Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

02
Mar
08

Questionnaire ?

Directions: For each pair of sentences, circle the letter, a or b, that best
expresses your viewpoint. Make a selection from each pair. Do not omit
any items.

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1.a) The body and the material things of the world are the key to any
knowledge we can possess.
b) Knowledge is only possible by means of the mind or psyche.

2.a) My life is largely controlled by luck and chance.
b) I can determine the basic course of my life.

3.a) Nature is indifferent to human needs.
b) Nature has some purpose, even if obscure.

4.a) I can understand the world to a sufficient extent.
b) The world is basically baffling.

5.a) Love is the greatest happiness.
b) Love is illusionary and its pleasures transient.

6.a) Political and social action can improve the state of the world.
b) Political and social action are fundamentally futile.

7.a) I cannot fully express my most private feelings.
b) I have no feelings I cannot fully express.

8.a) Virtue is its own reward.
b) Virtue is not a matter of rewards.

9.a) It is possible to tell if someone is trustworthy.
b) People turn on you in unpredictable ways.

10.a) Ideally, it would be most desirable to live in a rural area.
b) Ideally, it would be most desirable to live in an urban area.

11.a) Economic and social inequality is the greatest social evil.
b) Totalitarianism is the greatest social evil.

12.a) Overall, technology has been beneficial to human beings.
b) Overall, technology has been harmful to human beings.

13.a) Work is the potential source of the greatest human fulfillment.
b) Liberation from work should be the goal of any movement for
social improvement.

14.a) Art is at heart political in that it can change our perception of reality.
b) Art is at heart not political because it can change only
consciousness and not events.

Charles Bernstein, ( 1950– )”Questionnaire” (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007).

“Bernstein is a poetic gadfly, uncompromising in his questioning of what language is, why we use it as we do, and what values are conveyed with our linguistic choice

20
Feb
08

Between Going And Coming

Excerpts from Octavio Pazspeech at the Nobel Banquet, December- 1990

At the close of this century we have discovered that we are part of a vast system (or network of systems) ranging from plants and animals to cells, molecules, atoms and stars. We are a link in “the great chain of being”, as the philosophers of antiquity used to call the universe. One of man’s oldest gestures, repeated daily from the beginning of time, is to look up and marvel at the starry sky. This act of contemplation frequently ends in a feeling of fraternal identification with the universe. In the countryside one night, years ago, as I contemplated the stars in the cloudless sky, I heard the metallic sound of the elytra of a cricket. There was a strange correspondence between the reverberation of the firmament at night and the music of the tiny insect. I wrote these lines:

The sky’s big.

Up there, worlds scatter.
Persistent,
unfazed by so much night,
a cricket: brace and bit.

Stars, hills, clouds, trees, birds, crickets, men: each has its world, each is a world, and yet all of these worlds correspond. We can only defend life if we experience a revival of this feeling of solidarity with nature. It is not impossible: fraternity is a word that belongs to the traditions of Liberalism and Socialism, of science and religion.

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Between going and staying the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.

All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can’t be touched.

Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.

Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.

The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theater of reflections.

I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.

The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause.

-Octavio Paz (1914-1998)
Translated by Eliot Weinberger

28
Jan
08

The God Equation..

“With or without religion, good people will do good, and evil people will do evil. But for good people to do evil, that takes religion.” –Steven Weinberg

Pl read stimulating article by Ron Csillag published in Toronto Star..

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Actually, since Pythagoras the relationship between men of numbers and the Deity has been more along the lines of love-hate, but it’s a rich vein

Which math-phobic among us has not beseeched God for help with another colon-clenching algebra or calculus exam? Had we heeded the words of the German mathematician Leopold Kronecker, perhaps we would have realized we’ve been talking to the wrong person: “God made the integers; all else is the work of man.”

Pythagoras, who gave us his eponymous theorem on right-angled triangles, headed a cult of number worshippers who believed God was a mathematician. “All is number,” they would intone.

The 17th-century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza echoed the Platonic idea that mathematical law and the harmony of nature are aspects of the divine. Spinoza, too, posited that God’s activities in the universe were simply a description of mathematical and physical laws. For that and other heretical views, he was excommunicated by Amsterdam’s Jewish community.

German mathematician Georg Cantor’s work on infinity and numbers beyond infinity (the mystical “transfinite”) was denounced by theologians who saw it as a challenge to God’s infiniteness. Cantor’s obsession with mathematical infinity and God’s transcendence eventually landed him in an insane asylum.

For the Hindu math genius Ramanujan, an uneducated clerk from Madras who wowed early 20th-century Cambridge, an equation “had no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.” Though an agnostic, the prolific Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos imagined a heavenly book in which God has inscribed the most elegant and yet unknown mathematical proofs.

And famously, Albert Einstein said God “does not play dice” with the universe.

What is it with God and mathematics? Even as science and religion have quarrelled for centuries and are only recently exploring ways to kiss and make up, mathematicians have been saying for millennia that no truer expression of the divine can be found than in an ethereally beautiful equation, formula or proof.

