Recent comments

  • What trauma?   13 years 8 weeks ago

    I'll try to clarify the important question. Correct me if I've missed the mark.
    When not under an obligation to an external authority, why should any person behave according to what they acknowledge to be morally good?

    I can answer this question for myself, but I can't answer it for you. The answer for me is "because it makes me happy."

    Now why is it that behaving according to what I know is morally good makes me happy? Is that intrinsic to my nature? Is it my upbringing? Is it an ingrained fear of society's (culturally developed) discipline mechanisms? Unfortunately, there is no way for me to answer those questions about myself, using only myself as a subject. I can't rewind history and re-run it with myself being brought up in a different culture to see if I think and behave differently.

    Here's a link to a short discussion on Hobbesian ethics which looks at motivations for apparently altruistic acts:
    http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v2n1/samaritan.html
    What that article suggests to me is that there is more than one mechanism by which we feel the need to respond to other people's conditions, and that it isn't the same mechanisms that dominate in all people.

    By that, I'm forced to admit that the reason I feel obligated to act morally may be different from the reason that you feel obligated to act morally. For me, dispensing with belief in an external authority and an eternal reward made no change in my desire (or perceived obligation) to act morally (but hey, who am I to attribute this to anything other than behavioral inertia? ;-))

    If you're certain that without an external authority you would have no obligation to refrain from murder (other than fear of the social consequences of being found out), then I'd have to hope that your faith stays strong. ;-) However, from what little I know of you, I prefer to think that without any religion your empathy would obligate you to behave towards others in accordance with what you value for yourself, even though you might not be able to explain why.

    As I've alluded to before, I think that empathy in humans is an evolved trait that has fostered cooperation and thereby contributed to survival of the species. However, I realise that (for now at least) you don't accept human evolution, so the connection I see between survival, cooperation, empathy, and the existence of human morals is obscure for you.

    I'll have to think about whether I'll answer the personal history question here. The Vivisection of Virge exposes certain parts of Virge's brain through telling stories in light verse, expressing opinions, even having the occasional rant. So far, I've tended to steer this blog away from being an intensely personal journal.

  • Feral Fascinations   13 years 8 weeks ago

    The definition of a sonnet is not clear cut. (See http://radio.weblogs.com/0113501/2005/08/26.html#a573 for part of a discussion.) Though there are traditional forms for English and Italian sonnets, I haven't bound myself to either of those forms but I did have the Shakespearean form in mind when writing. In the canonical "three quatrains and a couplet," each quatrain expresses a thought and the couplet gives a concluding message. In moving to the terza rima rhyme scheme, I decided to build it in four tercets and a couplet so that the thoughts fit the natural divisions of the terza rima scheme.

    I see what you mean now about how "nervous inside" can imply "not nervous outside." It shows up an area in which I've chosen the words carefully, yet still failed to communicate my meaning.

    On face value, the imagery points to the speaker being a werewolf (or some similar deceptive human/animal creature). On a metaphorical level, the speaker and recipient are fully human and both have been hiding their "dark" thoughts from each other for fear of frightening each other away. The speaker is making an effort to encourage more openness.

  • Feral Fascinations   13 years 8 weeks ago

    Ah, I hadn't noticed that the end was a slant rhyme, because I was expecting a couplet at the end. It's probably not an essential part of sonnet structure (I seem to recall there is at least one style which doesn't have a final couplet. [What is essential to a sonnet -- meter and number of lines?]), but your indentation of the last two lines led me to expect one.

    So about the nervous light, nervous and reassuring both seem to be true, but the interesting thing about using nervous is that it implies that outside, by contrast, is not nervous. I think you were trying to say that.

    Finally, (and I blush to destroy the subtlety of your poem by asking such a blunt question), is the speaker a werewolf or something?

  • What trauma?   13 years 8 weeks ago

    By the way, if it doesn't offend you, I'd like to ask you a personal question: What's your history? How old were you when learning led you away from the church? What was the final straw? Were most of your friends atheistic, or religious?

    I ask purely out of curiosity. If these questions are offensive, please just delete this post. Despite being a fundamentalist, I have great respect for the trait of independent thinking (unfortunately hard to find in a pure form, and the purer, the harder), in principle.

