Preaching Doesn’t Help

A while back, there was someone at my college yelling, quoting Bible verses, and saying people were going to Hell. He (or maybe someone else with him, I forget) was holding up a black sign that said “NO [long list of various nouns] will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.”

When I got to class shortly after passing by him, I heard my classmates joking around about how they were going to Hell, but that was OK with them.

Today again, there was an old man (or maybe middle-aged, I forget) in a black suit with a bunch of white writing about Jesus and such on it, going on about rock-and-roll dudes, queers and sorority girls looking to steal people’s virginity.

One of the people he was preaching at responded, “They already took my virginity, and it was great!” He then turned to his friends and said something about sorority girls being promiscuous like rabbits and how we need more girls like that.

Now, there are so many things wrong with these situations that I hardly know where to begin.

First, these preachers are appealing to emotions to get people to convert. Emotions are not the best part of humanity. A conversion based on emotion is going to fade away as the emotion fades away. To inspire a lasting conversion, you have to appeal to reason; what someone feels changes depending on the situation, but what one believes is true is much more stable.

Second, these preachers were appealing to fear, and that is a rhetorical blunder in this situation. Emotions are inherently reactive; you feel happy because you’re eating your favorite dessert on your birthday, or you feel angry because someone insulted your mother, or you feel desire because you saw a commercial for the new Zelda game, or you feel fear because you’re face to face with a lion, etc. People don’t feel anything about something that doesn’t seem real to them. But if you’re preaching to people, then your audience presumably doesn’t believe in your religion. So what’s the point telling people who don’t believe in Hell how scary Hell is? To them, you just look like a child rambling on about the monster in his closet. First convince your audience that Hell exists, then tell them about how scary it is.

Third, this preacher clearly wasn’t taking into account the reputation of Christianity among the general population. In modern-day America, Christians are considered archetypes of prudishness and excessive seriousness. So if you stand there going on about Bible verses and Hell, then your audience will conclude that they were right in thinking of Christians as a bunch of party-pooping alcoholophobic virgins, unable to keep up with science, who enforce a slew of rules without putting any thought into it just because their parents said so. Yes, Christianity is not of this world, which means that you’re going to have to distance yourself from modern culture with all its promiscuity etc. But the way you present your message has to seem, if not palatable, at least reasonable to your audience if you don’t want to be laughed off your soapbox. Rhetoric doesn’t happen in a vacuum; you have to take context into account, as Aristotle realized 2000 friggin’ years ago. Yes, I understand that people tend to be too complacent and probably need a shock to get them to do any sort of reforming of their lives. But you can’t make a good movie with nothing but a climax; you have to build up an emotional connection with the audience in order for the climax to mean anything to them. Go ahead and tell them how scary Hell is, but tell it to them after you’ve convinced them that human nature is real, that therefore morality is real, that God exists, that it’s right to worship Him, that worshiping God entails not just praying but also ordering the rest of one’s life in a proper way, etc.

Fourth, these preachers were framing their arguments in a way that portrayed their own group as the one that would go to Heaven and their audience as the group that would go to Hell. Socially, this is implying that their group is superior to their audiences’. This is just begging for their audiences to get mad at them, or at least see them as enemies. That just is the thing that happens when you act like you’re better than someone, just as falling just is the thing that happens when you drop something, and just as saving 15% or more on car insurance just is the thing that happens when you switch to Geico. This is as directly contrary to their purpose as it’s going to get. They’re supposed to be getting people to join their church. How can you get people to join your church by making enemies of them?

And really, just what are these people expecting to accomplish? How many people come up to them while they’re preaching and say, “You’re so right, I’m going to change my ways and attend your church from now on”? Do they not see their audience laughing at them? What made that old man think it was a good idea to tell a bunch of college guys to watch out for their virginity? How many of them does he think are virgins?

Their whole project is poorly thought out from start to finish, and it just plain doesn’t help.

Wrong Major?

I’m drowning under a pile of homework etc. right now, so I’ll be brief. Just wanted to write a few thoughts down. Basically, the problem is that I’m a comp sci major, but lately I’ve been wondering if I might have picked the wrong major.

I’ve always been able to keep up with classes without having to study. In high school, it got to the point where I didn’t even consistently keep track of when tests were. I would walk in, notice everyone’s desks were unusually empty, think “Oh, I guess we have a test today,” and then proceed to ace it.

But this year (my third year of college), it stopped being that way. When I hear about a test, I actually get worried, and start reviewing. And then when I actually take the test, there are questions I’m not quite sure of. Which might not sound like a big deal, but for me it’s a bit of a new experience.

And as I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that the reason for this is that I’m just not interested in my classes. So as the teacher is going on lecturing, I’ll be reading manga on my phone, and then when he assigns homework I don’t know how to do it. So then I have to read the textbook in the time when I could be doing other things, and that means less time to catch up with the other classes that I’ve been reading manga in, and so on. Which would explain why things have been spiraling out of control for me lately.

This is not how things work out when I take a class I’m interested in. In that case, well… a lot of the time, I’ll already know what the teacher is going to teach us before he does it. If not, then once he starts teaching, I’ll start playing around thinking about the material covered in the class in my spare time, trying to apply it to various things that the teacher didn’t mention it was applicable to, and then a few classes in I’ll be at the point where I already know what the teacher is going to teach us before he teaches it. Or I’ll formulate my own pet theories that contradict what the teacher says (but of course, on the tests I’ll pretend to agree with the teacher).

Of course, this is also true of my experience with comp sci courses to some extent. In my first year as a comp sci major, I learned nothing new, except the syntax of Java, the primary programming language used in the comp sci department. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I hate Java. Instead, my favorite language is Common Lisp, the cult classic with syntax that looks positively alien to people with a background in any other programming language, ranked number one in amount of esoteric self-referential thinking required to use it. Naturally, I aced all the tests without studying as well.

The reason I started thinking I’m probably not that interested in comp sci is because lately, I’ve noticed a pattern in my manga-reading. I’m currently taking five classes, two in linguistics and three in comp sci. I mostly read manga or do research (of things irrelevant to the class) or draw or whatever during all three of my comp sci classes. But I don’t do that in either of my linguistics classes.

So that’s why I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I should have majored in math. I had a lot of fun with discrete math, calculus, and linear algebra. For me, the homework in those classes was like a nice treat at the end of a long day. Proving that a set of vectors was linearly independent was a great way to unwind before bed.

But of course, the problem is that there’s always the possibility that majoring in math is just as hard as majoring in computer science. Well, it pretty much certainly is, but I mean I might end up reading manga as much in math classes as I do in computer science classes. In that case, there might not be much point switching majors.

And then there’s also the problem of how this will affect my scholarship. I’m only covered for four years; if I end up taking longer than that to graduate, then I’ll have to take out a loan.

Not to mention math isn’t the only possible alternative to comp sci; linguistics is an option as well. So I’ll have to decide between those at some point, too.

So there’s a bunch of thoughts, I guess. Now I’d better start actually doing homework.

Aristotle’s Definition of Motion

I’ve been thinking for a long time that I should stop trying so hard to write completely finished, polished articles, but then I always end up working too hard on whatever idea I come up with. So this is going to be my first attempt at posting more often but trying less hard.

I’ve been struggling to understand Aristotle’s definition of motion for a long time now. “Motion,” in Aristotle’s terminology, refers to any sort of change as it is taking place; in other words, it refers to the process of change rather than the fact of change.

So how do we define motion? The most obvious prima facie definition is “change spread out over time.” But this is problematic because Aristotle wants to define time in terms of motion. Aristotle’s definition of time is “the numerical measure of motion according to the before and after.” Time arises from motion, not vice-versa.

Another apparently tempting definition is “the transition from potency to act.” But this is a circular definition; “transition” basically means “motion.” All this definition tells us is that motion starts with potency and ends with act. It doesn’t tell us what motion actually is.

The definition that Aristotle finally arrives at is:

Motion is the act of a potency insofar as it is potency.

The good part of this definition is that it defines motion solely in terms of concepts that are more basic than motion. It makes no reference to time, nor does it rely on any synonym of “change,” “transition,” etc. The only concepts it uses are act and potency, pretty much the most basic concepts in existence.

But the problem is that it looks like a blatant contradiction. How can there be an act of a potency? Something in act, by definition, is no longer in potency, and something in potency, by definition, is not yet in act.

Aristotle also gives an illustration of the definition that shows clearly that he means exactly what he sounds like he means. He says that if the definition of “to be potentially a statue” and that of “to be bronze” were the same, then to be bronze would simply be to be in motion toward being a statue.

