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…

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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.