Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quote of the Day

A double-aspect theorist might object at this point that our entire discussion of the double-aspect theory thus far has been based upon a misunderstanding of it. He might claim that he can slip between the horns of the dilemma we have posed for him. The common reference he needs is achieved while the contradiction we point out is avoided, if the same thing can be considered in two bodies of discourse from different points of view. He believes this possible and holds that in one perspective a piece of human behavior can be seen as a determined event while in another perspective the same thing can be seen as a free act. The behavior seen as the trigger being pulled in the event-perspective is seen in the action-perspective as the pulling of the trigger. The difference in perspective removes the contradiction, without precluding common reference.

But this approach does not remove the contradiction; it only appears to do so. The appearance is created by the metaphor of "different points of view." The notion of points of view is based on an analogy between vision and propositional knowledge.

Different visual points of view on the same object present, so to speak, different pictures of one and the same thing. These pictures can be radically different -- for example, the view of a coin on edge and the view of the coin's face. Yet these pictures do not contradict one another; they are simply different. They do not conflict precisely because they are pictures of the object; they make no claims about the object itself.

Propositional points of view are like visual points of view in some ways, but are different in a crucial respect: The propositions which collectively constitute a point of view on some subject matter are not pictures of the subject matter. If they are affirmed, they are claims about the subject matter itself. It is one thing to say that a coin on edge looks like a two-dimensional rectangle; it is another thing to affirm that the coin on edge is a two-dimensional rectangle.

What perhaps lends plausibility to the analogy is the way in which certain propositions are expressed. For example, "He was standing to the right of the desk" and "He was standing to the left of the desk" seem to be contradictory, but both could be true, if stated by persons who viewed the situation from different visual points of view. But this use of the expression "different points of view" is simply another way of expressing the requirement of the principle of noncontradiction usually expressed by "in the same respect."

Thus these two statements, if both true, are not expressions of contradictory propositions. Either they are not fully explicit statements of the same proposition or they are not fully explicit statements of different propositions. If they are statements of the same proposition, then the difference in point of view has been discounted and no contradiction is involved; if they are statements of different propositions, then the points of view are included in the propositions as part of the states of affairs being described. In the latter case, since the subjects of predication are different, the propositions cannot be contradictory. Thus, the difference of points of view construed in this way is of no use to the double-aspect theorist; Sfc [free will] and Nfc [determinism] are contradictories; they refer to the same thing in the same respect.

The flaw in the points-of-view analogy can now be explicated. Different visual points of view produce different pictures of the same thing. By treating propositional knowledge as if it were vision, one easily takes for granted that contradictory propositions are merely different pictures of the same thing. On this analogy, contradictory propositions would be incompatible only if they were affirmed from the same point of view. If they are affirmed from different points of view, however, such propositions are only different pictures of the same thing.

But here the analogy is carried too far. A proposition affirmed from a given propositional point of view about something other than the point of view itself does not characterize the point of view. Instead, someone uses it it [sic] pick out some other state of affairs and affirms that this state of affairs obtains -- obtains independently of the conditions of one's knowing it and talking about it. Thus, the contradictory propositions affirmed about the same state of affairs from different propositional points of view are no less contradictory for their being affirmed from these different points of view. These propositions are not about the points of view from which they are affirmed, but about some other state of affairs; what they articulate is that state of affairs, independent of anyone's knowing it and talking about it. If it happens that the point of view of one affirming a proposition is confused by him with what he is talking about, then he makes false statements about the world.

Our point can be restated more briefly. The difference between visual points of view depends on the conditions for seeing, not on what is seen. Propositional knowledge about something, however, claims to articulate states of affairs, not the conditions of one's knowing them to be so. Different propositional points of view are precisely different conditions for one's knowing and talking about things. Hence the difference of points of view in this case makes no difference at all; differences in propositional points of view are precisely excluded by the claim involved in the affirming of any proposition: that the state of affairs which it picks out obtains

Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., Germain Grisez, and Olaf Tollefsen,
Free Choice: A Self-Referential Argument

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Five ways Phillip K. Dick's insanity changed the world of movies.