  • What trauma?   13 years 8 weeks ago

    I'm afraid that my knowledge of enlightenment philosophers is sadly nonexistent. I speak for myself alone.
    Anyways, I'll concede 1a -- that wasn't my point. Where I lose you is going from 1a: "bad for the other person," i.e. he doesn't want/gain from your action, to making that action "bad", and imposing an obligation on you to refrain from it. I simply don't see how you can impose any obligations without recourse to some sort of external authority.

    About my last paragraph, of course I agree that leaving aside a statement of yours and drawing conclusions from the rest is bad form, but I did try to write why I didn't understand that statement (in the next-to-last paragraph). I've pretty much said what my problem is in this post, too.

  • What trauma?   13 years 8 weeks ago

    Judah,
    I think of points 2 & 3 being more than just "useful". Inasmuch as they contribute to continued existence, they can be said to be "good" (and I'm still supposing that existence itself is "good"). The question of how much pain avoidance, cooperation and empathy contribute to survival is far too big to cover here. Besides which, it would only begin to touch the subject of ethics, and without a strong background in ethics as discussed by philosophers like Hume and Kant, we'd be struggling. (I'm not sure about you, but my reading is limited here.)

    If you conceded that (1) it is better (a value judgement) to exist than not to exist, will you also concede that (1a) for another human that it is better for them to exist than not to exist? Then (assuming you've given that extra ground) do you see that it would be morally "bad" to terminate the existence of that other human? In the absence of other complicating factors this line of reasoning places a moral obligation on you to refrain from murder.

    The link from (1) to (1a) is not automatic. Any philosopher could trive a truck through the holes. The fact that your existence depends on the existence of other humans helps to plug some of those holes, but since we're talking in really loose generalities, I'm not going to try to fill any others.

    Your last paragraph seemed to reach a conclusion about what I can or can't say, based on "leaving aside" one of my statements. You can guess why I disagree with your very last sentence. ;-)

    Have you looked at how any of the enlightenment philosophers derived systems of ethics without need for a supernatural authority?

  • What trauma?   13 years 8 weeks ago

    OK, I'll try to look through talkorigins.com.

    With regard to morality, your second two points deal with survival selection, more or less what I meant by "useful delusions", or "useful conventions". You agree that they are not tied back to some "absolute". (In other words "morality" does not really have meaning, the way "happiness" or "certainty" has meaning. "Right" and "wrong" have completely arbitrary definitions--though we may happen to agree on some of the specific "right"/"wrong"s, nothing is inherently right or wrong.)

    Conceding your first point for argument's sake, all it says is that it is better for me to exist than not to exist. I don't see how it puts any obligations on me (which is what morality comes down to).

    So, leaving aside your last sentence, which I don't follow, it seems that you're saying that the only meaning in our lives is the meaning we assign to them. That's fine, and logical, but ultimately, I think it means that there is no way to apply your personal standards to others, and to say that anyone is morally "evil".

  • Feral Fascinations   13 years 8 weeks ago

    "Nervous light" was a deliberate choice. Outside is wildness, perhaps even terror for some. Inside that's reduced to nervousness, particularly since the howling can still be heard. The imagery created by "nervous" seemed to work in both the literal and metaphorical interpretations.

    The rhyme scheme breakage at the end occured when I decided that I wasn't going to stick to absolutely perfect rhymes all through. The lure/moor/explore rhyme is another example of that imperfection (although it's possible that these do rhyme in some regions).

    The very last two lines were the first lines to be written, although they did change a little as I refined them. I looked at rhymes for "mine" to use in lines 8, 10 and 12 so that I could fit to a terza rima scheme such as:
    A / B / A
    B / C / B
    C / D / C
    D / E / D
    E / D
    But the available exact rhymes didn't fit with what I wanted to say. Since there's already a special punch saved up in the very last two words, I decided to drop that rhyme requirement in favor of:
    A / B / A
    B / C / B
    C / D / C
    D / E / D
    E / F
    The fact that I ended up with a slant rhyme between the ain/ine sounds was more luck than anything else. I wasn't holding myself to it.

