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No Man’s Sky

Friday, August 19th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick blog letter to Chris Bateman, and more broadly to the global God NoGod argument ]


This post may or many not be of interest to individual ZP readers, so here’s what’s up. The philosopher-game-designer-blogger Chris Bateman gets into blog-with-blog discussions, the rubric with his articles on his own iHobo and Only a Game blogs being “all replies at other blogs will be promoted here to keep the conversation going” – and this ZP post of mine is in response to his No Man’s Sky Roundup post today, and the pieces about the game of that name he led me to.

It is also an attempt to put the basic insight of that branch of theology called “apophatic” (“other than speech”) theology into, well, written speech. And in a way, it is also my challenge to the entire “God vs NotGod” debate that tiresome long books are written about, since the God described by Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa strikes me as the “definition of God” that any worthy attempt to attack the “God” concept on philosophical grounds should be tackling – not such local and verbal matters as whether God prefers seven days to universe completion or a little longer, burkas or bikinis, gays married or chaste, or being embodied or otherwise, three, one or both.

It’s also written in a language you might term poetico-philosophical or vice versa, you have been warned.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, have at it!


No Man’s Sky

Words drag their whatevers with them into some form of presence, which with “table” is not an issue, the table idea is both transparent and vague as clouds, it sits as easy in mind as I sit in a chair – wait, at my desk, a form of table, the word “table” brought table to mind, table brought chair..

Or was it, “table” brought “chair” and “chair” brought chair, I myself embodied being also enchaired, one might think “enthroned” as I write this.

At my desk I read these words describing the books in BorgesLibrary of Babel, “every variation of the 22 letters of the alphabet (as well as the additional three symbols of the comma, period, and space” – I read them as illuminating for me the planets, fauna, flora, perils and perceptions players find in the trans-galactic game, No Man’s Sky.

And words drag their whatevers with them.

It is the mystery. It is the moon at which the zen finger points, it is the, a, God, whole system, the One and All I wish to speak of – the ineffable – here.

So it is that the words “the comma, period, and space” drag with them first a tailed dot, a tadpole, a jot, yod in the Hebrew, a tongue of flame, tongue here being fire, language and insight, that descended on certain disciples of someone, arguably, then the dot without tail, a speck, point, blackness minimal – and then, like the zoom from space station window to deep space outside, space.

In the game, No Man’s Sky. Or at your window, seen perhaps from your desk, imagined at mine. Or dragged, somehow, for I and later, you, with or from these words.

So: zero to galaxy via a simple “and” less than a second long, short in the life of humans, long enough, it would seem, for some previously unknown game galaxy. Or “galaxy” – game or otherwise.

The marks, the comma and period, I am habituated to. They are articulation points among the bare bones of the letters, bodying them out into words, langue, langue, language – again, fire and insight, but also scratches, pecked out with pen, keyboard or chisel – but space.

And I was reading about this game, No Man’s Sky, this game gaming space, deep space, as the books within Borges’ book, within Borges and now shared out among us, game all possible verbal coherences with all possible incoherences, all partials, wholes, and almost nothings, an “a” that may be word or mark, an ‘o” that may close the book, galaxy, universe, be zero, lack sound or howl fury.. and those illimitable periods, commas, spaces.

Thus: “comma” drags its micro-tadpole with it, I squint, “period” drags it’s point – where is my jeweler’s loup? – and “space” __ I am flung far enough that I stop to take stock, look back from vague, vast imagined space at imagined period and comma, see how far how fast I have come, gasp.

Now the great mystery, the unknowable more than human mind as human mind is more than speck, galactic cluster more than planetary spack with us specks on it, the whatever the “moon” in “finger pointing at the moon” was, is, pointing at, the stuff and substance of what the word “God” drags in, neither stuff nor substance but, per the good catholic Cardinal, Cusanus, well —

When we attempted to see Him beyond being and not-being, we were unable to understand how He could be visible. For He is beyond everything plural, beyond every limit and all unlimitedness; He is completely everywhere and not at all anywhere; He is of every form and of no form, alike; He is completely ineffable; in all things He is all things, in nothing He is nothing, and in Him all things and nothing are Himself; He is wholly and indivisibly present in any given thing (no matter how small) and, at the same time, is present in no thing at all. –

— That!

The “That” in “Thou art That” with “art” the link connecting them, us, if you’ll allow me to digress into a pun, puny beside that immense No Thing at All.

You drop the word “space” into an unremarkable remark about “the comma, period, and space” and space, the deep, the trans-galactic space is dragged into mind – mine, anyway, and perhaps now yours – and we ignore it, “space” we know here meaning what “space between letters” would drag with it – we ignore it as though shutting a window, the space station window, the window of mind.

And God, But God.

