I eat dead fish for breakfast

Dear Ernest,

Suppose you knew, before you began reading this sentence, that all material in this post will be the subject of an upcoming multiple choice test, on which, if you do well, you will be entitled to free tea for a month and whatever book selections might strike your fancy, but if you do poorly, you will be permitted, for the same duration, neither to read whatever you please nor to drink your daily Earl Grey, forced instead to memorise the phone book line by line while drinking three full cups of mystery tea, a horrifically pungent concoction of all the most repulsive herbs and leafs that can be found on God’s green earth.  With so much at stake, you will, of course, read what I have written a lot more carefully than you otherwise would, picking up nearly every subtle detail and turn of phrase with just as much attention and reverence as you would ordinarily extend to those pleasures I have wagered; indeed, your passion for understanding this piece will, by virtue of the agreement, immediately equal, and perhaps even surpass, the immeasurable zeal you already hold for choice literature and for those beverages that are somewhat less mysterious to you.  In short, you will subject yourself to so much psychological pressure, out of both a fear of consequences and faith in the prospective reward, that you will leave your mind with almost no degree of malleability, holding it instead to an absolutist regime of strict focus, discipline, and a refined sense of purpose.

In your last letter: “And what should we fear? Perhaps passivity of mind, for only dead fish swim with the stream.”

By agreeing to my wager, you will force yourself to do something that you already intended to do: to think.  But strangely, you will not accomplish this through any lofty intellectual exercise, but by a very simple, earthy means—a means by which we often tame animals—that is, by controlling what prospects lie directly ahead of you.  If you and I have both decided that we want to dedicate our lives to God, then at least in theory, we have a clear purpose in mind behind every thing we do—we always act purely out of love for Him—however,  as we wander this little planet of ours, miles below the heavens, such a purpose can often seem very far away from us, and pursuing it from where we stand at present can be like trying to follow, from the first letter to some distant period, one of my savagely magniloquent turns of phrase.  When reading a long sentence, we need to recognise smaller goals, such as parenthetical clauses, which are closer to the present word than is that long hoped for period at the end.  In the same way, when living life, we need to develop a hierarchy of purposes, where riding God’s grace to heaven is the ultimate end, within which, we include smaller, simpler things, like writing a blog, studying for a multiple choice exam, and reading a sentence for the sake of that very same exam.  If we want to achieve some lofty end with our writing—perhaps, to escape from the school of dead fish—then maybe we should begin with more obvious motivations, like entering an imaginary school of bloggers.

Ernest, I’ll be grading your letter on Tuesday.

 

Your servant,

TWM

Wandering out of Paradise

Dear Ernest,

When I consider how often I have, in light of careful observation, esteemed with high regard the astucity of your character, I then hold little doubt that you have noted, with equal wonder as have I, the astounding level of passivity with which many people appear to wander through the world, conducting their lives, it seems, as one heedlessly roams the streets of a darkened city, tending neither toward any purpose nor sense of destination.  Such people, we can only assume, are by no means exempted from the existential worries and struggles of an active mind, nor from any like burden, I imagine, that we ordinarily associate with an intellectual life style, for these supposed symptoms of the philosopher are really nothing more or less than the universal agonies of the human condition, and we find them inescapable in all modes of living, regardless of whether they are illuminated by the words of a scholar.  Contrary to what the new agers and postmodernists would have us believe, it seems that human nature is quite the same in any and all realms: the moment we engage with people, we find ourselves at war with them in some manner or another, but if we then retire to the secret worlds of our own minds, we will be equally at war with ourselves—move society from the physical plane of existence to a mode of being on the internet and shortly you will have the same defects pulsing through cyberspace as formerly infected the oceans and seven continents.  In short, there is no diversion from adversity, no respite from the enduring pains of human life, and no clever way out of the many problems and questions that are imposed on us from the moment we are born; all people are at all times and in all manners subject to the concerns that naturally come with being human.

In your last letter: “How are we to know about matters of ultimate faith?”

Commonly, faith is thought of as a kind of alternative to reason, a net to break the fall of a weary philosopher, or a blanket to gently conceal a difficult question from view, and by virtue of this cure for the disease known as philosophy, one is suddenly freed to rove the dark roads of this world without a care for reason or thought.  But such purposeless wandering seems to me neither desirable nor even feasible, for it is impossible to escape from the prospect of destination—as even wanderers end up somewhere else than they begin—and there must also exist a reason why any given destination is achieved.  So mustn’t faith be something more than this?  We seem to often lose the rich meaning of the original Greek whenever we talk of merely ‘believing’ in Jesus; the real issue is a matter of πιστεύειν, ‘trusting’ or ‘relying on’ him, which has less to do with determining that he should be trusted and more to do with the act of trusting itself.

