Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Never fails

As you know I will be leaving for Korea on Thursday, so this will most likely be the last post before then.  Like my previous trip, something not horrible but saddening happened.  

On my last trip to Korea I got a flat tire the day before I had to leave.  This was not too horrible as our flight left the next day, but massively inconvenient.

This time the disaster involved something much closer to my heart.  I sat down last night to play some oldie games that I downloaded for my XBox 360.  As I browsed the menu the console crashed.  A little disturbed, but no biggie.  I pushed the power button only to find:


Sadly, my XBox for the moment is kaput.  Now I have been reading some online guides to try to fix it, but for right now I have no time to explore those options.  I will most likely buy a "new" XBox as a replacement or try to fix this one.

Sigh.  Anyway, off to Korea.  I ask for prayers for a safe trip and we will resume programming on the 19th.  I may squeeze in a post or two while on the other side of the world, but no promises.  

The Management

Civility or no? That is the question

Simcha Fisher writes about going in with a blaze and ripping people new doughnut holes in the name of the Faith.  While I've certainly shot my mouth off in combo boxes and posting things I'd rather have back, I have noticed that there is also some merit to launching a rhetorical salvo.

Civility is my default stance, at least I attempt to make it my default stance.  Despite hostility encountered in a variety of online forums, I do think I can maintain an even keel.  When this can be maintained on both sides, this often leads to rewarding and valuable exchanges of information.

I have come to realize however that civility in this uncivilized age can also be interpreted as "weak."  Our society longs for civility yet lacks the discipline and the charity necessary for such to happen.  So when civility is engaged in on one side,  this is seen as an invitation to attack.

My experience with civility is that unless both sides participate, it simply will not happen.  It takes two to tango.  Civility is much the same.

Ironically enough I have found that while we should devote our energies to charity there are times when the rhetorical salvo is also necessary.  It is as if it is a separate language and a response lacking insults and demeaning remarks is unintelligible to some people.

I think there is some connection between this age's connection between feelings about beliefs and the truth of such.  Our "rational" age is replete with emotions substituting for conviction based on reason.  So unless one side feels insulted, the side assumes that the other does not take their ideas seriously.

Sadly I have found that I make much more progress initially not when I calmly point out that a materialist atheist in the Dawkins mold is wrong about Aquinas' 2nd way but when my response is much more "Hey moron, you don't have a clue what you are talking about."  It's depressing but it does work.

To me I think the trick is that we have to alternate between the two.  I find the most productive manner is to assume civility, yell when necessary, then revert to civility when the point has been made.  It is bizarre, but it does work.

Then there are those who cannot separate their emotions from the rational discussion of beliefs.  Those who emotions are so tied up in their beliefs that reason is impervious to them.  For these, reason is not how they got to their beliefs, but reason is used post hoc to justify the emotional based belief.  For these reason is useless, because reason is not how they got to their current beliefs.  These we can only pray for.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Video game escapism

from a remarkably self-reflective author at IGN, not necessarily the place I'd expect it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

I approve this message

Why we need Aristotle and Aquinas pt 4

Having looked at current symptoms of the mechanistic thought process, it is finally time to look at why a rediscovery of Aristotelian and Thomistic (AT) metaphysics is desperately needed.

One of the key factors of AT metaphysics is that it proceeds from reality as it presents itself to us.  It takes for granted that the things that reality presents to us are in fact real.  This is distinct from mechanistic thought, which has the tendency to impose a view on reality to conform to a system.

The coffee cup on my desk is actually a coffee cup on my desk.  I can actually see the coffee cup on my desk.  What my eyes tell me is actually real.  While these may seem trivial observations, they actually state quite profound insights.

What I perceive is reality first.  The existence of objects and my perceptions of those objects are both real.  They communicate the way things are, and as such I perceive truth.  This means that sensory data is not only trustworthy in the general sense, but that they communicate reality as it is.

From this point AT develops metaphysical principles stemming from this primary source of reality.  Form and matter, potential and actual, efficient and final causes.  All stem from this connection with reality as presented.

Notice the distinction between this and what we see in modern thought.  All of the principles of AT philosophy are derived from the concrete reality that such is supposed to describe.  This is distinct from contemporary approaches to thinking, which more often than not impose a view on reality and then seek to have reality conform to the view.

The upshot of this is that unlike modern models of reality, AT metaphysics retains its grounding in the reality from which it derives.  It does not impose a reality.  It derives from the reality.

This emphasis on deriving a worldview from reality rather than imposing one on it via laboratory experiments is the fundamental distinction between medieval and modern thought.  We would do well to rediscover this important connection between reality and how we describe it.  And AT metaphysics would go a long way to reconnecting that bridge between reality and the human mind.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Caring about the truth

One of the more pressing questions facing Catholic efforts is the attitude against truth that prevails in our culture today.  Not the fact that people reject Catholicism per se.  But that people in general simply do not care if they are wrong about anything, let alone beliefs that they hold.

To understand this problem we need to back up a bit in history.  More specifically the ancient world.  In Paganism, by which I mean the myriad of religious and mythical traditions that were held at one point or another in the various cultures of the past.  One thing that animates all of these is the importance of truth.

The ancient world was a harsh time.  People didn't have the resources to screw around with ideas like "there is no objective truth" because the need to create food and not starve was an ever present reminder that life did not bow to the will.  Reality was ever present and repeatedly beat into you the idea that there is such a thing as reality and it is the human that submits, not the universe.

That ever present notion of the truth haunts the religions of the past.  That search for those truths, as much as for survival but also the importance of commitment to the truth animates the mythologies of our ancestors.  Paganism understood the importance of truth, and the importance of finding it.

So when Christianity arrived the Pagans abandoned their Faith in pursuit of the truth.  The religions of the past, exhausted of their potential to answer the mysteries of life, were discarded in favor of the fullness of Truth.

Modern man however has no interest in the Truth, having denied that such a thing exists (a contradictory position, but nonetheless).  Without the commitment to truth, the modern position on any important issue is reduced to that of emotion, to the point of mistrusting reason and rational arguments.  The stronger the emotion, the greater assurance modern man has of his position, regardless of the fact that the position itself is grounded neither in reason or common sense.

This presents a problem for evangelization efforts.  Most efforts take as an assumption that people care about the truth.  But when that commitment is not there this falls apart.  Reason is useless against an irrational person.  Truth is not important to someone who denies the importance of truth.

So the open ended question I pose is this:  How does one teach a commitment to the truth?  I believe the answer to the modern condition lies in answering this riddle.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why we need Aristotle and Aquinas pt 3

In the previous article on this subject I listed several experiences that while anecdotal, provide what I think are specific examples of a general problem for moderns.  The problem lies in that there is a disconnect between the rational abstractions we use and the underlying reality that those abstractions represent.  This manifests itself in several ways, such as the anecdotes I listed in my last post on this subject.

One of the worst cases is the tendency to "concretize the abstract" according to Dr. Edward Feser.  In this case, The person has taken an abstraction of a particular reality and turned it into the reality.  This is particularly true among materialist atheists, who routinely beg the question during their defenses of these views.

Another symptom is what I would call "the reality disconnect".  In this case the abstract model that one learns  loses its connection to the underlying reality that the model is supposed to be an abstraction of.  This occurs in its most obvious form in academic test settings, where answers provided to test questions are not only wrong but so wrong the professor is left wondering how the student did not know how wrong he was.

Both of these are the result of the denial of objective truth.  In the first case reality is constrained to the model that the individual mind can handle, and thus a warped view of reality is projected.  In the second case the model is all that there is, and the disconnect is due to the inability to connect the abstraction with the reality.  Both fail to deal with reality as is, and attempts to narrow reality in order to simplify the thought process.

I think largely this is due to the skeptical nature of modern thought.  Not in the sense of critical thought.  But the hyper-critical nature of modern philosophy.  The denial of objective truth and the ability to know such truth has severed our thoughts from reality.

A lot of this stems from Descartes' modernist philosophy and the subsequent mechanistic philosophies of modern thought.  Viewing the world through a lens that searches for utility rather than truth, the goal of modern philosophy is not to seek the truth but to utilize the physical world.  While this is useful from the scientific perspective, it is virtually useless when evaluating universal truth one way or another.

So now that we have laid out the issues with modern thought and the consequences of those thoughts, how does Aquinas come to the rescue?  That we will finally answer in the next post.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Scorched earth

The gay lobby does its best to silence those who don't fit the narrative.

An interesting article about Pius XII

and the misinformation campaign launched by the Soviets in the 1960s.

The truth in all things

"Do I need to know the finer details of fairy tales to disprove them?"  This question is often posed by rather ill informed atheists who, after it is pointed out to them that they have no idea what they are talking about, attempt to deflect the criticism of their argument that suffers from the problem of being a strawman.  It is a cheap rhetorical tactic that betrays at best a casual attitude toward the truth.

