Monthly Archives: June 2010

What Might Have Been (Part 8)

Clan Snow Raven Warship Storm Crow
Nadir Jump Point
Near Periphery
2 February, 3006

“Battlestations!” Star Commander Arianna Shu barked out an order she had never expected to issue at this point in her career as the unthinkable happened. In an uninhabited system, nearly thirty light-years from any object of strategic or human significance except for the weak M-class star at the system’s heart, another vessel was materialising less than a thousand kilometers off Storm Crow‘s bow.

Klaxons sounded as her order was put into effect and one of the veteran technicians who manned Storm Crow‘s night shift began speaking calmly over the massive vessel’s Public Address System “All hands man your battle stations. This is not a drill. Repeat: This is not a drill. All hands…”

Arianna had been left in command of Storm Crow‘s bridge precisely because such a situation was vanishingly unlikely. Senior officers had better things to do — such as paperwork — than sit idly on the bridge for days at a time, and it was thought that such a watch was the perfect opportunity for a junior naval oficer to get a taste of command. Storm Crow had had many such watches, punctuated only by drills, since leaving the Homeworlds six months ago. Dispatched by Khan Magnus McKenna in anticipation of the acceptance of his plan to assess the condition of abandoned Star League bases in the near Periphery, Storm Crow was only now approaching its first objective, an antique automated supply yard and drydock.

Had they been followed or their itenerary leaked? Was this an attempt by a lesser Clan to destroy or capture the Sovetskii Soyuz-Class Heavy Cruiser far from support? Taken alone, there were no shortage of hostile vessels that could be expected to overpower Storm Crow herself.

“Based on long-range transit, bogey is expected to be a Merchant-class or similar Jumpship. We cannot rule out a Warship.” That was the report from the sensors section, that last bit undoubtedly meant to remind the rookie commander that she should be cautious. I know that, but what is the right move? If it were a Merchant, keeping her distance until it could be confirmed would be seen as overly timid. If it were a heavier warship, closing with the vessel, still known only as a heat contact since it had yet to fully resolve in the system, could be disasterous, even fatal.

The worst thing a Clan Warrior could appear to be was timid. Brave and dead was considerably better.

“Give me maximum thrust. Close to optimum weapons range and ready for action.”

It was only moments later that Star Admiral Robert McKenna entered the bridge, beating his juniors by luck or foresight.

“Captain on the bridge!” Arianna snapped to her feet in the one and a half gravities of a Warship under acceleration and saluted, moving to one of the bridge tactical stations.

“At ease! Report!” the Star Admiral barked as he took his place at the heart of the bridge and switched on his tactal monitors.

“One Bogey, confirmed Merchant-Class Jumpship with two Dropships. Astrometry guesses those as Union and Fury classes. Range is eight-two-five kilometers and closing.”

“Identify us to the unidentified vessels. My compliments to their Captains and crew and I demand their immediate and unconditional surrender. I will not ask again.”


It has occurred to me recently that if you believe a supernatural being created the world, you need to make sure to give him full credit for having done so, as in this priceless Mony Python parody:

All things dull and ugly,
all creatures short and squat.
All things rude and nasty,
the Lord God made the lot.

Each little snake that poisons,
each little wasp that stings.
He made their brutish venum,
he made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous
All evil great and small.
All things foul and dangerous,
the Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet,
each beastly little squid,
Who made the spiny urchin?
Who made the sharks? He did!!

All things scabbed and ulcerous,
all pox both great and small.
Putrid foul and gangrenous,
the Lord God made them all.

On the nature of truth

I am, by the necessity of my training and to a lesser extent as a consequence of my disposition, something of a lightweight mathematician. I’m not going to forge ahead in new fields or solve the old riddles, I may not even pass my Calculus class in truth, but I understand the philosophy behind math. I understand and can do proofs, at least the most rudimentary ones, based on ideas with which I am familiar. One thing I have learned is that nothing can really be considered true.

