Archive for March, 2007

links for 2007-03-31

links for 2007-03-27

links for 2007-03-24

Some housekeeping

I just realized I haven’t posted here in something like 5 months. I’ll have an actual, substantive post on translations up in a day or so, but, in the meantime, here are a couple of quick site-related notes:

  1. As I’m sure you’ve already noticed, I got rid of the old linklist and, instead, am having my links automatically posted as a regular entry each night using this trick. If I ever have any free time, I’ll try to play with the CSS a bit to visually distinguish these from other posts, but it may take a while.

  2. I started a tumblelog on Tumblr after seeing what Gina Trapani did with You can check it out here. Currently it’s basically just a collection of my links and my most recent Flickr photos, but I really like the tumblelog concept and the Tumblr toolset, so I hope to (a) keep it going and (b) make it into something worthwhile. To be honest, the smaller format fits better with my current lifestyle (read: time constraints) than the more expansive format of the blog. As always, let me know if you have any suggestions.

Paying unto the new emperors their due

Science directly challenges only theological doctrines, not belief in God. Whether that means that it does or not does not constitute a threat to religion I suppose depends on one’s definition of religion. It’s true that for some people it represents a justification for atheism, like Richard Dawkins, but for others, like John Polkinghorne, it simply means a more intellectual, articulate appreciation of God’s works. There may well be more that drift towards atheism with a growing understanding of scientific theories than go the other direction, but it’s not a question that lends itself, or at least has not lent itself in the past, to objective proof or refutation (except in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, where God’s Final Message to His Creatures is written in huge letters on a cliff face), it ultimately comes mostly comes down to temperament and personal inclination anyway. Some might claim that’s because it’s fundamentally rooted in a simple emotional response to everything which lies beyond the scope of discrete analysis. In any case, the religious impulse can and does take root in any soil imaginable.

Scientific theories ultimately challenge not the idea of God but of previous explanations of divine workings. One can posit a God at the root of a relativistic, quantum universe as well as of a Ptolemaic one, but reconciling it with the story in Genesis is a lot harder. Still, the devoutly religious tend to be teleological, regarding the beliefs that people have as more important than how they arrived at them, whereas scientists at least purport to be procedural, investing value in the scrupulousness with which they investigate before arriving at conclusions, whatever those might be. Interestingly, one of the greatest religious thinkers of the modern era, Kierkegaard, was also somewhat of a proceduralist, although, from the perspective of a rationalist, somewhat perversely. He thought the grandeur of faith arises from the very fact of its resistance to doubt. This may not be a very social view of religion, but it has the distinct advantage of actually being buttressed by intellectual assault. So if the religious took this view of things, not only could they reduce secular thought from the level of a legitimate intellectual challenge to a mere temptation, they could even comfort themselves with the knowledge that its increasing predominance in the world could actually make them better believers. Not a bad result for everyone involved.

links for 2007-03-20

links for 2007-03-17

links for 2007-03-15

links for 2007-03-14

Kant, Berkeley, too obscure to be mentioned here

I don’t know if it’s a good sign to feel nostalgic about one’s life two years ago, but reading the piece linked to below about “bio-centrism” really reminded me of my state of mind then, when I was intent on proving the non-existence of time as a discreet property of the universe. The conclusion I eventually I reached was that time is a frame of perception, like space. The thing is, though, this was essentially Kant’s conclusion before mine. The author of the article, Robert Lanza, also offers this answer, but of all the names he brings up in support of his theory, Kant’s name is rather conspicuously missing (as is Bishop Berkeley, for that matter).

The problem is there’s an unstable oscillation at the center of the theory. Because while the contention that space and time are frames of conscious perception rather than discreet phenomena seems very plausible to me, that’s not the same as claiming that they don’t exist. Space and time are definitely phenomena of conscious perception; trying to then claim that don’t “really” exist seems to be an illegitimate attempt to reclaim a standard of objective material existence or non-existence outside of the purvew of subjective perception. If something exists as a perception, and perceptions are all, by what standard can one claim that it doesn’t really exist? In fact, by this logic the reality of space and time should be more firmly established than almost anything else. Just like one’s field of vision: objects can come and go from it, but the boundaries of the field of vision are more constant than anything within it.

The term “bio-centrism” also seems slightly misleading: my brother’s (or whoever’s) labelling of it as “the new idealism” is much more appropriate. Again, the prefix “bio-” evokes biology, a field in which materialism may be losing its sway but which is still predicated on a basic belief in the objective externality of the phenomena it is studying, not the idealism that Lanza is trumpeting. The term “bio-centrism” had me anticipating a theory based not on demolishing all the certitudes of chemistry and physics but simply on a claim for the autonomy of living things from their material physical properties. Because it’s true that living things at some level don’t seem to be reducible to their physical properties: they behave differently than other material things. For instrumental purposes this seems like a more useful starting point than vague idealist talk about the subjective construction of the universe by the perceiver, although I’m certainly not opposed to that on a philosophical level.