Friday, April 22, 2016

A revealing dichotomy

My wife just sent me a link this morning to this page on Amazon.com:

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist

It popped up in her Amazon homepage, certainly because of the nature of the books I've asked her to include on her Amazon orders.

It was interesting enough that a Christian public figure who was a well-known friend of Christopher Hitchens should write a memoir of their relationship. However, what immediately grabbed my attention was the reaction of those who have allegedly read the book and posted reviews.

As of today, April 22, 2016, there were 78 customer reviews. The first indication of polarity is in breaking down the numbers:

5 stars - 69%
4 stars -  6%
3 stars -  0%
2 stars -  3%
1 star  - 22%

Not surprisingly, the 3-star middle ground is completely absent. The believer/new-atheist issue doesn't lend itself much to temperate response. In keeping with this phenomenon, the 4- and 2-star reviews are also comparatively minimal.

The most revealing aspect of this page, however, is when one actually takes the time to read both the 5-star and 1-star reviews.

For the reader of this blog to verify what I'm about to describe, they need only click on the link above, choose customer reviews, then filter out the 5-star and 1-star reviews in turn, and take a look.

The 5-star reviews concentrate on:

1) Intelligent, thoughtful, and often extended commentary on a book that deals with a complex personal relationship.
2) Pleased surprise at the friendship between two men who were so completely opposite in their views on God.
3) The effective way the author relays the memoir, thus the moving nature of the book.
4) The pleased recognition that the end of the book does not include a death-bed conversion, as one might expect from an author who is a public Christian and could possibly be motivated to take unfair advantage of a deceased person.

Nowhere in any of the 5-star reviews, did I find any customers that cackled about nor celebrated the alleged demeaning of Christopher Hitchens. This is first and foremost because nothing but respect is expressed for Hitchens throughout the book, according to the positive reviews.

On the other hand...

The 1-star reviews are almost all very short, and concentrate on:

1) Calling the author a "shallow huckster," a "Liar for Jesus," "another Lying Christian," "The Evangelical Judas," and a "hyper-religious nut of an author."

2) Accusing the author of "fraud," "heresy," "slanderous claims," "veiled, judgmental barbs of his deceased friend," "ham-fisted moralizing," a "quite repugnant, backhanded snipe," "poor taste to write such an undignified book," "us[ing] that friendship as a vehicle to proselytize and besmirch the character of a deceased man who was more substantial than himself," "exploit[ing] their relationship to sell books," "promot[ing] his own tawdry religious superstition," "defecating on the memory of Christopher Hitchens," "Another 'Christian' out to make a buck," "trying to poison Christopher's contribution," "outwardly t[aking] advantage of the death of an Atheist to lie to people," "misrepresent the truth," and "cowardly demean[ing] a dead man."

3) Describing the book as "a despicable act of literary malpractice," "one of the most morally reprehensible books to be published this year," "tripe," "fiction," "a load of BS," "Outrageous lie," "Pathetic," "A post-death attack on everything Christopher was and thought," "A smear by a religious fanatic," "disrespectful and pathetic," "Unsubstantiated bull," "Double BS," "revisionist history," "An obvious cash-grab," "Unverifiable lies," "Lies upon lies," "Another Christian delusion," "plebeian," "the second greatest fiction in the entire history of christianity," "disgraceful," "typical of the dishonest tactics evangelicals employ," "rife with fallacy," and "Typical religious nuttery."

...

In conclusion, still not having read the book myself, I am bound to ponder: if I explore its pages, which of the two entirely different books described above am I going to find?


Monday, March 7, 2016

Why Windows and Mac OS are doomed

One look at this chart, and it becomes obvious why Windows and Mac OS are eventually doomed to legacy status. Apparently, more collective time has already been spent developing Linux since 1992 than all the total Microsoft and Apple man-hours combined.

Linux Distribution Timeline

It was fun to root around and find where my favorite versions belong in the mix. It's interesting to explore the distributions that were developed independent of the big three (Debian, Slackware, Red Hat).

