A Different Model of the Growth of Centralized States in History

Posted August 18th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: civilization, history, transitions of civilizations, Unity of knowledge

Shortly after I published my essay, Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible?, on the use of mathematical models in history, I saw an article by Stephanie Pappas summarizing some results of work done by Simon Powers, “a postdoctoral researcher in ecology and evolution at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.” Powers is working on the initial concentration of power in a despotic hierarchy and will next be moving on to try to deal with the next stage in which a large-scale state arises, but the results of his initial work point to the possibility of producing a different understanding from that found in the article Modeling World History in Math Is Possible by Khan, an article discussing War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies by the research team led by Turchin.

The article about Powers’ work, Origins of Hierarchy: How Egyptian Pharaohs Rose to Power, points to the possibility that:

[V]oluntary leadership arises when leaders give enough benefits to their followers at the outset, Powers said. If leaders give their people an advantage in producing food, the people will follow them, he added.

Moreover:

[L]eadership turns to despotism when two factors arise. The first is the growth of population density and size, which follows naturally from an organized, agricultural society.

“It basically becomes hard for individuals to stop following the leader,” Powers said. “As the density of the population grows, there is less free land available.”

If we consider this analysis and the analysis I discussed in that prior essay, Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible?. we are getting into some potential useful confusion. Powers is developing an explanation based upon internal factors (advantages coming from strong leaders and then maybe the difficulties of escaping control by those leaders) while Turchin and colleagues were concerned with external factors (starting with the conquest by or reaction against nomadic horsemen of the grasslands of central Asia).

Let me add another bit of useful confusion by referring back to an essay I published on this blog in 2011: Be Obnoxious and Be Our Leader. According to the study I comment upon, rude and pushy rule-breakers are perceived as already having power and human beings take them more seriously as leaders or potential leaders.

There are going to be no clean, sharply defined answers to the questions of human community-formation or, more in line with my worldview, questions of the creation and shaping of human communal being. This means there will be no answers corresponding to, say, the thermodynamics of gas in a piston which can compress or relax. There likely will be many quantitative models which will help us deal with specific aspects of human social or political or economic behavior but those will work only if they are part of a more general framework of what might be labeled qualitative models, though subject to the disciplined analyses to be found in certain fields of mathematics—see Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible?, already referenced above. For some very general discussion in light of quotations from some highly regarded mathematicians, see Adopting Mathematical Reasoning in Non-quantitative Fields of Thought.

I’m reluctant to speculate too much on what might eventually work to produce a deeper and more exact understanding of human nature both individual and communal but I have a very vague image on the edge of my mind of a single entity which is like a manifold—that is subject to well-defined analyses in each `small region’, `locally’, where the proper analyses might be quantitative or qualitative. An odd chimera indeed, but that is what we seem to be—as individual human beings or as communal human beings.

And we must remember that we are human beings, entities which are unified and coherent and complete—no matter how imperfectly so. Our knowledge of our own being should be knowledge of such an entity and not just a handwaving explanation which points toward a quantitative model here and a qualitative explanation there.

Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible?

Posted August 11th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: civilization, Freedom and Structure in Human Life, history

I’m not an unqualified supporter of quantitative modeling in the social sciences, most certainly do I have my doubts about modeling in history. It’s a dangerous business and the results have been spotty at best. Yet, it could work for some sorts of analyses and doing it in a disciplined way would allow rejection or modification of the model. We can read about a seemingly successful application of quantitative modeling technique as applied to the spread of large-scale societies, proto-states and states, in the region of Europe and Asia and Africa. That successful application is discussed in an article by a geneticist, Razib Khan, who blogs at Ron Unz’s website, The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection and subtitled: A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media.

Khan’s article, Modeling World History in Math Is Possible, is a commentary upon an article summarizing results of a research project: War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies.

Khan displays six graphs in his article which he says show “the major result: a model with only a few simple parameters was incredibly good at fitting the genuine growth and evolution of complex societies over 3,000 years.” (Actually, both Khan’s article and that by Peter Turchin and the other researchers make it clear they are interested in the spread of sophisticated military technology and centralized political systems of the sort we would call `states’.)

This model of an important part of human history is essentially a model covering external environments, such as proximity to the types of grasslands which nurture nomadic and semi-nomadic horsemen who have developed much of the military technology and fighting methods of Eurasia and northern Africa and have forced the development of other military technologies and fighting methods.

The model was used to predict “the historical distribution of large-scale societies in Afroeurasia during 1,500 BCE-1,500 CE” and to also develop maps “indicating the frequency and distribution of large-scale societies.” The authors were interested in such matters because of their concern with the large size which can support rational bureaucracies and sophisticated educational systems. Again, the model produced the right results based upon the assumptions about the importance of nomadic horsemen from the great grassland regions in initiating the movement toward advanced military technology and large societies with centralized political, bureaucratic systems. Apparently, their model was successful in regions such as south China and Europe which were not directly contiguous to such grasslands because the model allowed for the diffusion of military technology into, say, most of Europe from the Near Eastern and northern African regions which were contiguous to such regions and were sometimes conquered and were sometimes able to adopt the horsemen’s military technology or perhaps to develop their own superior military technology which allowed, along with the political controls which are part of what we know as `states’, successful defense against the horsemen such as the Mongols and Turkmen and Berber peoples.

Neither the authors nor Khan are making a claim that human history is deterministic in a simpleminded way. They are simply claiming that such models can allow a more exact understanding and an objective way of testing claims about human history. (In another article, Human History Is Both Contingent and Inevitable, Khan argues for a far more sophisticated view in which the world is contingent in some ways and fully determined in other ways. Still other articles on his blog take up similar issues.)

I endorse the development of well-formed quantitative models, though I feel they will only be useful, and only avoid misleading the naive, for very well-formed ideas which can be tested and clearly rejected or modified or accepted. The problem, and it’s related to the more general form of the problem the researchers dealt with, is that no one has the sort of overview available in gravitational theory (the theory of general relativity) or other fields of physics where very successful quantitative models are made possible by criteria the models should meet. Without a greater understanding, it can be dangerous to rely too heavily on models because they produce `accurate’ answers to specific questions or to questions under particular conditions. I’ve read a couple introductory works on mathematical modeling and found the practitioners who develop models over a variety of domains to be more skeptical than would be true of other mathematicians or scientists. Models which are built by rigorous application of physical laws should work but those which are built upon empirical results often break when different facts are considered or when the future simply proves different from the past or present.

Yet, the model of the growth of large-scale societies under consideration seems to deal well with the initialization of one very important process: the formation of centralized states with sophisticated military technology.

But, again, we have to be wary of answers to questions about human history which merely preserve the known phenomena. We moderns tend to misunderstand the history of human science and human thought and to think there was some reason the ancient and Medieval thinkers could have realized it was `wrong’ to place the Earth at the center of the Cosmos as they knew it. (There were speculative developments of alternative models but no clear arguments why they might be superior.) The models of the Cosmos overthrown by Kepler and Galileo and Newton were quite successful, especially the mathematically rigorous model originally developed by the Macedonian-Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy. Those pre-Galilean models preserved the known phenomena and, in fact, were quite successful in predicting the movements of planets and could have been extended, in principle, to planetary moons and comets and the like at the cost of greater complexity. Ultimately, modern physics overthrew Ptolemaic models of the relative movements of the Sun and planets because it had far greater power than was necessary to merely provide a more economical model of the Solar system. Modern physics, beginning in a systematic way with Newton’s dynamics, has proven itself to be both a qualitative and quantitative understanding of certain very important aspects of concrete being. It was not any gains in model accuracy of planetary movements that forced the adoption of Newtonian dynamics but rather the fact that Newton’s physics worked as well with cannon balls as it did with predicting the movements of the moon.

This was the modern re-adoption and rational modification of the ancient program of understanding all that exists by a single system of thought.

