Saturday, July 21, 2007

On Goedel

Jacob says Goedel, Escher, Bach convinced him of a reductionist view of the universe. The book is beautiful, but that's not what I got out of it. I was skimming Hofstadter's I am a Strange Loop: he complained that nobody seemed to get what he said in GEB, which I take it is something about consciousness.

I admit, I missed that too. I found the book a clever exposition (with frequent divergences) of the Goedel proof. But so far as consciousness being a mirage, which is Hofstadter's view--I missed the argument. This, incidentally, reminds me a lot of what I've read of Dennett: he tends to refer to some powerful argument he's made, but when I go back and read what he's written, I don't see it.

I don't see it with Hofstadter either. I understand why a materialist view of the universe would compel thinking consciousness was either a hallucination, as with Hofstadter, or simply doesn't exist, with Dennett, but so much the worse for materialism, eh? Either way--nothing about Goedel seems to imply materialism. After Lucas and Penrose, the opposite seems the obvious conclusion--though I'm not sure that argument works.

But Goedel isn't even necessary to disprove materialism. Even if you want to be a thoroughgoing materialist, you've got to come up with your own web of axioms to validate the data you receive. Now, there's nothing wrong with that, but supposing you believe your materialism to be true, you need some kind of means to call those axioms you've picked true. But you can't appeal to your beginning axioms to prove themselves (but this starts to sound Goedelian all over again, doesn't it?).

You have a fork here. You either submit to some kind of radical skepticism where you admit the impossibility of knowledge, or you appeal to some notion of reasonableness, some means with which you identify the true axioms.

But what is reasonableness? It's not material. It floats.

I talked to an absolutely gorgeous girl today. Inspiring.

Attraction: Mechanics

JACOB: That girl really seemed to like you.

SCOTT: Well, when you've got a face like this, you don't have to work too hard.

JACOB: No, that can't be it. You're kind of weird looking. Maybe you've got a great personality.

SCOTT: That can't be it either. Many reliable sources have told me I don't have much in the way of personality.

JACOB: Hmm. Maybe she was drunk.

SCOTT: Yeah, she must have been drunk.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sketches: Matchpoint v. Crimes and Misdemeanors

Crimes and Misdemeanors was one of my favorite Allen movies from the first time I saw it. But I didn't realize until watching Crimes again how much of Matchpoint was lifted nearly directly from it: the love affair, the murder (set to classical music in both, no less: in Matchpoint opera, in Crimes Schubert), the killer overcoming and ultimately forgetting his guilt. Allen wrote the same movie twice.

It's a hard call which is the superior film. Crimes clumsily smashes its viewers over the head with its message early on: a discussion between the Rabbi and the atheistic protagonist over the existence of God and good in the universe. This obvious stroke spoils the subtler symbolism of the same Rabbi eventually going blind (though this isn't exactly deep--thus it certainly requires no highlighting). But Matchpoint isn't exactly subdued in its message either--the opening monologue by the protagonist brings the "Life is luck" message to the fore. Soon thereafter we see him reading Dostoevsky.

We get it.

Still, it's somewhat more forgivable in Matchpoint, since the philosophical question of crime and punishment seems somewhat intrinsic to Chris's character, whereas Judah never really convinces us he's the nihilist he pretends to be. We sense the deep unease of Chris--if not over the wrong he's done, over the tragedy of him getting away with it.

But Crimes has comedy where Matchpoint doesn't, and a truly sublime conclusion as the two protagonists facing their own unjust plots happen upon one another's stories, uniting for the first time. We almost forgive it its foibles for this masterstroke. Still, ultimately, Matchpoint is the better film--more mature, more stylish, less fluff. More Johansson.

But finishing both, we have to wonder: just what do you want from the universe, Woody?

Allen counters Dostoevsky and the religious: the universe is unjust no matter what they say, and so he gives us blatant thieves and murderers--and let's them win. He tantalizes us with the possibility of all coming right, and then yanks it from us.

Real life is like this. It's not Hollywood, as Judah points out.

But, I always conclude, so what? There is no cosmic justice--the scales will not balance at the end of the day. Bad men escape, good men go blind, nice guys finish last.

What is the alternative? What does Allen want?

He wishes God to reach down, and with the force of a miracle, see that justice is done. And the atheist frequently questions why a good God allows so much pain. Nothing but karma will satisfy Allen.

But it needn't be so--indeed, it shouldn't be. It is only the possibility of failure that gives us any worth whatsoever in this world. If the guilty were always to be hanged, if God would do it when we failed to, then there's nothing left for us to do, no import to our actions. We are absolved of responsibility if the universe will guaranty our debts. Without pain, why bother?

No. We need not rue the imperfection of life, of justice: rather, we should be grateful for the chance we get to do justice, to bring about the better outcome, to make a difference. To sense wrong and be distressed by its existence. If I punish a murderer, the action is a good and just one, and it is to my credit--if some cosmic miracle would inevitably have punished him if I did not, then my action would be for naught.

