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A Simple Letter back from a Christian
Posted: 07 October 2006 01:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 136 ]  
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I think the reason that everyone wants to claim an alternate system of knowing, and why they shy away from materialism, is that our emotional life is not “material”. The cues by which we communicate our emotions, however, are empirical—it just requires human empathy to process and interpret them. So to with art and the products of culture; you cannot measure their meaning empirically, you need human subjectivity to appreciate them (and even that is no guarantee.) As we come up with better ways of studying the brain in action, we can see physiological states which correspond to these emotions. They have a material basis, but not one we can access easily.

Up until recently, all of this has been hidden in the black box of the brain, with the only access being reports on internal states, or facial expressions and body language interpreted by another subject. Subjectivity, however, is notoriously unrepeatable and unreliable; the subject can, after all, act, lie, or be misinterpreted. The very means of enquiry can skew the results, tipping off the subject as to the intentions of the study, allowing them to direct it towards a conclusion they see as desirable, rather than the real conclusion. This puts research into internal cognitive or emotional states on very shakey ground, leading many researchers to regard such research as non-empirical.

Our internal states are of paramount importance to us, so we resent any representation of us which does not take this into account. The world of objectivity is the scientific ideal, but nobody lives there. We live in an ocean of feelings, intuitions, motivations, perceptions, reactions, and associations. None of these are immediately perceivable from the outside. And yet, the point that cognitive researchers are trying to make is that we don’t really know all that we claim to know. We cannot read others as clearly as we would like to believe. In fact, we don’t even know ourselves all that well.

We really should be taking the hint. Human subjectivity is nowhere near as clear or immediate as we delude ourselves into thinking. Our alternate way of knowing is a flimsy as a butterfly fart. If it were as solid as we would like to believe, we wouldn’t suffer the ignomies of war, bigotry, miscommunication, deception, and facile sentimentality. If we are to resolve our differences, we must stop relying on our own certainties regarding this most uncertain of domains. We should speak plainly, not expect others to respond to vague signals and baroque innuendos, and take in stride the variety of misunderstandings that our imperfect means of understanding each other necessitates. Nor should we expect that some random collection of men in the bronze or early iron age got it perfectly right, for everyone and for all time. What this means is that we must learn to turn the other cheek, to forgive and forget, to redouble our efforts to understand each other, and even to forgive ourselves and others when we get it wrong, as we often will.

You will notice that this is a pretty fair description of Christian ethics, though it predates Christianity by millenia. You may also notice that I have not invoked God or anything metphysical to support it.

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Posted: 07 October 2006 10:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 137 ]  
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Sir,

You may be in your thirties, you may have submitted to a substantial process of education, but your writings (content, style and grammar) indicate you are stuck with a childish mental age.  You should consider seriously waiting for the wisdom that frequently, not always, comes with middle-age before you decide about matters of faith.  You certainly should wait for the arrival of that wisdom before you take on the obligations of counselling others on any subject.

You are precisely the religious moderate who will stand in disbelief, relying on your faith, preaching good will and tolerance, while a Muslim fanatic, relying on his faith, swings his blade at your throat.  You are the type who has Sam Harris all up in arms.  You are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

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Posted: 07 October 2006 10:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 138 ]  
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[quote author=“garrygtemp”]Sir,

You may be in your thirties, you may have submitted to a substantial process of education, but your writings (content, style and grammar) indicate you are stuck with a childish mental age.  You should consider seriously waiting for the wisdom that frequently, not always, comes with middle-age before you decide about matters of faith.  You certainly should wait for the arrival of that wisdom before you take on the obligations of counselling others on any subject.

