Saturday, May 30, 2009

"...very trendy in the 1960s..."

Some of our members and perhaps our other readers are wondering how they might come to know Father Jaki better. There are two ways, each of which has a special advantage. There are some fifty books and perhaps another fifty booklets and leaflets of his writing, most of which are in print. (See the links on the right for where to get them.) Also, to my knowledge there are at least three of his lectures recorded - those he gave at the Chesterton Conferences in 2004, 2005, and 2006 - which will give you a hint of his character. Possibly the best book to introduce him in a more personal way is his autobiography, which has a variety of interesting little stories, such as the famous one about the confrontation with Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann and others - perhaps I will post that next week. Which reminds me I forgot to find the excerpt about the medieval monastery... next week for that too.

But one of the many interesting parts of that autobiography is his miniature "review" of his first book on science, The Relevance of Physics, which concludes with a very Chestertonian and funny paradox:

So much for the moment for The Relevance, which in fact was just as much about the irrelevance of physics as about its relevance. The word relevance was very trendy in the 1960s, though not so much its reverse, which is irrelevance. At a time when so many new trends tried to sell themselves by claiming to be relevant, no serious publisher would have considered, even for a moment, bringing out a book with the title, "The Irrelevance of Physics." Still, as I showed in the book, some prominent physicists missed no opportunity to warn that wholesale disaster was in the making if mankind continued to lull itself into believing that science in general and physics in particular were relevant to the point of eventually ushering in the golden age.
[Jaki, A Mind's Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography, 11-12]

The Limits of a Limitless Science and Other Essays (contents)

The Limits of a Limitless Science and Other Essays
by Stanley L. Jaki
2000 (Wilmington DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000) #viii+247pp.

  1. "The Limits of a Limitless Science"
    First published in Asbury Theological Journal, 54 (Spring 1999), pp. 23-29; reprinted with permission.
  2. "Extraterrestrials, or Better Be Moonstruck?"
    An enlarged form of an article that first appeared in National Catholic Register, Feb. 15-21, 1998. Reprinted with permission.
  3. "Computers: Lovable but Unloving"
    Invited lecture for the IUVE conference in Madrid (1993). Published in Downside Review 112 (July 1994), pp. 185-200. Reprinted with permission.
  4. "The Biblical Basis of Western Science"
    Address at the meeting of the Philadelphia Society, Philadelphia, April 26, 1997. Reprinted with permission from Crisis, October 1997.
  5. "The Inspiration and Counter-inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena"
    The text of an invited talk at the International Conference on the Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena, Castelgandolfo, Italy, June 1994. Reprinted with permission from Asbury Theological Journal 51, Nr. 2 (1996), pp. 71-86.
  6. "Words: Blocks, Amoebas, or Patches of Fog?"
    Invited paper read at the Meeting of The International Society for Optical Engineering, 10-12 April 1996, Orlando, Florida. Published in its Proceedings Volume 2716, pp. 138-143. Reprinted with permission.
  7. "Beyond Science"
    Originally published in W. A. Rusher (ed.), The Ambiguous Legacy of the Enlightenment (Sacramento, CA: The Claremont Institute, 1995), pp. 208-13. Reprinted with permission.
  8. "The Reality of the Universe"
    This chapter was first delivered in Italian at a symposium at the Lateran University, Rome, 1992 and published as "La realtà dell'universo" in M. Sorondo (ed.), Physica, Cosmologia, Naturphilosophie: Nuovi Approcci (Rome: Herder/Università Lateranense, 1993), pp. 328-41.
  9. "A Telltale Meteor"
    First published in Wanderer, August 22, 1996, p. 5. Reprinted with permission.
  10. "Cosmology: An Empirical Science?"
    Invited paper for the Summer School on cosmology, Universidad Complutense San Lorenzo di Escorial, July 1994. The Spanish version was published in J. A. Gonzalo (ed.), Cosmología astrofisica: Cuestiones fronterizas (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1995), pp. 248-270; The English text in Philosophy in Science 6 (1995), pp. 47-76. Reprinted with permission.
  11. "To Awaken from a Dream, Finally!"
    Essay review of Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992). First published in Philosophy in Science 6 (1994), pp. 159-74. Reprinted with permission.
  12. "Science and Religion in Identity Crisis"
    Lecture delivered on April 2, 1991, as part of its program on Science, Technology and Religious Ideas, University of Kentucky, Lexington.
  13. "Science, Culture, and Cult"
    Invited paper for the Plenary meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Science, November 1994. Published in Science in the Context of Human Culture (Vatican City State: Pontifical Academy of Science, 1997), pp. 93-118. Reprinted with permission.
  14. "The Paradox of Change"
    Baccalaureate address, Drew University, May 22, 1998
  15. "Cosmic Rays and Water Spiders"
    Originally published in Spiritual Evolution: Scientists Discuss Their Beliefs, ed. J. M. Templeton and K. S. Giniger (Philadelphia and London: Templeton Foundation Press, 1998), pp. 67-97. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, May 29, 2009

For GKC's Birthday: Jaki on Chesterton

To our members and to all interested students of science and philosophy:

Today is the 135th birthday of G. K. Chesterton - and it is right and just for our Society to mark this important day with special festivals, luncheons, and symposia, for Jaki himself has honoured GKC with the title "Champion of the Universe". (If you wish to know why, read SLJ's Chesterton a Seer of Science, where it forms the title of the concluding chapter.)

You already know I am a Chestertonian and have busied myself with work on this great philosopher and Scholar-of-the-Common-Man, and by now you know that Jaki studied his work to the extent of a book and five or more essays, and many references, attributed and unattributed, to his work. But perhaps - having read SLJ's Science and Creation and other such texts, you wonder about the origin of the connection.

Herewith, Father Jaki's own explanation of his intellectual connection with GKC.

--Dr. Thursday.

