Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hawking, Nietzsche and a Buffoon. Madras Lane, KL.

Whimsical Musings.

Wet Market in Chinatown's Madras Lane

Waking up on Saturdays are never easy, especially for a sloth like me who likes my ass well done. Saturday mornings will see me frying my well endowed, gorgeous posterior in bed, wrapped in a comforter, air conditioning set on full blast. To ensure that my generous rump is well done on both sides, I will turn on my sides and lay flat in equal proportion of time, and the timer is set to buzz at 11:00 am with generous allowances for snoozing.

One morning, a well meaning and dear friend invited me for breakfast at Madras Lane, Chinatown at an ungodly hour of 9:00am. She is what Harold Ross, the founder of New Yorker magazine would describe as a "duodenum scarred veteran of many years of guerrilla service in the Hydrochloric war". Years of working in a stressful environment has made her stomach suffer from unbalanced acidity. A straight talker on the verge of being blunt, she has not endeared herself to those who need to be pandered and praised constantly but for those who love uncomplicated yes and nos, she is a godsend.

I managed to drag my hefty buns out of bed at 7:00 and made it to Chinatown by 7:45am. Quite an effort for which I was amply rewarded, because the sight, the sounds, the colours and the smell that greeted me was simply amazing. I have never been to Chinatown in the morning. My nocturnal sojourns was never impressive. It was noisy, filled with shouting from the vendors piling their wares. The fluorescent lights and darkness of the night seemed to amplify it's squalor and filth. The beady and shifty eyed con artists filled the streets already choking with exhaust fumes and smoke complemented the backdrop of a scene from a triad movie set in Hong Kong.

Flower Market at Chinatown

In the early mornings, the transformation was breathtaking. The air was fresh, and the pace was slow, with geriatrics plying the sidewalk and sitting in coffee shops chatting and idling as they slowly savour in the morning. There was a very bright and vibrant flower market. The psychedelic colours were amazingly rich and varied. The sun brought a lot of life to Chinatown, all the little nook and crannies was brought to life, teeming with activities. To my surprise, there was a vibrant wet market right in the centre of Chinatown, hidden in the back alleys and begging to be explored.

Flower market at Chinatown

You would have noticed that the pictures in this blog has been scaled down to 640 x 480. I usually access my blog from home, using a 24 inch monitor. Since I am on holiday, I am using a 19 incher and the photos looks freakishly and mutantly huge! I guess I should have been more empathic and hence the saner sizes.

Those who follow Malaysian Insider regularly would have noticed a dismal piece of op ed entitled "No Place For God?" by a certain Thomas Lee Seng Hock. I have not read such a piece of drivel in a long time. Written in his usual grandiose style written with a help of a thesaurus and peppering the piece with the most obscure and affected words in the English language hoping to make himself sound more authoritative. Ineluctable... Who uses words like this nowadays? It is obvious that he had been poisoned by some fundamentalist fear mongering hick, who is flustered when evolutionists claim that humans are descended from primates but have no qualms whatsoever when the book of Genesis claims that humans are made from dust. Dust. The same particle that sticks to the bottom of my feet, and the same particle that dog poo on the roadside becomes when it degrades.

Chinese Temple at Chinatown

I do not think that his article in TMI warrants a line by line rebuttal. Just some irritating things he brought up. The anecdote about Paul Gentuso can be found here. I wonder if Dr. Paul (currently practicing in Nashville) shares the same wonder and amazement when he delivers a baby with examphalos, with no skin covering the abdomen and the intestines are all hanging out and is dependent entirely on modern medical science to survive?

He goes on to say that without god as a creator, then we have no intrinsic value and no morality. Irregardless of whether we evolved or whether a greater being created us, i don't think that there is any fundamental change to who we are or what we become. Communist countries are not less moral that theistic countries. In fact, people are more and more aware about ethics and morality in this increasingly atheistic world compared to the past where the belief of God and Creationism was widespread together with slavery, subjugation of women to horrific discrimination and capital punishment was meted out in matters regarding personal faith.

Hindu Temple at Chinatown

Mr. Thomas has obviously misunderstood Nietzsche, and the nuances of his philosophical aphorisms. I am doubtful if he had read Nietzsche before. Nietzsche's Sledgehammer was not to knock down morality, but our way of perceiving morality. I do not wish to bore you guys with Nietzsche, but for those who are interested, this is a good place to start finding out what the "Beyond" in this brilliant thinker's book Beyond Good and Evil means. It is a talk given by Fred Ulfers from European Graduate School.

