Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Berk, the Thing Upstairs and the Nature of Servitude

Not blogged for a while. Here is a chapter of something I'm working on for a bit of fun! Enjoy!

Ètienne de La Boètie postulated that the only reason a tyrant has any power is because those beneath him give it to him. This is somewhat reminiscent of Nietzsche's `will to power'. La Boètie suggests the conclusion that the reason behind mankind's compliance to obey is due simply to ignorance or greed on behalf of the slave. Those who know freedom treasure it, those who never have covet more material things. This seems like a very simplistic view of the problem. It seems that way because it is. One need only look at the history of La Boètie's own country to see that people have their limits of oppression beyond which they will rebel. If one truly wishes to understand why people choose to place themselves into servitude, one need look no further than The Trap Door.

1. Berk and The Thing
Going back to Nietzsche for a moment, nowhere is the will to power more obvious than in the relationship between The Thing Upstairs and his over worked servant, Berk. At first glance, it appears that all the power lies with The Thing; he issues orders to Berk regularly which Berk does his best to obey without question, he is preened and pampered by Berk, he need do nothing for himself. In reality however, nothing could be further from the truth. Once an issue is ordered by The Thing and the episode begins, he is then the one creature who has no power over the events that pass subsequently. In fact, The Thing appears to have no input into any event, ever. He lives vicariously through his servant, never leaving his castle, never moving at all as far as can be made out. If the world of The Trap Door is represented by that which is presented to the audience then The Thing Upstairs plays no part in it whatsoever.
This makes The Thing the perfect metaphor for religion. He is a threatening disembodied voice for which Berk feels a great deal of fear but which has never shown any real ability to punish or reward Berk for his actions. All the power The Thing has is perceptual. Berk perceives this creature as thing to be revered and feared despite the singular lack of evidence that The Thing can have any physical act on his person. This is just like all modern religion, with Gods that issue commands from an unseen heavenly kingdom which those with faith obey not realising that it was man who created those Gods, man who gave them power and man who follows those commands. Man enslaves himself (just as La Boètie said) but not to God, rather to himself. Berk creates The Thing's power in his own belief and thus enslaves himself to himself also. And so we come to the first reason for consigning oneself to servitude. Whether we lie it or not, we are all slaves to our own thoughts and opinions, there is nothing we can do to escape them for they are us. We must live to our beliefs and if our beliefs change we must change how we live. In this way one might say Berk is not a servant, he simply has faith. One might also conjecture that faith makes slaves of us all.

2. Berk and Boney
It seems no small coincidence that Montaigne in his essay on friendship, should begin by mentioning his friend La Boètie and his essay on servitude. He sets aside notions such as “Profit, public or private need," as separate from friendship, claiming they `inter-meddle' with it. While this may be true, it is hard to see how any friendship could be what Montaigne might describe as pure. We all expect our friends to be there for us in our times of great need and know that the same is expected in return. To not support a friend is to be a bad friend and to possibly even lose a friend. As such we are left without choice, subject to will of our friends as they are subject to our will and should they request anything of us, it is subconsciously understood that this is not a request but would not be asked unless it was expected that our friend would comply. In this regard we are all servants to our friends and they to us.
Which brings us nicely to Berk and Boney. These two are undoubtedly friends. At the very least, Boney does not work for Berk of the Thing nor Berk for Boney and the chances of them being related given Berk's unusual skeletal structure are minimal at best. So we conclude that they are friends. Berk throws a birthday party for Boney and Boney is always there to lend a moral word to Berk. But are they servants to each other? In many ways one might consider Boney as the personification of the Thing Upstairs with a slightly less over bearing disposition. Like The Thing, he relies on Berk, having no body and needing Berk to be his arms and legs; Boney can live vicariously alone and as such is subject to the will of Berk, their friendship is tainted by Boney's personal needs. This is without even considering the times when Berk has taken advantage of Boney's helplessness to force him to help around the house. He has on occasion used him to hold up a shelf or as a rolling pin and even a candle stick holder. So Boney is definitely a servant to Berk, but what about Berk to Boney?
The Trap Door is full of subtleties. A cursory glance at the arguments so far might show that Boney has no power of Berk whatsoever. He issues no orders, Berk does not fear him and he has no power to affect any changes of Berk's environment beyond gentle persuasion. A deeper look at the situation however and the truth is revealed. For without Boney's presence, Berk would have no one else to talk to. Berk is subject to the will of Boney as much as Boney is to the will of Berk, for the sake of company, for the sake of his sanity and this is seen in Berk's attempts to appease Boney. Although this isn't his common behaviour, when it matters Berk does do right by Boney, he does his best to make Boney happy because he feels obligated to, because he is a servant to Boney in their friendship.

