BLOG 2007


2007 December 31

My holiday reading:
Colossus by Niall Ferguson
Jesus von Nazareth von Joseph Ratzinger
The Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein

2007 December 30

Does God Exist?
American Jewish University presents best-selling authors Sam Harris and Rabbi David Wolpe in a debate about the existence of God and the role of religion and faith in society. The debate is moderated by Los Angeles Times religion editor Steve Padilla.
Jewish TV Network (almost 2 hours)

"The place to put our faith is in human conversation."
Sam Harris

2007 December 27

Benazir Bhutto assassinated — the end of hope for Pakistan?

Consciousness: The Grudge Match
"This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad," begins Colin McGinn's review of On Consciousness by Ted Honderich. "It is a cold, calculated attempt to murder a philosopher's reputation," says Honderich.

2007 December 22

A rising tide of opinion in Israel believes that the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran signals American retreat. The report concludes with "high confidence" that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program, even though Washington has concrete evidence of that program, and despite Tehran's brazen pursuit of uranium enrichment.

2007 December 21

The Church of Google

Our Google, who art in cyberspace
Hallowed be thy domain
Thy search to come
Thy results be done
On my computer as it is in the Googleplex
Give us this day our daily searches
And forgive us our spam
As we forgive those who spam against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from Microsoft
For thine is the search engine
And the power
And the glory
Forever and ever

2007 December 19

Twilight of the books

2007 December 18

Ibn Warraq

Michael Weiss
According to Edward Said, British and French imperial prejudice clouded their understanding of those they conquered. He gave the Islamic world a rationalization for a persisting status quo of medievalism and intellectual poverty throughout the Mideast.

Ibn Warraq says Said contributed to the Islamic ideology of victimization. "Ibn Warraq" is an Arabic pseudonym. As a proud atheist and an anthologist of several books devoted to Muslim apostasy and exegesis of the Koran, Warraq colored himself an Enlightenment fundamentalist.

Warraq says Said misses two crucial points in discussing relations between East and West. The first is that the offenders are not always motivated by bigotry or grand imperial designs. The second is that the institutions they erect are often more significant and enduring than their venality and greed.

Warraq borrows a useful trisection from Bernard Lewis: Islam One is the Koran, Islam Two is the hadith, and Islam Three is Muslim civilization. One and two are incompatible with democracy and human rights. As for three, only time will tell.

2007 December 17

Artificial life is on the way

2007 December 15

Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris talk about the public's reaction to their recent books, their unexpected successes, criticisms and misrepresentations, and tough questions about religion that face to world today.

2007 December 13

Kripke + Wittgenstein = Kripkenstein

2007 December 12

Saul Kripke fondly remembered
Robert Kaplan on U.S. warriors

2007 December 11

Making Globalisation Work for All
When the need is urgent and our responsibilities clear; and even when the path ahead is difficult, hard and long, let us not lose hope but have the courage in our shared resolve to find the will to act. And let us say to each other in the words of Isaiah, "though you were wearied by the length of your way, you did not say it was hopeless – you found new life in your strength."
Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, 2004

2007 December 10

Do we need a literary canon?
Mitt the Mormon's idea of freedom

2007 December 4

The exceptionally simple theory of Garrett Lisi

2007 December 3

The World of 2030

Ray Hammond

Technological development is accelerating exponentially. Between 2030 and 2040 a milestone will be reached that will cause a Singularity. Changes that will appear by then:

An explosion in world population growth. Today there are just under 7 billion people on the planet. By 2030 there will be over 8 billion and by 2050 the figure will be up to 12 billion.

Changing societal demographics. In 2006, nearly 500 million people worldwide were 65 or older. By 2030 the total is projected to double to one billion.

Climate change is going to wreak havoc all over the world as the weather becomes more extreme. Urgent and decisive action must be taken.

Oil extraction will peak and oil fuel for transportation will become increasingly uneconomic. The world's energy needs will double over the next 25 years.

Globalization has doubled world income since 1980, and almost 500 million people have been lifted out of poverty since 1990. This offers the world a great opportunity for peace.

A revolution in healthcare will dramatically extend human life spans. A new model of medical science will prevent disease and will offer significant life extension and even rejuvenation.

Computer avatars will become our companions. As they become increasingly clever, and as the platforms and networks become more capable, they will migrate onto and into our bodies.

By 2030 all cars travelling on major roads will be under the control of satellite and roadside control systems and many cars will be driving themselves.

Robots in all shapes, sizes, and forms will be ubiquitous by 2030. Robots will be our slaves, manufacturing wealth, easing our lives, caring for our needs, and overseeing our security.

By 2030 we will be connected constantly to a super-web. Perhaps some of us will have direct neural connections between our own brains and the global networks.

Our communications and entertainment will be wholly immersory, multimedia, multisensory, 3D, holographic and fully tactile, telekinetic and olfactory.

Life will be pursued within surveillance societies. By 2030, we too will be part of Big Brother's surveillance team, for the purposes of personal and family security.

Utility shopping will mostly be done on the networks and will, in some instances, become automated as your smart home environment senses the need for everyday items.

Within our societies inequality will continue to increase. The poorest groups in developed societies have become better off over the last 25 years, but the wealth of the richest is growing faster.

