Holger Danske

Holger Danske

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    The Long View: The Physics of Immortality

    I'll freely admit this book review jaundiced me against Tipler's book. I'm still convinced this is not a bad thing. I brought this up in a philosophy course once, and my professor chided me. I'm still convinced this is not a bad thing. Tipler is an advocate of the idea that the universe may be a simulation. I regard this as best unproven, and as at worst ridiculous. Tipler uses this idea to explain how resurrection is just a complicated algorithm. I rather think he missed the point, but some rather smart people agree with him. On the plus side, Tipler's favorite dead theologian is Aquinas. While I do think Thomas got some of the foundational ideas of science right, I still think Tipler misses the point.

    As a fair warning, my physics education stopped at the undergraduate level. My philosophical education stopped partway through the masters level. I'm an amateur, and I like it that way.

    The Physics of Immortality
    by Frank J. Tipler
    Doubleday, 1994
    ISBN: 0-385-46798-2 $24.95

    Cultures have their insistences. Navajos, I am told, tend to leave unfinished some little detail of any work they do, just for good luck. Thus, a geometrical design will have a corner undone, or a familiar story will be told on any given occasion with a minor incident omitted. The Bolshevik regime in Russia was vehemently anti-religious, yet its leaders found it perfectly natural to embalm and perpetually display the body of Lenin, for all the world like the incorrupt body of a Russian saint. America too has its insistences, features of its culture which are often invisible to the natives but the most striking characteristics of the country in the eyes of foreigners. America, we know from earliest report, has always managed to be both extremely religious and implacably antimetaphysical. Thus, America is the world capital both of textual literalism in religion and of science ambitious to prophesy. Without careful watching, Americans will tend to reduce metaphysical questions to engineering problems, all the while believing that they are resolving real metaphysical difficulties.

    A particularly vivid example of this tendency is provided by Frank J. Tipler's recent book, "The Physics of Immortality." In this book Dr. Tipler, Professor of Mathematical Physics at Tulane University, purports to demonstrate scientifically the existence of God, the resurrection of the dead and the moral coherence of the universe (indeed, of all universes, since the author is an adherent of the "Many Worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics). "The Physics of Immortality" sets out an amplified and more extreme version of the speculations about the fate of the universe which appeared in "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" (1986), a highly influential work which Dr. Tipler co-authored with the British astrophysicist, John D. Barrow. The gist of the earlier book, at least as I understood it, is that we are living in a very improbable universe. If any of the physical and mathematical constants on which physical reality depends were only slightly different, there would not only be no human race, there would be nothing worth mentioning. The Anthropic Principle is that, despite the modern cliche that we live in a hostile world unconcerned with human happiness, in reality the structure and history of the universe are friendly to man. Indeed, "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" also claimed to prove that man is the only intelligent species in the universe, and will be the only progenitor of the greater intelligences yet to be. In "The Physics of Immortality," the author explains how the universe can be this way and what its future must be.



    CrossFit 2014-03-05

    5 rounds

    • 750m row
    • 20 GHD situps [parallel]
    • 20 hip extensions

    Time 36:26


    CrossFit 2014-03-04



    • Deadlift [165#]
    • Kipping handstand pushups [abmat]

    Time 11:50


    The Long View: The Ecstasy Club

    Anyone who studies millennial movements also ends up studying cults, which figure heavily in any study of how the end of the world intrudes upon normal life. In this review for Culture Wars, John ties in Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test as well as Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger. As disreputable as many millennial cults are, it isn't surprising their influence is subsequently swept under the rug.

    Ecstasy Club (A Novel)
    by Douglas Rushkoff
    HarperEdge, 1997
    Approximate Length: 283 Pages
    Probable Price: $17.50
    [This review is based on uncorrected proofs.]

