The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, November 30, 2009


I had a great time at the Loscon this last weekend. Hosted an hour of the dance (and they pled with me to stick around for more. Sorry: need my sleep!). Taught Tai Chi, and had a great group. Somehow, on Sunday morning, everybody was actually breathing correctly. One lady came up to me and said that a single session on Saturday changed the entire way she breathed, and now she understood why she'd always hated exercise: she'd been tensing when she was supposed to be relaxing!

Panels...we've got panels...I really didn't do much general paneling, but did do a little "Lifewriting" presentation, which is always fun. Wish I'd had another hour, and the space to let people move. I could have brought in Coach Sonnon's Flow State Performance Spiral, which completes the basic triad of my system. Far more importantly, I could have actually put the knowledge into their bodies, which is infinitely preferable.

Saw lots of old friends, made some new ones, and had a really interesting existential conversation Saturday night that kept me out of bed until 1:30.

Left the convention at 2:00pm Sunday, drove home, took a 1/2 hour nap and drove to San Louis Obispo to watch Nicki and her mom Toni in a "Readers Theater" presentation about Charles Darwin's apparent plagiarism. Ouch. What fun. I was pretty trashed energy wise, but hey, it's my girls. What am I supposed to do?


In three days I fly back to Florida for a bit of family holiday cheer. I'll be taking the manuscript for the original DREAM PARK with me, to read for errors. And as I do, I'll be able to read that book for the first time in 25 years. That's going to be fascinating, really. I don't know why, but I never re-read my books once they are published. This is in contrast to Tananarive, who LOVES to read her own books. I can only guess what that's about for me. I probably need to just get over it, and have the fun of re-reading everything I've ever done. I really should.


There were a few old friends I didn't see at the convention, and I'm a little worried. If Otis reads this, would he please get in touch with me? Just want to know you're all right, guy.


I'm really, really looking forward to James Cameron's AVATAR, coming out in a couple of weeks now. The man pushes boundaries, and has a real gift for putting together butt-kicking film that actually has a core of real emotion. I MUST respect him, because he also has a talent for killing off every black man in every movie he makes. Not one has survived. Yikes. We'll see what happens this time. Probably just coincidence. Yeah, right.


Several people I ran into at the convention spoke of money troubles, and I recommended the same thing: for God's sake, read THINK AND GROW RICH. It's available free on the internet, and has more high-level thinking about how to make money than any other book ever written. I can't recommend it highly enough, and if money is your issue, you must READ it, and ACTUALLY DO THE EXERCISES. My mom drove me crazy with that stuff when I was a kid, but it worked. To tell the truth, I fell away from it, and am having to go back and refresh. I need to re-read until it's etched on my eyeballs. Really.


Tananarive is taking off tomorrow to Florida, so I gotta go and spend some time with her. Talk to you tomorrow!


Nancy Lebovitz said...

In re the woman who'd always hated exercise because she'd been breathing wrong: Exactly. I'm not exactly fond of exercise, but the Tibetans have increased my tolerance for it, and it's really clear that I've hated exercise because it felt bad, not because of some lack of virtue on my part.

If your idea that people innately don't want to move was right, it would leave out that people have invented folk dance (a completely unnecessary sort of exertion) worldwide.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

" "Readers Theater" presentation about Charles Darwin's apparent plagiarism. "

Darwin's suppossed plagiarism from Alfred Russel Wallace's works was merely like ideas expressed similarly. Darwin and Wallace both conceived on Natural Selection independently within a few years of one another. Both researchers also shared the common lingo of the Naturalist Community. By the same flimsy criteria, Newton could be accused of plagiarizing Leibniz's work on Calculus, or vice versa. These BS allegations are merely futile stealth Creationist assaults against the unassailable edifice of Evolution, the bedrock of modern Biology.

Marty S said...

Infidel: Actually there is no contradiction between the theory of evolution and the concept of a god. Say I am trying to develop a computer artificial intelligence to play the game Yahtzee using a technique call evolutionary neural nets. As the "god in this process I get to decide:

The criteria for survial,

The method for choosing mates,

How the characteristics of the parents are passed on to the offspring and the mutation rate.

Science has no way of proving that there is or isn't a god, who did or didn't design us in his own image by defining the rules of evolution to get the desired result.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"Say I am trying to develop a computer artificial intelligence to play the game Yahtzee using a technique call evolutionary neural nets."

