Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Fool Awaits an Answer

By the sea, by the desolate nocturnal sea,
    Stands a youthful man,
His breast full of sadness, his head full of doubt,
And with bitter lips he questions the waves:

"Oh solve me the riddle of life!
    The cruel, world-old riddle,
Concerning which, already many a head hath been racked.
    Heads in hieroglyphic-hats,
    Heads in turbans and in black caps,
    Periwigged heads, and a thousand other
        Poor, sweating human heads.
Tell me, what signifies man?
Whence does he come? whither does he go?
Who dwells yonder above the golden stars?"

The waves murmur their eternal murmur,
The winds blow, the clouds flow past,
    Cold and indifferent twinkle the stars,
        And a fool awaits an answer.
— Heinrich Heine

Monday, October 30, 2006


... imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise ...
— Douglas Adams

Windy Race

Ran the Wakefield Run For All Ages 5K around Lake Quannapowitt, 18:48, 14th out of 359. Splits: 5:50, 6:05, 6:07. Same exact time as I ran last year at the same race. Not what I had hoped for time-wise, but, there were strong head winds for more than half the race, mostly the latter half (my best time around that lake is 18:20.) I'm sure I wasn't the only one with positive splits.

I heard someone say that times were probably two minutes slower due to the winds — an exaggeration to be sure, but possibly one minute. Winning time was 17:14, with no others below 17:00; last year's winning time was 15:47 with seven below 17:00. Felt like it could have been an 18:00 effort run for me. It was pretty good/strong but tough run overall. Left adductor had gotten more sore with three days off (what's with that?), but was fine for the race and feels fine now in the evening (and what's with that?)

We went to see a local production of Children of Eden this afternoon. Not bad, but not as good as the production my daughter was in last February. But very moving in any case. I love that musical — powerful, primitive themes. Despite my attitude toward religion in general (it's all bunk, sadly perhaps), the more I ponder it and read about it, the more I'm impressed with the power of religion; no wonder it caught on — it is, or was anyway, a Good Trick of evolution, like the eye, or flying, or the simulation engine (consciousness) — a Good Trick being an evolutionary development which has such excellent survival benefits that it evolved many times independently.

I'm back to reading Dennett's Breaking the Spell, which I'd started but put down to read The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation. Fascinating stuff. There are other books on the subject, but this is the first I've read. Taking a systematic, scientific, critical look at the phenomenon of religion. Why it exists, how it evolved, how it might have benefited early human survival, why it continued to florish.

He admits up front that much of what he will hypothesis may probably be crap, but a primary point is that we should get started in this venture of systematically examining religion, formulate some hypothoses, and test, debate, and refine the ideas in the scientific tradition.

He makes many interesting points and relates many interesting facts, but one point that struck me in particular was the issue of death in early humans. The death of a loved one evokes great emotions of pain and suffering. For very good evolutionary reasons (The Selfish Gene — this explanation doesn't, of course, mean that these feeling aren't real). However, upon death, there is the problem — something must be done with the dead body.

Humans, for very good evolutionary reasons again, have a well developed sense of disgust, and we are rightly repelled by dead bodies as they quickly become a haven for all sorts of horrible contagious germs. It would be very surprising indeed if this dichotomy — the great emotional attachment to a loved one and their physical embodiment, and an anticipatory/developing sense of disgust over that same, now dead, body didn't evoke a great deal of psychological turmoil.

Dennett didn't mention this, but I can imagine ancient scenarios in which violence erupted (and premature death ensued) because a loved one of a deceased tried to prevent others in the community from taking appropriate actions in the disposing of the dead body.

Anyway, due to this great personal turmoil of these situations, which all individuals came to realize could be visited upon them (with the expansion of consciousness), there may well have developed careful and ritualized ways of disposing of the dead body, thereby satisfying the hygenic needs of the community, but also respecting the psychological needs of the surviving loved ones. He also talks about the persistent memory we have of deceased loved ones, how they are still present, almost viscerally, in our minds after they're gone physically, and how this phenomenon could easily lead to the notion of spirits/ghosts. Just a couple ways in which the kernels of religion may have developed.

