My review of ‘The Truth’ by Stanisław Lem

The Truth and Other StoriesThe Truth and Other Stories by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished the title short story, The Truth, with tremendous thanks to a Polish friend of mine, who recommended it to me.

Humbly and with embarrassment for my Anglo-centricity, I am forced to admit I would otherwise never have read Lem, nor was I even truly aware of his existence as a writer – despite his having written the book behind the classic sci-fi film Solaris.

Yet The Truth, in its execution and in the concepts it evokes, is as deserving of a place among the great works of 20th Century sci-fi as anything written by Bradbury, Asimov or Clarke.

Nor does the genius of the story repose entirely on the strength of its ideas. The writing is more than competent – some passages touch on the beautiful. But what I really liked was how Lem uses the common narrative device of an unreliable narrator to reflect on a personal level the story’s (eponymous) philosophical question. In this way, he creates a perfect mirror between the metaphysical and the psychosocial.

Of course, in the end, it is the ideas that are the lasting mark of this story’s greatness. Here we come back to humility – in under ten thousand words, Lem manages to construct a plausible hypothesis that challenges our most basic assumptions about the universe and our place in it. That is enough to humble even the most widely read sci-fi enthusiast.

The Truth deserves more than just five stars. It deserves all of them.

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Sanity is just the average of all the different kinds of crazy.

I went out last night with a group of people from work. It was a late summer night, the weather was near-perfect, the bars were crowded and everyone was in a good mood.

But the one prevailing sentiment was this: “we should make the most of it now, before the next lockdown happens and we’re all stuck back in our houses for an indeterminant amount of time, until ‘they’ decide to release us”.

It impaired my enjoyment of the event by more than a little, to witness how this received wisdom has become an average thought, and therefore is a sane point of view.

Because by the standards of my own internal logic, it sound crazy to me that intelligent, educated people would so easily accept that, in a country where 80% of the population has been vaccinated, we are likely to endure further lockdowns over a virus which, even in the absence of any vaccine or therapeutics, has an infection fatality rate known to be below 0.4%, and for which proven treatments are available which can drive that IFR to much lower levels.

I didn’t bother to question the premise very much yesterday evening – it was not the time, and I was not so inclined. But if I had, I know that I would have been dismissed as ‘crazy’ – in today’s language, a ‘CovIdiot’, for questioning the efficacy of lockdowns, for which the evidence is at best scant. For questioning the value of wearing facemasks, for which the evidence is at best scant. For questioning the efficacy of vaccines in a country in which 25% of new PCR positive tests are among the fully vaccinated. For vehemently opposing vaccine passports on the grounds that there is no logical reason for them, much less a clear cost-benefit case.

I am crazy for thinking these things. I am crazy because it is a ‘belief’ to hold that reason defines what is and what is not true. Most of human history contradicts this assertion, so only a crazy person would persist in believing it.

But they are crazy too. They are crazy for believing in the dangerosity of a disease that mainly affects the old and comorbid, and for which valid therapeutics exists. They are crazy for sacrificing all of their basic freedoms to enrich Big Pharma and Big Tech, in the vain hope of avoiding an illness they will in any event almost certainly get, but will do them little actual harm.

The only difference between our brands of crazy is that theirs is much more common.

My review of Philip K. Dick’s “Ubik”

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The promotional quote on the cover my copy of Ubik is from Terry Gilliam. It reminds the would-be reader that “Philip K. Dick got there first.”

I took this as a warning more than a commendation. So often, we find the pioneers of great art lacking, when seen in the rear view mirror of progress. They have been copied, improved upon, and remain only as curiosities, historical artefacts who can better help us appreciate their predecessors.

Such will not be the fate of Philip K. Dick. His work remains timeless and inspiring today, even after all the copycats. One can barely imagine what it must have been like to read him in his heyday, the late 1960s, when even the whiff of such ideas had not yet been breathed into existence.

To be sure, there are weaknesses in the writing of Ubik. The prose is typical of mid-20th Century America, naive and blunt, almost to the point of disrespect for the English language. As if the very conventions of writing were a hindrance to Dick and the ideas that were dear to him. If Dick had had some other means of conveying those ideas – perhaps via the very instruments of telepathy he describes in the story – he would likely have made recourse to them.

But the ideas remain timeless, uncompromising in their complexity. Inspiring stories like The Matrix, but going further and deeper into the metaphysical. Asking questions of the reader, instead of providing the comfortable, Hollywood answers to which we have since grown accustomed.

I take the fact that Dick has yet to be outclassed by those who follow in his wake as a testament to his greatness. His apostles should take it as a challenge.




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On the afternoon of my very last exam

16,000 sheets of note
Of statement, prose and quote
Of problems posed, stuffed down my throat.

