Thursday, May 31, 2012

Alienalia

I was 11 years old when Alien came out in the theaters. Somehow I managed to talk my dad into taking me to see it. I loved it. I remember afterwards he asked me if it scared me. "Yeah! When that thing jumped out of the egg at Kane!" "Well, that wasn't scared, that was surprised. Is there any part that actually scared you?" "Hmm. No, I guess not." Of course now when I realize how horrific it was supposed to be it kind of freaks me out.

The sequel, Aliens, was awesome, largely because they shifted from science-fiction horror movie to science-fiction action movie. The third and fourth movies I didn't much care for because they completely destroyed what was great about the first two. The third might have been good if it hadn't started by killing off two of the characters that everyone who saw the second movie was expecting the third movie to be about. I never saw the Alien vs. Predator movies.

Anyhoo, Ridley Scott, the director of the original, has come out (it's already opened in Belgium) with a prequel to Alien entitled Prometheus, and it looks like its going to be ... well ... completely awesome. My friend John never saw the original Alien and he's waiting until he sees Prometheus before he does. I noticed something in the preview that I think he would appreciate.

 

Namely, that screaming sound-effect towards the end that really communicates the horror. What's interesting about that is where they got it. Here's the trailer for the original Alien:



I like that. They reused a sound-effect that I don't think is from the actual movie 33 years ago, but is from the trailer from the movie 33 years ago. Just to show you how effective it is, check this out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

OK, this...

...is a little too illustrative of my life at the moment. Via JWZ.



Did I say "at the moment"? That qualification was unnecessary.

Whoa

I've never heard this. Japan planned to kill all American POWs on August 22, 1945. That's 35,000 people. They continued to plan this after the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6. It was only when the second atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki August 9 that they surrendered and those 35,000 Americans were allowed to go home to their families. This is apparently according to Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. I don't know if the Americans knew about Japan's plans and whether it played a role in their decision to use the atomic bombs.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A day to remember

Memorial Day exists to honor those who have died defending our country. As an American living in Belgium, I find it particularly poignant to know that one thing that played a role in its history is the poem "In Flanders Fields".

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

If you're cynical about the whole thing, try reading this.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

الانجيل باللغة العربية

This got me thinking (via Ann Althouse). We have hundreds of copies of the New Testament in dozens of languages that predate Islam. The Qur'an and Hadith state pretty clearly that the Injil ("Gospel" but used to refer to the New Testament as a whole) that existed at the time of Muhammad was consonant with the Qur'an. A century or so later, when certain sundering differences between the two became apparent (for example, Jesus really was crucified), Muslims began claiming that Christians must have changed the Injil to make it incompatible with the Qur'an -- that is, they must have changed the New Testament after the Qur'an was written. Nevermind the fact that this was logistically impossible given how widespread Christianity was. And nevermind the hundreds of copies of the New Testament we have that predate the advent of Islam and upon which our Bibles are based. Today that's still the main argument you'll hear from Muslims against Christianity: Christians changed their Bible.

So the fact that we can prove -- historically prove -- that the New Testament was not changed after the Qur'an was written has not made an impression on Muslims of any generation. But what that link got me thinking about was an idea I had several years ago and that has popped into my head every now and then ever since. One of the dozens of languages that the New Testament was translated into in the pre-Islamic era was Arabic (obviously -- otherwise there wouldn't be the references to the Injil in the Qur'an and Hadith). And some of these translations have survived. In other words, among the hundreds of New Testaments that predate the Qur'an that we have access to today are some Arabic translations. I seem to recall being told that these translations were not very reliable, and they tend to be unreliable in just those places that would allow for Nestorianism. I have to say, I've never been able to generate much condemnatory feelings toward the Nestorian heresy, although I don't feel any temptation to actually subscribe to it. Nevertheless, I think it would be an interesting idea to publish a New Testament in Arabic based solely on these early Arabic versions. In particular, I think it would be interesting to publish it throughout the Muslim world and call it The Injil between the Hands of Muhammad or something similar. Have a brief introduction saying that it is based on these texts, which are located at the following libraries, and which are dated to whatever years before Muhammad by the following methods. Print it, distribute it, then run like hell and see what happens. Any takers?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Terrorism by court

In the late 70s the Speedway Bomber set off several bombs in the town of Speedway, Indiana which ended up crippling one man who committed suicide because of his injuries a few years later. The bomber, Brett Kimberlin, was caught and sentenced to 50 years, but was released on parole in the 90s. His parole was revoked, however -- apparently a very rare occurrence -- because he refused to pay the results of a civil suit against him from the widow of the man he had crippled (Kimberlin was found liable for the man's death in court). Anyway, he was eventually released again.

