Politics, God and Religion vs. Science

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MikeL

climber
SANTA CLARA, CA
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:10am PT
MH2: Three cheers for Strunk and White:

I have a dog-eared copy from when I taught business and technical writing as a grad student (5-6 years), and I'm referring to it here.

Of all the topics that S&W write about, simplification is but a small part, and I question whether readers understand what S&W wrote. Moreover, "The Elements of Style" tends to concern the choice of words and phrases, rather than the composition and organization of ideas, topics, or content.

The most specifically relevant section that I find in their little book occurs in their section on style. There S&W guide writers with some of the following topics: revise and rewrite, do not overwrite, do not overstate, avoid the use of qualifiers, do not explain too much, avoid fancy words, be clear, and finally, do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity. Those topics account for 5 pages in a book of 81 pages in my edition. The rest of the book, for the most part, is grammar and syntax--elementary principles of composition and rules of usage.

Take for example, "Do Not Explain Too Much" (#11): "It is seldom advisable to tell all. Be sparing, for instance in the use of adverbs after "he said," 'she replied," and the like: "he said consolingly"; "she replied grumblingly." Let the conversation itself disclose the speaker's manner or condition. [Then 7 more lines on dialogue presentation.]

Or "Be Clear" (#14): "Clarity is not the prize in writing, nor is it always the principle mark of a good style. There are occasions when obscurity serves literary yearning, if not a literary purpose, and there are writers whose mien is more overcast than clear. But since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. And although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one. Even to a writer who is being intentionally obscure or wild of tongue we can say, "Be obscure clearly! Be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!" Even to writers of market letters, tells us (but not telling us) which securities are promising, we can say, "Be cagey, plainly. Be elliptical in a straightforward fashion!"
"Clarity, clarity, clarity. When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; [5 more lines here about breaking sentences into smaller sentences and mechanics of construction; then comes . . . ]
"Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope: death on the highway caused by a badly worded road sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expecting to be met at a railroad station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram. Usually we think only of the ludicrous aspect of ambiguity: we enjoy it when the TImes tells us that Nelson Rockefeller is "chairman of the Museum of Modern Art, which he entered in a fireman's raincoat during a recent fire, and founded the Museum of Primitive Art." This we all love. But think of the tragedies that are rooted in ambiguity; think of that side, and be clear! When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair." (pp. 79-80).

Not only is this direction by S&W long when "Be Clear" was alone the topic, but it also touches on the difficulties of trying to be succinct when topics are complex or difficult to pin down (which has been my claim from the beginning).

As for that issue, look at "Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity" (*#19): ". . . Many shortcuts are self-defeating; they waste the reader's time instead of conserving it. There are all sorts of rhetorical stratagems and devices that attract writers who hope to be pithy, but most of them are simply bothersome. The longest way round is usually the shortest way home, and the only truly reliable shortcut in writing is to choose words that are strong and sure-footed to carry the reader on his way." (p. 81).


MikeL

climber
SANTA CLARA, CA
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:23am PT
Tom's quote: 'you may want to plug your ears to hold your brains in.'

Hilarious!


Sullly:

Thanks for the correct attribution. Of course, Thoreau was a leading transcendentalist of his time, and his admonition to simplification was not about writing as much as it was about lifestyle. As a writer, he was not very succinct or plain. He was more a philosophical poet than an objectively oriented scientist, I'd say.
WBraun

climber
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:43am PT
Yeah for me when I was in high school Thoreau started it all.

Then Hesse with his beautiful Siddhartha.

None of that mundane dry speculative reductionist scientific jargon.

It's like the little girl and her father the big ass know it all scientist.

The little girl asks her father how life is.

The scientist starts going off in all different directions.

Basically chemicals neurons bones brain matter etc and all the reductionist blah-bering .

The little girl finally looks at her father and says "that's all real nice".

But Dad!!!! I just really love you the way you are and hugs him.

She just transcended all his knowledge in one fell swoop ......



MH2

climber
Feb 18, 2014 - 09:10am PT
Hey Canadian, attribute the "simplify" line to Thoreau, eh?