Dennett discusses the sense we all have to alert us to dangers in the world out there, again evolutionarily developed. He calls it our hyperactive detection device (HADD). We hear a rustling in the woods, what is it? The wind? A tiger? An human from an enemy tribe? We all relate to this. Many people today, including myself, have a hair-trigger startle mechanism — I often nearly fall out of my chair in my cube at work if someone comes up behind and just says "hi".

This HADD, together with the intentional stance, the idea of attributing intentions to entities outside ourselves, could lead to notions of gods. Add to the list of possible causes for the rustling in the woods — maybe it's a walking tree, whoa, a walking tree! Hundreds of ideas/explanations fleet through the mind, some practical, some pedestrian, some fantastic, but only a few capture the imagination. A walking tree, or some god, an invisible human-like creature could be behind the events.

I'm not explaining it well, but reading Dennett, it's easy to imagine how early humans could attribute the happenings of their surroundings, the weather, earthquakes, sickness, death, etc. to invisible beings. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in religion, even/especially true believers. Though Dennett is honest in not hiding his atheism, the thrust of his book is not to disuade believers, he just is looking for a natural/scientific explanation for the origin of religion. It doesn't necessarily preclude the existence of (your) God.

I like what he says in defense of the scientific investigation of the origins of religion, especially as it relates to believers:

A good professor of music theory can take apart a Mozart symphony or a Bach cantanta and show you how the various design features work to achieve there "magic," but some people prefer not to delve into these matters, for the same reason that they don't want stage magic tricks explained: for them, explanations diminishes the "wonder." Maybe so, but compare the uncomprehending awe with which the musically uneducated confront a symphony to the equally superficial appreciation of someone at a soccer match who doesn't know the rules or the fine points of the game, and just sees lots of kicking the ball back and forth and vigorous running around. "Great action!" they may sincerely exclaim, but they're missing most of the excellence on offer. Mozart and Bach — and Manchester United — deserve better.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Cut short my planned 7 miler on Wednesday to 4.1 miles, 6:40 pace or so. Left adductor started aching, so I'll have a few days of rest I suppose. Always something, tired of complaining, over and out.

Charles: But, my dear Sebastian, you can't seriously believe it all.

Sebastian: Can't I?

Charles: I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.

Sebastian: Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea.

Charles: But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea.

Sebastian: But I do. That's how I believe.
— From Brideshead Revisited

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Another Seven

Seven miles at lunch, Longfellow-Charles-Smoots double loop+. 7 @ 47:04 (6:43), 6.7 @ 44:45 (6:42), 6 @ 40:02 (6:40). Splits: 6:26, 6:41, 6:41, 6:41, 6:55, 6:35, 6:58. Chilly, pushing a little, mostly relaxed though, no issues, for once, just very slight occasional twinges in left adductor, and left rear plantar still a bit tight.

The fact the we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball ninety million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be. — Douglas Adams

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Five days off, after a seven mile thrashing of my left quad/adductor in the chilly October afternoon along the Charles last Tuesday. 7.7 miles this afternoon, a perfect October day in New England. All the worry over the quad was, fortunately, for naught. 7 miles at 46:30, 6:39 average pace, splits: 6:26, 6:32, 6:33, 6:35, 6:37, 7:10 (hill), 6:34. Probably take it easy for a bit, make sure it's really okay, it was nearly four weeks off for me last Spring when I messed up my right quad. Four tentative races planned between now and Thanksgiving.


"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it." — Mark Twain

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dawkins Interview

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Seven miles at lunch, Longfellow-Charles-Smoots double loop+. 47:12 (6:41), 6.7 @ 44:45 (6:41). Splits: 6:43, 6:23, 6:36, 6:55, 6:42, 6:45, 7:06. Not great but not horrible, a bit chilly, pushing too hard at points, not as relaxed as Friday on this route. Quads, both, now a bit sore.

