Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Nature of the Universe, Emergence, Time, and Complexity

It seems to me that one could posit both reductionism and emergence simultaneously, depending on what level of reality -- what perspective -- you are talking about. Let's take the example of biochemistry and the cell. Suppose you were a conscious amino acid. The material world consists, for you, of fellow biochemicals, and you know too that you are made up of atoms, and that those atoms are made up of electrons, protons, and neutrons. You go about your business, acting as an individual amino acid, sometimes joining into larger groups (proteins), and then separating out from them. You wander around your society of biochemicals, imagining that this is all there is. And then one day, a nucleic acid comes to you and tells you that you are part of this larger entity, that your mind is not entirely your own, but that there is this thing out there, this "cell" of which you are a part, that comes in and influences your actions. All that you thought were your choices or merely random events is in fact run by this higher intelligence known as the "cell." It is not that you don't have choices -- you can be in this or that part of the cell, you may attach yourself to a tRNA, to a protein, to a short polypeptide, etc. -- but you are now informed that there is a greater purpose involved, that you are part of this larger cell, and that your actions help to keep this cell alive. Now, from the point of view of the amino acid, the cell will seem, in relation to you, "immaterial." It will make no sense from your material point of view. It will seem very strange indeed. You may believe in the cell, or not (and be an atheist). There will be discussions among your fellow biochemicals regarding the nature of the cell. Is it material? That is, if it even exists. The "cell" theory does seem to make a lot of things make more sense -- but it is nonetheless troubling. If it is not material in the same sense as a biochemical, is it really material? From our more complex, emergent human perspective, the cell seems to be just as material as as its constituent biochemicals. While, on the other hand, our "mind" appears to be just as immaterial as the cell is to the biochemical. The ideal seems, then, to be emergent from the real. The amino acids might get together and come up with all sorts of theories about the nature of the cell that seems to transcend them. They may get it more or less correct, but how would they know for certain, as what is above them is so much more complex than they are? Let me tell a short story of emergence. In the beginning was pure information, or pure energy. Information is inform, yet gives form. It is the foundation of all things. (In the beginning (archae) was the word (logos).) As the universe expanded and cooled, that pure energy crystalized out into quantum particle-waves. It became more material. Some of those quantum particle-waves combined to form emergent atoms with greater complexity. These atoms were more material than their constituent particle-waves. Some of those atoms combined to form chemicals (more material than atoms) --- and some of those chemicals were able to interact in complex cycles to give rise to cells with emergent complexity. These cells were more material than their constituent chemicals. Some cells were able to develop complex interactions such that multicellular organisms were able to emerge, giving rise to greater complexity and more complex interactions. These multicellular organisms were even more material than their constituent cells. One species of animal evolved a highly complex brain with an emergent intelligence. This brain resulted in more complex social behaviors, the evolution of language, and the emergence of complex culture and religion. It was so complex that it was able to contemplate itself and the universe (thus, the universe became complex enough to become self-aware, to be able to contemplate itself). It seems that there will soon be 10 billion members of that species, with brains so complex that the minding function of that brain has given rise to the appearance of permanence (the same way that while each of the lower levels that constitute it are in fact always in flux, always in time, they nonetheless gain more appearance of permanency). This species has more time and more time experience, more material being, than do all the levels below it that constitute it (there is a nested hierarchy -- a new Great Chain of Being). And that mind is much more material than the brain that gave rise to it. If we were at a level more complex than the mind, we would look at it as we currently look at the cell, or at chemicals vs. quantum particles, and wonder at something as insubstantial the brain gave rise to something as substantial as the mind.

Perhaps we should think instead of levels of reality, since different levels of reality in fact act quite differently from each other, though there are some similar traits that keep repeating themselves at each level, though with variations (information is one of those things -- all information is similar in form, but also differs considerably, if you consider quantum information vs. the information needed by an animal to survive, for example). I fear that if we look for "reality-in-itself," all we are doing is trying to reduce everything down to just one of these realities -- as though quantum physics, for example, is real reality. Emergent properties are just as real and have real results.

Nothing. Unstable nothing gave rise to the singularity. Energy burst forth, the Universe was born in space-time. Energy rolled back and forth across space-time, in solitons that pushed space-time out, causing the universe to expand. These solitons, waves, pushed out and interacted with each other, creating more complex patterns of waves. Waves interacting with waves to create more complex patterns of waves, trillions of wavelets that interacted with each other in simple systems to create the first particle-waves of matter-energy. Matter came about through the folding of space-time, and the interactions of those folds to create the first, simple, complex systems. And when these folded back onto themselves, creating folded folds, the first atoms emerged. And these new folded realities folded again, and chemistry was born, and this folded once again, and living things were born into the world. Complexity emerged with ever more folds, and as living things enfolded themselves, more complex organisms, including vertebrates, were born. And more complex vertebrates emerged from more enfolding, and more complex nervous systems emerged with more neural enfolding, creating more complex behaviors, driving even deeper, more complex neural folding. And human intelligence emerged, in deeply folded neurons, in a deeply folded brain. And then...? What, indeed, is the next, and then...? But what have I in fact just said? I have said, first, that all existence is in fact nothing more than folded space-time. It is ever-enfolded and enfolding space-time. Any entity is not in space-time, but is space-time. It constitutes and is constituted of space-time. If gravity is curved space-time, then the curving is caused by the pull created by the folds – by the external folds, those folds that are “external” on the system. In a less densely folded object, there is in fact more externality to the system, since the folds are farther apart. A sun is both heavier, and less dense than the planet Earth – it thus has less dense folds, though many more, though simple, objects in it. This is what bends space-time. The earth is denser in that it has more complex, and thus more densely folded, atoms in it – and this is what causes it to have the gravitational pull it has, despite its relatively small size. One may suppose, then, that if this model is correct, then molecules should have greater density than atoms, and thus must weigh more. Obviously this is incorrect. But one thing we have failed to take into account to this point is the fractal geometry of the folding. When we have a fractal object, we have an object that has a finite area surrounded by an infinite border. With a real-world fractal, we have a finite area that can be surrounded by an increasingly long border. The addition of more folds creates more border, but the amount of space occupied remains the same. This is what allows for a relatively moderately-sized bipedal ape like ourselves to nonetheless have very complex brains – the folding in fact encompasses a similar area. Certainly, brain size increased as humans evolved, and this helped with the creation of even more complexity – the same way that a uranium atom is both more complex and larger than a hydrogen atom – but we can compare the human brain to a similarly sized-brained animal, and the human is still more intelligent, and has a more complex brain. So the fractal model still holds. The human brain in fact has many more folds in it than does the brain of any other mammal with a brain of similar size, and yet takes up the same area. More, human brains take up much less area than does an elephant brain, or a blue whale’s brain, and yet humans are much more intelligent, due precisely to the deeper folds. But if greater complexity is caused by more folds in space-time, and all folds in space-time are in fact energy waves, doesn’t this mean that there is in fact more matter in a more complex entity? After all, we all know that E=mc2. Well, in a sense, there is in fact more mass in more complex entities – just not in the same way as exists in relatively simple objects like atoms. Another thing to consider is that when we split an atom, we are reducing the atom, which is one of the lowest levels of folding, to the less folded pure space-time. It is a violent reaction, but it is in fact a low-level one. Higher levels of folding must first unfold into lower levels, and go down level by level. The human can be reduced to the animal, an animal reduced to chemicals, and chemicals reduced to isolated atoms. Thus does the energy level of an entity decrease, level by level, the way that high-energy electrons drop down electron shell by electron shell. In this way, the matter of more complex entities increase, while the matter stays, in one sense, the same. What we will need will be new ways of measuring “mass” and “matter” in order to understand how deeper folds of space-time give rise to more complex entities. One way of looking at things is to see space-time itself as the real, and emergence into new levels of complexity as new levels of quasi-reality. Thus, it is space-time that is the real, while particle-waves are quasi-real, atoms are quasi-quasi-real, chemicals are quasi-quasi-quasi-real, etc. through biology and humans. Thus, in a sense, each emergence is more “ideal,” and the philosophies of “realism” and “idealism” are allowed to co-exist along a continuum. But another way of looking at things is to see that each time more space-time is folded and enfolded, more space-time comes into contact with more space-time. Thus, there is an emergence into ever greater levels of reality. More space-time is experienced by a complex entity, and thus it becomes more real. With this latter view, we are able to see how nothing can give rise to something, and not only that, the way in which that something grows, and grows more complex.

In my unpublished-manuscript-looking-for-a-publisher "Diaphysics" I argue that there are in fact a set of rules which go through each of the emergent levels of reality, but which can get expressed in different ways at different levels. Information is one such rule. The information at quantum levels is also necessarily used at higher levels, (like livings things), though other forms of information can also emerge at higher levels -- entire chemicals, sound waves, etc. So too do the rules underlying self-organization. And symmetry-breaking. The rules underlying emergence itself seem to change (and yet continue to resemble each other) at each level, as the emergent properties of an atom are certainly different than of a mind from the brain. So I would argue that these new emergent systems do in fact develop new ways of doing the same old things -- that what we see is new variations on the same old processes. Further, it seems that as systems evolve, when a system develops similar processes as resulted in the previous level of emergence, that is when we get the next level of emergence. A living cell, for example, more resembles an atom in behavior and structure than does a salt crystal. I would argue that it is more the living cell than the crystal which has qualities not predictable from the constituent atoms. Is anyone really surprised that NaCl results in a square crystal? But if you start with the constituent chemicals, the living cell is quite a surprise.

