Debate #1: Robert Mercer

December 30, 2001 (my second rebuttal):

Robert, you have only made two posts so far, and already I have observed that:

  1. You continue to use legalese despite being repeatedly asked not to, and pledging to stop.
  2. Your use of legalese actually seems to increase as we continue, and you insist, ever more obstinately, that it's actually a good thing, even though it massacres readability.
  3. Despite your habit of holding your nose in the air and criticizing me for my habit of making snide remarks during debates, you couldn't help but say "brush up on your English" at my failure to read the same things into the Paramount website that you did, which is just a euphemism for "you don't know how to read, idiot" (at least now I know how I should proceed from this point on)
  4. Like a lawyer, you seek not the most reasonable conclusion, but only "what you can twist the wording to get away with" (which explains your fondness for legalese). I suppose you think of the latter as a legitimate and useful skill, given your belief that rhetoric is a good thing.

It's amazing how many words you can write without making any points. Your first post wasn't too long, but then again, it only said two things: Star Trek books are canon, and visuals are not. The first was supported only by vague implications which you read into the the semantics of Paramount's website, and the latter was not supported at all (but you promised you would support it ... eventually). This time, you made some more points (laughable ones, but we'll get to them as we go), and you relied heavily upon a special case of the red herring fallacy: the "nitpick", ie- a criticism of an argument which does not address the point of that argument. It is an evasion tactic. Keep that in mind as we continue, because unlike your students who must humour you, or your little Trekkie friends who will follow you like the pied piper into the sea because you're playing their tune, I will ruthlessly point out such dishonest tactics when I see them.

Yes, that is my goal, my concern here is not the actual canonicity (or non-canonicity) of particular aspects of a particular representation, but the larger question of authority and how it relates to the representation and the accuracy of the representation, and how the representation should be employed and analyzed in interpretation and argumentation. The particular example given was just that, an example? but you appear to be taking it both differently and following a direction from it that I did not intend. Perhaps I did not put enough thought into my choice of example, but it was something ready to hand.

Plain English translation: "I wanted to debate general issues, and I only mentioned Star Trek as an example."

A little more honesty, please. If you seriously expect anyone to believe that you were not trying to hijack an ostensibly general discussion with a Star Trek issue, then perhaps you could explain why, out of the two points you made in your first post, you only provided support for one of them (the Star Trek one). And if anyone swallows that, then perhaps you can go on to explain why you had to wrangle over that issue at length again in this post, while still deferring justification of your other point, and while still, amazingly enough (and with a perfectly straight face) protesting that the other point is the one that you really wanted to discuss all along! And all this despite the fact that I deliberately gave you an escape route, by stating that the whole subject was not relevant anyway! You could have simply said "whoops- let's forget that irrelevant subject" but no, as I expected, you won't let this debate continue without it because it is not just an "example".

Why must a "subjective" conclusion necessarily be irrational or an "objective" conclusion necessarily rational? It is possible to be subjective and rational and/or objective and irrational. I didn't really want to get into the whole objective/subjective question here, but it appears as though I am going to have to at least touch upon it.

Classic example of a red-herring nitpick; you act as though you were forced to make this nitpick, and maybe that fools some people. However, anyone with a logical mind will see that this really has no bearing on the larger point I was making about whether a versus debate requires the scientific method, but your eyes lit up and you said "Aha! I can nail him on improper semantics!" Do your students fall for this transparent chicanery? Each time you do this, you create a whole new time-wasting sub-thread, because if I simply let it pass by virtue of being a red herring (which logical viewers would understand but your little Trekkie lemming friends would not), it would become an unanswered attack on my credibility in their eyes, which is precisely what you are trying to achieve.

Irrational simply means:

(1) Lacking the power to reason; (2) contrary to reason; senseless; unreasonable; absurd (there are two additional applications, one applying to the meter of rhyme and the other regarding rational/irrational numbers, neither of which particularly applies or is, I believe, what you intend here).

The qualities of subjectivity/objectivity and rationality/irrationality are not necessarily linked, popular misconceptions notwithstanding. Your choice of terminology here is particularly loaded. In other words, regardless of its basis (subjective/objective) garbage in still equals garbage out?. a fact readily borne out by computer programming/operation.

Wow, you know how to use a dictionary (golf clap). While you're at it, perhaps you could look up "strawman". Nowhere did I claim that those concepts were linked. I mentioned them in the same breath, but that hardly amounts to a claim that they are invariably attached.

A chain of argumentation/analysis, correctly followed and supported will be rational, regardless of whether the basis of the argument is objective or subjective.

Irrelevant. An "objective and rational conclusion" requires both objectivity and logic. One or the other doesn't cut it, and anything below that standard is useless for the purpose of generating a physical model. Should I have spelled this out more carefully by saying "simultaneously objective and rational as opposed to any of the other possible combinations and permutations of objectivity, subjectivity, rationality, and irrationality" instead? Perhaps I could have filled it out in triplicate too, and mailed a copy to your lawyer (after having it notarized, of course).

Your curious definition of objectivity

Furthermore, let us take a look, for a moment at the term objective:

Objective: (1) Having to do with a known or perceived object as distinguished from something existing only in the mind of the subject, or person thinking; (2) being or regarded as being independent of the mind; real; actual; (3) determined by and emphasizing the features and characteristics of the object, or thing dealt with, rather than the thoughts, feelings, etc. of the artist, writer, or speaker; (4) without bias or prejudice; detached; impersonal; (5) being the aim or goal; plus a few others that are non-applicable.

Since we are, in essence, dealing with things that do not actually exist outside of the mind (be it the mind of the creator/writer or of the apprehending audience), the claim of objectivity in SF analysis is somewhat facetious.

Nonsense. A piece of film exists outside of the filmmaker's mind and that of the audience. It can be measured, objectively analyzed, etc. If he croaks, the film continues to exist. Fifty people can measure the same piece of film and generate the same measurement. Literature, on the other hand, defies direct, objective measurement. The act of reading it involves interpretation, and interpretation of literature is not objective (although some of its practitioners like to pretend that it is, usually because they have little or no experience with the kind of standards for genuine objectivity that exist in science).

Therein lies your problem: it is possible to generate an objective analysis of sci-fi (provided we suspend disbelief), but not using your preferred method, which is to ignore anything which is directly measurable and concentrate only on literary interpretations. Yet you know that few, if any, will take an admittedly subjective argument over an objective one, so you would like to promote a lie that all methods are subjective, thus making yours as good as any other (ie- the "nobody's perfect" defense). Would your Trekkie friends be pleased to hear you admit that you choose subjectivity over objectivity? Not likely. So you have little choice but to spread the lie (since that's apparently easier than simply admitting you use the subjective literary method because it's the only method you know).

(indeed, having looked at/participated in a large number of "versus" debates, one thing that is manifestly clear, to me, is that most of the arguments established and exercised are not objective in any meaningful sense of the term). The object involved is the particular text (depiction). There are no other objects, except in the focus of mediated apprehension (that is, reading (interpretation)-whether it be a reading of a film, the reading of a text, etc.). You may, if desired, create the illusion of objectivity (as you attempt to do through what you label as your "objective' approach), but your approach devalues and essentially ignores the actual qualities of the actual object (the depiction) to focus on the imaginary (subjective) construct.

