Sunday, December 31, 2017

Changes, Sustains, Dissolves, Creates, and Rears

Last Lines
by Emily Brontë

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life--that in me has rest,
As I--undying Life--have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as wither'd weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine Infinity;
So surely anchor'd on
The steadfast rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou were left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou--Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

The Last Jedi

I finally got around to seeing The Last Jedi; it was OK but not great. There are great scenes but it rambles around too much, and at times is almost a parody of the obsession with subverting audience expectations -- see! this entire line of the story that we built up so much investment on, we're just throwing it away, just because; bet you didn't see that coming!

But the primary irritation I had was Vice Admiral Incompetent. One of my pet peeves, which is irritated quite a bit in modern cinema, is the character that is put forward as Strong Smart Woman whose behavior is in fact either sociopathic or arbitrary. Fortunately we avoided sociopathic here -- it could have been much worse, had they attempted to make Holdo seem a strong leader by excessive violence, which is too often done -- but they manage to make her incompetent. The decoy tactic wasn't bad, but in the course of implementing it, she (1) managed to spark a mutiny by simply failing to reassure her people that she had a plan; and (2) implemented her plan without preparing her people, or giving them any indication of the goals beforehand, despite the fact that the plan required swift and stealthy at-a-moment evacuation to a base that needed to be prepared as quickly as possible. She refused to explain herself at all, even when it was clear that her crew was cracking under the strain, which is the worst kind of authoritarian leadership. It looks even worse when one compares it to the snippets we'd seen in this and the prior movie of Leia's leadership, which always shows her as fully in command, with the full respect of her troops, while also taking into account individuals as individuals. I mean, in this movie she slaps Poe and demotes him, but still (very understandably) has his unwavering loyalty. But Vice Admiral Holdo shows nothing but that she can't handle people. And it's not as if the Resistance is a regular army; it's a ragtag group of volunteers that needs to have far more flexibility than another kind of military would have, one in which the distance between Commander and Vice Admiral is more a matter of keeping order than a rigid chain of command; even if she had shown more competence, her command style is entirely wrong for the kind of fight she's leading.

And this, of course, is setting aside the fact that her plan is an extraordinary gamble -- a large-scale stealth evacuation, to a supposedly highly armored facility (whose armor turns out to be technologically obsolete), simply in order to radio for help. Were it not for the deus ex machina of Luke Skywalker, the entire Resistance would be gone, instead of reduced to a single ship.

The only thing in the movie that irritated me more was when at the casino planet, after having made such a big deal about the slavery issue, they free the animals and leave the slaves in slavery.

But there are good parts. While we don't get much sense of continuity between the Luke Skywalker here and the one we've known previously, much of the Skywalker/Solo line of the movie is fairly decent. The burn-the-past element is questionable, but there are indications that this is not the whole story (e.g., Rey's keeping of some of the Jedi texts, and her repudiation of Kylo Ren's let-the-past-die approach).

Evening Notes Index, 2017b

November 27: The Hegelian Ontological Argument

November 7: Martyrs under Communism

October 26: Andrew Moon on Degrees of Belief

October 12: Of the Logic of Imperatives

September 27: Indispensability Arguments for Causal Reasoning

September 6: Psycho-Pass

July 31: The Epistemological Objection to Divine Command Theory

July 21: 'The Normative Jinx'

July 13: On the Reliability Problem for Mathematical Platonism

Evening Notes Index, 2017a

Friday, December 29, 2017

Or You May Guess

Winter: My Secret
by Christina Rossetti

I tell my secret? No indeed, not I:
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows, and snows,
And you’re too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only, my secret’s mine, and I won’t tell.

Or, after all, perhaps there’s none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
Today’s a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to everyone who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro’ my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro’ my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good will,
Believe, but leave the truth untested still.

Spring’s an expansive time: yet I don’t trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro’ the sunless hours.

Perhaps some languid summer day,
When drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there’s not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.

Christina Rossetti died December 29, 1894.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Music on My Mind

Neil Harrison, "The Windmills of Your Mind". The theme from the 1968 movie, The Thomas Crown Affair, with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway; it won the Oscar for Best Original Song, a well deserved award, I think.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Fortnightly Books Index 2017

December 10: G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday
Introduction, Review

November 26: Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
Introduction, Review

November 5: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales
Introduction, Review, "Rappaccini's Daughter" on the Radio

October 22: Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island
Introduction, Review

October 8: Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard
Introduction, Review

September 24: Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising Sequence
Introduction, Review

September 10: Alexandre Dumas (and Auguste Maquet), The Three Musketeers
Introduction, Review

August 13: Murusaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
Introduction, Review

July 30: Katherine Burdekin, Swastika Night
Introduction, Review

July 16: J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Introduction, Review

July 2: Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Series
Introduction, Review

June 18: Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, mártir
Introduction, Review

June 4: Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; Murder on the Orient Express; Appointment with Death; 13 at Dinner; The Tuesday Club Murders; What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!
Introduction, Review

May 21: Craig Williamson, The Complete Old English Poems
Introduction, Review

April 30: Teresa of Avila, The Life; The Interior Castle
Introduction, Review

April 16: Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Introduction, Review

March 26: Dante, Purgatorio
Introduction, Review

March 12: Dorothy Sayers, The Man Born to Be King
Introduction, Review

February 26: Mary Renault, Fire from Heaven
Introduction, Review

February 12: Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
Introduction, Review

January 29: John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights
Introduction, Review

January 8: Ayako Sono, Watcher from the Shore
Introduction, Review


Fortnightly Books Index for 2016

Fortnightly Books Index for 2015

Fortnightly Books Index for 2014

Fortnightly Books Index for 2012-2013

Monday, December 25, 2017

Came a Message from Above

by Lewis Carroll

Lady dear, if Fairies may
For a moment lay aside
Cunning tricks and elfish play,
'Tis at happy Christmas-tide.

We have heard the children say -
Gentle children, whom we love -
Long ago, on Christmas Day,
Came a message from above.

Still, as Christmas-tide comes round,
They remember it again -
Echo still the joyful sound
'Peace on earth, good-will to men!'

Yet the hearts must childlike be
Where such heavenly guests abide:
Unto children, in their glee,
All the year is Christmas-tide!

Thus, forgetting tricks and play
For a moment, Lady dear,
We would wish you, if we may,
Merry Christmas, glad New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday


Opening Passage:

The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset. It was built of a bright brick throughout; its sky-line was fantastic, and even its ground plan was wild. It had been the outburst of a speculative builder, faintly tinged with art, who called its architecture sometimes Elizabethan and sometimes Queen Anne, apparently under the impression that the two sovereigns were identical. It was described with some justice as an artistic colony, though it never in any definable way produced any art. But although its pretensions to be an intellectual centre were a little vague, its pretensions to be a pleasant place were quite indisputable. The stranger who looked for the first time at the quaint red houses could only think how very oddly shaped the people must be who could fit in to them. Nor when he met the people was he disappointed in this respect. The place was not only pleasant, but perfect, if once he could regard it not as a deception but rather as a dream....

Summary: Gabriel Syme, a poet is recruited to be a philosophical detective, destroying the roots of anarchy, by a mysterious many in a dark room. In the pursuit of his duties, he gets himself elected as Thursday to the Supreme Anarchist Council, in which each member is given the name of a day of the week. He and his fellow philosophical detectives must work together to foil the leader of the Council, Sunday. But nothing is what it seems.

The Man Who Was Thursday is not intended to convey the way the world is, but how it can seem to be to a pessimist, one who thinks there might be no meaning, no purpose, no deeper significance to the world, one who thinks that, in fact, the world is in the hands of anarchy. But going through life and being human is itself enough occasionally to get glimpses of something more -- whether it is as a philosopher, dividing light from darkness, or a poet, making the sun and moon and stars signs for the times and seasons, or as a scientist, making man to rule to the world, or in any other fundamental way by which human beings interact with the world. However pessimistic we may be, the world itself sometimes seems to disclose a deeper meaning, as if we had only ever been seeing the back of things. It is, perhaps, meaning in a nightmare, when everything seem for a moment to turn topsy-turvy, but it seems to be meaning, nonetheless.

