Sunday, December 30, 2007

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, by Daniel C. Dennett, has not made up its mind whether it wishes to be a motley collection of short stories on eminent personalities in evolution theory, or a engaging treatise on the greater domains of applicability of said evolution theory.

That said, it remains engaging when not sniping overly much at other people's ideas. The chapter on (or, should I say, against) Stephen Jay Gould was extraordinary in comparison to other sniping chapters in Dennett's book: because there was a great deal to criticize in Gould's ideas, Dennett made full use of his available book space and reader attention to do justice to adaptationism. This was in contrast to his extended nitpicking of Penrose's book, not just in one entire chapter, but in other chapters where Dennett frequently referenced his Penrose chapter as (for better or for worse) "Stay tuned for my takedown of Penrose!". The man has some rage. It felt like a bad blog at times.

In addition, the chapter on utilitarianism , which Dennett misidentified as the whole of ethics, was ludicrous.

With that, I have to say that Dennett's distinction between 'skyhooks' and 'cranes' finally helped me to find peace with the idea that God or Mind is not necessary to explain a great many things. ("Could something exist for a reason without its being somebody's reason?" ch. 1, p. 25.) His carefully crafted description of the retrospective identification of species was also very enlightening.

Friday, December 28, 2007

I have pinned down the things I've seen around me that have gnawed at me for the past 3 months.

1. Defensive arrogance: When you do not know anything, say nothing at all, or say that you do not know. Do not pretend to know. Especially, do not, when gently exposed for pretending to know, insist that you were giving a metaphor and that the other more learned party just has a very bad literary sense.

2. Inflicting pain: When you say something to someone and she neutrally informs you that she finds the thing you've just said to be hurtful, do not, for God's sake, whine at her that she is being oversensitive, that you were just joking, and that she has a very bad sense of humour. Especially at the end of the workday when many people are walking sacks of dead meat. Do you actually know any normal people who rub salt into wounds? Do they do that to you? Even if they did, you should commit harakiri instead of perpetuating such evil. Die. Quickly, now. Quickly.

3. Getting to the point: Begin at the beginning (and nowhere else), continue through the middle (and nowhere else), and stop when you're done. When asked a question, answer the question and stop thinking of it as something you can turn into a joke. When asked a question, do not for f***'s sake answer it by asking another question that you delusionally think is very illuminating but in actuality is not so at all. Do not assume your listener/questioner is stupid when your "very illuminating" answer is not at all illuminating.

4. Never assume that I will laugh at your flat jokes or continue a conversation on your boring conversation topics. I will always deliberately let you know that I find your jokes flat and your topics boring. The rest is up to you if you wish to maintain your self-image of being witty and entertaining. Try harder. If all fails, the same way it has been failing for the past few months, I will ignore you, the same way I have been ignoring you. You enjoy telling flat jokes and boring the hell out of people despite knowing that you are humourless and boring?


I interrupt the regular drippy posting about books to say a few words about online tutorials for some programs.

Every time I do a tutorial that tells me "Hit the Enter/Return key on your keyboard to execute the command", I want to do just that with the head of the person who wrote that tutorial. Preferably with great acceleration upon impact.

Okay, end of rant.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"There is a God and his name is Conway."

- Daniel C. Dennett,
describing the Game of Life that was
invented by mathematician John Horton Conway's group.
Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, ch. 7, p. 176.

Hahaha! That chapter has to be read to be appreciated.

Back to my reading.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Al Gore over at TED is hilarious. But don't take my word for it. Watch his video.

And of course, there are other videos there too. Richard Dawkins on atheism is noteworthy.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

When I finished reading Michael Ruse's The Evolution Wars: A Guide to the Debates recently, I didn't think much of it. It was readable, certainly. Interesting, to a certain extent - he takes care to cover the history of the evolution theory and does not drag his book down with too much specialized science. But not memorable. Or so I thought.