A global brain of immense intelligence and with instant access to the whole store of human knowledge will emerge from Google or from similar search engines.

Machines will develop the potential to become humanity's successors.

Defending the West

Rebecca Bynum
Edward Said viewed reality through the prism of Muslim culture and applied this worldview to his study of history. He seemed to think Western study of the East had no purpose but the further conquest and humiliation of the East.

Said was unwilling to comprehend the core of western thought. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is taken for granted in western society. Yet this most basic aspect of western civilization is continually miscomprehended by the Muslim world.

For the Islamic mind, good is defined as what is good for Islam or good for the Muslim community. Goodness as a concept apart from Islam does not exist, much less as a transcendent value. So knowledge is only good if it advances Islamic societal goals.

Ibn Warraq has dared to throw off the mental shackles of Islam. His study of Islam is motivated by simple love of the truth.

2007 December 2

Everything you need to know about China
Moez Masoud is a Muslim televangelist

2007 December 1

Numerous robots in Iraq and Afghanistan are showing utility in warfare:
More army robots are in development


2007 November 28

Blue Brain Project
Scientists in Switzerland working with IBM researchers have shown that their computer simulation of the neocortical column, arguably the most complex part of a mammal's brain, appears to behave like its biological counterpart.

2007 November 26

Kosmische Doppelgänger

Alex Vilenkin

AR Wirklich eine großartige Lektüre, die meine Erwartungen weit übertroffen hat. Vilenkin hat eine tiefes Verständnis von den hochfliegenden Ambitionen der Kosmologie, weiß diese auch gut zu vermitteln. Hier lässt er seinen Ideen freien Lauf, ohne dabei die Grenze des wissenschaftlich Vertretbaren zu überschreiten. Er begleitet den Leser auf eine beschwingte Tour durch alle relevanten Themen: die Relativitätstheorie, die Urknalltheorie, Inflation, Symmetriebrechung, Vakuumzerfall, String Theorie, kosmische Zyklen usw. In die Erzählung bringt er etliche persönliche Anekdoten ein, die dem Leser einige charmante Vertreter der neueren Geschichte der Kosmologie vorstellen. Er fühlt sich sehr zu Hause in diesem Mileu, und seine Freude, Ideen mit diesen Zeitgenossen auszutauschen, kann man auf jeder Seite des Buches miterleben. Insgesamt erzählt Vilenkin eine faszinierende Geschichte, besser als jeder Science Fiction. Mich hat er oft zum Schmunzeln gebracht — mehr als Stephen Hawking, der mit seiner 'Kurzen Geschichte der Zeit' als schärfster Konkurrent in der Welt der großen Ideen für ein breites Publikum gelten mag.

2007 November 24

Freelance physicist A. Garrett Lisi may have figured out the most important shape in the universe.

When we have a nice symmetric manifold, like E8, we can mathematically describe how this shape twists and turns over the four dimensional spacetime we live in. This description is called a principal bundle, and the field describing the twists and turns is called a connection, which determines the curvature. What I'm doing is identifying all the standard model and gravitational fields (everything) as parts of an E8 principal bundle connection, and it's working amazingly well. Each symmetry of E8 is a different part of this connection, and each symmetry manifests itself as a different type of elementary particle that we have in our universe. When someone unifies gravity with the other fields like this, it's called a Theory of Everything.

If we take seriously the idea that fermions may be gauge theory ghosts, there is one gauge theory in particular that stands out: that of a principal E8 bundle. The exceptional group of rank 8 is the largest of the exceptional Lie groups, and perhaps the richest in structure. The 248 dimensional Lie algebra of E8 is described as the special orthogonal group (with 120 elements) acting on the space of 128 dimensional chiral spinors. ...

2007 November 18

A U.S. congressional committee estimated the cost so far of America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at $1.6 trillion: $20,000 for every family of four in the U.S.

"The Anglo-Judaic synthesis remains the despair of our enemies"
Walter Russell Mead

2007 November 16

The nuclear threat from Tehran must be taken with utmost caution and strategic foresight. But not all in Israel are overmuch concerned by Ahmadinejad's speeches. Professor Martin van Crevelt, one of Israel's most prominent military historians, warns: "Jerusalem can quickly turn Tehran into a radioactive desert". Efraim Halevi, former Mossad chief and Israel's National Security Committee, states: "Israel cannot be destroyed for many reasons."

David Shulman's book is a record of his intense involvement with Israeli Palestinians and Israeli Jews

2007 November 11

Disproof of Bell's Theorem
Oxford quantum theorist Joy Christian has shown that Bell's theorem fails for the Clifford algebra valued local realistic variables. This is made evident by exactly reproducing quantum mechanical expectation value for the EPR-Bohm type spin correlations observable by means of a local, deterministic, Clifford algebra valued variable, without necessitating either remote contextuality or backward causation.
PDF, 4 pages

2007 November 10

The Sydney Morning Herald — Pakistan's military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, this week declared martial law, in effect mounting a coup against himself. For the powerful platoon in uniform, it's the best thing that has happened since the last time General Musharraf mounted a coup in 1999. General Musharraf's comrades in the military control 10—15 percent of the economy, making them the biggest single stakeholder in Pakistan.

