1 Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen Lois McMaster Bujold 2 Coffee, Tea, or Me? Donald Bain 3 A Wild Sheep Chase Haruki Murakami 4 On the Existence of Gods Saltarelli & Day 5 Dune Frank Herbert 6 Disrupted Dan Lyons 7 The History of the Church Eusebius of Caesarea 8 Logicomix: An Epic Search For Truth Doxiadis & Papadimitriou 9 Dialogs Concerning Natural Religion David Hume 10 The Princess Diarist Carrie Fisher 11 MASH Richard Hooker
Just a horrible year for books. I started too many books that I just couldn't finish, mostly because they were badly written. The worst of the bunch was "Jesus Outside the Lines". An utter waste of time and money.
For some reason, I was entranced by the phrase "stirring the emerald green." It's a beautiful combination of words. But what could it possibly mean? There was nothing in the text up to that point that hinted at what she might have been doing.
She banged her hands on her hipbones, enough to hurt, flung around, and went back to her own business. On one bare foot with the other crossed over it, she stood gazing down at the pots and dishes in which she had enough color stirred up to make a sunburst design. She was shut up in here to tie-and-die a scarf. [pg. 34, 36]
Now it all makes sense!
I found this book at Riverby Books in Fredericksburg, VA and bought it on a whim because Welty lived near Belhaven University, where my daughter went to school. Welty's style is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury and Bradbury notes her influence on his writing..
1 All You Zombies Robert Heinlein 2 The Puppet Masters Robert Heinlein 3 Revolt in 2100 Robert Heinlein 4 Stand on Zanzibar John Brunner 5 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Philip K. Dick 6 Neutron Star Larry Niven 7 Strange Stones Peter Hessler 8 The Nominated Short Works John C. Wright 9 The City on the Edge of Forever Harlan Ellison 10 Vic and Blood Harlan Ellison 11 Dangerous Visions Harlan Ellison 12 Mention My Name In Atlantis John Jakes 13 Tokyo Vice Jake Adelstein 14 The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway 15 Primates of Park Avenue Wednesday Martin 16 Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck 17 The Best Laid Schemes Larry Eisenberg 18 And Then There Were None Agatha Christie 19 SJWs Always Lie Vox Day 20 QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter Richard Feynman 21 The Meaning Of It All Richard Feynman 22 The Shape of Inner Space Shing-Tung Yau 23 Does God Control Everything? R. C. Sproul 24 The Space Trilogy C. S. Lewis 25 Natural Theology Emil Brunner & Karl Barth
Additionally, I've started, but not completed, these books:
Slightly better than 2013, but still nowhere near where I should be.
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Mar-Apr 2014 That Hideous Strength C. S. Lewis Them Jon Ronson Tower of Glass Robert Silverberg Awake in the Night Lands John C. Wright Frankenstein Mary W. Shelley Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman Richard P. Feynman A History of Heresy David Christie-Murray The Decline and Fall of IBM Robert X. Cringely Mountain Spirits: A Chronicle ... Joseph Earl Dabney Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig Jonathan Eig Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction Cynthia Freeland Almost Perfect W. E. Pete Peterson One Bright Star to Guide Them John C. Wright Friday Robert Heinlein The Falling Woman Pat Murphy Flatland Edwin A. Abbott The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag Robert Heinlein Farnham's Freehold Robert Heinlein
But don't judge the book by its cover. Friday is a very special woman. One who is gifted far beyond most people and yet so incredibly naive. Almost childlike: trusting people she has no reason to trust and being driven by people and events beyond her control. She is horribly abused early the book (cf. the "nasty bit of torture"), but this is only an extreme example of her life to date. This is the story of what it means to be human, of coming of age, and especially the search to find a place where one belongs. Home.
Some passages that particularly stood out this time around:
A message has been received from interstellar space. Simeon Krug, having made a vast fortune by creating and commercializing androids, uses android labor to construct a vast tower in the Canadian tundra -- a tower that will house a tachyon transmitter to send a reply.
The tower is but a framing device -- a re-imagined tower of Babel -- to explore what it means to be human. I now appreciate why it was nominated for both Hugo and Nebula awards.
