Friday, February 25, 2011

The Game Upon the Razor's Edge

Well, I have a title now for the second half of what started out as In the Lion's Mouth.  It is to be called On the Razor's Edge, following a poem that appears in the Lion's Mouth and is fortuitously echoed already in the text.  I figure the title scans to match the companion volume and is about the same size as the first two titles as well, so the cover art may continue the same theme without unduly resizing the font.   

Yuts’ga, whose star, once spied from Earth
In nameless twinkle, whose seas once swam
With proto-life prolific, joined in metazoan joy,
Her skies well-crossed by many streams, convulsed
At times by strife to seize them, has now in gentle peace
Reposed these slumb’rous years, to dream… of what?
Here, too, a crucial bottleneck where messages
Must criss and cross their way among the stars,
A place where proper hands may stay or speed
Intelligence sore-needed elsewhere by the foe.
And so have Shadows dimmed Fair Yuts’ga
In stealth to play the game upon the razor’s edge,
Life sweetly-dreamed along the borderlands of death,
And gather all within that fatal commonwealth
In which we all find final membership. 

+ + +

Méarana plucked a dis-chord on her harp.  “War as a cure for boredom?”
“Ah, harper!  No one who has not lived on the razor’s edge can know what it means to be alive.  Only by hazarding all can one win all.”

+ + +

Life seldom tastes so sweet as it does when stolen back at the very brink from those who would take it.  Méarana finally understood, a little, a phrase favored by the Ravn: “life along the razor’s edge.”   

+ + +
Which should give you an idea of the book.
+ + +

Friday, February 18, 2011

Aether Or

There is an adage which, so far as I know, I made up: There is no job so simple as the other guy's job.  I noted this years ago when in the glass plant a production supervisor told me that statistical methods "might work in aluminum can production, but blowing glass bottles is different.  It's a black art."  What made it amusing is that shortly before I had been told by a can line supervisor that statistical methods might work in the bottle plant, which was very simple, but drawing and ironing aluminum coil into cans was high precision science.  What either claim had to do with the applicability of statistical methods, I don't know.  By me, 1 bottle plus 1 bottle seemed a lot like 1 can plus 1 can; and I supposed this would be true of averages and standard deviations as well, but what do I know?

In any case, the adage that what other people do is much simpler than what "I" do can be found in all walks of life.  The reason, of course, is that "I" know all the details and complications of "my" work while I know little or nothing of the work of "that other guy."

Edward Feser, Philosopher
blog photo
It's not always true, but it's true often enough; though much more often I think among journeymen than among masters.  A master weaver is likely to acknowledge that a master brewer has a job every bit as nuanced as his own; but apprentices and journeymen are likely to hype the difficulties and nuances of weaving and dismiss those of brewing.  ("The bacteria does all the work, y'know.")

Ethan Siegel, non-philosopher
blog photo.  No fooling.
And so it is no surprise that Ed Feser has found yet another physicist who thinks, because he is trained in the metric properties of material bodies, he is therefore expert in all things philosophical.  More to the point, he seems not to imagine that there is anything beyond physics at all, and reads other fields through the filter of the physics.  Why are (some) physicists so bad at philosophy?

The physicist is Ethan Siegel, but he makes the same error as Stephen Hawking did earlier.  In Can You Get Something For Nothing? the estimable Dr. Siegel addresses the adage "You can't get something from nothing," adding that he hears this "most often when people bring this up to me, it's in an attempt to prove the existence of God -- and the insufficiency of the Big Bang -- by pointing to the Universe."  He proves how foolish this is by reprinting a cartoon:

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Instrumentality of the Brain

Now and then peculiar stories come to light.  A friend of mine some years ago had been scheduled for bypass surgery, but when he went into the hospital, they found, mirabile dictu, that new arteries had grown creating a natural bypass!  A strange thing, but not (he told me) as uncommon as you might think.  Though it is probably not an eventuality upon you would want to rely.

Today's tale is of a boy who was born without half his brain.
When Chase Britton was 1 year old, doctors did an MRI, expecting to find he had a mild case of cerebral palsy. Instead, they discovered he was completely missing his cerebellum -- the part of the brain that controls motor skills, balance and emotions.

"That's when the doctor called and didn't know what to say to us," Britton said in a telephone interview. "No one had ever seen it before. And then we'd go to the neurologists and they'd say, 'That's impossible.' 'He has the MRI of a vegetable,' one of the doctors said to us."

Chase is not a vegetable, leaving doctors bewildered and experts rethinking what they thought they knew about the human brain.  

Chase also is missing his pons, the part of the brain stem that controls basic functions, such as sleeping and breathing. There is only fluid where the cerebellum and pons should be, Britton said.
Ultrasound showed the kid had a cerebellum during pregnancy; but it vanished along the way. 