[My book] Miracles and Physics begins with a quotation of Chesterton's dictum: "The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen." [This is from GKC's short story "The Blue Cross" in The Innocence of Father Brown] This dictum is worth quoting not only on account of its paradoxical strength, but also because it is part and parcel of the vast and ever fresh outflow of the thought of a truly Christian philosopher. I did not put it this way either in my book, Chesterton: A Seer of Science, or in my essay, "G. K. C. as R. C.", [which appears in SLJ's Catholic Essays] and much less in my first publication on Chesterton, a study of his criticism of Blatchford, a prominent British atheist of the turn of the century, whose books sold at that time by the millions. That they are now totally forgotten may suggest that atheism may not be the best assurance for a book to be kept in print. Atheism has to be reinvented again and again. Only the unadvised see in it originality as it finds ever new spokesmen for some antiquated arguments. My original encounter with Chesterton goes back to the mid-1950s, when I read through his Orthodoxy, though I hardly plumbed its depth. One phrase in it, however, became engraved in my memory, and I found it very effective in disarming young atheists, increasingly numerous among Catholic college students. In that phrase, Chesterton exposed the rationalist, who tries to put heaven in his head and finds his skull split in the effort. [See Orthodoxy CW1:220] Years later, when I took a more sustained look at Chesterton's major works, my interest in him was certainly aroused on seeing his remarkable battling of scientism, my bête noire. But since I had already flayed that dead horse more than it deserved, I doubt that I would have been prompted to delve into Chesterton's thought for that reason alone. Two further promptings had to come so that in the back of my mind there should slowly emerge the plan of Chesterton: A Seer of Science. One of the two was the falling into my hands of an unpretentious volume in the Pocket Books series, Great Essays in Science, put together by Martin Gardner. Most of the essays reprinted there were familiar to me. But I was utterly surprised to find among them "The Logic of Elfland," a chapter from Chesterton's Orthodoxy. When I first read it sometime in 1956 I was utterly blind to the extraordinary grasp which Chesterton displayed there of what science was truly about. The other prompting came when I read, about ten years later, Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas and Gilson's astonished comment on it. Gilson had just delivered his famed Gifford Lectures, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, but on reading Chesterton's book he became convinced that Chesterton seized the gist of Thomas' thought in a way that could not be improved upon. As I did my research on Chesterton: A Seer of Science I found that this was not Gilson's first encounter with Chesterton. He had already heard, around 1927, Chesterton lecture at the University of Notre Dame. Gilson felt that he was in the presence of a first-class philosopher who in addition had a facility with phrases that philosophers usually cannot match. Forty or so years later Gilson emphatically repeated this erstwhile evaluation of Chesterton, the philosopher. Chesterton was, of course, a Christian who philosophized without trying to become a philosopher. Like Gilson, Chesterton came to Christian philosophy rather unintentionally. By battling solipsism as a deadly enemy, Chesterton could find life and sanity only in that realism which dogmatic, orthodox Christianity alone could assure. Chesterton soon saw that Catholicism was the only form of Christianity that consistently and firmly stood for facts and reality. The evidence is already in Heretics where Chesterton gives his reasons why Christ chose Peter, the fumbler, to be the rock foundation of His Church. [See Heretics CW1:70; also see SLJ's two texts on the Papacy.] One of the greatest challenges of Chesterton's biographers is to explain why it took a dozen years before Chesterton formally joined the Church. They must, of course, take into account the inscrutable workings of God's sovereign grace. In my book on Chesterton I dealt strictly with the richness of his reflections on science, which would have done credit to any accomplished philosopher and historian of science. The chapters of that book came from lectures delivered at the University of Notre Dame, to the dismay of some professors there who found it intolerable that so many "conservatives" came to hear me. Liberals once more displayed their illiberality as well as their shallowness of mind, which resorts to easy categorizations instead of serious appraisals of the matter on hand. One of those professors dismissed Chesterton as a "mere journalist." He did not take note when I personally called his attention to Gilson's testimony about Chesterton's greatness as a philosopher. Chesterton was also a Catholic who never tried to conceal that he was a Catholic. He knew that concealment in that respect is its most counterproductive form. For it is an ageless truth that man is a religious being and those prove this best who use philosophy to show that they are not. Man is a being who lives by religion whether he admits this or not. By trying to live without religion man can all too readily succeed in turning into an animal, a fact which philosophers have the primary duty to consider, unless they care only for their own ideas. Increasingly they do not care for matters that weigh most heavily on men's minds.
[Jaki, A Mind's Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography 196-8; the notes are mine.]

[Note: the essays comprising the "Blatchford Controversies" have been printed in Chesterton's CW1, the first volume of his collected works published by Ignatius Press, also available through the American Chesterton Society.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Duhem: on the duties of a metaphysician towards science

Our master reveals that our bridge joining science to the rest of the world must work in both directions. Has anyone else noticed a distinct strain of Cardinal Newman in this particular excerpt? I don't recall having read of it in Jaki.
--Dr. Thursday

The Metaphysician Should Know Physical Theory
in order not to make an illegitimate use of it in his speculations

There you have, then, a theoretical physics which is neither the theory of a believer nor that of a nonbeliever, but merely and simply a theory of a physicist; admirably suited to classify the laws studied by the experimenter, it is incapable of opposing any assertion whatever of metaphysics or of religious dogma, and is equally incapable of lending effective support to any such assertion. When the theorist invades the territory of metaphysics or of religious dogma, whether he intends to attack them or wishes to defend them, the weapon he has used so triumphantly in his own domain remains useless and without force in his hands, the logic of positive science which forged this weapon has marked out with precision the frontiers beyond which the temper given it by that logic would be dulled and its cutting power lost.
But does it follow from the fact that sound logic does not confer on physical theory any power to confirm or invalidate a metaphysical proposition that the metaphysician is entitled to distrust the theories of physics? Does it follow that he can pursue the construction of his cosmological system without any concern for the set of mathematical formulas by means of which the physicist succeeds in representing and classifying the set of experimental laws? We do not believe so; we are going to try to show that there is a connection between physical theory and the philosophy of nature; we are going to try to show precisely in what this connection consists.
But first, in order to avoid any misunderstanding, let us make a remark. This question, Does the metaphysician have to take account of the statements of the physicist? applies absolutely only to the theories of physics. The question is not to be applied to the facts of experiment or to experimental laws, for the answer cannot be doubtful; it is clear that the philosophy of nature has to take account of these facts and of these laws.
Indeed, the propositions which state these facts and formulate these laws have an objective import which is not possessed by merely theoretical propositions. The former may then be in agreement or disagreement with the propositions constituting a cosmological system; the author of this system does not have the right either to be indifferent to this agreement, which brings valuable confirmation to his intuitions, or to this disagreement, which condemns his doctrines beyond appeal.
The judgment of this agreement or disagreement is generally easy when the facts considered are facts of everyday experience and when the laws aimed at are the laws of common sense, for it is not necessary to be a professional physicist to grasp what is objective in such facts or in such laws.
On the other hand, this judgment becomes infinitely delicate and thorny when it comes to a scientific fact or scientific law. In fact, the proposition which formulates this fact or law is generally an intimate mixture of experimental observation endowed with ob­jective import and theoretical interpretation, a mere symbol devoid of any objective sense. It will be necessary for the metaphysician to dissociate this mixture in order to obtain as pure as possible the first of the two elements forming it; in that element, indeed, and in that observational element alone, can his system find con­firmation or run into contradiction.

[from P. Duhem, "The Physics of a Believer" reprinted in The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory translated by Philip P. Weiner from the second edition, 1914]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jaki on precision and discovery

For your consideration, an important commentary on precision and discovery...
--Dr. Thursday

The instances taken from nineteenth-century physics could be multiplied at some length to illustrate the fundamental importance that increased precision in experiments plays in establishing new laws or theories. Ohm's law, the laws of radiation, the gas laws, to mention only a few, were but triumphs in precision. The establishment of well-equipped physical laboratories, first in German and French and later in British universities, clearly evidenced the general recognition of the extraordinary importance precision has in physics. The rewards were at times spectacular, particularly when unknown entities, such as new elements, were discovered. The case of argon was perhaps the most characteristic, resting as it did on the worries of Ramsay and Rayleigh as to why some samples of nitrogen had a weight of 1.257 grams per liter instead of only 1.256. As it turned out, an unknown element, after its discovery called argon, caused this discrepancy. The identification of other inert gases followed in quick succession.
Great as such successes were, they represented nothing essentially new. Actually they meant rather the discovery of some missing building blocks in an already firmly outlined system. Most of the measurements that were being carried out in the newly organized laboratories related to refinements of older data, and this gave rise to the view that Maxwell in 1871 described in this way: "The opinion seems to have got abroad, that in a few years all the great physical constants will have been approximately estimated, and that the only occupation which will then be left to men of science will be to carry on these measurements to another place of decimals." A younger colleague of Maxwell, A. Schuster, recalled this mentality several decades later in a passage that sketches the "decimal" state of mind with memorable vividness:
I think I interpret correctly the recollection of those who passed through their scientific education at the time, when I say that the general impres-sion they received was that, apart from theoretical work, a reputation could be only secured by improved methods of measurement which would extend the numerical accuracy of the determination of physical constants. In many cases the student was led to believe that the main facts of nature were all known, that the chances of any great discovery being made by experiment were vanishingly small, and that therefore the experimentalist's work consisted in deciding between rival theories, or in finding some small residual effect, which might add a more or less important detail to the theory.

