Monday, August 31, 2015

Doxa, doxa, doxa... and economics

One of the most important points Eric Voegelin stressed in his work was that it is always actual experiences that are fundamental: intellectual symbolisms of those experiences are secondary phenomena. And when those symbolisms take on a life of their own, divorced from the actual experience that engendered them, they become "hieroglyphs": the fossils of once living ideas.

So, some of my readers may be puzzled as to what I have been on about lately with my multiple posts on "doxa," and why I am using this Greek word to describe... well, what, exactly?

The thing is, I had known this term for perhaps a decade before I ever started using it. And for a decade, I was vague about what it meant... and then, about a month ago -- you can probably trace the exact date by looking at my blog posts! -- I suddenly saw what Plato and Aristotle were talking about when they used this term. Since then, I have been trying to present symbols of what the experience I had meant, but they are merely indices, or pointers, to the experience itself. As such, they can at best be hints as to what the actual experience is, and never formal definitions as to how doxa is distinguished from reason (as Aristotle would have defined reason: participation in the divine nous: we reason when we participate in God's universal mind).

In any case, I offer you another example of doxa, in the hopes of indicating a path to understanding the experience of differentiating doxa from reason, not of offering an airtight definition of a "concept":

This semester, I am once again teaching macroeconomics, using a textbook I quite like. (And, by the way, it is a fairly leftist textbook, lest anyone think I am picking on libertarians here!)  But in the first chapter, I find this:

"But there is another, more important reason to ask you, at the outset, about your life goals. Macroeconomics is about how economies work. This is not only interesting as an intellectual puzzle. It matters because when the economy works well people have more opportunities to achieve their goals than when it is working badly. Depending on what your goals are, there are a variety of ways in which you could interpret what it means for an economy to be working 'well' or badly.'"

It is all just a matter of the student's "goals" are as to whether an economy is working well or badly! So should young Adolf Hitler arrive in the authors' class, presumably they would help him to devise "an economy" in which his goal of "wiping out the Jews" could be achieved most effectively!

Of course, the actual authors of the textbook in question would be horrified by this idea: I am not in the least trying to suggest they are actually NeoNazis! My point is that their stated criteria for an economy "working well" per any random student's opinion (doxa!) cannot exclude the young Adolf's view from the field of opinions that ought to be considered.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

We have enough racial problems in this country...

without making them bigger than they are:

"But it’s the sweltering guitar solo—so good it still moves people to tears—that brought the song into the upper echelon of stadium ballads. Purple Rain, the album and the film, were the magic results of Prince’s limitless imagination and bridged an invisible aural divide, premised on race, that, up until that point, only Michael Jackson had truly managed to transcend. And 'Purple Rain' the song is where it all came together in majestic fashion."

Only Michael Jackson?! What about Chuck Berry? Fats Domino? Jimi Hendrix? Harry Belafonte? Sly and the Family Stone? Sammy Davis? Bob Marley? Stevie Wonder? In my 70% white high school, I recall Innervisions being played in the cafeteria basically every single day of my senior year.

Look, we have plenty of racial problems, but "an invisible aural divide, premised on race," is not particularly high on the list: white people in America have listened to lots of "black" music.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Two wrongs don't make a right

I caught the opening to some television program about vengeance the other night. The voice over went something like:

"When we were young, we were taught that two wrongs don't make a right, which we naïvely took for granted. But as I gained experience, I learned that two wrongs don't make a right because they never equal each other."


The latter position is presented as be sophisticated view adopted by someone who has been around the block a few times. But it's only "sophistication" lies in rejecting the traditional view: it actually doesn't make a bit of sense.

In the tradition view, wrongs are like negative numbers: the more you add, the more negative the result. This "clever" overturning of that view suggests that if only you could get the two negative numbers to exactly equal to each other, then their sum would be positive.

In the world of doxa, so long as it's novel you will be thought clever for saying it.

J. S. Mill and doxa

"He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.…if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion." -- On Liberty


It is all a matter of "opinion," and one can't know there is a tree in the front yard without knowing the "reasons" the other side gives for why there is no tree there.


How can something be "spiritually true" but "historically false"?

Periodically, I like to drag a topic brought up in a comment because I think the response to the comment deserves more attention that it would get buried in a common thread.

And so now I address the topic, which has sorely puzzled one of our commenters, as to how something can be spiritually true while historically false. To provide a relatively straightforward example of this phenomena, I offer the Circe episode from the Odyssey.

