Friday, June 30, 2006

Funny thing about the universe... (Part 1 of 3)

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Last year I went to a lecture given by the famous(ly eccentric) John Dobson, inventor of the do-it-yourself "Dobsonian" telescope. Unknowingly he worked on the Manhattan project and became a Buddhist monk after realizing his efforts materialized as the most powerful bomb ever dropped. He's an interesting fellow, and kind of a black sheep of the physics/astronomy community. As such, he holds some interesting views on cosmology.

Cosmology, the study of large scale structure of the universe and its evolution, has been debated for literally thousands of years. A basic function of religion is to give us a sense our origins, and so all major religions assign the universe some set of cosmological attributes. Each having their own philosophical, theological and scientific implications

What Dobson advocates is what is classically referred to as a "steady state" cosmology. That is the universe is eternal and has always been so. Or, more crudely, that the arrow of its lifespan extends infinitely in "both directions". This cosmology has been debated as early 1610 and more recently by Fred Hoyle in the 1940's.

Steady state theories seem somewhat asinine to us in the 21st century because we've been raised with Big Bang cosmology. However, this is a relatively recent scientific discovery, and so steady state theories had been a viable alternative idea. Serious problems with the ramifications of various versions of the steady state theory have caused multiple revisions to be presented. Some of which are detailed below.

Infinite spatial universe: the simplest kind of universe. Infinite in space and infinite in time. However this cosmology is plagued by what is called Olbers' Paradox. Simply stated, the night sky is dark, but, if the universe were infinite then there would be an infinite number of stars, and my line of sight would eventually intersect some part of sky that contains a star, so the night sky would look as bright as a sky full of suns (which, essentially, it would be). You might be thinking, "What about interstellar gas that would obscure the stars?" Well that would work... but only for a brief time. You see the gas would be bombarded by light (radiation) from all sides until it too radiated uniformly (which we don't see, we detect anisotropic microwaves) so that's not a viable solution. Ultimately this cosmology has been abandoned (Although, Wikipedia states that Mandelbrot suggested that a highly ordered fractal distribution of stars could be infinite and still allow a dark sky, although this much order in a "randomly" generated universe would be startling).

Finite spatial, infinitely growing universe: This model is what Hoyle proposed as an alternative to the Big Bang. He speculated that matter was spontaneously generated within the universe causing it to be ever growing, but not infinite in its spatial dimension. However (philosophical/metaphysical problems aside) problems with this theory are that we know that the speed of light is finite and that there exists distant and therefore ancient phenomena that do not occur in our cosmic neighborhood. The distant distribution of these phenomena, quasars for instance, are not explained by steady state theory. Furthermore, the existence of the cosmic microwave background (the anisotropic radiation measured at every point in the sky mentioned earlier) is predicted by the Big Bang and is equally unexplained by steady state. Very few people still cling to this idea any more (Hoyle himself later bacame a Christian and renounced his idea).

Next: A Dobsonian universe with help from quantum mechanics.

Friday, June 23, 2006

New blogs o' mine

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Alive in Taiwan: 活著在台灣

Life is Worth Loving: Das Leben liebenswert

We'll see how long they last, but I should do something to so to speak keep up with my life and my languages, eh?

Now I see

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Now I know. For how long I will hold onto this knowledge, this walking epiphany, however, I do not know. The truth now fills my mind, as vividly as a laser beam through a diamond, that there is nothing greater than love. Nothing more powerful and lasting than love. Nothing shall save the world but love; nothing, as well, shall destroy the world -- in its pallid, corrupted accretions -- besides love.

I now know because today was my last day of teaching at Viator. It ends three years of teaching conversational English to Taiwanese students from ages 13 to 17. As the day progressed, my students warmth and affection increased. All day I was handed little hand-drawn goodbye cards, full of heroically written, albeit adorably broken, English. They showed me such tenderness, such happiness, such regret for my departure. They showed me such love. After months of teaching them English, my students in a few hours taught me what love means. I, the teacher "on high," have been showered with so much love "from below" -- hat can I do but speak the one Christian truth that sums them all up? Indeed: All is grace; all is gift; all is privilege; all is love.

The most poignant moment came in my second to last class. I was kneeling at a couple desks talking with a few students, when, suddenly, one of them, "Amy Fish", suddenly uttered the most delicate sentence I have heard in recent memory: "Teacher, I really wanna cry." Boom.

For a Taiwanese middle school girl to say something like that so directly, so unaffectedly, and so lovingly -- it was as if a long-sleeping oracle whimpered into my ear. I touched the top of her head very gently, diffidently, saying, "I know... I understand... it's okay." Much of the rest of the class was spent with me signing girls' arms.

