The Shocking Truth: The Earth is a Sphere!

04de985f44835fe1f4b384f713afbaecc2f475986bb467b02e997d050331d6d4

I am not sure what the heck is going on here. Humanity seems to be going off the rails. First, we elect an incoherently rambling, narcissistic, racist, sex offending, billionaire conman as president, now YouTube is being inundated with “Flat Earthers,” people so shameless in their ignorance, that they not only admit to believing in, but argue that the Earth is a flat disc! I could never have imagined that anyone, other than a small child or possibly a Middle Eastern goat herder, could be this ignorant. Honestly, stupid is the only way to describe it. If this is where we are today, it disturbs me to think what the future holds for our species. How far back are we going to go? Might we be seeing blood sacrifices to bring back the buffalo? At this point anything is possible.

Now, I don’t know what kind of mind can wrap itself around the notion that the Earth is flat, and that every scientist, pilot, astronaut, cosmonaut, navigator, sailor, geographer and anyone with any common sense is lying to them. To be fair, this may be the result of some conspiratorial mental disorder. Perhaps, where these people live, there’s too much lead in the water (welcome to Trump’s anti-EPA America).

Science is the very best tool we have for knowing what is true and what is not. It’s the reason we can sit in a house, with a fridge full of food, and stare at a computer screen making YouTube videos. Using the scientific method, we make inferences about the nature of the world based on our observations. If you look outside your window and see a tree, you can be certain that tree is there. These observations, properly measured and recorded, is what is collectively referred to as evidence. But what Flat Earthers fail to understand, or refuse to understand, is that they must take into account all of the evidence. Going back to our tree analogy, if I were to walk outside to discover a lawn company had parked their truck in my driveway with a realistic picture of a tree on it, I might conclude that the tree I thought I had seen was, in fact, a photograph. The evidence presented by Flat Earthers in their videos is what is called “selective evidence.” They focus on the tree without ever going outside. Using this technique, I could prove anything I wanted. A scientific theory, to be taken seriously, must take into account all of the evidence. If there is even one piece of evidence that discredits your theory, your theory is wrong. And the only theory we have about the shape of the Earth that satisfies all of the evidence is the spherical theory.

What is this evidence, you ask? I’ve made a small list below. If Flat Earthers fail to explain any one of these things, then their argument is invalid, and that’s putting it kindly.


 

1. All astronomical bodies we can see with the naked eye are spherical: the moon, planets, the sun and stars.

02-moon-facts-graveyard

That’s a ball-shaped thing!

2. The sun rises and sets. If the Earth were flat, the sun would shrink, and we would not have day or night.

3. You can see the shadow of the Earth on the moon during a lunar eclipse and at certain phases. The only shape that always produces a round shadow is a sphere.

4. Stars rotate around us. If the Earth were a flat disc, we would see the stars growing more distant, and they would never entirely move beyond our line of sight. If the stars are dipping under a disc-shaped Earth, you would have to explain why people on the other side of the world can still see them.

5. Certain stars can only be seen in the northern or southern hemispheres. Try calling someone in Australia. Ask them to take a photo of the night sky. Their stars are different. This is only possible on a spherical Earth.

825425423d48da953a2608f7a13b434c

6. Time zones are only possible on a spherical Earth. On a flat Earth, daylight would last the same amount of time everywhere.

7. In Scandinavia, night can last for 22 hours. This only makes sense on a spherical Earth.

8. It’s colder toward the poles, the further north or south you travel. Conversely, it tends to get warmer as you move closer to the equator. This only makes sense on a spherical Earth, as less sunlight reaches the upper or lower regions where the Earth curves away from the sun.

9. GPS can only work on a spherical Earth.

10. Satellite TV can only work on a spherical Earth. You can observe satellites with a store bought telescope, and you can see the International Space Station with the naked eye.

final_configuration_of_iss

11. We have countless photos of a spherical Earth. It is statistically impossible to fake all of the photographic evidence, and commit tens-of-thousands of scientists who have worked for NASA, the European, Indian and Chinese space agencies, and private space agencies, to a world-wide conspiracy. Not to mention we have amateur astronomers who make the same observations on their own. It would also cost more to hide the truth than to simply go into space!

12. Ships at sea vanish from bottom to top. This is only possible on a spherical Earth. Don’t believe some crackpot’s YouTube videos. Go out to sea! Witness it for yourself!

13. You can see much further from a higher altitude. This only makes sense on a spherical Earth. Conversely, it is impossible to see things in the opposite hemisphere, whereas on a flat disc you should be able to see the Himalayas with the naked eye, or at the very least, with a telescope.

14. Airlines navigate using a spherical Earth model, which is why you can fly faster from New York to London, than say, from New York to Paris.

15. A flat Earth is not physically possible. Gravity pulls things equally in all directions, which is why every major astronomical body is spherical. If the Earth were flat, it would collapse back into a sphere.

