Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Little Churchill

I had a feeling once about Mathematics--that I saw it all. Depth beyond depth was revealed to me--the Byss and Abyss. I saw--as one might see the transit of Venus or even the Lord Mayor's Show--a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly why it happened and why the tergiversation was inevitable but it was after dinner and I let it go.

Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

A Little Epicurus

The blessed and immortal is itself free from trouble nor does it cause trouble for anyone else; therfore, it is not constrained either by anger or by favor. For such sentiments exist only in the weak.

Epicurus, Principle Doctrines 1, translated by Eugene O'Connor

Red Cross Relief Fund

You can donate to the Red Cross's Hurricane Relief Fund here. $5 minimum required.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Window to the Soul

I like reading peoples' published letters, diaries, and journals. It is a window to their souls.

Blogland is like that sometimes.


The British physician in the movie Bridge on the River Kwai surveys the death and destruction in the final scene of the movie. He says, "madness, madness." The movie ends on that note.

After I finished the final draft of my third terrible novel last week, I swore I would not attempt another one anytime soon if ever. I was sitting in the local bar later in the afternoon, and I started making notes for another novel on the postcards stocked in the dispenser by the jukebox.

What is this terrible compulsion I cannot expel from my system?

"Madness, madness!"

A Class

I have been thinking about taking an alumni course this fall in the University of Chicago's Basic Program. All of the courses, as usual, seem interesting. The one that has caught my attention most is Literary Cityscapes: Paris from La Vie Romantique to the Decadence. Here is the course description:

During the Romantic which arose in response to the philosophy of the enlightenment, Paris took its place firmly as a cultural and intellectual center of the Western world. We will read the literature of the time and study the social and historical developments that changed the public mood of optimism prevalent at the beginning of the century into the disenchantment of the Decadence. We will also study aspects of art, culture, and music of the time. Our readings will include George Sand, Indiana, Balzac, Cousin Betté, Flaubert, Sentimental Education, Zola, Nana, de Maupessant, Bel Ami, and the poetry of Baudelaire, Mallarme, Rimbaud, and Verlaine.

I can't resist.

Monday, August 29, 2005


Rednecks like to talk about politics just like the rest of us. Rednecks run the gamut from ignorant bumpkin to the sophisticated Christopher Hitchens. Rednecks are fond of the slogan, "America, love it or leave it." What they really mean is "agree with me, or leave it."

About the only response you can make to the belligerence of a Redneck is "oh, shut up, and drink another beer. Who gives a fuck what you think?"

Father Knows Best

President Bush's speeches are impeccably stage managed. He appears to be a father straight out of a 50's sitcom. He shows his sardonic face when talking about killing people or when people disagree with him, but that is about the only crack in the facade.

President Bush doesn't do much for me, but he's probably an alright guy to hang out with, politics aside. Still, I think disinterested people like me should add some perspective every now and then. After all, nobody is perfect.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Video Schmideo

Video Schmideo, a little video store across the street, survived the demolition next door. In celebration that it was still there, I decided to rent a couple of videos. I chose "Alexander" and "I, Robot".

"Alexander" was a bust. The History Channel did a better special on Alexander the Great than the movie. Plutarch's life of Alexander seems absolutely riotous and thrill-a-minute compared to the movie. In the movie, Alexander had to rape his bride on their wedding night. If Alexander was so Great, then why didn't she swoon?

"I, Robot" was an interesting pastiche and modernization of the Isaac Asimov novel which I read when I was about 14 or so. Plus, it was set in 2030 Chicago. Will Smith, always a good movie action hero, played a Chicago cop who tries to discover why new model robots have turned authoritarian and murderous. He had one line in the movie I thought was memorable, but I've forgotten it, so I guess it was not all that memorable. I thought the best acting job in the movie was by Sonny the good robot with a little bit of soul. He should have had a bigger part.

All in all, I regretted not watching Mystery Theater on PBS and then some Sci Fi Channel stuff.

I think I'll check out an audio book at the library next Saturday in the spirit of exploring alternative media.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Little Thucydides

When the news was told at Athens, they believed not a long time, though it were plainly related and by those very soldiers that escaped from the defeat itself that all was so utterly lost as it was. When they knew it, they were mightily offended by the orators that furthered the voyage, as if they themselves had never decreed it. They were angry also with those that gave prophecies and with the soothsayers and with whosoever else had at first by any divination put them into hope that Sicily should be subdued. Every thing, from every place, grieved them, and fear and astonishment, greatest that ever they were in, beset round.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, VIII, 1, translated by Thomas Hobbes

Cubs Chances, Love, and War

I am taking a break this morning from running a Monte Carlo simulation that gives some insight into the Cubs chances of making the playoffs.

Inspection of the standings and remaining schedule offer insight enough. The Cubs are in seventh place in the Wild Card standings, 8.5 games behind Philadelphia, have won 47.7% of their games to date, and have 34 games remaining.

How has the Monte Carlo simulations I've done over the past several weeks instructed me. First, it showed that the Cubs chances were highly improbable even though it appeared the chances were much better by mere inspection of the standings.

Second, it makes me pause to think about the chances of other seemingly random events. I should not discount the available statistical evidence, and I should apply the elements of probability theory to the evidence. Not doing so, can be my undoing.

That leads me to reflect upon why the mind unconsciously applies heuristic rules in situations where the heuristics may not be appropriate. And that leads me into reflections about the chances involved with love and war.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Brain Science and Postmodernism

A hallmark of postmodernism is that it asks questions about how and why we think the way we do? The postmodern critique has been valuable in identifying discourses, grand narratives, metaphors, ideologies, and how we are affected by them, even become a part or element of them.