As you might recall, Circe was a "sorceress" who offered Odysseus's men a "magical potion," which turned those who partook of it into "swine."

Now, I will be so bold as to assert that no actual witch ever existed who literally turned men into swine. But isn't it rather obvious that this story is a mythical symbol of the spiritual reality that there exist women who have a seductive charm that can lead susceptible men to "act like swine" in their presence? Is there anyone who has spent any amount of time in bars who hasn't seen a modern "Circe" turning a number of men around her into "swine"?

This story about something which, historically speaking, certainly never "really" happened, nevertheless conveys a "spiritually true" archetype which manifests itself across thousands of years.

And we might note here Joyce's brilliance in mapping the spiritual truths contained in the Odyssey onto the quite quotidian adventures undertaken by his characters on an ordinary day in Dublin in 1904.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Mystery of History

"(1) Why should there be epochs of advancing insight at all? Why is the structure of reality not known in differentiated form at all times?

"(2) Why must the insights be discovered by such rare individuals as prophets, philosophers, and saints? Why is not every man the recipient of the insights?

"(3) Why, when the insights are gained, are they not generally accepted? Why must the epochal truth go through the historical torment of imperfect articulation, evasion, skepticism, disbelief, rejection, deformation, and of renaissances, renovations, rediscoveries, rearticulations, and further differentiations?...

"Since the questions cannot be answered by propositions referring to events in the external world, an epistemologist of the positivist persuasion will dismiss them as pseudo-questions... Within the limits of the positivist horizon, the argument is valid; the questions can indeed not be answered by reference to the world of sense perception. The argument becomes invalid, however, when it goes on to declare the questions, for this reason, to be meaningless... The denial of meaning runs counter to the empirical fact that they rise again and again as meaningful from the experience of reality. Hence the active denial, especially when it appears in the context of a philosophical school or movement, must be characterized as the sectarian idiosyncrasy of men who have lost contact with reality and whose intellectual and spiritual growth has been so badly stunted that the meaning escapes them." -- Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, pp. 388-389

The Aztecs

I spent an hour yesterday looking at artifacts from the very, very bloody Aztec empire. How to make sense of their passion for human sacrifice?

It seems to me they were coping with same problem as Anaximander; what the cosmos gives with one hand, it takes away with the other: "The origin of things is the Apeiron [unlimited]... It is necessary for things to perish into that from which they were born; for they pay one another penalty for their injustice according to the ordinance of Time."

I think the Aztec solution to the sense of tragedy this realization produces was to eagerly participate in the process themselves.




Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The hippie apocalypse

I've been discussing this with my son, and I think I will write a paper on it at some point, if I get the time. But the 1960s had a strong apocalyptic tinge to them that is probably worth exploring, in terms of how it was similar and how it was different from earlier apocalyptic movements.

"Hippie" song writers were self aware of this apocalyptic tendency to varying degrees. Joni Mitchell obviously sees its connection to earlier myths when in "Woodstock" she writes:

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

I am sure you could come up with many other expressions of this sort of straightforward apocalyptic sentiment. But what is more interesting to me is the writers who were casting a skeptical eye upon such ideas almost as soon as they were being composed. So Blues Image sings:

Seventy-three men sailed up from the San Francisco Bay
Rolled off of their ship, and here's what they had to say
"We're callin' everyone to ride along to another shore
We can laugh our lives away and be free once more"

But no one heard them callin', no one came at all
'Cause they were too busy watchin' those old raindrops fall
As a storm was blowin' out on the peaceful sea
Seventy-three men sailed off to history

(The "captain" here is likely a reference to Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who was known as "Captain Trips.")

Here, the "saints" of the New Age fail only because others were not listening. But others are even more skeptical. For instance, we have Roger Whittaker expressing doubt that the promised paradise is coming at all:

Now, everybody talks about a new world in the morning
New world in the morning takes so long

But one of my favorite deflations of the apocalyptic expectations of that time is from Robert Hunter. About halfway through the song "Scarlet Begonias," he writes:

I ain't often right
but I've never been wrong
It seldom turns out the way
it does in the song

And how does it turn out in "the song"?

The wind in the willows played Tea for Two
The sky was yellow and the sun was blue
Strangers stopped strangers
just to shake their hand
Everybody's playing
in the Heart of Gold Band

So Hunter is gently poking fun at the vision of the hippie apocalypse. Not surprisingly, many Grateful Dead fans failed to get the joke, and took the end of the song as a promise of a soon-to-arrive time when everyone will be playing in the "heart of gold band."

