All posts by wankongyew

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.

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A Book: Descartes’ Error

Contrary to traditional scientific opinion, feelings are just as cognitive as other percepts. They are the result of a most curious physiological arrangement that has turned the brain into the body’s captive audience. Feelings let us catch a glimpse of the organism in full biological swing, a reflection of the mechanism of life itself as they go about their business. Were it not for the possibility of sensing body states that are inherently ordained to be painful or pleasurable, there would be no suffering or bliss, no longing or mercy, no tragedy or glory in the human condition.

-Antonio R. Damasio in Descartes’ Error

Descartes’ Error by Antonio Damasio

Descartes’ error, as meant by neurologist Antonio R. Damasio in this book, and one that has insinuated itself deeply into mainstream thought, is as he puts it: “the abyssal separation between body and mind, between the sizable, dimensioned, mechanically operated, infinitely divisible body stuff, on the one hand, and the unsizable, undimensioned, un-pushpullable, nondivisible mind stuff; the suggestion that reasoning, and moral judgment, and the suffering that comes from physical pain or emotional upheaval might exist separately from the body. Specifically: the separation of the most refined operations of mind from the structure and operation of a biological organism.”

In other words: thinking is inescapably a biological process. It is expressly not true, as many people take for granted, that “thinking, and awareness of thinking, are the real substrates of being.”

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Baby’s First Fall

Baby’s First Fall was my first and so far only published piece of fiction. It was kindly accepted for publication by Gary Markette at Anotherealm. I’m glad to see the site is still alive and well five years later and the story itself still available for reading online, even if he did call me Mr. Yew.

The story is the only decent thing of mine that came out of my participation in the now defunct Del Rey Online Writing Workshop. According to the website of Ellen Key Harris-Braun who apparently constructed the site for Del Rey, it was an early example of the community peer-review environment that is widely prevalent today and attracted over 8,000 members at its height.

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A Book: Diaspora

Where do we go from here? History can’t guide us. Evolution can’t guide us. The C-Z charter says understand and respect the universe… but in what form? On what scale? With what kind of senses, what kind of minds? We can become anything at all – and that space of possible futures dwarfs the galaxy. Can we explore it without losing our way?

-Greg Egan in Diaspora

Diaspora by Greg Egan

Australian writer Greg Egan has consistently produced some of the most innovative, ambitiously speculative and technically rigorous science fiction stories of the 1990s. As an avid fan of the genre, my opinion is that Egan’s influence in the field goes far beyond what is evident in simple sales volume or media attention since many other writers seem to have taken note of his style and have attempted “Eganesque” stories or novels of their own. With his sixth novel, Diaspora, he probes the future of humanity, going farther than any other writer has ever gone before.

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A Biography: Frédéric Bastiat

If each man has the right to defend, even by force, his person, his liberty, and his property, several men have the right to get together, come to an understanding, and organize a collective force to provide regularly for this defense. Collective right, then, has its principle, its raison d’être, its legitimate basis, in individual right; and the collective force can rationally have no other end, no other function, than that of the individual forces for which it substitutes. Thus, as an individual cannot legitimately use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, for the same reason collective force cannot legitimately be applied to destroy the person, liberty, and property of individuals or classes.

– Frédéric Bastiat in The Law

Frédéric Bastiat

In a modern France that idolizes José Bové, a French farmer who is best known for vandalizing a McDonald’s restaurant, as a national hero, it is easy to forget that there once lived in that same country, a liberal economist by the name of Claude Frédéric Bastiat. In America, he happens to be one of the most well-known of the French liberalists, yet is almost completely unheard of in his native France.

Bastiat is most famous for his 1845 “Candle-makers’ Petition”, a satirical plea on behalf of the candle-makers of France to the French Parliament to ban the sun, which he wittily describes as a competitor that brings ruin to the candle-makers since it offers illumination for free. Here, Bastiat effectively demonstrates that if the citizens of the country may obtain a good or a service cheaply, it would be ludicrous to turn down this offer even if it would mean some loss of business for the domestic producers of that same good or service. This is one of the best-argued denunciations of protectionism ever written and is justly reprinted in a number of economics textbooks.

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A Book: Irrational Man

The chief movement of modernity, Kierkegaard holds, is a drift toward mass society, which means the death of the individual as life becomes ever more collectivized and externalized. The social thinking of the present age is determined, he says, by what might be called the Law of Large Numbers: it does not matter what quality each individual has, so long as we have enough individuals to add up to a large number – that is, to a crowd or mass. And where the mass is, there is truth – so the modern world believes.

-William Barrett in Irrational Man

Irrational Man by William Barrett

First published in 1958, Irrational Man is something of a dinosaur next to the sexily titled and slickly paced philosophy books that fill today’s bookshelves. Despite its age and the sad fact that some of the ideas in the book have aged less than gracefully, it remains as its back blurb says, “widely recognized as the finest definition of existentialist philosophy ever written”.

These days existentialism takes a back seat to its offspring, postmodernism, and it is unfortunate that in the minds of most people, the “scientized” sophistry, sometimes frivolously so, and abstruse language that so characterizes contemporary postmodern literature is inevitably linked to existentialism as well. It may therefore be surprising that I, the author of a site dedicated to reason, identify strongly with some of the central tenets of existentialism.

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A Biography: Charles Darwin

My success as a man of science, whatever this may have amounted to, has been determined, as far as I can judge, by complex and diversified mental qualities and conditions. Of these, the most important have been – the love of science – unbounded patience in long reflecting over any subject – industry in observing and collecting facts – and a fair share of invention as well as common sense. With such moderate abilities as I possess, it is truly surprising that I should have influenced to a considerable extent the belief of scientific men on some important points.

– Charles Darwin in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume 1

Charles Darwin

His is a name taught in every elementary textbook on biology and for good reason. Creationists have ever been eager to pounce on the fact that Darwin was never the first to come up with the theory of evolution, and indeed it is well-known that his first public presentation of his ideas was shared with Alfred Russel Wallace who developed the same theory of natural selection independently of Darwin. Yet it was Wallace who wrote:

“We claim for Darwin that he is the Newton of natural history, and that, just so surely as that the discovery and demonstration by Newton of the law of gravitation established order in place of chaos and laid a sure foundation for all future study of the starry heavens, so surely has Darwin, by his discovery of the law of natural selection and his demonstration of the great principle of the preservation of useful variations in the struggle for life, not only thrown a flood of light on the process of development of the whole organic world, but also established a firm foundation for all future study of nature.”

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