Mathematicians give themselves a certain pride of place in saying that they’re the only people who really prove things. They’re right to an extent, mathematics is the only discipline in which one takes universally accepted axioms and applies them to inescapable conclusions. But even mathematicians rely on a number of ‘just-so’ statements (premises or assumptions — those very axioms which are the basis of every proof) and the things they prove are not even about the real world, but rather about an imaginary world that at best superficially resembles the objective universe we can’t even be fully sure exists. So even mathematics doesn’t have any truth.

How much more so is this the case for the debased cousin of mathematics, science? At least one of science’s key propositions (called the Principle of Parsimony or Ockham’s Razor) is actually absurd, no matter how useful it and everything that descends from it happens to be in practice. There’s no especially good reason to select the simplest of two explanations with equal predictive value. That’s really just a kludge for simplicity’s sake, and it has often been proven hillariously wrong.

But at least it’s useful. Science is the cornerstone of our modern world. Without it, we might still be living in the Iron Age (or more likely, no person like either of us would be alive,) and you’d not be reading this blog.

And then you have Science’s chief rival, at least in the sense of a body of explanatory ideas. There are arguments to suggest that Religions may be useful. Many people have found comfort in them, just as many have found paths to power, but the value of religion in this sense is sharply limited. Religion can’t make airplanes or computers or even tasty breakfast cereal. As a technological (as opposed to social, I suppose) application, Religion is broadly useless.

Math, I would say, is clearly superior to science (which relies upon it) and both clearly superior to religion (which relies on neither, but offers nothing the others don’t.) And, to reiterate the above, neither holds a single idea that we can definitively say is true. But of course, I’m talking about things from a strictly instrumentalist point of view at this point. I’ve abandoned the idea of truth in its entirety and choose only to give credence to things I consider (for no reason I can fully verify — remember, no concept of truth) to be more useful.

So what does that make me? An instrumentalist, certainly. An athiest, at least in the sense that I don’t believe in or worship any particular concept of a god and actively disbelieve in (or at least actively dislike) several others. An agnostic, perhaps, in that I accept that the existence of any particular god can only be conclusively (that is, usefully) demonstrated in the positive. A materialist? Sure. At least in the sense that I’ve found no real use in concepts that seem to transcend the material. And I guess you’d say I’m a humanist.

And, oddly, enough, it makes me a strange kind of skeptic. I have the right frame of mind, starting from the position of questioning or actively disbelieving everything, but unlike other skeptics, I don’t have the luxury of considering any given idea to be true.

I disagree with other atheists. The only thing that commonly binds Atheists is that we do not accept any religion as true. Thus while many atheists are sexual hedonists and/or anarchists, I am not (I have found no use for the first philosophy, and the second I consider plainly useless on its face.)

I disagree with other agnostics, specifically on the idea that it’s impossible to prove a god exists, or that the undecidability of the question ought necessarily to stay my hand from active disbelief.

I disagree with other skeptics, even the scientific variety (as opposed to those skeptical of science — whether it be medicine, geology, or global warming, whose propositions I find even less useful.) Many are politically conservative or libertarians, which shows that they have either failed to embrace humanism, or are less trusting of other fields of science than the ones that hold their chief interest. In fairness, I suppose it makes more sense to distrust the softer sciences (economics, sociology, anthropolgy…) than the harder ones (astronomy, geology, biology…) but I see no particular use in this position. We have no better models than the best provided us by those soft sciences, and it’s an inevitable consequence of humanism combined with instrumentalism to be firmly lead to progressive positions in light of them.

And I disagree with other materialists, specifically in the vehemence with which many of them will insist that there is nothing spiritual and nothing after death. From where I stand, the question is undecidable, and the idea they espouse saved from uselessness only by the fact that no opposing viewpoint has yet proven to have any use.

For that matter, I’ll even disagree with other humanists and progressives, in that they will often act as if things that have yet to gain solid scientific foundation are Absolute and Eternal Truth (which, of course, I know doesn’t exist,) or paint in painfully broad strokes on a very nuanced issue.

So, to sum that up, nothing’s true, and I probably disagree with you. With that I open the floor for comment.