Archive | January 2021

Review of “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

I read this book because it was referenced in several serious sociological and psychological treatises I’ve read during the last few years. I don’t think any of those researchers actually read this, however. My paperback copy was 1069 pages of 9 pt font. It took several months to finish, but I read it as carefully as every other book I’ve reviewed.

This is an example of why people become writers. Ayn Rand had a bone to pick with several aspects of American society in the 1950s, and she felt emboldened to rush into the fray without bothering to think about what she was saying. I’m fine with that because this is a work of fiction. Some people have become confused, however, naming her ranting diatribes a “philosophy” which she called Objectivism. I’ll say it now, before discussing the story and technical details, that I agree with many aspects of the views she shares through her protagonist characters. Who can argue with a slogan like, “Work hard and treat everyone with respect,” if it’s applied by all the members of society? This isn’t a political blog, so I’ll let that go, but it’s easy to learn more. As an aside, Atlas Shrugged is apparently some kind of scripture for Libertarians. Who’d have thunk it?

Technical stuff first. I don’t remember finding a single punctuation error, but I found several grammatical errors in the last third of the book. I think everyone, including the proofreader, was suffering from Writer’s Fatigue. Ayn Rand is wordy, to say the least. Her writing style appears to be “Always use twice as many words, especially in descriptive prepositional phrases, as you need. It got ugly towards the end. Here’s an example selected randomly (page 1058):

“They did not speak as they walked down the hill, with the darkness of the trees closing in about them for protection, cutting off the dead glow of the moon and the deader glow in the distance behind them, in the windows of the State Science Institute.”

Wow. The entire book was written in this style, but the author had lost it by this time. She just wanted to end the agony. It was her own fault because the characters don’t do a good job of conveying what was on Rand’s mind. The book is filled with rants and soliloquies given at the drop of a hat, but none of them elegantly summarized the speakers’ thoughts. Some of these digressions are more than 10 pages long, and they still fail to make their point (or maybe I forgot it by then).

I started off loving this book because the protagonists are just like me in many respects. I don’t retract that view after reading it. There were many scenes in the first third of the story, where the characters’ personalities were revealed in excellent style. This applied to several of the antagonists, those lucky enough to be introduced in the first part of the book. It wasn’t only the bad guys who got cheated. The man who epitomized what made this book into a pop-philosophy, John Galt, appeared too late to be seen as a real person. He was reduced to a Greek hero (he is actually compared to one near the end) with zero dimensions, the perfect man. I wanted to laugh, but I was too tired.

Summary. Okay…let’s see.

The author makes a lot of valid points about the importance of being rational, thinking, using our brains a lot more often, but she fails to show how this can be done by regular people. Her protagonists are all straight out of Greek tragedies. Or comic books. She has a gift for evocative metaphors involving all of the senses. Very good. I’m envious. She should have been a poet (maybe she was). The story wasn’t that complicated and was revealed early on, with no plot twists, not even red herrings. Straightforward story telling. There was no real conflict, a basic requirement of almost any story. It is a blow-by-blow description of the breakdown of society and the creation of a (communist) dictatorship. She was obviously concerned about the Soviet Union when she wrote this book. Did I forget to mention that the story is set in a fantasy United States that stands alone as the last bastion of capitalism?

Bottom line. I can’t recommend it unless you are like me, which I doubt. However, there was a miniseries made in maybe 2011, which is a pretty good rendition of the story, at least parts 1 and 2. I’ll watch Part 3 when I get a chance, but I don’t think it will follow the book as well because, by this time, Rand’s characters were on the path of verbal warfare with themselves (I’m not kidding…themselves), which doesn’t make a good movie. But she does destroy the world…oops, I forgot that too.

With all of the libertarian BS in this book, there are a lot of great glimpses of mental torment and anguish, not to mention the breakdown of society and a return to feudalism, described very well.

Rand ruined a great book with too much ideology. She lost it, just like her characters.

At the end, I didn’t agree with the protagonists’ decision. The bad guys won…

Review of “The Tollkeeper” by Mark R. Vickers

I’m glad to be writing a review of a novel written by someone like myself. The author recently joined the writing group I’m in, and he had published this story in paperback form. Other members of the group have published but I didn’t find any with hardcopies available. I’m not ready to commit to ebooks yet; I’m trying to give my eyes a rest. I didn’t start posting reviews of novels until recently, so I haven’t shared my views on the range of genres I’ve read. I read anything. This book falls into the category of stories I would never read if I cared. I know, that sounds crazy.

First the technical stuff. There were very few (if any) punctuation and grammatical errors in this book. The author acknowledged a proofreader’s assistance, and she did a good job. I mention this because, as an author and (mediocre) copy editor, I look for anything that doesn’t read smoothly. And I read slowly, so I don’t miss much. I noticed a little of what I call writer’s fatigue, however; the first half of the book is well-written, if a little wordy (I actually don’t mind that, but some people do), whereas the second half started to slip a little in tautness. By the last page, it was looking like an earlier draft than the first half. I’m familiar with this phenomenon from my own writing. The first part always get read more by the author and thus cleaned up. However, this wasn’t a problem in “The Tollkeeper.” I only mention it to be thorough.

