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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/08/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 23, Whole Number 1364
Table of Contents
What Is a "Logical" Argument? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Argument is part of the fabric of our lives and it seems to be more so as time passes. You hear very frequently people claiming that they are giving logical arguments. In fact, they are only making a case for something to be true, which is a considerably less exacting effort. Most people use the word "logical" very freely. I was in a discussion a week or so ago that got me thinking what a logical argument is (and what it is not). To the general public a logical argument is an argument that makes sense and is a convincing argument. Is that what logic really is? That is not exactly true. In fact some logical arguments can be disconcertingly unconvincing. So if it need not be a convincing argument, what exactly is a "logical" argument?
I would define a logical argument as one in which Step N+1 is obvious after consideration of steps 1 through N and of all openly stated assumptions. And what makes Step N+1 obvious is applying the laws of logic to the previous steps. And by the laws of logic, I mean the laws of symbolic logic. It is the sort of thing like if "A implies B" and "B implies C" then "A implies C."
Now recognize that we are not saying that C is true necessarily. If A is false, then C might be false. A logical argument does not lead you necessarily to a true conclusion, but it is true as your assumptions are. If your assumptions are true, the truth will not leak out of your argument as you go along.
The simplest example of a proof by logic is a syllogism. An example is "All men are mortal" and "Socrates is a man" therefore "Socrates is mortal." Being Socrates implies being a man, and being a man implies being mortal, so it follows being Socrates implies being mortal. Put another way, the set containing only Socrates is a subset of the set of men. The set of men is a subset of the set of mortal things. Therefore the set containing only Socrates is a subset of the set of mortal things.
A story I read said that candidate was being considered for a teaching post at a university. As part of the vetting process he was giving a lecture on logic. As part of the lecture he gave a syllogism. And his syllogism was a misquote of the one above. His version was "All men are mortal" and "Socrates is mortal" therefore "Socrates is a man." One of the examining professors thought the mistake was just a slip of the tongue and so to correct the young man asked, "But isn't a duck also mortal?" The candidate excitedly responded "Ah, but a duck has wings and feathers and a man does not." The candidate did not get the teaching position. His argument may have been convincing--I am sure it was to himself--and even seemed to have the trappings of a logical argument, but his conclusion did not really follow from the previous steps and the assumptions. He assumed that he could bring in unstated assumptions that, of course, nobody would disagree with.
This is a true story (and not all that uncommon, I am told). I was called for jury duty and was a candidate to be chosen for a jury of an upcoming trial. One of the attorneys asked my profession. I said I was a mathematician and engineer. That was all it took. I was dismissed. (In fact, the lawyer dismissed me so fast it did not sink in and the judge had to repeat it.) I have since heard the same story from other mathematicians. Logicians and mathematicians are trained to look for flaws and other illogical steps in arguments. Most people, like the teaching candidate, will just say that the next step seems reasonable and accept it. Mathematicians and logicians look to see if there is any way the truth could have leaked out of the argument on that step. Few people want to make the effort to make their arguments that airtight. That is probably fine. Nobody says that all arguments have to stick to the strict rules of logic. The logical argument is really the "gold standard" for arguments. It has a lot in common with a mathematical proof. And the term "logical" is applied to many arguments that really are not, just like a phrase like "premium quality" is applied to many things that are not of such high quality. [-mrl]
WHOLE NEW THING (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In the Canadian film, set in Nova Scotia, a precocious young teenage boy gets a crush on his new English teacher, not knowing that the teacher is gay. The story could easily be one of the older generation abusing an innocent, but this is not a hackneyed plot. The film is a modest production, but has a fair impact. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
This Canadian film centers on the precocious thirteen-year-old Emerson (Aaron Webber) living in isolation in Nova Scotia. He has been home-schooled by his aging hippie parents, Rog (Robert Joy) and Kaya (Rebecca Jenkins). His schooling has been unorthodox--including all-naked saunas with his parents--but has also been very effective. He talks like someone ten years his senior and has authored and completed a fantasy novel. Now he finds his body is changing and so is his life. His parents have decided it is time he goes to public school, a decision that Emerson protests to no avail. At the local school he quickly becomes the class intellectual. That and his androgynous looks make him a mark for bullies, though he frequently handles the situation very well.
