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A complete set of the Waverley novels, 1876, Edinburgh

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The books were a birthday gift

For my 75th birthday, a friend who now lives near Edinburgh brought me a stunning gift that he had carried in his luggage across the Atlantic. It’s a complete 13-volume set of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, bound in leather, printed in the Old Country in 1876. He bought the books at McNaughtan’s book shop in Edinburgh. There are 26 Waverley novels, two novels per volume.

Sir Walter Scott was once one of the most popular writers writing in English. Today, for whatever reason, very few people read him. I have read ten or eleven of his novels so far, and now that I have a complete set of the Waverley novels I’ll make a years-long project of reading all of them. I’ve written here previously about the novels of Walter Scott, and I don’t want to repeat myself, but you can search for “Walter” (on this blog’s main page) if you’re interested in my older posts.

We need a Walter Scott revival

Sooner or later, it seems inevitable to me that, either in America or in Britain, someone will make a beautiful movie based on a Sir Walter Scott novel, and that will start a revival. Then, instead of my being a Walter Scott boor, people might start asking me for recommendations on what they might read. For the record, based on what I’ve read so far, I’d suggest The Heart of Mid-Lothian, or The Antiquary. I do not recommend Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe is not even set in Scotland, and its story of chivalry and Robin Hood will already be familiar to most people. It’s Scott’s stories about life in Old Scotland that I find most appealing — Highlands to Edinburgh, peasants to princes, castles to Highland huts, violent coastal storms to spring in the mountains, and all manner of speech and dialogue.

Yes, reading Scott can be hard work, even compared with other 19th Century writers. The structure of Scott’s novels also can be a deterrent. Typically, in the first third (or so), it appears that nothing is ever going to happen, as Scott introduces his characters and settings and sets up what writers call exposition, covering all the details and background that the reader needs to know to follow the story. In the last third of the book, things will definitely happen, and every element that was introduced early in the novel will play its part.

Where have these books been since 1876?

I was very curious to know whether any information about the previous owners of these books had survived. I emailed an inquiry to McNaughtan’s, and I received this reply:

Thank you for your enquiry. I am glad that you like the books and I can see even from your photo that they have found a home with plenty of friends around.

This set came to us from the estate of a collector of leather bindings based in the north of Scotland. They were likely previously acquired within either the Scottish book trade or from a London bookseller, beyond which the trail goes cold, I’m afraid. The most probable earlier history for the set is that they were originally bought by inhabitants of a large-ish house and remained there through several generations before entering the secondhand book trade.

When I started scanning the illustrations, two clues were tucked inside the books (see below). Inside volume 9 were fragments of a Dundee newspaper dated February 15, 1948. In the back of volume 13 was an invoice. The books had been purchased at an auction in Edinburgh on November 5, 1994. A best guess, then, is that the original owners of the books lived in Dundee or thereabouts. The books probably were in the hands of the original owners until well after 1948. Then, probably in an estate sale in which the contents of a “large-ish house” were sold, the books were bought by a collector in 1994. Then that collector’s books were sold to McNaughtan’s much more recently.

I will never ask my friend how much he paid for this set of books, but some Googling reveals that, in 2000, Christie’s sold what appears to be the same set for £1,645.

The posthumous editions

My guess is that few universities other than the University of Edinburgh do Scott scholarship anymore. In Googling, I came across a thesis for a master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh, written in 2008 by Ruth M. McAdams. The title is “The Posthumous British Editions of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels, 1832-1871, and the Evolution of his Literary Legacy.” The abstract reads:

This thesis argues for the importance of the posthumous editions of Sir Walter Scott‟s Waverley Novels in shaping his literary reputation between 1832 and 1871. In the series of editions published by Robert Cadell and later A. & C. Black between Scott’s death and the centenary of his birth, changes were made to the paratextual presentation of the novels, particularly through illustrations and notes. By tracing these changes, I will show how Scott’s literary legacy evolves over this crucial period. Furthermore, by demonstrating that these posthumous editions reached a far wider audience than ever before, I will suggest that these editions, rather than any published during Scott’s lifetime, most powerfully shaped his status as a cultural icon in the nineteenth century. These editions are, thus, still important to the way that Sir Walter Scott’s place in the literary canon is understood.

There is even a reference in this paper to the Nimmo editions that I now have.

Why post all this?