Plain English translation: "no vs debates are objective, the object is the depiction, you're devaluing the object by not treating it the way I do".

Wrong, right, and wrong respectively. It is completely possible to have an objective sci-fi analysis (although obviously not from you), the object is indeed the depiction, and your description of my method is a laughable strawman. At no point does my approach "devalue" the depiction; in fact, my approach is completely centred around it while your approach ignores almost all of it, paring it down from a full-blown movie to a skeletal set of plot points (your minimalist definition of "events") and discarding everything else. Does the phrase "pot calling the kettle black" mean anything to you?

Do you need that first bit spelled out for you, about how you can have an objective sci-fi analysis? Here's how it works: a picture (or a frame from a movie) is an object. It can be measured, and if the measurements are carried out in a competent fashion, they will not significantly vary depending on the observer, thus making them objective. Working from the premise that the picture was taken of real events (ie- "suspension of disbelief"), we can use those measurements to draw logical conclusions about those events. Given enough pictures, particularly with known time offsets (time also being a measurable quantity), we can even generate useful physical models of the events being seen. The question of whether the events are "real" is irrelevant; as long as we state the premise that we assume the pictures to be genuine (ie- "suspension of disbelief"), the resulting analysis and conclusion are both objective and rational. Too bad for you.

Have you ever heard that old saying, "a picture tells a thousand words"? It's actually an understatement, but you would prefer the thousand words, wouldn't you? That way, you'll have "wiggle room" to argue endlessly over semantics and stalemate everything, instead of being trapped by measurements which contradict your preferred outcomes.

We are supposedly analyzing a fictional universe. The key word here is fictional-it is neither real/actual nor does it exist independently of the mind-regardless of what similarities may exist between it and actual reality. If you remove the creator or the audience, it ceases to exist (or, indeed, never exists in the first place). Intentionality (of both the creator and the reader) and the formistic conventions play a central role in the actual object and are manifest in the fictional universe that is created through interpretation of the representation? this is inescapable due to the necessarily subjective and rhetorical nature of the interpretive act.

Plain English translation: "you can't analyze a fictional universe objectively because it is subjective, blah blah blah, lots of words"

Strawman. We are not analyzing a fictional universe. We are analyzing depictions of a fictional universe in order to derive logical, objective conclusions about that fictional universe. I analyze pictures. Those pictures are objects. They exist. They are "real" in every sense of the word. They can be measured, folded, spindled, mutilated, scanned, etc. The logical conclusions we derive from our analysis of those pictures will help us derive a model for the fictional universe depicted therein. It is completely irrelevant whether that universe is "real".

Moreover, you seem to be of the opinion that something which is fictional is subjective by definition, because you have shrunken the definition of objectivity. Something need not be physically "real" to be objective, nor need it "exist independently of the mind". There are other ways in which something can meet the requirements for objectivity (eg- avoiding pollution from subjective influences). Consider the equation 2+2=4; all of the terms are mere concepts, with no physical existence independent of the mind. According to your deliberately narrowed definition of objectivity, 2+2=4 is not objective! It amazes me that you can rush off and quote dictionary definitions like an overzealous schoolboy, only to shamelessly ignore inconvenient parts of those definitions in a public debate. Are you really a teacher? What on Earth do you teach? Debating trickery? A debate should not be about showing who has the most clever tricks for making the wrong seem right. It would ideally be about helping people see which side is correct.

And finally, you claim that the "interpretive act" is "necessarily subjective and rhetorical". That is nonsense. Your methods of interpretation are obviously subjective and rhetorical, but it is an outright lie to accuse others of sharing your weakness. Scientific methods of interpreting data are neither subjective or rhetorical, and you would know that if you understood science, as opposed to uncomprehendingly spouting its terminology to impress your little Trekkie friends.

They are analyzing a fictional construct (representation) that is non-objective in nature by objective criteria, which may or may not be appropriately applied. And they are actually engaged in an exercise that is not objective (though it may be rational), though they might either believe that it is objective or wish others to believe that it is objective. Indeed the question of the applicability/appropriateness of such a methodology must necessarily require some previous analysis/interpretation of the actual object (the representation) by criteria and methods that are decidedly not scientific in the sense that you apply the term. In other words, before you can apply your particular methodology/criteria, certain questions simply must be addressed. Two major issues in this regard are the authority of the text and the accuracy of the text. These are qualities of the actual object that have to be determined before any further steps can be taken. If the representation has no authority, why analyze it? If the representation is not particularly accurate, what good is the data derived from it? The accuracy and authority of the text are qualities that are, in essence, outside the scope of a scientific approach.

Plain English translation: "It is unscientific to analyze film, science cannot determine the accuracy and authority of a depiction"

Where do you get off boldly stating that it is unscientific to analyze pictures? Your appalling ignorance of the scientific method grows more obvious with each post (did you know that the field of astronomy is based entirely on the study of two-dimensional pictures?). As for your claim that we need something other than science so that we can determine the "accuracy and authority" of a depiction, you are wrong again. "Authority" is not a rational basis for conclusions so it is irrelevant, and the accuracy of a depiction is determined by its type. Photography is highly accurate, hence its widespread use in real sciences. Literature is not very accurate, hence its inadmissibility as direct evidence in science. That may bother you, but your preference for subjective methods and inaccurate sources is your problem, not mine.

"Whether they are willing to admit it or not, they are trying to synthesize a self-consistent physical model of a fictional universe."

And the story-telling conventions, human nature, and Hollywood clichés inform the entirety of the object that they are basing this self-consistent model upon (the representation)-requiring them to ignore or rationalize away various and sundry aspects of the representation in order to make it appear as though they are being objective/scientific. You cannot be objective or scientific if there is no actual object. You are simply being subjective and dressing it up in the clothes of science. Indeed, decisions are made in the interpretive process that are rooted in storytelling conventions (i.e ignoring the presence of theme music; ignoring background noises in the supposed vacuum of space, variations in treatment of evidence because of its nature or its putative source (generally applied to dialog). Additionally, self-consistency does not rely upon the scientific or quasi-scientific nature of the interpretive methodology.

Plain English translation: "Story-telling conventions, human nature, and Hollywood clichés permeate sci-fi, so you can't escape them and they pollute your interpretations, blah blah blah."

As usual, one can see how ridiculous your line of reasoning is by simply applying it to real life. Let's see ... how about some WW2-era war footage? It was usually shot silent, so SFX and music are almost invariably added to it (storytelling conventions). It shows the bad guys (Nazis) losing despite superior technology, which (as we all know) is a Hollywood cliché (just try to compare a Sherman to a King Tiger, for chrissakes!). Worse yet, some of it shows the bad guys committing horrible atrocities, which (as we all know) is an even bigger Hollywood cliché. And they were led by an insane megalomaniac, one of the biggest Hollywood clichés in existence. And worst of all, every event in the war was influenced by (gasp!) human nature. It's a good thing you came along; for all these years, people have been objectively analyzing WW2-era footage even though you just clearly showed that they were completely wrong to do so!

