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These Were the Voyages...
 bloggroup_bg1 - (toaf_seth)
08:00pm 11/12/2006
I'll make my final post, and then turn out the lights when I leave. It's been an interesting semester, to say the least. But now, Look to Windward.

While the class didn't change my opinion on the ending (perhaps because we never really got around to discussing it...although the geometry puzzle was cool), it did make me think a little bit more about the issue of morality, apparently our topic for the last few weeks of readings. I would have to say that, while the Chel response to the Culture's involvement in the Caste War would have been horrific, it is also hard to begrudge them the right to try to find some way of getting some of their own back from the Culture. After all, the Culture essentially destroyed their society in the space of a few months and then trying to compensate for the devastation by saying "Well, that usually works better...sucks to be you, I suppose". Perhaps in the end that explains part of why the Masaq' Hub chose suicide, apart from its other serious issues: it knew that some form of atonement would need to be made.

And as far as some talk in class about how immortality allows for infinite redos of situations: note how they describe the crowds coming to the concert, one which cannot ever be duplicated because of the transient nature of the astronomical event being used as the backdrop. Even with immortality, there aren't always second chances if you miss something.
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This could be the end of the World...of Warcraft
 bloggroup_bg1 - (bobberino)
12:19pm 11/12/2006
After Thursday's class, I am not sure really sure where I should begin. Honestly, I spent half the class amazed we were actually playing World of Warcraft and doing geometric problems in an International Relations class and the other half trying to keep up with the rapidly developing discussion. Because this is my last offical entry in this blog (the first blog I have ever been part of so please forgive me for my mixed record with blogging on time or missing to blog at all), I would first like to express how much I enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you guys over the last semester, and I would like to continue this blog in the future if any of you want to talk about an interesting book you have read. I am always looking for something good to read. Secondly, I want to confess that I felt a little overwhelmed when this class first began. My previous honors classes have been with mainly freshman in my own grade, but in this class, I was one of only two sophmores in this class. Even though I was sometimes (or rather much of the time) intimidated by some of the subject matter I was not familiar with that was discussed, the readings and main discussion points were too inticing to give up.

I have to say that I was a little confused when we broke into the geometry section of the discussion. It was very interesting to explore that problem and see just how incredible and open-ended this class truly was, but the best part of the class had to have been the beginning WoW presentation by Vanessa. I have always been a long time fan and participant of the MMORPG community, and even though I have never played World of Warcraft, after her presentation, I am already mapping out my Blood Elve Paladin when Burning Crusade, the WoW expansion, comes out in January. The epic mount for the Bloods looks really sweet, and I simply just cannot wait to play it. Anyway, getting away from all this nerdy, but awesome, stuff, I would just like to echo what Jen was saying in her blog earlier because I was thinking just the same thing. Coming from my first hand experience, WoW and other VR gaming are far more addictive than reading science fiction. Even though Ender's Game came very close to filling the bill of the addictive novel, but WoW is just wow. In novels, you take a third person back seat and watch the story unravel before your eyes In VR games (especially WoW), you control your destiny. But, in the end, it is just an escape. When I am done playing as Trogar, the lvl 60 Undead Warlock, I become Robert, the college student and ROTC cadet. In Look to Windward, once you chose to download yourself into an artifical body there was no turing back. It was permanen. It was your life.
tags: robert
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 bloggroup_bg1 - (nedlum)
02:13am 11/12/2006
Alden Moffett Utter posting in To Sometimes Blog Where No Blog Blogged Before

Something which Professor Jackson asked before the break which we never got back to for some reason: Is the decision to call something a religion a political decision?

My mind, as it so often will, went to one of my favorite hobbies, slamming my head into a brick wall arguing with creationists, many of whom will claim that evolution is a religious belief, an unproven faith statement, and therefore should no more be taught in our schools than the idea that God snapped his fingers and, look, a fish! Which is silly, of course. We have evidence which backs it up (and if you argue with me on this one I will smack you down).

Is the decision on their part to call "evolutionism" a religion political? Absolutely; the purpose is to create a parity between the two theories (well, one theory and one fuzzy idea) in order to convince the public that there is equal footing for the two systems of world creation.

That said, it does lead one to wonder: Is the Scientific Method a religious belief? There are certainly philosophical issues behind it:

Or, to rephrase for people who'd rather listen to me than Ryan North: Science functions on the assumption effects are preceded by causes, that given certain knowledge you can predict what will happen, that things don't just happen, which certainly has a philosophical component. There's also the assumption that whatever the laws are which run this crazy place, they are knowable, and that once you know them, they aren't going to change any time soon. Gravity, for example: if you toss your hat into the air and it just sort of floats there, with no explanation, gravity as we know it goes right out the window. But if a crack team of Harvard physicists takes a look and still has no idea why your hat is hovering, science turns from the best tool to explain how the world works to... well, a good tool, one which can do great things, but a flawed one all the same.

