Writing is dangerous

Old rickety bridge
Photo by Raphael Pto from FreeImages

Writing is dangerous. When you put that pen to paper, or more likely, hit that first key, you don’t know where you will end up. You set up a situation, a garden, say, with God, a tree, a couple, and a serpent. The serpent urges the woman to eat fruit from the forbidden tree, but, of course, she doesn’t because God forbade it, and she and her husband live happily ever after in the garden.

Hmm, that’s a bit of a dead end, but I’d guess that you could think of improvements. Let’s say that God visits them one day.

“Adam, Eve, are you happy here?” asks God.

“It’s brilliant. We love it.”

“”How do you know?”

“You told us. You’re God. You must be right.”

“Just eat one of the apples on that tree, guys, please.”

Sounds of munching.

“Erm, God, what’s it like out there?”

“There’s misery, pain, trouble and worries, and there’s also joy, love, happiness. There’s also kids, who roll up all those things into one delightful, infuriating package.”

“Can we go and see?”

“Yeah, but you can’t come back again.”

“OK. We understand. Where’s the door?”

Stained Glass - Adam and Eve
Photo by Janet Burgess from FreeImages

So, I didn’t know where that was going and I’ve only just started! Obviously, I began from the Garden of Eden, and had Eve resist the blandishments of the serpent. Then I had God urge Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, and consequently Adam and Eve became curious about ‘out there’. God’s going to have to cut them some slack out there, since it was He who encouraged them to eat the fruit, but I’ll leave it there, for now.

In “The Lord of the Rings” Bilbo Baggins recites a poem several times. Bilbo is referring to a real journey of course, but writing a story is much like a journey. You start off with the first word, or the first step, and you have no idea where your journey or story may take you. No idea at all.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

At some point, your feet, or your words, come across a broader way. Your feet may encounter a highway, and other people. Your words may lead you to a larger narrative, in which are embedded new characters. These characters all have ambitions and objectives. They may help or hinder you. And so the road or narrative goes on, leading you to who knows where. Whither then? You cannot say.

As a writer you live your characters. You say their words. You fight their demons. You love their loves, and sometimes you die their deaths. You experience their defeats and their triumphs. You are the hero and the villain.

Pears on a tree
Photo by Linda DuBose from FreeImages

At the same time, paradoxically, you can’t predict what happens. Any writer knows the feeling of surprise when something unexpected happens. When Adam and Eve eventually find their way back to the Garden and politely request entry, God lets them in, because, after all, he told them them to eat fruit from the Tree of Curiosity. What? You thought it was the Tree of Knowledge? If the fruit gave them knowledge, why did they have to leave the Garden? They would have known what’s out there just by eating the pear from the Tree.

And God and Adam and Eve would sit down and Adam and Eve would relate their story. Oh, God would already know it of course, but a story, even if you know it, always sounds better coming someone else. They’d introduce their kids,  and God would ask them if they wanted to stay. Adam looks at Eve and they shake their heads. Nah, Eden is OK, but it’s a bit boring, duplicitous serpents aside. They’ll take real life. God saw what He had done, and it was good.

Writing is dangerous. You never know where it is going to take you, and you never know how long it will take. You start with one sentence and the next thing you know you have a whole book. You will have agonised with your characters, you will have been surprised or shocked at what they get up to, and you will discover that the house is a mess and the dog will have left you.

Yellow Labrador
Photo by ! Dujazz from FreeImages

Writing is dangerous. It soaks up you time, your energy, and possibly your money. You will have forgotten to do your washing, your diet will have lacked balance and vitamins, and your garden will resemble a jungle.

Writing is dangerous. You sit back having completed your story. And rewritten it, perhaps several times. And altered it, added characters, removed characters, changed characters. And spell checked. And grammar and syntax checked. Dozen of times. And then you have a thought. The serpent. Embodiment of evil? Or God’s loyal servant doing God’s bidding, maybe?

Writing is dangerous. Even after you’ve finally, finally finished, you sit back, momentarily satisfied. Then you jolt upright. That documentary on waterfalls! What if the world was split by a single humongous waterfall. Those living at the top would naturally look down from above and see the lands below, but they wouldn’t be able to reach them. Those down below look up and see the towering waters and wonder if there is anything up there. Then some intrepid top-dweller invents a hot air balloon and floats over the waterfall and his craft descends to the lands below. And then…

And then you type the first sentence and everything begins again.