3. Berk, Boney and Drut
Once again we turn to Montaigne who said “When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not passing time with me rather than I with her?" So it is with our pets, that we place ourselves into servitude to them with no real proof that they appreciate or reciprocate the feelings with pour onto them. Drut is the pet of the Trap Door family. In many ways he is abnormal as pet in that he pretty much takes care of himself, stealing worms as they sneak out of the trap door to keep himself fed and finding ways to amuse himself most of the time. Indeed, Berk sees Drut mostly as a nuisance and yet is reluctant to get rid of him on emotional grounds. Boney on the other, having no affect on the physical and in general just allowing it to pass him by, finds the playings of Drut amusing and is very emotionally attached to him. When Berk finally gets rid of Drut and sentences him to exile down the trap door it is in fact the moaning of Boney at the loss of his friend and the kind nature of Rog, denizen of the Trap Door, that brings Berk to the realisation that he does desire Drut's presence after all, thus bringing home his dependence and hence servitude to his pet, but one that he desires. And he desires it because he gains something emotionally from it.
And so here are the reasons behind voluntary servitude, so much more complicated than ignorance alone. There is inherent service to one's own beliefs, something that is impossible to escape without somehow managing to escape one's self. There is service for the sake of personal need or gain, service out of obligation to (or reciprocation from) a friend and service out of fear of punishment. None of them simple, none of them easy, most we would deny ever being subject to yet all of them inescapable. So long as we live we are in service, so what does Trap Door teach us? It teaches us that this is ok and that so long as it is true we might as well enjoy ourselves while doing the best that we can for those that we serve, be it ourselves, our friends or our pets.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Where is my mind, Theseus?

Not blogged in 2 months. So here it is, 2 months worth of blog all at once!

The best part about working in an academic environment is, for me, the ability to have in depth conversations seemingly at random and around unusual topics in a way that appears almost effortless. Recently, from such a conversation sprang forth the following philosophical dilemma:

Can consciousness be teleported, assuming the physical form can?

Upon consideration of this concept I have discovered it is not one that is easily resolved and brings into play many classic ideas in philosophy as well as many modern concerns. In fact, so synoptic is the problem that approaching it in a logical and structured fashion has proved difficult at best. In an attempt to rectify this problem, I feel the best thing to start with is a qualification of the major aspects of the dilemma.

Teleportation – The Technicalities.

The first thing to consider is exactly how our subject is being teleported. As we shall see, the exact method of transportation greatly affects the way in which the question should be approached. To keep things as simple as possible, we shall focus on two possible methods (although I am sure many more might be imagined).

The first method concerns the teleportation of a man, we shall call him Adam, by the reading of information at the quantum level, the act of which causes the destruction of Adam’s body, followed by the writing of that information, precisely identical on the quantum level, at a new location thus recreating Adam’s body perfectly down to a single quark. This might be achieved by some form of quantum entanglement, although the precise mechanisms are not important to our arguments. The important point to remember is that Adam is deconstructed and a perfect replica constructed in some distant location.

The second method takes the atoms and molecules of a woman, who we shall name Eve, and the perfect conversion of this matter into energy (using these handy Heisenberg compensators I happen to have lying around). This energy is then transmitted at light speed far across the solar system and is then converted back into matter in the precise configuration of Eve’s body prior to teleportation.

I have highlighted a few words here, perfect and precise, as it is important to hold in mind that these are not degraded copies, but are in every physical way identical to the originals. The second important point to bear in mind is that Adam’s body is copied from different materials, Eve’s from the same, as their original forms.

Consciousness – Monism Vs Dualism.

I, like the vast majority of thinkers today, am a monist. This means that I believe that mind and body are not separate entities, as Descartes might have had us believe, but are in fact one and the same. It is immediately obvious that this problem has a strong affect on the conclusions we can draw about our over riding question. As such, rather than just ignore it and focus on my own views, I shall do my best to present both cases in relation to the problem and hopefully demonstrate that similar conclusions can be reached whichever route one chooses to take.


We shall look first at the concept of dualism. Before continuing it’s probably best to cover some basics. Dualism purports that the mind and the body are two separate entities capable of existing independently of each other. Upon death it is therefore possible for the mind, and hence consciousness, to continue. Such theories are the basis behind the idea of the soul.

So now we can rephrase our original question. Now we ask; does either Adam or Eve die as a result of their teleportation? First, let us separate the process of teleportation into three stages; before, during and after. Thus, before teleportation it is obvious that both Adam and Eve are most definitely living. Similarly, the bodies that are reconstructed afterward are at the very least viable (although may require a quick jolt from a defibrillator to get them going!). So what about during? To answer this question, we consider the thought ‘What would happen if teleportation were halted mid way through the process?’. I doubt they’ll be much argument to the notion that upon having one’s body destroyed, one has died. As such we can consider Adam, at least for the period of time during which teleportation takes place, to be dead.

