Sunday, April 30, 2006

Math - fun and dangerous

Warning: if you are going to attempt any of the mathematical games in this posting, the Mathematical Safety and Health Administration (that's MSHA, a division of OSHA) insists that you please use protective gear. Thank you.
Some time ago I wrote about the famous line (from a talking doll?) that "Math is hard" and the actual answer from St. Thomas Aquinas. Of course from him we have learned that math is easy as a subject, though perhaps at certain times for some of us, it can pose a challenge.

The interesting thing about math is that people have found math to be tedious even when they found it easy... and so people have been inventing tricks of one kind or another for ages, trying to get out of the work of doing the "chores" of mathematics. Fancy tools, like logarithms (which magically change multiplication into addition) or calculators (which magically change addition into button-pushing) and many other devices have been invented. (Did you know you can do addition with a calculator made from two strips of paper? No? I'll tell you how another day.)

Each tool to help us get our math jobs done, does have (as Mary Poppins explained) an "element of fun" but she did not explain that with magic there comes a degree of danger as well.

The single biggest danger we find in any particular tool is its finite or limited nature. A few years back everyone was scared because the year was going to end in all nines, and there was a suspicion that the famous Eetook Comet was going to crash into the earth. I wonder whether forty years from now, the media will attempt a similar fad, because in the computer, the year 2047 looks like this: 111 1111 1111. (Only zeros and ones in computers, remember?) which is quite a bit (hee hee) more scary than 1999, which looks like this: 111 1100 1111.

Anyway, the problem is that calculators and computers are limited in the representation of numbers. Usually humans are also limited, which may be some comfort to children because the teachers won't assign addition problems which will take a whole weekend to finish. (The reason? The teacher would have to use up a weekend to check it!)

It's funny because the typical human would find it very easy to add one to 99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 but there are not many calculators which can do that! Makes you feel a little superior to those chunks of silicon, ah, yes.

Well, here is something fun, which isn't quite the same kind of puzzle as my friend Ron at A Wing and a Prayer proposed. You might like to try it by hand, just because these particular numbers are so nice and special. But fortunately, this is not a dangerous one for the typical calculator, and as long as you have your goggles on, you can go ahead and try it.

Let's look at this very interesting six-digit number:
It's nice, isn't it? It has a very strange property, which makes it easy to check when you multiply it by 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6. But I said we were going to do addition, not multiplication, so let's just add it to itself:

142857 + 142857 = 285714

Doesn't that number look familiar? Oh, yes! Just take the first two digits off the front and put them on the back. Wow. (remember 285714 is TWO TIMES 142857.)

Well, let's add in another:

285714 + 142857 = 428571

Oh, what happened that time? The four came around to the front, didn't it? Cool. (Remember 428571 is THREE TIMES 142857.)

So we'll do it again:

428571 + 142857 = 571428

OK, so we took the first three and moved them to the end. (Remember 571428 is FOUR TIMES 142857.)

And again:

571428 + 142857 = 714285

That time the seven moved to the front. (Remember 714285 is FIVE TIMES 142857.)

One more time:

714285 + 142857 = 857142

And now the 85 moved to the front. (Remember 857142 is SIX TIMES 142857.)

Well - what is going to happen next? This will be SEVEN times our starting number.... Oh, let's see:

857142 + 142857 = 999999

Oh dear, all those nines! Did we overflow? Is that the sign of the comet crashing into Earth? No, we did it by hand, so it must be right.

Those of us who have played with repeating decimals may recognize what is happening here - and maybe even contrive some other tricks like this. But as you can see, this number is fun, even if you do not know about the fraction called one seventh.

Actually fractions are one of the biggest dangers on calculators and computers. For one thing, because we must not divide by zero. For another, because the "representation" of numbers in a computer or calculator are almost always approximations unless they are "whole numbers" or integers. (The Latin word integer means "whole"!) Here is a test you can use to see how your machine behaves. Be sure to have your goggles and hard hat on when trying this.

1. Start with 1.
2. Divide by 3.
3. Multiply by 3.
4. Subtract 1.
5. Check: Do you have zero?

Note: If you don't, do not throw your calculator away! Do not call tech support! This is normal, and correct behavior, though it's not the mathematical answer. (Actually, if you get zero, it's probably broken, but you may still have some useful life left in it, so I would not advise getting rid of it just yet.)

There are other dangers - for example, what's the real cube root of negative one? - and perhaps I will explain them in the future, but for now you will just have to take the risks.

Please note: if you were reading this posting and hoped to find an explanation of Ron's puzzle, I will do that next time. Meanwhile, if you are really interested, be sure to look over my discussion on the question "What is purple and commutes?" which is at the end of this posting.

From "On Any Subject But the Queen"

A friend of mine is an odd case -
At baseball the infield's his place,
With his musical bent
To the concert he went
Where the shortstop can play second bass.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

More on the topic of humour

After some negotiation, I was able to receive permission to re-publish this essay, which will aid in our discussion of the Chicken/Road matter. I thought there was something in one of these about the three monkeys, but perhaps I was mistaken. This is not the easiest kind of material to deal with, you know: there are hardly any of the nice equations and other tech things we all know and love.

But there is some Latin, so perhaps that compensates a little.

But I am grateful that I have been permitted to publish these articles, difficult though they may be to the non-scholar. (Incidentally, I asked about the Blücher articles; I learned that they are in German, and not yet available neither in electronic form nor in English.)

Incidentally, have I ever mentioned how happy I am that you tolerate my postings on Chesterton, Catholicism, Computers, and all kinds of other things? Well, I am grateful. Even though recently I have been posting old stuff, and stuff by others, just to keep things moving along while I am busy. Of course, if you don't like them you can just click over to another blogg. But then you may miss a really great poem. Oh - maybe you'd rather not read the poems, either? Then one of these days I'll have to post some equations, just to even things out - then you'll miss some really great equations.

It's your decision.

-- Dr. Thursday
Humor and its basis in reason
by Fr. A. Thomas, O.P.

Last week we examined the famous aphorism of the avian transiting a human vehicular construction. The mere fact that there appears in this aphorism the mention of one of the common municipal or state-effected constructs - I refer to a "road" - suggests a correlative study of an aphorism which is less well-known, but which bears a similar burden in our overall thesis. This aphorism is relatively recent in development, as it depends on both the modern technical advances in human flight as well as the coeval advance in urban hydraulics, or water purification techniques. It takes advantage of the principle of the double dictionary entry by a marvellous twist, which produces a faulty (and therefore humorous) reference to one word by using a word which is similar to it. This seems to work best on longer words, which of course are just those which typically lack homonym or other duplicative references, and would otherwise be deprived of their opportunity to call forth laughter - that rarest of human skills.

Let us, then, examine this aphorism as it has been recorded by Blücher (Archaeology of Aphorism, Vol. 62):
Why do airline pilots avoid municipal buildings?
Because they heard that the city purifies its water by forcing it through an aviator.
It will be rather apparent to the reader that this aphorism takes a completely different approach from that considered last week. It is hard to understand why Blücher considers this aphorism to be a variant on the transiting avian, but this could be merely an error in translation. There have been cases where heresies and wars have arisen over word mistakes far less serious than that seen here. When serious arguments take place over the insertion of an iota into homoousion or the deletion of the enclitic -que on Filio, the obvious change which was introduced in the above aphorism seems suitable for mass destruction, or at least a quarrelsome, if not violent, letter to the editor. [We don't allow them. Eds.] But, rather than producing war, and rumors of war, the aphorism produces laughter, at least in those who are aviators.