One situation we see Emerson is not handling well is his relationship with his male English teacher. Don is played by Daniel MacIvor who co-authored the screenplay with director Amnon Buchbinder. Emerson at first does not like Don, but soon sees he is a channel into a whole intellectual world that Don can help him open up. That is all to the good. And Emerson actually has an interest in literature and shows the appreciation that Don really needs. Don is a perfect teacher for Emerson and Emerson is a perfect student for Don. But then Emerson develops a romantic attachment to Don, not knowing Don's secret. Don's secret is that he is gay and leading an unsatisfying sex life mostly haunting men's rooms looking for liaisons. He has a hard time keeping his relationship with Emerson one that is strictly teacher-student.
There are a lot of themes that neatly pack into this film. Emerson's parents are a study in themselves. Years ago these bright, non-conformists headed off to the Nova Scotia wilderness with talents of great promise--most of which was never fulfilled. Rog had wanted to develop fuel cells that would have a big impact, but after a promising start he mostly just improvises ways his family can live more ecologically. Both parents are now dissatisfied and their relationship with each other has serious problems. To date their greatest accomplishment is Emerson. Rog's self-image has fallen and Kala is fooling around on the side.
This is a small production. The IMDB reports that it was written in fourteen days and filmed in fifteen. The only recognizable actor is Robert Joym who has been in films as far back as 1980 when in the space of a few months he was four excellent films: Louis Malle's ATLANTIC CITY, TICKET TO HEAVEN, THRESHOLD, and RAGTIME. Since then he has usually been in the same sort of roles Steve Buscemi would play. Aaron Webber fits confidently into his first feature film role as the main character and give a strong performance. His character's mature confidence in everything but sex is reminiscent of Darren O'Connor in a similar role in TO FIND A MAN. The only major character whose development seems neglected is Kala, Emerson's mother. As the only female character who is anything more than background scenery, the film could have developed her character a little more. The third act is not quite up to the first two and at the end of the day the film does not really resolve much. But perhaps that is not the point.
As a modest film (as many Canadian films are), this is not going to make much of a sensation, but it is a worthwhile drama. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
WHOLE NEW THING opens January 19, 2007, at the Quad Cinema in New York. It opens March 2, 2007, in Los Angeles. [-mrl]
CASINO ROYALE, THE WOMAN AND THE APE, and THE FOUNTAIN (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's review of CASINO ROYALE in the 12/01/06 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes, "If you ever get the chance, catch Daniel Craig in the British miniseries, THE ICE HOUSE (1997): a charismatic performance, with great chemistry with the female lead. I have to admit, all the Bond films leave me cold, partly due to Bond's superficial relationships with women (with the exception of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE). Maybe this one is different. " [-tw]
[THE ICE HOUSE is not on Netflix, meaning I am not sure where I would get it. -mrl]
In response to Evelyn's comments on Peter Hoeg's THE WOMAN AND THE APE in the same issue, Taras writes, "The review of Peter Hoeg's THE WOMAN AND THE APE reminds me of Michael Bishop's "Her Habilene Husband", novelized as ANCIENT OF DAYS (1985). " [-tw]
[I would have mentioned that as well if I had remembered it. Thanks. -ecl]
In response to Mark's review of THE FOUNTAIN in the same issue of the MT VOID, Taras writes, "I saw THE FOUNTAIN and DEJA VU the same weekend. I've been telling people the former film should also have been called DEJA VU, because the director reuses the same footage at least three times, in several instances. (How many times do we see Rachel Weisz ask Hugh Jackman to come out and play in the snow? She's a pretty lady, but--putting your fiancee in a movie is maybe a bad idea.) There was potential here. I enjoyed the brief glimpses of a very strange future, in which an interstellar spacecraft looks like a terrarium." [-tw]
[Mark responds, "The potential made it all the more disappointing." -mrl]
Math, THE FOUNTAIN, and BABEL (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Mark's article on dimension in the 12/01/06 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes, "Oh my Gawd! You're talking mathematics in here! Ooohhh...my eyes...hurt...burning.... Must...Look...Away...Can't...." [-jp]
[Mark responds, "What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" -mrl]
"I have to admit, those films THE FOUNTAIN and BABEL both look very interesting, but they've been getting mixed reviews." [-jp]
[Mark replies, "With both films you are left wondering what the point was." -mrl]
"The former has been constantly been compared to 2001, which can be either a good thing or a bad thing. Aronofsky is one of those directors who makes the viewer sit there wondering "What the . . . ." throughout the entire movie. Sure sounds like he was mightily influenced by Kubrick. As for BABEL, maybe it would work more if they had made it into a documentary of building a Bheer Can Tower to the Moon. (Apologies to Terry Carr, et al.) Audience participation would be required, of course."