PS. (in your language) the sentence at the ending of the previous paragraph was constructed in such a manner as to be consistent with a delivery in the style of dialogue commonly known as "sarcasm", for the purposes of this particular sub-section of our ongoing discussion of cross-textual comparisons and the warrants of authority as they apply to the inter-textual hierarchical relationships of fictional realities as defined in sub-section [1.1] of your message dated December 23, 2001 and subsequently revised as of December 24, 2001.

Oh yeah, I can feel the precision and clarity just burning through now! Ain't legalese grand? Soooo much more efficient!

Your attempt to fake knowledge of the scientific method

But what is a self-consistent physical model of a fictional universe? Guess what: it is a science!

No, it's a model or description. Science, in its strictest and most accurate sense, is a method (in common usage it is much more loosely applied, but the vast majority of people suffer from misapprehensions of what constitutes science and the scientific method.. the fact that there is something called political science shows that the term is often used for its cachet and rhetorical effect). Come now, you know better than that. Science is a methodology used to derive a (predictive) description of an objective reality. The cornerstones of the validity of the method are its predictive nature and its repeatability (via experiment and investigative observation). The Standard Model of physics is just that, a model or description, based upon the best available evidence (and guesses to fill in the gaps). It is not science. Science is used to derive, rationalize, and justify the appropriateness/accuracy of the model.

All right, Bob! Way to demonstrate your awe-inspiring nitpick skills! OK, I should have recognized that you were the sort of dishonest debater who would seize upon every conceivable opportunity to nitpick the precise wording of his opponent's argument, rather than dealing with its point. It should have read: "it is the goal of science, not "it is a science". And now for the $64,000 question: that nitpick affected the point I was making ... how? You do realize that the red herring fallacy is wrong, don't you?

All of these little fallacious rhetoric tricks of yours may impress your little followers, but they don't cut you any slack here. I have better things to do than pick apart the precise wording of your arguments, which is one of the reasons I paraphrase them into plain English. You, on the other hand, are obviously looking for something ... anything to criticize. I also noticed another of your little habits, carried over from your amusingly amateurish critique of my Frequency discussion: the bloat of superfluous detail. Why stop at a nitpick when you can use it as an opportunity to puff up your chest and impress your little Trekkie friends with how much you think you know about something (the scientific method in this case)?

Thus a rigorous application of the scientific method to the representation would (indeed must) necessarily deal with the actual object and the qualities inherent in it-as this is the only actual object to be studied. Unfortunately, science is not particularly adept at dealing with the subjective aspects of the object (something of an understatement, I think).

Too bad for you, then, that my method does deal with the actual object (the film), and you think people talk mostly about subjective issues because you have a ridiculously narrowed definition of objectivity.

"if you care to debate whether the scientific method works in real life, then feel free; your suffering would be legendary"

It doesn't work in all aspects of real life, particularly not in the humanities. Once you introduce humanity into the mix (other than at the most basic physical level-i.e. dealing with the objective nature of humanity rather than the subjective nature), science sort of goes by the boards. And nothing, ultimately, is more a product of the subjective nature of humanity than textual interpretation.

"Plain English translation: science doesn't apply to human behaviour".

Nonsense. Yet again, you proudly reveal your ignorance of scientific methods and principles to the world. Science never "goes by the boards". There are, in fact, a host of sciences dealing specifically with human behaviour (can you really be so ignorant as to forget that?), such as neurology, anthropology, psychiatry, etc. There have been some incompetent and/or irresponsible practitioners of those sciences in the past (particularly the psychiatrists), but that does not invalidate the concept. They cannot match the predictive reliability of physics (for example), but that is, in itself, predicted by chaos theory, which postulates that complexity reduces predictability. Science remains the most effective method of analysis, its predictive accuracy being limited in this case simply by the inherent unpredictability of the subject. This in no way eliminates the applicability of scientific methods. The scientific method has been applied to analysis of human behaviour since long before either of us were born, Robert. But thanks for taking me up on that little dare: I was wondering whether you'd be reckless enough to publicly embarrass yourself by faking a working knowledge of science (and the best is yet to come).

Your consideration of purpose is too limited and too simplistic. Additional aspects of purpose exist beyond determining the science of fictional universes? and you engage in such exercises yourself (i.e the non-physical aspects, such as culture, politics, political organization, military considerations, etc). A majority of people (at least, of those that I have encountered) aren't interested in the science of the fictional universes, they are interested in who will kick whose butt (to put it bluntly). They use the "science" and the rhetorics derived from the application of a quasi-scientific method simply as a tool to additional ends.

Plain English translation: "Your own discussions of culture, politics etc. aren't scientific. Nobody in the vs debates cares about science."

Red herring and blatant lie, respectively. When I spoke of the kind of "versus" discussions in which terms like "watts", "joules", and "gravitons" are being thrown around, I was obviously not talking about discussions of politics or culture, either on my site or anyone else's. When people want to know who will kick whose butt, and the discussion involves the question of firepower or shields as it so often does, people find that they must express their ideas in scientific terms. Whether they choose to use scientific methods to arrive at those terms is determined by their level of hypocrisy. You assume that everyone else shares yours.

As for your recurring belief that things such as "military considerations" fall outside of the purview of science, that is simply untrue, and reveals more of your scientific ignorance. If I look at a picture of a thousand warships and conclude that, based on the picture, this navy must have at least a thousand warships, that is a perfectly valid application of the scientific method. Science describes first, predicts second (but far be it from me to explain to you, Mr. Literature, what science really is).

And while you may be able to arrive at some simulacra of a science for a particular fictional universe, it is not necessarily complete or particularly accurate (particularly since it cannot be tested and validated by experimentation, one of the key requirements of the scientific method). Nor is it necessarily predictive, given the plastic nature of fictional realities (the plot in episode 2 may require something that is, in effect, impossible by the standards of the model derived from all the other episodes). In other words, you end up with, at best, an essentially unverifiable hypothesis and a vague, perhaps predictive, perhaps not, description of the physical qualities of the fictional universe at the macroscopic level.

Plain English translation: "the so-called science you generate for a fictional universe is not scientific because it's not perfect, it's not very accurate, it can't be tested through experiment, and its predictions might be wrong. At best, the result is unverifiable, not necessarily predictive, and macroscopic."

I see you're still not done embarrassing yourself with your public display of scientific ignorance. Do you really think you're going to fool anybody into thinking you know science simply by mumbling its terminology? Yes, you can say "hypothesis", and yes, you can say "macroscopic", but you are making it increasingly clear that you haven't got a clue how and why the scientific method works at the basic, conceptual level. How many reasons can you cite for disqualifying the scientific method in sci-fi which would also disqualify it in real life?

You seem to fancy yourself on expert in your own field, but you don't seem to realize that you wandered out of it some time ago. And now, by presuming to define conditions under which a science cannot be considered a science, you just threw a fastball directly into my wheelhouse. Don't bother to duck, because I'm going to blast this one so far out of the park that NASA will have trouble tracking it. Lemme see, where should I start cataloguing the grievous errors in these ridiculous conditions of yours?

