- Last Questions and Possible Answers (23 March 2023 and following)
My speculations about some of the “big questions” that editor John Brockman posed to some 250 contributors; I provide my take on 60 or 70 of their replies.
Part 2 was posted June 2, Part 3 on November 20; one more part to go.
- Declinists and Decadence: TV/Movies? Science Fiction? (23 May 2022)
Those who think the good ol’ days were necessarily better are usually engaged in selective memory, with examples of TV and movies in the ’70s and now. Yet my own impression is that current SF suffers by comparison with previous decades. Perhaps I’m not reading enough current work.
- The Sky; Living in History (18 May 2022)
If you stay up all night, how much of the entire sky do you see in complete darkness? Surely more than half. And: despite the phrase “living in history” most people live their day to day lives unaware of what will become remembered as the major events of their time.
- Children, Conservatives, Liberals, the Wise, the Gods (1 May 2022)
Thinking about the five or six “moral foundations,” how they characterize liberals and conservatives, and how they might apply to children (and therefore whether liberals or conservatives are closer to children); and how polytheism actually makes more sense, conceptually, than monotheism.
- Watching the News (28 Feb 2022)
The perils of watching TV news; my history doing it, and my current strategy.
- A Universal Education (30 Nov 2021)
Teach the basic facts of the world, of the universe, of the planet, of cosmic and biological evolution, along with how we know these things, and how biases and illusions can lead us to misunderstand or simplify such understanding; then the circumstances of nations, languages, government, literature, art, religion, and how these circumstances vary from place to place; and then how to apply math and logic to real world situations and solve actual problems.
- Wise Men (17 Mar 2021)
Given the proportion of wise men in the general population, most of the wise men who’ve ever lived are alive now. Yet we keep deferring to the oldest ones we have books about, as if nothing has been learned about the real world, or about human nature, in three millennia.
- The Afterlives, Part 2 (8 Nov 20)
About how the concept of eternal life in heaven makes no sense. And how, in fact, upon death the substance of your mortal body survives, drizzling down into the biosphere of the planet; while the pattern that was your mind vanishes, just as a rainbow fades into nothingness as the clouds or sun change positions.
- The Issues that Divide Us (in the US at least) (6 Nov 20)
How as society advances, the issues of any one era become trivial, or irrelevant, to later eras. But how issues themselves aren’t the point; there will always be partisan battles. Today, in the US? The priorities of those living in small towns, vs. those in large cities. But only big governments can accomplish big things.
- The Afterlives (2 Nov 20)
When you survive a near-death experience (as I just did with a heart attack), what comes after is a kind of after-life. These afterlives that we gain in the modern era, via science, via the increasing ability of the human species to manipulate its environment and save individuals who would have died young in an earlier era… bring into existence millions of children who otherwise would never have existed at all.
- Magical Thinking, Cognitive Dissonance, Group-Thinking (30 Sep 20)
How many people’s belief in magical thinking — prayer, guardian angels, transubstantiation — leaves them with an imperfect grasp of how the world actually works, and so how they are susceptible to even the most implausible conspiracy theories. And cognitive dissonance. And how religious fundamentalist hijacks the brain, making it inherently maladaptive.
- The Future of Enlightenment (24 Aug 20)
How attitudes against Enlightenment values — those of awareness, understanding, and knowledge in previous posts — will never go away, e.g. the resistance to wearing masks in the Covid era. Enlightenment knowledge will never trickle down to the mass population, will never be evenly distributed.
- Hierarchy of Process Management: CMMI (1 Jul 20) (And how this hierarchy is analagous with the others.)
In engineering companies, as where I worked for 30 years, customer demands and business success resulted in the refining of engineering practices along a hierarchy of “process management,” resembling the hierarchies above, along five levels: Projects are managed by experience and intuition; each project’s processes are documented and reliably followed; the organization has a single set of processes for all projects to adapt and use; the organization and its projects collect data on process performance; process performance data are analyzed and used to implement process improvements. With excerpts from my memoir. Things never go perfectly.