1,020 books of text
O’er which I pondered and perplexed
Tired, drained, or just plain vexed.

20 years of 3-season blues
Autumn, winter, springtime views
Through classroom windows the world perused;
An idle gaze on days unused.

399 examinations
Stress, study and consternation.
Flashcards, fish and preparation.

Today I’ve sat 400: my very last exam,
and sit and wonder exactly what I am.
No more a student, and yet not more a man.

And though I’ve been deviser
Of 400 separate answer sets
(All more or less correct)
I am no more the wiser,
Nor any greater is my intellect.

They did not teach me how to love
Nor how to live,
How to rise above my petty self,
Nor how to give –
Nor even how to take;
No, not even doing good, for goodness sake.

I leave this final venue as a novice still,
A freshmen only, at the very bottom of my hill.
There are other tests that yet await.
This I know, will be my fate.

And whatever may, upon my final day of Judgement be,
One thing’s sure: the answers won’t be such
As would earn me a degree.

Happy Holidays, my son! (14th letter)

Dear Daniel,

School is over now, and though the weather isn’t very favourable, it is now time to enjoy the summer. I hope you have great plans. We are headed to the beach soon, and I do so wish you could be coming with us.

Daphne said goodbye to all her friends and is looking forward to the beach (and eating ice creams!). Let’s just hope the weather improves.

I really miss you.

Love,

Dad

Letter on Ivermectin to the COVID Expert Advisory Group of the Irish Health Services Executive

Below the text of a letter sent by email on June 16 to various members of the Irish HSE’s expert group on the decision to not recommend oral ivermectin or any other antiviral treatments in the context of the current COVID situation

Dear members of the COVID-19 EAG,

I read with some alarm the 5 February advice issued by HIQA concerning the use of interventions to prevent the progression of severe COVID-19 in an ambulatory setting.

The document appears to include information which is either not correct, incomplete, or has since lost topicality and therefore is in need of urgent update:


Very low certainty’ evidence was identified from a further two studies (both published as preprints) of two interventions: ivermectin plus doxycycline and sulodexide. Serious concerns were raised with regard to the high risk of bias, small sample sizes and short durations of follow-up within the trials. As such, results from these studies should not be used to inform decision-making with Advice to the National Public Health Emergency Team: Interventions in an ambulatory setting to prevent progression to severe disease in patients with COVID-19 Health Information and Quality Authority Page 11 of 16 respect to effectiveness. Neither study was considered applicable to the Irish healthcare setting due to differences in usual care provided in the trials.” (Pages 10-11)

as well as:


The EAG agreed that there is currently no evidence of benefit associated with the treatments considered within the present review and there is insufficient information on whether any of these may be safely used in the treatment of Advice to the National Public Health Emergency Team: Interventions in an ambulatory setting to prevent progression to severe disease in patients with COVID-19 Health Information and Quality Authority Page 12 of 16 COVID-19. Furthermore, some of the interventions investigated within the trials would not be considered applicable to the Irish setting due to differences in the standard of care and or on the basis of safety concerns.” (page 11-12)

Regarding safety concerns, I am sure you are all well aware of the fact that ivermectin, when administered in appropriate doses, has a safety track-record spanning many decades.

Concerning efficacy, note that the American Journal of Therapeutics has published, in May 2021, a “Review of the Emerging Evidence Demonstrating the Efficacy of Ivermectin in the Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19” (Kory et al, 2021), which concludes that:

Meta-analyses based on 18 randomized controlled treatment trials of ivermectin in COVID-19 have found large, statistically significant reductions in mortality, time to clinical recovery, and time to viral clearance. Furthermore, results from numerous controlled prophylaxis trials report significantly reduced risks of contracting COVID-19 with the regular use of ivermectin. Finally, the many examples of ivermectin distribution campaigns leading to rapid population-wide decreases in morbidity and mortality indicate that an oral agent effective in all phases of COVID-19 has been identified.

This conclusion is echoed by Bryant et al*, still in pre-print, but expected to pass peer review in the coming days.
I would urge you to consider, as a matter of priority, updating your advice, taking into account the wider range of RCTs available, as well as the meta-analysis results published by the AJT. Furthermore, given the fast-moving nature of the pandemic, I would further urge you to be more flexible regarding your position on dismissing non-peer-reviewed evidence on this topic, even if this requires a more ‘hands-on’ approach to evaluating the evidence in question, in order to ensure academic rigour.

At the risk of sounding trite, lives may well depend on it.

Is mise le meas,
Graham Stull

* Bryant, Andrew & Lawrie, Theresa & Dowswell, Therese & Fordham, Edmund & Scott, Mitchell & Hill, Sarah & Tham, Tony. (2021). Ivermectin for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 infection: a systematic review, meta-analysis and trial sequential analysis to inform clinical guidelines. 