    The Persistence of the Future

    Douglas Rushkoff probably needs no introduction, if you follow Generation X literature at all. If you don't, then perhaps you are nevertheless aware of him as a man in his mid-30s who makes a remarkable amount of money advising media corporations on how to tailor their products for twenty-somethings with short attention spans. Certainly this novel is full of the sort of stuff that young adults are supposed to interested in. You get raves [an appalling sort of party], smart drugs [most of them not controlled substances], 90s psychedelia [much it electronic], one or more universal conspiracies, and enough paranormal incident (in the words of one character) for three seasons of the "X-Files" [an old television series]. Turning the story into a screenplay will be a no-brainer in every sense of the term.

    Still, it will not do to dismiss this novel as the work of an O2-cool airhead. One suspects that Mr. Rushkoff is trying to do on purpose what Charles Reich did inadvertently in "The Greening of America" (1970), that is, to articulate and to close a whole countercultural era simultaneously. (As Hegel used to say, you can only bag the owls of Minerva when the fat lady sings.) Maybe his sense of timing is right. In any event, "Ecstasy Club" is yet more evidence for the proposition that the 90s are simply the 60s with all of the toxins and none of the sentiment.

    One way to look at the book is as the story of how the protagonist outgrows his youthful enthusiasms to settle down with a wife and kid in the suburbs. Another way to look at the book is as an apocalyptic novel. The principal characters are, after all, quite consciously trying to end the world. Unlike the Aum Shinri Kyo, they are not manufacturing poison gas or building earthquake machines. Rather, they intend to accomplish their goal by organizing a series of raves in an abandoned piano factory in Oakland, California. These parties are supposed to provide a catalyst that will break down the conditioning that certain malevolent forces have injected into late 20th century popular culture. The dark archons of this age have deep historical roots, of course, but their modern incarnations are neo-Malthusians who are preparing the population to accept a massive human die-off. Their agents, at least in the opinion of the people in the piano factory, include the Grateful Dead and a brainwashing cult called "Cosmotology" that resembles the Church of Scientology in only the most superficial and non-actionable way. When the dampening effects of these forces have been weakened in a sufficient number of people, the pace of cultural novelty will accelerate to infinity and history as we know it will be over.



    The Long View: Spymaster The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police

    Another old review, written when John was reviews editor of Culture Wars magazine. John decided to part ways with Culture Wars, for reasons he explains here. A fascinating look at espionage and the Cold War, overlapping slightly with my own book review on American Spies.

    Spymaster: The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police
    by Leslie Colitt
    Addison-Wesley Publishing Company 1995 (November)
    304 pp. (Hardcover), $23
    ISBN: 0-201-40738-8

    Even before the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was liquidated in 1990, it seemed churlish to me to make fun of it. It was obviously such a dismal country that further comment was cruel. Not everybody thought the way I did, however. A friend of mine who visited it on a business trip about 1985 found it hard to keep a straight face. Squired around East Berlin in an official East German car by an official East German official, he and the other Americans guffawed at the dinky little Trabant cars and the appalling architecture. Building facades that were not ghastly concrete slabs were likely to have unrepaired bullet holes in them from the Russian assault in 1945. The group went to a crowded restaurant for lunch, where they were entertained by the spectacle of a drill-sergeant waitress ordering a tableful of her hangdog countrymen to go sit somewhere else so the foreigners could stay together. The highpoint of the trip was the Eastern Block cherry pie that came for desert. The visitors spent many merry minutes noisily demonstrating its amazing impenetrability to eating utensils. The crowd in the restaurant seemed to be able to follow most of this conversation. Their expressions went from morose to suicidal. Surely none of this rudeness was necessary, I told my friend when he got back. When the GDR imploded, I felt no desire to gloat.

    Well, I have changed my mind. Few countries, living or dead, have so richly deserved to be razzed as West Germany's evil twin, and many of the reasons can be found in Spymaster, a brief and straightforward account of the East German foreign espionage agency, the Hauptverwaltung fuer Aufklaerung (Central Intelligence Administration, or HVA), and how it interacted with the rest of the GDR's security apparatus....



