Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

The time is out of joint.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Harry Potter vs. Voldemort – so what?

It might be blasphemy, but I have trouble appreciating the Harry Potter stories. I might not even know what I'm talking about, because I only managed to read something like a hundred pages of the first book – the rest is just what I've seen in the movies. That's fine with me.

I just saw the last set of Harry Potter movies, the Deathly Hallows, and I can't believe they made the books justice.

The first part was consistently dark, with minimal colors – mainly blue and greenish to signal angst. Who would enjoy two and a half hours of that? And for what?

It was frequently obvious that scenes were extended for no other reason than to fill a movie night halfway through the book. J. K. Rowling had announced that this was the last one, which was obvious enough from the book's ending, so everybody was eager to cash in as much as possible.

The seventh and last movie made it clear that these movies were made only for the fans, who knew their Harry Potter stories by heart. The plot was so chaotic and unclear that only the ones already very familiar with it could follow. That's not a movie. It's just a very elaborate way of retelling a story the listeners already know, just because they want to hear it again.

Well, lots of people have read most of the Harry Potter books, so the huge audience received was no surprise.

But the movies are reported to have been quite truthful to the books, and J. K. Rowling seems firm enough to have made sure of it. Then, I must conclude that there is much lacking in her own work.

Baby Magic

The reason I lost interest in the first Harry Potter book after some 100 pages was its predictability and lack of imagination. It's just a regular English boarding school, spiced up with a little magic – of such conventional kind: wands and brooms. Come on! Aleister Crowley yawns in his grave.

When it comes to magic I need the writer to show some insight into it. How does it work and why does it work? The most believable stories about magic show clever intricacy, giving the impression of the author being the foremost of magicians. It has to contain a somehow believable magic cosmology.

In the Harry Potter stories, though, the wands are mostly used like the revolvers of cowboys. Bang! Bang! This spell and that spell in toy Latin, as if magic works with the same mechanically straight cause and effect as every phenomenon of natural science. That's not magic. Fireworks, maybe. Special effects and Hocus Pocus, but not magic.

Black and White Is Gray

What was also trite and boring was the very conventional black and white of the whole Harry Potter setup. Good, innocent people fighting genuinely evil ones. A villain striving for power just to have it, and heroes struggling to stop him from getting it. It's never that easy, never that black and white.

Already the unbalance of evil being so much more powerful – except at the very last scene of each movie, though mostly almost only by chance – is as twisted as it's common in fiction. Evil keeps popping up its ugly head, but is always outnumbered, inferior, doomed. Sometimes it takes a while and proves costly, but there you have it. Evil is a loser.

It's like darkness and light. The former is utterly helpless against the latter. There's no match. Just let there be light and the darkness is blown away, as effortlessly as if by speaking the words only. That's how it is.

Predator and Prey

Even in fairytales and their recent incarnation fantasy, this has to be understood. A story is pointless when its villains do bad things just because they want to be bad. Aristotle stated that in a good drama, the characters should act as they must, because of the situation they are in. No good or bad. Just people trying to do the best of the mess they are in.

So, for example, what drives Voldemort? Why does he act the way he does? Evil is no answer, just another question: why is he evil – or more correctly: why does he persist with evil deeds?

The same should be asked about Harry Potter. Why does he continue to struggle, fight, and suffer tremendously? Not because he's righteous. That's as blank as being evil. In these stories, it seems the only reason he has is that Voldemort keeps hunting him.

Predator and prey. Not interesting enough for seven increasingly thick books and eight increasingly dark movies.

Ten Years Once

No, I find so many things lacking in the Harry Potter suite – as far as I know it. Nothing tempts me to sit down and read all the brick size novels. There are so many other books of which I know that the reward for reading them is immense.

The Harry Potter series has gone on for something like ten years. J. K. Rowling allowed for her characters to grow accordingly. I guess that's why her initial audience kept following. They grew with the stories, or the other way around. But will coming generations care to embark on the same voyage?

Maybe some of the children of that first generation of followers will, inspired by their parents. Maybe. But they are better served with new fantastic stories – hopefully ones that say something profound about life, the world, and everything.