More than half of the hits on this blog come from Google. Over the past 16 years, I’ve written on many subjects. Some of those subjects are not exactly in the mainstream, subjects on which one has to dig a little to find information. For example, a good many people have come here from Google to read my post from 2022, “We’re overdue for a Sir Walter Scott revival.” I suppose I’ve joined the rarefied ranks (most of them probably are in Edinburgh) of Scott evangelists longing for a Sir Walter Scott revival.

Also, the engravings in my Nimmo editions are beautiful and beautifully printed. They are, of course, in the public domain, and in addition to making them available here I’ll also post the scans at Wikimedia Commons.

Who was Walter P. Nimmo?

I was able to find very little information on Walter P. Nimmo. There’s not even a Wikipedia article. He was, however, a writer as well as a publisher.

Buying old editions

Good luck trying to find newly printed editions of Walter Scott’s novels! You can buy the 30-volume set from the Edinburgh University Press for $2,445. You’d be able to buy Ivanhoe easily enough on Amazon. But I highly recommend finding, reading, and preserving the old editions. There is a good market on eBay, both in the U.S. and in the U.K. If you buy a single copy, that copy probably came from a set which was broken up for sale. It’s sad that so many sets have been broken, but on eBay you’ll also find sets that are complete or nearly complete. These old editions, unless they’re rare and collectible, are not expensive.

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Try my French verb conjugator

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I made a valiant effort to learn French. For three semesters, I went to night classes at the University of California (Berkeley) extension in San Francisco. With that foundation, I started reading. I never claim to speak French, and my aural comprehension is terrible. But I did learn to read French quite well, and I would have to say that the effort I put into it was well rewarded, because I was able to read some of the classics of 19th Century French literature — Les Misérables, Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, Notre-Dame de Paris (the English title is The Hunchback of Notre Dame), La Dame aux Camélias, and some of the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud.

Verbs, of course, are a major problem. Back then, no online verb conjugators existed, so I made my own. As a learning exercise, and working with books on the conjugations of French verbs, I typed in the conjugations of 1,446 French verbs. I imported all those verbs into a MySQL database and made a web interface for queries. Fortunately, I preserved the data over the years, though it existed only on old archive disks. Not too long ago I retrieved the data, put it into MySQL again, and got the query interface running again (written in php), just to preserve it. There are many conjugators (not to mention translators) on the web today, so my efforts are redundant. But I figured that it would be a shame to let all that work be lost.

The verb conjugator lives on the site that I use as a hot backup for this blog. I synchronize the backup only once a month, so, other than the verb conjugator, you should ignore the backup site. The verb conjugator is here:

Verb conjugator: 1,446 French verbs

Reading (at least for most of us) is much easier than speaking. If we need a verb form while speaking, then the correct form of the verb needs to be on the tips of our tongues. But when we encounter verb forms in reading, all we need to do is recognize from the verbs’ ending what form of the verb we’ve encountered — whether the verb is singular, plural, indicative, conditional, subjunctive, etc. And of course many forms of verbs are very rarely used. In English, how often do you say, “I shall have been there for three hours before you arrive”?

But is it a crisis?

Students chilling each other’s speech. AI image generated by Dall-E 3.

Today at the Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff has a piece with the headline “The latest victims of the free-speech crisis.” If there are free-speech issues on campus, and no doubt there are, is that really a crisis? Or is someone trying to distract us from the real crisis of free speech — the banning of books, laws threatening librarians with jail sentences, efforts to reverse New York Times v. Sullivan, and legislating — legislating! — what teachers can and cannot say. A recent article in Foreign Policy reports that these Republicans actions to limit speech are spreading abroad.

In right-wing (and centrist) propaganda, one of the most common ways of intentional deception is to create false equivalencies to slam the left. An excellent example is claiming that the property damage caused by the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020 was somehow just as bad, and just as serious a threat, as the violent right-wing attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. At the Capitol, people died in a violent attempt to stop the constitutional functions of government, subvert the will of American voters, and install a neofascist permanently in the White House.

Yes, BLM protesters lit a fire in the entryway of a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, on July 20, 2021. That was at 1:30 a.m. No one was hurt, and federal agents quickly extinguished the fire. They hurt their cause with such behavior, but BLM is not a threat to this country, unless it’s a threat to draw attention to racism, discrimination, racial inequality, and racially motivated violence against Black people.

I mention the false equivalency of the BLM and Capitol cases because I myself encountered it during the Thanksgiving holidays. I was told that “people like me” use January 6 to distract from the BLM protests. I of course replied that it’s the other way around. The implication was that the BLM protests were worse than January 6. I’m sure that many people think that, and, if they do, can we think of any reason for it other than racism?

