iSoul In the beginning is reality

Category Archives: Relating

Relating as persons: psychology, society, politics

Modernity and parsimony

I’ve written before about modernity here and parsimony here.

An age begins by repudiating something essential about the previous age. The middle ages started with repudiating the ancient gods and myths (cf. St. Augustine’s City of God). The modern age began with the Reformation, which repudiated the history of the Church and the pagan past of the Gentiles. It continued with scientists repudiating Scholasticism and Aristotle. And it came into its own by starting anew, whether in religion or science or politics.

If modernity starts with breaking free of the past, then what keeps it from flaming out into insignificance? The key for science was parsimony, commonly called simplicity. In contrast with the middle ages, which specialized in ad hoc explanations, the modern age adopted Occam’s razor, the law of parsimony, which privileged the fewest number of assumptions and kinds of entities.

Modernity took the law of parsimony to an extreme. It led to questioning, if not overthrowing, every tradition, every non-empirical entity, every metaphysics. The absolute minimum ontology was considered the best, which turned out to be the physical world.

Even the nature of physical things was questioned as unknowable, until the only nature left was the nature of the physical world. This nature became the idol of modernity, the one thing that could not be questioned. It became Nature, reified as something with a will of its own, something that led to human life, something that substituted for God.

As we break free of modernity, we can see its limitations and failures more and more. One is the bias of the law of parsimony: it meant qualitative parsimony but not quantitative parsimony. That is, only one or a few kinds of things could exist, but the number of them available for explanatory purposes was unlimited. This bias fit well with the use of mathematics as the language of science.

But mathematics is more than the study of quantity. It is also the study of space, structure, and change. And there is no good reason not to apply parsimony to all of them in finding the best explanation. Once we open up to the possibility of a balanced application of the law of parsimony, we can see some of the weaknesses of modern science.

Deep time was invented in the 18th century and exploited in the 19th and 20th centuries to explain the history of the Earth and the universe. What started with geology expanded to human history, biology, and cosmology.

It is all a matter of time scale. An event that would be unthinkable in a hundred years may be inevitable in a hundred million. Carl Sagan

Time is in fact the hero of the plot. … Given so much time, the “impossible” becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait; time itself performs the miracles. George Wald

The flaw is simple: it’s too easy to “explain” anything. The violation of quantitative parsimony was the Achilles’ heel of modernity. The temptation to explain everything was too much to resist. And so, as with every age, modernity ended in failure. A great failure, but a failure nonetheless.

We can only hope that the current age will learn from the failure of modernity and seek a balanced parsimony.

International English spelling

With the spread of printing and literacy, spelling became standardized. In the U.S. Noah Webster, who wrote the first dictionary of American English, successfully introduced new spellings, which became standard in the U.S. Now that the Internet has facilitated international written communication, there is a need for an international standard of English spelling.

One could say that Americans should just adopt the spellings of the English as written by the English people, that is, British English. That is not likely to happen. For one thing, American idioms are influential internationally. Look at how “OK” became international.

There have been attempts to promote International English that are more concerned with ease of learning than with spelling. While spelling differences are minor, those publishing for an international audience need to have some standards. Editors do, too.

I certainly don’t have the last word on this, but I can at least make some suggestions and adopt them myself. If there are good reasons to retain the British spelling, let’s do so. But if American norms are OK or have advantages, let’s not shy from adopting them instead. Here are a few suggestions for the purpose of this blog:

(1) Metric units. The International System of Units uses British spellings. It also has the advantage of preserving a spelling distinction between a device or instrument for measuring and the other meanings of meter in American English. Adopt the British spelling.

(2) Other distinctions are sometimes obscured in Noah Webster’s shorter spellings. For example, the meaning of the suffixes -er and -or as “one who…” such as carpenter and author are obscured by changing other words to end in -er and -or. Meter is an example of the former; color is an example of the latter (one who cols?). Since the British spelling preserves these distinctions, they should be adopted.

(3) There are many variants of spelling (or terminology) that have no particular advantage one way or the other. Traveling or travelling? The former is American, the latter British. The American rule is “when a multisyllabic word ends in a vowel and a consonant (in that order), you double the consonant when adding a suffix only if the stress falls on the final syllable.” I usually prefer the American usage in that case.

Synopsis of the Gospel

A previous post here gave a summary of the Gospel. The following comes from Rev. David Harper’s blog entry, The power of story:

Here’s a synopsis.

