Archive for December, 2007

Quote for today 3

December 31, 2007

I certainly can’t see any sensible position to assume aside from that of complete scepticism tempered by a leaning towards that which existing evidence makes most probable. All I say is that I think that it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hair-splitter to pretend that I don’t regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine. In theory I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of rational evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist. The chance’s of theism’s truth being to my mind so microscopically small, I would be a pedant and a hypocrite to call myself anything else.

(H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters, vol. 4, p. 57, quoted in introduction to The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, edited and commented by S. T. Joshi; the emphasis is mine)

And the blog-writer cheers and jumps around wildly to the beat of distant drums, agreeing with every word. (Since this is a solemn post, he refrains from wildly screaming “Ia Hastur! Ia Shub-Niggurath!” — oh, wait, never mind.)

Winter solstice

December 22, 2007

Have a merry winter solstice today, if you are an astronomically bent character!

If you are in the southern regions, have a summery solstice instead!

If you’d rather celebrate the longest of nights and the shortest of days in some other way, do so! This is the greatest swell of night’s dominion, and also the instant of light’s new dawning. Alight a yule log, adorn a tree that lives, hang a mistletoe and give out gifts, as the ancients did.

If you’d rather fancy some other legend, think of a red-coated fat man wrapping a few final gifts, or a glowing sky-creature saying “My, my birthday again? Oh me!”

(If, on the other hand, you’d rather wallow in depression, this is the season for that too: a cold, dark and tinselly vortex of must-buy and must-smile. Enjoy!)

(And if you are in Finland, thinking “My! So this is the dreadful winter?” — you ain’t seen nothing yet. The ice-toothed gnomes and frost-touched sprites of cold cessation are waiting, but sure to come sooner or later. Cackle, cackle, snort.)

Me? I’m off to celebrate the birthday of Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Some reason for the season

December 20, 2007

May I wish you a good secular wintertime feast of friendship, love and giving?

Who, after all, thinks that the origins of exactly January 1 as New Year’s Day matter for the contemplation of time, future and past? (Or the joy of brightly-colored explosions?)

Or who cares that the bonfires of Midsummer (in Finnish juhannus) originated as a feast for some Baptist or other, or as a pagan festival of light, when we now celebrate just because of the beauty of nature, and the excellent-ness of having a pretext to drink and pig out with people we love?

Let historians and trivia-addicts remember Saturnalias and boys born a long time ago, okay?

Let’s just be nice to each other and not care what tired old myth some are trying to push as a reason for our innate niceness. We’re nice because we evolved that way, because our societies built us up that way, because we ourselves chose and still choose to be that way. Don’t be nice to others because others expect it, or because you fear some punishment from the skies if you aren’t. Be nice because you choose to be that way, because you are that way.

Or at least be nice to yourself, okay? It’s okay to love life and to love yourself too, no matter what the others say. They don’t know you like you do.

A smiling, capering atheist bows and steps out, wishing you a pleasant coming Feast of Thank Cthulhu the Stress is Over for This Year and the Gifts All Bought.

Finland today, gone tomorrow

December 20, 2007

A long time ago this land was covered with ice, miles of ice, the bare-scraped rock groaning under its weight, pushed down under tons and tons of cold.

Then there came a temporary spell of warmth, and the glaciers retreated for a little while. The pits and gouges left in the bedrock by the ice were filled with tepid water. There was some semblance of mild weather, a few trees, and some frail bipedal things.

That’s Finland: here for a moment, just a thin coating of living slime on the scarred bedrock.

Soon the ice will return, and then there will be Finland no more. Just ice and rock. All mistakes, erased. All achievements, erased.

That’s perspective.

(Just a Lovecraftian thought to cheer you up, with this global warming and all.)

Ups and downs

December 16, 2007

I am feeling very lazy right now. Two days of crud to get through at the university — well, not really ‘crud’ as such, but saying it a bit stronger than it is makes me feel better. Then the winter holidays: Newton’s birthday (Dec 25) and all that.

Oh, and the memorial day of Santa’s burning on the cross on Dec 24 — or am I misquoting the true meaning of Christmas again?

Also, Dec 24 is the birthday of Tarja Halonen, the current president of Finland, as well! No wonder she went into politics; having only one present-opening day a year must have terribly twisted the poor child.

