Questions and Carnosaurs

So, screw Star Trek and Pacific Rim and transparently-manipulative surveys about nuclear power. It’s been a while since I’ve gone full narcissist; so here’s the latest in an occasional series of miscellaneous backlogged bits about me.

This first item is a bit stale — I linked to the first installment of Fatal Libelli’s interview with me a couple of months back— but since then, the entire thing has been posted both in Spanish and its native English. Each of its three parts interrogate me on different aspects of the trade (aliens, world-building, and me). There’s not a whole lot that rabid fans won’t have read before — but then again, how many of you are rabid fans?

Closer to home, a dude named Cameron McLeod interviewed me for his blog. It’s more domestic, lower profile, but the questions are more offbeat: they start with Rob Sawyer throwing in with the Why do New Atheists have to be so mean? crowd (I hadn’t actually realized he’d done that), wanders through subjects as diverse as hacktivism, Obama’s drones, and my aversion to twitter, and finishes off with the question “What is it with you and cats?” (Short answer: I admire anything that speaks truth to power. I like raccoons too.)  Looking back on it now I get the sense I may have been feeling a bit grumpy when I answered some of those questions. On the other hand, I may have to rethink my aversion to twitter; given my apparent inability to keep up with my e-mails without falling behind on my writing, I may have to fall back on a more concise platform. Much as I loathe the twit mindset.

Finally, you may remember that I bragged about being able to cuddle a carnosaur at FinnCon last month. Here’s the proof:

Photo by MInna Jerrman.

Photo by Minna Jerrman.

I also got to eat an extremely small and flamboyant dildo.

Note the gap in my upper jaw, waiting for a new molar (Tor, where's the rest of my advance?) Photo by MInna Jerrman

Note the hole at the back my upper jaw, waiting for a new molar (Tor, where’s the rest of my goddamn advance?) Photo by Minna Jerrman.

There were other pictures too, but they weren’t quite so flattering. I’m told they’ll be accompanying Tähtivaeltaja‘s Cryocouch piece on me coming out in December.

Fortunately, they’ll all be in Finnish.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday August 09 2013at 06:08 am , filed under interviews, On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

32 Responses to “Questions and Carnosaurs”

  1. @Peter Watts, who wondered how many of his fans are actually rabid: Um, assuming that the shots they gave me actually contain anything that will work as advertized, I won’t actually be a rabid fan, just a nearly rabid fan. If, due to medical error or skulduggery or government snooping in e-mail (or all of the above, I don’t just live in the States, I live in a suburb of the capital), I should progress to the furious stage, I’ll keep reading my way through your backlist here until they take away my laptop because I keep foaming onto it. Just don’t expect good typing in the comments section much after mid-month if that’s the way it goes. The problem with rabid fans is that they’ve got a pretty short shelf-life.

    Moving right along: I tend to take issue with some of the Mean Atheist types because my own take on faith is very laid-back and generally liassez-faire and I think everyone else ought to be that way too. Forcing one’s will on other people, while attributing the authority not to yourself but to the Giant Purple Space Squid or Cosmic Muffin or whatever, it’s the worst possible combination of presumption combined with delusion if anyone actually believes the reasons they claim. On the other hand, if you and your friends want to build a place and then walk around with incense while all dressed up funny and do it once a week, while otherwise not much bothering anyone else, I highly commend the practice as it means less people in the shopping centers during those hours and perhaps I can get some shopping done in relative peace.

    But there’s this phenomenon I encounter, where there are clearly groups of Mean Atheists — and in some cases, actual tax-exempt Churches of Atheism (yes, really) — and a lot of them seem to share this article of faith that it is good for all concerned (and probably for humanity in general) to find reasonably harmless/defenseless religious people and then to just outright fuck with them in really objectionable, if not openly criminal, ways… and then when the people complain, they get responses to the effect of “so why don’t you just get your stupid god to save your delusional ass”. That’s the mean “soul” of Mean Atheism. See also the concept of “Job’s Comforters” and note that in the story, Job’s hasn’t done anything wrong; he’s just being messed with by one of YHWH’s drinking buddies, more-or-less. The organized “mean atheists” are sort of like inverse Job’s Comforters. The Mean Atheist is like the Mean Religionist, they want to force their beliefs and practices onto someone else and hurt them for not accepting it with open arms and open mind. Just mean, that’s all, intolerant of other viewpoints.