Arguably, and I tend to think this way, physics as we know it is—or can, in principle, be corrected and expanded to be—a complete understanding of aspects of concrete being, including at least the quantitative aspects. That doesn’t mean physics is a `complete’ understanding of concrete or thing-like being, nor will any human science be a complete understanding of any specific realm of concrete being. In fact, the abstract being from which thing-like being was shaped is still here with us and continues to interact with the more abstract sorts of being from which it was shaped. This concrete realm of concrete being is not yet complete and is being made richer and more complex even by very acts of human exploration of Creation and by all other relationships which continue to bring concrete being into existence and to shape it.

Let me end with a few comments about what I think will be involved in providing a wider understanding for human nature as part of a greater Creation; such a wider understanding will give us not magical answers to every question about human history or human moral problems but rather a general context in which our human being is set as well as ways of properly phrasing our questions and properly developing our proposed answers.

I think we have to keep in mind that there are deterministic forms of relationships and contingent forms of relationships. There is a different balance of such relationships, and differing relationships in their details, for each of: individual human being, communal human being, and external environments. In addition, human being both individual and communal have a peculiar and very important type of contingency—that which is part of moral freedom.

I discussed the quest to gain a “more exact understanding” of man in a book I published in 2013, A More Exact Understanding of Human Being, which is available for free downloading. The title is from Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger):

Modernity is not simply a historically-datable cultural phenomenon; in reality it requires a new focus, a more exact understanding of the nature of man. [Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech given on 2008/06/07 to participants in the sixth European Symposium of University Professors, which was held in Rome from 2008/06/04 to 2008/06/07 on the theme: "Broadening the Horizons of Reason. Prospects for Philosophy".]

I would recommend a review or first-time reading of one of my recent essays: Adopting Mathematical Reasoning in Non-quantitative Fields of Thought.

What is an Explanation?: The Basic Stuff of Created Being

Posted August 1st, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: being, Body of Christ, Christian in the universe of Einstein, Christian theology, metaphysics, Mind

In a recent essay, What is an Explanation?: The Context of Thought and Language, I opened up a line of discussion which might provide a new view of some of my basic ideas, a view which might lead me to more fruitful explorations and perhaps others to better understandings of what I’m trying to do along with perhaps encouraging them to develop their own ideas on how this work of re-understanding God’s Creation should be done by Christians or others who see order in being. I’ve found that sometimes I can better understand my own written thoughts if I re-express them in different terms or from different viewpoints.

Let me start with an example from mathematics which I consider to be the study of a peculiar, very abstract from of being from which this concrete world was, in part, shaped. Very serious mathematicians of a philosophical bent of mind were trying in the late 1800s into the early 1900s to found mathematics upon logical bedrock, some of them intending to do so by first showing a few logical rules could generate the natural numbers. Those mathematicians set up proposed systems, the best of which developed elaborate machinery which included terms such as x(0), x(1), x(2), etc. The idea was to start with nil or zero and declare a successor element to zero, “1″, and then to declare a successor element to 1, “2″, and so forth. The problem, and it was missed at first by even such brilliant thinkers as Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, was that the natural numbers [0, 1, 2, 3...] were used as indices for symbols meant to build up the set of natural numbers from very simple thoughts of a logical sort. They had assumed the very ordering and counting processes they were trying to prove legitimate and so ended an effort to find an easy way to build at least natural numbers from the basic building blocks of nil and a successor operation. [A minor point---mathematicians don't seem to agree as to whether or not `0' belongs in the natural numbers.]

One brilliant mathematician from that time made a particularly interesting claim, used in recent years as the title of a book written by the physicist, Stephen Hawking. The original words of Leopold Kronecker, a 19th century mathematician of great accomplishment, were: “God made the natural numbers [or integers according to some translators, but negative numbers add some complications to these efforts], all else is the work of man.” He “believed in the reduction of all mathematics to arguments involving only the integers and a finite number of steps.” Like the Pythagoreans, Kronecker didn’t even believe in the irrational numbers, let alone the likes of Cantor’s transfinite numbers.

Kronecker believed in the integers (or natural numbers) as the building blocks, along with well-defined finite operations, of all mathematics. I say that there are no building blocks as such—for what it’s worth, I’m much more open than Kronecker and his followers to non-finite operations in proofs and other mathematical activities. I even believe in Cantor’s transfinite numbers and other strange entities from abstract being.

Mathematics is the study of some types of abstract being, which types have increased greatly in the Modern Age. What is most important for this discussion is that mathematics concerns relationships and I’ll claim those relationships generate the number `9′ and those, perhaps with a few others, also generate the number pi (3.14159…). So it is that I can claim that Russell and Whitehead and their colleagues in the decades around 1900 were on the right path except that they had too impoverished a sense of relationship as they tried to generate numbers from only a successor relationship. In fact, what is needed is the entirety of the sets of relationships which are dealt with in number theory and that implies the task misunderstood by those brilliant thinkers is ultimately no more and no less than the field of mathematics in its entirely. (Stated this way, my program seems to be similar to that of the researchers working on Category theory except that I’m considering mathematics and any possible abstractions covering multiple fields to be real, if very abstract, being. Essentially, I’m trying to understand mathematics as part of a program to understand all forms of created being. I’m a metaphysician and theologian rather than a technical mathematician. Or physicist. Or historian.)

How is mathematics to be understood? By doing it.

How is life to be understood? By living it.

How is the universe to be understood? By living in it, by exploring it, by thinking clearly and exactly about it.

How is the world to be understood? By seeing the universe in light of God’s purposes or perhaps the moral order seen by many including some atheists and pagans.

This points to an answer, at least currently plausible, to the question: How can we explain created being?

I’ve denied there are fundamental building-blocks as such and the task arises to develop a new program which will be part of a new civilization or perhaps a revived Western Civilization. This program will itself help define the the intellect or communal mind of the citizens of this new or revived civilization. Furthermore, as a Christian, I’ll claim this intellect to be that of the pilgrim Body of Christ, an intellect to be completed and perfected in the world of the resurrect—as so much will be completed and perfected.

I’ll take a stab at understanding this program and can promise I’ll not yet be clear and exact. That will take years, and perhaps multiple generations, of effort.

Multiple streams of abstract created being have fed into this world:

  1. some abstract being shaped into matter and energy and fields,
  2. some remaining relatively abstract in the form of relationships which change over time and are called stories or narratives, and
  3. some remaining relatively abstract in the form of relationships we ourselves detect, and use, as our minds or souls.

Our universe can be defined as being made of mostly, perhaps entirely, the concrete stuff in the first item above. But our universe becomes a world when we also consider the more abstract stuff which I sometimes simplify (or perhaps oversimplify) as being the manifestation of God’s purposes or moral order or even rationality or reason to someone like Einstein.

I certainly think the above list is incomplete but I have no intention of building lists which are likely to have arbitrary elements until I can develop some more powerful tools, or at least point others to more powerful tools, to bring all of this into a more clear and more exact focus.

For now… We talk and scientists do their research as if there are building blocks of concrete entities, such as rattlesnakes and stars. And human beings and bricks. These concrete entities exist in spacetime, well described so far by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. These concrete entities are made of layers of successively more particular, that is—more concrete, bits of matter. (Many physicists would advocate speaking of energy in the sense of energy-matter—E=MC^2—rather than matter; make the substitution if you wish.) So far as concrete forms of being go, we can actually describe and quantify the transition from the most concrete of abstract being to truer concrete being. This description and quantification is the work of quantum physicists and all others (such as computer chip designers) who use the field. (Unfortunately, the systems of equations are not generally solvable by known techniques, but some powerful results have come from even the so-far limited successes of applying quantum physics in the real world. And, from a fundamental viewpoint, experiments can be done which prove quantum physics works to an extreme level of accuracy.)

Stars are complex entities, swirling magnetic fields and plasma encircling matter dense enough to undergo nuclear fusion—and this is a rather grotesque oversimplification. Rattlesnakes are complex entities, DNA and RNA and mitochondria and other forms of flesh and blood—all interacting in a remarkably complex metabolism which is something like a self-regulating system so long as you consider the environment of the rattlesnake to be part of the system—but this is also an oversimplification. Human beings have all the complexity of rattlesnakes plus they form minds which are complex systems of concrete and abstract relationships—this is perhaps the greatest of these oversimplifications. All of these entities come together in stories and in one great story that is the world.

