MetaCognitions | Writing Technique

I’ve been thinking about the writing process, such as that can be as this blog’s resident entity from beyond space-time….

Is it some alien elder thing seeping from deep within the vowels of the earth, issuing forth with dire murmurations laden with hideous consonants and a doomed attempt to impose some order on the whole horrid outcome with punctuation?

It’s actually quite ordinary, with nothing from outside the curves and angles of space-time involved at all. Even a shoggoth could manage it — or my cats.

I use a variety of tools, from brainstorming, storyboarding, and at least half a dozen more as I experiment to initially generate ideas. I either put material down as electronic files or write it down old school, with pen and pad, as I often keep that handy in case something interesting pops up, and I have to capture it before it dissipates. Some ideas show up only once.

Once I have a basic draft, I let it sit for a time, simmer a bit, as I slowly add to it. The process is surprisingly controllable, though tends to work best during extended periods of strategically alternating mental focus and unfocus.

Once I have enough to work with, I open the draft, add any final material, and edit the crap out of it. I go through at least three full rounds of edits on the entire piece, and then proofread it twice, once from beginning to end, and then from end to beginning, reading it aloud to myself or under my breath, and rewriting the piece as I go each time.

When I’m doing that, I pretend I’m the narrator of an audiobook and read with as natural a vocal pace as I can manage. I tend to find the majority of errors during the proofreading process, catching mistakes my eyes alone often miss.

Once I’m done, I work on the layout and format of the piece, finish that, and ready it for publishing.

And that’s about it. The whole affair is nothing special, but it works, and works well enough that it makes the job of keeping up the lab in the Sooper Sekret Volcano Lair™ easy for the eldritch servitors, even when having the death rays and world destruction machine upgraded.

Life as a Lovecraftian horror sometimes has its perks. 😉

Tf. Tk. Tts.

MetaCognitions | Staycation’s End: 2018

Ikktighar furiit – Greetings. It’s been a while. For the almost the whole of this month, and ending yesterday, I’ve been on staycation at home with the cats, while family is out of town for a break from Norfolk life. And each time, since there’s none but myself here to do housework and feed the cats, it’s consistently the nearest thing to solitude I’ve ever experienced. Much of that solitude is spent on writing, study, and practice of exercises from workbooks when not doing housework. So that being said, even with my time management skills, there’s precious little time to blog. I’m currently working on my next book, a nonfiction work to be published in e-format when complete and ready, and I’ll keep you up to date as I go. But with family back, maybe a little more of that time can be used to update this blog. I’d like that. I can’t promise regular posting, but I will post when I have something ready, and that’s well within my ability to fulfill.

Thanks to all of you who visit and follow this blog. You’re all brilliant, absolutely brilliant in your ways. And that’s no mere platitude: every one of you, without a doubt, knows something I don’t. And you’ve been so patient with my constant experimentation with different scheduling methods over the years, many ultimately unsustainable with my health needs and study requirements to consider. It’s time for Troythulu to roll up his eldritch tentacled sleeves and get to work, both online and off.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

MetaCognitions | Worst Apocalypse EVER!*

Last Caturday was the appointed time of a common non-event, the End of the World, again, as predicted this time around by an alleged Christian numerologist, one David Meade.

He has since shifted his goalpost by saying that the apocalypse has been moved to October. Whatever. They do this every single time an End Times prediction predictably fails to come. The claims both come and fail to bear out like clockwork.

Even professional theologians, which this fellow is apparently not, have powerful, versatile imaginations that aid them in seeing and recognising patterns in the data they perceive.

Sometimes, as when critically discussing the content of scripture, its origins, its meanings, its history, they are often spot on in the accuracy of their conclusions.

Other times, when expounding on matters of the Unknowable, their speculations are only that: speculation, and only as good as the assumptions they bring to bear. The patterns they see, or rather, impose on the data, have no objective bearing outside of their own faith community, much less the larger world outside their own lives and world-views.

What exactly is a Christian numerologist supposed to be anyway? The term is nonsense, empty of valid professional content, though I’m aware of what it’s supposed to mean.

