Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Everything Happens

“Everything happens for a reason.” I've heard this said more times than I care to remember. It seems to be the last refuge of the abandoned and powerless. I suspect that really what they are saying is this, “Every bad thing that happens does so according to some larger orchestration by a higher power so that a greater good can come to pass.” As is my wont, I choose this to pick apart.

The statement implies that all events in the universe are controlled in order to bring about the greater good. Even within this are three tells: that there is a higher power; that there is something called the greater good; and that the creatures within the universe do not have free will. The first (the existence of a higher power, be it God or Fate) is nothing out of the ordinary. Many people are inclined to believe that such a thing exists. In fact, the vast majority of humans believe such a thing. It's not unusual and by itself is not necessarily a bad thing. The second (the existence of a greater good) is the converse to the existence of evil. However, I question the existence of objective evil. If a powerful natural event like a tsunami happens near a population centre, we say that there is evil. If, however, a star explodes and destroys a solar system of lifeless planets, we marvel at the majesty of the universe. No mention of evil there. Evil is only present where there are humans, it seems. This leads into an entirely other topic on whether human life is any more or less special than insect life – for another time, perhaps.

It is the third of these claims that causes the biggest problem. If the higher power has contrived events to happen so that the greater good is served, what happened to the free will of the people who were caught up in those events? To keep the initial statement true, we must say that the higher power has taken control over the wills of all the people in order that that would act in such a way that no other outcome is possible. That is, those people have no free will in those events. And we must extend this to all events, because everything happens for a reason, not just some things.

What, then, is the alternative? That nothing happens for a reason? Shall we believe that all we have is causality? “We are all victims of causality. I drank too much wine, and now I must take a piss. Cause and effect,” said The Merovingian. This, too, is a mechanistic view of the universe. He did, after all, choose to drink the wine. Already we have come back to the matter at hand: free will choices. In a world of free will choices, nothing happens for some cosmically determined reason but most things have a cause. While I have free will, I will use it. I choose to use it.

And yet my undoing is in neurobiology. Behind my eyes, behind the thin layer of skin, muscle and bone that is my face, is just a lump of grey protein. It is nothing but a complex series of chemical reactions. It is far too complex for me to unravel. In fact to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, any sufficiently complex neurobiological system is indistinguishable from free will. The terror (or perhaps absurdity) is not that we have no free will because some higher power insists on controlling us to bring about the greater good, but that we have no free will because we are nothing other than complex neurobiological systems, mere chemical reactions.

Monday, 25 June 2007

If Only Judas Had Waited

I've written about Judas before. He's a fascinating character for several reasons that will become evident over time and many more blog entries. For now, think about his suicide. Within 24 hours of handing Jesus over to the authorities, Judas has killed himself. Despite Jesus saying that the crucifixion will result in resurrection, Judas does not remember this and does not see any light at the end of the tunnel.

What if Judas had waited a few days and wallowed in his misery? Suppose he had lived long enough to see the risen Christ in the garden? Would Jesus, much as he did with Peter, offer Judas a chance to be reconciled? Perhaps he would have commanded Judas to, "Feed my lambs" as he did with Peter.

Suppose that all this had happened, and that Jesus had the opportunity to welcome Judas back into the fold. What status would we have afforded Judas today? What status would the early church have given him? Perhaps even a letter from Judas would have graced the pages of the New Testament! None can say. However, what we can pose is the challenge of weakness in the face of power - or genuine power itself. That is, it is reasonable that Jesus would have made such an offer to Judas. Even if Judas had acted treacherously, being brought back into communion with the other disciples would have been one of the greatest demonstrations of grace the world had ever seen. Such grace (what the world sees as weakness) is the greatest power of all. Such a "weakness" on the part of Jesus would have been enough power to destroy centuries of exile and condemnation by others.

In weakness is true power.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Paul Goddard - Agent Brown

This post has nothing to do with the usual banter. I just wanted to say that I'm in the middle of a two day course on how to deliver better presentations and one of the coaches is Paul Goddard. Yes, the Australian actor from The Matrix and Farscape (and other things). He's given me some great advice and I'm quite thankful for it.

That's my brush with Matrix fame.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Champions of Norrath

NOTE: Gaming topics have been moved to Tabletop Manifesto.

Although not quite against my better judgment, I've recently acquired a copy of Champions of Norrath for the PS2. It was by Snowblind Studios who had done Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance so I went with it based on that recommendation. I also pocketed Justice League Heroes (Snowblind again) while I was there. Hooray for bargain bins.