Relationships. We assume that human communities form by way of relationships, though we often assume wrongly it’s the softer and more sentimental relationships—love in various forms—which are crucial in forming strong human communities. In fact, it’s something of a truism among modern sociologists that the strongest bonds in human communities are those of dependencies.

In any case, I already noted above that I consider relationships to be primary over stuff. Stuff is formed from relationships, as we are told both by the Bible and by quantum physics. (See Einstein and Bohr’s debate on the meaning of reality and Quantum Mechanics and Moral Formation: Part 1 for my early discussions of this issue.)

I’d like to speculate further but I’m trying to be cautious for now as I am not confident yet that I know how to advance to the next level of understanding. More powerful tools are needed and I’m exploring in the fields of geometry and topology, especially as used by modern physicists. Maybe I’m choosing the wrong tools. If so, someone will come along to show it can be done with some fancy group theory or just simple forms of category theory or whatever.

There is something that comes to mind which might help others to bring these claims of mine into better focus. We might be able to imagine, or at least think ourselves to imagine, particles as having the sort of existence as to be able to exist independent of a greater universe—other than perhaps some sort of spacetime. I think we fool ourselves into imagining an isolated particle, let alone an isolated human being, but I can certainly convince myself that I can do so, even when I don’t really believe myself.

The most fundamental relationships of our concrete universe, those of spacetime as described by the General Theory of Relativity and those of matter-energy as described by quantum physics, had to pretty much come into existence in their current form and to remain in existence for our concrete universe to come into existence and remain in existence. Without that full package of relationships, there couldn’t have been, couldn’t be, a single electron or neutron or electromagnetic field.

If I’m right, our ability to imagine particles existing apart from the entire universe as we know it is delusionary, though understandable. This is to say we can look at a rock and seemingly strip away all that is around it so that only the rock exists, but this is an error, perhaps useful, in our imaginative thinking. Everything gets still messier when we consider the other forms of abstract being which shape concrete entities by way of relationships, and thus do show up in physical manifestations that are explorable and maybe even quantifiable—such as brain structures.

So what could it mean to `explain’ the concrete being of this universe in terms of `elementary particles’ or the like? For the most part, it’s a good strategy for exploring the concrete stuff of this universe but it’s ultimately misleading. Such thinkers as Wittgenstein were close to the truth in proposing the search for the smallest building blocks would lead to the universe in its totality. My enhancement of this claim is, for now—merely, to point to relationships as being definitive of this concrete universe and to take all that creates or shapes concrete being as true being.

This isn’t entirely a new claim. Some scientists and philosophers and thinkers in other fields have proposed related ideas, though more than a bit cowardly in following up on the implications. The uniqueness of my claim lies in its context as part of a greater understanding of this concrete universe as a part of a Creation, the work of the God of Jesus Christ, a Creation which must be understood by hard work, investigation of empirical reality by open-minded theologians as well as poets and novelists and historians and painters and music-composers as well as physicists and chemists and geometers and evolutionary biologists and engineers and politicians responsive to reality. And so on. To a Christian such as me, this must all be understood in light of Christian revelation, that is, this universe is part of a Creation which was intended, and is intending in the Thomistic sense, to be the place of birth and growth of the Body of Christ—including the Incarnate Son of God and there is another world which will be the home for time without end of that Body when it contains all those resurrected to share the life of the Son of God.

An explanation of the world, the universe seen in its greater order even ordered to God’s purposes, can’t rely just any ideas of elementary relationships or elementary particles. Elementary relationships exist early—as a complex body of relationships—and then elementary particles come to be. Both of these are an early part of a narrative in which higher-level relationships and particles and then complex, concrete entities come into existence and begin to shape matter into complex entities, including galaxies and gorillas.

For a very preliminary discussion of some of my efforts to find more powerful tools for a more clear and more exact understanding of created being, abstract and concrete, see my recent essay: Adopting Mathematical Reasoning in Non-quantitative Fields of Thought.

Crowds Are Morally Disordered Communities

Posted July 29th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Body of Christ, Christian in the universe of Einstein, communal human being, Freedom and Structure in Human Life, Human nature

Richard Sale has written an intelligent essay upon the diseased state of the public mind of Americans: The Menace of the Crowd. Wikipedia has a stub article about Richard Sale (journalist).

Sale’s essay was published on the website, Sic Semper Tyrannis, run by “Colonel W. Patrick Lang [who] is a retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces (The Green Berets).”

Sale is looking for the more general truths behind the morally irresponsible attitudes of Americans to Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin, those attitudes being stirred up into a nasty froth most recently after the civilian airliner MH-17 was shot down from the skies over a war-zone in eastern Ukraine. We know little though the American government has made accusations against Russia and Putin without supplying evidence. We have to remember that this is the same government which lied on important matters in Syria, that is, lied in a criminal manner. Both the President and his Secretary of State, as well as some junior members of this administration, have also shot off their mouths or acted in an irresponsible and juvenile manner on numerous occasions on important matters and when dealing with adults from countries which were once willing to be friendly toward us.

This moral irresponsibility and immaturity on the part of American leaders wouldn’t be possible if the American people were themselves morally responsible and mature. If we were better people, we would have better leaders or would call bad leaders to account if we made mistakes in the voting booths. What gives? Sale tells us:

So what you see happening today is the transformation of individual convictions that become overwhelming in force because they are repeated endlessly by those in authority. The cautious restrictions of what once was called, “Iron objectivity” had been discarded as too ineffectual and cumbersome. Few in the media have the intellectual or moral strength to resist what is told them by their leaders. The collectivities have the habit of drowning anything that is private and not collective.

To put it differently, the first causality of a crowd is the loss of its reason, the loss of its ability to weigh and estimate events. One of their greatest fears of a crowd, of people who think in unison, is to be seen as being moderate and sensible. It used to be that moral contagion acted slowly, moving cautiously, but now thanks to social media, the public’s worst instincts are not only let loose, they are praised and glorified.

So a crowd, as Sale uses the term, is what some call a mob and that is a gathering of individual human beings who may possess at least modest levels of individual intelligence but, as a group or a `crowd’, they have a very low quality of intellect—communal mind (see Intelligence vs. Intellect). The mob-thoughts or crowd-thoughts are hardly rational and often lead to harm to the members of the crowd itself as well as to its intended victims.

A human community can take the form of a marauding band of sports fans or a lynch mob or a mass of those with minds like silly putty (see Unreliable Memories, Minds Like Silly Putty). Sale refers to the silly-putty crowd. A truer community can be seen in a company of Green Berets or the history faculty of a small liberal-arts college or a society of medical specialists or a collective of pottery craftsmen or a church community or the workforce of a small machine shop or any of a variety of human beings who gather into a community in an adult manner for a legitimate reason, even if only to play cribbage once a week. These better sorts of community have a part of the greater intellect which is the true core of a civilization and, thus, a share in the ultimate, complete and perfect, intellect which is that of the Body of Christ. I’m early in the process of developing adequate ways to discuss matters such as this: why is it that sometimes human communities, even temporary gatherings, develop in a healthy and morally well-ordered form and sometimes they become lynch mobs. In the past, such matters were just discussed as if being a “way of the world,” but I’m trying to follow through on the modern program recommended by Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger):

Modernity is not simply a historically-datable cultural phenomenon; in reality it requires a new focus, a more exact understanding of the nature of man.

[Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech given on 2008/06/07 to participants in the sixth European Symposium of University Professors, which was held in Rome from 2008/06/04 to 2008/06/07 on the theme: "Broadening the Horizons of Reason. Prospects for Philosophy".]

For now, I’ll stick to more traditional ways of writing and speaking than those I’m trying to develop from the stuff of the Bible and the geometric reasoning of modern physics and other peculiar regions of human thought and action. Even now, my ways of writing and speaking are enriched to consider a few important insights from modern empirical knowledge and also to bring back into consideration the strong Pauline view of the Body of Christ.