One of the great beauties of the work, of course, is the Council of Days, whether as leader of the anarchists, or as detectives in pursuit of Sunday, or in the final masquerade of the world when they meet as the Seven Days of Creation. In a sense it almost works too well -- it makes the work seem more charged with significance than Chesterton had intended it to be. It is striking every time I read it -- particularly the scene in which Syme sees Monday dressed as the fundamental philosophical function, the First Day of Creation, the dividing of light from the darkness.

Favorite Passage:

As Syme strode along the corridor he saw the Secretary standing at the top of a great flight of stairs. The man had never looked so noble. He was draped in a long robe of starless black, down the centre of which fell a band or broad stripe of pure white, like a single shaft of light. The whole looked like some very severe ecclesiastical vestment. There was no need for Syme to search his memory or the Bible in order to remember that the first day of creation marked the mere creation of light out of darkness. The vestment itself would alone have suggested the symbol; and Syme felt also how perfectly this pattern of pure white and black expressed the soul of the pale and austere Secretary, with his inhuman veracity and his cold frenzy, which made him so easily make war on the anarchists, and yet so easily pass for one of them. Syme was scarcely surprised to notice that, amid all the ease and hospitality of their new surroundings, this man’s eyes were still stern. No smell of ale or orchards could make the Secretary cease to ask a reasonable question.

If Syme had been able to see himself, he would have realised that he, too, seemed to be for the first time himself and no one else. For if the Secretary stood for that philosopher who loves the original and formless light, Syme was a type of the poet who seeks always to make the light in special shapes, to split it up into sun and star. The philosopher may sometimes love the infinite; the poet always loves the finite. For him the great moment is not the creation of light, but the creation of the sun and moon.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Second Apostle of Germany

Today is the feast of St. Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church. From a seventeenth-century translation of one of his catechisms (as slightly modernized by myself to make it easier to read):

What is the name and nature of the Cardinal Virtues?

Certain virtues are thus called Cardinal because they are as it were the fountains and hinges of all the rest, and as the door turns upon the hinges, so the whole course of honest life consists of them, and the whole frame of good works seems after a fashion to depend upon them. And they are accounted four in number: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. Whereof it is thus written: She teaches Sobriety and Prudence and Justice and Virtue, than which things there is nothing in this life more profitable to men, where by Sobriety, Temperance, and Virtue, Fortitude, are not obscurely signified. And all of them are so commended unto us, that we may assuredly understand that by the eternal wisdom which is God they are properly bestowed, and are received and exercised with very great fruit of man's salvation. Which virtues are also called Officials, that is, appertaining to offices or duties, because from them, as Saint Ambrose has noted, spring the diverse kinds of offices; and are derived all manner of duties appertaining to the ordinary life of man, according to every man's vocation.

Links of Note

* Susan Cooper, "A Catch of Breath", her J.R.R Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature from earlier this year:

* Elissa on self-sacrifice in Buffy the Vampire-Slayer.

* Galen Strawson, A Hundred Years of Consciousness

* Juliet Floyd, The Varieties of Rigorous Experience

* Robert Paul Wolff, The Completion of Kant's Moral Philosophy in the Tenets of the Rechtslehre

* Ilan Levine provides a handy explanation of Dark Matter, for those who are murky on the concept:

* The Time the US Senate Debated Crabcakes

* Oobah Butler, I Made My Shed the Top Rated Restaurant on TripAdvisor, is quite hilarious.

* James Chastek, Contemporary Anti-Stoicism.

* As it's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, it's time to visit the greatest scientific popularization of all time, Michael Faraday's The Chemical History of a Candle. Bill Hammack has an excellent set of videos on it. You can read Faraday's original lectures at Internet Archive.


* The PNC Christmas Price Index (ht)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Another Poem Draft

Sekhet Alu

The two colonnades of Busiris here stand,
the pillars of glory in the realm of the ram.
Where the four-souled beast raises its head,
mighty Anubis protects every gate,
bowing head to Osiris, the master of fate
and the king of the realms of the dead.
He rules there in peace, with truth as his rod,
his throne in the midst of the tomb of the god
where emperors themselves come to die,
the lord of the west as the sun that has set,
strong in his splendor and unfaded as yet,
and strong like the death of the sky.
Unless it has died, a seed cannot live;
to that which is dead, no fear can one give,
for the dead in the fields like the seeds are all sown.
Embalmed they are cured, and freed from all blight,
the sunset preserving the joys of their sight:
Osiris they know, by Osiris are known.
The marshmallow lands by the Delta-mouth grown
with the souls of the dead are become thickly sown,
the asphodel meadows where the mummy-god rules.
The dead are all walking in the splendor of light,
hearts light as a feather and ardent for right,
and free of this world so snake-like and cruel.
The twofold truth in the halls of the king
with the pious confession in prayer there rings
('I am pure, I am pure, I am pure').
The never-defiled have reward as they must,
and are weighted in the balance, and known to be just:
in the hands of Anubis their spirits endure.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Three Poem Drafts


The mistletoe clutches the strength of the oak,
least of all things and the object of joke,
but a sprig, almost nothing, eternity broke:
Contempt of the small is the death
of the great and the wise.

An intellect burning with malice and hate,
and thrown by a god with the blindness of fate,
the world then did learn -- but it learned over-late --
Contempt of the small is the death
of the great and the wise.

The wealthy will founder on the dreams of the poor,
the clever be fooled by the fools they ignore,
a Child in a manger shall rule every shore.
Contempt of the small is the death
of the great and the wise.


With old sepulchral light the moon,
harsh and vivid, plenilune,
stares with glaring eye on all
touched by traces of the Fall;
the night is dark, the night is bright
with unilluminating light,
with unchromatic, pristine white.

Bystanding stars look sadly down
on stark and shade-infested ground;
the eye is witched, its vision lies,
the light from every corner shies;
an original sin, like a stain, overlays
the compline earth as it petitions and prays:
O present help, assist our ways.

The moon resides in orbit high,
but higher orbits yet may fly;
the stars that in the evening wake
but gems of diadem do make
for regnal glory, and light most sweet,
that spans the world and night defeats,
the moon itself beneath her feet.


Speak to me, O Muse,
of the man of many turns,
who over-wandered
when he had destroyed the holy city of Troy,
who saw the cities
and learned the minds of many men,
who endured great sorrows in his breast
while taking his life in his hands,
and the return of his companions.
Ah, even so, he did not save his fellows,
for all his ardor for it --
for they died in frenzy,
having eaten the oxen of Helios on high,
so that he took from them their return-day.
Of these things also,
from every source,
O goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak.

Music on My Mind

Chris de Burgh, "A Spaceman Came Travelling". A very, very 1970s song.

Monday, December 18, 2017

In Sevenfold Splendour Blazed the Moon

The White Witch
by G. K. Chesterton

The dark Diana of the groves
Whose name is Hecate in hell
Heaves up her awful horns to heaven
White with the light I know too well.

The moon that broods upon her brows
Mirrors the monstrous hollow lands
In leprous silver; at the term
Of triple twisted roads she stands.

Dreams are no sin or only sin
For them that waking dream they dream;
But I have learned what wiser knights
Follow the Grail and not the Gleam.

