Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pope John XXI (Peter of Spain)

I know it does me no good to set up my day's discussion with a bunch of questions if I am going to give you the answer as the title of my posting. But it is fun, and perhaps you will be amused, and even amazed. Especially today.

Q: Who is the only Pope (besides Peter) mentioned as being in heaven in Dante's "Divine Comedy"?
Q: Who was a physician and taught at the University of Siena before he was elected Pope?
Q: Who was "archiater" = Physician to the Papal City, roughly corresponding to "Chief of the Department of Health" before he was elected Pope?
Q: Who wrote one of the first books in the Italian language - on the eye and its diseases and treatments?
Q: Whose poem from another of his books is behind the very strange line in Chesterton's poem "True Sympathy or Prevention Of Cruelty To Teachers" which states:
I wore my Soul's Awakening smile
I felt it was my duty:
Lo! Logic works by Barbara
And life is ruled by Beauty.
[GKC, CW10:486-7]
Huh? "Logic works by Barbara"? You'll see. It really does. But let's deal with these questions first.

Well, yes, you already know who it was. He was called Peter of Spain, though he was born in Lisbon, Portugal, of a man named Julianus, in the second decade of the 13th century (between 1210 and 1220). He studied in Paris and (apparently) also in Montpelier, and sometime between 1250 and 1260 he was invited to the Chair of "Physic" (the Medical school) of the University of Siena, and it was while he taught there that he wrote a book called Summulae Logicales, which became the textbook of logic at most of the Italian universities for the next two centuries.

It is in this book that (I am told) we find this very strange series of words:
Barbara, Celarent, Darii, Ferio.
Cesare, Camestres, Festino, Baroko.
Darapti, Disamis, Datisi, Felapton, Bokardo, Ferison.
Bramantip, Camenes, Dimaris, Fesapo, Fresison.
I may note that there are other versions, at least of the lines after the first, and the version I have may be truncated. But it's the first line that really matters.

Let us say these mystic words together. No, they are not nonsense; in fact, they are quite serious, as you will see in just a moment.

Barbara, Celarent, Darii, Ferio.

Yes, they sound like magic... You won't find them in those books about Hogwarts, but the great logician De Morgan says "They are magic words, more full of meaning than any that were ever made." (De Morgan is well known to computer scientists and all who use Boolean Algebra as well as logicians.) Let's say them again:

Barbara, Celarent, Darii, Ferio.

In these four words you hold the great Master Key of Logic, at least as far as concerns the very important form called the Syllogism. The whole little poem might be called an example of "microcode" (a cunning trick used deep within computers), as their precise spellings - in particular the order of the vowels - gives the specification of the various forms of the Syllogism, and for their reduction to the four forms of the "First Figure".

Barbara = aaa = "All M is S. All P is M. Therefore, All P is S."
Celarent = eae = "No M is S. All P is M. Therefore, No P is S."
Darii = aii = "All M is S. Some P is M. Therefore, Some P is S."
Ferio = eio = "No M is S. Some P is M. Therefore, Some P is not S."

But I do not have the time or space to explain all these very interesting device, since there's much more to tell. (All right, I will give it as a footnote.)

At some point Peter wrote a little book on the eye, Liber de oculo, written in Italian, which showed how much was already known about the anatomy and diseases of the eye in the 13th century.

Peter was made Archbishop of Portugal; after that he was summoned again to Rome to be consulting physician to the Papal Court. It was at this time (September 13, 1276) he was elected Pope and took the name John. He did not reign very long, not even a year, but he dealt with several political issues, yet still continued with his scientific work. You may find that hard to believe, even harder than imagining an ophthalmologist as Pope, but as the e-edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia states,
Amid the cares of the papacy John found time for his scientific studies, which were more congenial to him than the business of the Curia. To secure the necessary quiet for these studies, he had an apartment added to the papal palace at Viterbo, to which he could retire when he wished to work undisturbed. On 14 May, 1277, while the Pope was alone in this apartment, it collapsed; John was buried under the ruins, and died on 20 May in consequence of the serious injuries he had received.
and though he is not canonized, I think we might pray to him as well as for him...

O John XXI,
"...Peter of Spain,
Who through twelve volumes full of light descants."
[Dante, "Paradiso", Canto XII, 135]
You who were author, physician, ophthalmologist, logician, and Pope, beg God to give us light and logic.



For more information, please see here; I also used Walsh's Catholic Churchmen in Science, Second Series, The Popes and Science, and Shallo's Scholastic Philosophy.

And now, on the "microcode" of Barbara and the rest:

Meanings of the letters:

a = "All X is Y"
i = "Some X is Y"
e = "No X is Y"
o = "Some X is not Y"

(These are the vowels from affirmo = "I affirm, say yes", and nego = "I deny, say no".)

The initial letter of the word specifies which of the four forms of the "First Figure", which are valid syllogisms:

B (Barbara) = "All M is S. All P is M. Therefore, All P is S."
C (Celarent) = "No M is S. All P is M. Therefore, No P is S."
D (Darii) = "All M is S. Some P is M. Therefore, Some P is S."
F (Ferio) = "No M is S. Some P is M. Therefore, Some P is not S."

The other letters (in the second, third, and fourth lines) are the "instructions" which show how to convert each form into one of the First Figure.

m - transpose the premises (exchange S and P)
s - convert the preceding vowel "simply" (exchange the left side and right side of the "is" in that statement)
p - convert by "limitation"
k - apply "indirect reduction" (this means showing the trutb by assuming the contradictory, and showing that the assumption leads to absurdity)

Here's an example from Shallo:
S: All stars are self-luminous bodies.
P: No planets are self-luminous bodies.
Therefore, no planets are stars.

This is a syllogism in Camestres; it is reducible to Celarent. The first s indicates that the minor is to be simply converted; the m that this new minor is to change places with the former major; the last s that the conclusion is to be simply converted, thus:

S: No self-luminous bodies are planets.
P: All stars are self-luminous bodies.
Therefore, no stars are planets.

Friday, February 27, 2009

St. Bénezet and St. Ferdinand III (and two others)

As you may know, I am a computer scientist, but also a computer engineer - though that term usually has a rather special sense in the industry. Actually I am a bit hard to classify, since when I work in "industry" they think all I do is write technical papers full of theorems, and when I work in "academics" they think all I do is write programs. I sit squarely on the fence - which can be uncomfortable, but I have the best (and the worst) of both worlds. And some days I dabble in philosophy and lit'ry things, and make even more of a mess of things. But then you get to enjoy the results. Hee hee!

Engineering is often described as "applied science" and real scientists know that they must often work as an engineer if they want to get things done, just as real engineers know they must often work as a scientist if they want to have any real understanding of what they are doing. Ahem.

Since yesterday we considered the patron saint of science, today we shall consider the patron saint of engineers. However, when I looked up who that is, I found it stated (in the Catholic Almanac) as "St. Ferdinand III of Castile", who (according to Butler's Lives of the Saints) died in 1252, his feast day is May 30, he founded the University of Salamanca, among other things - but nothing was said about his being patron of engineering. Nevertheless he is a very suitable patron, since any founder of a University has performed one of the greatest possible engineering feats.

You have heard me quote Chesterton from time to time, and I've struggled over what is my favourite. But one of the bits I quote most often when talking about science in the large is one I first recall having read in Jaki's Chesterton a Seer of Science, but I will give a little more so you will have some context:
Science itself is only the exaggeration and specialization of
this thirst for useless fact, which is the mark of the youth of man. But science has become strangely separated from the mere news and scandal of flowers and birds; men have ceased to see that a pterodactyl was as fresh and natural as a flower, that a flower is as monstrous as a pterodactyl. The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind. We have all to show that before we go on to any visions or creations we can be contented with a planet of miracles.
[GKC The Defendant 74-75]
And this is why I say that St. Ferdinand was a great engineer. For in founding his university - which, since it was in the Ages of Light, and not in this dark time, was designed according to common sense, and was no doubt very much like what Cardinal Newman describes in his Idea of a University - yes, in founding his university, he built a bridge.

And so I wish to draw your attention to anbother saint, St. Bénezet, who is also called "Little Benedict the Bridge Builder":
He was a pious lad, thoughtful beyond his years, and seems to have reflected much on the perils encountered by people who sought to cross the Rhône. One day, during an eclipse of the sun, he heard a voice which adderssed him three times out of the darkness, bidding him go to Avignon and build a bridge over the river, which was extremely rapid there. The construction and the repair of bridges was regarded in the middle ages as a work of mercy, for which rich men were often urged to make provision in their wills; but Bénezet was only an ignorant, undersized youth, without experience, influence, or money. Nevertheless he did not hesitate to obey the call. As may be imagined, the bishop of Avignon, to whom he addressed himself upon his arrival in the city, was not disposed at first to take him seriously, but the lad was able by miracles to prove his mission to the good bishop's satisfaction; and with his approvan the work of building a stone bridge over the Rhône was begun in 1177. For seven years little Bénezet directed the operations, and when he died in 1184 the main difficulties of the enterprise had been overcome. His body was buried upon the bridge iteself, which was not completed until four years after his death.
[Butler's; emphasis added]
Very interesting. I forgot to mention that his feast day is April 14. I also ought to point out that this idea of bridge building being an act of mercy is underscored by St. Thomas Aquinas:
A man may be led to beg by a twofold motive. First, by the desire to have wealth or meat without working for it, and such like mendicancy is unlawful; secondly, by a motive of necessity or usefulness. The motive is one of necessity if a man has no other means of livelihood save begging; and it is a motive of usefulness if he wishes to accomplish something useful, and is unable to do so without the alms of the faithful. Thus alms are besought for the building of a bridge, or church, or for any other work whatever that is conducive to the common good..."
[STA Summa Theologica II-II Q187 A5]
(Which I think has some very interesting relevance to things like founding a university as well. But we'll explore that another time.)

We also ought to include St. Joseph, who was "a worker" (though the term is often made more precise by stating "carpenter") - and the Man known as his son worked with him in Nazareth for most of his life. So if we are feeling bold we could actually postulate Jesus Christ, under His title of "Son of the Workman of Nazareth" as the patron of engineers, especially since we attest to His divine authority and design in the Nicene Creed, when we state "per quem omnia facta sunt" = "Through Him all things were made".

But, as usual, Chesterton has more to say, and it is a delight to quote it, since, like Ferdinand, it establishes the supreme authority of Jesus over both the liberal arts as well as the sciences, whether pure or applied:
the sanity of the world was restored and the, soul of man offered salvation by something which did indeed satisfy the two warring tendencies of the past; which had never been satisfied in full and most certainly never satisfied together. It met the mythological search for romance by being a story and the philosophical search for truth by being a true story. That is why the ideal figure had to be a historical character, as nobody had ever felt Adonis or Pan to be a historical character. But that is also why the historical character had to be the ideal figure; and even fulfil many of the functions given to these other ideal figures; why he was at once the sacrifice and the feast, why he could be shown under the emblems of the growing vine or the rising sun. The more deeply we think of the matter the more we shall conclude that, if there be indeed a God, his creation could hardly have reached any other culmination than this granting of a real romance to the world. Otherwise the two sides of the human mind could never have touched at all; and the brain of man would have remained cloven and double; one lobe of it dreaming impossible dreams and the other repeating invariable calculations. The picture-makers would have remained forever painting the portrait of nobody. The sages would have remained forever adding up numerals that came to nothing. It was that abyss that nothing but an incarnation could cover; a divine embodiment of our dreams; and he stands above that chasm whose name is more than priest and older even than Christendom; Pontifex Maximus, the mightiest maker of a bridge.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:380]

Jesus, God-Man, designer of creation, worker in Nazareth, have mercy on all who design and work!

St. Ferdinand, pray for us, that we may be truly ingenious in founding a universal work.

St. Bénezet, pray that we may dare to build bridges, and that our bridges may be strong and safe to cross.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

St. Albert the Great

I have several dozen reference books nearby. We all know that some things are easier to search for on a computer, but there are some things where I (like others) prefer "tactile books", as I have noted elsewhere.

It would be hard to select the critical volumes from among them. Some get used more frequently, of course; I've never bothered to accumulate any access frequencies. (What a bore - that's for computers!) But off the top of my head I would name three of the highest importance: the dictionary, the Bible, and the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, also available here. I've had one since I was in grade school, and it has done much to inspire and aid me in my work; my shelf edition is fairly old now - for all I know they've had to add another row to the Periodic Table - but it is still useful, so it has a large place on the shelf. (Hee hee!) Only my Liddell and Scott outweighs it.

Now, if I told you that there was a saint mentioned in that CRC book, would you believe me? Could you guess who it is? Well, you would probably guess because of the title I gave this post. (Rats.) But yes, if you read the utterly fascinating little entries about the chemical elements, which give some basic physical facts and the historical data about their discovery, you will find this:
Arsenic - ... It is believed that Albertus Magnus obtained the element in 1250 A.D.
Another related reference, Nature's Building Blocks by John Emsley, attributes its discovery to Albertus Magnus - which is none other than the Latin version of St. Albert the Great!

"It was his contemporaries who dubbed St. Albert 'the Great'." So begins the entry in Butler's Lives of the Saints (which are two shelves down from the CRC reference). It ends with the words "He is the patron saint of students of the natural sciences." Albert lived from (about) 1206 to 1280 A.D; he was a Dominican, the Bishop of Regensburg, the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas, and was named a Doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius XI, who said "he is exactly the saint whose example should inspire the present age, which so ardently seeks peace and is so full of hope in its scientific discoveries." St. Albert's chapter in Fr. Rengers' The 33 Doctors of the Church begins with this amazing line: "There is only one man in all history who is called 'The Great' because of his scholarship."

Albert lived in the heart of the Ages of Light. He was called "the Universal Doctor", "the Secretary of the Blessed Virgin Mary." He taught at Paris and Cologne, preached in Roma, and his writing fills some 38 quarto volumes in the "Paris" edition, estimated to be 20 million words. (For comparison, the GKC works in AMBER stands at about 8 million presently.) Chesterton mentions him several times, in particular in his St. Thomas Aquinas, where he is called
...the greatest of all German Professors ... Think of the modern German Professor being famous throughout Europe for his popularity when lecturing in Paris. ... Albert the Swabian, rightly called the Great, was the founder of modern science. He did more than any other man to prepare that process, which has turned the alchemist into the chemist, and the astrologer into the astronomer. It is odd that, having been in his time, in this sense almost the first astronomer, he now lingers in legend almost as the last astrologer. Serious historians are abandoning the absurd notion that the medieval Church persecuted all scientists as wizards. It is very nearly the opposite of the truth. The world sometimes persecuted them as wizards, and sometimes ran after them as wizards; the sort of pursuing that is the reverse of persecuting. The Church alone regarded them really and solely as scientists. ... Aquinas was still generally known only as one obscure and obstinately unresponsive pupil, among many more brilliant and promising pupils, when the great Albert broke silence with his famous cry and prophecy; "You call him a Dumb Ox; I tell you this Dumb Ox shall bellow so loud that his bellowings will fill the world." To Albertus Magnus, as to Aristotle or Augustine or any number of other and older teachers, St. Thomas was always ready, with the hearty sort of humility, to give thanks for all his thinking. None the less, his own thinking was an advance on Albertus and the other Aristotelians, just as it was an advance on Augustine and the Augustinians. Albert had drawn attention to the direct study of natural facts, if only through fables like the unicorn and the salamander but the monster called Man awaited a much more subtle and flexible vivisection. The two men, however, became close friends and their friendship counts for a great deal in this central fight of the Middle Ages. ... Between those rather incongruous passions, the love of Plato and the fear of Mahomet, there was a moment when the prospects of any Aristotelian culture in Christendom looked very dark indeed. Anathema after anathema was thundered from high places; and under the shadow of the persecution, as so often happens, it seemed for a moment that barely one or two figures stood alone in the storm-swept area. They were both in the black and white of the Dominicans; for Albertus and Aquinas stood firm. ... It is true that he [Aquinas] did not himself contribute anything concrete in the experiment or detail of physical science; in this, it may be said, he even lagged behind the last generation, and was far less of
an experimental scientist than his tutor Albertus Magnus. But for all that, he was historically a great friend to the freedom of science. The principles he laid down, properly understood, are perhaps the best that can be produced for protecting science from mere obscurantist persecution.
[GKC St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:444-5, 455, 458-9, 469, 470-1]
GKC also carried on a very interesting and humorous argument over Albert's mention of dance and Purgatory in The Superstitions of the Sceptic. Here is an interesting allusion from a different place:
If ever men did regard learning as a release, I should say it was those eager students of Paris and Oxford who found the whole world illuminated for them by the universal sun of Aristotle. If ever men invited to participate it was those crowds of poor scholars who came to the feasts of Abelard and Albertus Magnus. Nobody with the least living logic in his head can read the greatest of the Schoolmen without realising the true relish of intellectual activity; the appetite for the abstract. Nobody with the least popular sympathy in his heart who reads of those ragged crowds, living on crusts and onions at the Sorbonne and the other colleges, solely for the sake of the wine of words to be poured into them, can fail to recognise the one historic case of real popular education.
[GKC ILN Sept 25 1920 CW32:96]
Jaki parallels one of GKC's points:
Aquinas is, indeed, notable for his lack of appreciation of experimental investigation. His case is, however, more that of individual temper and preference than of methodological dictates. His master Albertus Magnus, was a most enthusiastic advocate of experimental investigation and he found in the contingency of the world the justification to his prolific collection of data concerning natural history. ... His [Roger Bacon's] continual reference to the need of experimenting had much to commend itself, but others, like Albertus Magnus, deserved no less credit on that score.
[Jaki, Science and Creation 226, 227; a note states: "On Albertus Magnus’s scientific programme and accomplishments see the twenty-two essays in Angelicum, vol. XXI (1944)."]
I will give one more fragment of detail from another author:
One of the greatest of the chemists of the thirteenth century was Albert the Great, or Albertus Magnus, as he is more familiarly called, who taught for many years at the University of Paris. He was a theologian as well as a physician and a scientist. His works have been published in twenty-one folio volumes, which will give some idea of the immense industry of the man. Those relating to chemistry are as follows: Concerning Metals and Minerals; Concerning Alchemy; A Treatise on the Secrets of Chemistry; A Brief Compend on the Origin of the Metals; A Concordance, that is, a Collection, of Observations from Many Sources, with Regard to the Philosopher's Stone; A Treatise on Compounds; a book of eight chapters on the Philosopher's Stone. Most of these are to be found in his works under the general heading "Theatrum Chemicum." Thomson, in his "History of Chemistry," says, that they are, in general, plain and intelligible. [James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science, 134-5]
Yes, you read that correctly - he wrote about the Philosopher's Stone! I don't recall if J. K. Rowling mentions Albertus Magnus in her writing, but his work is studied in the most unlikely places.

