Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Why I'm Not a Scientist

Science, I've come to realize is not necessarily about "discovering Truth" as most people see it. Rather, it is a way to further the human study of the universe. By this I mean that a good scientific idea asks more questions than it answers-- allowing human questioning to continue forever. Correctness from the scientific perspective does not mean "It is absolutely true." Instead, it means "It fits the data (roughly), and it leads to a new area of study."
As an example (and I realize the absurdity in it), suppose it were proven, absolutely, that God exists, and everything happens only because "God says so"-- there is no discernable logic, no actual pattern to predict in God's plan. It allows for only one question "Why this way?" which is to question to ineffable will of God.
Science, cannot and would not accept this conclusion; our pursuit of knowledge about the universe would be pointless. Doubtless, people would still continue to practice science, creating mathematical models of the phenomenon around them.

What's interesting here is that they would likely continue to find ever more "accurate" models of the working universe, even though they would know that these models do not, in truth, contribute to any understanding of the universe-- it is already understood. This implies a couple of things:
1)We find patterns in everything, whether they exist or not.
2)Any sufficiently complex language can model anything; even if there is no pattern to model.
3)The link between science and math is artificial.

Ramsey theory suggests that in any large random system (which the universe described about would be, for all practical purposes) there will be some sort of pattern, even if it is not inherent in the design or mechanism of the system. The real problem arises when we ask "Which pattern is it?" This question cannot be answered without enumerating the entire system, an obviously impossible task when confronted with the universe.

Science then, would be conducted in absolutely the same way if it were both useless and contrary to truth, yet scientists trumpet Logical Positivism as something that will ultimately unlock the key to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Correspondences. I

I have opened a dialog with one of the few people who asks truly probing questions of people, and makes truly profound statements about the same. She has agreed to let our emails become public. I will post them in the form: {email from me; email from Jamie}. This way, Jamie is the first to see my responses. I find it only fair as they're directed at her. Also, any and all editing from the original is simply to present the same words in a more readable format. All typos, miswordings, etc., remain intact. Also, i've gotten rid of any quotation i've deemed superfluous. Jamie, if i've made an error, please correct me. This first one contains the first 4 emails.


This is Cory, How are you?

You're someone I want to keep in contact with, because it's hard to find
someone who so actively digs into the human brain/soul/heart/whatever...
Anyway, 2 things:

Would you be able to compile a list of my quotes that you wrote down
while you were here? It's always interesting to see how you have
impressed others...

I have a blog of sorts; ramblings and rants on various topics. It's at
It may present to you probing questions to ask.


"How do you know whether you are hitting your own personal boundaries, or you're hitting a limit where you can't go farther"
"Everyone has some sort of void in their soul...."
"...that the things that are hilarious are taken far too seriously by far too many people..."
"We have no objective way of determining if our reality is the same as someone else's"
I haven't thought about the first quote yet because I'm terrified that there might actually be a limit where ''you'' can't go farther. That would fuck with my current philosophy of the world. Yet the very act of being terrified implies there is such a limit....I guess I'm just reluctant to reconstruct my notions of the world this month. I think at this point you were referring to some kind of inner personal limit however and not such concepts as the universe and different dimensions and whatnot. That makes is slightly easier to answer, yet is it even necessary to ask questions about the expanse of space seeing as how whatever knowledge we get doesn't affect its very nature...(or does it?) or ours?
-side tangent- why do we even look for answers in general? Is there ever some kind of permanent answer? If we do not ever actually know everything-which we cannot- or even real answers, ones that are really the Truth and not some kind of answers we have decided on for our own life construction and stability, it is very improbably that we could ever actually know what is the point of questions (ah ha) of searching? What makes someone decide on a certain set of values on which to base their lives?
Back on semi-track. Is this limit you were referring to some kind of inner limit? Some 'soul' limit?
Your other quotes suffered a tragic (they were introduced to my car before they made it to my journal) death.
Yeah, my language was kind of vague... it wouldn't do in a proof. Let's try again:
"How does one know whether they are hitting the boundaries of their own comfort, or an insurmountable-- universal-- mental limit." (i use the singular, ambiguous "they", because it is less awkward than the alternatives.)

It's a scary thing to think about; we have some desire-- some need-- to know everything; what happens if we can't?
I don't know whether this limit is some sort of "soul limit" some sort of paradox of self-reference-- i.e. a boundary on our capacity for metacognition.

So. On questions. This is one that has bugged me for quite some time. I've managed to sidestep the question (more, push it out of the way so i don't have to figure it out) by saying i like to learn because there's beauty in it. This is, in part, a cop out. There's truth to it, but that's only a part of the drive.

The real reason is that it seems (at least temporarily) to fill the void in my soul. Hereafter, i'll refer to this void as nostalgia or despair; i'll explain this idea later. Anyway, whenever i think of the quest for knowledge, i think of Unamuno's The Tragic Sense of Life, which i recommend you read if you have questions about our quest for knowledge. Essentially, it's about the very existential idea of despair, the source of that despair and how we use knowledge to combat that despair. I either completely agree or completely disagree with everything he has to say, but it's an interesting read either way.

Anyway, despair:
A lot of philosophers have discussed the concept itself directly, and i find it difficult to think that any philosopher has hoped for anything greater than to understand it. We have, as i've stated, a void in our soul. Despair (the state of being) itself is the recognition of that void, and the conflict created by trying to understand the nature of that void, as well as the struggle to fill or remove that void.
The Christian answer to "what causes despair?" is that we have a longing for an intimacy with God-- an intimacy, which, being fallen creatures, eludes us in except in brief flashes and moments of clarity. This is, i think, an adequate assessment. The general idea can be generalized to be compatible with more humanist philosophies by saying "we have a longing for inclusion in something greater than ourselves." All of human action can be reduced to a (perceived) fulfillment of this desire. The Christian has the benefit of having found a somewhat satisfactory explanation of the cause, but this still does not help us with the solution to the question "How do we fill the void?" The answer, of course, would be "intimacy with God," but what does that /really/ mean?
One my list of problems with science is the attempt to explain away this desire for depth as some sort of result of our biology and mechanical construction. I find this to be a dangerous and morbid simplification of the human condition. It contributes nothing to the discussion of despair, nor does it provide some sort of solution to the "problem". It only gives an excuse for ignoring it, to push it aside. Ignoring something as fundamental to the human condition as despair is a good way to find yourself lost and empty. I think this is where science as a discipline and way of knowing is right now. (There is, of course, some confirmation bias in this characterization of science, but it's something to ponder.)

