Saturday, August 13, 2011

NPR's SF and Fantasy Booklist

From here. (hat-tip) A weird mix of books and series, with some obvious omissions. I've bolded the ones I've read. I've asterisked the ones that are actually on my shelf somewhere right now.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien*
2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams*
3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card*
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert*
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell*
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury*
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov*
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson (I can't remember if I've read this one)
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov*
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein (I think this is one of his worst books)
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley*
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (Awful)
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein*
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey (I think Dragonsdawn is actually better)
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein (I think)
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller* (Truly excellent)
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells*
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne*
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys (I think)
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells*
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny (only some of them)
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien*
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White*
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan*
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson*
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle*
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett* (I wasn't really impressed)
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke*
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne*
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi (I'll likely be reading this in the next few weeks)
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson (I'll likely be reading this in the next few weeks)
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury (I think)
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson (Really great ideas, but I thought the execution was somewhat weak)
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov*
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony (the first thirteen, anyway; the first three are quite good, of which the first is on my shelves, and I also liked Night Mare, Dragon on a Pedestal, and Crewel Lye)
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis*

The Lit Confusion of Our Days

Chartres Windows
by Rudyard Kipling

Colour fulfils where Music has no power:
By each man's light the unjudging glass betrays
All men's surrender, each man's holiest hour
And all the lit confusion of our days-
Purfled with iron, traced in dusk and fire,
Challenging ordered Time who, at the last,
Shall bring it, grozed and leaded and wedged fast,
To the cold stone that curbs or crowns desire.
Yet on the pavement that all feet have trod-
Even as the Spirit, in her deeps and heights,
Turns only, and that voiceless, to her God-
There falls no tincture from those anguished lights.
And Heaven's one light, behind them, striking through
Blazons what each man dreamed no other knew.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Interaction Problems

Imagine, if you will, a civilization which has a lot to say about material objects, but much of what its major thinkers say about the subject is taken up with puzzling out and debating a major conundrum, which some of them consider one of the most important philosophical puzzles of all time: how could conservation of momentum, which is apparently not a material object, possibly interact with bodies in motion, which obviously are material objects? It is quite the problem. Some people, we will call them object dualists, hold that conservation of momentum is an object interacting with the material objects we call bodies; but it is an immaterial object rather than a material object. It was these people who started the whole discussion rolling. They had lots of people convinced for a while, but after a while people just couldn't figure out this whole interaction thing. How can conservation of momentum interact with material objects given that it can't touch them (we know it can't touch them because it is not a material object)? So, they reasoned, there's really only one alternative: conservation of momentum must actually be a material object, namely, a material object inside other material objects. This solves, or at least seems to solve, the interaction problem: at the very least, the interaction of bodies with conservation of momentum is no more mysterious than the interaction of bodies with bodies. Some people are not particularly impressed by this, thinking that the interaction of bodies with bodies is not so well understood, but the view does get a few followers.

The problems people have with this simple materialist solution, though, are fairly formidable, and others point out that (1) it really, really does seem like the object dualists are right that conservation of momentum isn't a material object; and (2) you can look and look at bodies all day and not find any material object in them that is clearly and obviously conservation of momentum. Admittedly, some people think that in bodies with motors the motor obviously must be the conservation of momentum, because it has something to do with momentum -- you can mess with the motor and change the momentum all over the place. The object dualists point out that this is just correlation, and is as true if conservation of momentum is an immaterial object interacting with material objects. But some of them concede that it may well be true that only bodies with motors, or at least motor-like things, really exhibit conservation of momentum; everything else that looks like conservation of momentum might not be.

Well, say some others, obviously the problem is that we haven't a clue what it is for anything but material objects to interact with material objects. But this doesn't matter. Obviously conservation of momentum can't itself interact with anything. But equally obviously, it's there, so what must be happening is that the material objects are causing conservation of momentum. Since conservation of momentum doesn't cause anything, not being a material object, but is an effect, it can't actually explain anything that happens in the real world; it's just a sort of by-product of things. And this solves the interaction problem; after all, we know that the interaction problem is the problem of how immaterial causes can have material effects, not the problem of how material causes can have immaterial effects. And it's supported by science, too; after all, material objects are constantly acting as if they are preparing to do things even though you never find the conservation of momentum already there causing them to do it, just as you would expect if conservation of momentum were really something that happened after bodies moved.

Hmmmph, others say, if you're going to go that far, you might as well just say there is no such thing as conservation of momentum. And others think that this is a good idea; obviously conservation of momentum is just a word put on our ignorance, and you can tell from all the philosophical trouble it's causing. Some day science will give us a theory which will explain everything without conservation of momentum; maybe we'll still use the phrase, maybe we won't, but if we do, it will just be a practical convenience: the true account of the universe will obviously not have any idea so spooky as conservation of momentum in it. But others respond, to all these epiphenomenalists and eliminativists, that the explanatory value of conservation of momentum seems well-established. Well, yes, of course, say some of the latter, if by that you mean that it enters into equations as a convenient calculating device sometimes. But, again, this is obviously just a practical convenience.