I found One hidden in every home,
A voice that sings about the house,
A nurse that scares the nightmares off,
A mother nearer than a spouse,

Whose picture once I saw; and there
Wild as of old and weird and sweet,
In sevenfold splendour blazed the moon
Not on her brow; beneath her feet.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Uncited Academic Papers

A very interesting discussion of citation in the sciences: Richard Van Noorden, The science that's never been cited. It notes, among other things, that accurately assessing whether any given paper has been cited, and what it even means when it is, is non-trivial, but I was particularly interested in this part, which identifies one very important problem with putting too much emphasis in the first place on whether a paper has been cited or not:

Still other articles might remain uncited because they close off unproductive avenues of research, says Niklaas Buurma, a chemist at Cardiff University, UK. In 2003, Buurma and colleagues published a paper about ‘the isochoric controversy’ — an argument about whether it would be useful to stop a solvent from contracting or expanding during a reaction, as usually occurs when temperatures change. In theory, this technically challenging experiment might offer insight into how solvents influence chemical reaction rates. But Buurma’s tests showed that chemists don’t learn new information from this type of experiment. “We set out to show that something was not worth doing — and we showed it,” he says. “I am quite proud of this as a fully uncitable paper,” he adds.

Fairy Tales and Modern Novels

“Can you not see,” I said, “that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is—what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is—what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos. In the excellent tale of ‘The Dragon’s Grandmother,’ in all the other tales of Grimm, it is assumed that the young man setting out on his travels will have all substantial truths in him; that he will be brave, full of faith, reasonable, that he will respect his parents, keep his word, rescue one kind of people, defy another kind, ‘parcere subjectis et debellare,’ etc. Then, having assumed this centre of sanity, the writer entertains himself by fancying what would happen if the whole world went mad all round it, if the sun turned green and the moon blue, if horses had six legs and giants had two heads. But your modern literature takes insanity as its centre. Therefore, it loses the interest even of insanity. A lunatic is not startling to himself, because he is quite serious; that is what makes him a lunatic. A man who thinks he is a piece of glass is to himself as dull as a piece of glass. A man who thinks he is a chicken is to himself as common as a chicken. It is only sanity that can see even a wild poetry in insanity. Therefore, these wise old tales made the hero ordinary and the tale extraordinary. But you have made the hero extraordinary and the tale ordinary—so ordinary—oh, so very ordinary.”

G. K. Chesterton, "The Dragon's Grandmother" from Tremendous Trifles.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Like the Fire of the First Man

A very real psychological interest, almost amounting to a psychological mystery, attaches to any early work of Jane Austen. And for that one reason, among others, which has hardly been sufficiently emphasised. Great as she was, nobody was likely to maintain that she was a poet. But she was a marked example of what is said of the poet; she was born, not made. As compared with her, indeed, some of the poets really were made. Many men who had the air of setting the world on fire have left at least a reasonable discussion about what set them on fire. Men like Coleridge or Carlyle had certainly kindled their first torches from the flambeaux of equally fantastic German mystics or Platonic speculators; they had gone through furnaces of culture where even less creative people might have been inflamed to creation. Jane Austen was not inflamed or inspired or even moved to be a genius; she simply was a genius. Her fire, what there was of it, began with herself; like the fire of the first man who rubbed two dry sticks together. Some would say that they were very dry sticks which she rubbed together. It is certain that she by her own artistic talent made interesting what thousands of superficially similar people would have made dull.

G. K. Chesterton, Introduction to Love and Freindship

And Purity of Mind that Crowns the Whole

To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 — my Birthday.
by Jane Austen

The day returns again, my natal day;
What mix’d emotions with the Thought arise!
Beloved friend, four years have pass’d away
Since thou wert snatch’d forever from our eyes.–

The day, commemorative of my birth
Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me,
Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth.
Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory!–

Angelic Woman! past my power to praise
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind.
Thy solid Worth, thy captivating Grace!–
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!–

At Johnson’s death by Hamilton t’was said,
‘Seek we a substitute–Ah! vain the plan,
No second best remains to Johnson dead–
None can remind us even of the Man.’

So we of thee–unequall’d in thy race
Unequall’d thou, as he the first of Men.
Vainly we search around the vacant place,
We ne’er may look upon thy like again.

Come then fond Fancy, thou indulgent Power,–
–Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!–
Bless thou, this little portion of an hour,
Let me behold her as she used to be.

I see her here, with all her smiles benign,
Her looks of eager Love, her accents sweet.
That voice and Countenance almost divine!–
Expression, Harmony, alike complete.–

I listen–’tis not sound alone–’tis sense,
‘Tis Genius, Taste and Tenderness of Soul.
‘Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence
And purity of Mind that crowns the whole.

She speaks; ’tis Eloquence–that grace of Tongue
So rare, so lovely!–Never misapplied
By her to palliate Vice, or deck a Wrong,
She speaks and reasons but on Virtue’s side.

Her’s is the Energy of Soul sincere.
Her Christian Spirit ignorant to feign,
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, cheer,
Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain.–

Can aught enhance such Goodness?–Yes, to me,
Her partial favour from my earliest years
Consummates all.–Ah! Give me yet to see
Her smile of Love.–the Vision disappears.

‘Tis past and gone–We meet no more below.
Short is the Cheat of Fancy o’er the Tomb.
Oh! might I hope to equal Bliss to go!
To meet thee Angel! in thy future home!–

Fain would I feel an union in thy fate,
Fain would I seek to draw an Omen fair
From this connection in our Earthly date.
Indulge the harmless weakness–Reason, spare.–

Friday, December 15, 2017

Dashed Off XXVI

I'm both grading and fighting off some kind of sickness, so things are likely to be slow around here for a while.

Even if Bayesianism is the proper account for coming to believe, it would not follow that it is the proper account for drawing a conclusion in a specific kind of inquiry, since all specific inquiry operates under constraints.

A Bayesian theory of evidence detaches evidence from explanation.

It is more fruitful to consider kinds of evidential support than degrees of evidential support.

Curie's principle should perhaps be regarded as a feature of natural classification in causal situations.
Curie's principle & the formation of general causal propositions

not-presence of evidence vs. evidence of not-presence

The Qur'an involves history only by allusion; it subsumes it as a supplement to command and exhortation, and an often incidental supplement, at that.

joy as a precondition of prophecy (Maimonides)

moral angst (as distinguished from moral guilt)
moral alarm, moral dread, moral terror (alarm + dread)

Sometimes the parts of evidence are only evidence in that kind of composition with its co-parts.

Some conclusions are not merely certain but hypercertain.

testimonial knowledge // sensory knowledge
testifiers as quasi sensory organs

Note that the major Buddhist arguments against substance fall into roughly two groups: change-based and composition-based.

A basic principle behind the notion of karma is that what we do in acting goes well beyond what we immediately experience.

The handing down of sacred Tradition is a handing down of a way of being in the world.

the role of mulling in inquiry

"The resurrection cannot be explained without the Holy Trinity." Staniloae

Time becomes a grace by being transfigured into an opportunity for repentance.

original sin and humanity's lack of union with a Head

"The lips are offered as spirit, but they respond as flesh." Scruton

There are only two routes to wisdom, prayer and virtue, and modern education selects for neither.

Without repentance, there is no progress.

support of the Church as part of one's responsibility for the education of children
natural responsibility // ecclesial responsibility
survival // participation
reproduction & education // support of Church and its missions
social // active life
truth // contemplative life

One of the greatest talents in philosophy and science is to be able to recognize as evidence what other eyes pass over, blind to the implications.

An action may be objectively wrong and yet not everyone in a position to see this clearly -- for that it could be seen does not mean nothing can impede or confuse, nor does it mean it is always easy to see.

