On light and darkness - and complex numbers and other joys
It is one of those strange things - truths - that the names of two of the darkest and most hateful men who ever existed are now associated with something grand, silly, happy, light, and laughable. No, not Darwin and Marx. Not even Nietzsche and Kant. I mean Calvin and Hobbes.
(Note: I have only a vague idea what the real C&H taught - I recall something about going to hell, and not as Dante, who apparently had a "just visiting" card - just as I very quickly forget an error in software once I have corrected it. Of course there are philosophers specializing in pathology who have to know such errors, just as there are pathologists for medicine or for engineering. But the study of Error Writ Large is a special sort of subject, not usually suitable for blogging, at least not today. And I did want to start a discussion on error, but I didn't have time. Maybe some other year. But let us proceed.)
There are many useful insights for a computer scientist in C&H - or even for a Chestertonian. People moan about "complex numbers" - but Hobbes easily disposes of this to Calvin by explaining they are things like "eleventeen" and "thirty-twelve". These sound complex to me, and I regret to state that few mathematicians have risen to the heights which could enable them to even speak these words, much less state theorems about them. More's the pity. We need more such advances.
Another one of the deep insights into methodology - indeed, a classic in proof-techniques - occurs in the famous lesson of the Opposite Pole, one of the important concepts found in what is likely Calvin's greatest single contribution to humanity: that is, the game of Calvinball, which is on a par with Chesterton's "Gype". [See his autobiography, CW16:211]
I do not have the time to dig out the precise bibliographic reference to the item, but the insight is simple to state. It occurs when Hobbes accuses Calvin of "not declaring" that he touched the Opposite Pole. Calvin states "Obviously I declared it oppositely: by not declaring it."
Genius... pure genius.
Well. It was just this insight I was seeking recently when I was trying to decide how to handle a... er... a certain situation in my Saga. It was one of those situations involving Enemy Powers, obviously calling for the charism which in Holy Orders is classed under the Minor Order called "Exorcist".
Now, as I have noted previously I have a copy of the Roman Ritual, so there was no difficulty regarding the formal method. However, for a number of reasons - some dramatic, some artistic, some a kind of paternal concern - I didn't want to let Certain Matters come into direct view.
So I decided to wield Calvin's "Opposite Pole Technique", and declare it by not declaring it. There's some theatric term which might be used... ah yes: "it [the gory part] happens off-stage."
Strange to say, this made the whole effect a good deal more creepy than I expected.
On contemplating this, two different GKC quotes come to mind:
After a pause the priest spoke again in his mild manner. "Admiral," he said, "will you do me a favour? Let me, and my friends if they like, stop in that tower of yours just for tonight? Do you know that in my business you're an exorcist almost before anything else?"I don't delve into this to shock or annoy, but just the OPPOSITE: to suggest that there are good artistic ways of handling such matters so that they do NOT shock. No one needs that sort of detail... and yet the effect will be Calvinistic and Hobbesian in the extreme.
[GKC "The Perishing of the Pendragons" in The Wisdom of Father Brown]
This inverted imagination produces things of which it is better not to speak. Some of them indeed might almost be named without being known; for they are of that extreme evil which seems innocent to the innocent. They are too inhuman even to be indecent.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:253]