Saturday, December 09, 2006

Not Quite So Almost Perfect

Almost Perfect- INFP
13% Extraversion, 66% Intuition, 46% Thinking, 40% Judging
So, you want to make the world a better place? Too bad it's never gonna happen.

Of all the types, you have to be one of the hardest to find fault in. You have a selfless and caring nature. You're a good listener and someone who wants to avoid conflict. You genuinely desire to do good.

Of course, these all add up to an incredibly overpowered conscience which makes you feel guilty and responsible when anything goes wrong. Of course, it MUST be your fault EVERYTIME.

Though you're constantly on a mission to find the truth, you have no use for hard facts and logic, which is a source of great confusion for those of us with brains. Despite this, in a losing argument, you're not above spouting off inaccurate fact after fact in an effort to protect your precious values.

You're most probably a perfectionist, which in this case, is a bad thing. Any group work is destined to fail because of your incredibly high standards.

Disregard what I said before. You're just easy to find fault in as everyone else!

Luckily, you're generally very hard on yourself, meaning I don't need to waste my precious time insulting you. Instead, just find all your own faults and insult yourself.


If you want to learn more about your personality type in a slightly less negative way, check out this.

Link: The Brutally Honest Personality Test written by UltimateMaster on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Friday, December 08, 2006

Herself a Rose Who Bore a Rose

Herself a rose, who bore the Rose,
She bore the Rose and felt its thorn.
All Loveliness new-born
Took on her bosom its repose,
And slept and woke there night and morn.

Lily herself, she bore the one
Fair Lily; sweeter, whiter, far
Than she or others are:
The Sun of Righteousness her Son,
She was His morning star.

She gracious, He essential Grace,
He was the Fountain, she the rill:
Her goodness to fulfil
And gladness, with proportioned pace
He led her steps thro' good and ill.

Christ's mirror she of grace and love,
Of beauty and of life and death:
By hope and love and faith
Transfigured to His Likeness, 'Dove,
Spouse, Sister, Mother,' Jesus saith.

Christina Rossetti, ca. 1887

Happily Saturnine

You Should Rule Saturn

Saturn is a mysterious planet that can rarely be seen with the naked eye.

You are perfect to rule Saturn because like its rings, you don't always follow the rules of nature.
And like Saturn, to really be able to understand you, someone must delve beyond your appearance.

You are not an easy person to befriend. However, once you enter a friendship, you'll be a friend for life.
You think slowly but deeply. You only gain great understanding after a situation has past.

(ht: Johnny-Dee)

Stemwedel and Cohen on Popper

Janet Stemwedel and Benjamin Cohen discuss Popper (via Instant Messenger) at Page 3.14. Worth reading.

benjaminrcohen: Now, this reminds me too...Popper's working in a scientific moment when physics is the ascendant form of inquiry amongst all others

benjaminrcohen: and that isn't the case anymore, at least not in the same way it was in the first half of the century

janetdstemwedel: The Vienna Circle also thought physics was the bees' knees.

benjaminrcohen: Hempel and Carnap and the lot?

janetdstemwedel: Also, Bertrand Russell circa 1912 when he wrote that mature science (like physics) had no use for a concept of cause.

benjaminrcohen: So we shouldn't throw in Duhem, being French and all, since we know what's what with the French

janetdstemwedel: Duhem was kind of into chemistry though, so I cut him slack

Duhem should also be cut a bit of slack because he insists, surprisingly vehemently, that he is only talking about physics, and that other sciences can't be assumed to work the same way, and, appealing to Claude Bernard, he even gives physiology as an example of a science that works in a way completely different from physics. The notion that there is a single scientific method, or that there is a feature all sciences and only sciences share, is completely foreign to Duhem. He also recognizes the limits of his arguments, which depend crucially on the fact that theory in physics consists entirely of mathematical equations applicable to experimental facts. One of the many reasons why Duhem, for all his limitations, is a better philosopher of science than most philosophers of science we have had since.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Mysterious Rest of Us

Russell Jacoby has an interesting essay in the CHE on Hannah Arendt (ht: Cliopatria). Reading it, I feel almost as if I came in on a telephone conversation and don't know who's on the other end of the line. When Jacoby talks about those who 'lionize' Arendt, those for whom she is a philosophical hero, one might assume that he means the philosophical community; but Jacoby seems to negate that when he contrasts her to Rawls -- Rawls isn't competition for Arendt because, while political philosophers might like him, he doesn't move 'the rest of us'. Who the Rest of Us are, I don't think we ever really learn, and since they would have to be the ones making the mistake of overrating her, not knowing who the Rest of Us are puts up an impediment to evaluating the essay. So I have no criticisms, since, lacking the context for it, I don't really know what Jacoby's argument actually is; I'd have to guess, and that's not particularly helpful.

