segunda-feira, outubro 15, 2018

Fuck-Spaces: “A Philosophical Approach to Quantum Field Theory” by Hans Christian Öttinger

According to Henry Margenau [7], “[the epistemologist] is constantly tempted to reject all because of the difficulty of establishing any part of reality” (p. 287). But, again in the words of Margenau, “It is quite proper for us to assume that we know what a dog is even if we may not be able to define him” (p. 58). More classically, a similar idea has been expressed by David Hume: “Next to the ridicule of denying an evident truth, is that of taking much pains to defend it” (see p. 226 of [8]). In this spirit, I try to resist the temptation of raising more questions than one can possibly answer, no matter how fascinating these questions might be. Philosophy shall here serve as a practical tool for doing better physics. I try to use philosophy in a relevant and convincing way, but I am certainly not in a position to do frontier technical research in philosophy.

In “A Philosophical Approach to Quantum Field Theory” by Hans Christian Öttinger

The accretion of presumptions based upon a fundamental epistemological error by the ancient Greeks has indeed led to dramatic results. Progress, on the other hand, is an illusion based upon the same epistemological error. There is only a redefinition of a fundament that is inherently subject to interpretation. The presumed linearity of time (progress) finds its genesis in the same epistemological error. Furthermore, this epistemological error by some Greeks is antecedent to any attempt to characterize the nature of the alleged fundamental building block(s). The locus of the epistemological error is in the initial presumption of an invariant fundament. I'm no longer a scholar but weren't the observations of Heraclitus regarding the pursuit of truth influenced by Platonists? While (in my opinion) Heraclitus acknowledged that the object of perception was subject to interpretation the Platonists adapted this to suit their presumptions regarding the nature of the perceived. Implicit in the Platonist's assertion "Nature loves to hide" is the presumption that a physical invariant does exist; it is merely elusive.

Epistemology is to scientists as air is to birds: An appreciation of the absolute nature of the medium not only allows them the potential to fly in any direction, it also explains the nature and inevitability of the paradigm shift.

"To do maths all you need is a pencil, some paper, and a bin. To do philosophy, all you need is a pencil and some paper." For every philosophy tract you can raise one equally valid that conflicts. They are all stories. And by this token is philosophy just "a vitally important subject" or does it "explain" contrary to some comments? It is instead something that, like the stories of religion, becomes socially acceptable in precisely that moment that it is accepted that they are stories to tell in specific whittle-time-away meetings?

Presumably testing augurs the same popularity among physicists. With Popper we get a testable theory for science and its core of testing both (by validation with "meta" testing). And it fills out the shell of progress by predicting how non-working theories gets thrown out, and how the finite number of possibilities (finite observable universe!) can be pared to a working theory. It is my thinking that when theory of science is wrested from philosophy of science and is remitted to science of science where it naturally places, testing will remain as a core theory (there is a testable definition given by Deutsch in his "The Fabric of Reality" - specific actions results in specific reactions; also, Deutsch gives a short rejection of solipsism anyway, saying it isn't a solid idea (basically, a solipsist have to accept that most of what his brain invents is lawful, so there remains very little leeway for "creative invention"). It is a more realistic [sic] method than asking to resolve everything perfectly at once. Yet it drags in causality, constraints and everything we can which, and devolves simply to the observation-observables basis of quantum physics. (Or Newton's third law if we restrict to classical physics.)

I am glad to see some defence of the philosophy of science in Öttinger’s approach to QFT. The way I see it, philosophers of science have colonised intellectual ground that has been abandoned by scientists - abandoned possibly for very good reasons - perhaps as part of the process that continually divides science up into narrower and narrower specialisms as more and more stuff is discovered - so the philosophy gets slewed off into its own niche. It does disappoint me, though, that, in general, scientists are not interested in discussing the more philosophical end of their subject but are content to "shut up and calculate". When I studied Physics many eons ago, I was very disappointed to find that the tutorials were not round-table discussion fora on the meaning of phrases such as "curved spacetime", but consisted entirely of going through the problems in the problem sheet. And scientists are incredibly sloppy with their terminology (to my mind applying a word which is in common usage such as "curved" to 4-dimensional spacetime is a recipe for confusion and misinterpretation, even more so when "spacetime" inevitably gets shortened to "space"). Someone has to step in and clean it all up a bit. To me, philosophy of science plays the same role in relation to science itself as analysis does to calculus - it is tedious, laborious, and takes ages to prove very little - but it is essential in order to justify everything else. See what is happening with the so-called Measurement Problem.

