Author Archive for Aditya Manthramurthy

01
Jul
10

Blasphemy by Douglas Preston

blasphemyI have just finished reading this novel that was released a couple of years back. It is Donald Knuth’s favourite science vs religion book, and that’s really the reason that I decided to read it.

In the book, twelve scientists set out to work with the largest supercollider ever built, Isabella, to recreate the events a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. The scientists are lead by Gregory North Hazelius, a genius, who has won both a Nobel and a Fields medal! Reverend Don Spates, a powerful Christian televangelist, is the central antagonist who will do anything to stop the project, which he thinks, is an attempt by secular humanists to disprove Genesis. What the scientists encounter during their work is something they cannot tell the world, so they pretend the project is having problems. Wyman Ford, ex-CIA, is hired by the US government to figure out what is going on in Isabella.

So much for back cover material.

The book is a racy, sci-fi thriller, and is likely to be enjoyed by the science/technology enthusiast, the thinking believer and the thinking non-believer.

The book is pretty cynical in its attitude towards religion, showing what Christian fundamentalism is capable of in the 21st century. The character pictures are reasonably detailed, but some scientists are portrayed as in media stereotypes: the mathematician is mostly aloof and has weird hobbies (pet rattlesnakes), the programmer is filthy, unkempt and ill-mannered. The book is fast paced, giving the impression of a racy movie with rapidly moving short scenes. This really put me in a frenzy, reading at a feverish pace.

*** Spoilers Ahead! ***

Scientists are by nature sceptical; the more brilliant they are, the more this is true. The scientists in the book are faced with a malware program in Isabella that purports to be God. The scientists end up believing that God is talking to them via a singularity produced by the supercollider. The whole thing turns out to be an elaborate hoax, a brainchild of the brilliant Hazelius, who attempts to start a new religion in which people are to worship science. To me, the shallowest part of this tale, is the AI program written by Hazelius, the malware in Isabella, that convinces the scientists that it is God. The story hinges crucially on this particular event.

Using AI is one of the most commonest ways to spin-off a sci-fi novel, and has been done repeatedly. However, the portrayal in this book is pretty bad. The AI program manages to throw off a mathematician, using philosophical arguments. I find it intensely unbelievable that an AI program, however good can do this, especially in the time of the events of the book. The program is written in LISP and its author, Hazelius, towards the end, claims that it performed beyond its specs. This is a rather conspicuously bad attempt by the author to make the AI program believable. Gregory Hazelius is described a genius of mathematics and physics, but AI too?!

Despite this weak point, the book paints a good picture of how Christian fundamentalism can be easily be used to incite people to violence and unthinking slaughter. It certainly illustrates the quote, “for a good person to do bad things, it takes religion”.

The main character of the story Hazelius tries to start a religion in the name of science because he believes that religion is required for people and so it would be futile to try to destroy religion with science. In the new religion, (which is incidentally, quite different in many aspects from Scientology!) people are to worship “the search for the truth”. In this way, Hazelius hopes to help the future of the human race, by putting it on the path of science. However, it is still based on a false god, and should be considered as intellectual treason. It is better to help people grow out of religion rather than to reinforce it in this way.

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28
Jun
10

Why I am an Atheist

I just loved this one. Had to add it here. From here.

07
May
10

From Woody Allen’s Whatever Works

This is THE best monologue I’ve heard in recent times!

——————————————————————–

I’m not a likeable guy. Charm has
never been a priority with me.

And just so you know, this is not
the feel-good movie of the year.

So if you’re one of those idiots
who needs to feel good,

go get yourself
a foot massage.

What the hell does it all mean
anyhow? Nothing. Zero. Zilch.

Nothing comes
to anything,

and yet there’s no shortage
of idiots to babble.

Not me. I have a vision.
I’m discussing you.

Your friends, your co-workers,
your newspapers, the TV.

Everybody’s happy to talk,
full of misinformation.

Morality, science, religion,
politics, sports, love.

Your portfolio,
your children, health.

Christ. If I have to
eat nine servings

of fruits and vegetables
a day to live,

I don’t wanna live. I hate
goddamn fruits and vegetables.

