Wednesday, February 29, 2012

De inferno

On this melancholy subject   I myself have nothing to say:  the mere thought  fills me with horror.  The point of this note, then, is simply to report, that certain keen and orderly minds  do have something of value to say about the matter, contrary to what one might naively suppose.

(1)  One such is C.S. Lewis.  Those who know him only as a Christian apologist will not be surprised to hear that he treats of this; but I first knew him only as a historian of literature and ideas, and a semanticist (The Discarded ImageStudies in Words), well before I knew he was a Christian, or became one myself.

CSL seems temperamentally somewhat uncomfortable  tackling the dogma of eternal damnation.  He is not of those who, in former times, maintained that  among the delights of the saved  was beholding (as at a dogfight; with popcorn, peering over the clouds) the writhings of the damned in the bottomless pit.   His allegory on the subject, The Great Divorce, lacks the gusto of the Screwtape Letters, or the steel certainty of the essays.  (The title is also unfortunate.  I took it along to read on a family vacation, at a time when connubial bliss was at a rather low ebb, and fear it may have been misinterpreted by a frowning spouse  as a peppy self-help book.)  But nor does he go all mealy-mouthed, taking refuge in such contemporary side-steppings  as calling Hell merely a metaphor, or a bogey with which to frighten the Wesleyans, or (in a pinch) to maintain that, while, yes, strictly speaking  Hell does exist, but, God being all-merciful, it is empty, save for the very devils themselves.  (And even they !  Vide the meditations of Murphy:  Can Satan repent and be saved?)  Rather, Lewis carefully -- gingerly -- assembles a narrative in which the Free Will that we are undoubtedly granted in this life -- and which crucially includes the liberty to serve the Dark Prince instead of the Lord (though as Dylan pointed out, you’ve got to serve someone)  -- extends as well into the next:  the grim fate of the reprobate being likewise chosen
The notion seems fantastic at first, yet we do observe something very like this in this life, where an individual may mount the Seven Deadlies, and ride them again, and again, and again.   At what point, were their mortal life extended, would they suddenly turn round?  Perhaps never.  Whence the eternity.

(2) Another such is Father Schall, S.J., who in his calm and orderly volume, The Order of Things (2007), devotes an entire chapter (ordered between “The Order of Mind” and “The Order of Redemption”) to “The Order of Hell”.  And indeed, it is one of the better chapters.
The hope for an ever-empty Hell  he calls “desperate, though not totally heretical”  -- indeed, if a hope rather than a counter-doctrine,  heresy would seem not to be on the menu.   His argument for Hell in the traditional sense  is extended and subtle, and I’ll not attempt to summarize;  but his conclusion -- startlingly unapologetic and even upbeat -- is that the doctrine of Hell is part of “the drama on which our dignity is based”.  And he agrees with  -- indeed, exceeds -- C.S. Lewis on the key role that free will plays in all this:   "The only way to eliminate the doctrine of hell  would be  to eliminate the doctrine of the freedom of the will."

[Note:  The paperback edition of his book  has one of the loveliest covers ever.  I have borrowed the artwork here.]

*     *


One chooses perdition, one seeks salvation.
 Witness the chilling story here:

[Advisory:  Graphic images.]

*     *
*    *    *


What the reality may be  as regards Hell itself, I have no inkling.  But as to Hell-on-Earth … It is manifest.  Open your shutters and look out upon the streets.
A particularly fine depiction of this  is the episode in the TV series “Angel”, where the eponymous hero steps into the Elevator to Hell;  and after a jolting ride (like a test-pilot, he must absorb the g’s) he winds up… back in Los Angeles.

The Satanic infects our culture in myriad ways.  Consult this:

Incidentally …  The culmination of the Murphy saga, as yet unpublished, involves increasingly direct confrontations between the dogged two-fisted private detective, and His Dark Majesty.   A hint of what is to come  is available here.

So far the sales figures haven’t justified publishing anything else.   You yourself can rectify this sad situation by purchasing a thousand copies and sending them to everyone you know.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to celebrate Leap Day

Introduction to Set Theory

An easy introduction to the basic concepts of non-axiomatic set theory:

Venn and the art of cognitive analytics

When Penguins Ruled the Earth

[Updated here: ]

In what must surely rank as the greatest scientific find of the past century, top scientists today announced the most spectacular fossil find in recorded history: Enormous prehistoric penguins.