The same logic might on the face of it, be applied to Eve. However, if we consider her body to be a coherent and viable form of energy (as Einstein teaches, all matter is simply a form of energy), and given that we are keeping her energy in some controllable and transmittable form can we truly say she has died? Have we not just changed her form? For a dualist, death simply means the separation of the mind and body. Presumably this happens at the end of life as the body is no longer capable of sustaining itself and hence whatever mechanism it is that holds the mind in place fails. At this point the problems of dualism become immediately apparent. One assumption has already now been made and many more will follow as this is all one can work with when describing the processes involved in ethereal objects beyond our world of science and reason. However, if we must make assumptions, let us try to make scientific ones.

Let us consider what the difference between life and death is, or rather, what changes as a result of death. Without nutrition to supply energy to our bodies our cells break down, our chemistry degrades and electrical energy from our nerves and brains dissipates into nothing. In short, entropy takes charge. All life is just a constant struggle against this unstoppable force and death just a surrender to it. Taking this argument, so long as entropy is kept at bay, life can be considered to continue. Without any other conclusive evidence to draw from, this remains the soul condition for the dualist mind to stay anchored to the body. In Eve’s case, entropy must be held back via transport as it would have the energy of Eve’s body dissipate just as if she were dead. Therefore, where Eve is concerned were she a dualist, we can say she is not dead even in transport and hence consciousness must survive.

Does this mean then, that Adam’s death during teleportation prevents his consciousness from being transported along with his body? Here we come across even more pitfalls for the dualist theory. Many questions are left not only unanswered, but unanswerable. Where does the mind originate from? Where does it go once the body dies? Why does only a single mind seem associated with a single body? How is the mind attached to the body in the first place? A person can be technically dead and yet resuscitated. Where is the mind during this process? This is the inconsistency of most interest to our problem. If it can be assumed that upon death the mind is separated from the body then it would follow that upon resuscitation the mind and body are reconnected once again. But how does the mind know to go back to that same body? One would assume that some physical property of that body must be responsible, some marker that the mind can recognise and is drawn towards. If this is indeed the case then a quantum mechanically perfect replica must share such a marker and the mind would return to the reconstructed body. To examine this idea further it is useful to turn to one of the oldest problems in philosophy.

The Ship Of Theseus.

Theseus travels the oceans in a great ship. After many years of service, the vessels body work begins to degrade and a few planks and panels are in need of replacing. The question is, is Theseus still being borne by the same boat? What about when every panel has been replaced, is it still the same then? The same is asked of our subject, Adam. If he suffered brain damage and medical science had the means to graft new brain cells onto old, would Adam still be the same person? What if we replace each brain cell, one at a time, with a new one, is his identity still unchanged?

Perhaps the most complete attempt to respond to this dilemma comes from Aristotle. Aristotle postulated four causes which go together to describe the identity of an object; the formal cause, the material cause, the final cause and the efficient cause. We shall consider these now in turn.

1. The Formal Cause.

The formal cause deals with the form of the object, its shape and make up, its design. It is clear that in both the case of Theseus’ Ship and Adam, the forms remain the same.

2. The Material Cause.

The material cause concerns the physical materials of which the object is constructed. Again, our two cases have identical answers to this query but this time both have changed, being constructed from different materials by the end of each process.

3. The Final Cause.

The final cause describes the purpose of the object. Obviously, the intended purpose of Theseus’ ship is to transport Theseus and that of Adam’s body is to house Adam’s mind. This has not changed in either case.

4. The Efficient Cause.

The efficient cause explains the manner in which the object was constructed, how and by whom. In the case of Theseus’ ship, it is easy to believe the same people fixed the vessel as did originally build it and via identical methods. In Adam’s case however, this can not be said. His original body was not the result of quantum teleportation but instead it was the result of natural birth (we will assume) and so in Adam’s case, this has changed. (It is interesting to note that any subsequent teleportation of Adam will not result in this change).

So, in conclusion, we can say that as the materials used to reconstruct Theseus’ boat are different it must therefore be a different object. In Adam’s case however, this is not as clear cut. As mind and body are separate, the materials used to create the body are inconsequential to the mind, so long as all other things are equal. All things are not equal however, as the method of construction has changed and as such, by Aristotle’s arguments, it is not the same body! But does this concern the dualist? Once again, as mind and body are separate, is the construction of Adam’s body important? We turn back to a question we have already asked ourselves, how is the mind connected to the body? With the lack of any other logical response, it seems to me that we are forced to assume that this occurs at some point during gestation, in which case, even within the realms of dualism, the construction of the body is an important part of its identity. So we are left with three possible conclusions; the mind is lost, the mind is replaced (in either case, Adam dies) or we are forced to abandon the notion of dualism. For Adam’s sake, we shall now do the latter.

