Saturday, May 13, 2017

Genuine Bold

Most people are celebrating the commemoration of Our Lady of Fatima today, particularly since it is the 100th anniversary. But it's also the memorial of an interesting Anglo-Saxon saint, St. Earconwald, or Erkenwald. He was born in the little kingdom of Lindsey. He's sometimes said to be the son of the King of East Anglia, and he's sometimes said to have been converted to Christianity by St. Mellitus, who was one of the companions of St. Augustine of Canterbury. Probably neither of these things are true; certainly St. Mellitus seems a generation too early. He established two monastic institutions -- Chertsey Abbey for men and Barking Abbey for women, which were both supported by the King of Mercia, and spent quite a bit of time building them up, until St. Theodore of Canterbury (also known as St. Theodore of Tarsus) appointed him Bishop of London, where he was probably the first bishop actually to be in residence. The original St. Paul's Cathedral seems to date to him. He is said to have converted the King of Essex, and he became an advisor to the King of Wessex; one sees the interrelations among all these little Saxon kingdoms, and also the way that the Church and its monastic institutions served as crossroads between them. It is said by some that he lost much of the use of his legs late in life, and so he rode around on a sort of crude wheelchair. He died sometime around 692/693, and his grave became a major pilgrimage site.

One of the ways in which he is significant is that one of the more interesting Middle English alliterative poems -- thought by some to have been written by no less than the Pearl poet -- is St. Erkenwald, which conveys in alliterative verse a striking legend about the saint. The poem starts with a general summation of the conversion of England from pagan to Christian, and then proceeds with a lively description of the building of St. Paul's. In the course of the building, the people find an old tomb, which contained the incorrupt body of what seems to be a pagan king, since he is richly dressed in undecayed and colorful robes and wears a crown. They actually try to research who it is, but their scholarship turns up absolutely nothing despite searching their archives for seven straight days. St. Erkenwald hears the tale of this mystery and visits; he prays by the tomb, asking God to enlighten him as to the identity of the buried king. Then, in front of the people, he commands the corpse to speak, and the corpse does. He says that he wasn't a king, but a judge. He judged with just judgments for forty years, so after his death the people honored him by arraying him in the most splendid way they could, declaring him king of judges. He was preserved by a miracle of God, because God, too, honors a just judge. He then laments that his soul was left behind in Christ's harrowing of hell because he had no baptism. Everyone weeps, and St. Erkenwald baptizes the just judge, who thanks him profusely. Then the judge's soul rises to heaven, and his corpse corrodes into dust before their eyes -- because, the poet says, the eternity of true life makes as nothing the glory of the body. It is an awesome poem, and well worth reading.

'Erkenwald', with slight variations, was once an extraordinarily common name. The 'earcon' means something like the real-deal, the genuine item; thus, one of the names for a gem was an earcanstan, which, of course, is where Tolkien got 'Arkenstone' from. Thus the name means something like 'genuinely bold'. It fell out of use in English, but a variant of the name came back in by way of Old French -- Archibald.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Evening Note for Friday, May 12

Thought for the Evening: Incipit and Desinit

An incipit operator indicates that something begins to be;a desinit operator indicates that something comes to an end. Suppose we use <Inc> for incipit and <Des> for desinit. Then for <Inc>:

~<Inc>~X indicates that not-X does not begin to be (literally: Not-Begins-Not-X).

<Inc>X, of course, indicates that X begins to be. It is consistent with, but not required by, ~<Inc>~X (because the latter could be the case if ~X has been going on for a while).

<Inc>~X indicates that not-X begins to be. It is inconsistent with <Inc>X and also with ~<Inc>~X.

~<Inc>X indicates that X does not begin to be. It is inconsistent with <Inc>X, it is consistent with, but not required by, ~<Inc>~X and <Inc>X.

And for <Des>:

~<Des>~X indicates that not-X does not come to an end.

<Des>X indicates that X comes to an end; it is consistent with, but not required by, ~<Des>~X (because the latter is consistent with X never having been).

<Des>~X indicates that not-X comes to an end; it is inconsistent with <Des>X and also with ~<Des>~X.