  • What trauma?   13 years 8 weeks ago

    Now onto morality again:
    I don't believe our morals have some absolute pre-defined teleological meaning. I believe that we, in the process of being raised in a culture and in personal relationships, assign meaning and purpose to our existences. But, please don't take that to mean that I think morals are in some way arbitrary or unimportant. They are heavily influenced by our environment (not only social but physical), yet they change over time and vary from person to person.

    You ask: "But where does even the black and white come from? Just about everyone agrees that it is wrong to murder somebody, right? But why is it?"

    One can look from a very evolutionary stand point, and say that any society that thinks murder is good will jeopardise its own chances of survival. That is, of course, too simplistic, and too prone to distortion by contrived example, so I'm not going to try to draw out the complete argument for the existence of empathy and moral behaviour in terms of species survival, but instead I'll suggest some very broad ideas you may want to consider:
    1. The idea that it is better to exist than not exist is enough to assign a value to the termination of a life.
    2. The fact that we (generally) dislike and avoid pain can be explained in terms of survival selection. Pain is a wonderful mechanism to teach self preservation.
    3. The fact that we can recognise actions that cause pain in others of our kind can also be explained in terms of survival selection. Social animals survive and thrive on the strength of the group and the ability of a group to act as a coordinated unit. Being able to perceive pain in fellow group members is a skill that promotes coordination, and consequently, the survival of the group.

    I suppose if you wanted to tie morality back to some "absolute" then you'd have to look seriously at "it is better to exist than not exist."

  • What trauma?   13 years 8 weeks ago

    Judah,

    Re: definition of theory. Yes. The "well-substantiated" part makes so much of a difference that to conflate the two distinctly different meanings of the word is absurd, yet that is what is being done whenever the much-abused "evolution is just a theory" line is quoted. You can see why it aggravates scientists.

    The points you make about
    - fossil gaps;
    - stories of past hoaxes; and
    - no proof, just an explanation that fits
    sound like the standard points made by creationists for decades.

    The fossil gaps argument is a wonderful game. Every time a new fossil (X) is found to fill a "gap" between existing fossil A and existing fossil B, giving us a much clearer picture of the evolutionary pathway for that organism, the creationists merely point to the gaps between A and X, and between X and B. For an example of where that gaps game has led to, I'd encourage you to read about exactly how small all these subdivided gaps have become in the whale evolution fossil record:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/features/whales/

    The Piltdown discovery was heavily disputed from the start by scientists. I think you'd do well to read the history of that hoax written by someone other than a creationist. Stories of past mistakes and hoaxes that have now been well and truly debunked (by scientists) do nothing to weaken the accepted evidence for evolution. I agree that it's a problem when media science writers present scientific conjectures as though they are accepted wisdom. The general uninformed reader then has no idea what parts are extremely hypothetical and undergoing vigorous debate, and what parts are accepted by everyone working in the field.

    Your point about conscious vs unconscious motivations and human weakness is fair. The need for acceptance by peers still exists. All I can do is point to the the level of vigorous debate that occurs within science and the history it has of exposing and overturning ideas that don't stand the test of time. If you haven't worked in some field of science, you could be blissfully unaware of the intensity of scientific debates, seeing only what the media presents as "exciting discoveries."
    There are lots of scientists who have tried to overturn evolution. The motivation to have their names remembered is still there and is very strong. It's not the newness of the discovery that's important (and as you note, creationism isn't new) it's providing a better explanation--one that fits all the evidence, not just carefully selected talking points.

    In order to take any of this discussion further, I think you need to familiarize yourself with the wealth of evidence for evolution. It's not just the mechanisms that are reproducible and directly observable in the lab. It's not just the "micro" changes that have been observed in lifeforms of all shapes and sizes from bacteria to mammals. It's not just the way the fossil record continues to confirm detailed predictions with every new find. I can't possibly cover it all in this format.
    There's a good summary at:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/
    There's a lot to read, but without biting the bullet and educating yourself using material that is free of creationist presuppositions, you leave yourself quoting the standard creationist talking points without understanding their flaws. You're prepared to believe that the majority of scientists are deluded by accepting evolution as a presupposition, so I know that you'll be prepared to countenance the possibility that creationists are deluded, and take seriously the evolution evidence presented.