Dear St. Albert, holy Doctor, Teacher, Chemist, Scientist: pray for us, and guide us to use our knowledge and energy in the love and service of God and our neighbour. Amen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lent 2009: Scientia

"Remember MAN that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return."
(cf. Genesis 3:19)

"I am made from the dust of the stars..."
Rush, "Presto"
Yes, yes. Hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulfur, and a bit calcium, iron, sodium, potassium, chlorine, and tiny bits of zinc, copper, iodine and a few others... Ashes from nuclear furnaces.

What does it all mean? Our body is just matter - what does it matter?

Does it matter?

Yes. Here's why.

The Body was no longer what it was when Plato and Porphyry and the old mystics had left it for dead. It had hung upon a gibbet. It had risen from a tomb. It was no longer possible for the soul to despise the senses, which had been the organs of something that was more than man. Plato might despise the flesh; but God had not despised it. The senses had truly become sanctified; as they are blessed one by one at a Catholic baptism. "Seeing is believing" was no longer the platitude of a mere idiot, or common individual, as in Plato's world; it was mixed up with real conditions of real belief. Those revolving mirrors that send messages to the brain of man, that light that breaks upon the brain, these had truly revealed to God himself the path to Bethany or the light on the high rock of Jerusalem. These ears that resound with common noises had reported also to the secret knowledge of God the noise of the crowd that strewed palms and the crowd that cried for Crucifixion. After the Incarnation had become the idea that is central in our civilisation, it was inevitable that there should be a return to materialism, in the sense of the serious value of matter and the making of the body.
[GKC St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:493]
Yes, our world, our body, our senses, the knowledge we gain through our senses - all this matters in a whole new way.

And so now the Church calls upon the Heart of Jesus "in Whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (St. Paul wrote those words to the Colossians. Col 2:3), and calls upon Mary with the title of "Seat of Wisdom" - for surely He Who is Wisdom Incarnate sat upon her lap as an infant:
All things were created by him and in him. And he is before all: and by him all things consist. [Col 1:16-17]
We attest to this when we recite the Nicene Creed: "Per quem omnia facta sunt" = "Through Him all things were made."

But what does all this mean?

It means if we are to begin to understand a little about ourselves, and about our place in the world (which is called "cosmos" in Greek) and have some faint sense about how all that depends on Jesus, we are probably going to need science.

Yes: hard, physical science. Physics. Chemistry. Biology. Astronomy. And Mathematics.

It is somehow felt that there is some sort of collision - or chasm - between science and philosophy, because philosophy seems to be always in the mind, about thought, about intangibles, and science is always about exterior things, and the senses.

But a great philosopher, speaking in the voice of a much greater philosopher, explained it in this way:
"I believe that there is a middle field of facts which are given by the senses to be the subject matter of the reason; and that in that field the reason has a right to rule, as the representative of God in Man." ... Thus began what is commonly called the appeal to Aquinas and Aristotle. It might be called the appeal to Reason and the Authority of the Senses.
[GKC St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:429]

And thus also begins my attempt at a Lenten series of meditations, which shall be on the Great Catholic Scientists of history. You may hear some familiar names, and some which are not familiar. But I do hope you will be surprised, and join with me in working with Aquinas and Chesterton, for "The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind." [GKC The Defendant 75]

Let us pray in this special time of grace that the Holy Spirit strengthen within us His gift of scientia = knowledge, that we may come to know more about God, and so come to love Him more, and our neighbor, too.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mike's Job

Mike's Job
(A Histological Fairy Tale)
"The body has many members..." (St. Paul)

(devised July 30, 2006 by Doctor Thursday at the suggestion of Candlestring.)

Once upon a time, in a very small world, very close by...

There was someone named Mike. And on the day our story starts, Mike was small, though he was not a baby. And because he was still small, he didn't have a job to do.

Mike lived in a crowded place, but it was tidy and very clean. He had lots of neighbors. I will tell you just a few of their names: George, Greg, Gary, Gilbert, and Gus. Just below them lived Andy, Albert, Ben, Brian, Blake, Brad, Barry, Brandon, Harry, and Henry. And still lower lived even more: Roger, Rob, Ron, Ralph, Rick, Randy, Raul, Ray, and Roy; and also Charlie, Chuck, Clarence, Carl and Cyril. That's not all - there were lots more besides, but it would take too long to tell all the rest. No, I can't tell you all their last names now, but I can tell you they were all related. All these had work to do, which they did as long as there was any light, and sometimes even when there wasn't.

What kind of work did they do? Roger and Ralph decided whether there was any light, and how much there was. Charlie watched for reds, Chuck for greens, and Carl for blues. The job of Blake and Brandon was to put together the information from Ron or Roger or Carl or Clarence and send it on to Gary or Greg. Sometimes Harry or Henry might get in the way of a message. Other times Andy would butt in with a new message from Rick about a change in light. But sooner or later Gus or Greg or Gilbert would get the message... Nobody knew what happened after that, but everyone knew their jobs were important. They didn't get bored, because doing the job was even more fun than playing, and everyone knew how important their jobs were.

And when they worked, they talked. In fact, most of the work they did was talk. About the only time they talked when they weren't working was when they were eating, and then everybody was very polite and friendly, and nobody cared about what shape or job one had. But in that busy neighborhood, everybody had a job, so nobody just sat around just eating.

Strange to say, even though just about everyone was related to everyone else, and even though they were neighbors, most of the talking was only between one floor and another. And nobody talked to Mike, because he was little, and because he didn't have a job yet. They knew he wasn't going to do any of the usual jobs - they could tell just by looking at him that they weren't related. He was not fat, but he had a kind of plumpness, and just about all of his neighbors were thin - some were longer, some short, and some had rather funny shapes - but none of them looked much like Mike.

Close to Mike, on the level next to Greg and Gus, lived some neighbors from a different family. Their names were Pat, Paul, Phil, and Pete. They lived by a kind of hallway. At first, Mike thought the hallway was empty, because he couldn't really see anything in it. But every so often, someone went down the hallway. As he passed, Mike felt something good, like a breath of fresh air, flow over him. It was such a pleasant feeling, he almost felt that he got a tiny bit bigger.

Mike tried to see who it was, and he asked his nearest neighbors who it was. Rick and Carl were busy talking with Barry about their work, Barry and Brad were talking with George. They were too busy so they would not talk to him. "If you had a job, we would talk to you. You do nothing all day and we have work to do."

So while everyone was eating, Mike asked Phil. Phil was nice to everyone.
Phil said, "That's the Red Pilgrim."
"Do you know him?" Mike asked.
"No, I never saw him before," replied Phil, "and chances are we'll never see him again."
Mike was sad. "What a good feeling I had when he came."
Phil laughed, and Mike was surprised to hear his neighbors chuckling as well. "No, but one of his brothers will come by soon enough - and when he comes, it will be just as nice."
"Maybe I could do his job."
"Can you swim through the hallway?" asked Phil.
"No, I'm stuck here, I can't go travelling," moaned Mike.
Phil was sad too. "Then you can't be a Pilgrim. Besides, you're not the right color - and you have to be empty inside."
"Why?" ask Mike, patting his plumpness.
"How else can you bring that fresh air feeling as you pass by?"
"Oh. Well, could I do your job?"
"Well," said Phil, "Do you know how to deliver food and pick up trash?"
"I don't think so," answered Mike glumly.
"Then I don't think you can handle the hallway maintenance." Phil felt sorry for Mike, so he said, "Let's see what else there is. You're not a pilgrim. Hmm. I bet you're strong, but you're nowhere near as strong as a security guard. And you don't look like one of those pulling types I've heard about from further down the hallway. You're here, so your job ought to be something nearby. Did you ask around?"
"No," replied Mike, with a hopeful tone. "Say, Greg - do you think I can do your job?"
Greg finished eating and frowned at Mike. "Can you talk synaptic?"
Mike shrugged. "I don't know. I never tried."
"If you don't have synapses, it's not worth discussing further. And no way you're long enough. Look, I gotta go, I have work to do."
Mike turned to Harry, Albert, and Barry. "Hey guys, any of you know what kind of job I should try?"
Barry giggled, "Gotta talk synaptic, fast, and accurate."
Harry added, "And be ready to get somebody to shut up before he makes a mistake."
"And react to changes when they happen," added Albert.
"But if you can't talk synaptic, forget it, Mike - you're friendly, but that won't help with our jobs."
Mike was even more disappointed, but there were still some other to ask. "Hey, Charlie, Ron, Carl, Roger, Chuck - can I help you guys with your work?"
"Is it blue?" asked Carl.
"Look, Mike," asked Ron. "Is it day or night?"
"Is it green?" asked Chuck.
"Is it more bright or less bright?" asked Roger.
"Is it red?" asked Charlie.
"I don't even know what you guys are talking about," Mike said. " I can't help you if I've never even seen those things."
"And don't forget," Ben told him, "Even if you knew what they were talking about, you would have to know synaptic to tell me about it. I may be right next door, and we can talk all we want while we're eating, but their work is telling me about all those things - and they use synaptic to do it. Otherwise, I can't do my own job."
"Just remember," Phil broke in, "I don't know a thing about synaptic. And I've heard that the pilgrims don't either. So there's other jobs around..."
"Yeah, added Gilbert. "You won't catch me swimming down that hallway, or delivering food, or those other things. I don't know the first thing about that." He shrugged, and looked at Mike kindly - he was Mike's closest neighbor "Say, Phil, thanks for the dinner."
"My pleasure," replied Phil. "Look Mike, when you grow some more, maybe you'll find out what you're supposed to do."