There is another aphorism of a very similar sort, which uses a somewhat different variation, in that more than one word is involved in the mis-directed reference. This one was not collected by Blücher, and has been seen in a variety of contexts, but despite careful search I have not been able to locate it in the literature. I give it as I have recorded it:

Teacher And now, class, we will review your vocabulary lesson. Johnny, use the term "bitter end" in a sentence.
Johnny Yes, Teacher. "My dog chased my cat under the bed and bitter end."
It is clear that Blücher's scheme would almost certainly class this together with the avian/aviator paradigm, though we are at a loss to understand why. There are no flying creatures mentioned at all. But the humor is obvious, and it cannot be emphasized enough that the humor in this aphorism, as in all those we have studied recently, relies only upon the care, precision, and unwavering conformance to a most rigid and fixed set of rules of reason. We will proceed to further examples in the coming weeks.

Reprinted with permission from
Something Good To Read
Vol. CXIV No. 227 (Jan. 21, 1998)

Friday, April 28, 2006

How It Is Done

Readers of this blogg may already know that I have sometimes played with words to the extent of making - that is, writing poetry - as you can see from my recent partial "index" which is over on the left; I hope to arrange this better as time goes on. But! Recently I have been reading some excellent poems over on This Red Rock and so I thought I would post the poem I wrote about the writing of poems... (I am sure you can add the footnotes if you are really in the mood - I neglected to put them in this time. But if you need more detail, ask, and I will put them in for you.)

-- Dr. Thursday

How it is done

Ingredients brought from vast, far-flung scenes,
Instructions on thousands of pages,
Formed in a factory of monstrous machines,
Unseen by the OSHA-watched gauges...

Near the wise and knowing treasure-room,
Where Love best and warmest ever burns;
There Rhyme and Reason bring thread to the loom,
Mercy is oiling gears Justice turns.

The Factor beholds the workplace prepared,
His long-sought destination this day,
A risk and a danger that few have dared,
Talent his duty; he must obey.

His choice and plan - a simple two-fold frame
Ten and nine, with strength surpassing steel;
Its parts not repeated, somehow the same;
Locked, hidden structure, made to reveal.

Components from warehouses, tanks, and mines,
Forests, kitchens, cellars and attics,
He sets into place; the framework entwines
By some numberless mathematics.

When all is ready, he power applies;
Light shines, which is totally other.
He inspects the result: "Success!" he cries,
And shows the new poem to another.

[September 20, 1994.]

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More on the Chichen/Road Aphorism

Now that I have consulted my references, I see that I have been partially right, but also partially wrong, in my recollections of the "Chicken/Road" aphorism. After quite a bit of difficulties contacting the copyright holders (it being Thursday) I was finally given permission to post thefollowing article from a well-known student of many subjects, the esteemed Father A. Thomas, O.P. There are one or two other articles relevant to the topic which will aid in our understanding of the topic, and once I get them into the proper electronic form (and of course the requisite permissions) I will post them too.

--Dr. Thursday.
Humor and its basis in reason
by Fr. A. Thomas, O.P.

In the varied literature of the world, there have been many attempts to explore nature: reality as such, and man's place in it. Indeed, there are so few works of literature dealing with something other than reality [Like this paper, for example. Eds.] that we may, without loss of generality, ignore them. Throughout these works, two common threads may be observed: the pursuit of knowledge or the pursuit of pleasure. Rarely are these two combined, and when they are combined, the literature is often of lower order than the forms which simgle-mindedly pursue one or the other. For example, the mystery or detective story clearly belongs to the category which combines the two, since it, by definition, must be both pleasurable as well as intellectual: it must solve the stated problem in an entertaining manner.

There are remarkably few examples of the combined form, however, once the length of the form is brought to its utmost minimum. While the world abounds in aphorisms, mottos, proverbs, slogans, and even cheers, there are remarkably few short examples of human statements which pursue both knowledge and pleasure. Nevertheless, there is one which has endured for unknown centuries, successfully combining both the abstract search for knowledge and the glorious delight of pleasure sought and found. Even more remarkable is it because in a few short words it combines one of the most interesting members of the natural world (Here I mean the specifically non-human part of nature) with what deserves to be called one of the great achievements of human talent.

In the quest for knowledge, the interviewer of the media, like the scientist, employs the small but famous collection of interrogative pronouns: who, what, when, where, how, and why. Though forsworn by Darwinians for reasons they likewise forswore, the last of these has been both the most challenging in its posing, as well as the most satisfactory in its resolution. Though all other questions of detail may be answered, the human spirit remains restless [Cf. St. Augustine's famous dictum. Eds.] until the why is also answered. The great aphorism to which this article alludes begins with this powerful word.

The aphorism we are considering then takes as its substrate the fundamental element for structured organization of human ambulatory or vehicular motion, typically of human construction. These were well-known even in Roman times, and heve long since become an excuse for taxation in many countries. Entire industries have sprung up to assist in their use.

Along with this socially supported human construction, this marvellous aphorism combines a member of a popular species of domesticated avian, engaged (at the moment under consideration) in the act of coordinated pedal transition of the previously mentioned human construction. It is at this point that the humor apparently enters, because the reason for this transition is left in doubt. True, the aphorism explains that the avian intended to attain the unconstructed boundary previously distant to its original location, and this explanation is considered humorous by some. However, the mere query of that reason has itself taken on a not insubstantial humor. The reason for this is most unclear, and we will now proceed we will examine it further. Consider, for a moment, the aphorism as it appears in the vulgar tongue:

"Why did the chicken cross the road?"
"To get to the other side."

There seems to be at least three possible explanations for this succinct marvel of humor.
1. The aphorism is a remarkable juxtaposition of the dichotomous, in a style similar to the well-known Chestertonian paradox. A natural creature, an animal, encounters one of the great and ancient human artifacts, and, in direct contradistinction to the usual direction, travels perpendicular to the supernatural direction of the road, merely (as it has been said of mountains) for the reason of getting there.
2. The aphorism makes use of a mechanism which derives from the "double dictionary entry" technique we mentioned in our last column. This derivative mechanism might be called "the assertion of the obvious", and is a derivative since the mind, accustomed to the difficulties arising from the existence of double dictionary entries, often forgets that the primary, greater, common and dominant entry exists in favor of the attraction of the secondary, lesser, unique and subsidiary entry. Hence, asserting the obvious (the greater or common) form when the lesser or unique form was expected produces the effect of the double reference. This approach may often be required when the particular words lack the desired duplicity.
3. The aphorism was longer in the past and made use of the standard double dictionary form, but the aphorism was reduced during centuries of neglect or growing editorial domination. One of the reconstructions (I quote the one due to Blücher) has appeared previously in Archaeology of Aphorism:

"Why did the chicken cross the road?"
"She had heard that, on the other side, the men were laying a sidewalk, and she wanted to see how they did it."

Again, since this has been translated, the humor has apparently been lost, but the reader can quickly see which words have multiple definitions. There are, after all, any number of sidewalk jokes; Socrates, of course, was the master of the form, it having been the Athens Department of Transportation which made things so difficult for him in the first place.

Reprinted with permission from
Something Good To Read
Vol. CXIV No. 226 (Jan. 14, 1998)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Chicken/Road epigram: a rough analysis (without references)

My friend Maureen asks about a comment I made somewhere out here (in here?) in the E-cosmos: to wit, about the famous "Why did the chicken cross the road?" epigram and how it is important. Of course, I am away from my references for once, and do not have my archives nearby. As I recall, however, there have been a number of detailed discussions on such jokes in various obscure academic journals, in the attempt to get some handle on the nature and structure of humour. I will see what I can do, just to give you a taste of this kind of thing.

First, I'll re-state the joke in its standard form:
Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?
A. To get to the other side.
The first thing which leaps to the attentive and scholarly mind is the similarity to the well-known liturgical Versicle/Response form, used by any number of religions, for example:
V. Adjutorium nostrum + in nomine Domini.
R. Qui fecit caelum et terram.
So we have immediately set ourselves up for something solemn and indeed ritualistic. The fact that this formula is almost never encountered in a solemn or liturgical setting is not relevant; whole theaters watching "Star Wars" have been known to give a liturgical response when the pilots of the Rebellion are dismissed with "May the Force be with you always." There are also any number of analogies from the world of sports, which I am sure the reader can see.

