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The UFOs Sightings, and Socrates’ Opinions

Document Signed Maxwell AF3 A / s 35112

August 8, 1958

In this document which bears the title UFO Program, the author gives a brief history about UFOs, and states that this history can help people better understand the problem of the UFOs sightings.

The author of the report states that  Flying Object Program started in 1947, June, when Kenneth Arnold claimed to have seen flying saucers near Mount Rainier, in the state of Washington. He knew the phenomenon as Flying saucers.

The sighting of flying saucers mentioned above was investigated immediately by the USA AIR FORCE and this project was called  Project Sign.  In 1949, the project changed its name, and was called Project Grudge, during which about 300 sightings were analyzed.

The report on these sightings was presented to the American authorities. From this report it appears that only 20% of the sightings would relate to the UFOs, while a rather large percentage would be essentially related to misinterpretations, simple atmospheric phenomena, or balloons,  radar malfunctions, mass suggestions, psychopathic persons, hysteria, and publicity seeking. The Department of Defense made known to the public these results, which were widely echoed in the newspapers of the time.  However, from 1951 there was an increase in UFOs sightings,  but  the Department of Defense  attributed them essentially to the “placed emphasis on UFO by press,” and  the project   changed its name, and was called Project Blue Book.

 

In relation to the increase of the UFOs sightings, General Samford (Director of Intelligence) directly intervened, and stated that “UFO phenomena were not of interplanetary origin,” and they did not constitute a danger to the U.S. why the phenomenon was rejected by a large number of UFO experts. As a result, General Samford instructed the CIA to train a group of experts, who concluded that UFOs were not a threat to the U.S., and that UFOs sightings do not presuppose any revision “of the current scientific concept.”

In 1950 the editors of Galaxy Science Fiction asked Willy Ley,  a “recognized authority” on the UFO phenomenon, “to open the Flying Saucer Season.” He wrote that, “If we say that the average number of witnesses per case was three, about 1,200 persons claim to have seen these objects. One has to assume, therefore, where there is so much smoke, there must be fire somewhere. ” He also added that the most common “explanations are: (1) that the witnesses saw phenomena which are known, but not known to them; (2) that the Saucers are a secret American development; (3) that they are spaceships from another planet.”

The fact is that the uncertainty pertained to the existence of UFOS is excessive and without an explicit criterion of truth. Willy Ley wrote in 1950, and today, after more than 70 years from the first sightings, the situation has not changed much . UFOs could be described as a kind of  radical uncertainty, and, despite their social, political and scientific importance,  Ufos problem was minimized or ignored by authorities in many countries. The most common expressions used for UFOS are:

We don’t know, I think, Bona fide, Disk-shaped, Fascinating, White light, Mysterious thighs, Paranormal, Ghost rockets, Strange glowing objects, UFO mystery and UFOs are real.

The opinions are quite far apart, and at this point I would say that the whole issue of UFOs is only a matter  of opinions: there is no question about it.  I do not know whether UFOs are real or not, but,  I know with absolute certainty that, according to Socrates, all opinions  are false but not true.

One day Socrates met Protagoras with whom he had a heated debate over human opinions. Protagoras argued that all opinions are true. Socrates replied that it was not true that all opinions are true, and that indeed they are all false ( from Plato’s Theaetetus).

“Prove it!,”  Protagoras said (he was furious for Socrates’ arrogance).

And Socrates, “if it’s not true that all opinions are false (that is, they are all true), so my opinion is also true: namely that, all opinions are false.”

His speech makes very good sense, but it’s a matter of opinion.

 

Notes

 

The documents on UFOs sightings  in Internet Archive. Document Signed Maxwell AF3 A / s 35112.

 

Willy Ley, “Flying Saucers, Friend, Foe or Fantasy?” Galaxy Science Fiction. October, 1950, Vol. 1, No 1, pp. 67-69. Willy Ley was “ vice-president of the German Rocket Society in 1927; technical advisor to Fritz Lang’s famous UFA science fiction film The Girl in the Moon […] and in 1935 he has devoted himself to research engineering for rocket development.” (p. 70).

 

 

 

 

 

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Two (unsuccessful) attempts to dethrone Sherlock Holmes

The  classical detective stories were originated from the work of the American writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849),  in which the readers are implicitly invited to solve the mysteries and identify the murderer  before the final denouement. But this kind of fiction became exceptionally successful thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose name became forever linked with  the immortal figures of  Sherlock Holmes and his intimate friend Dr. Watson.  The Sherlock Holmes stories were gathered together under the title Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in 1892 (1). They  put special emphasis on his  extraordinary mental faculties rarely to be met with.

 

When was Sherlock Holmes born?