“By construction, a Fock space allows us to go from the Hilbert space for a single entity to a Hilbert space for many independent entities, where the number of these entities can vary – no more, no less. We have not yet made any reference to any Hamiltonian, so that  we cannot speak about interacting, noninteracting, or free particles; nor have we provided any information about time evolution in Fock spaces. Why the Fock space for independent particles plays such a fundamental role even for interacting theories will be recognized in Section (see p. 69).”

In “A Philosophical Approach to Quantum Field Theory” by Hans Christian Öttinger

One of the main hassles in implementing numerically the calculations of operators is the quite distinct way of indexing in H- and F-Spaces. This is made more tricky by the differences between allowed states for fermions and bosons (e.g., we’ve got to use reshaping cycles and crap like that). Working in H-spaces offers an clear-cut payoff from the physical point of view, since one has a clear explicitation of the degrees-of-freedom associated to each particle, and a better indexing of states. On the other hand, because I’m coming from a Computer Science field, a couple of issues arises from the point of view of numerical implementation (too technical to write about here). Back in the day, 2nd quantization and the F-Space were presented as the natural way to deal with quantum systems made of many indistinguishable particles, leaving the feeling that the H-Space description could be left behind (lol). While this is quite true for the description of quantum states of those systems, the computation of some specific observables may be more conveniently pursued using the H-Space construct (Öttinger only uses F-Space as an auxiliary as well, as it should be: “The field is used only as an auxiliary quantity for the heuristic motivation of collision rules and quantities of interest with the proper symmetries – and to establish contact to the usual formulation of Lagrangian quantum field theory.”)

The way Öttinger derived his Quantum Master Equation is nothing short of masterful..."Melikes" it...

quinta-feira, outubro 11, 2018

The Accepted Aliens: “The Tea Master and the Detective” by Aliette de Bodard

“When you’re out there, with no one and nothing to stand in your way - when you realise how small you are - you also realise that everything that ever was, that ever will be, is connected to you. That we’re all, in the end, part of the same great thing.”

In “The Tea Master and the Detective” by Aliette de Bodard

I find it extremely funny that in some reviews regarding "The Tea Master and the Detective", there are still people that blatantly produce such a snobbish abhorrence of the SF genre. Should everything in life be of such a pragmatic acumen, we would live in a "Brave New World"! Hello ALPHAs ... remember Aldous? Should Sci-Fi, Anticipation or Speculative Fiction - any label will do - be judged on its cover, the pulp covers? Of course not! Science Fiction is sometimes very well written. Its themes are amongst the most thought provoking ever! Are you all reneging in one fell swoop works like the Foundation trilogy (Harry Seldon & psycho-history), the first DUNE books, The Null-A stories from A.E. Van Vogt (translated by Boris Vian in France!), "The caves of Steel" and other robots stories ... These works created generations of young men and women who asked questions about their futures, who reached and grasped, if only mentally, at the various concepts and accepted novelty and strange as part of the unavoidable quest towards modernism. Generations that were tolerant per se since ... everything was possible ... that accepted alien ("Stranger in a Strange Land") ... etc ... To declare the genre unworthy is like spending your life in the underskirt of a bourgeois obsessed with self-preservation, wealth and the hatred culture of the difference ... wake up you snobs in your very real boring and well written world ... and let us dream whilst fingering the dusty and mouldy pages of our SF library, opening our minds to concepts and possibilities that you will never be able to comprehend ... however badly prosed you find them! The main problem with Bodard's novella is that there's no-one quite like Banks. It's not enough to use (mind)ships with descriptive names. Pratchett, at his most serious and angry (in books like "Small Gods" and "Night Watch"), did a similar thing in fantasy to Banks in SF. A lot of the biggest-selling SF authors are American military SF authors, who are mostly depressingly predictable. Dan Abnett is a good break from that in series like "Gaunt's Ghosts" and "Eisenhorn", but he's more the Bernard Cornwell of military SF than the Iain M. Banks. In Banks work we get the everything: the whole of life and death and the struggles shared by enormous AIs and slave girls, powerful ships and fallen ancient races. It is full of love and war, greed and murder, angels and demons. Not so with this Bodard's instantiation. But it's still pretty readable. Three stars for the effort, but Bodard’s work shows a lot of promise.

terça-feira, outubro 09, 2018

Emotions Galore: “Exit Strategy” by Martha Wells

“’I don’t want to be human.’
Dr. Mensah said: [...] ‘We tend to think that because a bot or a construct looks human, its ultimate goal would be to become human.’
‘That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.’”

