iSoul In the beginning is reality

Authority of the Bible

The authors of the texts that later became books of the Bible certainly did not think they were writing parts of Scripture. Yet they certainly did think they were writing texts with authority for a particular group of people at a particular time. Others realized later that the texts had a wider audience and a higher authority. In that sense, the various writings became the Scriptures over time.

One of the continuing questions then is to what extent the words written for a particular audience are authoritative for other audiences. This is commonly expressed in the question as to whether every word and sentence is “inspired” but that leads to side matters about theories of inspiration. It is better to focus on the authority of the texts.

The truth of the Scriptures follows from its authority but its authority also presupposes its truth. Those who first recognized their authority had to recognize their truth, too. The two cannot be separated.

The question then is how far down does the authority and truth of the Scriptures go? That is, are each paragraph, each sentence, each word authoritative? Are the grammatical mistakes authoritative? The apparent inconsistencies? The language if not the concepts of archaic knowledge?

It’s best to start with the literary styles and conventions of the time and place of writing. These are not those of today, and are not the way “we” would write. But we should read them in context. Variations in names and spellings were common. Different authors writing of the same events may have a different purpose and take on them, and may adopt a different chronology.

All these are not “mistakes” or “errors” – they are differences, between them or between us and them or between them and other sources. So a correct understanding requires some historical background.

This goes all the way down to the words and grammar. The languages and usages are different from ours. The idioms and forms of expression are different. Some words are obscure. Some grammar is nonstandard. The writer may be writing in a foreign language they don’t understand all that well.

These are all cautions, not criticisms. They do not undermine the authority of the Bible but qualify its interpretation. There is no reason that the authority does not go all the way down.

Some will consider this excessive. After all, what does it matter if a few geographical details are mistaken? Or if some names aren’t right? It’s not for me to say how much it matters because what really matters is whether the Bible is authoritative. If it is, then it’s not for us to limit how far down that authority goes. The text is what we have, and the text is authoritative.

Science and conformity

For the purposes of understanding science it is best to focus on “closed theories” – Heisenberg’s term for theories that are superseded. That’s because we understand the limits of closed theories, so a true evaluation of their content can be made.

This fit well with the old model of academia: focus on a canon of classics, not on the latest hot ideas. Such an education provided time for contemplation and understanding. The humanities were king then, with the arts and sciences following along.

That changed in the 19th century, with the spread of the the Prussian model of education. Universities were to engage in cutting-edge scientific research and teach the latest theories rather than the ideas of the past. The sciences were repositioned to the top of the academic hierarchy and “open” theories were promoted with their seemingly limitless potential to transform society. “It’s all different now” was born.

One problem was that old academic weakness: conformity. A school is not in the position to say “we don’t know” without making students wonder why they are there. Instead, what is taught as knowledge covers everything and is everywhere authoritative.

Academic conformity didn’t much matter when the canon was fixed and the debates focused on the fine points. But when the canon became open and the latest ideas were now in play, academic conformity sought a rapid end to scientific debate. The consensus was formed quickly and doubt silenced.

Science changed. (The humanities did, too, but that’s another story.)

Science today has become more like the old humanities: debate is about the finer points – not the larger questions, which were decided some time ago. Anyone who doubts this is a “science denier”.

The irony is that all the great scientists of past centuries were “science deniers” in this sense. Following the crowd rarely leads to great advances. Like the old Scholasticism arrayed against Galileo, the science establishment has ways to enforce conformity. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Space and time as references

A clock provides a common reference to measure duration of motion. Similarly, a linear reference provides a common reference to measure length of movement. What is this linear reference?

In mapping and geographic information systems (GIS) a linear referencing system (LRS) “is a method of spatial referencing, in which the locations of features are described in terms of measurements along a linear element, from a defined starting point, for example a milestone along a road.”

This may be extended to 3D space by a reference frame, “a space-time coordinate system and set of reference points in space-time that assigns unique space positions and reference durations.” From such a reference frame, one can derive linear references from path lengths.

Alternately, one may attach an odometer (cyclometer, pedometer) to each vehicle or subject in motion, and measure their travel length directly.

Thus there is a strict parallel between the reference provided by a clock and a linear reference such as an odometer. As the former is said to constitute time, an ordering by duration, so the latter constitutes an ordering of space by length.

The hierarchy of knowledge

The physical sciences, especially physics, are considered nowadays to be the pinnacle of knowledge. They are given credit for modern technology, which has far surpassed any other civilization. Maximum deference is given to the physical sciences, which then function as the paragon of all knowledge. “Physics envy” pervades the study of knowledge today.

But it is a mistake to put the physical sciences at the top of the hierarchy of knowledge. They are very limited in scope, and their methods are not appropriate for all disciplines. Instead, the most general disciplines should be at the pinnacle of knowledge. For secular universities this would be philosophy, and for religiously-affiliated universities this would be theology.

The humanities should be returned to their place of seniority above the sciences. Philosophy, great art and literature, classical studies, and mathematics should regain their seriousness and their cultural significance. To some extent mathematics still receives respect, but it is considered an arcane subject, which happens to be useful to arcane specialists.

