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Comment Re:Well, that's embarrassing (Score 4, Interesting) 622

Your points about the shroud of Turin and the alleged tomb are spot-on.

As for the Qur'an, it would indeed be a major problem for Islam intellectually if it were found to preexist Mohammed. However, even though I don't have any desire to defend Islam, from a critical standpoint I think that these findings are really too weak to even imply such a claim.

In the first place, the fact that the dating belongs to the parchment and not necessarily the ink is huge. Since parchment was relatively rare and expensive, it was a common practice (even among Christians) to re-use old parchment, e.g. blank pages in other manuscripts or even at times writing over other texts. In fact, the manuscript in question seems to be a copy of the Qur'an, and no claim seems to have been made that it was the original copy penned by Mohammed himself, and so this opens up seemingly endless possible scenarios where somebody found an older piece of parchment and copied the Qur'an onto it.

Secondly, the real and obvious character of the Qur'an is not so much that it plagiarizes other written texts but that it borrows explicit elements from Judaism, Christianity, and local religious thought, and reshapes all of this material through a particular lens that services Mohammed's political and social agenda. This is clear even without any specific manuscript dating, as it is a process that is more internal and subtle than merely taking a page from one book and inserting it into a another. Understanding this, it actually makes even more sense to suppose that a copyist reused an older parchment, because it fits with the spirit of Islam, a spirit that is evident in ISIS's systematic destruction of antiquities, even if a substantial portion of Muslims may be horrified by this action as well. Islam is in many ways a white-washing and concealment of history; Allah's transcendence breaks into history as an external and alien power and provides the Qur'an as a kind of divine text without history. Hence the Qur'an cannot be translated or critically examined because to do so would be to submit the text to historical forces. (If anyone reading this sees a resemblance between this kind of thinking and Christian fundamentalism, this is not at all surprising.)

Christianity in contrast, despite significant variations and particular groups that lean more in the direction of Islam, is like Judaism a deeply historical religion. By breaking into history in the Incarnation, God takes on our history as his very own, in such a way that the history of human beings becomes transcendently meaningful. Hence the Bible is written by human authors in human language (not a divine dialect of Arabic), but mysteriously transmits the Word of God. Hence it really would be no problem for Christianity (except for a few particular groups) if it were found that certain of Jesus' famous sayings had already been said verbatim by someone else. The divine authority of the Qur'an is premised upon a denial of any human element, but the divine authority of the Bible is premised upon a divine acceptance of human language.

Comment Re:What are... (Score 4, Interesting) 273

It's good to hear your perspective and see that our perceptions about the intuitiveness of our measurement systems is relative. I've always thought that the larger scale of Fahrenheit was convenient because units of 10 distinguished temperatures well (70's are distinct from 80's), but it's clear that you use units of 5 in Celsius for the same purpose.

Of course I admit that my reluctance to change to metric has more to do with American nationalism than with any sure superiority of our units (although I despise using centimeters for small around-the-house measurements when inches and 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16 inches feel better to me). But at the same time, I think that it is as necessary to have multiple measurement systems as it is to have multiple languages. In the 20th c. especially many people believed that the era of different tongues was coming to an end, but I think that despite the prevalence of English and Chinese around the world, there will always be multiple languages because culture can never be simplified into a single thing. Even in the USA it's possible to go to another region where they use some different words, different phrasings, different ways of thinking, and this is simply a natural occurrence akin to genetic diversity. The more distinct a culture, the more distinct its use of a language, so native English speakers in India do not speak exactly the same English as in the USA or UK. An absolute universal language can never be anything but an artificial construct disconnected from real culture, hence the problem with Esperanto. (And I do recognize that there are some native Esperanto speakers, but that does not remove its failure as a universal, a-cultural language.)

In the end, the U.S. uses the metric system when it's helpful (e.g. in science), and there is no pressing need to switch to it completely. Just because we use the US system doesn't mean that we don't understand the metric system and aren't taught it in schools.

