Saturday, October 20, 2018

Evening Note for Saturday, October 20

Thought for the Evening: Probability as a Measure

When we measure something of type X, it's fairly common for us to do it by comparison to something else of type X as a reference point. So, for instance, our most basic way of measuring length is to use an extension to measure an extension. Likewise, time-measurement is the measurement of changes by a change, which latter we often call generically a 'clock'. Weight, at least as a measure, is ordinarily measured by comparison of mass to mass, as on a balance scale. And so forth. This isn't universal, by any means, and you can do all sorts of more complicated kinds of measurements (measuring length by clock, for instance). But these are often derivative or else depend on complicated theory that needs already to be in place; and, at the very least, the most commonly accessible kind of measurement is to measure things of type X by relating them to a thing of type X.

If we are thinking in these terms, and think of probability as a measure of something, it makes sense to think of a probability as using a possibility to measure possibilities. Take for instance the standard dice roll example. We have identified a possible event -- the upfacing result of a roll -- and use that to measure a possible kind of state, the sides of the die that can face up. And thus each gets a measure of 1/6, all other things being equal, just as a length might get the measure of being 1/6 of the standard ruler.

This raises an interesting question. In most cases of using a thing of type X to measure things of type X, it looks like the comparison opens the possibility of some kind of relativity, for lack of a better term; the measurement can change given on how the measuring thing is related to the measured. Thus length and time measurements depend on how the measuring thing and the measured thing are moving with respect to each other; weight measurements depend on the gravitational field, so your measurements will depend on the gravitational forces acting on the measuring mass and the measured mass -- if there is a disparity between the two, it will directly affect your measurement. So is there something like this for probability, as well?

Here is a reason to think that measuring possibility and measured possibility can come apart due to an external factor in a way that at least makes room for this. If we roll two dice, we are usually trying to add the numbers assigned to each dice, which is more complicated than simply considering the single die. But we can easily handle this to calculate that the probability of rolling a 2 is a bit under three percent, the probability of rolling a 3 is a tad over three and a half percent, the probability of rolling a 4 is somewhat over eight percent, and so forth. But consider St. Olaf's Roll. St. Olaf rolls two six-sided dice and rolls a thirteen, because one of the dice shows a 6 and the other die, when it hits the ground, splits in two and leaves its 1 and 6 faces up. What is the probability of rolling a 13 with two normal six-sided dice? People will sometimes get into complicated accounts of physics and what not in an attempt at least to gesture at some finite probability, but in fact this is all handwaving. The probability of rolling a 13 with two normal six-sided dice, as measured by the sides in the normal way, is zero, just as you would have expected beforehand. But regardless of the exact relation between possibility and causation, measurement of possibilities by possibilities depends on a presumed causal set-up, and modifying that causal set-up in a way that affects the measuring and the measured differently alters things -- just as measurements of length, time, and weight depend on some causal set-up which, if modified, modifies the measurements.

So St. Olaf's Roll seems to suggest that there are causal presuppositions in place for probability as well as for length, time, and the like, that at least allow for the possibility of relativity. The implications of this are, I think, well beyond my capacity to sound. In particular, you can have a fairly precise account of what the causal conditions are for length, time, and weight. I don't know what the corresponding account for probability would look like.

Various Links of Interest

* "Men" Is Not A Group Capable of Taking Action at "DarwinCatholic"

* Margee Kerr, Why is it fun to be frightened?

* Patrick McKenzie, Japan's Hometown Tax

* The homily Oscar Romero gave at the Mass at which he was killed.

* Charlotte Allen, Peter Damian's Counsel.

* The Record Acting Game with Vincent Price. ht: MrsD.

* Sortes Vigilianae

* Lauren N. Ross, Causal Explanation and the Periodic Table (PDF)

* Jeanne Peijnenburg and David Atkinson, “Till at last there remain nothing”: Hume’s Treatise 1.4.1 in contemporary perspective (PDF)

* I really like this story by Owen Stephens about when a British Lieutenant who had never played a Role Playing Game sat down for a Star Wars RPG (ht: Christopher Lansdown):

Currently Reading

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Tim Button and Sean Walsh, Philosophy and Model Theory
G. E. M. Anscombe, Intention
Mary Midgley, Wickedness: A Philosophical Essay
Jules Verne, The Adventures of a Special Correspondent

Friday, October 19, 2018

Dashed Off XXIV

A bit long, but I wanted to get through this notebook. This finishes the notebook that was itself finished on July 11, 2017.

