Saturday, July 11, 2009

...mental transformation from the parsing of first-declension nouns...

In a previous post I have mentioned Jaki's essays about education, and remarked how it would be useful to explore his larger approach to the topic. Education is a natural corollary to "Science writ large" since it might be said that the doing of science (writ large) must always be the education of a scientist in the school of nature. The conjunction of Jaki with his congeners, Duhem, Newman and Chesterton, ought to provide a fertile ground for very serious work, and if we had a tidy sum in the treasury of our Society, we would offer grants for monographs and lectures and all the panoply of academia. We don't, but we do have this blogg. Thank God! Please proceed to your own comments - or perhaps your own bloggs - to extend the topic. It is indeed a rich one.

Before I give today's half-holiday post - a post both serious and also humourous - I must mention a serious quote from our Uncle Gilbert Chesterton touching the same topic. I think it sets up the required mental state very well:
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]

And now, Father Jaki on revolutions in Science:

Revolutions are, like fashions, rather short-lived. The phrase, "paradigm shifts," the shibboleth of the next fashion, seemed to have more academic hue to it, although fewer and fewer among the young seemed to know that paradigms came from Latin grammars where one could not shift them at will. A noun of the first declension is always parsed accordingly. Moreover one does not undergo a mental transformation when passing from the parsing of a first-declension noun to that of a second- or a third- declension noun. Schoolboys undergo agonies before Latin exams, but they still have the same mind regardless of whether they passed or failed them. Not so with the paradigm shifts in science as some historians would have it. According to them the changes paradigm shiftsy represent are radical: what was seen before and after are inconmeasurable, so those historians claimed. The price to be paid for espousing their view was to let one despair of the development of science as a case of genuine progress. That I never for a moment had use for such extravaganzas I owed to a great extent to my mind's fondness for the clarity of Duhem's discourses. He may have been wrong on the extreme slowness of the accumulation of scientific lore, but an organic accumulation it has always been, not the piling of disconnected units, all of them of different nature, on one another.
[SLJ A Mind's Matter 89]

This grand conclusion (despite the humous bit about declensions) suggests another, partly humourous scene from one of Chesterton's great works of fiction, which should also provoke some thought...
[MacIan, a Catholic, is arguing with Turnbull, an atheist:]
[MacIan said,] "...there are only two things that really progress; and they both accept accumulations of authority. They may be progressing uphill or down; they may be growing steadily better or steadily worse; but they have steadily increased in certain definable matters; they have steadily advanced in a certain definable direction; they are the only two things, it seems, that ever can progress. The first is strictly physical science. The second is the Catholic Church."

"Physical science and the Catholic Church!" said Turnbull sarcastically; "and no doubt the first owes a great deal to the second."

"If you pressed that point I might reply that it was very probable," answered MacIan calmly. "I often fancy that your historical generalizations rest frequently on random instances; I should not be surprised if your vague notions of the Church as the persecutor of science was a generalization from Galileo. I should not be at all surprised if, when you counted the scientific investigations and discoveries since the fall of Rome, you found that a great mass of them had been made by monks. But the matter is irrelevant to my meaning. I say that if you want an example of anything which has progressed in the moral world by the same method as science in the material world, by continually adding to without unsettling what was there before, then I say that there is only one example of it. And that is Us."
[GKC The Ball and the Cross]
A research question for our Chestertonians: did Chesterton ever encounter the work of Pierre Duhem? Yes, I am aware that Fr. Jaki's introduction to Chesterton a Seer of Science implies that he did not, but this excerpt suggests a contrary view - hence we must leave it for further study.

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