Enthusiasms (odd): February 2005 Archives

Hurricanes 2004

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You can use this to find me in Florida. Look for the place where three tracks cross. And Ivan is a little deceptive because be caught some of the brunt of that storm on its back track as well.

Here's the map

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The Mysterious Ways of God

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from The (Mis)Behavior of Markets
Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard L. Hudson

Lastly, the cotton story shows the strange liaison among different branches of the economy, and between economics and nature. That cotton prices should vary the way income does; that income variations should look like Swedish fire-insurance claims; that these, in turn, are in the same mathematical family as formulae describing the way we speak, or how earthquakes happenn---this is, truly, the greatest mystery of all.

Mystery?--Yes and no. Mathematics is one of the ways in which we discern the organizing principle behind all creation. When these things fall together and there is no correlation among them in terms of causes or events, we begin to see the Mind of the Maker. We can deny it, if we choose--and many do. But the reality is that the thumbprint of God is on all creation if you merely look for it.

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"Transgressing the Boundaries"

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At once the wittiest, most interesting, and most devastating attack on the excesses of post-modernism. Originally published in a peer-reviewed journal and later revealed as a hoax--I had forgotten how much I enjoyed "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" by Alan Sokal. An excerpt follows.

from "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"
Alan Sokal


There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook, which can be summarized briefly as follows: that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in ``eternal'' physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the ``objective'' procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.

But deep conceptual shifts within twentieth-century science have undermined this Cartesian-Newtonian metaphysics1; revisionist studies in the history and philosophy of science have cast further doubt on its credibility2; and, most recently, feminist and poststructuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the fašade of ``objectivity''.3 It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical ``reality'', no less than social ``reality'', is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific ``knowledge", far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it; that the truth claims of science are inherently theory-laden and self-referential; and consequently, that the discourse of the scientific community, for all its undeniable value, cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counter-hegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities. These themes can be traced, despite some differences of emphasis, in Aronowitz's analysis of the cultural fabric that produced quantum mechanics4; in Ross' discussion of oppositional discourses in post-quantum science5; in Irigaray's and Hayles' exegeses of gender encoding in fluid mechanics6; and in Harding's comprehensive critique of the gender ideology underlying the natural sciences in general and physics in particular.7


Even more amusing was its considerable aftermath, chronicled in part here. Enjoy.

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You may think the title above a joke, but it is not. And I right this in thanks for the kindness of the St. Blog's Community in nominating Flos Carmeli for best devotional blog. Heaven knows, I don't really deserve it--Quenta Nârwenion, Laudem Gloriae, Ever New, and a host of other deserve the recognition far more than I do. But I am very grateful, thank you. And now--on with the post.

While wasting some time indulging a vice acquired at a very young age--the reading of H. P. Lovecraft and materials inspired by him--something odd occurred to me. In the course of reading The Children of Cthulhu, an updating of the old Mythos, I recognized what I saw in these works.

H.P. Lovecraft is great Christian devotional reading because he gives the other side of the coin--what is the Universe without God? In many ways the arguments of H.P. Lovecraft and others in this realm were really the first fruits of modernism and atheism. These fruits were to develop into the nihilists, the absurdists, and ultimately the Post-Modernists. This is not to say that Lovecraft in any way influenced Beckett, Ionesco, or de Man (though some of his attitudes would have found good company in the latter). Rather, they were part of the zeitgeist, the "spirit of the times" that gave rise to these other things.

Why do I say this? Well, Lovecraft himself was a dedicated atheist. Some of his letters suggest some contempt for theism as a whole and for individuals in particular. His vision is of a world in which at any moment there can intrude utter chaos, randomness, and complete disorder. These are figured in the Great Old Ones and in the Elder Gods he conjures up in his prose. The effects of these entities are chaos, madness, and destruction for those who experience them. And yet, while the threat of universal destruction is always suggested or implied, the reality never occurs. Small townships are affected by interbreeding with the spawn of Dagon--a scientific investigation in Antarctica is disrupted by the Great Old Ones. One or two people experience the rising of R'lyeh. But in fact, Lovecraft's visitations of the Great Old Ones affect remarkably few people considering the hideous power and the great might and the eldritch evil that drips off of every page. If we bother to examine Lovecraft closely it appears that the doom visits only some.

I would suggest that these some represent those "brave" enough to cast off the bonds of traditional religion and thought and to walk without God. Lovecraft's visitations are, in fact, the vision of life without God. They spell out Yeats's famous dictum, "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold/mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." When God slides out of the picture, we slide into the madness of fallen nature. Everything is hostile and potentially deadly--the world is filled with fear and with the things that cause fear. Moreover, life does not make sense. Things intrude that make life a horror, a nightmare, lunacy. There is simply no explanation and so we run from one opiate to another seeking to dull the pain that is living in stark reality.

Now there are those who would contend that theism is a flight from that reality. But I think that theism imposes upon that reality the truth of the matter and begins to sort out that most things do make sense. There is still the intrusion of the uncertain and the insane, but not nearly to the degree that there is without God.

The horrors of Lovecraft are an acute example of writing what you know. Metaphorically, Lovecraft spelled out his horror of the world--a horror, I believe formed from his inability to believe in any connecting order, any system, any Creator.

The perils of atheism are given ample play in the works of Lovecraft and his successors, and they provide a good ground even for the Catholic artist to indulge his or her imagination. What is the world like without an underlying order--when even the law of gravity is view as a hegemonic oppressive construct? (As in the famous pastiche of Post Modernist thought-- Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity)

There is much to be gained by looking into the mirror Lovecraft holds up--do we see our own reflections, or do we see the truth and thus see the the mythos for the mask of anxiety, pain, and unease that it is? God is where you look for Him, even in those places that the authors and artists struggled most assiduously to keep Him out. After all, Art is at last, only an action of co-creation. We cannot do anything that is not already possible--we cannot create ex nihilo and so every inventive work is the artist in collaboration with his God-given talent whether or not the artist wishes to believe it.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Enthusiasms (odd) category from February 2005.

Enthusiasms (odd): December 2004 is the previous archive.

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