Embassy of the Free Mind

Eventually, the Embassy of the Free Mind will consist of digital copies of the core collection of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica of the The Ritman Library — which is ~5,000 early printed books and manuscripts in the fields of Hermetica, Alchemy, Mysticism, Rosicrucians, Gnosis & Western Esotericism, Kabbalah and other “free thinkers”. The first 1,500 books are already available online. The digitisation was made possible thanks to Dan and Blythe Brown, who used this collection to write The Da Vinci Code.

As you can see from the front page, there are some wonderful illustrations and even some of the writing is beautiful.

Movie Posters Collection – Harry Ransom Center Digital Collections

The Ransom Center’s movie poster collection consists of an estimated 10,000 posters and spans the entire history of film from the silent era to the present day. All sizes of American film posters are represented: Window Cards (14″ x 22″), Inserts (14″ x 36″), Half Sheets (22″ x 28″), One Sheets (27″ x 41″), Three Sheets (41″ x 81″), Six Sheets (81″ x81″), and 24 Sheets (i.e.: billboards, 9′ x 20.5′).

Harry Ransom Center — Movie Poster Collection

Thirty Days, 30 Albums: How I Fell in Love With The Fall | Music | The Guardian

“I decided it was time to educate myself. I would immerse myself in Smith’s Wonderful and Frightening World in the most total way I could – by listening only to the Fall, one album a day, in release order, and nothing else … for an entire month. I wanted to hear them develop and change, and try and get some sense of what the fuss was about. After all this is a band people are obsessed with. I suspected it might drive me mad. What I hadn’t expected is the extent to which I, too, would get obsessed. Far from getting sick of them, by the middle of the month the Fall were all I could talk about, read about, practically think about. I almost certainly bored everyone who knows me to tears.”

—Marc Burrows, “Thirty Days, 30 Albums: How I Fell in Love With The Fall.” The Guardian. December 31, 2014.

R.I.P. Mark E. Smith.

Larry Wall on Role of Religion

“Role of Religion?
by Anonymous Cowdog

I remember reading at some point that you are a Christian, and there have been suggestions that some of your early missionary impulses (a desire to do good, help others) are perhaps part of the zeal you have put into Perl over the years.

Preferring a scientific view, I am not religious, and have no desire to be. Perhaps there is a God, but if there is, I think he/she has no opposable thumbs; in other words, has no power to change anything; reality is just playing out according to the laws of physics (whatever those are).

Please tell us how in the world a scientific or at least technical mind can believe in God, and what role religion has played in your work on Perl.

A:

Well, hmm, that’s a topic for an entire essay, or a book, or a life. But I’ll try to keep it short.

When you say “how in the world”, I take it to mean that you find it more or less inconceivable that someone with a scientific mind (or at least technical mind, hah!) could chooose to believe in God. I’d like to at least get you to the point where you find it conceivable. I expect a good deal of the problem is that you are busy disbelieving a different God than the one I am busy believing in. In theological discussions more than any other kind, it’s easy to talk at right angles and never even realize it.

So let me try to clarify what I mean, and reduce it to as few information bits as possible. A lot of people have a vested interest in making this a lot tougher to swallow than it needs to be, but it’s supposed to be simple enough that a child can understand it. It doesn’t take great energetic gobs of faith on your part–after all, Jesus said you only have to have faith the size of a mustard seed. So just how big is that, in information theory terms? I think it’s just two bits big. Please allow me to qoute a couple “bits” from Hebrews, slightly paraphrased:

You can’t please God the way Enoch did without some faith, because those who come to God must (minimally) believe that:
A) God exists, and
B) God is good to people who really look for him.
That’s it. The “good news” is so simple that a child can understand it, and so deep that a philosopher can’t.

Now, it appears that you’re willing to admit the possibility of bit A being a 1, so you’re almost halfway there. Or maybe you’re a quarter way there on average, if it’s a qubit that’s still flopping around like Shoedinger’s Cat. You’re the observer there, not me–unless of course you’re dead. 🙂

A lot of folks get hung up at point B for various reasons, some logical and some moral, but mostly because of Shroedinger again. People are almost afraid to observe the B qubit because they don’t want the wave function to collapse either to a 0 or a 1, since both choices are deemed unpalatable. A lot of people who claim to be agnostics don’t take the position so much because they don’t know, but because they don’t want to know, sometimes desperately so.

