A letter to a hypothetical Christian apologetic

•August 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Dear Christian apologetic,

I’d thought I’d make a few inquiries as to how your religion works. After all, you’re a moderate, straight-headed kind of person who could well have standard Christian beliefs and who isn’t afraid of accepting scientific discoveries, such as gravity, evolution, and you’re not the 1 in 5 Americans that believes that the Sun revolves around the Earth. In short, you’re a responsible moderate who is skeptical about scientific hypotheses (aren’t we all?) but not necessarily well established scientific proofs (that is to say, theories).

You’re also a moral person, no doubt. You are generous, loving and have responsibilities. You have an ethical system that you feel comes from the Bible, and that Jesus guides you life in a way that makes you a better person. More importantly, you believe that Jesus forgives your sins.

I was curious, however, as to what those sins actually are. You have the normal, day-to-day sins of life which I suppose everyone does, but as far as I’m aware, that doesn’t appear to be the sins Jesus is concerned with. I recently conversed with a priest (let’s call him Larry) who said to me that it is the wickedness in our hearts, from birth, are the sins that Jesus forgives so we might have eternal life. A natural sin, so to speak. I mean, I would say Jesus is sinless in that regard too, but not the normal day-to-day sins, I mean he was said to do some pretty disruptive things such as making the apostles abandon their mothers and fathers (James and John went up and left their dad on a boat!) and a few other examples.

So where does this inherent, born-with-it sin come from? Larry suggested it was handed down from us in generations, all the way from the original sinning of Adam and Eve, when they ate the fruit of knowledge. I have a few gripes with this if you wouldn’t mind entertaining me. To begin with, if I may borrow a quote  from the late Christopher Hitchens, it is if we are “created sick, and commanded to be well“; do you think that’s unfair? Secondly, why I am personally a sinful person because of something two people did thousands of years ago and to which I am extremely distantly related? Why would I even be blamed for my parent’s sin? Let’s say that it is just the way it is, do you think that is a moral thing- to say that a person is to be, without compunction, blamed for the errors of other people?

You’re a moderate Christian, and I would think perhaps appreciative that the creation myth in the Bible is a metaphor. You have a good grasp of evolution and history, and are aware that the Earth is really billions of years old, and that humans evolved collectively over a series of millennia, and that there was no real garden of Eden. After all, you’re a Christian, and the words of the Old Testament do not ring as important as those of the New. Adam and Eve were a metaphor then. If they were a metaphor, why did Jesus die in order to save ourselves from their errors? Why are we so full of sin from people who were made up?

That was another thing that bugged me. The sin was eating from the tree of knowledge, so that Adam and Eve might know right from wrong. But surely if one has not yet eaten from the tree, they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong, and so should be blameless, and God might’ve anticipated the danger of having a serpent in the garden with fully gullible humans around a fruit tree that God could have also not put there. I mean, God is all knowing, so wouldn’t he have predicted that?

Another question. By the way I am honestly not trying to be condescending in this, or indeed the rest of this letter. Why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us our sins? Couldn’t a loving God simply forgive us anyway and let us get into heaven? Larry said that the last words of Jesus, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” indicated that Jesus was full of the burden of everyone’s sins and thus briefly couldn’t communicate with God. Where did Larry get this idea from? Why would our sins be such a burden in any case? I mean, God is all powerful; he could in the same breath make a billion Jesuses, forgive our sins, remove Ke$ha from the world and stop the needless pain and suffering of billions of church faithful. Why did He see fit to give us but one Jesus, an all-powerful deity, and one that was somehow weakened by the sins of mere mortals?

In any case, I do hope you reply to this letter. I have another, perhaps more controversial one that I’ll type out later, especially if I get a response.

Kindest regards,


And now for something…

•August 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Well in two weeks, fingers crossed, I will have been accepted for a PhD. I’m very, very excited for this, and it dawned on me today that I haven’t been pushing myself to a level that I need to be to cope with the pressure, or indeed a level that would be acceptable for most.

As a result I am pledging to push myself in all my endeavours, to get to the highest heights to achieve health, wealth and happiness. They’ll be bumps and slumps no doubt, but with a truly wonderful fiance by my side and the loving support of friends and family, I know I’ll get to where I want to be.