1. God created humankind in His image for fellowship and partnership, entrusting to us stewardship of His earth. (Gen. 1:28)  

2. Because of sin, in which we all participate, our fellowship with God and one another has fractured (Gen. 3:1-19, 4:8; Rom. 3:23).

3. God sent His Son, Jesus, as the promised Messianic King and Son of God, come to earth in human form to become one with us. (Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:4ff.).

4. By his death and resurrection, Jesus atoned for our sin, and secured our justification by grace, (1 Cor. 15:3ff.). He has broken the dominion of sin and evil over us (Col. 2:13-15), restored us to right relationship with the Father, and made us the firstfruits of His new creation. (James 1:18)

 5. He has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do the works that Jesus did, enlisting us in His plan and purpose to make the whole creation new. (John 14:12ff, Acts 2:1ff, Eph. 1:9-10, 3:8-12

6. At his return, Jesus will complete what he began by the renewal of the entire material creation, and the resurrection of our bodies (Rom 8: 18ff.).)

For more from Rev. Harper, see his website Things New & Old. One thing he is known for is expressed in his talk on Three Streams, One River.

Centrism and extremism

I’ve written on my understanding of centrism here and here.

The essence of centrism is an acceptance of a limit for everything. This means there are limits in all directions. The image of this is a closed convex curve with a center in the middle of the region enclosed.

Without limits, there is no center. A center is always within limits. If there is any direction without a limit, the curve is not closed and there is no center.

Non-centrists are extremists in at least one way. They reject a limit in at least one direction. They are not only not in the center, but they reject the existence of a common center.

The slogan “No enemies on the Left” is a left-wing motto that goes back at least to the 1930s. It reflects an attitude that in the direction of leftist politics, there is no limit. Because it lacks a limit in at least one direction, it is extremist in at least one direction.

Most political groups promote some cause or idea that takes precedence over all other causes or ideas. They may hold these in a limited way, but unless they have ways of limiting the range of their support, they will tend to go further and further in that direction. They are or will become extremists.

Marriage and semi-marriage

In abstract algebra, a semiring is an algebraic structure similar to a ring, but without the requirement that each element must have an additive inverse.

Analogously, what could be called a semi-marriage is like a marriage, but without the requirement that the persons be of opposite sex. (Compare here.) How would this work?

First, a marriage is also a semi-marriage so the legal requirements that apply to a semi-marriage apply to a marriage as well. For example, age requirements for semi-marriages would apply to marriages also.

Second, a semi-marriage is not necessarily a marriage so one cannot assume that every property of a marriage is also a property of a semi-marriage. Each property of a marriage must be evaluated to determine if it applies to a semi-marriage. For example, a business that offers services for marriage ceremonies may not need to offer the same services to semi-marriage ceremonies.

The law may focus on semi-marriage rather than marriage because semi-marriage has a larger extent. Yet it would be possible for some laws to apply to marriages but not semi-marriages. The decision as to which way to go is up to the political process.

In the U.S. since the Obergefell decision, civil marriage is semi-marriage.

Discrete democracy

Direct democracy is an idealized concept in which the people vote on all political matters. Besides being impractical, it assumes the people have sufficient time and information to consider every matter. Such a continuous democracy would be like the weekly polls published by the news media, except they would result in real decisions – and no doubt poor decisions. Instead, representative democracy is a two-tiered system in which the people elect representatives, who in turn vote on all political matters.

Representatives are elected from particular districts for a particular term of office. So representative democracies have a spatial and temporal character. There are various terms of office. Those such as the U.S. have fixed periods of two, four, and six years. Others place limits such as five years within which an election must take place. In either case, there is a period of time in which elected (and appointed) officials have their authority.

The land area or region of elections also vary. The main region is the nation but within every nation there are geographic divisions of various kinds, from districts or subdivisions of the central government to semi-independent states or provinces. Elections take place within these regions as well, and are either related to or independent of national elections.

The relative size or population of the divisions varies from small to large. There may be an attempt to make the populations of each division similar, as with the Congressional districts of the U.S. states. It may happen that some divisions cover a large area and have a small population (e.g., Alaska), while other divisions cover a small area but have a large population (e.g., New Jersey).

These divisions usually make sense as natural, cultural, and/or historic geographic regions. In the U.S. there is a flagrant practice known as gerrymandering, in which the boundaries of a voting district are set for the purpose of giving advantage to one political party. Independent commissions are used to minimize such practices.