There's another puzzle in the essay. The 'devotees' and 'supporters' of Arendt appear to be academic philosophers. If this is so, however, part of Jacoby's argument starts looking a little strange. He argues:

So Arendt's two most famous books make opposite points, since she never reconciled them. Her minions pussyfoot around the contradiction or pedantically try to harmonize the notion of radical and banal evil. Others are less docile. Gershom Scholem, the scholar of Jewish mysticism, protested in a letter to her that her totalitarian book had offered a "contradictory" thesis to her Eichmann report: "At that time, you had not yet made your discovery, apparently, that evil is banal." Arendt agreed: "You are quite right: I have changed my mind and do no longer speak of 'radical evil.'" Her honesty is refreshing but damns her Origins study. It means that her most important book — the Eichmann report — stands unique in her oeuvre; it is not only her least philosophical book, but its notion of evil undermines the theory of her previous work.

I don't know what 'least philosophical' is supposed to mean here (certainly Eichmann in Jerusalem is the work that is most discussed in the philosophical mode as well as in other modes), but setting that aside, there is nothing bad or problematic or even unusual about someone coming to a different conclusion in one book than they did before. Jacoby tries to make a case of this, by saying that her 'supporters' -- undefined but apparently including Richard Bernstein -- 'lack her own forthrightness' and 'try to paper over the fissure'. But Bernstein, Jacoby's example, doesn't really suggest this. After all, Bernstein is a philosopher, and, while Arendt's own opinion of the relation between her two works has some weight, his primary interest is always going to be not Arendt's opinion of the relations among her works but their actual relations. It could very well be that Arendt was wrong to concede so much to Scholem. Arendt has a privileged position when it comes to interpreting her arguments, of course, but it's radically naive to think she has an incorrigible one. People forget details of arguments -- yes, even of their own arguments; they can be misled or confused by the language they use to convey an argument into thinking they're committed to A when really they're just committed to the vaguely similar but different A'; they can give two related arguments without seeing their connection; and so forth. Jacoby apparently considers this point, but he consigns it to the same sort of 'lack of forthrightness' without any argument.

Moreover, the primary interest in work like Arendt is not whether it is right, but whether it makes an interesting argument worth thinking about. If our concern is with what's right, either the earlier work, or the later work, or neither has to be right; and we just focus on that. But if our concern is with what's worth thinking about, then either or both could be wrong, or they both could contradict each other, and still be worthy of our interest. Part of philosophy is dialectical -- opposing arguments and opposing positions -- and a great deal of the interest of Eichmann in Jerusalem is due to the fact that, far from standing alone, it overcomes the arguments of the earlier work by a close philosophical case study.

All in all, it's a very puzzling essay. As I said, I'm certain that I'm missing something; Jacoby clearly has particular people, or at least particular groups of people, in mind. It's just hard to say who, and without knowing who, there's very little to do but be mystified by why he thinks his argument shows that Arendt is only famous as a political philosopher because she has no competition. (When he actually considers the competition, for instance, he mysteriously restricts, momentarily, the field to American political philosophy, which would eliminate, say, Jurgen Habermas or Simone Weil or Charles Taylor; he doesn't consider Noam Chomsky who, whatever else may be said of him, doesn't vanish into technical details and is far more popularly known than Arendt ever has been; he doesn't seem to include any feminist philosophers -- for instance, he mentions Sartre but ignores Simone de Beauvoir. Are there reasons for this? I do not know; if so, they are not given.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Two More Notes

* Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Ambrose. Here's Augustine on Ambrose (Confessions, Book 5):

And to Milan I came, unto Ambrose the bishop, known to the whole world as among the best of men, Thy devout servant; whose eloquent discourse did at that time strenuously dispense unto Thy people the flour of Thy wheat, the "gladness" of Thy "oil," and the sober intoxication of Thy "wine." To him was I unknowingly led by Thee, that by him I might knowingly be led to Thee. That man of God received me like a father, and looked with a benevolent and episcopal kindliness on my change of abode. And I began to love him, not at first, indeed, as a teacher of the truth,—which I entirely despaired of in Thy Church,—but as a man friendly to myself. And I studiously hearkened to him preaching to the people, not with the motive I should, but, as it were, trying to discover whether his eloquence came up to the fame thereof, or flowed fuller or lower than was asserted; and I hung on his words intently, but of the matter I was but as a careless and contemptuous spectator; and I was delighted with the pleasantness of his speech, more erudite, yet less cheerful and soothing in manner, than that of Faustus. Of the matter, however, there could be no comparison; for the latter was straying amid Manichaean deceptions, whilst the former was teaching salvation most soundly. But "salvation is far from the wicked," such as I then stood before him; and yet I was drawing nearer gradually and unconsciously.