Empty Valley
Photo by Wim Delen from FreeImages

Five new stories

Over the past month and a bit I have written five new short stories in the Mage and Boffin series. The stories are as follows:

The Great Scientist – The Boffin and the Mage find a space where the man in power is destroying the environment in the quest for a perfect world.

Three Wishes – The Mage and the Boffin meet a genie and are invited to visit him in his lamp.

Duplicated Man – The Mage and the Boffin help a man who has been accidentally duplicated. The Mage’s alternative approach wins out over the Boffin’s attempts to solve the problem.

Together – The Boffin and the Mage are nearly powerless in a space which works a little differently from their own, but the friends that they had been training come to the rescue.

A Chat with God – The Boffin and the Mage stumble upon a big battle. They talk with God about the human race and his attempts to stop them being so aggressive. They discuss the power of maternal influences.

All my stories can be found here.

Religion

Bulgarian orthodox Easter Eggs.
Bulgarian orthodox Easter Eggs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At a time like Easter it is common to ponder on one’s faith. Whether one is religious or considers religion to be a delusion and waste of time and effort, one almost certainly aware of the origins of Easter, if one lives in an even nominally Christian country.

One may feel disgust that a religious occasion has been hijacked by commercialism, even if one is not religious, but one may still tuck in to Hot Cross Buns and chocolate Easter Eggs, and even partake of a slice of Simnal Cake.

Kulichs (kulich is a kind of Easter cake, trad...
Kulichs (kulich is a kind of Easter cake, traditional in the Orthodox Christian faith) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people pride themselves on having no faith, maybe even declaring themselves to be atheists. I feel though, that deep down everyone has some foundation philosophy or beliefs that seem to them to be unquestionable and obvious, that are in fact part of their make up.

Some people think that religion is silly and obviously wrong. They forget that religion as a world view has a long and successful heritage that has enabled people, in the main, to get along, and survive, and cooperate with other people.

The Army of Super Creatures
The Army of Super Creatures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has, it is true, been blamed for a long list of atrocities as well (and still is, of course), but much of that is as a result of people’s’ usage of religion and not the idea of religion itself.

What is religion? It is the belief that the world is controlled and run by some supernatural being or beings, and that everything happens as a result of the aims and intervention of these supernatural being or beings.

English: "Hands of God", symbol of t...
English: “Hands of God”, symbol of the early ethnic religions of the Slavs and Vandals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before the invention of science, this would have seemed to be a reasonable theory. Of course, since we are only physical beings, we can only imagine why the supposed divine being causes things to happen that happen to us and to others.

And that’s what people do. In the absence of any other information, they imagine aims and objectives of the divine being or beings. The people who do the imagining are often called prophets or shamans or priests.

Retouched photograph of a shaman of the Ket pe...
Retouched photograph of a shaman of the Ket people. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course the shaman’s own people should be the ones favoured by deity, and of course they would be justified in all sorts underhand actions. All the people who did not belong to the shaman’s own people were obviously wrong or deluded and needed to be shown the error of their waves.

One might reasonably ask of the shaman, how does he know the wishes of the deity when the deity doesn’t converse with human beings. The shaman will have all sorts of esoteric methods for determining the wishes of the deity. Tossing bones, disemboweling chickens and taking various mind altering substances to enter trances.


Embed from Getty Images

In many cases the shaman may believe that he is receiving instructions from the deity, though in some the shaman is possibly at least partly a pragmatic politician – it would career and life threatening to tell the tribal chieftain that he is going to lose the next challenge to his supremacy, or that the big tribe next door were going to conquer them.

Of course someone decided to write all the information about the tribe into a big book. Mostly the stuff written down was the history of the tribe and tall tales were OK, as it “proved” that the tribe was big and powerful and supported by the supreme being.

English: Title page of a 1830 copy of The Book...
English: Title page of a 1830 copy of The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course such and such a hero defeated 1,000 opponents single handed. How could he do otherwise with the deity on his side? The trouble with writing it down is that fixes the story. There is no scope for the shaman to, shall we say, ad lib.