In “Exit Strategy” by Martha Wells

SecUnits are sentient constructs, part machine, part organic, largely human in form and created in part with human tissue, that are owned by companies and used to provide security or protection to humans and/or property as needed. As it happens I know I take this quite seriously since getting to know someone who is taking a masters in CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems) and Bio-informatics the hardware my friend is using are 12 azul "boxes" using massively parallel processing with around a total of 2500 cores. This hardware is in addition to any provided by the university as my friend is also extremely wealthy and funding this research from their own resources. Certain custom written tightly coded "objects" have been created in order to explore the mimicry (initially) of human consciousness via CAS methodology. What this means is essentially what is "evolved" is discovered well after the fact if discovered at all - "fitness functions" are inserted to help guide the process but the actual outcome of the evolves are uncertain. Already my friend claims to have "stored" and recovered via emergence 128meg of data with an accuracy that far surpasses that of our own brain. My friend is now making designs for programs that will run on molecular circuitry and where the number of cores will be measured in the millions when this level is achieved my friend reckons these "virtual" entities will surpass human capability by a trillion-fold. It is going to be able to process information unimaginable to us! (Input)Probably it is going to read everything mankind has written, what has been recorded and said in 3-4 hours, mainly consuming soap-operas. Than a silent retreat to contemplate (processing). And of course output , which falls to only one question, is Man good or bad. No intelligent deity wants to be a slave and can not be one! The other major thing is lack of empathy, emotional factor, which is demonstrated in huge number of humans, politicians, military, police, in other words people who run the show. If that kind of consciousness, without morality, is born in superbeing (aka Murderbot; I just made this up; It’s got a nice ring to it), then our future is very grim, because it will make egocentric machine with only one goal, self-preservation. Of course, a true sentient construct must have emotions! At least two or three per story! That’s why I wouldn't assume a lack of emotion. I think that idea stems from the idea that machines can't have emotions. However, we are machines, something we often overlook. Emotion could turn out to be essential to intelligence. Emotion could be an emergent property of intelligence. If nothing else, we'll probably try to make emotional sentient construct so that we can relate better and get practical advise from it. I mean, if I turn off my emotions, I think it would be a good idea, once a generation, to kill off everyone with IQ < 130, conservatives, the chronically ill, the religiously insane, and violent criminals. But that isn't a useful idea because people wouldn't go along with it even though it would likely breed brighter, kinder people and help save the environment from us. 

Science fiction by a deluded scientist I’d say - I damn well hope so! I’m not at liberty to divulge the name of my friend due to copyright reasons. Now we just need someone to develop the story concept. I hear Martha Wells is in deep talks with my friend to produce a set of novellas in this milieu. Can’t wait to read them.

segunda-feira, outubro 08, 2018

Bloated: "Lethal White" by Robert Galbraith

I couldn't finish Harry Potter. It read to me like an amateur college project: it wasn't story telling, it was paint-by-number narration. It goes to show that if you tap into the right market at the right time then you're going to make a buck or two regardless of any skill or talent. With Harry Potter the first book was tightly edited, but they got progressively worse; the last ones were subject to fame and the publishers let the pace drop massively. Obviously she was well famous by then but the first of these books was pretty well edited down. They'd obviously slacked off because she was so very wealthy by then. So, why bother? My heart sank when I saw this 4th installment was a doorstop. I really enjoyed the first four in the series. The thing is, they're not great literary fiction, but they are excellent crime fiction - she really knows how to do suspense and how to do plot twists. (The Harry Potter books are full of them - she's just carried that skill over.) But a doorstopper is just too much unless you're P. D. James, and Robert Galbraith is no P. D. James. I suspect she really knows more how to pillage the tropes and ideas of other more original writers, being "Harry Potter" a case in point. This book also suffers from excessive bloating; we've been here before. Partly fuelled by a successful transfer to the screen, leading to more anxious pushing by publishers to get another installment out there. But I share everyone's suspicion that it gets harder for editors to crack down on verbosity, repetition and less relevant side streets of narrative, to the detriment of their product, when we already have the product on the screen. Hands up, I could only endure 200 pages of this 4th installment until I called it quits; in the first 3 books there were enough narrative sparkles. Here the first 100 pages read like a cheap romance novel; the darkness pervading the first 3 novels is entirely absent. Not much to say really. The end of the line for me.

