Thursday, January 24, 2008


This is the immense Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31.

So what's in a name?
We haven't always known that the Andromeda Galaxy was, in fact, a galaxy. But for all of recorded history, that fuzzy patch of light has been sitting within the constellation of Andromeda. Constellations are not just mere patterns of stars or shapes in the sky; they are well defined regions of the sky, just like states and provinces are well defined regions within a country. When we say something is in a constellation, we aren't just referring to the stars that outline a constellation's familiar shape. Instead, we mean everything within that patch of sky. The Andromeda Galaxy, although much more distant that the other objects which make up the constellation of Andromeda, is still within (behind) the stars in that patch of sky. Hence the name Andromeda.

But what about M31, what the heck does that mean?
In the 18th century, the French astronomer Charles Messier was compiling his list of Messier Objects, which he turned into a book, Nebulae and Star Clusters, published in 1774. The first edition of this book did not list all of the Messier Objects - Messier identified 110 deep sky phenomenon, this book listed only 45 of these.

Messier couldn't tell exactly what all of these objects were. Even with the telescopes of the age, we couldn't detect detail anywhere close to what we can today. It turns out that some of these Messier Objects, which Messier might have thought to be nebulae or small star clusters (and indeed, some of them were), were in fact supernova remnants, and immense swirling galaxies, millions of light-years away. The Andromeda Galaxy is one of those objects. In fact, it is the 31st object in Messier's catalogue. Hence the Andromeda Galaxy's other name, M31.

Original picture source here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

9/11 Conspiracy Theorists

Before I became interested in the growing internet grassroots movement of atheists "coming out," what I loved to talk about on-line were the ideas of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

Before I write any more blogs about this, I'd like to clarify my position. I am not a conspiracy theorist. I believe it is reasonable that more in depth studies should be done on 9/11, since the 9/11 commission did such a poor job, and also since we stand much to learn as far as building safety and engineering go regarding the collapse of the three WTC towers. But that's about where my agreement with the Truth Movement stops. After that, it all becomes unreasonable, paranoid, conspiracy nonsense. Red herrings, straw men, arguments ad populum and arguments from ignorance abound...not to mention that a lot of the time, they simply make shit up.

I would like to blog about this in the future, but for now, here is a very interesting blog by an x-truther.

And here is the first part of a radio interview featuring 9/11 conspiracy website founder Richard Gage and demolition expert Ron Craig, made available on by one of my favorite youtubers.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Funniest News Clip Ever

This is perhaps the funniest news clip I've ever seen.

Funny Kid Isnt Sorry About Huge Party - Watch more free videos

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tube Cloud

This is an interesting website for anyone who spends any length of time on youtube.

It helps generate community exposure for members of youtube. Users can use the site to promote other users which they feel have something interesting to say but which don't have many subscribers or who are not appearing very high on any of youtube's honour lists.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dude, where's my ἔρως?

Just a thought I had the other day...

The more I try to find philosophy in small, everyday places and events, the more disappointed I become. But this disappointment is most apparent when I am browsing the internet.

It really shouldn't be this way.

Plato described a form of love which he called Eros (ἔρως). It describes something like 'intellectual beauty'; a passionate, spiritual feeling one gets when one does philosophy. I don't use the word spiritual lightly (it being a very easy word to misuse, I think), but I think there is something to this idea of Eros; of a certain beauty in the love and pursuit of wisdom.

I used to think that there was a little philosophy to be had everywhere. I suppose that I still do think this, in a way. But lately I've been finding that the one place where real philosophy should be happening, on the world wide web, is almost devoid of real philosophy. There is a lot of 'armchair philosophy', which can be very good sometimes, but very bad other times. Even worse, there is pseudophilosophy; philosophy of the angsty teenager who smokes too much pot and doesn't go to school, or philosophy of the Deepak Chopra kind.

I suppose this can't be helped. Unless you have a little formal training in philosophy, or you are an autodidact, you probably don't know much about philosophy. You might not really know what philosophy is or what it's supposed to be for. I suppose this is a consequence of the internet, which is a shame because the internet is precisely the right kind of tool society needs for spreading real science and philosophy. Instead, pseudoscience and pseudophilosophy are rampant. Note: I say that society needs such a tool because I believe strongly that a good understanding of science and philosophy can help all of us live much happier lives.

So when I read these PHP message boards and discussion topics, I'm often disappointed. Granted, these are usually not philosophy message boards, but message boards for other things which just happen to have a philosophy forum - I would think that philosophy messageboards do not have this problem. But still, should I be dissapointed? Should I expect average Joe to have a true passion for the pursuit of of wisdom and scientific truth? I hope I have not been naive in my expectation that average Joe would indeed possess something like Plato's Eros when it came to the pursuit of science or philosophy...but given the abundance of pseudoscience and pseudophilosophy on the internet, as well as what I perceive as a definite lack in this Eros, sometimes I just have to wonder...

...Although, I was once fortunate enough to moderate a philosophy forum which was part of another website, long before I was seriously studying philosophy in school. To my delight, it was an exception to this whole problem; plenty of Eros, and lots of good philosophy (and philosophers!).

I would love to see this problem (I think it is an important problem) go away. To make this so, I think we will need more popularizers of philosophy. I could illustrate this issue to a layperson thusly; "Sir or ma'am, are you able to name 10 living philosophers?" Chances are the answer will be "No."

What we need are more philosophers who make their ideas public and interesting. We need a Carl Sagan of philosophy, that is, someone both good at philosophy and good at presenting the findings of philosophers to the public in order to show their importance. There have been many philosophers like this before, Bertrand Russel and Jean Paul Sartre in the early to mid 20th Century, and others like Robert Solomon in the late 20th Century. Richard Carrier is an excellent example of a contemporary philosopher who does excellent philosophy, and who is very good at communicating it to other non-philosophers.

If we begin to see more people like these, I think we will see a sense of Plato's Eros beginning to grow once again within the public audience.

Friday, January 11, 2008


I've added a feature to my blog which will allow any passers by to give my blog a plug on

So if you read something interesting on my blog, it will be even easier to share it now.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Atheist Blogroll

I've just joined the Atheist Blogroll, a list of over 500 other atheist and agnostic blogs, which has been made possible by Mojoey.

I hereby extend my thanks to Mojoey for providing this service and the addition of my blog to the blogroll :)