Conan the Philosopher

From Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian story “Queen of the Black Coast”, some serious philosophy that is applicable to both theories that the universe is a hologram and that some quantum fluctuation could cause all reality to unravel in a moment:

“But what of the worlds beyond the river of death?” she persisted.

“There is no hope here or hereafter in the cult of my people,” answered Conan.

“In this world men struggle and suffer vainly, finding pleasure only in the bright madness of battle; dying, their souls enter a gray misty realm of clouds and icy winds, to wander cheerlessly throughout eternity.”

Bêlit shuddered. “Life, bad as it is, is better than such a destiny. What do you believe, Conan?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. ..Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

This was effectively condensed into the most famous line in the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Conan the Barbarian:

Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?

Conan: Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.

Mongol General: That is good! That is good.

For actual philosophy, check out Peter Adamson’s podcast History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps or the book version, Classical Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 1 

Feynman the Creepy Genius

Another tone-deaf post (now taken down)* related to women and science from Scientific American Blogs sparked a great disturbance in our little corner of the internet around the question of whether or not we should care that Richard Feynman was both a genius and really creepy. Our friend, Matthew Francis has an excellent, thoughtful reply to this discussion.

He starts with a particularly important point about the perils of creating a moral equivalence between personality quirks and serious character flaws in our heroes:

Very few heroes can survive scrutiny unscathed. They all have flaws, by virtue of being human. However, hero-worship blurs those flaws,  leveling them: truly nasty aspects of a person’s personality or behavior become on par with little quirks and eccentricities. In that way, we justify our worship.
Dr. Matthew Francis

Another friend, Janet Stemwedel has an excellent post** on the ethics of evaluating our heroes as individual components, the sum of their parts, or something in between, which should inform all our thinking on individuals like Feynman, or anyone else you think is a great [insert profession], but kind of a dick.

Before you remind me that I should be grateful that individuals of such staggering genius with intellects that cast mine in deep shadow have walked among us, I will remind you that it is a virtual certainty that for every Feynman or Einstein, there are several individuals with greater creativity and intellect who have lived under less fortunate circumstances and who we would be praising today but for the fact that they were not given the same opportunities.

Unfortunately, the comments have been predictably disappointing. I used this as an opportunity to make good on the positive commenting pledge I made with Eva Amsen. Maybe you should try it too?

*I have some thoughts on the editorial & perception difficulties of being Scientific American Blogs as currently structured.

**Hat tip to Matthew Francis.

Science Caturday: Kitteh Science Week in Review

scilolmap

Our hoomin scicomm friends killed it on the interwebs this week, so all we needed to do was line up a few science kittehs to illustrate their great stories. First up, Bethany Brookshire (@scicurious) in ScienceNews explains the science behind gluten sensitivity, including the meaning of FODMAPS, which are, alas, some kind of carbohydrate and not maps to the fud.

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Next, Matthew Francis (@DrMRFrancis) explains in Slate why quantum mechanics does NOT explain human consciousness. He can also explain why different kittehs spin in different directions, which may be more useful.

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Finally, over at BoingBoing, Maggie Koerth-Baker (@maggiekb1) delivers a masterful explainer (with gifs!) on the science of faceplanting. If I have a tiny quibble with this piece, it’s that kittehs generally look upon faceplanting as more of an art.

All lolcats via Cheezburger.com