    The Long View: Hitler's Willing Executioners

    John linked to this early book review in his blog post about Goldhagen's slander of Pope Pius XII. John clearly changed his mind about the quality of Goldhagen's work in between the two. John does note in his earlier work that Goldhagen was given to reading his thesis into the evidence, rather than extracting his thesis from the evidence.

    Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
    by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
    Alfred A. Knopf, 1996
    619 pp., $30.00
    ISBN 0-679-44695-8

    Convicted of the Wrong Crime

    This book is a bit of a rant. It is a good rant, an expanded doctoral dissertation by a young professor of political science at Harvard. The book exemplifies how creative writing that is bolstered by 125 pages of footnotes can be put to telling effect. Certainly you are likely to learn a great deal from it that you might not already know, principally about the gruesome tactics of the Holocaust. It also makes short work of some of the academic nonsense on the subject that has become fashionable in recent years, such as the hypothesis that the Jewish communities of Europe were killed by an accidental confluence of local initiative and administrative negligence. It proves to any reasonable judge that the extermination of the Jews was an act of high policy by the German government during the Nazi era. It also shows that the government's public antisemitic measures were not unpopular and that ordinary Germans did not need to be coerced to carry out the Holocaust itself. What the book does not prove is its thesis, which is that "eliminationist antisemitism" was a long-standing peculiarity of German culture to which the Nazi regime simply gave free rein.




    The Long View: Constitution of the Ecumenical Empire

    John was very interested in the form the future might take. He wrote a book that was his attempt to limn the future by means of a program he wrote in BASIC and the ideas of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Like myself, John felt that the idea of cycles in history does not preclude free will or moral agency. We might hope, tentatively and with great humility, to influence things for the better. Following William Ernest Hocking, John posited the idea of "unlosables", technologies and ideas and ethical principles, which become part of the ever-increasing common heritage of the race. This entry is intended to illustrate some of those ideas in political philosophy.

    As a lawyer, John was well-positioned to draft a constitution. He knew that the failure of most modern constitutions was due to their complexity. The most successful modern constitutions, the American, and the Swiss [which is based on the American] are relatively brief. This is his attempt at a constitution for the Ecumenical Empire, his term for the universal state into which the world is likely to collapse sometime in this century.

    This document was originally posted to an Alternative History newsgroup. It may not be a proper "what-if," but it is likely to interest alternative history buffs.

    Every so often, I come across a model "world constitution" by groups or individuals who are interested in the question. These proposals are all non-starters. They are too legalistic, too complicated, and most of all too long. The draft constitution here is supposed to be more realistic. I imagine it coming into effect late in the next century, when the traditional international system has collapsed because of war and progressive economic integration. Like the Roman Empire, it is essentially a police measure. Feel free to propose amendments.

    JR -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Constitution of the Ecumenical Empire

    This Constitution describes the structure of the Ecumenical Empire.
    The Ecumenical Empire is the final stage of human political evolution.
    This Constitution is unchangeable.
    The Empire's operations and functions must be further defined by legislation.

    The Empire
    The Ecumenical Empire possesses every power which a human government may possess.
    The jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Empire is universal in space.
    The Ecumenical Empire may permit Subsidiary States to exist.

    The Emperor

    The Emperor may hear all final appeals in judicial matters from whatever source.
    The Emperor is the Commander in Chief of the Ecumenical Army.
    The Emperor is the Director of the Ecumenical Civil Service.



    The Long View: In Search of a Usable Apocalypse

    John never thought much of the increasingly popular zombie apocalypse. He did do a pretty favorable review of World War Z, but he regarded zombies are mere meat puppets. Nonetheless, John was a scholar of the apocalyptic, a subject has mostly become a matter of folk religion in America. Recently, the zombie apocalypse is pretty popular, but in the late nineties, the viral outbreak [minus re-animation] weighed more heavily on people's minds.