- A Hierarchy of Morality (26 Jun 20)
From Lawrence Kohlberg, via Wilson and Pinker. Simple obedience to rules, to avoid punishment; self-interest orientation (what’s in it for me?); interpersonal accord and conformity; authority (law and order); social contract (laws are social contracts for the common good); and universal ethical principles (e.g. Kant’s categorical imperative). Individuals can stop at any stage; Biblical fundamentalists stop at stage 1 (it makes life so much simpler).
- A Hierarchy about Attitudes about Gender and Sex (4 Jun 20)
Sex is only for reproduction; sex also serves to bind a couple in order to raise the children; “natural” sexual behavior includes homosexuality, because it’s always happened, as it does in other animals species; and how human sexual behavior is about what’s possible, not simply what’s biologically necessary. With a footnote about reasons for opposition to homosexuality in general: squeamishness; existential panic of parents not having grandchildren; and by extension the deep-seated protocols of species survival (built into us by evolution).
- A Hierarchy of Science Fiction (3 Jun 20)
From superficial space opera (heroes vs. villains); to stories about the consequences of technology, even if not rigorously scientific (e.g. space warps and time travel); to “hard” science fiction that speculates only on what does not contradict known science; to how SF can suggest realms beyond current human understanding. And the contrast with fantasy.
- A Hierarchy of Knowledge and Human Affairs (30 May 20)
Everything you need to understand the reality of the world, as discovered over centuries, is out there, available to you. We know virtually everything there is to know about how the world works, at the level of human beings, and can in fact rule out what would need to be true for telepathy or astrology to be true. Yet, most people don’t care, or need to. People cling to the verities of ancient religious cosmologies because they make life simpler. Many people prefer the supernatural for reasons explained by evolution — which they *don’t* believe in. Religions bind families and tribes but ignore the reality we’ve come to understand over centuries. Understanding reality and humanity’s place in it is therefore an individual project. And it’s understood, via our understanding of psychological biases (built into us by evolution) why most people don’t want to do this.
- A Hierarchy of Understanding (28 May 20)
The presumption that our local existence forms the entire world (as the worlds of the ancients), to understanding the world is bigger than your local tribe, to becoming aware of the age and extent of the world and the entire universe, to the understanding that universe at large doesn’t work the way it does locally. [The titles of this and the one above might be reversed.]
- A Hierarchy of Awareness (22 May 20)
About intuitive “theories” of reality we form as infants; how adults cling to these as “common sense,” or learn to sidestep psychological biases to perceive how the world actually works; using science math to describe and predict reality where “understanding” is insufficient; wondering if there are higher levels of reality beyond our understanding and our science.
- Simplex, Complex, Multiplex (21 May 20)
From the simple to the complex, a hierarchy from Samuel R. Delany; how these relate to society and political divisions. Is there a fourth level?
- My take on religion and its role in society, circa 2004 (18 March 2020) and refined in 2020.
Why people disrespect atheists more than people of rival faiths; why any religion will do; how “proofs” of god conflate to the believer’s god; how believers, not scientists (who freely admit what they don’t know), are the arrogant ones; why there’s no objective reason to follow any one religion over any of the others, except for circumstance. Later: how SF tends to assume religion will go away in the future; why it might endure anyway for its social functions, and how because of this understanding the contingent nature of religion is a private project; how casual believers know less about their holy books than do atheists; why faith is an abdication of intellectual honesty.
- Intuitive Theories about Intuitive Theories (24 Jan 20)
Why we believe things, like that heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones, based on our limited experience of the world, things which upon close examination turn out to be false, yet which are often useful as heuristics in ordinary circumstances. Many things “work” to promote human survival even though they are not strictly true.
- Why I am Not a Conservative (15 Aug 2018)
Explained following discussion of a couple books: Humans are not inherently flawed; progress is possible; there are no purely good or bad people; and conservatism aligns itself with things that simply aren’t true. (A subject for further elaboration, since it misses the key reason.)
- Our New Post-Fact World (13 Dec 2016)
Pizzagate, climate change denial, and so on — to what extent do paranoid fantasies matter? In some cases, a lot. Yet of course most of humanity lives forever in a fact-denial reality, what with superstition, religion, and rejection of scientific conclusions, and still manage to live functional, useful lives.
