A brief history of time

by Stephen Hawking

Is such an interesting read. But after I finished reading it, I am no wiser on what space is, whether time had a beginning and when. But at least I know there is psychological time, thermodynamic time and cosmological time.

Time travel maybe possible but there are paradoxes. If you travel back in time and kill your great great grandfather as a young man, will you born in the future? Unless you travel back in time but with an alternate history, but then where is the fun in this?

Are there singularities like the BBT or not? Does the universe have an edge?

Is determinism true or does the uncertainty principle rule it out completely?

Did god create the universe or rather the initial conditions and left the rest to take its course?

Is faster than light travel possible?

And finally, who was Einstein?

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Skin in the game

By N. Taleb.

If you want to be provoked, maybe even annoyed by something you have read, then this is a book to read.

Having said that, if an author has said they have written a standalone book, it makes no sense when one feels every few pages is a sales pitch for previous books of the same author. We are not trying to read all your books, just this one, so go slow on the sales pitch.

Taleb hates Hillary Clinton, Steven Pinker, Dawkins and many others. I wish he could treat this is a separate subject or give an explanation. I think Pinker is misleading us on his claims of us living in the most peaceful times. I am not interested in doing the hard work presently, though.

He is right that those who make policies should have some skin in the game. Think for example, the idiots who make pronouncements about our non existent public transport have a driver paid for by a tax payer. They never get inconvenienced by their stupid regulations. Had they been forced to use public transport, we would have better service. To this extent, and in many others, Taleb has a point. The adage that if someone’s pay is dependent on them solving a problem, they are unlikely to solve it, applies here.

As for his use of aphorisms, I don’t think he succeeded. This work sometimes appear disjointed, random and doesn’t flow so coherently.

He makes a good case for skepticism about GMO and further that sometimes there are simpler solutions to the problem that GMO proponents are trying to solve. Looking at the people dying of hunger in Baringo (where Moi who was president for 24 years hails) is evidence that the problem is infrastructure and political will. To solve the problem, one would need to improve access and plan for adverse weather. But when you have idiots and thieves in charge, you have people die from starvation. Well, they voted for the idiots, anyway. It’s a problem they have a hand in, too.

Have a good weekend everyone. Read a book, if you can. If you can’t, drink a beer, take a walk, make love! Do something, don’t just sit.

The Green Book

In this post, I highlighted some of what Qaddafi identified as the problems of democracy as presently practiced in many places around the world. I will just note in passing, that he also expressed distrust for elections as currently run in many states arguing that they are tyrannical by limiting people’s choices sometimes to a yes or no question or between parties when it is possible there would be a wide array of issues where there is divergence or convergence. I am not persuaded his political solution to this problem would work for large groups.

His next problem is the economic problem and his solution is socialism. He argues, and I think the point has been made elsewhere, that extreme wealth concentrated in one person is inimical to public weal. He notes further that is only possible with the exploitation or deprivation of another person.

On education he argued that the present system is tyrannical. He argues society should have as many different schools offering different courses suited to different people instead of a few schools with a fixed curricula for almost everyone. He also adds that any society that stifles the teaching of religion is against freedom or a society that monopolizes the teaching of religion is equally against freedom.

One shouldn’t depend on someone else for their housing, food and other basic needs as this would be contrary to freedom. Your landlord can make you homeless.

On law he says most constitutions, being positive law, are sometimes in contradiction with freedom. To him all law should have its origin custom or religion. He seems to me to allow that each place can have its religion that is congruent to its customs. I think anyone of us can see where custom and religion could be in conflict with human freedom.

Finally, for this post, his views on women, and here, I will let him speak for himself

It is an undisputed fact that both man and woman are human beings. It follows, as a self-evident fact, that woman and man are equal as human beings. Discrimination against woman by man is a flagrant act of oppression without justification for woman eats and drinks as man eats and drinks; woman loves and hates as man loves and hates; woman thinks, learns and comprehends as man thinks, learns and comprehends. Woman, like man, needs shelter, clothing, and transportation; woman feels hunger and thirst as man feels hunger and thirst; woman lives and dies as man lives and dies.

And I wish he had stopped here.

But he goes on to say

To demand equality between man and woman in carrying heavy weights while the woman is pregnant is unjust and cruel. To demand equality between them in fasting and hardship while she is breast-feeding is unjust and cruel. To demand equality between them in any dirty work which stains her beauty and detracts from her femininity is unjust and cruel. Education that leads to work unsuitable for her  nature is unjust and cruel as well.

And I will quote the final excerpt, though one could read more of his views from the pamphlet

There is no difference between men and women in all that concerns humanity. None of them should marry the other against his or her will, or divorce without a just trial or mutual agreement. Neither should a woman remarry without such agreement or divorce; nor a man without divorce or consent.

In general, I would say his critique on democracy and parliaments does seem to hold true in many places. His solution to the problem is plagued with the question of practicality for large groups.