  1. "it is not necessarily complete". Huh? So what if the science of a fictional universe is not complete? The science of the real universe is not complete! By your bizarre logic, this means we shouldn't use the scientific method to study the real universe!
  2. "... or particularly accurate". Just keep digging that grave for yourself, Gothy. I would hand you a shovel, but you're doing fine all by yourself. Accuracy is a goal of any science. However, the fact that a particular science is not very accurate does not disqualify it as a science, nor does it mean that the scientific method should not be employed! Science is a lot like a computerized equation solver; even if it starts off-base, it will continually refine its accuracy. In the not-so-distant past, virtually all of our sciences were not very accurate. To this day, certain types of radiometric dating estimates have a known margin of error of millions of years (not a huge margin of error given the sheer ages involved, but the creationists seize upon it anyway) By your logic, this meant that we should have stopped using the scientific method!
  3. "experimentation, one of the key requirements of the scientific method". Once again, you demonstrate your impressive junior high school-level understanding of the scientific method. I'll let you in on a little secret shared by you, me, and millions of other people in the world: science does not necessarily require experimentation. We would prefer to have experiments, and they certainly enhance the standing of a theory if they can be performed, but they are not a prerequisite. Strictly observational sciences such as astronomy tend to involve subjects for which direct experimentation is impossible. By your bizarre definition of the scientific method, astronomers are not scientists! Or perhaps it's not your definition at all; creationists have been selling this idea for decades, saying that since we have not experimentally verified the full cycle of abiogenesis, it is unscientific. Are you a creationist now? Or do you merely share their laughable ignorance of the scientific method?
  4. "not is it necessarily predictive [what if prediction fails]" Have you ever considered a career in comedy? My sides are hurting, this is so damned funny. Do you have any idea how many scientific predictions have gone wrong in real life? Science is not perfect, nor does it claim to be! It makes mistakes. New observations appear which confound our expectations. So what do we do? We modify our theories to account for the new observations! We might even make new theories! But we do not discard the scientific method! By your logic, the discovery of a particle with both wave and particle properties should have brought down the entire scientific enterprise. After all, it defied prediction, and it was impossible according to the model generated from previous data. Oh no ... we've kept up this whole "science" thing a century too long ... <dripping with sarcasm>
  5. "... unverifiable hypothesis". Sorry, but there is nothing about an unverifiable (by which I assume you mean "not verifiable through experiment", given the first sentence) hypothesis that disqualifies it from science. If it is logical, consistent with the rest of science (ie- it doesn't "break" something), and provides a "best fit" for our observations, then it is perfectly good science regardless of whether it is verifiable through other means. Check your misuse of terminology: it is unfalsifiable theories and unverifiable observations which are looked upon harshly. Strictly observational sciences such as astronomy get a rough ride under your homegrown scheme of determining scientific validity, don't they?
  6. "... perhaps predictive, perhaps not ..." Silly little layperson. You seem to think it's some damning criticism to say it's a "description" without guaranteed predictive accuracy? Sorry, but real science is a descriptive model without guaranteed predictive accuracy! Did you realize that science describes first, predicts second? Obviously not.
  7. "... at the macroscopic level". So what? Since when does a science have to include the microscopic in order to be valid? Was Newtonian physics not a science, by virtue of being based entirely on observations of macroscopic objects? It's amazing how many real-life sciences you would carelessly impugn in your relentless drive to get rid of science in sci-fi.

Usually, you use a lot of sentences to say very few things. This time, you managed to cram seven giant, glaring mistakes into just three sentences. I applaud this unusual economy on your part.

Neither is the suspension of disbelief necessarily required-indeed, to fully and capably analyze the material, the suspension of disbelief is an obstacle. In addition, the suspension of disbelief for "scientific" purposes is partial and arbitrary, anyway (otherwise, again, if you fully suspended disbelief, you must embrace and explain the overt formistic and clichéd elements that exist in the representaton).

Plain English translation: "Suspension of disbelief is bad. Besides, if you suspend disbelief, you must explain clichés".

Wow. If we suspend disbelief, we're forced to explain clichés? Gee, I never thought of that before! You've truly introduced the entire sci-fi community to a whole new concept! <dripping with sarcasm> Buy a clue, Robert: what do you think I'm doing when I write up rational explanations for why the good guys beat the big bad Empire in Star Wars?

As for your bizarre contention that suspension of disbelief gets in the way, that's quite obviously Goth-ese for "I reserve the right to ignore DS9 fleet battles where the ships wallowed about at a few kilometres range", and nobody's buying it. You are saying it is possible to analyze the material without suspending disbelief. Of course it is, but only if your goal is to pollute your conclusions with rampant subjectivity (and you have made it quite clear that this is indeed the case).

Canonicity and Authority

Ordover does not work for Paramount, nor is he a direct representative thereof.

Actually, he co-wrote "Starship Down", so not only has he worked for Paramount, but he is also intimately familiar with the rules which apply to writers. He has seen the writers' bible, he has been made aware of the boundaries set on writing freedom, and he knows what is and isn't canon. But hey, why let a little thing like the truth get in the way of your obsession with forcing books into the Star Trek canon?

Any official statement by Paramount regarding the franchise, as the legal owner of the franchise must necessarily overrule a statement by someone else who is not an owner. This is a simple legal fact. The creators/owners have the ultimate legal right to dictate these issues.

How many times can you lie to support your little fantasy? Now it's a "legal fact?" You're a pretty funny guy. The question of what does and doesn't "really" happen in a fictional universe has nothing whatsoever to do with law. Copyright law allows the holder to stop others from making money at their expense through market substitution, dilution of brand name, etc. It does not, however, have anything to do with the notion of what constitutes "reality" in a fictional universe.

The copyright holder makes statements to the fans on what is and isn't canon not because canonicity is a legal concept, and not because they give a damn, but because the fans keep bugging them for an answer! There are no laws whatsoever involved in the definition of what is and isn't "canon" in Star Trek, Star Wars, or any other sci-fi series. Fans demand a statement simply in the hopes that it will mesh with their expectations and they can use it as support, but there is no legal weight whatsoever behind it. Indeed, there are some fans who would argue that all Star Trek since Gene Roddenberry's death is bogus! When you said that the creator/owner had the right to decide what's legal, I agreed on the old-fashioned notion of "moral rights", when I should have realized that you were thinking like a lawyer. You honestly seem to think that Paramount's upper management or legal department gives two shits about canonicity. And why? Because you want to pretend that the line on the Star Trek website is some kind of carefully worded formal statement from Paramount, rather than the mere semantic whimsy of the webmaster.

Indeed, most fans agree that it is the creator, more than the copyright holder, who can legitimately say what is and isn't canon, since it is the creator who ultimately generates the fictional universe in question. That's why people are more interested in the statements of Ron Moore, Gene Roddenberry, or George Lucas than the statements of some marketing website guy.

Actually, they do and have done so, simply by listing what is and what is not canon and what aspects of a representation are canonical and what aspects are not. Paramount has certainly and explicitly done so (otherwise, you would be including data from TAS and the novels in your analyses). If they state that only the background information on characters X, Y and Z is canonical in a particular representation (something well within their legal rights), then they have necessarily constrained your use and analysis of the material-unless you are willing to disregard them and provide warrant for doing so. This is not necessarily true in each and every case, but the possibility exists and its role must be accounted for.