Schuster added, however, that some scientists, like Maxwell, refused to go along with such a pedestrian appraisal of the role played by precision in the progress of physics. In his "Introductory Lecture in Experimental Physics," which he delivered after the opening of the Cavendish Laboratories in 1871, Maxwell pointed out that precision leads to the subjugation of new regions, to new fields of research, to new scientific ideas. In spite of all his conviction about the new aspects that precision might unveil in physics, Maxwell could little surmise (if at all) the revolutionary dimensions of the newness that was in store for physics, changes due in no small measure to highly refined experiments carried out in the very same Cavendish Laboratories only a generation later.
Still in this respect too, Maxwell saw farther than most of his colleagues. How the great majority of first-rank physicists in the late nineteenth century looked upon greater accuracy was perhaps best expressed by Michelson. According to him, heightened precision was meant only to clarify apparent discrepancies and point out new applications of already known laws. The chance that these laws would ever be supplanted by new discoveries or by more precise measurements was in Michelson's eyes "exceedingly remote." "The extreme refinement in the science of measurement," in which Michelson had few peers in his day, was for him a tool of putting the final touches on an already firmly established edifice. Although he admitted that "it is never safe to affirm that the future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past," he voiced the conviction that further advances, future discoveries, indeed the "future truths of Physical Science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals."

[SLJ The Relevance of Physics 254-6, attributions omitted]

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"...a machine devised..."

Another busy week, with far too few postings. At least I had the sense (or the gall) to post a request for someone somewhere - hopefully a scholar in France - to come and help with our work. But I did prepare our work for our Saturday half-holiday - the contents for Patterns or Principles, one of Jaki's more exciting essay collections. It contains the very exciting essay on Medieval Technology, which has a delightful long quote from a work of St. Bernard... I will try to get it visible for you next week. As I explored this collection I was again struck by the need to have at least some simple sort of introductory tool - whether it be a review, or a little synopsis, or something... more work, more projects. If you read this and agree with my estimation of the need, and have time, and would like to volunteer, please let me know by e-mail. (See my profile for the e-address.)

Now, to our little excursion into the larger lands, the higher plateaus of the intellect which we call humour.... if we wish to fly as the angels can, we must (as Chesterton points out) learn to take ourselves lightly. (See Orthodoxy CW1:325 for the original quote.)

This one is not quite so funny as sarcastic, but it is a healthy form of sarcasm, in the nature of a warning. It is very reminiscent of Chesterton.... one might wish to have a careful study of GKC and SLJ on the matter of education, just as Fr. Jaki often wished for a study of Gilson's epistemology - and, perhaps by implication, Chesterton's.... but for now we must go on wishing. I have no time for such studies this week!

To set the stage, I shall give Chesterton's comment, which comes from his work What's Wrong With the World, the part entitled "Education, or the Mistake About the Child"...
The trouble in too many of our modern schools is that the State, being controlled so specially by the few, allows cranks and experiments to go straight to the schoolroom when they have never passed through the Parliament, the public house, the private house, the church, or the marketplace. Obviously, it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people; the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby. But in a school to-day the baby has to submit to a system that is younger than himself. The flopping infant of four actually has more experience, and has weathered the world longer, than the dogma to which he is made to submit. Many a school boasts of having the last ideas in education, when it has not even the first idea; for the first idea is that even innocence, divine as it is, may learn something from experience.
[GKC What's Wrong With the World CW4:167, emphasis added]
Good, isn't it? Yes. Now Jaki has a somewhat shorter and more specialized essay on education and science, which seems to me to contain a correlative quote, which also has a sizeable quantum of humour:
Whenever science and education are the subject of a conversation, assumptions are readily made and by precisely those who should not make them readily. Such conversations usually take place among educated people, who just because they are educated are certain to know what education is. And, unfortunately, those with a scientific education seem to be absolutely certain that they know what science is. Almost all educated people have received their higher education in colleges or universities that boast of a department of education. There all faculty claim that education is a science. The situation would not be so bad if they merely claimed that the teaching of education can be a reasoned discourse. That there is plenty of unreason in that discourse may be suspected from the ever more rapid revisions of syllabuses issued by departments of education. Ever new courses are introduced and ever new methods are being invented about the most effective methods of educating. The result is that the science of education resembles ever more closely a machine devised to produce illiterates in ever larger number.
[SLJ "The science of education and education in science" in Numbers Decide and Other Essays, 85, emphasis added]

Patterns or Principles and Other Essays (contents)

Patterns or Principles and Other Essays
by Stanley L. Jaki
1995 (Bryn Mawr, PA.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1995), viii+246pp.

  1. "Patterns or Principles: The Pseudoscientific Roots of Law's Debacle"
    Based on an address to the Thomas More Society of Harvard Law School, November 14, 1991, first published in The American Journal of Jurisprudence 38 (1993), pp. 135-57. Reprinted with permission.
  2. "Ecology or Ecologism?"
    First published in Man and his Environment. Tropical Forests and the Conservation of Species (Vatican City State: Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 1994), pp. 271-93. Reprinted with permission.
  3. "Socrates or the Baby and the Bathwater"
    First published in Faith and Reason 16 (1990), pp. 63-79. Reprinted with permission.
  4. "Medieval Creativity in Science and Technology"
    First published in Technology in the Western Political Tradition, ed. M. R. Zinman et al. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 46-68. Reprinted with permission.
  5. "Telltale Remarks and a Tale Untold"
    First published in Creation, Nature, and Political Order in the Philosophy of Michael Foster (1903-1959), ed. C. Wybrow (Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), pp. 269-96. Reprinted with permission.
  6. "Determinism and Reality"
    First published in Great Ideas Today 1990 (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1990), pp. 276-302. Reprinted with permission.
  7. "History as Science and Science in History"
    First published in Intercollegiate Review 28 (Fall 1993), pp. 20-33. Reprinted with permission.
  8. "Science: Western or What?"
    First published in Intercollegiate Review 26 (Fall 1990), pp. 3-12. Reprinted with permission. The meeting was held in mid-June, 1990.
  9. "Gilson and Science"
    First published in Saints, Sovereigns and Scholars: Essays in Honor of Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, ed. R. A. Herrera et al (New York: Peter Lang, 1993), pp. 31-47. Reprinted with permission.
  10. "The Nonsense and Sense of Science"
    First published in A Warning Is Given, essays by Pope John Paul II et al., ed. H. Owen (Woodstock, Va.: Apostolatus Uniti, 1992), pp. 43-46. Reprinted with permission.
  11. "The Mind: Its Physics or Physiognomy?"
    A review essay of The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989) xiii + 466pp, by Roger Penrose. First published in Reflections 10/2 (1991). Reprinted with permission.
  12. "The Last Word in Physics"
    First published in Philosophy in Science 5 (1993), pp. 9-32. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Duhem Asks Us Some Questions

What is the value of physical theory?
What are its relations to metaphysical explanation?

Physicists, philosophers, theologians, and any scholar who strives to be humble before the Ultimate Truth of the Real: attend.

Have you ever stopped to consider these questions? Reserve some time for yourself to read the following excerpt, then be silent and do some real work on this matter. It will repay you with a renewed energy and enthusiasm as you go back to your daily tasks.

--Dr. Thursday

What is the value of physical theory? What are its relations to metaphysical explanation? These are lively questions today, but like so many central questions, they are by no means new. They belong to all time: they have been raised as long as a science of nature has been in existence. The form in which they are cloaked may change somewhat from one century to another; the form of the questions derives from the science of the day and is variable; but one need only remove this covering to become aware that essentially the questions remain the same.

Until we reach the seventeenth century, we come upon very few areas of natural science that have advanced to the point of formulating theories in mathematical language, theories whose predictions are expressed in numerical terms so that they can be verified by comparison with the measurements furnished by precise, direct observation. Even statics, then called scientia de ponderibus, and "catoptrics," at that time subsumed under "perspective" (our "oprics"), had barely reached this stage of development. Bypassing these two limited areas, we encounter only one science with a form which, even at that time quite advanced, would cause us to anticipate the course taken by our modern theories of mathematical physics: that science is astronomy. Hence, where we today speak of "physical theory," the Greek or Arabic philosophers and the medieval or Renaissance scientists spoke rather of "astronomy."

No other area of natural science had yet reached that srate of perfection where the language of mathematics serves to express laws discovered by exact observation. Physics in our sense, as both mathematical and empirical, had not yet become separated from the metaphysical study of the material world, that is, from cosmology. In many instances, therefore, where we would today speak of "metaphysics," the ancients used the word "physics" instead.

