WMBriggs Podcast 20 Apr 2016 — The End Of All History

Lights Out clip, followed by the approach of Mars by Holst.

If, as claimed by humanism, man were born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to death, his task on earth evidently must be more spiritual: not a total engrossment in everyday life, not the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then their carefree consumption. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become above all an experience of moral growth: to leave life a better human being than one started it.

This is from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his infamous Harvard address of 1978, a speech that shocked the bejeebers out of Western cultural elites. How dare Solzhenitsyn mention truth, veritas! How could he imply that we were not marching forward, but falling backwards into spiritual sickness! Spiritual health more important than materialistic wealth? Madness! (Links to speech: pdf, video.)

As rich as that speech is, we take here only one element from it, the truth that man is partly a spiritual being.

One day there was on this earth a creature that was not here the day before. Man. Everyone, from pagan to Christian to scidolator agrees with this. Man was different than any other life form. Man was a rational being.

Now what it means to be rational is this: to exercise will and intellect. Those parts of us that have this power are not material, which is to say, they are not made of stuff, material or energy. They are incorporeal, immaterial. This means that evolution, by whatever physical mechanism it is said to work, could not have produced these powers. Why? Because there was no stuff upon which to make purchase, and therefore no environmental “pressure” could manipulate or create these higher functions. This is also proof, incidentally, that we are not a “simulation” inside some giant computer, which has implications we’ll see and which is necessarily physical (even quantum objects—forces, fields and particles—are physical).

Will and intellect exist, as proved by your eyes scanning these words and understanding or comprehending their meaning, by seizing the concepts behind them rationally. Since these powers exist, they are actual, and therefore they must have been made actual by something—but not something physical.

Well, the “where from” answer is obvious. They came from God (see this series for proof). That fact has consequences which we obliged to understand. We’ll not be able to do that here, except by gross hints.

BBC Radio clip.

That’s point one. Point two is that the physical stuff that does exist also had to come from somewhere. It could not have come from nothing, which is defined as the complete and utter absence of anything. Again, the explanation, without proof given, is God. Another fact, more consequences.

Scientists take the material existence as given, and biologists take the stuff of which we are made as given, and both attempt, with greater and lesser success, to understand how this stuff works. These scientists are powerless to explain the Big Question of Why, however; they are forever silent on the nature, the essence, of the non-material, which, as I said, comprises the most important parts of us and the universe. Only philosophy and theology can answer Why.

That being so, if we’re to grasp where we came from and where we are going, we need to develop a philosophy or theology of history. The science of history is taken care of by physicists (and biologists). Scientists start with what is, posit working rules, and then guess what might happen. They are not always right, but, and this point is incidental, their confidence in their ability is never shaken by failure. Scientists have egos larger than actors. In any case, the theorems and predictions of science help on the peripheries our of philosophy of history, but they cannot provide everything.

What else have we going for us, to inform our new philosophy? History itself. We have a long record of what has happened, more or less complete and more and less biased. Does it appear from this record that things just happen, that history is one damned thing after another? Or is there a direction to events? If there is a direction, why? And pointing to what?

History can’t even be written without reference to a theory, and theories imply direction. If you want to write history, what time scale do you pick? What to include, what to exclude? What scope? Why these events and not those? And always there is contrast with now and with where the author expects mankind to go.

Prove this to yourself. You want to write about World War II. What is that, exactly? When did it really start? Stalin ruled Russia. How far back do you go in explaining this? Marx? Well, would there have been a Marx—in what sense does that question make sense?—without a Kant and Hegel (the first progressive?)? If not, how far back before Kant do we go? And so on and on and on. Editorial, i.e. theoretical, decisions are inevitable. Removing anachronisms, i.e. theories, is all but impossible. And it should be by now obvious that writing history logically implies that human nature exists, which means it must be understood properly to write proper history.

It is propaganda of the so-called Enlightenment that only in the 17th century did we as a race realize that mankind was could progress. Yet it was then that progress took on its modern connotation of something desirable, or good. That we could progress towards an undesirable goal is now unthinkable. Did we not recently have a popular slogan “Change we can believe in”? Those touting it had no awareness that “change”, in their hands, could be negative. To progress is entirely positive.

BBC Radio 4 clip.

What are the large threads that run through history? There is no way to summarize everything that happened here, but what is at least plain to everybody? At one point there were very many fewer of us, indeed only one, and perforce located in only one spot, and now there are many of us and spread everywhere. That is progress in a positive sense, if you cherish people. It’s curious, and important, that it is not seen a progress by those who aren’t fond of people.