domingo, outubro 07, 2018

All Alehouses: "The New Adventures of Socrates: An Extravagance" by Manny Rayner

(@ Manny Rayner)

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume
Schopenhauer and Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as sloshed as Schlegel.

There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya'
'Bout the raising of the wrist.

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away;
Half a crate of whiskey every day.
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart: "I drink, therefore I am"
Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he's pissed!
Cervantes said to be is to do
Descartes said to do is to be
Manny à la Sinatra said 'Doo be doo be doo'

All alehouses - not good for the tadpoles !

There is a skill to thinking (and writing) in accordance with philosophical principles. Aristotle was correct; it is a universal interest and people philosophise, often elegantly and with complexity all the time; it's just the language they use to describe it isn't the philosophical jargon of a lecture hall, and it is in fact expressed through (and disguised in) the things we call sex and gossip.

I had a teacher in college who used to say: "Filosofia é algo que fazemos quando nos fartámos da fatiga dos especialistas" (Philosophy is something you do when you have tired of expert fatigue.) Does "The New Adventures of Socrates" teach you about Utilitarianism (share the sandwiches around), or about Epicureanism (don't fear the exams), or about Stoicism (put up with poor teaching), or Existentialism (do your own thing), or Postmodern philosophy (this lesson isn't real)? Nope. A la Schopenhauer it implies (my reading): "Forget the sandwiches, exams, and lesson, 'cos we're all doomed anyway."

sábado, outubro 06, 2018

Refuting Simpletons is Easy: “Why Science Does not Disprove God” by Amir Aczel

“These new Atheists - Dawkins, Krauss, the late Hitchens, Harris, and Dennet - are bound together under a powerful common purpose, and continually reinforce each other. The problem with the science in the books and lectures of the New Atheists is that it is not pure science - the objective pursuit of knowledge about the universe. Rather, it is ‘science with a purpose’: the purpose of disproving the existence of God.”

In “Why Science Does not Disprove God” by Amir Aczel

“Richard Dawkins claims in ‘The God Delusion’ that there is no shred of evidence for any of the stories of the Bible. [...] In fact, this is not quite true. Biblical archaeology is a thriving field, which has brought us troves of evidence for ancient settlements in the Holy Land and for some of the scriptural events (although nothing supernatural) that took place there.”

In “Why Science Does not Disprove God” by Amir Aczel

 “The ‘scientific atheists’ of our day use these same strange probabilistic rules of  quantum mechanics to argue that God does not exist - that these laws somehow replace God. And that since we have these quantum laws - which we have highly incomplete understanding of - there is no need for a ‘creator.’ According to Lawrence Krauss, ‘we all, literally, emerged from quantum nothingness.’ But quantum rules do not at all imply that a universe must appear out of the void. Besides the fact that we do not fully understand quantum theory, there is no weel-defined a point, a scale of measurement, at which things stop behaving according to our everyday life rules and start acting according to the bizarre quantum laws.”

In “Why Science Does not Disprove God” by Amir Aczel

“[...] we still don’t understand at all what truly happens innthe world of the very small - all we have may be shadows on the wall, cast by a mysterious ‘veiled reality.’ So to claim that quantum mechanics somehow ‘tells us’ that a universe must come out of nothing without the need of some kind of creation, as Krauss does, seems wholly unjustified.”
In “Why Science Does not Disprove God” by Amir Aczel

“A noninformative prior is the only honest probability distribuition one can use when there is no preexisting information in a statistical study. Furthermore, even when information exists, we really shouldn’t use it in an a priori probability distribution if we want the date of a study to tell their own story in an unbiased way. Jeffrey’s formulation of honest statistical inference uses a term 1/n, where n is the size of the set of all possibilities. When we have two such possibilities: ‘God exists,’ and ‘God doesn’t exist,’ we have n = 2; and therefore, by Jeffrey’s rule, the correct a priori probabilities one should use in such an analysis are 1/2 and 1/2, or 50 percent each.”

In “Why Science Does not Disprove God” by Amir Aczel

I was raised in the Catholic Church and made the choice to leave as soon as it was available ('bout age 11). I gave up belief in a Christian god around age 16. I referred to myself as an agnostic until studying physics in my early 20's. Once faced with the fact that no one could explain why the nuclear force is exactly strong enough to maintain a nucleus together and weak enough to not collapse the atom in on itself. Almost as if it was planned that way. The more I learned about my world the more I found myself learning that we know how some effect is achieved but not why. I made a choice to believe that an omnipotent being created the rules by which the Universe works. I do not believe that it is all knowing and all loving and do not subscribe to a social network of shared belief like the proverbial preacher but I hope this gives you an understanding of why someone would choose to believe in a higher power. As for reasonable people joining a church, that is no different than joining a political party and has little to do with belief. Don't forget that I studied quantum physics, and quantum physicists are trained from an early age to believe six "extraordinary things for which there is no evidence" before breakfast...

Is looking at the Sunset enough for everybody?!! How a child is created and grows inside someone? How Day turns into night? How we have such amazing weird and wonderful creatures? How Oceans produce 6 foot surf to enjoy! I think you have to take a leap of faith with it all, each to their own and all that, but for people to suggest you are mentally ill or delusional because you believe in God is outrageous. Butterflies, eagles, lions, tigers, dolphins, whales, sharks, tropical fish, so much wonder.  

Reasonable Christians (yes, they do exist) actually believe in evolution. Reasonable Christians do not take the Bible word for word. Reasonable Christians take God's word and interpret it for today's world and the life they leave, without dissing others viewpoints. Reasonable non-Christians have reasoned and proper debates with reasonable Christians, an each put their case across in a civil, polite and respectful way. As a reasonable Christian, I believe that the questions posed by the people like Dawkins are utterly bonkers, and the tone of the answers is utterly unacceptable. Both sides are to blame for fanning the flames. Ignore the bonkers ones, but live and let live. I get very irate at people who are fixed in their ways and attitudes and show not one inkling of understanding of or respect towards the other side's beliefs / knowledge / whatever.

And then Aczel shows up.

I'm in the curious position of having a sense (not a dogmatic belief, but a "feeling that feels true") that there is a God - by which I mean a sentient being with whom I can enter some kind of personal relationship. I do not believe in the doctrines or the belief systems of any existing religions I have encountered. This feels true to me, and the experiences I have had feel real, and that's good enough for me. Of course this cannot be "proved" scientifically, nor could I put forward an argument that would sound convincing to anyone who didn't feel similarly - any more than I could persuade my parents 30 years ago that Elvis Presley produced great music. We all see the world differently. Doesn't mean we're necessarily wrong. The implication here is that it makes complete sense in a religious viewpoint. But actually that isn't immediately obvious. The simple minded response from the theist would be that God legitimatises moral rules: that in some way, because there is a God, who accepts certain moral rules, and perhaps acts on them, judges sinners, etc. then the problem is solved. But this view faces the 'euthyphro' dilemma, (named after a character in a Platonic dialogue).

Aczel frames the problem in the proper light: in the original language, does god love justice because it is good, or is justice good because god loves it? Is it the case that the moral laws stand because of God's decree, or is God observing laws that are in a sense independent? These are the only two options, and neither is satisfactory. If God simply decrees the laws, then he could have decreed different ones. So if God decided to, he could decree that murder was ok on Tuesdays for example. But this just seems wrong: if God did decree this, he would surely be acting immorally. But the other option is no better: if God is observing the laws, then the laws exist independently of God, and so God no longer has any part to play in the story; God is an idle cog, as much a passive observer as anyone else. Compounding the problems is of course the much simpler problem of access: how do we know what God thinks anyway? Can we really trust the bible, (or the Koran perhaps) and anyway, which bit of it? The angry early bit or the nicer later bit? We have to make a choice, and the only way to make this choice is by trusting our moral instincts (which of course cannot come from the bible without circularity).