Also included in the written down texts, handed down from the aural tradition were the rules that the people had to adhere to, and the punishments handed out. Or supposedly handed out. As a punishment for a transgression some ancient person was put to death, but to deter others the punishment was supposedly horrific. And this punishment was enshrined in the holy text, so it became the official punishment.

English: Type of contracts at sharia law
English: Type of contracts at sharia law (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As religion got institutionalised, it was used to justify wars and genocides and other atrocities, and still is to this day. One of the issues with religions and religious books is that things happened in the past and stuff got written to the books, and only a tenuous link between the two. There probably was a king called David, and he probably did some of the things attributed to him, but it is unlikely that the Bible gives an accurate description of his reign.

There is a philosophical problem with the idea of supernatural beings anyway. The only way that we can conceive of such entities is by giving them physical and human attributes – the supreme being is usually male for example. Generally the supernatural being is paternal and judgemental, and favours one particular set of people over others.

Although the Norse god Freyr functions as Hraf...
Although the Norse god Freyr functions as Hrafnkell’s patron deity, the saga contains few supernatural elements (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To influence matters in the physical universe a supernatural being would need to manifest itself in physical ways. The problem is that a supernatural being is, by definition, non-physical and therefore cannot affect the physical world.

Some people have considered this issue and suggested that the supernatural being merely set up the universe and its laws in the beginning and has had no input since. While that removes the initial problem of the physical/supernatural interaction, it doesn’t address the physical question of how the universe was set up in the first place. It merely pushes the issue back beyond the Big Bang.


Embed from Getty Images

Besides, many religions would be uncomfortable with a deity who merely set things up and then stepped away. Where would they get their laws and stories from? They’d have to make them up!

That’s the problem. Even if somehow the supernatural being’s wishes came to be embedded in a book (or even an aural tradition) someone has to read the book and interpret the words (as originally, the man in the street would not have been able to read) and for any number of reasons, the reader might, probably unconsciously, interpret the words in a way favourable to his biasses.

Setting aside (ordination) as readers of semin...
Setting aside (ordination) as readers of seminary students in Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that might be the start of a crusade, and it’s difficult to conceive of a supernatural being who would favour people killing one another in its name. But the get out clause is that we can never understand the aims of such a being, should there be one, and this may be what the supernatural being needs to happen.

Captioned as "Balder und Nanna". The...
Captioned as “Balder und Nanna”. The god Baldr and his wife Nanna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Weather or not.

English: Cliffs of Moher - Inclement weather a...
English: Cliffs of Moher – Inclement weather again! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(One day late again – this is becoming annoying!)

The human race probably evolved language for the single purpose of being able to discuss the weather. It’s one of the first things that people learn about when learning a foreign language. Obviously, when language had been evolved, the human race found other uses for the facility.

Weather would have been very important for early man, as it would be next to impossible to hunt animals in a downpour as rain washes out tracks and scents and makes the task of getting from point A to point B difficult in itself. Heavy rain cuts off hunters from possible hunting grounds.

English: Forest track in spruce plantation I s...
English: Forest track in spruce plantation I suspect this would look bleak regardless of the weather, but mist and heavy rain certainly doesn’t help. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Visibility is also reduced by rain making location and tracking of prey difficult. Also, prey hunkers down in inclement weather, hiding away in inaccessible dens, or perching in inaccessible trees.

When early man developed techniques of agriculture, he would have been aware that his crops were dependant on the weather. Too much rain might cause the crops to rot in the ground or not develop properly, while too little rain (and more sun) would dry out and kill the crops and prevent them from fruiting.

English: This is a Tsuga canadensis in zone 6 ...
English: This is a Tsuga canadensis in zone 6 that may be suffering from early drought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The early farmer would have had to consider carefully where to plant his crops. It would not be a good idea to plant crops in area prone to flooding (unless the plant, like rice needs flooding, during its development). It would also not be a good idea to plant the crops too far from water, so that watering them would not be too onerous.

Being able to predict the weather would enable the early farmer to take actions to look after his crops. The ancient Egyptians, one of the first societies of whose agriculture we have some knowledge, lived in the Nile basin and took advantage of the annual floods, and developed a complex system of irrigation. This led the Egyptians to develop mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences in order to predict when the floods were likely to happen.