    I'll deal with the morality questions in a separate comment.

  • Feral Fascinations   13 years 8 weeks ago

    Interesting choice of the words "nervous light". Meter aside, "reassuring light", might have fit in the same place.

    The last line breaks the sonnet rhyme scheme. What did you mean by that?

  • What trauma?   13 years 8 weeks ago

    I guess it isn't fair to say that I don't want to get into a discussion about something, and then make comments about it anyways.
    So, for the definition of a theory, "an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena," sounds the same as a hypothesis to me. A hypothesis is a hypothetical explanation advanced to explain specific phenomena, right? I assume that where your definition differs from a "hypothesis" the "well-substantiated" part. In other words, a scientific theory has reasonable proof of its truth. Am I right?
    So then, with regards to evolution, I think there has indeed been ample observation of "evolutionary mechanisms", such as viruses evolving immunity to antibiotics. When it comes to radically different species having diverged from a common ancestor, though, I think that there is far more speculation involved. There surely aren't fossils for most of the links in these processes, and many of the bones which were once taken to be remains of prehistoric forms of humans have been shown to be mistakes or frauds. (I am not saying that there are none that are now considered genuine, but there certainly have been many purported "links", in the past, which are now disowned. [for example Piltdown Man]. I think this raises doubt on the whole foundation of the conjectures scientists make that the skeletons they find represent substantially different forms of men or apes than exist today.)
    As for your genomic evidence, it seems that the various genes in men and monkeys are very similar, right? Five hundred years ago, I could have told you that men and monkeys are very similar in physical ways. I do see how this could make evolution an attractive hypothesis (in this case, not a theory with proof behind it, but a hypothesis which could explain certain facts). For my part, a creator of all life could make the different life forms as similar or different as he wanted. I see no need for evolution to explain similarities between life forms. (I wouldn't necessarily object to evolution on theological grounds, but I think that believing in a creator obviates the need for evolution to explain the differences between species.)

    As for "seduced by the crowd," with respect, I think you're being a bit disingenous with your response: "Yes, there is a strong motivation for scientists not to adopt new explanations until they clearly and conclusively improve on previous explanations." I wasn't talking about conscious motivations; I was talking about a human weakness, which virtually everyone, scientists included, is subject to, that is, the tendency to want approval from colleagues, and not to say things which are considered ridiculous by one's peers. And subconscious motivations like that one can very easily influence a man's thought processes, to the extent that he really believes that his conclusions are objective. (I certainly don't claim to be free of them myself.) Most revolutionary theories in science I can think of was rejected at first by the mainstream scientists of that day. (Take these Australians who just won the Nobel prize for their work on ulcers.) As for the counter-motivation you offered, "to make their names remembered as the discoverers of better explanations", that certainly would not apply to a scientist who decided to reject evolution in favor of creationism. Not quite a new discovery.
    So I've responded at greater length about the first stuff. Feel free to respond or not.

    The part about morality, though, I don't think I understand your viewpoint. You say I'm not speaking your language when I presuppose that it has to be backed by some external (I would rather say "absolute") authority or foundation to have meaning. But you don't really give an alternative. You just raise a bunch more moral questions about shades of grey. But where does even the black and white come from? Just about everyone agrees that it is wrong to murder somebody, right? But why is it? (I know I may have opened the door to the shades-of-grey issue with my mention of people vs. animals, but I was just trying to show the inherent illogic of morality. But forget that.)

    You say that the subject of where our morals come from is huge. But forget where they come from--do they have any meaning? Without external authority or foundation, how can they have any meaning?

    So do you believe that they are, in fact, meaningless in any absolute sense, although they may be useful as conventions? Or do you believe that they do somehow have an absolute meaning, despite their lack of "foundation"?

    PS- My posts are swelling to alarming length. We'll probably end up having to agree to disagree, if only to save the time these discussions take.

  • Ancient Aardvarks   13 years 8 weeks ago

    Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment, Chuck. It's the stories of dedicated long-term efforts that usually get ignored. The culminations of huge efforts get attention, but even then, only if they're lucky.

    I wish you faster finds in the future.