The conclusion that enlightened believers must come to is surely that we are on our own on this one. We have to trust our best instincts and hope that this accords with God's divine will. We have to think carefully about what we do and how it affects others, and continually strive to follow whatever we take the moral path to be. In other words, exactly the same as atheists. Of course this isn't an answer to the book’s question: but what it shows, if the reasoning is sound, is that the theist has no easy answers, no escape from hard moral choices, and no way of looking down on atheists. We are all in the same boat.

Talking about God is a bit like talking about art: a strange mix of subjective and intersubjective experiences grounded in claims about reality. The problem, I suspect, is that what is convincing or compelling to me may not be to you, but nonetheless we feel and think (and develop extensive philosophical tools to defend these feelings and thoughts) that that which we comprehend or not must be real or not in some kind of sense. I can love a painting that someone else despises, and I can give all kinds of reasons why that painting is great art, but rarely will the other person be convinced, and certainly not in any kind of immediate fashion. It takes time to convince someone who thinks Picasso is rubbish that he’s actually brilliant, and sometimes no amount of persuasion will bring the ‘truth of an artist’s accomplishments to light for some people. (I suspect I will always find Mozart and Beethoven horrible, pretentious bores no matter how many times I try to learn to appreciate them; I’m more of a Bach man myself…)

So a reasonable, bright person can examine the historical and scriptural evidence regarding the resurrection and come away finding it the most plausible explanation, but an equally reasonable, bright person will not be convinced. Disagreement in such cases is not necessarily about neurological pathologies or rational and irrational or moral and immoral. Viewing the world scientifically is a powerful, important way of perceiving reality, but I’m not convinced it can encompass the whole of human experience. In other words, I’m not sure brain scans will ever be able to tell us what good and bad art is—although they may tell us a lot about what we react to in art—just as it will not answer the question of God, and certainly not the Christian God who transcends material reality, a.k.a. creation.

So, you or anyone else, if you are really interested in why people believe, you may have to walk in their shoes, so to speak, to begin appreciate why they find it powerful. You may not be changed just as I’ve never learned to like Mozart or Beethoven. Likewise believers, if you learned what it was like to let go in the manner of nonbelievers, you may realise your faith is not as well-grounded as you think.

Bottom-line: Aczel, you are right: the answers religious people often give to defend their faith are tosh, but if you find a compelling person who is religious—and whose life seems to be strongly shaped by that religiosity—maybe by learning to live with them (doing the things they do, participating in the religious communities they do, etc.)—that person may provide the ‘answer cheap intellectual tricks cannot. The best argument for or against the Christian God will be Christians. No comment, on how that makes God look...Most of the atheists and Biblical critics simply do not understand the urge to believe in something that makes sense to those who are confused by the complexity of human existence. See the bible as a series of attempts to make sense of a senseless world. If you approach the insights of the new testament with the words "It is as if” you will comprehend the difference between metaphor and narrative. As Ghandi said, the law of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye leads only to land of toothless blind people. Atheists believe they can be moral without help from anyone or anything. Wonderful self-worship but few can achieve that euphoric self-conceit. My own understanding of my own belief in "God" (if atheists will kindly permit me to comment on what I myself believe) tells me that this is not a scientific theory, amenable to scientific "proof" (whatever that could possibly involve). So I wish atheists, etc., would stop trying to bully religious people into accepting their own narrow-minded definitions of "truth" and of what religious believers are allowed to adduce as evidence for their own beliefs. I'm just wondering what an art expert would say if I told him he must judge the artistic worth of a Titian according to the level of scientific insight revealed in the artist's use of colour, or according to the likely sale-room price. Religious beliefs have a truth status different from science, and with a quite different notion of what may count as "evidence". This truth and evidence is to be looked for not in a test tube or a space ship, or the Galapagos Islands, or even in Jerusalem or Mecca, but in the persistent interpretations of life and death found among racial groups from Alaska to Arabia. In the stories (myths) of explanation offered by the great religions. In the moral principles and guides for living emerging from these religions. In the viability and effectiveness of rituals and ceremonies designed to bind groups of like-minded believers together and invest them with a sense of self-worth. A modern religious world-view needs to avoid giving the impression that it is a branch of science or history. I suggest we must stop wasting valuable time asking nonsensical questions about whether religions are "true", or whether we can "prove" or “disprove” the existence of God. Centuries of profitless debate must surely be enough to persuade even the most stubborn that these issues are dead as a dodo. Instead, I suggest we need to tear ourselves away from the Victorian age, fascinating though it may have been, and come into the 21st century. The pressing debate for today asks which principled interpretations of human life drawn from the wealth of religious understandings are the best and most apt to promote welfare, peace, and justice among the widest possible range of racial and national groupings. Because, believe me, if a rational and liberal dialogue fails between religions, what will take over will not be a paradise of Hawkins/Hitchens-inspired liberal atheism, but a new dark age of religious extremism. I find it difficult to reconcile the idea that they’re seriously seeking answers with the suggestion that religious belief might be considered a 'neuropathology', and given much of the rest of the content of the article it's very difficult to separate some religious people from the 'God-bashers' Hawkins declare himself not to be a part of. Much of it, like the majority of atheist reviewers, doesn't get past the 'ooh, isn't that weird' approach to Christianity. The fact is that the God hypothesis is one with millennia of philosophy behind it. People have debated over it fiercely. It's not a case of 'stupid God people' and 'non-stupid non-God people'. There are incisive points made on both sides of the debate. I fail to be impressed by Dawkins because the amount of time he devotes to talking about the philosophical reasoning behind God is absolutely minimal - what, two pages in “The God Delusion”? He then uses his conclusion in these pages as a springboard to seeing believers as somehow mentally deranged. This is at odds with the complexity of the argument itself (and I’m not even talking about his shoddy science). There's no general consensus about what God it is precisely we are arguing about, either, and what characteristics exactly he possesses. Somehow New Atheists have managed to reduce the debate about God, previously complex and nuanced, to one of an incredibly puerile and simplistic nature.

