The Incredibles 2

[5.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Five stars. That's my limit. The stars don't go above that. If they could, for this movie, they would.

I suppose I should say something about the plot. It takes up right where The Incredibles wound up (whoa) 14 years ago: battling the new super-villain "The Underminer". Things don't go well, a lot of hilarious destruction, and all the goodwill the Incredibles built up at the climax of the previous movie is basically squandered in a few minutes.

But they try again, thanks to a megatycoon who wants to bring superheroes back into the mainstream. Helen, as Elastigirl, is the obvious best choice, and what do you know, she's great at thwarting the evil schemes of the (conveniently newly-active) villain "Screenslaver" who can take over peoples' wills by just playing some funky psychedelics on their CRTs.

But is there more here than meets the eye? You bet. Is there a lot of hilarity, as Bob, Mr. Incredible, has to stay at home with the kids and gradually discover (as we know from the last movie) that baby Jack-Jack has powers that make child care … more than a little challenging? Yup.

Edna Mode? Of course, and she's even better here than in the first movie.

It is just so much darn fun to watch. It's smart, funny, and heart-touching. Brad Bird is a genius.

There's an initial animated cartoon, called "Bao". Very moving and (it turns out) symbolic. Also made me hungry, because I don't know anywhere up here in New Hampshire that I can get good bao.

The Consciousness Instinct

Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind

[Amazon Link]

Although the author, Michael S. Gazzaniga, is new to me, he's actually a well-known neuroscientist and author of a number of other popularizing books on brainy topics. As usual, I can't quite remember why I put this on my things-to-read list, but it's one of those "big question" topics I'm interested in, in my usual dilettantish mode. Professor Gazzaniga is currently at UCSB, but he's been all over. (Thanks to the University Near Here's library, who scored the book from Dartmouth. Keeping them on their toes this summer.)

His task here is (obviously, from the title) to explain how we, you and I, can possibly be "conscious", when all that's going on inside us is chemistry, and also some electricity. There's an initial discussion of the history of speculation on the topic, going all the way back to Aristotle, on up through Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, James, and the like. Gazzaniga, fortunately, is comfortable with the philosophical arguments. But he nicely mixes in current research (including his own) in cognitive psychology and neurophysiology.

Way back in the 1960s he worked with Roger Sperry at Caltech, on the famous split-brain experiments. It turns out (as with so many things) that sometimes the easiest way to discover interesting things about how the brain works, is to look at what happens when it's not working that well: when, through injury or disease, some parts are malfunctioning, or not working at all.

His interesting observation: even in cases of severe brain damage, one's consciousness still functions. Sometimes far different than normal, but never really absent. This indicates that it's a property more or less distributed throughout the brain, not localized to any one area.

Gazzaniga finds it useful to think of the brain as having a (conceptually) layered architecture. Since I'm a computer ex-geek, I naturally analogized this to the OSI stack model, with high-level (application) layers, medium-level (e.g. driver) levels, and low-level (e.g. hardware) layers. Each layer doesn't have to "know" anything about the functionality of the layers below and above; there just has to be some sort of communication protocol.

Another important concept is modularity: brain-parts that do some sort of well-defined task; these can also have internal layers. Again, the key points are independence, and relative ignorance.

Interestingly, the book then veers into insights provided by quantum mechanics, which brought me back to my physics-major days. Gazzaniga analogizes the wave/particle duality of elementary particles, and the correspondence principle to life itself. Well, I'm not sure whether this is meant to be an analogy, or if he's saying that there's something quantum-like causing brain consciousness. Anyway, intriguing.

All this goes to argue (as you probably guessed from the title) is that consciousness is an instinct, like fear, hunger, lust, etc. Yeah, maybe.

I expected there to be some more stuff about "free will" in this book, as it seems (to me anyhow) to be tied together with consciousness. But I see he has another book on that specific topic. So I might check that out someday.

URLs du Jour

2018-06-29

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:12 is in favor of neighborliness:

    12 Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense,
        but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.

    Problem: We've seen many, many Proverbs railing against the unfaithful, the godless, the wicked, the foolish, the slothful, the proud, … So what if your neighbor is one or more of those? Does this Proverb take precedence?

    Searching at Amazon for "bad neighbor" returns all sorts of sordid books and movies, but today's Product du Jour seems pretty innocuous.


  • Stuart Reges is a name I recall from my days as a computer science instructor; he's written or co-written a number of programming textbooks. These days he's at the University of Washington, and seems to be in a fair spot of trouble for his Quillette essay: Why Women Don’t Code.

