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Pope Francis : Francis Bacon

Monday, March 28th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — and a tradition of natural philosophy profound enough to include Francis of Assisi ]
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It’s a small point, perhaps, but M. Anthony Mills had a piece in The New Atlantis last Fall titled Is Pope Francis Anti-Modern? — which I ran across today because today 3 Quarks Daily posted it — and in it, Mills to my mind makes a false dichotomy between Pope Francis and Francis Bacon.

Thus Mills writes:

Pope Francis’s picture of nature is indebted to Genesis, the Biblical prophets, and the writings of Irenaeus, Aquinas, and Francis of Assisi — and, arguably, Plato and Aristotle — as well as to the twentieth-century theologian Romano Guardini (whose book The End of the Modern World is cited a number of times in the encyclical). But it is not true that doing so puts Pope Francis at odds with modern science. It does pit him against a particular understanding of modern science, bequeathed to us by Francis Bacon and, perhaps more importantly, by the Enlightenment philosophes such as Voltaire who claimed Bacon as the “father of experimental philosophy.” This view of science continues today in the cult of technological progress, which sees every problem as amenable to technocratic solution, no matter the environmental, social, cultural, or spiritual cost. This is what Pope Francis refers to and criticizes as the “technocratic paradigm.”

To the contrary, at the end of his Preface to the Instauratio Magna, which Jerome Ravetz quotes in the final paragraph of his magisterial Scientific knowledge and its social problems, Bacon writes:

Lastly, I would address one general admonition to all; that they consider what are the true ends of knowledge, and that they seek it not either for pleasure of the mind, or for contention, or for superiority to others, or for profit, or fame, or power, or any of these inferior things; but for the benefit and use of life; and that they perfect and govern it in charity. For it was from lust of power that the angels fell, from lust of knowledge that man fell; but of charity there can be no excess, neither did angel or man ever come in danger by it.

And to bring the opposition between their two views into a nutshell, Mills writes of “the Baconian technocratic paradigm, which understands science and technology together as instruments for controlling and exploiting all of creation” — while Bacon is in fact opposed to such control and exploitation, as we see when he attacks certain of his contemporaries for precisely those failings:

For we create worlds, we direct and domineer over nature, we will have it that all things are as in our folly we think they should be, not as seems fittest to the Divine wisdom, or as they are found to be in fact.

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There are indeed two visions of science at work across history, as Ravetz is at pains to show. Perhaps we can see them best by comparing the two instances in which Mills and Ravetz respectively situate yet another Francis, St Francis of Assisi.

Mills, as we have seen, locates him — along with the current Pope — on the anti-modern, and hence anti-Baconian, side of the ledger:

Pope Francis’s picture of nature is indebted to Genesis, the Biblical prophets, and the writings of Irenaeus, Aquinas, and Francis of Assisi — and, arguably, Plato and Aristotle — as well as to the twentieth-century theologian Romano Guardini

For Ravetz, St Francis is indeed a participant in one of two distinct streams of world exploration — the one he terms a “romantic” philosophy of nature:

Looking back into history, we can find a similarity of doctrine or style, and sometimes a linking tradition, as far back as the Taoists of ancient China, through St. Francis of Assisi, to Paracelsus, William Blake, and Herbert Marcuse.

He continues:

Not every one of these figures would claim to be a natural scientist of any description; but as philosophers, poets or prophets, they must be recognized as participating in and shaping a tradition of a certain perception of nature and its relation to man. Granted all the variety of their messages and styles, certain themes recur. One is the ‘romantic’ striving for immediacy, of contact with the living things themselves rather than with book-learned descriptions. Another is ‘philanthropy’; the quest is not for a private realization, but for the benefit of all men and nature.

And here’s the difference. Francis Bacon, Ravetz finds, stands clearly on this same “romantuc” side of the ledger. For:

As deeply as any of his pietistic, alchemical forerunners, he felt the love of God’s creation, the pity for the sufferings of man, and the striving for innocence, humility, and charity; and he recognized vanity as the deadliest of sins.