  • Ancient Aardvarks   13 years 8 weeks ago

    Of all the attention given to Fruitafossa windscheffeli, I enjoy your work the best. My friend, Wally Windscheffel (Fruitafossa's name sake) and I worked at the Fruita Paleontology Area for over 15 years before finding a fossil that was exciting enough to bring the scientists to publish. Wally and I are greatly indebted to the paleo staff at the Carnegie Museum for accepting, cataloging and now finally publishing information about one of our fossil finds!

    My comment is that your poetry contains as much information and is greatly more pleasurable and memorable than anything else I have seen written about Fruitafossa.

    You took the discovery seriously and gave it some thought. Most people, generally a little suspicious of a person who would break rocks in the hot sun for 15 summers, grant a smiling congratulation and move on to another topic

    Anyone who wants to see pictures of where the fossil was found, Windscheffel and the Carnegie staff can do so at www.carnegiemnh.org/news/05-jan-mar/fossil/

  • Setting up a gag   13 years 9 weeks ago

    Amazing! I was Googling the internet for Rosario Murabito today and hit this site.... just amazing to me that two of you knew my uncle Saro. Yes, he died in 1972. And my Aunt Grayce, his wife, just died in 2003, at the age of 94 - promoting his wonderful art right to the end! Now do either of you remember the erotic nature of most of his artwork?
    Nice link to see some of his work:
    http://www.galleriarte.it/index.htm?artisti/murabito/htm/main_Mur.htm

  • What trauma?   13 years 9 weeks ago

    Judah,
    I know you weren't wanting to get too deeply into a discussion on those first few points, but it's worth making sure we're speaking the same language. Definitions of words are important.
    Theory has more than one meaning. When scientists refer to the theory of evolution, the word is used in its scientific sense, that is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena." When creationists use the "just a theory" phrase, they are (in most cases unwittingly) misunderstanding what is meant by theory and assuming it is merely the common "hypothesis" definition. The theory of evolution is a scientific theory, but no, it is not "Like pretty much everything." It is a working explanation of the diversity and mechanics of life that unpins all modern biology.

    The "seduced by the crowd" explanation for the general acceptance of evolution also relies on a misunderstanding of the process of science. Yes, there is a strong motivation for scientists not to adopt new explanations until they clearly and conclusively improve on previous explanations. But, there is also a strong motivation (call it ego-driven if you like) for scientists to make their names remembered as the discoverers of better explanations. Science thrives on criticism, not on conformity.

    The evidence for evolution comes from more than just the fossil record. Studies of mutation and selection in bacteria, plants, fast breeding insects and small animals provide direct, repeatable measurements of evolutionary mechanisms. Over the last decade, genomic studies have provided more evidence than you can point a stick at. See Carl Zimmer's entry on bioinformatics for a (relatively) new area that is opening up and providing new evidence.
    http://www.corante.com/loom/archives/2005/10/16/whats_a_gene_for.php

    Now, on to the subject of morality.

    This is definitely an area where I can see we're not speaking the same language. Your question, "where does it get its authority?" presupposes that morality has to be backed by some external authority or foundation. When you ask for "logic to distinguish between humans and animals," you're looking for some simple definition to be able to categorize entities into clearly delimited groups. Once we get above the quantum level, practically everything we encounter has shades of grey rather than clearly marked boundaries.

    Look at birth and death. At what point in growth does a potential human change from a bunch of cells to a sentient being? At what point can an embryo sense pain? At what point does a comatose patient on life support cease to be living? Look at human defects. Compare a severly intellectually disabled human with a chimp. Which is more deserving of "rights"? Does it depend on being born of human parents, or does it depend on displaying levels of intelligence that we associate with being human? How do we make those decisions? There are no black and white answers constructed on an external reference; there are only conventions that we adopt to simplify our understanding of the world.

    The subject of where our morals come from is huge. All I can do is to point to a summary article like
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality
    as a kick-off point. There are no easy answers.