16. You can see the Earth is a sphere from a high altitude or by simply looking out at sea. This is why the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians knew the Earth was a sphere. In fact, the Greeks correctly calculated the circumference of the Earth using nothing but two sticks and trigonometry. I have seen the curve of the Earth myself and you can too. Stand atop a high altitude overlooking the sea and turn your head from side to side. You can also use a straight ruler and line it up to the horizon.

The Witcher 3 vs. D&D

the Writer's Disease

A while back, I wrote a post regarding my preference for tabletop role playing games to video games, and the ten reasons I feel D&D is the real deal. Today, I’d like to address the flaws I find in electronic RPGs like Dragon Age and Skyrim. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved video games since the NES days. But when I switch from the real thing, with dice and paper, to a console, the effect can be jarring. The most noticeable thing I find is that, with an electronic RPG (let’s call them VRPGs) there is no sense of realism. Now it might be unfair to compare D&D to Diablo, which is little more than a mindless hack n’ slash, so let’s look at the cream of the crop, a game IGN gave a 9.3: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

What I find particularly perplexing about most VRPG’s is the canyon-wide dichotomy between the visuals…

View original post 1,569 more words

My friends voted for Trump

I have a problem, and it’s a problem that I think many Americans share. My friends voted for Trump. The fact that they could do this utterly mystifies me. Since the day we elected this monster, I have been trying to rationalize the choice they made. But as news reports continue to lend credence to the very worst of our fears, any excuse I can imagine falls apart. It might be different if my friends were to show some measure of remorse, if one were to say to me, “Hey, I didn’t realize it would be like this. Sorry, I was duped.” But that hasn’t happened yet, and I do not imagine it will.

trump-nazi-salute

I am truly at a loss for what to do. I don’t want to excommunicate people I have known for decades, who have gone out of their way to help me in times of need. Of my co-workers, friends and family who are Trump supporters, I have only discussed the matter with one. The others, I suspect, are aware of my disappointment. I haven’t hung out with my cycling buddy since the election. It’s not that I hate him, or don’t ever want to see him again. It seems a petty thing to end a friendship over politics. Aside from that, I feel it’s important to keep the channels of communication open between people with dissenting views. To do less would further the harm caused by our echo chamber culture. A divided house cannot stand. We need allies to fight tyranny. But the hurt inside of me is great, and the normalcy of my relationships has been irrevocably disturbed. How can I be expected to go on like nothing unusual has happened? News breaks daily to confirm we are living in a dystopian nightmare.

Trump wants to bring back torture. Trump wants to sell federal parks and landmarks to private business owners. Trump wants to get rid of the Endangered Species act. Trump bans Muslim immigration and denies visas to Muslim countries (except for those countries with whom he has business dealings). Trump makes it so that Christians can enter the country more easily. Trump wants to make a Muslim registry. Trump wants to report on all illegal activities by immigrants, legal or otherwise. Trump wants to build a border wall, a 20 billion dollar project at taxpayer expense, while breaking up Mexican families. Trump wants to take away healthcare. Trump wants to take away tax breaks for new home buyers. Trump removes mention of civil rights and LGBT rights from the White House website. Trump appoints Exxon CEO and climate change denier to head the EPA, and threatens the jobs of any scientist believing in climate change. Trump appoints a Wall Street banker to head the Treasury. Trump calls the news media liars, and limits their access to the White House. Trump appoints a white supremacist to his cabinet, to write his speeches, and in doing so fails to mention Jews in his visit to the Holocaust memorial. 

This is just off the top of my head. Have I left anything out? Any one of these things should disqualify him from the office. And we’re only weeks into his presidency. What is the country going to look like in four years, if he is not impeached? Is there any doubt he is an evil man? A criminal bent on the destruction of every value we hold dear? That all he does is for his own personal gain? Whether you are Muslim or Mexican or white Protestant, how can you watch your rights be eroded day after day, and not begin to fear? How can anyone put their faith in a man so clearly delusional, who argues facts—like the size of the crowd at his inauguration—as if they could be debated? We can see the pictures for ourselves, and yet we are supposed to accept what he is telling us, and ignore reality. We are supposed to shut our ears to the media because, according to him, they are all liars. Trust in him alone. Because his ego matters more than the state of the union. Are these not the words of a tyrant? The actions of a dictator? A Hitler?

So I am forced to ask, are my friends not aware of all this? Do they not watch the news? Are their Facebook feeds really so different from mine? I find it hard to believe, when all anyone can talk about these days is Trump. And if my friends see these things, as I suspect they have, what does that mean?

I tried to illicit some sympathy from my friend, explaining to him that I was scared. For my wife. For my friends. I could lose them, I said. If not from Trump directly, from those he has inspired, from bigoted fanatics, Nazis and KKK members encouraged by the knowledge that the president echoes their sentiments. My friend argued that he was more afraid of Clinton. How? What did Clinton threaten to do to him? To his family? I suspect it may have had something to do with his NRA leanings, but Clinton was never in favor of banning the 2nd Amendment, whereas Trump made his threats clear. To export millions of immigrants —calling them rapists and drug dealers—and to ban those traveling from undesirable countries, many of whom are women and children seeking asylum. Assuming Clinton had run on an anti-gun platform, a gun is a material thing. You cannot equate banning a material thing with banning a human being. You cannot equate a disagreement over the minutia of the 2nd amendment with a show of outright hostility toward religious and racial minorities. My friends’ vote, however insignificant, reflects the values they most care about.