~<Des>X indicates that X does not come to an end, and is inconsistent with <Des>X. It is consistent with, but required by ~<Des>~X and <Des>X.

The two can be related, since X beginning to be also tells us that not-X is coming to an end, and X coming to an end tells us that not-X is beginning to be, and so forth. Then:

~<Inc>~X is the same as ~<Des>X.

<Inc>X is the same as <Des>~X.

~<Inc>X is the same as ~<Des>~X.

<Inc>~X is the same as <Des>X.

Therefore if we wanted to say that Socrates begins to be wise, where 'Socrates is wise' is W, then we can say <Inc>W or <Des>~W.

Everything so far, however, overlooks the fact that we have stronger and weaker forms of both beginning and ending. So, for instance, we could mean 'X is beginning' in the sense that X is at some point in some process of beginning; that's a weaker form. Or we could mean that X has properly begun, which is the stronger form. The difference is that the stronger form implies "X is", while the weaker form does not -- in the weaker form, it could still be true that X does not exist (but there is a process such that X will be). We can call the stronger incipit <Inc1> and the weaker <Inc2>, and do the same, mutatis mutandis, for <Des>. Then we can say that <Inc1> implies <Inc2>, and <Des1> implies <Des2>, but not vice versa.

Various Links of Interest

* Manuel Vargas discusses parochialism in philosophy.

* Philip Kosloski notes that St. John Paul II's Luminous Mysteries are probably due to St. George Preca.

* Josh Blackman on what actually counts as a constitutional crisis.

* Beaney and Chapman, Susan Stebbing, at SEP.

* Gerard Bradley, Religious Liberty and the Common Good

* Carlo Rovelli argues against mathematical platonism: Michelangelo's Stone (PDF).

* Penelope Maddy, Set-theoretic Foundations.

Currently Reading

Teresa of Avila, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself
Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
C. S. Lewis, Present Concerns
Satischandra Chatterjee, The Nyaya Theory of Knowledge
Vladimir Soloviev, The Justification of the Good
Gregory Palamas, Dialogue Between an Orthodox and a Barlaamite

Careless of Its Lessening Weight

The coin fresh from the mint of thought shows clearly its character and value. Circulation dims its lustre, wears away its substance, and blunts its edge. We pass it from hand to hand, careless of its lessening weight, and not even glancing at its fading image and superscription. Familiarity with a truth is generally in inverse proportion to its comprehension, and in the end there comes a time when men know it so well that they cease to think it.

Susan Blow, A Study of Dante, p. 35.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Extend Thy Silent Soothing Sway

Ode to Sleep
by Tobias Smollett

Soft Sleep, profoundly pleasing power,
Sweet patron of the peaceful hour,
O listen from thy calm abode,
And hither wave thy magic rod!
Extend thy silent soothing sway,
And charm the canker, Care, away.
Whether thou lov'st to glide along,
Attended by an airy throng.
Of gentle dreams and smiles of joy,
Such as adorn the wanton boy;
Or to the monarch's fancy bring
Delights that better suit a king,
The glittering host, the groaning plain,
The clang of arms, and victor's train;
Or should a milder vision please,
Present the happy scenes of peace;
Plump autumn, blushing all around,
Rich Industry, with toil embrown'd,
Content, with brow serenely gay,
And genial Art's refulgent ray.

Currently grading, grading, grading, grading....

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Soloviev on the Meaning of Life

The meaning of life is simply confirmed by the fatal failure of those who reject it: some of them (the theoretic pessimists) must live unworthily, in contradiction to their own preaching, and others (the practical pessimists or the suicides) in denying the meaning of life have actually to deny their own existence. Life clearly must have a meaning, since those who deny it inevitably negate themselves, some by their unworthy existence, and others by their violent death.

Vladimir Soloviev, The Justification of the Good, von Peters, tr., Catholic Resources (Chattanooga, TN: 2015), p. 8.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Two Poem Drafts, Two Poem Re-Drafts

Maria Kannon

Who perceives the sounds of the world?
Children's cries float above the way.
The heart gives birth to a true word;
beyond the veil will see the wise.
It is a gift to know the word --
a mother's love will light the way.
Who perceives the sounds of the world?
Who will hear the cries of the world?


