Monday, October 31, 2005

HalloweE.n coli

HalloweE.n coli

The lab was all quiet that late afternoon.
The pumps had stopped hissing their sad vacuum tune.
The profs and the grads to their parties had gone;
No one would be back until long after dawn.

"The last human's gone" sensed security gear,
Beyond human hearing it signalled ALL CLEAR.
Freed was the lab then from what was expected
Planck, Darwin, Newton and Einstein rejected.
The cultures came merrily out of their dishes
The hamsters and rats lent a paw to the fishes.
The plants with their roots in fresh fertilizer
Played some hard rock on the gene synthesizer.
Drosophila squadrons put on an air show.
"Let's keep the lab neat, and no humans will know."

"It's Halloween now - costumes all is the rule."
The samples at zero C shouted "How cool!"
The reagents cried "Yeah! Let's party tonight!
One hour to dress, then we'll sleep at daylight."
Three thousand six hundred times the wall clock ticks,
Then out from their places the life forms did mix.
The hamsters in costume as test tubes stood guard
With five kinds of enzymes each done up as lard.
Some foil-clad DNA claimed that they were wires
And others with loops painted black looked like tires.
But the being that won the best lab-costume vote
Was a human-dressed virus in a big white lab coat.
The chloroplasts out of their host cells did pop
And grabbing a phage said "Let's dance till we drop!"
The mosses like wallflowers chatted with maize,
Near the cocktail bar sunlamp they soaked up the rays.
A ribosome screamed "Hey, let's all take a ride -
Just crank up the volts on the sequencing slide."
A neuron, caressed by a Schwann cell, its date,
Said "I wouldn't try it, you'll just separate."
"No way," said the ribo, "your source was moronic,
I'll first dip myself in solution ionic."
A nematode laughed on its laughing-gas itch
Then slid to the panel and pulled down the switch.
In a blink it was done, but no one shed a tear
For the ribo had left a remarkable smear.

The life of the lab o'er the counters did race
Dancing around at an ATP pace.
They dipped in the P-32 for a snack
Then they danced on some film paper wrapped up in black.
For hours they talked and they danced and they ate;
Though unscientific, the party was great.
But finally the rats, the phages, and clover
Saw it was late and the party was over.

The profs were the first in the lab that strange morn,
They noted the spills and the papers all torn,
The film all exposed, and the sequencing smear...
"Oh, we wish the grads would have saved us some beer."

(This poem was made October 28, 29, 30(AM) 1992 while I was attending an "unnamed school".)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Clock Day

Anyone who works in a high-tech field - and even those of us who own clocks - knows of the semiannual horror caused by Congress when they force us to change our clocks. This pagan religious practice has become enshrined as the festival called "Clock Day" - it is celebrated by strange rites of eating, drinking, and odd patterns of sleep, but most importantly, the formal rituals of visiting every mechanical and electronic form of timekeeper and offering homage to Chronos the Time God (or perhaps that is Chronas the Time Goddess; I don't really pay attention to such details of paganism.)

Clock Day is especially hard on certain computer technicians, for the popular systems don't really understand how to deal with these ceremonies. And this deity (or deityess - is that the feminine?) does not deal kindly with scoffers - those of us who work in time-critical fields ignore this rite at our peril.

So tomorrow morning, at the doubtful hour (who knows what its name really is - 2 AM or 3 AM or perhaps the second 2 AM!) while some will be celebrating, and some sleeping, certain technicians will vest in the required garb, and go from system to system, making the required ritual visit and peforming the prescribed rites for the day as written in the Holy Books of Instruction...

And, no doubt, singing the carol of the season.

Clock Day

Clock Day is coming and the Congressman is fat.
Time is unimportant when the Senate goes to bat.
If you think our clocks should stay in sync
With noon by the sun's view,
Then write a letter to your rep,
And God bless you!

Change your clocks, citizens, we mean you!
But write a letter to your rep, and God bless you!

The few who use Catholic time which is one over the whole world (Oh, does that sound sectarian? I'll switch from Greek to Latin then) those happy few who use Universal Time (which is also called Greenwich Mean Time) don't have to worry, as they deny such local divinities as vestiges of paganism.

And now... of course you are expecting a Chesterton quote, and you will be glad to know that there is a very appropriate one, if also rather scary:

Suppose I had by some pre-historic law the power of forcing every man in Battersea to nod his head three times before he got out of bed. The practical politicians might say that this power was a harmless anomaly; that it was not a grievance. It could do my subjects no harm; it could do me no good. The people of Battersea, they would say, might safely submit to it. But the people of Battersea could not safely submit to it, for all that. If I had nodded their heads for them for fifty years I could cut off their heads for them at the end of it with immeasurably greater ease. For there would have permanently sunk into every man's mind the notion that it was a natural thing for me to have a fantastic and irrational power. They would have grown accustomed to insanity.
For, in order that men should resist injustice, something more is necessary than that they should think injustice unpleasant. They must think injustice absurd; above all, they must think it startling. They must retain the violence of a virgin astonishment.
[GKC, Illustrated London News March 10, 1906 CW27:138-140]

Friday, October 28, 2005

A sample from an important work by S. L. Jaki

A note from Dr. Thursday: For some time I have wanted to give you a sample of a major Chestertonian scholar, S. L. Jaki - and today I present an excerpt from his book, The Purpose of It All (pp. 39-42). This work examines the controversies of purpose, evolution, and related matters - just as much in the news (and bloggs) now as it was in GKC's time. Perhaps even more relevant today, as few people seem to know that the "evolution of the horse" has been "quietly downgraded"! This book has just been released in a new edition from Real View Books.

Those mindful of the many books, old and new, whose authors presented evolution as a purposeful process, [From the one by H. Drummond (1894) to the one by J. Bronowski (1973). A variation on that theme is The Ascent of Life (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961) by T. A. Goudge.] could see more than what meets the eye in the title, "Evolution: Explosion, not Ascent," of an essay which Gould published in 1978 in The New York Times. [The New York Times, Jan. 22, 1978, p. E6.] If explosion meant anything it was the very opposite to that gradualism on which Darwin and Darwinists have always set so great a store. Further, Gould's essay contained enough evidence to suggest that his purpose in writing it was to cover up the deeper purposes of the champions of orthodox and synthetic evolutionary theory.

Gradualism or something more
That such purposes or motivations had been at work since Darwin's days, and in fact in Darwin himself, could be gathered from Gould's recall of a letter which T. H. Huxley wrote to Darwin on November 23, 1859, the eve of the publication of the Origin of Species The letter was a classic of contradiction, a point not mentioned by Gould. For if it was true that, as Huxley stated, Darwin had "demonstrated the true cause [natural selection] for the production of species," then it could not also be true that Darwin merely loaded himself "with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum so unreservedly." [F. Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (London: John Murray, 1887), vol. 2, p. 234.. This Latin phrase means "Nature does not make jumps."] The difficulty, represented by a very gradual or practically imperceptible rate of evolution, was a very necessary part of Darwin's theory. It was also its most debilitating part, in addition to being a part most shrewdly contrived for purposes far beyond the legitimate purport of any scientific theory.
Huxley did not suspect that he prophesied something most ominous to emerge in the distant future as he cited his second objection: "It is not clear to me why, if continual physical conditions are of so little moment as you suppose, variations should occur at all." By 1859 the idea of geological evolution as riddled with major catastrophes had for some time been fallen into disrepute, largely through the work of Lyell, an early supporter of Darwin. Huxley merely noted that the idea of very gradual change was in-compatible with the fossil record. Four generations later Gould could only add that

the fossil record still proclaims it [very gradual change] false, after more than a century of diligent search... Paleontologists have documented virtually no cases of slow and steady transformation, foot by foot up the strata of a hillslope - not for horses, not for humans.[The New York Times, Jan. 22, 1978, p. E6.]

Behind that brief reference to horses lay a long story, which culminated in the early 20th century with the setting up, in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, of a large display of the fossil record of the evolution of the modern horse. For decades it served as the trump evidence of the truth of the Darwinian mechanism of evolution, a mechanism based on the gradual accumulation of minute changes, for a long-term purpose, over very long periods of time. The display was not the first of its kind but the largest, preceded by smaller exhibits, such as the one set up by O. C. Marsh at Yale University in the 1870s. It prompted Lull to introduce, in his book already quoted, the chapter on horses with a minor panegyrics:

The evolution of the horse has for humanity a very deep interest because of the debt of gratitude which man owes to this humble servitor and comrade and because of the fact that, largely through the unwearying efforts of Professor Marsh of Yale University, a collection of fossil horses was there assembled which was to prove the first documentary record of the evolution of a race. This classic collection was studied by Huxley, who pronounced it conclusive evidence in favor of evolution. Darwin was so impressed with its importance that he would have visited it had his health permitted, but he died without having seen such a culminating proof of the theory of evolution.[Lull, Organic Evolution, p. 604.]