The more general approach (inclusion in something greater) is more difficult to find any answers to. Why do we need this inclusion? What do we mean, "something greater than ourselves"? How do we gain this inclusion? Alternatively, how do we satisfy this desire? Can this desire be, permanently, or at least satisfactorily fulfilled?
I guess these questions are the next problem in our discussion.

On a related, but perhaps more uplifting note:
It has been suggested (by i forget whom) that hope is impossible without despair. There is a lot of truth in that idea. Hope is the desire (perhaps even need) for fulfillment of something which is outside of your control-- the fulfillment of something greater than yourself. This desire brings you, in some way, into this fulfillment. In other words, hope is the desire for the work of, and thus inclusion in, something greater than yourself. It is a (partial?) fulfillment of despair. Thus, without despair, there can be no hope.
The question, then, is: can we rise above this despair->hope->despair... cycle, or is it the case that "the cure for pain is in the pain"? And, if we can rise above, is it really something we should desire?
(the quote is from "The Cure for Pain" by mewithoutYou; i'd recommend looking up the lyrics to many of their songs...)

I may have had something else to say, but I forgot it.



Yeah, my language was kind of vague... it wouldn't do in a proof. Let's try again

Seriously. I don't know how you could have made such an error.

It's a scary thing to think about; we have some desire-- some need-- to know everything; what happens if we can't?

EXCATLY!!!!! Yet, could it not be argued-well is obviously can-that life as the potentially beautiful thing that it can be is made possible, maybe even defined by the fact that there never seems to be any concrete answers, except the ones that are semi-hypcritical such as "change is the only constant"? And the search for answers that don't really exist, or maybe do for a limited period of time, defines us......I'm going to stop on the incoherent train of though.

I don't know whether this limit is some sort of "soul limit" some sort
of paradox of self-reference-- i.e. a boundary on our capacity for

hmmm.....well, I think in order to even start going about an answer to that question we need to define what a 'soul' is.

So. On questions. This is one that has bugged me for quite some time.
I've managed to sidestep the question (more, push it out of the way so i
don't have to figure it out) by saying i like to learn because there's
beauty in it. This is, in part, a cop out. There's truth to it, but
that's only a part of the drive.


Anyway, despair:
A lot of philosophers have discussed the concept itself directly, and i
find it difficult to think that any philosopher has hoped for anything
greater than to understand it.

Thats very eloquent of you.

We have, as i've stated, a void in our
soul. Despair (the state of being) itself is the recognition of that
void, and the conflict created by trying to understand the nature of
that void, as well as the struggle to fill or remove that void.
The Christian answer to "what causes despair?" is that we have a longing
for an intimacy with God-- an intimacy, which, being fallen creatures,
eludes us in except in brief flashes and moments of clarity. This is, i
think, an adequate assessment. The general idea can be generalized to be
compatible with more humanist philosophies by saying "we have a longing
for inclusion in something greater than ourselves."

I felt like making a counter-point at this point in time, not with the idea of what was said, but merely because I felt the need to disagree....which brings me to a more interesting question. If two people agree on an answer, but from two completly different points of view, is it really the same answer?

can be reduced to a (perceived) fulfillment of this desire. The
Christian has the benefit of having found a somewhat satisfactory
explanation of the cause, but this still does not help us with the
solution to the question "How do we fill the void?" The answer, of
course, would be "intimacy with God," but what does that
really mean?
One my list of problems with science is the attempt to explain away this
desire for depth as some sort of result of our biology and mechanical
construction. I find this to be a dangerous and morbid simplification of
the human condition. Itcontributes nothing to the discussion of
despair, nor does it provide some sort of solution to the "problem". It
only gives an excuse for ignoring it, to push it aside. Ignoring
something as fundamental to the human condition as despair is a good way
to find yourself lost and empty.

Nice quote. Yet, by filling this void, or trying to make it 'go away' are we not still trying to ignore it or push it aside?

The more general approach (inclusion in something greater) is more
difficult to find any answers to. Why do we need this inclusion? What do
we mean, "something greater than ourselves"? How do we gain this
inclusion? Alternatively, how do we satisfy this desire? Can this desire
be, permanently, or at least satisfactorily fulfilled?
I guess these questions are the next problem in our discussion.

Or does it need to be filled? What if, op, just kidding, way to address that in the next paragraph. Or, somewhat. What if it is this void that not only gives us hope, an hard quality to try to define,? My current theory is that it is this void, this despair that makes life so incredibly, for lack of a better word and approaching class, amazing and difficult and different. I'm just going to ramble now. For awhile, basically my whole life, I've been searching for a way to fill this void, comfort the despair. But more recently I decided to try to embrace it, live whole-heartedly in it. Do you think such a thing is possible? Its rather strange. I don't know what to think about it. In which case there is no need to rise above it but rather incorporate it into one's being.

On a related, but perhaps more uplifting note:
It has been suggested (by i forget whom) that hope is impossible without
despair. There is a lot of truth in that idea. Hope is the desire
(perhaps even need) for fulfillment of something which is outside of
your control-- the fulfillment of something greater than yourself.


Also, assuming this conversation continues in the direction it is going,
could I post it online?
Feel free. ..... (novel concept :)

I can tell you have absolutly nothing to say about the world. Its interesting. I've missed alot of your ideas this time around because you include so many in each sentence and I'm late to class, but I wonder if you need a reply to the questions you ask, or merely the oportunity to fully do so. Because there is such a in the moment of asking questions.

Ellie has probably already asked you a question similar to this one-

but if you could have an answer, figure out any one thing, what would it be?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lambda Calculus...

Is weird. Really weird.

Why is it that we can think of sets of sets intuitively, but operating on operators is nearly impossible to conceptualize?

