Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gym regimen – June 2010

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30 June 2010
88kg, BMI: 25–25.5
90+ mins
"A2" workout: Biceps and Quads

Warmup: 60 jumping jacks and calisthenics/stretching

Abs (one exercise per set): Incline situps: 26x @ 10kg; Lever ab pulldown: 20x @ 30kg; Seated oblique twists: 24x @ 30kg;

Supine leg lifts 40x [Abs began each set]

Squat: 12x @ 50kg, 10x @ 55kg, 8x @ 60kg, 8x @ 65kg

Hack squat: 12x @ 50kg, 10x @ 55kg, 8x @ 57.5kg, 8x @ 60kg

Dumbbell step up: 12x @ 10kg, 10x @ 10kg, 8x @ 12kg, 6x @ 12.5kg

Chinups: 10x, 10x, 10x, 10x

Prone dumbbell incline curl: 10x @ 10kg, 8x @ 12kg, 6x @ 12.5kg

Alternating hammer curl: 10x @ 12kg, 8x @ 12kg, 6x @ 12.5kg

Cooldown: Ski slalom machine @ 15 mins (180+ pulse)


More on that cultural observation from yesterday. Today I saw a trainer, not merely a gym monkey, starting his shift by smoking at least one cigarette at the entrance. What can I say?

In my last twenty minutes or so at the gym, I noticed two young guys talking by the tri pulldown machine and, fifteen minutes later, when I finished my ski machine cooldown, they were still there talking. Now, they very well may have "done stuff" while I wasn't looking, but somehow I doubt it. They were less sweaty than previously, as far as I could tell.

Why do I mention such a "petty" detail? Just to stroke my ego? That might be true, perhaps, at some 'Freudian' level, but in fact the reason it struck me is because I had just finished my cooldown and was truly "feeling" the prior 90 minutes of pumping iron. I set it for 15 minutes but by about 5 minutes my flesh was really whimpering to call it off and just go home a little early. I finished it, and went hands-free (no leaning on or holding the handle bar) the last two minutes, and as I got on my scooter to leave, I realized that sort of cooldown is exactly what I need––and what I will continue to use––as the "mental training" of my regimen. It was fascinating, to 'hear' my body pleading to step down and just be happy with the routine I'd just finished. But I fought through and that small victory was just what I needed.

Speaking of my routine, it was a good time. I think I did a good job of not lunging out too heavy too fast. Patience is a real part of progressive training, a longterm mental discipline. The dual insecurity of either not screaming with exertion at the end of every set or not doing as much as other guys, or both, makes for a micro-weekend warrior syndrome. I'm giving myself about a month––four cycles of my introductory 4-day routine I found online––to strengthen my tendons and ligaments a bit and lay a stable foundation before really leaning in to battle the iron.

Stay tuned.

Here's one for you...

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Last night after my "sprint" workout, I had a couple cans of sports drink, a bowl of fatback rice, a bowl of miso soup, a banana and lots of water. I was also fortunate enough to take a nice warm shower (something I don't always do), and the closer it got to midnight, the mellower I felt: that blessed kind of "tired" from good exercise, as opposed to the cranky-making tired of too much office work or traffic. I had a good night of sleep. (Thanks!)

When I got to work (early!), I nearly dove into my notes on working up my 4-day workout routine, but I caught myself--a tug of the Holy Spirit--and instead sat for a few minutes to dwell in Scripture. My devotional life has been rather scattered the past few months, apart of course from the Catholic missal readings, but I didn't know the readings for today, so I "just opened anywhere." In a single flip my eyes fell upon Isaiah 41:1:

Listen to me in silence, O coastlands;
let the peoples renew their strength;
let them approach, then let them speak;
let us together draw near for judgment.

It's a topic as old, at least, as St. Augustine's conversion whether Christians should put much stock in "random" readings in Scripture. On the one hand, Christians can't treat the Bible like a folder for casting lots, since that is simple divination. On the other hand, Christians do believe the Holy Spirit guides us in small ways, constantly giving signs (semeion) to deepen, challenge, or alter a course of action and reflection. Somewhere in the middle is a sort of Jungian synchronicity doctrine that God's creation naturally brings patterns of informed energy together, such that, in my case, my recent attention to working out--to strength in body and in spirit--is itself somehow meaningfully and naturally connected with the physical influences that led me to flip open to such an apt verse. However you parse it, stumbling upon Isaiah 41:1 really grabbed me. I was touched, even a bit stunned. "Yes, this is what I am feeling--silence and strength," I said within. "Strength training as a way of ordering my life and energizing my whole self in tandem with renewed spiritual discipline."

Even so, my exegetical brain felt the random verse was kind of, well, random, so I backed up to see what the context was. Whereupon I read Isaiah 40:29-31:

[29] He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
[30] Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
[31] but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

As you might imagine, my "providential synchronicity" buzzers were abuzzin'. As I mentioned in my recent post about my past in athletics, the past year has been very grueling--truly cathartic--for me and I have felt on many levels like one "who has no might." Even I, a famously youthful youth, can "faint and be weary," yet, as I wait upon the Lord in silence--rather than, say, oh, diving into bodybuilding notes as soon as I have a moment of leisure--, He shall renew my strength.

As readers of FCA should know, I have written a great deal on the soul, the body, cognition, perception, and cognition, all from a Catholic perspective (cf. archives for posts containing "anima", for example). In classical Christian anthropology, there is no simple divide between the "real you" as a "ghost in the machine" and the bodily "prison" in which we "dwell." Rather, there is a natural, divinely ordained harmony between the poles of energy we call "the body" (somat) and "the soul" (psuche) which constitute the person as a dynamic, formal whole. It's a harmony akin to that of what unites the shape and water as a wave. This post from a couple years ago may capture best what I have written about this catholic Catholic anthropology.

The point is that, while I alluded, in my athletics post a couple days ago, to the typical disregard for the soul in the bodybuilding world, I intentionally called it typical, not necessary or essential. For the truth is, as Arnold Schwarzenegger discovered and taught, serious physical sacrifice, divorced from vicious impulses like, say, rank vanity and sexual predation, naturally generates both physical and 'psuchic' power--whole-person power. Arnold once said, "You'll find, as I did, that building muscle builds you up in every part of your life." Insofar as my own feeble efforts in bodybuilding are consciously 'animated' by a gratitude to the Lord for a body fit enough to exercise, my bodybuilding feels like true person-building. As we read in I Corinthians 10:29b-31:

For why should my liberty be determined by another man's scruples?
[30] If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
[31] So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Weightlifting doesn't just "build up your body," since there is actually no such thing as "just your body": there is just you, a whole person, an embodied psychosomatic beacon of conscious energy.