Some of the contributors to Greg Lukianoff’s organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, are among the most right-wing and billionaire-run organizations in the country — the Bradley Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Charles Koch Institute. If Lukianoff’s efforts to protect free speech have ever attempted to hold conservatives accountable for their attacks on “woke” speech, I’m not aware of it.

Lukianoff, in other words, is a right-wing propagandist, and his foundation is a right-wing propaganda outfit. Lukianoff, and many others, use the red herring of free speech on campus to draw attention away from the organized and well-funded attacks on democracy from the right, attacks that use the coercive power of government whenever possible, as in Florida, Texas, and Tennessee. If Greg Lukianoff was really concerned about free speech instead of producing the propaganda for which he is paid, then he’d be writing crisis alerts about his billionaire contributors, the Republican party, and the corporatization of American universities.

A few lonely voices have tried to point out how right-wing propaganda is attempting to gaslight us on the matter of free speech. For example, “Remember This Article? It Was Conservative Propaganda, and a Lot of Us Fell for It.”

A more nuanced view from an academic, Wendy Brown, was published in the New York Times: “Why Angry Critics of Woke College Kids are Missing the Point.”

From the interview with Wendy Brown:

“We need to appreciate that young left activist outrage about a burning planet and grotesque inequality and murderous racial violence and gendered abuses of power is accompanied by disgust with the systems and the rules of engagement that have brought us here. Young left activists are pulling the emergency brake because it feels as if there’s no time for debate and compromise and incrementalism; because many see conventional norms and practices as having brought us to the brink and kept us stupid and inert….

“My point here is that if we just focus on this generation’s political style — and we have to remember youth style always aggravates the elders — we ignore their rage at the world they’ve inherited, and their desperation for a more livable and just one, and their critique of our complacency.”

I’m with the kids. The kids, after all, are the ones with no money to corrupt them, unlike Greg Lukianoff, his billionaires, and his friends in the think tanks and media.


European universities accept €260 million in fossil fuel money

Two recently published books

Tolkien’s letters

Just last week the new edition of Tolkien’s letters was released. There was a previous edition of Tolkien’s letters (1981, a book that I have had for years), but the new edition adds about 150 new letters, bringing the total number of letters to 500.

In many ways, I find the letters of notable figures just as interesting as biographies — Oscar Wilde, the Brontës, or the Freud-Jung letters. My to-be-read stack is pretty high at this point, but I’m eager to get to this volume.


A couple of weeks ago, a strange new book on UFO’s was published. I haven’t yet read it, but apparently it takes UFOs very seriously. Ken made me aware of it. Ross Douthat mentioned it in his New York Times newsletter (to which Ken subscribes) and included a link to an interview with the author: “UFOs and Aliens Are (Probably) Not What You Think: An Interview with Diana Walsh Pasulka.” (For the record, neither of us is conservative enough to follow The European Conservative, but Ross Douthat certainly is.)

Ken has almost finished the book and is intrigued. I will write more about the book after it comes up in my stack of reading.

Ken is here

Ken is here for a week. He spoke at High Point University on Monday, and he’ll be here not only for a proper American Thanksgiving (he now lives near Edinburgh) as well as — dare I mention it — my 75th birthday, a few days after Thanksgiving.

Ken’s last book was This Land Is Our Land: How We Lost the Right to Roam and How to Take it Back, in 2018. I’m very excited about a new book proposal he’s working on and that he plans to have ready for his agents in a month or so. It’s such a great idea that I’m sure he’ll get a book contract, and, if so, of course I’ll write more about that later.

Meanwhile we’re caught up in a social whirlwind, because everybody wants to see Ken while he’s here.

This was the second time that Ken has spoken at High Point University.

Ken does battle against the woods, which are always trying to get into the yard.

A minor repair on a deserving book

The injured book

A few days ago, I mentioned here that I am very enthusiastic about a five-part BBC series from 2012, Parade’s End. (The series can be streamed on HBO Max.) The series is visually beautiful, perfectly cast, and brilliantly written, with some of the best dialogue I’ve ever encountered. I don’t yet know to what degree the perfect dialogue should be attributed to Tom Stoppard, who adapted the novels and wrote the screenplay, or to the author of the novels, Ford Madox Ford, who published the novels between 1924 and 1928. I had not heard of Ford Madox Ford, but I was determined to explore the novels. First editions of these novels are rare, but I found a 1961 revival edition on eBay. This edition contains all four novels in a single volume, at a hefty 838 pages. My guess is that even this 1961 edition is not common.