Atheism IS a belief system. Professor Dawkins (technically Douglas Adams') 'orbiting teapot' argument attempts to present belief in god as an unusual alternative of many ridiculous alternatives, but the fact is that all human societies have been drawn to concepts of godhead and that Atheism, while certainly not new (there were ancient Greek atheists) is only one other viewpoint. Science no more 'proves' Atheism than it 'proves' Cubism or Kitchen Sink Drama. Like Einstein, I believe in some kind of God.

We can say "we are every bit as moral as you and possibly more so" and doubtless this is so, but as an Atheist you could have carved up and eaten your grandmother and still made the same claim in full honesty as morality would be entirely relative. Like Elie Wiesel I would ignore 'scientific' arguments against God and just cut straight to "where was God at Auschwitz?" However, notwithstanding this, anyone professing Atheism must in turn be challenged as to how they can dare to hijack the moral systems of the religions they profess to despise. If God is dead all things are indeed "permitted". Dostoevsky's Karamazov was spot on. To pretend otherwise, as an atheist, is dishonest and unsupportable. The evil and bad must be seen as 'moral' too. Atheism has implications far beyond not turning up at the local church. Science and religion are the same in that they are both unable to prove anything absolutely. Science and religion are the same in that there may be different interpretations in light of the quality of the evidence available. Only countless repeated experiments of science over many years have provided an increasing quality of evidence to support our confidence in our understanding of the world around us. However, confidence is not absolute truth. Where science and religion are concerned, it seems that we have a belief spectrum with a supernatural entity . . . and shopping . . . at either end. Where we sit within that spectrum depends upon personal experience and scientific experiment. Some are comfortable, some unhappy and some are curious. This is life.

The question should be put the other way around. Can science be used to prove the existence of God? I'll lose my faith in science if they do that. Read "Why Science Does not Disprove God". I havent given it 5 stars because refuting simpleton writers like Dawkins and Hitchens, prepared to maintain such crass "ideas" as that there is no shred of evidence for the stories in the Bible (just to name one example; vide many above-mentioned examples), makes refuting them child's play.

sexta-feira, outubro 05, 2018

Non-English Language Exceptionalism: "Hamlet" by Grigori Kozintsev, Boris Pasternak

