jeffrey smith

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About jeffrey smith

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  1. I believe that all these stories end in the triumphant heroes "settl[ing] down to a life of despair" because the thrust of the victory over evil tend to be that this is only temporary and the characters seem to be aware that the universe is a much darker place. I wasn't as impressed with "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," but it's been a long time since I read it. If I were forced to choose among his stories -- and I don't think of him as a great writer or his stories as great writing, but some of that might be more due to my preferences than any objective criteria I could muster -- I'd probably go with At the Mountains of Madness or "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" as being his best. (I also believe both Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural and Dagon are fairly good screen adaptations of the latter -- with Dagon being the more faithful one.) There is a lot of Lovecraft which is written in an overly stylized manner, and in which the formula behind the plot is much too evident. You know what is going to happen before half the story is over: you just don't know how the details will work out. And the vocabular of course seems to be purposely dated. (I have yet to hear the word "eldritch") used in a piece of writing or a conversation that is not on the subect of horror stories.) I think that is what Jeff R. meant by slipshod technique. And some of them are more exercises in atmospherics than actual story telling; and in fact the two stories you picked as your favorites are good examples of that kind of piece--more heavy on atmospherics than on delivering any actual horror, although without the bad writing style and obvious reliance on formulas. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward suffers from none of this--and besides that, it is intricately plotted, and it leaves some of its horrors merely referred to, and doesn't try to clarify ever point. (For instance, we never come close to being told exactly what historic figure is raised from the dead by the doctor in his exploration of the underground chambers, or what happens to him after he rids the world of Hutchinson and Orne.) The Dunwich Horror and Dreams in the Witch House are two others that are almost as good. Jeffrey S.
  2. Obviously not the Sixth or Ninth Symphonies, Fidelio, the Choral Fantasy, most of the string quartets and piano sonatas.... If she thought Beethoven's music expressed the "Malevolent universe" idea, then what was her reaction to Mahler? Run screaming from the room? Jeffrey S.
  3. Aaron, you have just pointed out why I don't think anyone will try another hijacking for a while. Nobody is going to assume that it is just a "joyride to Cuba." There is one culprit that is still forgotten, however. That culprit is government disarmament of innocent people. Wherever it happens, whenever some nutjob starts killing a bunch of people, you can bet that he is doing it in someplace where "the law" has disarmed the victims. It could be Columbine or Virginia Tech. It could be an airplane hijacking. Whenever I read similar comments, I start to wonder why people don't realize that's actually more fantasy than realistic. To have an effective response to a person on a killing spree requires a good deal more than just one person or more in the immediate area with a gun. It requires a person who is not just armed with a weapon but also mentally prepared and mentally agile enough to 1)respond quickly (IOW, get his gun out, loaded and cocked immediately) 2)respond accurately (IOW, make sure he can hit his target, which means he has to be in a proper position--no obstructions between him and the killer, whether objects or people) and 3)have the mindset to respond lethally: anyone can fire a gun accurately with enough training, but not everyone can summon up the mental attitude needed to actually shoot to kill. In short, you need a soldier or the equivalent, and need him to be sited effectively. That can never be counted on. Jeffrey S.
  4. I hope the author of that article has received the treatment he needs for his obvious paranoid schizophrenia. It departs so severely from reality in places that it seems to describe an alternate universe. Jeffrey S.