Critics of postmodernism claim it offers no prescriptions for action of its own, is subject to its own critical methods, and views science and history as merely other metaphors amongst a sea of metaphors.

Brain science tries to understand how the mind works. Its best successes have been medical research for treating diseases and traumas to the brain. Cognitive blending and how we think metaphorically has been a fruitful area of research. Two tenants of the enterprise are that most thinking is unconscious and that thinking is metaphorical.

These scientific researches have their own postmodernist elements. We possess many metaphors for the concepts we use. We arrive at sometimes contradictory positions about matters of fact depending upon the metaphors we are using and their inferential systems. The best one can do is try and discover which metaphors apply best, that is, which ones are apt.

Some people charge the scientific view of metaphor with relativism, a charge leveled against postmodernism in general. However, the scientific study of cognitive blending and metaphor can be tested and confirmed using scientific methods. If science finds we use often conflicting metaphors, that's not a problem for science. It is just another case where we must recognize our limitations and do our best to take those limitations into account. The reflexivity of the mind thinking about thinking is as old as philosophy. Now, with modern techniques for researching how the brain works there is the possibility of going beyond a priori thinking and theorizing.

The problem is that the brain remains at the frontier of all scientific knowledge despite the progress that has been made. Let us imagine that scientific research continues to advance rapidly and we arrive at a reasonably good theory of how the mind works. How long will a bona fide theory of mind take to permeate the culture? I think of evolution when I ask the question.

The interesting thing is that there is an intersection set, of sorts, between the cognitive sciences and postmodernist technique.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Two Wars of Attrition

The Iraq War military conflict has become a war of attrition. The U. S. is dug in and conducts limited operations against insurgents. The insurgents are well hidden with a limitless supply of suicide bombers. The military engagement could last for as long as you please.

The war for share of mind regarding what should be done in Iraq has been a war of attrition too. Withdrawing soon is beginning to gain a significant share of mind across parties, philosophies, and specialties. What was once considered radical leftist critique is becoming homogenized into mainstream thinking whether it is the mind of the loftiest of thinkers or the common citizen too busy or disinterested to give it much thought.

The Iraqi constitution is the writing on the wall. To paraphrase the professional wrestler Rick Flair, you can like it or not like it, but you better learn to love it because it is the only thing going. The same can be said for withdrawing soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Memoir written on postcards while drinking alone at Pippin's

Reading a few Montaigne essays at random, dawdling over some lines of Wittgenstein, thinking about certainty and postmodernity, and looking out the window at the brilliant blue sky drove me to the lake where I dangled my feet in the water on the nearly deserted beach. The summer sun burnt away my loathing and angst.

Later, at Pippin's, the beer and whiskey convinced me that tomorrow I would write one good sentence, or, at least, one I liked. I drifted for hours. Drifting, the nexus of my life, the irreducible core, the purest drug, a friend who keeps me afloat, my secret, a lover who never treats me shabbily, obliterated time.

Beatitude is either finite or infinite, something defying my imagination.

A Little Montaigne

Montaigne, On Books, translated by M. A. Screech

I do not doubt that I happen to talk of things that are treated better in the writings of master-craftsmen, and with more authenticity. What you have here is purely an assay of my natural, not at all my acquired, abilities. Anyone who catches me out in ignorance does me no harm: I cannot vouch to other people for my reasonings: I can scarcely vouch for them to myself and am by no means satisfied with them. If anyone is looking for knowledge let him go where such fish are to be caught: there is nothing I lay claim to less. These are my own thoughts, by which I am striving to make known not matter but me. Perhaps, I shall master the matter one day; or perhaps I did so once when Fortune managed to bring me to places where light is thrown on it. But I no longer remember anything about that. I may be a man of fairly wide reading, but I retain nothing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Fun With Constitutions

Reading constitutions can be fun. The New York Times has a link to the proposed Iraqi constitution.

Constitutions can be used to predict the future too if you're into that kind of thing. Put away your crystal balls, astrological charts, and tarot cards for a few moments, and check it out.

Gotta run. I need to check in with my Internet bookie.

Godel, Tarski, and a Typo

I think it was two winters ago I decided to read Godel's On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems one more time for comprehension. I pushed the project through in less than two weeks. I gained a greater appreciation of how recursive relations create the bridge between the formal and metamathematical worlds.

However, I felt I had arrived when I discovered a nasty type on page 59 of the Dover edition, right in the heart of the proof of Proposition VI leading to the first incompleteness theorem. I wrote an outline of the paper for later reference.

I had been studying the logic papers of Alfred Tarski for several years. If anyone could claim to be a peer of Kurt Godel, it would be Tarski. His logic papers are the most elegant writing about logic you will ever find. I decided to reread several of his papers to see how it felt in retrospect of my last reading of Godel. As usual, I picked up new insights from reading them.

After I finished reading the papers, I decided to read the article Tarski wrote in the June, 1969, issue of Scientific American, Truth and Proof. The article is pure Tarski. You can't find a better explanation about what is going on in the mathematical logic game. His discussion of incompleteness, delivered in a short section at the end of the article, is stunningly simple, yet profound at the same time.

I felt I had hiked a ways into the forest and mountains with two geniuses. I was glad that life had afforded me the means to do it.

Monday, August 22, 2005

A Flask

Pippin's threw their 32nd anniversary customer appreciation party tonight. This year they gave away stainless steel flasks. The screw top cap is attached by a swivel to the top of the flask so that you will not lose the cap even in your most drunken stupor. The Pippin's logo is painted on it. That alone will, one day, make it priceless when Pippin's is no more.