The story is told in a very entertaining manner, with two threads, one in present-day Florida, and the second meandering through the central character’s life, describing events that brought him to Florida, where he’s a (you guessed it) tollbooth attendant. There were times when one or the other thread was more interesting, but I never lost interest in the story. The present-day is the main plot of course, and it was told by the central character in first-person using the present tense. I personally find this construction awkward because no one talks like that unless telling a short story (e.g., Janice says to Betty, “So I go over to the hair stylist and she’s like, out of it, and I go ahead and let her do my hair.”). See what I mean?

It almost works but I never got into the groove. I liked the narration other than that. Klaus is a very down-to-earth guy, who’s old enough not to take himself too seriously. A great antihero.

I’m not a fan of mythical fantasy novels, or even mythology in general. I had to use Google to learn about most of the Norse mythology referenced throughout the book. I didn’t mind because I felt like I was being introduced to an interesting (not really) aspect of Scandinavian culture. It was a learning experience that I can relate to (I try to put useful info into my stories as well), so I’m not complaining. Still, the quotes from epic poems and such at the beginning of each chapter could have been replaced by more informative background material.

The ending was unexpected but probably only because of my unfamiliarity with Norse mythology. I felt like it was rushed a little because so much time had been spent on Klaus’ early life that the author must have felt an urge to “wrap it up.” This brings up another problem with the structure. With so much time spent on Klaus’ early life, none of it related directly to the serious threat occurring in the contemporary world. It only supported the central character’s frame of mind, not the real conflict. With the knowledge the author obviously has of Norse mythology, I was disappointed that characters from Klaus’ past didn’t either show up in person or indirectly impact current events. Maybe they did and I missed it because I’m not familiar with Norse mythology.

If so, my bad.

 

 

Chapter 12. Discordant Cognitive Processing

This post addresses several interesting visual and physical phenomena that implicate cognitive processes in communications not only between subconscious and conscious thinking (Earth and Humanity, respectively, in the DDJ), but also with the range of chemical and physical connections between thinking and our physical body (Heaven in the DDJ). This is very much a work in progress, so it may not be clear by the end of this chapter. The title refers to discordant processing because, as suggested by previous clinical results (meditation studies) and theoretical considerations, cognitive processes are not operating uniformly or properly, at least not in my brain. So, we’ll start there.

DISCREPANCIES IN LEFT/RIGHT VISUAL PROCESSING

I have identified discordant visual processing in several ways both during introspection sessions and with retinal input. It is not obvious if the two kinds of discrepancy are related by physiological inconsistencies with incidental impacts on vision and/or cognition, so it’s important to proceed cautiously.

Previous posts have alluded to the use of memory to assist in the construction of visual qualia and the creation of anomalous qualia, visual and otherwise. The reported asymmetry of anomalous visual qualia in the left and right visual fields suggests variable access to memory in their creation without retinal input. For example, faces often appear as profiles, or nearly profiles, usually as if viewed from the right; when faces are seen head-on, the right side (looking at them) is blurry and deformed whereas the left half is often very clear and well proportioned. This difference suggests that the right visual cortex (left visual field) has better access to memory; in other words, my left and right visual cortices are not synchronized, at least not when in default mode (eyes closed).

Another interesting visual phenomena is the illusion of opening and closing my eyes when both eyelids are already closed. This illusion appears to favor the left visual field; i.e., it “feels” as if the left eye is open whereas the right eye often “feels” as if it is closed. When an eye is “opened” in this manner, the visual field becomes brighter. I can manipulate the illusion; “forcing” the right eye open and the left eye closed. This effect may have nothing to do with visual processing, instead being dependent on nerve and muscle connections in the eyes themselves.

The consequences of a discrepancy in visual processing are unknown, but could consist of several effects:

  1. poor visual processing, even with retinal input;
  2. practical problems with recognizing objects because of poor image completion processing; i.e., searches require longer and depend on more accurate retinal input
  3. unknown collateral issues, based on treating visual processing as representative of other cognitive processing

NON-VISUAL ASYMMETRIES

The human body is theoretically symmetrical.  Mine is definitely not, from my longer right arm, twisted right hip, congenitally weak right knee, to the semi-paralysis of the right side of my face (i.e., muscles don’t respond well, making smiling difficult and lopsided), and sagging right eyebrow. All of these differences have existed all my life. It makes perfect sense then that the brain would be asymmetrical as well. When reading about this phenomenon, I came across an interesting research result:

The results suggest that while either hemisphere can generate spontaneous facial expressions only the left hemisphere is efficient at generating voluntary expressions.

In other words, our brains are apparently not perfectly symmetric in operation.

I’m going out on a limb here (again). My difficulty in generating voluntary expressions could be due to a left-hemisphere anomaly, if this is a valid result. Furthermore, speculating even more, the weak left visual cortex functioning described above could be caused by an anomaly in my left hemisphere. This is of interest because of potential collateral effects and the use of proxies to study cognitive function, as has been discussed throughout this blog.