You are precisely the religious moderate who will stand in disbelief, relying on your faith, preaching good will and tolerance, while a Muslim fanatic, relying on his faith, swings his blade at your throat.  You are the type who has Sam Harris all up in arms.  You are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Praise Almight Dagda, Mighty Celtic Lord of the Bubbling Cauldron,  whose hot broth cleanses our sins and give us new life…

Bloody Moderates…Sam is right on the money…

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Posted: 08 October 2006 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 139 ]  
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[quote author=“Elentar”]What you have done is not close the door on metaphysics, but torn the door off its hinges. If materialism is metaphysics, and science uses methodological materialism, then science is based on metaphysics, and can be abolished by metaphysics. This is the position that Frankr wanted you to take, because it establishes his theology over science. In fact, with this epistemlogical void you can establish anything. It’s similar to the ID argument that Evolution is just a theory. Your argument is inherently post-modernist, and is a favourite amongst religious apologists. What methodological materialism does is employ materialism as a methodological assumption, and stop. No discussion of metaphysics at all, because metaphysics in inherently beyond proof or disproof—it has no material and therefore no phenomenological or scientific basis. Scientists simply refuse to talk about it, because, as Wittgenstein put it, “Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent.” The proof of the scientific method—and of methodological materialism—is its own effectiveness, its power to explain and predict natural phenomena. With each advance, the method proves itself. Metaphysics is entirely irrelevant. All discussions of metaphysics, including any metaphysical discussions concerning materialism, are left to theologians and bluntly ignored—because they are remarkably ineffective. Insofar as any of those discussions ever become subject to proof or disproof, they come within the realm of the observable, and therefore of the material. Until then, they are just hot air.

To say that everything is metaphysics isn’t really saying much, because it amounts to saying that everything is based upon the ultimate nature of reality. But that does not mean that all theory is metaphysical, because metaphysics consists entirely of conjectural assertions. If all theories are metaphysical, then all theories, regardless of correspondence with observable fact, are equal. For any metaphysical claim, there are contrary claims which stand on equal footing. Since metaphysical claims cannot be proven or disproven, lumping science into metaphysics places it on equal footing with alternate metaphysical systems which have no empirical basis. Even the emphasis on empiricism becomes negotiable, and this is where magic can be reintroduced. If you don’t have to prove it, you can believe anything you want. This is the launch point for systems of New Age magic, and the same position has now been adopted for the defense of religion. This is why religious believers want to argue metaphysics with you—as soon as you join in the discussion on this ground, you’ve lost. You have unwittingly agreed to the premise that empirical evidence has no bearing on truth, and once you’ve done that, they can claim anything they want, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

So while not all metaphysics leads to magical beliefs, all magical beliefs begin with metaphysical assertions. And since metaphysical assertions are, by their very nature, beyond proof or disproof, metaphysical arguments can never be resolved. Metaphysics is thus the final refuge of philosophical scoundrels, whose intentions are to force you to acknowledge your ignorance in a domain where there is nothing but ignorance, and use this admission of ignorance to sneak their argument past you. By classifying materialism as a metaphysical rather than a methodological position, you are agreeing to a metaphysical discussion. The only way to win an argument on metaphysics is to refuse to engage in it, which is precisely what scientists do. This is not dodging the point, but recognizing that there is no point.

We really should be taking the hint. Human subjectivity is nowhere near as clear or immediate as we delude ourselves into thinking. Our alternate way of knowing is as flimsy as a butterfly fart. If it were as solid as we would like to believe, we wouldn’t suffer the ignominies of war, bigotry, miscommunication, deception, and facile sentimentality. If we are to resolve our differences, we must stop relying on our own certainties regarding this most uncertain of domains. We should speak plainly, not expect others to respond to vague signals and baroque innuendos, and take in stride the variety of misunderstandings that our imperfect means of understanding each other necessitates. Nor should we expect that some random collection of men in the bronze or early iron age got it perfectly right, for everyone and for all time. What this means is that we must learn to turn the other cheek, to forgive and forget, to redouble our efforts to understand each other, and even to forgive ourselves and others when we get it wrong, as we often will.