Man was, when fewer in number, much more tribal than now (for obvious reasons of geology and technology, if nothing else). People never got along, but now we have acquired ways of killing each other with extraordinary efficiency. The beliefs we held have changed. When there were fewer of us (at any one time; so far there have been about 100 billion of us), a greater majority believed in the non-material aspects of ourselves and of the universe. These beliefs varied more, too, but then we were, as said, more tribal.

Now that there are many of us, the belief in ultimate Reality (immateriality) is fading. This is strange because we have also, over the last 100 years or so, developed better and more efficient capabilities to learn. Despite these tools, we are becoming more ignorant. Six, seven thousand years ago a man would watch the course of the sun through the sky and suppose a god had carried it. We have “progressed” to the point where we scoff at this man, and say only “blind” physics is needed to account for the movement. But this ancient man had it over us, because he was at least aware, as today’s man is not, that physics is no explanation at all for the Why of the thing. The ancient man at least tried to answer that most important question of spirituality. Modern man says the question isn’t even legitimate. How odd it is!

Here’s another point of change. Long ago, man viewed mankind itself as a given. That is, he took men as he found them. He explained the reason for man and his nature on the caprices of gods, whose designs were unfathomable and quixotic, to say the least. These answers, good or bad, recognized the existence of a fixed human nature and were at least aimed in the right direction. Our ancestors knew there had to be ultimate spiritual answers.

The melancholy view of man’s purpose was modified by people of The Book (we won’t argue here the entry requirements for these people), who, like pagans, took human nature for granted. With pagans, Book people recognized man’s corrupt and unfixable state. The advance was that Book people understood God, and not the gods, was the answer to the Big Questions. More than any before, these people looked forward to the time after this physical existence, and ordered their lives accordingly—though not, given our faults, altogether successfully.

Finally we reach the “present”, which is that which happened “yesterday.” A large portion of us believe that perfection is possible, that, as said, directed progress (by the enlightened) is always good, that the answer to all questions ultimately is Man himself. Perfection can be reached, and will! But only after those that cling to the older beliefs are, to put it as bluntly as is felt in the hearts of modern man, eliminated. Those that can’t be educated in the new way must be shunned. These living artifacts—they are cursed as “medieval”—are holding back man’s true potential that bridles to be set free.

If you are a modern, you see history as one steady uphill struggle, starting from the muck, slogging upwards through a moral thicket, shedding prejudice after prejudice. It’s a guess, but I’d say most moderns imagine they can see the peak just ahead, perhaps not reachable in their lifetime, but soon, soon. Moderns have a sense mankind is evolving into a superior being. In science fiction, this being is portrayed as an entity composed of “pure” energy, or the like (energy is material, however). This advanced being is a creature that does not suffer our bodily woes and has advanced beyond our cares and hates.

What makes this weird is that the modern, when he watches or reads these myths, feels he is taking part in a grand scheme, that he will and now shares in this future being’s greatness. Interestingly, in these stories what happens after the grand transformation is never spoken of. This isn’t necessarily a failing. How can an imperfect man describe perfection except imperfectly? Beings of pure energy needn’t be free form. Another form of the myth imagines “we” will be “uploaded” into some computer (who fixes it when it breaks?). The same theme of bodily limitations left behind is found, and the same notion of eternal life embraced.

National Lampoon clip.

If you are one of the remnant (i.e., people of The Book) that believes in Reality, you see history as a sort of large foothill, progressing from despair and hopelessness to an intermediate pinnacle of recognizing our true selves, our True Nature, and then comes a falling off into a deep valley of the grandest hubris that can be imagined. You see that not only can mankind not be perfected, but that all attempts to make him so will be destructive and lead to an apocalypse.

After the valley, history stops. Yet beyond this valley is a far off peak from which no descent will be possible. At that apex is found some of the same benefits Perfectionists envision. Surcease of sorrow, elimination of bodily limitation and illness, eternal life. And a realization of life with the central blot of man’s nature removed; a new heaven and a new earth populated by not new men, but men restored.

You see, then, that everybody has a philosophy and theology of history. Theodicy and eschatology are not only for the religious. Nobody really believes, at least for very long, that events “just happen.” Both groups, Perfectionists and Realists, look forward towards a great future. It’s that amazing! Yet the Perfectionists would reach their goal by turning inward and ignoring Reality, which is why they won’t make it. Reality is intrusive and insistent. Incorporeal intellect, for instance, cannot be uploaded into a machine—how could it? Our blighted nature can only truly be corrected by forces beyond, or rather outside, man’s control and outside material things.