When the book arrived, I was sad to see that it had been injured. The front end paper was broken at the hinge, exposing the innards of the binding. No doubt librarians have a standard method of repairing such injuries, but I had to make up my own solution. That was to cut a strip of strong paper and glue it in with rubber cement to close up the rip in the end paper. That worked great. Books with lots of pages are particularly vulnerable to this kind of damage. I can’t help but wonder what happened to the book. Some previous owner clearly understood the book’s historical value, because inserted under the back cover was a printout of an article about Ford Madox Ford from the September 17, 1950, issue of the New York Times Book Review.

Ford Madox Ford

The 1950 article from the New York Times Book Review can be read here but requires a subscription to the New York Times. The article is “The Story of Ford Madox Ford: In Parade’s End a Master Novelist Caught the Essence of His Generation.” The article was written by Caroline Gordon, who I now see represents some literary history that I need to explore, including a connection to my native state of North Carolina. Here is the article’s first paragraph:

In 1938 Ford Madox Ford made a talk before a class of girls who were studying “the novel” under my tutelage. It was in April. In North Carolina. April in North Carolina is like July in less-favored climates. Ford was then in his early sixties and already suffering from the heart disease that killed him; he seemed to feel the heat even more than we had feared that he would. My husband and I debated as to whether it would be safe to let the old man make the talk he was bent on making. When we reached the classroom the next morning and I saw that his veined, rubicund face had gone ashen from the effort of climbing the stairs I wished that I had not accepted his offer to speak. He sat down at one end of a long table, his chair pushed well back in order to accommodate his great paunch, his legs spread wide to support his great weight.


It is easy to see why Ford’s work was not popular in his own day, but it is hard to see why it has been neglected in our own, for he would seem, in these times, to have a special claim on our attention. He is a superb historical novelist, seeming as much at home in a medieval castle or in Tudor England as in Tietjen’s twentieth-century railway carriage.

I am not yet certain what Caroline Gordon’s connection to North Carolina was, but I suspect it was the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I am hoping that I will like Parade’s End and that Ford’s novels — as long as I can find copies of them — will be as rich a mine of literary history as I have found in the also-neglected historical novels of Sir Walter Scott.

⬆︎ The end paper was torn from one end to the other, exposing the book’s spine to stress and the risk of more damage.

⬆︎ The white strip of paper covers the tear and makes the end paper strong again.

⬆︎ Cutting the paper

⬆︎ I used a 100 percent cotton paper

⬆︎ Ready to be glued in place

⬆︎ Rubber cement is amazing stuff!

We have a serious media problem

This past Sunday (Nov. 5, 2023) the New York Times started hyping an utterly screwball poll saying that Trump was leading Biden by an average of four points in six swing states. Right-wing subscribers to the Times swooped into the comments section to gloat. Times pundits doubled down on their usual snide and superior lecturing of Democrats while repeating and amplifying the usual Republican fictions.

Three days later, reality struck in the form of an actual real-world election. In the real world of elections, as opposed to the imaginary world that the media herd have bought into, Democrats won, bigtime, in multiple states, while MAGA Republicans got their you-know-whats handed to them.

I have no idea why political polling has gone haywire. Is it the “weighting” that pollsters apply? I have a hunch, though it’s untestable. When a pollster calls, more than 85 percent of the people who get the calls refuse to answer because of what they see on caller ID. My guess is that while most people roll their eyes and ignore the call, MAGA types are much more motivated to answer, because a poll gives them a way to register their rage and demoralization as their world falls apart. The hope of revenge is pretty much all they have left.

What’s frustrating is that there is no way for rational people to discipline the media for their malpractice. The New York Times thinks it knows better than everyone else, and nothing short of a major scandal (such as a reporter nailed for making stuff up) penetrates the Times’ unlimited faith in its own infallibility.

What we can do as rational people is to always keep in mind how Republican propagandists, starting in 1996 with the birth of Fox News, figured out how to use the principles of journalism to destroy journalism. For years, newspapers as a matter of principle refused to print the word “lie,” because that word wasn’t “objective,” even when reporting on Republican lies that journalists knew perfectly well were lies. That coincided with the rise of the internet and the ability to count clicks. Lies are designed to be provocative and thus get lots of clicks. Good government is boring to most people, which is why the media mostly ignore President Biden’s accomplishments. Whereas lies about Biden are never boring and thus get repeated and amplified by the mainstream media.