To that end, I’m taking up the mantle to learn German (again), gonna pick up that guitar (again) and be ultra efficient in finding a good job that will facilitate me until I get a scholarship.

I also probably need to take up soldering lessons, as well as *possibly* understanding a new programming language. Anyone have suggestions for something very, very easy that can run specialist hardware?

I’ll keep you posted.

My response to “Did Darwin Kill God?” part 2

•July 25, 2012 • 6 Comments

This is part 2 of my appraisal of the hour long BBC special Did Darwin Kill God ?. This part is mostly concerned with my disagreement over Cunningham’s definition of “Ultra Darwinism” and his critique of meme theory. Part 1 is here.

Before we get to the meat, let’s look at a couple of quips Cunningham makes regarding “Ultra Darwinism”. I’d like to pick him up for his unfounded and unexplained statement that this sort of Darwinism is “against God, and especially the Christian God”. I’d also like to draw attention to the way he muddies the waters at the 28:30 mark, implicating social Darwinism (that is, eugenics) purported (apparently) by Clarence Darrow was the reason that this trial was taken up by right wing Christian fundamentalists.  To the contrary, the Butler Act prohibiting teaching evolution in school had been in place for some time, and probably not with the defence lawyer in mind.

Cunningham is responsible for greater misappropriations. His interview with Francis Collins is more than a little bizarre. His introduction stating that “… and some of those who disagree [with atheism] are the best scientists in the world” is a little bit of misdirection. Yes, there are scientists who believe in God, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll take their capacity for scientific appraisal to assess the likelihood of God’s existence (I doubt they would continue believing if they did). To use those “best scientists who believe in God” as a measuring stick for the legitimacy of God’s existence is kind of like stating “nutritionists at home generally prefer eating deep fried stilton” – they might be experts in their field but we can see that their actions may very well be up to personal preference, a preference that they may not use their expertise to analyze. In any case, scientists tend to be far more atheistic than the general population. An oft-quoted statistic shows that a meager 7% of members in the National Academy of Scientists are believers, and one may assume, however unfairly it seems, that most have used their skepticism to look at proofs of God’s existence.

Cunningham’s appraisal of the C-value enigma is also a bit weird. Briefly, the C-value enigma is the supposed mystery of why the number of genes in a given organism has no bearing on the “complexity” of the organism. Using Cunningham’s own example, rice contains more genes that a human. It’s odd that he brings up the C-value enigma, as it doesn’t really help his argument either way, or is really extrapolated upon. I suppose he uses it to show how knowledge of genetics is becoming more complicated than what was previously thought (indeed he goes into this immediately afterwards) but it stands to reason that there are enigmas and mysteries in science- it is science’s job to resolve them. Cunningham’s assertion that we can’t use the idea of a selfish gene due to this increased complexity is flat out wrong- the gene can still be selfish; it may just play out in a more complicated arena, battling a “genetic environment” as well as opposing genes.

My biggest gripe with the entire program was Cunningham’s treatment of meme theory. Again, briefly, meme theory is the idea that cultural information behaves like the selfish gene does. A song is a meme, a unit of cultural information, and it uses the human brain (as well as other media) to replicate, mutate and behave very much like organisms and genes do. Meme theory has been used to explain the behavior of religion throughout time- particularly successful “religious cultural units” such as the concept of an afterlife, a single deity, and divine retribution are more environmentally suited than multiple deities, capricious gods, and ending up as worm food. These religious meme organisms mutate and replicate much like any other cultural phenomena, such as clothing, morality, food, and dance. Cunningham sees these as an affront to personal identity. He reckons that “[meme theory] goes much further than saying there’s no God, it concludes there’s no you and me”. This is of course, rot. Memes are successful because they help us do what we want to do, if we choose not to adopt a meme, it dies. In one way, our choices and decisions are the environment in which memes need to thrive, and in order for them to do so, they’d better do what we want. Cunningham states that meme theory dictates everything of human history, but he clearly misses the obvious such as instinct, psychological urges, desires (shaped by memes, but not memes themselves), and our own environmental pressures. With his belief that memes are some sort of slavemasters, he attempts to attack meme theory to preserve his sense of self value.