I had a black friend in college named Marcus. We weren’t that close, but I thought he was a cool guy, and a great writer. Now, if I had come to school wearing a shirt that read, “I Hate Niggers,” how could I expect our friendship to remain unaffected? I could argue, “Hey, it’s just a T-shirt.” I could go so far as to say, “Listen, this shirt isn’t really going to cause you any harm,” and it most likely wouldn’t. And yet, wearing the shirt would be indicative of my beliefs about Marcus and those of his race. Now I’ve heard the argument that not every Trump supporter is a racist. A lot of them can honestly claim they voted for Obama, but that this time around, for want of better jobs, better lives, they threw their hats in for the man they thought could best deliver. But still I ask, “How could you?” Does your personal, financial situation matter to such a degree, that you throw out all other values? Do guns matter so much, does abortion matter so much, that you risk destroying the lives of those closest to you? Does your compassion for others—for minorities, religious groups, LGBT people—STOP at the first sign of personal hardship?

Before I was married, I thought I understood racism. I’d seen movies. TV shows. Then, during the Bush years, I came face to face with the ugliness and, more importantly, the fear of bigotry. While waiting for his pizza in my restaurant, an older gentlemen started to rant about a certain group of people. “Even if I saw one dying in the street, I wouldn’t raise a finger to help him.” Hearing him say that got my blood boiling. I wanted to reach across the counter to punch him. I was dizzy with rage. Shoving the pizza in his face, I told him never to come back. I recall another incident where I had to tell my wife and daughter to sneak out the back door. A guy had walked in wearing a trench coat with a huge swastika emblazoned on it. Let me reiterate, if you’ve never had an experience like this, you do not know what racism is, and I still can’t even imagine what it must feel like to be black or Hispanic or Muslim. To be the object of scorn. The object of violence. There is no excuse for a racist president. No excusing your vote for one.

12346536_1195410470469929_8225848992487455026_n

I am scared and I am angry. And I am forced to wonder, is there a tipping point? A point at which Trump will do something so heinous, that even his most ardent supporters will be forced to open their eyes? When did Hitler’s most vocal advocates realize they’d made a mistake? Was it when the ovens started? When friends and neighbors started losing their lives? And in that point, could any Jew truly call a Nazi his friend?

The Hub of All Worlds

There is this crazy theory that’s been rolling around in my head for quite some time. It’s the idea that, given enough time and space, all fictions are non-fiction. Take your favorite book or movie, The Lord of the Rings, Harry PotterStar Wars. Somewhere, at some point in time, these things must have happened. I know I know, call the men with the white jackets, but hear me out for a sec.

hub-space

A growing number of astrophysicists have been arguing in favor of the multiverse theory, which states that there may be more than one universe, and in all likelihood, an infinite number of them. Neil deGrasse Tyson has stated that every time humanity thought there was only one of something, one Earth, one solar system, one galaxy, we were wrong. So why stop at one universe? The multiverse theory helps to explain a number of astronomical enigmas, including the origin of the Big Bang, the identities of dark matter and dark energy, and the inexplicably rapid expansion of space. One needs only ask, if our universe banged into existence, from where did it originate, if not some nether region beyond itself? If it is expanding, like a balloon, what space is it expanding into, if not some outer-outer space? What is perhaps still more interesting, if there is in fact more than one universe, astrophysicists argue, it is very well possible that each of these are governed by physical laws different from our own. If the gravitational constant deviated to the slightest degree during the early formation of the cosmos, stars may not have formed, and without stars you cannot have planets, or life. Life may be unique not just to our planet but to our universe as well. But if the multiverse has no boundaries, there would have to exist an infinite number of universes containing life, and in every conceivable form. Consider the limitless ways in which subatomic particles can come together, and the possible arrangement of atoms that follow, and the DNA strands constituent of those atoms. If these quantities are infinite—and only if they are infinite—some random Big Bang would create the right conditions for some random planet to randomly form Westeros from Game of Thrones, and the myriad details those books contain. Not only that, but we would also have a Westeros where things are slightly skewed, where Ned Stark doesn’t get beheaded, even one where everyone lives happily ever after. There would exist so many possible Westeroses, that finding the one you are look for would be as impossible as finding any Westeros, and by impossible, I mean it would take you an infinite number of years. This is the problem with the number infinity. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, even for mathematicians, and it makes for some profound if not absurd proofs. There are several other problems with this theory as well:

 