It sits beside my computer as I write, the light reflecting off its surface, and casting a long shadow like the nights past.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Informal Logic and Cindy Sheehan

Ad Hominem attack has long been known recognized as an invalid argument.

Let us say I am against the war in Iraq. Let us say that someone calls me a nut case, traitor, or dupe of the enemy. It is unfortunate that some use those labels as a form of ad hominem attack. When they do, their argument immediately becomes invalid.

However, another move might be to give evidence for my insanity, being a willful traitor, or being a dupe. Does that necessarily invalidate any argument I may have for opposing the Iraq War? It depends. How it invalidates my argument needs to be proved also. There is the old saw, just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

Another invalid argument related to the ad hominem attack is the guilt by association move. Someone may claim I consort with reprehensible characters, and it might be true, but it remains a form of invalid argument under the time honored rules of informal logic.

What can we say about Cindy Sheehan and President Bush? Cindy Sheehan protests the Iraq War on the basis of conscience. She demands a justification for the death of her son from the President of the United States. She has served the ball into President Bush's side of the court. President Bush has the choice of hitting it back onto Cindy's side of the court, or not.

That could lead one into a discussion about Noblesse Oblige, but that leads us away from logic.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Naive Realist and Enjoyment

The international relations realists have been riding in the rumble seat for quite a while. One wonders if they will not soon take over the steering wheel from the international relations moralists.

I'll put my cards on the table. I was against the Iraq War before it started. I was persuaded by the more sober and serious assessments concluding the projected benefits and costs could not be achieved. Subsequent events have shown that it has indeed been a case of poor planning based on bad information followed by poor execution.

Now, we see the continuation of bad business practice. It is standard practice when doing a financial analysis of an ongoing project that one disregards sunk costs. One reassesses future benefits, costs, and discounts it by the opportunity cost. Is any of that being done when assessing the Iraq War? No.

I know my comments will disturb those who hold strictly moralist sentiments about the war. Fine. Moral concerns are always a relevant factor when it comes to war whether one holds moral attitudes for or against it.

However, relevant questions arise. Why is performance so bad when viewed from a disinterested business perspective? Who is accountable? Are they being held accountable? Are there any who accept accountability for performance and results?

"Potential is nothing; performance is everything," Bud Wilkinson.

The President says we will set no timetables because it will aid the enemy? His statement leads me to reflect on another sort of reality.

There is more to naive realism than my expression of it. Part of this more is knowing the mind of the enemy and how it comes to be that way. Multi-discipline expert study is now replacing naive conventional wisdom. The question is whether the political situation will allow credence and influence for that essential knowledge when making decisions. How much is invested in the conventional wisdom? How many of the sunk costs invested in the conventional wisdom will be defended even though the future is the only relevant factor?

Enjoyment adds another layer to my assessment of the war. Jodi Dean's engaging thoughts and articles about enjoyment at I cite have stimulated my own personal thoughts about enjoyment.

I watch the war on television. The spectacle both horrifies me and fascinates me. How does the spectacle create and reinforce my resignation that there is simply nothing I can do about the war? How does the enjoyment of the spectacle and my passivity prevent me from arriving at sober assessments and conclusions about what needs to be done next?

Cubs Chances

Here are the latest results from this week's 200 trial Monte Carlo simulation. The Cubs were not successful in any of the trials achieving a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.

For you kids scoring at home that's 0%.

The technical term for 0% is the big goose egg.

However, the Cubs are only 5 games behind Houston with 40 games to go. That leaves it open to believe anything is possible, the cruelest belief.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Straightedge and Compass

Euclid Postulate 1, 2, and 3.
  1. To draw a straight line from any point to any point.
  2. To produce a finite straight line continuously in a straight line.
  3. To describe a circle with any center and distance.
Change the language of the postulates so that they do not suggest a straightedge and compass. Create a formal system for the postulates.

Don't forget the straightedge and compass. The straightedge and compass in the mind are as useful for creating proofs as the straightedge and compass in the hand, or the formal system.

It Must Be the Air and Water Show Weekend

The military aircraft have been buzzing about my building the past two days.

I watch the latest news from Iraq. Somebody on television says, "it's not like Vietnam," on such a beautiful day with the bombers flying overhead.

A voice coming from nowhere says, "bullshit." Is it the harsh voice of Mnemosyne who calls to me?

Constitutional Amendments

Every now and then I am shaken from my lethargy and denial by an accumulation of political events. I begin thinking about how to change the electoral system so as to address some structural problems baked into the cake. I propose the following Constitutional amendments in the names of practicality and justice. I provide the preliminary background to my proposal first.

People accept an accountability in their lives they do not hold politicians to. Make enough mistakes at work, you don't have a job. Make enough mistakes in your marriage, you are divorced. Make enough mistakes with your friends, you are lonely. Make enough mistakes while batting, you strike out. Make enough strikeouts, you are out of the ballgame.

That is not they way it works for politicians. The system perpetuates poor performance. Some people might respond to me, but they have good intentions. I say, everybody has good intentions. And even those people who do not have good intentions won't admit it. Hell, the BTK killer said he was a Christian at his sentencing yesterday.

I will quote Bud Wilkinson yet again. "Potential is nothing; performance is everything."

OK, what are my Constitutional amendments? First, get rid of the Electoral College. The more populous states are already under represented in Congress compared to the less populous states. The Electoral College makes the injustice more egregious.