The American people don’t have much of an intellect at all, not the intellect or communal mind of any civilization which could be labeled `Christian’ nor even one much like that of a virtuous pagan civilization. We are, as a people, primitive and morally unordered; we pretend to be freestanding individuals even as evolutionary biologists and neurobiologists have joined historians, sociologists, and the better sort of Christian philosophers and theologians in seeing that men are bound in communal life. I prefer to avoid half-hearted words and just claim we human beings have both individual and communal being—as do probably most animals but certainly all social animals. (This expansion in the definition of created being should be plausible in light of the expansion of being by modern scientists to include relationships; some of the Old Testament authors and St John the Evangelist were there first—see Einstein and Bohr’s debate on the meaning of reality: and Quantum Mechanics and Moral Formation: Part 1.)

My view of human being is richer and more complex than the view Sale seems to assume. My view allows better ways to state the problems we face and far better ways to analyze and understand those problems. I’m going to push hard on an expansion of our understanding of created being, so that we begin to acknowledge that relationships are primary over stuff and that there is both individual and communal human being. I’ve developed this worldview in numerous books and weblog essays—see my main website: Acts of Being. Ultimately, our social beings, forming and participating in all our social groupings in this mortal realm, reach their completeness and perfection when we become truly Christ, that is, when each of the human beings saved by Christ becomes the Body of Christ while remaining his or her individual self. This is analogous to God Himself: three Persons who remain fully three individual Persons while also being fully one God.

Therefore, I think Sale’s comments are valid but he uses a set of words and concepts which leave him writing as if a crowd is inherently bad rather than a disordered, or at least poorly ordered, form of something good—a true community. I would suggest we can better understand the underlying problems caused by defective or immature human communities when we recognize the reality of communal human being as well as individual human being. As we recognize a street thug as a stunted and deformed human being, a pietistic peasant as an immature Christian, a schizophrenic as a human being with a damaged mind, we can see a crowd as human communal being which is defective or incomplete or immature in some significant sense.

A New novel, “Gathering the Silence”, available for free download

Posted July 23rd, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: books for free downloading

I’ve uploaded a new novel, Gathering the Silence. In a sense this is both my latest and my first novel. It’s about the fifth version of what started out as a straightforward fictional telling of my spiritual life, climaxing in my entry into the Catholic Church. Now, it’s the first half of a story about the conversion of a man into a Christian author and its not nearly so straightforward.

Enjoy.

Adopting Mathematical Reasoning in Non-quantitative Fields of Thought

Posted July 18th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: being, mathematical physics, mathematics, metaphysics, Mind

I use the term `empirical science’ to include any field of disciplined study of Creation, physics and chemistry and engineering sciences but also including mathematics and history and literature.

The modern empirical sciences have advanced ahead of philosophy and very far ahead of Christian theology. Philosophers and theologians would be wise to start borrowing from those modern empirical sciences, not the particular mechanistic models but the true reasoning underlying those models. I’ll ignore for now the fact that fields such as history and sociology are in between, going through some successful and some far from successful efforts to use more advanced and abstract reasoning at least in principle similar to the powerful abstractions of those empirical sciences which had long ago adopted mathematics because of their need for quantitative analysis and then learned in the 1800s of the power of more flexible and more qualitative forms of geometric reasoning.

Yet, I’m only speaking of the arguments which, so to speak, end an analysis. It has always been true that the fundamental forms of human reasoning, including those of all modern empirical sciences, are qualitative and not quantitative. It takes a great deal of study and the development of sophisticated thinking processes to penetrate to those fundamental forms, though they are visible in the writings of Einstein in his early works and in many of the writings of the quantum theorists. They are also visible in the writings of modern theorists of evolutionary biology, in the writings of modern neuroscientists and geneticists, perhaps even in the successful (perhaps a low percentage?) and the failed experiments of modern music and painting and sculpture. As will be clear soon, the idea that quantitative fields rest on qualitative foundations comes to the fore in the thoughts of some mathematicians including educators and famous (at least in small circles) men. There are also philosophers of science and mathematics working on this and related ideas.

Let me back away for a short while and put in my own two cents worth about the need to deal, at least ultimately, with issues of being and not to treat knowledge, thoughts, and truth, and other mental `entities’ as if they were separate from being and to be imposed upon being to establish a proper order. That order, in fact, comes from being and emerges in our own mind but only as we learn to encapsulate relatively more concrete forms of being and to move on to the more abstract forms of being from which the concrete, thing-like being is shaped.

In an early and very short essay, Einstein and Bohr’s debate on the meaning of reality:, I addressed this general issue in terms of being and not knowledge, and in terms of an important debate which took place between Einstein, advocating what was really a `high’ pagan philosophy of worldly realism where things exist in themselves and can’t be inherently changed by external relationships, and Bohr who was advocating a radical view that relationships, such as those we can express in terms of the equations of quantum mechanics, are primary over stuff. Bohr’s position, as I pointed out explicitly in Quantum Mechanics and Moral Formation: Part 1, is pretty much the view advocated in the writings of St John the Evangelist and his followers and also anticipated in the Old Testament.

If we accept that relationships can be such, then we have accepted the reality of abstract being and should learn to speak in ways more appropriate to being, to reality.

I’ll move on to a few suggestive quotations on the subject of qualitative reasoning in modern mathematics and, hence, in modern scientific and engineering thought in general. For now, I’ll let the readers use their imagination to transfer these thoughts about mathematical knowledge to those aspects of being described so well by mathematics; from there we can see how this reasoning can be applied to all forms of created being, including human being.

In the article Symplectic Geometry by Alan Weinstein and published in 1981 in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Volume 5, Number 1), we can read on page 1:

[G]eometry has taken a new role in mechanics through the contributions of Poincare (1854-1912) and Birkhoff (1884-1944). Now, though, the geometry is the more flexible geometry of canonical (in particular, area preserving) transformations instead of the rigid geometry of Euclid; accordingly, the conclusions of the geometrical arguments are often qualitative rather than quantitative.

In that same article, we can learn that the highly regarded 20th century mathematicians, GD Birkhoff, expressed “the disturbing secret fear that geometry may ultimately turn out to be no more than the glittering institutional trappings of analysis,” while Poinsot (1777-1859), in Weinstein’s words, “suggests that calculations are merely a tool in the service of geometrical and mechanical reasoning.” (I decided to include Birkhoff’s statement, though I can’t currently wrap my mind around it, because Weinstein indicates that Birkhoff and Poinsot were expressing the same opinion.)

In a book of writings by Soviet mathematicians, Mathematics: Its Content, Methods, and Meaning, Volume 2, the truly great Russian mathematician, A N Kolmogorov, has this to say on Page 258 of the article, The Theory of Probability:

The proponents of mechanistic materialism assumed that such a formulation [of systems describable in terms of relatively simple differential equations, such as gravitational fall] is an exact and direct expression of the deterministic character of the actual phenomena, of the physical principles of causation. According to Laplace, the state of the world at a given instant is defined by an infinite number of parameters, subject to an infinite number of differential equations. If some “universal mind” could write down all these equations and integrate them, it could then predict with complete exactness, according to Laplace, the entire evolution of the world in the infinite future.

But in fact this quantitative mathematical infinity is extremely coarse in comparison with the qualitatively inexhaustible character of the real world. Neither the introduction of an infinite number of parameters nor the description of the state of continuous media by functions of a point in space is adequate to represent the infinite complexity of actual events.

It’s interesting and enlightening and refreshing to see determinism shot down, not by probabilistic arguments but by arguments pointing to the “qualitatively inexhaustible character of the real world.”

In the article, Non-Euclidean Geometries by another highly-regarded Russian mathematicians, A D Alexandrov, we can read on page 155:

The real significance of this point of view is that it makes it possible to use the concepts and methods of abstract geometry for the investigation of diverse phenomena. The realm of applicability of geometric concepts and methods is extended immensely in this way. As a result of the concept of space the term `space’ assumes two meanings in science. On the one hand it is the ordinary real space (the universal form of existence of matter), on the other hand it is the `abstract space,’ a collection of homogeneous objects (events, states, etc.) in which spacelike relationships hold.

