William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 5 of 736

Pascal On Confession

From 100 of Pascal’s Thoughts.

Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is a still greater evil to be full of them, and to be unwilling to recognise them, since that is to add the further fault of a voluntary illusion. We do not like others to deceive us; we do not think it fair that they should be held in higher esteem by us than they deserve; it is not then fair that we should deceive them, and should wish them to esteem us more highly than we deserve.

Thus, when they discover only the imperfections and vices which we really have, it is plain they do us no wrong, since it is not they who cause them; they rather do us good, since they help us to free ourselves from an evil, namely, the ignorance of these imperfections. We ought not to be angry at their knowing our faults and despising us; it is but right that they should know us for what we are, and should despise us, if we are contemptible.

Such are the feelings that would arise in a heart full of equity and justice. What must we say then of our own heart, when we see in it a wholly different disposition? For is it not true that we hate truth and those who tell it us, and that we like them to be deceived in our favour, and prefer to be esteemed by them as being other than what we are in fact? One proof of this makes me shudder. The Catholic religion does not bind us to confess our sins indiscriminately to everybody; it allows them to remain hidden from all other men save one, to whom she bids us reveal the innermost recesses of our heart, and show ourselves as we are. There is only this one man in the world whom she orders us to undeceive, and she binds him to an inviolable secrecy, which makes this knowledge to him as if it were not. Can we imagine anything more charitable and pleasant? And yet the corruption of man is such that he finds even this law harsh; and it is one of the main reasons which has caused a great part of Europe to rebel against the Church.

Few leave the Church these days because of confession, since reconciliation is not often encouraged. And it’s now not so much people telling you of your sins that’s a problem either. It’s that sins which are sins aren’t accepted or even known as sins. Now what do you do about that, especially when you have some leaders in the Church telling you to follow your conscience and that this self-same conscience is the best guide to right and wrong? Some people really do believe, or claim to, that certain acts in which they engage aren’t sins, even though they’re “on the books” as sins. Conscience overrules the book? We’re in ignorance-of-the-law-is-no-excuse territory here.

Then, once you know a sin is a sin, it isn’t always so easy fessing up to it. Rather, some faults are easy to admit, some hard. Some things you do, you’d sooner burn away in shame and bury yourself in some dark hole instead of saying, “Twice I …” Now you know the priest can’t say anything outside the box, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know that he knows that you know that he knows (I might have got lost there) what you did. And this induces a reluctance.

That reluctance is always worth overcoming. But you have to be ready with truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I think it was Pascal who also said (though I have been unable to discover the original quotation) that we often sculpt confessions so that we seem not so much less bad, but so that the priest thinks better of us.

Big things are thus sometimes easier to confess. Big ones are much more likely to be “one-offs” which you want to rid yourself of as soon as possible, and that even you yourself can’t believe you were stupid enough to do. It’s the lesser faults that prompt the most reluctance. “It’s been two weeks since my last confession, and this one is exactly the same as the last.” Now that is embarrassing; or worse, because you have the suspicion that you never meant it when you said (last time) “Never again.” They say Gracie Allen, of Burns & Allen, used to travel to a distant city to confess so that the priest wouldn’t recognize her. Sounds about right.

Pascal again, from Thoughts 529:

A person told me one day that on coming from confession he felt great joy and confidence. Another told me that he remained in fear. Whereupon I thought that these two together would make one good man, and that each was wanting in that he had not the feeling of the other. The same often happens in other things.

Cautious optimism.

Summary Against Modern Thought: The Intellect Is The Body’s Form

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.

Pretty much the remainder of Book Two is on our intellect, and this is the most important subject. It will be several weeks before it is proved that our intellects (soul, or form) does not perish with the body, but we’ll get there. We also come to a bit of naughtiness, discuss how animals are difference, and show the existence of angels. It’s all hard work! We’re on Chapter 70 of 101.

Chapter 70 That according to the words of Aristotle the intellect must be said to be united to the body as its form (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation this week.

1 Now, since Averroes seeks to confirm his doctrine especially by appealing to the words and proof of Aristotle, it remains for us to show that in the Philosopher’s judgment we must say that the intellect, as to its substance, is united to the body as its form.