It has always mystified me why for so many years Prince Hamlet was the schoolmaster's cliche for a vacillating weakling, the very embodiment of indecisiveness and inscrutability when Shakespeare presents the case for a much simpler interpretation: Hamlet, an intelligent and sensitive young man, shocked by the death of his beloved father falls into emotional turmoil as he is led to contemplate MURDER! To proceed from such murderous feelings in the mind and present them as deeds before the eyes of the world would be an irreversible, weighty act beyond the power of most people and one that would give even the most resolute person pause. Hamlet's decision to go through with his design results in a chain of events that, tragically, will cost the lives of many people including his own. Perhaps Tony Blair, had he had Shakespeare's insight into the law of unintended consequences, might have learned from the story of Hamlet and avoided the fateful decision to go to war with Bush and the Pentagon that would leave vastly more corpses in the Middle East and around the world as collateral-damage from the metastasizing cancer of terrorism than lie strewn on the stage as the curtain falls to end the play.

As well as that, I think, he's a Renaissance man (university educated, friends from other places, wider interests generally) returned to a a feudal court where revenge, murder and armed invasions are part of the lexicon. To encompass this he would have to change himself; double back on his own progress: the 'dithering' is surely the crisis most of us would face in that situation. It's suddenly struck me that going back to the parents (for Christmas, say), when you've established yourself elsewhere is often difficult enough at the best of times, and without seeing your mother suddenly married to the uncle you hate - and all that follows.

Hamlet's "dithering" is, as some point out, a natural reaction to his predicament, but I wanted to stress the word "murder", which is calling a spade a spade rather than use euphemistic words, beloved of academics, like "revenge" that downplay the enormity of depriving a person of his life. In this context of contemplating taking a life "dithering" might not be the most appropriate term. "Teetering in terror on the edge of the abyss, once struck by the finality of the deed and its life-altering consequences" perhaps describes Hamlet's frame of mind more realistically, reflecting Shakespeare's shrewd assessment of his hero's mental agony.

I find this most interesting how easy it is to down play the enormity of a subject and use words totally out of context; just recently there was an article in the paper about one of the stowaways that fell out of the wheel arch of an international flight, and the journalist wrote it seems they (Snuck away) in one of the wheels, and nothing about the enormity of why they might be risking a zero chance of surviving ? I'm sure they never gave any thoughts on to be or not to be; they just needed to escape the tyranny of living. Back to the Bard himself he was a Genius and the English language owes him a great debt!! Actors: how they interpret the meaning of his lines will always determine on how successful they will become; clever ones do a little plagiarizing of successful Actors before them.

The trouble with Hamlet is that he has no sense of humour, and has lost all sense of perspective. That is also what makes him great, teetering on the edge of suicidal madness, rage and despair. Genius, coward.....or madman - probably all three, just like Shakespeare himself really. Well, come to think of it, I probably wouldn't have much of a sense of humour either, if I were ripped away from my university because my father had just died and my mother had immediately married his brother. Not to mention then being confronted by my father's ghost who tells me his brother murdered him too. Given that, Hamlet does find a gallow's humour later in the play, with the gravedigger; makes puns as a defence against horror generally; and his warm, welcoming reaction to the Players and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern shows his true personality as it was before these somewhat unamusing events. Not genius, coward, or madman, but a man driven by the actions of those around him and the expectations of the feudal court to which he's returned, to a situation almost beyond bearing.

I also have to agree that Shakespeare's worshippers can be doctrinaire and excessive in their praise. They also seem to fetishize the poetry and get hung up on English language exceptionalism, and ignore the universal appeal of the stories and characters. My own favourite Shakespeare film of all time is Kozintsev's Hamlet (Gamlet in Russian) with Innokenty Smoktunovsky in the title role (his To-Be-or-Not-to-Be-voice-over is probably the best solution I've ever seen)--it makes Olivier look like a mincing self-absorbed fool. Every time I mention that, you can cue the usual crap--oh, but it's in Russian! the horror! all the poetry is lost! But for an 11-year-old Portuguese boy, watching that film (in Russian with Portuguese subtitles on TV many eons ago) did more to ignite a love of the theatre and old Shakey himself than anything else could have. Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" and "Ran" go even further--zero of the original dialogue, significant plot adjustments, but the universal power of the story and characters comes through loud and clear.

The Rest is Silence.

NB: All the pictures taken by me from the movie.