Modern democracies are not simply “demo” (people) + “-cracy” (rule). The period of time and area of coverage are part of the political system. Such discrete democracy could be called a “geodemocracy”, or more precisely a “periodemocracy”, which is “perio-” from the Greek periodos (period) and perioche (region) + democracy. Both time and place are part of the ruling concept: the people during a particular period who are living in a particular region.

“One person, one vote” is the principle that all citizens, regardless of where they reside, are entitled to equal legislative representation. The U.S. Supreme Court enunciated this principle in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) as it ruled that a state’s apportionment plan for seats in both houses of a bicameral state legislature must allocate seats on a population basis. This principle is consistent with democracy but contrary to discrete democracy, which takes into account the natural, cultural, and/or historic geography of the districts.

News and opinion

The low end of the news business makes little or no attempt to separate news and opinion. The better news outlets attempt to separate news and opinion, but are failing. What are the reasons for this?

Let’s take it that news reports ought to consist of factual information about the world, rather than opinion. Granted that there is some editorial influence in every reporter’s story, from what goes into the header to what sources to use and what gets left out. But that’s old news.

Consider a well-reasoned news analysis or opinion piece. These tie together facts in an insightful way, and present a case for the best way to think about them. Certainly there should be facts in an opinion piece. But all to often it happens that these facts are never presented separately as news, usually because by themselves they are details or technical matters that don’t rise to the level of being newsworthy.

Then to reference such facts buried in an opinion piece, one must reference an opinion. That weakens these facts and gives the impression that they only matter to those who hold a certain position. It would be better to list the facts separately and give references for them. That way, the facts and the opinions would not be intertwined.

Consider the many news stories that quote spin and opinions by leaders and insiders about the news. It may be important to publish them but are they news themselves? So-and-so says this or that, but gives nothing more than an opinion, not a factual report or an announcement of any action. They are opinions about the news and attempts to get people to look at the news in a certain way.

All spin and opinions about the news would be better placed under opinion, where there is no question what they are. The news should be kept to factual information.

Greater efforts are needed to separate news and opinion. Meanwhile, news consumers beware!

Reverse political polarity

Now that the U.S. is politically polarized, it is reversing polarity. The liberals are the new conservatives. The conservatives are the new liberals. The Democrats are the new Republicans. The Republicans are the new Democrats.

Let me explain. In the past, the liberals were pushing for change, promoting equality, and seeking a better future. The conservatives were resisting change, promoting freedom, and seeking to preserve the past.

But now those who were called liberals are now old-fashioned, resisting change and longing for the past (as in the 1960’s). They are the new conservatives. They are now promoting freedom, especially lifestyle freedom and even freedom from centralized government.

Those who were called conservatives are the new opposition, pushing for change and a new political future. They are the new liberals. They are promoting equality, especially geographic equality, in which those outside the high-tech centers get good jobs, too.

The Republican Party was taken over by conservatives, and then Trump turned them into new liberals. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party was taken over by liberals who become conservatives as they joined the resistance.

It’s a return to the 19th century in which the Democratic Party was conservative and the Republican Party was liberal. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Basic Gospel Message

Vic Scaravilli is a Catholic who put the following on his website here. I’m reposting it (with permission) and note that Evangelicals would agree that this is the gospel, with some nuances about baptism.

The Basic Gospel Message

By Vic Scaravilli

God loves each one of us. He loves me and He loves you with an unconditional love. You are precious in His eyes.

There is something that has kept us separated from God, something that has kept us from experiencing His love in our lives. That something is called sin. The result of sin is spiritual death. We have all sinned and never can be perfect.

Does that mean we can never know and experience God’s love? No, because God loved us so much He sent His only Son to die for each one of us. Jesus is the only bridge that takes us from our sin to the love of God. By His death and resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of heaven for everyone.

This is called salvation. It is the free gift of eternal life that is completely given to us by God’s grace. Salvation is the life in Jesus that begins now and will be for all eternity.

The free gift of salvation must be accepted in order for it to be our own. We must experience an internal conversion experience that changes our hearts. Once we accept Jesus into our hearts and allow Him to come into our lives, we begin to experience His love.

In order to become children of God, we must be born again. The sacrament of Baptism forgives your sins, gives the gift of the Holy Spirit, restores the grace lost by Adam, and makes you a member of His family.