And so it goes. Always the discussion comes back to the paramount philosophical problem on this subject: either conservation of momentum must be an immaterial object, or it must be a material object; if it is a material object, it must either be a separate material object interacting with other material objects, or it just must somehow be each material object itself; and if the latter, we don't know how, but science obviously will someday tell us. Occasionally you have people who will suggest that conservation of momentum is not a material object, but is also obviously not an immaterial object, but, of course, if they were reasonable they would tell what kind of thing an object that is neither material nor immaterial could possibly be. And there are other people who say that interaction is just the wrong way to think of things: conservation of momentum is an immaterial principle, material objects act in such a way that their actions are explained by it, explanation does not require interaction, and, far from being two things in interaction, conservation of momentum and material objects aren't under any circumstances two things at all. Then others look at them strangely and say that, since the two can obviously be distinguished and things that are material and things that are not material are obviously not the same, if the latter explains anything about the former, we haven't avoided the interaction problem at all: if the immaterial principle explains anything about the material object, we are just back to the original question of how conservation of momentum, which is not material, interacts with material objects.

There are any number of science fiction and fantasy scenarios that could be run along similar lines, each one slightly different but all broadly analogous.

Links for Noting

* Bruce Chalton quotes a discussion by Tolkien of the differences between the evil of Morgoth and the evil of Sauron and reflects on it.

* Jason Zarri, A Dilemma for Dialetheism

* The Stained Glass Work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti

* Jean-Luc Marion on Christian Philosophy

* I once, a long time ago, noted a relatively new phenomenon in the internet, the Cause for Canonization website, and made a list of a number of them. Here's one for Catherine of Aragon.

* Very much in agreement with this post at DarwinCatholic.

* Lucy Knisley sums up the Twilight series (second comic on the page), so that you will never have to read it.

* Henry Karlson has a good post on Maximus of Tyre.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stein on Holy Realism

The example of the saints demonstrates to [other believers] how things should actually be: where there is genuine, lively faith, there the doctrine of faith and the "tremendous deeds" of God are the content of life. All else steps aside for it and is determined by it. This is holy realism: the original inner receptivity of the soul reborn in the Holy Spirit. Whatever the soul encounters is received in an appropriate manner and with corresponding depth, and finds in the soul a living, mobile, docile energy that allows itself to be easily and joyfully led and molded by that which it has received, unhampered by any mistaken inhibitions and rigidity. Such realism, when it leads a holy soul to accept the truths of faith, becomes the science of the saints. If the mystery of the cross becomes its inner form, it turns into a science of the cross.

Holy realism has a certain affinity with the realism of the child who receives and responds to impressions with unimpaired vigor and vitality, and with uninhibited simplicity.

St. Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross, Koeppel, tr., ICS Publications (Washington, DC: 2002) pp. 10-11. She goes on to note that, as with the realism of the child, this vivid and intimate acquaintance with the foundations doesn't protect one from error; indeed, may lead to highly unreasonable responses. As with the realism of children, however, a good environment can correct, limit, and compensate for any likely illusions or errors that may arise.

The point is quite an important one. One of the things you note very quickly if you do much reading in Catholic theologians discussing mystical theology is a common and repeated emphasis on the need for context. John of the Cross (about whom Stein is writing here), Teresa of Avila, John of Avila, and others repeatedly advise people not to put a great emphasis on flashier kinds of religious experience, not because there is nothing that can be learned from them, but because handling them properly is very difficult. One and all they insist that people focus on basic truths and reasonable responses, only paying attention to religious experiences to the extent that they genuinely help you to be a better person more capable of loving God and neighbor, and the reason is precisely the point Stein notes here: what matters far more than the experiences we have is the maturity of insight we apply to them, and the latter must be developed by discipline. It is a truth whose value and importance extends far beyond the confines of religious experiences. Nonetheless, it is also true that the intensity and intimacy of our interactions, the realism with which we approach things, plays an important role, too: developing a mature insight into any kind of experience is very difficult if your standpoint on it is abstracted and aloof to begin with. Such "inhibitions and rigidity" can be a source of error and mistake on their own; we need to be teachable ("docile," to use the word in the quotation above) and that requires a certain sort of active energy. Becoming an adult, with adult judgment and sensibility, requires simultaneously throwing ourselves into the world around us ("realism" in the sense of a receptive response to the world as it is and seems to be rather than a philosophical position) and immersing ourselves in an environment that can keep us from going astray, whether by misleading external influences or by misleading internal biases.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stein on the Practical Knowledge of the Artist