Second, limit all members of Congress and the President to one four year term. Assuming the elimination of the Electoral College, hold the Presidential and Senatorial elections at the same time. Two years later elect the House of Representatives. That way if the performance of elected officials sucks more than usual, you can still hold some of them accountable within two years.

People ask, but what if our elected officials are doing a good job? My immediate unproductive response is yes, and what if frogs grow wings so they don't bump their ass. My productive response is politicians groom your successors well just like everybody else is accountable for.

Metaphor and Incompleteness

I hesitate to write about something I have studied and thought about for over thirty years, yet have not mastered. I feel lucid this morning even if it is an illusion. I will plunge in.

Godel's incompleteness theorems have been interpreted many ways. Godel's Platonism most likely motivated him in the development of his proofs. Godel's assessment of their import could be wrong in some respects.

Let's say something like the Lakoff and Nunez project for constructing mathematics is true. That is, the mind possesses a stock of basic mathematical concepts and primary metaphors. These concepts and metaphors derive from our sensori-motor systems, the mental systems we use to negotiate everyday reality.

From this primary stock of metaphors, the mind creates increasingly complex mathematical metaphors. Our mathematical knowledge continues to grow, for it can only be limited by our imaginations and the mental capacities from which imagination derives. This mathematical knowledge spreads throughout the culture.

Our notions of mathematical logic are no different in this regard. Those notions are metaphors. What are the implications of the incompleteness theorems if something like the Lakoff and Nunez project turns out to be true?

All of the mathematical logic concepts, formal mathematical languages, recursive relations, models of arithmetic are metaphors too. The incompleteness theorems say, "here is the result of using the inferential systems created by the metaphors for those concepts.

The incompleteness theorems might strike one as odd or strange, but they may be no deterrent to proving mathematical truths. The idea that mathematics is metaphorical and grounded in our common sensori-motor systems and experience is foundational. The only deterrents to proving mathematical theorems are our imaginations and that our thinking is embodied, dependent on how we have evolved to negotiate the world.

I sometimes think of it as validating Kant's intuitions about the knowability of phenomena and noumena. The difference is that Kant arrived at his position via a priori thinking about mind, whereas, the creative and imaginative foundational approach is based on scientific study into how we think.

What does it mean for the consistency and independence of the parallel postulate and the continuum hypothesis? It is what one would expect given where mathematics comes from. We imagine our way into the situation.

Why does mathematics work so well when applied by scientists? Mathematics arises from our sensori-motor systems. It would be odd if there was no fit between how we experience the world and how we use mathematics to explain the world since, at the root or foundation, mathematics is part of our sensori-motor systems.

I have felt compelled to say these things in a public forum for several years. I hope I arrive at a sort of catharsis from doing so. I suppose it is one of the virtues of Blogland that I can do it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I Found It on Sale at Walmart

An interesting and natural question arises about mathematics. Is mathematics created or discovered? One does not need to build a lot of philosophical machinery to start thinking about the answer.

When a mathematician says she discovered a mathematical concept, theorem, or proof, what does she mean? Did she find it lying on the sidewalk while strolling on the boulevard? Did she find it growing in the forest while hiking? Did she see it in aisle six at Walmart while shopping?

None of the answers to those sorts of questions will do. Mathematical objects are not that kind of thing. It seems as if mathematical objects inhabit some supernatural realm if they are to be discovered. That puts us on familiar ground. Everyone has thought about supernatural worlds even if some have found them uninhabited.

If mathematicians create mathematics, then it seems an object for the cognitive sciences to investigate. In fact, the cognitive sciences do investigate it. How much research needs to be done before there is a theory is an open question.

I recommend reading Rebecca Goldstein's excellent book, Incompleteness, about Kurt Godel, his incompleteness theorems in mathematical logic, and their impact across philosophy, science, mathematics, and culture. No prior background in the subject is required. It's that good.

Lakoff and Nunez's Where Mathematics Comes From? is a very interesting attempt at a theory based on research coming out of the cognitive sciences. You can read a long way into the book if you know arithmetic.


The demolition crew began leveling the old buildings across the street this week to make way for the new high rise. Each time I glance down into the street I recall the faces of people who worked at the 7 Eleven.

I think of other places long gone such as El Ranchero, the restaurant where I spent Sunday afternoons reworking Euclid’s Elements from my own axiom system. My journal and index cards from that time are still around.

I have a lot of journals and notebooks lying about the place. I must gather them, so that when I become mortally ill, I can throw them away. The thought of throwing them down the garbage chute does not sit well, but I’d rather people not see the paltry makings of my mind. This blog is humbling enough.

I won’t throw away the index cards containing my reworking of Euclid. Let them stand in for me and the place where they were written on solitary Sunday winter afternoons.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Gaza: the view from nowhere

Sunset on Gaza

I woke this morning and the first images I saw in the news were events in Gaza. I told myself don't think of Gaza. Saying it further activated the images in my mind.

I viewed Gaza on Google Earth from different heights and angles. I thought, hell, there are bigger parks, ranches, and farms in the United States.

I thought of the political and religious history I have read about the region. It fed my unproductive thoughts of inevitability.

I seek a view from nowhere. A place where the images do not elicit emotions. A place where I can disinterestedly imagine possible worlds. Is the project doomed to failure?

I wonder why people all over the world persist in saying and doing things that incite and reinforce the hatred and violence? People do that. That's the fact.

Oh well, people will choose sides even if they don't have a dog in the fight. I must check the odds my Internet sports bookie is laying on outcomes. There could be an opportunity.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Idle Thoughts

Why is the soul moved by idle thoughts?--After all they are idle. Well, it is moved by them. (How can the wind move the tree when it is nothing but air? Well, it does move it, and don't forget it.)