 

Until 1876, when the eminent Italian scientist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909)  published  Criminal Man  (2), scientific Criminology did not yet exist.  We don’t know whether Sir Arthur Conan Doyle knew Cesare Lombroso, but it is certain that he had heard or read   both Edgar Allan Poe and the French writer Émile Gaboriau (1835-1873).  We now accept the detective stories as a good example of a literary genre focused on a genial amateur detective who devotes his talents to the service of society,  but when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, the only amateur detectives were Auguste  Dupin,  by Edgar Allan Poe, and Monsieur Lecoq, another fictional character  invented by   Émile Gaboriau. But these two detectives did not possess the same characteristics of Sherlock Holmes, who was a real gentleman with  a  very human touch, and a sporty type.

 

Two attempts were made to dethrone Holmes.

 

The first attempt occurred  when someone suggested that Holmes imitated the reasoning methods described by Hans Gross (an Austrian jurist, 1847-1915). But the most important book on Criminology written by Hans Gross was published in 1893 ( 3), while most of the Sherlock Holmes stories were published before that date, and many of the techniques included in  Gross’ 1893 edition had already been long tested by Sherlock Holmes. So we can say with certainty that Sherlock Holmes  is an original creation of  Sir  Arthur Conan Doyle.

The second attempt to knock Holmes off his pedestal occurred in 1915, when Virginia Law Register published an article alleging that

“the marvelous exploits of Conan Doyle’s famous character have been surpassed. A new record in deductive ability has been established. The king of sleuths has been dethroned, and by a mere woman. Holmes can unravel a mystery with a footprint as a clue. Apparently this would be child’s play for a Miss Hatfield of Oregon. She can tell the speed of an auto by its tire marks on the pavement.” (4).

“Miss Hatfield of Oregon”  was not present when the accident happened, but she “observed two black streaks upon the pavement,” and so  she said that the car’s speed  was “about 30 miles an hour.” But she did not break Holmes’ record; in fact,  “the Supreme Court of Oregon ungallantly refuses to accept her testimony”, because “she did not see the vehicle in motion nor appear upon the scene until some time after the accident had happened.”

Besides,“ a variance in smoothness of either the tire or the pavement would produce different results. There was no testimony about any such conditions, or at least none of them were suggested to or mentioned by the witness. Consequently the foundation for expert testimony did not exist.”

And so Holmes remains the only one who knows how to find a solution for everything: he is one of the greatest geniuses of all time because his reasoning is flawless all the time.

Virginia Law Register put its money on an outsider, but Holmes is still the titleholder.

 

Notes

 

1)      A. Conan Doyle, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1892.

2)      The first edition of Criminal Man dates back to 1876: L’uomo delinquente studiato in rapporto alla medicina legale, del Prof. Cesare Lombroso, Milano, Ulrico Hoepli, 1876. In English: Criminal Man, According to the classification of Cesare Lombroso, New York & London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1911.

3)      Hans Gross, Handbuch fur Untersuchunsrichter, als System der Kriminalistik, Leuschner & Lubensky, 1893.

4)      Virginia Law Register, September 1915, p. 395.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Top Ten Facts to Know About Tornadoes

Meteorology today is particularly interested in tornadoes.  This is a subject of growing interest to all the media, and, above all, because of the increasing devastations caused by variuos tornadoes all over the world.

 

 

10 The most important thing

 

The most important thing for people is to establish the real facts about the tornadoes, and an exhaustive knowledge of these terrifying phenomena is crucial, so that people may protect themselves for the best.  Several tornadoes are formed over an extended area, nearly five hundred miles in length and extent, where conditions appear to be favorable for their growth. In these regions the air is quiet before the tornado arrives. There is a wide cell storm about three-four hundred miles to the north-westward. The storm rapidly intensifies when south-easterly winds blow, and a tornado is approaching.

 

9) The clouds

 

The clouds usually move with the surface winds, from right to left, while opposite black clouds rapidly advance, and when they meet, they form the tornado. A marked feature of tornadoes is their most rapid translation across the earth, and the average speed of tornado translation is rarely under 40 miles per hour (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society). The clouds throw into the greatest confusion, breaking up, into small portions which dash pell-mell over each other and in every direction, now darting toward the earth, now rushing upward to considerable height or at moderate elevation, rolling over each other in a well-developed whirl, with turbulent dark-green boiling mass of clouds, a heavy shower of rain and a vivid display of lightning. Despite the fact that such phenomena are well known, it happens regularly, to the terror of those who have seen a tornado in action.