This totally kicks total unadulterated ass. Even if one asserts that the meanings of (some) signals are undecidable. This says it all. Get down in the mud with the empiricists. After a certain point, you cannot get any filthier, and you realize it is nothing but good clean fun. Thank you, Elentar.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 140 ]  
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[quote author=“Anonymous”][quote author=“Elentar”]What you have done is not close the door on metaphysics, but torn the door off its hinges. If materialism is metaphysics, and science uses methodological materialism, then science is based on metaphysics, and can be abolished by metaphysics. This is the position that Frankr wanted you to take, because it establishes his theology over science. In fact, with this epistemlogical void you can establish anything. It’s similar to the ID argument that Evolution is just a theory. Your argument is inherently post-modernist, and is a favourite amongst religious apologists. What methodological materialism does is employ materialism as a methodological assumption, and stop. No discussion of metaphysics at all, because metaphysics in inherently beyond proof or disproof—it has no material and therefore no phenomenological or scientific basis. Scientists simply refuse to talk about it, because, as Wittgenstein put it, “Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent.” The proof of the scientific method—and of methodological materialism—is its own effectiveness, its power to explain and predict natural phenomena. With each advance, the method proves itself. Metaphysics is entirely irrelevant. All discussions of metaphysics, including any metaphysical discussions concerning materialism, are left to theologians and bluntly ignored—because they are remarkably ineffective. Insofar as any of those discussions ever become subject to proof or disproof, they come within the realm of the observable, and therefore of the material. Until then, they are just hot air.

To say that everything is metaphysics isn’t really saying much, because it amounts to saying that everything is based upon the ultimate nature of reality. But that does not mean that all theory is metaphysical, because metaphysics consists entirely of conjectural assertions. If all theories are metaphysical, then all theories, regardless of correspondence with observable fact, are equal. For any metaphysical claim, there are contrary claims which stand on equal footing. Since metaphysical claims cannot be proven or disproven, lumping science into metaphysics places it on equal footing with alternate metaphysical systems which have no empirical basis. Even the emphasis on empiricism becomes negotiable, and this is where magic can be reintroduced. If you don’t have to prove it, you can believe anything you want. This is the launch point for systems of New Age magic, and the same position has now been adopted for the defense of religion. This is why religious believers want to argue metaphysics with you—as soon as you join in the discussion on this ground, you’ve lost. You have unwittingly agreed to the premise that empirical evidence has no bearing on truth, and once you’ve done that, they can claim anything they want, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

So while not all metaphysics leads to magical beliefs, all magical beliefs begin with metaphysical assertions. And since metaphysical assertions are, by their very nature, beyond proof or disproof, metaphysical arguments can never be resolved. Metaphysics is thus the final refuge of philosophical scoundrels, whose intentions are to force you to acknowledge your ignorance in a domain where there is nothing but ignorance, and use this admission of ignorance to sneak their argument past you. By classifying materialism as a metaphysical rather than a methodological position, you are agreeing to a metaphysical discussion. The only way to win an argument on metaphysics is to refuse to engage in it, which is precisely what scientists do. This is not dodging the point, but recognizing that there is no point.

We really should be taking the hint. Human subjectivity is nowhere near as clear or immediate as we delude ourselves into thinking. Our alternate way of knowing is as flimsy as a butterfly fart. If it were as solid as we would like to believe, we wouldn’t suffer the ignominies of war, bigotry, miscommunication, deception, and facile sentimentality. If we are to resolve our differences, we must stop relying on our own certainties regarding this most uncertain of domains. We should speak plainly, not expect others to respond to vague signals and baroque innuendos, and take in stride the variety of misunderstandings that our imperfect means of understanding each other necessitates. Nor should we expect that some random collection of men in the bronze or early iron age got it perfectly right, for everyone and for all time. What this means is that we must learn to turn the other cheek, to forgive and forget, to redouble our efforts to understand each other, and even to forgive ourselves and others when we get it wrong, as we often will.