(It should be noted for completeness that we do not apply the reconstruction argument to Eve as we have assumed her mind never to be separated from her body)


Another brief introduction is apposite before continuing further. Monism, in contrast to dualism, purports that the mind and body, specifically the brain, are one and the same. This turns out to be a slightly more complicated premise than it might at first appear. For a start there are many different denominations in this belief and to go into each of them here would be time consuming and ultimately fruitless. For simplicity’s sake, we shall concentrate on materialism; the idea that all things in the universe are composed of matter and its interactions and nothing more. Even this does not lead to a unique solution. Many prominent philosophers speak of consciousness as arising from the physical properties of the brain in that same way that electricity arises from the physical properties of the electrons in wires. I feel this is fallacious as it brings up more unanswered questions. For instance, why do only beings with brains appear to be conscious, what is it about the brain that gives it the property of consciousness as well as electrical charge and spin when no other material seems to do the same? It is my belief that to say “consciousness arises from the properties of brains” has as much meaning as “fingers arise from the physical properties of the hand”. This is obviously nonsense; consciousness does not arise from the brain, it is a part of the brain, just as fingers are a part of the hand, and properties of thought, such as problem solving and emotion, arise from the physical properties of consciousness just as grip and dexterity arise from the physical properties of the hand and fingers. This is an important distinction as we shall now see.

Taking Eve’s case first (allowing Adam a few more moments of hope before we finally seal his fate) we re-examine our previous arguments from a monistic materialist view point. The question of death is now rather a moot one. Upon death there is no longer a separation between body and consciousness. Now we can see the loss of consciousness at death as being similar in nature to the loss of, say, the heart beat. The heart lies dormant upon death but, assuming it is undamaged, can be revived. So consciousness lies dormant, its physical properties have changed such that reason and emotion no longer arise from it, but it can be resuscitated. Until the brain itself has degraded beyond a certain point consciousness is still there and can be returned to fully working order.

So let us consider Eve’s teleportation. Once again, at the start of the experience she is alive and well, and at the end she has a viable, if possibly dormant, body. The ‘during’ aspect of transport is, as we have already pointed out, now irrelevant. With the materialist argument, assuming the reconstructed body is identical to the original, made of the same matter and in the same configuration, then consciousness can be rebuilt just like any other body part and once again Eve survives her teleportation.

So we have now shown that, so long as the same energy/matter is used to reconstruct the body as was a result of its original deconstruction then the mind survives teleportation as well as the body under all possible conditions. So what of Adam?

The temptation is, as before, to apply the same logic for Adam as we do for Eve, but this would again be a mistake. Let us turn back to Aristotle. As before we can show, with exactly the same arguments, that the reconstructed Adam is unchanged in terms of his function and his form but is different in terms of his construction and his materials. Dualism told us that the materials of Adam’s body were unimportant but that the construction very likely was. Monism demonstrates the exact opposite trend. Whether consciousness arises from the physical properties of the brain or is indeed the brain itself, the precise way in which the brain is constructed bears no relation to its final physical state. As such, this particular cause can be disregarded. The same can not be said of the material cause.

Let us consider a simple example. In a lab we have two boxes, the sides being magnetic, each one at either end of the room. Within each box is contained an electron. Their spins, charges and angular momentum are identical making them indistinguishable from each other. We can happily say that the charges of the two electrons are the same. The charge is a field effect and arises from the properties of the electrons rather than being a part of the electrons themselves. We can happily interchange the charges and say that the electrons themselves remain unchanged. However, the two electrons, despite being indistinguishable in property can still be said to be two different and individual objects. Expanding this to Adam’s teleportation, although the properties of the brain and body of the reconstructed Adam are precisely identical to the original, the materials are different and so it can be said to be a different and individual form, separate from the original. The thoughts, the beliefs and the emotions of ‘recon-Adam’ would be precisely identical to the original but it would not be the original. It would be a separate body and so a separate mind. Once again, Adam’s original mind is destroyed and so it, as well as he, does not survive teleportation.

Another note; if we assume that consciousness arises from the properties of the brain rather than being physically a part of it then the mind would survive teleportation by these arguments and we would be left with a string of paradoxes. Suppose we can reconstruct Adam’s body without destroying the original. Both Adam and recon-Adam would share the same mind; they would be, by these arguments, the same person. To that end, a clone may well also share the same mind as its original. How would this work? Would each be aware of the other? Would consciousness flip between the two? Any solution to this problem that might be imagined seems absurd. By materialist arguments, two separate bodies must have two separate minds. As such, the idea that consciousness arises from the brain rather than physically being a part of it is therefore logically inconsistent with this thought experiment. This, along with other such examples of mutual exclusivity in discussions involving consciousness, is what has led me to the conclusions that such a theory must be incorrect and that consciousness and the physical make up of the brain must be one and the same and not one a property of the other.

