony came to call on the Zen master Hakuin.

The master asked the samurai, "What have you done?"

The samurai said, "I have always liked to listen to Buddhist teaching. I have become infected with an illness because of this."

Hakuin asked, "What is your illness like?"

The samurai said, "I first met a Zen teacher and searched into the principle of the essence of mind. Then I met a Shingon Discipline teacher and studied the esoteric canon. Developing doubt and confusion about these two schools, while in the midst of visualization of the letter A, there suddenly arose in my mind images of hells. When I tried to stop them by means of the principle of the essence of mind, the two visions clashed, so my mind has become disturbed. In sleep I have nightmares, and when awake, I only toil at conceptual thinking."

Hakuin clucked his tongue and said, "Do you know what it is that fears hell?"

The samurai said, "The view of emptiness! I have caught this illness."

Hakuin shouted at the samurai again and again, shouting him away saying, "You little knave! A samurai is someone who is so loyal to his lord that he does not flee floods or fires, and he exposes his body to spears and swords without quivering or blinking an eye. How can you fear the view of emptiness? Right now, fall into each of those hells, and let's check them out!"

The samurai complained, "How can a teacher have people fall into an evil state?"

Hakuin laughed and said, "The hells I fall into are eightyfour thousand in number! Look--there's nowhere I don't fall!"

Finally seeing the master's point, the samurai was overjoyed.

Zen Antics translated by Thomas Cleary p. 22
My favorite part is that all this happened, "while in the midst of visualization of the letter A".

Ha ha ha ha ha ha.