Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New Blog

I've started a new blog. The subject will be literary criticism and theory. The plan is first to look at some constructive (i.e., good) methods of interpretation, followed by the deconstructive (i.e., bad) ones. In the process, we'll look at C. S. Lewis, Jacques Derrida, Reformed theologians, and others. Hope it piques your interest a little.

In Christ.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Adrian here.

Well, we're mostly back to normal. It doesn't quite look the same, but that awful pink is gone, at least. :-)]

In Christ.

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Susan here :-)

Heehee. No, this is not my blog. Don't recheck your browser. It's Adrian's blog, but it looks like mine. The idea is that I'm trying to get him used to the idea of being influenced by a female 24/7. His blog design was okay before (much better than the original dungeon look!), but look how much prettier this is! What do you think?

Please comment to my blog post (not his, or he'll get the comments at work, and be apprised of the situation early) and tell him how much you love this new design :-). And if he quickly turns back to gray, sorry, folks! I'm posting this right as Adrian starts work for the day, so hopefully the blog will retain this lovely pink color until 5:30 or so.

Only 12 more days, in case anyone wanted a countdown :-).

EDIT: Riiiight. So lesson for everyone - backup templates before engaging in this sort of shenanigan! After almost 2 hours, I finally got almost all the sidebar looking the same (because I thankfully had an unrefreshed window with Adrian's original blog open), with the exception of the Blogroll Counter and the Technorati link. Next time I will back up the template!!!! *ugh*

I still think his blog looks pretty :-).

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Old Books

Now that the title of this post has completely prevented you from reading anything I might say, I should like to point you to the Introduction to On the Incarnation by Athanasius. The Introduction I'm thinking of is the one by C. S. Lewis, and can be found in its entirety here. The introduction is well worth reading. One of my favorite passages in the introduction is this one:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

This is pure gold. If you want a balanced viewpoint of new versus old, here it is. No chronological snobbery here!

In Christ.

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So I'm supposed to post about how excited I am to be marrying Susan Garrison in a little more than 16 days (or 17, depending on how you count it). I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to say. How do you convey the excitement in the fulfillment of a dream? Especially one you've held as tenaciously as this one? How do you talk about the perfection of the beloved, so perfect in my God-given-grace-tinted-bespectacled eyes that she is beyond my dreams? How do you communicate the extreme anticipation of the first kiss?

It's written in the Good Book that "There are three things which are too wonderful for me, Yes, four which I do not understand: The way of an eagle in the air, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the midst of the sea, And the way of a man with a virgin." - Proverbs 30:18-19. Well, that makes me feel better. At least, if a wise man like Agur the son of Jakeh is willing to admit he doesn't understand it, then maybe I'm in good company when I don't, either.

In Christ.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

From the Notices of the American Mathematical Society

Or I could have titled this post, "Even Mathematicians can be Very Illogical."

In the September 2007 issue of the Notices of the AMS, there is published an interview with Stephen Smale. The interviewer was George Szpiro. There is an editor's note which explains that Stephen Smale won the Fields medal (the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize) in 1966, I suppose to imply that Smale is a good mathematician. I have no doubt he is. However, he can be just as guilty of illogical thinking as the next man. The third question in the interview goes like this.

[begin quote]
Szpiro: Why is mathematics so effective in explaining phenomena, as opposed to, say, narratives?

[Note by Adrian: this was an incredibly good question, perhaps even better than Szpiro knew, though I would hardly argue that narratives are a bad way of explaining phenomena. Aside from the Bible, even mathematicians have to use tons of regular language, for me, English, to explain anything, though perhaps you might not think of that as narrative.]

Smale: Mathematics is a kind of formalized way of thinking. One can be much more precise in mathematics than in literature, express relationships in a more precise way, include magnitudes. And even fuzziness can be incorporated in mathematics by using probabilities. I use that a lot because when moving from physics to vision and biology one has to overcome some kind of fuzziness. The way I do that is - in the mathematical tradition - by using probability.

Mathematics is so effective because one can look for universal laws more easily with mathematics than without. It enables us to abstract the main ideas. With formalization and symbols one is able to see what is universal. The abstraction allows us to see universal ideas. I have been very inspired by Newton who could see a falling apple and the motion of planets and recognize them as part of the same phenomenon. I would like to see a language that allows us to translate what we see and then recognize it as part of a broad phenomenon.
[end quote]

When I first read the question, my heart leapt! Here was a chance to wax theological and explain how, because the universe was created by God and is sustained by God, and since God is constant and never goes against His own nature, and since His creation reflects Him, and since there is no contradiction in God, that therefore the universe reflects that in its logic and in the physical laws we see around us.

Instead, we get the incredibly circular attempt to be pragmatic: "Mathematics is so effective because one can look for universal laws more easily with mathematics than without." The entire second paragraph of Smale's response goes to support this thesis. He says mathematics is effective because it makes things easier. But effectiveness and ease are really synonyms here. So we have A because of A. Wow. I'm thoroughly underwhelmed.

I should also point out that Smale is by no means the only mathematician/physicist to miss the mark on this question. At least one great physicist, either Feynman or Penrose, said something, "There is no answer."

Now do not interpret me as claiming that everything Smale said was wrong; modern mathematics really is about abstraction, though I would hasten to add that the re-concretization (if that's a word) is the summit, the final push, that a lot of mathematicians don't want to do, but ought to.

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul says that God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. My answer to the effectiveness of modern mathematics is that it is effective because of the way God designed the universe. He designed it to exhibit an order closely related to His own. I have no need of any other answer. Interestingly, I also get my marching orders from God, who in Genesis said to multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. What is subduing the earth if not science and technology?

In Christ.

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