The quiet downgrading of that display at Yale did not make the headlines, nor did similar steps at the American Museum of Natural History. Darwinists have always enjoyed a good press. Newspapers, always on the lookout for scandals and ready to unveil frauds, did not find it newsworthy that countless visitors to that display in New York had been kept in the dark for over half a century about an all important deception built into it: The data were presented as a proof of an orthogenetic evolution of horses, which, of course, turned out to be phylogenetic. In respect to size alone, as a grim Darwinist was forced to admit, "horses had now grown taller, now shorter, with the passage of time." [G. Hardin, Nature and Man's Fate (New York: Mentor, 1961), pp. 225-6.] The display found its way into countless textbooks as an illustration of the proof of evolution, although it was a rank manipulation of scientific data. One cannot help therefore suspecting that some murky purposes gave rise to it in the first place and sustained it for over so many decades.

SWQR - Boehm's The Flute and Flute Playing

The Flute and Flute Playing Theobold Boehm (Dover Publications 1964)

Theobold Boehm stands at the junction of three great roads: science, engineering, and music. He was a flautist of reknown, and a student of both the theory as well as the practice of all the branches of science and engineering which touch on music - in particular as it applies to his chosen instrument. In 1871 he published this book which examines his life's work on the flute, as he brought it from its primitive early form to the modern form now in use. Such a interdisciplinary book can be a challenge to read, but it reveals much about the instrument - and about Boehm: "The surest proof of the authenticity of my invention, I believe will be given by describing the motives which led me to its development, and by explaining the acoustical and mechanical principles of which I made application; for he alone is capable of carrying out a rational work, who is able to give a complete account of the why and wherefore of every detail from its conception to its completion." [p. xxv emphasis added] Even non-musicians will benefit from this.

SWQR - Burnham's Celestial Handbook

Burnham's Celestial Handbook by Robert Burnham, Jr. (Dover Publications 1978)

Apropos of the Galileo case, Fr. Jaki often repeats the famous quote that the Bible is not about how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven. But this "Celestial Handbook" is, however, about what the heavens look like - from earth. It is a gigantic, three volume work, full of detailed information on all 88 constellations, and including many wonderful pictures, maps, and interesting essays on a number of topics. Thanks to my father, astronomy was the first science I explored, and one of the most important lines I have ever read is in Burnham's excellent introduction: "Considered as a collector of rare and precious things, the amateur astronomer has a great advantage over amateurs in all other fields, who must content themselves with second and third rate specimens. ... [he] has access at all times to the original objects of his study; the masterworks of the heavens belong to him as much as to the great observatories of the world." [p. 5, emphasis added] It is a useful reference which is also very interesting to read.

Light From the Rosary (Part 5)

Light From the Rosary (Part 5)

Light From the Rosary (Part 1)
Light From the Rosary (Part 2)
Light From the Rosary (Part 3)
Light From the Rosary (Part 4)
Light From the Rosary "back cover"

The Father's Business
When Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the Temple (J5), He asked them "Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (Lk 2:49) But what was that work, which our Lord deferred for another 18 years? He explained (L3) it this way:

Then Jesus answered and said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you, the Son cannot do any thing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doth, these the Son also doth in like manner. For the Father loveth the Son and sheweth him all things which himself doth: and greater works than these will he shew him, that you may wonder. For as the Father raiseth up the dead and giveth life: so the Son also giveth life to whom he will. (Jn 5:19-21)

(J5 L3)

Moses and Elijah Speak
"And behold two men were talking with him. And they were Moses and Elias, appearing in majesty (L4). And they spoke of his decease (S5) that he should accomplish in Jerusalem." (Lk 9:30-31)
(L4 S5)

The Sacrifice of the New Covenant
"This is My Body, which is given for you. ... This is the chalice, the new testament in My Blood, which shall be shed for you." (Lk 22:19-20)
(L5 S5)

You say I am a King
The Magi (J3) asked "Where is he that is born king of the Jews?" (Mt 2:2). The disciples were sent, as Jesus Himself was sent, "I must preach the kingdom of God: (L3) for therefore am I sent." (Lk 4:43) The Roman soldiers wove a "crown of thorns, (S3) put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. And bowing the knee before him, they mocked him, saying: Hail, King of the Jews." And on Pentecost (G3) the Spirit was sent as our Lord's first royal command from the throne: "But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go. For if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you: but if I go, I will send him to you." (Jn 16:7)
(J3 L3) (L3 S3) (S3 G3) (J3 S3) (J3 G3) (L3 G3)
(Yes, it takes six edges to link every one of these four nodes to each other.)

No greater born
John the Baptist is seen in two mysteries: the Visitation (J2) where he "leaped for joy" (Lk 1:44) and the Baptism at the Jordan (L1), where he baptises the One Who makes holy the waters of Baptism. We might also include L3, in particular our Lord's words about John's position and duties (see Mt 11:2-15, 14:1-12)
(J2 L1) (J2 L3) (L1 L3)

Two or Three Witnesses
Jesus explained to the disciples (L3) that "in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand." (Mt 18:16) It is good to point out that God Himself abides by this, for at the Resurrection(G1) (Lk 24:2) and also at the Ascension (G2) (Acts 1:10), He sent two angels to speak as witnesses. Pope St. Leo the Great pointed out [See the Second Reading in the Office of Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent. [Sermo 51, 3-4, 8: PL 54, 310-311, 313]] that in fulfilment of this rule, both Moses and Elijah, but also Peter, James, and John were present at the Transfiguration. This is also mentioned by St. John in his first letter (1 John 5:7-8): "And there are Three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one. And there are three that give testimony on earth: the spirit and the water and the blood. And these three are one."
(L3 G1) (L3 G2) (L3 L4)

Anticipation of the Resurrection
Jesus Himself hinted that the Transfiguration (L4) was in some fashion an anticipation of the Resurrection (G1) – even though the disciples did not understand the hint. (Mk 9:8-9)
(L4 G1)

I Have Come For Division
At the presentation in the Temple (J4), Simeon predicts that Jesus is "a sign which shall be contradicted." (Lk 2:34) And Jesus ratifies the prediction (L3): "Think ye, that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, no; but separation." (Lk 12:51)
(J4 L3)

Peter, James and John
These three might be called the "inner circle" of the Apostles: they are together at the Transfiguration (L4) and in Gethsemane (S1), and in other places such as the raising of the daughter of Jairus (L3) (Mk 5:37)
(L4 S1) (L3 S1)

Take up your cross
Just after Peter's confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus told His disciples (L3), "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Mt 16:24) And on Good Friday Jesus took up His own cross (S4). (Mt 27:31-33 and parallels)
(L3 S4)

Prediction of the scourging and spitting
Jesus predicted (L3) His death on the cross, but also specifically mentions scourging (S2) and mockery and spitting (S3) (Mt 20:19, Mk 10:34, Lk 18:32), thus the proclamation of the kingdom during His public life is coupled with the Passion.
(L3 S2) (L3 S3)

Good Wine
At Cana (L2), the chief steward remarked, "Thou hast kept the good wine until now." (Jn 2:10) The Good Wine of the New Covenant, which Jesus kept until the Last Supper (L5), then gave us to drink. (Mt 26:27)
(L2 L5)

The Inn at the End of the World
In connection with the Eucharist (L5) (which has always been seen as a foretaste of Heaven) we have already mentioned the words of the chief steward at Cana(L2): "Thou hast kept the good wine until now." (Jn 2:10) But this time let us connect them with the prediction of our Lord at the Last Supper: "And I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father." (Mt 26:29)
But when, exactly, is this to be?
We might have a clue from that the happy, strange and marvellous prediction that Chesterton made: "For you and me, and for all brave men, there is good wine poured in the inn at the end of the world." [G. K. Chesterton The Napoleon of Notting Hill, CW6:371] It is when the wine shall be served in the feast at the End of Time, as John reported: "Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb." (Rv 19:9) This may well be considered the Coronation Banquet (G5), as Psalm 44(45) suggests, which is to me the chief Chestertonian psalm.
(L2 G5)

All Ages Will Call Me Blessed
At the Visitation (J2), Mary prophesied that all generations would call her blessed (Lk 1:48). Even if no one can give a precise "time" of the Coronation (G5) of Mary (though Rv 12:1 provides a strong indication of it), it would have to be included in this prediction. What loyal subject could not speak of the star-crowned Queen as blessed?
(J2 G5)

(to be continued...)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"Holy Whapping" announces new translation of the Summa

*** WARNING ***

Do NOT - repeat do NOT - be drinking anything when you use this link!

The amazing students at The Shrine of the Holy Whapping have announced a new translation of the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas.

If you know anything about the Summa, you MUST read it.

