Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a compilation

This is a condensed version of the outside work I did for the reading today (the fact that there was little required reading left me time to explore):

Luxo Jr Watch it. Love it. Crave it. (Oh wait, craving satisfied - Pixar has since done a number of excellent movies and shorts. Way to start off right!)

Who is Nietzsche? (Also, Stanford wrote it and I like that university)

I am such a big fan of this. I can see this working really well at a physics conference - at least, that's how I wished it worked, I feel that I'm a lot better at spontaneous speaking and explanation than a prepared speech, especially when I'm familiar with a topic.

And then I learned about T.S. Eliot. I liked this quote particularly:
"...he has followed his belief that poetry should aim at a representation of the complexities of modern civilization in language and that such representation necessarily leads to difficult poetry."
That biography was written by the Nobel committee. I wondered what a Nobel Prize in Literature meant, and so I found out:
" the words from the will of Alfred Nobel, [the author has] produced 'in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction'" (thank you wikipedia)

Like many of you, I am sure, I wondered who Wassily Kandinsky was, but that's basically what the Internet is here for, to tell us all about things we never knew existed. 

I mean, you know, no biggie, the father of modern art or something. THAT hasn't influenced anything over the years.
I'm personally generally a much bigger fan of realistic art rather than the abstract variety, but this stuff doesn't grate on me (Picasso definitely does), in fact I would even be OK with it in a hotel, so I feel morally OK posting this.

There you go! Those are the things I explored today! It was exciting.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Being Mormon

Today I just felt like posting quotes.

Perhaps now, more than ever, we have a major responsibility as Latter-day Saints to define ourselves, instead of letting others define us.

If the adversary cannot entice us to misuse our physical bodies, then one of his most potent tactics is to beguile you and me as embodied spirits to disconnect gradually and physically from things as they really are. In essence, he encourages us to think and act as if we were in our premortal, unembodied state.
1. Does the use of various technologies and media invite or impede the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in your life?
2. Does the time you spend using various technologies and media enlarge or restrict your capacity to live, to love, and to serve in meaningful ways?
These quotes demonstrate a focus on nature and becoming our best self - focusing on what we are meant to be, but not letting ourself be entirely free. We are intended to evaluate ourselves, see what we naturally are, and become the best of that that we can be. This represents some Enlightenment and Romantic ideals. There's some semblance of transcendentalism, which I remember discussing in high school, but the Mormon church came just after the Enlightenment era and many of those ideals show up in teachings. The Enlightenment provided a good setting for these ideals to take root among the populace, so more people would be prepared for LDS teachings to come their way.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gulliver's Travels

I meet with my group tomorrow to discuss the different ways we approached representing Gulliver's Travels. I'm not a particularly artistic person myself, so I chose to work with Wordle. Here, you can link to the wordle I made for this book! I think this is an appropriate wordle, although it is sideways and I need to learn how to fix that!
Wordle: Gulliver's Travels

P.S. I figured out how to do it! Here is a more lovely one:
Wordle: Gulliver's Travels 2

I find it interesting that there is apparently no option for which scheme you would like your Wordle to take. One would think that would be a useful option in certain contexts, but who knows. :)

For example, I think this one so far has the most appropriate font:
Wordle: Gulliver's Travels 3

But I'll stop now in order to avoid overwhelming you with options :)

(This was generated using text from the summary of Gulliver's Travels on Wikipedia. Much thanks!)


Let's get one thing straight here.
For years, people have been asking, "Do you believe in evolution?"

This is inherently a question which is impossible to answer.

To explain this, let me give you some definitions.

1. something believed; an opinion or conviction: a belief that the earth is flat.
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: a statement unworthy of belief.
3. confidence; faith; trust: a child's belief in his parents.
4. a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith: the Christian belief.
1. a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena: Einstein's theory of relativity.
You cannot, by definition, have "belief" in a "theory". (Evolution is a theory.)

Microevolution (as defined as small changes in a species, but not changes so significant as to change the species into a new species) has been proved in lab.

We've watched it happen.

So, at least in this small regard, we know that evolution can occur.
Now, let's really begin.

What is the public's real concern about evolution? It is, of course, that should man have come from monkeys (as in the popular vernacular), this leaves no room for God in the equation. In fact, it also speaks against the literal interpretation of the Bible which refers to the earth as having existed 6,000 years up to this point. 