The New York Times poll that they hyped on Nov. 5 got lots of clicks. But the poll got the current political mindset of American voters exactly backwards, as the election on Nov. 7 showed. What’s worse is that the New York Times will learn nothing from this very public display of their own ongoing pattern not only of being wrong, but also of the now blind and baked-in pattern of being manipulated by right-wing propagandists. And worse still is that the mainstream media will never admit to having been a megaphone and amplifier to all the lies that led, starting in 1996 with the rise of Fox News, to an attempted right-wing coup against the government of the United States.

And they’re still not telling us that Trump is doomed, becaused they need the clicks.


The Biden campaign has sent letters to major media outlets scolding them for their distorted coverage of polls:

Biden campaign sends memo to media outlets asserting disparity in polling coverage

All the Light We Cannot See

This Netflix series is just barely over the threshold of watchability. The characters are sweet, but cloying, often to the point of being irritating. The dialogue was some of the worst I’ve encountered in a long time. Most of the scenes are about 30 percent too long. It’s one of those stories that tries to manipulate us into liking it, usually by being sentimental.

The novel All the Light We Cannot See was published in 2014. It won a Pulitzer Prize.

How, I kept asking myself, does mediocre material like this win a Pulitzer Prize? I found my answer in the Wikipedia article. The novel is written in the present tense. This is a proven technique that the very worst of writers figure out: If you develop some sort of quirky and irritating style of writing, then many people including critics will think it’s good writing. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall was published in 2009. I strongly suspect that Anthony Doerr was copying Mantel’s gimmick of writing in the present tense, though Doerr is less opaque than Mantel. (I read a sample of Doerr’s novel on Amazon. As for Hilary Mantel, I tried to read Wolf Hall and flung it after about four pages because the writing was so obnoxious.) Writing like Mantel’s accords with bad writers’ notions of what good writing sounds like. After all, that stuff wins prizes, doesn’t it?

Doerr’s dialogue is what I call lazy dialogue. That’s when the characters say the obvious thing for carrying the story forward, as the writer cranks it out. Good writers will see to it that their characters rarely say the obvious thing. Good writers put far more effort into dialogue that not only carries the story forward, but that also amplifies characterization and that adds color to whatever situation the characters are in.

And then there is rhythm. The rhythm of Doerr’s English sounds like a woodpecker.

I know I’m testy on the matter of bad writing that passes itself off as good writing. If it were merely bad, it would be easy enough to ignore it. But that bad writing wins prizes is an insult to the many better writers who remain more obscure, and an injustice to good editors who see bad writing for what it is but for whatever reason have to let authors get away with it. I have a fantasy of having someone like Hilary Mantel or Anthony Doerr trapped beside me on a crowded train so that I can berate them with what they never hear — that they are terrible writers badly in need of a fearless editor, from whom they might learn a great deal.

All that said, All the Light We Cannot See does contain a warm and edifying story, though a story that could have been much better told. And Doerr was very wise in choosing the medieval town of Saint-Malo, in Brittany, as his setting. Saint-Malo is an extremely picturesque walled town that was occupied by the Nazis in World War II and liberated by American forces in 1944 in battles that nearly destroyed the city. Saint-Malo was carefully rebuilt after the war. It’s now a tourist destination. According to Wikipedia, the population is under 50,000, but in tourist season there may be up to 300,000 people in the city. There are ferries to Saint-Malo from Portsmouth and the Channel Islands. Saint-Malo is now on my travel wish list, though I’d want to go in the off season to avoid the crowds.


It’s my practice not to read other people’s reviews before I write here about a book, a movie, or a television series. After I wrote the above this morning, I Googled for some reviews of All the Light We Cannot See. The New Republic savaged the novel as “a sentimental mess” and described Doerr’s writing as “pompous, pretentious, and imprecise.” Yes, yes, and yes.

But there’s worse. During the last fifteen minutes of the Netflix series, I cringed lest Doerr, being a bad writer, ruin the ending. The Netflix ending was just as it should be in the art of storytelling. But I learned from a review of the novel that Netflix changed Doerr’s ending, because Doerr had indeed ruined it. Knowing now that Doerr botched the novel with the kind of ending that amateur writers write, I reduce the grade from a C-minus to a D-minus, with thanks to Netflix for correcting such a crass authorial error.