  5. Who was George Gilder and why did he earn the ire of Ayn, the wrath of Rand? Jeffrey S.
  6. Very good essay. The only criticism I would make of it is that in at least some of the stories, "the good guys" win out, even if some of them, or some of the innocent, die before victory is won: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Dunwich Horror, Lurking Fear are good examples of this--and in each of them, it's a scientist or a group of scientists--researchers using reason and the scientific method to analyze the data--who defeat the evil. I actually read very little horror, but I would nominate The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as one of the best written stories in American literature, horror and non-horror included. Jeffrey Smith
  7. I disagree in regards to evolution. I think Christian fundamentalists -- I did not introduce "Creationist" here; you did -- have done their best to keep evolution out of the classroom. (Putting Creationism in is another story and one I didn't raise here.) Granted, had they not done so, it's likely government schools across America would still be teaching watered down, decades old theories about evolution -- the equivalent of how physics is taught at that level. I would suggest this is not a new problem. I was in elementary school in the middle and late sixties, and middle/high school in the early to mid seventies. I picked up a generalized knowledge of evolution from reading and PBS shows, but as best as I can remember, I was never formally taught evolution by any science teacher. My only formal exposure to evolution came English class, when we read some of Huxley's essays, history, in dealing with the 19th century, and a philosophy class in twelfth grade that included Spencer as one of its topics. It's important to note that I was in AP classes in high school, and Huxley and Spencer were not taught to the regular classes. So evolution was not being taught by science teachers in public school thirty and forty years ago, when the influence of the evangelicals was at a relative ebbtide. Jeffrey S.
  8. [quote name='George H. Smith' date='14 April 2010 - 11:59 I tell you what: Watch this YouTube video that I made a long time ago, "Bad Jokes and Good Jazz," and tell me what you think I am denying the metaphysical importance of. <object width="445" height="364"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-7IVXG9dKw&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1"></param><param'>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-7IVXG9dKw&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-7IVXG9dKw&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="445" height="364"></embed></object> Ghs My apologies, but I'm one of those benighted people who are on dial up, so I only watch the shortest of Youtubes. Jeffrey S.
  9. Near the beginning of Woody Allen's "Manhattan," there is a scene where a woman is discussing sex with some people at a cocktail party. She says, "I recently had my first orgasm, but my psychiatrist told me it was the wrong kind." Allen's character replies, "That's funny; all my orgasms have been right on the money." I laugh at this line every time I watch the movie, but I don't believe I am denying the metaphysical importance of orgasms. On the contrary, orgasms rank near the top of my metaphysical "to do" list. 8-) Ghs But isn't the Allen joke aimed at psychiatrists and people being undeservedly pompous about their psychiatric knowledge, and not aimed at orgasm? Jeffrey S.
  10. This is a straw man argument. If a crime is occurring and I am in a position to do something about it, I am going to do something. However, there is nothing I can do if a rape is occurring 1000 miles away or even 100 miles away. I am not Superman, nor do I have a transporter like the one on Star Trek. In fact, there is no way for me to know when and where rapes are occurring if they are not within immediate sight and earshot. There is no point in worrying about things that I can not control. I do not have the power to render nuclear weapons harmless. I can't even stop bullets, so I can hardly expect to stop missiles, fighter jets, or tanks. I can only impact what my own country does and does not do. Even with regard to that, my power is quite limited. I gave a little money to Doctors without Borders right after the earthquake in Haiti. I'm probably the only one on this board who did. I gave, but not to Doctors Without Borders, since I consider them to be actively aiding and abetting Hamas's terrorism against Israel. Instead, I gave to an organization that would further my values, which in this case call for a Jewish organization. I want those aid recipients to know that it is not just anyone who is helping them, but that it is Jews who are helping them. So I gave, on a regular basis, to a Jewish organization (American Jewish World Services)which seems to concentrate on economically helping individuals become producers in one way or another. I considered giving to another Jewish organization until I found on their website a description of their efforts which includes helping people navigate the system so they can receive as much government aid as possible--then they went down the tubes as far as I am concerned. BTW, Chris, when I read your original remarks, I understood them to mean simply that you had no exterior imposed duty to others, not that you were anti-Semitic, or sociopathic, or anything else. Jeffrey S.
