Monday, January 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

To examine further this highly intriguing theory of psychology would take me beyond the scope of this book. I propose, accordingly, to conclude the chapter with some general observations on recent developments in psychology, with particular attention to their bearing on materialism in general and behaviourism in particular

(1) I noted in the Introductory Chapter as one of the most puzzling features of modern thought the contradictory answers which it suggests to the traditional questions of philosophy. Physics is idealist in tendency; biology points to a purposive theory of evolution; but psychology, I pointed out, has on the whole remained mechanistic and deterministic. In so describing the tendencies of psychology, I had in mind chiefly Behaviourism, Behaviourism and the implications of psycho-analysis, to which I have devoted a later chapter. Behaviourism exemplifies the generalisation in two ways:

(a) It denies that there is any non-material element in our make-up, mind, soul, spirit, call it what you will, which influences our behaviour. So far as psychology is concerned, we can, it holds, get along very well on the assumption that the human being is all body. As for consciousness, it is a by-product of bodily processes which sometimes but quite incidentally accompanies them. It does not cause the processes it accompanies, and it is not necessary that we should be conscious of them in order that they may occur.

(b) If the individual is all body, or can at least be satisfactorily explained on this assumption, his behaviour will ultimately be explicable in terms of the same laws as those which determine the motions of other bodies. These laws are in the first instance those of dynamics and mechanics, more ultimately those of chemistry and physics.

In so far as the motions of matter are determined -- and the Behaviourist believes that they are -- the activity of living organisms must be determined too. Therefore, if Behaviourism is right, we are merely complicated automata.

Conclusion (a) favours materialism; conclusion (b) mechanism. Summing up we may say that on this view, whatever may be the function of mind or spirit in the universe, it plays no part in the interpretation of the psychology of living human beings.

(2) But in establishing this conclusion Behaviourism runs a considerable risk of destroying the foundation on which it is based. It is not my intention in this book to criticise the various theories which I shall endeavour to expound; but it is pertinent to point out that, if all thought is accurately and exhaustively described as a set of responses to stimuli, responses which may be analysed into movements of the larynx and the brain, then this applies also to the thought which constitutes the Behaviourist view of psychology.

If Behaviourism is correct in what it asserts, the doctrine of Behaviourism reflects nothing but a particular condition of the bodies of Behaviourists. Similarly, rival theories of psychology merely reflect the conditions prevailing in the bodies of rival psychologists. To ask which of the different theories is true is as meaningless as to ask which of the various blood pressures of the theorists concerned is true, since the chains of reasoning which constitute their theories, like their blood pressures, are merely bodily functions, bearing relation not to the outside facts which they purport to describe, but to the bodily conditions of which they are a function.

This kind of criticism is valid against any theory which seeks to impugn the validity of reason by representing it either as a function of the body or as the tool of an unconscious and non-rational self. In this latter connection we shall find grounds for restating it in a later chapter.

...

Let us, in the first place, apply to the psycho-analytic view of reason the arguments which were used in Chapter III, in criticism of the Behaviourist position; let us, that is to say, push the views of psycho-analysts to their reductio ad absurdum.

If it is in fact the case that our thoughts are not free but are dictated by our wishes, and that reasoning is, therefore, mere rationalising, then the conclusion applies also to the reasoning of psycho-analysis. This too is a mere rationalisation of the desire to believe that human nature is of a certain kind and motivated in a certain way. As such it has no necessary relation to fact; it merely reflects a certain condition of the psychologist's unconscious. This is not to say that it is necessarily untrue; merely to point out that it is meaningless to ask whether it is true or not. Truth implies correspondence -- correspondence, that is, between the belief which claims to be true and the fact which makes it true. But, if psycho-analysis is correct, our beliefs have no external reference at all; they are merely intellectualised versions of our wishes. To ask if a belief is true is, therefore, as meaningless as to ask whether an emotion is true; all that one is entitled to say is that the belief is held. Since, therefore, it seems to follow that, if psycho-analysis is correct in what it asserts about reason, it is meaningless to ask whether psycho-analysis is true, there is no reason to suppose that it is correct in what it asserts about reason. In other words, if the psycho-analytic account of reason is justified, there is no reason to take it seriously. If, on the other hand, there is no reason to take it seriously, the grounds for supposing that reason is not free and can never reach objective truth disappear.