    As for cats speaking truth to power, here’s a fine example of a cat saying “perhaps you will now reconsider your rash policy of unprovoked aggression!”

  2. Rabid enough to read your interviews in Spanish and then follow the Ego Tunnel recommendation.

  3. Is that Charles Darwin on your shirt? What’s the logo on his hat? Kudos to the photographer, that photo is delightful.

    twitter is loads of fun and snark and information. just follow everyone I do because I am an arbiter of taste.

  4. “…there’s one particular line of dialog that, if you’re paying attention, might just turn all of Blindsight inside-out in retrospect.”

    This line has me really intrigued!

    That interview also reminds me that I still really want to pick up a copy of Being No One!

  5. Oh a miniature Tintin rocketship :)

  6. I think you underestimate how easily words arise. Give me a matrix, and I will give you words.

    - The working of cells is regulated by small molecules which are synthesized under certain environmental conditions, and which regulate expression of genes. There may be multiple ways a given molecule is produced (perhaps with minor variations in structure), and there are multiple sites affected by a single molecule. The molecule has come to represent an abstract concept: an environmental condition and the response to that condition.

    - It’s easy enough to imagine cells working in a way that is completely opaque, but this turns out not to be the case (at least in part). They’re quite modular. Functionally related genes are often grouped together on a region of chromasome or in a plasmid. The basic language of transcription and translation is easily understood by a human mind. Small changes to the DNA sequence have comprehensible effects. We can apply labels, and make simple arguments in terms of these labels that predict quite well how the cell will behave.

    Language is such a simple thing to arise that I would hesitate to say language implies life, and would certainly reject language implies consciousness. Contrawise, consciousness might not imply language, but language is everywhere anyway. If we meet aliens, a new language will arise.

  7. Thought it sounded fine, non-cranky, but then Harlan Ellison might be skewing my internal scale (recalling when he told people to read something or other or he’d “shoot [their faces] off with an Uzi.” Though I think he softened that with “I’m a crank. Whaddya want from me?”).

    Crowdsourcing the vamp book sounds intriguing, but then a coffee table book does too. And I’m not getting the aversion they have. Did you mention there could be sexy vampire pics? I thought we could take deep-fried thirty year old fruitcake, slap “Vampire” on it, and it would sell. One that is sexy AND makes for a good read? You hit both the erogenous and the “mental masturbation” zones and, wham! Gotta work.

    Of course, by the time it gets through production, we might be on to the next thing, but vamps, zombies, they just don’t wanna die. :) Probably not gonna be unicorns any time soon.

  8. Re: “Proceedings”… I think I may understand why the agents feel that it might be a bad idea.

    If anyone here is a genre fan, you probably noticed that there are two trends in that genre, and “Proceedings” would buck both of those marketing trends. One trend is towards reducing the whole thing towards an increasingly unbelievable, i.e, superstition-based, presentation. Vampires exist only in a world also populated by Magickals such as spell-casting witches and shape-shifters such as werewolves.

    Another trend is, oddly, that vampires are being increasingly cast as sympathetic characters, or at least they are presented as fitting into a worldview in which they make sense and from which worldview their expressions (dialog etc) and actions are consistent. Thus, possibly because they both fit the mold and further develop it, the huge revenues generated within such “fictons” as the Twilight Mythos or the Vampire Diaries Mythos, or the True Blood Mythos. People want fantasy, and these are clearly fantastic. They might have horrible moments — True Blood certainly does — but they’re not so much Horror as they are Fantasy. One of the basis elements of Real Horror is that the nature of real Horror is to draw the reader/viewer into a version of their own reality which is ideally nearly indistinguishable from their actual reality.

    The best Horror leaves the audience wondering if perhaps they’ve gone mad, because a plausible yet intolerable re-interpretation has been offered. Most Horror cannot rise to that level but it can at last present the audience with a very plausible potential reality, frequently not one which could be in the present, but which could easily occur, perhaps not today but certainly it could be headline news in the mainstream or even science media in the very near future. R Scott Bakken’s Neuropath is clearly Horror even though the basis of the horror is cutting edge science of the modern day. It’s just incredibly fucked up, mostly because we can easily see it all as eminently plausible and indeed probably effectively unavoidable.

