All posts by wankongyew

What atheists can’t refute (or can they?)

Ordinarily, I try not to make this blog into a “today on QT3” sort of thing, but at times something comes up that’s too interesting and relevant to my own interests to ignore.

A poster on QT3 recently linked to an article by Dinesh D’Souza attacking atheism based on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Admittedly, the argument does not constitute an affirmation of theism. It merely seeks to demonstrate what D’Souza considers to be a failing of atheism. Essentially, D’Souza argues that, as Kant pointed out, the province of reason is limited to the things that we can perceive and to the things as we can perceive them. This means that we have no way of knowing what Kant calls the noumena, the things as they are in themselves, unfiltered by the limitations of human perception, and to D’Souza this opens to door to religious faith.

Within hours of the original post however, QT3 member Hawkeye Fierce posted an excellent response:

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason has always seemed like a lot of mental masturbation to me. He says that the capacities of reason are limited because our perception is limited, and that there could exist phenomena that we are simply incapable of perceiving in any way. I suppose that could be true, but if we are unable to perceive these phenomena, I don’t see how it follows that we should act any differently. Reality may be bigger than we can perceive, but if the part that we can’t see can’t actually affect us, it may as well not exist. And if it can affect us, well then it’s no longer imperceptible. Also, without experiential information, all theories about what the imperceptible universe is like are equally valid and invalid, so there’s no reason to pick one over the other.

I can really put it no better than the above. D’Souza writes that he tried to get a rebuttal from Daniel Dennett but didn’t get a satisfactory response. This seems like a pretty good response to me.

A Book: Accelerando

The solar system is a dead loss right now – dumb all over! Just measure the MIPS per milligram. If it isn’t thinking, it isn’t working. We need to start with the low-mass bodies, reconfigure them for our own use. Dismantle the moon! Dismantle Mars! Build masses of free-flying nanocomputing processor nodes exchanging data via laser link, each layer running off the waste heat of the next one in. Matrioshka brains, Russian doll Dyson spheres the size of solar systems. Teach dumb matter to do the Turing boogie!

– Charles Stross in Accelerando

Accelerando by Charles Stross

Accelerando is a hard book to recommend to anyone. At times it reads as if author Charles Stross wrote it by first making a bullet-point list of cool stuff he wanted to include: effective cyclists! Rubberized concrete! Agalmic economies! Corporate regulations written in Python! Distributed Internet reputation servers! As the exclamation points suggest, every mention of the latest and greatest toys is suffused with breathless enthusiasm. Only afterwards is the story worked in and the characters, in this case, three generations of the dysfunctional and idiosyncratic Macx family, created to serve the plot.

Continue reading A Book: Accelerando

Which Hogwarts House Do You Belong In?

Which Hogwarts house will you be sorted into?

There are probably a ton of quizzes like this floating around the net, though this one seems pretty well done. I read all of the Harry Potter books earlier this year and found them to be great entertainment. There’s no doubt in my mind that J.K. Rowling is tremendously talented and deserves all of the fame and fortune that she got from the series. While it’s true that a lot of the elements including the plot, the dynamics of the three central characters and the urban fantasy setting feel somewhat generic, it’s all been put together very well and will probably go down in history as a timeless children’s classic.

Doubtless there will be unbelievable pressure to write more books in the Potter-verse. I have mixed feelings about that. While it would be interesting to learn more details about the wizarding world, particularly outside of the UK, I’m fairly sure that any additional books will be a letdown. J.K. Rowling has created a wonderful world that is rich enough to be engaging, but as this paper demonstrates, it doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny. Poke at the inconsistencies and incongruities of the Potter-verse too much and it will fall apart like the piece of elaborate theatre that it is. Much better to let it end on a high-note in my opinion.

The Art of Science Fiction

Futurescape Shopping Avenue by Richard Lim Boon Keat

Check out the cool artwork (click on the image for a larger version) above by Richard Lim Boon Keat and used with his permission here. Apparently he’s a Malaysian artist who’s worked on a number of game projects. I discovered his website through Armageddon Empires, a game by QT3 forum member Vic Davis, which is a notable indie gem combining wargame and collectible-card game mechanics. It deserves a post of its own, but I’ll have to spend more time on it before I have much to say on it.

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Favourite Films

Favourites lists are tricky things, whether they’re for books, films, games, songs or something else. People often rank a particular work highly merely for its personal nostalgia value. Fair enough, but don’t expect the same sentiments to reverberate in the reader. Other works might seem to deserve a place in the rankings because it was innovative in its day even if the techniques it pioneered has since been replicated and even improved upon elsewhere. Jurassic Park with its use of CGI is one such example for me: I shall never forget that magical first sight of the magnificent brachiosaurus towering above the awestruck humans while docilely munching from a tree.

Another reason to rank a film highly is because you enjoy watching it over and over again. Yet however much I enjoy action films like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Matrix, I have reservations about including them in my list of favourite films. It feels to me that a film needs to be something a little more profound and substantial to merit special mention.

With all this in mind, here’s a selection of five of my favourite films, arranged in no particular order. They’re favourite films to me in the sense that I like them a lot, that I like others to watch them and hear what they think of them and that I greatly admire the people who crafted them and wish that I had a modicum of their talent. Do note however that I watch fewer films that I probably ought to so my list is only drawn from a fairly small sample. Spoilers follow by necessity.

Memento posterMemento

I don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said about Memento. The reverse chronological order of one of its two narratives strikes some as gimmicky, but I think that it is essential to placing the viewer in the shoes of the confused Leonard Shelby. The way the two narratives, one in colour, the other in black-and-white, merges into one as the film inexorably approaches its dread-filled climax is stylistically brilliant and makes the progression of the film feel like an unraveling puzzle.

Philosophically, it’s true that the film isn’t that deep, but the way it raises the questions of how central memories are to human personality and how easily we lie to ourselves in order to protect our own self-image is chilling. The people around Shelby viciously abuses his condition for their own ends, and director Christopher Nolan seems at first to draw audiences to be sympathetic to his unique plight through scenes such as Shelby’s Sisyphean efforts to expunge his pain of losing his wife by destroying mementos of their life together. But ultimately it is Shelby’s own willingness to manipulate himself just as callously and cynically as his abusers that is the greatest tragedy.

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World of Evecraft

Jim Rossignol at Rock, Paper, Shotgun recently made a post laying out a theoretical game that merges the generic fantasy appeal of World of Warcraft with the flat, level-less design of Eve Online. It’s not an altogether original idea, and I suspect that most players who have tried both games will have hazily imagined such a chimera sooner or later.

There are obvious contradictions with this basic design: Eve Online is all about the complex interactions between its players that its mechanics allows and the profound way that these interactions can shape the universe they inhabit. As such the Eve universe is appropriately enough a mostly blank expanse of interstellar space populated by planets, moons and asteroid belts. World of Warcraft on the other hand derives its appeal in large part from its aesthetics, in the form of player avatars, the environments they live their adventures in and the plethora of enemies that they fight. It’s part of what makes it “compelling and immediate” as Rossignol writes. It’s not obvious to me that the intersection of these two different groups of players constitutes a broad enough player base to commercially justify such a game given the resources that would be required to give a Eve-like game WOW-like eye candy. As an exercise in theorycrafting though, it’s great fun to speculate on the many ways that WOW would need to be changed to make it more like Eve.

Continue reading World of Evecraft