View Full Version : Merry Winter Solstice!

12-22-2007, 11:01 AM

12-22-2007, 11:19 AM
John's NYT piece on the winter solstice is here (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D02E4D6123CF936A15751C1A9649C8B 63&sec=&spon=).

George's cat/bird post doesn't seem to have its own permalink, but as of today, it's on the front page of The Santa Fe Review (http://santafereview.com/). Just scroll down a ways.

Hofstadter's review of Pinker's book is here (http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-bk-hofstadter16sep16,0,4811998.story?coll=la-books-headlines).

NYT article: "At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star" (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/19/education/19physics.html)

P.S. John can be as mushy about holiday memories as he likes, but I'm pretty sure the real reason he and his brother didn't fight on Christmas Day was out of fear of losing their presents. Not that I'd have any personal experience to suggest that or anything.

12-22-2007, 01:40 PM
I was at my family's annual holiday party. We got just totally lit up on booze and several bizarre toasts for made. Once winter solstice toasts started getting made things got a little weird.

"To the solstice!"

"To Baal!"

"Blood for Baal!"

At that point I suggested going to a 24 hour pet store to buy a puppy who I could ritually kill and eat its still beating heart. At that point my mother stepped in as the voice of reason and told me that there are no such thing as 24 hour pet stores.

I only like the winter solstice because it means we're gunna start the slow, long slog towards days where it's not dark when I leave work and when it's warm. But I do see the new-agey appeal of going out and lighting a big fire for the solstice. That's kind of a cool idea. Also the idea of taking stock of your life on the solstice is a good one. Perhaps I will just build a fire tonight and contemplate the meaning of life. Not now though, I am very friggn' hungover.

12-22-2007, 02:08 PM

At that point my mother stepped in as the voice of reason and told me that there are no such thing as 24 hour pet stores.


12-22-2007, 04:12 PM
John seemed to say that he now likes Pinker because he has interpreted a new hopeful tone to his message. Since when are the normative implications of a theory relevant to assessing it's value? What if I said someone with a certain genetic structure will never be a great scientist? Is that 'incorrect' or not worthy of science, merely because it seems to put 'limits' people, even if merely on their group means?

Intellectuals tend to want their Science to have happy endings, and their fiction to be depressing and bleak (ie, 'realistic' and not pollyanish). I prefer realism in nonfiction, and do not foist happy endings on it.

Simon Willard
12-22-2007, 04:22 PM
I found an Internet-accessible copy of Anderson's famous paper which John and George discuss here (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/7593?in=00:42:22&out=00:44:42). Grab it before it disappears! More Is Different (http://www.cmp.caltech.edu/~motrunch/Teaching/Phy135b_Winter07/MoreIsDifferent.pdf)

David Edenden
12-22-2007, 05:47 PM
1. Topic for next weeks discussion: Can bookshelves cast a light on the organizational structure of the human brain?

2. John, I just picked up the coffee table version of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" at a used bookstore. I was in the middle of reading my paperback version version for the third time in 20 years. Cosmos is one of my favorite science books, however, this big book seems to swamp the writing with its spectacular images.

Does the beauty of a book negate its writing for consideration as one of the all time great science books?

12-22-2007, 07:14 PM
We have five hardcore atheists in my immediate family (meaning those of us that celebrate Christmas together, which is about 22 this year), and we all enjoy Christmas. By any name it is the winter solstice celebration and, occurring at the end of the year with lots of time off, a fine time to catch up on what you wish you could do all year round, hear the stories of what your usually-faraway siblings are doing, what their spouses and kids are doing, and in general reconnect.

Fantasy stories about Christ and God don't irritate me at Christmas, whatever excuse works for them. I'll even sing with them. I buy gifts for everybody. For the kids, three or four. We'll have them stacked three feet deep, eight feet from the tree. There is nothing better to me than watching a pack of eight or nine strong kids tear into a mountain of presents on Christmas.

12-22-2007, 07:55 PM
hmmm ... i'm just not getting all this so-called "mystery" about beauty. i once was in a casual discussion about religion and someone asked -- and i'm paraphrasing -- "how could you look at the beauty of nature and not believe in god?"

my response was "well, nature is beautiful because this is planet earth -- and we're earthlings!"

john and george come awful close, but appear to ultimately dismiss the idea that our sense of beauty is fundamentally anthropocentric and neccessarily gravitates towards those environments that we find hospitable and even creatures we can anthropomorphize.

12-23-2007, 12:05 PM
Even the beauty of mathematics is essentially anthoropocentric. Throughout the history of mathematics we have been designing it, redesigning it, and inventing new forms of it to describe the physical world; from counting our domesticated animals to planning the farming seasons 15,000 years ago, to building pyramids 5000 years ago.

It is not suprising in the least that physics is a system with principles, and not surprising in the least that when we try, over the course of thousands of years, we can evolve a set of rules that describes that physical system.

The equations of physics and the symmetry of physical equations is indeed beautiful, but that is because we adapted mathematical notation and concepts to physics, not because we invented some beautiful mathematical out of whole cloth and should now be astonished we guessed right. The "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics smacks of the anti-evolutionary argument about a tornado constructing a 747 from passing through a junkyard. Yeah, that would be unbelievable. But mathematics, just like the 747, is an evolved system that began from a purpose-invented system, and it is not astonishing that either system does its job effectively.

12-23-2007, 10:35 PM
your observation leads me to amend my previous statement:

"... our sense of beauty is fundamentally anthropocentric and neccessarily gravitates towards those environments that we find hospitable and even creatures we can anthropomorphize and things we create."

beauty is a mirror.

Happy Hominid
12-26-2007, 08:36 PM
Well said, Eric. I think the whole point of good science is getting at some sort of an understanding of the natural world - whether we LIKE what that understanding is or not. The great thing is that we have evolved minds that can overcome some aspects of our biology. Enjoy that fact and don't get hung up on the "bad news" about your genes!

I think you can see this aspect of John's "morality" in a number of comments he makes. It's very clear whenever he talks about people like Murray Gell-Mann or Richard Dawkins. I could not possibly care less how arrogant some of these guys are. What does that have to do with WHAT they are saying? They are either right, or wrong. If they are wrong (or you think they are) then deal with that aspect of them and not how like-able you find them.