 

8) Tornadoes in the United States

 

In many regions of the United States tornadoes are very numerous, particularly in Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana and Georgia (2011), with vivid displays of lightning. The appearance of dark clouds serves as a warning. Although tornadoes have occurred in other parts of the world, nowhere do they match the violent and destructive twisters of the United States. These occur in every one of the continental states, although they are largely concentrated in the Midwestern states that stretch from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa are the states most often visited by the deadly twisters.

 

7) The violence of the Tornadoes

 

When the twisting tunnel of wind dips to the earth it heralds its approach with a terrific roar that may be heard twenty-five miles away, and the whole destruction occupies a few minutes. In that time the houses are demolished or damaged, and trees are uprooted by the tornado, while ruin spreads all along its path, and the devastation is all about. The violence of these most powerful of nature’s storms is unbelievable. Whereas the winds of a hurricane are believed rarely to exceed two hundred miles an hour, those of a tornado have been estimated to reach about five hundred miles per hour. In a populated area such power can wreak destruction at a terrifying rate.

 

6) The tornadoes are unpredictable

 

Fortunately their path is not very wide, averaging around four hundred yards, although they may vary from scarcely a hundred feet in width to a mile or two. Their speed also is unpredictable. On occasions, tornadoes have even been known to stop in their paths for a few minutes before resuming their normal movement.  Providentially, tornadoes, as a rule, will dissipate after only a few miles; twelve to sixteen miles being their average length. However, tornadoes are unpredictable. Some never touch the ground, others may touch and ascend and they do a kind of hop, skip, and jump across the countryside, destroying everything in their path when they come in contact with the ground. Still others will plow ahead mile after mile, leaving an unbroken path of utter devastation

 

5) Tornadoes occur in every month of the year

 

According to what is said by the Waste Management Activities for Groundwater Protection, in the Southeastern United States tornadoes occur in early spring and late summer and from March to June. In South Carolina they occur in April and May, and in August and September (20 percent). (Waste Management Activities for Groundwater Protection). Whereas tornadoes have been reported in every month of the year, about 50 percent of them occur during the four months from April to July.

 

4)  The instability of the atmosphere

 

Why there and at that time of year? The combination of the flat Midwestern plains flanked on the west by the towering Rocky Mountains and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico lends itself perfectly to the birth of tornadic activity. During spring and early summer cold, dry air slides down from the Rockies and moves southward over the plains eventually to meet warm moisture-laden air moving northward from the Gulf. It is the instability of the atmosphere produced when these two swiftly moving masses of air collide that gives birth to tornadoes.

 

 

3) Protective measures

 

Protective measures were implemented over the years in the United States, increasing the protection of the houses and people against the effects of high winds. There is no question that these alerts have saved hundreds of lives. So when tornadoes are on the prowl, keep alert, heed the warnings and avoid the terrifying experience of being struck by a deadly twister.

 

2) Take all the steps to preserve your life

 

In any way, if you should ever find yourself in the path of a tornado, do not count on escapes only. Take all the steps to preserve your life. Many people in the United States have built underground rooms. They are the safest place to be during a tornado; as far as is known no one who has sought refuge in one has been killed. If no underground room is accessible, the next best place to be is the southwest corner of the basement. This is because tornadoes usually move from the southwest and debris almost always falls in the northeast corner. If you are in a house without a basement seek shelter against an interior wall on the ground floor, underneath some heavy furniture if possible. Because of the sudden reduction of air pressure when a tornado passes over, buildings often explode outward, so being next to an interior wall affords a greater chance of survival. To equalize the air pressure, before the tornado strikes open the windows on the north or east of the house, the side away from the approaching storm.

 

  • The key to safety is advance warning

If enough warning has be given in advance, you may want to jump into your car and flee; tornadoes can be outrun, since they usually travel at only thirty or forty miles an hour. If you are caught in open country, move at right angles to the approaching storm; there is a chance you may get out of its path. But if you cannot, find a ditch or depression in the ground, get into it, and lie face down.  However, remember that the key to safety is advance warning. The first measure in order to save lives remains preventive information on the tornado’s arrival, and, in this sense, radar systems and other meteorological tools play a key role in providing protection for people today. In any case, radar systems are considered one of the best ways to track tornadoes.

 

Notes

 

Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, American Meteorological Society, 1957, p. 3.

 

Natural Disasters and Other Emergencies, What You Should Know: A Family Planning & Survival Guide, Edited by Gladson I. Nwanna, Frontline Publishers,  2004, p. 102.

 

Waste Management Activities for Groundwater Protection Savannah River Plant Aiken, South Carolina, U.S. Department of Energy, December 1987, Vol. I, Chap. 3, p. 10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Students and the Educational System During the 1960s

A key precursor of the student protest movement of the 1960s was the German philosopher Herbert Marcuse, permanently residing in the United States during the 1930s, after the rise of National Socialism in Germany. According to Marcuse, modern industrial societies are only apparently democratic:

“A comfortable, smooth, reasonable democratic  unfreedom prevails  in advanced industrial civilization,” and people  are not free”  (1).