So, moving on…

It is said that predicting the future is a lost art, and in many human endeavors that is so. There are the failures of long-term economic forecasts, the predictions of futurists, and most notably, the claims of politicians out for your vote or your money, or both.

But science, at least in the more rigorously mathematical fields, has a stunning record of successful past predictions even with the occasional failure. Rarely 100% accurate, as certainty of that level is never easy to come by on contingent matters of fact, science makes no doctrinal claims of absolute metaphysical certitude.

But it’s a stunning record of success nonetheless, with, for example, solar eclipses being accurately calculated years, even decades or centuries in advance of their actually happening, often down to the millisecond. Even in predictions not so accurate, the track record of science is still far better than the predictive claims of almost any other human enterprise.

So, with that in mind, I’ll raise a question: given the profound and consistent failure of predictions of the End by armchair mystics and even professional theologians who should know better, why give any weight at all to them?

Why, if the observed is to be a guide to the unobserved, as with scientific empiricism, or the past is to be a guide to the future, as conservative thinkers of history have argued, why are we to give any credence at all to such a historically consistent pattern of failure to bear out in fact?

If the past or the observed is to be a guide to the future or the unobserved at all, and if both show that there is nothing to these profligate, evidence-free claims, then the next time one of these makes its rounds around the Internet, maybe it’s wiser to give it no heed at all, and to simply get on with life.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

*title courtesy of Leslie Ann Ellis.

MetaCognitions | Thoughts at the Age of 53

 

As I reach the age of 53 this morning, I consider myself lucky indeed, to have lived the experiences I have, to learn the things I’ve learned, and to have met the people I have, both in real life and online. But one thing has always been lurking on the background, and that’s frequent self-doubt as to how good a friend I am to others.

That self-doubt, engendered by my failure to keep in touch with many of those I’ve befriended over the years, was a major cause of the several-month long inactivity on this blog starting in November of last year.

Part of the cause of that is my . . . condition . . . that results in a frequent, totally nonsensical and irrational desire for solitude, even with full knowledge that human interaction of some form is absolutely necessary for my psychological and physical well being.

Every year, I’m required to live alone, tending the house, garden, and cats, as well as my own affairs while family is away, often from a period of time ranging from two weeks to a full month, all on my own. I don’t at all mind the responsibility, so that’s not the issue.

But spending such long spans of time as the only human being at home causes a heightening of that innate, irrational drive for solitude, normalizes it, accustoms me to it, drawing me further from those I know, unless I actively work toward making that needed human contact more frequent.

There’s also my study and work periods spent poring over manuscripts, reading, lectures, work on notes, and the less-often-than-I’d-like practice sessions learning languages. These require solitude in order to focus, as I am a terrible multitasker.

I simply cannot engage in online conversation while at the same time trying to focus on details of a language, or the same while working on manuscripts. I’m 53 now, after all. And one’s ability to multitask declines significantly with age.

That forces me to single-task whenever I can to get anything done. That requires focus, often leading to solitude while working. If I try to do two involved tasks at once, I wind up succeeding at neither. I’m no longer in my twenties, though psychologically, I don’t feel 53.

So there’s that.

What to do about this?

One solution is to schedule my time in an organizer, and to develop more productive habits, like rising earlier while maintaining my sleep hygiene, and spending more time each day interacting online than I’m ordinarily inclined to by my condition. Isolation kills. It’ll also drive me nuts if I let it.

There is also something, more attainable with someone here to help out at home, of simply getting out more often and doing things I enjoy with others. But I’m most definitely not an extrovert, so dealing with others face-to-face can be exhausting, and that can carry over to online engagement as well, even with the seeming anonymity of the Internet.

I have doubts, frequent ones, that I have anything of real consequence or importance to say online, say, in response to tweets sent my way, or in the comment threads of blogs, even this one. It makes me feel as though I’m just not a very good friend to those I’ve come to know through social media.

It came to a head late last year on this blog. And part of the chain that led up to that involved the late Christopher Trommater, formerly known to the blogging and Twitter communities as Skeptic Cat. In February of 2014, he took his own life, and I’d only found out about it from his ex-fiancee the following month.

From then, until late 2016, that has haunted me, along with the nagging, totally irrational thought that maybe I could have kept in more frequent contact with him through email, that maybe I could have talked him out of his decision to end himself.