Also interesting to note that Debian and Slackware were started a year after Torvald's first kernel was released, and Red Hat two years. Once those three took hold, the whole movement exploded with possibility.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thirty dollars?

I took my three year old to his first movie. We went to see the new Peanuts. After buying the tickets (a matinee, mind you) and one small popcorn and one small soda pop, I had spent thirty dollars.

Thirty dollars.

Really?

How does a wonderful rite of passage get sullied so easily?

We had fun, so that's not the issue. My son had no idea about costs, and enjoyed himself as he should have.

I understand that the MPAA wants us to believe they don't make enough money to "cover their costs" of making a movie, and that attendance in theaters is probably down due to Netflix, Redbox, etc.

But seriously, thirty dollars?

This has the unintended effect of making me less interested in attending more movies, which perhaps the MPAA hasn't given enough thought to... a habit they exhibit with some consistency, as copyright troll law firms are notorious for gleaning IP addresses and threatening the general populace.

 Their ugly sister, the RIAA, also sends expensive law firms after eleven year old girls for "piracy," among other things.

These activities don't exactly make me sympathetic to their concerns.

Well done, greedy jerks! Good job attending to your profit margin at the excessive expense of the people who provide your revenue.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A somewhat brief explanation

I realized soon after posting the short essay yesterday that some might wonder just what was logically impaired in the sentence I quoted from Hofstadter/Dennett. I will take a moment and explain it, in case the shortsighted authors' blunder does not appear obvious enough.

The sentence was:

"How could the science that had worked so well for so many things turn out to be so wrong?"

In context, it was prompted by their thoughts regarding whether or not extrasensory perception could be proven to exist.

The sentence presents a statement and a question. Hofstadter/Dennett are referring to "science" as a collective entity, the sum of all scientific disciplines:

1) ...science [has] worked so well for so many things...

2) How could [that same science] turn out to be so wrong?

The statement (1) stands on its own, and is quite sound.

The question (2) is the problem, for the following reasons:

1) If science is correct about X, Y, and Z, it is not unreasonable to imagine that it could possibly be incorrect about A.

2) Their sentence as a whole implies that since science has produced many positive results, it's incredible to think that it could be wrong about something... even if that something happens to be outside of science's purview.

3) Science is a collection of different disciplines, all allegedly guided by the scientific method to draw their conclusions. To the best of my knowledge, all scientists in the world have not signed off on some consensus to validate nor invalidate extrasensory perception.

4) A scientist or scientists could potentially pursue extrasensory perception with the scientific method if they desired. But their results, for or against, are the findings of one or more studies, and are not the embodiment of all science.

3) Therefore science as a whole has absolutely nothing to say about the subject the authors are pondering, namely the possible validity of extrasensory perception.

But that's not what Doug and Dan would like you to think.



Thursday, December 3, 2015

The audacity of the mediocre

While culling my books, I came across various efforts from Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett. Having lost interest in wasting time on their reductionist polemic, I placed them in the 'garage sale' pile. That pile, incidentally, being another embarrassing level down from the $1 clearance section of Half Price Books.

I still flipped through them, as with all my books, to see if there was anything that would make them worthy of retention. In the process, I came across a curious demonstration of intellectual hubris in a book called "The Mind's I" co-authored by Hofstadter and Dennett.

Chapter four is an abridged reproduction of Alan Turing's prescient 1950 paper entitled "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," with Hofstadter's and Dennett's "Reflections" afterward.

First of all, Alan Turing was an authentic genius who left most "bright" persons murmuring in his wake. His genius was not a collection of misguided ruminations; it actually produced innovative and useful results, such as the electromechanical machine that was used to crack the German Enigma code in World War II.

Hofstadter and Dennett are a couple of intelligent guys who spout some interesting philosophy if you prefer to think we're all an accident, but nothing of any practical use has come from their "reflections on self and soul."

While correctly observing that Turing's article was "remarkable and lucid," these two stubborn bumblers couldn't resist their obsession with materialism, and felt compelled to comment on Turing's argument from extrasensory perception.