Cunningham makes his grand sweep based on two notions. First, memes are unrelated to truth- they are concerned with survival and nothing else. Secondly, meme theory itself is a meme, and as a result can be disregarded because its meme-ness makes it unrelated to truth. By way of ameliorating this discrepancy, Cunningham simply suggests dismissing meme theory out of hand and presto!- our culture and religion can still be taken as “worthy”, science can still be regarded as truthful and meme theory alone is removed. This is nonsense. Cunningham is right to say that memes do not have to be based on truth to be successful; what he ignores is that some of them are. If you don’t believe me, look at the “meme” of Science. While it is fair to say that the origin and action of science is a cultural endeavour, that doesn’t for one minute stop it from making observations and manipulations of reality. Scientific principles have power confirmed by reality and as a result are not worthless as what Cunningham thinks meme theory makes it out to be.  The evidence is all around us. It is not the work of a non-truth based meme that produces insulin shots so that diabetics might live past thirty. Other “memes” also have truth gathering potential such as mathematics, architecture and other professions. It is not the random conflagration of untruth that creates skyscrapers hundreds of metres tall, nor does the infection of understanding prime numbers somehow discredits its ability to tell deep truths about the universe.

Meme theory gives us a spectacular insight into human consciousness and how we behave, but it is wrong to label them as our parasites, and us as their host in the way Cunningham has. Memes are more like desperate salesmen, trying to get us to hire them so that we might enjoy ourselves, get a job done, enhance our socialization, or communicate more effectively. We should use them to better understand our lives and emotions, but by appreciating what memes are, we can stop dangerous or unhelpful ones far more easily and of course make fascinating scientific insights via psychology.

The cat is out of the bag in the final scene of this program, where Cunningham talks to Simon Conway Morris FRS. Having just been through an attempt to put orthodoxy into Christianity, and evolution in its place, the two discuss the apparent similarity of music patterns between creatures of different species, including humans. The insinuation here is that God did it, and I found the entire discussion a confirmation of the thoughts I’ve had when Cunningham diverted into the C-value enigma, or social Darwinism, or stating “Ultra Darwinism” is against God, but really really against a Christian one. Cunningham is not trying to settle the debate between evolution and creationism; he is nudging in his own, religious based (and therefore unfounded) beliefs into the mix, muddying the waters of all tenets of evolution theory, and separating himself as best he can from the whackos of creationism. Take it as an attempt to reconcile “normal” faith without falling into fundamentalism.

My response to “Did Darwin Kill God?” part 1

•July 23, 2012 • 1 Comment

This is part 1 of my appraisal of the hour long BBC special Did Darwin Kill God ?. This part is mostly concerned with my disagreement over Christianity’s historical position and its importance in the creationist movement. I’m a rank amateur in theological history, so I would be happy to hear from any suggestions or corrections. Part 2 is here.

I watched a BBC special awhile ago presented by Conor Cunningham entitled Did Darwin Kill God?  which possessed some disagreeable misappropriations of what Cunningham terms “Ultra Darwinism” as well as some fairly calculated observations about the history of Christianity in general. The program was not all bad- its investigation into the history of creationism was quite interesting, even if the staged walks and drives of the narrator/writer/producer do seem a little jejune.

To begin, Cunningham is very selective in his appraisal of how Christianity behaved up to the discovery of evolution. Cunningham suggests that orthodoxy, that is, the acceptance of translating the Bible as metaphor, has been a mainstay of Christian ideals since the advent of creationism. Citing the Christian philosopher Philosouras(who I have admittedly not come across), he uses the example of the two creation myths in the Bible to elucidate what was commonly believed- that there was an allegorical creation myth and a literal one. Let’s pull up here for a moment and consider what this entails. This means Philosouras meets Cunningham only half way, and as a result not at all. If Cunningham wants to promote a “Bible as metaphor” image, then he doesn’t do himself favors when he states that adherents really did believe parts of the Bible to be true. Modern extrapolations of this idea are manifest in the many varieties of Judeo-Christianity, each of whom take particular parts of the Bible to be true, and the rest either discarded or as metaphor to be interpreted in whatever way they see fit. As an aside, this is a dangerous attitude to promote; it is precisely this reason that inter-Christian violence spanning centuries has occurred, as well as rather unpleasant interactions with everyone in general including the Spanish Inquisition, Crusades etc.