The species is known to men of science and good taste  as Pinguinus ingens, a standard Latin binomial -- ingens in that language meaning ‘ginormous’ and also ‘ingenious’, in reference to the mighty brain of these Jurassic giants, the largest ever recorded for a terrestrial species.   The creatures discussed in the BBC article, standing a little over four feet tall (thus towering over the human predecessors of the time) are actually a subspecies,  Pinguinus ingens minor.  Its sister species, Pinguinus ingens major,  stood eighty meters high at the shoulder

P. ingens minor, with an entourage of mastodons

In its time, it reigned supreme.  P. ingens major  throned  at the very top of the global food-chain, feasting on mastodons and dinosaurs  whenever the spirit took him.  He had no known natural predators -- the only potential danger stemming from the extraordinarily cunning and violent sabre-toothed hamster  (Cutus longidentis) which in those days sported the size and temperament of a rhinoceros.   Yet at a single Jeeves-like look from one of those frosty fellows so formerly attired -- as much as to say, “Do you… have an appointment ? ?” --  the sabre-toothed hamster would grin ingratiatingly and slink away backwards  into the bush.

Such are the findings of modern science.

So --  take it from Dr. Justice.
“Science You Can Trust”  ®

[Breaking update]  We interviewed some leading scientists for their take on these astonishing events.  Reached in his book-lined Harvard office,  Professor Steven Weinberg remarked:

This is fantastic.  I’m quitting physics.  Paleopenguinology is where the action is.

Physicist heart-throb Brian Greene  was equally enthusiastic:

Forget the Higgs boson.   Let the search for the Higgs penguin  begin !

Higgs penguin in its natural habitat

What -- You think I’m making this up ??  O ye of little faith!  Google “Higgs penguin” and you’ll see!   (Never doubt me again.)

“Science You Can Trust”  ®

*     *     *
~ Commercial break ~
We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

*     *     *

~  Bonus factoids ~

Did U know

=>  … that 70% of the world’s fresh water  is concentrated in Antarctica, in the form of icebergs?
=>  … that 90% of the world’s cuteness is concentrated in Antarctica, in the form of penguins?
(Yes, yes, hamsters are cute too;  these scientific statistics are based on total biomass, not headcount.  Hamsters don’t weigh very much.)

 For additional  trustworthy science-y truthiness, click here:

Science You Can Trust”  ®

[ Update 4 IV 12]  Further feathered progenitors:
"Yutyrannus huali, a giant, previously unrecognized dinosaur. The name of the species means 'Run like hell, here come the penguins!!'"
The New York Times article offers what purports to be a  nice photograph of Yutyrannus fleeing in terror before the onslaught of Pinguinus ingens.  However, as a Man of Science ("Science U Can Trust"), I must reluctantly voice some scepticism.  For, the "photographs" in question  were in color.  Now:  Had color photography even been invented, way back then?
(So you see how solicitous Dr Justice ever protects you from possibly bogus science.)

Update:  Photo of fossil of our feathered friend:
Warning:  Not for young children;  he looks a bit shmooshed.

[For further  fuzzy penguin  funstuff,  
simply click here:  ]

=>  Coming soon !    The "World of Dr Justice" interviews an actual  Higgs penguin !!!

In the meantime, while you're waiting, why not buy my books

[Update 7 Feb 2013]

Protungulatum donnae, earliest known ancestor of the saber-toothed hamster:

Bug !   Yum !!
Pinguinus ingens used to scarf these guys for brunch, then tweeze them out of their teeth.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Summa contra nihiles

There’s an o-old folk saying, that our granddads used to just love:

So here’s a new one to try on for size, for this age of reductionists, deconstructionists, and laboratory eliminativists:

~ Eliminate the Eliminators ~

Sort of has a ring, right?  Make you want to tap your toes?

We-ll, if you’re itching for the fun of a punch-up, check this out, where we take on the dementor of academic nihilism, and drive a stake through its coal-black heart:

[Update, 8:30 p.m.]