I finished the final Harry Potter book (Deathly Hallows) last night — well, actually more like this morning, 4:55 am or something like that — and it was good, despite the inevitable fact that the good guys won. For once, I’d like to read a book where darkness triumphs and evil conquers — not because I’m an evil creep myself, but just for variety. Ah well, at least there was slaughter, though I shudder at the thought of what of that will remain in the movie version.

From that, my thoughts turn to the Golden Compass movie, which indeed had been sanitized of all death the makers could sidestep. Overall I liked the movie and I wished I could have liked it more, but it was just too fast-paced: all the good and memorable parts of the book, and nothing else. It was barely under two hours, but it should have been three to feel a little less like a sugar-rush hallucination.

Ah, I’ll get over that disappointment just as soon as I’ll find where I’ve hidden my copy of Subtle Knife, the second out of three of the books in the series. (As an atheist, I am compelled by the Dark Mark to own a copy of a fellow atheist’s work.)

Oh, what else? Maybe just a loud “Aurë entuluva!” or “Day shall come again!”, as sure as astronomy is true. Cheer up and enjoy your holidays, be they holy or un-holy.

(And speaking of unholy, Dec 24 is the gibbous spawnday of dread Cthulhu as well. To steal a name I saw somewhere, may Tenta Claus not come out of your chimney.)


December 14, 2007

The Finnish Lutheran church has the shared recital of the Apostles’ creed (apostolinen uskontunnustus) as a big part of its religious services. I have to attend these services now and then because of relatives, and I’ve been thinking about the creed for quite a bit.

You see, I am an atheist. This means I really have trouble with the creed.

As I write in English, I’ll first quote the familiar-to-me Finnish version, and then one English translation, and then wave my hand and my tongue most fiercely, ending with a creed that I’d agree with.

On his hands he’s got orifices

December 14, 2007

Ahh. There is little better than a cup of something hot and bubbling and the wailing of…

Sorry. Wrong line of thought.

There is little better than a cup of cold black drink, and a record quietly turning in the player. And for this cold season of night, there is nothing to better rouse my glee than finally acquiring the blasphemous, forbidden —

Sorry. Overtheatrics.

Before I start to cackle madly, having been exposed to the weird winds that blow beyond time and space, may I recommend the CD A Very Scary Solstice to you? The most disgustingly overused Christmas jingles, all redone with sweet (with putrid corruption) lyrics from the immortal works of H. P. Lovecraft, the Father of Fatherless Cthulhu?

The title of this post is from “Es Y’Golonac”, to the tune of “Feliz Navidad”: “On his hands he’s got orifices, and he hasn’t got a head!”

I’m torn between that, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Yog-Sothoth”, “Silent Night, Blasphemous Night”… we’ll, I’m torn every possible way because all the songs are so good.

(I think the CD is available from the HPLHS site [see link above], and in Finland from Fantasiapelit, the home of all that is good and unholy.)

Seminar self-control

December 12, 2007

Ooh. Seminars will be the death of me yet. Probably because I’ll think of something amusing and choke trying to not laugh out loud. Despite still not understanding anything about rhymes or notes I scribbled up a mathematically related songish B(x,r)-poem.

It is rude. You have been warned. (more…)

Quote for today 2

December 11, 2007

Therefore, the seeker after the truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not to the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency.

Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side.

He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.

Ibn al-Haytham (965 – 1039), a scientist, in Aporias against Ptolemy

Those are words to live by no matter what matter you are deciding on; and a scientist needs no race, no nation, no religious affiliation to mark him if he is true. (Here ‘he’ is a gender-insensitive pronoun.)

If you need a condensed version, it might be: Be skeptic.

(This “Quote for today 2” is a quote for a different day than “Quote for today” 1, and a quote for a day doesn’t imply a daily quote, right? And do I make remarks like this because I am in mathematics, or am I in mathematics because remarks like this are natural for me?)

The birth complications of Jesus

December 11, 2007

A Christmas-related thought just struck me. Suppose we accept the old tale of Jesus’s birth as true for a moment: Mary, promised to Joseph, is impregnated by the Holy Spirit, is married to Joseph, and gives birth to Jesus.

Isn’t that quite shockingly weird? Let me explain.

Many Christians these days are very loudly against sex outside marriage, so what about Jesus the child? One can say that there was no sex involved, but isn’t Jesus still an illegitimate child, born to a married woman but not of her husband?

Given the silly brouhaha Christians make about the importance of marriage and marital sex limitations, shouldn’t Mary the Paragon of Virtue just have said: “No, o Lord. Find thyself a loose Edomite instead. I will not bear the children of two.”