Free Will

theology tells us that God can give his creatures free will, and  
presumably he could also control their actions if he chose to, but he  
cannot do both at the same time.  God cannot simultaneously give a being  
freedom of choice and withhold that freedom from it:  God cannot carry out  
both of two mutually exclusive alternatives any more than you or I can,  
not because there is a limit to his power, but because nonsense remains  
nonsense even when he speak it about God.

In general (again, according to most Christian theology) God chooses to  
allow his creatures free will, rather than intervene.  God apparently  
considers free will to be a very good thing, good enough that it in some  
sense outweighs all the evil that is caused by the abuse of free will. 


Gravity's Rainbow

The "holy grail" of  
postmodernism is not some real space which escapes the symbolization of a  
totalizing system - the existence of such spaces is given, is in a sense  
the problem itself - but rather the discovery of some mode of discourse  
which can embrace this heterogeniety of reality.

Let me use a specific example, one not actually part of the "discourse on  
postmodernism", but one which is analogous:

As I understand it (and I trust any real physicists out there will correct  
me if I'm wrong), a big problem facing modern physics now is the  
inconsisteny that exists between quantum mechanics and general relativity.  
As successful as both of these theories are in describing the universe at  
certain scales (the very small for quantum mechanics and the very large  
for relativity), the two theories are, strictly speaking, mutually  
incompatable.  A great deal of work is now being done to construct a  
"Grand Unification Theory", in other words, a totalizing system beneath  
which all of physical science could, at least in theory, be subsumed.

Now, my personal feeling - and here my opinion is typical of most  
postmodern theory - is that such a project, while it may advance our  
understanding of the universe, is ultimately doomed to failure.  The  
relationship between rationality and the universe, the relationship  
between the symbolic and the real if you will, is such that our  
representations will never be adequate.  No theory of even the physical  
universe will be entirely satisfactory, there will always be  
inconsistencies, ruptures.  Human reason is fundamentally incapable of  
constructing a universally valid system, and thus all totalizing systems  
will reveal some fundamental inadequecy.

Can I prove this?  No, but history seems to support such a view.  
Throughout history philosophers and scientists have attempted to construct  
systems that would settle certain fundamental questions "once and for  
all", but they have never succeeded.  It is the very inadequecy of all  
constructed systems that is the motive force behind the constant  
production of new systems: this is the reason that we still have  
philosophers and theoretical physicists, and the reason why these  
disciplines still continue to "advance" in some sense or other. 



 I think that people like Derrida are saying _both_ "there can  
be no totalizing theory" (in the sense that no totalizing theory will be  
adequate or _true_) _and_ "we cannot avoid using totalizing theories".  
It's a paradox which, when explored, generates huge amounts of abstract  
discourse which, it would seem, gets us nowhere (e.g. Derrida's  



If you're interested in the "philosophically oriented stuff", you might  
want to go straight to the "canonical" postmodern works ("canonical  
postmodern" ought to be an oxymoron, but let's face it, it's not):  Michel  
Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard.  Warning!  Most of this stuff  
is very dense and difficult.  

If you're interested in the psycho-analytic strand of postmodernism,  
Deleuze is good, and Lacan seems to be quoted by just about everyone,  
though I've never read him.

Good preliminary reading to both of these strands of postmodern theory is  
Ferdinand de Saussure ("Course on General Linguistics").  Saussure was the  
originator of certain specialized terms that get used throughout  
postmodern theory (namely "signifier", "signified", "sign", and  
"referent"), and if you don't understand these terms as used by Saussure,  
you will not understand (or will misunderstand) a lot of postmodern  

None of the above-mentioned theorists (to the best of my knowledge)  
actually use the term "postmodern", and as I said, they are very dense and  
abstract.  They are the most purely philosophical, though.  If you're  
interested in more cultural/philosophical (and also more contemporary)  
work, some names you might check out are Frederic Jameson, Lyotard,  
Habermas, and Zizek.  Frederic Jameson's "Postmodernism, or, the Cultural  
Logic of Late Capitalism" is very good (I understand it's widely  
considered THE seminal work on postmodernism, though I wouldn't really  
know about that.)

I think your best bet would be to get a good anthology of essays.  My  
favorite is "The Anti-Aesthetic", edited by Hal Foster.  This includes the  
famous essay by Jameson and a very good one by Baudrillard.  Some other  
anthologies are "Universal Abandon?" and "Postmodernism and its  

I would advise _against_ reading anything that claims to offer a summary  
or overview of postmodernism, or even of any particular theorist within  
the "movement" (if you can really call it that).  These theories are very  
subtle, and every attempt I've ever read at summarizing them ends up being  
horribly reductive and at least partially misses the point.  Don't, for  
example, try to understand deconstructionism by reading Terry Eagleton's  
"Literary Theory". 



I think one of the more interesting tendencies in postmodernism is that  
the distinction between "serious" and "fun" is being erased.  Consider  
Jameson's concept of "pastiche": is it funny?  is it serious?  the  
question ceases to even make much sense. 