The student protest movement arose in the second half of the 1960s, and a lot of students adopted a polemical stance against schools and Universities. Young people attacked   methods and contents for teaching, because they were deemed inadequate compared with their needs.  Besides, according to the protesters of the 1960s, schools were also accused of being conformist and of accustoming students to be passive auditors.

So in Tom Fawthrop’s essay (1969) we read:

“Last year 18 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women studying at British universities failed to complete their courses. At other further-education establishments the failure rate was 30 per cent for men and 25 per cent for women in the same year. These are the facts of failure in higher education today. Why is there this enormous wastage rate?”

“One common argument is that such students did not meet the required standards, and thus were justly failed. But when some universities have 30 per cent failure rates and others 3 per cent rates, the failure from one institution would clearly have been a success at another. The huge fluctuations between various failure rates indicate one thing clearly: that the existing system of examinations is a random process of selection.”

“Now most discussion of examinations has concentrated on the issue of what type of test to set the student. But the more pertinent question is: a test of what? So often educational aims are assessed in terms of examinations instead of examinations being assessed in terms of aims; the assessment system at present dominates the academic community. Examinations not only define for the student what his course is about, but further, what education itself is concerned with. It would be more rational if first the aims of a university education were defined, and an assessment system subsequently designed to coincide with these objectives.”

“The priority of the teachers is generally to ‘get them through’, of the taught ‘to get through’: the crammers cram as the final hour approaches Nervous breakdowns occur […]: all students, whether winners or losers, are subjected to the sale strains. And after it all, there is the final irony: that the individual student is held responsible if he fails, and not the system with its methods, teachers and advocates.”

“However lightly authority is imposed in the lecture room or tutorial, in the examination hall it is all-powerful. The exam is taken, and the student’s academic trial is over […] Examinations are […] the control center for the manipulation of the lives of the students.”

Among the more popular slogans during the Paris of May 1968 was Give in a little, and you’ll capitulate a lot, which symbolically alluded to the danger of being sucked into the wheels of consumerism. My impression is that, after both a lot of effort, and a lot of money,  the students have capitulated (a lot).  We have today in Europe two types (of graduated): a lot for the home market, the other for export.

That’s the lot.

 

Notes

1)      Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man.  Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, New York, Routledge Classics, 2002, (First Edition, 1964) p. 3.

2)      Tom Fawthrop, “Education or Examination?,” in Student Power, Problems, Diagnosis, Action, Edited by A. Cockburn & R. Blackburn, Penguin Books (and New Left Review), 1969,  pp. 99-102.

 

 

 

 

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Hugo Gernsback and Amazing Stories (Park Place. New York City)

In 1926 the first science fiction specialized magazine was born, Amazing Stories. It was founded by Hugo Gernsback, and “published on the 10th of each month. There are 12 numbers per year. Subscription price is $ 2,50 a year in U.S. and possessions. Canada and foreign countries $ 3 a year.”

 

The first issue of Amazing Stories had a sub-title, The Magazine of Scientifiction. Gernsback with this title  intended to indicate stories like those of Wells and Verne, namely where the plot merged with scientific facts and predictions about the future. In the first two or three issues of his magazine,  Gernsback published  authors already known, like Verne (A Trip to the Center of Earth) and Edgar Allan Poe (Mesmeric Revelation),  but then he began to publish works by new authors, like The Man from the Atom, by G. Peyton Wertenbaker, and The Green Splotches by T.S. Stribling, in which he narrated the story of the encounter between humanity  and extra-terrestrial visitors.  Stribling won the Pulitzer Prize in 1933.

 

The plot proposed here (written by the editors of Amazing Stories) refers to the events narrated in  The Man from the Atom, by G. Peyton Wertenbaker:

 

“Professor Martyn  was an inventor of genius, and Kirby — one of the very few friends he had — was always a willing test object for many of his inventions. Somewhat even to his own surprise, Professor Martyn invents a machine whereby anyone can at will, either increase or diminish in size, and Kirby agrees — with foreboding in his heart — to test the machine. It is put into operation by merely pressing the middle button on this little machine, which is attached with straps, over his chest. He is fitted with an elastic suit, specially made for the purpose of keeping out intense cold or heat and retaining an even degree of temperature. He begins to increase in size and soon is so large that he just naturally slips away from the Earth and goes off into ultra-planetary space.”