This is why the question so much discussed today - What are the rela­tions between physical theory and metaphysics? - was for the two thou­sand years formulated differently - What are the relations between astron­omy and physics?

[Duhem, To Save the Phenomena: an essay on the idea of physical theory from Plato to Galileo, introduction. Translated from the French by Edmund Doland and Chaninah Maschler, with an introductory essay by S. L. Jaki (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1969)]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Aux Plumes, Citoyens et Frères!

I am told this means "To Pens, Citizens and Brothers!" - at least I hope that is what it means. Unfortunately, as you no doubt can tell, I do not know French.

I wish to make another appeal. But I am having a hard time doing it, because I do not know who I need to address, or how to explain it. In desperation, I shall ask Chesterton to help:
...the easiest way of talking in a foreign language is to talk philosophy. The most difficult kind of talking is to talk about common necessities. The reason is obvious. The names of common necessities vary completely with each nation and are generally somewhat odd and quaint. How, for instance, could a Frenchman suppose that a coalbox would be called a "scuttle"? If he has ever seen the word scuttle it has been in the jingo Press, where the "policy of scuttle" is used whenever we give up something to a small Power like Liberals, instead of giving up everything to a great Power, like Imperialists. What Englishman in Germany would be poet enough to guess that the Germans call a glove a "hand-shoe." Nations name their necessities by nicknames, so to speak. They call their tubs and stools by quaint, elvish, and almost affectionate names, as if they were their own children! But any one can argue about abstract things in a foreign language who has ever got as far as Exercise IV. in a primer. For as soon as he can put a sentence together at all he finds that the words used in abstract or philosophical discussions are almost the same in all nations. They are the same, for the simple reason that they all come from the things that were the roots of our common civilisation. From Christianity, from the Roman Empire, from the mediaeval Church, or the French Revolution. "Nation," "citizen," "religion," "philosophy," "authority," "the Republic," words like these are nearly the same in all the countries in which we travel. Restrain, therefore, your exuberant admiration for the young man who can argue with six French atheists when he first lands at Dieppe. Even I can do that. But very likely the same young man does not know the French for a shoe-horn.
[G.K. Chesterton Tremendous Trifles]
Alas, I do not know the French for shoe-horn; I cannot argue about anything in French. Hence my appeal.

It would be wonderful if everyone spoke French. But some of us do not, and despite our enthusiasm, some of us do not have the time necessary to learn it with the necessary skills - even if we are going to talk philosophy. Or science.

It is needful that the works of Pierre Duhem, in particular his Système du monde, and his work on Leonardo, be translated into English.

If I had the time and energy, I would make the attempt, though it is a bit late for me to acquire a new language. But I have other tasks at present, and I am still trying to get together an electronic version of the Duhem bibliography such as I had posted for Jaki. Moreover, I have a better argument - in fact, two.

First, no matter how much someone may admire France and her history, Pierre Duhem and his work, it is far more appropriate for his work to be furthered by a French scholar. It is noble, it is dignified; it is true to Duhem, it is true to France.

Second, in 2016 will come the 100th anniversary of Duhem's death. It would be most fitting to have a "Complete Works" published - yes, first in French, and then in other tongues (such as English). But seven years may be too little a time for such a massive project. Perhaps too short even for the Système. But if this project is not yet being contemplated, let us urge it on!

I have no incentives to offer, but the Duhem Society - be it at present merely a handful of interested scholars - shall support it, at the very least by writing about the projects, and by praying for their success. And once it is published we shall read these works and study them...

Another project of the same kind is to produce a translation of Jaki's 1957 doctoral dissertation, Les tendances nouvelles de l'ecclésiologie, and I seem to recall a few journal articles in French. (Which reminds me I have to extend the Jaki bibliography to include his journal articles.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"...nothing rhapsodic..."

I know there were fewer postings this week than usual - time seemed to creep away from me. I cannot plead the excuse that I have several other projects - I always have several other projects. If you want something relevant to read, you might check out my recent post for the American Chesterton Society, which touches on some interesting matters about teaching; there is an excellent quote from Chesterton which may recall some of Jaki's own thoughts.

I was able to get this week's "contents" posting finished; it is for the hard-to-find Cosmos In Transition, which is not usually included in the list of Jaki's essay collections, though of course that is what it is. In fact, it is an exemplar of a related but not linear collection of articles, all exploring some very deep and exceedingly interesting matters about the history of astronomy - in particular, of the study of the "cosmos". I find that I shall have to re-read it in the near future, in the hope of giving you a better introduction - if you have it, or can borrow it from your library, you might read it yourself, and we'll discuss it at a future time.

Since today is Saturday, our "half-holiday" when we touch on the truly important part of our work, which is to laugh at the remarkable truths of science and its even more remarkable students - and since we are speaking of astronomy, I can tell you about a rich trove of humor I have found: a collection of witty answers given on tests in an introductory science class. I make no claims about the link or what else you may find there, but there are several - ah - let us say insights of the first magnitude...

And now, let us hear a first-magnitude - or a totally random - insight from Father Jaki...
There is nothing rhapsodic about Planck's constant so that it may accommodate variable moods that seek solace in the total randomness which is allegedly assured by quantum mechanics.
[SLJ, Numbers Decide 79]

Cosmos In Transition (contents)

Cosmos in Transition: Essays in the History of Cosmology
by Stanley L. Jaki
1990 (Tucson, Arizona: Pachart, Publishing House, 1990), vii+248pp.

  1. "The Milky Way Before Galileo"
    This chapter was first published in Journal for the History of Astronomy, 2 (1971), pp. 161-67. Reprinted with permission.
  2. "The Milky Way from Galileo to Wright"
    This chapter was first published in Journal for the History of Astronomy, 3 (1972), pp. 199-204. Reprinted with permission.
  3. "Lambert and the Watershed of Cosmology"
    This chapter was first published in Scientia (Milano), 113 (1978), pp. 97-114. Reprinted with permission.
  4. "The Wronging of Wright"
    This chapter was first published in Old and New Questions in Physics, Cosmology, Philosophy, and Theoretical Biology. Essays in Honor of Wolfgang Yourgrau (New York: Plenum, 1983), pp. 593-605. Reprinted with permission.
  5. "The Five Forms of Laplace’s Cosmogony"
    This chapter was originally published in American Journal of Physics, 44 (1976), pp. 4-11. Reprinted with permission.
  6. "The Early History of the Titius-Bode Law"
    This chapter first appeared in American Journal of Physics, 40 (1972), pp. 1014-1023. Reprinted with permission.
  7. "Soldner and the Bending of Light"
    This chapter is the introductory part of my article, “Johann Georg von Soldner and the Gravitational Bending of Light. With an English translation of his Essay on it published in 1801,” Foundations of Physics, 8 (1978), pp. 927-50. Reprinted with permission.
  8. "The Gravitational Paradox of an Infinite Universe"
    This chapter first appeared in German under the title, “Des Gravitations-Paradoxon des unendlichen Universums,” in Sudhoffs Archiv 63 (1979), pp. 105-122. Reprinted with permission.
  9. "The Chaos of Scientific Cosmology"
    This chapter originally appeared in The Nature of the Physical Universe: 1976 Nobel Conference organized by Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, ed. D. Huff and O. Prewett (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1979), pp. 83-112. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jaki on Fatima

Books on Fatima are legion, but only a few suggest that their aim is to come to grips with the miracle of the sun as a legitimate question for science. This book has no other aim than that. And since science must begin with facts, the scientific approach to the miracle of the sun should seem to depend on a full presentation of the reports which eyewitnesses gave about that miracle. Further, those reports must be given in their contemporary context if their demonstrative value is to be properly appraised.