Naturalism, the idea that science rests on to an extent, assumes that everything which has an effect on the world, all that actually exists, is matter and energy. Anything which is "supernatural" is either a hoax, or fundamentally, scientifically quantifiable. And this is an assumption: God is specifically kept out of the realm of science. And these are assumptions needed to keep the theories working. Because there is no way to account for something in an experiment outside the understanding of science; any experiment can be ruined by wondering if God added a few grams of NaCl to the solution.

So, linking back to Look to Windward: I'm still fuzzy on the issue of a higher dimension of energy, and maybe he goes into it more somewhere else. But when (as I seem to recall it going) the narrator, not any character but the narrator, claims that science has disproved the existence of any afterlife beyond that the Chel have built for themselves, I remember wincing. Because here's the thing: in science, you can't prove a nonexistence. Because no matter how many laws it would break, that hat might float one toss. Every scientific law bears an asterisk labeled "until proved otherwise". Evolution, cosmology, geology all say nothing either way about God's existence, or any other spiritual question. It's not their department.

Does silence on religious matters mean it's not a religion? Does requiring a philosophical position in order to function undermine the neutrality of science? I don't know. But it seems clear that there is a major difference between a system of thought which is based around the life of one man and the things he thought, and one based around proofs that teach and the men who found them.

mood: calmcalm
music: "La Serenissima", Loreena McKennitt
tags: alden
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 bloggroup_bg1 - (jentaber)
01:02am 11/12/2006

It's difficult to figure out where to start. Thinking of the geometry puzzle, we recently went through a series of difficult problems in my psychology research class which were similar to puzzles and entirely about critical thinking. Our professor sent us this link and asked us to figure it out.  It's not that hard, but fun nonetheless and seems relevant to the kind of critical thinking that allowed the class to figure out the right triangle in class.  That said, it is the ability to think critically that I feel I have gotten the most out of during my college career.

In response to WoW, I think I was in the minority of classmates who didn't know much of what was going on.  Later that night, when I brought the topic up at dinner, I had one friend who said he had to quit after the 10 day trial because it was so addicting, and one friend who said she's wary of those kinds of games and the escape from reality they provide.  She then went on to talk about how much she enjoys playing the Sims.  The point is, as skeptic I or anyone else is about these games, you can't really make that judgement without trying it yourself.  When it comes down to it, I think few people would be immune to the addictiveness of these sorts of games.  The difference lies in the type of people who make the choice to begin playing them, I'd say.

Vanessa compared WoW and VR games to reading science fiction, saying that they are both addictive, and I disagree with her on the addictive part of that.  Although reading does provide an escape, it is a much more passive and presumably less time consuming activity.  Also, while it is possible to find a book that is difficult to put down, I have never found myself addicted to a book in the same way that I might be to a video game.  There's something about wanting to advance, continue, and improve, that is not found in novels.  I also disagreed with Vanessa's question asking how us playing VR games is any different from the virtual lives or backing up of souls that occurs in Look to Windward.  The difference is, Look to Windward  is fiction.  You really can't justify your actions (and I'm not saying you need to) based on a fictional society.  The comparison needs to be made to the real world, and I cannot think of anything similarj in the real world.
tags: jen
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Sleep Beckons Me To Blog
 bloggroup_bg1 - (bobberino)
03:25am 07/12/2006
I have reached the point of the night when Iain Banks words are beginning to melt together into one amorphous blob of text so I had better stop reading Look to Windward and try to get some sleep. I regret not being able to finish this book because, echoing Alden, Banks has introduced many ideas that seem to be part of a larger recurring theme throughout our class.

I could not help but think back to our discussion about what it truly means to be human during the "He, She, and It" class from Banks use of artifical bodies and the very fact that Admiral General Huyler died, had his soul uploaded into a ship's computer memory bank, and finally shared the same visual and sensory perceptions of Quilan when he was uploaded again into Quil's brain. Even though the conscience, or at least the memories of these individuals exist digitally, is that enough to call them human or Chelgrian? This also brings us back to our orginal discussion about what we actually need to be able to define in order to indentify someone as human or sentient. If you go primarily off Huyler's ability to make witty, sarcastic remarks about the Culture or Teresono's changing aura, then perhaps you can them sentient.

But however, from my spoiled perspective of actually having a body of my own, I would have to say they are not truly human are whatever their species is because the "human experience" in my mind involves feeling the pain of not only emotional but also physical wounds. It involves having to constnatly battle with our own mortality and trying to make the most out of the time that is given to you. In this sense, I would say none of them are human, and I truly feel sorry for them because they will never have the full experience.
tags: robert
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 bloggroup_bg1 - (nedlum)
02:27am 07/12/2006
Alden Moffett Utter posting in To Sometimes Blog Where No Blog Blogged Before

I want to join the Culture.

