Prediction and necessity

1.) Aristotle concludes what he called (for the first time) a science of physics with a proof for a spiritual mover with infinite power. That said, he wasn’t trying to identify statistical plots of data and interpret them according to a model in order to predict future experience.

2.) Data ranged statistically is always a sample and so incomplete. In this sense, data is endless and is made doubly so by the indefinite amount of models that might interpret it and possible future experiences. Because of this essentially indefinite character of the data-model picture one is forming, the one engaged in this activity knows in advance that he can, will and must keep filling in this picture indefinitely.

3.) The data-model picture might end up arriving at the same conclusion as Aristotle did, or might conclude to a divinity by way of different properties. The data-model picture might well someday look like creation, but at the moment creation (or its absence) can only be a suggestion and a hypothesis.

4.) Aristotle did not target prediction but necessity. It’s clear that these are different in mathematics, which served as Aristotle’s paradigm for science. The law of cosines does not predict a relationship among the sides of future triangles, if for no other reason than it is nonsensical to speak about “future” triangles. Aristotle thought that there was an element like this in natural things too, sc. their species and the properties that were linked to it by necessity.

5.) Prediction thus becomes our sole access to nature to the extent that we fail to attain to what things are and what is linked to this.  

6.) There are three possible ways we might stand to understanding what things are and what relates to them by necessity

a.) We might not understand them at all

b.) We might understand only that things have species but be unable to understand what they are.

c.) We might understand both that things have species and what these are, at least to some extent.

7.)  I don’t see how either a or b are compatible with saying that we know things abstractly.

Aug. 15, Time notes

Ideas of time in nature need to take more account of light, which has no succession of itself.

For Aquinas, time arises from matter, or the intrinsic possibility of things to be something else. For Augustine it arises from the dependence of the human mind on anticipation and memory and the dependence of the angelic mind on a multiplicity of ideas. These seem to amount to the same thing: whatever is not God has a dependence on being otherwise.

Outside of God, we have music – a whole that depends for its existence on negative space. Sight doesn’t depend on the unseen the way a melody depends on what is not now heard.

Progressivism assumes history is for what is later, but this deprives the past of its existence for itself. In fact, like a melody, history is not for what is later but for the whole.

Progressivism is the conceit that history is now intelligible because it existed for now. Alternately, it might have existed for the past. These are the only two ways it could be intelligible to us. If it existed for the whole we would have to know all time to know it and then…

In creatures, multiplicity is division in being and/or thought. In the Trinity this is overcome. In this sense Neo-Platonism does not go far enough, though its truth is still preserved in in trinitarianism as monotheism. .

So why not go further and have a trinitarianism that overcomes the opposition between good and evil/ or the beautiful and ugly? Because multiplicity isn’t a privation of unity. An unplayed note is not a privation of the melody. Or – and this is better to say – the highest sorts of unity are those that can preserve distinction among the members.


Kids have names. Adults have relations (dad, grandma). Kids are thus absolutes.

Science raises this: is the divine inference through it? Does it need one? Should it have one?

Idealism challenges what experiment?

Resurrection is symbiosis with cosmos. I would take this if it is wilderness of Ontario. A suburb not so much.

The Feast of the Assumption and the Blessings of Marriage

In a few short days Catholics around the world will be celebrating the Feast of the Assumption – the day that honors our Blessed Mother being assumed, body and soul into heaven so that she could be crowned the Queen of heaven. It has long been one of my favorite feasts and I have loved OLA for as long as I can remember. My grandmother died on August 19th, 1995 and I remember taking great comfort praying to Our Lady on this feast day, asking her to accompany my grandmother on the final leg of her journey, and then feeling her presence with my grandmother on her final day. So ten years ago, when my husband proposed to me, I knew I wanted to be married on this feast day.  A few (not-so) short months later we were married! It was a Monday, which turns out is quite a lot cheaper for most wedding expenses! We were married at the Mission San Buenaventura in Ventura, California; our parish priest drove up to say the wedding and friends of my husband provided the music for the Mass – we had violins as well as acapella songs: they sounded like heaven. Our reception was at a friend’s-mother’s beach house (she told me that when James and I got married we could have our reception at her house if we wanted, even before we were engaged).  My friends catered the meal, my new cousin and brother-in-law grilled the meat for us (chicken and tri-tip!), and my mom made the wedding cake (there was a lot of chocolate involved).  A dear friend DJ’d the wedding from his iPod. It was beautiful and perfect and surrounded by love: True, sacrificial, life-affirming love.

So here’s to Our Lady of the Assumption and sacramental marriage!

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Day light hours – another mom post

A few weeks ago a visiting priest gave a homily lamenting two of modernity’s great gifts: electricity and air conditioning. The first, he noted, allowed man to work beyond the natural limits of the day light, and the second allowed him to work, all day, every day, without interruption. But man needs rest, rest which used to be dictated by the natural rhythms of the days and seasons. He was encouraging us to take more time out to rest and pray. “If you don’t have time to pray, you better not have time to eat,” he said.

I was reminded of this at 1:48 AM as I climbed into bed, after “getting into a cleaning groove.” With my hubby away I knew *I* would be on duty with the kiddos bright and early.  What, exactly, was I thinking when I kept the lights on into the wee hours so I could clean when I should have been sleeping??

Products of Conception – a mom post

Hubby is at the cabin, so he asked me to post…

Between the PP videos that have been released over the past few weeks and the Republican primary debates taking place, the internet is full of euphemisms about abortion again.  So I wanted to share a ‪#‎truth‬: the “product of conception” doing all sorts of flips and kicks and punches and stretches inside of me is ‪#‎notmybody‬ (even if he is currently existing IN my body and his existence is dependent UPON my body – though less so at this point in the game) and therefore his or her right to life is ‪#‎notmychoice‬. He or she is a distinct person, a complete human being, and endowed with EXACTLY the same natural rights as you and I. The Right to Life must be understood by all as the preeminent right in our political and moral ideologies, for without *that* right, there can be no logical claim to other rights.  The idea that at any point, from the moment of conception until the moment of birth, that a fetus is anything less in terms of inherent value is a lie, a political fiction.

Notes on the Argument from evil

-The best any particular argument from evil can hope to do is to establish that God is not good in the sense the argument assumed. There are, however, at least a dozen non-reducible ways ways in which God can be called good/ infinitely good/ benevolent.

-There’s a lot of literature on the argument from evil that I’ve never read, but I’ve gone through a good deal of it without ever seeing an argument that began by saying “Dr./Saint _____ argued that God was infinitely good because _____” The arguments always start as if “God” just meant “infinite goodness/ benevolence”, and as if everyone from time out of mind just assumed he knew this without giving an account of what he meant or a reason why he thought it. And as if everyone meant the same thing by it.

-Even if one takes God’s infinite goodness as axiomatic, there are multiple ways in which it can be so taken, consider

a.) when the one supreme God of gods is thought of, even by those who believe that there are other gods, and who call them by that name, and worship them as gods, their thought takes the form of an endeavor to reach the conception of a nature, than which nothing more excellent or more exalted exists. (Augustine De doc, 1.7)

b.) God is that than which nothing greater can be thought.

c.) God is called good ‘as that by which all things subsist’ (Dionysius)

d.) The perfect is always prior in being to the imperfect (Boethius, following Aristotle)

e.) God is a perfect/ ideal person (Plantinga)

Notice that, while (a) was a clear influence on (b), the former is far more limited and particular while the latter is more general. (c) and (d) can be taken as showing either that God is axiomatically good, or that this follows from very broadly held assumptions.

-Notice that no one ever said “God is infinitely good because everything is awesome! Just look around :-)!” The goodness of God is given within a world where evil not only exists, but often seems to be deeply and radically involved in goodness. In other words, God’s infinite goodness can be just as much an attempt to come to grips with the evil in the world as the argument from evil is. As an empirical support for this, notice that evil makes some turn to God and some away from him.

-If we actually took some of the arguments or axioms of divine goodness seriously, we’d see they saw goodness though the idea of wholeness and totality rather than the way we see it as… what exactly? A lot of the lit says that God must be morally good, but we don’t have any consensus over what this would mean. Would God be an ideal utilitarian? Virtue ethicist? Should he have some goodness transcending this? Is even raising questions like this sheer nonsense? All of these accounts would give us very different views of God, and would in turn give rise to many different sorts of argument from evil, along with different clear resolutions to it. We should stop talking about “moral goodness” as if we all agreed what that meant.

-Many seek out God in the face of bad luck (loss of spouse, getting cancer, born in the wrong place or time) Here again we get another account of the divine goodness: God alone can give meaning to bad luck. God alone can ensure that this evil that befalls us has some sort of intrinsic, real meaning and not just one that we might impose on it though sheer force of optimism. This argument is part of a larger genre: arguments for the divine goodness that arise precisely because of the reality of evil (the simplest arises from the question, “if there is no God, why is anything evil?”)

-In the last fifty or sixty years we’ve grown comfortable seeing goodness as meaning, e.g. to ask “what is the meaning of life” or “what does it all mean” is the same as asking what it is good for or what the good of it could be. This commits us, however, to either seeing all good as determined by humans (whether individually or socially) or as determined by some other intentional agent. Either way, we get very different accounts of the argument from evil. What sense is there to “evil” if all goods (meanings) are determined by us? If we cannot determine them all, then how is good “meaningful”? If we trace this back to nature, in virtue of what is this good properly meaningful? 

Proving divinity

1.) Bill Vallicella and Randall Rauser have both defended this argument:

A proof is a logically valid argument based on self-evident premises

We do not have a logically valid argument based on self-evident premises for the existence of God.

I think both premises are wrong, but in fairness to Vallicella and Rauser, I can’t prove them false by just showing them the sort of argument they had in mind. So why do I disagree with them?

2.)  Every discourse has an appropriate standard of proof. Aristotle makes the point that we can’t expect politicians to give geometrical proofs, and he says this not because politicians are too dim to give them or because they should be allowed to shoot from the hip, but because demanding geometrical proof in political matters fails to recognize something very important about politics. Training politicians to seek mathematical certitude would make them indecisive, abstract, impersonal, etc. Again, politicians would not seek to cultivate the sorts of traits that one finds in Caesar, Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, etc. but the sorts of traits one finds in Archimedes and Cantor. The horror. Notice that the appropriate standard of proof applies not just to conclusions but to the premises one starts with, and so we not only have different standards for what is proven but also for what can count as given, axiomatic, or self-evident.

3.) One aspect of an appropriate level of proof is is tied up with the fact that some proofs are necessary because of the imperfection of knowledge. It would be irrational to say a prosecutor hadn’t proved his case because he failed to deliver a video of the defendant in the course of the act and a signed confession. This is not just because the level of proof demanded is inappropriate but, perhaps more importantly, because if all prosecutors has such evidence we wouldn’t need to have trials. As a consequence, we wouldn’t even need prosecutors. In this sense, we are giving argumentative evidence of guilt because we fall short of the highest sort of evidence we might have. We don’t just arbitrarily stipulate that prosecutors do not need to prove their case beyond a shadow of a doubt. If they were given such proof then we wouldn’t need prosecutors at all. To make a general rule: sometimes a doubt that cannot be eradicated by a proof is part of the reason the proof must be given. 

4.) It’s given that there is an appropriate level of proof, but specifying what that level is with any exactitude requires not just rational considerations but also conventional ones set by authority. Why set the 5-sigma standard of proof and not, say, a somewhat larger or smaller one? Why demand that treason be proved by two witnesses and not three? Why ask prosecutors to prove beyond any reasonable doubt and not significantly beyond reasonable doubt? Why ask that a Saint be proven by two miracles and not more or fewer? All of these standards have both a rational and an arbitrary component set by some authority.

5.) So (a) some proofs require their own inability to eradicate some doubts (or to reach a highest level of evidence); and (b) in order to discuss whether something is proven requires some difficult antecedent work about what an appropriate level of proof and self-evidence would be, and (c) in order to specify this with any exactitude we need arbitrary conventions set by some governing authority.

6.) There’s more than one interpretation of these facts, but here’s mine: as opposed to other discourses philosophy has to recognize that its appropriate level of proof allows for a wider lack of consensus. All discourses recognize some reasonable level of dissent and absence of consensus, but philosophy needs to recognize its level as relatively much larger than other discourses. This seems to be the only way to preserve the facts that (a) we can’t deny that there is some appropriate level of proof in philosophy and (b) it’s against the very nature of philosophy to set up a universal authorities that might set conventional and arbitrary standard of proof.

7.) Under this description, the major premise of the original argument is true only in a sense that is not useful in deciding whether one has a philosophical proof (since “self-evidence” is relative to one’s appropriate level of proof). And the minor is false because our belief in its truth, as far as I can tell, rests on an idea of philosophical truth that has an inappropriate expectation of consensus.

Seeing the future (1)

If I say “I see where X will happen” I can mean three things: (a) I’m looking at some place where X isn’t happening and forming a judgment that it will happen (b) I’m looking at some representation of the place – maybe even a slick video presentation that shows X happening and again forming a judgment that it will happen or (c) I’m imagining the whole thing and am in fact not looking at anything related to X but still forming a judgment it will happen.

Now if the future is distinctly seen then one sees where it will happen, and so for us this will be some judgment about the future. This judgment is based on a causal inference that we either know ourselves or accept on testimony. If based on what we know ourselves, it will take part in all the fallibility that our own knowledge does. But what if we hypothesized a judgment that “X will happen” that was based on direct knowledge or intuition? Direct knowledge is had only when a thing is happening, and so such a knowledge would see X when it was happening. But in order for X to be described as something that will happen, it must be compared to something existing now, though previous to X. One and the same act of knowledge must therefore simultaneously exist at different times.

But “to simultaneously exist at different times” is either an equivocation or a contradiction, since different times are non-simultaneous. If our hypothesis of direct intuition is true, we need new definitions of “simultaneous” and therefore also of terms like “before” and “after”.

A division of the sciences

1.) A hypothesis about mathematical abstraction: idealized objectivity of what is sensed.

2.) My standard for objectivity of the sensed is what all possible sentient beings must sense when sensing the same object. We recognize that different animals have the same organs and/or sense the same things but have different experiences. We see a leaf as a single color while a bee sees it as two; sounds that are inaudible to us are deafening to dogs; temperatures that are freezing to us are oppressively hot for some deep-sea fish, etc. So it seems like one good account of mathematical abstraction is the quantitative reality that must be the same in all these possible experiences, whether we’re talking about the objectively present shape (geometry), or the relation between parts and their common measure (numbers).

3.) This quantity we come to is neither is large or small, nor set off from its background by some contrast of color (like black lines on white paper). It is a quantity of almost pure touch – a triangle drawn on one’s back in a dark room, and considered as neither large nor small, or three taps on the back, which need not be hard or soft, hot or cold, or of any determinate size or location.

4.) Our standard for the objective includes motion too, but this motion can’t arise out of the quantity. Motions need to be continuous but changes in idealized quantity don’t.  Doubling a line does not require us to imagine it 50% longer first, and adding sides to regular polygons so as to approach a circle can happen by jumping from equilateral triangle to square to pentagon to hexagon, etc.

5.) This “jumping” requires two things (1) space, i.e the background of the shapes, or undifferentiated extension with no definite form, but also (2) the positing of something that stays numerically one while jumping from triangle to square to pentagon, etc. These two are completely different: it’s not as if undifferentiated extension jumps from one shape to another – this would be to say that what stays the same between the shape and its background does not stay the same.

6.) But it seems that all there is to a shape is its fixed border and the definite area of space that this gives rise to; or a definite amount of space that might allow for different fixed borders. So there is simply no such thing that remains numerically one while the line is extended or “the figure” jumps to “its” limit. Change in quantity is only intelligible for one who assumes – whether knowingly or not – some source of unity that quantity does not have. It is ironic that we call this numerical unity since quantity cannot possess it of itself.

7.) But even after we assume some source of numerical quantity allowing for change, there is still no necessity for the change to pass through intermediate stages. If it did, taking a figure to a limit or superimposing one figure on another would take time for the same reason that growing a plant or crossing the room takes time. And so when we idealize the objectivity of the sensed in mathematical quantity, we lose the necessity that motion be continuous, both over its parts and over time. Thus the passage or flow of time will be lost, and we will be left with only its difference, i.e. this point of time is not that one. But nothing whatsoever will connect these two points, for to do so it would have to be continuous and this is precisely what is denied. It follows that there cannot even be two points at different times. And so just as we had to assume a source of numerical unity which cannot belong to the quantity as such, we have to assume a continuity of time that cannot belong to quantity. It makes no difference whether this continuity is seen as belonging to time itself, or to motion first and then to time.

8.) Both change and quantity must be common to all animal experience, and so both meet the criteria for being objective. But we can’t preserve the reality of change under the assumption that this idealized objectivity gives us nothing but quantity.

9.) And so an idealized, objective world can’t be achieved in a single sort of abstraction but in the abstractions giving us the mathematical, motion and time, and the source of numerical unity.  The objective account of the sensible world will divide into the mathematical, physical, and metaphysical sciences. That said, mathematics takes pride of place for the exactitude and clarity of the knowledge we get from it.

10.) Mathematics thus enters physics to the extent that the physicist wants to understand the sensible world in a mode excelling all others in exactitude and clarity, and is willing to accept the trade off of losing sight of the passage of time and the reality of change. There is no miracle of math working – it is simply an idealized sense world, and even then one that comes with trade-offs in our understanding of nature.

10b.) Calling math an idealization explains why it can both explain the world while frequently looking nothing like the world we sense.  Like any idealization of X, it will have properties that are illustrative of X even when they are impossible for X.  The same property can harmonize why Plato thought mathematics formed an ideal world subtending all objectivity while St. Thomas thought it was an abstraction from that world.

11.) We’ve had a good deal of success with the dialectical unification of math and physics. Even here, however, we inevitably lose the reality of time and change, and, a fortiori, we become indifferent to the source of numerical unity. If nothing stays numerically one throughout change, then there can be no causality of any kind. There is clearly no material or agent causality, and so neither are there any causes existing in relation to them. The attempt to limit our account of nature to the perfectly objective not only overlooks something perfectly objective, but end up making it impossible.

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