Stay tuned, stay psuched.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gym regimen - June 2010

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29 June 2010
88 kg, BMI 25-25.5
30 mins
Core/cardio "sprint"

Warmup: 60 jumping jacks and stretching

Cross-country ski mill: 15 mins (150 pulse)

Leg curls (hams): 15x 15x 15x @ 30 kg

Seated leg press (+calves): 20x 20x 20x @ 180lbs

Seated oblique twists: 30x 30x @ 35kg 30x @ 30kg

Lever back extensions: 12x 12x 12x @ 50kg

Ab crunch machine: 15x 15x 15x @ 30kg


This is a "surprise" entry in my bodybuilding log, since originally I was going to wait until Wednesday to hit the gym. My plan is a 4-day split on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. But by the time class was over, I was itching for at least "a quickie," so I scrambled out of the school, bought some cheap gym shorts and a towel (since I hadn't packed my own), and dashed to Central for what was a lovely little sprint workout. I was reading online during my dinner break tonight, looking for a basic four-day split routine to get me started, and I read how Arnold said the last few reps were the key, because those were when you could push yourself into the pain, or, of course, you could ease back and "try again next time." That's a little of what I felt on the leg curl machine: grunting my last few reps, knowing I'd have that much more of an edge the next workout. I also read in The Education of a Bodybuilder how he learned from his first real mentors in Germany not to dally between exercises. He was accustomed to spending 3-5 hours in the gym and was perplexed why his German mentors kept buzzing from station to station. They said there's no reason to spend all that time in the gym if you can rip your muscles in less time. That's the buzz I felt tonight doing three sets in under 30 minutes. Woot.

Here's a cultural observation: tonight there were a handful of much bigger guys than I had seen my first day there. Initially impressed, I also took it with a grain of salt when I saw many of the guys' form: terrible! Just yanking on the grip for high rep, low range of motion. What I call "bodysculpting" versus bodybuilding. Just getting mass on their bones without really altering the physiology of their muscular tissue, says I (well, I and Arnold and plenty of others). I was also bemused to notice at least three of the bigger guys ended their workout by smoking a fag or two outside. Does that happen in the USA? I'm genuinely curious.

In any event, I didn't mention it in my longish post yesterday about fitness (though I have gone back and edited that post to "make it so"), but one of my great intellectual and spiritual role models, Fr. Stanley Jaki, told me in our one encounter, less than three months before he died, that he had rowed in high school (in Hungary). He was much more robust than I had anticipated when we met, so his background in crew made sense of his well known and evident vitality.

I also failed to mention that another lasting factor in my development as a "jock scholar" was my dad's many years of running. I don't remember a whole lot from my childhood (unless, I suppose, I were to start cataloguing what I do remember, at which point it might seem like quite a lot...), but two constants about my dad were his love for movies and his commitment to running. I don't know how many years he did the River Run (in Jacksonville, FL), but I vividly recall seeing all kinds of running paraphernalia in the house. Love for movies and love for physical fitness have become lasting impressions from my dad, an inheritance which finds its perfection in the fact that he introduced me to Chariots of Fire.

Gym regimen - June 2010

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26 June 2010
88 kg, BMI: 25–25.5
90+ mins

Ski stepmill: 10 mins

Curls (tri-grip): 15x 18x 20x @ 15kg

Bench (shoulder-width grip): 12x 2x @ 80kg (?) --> upper pectoralis strain

Squat: 15x 20x 25x @ 90kg (?) [too shallow]

Crunches (rowing): 60x 50x 50x @ 5kg

Leg Extensions: 15x @ 30kg, 20x @ 30kg, 20x @ 35kg

Tri presses (standing cable, tri-grip): 20x 20x 20x @ 35kg

Ski stepmill: 10 mins

Gym regimen - June 2010

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26 June 2010; ~88 kg; BMI: ?

Ski stepmill: 10 mins

Curls (tri-grip): 12 kg @ 15, 18, 20 x

Bench (shoulder-width grip): 60 kg (?) @ 12, 2 x
--> upper pectoralis strain

Squat: 90 kg (?) @ 15, 20, 25 x
[too shallow]

Rowing crunches: 0 kg @ 60 x, 5 kg @ 50, 50 x

Leg Extensions: 30 lbs @ 15 x, 30 lbs @ 20 x, 35 lbs @ 20 x

Tri presses (standing cable, tri-grip): 35 lbs @ 20, 20, 20 x

Ski stepmill: 10 mins

No, no, I'm not joking…

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Despite my obviously bookish inclinations, I have always had a great love of sports. I learned to swim as a very small child and my love of water, especially playing in it, has never left me. In elementary school I did a few years of soccer and basketball. My uncle was and is a soccer fanatic, so I imbibed his "Love of the game" (though I admit that taste hasn't stayed with me like my hydrophilia [FIFA, World Cup, what?]). Around the same time, I was, like so many pre-teens, also swept up into the Michael Jordan frenzy ("It's gotta be the shoes"), ultimately successfully begging a pair of Air Jordans from my parents, thus fueling my love of basketball. My love for that sport abides, albeit my skills are laughable by this time. And of course, no healthy American boy should be free from a devotion to football, at least for a few years. I was a massive Redskins fan in the 5th and 6th grades, a passion which bled over into my larger hobby of sports card collecting.

Then in middle school I got into crew. I can't say enough about crew, so, paradoxically, I will say very little (here, at least). That sport changed my life. To this day I can still appreciate the fitness foundation and inner drive it gave me. Providentially, one of my great intellectual and spiritual role models, Fr. Stanley Jaki, told me in our one encounter, less than three months before he died, that he had rowed in high school in Hungary. When he told me that, time seemed to stop and I felt like, "No wonder I'm drawn to him!" Jaki was much more robust than I had anticipated when we met, so his background in crew made sense of his well known and evident vitality.

I "did" crew for six years, eventually rowing in a few state champions fours and eights, and even being immensely privileged to go to England for small competition. Our four defeated a Scottish university crew and one of the top prep schools in New England, but that didn't stop us from getting utterly destroyed in the first heat of the Henley Royal Regatta (by an oratory, no less!). Glory days, I tell you. I did not continue crew in college, which I suppose I regret, but the primal love-hate I––like all rowers––have for "the erg" abides as strongly as ever. Indeed, one of the few pieces of "furniture" I have any intention of investing in, is an ergometer for that faintest of dreams, "my own home."

In middle school and high school I also spent lots and lots of time on my bike, jamming to my Walkman, or making runs to and from that most hallowed of secular places, Chamblin's Used Bookmine. I did a season of cheerleading, believe it or not, as well as a season of wrestling, for which I developed not only a "fearful" reputation even into college ("long story"), but also a peculiar spot in the mini-pantheon of my generation's wrestling underworld (because I, a sophomore novice, toppled a senior, with six years of experience, from competing at states… which of course didn't do anything to prevent me from getting folded like a tin can there… a premonition of Henley, I suppose!). I also did three years of cross country. In our sophomore and junior years, I am two of my best friends got on a pushup and crunch tear, where we committed at one point to doing 200 pushups straight (allowing for pauses, certainly, around 140 or so, but never coming out of the suspended-prone position) every night. And a good share of hiking during breaks. Oh, and all that treeclimbing I've done since I was a boy. Don't get me started on all my injuries….

When I came to Taiwan, I got into various martial arts, mainly judo and taiji (you can search the FCA archives for bits and pieces), which also led me into bodyweight exercise, a real love of mine. A couple years ago I was coaxed (no, badgered) into doing a triathlon here by my triathlon-nut friend and old roommate, and apparently my performance as a novice somewhat stunned competitors in his circle. I may go for another triathlon someday, but the sheer amount of time involved in really training for one is very unappealing to me as a "polymath" of sorts. Actually, I'm naturally more inclined to a certain range of aerobic sports. Hence, one lasting factor in my development as a "jock scholar" was my dad's many years of fairly serious running. I don't remember a whole lot from my childhood (unless, I suppose, I were to start cataloguing what I do remember, at which point it might seem like quite a lot...), but two constants about my dad were his love for movies and his commitment to running. I don't know how many years he did the River Run (in Jacksonville, FL), but I vividly recall seeing all kinds of running paraphernalia in the house. Love for movies and love for physical fitness have become lasting impressions from my dad, an inheritance which finds its perfection in the fact that he introduced me to Chariots of Fire.