As you may or may not know, Dr. Massey is not only my personal spiritual advisor, but the Official Latin Master of this site.  So, prior to posting, I ran the title by him, thus:

The diatribe on "Eliminative materialism" has now received over a hundred views.
So I'd like to post a link back to it today, and am searching for a nice title.

Would   "Summa contra nihiles" work  for "Against Nihilists" -- punning on Summa contra gentiles ?
I know, it's a little like "Illegitimi non carborundum",  but if it's not too stupid, I'd like to use it.
If it's tooo stoopid, can you think of another appropriate word in -iles.

The clock ticked on; first the big hand, then the dreadful little hand, crawled remorselessly clockwise.  No reply.   Dr. Massey was away on business (in all probability, out saving souls.)
At last I could wait no longer, and posted the thing, and sent off this to my itinerant advisor:

Too late -- I had to go live -- the pun has been perpetrated.
America's bond with classical antiquity  may never be the same.
Mea maxima culpa.

Only, just now,  to receive this stern and stinging rebuke:

I don't like it. the -ist suffix comes from Latin, in a feminine form (but denoting males as well, for instance, lanista, gladiator instructor). Some of them are turned into isticus.

Don't underestimate the ability of astute readers to still pick up on the reference just from the rest of the sentence.

Summa contra nihilistas/Summa contra nihilisticos

Either of these is fine.

Yeh well -- fine, mebbe, but they don’t rhyme.
(Truth to tell, neither do gentiles and the made-up nihiles -- it's just an eye-rhyme.
The quantity is wrong: the i is long in gentilis, short in nihil.
Such tomfoolery  grievously offends  the trained ear of a Classicist.)

Anyhow, in penance, I must don sackcloth and ashes -- which, fortunately, this being already Lent, does not even require a change of costume.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"The Passion"

[In keeping with the Lenten season, we shall be posting some older essays.
 This one dates from 2004, when Mel Gibson's movie came out.]

~     ~     ~ 

 Suzanne & I just saw “The Passion”.  It was hard to stroll into the cineplex with an innocent eye, as our ears rang with the advance commotion:  everything from the First Things reviewers placing the movie literally in the company of the Allegri “Miserere” and the Divina Commedia, to Roger Ebert calling it “the most violent film I have ever seen” (suggesting, improbably, that he hasn’t seen many films), Slate calling it “Mel Gibson’s bloody mess”, and The New Republic calling it (with delirious untruth) “deeply cynical”.
The unavoidable question, which faces every citizen every time he nears a water cooler, is: Is it anti-Semitic?
            It’s supposed to be a movie you either love or loathe; I walked out thinking it the best movie in Aramaic I’ve seen all year (but who knows what March might bring). And one would not, I submit, were one somehow to walk in like the ideal juror, entirely without predisposition, having  just that afternoon  returned from an extended visit to the outer planets  and not had time to check a newspaper,   pick out precisely anti-Semitism or the lack of it  as the issue on which this movie turns.  That focus stems more from what viewers bring to the table, than what the film itself sets out for us to eat.