2007 November 4

John Polkinghorne, a former Cambridge professor of mathematical physics and now a Church of England priest, has published a rather mild review of two recent books on religion.

2007 November 3

Musharraf Declares State of Emergency
Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf has declared a state of emergency. Consider that India is flourishing and Pakistan is in crisis. The only major difference between India and Pakistan is that Pakistan is an Islamic state. For me, this is evidence that Islam is a disaster. Since both countries are nuclear powers, the disaster could drag us all into an abyss.

Robert Putnam on ethnic heterogeneity

2007 November 2

"Ancient Greek religion gives an account of the world that in many respects is more plausible than that offered by the monotheistic traditions."
Mary Lefkowitz on the Greek gods

2007 November 1, All Saints Day

A young man writes a naive but passionate book about the evils of religion and is met with such a big response that he can hardly bear it. Fawning sycophants, death threats, security guards, the works. What would you do? I'd head straight for a meditative retreat to get some peace and quiet.
More on Sam Harris


2007 October 28

The problem with atheism: Sam Harris and his critics

2007 October 27

Has Martin Amis lost his marbles?

2007 October 22-25

Three-day workshop at the new SAP building in Berlin

2007 October 20

Mark Lilla on political theology, America and Islam
Can Benazir Bhutto save Pakistan?

2007 October 19

The Deutsch-Wallace theorem adds new credibility to the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics by showing that reasonable subjective probabilities for being in a branch reflect the usual Born probabilities.
Added abstracts and introduction to my Everett page

2007 October 18

Can we do physics with two time dimensions?

2007 October 17

"This president pursues a war without demanding of his generals either success or victory and accepts the sacrifice of our brave young men and women in uniform while asking nothing of our people or the nation at a time of war. Sadly, this president has diminished a great nation and may diminish it further."
Lou Dobbs, CNN
Has General Petraeus let us down?

2007 October 15

In his latest book, Rémi Brague contends that modern societies are made possible only by the Christian experience of a divinity without law. Christianity gave us natural law. Christianity conferred on us the idea of a sovereign state. And Christianity furnished a powerful justification for democracy.

2007 October 10

"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."
Alan Greenspan

2007 October 6

Pakistan at sixty

2007 October 5

A death in the family

2007 October 4

Happy anniversary Sputnik!

The European Patent Office tells me I am cited as an inventor in European Patent 07015009-9-1225 "Business object search using multi-join indexes and extended join indexes" filed by SAP AG on July 31, 2007

2007 October 1

Can neuroscience pinpoint the error of fundamentalism?


2007 September 28

Key equations of quantum mechanics arise from the mathematics of parallel universes

2007 September 25

Reading James Martin on the 21st century

2007 September 24

Baur au Lac Club, Zurich, Switzerland
Dinner with old boys from Exeter College Oxford

2007 September 23

Viewed three Picasso exhibitions in Lucerne
Picasso Museum Lucerne
The Rosengart Collection
Museum of Art Lucerne

2007 September 19

My team's engine works in SAP Business ByDesign

SAP tells me I am cited as an inventor in U.S. Patent 7,263,520 "Fast Aggregation of Compressed Data Using Full Table Scans" issued on August 28, 2007.

2007 September 18

Martin Heidegger wrote his Meisterwerk Sein und Zeit in a hut in the Black Forest

2007 September 17

SAP's Very Big Small Biz Challenge

2007 September 16

"There is no effacing the intellectual distinction between political theology, which appeals at some point to divine revelation, and a political philosophy that tries to understand and attain the political good without such appeals."
Mark Lilla

"I challenge the dominant 'master narrative' of secularization as the inevitable decline of religion with advancing modernity."
Charles Taylor

2007 September 15

Ayn Rand as business guru

2007 September 14

Saudi Arabia: Aramco and Wahhabism

2007 September 12

The Once and Future Christendom

2007 September 11

The Singularity Summit — a report
Norman Podhoretz on World War IV
Al Gore and the assault on reason

2007 September 8-9

The Singularity Summit 2007
AI and the Future of Humanity
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco, CA

2007 September 8

Atonement is being hailed as the best British film for years

2007 September 7

"How dare you call me a fundamentalist"
Richard Dawkins to his critics + the angels reply

2007 September 6

"A splendid, boisterously virile broadside of a book"
Richard Dawkins on God Is Not Great

2D depiction of E8 symmetry, from
Stringscape, Matthew Chalmers, Physics World

2007 September 4

New book on Sigmund Freud + footnote on Einstein

2007 September 2

My short take on prophecy, God and angels:
Futurologist Ray Kurzweil prophesies an imminent dawn when robots overtake us. He sees exponential growth in nanotechnology, genetic engineering and robotics. Nanotech supercomputers will give robots superhuman brains. Genetic engineers will build superhumans to achieve convergence with robots. Homo superior will communicate brain to brain, via nanotech implants, in a global web sustaining a collective consciousness. They will live in intelligent pods in a Global Online Dominion and emerge from their pods in robotic exoskeletons. They may see themselves as angelic beings who incarnate daily as robotic cyborgs, and may see predawn humans as dinosaurs.
— new abstract for my JCS 13(12), 97-104 (2006)