To refuse to take it seriously means that we must be willing to regard the theories of psycho-analysis as springing from a free and impartial consideration of the evidence, as propounded: in other words, for no other reason than that they are seen to be in accordance with fact. But if the psycho-analyst can reason disinterestedly in accordance with fact, so can other people. Hence the view of reason, as being always the mere tool of instinct, must be abandoned. What is wanted is a principle which will enable us to distinguish the cases in which reason is working freely from those in which it is merely rationalising our wishes. But such a principle is not so far forthcoming.

C.E.M. Joad
Guide to Modern Thought (1933)

Comment by Jim S: Antony Flew wrote "The Third Maxim" (The Rationalist Annual 72 [1955], 63-66) to criticize C.S. Lewis's Argument from Reason. In that essay, Flew wrote that Joad is also an advocate of this argument, but much to my frustration he doesn't provide a specific reference. It looks like Guide to Modern Thought -- which predates all of Lewis's statements of the argument, save a brief entry in his diary, and a short passage in The Pilgrim's Regress (which was published the same year as Joad's book) -- is what Flew was referring to. Joad, however, was pretty prolific, so he may very well have written of it elsewhere. One place I'm going to check is his The Recovery of Belief: A Restatement of Christian Philosophy, which he wrote towards the end of his life after a fall from grace and subsequent return to the Christianity of his youth.

Friday, January 6, 2017

This is cool

Photographs of men who fought in the Revolutionary War. They were young when they fought in the war for our independence, and survived into old age, in time for photography to be invented. It's very humbling to look into the faces of these men who gave so much for us. It reminds me of the time I saw a traveling Smithsonian exhibit that had George Washington's sword and scabbard. As I looked at them and thought about the first president actually holding them in his hands, I realized I'd never visualized the reality of history before. George Washington was a name, but I hadn't ever imagined him as a flesh and blood human being.

In a similar vein, the last person alive who was born in the 1800s was closer to the signing of the Constitution on the day of her birth (1787) than to the present day. And to reiterate, she's still alive.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Year of Reading Plantinga

I've been wanting to devote a year to reading everything of importance from particular philosophers. So I'm planning on doing "The Year of Reading Dennett," "The Year of Reading Copleston," of Kim, of Urban, maybe of Desmond to get more into Continental thought. And of course, I'd want to focus on other than contemporary philosophers. I'll plan on reading each philosopher's works in roughly chronological order, and each author would have their own challenges: I could easily combine Plato and Aristotle into one year -- or I could do them separately and include some of the more important works about them as well. There's a lot of repetition in Dennett, so I'd have to be moderately selective in choosing what to read. I've already read Copleston's history of philosophy. Etc.

As the title of this post attests, the idea for this year was to be The Year of Reading Alvin Plantinga. There's even a particular, and particularly excellent, reason for this: I'm writing a book on Plantinga and would like to be as familiar with his whole oeuvre as possible. There's a problem however. My book's focus is specifically on his epistemology with some spillover into metaphysics and philosophy of religion, and I am very much hoping I can send a rough draft to the publisher by June. (Also it's about three-fourths written already, but needs more structure.) So it would be foolish of me to do it in chronological order and start by reading Plantinga's publications from the 1960s in the hope that there might be a throwaway passage I could quote. Moreover, what I really have to focus on at this point is the various critiques of Plantinga, not Plantinga himself. Maybe if I read his writings on epistemology and the critiques thereof in time to submit the book at the beginning of summer, then I could start reading his earlier writings and work my way back up to where I started. Maybe. Then again, I just re-read Warrant: The Current Debate, and I'm not about to re-re-read it just to have bragging rights that I read all his stuff within the confines of a calendar year. So my "Year of Reading" project is off to a shaky start.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Some recent book purchases

All of them were bought used and pretty cheap: all the nonfiction books were bought for less than sixty dollars total, and the fiction was a little over twenty. Those followed by an asterisk are repurchases -- books that I once had but were lost in shipping when we moved back to the States a few years ago, or were loaned out and never returned.

Nonfiction:
Colin Brown, Christianity and Western Thought, vol. 1: From the Ancient World to the Age of Enlightenment.*
Donald Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events.
James Hannam, God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.*
Stuart C. Hackett, Oriental Philosophy: A Westerner's Guide to Eastern Thought.
Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett, eds., The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Thought and Soul.
C.E.M. Joad, Guide to Modern Thought.
Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, and Manfred Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible.*
Saul A. Kripke, Naming and Necessity.
C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns.*
Mary Midgley, Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature.
Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations.
Willard Van Orman Quine, The Roots of Reference: The Paul Carus Lectures.
Willard Van Orman Quine, The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays.
Robert Rakestraw and David Clark, eds., Readings in Christian Ethics, vol. 1: Theory and Method.*
Wilbur Marshall Urban, Humanity and Deity.
N.T. Wright, Simply Christian.