 The correct answer to this question is, "Yes, if you want to disprove fairy tales."  If someone were to come up to me saying that the Tooth Fairy is real, I would express skepticism.  But what I would not do is attempt to argue that this person was wrong without finding out what this person actually believed.  To argue against a misconception of another's opinion is not only futile when attempting to convince another of their error but also calls into question my commitment to the truth.

One of the effects of relativism is a devastating attitude toward honesty when representing the opinions of another.  This is especially true when those opinions are that which we disagree with.  But if relativism holds, then not only is the truth whatever I claim it to be, the opinions of others are also what I claim them to be.  Thus logically whatever another says can mean whatever I want it to.

Pick any topic of conversation.  I'll give you a sec.  Ok, good.  How often is your view misrepresented by those who disagree with you?  All the time?  I thought so.  Now think about this.  Most likely you have misrepresented them as well.

That's because it is a whole lot easier to take down a caricature of an idea you disagree with rather than the actual idea.  Working with the real idea takes time.  Time to understand.  Time to express it.  We simply aren't interested in ideas that disagree with out perceptions, let alone take the time to dive in to accurately represent them.

The problem with this is that it is little more than lying.  You lie to yourself when you disagree with someone based on a caricature of their ideas.  You lie to others when you misrepresent another's views.  In short, the entire disagreement is based on views that simply aren't true.

This is particularly a problem for naturalist atheists who employ a "Last Man Standing" style of debate.  This method attempts to not defend Naturalism per se but attempts to take down any contenders by "disproving" them.  As can be imagined with such an illogical and inefficient strategy, it falls short in the accuracy department as well.

We do ourselves no favors when we misrepresent those we disagree with.  We can argue with them. We can point out that we think there position actually leads to an absurdity.  But to be careless to the point of misrepresenting another is to spread misinformation.  To persist after being corrected is to lie.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ignitum Today Thursday is coming up

so no post today.  But fear not!  You will not leave empty handed.  A little cultural music to cleanse the palette:


Monday, August 13, 2012


Well it has been quiet on this blog for a while.  Mostly due to the fact that I'm feeling a little burnt out and down.  Not so much from the blog but life in general.

I try not to write "Woe is me" blog posts because I life is pretty dang fantastic.  I have a job that I love (if a little uninspiring at times, not the most difficult programming job I've had) which in and of itself makes be better off than most in our economy today.  It was only last year that I fled a job I absolutely despised, not so much the job but the management that lacked the ability to clearly communicate objectives and punished myself and others for this.  To have moved from that sad position to this job, which I love and work with people most agreeable, is a wonderful blessing.

I have a wife who I love dearly and am grateful to God everyday for her.  We do have a tendency to reinforce our worst shut-in instincts, and so getting out of the apartment on the weekends is a major struggle. And Operation Video Game Conversion continues to suffer tremendous setbacks.  But otherwise no major issues on the marriage front and three years of wedded bliss have graced my life.

So how to account of this mellow feeling?  A couple of things may be responsible.  The first is that I haven't had a real vacation in some time.  We have stolen a weekend here and there, even 4 days or so.  But most of vacation time goes to family visits or some things that while fun do drain vacation time like weddings, family trip to Korea, etc.  Plus my wife has lab work and a lot of her work is time sensitive, so we have to work around her schedule.  So I think burn out is a part of it.

Also I have not been to Reconciliation in a while.  The signs are all present.  Unaccounted for anxiety, fatigue, and a general lack of focus.  Not that I've done anything horrible lately, or that one can find evidence for anyway.  I have grown in the Faith to know that when I have this anxiety and lack of focus it is usually because my soul is asking for a routine cleaning.  This Saturday I will oblige.

 All in all I'm just beat, and because of that posting is a bit sparse here.  I hope to get back on track this week with postings completing why Aquinas is needed.  In the meantime, I'm going to rest up.  I've already had a sick day (something is going around here) and I'm not feeling all that great anyway.  So I ask for my readers to be patient.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Feeling a bit under the weather

Sorry for the lack of blogging.  Been out of energy lately, possibly due to Olympic viewing.  You can tell you are starting to age when you become tired watching other people do athletic things.

