MT VOID 09/18/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 12, Whole Number 1563

MT VOID 09/18/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 12, Whole Number 1563

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/18/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 12, Whole Number 1563

Table of Contents

      C3PO: Mark Leeper, R2D2: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Acknowledgement (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

This week's MT VOID is brought to you by the Pre-Owned-Humvee Owners Exchange. Buy a used Humvee today. What has Mother Nature done for you lately? [-mrl]

Correction: Christmas(tm) (letter of comment by Dan Cox):

In response to Evelyn's comments on Christmas stories in the 09/04/09 issue of the MT VOID (where she wrote, "... all of these things have been trademarked and so you can't have a Christmas tree, you must have a Christmas Tree(tm) and pay a license fee for it. The same with Holly(tm), Mistletoe(tm), and so on."), Dan Cox writes:

Maybe that's where Bill Gates got the inspiration to file for such trademarks as Windows(tm), Word(tm), Access(tm), Bookshelf(tm), Arcade(tm), etc. [-dtc]

[Last week, I accidentally attributed this to the wrong person. It was actually written by Dan Cox. Abject apologies to you, Dan. The error was mine, not Mark's, and I will try not to do this again. -ecl]

Dan adds:

In the interest of all mankind, how can I get the idea across to you that every word I have submitted was actually written by me? I have never copied any material from Dan Kimmel.

An idea occurred to me however. It's a truly weird theory, and one that I probably wouldn't suggest to anyone but a science fiction editor. But suppose--just suppose--that this Kimmel person, what with his experiments in electronics and everything, had some way managed to crack through the time-space barrier mentioned so often in your magazine. And suppose--egotistical as it may sound--he had singled out my work as being the type of material he had always wanted to write.

Actually, most of the above words were written by Jack Lewis, so who's cribbing now? [-dtc]

Science Fiction Discussion Groups:

September 24: RED PLANET by Robert A. Heinlein, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM
October 8: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer, 
	Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion 
	of film and book after film

Display of Fantastic Art:

"Spectrum" is on display at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, featuring the best contemporary "fantastic" art from renowned fantasy, science fiction, horror, and surreal artists from around the world from September 1 through October 17, 2009. The "Spectrum" exhibit features a selection of over 120 works from both legendary artists and talented newcomers from the last four annuals. Divided into seven categories, the exhibit showcases multi-media works including original art in both traditional and digital medium, video, 3D, comics and graphic novels. Artists include Julie Bell, Kinuko Y. Craft, Eric Fortune, William Basso, Brom, James Gurney, Tony DiTerlizzi, Terese Nielsen, Yuko Shimizu, Michael Whelan, Donato Giancola, John Jude Palencar, Phil Hale and many more. The artwork will be on display from September 1 through October 17, 2009.

The Society of Illustrators is located at 128 East 63rd Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues), New York, NY 10065. The gallery hours are Tue 10AM-8PM, Wed-Fri 10AM-5PM, Sat 12N-4PM. Admission is free.

More details at

Younger and More Efficient (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I have to say that as I get older my body is actually getting more efficient and is acting younger. I really can feel it happening. It is getting really efficient. If I eat an extra scoop of ice cream I feel my body saying, "Don't worry. It won't be wasted. I will store the extra calories around you middle. Not to worry." Lower down it is a lot younger. It tells me, "I think I have to go. Hey, I have to go NOW. Now! NOW! NOWWW!!!! Gotta go. Gotta go." [-mrl]

The MT VOID Asks Its Readers (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

As you have no doubt heard on the news (right!) the longest running lightening storm ever observed is going on right now on Saturn. It was first noted in January of this year and it has not let up yet. *However*, the media is not calling it a "lightening storm" but a "thunderstorm". Is it actually creating thunder? After all there is nobody to on Saturn to hear any sound. It may be creating what hear we would call thunder. But on Saturn there is nobody to hear it. Is it really sound?