We foreclose the window on God with undue haste, because it is rubbish, garbage, nothing. Or because it is that someone with disciples end of conversation, agree or be damned. Because we’ve got it, we know, we affirm, “I believe”.

But peer closer at that creed, the longer one, Athanasius’ Creed, skip a few lines and what they drag with them, you’ll find..


To be specific:

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible .. as also there are not three .. incomprehensible, but .. one incomprehensible.

Or in short:

Incomprehensible, three one.

— which drags a certain amount of sense with it, and the someone, and the entire ineffable.

And that word, struck like repeated blows of a Thor-sized hammer of mind, “incomprehensible .. incomprehensible .. incomprehensible .. incomprehensible .. incomprehensible”.

There is no whatever, it says, no thing or person or process our mind can think or process that this word or these words, “incomprehensible”, drag with them. Such a thing, or process, or person – “someone” included – is not subject to mind, cannot be crammed, cannot be cabined, cribbed, confined, into mind, into your, my, or some – any – high priest philosopher’s mind. Or book.

Of whom or which or whatever it is said —

He is not one who is ashamed to show his strength,
and buffets proud folk about like leaves in a gale.
He upsets those that hold themselves high and mighty
and rescues the least one of us.

–- of which water is exemplary, which “nourishes all things without trying to” and “is content with the low places which people disdain.”

Humility, then. And to erect a hurdle, you might call it “epistemic humility” –

But make no mistake:

Humility is the game. “Humility” is the name of the game.

Recommended Reading—Summer 2016

Monday, July 11th, 2016

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Storm of Creativity2017



white horsewashington


The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski

2017 War With Russia, by General Sir Richard Shirreff

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

Serendipities, Language and Lunacy, by Umberto Eco

Paradise, Dante Alighieri, translated by Mark Musa

Undertow, by Stanton S. Coerr

The White Horse Cometh, by Rich Parks

Washington The Indispensable Man, by John Thomas Flexner

This list starts the first week of May, so perhaps the title should be Spring/Summer. Most of these books are quick reads and all are recommended.

I picked up Ms. Leski’s book at an MIT bookshop on a business trip in early May and read on the train ride home. Books on creativity are ubiquitous, but Ms. Leski takes an interesting approach by describing the creative process using the metaphor of a storm. Several ZP readers will find of interest.

2017 was recommended by a friend. The author was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the book focuses on a Europe/NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Written in a Tom Clancy-like style, the plot is fast-paced even though the good general provides sometimes provides detailed insights into the inner workings of NATA and the North Atlantic Council (this is one of the values of the book—bureaucracy writ-large).

David McCullough’s Wright Brothers delivers an approachable and human accounting of the first men of powered flight. Some reviews on Amazon complain McCullough lifts and uses too many quotes to tell the story. At times the quotes were distracting, but not enough to prevent the enjoyment of the story of two brothers who changed the world. This book was a gift otherwise I probably would not have read.

Serendipities is a short book, but was a long read for me. Eco explains how language and the pursuit of the perfect language has confounded thinkers since time immemorial. He refers to Marco Polo’s unicorn (also used in his Kant and the Platypus which is excellent) explaining how language is often twisted to meet a preconceived notion or idea. The first couple of chapters were quite good, chapters three and four did not hold my interest or were over my head. The closing chapter was good enough to convince me I’ll need to read this little book again. (My Eco anti-library has been growing of late.)

Eco’s book led me to reread Musa’s excellent translation of Paradise. My son gave me the deluxe edition with parallel Italian and English, plus commentary. Eco referenced Canto 26 and 27, and I enjoyed the break so much I read the whole thing!

Undertow is my good friend Stan Coerr’s second book of poetry.  His first book Rubicon was a moving collection of poetry of men at war. Undertow deals more with the heart and is quite good, too. You won’t be disappointed.

White Horse is also a book by an old friend, Rich Parks (we’ve known each other since the mid-80’s). White Horse is self-published and in places it shows, but the overall story is quite good for a first book (I’ve already told him his book would make an excellent screenplay.). The plot is quick and entertaining even if a bit unbelievable, but the story is fiction. Rich is following up with a sequel in August in 2016 and I’ll be reading it, too.

Mr. Flexner’s Washington was a gift, too. In this quick biography Washington is made approachable and human. And when I say “quick,” I mean quick…Trenton and Princeton took one chapter compared to David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing which took up a standalone book. If someone were looking for a first Washington biography, this would be a good place to start.

This isn’t the conclusion of my summer reading, but a pretty good start.What are  you reading this summer?