    Fantasy, contrarily, is easily dismissed. It becomes nothing more than drama, perhaps with its pathos and catharsis and suchlike, but increasingly it is presented as so fantastical that nobody could possibly expect any of it to actually ever happen.

    “Proceedings” would be properly classified as Horror, in my humble opinion, because it’s too plausible. No, I don’t think that even as we speak, some idiots somewhere along the I-270 Biotech Corridor are playing really stupid games to make Yesterdays Nightmares Into the Profitable Products of Today. Then again, I’ve been wrong before. ;)

    The fact is, someone probably could do really silly stuff that rightly would be classified as “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing”, not too far from Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, the New Prometheus. Our less-advanced ancestors didn’t need to fully understand fire in order to use it to warm their habitations, and probably more than a few paid the price of drifting warmly off to sleep the final sleep of asphyxiation due to combustion heating in enclosed spaces. Frankly, lots of people still do that and I trust them far less with recombinant DNA technologies than I would with a bag of charcoal and a matchbook and some lighter fluid.

    No, let’s leave our vampires clearly out there in fantasy land, or otherwise in hard-to-find and difficult-for-laypersons text stories. Finely illustrated and horrifically plausible coffee-table books ought not to be left lying around where they can influence loosely-wrapped individuals such as myself to become deeply suspicious of their phlebotomists, or unsoundly curious about what exactly is going on in that building over by the new university campus in the biotech corridor, where said building seems to operate only on the night shift and is trafficked exclusively by tall skinny people who are suspiciously pale and diffident…

    :-K

  9. Some of the ‘tame’ brushtail possums you may have met in Melbourne may meet the truth to power criteria.
    (Or the lacking imagination). Maybe they still claim Marsupial lions as relatives.

  10. In the McLeod interview, you mention that you haven’t read Rob Sawyer’s arguments against “mean atheism”:

    http://www.sfwriter.com/atheists.htm

    You’re welcome!

  11. So I’ll tell you what. We’ll stop being self-absorbed and arrogant when the theists stop murdering doctors, raising fatwas, bombing abortion clinics, raping altar boys, stifling life-saving scientific research, flying planes into buildings, persecuting LGBTs, and shooting girls who want to read. Until then, religious apologists decrying the arrogance of atheism is a little like Geoffrey Dahmer criticizing your table manners.

    So, until every last theist is free of sin, individual atheists get a free pass to kick any theist (sinful or not) in the nuts?

    I don’t think so.

  12. Ross: So, until every last theist is free of sin, individual atheists get a free pass to kick any theist (sinful or not) in the nuts?

    I don’t think so.

    Nor do I. Which is which I didn’t say that.

    Ross has, however, served up a perfect example of the theistic double-standard that’s so much in evidence among the Atheists-are-Mean crowd; he’s managed to characterize critique as assault. There’s a certain entitlement to this crowd; after centuries spent oppressing whole societies, and right here in a twenty-first century where women and LGBTs are still treated as second-class citizens — not just by a few loons in the deep south but officially, by the institutions themselves — the real injustice, it seems, is that we atheists ridicule that hypocrisy and the sky-fairies invoked to justify it.

    Horseshit.

    This leads nicely into Mr. Non-Entity’s earlier comment about the well-meaning dudes and dudettes who get ridiculed for quietly and inoffensively practicing their beliefs. I’m not convinced this is a serious problem — the arrows I’ve seen slung are aimed at much higher-profile targets like Fox News and the Vatican, who are neither quiet nor inoffensive — but even if there were an epidemic of such ridicule, I would not pass blanket condemnation on it. After all, the Falwells and Ratzingers of the world weren’t born with superpowers; they would not have been able to do the things they did without the support of very large flocks. And presumably, the surveys which place atheists in the same ballpark as sex offenders must by definition be reflecting a significant chunk of public opinion, no matter how quietly and inoffensively held. Like the many good cops who nonetheless cover for the several bad ones, these people may be well-intentioned but they are not innocent.