Fiction:
Ray Bradbury, Classic Stories 1: From the Golden Apples of the Sun and R Is for Rocket.
Tony Daniel, Warpath.
Michael Flynn, January Dancer.
Richard Garfinkle, Celestial Matters.
Richard Matheson, The Box: Uncanny Stories.
Robert Reed, Marrow.
Dan Simmons, Hollow Man.
Harry Turtledove, Colonization: Second Contact.

In addition, I recently had one theology book returned that I had loaned out years ago -- like fifteen years ago or longer -- and I'm really excited because I've been planning on repurchasing it:

Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Abortion and Strawmen

When I teach logic, in order to offend everyone equally, I sometimes say that both sides of the abortion debate, at least in their slogans, commit the strawman fallacy. One commits this fallacy when, instead of addressing the actual argument being presented, one erects a strawman: something that is superficially similar to the argument but is actually as dissimilar to it as a scarecrow is dissimilar to an actual human being. Moreover, by being made of straw, the strawman is much easier to knock down than an actual person.

So how does the pro-life side commit this fallacy? By saying abortion is murder. Murder involves the intentional killing of what someone recognizes as an innocent human being. Many women who have abortions have been told that the fetus is not even alive, much less a living human being, much less an innocent human being. The abortion doctors are in a different position: they know the fetus is alive -- but then again, so is an individual cell in your liver. But I doubt that they believe the fetus is a distinct human being, a person (for simplicity's sake I'll treat "human being" and "person" as interchangeable, although many distinguish them in this debate). However, this is an assumption on my part: I don't know of any polls as to whether abortionists tend to believe that the fetus is a person. But even if there were, I don't think I'd trust the results: if you thought fetuses were human beings, but thought abortion was a necessary evil, would you acknowledge this in a poll? I'm sure there must be some abortionists who do think the fetus is a person. Kermit Gosnell, in the manner of serial killers, kept trophies of all the babies he killed -- I say babies, not fetuses, since he delivered them and then killed them outside the womb. A doctor wouldn't keep trophies of the tumors he'd removed from patients, so obviously Gosnell recognized that he was taking the lives of innocent human beings.

I think the strongest objection one could make is that if the person should have known that she was killing a human being, then their act could still be considered murder. If a philosophy student who had read her Peter Singer and Michael Tooley killed a newborn baby and argued afterwards that she honestly didn't think it was a human being, she would probably still be convicted of murder. That's because nearly everyone recognizes that a newborn baby is a human being and has a right to life, and that same intuition, that same source of knowledge, would have been available to the person being accused, since they lived in the same culture and context. With abortion, however, there is no such consensus. We have to be careful here to not commit another fallacy, argumentum ad populum, appeal to the masses. But I think we can avoid this as my point is a more modest appeal to humility: given that there is widespread disagreement on abortion, we shouldn't assume that a particular person knew the fetus was a human being and killed them anyway.

Anyway, the closest parallel I can think of to this -- the intentional killing of something that one recognizes is alive but does not recognize to be an innocent human being -- would be a hunting accident. A hunter sees movement in the brush ahead, thinks it's a deer, and intentionally aims and shoots with the goal of killing it. But to her horror, she discovers it wasn't a deer but another hunter. She recognized the thing ahead of her was alive, and deliberately killed it. But she didn't recognize that it was a human being she was killing. Perhaps a court of law might determine that a hunter should have known that it was a person she was shooting at, but since she wasn't deliberately trying to kill another human being, it is unlikely the hunter would be convicted of murder. Similarly, even if we grant the pro-life position (as I do) that fetuses are distinct human beings, insofar as the abortionist and the woman do not recognize this fact, they are not guilty of murder, whatever else one might say of them. So to call abortion murder is to erect a strawman to the effect that the abortionist and the woman are intentionally killing what they recognize to be an innocent human being.

How does the pro-choice side commit the strawman fallacy? By saying the woman has a right to do what she wants with her own body. Well, yeah, of course she does, as long as she doesn't harm someone else. The old saying is, your right to swing your fists ends where another person's nose begins. That is, one person's right to do what she wants with her body only extends to the point that she harms someone else or restricts the other person's right to do what he wants with his body. And the claim of the pro-life side is that the fetus is another person. A woman does not have the right to do what she wants with someone else's body, and the fetus is someone else's body (namely, the fetus's), not her body. That's the claim. Perhaps that claim is false, perhaps it's even absurd, but that's the claim being made. Slogans like "Keep your laws of my body" or "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries" may be clever, but their goal is to defend a right that no one is challenging. Thus such claims are complete strawmen.