Here are the films on DVD at Amazon

Friday, December 23, 2011

What's With the Beard?

Soon, Santa Claus will sneak down the chimney with presents to all good children, with a jolly “Ho, ho, ho!” That's all fine. But what's with that big white beard?

The myth about that jolly fellow evolved in the 19th century, as did the image of him. According to Wikipedia, it sort of started in 1823 with a poem by Clement Clarke Moore, A Visit from St. Nicholas. It can be found in its original version here. The first few lines read:

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there

It contains all the now well-known components – the reindeer, the chimney, the toys to the children, and so on.

Santa Claus, by Thomas Nast 1863.
The image of Santa Claus is said to have been shaped by the cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1863, when he changed the common depiction from a tall and thin man to the obese charmer we know today. Thomas Nast made several pictures over the years to follow, where Santa's characteristics became more and more accentuated, in line with how caricatures evolve.

Santa Claus, by Thomas Nast 1881.
The Santa image got a boost in a 1930's Coca-Cola campaign with pictures of Santa Claus made by Haddon Sundblom. Through Sundblom's brush, Santa's costume received its distinctly red color and his beard got that fuzzy and white, as if it was nothing but the false beard worn by so many impersonators in the shopping malls.

Santa Claus, by Haddon Sundblom.
But the big beard is far from unique on Santa Claus. It's carried by several other mythological figures – and it tends to be bigger, the more prominent they are.

Starting from the top, there's the traditional Christian image of God. When given human features, he always gets an impressive beard, not at all that far from Santa's.

God, by Michelangelo.
Among the gods, he's far from the only one to have a big beard. It seems to be the rule more than the exception. Already Zeus of Ancient Greek mythology was very bearded indeed.

Before him, the Babylonian god Marduk had a beard that was neatly trimmed into a rectangle, but not shorter than with what later divinities paraded.

Marduk chasing Tiamat.
Myth sticks to the beard as a necessary attribute for characters of height and distinction. Gandalf of Tolkien's tale obviously never shaved, and in his transformation from the Grey to the White the color of his beard followed.

The most recent example is a sort of Gandalf wanna-be, the headmaster of Harry Potter's school of magic, Dumbledore, who was vain enough to arrange his beard in a decorative way, as if wanting still to distance himself in some way from his predecessors.

Jesus, too, is depicted with long hair and a beard. But in his case, the beard might be blond but never white, and it's significantly shorter than that of his father and the other characters mentioned above.

Could this shortcoming of his depend on him being the son and not the father? The length of his beard, and the neatness of it, implies youth. The beard of a divine adolescent, not a fully grown god.

Since ancient times, the beard is a sign of maturity and authority, maybe also of power. Jesus, son of a carpenter, walked among common men like one of them, and was no older than 33 when he was executed – an unthinkable fate for a man of senior power. Had his beard been longer, he might have been spared...

A legendary example of the link between hair and power is that of Samson, who loses his phenomenal strength when his hair is cut, by trickery of the beautiful Delilah. Although the bible text doesn't seem to say so, I'd like to think that his beard was also cut in the process. His beard must have been the hair holding his power.

Samson and Delilah, by Rubens.
Something similar is implied by the fact that it's on Santa's beard we swear, when we really mean it. That's where his power lies.

Santa Claus sure needs a lot of power for the fantastic feat he performs every Christmas, bringing presents to all the children of the world who have not been too naughty. He needs that beard. Without it, he would not accomplish much and we would sit by the chimneys, waiting and waiting for nothing.

So, praise the beard guaranteeing a very merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Believers Don't Believe

”I'm a believer,” The Monkees sang in 1966. They meant a believer in love, but mostly the term is used for and by religious people, sticking to convictions that common sense dismisses. But the term is a paradox. The use of it reveals a lack of belief.

The Monkees sang that they thought love was only true in fairytales, until:
Then I saw her face, now I'm a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind
I'm in love, I'm a believer

But wait a minute. If you believe in love, there's still room for doubt. Otherwise you would regard it as a fact, not a belief. So, the boy of the song is not sure enough to do more than believe in the love by which his heart is overcome. What he's really saying is that he hopes he can trust love. He's taking the chance.