Descriptive terms in the sciences depend heavily on testimony (shared perceptions, shared methods, shared experiments, shared inferences). It is only when testimonially grounded in this way that descriptive terms are used scientifically, and only to the extent they involve this testimonially shared aspect do they matter for scientific purposes.

cause, manner of causation, invariance through causation

aesthetic regard as synoptic

considering an idea in the guise of another idea

A command decision is mostly tactical compulsion.

rise, spread, twist, inflow, outflow
Stained glass allows inflow without outflow (light clearly comes in, sight does not go out)
Church architecture should use its form (rise, spread, flow of light, flow of sight, curl) to direct to the sacred (the consecrated).
the link between spread and flow of sight
The difficulty with inwardly radial flow of sight is that the flow of sight is unstructured and thus unguided. This is not a problem for sitting around a campfire, because the flow of light is outward; in church architecture, one must do more to creat a non-bland result, like a raised platform, creating a rise. A semicircular set-up has the same problem. And in both cases, solutions are limited. Rectangular halls (naves), on the other hand, allow the flow of sight to be structured by wall, pillar, rise, flow of light, shared orientation, and so forth.

intrinsic vs extrinsic title for making public (e.g., in journalistic reporting)
- one sees a loose approximation to this in the recognition that some matters concern public interest and some do not.

In terms of voluntariness, opinion is more like breath than like heartbeat.

An air force is an artillery with minimal terrain-dependence.

Bulgakov's pretensions of understanding the Incarnation (not some detail, not some particular expression, but essential elements of the doctrine) more fully than St. John Damascene get very tiring very quickly.

Belief may depend on inquiry, but inquiry does not depend on belief as such.

moments of the Incarnation
(1) divine eternity
(2) creation of the world
(3) creation of humanity
(4) election of Israel
(5) immaculate conception
(6) divine overshadowing
(7) virgin birth
(8) sacramental incorporation

the progression of esse, vivere, sentire, and intelligere in the days of creation

arguments for God's existence based on esse, on vivere, and on intelligere

miracles as God's metaphors

patterns of shaming escalation

Bulgakov's 'docetic' appears to be a label for a fiction.

the spiritual co-crucifixion of Mary

Temptation arises out of the human need to learn obedience and conformity to law.

Civilization is not something had at a time, but something received and passed down.

right to liberty and right to property as natural protections of right to life (cf Mendon MA)

Possibility preservation requires careful attention to the kind of possibility. This complicates giving a general account of it.

Cabasilas on baptism of blood (Life in Christ 4 sect. 14)

concinnitas in philosophical system-building (note that this is stronger than consistency)
"It is the task and aim of concinnitas to compose parts that are quite separate from each other by their nature, according to some precise rule, that they correspond to one another in appearance." Alberti
"Beauty is a form of sympathy and consonance between the parts within a body, according to definite number, outline, and position, as dictated by concinnitas, the absolute and fundamental rule in Nature."
concinnitas as a generalization of decorum

Evaluation of evidence is reflection on our union with our environment.

ornament as adjunct beauty

A theory of evidence that cannot distinguish between testing and not testing is defective.

No state can be adequate to the work of the Church.

As blades of grass trying to conceive the brightness of the sun from single photons reaching them, so is it when we try to conceive the goodness of God from our personal experiences of it.

I knew the dawn; her kiss was sweet.
She danced on mountains, swift of feet.

Found art is made art by the finding, or, rather, by the finding and presenting.

'work of art' used in a metaphorical sense and gray areas (e.g., is this a 'work of art' figuratively or literally?)

People will often prefer an emollient hypocrisy to an ardent charity. The former accomodates with conveniences.

similarity as overlap for practical purposes

Due to its complexity of causes, human testimony only gets us to its source with a certain measure of approximation.

Whewell's argument for the First Law of Motion in An Introduction to Dynamics uses something like PSR:
(1) straight line: if in a curve, there must be sufficient reason to curve one way rather than another, and to curve so much rather than less or more; but ex hyp. no external force to determine;
(2) uniform velocity: removing reasons for slowing removes slowing, without limit; if all external reasons removed, and no internal reason, it will not slow.

In business, dishonesty is often a sign of prior sloppiness.

James Ward's criticism of Whewell on plurality of worlds seems to give up actual evidence for imaginal evidence.

A merely apparent inconsistency is, superficially, an evidence against a position and, properly understood, an evidence for it.

We never experience bare pleasure, but only pleasure at, with, or in something else.

Terrified of the lightning on the mountain, impatient of the return of the prophet, the people made a golden calf. It is ever so in matters of theology.

applying philosophical discussion of works of art to works of research

Temptation at its most basic is not struggle between good and evil but a struggle with difficulty.

Note that in Homer we live in a world of sorrow and suffering because of the gods.

Church Militant : obedientia activa :: Church Patient : obedientia passiva

experiments//works of art

Prophet : Baptism :: King : Transfiguration :: Priest : Ascension

descent of the Spirit on Mary, descent of the Spirit on Christ in Baptism, descent of the Spirit on the Church at Pentecost

It is important for parents to teach their children the parents' own crafts, small though they might be.

An essential part of the skill for research is the ability to seize opportunities provided by chance.

Shame of virtue and pride of vice are the very heart of social degeneration.

respect for the object of inquiry

HoP and respect for fonds in inquiry itself
- inquiry as fonds-making

If someone is Christian, it is because he or she partakes of Christ; if anyone says that so-and-so is Christian because they feel this way or do this thing, that may be set aside as a confusion. Nothing makes anyone Christian except the appearance of Christ, or communion with Christ, or possession by Christ, or generation from Christ; for it is by Christ that Christians are made Christian.

imprudence of anger vs imprudence of negligence

circles of privacy vs circles of confidence

The affection of marriage depends on gratitude and esteem.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Juan de la Cruz

Today is the feast of St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church. From The Ascent of Mount Carmel:

We may say that there are three reasons for which this journey made by the soul to union with God is called night. The first has to do with the point from which the soul goes forth, for it has gradually to deprive itself of desire for all the worldly things which it possessed, by denying them to itself; the which denial and deprivation are, as it were, night to all the senses of man. The second reason has to do with the mean, or the road along which the soul must travel to this union — that is, faith, which is likewise as dark as night to the understanding. The third has to do with the point to which it travels — namely, God, Who, equally, is dark night to the soul in this life. These three nights must pass through the soul — or, rather, the soul must pass through them — in order that it may come to Divine union with God.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Single Sword to Thee

O God of Earth and Altar
by G. K. Chesterton

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honour and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

This was written in 1906.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sympathy with the Dead

An interesting passage from Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments (II.1.2.5):

If the injured should perish in the quarrel, we not only sympathize with the real resentment of his friends and relations, but with the imaginary resentment which in fancy we lend to the dead, who is no longer capable of feeling that or any other human sentiment. But as we put ourselves in his situation, as we enter, as it were, into his body, and in our imaginations, in some measure, animate anew the deformed and mangled carcass of the slain, when we bring home in this manner his case to our own bosoms, we feel upon this, as upon many other occasions, an emotion which the person principally concerned is incapable of feeling, and which yet we feel by an illusive sympathy with him. The sympathetic tears which we shed for that immense and irretrievable loss, which in our fancy he appears to have sustained, seem to be but a small part of the duty which we owe him. The injury which he has suffered demands, we think, a principal part of our attention. We feel that resentment which we imagine he ought to feel, and which he would feel, if in his cold and lifeless body there remained any consciousness of what passes upon earth. His blood, we think, calls aloud for vengeance. The very ashes of the dead seem to be disturbed at the thought that his injuries are to pass unrevenged. The horrors which are supposed to haunt the bed of the murderer, the ghosts which, superstition imagines, rise from their graves to demand vengeance upon those who brought them to an untimely end, all take their origin from this natural sympathy with the imaginary resentment of the slain. And with regard, at least, to this most dreadful of all crimes, Nature, antecedent to all reflections upon the utility of punishment, has in this manner stamped upon the human heart, in the strongest and most indelible characters, an immediate and instinctive approbation of the sacred and necessary law of retaliation.

It's also a nice example of the Smithian way with a phrase; I particularly like the part about our imaginations animating "anew the deformed and mangled carcass of the slain".