Now, upon examining the actual statements, we do not find a statement/refrain or solemn invocation as in the above Latin example; rather we find that our chicken/road epigram has a more primitive question/answer form. This is (according to the best researchers) the only two-part dialog which is of greater antiquity than those used in solemn rituals, appearing in such well-known forms as
Q. Mom, what's for dinner?
A. Finish your vegetables, dear.
or the perhaps even more ancient:
Q. Do I have to go to bed now?
A. Yes, dear; goodnight!
So again we have set ourselves up with word-patterns and clausal structures among the most ancient in human experience. (And ancient, I might add, in both the individual as well as the racial senses.)

So we know that this formula structure is (1) solemn (2) ritualistic (3) well-known (4) ancestral, and therefore might be called an archetype (I think the standard reference is to Schöder, but as I said I am away from my texts at present.)

Now, let us proceed to the actual text (the verbi-in-se, as Dr. Vang calls it). The analysis I have in my files goes into a lot about the fact that it is a chicken (not a human, dog or rodent, or indeed any other avian) but I am presently at a loss to recall what the importance of that is. Of course the dramatic turn (Tolkien's "eucatastrophe", if the term can be applied to such a short anecdote) occurs in the apodictic answer, which resides fully in the inherent meaning of "to cross" - though any number of commenters bring in connections to Calvary, or to mathematics (one form of vector multiplication is called the cross product, which is always out of the plane of the two original vectors; this has its own subtle relation to Calvary as numerous other commenters have observed!)

But I am getting very pedantic here, and without my sources this may be quite misleading. At least I have made an attempt at an answer, which may help.

There is one other comment I ought to add about this, because it is Chestertonian. Sometimes the things which are large are much much harder to see than the things which are small: stars, for example. The typical GKC quote is this:
"...The skull seems broken as with some big weapon, but there's no weapon at all lying about, and the murderer would have found it awkward to carry it away, unless the weapon was too small to be noticed."
"Perhaps the weapon was too big to be noticed," said the priest, with an odd little giggle.
[GKC, "The Three Tools of Death" in The Innocence of Father Brown]
There is quite a lot of humour in the mere fact that the answer to the question is obvious and not at all what is expected.

Which is a lot like the Resurrection.

Humour, perhaps, being just the earthly translation of heavenly joy.

So Maureen, I hope this helps a little - I am sorry I forgot my refs. and delayed so long in a response. I hope to post a more detailed revision when I have a chance. (There's a really good explanation of the "three monkeys" joke in there - I will do that too.)

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Fine for Einstein - Relative or Absolute?

Every so often I hear people talk about "relativity" - or Einstein - and I heartily wish that Chesterton's plan of fining people for misusing these words had been accomplished. (And I would add "Galileo" as well!) I tell you this because I wanted to quote Father Jaki about Einstein, and I will, but first I will quote Chesterton, because I may still have to pay the fine...
--Dr. Thursday
For instance, suppose everybody was instantly fined a small sum for mentioning the name of Einstein. The money would be refunded if he could afterwards demonstrate, to a committee of mathematicians and astronomers, that he knew anything about Einstein. What a salutary check it would be on the public speaker, criticising the Budget or the latest economic panacea, who would be just in the very act of saying: "Makes the brain reel. Reminds one of " and would sharply catch himself up, with a holy fear of losing half a crown, and hastily substitute "Alice in Wonderland." On the other hand, it would be equally valuable in arresting the headlong pen of the journalist announcing Brighter Brotherhood or reverently praising The Revolt of Youth: "The new year opens before us new faiths, new ideals, and the young will no longer be content with the dead shibboleths of creed and dogma. New light has been thrown on all the daily problems of life by the great scientific genius of our time; the name of "; and then he will stop suddenly and be most horribly stumped, for Einstein is the only man of science he has heard of, and Einstein costs two-and-six. It is a luxury, in the strict sense of a superfluity, to mention Einstein. He is not a part of any ordinary human argument, because any ordinary human being does not know where his argument leads or what it can really be used to prove. It may be, for all I know, a perfectly good argument for those who really follow it; but those who drag in the name without the argument cannot know what an argument means. We should not be interfering with the freedom of debate by eliminating it, for the men who only deal in such unknown qualities are not debating. They are simply showing off.

[G. K. Chesterton, ILN May 23, 1931, CW35:526]
Now, hoping that I am not showing off, (and if I am, I will pay "two-and-six" gladly!) I will quote Fr. Jaki. (Given that he has a doctorate in nuclear physics, I think we can agree that the fine does not apply in his case.) Besides, he mentions Newton too.
--Dr. Thursday
The origin and whole history of the so-called Newtonian universe shows something of man's science in two different senses. One is the greatness of man's mind as evidenced by his science. Newton's third law, which is the basis of his law of gravitation, proved exceedingly powerful. It enabled subsequent scientists, such as Euler, Herschel, and Laplace, to explain most peculiar features of the motion of planets and of distant double stars. In other words, the science of Newtonian gravitation was truly a science because it allowed man to reach far into the cosmos. But Newtonian gravitation could not give a scientific account of the universe, inasmuch as the universe was taken for a so called infinite Newtonian universe. That such a universe was not rejected categorically by Newton and that in the nineteenth century it became generally believed in is the other sense of Newtonian science being but man's science. For all its greatness, the scientific mind is not infallible. In its reasonings it repeatedly became the victim of foibles, biases, prejudices, and even of sheer blindness to the obvious.

For us, late twentieth-century men, Newtonian science is a thing of the past. Everybody knows that Newton has been superseded by Einstein, but very few people know the true reason for this. The usual reason given is that Einstein showed everything to be relative. Nothing could be further from the truth. Einstein's theory of General Relativity is the most absolutist theory ever proposed in the history of science. In fact, the entire success of Einstein's theory is that it is absolutist. According to it, the value of the speed of light is independent of any reference systems and therefore has a value which is absolutely valid.

[S. L. Jaki, "God and Man's Science: A View of Creation" in The Absolute Beneath the Relative 65]
If I end up not getting fined, I will try to tell you more about Einstein, Newton, and Galileo in future postings. See you in court!
--Dr. Thursday

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Easter Octave (Divine Mercy) 2006


Christus heri et hodie
Principium et Finis
Alpha et Omega
Ipsius sunt tempora et saecula
Ipsi gloria et imperium
per universa aeternitatis saecula.

Christ yesterday and today,
The Beginning and the End,
The Alpha and the Omega,
His are the times and the ages,
To Him be glory and dominion
Through the universe of unending ages.

-- from the ritual for the Vigil of Easter

Sing now, ye people of the Tower of Anor,
for the Realm of Sauron is ended for ever,
and the Dark Tower is thrown down.

Sing and rejoice, ye people of the Tower of Guard,
for your watch hath not been in vain,
and the Black gate is broken,
and your King hath passed through,
and he is victorious.

Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

And the Tree that was withered shall be renewed,
and he shall plant it in the high places,
and the City shall be blessed.

Sing all ye people!

-- J. R. R. Tolkien: The Return of the King

Divine Mercy Sunday - or Quasi modo !!!

Yes, today is the Octave day of Easter - a full week of Sundays - the special day of begging the Divine Mercy... and, because the Introit ("entrance song") starts with the words quasi modo, today is called Quasi modo Sunday! Yes, and in Victor Hugo's book, it was the day an infant was found in Notre Dame...

Yes, you can go ring some bells - it's a good idea! But first, let us take a quick look at that Introit, which comes from the very first papal encyclical:
Quasi modo geniti infantes, alleluia: rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupiscite, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Exsultate Deo adjutori nostro: jubilate Deo Jacob. Gloria Patri...