I'm rather a good swimmer and am a naturally strong cyclist. I even entertained fairly serious thoughts of trying out for road cycling at the national and even Olympic levels back in college. But, again, my "practical" side got to me: investing in bikes is too damn expensive! Even so, I love riding and am good at it, so my sophomore year, I and a friend rode from Pueblo, CO, to the IL-KY border, whereupon we split up for differing itineraries and then I continued on to D.C. and almost down to Florida before a friend of mine picked me up. 2600 miles in 6 weeks. A life-changing privilege.

A year or so later, when I was training nearly every day on the road bike, I was "attracted" into contact with the university cycling team (by "attracted" in I mean I fell for a girl on the team!), though my extremely individualistic nature made me wary of "team sports", aside from crew, which is "just different." One day, my "attraction" (who was also being vied for by the head of the team!) persuaded me to join them for a Saturday morning time trial event. So, I pedaled my silver, steel Schwinn Le Tour (with downtube shifters, no less!) to the rendezvous and was assigned a spot for the time trial. I was unfazed by, yet for all that not unaware of, the superior equipment of the other riders: carbon, titanium, etc. It was a two-mile (?) up and back loop, which meant we staggered our trials and then our times were calibrated based on our net time after everyone had returned. I burned past a few people that had set out before me and cranked into the finish line, whereupon we chatted and slurped from our sports bottles, waiting for everyone to finish so we could see our adjusted rankings. Turns out, I had come in third or fourth place, topped only by the team captains. I maintained (and still maintain!) humility, but I also tacitly agreed with my few slightly skittish but polite betters that, if I upgraded to lighter, faster components, I could challenge the top spot. I never invested in those saving components, content in the knowledge that I had achieved such a "dark horse" success in my first appearance 'among' the team by training on my own, using that indefatigable, some might even say, incorrigible, rower's will to push myself against myself. That is the essence of what sport is for me: to defeat myself and thereby defeat competitors without even realizing it.

Now, I'm a wiry guy, which means I'm stronger than I look to most people. I've never had much of a desire to be "big", partially because, again, serious bulk requires serious gym time, but mostly because I don't want my strength to be ostentatious. Call it meekness or call it cunning, but I believe greater power lies in not letting everyone know just how much you can bring to the table, force-wise, from just a glance. Even so, my love of physical exertion and bodily power has always inclined me towards the gym. As it turns out, my stepdad was a serious bodybuilder in his younger days, and even trained with Arnold Schwarzenegger once in California. In high school, he got me Arnold's Bodybuilding for Men, which simultaneously inspired and immobilized me. For by that time, I was "a rower," so not only did most of my body's time go out on the water, but I also realized the intense anaerobic commitment of bodybuilding wouldn't jibe well with the highly aerobic––but no less grueling!––demands of crew. Rowing also reinforced my proclivity for hidden strength since it was precisely my smaller size that gave me a greater impact in the boat.

When you do an erg, there's your "raw score" and your "adjusted score." The former is how long it took you to pull 1500m, while the latter is a time derived from a simple formula that factors in your body weight. The adjusted score is important for coaches so they can assess, roughly, which rowers are really generating the most power on the water. A big guy with an awesome raw score might have a terrible adjusted score, because, in the logic of the conversion formula, his great chain-tugging mass on an erg only becomes great drag on the hull of the boat in a race. By contrast, someone like me might not have as stunning a raw score but my lighter mass means all the power I put on the oar moves the moves faster because I create less drag. In concrete terms, in my junior year or so, I was about 155 lbs., while our stroke (the "lead" or "8-seat" rower int he boat, facing the coxswain), was over 200 lbs. His raw score was the top at the boathouse, about 6 minutes and 20 seconds. Mine was good but still behind some key rowers in our four and eight. But then coach computed the adjusted scores and our stroke's erg went up to, arbitrarily off the top of my head, 6:40, while my score went down to 6:20 or so. Whereupon, I became, officially, the most powerful rower on my school rowing team.

In any event, I've mostly shelved rowing since then and have not made any effort to join a club here in Taiwan, much less made any move towards investing in a scull. My experience with martial arts has done little to encourage gaining mass, since, for example, the whole premise of judo is that even small people can defeat big people with the right ergonomic technique, while my taiji instructor told me flat out not to bulk up or even do much strenuous gym work, since that would stiffen me too much for taiji. I don't do judo or taiji anymore these days, but would love to take them up again when the time is right. Something about being too busy right now and not really being up for the social entanglements of those group-training sports. The upshot is that my inveterate aversion to anaerobic exercises is greatly atrophied and, moreover, my long-time undergirding love for free weights and working out, now has room to flourish!

(Actually––another anecdote?––I set up a little gym in our living room for a couple years in college, which not only inspired one roommate to shed some fat with me after weeks of me pumping iron just off to the side of the couch while he watched Gator games and chugged Coca Cola, but also was the season I plateaued on the bench. The highest I have ever benched was two reps at 200 lbs., which means I suppose I could have maxed out with one rep at over 200 lbs. At that time I think I was about 185 lbs, very lean, a solid wiry Greek. These days I've put on a smidgen of fat and have generally just "bulked up" as men tend to do over time, so I am now just shy of 200 lbs. The thing is, in the 7th grade I was 145 lbs., still shedding some baby fat, and by the time I finished high school I had only gained 20 lbs. or so, though I had shot up by several inches. I have actually grown in height a little since coming to Taiwan [I was a late bloomer and I think the last tendrils of hormonal puberty finally withered in me only last year or so], but I still insist on keeping a basically trim physique. I'm also happy to say that in the span of, now, eight or nine years, my exercise habits in college "converted" another roommate into a serious fitness junkie, or so I gather from our periodic online chats. But I digress… from my other digressions.)

So, last weekend I joined a gym close to my home and intend to be there four nights a week: Wednesday and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The gym, called "Central Power", has been recommended to me by a few friends, not only because it's a bargain (I paid about US$95 for a six-month membership!) but also because it's simple and raw: no Hollywood or California frills. Not a meat locker, by any means (come on, this is Taiwan), but it definitely has a robust free weights section. Hoo-rah!

And so it came to pass that Elliot decided to keep a log of his progress in bodybuilding. Moreover, he decided not to be coy or "broad-minded" (with himself) about it and instead simply to say up front, "Self, World, God, Groucho––I am hereby embarking on a season of bodybuilding. I've toyed with the idea long enough and now I'm going for broke. We'll just have to see what the results are and how long the season lasts." And again it came to pass that he, ahem, procured and bound a copy of Arnold's Schwarzenegger's earliest memoir, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, and already finds it entrancing. It shall be his vademecum as he makes his way back towards something like muscular excellence, followed, no doubt, by other guides in the course of time. He still has a foundation––having yanked and swung and pushed and twisted dumbbells and cinder blocks and bokken and ropes and water jugs and pullup bars and whatever else for the past couple years––but also still has a long way to go before he can call himself anything like a "bodybuilder."

(Now, where was "I"?)