On page 158, we can read a description of `space’ from an abstract viewpoint:

By a `space’ we understand in mathematics quite generally an arbitrary collection of homogeneous objects (events, states, functions, figures, values of variables, etc.) between which there are relationships similar to the usual spatial relations (continuity, distance, etc.). Moreover, in regarding a given collection of objects as a space we abstract from properties of these objects except those that are determined by these spacelike relationships in question. These relations determine what we can call the structure or `geometry’ of the space. The objects themselves play the role of `points’ of such a space; `figures’ are sets of its `points’.

Abstract spaces might well be a `graphing’ of abstract forms of being in so far as they show up in properties or behaviors of concrete being, including human being.

Finally, we can read on page 1 of the book, Topology and Geometry for Physicists (Dover Publications, 2011), by Charles Nash and Siddhartha Sen:

[T]opology produces theorems that are usually qualitative in nature—they may assert, for example, the existence or non-existence of an object. They will not in general, provide the means for its construction.

Some of my readers may have better knowledge and skills in these fields than do I, but, for the others: qualitative, topological reasoning is very important in modern physics, even in fields where the goal is to ultimately produce a quantitative result.

We have hints of a greater unity, one in which knowledge is not `of’ being, but rather an encapsulation of being in a way that makes it a sharing in being. Created being is manifested thoughts of God so that Creation is certain acts, acts-of-being, of the mind of God, acts-of-being become objects in which God is ever-present because that divine presence is God’s thought. God is unified in such a way that thoughts and acts and feelings aren’t really separate, as will also be true of that completed and perfected human being, the Body of Christ.

By exercising the human ability to encapsulate large chunks of the world and even of those realms of Creation invisible to the sense organs of our thing-like being, we share in those thoughts and acts and feelings of God in His freely-chosen role as the Creator. Being able to quantify, say, the effects of gravity under relativistic or non-relativistic conditions is a part of that sharing but it is more complete and more perfect when it becomes that greater understanding in a way similar to the greater, geometric understanding of spacetime which is the General Theory of Relativity, an understanding which can be made more specific so that it is the quantitative description of a particular universe or relativistic object such as a black-hole. Yet, the more general understanding, the more abstract description, doesn’t go away even when you tighten the constraints on the field equation of General Relativity so that a specific universe/object is described and the equations can be solved.

More importantly for my purposes, if we stay at the very abstract level for a while, we can begin to better understand the being of that abstract level, being from which this concrete, thing-like world is shaped. Using abstract space and geometry, I can propose that we might be able to understand the cohesion of societies which have expanded far beyond kinship and proxy-kinship relationships in terms of a bending of the state space which brings citizens together.

There’s much work to be done and all I can say at this point is that we won’t come to better, even more exact, understandings of human communities by way of straightforward adoptions of quantitative methods from physics nor by way of more clever use of our current stock of words and concepts regarding the concrete, thing-like, directly perceptible properties of those communities.

Human Communal Being and the Shaping of Human Individual Being

Posted July 14th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Body of Christ, Christianity, communal human being, Human nature

Human being is complex, as is true of most interesting entities. Even God’s simplicity, touted rightly by ancient and Medieval theologians and their not-so-worthy successors in modern times, is only a way of speaking against very specific types of errors. Mostly, they were concerned in ages which saw change lead eventually to decay that God not be seen as a being moving, however slowly, towards decay and death.

More generally, interesting and rich entities seem to be highly organized systems of sub-systems, some of which are simple and some of which are complex. These sub-systems interact to produce various sorts of—speaking anthropomorphically—simple and complex communities.

I’ve written a little about the real nature of simplicity of complex entities, human beings or human societies or other organisms or parts of Creation—see Enriching Our Moral World: Simple Is Digested Complexity.

Responding to a New York Times overview of some recent literature discussing and, sometimes, advocating one or another position on how to raise morally well-ordered children, Razib Khan wrote an short essay in April of 2014, It Takes a Village More Than Parents, which provides some well-grounded cautions:

Two insights from behavior genetics can shed light here. First, shared-environmental effects are often the smallest proportion of the variation in behavior. This is the part which is due to the family home and the parental influence. Second, the proportion of variance explained by shared-environment tends to go down as people get older. So parental influence tends to diminish.

Obviously part of the reason you behave as you do can be put down to genes. Or more precisely genetic dispositions which express themselves. And another portion can be chalked up to what your parents teach you. But a large proportion, in fact in many cases the largest proportion, is accounted for by factors which we don’t have a good grasp of. We don’t know, and term this “non-shared environment.”* In The Nurture Assumption Judith Rich Harris posited that much of non-shared environment was one’s peer group. This is still a speculative hypothesis, but I do think it is part of a broader set of models which emphasize culture and society, and how it shapes your mores and behaviors, as opposed to the nuclear family.

[* This might actually be genetic or more broadly biological; epigenetics, epistasis, and developmental stochasticity.]

Khan was responding to a New York Times article by Adam Grant to which Khan was responding: Raising a Moral Child . One claim that struck me regarded the difference between shame and guilt:

Praise in response to good behavior may be half the battle, but our responses to bad behavior have consequences, too. When children cause harm, they typically feel one of two moral emotions: shame or guilt. Despite the common belief that these emotions are interchangeable, research led by the psychologist June Price Tangney reveals that they have very different causes and consequences.

Shame is the feeling that I am a bad person, whereas guilt is the feeling that I have done a bad thing. Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, which is devastating: Shame makes children feel small and worthless, and they respond either by lashing out at the target or escaping the situation altogether. In contrast, guilt is a negative judgment about an action, which can be repaired by good behavior. When children feel guilt, they tend to experience remorse and regret, empathize with the person they have harmed, and aim to make it right.

The author, Adam Grant, quite plausibly concluded: “If we want our children to care about others, we need to teach them to feel guilt rather than shame when they misbehave.” Discipline is needed but the right sort, the sort which makes it clear the child can become a better person.

One part of Grant’s discussion of this issue struck home for me in a rather personal way: “The ashamed toddlers were avoiders; the guilty toddlers were amenders.” That’s me, an avoider, and even now I have trouble facing up to my own weaknesses and figuring out how to amend; I also have trouble confessing to even non-moral failings, such as lack of knowledge of some matter that I feel I should know about or simple errors of judgment or mistakes in carrying out a task. This is a common American trait, in my experience, and Grant’s discussion raises obvious questions about the possible prevalence in this country of parents who raise their children to feel shame rather than guilt.

Another result from these particular experiments and studies discussed by Grant is the evidence that children learned generosity better when they saw adults being generous without preaching generosity. Preaching the moral lesson would decrease the effect of seeing generosity in action, though some effect remained.

On the other hand, as a modern thinker appreciative of the mind and its importance to some extent in many individual lives and its great importance in our communal lives, I think that preaching is distinct from the types of conversations—not to be forced—which can lead to understanding and to the type of mind which can respond more flexibly to the world. Stories might be even more effective in reinforcing lessons taught by action.

From here, I’ll be making a general critique which applies to nearly all human thought, including modern human thought, on the nature of human being in its various aspects. And `critique’ is the right term—I’ll propose no answers and don’t think anyone can yet properly phrase questions which might lead to plausible answers. I’m working on those questions and hope to generate a framework for proper discussion of human nature, individual and communal, so that I can fill in the rough outline in my book: A More Exact Understanding of Human Being.

Much modern thought assumes a sort of reductionism, but one allowing a privileged position to being as organized in human individual being although there is no evidence from empirical science and even surprisingly little from the Bible or serious literature and history that such privilege is real. Under bad circumstances, which might be due to genetic or environmental traits. we are deeply fragmented creatures though always—so far as I know—striving to pull ourselves together or at least justifying our fragmentation in terms that salvage something of an `I’. There is the literature on the so-called split-brain (see Split-brain). There are also creative works, such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde—where the fundamental fragmentation was caused by a poorly formed conscience but Stevenson added an factor of a drug. I’ve also written a book A Man for Every Purpose in which there was a fundamental cultural division—Mom was a Norwegian Lutheran and Dad was a Jamaican of Pentecostal practice—and an added factor of a terribly painful, mind-twisting disease.

But my goal is not so much to cast doubt on the reality of human individual being as it is to open up human minds to the possibility—as a Christian, I’d say certainty—of the reality of human communal being.