Thus, this debate has become much more than a scientific discussion about a theory, an idea which describes and explains and connects a group of facts. It has become a religious divider - if one accepts evolution, then one has directly refuted the truthfulness of the Bible and thus denied God.

That's a serious accusation. I wonder if it's warranted.
Problem: Going back to our original question, one does not "believe" in a theory. One sees evidence for a theory, and then one evaluates whether the theory fits the facts or not.
Guess what.
So far it does. 

Here's how I see it. Right now we have a bunch of evidence for evolution. Evolution describes facts we've actually observed. Religious faith should be independent of scientific progress for that reason. Religious faith, if based in truth, should be constant. Scientific interpretation of natural phenomena changes.
Hopefully, all things testify of their creator, but it is certainly possible to use natural phenomena both as evidence for and evidence against a supernatural creator. Thus, I think it's hard to use existence as a logical, infallible argument for either side. 
But right now, evolution fits the facts. We may find a better theory later. Evolution may be the going theory until the 2nd Coming. I don't know. But whatever happens, now, in the past, in the future, it's important to realize that faith is "a hope for things which are not seen, which are true" (Alma 32:21). 

I've decided to not let my faith rest in scientific progress. (Being human, scientists are going to make mistakes. Regardless of your religious beliefs, it's not safe to rest perfect faith in science.) I'm rather going to let my faith stand strong with the scriptures and the testimonies of the living prophets, and in my own experience through prayer and following promptings and commandments given through the Holy Ghost. And I am all right with simultaneously accepting evolution as a significant theory which works for right now, but given evidence, could change rapidly. That's science. It's not faith. They coexist, and all is well in Zion.

Bonus points for those of you who can point out the flaw in the logic of this video.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nuh uh

So, I just finished reading my group's book, "Gulliver's Travels". I found it a quick read and quite entertaining. Additionally, the book was online! For free! I found this a wondrous advantage.

The premise of the book is so unusual (Gulliver travels to four different nations, where the inhabitants of each nation greatly resemble people in many ways but differ in some important regards unique to each nation) that children with a reasonable vocabulary could find it entertaining, but those with a better understanding of the cultural context of the book could find a deeper meaning.

Here, for this post, I just wanted to comment on one aspect of the book. In the third nation Gulliver visits, the people of the nation are consumed by theoretical knowledge, which frequently turns out poorly in application. (However, the experiment should work, so the people never revert back to their previous ways in fear of being despised by all the other, more enlightened citizens.)

One example of such an experiment is to use cucumbers to trap sunlight rays. The book cited many such absurd experiments, which I initially assumed were all made up. However, not so! Some research into the background of the book yielded this interesting information:

When Swift wrote this section of the novel, most of the experiments and theories espoused at Laputa's Lagado Academy, including extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, had actually been carried out or proposed by the scientists of the Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge, a society founded in 1660 which as of 2006 continues under the shortened name, the Royal Society.

Ha ha! Oh my goodness! We studied this society in class, and people actually tried this experiment. It makes me wonder sometimes about university knowledge. Some of the things we do sound as absurd as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers. Sometimes they work though. But not always. Fortunately, I think our society is sufficiently focused on practical knowledge that the absurd ones don't come through so often. What's the most absurd legitimate experiment you've heard of? Let's hear it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

yay reading

So P.S. my group is reading Gulliver's Travels.

Also P.S., I think it would be most excellent if assignments were posted on the course, under both "calendar" and "assignments", because that's the intuitive place to look and I was quite confused for a bit until I remembered someone had mentioned it was on the blog. Just, you know, for consistency's sake, it would be super great :)

So, I looked up background about "Walden" and such, and I had to read it both for AP English in high school and for Honors 150 a few years ago, and I have yet to be impressed by any of it.

Concept: A guy took a break from his life to think about things, and that's awesome, but I personally feel that I think about things sufficiently on my own WHILE doing practical things such as studying and working.

I tend to be a high energy, intense person when I'm interested in something. The concept of taking time off to relax this way seems like the product of a mind who didn't take sufficient time to ponder while also being productive in real life. I can understand the urge to go be by yourself for a while and figure things out, and I can understand wanting to write it down to help de-muddle things in your mind, but I'm trying to understand why everyone else paid attention.

I suppose he's a good writer, and he thought things through, but don't you all do this anyway in your own head? I bounce these ideas off people around me all the time, and then I go out and apply them in real life. I check to see if they work, and if they don't, I change my mind about things. Eventually I've narrowed it down to something I feel pretty confident in. In the meantime, I'm not all passive-aggressive about avoiding people and this one person per square mile thing.

