Wednesday, March 28, 2012

War and peace

Materially, the difference between war and peace means the difference between physically killing (and injuring) people and not doing that.

Today we're talking about the Republican's War on Women. It's a real war, because it can end up sending women to die in "backroom" abortion facilities.

The Republican's War on Science could have a similar result. In denying global warming, they could end up killing future populations by preventing progress in addressing it.

The Budget War (exemplified by the Ryan budget proposal, but also including the War on "Obamacare") can result in whether the poor in America can get medical care.

Absent physical (and one can include psychological, which is a form of physical injury) destruction, there is peace.

But peace doesn't mean the absence of conflict. People will still argue ferociously over who should win American Idol, or over whether there is such a thing as free will.

This post is a response to Is Peace Just Internalized Conflict?, on the Philosophers' Playground.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Acts Of The Holy Ghost ~ Scene 7

  • Heaven. LORD HAROLD and H.G. TAYLOR in bed talking.
  • I see our son is running into problems.
  • H.G.
  • I've been helping out here and there: some blind-healing salve, a walking-on-water illusion I taught JESSE, ...
  • But I see the religious leaders there are getting ready to get rid of him. It's going to happen eventually. What can we do?
  • H.G.
  • I've been working on a plan. GABRIEL, MICHAEL and I will go down and fake his death, let him see seen alive for a few days, and bring him him back to live with us. The planet he leaves behind will be left with his legacy.
  • Are you sure they'll remember him correctly or screw up when they write about he said?
  • H.G.
  • I haven't solved that problem yet.

  • ...
  • [THE COUNCIL (member) shown handing gold coins to JUDAH]

The Acts Of The Holy Ghost ~ A Play In One Act


I end the week of the 7 Day Blogging Challenge for Bloggers where I began: on Markup.

John August is a screenwriter who also writes software for writing and reading screenplays. There's a lot of stuff on his site ( for the screenwriter geek, but I take one small bit of CSS code as an example. This code can be placed in a Blogger blog template (before </head>):

/* .screenbox: from */
.screenbox {
    list-style: none;
    width: 420px;
    padding: 5px 14px;
.screenbox li { font: 12px/14px Courier, fixed; }
.sceneheader, .action, .character { padding-top: 1.5ex; }
.action { padding-right: 5%; }
.character { margin-left: 40%; padding-top: 2.0em;}
.dialogue { margin-left: 10%; padding-right: 10%; }
.parenthetical { margin-left: 32%; padding-right: 30%; }
.transition { padding-top: 3ex; margin-left: 65%; padding-bottom: 1.5ex; }

It is slightly modified from the original code, as I have played with it a bit. An example:

<code style="color: black;">
<ul class="screenbox">
<li class="sceneheader">EXT. FOREST / ELSEWHERE – DAY</li>
<li class="parentherical">
(Lighting on Susan.)</li>
<li class="action">Susan is on a cell-phone call. She smiles at Melissa, who walks by with two cups of coffee.</li>
<li class="character">SUSAN (V.O.)</li>
<li class="dialogue">Right now, this is probably our top pilot. But things change.</li>

results in


  • (Lighting on Susan.)
  • Susan is on a cell-phone call. She smiles at Melissa, who walks by with two cups of coffee.
  • SUSAN (V.O.)
  • Right now, this is probably our top pilot. But things change.

There's a lot more on his site and I'm only a dabbler so far in screenwriting, but the above example gives an indication of how CSS is used to make screenplays look right.

This post is the seventh in a series of seven for the 7 Day Blogging Challenge for Bloggers from +Jenson Taylor.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Republicans in 2012, along with their War on Women and War on Omamacare, are engaged in a War on Science. (Republicans accuse the Democrats instead as engaging in a War on Christianity, War on America, and War on Freedom.)

It all comes back to Science though.

Close to 20% of Democrats and Independents believe in naturalistic evolution (without God playing a role), while only 4% of Republicans do. 60% of Republicans believe in Creationism* (God created humans within the last 10,000 years), while only 38% of Democrats believe that.

The Republicans' weapons in their War on Science include laws being passed in state legislatures they took over in 2010 to promote the teaching of Creationism. In a way, The Republican War on Women can be viewed as part of their War on Science: They simply do not understand the health needs of women.

Ask someone their view on Darwinism, and there's a good chance you can tell how they'll vote.

