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When one life sprouts inside another

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — some ugly comparisons, you have been warned — but it is only the exaggerated ugliness that drives my point home ]
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The first DoubleQuote of three I’m posting here shows two views of sacred sites taken over by conquering religions.

SPEC DQ cordoba istanbul

You may have seen this DoubleQuote before — the upper panel shows the Mezqita or Grand Mosque of Cordoba, an extraordinarily beautiful building in the middle of which Spanish Catholics grafted a baroque cathedral, an act of which King Carlos V of Spain said:

You have built here what you or anyone might have built anywhere else, but you have destroyed what was unique in the world

The lower panel shows the Hagia Sophia or Basilica of the Holy Spirit in Istanbul, which was turned into a mosque by Muslim conquerors, and subsequently made into a museum

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The question this sort of transformation of sacred places — from one faith to another, often by conquest but also on occasion by commercial transfer or simple generosity — leaves me wondering what it must feel like for those who lose their place of worship, especially in case of conquest. And I should make it clear that my question applies as much to Jews unable to pray on Temple Mount as it does to Christians in Istanbul or Muslims in Cordoba.

By its visual nature, the Cordoban example sticks in my mind, however — the relatively new cathedral sprouting quiute visibly from the ancient mosque.

And so it is that my mind, habituated to seeking visual analogues, stumbled on the disgusting — if brilliant — birth of the alien in Ridley Scott‘s The Alien:

SPEC DQ alien chestbuster birth

I know: Giger‘s aliens in the movie — and even more so, in the now canonical “chestburster” scene — are hideous, as Ridley Scott himself said, “in the unique manner in which they convey both horror and beauty.”

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Granted, these comparisons from “fiction” (above) and “nature” (below) to what is now one of the world’s more interesting architectural oddities seem obscene — we are used to the church-in-a-mosque as a tourist attraction, and in its own way a minjor miracle —

SPEC Mezquita and Ant

— my interest here, hiowever, is in looking at it, not through Muslim eyes, but through the eyes of those Muslims for whom building a church inside what was not only a mosque but one of the most beautiful mosques in the world feels like a grievous insult.

For them, the cathedral in the Mezquita is a blasphemy — the insertion of a polluted form of worship in a place once dedicated to God’s own preferential service. And this is important not so that we can understand the ideation of those who wish to return the cathedal to a mosque and more generally Spain to al-Andalus, but so that we can comprehend the depth and intensity of the associated emotion.

The passion.

Which some Christians must surely also feel whewn they enter the museum of Hagia Sophia, once so proud a place of Christian worship and history — or some Jews with respect to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the movement to permit Jewish worship, at present forbidden, is gaining momentum.

The passion behind (sacred) revanchism.

QBism, not Qutbism, and Joshu’s Dog — or Schrödinger’s Cat?

Friday, June 5th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Quantum Bayesianism, that is ]
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SPEC DQ QBism Joshu

No, really.

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Sources:

  • John Tarrant, The Great Koan, Your Dog
  • Christopher Fuchs, A Private View of Quantum Reality
  • The Tao Te Ching in contemporary western contexts

    Friday, May 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — two reasonably diferent ways of contextualizing the Tao Te Ching for the west ]
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    DQ Tao Te Ching 43 in Modern Contexts

    Strange, eh?

    I somewhat like Witter Bynner‘s non-literal take on the line in question: “to yield with life solves the insoluble”.

    My own carefully ambiguous version: “Chinese meanings can slip through / into obstinate English translators”.

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    Sources:

  • Taoistic Taoism Explained
  • Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing) by Lao Tzu (Laozi), Chapter 43
  • Physicists solve quantum tunneling mystery
  • Intended clouds and unintended consequences

    Thursday, March 19th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — this post is mostly concerned with unintended consequences in foreign policy, not Berndnaut Smilde‘s intended and dramatic clouds, but hey! ]
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    Nimbus Sankt Peter, 2014. Artist: Berndnaut Smilde

    Nimbus Sankt Peter, 2014. Artist: Berndnaut Smilde

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    Obama said in an interview on Vice this week:

    ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion. Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.

    **

    Rumsefeld said:

    As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

    Walt said:

    In international relations, at least, none of our theories are all that powerful, the data are often poor, and coming up with good solutions to many thorny problems is difficult. Unintended consequences and second-order effects abound, and policymakers often reject good advice for their own selfish reasons.

    Taleb said:

    Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists (and others extremely concerned with the coloring of birds), but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird.

    Clapper said:

    unpredictable instability is the new normal

    **

    Let me list them:

  • unintended consequences
  • known and unknown unknowns
  • second-order effects
  • black swans
  • unpredictable instability
  • Are these all what you might call “birds of a feather”?

    **

    Taleb also said:

    Viagra, which changed the mental outlook and social mores of retired men, was meant to be a hypertension drug. Another hypertension drug led to a hair-growth medication. My friend Bruce Goldberg, who understands randomness, calls these unintended side applications “corners.” While many worry about unintended consequences, technology adventurers thrive on them.

    and:

    Mandelbrot’s fractals allow us to account for a few Black Swans, but not all. I said earlier that some Black Swans arise because we ignore sources of randomness. Others arise when we overestimate the fractal exponent. A gray swan concerns modelable extreme events, a black swan is about unknown unknowns.

    It strikes me that we could use a Venn diagram of these things, so we can better understand what we don’t understand.

    **

    So let’s add a couple more to our list:

  • corners
  • cloud of unknowing
  • The anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing, speaking of God, says:

    For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.

    Pinker, Blake and Moebius

    Thursday, January 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — looks like I’ll have an “Author’s blog” up soon to accompany a book I’m working on, and it’ll be called “Seeing Double” — which is what this post is about ]
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    Steven Pinker, I’m sorry to say, appears to be one of those

    One can imagine a world in which oracles, soothsayers, prophets, popes, visionaries, imams, or gurus have been vouchsafed with the truth which only they possess and which the rest of us would be foolish, indeed, criminal, to question. History tells us that this is not the world we live in. Selfproclaimed truthers have repeatedly been shown to be mistaken — often comically so — by history, science, and common sense.

    The characters I’m interested in here are the visionaries — and my point is that truth as fact is not the only truth there is.

    **

    Can “history, science and common sense” really detract from the “truth” of this image by Blake?

    Blake_De_antro_nympharum_Tempera_Arlington_Court_Devon

    or this, by Moebius?

    Moebius Floating City

    **

    Pinker is interesting — that single para of his just gave me a chance to rant — so let me return you to his whole piece.

    I have other disagreements with him, no doubt, but he’s a mind to be engaged with.


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