On a related note: It's ridiculous how exactly LISP notation follows Church's function notation. Even things that aren't related (necessarily) to lambda calculus are borrowed from him.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Grace, Childishness and Service

Sully wrote this a few months ago; it's one of many truly inspired writings that have flown through him. I hope he doesn't mind me posting it here...

On thought, before I post it. At one point, he mentions knowing something versus knowing about something. I bring up this point often, but only I believe it is a crucial concept to understand. German has different words for each idea. "I know something" would be translated "Ich weiss etwas". The infinitive of the word (to know) is wissen. It implies knowledge of a concept or idea; one would also say "Ich weiss Tom" to mean that he knows about Tom-- has knowledge regarding who Tom is, etc.
"I know Tom" as we say in English would be translated "Ich kenne Tom." The infinitive is kennen. It implies a familiarity, an understand of and closeness with. "Ich kenne etwas" (I am familiar with something) has a similar-- although weaker-- meaning to "I grok something."

Sully brings up this point (briefly) in the essay. God calls us to know Him-- Gott Kennen; not to know about Him-- Gott Wissen.
Anyway, Cheers (I know it's long...):

** The definition and presence of Grace **

The foundation of a Christian life is Christ. This means, more than anything, that we are founded on Grace, for that is Christ’s purpose. He came for us who were unworthy of the favor of God’s presence. We were unworthy not by judgment, but by action because we chose to step from that Presence into the darkness that is absent Him. Thereby we drew ourselves away from God, not He from us.
Having stepped into darkness, we were lost and unable to ever find Him there, for though we may or may not be able to persevere the breadth and width of darkness by religion and other machination, God does not exist in that darkness and thereby can not be found by us who do exist in darkness. Christ is God reaching through the darkness to find us and offer to us His hand that we might again walk with Him. For that was certainly his purpose, that God and all God’s love and blessings should come to us who were otherwise eternally incapable of finding that Presence – this is Grace.
By Grace we are able to enjoy a Fellowship and a Blessing that we could never attain by our own strength. By Grace we who are only capable of at best the most righteous unrighteousness, should be considered (and by being considered, made) truly righteous and able to be near Him who can not coincide with unrighteousness. By Grace, through mysteries indefinite and unresolvable, the presence of God comes without the need of our own understanding or thought.
All Grace requires is choice and by choice action: The choice of accepting the hand outstretched through darkness to us. The choice to recognize the presence of that hand and recognize the necessity of that hand for ever finding God. The choice to give up our comfortable familiarity with uncomfortable darkness and step into an uncomfortable unfamiliarity with all that is truly secure and comfortable. The choice to continue laying every step beside God’s after being brought beside him. The choice to not again step back into darkness. And the choice, when again stepped back into darkness, to accept the loving hand instantly reaching down through darkness to pick us back up from our stumble. Grace is attained only by this choice. Grace is attained only by this action. If we do not choose to accept the hand and choose to walk beside God as he leads and choose to let him pick us back up and choose to simply recognize his hands and our darkness, we have no part with Grace. We then have no part with God and no part with ever being brought out of the darkness. We then choose and by action have sentenced ourselves to living eternally absent God and living eternally absent the Heaven where he does exist.
So it is that only by a persistent walk with God and acceptance of Grace and fellowship with Christ we can receive life. As Christians, we say these things and accept these ideas with lips that swear our hearts know that truth. However, on this point we are liars, for the majority of us are not graceful people. It is this absence of Grace that makes us besmear the label of “Christians”, depend yet on our own strength, judge with envy or malice those around us, and ultimately lose salvation by desecrating our faith down to the same worthlessness of all other religions.
And yet we say, “Yes, I am imperfect, I know that. But that’s just the point. I am allowed to be an imperfect sinner and yet have God and Salvation.” And yet, in saying this statement, otherwise full of truth, we are completely and utterly wrong. For this statement only applies to those who attempt to overcome their imperfection. It only applies to those who begrudge and hate their sin and wish it washed away. Essentially, it only applies to those who hate the darkness and long for the light. As we often say it, and as it was said above, what we really say and really believe is that we are free to yet live in darkness and still have the gift of God’s presence. And this is this same as saying that darkness can exist within full and absolute light - a contradiction that a child can easily see and make fun of, and yet we make ourselves as dumb as adults to believe it.
The true nature of Grace and the true and only power of “Being saved by Grace” are caught up entirely in the calling of Levi. Jesus walks through the city, sees Levi sitting at his tax booth, and walking up to him, says, “Follow me.” Levi could never have brought Jesus there. He could never have found the offering of fellowship with him. And that is why it is an offering of Grace that Jesus walks up and asks him to follow. However, the bestowing and acceptance of this Grace only occurs, that is the fellowship of a life spent in the presence of God only occurs, when Levi responds and “leaving everything, he rose and followed him.” If he had not followed he could not have possibly walked with and talked with and known who Jesus was - he would have refused Grace. Certainly he would have ultimately heard an awful lot about Jesus and possibly even developed an awful lot to say in favor of the things he did, but he would not have know him. This is how we have become as Christians today. We have heard a lot of about God and have developed a lot to say about God, but we know him not. And why? Simply because we choose not to accept Grace and walk with him. We choose to keep our place in darkness rather than be lifted up into Light.
All of us who are offended by these words testify by our own offense that Grace is not in us. For Grace can not be offended, for it is the absence of judgment and prejudice and pride. Grace is the administration of God’s love and as such bears all things that love has and carries nothing that love does not. As Christ says through Paul, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” And yet, how many of us love like this? If we do not appear to love like this, then it must certainly also appear that Grace is not in us.