Adam, the lover who follows his mate out of paradise, and Thaddeus, the fool who follows his mates off a cliff, have one thing in common: they are both forced to choose between two limited alternatives, to either satisfy their desire to live or else appease their fear of living without their mates, but they are no longer afforded the option of both.  When we meet Adam wandering out of paradise in the ninth book of Milton’s poem, we are confronted by a man who has already made a sacred covenant never to abandon his bride, so the moment Eve turns from him and from God, there is no longer such a thing as paradise; if Adam remains, he breaks his covenant and looses his integrity, but if he leaves, we already know what happens.  So considered, the decision is philosophically arbitrary—there is no intellectual reason that one kind of death should be preferred to another.  Adam is not deciding, at this point, where to place his faith, for he has already chosen, and wisely so, to entrust it in whole to a creature of perfection—Eve as she once was, but now this perfect being no longer exists, and the decision remains for him not as a question of what to trust, but whether he ought to trust at all.  He chooses πιστεύειν.  And this he does not as way out of relying on his own intellect, but even as the very exercise of that faculty.  Wandering out of paradise, very much like falling off a cliff, is something that people do reluctantly; no one marches forth from the garden of Eden with any show of confidence, nor do we often see people leaping from the tops of towering crags with great command—these are duties performed with a dragging of the heals or a covering of the eyes, not in the least with great zeal or assurance, but there is much reward for whoever is true to a good purpose, even if this means giving up everything or dying on a cross.

Whoever has found his life shall lose it, but he that has lost his life for Christ’s sake shall gain it.

 

Your servant,

TWM

 

Faith, Fear, and Fiction

My honourable Ernest,

By whatever trifles of insight my fastidious, observational nature has profited me over the years, I have come to regard the dealings of nearly all mankind as some composite exercise of no more than three essential virtues or vices, which may server either one’s honour or shame, summarising the human experience as a response to the prospective unknown, an artful compilation of but three elements, namely, of faith, fear, and fiction.  Of these, perhaps only the first strikes us quite evidently as being a virtue, while the latter two seem to be either vices or mere misfortunes, but I find myself convinced that these may follow, just as does faith, directly from the most universally recognised virtue: love, on account of which is it not but a show of prudence to fear on behalf of the beloved, or of grace to envision something better wherever there may be a deficiency?  And yet it seems that love, by which name we are apt, in modern parlance, to call nearly any form of deep affection or attachment, may serve just as well as a virtue or a vice—consider the ‘love’ of Romeo for Juliet, Dido for Aeneas, or perhaps even Adam for Eve.  For many, the handling of such cases is a simple matter of refining one’s definition of the word, ‘love’, whittling it down until it lacks all such splinters and no longer allows for these uncomfortable notions of self-destruction and depravity, but the fact that an ideological carpenter finds himself with so much sanding to be done demonstrates a complicated feature of human nature; there is a fine line, as it turns out, between love, the highest virtue, and hate, its utter opposite, which is the lowest vice.

We are left puzzling over just such a paradox when Milton depicts for us the role of love in losing paradise; I am referring mainly to the drama that unfolds in book nine of the Paradise Lost, the apex of which we might explore at line 896 and following.  Adam has yet to partake of the fruit, when he somehow finds time to unravel an entire speech to consider Eve’s demise and the human condition, doing so—quite miraculously it seems—without Eve hearing so much as a single word.  Our present focus lies in lines 904-8:

… Some cursed fraud

Of enemy hath beguil’d thee, yet unknown,

And mee with thee hath ruin’d, for with thee

Certain my resolution is to Die:

How can I live without thee?

It is difficult to regard Adam’s love for Eve as a virtue, when it seems so distinctly, in this fictitious depiction, to serve as his hamartia.  Adam has invented a fiction, a beautiful, quixotic dream, that perhaps even the fallen Eve is the same woman whom he so loved from the start, perhaps he may yet find all the former beauty and splendour of the divine paradise even among its ruins.  Along with this fiction, which by an uneasy inclination we are tempted to consider a display of grace, he fears, and prudently so, what the future may be apart from Eve.  Ultimately it seems that for better or for worse and by virtue of his connubial duty to Eve, he has no choice but to invest total faith in the judgment of his beloved.  He is like the charismatic man who follows his friends when they all decide to jump off a cliff—for whom we may hold a certain admiration, regarding him, perhaps, as a charming and credulous fool, but more pragmatically, we must also fear for his own safety and well-being.

Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of Milton’s drama is the way it ends.  Paradise is in fact Regained, and in some very bizarre sense, it seems the whole drama of all mankind is ultimately to be so reconciled.  On the other side of death, we know there is a resurrection, where by virtue of Adam’s vice, his absurd and inappropriate faith, he lives once more.  By God’s grace all that has been broken is redeemed to something better still than it once was; as if even the fall of man itself were in His plan.  In this way, it seems that something evil in itself may be used for a good end.  The crunching of an apple echoes throughout all eternity as an object of universal derision, but God has harmonised this disgraceful memory with sweeter tones than we could ever imagine, reworking the whole chorus of angels in heaven so that it may be all the more beautiful yet again.

 

Your servant,

TWM

“Rely upon no o…

“Rely upon no other Physician [save God alone], for, according to my apprehension, He reserves your cure to Himself.”

–The Eleventh Letter of the entretiens et letteres du Frere Laurent (‘Practice of the Presence of God’)

The Nature of Causality in the Logical Scope

if a then b => if !b then !a

Doesn’t that make sense? Why do people act like it doesn’t?

Causality is such a difficult phenomenon to isolate. This is a large part of what makes tragic plays so stimulating–we can argue for hours about what really caused all the dead bodies to pile up at the end; was it Hamlet’s slowness to act? his uncle’s murder? or perhaps Polonius’ regulation of his daughter? The best answer is generally something along the lines of, “it was all these things and more”. For maybe if Hamlet weren’t so prone to depression, if Laertes hadn’t come from France, or the dang Dane, Hamlet the late, had just decided to take his nap somewhere else or a little later in the afternoon, the whole catastrophe could have been avoided. This brings up the whole discussion of chaotic theory on a sociological level. Because perhaps even smaller changes could have been made to the history than the ones I have mentioned if they were made earlier on. Maybe if Hamlet the late had gone to bed earlier the night before, he wouldn’t have needed to take a nap˚. And maybe he would have gone to bed earlier if he weren’t busy doing such and such, and perhaps such and such wouldn’t have had to be done if… We could, theoretically trace the whole history back to the beginning of time; at which point, if a single molecule, floating in space, had been displaced by a fraction of a micrometer, Gertrude might never have married, Hamlet might have never been born, and perhaps even Denmark might never have become a nation.

Personally, I find this is fascinating. It certainly says something about the nature of causality. Every little, fractal detail of the cause has a profound impact on the effect. This is an even bigger deal when it comes to a consideration of the Omnipotent, for He is the beginning of time and the root cause of all reality. I’ve included a definition of the rule of modus tollens at the beginning of this post, with whatever disregard of formal symbols, for this reason. Many a tricky relativist likes to try to weasel his way around causality, often suggesting that every event and quality of reality is the result of nothing and our minds are merely erring in seeking out patterns and reasons for things to result from other things. As far as I’m concerned, that’s fine; if a person doesn’t believe in reality, then I should even less expect him or her to believe in the causal nature of reality. But what doesn’t work, by my assessment, is the attempt to separate causality from the logical scope. Logic, by definition, assumes the principles of modus ponens and modus tollens, or more simply, the concept of an “if then”. Therefore, it seems to be quite impossible to have logic without having causality. For logic assumes that the validity of a premise determines, or causes, the validity of a conclusion.

Within the absolutist scope, metaphysical reality is assumed to be, to some extend, comprehensible via the normative reasoning of the human mind. In a way, reason is the only metaphysical entity that we are undeniably conscious of (if you will pardon my casual use of the term metaphysical). Though reason is expressed as physical phenomena in the brain, the pure properties of logic, that express themselves in the mind, must be considered metaphysical, or as I am using the word, real but not tangible. Because of this, there is a sense in which reason must dictate our beliefs as to the qualities of reality as it exists beyond the purely physical. Just as we assume physical reality to have the qualities which are perceived by our five sense, we must also assume metaphysical reality to have the qualities perceived by our sixth sense–our mind. If the fact that we see in colour leads us to believe that the universe is colourful, then the fact that we reason causally must lead us to believe that the normative is causal. And if we believe there is anything beyond the physical–which we must believe, for by the very act of thinking logically, we are engaging such a realm–then we must believe that reality is ultimately beyond the physical†. Therefore, in the same sense of the word, “reality” is ultimately causal in nature.