An Introduction to Information Theory John R. Pierce Dandelion Wine Ray Bradbury The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury Defending Jacob William Landay Solaris Stanislaw Lem The Monster of Florence Preston & Spezi Stranger In A Strange Land Robert A. Heinlein The Mathematical Universe William Dunham The World of Null-A A. E. Van Vogt Triple Tap Fred Reed Killer Kink Fred Reed Tau Zero Poul Anderson Quantum Computing Since Democritus Scott Aaronson The Collector John Fowles
Marginally better than 2012, but still nowhere near what I ought to be doing. And this year is even worse. It's almost the end of April and I've only finished two books even though I've started reading five or six.
The Best of Gene Wolfe Gene Wolfe The Last Hurrah Of The Golden Horde Norman Spinrad The Einstein Intersection Samuel R. Delany Rabbit, Run John Updike The Consequences of Ideas R. C. Sproul Dandelion Wine Ray Bradbury The Man Who Knew Too Much G. K. Chesterton I'll Go Home Then; It's Warm and Has Chairs David Thorne The Case for the Real Jesus Lee Strobel The Midnight Dancers Gerard F. Conway The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives Leonard Mlodinow re-read Captain Vorpatril's Alliance Lois McMaster Bujold Generous Justice Timothy Keller
Quite a difference from last year, when I read fifty-one books. Work has been all consuming. There's a problem when, while I'm supposedly on vacation, a co-worker writes in an e-mail, "… color me impressed, you remain one of the most productive on the team, and this all while on PTO!" (Paid Time Off).
[Updated 1/3/13 to include "The Midnight Dancers", which was inadvertently omitted.]
I'm also in the middle of reading a number of books:
A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole The Evolution of Cooperation Robert Axelrod Bug Jack Barron Norman Spinrad Cryroburn Lois McMaster Bujold Cordelia’s Honor Lois McMaster Bujold Young Miles Lois McMaster Bujold Miles, Mystery and Mayhem Lois McMaster Bujold Miles Errant Lois McMaster Bujold Miles in Love Lois McMaster Bujold Miles, Mutants and Microbes Lois McMaster Bujold How To Teach Physics To Your Dog Chad Orzel Old Testament Parallels Victor H. Matthews & Don C. Benjamin Information: A Very Short Introduction Luciano Floridi The Left Hand Of Darkness Ursula K. LeGuin To Say Nothing Of The Dog Connie Willis The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives Leonard Mlodinow Orphans of Chaos John C. Wright It Came From Schenectady Barry B. Longyear The Turing Omnimbus A. K. Dewdney The Soul of a New Machine Tracy Kidder The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress Robert A. Heinlein I Will Fear No Evil Robert A. Heinlein The Door Into Summer Robert A. Heinlein Brightness Falls From The Air James Tiptree, Jr. The Science Fiction Megapack Anthology Gödel, Escher, Bach Douglas Hofstadter The Mote In God's Eye Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle The Gripping Hand Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories Fritz Leiber Storm Over Warlock Andre Norton Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede Bradley Denton Another Fine Myth Robert Asprin Myth Conceptions Robert Asprin Myth Directions Robert Asprin Hit Or Myth Robert Asprin Mtyh-ing Persons Robert Asprin Little Myth Marker Robert Asprin M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link Robert Asprin Myth-Nomers and Im-Pervections Robert Asprin M.Y.T.H. Inc. In Action Robert Asprin Sweet Myth-tery of Life Robert Asprin Myth-Ion Improbable Robert Asprin Something M.Y.T.H. Inc. Robert Asprin Myth-told Tales Robert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye Myth Alliances Robert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye Myth-taken Identity Robert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye Class Dis-Mythed Robert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye Myth-Gotten Gains Robert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye Myth-Chief Robert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye Myth-Fortunes Robert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye Cubism (Movements in Modern Art) David Cottington
I really like Zen, but it's on hold until I finish a post on one of the topics therein. Maybe this weekend. I've started working on my book with the working title "From Electrons to Morality" so reading and blogging is going to be as time permits. It doesn't help that I've decided to re-watch all of Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica. That's a wonderful time drain.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert M. Pirsig An Introduction to Information Theory John R. Pierce The Consequences of Ideas R. C. Sproul The Best of Gene Wolfe Gene Wolfe Anathem Neal Stephenson Why Men Hate Going To Church David Murrow Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis
Dispensing with the screen of neo-Impressionist brushstrokes - perhaps recognizing its superfluity, given the constructive potential of the device of a colour grid - Delaunay orchestrates a range of spectral colors around the spatial recession from the foreground orange curtains to the background blue sky and the green profile of the tower. As in the hermetic paintings of Picasso and Braque, the representational legibility of the image is secured by the vestigial iconic character of these motifs. But unlike their exploration and celebration of the linguistic magic of painting for its own sake - or perhaps for its suggestion of a reality beyond appearance - Delaunay's bracketing of his complex and fragmented representation of the cityscape between the external limit of the picture frame/window and the internal limit of the distant tower posits an equivalence between the experience of deciphering the painting and the active, constructive nature of visual perception that life in a modern city entails. [pg 61].