Ask them in addition to that their view on Global Warming, and your chances will improve.

Science by its nature (no pun intended) is a pragmatic, not faith-based, intellectual enterprise. No one is ever sure of anything in any absolute sense, although there are battles fought amongst theorists. Religion &mdash particularly right-wing Christianity in America — deals in metaphysical absolutes. This is much less so for progressive sects of Christianity. But these don't get air time.

* Intelligent Design is an attempt to sneak the supernatural into natural science. It posits that natural selection (and modern evolutionary synthesis) is incomplete and that a force outside of natural forces must have generated life on this planet. But it is nothing more than Creationism slowed down to 13.7 billion years instead of 7 days.

This post is the sixth in a series of seven for the 7 Day Blogging Challenge for Bloggers from +Jenson Taylor.

Friday, March 23, 2012


All books are not equal, at least as far as brains are concerned.

Apparently, one can read all kinds of nonfiction — science, history, politics, philosophy, puzzles, technology — and some regions of the brain are left wanting. These are stimulated by fiction alone.

Brain science seems to confirm this.

Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas. In [one] study, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences [in a story]. The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements.

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

Fiction, Dr. Oatley notes, “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

But fiction draws one into simulations of experience we may want to embrace or avoid. Consider what the following passage from A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One (by George R.R. Martin) stimulates:

His father peeled off his gloves and handed them to Jory Cassel, the captain of his household guard. He took hold of Ice with both hands and said, "In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, the First of his Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, by the word of Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, I do sentence you to die." He lifted the great sword high above his head.

Bran's bastard brother Jon Snow moved closer. "Keep the pony well in hand," he whispered. "And don't look away. Father will know if you do."

Bran kept his pony well in hand, and did not look away.
His father took off the man's head with a single sure stroke. Blood sprayed out across the snow, as red as summerwine. One of the horses reared and had to be restrained to keep from bolting. Bran could not take his eyes off the blood. The snows around the stump drank it eagerly, reddening as he watched.

The head bounced off a thick root and rolled. It came up near Greyjoy's feet. Theon was a lean, dark youth of nineteen who found everything amusing. He laughed, put his boot on the head,and kicked it away.

"Ass," Jon muttered, low enough so Greyjoy did not hear. He put a hand on Bran's shoulder, and Bran looked over at his bastard brother.

"You did well," Jon told him solemnly. Jon was fourteen, an old hand at justice.

Great popular fiction not only moves brains, it moves movies and television series.

"Game of Thrones" (based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels) completed one series on HBO and begins a second on April 1.

This post is the fifth in a series of seven for the 7 Day Blogging Challenge for Bloggers from +Jenson Taylor.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Richard Dawkins proposes a "spectrum of probabilities" for answering the question, "How much — or how little — do you believe in God?":

1.0   Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God.
2.0   De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent.
3.0   Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high.
4.0   Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent.
5.0   Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low.
6.0   De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero.
7.0   Strong atheist.

So like the Fahrenheit scale and Celsius scale, there is the Dawkins scale. (As you notice, it goes up from total belief to total unbelief, so it's really the measure "How high is your unbelief in God?") One can translate one's place in his spectrum into degrees Dawkins: 5.0 could be 50° Dawkins, etc. When someone asks you the question, you would answer with a simple number in degrees, e.g. I'm 57° Dawkins, and that's that. Dawkins himself has said he's at 6.9: So Dawkins himself is 69° Dawkins.

Philosophers muddle over the distinctions between belief and knowledge, agnosticism and atheism. But it's really just a lot of language that confuses. The Dawkins scale just makes simple what should be a simple thing to express.

W.V. Quine wrote that all of our conceptual world is a web of beliefs — a network of beliefs connected by logical dependencies — and beliefs can be revised within this web in such a way as the whole settles into some acceptable state that we live with. And degrees of beliefs are common in expressing the strength and weakness of beliefs in this web. Beliefs then propagate their values throughout the web updating the values of other beliefs.

Some people are averse to being completely absolute either way (10° or 70° in the Dawkins scale). So many atheists may just be like Dawkins (69°). After all, there are some things even more unbelievable than God: like Republicans' supply-side economics!

What's your temperature?

This post is the fourth in a series of seven for the 7 Day Blogging Challenge for Bloggers from +Jenson Taylor.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951)

Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence
      by means of language.

