Sunday, September 29, 2013


I put this together just for fun, back in March. It's about measuring the area under a cycloid: adjacent blue triangles add up to the same area as the white triangle between them; and the lot of them add up to the regular polygon, so the cycloid is three polygons; and also the length of its curve (That one is a surprise).

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Trying to understand the world

Dear Hans,

On the one hand, one should avoid careless stereotyping/cliché mis-tropes and such; and furthermore ad-hominem falacy is remarkably easy to fall into; nevertheless:

There are some … odd … stories … about Immanuel Kant. Such that, I really have to wonder: was the poor fellow autistic? On the one hand, clearly a prodigious and productive thinker, notably instigating Laplace's consideration of gravitational collapse of dust clouds into stellar-planetary sytems, as well as proposing that some of the fuzzy oval bright spots one could discern in a telescopic view of the night sky were hugely far away and composed of many stars, analogous to the bright band of nearer stars composing the Milky Way (in old Greek, γαλαξίας κύκλος); in which it turns out he was quite right, and for which reason these “oval nebulae” are now known as Galaxies.

And yet. For instance, his fixation on sameness: it is said he was more reliable than a clock in taking his walks. (Admittedly, the development of reliable precision clockwork was still a nascent project at the time). Dr. Marshner tells us he built a device to consistenly set the vertical extension of his stockings. The Categorical Imperative might well itself be an expansion of the criterion of sameness to a moral doctrine.

Small wonder it would be, being praeternaturally inclined to introspection, that one should be suspicious of the verity of external reality.

And he tore down the world of Western Philosophy. One has to be ever so careful in reading the thought of an unhealthy mind!

Well, I suppose we must nonetheless hope, and pray for the poor souls.

a student of pure reason

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


(The player should cue itself to 2:18; recommend adding a low-pass filter [ ~ 8kHz ] to your sound system if you want the rest, because the artificier she visits first seems to be attempting to compete electronically with a cave full of bats.)

Björk appreciating Pärt in English (in Berlin).

B: [...] because you give space to the listener [...]

P: Maybe it's because I need space for myself.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Defend" marriage? Defend marriage?

“The truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.”
some say it was St. Augustine; doesn't really sound like Augustine. It might have been Spurgeon. Either way, it's a catchy phrase.

And marriage simply is the truth. It is a truth that every boy knows, who falls in love: that he was, in a personal and a univeral sense, made for marriage. Marriage is not something that, itself, needs defending, but is a gift, part of our very being, of the original Love that many waters cannot quench: He walked on the waters instead, and proved stronger than death. But we are certainly defending something as we fight "in defense of marriage": what, then?

We are defending our own minds against a kind of nominalism — the notion that there are not actual things which can be named, so that all names are movable. We are defending our language against senseless drift — because when a word is moved such that it refers to a non-thing, it does cease to name. We are certainly defending particular marriages (all present actual marriages), both from the neglect of obscurity and the abuse of transient will. We are defending civilization, which grows in the gardens of marriage. As Stilwell forcefully puts it, we are defending our children. And, what no Christian may forget for long: we are defending our opponents against The Enemy.

So, yes: defend "marriage: n.". But never forget what we are defending thereby!

Friday, September 6, 2013

A poor request

Of your kindness, would you good folk say a prayer for my Dad? He has been assigned for coronary bypass surgery within two weeks. We share a middle name of Christopher.

Again some News, 5th Sept. Well, he's through the operation, now. Five bad spots bypassed (urgh!).

Actual News The "Further", below, was actually out of date before I posted it. Operation is set for tomorrow sometime Friday? Maybe? They keep changing the news. I keep forgetting to say "Thank-you" to all you folk. Thank you.

Further Well, he's still waiting in the pipeline, as it were. I got here last Friday, and it's been very good to visit him every day; he gets lots of visitors, including local clerics, but very little in the way of fresh air, stretch of the legs, or scenery. And so we keep waiting.

I do beg your pardon...

=> nucleus N 2 1 NOM S M

nucleus, nuclei N M [XXXCX]

nucleus, inside of a nut, kernel; nut; central part; hard round mass/nodule;

Whitaker's Words v. 1.97Ed

... but how on Earth under Heaven did “nuclear” ever get attached to the word family? How did this combination ever attain any kind of currency as naming some ideal of family life? A cursory glance through google scholar turned up only nonsense; the phrase exists in about three books (none as old as I am).

The poetry of it is all wrong: (healthy) families are not like nuts nor their nutty insides; they are not like small round masses (ballistae, anyone?) or lumps of mineral to be admired or crushed, etc. They are certainly not the chemical atoms, except perhaps in the barest of superficialities: a central lump of stuff tightly bound (the initial marriage) surrounded by a cloud of complementary, lighter, and fluffier stuff (children, I suppose). Such an image of family considers only a single generation: the husband and wife; such an image of family naturally saturates at an equal number of parents and children; such an image of family reduces family life to merely natural attractions and repulsions, makes similar-looking things identical in nature, leaves attachments at the mercy of external environment, radically isolates married couples from eachother except as mediated by their children (except when things go horribly horribly wrong), and is internally sterile.

