Hi, I'm John C. Burnham. I write [computer programs](https://github.com/johnchandlerburnham), essays and fiction. This site is a web-log of some of those writings. I calling it a "web-log" instead of the normal truncation[^1], since it's not just a "log on the web", but also "log of my knowledge-web" using [Obsidian](https://obsidian.md/). [^1]: "Blog" also implies the [rebracketing](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebracketing) of "weblog" as "we-blog", just like "copter" implies "heli-copter" instead of the orginal "helico-pter" ("spiral-wing"). Given the fascinating and unfortunate recent history of the ["we-" prefix](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WeWork), I'm happy to avoid it here. This site is also synchronized to [a Git repository](https://github.com/johnchandlerburnham/agathic.com). Any technical or typographical issues can be reported in the repository [Issues](https://github.com/johnchandlerburnham/agathic.com/issues). A [discussion board](https://github.com/johnchandlerburnham/agathic.com/discussions) is also available for other kinds of commentary and feedback. I formerly maintened a site at [johnchandlerburnham.com](https://johnchandlerburnham.com) ## Contact information I can be reached via email at `[email protected]`, or on Matrix at `@johnburnham:matrix.org` --- ## What does "agathic" mean? When I was growing up, my father had a collection of dusty science-fiction paperbacks. In every house we lived in (we moved several times) there would be a shelf. And on that shelf were stories of the most wonderful worlds. Stories by Stephen R. Donaldson, Frank Herbert, Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven and James Pournelle, and many many others. Prominent among this collection, with one of the older and more worn covers, was a book called [Cities in Flight](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cities_in_Flight) by James Blish. A really fun set of stories about interstellar space travel, whole cities traveling through space. In this book, though, there is a curious usage of the term "anti-agathic" to describe an anti-aging or immortality medicine. > So what we're looking for now is not an antibiotic - an anti-life drug - but an anti-agathic, an anti-death drug This is strange because "agathic" is from the Greek [ἀγαθός](https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E1%BC%80%CE%B3%CE%B1%CE%B8%CF%8C%CF%82), which means "good." The word for death is [θάνατος](https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%CE%B8%CE%AC%CE%BD%CE%B1%CF%84%CE%BF%CF%82#Ancient_Greek), so properly Blish's anti-aging drugs should be called "anti-thanatics." (Or perhaps "anti-geratics" from [γῆρας](https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%CE%B3%E1%BF%86%CF%81%CE%B1%CF%82#Ancient_Greek), meaning "old age"). This usage of "anti-agathic" actually caught on with other sci-fi authors of the late 20th century, like Harlan Ellison, but its origins are a little mysterious. You can read a detailed analysis here: https://oikofuge.com/anti-agathic/, but it seems the most likely explanation is that James Blish just made it up because it sounded good. (It does sound good.) I like this explanation. It's provocative. If you're the kind of person who believes that [words have fixed meanings](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_prescription), then Blish's use of "anti-agathic" is wrong, beacuse "it's not what it says in the dictionary". On the other hand, if you think that words are silly [meat sounds](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/They're_Made_Out_of_Meat) people [made up meanings for](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_description), then on a deeper level Blish is actually *right*. Sounding good is, in some sense, all the justification "Anti-agathic" needs. Language flows through the furrows of "sounds good". Some of those channels are ancient, carved by prehistoric Proto-Hellenes migrating from the Indo-European [urheimat](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-European_homeland) on the shores of the Black Sea to the mountains of Epirus. Some channels are more recent, like from a 1950s sci-fi story. And some meanings don't even exist yet, and are waiting for you to come along with your hands and your tools to give them shape. Naming this website is also an act of shaping meaning. And the story of the "anti-agathics" and the flexibility of words are part of what I want to evoke. But on the literal level "anti-agathic" means "anti-good", and I am not "anti-good", but "pro-good." I'm an [agathist](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agathism), an optimist. I believe the world is a ultimately a good place. Bad things do happen, but in the end goodness prevails. Not everyone agrees with that. Some people think that tragedy and horror are greater forces than joy and wonder. I think this view is wrong, but I understand why people think it. I have days of gloom too, where despair seems more reasonable than hope. But I think it's important to remember that moods are not realities, and the rapture of existence is undimmed by interior depression. You can draw the shades and close your eyes, but outside the sun still blazes, too brightly even for us to look at directly. And that's the meaning I want to evoke with this website. I want to talk about the [the Good, the True and the Beautiful](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendentals). What is "the Good"? I don't know, but I know it exists, as much as I knew the Sun existed before I ever learned anything about astronomy. So, welcome to agathic.com, I hope you find it a "goodly" site. I'll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite philosophers: > σεμνός ὁ σοφὸς κλίνας τὴν κεφαλὴν εἶπεν· "οὐκ ὄντως οὐδὲν διαφέρει ταγαθὰ και τα κακά. συ μῶρε. συ βλακίστατε" -- [oὐίντ](https://twitter.com/dril_grc/status/907366373449486336?s=20)