Maybe, the silent voice within says, I could have been a better friend than I was and he would still be here today. But that’s nonsense. I’ve learned that to give credence to such musings is nonconstructive. I can’t live my life based on what might have been, what I might have done, and yet I can’t shake the mild self-loathing stemming from the feeling that what it says is true.

But suicide doesn’t work like that. I know to a high degree of certainty that there’s nothing I could have done, other than torment myself sooner, and more deeply, than I did in fact. Chris had metaphorical demons to deal with I cannot possibly grasp as a merely online friend, that I’d be no help in enabling him to overcome.

So, happy birthday to me, as there’s a lot of work to do, and things to improve until the day I cease to be and cannot improve anything at all, save the nutrient content of the soil.

When will I reach my ultimate life’s goal, whatever that is? I’ll let you know as soon as I reach it . . . .

Aaand I don’t expect that to be anytime soon!

Tf. Tk. Tts.

MetaCognitions | Editorial, Schmeditorial — Further Thoughts on Policy

MetaCognitions

Recently I’ve updated my editorial policy page to clarify a few things, at least the sorts of posts I avoid on this blog since adopting it. As I type this, the thought goes through my head about why I didn’t adopt it from the beginning.

After all, that’s pretty irresponsible, isn’t it, for a publicly accessible website?

I agree, especially given that with this blog’s general readership, I’m not preaching to the choir and wasn’t even from the inception of the site.

As my writing has evolved, so has the blog, and some of that evolution may be seen in the content of posts dating from shortly after this blog’s founding to the present. Early on, I didn’t adopt the use of graphic headers for posts, organization was looser, and my tone really wasn’t what even I would have been particularly proud of.

Not that I ever received nasty-grams from the tone trolls, but I had doubts about the professionality of some of the material. Some of it seemed less than objective, less than professional, and more polemical than I care for.

Mind you, I’m not opposed to controversy, except when it’s mere click-bait, and I don’t care for inflammatory language, which I’m much better at noticing in myself, along with instances of fallacious reasoning (The false dilemma fallacy was common, and rightly pointed out by reader Aliman Sears in several instances.).

I’ve grown not so much prone to walking on eggshells to avoid offending, but just putting more care into my writing. Adopting an editorial policy, even this late since the blog’s founding, was and is mostly to keep the blog on topic and not simply political correctness (which I despise). I’ve noticed over time major instances of topic-wandering, often for stretches of time in my archives, like a tendency to post too many cat videos in 2010, which in all fairness, was a good year for cat videos, and too many critiques of religion, politics, and faith for a skeptical blog.

The following is the current editorial policy in a nutshell, taken from its page on this site:

…I rarely venture into political issues unless they pertain to critical thinking, science, or skepticism. For the same reason, I rarely touch directly on religion and do not attack religious institutions outright, though the occasional misunderstandings of reality by religious leaders, like similar factual misstatements by political figures, needs calling out and critique.

The focus of this blog’s skeptical side is on claims and process, not beliefs or conclusions. I will never tell anyone what they ought or ought not to believe, or what party or candidate to or to not support for office. That is in fact completely out of my hands in any case.

So that’s it. I’m still moving over my major posting to Blogger this November, but I’m transferring all pages on this site to there before that happens. I’ll continue to read, comment, and otherwise follow and interact with those on WordPress unable to use blogger, on their own sites, it’s just that this site will be closed for updates until such time as I need to use it for that again. The current content, even early material at odds with the current policy, will remain online and publicly accessible unless the content involves broken links to images or blocked, deleted, or otherwise unwatchable embedded videos, in which case the post will be deleted for not contributing to the value of the site.

So I’m not going away entirely. But I’ve been posting here for nearly eight years, and this venue needs a rest. And once I’ve shifted over, the lessons learned here shall be continued there.

Thank you, and…

Tf. Tk. Tts.

 

MetaCognitions | Thoughts on my Editorial Policy

MetaCognitions

I prefer rationalism to atheism. The question of God and other objects-of-faith are outside reason and play no part in rationalism, thus you don’t have to waste your time in either attacking or defending.