 

 

doubt, faith, awe

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the book of Job as Sasot claims, teaches us about what faith entails, but about vanity of the gods. Why does Job suffer? Because god has placed a bet with Satan. Let’s pause for a moment and just think about this. Religious people of all persuasions insist Satan is the source of their problems always tempting them. In the story of Job, we learn they, Satan and god, are work colleagues, each granting the other a favour when need be.

Sasot, taking Job 38:4 out of context, uses it to castigate Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for advising Job to repent. In actual fact, that particular verse is god refusing to answer Job’s query on why he suffers, instead he goes on a rant.

I find it strange, coming from an atheist, when she writes

What this implies is that nothing and no one can tell us what exactly God wants but God himself. Anyone or anything who weren’t there when He laid the foundations of the earth are all ignorant of how the Divine would unravel.

Which god?

In this next paragraph, she makes a virtue out of faith. She tells us

Fundamentalism is based on absolute certainty, while faith is based on uncertainty. Fundamentalism claims, faith trusts. Fundamentalism is unreceptive, faith is welcoming. Fundamentalism is the negation of doubt and the annihilation of the doubtful, while faith is the presence of doubt and the refuge of the doubtful. Fundamentalism arrests, faith surrenders.

And I am yet to meet a religious person who has faith and doubts they are destined for heaven or even entertains the possibility there are no gods and that they are wrong about religion and all that comes with it.

I agree with her when she says

Inspire your children to find their unique path to self-realization.

and only add that encourage children to doubt, to ask questions and to be open to new knowledge.

why liberalism failed

by Peter Deneen

If I was to give the book a subtitle, it would a christian lament. But I go ahead of myself.

As with most writers, Deneen assumes that his readers know what liberalism is and therefore doesn’t bother to define it. But this is remedied, slightly, I think, when he says liberalism, as an ideology, was premised on

the limitation of government and the liberation of the individual from arbitrary political control.

which he notes and I would agree, that in many places, this promise is anything but a mirage. The people have very little control of the political processes and their contribution remains limited to voting and submitting tax returns without so much being able to influence the policies of the government.

On education, he writes that liberalism is killing liberal arts education. That in most universities, the focus is mainly STEM. Here, I will let him speak

[..]The emphasis on the great texts—which were great not only or even because they were old but because they contained hard-won lessons on how humans learn to be free, especially free from the tyranny of their insatiable desires—has been jettisoned in favor of what was once considered “servile education,” an education concerned exclusively with money making and a life of work, and hence reserved for those who did not enjoy the title of “citizen.”

What these great texts, of course we are not told.

Elsewhere, he writes,

Claiming to liberate the individual from embedded cultures, traditions, places, and relationships, liberalism has homogenized the world in its image—ironically, often fueled by claims of “multiculturalism” or, today, “diversity.”

and one would ask is his intention be that culture remains static, not changing not adopting to changes in the accumulated knowledge of the race? The claim, and the reason for my subtitle, is that for Deneen, the world has moved away from a Christian ideal and become godless. He seems deeply saddened by the separation of state and church and especially in American schools. Liberalism has made it possible to have abortion, divorce and these, to Deneen are not any signs of progress.

He writes that in a liberalized world

personal relationships became dominated by considerations of individual choice based on the calculation of individual self-interest, and without broader consideration of the impact of one’s choices upon the community, one’s obligations to the created order, and ultimately to God.

In a sense, for Deneen, personal choice should be subservient to other considerations, such as what god, the Christian one, wants, who your village elder thinks is the right partner for you and all. It was love at first sight must remain only in the domain of poetry. Maybe, marriage should be based on property considerations.

I disagree with him when he tries to argue that we are without gods not because of the absence of evidence supporting any deities, but because of liberalism. His insistence that the world should be more christian ignores the colourful, I mean, bloody christian heritage.

Where we almost agree, as I wrote in a recent post, is the damage monoculture and excessive use of fertilizers among other things is causing to the soil and leading to starvation in many places, especially in the global south.

Deneen seems to me to be enamored by the work of Wendell Berry who he refers to many times in this particular work. In one place, referring to Berry’s work, he writes

Berry insists that they are justified in maintaining internally derived standards of decency in order to foster and maintain a desired moral ecology. He explicitly defends the communal prerogative to demand that certain books be removed from the educational curriculum and to insist on the introduction of the Bible into the classroom as “the word of God.” He even reflects that “the future of community life in this country may depend on private schools and home schooling.”

In my view, while there could be some merit in this particular work, it seems to me, largely a lament about a Christianity that no longer has control in the public sphere on human affairs. Though I also think he writes mainly for an American audience and as such to a person so removed from that setting, some of what he writes has no rhyme.

I wouldn’t consider it a must read. I think it fails to deliver on its promise; to tell us why liberalism has failed. In another place, it can be used a sermon.