This totally kicks total unadulterated ass. Even if one asserts that the meanings of (some) signals are undecidable. This says it all. Get down in the mud with the empiricists. After a certain point, you cannot get any filthier, and you realize it is nothing but good clean—and effective—fun. Thank you, Elentar.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 141 ]  
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Nice try Elentar!  I mean that comment seriously, no sarcasm intended.  I come from delving into the postmodern perspective . . . truth is relative, language is the alternative reality, and text undermines perception.  Of course since Thomas Kuhn’s work we can all appreciate that even science depends on certain assumptions and that those assumptions can change over time - even paradigm shifts can occur.  But of course you have never contended that emprical knowledge is perfect (like - omniscient),  just that it meets with certain methodological criteria verifiability, repeatability, falsifiability, while other forms of knowledge do not pass those tests. It feels to me that you have made the case very forcefully, because the alternative is a fuzzy wuzzy realm of anything goes (butterfly farts being a good anology to the elusive).  And I recall reading thinkers like Jacques Derrida, whom I found full of misrepresentations and convenient assumptions based on his “the text is everything” philosophy, and his work only confirmed my suspicion that one’s assumptions tend to formulate one’s conclusions.  But in all honesty, what assumption could be more legitimate than, “the material world is the real world.”

Yet I was intrigued by your mention that language itself is not just all metaphysics - in fact language use is phenomenal, sensual and perceptibly empirical.  I’ve entertained those thoughts before in different ways (from a phenomenoligical perspective).  I was, however, convinced (might be an assumption?) that all language-based knowing is metaphysical, hence mathematics, theories, and all the sciences, fit under the umbrella of metaphysics.  That perspective was “confirmed” by the categories traditionally reserved for philosophical inquiry . . .  epistemology is a branch of metaphysics (along with ethics, theology, logic, etc.). 

I looked up metaphysics in my “Dictionary of Philosophy” and discovered that there are up to nine legitimate meanings for the term, in addition to the seven specifically Aristotelian meanings to that term.  The most general definition that encompasses eight of the other meanings is equivalent with “rationalistic”‘By the process of thinking we can arrive at fundamental, undeniable truths about the universe.’ 

Here’s the description of the Aristotelian use of the word metaphysics “Metaphysics is the study of Being-as-such as distinct from the study of particular beings that exist in the universe. Biology studies the “being” of living organisms; geology studies the “being” of the earth; astronomy studies the “being” of the stars; physics studies the “being” of natural change, movement, and development.  But metaphysics studies the properties that all these “beings” have in common. In this sense of metaphysics the most important questions are “What is Being?” “What is Substance?”  “What is reality?”“

It seems that you are correct in stating that metaphysics is the study of non-empriical knowledge, writ large.

Bob

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Posted: 08 October 2006 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 142 ]  
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[quote author=“CanZen”]I was, however, convinced (might be an assumption?) that all language-based knowing is metaphysical, hence mathematics, theories, and all the sciences, fit under the umbrella of metaphysics.

You equate language and mathematics? No wonder your conclusions adapt to your assumptions.

Consider the variety of theorems of vector calculus, and consider how they assist in the development of fluid mechanics. If you fly from your home to some post-modernist conference in Derrida-land, you better believe that the aircraft in which you fly could not have been designed without them. Use a cheesecloth for an umbrella if you like. Ce├ži ne pas une pipe.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 09:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 143 ]  
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I am certainly open to rejecting that assumption, that mathematics is (the language of) our quantification of reality.  Perhaps mathematics is not a language? However, if it is indeed a language it is certainly in a different category (precision-wise) than is our qualification language.  Speaking in English sentences is assuredly different from doing calculus, but there’s an underlying logic to both and in that sense they appear to overlap?

In a practical sense, I agree fully with you Salt Creek, but why do I feel the need to disagree with you in a theoretical sense?

Bob

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Posted: 08 October 2006 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 144 ]  
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I did not agree 100% with Mr. Harris’ book.  Not 100%, but close.

I purchased the book yesterday.  I read and finished the book yesterday after reading it aloud.  It’s easy reading and makes each point concisely.