Far be it from me to say that orthodox belief is what Christianity is concerned with. It was not, and remains, however lightly, still not to be the case. How does Cunningham respond to the cult of relics, which partially motivated the Reformation? These relics are things that Christianity and various churches ardently believed were actual physical manifestations of divine material, from Virgin Mother’s breast milk, to fragments of the actual cross, to feathers from the angel Gabriel. As I’m told, the whole affair became embarrassing when twelve churches each claimed to have the Virgin Mary’s mother’s nose. What does he say when theological arguments proposed that the rings of Saturn were Jesus’ foreskin? What reply does Cunningham have when faced with the enormous and bloody arguments waged throughout history regarding the state of transubstantiation, for which many believers to this day contend that the eucharist transforms into the actual flesh and blood of Christ based upon biblical reference? Indeed, what response can one make when one appraises the treatment of Copernicus and Galileo by religious officials, who were motivated to action in no small part from scripture?

I agree with Cunningham that this sort of zealotry on part of Christian organizations had reduced significantly by the time Darwin came around. They didn’t really have a choice, given the onus of scientific identity that came with the Enlightenment, the rise of the middle class, and the surrounding Industrial Revolution. What I disagree with is his suggestion that creationism is some sort of unexpected, perverted tangent of Christian belief. When approached historically, creationism in both tenets and origin, would have been the dominant belief system all the way up to Darwin, and endured for a great deal of time after, even without the evangelical howlings from American pulpits a few scant decades later that strengthened anti-evolution fervour. It was these evangelicals who first used the actual terminology of “creationist”. I believe that the terminology being implemented belied the fact that creationists were reducing to a non-majority population, thus needing identification in a world increasingly at odds with their beliefs, and not, as Cunningham suggests, an explosion of believers in misappropriated Christian values.

Part 2 of my response will be concerned more about something I’m a little more comfortable with, so-called Ultra Darwinism and Cunningham’s treatment of Darwin and science in general.

The top five video games that I’ve lost the most time to

•July 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Video games are becoming a medium with increasing respectability as more finance and talent is directed towards their creation. It’s hardly a surprise really- interactive story telling is the greatest immersive potential yet realized, and the bang for your buck far outstrips most other forms of entertainment with a game taking anywhere between 10-100 hours of time to complete.

With this is mind, I’ve decided to create a short list of the five games that I’ve whittled away many, many hours to. These are not necessarily the best games I’ve played (though most rank very highly) but their longevity speaks reams about their very high production quality and I encourage anyone with extra time here and there to invest in one. As might be expected, the list is mostly RTS and RPGs, given their usual, immense time demands. Honourable mentions include most sequels and prequels to the games shown here (Pokémon Blue in particular), as well as Anno 1404 (whose time demands are so great I actually gave up) and of course the entire Zelda and Halo series.

5. Goldeneye – N64

A teenager in the mid nineties did not truly have a soul until they played at least a few multiplayer games of Goldeneye. You could literally spend hours changing missions, upping the ante with different weapon arrays and handicaps, or even throw in a few cheats. I can still remember some of the house rules and note I had playing with neighbourhood friends- no Oddjob, klobbs are terrible and proxy mines were awesome.

Single player Goldeneye may be dated by today’s standards (for instance, shots from AI are calculated as probabilities, as opposed to bullet physics) but its fantastic learning curve, litany of missions and fun cheats made it replayable, enjoyable and engaging. A sore point for me is never quite beating Control on Secret Agent and thus missing out on the hidden missions. Goldeneye remained powerfully popular for years, petering off when Perfect Dark came out, and finally winking out when the next generation of consoles blew us away with Halo and GTA III.

4. Pokémon Gold – GBC

If there was ever a game that spoke to my inner obsessive compulsive, it was Pokémon Gold. Never mind the great adventures you had across Johto and Kanto, or the solid storyline that went along in quirky pokémon style, it was all about forming an unbeatable team full of great statistics, monsters and move sets. You don’t understand- this could take years.