Arguably the need to predict the weather had a lot to do with the fact that the Egyptians developed civilisation in the first place. Arguably the rise of civilisation goes hand in hand with such developments of science and technology.

Predicting the Nile floods is prediction of the weather on a long time scale, and it is likely that the floods could be a little earlier or a little later than predictions. Such large scale weather patterns are both easier and harder to predict than smaller scale weather patterns, because the floods would come sooner or later in most years, but the extent of the floods would likely vary from year to year.


Embed from Getty Images

Since the exact timing of the floods and the extent of the flooding was not predictable, it was almost inevitable that the ancient Egyptians looked for supernatural guidance, and religion became associated with agriculture, and this appears to be a general rule. In a culture, supernatural beings, gods, are associated with agriculture, often a pantheon of them.

As part of the tasks associated with agriculture, the gods were considered to be responsible for the weather both short and long term. Interestingly while the gods were supposed to be responsible for the weather, this did not stop enquiring minds looking for the mechanisms of the weather, how the gods worked, so to speak.


Embed from Getty Images

We know a great deal more about the weather and how it happens, now. Science has moved on a great deal and we have discovered more and more about how the gods create and manage the weather, to the extent that we have taken the task away from them and given it to the scientists. I’m not debating religion per se, but some people think that we have taken everything away from the gods, removing their very necessity of being.

If forced into a corner and asked for my opinion, I’d probably agree, but there is something comforting to many people in the concept of gods or a God, and billions of people express a belief in a deity or deities, or some other supernatural influence. This may be something that we will leave behind as the human race matures, we can’t tell. It may be that science, with its laws, theories and predictions is just the latest in a succession of descriptions of the world, and may itself be ultimately seen as a simple rationalisation of what we see around us.

English: "The ancient Egyptians were accu...
English: “The ancient Egyptians were accustomed to appease the god of the Nile and induce him to bestow a bountiful inundation by throwing as a sacrifice into its sacred water a beautiful virgin.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It appears that the weather is getting wilder. Scorching temperatures are measured in some places, while other places are in the grip of freezing temperatures. Storms are continually being labelled the biggest in so many years. Flood protection schemes are being overwhelmed. Crippling droughts have hit many countries and ice is reportedly retreating in the Arctic and Antarctic.

This is, for good reasons, labelled global warming and the temperatures do seem to be rising all over the globe. I’m aware that controversy surrounds the whole topic, with allegations of bad science, conspiracy, and manipulation of data on both sides of the “debate”.

Temperature predictions from some climate mode...
Temperature predictions from some climate models assuming the SRES A2 emissions scenario. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The trouble with the global warming discussion is around the time scales involved and the rates of temperature rise. The period of time when we have reliable temperature measurements doesn’t go back very far, and the temperature rise is small and difficult to measure.

Those opposed to the idea of global warming point out that while measured temperatures may have risen slightly, if there is any rise it could be explained by natural changes unrelated to human activities, such as variations in the output of the sun, and that in any case, the data is insufficient to show any upward trend at all.


Embed from Getty Images

Those in favour of the idea, counter that with the claim that the temperature rise is real and that the fact that it has risen in such a short time is a concern, and that action is essential.

It may never be formally decided. As we get better at predicting the weather it may turn out that the models which fit the data may solve the problem, and that one or the other side in the debate will fade away. As in the debate on evolution, the opposition to which gradually faded in favour of Darwin’s theories as time passed, I believe the same is likely to happen in the global warming debate.

English: Human evolution scheme
English: Human evolution scheme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seeing things


Embed from Getty Images

I sometimes suspect that I return to the same topics time and again. Not too often I hope, because that will put people off reading this blog (in case anyone does!) This is possibly a topic which I may have already addressed, but hopefully this post will be interesting anyway.

It seems obvious to me that we all see things differently, and I’m talking about vision here, not “seeing” as a philosophical point of view. Some are short sighted, some long sighted, and others have impaired vision. I see a colour as a shade of blue, while my wife sees it as a shade of green.

Toyota Celica 2.0 GT (ST202) shown in Bright T...
Toyota Celica 2.0 GT (ST202) shown in Bright Turquoise Pearl (colour code 756). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One could argue that the difference is merely where the line is drawn, but I think that it is more than that. Apart from the physical differences in the lenses of our our eyes, we may have differences in the physical structure of the rest of our eyes, perhaps in the rods and the cones, and it is highly likely that the physical structures of our brains are different, and our minds (which I think of as the software that runs of the hardware of the brain) are definitely different.