Not content to simply disagree, they implied that Turing could possibly have been sharing an inside joke with his academic friends, as of course no reasonable intellectual could possibly consider anything real which doesn't yield to the five senses.

They go on to observe that if the common constituents of extrasensory perception were found to actually exist, the result would not be a mere alteration to the laws of physics, but would instead require a major modification to "our" scientific world view.

These self-imagined Einsteins then generated this sentence:

"How could the science that had worked so well for so many things turn out to be so wrong?"

The shoddy logic in their reasoning is evident; they are masters of exclusionary thinking, like the rest of the wishful babblers who believe that the entity known as God will one day become a handy traditional joke around future offices populated by sentient robots.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Epiphany

Due to a fundamental change in my daily routine, I've been more productive lately than I've been in a long time, as watching my three year old during the day and working at night has a suppressing effect on my desire to produce anything.

Since the beginning of summer this year, I've been doing things long relegated to the 'someday' to-do list, including summer-long yard projects, programming a game I hope to release at some point, applying final touches to a book I finished in 2007 (in order to upload it to Amazon), and more recently, finally getting back on the music production bandwagon with two friends in other states.

In the last few weeks, I've also been implementing a long-delayed culling of my immense book collection, which before culling, occupied two full walls of my family room.

I can't believe how many books I'm discarding. For example, on one entire shelf of mind/consciousness volumes, I'm keeping one book. The same thing happened on one of the theoretical physics shelves.

I've clearly turned a corner in my life. I'd been clinging to the idea since I was about 30 that someday I would integrate all these books and formulate a synthesis or new theory no one had thought of, thus making me 'famous.' Ha! Indeed.

The truth of the matter isn't that I gave up on some noble quest; the truth is I finally acknowledged how unimportant e=mc2 and theoretical speculation are to the human experience.

Could the human race have existed and thrived without nuclear bombs and power plants, ultra-precise clocks, 'uncrackable' codes, GPS, quantum computers (which are specialized and have no bearing on what most people use computers for), microscopes for atoms, biological compasses, and endless speculations about how the mind works with a questionable agenda of applied artificial intelligence?

I think I can say yes to that without acquiring Luddite status. Reverse engineering our reality is nothing more than an exercise in pride and vanity, and irrelevant to our aspirations of making the best of the one life we all have.


Friday, November 20, 2015

The bliss of ignorance

I recently wasted some time on someone who had the usual array of objections to the concept that God exists. When I finally grew tired of the fruitless interaction, I posted the following parody, which was designed to address the aforementioned objections.

---

Ladies and Gentlemen, we're on location at the 156th annual Genius Summit, and here's a recap of the 12 Golden Nuggets of Wisdom we've been regaled with today:

1) It doesn't matter why life exists, IT JUST DOES!

2) It doesn't matter why sperm meeting egg begins the incredibly complex process of cell division into new life, IT JUST DOES!

3) It doesn't matter why biological cells are programmed to degenerate gradually until death of the organism, THEY JUST ARE!

4) Anyone who questions why just DOESN'T UNDERSTAND the basic concept!

5) If you can't physically prove something, THEN IT ISN'T REAL!

6) Corollary: science can't prove that anyone loves you, as memories of behavior are anecdotal and not testable in a lab, so therefore NO ONE LOVES YOU!

7) The best way to understand something is to *NOT* read the manual!

8) If anyone suggests that you read the manual, DECLARE IT AS USELESS!

9) Moral standards don't come from a Santa in the sky riding on the Flying Spaghetti Monster, THEY COME FROM THE INDIVIDUAL!

10) Corollary 1: If you take something from someone, there's no reason to feel bad, because your desire for the something is JUST AS VALID as the other person's!

11) Corollary 2: because Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgway and Adolf Hitler were individuals, their subjective moral standards were JUST AS VALID AS YOURS!

12) There is no god or ultimate authority, so ALL IS PERMISSIBLE!

---

What was his or her response?

"if you're gonna quote me do it right. because i didn't say non of that. but you are quoting me as if i did."

At that point I permanently withdrew myself from the discussion, to stimulate myself further by conversing with a rock on my terrace.