This is also the reason why, unlike Adam, you will never get me into a teleporter.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

In case of zombies... panic!

Science has taught us many things. The origins of the solar system, the secrets of dna, how to make things explode. But today science is pushed to its very limits in a way I never thought imaginable. We, as a race, have now mathematically described the mechanics of zombie attack! I kid you not! The link below is a peer reviewed, published, scientific article which models the consequences of an outbreak of zombies.

One can only speculate at the mental processes that occur in the mind of a man who would be capable of such monumental research (the kind of man who puts a question mark after his name so he'll get more hits in google searches). Below is the link to the paper in question and for your convenience, a brief review of what it contains.

The paper.


The review.

The article begins with a brief but fairly complete history of the zombie and the evolution of the concept through popular culture. From voodoo to Romero to Shaun of the Dead, this paper references them all. I bet Simon Pegg never even dreamed that his satirical undead feature would ever appear in a peer reviewed paper outside of media studies (or inside probably) and yet there it is, reference 8!

After characterising the different types of zombie that might exist, the paper then goes on to describe the version of the monster it shall be focussing on. In this case the slow, mindless, flesh crazed beasts of most modern day horror flicks (however, given their results, the conclusions they draw most likely apply to the scarier, faster zombies of movies such as 28 days/weeks later).

Next they outline their basic model. It's simple enough, probably over simple but this is addressed later in the paper. There are the dead that might rise, the living that might die and there are the zombies. Various coefficients are used to describe motion between these populations and after a bit of maths and a splash of programming a conclusion is drawn. What is this conclusion? Why it's simple, the zombies eat everyone, unavoidably. Thus, probably my favourite part of the whole thing is the statement:

"Since all eigenvalues of the doomsday equilibrium are negative, it is asymptotically stable.
It follows that, in a short outbreak, zombies will likely infect everyone."

I don't think armageddon has ever been described so succinctly in mathematical terms before.

But wait, this can't be the end of the story, it's never that simple. Indeed. They now go on to include factors of a latent infected period of bitten people and the case of implementing quarantine protocols. In both cases we only delay the inevitable and once again the zombies eat everyone. Even if we fight back it is shown that we need to eradicate 100% of the zombies if we're ever going to survive, even then there is always the possibility that more might emerge once people start dying of natural causes again.

In fact, the only way humans can survive is in the event a cure is developed. Even then, only a small proportion of humans survive in a world over run by zombies. This particular solution does however create a unique and interesting situation which I think deserves further discussion. Thus:

"Our treatment would be able to allow the zombie individual to return to their human form again. Once human, however, the new human would again be susceptible to becoming a zombie... ...The cure will allow zombies to return to their original human form regardless of how they became zombies in the first place."

The converse is also surely true, that once a zombie again a person can once more be cured. The natural to conclusion to this is immortality. A person on the brink of death can become infected, become a zombie, be cured and live again. Thus, might there not be some merit in researching this cure, whether there is a zombie threat or not. Also, once this cure is developed, is there not further merit in creating a zombie problem in order to make possible immortality? I think we have the makings of a first rate B movie here!

All of this sounds pretty bad (except immortality of course) and it only gets worse when you include natural birth and death rates, giving the zombies an unlimited supply of food and potential zombies!

The article is summed up very nicely in one of its closing statements:

"An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous..."

Couldn't have said it better myself!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Film Review- Blood the last vampire vs Blood the last vampire SPOILER ALERT

I recently purchased the Anime film "Blood the last vampire" and tonight, viewed it along with the more recent live action remake, with the intention of comparing the two imaginings of the story and having done so I feel compelled to blog. So without further ado...

The Plot.

A quick summary of the plot for context. Our heroine, Saya, hunts vampires, the twist being she is one herself! Not only that, but she's an 'original'. She works for an organisation who discover that in an American army base in Japan, vampires have infiltrated the school as students. The year is 1966 and in the background of all this the Vietnam war rages. Saya goes undercover as a school girl to get the bottom of things and slay the evil demons haunting the school.

The Anime.

I've always been a fan of anime. It is something removed from Hollywood, a different way of visual presenting ideas. The story lines, the animation style, the scores, the characters, every bit of the genre in fact is so culturally different to the western equivalents. This makes it refreshing and exciting in today's world of a constant stream of block buster movies.