Ambrose, of course, is probably second only to Monica in importance for Augustine's conversion from Manichaeanism to Christianity. Another feature of Ambrose's life for which he is famous is his fearlessness in standing up to Emperors; the Ancient History Sourcebook has what is perhaps the best known example, as described by Theodoret.

Rebecca recently posted a hymn attributed to Ambrose for the first Sunday in Advent.

* I've gone on record before saying that while I tend to accept something like Gyula Klima's favorable (but qualified) assessment of Anselm's argument, the two most interesting and plausible unfavorable assessments I know are those of Peter King (PDF) and Peter Millican (PDF). (The two objections are very different, although both authors provide good reasons why the common arguments against it are dubious.) At OPP there's recently been posted a paper by Yujin Nagasawa (PDF), which I'm still in the process of reading, arguing that Millican's objection rests on an error of interpretation. One of the reasons for this is an argument, which I don't find at all plausible given the stated purpose of the Proslogion, that Anselm is actually deliberately ambiguous on the interpretation of the argument; but he gives other arguments.

Something Else Besides Sincerity

Chris has recently had several posts on the subject of atheism (here, here, here, and here). The last of these in particular has a long comments thread; I really don't have much to say on it, except that atheists of the sort Chris is criticizing, who don't see any nuance in religion at all, need to step back a bit and read a few George Eliot novels, since they are clearly getting an unbalanced diet.

George Eliot certainly falls within the atheism of suspicion; being Feuerbachian, she's also an excellent appreciator of religious nuance. Moreover, she's an outstanding observer of human nature. I suggest that Chris and people like him can see themselves as George Eliot atheists, in the powerful intellectual tradition of Mary Anne Evans herself.

In any case, here's a quotation that I think Chris would really like. Some context is in order. The novel it's from is Romola, perhaps my favorite of Eliot's novels. Romola takes place in late fifteenth-century Florence, where the city is being torn apart by political parties. One of these is headed by Savonarola, a narrow, dogmatic Dominican. However, Eliot is a consummate novelist, and she doesn't leave the characterization of Savonarola at that. For Savonarola is not a villain; he is a good man. The main character, Romola, becomes a sort of student of his, and becoming so, her vista opens up on a level of moral action she had never before recognized. Even though both Florence and Romola's life are falling apart, she learns from Savonarola how to ignite "that flame of unselfish emotion by which a life of sadness might still be a life of active love." In Eliot's powerful image, she becomes a sort of Visible Madonna to complement, and contrast with, Florence's patron, the Unseen Madonna.

So Savonarola is a sort of hero. However, he is a man caught up in contradictions. He is a mystic, an apocalyptic visionary; but he is also a very pragmatic politician. Both are equally important parts of who he is, and for a while he is able to join them both. However, as he does it becomes harder and harder for him to distinguish between the Kingdom of God he preaches and the political party he leads. As long as he manages to keep them apart, he manages to rule Florence by grabbing hold of its spirit and showing it a new life. However, it would take a more superhuman strength than Savonarola has to keep the two distinguished, and slowly they begin to meld. This leads, among other things, to a break between Romola and Savonarola, as Romola goes on beyond Savonarola's religion into a morality of love. But, more relevant to the quotation, it leads to Savonarola's downfall. The Kingdom of God that Savonarola preaches is a kingdom that is supported by miracles; the political party he leads has its power from the will of the people. However, as the two begin to blur together, the people more and more wish to see Savonarola's politics supported by miracles, and he is challenged by fanatics opposing him to a literal Trial by Fire. If his political regime truly has divine favor, the people begin to think, he will walk through the fire and not be harmed.

We thus come up Savonarola in his cell, caught in the contradiction of being both prophet and politician. His prophetic side is certain that the Kingdom of God is supported by miracles; his pragmatic side, on which his political savvy is based, recognizes the folly of the trial; but his increasing inability to distinguish prophecy and politics, ideal and real, the Rule inspired by God and the rule inspired by Savonarola, puts him in a bind that can only end badly for him (and eventually does). This is from a long passage in Chapter 64, in which we find Savonarola struggling to decide what to do.