This is the gift of salvation. We have the opportunity of eternal life because of what Jesus did for you and me. All we have to do is personally accept it by faith and be obedient to Him. Baptism and conversion are required to begin this process.

Jesus paid a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.

Is Trump sly?

Good soldier Schweik was a character invented by Czech author Jaroslav Hašek in the 1920s:

Through (possibly feigned) idiocy or incompetence [Schweik] repeatedly manages to frustrate military authority and expose its stupidity in a form of passive resistance: the reader is left unclear, however, as to whether [he] is genuinely incompetent, or acting quite deliberately with dumb insolence.

The character of Schweik became famous in Eastern Europe during the Cold War because he was seen as an example of the oppressed undermining their oppressors. But the question was, Is Schweik sly?

Now that Donald Trump’s unusual approach to politics (to say the least) won him the nomination, election, and inauguration as President of the U.S., people are wondering whether or not his approach is a matter of insolence or strategy. Is Trump sly?

The answer is unquestionably, Yes. Here are some reasons why:

1. George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist who has written and talked much about political speech. He is a progressive and an opponent of Trump, but he considers him an effective speaker (and tried to get the Clinton campaign to take note).

Unconscious thought works by certain basic mechanisms. Trump uses them instinctively to turn people’s brains toward what he wants… George Lakoff, Understanding Trump, July 23, 2016.

Without knowing it, many Democrats, progressives and members of the news media help Donald Trump every day. The way they help him is simple: they spread his message.

Think about it: every time Trump issues a mean tweet or utters a shocking statement, millions of people begin to obsess over his words. Reporters make it the top headline. Cable TV panels talk about it for hours. Horrified Democrats and progressives share the stories online, making sure to repeat the nastiest statements in order to refute them. While this response is understandable, it works in favor of Trump.

When you repeat Trump, you help Trump. You do this by spreading his message wide and far.

Nobody knows this better than Trump. Trump, as a media master, knows how to frame a debate. When he picks a fight, he does so deliberately. He tweets or says outrageous things, knowing they will be repeated millions and millions of times. When the news media and Democrats repeat Trump’s frames, they are strengthening those frames by ensuring that tens of millions of Americans hear them repeated over and over again. George Lakoff, How to Help Trump, Dec. 15, 2016.

2. Scott Adams is an author and creator of the Dilbert comic strip. In his blog he talks about Trump’s persuasion skills and systems thinking.

You’re probably seeing the best persuasion you will ever see from a new president. Instead of dribbling out one headline at a time, so the vultures and critics can focus their fire, Trump has flooded the playing field. You don’t know where to aim your outrage. He’s creating so many opportunities for disagreement that it’s mentally exhausting. Literally. He’s wearing down the critics, replacing their specific complaints with entire encyclopedias of complaints. And when Trump has created a hundred reasons to complain, do you know what impression will be left with the public?

He sure got a lot done.

Even if you don’t like it. Scott Adams, Outrage Dilution, Jan. 26, 2017.

If you see the world in terms of goals, you might think President Trump has failed at every important goal so far. …

But in any case, as I often say, goals are for losers. Systems are better. As I describe in my book, a good system is something you do every day that leads you to better outcomes, not specific objectives. For example, going to college is a good system even if you don’t know what job you might later want. Any time you learn something valuable, that’s a system. Networking with important people is a system. And so on.

Trump seems to be a systems thinker. I doubt he knew he would jump from real estate developer, to author, to reality TV star, to president. At least not in that order. Instead, he systematically accumulated money, persuasion skills, and personal connections until he had lots of options. Being president was one of them. Scott Adams, How to Evaluate a President, Feb. 16, 2017.

3. Trump acts in accord with the idea that the press is the opposition by trolling the press and putting out red herrings to get them off the track.

Now that he is president, reporters assigned to Mr. Trump are in a tough position. They have to pay close attention to what the White House says, but they know the White House may give them garbage and dare them to spend an entire working day trying to verify or debunk it.  Barton Swaim, Wall St. Journal, Jan. 23, 2017.

4. Trump’s background and inclination includes the positive thinking and speaking of Norman Vincent Peale and Paula White. His negotiating tactics include hyperbole:

In Art of the Deal Donald Trump calls one of his rhetorical tools “truthful hyperbole.” He both defends and praises it as “an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.” As a promoter, Trump made extensive use of this technique. Trump & Truthful Hyberbole, Mike LaBossiere on December 4, 2015.

Yes, Trump is sly.