I’d like to address a few things:

[list=]This book was a letter to extreme Christians.
This book illustrates how secular governments are less prone toward war.
This book illustrates that a human being is more important than a blastocyst.
This book shows that intelligent design really isn’t so intelligent if it is at all.
And lastly, this book illustrates that Christianity in government is a disastrous thing.[/list]

Mr. Harris makes a very logical arguement.  One of us is right and one of us is not.  Seeing how Christianity has been an obstacle in science and its very doctrines have preached war and dominance through scripture over women, one can certainly see how it as a guide to a civilized society is certainly one built on wishful thinking.

As the recipient to my Christian hate mail, I can see where Mr. Harris can clearly illustrate the well thought out delusional venom that such writers propogate.  As he said, when these people write they quote the punishments he’ll receive in Biblical chapter and verse.  To read and listen to such hate filled dogmatic slop, one must really call into question whether such a path is truly one that will help a person reach true compassion.

Mr. Harris also illustrates that if a person were to truly search for a system of beliefs that preach compassion there are several better alternatives (such as Jainism) that not only preach compassion but also preach doctines of non-harm.  Today, as we watch more and more people in this country send their children to Bible and Jesus camps, we can’t help but worry about the warrior doctrines they study and what seeds these people plant for the adults of tomorrow.  It is nothing short of brainwashing and using techniques to bring about a form of post traumatic stress disorder.  It is frightening in its breadth.

We can turn to our more embarrassing side as Americans and find that narrowminded Christian doctrines have been in part to slavery, the subjugation or women, the hanging of witches, the barriers of scientific research, gay bashing, and psychotic breakdowns.  The worst attrocities ever recorded in history have been in part brought about by Christian extremism.  I need only mention the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the Burning Times, The Salem Witch Trials, and the excommunication of Coppernicus and Galileo.

Mr. Harris also mentions that every one knows what it’s like to be an atheist.  All you need do is look at a philosophy you don’t agree with.  Christians are all atheists when it comes to Islam dogma.  Muslims are all atheists when it comes to Christian fundementalism.  So why is it so hard to not see his points?

When we see weekly hatemongering from intolerant Christian Right preachers such as Paster Jack Hagee and from D. James Kennedy who fill cable television with almost Orwellian historical inaccuracies about American History, we can only sit back and appreciate Mr. Harris’ works with quiet approval and know that his time has, at last, come.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 145 ]  
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[quote author=“CanZen”]Perhaps mathematics is not a language? However, if it is indeed a language it is certainly in a different category (precision-wise) than is our qualification language.

Mathematics is not a language, unless you define language very broadly. Not all symbolic representation is language, as art should have informed you already. Linguistic skill does not avail one in deriving a mathematical consequence. I cannot help you if you insist that all symbol is language.

why do I feel the need to disagree with you in a theoretical sense?

Ours is not to reason why.

I think you and I mean entirely different things by the word “theoretical”. If you disagree with me in a theoretical sense, that is one thing, if you have a theory to propose, out with it. If your theory cannot be expressed mathematically, it is in a different category from what I mean by “theory”. A “theoretical sense” is a phrase without a meaning.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 04:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 146 ]  
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[quote author=“garrygtemp”]Sir,

You may be in your thirties, you may have submitted to a substantial process of education, but your writings (content, style and grammar) indicate you are stuck with a childish mental age.  You should consider seriously waiting for the wisdom that frequently, not always, comes with middle-age before you decide about matters of faith.  You certainly should wait for the arrival of that wisdom before you take on the obligations of counselling others on any subject.

You are precisely the religious moderate who will stand in disbelief, relying on your faith, preaching good will and tolerance, while a Muslim fanatic, relying on his faith, swings his blade at your throat.  You are the type who has Sam Harris all up in arms.  You are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

My impression exactly. FranklinBR is a like a kid who has found a new toy—but this won’t be the end of his search. He’s gone from facile atheism (not reasoned atheism) to New Age mythology (Wicca) to shallow Christianity. In none of these has he devoted enough serious thought, and thereby sunk deep enough roots, to remain where he is. What I hear in his messages is a person who is still drifting, and is nowhere near his final destination. If a school has admitted him to teach him how to be a minister, and he still believes what he does, then his teachers are irresponsible. A minister will be called on to councel people who are having serious problems, and must therefore be a serious and thoughtful person—and a superficial belief in dogma will contribute nothing to this.