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fortnightly Book, December 10

The last fortnightly book of the year will be one of my favorites, G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, which was published in 1908. The subtitle is important; as Chesterton remarked in his Illustrated Daily News column for June 13, 1936:

It was a very melodramatic sort of moonshine, but it had a kind of notion in it; and the point is that it described, first a band of the last champions of order fighting against what appeared to be a world of anarchy, and then the discovery that the mysterious master both of the anarchy and the order was the same sort of elemental elf who had appeared to be rather too like a pantomime ogre. This line of logic, or lunacy, led many to infer that this equivocal being was meant for a serious description of the Deity; and my work even enjoyed a temporary respect among those who like the Deity to be so described. But this error was entirely due to the fact that they had read the book but had not read the title page. In my case, it is true, it was a question of a subtitle rather than a title. The book was called The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.

The book was written during Chesterton's Anglican period, and has become a classic. It was one of Orson Welles's favorite books, which is why his Mercury Theater of the Air did a production of it, which I've talked about before here. I'll be listening to it again.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass


Opening Passages: From Alice:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversations?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

From Looking-Glass:

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it:--it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it couldn't have had any hand in the mischief.

Summary: Both of Carroll's most famous works are attempts to capture, in a basic sort of fairy-tale narrative, the imagination of children. This is particularly obvious with Through the Looking-Glass, which, while it gets its structure from the chess game, gets its content from nursery rhymes, but it is true throughout. This is perhaps the simplest way to capture the new thing that Carroll was attempting: a fairy tale, but elaborated as much as possible from the perspective of a child of seven and a half years (as we discover Alice is in Through the Looking-Glass). This is a shift, since fairy tales typically had not been, indeed still aren't, constructed in an attempt to mimic a child's own imagination. The result is inevitably episodic; the overarching plots, to get to the garden party and to get queened, are minimal, and one thing comes after another in quick succession, and without much rhyme and reason. Carroll himself recognized this as a potential issue in his essay, Alice on the Stage, and attributes to his tendency simply to be struck by ideas and develop them on their own, but it fits with the child's-perspective approach.

In this sense, 'nonsense' is a misleading name for the genre; it is really concerned with fragmentary sense. It's not that the White Rabbit is nonsense; it's that the White Rabbit is sense on its own, and that is all. As Carroll notes in the same essay:

And the White Rabbit, what of him? Was he framed on the `Alice’ lines, or meant as a contrast? As a contrast, distinctly. For her `youth’, `audacity’, `vigour’, and `swift directness of purpose’, read `elderly’, `timid’, `feeble’, and `nervously shilly-shallying’, and you will get something of what I meant him to be. I think the White Rabbit should wear spectacles. I am sure his voice should quaver, and his knees quiver, and his whole air suggest a total inability to say `Bo’ to a goose!

The White Rabbit is not an allegory, but a fragment capable of serving as allegory for the oddness, from a child's perspective, of the adult tendency to rush around and 'nervously shilly-shally'. The nonsense is that of the adult world insofar as its sense cannot be fully grasped by a child. Thus the baffling conversations, which are like the conversations children sometimes have to get through with adults in which they don't understand half of the assumptions being made; hence the arbitrariness of the examination for being queen, or the endless tumble of apparently incomprehensible punishments. If you see the world of adult sense with a child's partial perspective and imagination, that is the sort of 'nonsense' that we get in the Alice books. In both books this is mediated by the fact that it is supposed to be a dream; this, however, I think mostly serves to help the adult reader get a foothold in a child's world, where the difference between dream and waking is not so sharp because the latter does not always seem as obviously more coherent than the former.

But all this is, perhaps, a bit too serious; it's not an allegory for children among adults, although it uses something of that as a basis. It's a lot of silliness, of course, just for the sake of it. There is, of course, a great deal of humor throughout. I found the tendency of the Looking-Glass folk to recite poetry to Alice whether she wanted to hear or not rather funnier than I remembered.

Favorite Passages: From Alice:

The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good-natured, she thought: still it had very long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.

‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. ‘Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question.

From Looking-Glass:

'I know what you're thinking about,' said Tweedledum: 'but it isn't so, nohow.'

'Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, 'if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.'

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Two New Poem Drafts

A Devil Rogue Yet Debonair

She saw him in the lunar light
on moonlit night of storm and dark;
the moon was horned and icy-bright
and painted shadows black and stark.
The wind was whipping through his hair,
a devil rogue yet debonair.

On nights of waning moon he went,
where lonely bent the wilder roads;
they say he howled from yearning pent;
they say his eyes with fury glowed.
A melancholy air he bore,
and sorrow like a mantle wore.

She loved him as a woman can;
a fire ran from eye to eye,
and all the charm of mortal man
like lightning from the tempest sky
upon her forest-heart then burned,
and, for a while, her love he earned.

But madness like contagious blight
of deadening spite through thought did spread;
his blood in fever raged at night
and ceaseless through the country led,
a second rot to turn love bad.
The first: that she a husband had.

As love grew stronger, she grew less,
as in each breath his passion grew,
an aching yearning to possess,
the power sought by love untrue.
For love seeks ways it may endure,
and impure love seeks ways impure.

He bade her swear to be his own
as shone the moon with wicked horn,
a vow to be like granite stone,
as if the wedded bond were torn.
She did; his words like heaven were,
for sweetness she her hell incurred.

such bonds are self-inflicted curse;
such thirsts can never steady last.
They soon will move from worse to worse
and worst of all as worse is passed.
You know it well, despite all lie:
a faithless love will faithless die.

She grew to hope, but he to tire;
the liar cast her off to roam.
She longed for death with heart's desire.
Her corpse is now beneath the loam.
Her husband wept in sable dressed;
his prayers alone her gravestone blessed.

And he, more driven night by night
as light of moon grew cold and fierce,
in madness born of moonlit sight
her shade he saw; his heart was pierced,
and madness from from its core,
and through his blood in fury poured.

Upon the rocks he cast his frame --
but blamed not he his own cruel deed.
And round his body demons flamed,
for sin to hell is as the seed.
A path through judgment ever goes,
and curse to loss like river flows.

She saw him in the lunar light,
on moonlit night of storm and dark.
The moon was horned and icy-bright
and painted shadows black and stark.
The wind was whipping through his hair,
a devil rogue and debonair.

Dionysian Cantillation

From the Father of lights a light goes out,
all-informing, undivided,
without confusion diversifying,
ever same and never changing.
Illuminated, the mind is exalted,
rising up to understanding,
where knower and known are one,
as spirits live in splendid choir.
But human thought is matter-mixed,
never rising on its own.
Through ministry of spirits bright,
a golden strand in heaven fixed,
the soul may put aside its chains,
seek the truth and find the truth,
and be restored to beauty.
Thrice by thrice does providence
enact through spirits endless things:
its first work, love, undying burns;
illumination springs from love;
righteous purity proceeds from both;
sublime in triple splendor,
these shape the world in threefold way,
by authority, by order, and by strength,
which are exercised in threefold way,
by presidence, by method, and by service due.
Thus ever spirit flows from light,
a light beyond what sight can see,
first in gift and first in splendor,
shining through each spiritual rank
like rays of sun through crystal pure.
Each order heralds those above it,
each manifesting from beginning to end,
each receiving from the light,
each instructing those below it.
Through hierarchies flows down endless light
to human hearts, by spirits taught
as eye is taught by burning lamp.
Rising, human reason travels
up that ladder raised to heaven,
growing ever more integral,
shining bright step by step,
until it is so bright with shining
it is life from light and without end.


Feast of the Immaculate Conception

By your Yes, O maiden, you made Truths true.
The prophets had spoken great things to come;
through your faith those prophecies were fulfilled.
They were the words of God, who does not lie,
and by the Son you bore they were made true.