Most of those who have read several books on Fatima are in for a surprise. There is a much larger number of eyewitness accounts than one would suspect and yet far less than should have been procured right after that incredible day of October 13, 1917. On seeing these disparities some will be pleased on being faced with a wealth of new information. Others will be displeased. It is never a pleasant experience to find that one's fund of information is not so full as one believed it to be. Nor is it pleasant to find that a very basic task failed to be implemented and with all possible speed. The memories of even those who saw something truly incredible may fade as days, weeks, months, let alone years and decades go by.

Champions of Fatima must still learn full respect for facts that can only be gathered from the eyewitnesses of that stupendous event. Some information in this book may especially disturb those of them who think that the voice of science has already been fully heard about the miracle of the sun. Scoffers at Fatima, who now for eight decades have systematically disregarded the testimonies of eyewitnesses, will, in all likelihood, continue to honor facts in the breach and glory in their "scientific" posture.

Both groups will find disturbing this book for the wrong reason. It is not right to be overconfident about one's presumed command of facts indicative of a miracle. Much less is it right to disregard facts just because they do not fit one's presumption that miracles are impossible.

Those who think that miracles are not only possible but that miracles also happen and that this is the most incredible thing about them, ought to be ready for a concession. The latter concerns the intimate connection between the natural and the supernatural that almost always can be detected whenever a miracle is on hand. It is for those ready to concede this that this book has been primarily written.
[Jaki, God and the Sun at Fatima, introduction]
Perhaps you have a vague sense that Jaki is quoting something in that last paragraph? You are correct: he used that quote in his small book Miracles and Physics. He's quoting Chesterton:
The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.
[GKC "The Blue Cross" in The Innocence of Father Brown]
One of the future projects of our Society - yes, write it down in your notebooks - one of our future projects is to augment SLJ's book on Chesterton. A chief topic to be studied is Chesterton on Miracles, which might even be a book in itself. For your further study, I would recommend starting with Chesterton's "The Miracle of Moon Crescent" (another Father Brown story) and "The Trees of Pride", a short story which can be found in CW14. But, as in the case of SLJ, we find the discussion and the gems of insight strewn through many of GKC's books. I shall conclude with just one sample:
What is the attitude of an ordinary man on being told of an extraordinary event: a miracle? I mean the sort of thing that is loosely called supernatural, but should more properly be called preternatural. For the word supernatural applies only to what is higher than man; and a good many modern miracles look as if they came from what is considerably lower. Anyhow, what do modern men say when apparently confronted with something that cannot, in the cant phrase, be naturally explained ? Well, most modern men immediately talk nonsense. When such a thing is currently mentioned, in novels or newspapers or magazine stories, the first comment is always something like, "But my dear fellow, this is the twentieth century!" It is worth having a little training in philosophy if only to avoid looking so ghastly a fool as that. It has on the whole rather less sense or meaning than saying, "But my dear fellow, this is Tuesday afternoon." If miracles cannot happen, they cannot happen in the twentieth century or in the twelfth. If they can happen, nobody can prove that there is a time when they cannot happen. The best that can be said for the sceptic is that he cannot say what he means, and therefore, whatever else he means, he cannot mean what he says. But if he only means that miracles can be in the twelfth century, but cannot be believed in the twentieth, then he is wrong again, both in theory and in fact. He is wrong in theory, because an intelligent recognition of possibilities does not depend on a date but on a philosophy. An atheist could disbelieve in the first century and a mystic could continue to believe in the twenty-first century. And he is wrong, in fact, because there is every sign of there being a great deal of mysticism and miracle in the twenty-first century; and there is quite certainly an increasing mass of it in the twentieth.
[GKC The Common Man 176-7; cf. Orthodoxy CW1:278, The Thing CW3:227-228]

Saturday, May 9, 2009

...enjoying my dinner ...

Today, rather than a great little quip with the sting of humour, I have a pleasant little anecdote for you to enjoy. It is from Jaki's "intellectual autobiography", and I have heard another version from him directly, which I might reveal at some future time - but this one is a lot of fun, and may be useful to you some day if you are invited to dinner with scientists. Another trick you can use is to sing the "Periodic Table of Elements" song (arranged by Tom Lehrer, as I recall). Such bridge-building tricks are most enjoyable, and I hope our Society will have a special section in our Journal (when it is eventually published) to collect such delights. People laugh at literature, at poems, at plays, and even at music - oh yes: didn't Haydn write the "Surprise" symphony to make the old ladies jump? (I once heard a concerto for vacuum cleaners which... well, I'll save that for another day.) After all, why should science take a back seat when it comes to humour? Let us keep our professionalism and dignity, let us work hard at our tasks - but let us also keep a page in our lab notebooks to record those rare moments where eternal joy shines (or echoes) through the glassware and circuits and equipment...

My gaining a doctor's degree in physics was meant to provide one of the foundations on which to articulate, for over forty years now, this message, which can only irk scientists who think, thematically or not, that science alone counts. Following a lecture of mine at a big engineering university, one of the professors there stood up and said that I came to the wrong place with my message. But I was invited to another such place after a professor there read, to his great astonishment, in The Relevance of Physics Bertrand Russell's admission that what this world, being on the brink of a nuclear holocaust, really needs is Christian love.

Such invitations go usually together with a dinner where half a dozen faculty are also invited. There (I am talking of the engineering university of the Air Force in Dayton) someone at the dinner table began to extol the superiority of science over the humanities. I was able to shift the discourse to the question of whether the scientific method is capable of deciding whether Michelangelo or Renoir was greater as an artist. Suddenly all those professors of engineering and physics found themselves arguing with one another. In doing so they merely proved the fallibility of their presumed artistic competence or the lack of it. Meanwhile I could go enjoying my dinner undisturbed.
[Jaki, A Mind's Matter 26]

PS: I will post that quote from Russell next week. It is startling.

Catholic Essays (contents)

Catholic Essays
by Stanley L. Jaki
1990 (Front Royal, Va.: Christendom Press, 1990), xiii+176pp.

  1. "Science for Catholics"
    This chapter was first published in The Dawson Newsletter, 5/4 (Winter, 1986-87). Reprinted here with permission.
  2. "The Case for Galileo's Rehabilitation"
    This chapter was first published in Fidelity 5/4 (1986), pp.37-41. Reprinted with permission.
  3. "The Creator's Coming"
    This chapter was first published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, 85/3 (December 1984), pp. 10-15. Reprinted with pemission.
  4. "A Most Holy Night"
    This chapter was first published in Reflections 5/3 (Summer 1986), pp. 1 and 21. Reprinted with permission.
  5. "Christ, Catholics and Abortion"
    This chapter was first published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review 85/6 (March 1985), pp. 7-15. Reprinted with permission.
  6. "Man of One Wife or Celibacy"
    This chapter was first published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, 87/4 (January 1986), pp. 18-25. Reprinted with permission.
  7. "G. K. C. as R. C."
    This chapter was first published in Faith and Reason 12/3-4 (1986), pp. 211-28. Reprinted here with permission.
  8. "The Business of Christianity and the Christianity of Business"
    Invited paper presented at the Conference on World Religions and Business Behavior at the Netherlands School of Business, Nijenrode, The Netherlands, November 26-28, 1980. This chapter first appeared in Conference on World Religions and Business Behavior. Documents (Nijenrode, The Netherlands: The Netherlands School of Business, 1981), pp. 206-29. Reprinted here with permission.
  9. "The Intelligent Christian's Guide to Scientific Cosmology"
    This chapter first appeared in Faith and Reason, 12/2 (1986), pp. 124-36. Reprinted here with permission.
  10. "Commencement"
    Address at the Graduation of the Class of 1989, St. Vincent College, Latrobe, Pa.

Some notes:

First, a correction: The bibliography in SLJ's A Mind's Matter for Catholic Essays gives the first chapter index as "1986(14)". This must be revised to "1986(16)". It also appears that way in Heffner's earlier bibliography given in Creation and Scientific Creativity.

The topic of Christ's coming and Advent (chapters 3 and 4) is also addressed in SLJ's Advent and Science and The Virgin Birth and the Birth of Science, which contains some wonderful reprints of pictures by Blake.