    All those good Christians who just keep their mouths shut and worship inoffensively in their living rooms while their fellows pass “Family Values” legislation? Fair fucking game. On the other hand, those who speak out against the onerous policies of their fellow theists — those are the ones I respect. At least they follow the teachings of the figureheads purported to have started the whole ball rolling, even if it costs them.

    My dad was one of that latter kind, by the way. It cost him.

  13. Peter Watts: I suppose that as long as we get off our asses and just get out there already, I don’t have especially strong feelings as to how we do that. I confess to a slight personal and selfish bias towards privatization simply because a profit-driven, passenger-based business model is one that would be more likely to get someone like me into space. (Granted, it would increase my odds from one-in-a-billion to one-in-a-million, but I’ll take what I can get).

    Hey, Peter, did you watch this year’s Europa Report? It is a good drama, but also a very realistic depiction of a modern-era privately funded trip to Europa, with a marine biologist for the crew’s chief science officer. I’m just saying, your skills might still be called upon in space.

  14. “Fortunately, they’ll all be in Finnish.”

    Google Translate does Finnish. Sorry.

  15. Amazingly I just saw a story about a religious leader claiming criticism is not the same as persecution, and people who complain about it need to “grow up”.

    An event so rare it is newsworthy.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10244716/Persecuted-British-Christians-need-to-grow-up-says-former-Archbishop-Rowan-Williams.html

  16. I think that Peter and I come out of the same general school of practice when it comes to religion, though he’s taking a more agnostic/atheist path and I’m taking a more roll-your-own eclectic neopaganchristianism. ;) When I was a kid, my mom’s church was practicing what we now call Secular Humanism in all but name, if you looked a bit beyond the fact that outreach and social-justice activism were said to be answering that bit about “if you have fed the hungry it is as if you fed me, if you visit the prisoners it is as if you visited me in jail”. Whether or not you believe in the divinity of some purported prophet, sometimes they give good advice. If Jesus calls for social justice and an end to corruption, should atheists declare these things to be foolishness because it was Jesus (and others) who called for it? If an atheist calls for the same thing, should Christians deny it because an atheist said it, even though Jesus said it first?

    The thing is, you don’t have to be an atheist to ridicule Jerry Fallwell or FOX News, and you don’t have to be one of the faithful to believe in ridiculous stuff. I know people who are about as religious as a dead wombat (not very) and they argue that the evidence for Global Warming is “inconclusive and blown out of proportion” and that as long as it’s not hardly proven (so they say) it’s really silly to blame it on the activities of human beings. To me, though I am no real scientist, it seems to me that it’s as fine a distinction as someone saying that their father and brothers deaths can’t be blamed on the mining company (even though better respirators might have saved them from Black Lung), and the people who suggest that if it’s your time to die of Black Lung, it’s the will of the almighty; staying the hell out of coal mines has nothing to do with it. Not much distinction between types of ridiculousness so long as it’s of the same high degree, eh?

    Now, if one wants to poke the right thing with the sharp stick, perhaps we should poke at Organizations of Faith, whichever ones have become far more about the organization — and the money and/or power — than about the faith. If one was to give an example of “all about the power”, one need look no farther than Arnaud Amalric, of the crusade against the Cathars and Albigensians, notable as having originated the phrase “Kill them all and let God sort them out”, more or less.

    It might be best to take up the cry against Tyranny in all of its forms, whether purely Statist or Religious, than to declare that Religion is the problem when actually it’s just an excuse used by the Tyrant. I seem to recall that other causes have spilt quite a lot of blood, such as Lebensraum or whatever the hell it was that actually motivated Stalin, who could hardly be called devout to any known faith. Or Mao. Indeed, those naughty Marxists could be taken to task for being very Mean Atheists in their relentless suppression of religion. Killed rather a few more than did Amalric, if I recall correctly.