Crave as newborn babies, alleluia: pure, spiritual milk, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Rejoice to God our helper: sing aloud to the God of Jacob. Glory be...

1 Peter 2:2, Ps 80:2
I mention this because it is a kind of special gift, right from St. Peter, to our new converts who have made it through their first week and now return to celebrate the Lord's Day again! It is also a gift to us "old" converts - for we need to be reminded that as if we were newborn babies we ought to continue to desire more and more of the "spiritual milk" - the nourishment we receive in the Eucharist....

It's what Divine Mercy is all about... (Now you can go and ring the bells.)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Chesterton and Easter

I have not posted very much this week, as my busy-ness slowly increases. Though there are those very exciting sonnets over at This Red Rock (see posting below). And then I had to keep shifting the "Paschal Candle" posting to the top, signifying the superlative high technology of the liturgical celebration by which we REALLY have a week of Sundays - Easter Sundays! (I wrote about that, as usual, on someone else's blogg - in this case, at Curt Jester. I'll replicate it below in case you want to see it.)

Also, I noticed my friend "Pasky" posted a comment which drops a hint about subsidiarity - in this particular case, a rather dramatic link, connecting the dull technical need of the delivery of 20-megabyte-long TV commercials with something as solemn, historic and crucial as the Cross... but that connection really does exist, and I deeply appreciate the nudge to get busy on this project... I've tried three or four times to start, and it is not easy to describe, since I have spent so much time (as Pasky has) dealing with subsidiarity - yes, 24/7 for five and a half years... But whether it ends up being a tech document or a popularization or a piece of fiction (hmmm...) it WILL get done, and you WILL get to read it. (Perhaps I need to pray more; didn't Mother Teresa say the busier she was the longer she had to pray?) I know there are some people at certain high tech companies who would be shocked to learn how much of a role prayer plays in software development. But then they didn't understand the need for humor, either; nor the Latin quotes... we're STILL using the Latin quotes! (No Greek; not yet, anyway...)

Ahem. To resume: While we are still in the Octave of Easter, and so it is still "legally" Easter Sunday, I will post an interesting Chesterton quote about Easter:
Easter, which is the spiritual New Year, should be a time for the understanding of new thoughts and the making of new things. The representatives of the rising generation can give us any number of negative reasons for not observing certain forms or traditions. They do not seem to see that it is their business as artists to create forms. They will not realise that it is their business as builders to found traditions. If the old conventions have really come to an end, the others have to do something much more difficult; they have to come to a beginning. I doubt if they have any clear idea about how to come to a beginning. They do not understand that positive creations are founded on positive creeds.
-- GKC, ILN Apr 3 1926 CW34:74
So - we have a positive creed: where are our new creations? Where are our new traditions? Get busy!

* * *

Oh, yes, I said I would put something in about the Octave...

Yes, and what an octave! It is surely one of the most high-tech of the many tech things in the liturgy of our Church.

We could even call it a "week of Sundays"! For during these eight days, each Mass uses a special Preface, with the words "on THIS EASTER DAY" (no, not "Easter season"!) and in the Roman Canon the prayer translating the Latin Communicantes has a special formula "...we celebrate THAT DAY when Jesus Christ rose from the dead in His human body..."

And in the Office (aka the Liturgy of the Hours), most of the ever-advancing pointers which indicate the current day DO NOT ADVANCE for the whole week - they stay pointing to Easter Sunday! (wow, very special-case software coding here!)

Another way it is NOT like the Christmas Octave with St. Stephen and St. John and the Holy Innocents and the Holy Family, and the Circumcision/Mary-the-Mother-of-God - so privileged is this week (as is Holy Week itself) that NOT EVEN St. Joseph - not even the ANNUNCIATION! can be celebrated during it. (Every once in a while both these feasts occur during Holy Week or the Octave, and have to shift to the next available day (of course they are too important to ever skip!)

Note: I do not speak from authority, but from my recollection of the technical documentation for the system. I am a computer scientist and not a Church liturgist, so I often deal with operating systems, and hence I have kind of a special interest in the subject. As Chesterton put it, long before his conversion, when he happened to visit a French church:
There were already a great many people there when I entered, not only of all kinds, but in all attitudes, kneeling, sitting, or standing about. And there was that general sense that strikes every man from a Protestant country, whether he dislikes the Catholic atmosphere or likes it; I mean, the general sense that the thing was "going on all the time"; that it was not an occasion, but a perpetual process, as if it were a sort of mystical inn.
[GKC, A Miscellany of Men 158]
And (except for those special hours of the Triduum) at every hour of the day, somewhere on Earth, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered. It really is a perpetual process, like an OS component - it's going on all the time!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Some excellent sonnets

John over at This Red Rock has some excellent sonnets, to which I wish to call your attention.

After thinking about them - and they are definitely worth some thought! - I had to look up the sonnet form, which one reference book tells me is
though the sestet can also be CDECDE.

(one of these days I may try that myself...)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A Chestertonian welcome to our new converts!

As I have read on numerous other bloggs, there are several new Catholics out here... in here.. er... with us here in the E-cosmos!! Hurray! - or rather, Alleluia!

It is another of the most wonderful demonstrations of the power of this amazing E-cosmos (that is, the INTERNET) to give us a foretaste of the Communion of Saints! Of course, we have already been much closer than electricity can contrive, by our reception of the Eucharist - but as we are still in the flesh, we need to use the means we have at hand. How strange to ponder, then, as the echoes of "Lumen Christi - Light of Christ!" still resound, that my words are now brought to you by light... And how much more there is to say about this! But I will defer this topic for now.

For I wish to post a Chestertonian welcome to our new converts!

And let no one feel left out, for we are ALL converts. It happens to be over 50 years now for me, but I was a pagan once, before I was baptized, and even now every day I must again turn away from the Enemy and towards our Lord Jesus. Chesterton wrote a whole book about his conversion, so excited he was about it! I will, then, give you just an excerpt, which will enlighten converts old and new.

Happy Easter!
-- Dr. Thursday of the very queerest of the common delusions about what happens to the convert. In some muddled way people have confused the natural remarks of converts, about having found moral peace, with some idea of their having found mental rest, in the sense of mental inaction. They might as well say that a man who has completely recovered his health, after an attack of palsy or St. Vitus' dance, signalises his healthy state by sitting absolutely still like a stone. Recovering his health means recovering his power of moving in the right way as distinct from the wrong way; but he will probably move a great deal more than before. To become a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think. It is so in exactly the same sense in which to recover from palsy is not to leave off moving but to learn how to move. The Catholic convert has for the first time a starting-point for straight and strenuous thinking. He has for the first time a way of testing the truth in any question that he raises. As the world goes, especially at present, it is the other people, the heathen and the heretics, who seem to have every virtue except the power of connected thought. There was indeed a brief period when a small minority did some hard thinking on the heathen or heretical side. It barely lasted from the time of Voltaire to the time of Huxley. It has now entirely disappeared. What is now called free thought is valued, not because it is free thought, but because it is freedom from thought; because it is free thoughtlessness.

G. K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion CW3:106, emphasis added

"The Convert"

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

-- by G.K.C. Received into the Catholic Church 30 July 1922
A postscript: I find myself thinking over this... in this moment, the sense of a foretaste of the "Inn at the End of the World" (in GKC's The Napoleon of Notting Hill but cf. Jn 2:10) is very strong today. If you have read GKC's The Man Who Was Thursday you will know about the big party where the final climax occurs... GKC wrote that story YEARS before he converted, but it has that feel: all things, created and subcreated, are dancing and rocking back and forth in their joy... Nothing is quite what it had been: EVERYTHING IS RESTORED, BUT BETTER THAN BEFORE, because now the King has returned!