How does complexity emerge? “The theory of quantum mechanics gives rise to large-scale structure because of its intrinsically probablistic nature. Counterintuitive as it may seem, quantum mechanics produces detail and structure because it is inherently uncertain” (Lloyd, 49). In other words, chances are that a number of waves will become particles in a small region, which, because particles have mass, will gravitationally bend space there, making it more likely that more particles will accumulate there. The probablistic distribution of particle-waves resulted in tiny variations amplified through butterfly effects into large-scale structure (49-50). So, since quantum mechanics supplies random quantum fluctuations, “From a single initial state, obeying simple physical laws, the universe has systematically processed and amplified the bits of information embodied in those quantum fluctuations. The result of this information processing is the diverse, information-packed universe we see around us: programmed by quanta, physics gave rise first to chemistry and then to life” (61). Since “gravity responds to the presence of energy, where the energy density is higher, the fabric of space-time begins to curve a little more” (195). This “gravitational clumping supplied the raw material necessary for generating complexity. As matter clumps together, the energy that matter contains becomes available for use” (199). Further, the same interactions that increase entropy “make quantum objects behave in a more classical way” (108), so entropy resulted in the production of order in the universe through decoherence and gravitation. In other words, “information tells space how to curve; and space tells information where to go” (174). As a result of these random inputs from quantum fluctuations in combination with the laws of quantum mechanics, we get “a universe with a mix of order and randomness, in which complex systems arise naturally from simple origins” (185). Emergence is emergence into new levels of greater complexity. The word “complex” means “folded” – thus the universe, as it becomes more complex, becomes more folded. Space-time becomes more folded as it becomes more complex – thus, it becomes increasingly fractal in its geometry. As space-time becomes more folded, more space-time comes into more contact with more space-time. This will affect the way space and time act and interact. As this happens, they way space-time acts and interacts will change. For one, interactions will speed up. This idea is complementary with the previous idea that we are coming to know the nature of space-time more accurately with emergence into each new level, as each new level also has to come to know itself, and is as much a part of space-time as lower levels. Each new level is just a more folded version of space-time. With emergence into each new level, those new levels are able to use more and different kinds of information and energy not available to the levels below them – much of which is only available once that level has evolved (we can process and use language – which was only available to process once language emerged). Thus, it is illegitimate to say that just because one level does something, that it is relevant to all other levels. Einstein’s discoveries about relativity are useless in the realm of ethics, which is a different hierarchical level of reality. At the same time, each higher level is made of the levels below it – and there is a common thread, a diaphysics, that seems to unite them. Humans are a nested hierarchy of self-similar complex systems. We contain the biological, which contains the chemical, which contains the quantum, which contains energy. And each level transmits up certain aspects of its reality. There is a randomness to quantum physics’s probablistic experience. And chaos theory expresses both randomness and probability in a deterministic fashion – as we see in fractals. And each of these are expressed in organisms. The purposeful behavior of organisms is found too in humans, though we supplement it with symbolic and concrete goals. This feed-forward of each level’s reality seems to be strongest precisely in those systems that have emerged into higher systems. Rocks have less complex fractal geometry than cells, precisely because a rock is a systems dead-end. Consider this: Is it “the mind” or “the minding function of the brain” (as Fraser would have it)? Let us put it another way: is it the organism, or the organism-ing of the cells? Is it the cell, or the cell-ing of organic chemistry? Is it chemistry, or the chemistry-ing of atoms? Is it atoms, or the atom-ing of particle-waves? And is it particle-waves, or the particle-waving of strings? The answer, in a sense, is “yes”. The danger of nouns is that people make the mistake of thinking of these things as having some sort of permanent “being.” The danger of verbs is that people make the mistake of thinking that something always changing does not have any kind of form or order (dissipative structures belies this belief – but most people are not yet thinking this way). Each noun-form is the emergent structure of the action of its constituent parts – the verb-form of those elements. A photon of wavelength 700nm reflects off an object and is picked up by a color receptor in the eye. The configuration change in the receptor causes an electric signal to be transmitted to the brain, which maps the signal onto a pattern associated with the pattern associated with the pattern for the word “red.” Even adjectives are actions.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Life is a Cabaret

My wife and I have been watching the AFI top 100 movies, and every once in a while we will come across a film that is surprising.

If you haven't seen "Cabaret" staring Liza Minnelli and directed by Bob Fosse, the great choreographer, then you probably think what we did about the film: that it was going to be a cute song-and-dance number. I mean, it has the song, "Life is a cabaret, old chum . . . life is a cabaret!" Turns out that this final song of the film is meant to be ironic.

This is an incredible film. At turns funny, haunting, sad, creepy, and disturbing, we get a good overview of Germany right as the Nazis are rising to power. But we are also getting a powerful symbol of America in Liza Minnelli's character (a representation still apt in my opinion -- which is one reason why this is still such a great film, and one everyone should watch), and also a symbol of Britain's position and situation in Michael York's character. We see the struggles of a young Jewish man who is hiding the fact that he is a Jew so he can succeed -- but then falls in love with a Jewess and has to decide if he will continue with the charade or not. There is also a brilliant handling of sexuality in this film, used to great effect when a very effeminate-looking young man who begins singing turns out to be a Nazi. Every song in the film is symbolic, but doesn't beat you over the head with the symbolism. And, while they were at it, they threw in the issue of abortion.

There is so much going on in this film, it's amazing. It would be worth it just to see the German cabaret scenes, which show how strange German culture could be at times -- but with everything else going on in the film as well, and how well it is done, this film truly is a masterpiece.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Jeremiah Wright's Soul

The racist bigot Jeremiah Wright is now complaining that the complaints against his racist rantings are attacks on the black church. This is race baiting at its worst. I attend a church that has a majority African-American membership. We have several pastors who alternate, and one is an African-American, and I have never heard him say anything like Wright has said. The church I attend, though, is filled with African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, and European-Americans and various mixtures, so it's not a black church -- it's a church. The only kind of church there should be: a human church. Souls have no color, Mr. Wright. But I do believe those souls who preach hatred are souls which are damned. You can attend or preach at all the black churches would want, but any real Christian doesn't attend a black church -- real Christians simply attend church.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Hate Indiana Nazis, Part II

I'm glad to learn that there are two other Republicans running for the Republican nomination in the Indiana 2nd District: Joe Roush and Luke Puckett. As a supporter of free markets and someone having been born in South Bend, I hope either one of these men gets the nomination and then wins the election. As a decent person, I hope Tony Zirkle loses. He should go join a party more in line with his fundamental beliefs. There is no room for him in the GOP.

In a side note, my last comments on this idiot Zirkle got the attention of the leader of the group Zirkle spoke to. Bill White is a good example of why evil ideas like those of Karl Marx should be kept out of the hands of 13 year olds.

Public Intellectuals

Go vote for your pick of the top 100 public intellectuals at Foreign Policy.

Obama Insensitive to the Plight of the Poor

Looks like McCain has found something to justly criticize Obama on: his insensitivity to the poor. Of course, that happens to be true of most Democrats, whose policies have made the poor worse off and destroyed their families. They claim good intentions, but after a while, when it becomes clear to any rational person that your policies are having the opposite effect of the stated intentions, and no changes are being bade but, rather, more of the same is proposed, shouldn't we begin to question those intentions? Walter Williams once commented that the Klan could not have developed a better system for destroying the lives dna families of African-Americans than has the Democratic party. Indeed. The Republicans need to start pointing this sort of thing out -- and I'm glad McCain is doing so (even if it's more subtle than WIlliams -- or I -- am).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I Hate Indiana Nazis

This is why some people associate conservatives in general and Republicans in particular with racism. What idiot would give a talk to a neo-Nazi group on Hitler's birthday? A racist, fascist idiot, that's who. I hope the Republicans have someone -- anyone -- running against him in the primary. And if not, I hope the Democrat wins. The Democrats' policies may have the same end result as an out-and-out racists' policies would, but at least they think they are doing the right thing. On the other hand, there's something to be said about evil being open and honest about itself -- you can at least see it coming. This national socialist clown needs to go join some other party that actually does advocate socialism and leave the GOP to those of us who are trying to mae it more libertarian -- meaning, anti-nationalist, anti-socialist, anti-racist, and pro-freedom.

Good For Jay Wheeler

Insensitive? No, Florida school board member Jay Wheeler is right on in telling parents that the reason they can't afford school uniforms for their children is because they are wasting too much on cable TV, alcohol, and cigarettes. And people do -- for which they should be ashamed. It's about time someone told them so.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture -- Mission Statement

My wife, Anna, and I will be setting up a nonprofit organization we are tentatively calling "The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture" -- a think tank to promote the creation of a naturally classical culture. Below is our mission statement. I would appreciate any feedback, recommendations, etc. on it.

The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture

Mission Statement

The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture is working to change the culture by promoting progressive natural classicism in the arts and humanities.