Trading with other games, you had to beat the game once to get access to a monster I wanted big time- Larvitar. But you couldn’t train Larvitar because there would be no one to fight against. What do? You trade him to another cartridge, breed him with another (because exchanged monsters have weaker stats) and push through with a level 5 one throughout the new game. Mistakes with TMs were permanent and soul crushing.Think it was a simple game? Check out this website and feast your eyes on the horrific demands and calculations required to master the bloody thing. The release of Pokémon Stadium II, allowing play on the big screen with better trainers, only exacerbated the pain. I’ve since moved on, but I still keep a copy of Blue in the car when I’m bored.

3. Rome: Total War– PC

While I’ve played other games for a little longer, and other games have more variety, Rome: Total War wins out on sheer duration of play sessions. I wouldn’t call myself a fanatic so this won’t look too impressive, but I managed to play it 10 hours straight all the way into 7am.

The game play of Rome is RTS, but quite unique in the way that you organise cohorts, the affect of moral and tiredness, as well as castle defense et al. Its realism is a downfall for time management, as units ponderously behave like real armies would (I’m guessing) and with potentially thousands against thousands, it makes the whole scheme crazy especially when you consider the hundreds of battle required to beat the game. Rome: Total War and its successors are probably the closest you can get to really playing the general, and the only real fault lies with rather terrible AI. I’ve had to wean myself off this game, as the repeatability was getting rather silly.

2. Sid Meier’s Civilization III


Later Civs are a bit too easy and cutesy for me, and I never got into Alpha Centuri; Civilization III is the greatest history creating game in the world. The directive is to defeat other opponents as your civilization grows from stone age brutes all the way to tech-savvy modernity with all the stops along the way. It’s a game that can’t really be described in a short passage, so I’ll state that it is in a league of its own when it comes to master plans, careful negotiation and brutal policies.

Civ III is bloody hard until you have the grasp of it and even then is very difficult. As a time waster therefore, it lends itself to restarting and re-strategising. More than any other game on the list, it hides just how much time is wasted from you; a few turns is a few hours, and even when you quit it innocently inquires whether you’d rather keep going at it. Don’t listen!

1. The Elder Scrolls III- Morrowind -PC/Xbox

Yes there was Oblivion and Skyrim. Yes they are both unbelievably deep and fantastic games. But nothing, no game, ever, has come close to the hours spent and enjoyment earned from the little game known as Morrowind. When it was released there was a collective gasp of amazement at its graphical beauty (before you ask no, it doesn’t hold up) and enormous land to explore. But while it was highly praised there was a lot of whinging about the simple combat system, the massive demands for being a good magic user and the cliffracers. These all removed a lot of gamers from the warm loving embrace of Morrowind and the island of Vvardenfell. Those who endured have come to recognise that the game, put simply, cannot be fully explored. I’ve spent the good part of a decade dusting it off, playing with my prime character (a level 65 Nord in full daedric no less) and I’ve still not come across everything there is to find.

So what can I tell you about it that makes the game so huge, even when Oblivion and Skyrim are ostensibly larger? Well for starters, Morrowind reckons that the fast travel system in those games are for pussies. You have alternatives, such as the spell combo mark and recall, as well as various vehicular/magical travel to major cities and areas (that you pay for), but that leaves about 80% of the world map difficult to access. Secondly there’s no HUD map that alerts you to nearby undiscovered POIs- you have to find that stuff by yourself. And third- depending on Speed and Athletics, you start running about one quarter the speed of an Oblivion counterpart.

I would not change it for the world. Unlike the generated dungeons of Oblivion, Morrowind was hand made from the ground up, making every cavern a fascinating exploratory procedure. Monsters are also varied and unique and include the greatest number of daedra to date. When you come across your first silver sword, you really feel like you’ve earned it (and chances are, you really have). I can’t say how long I’ve invested in this game, but the number would be embarrassing. If you have the patience and tolerate the graphics and sound, then Morrowind will reward you in ways you didn’t think were possible for a video game to do. Morrowind sits on my shelf right next to Skyrim and Oblivion, and if I ever feel the need for some nostalgia, I know which one of the three I’ll be picking up.