(Philosophical Investigations, 1953)

Two philosophical camps emerged from the last century: The first camp views philosophers as those who endeavor to answer profound and fundamental questions, or to construct systems for doing so. The second camp views philosophers instead as uber-kibitzers.

The first camp is usually called analytic, and mimics the methods of science and mathematics in its practice. The second camp is usually called continental (since its legacy goes back to some philosophers of Germany and France vs. Britain and America), and operates more like literary criticism.

The second camp watches in amusement as the first camp tries to hold a mirror up to the world: to find a representation in language — either English (or French, German, ...) or mathematics — of what the world really is. The second camp says there is no mirror outside of the natural world — outside of the brains of the philosophers. Since the language one wants to use in philosophy is itself part of the natural world, it cannot be given any privileged status.

Wittgenstein could be looked at being at the center of the second camp that includes Nietzsche, Derrida, Rorty, Price, and even Hume and Quine. Language — and therefore philosophy — is ultimately ambiguous and bewitching.

Even the above quote of Wittgenstein is ambiguous: Do philosophers use language to battle the bewitchment of our intelligence, or is language the cause of it?

This post is the third in a series of seven for the 7 Day Blogging Challenge for Bloggers from +Jenson Taylor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Let me let you in on a secret: There are no infinitely large sets in mathematics. Or infinitely divisible lines or spaces. (According the philosophy of mathematics called intentionalism, that is.)

Now whether there are such things in nature, one may speculate about. But from the point of view of quantum theory, there is a smallest size (Planck length) and time interval (Planck time). And inflationary cosmology says our universe likely has a finite number of particles, albeit an incredibly large number of them.

How does the idea of infinity enter mathematics? It enters by the language of nesting quantifiers.

Take one of the axioms of arithmetic of natural numbers:

(forall (m) (if (natural m) (exists (n) (and (natural n) (succ m n)))))

Here I'm using a formulation of the axioms with S-expressions for the object language. (succ m n) says n is the successor of m.

(forall list-of-variables expression)
(exists list-of-variables expression)

are interpreted in the standard way as the universal and existential quantifiers.

But suppose a domain of quantification is added after each quantifier:

(forall P list-of-variables expression)
(exists Q list-of-variables expression)

where P and Q are the domains over which the variables range.

Then the above axiom becomes:

(forall P (m) (if (natural m) (exists Q (n) (and (natural n) (succ m n)))))

The interpretation is that when domains of quantification are nested, then the domain of the inner quantification is a superset of the domain that encloses it (Q ⊃ P) — i.e. the inner-more you go, the bigger the sets get. And not only that, but all domains of quantification are finite! (When the domains are the same as in standard logic one is "committed" to an infinite set of natural numbers, but this is not the case for nesting domains.)

If one has an entire mathematical theory (expressed as a collection of S-expressions in this language) then one is talking about variables ranging only over finite sets, but one gets bigger and bigger finite sets as needed in any practical application of the theory. A book by Shaughan Lavine (based on work by Jan Mycielski, discussed in previous posts January 25, 2009 and January 8, 2012) likens this to getting bigger and bigger bags of beans when needed. (I guess it would help to be a bean counter.)

So whatever mathematicians told you about infinity: Take with a grain of salt — or a bag of beans!

This post is the second in a series of seven for the 7 Day Blogging Challenge for Bloggers from +Jenson Taylor.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Because of ebook reading devices (ereaders) and epublishing technology, writers today are also their own publishers, a revolution like that created by Gutenberg's printing press. The intermediaries between author and reader are eliminated: editor, publisher, typesetter, printer, distributor, dealer. They have been replaced by software and the Internet.

But authors want to make their books look good on ereaders and have full control over how the customer interacts with them. This means that today's writers not only write — they code. And for ebooks, that means coding with a markup language (HTML), styles sheets (CSS), and programming scripts (JavaScript, Dart, ...).

To take one example, poets used to lament that long lines in their poems did not look right when they appeared on an ereader due to the size of the display screen or the resizing of the text. (The long line should reflow as a hanging or negative indent, as seen in print publications of the long-line poems of Whitman and Ginsberg.) Then they discovered all that had to be done is to code long lines with

<div style="padding-left: Xem; text-indent: -Xem;">a very long line</div>

with X = 1, 1.5, 2 or whatever amount they wanted.