With GKC through Holy Week: in the garden again

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn. [Rv 21:1, Jn 20:15, cf Gn 2:15 and Gn 3:18]

[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:345]

Saturday, April 15, 2006

With GKC through Holy Week: the end of human history

They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.

[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:344-345, emphasis added]

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Cross, the Price

The Cross, the Price

"The cross cannot be defeated, for it is Defeat."
-- G. K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross

"The cross is arguably the best-known brand logo
in the entire world."
-- Marilyn Baxter, Executive of Saatchi and Saatchi, advertisers
(as quoted in a local paper)

Thánh Giá là giá.
The Holy Cross is the cost
Jesus paid to gain the lost.
Reach out your hand, touch the wood.

Jews and Romans wrought the plan:
"Crucify!" "Behold the Man!"
"Break not one lamb's bone."
"The Pierced One shall be known."

Thánh Giá là giá.
The Holy Cross is the cost
Jesus paid to gain the lost.
Reach out your hand, touch the wood.

Ðú'c Me Maria
Her Majesty Mother Mary
Ratified the Father's will
Permitted them to kill.

Thánh Giá là giá.
The Holy Cross is the cost
Jesus paid to gain the lost.
Reach out your hand, touch the wood.

The fruit once hung upon the tree
A hand reached out; the hand was free.
Now the hand, held by a nail,
Gave new Fruit which cannot fail.

Thánh Giá là giá.
The Holy Cross is the cost
Jesus paid to gain the lost.
Reach out your hand, touch the wood.

Then Rome revealed the God-man's heart;
The final sword broke hers apart;
And tore across the secret veil
So Death – defeat itself – did fail.

Thánh Giá là giá.
The Holy Cross is the cost
Jesus paid to gain the lost.
Reach out your hand, touch the wood.

Lay Chúa! Xin Chúa! Thu'o'ng xot chung con!
Oh Lord! We beg you, Lord! Have mercy on us, your many children!

This was made Holy Saturday, April 15, 1995. The language is Vietnamese; in each case the following line gives the translation.
--Dr. Thursday

With GKC through Holy Week: the purchase of eternity

There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. There were secrets in the inmost and invisible part of that drama that have no symbol in speech; or in any severance of a man from men. Nor is it easy for any words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the hill. Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened even in the unity of the absolute; and God had been forsaken of God. [Mt 27:46, quoting Ps 21:2]

[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:344]

Thursday, April 13, 2006

With GKC through Holy Week: the priests and the people

There too were the priests of that pure and original truth that was behind all the mythologies like the sky behind the clouds. It was the most important truth in the world; and even that could not save the world. Perhaps there is something overpowering in pure personal theism; like seeing the sun and moon and sky come together to form one staring face. Perhaps the truth is too tremendous when not broken by some intermediaries, divine or human; perhaps it is merely too pure and far away. Anyhow it could not save the world; it could not even convert the world. There were philosophers who held it in its highest and noblest form; but they not only could not convert the world, but they never tried. You could no more fight the jungle of popular mythology with a private opinion than you could clear away a forest with a pocket-knife. The Jewish priests had guarded it jealously in the good and the bad sense. They had kept it as a gigantic secret. As savage heroes might have kept the sun in a box, they kept the Everlasting in the tabernacle. They were proud that they alone could look upon the blinding sun of a single deity; and they did not know that they had themselves gone blind. Since that day their representatives have been like blind men in broad daylight, striking to right and left with their staffs, and cursing the darkness. [cf. Jn 12:35?] But there has been that in their monumental monotheism that it has at least remained like a monument, the last thing of its kind, and in a sense motionless in the more restless world which it cannot satisfy. For it is certain that for some reason it cannot satisfy. Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world; since the rumour that God had left his heavens to set it right.

And as it was with these powers that were good, or at least had once been good, so it was with the element which was perhaps the best, or which Christ himself seems certainly to have felt as the best. The poor to whom he preached the good news, [cf. Lk 4:18, 7:22] the common people who heard him gladly, [cf. Mk 12:37] the populace that had made so many popular heroes and demigods in the old pagan world, showed also the weaknesses that were dissolving the world. They suffered the evils often seen in the mob of the city, and especially the mob of the capital, during the decline of a society. The same thing that makes the rural population live on tradition makes the urban population live on rumour. Just as its myths at the best had been irrational, so its likes and dislikes are easily changed by baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative. Some brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ. [Jn 18:39-40] In all this we recognise the urban population that we know, with its newspaper scares and scoops. But there was present in this ancient population an evil more peculiar to the ancient world. We have noted it already as the neglect of the individual, even of the individual voting the condemnation and still more of the individual condemned. It was the soul of the hive; a heathen thing. The cry of this spirit also was heard in that hour, "It is well that one man die for the people." [Jn 11:50-51] Yet this spirit in antiquity of devotion to the city and to the state had also been in itself and in its time a noble spirit. It had its poets and its martyrs; men still to be honoured for ever. It was failing through its weakness in not seeing the separate soul of a man, the shrine of all mysticism; but it was only failing as everything else was failing. The mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men. [cf. Is 53:3]

[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:342-344]

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

With GKC through Holy Week: the death is like the birth

It is more within my powers, and here more immediately to my purpose, to point out that in that scene were symbolically gathered all the human forces that have been vaguely sketched in this story. As kings and philosophers and the popular element had been symbolically present at his birth, so they were more practically concerned in his death; and with that we come face to face with the essential fact to be realised. All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness, and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa [that is, Carthage] and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask, "What is truth?" [Pontius Pilate in Jn 18:38] So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true rôle. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgment-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world. [Mt 27:24]

[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:341-342]

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

With GKC through Holy Week: "grinding power of plain words"

Every attempt to amplify that story has diminished it. The task has been attempted by many men of real genius and eloquence as well as by only too many vulgar sentimentalists and self-conscious rhetoricians. The tale has been retold with patronising pathos by elegant sceptics and with fluent enthusiasm by boisterous best-sellers. It will not be retold here. The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of mill-stones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them. Criticism is only words about words; and of what use are words about such words as these? What is the use of word-painting about the dark garden filled suddenly with torchlight and furious faces? "Are you come out with swords and staves as against a robber? All day I sat in your temple teaching, and you took me not." [cf. Lk 22:52-53] Can anything be added to the massive and gathered restraint of that irony; like a great wave lifted to the sky and refusing to fall? "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but weep for yourselves and for your children." [cf. Lk 23:28] As the High Priest asked what further need he had of witnesses, [cf. Mk 14:63] we might well ask what further need we have of words. Peter in a panic repudiated him: "and immediately the cock crew, and Jesus looked upon Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly." [cf. Lk 22:61-62] Has any one any further remarks to offer? Just before the murder he prayed for all the murderous race of men, saying, "They know not what they do"; [cf. Lk 23:34] is there anything to say to that, except that we know as little what we say? Is there any need to repeat and spin out the story of how the tragedy trailed up the Via Dolorosa and how they threw him in haphazard with two thieves in one of the ordinary batches of execution; and how in all that horror and howling wilderness of desertion one voice spoke in homage, a startling voice from the very last place where it was looked for, the gibbet of the criminal; and he said to that nameless ruffian, "This night shalt thou be with me in Paradise"? [cf. Lk 23:43] Is there anything to put after that but a full-stop? Or is any one prepared to answer adequately that farewell gesture to all flesh which created for his Mother a new Son? [cf. Jn 19:26]

[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:340-341]