Of course, the relationship between the pregnant woman and the fetus is a unique one. The only real world scenario I can think of that's even remotely analogous is conjoined twins. I'm unaware of a situation where one conjoined twin deliberately killed the other, but it seems to me that it would be considered murder (assuming all of the conditions discussed above). Judith Jarvis Thomson presented an interesting thought experiment: a woman wakes up in the hospital and finds herself connected to an unconscious violinist. The violinist was suffering from kidney failure, and the only way to save his life was to hook his circulatory system up to the woman's so her kidneys can do the work that his kidneys couldn't. It's only temporary, just nine months, and then she can be unplugged from the violinist and go on her merry way. Thomson argues that, even granting that the violinist is a human being, a person, the woman has the right to unplug herself from him, even knowing it would cause his death. The violinist's right to life does not include the right to use someone else's body.

When I first heard this argument, I thought it left out an important element: except in the case of rape, the pregnant woman engaged in an activity which has been known from time immemorial to lead to pregnancy. You'd have to add to Thomson's scenario that the woman went of her own volition to the hospital for some ostensibly pleasurable reason (maybe they were throwing a Christmas party and serving bacon wrapped shrimp) and signed a paper acknowledging that, by entering the hospital, she is accepting there is a nontrivial chance that she would be hooked up to a violinist for nine months. This changes the scenario dramatically. In fact, I first thought that Thomson was presenting this as an argument against abortion. So Thomson herself has commited the strawman fallacy: rather than include an element that would make her thought experiment more accurately track the abortion issue, she has excluded it in order to make the intuition she's appealing to more commanding.

Having said that, Thomson's point is still very astute and important: in the case of rape, which more closely parallels her thought experiment, does the fetus's right to life not include the right to use the woman's body as an incubator for nine months? Some people are opposed to abortion even in this case, because the evil of intentionally killing an innocent human being is greater than the evil of significantly, but temporarily, disrupting the woman's life. A lot of issues come into play here: what takes priority, a right to life or right to a lifestyle? What about the psychological effects on the woman? These could very easily ruin her life, they can't just be dismissed. What if we shortened the period of time the woman's life was disrupted? What if it was only three months? Or three weeks? How about three minutes? At some point, even though we might agree with the principle that one person's right to life doesn't include the right to use another person's body, most of us would think the inconvenience becomes trivial and the life of the fetus so much more important that we would no longer think the principle takes precedence. For that matter, couldn't we reframe the principle the other way around? Does the woman have the right to do what she wants with the fetus's body in order to continue her lifestyle? I mean, by killing the fetus, she's using its body for her own ends. On the other hand, how probable is it that the fetus is really a person, a human being? If you think it's just one chance in two, you might think the potential evil of killing the fetus is greater than the evil of disrupting the woman's life for nine months. But what if it's one chance in ten? Or a hundred? Or a million? At some point, even though we might agree that killing an innocent person is a greater evil than disrupting a woman's life for nine months, most of us would think that the probability that we really are killing an innocent human being becomes so low as to become trivial. I'm not even going to try to answer these questions, but I think they show that there's a reason why the abortion issue is controversial, and we should treat those who disagree with us respectfully and assume they are acting in good faith.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Linkfest

-- Long books worth your time.

-- Victor Reppert has been blogging about abortion of late -- see herehereherehere, and here.

-- Starship Troopers is the new Art of War.

-- An infidel's quick guide to Islamic sects. Although, you know, you could just read a book on the subject.

-- The top picture here is amazing.

-- I'm a bibliophile, but this goes a bit too far.

-- Scientific American argues that the best site off Earth to colonize is Titan. The biggest problem is getting there. Speaking of which...

-- The impossible EM drive seems to work, despite its apparent violation of Newton's third law. OK, well, we'll still have a problem with finding enough water to survive off Earth. Speaking of which...

-- Dwarf planet Ceres is full of water. So, I guess, the only problem is ... I don't know ... we'll still eventually die?

-- Speaking of which...