To the common run of mankind it has always seemed a proof of mental vigour to find moral questions easy, and judge conduct according to concise alternatives. And nothing was likely to seem plainer than that a man who at one time declared that God would not leave him without the guarantee of a miracle, and yet drew back when it was proposed to test his declaration, had said what he did not believe. Were not Fra Domenico and Fra Mariano, and scores of Piagnoni besides, ready to enter the fire? What was the cause of their superior courage, if it was not their superior faith? Savonarola could not have explained his conduct satisfactorily to his friends, even if he had been able to explain it thoroughly to himself. And he was not. Our naked feelings make haste to clothe themselves in propositions which lie at hand among our store of opinions, and to give a true account of what passes within us something else is necessary besides sincerity, even when sincerity is unmixed.

[Emphasis added.]

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

C. S. Lewis Meme

I saw this at The Metaphysical Pluralist.

1. What was the first book by Lewis that you ever read?

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

2. What is your favorite book by Lewis?

(A) It alternates between LWW and Till We Have Faces.
My favorite non-fiction work by Lewis is The Discarded Image.

3. How many books by Lewis have you read?

(A) I have read so many I have no notion.

4. What books are they?

(A) Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, God in the Dock, The Abolition of Man, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed, Miracles, The Four Loves, all the Chronicles of Narnia, Till We Have Faces, The Allegory of Love, Surprised by Joy, the 'Space Trilogy', The Pilgrim's Regress, The Discarded Image, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, An Experiment in Criticism, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Reflections on the Psalms, Studies in Words, several of the letter collections, several of the essay collections, Spirits in Bondage, etc.

Perhaps it would be easier to list books I certainly have not read: The Personal Heresy and Dymer and the juvenilia are the only ones that come to mind.

5. If C.S. Lewis got in a fight with Francis Schaeffer, who would win?

(A) Lewis; he was more of a figher in any case.

6. What books on Lewis have you read?

(A) I typically eschew books on authors when I can read the authors own works. I've read a few, though -- Lindskroog's works on the Dark Tower controversy, for instance, Carpenter's The Inklings, Sibley's Shadowlands. I've occasionally picked others up, but they mostly seem insipid. The best book on Lewis I've read is only on one facet of his thought, namely, Lionel Adey's C. S. Lewis' 'Great War' with Owen Barfield. The book on Lewis that I haven't read that I most want to read is Reppert's.

7. What made Lewis great?

(A) No one who knows Lewis's life, I think, can give anything other than this: he had excellent friends. He had a talent for making excellent friends, he had a talent for inspiring those friends to greater heights, and he had a talent for being inspired by those friends. These are major gifts, and the mark of them is all over his best work. Would we were all so blessed.

Links and Notes

* Sandy Berkovski discusses the best way to characterize the role of chance in history (PDF).

* Scott Carson has a fascinating discussion of Anselm's argument on the Filioque. I'll be re-reading this more closely a few times.

* Lindsay has a post on different varieties of swear words. The distinction between blasphemous swear words and (what I would call) immodesty swear words is an important one; it's difficult to quite transfer into English the force of 'tabernacle!' -- an expletive you might hear in Quebec in many slightly different forms, depending on how forceful the speaker wants to be. The reference of the term, obviously, is to the tabernacle that holds the Host. In fact, the word for 'to swear' in Quebec is sacrer -- literally, to consecrate; and virtually all of the strongest expletives in the Quebec dialect of French are blasphemies. I would distinguish, however, between blasphemies and curses; using the name, 'Jesus Christ', as an expletive is a blasphemy, but 'damn' is a curse. It's not really blasphemous to express a desire for something to be damned to hell; it's malicious, or, at least, would once have been. The mark of the difference is that blasphemies become swear words because they are good, and using them profanely is considered (at least at some time in their history) perverse; what makes a curse a curse is that it is (again, at least at some time in its history) a bad thing you wish on someone or something. As Lindsay notes, English is very weak when it comes to blasphemies -- it has very few and they are not very strong . Almost all of the strongest swear words in English are sexual. I think Lindsay is also right that gutter insults should be distinguished from pure expletives.