This analogy is both problematic and illustrative. Problematic in that is involves an evolution-derived entity using evolution to derive another such entity. Were such simulation a credible analogy for the relationship of "god" to humanity, it would imply the creator itself was produced by higher order evolutionary processes, presumably by a still higher infinitum (i.e. infinite regress). The analogy is illustrative for precisely this reason,i.e. regardless of operating medium, evolution is the only known process capable of producing intelligence. Given this, "god" is superfluous, or, to echo Laplace, an unnecessary hypothesis.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

If evolution (variation and selection) isn't happening, what's going on instead? Or (for those who believe in Creation), was there an initial moment of creation, with evolution happening thereafter?

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"Actually there is no contradiction between the theory of evolution and the concept of a god."

Despite my firm stance with Daniel Dennet, Richard Dawkins et al regarding religion, I do recognize devout scientists exist, the late Darwinian pioneer and devout Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky being an example. My original post concerned Creationism, not religion pe se. The general consensus of the Scientific Community, including both Theists and Atheists, is that, to quote Dawkins in The Selfish Gene:" Darwinian Evolution is as firmly established as the rotation of the Earth around its Sun". Whatever one's stance on religion, Creationism is simply untenable and, IMHO, denotes severe educational or intellectual deficiencies.

Marty S said...

An infinite set of gods at an infinite set of levels of wisdom/knowledge/capabilities is not a scientifically disprovable hypothesis and if such be the case it doesn't make god a superfluous concept. Assuming, I am creating my Yahtzee A.I. using evolutionary techniques, it would be natural for me to "debug" the process. I would do this by making runs, evaluating the outcome and modifying the process. If there are levels of gods above us following a similar procedure they are clearly relevant to us.

Anonymous said...

I've decided to take creationism once step farther and reject not only evolution but all science. Phyics? Out. Chemistry? Don't need it. Geology? Just looking at god's pretty rocks.

Steven Barnes said...

Nah...the problem with Darwin goes beyond that. Has nothing to do with whether he was right. There were numerous direct copying of phrasings from a contemporary writer whose work Darwin had access to. It does look quite suspicious, but seems to have more to do with intellectual vanity than dishonesty--he got sloppy a bit, and didn't think he'd be caught out. Happens all the time, but has nothing to do with the validity of his original observations.

Steven Barnes said...

I'm a bit facetious about the "move as little as possible"--but not entirely. There is, of course, a certain spontaneous expression of joy in and of movement. But learning to express the appropriate amount of energy--no more and no less--to accomplish a given goal or set of goals is critical to maturation.

Marty S said...

Arthur C Clarke said:
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". In the above posts I am simply proposing, that any being with sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from god. The version of creationism that proposes we were created as the result of the science of a superior race, does not contradict the science/sciences we know.
It is merely a scientific hypothesis which we are currently unable to prove or disprove.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

being with sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from god.

If he/she/it is subject to the rules of the universe, rather than being the creator of the rules of the universe, I'd have to disagree. If we're just going with power = godhood, I'm going to start worshiping the sun. Again.

bud said...

25 years since Dream Park was published... or even written?!!!
I remember picking it up in a now defunct bookstore.

Damn, I wish the world would quit reminding me how old I've gotten.

Shady_Grady said...

If a hypothesis is untestable, then it's not really scientific.

There are a lot of other problems (from a scientific standpoint) with creationism in general and intelligent design in particular.

Anonymous said...

But then the argument becomes "what contitutes testable"/ "what criteria are accepted as proof/evidence". It might seem like reasonable people ought to be able to agree on facts if not opinion but that just doesn't happen.

Take the moon landing. My conspiracy nut associate argues that it didn't happen. Evidence suggests that it did. But can we really say we know the answer? I watched Bumblee strive to nsave humanity from the Decepticons but I don't think that was real. How can we know?

Marty S said...

Dan: The above posts assume these superior beings are subject to the laws of their universe. They may have created this universe using the science of their universe with a partially or completely different set of laws.

By the way I am absolutely against teaching creationism/intelligent design in a science classroom. A science classroom is for learning the scientific laws of this universe, which evolution is and creationism/intellectual design is not. The discussion we are having and the question of creationism/intellectual design if discussed anywhere should be discuss in a philosophy class, where its merits as a philosophy might be debated.

Marty S said...

Shady: you state "If a hypothesis is untestable, then it's not really scientific." This statement has some interesting implications. Such as the whole climate change movement is based upon predictions of catastrophe 50 or 100 years in the future, if we don't make appropriate changes. But testing that hypothesis would require us traveling into the future, which we can't do presently. Therefore issue of climate change is a hypothesis we can't test and is unscientific, so we can ignore it.