Magnetoencephalography for diagnostics
An amazing race for the clinically insane

2007 September 1

Your brain frees you from the everyday tasks of moving about in the world around you, allowing you to concentrate on the things that are important to you. However, the 'you' that is released into this social world is also a construction of your brain.
Chris Frith

The idea that the brain constructs the mind is incomplete, and the quicker we realise that, the quicker we will make progress in understanding both normal and abnormal minds.
Stuart Derbyshire

The birth rate for almost every Western nation has fallen. A transformation in Western military strategy has occurred alongside this demographic transformation. The prospect for greater peace and tranquility abroad is connected to the prospect for greater conflict and violence at home.
James Kurth


2007 August 31

SAP is investing a billion dollars in India

2007 August 27

Henry Stapp argues for the quantum brain as a “collection of classically conceived alternative possible states of the brain” all existing as parallel parts of “a potentiality for future additions to a stream of consciousness”

2007 August 26

Qin Shi Huangdi comes to the British Museum

2007 August 25

Chris Hitchens preens in Vanity Fair — my cut

2007 August 21

Some notes on the European malaise (Spengler et al.)

2007 August 19

"The current Big Bang paradigm has it that the cosmos is expanding out of an initially dense state and that by looking outward into space, one can, thanks to the finite speed of light, look back to much earlier epochs. ... In its original form, an expanding Einstein model had an attractive, economic elegance. Alas, it has since run into serious difficulties ..."
Modern Cosmology: Science or Folktale?

2007 August 14

Today's atheist polemics ignore the main insight of the anthropology of religion—that religion is not primarily about God, but about the human need for the sacred.
Roger Scruton on René Girard

2007 August 13

"A childhood maths prodigy, Kagermann went on to forge a successful career in both theoretical and practical physics ... Kagermann abandoned his research into nuclear fusion and joined SAP ... Having turned 60 this year, he was due to step down, but his contract was unexpectedly extended until May 2009."
SAP CEO Henning Kagermann

"Hofstadter expresses disappointment that his 1979 masterpiece Gödel, Escher, Bach was not recognized as explaining the true nature of consciousness. I have to confess that it never occurred to me that it was intended to do so."
David Deutsch

What I missed in Las Vegas this summer (PDF, 1 page, 111 KB)

2007 August 10

"Why is the Islamic world disengaged from science and the process of creating new knowledge?
Let us seek to understand the state of science in the contemporary Islamic world."
Pervez Hoodbhoy

2007 August 8

Current debates about Israel's future indicate a growing rift between liberalism and democracy.
Gadi Taub

2007 August 7

Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects.
The review

2007 August 3

This is your brain on love

2007 August 2

Article on biotech by the incomparable Freeman Dyson


2007 July 27

See my new literary celebrities page

2007 July 25

Tonight I could have been dining on the Danube with philosopher friends in a Hungarian heatwave.

2007 July 23-26

Toward a Science of Consciousness
Brain, Embodiment, Experience
Roland Eötvös University, Budapest

2007 July 24

Another fine essay in the Hoover Institution Policy Review, by Robert Kagan, on the return of national rivalries in contemporary history and the looming struggle between democracy and autocracy

2007 July 22

God is Not Great

Chris Hitchens

AR Much better than I had feared, much better than my earlier wisecrack comments (blog May 15) betrayed that I presumed, prematurely, on the basis of the reviews. Maybe this is just because I knew his background and milieu (Trotskyite Oxgrad, Fleet Street hack, literary friends like McEwan and Amis and Rushdie ...) almost too well already, and mistrusted his globetrotter glibness. Anyway, the book deserves an extended response, so I shall take my time. Meanwhile, I can say it is more insightful in some respects and more readable in all respects (for me, who knows too well and so on) than the other recent atheist manifestos.

2007 July 19

Beyond Demonic Memes

David Sloane Wilson

Richard Dawkins and I share much in common. We are both biologists by training who have written widely about evolutionary theory. We share an interest in culture as an evolutionary process in its own right. We are both atheists in our personal convictions who have written books on religion. In Darwin's Cathedral I attempted to contribute to the relatively new field of evolutionary religious studies. When Dawkins' The God Delusion was published I naturally assumed that he was basing his critique of religion on the scientific study of religion from an evolutionary perspective. I regret to report otherwise. He has not done any original work on the subject and he has not fairly represented the work of his colleagues. Hence this critique.

2007 July 17

Reading Chris Hitchens' polemical bestseller about religion — good review of it in WSJ

2007 July 16

Reviewed my recent reading.
Some highlights:
The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown
Love on Campus (American Scholar)
Black Mass by John Gray

2007 July 1-15

Enjoyed a vacation with the family in Poole:
— Sea bathing and running on beach in wet windy weather
— Aerobatic display at RNAS Yeovilton international air day
— Yoga massage by a gifted professional expert
— Eating out in good company at local restaurants
— Watching some recent movies in a home cinema
— Philosophizing with old friends in and around Oxford
— Attending an inspiring choral recital by a local group


2007 June 29

Granted full blogging rights on the SAP Developer Network.
My latest SDN blog:
How far can SAP go beyond the enterprise?