    I think most of us reading here could adopt Thomas Jefferson’s notion: “…I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” I realize Jefferson might be fairly unknown to those reading from outside of the States, but he was after all a Deist working alongside a lot of Quakers when he separated Church and State in the US Bill of Rights. Both of those philosophies have had profound influence here and while both Quakers and Deists professed deep religious feeling (nominally Christian), they also expressed deep antipathies to the various Establishments of Religion (to wit, the Church, Anglican or otherwise) and thus we have a lot of deeply religious men signing off on a document that guarantees that the State will not interfere in or impose matters of belief or conscience. And really, if we’re worried about the Faithful imposing on us, we should do whatever we can in our various nations to guard our constitutions or whatever may guarantee our freedom to worship, which usually also guaranteed freedom to not worship. Sniping at each other isn’t going to do much except to agitate the State to lean towards one or another side. I’d say that the lower the tone of the debate, the more civil things would tend to remain for all concerned.

    Throwing spaghetti at Climate Change Deniers might be a bit excessive, but of course, ratting out televangelists for massive tax fraud, that’s just being a good citizen and upholding the laws, all well and good dontcha know. ;)

  17. Mr Non-Entity:
    And really, if we’re worried about the Faithful imposing on us, we should do whatever we can in our various nations to guard our constitutions or whatever may guarantee our freedom to worship, which usually also guaranteed freedom to not worship. Sniping at each other isn’t going to do much except to agitate the State to lean towards one or another side. I’d say that the lower the tone of the debate, the more civil things would tend to remain for all concerned.

    I wish it were as you describe, but there is a sizable, vocal (and likely secretly backed by ALEC) minority who believes that the original US government imposed religion on the people and that all of our problems stem from that no longer being the case (as opposed to pollution, greed, and having learned so much better how to game the banking system). Then you have a government who is as likely to storm the homes of people who worship as the are so-called preservers of the Constitution. That latter is just as likely to wind a person on a watch list as living on a compound like David Koresh’s. The only side they are likely to take is, for example, Monsanto’s. I don’t think a multinational paramilitary food monopoly is going to be good for anyone, except Monsanto.

    Reason doesn’t work with people who believe the truth to be a lie. This is, I think, a problem that Peter has brought up many times. How do you reason with someone who didn’t arrive at their beliefs by reason? It’s not about turning them into atheists, either. It’s about making them see from where their real, day-to-day, problems that affect their lives stem from. Social dominators will say gays, atheists, minorities, and if things are bad enough, they’ll take that on faith.

  18. @Whoever, who wrote in-part: Reason doesn’t work with people who believe the truth to be a lie. This is, I think, a problem that Peter has brought up many times. How do you reason with someone who didn’t arrive at their beliefs by reason? It’s not about turning them into atheists, either. It’s about making them see from where their real, day-to-day, problems that affect their lives stem from. Social dominators will say gays, atheists, minorities, and if things are bad enough, they’ll take that on faith.

    Evidently you really did read your Jefferson, or perhaps great minds think alike…

    “Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend
    not on their own will, but follow involuntarily
    the evidence proposed to their minds;
    that Almighty God hath created the mind free,
    and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain
    by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint;
    that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments,
    or burthens, or by civil incapacitations,
    tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness,
    and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion…”

    - “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom”, Section I

    I think that anyone in Jefferson’s time had to add the flowery attribution to the divine, whether or not they believe it, but I digress. You hit a nail on the head which Jefferson denies. Jefferson believes that the human mind reaches its opinions and beliefs on the basis of what it has experienced. You seem to believe that a lot of people are easily led astray even without such “burthens” as Jefferson admits might at least force people to mouth the platitudes whether or not their experience formed opinions conformant to doctrine. I like Jefferson’s wording but he seems to think that people would seek and find the truth if left to their own devices, and you (and I) seem to think that many or most people are so intellectually lazy they’ll internalize any sort of tripe, no matter how initially implausible or unsupportable on basis of evidence.

    But what is one to do when one is surrounded by people telling you that all of those wonderful gifts under the glittery bush in the living room came from Santa Claus? I mean, he flies on a sleigh with reindeer and one of them has a nose that glows, they have TV shows about it and everything! Most kids do eventually learn that there’s not really that particular Santa Claus. But I think that the Santa myth (as we now have it in the States, anyway) is almost intentionally crafted to provoke the emerging mental critical capacity of youngsters as they begin to mature. But are they meant to thereafter fall into the “adult vision” of the story of Christmas, or are they meant to question that, and to question whatever comes after that (Freemasonry! ;) ) or are they meant to be critical of everything anyone tells them? I’d hope it was the latter, probably most folks here would hope that… but would the priest class hope for that? -because people will be less manageable and less willing to pay to be told what to believe.