Writers are now discovering other ebook coding features: CSS regions, fixed-layout EPUB, MathML (or better, TeX math mode to MathML via MathJax), and on to interactivity with JavaScript or Dart.

This may be more than most writers need — or want — but for for many just some basic HTML and CSS code is all that's needed.

Writers: Don't fear markup! It's one of your best friends.

Writers tomorrow are good coders.

This post is the first in a series of seven for the 7 Day Blogging Challenge for Bloggers from +Jenson Taylor.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Acts Of The Holy Ghost ~ Scene 6

  • Judea. JESSE is wandering and thinking. H.G. appears.
  • Dad! What are you doing here?
  • H.G.
  • I think you need a boost to your ratings. I have some things up my sleeve I think could help you.
  • Like what?
  • H.G.
  • Just some stuff your Father and I came up with. Here's some salve that can heal the blind. You just rub in on their eyes and ... voilà!
  • I can't make it on my own, eh?
  • H.G.
  • Just a little help. People will flock to you after this.

  • [Fade to black. Light to THE COUNCIL room.]
  • CAI
  • There stories going around that this JESSE guy is practicing sorcery. As if his teaching isn't enough ...
  • THE COUNCIL (member)
  • I think we neeed to find out more about this. We need an insider within his little group to tell us what is going on.
  • CAI
  • I hear Judah can be bought for the right price. He seems the most distant.
  • THE COUNCIL (member)
  • I'll see what I can do ...

  • [Fade to black.]

The Acts Of The Holy Ghost ~ A Play In One Act

Monday, March 12, 2012

on Ownership

Ownership is a cultural construction. The one exception is that you might say that at least you own your own naked body, but even then there are problems at the boundaries. I suppose some club owner could claim he owns the air inside his club and charges anyone for any air they breathe inside. If a chef in a restaurant makes a culinary creation and you pay for it and eat it, you might say you own the food inside your stomach. The digested remnants would become part of your body, but they are from what was created by the chef.

Ownership comes down to what law is written that governs a society, which is part of culture, and what is in power to enforce it.

my comment on Are there Varieties of Ownership? (Philosophers' Playground, the blog of Steven Gimbel)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Acts Of The Holy Ghost ~ Scene 5

  • Judea. JESSE is speaking* to disciples and 'crowd'.
  • You're blessed when you think life sucks. Let go and let the One inside you rule.

    You're blessed when you aren't in the 1%. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.

    You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for Knowledge. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.

    You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.

    You're blessed when you can show nations how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. Otherwise you are just a war monger.

    You're blessed when your commitment to Truth provokes attacks. The persecution drives you even deeper into Enlightenment.

    Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then take the first step and do it for them. Add up the Torah and Prophets and this is what you get.

    Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.

    You've may have been taught to retaliate against your enemies. But I say to turn away from retribution.

    You've heard it was written, "In the beginning God created Heaven and the Earth." But I tell you our whole universe was in a hot dense state, then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started--Wait!

    I did not come here to you to tell you to ignore the Law. I tell you I'm here to fulfill it. Don't disobey the Law until that happens.

    There is far more at stake here than religion. This Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he's in charge.

    But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.

  • [JEESE's speech is lowered and to the side CAI and a member of THE COUNCIL are talking.]
  • THE COUNCIL (member)
  • I see trouble brewing. He's saying on one hand to obey Scripture, but then he's saying it's garbage and that he's replacing it. He makes no sense. He's some kind of a nut.
  • CAI
  • We'll have to keep our eye on him. He is another one of those educated elite snobs who thinks he knows better than God's Word. If he gets a bigger following, The Council must take action.

  • [Fade to black.]

  • * MSG Bible, with variation

The Acts Of The Holy Ghost ~ A Play In One Act

Thursday, March 8, 2012

on Existence

Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.
Hawking, Mlodinow, "The Grand Design"

If M-theory (the most general supersymmetric theory of gravity) is "true" then there can't be nothing. To put it another way, nothing is too unstable to stand for very long.

Re: What about a world of Platonic forms? Are abstractions something or are they nothing? What about a world of only numbers? A two dimensional universe? Space-time and gravity/matter aren't necessary two dimensionally.

There is the two-time physics of Itzhac Bars:

For systems that are not yet understood or even constructed, such as M-theory, 2T-physics points to a possible approach for a more symmetric and more revealing formulation in 11+2 dimensions that can lead to deeper insights, including a better understanding of space and time. The 2T approach could be one of the possible avenues to construct the most symmetric version of the fundamental theory.