2007 June 27

Richard Rorty was not a philosopher for whom I had any special admiration as a student, but his position is at least refreshingly different from that of his Anglo-American analytic contemporaries, and therefore deserves a passing nod.
My cut of an appreciation

2007 June 25

Delivered my annual guest lecture at the University of Trier:
Enterprise Service Oriented Architecture

Found a nice review in the WSJ of a book enquiring into how to stem the tide of girls gone wild.
My short take

"There are some things that are so serious that you can only joke about them"
Niels Bohr

2007 June 22-25

ASSC11 — 11th Annual Meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Palace Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada

Sadly, I'm still at home and not there — sorry, guys!

2007 June 16

News from the Middle East ... was historian Niall Ferguson right in the article he published exactly 17 months ago?
The Origins of the Great War of 2007

2007 June 15

My work in the SAP NetWeaver EIM TREX team is still fun. This week I was preparing lectures on our work for the Hasso Plattner Institute, University of Potsdam.

2007 June 12

Strange Loops

Uriah Kriegel

AR This review soundly reflects my own take on Douglas Hofstadter's book. Strange loops are now respectable entities, which they were not in my characterization in a book I wrote exactly thirty years ago. I blame myself for not having clarified their logic as far as Hofstadter did.

2007 June 10

Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris

"The letter that Harris claims is intended for a Christian nation is in fact wholly uninterested in Christianity on any level, is hugely ignorant, and essentially represents his own love letter to himself."
Michael Novak

Mary Eberstadt has published a fine study in religious anthropology arguing that instead of seeing religiosity as determining family size and structure, we should see family values as expressing themselves in religiosity. I find the case persuasive and well supported. Nietzsche's madman saw only the tip of an anthropological iceberg.

2007 Corpus Christi

Sunny day, went swimming ... herrlich!

2007 June 5

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan: a review and my verdict

2007 June 2

Review by Lee Smolin of Einstein's life and works

AR Bravo — Lee Smolin (blog 2006 September 17-20) has enlisted Einstein in support of his own views on string theory and loop quantum gravity, and quite rightly too. Anyone in physics now with the sort of temperament Einstein displayed a hundred years ago should be looking at radical approaches to quantum gravity — such as the topoi approach of Isham and Döring (blog 2007 April 16) and the twistor ideas of Roger Penrose. We need to put Einstein the mythic clown aside and focus on the burning foundational issue in physics before we leave Einstein's ghost to rest in peace.


2007 May 30

The novel The Islamist reviewed by Martin Amis

2007 May 27

Al Gore and reviews of his new book

2007 May 26

Elaine Pagels is doing pioneering academic work on the foundations of Christianity. She talks about her recent book Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity, coauthored with Karen King, on the Edge website.
My edition of the talk

Is there a case for bombing Iran?
The opinion of Norman Podhoretz

2007 May 23

Well, will robots see humans as dinosaurs?
The opinion of Professor Zimmerman

2007 May 22

Read reviews of the pope's new book:
Jesus of Nazareth

2007 May 21


Chris Hitchens

2007 May 19

Reduced to my customary short form a fine article on Islam published by the Claremont Institute:
Encountering Islam

2007 May 15

Read a suitably unimpressed review of Chris Hitchens' new book about religion. As the latest in a series of books about religion started by Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and Richard Dawkins, the new polemic by Chris represents a sad nadir in the art of topping all previous efforts. Chris achieves rhetorical effects, sure enough, but not philosophical hits, or at least not when I recall what I know about him and if I can trust what I read in this review.
My edition of the review

2007 May 8

Created a summary page outlining my own philosophical views.
Ross's Integrative Philosophy

2007 May 7

Created a devotional page outlining Bede's philosophical views.
Bede's Perennial Philosophy

Father Bede Griffiths was regarded by many as a prophet, a sage, a mystic, even a saint.
He was open to all paths by which people might be said to seek God.

2007 May 5

Read an interesting article comparing Islamism to Marxism.
My edition of the article

I need to cultivate inner peace about Islam. Perhaps a dose of Indian mysticism ...

2007 May 4

Read a fine article on historian Niall Ferguson.
My teaser for the article

2007 May 1

Via the improbable activity of writing a comment in an On Faith blog on a new target article by Sam Harris, and inspired by the works of Julian Jaynes and Douglas Hofstadter, I have found:
A new way to imagine God


2007 April 23

Sexualizing Everyday Life

Roger Sandall

Scantily clad Australian women, complains Egyptian sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly, go around like "exposed meat" inviting rape.

The sheik was complaining about a process that has gone on so long and so far that it has become the water we swim in and the air we breathe: a sexually heightened moral environment far removed from most normal human cultures in the past, where once forbidden instincts, thoughts, and desires, along with grossly exhibitionistic behavior, are now increasingly treated as routine.

A hundred years ago the German author Thomas Mann made an interesting comment. Thinking about morality and its relation to the world of art, he wrote that "as the kingdom of art increases, that of health and innocence declines." Many artists are estranged from life, he said, pursue goals hostile to life, and work continually to destroy the bourgeois world.

The so-called artist's gift, wrote Thomas Mann in 1903,is a dubious affair and rests upon extremely sinister foundations. Most artists are sick in mind and spirit, a danger to decent people and heedless of the damage they cause. Plumbers and carpenters and other tradesmen are reliable friends. But artists are not.