Marco said...

Hello Steve,

Linda and I enjoyed your Tai Chi class a great deal. I've started the last two days with your joint rotation warm-up. It feels very good, and I plan on keeping it up.

We both enjoyed hearing you at the GOH speech. This was the first time that Linda and I were exposed to Tananarive, and she is definitely vivacious, smart, and very nice to look at. Your son also seems like a great kid. I am glad that you have found so much happiness.

I hope that what I am about to say is not delivered in an inept manner and that you don't take it the wrong way. When I taught at Washington Prep, I had so many young, black, male students who were lost souls. I saw many young, black males who had strong natural gifts, but who were very unlikely to ever achieve any real success in their life. When I would call home in an attempt to get parents to pressure their kids into behaving better in the classroom and to start studying, it was almost always a mother or grandmother who answered. Like almost all of them, you started off without your dad around. It makes me glad that you didn't end up a failure too, and that your son has such a good, strong dad. My mother and her dad were alcoholics, and emotionally damaged people who inflicted pain on those around them who were not strong. I managed to turn out differently, though it was not easy. I know that breaking such a cycle is hard. Anyway, I don't know how to end this paragraph well.

Best Wishes


Lobo said...

Actually, there is no contradiction between the theory of evolution and the concept of a leprechaun.

Actually, there is no contradiction between the theory of evolution and the concept of a unicorn.

Actually, there is no contradiction between the theory of evolution and the concept of a dragon.

Actually, there is no contradiction between the theory of evolution and the concept of a goblin.

All of these statements are just as true as, "Actually, there is no contradiction between the theory of evolution and the concept of a god."

Science has no way of proving there isn't a blue teapot in orbit around Betelgeuse, either. Just because we can conceive of a thing does not make it exist outside of our imaginations.

The existence of a god is unfalsifiable, so it is not in the purview of science. Just like unicorns, leprechauns, goblins, and dragons.

Putting god anywhere into the timeline of evolution is unnecessary. We understand it well enough that we can postulate all the way back to the beginning of the chemical reactions required for primitive self-replicating compounds to occur. It's a natural process that at no time requires a supernatural nudge to get started. It can be explained one end to the other with chemistry.
As far as what established those natural laws that govern things like chemistry? Don't know. Probably won't ever know. But just because we don't know a thing is no justification to accept ANY old hypothesis that comes along. It's at least just as likely that the universe just existed in a different form before this one as it is that there is some supernatural actor that kicked things off. Hell, it's just as likely that we are just holographic projections of two dimensional lithographs etched on the edge of the universe. To make the claim that we know anything about the universe before the planck time is just plain old dishonest.

Lobo said...

BTW, as far as personal finance books go, an outstanding book that provides concrete strategies for taking care of your personal finances on the basic level is "Have More Money Now" by John Layfield. The guy is/was a pro wrestler and his politics are just to the right of George W. Bush, but even broken clocks are right twice a day. I can honestly say reading this book changed my life. He goes into other areas of finance like investing, but you can ignore that in favor of "The Intelligent Investor" by Benjamin Graham. It's a dense read and somewhat depressing when you realize just how much work goes into investing, but Ben Graham was the mentor of Warren Buffett.

Marty S said...

Lobo: Went to and found two interesting definitions.

supernatural:of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal.

natural law: principle or body of laws considered as derived from nature, right reason, or religion and as ethically binding in human society.

Now since the concept of god is part of religion and religion is one of the bases-es for natural law, it seems god is part of the natural laws.
As to claiming we know anything about the universe before the planck time is just plain old dishonest. I agree with you. That's what I have been arguing in all my posts. It is dishonest to ridicule people who believe in creation when we have no explanation that is better than theirs. Part of the history of science is the deduction that other planets than those we had observed existed based upon the orbits of planets we had observed. So if one deduces that their are superior beings to explain phenomena whose cause we don't have a scientific explanation for, they should not be regarded as stupid or dishonest, but as philosophers hypothesizing one possible explanation for that which at this time is scientifically unknowable.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

There is no speed limit

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"It is dishonest to ridicule people who believe in creation when we have no explanation that is better than theirs."