Sunday surprise the first — neat tweets from KarlreMarks

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Brexit, graphical thinking, serpents — there’s never a dull moment with Karl Sharro on Twitter! ]

Karl Sharro is reMarkable and indeed reTweetable:


An hour or so before I saw that tweet from Sharro, I’d tweeted a quote from Suzanne Langer:

I was quoting Langer’s Philosophy in a New Key — hat-tip: Steven H. Cullinane:

Visual forms— lines, colors, proportions, etc.— are just as capable of articulation, i.e. of complex combination, as words. But the laws that govern this sort of articulation are altogether different from the laws of syntax that govern language. The most radical difference is that visual forms are not discursive. They do not present their constituents successively, but simultaneously, so the relations determining a visual structure are grasped in one act of vision.”

I think that’s generally right, and goes some way to explaining why “reading” a HipBone Game is cognitively different, even when the game is played entirely in verbal moves, from an equivalent reading of the same “move” tests in sequence.

I noted Sharro’s visual example — worth clicking all the way through to see it full scale — because although it’s a visual representation of a cluster of texts, it follows a timeline from left to right, and is thus simultaneously sequential and synchronic. A neat trick.

BTW, Sharro is celebrated for an earlier diagram I’ve posted here — with glee, and with his amazing purely textual equivalent!


OK so now my focal length is just right for KarlreMarks Twitter feed, and I find this beauty — also about Brexit — too:

What’s so neat here? Well, it appears to be a paradox of self-reference — ourobouros, a serpent biting its own tail if you like — and it’s very nicely done. The “large numbers of people” gathered in London, of course, aren’t the “large numbers of people” they say shouldn’t be heard, and if Sharro had tweeted —

Large numbers of people gather in London to demand that large numbers of other people shouldn’t be heard”

— the paradox would have been gone, the serpent biting its own tail morphed into a serpent biting another serpent — a far less interesting spectacle.

Or would it? At the level of particular crowds, yes, the paradox would vanish, one crowd biting another, but at the level of implied principle, a crowd voicing the denial of the principle that the voices of crowds deserve a hearing would still be self-refuting in just the way Sharro plays on.

So the paradox would be like Schrodinger’s cat, dead while alive — or even better, the Cheshire Cat, niow here now gone, perhaps?


Life, she is rich in paradox.

I do so hate it when people speak foreign

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the Pakistani politician Imran Khan and Alec Station’s Mike Scheuer think (somewhat) alike ]

I do so hate it when people speak foreign, and am happy when bilinguals tweet the relevant quotes in regular language:


Imran Khan, who is being quoted from this interview as saying “George Washington was a terrorist for the English & freedom fighter for Americans” is a Pakistani cricketer (captain of the team that won the 1992 World Cup, and credited with 3807 runs batting and 362 wickets bowling in Test matches) turned politician (founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party which governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly the North West Frontier Province) — and philanthropist (founder of a cancer hospital, and more).

Comparisons, they say, are odious — and you may well think it odious to compare Osama bin Laden with George Washington.

What, though, if the comparison is between Imran Khan and Michael Scheuer, who in the runup to 9/11 was the chief of Alec Station (ie the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station). In his first book, Through our Enemies’ Eyes, published anonymously in 2002, Scheuer wrote:

I think we in the United States can best come to grips with this phenomena by realizing that bin Laden’s philosophy and actions have embodied many of the same sentiments that permeate the underpinnings of concepts on which the United States itself is established. This can be illustrated, I think, with reference to the writings or actions of such seminal figures in our history as John Brown, John Bunyan, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine.


Bin Laden’s character, religious certainty, moral absolutism, military ferocity, integrity, and all-or-nothing goals are not much different from those of individuals whom we in the United States have long identified and honored as religious, political, or military heroes, men such as John Brown, John Bunyan, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine. I do not argue that these are exact analogies, but only that they are analogies that seemed pertinent as I researched bin Laden.

and again, specifically:

A final analogy I found useful in thinking about Osama bin Laden in a context pertinent … Professor John L. Esposito drew me to this analogy in his fine book The Islamic Threat. Myth or Reality?, as did the editors of the respected Pakistani newspaper Nawa-i-Wakt. In his book, Esposito warned that when Americans automatically identify Islamist individuals and groups as terrorists, they forget the “heroes of the American Revolution were rebels and terrorists for the British Crown,” while the editors of Nawa-i-Waqt lamented that “it is unfortunate that the United States, which obtained its independence through a [revolutionary] movement is calling Muslim freedom fighters [a] terrorist organization.”

Like him or not as he currently presents himself and his opinions, Scheuer was plausibly the person best situated to explain bin Laden to an American audience back in 2002 — and today’s Imran Khan and yesterday’s Michael Scheuer seem to have a major analogy for assessing & explaining bin Laden in common…

The trouble with speaking foreign

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — whether it’s Arabic in America, or Welsh in, of all places, Wales! ]

In the last couple of days, we’ve seen:



Not only is it inadvisable to speak foreign in the United States, apparently — it can also be a problem when foreign is both the local and your own native tongue!

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