Let's be honest: There is no real reason why one wouldn't want to join the Culture. No scarcity, no restriction, no death, and an apparent list of things you can do even longer than the one we have. I mean, lava rafting. Lava rafting.

Sure, life isn't perfect, because apparently the Culture is elitist and thinks they're better than everyone else and therefore they have the right to meddle in everyone's affairs "For the Greater Good" (very much an American-type culture), which causes problesm. Plus, they haven't made any progress on the sleep front. On the other hand: Lava Rafting. Or if that doesn't float your boat, you can spend the next thousand years studying giant beholders floating sapient blobs of flesh. And, assuming nothing catastrophic happens to your consciousness (which seems unlikely if you take reasonable precautions and the Culture doesn't attack the Idirans again, you get to turn into a fourth-dimensional energy being in a few thousand years.

Which is all very impressive, yes. But, the thing is, it's kind of dull. I'm not saying that Look to Windward is dull; I didn't enjoy it as much as I have a lot of the other books we've read, although I loved the sheer number of crazy concepts Banks came up with.

My point is that utopias are dramatically tricky things, and The Culture is just about as Utopian as you really can get. We looked at utopias once before, in The Dispossessed, but it's a completely different society in non-utopian ways; it's like comparing the living conditions of a peaceful Somalia to the United States (which many people said made it "non-utopian", to which I said that utopia was a government construct, not a material one. and while my memory may serve me as faulty (the Odonians were ascetic, but I'm pretty sure that was out of necessity), I think they'd enjoy living there. The Loonies would enjoy living there. The only obvous reasons people wouldn't enjoy living in the Culture are religious (not a good place for Buddhists, or Puritians) or psychological (not a good place for Paul "I'm a God made flesh who everyone around me obey's" Atreides; and even there, I'm sure that there's a sect of Buddhists living out in the Pylon badlands. This is a land where newspapers would go out of business if there were such things as expenses: the news would be "Taxes are nonexistent, no one was killed last night*, and everything is peachy" every day.
* Actually, I wonder if rape happens in the Culture? It's the one crime I can think of that's done against people that the Culture can't rectify, and it's not caused by material needs.

Which is great as far as living there goes. But, again, the problem becomes that when you've got a world where the stakes are rarely life and death, things are diminished. The potential for conflict is reduced to the petty; if Rachel dumps you, no one can get you to snap out of it by saying "How can you be worried about that when there's people living in boxes under bridges, eating nothing but a handful of rice and slowly starving to death?", because that's the life they chose. The only alternative is to have some outside source of conflict, which Banks does, of course. But a place which has so few flaws (beyond decadence, which is a charge with heft only if your decadence hurts someone in the process) is far more difficult for the center of a narrative than one would expect.

Just something to think about.


One of the sort of inside jokes about Watchmen is how it traces the evolution of comic books from the Golden Age (Minutemen) to the Silver Age ("Crimebusters") to whatever the modern age is called. I'm not a comic book person, but the way costume distinctly changes clearly is related less to actual fashion trends than comic fashion trends. There's also the concerns that the groups fight. The Minutemen fought crime. The only name we really get for someone they fought, Moloch, was basically a freaky-looking Tony Soprano with a "Solar Mirror Weapon", while the Crimebusters are called together to fight not "crime" (no matter what their name says", but social ills: Drugs, Riots, Anti-War Demonstrations, Black Unrest, Promiscuity, Campus Subversion.

Perhaps it's indicative that these are the social ills which kept America worried during the 1960s. I don't want to really address that so much as the idea that these are problems that Vigilantes can head off. Even the first on the list, something which (by an admittedly simplistic view) you can fight by going after the dealers—it's not something which really *calls* for a superhero. None of these are problems which can be fought symptom by symptom; the root cause needs to be addressed, and ad baculum isn't the way to go about it.

We never really see why the Kean act was needed, but I'd assume that's part of why: because there are only so many problems that brute force can directly be applied to. And a great deal more that violence only makes worse.

tags: alden, utopia
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 bloggroup_bg1 - (toaf_seth)
12:19am 07/12/2006
Now, as for Look to Windward.

At this point, I have to admit that I feel somewhat conflicted about the book. On the one hand, the depiction of the culture (or Culture, I suppose) Banks gave was fascinating, a well-developed example of what a post-scarcity society of people who are functionally immortal might look like. Some of the characters, such as Major Quilan, the MAsaq' Hub, and Ziller, were interesting in their own right. And the plot was fairly good, until the end.

Unfortunately, there were also a few problems with it. The behemothaur bits, while cool, seemed ultimately pointless in regard to the story. The narrative character, whose name I can't even recall, was a cipher who seemed to exist solely to move the plot around. And the ending...well, the ending made me think "I just read through 400 pages to get to this?"