To see this, try a little thought-experiment.
There are only three characters in the movie  who, from their own spontaneous goodness and not from any contact with charisma or favors received, come forth to ease Christ’s sufferings:  the Virgin, Veronica, and Pilate’s wife. All are women. And all the bestial people are men.  Now, suppose that the director was a feisty feminist, and the advance buzz had been that the movie was Amazonian.  Same movie, same Rorschach blot. But we’d be having a different (and equally pointless) debate.
Or, suppose the director were a Catholic Ukrainian.  Now, the Ukraine is currently being torn, as was the Church as a whole in history, by schism, Roman versus Eastern Orthodox.  Advance buzz: Would the director somehow smuggle this controversy into the movie?  And lo, the soundtrack is in *Latin* (not Greek, as some reviewers have objected), and the Sanhedrin, good Lord, not like any rabbis we’ve ever seen, Caiaphas looks straight out of Byzantium!  Obviously the Vatican fix is in!
For that matter, suppose the director was actually *Jewish*, and the buzz was: he’s slyly made a movie to confound anti-Semites.  You could find blobs in the exact same blot to support even this thesis.  For:  The first person we see on-screen being converted from hostility to awe at Jesus  is Malchus, a Jew; and the one who physically most suffers for Jesus, and risks his own life in his defense, is another Jew, Simon of Cyrene, who carries the cross, and whose role is blown up way beyond the bare mention in the Gospels (indeed he has one of the more loquacious speaking parts in this laconic movie). The Virgin Mary speaks little beyond a line from the Passover Seder. Jesus himself we experience verbally almost exclusively through the medium of a Semitic language. But above all, the movie goes out of its way to depict the trial and condemnation  as the action of a cabal,  not of Jews as a whole  nor even the of rabbinate.  During the trial, which is represented as taking place under cover of darkness (pace Luke 22:66, “When day broke…”), one Jew objects that the whole thing is a farce, with contradictory testimony, and another objects that not all the religious authorities who should be  are present. This is not scriptural; indeed, Mark 14:54 and 15:1, Matthew 26:59  specify “the whole Sanhedrin”.  So who is responsible for the terrible events?  Visually the movie has an answer: Satan, a riveting figure, ever gliding behind the scenes, neither Jewish nor Gentile, neither female nor male, and in this context, very much the director’s own invention.

In recent years, movies have become increasingly self-referential and incestuous (now that there are at last many decades of film history to refer to, and now that the general public, with access to vast DVD collections, is in a better position to actually get the references). “The Passion” does not come from this world.  It’s less a traditional film than a passion play, a ritual re-enactment.  If you weren’t well versed in the Gospels, most of it wouldn’t even make sense, starting from the very first scene:  Who is this guy in the garden, and why is he so upset?  Allusions are elliptical: we see a flashback of the episode of the Woman Taken in Adultery, with no depiction of the accusation (let alone of the infraction) nor the defense, just the telling strange memorable detail of Jesus doodling with his finger  in the sand.  Bible mavens will see, in the mise en scene of Judas’ hanging, a reference to Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies, and perhaps an ironic echo of Samson, saved by the jawbone of an ass; but to the general audience, it must seem like a touch from Sergio Leone. Critics have dwelt on the extended flagellation scene (which doubtless felt even more extended for the prisoner), but there’s another emphatic and violent motif which is not so much in the cinematic tradition (several movies have had a scourging or a caning as their physical high-point):  Christ falling with his cross, not once but three times, with a boom and in slow motion.  What’s that about?  To understand it you practically have to be Catholic: the movie is patiently replaying each of the Stations of the Cross. The movie is trying to do something -- much as celebration of the Mass does something -- and not be just an artistic effect.  Quite in keeping with this is the lack of star actors, or a spate of TV commercials touting the film.  And to make it, the director put several million of his own money into the collection plate.  You have to respect that.

~     ~     ~ 

For a strangely affecting  melding of sight and sound, click here:

Austerity in Architecture

We have written little minimal bits  about the matter of Minimalism (in mathematics, in physics, in explanation generally).

This morning’s NYTimes has an excellent article on Architectural Minimalism, by Thomas de Monchaux:

Note:  I myself know almost nothing about architecture,  but you might be interested in the discussion of the London “Lloyd’s building”, in the context of a conjectural Aesthetic Realism  (a side-dish to our usual fare of Mathematical Realism or Platonism), towards the end of the following essay:

For a similarly minimalist thriller,
austere in that (for very good reasons)
the perpetrator is never explicitly named,
Murphy Calls-in a Specialist
Available for Kindle or Nook


[Update 27 II 12]  Dunno whether this is Minimalism or Maximalism -- it sort of looks like Minimalism inflated with a bicycle pump:

Like I say -- I know nothing about architecture, but I know what I don't like.
Great design for a Stalinist prison, though.

[Later update]
Whoops -- and here's a different view:
This one I like, assuming that all those niches are intended as hidey-holes for hamsters.