"Simplify" is a line? "Simplify, simplify, simplify" is attributed by student E.B. White to a teacher of his, William Strunk, Jr.



Omit needless words, MikeL.



"It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules..."



More to know
Did never meddle with my thoughts.

Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
U.N. Ambassador, Crackistan
Feb 18, 2014 - 03:47pm PT
When the meditators omit needless words just what is it they are left with?

The silence of their own thoughts.

They say this is nothing?

DMT
Malemute

Ice climber
great white north
Feb 18, 2014 - 04:13pm PT
The importance of the observer is a function of the scale of the observation so that observations of sub atomic particles are substantially different than observations of rooms in houses. To equate the two seems problematic to me.
Paul has it right.
A room does not have a wavefunction.
jgill

Boulder climber
Colorado
Feb 18, 2014 - 04:17pm PT
Yep ^^^



We should thank MikeL for directing us to "quantum woo."



;>)
cintune

climber
The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen
Feb 18, 2014 - 04:48pm PT
Largo

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Feb 18, 2014 - 05:01pm PT

Try this thought experiment from a British neuroscientist:

Imagine all humans were killed - wiped off the earth. Now, what's left? Look through the eyes of the universe, so to speak, and tell us what's left:

If the universe still exists, if there remains something “out there,” than we can say that physical reality exists independent of subjective influence. But what, exactly, IS "the universe?" Can we still call "the universe" "the universe," now that the ones who labeled it as such are gone? What about our categories and qualifications? They are just as absent as we are? Is it just undifferentiated energy, now that we're gone and can no longer frame reality with our meaning and categories?

What color is the universe? Is it red or green? Wait. We're dead. Our visual perceptual system which hitherto has led us to believe that reality is full of colors is also nonexistent. So what color is reality? In the absence of people to see, what exactly IS color in the Newtonian sense, in the macro world of forms that we live in? We can say that color is a certain frequency of light waves, we know this is not “color,” which is a subjective experience, rather "frequency" and "photons" refer to material occurrences happening far below the Newtonian level of forms that we live in, and in which we are saying exists, as we see it, independent of or seeing. Color is not what photons do, or are. Color is what an observer does with the photos. And in the absence of an observer, what does the absence of color look like? Black? What inherent quality does a photon have at the macro level of our perception?

Now take it to the next level: We're conceptualizing reality as a thing - something that can be characterized, measured, described, perceived and understood ("Reality is..."). To represent and define a thing, in any way, is to assign qualities and meaning - to meaningfully differentiate the apple from the orange; to make a distinction. But a reality independent of subjective influence would have to exist in the absence of our meanings, and any designation of "things," including the notion of reality itself.

So what are we looking at? What exists out there independent of ourselves? We can't say, because if we do then we immediately rearrange reality according to the qualities our human brains assign to it. Since existence without qualities is a blank, when left to describe macro qualities in purely objective terms, all forms simply vanish. All we can do is look, and not think.

So what do you see?

JL
Randisi

Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
Feb 18, 2014 - 05:24pm PT
Simplify, simplify, simplify!

attribute the "simplify" line to Thoreau, eh?

Wonder why Thoreau felt the need to write "simplify" three times?
sullly

Trad climber
Feb 18, 2014 - 05:42pm PT
Randisi, that's exactly what his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson said in a letter to him.

Aside also to Randisi: my dad's extensive philosophy book library is going to me. My mom said I beat out my four siblings because their spouses would throw out any book w/o a shiny cover. I'll take a pic so you and the other philosopher on this site can salivate.
Randisi

Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
Feb 18, 2014 - 05:56pm PT
Randisi, that's exactly what his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson said in a letter to him.

Aside also to Randisi: my dad's extensive philosophy book library is going to me. My mom said I beat out my four siblings because their spouses would throw out any book w/o a shiny cover. I'll take a pic so you and the other philosopher on this site can salivate.

Yes Sully, I stole that comment from Emerson. Always steal from the best! (I forget who said that one.)