Someone asked me about my marathon plans; over to the right there it still says I'm attempting marathon training. Yeah, about that. It was going great up until last March, building up for a go at the Vermont City Marathon, but got a quad injury (hypothesis is too much running on the flats, around the lake). Cut way back, missed the marathon, built up a bit, but no real distance, lotsa races though, 14 between May and September.

Now, I'm trying to start in on more miles, at least on the weekend, 10-13 for the past few weeks now. I'm thinking *possibly*, if things go well, a try at the Hyannis Marathon in February. And if I qualify for Boston (3:30:59 or less), then Boston less than two months later.

But it's all virtually still in the back of my mind at the moment, taking it as it comes, I'm not going to really force it, if it happens great, if not, it's okay, I'm still running. To be honest, I may not be passionate enough about doing a marathon, and this may be (just) cause for failure. It's sort of checkbox achievement, something to do before I die, just to say I did it.

Almost inevitably when someone finds out I run (e.g. at work, which happens a bit since I have my race bibs tacked up on my cube wall), they ask if I do marathons, like anything less is pedestrian, makes me feel I should do a marathon. And theoretically, on paper, I ought to be able to do it, and with a relatively respectable time. My attitude toward the marathon is opposed to my regular running/racing regimen, which I really enjoy, to keep healthy, fit, and to satisfy my competive streak. But that could change, we'll see.

Reading Letter to a Christian Nation, great stuff, please read it, but one goofy thing that never occurred to me before — why is it that religious people, when it comes to praying for the sick, generally omit amputees? Religious folk pray for the reversal of a cancer and other diseases but don't typically pray for the regrowth of a leg for a person who lost one in a land mine accident, for example. Why not? (Surely God could do it, salamanders routinely accomplish this feat.) It is because they know implicitly that such a thing is simply preposterous. There is a web site, whydoesgodhateamputees.com, devoted to this very issue.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Early and very cold soccer games for the kids. Then off and running from the soccer fields for a quick 10 miler, twice around the lake. Left back plantar fascia still sore, felt it for the first 2 miles, then either loosened up, or numbed up. 1:06:59 (6:42 average pace) for the 10, 0.4 cool down. Splits: 6:24, 6:41, 6:36, 6:46, 6:41, 6:40, 6:43, 7:14 (hill), 6:33, 6:37. Tough but mostly because of preoccupation with the foot. Otherwise, pretty strong, especially up the half mile hill. Weirdly/hopefully, the plantar soreness has subsided as the day's gone on, could be the wine though :-)

Friday, October 13, 2006


Plantar fascia still a little sore, but well enough to run, after four days off, was getting crazy. 7 miles, Longfellow-Charles-Smoots double loop+ at lunch. Record time for that loop, 7 @ 46:15 (6:36), 6.7 @ 43:50 (6:33), 6.2 @ 40:30 (6:33). Felt pretty dang good, pushing but not intensely so. 6:20 pace is *almost* relaxed, I can totally imagine it being so. I think the heat of summer affects me much more than I thought, thinking about running this route a number of times this summer, how tough it sometimes was, and now, 50F, beautiful running weather, I'm flying.

Useful link — test your download speed — and wicked pissa UI.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


No running since 13.2 on Sunday. The time off has given my left foot an opportunity to get injured, doing nothing. What the. No idea what happened, but the front of my left heel, following the plantar fascia back from the front right up to the fleshy front part of the heel, there, is very sore, getting better I think, maybe I'll run tomorrow. But what happened, it was fine after the 13 on Sunday, though in retrospect I do remember stretching it extra, there was some tightness there, but it gradually got more sore after the run. Maybe a heel spur, never had that, I figured that'd be back farther. No idea. I hoped I was done with injury for a while, running is moving from one injury to the next it seems sometimes. Only good thing is it reminds me that I like running. I just want this to get better, I just want to run.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Another Half

After last weekend's decent 13.1 miler, another today, same route, from the Z's soccer game/field to the lake, around three times and home, 34 seconds faster than last week - 1:29:40, 6:51 average pace. Splits: 6:33, 6:41, 6:45, 6:51, 6:44, 6:45, 6:48, 6:52, 6:50, 6:58, 7:36 (hill), 6:40, 6:54, 0:38 (6:20). Nicer day, almost hot near the end, but tougher than last week, especially the last mile and a half, just wanted to stop, but was determined to break 1:30:00.

