Solipsism Gradient

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Litany Against Meetings

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I’m so busy, I absolutely had to post this one icon_lol.gif.

codepoetry pointed me at 0xDECAFBAD who writes (“courtesy of purl”, whatever that means)

I must not attend meetings. Meetings are the mind killer. Meetings are the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my meeting. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the wasted time has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

If this is absolute gibberish to you, you haven’t read Frank Herbert’s Dune, or any of its sequels. I wish I could read it again for the first time…

Meat!?

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I’ve been wanting to post this for some time but had lost the reference. Although this has been e-mailed around without attribution, it turns out that it’s a story/radio play by award-winning SF author Terry Bisson. Here’s the full text on his website.

Voice One: “They’re made out of meat.”

Voice Two: “Meat?”

Voice One: “Meat. They’re made out of meat.”

Voice Two: “Meat?”

Voice One: “Oh, there’s a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

Voice Two: “So… what does the thinking?”

Voice One: “You’re not getting it, are you? You’re refusing to deal with what I’m telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat.”

Voice Two: “Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

This first appeared in Omni Magazine, April 1991. I think it’s one of the funniest things ever published.

Just before our trip to Buenos Aires I read Wired‘s report on artificial diamonds: The New Diamond Age. I remember, as a child, reading about the failed efforts to make large diamonds; however, very small diamond and boron nitride crystals were coming into use as industrial abrasives. It’s a gripping story.

At the airport on the way back I picked up the print version of Wired 11.09, which has that as a cover article (starting at page 096); with a great cover photo, yet. As an aside, Wired is the only print magazine I still buy every month, down from about 30 magazines a decade ago – not only is all the interesting stuff on the net, but the mass (or perhaps mess) of old magazines was becoming too large to handle. However, I still find interesting things in the print version – strange and/or great advertisements, for instance.

Paging through the magazine reminded me of many other things besides my boyhood fascination with weird industrial processes. For instance, on page 025, Josh McHugh exhorts Sony to buy Apple; a little over 19 years ago, flying to California on my first US trip, I read in the paper that Apple should be acquired by General Electric. Emphasis has shifted, however; now, Apple is regarded as so good that it should be bought by a larger company; then, Apple was “beleaguered” and should be bought to avoid closing down. Hmm…

On page 040, the “Jargon Watch” section mentions the new term “bright”, about which I’d written previously. Coming home, #4 of the “The Brights’ Bulletin” was in my e-mail.

On pages 044/045, there’s an ad for the Mazda RX-8 sports car. Mazda is the sole remaining car manufacturer to use Dr. Felix Wankel‘s rotary Wankel engine, whose development I’d followed assiduously in the same magazine that reported on the invention of boron nitride. That was in 1958, if memory serves.

1958 also was when I first read a translation of Bulwer-Lytton’s “Last Days of Pompeii”. Despite the turgid prose, I was impressed by the description of Greek customs. And sure enough, on page 049, Wired reports on the efforts to build a complete 3D computer model of the Pompeii ruins.

Starting on page 076, Wired has it usual tech toys review section, albeit in a new layout. They kept the Splurge/Best Buy/Overrated format, though; and on page 077, the PowerBook G4 appears. It’s the first time I actually bought something rated as “splurge”, and even before it appeared in Wired… 😉

On page 081, one of my favorite authors, Bruce Sterling, writes about “Freedom’s Dark Side”. Of course, Sterling was on the cover of Wired 1.01 – I think I have a nearly complete set of issues, by the way – and also was present on the Buenos Aires trip, as I took two of his books with me: the 1988 “Islands in the Net” and the 1998 “Distraction”.

“Island in the Net” is still a gripping read but oddly quaint and old-fashioned in a futuristic way; the “Net” mentioned in the title means the international phone and TV networks; I think there’s some passing mention of e-mail. On the other hand, Third World-based “data havens” and “data pirates” feature prominently, the latter selling bootleg copies of audio and video, as well as lists of addresses for marketeers and illegally obtained personal data. While I was posting this, I happened upon James Lilek‘s article Why the Record Industry Doesn’t Stand a Chance, commenting on the activities of the EarthStation 5 music pirates, operating in the Jenin refugee camp on the Palestinian West Bank. Wow.

Finally, on page 147 there’s one my favorite Wired features, “Artifacts from the Future”. This one shows a “Melanoma Removal Gel”. As I’m just back from an appointment with my dermatologist, I’m very happy to report that none of my assorted moles, spots or other skin markings are melanomas… she also assured me that the recurring scales and fissures on my fingers weren’t psoriasis but rather the milder, and more easily controlled, Dyshidrosis. Whew.

Etan Kerner writes:

According to a film my wife saw in her philosophy class, Bertrand Russell received a letter from a woman who proclaimed herself a solipsist.

She went on to say that she was surprised that there weren’t more solipsists.