There is a lot more to explore here (and with very similar sentiments appearing in Rastafarian music), but I wanted to get my preliminary thoughts down on this topic.



Monday, August 24, 2015

Noetic consciousness

One of my upset Christian readers was a little bit dismissive of my use of the phrase "noetic consciousness." But Paul himself uses such terminology, saying things like "we... have the nous of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Just prior to that, Paul offers about as clear a statement of what I mean by "noetic consciousness" as I could hope for: "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit."

The historical reality of the Resurrection

'But the questionnaire [of silly questions about God] is not a scurrilous exaggeration, rather it is a meiosis compared with the debates actually conducted about Christ as a "historical figure," and about the "historicity" of Incarnation and Resurrection... if any event… has constituted meaning in history, it is Paul's vision of the Resurrected. To invent a "critical history" that will allow us to decide whether Incarnation and Resurrection are "historically real" turns the structure of reality upside down…' -- Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 308

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Round trips to the moon

"But the concupiscential exodus must go on, and since it is become a bit silly to chase around the earth, one must engineer round trips to the moon. Moreover, since the center of the cosmic horizon is everywhere and nowhere, so that again one is thrown back to the earth as the physical center of meaning, the cosmos must be dotted with a few extra-ecumenes that will inject sense into concupiscential expansion. Hence, we live in the age of other worlds than our own, of invasions from Mars, and of flying saucers. Anything will do, as long as it puts off the confrontation with the divine mystery of existence." -- Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 273

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Liberal Gospel

My friend Bob Subrick posted this article to Facebook today. Excerpt:

"There should never be any constraint on that sort of debate, however heated. We always need more speech rather than less to clarify arguments and to let people choose their own idea of the truth."

Where is the evidence that "more speech" "clarifies arguments"? Non-existent, I'd say: this is simply an article of faith declared by the prophet Mill and accepted without any evidence ever since.

When challenged on this point, liberals will sometimes point to science as  the model of discourse on which it is based. What nonsense!

Science works by ruthlessly filtering out nonsense speech from truth-seeking speech through the peer review process. Can you imagine a mathematician defending his disproven theorem by claiming it is "my own idea of truth"? Or physics journals repeatedly publishing papers on perpetual motion machines since we need "more speech" to "clarify" this matter?

Friday, August 21, 2015

The end of history

"And yet, by its me a repetition, the sequence of the structurally equivalent symbolisms of the Deutero-Isaianic exodus of Israel from herself into an ecumenical mankind under Yahweh with Cyrus his Messiah, the Stoic exodus from the polis into the imperial ecumene of the cosmos, the Christian exodus into a metastatic ecumene providentially prepared by the imperial ecumene, the Hegelian ecumenic reconciliation and the Marxian ecumenic revolution, destroys the finality of meaning claimed by each member of the series singly. The final answer to the meaning of history has been given not once but several times too often." -- Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 277

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Spiritual Nonsense of the Search for the "Historical Jesus"

Now, in the discipline of history itself, there is nothing problematic about trying to decide if "Jesus of Nazareth" was a real person. (And most historians have decided he was.)

But really, on the spiritual level, what difference does this make? From the point of view of noetic consciousness, it is clear that someone in 1st century Israel achieved a dramatic breakthrough. What if it turns out his real name was "Bill," or even that her real name was "Abigail"? How would that change the importance of that breakthrough?

UPDATE: this post is only addressing the attempt to dismiss Christianity with the claim "Jesus did not even exist." There are many, many other issues it is not tackling. Please do not think I am dismissing any of those things as valid concerns.

Bleg! Bleg! Bleg!

Do any of my loyal readers have any experience using git with Visual Studio? Because the combination is like the perfect storm of software obscurity!

I've succeeded in getting my project pushed up to github from one machine. But that machine is going with my son to university soon! And when I try to clone the project, Visual Studio says the project has been cloned, but it doesn't show up as a project I can open from the other machine! I don't understand at all: there it is sitting as a project in my "Team Explorer," supposedly all ready to go, but when I try to open a project, it is nowhere to be found.

If anyone has expertise in this area, I'm willing to pay for your time helping me with this!

UPDATE: There appears to be a solution file on disk. But when I try to open it, nothing happens.

UPDATE II: OK, it seems the repo was put in c:\Users\gcallah\Source\Repos\GenericVB, instead of in the Visual Studio project directory. Can I just copy it from there?

UPDATE III: Nope: I copy it to the Visual Studio project directory, and nothing works. I'm going to shoot myself in the head now, so no worries about answering.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Murphy 8:16

Bob quotes John 3:16 at his blog. My recent terminology may seem obscure to some, so let me map what I have been saying onto John:

"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world,"

Theophany.