Censors of every ideology know the power of the arts and humanities. Culture emerges from the people, who are influenced by the culture. Politicians follow the people; the laws they pass are shaped by their perception of what the people want. Thus, if any long-term support for free markets and personal liberty is to occur, the changes must be made in the culture rather than with the politicians. If we have a culture which promotes freedom, truth, beauty, meaning, value, and virtue, we will have people who will support freedom, truth, beauty, meaning, value, and virtue in their lives as a whole, including in their politics. The top will be changed by changes at the bottom.

Cultures, economies, and free societies are all complex systems. Complex systems have bottom-up self-organization, evolve, are polycentric hierarchies, and involve nonlinear feedback loops. Such systems are generative of growth, freedom, value, meaning, and virtue. Thus, we seek to help create this kind of natural culture, one that is a complex, nonlinear, self-organizing, flexible hierarchy that will allow for greater freedom and creative innovation, limit power, and reduce coercion in favor of mutually beneficial exchange and assent. We also seek to oppose all attempts to create a simple, linear, coercive, rigid, egalitarian culture that makes people weak, passive, irresponsible, lacking in self-control, easily led, incapable of independent thought, nihilistic, and prone to engage in crime and self-destructive behavior – all of which makes a society conducive to the acceptance of totalitarianism.

Any real and lasting societal change must start in the culture – in the arts and humanities. If the people are to believe in freedom, truth, beauty, meaning, value, and virtue, then our arts and humanities must create or reconstruct freedom, truth, beauty, meaning, value and virtue in works which address themselves to the average person and not just to the specialist. In other words, we must support works that provide a counterpoint to those postmodern works which promote a simplistic, irrational, unbeautiful, nihilistic worldview that undermines rather than reinforces the creative freedom inherent in the world. Through journals and newsletters, articles and books, scholarly panels, media appearances, and special projects, EIFC strives to reflect the reality of the world as a self-organizing, nonlinear, creative, hierarchical, complex, emergentist system conducive to freedom.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Charles Jencks

Charles Jencks is one of the coolest sculptor-architects I have ever seen. His work is influenced by fractals, DNA, etc. Great stuff! If I could have a dream set-up, I'd have him design an outdoor theater and perform plays in it.

Joy vs. Happiness

There's a lot of talk on the blogs I typically read regarding happiness. As far as I'm concerned, happiness is merely life satisfaction. That can make happiness a problem, because if you're satisfied, you don't want to change anything. It also seems a poor replacement for joy, something which many people seem to try to avoid. The problem with joy is that it's overwhelming and hopeful and beautiful, while happiness seems closer to kitsch (Milan Kundera said kitsch portrays a world without shit; this is to be compared to postmodern art, which portrays the world as nothing but shit). Strict moralists want a world of kitschy happiness; postmodernists want a world of shit. Beauty is the recognition that the world is both simultaneously. When you can witness such beauty, that is what brings you joy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Synopsis and Characters of “REFLECTIONS”

Here's a synopsis and character list for my new play "Reflections." What do you think? Sound like anything you might want to see? I would love to get together with a musician and choreographer to add music and specific dance elements to this play and make it more like opera and ballet.


“Reflections” is a verse romance in five acts. The first act introduces Adam, the protagonist, who is in love with his friend Lily, and the mirror world they enter. In the second and third act, Adam descends through the mirror world. In the fourth and fifth act, Adam ascends through the mirror world and back into the real world, where he emerges as a poet.

In Act I, Adam is making dinner for Lily. She is admiring an antique mirror he bought. As she is looking through it, her mirror image drags her through the mirror. Adam follows her through to rescue her. On the other side he meets three women called the Norns, who tell him in riddles why he is there.

In Act II, Adam meets a series of creatures that represent stages within Adam himself. First he meets the Fairies, who introduce him to Peter, his occasional guide. Peter takes him to the Gnome, who bought Lily and sold her to a Troll as a slave. They pay the Gnome to take them to the Troll, but along the way they meet The Lamed Wufnik, a holy man, three Angels, and three Knights. The Lamed Wufnik tells Adam he’s destined to be a prophet, then gives Adam a sword. The Angels give him a shield and the Knights accompany Adam to confront the Troll. They find Lily locked up in a cage, and have to fight several Trolls to free her. When they leave, they enter into a spirit forest. The spirits there inform Adam that he’s the one who was promised..

In Act III, Adam and Lily, alone, encounter a group of Satyrs. They try to seduce Lily and, in trying to do so, inform Adam of her long list of sex partners. Adam’s illusions of Lily are shattered, and this is the beginning of the end of their friendship. When Adam and Lily encounter their Doubles, Lily leaves Adam for Adam’s Double, leaving Adam alone. He gets on a boat and rows away. On the sea he encounters Sea Nymphs, who try to seduce him into the sea to drown. He then lands on an island, where he has to fight a Basilisk and, when they become flesh again, the men the monster had turned to stone. Adam finally encounters a Dragon, who purifies him with painful torture.

In Act IV, the Dragon sends Adam off. Adam lands on an island ruled by a demon lord, and he is further tortured by him and his Salamanders to rid him of his arrogance. Set to sea again, Adam is tempted by Air Nymphs. He lands to encounter the Satyrs again, who first cower from him, but then turn friendly when Adam thanks them for exposing Lily for who she really was. They celebrate and the Satyrs introduce him to Eva, who becomes his companion. They leave the Satyrs and encounter a group of Corybantes, who make them dance in celebration of life. The Norns come on and introduce Adam to Marie, who is to become his best friend.

In Act V, Adam, Eva, and Marie enter the spirit forest, where they celebrate Adam’s return. Peter rejoins Adam. Next the foursome enter the Trolls’ country, where they have to fight some Trolls. One kills Marie, and Adam sacrifices himself to bring Marie back to life. The Trolls, impressed, let them leave. They bring Adam to the Borak who, accompanied by the three Angels and the three Knights, bring Adam back to life. They divest Adam of his sword and shield and send him on to see the Gnome, who has a gift for Adam. After visiting the Gnome, they continue on to see the Fairies, who also have a gift for Adam. Leaving everyone behind, Adam finds himself alone with the Norns, who tell him he is finished with his transformation and must now go back to the real world, transformed into a poet. In the final scene, we see Adam talking about poetry with a contemporary poet, where it becomes clear his work is really just starting. Finally, Marie comes in to introduce Adam to her new boyfriend. Adam is left alone to prepare for his new struggles as an artist.

“Reflections” is a play about Adam who, due to his unrequited love for his friend Lily, undergoes a radical transformation tat turns him into a poet. This transformation is reflected in his entering into a mirror world from which he must successfully rescue Lily. He slowly discovers that he is on a more important quest: one that will help him get over Lily, discover who he is, change who he is, and cause him to emerge as a poet. He descends first through psychological stages, then through levels of reality, then ascends again. Those he meets are actually reflections of himself. When he returns from the mirror world, he returns an artist – where he now has to face new challenges that are only just beginning for him as a formalist poet.


Bard – iambic hexameter – introduces each act and concludes the play

Adam – style changes – a young man in love with Lily. Adam follows Lily into a parallel world representing his descent into and ascent from the underworld

Lily – prose, then iambic tetrameter – Adam’s friend, who does not love Adam as he loves her

Harpy/Lily’s Dbl– silent – kidnaps Lily though the mirror in Adam’s apartment

Norns – iambic tetrameter – the Fates and Time incarnate. These wise women are Past, Present, and Future and provide guidance to Adam

Todd – rubliw – a Fox, acting as gadfly to Adam

Fairies – prose – a collective of ultraindividualists sympathetic to Adam

Peter – blank verse – Proteus, a shape-shifter who acts as Adam’s guide and teacher

Gnome – iambic – a mine owner/businessman who buys Lily from the Harpies who captured her and sells her to a Troll. He helps Adam find Lily to free her.

Dwarves – iambic – a cook and some miners employed by the Gnome

Lamed Wufnik – ghazal – a holy man who justifies man to God. He gives Adam a sword as defense in the mirror world

Angels (3) – sonnets – give Adam a shield as protection

Knights (3) – heroic couplets – go with Adam to protect him as he rescues Lily

Trolls – alcaics – territorial and militant. One buys Lily from the Gnome. They are impressed by heroic sacrifice

Dryad – ballade – king of the nature spirits

Rock Sprites – rime royal – spirits of the rocks

Tree Sprites – rime couee – spirits of the trees

Satyrs – dithyrambs – half-man, half-goat; lusty, cowardly drunks

Animals – choriambics – Deer, Cougar, Wolf, Bison all representing Adam’s animal nature

Adam’s Double – Adam’s style – the mirror image of Adam

Lily’s Double – iambic tetrameter – the mirror image of Lily

Sea Nymphs – anapestic – spirits of the sea

Basilisk – u/uu//uu/u – giant reptile that turns living things to stone with its glance

Stone Men – blank verse – turned back to flesh and blood when the Basilisk is turned to stone. They attack Adam, and he has to kill each one

Earth Nymphs – headless iambic – clear their island of the dead

Dragon – elegic couplet – purifies Adam at his lowest point and sends Adam back up into life as a poet

Keteh Meriri – headless iambic – demon lord of hot summers and midday. He further purifies Adam

Salamanders – limerick – fire elementals and followers of Keteh Meriri

Sylphs – headless anapestic – air nymphs who try to seduce Adam to stay with them

Eva – dithyrambs – Adam’s lover on his ascent

Women – dithyrambs – Adam’s lovers on his ascent

Corybantes – hendecasyllabics – half demon, half divine dancing attendants to the Mother of God(s)

Marie – Sapphic verse – Adam’s identical opposite; his spiritual soul mate and best friend

Borak – Ruba’i – winged horse with the head of a man and the tail of a peacock who took Muhammad to heaven. He brings Adam back to life

Roland – prose – a contemporary, anti-formalist poet

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why, If It Weren't For My Family, My Life Would Suck

Believing in evolution outside of a biology or other hard science department makes for a lonely life. Religious conservatives reject evolution outright, mistakenly believing that accepting evolution means one must reject God, so I get no support from them. The Left presents they believe in evolution, but the truth is that when you present them with any sort of details, especially regarding behavior, they reject all evolutionary explanations. The plank slate model of the mind is the only one they accept -- if people aren't completely malleable, then most Leftists beliefs fall apart pretty quickly.