“ After the first rush of excitement, Kirby becomes alarmed about it all and decides to come back to Earth. He presses the right button and immediately begins to diminish in size. But he has traveled so fast and is so far away that he becomes panic-stricken and decides to press the “stop” button. The velocity of his motion is so great that he travels for hundreds of miles more before he can stop. Then he suddenly finds himself coming up out of water — floating. He swims ashore, but he is so exhausted, he falls right off to sleep.”

 

“ When he awakes, he gets into a state of utter despair, for instead of being on the Earth, he finds himself on some unknown planet. He rages and fumes around for some time and finally decides to decrease to a size small enough to enable him to go back to earth and forthwith sets out to find the same nebula through which he originally left the Earth. He cannot find it and does not reach the Earth, but lands instead on a strange planet, with strange inhabitants, so far advanced in intellect that he feels like a savage among them. He does not understand their language and cannot understand their customs. He is there alone in utter desolation and despair, ever pining for those he left behind, whom he can never hope to see again.”

 

  1. Peyton Wertenbaker intrigues the reader, creating an incredible suspense at the beginning of the chapter entitled The Return:

 

“ Never hoped — never dreamed, when I wrote the tale you have read, that I should ever see the earth again. Who in the universe could have hoped against all the knowledge of insuperable fate which had come to me? Who could hope to overcome Time and Space, to recapture that which was gone forever? Yet it is just this that I have done — or something very like it. And it is a story a thousand times more fantastic, more impossible, than the story of my journey. And like that it is true.”

 

Notes

 

G. Peyton Wertenbaker, “The Man from the Atom”, in Amazing Stories, Vol. 1, No 2, May 1926, pp. 97, 140-141.

 

 

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Sherlock Holmes, Plausible Arguments and Deceptive Dreams

In The Adventure of the  Blue Carbuncle Sherlock Holmes comes into possession of a hat. Although Holmes does not know the owner of the hat, he provides a convincing argument, and proves that this man is an intellectual.  Dr. Watson remains disconcerted and stupefied:

 

“Then, what clue could you have as to his identity?”

“Only  as much as we can deduce.”

“From  his hat?”

“Precisely.”

“ But you’re joking. What can you gather from this old battered felt?”

“Then, pray tell me what it is that you infer from this hat.”

“He picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective fashion which was characteristic of him. ‘It is perhaps less suggestive than it might have been,’ he remarked, ‘and yet there are a few inferences which are very distinct, and a few others which represent at least a strong balance of probability. That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days.’” …

“I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that I am unable to follow you. For example, how did you deduce that this man was intellectual?”

“For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head. It came right over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose. ‘It is a question of cubic capacity,’ said he; ‘a man with so large a brain must have something in it.’” …

“Your reasoning is certainly plausible.” (1).

 

Dr. Watson seemed satisfied with the answer from Holmes, but he really shouldn’t have been satisfied with him. Holmes did not actually provide the indisputable evidence that the hat belonged to an intellectual. Holmes merely offered Dr. Watson a convincing and plausible argument, just not a proof. Holmes’ argument is acceptable only as a deduction, but it lacks a fundamental element properly called verifiable proof, which provides authoritative confirmation of the truth-event.

 

Therefore, we must not be content with plausible arguments in our daily life, even if they are remarkably well structured. The situation merits closer examination, and we must demand that any assertion must be proven. So we can give credit to an argument only once we have the force of proof. It is only in this case that we will accept an argument as true. Otherwise, we do not have any reason to believe that an argument could be true, and we must refuse to endorse the conclusion. If we don’t have concrete evidence, we can conclude that the validity of some conclusions has not been established by any proof.

 

So we have very high probability of being misled.

 

The conclusion is of paramount importance. No argument can be absolutely convincing if it could not be supported by the evidence. Sherlock Holmes is a really good thinker, but our modern times need a different approach because the pseudo or false Sherlock Holmes of today are subtle and cunning.

 

Someone is always ready to sell you deceptive dreams.

 

 

Notes

 

1) “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”, in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by A. Conan Doyle, London, George Newnes Limited, 1892, pp. 159, 160-161.

 

 

 

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Inductive Reasoning, and True or False Conclusions

Inductive reasoning is a logical process that concerns not only science, but also our daily lives. In a nutshell, inductive reasoning is essentially based on two main elements:

1) The certainty of observational data and information.

2) The conclusion. From data in our possession, we draw a general conclusion.

An example of inductive reasoning

Suppose we observe the presence of apple trees in some environmental related context. We will observe the presence of apple trees near a pond, around a lake, and on the banks of many rivers. A careful observation of these data provides evidence (and conclusion) that the apple trees grow in light and moist soils. The data that we have collected cannot be questioned by anyone. Anyone visiting the same places can check the rightness of our observations. Therefore, our conclusion [the apple trees grow best in light and moist soils] is true.