** The presence of self-righteousness in the absence of Grace **

Self-righteousness is the opposite of Grace, just as the darkness of sin is the opposite of God’s light. Self-righteousness is the belief that ones’ own efforts can bring them into the presence of God. It is the belief that Light can be found in darkness. It is the perpetual selfish searching for things that do not exist at the cost of what little does exist. And yet, is it so surprising that so many are self-righteous? Should they be judged and dismissed for being self-righteous? No! Rather, those who are neither in Grace nor self-righteous are all the more foolish. For the self-righteous recognizes the need to find the Divine above all else and merely disregards the Only Way. The other is foolish enough to also disregard and lie about their own hunger. If one does not accept Grace then what other strength can you possibly believe will ever bring you life but your own? And, as for those in Grace, they will never look in judgment upon the self-righteous but rather look with eyes of patient and empathetic love, just as they will look upon all who are outside Grace.
The pattern of self-righteousness is this, all who are deemed beneath one’s righteousness are generally ‘loved’ and all those who are deemed unfairly above one’s righteousness are always enviously hated. All who are beneath the righteousness of the self-righteous are loved in the most perverse sense of benign indifference. They serve the self-righteous person in that by being beneath him or her, they are believed to lift him or her up closer to the Divine. As such, the self-righteous are willing to be benevolent to these under-souls and also match their benevolence with a thousand times the evil by stepping on the backs of these under-souls and press-ganging them to abide by whatever boundaries of self-righteousness they suggest will lead to the Divine. Those who will not be press-ganged into the self-righteous person’s particular religion, or otherwise suggest the true unrighteousness of the self-righteous, become competition and are hated.
Those who follow the self-righteous person’s views but appear more righteous can either be hated, or accepted in the same way as the under-souls. By being above they can seem closer to the Divine and thereby offer both an affirmation of the self-righteous person’s methods as well as present a human ladder for the self-righteous person to pull themselves higher. In that case those above are ‘loved.’ Alternatively, those above may be seen as obstacles of separation to the divine and by their presence confirm how unrighteous the self-righteous person truly is. In such a case, it is but the logical choice to hate and envy.
Those people who are both outside the self-righteous person’s beliefs of righteousness, appear to be about equivalently as righteous, and who suggest that the self-righteous person is unrighteous, are hated with passion. This is particularly true if such a person otherwise abides by nearly the exact same patterns and beliefs of righteousness. For, in this case, not only is the self-righteous person in struggle for closeness to the Divine, but they are being told that their struggling is incorrect and thereby become even less righteous than they had thought they were.
Of course, all of these words can be confusing, and on this particular previous point it is perhaps of especial benefit to provide an example: Sam believes that it is ok to drink alcohol with friends and be a Christian because Sam otherwise follows all the proper rules of conduct and goes to church and participates in a small group. Hunter, from Sam’s small group, tells Sam that drinking alcohol is ungodly and sinful and that Sam is a poor Christian unless Sam repents of drinking alcohol. They have an argument on this point and begrudge each other about it. Later, Sam sees their pastor give recognition to Hunter for being an exemplary Christian. Sam now enviously hates Hunter. In this case, both Sam and Hunter are self-righteous and thereby both are absent of Grace and thereby also absent of Christ. They have forsaken Christ’s hand for belief that following the straightest lines drawn in darkness will give them a path to Him. They merely argue about whose line is straighter. And yet, both are in fact in darkness. And yet, the hand of God and Christ’s Grace is right there reaching down to them, begging them to take it again or for the first time, depending on if they ever took it before.
Another example that perhaps will touch the reader’s soul better is this: Sam and Hunter have never officially met but are aware of each other’s presence as members of the same church. Hunter has been working hard helping her church. She has been making bulletins and organizing meetings and orchestrating prayer gatherings and leading a small group. Hunter has never seen Sam do anything for the Church. Hunter hears their pastor say that Sam is an incredible Christian and that Sam means a lot to the body of Christ. Hunter now envies Sam and while she will not admit it, actually hates her simply by the fact that she refuses to love her. In this case it appears that Hunter is the only one that is self-righteous and the only one whose monstrous efforts do more to help her reject Grace than bring her close to Christ.
For a final look to expound upon this point of self-righteousness and the absence of Grace, I will return to the example of Levi: Jesus looks across the market and sees Levi, a tax collector, and walking past Rabbi’s and the most ‘righteous’ and worthy of men, goes up and invites the rather ‘unrighteous’ Levi, not the Rabbi’s and Scribes, to walk with him and absorb his love. This simple fact that God is ignorant of all personal effort is what makes grace into Grace. And does this seem wrong? Well, from the framework of self-righteousness it is wrong. If you believe that your personal effort is necessary then you will begrudge those who have God’s love despite lack of effort. That exchange of love is proof that you and all your pride are wrong and that your ideas and efforts are worthless.
The trouble with all this is that it leaves us at the point of the contemporary church, which has accepted that it is not by our efforts but by God’s effort that we know Him. And again, this is true. What is wrong is that we have extrapolated this to mean that Faith only requires God’s effort and not our own. Which really means that we have rejected the idea that we need to take God’s hand to be lifted up by Grace. This leaves us at the point of being able to stay in sin and conduct our lives of darkness, living in richness and sloth saying, “If God intends differently, then He will make it so.” And the truth is that God will make it so. He will overwhelm Earth by the presence of Heaven and the old will go. The new will come – and we will not be a part of it because we did not step from the old when he asked us to walk with Him. We will be in Hell for having rejected Grace.
Now, if we have rejected Grace, then it would seem, as mentioned before, that most of us would fall back into self-righteousness. And that has been outlined somewhat above and many will be able to prove or lie well enough that they are not part of that self-righteousness. However, for us Christians that have rejected Grace by the false belief that we need make no action and that it is all about God, we are left with an entirely different sort of self-righteousness. We come to the point of saying that we have Grace simply by believing in it. That is, we think that it is what we think that grants us God’s love - so we have descended to a self-righteousness not of physical actions but of thoughts.
We argue theology day by day. We pick and choose our spiritual heroes. We form lines in the sand over how we understand particular points. We become upset and horrified at people thinking differently than us - And we are self-righteous and absent Grace and know not Christ.
Now these points are particularly subtle, extraordinarily so. This is why this is the latest and greatest of Satan’s defeats to our Faith. For is it necessary that we believe in Christ and the necessity of Grace and in the love of God? Yes, most definitely – And yet we can believe such words and not have any of those! In fact, we can believe many many more words than all that and have even less!
The trouble comes down to the fact that all these thoughts still have not accepted Grace. You can believe all you want that Christ’s hand is reaching down to you and that it is necessary for you to take it, but if you do not take it you simply do not have it. The act of taking that hand does requires the thought to take that hand and we have failed by equating simply thinking about taking that hand with actually taking it. So in this way we are left in a world of thoughts and absent Grace.
Our self-righteousness becomes one of imagining that if we think hard enough and strong enough and with enough conviction about the means and method of taking God’s hand and the shape of that hand and about where that hand is going to lift us, we will have attained what that hand offers. In simpler terms, if someone invites me and my friend to a walk in the park and we say no and instead imagine walking in the park, have we actually walked in the park? I might make a better guess than my friend at what the weather is like in the park and my friend might make a better guess at how long the walk will be and we both might well enough predict where the walk would traverse, but have either of us actually walked in the park? And yet, we delude ourselves into believing that if we imagine well enough and accurately enough about the walk in the park it is the same as walking in the park! We as Christians believe that if we imagine and believe and know enough things about God and Christ and Grace we will have those things!!!
And so it is that we argue and envy and despise anyone who contradicts us or our thoughts on Christ. We hate and judge in proportion to how overtly contradictory their assertion is to whatever ideas we have accepted. And in all of this, we know the least part of Christ and Grace. To be fair, we may even know accurately about these things, but we do not know these things! Do you meet someone’s strange assertions about God with curiosity and love, or at the very least sympathy? If not, then you are intellectually self-righteous and know not grace. For if you knew Grace you would not need your self-righteousness and would not need to violently argue or judge your fellow human brother or sister. You would not feel threatened. You would not feel frustrated. You would not be absent of love. You would not be absent of Christ. – And yet, even here, in this error, Christ waits with loving arms, not just hands, waiting to pick us up and let us truly know him and love!
To see how incredible this Grace is, let us return again to Levi. When Jesus walked up to Levi, was it necessary for Levi to know this was Jesus? If Levi did not know that this was Jesus. If in contradiction to all other evidence he thought it was some random bum off the street, and yet followed, would he have received any less of the blessings of Christ? Of course not! You see that the Grace is in the following, not in the knowing or thinking. Now, if Levi were to have made believe that Jesus did not exist and that no one was calling him to follow, would he have missed Grace? Yes. However, as long as we recognize Christ’s presence and follow, whether we believe him teacher, beggar, liar, or even Jesus, nothing else matters – there is the same benefit for all perspectives! Levi has shown us that all that matters is following, and that as long as we follow, false beliefs and thoughts can do nothing to us! Such is the wonder of Grace!