It’s no surprise then that my wife and I disagree on whether a colour is a shade of blue or of green. (Actually we disagree about a lot of things. I believe that it goes with being married for 40+ years!)

Plymouth Valiant 100 of some 40 years ago seen...
Plymouth Valiant 100 of some 40 years ago seen on street in New Orleans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Googling around as I write this post I found an article about the brain’s colour processor. Interestingly it has a section entitled “Color is Personal” which is a part of my theme for this post. This section, however, is not really relevant to my theme as the author then discusses Achromatopsia, where damage to the colour processor causes all sensation of colour to disappear.

It seems that even in our own brains and thinking processes the idea of colour is not fixed. I read another article which describes our own personal perception of colours as “malleable”. The implication of this is that a person might describe a colour as “a shade of green” one day, and “a shade of blue” on another day. Is there no hope of a definitive answer?

Newton's color circle, showing the colors corr...
Newton’s color circle, showing the colors correlated with musical notes and symbols for the planets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A physicist could help us out, couldn’t he/she? He/she could measure the frequency of the light and say, definitively, that the colour is blue, or it is green, couldn’t he/she? Well, sort of. This would work for very simple colours, but real world colours are rarely made up of just one colour. The scientist’s scope would likely show a range of frequencies resembling a mountain range. That blue/green colour might have traces or red or violet, and is fairly certain to have more than one peak in the blue/green range.

Albert Einstein showed us that if a scientist was moving at a high speed relative to us, he/she would measure the frequencies in the colour differently from a scientist whose spectroscope was alongside us and not moving or moving at the same speed as us.

General Relativity
General Relativity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ambient light has an effect on the colours that we perceive. A red object in red light doesn’t look red. Other objects of different colours look different in a red light. Similarly, it is difficult to determine the colours of cars and other objects under the yellow/orange sodium lights. According to Wikipedia, the colour of a street light has effects other than simple colour perception – it appears to affect peripheral vision.  New LED technology may be able to remove some of these deficiencies.

There are innumerable effects which affect or perception of colour. The most recently famous illusion is the dress which appears to people to be either black and blue or white and gold, but there are many such illusions. One which I came across a long time ago is the chessboard illusion. In this illusion, two square appear to be different colours, but are in fact the same colour. This illusion is usually shown in monochrome, but the illusion works in colour too, and depends on the shadow of the cylinder to produce the effect.


Embed from Getty Images

One brain is very like any other brain. When a scientist shows someone a colour on a card, the same areas of the brain show activity in all individuals, if we exclude some cases where brain function is abnormal for some reason. We can’t delve very much deeper into this issue as we don’t know what this activity signifies, beyond the bare fact that the person was shown a card with a colour on it. We certainly can’t tell if they see it as a shade of blue or a shade of green, and we can’t tell what their subjective experience is when the brain activity occurs.

In some individuals a number or letter may invoke a sensation of colour. Such people might have the sensation of seeing something green when they think of or read the number 6. I don’t know if this imprinted behaviour because the person was presented with a green symbol when first learning their numbers or whether or not it was merely a chance association that arose at a different time, or indeed if it was because of some neurological happening or trauma that has allowed the association to happen.

English: A graph or how the brain interprets color
English: A graph or how the brain interprets color (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyhow, when we see something, there are many stages to the process that  starts with light leaving the object, reaching our eyes, being refracted by the lens of the eye to form an image on the retina at the back of the eye, being sensed by the rods and cone cells in the retina, and sending signals to the brain, which then processes the data.

The amazing thing here is that the image sent to the brain is pretty messy. The eye is not a perfect sphere, the retina is curved in three dimensions and the resolution is pretty rubbish. The retina has at least one major gap in it, rods and cones are not evenly distributed across the retina. Our perception however, is smooth and break free. We have our image processing hardware and software in the brain to that for that.

Retinoblastoma retina scan before and after ch...
Retinoblastoma retina scan before and after chemotherapy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It means we can watch a soccer match, and we can see the black and white panels or the ball rotating as it spins across the television screen, when the unprocessed image that reaches our eyes may be quite blurred. Seeing is believing!