I’m not even certain that he has really understand the books he cites. Some of them present lightweight arguments convincing only to the convinced. Others, like The Real Jesus by Luke Johnson, argue that the historical Jesus is irrelevant (so much for fundamentalism) and that it is the Jesus of the Gospels—in other words, the Jesus of the imagination—that matters. So these books silmultaneously claim empirical support for Christianity, and when that support collapses, turn around and claim that it doesn’t matter anyway. Johnson may actually have a point; the question “What would Jesus do?” means little if one is talking about a first century itinerate preacher, but may mean something if one is asking what the Eternal Hero of myth would do. In this case, it is simply the old question of the ideal of human virtue, and the Bible is but one limited example of a broad range of accumulated human wisdom that he will have to consider. If Franklin does become a minister, I doubt he will remain one for long.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 06:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 147 ]  
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Summary of the post for busy readers: Let’s not harm good causes with easily demolished arguments.

Wordy response in which Ted growls continuously:

Vikar wrote:

The worst attrocities ever recorded in history have been in part brought about by Christian extremism. I need only mention the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the Burning Times, The Salem Witch Trials, and the excommunication of Coppernicus and Galileo.

and I gagged on this ignorance of history. An atheist hands a Christian an easy rhetorical victory by ignoring Communism’s murder on a genocidal scale in the Twentieth Century. That is, the Christians have only to point out this ignorance of history to demolish the atheist’s claim. We atheists deserve better representation. My response here is longer than I intended, but the provocation is severe. Christianity had nothing to do with the murder of millions of people by Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. Excommunicating two men, or two million, barely registers as an atrocity compared with these facts:

http://www.gmu.edu/departments/economics/bcaplan/museum/comfaq.htm

Straightforward execution of innocent people has led to far fewer deaths than either slave labor camps or man-made famine. Still, the numbers are impressive. During the Russian Civil War, “class enemies” were executed en masse in the Red Terror. As Zinoviev, a high-ranking Bolshevik put it, “We must carry along with us 90 million out of the 100 million of Soviet Russia’s inhabitants. As for the rest, we have nothing to say to them. They must be annihilated.” The number executed in this period fell far short of Zinoviev’s threat, probably adding up to a few hundred thousand. The executions under Stalin’s rule - such as during the Great Terror of 1936-1938 - added up to several million by most counts. Comparable numbers of executions (adjusting for national population) are typical of Communist states. . . .

Under Lenin’s rule - unlike that of his successors - executions played a far more important role than deaths in forced labor camps. The primary function of Lenin’s secret police, the Cheka, was carrying out summary executions of “class enemies” in what came to be known as the Red Terror. The exact number murdered is usually estimated at between 100,000 and 500,000, but the chaotic wartime conditions make the accounting especially difficult. Large-scale executions of hostages began after a failed effort of the Social Revolutionaries to seize power in mid-1918. . . .

Lenin pioneered the slave labor camp, but Stalin expanded it literally a hundredfold. Under Lenin, the inmates numbered fewer than 100,000. By 1930, they numbered 1,000,000. By 1940, the Gulag Archipelago housed fully 10,000,000 pitiful souls. The death rate was extraordinary: 10-30%  . . .

On April 7, 1935, Stalin issued a decree authorizing the death penalty for children as young as 12 years old. While far more of Stalin’s subjects died in slave labor camps and man-made famines than from execution, even here the numbers are startling. There were approximately one million executions during the Great Terror of 1936-1939, and probably over five million for his entire reign. The executed were often Stalin’s opponents within the Party, or his less eager friends, or foreign Communists. Large numbers of officers were executed. Polish POWs taken in 1939 were executed en masse in Katyn and elsewhere. per year, for the prisoners performed demanding labor such as mining and timber-cutting with minimal food and clothing in freezing temperatures.  . .

