Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What in the hell...?

As an instructor of college-level courses I occasionally receive free books. These books come from various textbook manufacturers who are hoping that I will adopt their textbook and make them a passle of money. This makes sense from their perspective since they believe* that academics are lazy and would rather keep a book, even if it sucks, than go to the trouble of learning their way around a new one.

Based on this logic I have received at least a dozen unsolicited books, none of which I have used. My colleagues have, if anything, done better than I. At one point a colleague received a free tin of sugar cookies from a textbook maker with the cover art of the book emblazoned in colored frosting on each delectable** morsel. Mmmmmm! It tastes like professionalism! To be honest, the textbook sales process reminds me of nothing so much as the noble salmon: each book swimming upstream to reach departmental mailboxes, braving the dangers of disinterest and convenient wastebaskets, the living death of office bookshelves, in the hope of perhaps being the lucky book that is adopted. Most who attempt the journey will never see its end, but a lucky few will reproduce massively.

Never, however, in my limited years as an academic have I received anything like this. The following "gem" by Robert J. Williams was recently mailed to one of my colleagues- appearing unsolicited and out of the blue as textbooks are wont to:

This rather unusual offering is described as an effort to re-introduce meaning into a materialistic world*** using new "science." Specifically this new science attempts to resolve certain issues in physics and philosophy using the basic assertion that Einstein was wrong. Or, to allow the author's letter to speak for itself, the three basic arguments are as follows:

1) The mindless universe operates solely on four natural forces and has no need or purpose for any time-keeping system of its own. Therefore, time is not a substance, force or dimension bonded to space, and Einstein and his followers have created math-generated fantasies in which all life is reduced to a brief, insignificant detail.

2) The brain does have a complex system for memorizing and recalling motion and change and that faculty gives the mind a sense of time passing. Therefore, time exists only in the conscious mind.

3) This world and the whole universe are a physical reality shrouded in total and eternal darkness and absolute silence, and what we perceive out there exists only in our minds. Therefore, only intelligent life has the power to create a world of light and color and sound, and give that world a meaning and purpose. [Emphasis original. Seriously. Every bit of it.]

So, in essence, this book is a bizarre fusion of post-modernism, extreme social constructivism and Greg Buell.****

If you're still curious, help yourself to these scans of the longer synopsis letter that accompanied the book (click for larger versions):

(Page 1)

(Page 2)

It even seems that this book is available on and has a glowing review:

Robert J. Williams has written a gem of a book in "Quo Vadis" which even I--a scientific lay person if ever there was one--could understand. Williams blends his talents as a writer with his training as a scientist to produce a compelling argument that Einstein's universally accepted "welding" of time and space needed to "prove" his theory of relativity was sophistry. Recent discoveries in astrophysics tend to bear him out. "Quo Vadis" is written in a simple, elegant style that almost everyone will find compelling. The Dean of the College of Letters and Science at UCLA finally agreed to waive its science requirement so I could graduate 30 years ago. If I enjoyed this book, you will too.

Granted I suspect that a book that purports to be about physics probably shouldn't be evaluated by someone whose science education is thirty years out of date, and sucked to begin with, but I digress. I'm sure Mr. McNichols is entirely serious about his review. That said, the fact that one of his other two Amazon reviews is of another Robert J. Williams masterwork arouses my suspicion a bit. To be blunt, it makes me wonder if McNichols is something of a ringer.***** We should also consider that Mr. McNichols has never given a rating of LESS than five stars on a five-star scale. Then there's the fact that Mr. Williams' book is published by iUniverse, which appears to be a vanity press in the finest traditions of PublishAmerica.******

And then, finally, we come to Mr. Williams' apparent central point: that the answer to the Fermi Paradox is that every time an intelligent species learns enough about the universe to realize that god doesn't exist and they aren't the center of existence... they get depressed and kill themselves. Yes, ladies and gentlemen: the absence of obvious extraterrestrial life is attributable to ennui.


So why do I bring this up? Well, partly so you know what my Thanksgiving "pleasure" reading will be. What can I say? My colleague let her opinion be known and I swooped in thereafter. I will most likely read until I either finish this admittedly slim volume, or become so frustrated with its juvenile prose******* as to hurl it across a room. Partly I mention it so that you can look forward to another edition in my series "The Insanity Parade," which has been on hiatus for some time. Mostly, though, I just want to ask a question:

Has anyone else received this book? I mean, holy shit, how the hell is he picking his recipients?

* Rightly.

** This assumes that by "delectable" I mean, "resembling cardboard in flavor and consistency."

*** As a materialist atheist, I can only observe that I was unaware that we were suffering a deficit of meaning.

**** For the short version, see here.

***** For the non-native English speakers, I mean specifically: "any person or thing that is fraudulent; fake or impostor."

****** A vanity press so unscrupulous that a group of authors once convinced them to publish the so-called "worst book ever written." For those of you with good memories, we have discussed this before.

******* And coming from me, that's saying something.

As a side note: Am I judging a book by its cover? Somewhat, yes, but it would be more accurate to say that I'm judging a book by its introductory letter and first two chapters as well as its cover.


Anonymous Erin said...

Long time no blogging, Drek. So...I just wanted to say I'm really glad your surgery went well! Take care.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006 12:50:00 PM  

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