We come now to the logic-formal reasoning. We can say that the observed data (the apple trees) are the Premise of inductive reasoning (the apple trees grow well in X places). From these data, we can prove that our conclusions are absolutely true [the apple trees grow well in light and moist soils] , and they cannot be doubted. However, in inductive reasoning, even if the premises are true, the general conclusions may be false. We’ll look at one classic example many centuries ago suggested by various scientists to demonstrate that some conclusions are false. Stones of different weight and different size were dropped from the top of a tower to see if they fall at different speeds.

During X time a small piece of stone was dropped from the top of a tower.  Then scientists dropped another stone even larger, and they noted that it took exactly the same time X. They therefore concluded that their speeds are equal. In this case the conclusion is true, but with reference only to the stones. In fact, the above-mentioned scientists did not experiment with other items. The result would have been very different if they dropped a feather down from the tower. Here we have a  false conclusion, because there were too few data, and stones were only included in experiment. In this specific case, the premise is true (the stones), and the conclusion false [because they did not experiment with other items]. This means that if the scientists mentioned above would reach real conclusions, they would experience a large amount of information.

That’s why, at the end of inductive reasoning, we must always ensure data accuracy and completeness, and otherwise we may arrive at misleading conclusions, because the data are limited. Therefore, data accuracy and completeness are absolutely indispensable for reaching realistic conclusions. Otherwise appearances can deceive us, with the consequence that we may make wrong decisions.

We have to wait.

We need detailed information before deciding, and the pros and cons must be considered carefully. You can’t ignore any possibility, because one day you might say: “ I didn’t consider the consequences of my actions.” A ruinous decision might further aggravate the problem, and the affair becomes more complicated.

It is also true that sometimes we need quick reactions, but in this case the situation is absolutely different, because we don’t want to know the verity of a hypothesis, but we need only to decide rapidly how to react to an unforeseen and often sudden event.

 

 

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The Right to Read a Book. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

It was found that the best temperature for burning books is 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Ray Bradbury imagined a terrible anti-utopia, or negative utopia, placed in a future world. Thus, he imagined that a despotic power had declared war against everything (namely, the books) that encourages individuals to think differently and also expand their consciousness and their own freedom.  The new rulers of the future world exercised a tyrannical power not only forbidding the reading of books, but also imposing the systematic destruction of them by special firefighters. Guy Montag, the novel’s protagonist, was a fireman and Bradbury’s novel is based upon the painful awareness of his alienation and the loss of his own freedom. The rejection of certain methods led Montag to join those who resisted the standardization imposed on people, many of them leaning a book all  by heart, and so awaiting their chance of creating  new space and  freedoms  for themselves.

 

“It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed […] With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies.  He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning. Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame. He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man, burnt-corked, in the mirror.  Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile still gripped by his face muscles, in the dark. It never went away, that smile, it never ever went away, as long as he remembered.” ( Bradbury:  33-34).

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953, rapidly gaining extraordinary success, and  it was in fact brought to the screen  by the French Director F. Truffaut in 1966  (Hischak: 65).  The idea of burning books is old, and Bradbury would have found  a number of suggestions in trying  to organize a novel  like Fahrenheit 451. For example, the burning of Alexandria’s main library, the “science” theory which had developed among some ideologues after the French Revolution for which  “if libraries can sufficiently purged […] then their preservation can be justified by using the mas propaganda and as educational institutions for transmitting and supporting their visions,”  to finish with the Nazi book burnings in 1933. (Knuth:  36). Among other things, as Alfred Bester remarked, the protests against  abuse of  power were the central theme of Bradbury’s novels,  “Mr. Bradbury is for the simple life […] [H]e seizes upon a very small point […] the right to talk a walk in the rain, the right to read a book.” (Bester:  80).

Bradbury’s career was paradoxical in many respects. He was a Science Fiction fanatic since childhood, but, when he began to write science fiction books, he thought the game was up.  His works were in fact  regularly rejected  by John W. Campbell, Jr., the “steadfast” editor of Astounding Stories of Super Science, founded in January 1930.  By  the late 30s, John W. Campbell, Jr. had replaced F. Orlin Tremain as manager of Street & Smith Publishing Company of New York  (Sadoul: 11), imposing his “dictatorial” policy on the Magazine’s editorial staff.  (Westfahl: 255).  According to John W. Campbell, Jr., Science Fiction has to have a plausible plot, realistic characters and, above all, it must include “scientific facts,” and “greater scientific accuracy.” (Lambourne & Others: 20). John W. Campbell, Jr. rejected  “almost all  books by Bradbury,”  because he  judged them  “too little scientific.” ( Westfahl:  258).  Really, Bradbury was an example of “Soft” Science Fiction’s writer,  where “there is little science.” (Gunn & Candelaria:  21).