Some intra-architecural terminology for a related idea:

Against the Art Nouveau, the frivolous ornament, the useless decoration, the sentimental object, the Bauhaus raised the banner of functionalism.  The arched baroque and the involuted rococo  were replaced by stark geometrical planes and the unadorned curtain wall.
-- Daniel Bell,  The End of Ideology (1962, rev. ed. 1965, 1988), p. 243

Friday, February 24, 2012

Truth vs. Truthiness (updated)

[Update 24 Feb 2012]  The book discussed below  is to be reviewed, and the underlying issues wrestled with,  in this Sunday's NYTimes Book Review:

~  ~  ~

[originally posted 16 Feb]]

The Koran is often printed with a standard commentary running around each page.  In the center, the dramatic, exhortatory, exclamatory text of the Koran itself, presented as the Word of God.  In the margins,  scholarly parsings of grammar, textual variants, etc.   The format does not really create dialectical tension, since the commentary, though straightforward and fact-based, does not intend to upset any apple-carts, nor to so much as bruise any individual apple.   And indeed, at UC Berkeley, where I sat in (for a while, before dropping out in disgust) on a Koran class for students in the Middle Eastern Studies department, “taught” or rather doled out  by a dour Scottish convert to Islam, the instruction -- unusual for a graduate-level class -- consisted almost entirely of first reading aloud a verse of the Koran, and then the commentary:  verse, commentary; verse, commentary.  No meta-commentary was either given or solicited by our dominie;  from the wall of his cramped and airless office, a giant poster of the Ayatollah Khomeini glared down  as if to reinforce the point.

A quite interesting publishing phenomenon has now revived the format:  text in the center, commentary around the margins.  But now the text is that of a magazine bloviator, a dude of truthitude; the commentary is that of a relentless fact-checker, a veritable Inspector Javert of the Correspondence Theory of Truth; and it is published in the margins  along with an acerbic anti-commentary or surrejoinder  by the original author.   The text itself -- typical journalistic syrup -- does not in itself merit such attention;  but the dialectical approach is quite interesting, and far above the norm of smug journalism.  You can read all about it here:

I posted a satirical version of this sort of thing awhile earlier:
Commentary plus anti-Commentary (not to mention some “readers’” “Comments”).

For our other posts on Truthiness, click here.
For serious philosophical examinations of Truth, here.

[Update:] A commentor at the Slate site points out that the Talmud as well is published in such a format;  and that this exemplar may even have inspired this latest publishing venture.

Another valuably observes:
Herzog famously rejects the "truth of accountants" in favor of something he calls "ecstatic truth", the proper target even of his documentary films.

While such an approach can certainly be abused, there is indeed a time for non-actuarial veracity, as you may learn from the Murphy Brothers  here:


The older and more classic  a text becomes, the more likely it is to appear in scholarly editions with festoons of footnotes -- usually not wreathed around the margins, Koran-fashion, but relegated to the bottom of the page.   And yet one such edition, undertaken  in all probability  with no inkling that controversy would arise,  winds up taking issue with the object text in an unsettling way.  Henri Chamard, in his édition critique of the celebrated La deffence et illustration de la langue francoyse (sic; such is the diplomatic spelling) by Joachim du Bellay, is brought nolens volens to the conclusion that du Bellay pretty much plagiarized the bulk of it from an essay by an Italian, one Speroni.  The footnotes thus often consist of the source-quotations from that earlier work, the scholar functioning, not so much as a fact-checker, but as a veracity-checker, or honesty-checker.

Mitt Romney: more like "subtruthiness" or "hypotruthitude":
"There's been quite a bit of consternation among reporters lately about Mitt Romney’s refusal to answer their questions. And rightly so. But let’s be clear on why Romney is refusing to engage reporters. If he did, he’d face questions about the mounting instances of dishonesty his campaign has resorted to in the final stretch ...
In the race’s final days, Romney has adopted what you might call a Kamikaze strategy. His campaign is cranking out a startling number of falsehoods and sleazy attacks..."


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lenten reflections …

… from someone far more Catholic than ourselves:

Faster than Light! (not)

Scientific truth is really growing, but it is by fits and starts;  hypotheses rise and fall;  it is difficult to anticipate  which will keep their ground, and what the state of knowledge will be  from year to year.  In this condition of things, it has seemed to me to be very undignified for a Catholic to commit himself to the work of chasing what might be phantoms …
-- John Henry Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864)

An update to a post about the continued attempts of the media to puff up particle physics with more philosophical-theological content  than it can well bear.