- The Orlando Shooter and the Evil of Religious Fundamentalism (15 Jun 2016)
An animus born of human instinct, reinforced by the ancient desert religions that prioritized tribal identity and growth. For humanity to survive, it must overcome these ancient prejudices, acknowledge reality, and expand the tribal sense to encompass the entire human race.
- The Yearning for the Golden Past (31 Dec 2015)
Discussing examples of the grand conservative narrative.
- The Bay Area and the California Dream (1 Nov 2015)
Thoughts on living in the Bay Area for nearly a year.
- Autism and the Perception of Reality (18 Aug 2015)
Christians banning the Haddon novel, and why in fact autistics are less inclined to believe in supernatural explanations.
- Upon Returning from a Wedding (2 Jun 2015)
About the function of religion and why understanding the real world doesn’t matter to most; and how understanding the real world enriches the lives of the scientists and philosophers who do.
- Bodega Bay and The Birds (24 May 2015)
A weekend trip to Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco, a seashore town where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds.
- Language Creationists? (3 Mar 2015)
The evolution of languages is remarkably analogous to biological evolution; are there language creationists, who don’t believe they change and have always existed as they are now throughout history?
- Star Trek and Humanism (25 Feb 2015)
How, on reflection, the humanism of the original Star Trek series was obvious: “to show a future where we had grown up and were reaching our potential.”
- Ray Bradbury’s House Has Been Torn Down, and I Understand Why (11 Jan 2015)
It’s sad to see a house once occupied by a great writer destroyed; but that’s capitalism.
- Fundamentalist Beliefs, the Real World, and Science Fiction (6 Nov 2014)
About a fundamentalist pastor from Georgia who visits Sweden and Denmark and is astonished that people there don’t share his religious beliefs. And more generally, how many people live in communities with others who *do* share their beliefs, and remain blissfully unaware of the scope of the Earth and the universe (which science fiction does try to deal with).
- Conservatives, Liberals, Disgust, and Social Progress (6 Nov 2014)
What makes some people liberal, and others conservatives? Perhaps something as simple as how their brains respond to disgusting pictures. How this would be an evolutionary strategy to maximize reproductive fitness, through a process that, ironically, conservatives don’t “believe” in.
- Parents and Children (7 Jul 2014)
Why children of same-sex couples may be “healthier and happier” than those of straight parents; why two parents are better than one, but kids don’t care what sexes they are; why disapproving of gay marriage and forcing gays into straight marriages may simple propagate the gene(s) for being gay.
- Primitive Values, Mature Ethics, and the Failure of Religious Texts (27 Jun 2014)
How there is nothing in the Bible — no scientific insights, no advice about basic hygiene — that could not have been written by an ordinary person of the first century.
- Thoughts About the Legal Profession (16 May 2014)
Why I’ve never had much interest in or respect for the legal profession. Lawyers don’t want jurors who think; the law defers to precedent, despite updated evidence; Supreme Court decisions are predictably divided along party lines. If different justices can read the same laws, look at the same arguments, and reach opposite conclusions, what does the law, or evidence, mean? Two examples, about prayers in town meetings (deference to tradition) and the overturning of state laws prohibiting same-sex marriages. And it’s not the Ten Commandments that should be displayed in public places — it’s the Bill of Rights.
- ACE and False Witness (14 May 2014)
How the Christian school curriculum called ACE is based on four presuppositions that are obviously false, having been defeated by reason and evidence for centuries, and how teaching them suggests either incompetence or hypocrisy on the part of faculty, and impeding students’ abilities to think rationally.
- Rainbows and the Afterlife (14 May 2014)
How human life is a transient state of a vast collection of molecules that will eventually collapse and disperse, just as a rainbow disperses, leaving nothing behind. (See also The Afterlives, Part 2, above)
- Kalam Cosmological Argument (22 Apr 2014)
My explanation of the problems with this argument (which is persuasive only to those who already believe), how the arguments (e.g. those by William Lane Craig) are absurd, and how if the argument were as valid as, say, math and basic science, it would have been settled centuries ago. Why do religious apologists keep using this discredited argument?
- Mind/Brain and Mathematical Intelligence (12 Apr 2014)
How studies of brain injuries reveal that the mind *is* the brain; there is no numinous “mind” or “soul” distinct from the brain. How this has undermined all the science fictional ideas about telepathy and ESP. And how truly advanced intelligences would find deep mathematical truths obvious.