After the bad experience with the “unyielding” John W. Campbell, Jr., the “authoritarian” editor  of professional  Science Fiction magazines in New York,  Bradbury did not lose heart, and succeeded at length in placing his stories in other magazines such as Collier’s, which had a large circulation, and despite Campbell’s  dislike, he managed to succeed in the world of Science Fiction, becoming very popular indeed. (Beley:  43).

 

For Further Reading

 

Beley, G. 2006. Ray Bradbury: Uncensored! : the Unauthorized Biography. Lincoln: iUniverse.

Bester, A. 1961. “The Perfect Composite Science Fiction Author.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Mercury Press.

Bradbury, R. 2003. Fahrenheit 451. A Novel. New York: Simon & Shuster.

Gunn, J. E. and Candelaria, M. 2005. Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction. Lanham, Maryland, Toronto, Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Hischak, T.S. 2012. American Literature on Stage and Screen: 525 Works and Their Adaptations. Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company Inc., Publishers.

Knuth, R. 2006. Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction.  Westport: Praeger Publisher.

Lambourne. R.J. and Others. 1990. Close Encounters? Science and Science Fiction. Bristol and New York: A. Hilgher.

Sadoul, J. 1975. 2000 A.D.: Illustrations from the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps.  H. Regnery.

Westfahl, G. 1988. The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction. Liverpool:  Liverpool University Press.

 

 

 

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Political Dissidence in Russia during the Stalinist Years

 

Born in Russia in 1918 and died in 2008, Alexander Solzhenitsyn is now considered  one of the most important Russian writers, and  his destiny seems to be  similar to that of Boris Leonidovic Pasternak  [1890-1960].  This article focuses on their life stories.

 

The word dissidence has its linguistic specificities because is essentially used as a term for political dissidence, which is a typical phenomenon in many  totalitarian regimes. A sensational case of political dissidence was that of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A fundamental datum of the Soviet Union in the 60s and 70s was typically given by Russian intellectuals, whose criticism focused on the institution of communism.

 

We have some very significant cases in this sense, like that of Boris Leonidovich Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago which despite received Nobel Prize in 1958 was banned in Russia until around the 90s. Another striking case was that of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich written  in 1962. This novel revealed to the world the Stalinist labor camps, in which Solzhenitsyn himself was imprisoned from 1945 to 1956. Solzhenitsyn had been locked up in a concentration camp because he wrote a letter where he did use disrespectful expressions  towards Stalin, and so he was sentenced to eleven years in a labor camp.

 

Dissent in Soviet Russia implied serious negative effects on intellectuals. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, but the Russian writer was unable to go to Stockholm to receive this award, because the Soviet authorities forbade him to leave the country. However, the Soviet Government, in order to avoid embarrassing situations, expelled Solzhenitsyn in 1974, accusing him of having participated in anti-Soviet activity. The expulsion from Russia for anti-Soviet activity was not entirely a pipedream. In fact, Solzhenitsyn had published abroad three volumes that collected a massive set of data on lagers and deportations carried out in Russia during the Stalinist years. It is remarkable that Solzhenitsyn did his first press conference just after his expulsion from Russia at Stockholm University in 1974.

 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn suffered much the same fate as Boris Pasternak, who  was awarded  the Nobel Prize in  literature in 1958 and whose Doctor Zhivago  was strongly  opposed by Soviet Government that had threatened to  expelled  him from the country whether he would like to go to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize. Boris Pasternak’s fate became the typical fate of all political dissidents in Russia in the years of Stalinism.

 

Pasternak told in his novel that,

 

“Summer came and went almost unnoticed. The doctor recovered. While planning to go to Moscow he took not one but three temporary jobs. The rapid devaluation of money made it difficult to make ends meet. Every morning he got up at daybreak, left the house, and walked down Merchant Street, past the Giant movie house as far as the former printing shop of the Urals Cossack Army, now renamed the Red Compositor. At the corner of City Street the door of the town hall bore the notice ‘Complaints’. He crossed the square, turned into Buianovka Street, and coming to the hospital went in through the back door to the out-patient department of the Army Hospital, where he worked.”

I may be wrong, but I think that the Complaints  Office  was always empty. A claim against the Soviet Government explicitly represented only the faster way to the  Gulag.   Boris Leonidovich Pasternak became the first man to run a mile in less than three minutes.

 

Notes

 

Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago, Wm. Collins Sons and Co., Ltd, London, 1958,  p. 259, Chapter 15.