It dawns on me that in the course of this post, it may seem I have done a fair share of bragging––hell, it may be that I've done a good deal of it!––so let me close with a deliciously self-deprecating (wait for it) anecdote. I decided to join Central Power last Saturday and I was so excited, I hit the weights right after joining. My standard workout is to do three sets of curls, pushups, crunches, pullups (maybe with a few chinups tossed in), and squats, so I made my way from station to station in Central Power, seeing what they had to offer, gauging my outmoded strength, flexing my dim memories of gym instincts. I was still very shaky as to how much I should go for each set, not only because I knew I had to stick to my three sets, but also because I knew it was high time to switch from my usual high-rep format to a higher-weight routine––and higher weights are not in demand at Central Power. (It didn't help my assessment that the weights were in a potpourri of Metric and British units!) Curls felt good: 20 kg plus handle weight for 15 reps the first set. The bench was much trickier: it's easy to strain the chest switching from bench to pushups, and vice versa. I had to shed 5 kg in my first set. Assessing. Tuning. Gauging. Like a predator sizing up a prey, or, perhaps more accurately, like a prey sizing up its chances of escape or self-defense. Crunches (I typically do rowing crunches) were good, but even better now that I could throw in a small dumbbell for resistance. The squat press really caught me off-guard. Rowing and biking had once made my legs columns of steel, but, for shame, I have atrophied and it's going to be a while before my quads look anywhere like they used.

Anyway, by my second set I was feeling good: sweating, mildly burning, getting a feel for the weights, eyeballing the other gym monkeys and seeing where I ranked. As always, I was in the upper-middle class, with lots of room to advance if I push myself. So it was with a real optimism that I put myself back under the barbell for a second set. First rep felt very close to just right: an even resistance in lowering and raising the bar, not just going through the motions. Then I came down for the second rep and that's when I heard the dull flicking sound in my right pec. "Well, that's the end of me benching for today," I realized, "and probably for another week or two." After years of exercise and sports, you just 'know' how serious an injury is. "Amateur," I sighed to myself, shaking my head, "Very amateur." But humility is not only the beginning of wisdom but also the foundation for fitness: you have to admit from the outset that you need to exercise in order to get better than you are. In other words, you first have to admit that you suck if you don't want to suck. Further, all along the way and at the start of every routine, you have to admit that there is always someone better than you.

My injury was what I call a "geometric" strain, meaning I could clearly visualize the size, depth, and shape of the tendon that had been strained. I staggered back into the equipment area to see what I could still do to work around my chest without totally jettisoning my extension exercises. As I rubbed the muscle, I could feel a tight, lightly jerky, rubbery resistance just in from and below where the pec merges with the deltoid. Nothing of the same kind on the other pec, so I knew it wasn't just a new consciousness of a normally unprobed tissue. I was dejected but also strangely heartened since I knew this is exactly what it is to do weights: pain. Setbacks without surrender. It felt good to feel bad.

For despite my genuine ambivalence about much of the "bodybuilding world"––its baldfaced narcissism and vanity, its confused chauvinism and machismo, its essential egotism and unaddressed insecurity, its implicit lasciviousness, its studied devotion to the body and typically consequent diversion from the soul––despite all that, I believe exercise is a genuine tool for spiritual and moral growth. There is after all a reason they make Bibles like the Sports Devotional Bible. My fundamental position as a "Christian jock scholar" is 1 Timothy 4:8: "For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is of course also a guiding Scripture in this arena (!): "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." Along similar lines St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." And as we read in Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…."

These Scriptures, and others in the same vein, by no means "promote" or "outline" a Christian "fitness regimen," but they do indicate that the experience of being an athlete, of pushing your will beyond your body's natural fear of pain and fatigue, gives psychological depth and an analogical fortitude in the spiritual life. I can vouch for that, too, from my own experience. As Brooks D. Kubik says, "Train heavy. If you don't train heavy, you might as well give it up." How could any Christian not agree about their own commitment to the Lord? In Revelation Jesus warns He shall "vomit the lukewarm," and in Luke 9 he teaches against putting your hand to plow and yet looking back for rest in the shade. Catholic piety could probably be summed up by saying, "All in or all out." If you're not "in it to win it," you're not really in it. "Put out into the deep," Jesus tells us through His disciples, "and put your nets down for a catch." Dig deep. Embrace the pain. Know that God will heal you as you die to yourself, your flabby, lazy, mortal self. I've written before (last June, actually) about the tearing down and building up of the body and heart in the Christian life. When I wrote that post, I was embarking on what has become a year of unremitting struggle, woe, self-examination, repentance, deliverance, joy, and freedom, and I can assure you that my experience as an athlete factored into my endurance this past year. Moreover, my experience in sports also gave me the cushion I needed to accept that, ultimately, I lost. For the heart of sport is not in winning but in training to win and in losing like a winner. I've learned how to integrate my faith into the hardest, darkest struggles of my life so far because I learned to integrate sports into my life of faith.

I think that is why Chariots of Fire has always been a paradigmatic movie for me, up there with The Mission in my cinematic attachment to Christ. My prayer is that my excursion into weightlifting, such as it might be, will reignite my faith in ways it used to thrive when I was an athlete "back in the day." For if I was privileged to have "glory days" as a teenager, surely I must awaken, day after day, to the call I have to live for eternal days of glory.

But that's enough for now. Stay tuned.

Sagacity and sanctity…

0 comment(s)
…tend to go hand in hand.

The following comment, by Fr. Joseph Ponessa, SSD, is one of the finest, most level-headed, illuminating, and humble things I've seen in my various recent researches into the Belgian abuse crisis and the ensuing police raid. The source is the comment thread at a small editorial by Rod Dreher.

Because the comments on this site are more elevated in tone than those on other sites, I shall post some reflections.

(1) The Belgian state pays the salaries and benefits of the Belgian bishops, as in the phrase "state church." Separation of church and state is not so strict as in America, where the boundaries are constitutionally guaranteed. This gives the state more latitude to intervene legally, but requires the church to be more vigilant in asserting her rights.

(2) The Belgian hierarchy meet monthly rather than semi-annually as the American hierarchy does. That would put them in a position to communicate collectively with the civil authorities on a more regular basis. That the raid took place at the scheduled time of their monthly meeting, where they were detained for nearly ten hours, seems to indicate an attempt by the judicial authorities to humiliate, not just to investigate.

(3) The fact that the ambassador from the Vatican was detained with the bishops is a serious breach of diplomatic protocol. Remember the keeping of the American diplomats hostage in Iran? The correct way of expressing displeasure with the Vatican would have been to remove the diplomatic credentials and send the ambassador home. Seizure of computers with diplomatic documents on them also violates international law. I imagine that countries like USA or Russia would never tolerate such actions against their ambassadors.

(4) No doubt the Belgian judiciary has the subpoena power. If they wanted documents from the church they could have issued a subpoena as American courts have done. To go directly from negotiation to seizure seems to have skipped the intermediate step. In America this would never be done to a legal corporation.

(5) The last time that church documents were seized in Belgium was in 1940, when the Nazis confiscated baptismal records. As a result many Catholics who had a Jewish ancestor were arrested and shipped to concentration camps, never to return. Most Belgians over the age of 75 will have a painful memory of this violation of church integrity, and the families of those exterminated are reliving their grief.

(6) The resignation of the highly respected head of the church investigatory panel [viz., Peter Adriaenssens, of whom more later] shows that the civil actions did severe damage to the work of Catholics who were trying to be part of the solution. If the church files demonstrated collusion by the judiciary in cover-up, then the raids could have been motivated by an attempt to destroy evidence damaging to judges. If that had been the intent, the raid was greatly successful.