* Malcolm Gladwell at "" has an interesting post suggesting criteria for evaluating the severity of racist comments. I'm inclined to disagree about the importance of content. Richards, for instance, would not have committed any less serious an offense if he had used different words than he did. The aspect of content that I suspect is relevant is the one that is most closely associated with the other two (intention and conviction) -- what we might call 'aptitude for action'. To use a trivial example, if I say, "Three times three is nine," that's a comment that in most contexts has almost no aptitude for action. It just doesn't usually invite it. If I say, however, "Everyone had better start leaving me alone," that's a comment that has more of an aptitude for action (I might take action to make people start leaving me alone, or someone might start taking it for me). I'm sure there's a better way to characterize it, but I think this gives the general notion. What makes the charge that Jews are all out for their pound of flesh so bad, for instance, is that it has shown itself very apt to discharge in terrible actions against Jews. This, I think, captures Gladwell's intuition that specificity is relevant -- a very vague racial slur has less aptitude for action than a very precise one. Likewise, the type of action we are concerned with is not just any sort of action, but violent actions toward people insofar as they can be labelled as members of particular racial or ethnic groups; so it may also capture Gladwell's suggestion that deviation from legitimate generalization is relevant as well. In any case, the worse cases of racism appear when comments tending to action are made with a malicious intent springing from a firm conviction. I am thus inclined to regard Richards's actions in a less favorable light than Gladwell is; Richards didn't just call a name, he made a lynching joke. His convictions on the matter are obscure, although plunging right into racial slurs on being heckled doesn't speak very favorably of them; and while merely angry intentions may be less serious than really malicious ones, they can do as much damage. But I do agree that there may be an argument that part of the reason Richards crashed was simply incompetence as a comedian; although I think it's unclear how much this should ameliorate anyone's judgment.

* Chris has a number of Schopenhauer's parables. Vivid imagery is one of Schopenhauer's great strengths as a philosopher; he has a lot of really great word-pictures scattered through his works.

* Tomorrow is the memorial of St. Nicholas. Yes, that St. Nicholas. Take advantage of the day to do someone a good turn. Those interested in St. Nicholas himself will be interested in the St. Nicholas Center.

* Bill Moyers recently gave an excellent speech at the United States Military Academy.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Steno's Day

Tomorrow (the fifth) is an important memorial of someone who is all too often forgotten: Nicholas Steno, also called Niels Stensen. Steno is one of the most stunning scientific minds in history, and a truly saintly person; I have an old post giving some of the highlights of his life. Strictly speaking, Steno's memorial is only officially celebrated in certain parts of Europe, since he has only been beatified; but it seems worthwhile to mark the day.

It's also worth pointing out, since it is often overlooked, that Steno could plausibly lay claim to being the person who did the work of showing that Descartes was wrong about the pineal gland, at least in the sense that he showed that Descartes made false anatomical assumptions about the pineal gland and argued that, in fact, we knew very little about the brain at all. (He also, and more obviously, showed that Descartes was wrong, and Harvey right, about the heart. He was, however, a very great admirer of Descartes, and explicitly defends him from hasty condemnations, insisting that they overlook the beauty of Descartes's work; in science it really is sometimes the case that refutation is the greatest form of flattery.) You can read a French version of the work in which he does this thanks to Gallica. Their format requires a lot of patience to navigate, but it's worth a perusal, if only to read a lecture in seventeenth-century neuroscience by perhaps its foremost practitioner, laying out the structure of the brain in a way that, given the tools of the time, could only be done by a man with an almost flawless surgical hand, expressing doubts about this whole notion of 'animal spirits', carefully marking off the things not known from things known.

There's an old joke about Aristotle -- how on Monday he wrote the Physics, but getting tired of that subject, wrote the Poetics on Tuesday; figuring that he'd done enough of that for a while, catalogued all the Greek constitutions on Wednesday; then, deciding that was too mundane, wrote the Metaphysics on Thursday; realized he'd forgotten to write something for Nichomachus, so wrote the Nichomachean Ethics on Friday; and decided to take a break from it all on Saturday by writing all the logical works. It's not a very funny joke, but it gives a slightly funny caricature of how stunning -- one might almost say shocking -- it is that a single man was able to do so much even in a lifetime; and everyone always has the same reaction to Steno, whose life is not all that much less stunning than someone proving Harvey right about the heart on Monday, founding the modern understanding of the glands on Tuesday, proving Descartes wrong about the brain on Wednesday, then settling down for the easy tasks of inventing paleontology on Thursday and geology on Friday before he takes the weekend off to become a saint. It's a funny caricature, but, allowing for all the exaggeration, it's uncomfortably like its original.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Religion and Intolerance

Because Atran [fixed link --ed.] mentioned him recently, I've looked up Jeremy Ginges, a social psychologist who does research relevant to conflict resolution. In his paper on Religion and Support for Suicide Bombing (PDF) he looks at the relation between religion and support for suicide bombing (as you might have guessed). Does religious devotion contribute to support for suicide bombing? His suggestion is both a yes and a no; particular beliefs don't seem to play much of a role, but there is a probability that religious rituals, insofar as they encourage expressions of devotion to the community, may play some role. Support for suicide bombing does not appear to be influenced by frequency of prayer among Muslims in Palestine -- the dominant form of religious devotion in Muslim life -- but it does appear to be influenced by mosque attendance. As he notes explicitly in the paper, this does not mean that mosque attendance in general increases support for suicide bombing, since that would obviously depend on things like local leadership and and ambient culture; what it does show is that even when there is an influence, there appears to be a sharp difference between religious acts like prayer and religious acts like mosque attendance, and it suggests that, to the extent religion is playing a role, it is doing so in the sense of providing a forum for leaders drumming up support for suicide bombing.