Now people can reform. As far as I know, Kimberlin has not been involved in any other terrorist activity in the form of actual bombings or killings since the Speedway Bombings. However, he has become something of a serial litigator, someone who uses the court system to sue everyone who offends him for any reason or no reason at all. And in fact he seems to have established a habit of harassing people and their family members at their work places, trying to get them fired (sometimes succeeding), threatening them, and suing them when they complain. Which would mean that he's just one more thug except that he portrays himself as a political activist who is being targeted by political operatives or whatever. So people donate money to his cause because they think he's the one being harassed and that it's on account of the political beliefs he pretends to share with his donors. The man's a walking, talking tu quoque argument.

Anyway, the point is Kimberlin's latest target wasn't having any of it and knew the law better than him. Kimberlin then tried to frame him for a crime, falsifying evidence, and making threats against his workplace, which resulted in the target and his wife being fired from their jobs (which is exactly the wrong response to terrorism: to let them think it works). The target managed to get the crime thrown out of court, but he has been unable to get the district attorney to press charges against Kimberlin for falsifying evidence, trying to frame him for a crime, and using the court system to do it. Not to mention the fact that he and his wife are now unemployed.

This is a very brief summary. To read the rest, skip on over to Allergic to Bull and just keep scrolling. You can read his whole saga in installments starting with this one, or if you're brave you can try reading the whole thing on one monster post that takes a little while to load. Since he posted it other bloggers have picked up on the story, and at least one of them has had to leave his home and go into hiding due to perceived threats against him and his family from Kimberlin (he's still blogging though -- ain't the Internet wonderful?). Again, Kimberlin tries to portray this as a political issue to try and gin up support. But as Patterico, one of his other targets, puts it, this man targets people on the right and left who point out his bad behavior. He has no politics. You know what, maybe you should just skip on over to Patterico's and keep scrolling too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Quote of the Day

I conclude then that logic is a real insight into the way in which real things have to exist. In other words, the laws of thought are also the laws of things: of things in the remotest space and the remotest time.

This admission seems to me completely unavoidable and it has very momentous consequences.

In the first place it rules out any materialistic account of thinking. We are compelled to admit between the thoughts of a terrestrial astronomer and the behaviour of matter several light-years away that particular relation which we call truth. But this relation has no meaning at all if we try to make it exist between the matter of the star and the astronomer's brain, considered as a lump of matter. The brain may be in all sorts of relations to the star no doubt: it is in a spatial relation, and a time relation, and a quantitative relation. But to talk of one bit of matter as being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense. It might conceivably turn out to be the case that every atom in the universe thought, and thought truly, about every other. But that relation between any two atoms would be something quite distinct from the physical relations between them. In saying that thinking is not matter I am not suggesting that there is anything mysterious about it. In one sense, thinking is the simplest thing in the world. We do it all day long. We know what it is like far better than we know what matter is like. Thought is what we start from: the simple, intimate, immediate datum. Matter is the inferred thing, the mystery.

In the second place, to understand that logic must be valid is to see at once that this thing we all know, this thought, this mind, cannot in fact be really alien to the nature of the universe. Or, putting it the other way round, the nature of the universe cannot be really alien to Reason. We find that matter always obeys the same laws which our logic obeys. When logic says a thing must be so, Nature always agrees. No one can suppose that this can be due to a happy coincidence. A great many people think that it is due to the fact that Nature produced the mind. But on the assumption that Nature is herself mindless this provides no explanation. To be the result of a series of mindless events is one thing: to be a kind of plan or true account of the laws according to which those mindless events happened is quite another. Thus the Gulf Stream produces all sorts of results: for instance, the temperature of the Irish Sea. What it does not produce is maps of the Gulf Stream. But if logic, as we find it operative in our own minds, is really a result of mindless nature, then it is a result as improbable as that. The laws whereby logic obliges us to think turn out to be the laws according to which every event in space and time must happen. The man who thinks this an ordinary or probable result does not really understand. It is as if cabbages, in addition to resulting from the laws of botany also gave lectures in that subject: or as if, when I knocked out my pipe, the ashes arranged themselves into letters which read: 'We are the ashes of a knocked-out pipe.' But if the validity of knowledge cannot be explained in that way, and if perpetual happy coincidence throughout the whole of recorded time is out of the question, then surely we must seek the real explanation elsewhere.