It's so frustrating to me that people revere him.

Thoreau evidently had his own need to go out and avoid civilization for a while, do it on his own for a while. Evidently other people get something out of this. That's great. Maybe his thought changed the whole course of Western civilization. But in my case, it's just not personally enlightening. And you know what? That's all OK. And one day, I will also graduate and I can go read interesting authors like Ayn Rand. That's OK too.

(I realized that I kinda had this attitude about the last author I mentioned, and this is a bit atypical. Evidently the Romantic movement and I do not agree. I will try to not be so angsty in the future, because I suspect no one enjoys annoyed blog posts. :)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Faust" is weird

I am not kidding.

Let me share this excerpt from the summary of "Faust", courtesy of Wikipedia:

  • ...Mephistopheles wins the argument and Faust signs the contract [the devil does everything Faust wants him to, in exchange for Faust going to hell after Faust dies]... 
  • Faust ... then meets ...Gretchen. 
  • He is attracted to her and with... help ... the devil draws Gretchen into Faust's arms. Faust seduces Gretchen and they sleep together. 
  • Gretchen's mother dies from a sleeping potion, administered by Gretchen to obtain privacy so that Faust could visit her. 
  • Gretchen discovers she is pregnant. 
  • Gretchen's brother condemns Faust, challenges him and falls dead at the hands of Faust and Mephistopheles
  • Gretchen drowns her illegitimate child and is convicted of the murder
  • Faust tries to save Gretchen from death by attempting to free her from prison.
  • Finding that they cannot free her, Faust and the devil flee the dungeon, while voices from Heaven announce that Gretchen shall be saved.


That sounds like the worst soap opera ever.

Then I read the summary of the second part of the tragedy of Faust. Let me share this gem with you:

"Rich in classical allusion, in Part Two the romantic story of the first Faust is forgotten, and Faust wakes in a field of fairies to initiate a new cycle of adventures and purpose. The piece consists of five acts (relatively isolated episodes) each representing a different theme. Ultimately, Faust goes to heaven, for he loses only half of the bet. Angels, who arrive as messengers of divine mercy, declare at the end of Act V: "He who strives on and lives to strive/ Can earn redemption still""

And this part sounds like Goethe was on crack, but woke up and consequently realized he needed to bring Faust to a happy ending to satisfy his readers' empathy with Faust.

I'm pretty sure that if this is considered a classic, there's more to it than these summaries, but as far as I can surmise, the thing's nutty.

And ironically, Goethe was noted to have helped "set the tone for Romanticism in Europe" (thank you summaries for this class) and yet he's recorded as saying that the Romantic movement was really "everything that was sick" (thank you Wikipedia for being an excellent source of knowledge and quotes and epicness).

Well, Goethe, I should really read your book before I judge the plot, but if this is exemplary of Romantic movement, I'm quite inclined to agree.

Mostly Unrelated:
Speaking of Romanticism (defined in our class summaries as "Artistic movement... emphasizing appreciation of nature, creativity, individualism, imagination, and beauty..."), this blog has at least the middle three qualities of those five. And I'm pretty sure this style of humor is unique to our time. And it's awesome. The end.

I forgot that apparently we need to talk about books we would like to read. Well, I'd basically be happy with anything of reasonable length off the Honors reading list from the 17th/18th century because that's the only category I'm missing, and I graduate in less than a year, so I gotta keep up with all that. "Gulliver's Travels" was suggested, and I would be quite interested in "Vindication of the Rights of Women" or "Robinson Crusoe", so that's all fine and dandy.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

looking at families

Families are interesting subjects. Most of us grew up in one. Most of us hope to one day create one of our own (if we haven't done that already). Those of us who are LDS have perhaps a different perspective on creating families - we have the Proclamation to the World explaining the divine role and purpose of families.

As I read this document, I look for cultural influences. Now, of course, I am inherently biased (we're all inherently biased in some way) about what these cultural influences are and how they might play a part. Reading the outline provided in the reading allows some breadth of understanding about how families have operated differently in different circumstances in location and time. Something I pondered is how the Proclamation applies to each of these settings.

The conclusion I've currently reached is that the Proclamation could apply to any of those settings. While the Proclamation's principles were (and are) not perfectly exemplified in all these circumstances, they could be. Not one of these settings and standards precludes the principles from being an important influence in the family life.

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Please share :)