A right is an element of higher perspective from which it can be seen that you and I, although distinct, are one.

Inference is built on some immutability or invariance (vyapti).

Human moral life is instrumental to a greater moral providence.

necessarily truth-preserving vs necessity-preserving

Easter : love :: Ascension : joy :: Parousia : peace

NB the Maronite qolo on the new priesthood beginning with the Ascension.

Assessment of evidence depends in part on prior assessment of possibilities.

the face as the resume of the person

Free will structures practical reason.

Expeditionary military action is, by the very fact of being expeditionary, structured by logistics.

Frustration is normal in politics; vindictiveness is a sign of corruption.

(1) If there are mathematical relations, they are necessary.
(2) MR's are possible.
(3) If MR's are necessary, there are MR's.
(4) Either MR's are necessary or they are not necessary.
(5) If MR's are not necessary, they are necessarily not necessary.
(6) Thus: Either MR's are necessary or they are necessarily not necessary.
(7) If MR's are necessarily not necessary, they necessarily do not exist.
(8) Thus: Either MR's are necessary or they necessarily do not exist.
(9) Thus: MR's are necessary.
(10) Thus: There are MR's.

The ancient hearth is a sign of common good.

It is noteworthy that Beowulf prevails against Grendel in the hall because he does not use weapons. Grendel is immune to weapons, but Beowulf wounds him by pulling his arm off.

Beowulf's end is foreshadowed by the linking of his name to that of Sigemund son of Waels.

Note that Romanos takes the Baptism of Christ to be what makes John greater than other prophets.

the aspirational and the personalist aspects of magnanimity

Music gets its character in part from the fact that it is very much both in the world and in the mind, and both aspects are clearly part of our acquaintance with music.

Music has a literal sense, consisting of its melody, harmony, and the like in interplay, and immense array of figurative senses, arising out of music as performed in context or for a purpose.

Dance is heavily structured by different kinds of withness.

A facial expression, in and of itself, cannot say profound things, but it can be profound; so too with music.

emotional expression is to music as a character of instrumentality

Doppler shift shows auditory space linked to visible and tangible space.

It is their withness-structures that make dance and ritual analogous.

The fundamental principle of the diplomatic game is to give symbolic concession to gain substantive progress.

All potential parts of justice have a combined aspect of dignity and justice. (Cp. Soloviev on truthfulness.) This structures the moral debt, etc.

Note that Hume's rejection of the double existence view depends entirely on his account of cause (T, SBN 211-212).

We may aim at pleasure itself as something pleasant, bu this is a reflexive action, not the normal tendency of acting.

The Tao is, as it were, the reflection of the Word of God on the world and the human heart, the Way reflecting the Way.

Since perceptions may not exist separately, either the conceivability principle or the separability principle or both must be incorrect.

Two objects are not necessarily distinguishable, as we know that the latter can depend on things like quality of perception and fineness of discriminatory ability. And likewise we know that one object can be considered under two distinct descriptions, reduplicatively -- the fact that we reduplicate at all establishes this.

analogy between positions on modality and metaethical positions (J. Chandler)

the focus of trust (designated task, behavior, or role)

All punishments are imitations of death.

A pile of Maybes is a large Unlikely.

noumenal citizenship (Kant's pure juridical legislative reason)

(1) In principle, capital punishment is licit for egregious crimes against the community.
(2) In practice, there are reasons to be cautious about states resorting to it.
(3) It is admirable for Christians to refrain from, and work for the reasonable abolition of, such punishments, where this can be done justly and honestly.
(4) It is an obligation for Christians to be merciful where ever this is not confusable with injustice.

"...the law, not the judge, puts to death so long as the punishment is imposed, not in hatred, nor rashly, but with deliberation." Innocent III

respect for the majesty of law

The mgaisterial authority of the Church can be exercised in its fullness or in a more partial manner, and likewise, even in plenary exercise, can be exercised more or less solemnly, and likewise more or less explicitly. (This follows just from the character of teaching itself.) These three modes -- plenitude, solemnity, and explicitness -- are too often confused, to the detriment of analysis.