"but people loved darkness instead of light”

Egophany; doxa.

"because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light"

Demonic closure.

"for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

Openness to the transcendent ground of being.

Can this be real?

I watched almost the entirety of Jason Day's final round at the PGA tournament today -- the family was rooting for the Pinoy boy to finally win a major! -- and cheered his victory, but when I read this, I was a little sceptical:

"So poor that it wasn’t unusual for Jason to look outside and see his mother cutting the lawn with a knife because the lawnmower was broken and they didn’t have the money to fix it."

Cutting the lawn with... a knife? How the heck would you even do that? And couldn't you get a $5 used, manual weed whacker or something like that? (I have one of those: it's like a golf club with a blade on the end instead of a club face. And it would be a hell of a lot better for cutting a lawn than a knife!)

Update: a manual weed whacker:

 

And here is the outline for my new book...

My PyGotham Presentation

Generic Programming and Agent-Based Modeling, slide show here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Doxa

The realm of doxa, illustrated:

"But The New Republic‘s Moira Weigel retorts that such responses are reactionary, and part of dating battles that we’ve had throughout history. After tracing the history of such dating wars from the 19th century through the present, she adds, 'Even a short survey makes it clear that every generation has thought that the next generation was dating wrong. … The death of dating genre tends to treat each new form of courtship as a moral aberration. This is silly.'"

If kids today "date" through a series of fleeting sexual encounters while forming no lasting bonds, well:

"Young people today are told to be flexible and mobile in all other aspects of our lives; we are told to be eternal entrepreneurs of ourselves, and that we cannot count on steady gigs or fixed contracts or benefits. Why would this not apply to our love lives, too?"

Why not? After all, it's all just a matter of opinion, isn't it?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Consciousness is a unitary field

What follows is not a "doctrine," or a "personal interpretation." It is an attempt to symbolize a concrete experience. The symbolization will be inadequate, as it always must be.

Consciousness is a unitary field, which we will call the "noetic field."

But the field, while unitary, is not uniform. It is subject to deformations. Like the electric field, which contains eddies which we call charges, the noetic field too contains eddies. We call these "individuals."

The conditions of these individuals may be more or less open to the field as a whole.

The forces which produce openness we can call "philosophy," "myth," and "virtuous action."

The forces which produce closure we may call "sophistry," "doxa" (unfounded opinion), and "wrongful action." In the extreme, these forces may produce a state that we can refer to as "demonic closure," where the field has essentially formed a closed loop at that point. Then all judgments of, for instance, right and wrong, are seen as "purely subjective," and the only possible goal of action and is to strengthen and expand the area of closure: concupiscence (unlimited appetite for sating the passions).

Furthermore, from the point of view of demonic closure, the reality of the noetic field can only be understood as another piece of doxa. Reports from individuals about the reality of the noetic field will be understood as attempts on their part to strengthen and expand a demonic closure of their own.

But the difference is that the reality of the noetic field can be discovered by any individual open to that discovery, whereas the domain of doxa is one of warring opinions, each trying to achieve the submission of other doxa. The difference in interaction is like that between an open hand offering aid to another, and a closing fist trying to envelop another hand in its grasp.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The appeal of traditionalism and progressivism

"The origin of things is the Apeiron [unlimited]... It is necessary for things to perish into that from which they were born; for they pay one another penalty for their injustice according to the ordinance of Time." -- Anaximander

Voegelin notes how strong is the resistance to the fact that nothing in the world of contingency lasts:

"The temptation to hypostatize historically passing societies into ultimate subjects of history is strongly motivated. At its core there lies the tension, emotionally difficult to bear, between the meaning of society has in historical existence and the never quite repressible knowledge that all things that come into being will come to an end. A society, one might say, has always two histories: (I) the history internal to its existence and (II) the history in which it comes into and goes out of existence. History I is greatly cherished by the members of a society; History II encounters emotional resistance and preferably should not be mentioned." -- The Ecumenic Age, pp. 231-232

The emotional appeal of both traditionalism and progressivism can be explained by keeping this emotional resistance to History II in mind: traditionalism perceives the dissipation of the fabric of the traditionalist's society, but rather than admitting that "all things that come into being will come to an end," suggests that if only history could be unwound, and we could get back to some earlier, more pure state -- "true Christianity," "the restoration of the Caliphate," "the original Constitution," "the 1950s, when the American dream worked" -- we could then prevent that decay, overlooking the fact that those earlier states were exactly what lead to the current state the traditionalist deplores!