There’s one attempt at clarifying the definition that I’ve heard, which I don’t like. It states that the definition means that an object in motion is in act to the extent that it has come partway through the motion, and in potency to the extent that it is still on the way to further act. This state of being less in potency than before but not yet as much in act as it could be is motion.

But this clarification clearly just doesn’t mean the same thing as the definition. The definition states that motion is the act of a potency. In other words, the act belongs in some way to a potency. This does not come across in the clarification; the clarification describes motion as the state in between a lesser act and a greater act. “In between lesser act and greater act” and “act of a potency” are just not the same thing, no matter how you look at it.

One short thought experiment shows that the clarification is incorrect. Say someone takes two pots of water at the same temperature and puts them both on a fire. Then, he takes one off the fire while leaving the other on the fire. Now, both pots are in a state of greater heat than before while being in a state of less heat than they could be. But the one is in motion, while the other is at rest. With respect to being in between lesser and greater act, nothing differentiates the two pots of water. But with respect to being in motion, the two pots are different; one is in motion, while the other is at rest. So clearly the difference between motion and rest is not a matter of being in between lesser and greater act.

So I find this clarification misleading.

(further thoughts to follow)

(EDIT: Uncapitalized a part that was written in all-caps, because it seemed too emotional. Took out a couple of extra words.)

Samurai Champloo and Beginnings, Middles, and Ends

Recently, my dad asked me about what would be a good anime to watch, out of curiosity since I’m watching them all the time. When I told him about how anime isn’t really just one genre but a medium that’s used for many genres, he asked for an action show to start with, so I recommended Hunter x Hunter. That didn’t end up working out particularly well; he watched the first episode and said he thought it wasn’t bad, but he wouldn’t necessarily be interested in investing a lot of time into watching the whole thing.

Now, I will stand by my judgement that Hunter x Hunter is a great show, but in retrospect it was a bad choice for a beginner because the plot takes so long to get started. While the show is always at least decently interesting right from the beginning, it doesn’t start really gaining momentum until the Yorknew City arc, which, according to Wikipedia, doesn’t start until episode 37. Then the high point of the series is in the chimera ant arc, which starts at episode 76 and continues until episode 136. So you have to have a pretty long attention span to be able to watch Hunter x Hunter.

So that got me thinking what would be a good show for a newcomer to anime, and my conclusion was that Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo would probably be the best choice.

I haven’t actually watched much of Cowboy Bebop myself, but I have watched a sizable chunk of Samurai Champloo (not all of it, for reasons I’ll mention later), which was directed by the same guy, and I understand the shows are pretty similar. So the following points were written with Samurai Champloo in mind, but they’re probably  generally applicable to Cowboy Bebop as well.

I think that of all the shows I’ve seen, Samurai Champloo makes the best use by far of the episodic storytelling format. A lot of serial TV shows use episodic storytelling in one of two ways. Either they make every episode end with a cliffhanger (e.g. pretty much any shonen series), or they end every episode right where it started so that the status quo never changes (e.g. Ranma 1/2, any harem series, or any sitcom). Either way, the shows are not making particularly good use of their medium. An episode is a division with a natural beginning, middle, and end. With the endless cliffhanger approach, each episode begins and ends right in the middle of some big event. Thus the episodes’ beginnings and endings are just formalities corresponding to nothing real in the story; in reality, each episode consists of nothing but middle material. With the eternal status quo approach, the bounds of the episode are respected, but the series of episodes as a whole goes nowhere. This reduces the value of watching the whole show; once you’ve seen one episode, you’ve seen it all.

Between these two, Samurai Champloo is closer to the latter approach. For the most part, each episode in the show is a complete story with its own proper beginning, middle, and end (though there are some story arcs that are split into two or three episodes). Once an episode ends, it doesn’t affect future episodes much, and apart from the protagonists, characters that show up in any given episode are pretty unlikely to return in future episodes.

But it also avoids falling into the eternal status quo trap. The story is framed by the main characters’ journey across feudal Japan to find someone known to them only as “the samurai who smells of sunflowers”; the division of the show into episodes reflects the incidents they encounter as they go. And as the show progresses you start to see subtle changes in the characters’ dispositions toward each other. At the start of the show, the three main characters are constantly at each others’ throats. Then in the middle, there’s an incident where one of them comes close to dying, and the others cry over him. And the progression from the start up to this point feels perfectly natural, precisely because you, the viewer, have seen everything that they’ve been through together up till then. The show uses the episodic format’s division and prolongation of the unfolding of the story to make the characters’ changing relationship believable. It’s a masterful use of the medium.

