Where It Should All Begin

December 28, 2006

I often encounter a problem when debating with people. We have fundamentally different beliefs about the fundamental nature of the universe. So, since we’re not even really speaking the same language, how can we debate?

This also raises the rather disturbing question of, how can we really prove anything? All proofs rest on assumptions. These assumptions cannot be justified without resting on more assumptions. Gödel proved it; you cannot have a complete and consistent system. You cannot prove all truths.

So, if we are to reason in such a way that all may accept our conclusions, where must we begin?

I propose that we begin with the assumption that reason is a valid tool for drawing conclusions. This is not because it can be proven true. It is because, if it is not true, we cannot reason anyway. Drawing this assumption breaks it logically into two possibilities – either whatever we can prove based on this assumption is true, or we cannot know anything about anything – since reason is not a valid tool, we cannot use reason to draw any conclusions whatsoever. It is not that this, strictly speaking, is not a possibility; it is that this possibility is meaningless. If the world is indeed like that, green. Illogicality. Irrationality. Fhjklasdgflh.

So let us begin by assuming that reason is a valid tool for analysis.

From here we can reason our way to the truth. I believe that this logical progression would go something like this.

  • Reason is a valid means for explaining the nature of the universe.
  • If “reason is valid”, reason must be universally valid.
  • If reason is universally valid, God must exist (see Retreat!).

Etc.

I believe that this logical progression will eventually lead one to Christianity. Or at least to a place where Christianity is a perfectly logical way of explaining the nature of God, the universe, and everything. Naturally I can’t prove this, yet. But I suspect it is true. Follow the logic… follow the logic.

So, in my mind, there are two choices for what to believe. You can follow the path of reason, which I believe leads to Christianity. Or, you can be a wqertybfk. I know which one I would rather be.

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Why I’d Rather be a Paynim than a Mussulman

December 24, 2006

I’m a Catholic Christian. I don’t forsee that ever changing. But, it might be interesting to imagine what I would believe if somehow I was convinced of the falsity of Christianity.

First of all, what would it mean for me not to be a Christian? I believe in Christianity for several reasons. Among them is the fact that, to me the Story of Christianity is both plausible and beautiful. It appears, to me, to have the Truth. More on this later.

Now, belief in Christianity implies many moral, theological, and philosophical, beliefs, but what belief in Christianity most means for me philosophically is that it implies the existence of Reason. Christianity means that Reason is God, God is Reason. “In the beginning was the Word [=Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). So if I no longer believed in Christianity, I would no longer believe that logic was a valid tool for trying to understand the nature of the [Gg]od(s).

If I no longer believed in Reason, what would I be left with? I say, Story. If Reason does not exist, only reason, I would think that all that matters is the substance of the Story. The plausibility of the Story would be irrelevant, and the plausibility of the truths implied by that story would be irrelevant. All that would matter would be the beauty of the Story and of its implications.

And the most interesting Story (apart from that of Christianity) is to me that of Paganism. By this I don’t mean neo-paganism; that disgusts me, for the same reason that Hitler disgusted Tolkien. The practitioners of neo-paganism are

Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble, northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light. Nowhere, incidentally, was it nobler than in England, nor ever more early sanctified and Christianized.

But Paganism, the original Paganism, that existed before Christianity; that is truly interesting. (Even now, it seems somewhat innocent to me because it was not fighting against Christianity; it simply did not know of the existence of Christianity.) The stories are fascinating. And the talionic, honor-focused, warrior ethic they imply are very tempting. So, if I cared not for the veracity of what I believed, but only for how interesting it was to believe it, I would be a pagan.

For the same reason, I cannot imagine myself ever becoming Muslim. They believe in a God who is not rational, and who cannot be reasoned about. This reminds me of an exchange in Perelandra between Weston [who is possessed by the Devil] and Ransom. Weston [the devil] says, “But don’t you believe in him because he is spirit?”. “Of course not!” Ransom replies. “We believe in him because he is good!”. It seems to me that Islam makes the same mistake Weston tries to convince Ransom of. They bow to a tyrant because he is powerful, instead of to a king because he is all-good. I could never do that.

So, in conclusion – I am a Christian. That will never change, unless something rather strange happens. But if that did, what would I believe? Well, I could maybe become a Paynim. But I could never become a Mussulman.


Slag

December 22, 2006

I accidentally erased all my posts. Dammit. :(

I’ll try to reconstruct what I can… I might still have some of them cached or something.

UPDATE:
I have all of them cached except for the first three. Stephen has those on his computer, he says. So, I’ll have all of the posts reconstructed – but the comments are probably lost forever. Such is life.