(7) Belgian law follows the Napoleonic code, and precedent does not have the same force it does in Anglo-Saxon law. Still, agents of the law must avoid roughing up the objects of investigation, or it will become habit-forming. As the Nuremburg Court established, the first time rights are denied by a judge, the judge becomes guilty of all the consequences. Brussels is one of the capitals of the European Union, which has an increasingly hostile political stance towards the church. When the state wants to fight with the church, it has all of the assets. Is this an opening skirmish in yet another round of pillaging, as happened in the 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries?

(8) The comparison [made by Bertone] with Communist treatment of bishops is egregious. When the Red Army occupied Ruthenia, the bishop was shot. Over half the Russian clergy were dead by the end of the Revolution. That was far worse than what the Belgians have just done to the dignity of their bishops.

(9) As we know, the KGB enlisted collaborators by trapping them in sexual situations. In Eastern Europe -- and probably to some degree in Western also -- there were priests and bishops who collaborated, and that problem overlaps with the pedophile problem. Not all collaborators were pedophiles, and not all pedophiles were collaborators, but the Communists had better files on the clergy than the church did, and they built a network of infiltration that was so tight that its grip still survives. In America the church was able to handle the pedophilia crisis by purging offending priests and bishops and establishing better procedures. Because in Europe outside forces were involved in pulling the strings the systemic problem is much more complex. The Belgian raids will probably not cast any light on that problem.

(10) My expertise is not legal, but scriptural. The legal and political aspects of this crisis are highly technical, but less central than the spiritual aspects. The church has a mission statement--Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Anything that contradicts this mission must be expurgated, and if the mission is forgotten then the contradictions will flourish. This particular crisis is symptomatic of a loss of the sense of purpose. Essential to the solution is for the church to rediscover her own reason for existing.

Fr. Ponessa has provided much food for thought and prayer!

I would also like mention three other interesting facets of the larger context of the raid and the abuse scandal in Belgium. First, according to a commenter in a thread at Stand Firm, the police

…also raided - amongst other places - the office handling the Belgian hierarchy’s response to clergy sex-abuse allegations. I’m not up on the law, but I’ll leave it to you lawyers on here if that’s legal or not. An independent commission set up by the hierarchy as an impartial body to handle allegations seems to me more likely to be (1) asked for co-operation rather than have the doors kicked in (2) more likely to be working with the prosecution service than a cover-up.

Fourthly, anyone tell me that this kind of activity is any use at all other than a publicity stunt to show how seriously the Belgian authorities are taking things?

“(T)he tombs of Cardinals Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Léon-Joseph Suenens, deceased archbishops of Malines-Brussels, were violated” as, reportedly acting on a tip, the authorities drilled small holes in the stones, inserting cameras to check for documents.

Really, people, do any of you seriously think that even we Evil Romanists would be so stupid as to hide incriminating documents in gravestones? This is something out of a Dan Brown novel!

Fifthly and finally, Belgium has had atrocious child abuse scandals in the past, and they were not church-related. The hideous case of the little girls kidnapped and left die of starvation is still raw in the memory of the Belgians; I’m sure you all heard of the Dutroux case:

So to wind it up, I’m not surprised the Pope was angry about the desecration of graves. I think that the police - for whatever reason - are acting like this more as a sign to the public that you bet, we’re taking this stuff seriously. I don’t think the Belgian hierarchy are any worse - though I don’t know if they’re any better - than the rest of the bishops globally. Emphatically, I do think that the Church is working to clean things up and these kind of vote-grabbing exercises don’t help the cause of justice.

Second, immediately below the above quotations in the same thread, another commenter provides the following data:
“The commission of inquiry is well-respected and is led by Peter Adriaenssens, one of Belgium’s top child abuse experts, whose office has received hundreds of complaints this year and who has threatened to resign should his work be impeded by the church hierarchy. He emerged as a national figure following the notorious Marc Dutroux paedophilia and murder case in 1996 and runs one of the country’s most respected child abuse centres.

"He voiced outrage and shock at the police actions, saying he had been given no warning, and would now struggle to deliver a report on clerical sexual abuse he was preparing for October. Adriaenssens was in Amsterdam in the Netherlands on Wednesday when his offices were raided. He said that all files in his investigation, concerning 475 cases, had been taken away by the police.

“‘All day we’ve been getting mails and calls from victims in panic,’ he said. ‘They agreed that we do a report, but they did not want others to see the material … No one asked us a single question. We have no idea why this happened now.’

"Adriaenssens suggested that a wave of ‘paranoia’ had developed around the flood of allegations coming to light in recent months in Belgium. ‘There were rumours that the commission was having secret talks with the bishops. Perhaps the investigating magistrate let himself be led by this paranoia.…’

[I continue to cite the next paragraph:

"He added that the raids had thrown into question whether his commission would be able to continue its work. It was set up years ago but had vegetated until this year when the sexual abuse allegations and revelations spread rapidly across the world. The commission's previous head had complained of a lack of co-operation from the church authorities {which is why Adriaenssens warned he would resign if church authorities did not cooperate}.]

"...Police sources told the Flemish newspaper De Standaard that the raids were carried out because of suspicions that church leaders were failing to hand over all the necessary materials to the commission of inquiry. That was not confirmed by Adriaenssens.”

I will also cite the closing lines of the story:

"Last month the Belgian bishops' conference issued a pastoral letter pleading for forgiveness both for the sexual abuse by many clergy and for the cover-ups and ‘silence’ that then followed.

‘Through the silence priority was given to the reputation of the church institution or the clergyman over the dignity of the child as victim,’ said the letter."

Fr. Ponessa's comment above about judiciary murkiness receives striking albeit circumstantial support in a BBC article featuring Adriaenssens's reaction to the raid:

Commission head Peter Adriaenssens said the commission had been used as "bait" by state prosecutors. …

Many of the files removed contained information from alleged abuse victims who had spoken in confidence.

Mr Adriaenssens, a child psychiatrist who only took over eight weeks ago, expressed concern at what could have motivated the authorities.

We received e-mails, telephone calls in the past few hours from people who are panicking about what will happen with their private details

"They could only act in that way with the sentiment that we were in the wrong or that we were trying to conceal the cases," he said.

"This while I made a point of working in complete transparency." …

"I'm mostly shocked for all these people who gave us their trust," said Mr Adriaenssens.

"And up until [Wednesday] evening, if they'd asked me is it possible that they [the police] would arrive and take everything away, just take everything away, I would have reassured them [that this would not happen]."

In the same vein, a CNN story reports that members

of a Belgian church commission that helps sexual abuse victims have resigned to protest a raid on the Catholic Church headquarters in Belgium, a spokesman for the Mechelen-Brussels Archdiocese said Monday.

The church commission members resigned en masse, said the spokesman, the Rev. Eric De Beukelaer. The commission worked with people who have been abused by clergy members.

They resigned to protest a police raid last week that Pope Benedict XVI has criticized as "deplorable." Police were searching for documents related to allegations of child abuse, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor has said.

De Beukelaer said the church regrets the resignations. He also reiterated the Catholic Church's criticisms of the raids.

"We regret (the resignations) very much because of the victims," he said, "and we also question why this search was done on such a huge scale, so out of proportion.

"They searched even in the cathedral and bored a small hole into the tomb of a deceased cardinal," he said. "Do they really expect to find documents in there?"