Monday, April 10, 2006

With GKC through Holy Week: the "greatest miracle" of Jesus

Therefore the story of Christ is the story of a journey, almost in the manner of a military march; certainly in the manner of the quest of a hero moving to his achievement or his doom. It is a story that begins in the paradise of Galilee, a pastoral and peaceful land having really some hint of Eden, and gradually climbs the rising country into the mountains that are nearer to the storm-clouds and the stars, as to a Mountain of Purgatory. [See Dante's Divine Comedy] He may be met as if straying in strange places, or stopped on the way for discussion or dispute; but his face is set towards the mountain city. [Lk 9:51: "He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem."] That is the meaning of that great culmination when he crested the ridge and stood at the turning of the road and suddenly cried aloud, lamenting over Jerusalem. [Lk 19:41, 13:34] Some light touch of that lament is in every patriotic poem; or if it is absent, the patriotism stinks with vulgarity. That is the meaning of the stirring and startling incident at the gates of the Temple, [Jn 2:14-17, Mt 21:12-13] when the tables were hurled like lumber down the steps, and the rich merchants driven forth with bodily blows; the incident that must be at least as much of a puzzle to the pacifists as any paradox about non-resistance can be to any of the militarists. I have compared the quest to the journey of Jason, but we must never forget that in a deeper sense it is rather to be compared to the journey of Ulysses. It was not only a romance of travel but a romance of return; and of the end of a usurpation. No healthy boy reading the story regards the rout of the Ithacan suitors [of Penelope, wife of Ulysses; book 21-22 of the Odyssey] as anything but a happy ending. But there are doubtless some who regard the rout of the Jewish merchants and money-changers with that refined repugnance which never fails to move them in the presence of violence, and especially of violence against the well-to-do. The point here, however, is that all these incidents have in them a character of mounting crisis. In other words, these incidents are not incidental. When Apollonius the ideal philosopher is brought before the judgment-seat of Domitian and vanishes by magic, the miracle is entirely incidental. It might have occurred at any time in the wandering life of the Tyanean; indeed, I believe it is doubtful in date as well as in substance. The ideal philosopher merely vanished, and resumed his ideal existence somewhere else for an indefinite period. It is characteristic of the contrast perhaps that Apollonius was supposed to have lived to an almost miraculous old age. Jesus of Nazareth was less prudent in his miracles. When Jesus was brought before the judgment-seat of Pontius Pilate, he did not vanish. [Jn 18:33-19:16] It was the crisis and the goal; it was the hour and the power of darkness. [Lk 22:53] It was the supremely supernatural act of all his miraculous life, that he did not vanish.

[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:339-340]

Sunday, April 09, 2006

With GKC through Holy Week: Why Jesus came...

Now, compared to these wanderers [Apollonius of Tyana, Socrates, Buddha] the life of Jesus went as swift and straight as a thunderbolt. It was above all things dramatic; it did above all things consist in doing something that had to be done. It emphatically would not have been done if Jesus had walked about the world for ever doing nothing except tell the truth. And even the external movement of it must not be described as a wandering in the sense of forgetting that it was a journey. This is where it was a fulfilment of the myths rather than of the philosophies; it is a journey with a goal and an object, like Jason going to find the Golden Fleece, or Hercules the golden apples of the Hesperides. The gold that he was seeking was death. The primary thing that he was going to do was to die. [See Mt 16:21, Lk 12:49-50] He was going to do other things equally definite and objective; we might almost say equally external and material. But from first to last the most definite fact is that he is going to die. No two things could possibly be more different than the death of Socrates and the death of Christ. We are meant to feel that the death of Socrates was, from the point of view of his friends at least, a stupid muddle and miscarriage of justice interfering with the flow of a humane and lucid, I had almost said a light philosophy. We are meant to feel that Death was the bride of Christ as Poverty was the bride of St. Francis. [cf. GKC, St. Francis of Assisi CW2:68] We are meant to feel that his life was in that sense a sort of love-affair with death, a romance of the pursuit of the ultimate sacrifice. From the moment when the star goes up like a birthday rocket [Mt 2:2] to the moment when the sun is extinguished like a funeral torch, [Lk 23:45] the whole story moves on wings with the speed and direction of a drama, ending in an act beyond words.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:339, emphasis added]

Friday, April 07, 2006

What is a Beggar?

I apologise for quoting twice today, but it has been a while since I posted. Also, I think you would like a little Chesterton. Recently there has been some talk about begging, and I thought it best to give Chesterton's comments on it.
--Dr. Thursday

What is a beggar? A beggar is a man who asks help from another man solely in the name of something extraneous but common - as kinship or charity, the Fatherhood of God, or the brotherhood of man. He does not ask for the bread because he can at once give you the money, as in commerce. He does not ask for the bread because he will soon be able to pass you the mustard, as in Society. He asks you for the bread because you are supposed to be under an ancient law of pity, by which (as it is written) if a man ask you for bread you will not give him a stone. [See Luke 11:11] That is what a beggar is. He is a man who begs - that is, he is a man who asks without any clear power of return, except the opportunity he offers you to fulfil your own ideals.
Thus, a man drowning in mid-ocean is a beggar; a man hailing wildly from a desert island is a beggar; a total stranger cast up on an alien coast (as any of us who like yachting might be any day) is a beggar. That is to say, any help extended to them must rest solely on the fact that they have the human form or the appearance of agony. It cannot possibly rest on any assumption that they will pay it back in service to the State. The man drowning in the sea might be Jack the Ripper. The man hailing from the desert island might be Peter the Painter. [The leader of Latvian anarchists; GKC wrote about this earlier.] As for the man wrecked from the yacht - well, really, if you think of some of the people who go about in yachts, you will feel that Jack the Ripper and Peter the Painter are pillars of the commonwealth in comparison. Briefly, any person, in any position, is a beggar who has nothing but thanks to give for a service.

[ILN Feb 25, 19811 CW29:44]

Anybody who sells anything, in the streets or in the shops, is begging in the sense of begging people to buy. Mr. Selfridge is begging people to buy; the Imperial International Universal Cosmic Stores is begging people to buy. The only possible definition of the actual beggar is not that he is begging people to buy, but that he has nothing to sell. ... If begging is really wrong, a logical law should be imposed on all beggars, and not merely on those whom particular persons happen to regard as being also nuisances. What this sort of opportunism does is simply to prevent any question being considered as a whole. I happen to think the whole modern attitude towards beggars is entirely heathen and inhuman. I should be prepared to maintain, as a matter of general morality, that it is intrinsically indefensible to punish human beings for asking for human assistance. I should say that it is intrinsically insane to urge people to give charity and forbid people to accept charity. Nobody is penalized for crying for help when he is drowning; why should he be penalized for crying for help when he is starving? Every one would expect to have to help a man to save his life in a shipwreck; why not a man who has suffered a shipwreck of his life? A man may be in such a position by no conceivable fault of his own; but in any case his fault is never urged against him in the parallel cases. A man is saved from shipwreck without inquiry about whether he has blundered in the steering of his ship; and we fish him out of a pond before asking whose fault it was that he fell into it. A striking social satire might be written about a man who was rescued again and again out of mere motives of humanity in all the wildest places of the world; who was heroically rescued from a lion and skilfully saved out of a sinking ship; who was sought out on a desert island and scientifically recovered from a deadly swoon; and who only found himself suddenly deserted by all humanity when he reached the city that was his home.
[Fancies Versus Fads 131, 133-134]

Gaps, Order, and God

Herewith, another sample the chapter called "Physics and Theology" from a fantastic book: The Relevance of Physics, by S. L. Jaki (pp. 436-437).

--Dr. Thursday

The old temptation to locate God in the no-man's-land of science is far from being extinct. It was not long ago that E. N. da C. Andrade took the view that "the electron leads us to the doorway of religion."[92] Being an atomic scientist, he should have been more aware of the rapid changes that characterize scientific research of the subatomic realm of matter. There might be many gaps in the present-day scientific information about the electron, but none of these gaps can serve as doorways to God. "Gaps in knowledge," as Weizsacker aptly put it, "have a habit of closing - and God is no stopgap."[93] What are meant to be doorways invariably become trapdoors that take as their victims those to whom the lessons provided by the history of science are pretty much a closed book. Instead of indicating clear-cut frontiers of what can be known in science, the advances made by science suggest strongly that there is rather a continuity between what we know and what we do not know.