** A note on the usefulness of correction **

All of the discussion presented so far has relied greatly on what Grace does not look like to provide proof of its absence. Henceforth, it is of interest to talk, in more hopeful and brilliant life, about what Grace is and how it benefits. In both the former and proceeding cases of negative and positive, the contradictions presented are for the purpose of showing the need to seek out and accept Christ and Grace. On this point, it is the nature of Grace and Christ to point out errors and fallacies, which we Christians certainly do well enough. However, the entire urgency of Graceful pointing is absolutely for the purpose of directing hearts to Christ. By pointing out lack of love to the Pharisees, Christ was pointing out the need for love and thereby the need for himself. It was out of love and the desire to lead others into His Grace that Christ corrected others. This is the only useful means of contradiction. To contradict as we do today, simply for the sake of ‘asserting truth’, is to waste breath and at its best, is merely a means of sustaining self-righteousness. To contradict for the sake of opening another’s eyes that they might see Christ and then long after Him better, not just for ‘opening another’s eyes’, is the only benefit of contradiction. Contradiction as a means purely of judging another and finding them incorrect is a motivation of pride and sin. In one is self-service, in the other love and selflessness.
Further, the nature of Christ does not actually care about the correction of things pointed out. That is, errors are irrelevant in contrast to the need of Christ they point out. In this way Grace does not seek to instruct others in a manner of correcting appearances, but in the manner of seeking Christ. If anything is amiss, Grace instructs ignorance of that error and focus on Christ and from the focus on Christ correction of that error (and correction of many other errors unmentioned and unperceivable) will come. In this way one does not say, “You are not caring for you neighbor” with the intent of the offender actually then going and caring for their neighbor. Rather, they say it with intent that they go and accept the Grace of Christ. And then following this acceptance, the offender will be filled with such love that can not but help caring for their neighbor, (and their brother, and their parents, and those living in distant cities, and all of creation.) All of this is the manner of Christ’s correction, and it cares least of all about focus on correcting any error pointed out. It abides that error quietly in love for the sake of love that the one in wrong may find God’s love. This is Grace, and if it were not this way, none of us could ever stand under the burden of all our faithlessness.