Perfectionists and Realists envision an end. Timing? I haven’t the slightest idea. Both sides have advocates who try and rush The End, and both groups are in turn overly optimistic and overly pessimistic. The goal is said always to be in sight. Predictions fail, like with scientists, but it never stops anybody from making new ones. Whichever way you pick, history will come to an end.

Holst’s Mars. The BBC’s end of the world, part II. And I cut Tannhauser off at the end, the best part! Rats rats rats! Double rats!

Scientism Of The First Kind: Science Shows Laptops Distract Students

https://twitter.com/mattstat/status/722028191582445568

Here’s the headline. (It’s NPR, so don’t expect much.) “Attention Students: Put Your Laptops Away”. And here’s the relevant sad bit:

For one thing, research shows that laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting — it’s so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture. And a study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run.

Research shows. Research shows. Research shows. Research shows that two of the most dismal words in the English language are “research shows.”

Only scientism of the first kind accounts for the necessity to undertake a study to discover whether laptops can distract students.

Scientism of the first kind, as pithily described in the tweet linked at top (or here), is the idea that only facts certified by scientists, or by experiment, or that have been studied in some official way, are worthy of attention and that all other knowledge is suspicious, dangerous, or false.

Commonsense and routine observation can’t be trusted because they might—might—lead to error. So even though all experience shows laptops, and other “devices”, are distracting at some times to some students in some situations, laptops might not be distracting in some future group at some time in some place. Or something.

This is confused because it’s not clear what the objection is to the commonplace observation that laptops distract. Perhaps it’s that knowing, via plain observation, laptops distract does not quantify the phenomenon. We can’t put a number on the precise number of students in some future class who will be distracted. Hunger for needless quantification is another symptom of scientism.

Heck, we don’t even know if all races, sexes, sexual desires, class types, times of day, income statuses, and on and on and on are equally distractable. There may be disparities! Can you imagine the horror if white men were to be discovered, via a formal study, to be less distracted than, say, female transsexuals?

I’m teasing, but my joke has a good chance of being true (I refuse to check).

Obviously, one reason for scientism is the relentless desire for academics to publish something, anything, that resembles scholarship. Since there are so many academics, publications rise like a tsunami. A peer in need of a paper will see the journal article “Laptops distract (p < magic number)” and will realize that, while this is a fine study, it hasn’t been conducted in introductory sociology courses at universities of the type he coincidentally works at. And is there a difference between tablets and laptops? Let’s test!

So he’ll repeat the study, and add to the world’s knowledge by an infinitesimal amount. Given that he’ll use statistics, he’ll, like everybody, forget that correlation isn’t causation, and use the certified-by-hypothesis-tests correlations to “prove” various theories about why laptops distract.

Suddenly, then, there are two papers on this most important subject. There are many more than two academics, however, and they all need papers (their hunger for them is insatiable), and so a few more will enter the burgeoning new sub-sub-sub-field of laptop distraction studies. Soon, one will speak of the “literature” of laptop distractions.

The whole thing will take the patina of science. It all looks so formal! At that point, none would dare write a news story in a respected outlet without seeking a quote from an authority, a quote which will begin with the words “Research shows…”

Too gloomy an outlook? NPR continues:

In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how note-taking by hand or by computer affects learning.

“When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

Look at all those words to say what everybody already knew! Note the serious tone. The story continues:

Mueller and Oppenheimer cited that note-taking can be categorized two ways: generative and nongenerative. Generative note-taking pertains to ‘summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping,’ while nongenerative note-taking involves copying something verbatim.

We finally reach theory, the most essential part of any scientific work, because it is theory that leads to the four most-cherished words in any paper: “More research is needed.”

New & Improved Way To Support Your Favorite Blog!

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Uncontrolled gleeful trembling is the most common symptom upon learning the Big News that there is a New & Improved! way to support the blog! You know this method must be good because of the exclamation points!

Gone are the old clunky forms and necessity of using Paypal. In is the simplest possible tool. Just fill in your email and credit card number and voila, you’re done.

A peek at what the form looks like is at the top of this post. Click here to go to the (encrypted!) Donations page, or use the menu bar under the header image to see it in the flesh.

There are two ways to help: Donations (enter any amount you wish) and Subscriptions (charged monthly; again, enter any large amount which pleases you).

I’m deprecating Paypal. Subscribers who use it may continue to do so for as long as they wish, but new subscribers should use credit cards. I’ll be emailing Paypal users to let them know they need change nothing, or they may switch to the new way.