C. S. Lewis
"De Futilitate"
Christian Reflections

Monday, May 21, 2012

Translators wanted

I just encountered the Wikipedia entry for the Czech science-fiction author Ondřej Neff. Most of his stuff has not been translated into English. The entry only summarizes a few of his stories, but after reading these summaries I desperately want to read this author. Here's one: "Zelená je barva naděje" (Green is the color of hope):

describes an invention of an apparatus used for reading animal's minds and presenting them to humans in image form. The inventor tests the device on his friends' aquarium, causing much distress and anger because the apparatus shows the aquarium fish dreaming about killing and eating the humans, and dominating the world; as a consequence, all humans who saw the experiment feel they will never be able to trust any pet animal again.

That...is...so...insanely...something. Twisted maybe. Oh my gosh I want to read that story. Here's another -- which those readers who have read my short stories and know my penchant for Fredric Brown and O. Henry endings will appreciate: "Strom" (The Tree):

a vision of a society after a near-miss ecological catastrophe, which was avoided only thanks to draconian laws of environment protection that put the nature and its preservation well above human life. The characters, last dwellers of a small village, are fighting a losing battle for their homes against a growing forest, as the laws prevent them from harming any tree.

Ah! Aha-ha! That is just perfect. It's not as if they adopted those environmental protections needlessly, it was only by them that they were able to stave off a disaster. And then they lead to another disaster! Ha! Seriously, somebody translate this guy's stuff and send it to me pronto, I need to read it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fressellian logic and why anything exists

We start our journey here where Bill Vallicella, aka Maverick Philosopher, characterizes seven possible responses to Leibniz's question why does anything exist rather than nothing? A very interesting post in its own right and highly recommended. Then he followed up on that post with another regarding one of the positions, rejectionism, which is the view that the question is nonsensical. The main question of that post is whether Wittgenstein, who "was struck with wonder at the sheer existence of things" was paradoxically a rejectionist. Embedded in that post, however, was a challenge: "translate 'Something exists' into standard logical notion [I think he means notation]. You will discover that it cannot be done." The standard logic Vallicella's talking about is the combination of Frege and Russell which he calls Fressellian logic, standard first-order predicate logic with identity. According to this logic, existence = instantiation. His argument -- his challenge rather -- is to ask, what exactly is the property being instantiated when something exists?

The challenge was then accepted by David Brightly at Tilly and Lola. Here is his reply:

And as a Fressellian I accept the challenge. That property is Individual aka Object, the concept at the root of the Porphyrean tree. We can say 'Something exists' with ∃x.Object(x), ie, there is at least one object. Likewise ∀x.Object(x) (which is always true, even when the box is empty) says 'Everything exists' and its negation (which is always false) says 'Some thing is not an object'. But both these last are unenlightening---because always true and always false, respectively, they convey no information, make no distinction, are powerless to change us.

Then Vallicella responds again in yet another post summarizing his objection wonderfully, and then going over Brightly's response, and his counter-response. He demonstrates, to my (untrained, non-Fressellian) satisfaction that "Something identical with itself is a man" does not mean the same thing as "A man exists", and substituting Brightly's "Individual aka Object" for "Something identical with itself" does not seem to solve the problem. However, this is not my field so I'll just conclude by saying I think something exists.

(cross-posted at Quodlibeta)

Too Wounded

I'm not a huge fan of new age music, but when it's good it's really good. Ray Lynch's second album, Deep Breakfast, is what he's famous for, but on his first album, The Sky of Mind, there's a very simple song that I love because of what I associate it with. The song is called "Too Wounded" and it's just a simple melody with a repeating phrase and a stumbling rhythm -- the rhythm really captures the sense of someone stumbling. It's a very obvious chord progression and, frankly, not very imaginative (that's not a criticism -- plenty of great pieces of music are simple). But when I listen to this piece I can't help but think of Christ carrying his cross down the Via Dolorosa to his crucifixion. Here's the song: the first minute and a half or so is tibetan bells and I don't think you can fast-forward through them, but just tough it out.