 

 

Gertrude

Is a book all of you should read just to be entertained, to be moved to tears or just to pass time.

But I don’t know whether Hesse could have just title it Muoth. What does it matter what the title of a book is anyway. It is a lovely book about love, life, betrayal, death, music, passion, family, youth and old age. It is also beautifully told.

In a conversation between our narrator (Kuhn) and his friend Muoth, on wisdom, the latter says

“As far as I am concerned, I don’t care for accuracy. I believe that wisdom comes to naught. There are only two laws of wisdom. Everything between them is mere babble.”

and when asked to explain his meaning, he says

Well, either the world is wicked and worthless, as the Buddhists and Christians say. Then one must chastise oneself and renounce everything. One could become quite happy in this belief, I think. Ascetics do not have as hard a life as is believed. But if the world and life is good and right, then one must take his part in it—and afterwards, die quietly, for then he is ready.

and when asked by his friend which he chose, his response  was

That is a question you must never ask anyone. Most people believe both, depending on what the weather is, and how they feel, and whether they have money in their pockets. And those who believe, do not always act accordingly. It is that way with me. I believe even as Buddha, that life is worth nothing. But I live according to my senses, and as if pleasing them were the primary thing. If it were only more satisfying!

My friends, I don’t know about you, but I find this quite sublime.

I implore you to get yourself a copy and be reading. You will thank me for it.

African Religion and Philosophy

by Canon John Mbiti

This is a good introductory book to students on African religion. It is short on philosophy though. In any case, the only time he talks about anything close to philosophy is when he talks about African time and the concept of evil, justice and ethics, on this, shortly.

It seems to me however, that at some point his ideas of god, African gods, is coloured by his christian beliefs. It is Christianity that has an abstract or unnamed god. The Egyptians named their gods and one would expect, at least, named gods if the idea of god was not an abstract thing among traditional societies in Africa.

There seems to be a thin line between secular and religious authority. In fact, this distinction doesn’t even come into play. There is no sphere of life, per Mbiti, that is not religious or doesn’t involve religious feeling.

I am not sure I agree with Mbiti that there was no irreligiousness in African traditional societies. This, in my view is erroneous and should be worthy of study. In every age there have always been people skeptical of the traditions, including the religious ideas active in their times. So of interest to me is how skepticism was articulated.

His comments on evil, ethics and justice I found to be quite interesting and it is to that we now turn.

He writes for example about the Ankore who do not feel they can offend god because god is the final principle or among the Azande, Akan and so on who believe god has no influence on people’s morals.

Among the Bavenda, they believe in a god who punishes the community for the infractions of the chief.

Among the Nuer, he tells us, there is a belief that to be proud of one’s wealth may offend god causing them to take away cattle and children.

What I find deeply disturbing is the belief among some communities that never or rarely does a person or being of higher status do what constitutes an offence against a person of lower status. It is this belief or principle that supports the argument that god cannot commit evil against his creation.

The belief on restitution is however quite interesting. African life is earthbound, very much so. Mbiti tells us that according to most African peoples, god punishes in this life. The gods are concerned with the moral life of mankind and that with a few exceptions, there is no belief that a person is punished in the hereafter for what they do in this life.

I am not sure of the source of his next point concerning the Africans view of humanity in totality. He says to most peoples, no person is inherently good or bad but acts in ways which are good when they act in conformity with the mores of the community and bad if contrary. So for example, in a society that does not forbid sleeping with another’s wife, to do so is not bad unless there is a breach, maybe sleeping with a person’s wife not in your age group or cohort.

To expand on this, he argues in African societies, morality is more ‘societary’ than spiritual. It is a morality of conduct rather than a morality of being, that is, it defines what a person does rather than what they are. That is to say, a person is what he is because of what he does rather than he does what he does because of what he is. Kindness is not a virtue unless someone is kind.

Moving away from the above considerations, I found his comments on secularism, communism and capitalism interesting, and I will quote it extensively

[]In their extreme positions, these -isms despise, reject and even oppose religion. They are movements away from religion, and it is this which makes them relevant to any discussion on religion.

Secularism has an undermining effect upon religion, but it may well be to the good of religion if the latter injects religious principles into secular life instead of waging a war against secularism.

Capitalism, he writes, is anti-religious when it exploits man to such a degree that he becomes simply a tool or robot and loses his humanity. If capitalism reduces man to the material level only, then it has contradicted the religious image of man which in all traditions, depicts man as both physical and spiritual.

And as I mentioned earlier, I am not sure of some of the views Mbiti expressed were not coloured by his Christianity. At the end of thos work he writes or rather wrote

I consider traditional religions, Islam and other religious systems to be preparatory and even essential ground in the search for the ultimate. But only Christianity has the terrible responsibility of pointing the way to that ultimate identity, foundation and source of security.

I should in passing that he saw schools as breeding or recruitment grounds for churches and was for the idea that schools should be used to indoctrinate.