  11. This could a separate discussion -- and a long one at that. The Fermi Paradox rests on the seeming lack of other intelligent life (i.e., humans has not discovered intelligent life elsewhere yet despite the dozens of postcards we sent) coupled with the seeming presence of conditions all over the place for such to evolve. Regarding humans only be able to get to the Moon -- as far as manned spaceflight -- the problem is that you're generalizing from one data point to the whole universe. (Of course, this one example is the problem for all Fermi Paradox speculation. Imagine if you had to similarly explain an absence of some expected outcome from much theoretical speculation coupled with only one data point.) But this example is telling. Humans made it to the Moon four decades ago -- in other words, with technology that older than four decades. It seems not to be pushing the limit to speculate that the reason humans didn't, say, colonize the Moon and move on to Mars or build space habitats is not a technological problem -- as the technology is already decades old. Let's follow this speculation a little further. Imagine all across the galaxy -- just sticking to this galaxy -- there were also hundreds of other worlds with similar civilizations -- ones capable of space travel and settlement, though not necessarily carrying it out. Out of the hundreds, would you expect every last one to have exactly the same history -- i.e., to develop the technology, do a flags and footprint mission, and decide to focus on other things? Surely, maybe some of them would go that route, but every last one? I think it sounds unlikely -- though, of course, this is just my speculation and I can't present some solid case for my speculation. Let's just say I'm right. If so, some of them should be doing things like moving off world, colonizing other planets, building space habits, and maybe doing megascale engineering projects. I.e., making a racket that everyone else might detect. Now, let's move this out a bit further. Why would they all start at exactly the same time? Looking over the history of life on Earth, I see a history of catastrophes that seem to have reset the clock a few times -- I mean, being biased here toward intelligent life -- wiped out the most intelligent forms and made, it seems, the rise toward intelligence slip back. Granted, on hundreds of other worlds -- let's say there are literally hundreds of ones with life on them -- complex life might not have evolved or might have faced far worse catastrophes. But it's also possible that Earth is average and some worlds would be above average -- e.g., have better conditions, have fewer catastrophes, have faster evolution toward technological civilization. There's no reason to think it takes 4.5 billion years to get from molten rock to space flight and radio astronomy. (Even if it did, all the worlds probably didn't start exactly 4.5 billion years ago.) I'd expect a least handful to be ahead of the curve (and perhaps a bigger handful to be way behind it -- never getting more than bacteria or being sterile from some really bad luck). Now ahead of the curve here can mean much. Think if technological civilizations advance at the same rate -- a simplifying assumption as I'd expect different rates of advance. What would a civilization just a hundred years ahead of current human civilization be capable of? I reckon much more than just flags and footprints missions to the Moon -- just as one just a hundred years behind is hardly capable of getting into the air. In fact, some serious estimates are that just being able to get off world and settle space and other planets would, in less than a million years, lead any civilization just expanding at a normal pace -- like some sort of space Polynesians and not necessarily planning to migrate across the stars -- to colonize the whole galaxy. In other words, you wouldn't miss them; they'd be here or close by and certainly making noise enough to be noticed. So, this brings us back to Fermi Paradox: Where are they? One set of explanations offered is that there's some sort of filter or set of filters that weeds out civilizations, such as Sagan's view that some civilizations develop nuclear weapons and wipe themselves out. I think this links back to the Medea Hypothesis: it might, if true, act as a filter, keeping the the prevalence of life or complex life down enough that it solves the Fermi Paradox. (I'm not saying I agree here -- just trying to present a case for discussion.) One wrinkle to add to this is that whatever civilizations there are would not all start off at the same point in time. When humans first appeared on Earth, the equivalent life form on Planet A might have already been established and developing for 500,000 years, while on Planet B the same point might not be reached for another two million years. And so forth. So it's possible that there have been plenty of civilizations that went into space but died off millions of years before man appeared here, and it's possible that we are the first species in the universe (or at least the galaxy) to arrive at the point that even limited space travel is possible. Or such civilizations may exist, but too distant for us to know they are there. Consider a civilization that achieved limited space travel (so that it could travel between neighboring planets) half a million years ago. If it is located in a stellars system two million years from us, it will be another 1.5 million years before we can even think about receiving evidence of its existence (through radio signals, etc.). Similarly, that civilization won't receive our first radio signals for not quite another 2 million years. Jeffrey S. I thought I did cover that civilizations might not all start at the same time above, but let's leave that aside. I think a solution to the paradox that assumes the lack of evidence is explained because other civilizations simply arer not close enough to yet be detected is in danger of making an ad hoc hypothesis -- one that merely fits the data -- and what's more one that can easily be altered so that it can't be tested or falsified. How so? If you wait around, say, 1.5 million years and still don't detect them, then you can revise the hypothesis saying they must be farther away. (Of course, it might actually be the case, but it seems very odd that humans would be first within a certain radius.) In particular, one would have to ask why only one civilization within whatever range one cares to imagine. (And this sort of proposal has been made before in a more extreme form. Even assuming the universe is infinite, one can imagine civilizations so far apart that they never detect each other. but that seems like assuming there are ghosts but they happen to manifest themselves only when no one's looking.) Why only one in such a radius over a certain period of time? And, again, looking at the history of life on Earth it seems quite possible that if life evolved in many other places, in some of those other places it might've gotten to the technological civilization stage much sooner (and in some much latter or not at all). I was using the 1.5 million years figure as an illustration of the problem, not as a hypothesis. However, if you think of it, we humans are the first within a certain radius to achieve space travel. The only question is how large is that radius. Jeffrey S.