In the hallway, another Red Pilgrim went by, and everyone smiled at the pleasant breeze he had brought.

So Mike ate, and talked, and ate and grew, and ate, and every so often Red Pilgrims came past, and made everyone happy. He ate and talked with his neighbors, even though they had nothing new to say about his job. Slowly, Mike got bigger - well, actually he got taller, though he didn't get all that much bigger around, so he wasn't nearly as plump as he had been.

Soon he found that he was big enough to be neighbors with Harry and Cyril and Andy.
"Hey guys," Mike asked, "I'm lots bigger now - you see any synapses yet?"
"No, Mike, " Andy told him. "Besides, Harry's big, but he's all spread out on our level, you're just getting taller."
"But it's sure nice to be neighbors," Harry said. "Sometimes I'm not sure the others like when I have to interfere with their work, but that's what my job is."
"You know better," explained Brian. "I can't talk to Brad, or Randy, or Ron, even with synaptic. I don't want to tell Greg the wrong thing."
"Wow," said Mike. "That sounds confusing."
"It's just work," Greg explained. "We do our jobs. If you were supposed to do synaptic, I'm sure you'd be good at it."
"But what do you think I'm supposed to do?" asked Mike.
"Right now, just be a good neighbor," replied Greg. "You'll know soon."

More time went by. Mike ate, and talked, and ate and grew, and ate. Red Pilgrims came past, and made everyone happy.
Soon Mike was so tall he was neighbors with Carl and Ron and Chuck and Rick and Charlie.
As they ate, Mike asked, "Hey, guys, do you think I can try doing your job now?"
"Uh, Mike, sorry," Ron told him, "But you're the wrong shape."
"Definitely the wrong shape," added Rick.
"Nope," said Carl. "No way," said Charlie. "Negative," said Chuck.
"And no synapses, either," chorused Brian and Ben and Andy and Henry and Greg.

"But .." started Mike.
"You've got a job, Mike," Phil told him. "Seeing how big you've grown, maybe it's just a bigger job than some."
"Perhaps it's too big to be seen," added Gilbert.

"But if you don't stop growing, you're going to get down into the dark place," said Randy.
"What's that?" asked Mike.
"Just another kind of job," Carl explained. "You'd be small and dark-colored if that was your job."

Finally Mike stopped growing taller. Slowly he spread out a fringe, kind of like hair. It wove between his lowest-level neighbors.
"What's going on?" asked Carl while they ate.
"I don't know," replied Mike. "It's what I'm supposed to do."
"Don't go blocking my view, I won't... " Carl started to say. Then he went on. "You know, I don't wiggle as much as I used to. Ah! This is much better - and I can still see what I'm supposed to see."
"You're right," said Rick, who lived next to Carl. "I don't bump into you any more, either."
"Light still seems to be the same for me," added Randy. "But life seems a lot better to me without bumping into people all the time."
"Sure is better, not being squashed by Ron and Ralph," said Chuck.
"What's that you're doing?" asked Greg.
"Just weaving some nice strong fibers," explained Mike. "I've been doing it behind your back, too."
"You're right!" said Gary. "No flopping back and forth,. getting wires crossed and messages confused."
"You mean you're spreading out fibers on both ends?" asked Carl.
"Yes," answered Mike. "Is there something wrong?"
"If it's your job, I guess it's OK," Rick said. "We can still do our jobs, and things are better than they were before.'
"But what do you call this?" Mike asked. "I'm doing something. But what is it?"
"Long enough and strong enough to reach past three levels of neighbors, and spreading out stability," Gilbert grunted. "Looks to me like you're helping to hold us all together. No wonder we had no idea what your job was."
"Really? asked Mike? "It's that simple?"
"You couldn't do it until you were big enough," Phil reminded him. "But you're important, you're needed."

A Red Pilgrim went down along the hallway, and everyone smiled.

The End.

PS: I said I was not going to tell you last names. Except one.

The hero of our story is Mike Müller.

If you want to know more, look up "Müller cells" in a biology book, and you will find out more about the little world where Mike and his friends live.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Wreck: Joe's Report

I have posted the "second" half of the story of the Wreck of the Phosploion, as reported in December 2004 by Joe Outis (known to some of us as "Joe the Control Room Guy"), to his co-worker Andy Atchison and Andy's cousin Ann Appleton. (Joe was a college sophomore in 2001; he was home in Quayment for Christmas.)

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Now, a few comments about the cover picture for the book. (Yes, it is illustrated by the author.)

The artist has provided us with a clutter in his usual haphazard manner, trying to give a sense of its unusual combination of elements in action. In the top half we have what appears to be a view (looking west, from the sea) of the "little bay" of Quayment: on the left is lighthouse, out at the end of the Point, and on the right, high on the north hill, is St. Ambrose's Roman Catholic Church, which some call a "cathedral" - it has a navigation light in its tower. Their light illuminates a rather strange medieval document in a plastic bag in the center. The famous Weaver's bookstore can be noted to the left of St. Ambrose's. Below the document is a glimpse of the scene out at the shoals, with the Phosploion itself, smoking and on fire; just in front is the Remmirath racing to her aid. On the right side is "Benny's", and yes that is a menorah on top.

Finally, along the bottom we see the six main characters of the story. On the left are the Weaver triplets: Mike, Mark, and Matt, and their classmate Tom Felsen. On the right are tall, blond Mike Tronder, and Joe Outis at the wheel of the Remmirath. Joe grew up in Quayment and learned sailing and seamanship from his grandfather Phil Fenster, who owned the Remmirath at the time of the wreck, but was too ill to assist. There are a couple of other details which will be made clear in the story.

Please note: this is the "second" part of the Wreck story - the "first" is reported from the view of the Weavers - but it will not harm you if you read it first. Though it will obviously be better for you to read the main story about Joe before this one, it barely alludes to the events therein.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Three Self-Evident Truths

In our consideration of Argument - indeed, in our consideration of Reason - we must accept what are called the Three Self-Evident Truths. These are not debatable, and are not provable. Like the axioms of Geometry, they are "Given" - they are starting points without which one cannot proceed. We need to know them - and know them well.

1. The First Fact is "the existence of the thinking subject". I (who am presently thinking about something) exist.

2. The First Principle is "the principle of contradiction": A thing cannot both BE and NOT BE in the same way at the same time.

3. The First Condition of Certain Knowledge is "the natural capacity of our reason to know the truth". Our brains, minds, reasoning powers are ABLE to know the truth of things. Truth in the general sense is NOT a "mystery" which cannot be attained.

Perhaps the tightest statement which summarizes all this as a basis for thought is this famous little fragment from one of Chesterton's letters:
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.
[quoted in Ward's Gilbert Keith Chesterton 49-50]
This is often taken to mean a variety of things, but it clearly means that one CANNOT begin "questioning" the reality we live in - that is the Universe - if one is going to DENY it, or his own existence, or his ability to obtain answers, or his ability to grasp the answers when they appear. Hence, it is the perfect Scholastic answer, and can be used against all manner of Dark philosophers.

Here is more of Shallo's presentation of them:
93. These three self-evident truths are implied and necessarily admitted in every judgment, viz.: the existence of the thinking subject, the principle of contradiction, the natural capacity of our reason to know the truth, i. e., the first fact, the first principle, the first condition of certain knowledge.

Proof. If any of them be denied or doubted, there can be no certitude. For there can be no thought without an existing thinker. There can be no certitude if two contradictories can be simultaneously true. There can be no certitude, if the mind is incapable of certitude.

These three truths cannot be demonstrated without begging the question; for they are, and must be, assumed in every demonstration, since there can be no certain premise in which they are not implied and necessarily admitted.

Note 1. Nor need they be demonstrated, for they are self?evident, and in their very denial are affirmed.

Note 2. Hence the absurdity of Kant's criticism or examination of the reliability of reason in its perception of truth. In his examination he employs the very faculty of whose reliability he professes to doubt, and hence involves himself in the contradiction essential to all scepticism.

Note 3. Hence, too, the absurdity of Descartes' "Methodical Doubt," as he calls it. He held that a philosopher should try to doubt about all things, until they are demonstrated. Finding he could not doubt of the existence of his own thought, he takes this as the one principle of all philosophy, and thence argues, "I think, therefore I am." But this argument is good for nothing, unless the principle of contradiction and the infallibility of the reason, which perceives and affirms the fact of its own existence, be admitted as true. And even granting the premise, how is the conclusion certain if reason which deduces it be unreliable? Further, if all our other natural faculties are unreliable, why should not the faculty of consciousness, which tells me I think, be so too?
[Shallo, Scholastic Philosophy 101-2]
Wonderful. Now you know.