People who are interested in the work of Jeremy Ginges might also be interested in the work of Ara Naranzayan. I recommend his Yin and Yang and Heaven and Hell (PDF), which discusses the complex issues involved in studying the relationship between religion and intolerance. Naranzayan points to evidence that when you don't control for certain factors, measures of religiosity show some reliability in predicting intolerance, and when you control for those factors, measures of religiosity show some reliability in predicting tolerance. Prayer, for instance, appears to be consistently associated with tolerance; and, noteworthily, prayer is one of the features of religion most intensely associated with religious devotion and belief in God. So religious devotion appears to be a good predictor of at least certain kinds of tolerance; but the paradox is that religious devotion is also linked to certain predictors of certain kinds of intolerance. This explains why study of the subject has had such difficulty achieving any clear conclusions -- the relationship between religious factors and tolerance are not straightforward, but highly complex. He also notes more evidence along the lines noted in the Ginges paper linked above.

As always with this sort of thing, or indeed with most studies in cognitive science and social psychology generally, I recommend a grain of salt; the science on the topics studied is still usually in a very formative state -- there are all sorts of things that might not have been adequately studied yet that would shed new light on what scientists are studying. But a grain of salt is subtly different from skepticism; studies like the ones given here do represent a serious advance in our understanding of the issues, since they give us suggestive data useful for further inquiry.


Tomorrow (December 4) is the Feast of St. John Damascene, so I thought I'd post something. This is from the De Fide, Book I, chapter viii:

We believe, then, in One God, one beginning, having no beginning, uncreate, unbegotten, imperishable and immortal, everlasting, infinite, uncircumscribed, boundless, of infinite power, simple, uncompound, incorporeal, without flux, passionless, unchangeable, unalterable, unseen, the fountain of goodness and justice, the light of the mind, inaccessible; a power known by no measure, measurable only by His own will alone (for all things that He wills He can), creator of all created things, seen or unseen, of all the maintainer and preserver, for all the provider, master and lord and king over all, with an endless and immortal kingdom: having no contrary, filling all, by nothing encompassed, but rather Himself the encompasser and maintainer and original possessor of the universe, occupying all essences intact and extending beyond all things, and being separate from all essence as being super-essential and above all things and absolute God, absolute goodness, and absolute fulness: determining all sovereignties and ranks, being placed above all sovereignty and rank, above essence and life and word and thought: being Himself very light and goodness and life and essence, inasmuch as He does not derive His being from another, that is to say, of those things that exist: but being Himself the fountain of being to all that is, of life to the living, of reason to those that have reason; to all the cause of all good: perceiving all things even before they have become: one essence, one divinity, one power, one will, one energy, one beginning, one authority, one dominion, one sovereignty, made known in three perfect subsistences and adored with one adoration, believed in and ministered to by all rational creation, united without confusion and divided without separation (which indeed transcends thought). (We believe) in Father and Son and Holy Spirit whereinto also we have been baptized. For so our Lord commanded the Apostles to baptize, saying, Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Feast of Copernicus

Scott Atran at The Edge:

On rituals: 19th century French positivists proposed very much what Dr. Porco proposes in terms — albeit somewhat tongue in cheek — of awe-inspiring ceremonies and even temples to science. Apart from the few who founded these practices and artifacts, the attempt failed utterly to woo any significant portion of the general population, or even make further inroads among the scientific community. Most scientists rightly thought these efforts were artificial and absurd. Most religious people thought the same.

As people often said, Comteanism is Catholicism that has ceased to be Christian. In case you are wondering, today, being the first of Bichat (the month devoted to modern science), is the Feast of Copernicus in the Positivist Calendar. Since the Positivist Calendar is a perennial calendar, its days of the week don't shift as they do for our Gregorian Calendar, and thus it is a Monday, as it always is on the first of Bichat. Bichat (1771-1802), after whom the month is named, is the father of histology and pathology, and best known for the groundbreaking shift of research from whole organs to organ tissues.