Witness, for example, such transcendent numbers as phi (not to be confused with pi), often called the Divine Proportion or the Golden Ratio. At 1.618, it describes the spirals of seashells, pine cones and symmetries found throughout nature. Other mysterious constants like alpha (one-137th) and gamma (0.5772…) pop up in enough odd places to suggest to some that they are an expression of the underlying beauty of mathematics, and to others that someone or something planned it that way.

But does that translate into actual belief ?

The New York Times reported recently that mathematicians believe in God at a rate 2 1/2 times that of biologists, quoting a survey of the National Academy of Sciences. Admittedly, that’s not saying much: Only 14.6 per cent of mathematicians embraced the God hypothesis, versus 5.5 per cent of biologists (versus some 80 per cent of Canadians who believe in a supreme being).

Count John Allen Paulos among the non-believers. A mathematician who teaches at Temple University in Philadelphia and who has popularized his subject in bestselling books such as Innumeracy and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, Paulos’s latest offering is a slim but explosive volume whose title is self-explanatory: Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up (Hill & Wang).

This newest addition to the neo-atheist field crowded by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others emboldened by the recent transformation of non-belief from a 97-pound weakling into a he-man, Paulos thankfully employs little math, preferring to see things, as he tells us, in the stark light of “logic and probability.”

Deploying “a lightly heretical touch,” he dissects a playlist of “golden oldies” that includes the first-cause argument (sometimes tweaked as the cosmological argument, which hinges on the Big Bang), the argument for intelligent design, the ontological argument (crudely, that if we can conceive of God, then God exists), the argument from the anthropic principle (that the universe is “fine-tuned” to allow us to exist), the moral universality argument, and others.

The famous Pascal’s wager – that it’s in our self-interest to believe in God because we lose nothing in case He does exist – is upended as logically flawed, based on what statisticians call Type I and Type II errors.

Lord knows Paulos isn’t the first mathematician to proclaim his lack of religious faith. Cambridge’s famous wunderkind G.H. Hardy loudly and proudly adjudged God to be his enemy. To Erdos, God, if He existed, was “the supreme fascist.”

Even as Paulos works to refute the classical arguments for God’s existence, he does something too few of his mindset do: Chide non-believers for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“It’s repellent for atheists or agnostics,” he admonishes, “to personally and aggressively question others’ faith or pejoratively label it as benighted flapdoodle or something worse. Those who do are rightfully seen as arrogant and overbearing.”

That doesn’t prevent him from doffing the gloves. The ontological argument is “logical abracadabra.” The design, or teleological argument, is a “creationist Ponzi scheme” that “quickly leads to metaphysical bankruptcy.”

Much of theology is “a kind of verbal magic show.” A claim that a holy book is inerrant because the book itself says so is another logical black hole.

However, math, specifically something called Ramsey theory, which studies the conditions under which order must appear, can account for the illusion of divine order arising from chaos.

Paulos provides a nice counterpoint to theoretical physicist Stephen Unwin’s 2003 book The Probability of God, which calculated the likelihood of God’s existence at 67 per cent, and to Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne’s use of a probability formula known as Bayes’ theorem to put the odds of Christ’s resurrection at 97 per cent.

Those and other efforts remind one of the story, perhaps apocryphal, of Catherine the Great’s request of the German mathematical giant Leonhard Euler to confront atheist French philosopher Denis Diderot with evidence of God. The visiting Euler agreed, and at the meeting, strode forward to proclaim to the innumerate Frenchman: “Sir, (a+bn)/n = x, hence God exists. Reply!”

Diderot was said to be so dumbfounded, he immediately returned to Paris.

To Paulos, the tale is a great example of “how easily nonsense proffered in an earnest and profound manner can browbeat someone into acquiescence.”

His arguments notwithstanding, Paulos concedes that there’s “no way to conclusively disprove the existence of God.” The reason, he notes, is a consequence of basic logic, but not one “from which theists can take much heart.”

As for the problem of good and evil, he defers to fellow atheist, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg: “With or without religion, good people will do good, and evil people will do evil. But for good people to do evil, that takes religion.”

Or as Paulos might say, no mathematician has ever deliberately flown planes into buildings.

© Copyright Toronto Star- Ron Csillag January 26, 2008

25
Jan
08

I Would Like to Describe

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I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin

but apparently this is not possible

and just to say – I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face
and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me
what white-haired gentlemen
separated once and for all
and said
this is the subject
and this is the object

we fall asleep
with once hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully

From The Collected Poems 1956-1998 by Zbigniew Herbert.
Copyright©2007 by The Estate of Zbigniew Herbert.

11
Jan
08

Philosophy

“We seem to always know where we are in a Billy Collins poem, but not necessarily where he is going. I love to arrive with him at his arrivals. He doesn’t hide things from us, as I think lesser poets do. He allows us to overhear, clearly, what he himself has discovered.”