Prometheus is the new new Emperor’s clothes

•June 23, 2012 • 1 Comment

Prometheus is a bad film with enormous plot holes, bizarre pacing and for some reason, almost universally loved. Hell, Ebert gave the damn thing four out of four stars. Everyone quoted the visuals being this wonderful experience (even the not-so-happy reviews) but approximately 50% of the film is darkened hallways and 45% dialogue in a futuristic bar. If you want pretty visuals, Avatar beats it hands down (and terrifyingly enough, in the story department too). The best way to sum up the film is this:

I kept getting twinges of some sort of ham fisted symbolism of faith et al., but even then it was either so thinly veiled as to not really warrant further investigation, or so convoluted that it hid the underlying message too well. I suppose you could call Millburn and Fifield, based on their dialogue choices and characters, as avatars of science and paganism respectively, and Elizabeth as the Christian ideal, but that would be a stretch, and if true, a thoughtless theme. Characterisation, despite the length of the film, is almost solely on David, Meredith, Holloway, and Elizabeth, and I believe it is not sufficiently carried out for three of these individuals.

What irked me most about the film was the plot, although other qualities were also poor. I can hold my suspension of disbelief only for as long as a film allows me to keep my mental faculties. Unfortunately, Prometheus demands I leave my brain at the door with a plethora of plot holes, schizophrenic characters and bizarre rules regarding the technology of both human and alien origins. Rather than make an enormous post about the flaws myself and friends found during viewing, I’ve broken them up into subheadings and bullet points. Read them if you’ve watched it (and hopefully give some answers for) or read them before going in, and see if you can make sense of it. Spoilers logically follow.

The Engineers

-The first scene depicts the start of mankind. If this is the start of mankind, why not just clone some cells and have them go down the river instead? Why bother killing off one of your own? If that is really how life started, how is it that there are multiple instances of civilizations across the globe randomly aware of where the life came from when no evidence (possibly beyond an empty, featureless jar that isn’t mentioned again) is possible? Why, if this really is the cradle of civilization, does finding the root of all languages and forming a language unto itself make a person capable of understand the complicated glyphs, and you know, actually reading the language? The engineers didn’t teach language, or starmaps, or anything, they just bugger off after letting one of their own die and fall into a river.

-Why does the alien ship, with fantastic energy supplies and capacity to create great holograms, fly etc. not actually show anything meaningful in aforesaid holograms, or have data records that are accessible?

-Why do the containers of the dark liquid somehow not contain the dark liquid, and not contain it so poorly?

-What purpose is the big head?

-If evil engineer was in cryostasis, why didn’t his supremely advanced pod not open up when the coast was clear? If he wasn’t supposed to wake up, why not kill everyone then go back to stasis? If he woke up, everything was fine, but wasn’t warned by his presumably alive brethren, why not investigate that before carrying out his mission? If his brethren aren’t alive, aren’t there better things to do then send bioweapons on a mission presumably made by his civilization which is now extinct? If his mission is that important, why not realize that the humans that woke him up probably had a spaceship that could give him grief during takeoff?

-Why are the engineers genetically identical to humans yet have a significantly different form? They are genetically identical. They could, in theory, cross breed yet an engineer stands about eight foot high, impossibly muscled and less possibly pigmentally challenged.

The Prometheus Mission and technology

-Why don’t the characters know each other, or where they are, or what they’re doing? Why don’t they know these things to ensure a safer mission? Why not introduce everyone before the mission and ensure everyone is psychologically fit for such an undertaking?

-How could anyone be infertile in this technologically advanced civilization? Why bother mentioning she’s infertile when it adds nothing to the plot?

-Why does no one listen to orders? This is a trillion dollar investment and people are wandering around as if it’s a summer holiday house.

-Why the hell did they decide that an electrode blasty thing on the alien head was the best possible way to investigate the “new cell growth”? What did this new cell growth do? Why didn’t anyone put anything under a microscope?

-How come they travelled light years on a multi-year mission, with seventeen experts, and somehow are completely unable to provide a routine procedure such as a caesarean or foreign body removal? If they were so incapable, why would David be capable of assessing the “fetus” to be three months old? If the body inside her was so foreign that David knew it couldn’t possibly be a child, why term it as a “pregnancy, by the looks of it three months old”?

-Why did no one assess the character’s motivation prior to the mission? Fifield is nothing short of a pot smoking lunatic, David is more than a little crazy, the captain disobeys direct orders from his superior Meredith.