    Pestilence is one of the Four Horsemen, but the ancient world may have feared disease less than you might think. In Roman times, smallpox and measles didn't really get going until the middle Empire, and malaria didn't really affect Republican Rome. The real age of pestilence doesn't start until after the Age of Exploration, which brought more regular contact between different populations. There is some evidence to think that not only syphillis, but tungiasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and typhus were brought from the New World. Montezuma's revenge indeed.

    There is a great bit at the end here about Jack London's apocalyptic fiction. I had never heard of these stories before. The Call of the Wild this ain't.

    In Search of a Usable Apocalypse

    On a Saturday in 1995, I went to see the film "Outbreak." I liked it. It stars Dustin Hoffman as an Army biological warfare scientist who defeats an epidemic of a terrible new disease from Africa, a virus carried to the U.S. by an infected-but-adorable monkey. Hoffman is getting better as he takes himself less seriously. Donald Sutherland's gleefully villainous portrayal of the general determined to stop the disease by incinerating the people infected is worth the price of admission.

    (The attraction of the film is not lessened by the fact it is almost identical in plot to the film adaptation released a year or two previously of Robert Heinlein's novel, "The Puppet Masters." In that film, the part of the plague is taken by mind-controlling extraterrestrial leeches. It too stars Donald Sutherland, and one or two other people in "Outbreak.")

    Monkeys and villains aside, the movie contains a number of signs of the times. For instance, a long-running government conspiracy to cover up the disease is revealed. Or maybe the conspiracy was to cover up the fact a cure had been found for a certain strain of the virus. Or the fact there was a department doing this kind of research at all. Anyway, Washington was responsible for it. The writers, no doubt, have been watching the popular FOX series, "The X-Files," most of whose episodes posit some vast, secret malefaction on the part of the U.S. government. The series is made in Canada, which might suggest an anti-American conspiracy right there, since Donald Sutherland is from Newfoundland. But no, that way madness lies. Let's just concentrate on this killer-virus business.

    Consider these two television listing for the evening after I saw "Outbreak":

    "Earth 2: The colonists discover another group of settlers who have been weakened by a deadly virus."

    "Lois and Clark: A deranged scientist plots to release a deadly virus. Lois's attraction to a government agent irks Clark."




    The Long View: After Darwin

    One of John's best quotes is this:

    In 1914, when the century began to manifest its characteristic features, the guiding spirits of the time were Freud and Marx and Darwin and Einstein. In 1989, when in a political sense the 20th century was already over, the guiding spirits of the time were Freud and Marx and Darwin and Einstein. There was no other century of modern times that produced so little new intellectual history. Indeed, all but the earliest part of the Middle Ages was livelier.

    It seems impossible, but there is truth here. In some ways, nothing much of note happened in the twentieth century.

    Which is not the same thing as saying that nothing has happened at all. There was a great deal of intellectual activity in the twentieth century. It seems that we have shifted our focus in a subtle way, choosing to perfect what we have rather than create the entirely new. In the end, there is a lot to be said for this, because it has made the life of ordinary people better faster than anything else in history. It simply doesn't make for fascinating history.

    AFTER DARWIN The ice is beginning to crack on yet another section of the cold surface of modernity. The part of the frozen lake that is breaking up this time is Darwinism, or at any rate Darwinism as a worldview with implications for culture and social policy. As happened in the case of Marx and Freud, we may not like what bubbles to the surface when all the ice finally melts.

    The death of Darwinism, it is now pretty clear, will be chaos theory (or "complexity" theory, as the researchers in the young science of emergent order seem to prefer). The problem with Darwinism, as all honest Darwinists have always admitted, is that it has nothing to say about how new features of living things arise or how new instinctual behaviors originate. It has a great deal to say about how natural selection can preserve and refine these things once they appear, of course. The search in the fossil record it inspired for the lineages of living creatures has given our natural science a historical depth that makes our civilization unique. Darwinism is not wrong, it just is not the final answer to the question of how living things originate. We've been looking in the wrong place for the answer. It is not a matter of genes, but of the order that arises spontaneously from simpler units, particularly the geometries of complex molecules.

    Even children often notice that the paw and foreleg of a dog are like a very strangely distorted human hand, with the thumb appearing as a useless claw partway up the foreleg. The skeletons of all vertebrates, in fact, have long been known to be variations on a few basic structural themes. Anatomical analogies show up among all classes of living things. These analogies were the basis in the eighteenth century for the comprehensive species classification system drawn up by Carolus Linnaeus. Variations on common anatomical themes do not occur only between species, either. Within individual organisms, sophisticated features grow from the variation of more primitive ones, as illustrated by Goethe's still persuasive derivation of all the major parts of a plant from the basic form of the leaf. A description of nature like this invites the search for common mechanisms in living things to generate the archetypical forms. If biology had maintained this perspective into the next century, however, the search might not have produced fruitful results, since the physics of the time was far from being able to address the question of the spontaneous generation of order. In any event, this way of looking at biology was reduced to a minor theme of scientific thought for several generations as more accessible avenues of research appeared.




    The Long View: The Fate of Noospheres

    John was an accomplished essayist. His book reviews really are long form essays inspired by the book he was reading. Often I learned things from his book reviews that weren't contained in the book he reviewed. In my mind, John exemplified the ideal of a liberal education. He had his areas of expertise, but he was not unfamiliar with most of the major currents of thought in the Western world. Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

    John wrote this essay in 1997. It exhibits many of the themes you can find in his later work. Interest in fundamental questions in science. An ability to integrate science with the liberal arts. A certain sense of humor founded in a partially cyclical view of history. A Thomistically informed sense that formal causes explain many of the interesting features of modern science.

    As best I know, John was a fan of Jerry Pournelle. As as am I. Jerry Pournelle has admitted that he was influenced by cyclical theories of history, and that he is something of a Thomist. Pournelle has written books in which the survival of the human race depends upon us colonizing other worlds. You can see that kind of thinking in the Fate of Noospheres. Universal states that emerge cyclically. A narrow window in which we can spread ourselves to the stars. The propensity of man to ruin himself. John was heavily influenced by the apocalyptic [science] fiction of the 1970s.

    You may notice that there is a note at the top of John's page that states that this item has been anthologized. I do not know whom John designated as the beneficiary of his estate. I think John's work should be widely read and appreciated. I think you should order the book, Apocaplyse & Future, which contains this essay and many others. I just don't know whom, if anyone, benefits from it's sale. Since John was a lawyer, I assume he took care of this. I just don't know the details.


    Fifty years ago, Enrico Fermi formulated what to many people still seems to be the definitive argument against the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life: "If they existed, they would be here." This essay argues that there is an explanation for the lack of apparent extraterrestrial intelligence other than nonexistence. I will also discuss some other explanations commonly put forward for why we would be unlikely to hear from alien civilizations, even if they did exist.

    In essence, I am expanding on the hypothesis of the Jesuit paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), that the development of intelligence should be understood as a natural stage in the development of Earth's biosphere. Teilhard called this stage the development of the "noosphere," or region of mind. It is analogous to the biosphere, and so should also be understood as an ecology in which new emergent entities appear. The notion of the noosphere has undergone something of a revival in recent years, since the Internet has many of the characteristics Teilhard ascribed to this supposed theater of evolution. Though Teilhard's general theory of evolution has been criticized, perhaps rightly, for positing unnecessary vitalistic forces, nevertheless the basic outline of his model of history may tell us something important about the fate of our own noosphere, and by implication about the common fate of the noospheres of other planets.


    Are there in fact any extraterrestrials?

    Many other people, of course, have long claimed that not only are the extraterrestrials here, but that they have been personally assaulted by them. Putting aside the claims of UFO enthusiasts, however, the fact remains that Fermi's critique is acute. If species comparable to the human race occur at multiple times and places in the history of the universe, then they or their automata should have reached Earth a long time ago. This would be the case even if such species were very rare and interstellar travel were very difficult.