Tradition is not, generally, something superadded to reason, but that within which it is formed to be what it is.

Extraordinary action creates ordinary precedent.

Hume's theory of belief as capturing something important about reinforcement of suspicion (I suspect that...).

diagrams as dependent on modal analogies (particularly to spatial modalities)

One determines the points of an opponent's attack by disposition of one's own defenses, with two matters of concern depending on the subtlety of one's opponent: obviousness of target and weakness of defense.

memorative tradition vs recollective tradition vs speculative tradition

Worn-out traditions revive in stylized form as fashions; some of these fashions congeal as traditions. A forest of deadwood burns, but seeds restore a forest. Cells die but some generate new cells on their own template, and the body heals. Decay and revival interlace.

To reform, one must begin with the way things are.

The Tower of Babel is an attempt to make the builders immune to all possible punishment.

Newman's notes of development should apply not only from time to time but also, mutatis mutandis, from place to place; that is to say, they should still approximately apply if you are the one moving -- there should be constant principle, anticipation, etc.

spiritual authority vs spiritual credit

oddness minimization in everyday explanation

Freedom of religion must include, among other things, the freedom to exercise one's rights in a specifically religious way.

symbolic deference as part of checks and balances
-- An advantage of the British system is that the one who in practice exercises power must do so in a state of symbolic deference to one who in principle represents the greater whole.

"Society and government have two needs: justice and utility. If the government is so organized as to truly render justice to all, and at the same time it promotes the utility of all, then it is perfect." Rosmini

"The Catholic religion does not need dynastic protections, but freedom. It needs its freedom protected and nothing else." Rosmini

rites as moral entities in something like Pufendorf's sense, on analogy with time

"Caprice is the characteristic vice of miscellaneous assemblies." Bagehot

"A Parliament is nothing less than a big meeting of more or less idle people. In proportion as you give it power, it will inquire into everything, settle everything, meddle in everything." Bagehot

The Bayesian approach to evidence, taken as an account of all evidence, is nothing other than a new form of attempt to construct a universal rational language.

few/many/most as ordering of modal operators that are otherwise structurally similar

In perceiving something we generally already recognize it as becoming past.

The families of possible objections to any given argument are necessarily very limited.

empiricist account of ideas // ostensive account of language

-- a detective story involving elaborate and incredible disguises, unpredictable motives, the supernatural, discoveries made by mad scientists, elaborate and bizarre machinery, and a superhuman detective

detective fiction as narrative causal inference
In detective fiction, the primary action is a system of inferences.
Interviews in detective fiction work like letters in epistolary fiction.
- confession in detective fiction as primary confirmation (hence the often elaborate methods for inducing it)
- opportunity as causal access (contiguity in space and time)

"What is done by rule must proceed form something that understands the rule." Berkeley

(1) Divinely revealed principles
(2) Defined articulation
(3) Intrinsic principles of liturgy and catechesis
(4) Patristic consensus
(5) Common positions in liturgy, catechesis, or the Fathers
(6) Rigorous implications of common positions or principles
(7) Probable implications of common positions or principles
(8) Useful plausibilities

"The ceremonial law itself is a kind of living script, rousing the mind and heart, full of meaning, never ceasing to inspire contemplation and to provide the occasion and opportunity for oral instruction." Mendelssohn

In politics as well as art, to observe and see how it is done is one thing; to do, is another.

Infinite dabbling will eventually stumble on something substantive.

Murder is always by instrument, even if organic like a hand. Thus:
(1) Instrumental Possibility
--- (A) Formal: Access ('Opportunity')
--- (B) Material: Relevant possession ('Means')
(2) Agential Possibility ('Motive')
* One must consider motive, at least in investigation, because agents with access and possible possession of means are often legion. One needs to know which to consider first, and how closely.

In practical undertakings, ends reasonable individually may be unreasonable in combination.

Three linked doctrines -- Creation, Incarnation, Judgment -- combine to make all human history a family history.

Republics are often stingy in rewarding good, when they reward it at all.

Some things can only be approached by multiple lines of inquiry.

verbal etiquette and the implicit morality of language

It is a moral error to judge guilt by effect alone, and yet it is one of the most common things.

A crime is a violation of the rights of the community.

Linguistic structure requires sameness across time and causal interaction.