Embed from Getty Images

Ethics and Morals – the Ten Commandments

Ethics and Morals: Timeless and Universal?
Ethics and Morals: Timeless and Universal? (Photo credit: stephenccwu)

I’ve been thinking about ethics and morals over the past week, as preparation of a sort for writing this post. I’m not quite sure what got me started on this topic in the first place though. It would be more accurate to say that it is the basis for ethics and morality is what is interests me.

Religious people don’t have an issue, really, because their religion sets the rules for interactions with others, and any such rule is inviolate because it is supposedly handed to humans by “the powers that be”. The rule base is generally given as the word of god.

Sexta/Viernes/Friday-POSER-Deus - Dios - God
Sexta/Viernes/Friday-POSER-Deus – Dios – God (Photo credit: Caio Basilio)

Laws underscore ethics and morals, as they define what should happen if a person offends against another or the state or establishment. If it is not ethical to steal from another, what should be done? A law defines both the crime and often the punishment.

In the past, when religion had total control of peoples’ lives the religious establishment, the priests or other religious officials generally administered the secular laws and at the same time administered religious matters. In fact there was little difference.

Priest reading
Priest reading (Photo credit: Matthew Almon Roth)

The laws of those times, at least in England and Europe and probably in most of the rest of the world reflected a vengeful deity. The basic ethic was “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth“, with the added spice of an implication of sin.

English: Coat of Arms of His Eminence Jaime Ca...
English: Coat of Arms of His Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sin is an offence against god, so trumps the mere earthly transgression of the theft or whatever itself, resulting in penalties which would seem far too harsh in this day and age. For instance amputation for theft, deportation, banishment, or death for similar offences was common. Apart from the punishment of the perpetrator, a reason for the severity of the sentences was intended to underline the power of the establishment and to deter others from committing similar crimes.

Ten Commandments
Ten Commandments (Photo credit: glen edelson)

In Christian and Jewish religions there are the Ten Commandments (or Sayings in Judaism). To Christians they are the ten commands of God, and in Judaism they are ten of 613 commandments of God.

Pomegranate heart- corazon de granada
Pomegranate heart- corazon de granada (Photo credit: LifeAsIPictured)

There are three parts to the Ten Commandments.

Firstly, there are four commandments relating to God. From an ethical point of view, if you believed that God was overseeing your life, then you had better do whatever you could to make him happy. A good start is to believe in Him, and then to keep Him happy by worshipping him in appropriate ways.

Detaill of page 130 in section 'Notes to Kent'...
Detaill of page 130 in section ‘Notes to Kent’ of Notes on the churches in the counties of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey The image is a reproduction of a foundation stone of the Plaxtol, ‘abbreviated’ with marks to superficially read ‘This church was built for the worship of God. Anno Domini 1649 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Secondly, there is a commandment relating to parents and teachers, in other words, those with authority over one. Again, it makes sense to keep those in authority happy.

Finally, there are five commandments relating to relationships with other people, things such as stealing from them, sleeping with their wife and daughters and so on.

Don't Steal My Coat
Don’t Steal My Coat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Outside of the Ten Commandments, it appears that the early Israelites had some ethical beliefs involving animals, as the tale of Balaam’s donkey reveals. Balaam’s donkey complains in a very human way expressing her hurt at Balaam’s treatment of her, and Balaam apologises to her.

Rembrandt's Balaam and his Ass
Rembrandt’s Balaam and his Ass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So a religious person has a basis for his assessment of what is right and wrong from the above framework. It was considered right to follow the teachings of the Ten Commandments, and this was reinforced by the society of the time.

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...
Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As with all ethical frameworks, there are times when the framework doesn’t quite seem to fit the situation. When you are starving could it be wrong to steal a loaf of bread, particularly if the bread in question will otherwise go to waste? When your family is starving, could it be wrong to steal to feed them? Obviously if the rules are applied strictly it IS wrong, and often, in the times when religion was paramount, they often were.

Bread Thief
Bread Thief (Photo credit: frankdouwes)

Of course, those who do not have a belief in a deity can still be guided by the Ten Commandments, if they are in fact relevant to them. So let’s have a look at the Ten Commandments from a secular point of view.