Mao’s most famous executions were not his most numerous. In the so-called Cultural Revolution, Mao ordered massive purges of the Chinese Communist Party and of educated professionals. After Mao’s fall, purge survivors such as Deng Xioaping seized power and ultimately exposed this crime to the world. About one million Party members and intellectuals were killed during Mao’s Cultural Revolution - many by execution, others in the camps. Overall, however, Mao’s killing actually declined during the Cultural Revolution. During earlier periods, millions of landlords, better-off peasants, dissidents, former Nationalist civil servants, and other “counter-revolutionaries” were executed. Numerical estimates are difficult to make, but probably add up to about 10-15 million.

After French defeat, Ho followed standard Communist operating procedure. First, kill off peasant leaders and better-off peasants to decapitate future peasant resistance; then forced collectivization can proceed unhindered. Slave labor camps sprang up, as did show trials. By all accounts several hundred thousand people perished during the 1953-1956 period.  . .

Ho was dead of old age by the time Communist forces triumphed in 1975, but the post-war atrocities were in his Stalinist tradition. Slave labor plus brain- washing yielded the infamous “re-education camps” to which anti-Communists, dissidents, former civil servants of South Vietnam, prostitutes, and others were condemned. The death rate of the hundreds of thousands of inmates in these camps was high.  . .

The killing rate in Cambodia has no precedent. Executions, slave labor, and man-made famine all blended together in a nation where every person was de facto an enslaved prisoner. Middling estimates indicate that in the short span of 1975-1979, over 25% of Cambodia’s population perished at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Two millions out of seven. The xenophobia of the Khmer Rouge have led many to try to re-define them as racists rather than Communists. In truth, the Khmer Rouge was both racist and Communist.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 06:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 148 ]  
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[quote author=“CanZen”]I come from delving into the postmodern perspective . . . truth is relative, language is the alternative reality, and text undermines perception.  Of course since Thomas Kuhn’s work we can all appreciate that even science depends on certain assumptions and that those assumptions can change over time - even paradigm shifts can occur.

I don’t have much use for postmodernism. Beyond the fact that much of postmodern theory is frankly endlessly self-referential and largely meaningless gobbledygook, they have systematically misunderstood the scientific method and the nature of scientific revolutions. Truth is not relative—the expression of truth is relative and limited, but the truth itself remains, however limited our comprehension of it is. Kuhn has also been misunderstood, although he is partly responsible for this. There has really only been one true Copernican revolution, when the first applications of the scientific method completely overthrew the Ptolomaic system which had not been arrived at by this method. Newton’s theories were not overthrown by Relativity and Quantum Mechanics; we continue to use Newtonian physics in nearly all physics at a human scale (it is sufficient for virtually all tasks in civil and mechanical engineering to this day.) In fact, the mathematics of Relativity resolve themselves back into Newtonian formulae when we work at this scale, and Newtonian physics has a relatively small degree of error even when working on the scale of objects within our solar system. Relativity only comes into play at extremely large distances and relativistically significant speeds where split second timing is required—satellites and space exploration. Newton has not been discarded, only expanded upon. The postmodernist view that science advances by discarding all prior knowledge in favour of a new paradigm is simply false. What is true survives and we advance our knowledge by building upon it.

Postmodernism argues for epistemological relativism, and derives its moral and cultural relativism from this. As a result, they are left with the conviction that science has gained the upper hand out of pure political dominance. In fact, politics interferes with science and is loathed by scientists, who require a free exchange of ideas to make headway, and who challenge each others’ ideas with a frankness that most people would find brutal. But the fruits of science are so effective that the culture with the best science becomes the dominant culture.