Mirror Neurons May Explain Common Decency (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In the film FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966) there is a moment where the submarine Proteus has been miniaturized and is exploring inside the brain of the man on the operating table. As they are looking at a sort of fanciful lightshow--well it was the 1960s--there is the following exchange:

Dr. Duval: Yet all the suns that light the corridors of the 
     universe shine dim before the blazing of a single thought ... 
Grant: ... proclaiming in incandescent glory the myriad mind of 
Dr. Michaels: Very poetic, gentlemen. Let me know when we pass the 
Dr. Duval: The soul?  The finite mind cannot comprehend infinity--
     and the soul, which comes from God, is infinite.

For me it is one of the low-points of the film. Michaels is making statements that sound good, but for which he has no evidence, bad form for a person of science. What you have there is some script- writer making sure that religious groups know that even though this is a story of science there is nothing anti-religious about this film. No, sir.

(By the way, the quote sounds impressive, but I have a strong suspicion it was made up for the film. It is not in my BARTLETT'S FAMILIAR QUOTATIONS and a short search on the Internet finds no references other than to the film. It is just an impressive- sounding piece of humbuggery.)

In any case the film referred to the soul as if it were some sort of a well-defined thing. But actually now there is something that has a real structure not far from where the Proteus was that is has some of the functions of what some people like to call "the soul." The people in the film might have been able to see something they would have labeled as a piece of the soul that it would have been possible to see. They are something called "mirror neurons," and they may well be the seat of our ability to feel empathy for others.

In the 1980s Giacomo Rozzolatti and some other scientists at the University of Parma were tracking neuron activity in the pre-motor cortex of monkeys. These neurons were expected to fire when the monkey saw something he wanted, a peanut, and reached for it. That was what was anticipated and it was verified. So far there are no surprises. Then one of the people performing the test himself reached for the peanut. The monkey just watched the proceedings. But his brain did not simply stand still. His "grasp" neuron fired at the same time. This did not make sense. Why would grasp neurons be firing in a monkey who is only observing the experiment? The neuron was not just firing to say, "I ought to grab that peanut." It was also firing to say, "*He* ought to grab that peanut." The monkey's neuron activity mirrored the neuron activity in someone else. These neurons that mirrored the neuron activity of others were dubbed "mirror neurons." For a long time they had been identified only in primates like macaque monkeys. In 2007 it was demonstrated that humans also have mirror neurons that behave in the same way.

It seems that certain brain regions behave in much the same way when the brain's owner experiences emotions and when the owner sees someone else experiencing emotions. It is thought now that this may well be what causes people to have empathy. So when Bill Clinton told an audience "I feel your pain," in fact that might have been just what he was feeling. "We used to say, metaphorically, that 'I can feel another's pain.' But now we know that my mirror neurons can literally feel your pain." says Vilayanur Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at UCSD. He also says, "Mirror neurons dissolve the barrier between you and someone else."

In the 01/06/06 issue of the MT VOID I wrote about how there might well be a genetic basis for empathy and altruism Contrary to the frequent viewpoint that people cannot be moral without the guiding hand of religion, it is suggested that there might in fact be a genetic basis for altruism and empathy. It seems to me that having empathy and altruism is really a survival trait. Societies function better if individuals' attitudes go beyond personal gain. The problem is that it is not clear how there could be a link between genes and an ethical philosophy. In fact it seems that a mechanism may now have been established. Genes can create mirror neurons and mirror neurons seem to actually make people more empathetic and altruistic. It has been shown that sociopathic type seem to actually have the mirror neurons firing less. I do not know exactly what it would mean to find this thing people call the soul, but the mirror neurons seem to be the seat of the conscience. That may be close enough to satisfy the skeptic in FANTASTIC VOYAGE.

My original editorial is at:

One description of mirror neurons and empathy is at

This was mostly prompted by the article "Mirror Neurons: Are We Ethical by Nature?" by Christian Keysers in the book WHAT'S NEXT: DISPATCHES ON THE FUTURE OF SCIENCE edited by Max Brockman.