The same is true for religious people claiming to believe in this or that. They don't claim it to be a fact, they don't say they know it. They believe it, which is really confessing that they shouldn't, if they listened to reason. They reveal that they insist on something, although they can't even convince themselves of it.

So, every statement of belief is a confession to the contrary.

Those who say that they believe God created the world a few thousand years ago thereby admit to its absurdity. They confirm this by saying that they don't believe in evolution, which is a way of admitting that they know better. Those who believe in Heaven and Hell as the next destination after death admit that they really don't expect anything but bodily decay after their last breath.

Mostly, people say they believe in this or that god. Again, that's admitting such an entity to be highly unlikely, to say the least. What else could they say about someone (or something) so elusive?

It would be different if they said that they know this god exists, but that would be preposterous. They could say that the god is possible, which is as hard to deny as the opposite. Or they could be perfectly honest and say that they hope the god exists.

It's all about hope.

Atheists in heated debates with religious fundamentalists insist that they are stupid for believing, but that actually proves they are not. If they claimed knowledge, certainty, they would be. But by using the word belief, they hang on to their own reason and common sense. And they know it.

The true driving force of religious extremists is the fear of admitting to themselves that they have doubts, serious doubts. So, they try to silence what their minds are whispering to them, by taking a fanatic position and committing to it as blatantly as they are able. They hope that by this commitment they will finally convince themselves.

That's nothing but fear, of course. The fear of losing hope. It's the cause of much anguish in the world – and far from only to the ones stuck in this conflict of emotions.

Monday, December 19, 2011

No Hit Song Without Words

A British research team presents a formula they claim predicts what songs will be hits. They use a bunch of parameters, but ignore one of the top components of a song: the lyrics.

It's a University of Bristol team doing this research, which they present at this website: The Hit Equation (BBC News writes about it here). Here's the formula they use to decide if a song will be a hit (#5 or higher on the British chart):

They claim to get a 60% accuracy with this formula. They write on their webpage: “How good is this equation? It turns out we can predict with an accuracy of 60% if a song will make it to top 5, or if it will never reach above position 30 on the UK Top 40 Singles Chart.”

This may seem impressive – better than 50/50. But they've done no comparison with other methods, not even that of pure chance, like the flipping of a coin.

Actually, one would get a much better result by just guessing that every song would fail, since a vast majority of songs never make it on the charts. Their formula would be impressive only if 60% of the songs they predicted to be hits actually became hits. That's the tricky part.

Below is their own image of the many aspects of the songs they consider important for making a hit:

Nothing about the lyrics, as if they were completely irrelevant to a song becoming popular and making it on the charts. Ridiculous!

The lyrics are instrumental to the listening experience. Already the fact that extremely few purely instrumental tunes through the past decades have become hits should tell the researchers that they are missing something fundamental.

The obvious examples of hits depending on their lyrics are countless. What would Chris Medina's song What Are Words be without words? And what about the songs of Adele? All of rap music? Lady Gaga? Beyoncé's Single Ladies, If I Were a Boy and Halo, Christina Aguilera's Beautiful, Bruno Mars' Grenade and Lazy Song, and on and on and on.

It's even more obvious when digging deeper into the modern history of popular music: Bob Dylan, almost every song by the Beatles, David Bowie, Stairway to Heaven, Sympathy for the Devil, REM, Simon & Garfunkel, Respect, The Doors, U2, punk rock, Prince's Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Kinks, Nirvana, My Generation, Hotel California, The Wall...

Maybe, for getting to #5 on the chart, some musical recipe gets a better chance than 50/50, which is not bad at all. But to become a tune remembered and repeated through the decades, outstanding lyrics are a must.

The Bristol researchers might have considered including lyrics in their parameters, but in that case they surely surrendered to the difficulty of turning words into numbers. It can't be done in a meaningful way.

Music is another matter. It consists of mathematics, as already Pythagoras told us. There are scales, beats per minute, volume, measurable vibrations, and so on. That allows for a formula, although it can be discussed how useful it is.