The Eight Things We Know About COVID

1) Masks don’t work. Not a single RCT study has shown positive effects of mask mandates in the community setting.

2) Lockdowns don’t work (very well). When factors like demographics and pop density are taken into account, they maybe shaved 10% off the curve. Maybe.

3) The Infection Fatality Rate is low – 0.03% even without using any effective treatments. Anyone under 70 faces a risk from COVID lower than from the flu. For young adults and children the risk is miniscule. Over 70s face higher and risking risks (but that’s true for lots of things).

4) There isn’t much evidence of asymptomatic transmission. So if you’re not sick, you don’t need to change your behaviour at all. There’s really no evidence you could harm others.

5) Vaccines appear to provide protection against symptomatic infection, but they have some short-term negative side effects. Spike proteins escape into the vascular system and can cause blood clots, or concentrate in the ovaries of women. While these cases are rare, their likelihood is higher among younger vaccine recipients. Women face a higher risk of negative side effects than men.

6) Longer-term effects of the (mRNA) vaccines are unknown. They may include fertility effects, damage to brain tissue or other unknown effects. Fetuses may be negatively impacted in cases where spike protein escapes into ovaries or is passed through the umbilical chord.

7) The best evidence suggests immuno-protection afforded by previous infection is likely to be lifelong. So if you’ve had COVID, there is little reason for you to wear a mask, get vaccinated or behave in any way other than normal.

8) There exists at least one off-patent, readily available, and safe drug for prophalaxis and treatment of COVID, which obtains results close to, if not at par with, those of the experimental mRNA vaccines. It is called Ivermectin. Those familiar with the wealth of extant data are convinced that if it were prescribed en masse tomorrow, the pandemic, such as it is, would be over in a month.

If I fail to see further, it’s because my view is blocked by the heels of giants, onto whose impossibly high shoulders I cannot hope to climb.

There was a time when it was possible, through intellectual curiosity and persistent application, for a thinking individual to climb from the ground of primitive understanding, up to the pinnacle of human knowledge – in almost any discipline. Someone like Gauss, for example, was a curious child who received little more than a rudimentary education in mathematics, yet managed to make an indelible mark on the discipline. The same is true of Darwin, Keynes, Freud, Turing – the list is almost endless.

Such would simply not be possible today. In order to make an advancement, one must start from a relatively lofty position, taking for granted knowledge without having explored it from its fundaments.

Those unable to obtain that lofty position are effectively locked out of pursuit of this higher knowledge. I have no idea how to design a circuit board or build a semiconductor, and it would be impossible for me to figure such a thing out. Unless I am given and take for granted the assumed wisdom of those who have come before, I cannot make any notable contribution in that field.

I could start, of course, from scratch. But the futility of the pursuit would soon become clear to me. My lifelong endeavour would have less computing power than a toddler’s wind-up toy.

This basic truth drives a deep disconnect between the technology and knowledge we use, and our sense of ownership over it. It is one of the factors, I believe, which explains how we have become so enthralled to the technology which controls us.

We cannot climb onto the shoulders of giants, so we kneel down and worship their heels instead.

There are two kinds of people: those who shoehorn a complex and diverse populous into a simple dichotomy. And those who don’t.

When ancient man gazed up into the stars, he saw before him a wondrous display. But his curious mind could not quite accept that this pattern could be nothing more than randomness. He sought order, and therefore picked out constellations – Orion’s belt, the big dipper, the little dipper…all having only the most tenuous links to the images he felt they must … must … represent.

This, it seems, is innate to us. When confronted with something that is at once overwhelming and apparently lacking in order, our brains attempt, by whatever means, to make order out of it. Let’s call it ‘spurious pattern recognition’.

In our time, the temptation is great to want to find such a pattern in what has befallen our civilisation in recent months. Is there, after all, a smoky backroom table, around which Gates, Soros, Page and Zuckerberg are plotting the Great Reset, in meticulous detail? (We imagine Dorsey is there too, but a little doped out and only vaguely aware of the overall evil plot).

It certainly would explain a lot – from the ridiculous overreactions that were lockdown, to the silly face diapers we must still all wear, to the steamrolling of an experimental vaccine, in the teeth of an antiviral treatment that is safer and just as effective (Ivermectin).

But we cannot dismiss the possibility that there is, after all, no great agenda. Vaccines will not achieve mass population control. Governments are short-termist and basically not that competent, while Big Tech is really nothing more than a gangly teenager with a sledge hammer, some fireworks and a bottle of whiskey stolen from dad’s liquor cabinet.

Maybe we can put away our tin foil hats this time. Maybe everything’s just a mess.