Plain English translation: "Paramount backs me up on the no-visuals thing".

Horse crap. I defy you to find one statement from anyone associated with the show in which they explicitly state that visuals are not canon.

Why does it necessarily take place under a suspension of disbelief agreement (and who agreed to it, I don't recall signing any agreement)? And, to appearances, the willing suspension of disbelief tends to be very selective and context sensitive, depending upon the people making the analysis/interpretation and what they intend to use that analysis/interpretation for. I can achieve the same ends without the complexity and facetiousness of the suspension of disbelief. It is not necessary to believe that something is real to analyze it (philosophy of religion, among other things, provides many examples of this). I am trying to look at the philosophical and formistic issues surrounding SF analysis-and suspension of disbelief is a formistic and arbitrary condition (which, perhaps, needs further examination-but I am running short on time and long on space already, perhaps later).

So now that you've abandoned any hope of showing that the Federation could survive the Empire even at even strength, and you've abandoned objectivity, you're going to abandon suspension of disbelief too? Don't tell me you reject suspension of disbelief. I saw your little article at and you wrapped yourself tightly in the flag of suspension of disbelief! The really funny thing was that you used suspension of disbelief in exactly the same way you're using canon now; as a convenient vehicle upon which to attach your preferred subjective method of analysis (I guess it doesn't matter whose coattails you can sneak it in on, eh?) The only problem is that you know I won't fall for your misrepresentation of suspension of disbelief, so now you're backing away and looking for loopholes (you didn't explicitly agree to it during negotiations).

By the way, there's a fascinating little bit at the end of that article, when you derisively comment that few people are willing to invest "the time and effort required to objectively analyze and interpret the fictional representations of realities". It's funny how you can trumpet the importance of objective methods and suspending disbelief, and then turn around and deny both as soon as you run into someone who sees through your little deceptions.

"This is also consistent with the religious origins of the word "canon". The Church tells you which texts are canon, but the definition of canon does not carry with it any preferences for methods of interpreting those texts (the right-wing fundamentalists would beg to differ, but I don't have time to debate their idiocy right now). Millions of Christians around the world have various opinions on how we should interpret "canon", without disagreeing on what it is. Some appeal to its authority, while others have a complete frontal lobe."

In other words, canonicity does have implications regarding how they should be interpreted, which you are willing to disregard (even though others are not, from your example). Because they disagree with you, they are, of course, idiots and can be safely disregarded.

No one but you would read that paragraph that way. That paragraph was written to insult people who stupidly think that the definition of canon carries with it a prescription for how we should interpret it!

And I'm amazed that you had the temerity to defend fundamentalists, ie- people who appeal to scriptural authority rather than reading it with a brain. They are idiots! And no, they cannot be safely disregarded because they're dangerous idiots! The only damned thing worse than an idiot is an idiot with lobbying power. And that's why I have a whole website devoted to criticizing their stupidity. They appeal to authority, and the appeal to authority is the methodology of stupidity and irrationality. Thank you for confirming that you don't see what's wrong with it.

I don't know if you're a creationist, but if not, then you are a prime intellectual candidate for conversion to their belief system. After all, you share their misconceptions about what is and isn't genuine science (as seen previously). You agree with them that canonicity implicitly carries with certain requirements for how we should analyze the material. All you need now is to marry your cousin and move to Louisiana.

Such forms of evidence represent scientifically useful observation, historical source, and hearsay respectively, and that is the way any scientist will treat them.

In other words, they do have differing levels of both authority and accuracy, contrary to what you are arguing. The very labels that you apply to them indicate value judgments based upon preconceptions of authority and accuracy (and any interpreter, upon hearing or making these value judgments will act in accordance with them, which inhibits the objective nature of the investigation). Any time you introduce comparative value judgments, you have immediately removed objectivity, because value is subjective, not objective. Authority and accuracy are implicit and necessary qualities that exist in any interpretive schema, be it a subjective or objective schema.

Plain English translation: "Differing types of evidence = differing levels of authority and wholesale surrender to subjectivity, so your method is subjective. Everybody needs my method."

For the umpteenth time, authority is anathema to science. How many times do I have to explain this to you before you get it? Would you like a pop-up picture book, perhaps? There is no hierarchy of authority. A piece of evidence can either be objectively analyzed, or it can't. Pictures can be objectively analyzed. Literature cannot. This has nothing to do with your continual harping on "authority"; instead, it is inherent to the nature of the evidence itself. You call it a "value judgement" and say that all such judgements are "subjective", thus further cementing your outright refusal to accept the validity of science. Remember: real scientists make these "value judgements" (as you call them) on the usefulness of differing forms of evidence all the time. By your logic, real science is therefore not objective!

Yet again, we can see how ridiculous your line of reasoning is by simply applying it to the real world. Yet again, you have concocted a flimsy reason for devaluing science not only in sci-fi, but also in real life (an inadvertent consequence which never seems to occur to you before you hit the "send" button).

This further serves to point out the necessity for applications of methodologies beyond a strict scientific methodology, in that, before the suspension of disbelief (if such should necessarily occur), it is necessary to determine the boundaries within which we should and can suspend disbelief-and to provide warrant for those boundaries.

Plain English translation: "we can't use science because it doesn't include my precious idea of authority"

Too bad. Determination of truth based on authority is not logical.

Ethos and authority very much enter into it, as they enter into any aspect of interpretation or methodology (the selection of a particular methodology, in itself, is often an appeal to the ethos/authority of the particular method). The entire concept of authority permeates the discussions regarding the validity of particular interpretations and particular representations when dealing with fictional realities?

Plain English translation: "You're wrong; everybody appeals to authority."

Wrong again. Your propensity for embarrassing yourself is utterly amazing, and not with imperfect wording (the least important kind of mistake, and the one which you do carefully avoid), but with glaring lapses of knowledge and logic. Don't you even realize that the appeal to an authority is a logical fallacy? It is, in fact, the name of a logical fallacy!

You just claimed that any method of analysis involves authority, and that the act of selecting a method is often an appeal to that method's authority. I can only say that it's truly sad that people like you think you understand science, or that you would lump it in with your own irrational methods. I have complained for many years that Star Trek is all too often a psychological enabler for ignorant dilletantes to memorize some terminology and give themselves false confidence in their scientific comprehension, and you seem bound and determined to prove me right.

When we "select" the scientific method, it is not because we appeal to its authority (a common creationist strawman criticism that you echo). It is because, since we lack omniscience, the scientific method is the best logical way of achieving the goal of science: a descriptive model of the observable universe. There is no concept of authority whatsoever; no piece of scientific evidence has any more authority than any other. However, there are lots of forms of evidence which do not qualify as scientific evidence at all (eg- observations which are fraudulent or not independently verifiable, or literature), hence your obvious confusion. You seem to think this means that science does have what you would call a "hierarchy of authority", but it does not. A hierarcy of authority means that one piece of evidence overrides another, but that is simply not the case. Science must find a way to rationalize all legitimate evidence simultaneously.