Only at the end of the day did I let myself cry.

[That's all I can write at the moment, but I hope to expand this post in the next day or two. it may not happen for some time, though (as is my wont), since I must prepare for my 2.5 week trip to mainland China.]

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Yes

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Pearl Jam still rocks.

Even their juvenalia and miscellanea are available for newcomers, not just loyal, old-skool fanboys like myself. As a matter of fact, take the time to enjoy the fabled "Yellow Ledbetter" for yourself. Click.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Always, everywhere, by everyone?

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Perhaps you are familiar with the Vincentian Canon (VC -- not, thank heavens, the DVC!). Penned by St. Vincent of Lerins as a reliable guide for detecting and rejecting heresy in the Church, the heart of the famous canon is as follows: "...quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est", which means "That which is believed everywhere, in all times, by all [people]." St. Vincent was aware how easily heretics could refer to the common Scriptures, but still come up with heretical teachings. What to do, then? Subject your reading and understanding of Scripture to the common, universal and ancient Tradition of the One Catholic Church, argued St. Vincent. And it's been sterling counsel for centuries. The VC is commonly invoked by Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox as a prime defense against novelties. They tend to hold a "strong Vincentian position" (SVP) on the rule of faith.

I am aware of various logical and theological weaknesses in the so-called SVP (eg., ongoing and widespread dissent, episcopal apostasy, promulgated heresy, ambiguity, misapplications of the VC's terms, etc.), but something else about it, historically speaking, got me wondering, and then blogging...

Does the VC itself meet its own criteria? Can such a "ubiquitous, sempiternal and omnibus" (USO) criteria of orthodoxy itself be found in the ubiquitous, ancient and common patristic testimony? Is the VC truly strong-Vincentian?

Considering I'm a Catholic, the obvious answer should be, "Yes, of course, the VC is valid on patristic grounds. (Just think of St. Irenaeus's defense of orthodoxy against the Gnostics based on the unbroken, universal witness of the apostolic episcopacy.)"

But, in my ignorance, I sense a very subtle, yet very crucial, logical gap between saying the VC is valid as such and saying it is valid on the terms provided by St. Vincent himself. For some reason, it strikes me as analogous to the problem of (say, Churchland-style) eliminativism, namely, claiming there are no minds, and thus no thoughts, is itself a thought produced by and "embedded" in what we can only call minds; hence elimnitavism is wrong because it requires the very things it denies in order to make itself known! By analogy, saying "St. Vincent's" canon expresses the mind of the Church seems flawed precisely because, until St. Vincent penned it, no one had explicitly pronounced the VC! Lacking St. Vincent, the USO mind of the Church fails to articulate its own USO canon!

Now, I'm NOT pressing this as any kind of hard argument "against" the VC or St. Vincent or Holy Tradition or the Faith, etc. I'm also NOT expressing myself clearly, and maybe this shows the whole venture is vain, but my basic point is: if the VC were such an axiomatic, well, axiom of orthodoxy, why didn't anyone state it prior to St. Vincent (ca. mid-to-late 5th century)?

The significance of the logical gap, for me, is that I think relying on the VC, like a pure deductive mantra, misses the point that there existed a multiplicity of approaches to the Faith (not to say "Faiths") in the early Church, as now, and that even the VC was subject, in the vital, pneumatic, theandric concreteness of the Church, to the magisterium and the faithful in their care. In other words, the SVP too easily lets us assume to know the ekklesia phronima (mind of the Church), without a concrete act of obedience to the episcopal guardians of the ubiquitous, sempiternal, omnibus Tradition. Indeed, notice how St. Irenaeus centuries before did not simply refer to the USO Tradition, but to the lines of episcopal succession in possession of that Tradition. This touches on the problem Is ee with the SVP, namely, that an earlier witness had the great opportunity to articulate the VC, but didn't articulate the SVP.

As such, it seems the VC, on its own, is inadequate on strictly Vincentian grounds, since the true mind of the Church was intimately bound up with apostolic authority to settle disputes over what really was USO. As such, I think the SVP must be "relegated" to a VC-cum-episcopacy formula (or something like that). And, as such, I am inclined to deny the VC is actually valid on its own strict terms.

I'm all ears, humbly.

I'm an ig'nant fool!

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Two new posts up at ScIn, as promised:

Hair today, gone tomorrow?

Coffee bulb physics?

More to come as time and energy permit.