Because if it turns out to be a 0, then we really are the slaves of our selfish genes, and there’s no basis for morality other than various forms of tribalism.

And because if it turns out to be a 1, then you have swallow a whole bunch of flim-flam that goes with it. Or do you?

Let me admit to you that I came at this from the opposite direction. I grew up in a religious culture, and I had to learn to “unswallow” an awful lot of stuff in order to strip my faith down to these two bits.

I tried to strip it down further, but I couldn’t, because God told me: “That’s far enough. I already flipped your faith bits to 1, because I’m a better Observer than you are. You are Shroedinger’s cat in reverse–you were dead spiritually, but I’ve already examined the qubits for you, and I think they’re both 1. Who are you to disagree with me?”

So, who am I to disagree with God? 🙂 If he really is the Author of the universe, he’s allowed to observe the qubits, and he’s probably even allowed to cheat occasionally and force a few bit flips to make it a better story. That’s how Authors work. Whether or not they have thumbs…

Once you see the universe from that point of view, many arguments fade into unimportance, such as Hawking’s argument that the universe fuzzed into existence at the beginning, and therefore there was no creator. But it’s also true that the Lord of the Rings fuzzed into existence, and that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a creator. It just means that the creator doesn’t create on the same schedule as the creature’s.

If God is creating the universe sideways like an Author, then the proper place to look for the effects of that is not at the fuzzy edges, but at the heart of the story. And I am personally convinced that Jesus stands at the heart of the story. The evidence is there if you care to look, and if you don’t get distracted by the claims of various people who have various agendas to lead you in every possible direction, and if you don’t fall into the trap of looking for a formula rather than looking for God as a person. All human institutions are fallible, and will create a formula for you to determine whether you belong to the tribe or not. Very often these formulas are called doctrines and traditions and such, and there is some value in them, as there is some value in any human culture. But they all kind of miss the point.

“Systematic theology” is an oxymoron. God is not a system. Christians are fond of asking: “What would Jesus do in this situation?” Unfortunately, they very rarely come up with the correct answer, which is: “Something unexpected!” If the Creator really did write himself into his own story, that’s what we ought to expect to see. Creative solutions.

And this creativity is intended to be transitive. We are expected to be creative. And we’re expected to help others be creative.

And that leads us back (finally) to the last part of your question, how all this relates to Perl.

Perl is obviously my attempt to help other people be creative. In my little way, I’m sneakily helping people understand a bit more about the sort of people God likes.

Going further, we have the notion that a narrative should be defined by its heart and not by its borders. That ties in with my linguistic notions that things ought to be defined by prototype rather than by formula. It ties in to my refusal to define who is or is not a “good” Perl programmer, or who exactly is or isn’t a member of the “Perl community”. These things are all defined by their centers, not by their peripheries.

The philosophy of TMTOWTDI (“There’s more than one way to do it.”) is a direct result of observing that the Author of the universe is humble, and chooses to exercise control in subtle rather than in heavy-handed ways. The universe doesn’t come with enforced style guidelines. Creative people will develop style on their own. Those are the sort of people that will make heaven a nice place.

And finally, there is the underlying conviction that, if you define both science and religion from their true centers, they cannot be in confict. So despite all the “religiosity” of Perl culture, we also believe in the benefits of computer science. I didn’t put lexicals and closures into Perl5 just because I thought people would start jumping up and down and shouting “Hallelujah!” (Which happens, but that’s not why I did it.)

And now let’s all sing hymn #42…”

—Larry Wall. “Larry Wall On Perl, Religion, and…Slashdot.org. September 6, 2002.

Postcard Friday

“…I resolved to send a postcard every Friday. I called it Postcard Friday…

Just as formal poetry shapes what the poet can say, the space on the back of the card constrains how I write. There’s room for four or five good sentences, maybe six if I write small…

…Since the back of a postcard is open to all, I figure my mail carrier may read it, as could anyone along its way, and once it reaches its destination, I can only assume the intended recipient won’t be the only one to read it. Other family members might; if it’s out on the coffee table, house guests too. This creates another problem writing a postcard: how to write something personal enough so the postcard isn’t fluff but not so personal as to be embarrassing when read by prying eyes.

My postcard writing has evolved from asking a series of questions to what I now think of as the snapshot postcard—a paragraph about the local barbershop, a few sentences about tasting aquavit at a Norwegian distillery, a story about sitting on the beach over the weekend. The snapshot shares a bit of life with the “wish you were here” implied. These snapshots are, of course, a fiction. They are constructed representations of life, not unlike a Facebook status update.”