More reliable than the "gaps," as regards the proofs of God's existence, has been the order in nature evidenced by the laws of physics. While scientific progress has proved consistently detrimental to resting God's case on a gap that sooner or later came to be filled, new discoveries have only enhanced the range and universality of scientific laws. No law, however imperfect or limited, has ever disappeared completely as research progressed. They have rather proved to be particular cases of other laws much wider and deeper in application. That order and lawfulness are the Creator's fingerprints in nature was a conviction shared by all major figures of classical physics. Seeing the world "established in the best order," stated Copernicus at the very outset of his work, was a sure way to lead one to "wonder at the Artificer of all things."[94] For Kepler, discovering laws in nature was nothing short of reading the mind of God himself. It was the desire "to obtain a sample test of the delight of the divine Creator in his work and to partake of his joy"[95] that provided him with the ultimate motivation for his nearly superhuman scientific labors. To Galileo, the inexorable and immutable nature that "never transgresses the laws imposed upon her" brought clear testimony of a Lawgiver.[96] What is more, knowledge of nature's laws expressed mathematically was in Galileo's eyes a sharing in the truthfulness of divine Wisdom.[97] Newton was no less emphatic on this point: "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being."[98]


92. The Listener, July 10, 1947 quoted by C. A. Coulson, Science and Christian Belief (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1955), p. 23.
93. The History of Nature,translated by F. D. Wieck (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), p. 127.
94. Revolutions,Book 1, introduction.
95. Harmonice mundi,Book 5, chap. 7, in Werke, VI,388.
96. Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, in Discovéries, p. 182.
97. Dialogue, p. 103.
98. Principia, p. 544.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

On 01:02:03 04/05/06 - Eetook Returns!

Thanks to my friend Ron at A Wing and a Prayer, we have received warning of the latest dangers of digital alignment to occur Wednesday morning. The computing community, governments, lawyers, schools, and used-car lots everywhere have been alerted, and the media is cringing in fear.

It is therefore with a great sense of reassurance that I now post the following pamphlet, now available for the first time in the E-cosmos. This easy-to-read document (which I saw at a former place of employment) explained the dangers of Eetook (sometimes known by its astronomical identifier, Y2K), the terrifying COMET which threatened Earth back in late 1999. I have received authorisation to publish it now, in the hope that people will folow its guidelines and thereby prevent Wednesday's disaster, as was so valiantly performed just six years ago...

--Dr. Thursday

Comet Eetook:
Will It Strike at Midnight January 1, 2000?

What You Can Do About It

Everyone is worried about Y2K, popularly known as Comet Eetook: the astronomical disaster some are predicting will strike Earth just after midnight on January 1, 2000.

For a while it appeared that Y2K had something to do with computers. Of course since computers are human inventions, and can easily be controlled by humans, it was clear that Earth had nothing to worry about from them.

But then the newspapers printed articles about "checking your vacuum cleaner" and even warning about something they called "the universal program stop code." It was obvious that Y2K was a euphemism for something far worse, something which no human action could possibly deflect.

Y2K is something never mentioned, hidden in scientific jargon, something so fearful that no one would dare approach any real authority to ask: "What is Y2K? What can we do about Y2K?"

Here is the answer to both questions.

Eetook, or Y2K, is a comet – a monstrous sphere of burning gases, destined to hit the Earth just after midnight on January 1, 2000.

In past ages, people feared what they didn't understand. Now, people fear whatever the TV tells them to fear.

But there is no reason to fear Eetook!

In past ages, people knew that good was more powerful than evil, and they knew that even certain things, like water or wood, which were symbols of good, could thwart the evil powers. With our advances in technology, some smugly deny the possibility of real harm from Y2K: they call it a lot of hot gas. But what if the predictions are true? What can be done? What power do we have that can overcome this mighty threat?


It will come as a surprise to many in this technological age, but there is a certain substance, powerful in itself and powerful in its effects, which is commonly available, even in our largest cities: indeed, a substance so powerful it can block ALL the effects of Eetook and ward off this terrifying comet from our planet!

You CAN keep Comet Eetook away.

It's simple.

Here is the solution: Buy yourself a bulb of GARLIC and put it on the top of your computer.

Garlic has long been known as a potent force against a variety of threats. It is not just good, it's good for you! And if you have ever glimpsed its power, you know how strongly it can repel.


We further recommend that you sing the Garlic Song, which we have printed on the back page for your convenience. You do not even have to have the entire bulb: just one clove is sufficient for your PC.

In the above picture you see a technician preparing to protect a whole room-full of computers.

Furthermore, after New Year's, when the threat of the comet has passed, you will be all ready to make any number of tasty dishes.

The Garlic Song
(to be sung to ward off comets)
To the tune of "Alouette"

Chorus: Get the garlic, time to get the garlic,
Get the garlic, comet stay away.

Rub the garlic on the plug, rub the garlic on the plug.

Rub the garlic on the screen, rub the garlic on the screen.
And the plug, and the plug, Oh...

Rub the garlic on the keys, rub the garlic on the keys.
And the screen, and the screen,
And the plug, and the plug, Oh...

Rub the garlic on the disk, rub the garlic on the disk.
And the keys, and the keys,
And the screen, and the screen,
And the plug, and the plug, Oh...
Ask your systems personnel for the remainder of the song.

Note: if company-wide protection is desired, the employees must also perform the Garlic Dance. Ask your boss about it!

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Cosmos and the Pessimist

A cosmos one day being rebuked by a pessimist replied, "How can you who revile me consent to speak by my machinery? Permit me to reduce you to nothingness and then we will discuss the matter."

Moral. You should not look a gift universe in the mouth.

[From a letter written by GKC, quoted in Maisie Ward's Gilbert Keith Chesterton 49-50]

An Old Testament Perry Mason - and ???

Today's pre-Gospel reading was long, but one of the most cool readings there is - a WHOLE short-short detective story, during Holy Mass, yet! It is especially cool because it has all the ingredients in perfect measure - crime, mystery, accusations, a victim, Divine intervention (but not the way you would expect!), a really thrilling court scene, and a superb denouement (that's French, it means "un-knotting" - it's what the detective does int he big scene at the end of a story). But all that and it is also in Sacred Scripture! Sorry I don't have the chapter, but you can find it in the book of Daniel - it's the "story of Suzanna". In case you don't know it, you ought to go and read it.

Now what's that ??? stand for in my title?

Well, it's because that story fits in so well with what I was writing yesterday. (Timing, timing - hey, so often, miracles are all about timing...) I was starting to write a very strange chapter called "the Virtues of Subsidiarity" - meaning the positive traits and morals required within the system if it is to succeed at its purpose. No, Subsidiarity is not its purpose; Subsidiarity is the scheme by which that purpose is achieved! More on this someday. But just to give you a hint, it's like what Chesterton wrote about "success":
...there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have succeeded in committing suicide.
[GKC, ILN Nov 2, 1907 CW27:579]
But you are wondering about how Daniel the Detective relates to Subsidiarity - and its virtues.

Here's the connection. The story pivots on people in authority who tell lies. (Don't worry, I won't blow the ending for you.) And one of the critical virtues of Subsidiarity is honesty. It is bad enough when "low-level" members of a system are dishonest - but it can be disastrous in the case of "high-level" members! And what is to be done then?

Well - the story might be included as a parable in my forthcoming book on Subsidiarity. For like Suzanna, one can appeal to Higher Authority. And like Daniel, even a "low-level" member can take corrective measures.