But of course, nothing is perfect, and this storytelling approach has one big drawback that I know of. The series of episodes as a whole feels like one long, well-written story, but each episode individually can feel pretty insignificant. That makes it hard to get back into the story after taking a long break from it, because whichever episode you left off on will probably fail to recapture your interest.

When I first started watching Samurai Champloo, I was hooked instantly; it felt like it was doing everything right. But then I had to take a break for school and whatnot. When I finally got started on it again, it was on an episode about a charlatan who poses as St. Francis Xavier’s grandson (which already gives him away right off the bat since St. Francis was a priest and shouldn’t have had kids) and tries to hoodwink a Japanese Catholic community into building guns for him to sell illegally. And it felt like the stuff I was seeing was meaningless. It came out of nowhere, and then suddenly it was over; that’s all I can really say about it. At this point, I think I might be better off starting over from the beginning rather than continuing where I left off.

Then again, I guess part of the reason I wasn’t sucked into it was because I was watching at a cousin’s house and there were small children present, so I was scared the kids would see something they shouldn’t (“Mommy, look! That person got cut in half!”). So maybe I’ll give it one more try in a safer environment before starting over.

(By the way, the aforementioned Japanese Catholics were portrayed as being good people in the end, which, as a Catholic, I thought was nice. They didn’t have any disillusionment with religion or anything like that either.)

Anyways, since I started on this train of thought thinking about what would be a good show for a newcomer to anime, one word about that. Samurai Champloo is set in feudal Japan, which might not be familiar to Western audiences, whereas Cowboy Bebop is set in a more generic sci-fi setting. On the other hand, Samurai Champloo often has a silly, humorous, maybe even flippant tone; by contrast, Cowboy Bebop… Well, let me put it this way: According to Wikipedia, it falls under the neo-noir genre, and its themes include existential ennui and loneliness. It still has its humor and whatnot, but it’s not as flamboyant as Samurai Champloo. So I guess all in all, Samurai Champloo is probably the more accessible option, whereas Cowboy Bebop would probably be a better example of what “serious” anime looks like.

Why I Hate O Fortuna

1. So melodramatic. Like, take a chill pill and get over yourself, dude, srsly. ‘-_-

Volume doesn’t make music sound dramatic, complexity makes music sound dramatic. That’s why Bach’s counterpoint is always so exciting.

This piece simultaneously makes less effort to sound dramatic than “O Fortuna,” and ends up actually sounding more dramatic than “O Fortuna.”

2. The melody is simple, repetitive, and boring.

o-fortuna

Look, even on paper you can tell it’s boring. In terms of interest and complexity, this is on a level with the melodies they teach first graders on the recorder.

3. ALL THE ACCENTS ARE ON THE WRONG SYLLABLES!!!

Correct accents (acute (normal accent) = primary, grave (backwards accent) = secondary):

Ó fortúna,
vélut lúna
státu vàriábilis,
sémper créscis
àut decréscis;
víta dètestábilis
núnc obdúrat
èt tunc cúrat
lúdo méntis áciem,
ègestátem,
pòtestátem,
dìssolvìt ut gláciem

“O Fortuna” accents:

Ó fortúna,
vélut lúna
státu vàriàbilíiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis,

sempér crescís
aut décrescìs;
vitá detèstabílis
nunc óbduràt
et túnc curát
ludó mentís acíem,
egéstatèm,
potéstatèm,
dissólvit ut glacíem

The first three lines, “O fortuna, / velut luna, / statu variabilis,” are actually accented on the right syllables, but everything after that is accented where it shouldn’t be and vice versa. Ironically, the one place after the first few lines where “O Fortuna” accents the correct syllable (viz. on the word “dissolvit”) happens to be the one place where the original poem places the accents on the wrong syllables metri gratia.

Now, there is actually a perfectly simple explanation for this. There are two types of duple meters (meters based on units of two beats), trochaic and iambic. Trochaic meters accent the first of each group of two syllables, whereas iambic meters accent the second of each group of two syllables. “O Fortuna” takes a poem with a trochaic meter and sets it to an iambic melody, hence the accents being out of whack. Which raises the question:

Why would you do that??

All it does is sound irritating. I mean, it’s not as though the melody is so great that it’s worth butchering the words to sing it or anything, so…