"Sorry for the brevity, but I've got papers to grade and a research paper to write. Still, I enjoyed MT VOID, even if did talk math. Maybe if my brain was more awake it would make more sense to me. Where's that coffee pot . . .?"
[Mark responds, "We are just happy to get your impressions. Supposedly 2/3 of the population has a phobia of math. I was writing for the (2**3)/4! of the population who know what (2**3)/4! is." -mrl]
And in response to Mark's question about what his research paper is, John writes, "Oh, you'd positively *love* this research paper: 'George Eliot's use of dialect as a narrative device in ADAM BEDE and MILL ON THE FLOSS.' I am trying to write two pages, single-spaced a day so it will be done by Thursday afternoon; it's due no later than Friday afternoon, but I want a day to review and proof before turning it in." [-jp]
[Evelyn responds, "George Eliot is one of my favorite novelists, but those are not among her works I like the most." -ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
TIME DETECTIVES by Brian Fagan (ISBN 0-684-81828-0) is subtitled "How Scientists Use Modern Technology to Unravel the Secrets of the Past". If you like "CSI", you will probably like this book. (It was written in 1996, before "CSI" came on the scene.) Each chapter is about a different archaeological site, and how modern scientific techniques (e.g. isotopic chemistry) were used to find out as much as possible about that site. It is a bit dry and technical at times, but overall makes the sites "come to life."
PRIDE AND PRESCIENCE (OR, A TRUTH UNIVERSALLY ACKNOWLEDGED) by Carrie Bebris (ISBN 0-765-35071-8) is what is called a "biblio- mystery". In specific, it is about Mr. and Mrs. Darcy solving a mystery that arises shortly after their marriage at the end of Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. It has the same flaw that the recent film version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE had (at least in the American cut)--it is far too explicit in its references to sex. Note that when I say this in reference to Jane Austen's work, what I mean is that they even acknowledge it at all. In that film, we see the Darcys in their nightclothes on their balcony. In this book, there are constant references to Elizabeth's hair getting mussed, or their being late for appointments, or whatever, with knowing innuendoes. Jane Austen would spin in her grave. I thought the mystery itself was also a bit un-Austen, with more of the paranormal that one expects in that clergyman's daughter's works (although there are some echoes of NORTHANGER ABBEY). Also, the characters did not always ring true, and I thought I detected a couple of anachronistic word choices (which, alas, I failed to note down). But there was a certain talent in the writing, and readers must have liked it--it has been followed by SUSPENSE AND SENSIBILITY (OR, FIRST IMPRESSIONS REVISITED), and NORTH BY NORTHANGER (OR, SHADES OF PEMBERLY).
JANE AND HIS LORDSHIP'S LEGACY by Stephanie Barron (ISBN 0-553-58407-3) is another Austen biblio-mystery, but in this one it is Austen herself who is the detective, not one of her characters. This is the eighth in the series, and appears to depend a lot on at least the previous volume (where I assume Lord Harold Trowbridge was introduced). Also, Barron has an irritating habit of writing "though" as "tho'" and "although" as "altho'". I realize this is an attempt to duplicate the spelling of Austen's time, and complaining about it seems to contradict my earlier complaint about possible anachronisms in Bebris, but here it seems an affectation. (Barron does use English spelling throughout, which is certainly a point in her favour.)
MONSTERS, credited as by Universal Studios, but with text by Roy Milano (ISBN 0-345-48685-4) is a coffee-table book apparently designed to go with Universal Studio's "Legacy" packs. [Universal has released (almost) all of their series monster movie films from the 1930s and 1940s, calling these releases Legacy packs. This book could almost have been an extra feature given out if one bought multiple Legacy packs.--mrl] The book breaks out "The Bride of Frankenstein" from "Frankenstein", but otherwise has a one-to-one match of chapters with the Legacy packs. If you have the packs, there is not much reason to buy this; if you do not have the packs, you should spend your money on those instead. The book is mostly atmospheric publicity stills of the monsters, with brief essays on each film by people like Sara Karloff and Bela Lugosi, Jr. But most of these people were interviewed for the documentaries included with the movies, so there is not much new here. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions. -- Charles Steinmetz
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