English: This image is a reproduction of an or...

English: This image is a reproduction of an original painting by renowned science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Rowena http://www.rowenaart.com/. It depicts Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work. Français : Peinture de Rowena Morill réprésentant Isaac Asimov sur un trône décoré des symboles de son œuvre littéraire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The above quote, by the late Science Fiction writer and skeptic, Isaac Asimov, encapsulates nicely the essence of the current editorial policy.

I’m by circumstance, not by choice, a nonbeliever in all of the world’s ancient, respected, and confident faith traditions.

Let others believe as they will, whatever they will, as they will. I’ve no say in that.

I can have no say in that.

Skepticism, science, and rationalism, not atheism or anti-theism, are the foci of this blog.

My current editorial policy requires me to avoid posting on matters of faith or politics, unless their advocates try to make scientific claims, attempt to impede scientific literacy for ideological reasons, or indoctrinate the young or vulnerable for less than ethical intentions. ‘Nobody likes a skeptic’ it’s said, but scammers can be dangerous, and can part you from more than just your money. Those, not religion or politics themselves, are fair game.

No one wants to hear about how much I don’t believe this doctrine, or arguments against that theology, as those are matters outside of science and so outside the purview of this site.

No one wants to see yet another tiresome attack from me on faith, another boring tirade on contradictions in somebody’s holy book. No one cares, and neither do I enough to have blogged about it recently or do so anymore. I’ve said it all before, so no longer.

Earlier posts on my earlier views will stay up, as Google gets very angry about my deleting posts, and as I am not in the habit of writing inflammatory polemics there’s no worry there.

I admit, it’s a policy that I should have adopted long ago. So no rhetorical sparring with apologists, or debating political ideologues. This is not a forum for that…

…but for science, skepticism, and those things that matter to me…

…and the fractals. That’s all.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

World-Wide Floods: A FB Discussion

Here’s a discussion I had with some friends of mine on Facebook recently, in the original order, with context, grammar, and wording preserved for ethical reasons. Only spelling has been corrected where necessary. Also, the names and genders of the participants are withheld in this post, only initials given, to preserve their anonymity and their privacy. The following image I’d shared was what sparked this talk, commentary follows:

1466061_10152020689410155_2057517202_n

. . . in Sweden. ~ CC

Thank you. You beat me to it. ~ AS

It would also be much older than the age of the Earth according to Young-Earth Creationism, except to those Creationist sects that extend the time of Creation to 10,000 years ago or so. ~ Me

And since Sweden is presumably part of the world, existing in its current location at least since the time of the alleged Great Flood, even if that flood did happen, it couldn’t have been worldwide. The salinity and depth of the floodwaters persisting even for just a year would have killed the tree. ~ Me

Perhaps But the great flood in the bibble was rain so not much in the way of high salt content. There is world wide evidence of flooding but the hypothesis is it was because of an ocean or near ocean strike of a life killer meteor. ~ AS

But you are also you are also stating viewpoints that I don’t neccessarily agree with: I’m speaking about believing that the Earth is only 10,000 years old or who don’t see the Old Testament as possibly being mainly metaphor. God is awesome, but create a universe from nothingness in six days? Sorry, but I don’t punch kids because their view of God, or whatever you wish to call the Divine Being, does not correspond to my view. ~ CC

Well who’s days are we talking about? Some have said to me that the Christian’s God’s days equal one thousand of our days. That’s why no human lived more than God’s day after the fall. ~ AS

Exactly! What is a day to God? An epoch? ~ CC

Crap, or was it one thousand of our YEARS to his one? ~ AS

Oh, dear. I had thought I was being clear when I specified Young-Earth Creationists, those whose religious dogmas state the Earth to be only about 10,000 years or less, and those who declare the days of Creation to be literal 24 hour days. I was apparently not as clear as I thought in mentioning that. ~ Me

No worries. ~ CC

Also, the rain in the Great Flood may not have had a high salinity as it fell, but the floodwaters stirring up mineral matter from both ground and any oceans existing then WOULD have had a high salt-content from erosion of the sort that YECs claim caused the Grand Canyon. ~ Me

Floodwaters deep enough to cover most mountains would have killed any plants on the surface except strictly aquatic ones like kelp. Land vegetation can’t survive those conditions for the time given in the Bible, even if only starting out as freshwater flooding. ~Me

I give the tree a good chance of survival because the odds of it are there. Perhaps it was once one among a whole deep forest and it alone survived while the others died. As for those creationists freaks, they fear truth and being wrong. I think that is a mental illness that to many people have. ~ AS

I think I see your point. Perhaps that particular tree might be tough enough to survive a year of immersion. But there’s also the question of how any OTHER land vegetation survived to give progeny to continue to this day as seems to be the case. If all land-plants could survive such flooding, and they apparently can’t do so today at those depths and for that length of time, it seems doubtful that they would mysteriously lose such a useful trait, or somehow acquired it only once for that particular flood and then lost it. ~ Me

I prefer to see flood myths (or legends if you prefer) as metaphorical, as those of different cultures are not consistent in important details of their narrative…Look up Egyptian flood myths, or Chinese flood myths, and compare those with Judeo-Christian ones just as examples. It’s more likely to me that such stories exist because of the common presence of early civilizations near large bodies of water which occasionally flooded, and these would be woven into their lore whatever the details. The Judeo-Christian ones are lifted from the Mesopotamian ones, as per the Gilgamesh Epic’s recounting of the story of Utnapishtim’s flood. ~ Me

I theorize that all these shared flood myths comes from what some would call a retelling of a gigantic earth killer meteor hitting an ocean. Lets say it was the strike that helped form the Gulf of Mexico and there isn’t any mythos from that area because maybe humans weren’t there yet to be wiped out. Nature abhors a vacuum and it rushes in water which helps to create a huge tsunami. Might I even say a world wide tsunami? Compound that with all that debris in the atmosphere shielding the planet from the sun and coming down over a period of 40 days and nights. Yeah, something that catastrophic to small groups of primitive humans will spawn many tales to explain. ~ AS

I would think that works, except for one detail: the earliest evidence of early human ancestors able to remember such an event and carry it to the present day, even as an oral tradition, dates back only into the single-digits of millions of years, about 5 or so million or less for sentient primates when our ancestors split off from those of the great apes. The problem is that that meteor strike happened about 66 million years ago when mammals and other species surviving the event hadn’t developed the intelligence needed to carry such information to early civilizations. That’s a discrepancy of a full order of magnitude not easily explained by a literal flood. Even the flooding of the Mediterranean basin happened 5.33 million years ago, so that doesn’t work as an explanation either. ~ Me

Early civilizations typically placed themselves near large bodies of water, say, seas, oceans, or rivers, for ease of trade by boat and sometimes to irrigate their crops. I’m sure there are multiple explanations for all of the flood stories, because they all differ in key details. The Egyptian flood tales involve a worldwide flood of magic beer instead of water, to save humanity rather than drown it. The tale of Utnapishtim involves an attempt by the Gods to kill humanity because there were so many of us that we were making too much noise for the Gods to get any sleep, and of course Noah’s flood for the evil and sins of the antediluvians making God angry enough for genocide. ~ Me

Scientific theory is that when the last ice age ended around 10,000 years or so ago, the mean sea level rose by 350′ to 400 ft. which caused the flood stories by different cultures around the world. this makes more sense to me personally than the meteor theory or magic beer. and at this point, this is only a scientific theory, not fact. and will remain a theory until someone invents a time machine to go back and witness the event first hand. ~ TP

The Egyptian magic beer myth isn’t particularly sensible sounding, but how else do you get a goddess hell-bent on destroying humanity drunk enough to stagger back to Heliopolis and pass out? I believe in one version of that myth the goddess was Hathor, but I may be wrong. I don’t look for any one explanation for all of any phenomenon, since each flood tale is likely to have a different cause from any other. None of these separate stories agree in their major details, so they are likely to have different causes. But any civilizations that knew of the concept of flooding in some way are likely to use that concept in their cultural narratives. ~ Me