The West hasn't lost marriage for having lost the nuclear family: “nuclear family” has irradiated Western notions of marriage. Having got tired of the particular wrongness of the nuclear model of the family, we have tried substituting other wrongnesses: totally amorphous families; marriage by "chemistry", where bonds are as changeable as in a test-tube, and if the chemistry is "wrong", you go looking for different reagents; sometimes something more zoological, and so "tiger moms" and "eagle dads". Have we forgotten, somehow, that our children are not eagles, or tigers, or electrons? That we are, ourselves, children?

The modern revolt against marriage isn't really against Christian marriage; it couldn't be, unless modernity had ever encountered a truly Christian marriage. But where it has, it is not in revolt! Rather than try to find another bad metaphor, why not talk again of happy and holy families? Human families are human and familial. Let them be holy, too, and it will be enough.

Jeremiah XXIV

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dear Sam Harris,

(no, I'm not going to buy your book).

I don't understand why the distinctions must be articulated again, but let us not be reluctant to do so.

But first, The Challenge:
Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in 1,000 words or less. (You must refute the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.)
And, like a good sport, there is the (very brief) actual central argument:
Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, there must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science.

The difficulties (which, I suppose, if I wanted to buy your book and read it, might or might not then be cleared up, but I deem the details to be "peripheral issues"), may be simultaneously summarized by replying that
There already is a scientific understanding of morality: it is Catholic Moral Theology.
but to be somewhat more explicit
  1. there is no cause to accept your premises
  2. the challenge equivocates on "scientific"
  3. the challenge equivocates on "morality"
  4. the claims behind the challenge are circular

Let us proceed in order.

Premises ungrounded

You say "Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of Nature." Let us set aside the odd coincidence of the last hundred and fifteen years, that the best abstract model of observed physical reality vocally declines to constrain its systems in their behaviour.

Why should I agree with you on the nature, or the ordinariness of consciousness? As it happens, I do think you are wrong; will you not, please, attempt to convince me otherwise?

"Scientific" is equivocal

What, Mr. Harris, is accepted as "scientific"? Of course, the broadest view should be "that which is reliably known by experience". For instance, I know quite reliably that the bishops of the Church exhibit the visible end of a physical continuum of contact from the Apostles to this day (orders being confered by laying-on of hands etc.). It is, to my understanding, therefore a scientific fact; however, I don't know whether you would accept it as such. I particularly don't expect that you would accept (as I do) as similarly scientific the fact of Jesus' Life, Death, Resurrection and bodily appearing to those same Apostles.

However, if you will restrict "scientific" to mean "that which is reliably repeated in controlled laboratory conditions" (see "MRI at the beach") then you can't actually conclude "the existence of conscious minds" other than your own. Sleeping bodies, for instance, consistently fail to show signs of consciousness, while ELIZA has reliably fooled patients that it is conscious. There is no general reliability on this point. Presuming a conscious mind other than your own requires something of a leap of faith; but then why stop at one?

"Morality" is equivocal

Suppose, for now, that you have a consistent definition of "scientific" which admits the existence of multiple conscious minds and at worst remains silent on the Divinity (by Gödel's first Incompleteness theorem, it is unnecessary to suppose that one theory resolves all questions); in what, then, does morality consist? My best guide to your intention is that it has something to do with "the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe". Is it impossible that a mind suffering may nonetheless have perfect well-being? And what is suffering, anyway? Do you mean the fact of subjectivity? Do you mean the experience of physical discomfort? Do you mean the confusion of contemplating paradox? Do you, perhaps, mean the confusion that results from experiencing a pain whose sense or purpose is unknown?

I beg thee allow me to suppose (what I think charitable) that whatever you mean by "moral" is consistent with the proposition that minds ought to be given truth to know: then, as long as you are silent on the Divine while I believe I hold scientific evidence for Him, will you not concede it moral of me to teach, say, my own children to address and inquire of the Divine what His will is for them?

The proposition is circular, or vacuous

But to put a deeper problem somewhat more baldly: why not agitate for pain or confusion in other "conscious minds"? An empirical science may well indicate what will cause pain or confusion, and what will alleviate them, but that goes no distance at all towards suggesting that this is good. You may have settled on a definition to encompass your use of the word "good", but that doesn't mean you are talking about what we are talking about: you have instead redefined the question out of interest. Otherwise, even to state the proposition presupposes a real, accessible, goodness.

Even if, say, we consider a more modest and laboratory-accessible question, on the health of a mind, try the analogy of health in plants: why should plants be healthy? The answer, for a farmer or ecologist, is that plants should be healthy so that they may beget healthy offspring, and that whatever naturally eats them will be healthy in turn. Half of this is actively paradoxical, and only the other half of this reason is admissible for wanting healthy humans. For healthy minds, neither seems to make sense. But if a healthy mind is only desirable for itself, why should I act (as I hope I do) so that your mind be healthy? It certainly isn't a scientific fact that this improves my well-being, or alleviates my suffering: I might never have heard of you and been just as happy and sane for ignoring it! I might indeed be taking more pains on myself than otherwise necessary, but would have me do less?

Well, I have done my short-worded best. No, I don't want the money, thanks.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

For your evening and nighttime

Who wouldn't like a little cello solo now and then?