Too Wounded by Ray Lynch on Grooveshark

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Prayer Request

Two young members of my family were diagnosed with very severe illnesses this past week. I don't want to go into any more detail than that. Please pray for their complete recovery. Thanks.

Monday, May 7, 2012

My current minority status

In this post I pointed out that, as a military veteran trying to get a teaching position in academia, I am something of a minority in a very qualified sense, since veterans -- particularly veterans who aren't ashamed of their service -- are a rarity in academia. I mentioned that I planned to email a particular professor at Princeton who has a son who was in the Marines and had written an article suggesting military service could be a good thing to be represented in the university. He wrote back immediately, gave me some encouraging words, and even signed off with a "Semper Fi." I also received an email from a fellow PhD candidate in Medieval English Lit who is an Army veteran. She also has a great blog and linked me to a post she had just written on -- wait for it -- veterans in the classroom. I wrote her back and asked if I could link to it and she hasn't gotten back to me, but then I realized that a) she sent me an email with the link and b) the link is to a blog which is on the Innernets, so I think it's OK with her.

Another completely different issue has just come up. In a senate race in Massachusetts, the challenger is a Harvard law school professor who formerly listed herself as a minority. The problem is that she is plainly a white woman. When asked, she claimed that she has Native American blood, but she could not name which tribe, and she could not prove it -- it was only according to "family lore." When it started to hurt her campaign she looked into it and was able to discover that she has a great-great-great grandmother who was a Cherokee Indian, making the law professor 1/32nd Cherokee. So, no problem, she says. Of course, for most people it is a problem. She's still 31/32nds white. They charge her with abusing the system via affirmative action, of listing herself as a minority in order to benefit her career. In fact, once she achieved the crème de la crème and had a job at Harvard, she stopped listing herself as a minority (Harvard, of course, touts her as an example of its minority faculty). Her defenders have pointed out that the actual chief of the Cherokee nation is only 1/32nd Cherokee. If it's good enough for the chief of the tribe, why isn't it good enough for this law professor?

I'm not bringing this up to wade into the political controversy. I'm bringing it up because I have a personal reason to: my father was a lawyer and even taught law on occasion (although he wasn't a law professor). According to our family lore he was 1/32nd Cherokee, having a great-great-great grandmother who was a Cherokee Indian. That makes me 1/64th. Nor is this some minor thing I've never thought about: I grew up with it, always telling people that I had a little bit of Native American blood in me. I remember having to do school projects on my family tree on several occasions and I always emphasized the fact that I was a very little bit Cherokee. I was proud of it, it set me apart. I tell my students in Belgium that, like many Americans, I'm a mix of a lot of different ethnicities, and it's not that unusual to have a little bit of Native American in me. I'm mostly Irish and German with some English and Scottish thrown in for good measure. I associate myself most with my Irish background because my mother's family are all Irish Catholics from the old country -- Boston -- and I lived there until I was six.

Of course the very idea that my father or I could represent ourselves as minorities, as Native Americans, is silly. The cut-off point for any kind of affirmative action benefits, at least so we thought, was to be 1/16th of a particular minority. So we would joke that my grandmother could have applied for some sort of affirmative action benefits, except that by the time affirmative action began in the United States she was already retired.

Now if the very chief of the Cherokee tribe can be only 1/32nd Cherokee, the same fraction as my father, I wonder if we had it wrong that the "one-drop rule" in effect is that you have to be 1/16th of some minority or if the fraction has changed. Maybe even being 1/64th Cherokee is enough to tout one's Native American authenticity and receive some sort of official benefit from it. If so, however, I would not do so for two reasons. First, I'm still 63/64ths white. By any reasonable measurement I'm a white man. It simply wouldn't be honest to represent myself this way to receive material benefits for it. Second, my father researched our family tree late in his life and couldn't verify the family lore. I don't think he disconfirmed it I think he just couldn't research that side of the family; but for whatever reason he looked into it and couldn't find any evidence to back it up. So maybe I'm just 64/64ths white after all.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Off-Earth Mining