  12. How you could possibly arrive at this conclusion escapes me. The second sentence of the passage quoted above from Galt's Speech: if you read it as a precise expression of her ideas, it implies that the self is not a "something" since consciousness must be aware of "something"s yet can't be aware of itself. As I said above, this is a somewhat absurd implication given everything else Rand said. The only other way I can read that sentence is to imply that consciousness is awareness of something which is not our own self. IOW, we become aware of entity A and as part of that awareness, we realize that A is not our own self, and that we have a self which is different from all other entities. If she didn't mean this, then I would have say she was guilty of some seriously flabby writing here. But that's how I arrive at the conclusion you went on to question in this way: Why do you think that Rand's position would entail the denial of any of this? To claim that consciousness requires the awareness of something (a position that has been defended by many philosophers, btw) does not preclude the possibility that this "something" might be some aspect or subjective experience of one's self, such as sensations of pleasure and pain. Ghs I think Rand's formulation above precludes the idea of one's own self as being an entity of which one can be aware without first being aware of other entities. There is one aspect here I want to praise Rand on. The natural state of the human mind is to be unfocused--that is, to be aware of other entities or to be aware of other entities but not as entities different from oneself. Rand's insight was that the primal moral choice was whether or not to think--to "focus" or not to focus: IOW, whether to shift from the natural unfocused state to a state of being in focus, being aware of oneself and other entities as things apart, is the primary choice we are always making. Jeffrey S.
  13. The problem with your approach is that you are assuming that consciousness is inextricably linked with physical bodies, and your only evidence to support this assumption is that we don't know of any such. Unfortunately for you, not knowing of any is not, in logic, the equivalent of there are none such (unless you have omniscience, of course). Your assumption is a simple assertion, and your basic argument evaporates. As for your final point that a non-embodied consciousness would not have anything to be aware of, it would in fact have at least one thing to be aware of: itself. (Obviously,I changed my mind about replying.) That is not true. In the essay I give various example of the minds dependence on the brain and matter in general. Not only does all the evidence we do have support the thesis that the mind and body are in fact integrated, but the theoretical philosophical argument supports it as well. Which is correct, if you ignore the fact that mind and body are not quite so well integrated as you seem to think, and there is no theoretical philosophical argument that supports it, merely assertions. So we have to be aware of things outside ourself before we can be aware of ourselves? Not true. And in fact, if you take Rand's words at their most precise, they imply that the self, the ego, does not exist. Now, while this is perfectly acceptable if one is a Buddhist, it probably causes problems if you adopt a philosophy based on the principle of rational egoism. What you don't seem to understand (a failure of understanding that apparently Rand shared as well) is that conciousness does not require awareness of identity. One can be aware of oneself without being aware of other things, one can be aware of other things without being aware of oneself, one can be aware of both at the same time--and of course, one can be aware of oneself and other things being one unified entity. Jeffrey S.