"Vestigial iconic character?" The pointed green triangle-like object is the Eiffel Tower? The blue is the sky? The yellow-orange represents curtains? There's a cityscape in there somewhere? Obviously I am a barbarian, unlearned in the vocabulary of Cubism. Nevertheless, some Cubist art is strikingly beautiful. Even if I don't necessarily know what it means.
There wasn't a thinking being alive who deep down didn't feel fundamentally flawed.
This, of course, is one way McCarthy's third design requirement can manifest itself.
In Something M.Y.T.H. Inc., on page 27, another character explains morality in terms of the iterated prisoner's dilemma, even though he likely never took a course in game theory:
"What I mean is, when you're a soldier, you don't have to worry much about how popular you are with the enemy, 'cause mostly you're tryin' to make him dead and you don't expect him to like it. It's different doin' collection work, whether it's protection money or taxes, which is of course just another kind of protection racket. Ya gotta be more diplomatic 'cause you're gonna have to deal with the same people over and over again."
For another example of art revealing life, see the post The Telling.
I found the following passage interesting, as it expresses poetically what I have attempted to describe using concepts from artificial intelligence about the difference between animals and men; that animals are fixed goal creatures while man, having no fixed goal, creates his own goals. LeGuin writes:
I have to assign this book to second tier status; while it was a moderately enjoyable read, it isn’t “The Left Hand of Darkness” or “A Wizard of Earthsea”.
Whatever else one might say about Anderson’s theological musings, this observation is profoundly true.
...Heaven is not as narrowly literal-minded as hell.
Undergoing a physical ordeal is only one aspect of her transformation from child to woman; she must also undergo a moral transformation and ends up opposing her father on an issue that effects a world.
As part of her attempts to grapple with morality, she has to prepare a paper for school on the subject. She wrote:
What I find interesting is that she uses the "is-ought" definition for morality. I first read this book in high school, yet I didn't remember this part (cf. here).
Ethics is the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with conduct, questions of good and evil, right and wrong--and there are a great many of them, because even people who supposedly belong to the same school don't agree a good share of the time and have to be considered separately--can be looked at as a description and as a prescription. Is this what people actually do? Is this what they should do?
She goes on to critique several ethical systems. First, utilitarianism:
Skipping the development and history of utilitarianism, the most popular expression of the doctrine is "the greatest good for the greatest number," which makes it sound like its relative, the economic philosophy communism which, in a sense, is what we live with in the Ship. The common expression of utilitarian good is "the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain."
Speaking descriptively, utilitarianism doesn't hold true, though the utilitarian claims that it does. People do act self-destrucively at times--they know the pleasureful and chose the painful instead. The only way that what people do and what utilitarianism says they do can be matched is by distorting the ordinary meanings of the words "pleasure" and "pain." Besides, notions of what is pleasurable are subject to training and manipulation. The standard is too shifting to be a good one.