So great a thing it is to bear the Lord!
And yet your faith is greater than that deed!
As you were made our Mother on His cross,
for our defense, O Mary, intercede!

By your Yes, O maiden, you gave us light,
for Light was born from your unsullied sky.
In His light, the light of God we will see
for from you comes a Priest forevermore,
the Lamb upon the Throne, who is our Light.

So great a thing it is to bear the Lord!
And yet your faith is greater than that deed!
As you were made our Mother on His cross,
for our defense, O Mary, intercede!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Honey from the Swarm

Today is the feast of St. Aurelius Ambrosius, better known in English as St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church. He was in any many ways the most Roman of the Church Fathers. He was born in Gallia Belgica (modern day Belgium/Luxembourg/Netherlands) to a Roman family involved in the government there; he studied at Rome, and eventually was made governor of Aemilia-Liguria, whose capital, Mediolanum or Milan, was at the time the second most important city in the Empire in honors, and in practical importance probably the first. Milan had been rent by the controversy over Arianism, and its Arian bishop, Auxentius, had been one of the major Arian polemicists; after Auxentius's death, Ambrose went to the church to keep order, because the election of the bishop was likely to cause a serious uproar regardless of who was chosen. When he tried to give a speech encouraging people to be peaceful about the election, however, the crowd starting chanting "Ambrose, bishop!" While Ambrose was Christian, he was (like a lot of Romans at the time) merely a catechumen; he had never been baptized. Ambrose fled to a friend's house, but the Emperor Gratian had heard about the people's choice and sent a letter formally congratulating them on the excellent choice -- at which point Ambrose basically had very little choice. He was baptized, confirmed, ordained, and consecrated bishop of the second most important see in the West, all in the same week. And Ambrose, Roman to the core when it came to duty and honor, took it seriously; he started devoted himself to the study of theology, gave away most of his wealth, and began living ascetically. It actually turned out quite well; his top-notch Roman education, devoted to making him an excellent contributor to Roman government, had trained him for administration and public speaking and made him fluent in Greek, an increasingly rare thing in the West. This would be important in the fights to come, as he had showdown after showdown with increasingly powerful Arian patrons, including, eventually, Imperial ones.

From his work De officiis ministrorum (Book II, Chapter II), which adapts, fairly radically, the Ciceronian approach to ethics to Christian ethics:

The philosophers have made a happy life to depend, either (as Hieronymus) on freedom from pain, or (as Herillus) on knowledge. For Herillus, hearing knowledge very highly praised by Aristotle and Theophrastus, made it alone to be the chief good, when they really praised it as a good thing, not as the only good; others, as Epicurus, have called pleasure such; others, as Callipho, and after him Diodorus, understood it in such a way as to make a virtuous life go in union, the one with pleasure, the other with freedom from pain, since a happy life could not exist without it. Zeno, the Stoic, thought the highest and only good existed in a virtuous life. But Aristotle and Theophrastus and the other Peripatetics maintained that a happy life consisted in virtue, that is, in a virtuous life, but that its happiness was made complete by the advantages of the body and other external good things.

But the sacred Scriptures say that eternal life rests on a knowledge of divine things and on the fruit of good works. The Gospel bears witness to both these statements. For the Lord Jesus spoke thus of knowledge: “This is eternal life, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.” About works He gives this answer: “Every one that hath forsaken house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name’s sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”


Faith, then, has [the promise of] eternal life, for it is a good foundation. Good works, too, have the same, for an upright man is tested by his words and acts. For if a man is always busy talking and yet is slow to act, he shows by his acts how worthless his knowledge is: besides it is much worse to know what one ought to do, and yet not to do what one has learnt should be done. On the other hand, to be active in good works and unfaithful at heart is as idle as though one wanted to raise a beautiful and lofty dome upon a bad foundation. The higher one builds, the greater is the fall; for without the protection of faith good works cannot stand. A treacherous anchorage in a harbour perforates a ship, and a sandy bottom quickly gives way and cannot bear the weight of the building placed upon it. There then will be found the fulness of reward, where the virtues are perfect, and where there is a reasonable agreement between words and acts.

One of Ambrose's hagiographical symbols is a beehive (he is also patron saint of practically anything bee-related). According to the story, when Ambrose was a baby, he was suddenly surrounded by a swarm of bees. After he was rescued, he turned out to be completely unharmed, indeed, unaffected in any way, except for a drop of nectar or honey on his cheek. His family is said to have regarded it as an omen that he would be an eloquent orator. It's a good emblem for Ambrose's life during the Arian swarm.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Star and Soup

Star of the Evening
by James M. Sayle

Beautiful star in heav’n so bright,
Softly falls thy silv’ry light,
As thou movest from earth afar,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

Beautiful star,
Beautiful star,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

In Fancy’s eye thou seem’st to say,
Follow me, come from earth away.
Upward thy spirit’s pinions try,
To realms of love beyond the sky.

Beautiful star,
Beautiful star,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

Shine on, oh star of love divine,
And may our soul’s affection twine
Around thee as thou movest afar,
Star of the twilight, beautiful star.

Turtle Soup
by Lewis Carroll

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Beau–ootiful Soo–oop!
Beau–ootiful Soo–oop
Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game or any other dish?
Who would not give all else
for two pennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?

Beau–ootiful Soo–oop!
Beau–ootiful Soo–oop!
Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
Beautiful, beauti–FUL SOUP!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Meet Nicholas Steno (Re-Post)

Today is the feast of Bl. Nicholas Steno, so I re-post this with minor revision.

Depending on whether you date according to the Julian or the Gregorian calendar, Niels Stensen was born in Copenhagen January 1 (Julian) or January 11 (Gregorian) 1638. (The Gregorian calendar only began to be used in Denmark itself after 1700.) He was a second child of the goldsmith Sten Pedersen; his mother's name was Anne. He would become one of the great overachievers of the early modern period. While other people were often working on the same subjects, and there are several instances of 'firsts' typically attributed to him where it's possible to argue, depending on how you define terms, that he was really co-discoverer or independent discoverer, it is nonetheless extraordinary how often his name comes up as a candidate for a 'first'; whatever else may be said about his discoveries, Steno was at the forefront of a wide number of fields.

In 1656 he matriculated under the name Nicolaus Stenonis at Copenhagen University, and it is under variants of this name that he is most widely known. While he was attending University, Denmark and Sweden became involved in a war, and King Karl X Gustav of Sweden invaded. Because of winter ice in 1658, Karl Gustav was able to cross over to Zealand, the island on which Copenhagen was located. King Frederik III of Denmark had to cede territory to stop the advance. Karl Gustav invaded again in 1659 in an attempt to take all of Denmark; Copenhagen repelled the main attack, but remained under a landside siege until 1660. We know that Steno spent some time in a student company manning the ramparts, but not much more; most of what has survived of Steno's life is found in a text called the Chaos-manuscript (discovered in 1946 in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale of Florence, Italy, by Father Gustav Scherz): 92 folio pages of closely written observations, experiments, reflections, and excerpts.

In 1659 Steno seems to have sailed to Amsterdam, perhaps with an extended stop in Rostock, where he attended lectures by Gerard Blaes (Blasius), the City Physician. He was given leave at the time to do his own dissections, and entered the first major controversy of his life. During dissection of a sheep's head, he discovered the parotid excretory duct, and showed it to Blaes, who was inclined to dismiss it as either an artifact of dissection or a freak of nature. While it had been discovered before, this was not known at the time. Several days later he found the parotid excretory duct in a dog's head, and showed it to Blaes. After defending his thesis (on hot springs), he left Amsterdam for Leiden. At the University of Leiden, he showed his discovery to to several professors, one of whom (Van Horne) began demonstrating it in his anatomical lectures as the ductus Stenonianus (Stensen's duct, which is its name still). At about the same time, however, Blasius was demonstrating it in his lectures as his own discovery and by 1631 had published it, also as his own discovery. Niels found himself attacked as a plagiarizer by Blaes and his supporters. The dispute, quite fierce, lasted for some time, and did not entirely die out until it became more generally known just how brilliant an anatomist Steno actually was. Spurred on by the dispute, Steno plunged into his investigation of glands and ducts, and discovered (among many others) the lateral nasal gland, which is still called Steno's gland. Steno published his work, which was very well received. At this point he wanted to give anatomy a rest, but for various reasons soon returned to it. One of those reasons was the posthumous publication in 1662 of Descartes's Treatise on Man. Niels began to study the major subjects of that work: the heart, the muscles, and the brain. In 1662 he discovered sino-atrial and atrio-ventricular dissociation. He proved that the heart was entirely a muscle (which had been affirmed, without full explanation, by Harvey, but was not the common view at that time); he also discovered, pace Harvey, that the muscle was arranged spirally rather than circularly.

