Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stage 3 Fire Restrictions ...

It looks like the planned assault on Wheeler Peak is going to be cancelled.  What a disappointment.  On the other hand, there are likely to be some other grand adventures as a result.
Peter Abelard (1079-1142AD):  The History of my Misfortunes.

Some stories are timeless.  This one is of a conceited intellectual competing for a place among conceited intellectuals.  The most petty tribe of people on the planet, however, is the tribe of us conceited intellectuals.  Abelard exploits his fame, seduces a young girl named Heloise, and then, well, I won't give away too much more.  It is a mix of grim comedy and scholarship, the envy and revenge of man, and the justice of God.

A discussion that I found interesting in here is between Abelard and Heloise.  Heloise argues that no one can both be a philosopher and be married for which she advances many arguments of this sort:

"Again, in the same work, St. Jerome tells how Cicero, asked by Hircius after his divorce of Terentia whether he would marry the sister of Hircius, replied that he would do no such thing, saying that he could not devote himself to a wife and to philosophy at the same time."

and ...

"What man, intent on his religious or philosophical meditations, can possibly endure the whining of children, the lullabies of the nurse seeking to quiet them, or the noisy confusion of family life? Who can endure the continual untidiness of children?"

Heloise goes on to suggest that one need be rich to be a philosopher, which indeed seems quite true to me.  Who else can afford to spend this much time on study?  Abelard rebuts as follows:

"One of them, and the greatest of all, Seneca, in his advice to Lucilius, says philosophy is not a thing to be studied only in hours of leisure; we must give up everything else to devote ourselves to it, for no amount of time is really sufficient hereto."

Seneca being an especially bad example, having been a wealthy aristocrat and the tutor to Nero.  He finished life at his country estate when Nero sent the soldiers to force Seneca to commit suicide.  Thus he died in his comfy, hot bath since this caused the blood to flow all the better.

The real rebuttal to all this is that wisdom is about life, and as such is only accessible to those who experience life in its grim reality with all its worries.  The rich don't need to face it, nor do those who flee responsibility and never make a commitment.  In my previous post, I noted that Aristotle believed that those who were driven by their appetites would have some difficulty to grasp wisdom.  Instead, I feel that philosophy is often best understood by the simple people who learn to live properly while navigating the real affairs of life.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Aristotle: Regarding our changing culture.

Aristotle defined political science as the science of the soul.  The following is part of the discussion.

"Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge.  And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good judge in general." - Nicomachean Ethics, I.3

So far so good, but Aristotle makes an exception:

"Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life ... since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable ..."  

Our society, however, only teaches the young with regard to political science in college.  But there is one more exception in this paragraph:

"For to such persons, as to the incontinent, knowledge brings no profit, but to those who desire and act in accordance with a rational principle knowledge about such matters will be of great benefit."

But what happens if we put ourselves in the shoes of the young and incontinent?  They will likewise see the wise and experienced as being irrational and governed by passions of intolerance.

Aristotle's claim is that the greatest thing that a politician can do is to use his office to affect the souls of men for the better.  Now that the incontinent are ruling much of the legislatures and hold most of the judge positions, where does that lead?  Ah, but the old vote in greater numbers.  Will they not bring some wisdom to our political system?  That is true, but unfortunately the current retirement systems have transferred the livelihood of the old from their families to the government, so that the incontinent who run the government can threaten them if they do not vote properly.  The road to destruction seems both well worn and inevitable.

Re-reading the Nicomachean Ethics, I am impressed with how it is a truly amazing work, yet at the same time the content had slipped almost entirely from my mind.  Reviewing the earlier notes that I made is a reminder of the content, but I couldn't have remembered any of them if I hadn't written and saved them.  The memory must be slowly going.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

6,000 yard swim.

Yesterday's 4 hours 45 minutes in the mountains was designed to leave me tuckered out for the start of this morning's swim.  Starting a workout tired from the previous day makes it more severe, thus, causing more benefit!  A bit of lingering coughing wasn't helping.  Three others joined for the 7am start and the swim went along uneventfully.  That was the best that could be hoped for.  One of them told me my final time for the 6,000 yards was 1 hour, 54 minutes.  With two weeks to go, the plan is to put in more time this week, then ease up the next week.  Swim Around The Rock is 5,700 yards and my hope is to break 2 hours.  Given the choppy waves and tides, this is still a bit uncertain, but we shall see.  Off to church ...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Struggling towards Rose Peak.

I didn't quite make it, but it has been a long time since I did a hard workout in the hills and this is the first time this year on a hot summer day.  Panting for water ...  

Next week, Lord willing, we will head for the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountain range.  What an awesome name!  The objective is the highest point in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak at 13,161 feet high.  The plan is an overnight in Taos.  This should be good preparation for the Swim Around The Rock on the following Saturday.  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Feeling like a barnacle.  I spent a few days with the flu but am now recovering.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bishop Berkeley:  A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.

Having finished this book, my final reaction is "With friends like these, who needs enemies?".  Berkeley claims that abstract thought leads to atheism.  He goes further to claim that as abstract thought has polluted the church, the church has been led unthinkingly towards atheism.  Then he launches a few rhetorical Scud Missiles (speaking abstractly) at mathematics, geometry and Newtonian mechanics.

The overall sense is a bit schizoid as Berkeley's ideas lead in multiple conflicting directions.  Other introductions to philosophers such as Hume and Kant say that it is clear that these writers have read Berkeley and been influenced by him, but they are loathe to admit it.  One thing that clearly shows up in other literature is that Berkeley had an out sized effect even though he was never considered a first rate philosopher:

"With all these defects, however, Berkeley's new conception marks a distinct stage of progress in human thought.  His true place in the history of speculation may be seen from the simple observation that the difficulties or obscurities in his scheme are really the points on which later philosophy has turned." - Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910, article on Bishop Berkeley.

The primary point that I see was that Berkeley dissed all that went before and asked "what about ME?".  Who needs dead, white, male philosophers?  What I perceive is the only thing that counts.  It is in no way a Christian viewpoint, yet he fervently insists that he is defending Christianity.  Thus, while Copernicus moved the center of the Solar System to the Sun, Berkeley moved the center of the philosophical Universe to the ME.  We can criticize Berkeley as being some sort of ignorant Christian Luddite on the one hand, but then we are faced with the fact that much of modernism has fanatically embraced this same ideology.  Indeed, the majority of Doctor of Philosophy degrees are awarded to people who have never read a single work of philosophy.

My last puzzle to ponder is this:  Although Berkeley has clearly embraced an ideology that isn't Christian, it doesn't deny Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  On the one hand I feel that he is badly in error, but on the other I cannot condemn him as a heretic.
Berkeley vs. Aristotle

"You will  reply, perhaps, that in the foresaid definition is included what does sufficiently distinguish it from nothing - the positive, abstract idea of quiddity, entity, or existence.  I own, indeed, that those who pretend to the faculty of framing abstract general ideas do talk as if they had such an idea, which is, say they, the most abstract and general notion of all; that is, to me, the most incomprehensible of all others. ...  But how ready soever I may be to acknowledge the scantiness of my comprehension with regard to the endless variety of spirits and ideas that might possibly exist, yet for anyone to pretend to a notion of entity or existence, abstracted from spirit and idea, from perceiving and being perceived, is, I suspect, a downright repugnance and trifling with words." - Principles of Human Knowledge

Quiddity, entity and existence are subjects of Aristotle's Metaphysics and elsewhere, thus, Berkeley is taking exception to Aristotle as he takes exception to all abstract notions.  Having struggled to understand Aristotle myself, I can certainly empathize with the viewpoint.  At the same time, it won't work.  Gravity is an abstract concept that has been utilized for the engineering of countless devices of use to mankind.  Evolution, on the other hand, is an undefined abstraction deemed to have power in proportion to its vagueness.  Gravity is a useful abstraction.  Evolution is a worthless one.  Berkeley is dissing all abstraction rather than providing any guidance for distinguishing between worthy and worthless abstraction.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Berkeley (1685-1753):  The not quite blind Watchmaker.

"Thus, it cannot be denied that God, or the Intelligence which sustains and rules the ordinary course of things, might, if He were minded to produce a miracle, cause all the motions on the dial-plate of a watch, though nobody had ever made the movements and put them in it; but yet, if He will act agreeably to the rules of mechanism by Him for wise ends established and maintained in the Creation, it is necessary that those actions of the watchmaker, whereby he makes the movements and rightly adjusts them, precede the production of the aforesaid motions, as also that any disorder in them be attended with the perception of some corresponding disorder in the movements, which, being once corrected, all is right again." - Principles of Human Knowledge

This was an unexpected tidbit.  I was wondering where the watchmaker/creation thing started.  Of course we all know now that Richard Dawkins has proven that watchmaking is a scientific impossibility. Berkeley's point, however, is that the order of the universe is a greater supernatural feat than any miracle.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Berkeley:  Skepticism leads to theism?

In Principles of Human Knowledge, Berkeley starts out by repeating classic skeptical rhetoric that sounds worthy of The Matrix.  Our mind imagines whatever it wants regarding reality.  But then there is a sudden transition:

"But, whatever power I may have over my own thoughts, I find the ideas actually perceived by sense have not a like dependence on my will.  When in broad daylight I open my eyes, it is not in my power to choose whether I shall see or no, or to determine what particular objects shall present themselves to my view; and so likewise as to the hearing and other senses; the ideas imprinted on them are not creatures of my will.  There is therefore some other will or spirit that produces them." - Principles of Human Knowlege.