  1. There may NOT be a multiverse at all. According to Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing, one universe is all we need, and everything about the Big Bang and its consequent expansion can be explained by our current understanding of physics.
  2. If the multiverse does exist, it may not be infinite.
  3. The only number that can mathematically affect infinity is infinity itself. So all the kids at the playground one-upping you with, “infinity +1” are wrong in thinking their number is bigger. Infinity +1 = Infinity. Infinity -1 = Infinity. Heck, Infinity minus a googolplex is still Infinity. I bring this up only because, in the previous paragraph, I made the assumption that where time and space are infinite, variation is not. Imagine I left you alone with a certain number of LEGO blocks, and I gave you until forever to arrange those blocks any way you wanted. Eventually, every car, house or boat you could possibly make, you would. However, if I were to give you an infinite number of LEGOs, you could not arrange them in every way possible, no matter how long you tried, as these two infinities would cancel each other out. Infinity – Infinity = 0. Now, replace LEGO blocks with atoms, and you get the same result. Given a limitless number of ways a universe could exist, we might never, ever produce Westeros.

 

Now let’s assume, for the sake of this thought experiment, that a multiverse definitely exists, time and space are indeed infinite, but there are just so many ways atoms can be ordered. Given these statements, we still run into the problem of infinity itself, because, as stated before, even if there is a Westeros somewhere, or a Middle Earth or a Hogwarts, we most likely could never, ever find it. Even after a million years of technological and biological evolution, having built starships to make the Enterprise look like a wheelbarrow, we still would never be able to find our favorite fictional world out there, though we might be able to prove, mathematically at least, that those worlds exist.

In his short story, The Library of Babel, Argentinian Sci-Fi author Jorge Borges imagines an infinitely-sized library, containing not just every book ever written, but every book that could ever be written. The people perusing the library seek to find books containing a record of their own lives, but given the nature of large numbers, they never do.

library

The Library of Babel

From a pragmatic standpoint, such metaphysical-mathematical musings are a waste of time. If we can never know, why bother? We could make the same case for a much more plausible scenario. At this very moment, as you are reading this, some alien being is reading a near identical theory, in a thriving civilization on the opposite side of the universe, some 13 billion light years away. Even if we could freeze ourselves in a starship, to travel for that length of time, the alien civilization would certainly fizzle out by the time we got there. In fact, after 13 billion years, entropy would eliminate all trace of any such civilization having ever existed. Its star could go supernova and the gases surrounding it could reform into a new star and a new system before our arrival. If that weren’t enough, after 13 billion years, the rate of the expanding universe will exceed the speed of light, so even if we were to travel as fast as any particle can go, we would still never, ever meet our alien neighbors on the opposite side of our universe, or even find evidence of their existence. They would be as elusive to us as non-fictional Westeros. William James, founder of pragmatism, would likely argue that, if no evidence can ever be presented of something being true, it is equivalently untrue.

Not so fast, William James, because here is where art comes in, to exceed the limits of math and science and philosophy. For while we may never be able to literally travel to our favorite fictional worlds, we can get there instantaneously, using the vessel that is the human mind. This is what we do whenever we think. Or use our imaginations to create worlds. Authors, painters, video game developers, and the like, are all in effect explorers, and the space in which they explore is that of probability (in Sci-Fi) and possibility (via fantasy). Now it may appear that I have made a kind of logical fallacy, an argument from semantics. Fiction is something we consider to be untrue, because we can’t ever really know if it’s untrue, or, in other words, we believe something is false only because we can’t know whether it’s true. For a writer, however, this need not be a matter of contention. Writers do not seek absolutes, after all, but uncertainties, and to some extent, falsehoods. By entertaining metaphorical realities, we give fodder to those seeking literal realities. And even then, what exists solely in the mind possesses its own inherent value. At the very least, this thought experiment can help us rethink and reassess the purpose of creativity, and how it can play a larger role in the big questions posed by science and philosophy.

The realm of possibility and probability, where fiction and non-fiction dance around one another, is a place I like to call The Hub of All Worlds. It is an imaginary center, similar to Cosmos’ spaceship of the imagination, from which we can traverse the multiverse. And, while the theory that everything is true, given sufficient time and space, may not have any real-world applications, it makes for good storytelling.

2016 is Over (Finally) Year in Review

As of this writing, most of humanity is still alive. But there’s still time. So far, we’ve lost Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds (her mother), George Michael, Watership Down author Richard Adams, and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s dad. Proving we are all living in a computer simulation, or as I prefer to think of it, in some author’s imagination, George Michael dies on Christmas Day, and is known for the song, “Last Christmas.” Fisher played Princess Leia, a character whose mother, Padme Amidala, dies of a broken heart, then Fisher’s actual mother, Debbie Reynolds, goes and dies of a broken heart. If that’s not proof enough, our government is hijacked by a KKK-approved fascist propped up by a Russian dictator (yes, I went there, fuck you) closely imitating Philip Roth’s novel, The Plot Against America, and Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate. At this point, we’ll be seeing Game of Thrones-style dragons in 2017.