    As for me, probably I believe a whole lot of different things at once, as long as there’s no evidence nor logic which would make certain sets of things mutually exclusive. As in, “well, because of this, therefor it can’t be that”. As in, “reindeer can’t actually fly and thus Santa’s sleigh can’t be pulled through the sky by flying reindeer”. Probably a lot of people are the same way, and they’ll cheerfully accept any explanation offered to them, so long as there isn’t clear evidence to the contrary[1]. And of course, “spin doctors” get paid for being good at obfuscation and supplying plausible visions which may not actually be reality… See also “Jesuit”. ;)

    Ref:
    1. Um, if he has an antigravity belt that could explain the presents under the tree labeled “from Santa”[2].
    2. So could forging Santa’s good name, but that would be too nefarious for most kids to accept at first. Heresy!

  19. Mr Non-Entity:
    But what is one to do when one is surrounded by people telling you that all of those wonderful gifts under the glittery bush in the living room came from Santa Claus?

    Ultimately, I think Jefferson, for all his bank paranoia, did not foresee just how big and bad it could get, and how the science of tricking people might surpass their ability to adapt to it one day. For example, for any public official to question the sincerity of any other public official who uses “God” in what they say (no matter how disingenuous the usage is) always carries the danger of being perceived as criticizing the Almighty or religion in general. Very few politicians have the balls and those that do often pay the price.

    Oh, for a set of clones. We are all a bundle of inconsistencies, but…

    Don’t have the time (and doubt he does either), but I’ve wondered from time to time how Peter squares his recent quote (from one of the interviews, I think) about belief never curing anything with, for example:

    http://www.rifters.com/real/shorts/PeterWatts_Hillcrest_V._Velikovsky.pdf

    Reminds me of Douglas Adams’ bit about the secret to flight being forgetting that you can’t.

    And then there’s Pete’s whole thing about forgetting about a problem in order to (allow the unconscious to) better solve it. What technically takes place when someone prays to the “sky fairie”? They “give the problem to Him”, forget about it and (maybe) wake up with an answer that came from somewhere deep in their heads. The “science” of prayer?

    But, like the short story (and Dent’s ability to fly) doesn’t work so well when you are aware how it works.

    As for my “answers”, I have two. First, you have to, being unable to reason, utilize something more universal. Something so sublime that it affects many people of different stripes at once. Sadly, there is *nothing* I can think of that fits the bill.

    The second is, according to (figuratively speaking) my magic 8-ball, tea leaves, and examining entrails, we’re in the wrong universe. Doesn’t bode well. And being happy for some of our trans-universal doubles only gets you so far.

  20. Whoever, how about the universality of despair? All human cultures, being reasoning cultures, recognize the divide between the idea of paradise and the reality of its impossibility. All paradises are false, by definition. Thus, we are all faced with what to do about despair before we succumb to it. Some of us accept suffering and embrace it, whether in ourselves or causing it in others. Some seek out further and further control of the information (material or logical). Some ‘shoot the messenger’ and reduce their investment in the ego perspective. Some push the paradise directly into fantasies of the past, the imagination as regulative ideas, or into the future as end states (post-millenials, old Marxist thought, the slave dreams of heaven, &c). As you say, we’re in the wrong universe.

    So what appeals to despair most of all?

    Fiction. Art. Poetry. The story we tell of its being overcome. Imagination is a powerful device leading to unhappiness when it colludes with reason for justification (biblical proof texts, stock analyses, FISA court proceedings, property laws, CIA action reports, &c). Perhaps embracing nonsensical imagination (forgetting we cannot fly, for example) is one way.

    We forget it’s a problem, for now, and seek to create a culture less reasonable and more artistic. Civilization depends more on our appreciation for a job well done than a job well paid.

  21. @Charles R: A fine pointer to alternatives to “traditional religion”, or for other means to deal with the despair rational people feel when they compare the perfections of ideals with the imperfections of humanity and all that comes from it!