Heaven help you even more if you're like me and have a degree in the humanities AND believe in evolution AND support free markets (AND believe in God -- might as well throw in that politically incorrect belief too while we're at it). That's a combination which will guarantee to keep you out of a job. Combine that with a belief in truth, beauty, and excellence, and you might as well give up ever getting a job in the humanities.

Where is one like me -- an interdisciplinary humanities scholar and poet -- to find a job? In places where I should be able to be hired, my being "interdisciplinary" makes people think I'm unfocused, when what it really means is I see problems in their full complexity. I've had an English department tell me I'm overqualified, though the job required a Ph.D. and my dissertation was about literary analysis. I've quit an interdisciplinary studies department because such departments are being treated as places where students failing in every other discipline can go to stay in college and I think that universities should be aiming for excellence and not for mediocrity -- or less. I cannot find a humanities department that is interested in hiring someone who is pro-science -- and if I were hired, there's little chance I'd get tenure due to my support of free markets. I'm not a Leftist, so work is closed off to me to such an extent that you'd think this was the Soviet Union.

So what are my choices? Go back to hotel work? Deny my education so I can get an $8/hr job? What have I done to myself by following my passions? Aren't we told that's the path to success? Then why do I keep failing? Why am I rejected by everyone? -- well, not everyone, I suppose, just everyone who could pay me for what I can do. WHy am I barred in this culture from making a living?

Maybe it's time I just gave up on all this stuff and got a job in a mail room somewhere so I could work my way up the corporate ladder. All it would take would be for me to cease being who I am, doing what I love, and supporting what I believe in while rejecting my education. Is that really what it takes to get and keep a job? Do I really have to work to make the world a worse place by supporting positions that I know will make the world worse off so I can provide for my family? Are there any other options? If so, I'm completely unfamiliar with them. I'm at a complete loss.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Libertarian Culture, Libertarian World

I"m reading a book on art by the critic Danto titled "The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art," in which he observes that philosophy has treated art as "superstructure" rather than a "base" activity. Marxism took this idea up, declaring economics to be the base activity, with art remaining superstructure. I bring this up because I just has these two terms brought up again by Mickey Kaus, in context of Obama's elitist comments.

Danto challenges this placement of art in the superstructure, pointing out that if Marxists (or anyone) really believed this, then there would be no censorship, since art is merely a reflection of the problems at the base, meaning we need to change the base. If art is a reflection of the world, and can change nothing about the world, why be upset by it? Isn't it because we actually believe art can and does change the world?

Of course all of this assumes that economics is primary, and that everything goes back to it. No one can have actual belief -- it will be overshadowed by their economic situation. If this were true, then explain away the fact that the leadership of al Qaida are all wealthy and educated. If people only cling to their guns because of lack of jobs, explain those people who quit their jobs every hunting season -- especially deer season. Economics is A factor, but it's not THE factor in everyone's lives. For many, it's not even the main factor, once the basic needs are met. And with some religious practices, basic needs are even shunned. What is the materialist to make of those who abstain from food or sex as part of their devotion to God? Or who are homeless and impoverished for that reason? The Cynics of ancient Greece famously lived homeless as a reflection of their philosophical beliefs. Of course, one could put philosophy at the base -- but if you do, then how can you classify yourself as a materialist anymore? And why exclude art from the base?

Danto suggests that Plato and the other philosophers want to exclude art because art, like rhetoric (which Plato also has issues with), is designed to move people rather than convince them using logic and reason. But what if art becomes more like philosophy, or vice versa? What if philosophy becomes increasingly rhetorical -- as the postmodernists have indeed made it? What if art becomes increasingly philosophical -- as writers like Milan Kundera have made it? What if the history of Western philosophy is just plain wrong, and art is a base activity? In other words, what if in addition to being Rational Man, we are also Emotional Man? What if we are Integrated Man?

Larger questions now emerge. Is it rational for those of us who support free markets and are of a more libertarian stripe to ignore the culture, especially the arts? The Left certainly doesn't. We need to move beyond a culture where the Left supports the arts and the Right attacks what is done in the arts. Further, how much progress can be made in our struggle to change political economy if the culture at large is Left-leaning? Won't those efforts be undermined long term?

The word "pattern" comes from the word "patron." If we want the culture to pattern itself after a libertarian world view, we need to patronize the arts. We need to support the arts and encourage the creation of great works of art that reflect the realities of the world -- and not just Leftist fantasies. We need an active group or think tank to provide the support -- both theoretical and financial -- needed to create a libertarian culture. If I am right that once the basic needs (and sometimes not even those) are met, and that they are met more often than not, that people need culture to be fully human, then we need to work on affecting the culture if we want to have a freer world. If culture is at the base, then we need to work at changing the culture just as much as we need to work at changing the economy and the government. Especially if we are serious about long-term change.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Camille Paglia on Hillary Clinton II

Even though she's a bit more Left-leaning than I would like (and hasn't fully embraced her latent libertarianism), you've got to love Camile Paglia. She's right about everything she says about Hillary Clinton. If she wins, women lose; if she loses, women lose. Hillary Clinton is the kind of woman who make women-haters across the country say, "See, that's just what I said would happen if you let a women have that kind of power." Never mind all the great women the world over -- one shrill, man-hating, shrewish "victim" makes the climb steeper and higher for other women to follow. Especially with the predictable whining we can expect to hear from the cowardly NOW crowd, who would rather protest nonexistent problems in this country than stand up for real violations of women's rights around the world, especially in too many Islamic countries.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Left's backwards Thinking

Obama's infamous comments are quite revealing of his (and the Left's) misunderstanding of human nature. Let's revisit those comments. He says that people in small towns "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Obama shows here that he has the Rousseauean belief that men are born good and are made bad by society. He thus shows that he is ignorant of the fact -- understood by religions around the world, and increasingly shown by evolutionary psychology -- that the natural state of people is poverty, a desire to have weapons for hunting and defense of their own, and xenophobia (which explains the last three listed). This is not to say that we should not do something to overcome these natural tendencies, but we have to recognize that these are the originary state of humans. Wealth is what is unusual and recent. Opposition to racism is what is unusual and recent. Thank goodness for both, but we have to recognize that we develop these, that they are not the original state of man. This confused understanding of human nature and the evolution of human behavior is what causes the Left to come up with completely backwards ideas of what we should do, what government should do, and what its role should be.

Clinton White House Continues to Dis Hillary

Now Robert Reich has come out in favor of Obama. Is there anyone from the Clinton White House in favor of Hillary Clinton? Shouldn't this tell us SOMETHING?!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Obama's Elitism III

Obama's "clarification" at the debate last night of his elitist remarks only shows that he's completely out of touch with the average American. He said that rural voters are concerned with gun legislation rather than economic rule from a central command (well, that's my interpretation of his Marxist approach to economics) because rural voters are sitting around concerned about the government not doing anything to help them. Bull. I never met anyone not on generational welfare who was sitting around worried about what the government was or was not going to do in regards to the economy or their jobs. Most people have enough sense to know the government can't do a thing for them except get in the way of their own prosperity. They are concerned about issues like guns and religion precisely because they see Democrats doing everything in their power to make sure only government thugs own guns and to eliminate Christianity from every aspect of life.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Obama for Creeping Infringement of Rights

In the debate tonight with HIllary Clinton, Barack Obama said that just because we have rights, that doesn't mean that the government can't put restrictions on those rights. His example? THough we have property rights, we regulate what people can do with their property. Nice to know that Obama's notion of rights is essentially fascist in nature: sure, we'll let you technically have the right -- but in name only, not in actuality. But then, why should I be surprised at this? The Left's idea of "free speech" includes politically correct restrictions. Pay attention, people. Obama just outed himself as an enemy of rights. He will take them away from you bit by bit, until they're gone -- and you'll have never noticed what happened until it happened.

Obama's Elitism II

Obama is now claiming that he could not possibly be an elitist because of his poor upbringing. Now, if we understand an elitist as someone who thinks (s)he is somehow superior to most other people, then I think there is little question that Obama is an elitist. He is certainly convinced that he's smarter than everyone else and has a better idea of what should be done with everyone else's money.