If you don't, please go learn about it! You ought to know about the Summa in any case. But then come back and have a good laugh...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Canticle of Teleology

While I am waiting for my machine to do the little task I have set for it to do, I look over the list of places where I am inspired, or challenged or made to think or laugh or work... and I find something good.

It was a reference to an icon over in Studeo, but it was not the dull lifeless icons one sees out here in the e-cosmos. It was speaking of larger matters (but you will have to read it yourself!) But that was not the funny post. I went to see where the reference came from (us computer guys call this indirection!) and discovered another blogg. In reading through the postings I found this priceless statement of purpose, which certainly needs music, or a poem, or a glorious work of art - alas, none of which I am competent to do, so I will go back to my software now.

Oops. But I need to give you the link. Here is the good part:

In other news, Hubby likes to ask Wee Bear "So, ah, Wee Bear...what are your plans for today?" so Wee Bear can tell him all about the fun things he wants to do. Wee Bear picked up on this and now asks everyone else "What your pwans are today?" :-) The other day I asked him what his plans were for the day, and he said "Oh, save people with my monter twucks, and dig with my eckvator [excavator], save people...put out fires...'cause I have twucks. And that's what my pwans are today." :-)


"Save people with my monter twucks."

"Save people... put out fires... 'cause I have twucks."

Absolutely amazing. The Darwinists did not survive; the evolvers are all completely unrolled.

For he has a Plan: 'cause he has twucks.

The resulting song should be called the Canticle of Teleology. St. Paul only wrote about the Analogy of the Body (1Cor12:12) which might be called "Mystical Histology". This young man is living it.

For this young man has a Purpose... 'cause he has twucks.

Nunc dimittis, Domine...

These long postings

I know I have been making some very long postings recently. That is because I have been busy with work, and so don't have lots of time to write short things. How odd is that! (well actually I wrote this long article some time ago, and thought it was relevant to the month of October...)

But, as usual, Chesterton has an interesting point to be made about lengthy writing, and one ought to be reassured that his writing (as voluminous as it is) is very rarely lengthy! He is always light, even when he is dealing with serious topics - one might say especially when he is dealing with serious topics.

Anyway, here is the reference:

It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:326]

In case you did not know, Punch is (was) an English humor publication. A "leading article" was the main article on the front page, which might not necessarily be a "news" article, but more likely be the major editorial column of the paper.

Anyhow, once my "leading articles" are done, I hope I will have something funny for you one of these years!

Meanwhile, back to work...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Light From the Rosary (Part 4)

Light From the Rosary (Part 4)

Light From the Rosary (Part 1)
Light From the Rosary (Part 2)
Light From the Rosary (Part 3)
Light From the Rosary "back cover"

Chronology – the Primary Structure
Clearly there is a chronological relation tying all the twenty mysteries together in a chain. I use this word with emphasis, as John Paul II quotes Blessed Bartolo Longo as saying the Rosary is the "sweet chain which unites us to God." [Rosarium Virginis Mariae 43] This word "chain" is very curious, for in Latin it is catena, which gives rise to the word "catenary" – the mathematical shape in suspension bridges – and also "concatenation" – which, in a computer, is the action of chaining characters together to form words. This idea is important, as in the computer the characters are merely placed side by side, and this adjacency in itself forms their relation within the word or string. [This relation is so simple it is easy to overlook, and therefore hard to teach; strangely enough it is quite ancient, going back through Rome, Greece and even to the most ancient Semitic scripts.] In a similar way, in chemistry and molecular biology, simple chemicals called "monomers" can be chained together to form a polymer or macromolecule. In this case, however, the relation is a physical one as chemical bonds are formed between the adjacent monomers. In the case of the macromolecules called DNA, RNA, or proteins, the simple linear shape which names the various monomers in their order is called the primary structure of the compound. it is a strange source of delight to me that this adjacency is exactly the same as the letters in a word, or as in the characters within the computer!

So we can write out the chronological relation of the mysteries of the Rosary in the following manner:
(J1 J2) (J2 J3) (J3 J4) (J4 J5) (J5 L1) (L1 L2) (L2 L3) (L3 L4) (L4 L5) (L5 S1) (S1 S2) (S2 S3) (S3 S4) (S4 S5) (S5 G1) (G1 G2) (G2 G3) (G3 G4) (G4 G5)

Note that the appearance within parentheses of two mystery codes indicates that these two mysteries are "related" to each other in a particular way. In this "primary" case, the relation (a b) is simply "mystery a is followed by mystery b." In the following discussion, other relations will be indicated. The complete list of relations can be found at the end of this booklet, and the diagram is shown on the back cover. (I have given the link to the diagram elsewhere. The "primary structure" is the outer lines which link the twenty nodes in an arc from J1 counterclockwise to G5.)

The Secondary Structure of the Rosary

Now things will start to get interesting, as we begin to investigate the additional relations among the mysteries. These recall the associations between non-adjacent monomers in DNA or RNA or protein, and are called its secondary structure. The Rosary, with the addition of the Luminous Mysteries, has a large number of these associations. (You can follow along, with a colored marker if you like, and draw in edges between the nodes as we examine each linkage.)

The Dormition
A friend of mine, Dale Ahlquist, pointed out that L4 (the Transfiguration) has a strange harmony with G4 (the Assumption). His observation is something like this: "In L4 we see Moses and Elijah – Moses who died (Deut 34:5), and Elijah who was 'taken up' (4 Kings 2:11); in G4 we see Mary who was 'assumed' – whether she died or was taken up is unresolved, even in the proclamation of the dogma!"
(L4 G4)


Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation. [Magnificat Antiphon, Evening Prayer II of Epiphany]

In this antiphon from the Divine Office for the Epiphany, we see that the visit of the Magi (J3) is also linked with the Baptism in the Jordan (L1) as well as the Wedding at Cana (L2). Each has been seen, in the writing of theologicans and liturgists, as an "epiphany" or a revelation of Jesus the God-Man: the light of a star calls the pagans to acknowledge the new-born King; the dove and voice from heaven mark the One baptized as the Giver of Baptism; the water-become-wine reveals the supreme authority of divinity over creation held by a human being. But no less an authority than St. Thomas Aquinas also links the Epiphany where the star led the Magi with the epiphanic announcement of the angels to the shepherds at Christmas.[Summa Theologica III Q36 A3, A5]
(J3 L1) (J3 L2)

Full Authority
One of the very last statements of our Lord just before His Ascension (G2) is given in Matthew 28:18: "Full authority (or all power) is given to Me in heaven and on earth." But where was this authority given? In two places: (1) At the wedding at Cana (L2), Mary says "Do whatever He tells you." (Jn 2:5) which, though addressed to the waiters at the feast, are her own last recorded words and as such take on additional power. It is the authorization "on earth." (2) At the Transfiguration (L4), the voice from the cloud states "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him." (Mt 17:5) This is the authorization "in heaven." This bestowal was ratified – or, better, was revealed, in the Resurrection.
(G2 L2) (G2 L4)

Pneumatic Action
When Mary gave her consent at the Annunciation (J1), the Holy Spirit "came upon her" (Lk 1:35) and she conceived the Incarnate God Who was made a single living human cell in her womb. At the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan (L1), John the Baptist saw the Holy Spirit coming "in the form of a dove" (Jn 1:32) upon the human body of Jesus. At Pentecost (G3), the Holy Spirit came in the form of "tongues as of fire" (Acts 2:3-4) descending upon the Mystical Body of Christ in the Upper Room. So in three mysteries in particular we see the Holy Spirit at work:
(J1 L1) (J1 G3) (L1 G3)

I Am With You Always
The most comforting of all the words of Jesus are His very last words (G2) to His apostles: "Behold I am with you always." (Mt 28:20) But this was not to be some mere abstract or intangible presence. The Word "through Whom all things came to be" (Jn 1:3) said "I am the Bread of Life" (Jn 6:35); He also said "This is My Body" and commanded the repetition of His actions: "Do this in memory of Me." (Lk 22:19) So Jesus is with us always because of the Holy Eucharist (L5).
(L5 G2)

Beloved Son
Twice the voice from heaven is heard, saying the same thing: "This is My beloved Son" – at the Jordan (L1), and on the "high mountain" (L4). (See Mt 3:17 and Mt 17:5)
(L1 L4)

The Aqueduct of Rome
Chesterton liked to joke about his size (he was a very large man) and began his autobiography by mentioning that he was baptized opposite a large Waterworks Tower in Kensington, England, but, he added, "I indignantly deny that the church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian." [G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography, CW16:21] In speaking elsewhere on baptism, he said "I know only one scheme that has thus proved its solidity, bestriding lands and ages with its gigantic arches, and carrying everywhere the high river of baptism upon an aqueduct of Rome." [G. K. Chesterton, The Thing, CW3:156] That scheme began in the waters of the Jordan (L1) "with water made holy by the One baptized" [See the Preface for the Baptism of the Lord] and has been carried on by the Church at the express command (G2) of our Lord: "Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." (Mt 28:19)
(L1 G2)

Go Forth and Teach
In Luke 10:1-16 we see Jesus sending out the 72 disciples to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom (L3); later, just before His ascension (G2), He extends this order and endows it with the principle of self-propagation: "Going therefore, teach ye all nations ... Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Mt 28:19-20)
(L3 G2)

Sumit Unus Sumunt Mille
The great miracles (L3) of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mk 6:34-44 and Mk 8:1-9), demonstrated not only the authority of Jesus over creation but also His compassion and His concern for human needs. They were only a tiny hint of the greater Multiplication of Bread which Jesus explained in John 6 – in the institution of the Eucharist (L5), we see our Lord demonstrating His supreme authority over ontology as well as His tender compassion, given in His final orders to Peter: "Feed My lambs, feed My sheep." (Jn 21:15, 17)
(L3 L5)

Note added in proof: with that final reference to Jn. clearly I should also have added: (L3 G2) and (L5 G2). But then you will have to change the diagram yourself!