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A problem with middle knowledge

I'm inclined to accept middle knowledge. This is the view that God doesn't merely know what we will (freely choose to) do, he knows what we would (freely choose to) do under circumstances that are never actualized or never come to pass. In fact, God knows what a person whom he never creates would do under any possible circumstances. So God has this store of knowledge about what every possible person would (freely choose to) do under any possible circumstances, and he uses this knowledge to actualize -- that is, create -- the world. I think this answers a lot of the issues people have with the problem of evil, with the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and creaturely freedom, etc.

There are numerous objections to middle knowledge of course so it's not all sunshine and roses. But here I want to raise another potential objection. Perhaps that's too strong a term, actually, it's more like a potential problem. It's this: middle knowledge could explain virtually any scenario. But then you can't falsify it. This means you can't give any evidence that would rebut it. I say this is just a problem and not really an objection because you have to define "evidence" pretty narrowly to make it work -- as mentioned, there are plenty of objections to middle knowledge that have to be dealt with, and these objections could potentially refute it.

Anyway, my objection -- sorry, my problem -- can perhaps be illustrated by looking at some essays defending middle knowledge by William Lane Craig that specifically use it to explain Christian doctrines. The two essays I'm thinking of are:

"Lest Anyone Should Fall": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Perseverance and Apostolic Warnings

and

"Men Moved By The Holy Spirit Spoke From God": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Biblical Inspiration

So in these two cases, Craig is showing how middle knowledge uniquely explains the doctrines of a) the perseverance of the saints and b) the inspiration of the Bible (which could easily be a gateway to another essay giving a middle knowledge perspective on biblical inerrancy). Well and good. But then, it seems to me, you could write similar essays on other topics. For example:

"Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Papal Infallibility

which I presume Craig would not approve of as he is a Protestant (as am I). But such an essay could certainly be written. Of course Catholics could accept such a view, as long as they accept middle knowledge in the first place. But then what if I wrote an essay like this:

"The Governing Authorities that Exist Have Been Established by God": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Divine Right of Kings

Again, such an essay could be written, such a position could be defended by appealing to middle knowledge. My point is that it's difficult to see what restrictions we can put on this type of explanation. Presumably, someone could say the restriction would be biblical doctrines, but both of these positions have been defended by, I presume, honest and well-meaning Christians as biblical. Once you open the door, you're going to have people come in that you didn't invite.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Down syndrome children

This video was banned in France. The reasoning the court gave is that women who had aborted fetuses with Down Syndrome might be traumatized by it. That could certainly be the case: a woman who had agonized over having an abortion, and finally decided to have one because she thought the child would lead an empty, miserable life could be horrified to discover that she had actually stolen a beautiful, joyous life from her own child -- a life that would not only be blessed, but one that would bless the lives of many others, including hers. Nevertheless, in such circumstances, the proper attitude is to try to prevent future tragedies like this from happening. You don't avoid warning people about a crime wave because those who had been victimized by it already don't want to have to be reminded about it.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Two pieces

I recently heard two music pieces for the first time -- despite their being well-known -- and was very moved by them. The first is Vivaldi's variations on La Folia. When I heard this piece on the radio, I was stunned by the overwhelming sense of life pouring out from the music. Yes, Vivaldi always overuses the same chord progression, but I love that chord progression so kudos to him. And at any rate, these are, again, variations on an already-existing tune. It's the 12th sonata in his opus 1, Twelve Trio Sonatas for two violins and basso continuo.



The second piece is The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughn Williams. I took two years of music history, and I don't think Vaughn Williams was ever mentioned (nor was Tchaikovsky for that matter). I suspect this is because when you deal with 20th century music, the focus is on atonal, or at least not classically tonal, music. I remember we spent some time in class going over the ten most important 20th century composers, and had to write a 10-page essay on who we thought was number 11 (I wrote mine on Béla Bartók) (Update, 01/04/17: No I didn't. Bartok would undoubtedly have been one of the top ten. I don't remember who I wrote my paper on, but I'm thinking it might have been Olivier Messiaen). And while I've heard the name Vaughn Williams before, I can't recall ever listening to his music, which is incredible considering how important a composer he is. At any rate, this particular piece is not classically tonal but is very pentatonic, making it Asian sounding -- my kids said it sounds like Kung Fu Panda. After hearing this piece we all started listening to Vaughn Williams' music, and both my kids love it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Holy crap!