2 For Aristotle proves in the Physics [VIII, 5] that in movers and things moved it is impossible to proceed to infinity.

Hence, he concludes to the necessity of a first moved thing, which either is moved by an immobile mover or moves itself. And of these two he takes the second, namely, that the first movable being moves itself; for what is through itself is always prior to that which is through another.

Then he shows that a self-mover necessarily is divided into two parts, part moving and part moved; whence it follows that the first self-mover must consist of two parts, the one moving, the other moved. Now, every thing of this kind is animate. The first movable being, namely, the heaven, is therefore animate in Aristotle’s opinion. So it is expressly stated in De caelo [II, 2] that the heaven is animate, and on this account we must attribute to its differences of position not only in relation to us, but also in relation to itself.

Let us, then, ask with what kind of soul Aristotle thinks the heaven to be animated.

Notes Sharp readers will recall Chapter 13 from Book One! And thus, before reading the next paragraph, recall Who is the “first unmoved mover.”

3 In Metaphysics XI [7], Aristotle proves that in the heaven’s movement two factors are to be considered: something that moves and is wholly unmoved, and something that moves and is also moved.

Now, that which moves without being moved moves as an object of desire; nor is there any doubt that it moves as a thing desirable by that which is moved. And he shows that it moves not as an object of concupiscent desire, which is a sense desire, but of intellectual desire; and he therefore says that the first unmoved mover is an object of desire and understanding.

Accordingly, that which is moved by this mover, namely, the heaven, desires and understands in a nobler fashion than we, as he subsequently proves. In Aristotle’s view, then, the heaven is composed of an intellectual soul and a body. He indicates this when he says in De anima II [3] that “in certain things there is intellect and the power of understanding, for example, in men, and in other things like man or superior to him,” namely, the heaven.

Notes Of course, the term heavenly bodies did not mean to Aquinas what it does to us who are saturated in modern science!

4 Now the heaven certainly does not possess a sensitive soul, according to the opinion of Aristotle; otherwise, it would have diverse organs, and this is inconsistent with the heaven’s simplicity. By way of indicating this fact, Aristotle goes on to say that “among corruptible things, those that possess intellect have all the other powers,” thus giving us to understand that some incorruptible things, namely, the heavenly bodies, have intellect without the other powers of the soul.

5 It will therefore be impossible to say that the intellect makes contact with the heavenly bodies by the instrumentality of phantasms. On the contrary, it will have to be said that the intellect, by its substance, is united to the heavenly body as its form.

6 Now, the human body is the noblest of all lower bodies, and by its equable temperament most closely resembles the heaven, which is completely devoid of contrariety; so that in Aristotle’s judgment the intellectual substance is united to the human body not by any phantasms, but as its form.

7 As for the heaven being animate, we have spoken of this not as though asserting its accordance with the teaching of the faith, to which the whole question is entirely irrelevant. Hence, Augustine says in the Enchiridion: “Nor is it certain, to my mind, whether the sun, moon, and all the stars belong to the same community, namely, that of the angels; although to some they appear to be luminous bodies devoid of sense or intelligence.”

Music, God’s Gift to Man–and to Robots? — Guest Post by Bob Kurland

Editor’s note: The original post can be seen at Kurland’s place.

A few days ago my wife pointed out a news item announcing a robot that (or who?) can compose a symphony, tailored to uplift the listener’s mood. Whoaa! A robot! Artificial Intelligence whatever, it takes soul (both of the vernacular and theological variety) to write music.

I have written elsewhere about music as God’s gift to man (see here and here), and I’ll try not to repeat myself here. I want to examine whether art, as we like to understand the term, can be forthcoming from artificial intelligence in the following general context: can computers (robots/androids) be made to be self-aware, to have consciousness, to go beyond what is programmed into them. Whether a robot can compose music is a piece of that puzzle. Most importantly, can that artificial intelligence derive emotional satisfaction from the creative process?

We should ask, then: is music God’s gift to man, and, if it is such a gift, can we say that God wishes to extend it to “beings” with artificial intelligence, intelligence created by man, not God?

As in much else involving the intersection of science and religious belief, science fiction (more properly, “speculative fiction”) occasionally yields more insight than either philosophy or theology. One story, “A Work of Art” by James Blish, (WARNING: SPOILER!) examines whether a transitional sort of artificial intelligence, “mind sculpting”, can produce the same sort of music as the live composer. Here’s the story.

