Goodreads Profile

All my book reviews and profile can be found here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Truthdig - President Jonah

Truthdig - President Jonah

Has the United States under Bush come to resemble Rome before the fall? Gore Vidal thinks so.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Mark Twain and Joseph Smith

Mark Twain on the Book of Mormon: "Chloroform in print."

String Theory, God, and Intelligent Design

I won't pretend to come even close to understanding string theory. The New York Times Book Review just published a review of The Cosmic Landscape by Leonard Susskind that contains some interesting observations. I'll quote:

"Although string theory resists translation into ordinary language, its central conceit boils down to this: All the different particles and forces in the universe are composed of wriggling strands of energy whose properties depend solely on the mode of their vibration. Understand the properties of those strands, the thinking once went, and you will understand why the universe is the way it is. Recent work, most notably by Joseph Polchinski of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has dashed that hope. The latest version of string theory (now rechristened M-theory for reasons that even the founder of M-theory cannot explain) does not yield a single model of physics. Rather, it yields a gargantuan number of models: about 10500, give or take a few trillion.

Not one to despair over lemons, Susskind finds lemonade in that insane-sounding result. He proposes that those 10500 possibilities represent not a flaw in string theory but a profound insight into the nature of reality. Each potential model, he suggests, corresponds to an actual place - another universe as real as our own. In the spirit of kooky science and good science fiction, he coins new names to go with these new possibilities. He calls the enormous range of environments governed by all the possible laws of physics the "Landscape." The near-infinite collection of pocket universes described by those various laws becomes the "megaverse."

Susskind eagerly embraces the megaverse interpretation because it offers a way to blow right through the intelligent design challenge. If every type of universe exists, there is no need to invoke God (or an unknown master theory of physics) to explain why one of them ended up like ours. Furthermore, it is inevitable that we would find ourselves in a universe well suited to life, since life can arise only in those types of universes. This circular-sounding argument - that the universe we inhabit is fine-tuned for human biology because otherwise we would not be here to see it - is known as the Anthropic Principle and is reviled by many cosmologists as a piece of vacuous sophistry. But if ours is just one of a near-infinite variety of universes, the Anthropic Principle starts to sound more reasonable, akin to saying that we find ourselves on Earth rather than on Jupiter because Earth has the mild temperatures and liquid water needed for our kind of life."

To read the entire fascinating review, click here.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bees and Intelligent Design

A tenet of Intelligent Design supporters has always been that only a creator or intelligence could have designed how bees fly and no one until now had actually figured out how they do it. Now they have:

James Frey and Times Warner

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey sold many thousands of copies, especially after the author appeared on Oprah's show and she picked his book for her book club. Recently, The Smoking Gun (an investigative web site owned by Court TV - the channel that brought us The Psychic Detective) claimed on their website that Frey had invented incidents he had related in his book. It's a "memoir" about his "redemption" from alcohol and drug addiction. Frey went on the Larry King Show and said basically that he had originally wanted to publish the book as fiction (the 1st edition of the book was so labeled) but that the editors thought it should be promoted as a non-fiction memoir (the paperback Oprah edition was so labeled.) His defenders have rushed to support him (a particularly amusing moment of mutual self-promotion occurred when Oprah called Larry King and claimed his lines has been so busy she couldn't get through - yeah right.)

In a little noticed disclaimer at the beginning of his show, King went through the companies that owned his show, Random House, etc. and low and behold, Time/Warner owns Court TV, CNN, Oprah's Channel, Random House and Warner Bros, the studio that will soon release a movie version of Frey's book.

Makes you wonder. Personally, I think the whole brouhaha is a cleverly orchestrated marketing ploy to hype Frey's book and generate interest in the movie. All memoirs embellish and recount memories selectively. What's the big deal, here? Making money is what it's all about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Chance and the Dover School Board

Intelligent Design theory postulates that complexity requires intelligence, i.e. that life is too improbably to have come about by chance and therefore must have been “created” by an intelligent designer. Leaving aside the issue of the Intelligent Designer’s complexity and how logically that “being” must have therefore been created as well, and ignoring the arrogant yet prosaic definition of life contained in their assumptions, using the Discovery Institute’s (the foundation devoted to promotion of creationist and intelligent design theories) own numbers, chance and random becomes quite likely rather than improbable. For example, if so called coincidences or “miracles” have a one in a million chance of occurrence per day, an extremely unlikely event, then a country with a population of 280 million will have a likelihood of 280 such unlikely events each day.

The Discovery Institute’s film “The Privileged Planet” argues that the chances of the conditions for life (oxygen –although many microbes and other life forms can exist in an anaerobic environment, -- a sun, recycling carbon, etc.,) are 1/100,000,000,000,000. The chances of that happening are so remote that they must have been controlled by an intelligent designer. That means the odds of there being another habitable planet are .0000000000001%. Assuming that a star system contains a habitable planet are 1/1000000000, a very conservative estimate (astronomers actually find planets in 1 in 10 star systems). There are conservatively about 10,000 billion star systems. Simple math then tells us that by chance alone there should be one billion habitable planets.

Using coincidence to prove a point is dangerous indeed. Lincoln was elected in 1846, Kennedy in 1964. Both were shot in the head, both were succeeded by Johnsons, both of whom were southerners and both were shot by southerners. Both were killed by men with 15 letters in their names; Booth was born in 1839 and Oswald in 1939, etc. The conclusion inevitably must be there lies an Intelligent Assassin behind it all.

Liberally borrowed from eskeptic

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Philip Pullman's Anti-Narnia

An article in a recent New Yorker contrasts C.S. Lewis fantasy writing with that of Philip Pullman. It contains some delicious quotes:

On the Oxford library where he was a student: "It was intimidating. It's a place of strict rules and arcane ceremonies."

"One of Pullman's beliefs is that your life begins when you are born, but your life story begins when you realize that you were delivered into the wrong family by mistake."

"The 'Lord of the Rings,'" he says, "is fundamentally an infantile work. Tolkien is not interested in the way grownup, adult human beings interact with each other. He's interested in maps and plans and languages and codes."

Pullman finds C.S. Lewis's Narnia series to be "morally loathsome." It contains "misogyny, racism, and a sado-masochistic relish for violence that permeates the whole cycle." The series teaches that "death is better than life, boys are better than girls. . . . and so on There are no shortages of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it."

Pullman writes largely fictional books for children (although they are quite popular with adults - great stories dealing with complex issues ) he told a group of British librarians who had given him an award that, "There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book. In adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. . . .The present-day would be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs."