Monthly Archives: November 2005

Southern Style

Visitors to this site (they already number in the tens, in just a few short months) may have noticed the “Martial Arts” link category over in the sidebar. As of this writing there are four links, of which three-quarters seem to be about something called “Hung Ga”, or “Hung Gar”.

So what’s the deal? I shall explain.

Small World

I have a new toy:

My parents, who are, shall we say, “getting on”, and who are less capable physically than they once were, have moved to smaller quarters, and needed to get rid of some of their stuff. Some was sold, some thrown out, and some redistributed to friends and family. My father, not needing it anymore, entrusted to me his microscope.

Now this isn’t just any old microscope. It’s a Wild M20, made in Switzerland, and considered by many to be the finest optical microscope ever made. My father bought it in London, his hometown, in the 1950s, when he was just beginning his career as a medical researcher. Though it is not particularly large, it is surprisingly heavy, and its dense metal body is finished in deep, lustrous black. Its interlocking parts, even after fifty years, move with exquisite precision, and without the slightest play. The optics are incomparable. Though it is a purely functional object, I find it almost hypnotically beautiful.

I know little about the practical techniques of microscopy, but I intend to learn. What a gift! I think of the legions of the curious throughout the ages who would have given their eyeteeth for such an instrument, and feel that I owe it to them to learn to use this fantastic tool, and to use it reverently and well.

You can read about the Wild M20 here, and here.

Thanks, Dad.

The Noble Savage: Whacked

Here’s an uplifting headline:

Man from 1,500 years ago had violent death

It’s the story of an aboriginal Australian who “was repeatedly speared and then axed,” according to the scientists who found him.

“He sure trod on someone’s toes,” said Allen Madden, cultural and heritage officer for the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.

You can read the story here.

Welcome to the Machine

I’m fond of metaphors. In fact – with apologies to Will Rogers – I never metaphor I didn’t like. Here’s one that seems rather apt to me lately:

Life is a Pachinko machine.

Plato’s Retreat

Are there abstract objects? Do numbers, for example, have an existence that is independent of our minds? This is one of the Big Questions, and has been a recent topic of debate over at Maverick Philosopher, where I have been outnumbered as usual. It’s a pretty tough room for materialists, that place.

What, exactly, have we been wrangling over? Consider the following proposition:

The statement “3 is prime” was true even before there were any minds to conceive it.

Is this true? Bill Vallicella and company say it is (and seemed a bit shocked that I might think otherwise), but I think the question is more subtle that they realize, and doesn’t have a simple yes-or-no answer. Here’s the view I am proposing:

Amen, Brother.

Here’s Charles Krauthammer, in today’s Washington Post, getting off a shot at “Intelligent Design”:

“How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education, too.”

Read the full article here.

Live Free or Die, or Whatever

I’ve just spent a few days at PubSub’s Granite State Research Kitchen up in Nashua, NH. It’s in an enormous brick building that used to be a textile mill back in New Hampshire’s industrial heyday. A lot of these old piles, which are all over the place up there, have now been converted into high-tech office complexes, pottery studios, and cutesy-poo shopping malls.

The first thing you see when you enter the building is a larger-than-life wooden cigar-store Indian. He looks pretty much like the prefab one in this picture (I found this image here - hope its owners don’t mind):


Shading his eyes, the brawny warrior gazes past you into the distance as you come through the front door. Is he scanning the blue horizon for smoke signals? Following the flight of a soaring eagle? I doubt it. My feeling is that he is probably too embarrassed to make eye contact, not only because his descending career arc has brought him from hunting bison on the majestic plains of the West all the way down to hawking handfuls of Presidentes, but also because he has apparently been coerced into wearing, as a token of his subjugation, a fetching, knee-length, American-flag skirt.

I find it interesting that you can get away with that up in New Hampshire. Here in Gotham you’d have picketers outside your place in about twenty minutes.

Location, Location, Location

Here’s an interesting item:

A Miami-based film director is spending $100,000 on a piece of property. He plans to turn the location into a big-game hunting resort. What makes the venture somewhat unusual is that what will be hunted is “dinosaur-like monsters”, and that the property is located inside the online game Project Entropia.

They say the real-estate bubble may have burst. So who needs “real”?

You’ve Got Questions? They’ve Got Answers.

I’ve been spending a lot of time around philosophers lately, and I’ve noticed something.

Before I begin, let me say, for purposes of full disclosure, that although I have had a lifelong interest in philosophy, I was raised by two scientists. My mother is a physical anthropologist, and my father, an immunologist, did the research that led to the eradication of rH hemolytic disease. He was in fact recently considered for the Nobel Prize.

So, despite my deep and genuine admiration (envy, even, on occasion) for the purity and discipline of the trained philosophical mind, sometimes I can feel a bit, shall we say, conflicted. And although what we now call science (a relatively recent arrival) was, in its infancy, known as “natural philosophy”, science and philosophy are two different things entirely.

The Coldest Turkey

I’ve just read, on my wife Nina’s recommendation, the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Here is the first paragraph:

I wake to the drone of an airplane engine and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin. I lift my hand to feel my face. My front four teeth are gone, I have a hole in my cheek, my nose is broken and my eyes are swollen nearly shut. I open them and I look around and I’m in the back of a plane and there’s no one near me. I look at my clothes and my clothes are covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood.

The book is the story of Frey’s six weeks, at age 23, at an elite detoxification clinic in Minneapolis. It is a horrifying tale. I have known an awful lot of drug addicts and alcoholics in my day, and have peered over the edge of that abyss at times myself, but Mr. Frey, I have to say, raises the bar. He has, by the beginning of this story, been a dedicated alcoholic for ten years, and an obsessive crackhead for three. He has spent every day for years pumping booze and drugs into himself until he blacks out. He has destroyed every relationship he has ever had with anyone, is wanted in three states for various antisocial acts, and has brought himself to the uttermost brink of death.

Response and Recap

I’ve been spending a lot of time over at Bill Vallicella’s place lately, as anyone who reads these posts is bound to have noticed. We’ve been arguing dualism vs. phsyicalism, and the fur has been flying. Here’s a recap. I apologize if this post is of rather unseemly length.

Let There Be Intentionality

As I walked along William Street in Lower Manhattan yesterday morning on my way to the PubSub command center, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a dazzling light twenty feet or so off the ground. Looking up at it I couldn’t make out what it was for a moment, then realized that it was only a metal fixture attached to a building. It wasn’t really any sort of lamp at all, but was catching a thin shaft of sunlight (the streets are narrow, and the buildings tall, in the Financial District) and bouncing it my way. This was an interesting perceptive shift; at first I had thought I was seeing a primary light source, then realized that its illuminative virtue was not intrinsic but contextual.

I was immediately struck by what an apt metaphor this was for the topic of derived vs. intrinsic intentionality.

Have a Holly Jolly Diwali

Today, the new Moon, is the day of Diwali. From Wikipedia:

Diwālī or Dīpāvali (also transliterated Deepavali; Sanskrit: row of lights) is the Hindu Festival of Lights. For Jains it is one of the most important festivals, and beginning of the Jain year. It is also a significant festival for the Sikh faith.