Until I started reading Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea, where I then realised that Ruse' book had added much to my subconscious framing of evolution theory, and reading Dennett's book (at least, his first few chapters) was much the richer for having read Ruse's first.

So, The Evolution Wars turns out to be one of those books that are inadequate when one stops right there and reads no further, but are invaluable in their breadth of viewpoint.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


How I got to all the links below was through a mailing list that rather acerbically asked one of its ditzier members to learn how to ask questions the smart way.


"... nobody who can think should ever be forced into a situation that bores them." - How to Become a Hacker. Indeed, indeed. ("hacker" not being a pejorative here, as explained in same)

Also, the basics of Unix and the Internet, by the same guy (Eric S. Raymond).

Revenge of the Nerds, by Paul Graham, says a little about the different programming languages out there. Especially very good things about Lisp, which I understand is what Emacs is based on.

Paul Graham (again), on universal concepts of beauty and good design. Also a haunting essay on academic studies.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cryptic post:

I don't know how to describe this, but you worry me a great deal. I don't know if you will still be around the next day, or the day after next. I care deeply about whether you are here or not. *closes eyes briefly* And that's not in any way an argument for your continued presence. Ultimately your life is yours.

I only hope that you will let me know if/when you truly want to die, so that I may mourn your passing. You are dearly loved. Although "love" means little to you now.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I have finished Atlas Shrugged, after taking some time out for weeks of intensive reading. This is not a book one wants to read slowly over months - I found myself wishing yet dreading to know how the plot progressed.

Perhaps this is more a book for younglings than her previous work The Fountainhead, the rambling and lack of structure in A.S. would not tax their patience as much as for us the older folk.

*repressed sigh* Atlas Shrugged is like murky soup. With its unnecessarily emotive language, it attempts the very same slick con it claims to repudiate - that of man wilfully denying his rationality in favour of letting his feelings rule him. I found myself recalling the clear simplicity of how Kymlicka explained the concepts of libertarianism and communism, when enduring Rand's more histrionic moments.

And that is all. I am sorry, PQ, but I did not enjoy your favourite book. Worse still, I did not learn much from it.

P.S.: Richard Halley's speech (pg 721-3) was the best in this book, I thought. I reproduce part of it here. In the story, Halley was a composer of symphonies.

"... That shining vision which they talk about as belonging to the authors of symphonies and novels - what do they think is the driving faculty of men who discovered how to use oil, how to run a mine, how to build an electric motor? [...] An intransigent devotion to the pursuit of truth, Miss Taggart? Have you heard the moralists and the art lovers of the centuries talk about the greater example of such devotion than the act of a man who says that the earth does turn, or the act of a man who says that an alloy of steel and copper has certain properties which enable it to do certain things, and it is and does - and let the world rack him or ruin him, he will not bear false witness to the evidence of his mind! This, Miss Taggart, this sort of spirit, courage and love for truth - as against a sloppy bum who goes around proudly assuring you that he has almost reached the perfection of a lunatic, because he's an artist who hasn't the faintest idea what his art work is or means, he's not restrained by such crude concepts as 'being' or 'meaning', he's the vehicle of higher mysteries, he doesn't know how he created his work or why, it just came out of him spontaneously, like vomit out of a drunkard, he did not think, he wouldn't stoop to thinking, he just felt it, all he has to do is feel - he feels, the flabby, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, unconcealed bastard! I, who know what discipline, what effort, what tension of mind, what unrelenting strain upon one's power of clarity are needed to produce a work of art - I, who know that it requires a labor which makes a chain gang look like rest and a severity no army-drilling sadist could impose - I'll take the operator of a coal mine over any walking vehicle of higher mysteries. The operator knows that it's not his feelings that keep the coal carts moving under the earth - and he knows what does keep them moving. Feelings? Oh yes, we do feel, he, you and I - we are, in fact, the only people capable of feeling - and we know where our feelings come from. But what we did not know and have delayed learning for too long is the nature of those who claim that they cannot account for their feelings. [...]"

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