Words are symbols of very complex meanings. They can't be removed from their context, which is in itself so vast that it's very difficult to describe at all. Words are more like fuzzy math, lacking precision and thereby embracing more than numbers ever can.

But the Bristol researchers will surely find their allies in the music industry. Record companies have all the time believed that they could calculate how to make a hit. That's what they prefer, since it would mean they wouldn't need to find talents – something they mainly stink at.

The record industry wants cute and replaceable kids to mold into what “the business” regards as hit making machinery. They constantly fail, of course, but that doesn't stop them from going on with the same brain dead modus operandi. And their trade is far from alone in this.

Commercialism prefers robots that buy the products if just the right button is pressed. That's their paradigm: Man is nothing but a consumer, responding only to the simplest signals. And they want us to behave in no other way. Instead, they use all their resources to brainwash us into an ever more simplified pattern of stimuli and response.

That's the bottom line of capitalism – turning mankind into obedient consumers, all of us buying the same things. In communism, the fundamental principle is not very different: They want robots who repeat like tape recorders what their leaders preach.

So, it's all about obedience. The people in power seek to be obeyed, without questioning, without alternatives. It's evil.

And the Bristol researchers comply, trying to serve the music industry another instrument by which they can imagine to succeed in replacing the wonderful and dynamic complexity of the motivations of the human being into Pavlovian reflexes.

It's impossible, but there's a lot of nonsense going on before they ever give it up.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Burlesque Breakfast of Champions

Finally, I got to see the 1999 movie Breakfast of Champions, based on Kurt Vonnegut's novel. I had avoided doing so earlier, afraid of being disappointed. Well, I was. They turned the wonderfully absurd novel into a tiresome burlesque.

The cast was a splendid bunch of actors, so the fault must lie with the director Alan Rudolph. I wonder what Kurt Vonnegut thought about it. He was somewhat involved, even doing a cameo as the role of a commercial director. Did he realize where the movie was heading and if so, did he approve? I doubt it.

I read the novel back in the 1970's, when I had a period of passionately indulging in the books of Vonnegut. That reading experience was instrumental in getting me started on my own writing.

You all know the feeling: When I opened the cover of a Vonnegut book that was new to me, a tickling sensation went through all my body. Already by reading his pensive preface (and he always had one), I was in heaven. He never disappointed me.

Well, not until after Breakfast of Champions, which he wrote as sort of a literary testament, when he was turning fifty, just like Dwayne Hoover, the main character of the book. I read it soon after its release and I had the strong impression that it was to be his last novel, a farewell to the characters he had created as well as to his readers.

As it turned out, it was not. He wrote seven more novels before calling it a day. I read the first few of this post-Breakfast suite, and gradually lost interest. Something of the Vonnegut esprit I loved had evaporated. So, I had to start writing my own novels.

Yes, the decay of Vonnegut's writing triggered me to start writing my own novels. That I commenced in 1976, the year that the first of his post-Breakfast novels, Slapstick, appeared. Before coming to the conclusion that more needed to be said than what Vonnegut had expressed, I would not dream of trying to contribute.

I know, the mind of an author is an odd thing. I've always felt that my writing is nothing but an obligation to all the previous writers and all the coming ones – a link in the chain, nothing more and nothing less.

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007.

Oh, I actually met Kurt Vonnegut once. In 1980, when I spent some months in New York. In the middle of the night, of course, at a 3rd Avenue take-out sandwich bar, where I was trying to make jolly conversation with the Puerto Rican girl behind the counter, while she was making my BLT.

Somebody behind me sighed, as if from the grave, annoyed that I kept the line behind me waiting. I turned around, finding myself staring into the belly of a very tall man. I raised my eyes to his face, way up there. It was Kurt Vonnegut.

He looked like the Reaper. The thousands of wrinkles in his face formed an expression of absolute boredom, as if nothing in the universe or beyond it had the least chance of giving solace. As if life was nothing but suffering and I was prolonging the time he had to endure it.

I was young and unstoppable, so I still tried to speak with him. He complied minimally and very reluctantly, so the conversation ended quite quickly. I wondered why living would be so painful to one who had inspired so many. But I remembered an earlier discovery of mine: great humor emerges from sad souls.