But that is not the most peculiar thing.  He does breathe and he does sleep, even without a pons.  He managed eventually to sit up on his own. Next he learned to crawl, and push himself upright.  Now, he's learning to walk.  These are things he should have been unable to do without a cerebellum to provide balance, if certain metaphysical stances were true.  

Now, like new arteries growing, this might be more common than it sounds; but it raises a peculiar question.  Evidently, other parts of the brain, in the cerebrum or medulla, have been recruited to take over tasks for which no cerebellum or pons stepped forward.  But who did the recruiting?  Is it the Brain that does all this, or is it Chase Britton, using his brain?

IOW, might the Brain be like any other bodily organ, an instrument used by the organism?  We don't say that the stomach ate a meal or that the legs went to the corner store.  Yet, we credit the Brain rhetorically with all sorts of autonomous actions, perhaps because we are reluctant to consider whether there might not be something more than the Brain.  Perhaps we are top-down and not bottom-up, after all.

UPDATE: Codgitator trumps Chase with a middle-aged Frenchman, married with children and gainfully employed, who has virtually no brain at all.  OK, a sort of shell of a brain.  See the normal brain on the left, and the Frenchman's brain on the right.

As you can see, there isn't much there.  The wonder is not that he has an IQ of 75, but that he has any IQ at all, or any life, for that matter.  The condition is called Dandy Walker complex and is a genetically sporadic disorder that occurs in one out of every 25,000 live births.  There have been enough such cases that Dr. John Lorber published a 1980 article in Science titled "Is the Brain Really Necessary?" [PDF link].  Mr. Codgitator comments:

"[I]t is the whole person, as a dynamic formal agent, that integrates all such neural, skeletal, physiological, etc. operations into one stream of conscious rational agency." and that "the Self, is not in the brain! On the contrary: the brain is in the self!"  No Brainer

Friday, February 11, 2011

Is There Anything This Theory Can't Explain?

Apparently not.  NYT columnist Paul Krugman has determined that the Egyptian uprising was due to Global Warming™ [I mean, Climate Change; I mean, Climate Disruption].  The rationale is that Global Warming results in droughts (when it isn't causing increased rainfall or snow) which leads to reduced crops, which leads to higher prices, which leads to mobs crying out for governments to sprinkle magic pixie dust to make food cheaper.  It's a wonderful theory.  Except for one thing. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Forest of Time

Big Reminder

For all those who haven't gotten their copies yet, now is the time to strike a blow for electronic books by purchasing....

The Forest of Time & Other Stories
ISBN 978-1-60450-479-8, 362 Pages, Trade Paperback 6”x9”
Paperback: $14.99
KINDLE: $9.99

"Interesting, engaging, and believable."-San Diego Union Tribune
Here is an eclectic collection of science fiction stories (and three short poems) by multiple award winning author Michael Flynn, author of such acclaimed titles as Eifelheim (Hugo nominee) and Firestar, called by the San Diego Union Tribune a 'knockout.'
This collection itself includes two Hugo nominated stories ("The Forest of Time" and "Melodies of the Heart") as well as a selection of some of the author's finest works of short fiction that were originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.  Included in this edition are three humorous poems which also originally appeared in Analog.

Go here:

If ebooking is not your forte, a paperback version is available.  Come on, help Flynn earn out his paltry advance!

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Here is an account by an Egyptian 

If need be, scroll down to "Fwd: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution [from an observer on..."

It is rather long, but gives a closer, first-hand account.  

In the Land of the Pharaohs

the latest dynasty - that of the Army Colonels - is teetering.  And this for a most unusual reason.  Some say that this is a democratic rising against brutal autocracy; but the brutal autocracy has been in place for at least 30 years - or 6000 years, depending on how you count such things.  But notice that the unrest began over rising prices, and of all the things that brutal autocracies and fluffy-bunny democracies have no real control, prices is numbered among them.  Only after a couple days did folks start to honk the democracy horn, given that the democracies of Europe and America were now watching.  (Observe how many signs in the crowd are in English.  Those were not written for the benefit of native Egyptians.)

"But when the mob takes to the streets in search of food, its first move is usually to burn the bakeries."
-- Jerry Pournelle

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In De Nile

"If any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately," Gibbs said, while declining to speculate whether the Egyptian government was in fact behind the violence.

Presumably, if the violence is instigated by the protesters or by free-lance Mubarak supporters, it may then proceed unabated.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Down the Ol' Memory Hole

Notice how swiftly Kermit Gosnell fell off the front pages, or any pages?  

 "In the wake of Kermit Gosnell, however, in the wake of Andrew Rutland, Stephen Brigham, and Abu Hayat, there is no following-up, no digging through records; there is no curiosity..." -- Elizabeth Scalia

New Story from Michael F. Flynn

 Greetings All.    Mike (Dad) has a new story in the July/August edition of Analog . I know Analog is available on Kindle store and Analog ...