If we now examine more closely what happens on the part of the artist, we find--as was emphasized earlier--that the "emergence" of the "idea" is more in the nature of receiving than of creation.... The human intellect does not call ideas into Dasein; it calls works into Dasein which it fashions upon the model of ideas. We are then dealing with a special kind of knowledge, a comprehension of "meaningful forms" [Sinngebilde] which "manifest" themselves to the intellect and stimulate its activity. But these forms do not manifest themselves immediately in full clarity and intelligibility but rather in a veiled and indistinct manner. Therefore, the first operation which the mind is required to perform is a purely intellectual one, namely, that of making the idea stand out clearly. And for a "genuine" or "true" work of art it is of the utmost importance that nothing be done aimlessly or capriciously lest the inner organic laws of the formal structure be disturbed by any arbitrary additions, omissions, or distortions.

When we say that this purely intellectual operation must come "first," we do not mean to imply that this operation must be completed before the work of execution can begin. Rather, the clarification takes place step by step during and concomitantly with the execution of the work, so that the expression "practical knowledge" applies here in a true and literal sense.

Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, ICS Publications (Washington, DC: 2002), pp. 301-302.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Edith Stein

The insistence that the sexual differences are "stipulated by the body alone" is questionable from various points of view. 1) If anima=forma corporis, then bodily differentiation constitutes an index of differentiation in the spirit. 2) Matter serves form, not the reverse. That strongly suggests that the difference in the psyche is the primary one. Thorough consideration must be given, of course, to the question: To what extent can and should growth into the supernatural be a growing beyond the differences endowed by nature?
[Edith Stein, letter to Sr. Callista Kopf, OP, 8 August 1931, in Self-Portrait in Letters, 1916-1942, Gelben & Leuven, eds. ICS Publications (Washington, DC: 1993) p. 99.]

Today is the Feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein. Edith Stein was born October 12, 1891 to a Jewish family in Breslau. Her family was observant, but Edith became an atheist in her teenage years. She went on to study philosophy at the University of Göttingen, and there became not just a student of Husserl, but in a sense the student of Husserl: with Heidegger she edited Husserl's papers, and actually drafted, on the basis of Husserl's notes and conversations, a number of passages that made it into Husserl's posthumous Ideen II. Like many of Husserl's students at the time, Stein was interested in the implications of Husserl's phenomenology for areas of life like ethics, law, and politics.

In the 1920s, after reading Teresa of Avila's Life, she converted to Catholicism and began to teach at a girls' school run by the Dominicans, during which she began an intensive study of Thomistic philosophy, starting with a translation of Aquinas's De Veritate. She found St. Thomas somewhat confusing at first -- unlike phenomenology, which is all about proper method, Aquinas has no single method for handling philosophical problems, and this more free-wheeling philosophical style took some adjustment. In 1932 she became a lecturer at the Institute of Pedagogy of Münster, but changes were coming: she was forced to resign the next year as the Nazis passed anti-Semitic laws restricting teaching positions. She joined the Carmelites in 1933, and took the name Teresa (or Teresia) Benedicta a Cruce. There she began work on what would become her major philosophical work, Finite and Eternal Being, an attempt to address scholastic questions phenomenologically.

As the National Socialists grew in power, the Carmelites moved Teresa Benedicta, along with other Jewish converts, to the Netherlands in the hope that they would be better protected there. It was in the Netherlands that she wrote her major theological work, Studies on John of the Cross: The Science of the Cross (the two phrases are sometimes reversed). Unfortunately, the attempt to protect her failed. The Nazis occupied the Netherlands in 1940; the next year, they began anti-Semitic purges, at first on a small scale. The Dutch did not take it lying down; there was a nationwide strike. The Nazis, however, only became pushier. Eventually the bishops of the Catholic Church of the Netherlands published a letter of protest, which they required all priests to read at Sunday service. The Nazis retaliated by rounding up all Jewish-background Catholics they could find, as well as any priests or religious they found obstructive, and sending them off to concentration camps. Edith and her sister Rosa were shipped to Auschwitz, where they were gassed on or around August 9, 1942.

Henry Karlson has a post on Edith Stein's feminism, which is an interesting subject. In the letter quoted above, she notes that she had once considered herself a radical feminist, but for a number of reasons had come to a position she considered less subjective and more objective; her position, which would not be popular today among most feminists, was that there were was an objective core to masculinity and femininity, each of which contributed distinctive (albeit at times overlapping) values to the human race. Much of her work on the subject is devoted to the role of women as teachers, and can be found collected in Essays on Woman, volume 2 in the ICS translation of her works.