Correlation does not directly indicate causation, but it is consistent with a common cause, even if two processes are not directly related through a physical mechanism.

RELATIONSHIP TO THE DAO DE JING

What does this mean, with respect to the stated purpose of this inquiry?  From DDJ 2,

All the world knows beauty as being beautiful, thus not being beautiful exists. All know good as being good, so not being good exists. Being and Non-being arise together. Hard and easy complete each other. Long and short shape each other. High and low fulfill each other. Voice and instrument harmonize. Before and after form a sequence. This is why people of Wisdom dwell on matters on non-designing action and go about teaching without words.

The myriad beings are active but do not undertake [to act], produce but do not take possession, function but do not depend [on design and control]. Gains are accomplished but not laid claim to. Because there is no laying claim, [gains] are not lost.

If a well-functioning cognitive system exists, a bad one exists too, but it’s not the end of the world. We don’t have to say, “That’s just how I am…accept me for what I am.”

Learning our strong and weak points, both physical and mental, allows us to harmonize them and become more united in our approach to life. This is especially relevant to mental processes, which determine our emotional state and thus satisfaction.

Tasmania Preview

It’s the eve of our trip to Tasmania, so I wanted to post something. This makes me spend some time learning a little about where we’re going. I didn’t budget enough time for a place as rich geologically as Tasmania. I won’t be scratching the surface of this remarkable land, most of it unreachable by road.

This preview is based on a report by the Tasmania Geological Survey (Seymour et al., 2006). We start with a very good geologic map (Fig. 1b).

 Fig. 1a   Fig. 1b

All the brilliant colors around the edges are magnetic intensity, probably measured by an aircraft. The legend summarizes most of the geology. Note that the large area of light blue is undifferentiated Paleozoic rocks. The places we’ll be staying are labelled in Fig. 1a because, having been modified in Powerpoint, it didn’t have the resolution necessary to read the legend.

Day 1 will be spent going from Proterozoic (~1.2 BY) in the NW, to Cambrian (~600-500 MY) at the first stop. This is going to cover a lot of geology, including a major mountain building episode in the Cambrian. We will spend the night at Cradle Mountain, in the middle of Dundas Trough (Fig. 2).

 Fig. 2

Figure 2 is looking obliquely from the west. The figure is oriented with the southern end (right side of Fig. 2) located at the NW coast (light blue line behind the “Day 1” label) in Fig. 1. It approximately follows the gray area in Fig. 1 and ends below the “Tasmania” label. I should have a lot to report from this leg of our journey.

Day 2 will take us across the heart of Tasmania (See Fig. 1a), beginning with metamorphosed Cambrian volcanic and sedimentary rocks, coinciding with the Tyennan Orogeny. These rocks were deposited in the Dundas Trough (Fig. 3) and intruded by a granitic batholith as mountain building progressed.

  Fig. 3

Figure 3 shows the geologic regions of Tasmania. Details of the Dundas Trough are not included because they are shown in the inset map (Fig. 2). Our second day will examine Late Cambrian to Devonian (~500-360 MY) sedimentary rocks deposited during final uplift and then erosion of the mountains that had been created during the Tyennan Orogeny during the Early to Middle Cambrian. We will hopefully find metamorphic rocks produced by deep burial during this event in the Jubilee region.

If we’re lucky, we may find evidence of major faulting during a Devonian compression event in SE Tasmania, but I’m not counting on it. What we will see are Late Carboniferous to Triassic (~300-220 MY) sedimentary rocks as we approach Hobart, our destination at the end of Day 2. There was a hiatus (aka erosion) of 60 MY before sediments begin to collect again. They haven’t been described in detail, so I’ll do my best.

However, there is one other geologic feature I hope we’re able to visit on Day 2. Figure 4 shows an image from Seymour et al. (2006) of a Jurassic (~180 MY) diabase (dolerite aka microgabbro) dike injected into “basement” granite in the background and sedimentary rocks in the foreground.

 Fig. 4

The photo was taken about 50 miles by road from Hobart, but there is no road to Cape Surville, so I’m not counting on it. Maybe there are other exposures…

Day 3 will take us to Coles Bay in the Eastern Tasmania Terrane (See Fig. 1a), where we will encounter more Ordovician to Devonian (~500-360 MY) sediments as well as quite a bit of faulting and intrusion of granitic rocks during the Carboniferous (~360-300 MY). Figure 5 shows the extent of igneous intrusion after Tasmania had solidly grounded against Gondwana.

 Fig. 5

Throughout our adventure, we’ll see the sedimentary and igneous rocks that were created when Tasmania was torn away from the motherland (aka Gondwana).

It begins tomorrow evening when we board the ferry with our Toyota Yaris, ready to explore unknown lands…

___________________

Seymour et al., The Geology and Mineral Deposits of Tasmania: A Summary, Geological Survey Bulletin 72, 2006.