Fear drives us to this. It infects us so deeply that we're willing to dream up some perfect arbiter, someone who will fix the world if we can't. If we can't be happy in this life, then we dream up the falsehood that it doesn't matter--for after death, bliss is waiting. We would let our cowardice negate our only chance for value.

(Do the religious believe such a thing? Perhaps not. God will judge the quick and the dead--not everyone enters Heaven. Still, the infinity of God's ability to forgive leaves us with very little that we may claim as morally important. Of what harm is sin if absolution is so easy to obtain?)


[11:13:53 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says: What happened to being a porno lawyer?

[11:14:01 PM] Scott says: Pornolaw! I'd forgotten!

[11:14:20 PM] Scott says:

[11:14:47 PM] Scott says:
Wow. One of the hits from that is a blog I used to be on.

[11:14:54 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:

[11:14:56 PM] Scott says:
And it's a post I wrote.

[11:15:00 PM] Scott says:
I guess that's not so amazing.

[11:15:07 PM] Scott says:
But I'm glad I'm recycling terms.

[11:16:44 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
Consistency is good.

[11:17:00 PM] Scott says:
Actually, looks like I stole it from Swanwick.

[11:17:15 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
What is "stealing," anyway?

[11:17:27 PM] Scott says:
"Hi, I'm Scott Scheule. You may remember me from such blogs as What Carrot-Top Did Yesterday, Shaq-Fu: The Lifestyle, and Postings for Algernon. I first came to prominence in the blogosphere after my award-winning expose on the fightin' drunken bums outside my window, whom I have named Nathaniel and Cassie Anne Henderson."

[11:17:33 PM] Scott says:
I don't remember writing this.

Works Cited

love's function is to fabricate unknownness

(known being wishless; but love, all of wishing)
though life's lived wrongsideout, sameness chokes oneness
truth is confused with fact, fish boast of fishing

and men are caught by worms (love may not care
if time totters, light droops, all measures bend
nor marvel if a thought should weigh a star
- dreads dying least; and less, that death should end)

how lucky lovers are (whose selves abide
under whatever shall discovered be)
whose ignorant each breathing dares to hide
more than most fabulous wisdom fears to see

(who laugh and cry) who dream, create and kill
while the whole moves; and every part stands still:


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Assorted Stuff

[7/12/2007 11:55:00 PM] Scott says: YESSSS!! Nailed a RAP question!

[7/12/2007 11:55:52 PM] Scott says: Holy shit, that feels good.

[7/12/2007 11:57:34 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
It's a sneaky bastard.

[7/12/2007 11:57:46 PM] Scott says: Dude, I cut that clause the fuck out of there.


[7/13/2007 10:23:57 AM] Scott says:
Nick keeps yelling at me to get my tux fitted for his wedding. I told him he's displaying the calmness I'd expect from a guy who's waiting for marriage.

[7/13/2007 10:24:31 AM] Scott says:

[7/13/2007 10:24:42 AM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
Yeah, he's probably a little nervous.

[7/13/2007 10:25:07 AM] Scott says:
I guess it may be time for the bird and bees talk.


[7/13/2007 10:56:57 AM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
This problem mentions a place called "Spakton." I read it as "Spanktown."

[7/13/2007 10:57:32 AM] Scott says:
I've got a sign on my bedroom door: "APPROACHING SPANKTOWN CITY LIMITS."


[7/13/2007 4:55:52 PM] Scott says:
Halloween Costume Idea: you dress entirely in blue.

[7/13/2007 4:56:28 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
Blue man? "I just blue myself"?

[7/13/2007 4:56:55 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:

[7/13/2007 4:56:56 PM] Scott says:
Blue Jay.


[7/14/2007 12:18:55 AM] Scott says: New version of iTunes.

[7/14/2007 12:19:16 AM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
Like a week ago.

[7/14/2007 12:19:32 AM] Scott says:
Mine just told me. Maybe they've updated the Check for Updates function.


[10:43:00 PM] Scott says: My head just exploded.

[10:43:08 PM] Scott says:
There's snot everywhere.

[10:43:27 PM] Jay Goodman Tamboli says:
If I blogged conversations, I'd blog that.

Works Cited

voices to voices, lip to lip
i swear (to noone everyone) constitutes
undying; or whatever this and that petal confutes . . .
to exist being a peculiar form of sleep

what's beyond logic happens beneath will;
nor can these moments be translated: i say
that even after April
by God there is no excuse for May

- bring forth your flowers and machinery: sculpture and prose
flowers guess and miss
machinery is the more accurate, yes
it delivers the goods, Heaven knows

(yet are we mindful, though not as yet awake,
of ourselves which shout and cling, being
for a little while and which easily break
in spite of the best overseeing)

i mean that the blond absence of any program
except last and always and first to live
makes unimportant what i and you believe;
not for philosophy does this rose give a damn . . .

bring on your fireworks, which are a mixed
splendor of piston and pistil; very well
provided an instant may be fixed
so that it will not rub, like any other pastel.

(While you and i have lips and voices which
are for kissing and to sing with
who cares if some oneeyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?

each dream nascitur, is not made . . .)
why then to Hell with that: the other; this,
since the thing perhaps is
to eat flowers and not to be afraid.

E. E. Cummings