I would caution you on your use of the word ‘theory’ also. A scientific theory isn’t a hunch, or a guess, or something someone came up with while drunk. In science, a theory is a set of ideas that describes and explains the known facts of a phenomenon. Like gravity, there is no such thing in science as ‘only a theory.’ Some scientific theories are so well established and supported by the best observations as to have the status of laws. In my experience, most scientists find the phrase ‘only a theory’ anywhere from humorous to irritating as it shows a lack of distinction between the common use of ‘theory’ and the scientific technical definition. This is not rocket science. ~ Me

How do we know things without being there? We make observations using various dating methods and forensic techniques, including potassium-argon, uranium-thorium, and rubidium-strontium dating, and similar techniques. We make observations and we match those with any predictions of what we expect to see if say, theory X were true, and if it better matches our observations than what theory Y predicts we should see instead. The theory with the most successful predictions is the one we go with until another fits the data better. No theory is ever absolutely proven, only able to survive all previous attempts to falsify it, but it can be so well established as to require a mountain of new evidence to overturn it. ~ Me

How do I know this? I’ve spent the last seven years as a skeptic educating myself on how science works, and the relation of theories to the facts they describe and explain. That’s because when I talk to scientists, online or in person, I’d much rather not make a fool of myself by misusing technical terms like ‘theory,’ or ‘hypothesis.’ ~ Me

Ah but I’m just a lay person and it was my theory or shall I say my guess. I never claimed to be a scientist, however, since we can’t fully know the truth we can’t say beyond a shadow of doubt that I might not be correct. There has been other times that the earth has been struck. And truly who’s to say that our little furry ancestors didn’t have some kind of oral tradition? If dolphin pods can pass on learned behaviors to more than just their offspring why can’t stories also be told?  I do get where you are coming from but do you sometimes wonder if you might be deliberately closing your eyes to what might/could be just because science can’t reproduce or explain it yet? I swear I’m not trying to stir the shit-pot, I’m just really curious. ~ AS

I’m a layperson as well, but professional scientists within their field of study know their trade. One gets taken seriously by and gains the respect of those in that trade by learning the language. Most of the scientists I’ve read or know personally do not think themselves somehow above the rest of humanity. ~ Me

I would not accuse anyone on this thread of stirring anything up, and this has been a wonderfully gentlepersonly and bloodless if vigorous discussion. Thank you. As for thinking pre-humans had no oral tradition, that’s not where I’m coming from — merely because we have not proven something false doesn’t make it true, or vice versa. While it’s true we cannot rule something out absolutely, without any evidence for it, we cannot rule it in either — we must not assume facts not in evidence. That way leads to much error. Until new and better evidence suggests that pre-humans did have that level of intelligence or language, we cannot simply assume it. Othewise, we could assume whatever we wanted, and the world just doesn’t seem to work that way. Again, this is one of the best discussions I’ve had in a while, and I’d like to turn it into a blog post. ~ Me

I enjoy what ifs and why nots. It keeps me curious and asking questions. One can learn so much just by being open minded. ~ AS

Sorry that I bailed, but you two seem to have resolved it quite nicely!  After reading Troy’s post previous to my “no worries” comment, I was afraid that the discussion had “gone a little too far,” so I stepped out because I obviously don’t feel that the earth is only 10,000 years old. I apologize. But yes, it was a lively debate, too bad we couldn’t have done it over some coffee! I’m glad to see that we have the same opinion about scientific theories: they are called that because creditable scientists operate under the premise that it only takes one instance of something not happening to prove it wrong. The Theory of Gravity is one instance. I won’t be jumping off of Mount Everest without a parachute any time soon! ~ CC

True. I’m not about rejecting any ideas that don’t fit my worldview or needing absolute proof of something before accepting it — needing absolute proof of anything in the world is a fool’s bet that is bound to disappoint. But we really do know things about how the world works, that’s why technology developed by science works. My view requires that I proportion my belief to what the evidence says, and if at any point that evidence points to human-like intelligence predating humans, I’m all for it. I think that would be awesome because it fits perfectly with my Lovecraftian worldview. But my worldview is just a picture of reality in my head, not reality itself, and my wants do not determine what’s true. As a diagnosed schizophrenic, I have to be very careful to avoid fooling or deluding myself, and I’m the easiest person I know to fool. ~ Me