    Existentialism in general is a good way of looking at things, or at least it can offer some viewpoint that many folks would find helpful. “In existentialism, the individual’s starting point is characterized by what has been called “the existential attitude”, or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.”

    The Wikipedia article — linked to, above — provides a lot to ponder, and I suspect that a lot of the readers here have already seen it or have had other delvings into the topic. Probably anyone anywhere has had the experience of being confronted with (or immersed in) the Absurd, and many would respond to the Absurd by attempting to rationalize the irrational; religion often results, perhaps under the theory that two absurdities make a non-absurdity.

    I guess both the Dada and the Surrealist movements would support the notion that while fiction, art, poetry, music, all of these things are appropriate vehicles, they are all communicative and the message has to be considered as much as do the media. Laughter is the best medicine, so to speak, and the opposite of that is anything that takes itself too seriously even when it’s fairly obvious to the uninvolved bystander that it’s just more absurdity trying to make sense of what is already absurd.

    Thus I would suggest that the best philosophies would be flexible — quite the opposite of most established religions — and these best philosophies would tend to promote the ability to laugh in the face of absurdity, and having laughed, move on and get back to business. I predict that any culture which can stop for a moment to laugh at the absurd is a culture that will last long and go far.

  22. Charles R., that’s a fascinating point about art and despair.

    Problem with despair as the universal (multi-universal?) Factor is that, similar to what we said above and you said about shooting the messenger, sometimes it’s also the artists who catch hell because of “out of sight, out of mind” or being viewed as Debbie Downer. Again, the social dominator sees a scapegoat to distract from his/her own self-serving agenda.

    It also tends to paralyze, demoralize, resulting in no action taken.

  23. Haven’t checked out the interview, but in regards to True Horror, I found Watt’s writing through a couple of short stories-the one, title forgotten, with what amounts to a lifeform around a star (amazing, concise, and horrific in all aspects), and the other, The Things, which I knew was likely to be about a certain movie, but the perspective, the best non-cliched approach to a kind of hive mind, was actually pretty horrific, and straddled the line between horror and sci-fi. The thought i have, is wondering whether the introduction of that would have improved the original movie. Maybe not, as the original is ptretty fine on it’s own merits. Also, I have not really been following the thread, as i was all eager to toss in my thoughts on horror…oops. not paying attention.

  24. Having read part of the thread, there might be a simple solution to the problem of getting people to see reason who didn’t arrive at their beliefs by reason, which I’m hideously misquoting. There’s a whole lot of asumptions there, one of which seems that two words, reason, or rationality, and belief, have been battered out of shape in recent years, to the point where either word can be applied to oh so many interpretations. ‘Rational’ can be applied like a coat of paint, or a bit of composition, to wherever one wishes to place it. As well, take ‘reason’ out of the context of the intellectual methodology used in science, and one observes that people of every stripe have been trying to get others to see , or use, their pov, for millenia. The logical human reaction (that is, the basic behaviour that is largely, but not always, apparent in a given exchange) seems to be a resistance to said approach. There aint nothin’ wrong with rationality, nor irrationality, or any of the many other forms thinking/methodology. They are all tools. Rationality, even materialism, athiesm, are all tools, suited to a particular job. As are intuition, creative thought, meditative thought. The huge error that rationalists make is fdeifying a particular tool. As an example: Carl Sagan, as an athiest, seemed, to me, to keep his athiesm in the background, the very reason I watched Cosmos. Not that he touted (well, occasionally he did) that this particular form of thought is the prime form of thought. If one has to get someone to see something, the best approach is a soft cell-let the merits of something speak for itself “Hey, have you ever thought about using this particular tool?” Not otherwise. The danger inherent, is in deciding to adentify, in another, something you see amiss, or “woo woo” or whatever. You are essentially telling them that they are wrong, and how you tell one they are wrong is deeply important to the effectiveness of one’s message. The natural reaction, if you are not fully cognizant of the natural intelligence of every other human being on the planet, is to be rebuffed. Guide them, very gently, to a form of thought, and they will happily embrace it on their own.