Planetary Resources is planning to mine near-Earth asteroids for metals, minerals, and water. Not hoping to, not speculating about, actually planning to in the near future. Since these can be several light-minutes from Earth, and their distance can vary dramatically, it will probably be necessary to send astronauts, not just robotic explorers. Which is pretty cool. But Popular Mechanics wonders whether the Moon would be a better bet than near-Earth asteroids. Regardless, get ready for private industry in space.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Berkeley's God

George Berkeley argued that when we investigate the concept of existence, it automatically includes the concept of observation. That is, "to be" means "to be observed". The concept of unobserved existence was, according to Berkeley, incoherent.

However, this immediately leads to obvious absurdities. Since the vast majority of the physical universe is not being observed, it must not exist. In fact, when you leave an empty room, it pops out of existence -- at least until someone re-enters it.

But Berkeley apparently formulated his ontology (philosophy of being) with this problem in mind, because he used it to argue for the existence of God. Since it will always be more rational to believe that the universe exists even when we are not observing it, this proves that the universe as a whole is always being observed. There is, in other words, a Cosmic Observer. When we leave a room and it has no human observer, it is still observed by God.

This is a pretty ingenious argument. Of course, the whole thing hinges on Berkeley's dubious ontology that "to be" means "to be observed" (although, this does bear a striking resemblance to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics).

All of this is just background to two limericks which I had forgotten about but just rediscovered. The first one goes like this:

There was once a man who said, ‘God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no one about in the quad.’

This then led to the second limerick:

Dear Sir, Your astonishment’s odd:
I am always about in the quad
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.

I just thought that was kind of funny.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Quote of the Day

The only text from classical antiquity quoted by H. Blumenberg in Die Genesis der kopemikanischen Welt in which the central position of the Earth amounts to a privilege is from Seneca: "That you may understand how she (viz. Nature) wished us, not merely to behold her, but to gaze upon her, see the position in which she has placed us. She has set us in the center of her creation, and has granted us a view that sweeps the universe (circumspectus)." [De Otio V, 4, in Moral Essays]

At first blush, it looks as if we are reading black on white that man is in the place of honor, and that this place is the center. But a closer look shows that this position hardly redounds to man's advantage. On the contrary. For grammar and in reality, the subject is not man, but nature. What Seneca says is that nature wants to have a spectator, so that she can reveal the plenty of her treasures. The place of man in the middle is scarcely a privilege he could boast of. It bears witness to the almighty producer, nature, who wanted to receive applause and managed her theatre so that her admirers would receive comfortable seats.

As far as my knowledge goes (and it does not go as far as I wish), Freud's contention can be propped up by one text and by one text only. I know of only one mediaeval thinker who confused the two meanings of centrality and grounded an alleged greater worth of man on the fact that his home in the universe, namely the Earth, is located in the latter's center. This thinker lived at the beginning of the 10th century in Bagdad. He was the Jewish theologian and apologist (mutakallim) Saadia Gaon (882-942). He becomes interesting for us because he is utterly out of tune with the rest of the mediaeval concert. I quote a passage from his masterpiece, the apologetical tract Book of Beliefs and of Convictions:

Though we see that the creatures are many in number, nevertheless, we need not be confused in regard to which of them constitutes the goal of creation. For there exists a natural criterion by means of which we can determine which one of all the creatures is the end. When, then, we make our investigation with this criterion as a guide, we find that the goal is man. We arrive at this conclusion in the following manner: Habit and nature (binya) place whatever is most highly prized in the center of things which are themselves not so highly prized. Beginning with the smallest things, therefore, we say that it is noted that the kernel is more precious than the leaves. That is due to the fact that the kernel is more precious than the leaves, because the growth of the plant and its very existence depend upon it. Similarly does the seed from which trees grow, if edible, lodge in the center of the fruit, as happens in the case of the nut. But even if a tree grows from an inedible kernel, this kernel is located in the center of the fruit, as is the case of the date, no attention being paid to the edible portion, which is left on the outside to preserve the kernel. In the same way is the yolk of the egg in the center, because from it springs the young bird and the chicken. Likewise also is the heart of man in the middle of his breast, owing to the fact that it is the seat of the soul and the of the natural heat of the body. So, too, is the power of vision located in the center of the eye because it is by means of it that one is able to see. When, therefore, we see that this situation appertains to many things and then find the earth in the center of the heaven with the heavenly spheres surrounding it on all sides, it becomes clear to us that the thing which was the object of creation must be on [om. v.1.] the earth. Upon further investigation of all its parts we note that the earth and the water are both inanimate, whereas we find that the beasts are irrational. Hence only man is left, which gives us the certainty that he must unquestionably have been the intended purpose of creation.