A man wakes up, recalling his last moment of darkness. Informed that he is Richard Strauss, resurrected, he is asked to compose a work in his own style. He does so, basing it on a Greek myth. The work is performed to thunderous applause, which he realizes is not for the music, but for the mind sculptors who have changed him from one totally unversed in music to a composer. But, here’s the kicker: there’s enough of Richard Strauss in him to realize that the music he has composed is only a pastiche, a musical collage of Strauss’s known works. There is nothing original, nothing of the artist in it.

So, the “Work of Art” is not the music—it is the mind sculpture. God inspires man to create music, as the quote above from J.S. Bach would have it. The computer can only imitate what man has already created.

Music & Math

Thomas Fiore, Music and Mathematics:

Can one similarly find an “equation” to describe a piece of music? Or better yet, can one find an “equation” to predict the outcome of a piece of music? We can model sound by equations, so can we also model works of music with equations? Music is after all just many individual sounds, right? Should we invest time and money to find these equations so that all of humankind can enjoy predictable, easily described music? The answer to all of these questions is predictable and easily described: a series of emphatic ‘NO’s’! There is not an equation that will model all works of music and we should not spend time looking for it.

The relation between number and music was discovered in the 6th Century BC by Pythagoras (yes, he of the “Pythagorean Theorem”). He found that if the string lengths on a Greek lyre were in the ratio 2:1, they sounded harmonious—this interval between the notes sounded by the two strings is an octave; if the lengths were in the ratio 3/2, a different harmonious interval, “a perfect fifth” sounded; if the lengths were in the ratio 4/3, yet another harmonious interval, “a perfect fourth”, sounded.

Let’s skip 2500 years and proceed to contemporary times, summarizing the material given in the linked article by Thomas Fiore. As a player of an instrument keyed to E-flat (the alto clarinet) I am familiar with the mathematical operation of transposition, adding intervals to go from my key to concert (in this case, adding -3 modulo 12).

Inversion is the operation of going from a major key to a minor: if x is the note number on the chromatic scale (0:C. 1:C#. 2:D,…, 11:B—white keys and black keys on a piano), then inversion is the operation -x, or equivalently in modulo 12 arithmetic, 12-x. So, Tn(x) is the transposition operation on the note x to give x+n, and In(x) is the inversion operation on the note x to give -x+n (note: 0=12 in modulo 12 arithmetic). For example, upon the operation I0(x), the C major chord (0, 4, 7 or C, E, G) goes to the F minor chord (0, 8, 5 or C, F, G#); and T2(x)*I0(x) operating on the C major chord gives (2, 10, 7 or D, A, #,G), a G minor chord.

The 24 operations, Tn(x), In(x) are elements that satisfy the properties of a mathematical entity called a “group”: there is an identity, an inverse for each element, and closure—any combination of operations yield another operation of the group. The group designation for the Tn/In group is D24, the dihedral group of 24 elements. Now group theory is related to descriptions of symmetry, and in particular symmetry of geometrical objects. A geometrical object having the symmetry belonging to the D24 group is the icositetrahedron.

Fiore applies this mathematical analysis to several musical works: Bach’s Fugue #6 in D minor, Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan and Isolde, Hindemith’s Fugue, Beethoven’s Symphony #9 (2nd movement), the “Elvis Progression”, the Beatles “Oh Darling”. The analysis adds a great deal to one’s appreciation of these works (I can’t, in truth, say this about Elvis’s stuff or the Beatles’ song, since I’m not familiar with those); however, I ask the question (answered in part below), is this all there is to music?

If a mathematical analysis of a musical piece could tell us all there is to know (and feel) about the piece, it would seem reasonable that computers could then compose music—any sort of music. However, I claim that this complete analysis is not possible. Even in that most ordered and mathematical of music, the Bach Fugues, there are occasional deviations and lapses from the mathematical operations, as discussed by Fiore.

If one thinks about the works of Mozart, what might come to mind is music that like Bach’s, is orderly (see the Divertimento in D Major), However, in one of his most important works, the Great G Minor Symphony (#40), the fourth movement contains powerful dissonance and tonal progressions anticipating those centuries later.