Like I say on the Donations page, it costs about $35 a month to run the site, which includes serving and DNS fees, SSL certificate, software charges and the like. Your support will go directly to this…

…and also to me. Don’t forget Yours Truly is, except for two weeks a year, is completely totally positively entirely unconditionally independent. Which is a polite, euphemistic way to say we’re on our own, dear reader; it’s just you and me.

What you get

Daily posts on topics from marbles to music, from homeopathy to holidays, from fallacies to forecasts, from probabilities to progress.

Yes, and many, many more, with a special focus on the exposure of silly scientism with surrounds us.

The Classic Posts page is worth a browse, if only to note how woefully out-of-date and disorganized it is. (I have to get on this soon.)

Podcasts are back, now on a weekly schedule (every Wednesday). These are available at YouTube (audio only), and here by MP3, which you can subscribe to using your favorite service.

My book is ever-nearer publication, and once it is out, since I cannot be trusted to stand in front of a group of students, because I would tell them hypothesis tests should never, ever be used, that p-values are magic and useless as evidence, that scientists, especially in complex fields, are far more self-certain than they have any right to be, that questionnaires designed to quantify the depths of thought are either silly or harmful, that probability is in our heads and not in things, and many other similar undesired realities, I will instead teach here.

I mean, I’m exploring (and have been for some time) how to do an online class based on the book. Since I now have a microphone, albeit one that makes my voice sound like a Canadian goose with a clothes pin on its nose, I can put up lectures. And don’t even bother telling me it’s “Canada goose.”

Pre-recorded speeches have their place, but they always suffer in comparison with live lectures in front of real audiences (students). Every time I give the “same” lecture it is different, because the group steers the course of the words. This obvious fact is why on-line “degrees” (note they never say education) will always pale next to classroom instruction.

Nevertheless, we’ll work with what we wot, what?

Speaking of lectures

I give ’em. Yes, and talks, seminars, full-bore classes and short courses, too, all priced unreasonably and all cheerfully delivered. The range of topics is the same found here. I have hats for all seasons and am a seasoned traveler.

But I would also love to come into your company (assuming you have one) to show you, if you use statistics in any way, including machine “learning” algorithms and the like, why you are too sure of your results.

This message, true as it is, is never welcomed. How odd.

Emails

God bless you all for sending them in, alerting me of scientism, bad science, diversity run amok, and the rest. I am about two years behind in these. Keep sending them, however. I’m working on it.

Update

We decided today on the subtitle of the book, which will at least make searching for it easier. Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability, & Statistics.

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Unable To Make Square Circles

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

This is long, but, oh my, is it worth it. I beg you will stick with it; just get over the first couple of paragraphs and you will be well rewarded. God can’t change the past, God can’t make square circles, God can’t make something simultaneously exist and not exist. Just look at all the things God can’t do!

Chapter 25 How the Almighty is said to be unable to do certain things (alternate translation)

[1] FROM the foregoing we may gather that though God is almighty, He is nevertheless said to be unable to do certain things.

[2] For it was shown above that in God there is active potentiality: while it had already been proved in the First Book that there is no passive potentiality in Him: whereas we are said to be able in respect of either potentiality. Wherefore God is unable to do those things the possibility of which belongs to passive potentiality. What suchlike things are must be the subject of our inquiry.

Notes Review, active potentiality vs. passive potentiality. Roughly, God can do something vs. nothing can be done to God. Recalling God is Being Itself, the distinction is amplified in the next arguments.

[3] In the first place, then, active potentiality is directed to action, while passive potentiality is directed to being. Consequently potentiality to being is in those things only which have matter subject to contrariety. Since therefore passive potentiality is not in God, He is unable as regards anything that appertains to His being. Therefore God cannot be a body, and so forth.

[4] Again. The act of this passive potentiality is movement. Wherefore God, to Whom passive potentiality is unbecoming, cannot be changed. It may be further concluded that He cannot be changed in respect of each kind of movement: for instance that He cannot be increased, nor diminished, nor altered, nor generated, nor corrupted…

[6] Further. Every failing is in respect of some privation. But the subject of privation is the potentiality of matter. Therefore He can nowise fail…

[10] Again. Since the object and effect of an active potentiality is something made, and since no potentiality is operative, if the ratio of object be lacking,–thus the sight sees not if the actually visible be lacking:–it follows that God is unable to do whatever is contrary to the ratio of being as being, or of made being as made. What these things are, we must inquire.