The progressive, on the other hand, chooses to re-interpret the processes leading to the disappearance of his historical society as positive things. So, that Europe has largely abandoned the religion that formed it and gave it its vitality, is not part of the process of its disappearance: no, it is Progress! And when its birthrate falls far below replacement rate, this is not viewed, as it would be with any other living creature, a sign of its approaching extinction: no, it is Progress! This belief in continued progress leads people to make hash out of a scientific theory like evolution: the scientific theory explicitly rejects the idea of "more evolved" and "less evolved," and yet the religion of progress has turned evolution a sanctifying process: we are undergoing "moral evolution," and we have "moved beyond" certain institutions like traditional religions (never mind that progressivism is a very crude religion indeed compared to, say, Platonism, philosophical Hinduism, or the Judaism of Maimonides).

And this explains the fascination of many progressives with things like space flight and colonizing other planets: if you watch Star Trek, what you see is progressive America spread across the galaxy, so it can outlast even the Solar System.

Give credit where credit is due

Pope Julius II was primarily involved with the creation of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel at two moments: The fun part at the beginning, when he helped to conceive the project, and the easy part at the end, when he got to admire the finished product. But imagine if he had gone around continually telling everybody, "Michelangelo and I are really hard at work painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel!" Wouldn't this would be kind of a diss to Michelangelo, who after all was doing all the real work?

And that should explain why I am baffled that anyone should consider a guy claiming, "We are pregnant!" to be some sort of feminist or progressive statement. As I recall, when my wife was pregnant, I had been involved in the fun part at the beginning, and got to admire the final product, but it seems to me that she did all the hard work in the middle. How in the world it could be considered "feminist" for me to steal half the credit is beyond me.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

Perusing some Python documentation today, I came across:

"On the real line, there are functions to compute uniform, normal (Gaussian), lognormal, negative exponential, gamma, and beta distributions. For generating distributions of angles, the von Mises distribution is available."

The von Mises brothers will follow me forever!

Back in My Day, the Internet Was Usable!

I was just trying to use the Sports Illustrated Golf page, and on my laptop, I can't even fit 80% of one of their video windows on my screen, since they have taken up about a quarter of my screen with four (!) unwanted, unnecessary toolbars (in addition to the browser's toolbars) that apparently can't be dismissed, and won't scroll (they are pinned at the top of the page).

In the good old days, you just got a page of text, without 20 things popping up, buzzing, playing music, covering the text, monitoring your tastes...

And get off of my lawn!

Is there anyone in sports commentary who understands probability?!

I just heard an announcer pick Jason Day to win the PGA Championship because "No American has won all four majors since 1982."

And naturally, to his way of "thinking," if Americans have won the first three majors of this year, this raises some sort of probabilistic barrier to their winning the fourth one: the god of probability will swat their tee shots out of the air and push their puts off course.

The odds of hitting the lottery four times in a row, starting from having hit it zero times in a row, are miniscule. (For Powerball, it would be about 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, or one in one duodecillion.) But if you've just hit the lottery three times in a row, then the odds of hitting the lottery four times in a row are just the odds of hitting the lottery once. (For Powerball, about 1 in 175 million.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Imagination Cut Loose from Experience

"Once imagination leaves the orbit of reality experienced, the imagery of a second reality can become grotesque. Nevertheless, in fairness to the ancients one must say that they were not more indulgent in this respect in the modern are in their comparably structured state of existential disorientation... Western society has descended to the vulgarian grotesque of flying saucers, an invasion from Mars, investment of public funds in listening to signals from other worlds… and in the industry of science fiction that is based on this conceit." -- Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, pp. 131-132

One such current grotesquery is the idea that "the universe is a simulation." This bit of nonsense simply assumes, without any reason or evidence, that the "things" in a simulation experience anything at all, and that for them the simulation "appears" real. This would mean that, for instance, if there are elements in a computer program which is simulating a hurricane that are supposed to represent humans, somehow, "inside the computer," these "humans" feel great winds sweeping across their "bodies," and feel they are getting wet from all of the rain "falling."

"Multiple universes" is another of these grotesque fantasies, a "scientific hypothesis" that even its proponents admit is intrinsically immune to testing. And yet the people who put forward such fantasies claim the mantle of "rational," scientific thought!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Liberation!