Chapter 5, "Christ, Catholics and Abortion" was reprinted again in SLJ's The Ethical Foundations of Bioethics.

The topic of chapter 6, "Man of One Wife or Celibacy" is considered at greater length in SLJ's Theology of Priestly Celibacy.

Chapter 7's subject of GKC (Gilbert Keith Chesterton) is considered in several other essays and in SLJ's Chesterton a Seer of Science.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The "Verbal Glissando" of SLJ

Have you ever been reading a Jaki text, perhaps referring to Leonardo or Aquinas and run into the term "Stagirite"? Perhaps most of you know who that means, but maybe you need to be told that it means someone from Stagira in ancient Macedonia - almost always Aristotle. But even if you did know, perhaps your breath had been taken away by the amazing leap across the millennia - which is even more common in Jaki's texts than his use of Aristotle's nickname.

Any of you who have read Chesterton may know his curious and powerful use of words to underscore the point he is making. Some critics refer to them as Chesterton's "Verbal Fireworks" - he delighted to use curious analogies, stunning word alignments, alliterations and other such things. Verbal devices as alliteration and other figures of speech can also be found in many of Father Jaki's texts, despite their otherwise scholarly tone. One finds alliterative titles like Cosmos and Creator calling to mind GKC's Lunacy and Letters. Another device, perhaps arising from a more ancient tongue is the chiasm (a shape like the capital Greek chi, X) appearing in titles like The Origin of Science and the Science of its Origin. (Such things appear in remarkable places, such as the Watson-Crick palindromes of rRNA and tRNA secondary structures.) Another device Jaki uses is the sudden leap through millennia of history from one linked idea to its correlate This may not be an official "figure" according to the rules of rhetoric, but Jaki's purpose often demands it, and to honor the device with a name I shall refer to these as Jaki's "Verbal Glissando" - I use a musical tag recalling Jaki's musical abilities - Chesterton was a trained artist so a visual tag is fitting for him. Please understand: I do not use these terms as criticism: for both GKC and SLJ, the subject matter often demands such mannerisms, and, like fireworks or glissandos, have the advantage of drawing the reader's attention to the topic at hand.

I have brought up "Verbal Glissandos" because I am about to make one of my own, as I wish to go into Tuesday's matter of the bridge a little more deeply.

No doubt you have read (or at least heard of) On the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, written while he was in prison. He tells of how Philosophy comes to comfort him, appearing as a lovely woman, and describes her appearance in some detail: "On the border below was inwoven the Greek Pi, on that above was to be read a Greek Theta. And between the two letters there could be marked degrees, by which, as by the rungs of a ladder, ascent might be made from the lower principle to the higher." [tr. W. V. Cooper] A footnote explains that these letters signify the two branches of philosophy Theta for theoretical and Pi for practical.

Without trying to delve into the vast issues raised my reference to this great philosophical work, I wish you to consider just this very elegant and beautiful image - and then to follow me as I turn to another, more modern, and even more issue-raising.

When I was doing my research for my doctorate, by which I assisted molecular biologists in their work to study prokaryotic rRNA (that is, the working machinery of the cells of bacteria) I stumbled up - or down - that ladder. Here is what happened.

One of the first things one does with a collection of data - be it stellar coordinates, or an interesting text, or an electronic collection of biological sequences - is to perform various searches. One wants to know (as Bessel used the work of Piazzi) whether the stars really are fixed - or how often Fr. Jaki uses the word "encomium" - or whether a certain pattern appears within a collection of DNA sequences. As you are most likely reading this through the INTERNET, you most likely know there are a variety of tools which permit all kinds of searches, and if you are a molecular biologist or a computer scientist you might even give various names to the tools (the programs, which are engineering solutions) or to the algorithms (which are the theoretical "recipes" or scientific solutions) for doing these searches. Remember, the difference between thesre things - think of the robe of Philosophy - a recipe is needed if you want a cake, but you cannot eat the recipe! Nor can you "hear" the musical score - you need a pipe organ or an orchestra to perform it. Similarly you cannot cross a chasm with the blueprints for a bridge, even if the Roeblings themselves drew them! (The Roeblings are the designers and builders of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.) Nor can an algorithm, no matter how efficient, do the work of a search. There must be the ladder which links Theta and Pi - which Boethius said Philosophy herself had placed on her robe.

One of the curious things about the sequences I had to deal with was that, unlike simple texts of common human languages, or even the usual data found in many business or engineering problems, the data contained what are called "wild cards" -

They are the symbols which represent a degree of ambiguity at a given place in the sequence.

Do not worry - as interesting as this is, I am not about to give a full lecture on this here. If you want a little more you can find it here.

But I wish to point out this curious fact which as I said, I stumbled into.

You may have already noted that some searches want you to indicate whether you want them to be "case-sensitive" - that is to distinguish between the capital "G" and the small "g". Or you may have had to deal with a word which has diacritical marks, such as "Hélène" (the name of Pierre Duhem's daughter). The idea of a "wild card" is similar, but instead of the ambiguity residing in the query word, it resides in the original text, and one requires that the symbols match though they may not be identical! (Some other time I shall try to describe this in more rigorous detail, but not here and now.)

It is all very well to speak about engineering solutions to such things, which is probably what a typical programmer would attempt, but one might rush headlong into a completely inappropriate solution as I did, only to discover that the elegant solution does not work.

It took some study to find out why. Every kind of computer search contains as its kernel a very simple step of work: the comparison function or relation, by which two symbols (letters or characters) are examined and their equivalence decided - or their non-equivalence. (This is so rudimentary an operation it requires no more than a handful of logic gates to implement in electronics.) However, the elegant solution requires that the nature of this comparison relation must be transitive - that is, it must have the property that if
A "relates to" B,
B "relates to" C,
then it must be true that
A "relates to" C.
Clearly this is true when "relates to" is replaced by "equals" - or even "is less than".

But it is NOT true when one considers these unusual "wild cards" where the "relates to" is called "matches" - even though it first appears that the "match" is very much like "equals"!

(To be very technical, the famous efficient Knuth-Morris Pratt search algorithm requires that the string comparison operation be an equivalence relation: that is, reflexive, antisymmetric and transitive.)

But the "matches" relation in a wild card alphabet (such as used in DNA sequence analysis) is NOT transitive: for A matches M and M matches C but A does NOT match C.

And so, it was only by exploring some of the deepest theoretical parts of this issue that the purely practical goal of finding a certain pattern could be accomplished - even abstractly.

My point in mentioning this is not to justify a minor step in my research. It is to hint at the need to see both the theoretical as well as the practical - that the "divide" must not be shrugged off just because one finds a very strange difficulty. Some computer scientists (those devotes to the abstract) might have shrugged off the issue without any concern for the practical need: "we're not interested in such unnatural things as 'wild card' alphabets!" Others (referred to as "merely programmers") might have opted for a different though less efficient solution, and ignored the strange failure of the classic method to handle the unusual case. Meanwhile the biologists, intent on matters of disease and curious to know more about the reality of the natural world, resort to working problems by hand, while the Theta-side battles with the Pi-side.

No; we must work through (or by means of) that ladder, the degrees of the staircase which links the Theta and the Pi - the philosophical bridge across the "impassable divide". We cannot get stuck in the quagmires of the self - be it our own ego, or a "departmental ego".

The paradox is that the ladder is simultaneously theoretical and practical - it must be.

Though it means lengthening an already lng posting, I shall append a very instructive fragment from Chesterton which may give some enlightenment, if only by his spectacular "verbal fireworks"...
There has arisen in our time a most singular fancy: the fancy that when things go very wrong we need a practical man. It would be far truer to say, that when things go very wrong we need an unpractical man. Certainly, at least, we need a theorist. A practical man means a man accustomed to mere daily practice, to the way things commonly work. When things will not work, you must have the thinker, the man who has some doctrine about why they work at all. It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning; but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.