Wittgenstein, Culture and Value

Reading Quickly

I read Derrida's Of Grammatology quickly. I prefer an overview of the forest first. Now, I will slowly examine the flora and fauna growing in the forest.

The Nonpracticing Atheist

Tensions exist between science and religion. Philosophers have made the situation more or less tense since the beginning of recorded philosophy. Is there anyway to lessen the anxieties brought about by religious belief?

Some people think about the issues even if they are not scientists, theologians, or philosophers. Let's consider one of these people, and for ease of exposition call him Lynn. Lynn has changed his opinions about religion over the years through his reading, study, and meditation on religion.

Lynn builds a 2 X 2 matrix for his beliefs about god and evolution. He assigns a weight to the strength of his belief for each entry in the matrix. The total of the weights must sum to 10, ten being strong and zero being weak. The matrix entries are as follows:

atheism/evolution 9
atheism/intelligent design 0
theism/evolution 1
theism/intelligent design 0.

Something about the finished matrix makes him feel uncomfortable when he reflects on the results.

First, he does not like the word atheist. Part of his discomfort is that it makes a mess of his social life. It is not the way to win friends and influence people. Lynn knows that he should not mention it in polite society. There aren't many sympathetic atheist ears around. And Lynn often holds different opinions about religion than a lot of atheists.

Second, Lynn wonders if the signifier atheist does not mask his beliefs. Lynn is skeptical about many of the claims religion makes for the physical, moral, and social agency of supernatural beings. However, he does not have a ready made answer to why there is a very rich something rather than nothing.

Lynn decides not to worry about it. The far more interesting question to Lynn is why people hold the religious beliefs they do. Thinking about that is how he arrived at his current beliefs in the first place.

Lynn likes his projects of inquiry. He wishes he was better at them. They are worth the anxiety.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Better Idea

I've been writing all day. The clock says 9:40 PM. How did that happen? Why am I writing here?

I think I'll go to bed soon. I hope I have dreams of love and happiness.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Intelligent Designer

The world of supernatural beings is well populated: gods, angels, devils, spirits, and disembodied minds that exist for eternity. People ask me to believe in them. Fine. I know they recommend these supernatural beings to me because they care about my well being.

Now, I am asked to believe in the Intelligent Designer. I legitimately ask questions. Who is she? What does she do, and please, supply details? What is her relationship to the other supernatural beings? Are there many Intelligent Designers, ones who do physics, mathematics, and chemistry besides biology? What good does it do a working biologist to know about the Intelligent Designer?

I fight the urge to believe that the world of supernatural beings is rapidly becoming an ontological slum. I want to be fair.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Cubs Chances

Here are the results of the latest 200 trial Monte Carlo simulation. The Cubs only achieved the required number wins to capture a Wild Card spot in one trial. That's .5% for you kids keeping score at home.

Son Of A .... Gun!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Riemann, God, and G. H. Hardy

I wrote this on August 7, then bagged it. I reworked it a little, and leave it now.

G. H. Hardy, the great English mathematician, and an atheist, once wrote a to do list one New Year's day listing what he wanted to accomplish during the coming year. He wanted to resolve the Riemann Hypothesis. He also wanted to find a proof for the nonexistence of god that would convince everybody.

He would have been disappointed if he'd found a perfectly sound argument for the nonexistence of god. It would convince nary a soul amongst the believers.

One of the interesting statistics about atheists is there aren't many of them. They represent less than 10% of the earth's population.

I don't believe the broad accusations coming from some pulpits claiming atheists are creating a godless society. Human nature finds it nigh on impossible to renounce religious belief, so much is religion a natural by-product of the way we think. I doubt a small band of atheists possess the ability to make an impact.

Jonothan Swift said, "you cannot reason a man out of something he was not reasoned into."

Hardy should have spent all his time working on the Riemann Hypothesis rather than looking for an argument that never stood a chance to convince the believer.

End of the Day

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Better Late Than Never

I started reading Derrida's Of Grammatology yesterday, a book I have been promising myself to read for over two decades.

So far, I am really enjoying it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Best Blog Name Ever

Clusterfuck Nation by Jim Kunstler

Blogland, I Salute Thee, and You Too Wallace Stevens

Like a lot of folks, I've gone through my share of blogging angst. I'm an existentialist, so I can't piss and moan about it. It's the way I am supposed to feel.

However, despite the angst, I have grown fond of my blog this year. Where else can I write about adoring the log integral function and make it public?

Summer is marching on faster than I would like, and I am already thinking about winter for some reason. Plus, the Cubs' performance has sent a chill through the very depths of my soul. So, I post my all time very favorite poem, written by Wallace Stevens. I know, it's so much anthologized it is almost a cliche.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

I say it is one of the best English sentences ever written. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The Seductive Li(x)

The Riemann Hypothesis is equivalent to the assertion that

pi(x) = Li(x) + O(sqrt(x) . log x)

where Li(x) is Gauss's integral of 1/log x, pi(x) is the prime counting function, and x is sufficiently large.

What the expression states is that at some point in the natural number sequence and beyond that point, Li(x) estimates the number of primes less than any given number reasonably close to square root accuracy.

To get a grip on just how accurate that is, consider taking the census of the Chicago Metropolitan area which is about 6.5 million. You would not expect to get within the accuracy required by sqrt(x) . log (x) which is about 40,000 people. 40,000 is an error less than 1%.

Another way to think about Li(x) is in terms of the elementary result that prime gaps can be any size whatsoever. That is you can choose any huge number n, and there will be consecutive primes p and p' such that there is a sequence of n composite numbers between p and p'.