And this is my first taste of Evercrack. I can see the addiction potential there, easily. It's the sort of thing that compels the player to level up over and over again. There just doesn't seem to be an end to it and if there is the opportunity to get even bigger stuff, it happens again. Such a hack'n'slash. There is no way that I will ever play this online, though. I have a life and playing online only adds the extra compulsion of additional social contracts. I already have a social contract that is more valuable than finding the next munchkin-esque weapon on the corpse of the villain.

The bugs in the game are disappointing and infamous. Delays between subtitles and voice soundtracks... delays in displaying the terrain... I even found one doorway that didn't have a caption like the others, it had the subrountine call instead. Still, it worked and I went through to pound the next bunch of monsters.

Overall, I still enjoy the game, despite the problems. I'm not expecting a story as such. There aren't any complexities and the plot is very linear. With the variety of characters and the different levels I'm likely to play this game again, perhaps as a different character and then back to the first one. It certainly won't be a game that I play through to the end just the once. There seems to be good longevity with it. I'm glad I bought the PS2. Now, if only there was a PS2 title called Materialist Philosophy of God.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Props to Judas

What's so wrong with Judas? He's gotten a bad rap, as far as I can see. For two thousand years he's been labelled a traitor, but I think that's a label that's open to some very valid criticism.

Did he betray Jesus? Perhaps the better question is this, "Did he hand Jesus over the authorities deliberately?" The answer is yes. However, I don't think that this is a betrayal in the treacherous sense of the word. Rather, consider that Jesus intended to die by crucifixion. The canonical gospels record that Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples that he will die, and that he will be lifted up and that each must take up their own cross.

Jesus also orchestrated his own death. Rather than avoiding his enemies in Jerusalem, he confronts them. He makes all the signs of a prophet who is decrying the religious establishment. He makes all the signs of a Jewish zealot who rides into Jerusalem to liberate it from the Romans. He has set up his own death and all he needs is the pathway to the courtroom and a death sentence.

Judas, far from being the one who didn't understand Jesus' intent, is possible the only disciple who did understand it. He was obedient unto death: the death of his master and of himself. He was obedient unto ridicule - a ridicule that has lasted for millenia. He did exactly what Jesus told him to do: "What you must do, do quickly."

Compare him to Peter. Peter tried to stop Jesus from dying whereas Judas helped. Peter is called "Satan" by Jesus but the only one to accuse Judas of Satanic activity is the narrator of the Fourth Gospel. Peter denies Jesus three times. Judas does not do it even once. And yet Peter is hailed as the first pope, and John is reputed to be the disciple whom Jesus loved. Judas is reviled by the people of the time and ever since - and yet he did only what his master asked of him.

Ultimately, I think that Judas has been cast in a bad light by a community of faith that could not understand what he did and yet proclaimed how good it was to live in the afterglow of the resurrection - a resurrection that would not have happened if Judas did not deliver Jesus to the authorities.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

More gaming blogs

NOTE: Gaming topics have been moved to Tabletop Manifesto.

Just got a couple of gaming blogs that I would like to promote.

All Games Considered
I've listened to a few episodes of the AGC podcast and think it's pretty cool. My only criticism of it is that the episodes are long. Just too much information for my limited availability of time. Still, the hosts are articulate and interesting, so that almost balances it out. Overall, the cost of time is worth the content.

The Durham 3
Haven't listened to these guys yet, but Paul Tevis at Have Games, Will Travel makes reference to them regularly. And so does a colleague of mine.

The Sons of Kryos
Again, an intelligent swag of commentary for your enjoyment. One of the presenters has a funny voice (and may not know it) but that should be reason to download. It certainly helps the appeal of something like The Philosopher's Zone. Ahh, Alan Saunders - where did you get that accent?

Monday, 4 June 2007

Paralysed by Rage and Good Manners

One of my favourite scenes in The Matrix is the first meeting between Morpheus and Neo. He offers him the red pill and the blue pill and Neo takes the red pill, representing knowledge of the truth. It comes with a warning: you can never go back.

The warning is true. Once truth is revealed, it is impossible to forget it. Neo could not turn back from the effect of the pill, he could not return to the waking sleep that he had always known. Instead, he was thrust into a war between revealing the truth and allowing the general public to know the truth.

I hate seeing people I know and care about stuck in the Matrix. Unwilling to take the red pill and arguing that the blue pill is better. It enrages me to see them trapped. It enrages me more that they are trapped of their own free will. Sadly, good manners and altruism confine me. I can say no more to them.

I will say no more now.