Similarly, an Aliazeera story reports Adriaenssens as saying, ""We are pulling out. The debate must now take place between victims, political leaders, the judiciary, the church and public opinion…." The story continues:

Following a meeting of the commission on Monday, Karlijn Demasure, a member of the body and a theology professor at the Roman Catholic Saint Paul University of Ottawa, said: "The entire committee is going to resign."

Demasure said that "trust between victims and the commission" and between "the commission and the judicial authorities" was now "broken" and that it was no longer possible to go on.

He said that Andriaenssens had stood down in the morning, and that the rest of the panel decided to follow suit, with the decision effective as of this Thursday, July 1.

The commission had been in existence for over a decade, but for most of that time, it dealt with only 30 complaints and took no discernible action on them.

Since Adriaenssens took over eight weeks ago, hundreds of men and boys had come forward and the panel received nearly 500 complaints.

The group was due to make a report to the Belgian Church in October, but Adriaenssens said prosecutors launched the raid after he told them the flood of alleged victims had slowed.

A police action like this after 8 weeks of the most vigorous action the commission has seen in a decade? Something is fishy. Time will have to tell what comes to light on both sides of the raid. In any case, it appears that the Pope's outrage at the methods of the raid––which is not to say outrage at vigorous police action for justice––is shared even by many of those "in the know" in Belgium. To disparage Adriaenssens's and the commission staff's negative reaction to the raid on account of special interests or pious weakness is a red herring at best and ignoble at worst.

Third, we must be highly, and painfully, cognizant of the larger very liberal context of Belgian Catholicism for the past several decades. I am not "pinning this on" liberals vs. conservatives, but, as Dr. Liccione pointed out in a post I cited yesterday, merely being "progressive" is not guard against moral laziness, deceit, clericalism, and cowardice. At the very least, I would say that the extremely liberal sexual atmosphere of Belgian Catholic thought provided an environment precisely in which the mendacious and sexually vicious could flourish, and, worse yet, the patent complicity of Cdl. Danneels in protecting abusers, has brought the Belgian hierarchy where it is now: a virtual state of collapse. I will cite another excerpt from Dr. Liccione's post:

They all want the Church to be less centralized when that would weaken Rome's doctrinal authority, but want her more centralized when that would help prevent things such as the sex-abuse-and-coverup scandal—except, of course, when the guy covering up is himself a progressive. Then we must remember collegiality.

Of course they can't have it both ways. But as Chesterton loved to show, the Catholic Church has always faced mutually incompatible charges. That's one of the reasons I'm Catholic. When you're always damned if you do and damned if you don't, you're probably on firmer ground than your enemies.

American Catholic amply discusses "the disgrace of Cdl. Danneels" and the very sobering article in The Brussels Journal, "The Fall of the Belgian Church," by Dr. Alexandra Colen, a Belgian House Representative and Catholic mother, just as amply validates what I mean about the viciously liberal sexual milieu of Belgian catechesis in the late 20th century. I quote most of Dr. Colen's article:

Since the revelation in April that Cardinal Danneels’s close friend and collaborator, Mgr Roger Vangheluwe, the Bishop of Bruges, had been a practicing pedophile throughout, and even before, his career as a bishop, victims have gained confidence that they will be taken seriously, and complaints have been pouring in, both to the courts and to the extra-judicial investigation committee of the archdiocese. The new archbishop Mgr. André-Joseph Léonard, has urged victims to take their case to the courts.

His predecessor, the liberal Cardinal Danneels, who was very popular with the press in Belgium and abroad, was Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium from 1979 until 2010. The sympathy for pedophile attitudes and arguments among the Belgian bishops during this period was no secret, especially since 1997 when the fierce controversy about the catechism textbook Roeach made the headlines. The editors of Roeach were Prof. Jef Bulckens of the Catholic University of Leuven and Prof. Frans Lefevre of the Seminary of Bruges. The textbook contained a drawing which showed a naked baby girl saying: “Stroking my pussy makes me feel groovy,” “I like to take my knickers off with friends,” “I want to be in the room when mum and dad have sex.” The drawing also shows a naked little boy and girl that are “playing doctor” and the little boy says: “Look, my willy is big.”

The drawing also showed three pairs of parents. Those with the “correct” attitude reply: “Yes, feeling and stroking those little places is good fun.” This “catechism textbook” was used in the catechism lessons in the catholic schools, until one day I discovered it among the schoolbooks of my eldest daughter, then 13 years old. On 3 September 1997 I wrote a letter to Cardinal Danneels, saying:

“When I see this drawing and its message, I get the distinct impression that this catechism textbook is designed intentionally to make 13 and 14 year olds believe that toddlers enjoy genital stimulation. In this way one breeds pedophiles that sincerely believe that children actually think that what they are doing to them is ‘groovy’, while the opposite is the case.”

I told Cardinal Danneels that, although I was a member of Parliament for the Flemish-secessionist party Vlaams Blok, I was addressing him as a Catholic parent “who wishes to remain faithful to the papal authority and also wishes to educate her children this way.” I insisted that he forbid the use of this book in the catechism lessons: “This is why I insist – yes, the days of meekly asking are over – that you forbid the use of this ‘catechism book’ in our children’s classrooms.”

Today this case, that dates from 12 years ago, assumes a new and ominous significance. Especially now that I know that Mgr Roger Vangheluwe, the pedophile child molesting Bishop of Bruges, was the supervising bishop of both institutions – the Catholic University of Leuven and the Seminary of Bruges – whence came the editors in chief of this perverted “catechism” textbook.

Monsignor Vangheluwe not only entertained pedophile ideas, but also practiced them on his 11-year old nephew. Hundreds of children who were not raped physically were molested spiritually during the catechism lessons. …

Meanwhile Danneels’s friends in the press started a campaign against me. “Colen continues to pester the bishops,” was the headline in Gazet van Antwerpen. One evening Toon Osaer, Danneels’s spokesman at the time, phoned me to tell me that as a Catholic I had to “be obedient” to the bishops. In Humo Danneels insinuated that I was “conducting my election campaign.”

On 5 January 1998 the daily newspaper Het Volk interviewed Patrick Vanhaelemeesch, a catechism teacher in the diocese of Bruges and one of the co-authors of Roeach. He gave some details about the illustration concerning masturbating toddlers in the catechism book. He said that the illustration was intended to convey the message that “toddlers experience sexual lust.” Vanhaelemeesch revealed that the committee of bishops had mentioned this illustration in an evaluation report of the catechism book. The report stated: “The presentation of the sexual-pedagogical attitudes is rendered ridiculous in the eyes of the pupils by the text balloons.” According to Vanhaelemeesch this criticism “indicates that the bishops had no objections at all to the message conveyed [i.e. toddlers experience sexual lust], but feared that the pupils would not take it seriously.”

When I had exhausted all possibilities and it was clear that the Belgian church did not want to hear the parents, I decided to sever all ties with the Catholic education system. I took my five children out of school and set up a homeschool together with other parents, so our children would be educated in a Catholic environment.

I sent a letter to all the cardinals in the world to inform them about the contents of the Roeach textbook. “Please be assured that this Dicastery will give your report all due consideration, answered Mgr. Clemens, Cardinal Ratzinger’s personal secretary, for the Congregation of the Faith in Rome; Cardinal Gagnon from Rome appreciated “the just battle which you are conducting”; “The matter which you raised is very important,” wrote Cardinal Arinze from Rome.