Blood the last vampire is no exception to this. The first striking break from current western traditions is the length. With two and half to three hours quickly becoming the average length of a film, I was more than a little surprised to discover this anime feature to be just 45 minutes long. What it lacked in length however, it made up for in pace. The characters are introduced swiftly and in action allowing much exposition to be covered in a very short time. A bit of necessary plot develoement and then the real action begins and once it does, it doesn't let up. Another unique aspect of this film is the time frame. The vast majority of the show occurs in a single day and night. All this might sound a bit hectic, but the pace is maintained without confusion via a very simple trick. The film does not needlessly go into the personal back stories of every single main character. Character development is handled through short shots in which we get a feel for the major players emotional reactions to the various situations. I feel this is far more personal than Hollywood's usual style of going into the lives of each of the characters invariable dysfunctional style. For example, in one scene near the end, our heroine has just slain the last villain, she walks over to it and feeds it as it dies with some of her own blood. This simple scene tells us everything we need to know about her personal involvement in the events that had just played out.

This tempo however, leaves many questions unanswered which I might have found frustrating had it not been for the marvellous final scene. This is a film not so much about the vampire hunter or the vampires, but rather it is about the nurse; a hapless bystander who gets caught up in the violence around her. Throughout the film, the nurse is a major plot device. Saya finds the vampires by watching the nurse, her movements are dictated by the necessity to protect her and the final scene shows the aftermath through the nurses eyes as she is interrogated by the police. She even gets the final words of the film, in which she compares the war Saya is fighting against her own kind to the Vietnam war, the backdrop of the movie. And here we discover the underlying metaphor. The writer is (very cleverly in my opinion) commenting on the nature war, it's ethics, it's necessity and yet it's insanity.

This doesn't mean I don't want my questions answered. How did Saya become a vampire? Why is she fighting her own kind? What sway does the clandestine company hold over her? Maybe we'll never know.

The live action film.

But wait! Here is a new live action, full length feature film to save the day and fill in the blanks. With an extra 40 minutes to play with it should be no problem whatsoever to delve into the inner workings of the company and their relationship with Saya. Right? Wrong!

Hollywood here we come. The character of the nurse, so essential to the anime, has been replaced by a teenage girl. Is this to make it more personal to a younger audience? Perhaps. Is it because teenagers are angst ridden and over emotional and it allows for those good old cliched dysfunctional family problems? Definitely! A good portion of the film is used to deal with the relationship between said angst fountain and her father. Pretty much the entire plot of the anime is dispensed with in the first 30 minutes and yet less seems to happen in that time.

But it's ok, here comes the flashback and we get our answers about Saya's past. Well, sort of. Her sword seems to get more of an explanation than her and when we do when we do learn something of Saya's situation, what is the focus on? You guessed it, her father! As if to make matters worse, the leader of the pack of vampires Saya is hunting in this version turns out to be none other than Saya's mother! Dysfunctional families all round then. No attempt is made either, to explain the fact that she just stopped growing up around 16 years old.

None of this truely helps us to understand the characters or how any of this situation came about in the first place. Nor does it help in conveying any message that the film might be left with, although given how little fuss is made about the war, that message is pretty much lost anyway.

The first half of this remake was pointless as it expanded in no way on the original and perhaps even detracted from it. The second half is, quite frankly, insulting.

The anime is a work of art, the remake is a work of ignorance.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Perseverance - Patience - Reward

It's the glorious 12th! Or it was a little over four ago. About this time every year the Earth passes through the tail of the pleasingly named comet, Swift-Tuttle. As our planet collides with the rocks and dust that Swift has left behind they burn up in the atmosphere, creating the years most spectacular meteor shower. At its peak, the Perseid meteor shower (named after the constellation Perseus, as this is where the comets appear to originate from*) boast 100 visible shooting stars every hour, some as bright as the skies most dazzling stars.

Now, it is no secret that England is one of the worst countries for observational astronomy. Both the met office and the BBC however, assured me that by one o'clock in the morning the thick blanket of cloud that loomed over Nottingham like a shroud would have completely dissipated and the shower would be visible for all to see. It did not. In fact, it wasn't until half past two that the first breaks in the cloud started to appear.

At the sight of this ever hopeful chink in the vaporous armour of the sky, I donned hoodie and jacket and headed out to the darkest spot on campus I could find. By the time I got there, the gap had past, but the cloud was breaking and the odd star could be seen shining through. I decided to wait it out. I waited. I waited some more. I waited until twenty past three and decided it was unlikely that any further opportunity for meteor hunting would occur tonight. I left for home bitterly disappointed.