Electromagnetic radiation is an excellent example. One experiment showed that a photon is a particle. Another experiment showed that light is a wave. Using the mentality of authority, we should have tried to determine which experiment was more authorative, hence which theory won. Luckily, we do not use your mentality of authority. Science must rationalize all legitimate evidence simultaneously, with no regard whatsoever for literary/theological notions of "authority". So what did they do? They made the only logical choice: it is both a particle and a wave. Did this confound expectations? Yes. Did it feel wrong? Absolutely. But it was the correct decision, because scientists do not resort to your subjective and irrational methods.

if this is not so, then why are numerous representations of various fictional realities ignored, deprecated or more highly valued than others? If it's all evidence (since you argue that authority plays no role), why is it that not all the evidence is used?

Plain English translation: "if you have no hierarchy of authority, why do you put visuals over dialogue?"

It's not because they are more authoritative. It's because they are observation, and dialogue is third-hand hearsay. One is scientifically useful, the other is not. One is objective, the other is not. Fifty people who know what they're doing can measure something in the picture and get roughly the same result. Dialogue, on the other hand, does not come anywhere close to meeting this standard. It cannot be "measured". As you and I have demonstrated, two people will rarely see precisely eye to eye on what a particular line of text or dialogue means (even if the differences are smaller than our vast gulf, they will still exist). The act of reading text or listening to dialogue is inherently interpretive, and it carries with it a host of subjective polluting influences. You recognize this failing of dialogue, but you refuse to accept that other forms of evidence do not share this weakness.

You like to act as though I am throwing things out of canon by not treating dialogue the same way I treat visuals. That is not true. I accept that dialogue occurs in canon sci-fi shows and movies, just as I accept that dialogue occurs in real life. And I treat it exactly the way it is treated in real life: not as scientific evidence! One need not pretend that something was not said in order to devalue it as scientific evidence; one need only recognize what the standard for scientific evidence is!

The Star Trek canon issue that you won't let die (but which you insist that you only mentioned in passing, as an "example")

Ah, back for more, eh? What you don't realize is that I went easy on you last time. Very well, I will collect your long-winded blather on this issue into one segment, and then rip it apart at the end.

Then you, perhaps, need to brush up on your English if you think that a statement that particular books are not canon means that all books are not canon- if all books were not canon, it would have been much simpler and clearer to so state in the first paragraph. In the first paragraph we have a statement that events within the live action episodes and movies are canon. We have a statement that material in the fictional novels, TAS and comics are not canon. The statements do not rule out canonicity for any materials not explicitly listed, but do tell us some material that is canon. The TMs do not fall under the classification of fictional novels (indeed, they are later referred to as reference guides), TAS, or comics; therefore, they are not covered by the second statement in the first paragraph. [Plain English translation: the Paramount marketing website guy doesn't write in legalese, so he left loopholes big enough to drive a Mack truck through. And since I'm one of the 0.1% of the population who actually admires legalistic tomfoolery, I'm putting the pedal to the metal]

In the third paragraph we have an additional statement of what is not canon (earlier versions of TMs) that is in a syntactical contrast to the second paragraph about the TNG TM, DS9 TM, and blueprints. The contrast is both one of linguistic positioning and of authorial qualification (production personnel contrasted to non-production personnel). The obvious conclusion (for those with sufficient understanding of the language and its forms) is that the TMs/materials listed in the second paragraph are, indeed canonical-as a minimum this is strongly implied. Their canonicity is not ruled out by any other official Paramount statement that I am aware of (please point out an official Paramount statement that says this, if you know of one). [Plain English translation: same as previous paragraph]


Mr. Ordover's intentions/motivations are not germane, nor is his statement, as it is not an official statement of Paramount policy regarding canon in the Trek franchise. Mr Ordover is not an employee (so far as I am aware) of Paramount, nor is Pocket Books a subdivision of Paramount. His statement is also post-dated by the statements given above, still to be found on the official Star Trek website (run, IIRC, by Paramount Digital Entertainment, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures). So far as I am aware, those statements are the current definitive statements regarding canonicity within the franchise [Plain English translation: Mr. Ordover has no legal standing to make statements on canonicity]


And, again, the material listed on the website post-dates those statements (by someone no longer in a position to make such statements, although he was, at the time). Mr. Moore left the employ of Paramount some time ago. If his statements are in effect, then the information on the website needs to be adjusted. As it has not been adjusted to reflect his statements and is currently posted, it currently represents the official Paramount policy regarding canonicity in the franchise. It is the only currently valid statement regarding such [Plain English translation: the website's loopholes are newer than Ron Moore's explicit statements, so the loopholes win]

You are still labouring under several ridiculous assumptions:

  1. You think canonicity is a legal issue. It is not.
  2. You think Paramount has made "official statements". They have not. Canonicity is not a legal issue, and Paramount's legal staff and upper management don't give a shit about it as long as the money keeps rolling in. There have been no press releases, no formal statements. The statement on the marketing website was undoubtedly paraphrased by the website guy from a conversation with somebody associated with the production of the show. Nowhere on that site does it claim that the FAQ answers represent legally binding "official statements" from Paramount.
  3. You think a semantic loophole from a marketing website guy can be used to trump explicit statements from both the executive producer of the show and the editor of the books. Unfortunately for you, only your most blinkered followers are likely to side with you on this one.

You're also misrepresenting quotes by deliberately taking them out of context and rearranging them out of order. On the original site, they looked like this:

Where can I get blueprints and technical information on all the ships from the various Star Trek shows?

Pocket Books have published several excellent reference guides, but due to the overwhelming nature of the Star Trek oeuvre, it's nearly impossible to create technical reference for every ship seen on the show. However, they have gone a long way to help those of you who are technically minded by publishing the following books: "Star Trek: The Next Generation - U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D Blueprints" (Rick Sternbach), "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual" (Herman Zimmerman, Rick Sternbach and Doug Drexler) and the "Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual" (Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda).

There have been earlier versions of technical manuals, including "Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise" (Shane Johnson) and the "Star Trek Starfleet Technical Manual" (Franz Joseph), but these books, although fun to read, were not written by production personnel and are not considered 'canon.'

... (14 questions later)

How do the Star Trek novels and comic books fit into the Star Trek universe?

As a rule of thumb, the events that take place within the live action episodes and movies are canon, or official Star Trek facts. Story lines, characters, events, stardates, etc. that take place within the fictional novels, the Animated Adventures, and the various comic lines are not canon.

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule: the Jeri Taylor penned novels "Mosaic" and "Pathways." Many of the events in these two novels feature background details of the main Star Trek: Voyager characters. (Note: There are a few details from an episode of the Animated Adventures that have entered into the Star Trek canon. The episode "Yesteryear," written by D.C. Fontana, features some biographical background on Spock.)

I refer readers to your first post, where they can see how you rearranged them. You actually broke up the answer to the second question and used the pieces to book-end the answer to the first question, thus making it seem as if all four paragraphs answered the same question! And now, you've continued that misrepresentation by describing the semantics of how your re-ordered paragraphs fit together, even though they are not supposed to fit together! You made reference to the "first paragraph", the "third paragraph", and the "second paragraph" in your order, quietly glossing over the fact that the "second" and "third" paragraphs were actually taken from the answer to a completely different question!