And maybe in some of the 10^500 universes of M-theory, some of the spacial dimensions are unwound (or wound), as 7 are in ours.

And then there is MEH, of course (Mathematical Ensemble Hypothesis, aka Mathematical Universe Hypothesis <>).

Re: fictional construction

The way I think of fictional entities (perhaps it is a form of eliminativism): They are things that only exist in the form of cultural artifacts (ink on paper, bits in digital files) and in brains in the form of neural activity.

The same is true of numbers and sets in mathematics.

comments on Is Existence Necessary? (Philosophers' Playground)

Monday, March 5, 2012

On the science of theater

My response to Steve Gimbel's post Is Theater Like Science?

Of three forms of "writing" — cinema (films), theater (plays), prose (novels, short stories) — maybe it is theater that comes closest to the scientific method, then film after that, and then prose. A scientist's "writing" involves observing the world of nature, writing (or rewriting) a theory, and testing it against the world (and the peer review of other scientists). The playwright does that (with a play) for the world of people, but the testing part consists of audience (or maybe theater critics) feedback. A playwright's play "works" when it passes that test, just as a scientist's theory has to pass its test. One difference though between the scientist and the playwright is that a play itself might change the culture and the way people act, whereas the scientist's theory supposedly doesn't change nature.

I.e.: A theory is to a scientist as a play is to a playwright. Both are tested: The theory w.r.t. nature and peer review, the play w.r.t. the audience and critical reviews. Both are models of a sort intended to capture some aspect of reality. I think there is more in common than perhaps even scientists and playwrights may realize.

I think a scientist's theory is created much in the same way as a playwright's play: They want their "writing" to be "accurate" and "unsurprising" in the end. But human people are not quantum particles, so this only goes so far.

One should really ask if biology is a science. Physics and chemistry (for the most part) sure, since they are formulating universal principles (literally), but if life (after perhaps organic chemistry) is a mere, isolated, accident that occurred on this little dirt speck in the universe (or multiverse), then most of biology is like the theater of the absurd: a quirk.

(Here in Addison I'm going to some of the plays in the out of the loop fringe festival.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Acts Of The Holy Ghost ~ Scene 4

  • Judea. JESSE is teaching a small group with PETER, JOHN, THOMAS, JUDAH, and MAGGIE
  • I've been working on a new sermon. [Picks up a parchment.]
  • "Here's the thing."
  • "Here's the thing"? I don't thing you can begin a sermon to thousands with "Here's the thing."
  • I think things are going pretty well.
  • JOHN
  • [Touches JESSE on the arm with loving eyes.] I think your ministry is going great.
  • Thanks, John.
  • I think we need to move to the next step, m'Lord.
  • What did you have in mind, Peter?
  • A rousing sermon from a mountaintop. The thoughts you shared with us last week.
  • What's the final scene in all this. I'm inspired, but what does this all lead to?
  • Always the doubter, Thomas. But I feel this world is all screwed up. It needs to shake off the old and modernize. A new testament, if I should be so bold. What do you think, Maggie?
  • You're going to listen to a woman?
  • In the new world I envision, women have an equal role.
  • [Looking at Peter.] Well, I don't cast my pearls before swine.
  • Hey, that's a great line.
  • JOHN
  • Hey, don't fight. Blessed are the peacemakers.
  • Another great line!

  • [Scene darkens as the group squabble.]

  • [JESSE is walking around mumbling to himself. L.Z. BUBB approaches.]
  • And who would you be?
  • L.Z. BUBB
  • "L.Z. Bubb".
  • "L.Z." OK.
  • L.Z. BUBB
  • I was at one of talks last week. Interesting.
  • Think so?
  • L.Z. BUBB
  • You're going to mess things up with the establishment you know. And you know what happens to those who do that.
  • All I want is equality and treating everyone the same. And for there to be a little justice and mercy. I just believe it gets better.
  • L.Z BUBB
  • Why don't you come work for me? You would be great in marketing. I can make you rich. This philosophical work is nonsense.
  • Temping, I don't know ...
  • L.Z. BUBB
  • Think about it.

  • [Fade to black.]

The Acts Of The Holy Ghost ~ A Play In One Act