The social sciences and history should be next in the hierarchy of knowledge. They are dependent on the higher disciplines but are more general than the physical sciences. They provide the context for the physical sciences, which has been weakened by over-reliance on physical knowledge. This extends to all studies of humanity, including those that intersect the physical sciences such as biology. We must never forget that we are humans first, and animals second.

The physical sciences and the practical arts such as business, engineering, medicine, and technology should complete the hierarchy of knowledge. There’s no discredit in coming at the bottom for that is where we mostly live our lives. We are accustomed to extensive physical knowledge as a resource for solving the complex problems of contemporary society.

This is a return to the old academic hierarchy. It was abandoned out of fear that narrow-minded clerics and philosophers would limit the ability of scientists to discover new realities. That is a lesson of history that bears remembering – but only as a genuine history, not as a prejudice against philosophy and theology. We should also be wary of the Whig histories of those who misread the history of ideas.

Wonder vs. skepticism

It is often asked why the angel Gabriel treated Zechariah and Mary differently since their reaction was similar (Luke chapter 1). Note the parallel passages:

1:11-12 And there appeared to [Zechariah] an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

1:28-29 And [Gabriel] came to [Mary] and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.

Gabriel responded similarly at first:

1:13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”

1:30-31 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”

Their responses were seemingly alike:

1:18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

1:34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

But Gabriel’s reaction was different:

1:19-20 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

1:35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”

So he answered Mary’s question but rebuked Zechariah’s skepticism.

Asking questions and being skeptical are often confused. People with questions are said to be skeptical, and those who are skeptical are said to be just asking questions. What is the difference?

The difference is illustrated in the word “know” in Zechariah’s response (1:18): “How shall I know this?” The skeptic focuses on what they know or don’t know. But the questioner wonders and looks for further information.

It is often said that science requires skepticism, but what it actually requires is wonder and curiosity – asking questions to find out more, never being content with what is known so far. Skepticism adds nothing to science but undermines it since skepticism is essentially doubt about knowledge.

Aristotle wrote that philosophy starts with wonder. Science, a child of philosophy, starts with wonder, too, and grows with wonder and curiosity about everything. Questions grow from wonder, and lead to further knowledge. That is the opposite of skepticism.

Science proper

Science is the study of change. Where there is no change, there is no science.

It is said that chemistry is the study of matter but it is really change that is studied:

Every chemist I know studies change. Some chemists study a material before it has changed. Other chemists study a material after it has changed. Some even study a material while it is changing. Many materials are made specifically to resist change. For some chemists, the manner (pathway) in which a material changes is most important. There are also those who want to make a new material out of an old material and will spend years looking for a way to do it. http://sciencegeist.net/the-science-of-change/

Mechanics is the part of physics that studies motion, which is a kind of change. But all of physics studies physical change in some respect. Thermodynamics, for example, studies change in heat and temperature.

It is said that evolutionary biology studies change in organisms and species over time. But all of biology studies change in some respect – genetic change, developmental change, ecological change, etc.

It is said that history is the study of change over time but what distinguishes history is the determination of what actually happened in the past, and why particular events happened. Once that has been determined, the various sciences can study the deltas – the differences between peoples or times or places.

Because science is the study of change, science always begins with a conditional. “If” is the beginning of science. The study of reality in itself or the ultimate origin of anything is beyond science.

Ultimate boundary conditions are exogenous to science. There may be practical limits to what can be observed – as the discussion of superluminal speeds shows. But whether or not a practical limit is ultimate is a matter of metaphysics or religion, as is knowledge of the actual existence of anything posited by science.

Thus science is dependent on other disciplines – notably, history, metaphysics, and theology – to say whether or not its constructs actually exist. Or else science is taken to be only a theoretical discipline, similar to mathematics.

Terms for motion again

Previous posts deal with terms for motion, such as here. Further thoughts are below.

When someone asks about the length of a trip, they are not asking for the distance between the origin and destination of the trip – that is the magnitude of the displacement. They are asking about the length of the route taken. Mathematically, travel length is the arc length of the curve of the route.

The length of a trip in time, or travel time, is the duration of a trip. Time is a kind of length, not a distance; an arc length, not a straight-line distance.

The magnitude of a displacement is the distance between two points. Call the magnitude of a distimement between two points in time the distime. This is the shortest-length travel time between them, which depends on the mode of travel.

We have the expression “as the crow flies” to distinguish the straight-line distance between two points from the travel length. Physicists would say “as light travels” to indicate the straight-line (geodesic) distance or time between two events.

While physicists may convert time and space dimensions (by multiplying time by the speed of light, or dividing length by the speed of light), this does not change the character of the dimensions. Only if the time and space dimensions are switched does their character change.

Tempo in music

Tempo in a piece of music is often stated with conventional Italian terms (recall that the Renaissance began in Italy). Since the invention of the metronome, tempo is also given in beats per minute (bpm). However, a slow tempo is one in which a beat takes more time, and a fast tempo is one in which a beat takes less time. So it would make sense to measure tempo in units of time per beat.