LogoV Sarx
In the famous prologue of the Gospel of St. John, we read that the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh (in Greek: ‘o LogoV sarx egeneto). This, the greatest event in history – or perhaps the start of a new history – happened at the Annunciation (J1), subsequent to Mary's "fiat." (Lk 1:38) Jesus explained (Jn 6) that eternal life depends upon eating His flesh, and drinking His blood – which was made possible at the Last Supper (L5). (Lk 22:19 and parallels)
(J1 L5)

Mary Helps
It is interesting to note some of the less well-known actions of our Lord; things which show His concern for even very little things – things like cooking food for the disciples (Jn 21:9-12). Mary also did things for others, and there are two notable instances: the first (J2) when she went to help Elizabeth, her pregnant relative (Lk 1:39-40, 56) and the second (L2) when she assisted at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1-11).
(J2 L2)

(to be continued...)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Welcome, young readers!

I have just learned from Studeo (what a great juxtaposition of terms!) - and learned with quite a burst of delight! - that there are people as YOUNG AS TWELVE who are reading this Blogg!!!

Welcome, welcome!

Perhaps I should apologise if I tend to use big words. I am rather big (not as big as GKC was), so I use words that I can get my fingers around. Which is why I played the bass fiddle and not the violin (my hand goes around a violin at least twice!)

But using big words is OK, because it will give you some nice easy exercise:

First. you get to flip through your dictionary to look up the words. (What! You don't have a dictionary? Quick! ask Mom or Dad to take you to the store! Don't use the INTERNET!!! I will tell you why later!) Get a good one that you can use for a while - you're going to need it. I have one (pause, reaches out left arm) right HERE and I use it even though I am big and am also a doctor.

Second. With a dictionary, you will get to do some reading of lots of words before you find the word you want, and once you read that word and its meaning and its etymology, maybe you will remember the new word. This is good, because there are lots of very nice words we have, and the poor word-farmers and number-miners and all the busy workers in the word-factories would be sad if we didn't keep using all their splendid products.

Just think of how if would be: Gerunds, Incorporated would have to pay to have tv commercials about "anaesthetizing" and "engorging" - you would see dumb-looking actors explaining the word, while an enthusiastic narrator explained the meaning...


Ahem! Well, in any case, if you find that you need more help (even with a dictionary!) then be sure to ask your parents about posting a question. Questions can be very helpful. Did you know that Socrates used questions in order to teach his students? And did you know that the very great book called Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas is just a very large collection of questions - with lots and lots of answers - and about half the answers are wrong answers? It's amazing. And did you know that the question mark "?" is probably derived from the Latin quaestio??? (This word means "a seeking or searching".) So be sure to ask, so that you can ask. Hee hee.

Now, I said I would tell you about why you need to have the kind of dictionary which you can hold - the kind that a friend of mine calls a "tactile book"!

It is because of something our Uncle Gilbert said, when he was talking about a much more elaborate form of dictionary called an encyclopedia... is the test of a good encyclopaedia that it does two rather different things at once. The man consulting it finds the thing he wants; he also finds how many thousand things there are that he does not want.
[GKC, The Common Man 240

So, welcome, young and old (who I hope are young at heart.) And if I use long words once in a while - words like "deoxyribonucleic acid" - remember that even some computer scientists know how to spell DNA. Hee hee hee.

Light From the Rosary (the "back cover")

Here is the "back cover" referred to in Part 3. You will need this diagram in our future discussions.

Light From the Rosary (Part 3)

Light From the Rosary (Part 3)

Light From the Rosary (Part 1)
Light From the Rosary (Part 2)

I neglected to indicate the abbreviation scheme I use in this paper. It is very simple: each the mysteries are indicated by a single letter (J, L, S, G) followed by a digit (1,2,3,4,5). So J1 is the Annunciation, L4 is the Transfiguration, etc.

The Johanno-Pauline Mysteries
The Pope himself calls the Rosary "the compendium of the Gospel" [Rosarium Virginis Mariae 1 and 18-19] – for all that its 15 traditional mysteries are limited to the joyful events of the first 12 years of our Lord, and the sorrowful and glorious events of the Sacred Triduum and subsequent 50 days culminating in Pentecost. (I am not sure what time span to assign to G4; I have already hinted that G5 may actually be yet to come.) But this span is a rather small fraction of the entire Gospel story – and thus, the Pope proposes five new mysteries which deal with the "public ministry" of our Lord. These complete the strictly chronological view by filling in the roughly 21 year gap between J5 and S1. [Chesterton has an interesting perspective on this gap: see The Everlasting Man CW2:321-322. Another view, arising from modern knowledge of developmental anatomy, has to do with the bone in the shoulder called the clavicle, which is not completely developed until about 30 – thus Jesus waited until He was "full-grown" to begin His public ministry.]

These Johanno-Pauline mysteries form a marvellous design which only can come about when a master artist exerts his talents to their utmost and draws upon all his knowledge at the supreme moment of inspiration. And, since this was the Pope writing, I have no doubt that this is the case. Indeed I have no inside knowledge of the work John Paul II went through to write his letter, but it is evident that these mysteries were selected with great care and what I will call true ingenuity – the selection has artistic beauty as well as engineering cleverness.
I mention "engineering" for a very good reason. One of the titles of the Pope, inherited (or taken as a trophy) from Ancient Rome is Pontifex Maximus – the "Greatest Bridge-Builder" – which was the title of the Roman high priest. Bridge building, a very special and important branch of engineering, has the remarkable honor of being considered a "work of mercy" during the Middle Ages, and was even mentioned by St. Thomas Aquinas as one of the reasons (along with building of a church) one might beg for money. [Summa Theologica II-II Q187 A5] Anyhow, it requires a great effort and very special knowledge to erect a bridge. It is also a great effort to maintain that bridge – as the Popes surely know! And if one were to modify or extend or strengthen a bridge, perhaps to accomodate greater traffic, and preserve its usefulness and safety – and even its artistic elegance – that also is a great effort, and requires truly deep awareness of the principles of design of that bridge.
The Pope, working undoubtedly by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has beautifully enlarged and strengthened the Rosary. And I say this honestly, though with perhaps a tongue-in-cheek view, not as an engineer who knows about bridges, but as a computer scientist who knows about graph theory, which is also about "connecting" things.
Graph theory is the branch of mathematics which examines collections of "things" which are said to have "relations" with each other. The "things" are called nodes or vertices, and the "relations" are called edges. In one simple form of notation, the nodes are given names (words or numbers or codes), and the edges are written simply by putting the names of the two nodes inside parentheses. Here is an example graph of the Holy Family:




(Joseph Mary)
(Mary Jesus)
(Jesus Joseph)

(I should note that there can be both directed and undirected graphs. The edges of a directed graph have a specified order of the names within each pair – in the drawing, the edge has an arrowhead pointing from one node to another. In an undirected graph, the order does not matter: (a b) and (b a) are the same, and either the edges in the drawing won't have any arrowheads, or else they always have both. It is simply the difference between city streets which can be one-way or two-way.)

One can make interesting little diagrams, reminiscent of the "connect-the-dots" pictures of youth. (See the back cover for an example!) Graph theory may sound very theoretical, but it is very important to such practical things [*] as mail and freight delivery, or electrical power lines, or the arrangement of the networks forming the INTERNET, or even biology problems like the structure of DNA or or protein molecules.