But most damning of all, you have no answer to the Ron Moore quote except for that pathetic "but the website is newer" objection. I nullified that in my previous post by pointing out that a vague implication (ie- the loophole in the Star Trek website's semantics) cannot possibly overturn an explicit statement, particularly not from one who is far more intimately involved with the show than the marketing website author. Even most Trekkies aren't going to follow you on this one, Robert. Stop wasting everyone's time and give it up.

Staggering toward the finish line

[Re: legalese] "Scientific papers have greater precision than any literary or legal work, and they don't use this kind of language."

Because they are not concerned with nuances of language and are not aimed at people concerned with said nuances. Don't complain about the presentation, address the content. Language is very important, particularly in literary and legal work and it is the realm (in those contexts) in which precision is key.

It's not about "precision"; it's about covering your ass, and preventing loopholes that dishonest people might try to take advantage of. You're ignoring the point by simply restating your groundless claim about "precision", despite an example of papers with superior precision that don't use legalese. You're right; scientific papers are not concerned with "nuances of language". Unlike the kind of subjective material you're used to, they are concerned with important matters, such as logic and objectivity.

[Defending choice not to support claims about visuals being inferior] I intended to discuss it in my subsequent post (as I note at the end of that particular post), so your objection here is out of context, as I note:


So the rest of what you had to say here is jumping the gun, somewhat. I have spent most of my time dealing with your reply here and am running out of time/energy-so I will save it for my next post.

If you did not intend to justify it until later, you should not have made conclusions based upon it in your first post. And why do you act surprised that I contested your first post, thus forcing you to deal with my reply? Did you expect me to simply sit there and quietly acquiesce to your arguments, as if I were one of your students? Unlike them, I don't have to humour you. I can't believe your arrogance in expecting that you could step through a pre-planned argument section by section in each post, as if I wouldn't have anything to say in response to each point.

By the way, if you're running out of time and energy, perhaps you could cut down on the nitpicks, repetitions, and long-winded legalese which are causing this thing to balloon out of proportion, and start using plain English to talk about real points. If you have any to make, that is. I would love to slice out most of your repetitive post before answering, but quite frankly, I know that your little Trekkie lemming friends would take any such omission as a victory. After all, most of their complaints against my site fall into the "style over substance" fallacy anyway (eg- "the whole tone of Wong's site is so biased that his conclusions are basically worthless"), so it's hardly a leap of faith to conclude that they wouldn't know what's wrong with

An "event" is merely an "occurrence", and the definition does not in any way exclude the appearance of that occurrence!

Nor does it necessarily include appearance, depending upon the context. In objective reality, appearance and event are not easily (or usually separate), but the same is not necessarily true of fictional settings.

Plain English translation: "I'm nitpicking your rebuttal rather than defending my original point."

Trying to distract from the original subject, eh? Let's review: you had originally claimed that the word "events" represented an official instruction from Paramount <cough cough> to disregard visuals, and for that to be true, you must show that "events" specifically excludes visuals (you must also show that the statement in question was a formal corporate statement and therefore meant to be interpreted in such a legalistic fashion, but I digress). It is not enough to say that it need not include them; you must show that it specifically excludes them (and then you must deal with the difficulties of cleanly separating the visuals from the event, which is almost impossible, hence your refusal to suspend disbelief).

Moreover, you've been playing games since this started. Is this a general sci-fi argument, or not? You insist that it is, and that you only used Star Trek "as an example", but by focusing a semantic microscope on the Paramount marketing website's use of the word "events" and then using that as part of your general argument against the use of visuals in all sci-fi analysis, you are trying to define the entirety of sci-fi analysis by the use of one word on the Star Trek website! Gee, you must think you're pretty clever, don't you?

And, again, where did I mention or require the suspension of disbelief, anywhere, in my discussion? And do you not reserve the right to pick and chose which portions of the representation you will accept, based upon value judgments and other criteria? If you say that you don't, then you are lying. Criteria and warrants for what aspects of events are and are not utilized exist (and should exist) both in objective reality and in fictional realities. These decisions are arbitrary in that they are the result of convention and of particular methodologies. They have warrant within a particular convention or methodology, but not necessarily outside of it.

Plain English translation: "I never agreed to suspend disbelief. You are picking and choosing which parts of canon you accept, by treating visuals as observations and dialogue as hearsay. You say you don't, so you're a liar. Your methods for analyzing evidence are arbitrary."

How often can you repeat yourself? Let's go over these laughable points one at a time.

  1. Correct: you did not explicitly agree to suspension of disbelief. I know for a fact that you've publicly trumpeted the importance of suspension of disbelief elsewhere, but you've got your precious loophole. However, you did agree to enter into a serious discussion of "versus" debating, and the entire notion of asking "what would really happen" without suspension of disbelief is, as I state elsewhere, absolutely preposterous. That's the question serious "versus" debates purport to resolve, but you would like to replace it with "what do you think a writer would do?" I think it's widely agreed that the answers to the two questions are different, but you leap into debates based on the first question with answers to the second, and that's wrong.
  2. I am not picking and choosing which parts of canon I accept. I accept it all, and I interpret it the same way I would in real life. In real life, a visual observation is scientific evidence, and a piece of literature is not. By your logic, real scientist "reserve the right to pick and choose which portions of reality they will accept"!
  3. After all of your chicanery, it's pretty damned funny that you accuse me of being a liar. I have explained this to you repeatedly, and you still don't get it, do you? You still confuse realistic analysis of dialogue with outright rejection. If I didn't "accept" canon dialogue, that would mean that (for example), I would deny the existence of Riker's famous line from "The Outrageous Okuda" rather than showing that it's clearly wrong. I don't do that. I never deny that someone said something (unlike the way you deny that what we saw was what we saw); if they said it, they said it. But I do insist on interpreting it the same way I would if I heard it in real life and then saw something which clearly contradicted it. I grow tired of repeating myself on this point; you like to remind people that you're a teacher, but it would appear that you have become far too accustomed to lecturing, and not nearly as accustomed to listening.
  4. Your evaluation of my method (which was simply copied from the real-life scientific method) as "arbitrary" is yet another nail in your own coffin. How many times can you attack science while still turning around with a perfectly straight face, running into sci-fi newsgroups, and spouting figures about terawatts and megahertz and joules and gravitons in order to make a point?

"For these discussions to occur, the audience agrees to suspend disbelief."

Within a particular convention, perhaps. As you are enjoining me to, I am attempting to take a larger scale perspective on the philosophical and methodological issues here. Again, it is not actually required for analysis to occur (indeed, most literary and rhetorical analysis stands outside of the suspension of disbelief-and since I am approaching this from the perspective of rhetorical/literary analysis, working outside of that context of suspension of disbelief is appropriate.

Plain English translation: "I refuse to suspend disbelief (repeating yourself)"

See point #1 above.

Then perhaps we actually have nothing to say to each other, as my approach does not necessarily involve the suspension of disbelief. We certainly appear to be mis-communicating on a large scale here.