The latest from today's Washington Post:

Nev-vah mind...

[originally posted 24 Sept 2011]
The Washington Post front-pages CERN’s report of neutrinos apparently traveling faster than light.   The prominent coverage is welcome, reminding us that particle physicists are still hard at work, even if they have had a mostly discouraging couple of decades of late, and been outshone by stellar developments in cosmology.  The coverage is somewhat breathless (“Particles Bust Einstein’s Speed Limit”) and reliably middle-brow -- scientists are depicted, not as exercising their brains, but as scratching their “noggins”, just like you ‘n’ me.   But the article doesn’t fall to the level  of  “physics porn” -- wrenching the facts around and blotting out context, to appeal to the laziest readers.   It’s an honorable heads-up.  Would that a quarter of every front-page could be devoted to physics!   (And another quarter to math, and another to biology, and another to philosophy… For the latest prevarications by politicians, please turn to page 48b.)

Not entirely accurate, perhaps.  The report may not be the very first -- there were some experiments at Princeton awhile back, that seemed to indicate travel either supraluminal or backwards in time.   More important, the reported particles presumably do not actually “bust” the speed of light, in the sense of accelerating until they surpassed it:  that really would contradict Special Relativity.   Rather, they would exist beyond it, in the supraluminal realm:  and are as impotent to slow down to or below the photon’s lazy speed, as an ordinary subluminal particle is to speed up to it.  The possibility of supraluminal particles (“tachyons”) was first mooted many decades ago, though it led nowhere, as they apparently did not exist.
It they do exist, that is now surprising -- but it seems surprising (speaking naively now),  not simply that the supraluminal realm should be populated, but that, if it is so, that it should be so sparsely populated.    How have such particles eluded detection until now?  And why not supraluminal photons -- or protons, for that matter?  The situation is somewhat reminiscent (again, speaking naively) of the tremendous factual, though not theoretical, asymmetry between matter and antimatter, as we find it in our neighborhood.
In both cases -- supraluminal particles and antimatter -- the discovery of the new stuff is  thought-provoking, though systemically a bit awkward.  It certainly doesn’t match the hype in the concluding line of the WaPo’s (scientifically semi-literate -- hey, at least the glass is half full) blogpost on this subject: “it will shake the very foundation of what we believe;”  nor, in the words of the Top Comment at that site, does it tell us “something fundamental about us”.  Bear in mind that scarcely a wight upon this planet harbors justified true belief about much of anything in science;  we just acknowledge (if we even well recall) what we read in the papers.  So to be told that there’s a Higgs boson, say, or then, Nope, none after all; that the cosmos is infinite no finite no it’s flat no it’s curved;  doesn’t shake our foundations one tittle.   Would that it did.

[Update 19 Nov 2011:]
Les neutrinos toujours plus rapides que la lumière
A reader comments:
"Vu l'obscurantisme qui recouvre peu à peu la France depuis 4 ans... comment s'étonner que les lumières veuillent fuir notre pays..."

Pour d’autres friandises
de la confiserie 
du docteur Justice,

~     ~     ~

Wanna know how I spent sophomore year? 
Listening to this:

(“ Fas-ter -  than - light -- if you want to…”)

I was taking Advanced Calculus (from Andrew Gleason -- “Math 55”, the pons asinorum; I fell off), Topology (from Edwin Moise) and Intro Logic (Phil 140, from Quine), each of them key.   That song played in the background, or the foreground, over and over, the sound-track to a complete immersion in abstraction.  Giant posters of Einstein, and of the astronauts, beamed from the walls of my dorm-room.  And the Moody Blues mooned on…
It’s actually pretty insipid, musically;  but then, it is difficult to make art out of physics.
Moreover there is a danger, whether in listening to such things, or (its visual equivalent) simply lying on your back and staring up at a cloudless sky, a danger of winding up in a gravely dangerous state, incisively limned here.

~     ~     ~

For all you really need to know about tachyons, click here.