Obviously, the four commandments relating to God, don’t apply? Or do they? In dealing with religious people, a non-religious person should be aware of and make allowances for the non-religious person’s belief, so long as they don’t cause a conflict with the non-religious person’s belief. For instance a non-religious person may happily attend a wedding but may object to any attempt to indoctrinate his children with religious beliefs through the child’s schools.

Funny Religious Sticker
Funny Religious Sticker (Photo credit: Amarand Agasi)

An unquestioning following of the fifth commandment may also conflict with a non-religious person’s ethical beliefs. While a non-religious person may accept the authority of the government and of the police, he or she might disagree with the correctness of their actions. Occasionally, though, a non-religious person will disagree with the authorities so much that he or she will rebel against them.

Nobody expects... The Spanish Inquisition!
Nobody expects… The Spanish Inquisition! (Photo credit: Ochre Jelly)

The rest of the commandments deal with relationships with other people, and a non-religious person may well believe that these are ethically correct instructions. They describe how a person might want others to behave towards them, so ethically that is how a person should treat others.

English: Golden Rule, Smithy Brow, Ambleside L...
English: Golden Rule, Smithy Brow, Ambleside Lovely old traditional pub in Ambleside, just across from the main car park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This ethical principle, of “do as you would be done by”, has a long history and is sometimes known as “the Golden Rule“. There is a second part to this principle which “do NOT treat others in a way that you would not like to be treated”. This principle is the basis for the two characters,  Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, from the story “The Water-Babies” by Charles Kingsley.

Cover of "The Water-Babies (Books of Wond...
Cover of The Water-Babies (Books of Wonder)

The Golden Rule seems to be a very good basis for a set of ethical rules. Of course it is too simple to explicitly and accurately cover every eventuality, as the example above of the starving family demonstrates. It also does not make allowance for differences in beliefs, and there are others issues with it, but it can be seen that it is implied in the Ten Commandments.

English: "Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid." Il...
English: “Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid.” Illustration for Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies in charcoal, water, and oil. (New York : Dodd, Mead & Co., 1916), p. 236. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ten Commandments themselves inherit the issues of the Golden Rule. As given, one should not harm another person, but what if you need to harm someone to save their life? Surgeons do this every day, but one can extend this to the killing of someone. Few people would argue that a policeman who guns down someone on a killing spree, as happens fairly often these days, has acted unethically.

Nevertheless, the Ten Commandments and through them the Golden Rule, provide useful hints and guidelines to good ethical behaviour, even for a non-believer.

Scan of illustration in The water-babies: a fa...
Scan of illustration in The water-babies: a fairy tale for a land-baby (1915) Boston: Houghton Mifflin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Two-ness

Lane #2 Swimming
Lane #2 Swimming (Photo credit: clappstar)

Last week’s post was going to be about the number two, but I got diverted into talking about existence/non-existence instead. Existence/non-existence is only one of the many attributes that comes in only two possible varieties or types. Up and down, left and right, in and out, positive and negative.

These attributes might be associated with another attribute representing a magnitude, such as distance, weight or other attribute. So we may say 20 metres to the left, thus locating the object or event in relation to the datum or origin. Both attributes are required in such circumstances, since the directional attribute (left/right) does not completely locate whatever it is, event or object. Neither does distance, by itself, locate the event or object.

Directions
Directions (Photo credit: Gerry Dincher)

Relative to datum, in a three dimensional world, any three axes define direction and the datum itself divides the direction into two opposite parts. If you include the fourth dimension of time, the datum, now, still divides the direction into two parts, before and after. This of course can be extended to as many dimensions as you may choose to conjecture.

English: A compact convex set has finite perim...
English: A compact convex set has finite perimeter in dimension 2 Français : Figure illustrative du fait qu’un compact convex est de périmètre fini en dimension 2. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One interesting two-ism is the two-ism of a mirror. When you look in the mirror you see an image of yourself. When you move your left hand, the image appears to move its right hand, and the image’s hair parting appears to be on the opposite side to yours. This is a mind trick, since if you see a person raise the hand on their right as you look at them, your mind says that it is their left hand that has been raised. If they have a parting on the left as you look at them, your mind tells you that their parting is on their right.