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Let me recapitulate that final paragraph of Ravetz’ book, quoted entirely from Bacon:

Lastly, I would address one general admonition to all; that they consider what are the true ends of knowledge, and that they seek it not either for pleasure of the mind, or for contention, or for superiority to others, or for profit, or fame, or power, or any of these inferior things; but for the benefit and use of life; and that they perfect and govern it in charity. For it was from lust of power that the angels fell, from lust of knowledge that man fell; but of charity there can be no excess, neither did angel or man ever come in danger by it.

This is virtually a monastic ideal of science, one which would be found most suitable in the halls of Hesse’s Castalia, and one well-suited to the Benedict Option as formulated by Rod Dreher.

It is also, and significantly, as Ravetz points out, compatible with the truth concerns of Taoists, poets and theologians…

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Hermann Hesse, it seems to me, gives a deeper and wider acknowledgment of both streams, bringing their “hard” and “soft” strands together in his history of the Glass Bead Game:

How far back the historian wishes to place the origins and antecedents of the Glass Bead Game is, ultimately, a matter of his personal choice. For like every great idea it has no real beginning; rather, it has always been, at least the idea of it. We find it foreshadowed, as a dim anticipation and hope, in a good many earlier ages. There are hints of it in Pythagoras, for example, and then among Hellenistic Gnostic circles in the late period of classical civilization. We find it equally among the ancient Chinese, then again at the several pinnacles of Arabic-Moorish culture; and the path of its prehistory leads on through Scholasticism and Humanism to the academies of mathematicians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and on to the Romantic philosophies and the runes of Novalis’s hallucinatory visions. This same eternal idea, which for us has been embodied in the Glass Bead Game, has underlain every movement of Mind toward the ideal goal of a universitas litterarum, every Platonic academy, every league of an intellectual elite, every rapprochement between the exact and the more liberal disciplines, every effort toward reconciliation between science and art or science and religion. Men like Abelard, Leibniz, and Hegel unquestionably were familiar with the dream of capturing the universe of the intellect in concentric systems, and pairing the living beauty of thought and art with the magical expressiveness of the exact sciences. In that age in which music and mathematics almost simultaneously attained classical heights, approaches and cross-fertilizations between the two disciplines occurred frequently. And two centuries earlier we find in Nicholas of Cues sentences of the same tenor, such as this: “The mind adapts itself to potentiality in order to measure everything in the mode of potentiality, and to absolute necessity in order to measure everything in the mode of unity and simplicity as God does, and to the necessity of nexus in order to measure everything with respect to its peculiar nature; finally, it adapts itself to determinate potentiality in order to measure everything with respect to its existence. But furthermore the mind also measures symbolically, by comparison, as when it employs numerals and geometric figures and equates other things with them.”

Basta!

Semblance as translation

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — an MIT physica professor works in language games on biology ]
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two solar machines
Both a tree and a solar panel absorb and transform solar energy, and dump heat into their environment. How would a physicist explain why only the tree is alive?

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I’m posting this because of one sentence:

When you refuse to let go of two things that are divergent in the way they cause you to talk,” he says, “it forces you in the direction of translation.

I found it in an intriguing article, How Do You Say “Life” in Physics?

After a brief intro to MIT physicist Jeremy England, the article touches on interdisciplinary translation — which, when you think about it, is a very Koestlerian sort of bisociative process:

Different fields of science, too, are languages unto themselves, and scientific explanations are sometimes just translations. “Red,” for instance, is a translation of the phrase “620-750 nanometer wavelength.” “Temperature” is a translation of “the average speed of a group of particles.” The more complex a translation, the more meaning it imparts. “Gravity” means “the geometry of spacetime.”

