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Friday, January 20, 2017

The Not-So-Fine Tuning Of The Universe, by Fred Adams, Nautilus

Astrophysicists have discussed fine-tuning so much that many people take it as a given that our universe is preternaturally fit for complex structures. Even skeptics of the multiverse accept fine-tuning; they simply think it must have some other explanation. But in fact the fine-tuning has never been rigorously demonstrated. We do not really know what laws of physics are necessary for the development of astrophysical structures, which are in turn necessary for the development of life. Recent work on stellar evolution, nuclear astrophysics, and structure formation suggest that the case for fine-tuning is less compelling than previously thought. A wide variety of possible universes could support life. Our universe is not as special as it might seem.

The Argument For God Is Out Of Tune, by Gary Gutting, Nautilus

But this effort to turn cosmology against religion is no more effective than the fine-tuning effort to support religion. A major failing is the assumption that we could have any plausible sense of how a divine designer would be thinking. A being with knowledge and power utterly exceeding ours might well be aware of possibilities beyond our feeble capacities. But even from our merely human standpoint we can suggest reasons why our apparently ordinary place in the universe might not count against a privileged relation to the creator.

Imagined Endings, by Kelly Cherry, The Smart Set

An ending may be as quiet as a ghost. Or as loud as a poltergeist were there poltergeists. Some endings are explanatory, which is risky — how many readers want the story explained after the fact? — but writers have pulled it off. More often, and usually more successfully, an ending will show — not tell — how the resolution has been reached and/or what the resolution is. Always remember that a story begins in conflict and ends in resolution (or let’s simply say satisfaction, as “resolution” sounds like hard work still to be done when the reader just wants to feel good about the book, that it was a good book). The conflict must be clear, and the resolution (or let’s simply say “ending”) must be relevant, pertinent, to the conflict. And don’t forget the middle, that region you traveled through for a while there. The ending should also lend some resonance to the middle.

Then again, novelist and story writer Ann Beattie has said there is no real ending to a story, only this moment or that which may be good points at which to stop. And of course, this is true. And yet we still want endings. Isn’t literature amazing?

One Country, Two Systems, by The Economist

Why don’t the Chinese just adopt pinyin? One is the many homophones (though these are not usually a problem in context). Another is that Chinese characters are used throughout the Chinese-speaking world, not just by Mandarin-speakers but also speakers of Cantonese, Shanghainese and other varieties. These are as different from each other as the big Romance languages are, but the writing system unifies the Chinese world. In fact, character-based writing is, in effect, written Mandarin. This is not obvious from looking at the characters, but it is obvious if you look at pinyin. If China adopted it wholesale, the linguistic divisions in China would be far more apparent.

But there is another reason for attachment to the characters. They represent tradition, history, literature, scholarship and even art on an emotional level that many foreigners do not understand. Outsiders focus so much on efficiency probably because those who do try to learn the characters cannot help but be struck by how absurdly hard they are to master.