"An age of ecumenic imperialism throws up of necessity, it appears, the curious phenomenon that today is called "liberation," i.e., the replacement of an obnoxious imperial ruler buy another one who is a shade less obnoxious -- or at least nobody is permitted to say otherwise." -- Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 226

Monday, August 10, 2015

Amor Dei and amor sui

Let us begin by again looking at the quote from Eric Voegelin with which we began part one of this post:

"Nevertheless, as early as the consciousness of autonomy becomes tangible at all there is also to be found the awareness of a crucial split in the psyche between spirit and power. As witnesses to this awareness I mention... finally the Christian climax in the Augustinian concepts of amor Dei and amor sui. However multifarious the desires may be, and however many of them may be distinguished by psychological description, they are overshadowed by the sense of a basic dualism in the psyche: autonomous man can order himself in society either by orienting himself toward transcendence or by emancipating himself as a world-immanent existence." -- Eric Voegelin, "What Is History?" The Collected Works, Vol. 28, p. 32.

Let us say that someone has no personal experience with transcendence: how is such an individual to choose between the two orientations? Here, history is informative: the egophanic phenomena is everywhere derivative of the theophanic, and only arises in its wake. And civilization is created by the theophanies, and eroded over time by egophany. This civilizational priority of the transcendental orientation over the immanent one should be decisive... except, of course, that the ego prefers egophany to theophany.

In any case, let us turn our attention to abortion, and see how this analysis can help us understand the current state of affairs on this topic. From the point of view of amor Dei, the position of the individual vis-a-vis abortion is clear: as Voegelin puts it, "The human carrier of the word has no will of his own..." (The Ecumenic Age, p. 61), or, as we say in The Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done." Whether or not one "wants" a baby at that moment is not relevant: we should strive to do God's will, not our own. (Of course, almost no one achieves this even most of the time, but it is the benchmark.) But how should we handle people who don't see things that way?

If we are talking to people who have been maleducated, by, say, contemporary psychology, consumerism, "sociobiology," and other modern mishaps to believe that all other humans are moved always and only by amor sui, then they are going to see someone opposing abortion as simply trying to exert his own libido dominandi, i.e., he is making an attempt to willfully rule over others. (And to be fair, there certainly are people who oppose abortion simply because they like making other people do what they want them to.) This is the basis of asserting that anyone against abortion is "anti-woman": in a social world seen as composed entirely of egos competing for dominance, it is natural that any attempt to stop someone from "doing what they want" (so long as it doesn't involve coercing another "non-enwombed" human being) is seen as oppression.

Or, in other words, abortion is not the place to fight this battle. By word and deed, we must inspire amor Dei, and then the person so inspired will have little problem sorting out the abortion issue for themselves.

Cicero: The Inventor of Religion

"It was the genius of Cicero to discern the forces of disintegration as well as the necessity of protecting the truth through language symbols, through a 'word' that incarnates the truth of divine presence in reality. In the pursuit of this problem, Cicero developed the older Latin term religio into the symbol that comprehends protectively both the truth of existence and its expression through cultic observance and doctrine...

"The awareness that religion is not an analytical concept of anything but a topical response to certain problems in the Roman subsection of an ecumenic-imperial society is practically lost... As a matter of fact, the Stoics could not turn to religion because religions did not yet exist..." -- Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, pp. 92-93

Saturday, August 08, 2015

How Plots Can Emerge Out of Celluloid

Our distant descendants have forgotten movies. Upon discovering some buried in a vault, along with a projector, they are surprised to learn that they convey stories when watched. How do these stories "emerge" from celluloid?

At first little is known about film or projectors. But future scientists study these things, and gradually understand them better: it is re-discovered how images are created on celluloid, how they are projected, what frame rates are needed to show smooth motion, what chemicals make up celluloid: all interesting discoveries.

And thus, the scientists assure their compatriots, it will only be a very short time before it is discovered exactly which chemicals in the celluloid produce the plot of movies. After all, with all of their other new discoveries, it would be foolish to say that it won't be any day now that they will pinpoint the plot molecule (or network of molecules), and how celluloid produces plots will be fully explained.

We Need More of the Same!

A group of people are devoted to digging trenches. One day, they realize they would like to be able to sail from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. They think, "Perhaps we could dig a trench between them." But at that point in their history, the job is too technically daunting for them.

However, a couple of centuries later, their trench building capabilities having increased greatly, so that they now can, and do, build such a trench (a canal, we call it).

Someone in the group turns his eyes then to the moon. "We shall go to the moon as well."

"How?" the others ask.

"We will dig a trench there!"

One of the group, a little timidly, demurs: "But that is not even conceptually possible!"

