Monthly Archives: May 2021

Window with a Worldview

Exactly a year ago I wrote about metaphor as a tool for understanding the world around us. Our metaphors are part of the intuitive window through which we view reality. I think it’s good to have as many windows as possible, both in real life and in metaphor (intellectual rigor and creative insight are the metaphorical equivalent of Windex).

For a very long time, one of my key metaphorical windows has been the notion of Yin-Yang and its implicit notion of balance. One of my first posts was about it. Since then I’ve revisited it in myriad ways (see this, this, this, or this).

Here, among other things, I want to link Yin-Yang to another useful metaphor.

Continue reading


Friday Notes (May 28, 2021)

My serious effort lately to reduce my pile of notes has resulted in picking the low-hanging fruit and leaving the ones that demand more effort. (One reason those notes have been notes all this time is not feeling the effort needed to develop them into something.)

The good news is that I’ve dug through most of the new layer — the one that formed when I started blogging again after taking a break all through 2017 (being in shock from 2016). Now I’m tapping into the older much larger — and in many cases now outdated — pile from before 2017. (Notes about politics in 2016 I can now just toss.)

Three of today’s notes are from that old pile. Three obviously aren’t.

Continue reading


Entropy Isn’t Fundamental!

particles & their momenta

Over the decades I’ve seen various thinkers assert that entropy causes something — usually it’s said that entropy causes time. Alternately that entropy causes time to only run in one direction. I think this is flat-out wrong and puts the trailer before the tractor. (Perhaps due to a jack-knife in logic.)

The problem I have is that I don’t understand how entropy can be viewed as anything but a consequence of the dynamical properties of a system evolving over time according to the laws of physics. Entropy is the result of physical law plus time.

It’s a “law” only in virtue of the laws of physics.

Continue reading


Like Being a Dog

Back in 1974 Thomas Nagel published the now-famous paper What is it like to be a bat? It was an examination of the mind-body problem. Part of Nagel’s argument includes the notion that we can never really know what it’s like to be a bat. As W.G. Sebald said, “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.”

But in What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience (2017) neuroscientist Gregory Berns disagrees. In his opinion Nagel got it wrong. The Sebald Gap closes from both ends. Firstly because animal minds aren’t really that different from ours. Secondly because we can extrapolate our experiences to those of dogs, dolphins, or bats.

I think he has a point, but I also think he’s misreading Nagel a little.

Continue reading


All the Christie

Okay, not all the Agatha Christie — not yet — but I’m getting close. I’ve read all the Hercule Poirot short stories and novels (save one; the last). I’ve read all the Miss Marple novels and all the Tommy and Tuppence novels (but none of the short stories in either case). I’ve read a few of the stand alone novels, but there are a number of those to go. (I’ve even read a collection of her plays.)

The very last novels are disappointing, but the vast bulk of Christie’s work is a genuine treasure. To be honest, I never realized how engaging and wonderful her writing actually is. I’ve been a Poirot fan since childhood but never explored her other work because I saw it as ‘too old-fashioned and ordinary.’ My mistake!

Speaking of better late than never, recently I’ve finally explored a few other mystery authors, one of which was long overdue…

Continue reading


The Long Baxter

After eight books I think it’s safe to say that I am not, and probably never will be, a fan of science fiction author Stephen Baxter. Just over a year ago I read his Manifold trilogy and was notably underwhelmed (see this post about book one and this post about the whole trilogy).

Recently I finished The Long Earth, a five-book series Baxter co-authored with my all-time, no-exceptions, favorite fiction author, Terry Pratchett. The series is based on an interesting parallel worlds idea from a short story, The High Meggas, Pratchett wrote back in the mid-1980s.

Much to my disappointment, I was also notably underwhelmed by this series.

Continue reading