- The Need to Feel Special (9 Apr 2014)
Concerning a documentary that, after all these centuries, supports geocentrism — that the Earth really is the center of the universe. Why do people propose such crazy ideas? Because they need to feel special.
- A Telescope Is a Time Machine (3 Apr 2014)
How Trek and Wars are popular despite most of the population having no idea of the scale of the universe, or even the difference between stars and planets and galaxies. And how media SF, including the 1960s TV shows, made the problem worse, by confusing such terms, and imagining that everything happens in a horizontal plane.
- Thoughts of a Thursday Afternoon: After the Apocalypse (28 Sep 2013) (This anticipates one of my Provisional Conclusions, written in early 2015.)
About what would happen should humanity, via war or plague, be reset and start over from scratch. There would be new religions, new languages, and so on, but the science that would be recreated would be the same as ours. Every child is in a sense a kind of reset-humanity, and can be channeled to believe anything (“Give me a child until he is seven…”) Whereas the corrective to such inculcation is science, which is about what is really true.
- Anti-vaxxers and the Healthcare Crisis (28 Aug 2013)
How anti-vaxxers accuse “Big Pharma” of taking advantage of every health issue; but how else would it work? We live in a Capitalist society; would they prefer socialism?
- How to Be a Successful Prophet: Applying The Jack Smith Rule (21 Aug 2013)
Take any prediction from a psychic, from a self-proclaimed Christian prophet, or from a right-wing politician, warning about the imminent doom of Western civilization, and predict the opposite. You will be right more often than they. (With examples from Orson Scott Card, and concerning Obama.)
————————And here are pieces about science fiction, principally or indirectly ——————
- About Changing SF Book Lengths and Formats (10 Mar 2022)
How formats have changed and novels have gotten longer.
- The Fiction Novel (17 Dec 2021) (and other seeming redundancies; people who don’t read; Adam-Troy Castro FB posts
- Mary Shelley and Science Fiction. (26 Nov 2021)
- Notes for a Series of Essays About Science Fiction (16 Nov 2021)
- Classic Erosion (6 Oct 2021) (about Frankenstein, Trek, and Foundation)
- My History with Science Fiction (12 Apr 2020)
- Update on SF Definitions (2 Sep 2018), in which an academic quotes Frederik Pohl
- Religious Zealotry in Science Fiction (8 Apr 2017)
About a certain science fiction writer whose indifference to religion gave way to zealotry after a conversion experience in the hospital awaiting heart surgery, who now believes atheists “were not merely wrong, but brain-meltingly, blindingly, foam-at-the-mouth barking moonbat wrong on all the major political and social issues”
- Refining My Thesis (22 Dec 2015)
About the implicit theses of science fiction and fantasy.
- More about SF/F/H (4 March 2015)
More about how people typically distinguish SF from fantasy.
- Musings about Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (3 March 2015)
How science fiction, fantasy, and horror reflect a range of human reactions to living in a big scary universe. Science fiction is about the exploration of reality, despite human intuition; fantasy imagines worlds in which priorities of human nature are magnified; and horror is about threats to human existence, personally or existentially. A first take.
- Literary SF authors (8 Jul 2014)
Are they the ones who write short fiction as well as novels?
- Science Fiction and the perception of a greater truth (23 June 2014)
A passage from Edgar Pangborn, about a post-apocalypse boy with naive religious views, and how it evokes science fiction’s recurrent theme of how the world out there is not at all what the church teaches you.
- Trek vs Wars (14 May 2014)
Quoting David Gerrold, recalling my own history growing up with Trek, and why I’m not a Star Wars fan. Wars is fantasy with pretty special effects; Trek is about exploring the universe and discovering what it means to be human. Wars is scenery, good guys and bad guys; Trek is ideas and possibilities. (For me this take on Trek does not include the later series and movies.)
- Panic and Alarm (and Why This Is About Science Fiction) (27 Feb 2014)
Case study of a man whose father disappeared into the paranoid, outraged worldview of Fox News — a retreat into fantasy and denial of reality — and how this is the antithesis of the science fictional worldview, which addresses and welcomes change and an expanding understanding of the real world.