Postmodernists would like to argue that primitive myths are taboos are no less valid than science, and that people of these primitive cultures have simply eschewed scientific thinking out of some higher moral objection. The people who believe those myths and taboos would strongly disagree, as cargo cults and recent attempts by Hindus to claim that elements of their faith prefigure scientific discoveries. They not only desperately want the benefits of science, they would like to believe that they thought of it all first. If they had, there is no doubt that they would have colonized us. Truth not only exists, it eventually wins.

[quote author=“CanZen”]Here’s the description of the Aristotelian use of the word metaphysics:  “Metaphysics is the study of Being-as-such as distinct from the study of particular beings that exist in the universe. Biology studies the “being” of living organisms; geology studies the “being” of the earth; astronomy studies the “being” of the stars; physics studies the “being” of natural change, movement, and development.  But metaphysics studies the properties that all these “beings” have in common. In this sense of metaphysics the most important questions are:  “What is Being?” “What is Substance?”  “What is reality?”“

But as such metaphysics becomes merely an expansion upon word definitions—useful in exploring our own thought processes, but useless in discovering what reality actually is, unless it serves to remove poor habits of thinking that are obstacle to our understanding. Language is not reality, alternate or otherwise. It may limit or skew our perception of reality, but reality remains what it is. We cannot change the world by merely changing our minds—that is magic, and it simply doesn’t work. We can, by better understanding the world and changing the beliefs that guide our actions, change the world through what we do. Changing our perspective can open new realms of possibilities; we can, by extraordinay deeds, create a world where such things are possible, for good or ill. But action is inherently physical. To make anything happen, you have to work at it.

The lure of metaphysics, of postmodernism, of the personal God of fundamentalists, of New Age mysticism, even of easy credit, is magic; a marvelous fantasy that one can effect change by mere thought, and make unpleasant realities simply melt away. Illusionary obstacles can vanish, but only because they are illusions. But to deal with real problems, you have to get up and push.

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Posted: 08 October 2006 07:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 149 ]  
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Newton’s theories were not overthrown by Relativity and Quantum Mechanics; we continue to use Newtonian physics in nearly all physics at a human scale (it is sufficient for virtually all tasks in civil and mechanical engineering to this day.)

For rhetorical purposes a few days ago, I looked for an example where Newtonian physics was not accurate enough to suffice in some civil or mechanical engineering task or anything else at a human scale. I did not find one. Do you know of one?

In a nanosecond, light travels a bit less than one foot. (“About 11.8 inches,” he says, holding up his forefingers about that far apart.) One or two gigahertz computers (with one or two cycles per nanosecond) may be approaching relativistic limits on how fast a single computer processor can be, depending on how much miniaturization their designers use. Relativistic limits could start limiting what the computer engineers want to do in speeding up computers still further. If so, they can resort to multiple processors, of course. For all I know, relativistic limits on computer speeds will drive us to massive parallelism soon. (I should live so long. My first computer, other than paper-and-pencil Turing machines, was an IBM 7090.)

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Posted: 09 October 2006 12:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 150 ]  
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[quote author=“Ted Shepherd”]For rhetorical purposes a few days ago, I looked for an example where Newtonian physics was not accurate enough to suffice in some civil or mechanical engineering task or anything else at a human scale. I did not find one. Do you know of one?

Of course, it would help if “human scale” were specified, e.g., 0.01 mm to 10000 km. Piezo-electric effects in some mechanical transducers? Or is this not in any sense a “mechanical” problem? Classical theory clearly is not all that is needed here. Is a pressure transducer a mechanical device?

Peter Galison’s monograph “Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps” illustrates one historical episode when we bumped up against the limitations of classical mechanics at a human scale in efforts at achieving synchronization of clocks on a world-wide basis: The fact that signals travel at a finite maximum velocity, even outside a mechanical medium.

I guess there was a time in computing when electronic machines still relied on mechanical relays, but nanosecond timing was not an issue with them, or so I believe. I myself have had my hands on ka-chunk ka-chunk desk calculators, and in the same lab, Wang machines with big friendly LEDs.

Off the top of my head, I think what you end up with is that the “human scale” appears within a continuum.

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