But if we take him at his word that he doesn't think he's a elitist precisely for the reasons given, what does that mean? Well, it means that Obama sees elitism as something related to class structures. In a class-structured society, the classes are rigid. One cannot enter into a class one was not born into, excepting ritualistic entry, of course. Classes have nothing to do with money, either. Or with education. In England, one can be a poor, uneducated noble -- but you are still a noble, meaning you think of yourself as better than those who are not. Marx of course saw the middle class arising between the noble and working classes, with the middle class overthrowing the noble class, and the working class eventually overthrowing the middle class. And this is clearly how Obama sees the world, if he thinks it is literally impossible for him to be an elitist just because of his impoverished upbringing. However, the United States is a classless society. There has never been a nobility, and the U.S. was founded on the very idea of there being no classes. With 401k programs, the workers are the owners of production, even when they don't directly own their own businesses. Thus such things as snobbery and elitism become connected more with how you think of yourself in relation to others, due to your perception of yourself in relation to those others. Obama is an elitist due to his education and where he got educated (the same could be said of Hillary Clinton as well, who has no business calling Obama an elitist). If Obama were not an elitist, he wouldn't be a politician, let alone running for the Presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. The fact that he thinks he can run your life better than you can demonstrates clearly he is an elitist. I knew that long before he exposed himself with his comments.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Taxes are Theft Even If Called Dues

In an editorial in the New York TImes, Richard Conniff suggests we should change "taxes" to "dues" to make it easier for liberals to argue that the government should steal more money from us. Well, that was the gist of his argument, anyway.

What makes him think that our money is due to the government? Last I heard, if you didn't pay your dues at places where you pay dues, you just didn't get to join the club -- the club didn't threaten to imprison or murder you if you didn't pay. There is nothing voluntary about living under a government -- so "dues" will never be voluntary, as club dues are. All the name change will do is give "dues" a bad name.

I do love how Conniff stole this idea from George Lakoff without attribution. I find that to be quite appropriate in an article that advocates theft and the changing of the term for that form of theft from taxes to another term. When will liberals learn that, contra their Nazi philosopher mentor Heidegger's views on the matter, that language doesn't change reality. Theft is theft, whether the gang is the Crips, the Bloods, the government of the State of Texas, or the government of the United States of America.

A toilet, commode, loo, and crapper are all the same entity with the same function.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hmm, Should We Pick Clinton or Obama as Savior?

Considering the fact that Obama accidentally let slip his real attitude toward those who have religious faith, perhaps he was telling the truth when he said he hadn't heard Rev. Wright say the things he said in church. After all, you do have to be in church to hear what the preacher has to say. It should be abundantly clear by now to anyone with half a brain that Obama joined his church as a political calculation.

Incidentally, you should go read the letter on this at Tammy Bruce's blog. It's hilarious.

BTW, did anyone notice how uncomfortable Hillary Clinton was at the "Compassion Forum" (what a name!) when the issue of God came up. She looked like she wanted to crawl right out of her own skin.

I would be willing to bet that, deep down, both Clinton and Obama are atheists. That's why they have erected government in His place. You can usually tell who the atheists are because most often than not (with some rare exceptions) they replace God with the State and think that it should be made all-powerful. And, naturally, since they can't think of any being greater than themselves, Clinton and Obama both think they and they alone should be the one in charge.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Texas Schools Are Corrupt!!!

If there is any one indication that standardized testing in our schools to determine how well our students are doing is a miserable failure (other than the problems of massive numbers of student dropping out of urban high schools, teachers teaching to the test -- which means the teachers teach students strategies to pass the test rather than content, contra claims of test supporters) is the high level of cheating which occurs. In Dallas the assistant principal at Skyline school was caught changing grades and throwing away scores by a teacher. The result? The teacher was fired and the assistant principal still has his job. Such an incident should result in a few things: 1) the principal should be investigated, as an accomplice to fraud, 2) the board should be investigated to learn why they are protecting this assistant principal, who 3) should have been fired on the spot. The fact is that this kind of fraud is no uncommon in Dallas schools or, quite frankly, anywhere else in the country. Why isn't this level of corruption being rooted out? Why aren't principals, assistant principals, and teachers who do this being fired? Why aren't school boards who refuse to fire such people -- let alone allow those who expose fraud to be fired -- themselves investigated. These people need to be in prison. Certainly they have no business being involved in the education of our children.

In the meantime, another teacher in the La Joya school system in Texas may not have her contract renewed for next year because she "stole" tangerine peels from the school lunch room trash for use in a citrus contest. Apparently taking trash that will be thrown away is a fireable offense in our schools, but making test scores trash doesn't. So after forcing a resignation, the school district retracted the resignation and has (pretty obviously) made up a bunch of other charges to justify firing her. And her best defender said that what she did was "wrong." How on earth can you say that what she did was wrong? It is neither wrong nor should it be illegal -- let alone a fireable offense.

If you want to be appalled about something, I recommend you look into the laws surrounding school food. There's some pretty bizarre stuff there. And this is no doubt part of that bizarre set of laws. Still, law or no law, this is a clear example of someone exercising power for the sake of exercising power. Such people should not be allowed to have any. I'm not going to hold by breath that this board will face anything but reelection, though.

I guess the common rule in our schools is to make up whatever you want to get rid of people who aren't doing anything wrong -- and in fact are doing what is right and just and good.

World Bank Proposes to Continue Food SHortages in Developing Countries

High food prices are causing unrest in developing countries. Naturally, the first thing people jump to is a call for more food aid. Never mind that most food aid ends up being stolen by the cleptocratic governments in charge of most "developing" countries (why put "developing" in scare quotes? There's no development going on, for the reasons to be soon stated). So more food aid will only result in the governments of the countries the food is sent to stealing it and selling it to the people at the same inflated prices. What these countries need are market reforms -- private property rights protections and independent court systems to eliminate corruption. Of course, if that happened, these countries would in fact turn into developing -- and then, developed -- countries. And if that happened, we wouldn't need such entities as the World Bank. And we certainly can't have that, now can we? That would result in the unemployment of a handful of clueless elites and the wasteful bureaucrats who work for them, and we certainly can't have that, now can we?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Liberating the Cubans?

People getting the deeds to their homes and the removal of salary caps -- in Cuba? Do I detect an economic boom coming 90 miles south of Florida?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Obama's Elitism

I don't know why anyone's surprised by Obama saying this about people who live in small towns in the U.S. I do find Hillary's hypocrisy hilarious, though -- she's no less elitist than he or any other Leftist Democrat is. That's one of the very hallmarks of the Left: their elitism and condescending attitude.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Some Thoughts on "The Nurture Assumption" Ch. 1

I'm afraid it just took me chapter 1 of Judith Rich Harris' "The Nurture Assumption" to see where the argument is going and where the flaw in reasoning occurs. It especially occurs in the first two of her three observations that bothered her (10) -- the third being a complaint about Freudianism that is mostly justified.

The first observation was that the children of immigrants speak and dress "like ordinary American kids." The second observation was that upper-class British males, though raised away from their fathers, ended up behaving like them. She uses these to debunk the "nurture assumption" but fails to notice a pattern underlying both situations: expectations.

My wife is Mexican-American and a teacher, and she has observed that in homes where parents expect their children to learn perfect English, they do; but in homes where there is no such expectation, they children typically speak both bad English and bad Spanish. The recent trend in schools not expecting children to assimilate has made this problem worse. Those homes which expect their children to learn good English and good Spanish produce children who can indeed do both. Now certainly in a home where only Spanish is spoken, or English is spoken but poorly, the children will have to get the better English elsewhere, but it is the parents' expectation which results in the English spoken being good or bad, with or without an accent, or being present at all.

I can also use a personal example of this. My mother was from South Bend, Indiana and spoke with a neutral midwestern accent. My father was from Kentucky and, when I was four, our family moved from Indiana to Kentucky. When I came home from Kindergarten one day, I said that I'd seen a "dawg." My mother's response: "You know how to say 'dog' properly." Her expectation was that my brother and I would speak without an accent and, despite the fact that everyone around us spoke with a Southern accent, we met her expectation. Harris cannot possibly explain this with her theory. I tin fact refutes it soundly.

We can see this too in the examples Harris gives. THe Russian parents emigrated to the U.S. to assimilate into American culture. Thus, they expect their children to assimilate -- and they do. Parents who don't expect their children to assimilate have children who don't -- at least, not completely. If the parents expect their children to retain certain Russian holidays or customs, those children will more often than not retain them. And if we take the example of the British upper class, everyone's expectation -- from the nanny to the school teachers -- is that the boys will all grow up to act like a gentleman. And the boys typically don't disappoint.

Naturally, not all expectations can be met. You can't get a child with a 100 IQ to become a quantum physicist simply through your expectation of him to become one. That is too specific an expectation. Rarely do children meet our narrow expectations, but they do at least try to meet our broad expectations. My parents expected me to go to college, and I did. There was also the expectation that I would become a doctor or a lawyer. I have a Ph.D. in the humanities. Sometimes a child faces conflicting expectations -- sometimes from those who are raising them. My wife was raised by her grandparents, who expected her to start working right out of high school and to not attend college. But they also let her attend a magnet high school that was designed to prepare her for college. She managed to meet their unstated expectations rather than their stated expectations -- actions speak louder than words. Children rarely disappoint us in meeting unstated expectations.