I kept my eyes on the sky all the way home, and noticed as I past over the field in front of the campus sports hall that once again the clouds seemed to be parting and I had also managed to stumble upon an even darker viewing spot. I pondered for a moment before finally falling on the decision to stay put. So I lay down on the ground and looked up at the sky in the one spot where there was a sizable break in the cloudscape. Within five minutes I saw a streak of white flash across the sky, a minute later another. Two of the brightest shooting stars I had ever seen shot straight across my field of view. I was elated and stayed lying in wait for more until the clouds finally closed up again. Unfortunately this took only another five minutes and in that time I saw no more meteors.

I got to my feet and headed home, this time satisfied! Two is not the most meteors I have seen on an outing on the 12th, but they were spectacular, and for an astronomer such as myself, even being able to witness such a small part of the calendars best astronomical event was well worth the wait. And then, on my way home, I saw a fox! :D Best night ever!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Notes on the Proms - Part II

Having written two fairly negative blogs and sounded like a completely miserable old git, I felt it was time to post something with a more positive twist!

Yesterday's Prom featured the National Youth Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto Number 1 and I have to say it was superb. I first saw this piece performed about four years ago by the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra and fell in love with it instantly. It is a joyous and whole-heartedly romantic piece of music. The interplay between the piano and the orchestra is exquisite. This is a piece universally loved by performers and audiences alike and rightly so.

To put such a well known piece in the hands of children is a brave thing indeed and I have to say, the NYO carried the burden with ease. I have never seen such a talented group of young musicians. The soloist was necessarily a practiced pianist of a fair few more years than the rest of the orchestra, but said orchestra played in harmonic unison with piano like pros. The many challenging solo parts for individual instruments other than piano in this piece were handled perfectly. The orchestra, being one of the largest in the world, was made for this piece which requires force and presence of which these young performers had an abundance.

They finished the evening with a performance of Respighi's Roman Festivals, an equally exuberant and entertaining piece which the youthfulness of the orchestra was perfectly suited to. Over all a fantastic Prom and definitely one that everyone should hear. It's up on iplayer for the next week and I heartily recommended to anyone interested in classical music, or just music in general.

Notes on the Proms - Part I

Every year I try to catch as much of the BBC proms as I possibly can. For those who don't know, this an annual classical music festival with daily performances going on for two months over summer.

This year, as ever, I have been continually impressed by the pieces that have been presented, with influences from America and Japan and performances from a wide variety of orchestras, soloist and singers. It is a joy to listen to.

There is however, an aspect of the Proms which I am less happy with. This usually manifests itself in the Last Night of the Proms where the whole thing takes on a kind of pantomime persona to appease those members of the general public who wouldn't normally find classical music an accessible art form. While I can't argue with the motivation behind such a display, I find it somewhat distasteful to attempt to attract a larger audience with this facade of popular classical music. I know this sounds snobbish, but I really fail to see the logic in trying to draw people in with the promise of loud raucous and simplistic pieces when the rest of the festival hardly reflects this. On the other hand, it's a bit of fun and people enjoy it so who am I to complain?

This year I came across another example of this pantomime affair, the Children's Prom! Now in this case I really can't complain about it being a bit dumbed down for the audience and fully respect what the organisers are trying to do. They could however, have chosen to do with better music than they did! The first three pieces were inspired by the Big Bang, a storm, and a volcano and of course all contained loud noises and plenty of energy; they were perfect for children. They were unfortunately also all pretty much exactly the same! Formless, loud, cacophonous messes, symbolising the harsh and chaotic form of nature, the only variation I could pick out from these pieces was the types of percussion used to annoy the parents of the on looking children. This was a piece that perhaps needed to be written and some important points to make, but it only really needed to be written once, and certainly only performed once. Let us not forget, children don't have the longest attention spans and if you can say the same thing in one word that you can in three, you should use the one word.

The day was saved in the end when David Attenborough took to the stage and was simply himself, awesome! And then finally they played some real music, including a piece by Drum N Bass artist Goldie which I found pleasantly surprising. Still, I expect the kids loved it all.

He who has the gold...

In a recent copy of Philosophy Now I came across an article on The Golden Rule and felt some comments were required.

Simply put, the Golden Rule (do unto others, love thy neighbour and other variations) is considered by many moral philosophers to be the fundamental and universal tenet of morality. In his article in the July/August 2009 edition (issue 74) of Philosophy Now, Stephen Anderson argues against this premise. There are however, a few points where his conclusions seem to me to be fallacious and I'd like to raise those points now.

The first is a tiny point which he himself glosses over to some extent, and rightly so in my opinion. It is this; that the Golden Rule is not truly universal as there are those belief systems that actively disdain the rule, citing Nietzsche and tribal philosophies as examples. This seems to me to be making the wholly indefensible assumption that any philosophy or belief is moral in its own right. While I believe we should remain open to the idea that opinions other than our own might have a basis in morality, to make the assumption that all opinions hold some moral value seems obviously flawed. Is it not a condition that if we can define any basic principle for universal morality then we must be able to also define immorality in the same terms. Could not then these (minority!) beliefs be considered immoral and hence not be posited as an argument against the Golden Rule?