The sunset's kiss is sweet and soft,
painting gladness on the eye,
a quiet joy of day well-spent,
pleasant as its end draws nigh.

The world is gentle, hope is clear.
Nothing bars the way to sleep.
Night diffuses through the air,
inspiring dream; breathe it deep.


Wild or garden-born they grow;
some form time-resisting stone,
some wear down, like dusty bone,
ruined castles in the snow.
Some remain enduring friends,
some are wraiths forever feared;
some are friends made into foes,
some are new to troth and faith.
Some are spirits born of love,
a shining sphere of heaven's saints;
some are ghosts that haunt the soul;
some, shadows sleepless fancy paints.
But all are sifted like the dust
that covers cities over,
transforming mighty temples proud
to hills of earth and clover.


At times a loneliness will creep
within as from some monstrous deep,
surprise my heart, and terrorize
my brain with burning in its eyes.
But mostly I, a timeless stone,
am never lonely, just alone
with sun in sky, and trees around
that sway in breezes rich with sound
of music sung by birds that, free,
alone can speak the joy in me.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Links of Note

* Every Noise at Once attempts to map the space of musical genres, with samples. As noted in the description, northward tends more mechanical/technical, southward more organic, while westward tends more layered and eastward tends more 'spiky'. Click the genre name, you get a typical sample; click the little arrows, you go to a submap of the genre, some of which you can also sample.

Sampling around, I'm very much a far westerner, with the music naturally to my taste peaking from gothic symphonic metal to djent, which does not surprise me in the least. (I tend often to prefer the westward side of the submaps, too, although the deeper south you go, the more eastward I range, both on the main map and on the submaps.) The things I like most outside that gothish-metalish range tend to be scattered farther south in the map, in folk music territory (again preferring the western side). And on the eastern side, traditional ska is about as northerly as I generally get. The interesting cases are the little islands -- I like christelijk quite a bit, but find most that's around it only OK, and the same with liedermacher; and (the sharpest contrast I was able to find) I like baile funk reasonably well despite liking almost nothing else around it very much at all. You also, of course, get little nostalgia islands -- there's a little eastern island from classic rock to traditional rock'n roll and chicago soul that has a very disproportionate amount of music that I grew up on, and thus is probably the biggest eastern chunk that I like.

* Daniel Mahoney's Dialogues in Scrutopia briefly surveys Roger Scruton's recent career.

* Jonathan Meades sharply criticizes church architecture after Vatican II:

I have not voluntarily attended a religious service since the age of seven. My reaction to communicants is to pity them: those wafers! That ‘wine’! The twee cannibalism! The sheer credulity! But the fate of those buildings where they submit to and share their folkloric rites and supernatural delusions is important. Brutalism, too, was pretty much a faith. In its ecclesiastical form it usurped the faith it was meant to serve. A concrete cuckoo. It was an emphatically physical form of architectural sublimity, an expression of man’s imperiousness and of the conviction that technology would enable us to prevail.

* Nathaniel Bulthuis on late medieval logic.

* Cheryl Misak discusses pramatism at 3AM.

* Margaret St. Clare's "The Bird" (PDF -- click 'Readable PDF' for the full tale rather than single pages), a short SF classic from 1951, tells the story of Dwight Thompson, a man who sees a phoenix immolate itself and is never the same again because of it. The description of the phoenix's immolation is quite striking.

* Shelley Tremain on the famous Phineas Gage example, and the problems with using it as an example.

* A good discussion of the Scorsese's recent film, Silence, based on the novel by Shusaku Endo.

* Life in the Swiss Guard.

* Georgios Scholarios investigates the origin of the quotation, "Teleology is a lady without whom no biologist can live. Yet he is ashamed to show himself with her in public."


* Kelly Oliver discusses the Tuvel incident.

* Barbara Gail Montero criticizes the 'myth of flow', i.e., the idea that for an expert performance just unfolds on its own, effortlessly.

* It turns out that the U.S. Air Force has an unmanned space shuttle, which just completed its fourth (and otherwise top secret) mission.