That means that at some point when x is a very large number, Li(x) estimates pi(p) and pi(p') and all the composite numbers in between to within sqrt(x) log x accuracy. There is this long stretch of numbers before pi(x) jumps to its next value and Li(x) just happens to be a good estimate for all the big values of pi(x) before the jump.

That is how the Riemann Hypothesis has seduced me. Wondering if it is really possible for Li(x) to do that kind of thing, to be that good.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Choice

I'd rather write a bestseller every year than win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It's all about the whip out cash.

So You Want to Write a Novel

It seems as though everyone has turned from writing screenplays to writing novels. Here is an idea. I make no claims for its originality.

First, you write a screenplay. Then you turn the screenplay into a novel. Once you become wildly successful with your novel, you option the movie rights. When you sell the option, you mention in passing, "I happen to have a darned good screen adaptation for this novel." Bingo, you pick up the screenplay credit too.

Try it the next time you write a novel, and let me know how it worked for you.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Bloglanders, Unite!

I don't like the word 'blogosphere'. It possesses a tinny, scratchy, and grating sound.

I propose to replace it by Blogland. Blogland is a place inhabited by real people. A place, maybe, beyond sight and sound, but just as real as the green grass, leafy trees, and dog shit in the park across the street.

Come on, Bloglanders, let's make ourselves sound human by renaming the place where we sojourn.

If I Only Had a Brain

Anonymous left this comment on my last posting.

Reading your blog and I figured you'd be interested in advancing your life a bit, call us at 1-206-339-5106. No tests, books or exams, easiest way to get a Bachelors, Masters, MBA, Doctorate or Ph.D in almost any field. Totally confidential, open 24 hours a day. Hope to hear from you soon!

At first, I was insulted. I am custom made from head to toe. What's to improve?

Meanwhile, I was still thinking. No tests, books, or exams? I wonder if they have a Summer special on Ph.D's? Buy three get one free. I've always wanted to be recognized as a polymath.

I feel like the Scare Crow in The Wizard of Oz about to set off on the yellow brick road with Dorothy and Toto.

Somebody, hide my cell phone until the mood passes.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


I sit along the lake. The sun scorches my face. I drift into the past. Tomorrow, I will drift into today.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Ralph and Shirley

I thought about making this post one of my ponderous and pedantic ones, but decided to make it one of those down home personal essays I am famous for all across Blogland.

Let's assume there is an Intelligent Designer helping nature along. Let's call this designer Ralph just to give him a name. Ralph does not have an address, telephone number, e-mail address, and doesn't hang out at places like Starbuck's or Pippin's, so you cannot ask him questions when you get confused about a subtle scientific question. Since devotees of intelligent design claim they are not Creationists, I assume I have not committed a blasphemy by calling our master engineer Ralph.

Ralph is a pretty smart guy. Nature goes about her merry way. However, when Ralph thinks there's a better way of doing things, he tinkers around, finds a better design, and implements his new design. Some people say Ralph is a bumbling fool because some things seem ill conceived and badly executed. Well, let's give Ralph the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume he is very smart and well intentioned.

Now let's say there is a virologist called Shirley. She studies the mutation and adaptation of viruses in various species. She helps produce vaccines used to combat those viruses that have evolved to where they are deadly to humans. It's hard work, don't you know? If you are not very smart and highly educated, you need not apply for the job.

OK, where's Ralph while Shirley is busting her fanny trying to get all this essential work done? Simple answer, he's no where to be found, and worse yet he's totally unlisted, and never calls in sick or anything.

Ralph screws around with some stuff, but when he's done, he takes a mighty long vacation. Ralph cannot be bothered with the drudgery of isolating and combating deadly viruses.

I would say to Ralph if he were one of my employees, "you have done some good work in the past. But lately you have been resting on your laurels. It wouldn't hurt if you got off your ass and helped out once in awhile. I'm sorry, Ralph, but you have been screwing the pooch big time lately. Do it again and you're fired."

"Potential is nothing; performance is everything." Bud Wilkinson

Internet Quizzes

I take those Internet tests every now and then. Philosophically, they say I am a social and economic leftist, political libertarian, Existentialist Epicurean.

And I just want to say right here and right now, I'm damned proud of it. It has taken me a long time to get my life to this state of chaos and disarray.


Returned home from my haircut. Dialed up Texas Thunder country Internet radio. The first song I heard was Even Cowboys Like a Little Rock 'N Roll.

Last week was New Age week. This one will be all country. Time to crack open a cold Bud long neck.

Cubs Chances

This week's 200 trial Monte Carlo simulation shows the Cubs reaching 88 wins 7 times. If Houston, the leaders of the N. L. Wild Card race, continue on with their .541 winning percentage to the end of the season, they will win 88 games.

The Cubs have lost 6 of their last 7 games and fallen 1 game below .500, yet my crude simulation shows they have a 3.5% of making the playoffs, a rise over last week's results. The target number of wins was 90 last week which helps to explain part of the result. Randomness might explain the rest.

53 games remain in the Cubs' season.

Friday, August 05, 2005

To the War Dead

To the War Dead

They will forget you. No one will recall
how you felt when you knew this was the last

of earth.

Hazy Day

Hazy Day

A hot and hazy day, the boats adrift
across the lake, my mind a blank, demand

a silence I cannot accommodate,
yet am too indolent to circumscribe.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hunt and Sherman

I have been reading the 1972 first edition of Economics by Hunt and Sherman as I mentioned a few posts back. I am amazed that the book, basically a Marxist critique of capitalism, was assigned as the textbook for the mainstream microeconomics course I took then.