[*] A footnote from GKC:
A long time ago I pointed out, in these pages, the fallacy of crying out for a practical man. I noted, what should be obvious enough, that when a problem is really bad and basic, we should rather wail and pray and cry aloud for an unpractical man. The practical man only knows the machine in practice; just as many a man can drive a motor-car who could not mend it, still less design it. The more serious is the trouble, the more probable it is that some knowledge of scientific theory will be required; and though the theorist will be called unpractical, he will probably be also indispensable. What is generally meant by a business man is a man who knows the way in which our particular sort of modern business does generally work. It does not follow that he is imaginative enough to suggest something else when ours obviously does not work. And (unless I very much misread the signs of the modern transition) we are soon coming to a time when everybody will be looking for somebody who can suggest something else.
[G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News March 29, 1930 CW35:279-280]

Now I mention DNA and protein for a very important reason, as these things are the fundamental components of the living thing – yes, even the human body itself, as Chesterton points out:

The Body was no longer what it was when Plato and Porphyry and the old mystics had left it for dead. It had hung upon a gibbet. It had risen from a tomb. It was no longer possible for the soul to despise the senses, which had been the organs of something that was more than man. Plato might despise the flesh; but God had not despised it. [Compare with the verse in the Te Deum: Non horruisti virginis uterum – "You (God) did not despise the Virgin's womb."] The senses had truly become sanctified; as they are blessed one by one at a Catholic baptism. "Seeing is believing" was no longer the platitude of a mere idiot, or common individual, as in Plato's world; it was mixed up with real conditions of real belief. Those revolving mirrors that send messages to the brain of man, that light that breaks upon the brain, these had truly revealed to God himself the path to Bethany or the light on the high rock of Jerusalem. These ears that resound with common noises had reported also to the secret knowledge of God the noise of the crowd that strewed palms and the crowd that cried for Crucifixion. After the Incarnation had become the idea that is central in our civilisation, it was inevitable that there should be a return to materialism, in the sense of the serious value of matter and the making of the body. [G. K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas CW 2:49]

I have been reading Gray's Anatomy because the human body is so interesting and St. Paul had some very important things to say about it in connection with Christ (See e.g. 1Cor 12:12). In particular, he wrote to the Ephesians (4:16) about the body being "fitted and joined together" and each joint adding its strength. At the simplest and the deepest level, DNA and protein are merely long chains of simple molecules, tied or bonded together. Chains or "strings" made out of the four "bases" of DNA – four chemicals called nucleotides, symbolized by the four letters A, C, G, T – linked together by phospodiester bonds. (There are about 3 billion of these bases in the DNA for one human cell.) Similarly, each of the thousands of kinds of proteins start out as chains of the twenty amino acids, linked together by peptide bonds. The units of these chains or DNA or protein are called monomers (they are the nucleotides, or the amino acids) and the chains are polymers. The phosphodiester bonds between the DNA monomers (A, C, G, T) form the "backbone" of DNA, and the peptide bonds between the amino acids form the "backbone" of protein.
The particular order of the monomers along these backbones is called the primary structure by molecular biologists. Styrene and other plastics are also polymers, but they are simple repeats of the same monomer over and over. The order of the nucleotides or amino acids looks random, but are actually arranged according to a far more complex set of rules, for they "spell out" the working structures of life! The letters are no more random than they are in English words – in fact, you can think of our human DNA simply as the "spelling" of a word of three billion nucleotide letters. You need not be disturbed by the DNA alphabet of four letters: Morse code and computers use fewer!
This ordering like spelling occurs whenever words are being handled. In a computer, the letters are bytes, and the bytes of a word or string appear next to each other in memory. If, however, you are from an older technology and know about printing, you can think of the old "type" made of metal (yes, like Gutenberg) which slides into a form to produce a line of print. The order is imposed by one type (metal block) being next to another one, just as you see these letters next to each other on the page in front of you! Note that this relation, whether in the computer or in typesetting, is most transitory: but once printing occurs, the word (hitherto merely adjacent characters) takes on a new kind of being, having been "enfleshed" into print.
In the same way as letters are composed into words, this formation of a chain happens in living things: the duplication of the three billion characters of DNA, or in the translation of a portion of DNA into protein. (Note that the relevant excerpt of DNA is first transcribed (copied) into an intermediate form called mRNA or messenger RNA – how strange where the "angelic" function shows up!) Here is an analogy which may help: A master blueprint (DNA), or permanent memory, is kept in a safe place (the nucleus), and when work needs to be done, the necessary portion is duplicated into a working copy (messenger RNA); that working copy is rendered or built by the construction crew (ribosomes) into an actual structure (protein) out of raw materials (amino acids).
Also in the same way, the chronological sequence of the Rosary Mysteries might be said to be its "backbone" or primary structure. But there is more to be said about both things, for DNA and RNA and protein molecules can have various links within themselves which are called their secondary structure – and there are even higher orders of structure, when the molecules fold up, and are joined with other molecules! Likewise we will see that the various Mysteries might be seen to have "links" or cross-references to each other – and even to other prayers and liturgical acts.

(to be continued...)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Curt Jester Inflicts A "Neverending" Reprise

The "Curt Jester" - one of the funniest and most Chestertonian of the many nephews and nieces of our dear Aunt Frances and Uncle Gilbert - has mentioned this blogg and asked me to look up the fifth line of the 23rd post:

1. Go into your archives.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Post the fifth sentence (or closest to it).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blogg along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same thing.

My comment to him was that all this will prove is that King David has written the postings on all bloggs. (Also that I use "UDP", which is one-way, and so do not tag others. If you read this, you are free to try it, or not, as you like.)

But the connection to King David and the Psalms is strangely borne out by the result which I discovered, when I found that my 23rd posting was on June 8. The title is "Thanks!" referring to the gift of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story which I had just received - and the fifth sentence is:

I have read it many times, and am now reading it again.

Hence, let the choir respond:

"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His story is neverending..."

Uh, Psalm 23 verse 5? (No, not really!)

But there actually is a connection to Chesterton here too, and I will quote him at length because it is one of my favourite passages:

...the sanity of the world was restored and the soul of man offered salvation by something which did indeed satisfy the two warring tendencies of the past; which had never been satisfied in full and most certainly never satisfied together. It met the mythological search for romance by being a story and the philosophical search for truth by being a true story. That is why the ideal figure had to be a historical character, as nobody had ever felt Adonis or Pan to be a historical character. But that is also why the historical character had to be the ideal figure; and even fulfil many of the functions given to these other ideal figures; why he was at once the sacrifice and the feast, why he could be shown under the emblems of the growing vine or the rising sun. The more deeply we think of the matter the more we shall conclude that, if there be indeed a God, his creation could hardly have reached any other culmination than this granting of a real romance to the world.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:380]

I know I didn't quite adhere to the request, but then this way is so much more fun and inspiring... "I have read it many times, and am now reading it again."

Comment trickery

I have turned on that pesty "type the letters you see in the picture" feature because the increased infesting of the bloggs by bandwidth-wasters.

I apologise in advance for making it harder for you to respond to my postings, but then a blogg is not really a blogg at all unless one is able to respond. Otherwise it is just like any other boring unidirectional web page, regardless of how often it is updated. If I wanted that, I would simply watch the clouds... hee hee, I need windows to watch the clouds, you get it? hee hee hee.

ROTFL! and at my own posting!

I'll explain. It is one my MAJOR favorite GKC quotes. It is from The Poet and the Lunatics and Gabriel Gale says:

"I have often stared at windows."

Hee hee hee hee hee.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Light From the Rosary (Part 2)

Light From the Rosary (Part 1)

Light From the Rosary (Part 2)


Luminescence, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, is "the emission of light from certain substances when they are relatively cool." While it is well-known that hot things, like the sun or fire, give off light (this is called incandescence) there are very few natural things – like lightning-bugs or fireflies, certain fungi, the aurora borealis – which give off light when cool.
Some four hundred years ago, at the frontier between alchemy and chemistry, strange and sometimes crazy experiments were performed. Some say it was the greed for gold; more likely it was true scientific curiosity, supported by the solid foundation of a society-wide philosophy of rational creation. [See e.g. Science and Creation by S. L. Jaki. It was not until Christianity had permeated society that things like light itself could really be studied for itself; thus was accomplished the prophecy in the Psalms: "For with Thee is the fountain of life; and in Thy light we shall see light" (Ps 35:10)] Years of futile and dangerous struggle were consumed in the search for the "philosopher's stone" (the American translation, for some reason, is given as "sorcerer's stone" – I cannot imagine why!) – a substance or process which would convert lead or some other cheap metal into gold.
Once chemistry became orderly and called on physics for assistance, the truth of atomic structure revealed the elemental nature of gold, and even suggested a ridiculously expensive way of converting lead into gold. But on that long path to truth, there were also a number of other discoveries which have been useful to us, and far more importantly, these discoveries have shed light on the nature of things.
In Bologna of 1603 Vincenzo Cascariolo was looking for the philosopher's (or sorcerer's) stone. He took barite – a mineral also called "heavy spar," which is chemically barium sulfate – together with coal, ground it to powder and heated it. Then he let it cool. One must wonder why he tried this – what curiosity, or fortuitous mistake he was pursuing – or what he thought he would get.
But, probably that evening, he found that he had something unusual, and as the discoverer of this new wonder, he gave it a name. He called it lapis solaris – the sunstone – for this mixture glowed in the dark! Cascariolo found that it could "absorb" sunlight and could be "recharged" again and again – and still shine with a bluish glow at night.
As time went on, other substances were found to have this strange property. For a while it was called phosphorus – Greek for the "light carrier" – but that name was eventually restricted to the element phosphorus itself, which also glows in the dark.
The last four centuries have brought many advances to our understanding of luminescence. There are a variety of substances which glow when cool. Some depend on pressure and are called triboluminescence; some are a result of various chemical reactions, or chemiluminescence. Other materials emit light when another kind of light hits them: these are broadly termed fluorescent. This "other kind" of light may be invisible to human eyes: in the common "fluorescent tubes," the stimulating light is ultraviolet, and the emitted light is visible. There are things like radium which glow because they are radioactive. There are even substances which emit light when struck by electrons: these are used in television and computer screens, also known as "cathode ray tubes" or CRTs. But foremost in childish delight are those substances which can "absorb" light and slowly release it, such as the one Cascariolo discovered.