But there’s also been a lot of good this year. I finished The Princess of Aenya, found a fantastic editor for my first Aenya book, and a new artist for the cover of said book. So, if Trump doesn’t trigger the Apocalypse, we should be seeing Ages of Aenya on sale sometime next year. Or, if he does, maybe the adventures of the Ilmar will provide comfort to those hunkering down in their bomb shelters without electricity. With electricity, well … who the hell wants to read when there’s PS4?

As for The Writer’s Disease, I feel this blog has begun to run its course. Most of what I have wanted to say, about writing, fiction, naturism, religion—has been said. I could go on, of course, into the never ending minutia of literary analysis, review another million authors, continue to share my radical views on naturism. But the thing is, I’ve never wanted to be a blogger. To run a successful blog, you have to focus on something. Video game blogs, movie blogs, naturist blogs, all see more traffic than mine. When I wrote Why Don’t We Live in a Perfect (Nude) World, it was shared 4,500 times on Facebook. I was invited to write for a naturist related magazine and a newspaper. My reaction? I quit writing about naturism.

All that has ever really mattered to me is storytelling. I’d rather be the late-great but lesser known Richard Adams than a YouTube star with a million followers. I’d rather pull the heartstrings of a single reader in earnest than lure thousands with some click-bait bullshit. And to that end, blogging is a dead-end. My time is better spent in fiction. Alas, writing is a lonely endeavor, and I must learn to embrace solitude.

This doesn’t mean I am quitting altogether. Every now and then, a topic will come along to compel me onto my soapbox. The free will debate is a recent example. But you won’t be seeing weekly updates when there are adventures to be told. Without doubt, you will also be receiving updates on The Children of Aenya.

Now, without further ado, here are my favorites from 2016:

 

The Fantasy Writer’s Dictionary: Too often, when you’re reading a book like Game of Thrones, you come across a word like wain or postern that simply doesn’t register. To give an impression of historicity, fantasy authors lean on archaic nouns and verbs, many excised from the OED. So I made this resource. Best part is, it’s a living post, to be updated as terms I don’t know cross my eyeballs.

The Nomad: A Love Story DLC: Dynotus wanders twenty years in the desert in search of his abducted fiancee. This is one of my earliest novels, from when I was in high school, a romance adventure set in a mythological world. Download it here for free in PDF.

The Destructive Power of Ego: If you want to succeed in writing and in life, it’s best to set ego aside. I discuss my struggles with self, with regards to my own person and those I have worked with.

The Princess of Aenya: This year saw the completion of my latest work. Here I offer the prologue and sample chapters.

The Aenya Bestiary: Updated to include the avian race, with new artwork!

DMT and D&D: I talk about drugs, tabletop role playing games, and the power of the human mind. What more do you need to know?

The Death of Truth: We seem to be living in a post-truth world. A gross number of people are no longer concerned with what is actually, demonstrably true, choosing, instead, to accept comforting delusions. This is a scary thing.

What is Free Will?: I challenge Sam Harris’ notion that free will is an illusion, and all such a philosophy implies.

 

 

Watership Down

Over the past two days, the world has become a little dimmer. We’ve lost three great voices, singer-songwriter George Michael, actress and writer Carrie Fischer, and the lesser known but equally significant Richard Adams, author of “Watership Down.” Adams lived to see 96. As a tribute to him, I am reposting my review of his book here. No surprise, it’s wonderful. And for you, Richard, may El-ahrairah lead you to greener pastures.

the Writer's Disease


Not about naval warfare, as you might think.

Did I ever mention that I love rabbits? Bar none, they are the cutest animals on the planet. Kittens? Puppies? Hamsters? Not even close. When I was a kid, a friend bought me a pet rabbit as a birthday gift (didn’t go over so well with my mom). For some reason, I named her after my sister, Bessie. But Bessie (the rabbit, not my sister) had a terrible life. She mostly sat in a large cage in my father’s orange grove eating lettuce and making Coco Puffs. We sometimes let her out to silflay (graze), until the day my dad tried to pick her up and she scratched his arm. He dropped her and she broke her back. I was fairly young at the time and still averse to the idea of death, so my parents neglected to inform me of Bessie’s…

View original post 968 more words

What is Free Will?

Let me preface this post by admitting that I have a deep admiration and respect for philosopher Sam Harris. I listen to his podcast weekly, highly recommend his books, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, and Islam and the Future of Tolerance, and I agree with most of what he has to say regarding religion and Islamic-inspired terrorism. But when Harris asserts an idea I don’t agree with, with a certainty unbecoming of Socrates, I find myself itching to debate him, and here I would like to tackle his assertion that there is no such thing as free will.

Most modern-day philosophers, Daniel Dennet and Sam Harris among them, agree that free will does not exist. That we have any choice in what we do from day to day, in how we shape our lives, is merely an illusion. According to Harris, if you decide to eat a ham sandwich for lunch, it’s not really you making that decision. There are all kinds of neurons firing in your brain, conspiring without forethought, to impress upon your consciousness the belief that, “I want a ham sandwich.” In reality, your body settled on two slices of bread with ham, Swiss and mayo before you could even realize it. Take something less innocuous, like murder, for instance. Harris states that becoming a murderer is really beyond your control. It is determined by countless little factors like brain chemistry, parenting, and a history of violence. He is quick to point out, however, that while the freedom to murder does not exist, we are equally bound by whether or not to excuse it. Society and nature dictate that we act to discourage murder from happening. In that we are in full agreement.

