Tuesday, March 22, 2011

any sufficiently advanced apple is indistinguishable from god

Just a couple of supplements to the previous post - firstly here's the mellow and mellifluous tones of the late Carl Sagan illustrating my point about Flatland, only with added sentient fruit, and then extending the analogy by a dimension by talking about four-dimensional hypercubes. Take a look at the animated GIFs here illustrating 3-D projections of rotating 4-D hypercubes, light up a big one, and prepare to sit around going "whoooaaaa, dude" for a few hours. I'm pretty sure old Carl used to spend quite a lot of time doing that.

If it's not clear, God in my analogy is represented here either by the sentient apple or the hypercube. So am I suggesting that God is some sort of multi-dimensional sentient hyperapple? Yes; yes I am. Well, it makes no less sense than any of the usual definitions.

Incidentally the tesseract has been the inspiration for various real-world stuff and artwork (translated into either 3-D or 2-D as required): the design of the Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris is supposedly modelled on a tesseract, barking Spanish surrealist nutjob Salvador Dalí painted Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) in 1954 which depicts Christ crucified on a hypercube (not to be confused with the similarly-themed Christ of Saint John of the Cross from 1951), and finally novelist Alex Garland's inevitably-slightly-disappointing-but-actually-not-bad follow-up to The Beach was called The Tesseract.

Going back to the God thing for a minute, on the same day as I wrote the previous post I had a good bit of cathartic shouting at the radio during the Today programme, as it featured a brief debate between chemist and science writer Peter Atkins and philosopher Mary Midgley. Now most people know Mary Midgley's name because she has made a 30-year career out of having read just the title of Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene and then claiming that it is a manifesto for everyone being an amoral baby-devouring cold-eyed killing machine, despite Dawkins and everyone else having a go at correcting her at various times over the years. So things weren't promising to start with, and they didn't get a lot better.

Basically Atkins was commendably robust in his answers to Humphrys' attempted AHA! questions like "why are we here?" - the answer being, pretty much, "by accident". Midgeley gave us the usual guff about the beauty of the sunset, the smile of a tiny baby, the impossibility of measuring the weight of love, the length of awe, the electrical inductance of hope, all that nonsense, and very little else (although to be fair they only had about five minutes in total). Humphrys didn't really help, interjecting a couple of times to complain that the view that we are just highly-evolved slime on a bit of partially-congealed rock orbiting an insignificant and unremarkable ball of exploding hydrogen in a vast and largely empty universe was a bit "bleak", like that had any bearing whatsoever on whether it was true or not.

It is my assertion, incidentally, that "why" questions, which always sound kinda profound and, like, philosophical and shit, are invariably badly-phrased "how" questions. Why are we here? Well, your daddy put his winky in your mother's foo-foo, and then.....No, that's not what I mean: why are we here? Well, some intelligent ape-like creatures underwent various genetic mutations, including developing larger brains, and.....No, I mean, why are we here? Well, there was this spinning disc of super-hot material, some of which started to accrete into lumps, and.....No, no, no, you know, why are we here? Oh fuck off.

These are what Daniel Dennett calls "deepities", things that sound superficially profound, but are actually just nonsense. That clip is part of an interesting longer lecture - nearly an hour - but Dennett is always worth listening to, or indeed reading.

1 comment:

The Black Rabbit said...


On the subject of "Why...."

Hippy: "Where is the pyramid stage?"

Us: "Well... its down that path, through the hedge, turn left and there it is - you'll not miss it - its a gurt big pyramid!"

Hippy: "yeahhhh... I know where it is. But where is it?!"

"Now most people know Mary Midgley's name".

I do, and I can tell you that her middle name is Mungo.
(or Mongo of course)