It must have been the spirit of the times that put that book in my hands for that class.

Hunt and Sherman write a pleasing prose style, and they present a very interesting history of economics in the first part of the book. Maybe that is why we were assigned their book? Just kidding about that reason!


One summer, while in college, I was taking a math class. One day the teacher walked into the classroom and announced there would be no class next Monday because he would be at the Amana VIP golf tournament, a one day event held every year in Iowa City the day after the U. S. Open, and attended by all the top golf pros.

He said, "the first thing you have to learn about mathematics is not to take it too seriously."

I played golf back then, and went to the tournament myself. The tournament was held on the university golf course, the course where I played abysmally. If a pro didn't shoot at least 9 or 10 under, he had no chance of winning the Amana VIP.

I'll be darned if I can remember the pro who won the Cadillac that year.

I took my teacher's words to heart about a lot of things in life. There have been some exceptions such as wars. It is not good enough to be right about wars because a lot of people are wrong about them.

It's easy to die in a senseless war.

A Great Skill

I think it would be wonderful if I could write all my blog posts in blank verse, and have the posts sound like a Raymond Carver poem.

I wouldn't be posting much though.

Life and its trade-offs often frustrate me.

Mastery, Mathematics, and Religion

I have arrived at the point in my Riemann Hypothesis studies where some simple arithmetic and remembrances of long forgotten mathematics will no longer help. Every concept and every proof of a theorem in which I am interested requires much time sitting in front of my notebook trying to work out details requiring a breadth and depth of knowledge I do not possess.

It reminds me of why it was a good thing I never seriously tried to become a mathematician. The top students in my class would look at our homework assignments and within a short time have an uncanny insight into how to solve problems on which I spent many lonely hours working without a clue.

Yet, how is it different than most things that do not come naturally to me: philosophy, art, etc? Not much.

Religion, however, does come naturally to me. Religious thinking is an ordinary extension of my everyday cognitive processes. Let's take an example.

My neighbors went on vacation the other week. My mind assumes that even though they are not present for a week, I will see them again. I was correct in my reasoning. I saw them again once they returned. Infants successfully reckon these sorts of things.

Now, let's take the immortality of the soul. A loved one of mine dies. My mind is wired to believe that even though I do not see her, I will again someday. If I am not careful, I might be fooled by this pre-reflective cognitive belief into confusing traveling with immortality.

Let's take another example. I've never been to Spain. (Thank you, Three Dog Night.) Yet I believe that Spain is a place to which I could travel if I wanted. Authorities, people who live there, or those who have visited Spain assure me such a place exists. Authorities also assure me there is a heaven and hell, one of which I most assuredly will travel to one day. Once again, my pre-reflective cognitive processes might confuse Spain with heaven and hell.

The list of common cognitive processes that are used for religious thinking goes on. All religions use our normal everyday cognitive processes for their reasoning and beliefs.

That is not to say that upon reflection there might not be heaven and hell and the immortal soul. What should be kept in mind is that our pre-reflective cognitive processes, necessary to negotiate the world, are used for religious reasoning. It is one of the reasons why it is very easy for the atheist to win arguments against the believer. Religious beliefs are often a tangle of absurdities and inconsistencies born from unreflective thinking encouraged by pre-reflective cognitive processes that promote and sustain religious beliefs along with our everyday welfare.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Lone Fisherman

Wang Wie translated by Sam Hamill:
Reply to a Magistrate

Late in life, I care for ease alone--
to hell with official concerns.

Look! I make plans for the future
but to go back to my forest home again.

Let pine winds loosen my robes,
mountain moons play my lute.

You want to taste success or failure?
A lone fisherman sings out on the water.

Summer of '65

I bought a Honda 50 motorbike the summer of '65. Gas was about $.25/gal., cigarettes were about a dime a pack, and the bike got 225 mi./gal.

I stayed out all night with my friends driving around looking for fun stuff to do.

When I woke in the morning, I read a book. I read all the James Bond novels that summer. I found many of them the other day while searching through my library. The cover price for those paperbacks was $.50.

"It's not a big motorcycle just a groovy little motorbike." Litte Honda, The Beach Boys

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Hang On Sloopy

Regarding my post about Amazing Grace being my favorite song, the ever inquisitive Hoagie asked, "what happened to Hang on Sloopy?" Well, it is still a strong second on my list.

I hope it it goes without saying that Hang on Sloopy was a monster hit for the McCoys back in the mid-sixties. I saw the McCoys at Danceland Ballroom back then just as the song was peaking on the pop charts. The band featured 14 year old Rick Derringer on the guitar, and even then it was obvious he was a force to be reckonned with in the Rock 'N Roll world.

Danceland, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was merely a long bowed wooden dance floor with a small stage at one end. Many of the mid-sixties hottest acts played there: Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Lou Christie, you name them, and they were there on a Saturday night. Lou Christie wore skin tight leather pants. He put a sock in his britches to impress the gals, but me and my buddy, Bill, weren't fooled.

My favorite show was Jerry Lee Lewis. He was spelled by Booker T. and the MG's. In fact, he was spelled for rather long stretches by Booker T. I think Jerry Lee was under the weather that night if you know what I mean.

Jerry Lee's last song that night was Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On. He stood at the piano and made it soar to new heights of virtuosity. During one of the song's, "shake it, baby, shake," refrains he kicked the piano stool behind him so hard it flew way across the stage and crashed into the wall.

Danceland and the bowling alley below it are long gone. An Interstate highway runs through there now, but on a clear night you can see the ghost of Lou Christie's sock hovering above the highway.