His second and I believe most flawed argument postulates two very different definitions of the Golden Rule; that of the positive and that of the negative. Thus, the positive Golden Rule states that one must DO unto others as one would have DONE unto oneself. This implies positive action on our part. The negative version tells us to DO NOT unto others as we would NOT have DONE unto us. This seems to suggest, as Stephen himself said, that inaction is sufficient to obey this rule.

"If we have only negative duty, an obligation to avoid harming people, that can be construed as imposing minimal obligations... ...In fact, the negative version may be fulfilled (if we wish to construe it that way) simply by ignoring our neighbour, for as long as we are not directly implicated in his harm, we have not transgressed the negative version of Golden Rule ethics."

However, it is a simple and obvious enough fact that any negative can be reworded as a positive to exactly the same effect. To take Stephen's example, imagine that you were lonely and in need of a friend. According to Stephen, if you tried to contact a friend, they are under no obligation to respond according to the negative Golden Rule. But it occurs to me that such a deliberate act of ignoring a person in need is an ACTION not an inaction. We can now substitute this action into the negative Golden Rule and say "DO NOT ignore someone as you would NOT like to be ignored yourself" and so it goes with any other example I can personally bring to mind.

Stephen Anderson's final point lies on the idea of sacrifice. The idea that to create a truly moral society we must sometimes do more unto others than we would expect done unto us, that this breaks reciprocity (tit for tat) and thus the Golden Rule is insufficient. I have only a few simple points to make on this. The first is that the Golden Rule states that one should do unto others as one would WISH done unto oneself not as we would EXPECT done, and I am sure many people wish others would make more sacrifices for them and so it seems to me that the concept of sacrifice is well treated in the Golden Rule. Secondly, I ask "How much sacrifice is the average person willing to accept on their behalf?" After all, have we not all at some point said "Only if it's not too much trouble," or "I wouldn't want to put you out."? Human beings are naturally opposed to the idea of others sacrificing too much in our names, possibly due to the expectation of necessary reciprocity. While this may at first seem selfish it actually goes to show how ingrained the Golden Rule is in our minds, that we naturally expect to need to reciprocate a good deed done. My third and final point is that in all the cases of sacrifice Stephen puts forward, I believe it can be shown that if not a personal, then at least on a sociological level, reciprocity is upheld. One such example he cites is that of parenting. But while we sacrifice for our children, our parents in turn made sacrifices for us and so in balance reciprocity is maintained. Further more, if a child is abused he or she is far more likely to become an abusive parent, further showing how this idea of reciprocity and hence the Golden Rule, is ingrained in our very nature.

Stephen then goes on to describe sacrifice not only to our neighbours but to our enemies, something he calls the Platinum Rule and suggests is something beyond most humans beings. A point raised earlier in his article suggested the difficulties of interpretation in the Rule, difficulties he himself stumbles into now. For in making a distinction between "neighbour" and "enemy" he is postulating two different rules which once again I believe are one in the same. However, to avoid confusion, I shall continue my arugments as if accepting this distinction and discuss the Platinum Rule. The Platinum Rule posits love our neighbour and our enemy but says nothing of our neighbour's enemy and I believe this is an important omission. Consider this example:

There are three nations, A, B and C (for want of better names). B and C are at war. C are the aggressors where B are fighting a purely defensive war. For A to love his neighbour (we shall refer to B as the neighbour and further suppose B is losing the war) he must intervene in the war and make an enemy of C. For A to love his neighbour's enemy (who is also his neighbour) he must make an enemy of B or do nothing. It is clear (as it has been designed thus) that C are at fault and for A to do nothing would be to allow the guilty to prosper. In any case, whatever A decides they must in some way break the Golden and Platinum Rules. It is clear then that A must defend B, as the innocent party, as this is the most acceptable way to break the Rules. Perhaps then the Platinum rule can be amended to a version that can indeed be followed; that one must love thy neighbour and thy enemy but not thy neighbour's enemy. Here then we can afford to make the sacrifice of loving our enemy as our neighbour is in a position by the New Platinum Rule to prevent us from coming to undue harm.

From this simple scenario we can draw a few conclusions. First, justice is the part of the observer, as it is in our courts, and is a necessary consequence of the Golden Rule. And second, and perhaps more importantly, that the Golden Rule is a basis for universal morality, not the whole story. This is a fact the Stephen Anderson seems to forget. Reality is far more complicated than any single rule can account for and we should not abandon a good premise on account of the fact that it needs specific variations for specific situations. That, I'm afraid, is just life!