It is then necessary to drop one's daily agnosticism and attempt rerum cognoscere causas. If your aeroplane has a slight indisposition, a handy man may mend it. But, if it is seriously ill, it is all the more likely that some absent-minded old professor with wild white hair will have to be dragged out of a college or laboratory to analyze the evil. The more complicated the smash, the whiter-haired and more absent-minded will be the theorist who is needed to deal with it; and in some extreme cases, no one but the man (probably insane) who invented your flying-ship could possibly say what was the matter with it.
[GKC What's Wrong With the World CW4:43-4]

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jaki on Duhem

Silence and Awe!
[from a sign which hung in ancient Chinese courtrooms]

Let us pause today and think of our two Masters, who lead us to the One Master.

Today the time is ripe for broad exposure to a central aspect of Duhem's thought, and the English translation of this book will admirably serve that purpose. The message in its widest perspective is cultural. It was not, however, spelled out by Duhem in one of those popular essays on culture and science which as a rule are more productive of profit than of true enlightenment. Duhem's all-important message is embodied in highly learned publications on the history and philosophy of science which analyze with consummate mastery the early and recent phases of scientific conceptual development — not that Duhem considered himself either a historian of science, though he was undoubtedly one of the greatest, nor a philosopher, though his was a philosophical acumen of rare penetration and finesse.


Rightly or wrongly Duhem was a thorn in the side of many. The best aspects of his character were also the ones that made him enemies. His brilliance, combined with utter honesty, selfless dedication, and crusading verve, earned him not only the unreserved admiration of his students (they found in him "a teacher who cared") but also the resentment of many of his peers. Needless to say, his strongly conservative political views and his deep Catholic convictions could bring him no favor in the liberal and anticlerical atmosphere of the Third Republic. His readiness to uphold right causes set him on more than one occasion at loggerheads even with friends. An especially sacred cause in his eyes was the purity of scientific truth, which he saw threatened by the fallacies and contradictions of mechanism. In fact he rated the search for a mechanical explanation of the universe "the most dangerous stumbling block for theoretical physics." However much truth the statement contained, its sweep could only alienate most of those who like Jean-Baptiste Perrin considered the early triumphs of atomic physics a vindication of Descartes' mechanistic interpretation of nature.

To be fully aware in the 1880s of the breadth and width of the mechanistic fallacy in physics required unusual talents and independence of opinion. After all, by then the identification of the intelligible with the mechanical had been a fundamental article of the scientific creed for more than two hundred years. True, before Duhem, Lagrange powerfully steered the science of mechanics away from the shallows of mechanistic imagery. Ampère's work in electricity also showed to good advantage the purely formalistic aspects of mathematical physics. As early as 1855, Rankine, a pioneer in thermodynamics, spoke of a science of energetics, designed to achieve a thorough demechanization of physical theory. By the time Duhem received his doctorate in 1888, Mach had been pursuing for almost two decades his unrelenting critical analysis of the conceptual development of classical mechanics.

All of these were, however, partial efforts. Only Duhem had the courage, stamina, and talent to undertake on a broad front a radical recasting of theoretical physics. The true measure of his efforts can best be seen in that impressive Notice which he submitted to the French Academy prior to his election as one of its first six nonresident members. This was in 1913, only three years before his death at the untimely age of fifty-five. The Notice of 130 printed pages consists of two parts. The first is a list of his publications running over thirty pages, striking evidence of his gigantic output. If the publications of his last three years are added, the total constitutes some thirty books and nearly four hundred articles. For anyone interested in a fully authentic account of Duhem's thought, the second part of the Notice is a priceless gem. There, in over a hundred pages, Duhem offers an analysis and summary of his aims, motivations, and accomplishments in theoretical physics and in studies related to the philosophy and history of science.

[from Jaki's introduction to Duhem's To Save the Phenomena, translated from the French by Edmund Doland and Chaninah Maschler]

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Guidance from Maxwell

If you have just about any book by Father Jaki, you know that it contains a list of his books. Or you may visit the Real View Books web site and explore the catalog. You will quickly note that there are several classes of books:

1. studies of the history and philosophy of science - some general (e.g. The Relevance of Physics) some specific (e.g. The Paradox of Olbers' Paradox).
2. collections of essays, usually journal articles or texts of speeches and lectures (see list on the right)
3. spiritual meditations or commentaries (such as those on the Litanies and traditional prayers)
4. studies on John Henry Cardinal Newman
5. commentaries on the Church, such as the two on the Papacy, and others such as The Theology of Priestly Celibacy or God and the Sun at Fatima.
6. and a few others including his "intellectual autobiography" A Mind's Matter, biographies (Uneasy Genius, Reluctant Heroine) and cross-disciplinary studies (Chesterton a Seer of Science).

Certainly this broad categorization could be revised, or others proposed. But for my purpose today I merely wish to segregate those first two categories from all the others. A note: there is always cross-linking in the typical Jaki book - you can find "science" sneaking into even the most spiritual, and the humble attitudes of prayer adorning even the most technical - this is what one ought to expect from a single author who is dedicated to Truth writ large, and sees it everywhere. (Like Chesterton did, I must add.)

Very well. Now. If you have read just about any of Fr. Jaki's books about science (those in my first two categories above) you may recall the relatively frequent appearance of a very powerful quote from the great James Clerk Maxwell:
One of the severest tests of the scientific mind is to know the limits of the legitimate application of the scientific method.
[Maxwell, The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, ed. W. D. Niven (Cambridge, 1890), vol. II, p. 759.]
(Jaki also quotes this in the form "application of scientific methods".)

Jaki suggests what he calls the "impassable divide" (notably in the book of that title) - and yet he also quotes with approval Chesterton's great line
The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind.
[GKC The Defendant 75]
This issue is perhaps the most grave, the most difficult, yet the most important of all the matters our Society must deal with. Neither Duhem nor Chesterton nor Jaki wanted to "reduce" science to just another human activity, nor somehow by another sense of "reduction" bring all other fields (music, literature, philosophy and so on) into mere branches of physics.

No - for the suggestion that a bridge must be built is an affirmation that two things are divided! [See GKC on this: "at least priests and bridges both attest to the fact that one thing can get separated from another thing" ILN Dec 14 1907 CW27:603-4]

And at the same time, to postulate that a bridge can be built is an affirmation that there is a reason why the divided sides need to be united - at the least, by that bridge. A bridge is a risky thing, not only to build, but to cross.

Our purpose is to work on the bridge: by the highest plans possible to human intellectual efforts in science and in philosophy, by good engineering (which is to say by useful publications, be they in bloggs or journals or lecture halls) and by an honest and dedicated work of broadcasting the existence of the bridge - that is by at least some attempt to make our work accessible to the ordinary intelligent "Common Man" - and not merely to the other academics who share our interests. We must make our bridge as safe as we can - so we and others may cross.

Perhaps you see why I (a computer scientist) find Chesterton so compatible with this plan - and perhaps begin to suspect why he is a natural ally in the work of Duhem and Jaki.

(I have more to say on this issue of limits and bridges, and will introduce an interesting example from my own research, but shall stop here for today.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"I should not tax you...."

One of the first observations one makes in reading any of Jaki's essay collections is their remarkable similarity - and their even more remarkable dissimilarity. It is true that he uses, again and again, but always to great advantage, some of the great epigrams and "power quotes" of famous scientists - but each time it seems as if you were hearing them for the first time. Einstein, Maxwell, Planck, and others make their appearances - I cannot say as comic relief, as the quotes are rarely comic - ah, let us say as we expect to receive the sync byte (01000111) as every 188th character of an MPEG transport stream. It reassures us that we are keeping up with the flow of thought.

