Friday, October 7, 2011

The Rosary - our Experimental Lab for the Gospels

Yes, this posting is relevant to our on-going (if slow and sporadic) series on the Scientific Method, and to that grand Jaki phrase "Science writ large". Even if it seems to be a rather Catholic thing, or a rather "prayer" thing, and not science at all.

That's because people have begun to have a very narrow view of science, and do not see the lab for the test tubes - or the web pages. They forget WHY there are such things as experiments, and what it is we are doing, and why we are doing it. That's also why there is such a thing as the rosary, as strange as it must sound. As Chesterton liked to point out, it's about vision:
...the object of my school is to show how many extraordinary things even a lazy and ordinary man may see if he can spur himself to the single activity of seeing.
[GKC Tremendous Trifles]
There is a fascinating connection between the words "experience" and "experiment" - and the Latin word "periculum" from which we get the English word "peril" - that is, danger.

This is why I have said the first virtue of a Scientist is humility. He must be willing to submit to dangers - the first and worst is that WE MIGHT HAVE GUESSED WRONG ABOUT REALITY. Hence, we devise a scheme, submitting ourselves (No, emphatically not the things in the lab!) - that is, our mental image of reality - to danger by risking another look at Reality. We do this for many reasons, perhaps most would say it's out of curiousity, but it may be better for our moral health to say that we do it out of humility. We are not building a story. (As fun as that can be, and I can tell you it's REALLY fun! And cheaper than buying toy trains and all that.) We are hoping to know more - to get some clue about Reality, just as a sculptor carefully chisels out the marble, we carefully chisel out our mental constructions and models - but just as the scupltor continually corrects his work by shifting his gaze, his lights, his angles - perhaps on occasion even touching the relevant region - so too we require a continual feedback of data. We must spur ourselves to that single activity of seeing.

The same is true for the Rosary. This convenient hand-held tool - imagine a hand-held lab! - provides us with all the machinery necesary to make ever deeper explorations of the Mystery of the God-Made-Man, Jesus Christ. You may say, why should a religious activity - an activity of prayer - a rather specifically Catholic activity, and perhaps a quarrelsome and argumentative one - why should THAT be an exemplar for Scientists?

Because it reveals the nature of experiment. It is "experiencing" something - yes, the same thing, but my God, how many experiments have been repeated over the course of centuries! In fact, that is one of the signal trademarks (the Signs, if you will) of a good experiment: its repeatability. It begins to answer the question: why do an experiment?

To find out more - even if it's something we've already done before.

We are not "mindlessly repeating" something - no, just the opposite. It is a most mindful repetition: we proceed with care, with diligence, with attention - we check our equipment, we check our references, we see what others (both authorities and other workers on the topic) have to say about the matter... and, as the famous "Sir Henry Merrivale" (the detective in the mystery stories by Carter Dickson, pseudonym of John Dickson Carr) liked to say we do some "sittin' and thinkin'".

That is, we MEDITATE. No, this is not the "eastern" form of meditation, which is a sort of emptying of the mind. This is as opposite as one can be: it is the extreme presence of mind, bringing our complete mental personality to bear upon the matter, hoping, perhaps almost desperately, to find (like that sculptor) that perfect vantage point... and thereby gain a better view of Reality.

So do you mean I pray while I experiment? Or experiment while I pray?

For me, they are interconvertible. I have enough doubts about my abilities to keep reasonably to the task at hand, but there is a sense of Awe about this... that by learning more about That Which Is, I learn more about He Who Made That Which Is.

And which of you, if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? Or a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he reach him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask him? ... But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice: and all these things shall be added unto you.
[Luke 11:11-13, 12:31]

Yes, even to the most technical and dull gear and data and equations of the laboratory... All of those things also proclaim the glory of God, creator of heaven and earth:
And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard all saying: To him that sitteth on the throne and to the Lamb, benediction and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever.
[Apo/Rev 5:13]


P.S. I should add that the reason for calling the rosary the handheld lab of the Gospels is simply that by stepping through the various major episodes of the Life of Our Lord and concentrating on them slowly in a ritual (one might say "according to standard lab protocols) we advance into a greater knowledge and understanding of His life - a real life, in our real world, of which there is always more to See...

P.P.S. Above you will find the word "diligence". This is most often understood as meaning "careful" or something similar. I think it might be good to point out its original meaning is "to love, esteem"... we ought to pray and experiment from Love. This will sound goofy, if not downright silly - but that's because there is very little meaning left in "Love" in our day. What a shame. But don't you love to learn more about Reality? You should...

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