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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!

FYI: Mike Sellers, game designer extraordinaire

Monday, December 14th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — game design, systems thinking, education ]
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An old and valued friend just popped up in my feed:

Enjoy!

Karl Sharro’s two modes of “simply” explaining the Middle East

Friday, December 4th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — on visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles ]
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If you didn’t get it when Sharro posted his visual explanation:

maybe his verbal version will make things simpler:

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Sources & resources:

  • The Atlantic, The Confused Person’s Guide to Middle East Conflict
  • Washington Post, The chaos in the Middle East, explained in one (long) sentence
  • Vox, This one-sentence explanation of ISIS is brilliant
  • Some people are neither verbal nor visual but kinesthetic — I dread to think how Sharro will explain all this simplicity to their nervous systems.

    On form and beauty

    Saturday, November 28th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — capable photographers capture “form” in their viewfinders, not just “content” ]
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    A toothy sea
    A toothy sea

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    I have just been browsing someone’s choice of the “100 best photographs ever taken without photoshop”, and was struck by the ways in which form in general, and contrasts in juxtaposition more specifically — two of my recurring interests, form and the DoubleQuotes respectively — kept cropping up. I’ll get to them, and offer some stepped-down images from the series —

    but first, take a look at the whole series as posted at The 100 best photographs ever taken without photoshop. Even the reduction to 60% of published size necessitated by the ZP column width loses much of the beauty — and imagine how they’d be as actual framed prints, in their original full sizes!

    Someone’s choices? Yes, and by no means necessarily the best choices — this selection no doubt answers to a selection bias in the individual who put the series together — so the patterns I’m seeing here may belong either to that individual, or to the general human delight in contrasts, parallelisms and oppositions.

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    Earth and Sky, Heaven and Earth:

    Waterspout on Lake Victoria, Uganda
    Waterspout on Lake Victoria, Uganda

    Fickle moods
    Fickle moods

    Volcanic eruption in IcelandVolcanic eruption in Iceland

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    The seasons: time as change

    An autumn forest. 50 percent Downloaded
    An autumn forest. 50 percent Downloaded

    Autumn and winter meet in Colorado, USA
    Autumn and winter meet in Colorado, USA

    Autumn and winter meet in Miklukhin, Rostov region, Russia
    Autumn and winter meet in Miklukhin, Rostov region, Russia

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    Human impact observed:

    Two worlds divided, New York, USA
    Two worlds divided, New York, USA

    Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder
    Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder

    An Italian beach
    An Italian beach

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    On reflection, sheer, simple symmetries:

    The aftermath of a flood in Ljubljana, Slovenia
    The aftermath of a flood in Ljubljana, Slovenia

    An eagle soaring over a lake in Canada
    An eagle soaring over a lake in Canada

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    And that’s only a fraction of what the whole series of a hundred photos offers us. Each of these, I’d submit, is what I’d term a DoubleQuote in the Wild.

    One final shot, color against grey — perhaps the loveliest of all:

    A temple covered in ash from the Ontake volcanic eruption, Japan
    A temple covered in ash from the Ontake volcanic eruption, Japan

    So much humanity, so much pathos there.

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    Brilliant minds in both the arts and sciences focus as much on form as on content — on patterns, repetitions, symmetries for their own sakes, as much as on the particulars of the fields they study and in which they find them. At heart, this is a matter of aesthetic cognition.

    We would do well to cultivate this kind of double vision — the awareness of form as well as content — across the board, from education and the arts to the sciences and strategy.

    The moment we become polarized, however, in terms of a political or other form of partisanship, content becomes all we see (and agree or disagree with), and form effectively evaporates. In terms of the images above, we see earth or sky, summer or autumn, town or country — left or right — but not — but no longer — the whole.

    Patricia, the gathering storm

    Friday, October 23rd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — spiral storming in the atmosphere, spiral vertiginous in the mind, inbound ]
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    Visual and verbal expressions of computational cognition:

    SPEC Patricia visual verbal

    Which conveys the most, which is most easily grasped, and how much do the models know?

    Sources:

  • Slatest, Patricia, Strongest Hurricane in History, Nears Mexico Landfall
  • Tribune, Forecasters: Patricia is strongest hurricane ever recorded in Western hemisphere
  • **

    Need to know, and why?

    SPEC Patricia need to know

    The zoom in, from need to know to why, exactly?

    Sources:

  • New York Times, Hurricane Patricia: What You Need to Know
  • New Scientist, Did climate change set the scene for hurricanes like Patricia?
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    Cognitive dissonance:

    SPEC Patricia cog diss

    Cognitive dissonance, the human condition — or counterpoint, as understood by Bach and Glenn Gould?

    Sources:

  • NPR, Why Hurricane Patricia Can’t Be Blamed On Climate Change
  • Wired, Thank El Niño and Climate Change for Huge Hurricane Patricia

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