Besides myself (although I consider myself only a part-time solipsist icon_wink.gif), noted SF writer Robert A. Heinlein probably was one – at least he wrote several solipsist stories and even introduced the philosophy of “pantheistic multiperson solipsism” in his magnum opus, The Number of the Beast.

Possibly as a satire of this, Iain M. Banks features a band of solipsists in his Against A Dark Background. Here’s a slightly abridged dialogue between the book’s heroine, Lady Sharrow and the solipsist leader, Elson Roa:

“But if you’re God… why do you need the others?”

…he shrugged. “My apparences? They are the sign that my will is not yet strong enough to support my existence without extraneous help.”

…”What about the others? Do they – the apparences – call themselves God, too?”

“Apparently… um, apart from one, who’s an atheist.”

“Ah-ha”, she said, nodding slowly. “And what does this person call himself?”

“‘Me.'”

“… uh-huh.”

Tim Bray writes about his rediscovery of Rex Stout’s books:

These books are awfully damn good

…the characters are all really interesting people, sparkling conversationalists, and the great thing about the novels is that you get to spend a few hundred pages with these smart, aggressive, sharp-talking, fascinating people.

Most of Rex Stout’s books feature eccentric, overweight private detective Nero Wolfe and his faithful sidekick Archie Goodwin. I own practically all of them, as well as some lesser-known books featuring other detectives, like Theodolinda “Dol” Bonner, who also appears a couple of times in the Wolfe books. I also have most of Robert Goldborough’s continuations of the Wolfe canon, as well as William S. Baring-Gould’s “Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street: The Life and Times of America’s Largest Private Detective”.

Read Tim’s post for more details, including a rare photo of Rex Stout and a (probably inaccurate) sketch he made of Wolfe’s office, which I believe is from Baring-Gould’s book. There are other sketches available.

Here’s a review of the first Nero Wolfe book, Fer-de-lance. It contains my favorite Wolfe quote, which I’ve adopted as my own motto:

…when a District Attorney commands his presence in Westchester, he tells Archie to refuse, saying “I understand the technique of eccentricity; it would be futile for a man to labor at establishing a reputation for oddity if he were ready at the slightest provocation to revert to normal action.”

No article about Nero Wolfe can be complete without a reference to noted SF author Philip José Farmer‘s elucidation of the complete family tree of the so-called Wold Newton families; according to Farmer, Nero Wolfe, whose original name was John Hamish Adler, was a secret child of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. Wolfe’s brother Marko Vuczik (originally Scott Adler) was the father of Archie Goodwin; Archie is revealed also to be a cousin of Travis McGee on his mother’s side. Other famous members of the Wold Newton families are Tarzan (Lord Greystoke), Angus McGyver, and Lara Croft.

I planned originally to post at length about another topic, but got mesmerized by Tolkien Crackpot Theories. So that’s it for today…

Thanks to Dori Smith for this link. I think.

I’ve finished several new books, and another box came in a few days ago…

Kiln People, by David Brin, is a very intriguing book. Brin seems to have been inspired by the Chinese terracotta warriors, which are even mentioned in the book. He posits a society where one can make nanotechnological clay copies (golems) of oneself, which carry a partial copy of the mind; the clay lasts about 24 hours, after which it begins to decompose, and the copies’ experiences can be reloaded back into the original’s mind.

The main character, a private detective, releases several specialized copies of himself to help solve a complicated case; in every chapter, the copies (and sometimes the original) narrate the happenings in a stream-of-consciousness manner. This works surprisingly well for this book, given that Brin used a similar style in his last three books (the Uplift Trilogy), where I found it a little tiresome. Even so, nearly all of Brin’s books are among my favorites.

I also read two shorter books: Outward Bound, by James P. Hogan, and Genesis by Poul Anderson. Hogan’s is a “juvenile book”, in the tradition of Heinlein’s juveniles, and quite lightweight compared to his other books; no scientific or technical speculation. Even so, it’s enjoyable. Anderson’s is probably his last book – he died a couple of years ago. Here he tackles the problems of immortality and post-human societies in his characteristic way, which recalls the scandinavian sagas. This book won the 200 John W. Campbell Memorial Award; even so, I found the book oddly unsatisfying, but can’t point at specific faults.

Dr. Robert L. Forward, author and physicist, died a year ago. His family has released a brief autobiography which he dictated just before his death. This is a must read for any science fiction reader, and indeed for anybody interested in technology.

My philosophy as a scientist has been to work on problems that other people consider impossible. I chose that philosophy as a very young man, because if you make any progress at all on that problem, it is still an advance.  When I felt I had launched a new technology, I wanted to move on to something new, different, and more difficult.

Dr. Forward wrote Dragon’s Egg and Starquake, realistic speculations about life on a neutron star, and several other “hard SF” books. I have most of them in my library. He also had 28 patents, invented the gravitational mass detector, smart structures, space tethers, various types of interstellar propulsion, and so on and so forth…

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