I received letters of support from cardinals from all parts of the globe. …

On 27 February 2010 the daily newspaper De Standaard wrote that these letters “enhanced Rome’s perception of the weak church leadership in Belgium.” Hence, the liberal Danneels was replaced by Mgr Léonard. Rome hopes that he will be able to restore the church in Belgium. I share this hope. However, it is a pity that it has taken so long. The damage that has been done is greater than anyone could have imagined.

Stay tuned.

Mater Dei, gratia plena, ora pro nobis, nunc et hora mortis nostrae.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What matters most…

3 comment(s)
"…is that there continues to be a great dialogue, because truth is never possessed in full."

So much for a bishop serving the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Like so many Catholics, he's more a fan of the Waybe, the Truthiness, and the Half-Life.

RORATE CAELI: Portuguese Bishop: OK with men who "live" with other men; for artificial contraception

"Progressive" Bishops attack again. Let the Belgian collapse be a warning: there is no innocence or naivety in anything that "Progressive" Bishops do or say. And, particularly when they are so nonchalant and shameless about certain matters, the signs of grave problems in their dioceses and nations are clear. Rome should act before grave things come out, and not express sympathy for the hierarchy when the result of their behavior leads to an inevitable humiliation of the hierarchy.

With bishops like these…

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…yada yada yada.

"At least they're our perverts..."

Already numb, I can't work up enough outrage about the exposé, published two days ago in The Brussels Journal, of "the fall of the Belgian Church" by Alexandra Colen, now a member of the Belgian parliament. (We can't say we're 'shocked' anymore, since everybody instantly repeats the word and thus evokes Captain Renault's joke in Casablanca.) Here's the opening paragraph of Colen's piece:

In Belgium today [June 24], police searched the residence of the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and the crypt of the Archbishop’s cathedral in Mechelen. They were looking for evidence of cover-ups in the ongoing investigation into widespread pedophilia practices within the Belgian church in the decades during which Cardinal Godfried Danneels was Archbishop. Danneels retired in January of this year.

Do read Dr. Liccione's whole post.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

You keep using that word…

2 comment(s)
…but I don't think it means what you think it means.

Msgr. Charles Pope recently proposed a reflection on God and human desire, called "Demonstrating God’s Existence Through Desire". I got wind of it from a friend's Facebook page, a committed Catholic and a Ph.D. in philosophy. He likes the argument but is not sure it works. I quote Msgr. Pope:

Consider for a moment that your desire is infinite. Honestly, it is. When was the last time you were perfectly satisfied and needed nothing? Never happened, did it? We are a vast and limitless sea of desire. Yes, if we are honest, our desires are quite limitless, clearly infinite.

But does this not show forth God’s existence and that he wrote his name in your heart? Does it not give clear evidence that you were made for God?

How does this demonstrate the existence of God? Well, consider the following:

1. Nothing can give what it does not have (Nihil dat quod non habet). For me to give you $20, I must first have at least $20.

2. Hence that which is finite cannot give what is infinite. That which is limited cannot give something that is unlimited.

3. Our desire is demonstrably infinite, unlimited.

4. But the Material world is finite. It is limited.

5. Thus the Material world did not confer this infinite desire upon us.

6. Hence someone or something infinite must have conferred this infinite desire upon us.

7. That Someone we call, God.

At present there are about two dozen comments on the article at his Facebook and about 30 comments on the original post at Msgr. Pope's blog. My friend's main objection to the argument as one commenter tried to defend it, is that it is circular. The defender wrote: "When you get to the heart of the problem, then you realize that there is only one infinite source. If you don't realize that, then you are not at the heart of the problem yet." My friend replied, "If one can't say what the problem is without citing the solution, then one can't say what the question is without citing the answer. There is no more perfect instance of begging the question."

My own initial thoughts are the following.

Doesn't the order and magnitude of "desiring the good" play a crucial role in St. Thomas's account of free will? As in, isn't his point that, while the will is naturally drawn to will the Good in each case, yet because no one thing is the Summum Bonum, therefore the will is transcendentally underdetermined apart from an intellective 'taste' of God Himself? Even then, after that 'taste', the will is not utterly predetermined from without, since in God there is an infinitude of goods over which the will can 'rove', as it were.

I think an interesting line of analysis would be to consider just what 'desire' entails. Is desire as such inherently insatiable, and therefore inherently ordered to an infinite (inexhaustible) good? In willing a ham sandwich, I will to quell my hunger, but why do I do that? Because, at the same time, I will the good of continuing to live. Why do I do that? Because at the same time I will the fellowship of my family and friends? Why that? Etc. Is it possible to remove a singular mode or case of desire from an entire nexus of desirable reality? If not, then a single act of willing something desirable is actually an act of willing an unbounded amount of unfathomably rich Good Itself.

It's like language: no word is intelligible on its own apart from its connection to the whole of linguistic capacity. And insofar as God may well be the ultimate signifier which keeps language games infinite and vital, then perhaps He is also the infinite object of all willing whatsoever, which keeps desire games infinite and vital. If for St. Thomas in every act of knowing the thinker knows God implicitly (cf. De Lubac's Discovering God), then I think, given the close link between the intellect and the will, that it is a worthwhile extrapolation to explore that in every act of desire the agent wills God implicitly. This line of reasoning is not circular since it begins with an analysis of desire itself that concludes to the infinite as being phenomenologically essential to 'desire' per se.

No hitter, no brainer…

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The Next No-Hitter: May?
Mathematician Uses Statistics to Predict Rare Baseball Events
–– May 1, 2005

Researchers use a simple statistical tool known as the Poisson distribution to predict no-hitters and also the number of players hitting for the cycle, in which a player gets a single, double, triple and home run in the same game. A Poisson distribution predicts the number of events that will occur in a fixed time interval, provided that the events occur at random, independently in time, and at a constant rate.

This is one of those "interesting" bits of "science news" I peruse from time to time, and upon which I openly co(d)gitate even more rarely. (I suppose there is a Poisson curve for predicting roughly when I will make such exco(d)gitations….)

In any case, what struck me about this news is that, from a philosophical perspective, it might be very insignificant. (I think it's quintessentially philosophical that this "news" is five years out of date. Authentic philosophizing is in no need of deadlines or relevance, says I.)

So the Poisson curve for baseball stats places a no hitter in late May or early June. Yet the article mentions many times that it still can't predict which player or players will be involved, much less exactly when and where it will happen. It also grants the prediction might be off. So I have to wonder: what does this add to baseball culture, aside from a new meta-level of making bets (viz., bets about the accuracy of a Poisson prediction about prior bets on the season champs)? More to the point, what does this discovery––having so much to do with necessity, foreknowledge, freedom, contingency, determinism and indeterminism––add to the philosophical debate about all the topics just listed? Very little, I contend.

First of all, baseball fans have relied on statistics to make predictions for decades. Batting averages, in-game errors, RBI's, home-field advantage, etc., as well as weather forecasts, players' ages and injuries, etc.––all these data have been used since, presumably, baseball began to make predictions. The Poisson applications to baseball just add a new facet to the old gamble, not anything inherently novel from a philosophical perspective.