Now the problem I have with the issue of free will is twofold. Firstly, there is tapestry theory, which states that the whole cannot be defined by the sum of its parts. Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night ceases to be a painting of stars once separated into its constituent drops of paint, nor does the essence of the painting reside anywhere within those droplets. In like fashion, when it comes to free will, I do not limit my focus to neurons in the brain. By extension, a human being is greatly more than the contents of his body. So while the neurons in my brain are telling me to eat a ham sandwich, I would ask, how did those neurons get that way? More than likely, my digestive system sent subtle suggestive signals up into my head. Perhaps there is even some deficiency in my blood a ham sandwich might help to remedy. Furthering that, how could I know to want a ham sandwich if I never learned what a sandwich is, or what ham is? So memory plays a role. Then again, I cannot possibly remember something that does not exist. No doubt, space and time are equally determining factors regarding free will, which brings us back to murder. My wanting a ham sandwich, just like the guy wanting to kill his wife, is determined by countless factors that go back to the beginning of Time. Heck, without the Big Bang, I also could never want a ham sandwich.

But all this begs the question: what the heck is free will? In simplest terms, according to the OED, free will |ˌfrē ˈwil| is

noun

the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.

I would ask Sam Harris to imagine what it would be like if free will did exist. What would that look like? Is it even possible? I say not. Why? Because when philosophers talk about free will, what they really mean to say is cause and effect. Never mind humanity. Can a universe exist without cause and effect? I, for one, cannot imagine there being one. Our universe is one of physical laws, with one thing acting upon another thing ad infinitum. When we talk about wanting a ham sandwich, yes, the neurons are firing in the direction of ham + bread + mayo, but those neurons are further composed of atoms, and those atoms act according to the strong and nuclear forces that bind them. We’re all just things being acted upon by other things. Arguing against this is a moot point. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku seems to have understood this when he said, in a discussion on StarTalk Radio, that free will most definitely can exist, because of quantum theory. Subatomic particles are not bound by cause and effect. Quarks blip in and out of existence for no apparent reason, and move in undeterminable patterns, in what is better known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. What Kaku understands is that the argument over free will is an argument over physical laws, but in the subatomic realm, these laws start to breakdown.

Sandwich

a ham sandwich

Now I am not about to use the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to argue against Sam Harris. That’s a bit of a stretch. But I do feel we need to better define our terms when we argue philosophy, and not fall into the trap of semantics. In some sense, I agree with Harris. We cannot make decisions irrespective of causality. But this isn’t how the free will debate is worded. When you vehemently argue that people’s lives are preprogrammed, that any decision they make is illusory, that we are all in a sense slaves, this causes the mind to protest. I am not suggesting, however, that Harris make his philosophy more palatable, but rather, that in using terms like freedom and illusion, his argument makes false implications. You cannot claim to be a slave when freedom not only doesn’t exist, but cannot exist. You cannot claim something is an illusion where there is no reality. There is no difference, in this case, between wanting a ham sandwich and believing that I want a ham sandwich. The person who thinks himself as free is free.

And now I really want a ham sandwich.

Aenya News Update: 11/29/16

A few months ago, I put out a request for artists for the upcoming 2017 edition of Ages of Aenya. After a bit of vetting, by which we produced the Avian and Horde (below), I settled on the talented Zhengyi Yu.

I chose Zhengyi for his painterly style, which better suits a novel, I feel, than the more cartoony styles of my other, albeit equally talented artists. Mr. Yu also impressed me with his landscapes. When I see a book with some impossible, otherworldly terrain, it draws me in, igniting my imagination, and I hope to capture readers in the same way. More importantly, Zhengyi has been wonderful to work with, being attentive to my needs and more than willing to brainstorm and make changes. If you’re looking for a talented illustrator, look no further! Also, be sure to check out his awesome gallery at Zhengyi Yu

aoa2017cover

Thelana overlooking Hedonia

Here we find Thelana overlooking Hedonia. The massive pyramid temple of Sargonus eclipses the background. Depicting our heroine in her natural state, without triggering any censors, was a challenge. I wanted her in a normal looking pose, not too sexy or bashful, and without any comically placed leaves in the way. And she had to be dynamic, to show her power and fearlessness. She’s naked in a city of thousands and yet she does not feel vulnerable! That being said, Zhengyi and I are working on an alternate cover, with Thelana draped in her trademark jade cloak (hey, she gets cold sometimes). That way, you can read about the Ilmar on the subway without getting any weird looks!