[Update 16 III 2012] Never mind again:

[Update 1 Oct 2013]

Thus, so far as we know to this day, there are no supraluminal particles.
There are, however, supraluminal animals:  the snow bunnies.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dies Cinerum

For our Lenten offerings  from the past season:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Contraception

[This subject, momentarily displacing abortion, has actually managed to make it onto the public square this past fortnight, in the context of the American Presidential campaign.  That arena, with its lies and hysteria, is hardly the place for judicious contemplation.  Hence we offer our own few observations  here.]

C.S. Lewis, lecturing the troops on spiritual matters during WWII, quickly found that discussing sins of fornication was utterly pointless.  The men had no sense of sin in this regard, so there was no point examining how to resist such temptations.  Much more fruitful, he found, was to take   as his starting-point  some sin that he himself had committed  that very week.   -- Since the sort of sins he was personally given to, tended to tend towards such matters -- or so I imagine -- as the Breaking of Promise in the matter of overdue library books, and (horresco referens) Pride, in the matter of witty little zingers he’d let fly in acerbic book-reviews, it is unclear how the troops would have related to these; but let it pass;  I hope to discuss the matter with him more at length, in another world.
A fortiori  is the Church’s position on contraception   just … incomprehensible, to almost anyone, Catholic or not.   That does not mean at all that it is mistaken;  but it is so deeply lodged in an intricately reticulated world-philosophy, that to extract it from that context  is to kill the thing.   I suspect, indeed, that the Church is deeply right on this -- or rather, if she be right at all, she can only be deeply right, since  to every surface evidence of the senses, she is grievously in error -- and this, from the standpoint, not of the scoffer with nothing at stake, but of the ordinary Catholic:  compare such works as The British Museum Is Falling Down, by the excellent Catholic novelist  David Lodge.

Once again, we are confronted with an obvious analogy in Theologia mathematica:  So very much, from algebraic topology on up, is True but Incomprehensible (save to a few).  -- This observation is not, obviously, by way of proving any incomprehensible thing (be it the teachings of the Church, or of Grothendieck), but simply of refuting the notion that, if a thing be incomprehensible, in our lifetime, to the man in the street, it must needs be  baloney.

Note:  By coincidence, I am currently re-reading, for the first time since high school, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  It is a dystopian fantasy about a society that has carried birth control to its logical limits: there are no more births in the usual sense at all;  babies are synthesized in test-tubes.   Those acculturated into this system  shudder at the way things were before;  their historians explain:

There was something called Christianity.
Women were forced to be viviparous.

[Update]  Debate about contraception -- and, a fortiori, abortion -- tends to be so polarized, that neither side can hear the other.
A refreshing exception is this, from our friend and colleague Dr Massey.  He is Christian  down to the marrow of his bones -- and also a keenly logical thinker:

What Christians should do is continue to challenge society to explore the logical basis for differing attributions of human life, liberty, and dignity.

(Emphasis added.)

At the foot of the Scala Naturae

[Note:  We are at the eve of Lent. 
And in these pages,
politics mathematics  and movie-musings 
must needs recede 
in favor of meditations 
upon first and final things.]

In this place, we celebrate -- nay, glorify -- our buddies the bugs:

And in this place, Murphy (more mystical than we) manages even to praise those less-than-animals, less-than-orchids:  the weeds:

For we are each -- dandelion, ladybug, or algebraic geometer -- one rung on the ladder, that leads (through rising ranks of angels) that ascends (past our understanding)…. to Him.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Phrasal Labels

For the most part, the clickable items you’ll see in the “labels” field at the bottom of the page  are self-explanatory -- physics or politics or what have you.  But occasionally I index, not a conventionally designated subject, but an idea, choosing a related proverb as the Label.


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Cf.  Tillyard compares the position of Man in the Great Chain of Being, for the Elizabethans, to “a kind of Clapham Junction  where all the tracks converge and cross.” (The Elizabethan World Picture (1942).)

Cf.  As well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.
Il n’y a que le premier pas qui coûte.

The flip-side of the usual narrative.

This particular post doesn’t fit naturally with any of the current Labels, so I’ve placed “penguins” in the Label field, just to point out where it lies.

Arthropod Epiphany

Just think !  If we were millipedes,
our trousers would have a thousand legs.

[For more about bugs, click here: