Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662): Mathematicians vs. Real People

"The reason, therefore, that some intuitive minds are not mathematical is that they cannot at all turn their attention to the principles of mathematics. But the reason that mathematicians are not intuitive is that they do not see what is before them, and that, accustomed to the exact and plain principles of mathematics, and not reasoning till they have well inspected and arranged their principles, they are lost in matters of intuition where the principles do not allow of such arrangement." - Pensees, Section I.1

Or as Mary Poppins put it:

"But sometimes a person we love through no fault of his own, can't see past the end of his nose."

There is another seemingly related observation:

"Just as we harm the understanding, we harm the feelings also.
The understanding and the feelings are moulded by intercourse; the understanding and feelings are corrupted by intercourse. Thus good or bad society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to choose in order to improve and not to corrupt them; and we cannot make this choice, if they be not already improved and not corrupted. Thus a circle is formed, and those are fortunate who escape it." - Pensees, Section I.6

The linkage between reason and feeling is somewhat the same as between logic and intuition. Here Pascal seems to be deviating from the classical philosophers with their notion that reason is inherently good, while feelings are bad.

Some people are of one sort, and some another. Thus, an organization runs best when people of both sorts - the logical and the intuitive - constructively build each other up. A church likewise cannot consist of theologians only, or of passionate people only.

If I compare Pascal with Descartes, it seems they both share this interest in the nature of humanity, although Descartes is more inwardly reflective while Pascal reflects on mankind in general along with himself.  What I have seen in Spinoza so far is a desire to win an argument and give the appearances of being mathematical, but not so much interest in the true nature of the human soul.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Pensees is a collection of notes that Pascal put together in preparation for writing some book, but he died at 40 years old and did not complete it. According to the introduction, they were collected, rearranged and edited after his death. So far the main thing that strikes me is the human centered focus of these observations.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Descarte (1596-1650) vs. Spinoza (1632-1677):  What substance are we made of?

The notion of Substance goes back to the classical Greeks and was much talked about for 2,000 years.  Unfortunately it was never sensibly defined that I can determine, thus, varying meanings were inevitable, and from the changling definitions extensive derivations were performed.  So here we go:

" ... I thence concluded that I was a substance which, that it may exist, has need of no place, nor is dependent on any material thing; so that 'I', that is to say, the mind by which I am what I am, is wholly distinct from the body, and is even more easily known that the latter , and is such, that although the later were not, it would still continue to be all that it is". - Discourse on Method, Part IV.

and Spinoza:

"The being of substance does not appertain to the essence of man ...

 ...Again, the proposition is evident from the other properties of substance - namely, that substance is in its nature infinite, immutable, indivisible, etc, as anyone may see for himself."  - Ethics, Part II, Prop. X.

Spinoza claims that there is one universal substance that is equal to god, and we are part of that substance.  What distinguishes man is not the substance, but rather some local modification to the one, universal substance.  Descartes proceeded in a dramatically opposite  manner.  Again, keeping in mind that substance is used in an abstract sense that is imprecisely defined, we could argue that they are both in some way correct.  I have earlier noted that much of classical categorization into substance, modifications, accidents, etc., appears to be similar to object oriented programming concepts.  We are free to choose whatever object design we like for our program, although we will face various pros and cons as we make our design choices.  Without uniform standards, however, objects are not interopperable between different programs.  Clearly Descarte's substance is not equal to Spinoza's substance.  Slippery definitions would preclude us from deducing much with any definition for substance.  I personally find Descarte's view more useful, provided we take the notion of a soul as being like software and a body as hardware.  Hardware and software are fundamentally different, um, substances.  More importantly, a piece of hardware can die while the software lives on by being transferred to another platform.  In some cases a hardware platform can die, be completely dismantled, reassembled and it will continue where it left off.  Of course we have no real way to scientifically conclude that the soul is merely software, or software+hardware, or something else.  It is intractable to science.

Eventually I will need to bring Pascal (1623-1662) into this discussion since he lived and wrote in the same era.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Descartes (1596-1650) vs. Spinoza (1632-1677)

René Descartes is the one who famously said "Je pense, donc je suis" - "I think therefore I am" - in his text on Christian and Scientific philosophy. Separately I have been listening to an audio version of Spinoza's Ethics.  Given the proximity in time, and the fact that both Descartes (for a time) and Spinoza were situated in Holland, it would seem that their thinking could be related, so I decided to delve in a bit.  A bit of trivia:  The Pilgrims, in their long struggle for freedom that took them from England to America, had situated themselves in Leiden, Holland which was a place that both Descartes and Spinoza hung out in for a time.  The Pilgrims settled in Leiden starting around 1593 and in 1620 headed for New England.  Their parson, John Robinson, was active at Leiden University and had been the most prosperous of the separatists since he was able to teach Greek.

The introductory commentary to Descartes's work, A Discourse on Method Meditations and Principles, goes over many of the same themes that Spinoza takes up, yet Spinoza deals with them quite differently.  I was rushing through listening to Spinoza, but having noticed many similarities, and having Descartes' book on hand, it seems like a better course is to slow down and read through Descartes' work at the same time.  Being on the road, there are very few books with me, but as the Lord has graciously provided, it seems that my random choosing has made these two authors available.

Thanks, James.

This is to express my appreciation to another blogger.  He was reading some books on Ugarit.  I asked him if he could point me to any good texts of translated Ugaritic works, which he kindly did.  They are:

The Ras Sharma Mythological Texts.

Ugaritic Economic Tablets: Text, Translation and Notes.

Ugaritic Narrative Poetry.

Something I saw in passing:

Hittite Myths.

For those who don't know, Ugarit was the site of the discovery of some ancient Canaanite tablets that give stores of the god Baal who is discussed extensively in the Old Testament.  No Bible trivia source list would be complete without them!  As a side note, almost every blogger I connect to teaches me something new for which I am thankful.
Plato's Laws:  Born Again, and other notes.

"Thus will orphan children have a second birth."

This is the conclusion of the section on how to provide for orphans.

As I mentioned, this text is rich with notions that cover many areas of modern interest.  Chapter XI mentions the retail class, which Plato condemns as a group of people who are doomed to vice.  Of course the Greeks were famously capitalist traders.  Plato affirms the need to have retail, yet wants there to be a distinct and separate class of low-lifes who engage in business so that the rest of the population won't be corrupted by them.  Clearly he has preempted the "Revolving Door'.

There is a mention of the analogy of weaving with warp and weft being symbols of different classes that make up society.  This has me wondering about the symbolism in Leviticus 19:19.  Chapter XII mentions that on the third day after a death it can be certain that the person is dead:

"Nor shall the laying out of the dead in the house continue for a longer time than is sufficient to distinguish between him who is in a trance only and him who is really dead, and speaking generally the third day after death will be a fair time for carrying out the body to the sepulchre."

This is followed by a discussion of what happens to souls of the dead:

" ... for the true and immortal being of each one of us which is called the soul goes on her way to other Gods, before them to give an account-which is an inspiring hope to the good, but very terrible to the bad, as the laws of our fathers tell us; and they also say that not much can be done in the way of helping a man after he is dead."

Per my objections in the last note, this statement occurs multiple times throughout Laws and is similar to the statements in Plato's Republic, thus, it is harder to dispute.  The notion of Plato is quite different from the Epicurean view that the particles of the body all dissipate.

Regarding poisoning and witchcraft:

"He who employs poison to do any injury, not fatal, to a man himself, or to his servants, or any injury, whether fatal or not, to his cattle or his bees, if he be a physician, and be convicted of poisoning, shall be punished with death ..."  - Laws XI

If the environmentalists see that we are going to have a lot of oil company officials strung up in the public squares.

"But he who seems to be the sort of man who injures others by magic knots, or enchantments, or incantations, or any of the like practices, if he be a prophet or diviner, let him die; ..." - Laws XI

We will string up the global warming crowd next to the oil company execs to comply with this second law.  The argument against witchcraft is that whether it is real or not, its intent is to scare people and it is quite effective in doing so to a large portion of the population.  As I would explain Plato's reasoning, it is a bit like making some controlled smoke and screaming "Fire!" in a crowded theater.  The threat isn't real, but the reaction can be.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Plato (424-328BC):  The Golden Rule

"... and may I be of a sound mind, and do to others as I would that they should do to me." - Laws, XI

That isn't supposed to be here.  C.S. Lewis claimed that the Golden Rule is uniquely Christian.  (Note: Dr. Wiki did not notice the above in her article on the Golden Rule.)  I have some earlier comments on this topic here.  Let me re-quote this passage from Plato which is at the beginning of the chapter:

"In the next place, dealings between man and man require to be suitably regulated.  The principle of them is very simple: - Thou shalt not, if thou canst help, touch that which is mine, or remove the least thing which belongs to me without my consent; and may I be of a sound mind, and do to others as I would that they should do to me.  First, let us speak of treasure trove: - May I never pray the Gods to find the hidden treasure, which another has laid up for himself ..."

Per Plato's notion of including general principles before specific rules, it almost fits to have the Golden Rule where it is.  On the other hand, it has a certain awkwardness in that what goes immediately before and after is not nearly as high minded, nor is there any sensible transition or discussion such as occurs in almost everything else in Laws.  Could it be spurious?  Do I dare to think it might be spurious?  If this is spurious, what else might be spurious?  Would any argument based on a quote from this work be credible?  Or ... is this simply an artifact of Jowett's translation?

This is where I wish there was some sort of encyclopedia of manuscripts for classical works. I have a book dedicated to identifying variant readings from various manuscripts for the New Testament, but that is all.  There is a note that about half of Plato's dialogues come from a manuscript written in Constantinople in 895AD.  Does that include Laws?  There is an earlier fragment of Laws that came from Egypt, but this doesn't include the passage above.  Anyway, here is the version from Matthew 7:12 -

"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
At the beach side bar ...

Bar Tender:  Can I help you?
Me:  I don't think so.  I am locked out of my room.
BT:  Did you let the front desk know?
Me:  Yes, they are sending someone over to fix it.
BT:  Can I get you anything to drink.
Me:  Um ... got anything frozen and non-alcoholic?
BT:  I can make a virgin daiquiri.
Me:  OK.  How about Mango?
BT:  Sure, coming up ...
Me: How much is that?
BT:  It's on the house, since you were locked out of your room.
Me: I would like to pay for it; how much is it?
BT:  You are an engineer, I can tell.  It's on the house!
Plato:  What to do about atheists?

"... There are many kinds of unbelievers, but two only for whom legislation is required; one the hypocritical sort, whose crime is deserving of death many times over, while the other needs only bonds and admonition.  In like manner also the notion that the Gods take no thought of men produces two other sorts of crimes, and the notion that they may be propitiated produces two more.  Assuming these divisions, let those who have been made what they are only from want of understanding, and not from malice or an evil nature, be placed by the judge in the House of Reformation, and ordered to suffer imprisonment during a period of not less than five years.  And in the meantime let them have no intercourse with the other citizens, except with members of the nocturnal council, and with them let them converse with a view to the improvement of their soul's health.  And when the time of their imprisonment has expired, if any of them be of sound mind let him be restored to sane company, but if not, and it he be condemned a second time, let him be punished with death." - Laws, X

So we reach the end of a long chapter on atheists, and those who claim to be theists, yet don't take the eternal seriously.  Plato's laws begins by discussion general notions and theories, then moving into specific requirements. We should note that these aren't necessarily enacted laws, but rather what he thinks to be good.  Comparing of the Law of Hammurabi from Babylon, the preamble is what distinguishes things.  There are overarching principles that preceed the specific laws, whereas the Babylonian laws were simply extensive lists.

Likely Plato's Laws reflect a bit of what was the practice, given that his teacher, Socrates, was executed for impiety.  Today we would certainly argue that this is far too severe and cruel a punishment, yet Plato's argument is that atheists are the worst of sophists and allowing them to go about freely will bring about a rapid corruption and destruction of society, philosophy and everything else sensible.  Given our current situation, I presume a visit to Plato's grave would result in hearing a quiet voice emanating from the tomb saying "I told you so.".

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Plato:  Regarding the riots in England.

" ... how can any one in gentle terms remonstrate with the like of them, when he has to begin by proving to them the very existence of the Gods?  Yes, the attempt must be made; for it would be unseemly that one half of mankind should go mad in their lust of pleasure, and the other half in their indignation at such persons." - Plato, Laws, X.

This chapter is a great one for our present age as it discusses both the horrors of atheism and the difficulties in arguing with atheist intellectuals.  Since I am simultaneously listening to Spinoza, who was a theistic atheist, it is interesting to note that some of Spinoza's arguments seem to derive from this chapter.  Plato argues that as one body moves another, there must be a first mover that is self moving.  Spinoza argues at length regarding moving bodies also, but noting that movement is relative to another, thus he argues the concept of a first mover is meaningless.  A separate comment in this same chapter of Plato's is this:

"It is a matter of no small consequence, in some way or other to prove that there are Gods, and that they are good, and regard justice more than men do." - Laws, X

This derives from the tendency of men towards evil.  Spinoza argues that God is the universe, hence, whatever notion of justice man asserts is part of God.  It is impossible in Spinoza's framework for God to regard justice more than man.  Clearly Plato believes there is a higher standard.  Today, there are no end to arguments that God is more unjust than men; and these are primarily parroted by the theists.  Is it any wonder that civilization is heading for chaos?

The New York Times features a counter argument - that the riots are due to a combination of libertarian values and bad examples at the top.  There is some truth to this, but it ignores the fact that there are market based societies where the elite have been wildly self indulgent and the citizenry has not chosen to act so badly.    Liberty can be as much an opportunity to do good as to do evil.  The moral values and the belief that there are eternal consequences are the prime moves in all this, just as Plato has said regarding a class of moral teachers that refuses to teach consequences:

"For when we hear such things said of them by those who are esteemed to be the best poets, and orators, and prophets, and priests, and by innumerable others, the thoughts of most of us are not set upon abstaining from unrighteous acts, but upon doing them and atoning for them." - Laws, X

Thus, I agree with the NYT commentary that the elites have taken the lead in creating an environment of lawlessness, but rejection of God is their primary error.. Now I should be a little careful:  I believe there to be only one true concept of God - through Jesus.  Yet at the same time, a generalized belief that good and bad behavior will have eternal consequences is basic for society.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Strauss-Kahn:  Final thoughts.

"The legislators of the United States, who have mitigated almost all the penalties of criminal law, still make rape a capital offense, and no crime is visited with more inexorable severity by public opinion. This may be accounted for; as the Americans can conceive nothing more precious than a woman's honor and nothing which ought so much to be respected as her independence, they hold that no punishment is too severe for the man who deprives her of them against her will. In France, where the same offense is visited with far milder penalties, it is frequently difficult to get a verdict from a jury against the prisoner. Is this a consequence of contempt of decency or contempt of women? I cannot but believe that it is a contempt of both." - Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), Democracy in America.
Spinoza (1632-1677):  Nature abhors a vacuum.

"For if extended substance could be so divided that its parts were really separate, why should not one part admit of being destroyed, the others remaining joined together as before? And why should all be so fitted into one another as to leave no vacuum? Surely in the case of things, which are really distinct one from the other, one can exist without the other, and can remain in its original condition. As then, there does not exist a vacuum in nature (of which anon), but all parts are bound to come together to prevent it, it follows from this also that the parts cannot be really distinguished, and that extended substance in so far as it is substance cannot be divided." - Ethics

This I highlight since the argument is clearly flawed based on modern physics.  It is also flawed based on classical philosophy due to their speculation regarding atoms.  Spinosa argues that there is one substance of everything that must include the universe and God.  Per the above argument, he claims to have proven that God is inseparable from nature.  He also claims that since all God's attributes are infinite, it is impossible for him to be involved in the universe in any way that is finite.  He is the laws of physics, but he cannot intervene to change things.  The result is something that is pseudo naturalistic like the Epicureans, but has a few differences.  The Epicureans believed in atoms, while Spinoza does not.  The Epicureans believed the gods to be anthropomorphic, but sequestered from the universe so that they can't intervene or wouldn't care to intervene.  Spinoza sequesters God from the universe by denying Him any attributes that would allow Him to act.  It looks to me like a different route to the same conclusion.

My impression of the path to neo-Epicureanism now starts with Spinoza and goes through David Hume (1711-1776).  Hume goes an entirely different route, however, as he tries to use an inverse skepticism to prove Epicureanism.  Classical skepticism argued against all truth.  Thus, if something is true then it must be false.  Inverse skepticism says that because Epicurean views are obviously false, therefore they must be true!  And so it goes.  It isn't hard to see how we got into Modernism.

One additional point to note here is that the topic Spinoza is dealing with - substance, essence, attributes, ... - were first discussed by Aristotle.  An interesting point here is that Spinoza directly and with utter confidence directs all his attacks against the Christian scholastics, yet he doesn't acknowledge Aristotle.  Having read Aristotle, however, I would say that what really stands out relative to Spinoza is that Aristotle is relatively careful and allows himself to entertain doubts, whereas Spinoza does not.  This may not be entirely Spinoza's fault, however, as it seems to be an attitude that many of the Christian philosophers have taken on too in their attempts to be overly precise.
Sunrise Swim.

Too bad I don't bring a camera when I am swimming.  This morning was warm and calm.  I only put in about 35 minutes, but it was good to get back into things.  Looking down, the schools were already in session.  Most of the class sizes were less than 45 and they seemed to be getting their jobs done peacefully.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Plato:  On the acceptability of sacrifices.

"And the same applies to other things; and this is the conclusion, which is also the noblest and truest of all sayings, - that for the good man to offer sacrifice to the Gods, and hold converse with them by means of prayers and offerings and every kind of service, is the noblest and best of all things, and also the most conducive to a happy life, and very fit and meet.  But with the bad man, the opposite of this is true: from one who is polluted, neither a good man nor God can without impropriety receive gifts.  Wherefore the unholy do only waste their much service upon the Gods, but when offered by any holy man, such service is most acceptable to them.  This is the mark at which we ought to aim." - Laws, IV

Some philosophy books make for slow reading due to the difficulty of the language and mental contortions needed to follow the text.  Plato's Laws present a different challenge due to the rich subject material that compels me to stop and ponder the connections.  In the above, for example, we have the recent observation by NASA that the human race is so polluted and unholy that aliens would be compelled to destroy us if they found us.  Can God accept anything from our worship?

The Bible affirms what Plato says:

"Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary, who may live on your holy hill?

He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, ..."  - Psalm 15.

But then Psalm 14 is plagiarized from NASA publications:

"The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.  All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. " - Psalm 14.

Bring on the aliens.  But then there is a game changer through Christ Jesus:

"If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness to everyone who believes." - Romans 8:10

The only way out of the dilemma is Jesus.

Friday, August 19, 2011

California Update:  Enforcing the marriage vow of "'till death do us part" by bureaucratic dysfunction.

It is hard to imagine divorce becoming more difficult in a society where novelty marriages are considered the standard by which marriage is valued, but this is the current situation.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Morning on Mission Peak.

This was thanks to Prickly Pear of my Eye returning from Albuquerque.  Formerly she was Papaya of my Eye per U's conventions.  Prickly Pear was chosen since she discovered the joys of eating cactus while in New Mexico.  She warned me to be on the look out for thorns while eating them.  I took her to the forbidden areas next to Lake Elizabeth in Fremont where her mother and I joined with her as we clandestinely picked and ate the black berries with the periodic thorn adding some excitement.  Forbidden fruit is always tastier.
San Francisco subway riot:  Civil Libertarians hate Civil Liberties.

This little incident is worthy of London, but with a twist.  The initial pretext was a homeless man who was waving two knives and a broken bottle at police and was shot and killed in a BART station.  Seriously, it is a good idea to avoid using a knife to threaten someone who has a loaded gun.

A group decided, however, that this event needed to be protested to someone other than God.  That meant going into BART stations, rioting and creating chaos at rush hour.  BART officials responded by turning off the underground cell phone network to inhibit organizing.  This immediately was greeted with howls and lawsuits from the "Civil Libertarians".  The result was that a different day was set where the cell phones towers were kept up so that protesters could rage and shake their fist against the heavens by creating chaos in the subway.  Is this the only purpose of Civil Liberties?  To behave unCivilly and to take away the Liberties of others to get back and forth to work in peace?  I thought the original purpose of Civil Liberties - going back to something like Magna Carta - was to keep tyrants from running roughshod over civilization.  Now the concept seems to be owned by anarchists whose only purpose is to create chaos and ... run roughshod over civilization.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Monument Valley.

I wonder if this has anything to do with why Ursula complained that my posts left her speechless.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Plato:  Politicians God makes the rules.

Athenian:  That God governs all things, and that chance and opportunity co-operate with Him in the government of human affairs. - Laws, IV

Jumping to an earlier passage, we see an example of reluctance to criticize legislators:

Athenian:  My good friend, I am afraid that the course of my speculations is leading me to say something depreciatory of legislators; but if the word be to the purpose, there can be no harm.

Then there is the notion of what really is happening when legislation is made:

Athenian:  I was going to say that man never legislates, but accidents of all sorts, which legislate for us in all sorts of ways.  The violence of war and the hard necessity of poverty are constantly overturning governments and changing laws.

In other words, the politician is mostly reacting to forces outside of his control.  The first quote is good to read again after the third so that everything will appear in order.  All this should lead us to Ben Franklin's famous speech to congress:

"I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth -- that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?"

I wonder how many would notice the reference to Plato's Laws in this quote sitting next to Matthew 10:29-31.

This passage from Plato's Laws also reminds me of a different passage from the Bible:

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established." - Romans 13:1

The section from Romans 13:1-7 is a hard one for Christians in a democracy to accept, yet it is there plain as day.  The similarity of overall mindset between Plato's Laws and this Bible text is something I want to highlight.
Dawn at Shadow Cliffs.

I had to get up at 5:20am to make this morning's swim at 6am.  If I am 5 minutes late, the group will leave and I won't be permitted to swim outside of the roped area.  Thus, we are always there promptly at 6am.  Three of us covered about 3.5 miles and another did 4.5 miles in about the same amount of time.  After that I was able to get a little snooze before heading off to church and showing up several minutes early in case I was needed to help out.  

This post is really about church.  Our church starts at 11:00am, but half of the attendees won't be there at 11:00am.  Instead they drift in slowly for the next 30 minutes.  I don't recall this when I was growing up.  When church started everyone was already there.  This same phenomenon repeats itself across many of the Bay Area's churches, although I must admit my recent trip to Florida saw a church that did not seem so problematic regarding promptitude.  Of course that one started at 9am.  Is it easier for people to get up for a 9am start than a 11am start?  Or is stumbling into church late just a San Francisco Bay Area cultural anomaly?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Where is home ...

Didn't quite get enough time to explore the back bayous and swim with the alligators.  Maybe next time.

Today I flew home and got a nice look down on the Sierras.  Oh to be in the snow!  I may be back to the heat soon.

Since I am in a slightly melancholy mood regarding having to put down some new, but temporary roots, the following song seemed appropriate.  

The song is called Seminole Wind which laments the runaway development in Florida.  I am always mixed in my feelings here.  Lamenting progress is an age old tradition that gets nowhere, while at the same time I love wilderness and being alone.  The Seminoles were the aboriginal tribes that settled these lands before the Spanish arrived.  The lyrics to this song are here.  There is one point where it talks of the ghost of Osceola.  It is rare that a song forces me to do some checking, but I was pleased to see that although Osceola led the 2nd Seminole War, he was also a fellow Tennessean.  

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Plato's Laws:  Various notes.

Regarding keeping the theocrats out of the law making:

Athenian Stranger.  Tell me, Strangers, is a God or some man supposed to be the author of your laws?
Cleinias.  A God, Stranger; in very truth a God:  among us Cretans he is said to have been Zeus, but in Lacedaemon, whence our friend here comes, I believe they would say that Apollo is their lawgiver: would they not, Megillus?
Megillus.  Certainly. - Politics, Book I.

Regarding the purpose of politics:

Athenian Stranger. And this knowledge of the natures and habits of men's souls will be of the greatest use in that art which has the management of them; and that art, if I am not mistaken, is politics.
Cleinias.  Exactly so.

This is the same as what Aristotle says in Nichomachean Ethics.

As for sexual relations:

Whether such matters are to be regarded jestingly or seriously, I think that the pleasure is to be deemed natural which arises out of the intercourse between men and women; but that the intercourse of men with men, or or women with women, is contrary to nature, and that the bold attempt was originally due to unbridled lust.  The Cretans are always accused of having invented the story of Ganymede and Zeus because they wanted to justify themselves in the enjoyment of unnatural pleasures by the practice of the god whom they believe to have been their lawgiver.

I thought it appropriate to note that the Greeks accused their own of deliberately polluting religion in order to condone immoral practices.  It is quite a contrast to the normal notions of the evolution of religion.  The pattern here seems to be one of purer and more moral religion degenerating into license.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Swimming uphill swimming downhill.

The surf was a bit rougher today.  What was encouraging was that I could sync the swim better with the waves.  They seemed quite large but were probably only 2 to 3 feet high.  Towards the end the tension on my rope let up.  I looked back and saw that my Swim Safety Device (SSD) had come loose.  Thus, I had to go diving back through the surf to fetch it.  Lest I be intimidated by anything, the SOWAT club forwarded a news article about a lady, Diana Nyad, who is also swimming in Florida.  In fact she just started a swim attempt across the Florida straits to Cuba.  103 miles.  She is 61 years old.  She wants to be the first one to swim this without using a shark cage.  What a wimp I am.

The part of the article that stood out the most was the person who is a "shark wrangler".  Wondering what kind of rodeo has people riding a bull shark.
Peter and Plato.

Those two usually aren't put together.  An unlikely sequence brought the two together for me.  Sunday's sermon was on 1 Peter 2:11-25.  The first item to note is 1 Peter 2:11 -

"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul."

Thus, the notion of a war between me and myself.  Yikes!  I just started Plato's Laws a few hours after church and got to page three of book I when I encountered this:

Athenian Stranger: And should each man conceive himself to be his own enemy - what shall we say?
Cleinias: O Athenian Stranger, - inhabitant of Attica I will not call you, for you seem to deserve rather to be named after the goddess herself, because you go back to first principles, - you have thrown a light upon the argument, and will now be better able to understand what I was just saying, - that all men are publicly one another's enemies, and each man privately his own.

The similarities of a war of a man with himself and the concept of stranger being the title for someone who actually cares about morals.  This chapter goes on to reflect on how laws could be arranged so that society would be encouraged to discipline itself against the corrosive effects of pleasure, just as they were so effective in helping young men to face pain and suffering well.

The compare and contrast could continue since Peter instruction is for the Kingdom of God, while Plato's is for maintaining the virtue of the citizenry for earthly governments.  What struck me here, however, is the way the intellectualoids have handled this.  They will quite loudly proclaim that a dumb fisherman, Peter, could not have penned the books of 1/2 Peter because they show a level of sophistication that he could never hope to achieve.  I don't see much merit to the argument, since 30 years had potentially passed since the Resurrection and he had plenty of time to learn.  But then a mutually exclusive complaint is also leveled against the Christians - that Christianity invented a radical new hyper moralizing, intolerance that the world had never known.  So which is it?  Is the author of 1 Peter a sophisticated Platonist?  Or is he inventing something the world had never known?  Peter has already given the answer:

"For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." - 1 Peter 2:15

Guess he anticipated the Intellectualoids.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Warm water swimming workout.

I did this after church.  The swim went along the coast but with the wind and waves for about 35 minutes.  Then I reversed directions and it was the struggle back with waves splashing all over my head.  It took 55 minutes to fight my way back.  A strange part of this was when a suckerfish decided to hitch a ride on me.  He would attach to my chest, then my stomach.  Eek!  It felt weird.  

The swim goggles made seeing easy.  I could navigate somewhat by looking down at the direction of the ripples in the sand which were parallel to the beach.  Then there was a big sting ray laying on the bottom.  Good thing it was too deep to step on.  The water alternated between algae laden murk and clear white sands.  A few schools of fish went darting by.  Unfortunately no hammerheads were sighted.

Towards the end I started feeling a bit of nausea.  Can't be sure why.  I ate breakfast about 2 hours earlier and this might have been the cause.  I usually swim on an empty stomach.  But then there was all the salt water.  No big gulps or mouthfulls were drunk, but perhaps 90 minutes of swimming did get some salt into the stomach.  Then there was the warm, humid air that I am not used to.  I am feeling a bit better now.  Gotta get ready for the hurricane.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Aristotle:  The old learn faster than the young.

"This also explains why children are not as good as older people at learning or at forming judgements on the basis of their sensory experience; it is because their minds are filled with disturbance and movement." - Physics VII.3

No more excuses.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Aristotle:  Infinity and beyond.

"Secondly, the idea that a change could change and a coming to be could come to be generates an infinite regress. ...  And since there can be no first term in an infinite series, then this sequence cannot start anywhere, and so it cannot continue either.  Consequently, on this hypothesis coming to be, variation, and change are completely impossible." - Physics V

Aristotle enumerates so many views in passing that it is often hard to pin him down on what his actual view is.  On the one hand, he talks of time being infinite, yet he clearly does not like infinite series and will thus deduce a first cause in the last chapter of this book.  Similarly, he doesn't like ratios of numbers that produce infinities, being unequipped regarding how to deal with the changes to the mathematics.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Why am I here?

I have been wandering and wondering, but Saint Benedict (480AD-547) was speaking to me from my iPod and clarified things:

"The fourth kind of Monks are called 'Gyrovagi,' or wanderers, who travel about all their lives through divers provinces, and stay for two or three days as guests, first in one monastery, then in another; they are always roving, and never settled, giving themselves up altogether to their own pleasures and to the enticements of gluttony, and are in all things worse than the Sarabites."  -  The Rule of Saint Bnedict, chapter 1, Of the several kinds of Monks.  Burp.

Monday, August 01, 2011

It is a bit warm for swimming.  Not quite sure how I got here either, or even how to get back home.  Oh, well.

Debt Ceiling Compromise.  And justice.

Let's see if I get this right:  We increase the debt ceiling now by $2.4 trillion - 20% of GDP - in exchange for making real changes after the next election.  There are triggers to cut existing agreed upon spending, but nothing can bind congress to not enact entirely new spending bills.

I usually don't like to use the word "justice" since it has been so hopelessly politicized as to be almost a synonym for injustice.  Anyway, the $2.4 trillion will eventually need to be repaid.  $2.4 trillion is $1 million X 2.4 million.  To repay this we should figure perhaps 10 million people working a lifetime.  In other words, congress has agreed to sell roughly10 million American children into tax slavery in exchange for facing reality mañana.  Should this be a justice issue?  Or is it wrong to invade a foreign country and sell their children into slavery, but OK to sell your neighbors or your own children into slavery?
Aristotle:  Physics >> Time.

"In its own right, time is responsible for destruction rather than for generation, because it is a number of change, and change removes present properties." - Physics IV.

This sounds like the 2nd law of thermodynamics.  Much of this book focuses on space and time at a basic level.  Some of the discussion is quite primitive, yet at the same time it takes a brave initial stab at some of the initial concepts for continuum mechanics.  This passage continues:

"Evidently, then, anything eternal, so far as it is in eternal, is not in time:  it is not contained by time, nor is its existence measured by time."

Aristotle is a bit ambiguous on an eternal earth, but talks of infinite time.  Time as he uses it is analogous to a line from geometry.  As a point divides a line into two halves, so Aristotle divides time in two with an instant, analogous to a point, with the formal label of "now":

"The now is what holds time together, as I have said, since it makes past and future time a continuous whole ...  In this respect the now is equivalent to the point in mathematical lines, ... "

The result is an emphasis on the word "now" and a long discussion whereas the "now" usually passes through our lips with little notice.  This does remind me somewhat of the peculiar emphasis on the word "today" that is used in Hebrews chapter 4.  But it seems a bit forced to try joining these together.