** The necessity and birth of Childishness by Grace **

Grace is God giving us his love and blessings without any other requirement upon us than that we acknowledge and follow Christ. The blessings of God are the assurance of his ultimate rescue through all things, the assurance of his ultimate eternal presence, and the assurance of his ultimate unending sustenance in the realm of Heaven. In a word, Security. The blessings of God are Security. They are a security unlike any security the world offers. This Security is what people long after when they seek the Divine through the plans of all their self-righteousness. And, quite simply, it is for this reason that Grace frees us from self-righteousness and any effort of our own to attain Security. We have Security as a perpetual guarantee written upon our hearts and are thereby free to give up all the struggles of the world.
Now, if we have Security without the need of self-righteousness, what things does this means we can give up and cast off? Mostly, it means that we can give up all the rules imposed by the self-righteous and we can give up the need for strength. For truly, the only purpose of gathering strength in this world is for self-righteousness. In the world of Christ’s Light, He desires to be our strength and wash our feet and give us ease. This does not mean that we will not gain strength, for actually we gain far more strength by Grace than we ever would have by our most violent efforts – again, such is Grace. What this simply means is that we need not be focused on gathering and accounting for strength.
The greatest antonym known today for strength and pedantry of rules, is childishness. And what is childishness? Childishness is the naïve belief that one is protected, secure, can play whatever, can run free without a single care and all this for merely trusting completely and again naively in the absolute power and love of a parent. Effectually, Childishness is then Christianity, for God is our Perfect Parent.
Now, some will say that there are still rules even here, and that will be gotten to, but for the mean time consider that all of this is exactly what Christ intended when he called us to meet him like children. We were called to fear not the world’s judgment, to play each day of our life, and to depend completely and ultimately on him with the same clinginess of any child. For that is exactly what it means to be a child. And if we do truly believe in Christ and accept Grace and have Security, then why should we not be this way? As everything we are to have comes through Grace by God’s power and not the world’s, then we really do not need fear anything the world can do to us. If we are freed by Grace from the struggles and efforts of attaining Security, then what is left to do but play each and every moment of our lives? And if all of this does come by Grace from Christ, then how can we not ravenously and fearfully check every moment to see that Christ is always there beside us within grasp? This is all the pattern of a true Christian life. These are the trappings of Grace.
Childishness can not exist within the world of strength and self-righteousness. Pure childishness requires the complete and perfect service of another. If self-righteousness is all about what we can do for ourselves, and a child is meant to trust to have to do nothing for themselves, then self-righteousness seeks to kill the child. And how does it do this, rather, how do we in all our self-righteousness do this? Day by day we demand and require children to learn how to support themselves. We tell them day by day to play less, to do more for themselves, and to behave in a manner of fearing what the world will do to them. We do not teach them that they can be children and have Security, but rather that Security is only attained by killing the child in them. We teach them this because we were taught this because the world taught us this. And that is exactly the point; the world taught us this, not Christ. If we truly had Grace, we would not teach this to our children and to each other. We would simply have no need to teach and propagate this living death of self-righteousness. We would see how much better it is to become children. More than that, we would be instantly transformed by Grace into children as that is all that would be left to us after being lifted out of darkness.
In the world of the self-righteous, the weak serve the strong. For the strong force the weak to serve, doling out strength and the promise of Security as a reward for service. Strength is a necessity to force one’s way to the top and hopefully somehow attain Security. And no weak or strong person can do anything to change this system because there is always someone stronger enforcing the system.
In the world of Grace, the strong serve the weak. For the strong have no need of serving themselves since they (and the weak) have Security. And as the strong are strong, it makes little sense that it should be any other way than that they should serve the weak. Quite simply, the strong are much better at serving the weak than the weak are at serving the strong. By the presence of Love through Grace, it is the desire of everyone to serve everyone else. There is no frustration in this service and no conflict over serving - as that is not the loving desire to serve another but the hateful and selfish desire to serve one’s own plans and pride. Graceful service bears total patience, total empathy, and total joy. No one bemoans their weakness. No one bemoans the modesty of their service - for cares about the gloriousness of one’s abilities and the grandness of service are cares only of the self-righteous who still struggle for Security. Those in Grace do not only think they are freed, but are actually freed from this care. And, in the world of Grace, since each person has Security, each person rarely has any need, and play predominates and play becomes service. In truth, play is nothing more than the desire to serve expressing itself through each player pretending to have a need to be served. Each pretends to be less than they are that the other might be more. This is true playfulness and true Childishness. All of this is true Grace.
Now, as far as rules are concerned within the freedom of Childishness in Christ, rules are the commands of God. However, they are no different than the rules of earthly parents: “Look both ways before you cross the street”, “Brush your teeth before you go to bed”, “Don’t hit your sister”. Each of these rules is intended for our protection and uplifting and each of these rules requires no more strength or effort than we already have. And this is the difference between the world’s rules and the rules of the true God. They are not burdensome, are not filled with malice, and do not demand our ‘growth’ and the death of our childish nature. As such, these rules are nothing more than God in all his strength serving us who are weaker, and require in no way self-righteousness or strength in trade for love. If they did, they would be rules of the world and not gifts of God.
Grace creates the Childishness commanded by Christ. Without this Childishness, there cannot be Grace. And if there is not Grace, there is not Christ. And yet, with Grace, the constantly offered Grace, look what life there is! Look, to be a child, to be free, to have Security, and to have Christ, all for ever! And what does Christ ask!? Merely that you follow him and accept Grace!

Friday, March 21, 2008

CommonLisp; Also, The Silver Chair... and Abstract thought

So, OOP has been too ingrained in my skull for me to properly use Scheme for an AI project I have to do, so I've decided to use CommonLisp- It's still Lisp, right? I now know full well why people say "CommonLisp is more powerful than Scheme." There are some really useful things you can do easily with CommonLisp. However, I also know full well why people say "CommonLisp is ugly and convoluted compared to Scheme." Line-noise like this: (format t "~{~a:~10t~a~%~}~%" cd) is why I don't want to learn perl... And I now have to deal with it when programming in lisp. Granted, it does a lot, but is it really worth memorizing all the syntax? Probably, but also definitely not.

On a (probably) more interesting note, I really, really love the scene in the Silver Chair during which the Queen tries to convince the children, the prince, and Puddleglum that Narnia is a dream. Her arguments, which fall absolutely flat when you're outside the scope of the novel are used so often. Of course we can't explain God's presence, it isn't something we have a concrete understanding of.
How does someone with Synesthesia describe the shift and change of colors as they hear music? How does one describe the sun to a blind man? Music to the deaf? Snow to someone from the tropics? A computer to a tribesman?
Answer: In metaphor and simile.
But of course metaphors and similes will present the object in question as a twisted version of the concrete object it is being compared to, rather than a distinct object with a similar sensation.

I can (sort of) understand how a synesthesiac thinks, because I have a similarly abstract and incommunicable thought-process. The best way, I think, to describe it is as imagism. I perceive, with all 5 senses and abstract thought an "emotional and intellectual complex" whenever reading, writing, drawing, seeing, doing math, coding, ...
My thought process is a string of Pound-ian images, which shift, move, fall, rise, appear and disappear in conjunction with everything that enters my brain through any medium. There are uncountably many stories, scenes, colors, sounds, tastes, ideas and so much more that pass through my mind every second, and over any period of time, and also distinct from time.

So, how does this relate to synesthesia? If I equate these images to colors (or whichever other sensation the synesthesiac perceives), I see the same thing.

Moving back to my string of questions, is there any way to truly describe my thought process? I've given a quick description; everything I said is true, but there is so much more to the mental "image" than the scenes and Pound-ian images I've described.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Weight of Glory

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about The Weight of Glory by CS Lewis. It is a truly excellent analysis of the Christian experience. But from the second or third day after we read it in Small group, something has bugged me about it. I think I finally have a coherent enough "argument" at this point to actually put it online.