You didn't explicitly agree to suspend disbelief, but you did agree to discuss serious "versus" debates. Moreover, you agree that a sci-fi discussion should be based on canon information (hell, you've been wrapping yourself in the flag of canonicity since this started). Well, guess what: backstage production methods and storytelling conventions are not canon information! Instead, they represent your attempt to pollute canon with external information. The fact that they contribute to the final appearance of the canon films is no more relevant than the contribution of Patrick Stewart's genetic lineage to Captain Picard's bald head.

Do you realize that under your weird definition of "canon", it is not canon that Seven of Nine has huge hooters or that Captain Janeway has the sex appeal of spam? Hell, you can't even know what the Enterprise looks like, or what Klingons look like! And take note of the latter example, because Trekkies like you dismissed the difference in appearance between TOS Klingons and TNG Klingons as "special effects" for years, until the infamous DS9 Tribbles episode in which my view (what you see is what you get) was vindicated.

"How is it "arbitrary" to disregard a musical score or sound effects? A piece of WW1 war footage or space shuttle footage often has sound effects and music superimposed on it in real life when it is packaged for public viewing, and we do not summarily declare that it would be "arbitrary" to take its visual evidence at face value."

Because the interpretive context is entirely different between an audience's viewing of newsreel footage (a representation of a actual, objective event, which occurs within a particular interpretive environment) vice a fictional representation approached from a literary/rhetorical perspective (which is a subjective event , being viewed in a different interpretive environment).

Plain English translation: "Sci-fi isn't real, so I don't have to interpret it the same way I would interpret real life (shifting uncomfortably under harsh glare of overhead light)"

Heh heh ... I am really enjoying this. Thanks, Robert, for making this debate more of a romp than I ever expected it to be. So now you reserve the right to interpret sci-fi strictly as unrealistic literature, not as a universe with rational rules. Well, I've got news for you. A quasi-serious "versus" debate is concerned with the question of "what would realistically happen". Do you want to go forth on the newsgroups, or's forums and publicly admit that you don't give a damn what would realistically happen, and that you're more interested in asking what the writers might do? People do post comments about what they think the writers would do, but nobody takes them seriously because they're not meant to be taken seriously. The whole idea of a "realistic" encounter between two fictional universes is utterly meaningless without suspension of disbelief, but you want it both ways: you want to be taken seriously by the "suspension of disbelief" crowd while using the logic of the "here's what I think the writers would do" crowd. Well, you can't have it both ways, Robert. Choose.

"... treat it as we would any other piece of authentic footage in real life. There is nothing "arbitrary" about it."

No, actually, it is arbitrary, as it depends upon what are effectively arbitrary designations of authority and accuracy. These designations are real (or, at least have effective reality), but no less arbitrary for that reality.

Still accustomed to being the teacher, eh? You make your imperious pronouncement, and I'm supposed to scribble it down in my notebook and accept it without question? Sorry, but it doesn't work that way. You can't bluff your way through this, or pretend that expertise in one field magically translates to another. Your insistence that science obeys your discipline's arbitrary conventions of "authority" is flat-out wrong.

[Responding to examples of real-life footage with soundtracks and/or subtitles added] It does not invalidate the footage, but it alters the interpretive context (which is one of my concerns). You have, in essence, altered the representation, with various effects (depending upon what the alteration is and what the context of viewing/interpretation is).

Plain English translation: "but ... but the footage is still altered!"

My God, you actually need someone to explain how those examples work? I had no idea you would need things spelled out to you like this. OK, here goes: the changes in those examples (addition of commentary track to space footage, addition of subtitles to Bin Laden footage) are actually additions which are easily identified as such, not "alterations" in the perjorative sense. They have no effect upon the validity of the visuals themselves. From the standpoint of the scientist, there is no effect whatsoever upon the "interpretive context" because he can simply ignore the irrelevant "noise" and look at the underlying data. This is completely different from mutilating the visuals themselves, or fabricating them in a special effects lab, ie- "faking" them.

Your problem is that you're trapped in your literary mindset and you are utterly incapable of understanding the objective method. You think that the commentary on space footage or the subtitles on the Bin Laden video alter its "interpretive context" because you don't have a clue how scientists interpret! It alters your interpretive context, because your methods are not objective. It does not alter a scientist's interpretive context, because a scientist is looking for different things in that picture than you are.

Again, I think you are misunderstanding/misrepresenting what my position/argument is, because of your fixation on suspension of disbelief. This (suspension) is something that we need to address further if we are to continue. Problems with methodology extend to the base assumption in which that methodology is rooted (which is one of the points that I was intending to make). Within a defined context, the rule of the particular game apply (i.e. agreement as to what constitutes acceptable evidence, whether or not suspension of disbelief is required, and so on)-anything that conforms to the rules of the context is valid. That which does not conform is invalid. My major point is not that a particular method is universally valid (or invalid) as this statement is patently false. What I am trying to point out is that there is not simply one correct way of creating a self-consistent model of a fictional universe (or of utilizing that model in various contexts)-and I am trying to make clear, through this discussion, exactly what lies underneath what most people simply accept (often uncritically) as being the "correct" way to do a particular thing.

Plain English translation: "I refuse to suspend disbelief, you insist on suspending disbelief, so we're not seeing eye to eye and maybe we should take a time out from this debate. Neither approach is inherently superior."

Think you've found an escape route, eh? Sorry, Robert. You're not getting off the hook that easily. Not only have you trumpeted suspension of disbelief in the past (despite finding a loophole to escape its requirements here), but you know perfectly well that when "versus" debaters ask what would "realistically" happen, they must suspend disbelief. As I've said before, the whole idea of asking what is realistic and unrealistic in a clash of imaginary environments is utterly preposterous unless they do so!

I can almost see the sweat beading on your forehead, Robert. Why don't you just make it easy on yourself and give up now? You've made a series of monstrous mistakes in your attempt to explain why science does not apply to sci-fi, thus inadvertently revealing that you share laughable creationist misconceptions about it. And look at how much territory you've already surrendered! Before the debate even started, you were forced to openly concede that the Empire could crush the Federation with or without numerical superiority, despite previously claiming that their "unit to unit" strength was in doubt. Now, after just two posts, you've admitted that your method is subjective rather than objective (what will your little followers think of that?), hence your desperate attempts to pretend that the scientific method is also subjective. You've also coughed up suspension of disbelief, so that your arguments have become inadmissible for any "versus" debate where people are looking for realistic answers. What's left for you to concede, Robert? You're surrendering things so fast, it feels like I'm running out of territory to take! You wouldn't happen to be French, would you?

At this point, I discovered that he wasn't posting the full debate at, as he had promised to do. He was only posting his side of it, not mine (while I have been faithfully posting both sides because I have that quaint, old-fashioned mindset of keeping my word). I was more than a little angry (he made me agree to this condition, and then didn't bother obeying it himself!), so I E-mailed him, barked some profanities at him, and told him that he had damned well better live up to our agreement. Naturally, he lied to me and said he had honestly tried do. Click here to see that exchange.

At this point, he abruptly ended the debate, using some rather predictable excuses, such as "you're mean", or "you should have been more polite when you caught me in a lie", etc. Click here to see him running away from a fight.

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