Robot theology

While I’m on the subject of scholastics (I’ve just been listening to a lecture on the subject): had Ken Macleod been so minded, he could have found plenty o material in medieval theology to justify robot religion — perhaps starting with ideas of grace. In Aristotle’s conception, Grace is a form within the soul. That means it’s a shape, a pattern. The material in which it is embedded is irrelevant, just as a pot is a pot whether wooden or ceramic. Grace

in silico

would not be inferior to Grace

in vivo

**: robots would be as capable as humans of faith, hope and love.

* bear in mind, this entire concept remains somewhat new and alien to me; I’m almost certainly butchering some carefully-considered principle. In all honesty, I don’t much care.

** Doubtless you could concoct other arguments for robot inferiority, perhaps arguing that they weren’t created directly by good, and so are merely a shadow of a shadow of his Goodness. After all, Christians have plenty of experience justifying racism; justifying discrimination against machines would be an order of magnitude easier.

oh, just shut up about Aristotle already

Final post on the Scholastics — and this one will be short, because doing it properly would require enough research to lose myself in a library for a week. I’m very big on the defensibility of reasoning by analogy, in partial (prob. exaggerated, tbh) opposition to a Popperian understanding of science by development of hypotheses in a vacuum. The scholastic idea of analogy is a very limited and specific one, intertwined with the theology of man created in the image of god, and they’re sceptical of metaphor in general.

Again there’s an ancient Indian parallel to be drawn here, and again I’m too wooly-minded to make the case. But here is an article giving the basics of Nyaya ogic, and the classic example is easy enough to follow:

There is fire on a hill (called Pratijna, required to be proved)
Because there is smoke there (called Hetu, reason)
Wherever there is fire, there is smoke (called Udaharana, i.e. example)
There is smoke on the hill (called Upanaya, reaffirmation)
Therefore there is fire on the hill (called Nigamana, conclusion)

In brief: analogy good, mmkay?

And so to bed


Back in Berlin, since Monday. Sorry about everybody in the UK I didn’t get to see — this is what comes of taking a holiday without properly clearing your workload first. Now, a bits-n-bobs post…

I’m less distraught than most by the new government. Yes, I hate the tories as much as the rest of you, but don’t think joining a coalition automatically means selling your soul. As always, I’m in favour of making the world marginally less shit, rather than keeping yourself pure and shouting ineffectively from the sidelines. So this is better than a Conservative minority government. Less good than a Lib-Lab coalition, but arguably not much worse than a lib-lab-nat coalition which can only just scrape a majority, and can’t do anything for fear of falling apart.

On which note, I feel I should relay back to Britain (or possibly just England) the Europe-wide bafflement at Westminster panic over a coalition, and grumbles about it taking all of five days to resolve. Much as I try to explain the effects of FPTP and history, there’s a universal reaction of “so what?”.

Meanwhile friend_of_tofu picks apart Cameron/Clegg slash. (also here


So, from a feminist perspective, I find it more than a little bothersome that negotiated agreements are (still) being presented, even slightly, as less puissant, less masculine than adversarial snarling – phallologocentrism* FTL. But can we blame anyone? My inner adolescent is loving every minute! The cognitive dissonance is driving me batty.

Despite having Waco permanently lodged somewhere in my imported-from-America cultural consciousness, before today I’d never heard of the 1985 MOVE bombing — just before my time, I guess. Democracy Now explains:

[Yesterday] marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of a massive police operation in Philadelphia that culminated in the helicopter bombing of the headquarters of a radical group known as MOVE. The fire from the attack killed six adults and five children and destroyed sixty-five homes. Despite two grand jury investigations and a commission finding that top officials were grossly negligent, no one from city government was criminally charged.

Pattern Passion, a romance about numbers. Was just recommending this to somebody, & realised I hadn’t plugged Remittance Girl on here for ages. Her Beautiful Losers is reliable a piece of comfort reading for me. [both mildly nsfw, I guess]

He was a three, I realized with a little shiver. A metal-legged spider scampered up the ladder of my spine and curled itself into a cold, tingling ball just beneath the back of my skull. A perfect, perfect three.

Mike, on journalists/aid workers/researchers trying to get distance from human suffering:

There’s no trite lesson at the end of this post. Except to glumly remark that our liberal Ummah doesn’t stretch anywhere near as far as we would like to think. That our (or my) habit of picking and choosing the acquaintances we maintain at a distance – between the friendly, well-educated, useful ones we want to keep up with on Facebook, and the ones who aren’t on Facebook at all – is repellent. And that there must be a way of doing better?


I’m not wild about having a Tory government, but less distraught about it than most of my friends seem to be. It’s sure as hell better than a Conservative minority government. Yes, the Tories will destroy anything not nailed down in the coalition agreement, and probably a few things that are. Yes, both parties will band together to shit on the poor, and we’ll eventually start wishing we had Blair or Brown.

As for Labour: this is the only time I can remember being on the side of the Labour leadership, against belligerent backbenchers. Particularly irritating were the attacks on the SNP — a party who, even if not in a coalition, would be relied on by lib-lab in any vote of confidence. Tribalism is a double-edged sword, I guess: good when aimed at the Tories, hopeless when when directed at the SNP. Difference: the Conservatives



Labour hasn’t quite finished shooting itself in the foot


The Scottish National Party has called on the Liberal Democrats to join a “progressive alliance” involving Labour, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Labour dismissed the SNP’s progressive alliance suggestion

as a desperate attempt by Mr Salmond to make himself look relevant.

WTF Labour?! That’s 6 votes we desperately need to keep the Tories out. What are you doing not just turning them down, but dissing the SNP while you’re at it? Seriously, can anybody explain this? It seems an utterly bizarre reaction in the circumstances.

Good work to all those at the electoral reform demo, btw. Sorry not to be there; have too many long-overdue things to get done.

George Scialabba

The Mr. Bean film sees the eponymous hero, a hapless museum attendent, foisted on a foreign museum under the pretence that he is a visiting expert. Grilled about his critical methods, he answers that “I sit and look at the paintings”. The museum officials, impressed by this back-to-basics approach, immediately hire him.

Beyond the world of farce, there’s always a bubbling undercurrent of non-professional intellectuals, independent scholars by choice or implication, sometimes producing work of staggering quality but entirely lacking in professional ambition. Over the years, they build up devoted, if rarely large, audiences — people cutting their essays out of whatever small magazine they can get published in, stashing away otherwise-forgotten gems, like the cluster of music geeks hovering around that promising local band which never quite gets a CD out. The internet makes it much easier, of course.

George Scialabba seems to be one of them, according to this review by Scott McLemee.

It also, incidentally, provides a more positive view of Opus Dei, as a form of social innovation more suited to the young and devote than traditional orders:

“For several hundred years,” he told me, “a small minority of Italian/French/Spanish adolescent peasant or working-class boys — usually the sternly repressed or (like me) libido-deficient ones — have been devout, well-behaved, studious… the bright ones become Jesuits; the more modestly gifted or mystically inclined become Franciscans…”

Instead, he was drawn into Opus Dei — a group trying, as he puts it, “to make a new kind of religious vocation possible, combining the traditional virtues and spiritual exercises with a professional or business career.”