Let me preface this by saying that I really do admire and respect CS Lewis. Not only was he a great apologist, but he was clearly a man abounding in faith-- a man who seemed to sit and enjoy God's presence constantly.
That being said, we Christians have an obsession with the afterlife. Not that the afterlife is bad, or anything we shouldn't look forward to, but God's presence and spirit here, now, is so beautiful and so amazing, and so ignored. Throughout the essay, Lewis talks about the "proper reward" of various things. The "proper reward" of love is marriage; the "proper reward" of fighting is victory; he likewise discusses food in metaphor, and (he may actually say this) were he to name the "proper reward" of food, I can hardly imagine it would be anything but health.

Does something seem missing in all of these cases? I submit that there is. You do not fall in love in order to marry; there is no justice in deciding to fight solely because you will achieve victory; food is not merely a way to avoid illness, weakness and death.
Marriage is the proper reward of correct and sustained love, but love comes with more immediate, more beautiful and tangible rewards. Victory is the end reward of proper combat, but fighting for victor as an end is perverse. Health is the end reward of eating, but if you eat solely for sustenance, you will never enjoy food, and you are quite truly eating wrong.

There are, to every action, an immediate reward-- which I will call the excitement-- and an eventual reward-- which I will call the fulfillment. Any action done with no consideration of the fulfillment is sinful-- aesthetic as Kierkegaard puts it, hedonistic would be the more common word. Likewise, any action done with no consideration for the excitement is self-denial-- the actions of the knight of infinite sorrow, according to Kierkegaard, ascetic is a more understood term.
This latter action, self-denial, is the "unselfishness" that Lewis speaks out against in the fist paragraph of his essay. You are denying your immediate excitement because you know that the fulfillment of your action is "good".

But! There is so much more to what God has for us than heaven. There is so much on earth, so many beautiful things that God has given, and so many incredible ways He spends time with us, and enlightens us. We are missing God completely if we hope only for the fulfillment-- even the "selfish" fulfillment of heaven. God is here, right now! And He wants you to be excited in Him. Do not simply drudge along waiting for heaven, because you will get bored and distracted and all will be lost. How long can you eat food only for sustenance before you despise the sight of food? But if you eat food not only for sustenance, but also for enjoyment, how much more will you want food! Then, you will acquire a taste for so much finer, more complex and exciting foods that you would have missed completely if you had neglected your taste-buds.

So it is with God. Seek God's beauty out, and leave heaven at the back of your mind, except when God brings it to the forefront. And you will develop a taste for beautiful things God has done and will continue to do that you would have misunderstood, or disliked, or missed completely.

God is beautiful! God is exciting! And that excitement is tangible and real and all around us!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On Abstraction and Education

I had started writing a rather in-depth post a while ago, and sort of lost the drive... Here's how far I got. It is a complete thought (mostly), but it isn't everything I wanted to talk about... Ce'st la vie.

Abstraction is at the heart of knowledge, at the heart of learning, and thus, education. It works as follows:
Start with something we have a concrete understanding of. Now, decide there are certain properties of this object that we are interested in, and everything else is unimportant. Now create (in your mind) a conceptual version of that object with only those properties you are interested in. This is the abstraction step. The beautiful thing is that you now can analyze those properties that are interesting. The other beautiful (and perhaps more useful) thing is that you can now find another concrete object which shares the interesting properties, and you will now know things about it. It doesn't matter whether any other property is different, there will be properties of this new object which you have already analyzed.

This is how education works. Abstraction. Take something the student knows and abstract the object so that you only pay attention to the properties which will tie it to the next thing they need to learn. Through this abstraction, the student has a lens through which to view the new, unknown object. A good educator will not only make an abstraction clear (not necessarily explicit), but will show the abstract relation between the new object and multiple known objects.

There are, of course, other very important things in education. I realized a few of these tonight as I was helping Danielle learn to program. Perhaps more important than clear abstraction is do not let the student take a passive role. This is reiterated everywhere, and I'm sure my readers (all 2 of you) will have heard it somewhere. But it tends to be meaningless babble if it isn't explained. So I will explain, using my experience this evening as an example.

First, you must force the student to think. This is, perhaps, the hardest part. It is especially difficult when the student is frustrated with the subject material (as is often the case when tutoring someone). A frustrated or disinterested student will not want to put in the mental effort required to draw connections to previous understanding (read: to abstract). If you can force the student to think about the material, she will move from the known ideas to the abstract without you, and you can focus on shaping the lens, and pointing out key differences between the previous and new material. So, how do you get someone to think?

An answer (among others) is the Socratic Method. Pose questions which lead the the student toward the knowledge you are trying to pass on. If she is stuck, either explain a little more information that is related to the answer, and re-ask the original question, or ask a new, more specific question. In this way, you provide them a context and framework with which to understand the new knowledge. Looking at our example: At the beginning of the night, Danielle was not only lost, but not even trying. As the night continued on, I first began explaining what I was doing to change what she had done (basically copied), and then began to ask her questions, leading her to write her own code, in her own style.

By the end of the night, she was finishing her code by herself with almost no prompting by me, and I was able to focus on correcting small details and providing notes that would make her code cleaner or more efficient. By forcing her to actively think, my position as instructor changed from "I'll show her what I'm doing" to "I'll provide additional knowledge to help her do this better." In essence, I changed from a position of carrying her along, to a position of pointing out paths for her. Granted, she still has a lot to learn, but I was helping her for less than 2 hours, and she went from knowing nearly nothing, to anticipating what I was going to tell her. The amazing thing is that by putting in that extra care and effort, it actually made it easier for me and in the end, easier for her. It was harder for both of us at the beginning but once she started to pick it up, it went very smoothly and efficiently. She accomplished more in the last 10 minutes than in the first 45.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

If We Taught English the Way We Teach Mathematics...

This was originally posted by "Coryoth" (interesting, same name) on K5. It's an interesting approach to the subject, but I think it's pretty good. There's probably more to say on the subject, but he gets the point across: [Edit! It seems it was first posted by Leland McInnes at The Narrow Road, which I highly, highly recommend you read, as it is even better than the following]

Imagine that your only contact with "English" as a subject was through classes in school. Suppose that those classes, from elementary school right through to high school, amounted to nothing more than reading dictionaries, getting drilled in spelling and formal grammatical construction, and memorizing vast vocabulary lists -- you never read a novel, nor a poem; never had contact with anything beyond the pedantic complexity of English spelling and formal grammar, and precise definitions for an endless array of words. You would probably hate the subject.