I can cite works that are moving, not because they follow orderly intelligible lines, but precisely because they do not: the eerie soprano clarinet solo in the Witches’ Sabbath movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique; Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; Thelonius Monk’s “Round Midnight“, and many more in classical and jazz—in music.

Symmetry and order is beautiful, but the human mind wants more than that. Symmetry in physics is beautiful (see God, Symmetry and Beauty I: The Standard Model and the Higgs Boson), but nature ultimately is more than an ordered model fit to equations. Can a computer see the beauty in the disordered pattern of a meadow, or the night sky? I don’t think so.

I’ll wind up with a final anecdote. Many, many years ago on my first academic assignment the head of the department involved with the newly burgeoning discipline of computer science (it was a management / business administration group) gave a lecture on artificial intelligence. After the lecture, as legend has it (I wasn’t there), a humanities professor asked him, “Would you want your daughter to marry one (a computer, that is)?” His answer was, “Yes, if she loved him.” Another version has it that someone shouted from the audience, “Why not, his wife did.”

I defy anyone to produce a computer analysis of that humor.

Finally, I haven’t said anything about God and music, or God and mathematics. My point in this post is that music is a gift, not to be explained as an evolutionary spandrel, and if it is a gift, it can be presumed to come from God.

The Circus Is Closed—But Animals Still Don’t Have Rights

You already know the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey have folded up the Big Tent for the last time, a sad event. Any thoughts we have had about running away to join the circus (a viable option to kids growing up in Northern Michigan in the ’70s) must be abandoned.

Think of all the performers thrown out of work! Clowns will have a hard time—it’s no laughing matter—finding paying positions which allow them to scare the bejeebers out of kids. Maybe manning the Obamacare help desk? Little people will line up at unemployment offices seeking short-term work. The daring young men—and women!—on the flying trapezes had better hope Hollywood has another Tarzan remake in the works.

And all the animals will be shuttled off to catering houses and zoos. The circus had to endure “a long and costly legal battle with animal rights advocates, which ended with its hugest stars — the elephants — being pink slipped. Elephants had been the symbol of the circus since an Asian pachyderm named Jumbo joined the show in 1882.” One report said:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime opponent of the circus, wasted no time in claiming victory.

“After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in a statement.

PETA are, of course, animal “rights” activists.

Since every right entails a responsibility, if animals have the right, say, not to be killed, whose responsibility is it not to kill? Ours, say PETA and other activists, and they are correct—if animals do indeed have that right. But the animals would bear the same weighty duty. If any animal has the right not to be killed, then no animal can kill another animal. Any killing would be a violation of animal rights.

Thus if animals have the right not to be killed, the lion must perforce lie down with the lamb, or face the appropriate penalty. What that penalty should be and whose duty it is to enforce are open to question. The suggestion that PETA members be made to patrol the veldt armed with summons books and four-paired handcuffs should not be overlooked.

Once killing is banned, and before the creation of the new heaven and earth, a lot of beasts are going to go hungry since it’s doubtful we can make enough pseudo-meat tofu burgers to placate even just the birds, many of which are finicky eaters. And then, for example, Polar bears have an unfortunate cannibalistic streak, and there is doubt raising awareness among the ice bears will be sufficient to curtail their murderous proclivities.

Of course, we can argue that animals are allowed to slaughter each other, but that men are forbidden to slip the ax to our four-legged friends. But that would imply that man is different than animals, and lower than animals. Why?

In this scheme, animals are superior to men. After all, men would be forbidden to kill animals, but animals would still be allowed to kill men, and that difference in power structure makes them superior. Of course, they could also be restricted from killing us, but that seems odd: they can kill each other but not us? If they can kill each other, but not us, that implies men are superior after all, since the life of an animal to another animal is nothing—or dinner. But the life of a man to an animal is much.

And if animals are restricted, or barred, from killing us, who is it that is doing the restricting? Well, men. Again, that implies men are superior to animals, since we would use our power from keeping animals from their desires, and that power imbalance proves our superiority.

There just isn’t any way to work the argument that animals have the “right” not to be killed and remain coherent and consistent, except in two ways. The Texas BBQ path, in which the superiority of men is acknowledged and animals are allowed to kill each other for meat, pleasure (chimps), and access to females (rams). And the path of Starvation, where all killing is disallowed. Good luck enforcing that.

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