The Cubs won! That's the first time in over a century. Everyone I've ever known was born after the last time they won the World Series in 1908. Ironically, while the game was being played last night, I was in a classroom teaching my Intro Philosophy class about Hume's argument against miracles. It looks like God cleared his throat.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Negative votes: A proposal

In the coming election, I feel like I'm being asked to vote for either Stalin or Honey Boo Boo. I thought I was firmly in the "anyone but Stalin" camp until the other side nominated one of probably only five people in the world who I couldn't vote for. Perhaps it's fortunate that I'm not a member of a political party and don't embrace a particular political philosophy (my politics are somewhat eclectic), so I don't have any sense of obligation to vote for the candidate "my party" has nominated.

I've never really voted for anyone, I've only voted against them. That is, I've voted for the person I loathed least. I didn't want the person I voted for to get the job, but I really didn't want the other person to, and so I've always voted for the lesser evil. And, in fact, I think in the coming election one side is a greater evil than the other. But lesser evils are still evils, and this time around, I'm afraid the lesser evil is much too great an evil for me to cast my vote for them. Perhaps this is a failing on my part, but I can't bring myself to vote for the lesser evil this time.

Now I've never appreciated having to vote for lesser evils. What I want to do is cast a vote against the greater evil, and the only way to do this is to cast a vote for the lesser evil. The reason I haven't appreciated this is because it forces me to only indirectly vote against the greater evil by directly voting for the lesser evil. But why can't we reverse this? Why don't we make it possible to cast a negative vote? If you cast a negative vote for a candidate then one vote is subtracted from that candidate's overall total. The candidate with the highest total vote count wins.

You get one vote: you can either cast it for Stalin, for Honey Boo Boo, against Stalin, or against Honey Boo Boo. You don't get to vote for one candidate and then also vote against the other: you get one and only one vote. Certainly, by casting a vote against Stalin someone could object that you are essentially casting a vote for Honey Boo Boo -- but note that the order has now been switched. You are directly voting against Stalin, and only indirectly voting for Honey Boo Boo. Those of us who are, like me, too fragile to sully ourselves with lesser evils would be able to live with ourselves.

One possible negative (heh) consequence of this is that there could potentially be an election where the number of negative votes for both candidates is greater than their number of positive votes. So both sides would have total vote counts below zero. In this case, the candidate with the number of votes closer to zero -- that is, the smallest negative number -- would win. However, if there were write-in candidates (which is what I'm going to do this time), then the person with the most write-ins would win. I guess it would always be possible to cast a negative vote for a write-in candidate, although it would be odd since write-in candidates are usually not officially running. To cast your vote against someone who's not even running would seem to indicate a deep-seated hatred of them worthy of extended counseling: "I hate this person so much that I'm going to spend my one vote writing them in and then casting a negative vote against them." But even so, there probably wouldn't be many negative votes against write-in candidates, so one of them would still probably have more total votes than the main candidates. And that, in my opinion, would certainly be the lesser evil.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Remembrance of Earth's Past

Two Christmases ago my lovely wife bought me a few books from a small bookstore. Fortunately, she kept the receipt, so I brought them back to exchange them for some books I actually wanted. As I was browsing their relatively small science-fiction section, I found The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, a work translated from Chinese. I immediately grabbed it: I'd heard about this book and this author and had put it on my list of books to get. Liu is a lauded science-fiction author in China (actually, his name is Liu Cixin, but since the Chinese put the family name first, when he was translated into English, they put the family name last in order to not confuse us), and this book is the first of a trilogy that makes up his most famous work, Remembrance of Earth's Past.

Anyway, I bought it, read it, and loved it. LOVED it. So when the second book in the trilogy was translated, The Dark Forest, I bought it immediately. Incidentally, I never do this: I'm always patient enough for a book to come out in a mass market edition, or at least for it to become less popular so I can buy a cheap used copy of it. But I couldn't wait. And Dark Forest was absolutely amazing; it presents a brilliant solution to the Fermi Paradox involving game theory. Independently, both of these books are among the best books I've ever read.

So of course I pre-ordered the third book in the trilogy, Death's End. (This was my first time pre-ordering a book by the way.) It came out at the end of last month, and I got it about a week and a half ago. I have a bunch of things on my plate at the moment, but I'm still going through it when I can. So far it's exceeding my expectations, which were pretty darn high. So I encourage everyone to get these books as soon as you can and read them. Just check them out from the library if you have to. They are so beyond worth it, I can't even express it. Liu has managed to very quickly become one of my all-time favorite fiction authors; I don't actually rank them, but I'd have to say he's at least in my top three (lucky him). I also note a collection of Liu's short stories has also been translated, The Wandering Earth, which I'm going to get as soon as I can justify it. And Three Body Problem is being made into a movie, due to be released next year.