And I also lost the post I made right before the Great Cataclysm. However, since I wrote it only a few hours ago, I should be able to recover essentially what was said.

UPDATE 2:
All of the posts have been recovered except for the Deptford Mice Trilogy review. I doubt we’ll ever see that again. Whew. That was really, really, irritating…


School’s out!

December 20, 2006

Final exams were yesterday, two days ago, and last friday. So now it’s Christmas Break (though everyone else in my family except my dad is on “winter break”), and I’m going to have a bunch of free time here at home.

There’s not a lot to say on the subject. Normally I would be happy that I don’t have to do any work for two weeks. But this year, the break is going to get pretty boring, and I’m going to be stuck at home with a bunch of annoying siblings.

But, in any case, hopefully I’ll be able to get a lot of Orbivm-related stuff done during the break. Maybe we’ll even be able to organize an Imperial Era showdown on the Wesnoth server.

Anyway, these are my goals over Christmas Break:

  • Apply to college. This comes first. I want to get this damn process done with. It shouldn’t take long (my apps are basically done), but you never know. I’ve ran into a few technological hitches already.
  • Release a rudimentary version of the Ancient Era. It will probably contain the Keltoi, the Laviniani, and the Ancient Dwarves. (These are, from what I can tell, the three easiest factions to scratch together at this point.)
  • Release Imperial Era 0.15. It will contain the redone Lavinian and Nemidian sprites, and probably the Knalgan-ish faction I’ve been promising for a few months.
  • Finish up Fall of Silvium. It’s been sitting at 0.3 for a while now, and all it needs are a few polishes for it to get to 1.0. I have a bad habit of stopping work on a campaign as soon as it is playable all the way through.
  • Finish up at least the first third of Alfhelm (this may require adding another scenario so that there isn’t such a sudden transition between “backwater swampland” and “lord of all the marauder people”), then release it on the campaign server.

Knowing me, I’ll probably get about half of these things done.


Romance and Writing

December 16, 2006

Unfortunately, the Alfhelm the Wise campaign is progressing slowly. I just haven’t had any brilliant insights into where to go from here. There are a few reasons for this. For one, I’ve been busy with various other tasks. (Most of them social. Ugh. I’m going to make sure all of my younger brothers never have friends… it’s just not worth it.)

But also, I haven’t been able to decide how the campaign should end. As those of you who’ve played the campaign so far know, two of the main characters, Alfhelm and Ranhilde, have a certain romance (Artic Monkeys allusion intentional – if you didn’t understand that, ignore it) going on. This is, of course, almost mandatory. In any story with a young male hero and a young female witch whom he seeks counsel from, they have to fall in love. And, well, I now like these characters personally. I want the story to end happily (note – this does not necessarily mean I don’t want either of them to die), and I do sort of want them to end up getting married or summat.

There are, however, a few problems with this. To begin with, how the hell am I supposed to write a romance (as in an epic romance – a la Beren and Lúthien)? How is anybody supposed to write a romance? This may be a shocking revelation for you, but I don’t exactly know a whole lot about that sort of thing. I could write it so that it happened, but I doubt I could write it so that it would be believable (for me – I don’t care if it’s believable for anyone else). And even if I did, I suspect writing from experience would be a bad idea on multiple levels.

A related point is that I don’t particularly want to write a romance. I prefer to write tragedies (as anyone who’s played Fall of Silvium or Sceptre of Fire knows). The reasons for this would be best expressed by the statement that my favorite story in the Silmarillion is not that of Beren and Lúthien, it is that of Túrin Turambar.

And the story of Alfhelm, particularly, seems fitting for a tragedy. It doesn’t seem fitting for a romance. It deals with a great man who is consumed by hatred for an enemy, but is forced to spend all of his energy fighting a different enemy. Then, at the end, he ends up returning from his unwanted quest to finish his vendetta. This is the story, it seems to me, of a great but ultimately futile life.

But, even with all of these issues I have with trying to write a romance, I want to. Mainly because I just like the character of Alfhelm, as a person. I’d feel bad making his life end up tragically.

So, this is why I haven’t made much progress writing Alfhelm the Wise. I’m spending all of my time trying to find a solution to the above problems. (The first is clearly the most insurmountable, and if Alfhelm’s life ends up tragically, it will probably be the reason.) Stay tune, though. I’ll finish this damn story eventually.