Gregor Samsa turned into a bug.  Why does that have to be a metaphore for  
anything?  It just happened.  It is only the stupid, or the hopelessly  
religious, who insist on seeing a 'meaning' in everything.  Events in life  
don't 'mean' anything, aren't 'metaphors' for anything.  Why should events  
in literature be any different?  Gregor Samsa turned into an insect.  So  
what?  It happened to me once.  Spent an entire month scurrying along the  
walls of my room, eating rotting vegetables and excreting brown fluid.  
Unlike Samsa, I got better.  A little better, at least.  Just lucky, I  



Throughout this thread there has been the assumption that identity is a  
real, objective property that a body possesses.  It seems to me that the  
question "which (of any two hypothetical duplicates/reconstructions/
simulations/etc.) is the _real_ you" is meaningless.  You are assuming  
that because we _perceive_ these past and present minds/bodies as  
continuous, that they _really_are_ continuous, in some noumenal sense.  
But the only meaningful definition of a mind or body "existing in the  
past" is that of a mind or body existing as a _memory_ (i.e. construct) of  
a _present_ mind.  It is meaningless to ask which of two duplicate minds  
is _really_ continuous with a past mind, for they are both constructing  
similar past minds (i.e. they have the same memories).  There is no  
objective sense in which one is more continuous this past mind because  
there is no objective sense in which this past mind actually exists: a  
past mind is only a construct of present minds. 



There's a huge problem with saying that brains cause minds, unless we  
assume that the causal power runs both ways (i.e., we implicitly assume a  
dualist position).  If the causal relationship only runs one way, then how  
can we talk about minds at all?  That is, how can minds manifest  
themselves in the material universe - even in the form of discourse -  
unless either a) minds and bodies (or some part of the body, such as the  
brain) are not merely connected but are _the_same_thing, or b) minds have  
some causal power within the physical universe.  To say that qualia are  
"epiphenomena" of physical processes is nonsense: if this were the case,  
we could never discuss qualia. 



Part of the reason we don't discuss Marx is because in many ways  
postmodernism was a revolt _against_ the older generation of Marxists that  
had become a dominating force in the liberal sectors of academia around  
the 50s and 60s.  In many ways, Marxism is the modernist historical theory  
_par_excellence_.  I'm not saying that this is a reason not to read him.  
In fact this is a reason _to_ read him, because in many ways one can't  
understand postmodernism until one understands modernism (and even  
vice-versa).  But this _is_ a reason why one wouldn't want to put him down  
as a "postmodern" thinker.

I don't know much about Marxist theory, so correct me if what I say is  
incorrect, but as I understand it, "historical materialism" is precisely  
that sort of meta-narrative which Lyotard defines as the antithesis of  
postmodernism.  Moreover, "historical materialism" is not only a  
meta-narrative, but a _teleological_ one at that.  These days, most people  
will just laugh at you if you try to say that there is actually a  
"purpose" to history.

As for "postmodern" refutations of historical materialism, see Lyotard.  
For a not-so-postmodern refutation, see C.S. Lewis's essay "On  
Historicism".  I believe it's in the collection called "The Seeing Eye".  
The similarities between C.S. Lewis and postmodernists like Lyotard are in  
many cases striking. 


Dreams of a Physicist

Isn't it meaningless to talk of the Big Bang's being "caused"?  Presumably  
causation is dependant on a temporal dimension (i.e. Time), and presumably  
there "was" no temporal dimension before the Big Bang.  There wasn't  
really a "before" the Big Bang, since time didn't exist "back then",  


Dead Can Dance

Okay, having made a substantial investment in owning all five DCD import  
CDs, here are my reviews, in approximately chronilogical order:

_Dead Can Dance_ (which includes _Garden of the Arcane Delights_):

Excellent, though much more goth-rock than any of their later stuff.  If  
you like bauhaus at all, you'll LOVE this album.  Even if you don't like  
bauhaus, you'll probably love this album.  Also the only album (I think,  
could be wrong though) where Lisa Gerrard sings in English (though you  
still can't understand what she's saying).

_Spleen And Ideal_:

I'd say this is their worst album, though it's still pretty good.  
Somewhat reminiscent of early Cocteau Twins.

_Serpent's Egg_:

Very, very Good.  Mostly Lisa Gerrard vocals, though the three Brendan  
Perry tracks are good.  Very orchestral and gothic (in the medieval  

_Within The Realm of a Dying Sun_:

Excellent.  Brendan Perry does the vocals for the first half of the album,  
and Lisa Gerrard does the vocals for the second half.  Anywhere Out of the  
World is typical of the first half.  The second half is just incredible  
though!  It's similar to _Serpent's Egg_, but even more orchestral and  
instense.  If I had to recommend just one album, it would probably be this  


Excellent.  Howard Goodman was probably thinking about this one in  
particular, though, when he called the later Dead Can Dance "too  
retrogressive and esoteric".  It's definitely their least modern sounding,  
containing straight covers of medieval and rennaisance music.  If you're  
not used to this sort of thing, it can take a couple of listenings before  
you really appreciate it, but believe me, it's well worth the effort.  I  
actually think this is my favorite. 



Computer programs are essentially  
deterministic, whereas Christian theology tells us that human beings are  
essentially free.