  14. This could a separate discussion -- and a long one at that. The Fermi Paradox rests on the seeming lack of other intelligent life (i.e., humans has not discovered intelligent life elsewhere yet despite the dozens of postcards we sent) coupled with the seeming presence of conditions all over the place for such to evolve. Regarding humans only be able to get to the Moon -- as far as manned spaceflight -- the problem is that you're generalizing from one data point to the whole universe. (Of course, this one example is the problem for all Fermi Paradox speculation. Imagine if you had to similarly explain an absence of some expected outcome from much theoretical speculation coupled with only one data point.) But this example is telling. Humans made it to the Moon four decades ago -- in other words, with technology that older than four decades. It seems not to be pushing the limit to speculate that the reason humans didn't, say, colonize the Moon and move on to Mars or build space habitats is not a technological problem -- as the technology is already decades old. Let's follow this speculation a little further. Imagine all across the galaxy -- just sticking to this galaxy -- there were also hundreds of other worlds with similar civilizations -- ones capable of space travel and settlement, though not necessarily carrying it out. Out of the hundreds, would you expect every last one to have exactly the same history -- i.e., to develop the technology, do a flags and footprint mission, and decide to focus on other things? Surely, maybe some of them would go that route, but every last one? I think it sounds unlikely -- though, of course, this is just my speculation and I can't present some solid case for my speculation. Let's just say I'm right. If so, some of them should be doing things like moving off world, colonizing other planets, building space habits, and maybe doing megascale engineering projects. I.e., making a racket that everyone else might detect. Now, let's move this out a bit further. Why would they all start at exactly the same time? Looking over the history of life on Earth, I see a history of catastrophes that seem to have reset the clock a few times -- I mean, being biased here toward intelligent life -- wiped out the most intelligent forms and made, it seems, the rise toward intelligence slip back. Granted, on hundreds of other worlds -- let's say there are literally hundreds of ones with life on them -- complex life might not have evolved or might have faced far worse catastrophes. But it's also possible that Earth is average and some worlds would be above average -- e.g., have better conditions, have fewer catastrophes, have faster evolution toward technological civilization. There's no reason to think it takes 4.5 billion years to get from molten rock to space flight and radio astronomy. (Even if it did, all the worlds probably didn't start exactly 4.5 billion years ago.) I'd expect a least handful to be ahead of the curve (and perhaps a bigger handful to be way behind it -- never getting more than bacteria or being sterile from some really bad luck). Now ahead of the curve here can mean much. Think if technological civilizations advance at the same rate -- a simplifying assumption as I'd expect different rates of advance. What would a civilization just a hundred years ahead of current human civilization be capable of? I reckon much more than just flags and footprints missions to the Moon -- just as one just a hundred years behind is hardly capable of getting into the air. In fact, some serious estimates are that just being able to get off world and settle space and other planets would, in less than a million years, lead any civilization just expanding at a normal pace -- like some sort of space Polynesians and not necessarily planning to migrate across the stars -- to colonize the whole galaxy. In other words, you wouldn't miss them; they'd be here or close by and certainly making noise enough to be noticed. So, this brings us back to Fermi Paradox: Where are they? One set of explanations offered is that there's some sort of filter or set of filters that weeds out civilizations, such as Sagan's view that some civilizations develop nuclear weapons and wipe themselves out. I think this links back to the Medea Hypothesis: it might, if true, act as a filter, keeping the the prevalence of life or complex life down enough that it solves the Fermi Paradox. (I'm not saying I agree here -- just trying to present a case for discussion.) One wrinkle to add to this is that whatever civilizations there are would not all start off at the same point in time. When humans first appeared on Earth, the equivalent life form on Planet A might have already been established and developing for 500,000 years, while on Planet B the same point might not be reached for another two million years. And so forth. So it's possible that there have been plenty of civilizations that went into space but died off millions of years before man appeared here, and it's possible that we are the first species in the universe (or at least the galaxy) to arrive at the point that even limited space travel is possible. Or such civilizations may exist, but too distant for us to know they are there. Consider a civilization that achieved limited space travel (so that it could travel between neighboring planets) half a million years ago. If it is located in a stellars system two million years from us, it will be another 1.5 million years before we can even think about receiving evidence of its existence (through radio signals, etc.). Similarly, that civilization won't receive our first radio signals for not quite another 2 million years. Jeffrey S.
  15. I don't think the position is too absurd. If someone doesn't understand (at least intuitively) the way logic works, then they will be unable to recognize when a syllogism is true, or why. In other words, for them, if P then Q would be as "valid" a syllogism as if P then not Q. Of course, this assumes that this is what the ARIans intended in making that claim. Jeffrey S.