tom thinks

Groping along
Down dark corridors
Stumbling over building blocks
Left from past construction
Stirring up dry dust
That scatters sunlight peeking in
To guide my way
date 2000-11-03:11:49
Physics I'm putting off writing more on knowability until I've found a way to put Debye's argument associating modes with states in language non-physicists can understand. Hopefully that'll happen this weekend.
Creatures Considering I grew up in a semi-rural area, there was a remarkable paucity of small creatures. Now I find myself surrounded by small creatures -- bunnies, squirrels, ground-hogs, and small mice-like things, which includes mice, shrews, voles and the like. That's just the mammals -- there are frogs and the odd turtle to count as well.

The small creatures mostly come to my attention after they're dead, usually in the paws of one of the cats, who fulfill their domestic function by leaving dead mice in the hall now and then. Without the cats I'm sure the house would be over-run by mice, and while I find the poor little creatures absolutely adorable, I'd rather have them outside than inside.

Frogs are well-camoflaged, but sometimes decide that a window is a good place to hang out. Few things in nature are as spectacular as a northern tree-frog seen from underneath, as it clings to a window-pane. Unfortunately, they also tend to hang out in the long grass, and wait for the lawn-mower to be right overhead before trying to jump out of the way.

I don't like killing, and it would be nice if we could all get along, but it's clear that in the absense of predation and accident, we'd be over-run by these cute little guys of all orders in a very short time. One of the stranger rationalistic abuses of evolutionary doctrines one hears now and then is that this fact somehow has causal efficacy -- that creatures die after their alotted lifespan because otherwise there'd be over-population.

This misses two important points: the first is that hardly anything dies of old age. The second is that there's no Darwinian mechanism for selecting for shorter lifespans. All else being equal it's good for me -- in evolutionary terms -- for me to live forever. If I never die, and none of my children ever die, then we are likely to have more children than anyone else, and so, like Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long, wind up as parent to most of humanity. That's what counts as an evolutionary success.

There is a possibility -- which has been investigated using cluch size and season of first breeding amongst Canada Geese -- that adaptions to have young as early as possible may lead to shorter lifespans in some species, but this is a different sort of argument entirely.

There's another important point that gets missed, which is that over-population happens anyway, at least amongst non-humans. Amongst humans there's an argument that under-production (of food, for instance) is the best way of viewing "over-population" problems. We don't have too many humans: we have too few ways of realizing the value that those humans are capable of creating through free use of their minds.

My backyard is getting over-populated, though. The bunnies in particular, as well as the deer, have had bumper crops the past couple of seasons. I assume the foxes and coyote's will be trying to keep pace, although my impression is that bunnies breed like rabbits, and foxes don't. There's always a lag in the predator population, and I'm afraid we'll see a big crash in the next hard winter.
Poem Sometimes I feel like I'm groping around in the dark, but if I just keep wandering around disturbing things, I always find a glimmer of light somewhere.
Reading Finished Idylls of the King and am confirmed in my distaste for Arthurian legend. To set your characters up to follow an impossible ideal, and then blame the characters when they fail to live up to it, is just not satisfactory. I have an inkling that there's another story to be told here, from the pagan perspective, of this brutal king who tried to impose his will and faith by the sword on everyone, and whose court and kingdom eventually disintegrated into chaos not from lack of faith but from lack of reason and from lack of love, human love between human beings.

I'm making a second attempt at Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust, which is a book I stopped reading the first time, a few years ago, because I got fed up with books that killed a child whenever the plot started to limp (Frankenstein is another culprit, and even The Count of Monte Cristo over-reaches itself in this regard.) I'm now no longer so sure that was happened in this case, and have a greater personal interest in the matter now. Children do die, and while it is easy to accuse an author of melodrama and lazieness when they introduce the theme, it's something that has to be dealt with somehow.

Kipling, whose son was killed in World War I -- and whose body was never identified -- wrote several deeply affecting stories on this theme, notably "They" and "The Gardner." But I'm suspicious of authors who aren't writing from experience.

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