Harris does touch on this in chapter 1, but uses it to disprove "socialization," where we tell children not to act like adults. Again, she fails to see the larger pattern in the specifics given. Everything we teach a child to do or not to do has later applications as a basic principle. As a child becomes older and more responsible, the specific rules change, though the general rule never does. My 16 month old toddler will walk down the aisle of a store and not grab a thing, even though she has seen her mother and I shop. It's because I taught her not to touch anything not hers. This will get expanded to "without someone's permission" as she gets older, so she will be able to play well with others and not be rude to others -- we still retain this if we see something we like at someone's house and ask, "Do you mind if I look at this?" It thus teaches respect for other people's things, meaning as adults they don't take things without permission, etc. Children not taught not to touch things grow up to be adults who take things without permission and show a general disrespect for people's things. So a specific rule for a child is shown to develop into a broader rule for adults, contra Harris' thesis. She's so concerned abut the specifics of each tree, she fails to see the forest.

The rest of the book should be interesting.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Christianity and Evolution

I recently visited a Christian site called which is involved in campus activism. There I addressed a blog posting on why college students are converted away from their faith with the following observation:

"One of the reasons why universities are so good at converting Christians away from the faith is because of the anti-science bias of too many Christians. I saw this firsthand when I went to Western Kentucky University to major in Recombinant Gene Technology. Most of the people who entered the biology department entered Christians and existed atheists. The reason for this was not that anyone directly tried to convert anyone from Christianity — in fact, probably half the staff were professed Christians, including the head of the department, who taught a Sunday school class. No, the reason for it was that students were presented with insurmountable evidence for evolution. They had been taught by their pastors that evolution was incompatible with Christianity, so faced with the evidence for evolution, students chose facts over faith.

I was not one of them. I chose both facts and faith. I was taught exactly the same thing. I was, after all, raised in a Baptist church. My best friend was the son of the pastor. I often spent the night at my pastor’s house. But I also knew that “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day.” Meaning, I understood that a story meant to help a wandering tribe of nomadic shepherds understand how God made the world may be true in a more metaphorical way than in a merely factual way. So when I encountered the incontrovertible facts of biology, I accepted it, without rejecting God.

I think it is important that our churches learn to not pre-undermine their young followers by preaching scientific falsehoods and being anti-science. God and science to not conflict or contradict. Evolution and the Big Bang theory do not deny the existence of God — no matter what many Christians may believe."

To which Frank Turek replied:


Outstanding post! Thank you very much. As a credentialed biologist, would you mind briefly describing in lay terms what you see as the best evidence for macro-evolution?


Frank Turek"

So I did. The following is my complete response:

Before I begin my discussion of “macroevolution,” I really need to address a few other issues. One, I need to address the issue of theory. Two, I need to address the issues of creationism and intelligent design. Then I will address some issues of evolution, including evidence for “macroevolution” and the mechanisms of evolution – which include but are not confined to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, or “descent with modification.” Finally, I want to address the issue of materialist ontology (a fancy word for “how the world really is”). Keep in mind that I am going to address each of these issues as a church-going born-again Christian who is nonetheless convinced by the scientific facts supporting evolution, including biological and cosmological evolution.

What is a theory? When I talk about evolution to many Christians, evolution is dismissed as “merely a theory.” This comes from a misunderstanding – too often perpetuated by postmodernists in the humanities – of what a theory really is.

A scientific theory is developed in the following way: 1) data are collected, 2) the data collected show a structural pattern that must be explained, leading to 3) the development of a theory that explains the pattern(s) observed. From the theory one develops hypotheses, or predictions, which one should either be able to test directly, through experimentation, or indirectly, through observations. A hypothesis can go something like this: since we have X and Z, we should expect Y. If we find Y, that supports the hypothesis, which in turn supports the theory. If we somehow disprove a hypothesis (such as by proving Y is impossible), that can mean one of several things: 1) the hypothesis is wrong, but the theory is still good (there was an error made in the creation of the hypothesis), 2) the hypothesis is wrong because the theory is incomplete and needs modification in light of new data, or 3) the hypothesis is wrong because the theory is wrong. The latter is the hardest to prove, though theories can fall out of favor because they are incapable of creating enough good hypotheses, while another theory does so much better. Hypotheses raise questions answered by the scientific method and by observation and data collection, and those answers are fed back into the theory to modify it and make it more accurate – which simply means it is able to create more and better hypotheses. And so on, in a feedback loop. Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been so modified – first, through the modern synthesis (with genetics), then through neo-Darwinism, then through evolutionary developmental biology, and no in conjunction with systems theory, self-organization theory, game theory, information theory, catastrophe theory (emergence), chaos theory, bios theory, and complexity theory – that Darwin would barely recognize it.

We need to contrast scientific theory with the kind of theory found in the humanities, where someone comes up with an idea and then tries to fit everything into it, discarding (or ignoring) any facts inconvenient to that theory. I believe this is what most people think of when they think of “theory.” Such theories are indeed “mere theories,” based as they are on little to nothing much of the time. Marxism is such a “theory.” It is a shame these “theories” have the same name as scientific theories, as they are the complete opposite of one another, and have opposite results.

Perhaps many Christians make this mistake because the kinds of theories developed by the humanities are developed to help us to understand texts, and the truth-claims of Christians are text-based, while scientific truth-claims are materially based. This, of course, brings us to the question of “what is truth?” Scientific truth is different from religious truth. Science is based on mere facts – things provable by physical observation and experimentation. Religion is based on a different kind of truth – Jesus said that he is the “aletheia,” which has implications of an afterlife in the Greek. In ancient Greek mythology, the Lethe was the ridver souls drank from to forget the afterlife before they were born into a body. “Letheia” means “to forget,” and “aletheia” literally means “without forgetting” or to “unforget.” Christ was thus the physical demonstration of God and God’s world. This is the kind of truth Christianity as a religion is concerned with: this kind of experiential truth – not with mere facts. The facts of the world neither (directly) prove nor disprove God’s existence. Belief in God requires faith – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 1:1) – not proof. To demand or expect scientific proof is to be disobedient to God and his commandment that we have faith. As Jesus chastised Thomas: “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Next, let me address the issues of creationism, intelligent design, and evolution (in the larger sense, including cosmological evolution). For my money, creationists have a much more solid, dignified position that, though refuted by the scientific evidence, at least does not require that God be an incompetent boob like intelligent design theory does. It does have one serious problem, though, that I will address below. The claim of intelligent design boils down to this: periodically, God has to intervene to set things on the right path or to develop some complex entity or body part. What this really means is they do not think God was competent enough to create a universe with rules that would create everything as we now see it, that he couldn’t create a universe that didn’t need him to come in and continually tinker with it to get it right. I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe in a God who is incapable of creating a universe that could evolve without his continual interference. Doesn’t that go against the idea of God’s perfection?

The creationist is faced with a somewhat different problem, but one no less troubling – which is that it would appear that God created a world and a universe designed to fool us into believing falsehoods about it. I side with Descartes in rejecting the idea of God purposefully fooling us. Such a God would be evil, and that goes against the Christian belief in God being wholly good. The claims I have occasionally heard that Satan put the fossils in the ground is just plain silly – and doesn’t explain astronomical observations, unless you believe Satan moved the stars too. This would refute the statements made in Genesis that God’s creation is good. Yes, man fell from a state of grace when he ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but that act affected the fate of man, not the nature of reality and the world God created.

There are many areas which need to be addressed regarding “macroevolution.” The silliest version of the objection to macroevolution is that “you don’t see a lion become a zebra,” which is something that no evolutionary biologist has ever claimed. Straw men do not help you make your case – they only make you look a fool. So let’s do away with such foolishness, as to accept such tactics is to accept that you don’t have the arguments or the facts to make your case. If we look at what evolutionary biologists do claim, it makes a great deal of sense. And the fossils, genetic evidence, etc. support the story very well.

I have heard many people say “I believe in microevolution but not in macroevolution,” meaning they believe one cat can become another cat, but they don’t believe “big leaps” occur. Well, what do we mean by “big leaps” that result in not just a new species, but in new genera, families, etc.? If we take the fossil record seriously, what we see are some very clear developments among many branches of animals. Take mammals, for example. The fossil evidence suggests the earliest mammals resembled shrews – they were small, with primitive features. Look at the paws of a shrew. They resemble the paws of mice and even of primates. Animals with different kinds of paws developed from common ancestors. Cats and dogs have paws similar to each other and to their common weasel-like ancestor, while hoofed mammals all share a common ancestor along a different evolutionary path. There are many fossils showing the evolution of hoofed feet in mammals, with splits leading to single-hoofed horses, hoof-toed camels, cloven-hoofed goats, sheep, and cows, etc. There are huge numbers of fossils, supported by genetic trees showing relatedness, to support this. Are there gaps? Of course. Fossilization requires rare conditions. But we do have a sufficient number of fossils to see trends. The expectation by some that we should have a “complete” fossil record that shows every single “transitional” species is unrealistic and, considering the reactions of many to the discovery of a transitional species in demanding transitions to and from the transitions, it seems to be beside the point for too many. They have a theory, and no amount of evidence is going to sway them, even if it were possible to find fossils from every generation from every species that ever existed – which it is not. Such people come across as irrational – and they are. Unfortunately, such people are also typically the most vociferous defenders of Christianity, making it appear that Christianity is itself irrational. This is why many students, when faced with the incredible amount of fossil evidence and genetic evidence, along with explanatory mechanisms, reject Christianity. That is a shame, since it does not have to be that way.

So we are not claiming cats turn to sheep in macroevolutionary theory, and the evidence in fact shows a common ancestor in a shrew-like animal that could easily give rise to the different mammal body shapes we see. We also increasingly have the evidence to support such evolutionary development. If we understand hairs and feathers as modified scales, the transitions from reptiles to birds and mammals are also fairly unremarkable. The argument that “if apes evolved from monkeys, then why do we still have monkeys” is resolved with the fact that apes in fact evolved from a common ancestor which is now extinct, but that led to them and to certain monkeys. Speciation comes about from reproductive isolation of groups, which can occur due to geographical, climatological, or genetic changes (or any combination of these). As genetic changes occur in these isolated populations, the two groups drift away from each other and become reproductively isolated. These genetic changes include not just point mutations, but also through genetic inversions in chromosomes, recombinations, jumping genes, foreign DNA, etc. Also, your genes are full of redundancies. A lot of changes to the DNA can be absorbed with no effects. In complex organisms, there is further redundancy built in with multiple copies of genes that can be used as backups if a gene gets a harmful mutation. Also, repair mechanisms fix many mutations, and backup genes can act as templates for repairing harmful changes. Many of these mechanisms are so incredibly complex they are only just now being discovered and understood.

In addition, we have become aware of many more processes in nature that help us understand evolutionary changes. Changes that affect development can have dramatic effects. A slight weakening of a site on a developmental protein can result in, say, neck bones growing a little longer than in a previous generation. Soon, you have giraffes. A trigger for physical maturation may be lost while sexual maturation is retained. This is a mechanism known as neoteny, which appears to have been the mechanism which turned a kind of sea squirt into the ancestor of fish. There is still a creature, called the lancelet, which strongly resembles the larvae of sea squirts – and which is closely genetically related to them. The fishes and the lancelet both share a common ancestor in the neotenous sea quirt larvae. This is an example of true “macroevolution” if we are thinking of it as a dramatic change. But even here, the dramatic change is only between adult forms. The mature lancelet looks just like an immature sea squirt.

In addition, we have mechanisms in nature explained by systems theory, like strange attractors which stabilize certain forms and allow transitions from one order through chaos to another order – as described by catastrophe theory. Bios theory explains creativity in systems, and chaos theory explains stability in systems. All of these, in combination with Darwin’s theory of descent with modification, explain how species evolved over time.

Many people are concerned that science is dependent upon a materialist ontology, and that materialism is itself atheistic. But science does not have to be dependent upon materialism. In fact, the evidence increasingly shows the world isn’t such much materialist as informational in nature. Thus, I subscribe to an informational ontology, which is highly compatible with Christianity. I do not ascribe to a materialist ontology nor an idealist one, but rather, an ontology of information. In other words, I take the following from John 1:1 seriously:

en arche hn o logos

"the foundation of all things is information"

Admittedly, this is a definition that comes about in light of information theory -- but if you truly understand both what information is, and all the meanings of logos, you can see that "information" is a good translation of "logos." Certainly a far, far, far, far, far better choice than "word," which is such a peripheral meaning of logos as to be almost completely inaccurate. When we "Logos," we communicate information one to another, process that information, and pass on that information. All things are information at different levels of complexity -- information processors, which all communicate different kinds of information at different levels. For biological organisms, the vehicle of communication tends to be chemical, though also photons and sound waves. Humans communicate using more complex information-carriers, particularly through grammatical, syntactical language. If we look at the ways to define information -- as a noun, it is that which is without form; as a verb, it is that which gives form to another. Thus, pure information is that which is without form, which gives form.

"The foundation of all things was information, and the information was 1) to the advantage of 2) at, near, by 3) to, towards, with, with regard to (the word translated as "with") God, and God was information."

That is the most literal translation of John 1:1 I can render. The story of the universe is one of foundation on information, and the increasing complexity of that information over time in the universe. Atoms have less complex forms of information than do chemicals and especially chemical cycles and systems. Biology is a set of highly complex chemical systems. The human brain is a highly complex neural system in complex interaction with other humans through complex social systems. That information is communicated through language, which itself must be highly complex in order to communicate most efficiently. God is the most complex of the universe, and thus has all the information. This is how God is both the Alpha (the inform information that gives form at the beginning of the universe) and the Omega (the most complex, most informed).

All the other theories I use in my philosophy -- evolutionary theory, game theory, chaos theory, complexity theory, emergence theory, etc. -- explain the ways in which information interacts to create more complex things and how those complex things engage in complex interactions. Information theory is the foundation of all these things. Information is the foundation of all things.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Behaviorism and Education

I've been asked to do a review of Judith Rich Harris' "The Nurture Assumption," and I when I finish the book I will certainly do so. I would like to make some comments not on the book per se, but on one of the areas of psychology she criticizes -- behaviorism -- and its continuing detrimental effect on U.S. education.

The American education system is fundamentally based on the following quote from John B. Watson, whom Harris quotes. He claims that all we have to do is

"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select -- doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors" (Harris, 6).

I suspect he might be able to accomplish the latter two, but, as Harris points out, he would have to somehow manage to raise IQ 20 points in most of his students in order to accomplish at least the first two.

As Harris points out, Watson was "expressing the basic belief of behaviorism: that children are malleable and that it is their environment, not innate qualities such as talent or temperament, that determines their destiny" (7). The basic theory most public schools work under is that of behaviorism -- which is really just one of the blank-slate theories of the human mind. Certainly Watson is right that what your parents do, etc. doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your abilities. My mother couldn't spell, and my father is almost illiterate due to (likely) severe dyslexia and is thus a coal miner, so one would not have expected them to create a professional writer, let alone a poet. On the other hand, one cannot discount genetics and the home environment, as my brother is dyslexic, like our father, and a visual artist, like our mother. Any myself? My mother read to me when I was young, which I have little doubt influenced my love of reading, especially as it resulted in my becoming literate at the age of 3 (this should give you some indication of what the future review of Harris' book will probably look like). Our father has a high IQ, which was sabotaged by his dyslexia.

The bottom line is this: no one can turn any child into anything they want. Each child has their own abilities, IQ, interests, etc. that have to be taken into consideration. Until the educational system understands this, they will continue to fail to educate our children.

Paul Krugman's Voodoo Healthcare Economics

One could make a living refuting the nonsense that comes from Paul Krugman's pen. Here's one of mine, at The Prometheus Instutite, on some nonsense he wrote about health care. It seems that his Nobel Prize went straight to his head, and now he thinks he's better than everyone else, so he should be the one in charge of the whole system.

Monday, April 07, 2008

"Common Genius" by Bill Greene -- A Review

The only thing more annoying to me than anti-intellectualism are intellectuals themselves.

Of course, this depends upon your definition of an intellectual. One of the things that always annoyed me about conservatives was their anti-intellectualism. For many, it typically makes conservatives appear anti-intelligence, anti-higher education, and even anti-art (thank you Greene for excluding us artists from the ranks of Intellectuals) -- and I have little doubt that for too many that is precisely what it means. However, Bill Greene gives us an anti-intellectualism I can (mostly) side with.If your definition of an intellectual is a really educated really smart person who thinks and writes a lot, then Bill Greene is not an anti-intellectual. For Greene, an intellectual is one whose ideas are divorced from any sort of empirical evidence. In other words, for Greene, an Idealist and an Intellectual are one and the same -- though I suppose the Intellectual has the added benefit (anchor?) of an advanced degree. An example may help to explain the way he differentiates an Intellectual from a scholar. Adam Smith based his ideas in The Wealth of Nations on observation; thus, he was a scholar. Rousseau based his ideas of the Noble Savage on no evidence at all, only his fanciful imagination; thus, he was an intellectual. Greene's anti-intellectualism is thus narrowly defined, and based on the results -- or the lack of results -- of those he defines as Intellectuals. Taking Greene's more narrow definition of Intellectual, I have been an anti-intellectual for a long time (though I suspect we may disagree about who should be in his newly defined category of Intellectual). I always considered myself an intellectual, but it seems I'm not one if we accept Greene's definition. I avoid the label precisely because I always try to derive "ought" from "is." In fact, that might be a good definition of an intellectual: anyone who attempts to divorce "ought" from "is."