Most reductionists (see Reductionism ), and probably most Nominalists (see Nominalism) would deny on principle the reality of human communal being. “Sure,” they might say, “there are ways in which groups of people act as if they form a true entity, but this is just a way of speaking `as if’, for convenience, for shorthand.” But most reductionists and nominalists accord a privileged position to individual human being, to the `I’ they feel to be.

To me, it seems the reality of a community is no more, and no less, puzzling than the reality of a fragmented man of biological pieces yet being a true, unified entity—if far from perfectly so. For both an individual human being and a communal human being, empirical reality seems to push upon us the necessity of treating as a real entity what acts as a real entity.

As a Christian, I believe in the reality of human communal being because the Body of Christ is the ultimate human community where each member remains an individual and yet is entirely the Body, that is, entirely Christ. That Body of Christ can’t come into existence unless it be possible for human beings to form true communities of a lesser sort in this mortal realm.

This is background to informally justify my claim that our human communal being is real, yet, I think there to be a difference: I think human communal being is still more of a potential at our birth than is our human individual being. We human beings have communal being in us when born, but some can be forced into a life largely lived as a loner perhaps because of some disaster or a psychological disability. The possibilities for human community, though constrained are great if not necessarily infinite. We can live in a tribe of shared thoughts never questioned or as a more cosmopolitan person with at least the possibility of both a well-developed individuality and also a rich and complex communal life. Even when we speak of a type of life, tribal or cosmopolitan, there are uncounted ways of actually manifesting those sorts of lives.

This is the point I’m driving at: we can’t analyze the development of the total human being as if there is some sort of preset `configuration’ of a human being with a contribution of, say, 40% from individual factors and 60% from communal factors. My feeling is that not only do those percentages change in different sorts of communal life but also the very structure of the total human being.

The reader should consider my understanding of created being as levels or realms beginning with that which God first created: the raw stuff of created being, the truths He chose for Creation. From this raw stuff, He shaped successively more concrete layers of being culminating in this concrete, thing-like world of narratives, even of moral order and disorder.

This forces, or should force, a different understanding of not only being but of also knowledge of created being—see Four Kinds of Knowledge for my understanding of the actual unity of knowledge of created being and the practical need for specialized fields of knowledge. This situation leads to both problems and opportunities for those wishing to explore God’s Creation, whether as physical explorers on the ocean blue or scientists probing the elementary constituents of matter or philosophers exploring various realms of created being from speculative versions of various viewpoints. I deny the modern—often implicit—viewpoint that the divisions between metaphysics and particle physics and farming are true and absolute: when one field of knowledge advances ahead of others, those other fields of knowledge can borrow true insight at an appropriate level of abstraction and travel down the road of concretization toward their own subject matter.

This is my general suggestion for developing a Christian understanding of Creation which respects both Christian revelation and modern empirical knowledge: let’s borrow from those fields of empirical science which have advanced far more rapidly than Christian thought in recent centuries.

I’m the early stages of studying and contemplating relevant fields of mathematics and also reading works of history and literature which might lead to inspiration and insight as I try to understand on its own terms a Creation which can now be seen as far more rich and complex than prior generations of men could have imagined. I’m groping my way in what is, for now, a foggy region. In my next essay, I’ll try to better justify this idea of moving up and down through levels or realms of relatively more abstract or more concrete being in terms of modern mathematics and an apparent turn to qualitative knowledge, often geometric in a general sense.

What is an Explanation?: The Context of Thought and Language

Posted July 3rd, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Mind, Modern language, Narratives and truth, Unity of knowledge

According to a couple of dictionaries, an `explanation’ is “Something that explains” or equivalent definitions of the sort which would gain a failing grade on a junior high school test back in the days when American schools were so tough we had to write essays explaining how it was possible to walk uphill going to and from school.

According to a highly respected textbook, Theoretical Physics by George Joos with the collaboration of Ira M Freeman, an explanation provides “a reference back to simpler elements.” This is more solid but needs elaboration and more than a little expansion to cover fields beyond physics and similar sciences; in fact, a bit of expansion is needed to cover such `philosophical’ sub-fields of physics such as cosmology and also the truly fundamental sort of work done by Newton and Maxwell and Einstein and the founders of quantum physics. (I will return to the sub-topic of explanations in physics in a short while, without pretending to `solve’ longstanding problems but only the (Thomistic) intent of putting physics and other such fields of study in the context of more general human thought.)

Even within physics, such an explanation—”a reference back to simpler elements.”—relies on much conceptual, linguistic, methodological, and other apparatuses; there is much that could be labeled cultural capital in each of Newton’s simple laws. Without the entire history of ancient Greek philosophy and its battles to learn how to develop proper words and concepts and methods for abstract reasoning, without Euclid and Archimedes, without Ptolemy (whose `model’ of the Solar System was arguably the first such large-scale mathematical-physical model), without a multitude of philosophical and literary thinkers from Christian and Jewish and Moslem cultures, without the empirical thinkers and doers of the Middle Ages, Newton’s laws make no sense. Civilized thinkers realize this. Barbarian children who think the world is transparent to human thought and human language—many modern scientists and too many teachers and cultural leaders among others are such barbarian children—think that Newton’s laws, the US Constitution, ancient Christian creeds, and other complex encapsulations of thought mean exactly what they `seem’ to mean. Such an understanding of understanding is thoroughly incoherent, but we’ll gradually get to a better understanding.

When we explain something substantial, we’re a bit like acrobats who support ourselves by standing upon our own heads, but mostly we, as individuals and as communal beings, stand upon our communal heads. We rely upon not so much our individual intelligences but our intellects as defined by Jacques Barzun:

Intellect is the capitalized and communal form of live intelligence; it is intelligence stored up and made into habits of discipline, signs and symbols of meaning, chains of reasoning and spurs to emotion—a shorthand and a wireless by which the mind can skip connectives, recognize ability, and communicate truth. Intellect is at once a body of common knowledge and the channels through which the right particle of it can be brought to bear quickly, without the effort of redemonstration, on the matter in hand.

There is much more to be said. I’m trying to understand understanding within the context of my worldview and doing so in a somewhat arbitrary way, but that is also the nature of human thought. We are blessed and sometimes cursed by the personal aspects of the thought left to us by Plato and Augustine and Dante and Shakespeare as well as Newton and Faraday and Einstein.

We are embedded in a world of particulars including particular men and women and other creatures; we are further embedded along with our world in a greater Creation of realms of abstract and particular or concrete being.

I’ll be writing more about explanations and trying to write in such a way as to provide digestible pieces as part of a long-delayed effort to try to make my worldview more accessible. As is often the case with me, it is a quite idiosyncratic way to move forward and a way decided upon by a seeming impulse after thinking hard about the problem for years. I’m bound to be idiosyncratic even when I’m working in a field seeming suited for systematic thinking—after all, I’m a philosopher and theologian who writes novels even when I’m writing philosophy and theology.

The Soft Power of Corrupted Culture

Posted June 26th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Evil, Freedom and Structure in Human Life, mis-education, Narratives and truth

In a recent essay, Deep States and the Modern American Citizen, I addressed the ways in which members and gangs of members of the ruling class of the modern world, and many other ages of man, use crimes—even brutal and murderous crimes—as tools to gain control over other human beings or human communities.

In the United States, soft power, mostly the shaping of minds and attitudes along with some substantial sharing of wealth (perhaps now being reversed to some extent), has kept the ordinary citizens of past generations quiet, maybe unconsciously distracted by circuses and maybe consciously compliant with a sometimes criminal ruling class, while the power-holders committed various sorts of crimes in the political or economic realms. More recently, morally corrupt cultural products, such as James Bond books and movies and Rambo and Star Wars with its perversely adolescent depiction of good and evil, have gotten the masses off their seats at times, lining them up along the streets to cheer the troops going to or returning from another war against those who hate us for our freedoms including apparently hundreds of thousands of hateful children.