Today the debate is more likely to concern the acceptability of public copulation or pubic display. If it's okay for Paris Hilton to make a video of herself having sex and to share it about in cyberspace, why shouldn't Susie and Jim make one too? A glance at any newspaper shows how each libertine advance ratchets up another without anyone knowing where to stop.

Sheik al-Hilaly is a boor and a pest. He undeniably has a wider political agenda. But getting the balance right between the animal and the civil has been a problem since civilization began. There has been a perpetual strain between the puritan tendency and the libertine, in China, in Japan, in India, and in the West as well, some cultures and some eras veered to the voluptuary.

A burly sheik in a nightshirt may seem an improbable source of moral guidance, yet he's calling the shots as he sees them.

2007 April 22

Reading I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter. Looking good — a worthy successor to GEB.

2007 April 19

Looking over some old papers, I found a sci-fi story I wrote in early 1999 — Pomfoolery

2007 April 16

A Topos Foundation for Theories of Physics

Andreas Döring and Christopher Isham

This paper is the first in a series whose goal is to develop a fundamentally new way of constructing theories of physics. The motivation comes from a desire to address certain deep issues that arise when contemplating quantum theories of space and time. Our basic contention is that constructing a theory of physics is equivalent to finding a representation in a topos of a certain formal language that is attached to the system. Classical physics arises when the topos is the category of sets. Other types of theory employ a different topos.

In this paper we discuss two different types of language that can be attached to a system, S. The first is a propositional language, PL(S); the second is a higher-order, typed language L(S). Both languages provide deductive systems with an intuitionistic logic. The reason for introducing PL(S) is that, as shown in paper II of the series, it is the easiest way of understanding, and expanding on, the earlier work on topos theory and quantum physics. However, the main thrust of our programme utilises the more powerful language L(S) and its representation in an appropriate topos.

AR Physics without the continuum, generalized metatheory to cover classical and quantum physics, and set theory generalized in topos theory to allow nonclassical logic: these are the issues that exceeded my mental powers as a graduate student who would like to have solved just this set of problems.

2007 April 14

The History at the End of History

Francis Fukuyama

In my 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man I argued that, if a society wanted to be modern, there was no alternative to a market economy and a democratic political system.

The desire to live in a modern society and to be free of tyranny is universal. This is demonstrated by the efforts of millions of people each year to move from the developing to the developed world, where they hope to find the political stability, job opportunities, health care, and education that they lack at home. But this is different from saying that there is a universal desire to live in a liberal society, or an ability to actually do so.

I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States.

2007 April 5

Europe and Islam

Bernard Lewis

Muslims perceive a cosmic struggle for world domination between Christianity and Islam.

The Muslim attack on Christendom has gone through three phases. The first dates from the very beginning of Islam, when the new faith spilled out of the Arabian Peninsula. After a long and bitter struggle, the Christians managed to retake the territory they had lost in Europe.

In 1453 the Turks captured Constantinople. They conquered a large part of the Balkans, and for a while ruled half of Hungary. Twice they reached as far as Vienna. The European counterattack began a new phase which brought the European attack into the very heart of the Middle East. In our own time, we have seen the end of the resulting domination.

As Osama bin Laden saw it, the millennial struggle between the true believers and the unbelievers had gone through successive phases. The world of the infidels was divided and disputed between the United States and the Soviet Union. In his perception, the Muslims have destroyed the more dangerous of the two infidel superpowers. Dealing with the Americans would be easy. This was the perceived sequence leading up to 9/11.

The third wave of attack on Europe has begun. This time it is taking the forms of terror and migration. The danger of Islamic radicalism or of radical terrorism is far greater in Europe and America than it is in the Middle East and North Africa. The distinction of church and state is a Christian distinction which has no place in Islamic history.

In Europe, as in the United States, a frequent response is what is variously known as multiculturalism and political correctness. We have seen in our own day the extraordinary spectacle of a pope apologizing to the Muslims for the Crusades. The Islamic radicals have even been able to find some allies in Europe.

Muslims in Europe do not have their own social and legal life in the modern state.


2007 March 30

Lyra Goes To Hollywood

Philip Pullman
I didn't want to write the screenplay for the film to be called The Golden Compass. It isn't a complete story in itself; it's the first part of a long story published in three volumes. The whole thing took me seven years to write, and the last thing I wanted to do when the film rights were sold, quite early on, was to take it all apart and put it together differently. I was happy to let someone else do it.

Far From Narnia

Laura Miller
Philip Pullman is fervently admired for his sophisticated trilogy of children's novels called, collectively,
His Dark Materials. Pullman is one of England's most outspoken atheists. In the trilogy, a young girl, Lyra Belacqua, becomes enmeshed in an epic struggle against a nefarious Church.

Pullman's books have been likened to those of J. R. R. Tolkien, but he scoffs at the notion of any resemblance: "The Lord of the Rings is fundamentally an infantile work."

AR Like me, Pullman matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford, where earlier Tolkien had been a professor. He's in the 2003 college gaudy picture with me. So the movie means a lot to me.