Butler on Party Spirit

And as to the spirit of party, which unhappily prevails amongst mankind, whatever are the distinctions which serve for a supply to it, some or other of which have obtained in all ages and countries; one who is thus friendly to his kind, will immediately make due allowances for it, as what cannot but be amongst such creatures as men, in such a world as this. And as wrath and fury and overbearing upon these occasions proceed, as I may speak, from men's feeling only on their own side; so a common feeling, for others as well as for ourselves, would render us sensible to this truth, which it is strange can have so little influence; that we ourselves differ from others, just as much as they do from us. I put the matter in this way, because it can scarce be expected that the generality of men should see, that those things which are made the occasions of dissension and fomenting the party spirit, are really nothing at all: but it may be expected from all people, how much soever they are in earnest about their respective peculiarities, that humanity, and common good will to their fellow creatures, should moderate and restrain that wretched spirit.

Joseph Butler, Fifteen Sermons, Sermon XII. It is indeed a little strange how we so often tend to treat disagreement as asymmetrical, when in reality we differ from others as much as they differ from us. It doesn't follow, of course, that the disagreement is insignificant; but it does show a way in which it is silly to be annoyed merely at the disagreement.

Monday, August 08, 2011

To-morrow Some New Light Will Shine

The Truth
by Archibald Lampman

Friend, though thy soul should burn thee, yet be still
Thoughts were not meant for strife, nor tongues for swords,
He that sees clear is gentlest of his words,
And that's not truth that hath the heart to kill.
The whole world's thought shall not one truth fulfil.
Dull in our age, and passionate in youth,
No mind of man hath found the perfect truth,
Nor shalt thou find it; therefore, friend, be still.

Watch and be still, nor hearken to the fool,
The babbler of consistency and rule:
Wisest is he, who, never quite secure,
Changes his thoughts for better day by day:
To-morrow some new light will shine, be sure,
And thou shalt see thy thought another way.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Perfect Age

I accidentally turned thirty-three today, a happening that falls on everyone at some point or another, however unexpectedly, and thus I have achieved the perfect age. The ancients tended to see life as divided up into eras, the ages of man. These schemes vary considerably, but they tend to agree that after childhood we enter a period of adolescentia, an age of life whose boundaries are somewhat imprecise, but which roughly occupies us from fourteen to twenty-eight. Thus, for instance, when Augustine talks about the sins of his adolescentia, he is talking about a much longer period of time than is covered by our word 'adolescence'. After adolescentia, a man enters iuventus, whose boundaries are also imprecise, but which covers the thirties and then some of the forties -- different authors disagree about how much, with Isidore, I think, putting it as far as forty-eight, after which one enters senectus. Iuventus is often translated as 'youth'; a translation which requires making a shift to a somewhat different conception of youth than is common among us. But iuventus, regardless of how one translates it, is the fruition of life: with luck and discipline, the period before it excels in body, and (also with luck and discipline) the period after it excels in mind, but iuventus excels in the integration of the two.

Of course, one doesn't reach full fruition all at once: there is a process, and a period of time it takes. The summit of life -- the best of all parts of life, to the extent that they can be all had together -- occurs somewhere in iuventus, but how far in does one reach the completion of one's potential as a full adult? The authors disagree here, as well, but the two ages that are proposed most as the (approximate) points of completion are the ages of thirty, and, even more popularly (in part because of the influence of Peter Lombard), thirty-three. Thirty-three, then, is the age of perfection, 'perfection' originally meaning 'completion'. At roughly thirty-three we become perfect in the sense that we are finally complete as integrated human beings. The rest of iuventus involves living out what it is to be such a complete human being. So that's what's in the future for me, deo volente.

Of course, ages flow into ages, so each age is a preparation for the next. Adolescentia, our foolish years of indiscretions and stupid mistakes and imbalances, are well-lived when we cultivate the kind of life and experience that teaches us discipline, reason, virtue, so that we are able to handle the distinctive problems of iuventus when we come to it. In short: we learn the skills we will need when we are no longer stupid. Iuventus, too, is a preparation, in this case for the seniority of senectus, and it is well-lived when we cultivate the kind of life and experience that teaches us to see the true value of understanding and cultivate it, thus making us able to handle the distinctive problems of senectus, in which the body slowly but steadily become less manageable and those aspects of the mind most dependent on the body may become less reliable, but in which genuine tranquillity of understanding becomes more consistently possible. The ancients, people like Aristotle, thought that that age (senectus) was the only age at which one could become a philosopher in the full and proper sense; everyone before that time was, so to speak, just studying for it, merely practicing at philosophizing. Having attained a sort of completeness of life in iuventus, one is then prepared to begin the difficult work of attaining in senectus transcendence over it.

So, having attained the perfect age and entered the perfect years, the task in front is simply to become wise. Nothing is more human, and nothing more godlike, than that. Exciting times.