I don't like utilitarianism as a prescription, either. Treating pleasure and pain as quantities by which good can be measured seems very mechanical, and people become just another factor to adjust in the equation. Pragmatically, it makes sense to say One hundred lives saved at the cost of one?--go ahead! The utilitarian would say it every time--he would have to say it. But who gave him the right to say it? What if the one doesn't have any choice in the matter, but is blindly sacrificed for, say, one hundred Mudeaters whose very existence he is unaware of? Say the choice was between Daddy or Jimmy and a hundred Mudeaters. I wouldn't make a utilitarian choice and I don't think I could be easily convinced that the answer should be made by the use of the number of pounds of human flesh. People are not objects.
Next, she questions the philosophy of "might makes right."
In effect, the philosophy of power says that you should do anything you can get away with. If you don't get away with it, you were wrong.
You can't really argue with this, you know. It is a self-contained system, logically consistent. It makes no appeal to outside authority and it doesn't stumble over its own definitions.
But I don't like it. For one thing, it isn't a very discriminating standard. There doesn't seem to be any difference between "ethically good" and "ethically better." More important, however, stoics strap themselves in ethically so that their actions have as few results as possible. The adherents of the philosophy of power simply say that the results of their actions have no importance--the philosophy of a two year old throwing a tantrum.
My paper was a direct discussion and comparison of half-a-dozen ethical systems, concentrating on what seemed to me to be their flaws. I finished by saying that it struck me that all the ethical systems I was discussing were after the fact. That is, that people act as they are disposed to, but they like to feel afterwards that they were right and so they invent systems that approve of their dispositions. This was to say that while I found things like "So act as to treat humanity, whether in your person or in that of another, in every case as an end and not as a means merely," quite attractive principles, I hadn't run into any system that exactly fitted my disposition.
Of course, she would need to examine whether or not an ethical system should fit one's disposition. When should one cede one's moral authority, if ever? Why?
Earth, unlike the aliens, has no comprehensive vision of their destiny. There is nothing to strive for, other than one's daily needs; nothing to drive a people to something greater than themselves. Until the alien artist "Rane" paints an even more powerful work than Blake's masterpiece.
Geston explores several interesting ideas. First, that art can be a source of truth. An idea that is increasingly seen as archaic in a scientific, technological, naturalistic age. Whether art reveals existing truth, or provides the impetus to create the truth, is left open. Second, are the various reactions to truth. Some are immediately struck by it. Others cannot see it at all. Some embrace it wholeheartedly and want to spread the word. Others are afraid and want to hide it.
The book leaves us with the notion that, in the end, the truth is inevitable. And the alien artist Blake was right. It is terrifying.
A conclusion that only solidified in my mind while writing this review. Some of us are slow to grasp the truth. But better late than never.
Having finished my current backlog of new books and looking for a mindless diversion, I decided to give this story another chance. On the surface, it's about a newspaper advertising manager, Shale; his assistant, the alien Phrix from the planet Far-Groil; and Marylin, a human-ape hybrid. Set in the far future, long after Earth had been destroyed, Shale travels the galaxy looking for advertisers for the one major intergalatic newspaper, the Lemos Galactic Monitor. His adventures take him to the planet Asgard, home of the fabled, but never seen, Publisher, who sits atop the hierarchy and directs all.
Shale lives in a galaxy where the sole purpose of people is to consume. Newspapers print ads to drive people to buy advertisers products. If there is any news, it's written as a part of the ad. Shale maximizes his desires with no thought to other people. He is a cold-hearted, brutal, thoroughly self-centered hedonist who expects everyone else to be like him. Following the principle of "the survival of the fittest", he has climbed his way to near the top of the publishing world. He is rumored to have killed his mother when he was 14. Before meeting Marylin, he witnesses gruesome experiments done on caged humans in a laboratory engaged in the unfettered pursuit of science. Marylin, a human-ape hybrid produced by the lab, displays an empathy that Shale does not have. As the story progresses, Shale slowly begins to understand her point of view although he never abandons his ways. Phrix simply wants to be left alone to enjoy a contemplative life. He abhors violence and prefers to outwit his opponents. The common man, as epitomized by a police inspector, declaims:
What's good? Good's what sticks to rules and bad's what doesn't. I didn't make the rules, no more than you. ... People, thank Asgard, are conservative. They like things the way they've always known them. That's custom too and don't tell me what's custom isn't always right or I'll go straight back to Gromworld. I'm a policeman and I hope I know right from wrong.