Every political position whatsoever allows the possibility for irrational excess and defect. Many stupidities in politics arise from refusing to accept that a given position does not and cannot confer immunity from this.

A man must have an Idea if he is to live greatly.

There is no fullness of love without memory, for love must dwell.

To evangelize the world properly, we must evangelize it many times over.

miracles of saints as symbols of holiness and its characteristics

Perception has a sort of dual referentiality, to self and world.
It's best not to think of our consciousness of ourself as a feeling of ourselves but as the referentiality of perception itself.

In transition from evidence to conclusion, risks of error are of different kinds, making it difficult to reduce the risk of error to a single probabilistic measure.

infallible teaching authority as structured according to the gifts of the Holy Spirit

The gift of understanding is the highest form of remotion.

penitential practice as the warfare of the Church

Translation is a form of commentary.

the human delight at inversion

What kind of evidence, or whether any evidence, shows up for 'updating one's prior' depends entirely on the kind of inquiry being conducted. Bayesians often talk about evidence as if it just showed up at one's doorstep; in fact, it is always formed within distinct lines of inquiry.

responses to argument from desire for immortality
(1) realism
(2) anti-realism
-- (a) expressivism
-- (b) illusionism (error theory)
(3) skepticism of the existence of such a desire

From every fact a great many necessities may be deduced, for every fact depends on many necessities for its existence.

Arguments from desire really conclude immediately to possibilities, and only thereby to actualities making those possibilities to be.

markets as the sensoria of society

Evolutionary explanations, outside purely physiological cases, too often do not properly adequate cause and effect.

Sanctity carries with it a sort of sovereignty.

Too much emphasis on expression turns poetry into pompous opinion-giving.

You do not understand what is attributed to God when we attribute power, wisdom, and goodness to Him, unless you can understand that any two of them necessarily entails the third.

Human inquiry always takes place in fragmented form, and there are many fragments.

Sometimes one must try out an idea before one comes to understand it.

Who thinks that prophecies have only one sense does not believe in prophecy.

the transmarine argument and breakaway Catholics

Separation of Church and State only works in the US to the extent that citizens are given considerable scope for self-governance.

the three post-medieval blows against the Church: Renaissance secularization, Reformation, French Revolution

Eco's account of the interpretant loses all sense of the "to something".

Heraldic symbolism involves the use of icons and symbols to perform an indexical function.

Eco's attach on iconism repeatedly confuses the actual signifying factor with the interpretant modalities (like conventions of stylization, conventions of expectation, convential salience), which do not constitute but only modulate.

Understanding may be informed by convention, and draw on conventions, without appealing to convention.

Death by its nature involves eternity, whether positive or negative, whether ever or not ever.

Labeling presupposes reference and thus cannot ground it. We use a lable to communicate a reference we recognize.

Science, art, and religion all share the principle that the surface appearance is neither all nor enough.

Every attempt to build a utopia is blocked by a confusion of tongues.

the simurgh as a metaphor for the Church

interpretivist, constructivist, and realist accounts of the external world

Much historical change seems to involve drift of ideas into uselessness -- subtle changes until they are unintelligible or (more often) inadequate for their primary function, or too difficult to teach given the infrastructure, or an impediment to highly incentivized practice.

We do not suppose substance to be something besides extension, etc., but what is extended, etc.

In argument, nothing comes from nothing; it must come from something that formally or eminently is adequate to it. This is obvious in formal logic, but should also be a leading principle in informal logic.

Whenever Hume speaks of fiction, think less skeptically of 'forming a hypothesis' or 'constructing a concept'.

The magisterium in the extraordinary magisterium and ordinary magisterium is a different exercise, not a different magisterium. Kleutgen, who gives us the terminology, understood the constitutive act of extraordinary magisterium to be definition, and the constitutive act of ordinary magisterium to be organic transmission. The former is ecumenical-conciliar or papal; the latter is more broadly ecclesial. This is the distinction to which Pius IX appeals in Tuas liberiter.

line as path not considering width

signs made by/in: cognition, recognition, ostension, replication, evocation

a possible sign situation:
painting -- model object -- purport object -- alluded object
(for instance, a painting of a local model to represent Justinian as embodiment of law)

Freedom of speech is to deliberative self-governance as protection of legislators from penalty for what they say in the legislature is to deliberative lawmaking.