Parade’s End

Benedict Cumberbatch and Adelaide Clemens

By accident, in the trashy wilderness of HBO Max, I discovered “Parade’s End,” a lavish five-part series from BBC Two that was broadcast in 2012. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Christopher Tietjens, a character in four novels by Ford Madox Ford published between 1924 and 1928. I’ve watched only the first episode so far, but it’s one of the best things I’ve come across in a while. The screenplay was adapted by Tom Stoppard, and, according to Wikipedia, it was often described as “the highbrow Downton Abbey.”

Who was Ford Madox Ford, and why had I never heard of him? Ford was very prolific and published something like 70 books. He knew all the literary luminaries of his time. But he never made any money, and his first editions seem to have ended up in rare book collections. That is, he fell out of print. His style was said to be experimental, modernist, and even impressionist — not at all a style to which I am attracted. But I sampled some of his prose at Google Books, and it seems entirely readable.

By some accounts, Ford was a disagreeable person, and Ernest Hemingway famously hated him, though Ford, as editor of the Transatlantic Review, had published some of Hemingway’s work. In a 2016 article “Why did Ernest Hemingway despise Ford Madox Ford?“, there is a quote from an interview with Ford:

“During a late interview with journalist George Seldes, Ford, on the verge of tears, says of Hemingway: ‘he disowns me now that he has become better known than I am.’ Tears now came to Ford’s eyes… ‘I helped Joseph Conrad, I helped Hemingway. I helped a dozen, a score of writers, and many of them have beaten me. I’m now an old man and I’ll die without making a name like Hemingway.’ In his published description of the encounter, Seldes notes, ‘At this climax Ford began to sob. Then he began to cry.'”

On eBay, I found a 1961 edition of the four novels in a single volume. The titles are Some Do Not …, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up–, and The Last Post.

As I think I’ve said here before, novels that don’t become classics tend to become obscure. Some are rediscovered. Ford lived during a very fertile time for literature — Proust, Hemingway, James Joyce. Fertile or not, it’s not a period that interests me very much. But I’ll have a go at Ford, in the hope that, if a nimrod like Hemingway disliked him, that’s a recommendation.

Send in the ghosts

The Helix Nebula, a highly ordered part of the galaxy 650 light years from earth. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Spitzer Space Telescope.

People, I think, sort roughly into two categories: Those who want to live in a universe in which some magic and an occasional ghost are possible; and those who insist that magic and ghosts can’t possibly exist.

One might think that scientists are always in the second category, but that’s not necessarily so. It might be going too far to say that Erwin Schrödinger believed in pantheism, but he was certainly interested in it. Werner Heisenberg was probably a Platonist. Roger Penrose writes explicitly about a Platonic realm. As for Albert Einstein, it’s difficult to figure out when he was being metaphorical, but he famously found some parts of modern physics “spooky.”

A few days ago, I came across an article at Axios Science, “Scientists propose a ‘missing law’ for evolution in the universe.” The article is about a new paper by a group of scientists and philosophers, “On the roles of function and selection in evolving systems.”

In a universe with no spooks, everything is tending toward disorder (entropy). But in spite of this ever-increasing chaos described by the undisputed second law of thermodynamics, random occurrences over billions of years eventually produced stars, galaxies, and kittens, without any assistance from anything spooky.

The paper proposes that there is a missing law that is a kind of opposite of the law of increasing entropy. This missing law asserts that, when material things combine in such a way that they are new, stable, and do something interesting, then, over time, complexity increases and evolves, even in nonliving systems.

Just for fun, I searched the paper for the word “Platonic” and actually found one occurrence. That’s in the citations, a paper named “The protein folds as Platonic forms: New support for the pre-Darwinian conception of evolution by natural law.”

If there is such a thing as evolution by natural law, then it is so slow that it may not seem very spooky. But think of it this way. If there was a ghostly, Platonic kitten eons before a living material kitten finally evolved, then a missing law like this might provide a way for that ghostly Platonic kitten to conjure itself into material existence.

I’m a very skeptical sort of person. But as science sorts this out, I’m rooting for the ghosts.

Imaginary AI image created by DALL-E-3

AI image generators

AI image created by DALL-E-3. Click here for larger version.

When I started this blog sixteen years ago, one of my rules was that every post would include a photo. That hasn’t always been easy, especially when writing about current events. Free online image generators driven by AI create a whole new range of options. I’ll try not to overuse it!

You can try out Bing’s free image generator here: Bing AI image creator.

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