-I understand that Meredith stated Weylon wanted “true believers” on board, but ffs they’re archaeologists. Even if they didn’t come aboard, there would be no advantage lost, even if they did come aboard, there’s no reason to make them the captains. I doubt they need their egos filled that much.

-If the “pups” could pick up life readings, why not pick up serpent thing or the bugs crawling around various chambers? Or the black liquid in general? The readers definitely were not “carbon detectors” or else they would have picked up an enduring signal and not a glitch, so it could be based on movement patterns, or sounds etc., all of which, presumably, would also pick up serpent et al. If they weren’t capable of picking up serpent things, why didn’t anyone make note of that for future missions?

-Why bother having human guards when they could employ some kind of killbot or even 20th century weapons that would be infinitely more useful. Why use short range and surprisingly bulky flamethrowers?

-Why would Meredith’s operation docking thing only work for males when she is presumably female?

-If it only works for males, why didn’t it notice it was working on a ‘pregnant’ female?


Milburn and Fifield

-Why didn’t anyone play back or listen to the radio logs of Milburn and Fifield when they were killed by the snake things?

-Why did Milburn and Fifield, self confessed cowards and terrified of the situation, wander around when bored? Why did they think trying to cuddle up to an alien cobra-like monster was a good idea after shitting themselves over the piles of dead bodies they came across?

-Milburn and Fifield left the main group far before the storm hit. Fifield is the expert of the layout of the entire structure. How did they get lost, especially when he has his “pups” sending him updates constantly? If it wasn’t the case that any ground force knew what they were doing, why was the main group so successful at leaving the chamber? If they didn’t have a map and the main group did, why the hell did they leave in the first place knowing they didn’t know how to get around?

-Why did no one, out of the five or so perpetual Prometheus crew actually monitor Milburn and Fifield throughout the storm? They quoted bad reception, but there’s the shot of the empty bridge and reports coming from both of them quite clearly.


-Why did David spike Holloway’s drink? Why didn’t they just analyze the fluid? If David was aware it was dangerous, why not inform someone like Weyland? If the drink was that dangerous or unknown, why not use it on someone who wasn’t their leader of the mission?

-If David was aware that the entire ship was full of biological warfare components, and that it was en route to Earth, why didn’t he warn Weyland or not activate the Engineer’s hibernation pod?

-Why is David an unshackled AI capable of disobeying direct orders from Meredith et al? How does no one keep tabs on him as he continually disobeys orders and runs around doing what he wants?


Character actions

-Why didn’t Holloway report to sick bay when he noticed worms growing out of his eyes?

-Why is everyone so passive when people go missing or come back as zombies from an alien structure?

-Why does Meredith get her own detachable spacepod but her father is completely shocked to see her there?

-Why does the Meredith character start off hardcore, go to ultra bitch, to sleepin’ around happy, to ultra bitch, to concerned for contagion, to angry-at-dad, to helpless female, to stupid bitch (i.e. not running left or right when trying to avoid rolling spacecraft)? Why bother with a sizeable portion of showing her escape when she just gets axed immediately? Why did her escape shuttle totally not calibrate a landing despite having ample time and warning about evacuation?

-Why would anyone breathe the air of a completely alien spacecraft when their sensors are apparently completely unable to pick up anything beyond base components?

-Why did no one have decontamination protocols, especially when they were aware of two things- 1. The engineers created humans and presumably were aware of their genetic makeup. Later on it is confirmed that they are identical to humans and all mysteriously dead yet no special decontamination occurs. 2. They’re in a fucking alien spacecraft.

-Why is the discovery of alien life, even dead, considered a massive letdown for everyone, and even the crew immediately gets bored of the situation?

-Why is it that they have human security, but the first mission into the caves, no one is armed?

-Why did Weyland feel it necessary to hide himself for several hours, even after Engineer relics are found? Why is talking to an Engineer inherently better than looking at their data files?
The film was confusing and dull and really unintuitive. The core plot is both simplistic and often mired in errata and poor character choices, and culminating in a rather obvious deus ex machina. I implore you to look elsewhere for sci-fi greatness, like Ridley Scott’s superior Alien franchise from what this is shoe-horned into.