-Poet Stephen Dunn

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I used to sit in the cafe of existentialism,
lost in a blue cloud of cigarette smoke,
contemplating the suicide a tiny Frenchman
might commit by leaping from the rim of my brandy glass.

I used to hunger to be engaged
as I walked the long shaded boulevards,
eyeing women of all nationalities,
a difficult paperback riding in my raincoat pocket.

But these days I like my ontology in an armchair,
a rope hammock, or better still, a warm bath
in a cork-lined room–disengaged, soaking
in the calm, restful waters of speculation.

Afternoons, when I leave the house
for the woods, I think of Aquinas at his desk,
fingers interlocked upon his stomach,
as he deduces another proof for God’s existence,

intricate as the branches of these bare November trees.
And as I kick through the leaves and snap
the wind fallen twigs, I consider Leibniz on his couch
reaching the astonishing conclusion that monads,

those windowless units of matter, must have souls.
But when I finally reach the top of the hill
and sit down on the flat tonnage of this boulder,
I think of Spinoza, most rarefied of them all.

I look beyond the treetops and the distant ridges
and see him sitting in a beam of Dutch sunlight
slowly stirring his milky tea with a spoon.
Since dawn he has been at his bench grinding lenses,

but now he is leaving behind the saucer and table,
the smokey chimneys and tile roofs of Amsterdam,
even the earth itself, pale blue, aqueous,
cloud-enshrined, titled back on the stick of its axis.

He is rising into that high dome of thought
where loose pages of Shelley float on the air,
where all the formulas of calculus unravel,
tumbling in the radiance of a round Platonic sun–

that zone just below the one where angels accelerate
and the ampitheatrical rose of Dante unfolds.
And now I stand up on the ledge to salute you, Spinoza,
and when I whistle to the dog and start down the hill,

I can feel the thick glass of your eyes upon me
as I step from the rock to glacial rock, and on her
as she sniffs her way through the leaves,
her tail straight back, her body low to the ground.

~ Billy Collins ~
(The Art of Drowning)

24
Dec
07

The Tao of Pooh..

The Tao of Pooh is a book by Benjamin Hoff. It gives a basic, though entertaining introduction to Taoism, using the fictional character of Winnie the Pooh.

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“What’s that?” the Unbeliever asked.
“Wisdom from the Western Taoist,”I said.
“It sounds like something from Winnie-the-Pooh ,” he said.
“It is,” I said.

“That’s not about Taoism,” he said.
“Oh, yes it is,” I said.”
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last,
“what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast? said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s the same thing,” he said.

“Lots of people talk to animals,” said Pooh.
“Not that many listen though.”
“That’s the problem.”
“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,”said Piglet, “Rabit’s clever.”

“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

“While Eeyore frets …
… and Piglet hesitates
… and Rabbit calculates
… and Owl pontificates
…Pooh just is.”

12
Dec
07

Symmetry..

Symmetry— Essay: By K.C. Cole

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People say that nothing is perfect. I beg to differ. The notion of symmetry is both perfect and nothing—a combination that gives it unreasonable effectiveness in physics.

Summing up 50 years of progress in fundamental physics, David Gross recently concluded: “The secret of nature is symmetry.” Everyone gets seduced by symmetry in one form or another, whether it’s the symmetry inherent in snowflakes or snail shells, kaleidoscopes or decorative tiles. But in physics, symmetry is more than just a pretty face. As Emmy Noether showed, there are symmetries behind every fundamental law.

This makes sense, because a symmetry describes what doesn’t vary even as things change—the solid truth beneath the superficial difference. Einstein, who first made symmetry central to physics, exposed a wealth of these pseudo-differences—including those between energy and matter, space and time. (As Einstein so often pointed out, his theories aren’t so much about things that are relative as things which are invariant.)

The late Frank Oppenheimer even cited the Golden Rule as an example of symmetry: If you do unto others as you’d like others to do unto you, and the doer and doee change places, it shouldn’t make a difference. Of course, a snowflake is symmetrical in that you can rotate it 60 degrees without making a discernible difference. But if you rotate it 5 degrees, the symmetry is shattered. To a physicist, the puddle the snowflake melts into is much more symmetrical: snowflakes can be individuals, but drops of water all look alike.

Turning snowflakes into drops of water is essentially what the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva will be trying to do—melting matter to reveal underlying symmetries.

If supersymmetric particles turn up at high energies, for example, it will mean that bosons and fermions—which seem like apples and oranges—have fallen off the same family tree. Each quark will have its squark; each photon its photino—a perfectly symmetrical team. The symmetry lost when the universe cooled will be, for the moment, restored.

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Even more beautiful symmetries appear at even higher energies. Heat up the universe to big bang temperatures, and the wildly diverse family of forces turns into one. String theory, with its tangled 10-dimensional topologies, is more symmetrical still; with so much room to move about, there are ample ways for the same thing (the string) to appear in radically different forms (quarks, gravity).

Continue reading ‘Symmetry..’




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