Peter Wayne Moe, “Why I Write Postcards.” TheMillions.com. January 19, 2018.

Postcard Friday sounds like an idea worth trying.

The Fallacy of Calories In / Calories Out as a Mental Model for Weight Control

One of the common comments people make about weight control is: “It’s just calories in / calories out.” It’s true, but it’s also wrong in important ways.

For example, one of the things that we know happens once people reach their thirties is that they start to lose 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade. In medical terms, this process is called “sarcopenia with aging”, and it accelerates further when most people reach their seventies.

So, “sarcopenia with aging” is slowly reducing “calories out” for most people older than 30, and this subtly shifts the equation of “calories in / calories out” over time. It’s a force that requires that we either:

  1. Consciously change our eating habits to reduce calorie intake as we age
  2. Work to reduce sarcopenia through a program of strength training

But, doesn’t the human body’s homeostatic mechanisms guide us to reduce intake as we burn fewer calories? Yes, it does. Except we live in a cultural environment that makes every effort to disconnect eating from feelings of hunger. Make sure to eat three square meals a day is an idea that puts food consumption on a predictable schedule. From there, the concept has evolved further, where food has become primarily a recreation for many people.

Consider the ever expanding “holiday” and spectacle seasons. Is it a coincidence that the Super Bowl (or pick your holiday/spectacle of choice) party is an excuse to eat and drink in ways that make weight control difficult, if not impossible?

The same dynamic is in play with ever increasing portion sizes and richer, more calorie dense food.  Movie theaters sell large tubs of popcorn, soda and candy to justify increased prices, which offset decreased ticket sales. Whether you are talking about eating out in restaurants or convenience food, there are billions of dollars being spent delivering just one message: “Eat more.”

Why? Imagine if everyone in the United States cut their calorie intake by 100 calories a day, how many billions of dollars of revenue would that cost food companies in a year? Conversely, the opposite is also true. More calories equals more revenue.

In the context of this dynamic, the “calories in / calories out” argument is problematic. On one level, it suggests that weight is an individual problem. It is as if the billions spent on food marketing, the dearth of sound nutritional advice available to most people, the socio-economic constraints of food availability, etc. are all irrelevant. On another level, the idea of an “equation” implies that “calories out” is a viable approach to a weight problem, and it is why exercise is so often offered as a solution.

But, the treadmill, the elliptical machine, the stationary bike, the aerobics class or other cardio exercise is not how you address the problem of “sarcopenia with aging”. And cardio exercise, by itself, is not enough. There is a saying, “You cannot outrun a bad diet.” Unless you are someone like an elite endurance athlete logging +100 miles of running a week, the only way to bring weight under control is to eat less, not more. Exercise can be an important catalyst for changes, making them happen faster. But, exercise can also undermine weight control as it drives increased appetite and can make it more difficult to eat less.

We need to eat less in an environment where we are always incentivized to eat more. Saying “it’s just calories in / calories out,” is like saying, “Just eat less.” It’s correct, but it’s missing taking into account many of the factors that make that so hard.

 

Leading Marxist Scholar David Harvey on Trump, Wall Street, and Debt Peonage

“I remember watching a speech that Castro gave in which he was talking about, he was lambasting a report by Human Rights Watch, the U.S.-based human rights organization, which often does do the kind of ideological bidding of the U.S. government in the way that it applies its filter to different societies versus the United States, although less so now than it was before. And Castro said that there is essentially a “Western” meaning, like, white-Anglo states’ view of human rights and then there is a different version of what it means to have human rights in countries like Cuba. And he basically was saying, in the West they cherish freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and these things that are sort of of the mind. And here [in Cuba] we would list as human rights, housing, education, health care, etc. Does that absolve Castro of the need to — I mean obviously he’s no longer with us but to embrace the idea that freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are in fact somehow inherently human rights that we all are entitled to just because they’re giving people affordable or free healthcare, affordable or free education, affordable or free housing? I mean is he correct in saying, “Well, these are two different views of what the priorities are in human rights.”

—David Harvey. Interview by Jeremy Scahill. “Leading Marxist Scholar David Harvey on Trump, Wall Street, and Debt Peonage.” The Intercept. January 21, 2018.

Interesting throughout.