Well, back to Breakfast of Champions. The book sure is an absurd comedy, mixed up with naive drawings by the author. But it still has a pensive tone, albeit between the lines. Vonnegut reveals the absurdity of everyday life. When the story is turned into burlesque, this is lost. The world presented in the film is grotesque, so it can say nothing about the world we imagine that we live in. Everything turns into nonsense.

Of course, Vonnegut's book is simply black letters (and drawings) on white paper. That alone brings its content down to a low-voiced level. But his writing is also low-keyed, even when seemingly spaced out. It's all about regular folks living their regular lives – kind of.

When I was watching the movie with all those resourceful actors, I saw an alternative movie in my head – toned down, low-key, where the insanity of Dwayne Hoover, as well as the rest of the world, was just slowly emerging. That would be a movie worth watching.

One of the things that attracted me to the writing of Kurt Vonnegut was just that. The absurdity and insanity is not something out of the ordinary, but present in our very normal everyday life. It's right here, among us and inside of us all. Overdoing it just hides that fact.

I think of Shakespeare's advice to actors, given by Hamlet:

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o'erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone,
or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful
laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the
censure of the which one must in your allowance
o'erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be
players that I have seen play, and heard others
praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely,
that, neither having the accent of Christians nor
the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so
strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of
nature's journeymen had made men and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.

And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for them;
for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to
set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh
too; though, in the mean time, some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered:
that's villanous, and shows a most pitiful ambition
in the fool that uses it.

Here's the film on DVD at Amazon

Friday, December 16, 2011

Big Bang and God Are the Same

Creationists sneer at the Big Bang theory. Astrophysicists exclude God from their equation. But it's all the same, meeting the same paradox. They differ only in names. None answers the question.

So, what's the question? Simply: how did it all start?

In case of a divine creation out of nothingness, creatio ex nihilo, that's not a real nothingness to begin with, since God is there. If God's not nothing, there's something – even though that something is very different from the something of our universe.

In case of the Big Bang, already the Greeks told us that something cannot come out of nothing. At least there had to be a something making something possible to appear out of nowhere.

The astrophysicists are starting to seriously question the Big Bang idea, regarding the notion that it would have happened out of nothing. A bunch of theories are being presented and tested, as much as can be done in this field.

Also the idea of an ever-present universe, although dynamic, is revived by some scientists.

No Time

Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 CE.
Time is at the core of the problem, whether we imagine an eternal universe or not. Christianity and Big Bang theory are much the same regarding time, as well. Already in the 4th century, Augustine said that there's no point in asking what existed before God said “Let there be light!” since that was when God created time as well. There was no before.
Which is exactly what the Big Bang theory claims.

Even in a theory of an eternal universe, time is at the core – or it could not be eternal.

I wonder if time exists at all as a separate entity. There is movement, there is change. If there is neither movement nor change, where is time?

Maybe we should stop regarding time as a dimension, but just the movement within the dimensions of space. Then we would say – sort of like the Buddhist – that everything changes, always. Seeing the start here or there is of little relevance. It's just a lot of movement between things in relations to one another. Now it's here, now it's there.

The Effect Is the Cause

Aristotle, 384-322 BC.
The natural sciences are founded on Aristotle's principle of cause and effect. Something happens because of something else. That's also timeline thinking. Before and after.

Even if we imagine a universe where cause is preceded by effect – as if the latter is longing for the former – it's still on a timeline, although reversed. It's an interesting line of thought, though. Kind of religious. The divine plan, the goal deciding how the voyage will be.

Actually, it's often very difficult to decide where in time to place the cause – before or after the effect. That's because it's not always clear which is which. The chicken or the egg.

Maybe that's the true difference between a divine reality and a physical one: In the former, the effect is the cause, because it's what God intended, so the result was actually what caused the cause, so to speak.

In a strictly physical universe, though, there has to be a cause initiating the process to lead to the effect, and that effect is nothing but a result of the cause, since there is no intention towards it. Things happen because that's how things work.

