Saturday, July 29, 2006

Summer Novena: from Ignatius to Dominic

There are lots of things going on this summer - here, there, and around the world - and there are a lot of people who need help.

One of the very best things you can do is join in the Novena which runs from July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, to August 8, the feast of St. Dominic. (Some other big-name feasts are included at no extra charge!)

If you can get to Holy Mass, great. If not, perhaps you can add the five Luminous Mysteries to your daily prayers - or make your own selection.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A mathematical answer to Membership and Inidividuality

While I take a pause for thought in the debugging of my current puzzle at work, I will respond to a discussion from my friend Candlestring.

It is a rather tongue-in-cheek answer, since there is a nice metaphysical question surrounding the idea:
"the category for those who fit in no category"
which gets into all kinds of interesting and sometimes silly set-theory debates, like this paradox:
"In a town where the barber shaves every man who doesn't shave himself, who shaves the barber?"
which is a disease coming from people who do not live in the real world where there actually ARE barbers. Speaking of which, here's an interesting tale of GKC and his barber:
One day GKC came to be shaved after giving a wireless talk on the morals of the day, inferior, he said, to those of his youth. He asked the barber: "What did you think of it?"
"Sorry, I don't agree with you."
"That's very interesting, why not?" And they talked for half an hour.
[Maisie Ward, Return to Chesterton 123]
So in a real town, the mathematician would have nice long talks with the barber.

Anyway, I promised a mathematical answer to the question, and here it is. You see, the question about the categorization of humans can easily be converted into the question whether every individual is interesting or not. (For if we are all interesting, then that category is identical to the set of humans.) And that is even more easily converted into the following:

Theorem: There are no uninteresting numbers.
Proof: Assume the contrary, there exists a non-empty set U of uninteresting numbers. It could not be infinite, for then all its members would be interesting, since they form an infinite partition of the set of all numbers, and all such partitions are interesting. So U must be finite. Now, if U has more than one member, there must be a smallest such number; call it usmall. But then that number would be interesting, for usmall is the smallest member of U. But perhaps U has only one member: in this case, this number is the only uninteresting number, and any number which is so unique must therefore be interesting. Hence, U must be empty, denying our assumption. Quod erat demonstrandum.

But then this very technical solution is equivalent to what Maisie Ward calls "perhaps the most significant phrase" in GKC's notebook:

"I wonder whether there will ever come a time when I shall be tired of any one person."
[Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 60-61]
GKC, following his Master, would be interested in YOU. And that is a quite a sign of hope. So let us do likewise.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Art for the modern world

Matthew from the Holy Whapping has an interesting posting about art (in the large sense) as applied to the modern world: the use of good, classical designs of beauty for common things like gas stations!

Speaking as a Chestertonian computer scientist, I would be delighted to see a beautiful wood - er - cabinet for my CRT/computer... maybe some gold leaf, scrollwork, etc... perhaps opening as a kind of diptych with paintings on either side: On the left, St. Joseph teaching the boy Jesus to read; on the right St. Thomas Aquinas with a scroll bearing Ens - as GKC asays, "There is an IS!"...

Well, if I don't get back to work, I won't be able to afford it if someone ever makes it. But here is Chesterton's own views of this remarkable idea:

Nobody would be more really unsuitable to the machine age than a man who really admired machines. The modern system presupposes people who will take mechanism mechanically; not people who will take it mystically. An amusing story might be written about a poet who was really appreciative of the fairy-tales of science, and who found himself more of an obstacle in the scientific civilization than if he had delayed it by telling the fairy-tales of infancy. Suppose whenever he went to the telephone (bowing three times as he approached the shrine of the disembodied oracle and murmuring some appropriate form of words such as vox et praeterea nihil), he were to act as if he really valued the significance of the instrument. Suppose he were to fall into a trembling ecstasy on hearing from a distant exchange the voice of an unknown young woman in a remote town, were to linger upon the very real wonder of that momentary meeting in mid-air with a human spirit whom he would never see on earth, were to speculate on her life and personality, so real and yet so remote from his own, were to pause to ask a few personal questions about her, just sufficient to accentuate her human strangeness, were to ask whether she also had not some sense of this weird Psychical tête-à-tête, created and dissolved in an instant, whether she also thought of those unthinkable leagues of valley and forests that lay between the moving mouth and the listening ear - suppose, in short, he were to say all this to the lady at the exchange who was just about to put him on to 666 Upper Tooting. He would be really and truly expressing the sentiment, "Wonderful thing, the telephone!" ; and, unlike the thousands who say it, he would actually mean it. He would be really and truly justifying the great scientific discoveries and doing honour to the great scientific inventors. He would indeed be the worthy son of a scientific age. And yet I fear that in a scientific age he would possibly be misunderstood, and even suffer from lack of sympathy. I fear that he would, in fact, be in practice an opponent of all that he desired to uphold. He would be a worse enemy of machinery than any Luddite smashing machines. He would obstruct the activities of the telephone exchange, by praising the beauties of the telephone, more than if he had sat down, like a more normal and traditional poet, to tell all those bustling business people about the beauties of a wayside flower.

[GKC, The Outline of Sanity CW5:152-3]

[Also see What's Wrong With the World, CW 4:112: "I have often thanked God for the telephone."]

Monday, July 24, 2006

Prescription: Prayer

Another very interesting and strongly suggestive excerpt from the 1908 book The Popes and Science by Dr. Walsh.

It sounds like a good prescription to me!
--Dr. Thursday

Some of the most distinguished specialists in mental cliseases in Germany, France and England are on record as believing that one of the most helpful agencies in the relief of certain symptoms of mental disturbance, and even the cure of milder forms of insanity, is confidence in the Almighty as expressed by prayer. At a meeting of the British Medical Association two years ago, [1906] this idea was expressed very forcibly by a distinguished specialist, and was concurred in by a number of those at the meeting of the Section on Mental Diseases. He said:

"As an alienist and one whose life has been concerned with the suffering of the mind, I would state thát of all hygienic measures to counteract disturbed sleep, depressed spirits and all of the miserable sequels of a distressed mind, I would undoubtedly give the first place to the simple habit of prayer. ... Such a habit does more to calm the spirit and strenghten the soul to overcome mere incidental emotionalism than any other therapeutic agent known to me."

Friday, July 21, 2006

"The Supposed Papal Prohibition of Dissection"

In order to assist my friend the Curt Jester with some backup information about the Popes versus Science (specifically medicine), I present the first few pages of the chapter called "The Supposed Papal Prohibition of Dissection" from the 1908 edition of the book The Popes and Science by Dr. James J. Walsh.
(I apologise in advance for any typographical errors in the transcription.)
--Dr. Thursday

The Supposed Papal Prohibition of Dissection

There is a very general impression that the Roman Catholic Church was, during the Middle Ages, opposed to the practice of dissection, and that various ecclesiastical regulations and even Papal decrees were issued which prohibited, or at least limited to a very great degree, this necessary adjunct of medical teaching. These ecclesiastical censures are supposed to be in force, to some extent at least, even at the present time. The persuasion as to the minatory attitude of the Church in regard to dissection is so widespread among even supposedly well-educated professional men, that, as we have said in the introductory chapter, when there was question some time ago of opening a medical school in New York City under Catholic auspices as a department of Fordham University, a number of more than ordinarily intelligent physicians asked: What would be done about the study of anatomy, since in the circumstances suggested dissection would not be allowed ? This false impression has been produced by writers in the history of science who have emphasized very strenuously the supposed opposition of the Church to science, and as these writers had a certain prestige as scholars their works have been widely read and their assertions have been unquestioned, because it would naturally be presumed that they would not make them without thorough investigation of such important questions. Professional men are not to blame if they have taken such statements seriously, even though they are absolutely without foundation. That statements of this kind should have been made by men of distinction in educational circles and should have passed current so long, is only additional evidence of an intolerant spirit in those who least suspect it in themselves and are most ready to deprecate intolerance in others.