"Ha!" the trench advocate scoffs, "in the past, the nay-sayers also said that we wouldn't be able to dig a trench between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean! You will be proven just as wrong as they were!"

It should be obvious that if someone claims that, given the nature of trenches and the spatial relationship between the earth and the moon, a trench is not even a possible way to get from one to the other, it is no answer to point to earlier advances in trench building, no matter how spectacular they may have been. If the "nay-sayer" is wrong, it will have to be shown on the level of conceptual analysis (philosophy), not on the basis of the history of trench building!

And if the nay-sayer points this out, and is answered with talk about how we can now re-enforce trench walls much better than in previous times, it becomes obvious that the person answering has no grasp of what the actual difficulty is.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Atheist Camille Paglia scorches the "stupid atheist" camp

On Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris:
I regard them as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, Glittering Images, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.” It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents– they’re still sneering at dad in some way...

Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great was a travesty. He sold that book on the basis of the brilliant chapter titles. If he had actually done the research and the work, where each chapter had the substance of those wonderful chapter titles, then that would have been a permanent book. Instead, he sold the book and then didn’t write one–he talked it. It was an appalling performance, demonstrating that that man was an absolute fraud to be talking about religion. He appears to have done very little scholarly study. Hitchens didn’t even know Judeo-Christianity well, much less the other world religions. He had that glib Oxbridge debater style in person, but you’re remembered by your written work, and Hitchens’ written work was weak and won’t last.

Dawkins also seems to be an obsessive on some sort of personal vendetta, and again, he’s someone who has never taken the time to do the necessary research into religion.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Capitalism

"The truth is that what we call Capitalism ought to be called Proletarianism. The point of it is not that some people have capital, but that most people only have wages because they do not have capital." -- G. K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity, p. 167

A true act of science

"Nevertheless, as early as the consciousness of autonomy becomes tangible at all there is also to be found the awareness of a crucial split in the psyche between spirit and power. As witnesses to this awareness I mention... finally the Christian climax in the Augustinian concepts of amor Dei and amor sui. However multifarious the desires may be, and however many of them may be distinguished by psychological description, they are overshadowed by the sense of a basic dualism in the psyche: autonomous man can order himself in society either by orienting himself toward transcendence or by emancipating himself as a world-immanent existence." -- Eric Voegelin, "What Is History?" The Collected Works, Vol. 28, p. 32.

Some people dropped basketballs off of a dam (weren't they littering?) and got to witness the "magnus effect" in a dramatic fashion. What caught my eye was the web site describing this as "a true act of science," as if somehow science had created the magnus effect!

We see the same sentiment present in the social media stories that circulate under the banner "I F*cking Love Science": often, what is presented is some natural phenomenon, but it is portrayed as if it is "science" doing the acting. What this does is turn awareness from the transcendent source of these phenomena to the human attempt to take control of them.

Science is a wonderful thing, and it discovers many fascinating natural phenomena. But really, the basketball video should be described as revealing "a true act of nature," and the social media series should be re-named "I Love Nature" (what the hell if the f-word doing in their at all?).

The problem is that someone might then be tempted to think that we really ought to be praising the author of nature, instead of our own accomplishments... and we can't have that!

In an upcoming post, we will relate Augustine's distinction to some other current debates.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The chief problem with "Mind is an emergent order"

Hardness is an emergent property of molecules when they join together to form a solid. But it is comprehensible how it emerges: the individual molecules bind to each other with a strength sufficient to prevent the easy incursion of an exterior object into the solid.

But we have nothing at all like that with mind: no one has the least idea, or even the hint of an idea, really, as to how neurons might interact to produce consciousness. Sure, many people have forwarded all sorts of theories as to how neurons form networks that handle inputs in various ways to produce some new output: Hayek's theory of the sensory order is just one example. One or more of these theories may be completely true; that is not the issue. The problem is, all of them just describe how some electro-chemical impulses are transformed into other electro-chemical impulses. We might achieve an extremely detailed map of just how a photon hitting the eye is transformed into something happening in the brain. But this gets us exactly nowhere in answering the question, "But why am I consciously aware that there is a tree in front of me?"

Leibniz, of course, saw the necessary failure of all such "explanations" of mind long ago, but it is good to be reminded of this in these times of sophistry.