Soft power has been remarkably effective in turning the American mind into something like silly putty—see Unreliable Memories, Minds Like Silly Putty. Several of the most prominent aspects of American life have been spotlighted as factors contributing to this problem of the dumbing down of Americans. There is the hectic pace of life even when we’re neither having fun nor accomplishing much of anything. There is the related problem of constant communication and other sorts of electronic distractions. There are cars and lawns we care for as if fairways at the country club. There is a confusion of excessive information that some deal with by adopting unreasonable simplifications—such as the one about those Iranians and Iraqis and Syrians not being able to think as rationally as we Americans do.

All of this contributes to the major problem: we don’t fill our heads with good stuff. We don’t realize we shape our minds in response to what we perceive in physical terms (including our own bodily activities) and what we conceive in mental terms (including imagination). We think to watch Rambo, avoid the Bible, and somehow go to our deathbeds suited to life in Heaven.

We should put our energies into putting the good stuff into our heads and into our hearts and into our hands and feet. We should have thoughts which are drawn from those God revealed in the Bible and the thoughts He manifested in this world and its things and relationships and in all the abstractions from which this world was shaped. We should fill our heads with the stories of great men, good men, strong men, by reading serious, narrative histories and biographies or good historical novels or by recalling and retelling the story of our grandfather the fireman who entered burning buildings to save lives or our grandmother who went with a church group for part of each summer to work as a nurse’s assistant in a burnt-out coal district in West Virginia.

In that essay I referred to above, Deep States and the Modern American Citizen, I wrote something about E Howard Hunt, noting that he was a “CIA operative deeply involved in conspiracies against Castro, Watergate burglar, possibly—by his own macabre deathbed confession—a participant in the `project’ to murder JFK, and successful writer of thriller novels.” I was planning on writing in response to an essay posted on the Internet about a “shallow state”, but wasn’t impressed with that essay on a more careful reading. My thoughts and words turned instead to cultural soft power and how it helps to reinforce the deep-state. Rather than just sidelining the ordinary citizen with bread and circuses, soft cultural power has been used to recruit the ordinary citizen to the various programs, often criminal, of the ruling class, or classes, of the United States. The cultural angle is, in fact, more interesting, especially with the fascination of Americans over the previous 50 years with that elegant criminal and exploiter of young women, James Bond. And his ilk.

So, what about E Howard Hunt, most famous for being a seemingly incompetent burglar in the Watergate mess? It’s certainly interesting that Hunt was a prolific and, so far as I can tell, financially successful writer of spy novels. Even my smalltown library, missing all works of some major literary figures, has three of his novels on the shelves. This is what the wikipedia article says about Hunt the novelist:

Hunt was a prolific author, primarily of spy novels. During and after the war, he wrote several novels under his own name—East of Farewell (1942), Limit of Darkness (1944), Stranger in Town (1947), Bimini Run (1949), and The Violent Ones (1950)—and, more famously, several spy and hardboiled novels under an array of pseudonyms, including Robert Dietrich, Gordon Davis and David St. John. Hunt won a Guggenheim Fellowship for his writing in 1946. [See article referenced above for footnotes.]

My very general impression is that the article, in its entirety, is very questionable based upon reading the works of serious, non-mainstream journalists such as Russ Baker who puts up some serious investigative research at Who What Why. I’ve written of Baker’s work in Are Serious Historians Conspiracy Nuts? and Who Are the American Elites and Are They Conspirators?. Baker has also published a readily available book about the dynasty founded by Prescott Bush, father of a president and grandfather of another president: Family of Secrets.

Hunt seems an interesting case of a man who provided part of the cultural foundations for the positive attitudes modern Americans have toward spies, assassins, and other criminals as well as having himself been a spy and involved in assassination conspiracies against Castro. Hunt wrote about the life and then lived it and continued to write about the life. Something of the sort can be said of Ian Fleming and David John Moore Cornwell who wrote under the pen name of John le Carré. A host of others have written about life in the intelligence or covert operations communities with less direct experience or perhaps none at all.

The sorts of books we read, and the sorts of movies we watch, have little to do with reality. Those books and movies of the thriller genres do have a lot to do with the actions of the leaders of the United States since the beginning of the Cold War and a lot to do with the American failures to deal with realities on the ground as opposed to inside of our heads—inside our heads, we’re still on top of some world if not the one created by God. We have strayed from God’s reality, trying to build a world with an excess of covert actions and a deficit of diplomatic or other peaceful actions. By default, we bribe officials in other governments and steal secrets through them or by other means. By default, we destroy entire countries which don’t bow to our every American whim—even when those countries are, in some clear sense, rising in social order and in prosperity and are at least moving toward the sorts of values Americans claim to hold dear.

We Americans know that goodness is to be defended and maybe even spread into evil regions by use of the same criminal methods and attitudes which were advocated by Nazis and Bolsheviks and Maoists. The Bolsheviks and Maoists (many anyway) targeted some true badness, such as ignorance and poverty. They used rifles and bombs and concentration camps where education and modern farming techniques and modern medicine would have been more appropriate. Those evil Bolsheviks and evil Maoists. If only they had been good enough to spread democracy and fight evil by the methods used by the United States in Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq and Somalia and Libya.

Whatever is true of the American elite, so wealthy and so powerful, the ordinary American has been convinced the negative wisdom of the Stalinists and Maoists is the appropriate way to defend our country and the values we claim to hold, but we have a strange blindness that leads us to think that what we did to Iraq was morally good and not at all similar to what the Maoists did to Tibet. In fact, we adopted many of the methods of Hitler and Stalin and Mao; in our efforts to defeat them, we became their disciples. (I believe it was C S Lewis who first expressed this insight but I don’t have a reference.)

But maybe I have it wrong. Maybe Lenin and Trotsky and Stalin and Mao and his followers learned from our grandparents the brutal and amoral ways described by Winston Churchill in a quote I provided in the essay, The Final Frontier of Our Modern Moral Journey:

All the horrors of all the ages were brought together, and not only armies but whole populations were thrust into the midst of them… Neither peoples nor rulers drew the line at any deed which they thought would help them to win. Germany, having let Hell loose, kept well in the van of terror; but she was followed step by step by the desperate and ultimately avenging nations she had assailed. Every outrage against humanity or international law was repaid by reprisals — often of a greater scale and of longer duration. No truce or parley mitigated the strife of the armies. The wounded died between the lines: the dead mouldered in the soil. Merchant ships and neutral ships and hospital ships were sunk on the seas and all on board left to their fate or killed as they swam. Every effort was made to starve whole nations into submission without regard to age or sex. Cities and monuments were smashed by artillery. Bombs from the air were cast down indiscriminately. Poison gas in many forms stifled or seared their bodies. Liquid fire was projected upon their bodies. Men fell from the air in flames, or were smothered, often slowly, in the dark recesses of the sea. The fighting strength of armies was limited only by the manhood of their countries. Europe and large parts of Asia and Africa became one vast battlefield on which after years of struggle not armies but nations broke and ran. When all was over, Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves, and they were of doubtful utility.

We Americans have added (often poorly) targeted murder by way of drones or special forces. We Americans have used, at least intermittently, torture which for all its “doubtful utility” seems to be a way for the righteous to inflict pain upon those evil creatures who hate us for our freedoms and for our goodness and probably for our golf courses.

To a large extent, this has been made possible by the crap we absorb from our trashy books and trashy movies and trashy songs. Disorder is us, it is in us, and we love it. So long as we feel good about ourselves, we must be doing what is right.

A Medieval theological joke:

Who will be saved?

Anyone who can enjoy Heaven.

We American Christians spurn the Bible and good poetry and we read books and watch movies about `heroic’ criminals of the elegant James Bond sort or the rather crude Rambo sort. We gather in front of the television to cheer as the missiles and bombs hit a heavily populated city, such as Baghdad.

Why would anyone think they would be happy in Heaven if they enjoy watching or even imagining the killing of any human being, no matter if he is an enemy? Why would they be happy in Heaven if they prefer Rambo to the Gospel of St John? Why would anyone who claims to be a Christian prefer the professional murderer and exploiter of young women, James Bond, to George Washington, that man who was a sinner but one who struggled his entire life to behave according to a strict code of public honor. I have to ask: was it just coincidence that the James Bond era corresponds with a period of very public denigration of George Washington? We honor a fictional character who was a coldblooded and hardhearted criminal and then spit upon the Father of our country.