Here is one of the most splendid of GKC's commentaries on them:
...even those who appreciate the metaphysical depth of Thomism in other matters have expressed surprise that he [St. Thomas Aquinas] does not deal at all with what many now think the main metaphysical question; whether we can prove that the primary act of recognition of any reality is real. The answer is that St. Thomas recognised instantly, what so many modern sceptics have begun to suspect rather laboriously; that a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask. I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else; certainly not even a defender of fundamental scepticism. If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless, and he is meaningless; and it does not mean anything to attempt to discover his meaning. Most fundamental sceptics appear to survive, because they are not consistently sceptical and not at all fundamental. They will first deny everything and then admit something, if for the sake of argument - or often rather of attack without argument. I saw an almost startling example of this essential frivolity in the professor of final scepticism, in a paper the other day. A man wrote to say that he accepted nothing but Solipsism, and added that he had often wondered it was not a more common philosophy. Now Solipsism simply means that a man believes in his own existence, but not in anybody or anything else. And it never struck this simple sophist, that if his philosophy was true, there obviously were no other philosophers to profess it.

To this question "Is there anything?" St. Thomas begins by answering "Yes"; if he began by answering "No", it would not be the beginning, but the end. That is what some of us call common sense. Either there is no philosophy, no philosophers, no thinkers, no thought, no anything; or else there is a real bridge between the mind and reality.
[GKC St. Thomas Aquinas CW3:515-6]
Ah, again we see this idea of Engineering - the idea that the Scholastic way is productive and efficient - it gets things DONE. It builds a bridge. It is not for nothing that the Pope is called by the ancient Roman title of Pontifex Maximus - the Supreme Pontiff, the Greatest Bridge-Builder.

Repeat this, please:
To this question "Is there anything?" St. Thomas begins by answering "Yes"; if he began by answering "No", it would not be the beginning, but the end. That is what some of us call common sense.
Yes: it is indeed Common Sense. It is sound, excellent, engineering. If we want a bridge, we need good foundations. These three truths are the most solid foundations existing, and if we expect to do anything at all, we must start there.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Wreck of the Phosploion

Perhaps you have read my novel about Joe Outis (whom you may know as "Joe the Control Room Guy"), and you are wondering about Joe's role in the famous wreck of the Phosploion back in December of 2001.

Or perhaps you have spent an obscene amount of money to buy a copy of The Black Hole In the Basement from Weaver's Books - I mean Loome who has it for sale (hee hee) and you are wondering about a certain very remarkable book (and its even more remarkable contents), and the connection between the Weaver triplets and the Felsens - and Joe.

Or perhaps you've read both, and are wondering about how a complex story about cable TV can possibly be linked to a very strange store that sells used books, and that - uh - certain something contained in that old book.

Well, I have decided to offer you the opportunity to learn a little more.

Yes, now you can read about the wreck, as told from the view of the Weavers.

For convenience in posting I have made four parts:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

I am sure that it will raise a large number of questions. Some of them are answered in the Black Hole and its sequels; others will be answered in future parts of the containing saga - if they are ever answered at all on this earth.

(As you no doubt suspect, there is another installment, in which you will hear Joe tell the story = it will appear another time. Also, the printed edition will contain two short prologues and an epilogue which help link things together.)

The Argument: the Circle of Two

I wonder if you may be thinking that in order to engage in Argument, one must be some sort of tech math guy. Sort of like in order to play football one must be an athlete. Well, no: argument is much easier. One must know the rules, yes. But then that's true for any game, or sport, or job, or task: baking bread, changing your car's oil, knitting a sweater, anything.

But (you say) there was all that math-stuff, with "variables"!

Well, Chesterton was not really any sort of math brain - or a "scientist" in the broadest sense:
It was true that I could never exactly be called a scientific character; and even as between the Classical and Modern sides of my old school, I should always have chosen rather to idle at Greek than to idle at Chemistry.
[GKC, Autobiography CW16:107]
So what? He knew the rules, and he was great at arguing. (Just ask his brother Cecil - or his foes, Shaw and Wells, or the sad case of Mr. Charles "Sure We Evolved" Darrow!) Some other time I will examine the issue about GKC and math - which may be almost as much fun as the comparable exploration of GKC and science done by S. L. Jaki in his Chesterton a Seer of Science. But let us try to get a little further about these rules.

I will give you the general outline of the "Scholastic" method as Shallo sets it down. But maybe you'd like a short introductory version first. It's called the "Circle" but it is really just two sides, rather like a courtroom, or a playing field. In fact, an Argument is rather like football, or a formal debate: each side gets its turn with the ball. I mean the topic. The scheme does not call for referees: each side gets to "ref" the other side's last "play" when it is their turn. The sides take turns, examining the previous side's "play", and making another "play" - until there is a conclusion - that is, there is some agreement, or - er - the "game" is called due to lateness, or rain, or dinnertime, oe whatever.

Now, let us see how Shallo presents it in his Scholastic Philosophy:
The Method.

73. By method, we mean orderly procedure in the acquisition, exposition or defense of truth in regard to a given subject matter. The subject-matter is supposed to be presented in the form of a question, e. g., 'Is the human soul immortal?' Hence the general laws of method are:

(a) Let the question be clearly determined (status quaestionis) — This implies:
(1) That there is no ambiguity in the terms; therefore, definition of terms.
(2) That the subject be properly divided into the parts which it contains.
(3)That the truths assumed, in starting to resolve the question, be clearly recognized.
(4) It also helps greatly to clear understanding of the question, to recall the doctrines of others on the subject, and their principal reasons for holding them.

(b) In the process of argumentation, advance from that which is better known to that which is less; from that which is easily grasped and admitted, to that which is more difficult.

(c) Advance gradually, i. e., so that each new step connects with and is justified by what has gone before.

75. Method of Discussion. The Circle.

One undertakes to defend, another to attack a given proposition or thesis. Both are supposed to understand and agree upon the status quaestionis. All arguments and objections are proposed clearly and briefly in strict syllogistic form.

(a) The Defender

(i) Proposes the thesis, explains the status quaestionis, proves each part of his proposition by one or two short, solid arguments, and then awaits the attack of his opponent.

(ii) When the first argument against his thesis is proposed, he first repeats it faithfully word for word, then repeating each proposition, he says whether, and how far, he admits it, or denies it:

For example, he may say "y is z, I grant the major. But x is y, I deny the minor. Therefore, x is z, I deny the conclusion."

Or he may say: "y is z, I distinguish the major; in the sense m, I grant the major; in the sense n, I deny the major. But x is y, I contradistinguish the minor; in the sense n, I grant the minor; in the sense m, I deny the minor. Therefore, x is z, I deny the conclusion."

Note 1. If the syllogism fails in logical form, he lets major and minor pass, and denies the conclusion and the consequence, i. e., that it follows from the premises, e. g., "y is z, let the major pass. But x is y, let the minor pass. Therefore, x is z, I deny the consequences and the conclusion."

Note 2. As either S, P or M may be ambiguous, each proposition in which the ambiguous term occurs must be distinguished. Thus, if M is ambiguous, both major and minor premises must be distinguished, and M denied of S in the sense in which it was admitted to belong to P. If S or P is ambiguous, the premises in which it occurs must be distinguished, and also the conclusion; for S and P will agree with each in the conclusion, only so far as they agree with M in the premises.

Note 3. If one of the premises of the objection rests on a false supposition, the defender says, e. g., "x is y, I deny the supposition." If the enumeration of alternatives is incomplete, a disjunctive proposition is denied. If an analogy is false, he denies the parity.

(b) The Objector
The Objector may attack either the thesis directly or the argument by which it was proved.

(i) If he attacks the thesis, he simply asserts the cons tradictory of the thesis, e. g., "Against the proposition which asserts that S is P. I say, S is not P. and I prove it thus"; etc. If he attacks the argument, he asserts, and attempts to prove the contradictory of either major or minor premise.

(ii) As the defender has proved the main proposition, of course the "Burden of Proof" lies with him who would assert its contradictory. Hence the objector is obliged to prove his contradictory; and if the defender denies any premise of his argument, he is obliged to prove that premise. If one of his premises is distinguished, he may show that the difficulty remains even with what is granted, or he may prove what is denied in the distinction.

(iii) If the defender denies something supposed in one of his premises, the objector may ask him to say distinctly what that supposition is. If the completeness of his enumeration of disjunctive alternatives denied, he may ask the defender to assign the alternatives omitted.

(iv) When an objection has been fully solved by the defender, he should not urge it further, but take up a new objection. Hence, he should have studied his subject carefully and be familiar with the objections urged against the thesis, know how to urge them strongly, and recognize a satisfactory solution when it is given,

OK, a bit complex, and still lots of tech. But let's see if we can get a handle on the main idea. The Defender starts with a statement. He makes it clearly and unambiguously, with all the definitions he may need, and being careful not to break any of the rules of reason ("logic") because any hole he leaves will be torn into by the Objector! If he can make his statement as a syllogism, so much better, since those are the standard forms for making such statements: GIVEN something as true, and something else as true, THEN some conclusion must also be true. (See no variables that time, hee hee) But the form is not essential as long as the statement is clear. Then he sits down, and it's the Objector's turn.

The Objector now tries to demolish the statement. He can attack the definitions, the truth of the premises, or the logic the Defendant used. NOTE! Here's where the fun comes in. He must be just as careful, because the game swaps now. He's "defending" his objection, and the - er - let us call it the Home Team - gets to play "objector" in the next round! (Oh yes. There's multiple innings, or plays, or rounds.)

For convenience, Shallo gives a list of the "moves" one can make at this point. It's not comprehensive: you can say just about anything, as long as it advances the point - but the list gives some powerful insight into reasoning, and how one goes about getting at the truth of things. The words are Latin, since for centuries that's how people argued, but you can use English or whatever language you are used to.

1. concedo ("c.") I grant
2. nego ("n.") I deny
3. distinguo ("d.") I distinguish
4. ("cd.") I contradistinguish
5. ("sd.") I subdistinguish
6. transeat ("t.") let it pass
7. ("neg. sup.") I deny the supposition

The really interesting one is distinguo, I distinguish. This "move" requires you to subdivide the issue, breaking it down into cases or variations, to each of which you must then say something else. This is how you get at a weak definition in the Defender's statement, and reveal new details which he may not have explored.

It is interesting, and well worth your consideration. In general, this seems to be the great and very sad error of our day. On the Defending side, people jam all kinds of nonsense together and use very poor definitions which are all but worthless since they are so general. (They have forgotten that "definition" comes from the Latin finis boundary, border.) Likewise, the Objecting side has completely forgotten to play the "distinguo" move, and all to often sit back and say "let it pass" or "I concede" .... though they grumble "I deny" back in the locker room after the match.

Again you should please remember: the Argument is supposed to be about getting at the truth of a statement. It is not a "convincing" as if the statement was about what kind of car you wish you owned, or what kind of dessert you'd like! It's not about a person's "belief"; it's not an "attack" on a person, or a group of persons - as I've said before, an Argument can work far better between friends.

One more point. It seems to me that this can make a splendid technique for use in comment boxes. Please think about this.

* * * * * * *

Postscript: You may wonder: have I done these? No. Have I ever seen one? No. Then why do I bother? Because such a scheme seems to provide a means to get at matters which are not being gotten at, in our present time. I don't know that I could do it well, but it behooves us to study the technique, and perhaps make the trial. Next time I will give you a couple of examples from Shallo's book, and we'll hear some more from GKC about all this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Logic in an Argument

People cringe when one talks about using "logic". This is sad, and kind of odd, since logic is quite common - that is, used by everyone all the time - and even untrained people can be very logical. Long ago, there was a term for this: "common sense". One of the most wonderful of the powers of common sense is to have a basic and reliable awareness of what things are logical.

But people think logic is very tech and get scared. Logic is of course very high tech, if applied in it full rigor - computers work because of, or rather are physical implementations of, pure logic, sometimes called "propositional calculus", which sounds very hard, but is quite simple: there are just a handful of things to deal with, some of which feel like math, but are lots easier than almost any math you've seen, since there are only two numbers, zero and one (also called "false" and "true") and a very few operations: AND, OR, NOT, and a couple of extensions, like "IMPLIES" and "IF-AND-ONLY-IF", and the famous "XOR" we talked about some time ago. I cannot give you the whole thing today, but it would not take you long to grasp. It's also fun.

Then there's the other part, called "predicate calculus", which is the main technique used in the formal arguments we are talking about at present. These are built on top of the propositional calculus, but we add two new ideas, called the "universal" and the "particular" statements, both of which can take an affirmative or a negative form. So there are four versions of these, named for the first four vowels. Each uses "variables" like x, y, z - or you can think of them as "pronouns" - when we actually do stuff, we fill in some actual words for the x, y, and z. Here they are:

A: All x are y.
E: No x is y.
I: Some x is y.
O: Some x is not y.

Now that we have these statement forms, we can make the grand traditional and classical form of logic, which is called the "syllogism" and is the starting point for all formal argument. The syllogism is simply three statements: two premises and a conclusion. As Shallo says in Scholastic Philosophy: "A syllogism is an argumentation consisting of three explicit propositions so connected with each other that one of them necessarily follows from the other two." That is, whenever we know both of the two premise statements are true, the conclusion MUST be true.

Here's an example, the first of all syllogisms, the form which is called "BARBARA" (Yes they all have names, some very curious words, but I have no time to go into them just now.)

MINOR premise: All "M" are "S".
MAJOR premise: All "P" are "M".
CONCLUSION: so All "P" are "S".

It does not matter what you put in for the three "variables": every time you assume the premises as I have stated them here, the above conclusion MUST follow. You can get some odd things depending on what you put in, and you can even make up fantasies - but the truth remains. That's what logic means. It's a way of checking that you are talking sensibly, and accurately.

It does NOT - repeat - does NOT tell you that the PREMISE statements are true!

It does NOT - repeat - does NOT tell you that the true statements apply to reality.

Logic simply says that the form of the argument is correct.

Huh? What good is that?

Well, here's what Chesterton said, and we ought to have it at our fingertips as we proceed, since it summarizes our tool, in both its power and its weakness:
Logic and truth, as a matter of fact, have very little to do with each other. Logic is concerned merely with the fidelity and accuracy with which a certain process is performed, a process which can be performed with any materials, with any assumption. You can be as logical about griffins and basilisks as about sheep and pigs. On the assumption that a man has two ears, it is good logic that three men have six ears, but on the assumption that a man has four ears, it is equally good logic that three men have twelve. And the power of seeing how many ears the average man, as a fact, possesses, the power of counting a gentleman’s ears accurately and without mathematical confusion, is not a logical thing but a primary and direct experience, like a physical sense, like a religious vision. The power of counting ears may be limited by a blow on the head; it may be disturbed and even augmented by two bottles of champagne; but it cannot be affected by argument. Logic has again and again been expended, and expended most brilliantly and effectively, on things that do not exist at all. There is far more logic, more sustained consistency of the mind, in the science of heraldry than in the science of biology... There is more logic in Alice in Wonderland than in the Statute Book or the Blue Book. The relations of logic to truth depend, then, not upon its perfection as logic, but upon certain pre-logical faculties and certain pre-logical discoveries, upon the possession of those faculties, upon the power of making those discoveries. If a man starts with certain assumptions, he may be a good logician and a good citizen, a wise man, a successful figure. If he starts with certain other assumptions, he may be an equally good logician and a bankrupt, a criminal, a raving lunatic. Logic, then, is not necessarily an instrument for finding truth; on the contrary, truth is necessarily an instrument for using logic - for using it, that is, for the discovery of further truth and for the profit of humanity. Briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.
[GKC Daily News Feb 25, 1905 quoted in The Man Who Was Orthodox]
And there you have it. Let us say it again, and burn it into our thoughts, and keep it with us: You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.

But we will need logic: we need the syllogism. If we are going to argue, and not have it degenerate into a quarrel, or a boxing match, we need to have some rigorous form. (Hey - even boxing matches have a form, and rules!) Next time we'll see the form, and then the fun will begin.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Civil Engineering of Argument: Holding Out One's Hand

It's certainly true that engineering plays a big role in our study of argument, and no branch of its varied disciplines more than the one called "civil" - which most often means building things: roads and bridges and all the many structures of transport and of other public needs.

This annoys some people. They think that philosophy must be pure, and the liberal arts must never stoop to practicality. Now, I am from the tech side of the university, yet I have read The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. I have read the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians, where he speaks of Jesus Christ as the One "In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" [Col 2:3] which does not seem to contain any fine print about how this "ALL" excludes the tech branches. Rather, I seem to recall our Lord saying "I am the Way" [Jn 14:6]... and that word hodos in Greek has FIRST the very practical sense of "road" as well as the most analogical sense of scheme, pattern, series of directions, method. Besides, "method" is just the same word anyway! (The "HOD" is the same root, and I do not mean route. Hee hee.)

But I said it was "civil" engineering: which comes from the Latin for "town" (they mean Roma, but it could be your town too.) For the ancients knew that it takes a certain civility - a grandness and an awareness and attention to human dignity - in order to live in a town. Yes, the key word is "order".

And that means learning some rules - often rather technical rules, and maybe sometimes rules that are not obvious.

Today we are going to learn one of those rules: the rule about how truth "happens" in the human mind. It is something very few people ever stop to think about, even philosophers, because it gets aa little intricate, but we aren't going into all the tech details today. In fact, we're just going to get a convenient little guide - yes, a handy guide - something as simple as our hand - five simple points to remember. There are five possible states for the human mind in regard to the truth of a given statement:

1. Error - you claim to know something but it's not true.
2. Ignorance - you really don't know about it.
3. Doubt - you're not sure if it's true or false.
4. Opinion - you suspect - maybe very strongly) it is true.
5. Certitude - you are convinced it's true.

Naming these five from the thumb, then, we have CODIE. (Sounds like a cowboy's nickname, maybe.) But let's try to remember the five: Certitude, Opinion, Doubt, Ignorance, Error.

You are wondering why we need this if we want to have an argument? Remember, an argument is NOT (repeat!) not a quarrel, or a fight. It is a way of building facts together into truth. Well - if you want to build a road or indeed to do anything practical, you have to have some sound basis - but part will be theoretical (a plan) and part practical (a foundation, the raw materials, energy and so forth). This is part of the planning we need to have, or all we will have is a quarrel, and we will get NOWHERE, and maybe even get hurt. We want to get somewhere: to the truth - and so we need to know "how much" of the truth it is we are getting, which means one of those five possible states.

You may grasp all this directly, but more likely you will want some more detail to better see the specifics of these five possibilities, so I will quote again from Shallo's Scholastic Philosophy:

84. The mind is said to attain and possess truth when it pronounces judgments in conformity with things. Now, in regard to the attainment and possession of truth, the mind must be in one or the other of these five states. Either it pronounces a false judgment; or it has no knowledge of the object; or it has some knowledge, but hesitates to judge; or it judges, yet not with firmness and security; or, finally, it judges without any hesitancy or insecurity. In the first case, we have error; in the second, ignorance; in the third, doubt; in the fourth, opinion; in the fifth, certitude.

85. Ignorance is lack of knowledge, i. e., a state of mind in which one has neither ideas nor judgments in regard to a certain matter. It may be universal, as, e. g., 'in the case of infants'; or more or less partial, according as it extends to fewer or more truths. If the unknown truths are such as one can and ought to know, ignorance of them is called primitive ignorance. In other cases, it is said to be merely negative.

There are many things of which the mind of man, left to itself, can know nothing, either because they are above its natural capacity, e. g., 'the mystery of the Godhead,' or because it has not sufficient data to proceed upon, e. g., 'the number of the stars.' But apart from these, there are many subjects upon which the human mind can acquire more or less full and perfect knowledge. Ignorance in such matters is to be attributed to lack either of ability or of opportunities, or of application and industry, or of order and method in study.

86. Doubt, we have said, is a state of mental hesitancy or suspense, so that the mind, on comparing two ideas together, finds itself unable to pronounce whether they are objectively identical or diverse. Hence, it is defined, hesitation or suspense of mind between two contradictory judgments. The doubt is positive when there are, or seem to be, good reason on both sides. It is negative when there is, or seems to be, no good reason for either side. Daily experience shows us that there are a multitude of judgments, in regard to which, under the present circumstances, it is rational to remain in doubt. There are some, however, who maintain that we must doubt about everythmg, or, at least, about many things of which our own reason and the common sense of mankind declare we are certain. These are called sceptics. Scepticism, in general, is a state of doubt in regard to those things which are known with certamty by means of our natural faculties, properly disposed and applied.

NOTE. - The word belief is used in many senses. In strictness it means, Assent to a proposition on sufficient testimony In the language of the Church it means, Absolute certainty on the supreme authority of God.

87. Certitude is defined, Firmness of mental assent, or of adhesion to a truth, from a motive which manifestly excludes all rational fear of error. Hence certitude includes three essential elements, two of which are subjective, and the third objective, viz.: (1) firmness of adhesion, (2) exclusion of alla rational fear of error, and (3) an objective motive manifestly and really sufficient to exclude all fear of error.

NOTE (1). - By a motive of assent we mean the reason why we give internal mental assent to a given proposition. By an objective motive, we mean something independent of our own views and feelings, something in objects themselves, or in their surroundings, which justifies and compels our assent, and to which we can appeal as justifying and compelling assent in any rational being who perceives it. By an objective motive uhich excludes all reasonable fear of error, we mean a motive which shows clearly that, in the given case, the contradictory of the proposition we assent to, is not merely improbable, but impossible. Hence, a certain judgment is always true.

(2).— It is one thing to see clearly that a given predicate belongs to a given subject, and that the contradictory proposition, in the given case, expresses an impossibility; it is quite another thing to be able to answer all the arguments that may be urged against our proposition, and in favor of the contradictory. Hence, as Newman says, "ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt."

(3).- It is clear that of the two subjective elements of certitude one may be described as positive, i. e., the firmness of adhesion (this is variable, and may be greater or less, according to the force of the motive); the other may be called negative, i. e., the exclusion of all rational fear of error (this is invariable, and must be equally found in all certain judgments; for, if there be any, even the smallest rational fear of error, the judgment ceases to be certain).

88. Kinds of Certitude.

(a) Certitude is metaphysical, physical or moral, according as the manifest objective necessity of uniting or separating Subject and predicate is metaphysical, physical or moral, i. e., according as this necessity is based upon the essential natures of things, or on the laws of nature, or on the moral laws which govern the constant and universal though free action of man, e. g., 'Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other'; 'if you put your hand into the fire you will feel pain'; 'Your mother is not praying that you may die a disgraceful death.'

NOTE (1). - Moral certitude, taken strictly, must exclude absolutely all fear of error. Very often, however, a thing is said to be morally certain when it is only very probable, but this is not the sense in which the words are taken here.

(a). - When we speak of various kinds or degrees of certitude, we consider, not so much the connection between subject and predicate in the proposition we assent to, as the connection between the proposition itself and the motive accompanying it, which renders the contradictory (metaphysically, physically or morally) impossible in the given case. Hence, when a judgment is metaphysically certain, its contradictory is absolutely impossible. When a judgment is physically certain, the contradictory s physically impossible, i. e., unless God suspends the laws of nature in the given case. When a judgment is morally certain, the contradictory is morally impossible, i. e., unless man belies his nature and acts contrary to its tendencies in the given case.

(b) Direct certitude is that which immediately accompanies the direct perception of a truth. Reflex certitude is had when the mind, going back on its direct judgment, examines the motive distinctly and perceives that its direct certitude is justified and says, as it were, I am certain that I am certain.

98. Opinion, as we have said, is a state of mind in regard to truth midway between doubt and certitude, i. e., the mind forms a judgment in regard to a certain matter and has a motive for doing so; yet this motive is not such as to exclude all fear of error. As in certitude, the motive is the objective necessity of uniting or separating subject and predicate; so in opinion, the motive is the objective probability or likelihood of this union or separation being true.

NOTE (1). - Objective probability is intrinsic if it is based upon the nature of the object of which there is question; extrinsic if it is based upon the authority of prudent men.

(a). Probability admits of degrees and is greater or less according as it excludes more or less the danger of error, and more or less warrants firmness of assent. Hence, we have opinions which are slightly probable, solidly probable, more probable, most probable.

99. Opinion, even when most probable, essentially differs from certitude.

Proof.— Two things essentially differ when one includes, as an essential element, something which the other does not include. But certitude includes, as an essential element, the exclusion of all rational fear of error, which opinion, even when most probable, does not include. The motive of assent either excludes the fear of error, or it does not; there is no mean. If it does, we have certitude; if it does not, no matter how much it may really lessen the fear of error we Ron inter have opinion.

NOTE (1). - At times many distinct motives, each of which taken separately could only produce opinion, when taken togather produce certainty. But in this case the certitude is the result, not of the mere sum of the separate probabilities, but of the collection of motives, taken as a whole, in which each motive gains from and gives to all the rest an entirely new force and value, e. g., the case of several independent witnesses.

(a) A solidly probable opinion does not cease to be so, because the contradictory opinion is more probable. For, a good motive does not lose its force by being compared with ~ better; therefore, the opinion founded on the one does not lose its value by being compared with that founded on the other, so long as this other does not give us certainty.

(Note: There are a lot of possible meanings for "Error" and some of them deal with the tech machinery of logic, but I will give you some of the others. I think you will be very amazed to learn about it - it's like hearing a physician explain about how cancer, or a cold, or poison ivy, or sumburn, or a broken leg, are all different...)
Hence the occasion of false or erroneous judgments is generally to be found in want of attention or obscure and confused ideas on the part of the intellect; the ultimate cause is the will desirous of some good, or impatient of suspense.

(3). - The occasions of false judgments are classified by Bacon under four heads:

(a) Idols of the tribe, i. e., Errors to which the human mind is liable from its own finite and limited nature, e. g., the difficulties it finds in acquiring clear, distinct, complete ideas of a great many objects, and on the other hand, its eagerness for knowledge.

(b) Idols of the den, i. e., Errors which arise from the peculiar character and disposition, education and prejudices of each individual.

(c) Idols of the market place, i. e., Errors which are almost imposed upon us by the tyranny of public opinion and our own innate love for novelty. Our newspapers and renews or pet authors do our thinking for us.

(d) Idols of the theatre, i. e., the various systems of false and fashionable philosophy current in our times.

Add to these the influence of passion, negligence, lack of logical training, inaccurate use of language, etc., and we have abundant occasion of false judgments all the day long, unless we are constantly on our guard.

(iii) Sophistical Reasoning.

72. An open violation of any of the laws of correct reasoning is called a paralogism. When a false premise is introduced, or a false sense given to a premise, we have a sophism; the latter we may call a verbal sophism, the former a real sophism. Of paralogisms nothing further need be said.

(a) Verbal Sophisms.

Equivocation. An equivocal or vague term is taken in different senses.

Amphibology. An ambiguous proposition is taken in different senses.

Composition or Division. A predicate is attributed to a qualified subject, which really belongs to it only when without the qualification, or vice versa. Or again, a predicate true of each individual subject separately, is.attributed to all taken collectively; or vice versa.

(b) Real Sophisms.

Accident. A predicate which is only accidental and occasional in a given subject, is represented as constant and essential to it; and vice versa. Or again, what is true of a few instances only, is represented as true of a whole class; and vice versa.

Missing or Evading the Question. Ignoratio elenchi. Attention is turned away from the real question to something like it, or in some way connected with it. Under this head will also come the Argumentum ad Hominem, ad Invidiam, etc.

Begging the Question. The conclusion to be proved is in some way or other covertly assumed as true in the premises.

False Cause. A mere antecedent or concomitant is represented as cause: Post Hoc, Cum Hoc; ergo, Propter Hoc.

NOTE. - Of all these forms of sophistical reasoning we have numerous instances in current literature and oratory, as well as of many others which a logician will easily recognize, e. g., 'hasty induction,' 'false analogy,' 'unverified and impossible hypotheses,' 'citation of untrustworthy authorities,' etc., etc.

Yes, there are lots of details. You do not need to know all these formal names of errors if you want to argue, but you need to be aware of the many, many pitfalls that exist along the road we are trying to build...

And in order to seal this very technical posting with some pleasant Chesterton, let us hear a very witty bit from GKC:
Let me take the case of Mr. Mackail and his omnibuses. He describes with great humour how the "omnibus authorities" began building roofs over the tops of omnibuses, explaining that it was but an experiment depending on democratic approval; that the passenger had but to say the word, and they would "instantly tear all those new tops off again, and throw them on to the dust-heap." He then adds with admirable sincerity that, though he feels flattered by being thus made the arbiter of architecture or ruin, he really does not know which he does want. He will forgive my saying that in this he is very typical of the public which our plutocracy governs, and explains why the plutocracy governs it. He can only say that when the sun is shining he would like the roof off, and when it is pouring with rain he would like the roof on. This is reasonable enough up to a point; but it is a reason for not coming to a conclusion. We might almost say that it is a reason for not having a reason. Now, I hope Mr. Mackail will not think me puffed up with spiritual pride if I say with some satisfaction that I know which I prefer, and I know why I prefer it. And I can thus come to a conclusion rapidly, because I have the habit of referring things to first principles.
pGKC ILN Dec 4 1926 CW34:210]
But perhaps GKC's opponent Mr. Mackail is too obscure for you. Let us take another quote, about someone much more likely to be recognized, where we see GKC's brilliant scholasticism:
if a man wanted one real and rational test, which really does distinguish the mediaeval from the modern mood, it might be stated thus. The mediaeval man thought in terms of the Thesis, where the modern man thinks in terms of the Essay. It would be unfair, perhaps, to say that the modern man only essays to think - or, in other words, makes a desperate attempt to think. But it would be true to say that the modern man often only essays, or attempts, to come to a conclusion. Whereas the mediaeval man hardly thought it worth while to think at all, unless he could come to a conclusion. That is why he took a definite thing called a Thesis, and proposed to prove it. That is why Martin Luther, a very mediaeval man in most ways, nailed up on the door the theses he proposed to prove. Many people suppose that he was doing something revolutionary, and even modernist, in doing this. In fact, he was doing exactly what all the other mediaeval students and doctors had done ever since the twilight of the Dark Ages. If the really modern Modernist attempted to do it, he would probably find that he had never arranged his thoughts in the form of theses at all.
[GKC ILN Feb 16 1929 CW35:43]
Still too long? OK, here's the epigram you were waiting for:
The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty.
[GKC Heretics CW1:196]
That's our conclusion - and that is what you need to remember for today.

Monday, February 02, 2009

For Candlemass: Light on Definitions

Today, the fortieth day after Christmas, we recall the Purification of Mary, and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, as was foretold:
And presently the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the testament, whom you desire, shall come to his temple. Behold, he cometh, saith the Lord of hosts. And who shall be able to think of the day of his coming? and who shall stand to see him? for he is like a
refining fire...
[Malachias 3:1-2]
And so the Church blesses candles today, and in the dark gloom of winter there is a feast of Light.

From quite some time ago, I recall a cartoon version of "The Cat in the Hat" - which as usual had parts which were not in the book. There was something lost (I forget what) and the Cat takes the opportunity to teach the children his clever technique for finding things: a technique called "Calculate-us Eliminate-us" which locates the lost item by finding out where it ISN'T. I was so struck by this that I used it in my doctoral research. And, so, in trying to advance our discussion of "argument", I shall give you a little of the reality behind the Cat's clever trick.

It is simply a matter of knowing how to define something. (The Cat's trick works because you cannot hope to find a thing unless you know what it is, and one way of knowing that is to know what it isn't.)

However I am not going to play games today. (That's reserved for a future post.) In order to do this well, we need some authentic details. The following excerpt is from Scholastic Philosophy by Michael W. Shallo, S.J. It gives us the important details about "definition", which is always the starting point of all argument:

23. A definition declares briefly and distinctly what a thing is. It is either Verbal or Real.

(a) A verbal or nominal definition gives the meaning of a word. It is formed either:

According to the etymology of the word, e. g., 'President is one who sits at the head.'

Or, according to common usage, 'President is the head of the executive in a Republic.'

Or arbitrarily, i. e., when a word is ambiguous, and one settles the particular sense in which he uses it, e. g., 'By President we mean the one whom the class chooses to represent it in regard to class matters with the authorities of the College.'

(b) A real definition declares what the thing, signified by a word, is, by giving a clear and distinct account of it. It is either:

Causal, if it assigns the extrinsic causes of the object, i. e., its efficient, final, exemplary cause; or

Essential, if it gives the essential or constitutive parts of the object, regarded as a physical or metaphysical whole, e. g., 'Man is composed of a spiritual soul and an organic body'; 'Man is a rational animal'; or

Descriptive, if it gives the properties of the object, or such of its accidents as serve to distinguish it from all other objects; or finally

Genetic, if it gives the manner in which a thing is produced.

24. A Definition should be clearer and more distinct than the object defined. It should embrace neither more nor less than the object defined, and apply to none but it. It should not be tautological, i. e., it should not contain the name of the object to be defined, or any of its derivatives, or of such correlatives of the thing to be defined as cannot be explained unless the thing itself is already known. This is called Defining in a Circle. It should not be negative, for the purpose of a definition is to declare what a thing is, not what it is not. However, an exception to this law is allowed in the case of contradictory opposites. When one has been positively defined, the other may be defined negatively, e. g., "knowing what parts are and that a compound consists of parts, we may define a simple being as one which does not consist of parts."

25. All things known to us can be more or less accurately described; but not all need or can be delved, partly on account of their simplicity or obviousness, partly owing to the imperfection of our knowledge.

26. We may form a strict definition either by

(a) The method of synthesis, i. e., by starting with a notion more universal than the object to be defined, and gradually descending to it by the addition of different notes; or

(b) The method of analysis, i. e., by starting with the individual, and gradually ascending by the elimination of individual or accidental characters to a specific or generic concept.

Yes, I know there are some terms which have been defined previous to this excerpt (like the term "note") but I cannot give you all of the book here and now. But we need to have some sense of the idea of a "definition" before we get very far.

Now, just to balance out this rather rigorous piece of technical detail, I shall give you a little more of Chesterton, since it is even harder for most of us to grasp that we must enter into an argument as intelligent beings, removing (as far as possible) all animosity, belligerance, tension, hate, anger, antipathy... coming to our opponent - or really our opposing teammate - with respect and with humility. We are seeking truth, and our victory shall be over ignorance, not over our opponent.

I have quoted GKC's wonderful words about Shaw several times before, and most likely shall do so again. Here I shall give you a little more of the context. Read this carefully, and try to keep this in mind the next time you face an adversary.
I wish to deal with my most distinguished contemporaries, not personally or in a merely literary manner, but in relation to the real body of doctrine which they teach. I am not concerned with Mr. Rudyard Kipling as a vivid artist or a vigorous personality; I am concerned with him as a Heretic - that is to say, a man whose view of things has the hardihood to differ from mine. I am not concerned with Mr. Bernard Shaw as one of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive; I am concerned with him as a Heretic - that is to say, a man whose philosophy is quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong.
[GKC Heretics CW1:46]
Most likely we shall never be quite so distant from any opponent in argument as GKC was from GBS. Here's how Chesterton explained it:
my controversy with G. B. S., both logically and chronologically, is from the beginning. Since then I have argued with him on almost every subject in the world; and we have always been on opposite sides, without affectation or animosity. I have defended the institution of the family against his Platonist fancies about the State. I have defended the institutions of Beef and Beer against his hygienic severity of vegetarianism and total abstinence. I have defended the old Liberal notion of nationalism against the new Socialist notion of internationalism. I have defended the cause of the Allies against the perverse sympathy felt by pacifists for the militarism of the Central Empires. I have defended what I regard as the sacred limitations of Man against what he regards as the soaring illimitability of Superman. Indeed it was in this last matter of Man and Superman that I felt the difference to become most clear and acute; and we had many discussions upon it with all sides.
[GKC Autobiography CW16:214-5]
Let us go further. When GKC was giving a lecture on "Culture and the Coming Peril." Maisie Ward reported that this was
the intellectual, educational, psychological, artistic overproduction which, equally with economic overproduction, threatened the well-being of contemporary civilization. People were inundated, blinded, deafened, and mentally paralysed by a flood of vulgar and tasteless externals, leaving them no time for leisure, thought, or creation from within themselves.
[Ward Gilbert Keith Chesterton 590]
Afterwards, as usual, there was a question and answer session, and this was reported:

Questioner: "Is George Bernard Shaw a coming peril?"
GKC: "Heavens, no. He is a disappearing pleasure."
Evenmore important than our definition of "definition" is this mystical attitude of friendship: of a complete emptying of self, and of personality, in order to enter into argument not so much (as people love to say) in an "unbiassed" way, but with as little of personality as possible - much as a scientist enters into a laboratory. He may know full well what he expects to find. But he is ready to risk being surprised, in order to learn more.

So our first lessons from today's notes:

1. Know how to make a definition.
2. Try to be friendly - and impersonal - in argument.
3. Be willing to risk a surprise