Free Will Versus Determinism (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

There are people who believe in determinism, that is, what we do is strictly determined by the physical state of our body and brain, and that "free will" is an illusion. Often they present arguments as to why this is so. But if they are correct, than the presentation of these arguments is futile, because their audience is predetermined either to believe in determinism or not. On the other hand, they can say that it doesn't matter, because it is also predetermined that they will try to convince people. So I guess to them the argument is both inevitable *and* futile. [-ecl]

Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon (Part 4) (convention report by Evelyn C. Leeper):

This is the last part of my brief report on Anticipation, the Worldcon held in Montreal August 6-10, 2009. My full report will also include panel descriptions, but will probably not appear for some time (though I hope before the next Worldcon!).


The parties (and the Con Suite) were in the Delta, which was about a kilometer away from our hotel (and it was an uphill walk to our hotel). We went to the Reno party on Wednesday night, and it was very crowded, with a long walk back afterwards. So we decided to skip the parties after that, and this was probably a wise decision. One night the Delta shut down at least one party, and there were reports of people having to stand in line in the lobby waiting for people to *leave* the party floor before they could go up.

I also heard that while the Con Suite had a lot of good food (including Montreal smoked meat), it was open only in the evenings. This could well be true, given how far it was from programming (a half a kilometer)--it was not possible to just "drop in" for a while during programming breaks. (The woman who seemed to be running the Green Room whenever I was there commented on how often I dropped in there. Well, if there had been a Con Suite, or even more chairs in the display hall, I might have used those instead. There were a few sofas scattered around the centre, but they were usually occupied.)


The Gaiman autographing could have been handled better. There were two sessions, each in an afternoon slot, but you had to stand in line for tickets which were given out at 9AM those mornings, and then again for the autographs. And although they knew how many tickets they had to give out, no one bothered to count the ticket line and tell people past a certain point that they would almost definitely not be getting tickets.

The major events were in a ballroom with flat seating (rather than raked or stadium seating), which meant that a lot of people could see things on the stage only on the screens. As a result we decided to skip the masquerade, which seems to have been a wise decision. First, there were more prizes given out than there were costumes. And many people reported that most of the costumes/presentations were recreations that depended on your being familiar with the originals in anime or wherever.

At one point, I thought I had lost something, so went to Program Ops to ask about it. They said that lost-and-found was in the Delta! Well, it was not quite that bad--things were taken to the Delta at the end of the day. Still, having the lost-and-found a half a kilometer away from where items were lost makes no sense.

We met a lot of old (and new) friends, of course, including J. J. Pierce, the son of the Bell Labs science fiction author J. R. Pierce, who also wrote as J. J. Coupling. And a big thank- you to Robert Anstett, who helped me figure out why my netbook was not finding any wireless networks on day.

There were about 3000 pre-registered members; the actual attendance was about 3921. The economy undoubtedly played a part, and high airfares kept some away. (Dan Kimmel said that in the spring when he checked airfares from Boston, they were in the $500-$700 range. He took the bus, which was $68 round-trip!) [-ecl]

Corkage (letter of comment by Charles Harris):

In response to Evelyn's Worldcon convention report in the 09/11/09 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris writes, "Please explain: 'There was no clock. I doubt the convention centre would have insisted they pay a corkage fee if they had put one in.'"

Earlier I had talked about food being provided by the convention center at inflated prices. I was referring to the fee convention centres/restaurants charge for people to bring their own food (or wine) in, usually referred to as a "corkage fee", but I guess I had not actually used the term. What I was saying was that while the convention center might have charged a lot for providing a clock, they probably would not have cared if the convention staff brought one in. [-ecl]

Playing with Units in Physics (letter of comment by Ian Gahan):

In response to Mark's comments on the speed of light and units in the 07/24/09 issue of the MT VOID, Ian Gahan writes, "[You] were discussing the speed of light and you did not complete the mantra with "in a vacuum". Because of course the speed of light depends on the medium. Anything from 0 to 186,000 miles/sec. This got me thinking, surely it is possible to travel faster than the speed of light, even in the same medium. How to do it? (This does smack of resublimated thiotimoline :-). Fill a swimming pool with bacteriorhodopsin. You might need an aqualung and a dry suit before jumping into the pool. Next shine a light at one end of the pool and race the light beam by swimming to the other end. You should comfortably arrive at the other end before the beam of light. Light travels at 0.091 mm/sec in bacteriorhodopsin. Not sure that this will provide a means of traversing the galaxy though." [-ig]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