OK, you may be thinking, all this is fine and good, but when can I read it? Glad you asked! As the old adage says, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and while I don’t believe this to be 100% true, story remains the most important thing, seconded only by the quality of the writing. Without those things in place, you can’t hope to sell a million copies, unless of course you’re writing bondage porn.

I’ve spent more than a decade building this world, its history and geography; fleshing out its races and its characters. Nine years alone I spent editing, as I ran a restaurant and helped my wife raise our two kids, but even the best of us need another set of eyes. If I could give myself amnesia, I could do it all myself. But it’s impossible to judge yourself objectively, to judge any story really in a non-biased way. Nobody can. But finding an editor you can trust isn’t easy. An author’s story is their baby. Giving it up, I am forced to wonder, will the editor tear it up for the sake of tearing it up? Will they maintain my voice? Avoid their own biases? This is a legitimate concern for me, as I’ve had professors try to “correct” my work in the most inane ways. One of my teachers actually suggested that the nun in my short story, Anna and the Devil, masturbate. After all, Satan can’t touch you so long as you abstain from carnal thoughts. His PHd, not surprisingly, was in religious studies.

Then I met Ava Coibion. Ava offered me a free sample edit, of my prologue, and we talked over the phone about our favorite writers, literary styles, and the best way to edit without encroaching on the author’s art. I found her to be intelligent and sensitive. And also, she had this to say,

 

Nick,

There are a thousand praises I could sing here, and with your permission, I’d love to at least give my friend Frank Beddor a sample of your novel to review, or perhaps put you in touch directly with him. But for now, here is the edit for Book One. I was determined to complete the work before Thanksgiving, in hope that you might have a little down time to review my suggested changes. In truth, I devoted this last week and a half solely to the completion of the edit, not because we are on a deadline, as I know you aren’t concerned with a timeline on this, but because I simply couldn’t stop! The prose is intelligent, poetic but often nicely spare/concise, and full of emotion. A true pleasure, and even if you don’t take me on for Books 2 and 3, I will read forward on my own because I simply must know what happens next . . .

Let me know what you think of my comments. I do think the final chapter could be split up into 2 or even 3 separate chapters.

All best,

Ava

 

I know I know, mere flattery. And I might be thinking the same thing, if it weren’t for the fact that, all of my beta readers have given me a similar response. Still, it’s great to get this from a professional, who no doubt has to trudge through literary swamps of poor storytelling.

So now, dear reader, you may be itching to get your hands on this bad boy. Well, the next step is working with Ava through the 170+k words, about 500 pages, until every “T” is crossed and “i” is dotted. Then I get to slap Zhengyi’s contribution over top of it, and last but not least, skedaddle on to the printers.

Ages of Aenya should be available sometime in 2017. In the meantime, my wife will be querying my latest effort, The Princess of Aenya, and I will be dutifully pursuing The Children of Aenya, the third book in the Aenya series, partly based on the Dungeons & Dragons campaign I have been playing with my friends and family these past two years. If you’d like to learn more about The Children of Aenya, and the game we are playing, feel free to join us on Facebook at The Hub of All Worlds.

 

 

 

It Could Happen Here: A Review of The Man in the High Castle

I’ve already been a victim of hate speech. This wasn’t your normal troll variety flaming. This guy got eerily personal, digging deep into my life to attack my lifestyle, my beliefs, my career, and most disturbingly, the person I chose to marry. Sadly, he concluded I should leave the country. People like him have never understood what America is and what it stands for. But to understand America, you have to look no further than its founding document, The Declaration of Independence:

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

You won’t find “white Protestant Christian” mentioned anywhere in our founding document, but you will see it in Jefferson Davis’ traitorous Articles of the Confederacy. Our constitution specifically states that ALL MEN are created equal, and that they have a right to Life, Liberty, and Happiness. This is what it means to be an American. This is our founding ideal. If these ideals are threatened or abolished, if people of color or those of differing religions are cowed by an institution of fear, then the U.S.A. ceases to be. We won’t need to leave America because America will have left us. Honestly, it amazes me how these trumps claim to be patriots. These same folk insisted our first black president must be a Muslim terrorist dictator, born in Kenya. They want to kick us out to make America what it isn’t. To them I say, Go back to Germany!

In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick imagines the allies losing to the axis powers during World War II. In this sobering alternate history, America is no more. The land is still there, as are its people, but its founding principles have been abolished. Nazism is law and the ideals of aryan superiority. Jews are forced to change their names, to better hide their identities, and blacks, Indians and handicapped people veer close to extinction, and it’s all due to the ramblings of a paranoid, narcissistic strongman.

Now I didn’t plan to be sitting here writing this review as this nightmarish scenario edges closer to reality. But life can have a sense of irony. In all honesty, I picked up The Man in the High Castle because of the Amazon show, and because Philip K. Dick is among the greats of the Sci-Fi genre. His novels adapted to screen include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Bladerunner), We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (Total Recall), Super Toys Last All Summer Long (A.I.), and The Minority Report. Bad titles aside, Dick is known for his mind-bending concepts, deeply couched in philosophy. In Bladerunner and A.I., he challenges our notions of consciousness and sentience, and our ethical intuitions with regards to synthetic life. In The Minority Report, he imagines a totalitarian world where a prescient police force can stop and punish a crime before it happens. Stop and frisk? But The Man in the High Castle deals not with some far flung future, but post-America circa the 1960s.