Odours and naming conventions

•June 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’m an olfactory psychologist by trade and I’ve been interested at the marginalization of my area of study when compared to other, trendier senses. It is with a grim acceptance that my audience may not know what this is, so I’ll state that olfaction pertains to the sense of smell. This sort of naming convention isn’t necessarily exclusive to olfaction; that is, that we have a popular word and then an unpopular (but scientifically literate) word for one sense. However what I am saying is that there is some sort of joke at the olfactory psychologist’s expense that not everyone else who studies senses et al. has to deal with. A taste psychologist sounds legit (even though you could call them a gustation psychologist), a hearing specialist (as opposed to say, an aural technician) also sounds decent. However it is only my domain where I can’t really call myself something similar i.e. a smell psychologist. There’s something weird about it; it sounds almost humourous. What makes it worse is that the word “smell” applies to both the act of smelling and the act of discussing the sense of smell hence the classic joke:

Tony: my dog recently had an operation and had his nose removed.

Dick: how does he smell?

Tony: terrible!

… whose existence probably exacerbates the confusion. I do not use my own nose to solve psychological conundrums. I use participant’s olfactory responses to make scientific theories. It seems strange to me that in the wordingly verbose language that is English that we have to share a word between two similarly-based but utterly different meanings.

The origins of why olfaction have been sidelined are surprisingly ancient. Aristotle (that bastard) called it a “lower” sense compared to vision, hearing etc. and it was subsequently semi-ignored except as a sort of indulgence in the form of perfumes and exotic scents. Imagine how much exposure to bacterial infection could have been avoided if people in the middle ages paid attention to what their sense of smell was telling them. Therein lies half the humour and source of vituperation. A bad smell is typically the one you pay attention to, and it’s made worse in that you can’t close your nostrils quite as easily as your eyelids.

The organ of the nose, despite being directly on your face, does much to discredit olfaction. Even Shakespeare had his fun with half a dozen characters with odd shaped noses, such as Bardolph from Henry V. There’s a strange Japanese theme that runs throughout anime and some images to de-emphasise or completely remove the nose from characters and portraits (take a look at Dragonball Z’s Krillen as an example). Yes there are handsome noses, but when we find a handsome nose, we typically take the person to have a handsome face, and an ugly nose remains an ugly nose, regardless of what face it is on.

I digress. Let’s move away from the social politics and science and look at what it takes to name an odour that you smell. It’s really rather difficult without referring to what it “tastes” like (although most of that is smell too) or what the object producing the smell is. So it is easy to say “mmm coffee” when one smells coffee, or “eugh, must be a skip” but you can’t say more than “it’s disgusting” or “it’s nice”. For vision you can say something is a particular colour, hearing you can define pitch and tone, taste has the five classics. Meanwhile smell is a hodge podge of naming conventions.

Defining odours to any kind of complexity is difficult for two reasons. Firstly, there is simply not a big enough vocabulary. Secondly, you have to train yourself to identify odours. By the way, I encourage you to really detect the odours you experience- it empowers memory and can give a dearth of  information and experience. Defining odours needs something new; probably a whole set of words that may have some connection to objects and tastes, but should nonetheless be identifiable as  concepts, not just singular objects. Here are a few concepts I propose as examples:

square: the odour has a quality that makes the nose a bit itchy, or “heavy”. It’s generally unpleasant and  smells uncompromising and monotone, like it has the capacity to damage your delicate nostrils. Worked metals have a strong square smell, as does chlorine in the pool, and some wood varnishes.

buttered: the smell quality is “warm” and somewhat oily. It serves as a background smell and wraps up other odours, often mixing them, usually generating food anticipation. Butter being cooked, especially with herbs, has this quality, as does most food stocks, broths, soups etc. Non-food sources do exist, such as fish carcasses at markets, or as a pure nonfood based, something like an oil burner when other odours are also involved.

florid: a smell that is water based but has unmistakable touches of plant matter. It’s a difficult concept to describe, but one could describe florid as the odour quality of fresh cut grass that is shared with the smell of breaking a green branch, or cutting the stem of a weed. Curiously, florid is the smell I would almost describe certain weedkillers to possess, such as Roundup.

So there you have it. Think I’m on to something? Think it’s a lost cause? Think it’s not worth your time? Let me know. Any more odour qualities I’d be happy to hear about too!