I link to the Hunger Site on the sidebar because it's a very easy way to do something good. You click once a day and advertisers agree to pay for food for hungry people in exchange for advertisement space on the website. Since it started, they've introduced several other tabs you can click on as well, such as Child Health, Literacy, Animal Rescue, and Breast Cancer, the latter providing free mammograms for poor women.

Recently they added a new tab, Veterans, which gives free meals to those who served America in the armed forces. So take a minute and click on all of these sites -- and remember to do it again tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Thought of the Day

Fight Club in five words:
"Life is pain. Pursue life."
(Also: "Fight Club in five words.")

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Bible and the Age of the Universe, part 2

In part 1 I wrote that, while the Bible does not give an age of the universe, some people attempt to calculate it by adding together the passage of time from the creation of the universe to the creation of the first human beings and the passage of time from the creation of the first human beings to some undisputed historical event. Ignoring my arguments that the first figure cannot be determined from the Bible, can we determine the second figure? Those who attempt this generally argue from the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. This is not as simple as it may first appear, however. Two excellent essays on this issue that are available online are "Primeval Chronology" by William Henry Green (originally published in Bibliotheca Sacra [1890], 285-303) and "The Genesis Genealogies" by John Millam. Most of this post is taken from these articles.

The first problem that presents itself is that the ancient Hebrew concepts of father and son were not limited to the individual's male parent or offspring, but applied to any male ancestor or descendent; thus you have statements like, "Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matt. 1:1), even though there were many intervening generations between Abraham and David, and between David and Christ.

This goes far beyond the mere use of the words "father" and "son," but applies to the concept of parenthood regardless of the terminology used. Case in point, the Hebrew verb "to beget" used in the Genesis genealogies (yalad) is used in the above sense, particularly in the book of Genesis: we are told that Canaan begot whole ethnic groups (10:15-18), and that Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah begot their grandchildren and great-grandchildren (46:6-25). So we see that the concept of parenthood, and the terms used in the Genesis genealogies in particular, can refer to any ancestor and not merely to one's parent.

In fact, the concept of fatherhood is sometimes even extended to one's predecessor regardless of whether or not they're related. Genesis 4:20-21 describes Jabal as "the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock," and his brother Jubal as "the father of all who play the harp and flute." What's especially interesting about this passage is that the context in which it occurs is concerned with biological fatherhood. Thus, the Genesis genealogies move back and forth between different concepts of fatherhood without any textual indications that they are doing so.

This leads us to another factor: Jewish genealogies were not exhaustive, nor were they meant to be understood as such. Rather, they were selective to give the "highlights," or to emphasize a numerical structure by reducing the number of names to a multiple of seven and/or ten (this is called "telescoping"). For example, when Matthew describes the genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1) he deliberately skips over several people who lived during the exile to Babylon. Why? Because he's trying to arrange it so that there are 14 names from every period he's describing (from Abraham to David; from David to the Babylonian exile; and from the exile to Christ). This does not constitute error, it's simply the way the ancient Jews wrote genealogies. A similar pattern is found in the genealogies in Gen. 5 and 11 where each list consists of ten names, which implies that the author was limiting who he included for some literary purpose. Other examples of this include Ruth 4:18-22 which lists 10 names; 1 Chronicles 1:5-23 (the list of the nations) which lists 70 names, and Luke 3 which lists 77 names (21 + 21 + 14 + 21).

In fact, the Bible specifically tells us that there are gaps in the Genesis genealogies: in Luke 3:35-36 we are told that Noah was the father of Shem, who was the father of Arphaxad, who was the father of Cainan, who was the father of Shelah. But this genealogy is mentioned twice in the early chapters of Genesis, and in both cases Cainan is not mentioned. Instead we are told that Arphaxad begot Shelah (Gen. 10:24; 11:12):

Luke:      Noah --> Shem --> Arphaxad --> Cainan --> Shelah
Genesis: Noah --> Shem --> Arphaxad ---------------> Shelah

Again, I want to reiterate that this is not a contradiction, it's just how Hebrew genealogies were written.