Notes Ratio of object and being? The alternate translation helps: “The object and effect of an active power is a being made, and no power is operative if the nature of its object is lacking; sight is inoperative in the absence of the actually visible [you can’t see in the dark]. It must therefore be said that God is unable to do whatever is contrary to the nature of being as being, or of made being as made.” Mentally swap nature for ratio to assist in reading.

[11] In the first place that which destroys the ratio of being is contrary to the ratio of being. Now the ratio of being is destroyed by the opposite of being: as the ratio of man is destroyed by the opposite of man or of his parts. Now the opposite of being is not-being. Consequently God is unable to do this, so as to make the one and same thing to be and not to be at the same time; which is for contradictories to be simultaneous.

Notes The principle of metaphysical non-contradiction, anybody?

[12] Again. Contradiction is included in contraries and privative opposites: for to be white and black is to be white and not white, and to be seeing and blind is to be seeing and not seeing. Hence it amounts to the same that God is unable to make opposites to be simultaneously in the same subject and in the same respect.

[13] Moreover. The removal of an essential principle of a thing implies the removal of the thing itself. If, then, God cannot make a thing at the same time to be and not to be, neither can He make a thing to lack any of its essential principles while the thing itself remains: for instance that a man have no soul.

Notes Soul? This.

[14] Further. Since the principles of certain sciences, for instance of logic, geometry, and arithmetic, are taken only from the formal principles of things, on which the essence of those things depends, it follows that God cannot make the contraries of these principles: for instance, that genus be not predicable of species, or that lines drawn from centre to circumference be not equal, or that the three angles of a rectilinear triangle be not equal to two right angles.

Notes Trumpet this to all who say theology isn’t concerned with math and science.

[15] Hence it is also evident that God cannot make the past not to have been. Because this also includes a contradiction, since it is equally necessary for a thing to be while it is, and to have been while it was.

[16] There are also some things which are incompatible with the ratio of thing made, as made. These also God cannot do, since whatever God makes, must be something made. Hence it is evident that God cannot make God. For it belongs to the ratio of thing made that its being depends on another cause. And this is contrary to the ratio of that which we call God, as is evident from the foregoing

Notes We long ago proved that nothing created God; God’s existence is necessary. Here’s what follows.

[17] For the same reason God cannot make a thing equal to Himself. Because a thing whose being depends not on another, is greater in being and other excellencies than that which depends on another, which belongs to the ratio of a thing made.

Notes Hence Satan is not God’s “opposite,” as some have it. God is not yin and yang.

[18] Likewise God cannot make a thing to be preserved in being without Himself. For the preservation of a thing in being depends on its cause. Wherefore if the cause be removed, the effect must needs be removed. Consequently, if there could be a thing that is not preserved in being by God, it would not be His effect.

Notes As the man said, God doesn’t have to do anything to keep the universe in existence; He must stop doing something for that to happen.

[19] Again. Since He is an agent by will, He cannot do those things which He cannot will. Now we may realize what He cannot will if we consider how it is possible for necessity to be in the divine will: since what is of necessity is impossible not to be, and what is impossible to be, necessarily is not.

[20] It is therefore evident that God cannot make Himself not to be, or not to be good or happy: because He necessarily wills Himself to be, and to be good and happy, as we proved in the First Book.

[21] Again, it was shown above that God cannot will anything evil. Therefore it is evident that God cannot sin.

[22] Likewise it was proved above that God’s will cannot be changeable: and consequently it cannot make that which is willed by Him, not to be fulfilled. It must however be observed that He is said to be unable to do this in a different sense from that in which He is said to be unable to do the things mentioned before. Because God is simply unable either to will or to make the foregoing.

Whereas God can do or will these, if we consider His power or will absolutely, but not if we presuppose Him to will the opposite: for the divine will, in respect of creatures, has no necessity, except on a supposition, as we proved in the First Book. Hence all these statements, God cannot do the contrary of what He has decreed to do, and any like sayings are to be understood in the composite sense: for thus they imply a supposition of the divine will with regard to the opposite. But if they be understood in the divided sense, they are false, because they refer to God’s power and will absolutely.

[23] And as God acts by will, so also does He act by intellect and knowledge, as we have proved. Hence He cannot do what He has foreseen that He will not do, or omit to do what He has foreseen that He will do, for the same reason that He cannot do what He wills not to do, or omit to do what He wills. Also, each assertion is conceded and denied in the same sense, namely that He be said to be unable to do these things, not indeed absolutely, but on a certain condition or supposition.

Notes This means the end will come someday. Get ready. And see Wednesday’s podcast.