But in a universe where there is no will or intention between cause and effect, there is no way of assuring their order of power. Something moved from here to there, because of this or that. Well, since it is now there, the cause was bound to get it there and could not get it elsewhere. So, what is cause and what is effect?


The human being has struggled long with the concept of free will: I want to go there, so I can. Otherwise I would remain here forever. The Greeks thought a lot about it, and so did people in many other cultures and eras. They wondered, how are we at all able to move?

Intention makes it happen. Without intention, no movement.

So, everyone thought that this must somehow be true for everything in the universe. Some kind of intention, or there would be no movement, no change, and the whole universe would be like dead. In every meaningful way of looking at it, the universe would cease to exist if nothing happened to it or inside of it.

Like an Idea

I've always found the Big Bang theory amusing, because it's so close to the concept of God's creation. In a vast nothingness (actually, in the Bible this nothing is a primordial sea), God says: “Let there be light!” Suddenly, bang! Everything appears.

God creates light. Bible illustration by Gustave Doré.
It's like an idea. I get an idea, which grows like an explosion in my mind, adding details that quickly become more and more defined. Shapes and objects appear in a chaotic cloud of thoughts. Big Bang is like a sudden idea in the head of God.

Who Can Know?

But, as mentioned above, God is no final cosmogony. He just leads to new questions: What is God? Where did He come from? Et cetera.

Whether there's some kind of God or not, we shouldn't use Him to stop ourselves from continued inquiry.

Modern science is so complex, most of us feel completely incapable of following its thoughts. But the Greeks have shown us that still today, even the most advanced scientists wrestle with the same questions the Greeks asked themselves. Can there have been a beginning? Can something come out of nothing?

So, I suspect that the solution to the problem of the origin of the universe is either unfathomable or accessible to us all.

That's precisely why I allow myself cosmological speculations like this one, although minutely introduced to astronomy. That, and the kick it gives my imagination.

I also suspect that the key to the origin of the universe is not to be found in the distant past or the distant future, but in the here and now.

Something or Nothing

We're still just starting to understand what the universe is, how it works, and of what it consists. So, I doubt that we know enough to ask the right question.

Let's go back to nothing and something. The Greeks said (well, some of them) that something cannot come out of nothing. Nor can something turn into nothing, but that's not questioned by astrophysics.

So, if we imagine a something that seems to be enclosed in nothing, it must be all there is. Such a universe, then, must in some way always have been and always will be. No starting or ending dates. The dynamics of it, the movement and changes, can be whatever – but it has to be there always.

Well, if the movement and changes stop completely, utterly completely, it sort of ceases to exist – except for the fact that it has a history, it has moved towards non-movement. Then the question is: can it move again? If so, that's not the complete stop. Can something stop so completely that it can never move again?

That would be the very end of what astrophysicists call the Big Freeze. Even though it's so extremely far off, I would say it's the prospect we prefer the least. It's so sad.

Now, if we imagine instead that our universe is something contained in another something creating it somehow – then the answer to the question of the origin of the universe is none other than the origin of that bigger something in which our universe was created. So, we're back to square one.

Prime Mover Tao

If we look again at the idea of movement and change, making time just a way of mapping these things, then there's no point in searching a beginning or an end, but the process by which things move and change. That's mostly in line with Einstein and his quest for a unified field theory – or Aristotle's Prime Mover.

Lao Tzu.
It also happens to be very near what Lao Tzu thought about Tao, the Way, in his Tao Te Ching, the Taoist classic. He described Tao as a primordial natural law from which the universe took form. That law was present before the universe, and would be there even if no universe emerged, still ruling exactly how a universe would be, if bursting out.

To Lao Tzu, though, the nature of that Tao primordial law was such that a universe was bound to come. The birth of the world was part of the nature of Tao. So will the future death of the universe be, although just vaguely implied by Lao Tzu.

Things emerge out of Tao and return to it, eventually. Therefore, so will a universe born out of it. That compares well to the astronomical theory of the Big Crunch – or the Big Bounce, where an oscillatory universe goes on forever.