Then we get theological, with a twist:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth …” Here, the Hebrew word for “create” is bara, the word for “heavens” is shamayim, and the word for “earth” is aretz; but their true meanings, England says, only come into view through their context in the following verses. For instance, it becomes clear that bara, creation, entails a process of giving names to things; the creation of the world is the creation of a language game. “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” God created light by speaking its name. “We have heard this phrase so many times that by the time we are old enough to ponder it, we easily miss its simplest point,” England says. “The light by which we see the world comes from the way we talk about it.” That might be important, thought England, if you’re trying to use the language of physics to describe biology.

Finally, we get the basic bisociation laid out in plain words:

As a young faculty member at MIT, he neither wanted to stop doing biology, nor thinking about theoretical physics. “When you refuse to let go of two things that are divergent in the way they cause you to talk,” he says, “it forces you in the direction of translation.”

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I hadn’t thought much about translation as a form of semblance until now, but it opens vistas..

An interesting article.

The tree and the solar panel — there’s much food there for analogical thought.

Nemesis is teh “unanticipated consequence” of hubris

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a veritable rule of thumb ]
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Swiss Army Knife

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Let me steer clear of both foreign policy and presidential candidates, and simply quote Cheryl Rofer from her recent twitter fusillade re Neil deGrasse Tyson:

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Humility has as many applications as a Swiss Army Knife.

Graph-types 2: towards a universal graphical mapping language

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — for background, see Graph-types 1: sample graphs and boards ]
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The world is full of all sorts of wondrous things, and we can map and model many if not all of them. Here are some examples of the kinds of maps I’d like to see integrated in the One Big One. For a fun first instance, here’s a dynamic model of the functioning of a washing machine:

Washing machine 600

If you’re figuring out how to map the world, of course, you may think first of economic stocks and flows in a Forrester-style model, like this diagram for a model of housing market cycles:

:Housing development stocks and flows 600

There are a whole lot of different modeling conventions of this sort. One of my own devsing has to do with choice — and in this instance, with the meanings that can be given to the words “let’s play”:

ChoiceBach diagram

There are PERT Charts, which allow one to plan the sequencing of various “streams” of actions to arrive optimally at a given end-point:

PERT 600

There are Markov chains for probabilistic inference:

Marjov chain

And then there are those subatomic Feynman diagrams I mentioned in a recent post. I believe this one is the first published Feynman diagram, and you can find it on an Edward Tufte page that’s worth taking a look at in its own right:

Feynman_AmericanScientist

For those of you who may be interested, I’m attaching here an earlier attempt to corral such things which I originally wrote as part of a 159-page documentation of my HipBone games for Amos Davidowitz of the Institute of World Affairs in DC:

Variety of Concept Mapping diagrams

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The world-system in actuality “answers” in some way to each of the types of model I’ve illustrated above — and then some! — which leads me to believe that some sort of grand map or model should in principle be devisable which would incorporate them all — in principle, though not perhaps, or not yet, in practice.

That’s my idea — I hope it will stimulate msome quirky thoughts, questions, insights..

See, “node and edge” graphs are everywhere, and I’ve discussed several more of them in a series of posts titled On the felicities of graph-based game-board design which you may want to look at: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

And hey — the human brain, too, is a node and edge affair, so it may not be too surprising that my casual reading roundup this morning pointed me to this image of a real-world object called a Stentrode:

Stentrode 600

That’s from a DARPA page titled Minimally Invasive “Stentrode” Shows Potential as Neural Interface for Brain, and it’s a device designed by a team in Melbourne that can be slipped into the brain via the blood-stream, providing “a brain-machine interface that taps into your motor cortex through a relatively simple operation” allowing a patient to “directly steer an exoskeleton or artificial limb through thoughts alone”.

Like the brain that devised it, it is a physical edge and node graph — and so-o-o brautiful.

I am in awe.