In case you are wondering. As Atran basically notes, it's very unlikely that you are, because it's very unlikely that you care about Comtean Positivism.


Which South Park kid are you most like?


You are clever, and often come up with intelligent and funny comebacks to other people's stupid remarks.

Personality Test Results

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I'm borderline, though, because a shift in one of the questions to which I could have given two different answers makes me Butters. And I really must rise to the defense of young Leopold Stotch, because this is the tagline given for him:

Butters: You are extremely naive. You'll believe whatever anyone tells you. This is because your parents have sheltered you.

Err....It needs to be said that this is most assuredly not right. Butters's parents are very authoritarian, but what they do can't be called 'sheltering'. The most controversial arc in the Butters character is that his parents abuse him terribly; what makes the character so endearing is that he's such a cute, innocent sweetheart despite the fact that he has a horrible life (his birthday, for instance, is September 11; his parents tried to sell him as a pet to Paris Hilton; his mother attempted to drown him at one point; his tapdancing at the National Tap Dancing Competition inadvertently led to the death of eleven people; etc.). The glimpses of abuse were so controversial that Stone and Parker were actually told by the network never to show such things again.

Inductive Epochs

...These primary movements, when the Inductive process, by which science is formed, has been exercised in a more energetic and powerful manner, may be distinguished as the Inductive Epochs of scientific history; and they deserve our more expressed and pointed notice. They are, for the most part, marked by the great discoveries and the great philosophical names which all civilized nations have agreed in admiring. But, when we examine more clearly the history of such discoveries, we find that these epochs have not occurred suddenly and without preparation. They have been preceded by a period, which we may call their Prelude, during which the ideas and facts on which they turned were called into action;--were gradually evolved into clearness and connection, permanency and certainty; till at last the discovery which marks the epoch, siezed and fixed forever the truth which had till then been obscurely and doubtfully discerned. And again, when this step has been made by the principal discoverers, there may generally be observed another period, which we may call the Sequel of the Epoch, during which the discovery has acquired a more perfect certainty and a more complete development among the leaders of the advance; has been diffused to the wider throng of the secondary cultivators of such knowledge, and traced into its distant consequences. This is a work, always of time and labor, often of difficulty and conflict. To distribute the History of science into such Epochs, with their Preludes and Sequels, if successfully attempted, must needs make the series and connections of its occurrences more distinct and intelligible. Such periods form resting places, where we pause till the dust of confused march is laid, and the prospect of the path is clear.

[Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences, Volume I. D. Appleton and Company (New York: 1858) p. 47.]

An example might suffice to clarify. Whewell identifies an early inductive epoch in astronomy, which he calls the Inductive Epoch of Hipparchus. The scientific problem with which it dealt was the problem of the wandering bodies, i.e., planets, which appeared to defy the otherwise rigid order of the heavens. Bit by bit people had begun to develop rules for describing their motions, tracing over long years the various cycles that the various planets undergo. But this on its own doesn't get you very far; it just gives you Bradshaw, not the train. By thinking about the planets on analogy with wheels and the like, they were able to come up with the notion of an epicycle. This handled otherwise puzzling problems like retrograde motion; but astronomers were forced to extend it by further anomalies uncovered by close examination of the data, such as the peculiarities involved in the paths taken by the moon and the sun across the sky. It doesn't take much to see that the notion of an epicycle can easily handle this sort of problem; so it was extended. Thus we have a progress in conceptions of the epicycle going with progress in acquaintance with facts. All these were prerequisites for the first great theory of astronomy, that of Hipparchus.

The scientific problem as developed in the prelude to the epoch, then, was to reconcile the celestial phenomena by means of equable circular motions. Whewell notes that, while we tend to dismiss this problem (since the circularity condition is inconsistent with nature), as a part of the prelude it not only makes sense, it is a reasonable thing to try, since, if it panned out, it would give you the phenomena by way of the simplest and most manageable conjecture. The bad name epicycles have received is due not to the work done in the prelude, nor Hipparchus's advance in constructing a fully successful theory of epicycles and eccentrics, but to the quirks of the sequel to the epoch, in which the circularity condition was held with great tenacity even in the face of mounting evidence against it, precisely because it was such a simple and elegant supposition. There's an ambivalence to it: Whewell puts it forward as an example of the love for simplicity that both drives scientific progress and creates impediments to the same.