By Creation, I don't mean hypothetical super-beings who initiate a Matrix-style Cosmos simulation, or who synthesize primordial replicating organics and let 'er rip. In current Western discourse, "Creation" denotes Creationists,i.e. Biblical (or, in Turkey, Koranic) literalists whose defining world view categorically rejects the established FACTS of Darwinian and Human evolution, and often those of modern geology and cosmology as well. Further, these Creationists aren't content to practice their delusions privately, but feel compelled to disseminate misinformation and outright lies and to distort science curricula so as to indoctrinate the young. As a professional scientist, educator and rationalist, it's my duty to oppose all attempts to substitute delusions and distortions for established fact.

Shady_Grady said...

No. The hypothesis that climate change is based on past and current human activity is based on the scientific method. It can be argued, tested and debuked via that method. We don't have to be able to travel into the future to test the levels and impacts of climate change any more than we need to be able to travel into the past to use carbon dating or understand quantum physics.

Stating that the universe was created via intelligent design is not a hypothesis that can be tested. It's beyond science.

It's also a bad argument for other reasons but I certainly agree that ID doesn't belong in science classes.

Intelligent Design

ID is just the last gasp of the religious to try to explain the natural world as science has relentlessly disproven religious claims about the natural world time and time again. Thunder does not come from Thor or Chango. People with anemia are not victims of vampires. Sacrificing the young does not appease the volcano.

Anyway as a dedicated "Pastafarian" I want equal time in philosophy and religious classes.

Flying Spaghetti Monster

Marty S said...

There is Creationism with a Capital C which involves whole sets of belief many of which contradict know science and belong in schools only as part of a discussion on their existence and their affect on human history. Then there is the question of creation small c, which as the question of how this universe came into existence or was created. We have no current scientific answer I am aware of at this time. So I regard the question of the existence of god/superior being who created it as akin to Schrodinger's cat. Till some one opens the door and proves the case one way or the other I regard said god/superior being as both existing and not existing.

Back on the climate change issue. We have data on past and current climate change and based upon that data we can build a model which explains what we have observed. If different people come up with different models we can debate their merits and in some cases maybe able to point to flaws that invalidate them. But, any such model when used for prediction falls into the category of hypothesis not theory. For a scientific hypothesis to go from hypothesis to scientific theory we must be able to test the hypothesis and verify its validity. We have know way of doing this so climate change remains in the realm of hypothesis and speculation.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

Those who practice or teach science are by definition obligated, barring extraordinary evidence to the contrary, to explain reality in terms of NATURALISTIC processes. Tellingly, those to reject Darwinian Evolution never offer alternative NATURAL mechanisms to explain biological origins. Instead, their "explanations" invariably involve unseen intelligent (ID) or magical (god made it) input. That is, Creationism in its various guises is tantamount to abandoning science. BTW, I consider ID merely Trojan House Religious Creationism.

Lobo said...

Marty, the Schroedinger's Cat experiment grants the existence of the cat. You don't know whether it's alive or dead until you open the box, so it can be treated as both alive and dead until the box is open. So your analogy isn't valid. There's no reason to grant that there is a god in the box, let alone whether it's alive or dead.

As far as the natural law thing, in this context the best example of natural law as it pertains to religion is the idea that Apollo drags the sun across the sky every day. To the ancient Greeks, that was a part of the natural order of things, the natural law, if you will. It was also not true. I don't deny that religion is a method for explaining the world. It's just an exceedingly bad method.

It's hardly dishonest to point out just how special someone's belief isn't. It may be impolite but it's not dishonest. Why is the existence of unicorns/leprechauns/dragons/goblins any more ridiculous than the existence of a god? I'm assuming those comparisons are what you're referring to when you accuse me of ridiculing other people's beliefs. They all basically have the same amount of evidence for their existence. So why does the god idea get a pass and the others don't? Why grant the existence of one with no evidence and not grant the others? Why this and not that?

Marty S said...

Lobo:The difference between a belief in a god and the belief in leprechauns, unicorns and dragons is that in the case of belief in god the individual is searching for an explanation of something we presently have no answer for. Namely how did this universe come into existence. It may not be very good logic but there is a certain logic to nothing just comes into existence so something intelligent must have made this universe. In the case of fairy tale creatures no one is actually seriously proposing them as the solution to any question.
By the way I have never granted the existence of one or more gods or superior beings, I merely said that we having no scientific explanation of how this universe first came into existence, so we cannot completely eliminate the possibility that it was created by some sort of being. While I personally might give this answer to the question a low probability I do not completely dismiss it and I do not consider someone who gives it a higher probability as deluded and as rejecting science altogether.

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