If this is a bit mysterious, all the better. But think about it before you post with your questions. And don't blow the ending for those who haven't read the story yet!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

GKC sampler: faith and reason

As you know, I am a little too busy to write just now - but I think you will enjoy this sampler of Chesterton on faith and reason. If you need references, please ask, or use the Quotemeister. Better yet, read some Chesterton for yourself!

PS There are a lot of people who need help just now; some blogg, some don't. Please be sure to remember them in your prayers. I will remember you in mine.
-- Dr. Thursday.

Life is much too important to be taken seriously.

The world left to itself grows wilder than any creed.

People will tell you that theories don't matter and that logic and philosophy aren't practical. Don't you believe them. Reason is from God, and when things are unreasonable there is something the matter.

This is the definition of a faith. A faith is that which is able to survive a mood.

Religion might approximately be defined as the power which makes us joyful about the things that matter.

To become a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think.

The Catholic Faith, which always preserves the unfashionable virtue, is at this moment alone sustaining the independent intellect of man.

Catholic virtue is often invisible because it is the normal. Christianity is always out of fashion because it is always sane; and all fashions are mild insanities. The Church always seems to be behind the times, when it is really beyond the times. It keeps the key of a permanent virtue. The human race has always admired the Catholic virtues, however little it can practise them; and oddly enough it has admired most those of them that the modern world most sharply disputes.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

We have got to explain somehow that the great mysteries like the Blessed Trinity or the Blessed Sacrament are the starting points for trains of thought far more stimulating, subtle and even individual, compared with which all that skeptical scratching is as thin, shallow and dusty as a nasty piece of scandal-mongering in a New England village. Thus, to accept the Logos as a truth is to be in the atmosphere of the absolute, not only with St. John the Evangelist, but with Plato and all the great mystics of the world.

Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.

When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it's elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.

You cannot evade the issue of God, whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him. Now if Christianity be ... a fragment of metaphysical nonsense invented by a few people, then, of course, defending it will simply mean talking that metaphysical nonsense over and over again. But if Christianity should happen to be true - that is to say, if its God is the real God of the universe - then defending it may mean talking about anything or everything. Things can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is false, but nothing can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is true.

Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain, popular course is to trust the peasant's word about the ghost exactly as far as you trust the peasant's word about the landlord. Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy agnosticism about both. Still you could fill the British Museum with evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost. If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant's story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism - the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence - it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred. All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, "Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles," they answer, "But mediaevals were superstitious"; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say "a peasant saw a ghost," I am told, "But peasants are so credulous." If I ask, "Why credulous?" the only answer is - that they see ghosts. Iceland is impossible because only stupid sailors have seen it; and the sailors are only stupid because they say they have seen Iceland.

From the famous debates in The Ball and the Cross:

"What is the good of words if they aren't important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one words more than another if there isn't any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn't there be a quarrel about a word? If you're not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about? Are you going to convey your meaning to me by moving your ears? The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are the only things worth fighting about."

"We are fighting about God, there can be nothing so important as that."

"This man and I are alone in the modern world in that we think that God is essentially important. I think that He does not exist; that is where the importance comes in for me. But this man thinks that God does exist, and thinking that very properly thinks Him more important than anything else."

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Fr. Jaki: the Fight About Science and Christianity

Recently I began re-reading A Mind's Matter - Fr. Jaki's "intellectual autobiography". It contains some of his most succinct and powerful writing. Perhaps, as a Chestertonian and a scientist, I keep hearing that most profound line from GKC: "The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind." [GKC, The Defendant 75]

Perhaps it is because it seems a bit tiresome to laugh about the usual media whining on Galileo yet another time - after all, in a certain way he was wrong about his science (the planets move around the sun in ellipses, not circles) though right about the theology (Oh yes - it's in St. Augustine!)

But really, it is time to get to work on this bridge, even if it means a fight. Jaki, Chesterton, Duhem, and Newman, have done a lot of work already. Now it's our turn.
--Dr. Thursday

Note: the following is from Jaki's A Mind's Matter, pp. x-xii

The resolve to deny any tie, factual or possible, between Christianity and science, has become essential to modern secularism. Whatever concessions it might be willing to make, modern secularism will not yield an inch on that point, which serves as the basic rational foundation of its radical rejection of the supernatural. And since only the Catholic Church still stands as a distinctly identifiable body on behalf of the supernatural, the animosity of secularism ever more heatedly centers on the Catholic Church. In an age that disavows any abusive reference to any group, Catholics remain the only free game.
Anyone who has not resorted to wearing the thickest blinders can readily cite examples of this. For my part, let me recall one such example insofar as it relates to some pivotal point in this intellectual autobiography. As a historian of science, or rather the kind who, precisely because he is also a theologian and a priest, this author found nothing irritating in findings made early this century about the medieval, Christian origins of Newton's first law. And since those findings are well documented, he cannot be blamed for taking great delight in them and for finding them most seminal for a reinterpretation of intellectual history in a sense almost diametrically opposite to the one bequeathed by the philosophes to modern Western Europe. Its academic establishment is ruled by intellectuals who write lengthy books, among other things, about discoverers and discoveries as modern man's chief achievement but keep turning a blind eye to what made it intellectually possible for a Copernicus to remove the earth from the center of the universe and still retain his Catholic peace of mind, a mind firmly anchored in the supernatural.
One can understand the resentment which seizes those who rest their naturalism and secularism on science whenever they are confronted with the Christian origins of science. Resentment, bordering on rage, can make one resort to strange footwork that cannot be explained on purely intellectual grounds except as a visceral reaction of the modern "noble pagan" to the specter of the supernatural. Counter-supernatural motivations, and not purely intellectual considerations had to drive that physicist at Michigan State University, who was the official respondent to my presentation there on "Medieval Creativity in Science and Technology." In that role he could be expected to comment on the data and arguments presented by me on exclusively medieval material. Instead of doing anything of the sort, he spoke almost twenty minutes on what he believed to be a fundamental connection between modern science (physics) and Eastern mysticism.
Beneath such a strange performance there must have lain some strong motivations which should not be difficult to pinpoint. They bespeak of some desperate salvage operation at work. What has to be saved is the secularist's hope that modern science justifies man's dechristianization of his Christian heritage. Therefore if that man has to concede something important in his culture to Christianity, to the supernatural, he has to try to offset this concession by making claims such as that there is a connection between modern physics and Eastern mysticism, which is indeed a most religiously coated denial of the supernatural, properly so-called.
It takes some naiveté to overlook the true nature of all this. Whether one likes it or not, one is engaged in a battle, and if such is the case, it is better to fight. I certainly do not dislike a spirited encounter or two, and I read with great delight that Newman readily joined a battle whenever he saw one. This is not to suggest that I have always fought wisely, or even to the purpose. But I have no doubt about the very essence of the great contestation which has taken on a frightening vigor for the past two or three decades and got into high gear during the 1990s. It is a wholesale attack by the champions of naturalism and secularism on the supernatural as mainly represented by the Catholic Church. For them, the Catholic Church is the chief enemy of a mankind that wants its autonomy from anything superhuman, that is, supernatural. Their view of the Church echoes the invectives hurled at her by T. H. Huxley who in that respect was at least consistent as an ideological Darwinist. In modern America, embarked on the Third Millennium, everything is defined, overtly or covertly, with a reference to the Catholic Church.
I simply could not stand on the sideline. I felt I had to contribute whatever I could to stem the onrush of the juggernaut of secularism, insofar as it invokes science on its behalf. But my aim was not so much to attack some spokesmen of that juggernaut, as to strengthen those ready to resist it but often are at a loss for arguments that would convince them that they are on the winning side, or at least on the side against which no force, no factor, shall ever prevail. It is the side that for now two thousand years has held about the forces opposing it: non prevalebunt. Its success in holding out for two millennia augurs well for it now that mankind has entered a third millennium counted from the birth of Christ.