What a beautiful weekend. Yesterday, rest; went to the Topsfield Fair with the family — been going there since I was a kid (40 years ago!), I love most the smells — autumn, cotton candy, fried dough, horse shit, italian sausage, awesome — lotsa white trash, cigarettes, scary ride attendants, fun stuff.

Strange is our situation here on Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men — above all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness depends.
— Albert Einstein

Friday, October 06, 2006


Beautiful cool autumn day in New England. 6.7 miles at lunch, Longfellow-Charles-Smoots double loop, 45:10 (6:45), splits - 6:54, 6:23, 6:54, 7:08, 6:25, 6:43, 4:39 (0.7, 6:40). Strong head winds on Smoots and Boston side of Charles. Awesome run! Not easy, but definitely not hard, cruising, low 6:00s for good stretches, relaxed, almost easy. Form is improving, legs, feet, unconsciously getting smarter.

I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.
— George H.W. Bush, 1991

Thursday, October 05, 2006


After a good 13.1 on Sunday, Monday off, a decent 6.3 on the home Landice on Tuesday (splits - 7:21, 6:54, 6:49, 6:44, 6:23, 6:48). Right ankle still experiencing limited movement, but okay for running, apparently. And, new, starting to feel something in left aductor.

I feel I may be turning a corner in my belief system. Raised Christian (Baptist), I've always been at least a borderline agnostistic. Reading more of Richard Dawkins lately (The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion). Religion seems, more and more than ever to me, to be so made up, make believe. Religion is a virus.

It doesn't even excel in the areas where it supposes to excel - in inspiring awe in and communion with the Cosmos. Rather, it encourages complacence, comfort, and an utter lack in curiosity about the world in which we live. So much emphasis on the afterlife, as if this life, wonderful as it is, is not enough! How greedy can you get? This isn't enough? You want *more* than this? Eternal life?! Jesus Christ!

It's definitely not that Dawkins is convincing me of anything I didn't already feel. Rather he's encouraging me to come out of the closet. I've *always* had serious doubts about religion, from the beginning, 7 yearsof age or even earlier, it just always sounded so fantastic - really? Is this stuff really true? Wow, I mean, it sounds so, well, unbelievable!

I was the kid who asked where the dinosuars fit in in all this, in Sunday School, and was greeted with a cold stare, like what kind of idiotic question is that? Like that question should just not be asked. And that was very unsatisfying.

I almost feel a sense of freedom. Or like I know a secret - The Emperor Has No Clothes! Or like I'm getting away with something. I know everyone else, religious, is, excuse me, full of shit. Allowing myself, for the first time in my life to (almost) embrace athiesm, what I've known in my heart/mind, all the time, to be true.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Oh yeah, blogging, running, etc. Since last post ...

Sunday, 9/24: 11.1 miles (1:19:00, 7:07)
Splits: 6:38, 6:48, 6:47, 7:03, 6:59, 7:12, 7:19, 7:05, 7:47 (hill), 6:37, 8:0

Tuesday, 9/26: 5.0 miles (6:55, treadmill)
Splits: todo

Friday, 9/29, 7.1 miles (47:20, 6:40)
Splits: 6:20, 6:29, 6:25, 6:40, 6:56, 7:21 (hill), 6:33, 6:48

Sunday, 10/1, 13.1 miles (1:30:14, 6:55)
Splits: 6:41, 6:49, 6:48, 6:57, 6:51, 6:48, 6:55, 6:54, 6:45, 6:49, 7:38 (hill), 6:43, 6:48

... the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion ...
— John Adams, 1797