Tuesday, May 20, 2014

20 Questions for Donald Knuth

Here is an interesting and good* interview with Donald Knuth, in which he is asked twenty questions and he responds. This is to celebrate the electronic version of The Art of Computer Programming.

* Here I am using the Alf van der Poorten definition of "good". A "good" interview is one in which I am mentioned.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Do Not Approach the Goose

It's springtime here in Canada. Do not approach the goose.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Death is Not Final?

That was the subject of a recent debate between Eben Alexander and Raymond Moody, on the one hand (arguing the affirmative), and Sean Carroll and Steven Novella on the other hand (arguing the negative).

The good guys -- Carroll and Novella -- won handily here. Alexander came off like a charlatan and Moody like a new age babbler. Carroll and Novella came off like the serious scientists they are.

Moody -- described as a philosopher! -- babbled about a "higher dimension" and "higher domain of existence". He believes there are "new ways of thinking" and "new logical principles" that will let us understand the afterlife -- but of course, he doesn't say what these new ways and principles are! And he apparently also believes in ghosts, not just an afterlife. Then again, Alexander believes in "telepathy, precognition, remote viewing, out-of-body experiences, past-life memories in children" as well as "lower spiritual realms".

Alexander egregiously misrepresented the views of Carl Sagan at 1:26:30. He claimed "a very renowned skeptic and scientist, Carl Sagan, admitted that, past-life memories in children, the evidence for that is overwhelming" and justified this with an appeal to The Demon-Haunted World, p. 302. Well, here is what Sagan wrote on that page:

As you can see, Sagan describes the evidence as "at least some, although still dubious, experimental support". That is a very far cry from "overwhelming".

I really have to wonder, however, about the organizers of this debate. Why are they giving Eben Alexander's goofy claims any attention at all, considering that very very serious questions have been raised in Esquire about the truthfulness of his account? It certainly undermines their credibility. And I wonder why neither Carroll nor Novella explicitly brought up the Esquire article at all. Perhaps it was a tactical decision on their part.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Doug Groothuis on Transvestism

I have a not-so-secret sinful pleasure, which is reading Doug Groothuis's blog. The stupidity and lack of self-awareness of this "Ph. D." rarely fail to amuse. Here's his latest piece, which is about his displeasure on seeing a transvestite on TV.

Groothuis is disgusted by it, and finds it a "sinful sickness" that is "a sure sign of cultural decay, bone rot, disintegration and dissipation". But nowhere in his little rant does he explain why it drives him nutty.

Transvestism occurred and occurs in many different cultures; the idea that it is a "sure sign of cultural decay" doesn't seem supported by the historical record. It doesn't appeal to me, but then again, neither do tattoos, or heavy metal, or Christian fundamentalism. All in all, it seems pretty harmless -- certainly more benign than the dangerous nonsense that Groothuis routinely espouses.

I think Groothuis should examine his own feelings more closely. Why, precisely, is he so disgusted by the sight of a drag queen?