I hope that we discuss this in some detail in class tomorrow, because most of the ending, especially the bit set millions of years in the future, made absolutely no sense. And the rest of the novel ultimately appeared to boil down to "two people, permanently scarred by war and the loss of loved ones, decide to kill themselves in an inordinately complex way". What was the point? In Watchmen, at least the downer of an ending still felt like it fit the story, and raised some interesting questions. Here, the only question raised is "Couldn't we have read something like Snow Crash instead?"
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 bloggroup_bg1 - (toaf_seth)
12:11am 07/12/2006
When I came here to post on Look to Windward, I noticed that I had forgotten to put down my thoughts on Watchmen. I'll do those first, since they sort of lead into what I felt about Look to Windward.

In the discussion about whose morality, if anyone's, was preferable in Watchmen, I definitely found myself coming down on the side of Rohrschach as opposed to Veight. I wasn't initially sure why, however; on the face of it, both men were insane. Furthermore, mere scope of the atrocity does not necessarily make Veight worse than Rohrschach, merely more powerful. Then I realized what the key difference was: that of sacrifice.
Both Veight and Rohrschach were able to see that their world was crumbling, and would quite possibly kill itself within their lifetimes. In response, Rohrschach sacrificed himself, turning into a monster in order to fight that which he saw as monstrous. Veight, on the other hand, sacrificed the population of New York City, and was setting himself up to be the savior of the changed world. In terms of personal preference, if I had to choose one way to live, I would much rather throw myself into the abyss and try to swim to the other side than murder three million people and cross the abyss by walking on their corpses.
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Watchmen (After Class Comments)
 bloggroup_bg1 - (bobberino)
10:38pm 04/12/2006
I would first like to comment about Kate's question about whether or not Dan and Laurie should have accepted Veidt's reasoning and allowed him to continue his plan to prevent the world from falling into nuclear war. I do not think Dan or Laurie had much of a choice in the matter about whether or not they should have challenged what he did. They both had nothing to gain and far, far more to loss if they tried exposing Veidt for the man he truly was. Initially, in order to expose Viedt's true plans, they would both have to reveal they own identities as masked vigilantes. Consequently, they would then be guilty under the Keane's Act becuase they dawned their costomes and saves those people from the burning building (not to mention busting Rorschach out of jail which is a federal offense if I'm not mistaken. ) Additionally, it will be their word against the well-known, popular, and magnanimous Veidt. They would not stand a chance. They realize this and do not even attmept to stop him in the book.

Kate also brings up another interesting point with her first blog entry I believe when she talked about whether you would pull the switch at the intersection of a track causing a train to only run over one person instead of five orginially. I think the question you should be asking yourself is not whether or not you have the will or the power to intervene but rather were you destined to ever be able to intervene and pull the switch. This dilemma makes me think about the conundrum Jon faces throughout his entire existence which still leaves scratching my head. Because Jon knows everything that will happen in advance, he has lived every second of his existence but continues to live each one has it happens with human's and our linear view of time. Even though, Jon knows what going to happen and has the power to stop it, he knows he will not be able to prevent it from occuring because he is not destined to intervene in it. He is merely a puppet who can see the strings being pulled as he puts it in hte book. He understands that he cannot intervene because it is not his place.
tags: robert
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Watchmen (Before the Class Impressions)
 bloggroup_bg1 - (bobberino)
10:00pm 04/12/2006
I know this blog is late, but I still want to tell you my first impressions about the Watchmen before I go into my reflections about the class discussion and add to your discussion questions from your blogs. First, I would like to echo everyone's other blogs by saying the Watchmen was an incredible read. This was my first graphic novel and I have to admit it was really good. Because I never really knew how great a graphic novel could be, I plan on reading V for Vendetta and 300 before I go to China in the Spring.

There were alot of elements of Watchmen which I thought were very amazing. The character development, the art work, and the plot were all incredible, but there is something about a graphic novel that sets it apart from ordinary novels. Even though authors, writing in prose, describe the setting, the characters, and the action, reading a graphic novel is like watching a carefully scriptly ballet or opera and every chapter is a new act in the story.

Additionally, my first impressions upon finishing the novel were the same as Jenaber's in think did the ends truly justify the means? This moral dilemma seems to constantly be poping up in our discussions of the novels we read. It is interesting how so many writers and film makers construct the destruction New York city. I guess you can look at it from the perspective of Viedt and came you are simply wiping the Earth clean of the vile and scum that flows in the city's streets, but was it truly worth all of those lifes? If all three million of those people that died were nothing but the vile, dispicable, murderous drudge of society then maybe. They had it coming to them. But, if just one of those people was a good, honest, decent human being, I would not accept the death of 100 million of the worst criminals in hte world if it meant you had to kill one child. In that case, I would have to say Viedt was not fully justified in his actions.
tags: robert
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