This being established, we must consider the nature of causality as it exists in reality to be the same as the nature of causality as it exists in reason. Let us consider what this nature is.

It may be useful here for us to rethink the conventional concept of a logical proof. Proof is commonly thought of as a sort of sequence of steps that lead from a given to a conclusion. This is all fine and well, but let us consider what it really means. If the rules of logic are universal, then a proof is not the act of taking one thing and transforming it into another, but rather the human explanation of why one thing is also another. Take a mathematical proof for instance. If we want to prove that 0over0 equals one in the context of “limit x–> 0 f(x) = sin(x) / x”, we take the function and limit as a given, go through a series of steps, and show why it equals one. But we have not in fact converted one concept into another. We have merely shown that by logic, the one concept is the other, for at the end of the proof, we realise that the given expression is equivalent to the concluded one. There is no conversion process from premise to conclusion; proofs only serve to show us that a premise is the same thing as a conclusion.

In the same sense, we must also consider causality to be, like proofs, a human way of understanding that a cause is, normatively, the same thing as its effect. Therefore, returning to the Omnipotent, He must in this same sense be, as the primal cause, the same thing as His effect. This is why I so often write that He is reality. And thus, if He is everything that is Real, He must possess every quality that is Real. Therefore, if we assume that our reason is Real, then we must believe Him to be rational. To me this is the easy part of the argument. It is self-evident that the cause of all Reality would have to be rational if there is such a thing as reason. Reason must be linked, by causality, all the way to the beginning of existence, the primal cause. And only things that are not real in some sense* may posses “qualities” not possessed by the Omnipotent (see “Theology of Non-being”)˚. All this follows from (or is) what is written above.

And now a point of interest: What also “follows” from above is that the Omnipotent is very large. Certainly, we already knew He was infinite and we are “finite,” but the Hamlet example can give a very good explanation for this. If every effect is affected by smaller and smaller details of its cause the further along the chain of causality that it gets from that cause, then with the Omnipotent having existed eternally before time began, we must believe that we are the effects of his infinitesimals. That is, if the Omnipotent is a giant fractal at the beginning of reality (and really making up all of reality), then we, being effects that exist some infinite distance along His causal chain, must be caused by the smallest possible details of Him, and therefore, are the smallest possible details of Him. However, it is important to note that, with Him being the highest possible order of infinity–paradox that that is–even his infinitesimals must be infinite, and therefore, while He is infinitely greater than us, we are still, in this sense, infinite ourselves, so long as we actually exist.

This means that the Omnipotent is capable of considering us infinitely, while at the same time conceiving an infinite universe, and for that matter making an infinite number of other infinite creations all of which He plans for and cares about infinitely. This seems to present a reasonable rebuttal to the objection that there cannot be a personal God because the universe is so large.

Such is one of the arguments that Richard Feynman brings up in the following video. He doesn’t really focus exclusively on that topic, but he says some other interesting things as well, which I thought made the video worth posting:

____________________

˚ Okay, I suppose it was “his custom always in the afternoon”, but still, would he have upheld that custom even if he wasn’t tired? Of course there is no definitive answer to such a question, but that’s my point: the causality is hard to isolate.

† For it is only beyond the physical that we are ultimately able to say that something exists, as the very notion of existence is a normative principle, and all the qualities of reality are normative, because, while we might describe a physical object as having “physical qualities” those qualities themselves are concepts (ex. an apple is red, but redness is a concept). This might just sound like a word game to many, and I realise that I may be over simplifying a much larger issue–and one that is largely disagreed about–but consider it as this: Somewhere in your mind, you differentiate between the way you view and understand the physical and the conceptual. You, by your very nature as a human, attach to those to realms particular values. That is, each of them means something different. Whether you want to call the one or the other “more real” doesn’t really matter much to this argument, so long as you realise that when I discuss reality, I will be referring to the conceptual or normative, and not just as it exists in our minds, but as it actually exists, even beyond them. For I am assuming–the absolutist that I am–that two plus to actually equals four, not that it just happens to in our minds. Without this sort of assumption, there is no actual point in thinking at all (in the same sense of the word “actual”).

* As darkness can be said to be a thing, but is really nothingness, it is the absence of something, so can there be things that are defined by their lacking of realness, they are the absence of realness.

˚ Here is another way of looking at the irrationality of evil discussed in “Theology of Non-being.” Irrationality is allowed to exist in evil, though it is not a quality possessed by the Omnipotent, because evil is, in a sense, “unreal”.