When they reach Asgard, Shale and Marilyn find that there is no Publisher. Phrix, through circumstances not of his own making, finds himself in a position of power through control of the printing presses. He has an opportunity to remake the galaxy, but how should it be changed?
The story is a morality play. Shale represents uncontrolled selfishness. Marylin wants to live by love. Phrix is the mystic. The police officer represents the unreflective masses who think that what is customary is good. God does not exist. In the end, the author asks the question, "absent God, how should man live?" The book leaves that up to the reader.
"PIty About Earth" is a mostly unknown and forgotten book. The web has very little mention of it. One other review is here. I no longer think it's the worst story I've ever read. Perhaps Heinlein's "Beyond This Horizon" will take those honors. But maybe I need to read that book again, too.
On the one hand, I’m delighted to have found independent confirmation that ethics relates to ought and is, and the acknowledgement of Hume’s guillotine. On the other hand, I’m worried because of the association between this definition and the potentially erroneous step from “there is something more to the world than matter in motion” to a “signal of transcendence.” Has the possible leaven of this conclusion leavened even the definition of good?
The close connection between ontology and epistemology is easy to see: one can know only what is. But there is an equally close connection between ontology and ethics. Ethics deals with the good. But the good must exist in order to be dealt with. So what is the good? Is it what one or more people say it is? Is it an inherent characteristic of external reality? Is it what God is? Is it what he says it is? Whatever it is, it is something.
I suggest that in worldview terms the concept of good is a universal pretheoretical given, that it is a part of everyone’s innate, initial constitution as a human being. As social philosopher James Q. Wilson says, everyone has a moral sense: “Virtually everyone, beginning at a very young age, makes moral judgements that, though they may vary greatly in complexity, sophistication, and wisdom, distinguish between actions on the grounds that some are right and others wrong.”
Two questions then arise. First, what accounts for this universal sense of right and wrong? Second, why do people’s notions of right and wrong vary so widely? Wilson attempts to account for the universality of the moral sense by showing how it could have arisen through the long and totally natural evolutionary process of the survival of the fittest. But even if this could account for the development of this sense, it cannot account for the reality behind the sense. The moral sense demands that there really be a difference between right and wrong, not just that one senses a difference.
For there to be a difference in reality, there must be a difference between what is and what ought to be. With naturalism--the notion that everything that exists is only matter in motion--there is only what is. Matter in motion is not a moral category. One cannot derive the moral (ought) from the from the non-moral (the totally natural is). The fact that the moral sense is universal is what Peter Berger would call a “signal of transcendence,” a sign that there is something more to the world than matter in motion. --pg 132.
We know that there is something more than just “matter in motion.” As Russell wrote:
Russell has to say this, since he denies the existence of Mind, that is, God. The theist can argue that universals exist first and foremost in the mind of God; the naturalist cannot. So what did Berger mean by transcendence? If there is no god, then our thoughts are solely the product of complex biochemical processes: ”matter in motion” gives rise to intelligence. Intelligence gives rise to morality and imagination. No one should argue that the Starship Enterprise is a sign of transcendence. It is simply a mental state which is the result of matter in motion. If imagination is not a “sign of transcendence” then neither is ethics. Berger is assuming that mental states require something more than biochemical reactions which is an assumption that a naturalist need not grant.
Having now seen that there must be such entities as universals, the next point to be proved is that their being is not merely mental. By this is meant that whatever being belongs to them is independent their being thought of or in any way apprehended by minds. --The Problems of Philosophy, pg. 97.
The second is a children’s book, the Adventures of Piffles the Elf, written by David Babulski. David’s wife attends our church so I had the opportunity to talk with him about the book before it was published. A young elf ventures into the world of humans. Was this the rash action of an idealistic youth or the fulfillment of ancient prophecy? Will the consequences wreck destruction upon the elves or will there be a new era of peace between the two races? This is the first book in a planned series of three; the second should be out in 2009 or 2010. While Summa Elvetica is set within a Christian worldview, Piffles has more of a new age flavor. I found it interesting to see how these different worldviews influenced the motivations of the characters.