Luminous Rosaries
When I was growing up, my father had his religious articles store in the first floor of our house. My sister likes to tell the story of how one day a shipment of rosaries came in. These rosaries were luminescent, made in Italy, and were tied together in clusters with wire. My brothers and sisters would hold them up to absorb the light, and then go around in the dark stockrooms of the store, "exploring" with their glowing clusters of rosaries.
I still have one of these luminous rosaries, which I believe that I was given for a birthday long ago – and which I still use. So for me, from a very early age, the word "luminous" has always been closely associated with the word "rosary" – and not simply as an item of stock in a store, but as a prayer, as a component of my faith and my parents' faith.
Imagine my shock, then, back in October (of 2002) when late one evening I heard my father say that the Pope had "added mysteries" to the rosary. I hardly knew how to react, until I had heard more detail. Finally, it was clear: the Pope had proposed five additional mysteries, to join the five Joyful, five Sorrowful, and five Glorious mysteries, which have been said for some four hundred years.
Well, I did not want to just react like some media reporter. And so I thought and waited, until I got a copy of the papal document, and after I read it, I thought some more. There was a very good reason for there being fifteen mysteries – apart from the origin of the rosary as a derivative of the 150 Psalms (10 goes 15 times into 150) and the marvelous counting of the 153 fish in John 21:11 (Don't forget that there are three extra Hail Marys at the start of the Rosary!) and the triple division into Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious.
But there was never any doubt (for me anyway) of the possibility of there being other mysteries. There were other Gospel episodes not covered, other thoughts not well-linked or well-examined, thoughts which originate in the prayers of the Rosary, or in the 15 traditional mysteries – and these deserve to be dealt with. So from a strictly intellectual perspective, a mathematician would say that the 15 mysteries do not close the set of all the mysteries of the Gospel. Moreover, the mere existence of the Coronation of Mary (G5) reveals that there is "more" to the question – as the Coronation is something which a mystic might say is still in some sense in the future – since it may be held that Our Lord would not deprive all His faithful brothers and sisters of the joy of seeing their own Mother crowned – and this can only be accomplished at the end of time! But, while this is mere speculation, it is not speculation to state that the Pope has the authority to propose new mysteries. And this is what happened on October 16, 2002 – not only were there indeed new mysteries, but they were called the Luminous mysteries!

Well, on reflection, this is what Tolkien might have called a Eucatastrophe with a capital E: a remarkable (preferably unexepected) event affecting multitudes, but a singularly good and happy event. [If you are not familiar with this term, I will deal with it in a separate discussion.] It certainly has affected me – and I have taxed my "imaginator" to come up with a hint of a parallel. Here are two.
Imagine the reaction of the cooking world if a botanist discovered in some hidden Italian valley the last remaining growth of the herb known to the ancient Romans as laser – a flavor no one has tasted for almost 1500 years! Or, perhaps, in the depth of some palimpsest, some librarian uncovered the true formula for garum. What excitement for cooks to try new recipes, and to elucidate the cookbook of Apicius! What a freedom from the plainness of tacos and pizza and sushi and hamburgers! Such a great word, too: LASER – what a bonus for the fast-food chains, advertising their new "laser-packed" french fries! (Maybe they might call them Roman fries?) Remember, it is a herb used as a flavor, not a food-in-itself. And not only the cooks and the gastronomes, but the historians would also rejoice, as they found new insight into the long-forgotten daily life of the Romans!
Or, imagine the shock to physicists and artists alike (to say nothing of computer graphics people) if someone announced the discovery of the FOURTH PRIMARY COLOR! A color which was not red, not yellow, not blue, and yet somehow harmonized with each of them. What thrills to try landscapes, portraits, still lifes, with it! What excitement would come to so many fields of study as the physicists brought all their spectroscopes, seeking its exact wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum; the ophthalmologists trying to understand the way the human retina handles it; the photographers attempting various emulsions, desperately trying to render it precisely. And the poor high-tech people revising hardware and software, scrambling to properly adapt their machinery to use it.
This last analogy, though imaginary, is based on an actual revolution in human history. It began a century after Cascariolo made his lapis solaris, when in 1704 Diesbach made a new blue pigment from two non-blue chemicals.[Painting Materials – A Short Encyclopedia by Rutherford J. Gettens and George L. Stout] This pigment is still available – it is called Prussian Blue. Continuing even until the present, chemistry has made major advances, such as the discovery of elements like chromium (named from the Greek word for "color") with its variety of colored compounds, or the vast array of new organic pigments, or the amazing breakthrough of the acrylic medium for paint – and these advances in the artistic world alone have been almost as eucatastrophic as would be the announcement of a new primary color.
But physics and art join in declaring that the set of colors is "closed" – there are only those colors which appear in the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum – though the computer people and elementary art teachers say there are just three, the combinations are in the tens of thousands – and you can see a few dozen of them in any art store. It is wild imagination to say there is a fourth primary color.
But it is not wild to say there is a fourth set of mysteries. Indeed, it ought to have the same effect on the world. Both the common man and the specialist can rejoice: for the "man in the street," or maybe I should say "man on his knees," there is a newness to the well-known three sets of mysteries – a newness brought by these five new mysteries. There is a new flavor, and a new delight – for unlike the lost laser flavor, the Luminous mysteries are food-in-themselves and can stand alone, though, as a good cook knows, they cannot help but "season" the others, and be "seasoned" by them. And the specialists too can rejoice – the theologians and the philosophers – they can begin writing whole new shelves of books in exploration of the larger structure, the stronger connectedness, the deeper relevance, the practical and theoretical and mystical ramifications of these mysteries, both as they stand alone and in relation to the others.
Some of this has already begun. I read somewhere that each of the Seven Sacraments are included (by some means or other) in the Luminous Mysteries.[Baptism, Matrimony, Holy Orders and the Holy Eucharist are obvious – but that is someone else's essay, not mine!] I would like to take a different approach. My approach, alas, will have all the flavors of engineering and all the hues of science and mathematics: since I have not had the time to try to be poetic or rigorous, I will do what I can.

To be continued...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Light From the Rosary (Part 1)

Light from the Rosary: Chestertonian Observations In the Luminous Year
John Paul II and the Philosopher's Stone

One of the amazing talents which Gilbert Keith Chesterton demonstrated throughout his writing was the ability to see ordinary things in a different way:

"The object of my school is to show how many extraordinary things even a lazy and ordinary man may see if he can spur himself to the single activity of seeing." [G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles, 6]

It is a skill which is most important for a scientist; indeed, for any of us poor blind ones who would approach Jesus to ask "Lord, that I may see." (Mk 10:51) It is very interesting that in this year of the Lord 2003 we now have something new to see – something which ought to be looked at with a very Chestertonian and scientific and Catholic view. I refer to the new Luminous Mysteries proposed by Pope John Paul II.

Jesus, the Light of the World
In John 8:12 we read that Jesus said "I am the light of the world." But, if Jesus is "light" does that mean He has a wavelength and travels at some 186,000 miles per second? Not quite – but He invented light itself, and so knowing about the light of physics should help us know Him too.
Another thing: does this light of the "world" pertain only to this planet Earth? Does that mean if we ever colonize the Moon and Mars and other places, we would need to have more light there – or perhaps an additional Savior? No, that is just a flaw arising from translation: the Greek word would be better left untranslated as "cosmos" which means the entire ordered creation.
Jesus of course explained a little of this, as He said "He that followeth Me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (Jn 8:12; cf. Ps 35:10) But now we have an even harder mixed metaphor: if He is not talking about physics when He mentions "light", is He talking about biology when He mentions "life"? Again, not quite – but He invented life itself, with its cells and DNA and proteins.