Ever-Present Law

The Big Bang theory mentions the moment of the Bang, before which no natural law can be specified. It's called the Planck time, 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang. That may be true for gravity and such, but not for the law that makes it possible for a universe to come banging.

There has to be a Tao for that, if it can happen at all. A Prime Mover making the universe appear in whatever shape. The truly unifying field theory should encompass that force.

That's why I think we can focus on the present. If there is one law, one force, by which our universe was possible to emerge – then that law is ever-present. Finding it, we have the key to everything.

I think it's possible to find, if we just get the idea. And I think that it has much of the characteristics of an idea.

We Find What We Seek

Frankly, I have my doubts about reality. It might be more like the computer age expression “what you see is what you get” than we are comfortable with. Or the much older expression: “Seek and ye shall find.” To find anything we must be looking for it, and we must be able to see it as it is.

We can't say anything for certain about the world we live in, until we are sure about how to extract objective reality from our impression of it.

For example, the Big Bang theory would have been impossible for us to accept without the previous notion that the world had a starting date. So, we searched for a start and we thought we found it.

Maybe we did and maybe we didn't find the worlds starting point, but the real lesson is that we find what we seek and rarely something else. Discoveries tend to come when we are prepared to accept them, or even wish for them.

What reality is really like is certainly something very different from what our senses perceive. Instruments of our science have shown that to be true, even with something as basic as what we see with our eyes, which is just one part of the spectrum. Other parts give very different views. So, what does the world look like when everything can be seen?

Imagination Is Real

There are patterns. The more we see and learn about the universe, the more intricate the patterns of its working are. But still, when we are able to take it all in, the patterns will stand out and show a design and point to a solution.

My bet is on that solution being just as metaphysical as it is physical. To understand the universe we must accept all the ways by which we perceive it. One of the major ingredients, then, is our imagination, our fantasy.

I think that fantasy is no less real than the rest. It just works in different ways, expresses the fundamental law of nature differently. But it's part of what the universe is made: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”

I don't mean it in a symbolic way, like the poet searching a metaphor to express his sentiment. I mean it. In the world of atoms, gravitation, electricity, et al. Imagination is a major force in the universe, maybe the only one. Otherwise it wouldn't be able to encompass the universe. And we can't perceive any other universe than the one we imagine.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Economy Is Not a Science

On Saturday, December 10, this year's Nobel Prize laureates will receive their prizes from the Swedish king. Among those are two winners of the Economy Prize, which is not a real Nobel Prize – fittingly, since it's not a real science.

In the testament of Alfred Nobel, a number of prizes were specified. None in economics, although Nobel himself sure knew how to make money. That prize was introduced by the Bank of Sweden in 1969. I doubt that any other institution could get away with inventing its own Nobel Prize, and have it accepted among the others. Money sure is power.

The Bank of Sweden calls it a prize in economic sciences, but that can definitely be discussed. Through the years it has mainly been propaganda for stern capitalist perspectives and convictions. For example, Milton Friedman got the prize in 1976.

What has the economic “science” at all accomplished? Has it found laws for how the economy works, so that they can predict future economic events? No. Have they been able to perform repeated experiments with foreseeable results? No. Do they agree on fundamentals of how the economy works in society or parts thereof? No.

What they do is to present pure theories, one after the other, and fight for them to be applied to society and its economy, although they can't prove what will be the outcome. It's like treating a disease with a medicine never before tested.

Actually, I am sure that the so called science of economy is partly responsible for the financial world behaving like a sinus curve run amok. When this or that theory is applied to society, that's when it starts to go downhill. And the countermeasures are equally unsure.

I think they should skip that prize, at least until economy is able to prove that it has achieved scientific solidity. By the way, my opinion on psychology is similar, but it has no Nobel Prize.

Thomas J. Sargent answering an awkward question.
Here's a Swedish TV interview with one of this years Economy Prize laureates, Thomas J. Sargent (the other is Christopher A. Sims), when he tries to answer the question if economy is science or not:
Thomas J. Sargent on economy as science.
Rather amusing.

Thomas J. Sargent and Christopher A. Sims got their prize "for their empirical research on cause and effect in the macroeconomy." Good luck with that. Would Aristotle buy it?