  25. That should be ‘of deifying, and identify.

  26. Going back to the original “all about Watts” theme, I just received an email from Amazon telling me that Beyond the Rift will be released on 1 Nov 2013.

    I half expect that if I click on the link, the machine intelligences will have decided that the appropriate “you may also like” links will be for suicide hotlines and the more aggressive environmental action groups…

  27. Hugh,

    Amazon:
    Combining complex science with skillfully executed prose, these edgy, award-winning tales from a highly controversial author explore the shifting border between the known and the alien.

    Wait, is Peter really controversial? Highly, even? What are the opposing views?

  28. Where is it all?

  29. More appropriate for the talk with video post/thread, but here’s a new bump in the trading computer system:

    http://www.democratandchronicle.com/usatoday/article/2685361

  30. Doubter:
    In the McLeod interview, you mention that you haven’t read Rob Sawyer’s arguments against “mean atheism”:

    http://www.sfwriter.com/atheists.htm

    You’re welcome!

    Thank you!

    Yeah, he’s pretty much just cut and pasted the same old arguments. He might have conjured up the (fallacious) example of the Darwin fish, I suppose. And his claims about the abject failure of the new atheism movement have lost a lot of steam in the years since he posted, what with non-believers creeping up past the 15% line and with Dubya creeping down out of the White House in the interim.

    Alexey: Hey, Peter, did you watch this year’s Europa Report?

    Not yet; I’ve been looking forward to it, but last I saw the local release date isn’t until Sep 26.

    Mr Non-Entity: It might be best to take up the cry against Tyranny in all of its forms, whether purely Statist or Religious, than to declare that Religion is the problem when actually it’s just an excuse used by the Tyrant.

    Oh, I agree wholeheartedly: religion is hardly the only oppression machine we humans have invented. I’d argue it’s among the most pernicious, though, in that it claims to draw its power from an omnipotent spirit whose words are Not To Be Questioned. I could start a genocidal cult if I wanted — Final Solutions R Us — but I’m just a guy, not an invisible bogeyman; most folks recognize the fallibility of human beings, so I’m vulnerable to critique and questioning in a way that deities aren’t.

  31. Mr Non-Entity: I think that anyone in Jefferson’s time had to add the flowery attribution to the divine, whether or not they believe it,

    Although, didn’t Jefferson’s remix of the Gospels explicitly excise any reference to supernatural events, leaving only Jesus teachings intact and none of the woo?

    Whoever: Don’t have the time (and doubt he does either), but I’ve wondered from time to time how Peter squares his recent quote (from one of the interviews, I think) about belief never curing anything with, for example:

    http://www.rifters.com/real/shorts/PeterWatts_Hillcrest_V._Velikovsky.pdf

    Hey, that story wasn’t about the healing power of belief; it was about the killing power of revelation.

    Whoever: And then there’s Pete’s whole thing about forgetting about a problem in order to (allow the unconscious to) better solve it. What technically takes place when someone prays to the “sky fairie”? They “give the problem to Him”, forget about it and (maybe) wake up with an answer that came from somewhere deep in their heads. The “science” of prayer?

    That’s getting uncomfortably close to the stuff I’m trying to explore in Echopraxia.

    Alexey: Wait, is Peter really controversial? Highly, even? What are the opposing views?

    I whinged about that myself, over here. Someone at Tachyon told me they’d cut that phrase, but it still seems to be up there…

  32. Peter Watts:

    Peter Watts: Although, didn’t Jefferson’s remix of the Gospels explicitly excise any reference to supernatural events, leaving only Jesus teachings intact and none of the woo?

    Yep, a deist. “We got something, not sure what it is, just keep flying.” And Reason being what he figured something that smart would appreciate.

    Hey, that story wasn’t about the healing power of belief; it was about the killing power of revelation.

    May-tos, mah-tos? Should probably read it again.

    That’s getting uncomfortably close to the stuff I’m trying to explore in Echopraxia.

    Memes bleeding through the little we’ve seen, I assume.

    BTW, @anyone, was there ever a definitive explanation as to how Keeton knew what the scramblers almost looked like before seeing them? Seems like there’s a conversation about that in the book, but don’t recall the outcome nor if we’re supposed to assume they were on the right track anyway.