And so we look forward to hearing Whitehead's line about "Those who devote themselves to the purpose of proving that there is no purpose..." or Einstein reminding us that "the man of science is a poor philosopher" or Maxwell's grand dictum that "there can be no doubt that ... the ether is certainly the largest ... body of which we have any knowledge". No doubt! Well, all right, that one is comic, especially since he wrote it for the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. And there is that stupendous statement from Bertrand Russell, made at Columbia University in 1950:
"If you have Christian love," he declared to a stunned audience, "you have motive for existence, a guide for action, a reason for courage, an imperative necessity for intellectual honesty."
[Jaki, "Address on receiving the Templeton Prize" in The Only Chaos and Other Essays, quoting B. Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951), p. 59.]
But, as I have mentioned, there are, on rare occasions, some very unusual epigrams from Jaki himself which are very funny. Sometimes they have what we might call delayed reaction fuses - they grow and the humour bursts out a good bit later. One such line jumped out at me as I prepared today's other posting, mainly because it is set off in parentheses, which of course are perfectly inaudible during a speech. But a friend reminds me that Jaki's mannerisms during his lectures often provided a kind of visual typography... I will let you decide:
If progress is something like a voyage, its continuation does not cease to be a function of its very starting point and of the provisions acquired there. If religion is to be an ongoing progress, its very starting point should be rethought continually. That starting point is the recognition of dependence on the Creator on the part of everything which is the universe and of which we human beings are the very spokesmen. (I should not tax you with the mythology of extra-terrestrials, often assumed to have English for their native tongue.)
[Jaki, "Address on receiving the Templeton Prize" in The Only Chaos and Other Essays]

The Only Chaos and Other Essays (contents)

The Only Chaos and Other Essays
by Stanley L. Jaki
1990 (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America; Bryn Mawr, Pa.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1990), ix+271pp.

  1. "The Only Chaos"
    First published in This World, Summer 1988, pp. 99-109. Reprinted with permission of The Rockford institute and with additional notes.
  2. "The Cosmic Myth of Chance"
    First published in German translation, "Des Weltall als Zufall - ein Mythos von kosmischer Irrationalitat," in Zur Kritik der wissenschaftlichen Rationalitat: Festschrift Kurt Hübner, ed. H. Lenk (Munich: Karl Alber, 1986), pp. 487-503.
  3. "The Modernity of the Middle Ages"
    First published in Modern Age, Summer/Fall 1987, pp. 207-14. Reprinted with permission.
  4. "The Transformation of Cosmology in the Renaissance: Facts, Myths and Mythmaking"
    The main title was suggested by Prof. Stephen Tonsor at whose invitation this paper was originally presented to the Medieval and Renaissance Colloquium of the University of Michigan on March 3, 1982. Published with additional notes.
  5. "The History of Science and the Idea of an Oscillating Universe"
    This chapter is an enlarged form of a lecture delivered at the University of Denver on November 6, 1974. Reprinted with permission from Cosmology, History, and Theology, ed. W. Yourgrau and A. D. Breck (New York: Plenum, 1977). The Postscript added to it was first published in Center Journal (Winter 1984).
  6. "Extra-Terrestrials and Scientific Progress"
    Paper read at the meeting of the History of Science Society at Indiana University on November 1, 1985. First published here with additional notes.
  7. "Science: Revolutionary or Conservative?"
    First published in The Intercollegiate Review, Spring 1989. Reprinted with permission and with additional notes.
  8. "The Three Faces of Technology: Idol, Nemesis, Marvel"
    First published in The Intercollegiate Review, Spring 1988, pp. 37-46. Reprinted with permission and with additional notes.
  9. "Normalcy As Terror: The Naturalization of AIDS"
    First published in Crisis, June 1987, pp. 21-23. Reprinted with permission.
  10. "Evicting the Creator"
    A review of Stephen W. Hawking's A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), in Reflections ... The Wanderer Review of Literature, Culture, the Arts, Spring 1988, pp. 1, 20, 22. Reprinted with permission and with additional notes.
  11. "Physics or Physicalism. A Cultural Dilemma"
    Lecture given at the University of Chicago, February 17, 1968.
  12. "Science and Antiscience"
    Lecture given at the Colloque organized by the Secrétariat International des Questions Scientifiques of the Mouvement International des Intellectuels Catholiques, a branch of the Pax Romana movement, in Chantilly, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 1979. A considerably shortened version of the lecture appeared in French translation in the procès-verbaux of the
    Colloque: Science et antiscience (Paris: Le Centurion, 1981), pp. 39-51. There the title of the essay is given, with no authorization from me, as "De la science-fiction à la philosophie."
  13. "Teaching Transcendence in Physics"
    First published in the American Journal of Physics 55 (October 1987) pp. 884-88. Reprinted here with permission and with additional references and notes.
  14. "Physics and the Ultimate"
    First published in Ultimate Reality and Meaning 11 (1988), pp. 61-73. Reprinted here with permission and with additional references and notes.
  15. "The Hymn of the Universe"
    Written at the request of a friend. Published here for the first time.
  16. "The Universe in the Bible and in Modern Science"
    First published in Ex Auditu, vol. III, 1987, pp. 137-47. Reprinted with permission.
  17. "Address on Receiving the Templeton Prize"
    First published in 1987 Templeton Prize: The Addresses at the Fifteenth Presentation Prize for Progress in Religion at Guildhall, London, Tuesday, 12th May, 1987 (Nassau, The Bahamas: The Templeton Prize, 1987), pp. 10-11 and 14-17. Reprinted with permission and with additional notes.

Friday, May 1, 2009

So what is our purpose?

As you know I have been struggling to give a succinct statement of our purpose. Most of my difficulty comes from trying to found a Society - partially scholarly, partially social, and with a good deal of Chesterton mixed in - with the hope of fulfilling at least a little of what Father Jaki intended. (His intentions are quoted in the initial posting, made three weeks ago, on the day he died.)

Yes, so far, we have this blogg, and a collection of interested persons from all over the world - so far I can mention New York and Massachusetts, USA; Toronto, Canada; Ireland, Italy, Australia - and an unknown number of visitors here who have not yet e-mailed me. Please note - there is no obligation to do so; we are not yet organized to an official level.

And so - I am confronted with the complexity of trying to unite a variety of interests, of people all around the world, interested in Jaki or in Duhem, in the history of science, in the philosophy of science - or just curious to see what will go on with the huge inheritance of the work of these prolific scholars.

I don't know much about scholarly organizations or running such international things. The most I can do is try to keep you supplied with interesting posts, and hope eventually there will be more of a plan, so we will have translations, commentaries, explorations, maybe journals and conferences and other things - all of which express our delight in that inheritance, and put it to good use.

In the end, it is not really just a simple study of Duhem or even of Jaki. It is about a much higher purpose.

Now, if you have read almost any book by Jaki, you will know that he usually brings up a certain quote:
Those who devote their lives to the purpose of proving that there is no purpose, constitute an interesting subject for study.
[A. N. Whitehead, The Function of Reason (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1929), p. 12.]
We, on the other hand, admit purpose as a reality. But what purpose might we have - and what can this "higher purpose" be?

We can find Jaki stating it, though he mentions it as part of another discussion which we shall not pursue today. But that use does not bring its truth into doubt.
...the purpose of man is to be the conscious voice of Nature's silent testimony about her having been created for the glory of God, the highest purpose of it all.
[Jaki The Purpose of it All introduction]
And in the end, all our efforts, be they in our work or our entertainment, in our Society or anywhere, must be towards that purpose: the greater glory of God.

This does not mean we have to all run out and become Jesuits (whose founder, St. Ignatius, used Ad majorem Dei gloriam, "to the greater glory of God" as a motto). But if we are not glorifying God, what are we doing? Serving ourselves? Or are we those odd folks which Whitehead mentioned?

Obviously, I am not trying to say that this Society is some sort of religious order. But then it's not a reading club, a literary society, a collection of library aides, or a group of lab assistants either. All such worthy tasks have a role to play: prayer, and thought, and research, and reading, and writing, and even simple friendships. (Would it not be wonderful if we could meet, over coffee or tea or beer, and talk about our work, our plans?) We must be far more catholic - more universal - in our purpose. We have work to do, but let us do it together - with humility, and with joy.