Idiocy in the Public Schools

December 11, 2006

The public high school I used to go to (in 9th grade only) was, shall we say, interesting. I didn’t particularly like it, for various reasons.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I’m going to talk about that school’s laptop policy. Basically, they give every student a laptop to keep throughout the year (with a mandatory $50 insurance policy on it) and use in class. The school district is now extending that program to include middle schools and even, I am told, elementary schools (at least grades 4 and 5). That means they are giving an essentially free laptop to every student over the age of ten.

Some people would say that’s a waste of taxpayer money. It may be, but that isn’t what bothers me so much. It’s that the laptops aren’t useful. And this shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, what are they supposed to be used for?

To teach the students how to use technology? It does that, I suppose – it teaches them to use Microsoft Windows. My parents asked if we could clear Windows from the computer and install Linux on it – and the school said no. So the program is a failure in that respect – it is intended to teach the students how to use technology, but instead it brainwashes them into thinking Windows is the only option.

What else? To make the students more productive in class? Hell no! Everyone spends more time playing games on their computers and surfing the web than anything else. I have nothing against playing games and surfing the web – I do those myself on occasion – but they really shouldn’t be done during school. It is telling, I think, that all the best teachers at the school required all the laptops to be put away during their classes.

Any other conceivable use for them? None I can think of. Perhaps you can enlighten me. So, in my opinion, that particular school’s laptop program can be deemed a failure.

So, is there a possible good implementation? Perhaps. But it would have to be radically different from the current one.

Using laptops during class is never going to work out well. They will always be a distraction, and they have minimal, if any, benefit. Taking notes is no easier on a laptop than with paper and pencil. There may occasionally be need to use computers during class, but if they are really necessary, have a mobile computer lab (a bunch of laptops on a cart that you bring to the classroom when they’re needed).

Having laptops to teach technology to the students is a different questions. It is, perhaps, possible. But what you need is for the laptop to be a toy they can take apart and figure out how it works. In comes free software to the rescue.

I saw a video of talk by the lead FSF lawyer about something like this. Basically, laptops would be given to kids. They would have to be safe to take apart physically, so you can learn actually how a computer works. They would have to run free software, so they can be taken apart digitally, and so you can mess around with it, experiment, and figure out how to program yourself. That’s how I learned. Our family box has for the longest time ran Linux, and I slowly gained an appreciation of how much you could actually do with a computer. I now actually know what I’m doing, sort of.

Since I was able to treat the computer as a toy, I now see it as a functional tool. And an almost infinitely powerful one.

So, with this, the school’s role would be to provide these laptops that would then be used both for typing up papers, etc, and for finding out how a computer actually works.

I don’t know whether such a program would actually succeed. But it would surely be better than what this school currently has.


We Don’t Need No Education

December 6, 2006

Argh. I’m late this week. Oh well. (If you hadn’t realized, I’m trying to blog every Tuesday and sometimes on Thursday or Saturday.) I don’t have a whole lot to say this week (well, I do, but it’s all still in the preparatory stage), so here’s a short reflection on teachers.

I’ve had good teachers and bad teachers in my, what, ten years of schooling. But I’ve had very few great teachers. The only ones I can think of are Fr. Gregory and Dr. Wegemer. This is somewhat strange, since they both teach literature, and I’m more of a mathematics guy by most measures, but there you have it.

Those of you I know in real life might know some of these people. Those of you who I don’t, just trust me. They’re awesome. They have radically different teaching styles, but they both 1) have an awe-inspiring understanding of their subject matter and 2) manage to explain it in a way that helps you understand it and previous criticism of it, while allowing you to actually draw some conclusions yourself. Understanding prior criticism of a work is vital. It’s pointless, I think, to approach a work as if you are the first to have read it, but this is what many teachers do.

Now, back to the fact that both of these teachers are teachers of literature. There’s a reason for this, I think. I’ve had good math teachers and bad math teachers, but no great or horrible ones. The reason, I think, is that mathematics and science and stuff like that are purely rational. You understand it, or you don’t. As long as you understand it, as I always have, it doesn’t matter so much who your teacher is. All he has to do is convey the information, and you can do the rest on your own.

With literature (and philosophy, and theology, and art, etc), this is simply not the case. Even those who are extraordinarily talented will never see all facets of a work of literature on their own. Reading prior criticism and analysis of the text and having a teacher with a great understanding of it will almost always help you to understand a work better, even if you understood much of it already on your own. This is both because great literature is so complex, and because every human approaches a work slightly different. This isn’t true for math.

Perhaps my opinion on this matter will change when I go to college and enter the more nebulous regions of post-calculus mathematics. But, from what I’ve seen of this math from my brother’s explanations, I think not. No matter how strange it is, its still based on reason, plain and simple logic. Literature, well, is not.


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