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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…

**

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!

Avian commentary on electoral outliers

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — under the impression a bird requires bipartisan wings to achieve flight ]
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If you’re looking for signs and wonders to guide your vote this electoral season, it’s worth noting that the same eagle also attacked Bill Clinton — as Master Falconer Jonathan Wood said in that first clip, “he’s an “equal opportunity biter”.

Easter Sunday surprise

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — rising from the dead: sacred & secular, natural & military, past & future ]
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tablet dq ghost fleet easter

The story of the mostly wooden ships featured in the upper image of this DoubleQuote, is an intriguing one:

On the Maryland side of the Potomac, in the rural community of Nanjemoy, you’ll find a sheltered cove called Mallows Bay. The sandy bluffs and dense stands of ash and pine resemble many other quiet spots along the river. But there’s something in the water: the largest ship graveyard in North America.

How’d it get there? Well, in the final years of World War I, the Allies found themselves short on sea-power: German submarines had taken a heavy toll. With ample timber reserves, Americans hit on a plan to make up the losses by building hundreds of wooden steamships. The U.S. government doled out contracts, and a building frenzy ensued.

But the war ended sooner than expected, leaving officials with the peculiar problem of what to do with its unused (and now unwanted) armada. Riding at anchor in Widewater, Virginia, the hastily assembled fleet posed a hazard to shipping traffic and a nuisance to fishermen, so the decision was made to move most of the ships across the river to the secluded Mallows Bay.

The fleet—and the Mallows Bay property itself—changed hands through a succession of salvage companies that tried everything to get rid of the ships: sinking them, beaching them, burning them, burying them, and taking them apart nail by nail. No one managed to turn much profit or to finish the job—and in the process of trying, they made a junkyard of the once pristine river cove.

But in the decades that followed, writes historian Donald G. Shomette, nature took its course.”The years rolled by and the battlefield contours of Mallows Bay softened, as wind-borne seeds took root in the rich, soil-filled holds of burnt-out ships, as creatures large and small began to return, as the green chain of life was slowly reforged.”

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Donald G. Shomette‘s book is titled Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay: And Other Tales of the Lost Chesapeake, and I came across it today discovering this DoubleTweet

— with its two striking and very different visuals and links to two articles, each with its headline The ‘ghost fleet’ graveyard where nature has risen from the dead.

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So that’s the past, and the link to Easter lies in the wording of that headline: risen from the dead.

But there’s also the future, nicely represented in the lower panel at the head of this post by PW Singer and August Cole‘s novel, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War.

As I suggested in my comment at the top of this post — rising from the dead: sacred & secular, natural & military, past & future. I wish you a blessed Easter if such may be found in your calender, and a happy future to the extent possible in any case.

Encryption, the mind and voice

Monday, February 29th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — paging birds and fishes, Chuang Tzu and Wm Blake ]
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Dwight Furrow, Wine Tasting and Objectivity:

The question is whether flavors are “in the wine” or “in the mind”. On the one hand, there are objectively measurable chemical compounds in wine that reliably affect our taste and olfactory mechanisms—pyrazines cause bell pepper aromas in Cabernet Sauvignon, malic acid explains apple aromas in Chardonnay, tannins cause a puckering response, etc. But we know that human beings differ quite substantially in how they perceive wine flavors. Even trained and experienced wine critics disagree about what they are tasting and how to evaluate wine. This disagreement among experts leads many to claim that wine tasting is therefore purely subjective, just a matter of individual opinion. According to subjectivism, each person’s response is utterly unique and there is no reason to think that when I taste something, someone else ought to taste the same thing. Statements about wine flavor are statements about one’s subjective states, not about the wine. Thus, there are no standards for evaluating wine quality.

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Is each mind inherently closed to every other, much as the bird’s mind is closed to ours in Blake‘s aphorism —

How do you know but every bird that cuts the airy way, is an immense world of delight, closed by your senses five?

— albeit not always so joyful?

In more contemporary terms — Is there encryption of the mind?

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I ask this in light of the DoubleQuote I posted a few days ago comparing Hesse and Hitchcock in terms of their metaphoric uses of “organ” — in, I hasten to add, the Bach sense of the word:

SPEC-Hesse-Hitchcock-organs sm

Here’s what I’m thinking. Hesse’s game influences the mind, as does art, but it is non-invasive; Hitchcock applauds the potential for art to move in a more invasive direction, as if by force rather than by enticement.

“”

Humans — or at least the philosophers and philosopher tagalongs among them — can’t even tell if what one human sees as “red” is what another sees as “red” — let alone what a given Burgundy tastes like on another’s palate.

If this means, more generally, that minds are effectively encrypted by virtue of their differences in wiring acquired with parentage, age and experience, then our communications media -– language, the arts, literature, number — would appear to be the available decryption keys, selectively available to the minds in question.

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Chuang-Tsu has this tale to tell:

Men claim that Mao-ch’iang and Lady Li were beautiful, but if fish saw them they would dive to the bottom of the stream, if birds saw them they would fly away, and if deer saw them they would break into a run. Of these four, which knows how to fix the standard of beauty for the world?

And this..

Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu were strolling along the dam of the Hao River when Chuang Tzu said, “See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That’s what fish really enjoy!”

Hui Tzu said, “You’re not a fish – how do you know what fish enjoy?”

Chuang Tzu said, “You’re not I, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?”

Hui Tzu said, “I’m not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know. On the other hand, you’re certainly not a fish – so that still proves you don’t know what fish enjoy!”

Chuang Tzu said, “Let’s go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy – so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao.”

**

Chuang Tzu said, “You’re not I, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?”

Blake said, “How do you know but every bird that cuts the airy way, is an immense world of delight, closed by your senses five?”

Avian Intelligence Ops

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — with a sideward glance at the rights of dolphins and trees ]
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For your refreshment and edification:

— while:

I fully agree with Ohad Hatzofe who says in that second clip:

Birds and other aninmals, but especially flying animals, don’t know political boundaries, and if there are fences on the ground, to them it’s not a barrier, and we’re to protect them and to treat them as such. The birds are not Israeli birds or Lebanese birds, or European birds passing over our skies; these are this earth’s birds..

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Sigh:

We are asked to decide whether the world’s cetaceans have standing to bring suit in their own name under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. We hold that cetaceans do not have standing under these statutes.

Judge William A. Fletcher

It looks as though it is past time for birds, dolphins and other creatures to have international legal standing of the kind suggested by Justice Douglas in his dissenting opinion, Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972):

The critical question of “standing” would be simplified and also put neatly in focus if we fashioned a federal rule that allowed environmental issues to be litigated before federal agencies or federal courts in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers and where injury is the subject of public outrage.

—and further discussed by Christopher Stone in what is perhaps the only law book I have found it a pleasure to read, Should Trees Have Standing?


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