You might come to wonder what the point of learning English was. In response perhaps the teachers and education system might decide that, to help make English relevant to students, they need to introduce more "Applied English". This means teaching English students with examples from "real life" (for varying degrees of "real") where English skills are important, like how to read a contract and locate the superfluous comma. Maybe (in an effort by the teachers to be "trendy") you'll get lessons on formal diary composition so you can better update your MySpace page. All of that, of course, will be taught using a formulaic cookbook approach based on templates, with no effort to consider underlying principles or the larger picture. Locating the superfluous comma will be a matter of systematically identifying subjects, objects, and verbs and grouping them into clauses until the extra comma has been caught. Your diary will be constructed from a formal template that leaves a few blanks for you to fill in. Perhaps you might also get a few tasks that are just the same old drills, just with a few mentions of "real world" things to make them "Applied": "Here is an advertisement for carpets. How many adjectives does it contain?".

In such a world it wouldn't be hard to imagine lots of people developing "English anxiety", and most people having a general underlying dislike for the subject. Many people would simply avoid reading books because of the bad associations with English class in school. With so few people taking a real interest in the subject, teachers who were truly passionate about English would become few and far between. The result, naturally, would be teachers who had little real interest in the subject simply following the drilling procedures outlined in the textbooks they were provided; the cycle would repeat again, with students even worse off this time.

And yet this is very much how mathematics tends to be taught in our schools today. There is a great focus on the minutiae of the subject, and almost no effort to help students grasp the bigger picture of why the subject might be interesting, and what it can say about us, and about the world. Mathematics has become hopelessly detail oriented. There is more to mathematics than mindlessly learning formulas and recipes for solving problems. And just like our imaginary example, the response to students lack of interest in mathematics has only served to make the problem worse. The "applications" and examples of using the mathematics in the "real world" are hopelessly contrived at best, and completely artificial at worst, and still keep a laser like focus on formulas and memorizing methods without ever understanding why they work.

Of course the opposite situation, with no focus on details, can be just as bad. Indeed, that is where English instruction finds itself today, with students never learning the spelling, formal grammar, and vocabulary needed to decently express the grand big picture ideas they are encouraged to explore. What is needed is a middle ground. Certainly being fluent in the basic skills of mathematics is necessary, just as having a solid grounding in spelling and grammar is necessary. What is lacking in mathematics instruction is any discussion of what mathematics is, and why mathematics works as well as it does.

The discovery and development of mathematics is one of the great achievements of mankind -- it provides the foundation upon which almost of all modern science and technology rests. This is because mathematics, as the art of abstraction, provides us the with ability to make simple statements that have incredibly broad application. For example, the reason that numbers and arithmetic are so unreasonably effective is that they describe a single simple property that every possible collection possesses, and a set of rules that are unchanged regardless of the specific nature of the collections involved. No matter what collection you consider, abstract or concrete, it has a number that describes its size; no matter what type of objects your collections are made up of, the results of arithmetic operations will always describe the resulting collection accurately. Thus the simple statement that 2 + 3 = 5 is a statement that describes the behaviour of every possible collection of 2 objects, and every possible collection of 3 objects. Algebra can be viewed the same way, except that instead of abstracting over collections we are abstracting over numbers: elementary algebra is the combination of objects that represent any possible number (as numbers represent any possible collection with the given quantity), and the set of arithmetic rules for which all numbers behave identically. Numbers let us speak about all possible collections, and algebra lets us speak about all possible numbers. Each layer of abstraction allows us to use an ever broader brush with which to paint our vision of the world.

If you climb up those layers of abstraction you can use that broad brush to paint beautiful pictures -- the vast scope of the language that mathematics gives you allows simple statements to draw together and connect the unruly diversity of the world. A good mathematical theorem can be like a succinct poem; but only if the reader has the context to see the rich connections that the theorem lays bare. Without the opportunity to step back and see the forest for the trees, to see the broad landscape that the abstract nature of mathematics allows us to address, it is rare for people to see the elegance of mathematical statements. By failing to address how mathematics works, how it speaks broadly about the world, and what it means, we hobble children's ability to appreciate mathematics -- how can they appreciate something when they never learn what it is? The formulas and manipulations children learn, while a necessary part of mathematics, are ultimately just the mechanics of the subject; equally important is why those mechanics are valuable, not just in terms of what they can do, but in terms of why they can do so much.

So why is it that this broader view is so rarely taught? There are, of course, many reasons, and it is not worth trying to discuss them all here. Instead I will point to one reason, for which clear remedies to exist, and immediate action could be taken. That reason is, simply, that far too many people who teach mathematics are unaware of the this broader view themselves. It is unfortunately the case that it is only at the upper levels of education, such as university, that any broader conception about mathematics becomes apparent. Since it is rare for people going into elementary school teaching to take any university level mathematics, the vast majority of elementary teachers -- the math teachers for all our children in their early years -- have little real appreciation of mathematics. They teach the specific trees outlined in textbooks, with no real idea of forest. A simple but effective measure that could be taken is to provide stronger incentives and encouragement for prospective elementary school teachers to take extra math; whether it takes the form of courses, or math clubs, doesn't matter, the aim is to get teachers more involved and better exposed to mathematics in general so that they can become familiar with the richer world beyond the specific formulas and algorithms. This exact approach was tried in Finland as part of their LUMA project starting in 1992. As a result the number of teachers graduating with higher level had increased dramatically by 1999. And the results are also clear: Finland finished first, showing continued improvement in mathematics and science, in the 2003 PISA survey of the reading, math, and science skills of 15-year-olds in OECD countries (Finland finished second, just behind Hong Kong, in the mathematics section). Finland has continued to do extremely well in other more recent (though less major) studies.

Whether you view mathematics as an important subject or not, it is hard to deny that, currently, it is being taught poorly in many countries around the world. With such scope for improvement, and clear examples such as Finland showing the way, isn't it time that we took at least some of the obvious steps toward improving the quality of mathematics education?

Creative Commons License Cory Knapp.