It isn’t difficult to imagine this happening, and it can be argued that, by the slightest tweak of events, our world might appear totally alien to us. Consider what would have happened had the German scientists behind the V2 rocket made the atomic bomb? A single nuke, dropped on New York City, and we might all be shouting, “Sieg Heil!”

Looking at the story of the human race, you come to see repeating patterns and the same foolish mistakes being made again and again. The Roman Republic collapsed due, in part, to xenophobia. Julius Caesar was charged with protecting against northern incursions, acting preemptively and genocidally in the name of Rome. Shortly after his military campaign, he declared himself emperor, but was assassinated, stabbed by sixty senators on the senate floor. The political factions dividing the Republic went to war, and when the dust settled, democracy was no more. A similar thing happened in Germany after the first Great War. Hitler was elected chancellor, owing to his impassioned rhetoric regarding German exceptionalism and a pure Arian race. He was viewed as an outsider and a strong man, someone who spoke his mind and could get things done. He blamed all of the nation’s problems on immigrants, particularly the Jews, but those with disabilities as well. It is impossible to talk about these events and not think of Trump. To a student of history, the parallels are all too clear, too frightening. This is why a book like The Man in the High Castle matters.

Alternate histories show us a startling picture of what could have been, shaking us out of our complacency, helping us to recognize the invaluable lessons of the past, lessons we too quickly forget. Dick offers a startling reminder of a world we fought so hard and sacrificed so much to escape, a world where every man, woman and child are judged not by their character, but by their race and nationality. The picture he paints is often haunting. There is no cooperation in his Nazi world. No NATO. World leaders show courtesy to one another so far as they prepare for the next war. In this hellish setting, the only remaining powers are Japan and Germany, with America divided between them. Nuclear devastation is a forgone conclusion, because the Nazis do not want peace, only to conquer, to prove their superiority. Humanity be damned.

All that being said, it’s unfortunate The Man in the High Castle isn’t a better book. Philip K Dick is a rare genius, but his genius too often gets the better of him. His book diverges into wild philosophical tangents that have little bearing on the plot. While his characters run the gamut from an antiques salesman to a Nazi undercover assassin to a Japanese diplomat, they all lose themselves in thought. Dick has a lot to say about the human condition, the nature of suffering, the psychology of cruelty and the politics of race. It’s far too much to condense, and it’s an admirable literary endeavor. I, for one, look for meaning in every story, but here the story seems to take a back seat to whatever meaning the author is trying to convey. Given the subject matter, it’s a shame he couldn’t have been more focused. He only hints at the axis victory and how it played out, and we learn just as little about the bomb dropped on Washington or the global genocides perpetuated by the Third Reich. Dick does, however, give considerable detail regarding the manufacture and selling of antiques.

As I neared the final pages, I anticipated some great reveal, something akin to Life of Pi. In a meta-fictional twist, The Man in the High Castle involves a fictional account of the allies winning the war. A lot of mystery surrounds this book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and its author, but the payoff just left me confused and wanting more.

I have a need to understand how the very worst of things can happen, and whether they can ever truly happen here in America. So I picked up Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, wherein a Nazi ascends to the White House. Look for that review soon!

The Death of Truth

This is something I have been thinking about for quite some time now. I originally planned to write a (more lengthy) post about this, and I probably will someday, but after this past election, wherein Americans voted for a Fascist, I felt compelled to express my concerns.

It is a dangerous time for civilization when truth no longer matters, when the difference between fact and fiction becomes a matter of political preference, when science can be challenged by ideology. Truth matters. Facts matter. With climate change, the destruction of the environment, the mass extinction of species, Islamic terrorism, and nuclear proliferation, facts matter now more than ever. We are living in a unique time in history, a time when we have the power to destroy all life on Earth, including our own. We are caught in a race between ignorance and knowledge, and a growing anti-intellectualism that threatens our very existence. Without truth, we cannot make the  necessary decisions to steer clear of the apocalypse. This is not hyperbole. This is not some sandwich-board doomsday prophesying that has yet to come to pass. No. We are witnessing the results of our ignorance on a daily basis.

When we elect, as leader of the free world, someone who rejects the findings of science, who does not understand the dangers of nuclear war, who appoints a climate change denier as head of the EPA, and another who denies evolution as secretary of education, when we accept these things, we reject reality. And how did we get to this point? It happened when journalism became entertainment, when history and science textbooks gave way to political subjectivity, when the Internet became a haven for those seeking refuge from reality and a confirmation of their biases. This has happened before. It happened in Athens and in Rome; it happened to the Aztecs and the Islamic Empire. No civilization has ever endured the loss of truth. Ours won’t either.