WHY YOU SHOULD READ KAFKA BEFORE YOU WASTE YOUR LIFE (British title: EXCAVATING KAFKA) by James Hawes (ISBN-13 978-0-312-37651-2, ISBN-10 0-312-37651-0) could have been interesting, as Hawes sets out to demolish all the things we think we know about Kafka. It starts out in a promising way, including a (possibly) unintentional joke. When Hawes is talking about the fame of Kafka and how it extends even to those who have not read Kafka, he says, "The brooding face of Kafka has become the icon of that K.-myth and his name, typographically irresistible to anyone from west of the Rhine ... has entered the languages of the world in the term kafkaesque, used wherever guiltless people are trapped in some nightmarish bureaucratic catch-22." [page 5] Everyone understands that sentence--even those who have never read Joseph Heller!

But then he drifts into a world of his own making, where he is so against that idea that there might be any truth in the "Tide of History" theory that he writes:

"So when a recent biographer of Kafka (Nicholas Murray) writes with a straight face of 'the long-standing debate about whether Kafka foresaw the fate of the Jews in Nazi Europe,' I throw his book across the room. '*Foresaw?*' Sorry, what is he trying to say? That history is prewritten? That it is all out there already, just sitting and waiting? This is no *debate*, this is plain and simple tripe that belongs in 'Star Trek' or 'Dr. Who'." [page 89]

He does get one thing right: "Star Trek" and "Dr. Who" have been fairly loyal to the notion that a time traveler cannot change history, so in that sense "history is prewritten." (Hawes wrote before the latest "Star Trek" movie.)

But the argument that just because history is not absolutely predetermined, nothing can be foreseen is clearly poppycock. I can foresee the sun will rise tomorrow. Japan could foresee when they attacked Pearl Harbor that they would end up in a war with the United States. The generals in World War I should have foreseen the results of attempting mass charges against machine gun emplacements. We all think that we can foresee the results of Candidate A being elected rather than Candidate B, or vice versa. We may be mistaken in some aspects, but if we did not think we could foresee the results, voting would be a completely meaningless action.

But Hawes makes even more radical claims. He writes of the anti- Semitism in Prague: "In fact, in 1910 Prague, what we now see as anti-Semitism was really anti-*Germanism*. ... the Jews of Prague were attacked not because they were Jews as such, not because of *what they were*, but because of the *political/linguistic choice they had made*." [page 101-102] This seems to suggest that what had been anti-Semitism for the last couple of thousand years suddenly changed into anti-Germanism for twenty-five years, and then changed back. And for the short period, the anti-Semitism was apparently really the Jews' fault.


Hawes spends a full chapter of the book discussing Kafka's pornography collection--with illustrations. While I understand the need to discuss this in a serious analysis of Kafka's works, Hawes is writing something less academic and more "commercial", and it looks like pure opportunism.

Hawes discusses Kafka's two notes to Max Brod directing that his papers be burned, and then says, "There's no doubt at all that Kafka didn't mean a word of it. ... There really no doubt: when Kafka instructed Brod to destroy his work, he didn't for one moment expect it to happen." First of all, this is proof by intimidation: Hawes gives no evidence, just declares his conclusion is obvious. And secondly, what is his conclusion? Why, that Kafka *foresaw* what would happen! EAT MY GLOBE: ONE YEAR TO GO EVERYWHERE AND EAT EVERYTHING by Simon Majumdar (ISBN-13 978-1-4165-7602-0, ISBN-10 1-4165-7602-9) is supposedly about food, but it is heavily laced with anecdotes and comments about travel, and also about "Clan Majumdar" (the author's family). Unfortunately, the combination did not work for me. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           That which is hateful to you, do not do 
           To your fellow. That is the whole Torah; 
           the rest is the explanation; go and learn.
                                          -- Hillel

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