    Ever since Google fired James Damore for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” those of us working in tech have been trying to figure out what we can and cannot say on the subject of diversity. You might imagine that a university would be more open to discussing his ideas, but my experience suggests otherwise.

    […]

    Saying controversial things that might get me fired is nothing new for me. I’ve been doing it most of my adult life and usually my comments have generated a big yawn. I experienced a notable exception in a 1991 case that received national attention, when I was fired from Stanford University for “violating campus drug policy” as a means of challenging the assumptions of the war on drugs. My attitude in all of these cases has been that I need to speak up and give my honest opinion on controversial issues. Most often nothing comes of it, but if I can be punished for expressing such ideas, then it is even more important to speak up and try to make the injustice plain.

    Oh, right. I remember that Stanford thing too.

    Reges proposes a variation on Hanlon's Razor, which is usually expressed:

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

    Reges':

    [N]ever attribute to oppression that which is adequately explained by free choice.

    That would be anathema to the hordes of SJWs whose very livelihood is based on denying that simple principle. Unsurprisingly, Reges is getting slammed further for his heresy.


  • A column in the Canada Free Press by John Burtis on our state's Junior Senator rang the Google LFOD News Alert, and it is funny and brutal: Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jaw Cramps, Granite in the Brains Department, Out of State Interns.

    What can I say?  Absolutely nothing.  But I tried, and so did all of my friends.

    We all called Senator Hassan’s offices to register our disgust with the activity of her sainted out of state college coed female intern’s telling the President of the United States:  “F**k You!”  Such class hurled across the crowd in the Capitol rotunda.  But, as a wag was quick to point out, she’s a doggone millennial!  And so she is.  But she “works” for a US Senator!  And that US Senator also “works” for us!  But it ain’t summer camp in the White Mountains or even the Poconos.  More on that a bit later.

    Alright, I reside in New Hampshire, the Granite State, the Live Free or Die State.  But how was I to know that my US Senator, Maggie Hassan, (D-NH), also had big chunks of granite upstairs?  You know, in the brains department.  It has become very clear now that Maggie, like John Forbes Kerry, suffers from rockitis.  Especially after l’affaire d’intern.

    I don't want to hear Senator Maggie prate about "civility" anytime soon. Or ever.


  • Dedra McDonald Birzer, a lecturer in history at Hillsdale College and the author of a forthcoming book on Rose Wilder Lane, takes issue with a seemingly unnecessary orginatization, the "Association for Library Services to Children" (ALSC), which recently decided to rename its "Laura Ingalls Wilder Award" because of alleged political incorrectness: Librarians without Chests: A Response to the ALSC’s Denigration of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Here's a good point:

    Most news stories covering the travesty of renaming the Wilder medal have cited the earliest known objection to Wilder’s representation of the Kansas landscape in Little House on the Prairie (1935) as empty of people. “There the wild animals wandered and fed as though they were in a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no settlers. Only Indians lived there.” Until 1953, the text read, “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.” A reader complained in 1952 to Nordstrom. Her response to the reader clearly reflected her horrified shock at the realization of how the passage read. “I must admit to you that no one here realized that these words read as they did. Reading them now it seems unbelievable to me that you are the only person who has picked them up and written us about them in the twenty years since the book was published.” The letter emphasized the response of everyone at Harpers & Row: “We were disturbed by your letter. We knew that Mrs. Wilder had not meant to imply that Indians were not people.” Indeed, Wilder responded just as Nordstrom predicted. “Your letter came this morning,” Wilder wrote on October 4, 1952. “You are perfectly right about the fault in Little House on the Prairie and have my permission to make the correction as you suggest. It was a stupid blunder of mine. Of course Indians are people and I did not intend to imply they were not.”

    To repeat: A self-admitted stupid blunder fixed over sixty years ago.


  • And the Babylon Bee has another scoop: First Star Destroyer In Space Force To Be Named

    WASHINGTON, D.C.—During an address Thursday, President Trump revealed that the first Star Destroyer warship to be christened in the new United States Space Force program will be named the USS Civilityin honor of the kind of civil discourse the president has “always made a priority” throughout his administration.

    The Civility will be armed with dozens of turbolaser batteries, TIE fighters, AT-AT walkers, and nearly 10,000 stormtroopers, and will be ready to invade and wipe out any foreign countries, planets, or entire star systems that have even a minor dispute with America. Currently being built at a secret Lockheed Martin stardock, it is expected to launch in 2020.

    This is good news for those of us disappointed with The Last Jedi. Hopefully, the 7pm news will be more entertaining sci-fi.


Last Modified 2018-06-29 2:44 PM EDT