Greene observes that societies are most prosperous when individuals are free to self-organize into more complex systems, while societies collapse -- or at least stagnate -- when intellectuals try to impose order in a top-down fashion. Indeed, intellecuals tend to try to simplify the world and impose a linear (rational) order on a nonlinear, complex world. If you "simplify" a cell, you turn it into its constituent chemicals -- but this is also known as killing it. The real irony is that the kind of top-down structuring intellectuals want to impose seems to destroy intellectualism too. Randall Collins says in The Sociology of Philosophies that:

"The closer the identification of Buddhism with the state, the more closely sectarian fortunes within Buddhism were tied to politics; this in turn restricted the playing field on which intellectual activity took place. Although there were flourishing centers of studies in Malaya and great temple complexes at the Burmese capital, state enforcement of orthodoxy kept philosophy in these countries largely traditionalist and uncreative. We see the same pattern at the very end of Buddhist patronage in India. The Pala kings of Bengal not only founded a new set of monastic universities but also kept them under close royal control; all posts in an elaborate hierarchy of teachers and administrators were held on commission, and all degrees were awarded by the king. Intellectual creativity did not flourish under this tight control. This situation is comparable to the stagnation in Confucian philosophy after it became adopted by the Han bureaucracy, and again during the enforcement of state orthodoxy during the Ming; by contrast, the creative period of Confucianism during the Sung occurred when both religious orthodoxy and the state ideological apparatus were in flux. In India the greatest intellectual creativity in Buddhism took place when states eclectically patronized not just Buddhism but non-Buddhist religions as well, leaving a breathing space in which Buddhist factions could take maximal advantage of their organizational base for intellectual life" (187).

He observes that this is the case worldwide. When the intellectuals get in charge of a country, intellectual creativity languishes with everything else. Indeed, Greene shows in his book that there is a strong positive correlation between intellectuals' influence and the demise of a culture and government.

I say positive correlation because I'm not sure I'm in complete agreement in regards to causation. Philosophy with Plato seems to have arisen in response to the collapse of Athens after demagogues pressed for war with Sparta -- and continue to push for that war's continuation even after it started to look bad. In Clouds, the poet Aristophanes makes Socrates out to be one of the sophists, and if we take Plato's arguments against the other sophists along with the fact that several of Socrates' students were members of the 13 Tyrants who took over after Athens' defeat, then there is certainly an argument to be made against sophists and demagogues. Plato in his political theories was perhaps reacting more to the collapse of Athens and looking toward the victor -- Sparta -- as a better political model precisely because of their victory. While the Intellectuals, as defined by Greene, did influence the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Maoist Revolution, what we perhaps see here in the U.S. is less the influence of intellectuals as of sophists and demagogues. If that is the case, we should expect a birth of philosophy in the U.S. very soon, thus signaling our fall is in the making.

For Greene, Intellectuals aren't just Fundamentalists, but Fanatics. One could even equate them to cult leaders, desirous of power -- especially the power to impose their version of reality on not just people but the world. They have the arrogance to believe the world can and should bend to their wishes. The non-intellectual understand that to rule nature, you must first obey it. In other words, they live in the real world and submit to reality in order to prosper. In other words, the Intellectuals' "concentration on pure theory severed from practical experience will normally relegate their ideas to utopian exercises that do not work" (28). Remember that "utopia" means "nowhere."

The Common Man + Security - Oppression = Economic Freedom --> Prosperity

Greene supplies example after example of how countries and peoples became prosperous throughout the ages. He then does what should be the true work of intellectuals and looks for patterns. What patterns does he see repeating over and over? "A free government system requires courts, deeds to property, coinage, patents, corporate entities, juries, and representative assemblies" (12). More simply still, what is needed is "simply the safety and incentive of secure private property, free of interference and regulation from above, so that the common man would be motivated to create prosperity" (18). Thus, Greene argues that "the market" or "the culture" are insufficient explanations for prosperity -- that the particular individuals were needed at the time to make the specific works they did. Indeed. But we mustn't forget that "the market" and "the culture" are in fact real entities which emerge from the work of the individuals and which feeds back to influence individuals. It's a nonlinear feedback loop. But we must remember that to have a productive economy or culture that we need good rules which will free the energy of the people to make what creates the great culture which inspires more people to greatness. Michaelangelo wasn't the first Renaissance painter -- but he was its greatest. Greene identifies those rules, as stated above, and he does recognize that "the market" and "the culture" is a bottom-up process. It is people who make markets and cultures. And people need the freedom to act to create strong markets and great cultures.

Since this is the case, what need is there for Intellectuals? If prosperity is created from the bottom up, then top-down solutions won't work. And if the culture is created from the bottom up, then top-down impositions will only work to destroy culture (consider how much great French literature has been written since the French Language Council came into existence to dictate what words were properly French). Greene observes that intellectuals are frustrated because the market shows they aren't needed for people to live their lives and have what they want. Not happy helping people understand the different things a poem means, theorists like Stanley Fish have to tell us how to live our lives as well. For a wonderful argument on how absurd this is, I recommend Plato's Ion, in which Socrates is asking an expert in Homer exactly what it is he is an expert at?

THis of course opens up the question of what it is intellectuals could be for. Intellectuals could be working to educate people into having less "vulgar" tastes in the arts, but how can they legitimately do so when they argue nothing has value or meaning? In the end, they can't even educate people to have better taste (having rejected notions of "better"), and so feel they have to force people to accept/watch/listen to what intellectuals think is good -- typically things that undermine value and meaning. So there needs to be some serious reform in the upper eschelons of education. Thus, I disagree with Greene that Intellectuals have "only a poor future" in a culture with a capitalist economy -- unless one is counting the social engineers, in which case, they do, and good riddance. They cold and should have a future -- if they want it -- teaching people to value more complex works of art and literature and, thus, to live fuller, more beautiful lives.

Greene asks: "Has the intellectuals' permanent role in history been simply to play catch-up with the actual doers of history . . .?" (41). The short answer is: yes. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Think about the example he gives of Locke, Hume, and Kant being 500 years behind the Icelandic founders of parliamentary government. Obviously they are behind the Icelandic people. But what did these thinkers do? They recognized this one small island of few people (even if they did not acknowledge that recognition) and their form of government, explained it, and brought the idea to many, many more people. The proper role of the intellectual is to recognize and explain the patterns in history, society, culture, works of art, music, or literature, etc. Their proper role is, again, as educator. Unfortunately, too many have divested themselves of their proper role, which underlies Greene's complaints against them. His complaint seems to actually be against Romantic or Idealist intellectuals, not against those who stay rooted in reality (many intellectuals would then ask "what is reality," at which Greene would undoubtedly roll his eyes and say, "You're exactly who I'm talking about").

One problem I find with Greene is his tendency to discount a person's work in one area just because the person shows himself a fool elsewhere. A case in point is Noam Chomsky, whose work on language is very important and which Greene should recognize as the kind of work he approves of. However, Chomsky commits the fallacy of all the people Plato's Socrates complains about and thinks that just because he's an expert in one field, he's an expert in everything. His non-linguistics work is all the worst example of intellectualism and shows him to be at best a complete fool and at worst a paranoid conspiracy nut. The fact that Chomsky is the latter doesn't negate his brilliant work in the former, as a linguist.

Along these lines, one could challenge many of those whom Greene includes in his list of Intellectuals. If we take his definition of Intellectuals as "that large group who fall in love with their abstract and utopian ideas, care not for actual results, and come to their tasks with no actual work experience" (43), then he would have a hard time including people like Aristotle, who did biology experiments and was very practical-minded, or Descartes, who was a mathematician of great note.

Still, Greene is right about most of the intellectuals he mentions, especially when it comes to their understanding of politics and economics. I have often argued with one the kinds of intellectuals Greene complains about -- those who look to natural resources as the reason for prosperity (the oil-rich countries would seem to be strong counter-examples of this thesis) -- arguing that we can and will find alternatives to whatever their pet resource is. They alway demand I explain how I know people will develop alternatives -- and the answer that history shows we always do is never a good enough explanation for them. Apparently historical precedence is not enough -- absolute certainty of the future (from people who otherwise argue against absolutes) is what they demand. Lord knows, if I knew what the actual alternatives would be, don't they think I would be out making them rather than taking with them?

All in all, though, Greene shows what systems science is beginning to show: that in order to have a healthy, complex system, you have to have bottom-up self-organization with good rules of interaction. With bottom-up processes we get complex entities like cells, which are able to adapt to their environment and grow and even go so far as to reduce entropy. All top-down processes are like engines -- which are simple and can only do one job, which they do inefficiently before they finally run down, overcome by entropy. This is what the intellectuals promise when they try to impose unnatural top-down processes on a natural system. They want to do so because they think they know better than anyone else what everyone else needs (though if we look at their lives, we typically see they don't even know how to run their own lives well). Their elitist attitudes --- meaning they think they are smarter than anyone else, not that they typically are -- make them think that it is they and they alone who know what is best for everyone. In the meantime, the average person is getting along just fine without them. And this, after all, is the overall -- and correct -- message of Greene's book. It is a book I wold recommend to anyone who is interested in learning the true source of prosperity in the world. Greene asks the right question, where intellectuals get it backwards. Intellectuals ask "what is the cause of poverty" -- as though wealth were what is normal. Greene asks "what is the cause of wealth" -- correctly recognizing that it is wealth which is unusual in world history, and needs to be explained. In the end, if you can't even ask the right questions, how do you expect to get the right answers?

"Common Genius" is a book everyone should read -- especially our political leaders, intellectuals, and demagogues. If anyone needs to learn how the world actually works, it is them. The rest of us already know.

One last thought: Greene observes that the differences between materially successful societies and materially unsuccessful societies boils down to having property rights protected, meaning people get the fruits of their labor, and that it has nothing to do with race, class, culture, society, or (certainly) presence or absence of intellectuals. There is only one way of knowing if this is true: we should test this by giving everyone the world over property rights protections and see what happens.