Since bpm ranges from about 20 to 200, it would be appropriate to convert it to units of jiffies per beat, with a jiffy defined as one-sixtieth of a second (so 60 jiffies make one second). To convert from X bpm to Y jpb, divide X into 3600; that is, Y jpb = 3600 / X.

Here are suggested jpb tempo values from slowest to fastest based on the list here:

  • Larghissimo – very, very slow (24 bpm and under) = 150 jpb and over
  • Grave – very slow (25–45 bpm) = 80 to 144 jpb
  • Largo – broadly (40–60 bpm) = 60 to 90 jpb
  • Lento – slowly (45–60 bpm) = 60 to 80 jpb
  • Larghetto – rather broadly (60–66 bpm) = 54 to 60 jpb
  • Adagio – slowly with great expression (66–76 bpm) = 47 to 54 jpb
  • Adagietto – slower than andante (72–76 bpm) = 47 to 50 jpb
  • Andante – at a walking pace (76–108 bpm) = 50 to 33 jpb
  • Andantino – slightly faster than andante (80–108 bpm) = 33 to 45 jpb
  • Marcia moderato – moderately, in the manner of a march (83–85 bpm) = 42 to 43 jpb
  • Andante moderato – between andante and moderato (92–112 bpm) = 32 to 39 jpb
  • Moderato – at a moderate speed (108–120 bpm) = 30 to 33 jpb
  • Allegretto – by the mid 19th century, moderately fast (112–120 bpm) = 30 to 32 jpb
  • Allegro moderato – close to, but not quite allegro (116–120 bpm) = 30 to 31 jpb
  • Allegro – fast, quickly, and bright (120–156 bpm) = 23 to 30 jpb
  • Vivace – lively and fast (156–176 bpm) = 20 to 23 jpb
  • Vivacissimo – very fast and lively (172–176 bpm) = 20 to 21 jpb
  • Allegrissimo or Allegro vivace – very fast (172–176 bpm) = 20 to 21 jpb
  • Presto – very, very fast (168–200 bpm) = 18 to 21 jpb
  • Prestissimo – even faster than presto (200 bpm and over) = 18 jpb and under

Music tempo measured by jpb is similar to legerity in physics previously discussed (e.g., here).

Measurement of space and time

The various ways of measuring space and time are parallel.

Measuring space:

  1. A ruler measures length, that is, the distance between two points in space (A to B).
  2. An ruler turned upside-down measures length backwards (B to A).
  3. A tripmeter measures the travel distance of a vehicle trip.
  4. An odometer measures the cumulative travel distance.Odometer 12,000
  5. A measuring wheel measures the travel distance of a wheel being pushed.
  6. A road map measures travel distance of a standard vehicle. See Geodistance.

Measuring time:

  1. A stopwatch measures time, that is, the duration between two points in time (A to B).
  2. A timer measures the time counting down from a set time, i.e., backwards (B to A).
  3. A GPS watch or time clock measures the duration of an activity, such as running or working. GPS watch
  4. A GPS watch (or smartphone app) measures cumulative travel time (or flight time).
  5. A measuring wheel with a stopwatch measures the travel time of a wheel being pushed.
  6. A clock measures travel time synchronized with a standard motion.

Note that #2 shows time can be measured backwards. Space and time can both be counted up or counted down. There’s nothing magical about it.

Motion and its interpretation

Say you’re standing near the bottom of a hill and see a small rock rolling down. How should the motion of the rock be interpreted? It could be that the rock happened to brake loose and roll down the hill. Or it could be that someone took the rock and rolled it down the hill. The motion observed could be exactly the same in either case. The only difference is the interpretation.

One interpretation would be called “natural” or “mechanistic”. In it motion occurs because of happenstance and the laws of motion. So the rock just happened to roll for reasons which are intractable and therefore considered chance. But once the rock started to roll, its trajectory followed the laws of motion.

Another interpretation would be called “artificial” or “teleological”. In it motion occurs because it fulfills a purpose in a way that accords with the laws of motion. The rock purposely moved toward an intended target or along an intended trajectory. The rock itself need not have any conscious intention; either the intention is that of an external agent or of an internal predisposition.

In the mechanistic interpretation time is the independent variable. When and where the rock starts to roll is a matter of happenstance or whatever – one doesn’t know or doesn’t care. In the teleological interpretation space is the independent variable. The placement of the rock, its initial motion, and its intended target or trajectory are a matter of independent purpose – of some internal predisposition or some external agent.

The statement of the laws of motion are mathematically equivalent in either case but the interpretation of the variables differs symmetrically. To translate from one to the other interpretation interchange the following: 3D space ↔ 3D time, scalar time ↔ scalar space, object ↔ subject, and mass ↔ vass. The laws of motion are formally the same for both interpretations. Only the meaning of the symbols changes.

From this exercise we learn that science determines the form of physical laws but not their interpretation. It would introduce metaphysics to specify that only one interpretation is valid. Science is not metaphysics but it allows metaphysics. Instead of excluding metaphysics, science affirms all metaphysical interpretations consistent with its laws. Science is pluralistic.