  • What trauma?   13 years 9 weeks ago

    As someone who is basically a fundamentalist, although not a Christian, I won't try to address "only-a-theory" (it is, right? Like pretty much everything), "all-scientists-have-been-duped" (although it is very easy to be seduced into following the crowd, whether you're a scientist or a fundamentalist. I wouldn't necessarily say duped, but...influenced, perhaps?) or "not-a-clue-about-science" (very possibly I fall into this category. I'm certainly not well-versed in the proofs for evolution, if that is the subject at hand. Do they all have to do with fossil records, or is there something else?). Fine, I addressed them in a way, but not really.

    But as far as morality goes, sure, a sense of morality is innate in all people, atheists definitely included. But if you don't believe that ultimately, this sense of morality, and morality itself, come from some supreme being, then what is it based on? Is it just an arrangement of convenience, or is it more than that? And if it's more than that, where does it get its authority? And what is the logic to distinguish between humans and animals, say, in giving them rights in our moral system? If you don't believe in a God, I would say that any "higher" code of morality is just a delusion (a useful one, but a delusion all the same).

  • What trauma?   13 years 10 weeks ago

    Meredith, exactly which statement were you contesting? Was it something I said in the main post, or something from the comments?

    When I speak of Christian fundamentalists, I don't use the term loosely; I refer to those who treat the Bible as literal truth--the ultimate authority.

  • What trauma?   13 years 10 weeks ago

    i'd have to contest the statement that all Christians believe such things.

    Unless your definition of "fundamentalist" (a fairly loose term, like "evangelical) simply includes narrowminded bigots.

    It is possible to believe Christianity and not commit intellectual suicide in the process. Regretfully, many people do just that in their "leap of faith".

  • Tap Dancing   13 years 10 weeks ago

    Thanks, Judah and Leah.

    Judah,
    I ended up deciding to leave it with a hole for the reader to fill by interpolation. I was tempted to fill it, but felt that there was more impact in the final verse by leaving it open.

    The newspaper reports the police response immediately after the murder. Even if they had absolutely no leads to follow, based on Terrence's self-centered character one would expect that he'd refuse to accept Bettina's letter as the final word. His demise is inevitable, no matter which way his obsession drives him.

    I started writing this at the end of August. It may surprise you to know that this is one of the happier endings I considered. Another had Terrence becoming depressed, leading to the following final lines:

    He clumsily clomps out his corny old capers;
    He stumbles and staggers; he storms.
    He's Terrence the tearfully terminal tapir:
    Old minefields are where he performs.

    That ending would have been too depressing, and inconsistent with Terrence's overconfidence.

    I do confess to playing with the readers' emotions. I set up the expectation of a perfect match (two talented dancing tapirs, separated by an interfering manager) then dashed it by exposing how shallow they were.

    Leah,
    You must write more. Poetry has been struggling under the oppressive thumb of "serious" poets for too long. Light humorous verse writers must fight to restore rhyming metrical verse to its rightful place in western culture.

  • Tap Dancing   13 years 10 weeks ago

    This is great!!! Better than the best rhyming poem i ever wrote, which is this one:

    I've got demands more politic
    Than I'll take this in a size six!
    Debates more intellectual than
    Would I look cuter twice as tan?
    And I've much smarter things to say
    Than Gosh, your hair looks smooth today!
    And wow, your nails are super strong!
    Are they acrylic? Or just long?
    I'd like to think I'm worth a stink
    Not just when I'm dolled up all pink.
    But then, it's not I who will try it.
    Hey, You sure this soda's diet?

  • Tap Dancing   13 years 10 weeks ago

    You are so awesome, Virge.
    One thing I didn't quite follow, though: How did Terrence end up sentenced for life? Not for stalking, right? And they didn't know who killed Bart. So I'm guessing he killed Bettina too, but could you confirm this for me? Sorry for my obtuseness.

    And I wish it had a happier ending. And I didn't like any of the characters.

  • Virge's Guestbook   13 years 10 weeks ago

    loved your galleries, The Garden pics are simply beautiful !!!

  • X-Mice   13 years 11 weeks ago

    dewer flask -> Dewar flask
    I guess the term is uncommon enough that the misspelling and lack of capitalization didn't stand out.

  • X-Mice   13 years 11 weeks ago

    You know, it completely eluded my radar. Weird. I can normally spot a spelling mistake five miles out, with blinders on!