Academic Blogging and Anonymity Part One, or the Only One

Folks from academia are well represented in Blogland. That's a hunch. I'm too lazy to look it up, but there must be surveys and statistics somewhere.

Academic blogging has been a real boon to the general dissemination of knowledge. My curiosity has been often satisfied or piqued by the interesting writing and references I find on academic blogs. Good job, academic bloggers. You are working for me, and you're working for free.

One of the issues I read about in the academic blogs is whether to post under one's real name, or post anonymously. Those who post anonymously often fear reprisals from their employers.

Trying to protect one's anonymity in Blogland is perilous. People tend to say too much about their personal and work lives, and acquaintances can inadvertently divulge information too. Only iron discipline prevents a slip of the lip.

Mixing the privately personal with the purely academic on a blog is most dangerous. Consider a philosopher who is having an affair outside his marriage. The philosopher intersperses the juicy details of his romance between academic ruminations on his blog. It seems an open invitation for an Internet sleuth to find out who he is.

Also, an academic blogger who writes about their field of research tacitly claims credentials to that area of expertise. Anonymity does not do justice to her curriculum vitae. From a professional point of view that seems limiting when writing in Blogland.

My profile says, "I avoid identity issues, but I will tell you I am a frumpy geezer." I don't have any credentials, so it does not matter what kind of gibber I post.

A Syllogism

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution discusses Iraq and consequentialism: what is the marginal product of war?

This is marginally to his point, but it is an ethical syllogism about wars in general, and Iraq in particular.

I should not start wars I cannot win.
I cannot win this war.
Therefore, I should not start this war.

Tyler would say my syllogism sounds selfish and defeatist when used as an ethical argument by itself.

There is of course the separate question of what is good for the U.S. and for other countries besides Iraq. If you think Iraq will go badly no matter what, those considerations may well be decisive. But it sounds selfish and defeatist to cite those arguments alone, so we are again left with anti-war cases which do not make complete sense.

No, it sounds selfish and realistic rather than defeatist.

There might be cases when the syllogism's major premise is false, but as a beginning rule of thumb it works well.

"Potential is nothing; performance is everything." Bud Wilkinson

Why not?

Li Po translated by Sam Hamill:

Summer Days in the Mountains

Too lazy even to move a feather fan,
stripped naked in the deep green forest,

even my headband left on a stonewall somewhere,
I let the pine winds ruffle my hair.

Sometimes when I read Li Po I am reminded of Raymond Carver. And sometimes when I read Raymond Carver I am reminded of Li Po.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Another Night

The day approaches midnight. I sit in the dark and look down on State Street, feel relieved I am not down there, yet not content to be here either.

I could be perched on a river snag fishing for catfish early tomorrow morning if I lived beside a lonely river.

My imagination is not so much wild as it is unruly, a trooper who'll never make a good soldier.

I'm going to do it.

OK, I am going to send my novel out. All I have to do is proof it one more time, piss away the money to print some copies and mail it, and pray I can find a list of people who might read it all the way to the end.

I won't be able to start my next book in earnest until I send this one out. I thought I had a choice, but in reality I never did.

Getting Easier

"There's winners, and there's losers. It ain't no big deal." Little Pink Houses, John Mellankamp.

After the Cubs sad, sad showing against the Diamondbacks this weekend it appears I may not need to run anymore of my Monte Carlo simulations. The truth will be as plain as day.

Radical Economics Textbook

I was rummaging through some of my old books yesterday and found one of the economics textbooks I used in college, the 1972 first edition of Economics an introduction to traditional and radical views by E. K. Hunt and Howard J. Sherman. The textbook breaks from the Paul Samuelson textbook tradition by presenting a history of economics, a radical critique of capitalism, and a measured presentation of communist and socialist economics as practiced by the Soviet Union and communist China.

The year 1972 was an interesting time for the publication of a radical economics textbook. The U. S. had just abandoned the gold standard for international payments, President Nixon had just imposed price and wage controls, the oil price shocks of the seventies were still in the future, and the stagflation of the seventies was still in its nascent stage.

By the end of the seventies the neoclassical school of economics was on the rise. Some Nobel Laureates in economics were proclaiming the death of Keynesianism. Keynesianism did not die and the more extreme ideas from neoclassical economics do not dominate as they once did for a few years.

Advances in mainstream economics during the past 30 years should not be totally despised. New theories as to why aggregate supply is as important as aggregate demand in understanding the economy, how central banks can alleviate some of the more wild swings in the business cycle via the application of "Taylor Rules", and how global unregulated financial markets can destroy whole economies have been developed and applied.

Scanning the textbook, I find Hunt and Sherman prescient when discussing problems with unfettered global markets, U. S. Imperialism during military build-ups, fair and equitable distribution of income, and the persistent misery in underdeveloped countries.

Two years before studying Hunt and Sherman, I read Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts in Erich Fromm's Marx's Concept of Man for a philosophy class. That made me more open to the ideas contained in Hunt and Sherman.

In 1998 I decided to educate myself about 'modern' economics. I read a lot of books, some of the significant papers from the past 35 years, and graduate seminar lecture notes I found on the Internet. It turned out to be an enjoyable experience. I also became of aware of some of the ideas floating around in the heterodox economic school. One thing I felt from studying economic papers of the recent past is that they have become vacuous exercises in mathematical modeling. What makes heterodox economics interesting is that it applies a multi-discipline approach to studying economics and applies a more realistic research program about our economics natures.

My curiosity is piqued about Hunt and Sherman. It seems suitably heterodox, so I will reread the textbook again.