From John Robb to Jean Paul Gaultier

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — via Christopher Alexander, Arthur Koestler, James Clerk Maxwell, Hermann Hesse, and Wells Cathedral ]
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My topic today is a comment that John Robb just posted on his FaceBook page. As so often, I’ll proceed by indirection. Here’s a wild DoubleQuote illustrating a blogger’s perceived similarity between the “scissors arch” at Wells Cathedral and one of the models in Jean Paul Gaultier‘s 2009 Spring collection:

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 wells cathedral 1

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John Robb posted:

Some philosophical thinking:

Human knowledge, at an elemental level, can be described as a “transformation” of data.
Complex ideas are built using layers of “transformations” with each layer feeding into the next (think pyramid)
We teach these transformations at home and at school to our children.
We communicate by sharing transformations.
Questions We Need to Answer in the Age of Cognitive Machines:
How many transformations would it take to model all human knowledge?
How deep (how many layers of transformation is human knowledge) is human knowledge? Both on average or at its deepest point?
How broad is human knowledge (non-dependent transformations)?
How fast is the number of transformations increasing and how fast is it propagating across the human network?

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My interest is in John’s pyramid, considered as a pyramid of arches.

My starting point (with Hermann Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game ever in background) is Arthur Koestler‘s observation in The Act of Creation that the creative spark occurs at the intersection of two planes of thought —

koestler

— or to put that another way, that the creative leap is an associative leap between two concepts, disciplines or aspects of knowledge — thus, an arch:

Maxwell

Likewise:

synthesis

— which in my own DoubleQuotes notation gives us:

Karman Gogh mini

— thus, many arches build to a pyramid:

pyramid of arches

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Of course, with arches one has to be very circumspect, buecause in rich contexts, they’re not simple creatures:

rib vaulting flying buttresses

Among the greatest such arches I know are Taniyama‘s 1955 “surmise” as Barry Mazur puts it, that “every elliptic equation is associated with a modular form” — arching way above my pay grade — an insight that was to bear rich fruit forty years later, in Andrew Wiles‘ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem; and Erwin Panofsky‘s great book similarly linking the structures of medieval cathedrals and scholastic thought:

panofsky gothic architecture scholasticism

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White we’re on the topic of gothic iconography, another form of arch we might consider is the vesica piscis:

vesica-piscis

— frequently found in medieval art and architecture:

320px-CLUNY-Coffret_Christ_1

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I’m not suggesting, John, that your inquiry and mine are identical — far from it — but that they have a sufficiently rich overlap that an appreciation of one is likely to spark insight in terms of the other.

And with Hesse’s Game, with which I recall from our earlieest conversations you are familiar..

I mentioned Hesse and Christopher Alexander in my bracketed note at the top of this post. It’s my impression that both were striving for a similar encyclopedic architecture to the pyramid John proposes. Hesse on the Glass Bead Game:

All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

And Hesse is clear that individual moves within the games take the form of parallelisms, resemblances, analogical leaps — writing, for instance:

Beginners learned how to establish parallels, by means of the Game’s symbols, between a piece of classical music and the formula for some law of nature.

Speaking of the playing of his great Game, Hesse said:

I see wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of the mind.

And Alexander? His book A Pattern Language is pretty clearly his own variant on a Glass Bead Game, following on from what he terms his Bead Game Conjecture (1968 – p. 75 at link):

That it is possible to invent a unifying concept of structure within which all the various concepts of structure now current in different fields of art and science, can be seen from a single point of view. This conjecture is not new. In one form or another people have been wondering about it, as long as they have been wondering about structure itself; but in our world, confused and fragmented by specialisation, the conjecture takes on special significance. If our grasp of the world is to remain coherent, we need a bead game; and it is therefore vital for us to ask ourselves whether or not a bead game can be invented.

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Gentle readers:

For your consideration, delight, temptation, confusion or disagreement, here are three more of Gaultier’s arches, as perceived by Kayan’s Design World:

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 1

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 7

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 10


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