If we delve further, we find that there is a very close parallel to the Genesis genealogies elsewhere in the Bible: the genealogy from Jacob to Moses is described in four passages, two of which are traditionally ascribed to Moses himself (Exod. 6:16-20; Num. 26:57-59; 1 Chr. 6:1-3; 23:6-13). All of these passages list five generations: Jacob --> Levi --> Kohath --> Amram --> Moses. Part of the problem comes in when we recognize that Gen. 46:11 states that Kohath was born before the descent into Egypt, and one of the genealogies (Exod. 6:16-20) states how long the individuals lived. If we ignore the facts that Kohath was probably already a grown man when he went to Egypt, and that he and Amram probably didn't father their children on their deathbeds, the maximum amount of time the Bible gives us between Kohath's birth, before the descent into Egypt and the time when Moses led the people out of Egypt is Kohath's lifetime (133 years) plus Amram's lifetime (137 years) plus the age of Moses at the time of the Exodus (80 years -- Exod. 7:7). But this only adds up to 350 years, and the Bible states explicitly that the Hebrews were in Egypt for 430 years (Exod. 12:40-41).

This problem is further exacerbated when we note that 1 Chronicles 7:20-27 covers the same period, giving the genealogy from Jacob to Joshua, a younger contemporary of Moses. Rather than listing only five generations, this passage lists twelve. Another problem is that Numbers 3:27-28 states that at the time Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, Kohath had 8,600 male descendants. If Kohath was Moses' grandfather, this number cannot be correct: if Kohath had 20 sons, and each one of them also had 20 sons, and each one of them also had 20 sons, you'd still come up short -- not to mention the fact that the Bible never mentions such an extraordinary scenario. The only resolution to these problems is that there are gaps in Moses' genealogy, and we cannot create a timetable based on the ages it gives.

When the Bible intends that a series of numbers be added together to produce a total, it gives this total itself (Num. 1:46; 2:32; Matt. 1). Since the genealogies in Exod. 6:16-20 and Gen. 5 and 11 do not give any such summation, or are ever used to provide such a summation anywhere else in the Bible, they were not intended to specify the amount of time that passed during these genealogies. The ages are given rather to demonstrate the age at which someone became a father, and how long he lived, because fatherhood and old age are considered blessings from God.

So how should we understand the genealogies in Gen. 5 and 11? Given the fluidity of the Bible's concept of fatherhood and the nature of biblical genealogies, when the text says "A lived X years and begot B," it could simply mean that A was X years old when he became the ancestor of B; that is, when he fathered the genetic line that would eventually culminate in the individual B and the B tribe. To apply it to the case where we know of a gap, when the text says, "When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah" (Gen. 11:12), it means Arphaxad was 35 when he fathered Cainan, and Cainan eventually fathered Shelah. Of course, this is ignoring the fact that there are probably more gaps between Arphaxad and Cainan and between Cainan and Shelah. Moreover, when we note that the Bible often refers to representatives of nations or tribes (like Canaan, Israel, or Judah) as if they are the individuals they are descended from and named after (Jdg. 1:3; Ps. 80:1), "A" and "B" could merely refer to representatives of the A and B clans, either ancestors or descendants of A and B.

Since biblical genealogies vary greatly in how complete they are, we simply cannot ascribe a figure to how long of a period the Genesis genealogies are meant to encompass. And since the only way to determine the age of the universe from the Bible involves calculating this figure, we cannot determine how old the universe is from the Bible.

