I just thought I’d share this.
I am more than a bit disappointed with Breaking the Spell (my first Dennett apart from an essay or two). I found myself plodding through the book, at times wondering if I should bother to finish it. I persevered, but it never seemed to find its feet. He is “preaching to the converted”, in a general sense, but I don’t think my reaction was just down to that.
It is tediously wordy. Dennett takes a long time to deal with some of the “obstructions” to the main philosophical investigation, for which he asks the reader’s forbearance, or suggests they jump ahead to where the meat is. I believe it would have been more engaging to take a top-down approach, pose the big questions and then take tangents to clarify any supporting details.
Author’s Note: Since publication, the Stellar Alchemy website has closed, and the program 3DVCE is no longer (apparently) under development. I’ve posted a copy of the latest version (AFAIK) as a zip file you can download from here. Log in with the username guest@lettersquash and the password lettersquash, click on “Program Share”, then “3DVCE Files”.
The zip file latest3Devolution can be downloaded (just click on it and save it to your system) and extracted to any convenient directory on your computer. Then navigate to the subdirectory …/bin/ and run the file creatures.exe. (I haven’t been able to find the User Agreement, but I believe it’s open source – please let me know if you know different.)
3-Dimensional Virtual Creature Evolution
There’s an alien in my PC. In fact there’s a whole race of them in there…and what’s more, they’re evolving. There’s no need for alarm, though, they’re just virtual creatures. I’m running a neat little stand-alone program called 3DVCE (3-Dimensional Virtual Creature Evolution) from Lee Graham at Stellar Alchemy. I was looking for some new games to download for the duller moments over Christmas and meandered into the strange and beautiful world of virtual evolution. It’s a world that is itself growing and evolving fast – there’s a lot more available now than the last time I looked a few years ago. There are many different ways of approaching the subject. 3DVCE shows a virtual world, some land underneath a day or night sky, on which a strange “creature” is moving. The creature is made up of jointed pieces, each a rectangular block that can move in relation to its neighbours. At first, the shape and movement appear quite random, and within certain limits they are, but in time, without any intervention from an intelligent user, just by following elementary rules, this will evolve into something that looks much more lifelike in both appearance and, most startling of all, behaviour. There’s a whole Zoo of these critters being collected from enthusiasts, like this one:
I often wonder what more the scientific world can do to educate people about evolution, and I’m often saddened by the number of people out there who either disbelieve evolutionary theory altogether or underestimate its wider significance. Continue reading
The following was edited on 19 April 2011 to replace a post published on 10 April 2009. The original was harsher and caused offence. I deleted it, but was asked to repost it, so here it is in edited form. I hope it causes no further offence, but if it does, hey, you can’t please all the people all of the time, and they really have to get over themselves.
Since posting it originally, DDWFTTW has progressed substantially. I dropped in from time to time, but haven’t kept up with it. There’s been a ride-on version called Blackbird that set the benchmark world record at nearly three times windspeed. I understand the pissing match continues. There’s a really good troll called humber, and few can resist a really good troll.
My goodness, how time flies when you’re having fun. What is it, half a year since I posted here? What was my blog about before?
It was going to be all about philosophy, especially my conversion (or awakening) from buddhism into the light of reason. Then I just got bored with the sound of my own typing, and the next thing I knew I was reading about a strange little brainteaser on the JREF forum (and everywhere else, apparently), the question of whether it’s possible to build a vehicle that goes directly downwind faster than the wind (DDWFTTW) powered only by the wind, “steady state” (which means not just as a passing burst, but settled at that speed).
There is so much to this, which I’ve been immersed in since at least December, both as a physical phenomenon and a social one, that it’s really hard to know where to begin.
I learned a lot in these few months. I learned how a little cart with wheels and a propeller can go directly downwind faster than the wind. I think…
My earlier treatment of the Law of Attraction was rather erudite, and I found this excellent video, which, while not as erudite as my treatment, does involve a man with the magical ability to attract antique meat grinders to his head, Mark Day. This is probably the direction my studies have to take in future. Thank you, Mark.
I’m having another run-in with believers in the so-called ‘Law of Attraction’ at Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development for Smart People forum (now closed, Dec 2011 – I wonder why that is). Someone posted to share their unease about it, and I (as John Freestone) dared to venture the opinion that unease was wise.
The Law of Attraction
The Law of Attraction, what is it? Basically, it’s the magical message that whatever you want you can have, you just need to believe in it enough. Your thoughts create, or deeply influence, reality. It was popularised in the 2006 film The Secret by Prime Time Productions.
Now, of course, within reason, that may be true. For a start, there is my internal, subjective reality, and my thoughts are a big feature in that landscape. Thinking positively, trying to look on the bright side of things, hoping, being optimistic, these things will help you to be happier, is that all it means?
Well, sometimes those interpretations are given, but some of the protagonists take it much more seriously, extending the influence of thought to the supernatural. Some take this to the extreme solipsism, in which objective reality is considered meaningless or not even real, a construct of the individual mind. And there are more complicated versions, in which human beings are creating various parallel realities according to the power of the ideas and the numbers projecting them.
Some of the other buzz words, then, are Intention Manifestation, since this is about manifesting exactly what you want, and Subjective Reality. The Law of Attraction is big business. If you google ‘the secret’ or ‘law of attraction’, most of the links you’ll find on the first page will invite you to sign up for instructions on how to get rich. Many of them vie for your interest by proclaiming they are the REAL Secret or Law, in a sick parody of the philosophy.
Steve Pavlina is one of the protagonists. I have discussed these views critically at Steve’s forum for some time, because I think they represent quite a significant risk to people’s psychological well-being, and perhaps their physical well-being. Continue reading
I’ve been trying to think how to describe my philosophical position. Changing so deeply in such a short time, I suppose I am actually trying to decide my philosophical position. The vague yet monumental vista of a divine universe, in which my human life was inherently meaningful and redemption its natural end, collapsed.
It is so important to transcend duality, though, in understanding these things, or anything: we should try not to think in black and white or, if that is impossible, remember that we think in black and white. The great redemptive hope was not simply my belief, solid and unchanging, but something I saw a certain amount of sense in, yet sometimes doubted. Now, it is not a false view that I have rejected, but a theory that I strongly suspect is false. Similarly, I need to keep taking on that worldview again, doubting its negation, in order to check my reasoning and my intuitive feelings or imagination (call it what you will): the alternative is to be closed-minded.
But what is it I’m trying to work out? The word ‘mystical’ keeps coming to me, dragging a set of curious associations. I described myself on a forum yesterday as a ‘recovering mystic’, but this morning awoke to a train of thought that it would have been easy to label as a mystical observation, at least in the absence of a dictionary and before my first cup of coffee. – Read the full article…>