Noah Millman on the Iran Deal

Here:

"So why do I support the Iran deal, strongly? Because, from my perspective, there is a negative value to enmity with Iran and a positive value to an improved working relationship – independent of whether the deal is the best deal possible. Because I ascribe a very positive value to a deal that the arms control community in general considers quite strong, and exceedingly skeptical of criticism from quarters opposed to arms control in general. Because I’m aware that the track record of opponents to major diplomatic agreements is relatively poor in general. And because I think a war with Iran would be a catastrophic folly.

"That’s reason enough, no?"

Yes, Noah, it is.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Multilingual presidents

It turns out that Jeb Bush's Spanish is excellent. If he becomes president, he will join a long list of multilingual predecessors. Some curiosities from the list:

Martin Van Buren's native language was Dutch.

Herbert Hoover was fluent in Mandarin, and he and his wife would converse in it when they wanted to speak privately in company. He and his wife also spent five years translating a Latin mining text! (Why?)

John Quincy Adams translated a page a day of Dutch and Latin, and spoke German and French as well.

The multilingual champ seems to be Thomas Jefferson, who knew Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and French.

Liberal education is toast

My son is heading off to the University of Vermont soon. I just received this in an email from them: "We invite you to encourage them to join a club or organization, visit their professor’s office hours, meet with their academic advisor, visit our experienced tutors, and start mapping their four year plan for career success."

Not a four-year plan for becoming well-educated. What would the point of that be?

Fouling is not cheating

At mass Sunday my priest gave a sermon on the general theme of "my kingdom is not of this world." His general point was very sound, but he got confused with an example he gave, one that got me thinking about rules.

He had been in a faith group at university, one that got involved in intramural sports. His friends were planning out their next basketball game, and talked turned to who would give intentional fouls at the end of the game if they were need.

At this, my priest took umbrage: "We're Christians: we shouldn't be breaking the rules in order to win!"

His friends said, "You don't understand basketball," and ignored him.

For him, this intentional fouling appeared to be a form of cheating, of "breaking the rules." But that is not right. And why it isn't right helps to clarify the differences between rules that declare certain actions impermissible and rules that allow actions but set a penalty for taking the action.

So, for instance, in golf, it is against the rules to use a motorized ball that can fly itself to the hole. Using a ball like that would get you kicked out of the tournament you are in, and maybe banned from further tournaments. But deciding your lie is unplayable and moving your ball is not against the rules, it is in the rules: the rules say you can do this, but you will face a one stroke penalty for doing so.

The rules on fouling in basketball are like the rules for unplayable lies, and not like those for using a motorized drone ball. Fouling the other player is perfectly permissible, but you will pay a price for doing so: loss of possession, free throws for the other team, etc. So fouling at the end of a game in order to get the ball back more quickly is not breaking the rules: it is using the rules in a strategic way.

Monday, August 03, 2015

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

I have used many software programs over many years. Some start up slowly, some load swiftly. But I think in all my years involved with computers, I have only run across one program that takes far, far longer -- on the order of 10 or 20 times as long -- to exit as it does to start up: iPython. (Anaconda distribution, Mac OS X Yosemite.)

What in the world could cause this behavior? One would think that anything that has to be broken down on exit had to be erected at start up, and that generally the erecting takes longer than the breaking down. Any ideas?

Death to the triple enclave!

The world's only triple enclave expired last week.

There are apparently many more enclaves in the world than one would think. Life in them turns out to be fairly difficult. Which is why every government on earth could grant a right of secession down to the individual level tomorrow, and we would find that only very eccentric people would take advantage of this possibility, and only very, very wealthy ones could make it work. You see, it turns out that the latest findings of social science have discovered that man is a political animal.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A very nice review...

Apparently, "immigrant" is a synonym for "brown-skinned"

When I read this article, I thought it was interesting: "immigrants" is a term largely reserved for non-whites, while whites abroad are called "ex-pats". But it didn't really hit home until I wrote this post. In it, I described how, when I had arrived in London the very week that the events in the post took place, I went to a West Indian night club. Now, the main surge of West Indian immigration to Britain took place in the 1950s and early 60s, so it is likely that a good majority of the people in the club were born in England, and perhaps had never left it. (Plus, I was going into "their" night club.)

So you would think it would be pretty obvious that it was me, the person who had just arrived in the country that very week, who was the immigrant in my story, and that the people who had lived in that country their entire life were the native population. But a couple of my readers saw the crowd in the night club as the immigrants, and me as a... I don't know, ex-pat? Because, if there are immigrants in a story, well, it must be the people with the brown skin, right?! White people can't be immigrants!

Current review queue

Pearce: British Journal for the History of Philosophy Deneen: The American Conservative Chao-Reiss: Computing Reviews