Looking forward to seeing your new library!
Norton

Social climber
the Wastelands
Feb 18, 2014 - 06:01pm PT
Imagine all humans were killed - wiped off the earth. Now, what's left? Look through the eyes of the universe, so to speak, and tell us what's left:

this?

photo not found
Missing photo ID#345760
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
Feb 18, 2014 - 06:11pm PT
Yes, I'm sure some where in that vast universe there are other sentient beings with different sense organs looking at the same photons and perceiving them differently but appreciating them as beautiful nonetheless.
TomCochrane

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Feb 18, 2014 - 06:35pm PT
I think, Tom, that the other worlds still adhere to the laws of physics

Our knowledge of physics is just fine...a bit like if our understanding of Yellowstone National Park was limited to peering through one end of a soda straw at night with no mobility greater than two inches or tactile sensations or perception of sound.

Please just don't get so wrapped up in our current level of understanding, as we have much to learn.
TomCochrane

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Feb 18, 2014 - 06:43pm PT
Observation in this context should be understood as any means of observing the natural world.
One of the key discoveries of quantum physics, as I understand it, is that the mere act of observing fundamentally changes the behavior of the observed.
In addition to opening up a miasma of theoretical speculation this 'check&checkmate' state of affairs has also tempted otherwise frazzled subjectivists into jumping to the conclusion that human consciousness is fundamentally central to the creation of the cosmos.

Yes...sort of...

The basic misunderstanding of our 'modern' society (which is destroying everything we touch) is the misconception that our sense of awareness and intelligence is unique to our species (aka Homo Hubris).

Hopefully we can wise up before we destroy everything we physically depend upon including our humanoid bodies...in order to finally realize else-wise...
MikeL

climber
SANTA CLARA, CA
Feb 18, 2014 - 07:04pm PT
Malemute: A room does not have a wavefunction.

Nor does a room "have" anything else. "Having" is just a grammatical way of talking. Nothing "has" anything.

Think about it. What is meant by "having?" "Having" is an attempt at assigning an attribute, a characteristic, an element of a description, the subsumation of a category. And what are those?

Just a way of talking. Does it mean anything? Not really.

Sounds like quantum woo.
MH2

climber
Feb 18, 2014 - 07:16pm PT
Do you have a bank account, MikeL? If it has no meaning to you and is just talk, could you let me have it?
Largo

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Feb 18, 2014 - 07:44pm PT
Feb 18, 2014 - 07:04pm PT
Malemute: A room does not have a wavefunction.

Mike: Nor does a room "have" anything else. "Having" is just a grammatical way of talking. Nothing "has" anything.

Think about it. What is meant by "having?" "Having" is an attempt at assigning an attribute, a characteristic, an element of a description, the subsumation of a category.

-


The basic insight Mike is presenting here is that at the meta level, the level of Malemut's "room," there is no such "thing" that exists just as we see it, just as the room sits there, without an observer.

Go back to John S's claim, that forms exist, and they are real. Existence, as John means it, is possible and meaningful only by virtue of essential qualities that constitute what something is.

That is: We take it as self evident that existence without essential qualities/properties equals a blank, what folks such as Hegel (and others) called nothingness.

We obviously cannot have both John S's world of forms that exist and that are real - if we're there to see them or not see them - if these forms "have" no inherent qualities. If we can list off those qualities, as John S. and others claim, then what, exactly, are those qualities that exist above and beyond the observer?

To get hold of the fact that forms are empty, and in fact "have" no inherent objective qualities whatsoever, try and conjure a purely objective quality for any form - from Malemut's room to John G's dog to Mike's bank account - that has nothing whatsoever to do with, and is in no way beholden to, an observer or a human being; that is not conjured from the perspective of an observer; and that is not a human observation in any shape or form.

Beware of physicalist woo.

JL
BLUEBLOCR

Social climber
joshua tree
Feb 18, 2014 - 07:59pm PT
Lets all give thanks for Eye-Balls!

largo; So what color is reality? In the absence of people to see, what exactly IS color in the Newtonian sense,

Evolution (and God), shows us that there was a universe before our eyeballs here on earth evolved. How Amazing is it that we can sit here and contemplate how a "rock"(ball) named Earth grew life to the point of having two Eye-balls peering back at herself.
That's some Woo-Woo!!
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