Now, this essay is about the new Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary but John Paul II also calls them the "Mysteries of Light" – and light deserves some examination in order that we can properly understand it. It is simply that, as Chesterton pointed out in a marvellous context, "I revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting something done."

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good – " At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark. [G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, CW1:46]

Now, brothers, while we have the light, (See Jn 12:35) let us ponder the value and the philosophy of light.

The height of scientific poetry is the report in Genesis that God created light first. For light in its definition sets forth the great axes, or measuring rods, upon which the universe is constructed.
We may never know what light really is, nor time, nor space, but since light has a speed (called "c" in physics, and roughly 186,000 miles per second – a speed which Einstein argued was universally absolute and fixed) and a speed is a measure of distance travelled per unit of time – then for light to be, both space (the domain of distance) and time must also exist. In Einstein's famous equation (E = mc^2), this speed provides the relation between energy (E) and mass (m).
Light is a form of energy, and for visible light, the relative amount of energy can be detected by the human eye – it is called "color." Blue has a higher energy than green, which is higher than red.
Light has a strange dual nature; sometimes it seems to be a "wave" – because physicists measure its frequency or wavelength; sometimes it seems to be a "particle" – because physicists speak of the quantum of light called a "photon" which can move as if it were something with a body – like a little ball.
Light carries information – and can carry it across incredibly vast distances. The nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is about 4.3 light years away, or 25 trillion miles. One of the nearer galaxies, the famous Andromeda Nebula, is about 2.2 million light years away, or only 13,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles. And this vast collection of billions of stars can be seen with the naked eye! To the scientist, far more information can be acquired, for a device as simple as a triangle of glass (a prism) can "split up" the colors of light and reveal amazing characteristics about its origin. But one need not plunge into such complexities or astronomical distances: what you are reading at this very moment is information carried by light across only a dozen or so inches from the printed page to your eyes!

The Photon

According to the quantum theory of radiation, the photon is the elementary quantity, or quantum, of radiant energy. It is regarded as a discrete quantity having a momentum equal to hn/c, where h is Planck's constant, n is the frequency of the radiation, and c is the speed of light in a vacuum. The photon is never at rest, has no electric charge and no magnetic moment, but does have a spin moment. The energy of a photon (the unit quantum of energy) is equal to hn. Photons are generated in collisions between nuclei or electrons and in any other process in which an electrically charged particle changes its momentum. Conversely photons can be absorbed (i.e. annihilated) by any charged particle. [CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics F-108,109]

Light, considered as its quantum the photon, might be called the "smallest" thing and thus could be considered the most humble. Yet light is also the "fastest" thing, and thus might be considered the closest approach of the material world to infinity. The speed of light is a speed limit – a line which is drawn past which nothing can go. [G. K. Chesterton: "Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere." Illustrated London News May 5, 1928 CW 34:518]
The photon carries momentum, and can be absorbed. This suggests that it can have an effect on things which are not themselves photons. Although it can be absorbed by a charged particle (which thus changes that particle's momentum), the photon never decays unlike many other subatomic particles. Thus its stability also might suggest infinity.
A photon is never at rest. This might be a poetical expression straight out of metaphysics, for the photon in motion represents God Who is always in act (there is no potency in God).
If the photon, the unit of light, somehow provides a poetic suggestion of God, then some more exploration will illuminate those words in the Nicaean Creed about "God from God, light from light." Indeed, there really is something in the physical world which can truly be called "light from light." It is called luminescence.

to be continued...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Chestertonian and the Rosary (or Beads)

Caution! Please do not drink beverages while reading the GKC quote below.

It is quite a delight to read how Joe McDonough is exploring the Rosary with Chesterton, and proposing new "Humorous Mysteries".

Of course all Chestertonians know that "It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it." [ILN June 9, 1906 CW27:206] What is so wonderful about this, of course, is Joe's quotes from GKC in support of his discussion.

Now, speaking of humor, Chesterton, and the Rosary, brings up this excellent little quipy-quip he quotes from someone else. It is this kind of writing which so clearly shows how awesome GKC's blog would have been... It's so nice to recall that he had a Blogg whom he spent so much time with, hee hee hee hee... (whew!) OK, now, to the quote.

At the moment I only wish to wallow in sheer shameless enjoyment of the way in which the Psychic News attacks the Catholic Church and attacks me. I admit that this is mere self-indulgence on my part. I know that numbers of judicious friends will tell me that I ought not to take any notice of such an article. But nothing that can be called human is uninteresting, and this involves, to begin with, one puzzle which always interests me very much. And that is why people who fly into a rage with the Catholic Church always use an extraordinary diction, or verbal style, in which all sorts of incommensurate things are jumbled up together, so that the very order of the words is a joke. "Spiritualism depends only on the evidence which people receive in their own homes. It [409] does not require priests. Neither do enquirers have to buy rosaries or beads, or crucifixes, or pay for candles or masses." It must be a dreadful moment of indecision for the enquirers, when they have to make up their minds whether they will buy rosaries or beads. But the last term is the best; and here the order of words is especially significant. Apparently the first object of a Catholic is to get a candle. If once he can get hold of a candle, and walk about everywhere clasping his candle, he is all right. But if he cannot get a candle, he has the alternative of purchasing a mass; an instrument that is a sort of substitute for a candle.
GKC, The Well and the Shallows CW3:408-409

Indeed, Mr. C, as we say nowadays, ROTFL... rosaries or beads...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

SWQR - Admiral of Ocean Sea

Admiral of Ocean Sea by Samuel Eliot Morison

This book contains a carefully researched story of the Greatest Voyage of Discovery: the 1492 western journey of Christopher Columbus. I have the hard cover "large" edition as well as a paperback, which is a condensed form, and I have heard there is a two-volume edition as well. Morison is a real mariner and actually sailed the route of Columbus. I write this away from my copies of this excellent book, so I cannot quote precisely - but he makes the point that most other Columbus books appear to have been written at a desk in the author's study - or they would not make such egregious mistakes. Morison's is splendid, and full of excitement, of detail, and of honesty which is critical in the right places, but also bountiful with praise in places where the modern reader will not expect. Also he is respectful of the deep faith of Columbus. And perhaps Morison had Chestertonian grasp of the structure of The Everlasting Man as he wrote: "Not since the birth of Christ has there been a night so full of meaning for the human race." Amen. Tierra! Tierra!

The Great Discovery

The Great Discovery

"Not since the birth of Christ has there been a night so full of meaning for the human race."
-- Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of Ocean Sea

It was a night of destiny
When ninety men crossed Ocean Sea -

A passage west they hoped detection
To spread God's word and protection
Of her who held Christ in her hand,
Unfailing help on sea or land;

To Mary on their journey long
They daily called in sunset song
To ask her Son to help them find
The East which they had left behind.

Not this, but greater was God's plan:
Stop killings at Tenochtitlan;
Freedom based on man's creation
Keystone of a great new nation -
Truth's guardian, and liberty,
Home of the brave, land of the free.

But to them none of this was clear
That night as still they westward steer,
Full-sailed, the wind with awesome speed
Fulfilled poor mankind's greatest deed -

A bridge for those so long asunder,
Revealing two new worlds of wonder.

At two AM the lookout high
The moonlit cliffs afar did spy
He looked again - there was no doubt -
"Tierra! Tierra!" came the shout!

Captain "Christ-bearer, the dove"
(Whose trust was sure in God above)
Thus found his vindication done.
They sailed near, waiting for the sun.

Then, landing, thanked with their first breath
The King known mostly by His death
In pain upon the cross of wood,
(The news of which we still call good.)

This story is not over yet,
Though some doubt or choose to forget
The Man who died to set all free
And how His word crossed Ocean Sea.

2:00 - 3:00 AM, October 12, 1992

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Purkinje Tree

This drawing was scanned from Histology by Arthur Worth Ham, J. B. Lippicott Co. 1957, page 854. It shows the "fundus" of the right eye as seen through the ophthalmoscope. Those branching lines are the blood vessels of the retina.

When the ophthalmologist examines your eyes, as that exceedingly bright light shines in, sometimes you will glimpse for a moment a complex branching network which looks very much like the inside of a tree (without leaves). One of the names for this image is the "Purkinje tree" named for the Bohemian physiologist Jan Evangelista Purkyně (or Purkinje) (1787-1869).

I asked about this once, and the ophthalmologist told me we always see that tree, but our brain automatially filters out the image, so we are normally never conscious of it. Only when the lighting within the eye is "different" will it become visible (as during certain eye examinations).

As a Chestertonian, I found this very unsettling, thinking of Eden's Forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil... somehow the image is still with us, but our brains - or perhaps our eyes - have changed...

Most probably we are in Eden still. It is only our eyes that have changed.
-- G. K. Chesterton The Defendant, page 3

Alas.... only once in a great while, then, when we have a light of exceeding brightness, can we see things are they really are...