While in Leiden he made a number of acquaintances, which he would later call a very freethinking group, including Swammerdam, de Graat, and Spinoza, but he didn't stay long; in early 1664, he returned to Copenhagen. There he published De musculis et glandulis observationum specimen, one of the major early modern works in the history of cardiology. At this time he was 26.

In autumn of 1664, Steno left Copenhagen for Paris, and at some point in winter of 1665 he delivered a lecture on the brain (published in 1669 as Discours sur l'anatomie du cerveau). In the lecture he criticized Descartes's view of the brain, and, in particular, the appeal to animal spirits. After traveling in the south of France, Stensen arrived in Tuscany. In 1667 he published his major work on muscles, the Elementorum myologiae specimen, one of the distinctive features of which is that in it Steno develops a theory of muscle contractions that did not appeal to animal spirits. His alternative theory was attacked again and again, so that it was no longer held by anyone by the end of the 18th century. Work on the subject since 1980 has shown that parts of his argument actually did have some merit, and, on this point at least, myology has now caught up to where Steno was at age 29 in 1669.

The Elementorum myologiae specimen is also significant in that appended to it were two works describing shark dissections. One of these works, called Canis carchariae dissectum caput, noted the resemblance between shark's teeth and certain fossils; Steno agreed with those who had suggested that the latter were somehow versions of the former, and began to develop an argument that this was possible. The second treatise, the Historia dissecti piscis ex canum genere, showed that the 'testes mulierum' of the non-oviparous dogfish were sufficiently ovary-like to be considered ovaries. This is commonplace now, but at the time it was unclear whether the females of many species had ovaries. After the publication of this work, Steno continued his study of female reproductive organs, and is sometimes credited with being the first discoverer of the mammalian ovarian follicle.

In November 1667, Steno became Catholic. He was confirmed December 8, and on the same day he received a letter from Frederik III ordering him to return to Copenhagen; he replied with a letter asking if the order still stood given that he was no longer Lutheran. In the meantime, he studied geological formations, publishing a preliminary report on them in 1669: the De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus (also here in Latin). In it he gives the first systematic classification by common origin for solids within solids, and in so doing laid down the principles of reconstruction of geological history. The Prodromus is a founding text of paleontology and dynamic geology; it is also, with the work of Erasmus Bartholin on Iceland spar, one of the founding works of crystallography. One of its many important contributions was the recognition that the faces of quartz crystals are related to each other by a constant angle, which is perhaps the fundamental insight of crystallography. Here and there it is referred to as "Steno's rule".

From late 1668 to early 1670, Steno traveled through Europe confirming his geological theories and giving anatomical demonstrations. At one such demonstration (at Innsbruck in June) he dissected the head of a hydrocephalic calf, showing that the deformity was caused by a disease, and thus providing a strong argument against the view that it was caused by maternal fantasies, a view that still had some broad acceptance even up to the early nineteenth century. When he returned to Florence in 1670, he was made court geologist by the Grand Duke, Cosimo III. Steno became more involved in theological discussions, and on the publication of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus in 1670, he wrote a letter to his old acquaintance urging him to become Catholic.

In April 1675 he was ordained a priest in Florence and became tutor and moral preceptor to the Crown Prince. In 1677 he was appointed by Innocent IX apostolic vicar of the northern missions and was consecrated the titular bishop of Titiopolis. Steno went to Hanover at the invitationof Duke Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Lüneburg. When Johann Friedrich died, Steno became auxiliary bishop to Prince Bishop Ferdinand von Fürstenberg of Münster. Catholicism there seems to have been rather lax; Steno spent much of his time there advocating pastoral reform against strong opposition, and eventually left in protest. He began to live an ascetic life of poverty at Hamburg, during which he began, but never completed, an essay reviewing confirmed knowledge of the nervous system.

Steno died November 25 (Julian, 5 December Gregorian), 1686. He was 48. His last words are said to have been Jesus sis mihi Jesus et misericordiam tuam, Domine, in aeternum cantabo. Cosimo III had Steno's body brought back to Florence, where it can be found in the Church of San Lorenzo:

On 23 October 1988, John Paul II beatified him. His feast, officially celebrated in certain areas of Europe, is celebrated (as they often are) on the day of his death, December 5.


A number of the details from above are from:

Troels Kardel. Steno: Life - Science - Philosophy. Acta Historica Scientarum Naturalium et Medicinalium, vol 42. Munksgaard (Copenhagen) 1994.

Hans Kermit. Niels Stensen: The Scientist who was Beatified. Michael Drake, tr. Gracewing (Leominster, Herefordshire) 2003.

'Embedded Questions' and Knowledge-Wh

A lot of current work in the logic of questions is concerned with what are known as 'embedded questions' in knowledge-wh propositions. For instance,

John knows who went to the store

is said to have the embedded question, "who went to the store". Likewise, you could have "John knows where the store is", "John knows what is at the store", "John knows whether there is a store down the street", and so forth. These kinds of claims are often known as knowledge-wh propositions. The object, e.g., "who went to the store" is sometimes known as the wh-complement.

The fundamental problem with all of this is that the wh-complement in knowledge-wh propositions is not a question at all. The "who went to the store" in "John knows who went to the store" is not a question; it does not mean "Who went to the store?" but is just a description for the person or persons of whom it can be said that they went to the store. The claim is not that John knows the question "Who went to the store?" John knows who it is that went to the store.

Contrast this with cases involving a real embedded question:

John wondered who the man was.

John wondered, "Who was that man?"

These give us genuine interrogative expressions (the first indirectly, the second directly). The examples noted above do not, and therefore have nothing whatsoever to do with questions and how they work.

The usual way of handling this is to treat the wh-complement as a question, but one indicating the set of answers to the question; but as questions are not their answers, or any set of them, this is simply worthless.

To be sure, there is a pattern linking the wh-complements with verbally similar questions, and this is, in fact, something found in a number of very different languages, albeit with considerable variation. But the link is made to seem stronger than it in fact is, simply by the facts that (1) English neglects the subjunctive and similar moods; and (2) picking and choosing examples given that English allows so many different ways to say the same thing, and does not require you always to say things like, "John knows who it is that went to the store" or "John knows where the place is located".

No doubt there are fields in the philosophy of language where these 'embedded questions' are of some use; but the name should not fool a philosopher into thinking that one of these fields is the study of questions.

Fat Minds

Then we should be careful to provide this wholesome food in proper amount. Mental gluttony, or over-reading, is a dangerous propensity, tending to weakness of digestive power, and in some cases to loss of appetite: we know that bread is a good and wholesome food, but who would like to try the experiment of eating two or three loaves at a sitting?

I have heard a physician telling his patient—whose complaint was merely gluttony and want of exercise—that ‘the earliest symptom of hyper-nutrition is a deposition of adipose tissue,’ and no doubt the fine long words greatly consoled the poor man under his increasing load of fat.