And your omega-3’s and the
treadmill and the cardiogram

and the mammogram
and the pelvic sonogram

and, oh, my God,
the colonoscopy!

And with it all, the day still comes
when they put you in a box

and it’s on to the next
generation of idiots

who’ll also tell
you all about life

and define for you
what’s appropriate.

My father
committed suicide

ecause the morning newspapers
depressed him.

And could you blame him?

With the horror and corruption
and ignorance and poverty

and genocide and AIDS and
global warming and terrorism

and the family-value morons
and the gun morons!

“The horror”, Kurtz said at
the end of Heart of Darkness.

“The horror”

Lucky Kurtz didn’t have
the Times delivered in the jungle,

then he’d see
some horror.

But what do you do?

You read about some
massacre in Darfur

or some school bus
gets blown up,

and you go,
“Oh, my God, the horror!”

And then you
turn the page

and finish your eggs
from free-range chickens.

Because what can you do?
It’s overwhelming.

25
Aug
08

The Legend of Abu Hassan (from an email forward)

They recount that in the city of Kaukaban in Yemen there was a man named Abu Hasan of the Fadhli tribe who left the Bedouin life and became a townsman and the wealthiest of merchants. His wife died while both were young, and his friends pressed him to marry again.

Weary of their pressure, Abu Hasan entered into negotiations with the old women who procure matches, and married a woman as beautiful as the moon shining over the sea. To the wedding banquet he invited kith and kin, ulema and fakirs, friends and foes, and all of his acquaintances.

The whole house was thrown open to feasting: There were five different colors of rice, and sherbets of as many more; kid goats stuffed with walnuts, almonds, and pistachios; and a young camel roasted whole. So they ate and drank and made merry.

The bride was displayed in her seven dresses – and one more – to the women, who could not take their eyes off her. At last the bridegroom was summoned to the chamber where she sat enthroned. He rose slowly and with dignity from his divan; but in so doing, for he was over full of meat and drink, he let fly a great and terrible fart.

In fear for their lives, all the guests immediately turned to their neighbors and talked aloud, pretending to have heard nothing.

Mortified, Abu Hasan turned away from the bridal chamber and as if to answer a call of nature. He went down to the courtyard, saddled his mare, and rode off, weeping bitterly through the night.

In time he reached Lahej, where he found a ship ready to sail for India; so he boarded, arriving ultimately at Calicut on the Malabar coast. Here he met with many Arabs, especially from Hadramaut, who recommended him to the king. This king (who was a kafir) trusted him and advanced him to the captaincy of his bodyguard. He remained there 10 years, in peace and happiness, but finally was overcome with homesickness. His longing to behold his native land was like that of a lover pining for his beloved; and it nearly cost him his life.

Finally he sneaked away without taking leave and made his way to Makalla in Hadramaut. Here he donned the rags of a dervish. Keeping his name and circumstances a secret, he set forth on foot for Kaukaban. He endured a thousand hardships of hunger, thirst and fatigue; and braved a thousand dangers from lions, snakes and ghouls.

Drawing near to his old home, he looked down upon it from the hills with brimming eyes, and said to himself, “They might recognize me, so I will wander about the outskirts and listen to what people are saying. May Allah grant that they do not remember what happened.”

He listened carefully for seven nights and seven days, until it happened that, as he was sitting at the door of a hut, he heard the voice of a young girl saying, “Mother, tell me what day was I born on, for one of my companions wants to tell my fortune.”

The mother answered, “My daughter, you were born on the very night when Abu Hasan farted.”

No sooner had the listener heard these words than he rose up from the bench and fled, saying to himself, “Verily my fart has become a date! It will be remembered for ever and ever.

He continued on his way, returning finally to India, where he remained in self exile until he died. May the mercy of Allah be upon him!

(from the Arabian Nights)

23
Jul
08

Protected: The Lazy Trip to Bengaluru

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29
Jun
08

Protected: One for the Ol’Scrap Book

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26
Jun
08

Protected: Well, I really thought the clouds had cleared up!

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