Take a single example. Most of what is said as to the opposition of the Church to medicine during the Middle Ages in A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, by Andrew D. White (Appleton's, New York), is founded on a supposed Papal prohibition of anatomy and on a subsequent equally supposed Papal prohibition of chemistry. These two documents are emphasized so much, that most readers cannot but conclude that, even without further evidence, these are quite enough to prove the contention with regard to the unfortunate opposition of the Church to medical science. Without these two presumably solid pillars of actual Papal documents, what is said with regard to the Church and its relations to medical science in the Middle Ages amounts to very little. Much is made of the existence of superstitions in medicine as characteristic of the Middle Ages and as encouraged by clergymen, but medical superstitions of many kinds continue to have their hold on even the intelligent classes down to the present day in spite of the progress of education, and in countries where the Church has very little influence over the people. Dr. White quotes with great confidence and absolute assurance a Papal decree issued in the year 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII., which forbade the mutilation of the human body and consequently hampered all possibility of progress in anatomy for several important centuries in the history of modern science. Indeed this supposed Papal prohibition of dissection is definitely stated to have precluded all opportunity for the proper acquisition of anatomical knowledge until the first half of the sixteenth century, when the Golden Age of modern anatomy set in. This date being coincident with the spread of the movement known as the Protestant Reformation, many people at once conclude that somehow the liberality of spirit that then came into the world, and is supposed at least to have put an end to all intolerance, must have been the active factor in this development of anatomy, and that, as Dr. White has indeed declared, it was only because the Church was forced from her position of opposition that anatomical investigation was allowed.

Since so serious an accusation is founded on a definite Papal document, it cannot but be a matter of surprise that those who have cited it so confidently as forbidding anatomy, and especially dissection, have never given the full text of the document. It is practically impossible for the ordinary reader, or even for the serious student of the history of medicine, to obtain a copy of this decree unless he has special library facilities at his command and the help of those who are familiar with this class of documents. Many references have been made to this prohibition by Pope Boniface VIII., but no one has thought it worth while to give, even in a footnote, the text of it. The reason for this is easy to understand as soon as one reads the actual text. It has nothing to say at all with regard to dissection. It has absolutely no reference to the cutting up of the human body for teaching purposes. Its purpose is very plain, and is stated so that there can be no possible misapprehension of its meaning. Here we have an excellent illustration of what the editors of the Cambridge Modern History declared to be the breaking up of the long conspiracy against the truth by the consultation of original documents.
Through the kindness of the Rev. D. A. Corbett, of the Seminary of St. Charles Borromeo, Overbrook, Pa., I have been able to secure a copy of Pope Boniface's decree, and this at once disposes of the assertion that dissection was forbidden or anatomy in any way hampered by it. Father Corbett writes:

"The Bull De Sepulturis of Boniface VIII. is not found in the Collectio Bullarum of Coquelines, nor is it incorporated in the Liber Sextus Decretalium Divi Bonifacii Papse VIII., though it is from here that it is quoted in the Histoire Litteraire de la France (as referred to by President White). It appears in an appendix to this sixth book among the Extravagantes, a term that is used to signify that the documents contained under it were issued at a time somewhat apart from the period this special book of decretals was supposed to cover. The Liber Sextus was published in 1298. This 'Bull De Sepulturis' was not issued until 1300. It is to be found in the third book of the Extravagantes, Chapter I."

Even a glance at the title would seem to be sufficient to show that this document did not refer even distantly to dissection, and this makes it all the harder to understand the misapprehension that ensued in the matter, if the document was quoted in good faith, for usually the compression necessary in the title is the source of such errors. The full text of the bull only confirms the absolute absence of any suggestion of forbidding dissection or discouraging the study of anatomy.
"Title - Concerning Burials.
[Dr. White gives the Latin text in full in an appendix.]
Boniface VIII. Persons cutting up the bodies of the dead, barbarously boiling them, in order that the bones, being separated from the flesh, may be carried for burial into their own countries, are by the very act excommunicated.
"As there exists a certain abuse, which is characterized by the most abominable savagery, but which nevertheless some of the faithful have stupidly adopted, We, prompted by motives of humanity, have decreed that all further mangling of the human body, the very mention of which fills the soul with horror, should be henceforth abolished.
"The custom referred to is observed with regard to those who happen to be in any way distinguished by birth or position, who, when dying in foreign lands, have expressed a desire to be buried in their own country. The custom consists of disemboweling and dismembering the corpse, or chopping it into pieces and then boiling it so as to remove the flesh before sending the bones home to be buried - all from a distorted respect for the dead. Now, this is not only abominable in the sight of God, but extremely revolting under every human aspect. Wishing, therefore, as the duty of our office demands, to provide a remedy for this abuse, by which the custom, which is such an abomination, so inhuman and so impious, may be eradicated and no longer be practiced by anyone, We, by our apostolic authority, decree and ordain that no matter of what position or family or dignity they may be, no matter in what cities or lands or places in which the worship of the Catholic faith flourishes, the practice of this or any similar abuse with regard to the bodies of the dead should cease forever, no longer be observed, and that the hands of the faithful should not be stained by such barbarities.
"And in order that the bodies of the dead should not be thus impiously and barbarously treated and then transported to the places in which, while alive, they had selected to be buried, let them be given sepulture for the time either in the city or the camp or in the place where they have died, or in some neighboring place, so that, when finally their bodies have been reduced to ashes or otherwise, they may be brought to the place where they wish to be buried and there be interred. And, if the executor or executrix of the aforesaid defunct, or those of his household, or anyone else of whatever order, condition, state or grade he may be, even if he should be clothed with episcopal dignity, should presume to attempt anything against the tenor of this our statute and ordination, by inhumanly and barbarously treating the bodies of the dead, as we have described, let him know that by the very fact he incurs the sentence of excommunication, from which he cannot obtain absolution (unless at the moment of death), except from the Holy See. And besides, the body that has been thus barbarously treated shall be left without Christian burial. Let no one, therefore, etc. (Here follows the usual formula of condemnation for the violation of the prescriptions of a decree. ) Given at the Lateran Palace, on the twelfth of the calends of March, in the sixth year of our pontificate. "
The reason for the bull is very well known. During the crusades, numbers of the nobility who died at a distance from their homes in infidel countries were prepared for transportation and burial in their own lands by dismemberment and boiling. The remains of Louis IX., of France, and a number of his relatives who perished on the ill-fated crusade in Egypt in 1270, are said to have been brought back to France in this fashion. The body of the famous German Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, who was drowned in the river Saleph near Jerusalem, was also treated thus in order that the remains might be transported to Germany without serious decomposition being allowed to disturb the ceremonials of subsequent obsequies. Such examples were very likely to be imitated by many. The custom, as can be appreciated from these instances from different nations, was becoming so widespread as to constitute a serious source of danger to health, and might easily have furnished occasion for the conveyance of disease. It is almost needless to say to our generation that it was eminently unhygienic. Any modern authority in sanitation would at once declare against it, and the custom would be put an end to without more ado. There can be no doubt at all then that Pope Boniface VIII. accomplished good, not evil, by the publication of this bull. So anyone with modern views as to the danger of disease from the foolish custom which it abolished would at once have declared, and yet, by a perversion of its signification, it came to be connected with a supposed prohibition of dissection. For this misunderstanding Pope Boniface VIII. has had to suffer all sorts of reproaches and the Church has been branded as opposed to anatomy by historians (!)

Is it possible, however, that this bull was misinterpreted so as to forbid dissection, or at least certain forms of anatomical preparation which were useful for the study and teaching of anatomy? That is what Dr. White asserts. He shows, moreover, in his History of the Warfare of Science with Theology, that he knew that the document in question was perfectly inoffensive as regards any prohibition of dissection in itself, but insists that by a misinterpretation, easy to understand as he considers, because of the supposed opposition of ecclesiastics to medical science, it did actually prevent anatomical development. President White says: "As to the decretal of Pope Boniface VIII., the usual statement is that it forbade all dissections. While it was undoubtedly construed universally to prohibit dissection for anatomical purposes, its declared intent was as stated in the text; that it was constantly construed against anatomical investigations cannot for a moment be denied. "

If a misinterpretation were subsequently made, surely Pope Boniface VIII. must not be held responsible for it; yet in spite of the fact that Dr. White shows that he knew very well that this bull did not forbid the practice of dissection, he does not hesitate to use over and over again expressions which would imply that some formal decision against dissection itself had been made, though this is the only Papal document he refers to. He even goes so far as to say that "anatomical investigation was made a sin against the Holy Ghost." He frequently repeats that for three centuries after the issuance of this bull the development of anatomy was delayed and hampered, and insists that only that Vesalius at great personal risk broke through this Church opposition, modern anatomy would never have developed. He proceeds constantly on the theory that it was always this bull that was in fault, though he confesses that if so, it was by a misunderstanding; and the only fault he can find to attribute to the Pope is a lack of infallibility, as he calls it, because he was not able to foresee that his bull would be so misunderstood.

I suppose we are to understand from this that Dr. White considers that he knows the meaning of the word infallibility. It is not a hard word to understand if one wishes to understand it. The meaning that he gives it in this passage is so entirely different from its accepted meaning among Catholics, that any schoolboy in any of our parochial schools would tell him that the word was never used by Catholics in the sense in which he here employs it. It is so misunderstood popularly outside of the Church, and this Dr. White doubtless knew very well. When a man uses a term in medicine in a different sense to that which is ordinarily accepted, we consider him ignorant; but when he deliberately uses it in another sense for his own purposes because of a false significance attached to it in the popular mind, we have a special name for him.

The whole matter, however, resolves itself into the simple question, "Was dissection prevented and anatomical investigation hampered after the issuance of the bull?" This is entirely a question of fact. The history of anatomy will show whether dissection ceased or not at this time. Now if those who so confidently make assertions in this matter had ever gone to a genuine history of anatomy, they would have learned at once that, far from this being the time when dissection ceased, the year 1300 is almost exactly the date for which we have the first definite evidence of the making of dissections and the gradual development of anatomical investigation by this means in connection with the Italian universities. This is such a curious coincidence that I always call it to the attention of medical students in lecturing on this subject.

The first dissection of which we have definite record, Roth tells us in his life of Vesalius, was a so-called private anatomy or dissection made for medico-legal purposes. Its date is the year 1302, within two years after the bull. A nobleman had died and there was a suspicion that he had been poisoned. The judge ordered that an autopsy be made in order to determine this question. Unfortunately we do not know what the decision of the doctors in the case was. We know only that the case was referred to them. Now it seems very clear that if this had not been a common practice before, the court would not have adopted this measure, apparently as a matter of judicial routine, as seems to have been the case in this instance. Had it been the first time that it was done instead of having the record of the transaction preserved only by chance, any mention of it at all would have appeared so striking to the narrator, that he would have been careful to tell the whole story, and especially the decision reached in the matter.

After this, evidence of dissection accumulates rapidly. During the second decade of the century Mondino, the first writer on anatomy, was working at Bologna. We have the records of his having made some dissections in connection with his university teaching there, and eventually he published a text-book on dissection which became the guide for dissectors for the next two centuries.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Rule of Three

Well, it has been a little while, as I have been busy, and so I will write something intricate and delicious for a change.

Our friends who "Love to Learn" have recently set up a web page just about Chesterton:

At the top it has a very interesting quote:
How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe?
[GKC, What's Wrong With the World CW4:118-9]
And I have seen this quoted elsewhere, often with a footnote wondering just what the Rule of Three is. So I loked it up, and started thinking about three.

What three are we talking about? What a great number! Well, we should not get all numerological, but we can start by considering the greatest paradox, and deepest secret ever known by human beings, where one name is stated to belong to three persons:
Go, therefore, and maqhteusate all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
[Mt 28:19]
Oh, I left that word in Greek on purpose. Let me write it in English letters, so you will see: mathêteusate which might be translated as "make disciples" or "make students" or "teach"... Yes, it has the same root as the word "mathematics" which means "the Learning" or "That Which is Studied". (Are you surprised? It's because mathematics is "studied" that St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that math is the "easiest" of the sciences - yes, Barbie, math is easy! I will explore that topic in another post.)

Then we might consider this very strange and beautiful character of Hebrew and the other Semitic languages:
[Ancient] Egyptian shares the principal peculiarity of Semitic in that its word-stems consist of combinations of consonants, as a rule three in number, which are theoreticall at least unchangeable.
[Sir Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar 2, emphasis added]
But that is not what is being referred to by GKC.

Next, going from the liberal arts side of the universe, ahem, I mean university, to the technical, we would find the famous Code unravelled by Watson and Crick, called the Genetic Code, wherein each three "bases" or nucleotides - the components of DNA - are translated into one amino acid, which is the component of protein. Here, in one of the great triumphs of true cooperation among different disciplines, from biology, chemistry and nuclear physics to electronics, photography, and material science (and yes, even computer science!) we are able to make visible and study the sequences of letters, actually standing for fragments of an incredibly complex chemical, and those sequences are interpreted as the various structures of the living being. Here is just a part of the code:

AAA Lysine
CCC Proline
GGG Glycine
UUU Phenylalanine

It is here, in cases such as sickle cell anemia, where we see that an error of just one single letter in the DNA causes an error of one single amino acid in a blood protein: the GAA or GAG for glutamate is written as a GUA or GUG translating to valine. You may have heard something like that before: "Not the smallest letter, not the smallest part of a letter, of the law shall pass away..." [See Mt 5:18]

But as interesting as that may be, neither is that what Chesterton meant.

So what DID he mean?

Well, I looked it up, and here is what I found:
rule of three: method of finding the number that bears the same ratio to one given number as exists between two other given numbers.
[The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English 1095]
So, if I want to know:

"Two is to What as five is to ten?"

or, if you can stand the crash of symbols:

"Find x where 2/x = 5/10"

So the rule of three is this:
"To find x in a/x = b/c, where a, b, c are given, calculate x as a*c/b."

Or, in our example, 2 times 10 divided by 5... so the answer is 4.

Frankly, it might be easier to tell a few about the universe. The fun thing is to try to do both at once.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Critical Moment

I have come to a critical moment in my writing on Subsidiarity. Hence it is important that I invoke higher authority.

Please pray that the work yet to be done will advance according to God's will.

Friday, July 07, 2006

2006, Seventh Month, Seventh Day

Wow, another half a billion miles around the sun again. That makes a half a century plus one, or three times seventeen. How time flies when you're working, and sleeping, and praying, and trying to write...

And now - it is the day for the eating of cake, with candles. No,we take the candles off first, but make sure they are not still burning! If friends came by, we might have a nice picnic on the roof, or even in the cellar, and we could read books, and write poems, especially triolets, and nice easy-to-write Chestertonian ballades, and drink wine or beer or water. And then tell jokes. That was one of the great things at ChesterCon, examining the chicken/road joke again. The other day I was reading Gray's Anatomy, and laughing... we can write epithelium jokes... "Why did the Darwinian cross the membrane?" hee hee. It's a party. Then we can play "pin the umlaut on the preposition" and all those college department games. What fun! But I have to finish this posting and then get ready, so...

Yes, 31,536,000 seconds go very fast, even without a computer. Besides work and sleep and praying and trying to write, saying hello and goodbye, drinking beer, and answering questions, there was Christmas and Easter and ChesterCon, and cooking and eating, and buying and reading and printing books, and (shh!) doing der szekret prodjekts (shh!) and laughing, and writing things to induce laughing, and posting things on the blogg, and making comments on other people's bloggs, and deleteing comments that aren't any good (mostly my own!) and all the other usual things that go on here on this wobbly little planet, it would take LOTS of disk space to tell all those things, and probably get boring, even with beer. (Somewhere there's a Chesterton quote about how no one, not even the dull modern aesthetes, would sit through a three hour play of a man laying bricks. Or a man writing software. It's just about as boring. Hee hee.) So I won't tire you with the details of how hard work can be. Beside you probably know all about that. So I will tell you something you don't know. And with the really amazing books that I got when I was at Loome, and at ChesterCon, I probably have nice juicy book-meat to write about for a good while. But you could read the same books - or even own them. So it will have to be something that's not in any book yet.

And here it is:

(No I did NOT go to Iceland last week. Maybe some year.)

That is NOT it. This is it: I am nearing the HOME stretch of my book on Subsidiarity. I've worked through the FIELD, gathered lots of LEAVES, and oh, yes, these are puns. Sorry. Well, you'll see. (You don't like puns? Why not? You can read and write can't you? Did you know Chesterton thought that writing might have begun due to a pun? It's in his The Everlasting Man.) Anyhow, I am working on the last chapter and the conclusion, and just this week found an excellent term to assist (hee hee) with the explanation. But I don't want to spoil the surprise. (Er, no that's the Chesterton play. Sorry.) Where did I put my beer? (ah!) So please God this will be finished soon - then perhaps I will proceed to the next writing project. People keep asking; what else can I do?

In any case, thanks for going along on this 580-some million mile ellipse-ride with me. (Yes, ellipse! Sorry Galileo, but YOU WERE WRONG! Circles, sheesh. Why didn't you listen to that nice Mr. Kepler?) Anyhow! I'm sure we'll talk again but otherwise I'll see you again about two weeks after the next aphelion.

Until then, as St. Paul instructs us, "Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness":

Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.
Dignum et justum est.

For, as GKC says, "Thanks are the highest form of thought."

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Apostles of Common Sense

As you may have heard, Father Stanley L. Jaki spoke at ChesterCon this year. An enthusiastic Chestertonian (see CW3:139 for why I point this out!) he is the author of the very important Chesterton a Seer of Science which considers GKC's work and its relevance to science. Speaking both as a scientist, and as one to struggles to live the Faith, I have found Fr. Jaki's books to be enlightening, thought-provoking, and deeply satisfying.

What I am starting to see, as I proceed deeper into them, is how they begin to "link up" with Chesterton, and with books by other Chestertonians - for, as GKC loved to point out, "I never can really feel that there is such a thing as a different subject. There is no such thing as an irrelevant thing in the universe; for all things in the universe are at least relevant to the universe." [GKC, ILN Feb 17, 1906 CW27:126] You see? This is the kind of profound thought one would expect from a physicist - and one finds it in the weekly column of a journalist.

What do we find in the writing of a physicist?
"I have held it my duty as a scientist as well as my duty as a Christian never to cease being the apostle of common sense, the sole foundation of all scientific, philosophical, and religious certainty", wrote Duhem in a letter to a friend whose identity was not revealed by Emile Picard, perpetual secretary of the Académie des Sciences, who first quoted it in his eulogy of Duhem.
[quoted by S. L. Jaki in The Physicist as Artist: the Landscapes of Pierre Duhem note 93 page 29 (emphasis added)]
In case you did not know: "The Apostle of Common Sense" is the title by which Dale Ahlquist, the President of the ACS, refers to GKC. It is also the title of the shows about Chesterton which are aired by EWTN. And there is also a book providing a kind of condensed script from those shows, available from the ACS.

Pierre Duhem (1861-1916) was a great French physicist and historian of science - but like GKC, he was much more as well. I will try to get a mini-bio together soon.