Etiquette is an inevitable part of the structure of language because language is used to address other people. (Philosophers of language rarely consider language as addressing anyone at all.)

Rationality must involve the subject as well as the objective, the sketchy as well as the thorough, the holistic as well as the specifically defeasible, the obscure as well as the clear.

relations between philosophical problems: common origin, shared solution, structural analogy, consequential analogy, inclusion

Even the extremely biased are right on occasion, which is one reason why biases can be difficult to eliminate; by a sort of consequentialism of inference, people give credit even to accidental results, or results only slightly better than chance, and ignore method, means, and intrinsic end.

"The love of system, and of that unnatural kind of uniformity to which system is so much attached, as done immense mischief in the theory of evidence." Wilson
"Much of the evidence in natural philosophy rises not higher, than that which is derived from analogy."

general pressures on the reasoning of an age
(1) logical (e.g., arguments available)
(2) ethical (e.g., what is shameful to say)
(3) pathetical (e.g., normal human passions and cultural avenues for their expression)
(4) infrastructural (e.g., what time, money, manpower is available for various ends)

Even those who know better often speak of molecules as if they were solid little motes linked extrinsically, when in reality they are intrinsically integrating when they combine.

History does not vindicate; it only moves on.

What is dependent is dependent on another, with respect to: change, being, enduring, causing, measure, order.

In the Meno, the slave boy shows a more rational and teachable mind than Meno does.

Ex 18 as type of papacy

Christian love does not depend on prior relationship-building; it must be prior to it in finality and is itself only a source of relationships, while it must also be applied to those with whom one can't form a relationship.

genus-species approach to defining modal operators vs causal approach to defining modal operators

The modern era of rights-thinking began when rights were no longer seen as particular solutions to particular problems but as general solutions to problems hypotheticalized to all limits that could be imagined. That is, it began on the transition from factual response to full-scale counterfactual response, from local reaction to problems to the attempt at complete global anticipation of problems.

Berkeley's Siris as concerned with primacy of mind (cp. John Russell Roberts)

It took a thousand years for the Church to stamp out dueling, more or less, in Christendom,, using its most extensive means of pressure and persuasion, and even then progress was achieved only by combination with other factors that changed the incentive-structure.

It is easier to criticize oneself as We than as I -- and easier to evade criticism, as well.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #10: Le Pays des fourrures

On the evening of the 17th March 1859, Captain Craventy gave a fête at Fort Reliance. Our readers must not at once imagine a grand entertainment, such as a court ball, or a musical soirée with a fine orchestra. Captain Craventy’s reception was a very simple affair, yet he had spared no pains to give it éclat.

The Fur Country is the tale of a Canadian expedition, led by Lieutenant Jasper Hobson to establish a fort north of the Arctic Circle in anticipation of the probable sale of Alaska to the Americans by Russia, which would make a northerly fort useful to the Hudson's Bay Company. With them goes Thomas Black, an astronomer, who hopes to study the corona of the sun during total eclipse. They succeed in establishing the fort and braving the extraordinarily dangerous winter of northern Canada, but a freak earthquake seems to throw the world into a strange disorder -- the landscape changes, and Hobson notes that the tide is not fitting the predictions of the almanac. The truth is established by astronomy: Black discovers (to his horror) that the eclipse is not, as predicted, total, which can only mean one thing: they are in fact drifting on a large ice floe. Their only hope is if their floating fort drifts close enough to land to hop off and possibly be rescued by a passing ship. It is a thin hope indeed, but they are an intrepid group.

[With this Voyage, I have gone through 2/3 of the entire series of the Voyages Extraordinaires, and have thus met my minimal goal. We'll see how close I can get to 3/4 by the end of the year -- that would require four or five more works.]

A Fallen Race

From Elizabeth Anscombe's article, "Why Have Children?":

This very title tells of the times we live in. I would like you to imagine a title for a lecture eighty years hence: "Why digest food?" I leave it to the reader to imagine -- or think of -- the technology already with us; and the 'scientific advance' and its practicalities, including the resultant apparatus ending in tubes with needles and switches in every house. Also the successful propaganda denigrating the "merely biological" conception of eating and the hostility -- known to have prevailed in the Catholic church for many centuries -- towards its pleasure and thereby towards its spiritual meaningfulness and civilized quality. As whole peoples in our time have regarded feeding their babies at the breast as something rather for savages, so might people of the future regard nourishment by digesting the lovely food we eat in the same way.