Thus, we have in Saadia and, apparently, in Saadia only, a clear example of an anthropocentrism grounded on a geocentric cosmology. Let me first underline some points:

1) Saadia does not support a naively teleological world-view. This is shown by what he explains, not without some emphasis, about fruits, like dates or apricots, the aim of which is to be looked for in the kernel, not in the edible rind, and which is not edible for man. Natural phenomena are not seen from the point of view of human use, but in themselves.

2) The cogency of the reasoning is somewhat undermined by a [sic] unavowed shift in the criterion. Saadia begins with the thesis, gained by way of induction that nature puts what is more important in the center. In this way, he can make plausible that in the universe, too, we have to look for what is most precious in the center. This should lead us to surmise that the Earth is the jewel of the universe. But when Saadia looks at the Earth, he silently gives up his criterion of centrality and introduces a second point of view, i.e. life. This enables him to discard the elements, because they are lifeless. Finally, he adds a third criterion, or reason. This enables him again to discard the animals on behalf of man alone. The criterion of centrality would not suffice. It is not enough, when what must be proved is the greater worth, not of the Earth, but of man. The alternative reading I mentioned above ("the Earth" instead of "on the Earth") may be the trace of the misgivings that dawned on the mind of some copyist who wanted to simplify Saadia's argumentation.

Furthermore, we will have to point out, on the other hand, that Saadia's contention did not remain unchallenged. On the contrary, later thinkers blamed him for according too much worth to man. They did that without their pulling their punches. The most famous -- and at the same time the most outspoken -- of Saadia's critics was probably the highly learned globetrotter and Biblical scholar Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167), whose rationalistic cast of mind is well-known. The clearest passage I could find is a long digression in the second version (shittah akhereth) of his commentary on the Torah, more precisely in his commentary on the first verse of Genesis. The context is a general critique of anthropomorphism, and especially of the idea according to which man is more worthy than than the angels -- a critique that we can find elsewhere in Ibn Ezra. He mentions the tiny size of the Earth. In the universe, it is hardly more than a geometrical point, i.e. a point without dimensions. He then submits Saadia's two examples (the core in the apple and the yolk in the egg) to harsh criticism:

The argument he mentions, i.e. that what is most worthy n the fruit of the apple-tree is the pip, which maintains the species, is no proof either. For this (viz. the apple) is a compound, which the heavens are not. Moreover, the fruit of the apple-tree is more worthy when it comes to actual existence than what is potentially. What he (Saadia) contends, that the chick comes to being from the red part of the egg, i.e., from the yolk, is false, because the yolk is a food for it.

We can distinguish three arguments in Ibn Ezra's critique:

a) We must tell compound things from simple ones. What holds for the former does not necessarily hold for the latter. In realities that are all in one block, like heavens, it does not make sense to distinguish between the aim and the means towards it.

b) Even if we stick to fruit as an example, we should reverse the order of value that Saadia supposes. For the core, that contains the fruit only potentially, cannot be the final aim.

c) In the case of the egg, the yolk, that undoubtedly lies in the middle, is not the seed, but some sort of pantry for the chick.

Unfortunately, Ibn Ezra's critique does not deal with the relationship between the central position of a thing and the increased worth it is supposed to possess. This is all the more surprising in that he could have poked fun at Saadia without the slightest difficulty. The latter relies on the principle that the content is more important than the container. Now, this principle is diametrally [sic] opposed to another, more commonly admitted principle, i.e. the container is more worth than its content. By not remaining with this principle, Saadia gave critique an easy opening.

Rémi Brague
"Geocentrism as a Humiliation for Man"
Medieval Encounters 3 (1997): 187-210
(footnotes omitted)

(cross-posted at Quodlibeta)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012