Thus, he deduces a theistic will that produces the world around us.  I am not so sure of the stream of consciousness here, but it does seem to me a far cleaner and more appropriate conclusion of the matter than modern skepticism which invariably demands a mindless servitude to atheist intellectualoids and their innumerable hierarchies of abstract principles.  Why should skepticism only lead to atheism?

Berkeley finds all abstractification to be abhorrent, or so he claims.  The only thing that is valid is the simplest of deduction made from the world around us.  One thing that I am inclined to agree with Berkeley about is his criticism of the notion that abstract theories can "explain".  Going on the assumption that theories are merely the accumulation of experience and processing via inductive reasoning, it is certainly impossible for any theory to explain anything.  A new instance will either confirm the inductive process or else conflict with it.  The theory can never be above the reality.  Only something that derives from reality.

Christianity, however, turns all this on its head.  Jesus is the Word, the Truth, the Light, ...  He is the abstract brought into the world and made available to our senses.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Berkeley:  Reason is impossible, therefore, reason compels us to ...

I have seen this pattern before.  Berkeley is going down the path of skepticism.  People think they are discussing reality, but they are only discussing images of reality.  We think we are dealing with concrete knowledge, yet in fact we are only dealing with spurious abstractions.  The problem is that all thought is lumped together into one category and then dealt with.  Aristotle's three fold division of thought: philosophy (pursuit of wisdom), sophistry  is lost and we have a framework that is inferior to what went before.  The final word on what to do with Skeptics was already given by Epictetus 1,500 years earlier.  The skeptic can never have a therefore after his philosophy.

Admittedly I don't know yet where Berkeley is going with his rediscovery of skepticism, but there are a few remarks in his tutorial that got a smile out of me.  Here is one:

"For example, when a Schoolman tells me, 'Aristotle has said it,' all I conceive he means by it is to dispose me to embrace his opinion with the deference and submission which custom has annexed to that name."  - Principles of Human Knowledge, book I.

Indeed, and the Schoolman most likely hasn't read Aristotle. So far this has been a good catalog of the abuses of reason, yet at the same time it hasn't yet begun to distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly of reason.  Onward ...
Aristotle:  The three-fold division of those who pursue reason.

"So too there are certain properties peculiar to being as such, and it is about these that the philosopher has to investigate the truth.-An indication of this may be mentioned: dialecticians and sophists assume the same guise as the philosopher, for sophistic is Wisdom which exists only in semblance, and dialecticians embrace all things in their dialectic, and being is common to all things; but evidently their dialectic embraces these subjects because these are proper to philosophy.-For sophistic and dialectic turn on the same class of things as philosophy, but this differs from dialectic in the nature of the faculty required and from sophistic in respect of the purpose of the philosophic life. Dialectic is merely critical where philosophy claims to know, and sophistic is what appears to be philosophy but is not." - The Metaphysics, Book IV

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Proud Daddy.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Pssst.  You owe an additional $534,000.

My fair share of this is probably closer to $20 million, which is many times more than my lifetime earnings.  The nice thing about such big numbers is that they are meaningless.  Is there any meaningful difference between owing $20 million or $20 billion?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Cold water.

There is still a month to go before Swim Around The Rock.  This morning I managed two loops of the Shadow Cliffs lake for a total of 6,000 yards, which is a bit more than the 3.25 miles of the Alcatraz course.  At the end my arms were definitely feeling the stress, but the 64 degree water seemed so warm I didn't feel like getting out.  I am counting a success too early, but what to do next?  Staying fit while growing old is all about setting one goal after another and going for it.  Thankfully there is a list of swims. One tempting one is an 8 mile swim around Pennock Island in Alaska.  Too bad Marf isn't there any more. Another 8 mile swim is in the Great Salt Lake.

The most attractive thing I have come across so far is a swim trek organization.  7 days of swimming 5km per day in the Greek Islands.  Ah, that's the way to relax.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Extreme Swimming.

The group I have joined with a few mornings a week for swim practice has some secrets that are slowly coming out.  This morning was the usual:  An early morning start in the lake with the air temperature in the 40's.  The two miles went by quickly without much notice since the water felt so comfortable.  One swimmer had checked and reported that a mid-lake thermometer was reading 64 degrees.

Someone was reporting my preparations for the upcoming 5k swim around the rock.  But then they asked the lady who was with us how her preparations were going for the 44k event.  I thought this must be a swim-bike-run event, but no, this was a 44k swim.  27 miles.  A marathon in the water - but with a few complications.  The course runs from Monterey to Santa Cruz across the Monterey Bay.  55 degree water.  Swarms of stinging jelly fish.  Great Whites feeding.  This news link gives an idea.  Only one person has succeeded.  May God grant you success, Patti.