 

 

 

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A Hypothesis about the Future World Politics Trend

It is true that today the United States have no absolute control over the international scenario, as had happened after the World War II until the demise of the Soviet Union. It is also true that, as has been rightly pointed out by Zygmunt Bauman, we now live in a liquid modern world  where today’s superpowers are more streamlined than in the past by the raise of new powers  like China, India,  Brazil & others (Bauman: 1). Now everything is boiling,  or does not seem to have  secure horizons. However, experience shows that what is liquid turns usually into solid, and that sooner or later (that is to say, over the next ten or twenty years) the international political situation will have much more defined contours.

 

A first step of the future world politics trend and solidification is the renewed presence of Russia on the international chessboard. President Putin really gives rise to a new scenario, where Russia is accommodated within the center of a new strategic alliance that inevitably one day will collide with that of the United States:

 

“Russia has regained its role as a major world power and thus showed that it [Russia] is not a negligible party in international affairs, but that it will have to be reckoned with in the future […] Today the […] US influence in Central Asia is associated again with Russia, China and Iran, three different countries, yet forming a real community of interests which represents 1.5 billion people, ” Alain de Benoist  said. Besides, he added that Americans are perfectly aware of the development of this particular scenario. In fact, since the early 1940s they knew and appreciated the geopolitical writings of Nicholas Spykman who pointed out that,  “The United States must recognize once again, and permanently, that the power constellation in Europe and Asia is of everlasting concern to her, both in time of war and in time of peace.” And Adam Garfinkle recently observed that “Spykman’s views were universally known and widely appreciated” in the United States (Francis S. Sempa: XXVIII, XXXII, footnote 69).

 

In this connection, Alain de Benoist firmly continued: “Who controls Eurasia, controls the world, Brzezinski said. To control  Eurasia, means, first of all, adopting a strategy of encirclement of Russia and China. The encirclement of Russia strategy includes the installation of new military bases in Eastern Europe, the establishment of anti-missiles defense systems in Poland, Czech Republic and Romania, supporting the accession of Ukraine and Georgia to Nato, and pursuing an aggressive policy aiming to dislocate Russia’s influence in key regions around the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. In terms of energy supply, this strategy leads to the control of Central Asia’s pipelines, Central Asia being transformed into an American protectorate encouraging the development of pipelines in the Caspian to bypass Russia and to reach Turkey, as well as limiting as much as possible the access of Russian tankers to the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits.” (Alain de Benoist).

 

Russia’s  pragmatic President, Vladimir Putin, is called on to measure himself against Donald Trump, an equally pragmatic man  who (at least it seems to me)  is perhaps more helpful than others in dealing with the issue of a new division of the liquid world in favor of both America and Russia. But really Central Asia will be “transformed into an American protectorate?” I doubt it.  China’s relationship with Russia will be “inevitable, ” Alexandros Petersen & Katinka Barysch  said:

 

“From an energy perspective, the relationship between Russia and China should be straightforward. Russia is the world’s biggest hydrocarbon producer. China one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing energy market […] A long-term strategic energy relationship between the two looks not only commercially viable but almost inevitable.”

 

In Alexandros Petersen & Katinka Barysch’s magnificent work, the problems of the triangular relations among China, Russia and United States are posed as follows:

 

“In the immediate post-Cold War period China took a passive approach to Central Asia, staying on the sidelines of the Russia-American struggle for influence in the region. More recently, however, with economic and energy considerations rising into to the fore and China more self-confident in its foreign policy, this has changed dramatically.” (Barysch & Petersen: 2, 39, 32,  42).

 

Richard Morningstar, the Obama’s administration special envoy stressed that  “The US position was and still is that Russia should not have a monopoly on pipelines.”. Furthermore, “The Chinese used the global financial crisis to further expand their influence in Central Asia, offering cash-strapped local regimes large scale loans for economic stimulus and energy investments.”

 

Thus, both Russia and America will divide equally Central Asia among them for making their business, but China will play gooseberry. So, the Russia and the United States need to have a cordial   relationship for effectively opposing the Chinese presence in Central Asia.  But the drama is open to different interpretations and implications.

 

Notes

 

Banjoist, Alain de. The End of the Present World: The Post-American Century and Beyond Conference. Speech. London, October 12, 2013.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 44 Letters From the Liquid Modern World. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011.

Sempa, Francis P. «The Geopolitical Realism of Nicholas Spykman .» Spykman, Nicholas J. America’s Strategy in World Politics. Brunswick: Transaction Publisher, 2008.

Barysch, Alexandros & Petersen,  Katinka. Russia, China and the geopolitics of energy in Central Asia. London: The Centre for European Reform (CER), 2011.

 

 

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