Update (27 July): See also part 1 and part 3

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Time, Eternity, and Meaning

Great post by Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher) on meaning and the passage of time in light of Nietzsche and Boethius. This part really got me:

The problem with time is not that it will end, but that its very mode of being is deficient. The problem is not that our time is short, but that we are in time in the first place. For this reason, more time is no solution. Not even endlessly recurring time is any solution. Even if time were unending and I were omnitemporal, existing at every time, my life would still be strung out in moments outside of each other, with the diachronic identifications of memory and expectation no substitute for a true unity. To the moment I say, Verweile doch, du bist so schön (Goethe, Faust) but the beautiful moment will not abide, and abidance-in-memory is a sorry substitute, and a self diachronically constituted by such makeshifts is arguably no true self. Existing as we do temporally, we are never at one with ourselves: the past is no longer, the future not yet, and the present fleeting. We exist outside ourselves in temporal ec-stasis. We are strung out in temporal diaspora. The only Now we know is the nunc movens.

This is very similar to the overall idea behind my ongoing attempt at writing a science-fiction novel, Kalypso's Envy. I haven't yet reached the point where I explain the title, but when I do it will make a very similar point to Vallicella's.

Update (April 3): I thought about this issue again recently. My son and I started walking around a restaurant near our apartment, and we did it over and over again. More to the point, my son wanted to do it exactly the same way each time: he held my hand while walking up the stairs at a particular point, would run halfway around the restaurant (which is round), then sat down on a curb. I sat next to him, he'd drape his arm over my leg, then jump up and run down a ramp, then around to where we started. Over and over. It occurred to me that by repeating the experience, he was trying to capture it in a way that experiences cannot be captured in time. He was trying to relive the experience, even though after reliving it, it would be gone once more. Indeed, this may be the motive behind the battle cry of the child: "Again!" I don't want the experience to be over, I want to continue experiencing it, I want to capture it, contain it, and keep it. So perhaps we are aware of the "temporal diaspora" as soon as we are able to think.

Then this got me thinking about rituals. In repeating certain things, we are participating, so we think, in something eternal, something which does not end. But we do not capture the experience, the experience captures us. Thus the temporal is subsumed into the eternal.

But that's not the whole story, since many rituals are repetitions of past events. Jewish Passover or Christian Communion are repeating events that took place at a particular place at a particular time. So how does this involve eternity? Perhaps it does not. But perhaps the original events were expressions of something eternal, and the repetitions are further participations in that eternal event. Passover is not just a meal repeating an earlier meal, it is repeating a meal that symbolizes the ancient Hebrews' emancipation. Communion, or the Lord's Supper , is not just repeating the Last Supper Jesus ate with his apostles. It symbolizes Christ's death, the bread and wine becoming, in some sense, his broken body and spilled blood: in Communion, the Christian participates in Christ's atoning death. Jesus died at a particular place at a particular time. Yet he is also "the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world". So time weaves itself into eternity -- and vice-versa -- in interesting ways.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oh. Wow.

This is an utterly mind-blowing video that consists entirely of actual photographs of Saturn and its moons taken by the Cassini spacecraft. The whole thing is amazing, but at about one minute in it becomes ... amazing squared. Maximize it on your screen if you can. It's a demo reel from a future film entitled Outside In that does a grand tour of the whole solar system this way. Via io9.

5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation from stephen v2 on Vimeo.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Please pray

for the people in Japan. Because of their preparedness, the earthquake (upgraded now to 9.0) and the tsunami caused significantly less damage (in terms of human lives and property) than it would have anywhere else. Nevertheless, entire towns have been washed away. Japan's main island of Honshu was moved in its entirety eight feet (2.3 meters) to the east. We know people there and we are praying for them and trying to get in contact with them, but electricity is out all over the place, and water and food is scarce as well. Nuclear power plants are a huge concern too. Blogs and websites documenting the damage are ubiquitous; I'll just point you to Patterico since they're doing as good a job as any in collecting videos and keeping up with the news. Just pray that the devastation does not continue and that the people in Japan get the help they need as soon as possible.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bumblebee Tuba

My father-in-law, who plays the French horn (and could do it professionally if he wanted to), pointed me to this insane video.