Experienced Armies

[A note from Dr. Thursday: This story appears today, the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, by special permission from the Editor-in-Chief of Something Good To Read. ]

Experienced Armies

"Et ideo cum Angelis et Archangelis, cum Thronis et Dominationibus cumque omni militia caelestis exercitus hymnum gloriae tuae canimus, sine fine dicentes..."
"And therefore, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominations and with all the experienced armies of heaven, the hymn of Your glory we sing, without end saying..."
- Preface of the Sacred Heart
"For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers; and I say to this, Go, and he goeth, and to another Come, and he cometh, and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it."
Matthew 8:9

It was while I was looking up two words in my Latin dictionary: The first was militia: "militi-a, -ae: (feminine) army, war; the military; military discipline." The second was exercitus: "exercit-us, -a, -um: (adjective, past participle of excerceo; to keep in training, exercise) disciplined; experienced." There was another word, differing from this one only by having a long i rather than a short one, which means army, infantry, swarm, flock, or multitude. I was not sure about whether these two words ought to be "military-disciplined multitude" or "experienced army." I couldn't reach any of our Latin staff, and I wasn't even sure that I had any of the rest of it right, either. So I went over to the Basilica to see if any of the priests were around.
I went in to make a visit to our Lord. It was relatively dark, as it usually is during the day, but I thought I saw a little priest walking through the sanctuary. So I walked up the aisle, and went into the alcove which leads to the sacristy, thinking I would be able to find him without much trouble.
I was mistaken. I had never been "off-stage" in church, and I had no idea that there were so many rooms back there. I opened door after door; some were closets, some were staircases, one led to a tiny room with a window looking out on the sanctuary. After walking through yet another hallway, far longer than I had any expectation of finding, into yet another room cluttered with candlesticks and tables and closets and wardrobes, I heard footsteps.
I stood still and listened, then I said, "Father, do you have a moment?"
One of the doors opened, and in came a very large man, wide and muscular. He was wearing a variety of pads, somewhat like a cross between a welder and the goalie on a hockey team. He was carrying a silver cylinder which he set gently down on a table, and started to remove his equipment. He glanced over at me and smiled.
"Excuse me, Father," I began, "I have a ques..."
Another door opened, and another very large man came in. He was as thin and wiry as the other was wide. He wore a white coat, like a dentist, a cotton face mask, and rubber gloves. The pockets of his lab coat were jammed full of tools. He was carrying a long black case, the kind that musical instruments are carried in. He smiled at me, and looked at the other man.
"I see you've blocked another attack, '7098."
The man with the pads paused and looked at him. "Yes; our squad leader had assigned me with three others; they're all from Sector M."
He nodded. "Sector M? Yes, they've been helping a lot recently."
The thin man had taken off his gloves, and was about to hang his robe up in a cabinet when he stopped and began to take all the tools out of the pockets. He opened a drawer and placed them in, one at a time.
The man with the pads looked at him. "Just what are all those for, anyway?"
"Oh, different things. Some of them I don't know myself, until I get directions from '84113 - like this," He picked up the black instrument case, and put it on a shelf. "But I have to carry them all with me; it's my assignment."
"Yeah, that's how it is with me, too."
A door opened, and another large man came in. He was dripping wet. As he took off his face mask, the thin one threw him a towel.
"Aquatics today, '60202?" he asked.
"Love that water," gurgled the other. "At least I made it early today."
I stood in a corner, wondering what all this was, and where all these people were coming from. It was obvious that they weren't priests, but who were they? And what they were doing here, in the recesses of the basilica? Somehow I could not bring myself to interrupt them. They did not seem curious about me, and though each had smiled at me, each went about his business of disassembling his equipment and putting it into a cabinet.
More and more men came into the room. Two unwrapped their turbans while sand dusted down from their clothes. Others were dripping wet, one with a long black case like the thin one's. Three others were covered with pads like the first's. Another four with lab coats - one was carrying what looked like a large hammer trailing cables. I had lost count of the people, but the room did not seem crowded.
The first one to enter had finished removing his equipment, and had begun putting on a different costume. It was a kind of robe, but the upper part was more like a soldier's uniform, with braids and a series of badges and emblems. It was a brilliant red, and the braids were gold. Not just yellowish; I could see the gleam from the ceiling lights as he moved. The second one's costume was similar, though it was a vivid green, I could see that a number of the emblems on it were the same as the other's. He helped the first one adjust the collar.
While I watched, a few dozen more men had entered, each wearing one or another kind of work clothes or camouflage or protective equipment, and carrying all kinds of different things. Each time I looked, I felt as if I had seen that thing before, and what it could be used for, but I could not bring myself to say what any of the things actually were. That silver cylinder - I had seen that somewhere. I even knew you put it on your shoulder when you used it, and you moved both hands at once... And that long black case - the thing inside could only be used with three others of the same kind... Tools, equipment, instruments, gadgets, toys... What were they? It was the oddest feeling: I felt that I knew what all that equipment was for, but I could not possibly say what any of it was.
Meanwhile more and more had entered, and the room was finally beginning to feel a little crowded. Several of the men had completed their change of clothes, and the variety of colors and badges was balanced by the precision of the fit, the excellence of the tailoring, and the harmony of the decorative braiding. Suddenly I heard a voice, as if over a loudspeaker:
"The Preface has begun. The Preface has begun. Squads assume 'ready' status for approach of the Supreme Commander."
The tempo of the preparations increased. Another dozen or three rushed in, carefully and calmly unravelling their work dress, and putting on their dress uniforms. Those who had completed their dress were assisting the others. Finally it began to dawn on me that these men, whoever they were, were amazingly experienced at doing, er, whatever it was they were doing. There must have been over a hundred of them in that room, and no one got in the way of anyone else. No one was standing around doing nothing, and no one struggled along without a hand of assistance.
Then another announcement came:
"Et ideo detected. Et ideo detected. Squad leaders begin formation."
The dozens of men were all prepared: a dazzling array of gold-braided robes of a variety of colors. For a moment I thought that I saw something else in the braids as they started to line up in marching order, as if the pieces of a puzzle had been lined up, only to form a larger piece for a bigger puzzle.
Then a door opened. A different door. And standing there was the largest man in the room. He wore a robe similar to all the others, except he had a golden sash across his breast. In his hand he had something - I think it was gold - it had all kinds of keys or buttons on it. Again I knew what it was for, but not what it was.
Now that the men had lined up in rows, there was a little empty space in my corner. I moved out into the room. The man with the gold sash saw me for the first time, and smiled, then glanced at his watch. He looked at me and said, "Just enough time to take you to the viewing area."
He lifted the golden thing to his shoulder, and marched to the front of the line. I followed him, and the eyes of all the others watched me. He led me through an open door, and behind us I heard the precision cadence of hundreds of feet. We went along the hallway to the room where I had seen the little window looking into the sanctuary. He pointed, and smiled again. I went in, and I saw the squad marching down the hallway. Then I looked out the window, and saw that the little priest I had glimpsed earlier was saying Mass. He was using the Preface of the Sacred Heart, and as I looked out I heard him completing it and the organ intone the Sanctus, when suddenly I saw the ARMY, standing in battle formation around the altar. They were all dressed similarly, with gold braids, and emblems, and a variety of colored robes; here and there were squads all in blue. I thought I saw the hundred or so who I had seen earlier. A bell rung, and on the downbeat of the organ, the entire ARMY opened their mouths and began to sing. I knew they were singing, but it was too loud to hear. Then in a few moments, they all bowed and I heard another announcement: "The Supreme Commander obeys! Behold, the Supreme Commander Himself obeys! Present arms!"
The ARMY knelt, presented arms, and bowed. I had never felt so awed. The bell rung again, and then I saw...
* * *
"Wake up, my friend. Why are you sleeping here? The floor is not comfortable. Come, you may rest in our guest room."
A little priest was shaking me. I was on the floor in a dark little room - the same little room with the window looking out on the sanctuary and the same little priest who had been saying Mass.
"Thanks, Father, I'm OK." I got up from the floor. "Father, did you just say Mass?"
"No; I am going to say it shortly."
I looked at him, and dusted off my pants. "Whose feast day is it?"
"I'm going to say the votive Mass of the Sacred Heart."
I stood in silence for a moment, looking at him. "Father, did you see anyone around here earlier?"
He shrugged. "No, though I thought perhaps I heard someone moving around. When I opened the door, I saw you here - asleep on the floor."
I rubbed my eyes. The room seemed dark and empty. "After Mass, do you have some time?"
"Certainly." He walked out into the hall, then bent down and picked something off the floor.
"Oh, oh. This must have come off someone's vestment."
It was a piece of gold braid.

* * *

Dominus Deus Sabaoth...

Lord God of Armies...