In Washington: The Indispensable Man, the shorter biography by James Thomas Flexner, we can learn that Washington looked at the dead and horribly injured men being brought off the battlefields of the American Revolution and concluded that even just war isn’t glorious and is to be avoided unless absolutely necessary—though to be fought to the last ounce if necessary. He also showed in his refusal to allow reprisals against civilian populations who aided the British or the Royalists that he thought the best way to win hearts and pull together a country (or a world by extrapolation) is to treat human beings decently and maybe even better than they deserve from our viewpoint.

Perhaps we should spend more time with the Bible and with respectful biographies of men like George Washington and less time watching James Bond movies or—Lord, have mercy—Rambo movies.

We Human Beings Are a Particular Type of Organism, an Organism Sometimes a Student

Posted June 20th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Biological evolution, Brain sciences, Human nature, mis-education

I’ve written before of the modern tendency to use glossy pictures and even fast-moving images to teach, even to teach subjects requiring some concentration and some use of abstract reasoning. This is absurd. It’s been known since at least the work of the English psychologist, Richard Gregory, that the human brain—like the brains of monkeys even more than apes—places a priority on colors and movement as a means of detecting food, dangers, and sex opportunities. (The latter might be less important for humans since color doesn’t indicate fertility for human females as it does for chimpanzees and other close relatives.)

I don’t really have a good handle on the history of the efforts to understand the nature of human acts of perception and cognition and how they interact. I know a little bit about the modern effort and I know how St Thomas Aquinas anticipated much of the general findings—see How Brains Make Up Their Mind by the neuroscientist and philosopher Walter J Freeman for an excellent overview of the Thomistic understanding. In any case, I do know that Richard Gregory played an important role in the modern re-discovery of the active nature of human perception and how it interacts with thinking.

The main thrust of Gregory’s work was the nature of perception, which he saw as an act like unto cognition rather than a passive reception of images or other stimuli. Since there are only finite resources in the human brain, which is already an energy hog, the aggressive stimulation of the visual regions will come at the expense of other regions, such as those with which we reason in abstract ways. One might think that many subjects would be better taught with textbooks and other materials not being distracting to the higher-reasoning regions of the human brain, but nowadays those glossy pictures are found even in high school math books. Much is taught through videos or through rapidly changing images on the computer monitor. This isn’t to say that electronic technology, even fast-moving videos, are never good in education, but it is to say that it is often no good and we should have educators who understand enough to be able to make plausible judgments in specific cases.

This is the problem. Education, though a little more solid when I was in elementary school in the 1960s, was the domain of faddish thinking by way of ungrounded speculation for the entirety of my career as a student. Some of the fads were plausible answers to the wrong questions, such as the phase of short readings with each student working through the file of readings at his own pace. That seemed plausible to deal with the problem of varying levels of skills and talents in the typical classroom but it was really, in my opinion, a gutless dance around the problems of the ideologically driven age-cohort school system: The children advance at different rates, some eventually catching up and some never catching up, but we modern men of the West wish to socialize them as a herd so we sacrifice better education for all but the middling students who move at a rate acceptable to education college theorists.

Now, some researchers have spotted another possible problem, though it’s not a settled issue. In What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades, Maria Konnikova begins:

Does handwriting matter?

Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters—but how.

The article speaks of some respected researchers who think it will not turn out to be true that handwriting is nearly this important in the educational process. We’ll see, but we should be asking how major standards were promulgated on the basis of untested speculations that handwriting is unimportant in the education of children. I know that my best learning experiences have occurred when I used lots of pencil lead and lots of sheets of paper to do problems in mathematics or science or when I took notes during lectures on any subject—even when I never used those notes to study.

This is a general problem in the West. We think to be a `scientific people’ by which we are claiming to think in line with sciences dealing with the observable and, often, also quantifiable aspects of reality. In reality, we have been partially freed from traditional ways of thought and feeling and acting, some of which ways carry true knowledge and wisdom, some of those ways point to truth but need to be adjusted to reflect more recently discovered knowledge about reality, and some of those ways reflect knowledge best discarded but for those scholars needing to study the history of human thought.

We are a people with a strange mixture of scientific, magical, ideological, and other beliefs of a good and not so good sort. This comes out in our educational system, one in which people who feel awfully good about themselves and greatly overrate their understanding and intelligence have conducted experiments upon the youth of the United States and many other regions of the West as well. The experiments, on the whole, are failures. The peoples with old-fashioned ideas about learning—immerse yourself in the material, dig in, work till you’re drenched with sweat—out-perform those who have been softened in brains and often bodies to the standards of the modern American middle-class. Those more successful peoples include the ethnic Chinese and Japanese, traditional Jews, some eastern Europeans, and some immigrants from impoverished regions, though I’ve heard expressions of concern that more recent generations of even Chinese-Americans might be moving toward the trashy attitudes of the American middle-class of European descent.

The loss of respect for the activity of handwriting follows upon a similar loss of respect for such activities as memorizing addition or multiplication tables. To be sure, that was an activity useless to me since I could already handle addition and multiplication of all those relatively small numbers well before I had to endure hours of useless practice each week, but that points back to the problems with age-cohort education. We prioritize socializing, and I would even call it brainwashing, and that is perhaps the original sin of American educators. By high school, I wasn’t in the same classes as the fellows I would join for pick-up baseball games or card games in after-school hours—the only effect of age-cohort education for me was the slowing down of my mental development and perhaps of my emotional development.

In any case, though I was lucky enough to be ahead of the sheer stupidities of New Math, I can remember the upset and the complaints of some parents who had at least vague intuitions this New Math stuff wouldn’t help their children to so much as balance their checkbooks. And I wish to say that memorizing addition and multiplications tables was good in itself though I didn’t need it at the time I had to endure it. In any case, though few know this, the New Math programs back in the 1970s were adopted over the protests of various societies of mathematicians and most likely the protests of a lot of individual mathematicians and scientists and engineers and maybe some humanists possessing at least a broad understanding of mathematics.

Human beings are the result of specific processes of evolution. Those processes have somehow produced a very complex brain which allows us to shape minds, abstract relationships between us and other entities as well as `global’ regions of Creation; we shape those minds by active responses to reality. Yet the shaping process itself is a somewhat ad-hoc process as we would expect from the most basic understanding of natural selection and and other evolutionary processes.

Those who claim to have knowledge of some sort of education science overrule those who have knowledge of the specific fields of knowledge and ignore those specific fields which tell us much about the human being, an animal capable of transcending in some ways that animal status by way of processes we only partly understand, an animal capable of acquiring high levels of skill in passing on and gaining abstract knowledge of the bookish sort. He is a very particular sort of animal not `designed’ to be an animal literate in well-defined ways with well-defined additional cognitive skills in logic and mathematics and higher-level music, but rather an upright primate with skills and aptitudes selected for survival and reproduction yet capable of abstract reasoning and able to develop sounds and alphabets to communicate the number of enemy warriors approaching and also the concept of rational number. The Pythagoreans were even capable of reacting in disgust and fear against the possibility of an irrational number.

But all of this came about by development processes, some linked undoubtedly to ongoing evolutionary processes. These were development processes which occur as the human being responds to the world around himself as well as to his own body. They are also processes which themselves are the results of specific events in biological evolution.

The mathematical truths which are part of Creation shape the mind of the mathematician or even the minds of those who make instrumental use of mathematics; the mind of the student, the potential mathematician or physicist or accountant or carpenter, doesn’t access realms of abstract truths apart from this mortal realm. He accesses realms of abstract truths through this mortal realm and by way of specific events in this mortal realm. He doesn’t impose order upon chaos but rather draws principles of order from that (seeming) chaos and uses it understand that chaos—a fascinating process of often unstable iterations occurring over generations. He has the brain suited for such a world and for such activities within the world; that brain “makes up a mind” as Professor Freeman has it. Without understanding that brain, how it operates and how it interacts with the world outside of itself and how it interacts with the realms of truths it posits with increasing certainty, we can’t understand how to educate children or even how to further educate our own selves.