Anyhoo, I'll take the rest of this week to schedule blog posts.  So Friday will most likely have nothing as well.  Have a good week.  And go U.S.A.!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday Randomness

Ok so I made the mistake of doing my workout before writing my next post on why we need Aquinas, so I will simply talk about random stuff this week while my body recovers and my brain....well, let's be optimistic.

First up to bat is the criticism of romance novels, aka porn for women.  While it is true that one isn't going to find romance novels in the "not to do" list in the Catechism (yet there is pornography on the list, right there folks, wasn't revoked by Vatican II) both porn and romance novels share a common vice.  Both facilitate a way for the consumer to engage in a fantasy world, ignoring real intimacy.

Next is a well written article by Kathryn Lopez pointing out why I will most likely vote for Romney (or R-money, I've seen it spelled both ways).  Obama's assault on religious freedom has basically forced me to consider what I thought was unthinkable before the HHS mandate.  Unless Romney comes out before the election saying "I hate Catholics and we should throw them all in jail", I'll vote for him.  Only because I'd rather have indifference toward us than antagonism.  Otherwise the two candidates are virtually identical.

In lighter news my wonderful wife bought for me the new Kingdom Hearts game.  Lame name, but looking forward to it.  Which is amazing because she hates video games.  But to me that just demonstrates that God has a sense of humor.  Anyway, I think she died a little inside but I was too distracted to follow up.

Speaking of games, I have long lobbied for my own media center in the future house we will buy someday.  My wife was against this, as she feared that the kids' father would not spend time with them.  My solution was simple,  bean bags in the media center, so we can all play as a family.  This solution I felt was perfect, but leaving out details, there was quite a bit of "resistance."  I'm hopeful as the Rock Band Beatles purchase of last year was a major victory for me, so in the spirit of the Olympics, I'm going for gold.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why we need Aristotle and Aquinas pt 2

Perhaps the biggest complaint I've heard from educators (teachers, grad students who are TAs) is that modern American students do not have a firm grasp on concepts in physical sciences.  In particular, the average American student lacks the ability to translate a concept to the underlying reality that the concept is supposed to convey.

My own experience with this is anecdotal, but seems to capture the experience of a number of educators of varying experience levels.  The near constant lament that students are unable to recognize basic issues with the answers they write on tests.  The near unanimous testimony is that even when the students are right they still don't get it.

I will give an example where I did not fall into this trap to illustrate the point.  In my early college days I took chemistry as one of my sciences requirements.  During a test, we were told to balance an equation, and provide the numeric answer from one of multiple choices.  This was because we filled in sheets by bubbling in those stupid letters on a scanned sheet.

No matter how many times I checked my work I could not find a letter that matched my answer.  It occurred to me to look at the other answers.  Now if you remember these problems you know that when balancing a chemical equation your answer must have the same amount of components on both sides.  When looking at the wrong answers, I realized none of the answers yielded the correct answer, as all of them made the result unbalanced.  I pointed this out to professor who agreed, and noted that there should have been another letter, but the copier missed it.

When the professor announced the finding the class breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Either no one else made the connection or they were too afraid to.  Regardless, I began to sense something amiss in our school's approach to education.  This was only confirmed by complaints by TAs, profs, and commerce in general that educators teach a great deal of mechanics.  How to do the math, how to use the calculator, how to manipulate equations and formulas.  But not as much time as the concepts and the reality that those concepts are trying to encapsulate.

Let's step away from math though to another area like written communication.  This disconnect of the words from the meaning of words is pervasive in modern discourse.  And this disconnect makes communication all but impossible.

To illustrate, how often has this happened to you?  You write a post or comment, and some person fixates on one or two phrases ripped bleeding from their context.  Even if other words written negate the criticism, the person can't get past his impression of your opinion.

This is due to "code phrases" I would call them.  Some combination of words or a phrase that evokes a meaning in a hearer that has no connection to the actual words.  Take for example, "worker's rights."  Depending on who is hearing, it can either mean "the rights of a worker" or "Marxist totalitarian statist."  Or the phrase "supports the family" can mean anything from "supports the family" to "hates gays."  To put it another way, regardless of what a person is saying, the actual idea communicated via the words does not match a person's imposed interpretation of the words.

The underlying problem with all of these issues is the disconnect between ideas and the underlying reality of those ideas.  In modern discourse, this inability to connect ideas and underlying truths is rendering basic learning impossible, let alone communicating differing ideas.

So what does this have to do with Aristotle and Aquinas?  That is a subject for our next post.