2007 March 27

Read an excellent review by John Updike of a biography by Walter Isaacson of Albert Einstein.
My edition of the review

2007 March 26

Veiled Intolerance

Richard Wolin

Today there are an estimated 15 million to 17 million Muslims living in Europe. Their national origins vary dramatically from country to country. Maladapted youth whom the integration process has failed and who feel torn between two worlds are attracted to Islamism.

The rise of Islamism in Europe has everything to do with the failures of integration. Official government policy toward Muslim immigrants has also differed vastly from nation to nation.

Britain and Holland have for the most part embraced a multicultural approach. Dutch patience with multiculturalism seems to have reached a tipping point. A similar disillusionment with multiculturalism has suffused Britain.

French republican ideology is studiously tone-deaf to considerations of difference.Firm lines of separation between church and state ensure that public education remains in the hands of state officials. Republicans are not about to cede to Muslim immigrants the gains made in the struggle against Catholicism.

2007 March 25

The Pea and the Sun

Leonard M. Wapner

AR The book presents the Banach-Tarski theorem. This says a ball can be cut into a finite number of pieces, which can be reassembled to create two balls, each as big as the original, or just as easily to create a vastly bigger ball. The theorem is based on some point set theory I studied many years ago, and requires the axiom of choice. This says that for any collection of nonempty sets, a choice set can be created that contains just one set from each set in the collection. This is trivial in finite domains, but for uncountable collections it is highly non-constructive, and hence suspect. The book proves the theorem and adds some entertaining background.

M.C. Escher: Angels & Devils
Image © The M.C. Escher Company, Baarn, Holland
M.C. Escher's Circle Limit IV (Angels and Devils)

This graphic presents the Poincaré disk model of the hyperbolic plane, which can be used to illustrate a version of the Hausdorff paradox, which in turn is closely related to the Banach-Tarski result, as Leonard Wapner explains.

2007 March 24

America Alone

Daniel Pipes
Mark Steyn on the Islamist threat to the West:
— The European establishment regards its electorate as children.
— The nanny state infantilized Europeans and feminized the males.
— Birth rates plummeted, leaving too few workers to pay for the state.
— The demographic collapse is the start of a population death spiral.
— The collapse of confidence has bred civilizational exhaustion.
— To keep the economic machine running meant accepting foreign workers.
— Muslims are changing Europe: Premodern Islam beats post-modern Christianity.
— Europe is too enfeebled to resist transformation into Eurabia.
— America will emerge as the lonely survivor.

His advice to Americans:
— Shrink the state and promote self-reliance and individual innovation.
— Forget Fortress America, destroy Islamic militants and reform Islam.
— Failing that, expect a new Dark Ages.
AR Direct military confrontation is precisely the wrong way to defeat Islamism. A global bloodbath would be worse than the disease. Islamism is primitive and disgusting but many Muslims see this too. Western decadence is also disgusting, and many post-Christians see this too. A reasonable conclusion is possible. American fundamentalism is more likely to start a nuclear war that spoils the environment for everyone than "save" the world for traditional Christian values.

The Gelded Age

Theodore Dalrymple

Mark Steyn says many European countries will have Muslim majorities in future. The low birth rates of the native populations are caused by the welfare state. The laughably weak pieties of multiculturalism render the native population incapable of resisting Islamization.

Alarmist predictions of Islamization presuppose that the populations of Islamic origin in Europe will not change in their allegiance to Islam. This is debatable.

Islamic fundamentalism is a response to an awareness that, if the methods of intellectual inquiry that were used to challenge Christianity were permitted in the Muslim world, Islam would soon fall apart. But if Islam fell apart in the Islamic world, what source of self-respect would be left?

There has been a decline of cultural confidence in the West. Without a notion that there is something in human life worth striving for, no great thing is ever achieved.

The Enemy

Jonah Goldberg

Dinesh D'Souza argues that American licentiousness is fostering radical Islamic anti-Americanism. He is surely correct that many Muslims are disgusted by the American spectacle, just as many are fascinated, titillated, and enticed by it. But he fails to find a defensible middle ground.

2007 March 23

The Mullah

Andrew Sullivan

Dinesh D'Souza believes there is a moral order in the universe, which establishes an enduring standard of right and wrong: "All the major religions of the world agree on the existence of this moral order."

Theoconservatism demands that individual autonomy be sacrificed for obedience to the external moral order. It refuses to accept the notion that government can be neutral with respect to morality.

For D'Souza, America has become a country dedicated to the values of secularism, feminism, homosexuality, prostitution, and pornography. He praises Islamism as a global ideology: "Islam is best understood not in terms of obedience but rather in terms of voluntary submission to a divinely established moral order."

D'Souza sees traditional Islamic societies as paragons of social meaning and cohesion: Women know their place, homosexuals are invisible, blasphemy is illegal, pornography is banned, and modesty is enforced.

Khaled Abou El Fadl: "A case for democracy presented from within Islam must accept the idea of God's sovereignty. It cannot substitute popular sovereignty for divine sovereignty but must instead show how popular sovereignty .. expresses God's authority, properly understood."

2007 March 18

Read Prime Obsession to the end — utterly wonderful and fascinating. Real and serious math presented with both care and passion, plus useful historical background. Five stars.
From Derbyshire's website:
  My literary agent was at first skeptical ...
  I announced, "I'd like to write a book about a great unsolved
  mathematical problem ... the Riemann Hypothesis."
  "I see. And what does it say, this Riemann Hypothesis?"
  "It asserts that all the nontrivial zeros of the Zeta function have
  real part one-half."
  My agent looked at me in silence ...