This is probably not the place to argue about evidence for and against the existence of God, which can be found in any standard textbook of Philosophy. I am just miffed that the same courtesy is not extended to Atheists, Agnostics or Pantheists that is given to people of other faiths in public arena. I do find that rather exasperating, as if Atheists, Agnostics and Pantheists have not thought about why they believe what they believe. We certainly do behave better and will not declare an unholy war or wear a bomb and detonate ourselves in a church. The meek shall inherit the earth, and we have to survive being bashed in the public for our convictions. Ironic. We know what fundamentalist Christians say about other faiths in their churches, except that they do not voice it out. I have read the Bible, although I am not a Bible Scholar and wish that Mr. Thomas had done the same with Hawking and Nietzsche before writing the article.

Garlands for sale in front of Hindu Temple

The Bible, if not taken literally, does not contradict science. It is when it is taken for it's literal meaning, without considering the culture and the milleu it was written in that religion runs into problems. The Spirit that led Luther's nailing of the 95 theses at Wittenburg which sparked of the reformation and led to the existence of protestant churches is stiffled by the desire of dogmatic fundamentalists who wants to dictate how the Bible must be interpreted right down to which version of the Bible is not evil. How paradoxical.

It is becoming a Modern version of Quixote, but instead of fighting windmills, they are demonizing science as the monster. It would be sad if fundamentalists, like Quixote, finally recovers one day into sanity and when the truth finally sets in, they realize too late that they should be fighting against the real enemies of humanity. Bigotry, Ignorance, Injustice and Cruelty. The knowledge of whether I evolved or was created or the real Age of the Earth just satisfied my curiosity in the order of things. But it never did transform me into a better or a more just person. The discovery of Humanism did.

Curry noodles

Back to the food at Madras Lane. The Curry Noodles were very thick, but unfortunately bland and served with Pork Skin. I am naturally averse to that, and did not finish the noodles.

Chee Cheong Fun

My Dining companion's Chee Cheong Fun fared slightly better and was silky smooth in consistency. Even if the food was not exceptional, the company and the experience of walking in Chinatown so early in the morning was. Even though I call myself an atheist, deep down I may not be one. I just haven't found anything that could appease my curiosity and questions. I welcome all forms of civilized debate without the invocation of hell and brimstones.

I am not trying to show off my library, but just to share with you some books that have enlightened me and probably would be useful before tackling Hawking. Probably a good place to start would be Spinoza's Ethics. Spinoza's account of the materialistic world and his Pantheism (or Panentheism) is a great influence on Einstein and Hawking, and "God" to both of them does not mean a personal God who is keeping tab of how many times you wash your bum after defaecating, but a creator being.

Next on the list will be Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. I am sorry, I cannot recommend a translated version because Paul Guyer's is a torture, Meikeljohn is even worse. If there is a remotely readable translation it would have to be the Norman Kemp-Smith. I can't start to describe how important this book is, from epistemology, to the problems of space and time, metaphysics and theories for the existence of God and ultimately the rejection of reason for faith when it comes to God.

A follow up to this would be Schopenhauer's depressive philosophy and the Two seminal works by Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil. (These last three recommended for Thomas). Kaufmann's beguiling and often humorous critique is an essential read for those who are interested in the Christian Faith and Philosophy.

The more "technical" intro would be Roger Penrose's Voluminous Road to Reality, which begins with 16 chapters of essential Mathematics for the understanding of Physics which might be a little bit daunting because it includes Clifford and Grassman Algebras and Geodesics. Those who manage to plough through will be rewarded with a wonderful chapter on Quantum Mechanics and a beautiful Final Chapter on the integration of Quantum with Relativity, Klein Gordon Equation and the factoring into Dirac and anti Dirac equations. A peek in to Hawking's God Created Integers would be a useful primer before Penrose.

Einstein's Biography is illuminating and Michio Kaku's simplified version of Cosmology will maintain your interest before attempting more Hawking.

I am on vacation and so far, my blackberryless days have been wonderful and filled with lovely meals with friends who share a common interest in talking rots and discussing things that are probably insignificant. Who cares about Fermat's Theorem anyway? I will be moving on to a place where the internet connection is more patchy and unreliable. I have scheduled some updates (food related, I promise and no more boring stuff like this) and have disabled comments because I do not forsee that I could reply them. Take care, all. Happy Malaysia Day. Back on the 3rd. Cheers.

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