Comment Just look at Doom... (Score 5, Interesting) 102

The new Doom really shows this nostalgic trend all by itself. The gameplay footage shows that they were definitely looking to approximate the feel of the original even to the point of abandoning more contemporary elements (regenerating health, weapon inventory limit). It will be interesting to see how the retro gameplay is received by younger gamers who haven't played the original, and whether this kind of nostalgia will affect the way that future, new franchises are designed.

On a side note, the game looks pretty awesome and brings me back to my childhood, but I will personally miss the survival horror style of Doom 3.

Comment Re:Trollbait (Score 1) 412

Great info, thanks. I should point out, however, that your first source indicates that researchers are divided on exactly when the strict association of colors and genders became established in the USA. Some argue mid-20th c., others argue 19th c.

I think the evidence is at least clear enough to suggest that there is no intrinsic, biological basis to the gendered color norms, but I think it would be too much if someone were to claim that these norms are merely incidental and meaningless. What this shows is that at times humans feels the need to differentiate between things and to conform to norms that are perceived as pre-existent and absolute, and hence we tend toward absolutizing things such as colors in order to establish the very norms that some part of us wants to follow. Hence, for example, how can a man prove that he is masculine and powerful unless he supports some standard of masculinity according to which he can compete with other people? The basic principle, therefore, is competition. Just as one of the researchers argues that post-WW2 consumerism drove the color associations in order to market baby items better, it is competition with one another that establishes the norms of competition, because these norms serve to make people comparable with one another in order to mediate and drive competition. This is true for women as well as men; the character of women's fashion is driven much more by competition than by any natural, biological tendencies or concerns for personal comfort, etc.

Comment It isn't the brain... (Score 1) 637

IMO a major part of the problem is the bare fact that we assume that our unwillingness to really care about the future is a matter of the brain and evolution. Our culture needs to reduce every issue to something that is qualifiable and categorizable according to some empirical study, not because we care about science, but because we need it to exonerate us. We believe that somehow this knowledge will save us, when in fact even the knowledge of impending disasters has not stirred us to action the way that it should. This is because knowledge, by itself, can always be ignored, rejected, and refused. For example, no matter how many cancer warnings they print on a box, people will still smoke. Until they truly believe that smoking is bad for them, instead of just knowing it, this knowledge will make no difference in their lives.

It doesn't matter whether our brain is perfectly designed by bare evolution to think about the future, because it is clearly capable of thinking in that way if we actually will it to. The problem is not cognitive but moral. In the end human beings find it more easy to be selfish, short-sighted, conceited, and self-exonerating, and because of this we don't want to care about the future. Why worry about generations to come when we can live like kings exploiting the generations that are here now?

The solution to this problem is not some kind of further biological evolution. We need to use our cognitive capacities that already exist, and for that we need a kind of knowledge that can actually change our lives.

Comment Re:No Sympathy (Score 1) 117

It's easy to think that poverty or other disadvantages are the only things that lead people to steal from others, but that simply is not the case. (After all, how many wealthy businessmen still embezzle and exploit others?) Human beings are easily enticed by the dream of getting rich quickly, not to mention the mystique of succeeding in something that is forbidden. Even if all of us are not tempted in exactly the same way, all of us are tempted. Poverty simply makes it even easier to give in to the temptation.

Comment Re:danger vs taste (Score 1) 630

Yeah, I'm pretty bad at cutting down my own gluttony, but simply switching to diet soda has caused me to lose quite a few pounds, fit into my old pants, and maintain a consistently unhealthy weight. It beats getting fatter and fatter. I didn't want to switch to diet soda because it tastes so bad, but after committing to the switch it actually tastes good to me. Since I'm not getting fatter, that implies that despite all of my overeating, my main excess of calories still came from drinking soda. Despite what people have said, too, I do not eat more unhealthy food now that I drink diet soda. I eat either the same amount or less than I did before.

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen