Sunday, 25 August 2013

The land of Ooo

I'm a nerd.

I'm not saying this in a self-deprecating manner; I'm comfortable in my nerdy skin. It wasn't always like this, but growing up has a way of making things ok.

One of my nerdy qualities is that I love cartoons: SpongeBob Squarepants; Kung-fu Panda; Jimmy Neutron; Planet Sheen...as much as I like The Simpsons, American Dad, Futurama, and I'm reassessing my liking The Family Guy. My most recent discovery is a show called, Adventure Time with Finn and Jake.

Adventure Time is a strange, wonderful, quirky world, and not at all your typical cartoon. It has a dark, foreboding undertow (a post-apocalyptic world) that does not overwhelm the light-hearted innocence and coolness of the two main characters: Finn the human (Jeremy Shada) and Jake the dog (John DiMaggio - of the Futurama fame).

The whole series is peppered with flashbacks of the characters (both major and minor). For example, the Ice King's character used to be an antiquarian named Simon Petrikov. The storyline goes something like he used to be in love his fiancée Betty but then he came across a magical crown that slowly took over him and his priorities. His subjects are penguins and he has a penguin sidekick named Gunter.

In one of the flashbacks, as he becomes more and more the Ice King and less and less his original form, we find that in order to protect a little girl named Marceline from the post-apocalyptic zombies after the Mushroom War he had to rely more and more on the magical crown but at the cost of his sanity and humanity.

[Pendleton] Ward described the show as a "dark comedy"; he said "dark comedies are my favorite, because I love that feeling – being happy and scared at the same time. It's my favorite way to feel – when I'm on the edge of my seat but I'm happy, that sense of conflicting emotions. And there's a lot of that in the show, I think." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventure_Time)

The whole thing is brilliant.

There is also the music being as Finn, Marceline and Jake are musically inclined and liable to break out into music at any moment.

I've always been fascinated by the Greenlandic culture. It has a distance for me that makes it an almost magical wonder. It has an easy eloquence about it being as the Inuit language is strong, and, more importantly, culturally relevant in a way that it has kept the linguistic traditions in the modern world that other Inuit cultures are currently struggling with. It also has music (of every kind).

Adventure Time has that quality (for me).

Jay

Ergativity in Inuit Language

The Inuit language has a somewhat strange ("strange" to non-native speakers anyhow) grammatical feature called an "ergative" marker. First, I'll quote the Wikipedia entry on what ergativity means then try and explain as best as I can myself:

An ergative–absolutive language (or simply an ergative language) is a language in which the single argument ("subject") of an intransitive verb behaves like the object of a transitive verb, and differently from the agent ("subject") of a transitive verb. For instance, instead of saying "I moved her" and "she moved", speakers of an ergative language would say the equivalent of "I moved her" and "her moved". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ergativity)

The question of "transitivity" is of primary importance in talking about "ergativity". The difference between 1) "I see" and 2) "I see him" is that 1 is "intransitive" (ie, grammatically complete without a direct object), and 2 is "transitive" (ie, specifies both the subject "I" and direct object "him"). The great subtlety is that the difference between the two phrases is not so much in the nouns but the verbs – though "to see" with respect to the two phrases in English seems, for all intents and purposes, unaltered by its grammatical function.

In the Inuit language, grammatical differences that have to do with "transitivity" are specified by its morpho-syntactic structure through the ergative markers. I say "markers" in the plural because most if not all the linguistics papers on the Inuit language that I've read seem to speak only of the pronominal endings (such as [-tara/-jara]; [-tait/-jait]; [-tanga/-janga]) but I noticed in thinking about Inuktitut that it seems possible to denote ergativity without having to mark it pronominally.

There is a particle in Inuktitut that seems to function like an ergative marker but nonetheless requires a direct object to complete its grammaticality (though strictly speaking, ergativity has to do with intransitive constructs). This particle is the [-si-] morpheme, as in:

kapisijuq "he stabs (someone)"

which is distinct from

kapijuq "he stabs (himself)"

This "complication" may have to do with the fact that some ergative languages have an additional grammatical function having to do with "active-stative" distinctions. Rather than trying to explain what "active-stative" means, let me just refer you to this Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active%E2%80%93stative_language).

I'm actually not joking. After going through all that complicated technical language in the entry above, the most important point has to do with this statement therein:

If the language has morphological case, then the arguments of a transitive verb are marked using the agentive case for the subject and the patientive case for the object, while the argument of an intransitive verb may be marked as either.

Clear as mud? Then, you're in good company (including yours truly, to be honest). But I think I can actually follow my own argument here, being a native speaker of Inuktitut with some technical serviceability in linguistics. But I also realize the trap I've willingly fallen into (namely, that abstract theoretical arguments have that frustrating aspect of seeming to want to count the number of angels dancing on the tip of a needle). At the risk of appearing snobbish I actually enjoyed falling into this trap, willingly.

Granted, the line of reasoning here is subtle but not all "aha!" moments translate well outside the subjective experience. I may not look it, but I'm actually as "happy as pig in...".

Jay

Saturday, 24 August 2013

What is Real?

My aippakuluk bought a copy of the August 2013 issue of Scientific American, and in it is a very interesting article called, Quantum Physics: what is real?

Personally, my present reading is that, since the discovery of the Higgs boson, string theorists (which according to Lee Smolin makes up most of the physicist community) have been somewhat jolted back to reality (whatever "reality" is) and are beginning to question whether the Standard Model of particle physics was always a more productive theoretical framework after all than the superstring varieties.

I would like to liken the ever-multiplying string models (taking cue from GH Hardy) to 'ugly mathematics' for the simple reason that the whole discourse has never seemed to grasp the (dare I say?) wisdom of the Occam's Razor - says the Wikipedia entry on Occam's Razor:

It states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. In other words, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_razor)

The entry goes on to say: "The razor states that one should proceed to simpler theories until simplicity can be traded for greater explanatory power. The simplest available theory need not be most accurate."

As a fallibilist (turns out I was this all along), or someone who believes that human knowledge is "liable to err"—being as we ourselves are limited and what we can know is subject to revision—I've always been a subscriber to Occam's Razor. You know...the type of realization that comes where once it was only an inkling then you comes across a statement that give the proper language to that once-only-an-inkling? I find that as I mature as a reader and writer these types of epiphanies are coming clearer and, even, spiritual (which I think I've always had those "aha!" moments if rare these).

Anyhoo...the article I started talking about: some (if not most) physics philosophers have always felt that our notions of "particles" and "fields" are rather inadequate descriptors because they give us the impression that we're talking about things we've actually experienced as "particles" and "fields" when actually these technical/mathematical entities have little if nothing in common with our experience. Fine.

One day, my best friend made a comment that he finds it astounding that something could be both a "particle" and a "wave" at the same time. After a split-second of reflection, I replied that we actually experience it everyday, and precisely because it is such a commonplace thing we completely overlook the fact that we see in colour in everyday things (colour, they say, is a wave).

The article says that these two categories of the physical phenomena blur together. But then says something immediately after that which I find very interesting and insightful if unconsciously stated: "Quantum field theory assigns [emphasis mine] a field to each type of elementary particle, so there is an electron field as surely as there is an electron. At the same time, the force fields are quantized rather than continuous, which gives rise to particles such as the photon." (Scientific American, August 2013, p. 42)

In other words, when we talk of physics we are not actually talking about (well, maybe in some tenuous way yet to be demonstrated convincing to all) particles and fields but the mathematical values assigned to what is being measured. This is different than saying these "assigned" values are actually what we think we observe. The phenomena, after all, are not the actual chosen artefacts of our discourse—ie, "particles" and "fields".

I've always been struck by our notions of "number"—there is something deeper than our differentiation of "oneness" from "twoness", for example, than what we actually think. Though we actually "know" there is a quantitative difference between "one" and "two" there is a subtle "slipperiness" about our notion of number. And, this is reflected in our discourse: we can say that there is a difference between "cardinal" and "ordinal" numbers, or that these "integers" belong to a bigger class of number called the "reals" (as per the closed ring theory of arithmetic).

In other words, though we distinguish 1 from 2 they are actually artefacts of our discourse and, being abstract entities, one doesn't actually take up more space nor energy than the other. In fact, the amorphous notion of the infinite takes up no more space than zero does.

Just to be absolutely clear: I'm not what is called in mathematicians a "formalist". I don't actually believe that reality and our notions of number are just rules to manipulate and arrange into pleasing forms. I am, as I said, a fallibilist (of the pragmatist persuasion). Though I tend to treat human knowledge and the language we use as being subject to change and modification I think its fundamental object is something real and immutable (I like calling it "the mind/creation of God").

However we chose to label ourselves epistemologically, there is no denying that our pursuit of knowledge is motivated and inspired by something "real" and "objective" no matter how we regard it. In fact, how we regard reality is immaterial for our perspective/perception is merely a tool—without detracting anything from what we perceive in the first instance.

There is something wonderful in Kierkegaard's writings that I think capture most succinctly what I'm driving at here. It is his notions of the "absurd" and "irony" in light of pursuit of knowledge. To quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Kierkegaard's rhetorical play with the inverse Christian dialectic was designed not to make the word of God easier to assimilate, but to establish more clearly the absolute distance that separates human beings from God. This was in order to emphasize that human beings are absolutely reliant on God's grace for salvation. While most commentators regard Kierkegaard's view to be that sin is what separates human beings absolutely from God, thereby lending weight to the view that Kierkegaard endorses a particularly dour version of Christianity, a more defensible interpretation is that it is the transcendent God's capacity to forgive the unforgivable that marks the absolute difference. Our struggle to accept divine forgiveness can become mired in despair, including the second-order despair over the impossibility of forgiveness of our sins and the demonic despair of defiance in which we refuse to accept forgiveness. On the other hand, faith in divine forgiveness can manifest in joy, at the realization that for God anything is possible, including our “rebirth” as spiritual selves with “eternal validity”. (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/)

Earlier, the above article says that Kierkegaard's insight into the Christian "inverse dialectic" demands that we find hope in hopelessness, strength in weakness, and peace in adversity (and, finding joyfulness in the dour, if I may add)—this view, by the way, is perfectly in line with Paul's theology and, indeed, the Christ's Himself. And earlier still the author points out that Kierkegaard's whole project was to "take away from" rather than "add to" human knowledge (which he views as so much brush and bramble, overgrowth of weeds, to be pruned 'til clarity is yet again achieved). Very Taoist, if I may point out.

This type of philosophical outlook is about perspective (ie, the saving grace in Christ's gospel) that invariably and inevitably leads to humility and sense of peace if nothing else precisely because they draw our attention away from the self into our notions of portion and proportion ("know before whom you stand"), which, the sages say, is enough. This is my chosen meditation. The dynamical living relationship between God and human is the thing—ie, not the rewards and punishments but the authenticity of the relationship God invites us to explore.

This is basically what the Scientific American article says: that we should perhaps view the physical phenomena as not so much about things/objects but as how the values we can measure are at their cores relational. This, to me, is good because ultimately there is nothing satisfying about regarding reality as a thing; the satisfaction comes from perceiving relations and interconnections.

Jay

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Not X but Y

Though I'm not a mathematician I'm a lover of mathematical ideas; though I'm not a philosopher I'm a lover of philosophical ideas; though I could not rightly claim that I'm a talented musician I'm a lover of music; though I'm not a religious nor even a saintly person I'm a lover of Christ and the spiritual/ethical insights of the prophets as written in the Tanakh (the "old testament").

Though I'm neither assimilated nor of European descent, I consider all human achievements of the Western world my own heritage (as much as my own cultural heritage) documented and preserved and being expanded for my edification and general benefit. Everything from Aesop's fables to the American Constitution...these are things that bring eudemonia and ideals/principles for me to strive for. In fact, I consider myself a culmination/product of Inuit, Judeo-Christian and Western synthesis. I'm proud of being born an Inuk (singl. of Inuit), and am a great lover of my language and cultural/social insights.

As a Christian apologist I am no defender of human history and find much of the so-called fundamentalist attitude of every stripe tending to the simple, the lazy and the utterly unsatisfying.

When I started focussing on philosophy I was deeply impressed with Spinoza's format of first presenting a proposition then walking through a reasoned argument to support his propositions. In fact, I wanted a similar format for the presentation of Inuit Qaujimajangit (Inuit Knowledge or IQ) principles but ultimately decided against it for the simple virtue that such a presentation might be interpreted in the end as precluding input from my fellow Inuit, and I didn't want that especially for Inuit (past, present and future) who are more capable and knowledgeable than I. I wanted the discourse on IQ to be organic and democratic.

One of the Christian preachers I enjoy listening to, Charles Price, writes in today's devotional (http://www.livingtruth.ca/devotional.asp):

There is a well-known argument that says God cannot be both sovereign and loving at the same time for the reason that if He is loving and all-powerful, then the very existence of suffering and tragedy indicates that He is not loving. And if God is loving, then He’s obviously not sovereign, because He seems unable to overcome all the evil and suffering in this world. So what is meant by the sovereignty of God?

1 John 5:19 says, “We know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Three times Jesus spoke of Satan as ‘the prince of this world’ and the Bible tells again and again of people acting in disobedience and rebellion against God. The difficulty is that if God rules sovereignly over our disobedience and sovereignly rules His judgment for our disobedience, what does that say about the integrity of God? It’s a problematic position, but God is never the author of evil and, in His sovereignty, created human beings with a free will.


Using Spinoza's approach, we could state first the principle of "free will" to Price's wonderful devotional above and proceed from there to one of Spinoza's more controversial arguments that make people question whether he was an atheist, pantheist or heretic, and "prove" the transcendent nature of God:

Encapsulated at the start in his Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding (Tractatus de intellectus emendatione) is the core of Spinoza's ethical philosophy, what he held to be the true and final good. Spinoza held good and evil to be relative concepts, claiming that nothing is intrinsically good or bad except relative to a particularity. Things that had classically been seen as good or evil, Spinoza argued, were simply good or bad for humans. Spinoza believes in a deterministic universe in which "All things in nature proceed from certain [definite] necessity and with the utmost perfection." Nothing happens by chance in Spinoza's world, and nothing is contingent. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baruch_Spinoza)

It is the "utmost perfection" of God's Creation and the relativity of "good" and "evil" that I want to focus on here. Given the utmost perfection of Creation, God's transcendence is assured and the relativity of good and evil "proves" His sovereignty and the notion of our free will at the same time. The utmost perfection of Creation and our choices that generate either good or evil results implies that the "prince of this world" (ie, Satan) himself may have free reign on the physical realm but he is not himself the source of it but is only a "creature" like us free to use the created world for good or ill and subject to the divine judgement precisely because of that free will.

Since the consequences of our own actions result in both/either good and/or bad, ethics become an important principle to address these consequences. Since we are created in the image of God we are ultimately responsible for the free choices we make "relative to the particularity" of our choices (and understanding) - and why the necessity of our Saviour and divine grace and mercy that personify Him are utterly important for the sheer immensity of the weight of being ultimately responsibility for our actions and choices.

The Creator-creation-us relationship is in the same fashion that our technology is neither good nor bad (by nature) and requires something else to be realized: namely, our ethics and reflection. The use of guns in our culture has been a real blessing but only insofar as we have chosen to use the technology using our cultural values and attitudes towards nature. Inuit realized long ago that the Arctic environment necessitates our "diet of souls", and the best of Inuit culture/mindset is really about an un-pre-determined lesson in ethical behaviour/relationship with what nature has to offer us.

This mindset, like our relationship with God and Jesus, is a fragile thing indeed - and not because the divine is flawed but we ourselves are necessarily flawed in our limited understanding of the consequences of how we go about addressing our needs. It is - at its core - a power relationship, and like all power relationships, requiring our personal deliberation and examination of our ethical choices and methods to be a just and merciful one.

To close this off I want to quote again the Wikipedia entry on Spinoza:

Given Spinoza's insistence on a completely ordered world where "necessity" reigns, Good and Evil have no absolute meaning. The world as it exists looks imperfect only because of our limited perception.

Jay

Saturday, 17 August 2013

David vs Roger

I'm a huge Pink Floyd fan. I love everything about the Floyd - the music, the writing, the aesthetics, etc. Most people who are fans of Pink Floyd, I would surmise, when asked who makes the band would probably answer that Roger Waters did most of the song-writing so he makes Pink Floyd. No doubt about it: Waters wrote many of the classics.

But I would say that the center actually is David Gilmour post Syd Barrett.

There is an episode in The Big Bang Theory where the Sheldon character realizes that he is not and never was the center of the group. Now, Sheldon has a big ego that is directly inverse proportional to his social graces. Like Waters, he thinks that everything that he thinks about or says is an "acquired taste", and, as such, excellent by virtue of it requiring a long-winded explanation to be understood (best if he does the explaining).

The Leonard character (Sheldon's long-suffering room-mate) is a bit more easy-going. He knows that the different characters together make the group work. He just has the creative spontaneity and comfortableness in his skin to allow others to contribute. Where Sheldon is a mono-cultural field Leonard is a pasture.

The chemistry works.

Where Waters' writing has a tendency towards cold and dark interiority, Gilmour's writing tends to substantive literary use of psychological states. Waters has always been stuck on insanity and navel-gazing; Gilmour (with the help of his wife) looks at the effects and consequences of life lived in a relationship.

Even their choice of words for album titles are different: The Wall; The Division Bell.

The Wall is a place of loneliness and alienation; The Division Bell is a reference to the bells of British parliamentary tradition that ring when the members are called in to vote on an issue.

There is a song in the Momentary Lapse of Reason album where Gilmour's first fruits of lyric writing after Waters tried to break up the band shine through brilliantly: Sorrow, says Gilmour, was a poem before he wrote the music for it. It is said that he "appropriated" the opening lines of Sorrow from John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, but in my own ignorance (though Steinbeck is one of the authors I greatly admire) I've always thought the lyrics a prophetic allusion to the first Gulf War (written about 4 years before Hussein invaded Kuwait):

The sweet smell of a great sorrow lies over the land
Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky:
A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers,
But awakes to a morning with no reason for waking
 
He's haunted by the memory of a lost paradise
In his youth or a dream, he can't be precise
He's chained forever to a world that's departed
It's not enough, it's not enough
 
His blood has frozen & curdled with fright
His knees have trembled & given way in the night
His hand has weakened at the moment of truth
His step has faltered
 
One world, one soul
Time pass, the river rolls
 
It's not enough it's not enough
His hand has faltered
.... .... ......
And he talks to the river of lost love and dedication
And silent replies that swirl invitation
Flow dark and troubled to an oily sea
A grim intimation of what is to be
 
There's an unceasing wind that blows through this night
And there's dust in my eyes, that blinds my sight
And silence that speaks so much louder that words,
Of promises broken

The lyrical treatment is human; contemplative of human experience, the inarticulable longing we all feel for the idealized past brought about by the vertigo-inducing uncertainty of the present and the as-yet unrealized possibilities and hope of the future (Tom Joad doesn't know what he's going to in the end of The Grapes of Wrath but he feels he has to go into that uncertainty in light of certain continued persecution - and to protect his family):

The differences between Waters and Gilmour is also best captured in a quote (also from The Grapes of Wrath):

This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning—from "I" to "we". If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into "I", and cuts you off forever from the "we". (Chapter 14, p. 158)

Like, wow.

Jay

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Fallibilism

These words, according to a preacher who I enjoy listening to, were found written by a patient in an insane asylum:

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
Then to write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

"Fallibilism" is a hallmark of pragmatist philosophy. Fallibilism, as I know it, is a principle that says that human knowledge is limited and temporal and, because of this, liable to err. It is a philosophical version of the great Kurt Gödel's number theoretic insight that any finite axiomatic system (or set of logic statements that define an arithmetic system) is, by nature, incomplete.

Neither epistemological version (mathematical or philosophical) say that it is pointless to explore and discourse on what human beings can know (in fact, both are confirmations of the tremendous power of logic constraints in their ability to generate insights (statements) not immediately obvious nor predictable even by the authors).

For eg, Einstein's theories of relativity are a set of mathematical equations that, as it turns out, imply and capture the mechanics of physical phenomena that were unknown at the time of his constructing them - black-holes, the expansion of the universe, etc. and these are embedded within the mathematics and roll out naturally within the given possible solutions to the equations. There is no jerry-rigging, no adding of provisos or whatnots after the facts are discovered. These solutions are inherent in the system, neither known nor predicted by Einstein...mathematics has a way of doing this; this is its divine quality, as if mathematics done well was the very language of God himself.

At the other end of the spectrum, the world of the very small - also initiated by Einstein's special theory of relativity - is quantum physics. A hugely successful mathematical description of the mechanics of the atom generating such things as the periodic table of elements which, by logic, allowed even the prediction of elements unknown at the time.

There really are limits to these theories (as with all human knowledge). There is no way of reconciling the mathematics of the continuous (general theory of relativity) with the discreet (quantum physics) given our current understanding of maths. The greatest minds have tried and failed up to this point. But, they've discovered wonderful things also in the process of attempting it. Dirac, for eg, came up with an equation of the electron that, by all accounts of these greatest minds, "gives more than is humanly possible". His equations predicted the existence of anti-particles...

None of these powerful theories say anything about the human condition. Einstein, the greatest of them that constructed these theories, said this:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

and this:

The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.

Einstein's fame is not limited to just his scientific discoveries, but touch upon his political views, his admonishments to use technology and scientific knowledge with practical wisdom (phronesis) and not just by ego-wishes and questions of economic gain (ie, with ethical and moral reflection guiding our uses of them) captured most succinctly in this quote:

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.

God, and the divine nature of creation, were never discounted by him as mere superstitions. In fact, he has much to say about God and spirituality: "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."

Now, why did I quote an insane person at the beginning of this entry? It is to capture that infinite "mystery" Einstein talks about and that which informs and forms his apparent humbleness. This, to me, is the very essence of the principle of fallibilism.

Jay

Sunday, 4 August 2013

"The most human human"

There is an episode in the Doctor Who series called, The Shakespeare Code, where the Doctor claims that Shakespeare is "the most human human there's ever been". Granted, I'm a huge fan of Shakespeare, especially his sonnets and the phrases/terms he's coined, and I'll give the Doctor that. But I also think that every culture has its Shakespeare by the simple virtue that the human language has something divine in it (ie, the very nature of the human language is a creative phenomenon).

For instance, I've been blown away many times by Inuit who speak the Inuit language well, and these people have never written a book nor spoken from a lectern in front of an audience; let alone that these people never even went to school. Nonetheless, eloquence is not the sole purview of the English-speaking world by any stretch of the imagination (modern Inuktitut spoken well has roughly the same structural elegance as Elizabethan English that Shakespeare spoke - I should know, I'm into linguistics).

There is also another writer that I'd consider "the most human human there's ever been" that would certainly give Shakespeare a run for his money, and just given the nature of a Christian culture in which Shakespeare grew up, he's most likely been hugely influenced by even if only subconsciously. This writer been accredited to have written the Book of Psalms, King David.

Even if he's not the sole author of the book there is a quality about the writing that suggest he would have written the great majority of the book. Where Shakespeare's preferred subject matter tends to politics, youth/old age and young love/foibles; King David's tends to the real psychological states we're all bound to feel in the course of our lives (even within a span of a single day): angst, joy, numbness, doubt, spiritual rapture, vengeance, forgiveness, etc. -all of which translates unreasonably well-intact through cultures and time.

Given that the Jewish culture seems unusually blessed with human genius, this David was a polymath: a great warrior and military tactician, musician, poet, philosopher, prophet, a penitent sinner, a great ruler of the unite kingdom of Israel, the very template of the Messiah to the Jews, but not immune to self-indulgence and debauchery - none of which he hides in his writings. In a word: he is the most human human that ever lived.

In fact, his whole life reads like a Shakespearean play:

Jonathan and Saul are killed in battle with the Philistines at Mount Gilboa. David mourns their deaths, especially that of Jonathan, his friend. He goes up to Hebron, where he is anointed king over Judah. In the north, Saul's son Ish-Bosheth becomes king of the tribes of Israel. War ensues between Ish-Bosheth and David, until Ish-Bosheth is murdered. The assassins bring the head of Ish-Bosheth to David hoping for a reward, but David executes them for their crime against the Lord's anointed. Yet with the death of the son of Saul, the elders of Israel come to Hebron and David, who is 30 years old, is anointed King over Israel and Judah. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_david)

continues the Wikipedia entry:

David conquered the Jebusite fortress of Jerusalem, and made it his capital. "Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, also carpenters and masons who built David a house." David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, intending to build a temple, but God, speaking through the prophet Nathan, announced that the temple would be built at a future date by one of David's sons (Solomon). God made a covenant with David, promising that He will establish the house of David : "Your throne shall be established forever."

and:

David commits adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Bathsheba becomes pregnant. David sends for Uriah, who is with the Israelite army at the siege of Rabbah, so that he may lie with his wife and conceal the identity of the child's father. Uriah refuses to do so while his companions are in the field of battle and David sends him back to Joab, the commander, with a message instructing him to abandon Uriah on the battlefield, "that he may be struck down, and die." David marries Bathsheba and she bears his child, "but the thing that David had done displeased the Lord." The prophet Nathan confronts David, saying: "Why have you despised the word of God, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife." Nathan presents three punishments from God for this sin. First, that the "sword shall never depart from your house" (2 Samuel 12:10); second, that "Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel" (2 Samuel 12:12); and finally, that "the son born to you will die" (2 Samuel 12:14).

David repents, yet God "struck the [David's] child ... and it became sick ... [And] on the seventh day the child died." David leaves his lamentations, dresses himself, goes to the House of the Lord and worships, and then returns home to eat. His servants ask why he wept when the baby was alive, but ends his mourning when the child dies. David replies: "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."

see: most human human?..and finally:

When David has become old and bedridden, Adonijah, his eldest surviving son and natural heir, declares himself king and worthy to marry Abishag. Bathsheba, David's favorite wife, and Nathan the prophet go to David and procure his agreement that Solomon, Bathsheba's son, should sit on the throne. Thus, the plans of Adonijah collapse, and Solomon becomes king.

It is to Solomon that David gives his final instructions, including his promise that the line of Solomon and David will inherit the throne of Judah forever, and his request that Solomon kill his oldest enemies on his behalf.

David dies and is buried in the City of David, having ruled forty years over Israel, seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem.

It is throughout all this the constant semiology of his spiritual interpretation of his experiences that give me cause to think that he wrote most if not all the Psalms. There is something of the human genius (in both the prophets and the Christ Himself as in all fields of human endeavour) that is at once the "other" and the "self" that makes, to me, the question of whether Judeo-Christian faith is a mere "superstition" immaterial. It is a personal choice informed by personal experience and reflection. Given the choice between meaning and meaninglessness, I choose meaning.

Jay

Saturday, 3 August 2013

It's not just Platonism but "Plenitudinous Platonism"

I'm willing to admit that I'm pretty verbose. But I hope that this verbosity is not like Conrad Black's or Rex Murphy's verbosity (who seem to say big, obscure adjectives just for the sake of it); that there is "a method to my madness", a theoretical consistency that allow one to anticipate what comes next in my discourse (even if at times that logical path is unclear).

Discourse - rather than just words - is my thing. As a linguist, I've come to realize that de Saussure (1857-1913), though a great thinker and considered one of the fathers of modern linguistics, was ultimately a closet Platonist: one word, one signifier...sort of thing. When I was studying linguistics at Memorial University of Newfoundland I took semantics, and I couldn't stand the guy (nor the idiot professor and his condescending "English" accent that gave off airs of reified sophistication - unintended perhaps but nonetheless irritating and annoying because it came out so contrived in that land that set the standard for kitchen table talk).

See, I had already discovered Rorty and Dewey and Wittgenstein by then and came to realize that language is less about words and meanings (though, to be sure, it is those) than it is about ideas, and that language must have some discernible coherency and completeness about it ("it" being the discourse) at some psychological level in order to be satisfying.

Now where did I get this "plenitudinous Platonism"? Mathematical philosophy - and more specifically, mathematical epistemology - is less a field than a ragtag collection of brush and bramble, if you ask me. And, that's where I came across this term. Here is the gist of it from the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

A version of platonism has been developed which is intended to provide a solution to Benacerraf's epistemological problem (Linsky & Zalta 1995; Balaguer 1998). This position is known as plenitudinous platonism. The central thesis of this theory is that every logically consistent mathematical theory necessarily refers to an abstract entity...By entertaining a consistent mathematical theory, a mathematician automatically acquires knowledge about the subject matter of the theory. So, on this view, there is no epistemological problem to solve anymore.

In Balaguer's version, plenitudinous platonism postulates a multiplicity of mathematical universes, each corresponding to a consistent mathematical theory. Thus, a question such as the continuum problem does not receive a unique answer: in some set-theoretical universes the continuum hypothesis holds, in others it fails to hold. However, not everyone agrees that this picture can be maintained. Martin has developed an argument to show that multiple universes can always to a large extent be “accumulated” into a single universe (Martin 2001).

In Linsky and Zalta's version of plenitudinous platonism, the mathematical entity that is postulated by a consistent mathematical theory has exactly the mathematical properties which are attributed to it by the theory. (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/philosophy-mathematics/)

-The "multiplicity of mathematical universes" is a signal (to me) that the folks don't really know what they're talking - much like the superstring and many worlds theorists in physics. It's a catch-all phrase that really doesn't mean anything because it is, first of all, aesthetically ugly and intellectually lazy to try and jump gaps rather than admit that there is a gap in the thinking. It is disingenuous, at best.

I find this whole thing fascinating and my "meanness" is rather more an admonition than tsk-tsk.

I been thinking about this for years (actually) - since, that bad experience I had at MUN semantics course. There is something deeply unsatisfying about platonic forms: cold, austere, inert...they just stand there useless and pretty, pretty useless. What I've been thinking about is that there is a missing part in the discourse. Naturally as a linguist I think that missing part is "linguistic" insight.

What I mean is that mathematical philosophy, indeed the whole of mathematics, is really a study of human languages. Being as advances in mathematics has largely been a European achievement (a historical accident, no doubt) and that it's been largely an exercise in futility as de Saussure's program, perhaps taking a step or two back could clarify some of the confusion.

Mathematics, as the orthographical grammar now stands, is really an SVO language (ie, Subject Verb Object): S = V operating on O. The Subject, in this line of reasoning, is really the resulting integer; the Verb is the function/operation on the integer(s), O.

Now, as in linguistics, there are well-formedness (rigor) rules to the generation of these "phrases". The Russell's paradox is largely a question of what the barber really is (a verb) and where he rightfully belongs in this linguistic rendering of set theory (not a noun). And, Gödel's incompleteness theorem is really just a meaningless phrase like: "little, green ideas dream furiously" - it is a linguistic accident rather than an undecidable construct.

There are other utterly banal and boring questions posed by "structuralism" and "nominalism", such as "what numbers could not be" (again, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy):

"There exist infinitely many ways of identifying the natural numbers with pure sets. Let us restrict, without essential loss of generality, our discussion to two such ways:
I:
{∅}
{{∅}}
{{{∅}}}
… 
II:
={∅}
{∅, { ∅}}
{∅, {∅}, {∅, {∅}}}
… 
The simple question that Benacerraf asks is: Which of these consists solely of true identity statements: I or II?"

-This, to my linguistic bent, is equivalent to obsessing on the phonological differences between the words: "dog" and "qimmiq" (which exactly amount the same thing, dog). Putting on my "formalist" hat for the moment, I'd say: decide which orthographical convention will prevail and get on with it.

There are similar but utterly fascinating set of problems as these. It is called "jurisprudence" and "constitutional governance" (of the Greco-Roman tradition, and reaching its pinnacle in the American founding fathers/French revolution where it briefly flowered then faded away slowly and sadly) where every textual rendition of an idea has real-world consequences. These, to me, are equivalent to the Riemann hypothesis (which links imaginary number system with the real system with the Cartesian (or Argand) coordinates with statistical analysis with the...). These ideas, to me, link axiomatic systems with politics, with spiritual/philosophical principles. Truly beautiful things to contemplate.

Jay