English: : A mirror, reflecting a vase. Españo...
English: : A mirror, reflecting a vase. Español: : Un espejo, reflejando un vasija. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This illusion is so strong that people misunderstand the reason why words appear reversed in the mirror, and why it is hard to trim your moustache, or pluck hairs in the mirror.

Many people are puzzled because a mirror appears to reverse things left-to-right but not up-to-down. It doesn’t – your left hand is still on the left, and your right hand is still on the right, your head is still at the top and your feet are at the bottom.

Flowers in Mirror Image
Flowers in Mirror Image (Photo credit: ClaraDon)

The trick is that your nose is closer to the mirror than the back of your head and the same is true of the image. The image’s nose is closer to the mirror than the back of the image’s head. If you draw a map of yourself, the mirror and the image, you will see that the mirror reverses the axis between the original and the image. The front/back axis. Once you see that, it is obvious, and it is hard to see how you could have thought otherwise. It doesn’t help your coordination when you part your hair though!

"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. H...
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (Photo credit: Profound Whatever)

When we consider the number two, it is an interesting integer, the second of the natural numbers. Interestingly we use the second ordinal number to describe the second natural number, and we use the second ordinal number in that definition too. I’m sure that the circular nature of this description is apparent.

English: Odd numbers : Even numbers Sedgefield...
English: Odd numbers : Even numbers Sedgefield Close of course. Somehow at the time this sign just seemed odd. Even now it still does. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a fan of the axiomatic approach to number theory. An axiomatic system consists of a set of axioms that are used as the basis of reasoning. A theorem in such a system is a set of steps leading from a premise to a conclusion. A premise should be the conclusion of a previous theorem.

Skipping a lot of details, one axiomatic approach is to define a function S, the successor function. S(x) then refers to the successor of x, where x is a natural number. So S(7) is 8, S(1,000,000) is 1,000,001. S(1) is 2, and we have a non-circular definition of the number 2. Erm, almost. The number and its successor form a pair and a pair has how many members? Two. There’s still a whiff of circularity there, to my mind.

Two of Arts - 2000 Visual Mashups
Two of Arts – 2000 Visual Mashups (Photo credit: qthomasbower)

Two is an even number and the first of them. An even number is a number which can be split into two in such a way that the two parts are the same number. To put it another way, if you take an even number of stones and put them alternately into two piles, you will be left with two piles each with the same number of stones. If you take an odd number of stones, and perform this test, you will find that the two piles have a different number of stones.

Stone Texture
Stone Texture (Photo credit: Poe Tatum)

If you consider the set of even number and the set of all natural numbers you might conclude that there will be less even numbers than natural numbers. Paradoxically, there are as many even numbers as there are natural numbers.

It is possible to demonstrate this by a process of mapping the even numbers to the natural numbers. 1 then maps to 2, 2 maps to 4, 3 maps to 6 and so on. This mapping process is also called ‘counting’. For each and every natural number there is a corresponding even number and for each and every even number there is a natural number. The two sets of numbers map one to one. If two sets map one to one, it is said that their cardinality is the same, or in common language, they are the same size.

Pack of playing cards.
Pack of playing cards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are more used to finite sets of things (like the set consisting of a pack of cards) than infinite sets of things (like the set of even numbers or the set of natural numbers). If you take half the members of a finite set away, you have a smaller set of things. For example if you take all the black cards out of a set consisting of a pack of cards, the resulting set is smaller, but for infinite sets of things like the natural numbers this is just not true. If you take the odd numbers from the set of natural numbers, the resulting set of even numbers is the same size as the original set, not smaller.

English: Combe Martin, The "Pack 'o Cards...
English: Combe Martin, The “Pack ‘o Cards” Inn. Built to relate to a pack of cards, i.e. 4 floors to represent suits in a pack and 13 fireplaces to correspond to the number of cards in a suit and reputedly 52 windows as per the number of cards in a pack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much of the above is far from rigorous, and I’m aware of that. However, the main thrust of the arguments is still, I believe, valid. Numbers are fascinating things, with each one having unique properties, and a whole lifetime could be spent considering just one number.

English: Unusual chimney These brick chimneypo...
English: Unusual chimney These brick chimneypots can be seen on the original school building, dated 1857, which lies behind its successor, see 438699. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Enhanced by Zemanta