I wonder if there is such a thing in nature as a FAT MIND? I really think I have met with one or two: minds which could not keep up with the slowest trot in conversation; could not jump over a logical fence, to save their lives; always got stuck fast in a narrow argument; and, in short, were fit for nothing but to waddle helplessly through the world.

Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), "Feeding the Mind". (This is a fairly nice essay, originally a public talk, in which, as the title suggests, is developed the analogy between eating well and learning well.)

Monday, December 04, 2017


The feast of St. John Damascene, Doctor of the Church, is today. His name at birth was probably (although not certainly) Yanah ibn Mansur ibn Sarjun, and he was a Christian in Muslim-occupied Syria in the eighth century. His family worked for the civil service under the Umayyad caliph, as they had under the Byzantine emperor before the conquest, and so, in turn, John did too, until he left for the monastery. His most famous work in the West is the Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. From Book I, Chapter V:

The Deity is perfect, and without blemish in goodness, and wisdom, and power, without beginning, without end, everlasting, uncircumscribed, and in short, perfect in all things. Should we say, then, that there are many Gods, we must recognise difference among the many. For if there is no difference among them, they are one rather than many. But if there is difference among them, what becomes of the perfectness? For that which comes short of perfection, whether it be in goodness, or power, or wisdom, or time, or place, could not be God. But it is this very identity in all respects that shews that the Deity is one and not many.

Again, if there are many Gods, how can one maintain that God is uncircumscribed? For where the one would be, the other could not be.

Further, how could the world be governed by many and saved from dissolution and destruction, while strife is seen to rage between the rulers? For difference introduces strife. And if any one should say that each rules over a part, what of that which established this order and gave to each his particular realm? For this would the rather be God. Therefore, God is one, perfect, uncircumscribed, maker of the universe, and its preserver and governor, exceeding and preceding all perfection.

Moreover, it is a natural necessity that duality should originate in unity.

Father William

The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them
by Robert Southey

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
And abus'd not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And life must be hast'ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"I am cheerful, young man," father William replied,
"Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember'd my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age."

You Are Old, Father William
by Lewis Carroll

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling a box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!"

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Type of the Divine Word

An interesting passage in Philo, discussing Genesis 9:6 (Questions and Answers on Genesis, II.62):

Why is it that he speaks as if of some other god, saying that he made man after the image of God, and not that he made him after his own image? Very appropriately and without any falsehood was this oracular sentence uttered by God, for no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word of the supreme Being; since it is fitting that the rational soul of man should bear it the type of the divine Word; since in his first Word God is superior to the most rational possible nature. But he who is superior to the Word holds his rank in a better and most singular pre-eminence, and how could the creature possibly exhibit a likeness of him in himself? Nevertheless he also wished to intimate this fact, that God does rightly and correctly require vengeance, in order to the defence of virtuous and consistent men, because such bear in themselves a familiar acquaintance with his Word, of which the human mind is the similitude and form.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Lewis Carroll and Euclid

Lewis Carroll, or Charles Dodgson, as he was known in professional life, was, of course, a mathematician. Most of his mathematical work published in his lifetime was in linear and matrix algebra (Dodgson condensation is named after him, for instance), although he was interested in a number of other fields, as well. In addition to work in mathematics itself, he also wrote on mathematical pedagogy, and, in particular was a vehement defender of continuing to use Euclid to teach geometry. This defense is primarily found in Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879) and Supplement to Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1885).

He gives his purpose for the first book right at the beginning:

The object of this little book is to furnish evidence, first, that it is essential, for the purpose of teaching or examining in elementary Geometry, to employ one textbook only; secondly, that there are strong a priori reasons for retaining, in all its main features, and specially in its sequence and numbering of Propositions and in its treatment of Parallels, the Manual of Euclid; and thirdly, that no sufficient reasons have yet been shown for abandoning it in favour of any one of the modern Manuals which have been offered as substitutes.

It is written in the form of a satirical dialogue between Minos and Rhadamanthus, both of whom are examiners treating modern textbooks like examination papers, the Phantasm of Euclid, and Professor Niemand, the counsel for the modern would-be replacements. Minos's description is perfect: "His hair, from much running of fingers through it, radiates in all directions, and surrounds his head like a halo of glory, or like the second Corollary of Euclid I.32." The second Corollary of I.32 is "All the exterior angles of any rectilineal figure are together equal to four right angles", and in Todhunter the diagram for it is:

The Elements of Euclid for the Use of Schools and Colleges - 1872 page 36b

One of Carroll's consistent points throughout is that for a geometry textbook you are not actually presenting geometry itself; what you want is "a book that will exercise the learner in habits of clear definite conception, and enable him to test the logical value of a scientific argument", as Minos tells the Phantasm of Euclid. Thus it is irrelevant whether there are omissions; overloading the curriculum is a danger to be avoided, and, in any case, if it's just a matter of adding a few theorems that have turned out to be especially useful, adding such things to Euclid is something that geometry teachers have always done. In addition, you want a clear line of inferences. While there are many cases in which you could do something in a different order than Euclid does, for teaching beginners, this is not something you should be getting into, and Euclid, having been a standard reference for so long, provides the service of a universal reference, with a numbering system on which everyone can agree.

Carroll regards only two of the criticisms of Euclid to be of any significance: the criticism that Euclid does not distinguish problems from theorems (which had been proposed as a major criticism in Carroll's day), and the criticism of Euclid's treatment of parallels. The former Carroll seems to find easily answered (separating problems and theorems doesn't actually seem to provide any improvement for the teaching of beginners), and most of the book is concerned with the latter. Part of the complexity of the latter is perhaps due to the fact that Carroll thinks axioms have to be established as axioms -- as Euclid tells Minos in discussing Playfair's Axiom, "What is an Axiom at one stage of our knowledge is often anything but an Axiom at an earlier stage" -- so to determine what should count as axiom, you need to lay out what it is useful for proving within a system and determine how it meets the several requirements for what you are trying to do. And, of course, in teaching geometry, one of the requirements is that it be suitable for beginners, that is, that it be something that can be grasped and used without a developed sense of geometrical constructions or proof techniques; most modern treatments Carroll thinks get tempted off the right pedagogical road by pursuit of a standard of elegance or rigor that raises the difficulty, without increasing clarity, for people just starting out.

Carroll had no problem with doing things differently from Euclid, however, as long as you didn't try to overcomplicate beginner's work with it, and he himself devoted a considerable amount of thought to different ways of handling parallels. One way is found in his Curiosa Mathematica, Part I -- or, actually two ways, since in his original version he used a hexagon in his substitute for Euclid's parallel postulate, but decided instead to simplify it further in the third edition to a tetragon. Part of what Carroll wanted to do was come up with a substitute for Euclid's treatment of the parallels that did not, like almost all other proposed at the time, involve infinities or infinitesimals in one way or another, but just used basic ideas easily accessible to human reason. His proposed substitute is, "In any Circle, the inscribed Tetragon is greater than any one of the Segments that lie outside it."

A great many people wonder why Carroll, so creative, shows little interest in non-Euclidean geometries; but, of course, even today non-Euclidean geometries are not what you think about for teaching people just starting out, so one wouldn't expect it to arise in the context of his work on mathematical pedagogy. As for the geometrical work itself, though, Carroll quite clearly regards Euclidean geometry as true, and thus the primary issue as one of finding the best foundations for a Euclidean geometry. It's also worth recalling -- mathematicians in particular tend to forget it when thinking about the history of mathematics -- that mathematical results do not propagate instantaneously, and prior to the twentieth century, they propagated very slowly indeed across national lines. People kept up with international work, as they could, but people in different nations often didn't share the same notations, teach the same methods, or prefer the same approaches. Carroll, even if he had not simply thought it a bunch of clever paradoxes, could have been aware of the work on non-Euclidean geometry without having had the kind of access to it that would have made it possible for him to work on the subject without essentially starting from scratch himself or devoting several years of his life to researching it.