In any case, Whewell identifies Hipparchus as the cardinal point in astronomical progress during this epoch, on the basis of the maxim that he who proves, discovers. The epicycle was nothing new when Hipparchus came along; it had already been in use for the purposes of explaining anomalies in the wandering bodies. Similarly with the eccentric. To have a genuine theory of epicycles and eccentrics, however, you need to be precise: you need to identify the magnitudes, distances, and positions of the of the circles you are positing, in such a way that the circles capture the irregular and anomalous motions for which you are trying to account. One of the signs of Hipparchus's genius was his ability to come up with this on the basis of surprisingly limited data; the tables he constructed stood up to the test of predicting eclipses, the most serious and important test of any astronomical model at the time. By doing so, they showed that they were an adequate representation of the path of the sun to the level of precision required for tracking eclipses. Hipparchus did the same with the moon, to the same level of precision, on the basis of only six recorded eclipses. This formed a clear and definite basis for people to extend the same idea to the bodies of the planets. Hipparchus did not complete this task, but famously gathered together much of the material for it; according to Ptolemy the whole mass of astronomocial observations left to posterity by Hipparchus' time was dwarfed by the mass left to posterity by Hipparchus himself.

Again, we have a tendency to underrate the importance of this theory of eccentrics and epicycles; we now know that perhaps its key postulate is false, and we tend to think of the theory as inordinately complicated and tangled. In fact, this is in great degree an illusion of hindsight, and to the fact that we are separated from Hipparchus's actual epoch of discovery by a long and complicated sequel. As Whewell notes, the value of a true part of a theory may far outweight its error; and the usefulness of a rule does not always depend on its simplicity. As he notes, "The first steps of our progress do not lose their importance because they are not the last; and the outset of the journey may require no less vigor and vitality than the close" (p. 152). What is true about the theory of Hipparchus is its resolution of the phenomena into circles; it as true that they can be so resolved today as it was then. This resolution allows us to construct precise tables by which we can clearly determine the position of the planets at any time. The assumption that made this resolution possible, and thus the precise predictions, was false; but some assumption is needed for any theory of motions, and it was a simple and straightforward assumption to make. We tend to look at the result and say, "How complicated!" But the simplicity of the theory was not in its final conclusions but in the fact that from a very small set of data, from just a few features of planetary motion, you could derive the principles that would allow you to explain a an immense array of extremely disparate observations. Eccentrics and epicycles were perfectly capable of representing the quantity of the inequalities in planetary motion; and this is not a small thing. So well does it do so, in fact, that for the convenience of calculation of this inequality, the theory first put forward by Hipparchus is very difficult to beat; as Whewell notes, if we complain about the complexity of an unusually simple method of calculation for a given natural quantity, what we are really complaining about is nature, not astronomy. Moreover, we tend to assume that astronomers gave the same faith to epicycles and eccentrics that we do to Kepler's ellipses; when in fact they were much more ambivalent, and were usually quite explicit about its being simply the best hypothesis on hand. The precise representation of apparent motion provided by the theory, however, allows you to collect the data that is needed before you can identify the actual motion of the planets; without Hipparchus, there would be no Kepler.

After the epoch of induction, we entered the sequal, a period of development, verification, application, and extension. This period was started by Hipparchus himself, who developed a catalogue of stars for more accurate record-keeping, showed with greater precision the length of years and days. He also began discovering points that did not confirm the theory -- parallaxes, for instance -- but which astronomers at the time lacked the ability to be precise enough to handle properly. (One of the problems parallax shows in the theory is that while it can accurately chart apparent position, it has serious trouble getting the distances correct.) The most famous person in the sequel, however, is naturally Ptolemy, whose development, extension, and popularization of the Hipparchian theory is what became dominant, and is, in fact, our primary source for knowing anything about Hipparchus at all. One of Ptolemy's contributions was the discovery of yet another celestial inequality, the evection of the moon, and his accounting for it by the theory of epicycles. This discovery was quite crucial to astronomy, or would become so much later on, because it suggested that there might be numerous inequalities that were yet remaining to be discovered, and that the confirmation of the theory lay in its power to explain such residual phenomena. It was also one of the first in a long line of discoveries of inequalities in the moon's motion that are due to the pull of the sun; and the importance of those for the Newtonian discovery of universal gravitation can hardly be underestimated. From Ptolemy the sequel extends through very long years, until the rise of a new inductive epoch.

Thus we have a sort of stage in astronomical progress, involving a prelude of preparation, an epoch of induction, and a sequel of development.

Adventus Redemptoris

You know what hour it is,
how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep.
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed;
the night is far gone, the day is at hand.
Let us then cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day,
not in reveling and drunkenness,
not in debauchery and licentiousness,
not in quarreling and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:11-14