Don't think it inconceivable. The human race is a fallen race. It has fits of madness, sometimes merely local, sometimes nearly global....

G. E. M. Anscombe, "Why Have Children?", Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, Volume 63 (1989), pg. 48.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Aesthetic Value of a Duet

But is the aesthetic value of a duet really equal to the sum of the values of its parts played separately? No such thing. The query of one instrument may indeed be in itself a beautiful phrase, independently of the answer given by the other; but as seen in relation to that answer it acquires a totally different emphasis, a meaning which we never suspected. The accompaniment part, or even the solo part, played by itself, is simply not the same thing that it is when played in its proper relation to the other. It is this relation between the two that constitutes the duet. The performers are not doing two different things, which combine as if by magic to make a harmonious whole; they are cooperating to produce one and the same thing, a thing not in any sense divisible into parts; for the "thing" itself is only a relation, an interchange, a balance between the elements which at first we mistook for its parts. The notes played by the piano are not the same notes as those played by the violin; and if the duet was a merely physical fact, we could divide it into these two elements. But the duet is an aesthetic, not a physical whole. It consists not of atmospheric disturbances, which could be divided, but of a harmony between sounds, and a harmony cannot be divided into the sounds between which it subsists.

Robin George Collingwood, Religion and Philosophy, p. 113.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Poem Re-Draft

October Night

I stood at dusk and looked around the garden small and dim;
the fountain dry was cracked, with dust and vines around the rim.
The roses dead were long and spare, the weeds were rising high;
then ghosts from ancient worlds arose and said that I would die.
In long and spectral robes they swept along the garden ways
and sang the songs no longer sung, the songs of distant days.
A Templar march I thought I heard, a troubadour's sad plea,
a hymn of love to loves long gone, a shanty rasped at sea.
Like breezes drifting, softly sped those tunes, like secret sigh.
And 'midst it all a whisper sang; it sang that I would die.
The darkness fell, it drifted down, a-float like falling shawl;
it settled over roses dead and draped across the wall.
I strained my ears to hear again that gently whispered word,
but silence through the darkness fell, so nothing then was heard,
and nothing felt by rising hairs, and nothing met my eye,
until at midnight down the way I heard that I would die.
A maiden walked like water's wave along the crumbling wall
and here and there an elegy from out her lips would fall.
A hint, a clue, a fragile thread, the song would drift my way
with meaning barely out of reach and sense just out of play,
but here and there it rose to reach the keen of sobbing cry,
and then no doubt remained at all: it said that I would die.

The moon was silver on the road, but stars were hid by clouds
that, dark and thunder-mutter-thick, were gathered up in crowds
like ghosts in endless number in some graveyard in the sky,
and somehow in the thunder's tones I heard that I would die.
On far and distant hills the wolves began to raise a howl
and down the moonlit road I saw a figure in a cowl
as black as night in color so that scarce could seeing see
where ended figure and the night; it clearly came for me,
and in its hand a scythe was held, that swept through air with ease,
and at its heels a hound did walk, as pale as death's disease.
The crows in murder raised their wings, all croaking out a cry,
and clear I heard it in their noise: they said that I would die.
The wind was blowing in the leaves and rustled roses dead
and mingled with the panic that was buzzing in my head,
till time itself with nausea was turned upon its ear
and death itself was manifest to brain enmeshed in fear.
I sought to turn, like trembling bird in pit I sought to fly,
but dizzy chills sped up my spine that said that I would die.
A hand was clamped upon my mouth; I could not scream or cry;
a voice was snarling in my ear, and told me I would die.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Man's Yesterday May Ne'er Be Like His Morrow

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!—yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest.—A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.—One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.