2007 March 17

Took delivery of three books from Amazon:
Prime Obsession
   Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics
   by John Derbyshire
Second Nature
   Brain Science and Human Knowledge
   by Gerald M. Edelman
Programming the Universe
   A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos
   by Seth Lloyd

2007 March 11

Wider Than The Sky

Gerald M. Edelman

AR Good book — I should read it again to be sure I got it. Edelman is the inventor of neural Darwinism, which is the idea that neurons in the brains compete with each other to set up the infrastructure of thought. I liked his earlier books enough to read this one. His views are worth taking the time to understand.


2007 February 25

House of Meetings
Martin Amis

AR An impressive piece of work, as good a modern British take on a Russian novel as one could hope for. Why we should want a British Russian novel will be obvious to anyone who reads it. The Russian experience in the twentieth century was remarkable and astonishing, and well worth the depth of feeling Amis brings to the task.

Finished reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Not his best book by any means but a good and useful contribution to a necessary debate. Contra Terry Eagleton, he is quite sufficiently qualified to hold forth as he does.

2007 February 22

Philosophy professor David J. Chalmers attended an ontology conference in Tucson, Arizona in January. His fragments blog reports he presented a 50-page paper: Ontological Anti-Realism

From his introduction: "The basic question of ontology is: What exists? The basic question of metaontology is: Are there objective answers to the basic question of ontology? Here ontological realists say yes, and ontological anti-realists say no."

2007 February 21

Posted comment on Sally Quinn page:
Eroticism and Celibacy in Hinduism

A strange loop is a phenomenon in which, whenever movement is made upward or downward through the levels of some hierarchical system, the system unexpectedly arrives back where it started. Douglas Hofstadter uses strange loops as a paradigm to interpret paradoxes in logic. His new book has just appeared.

2007 February 19

Posted comment on Jon Meacham page:
Faith In the Public Square

2007 February 13-14

Posted comments on William and Janet Cohen page:
Love Is a Force That Pulls Hearts Together

Also posted on Mohammad Khatami pages:
Prayer Offers Humans Tranquility
Absolute Truth Manifests Itself in Diverse Ways

2007 February 11

Read "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris and "Why I Am Not a Christian" and "What I Believe" by Bertrand Russell, and started reading "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins.

Oxford theologian Richard Swinburne: "Theism claims that every other object which exists is caused to exist and kept in existence by just one substance, God."
(Quoted by Richard Dawkins)

2007 February 9

Posted comment on Dan Dennett page:
'God' or 'Allah'?

2007 February 6

Raw draft for next paper:
God and Sam Harris
Abstract: Popular discussions of religion are often dismayingly bereft of logical rigor or scientific clarity, but the recent attack on organized religion spearheaded by Sam Harris has ignited a radical debate that sets new standards of quality. I offer my own logical and scientific perspective on the main points.

2007 February 4

Posted comments on Jon Meacham page:
Believing In Things Unseen Is Not Delusion


2007 January 31

Reorganized my Sam Harris blog comments

2007 January 21

As the founder of the German company SAP, the world's third largest software maker after Microsoft and Oracle, Hasso Plattner has been every bit as influential as peers like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. ... Most technology companies have only one great idea. SAP's genius was to bring the power of the mainframe to the desktop. Whether it can repeat that in the Internet age remains to be seen.

2007 January 13-20

Added yet more to my comments. Sam has now posted a new blog:
God's Hostages

Sam is hitting the hot buttons here but I want to give Dan Dennett a chance:
Dan's On Faith blogs

2007 January 13-14

Read the report on the Beyond Belief conference on the Edge website:

"I find it fascinating that brilliant scientists and philosophers have no clue how to deal with the basic irrationality of human life and society other than to insist against all reason and evidence that things ought to be rational and evidence based."
Scott Atran

2007 January 9

Added yet more to my comments. The second target article has changed its name:
Selfless Consciousness Without Faith

2007 January 7

Still adding forum comments, including one to a new On Faith target article by Sam Harris:
Consciousness Without Faith

2007 January 5

 Will Robots See Humans As Dinosaurs?

Reply 1
Michael E. Zimmerman

This is the best short summary that I've read having to do with a (from the current dinosaur human perspective) dystopian vision of the techno-future. Perhaps to our cyborg descendents we will seem like seriously deficient Untermenschen, or outright vermin, worthy of extinction/extermination.

Reply 2
Stephen Robbins

Andy Ross unashamedly endorses Ray Kurzweil's vision, which in turn unashamedly promotes the most mindless view of the capabilities of AI, conceived as the future replicator of human perception and cognition, ever espoused on the planet.

A theory of cognition is ultimately dependent on a theory of perception. Without solving the problem of perception, there is no solid basis for the theory of memory. A solution will imply a new theory of memory and cognition and a new global view on the function and purpose of the brain.

2007 January 1

Started adding comments to a Washington Post online forum based on a target article by Sam Harris:
God’s Enemies Are More Honest Than His Friends