This poem is quoted and alluded to several times in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Teresa of Avila

Today is the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church. From her Life:

O my Lord! how Thou dost show Thy power! There is no need to seek reasons for Thy will; for with Thee, against all natural reason, all things are possible: so that thou teachest clearly there is no need of anything but of loving Thee in earnest, and really giving up everything for Thee, in order that Thou, O my Lord, might make everything easy. It is well said that Thou feignest to make Thy law difficult: I do not see it, nor do I feel that the way that leadeth unto Thee is narrow. I see it as a royal road, and not a pathway; a road upon which whosoever really enters, travels most securely. No mountain passes and no cliffs are near it: these are the occasions of sin. I call that a pass,—a dangerous pass,—and a narrow road, which has on one side a deep hollow, into which one stumbles, and on the other a precipice, over which they who are careless fall, and are dashed to pieces. He who loves Thee, O my God, travels safely by the open and royal road, far away from the precipice: he has scarcely stumbled at all, when Thou stretchest forth Thy hand to save him. One fall—yea, many falls—if he does but love Thee, and not the things of the world, are not enough to make him perish; he travels in the valley of humility. I cannot understand what it is that makes men afraid of the way of perfection.

May our Lord of His mercy make us see what a poor security we have in the midst of dangers so manifest, when we live like the rest of the world; and that true security consists in striving to advance in the way of God! Let us fix our eyes upon Him, and have no fear that the Sun of justice will ever set, or suffer us to travel to our ruin by night, unless we first look away from Him. People are not afraid of living in the midst of lions, every one of whom seems eager to tear them: I am speaking of honours, pleasures, and the like joys, as the world calls them: and herein the devil seems to make us afraid of ghosts. I am astonished a thousand times, and ten thousand times would I relieve myself by weeping, and proclaim aloud my own great blindness and wickedness, if, perchance, it might help in some measure to open their eyes. May He, who is almighty, of His goodness open their eyes, and never suffer mine to be blind again!


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fortnightly Book, October 14

1816 was a year without a summer. A massive volcanic eruption in Indonesia the year before poured volcanic ash into the air, filling the atmosphere with so much dust that at times the sun looked an angry red, and blocked enough of the light that you could even at times see sunspots like a pox upon the sun. Snow fell in June in temperate places, and tropical countries had their first winter snow in centuries. Frosts nipped flowers in the bud. Crops collapsed. Livestock grew sickly and died. In rural Europe, Famine held a ruthless sway. In India, cholera took life after life as the monsoon season stretched longer and longer as if it would never end. In China, the fertile Yangtze River valley was under water for most of the year. In the midst of it all, Byron wrote a poem about the end of the world:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went--and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light....

In Switzerland, Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin (later Shelley), and a few friends spent much of the summer huddled indoors. "It proved a wet, ungenial summer," Mary Shelley would later say, "and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house." To pass the while, they would write and read stories, and (when the rain would part for a while) do some light boating on Lake Geneva. Having enjoyed a collection of German ghost stories, Byron proposed that they each write their own. It seemed like fun, but Mary Godwin agonized over it. Finally, a few nights later, after a philosophical discussion about what made living things alive, Mary in a bout of insomnia had a ghastly vision of someone animating a corpse, and she had her story idea. Percy liked it so much that he encouraged her to develop it, so what started as a short story became a novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, which was a hit from the beginning, and is the next fortnightly book.

Frankenstein was undergoing a surge of popularity during the Golden Age of Radio, so there are quite a few radio adaptations of it. If I have time, I will probably listen to some, as points of comparison.

There was a nice reading group on Frankenstein a few years back at "Shredded Cheddar" that covered a lot of the book (and particularly the ins and outs of the drama-queen-ishness of Victor Frankenstein himself); it was a worthwhile discussion, and worth mentioning here:


Mary Midgley (1919-2018)

Mary Midgley died on October 10 at the age of 99. From a letter to the Guardian, in which she talked about the remarkable generation of women philosophers coming out of Oxford soon after World War II:

It was clear that we were all more interested in understanding this deeply puzzling world than in putting each other down. That was how Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Iris Murdoch, Mary Warnock and I, in our various ways, all came to think out alternatives to the brash, unreal style of philosophising – based essentially on logical positivism – that was current at the time. And these were the ideas that we later expressed in our own writings.

To be sure, 'putting each other down' is very different from philosophical criticism, and Mary Midgley, perhaps more than the others she names, was a master of sharp and pointed criticism. But for her it was always about the argument, not about outmaneuvering anyone. Despite her brilliance, she never got her doctorate, which she would later note probably helped to keep her from being boxed into the standard narrow questions people learn to discuss in graduate school. She only started writing books on philosophy at the age of fifty-nine -- she would joke that it was a good thing, because before then she didn't know what she thought. They are all excellent and rather different from the usual fare.