Second, baseball fans have been able to make very significant predictions about no-hitters well before Poisson analyses, to wit: in all likelihood, there will be at least a no-hitter between X and Z, where X and Z are the beginning and end points of the baseball season. According to Wiki:

In recent seasons, the schedule runs from the beginning of April to the end of September, followed by the post-season tournament in October. The endpoints of the season have gradually changed through the years. In the late 1800s, the regular season began in late April and ran through late October. By the early 1900s, however, the season was running from late April to late September or early October, with the World Series capping the season in October, sometimes actually starting in the last days of September.

It would be interesting to see what a slight modification of the rules about bats did to the Poisson predictions. For instance, suppose the girth of a legal bat were widened by a millimeter or two. This would significantly lower the odds of a no-hitter every season. Then imagine players could select from a whole range of differently sized bats. What kind of complex mathematics would be needed to predict which bat a player would select at an otherwise optimally predicted time for a no-hitter? Once you start making predictions about randomly selected bats, you are already at a wider "variable perimeter" from which you hoped to predict a mere no-hitter. Where would such a "variable regress" end?

The question I am worrying is, what makes for a truly stunning prediction? How precise does it have to be to support "hard determinism"? Within a month? Within a day? Within a second? Why isn't it stunning enough to, say, predict that "scientifically speaking, in light of past stats, there will be 1.78 no-hitters this season"? That kind of prediction has enough metaphysical punch to do away with Hume's arguments against natural continuity and inference. By contrast, does a Poisson prediction within a minute and square foot of where the next no-hitter will happen have enough metaphysical "oomph" to validate determinism? I deny that it does.

As I hinted with my musings on randomly sized bat-girth, any system that is sufficiently "open" and complex (call it an A·n System), renders predictions made about, and from within, a system of lesser complexity (call it an A·n-1 System) useless. Why? Because predictions about/in/for A·n-1 occur within A·n and must, to be rigorously predictive, take into account factors in/from A·n which might impinge upon A·n-1. By contrast, attempting to predict X in A·n requires a grasp of factors in A·n+1 which would impinge upon A·n. And so on. Even a simple prediction, like, "Johnny will land this three-pointer [in A·n]," is predicated on a belief in, or cognitive 'access' to, a ceteris paribus clause from/to A·n+1 that "the laws of physics and biology ['enclosing' A·n] will not radically and suddenly alter between Johnny's drive down the court and his sinking the three-pointer."

In any case, I take it as a general rule of thumb that there is an inverse proportion between the rigor of scientific prediction and the ontological scope in question. Theoretical precision, in other words, declines with cognitive ambition. The larger and "realer" the system of inquiry is, the less amenable it is, in principle, not only to making accurate, specific predictions, but, moreover, even to admitting such a prediction could be made at all. This is not a methodological flaw, given, say, the lowly cognitive powers of human agents, but, rather, a limitation inimical to the very idea of total predictions, a totality required in order for determinism to be coherent.

The upshot is that I am, currently anyway, very inclined to agree with much of the work of a philosopher whom I only recently discovered, Patrick Suppes (Stanford). I'm too tired right now to elaborate on Suppes's "probabilistic metaphysics," but his "Indeterminism or instability, Does it matter?" [PDF ALERT!] is a very good introduction to many of its themes. My point in all this base-running at the mouth is that the attempt to formulate a total prediction of "the world", is a lost cause. More strongly, the ex arguendo incoherence of saying the world is amenable to a necessarily causally determined predictive description, is dispositive of determinism. I've written about this idea before, for instance, in "Reporting live" and, more recently, in the latter half of the dialogue in "Optimus E-Prime". Recently, though, the idea has been percolating in The Codgitank © is that the very coherence of "the world" requires its conceptual intelligibility to a self-conscious mind. (I know, did I mention I'm a theist?) I was tired when I mentioned Suppes and the trend has only continued so I'll keep this brief (you can thank me later).

My fundamental question is, "Can anything really exist which is intrinsically incoherent?" If so, well, then, I need some examples. If not, though, can anything exist without also being comprehended in its integral coherence? I am inclined to say No, since, ex hypothesi, one of a thing's essential features be that it is not conceptually incoherent. The issue is not that there are things the intelligibility of which we have not yet discovered, since, if those things actually exist, they exist coherently. If they do no coherently exist, then, of course, they do not exist. We are, then, not waiting to discover anything's intrinsic coherence, but only this or that unknown thing's existence. A thing's notional coherence must be coterminous with its actual existence, otherwise its existence would lack actual notional coherence, whereby it would not actually exist. The snag is that actual notional coherence, present by definition in the very "warp and woof" of actual existents, is only notionally coherent to a mind capable of grasping notions. (Consider the etymology of "notion": from Latin nōtiō a becoming acquainted (with), examination (of), from noscere to know; Gk. ennoia "act of thinking, notion, conception," or prolepsis "previous notion, previous conception.") As I have argued before (cf. "Uncomprehended logic"), eternal intelligibility (e.g., numbers, logical laws, etc.) presupposes eternal intelligence. Nous (νοῦς) is to notional coherence what notional coherence is to existence. And, yet, existence makes notional coherence ('essence') actual only because Absolute Existence makes certain coherently possible existents actual (cf. É. Gilson on Platonism, Scotism, and Suarezinism in Being and Some Philosophers).

At a higher level, if some things are "computationally inaccessible" (a phrase I picked up from Suppes, and which could apply to my quandary about deterministic predictions and A·n[-1/+1] Systems), their existential coherence requires they be intelligible by a non-computational (i.e., immaterial, non-racionative) means of knowledge. If nothing can exist which is not at the same time subsumable to a coherent definition (in the exact opposite way that something, like a square circle, with an incoherent definition cannot exist), then anything's existence––and more importantly, Everything's existence––must be actively subsumable to an intelligible ratio. The grasping of Everything's existential coherence must be coterminous with Everything's actual existence, in which case, an intelligence inclusive of both the world's total existential coherence and its own intelligence 'over' that totality must exist. To cop out by saying that perhaps the world is fundamentally incoherent is a dead end, not only since referring to "the world" presupposes its coherent existential unity, and "the world's fundamental incoherence" only makes sense when it is further asked, "Incoherent with respect to what?"––a question which of course displaces alleged fundamental incoherence into a higher frame of coherence. Ultimate coherence is inescapable, for, as Cratylus 'argued' so 'eloquently', there is literally no way logo-ically to argue otherwise. As such, total coherence points towards total consciousness.

As a final "meditation," consider the etymology of coherence (and its startling antonym): L. cohaerentem (nom. cohaerens), prp. of cohaerere "cohere," from com- "together" (see co-) + haerere "to stick"; L. haesitationem (nom. haesitatio) "irresolution, uncertainty," from haesitare "stick fast, stammer in speech, be undecided," frequentative of haerere "stick, cling," from PIE *ghais-eyo (cf. Lith. gaistu "to delay, tarry"). Here we see that in the very roots of language, coherence is allied with unified conscious volition, speech, action––Pure Act, Abiding Logos.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Missing parts of the whole story...

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In a thread at Dr. Feser's blog, a discussion of how hylomorphism relates to time, and specifically Einsteinian relativity, recently prompted a new tangent about perdurantism. Perdurantism is, I must be frank, an old bête noire of mine.

One commenter there led off a reply to the mention of a perdurantist argument against Oderberg's endurantism by saying, "Hales perdurance notion of change is not compatible with A-T substance metaphysics, but it practically completely spells out a process metaphysics. It also seems much more resonant with our intuitive experience of the present than endurantism."

I replied: "Sigh. I have a very low opinion of perdurantism, to put it mildly."

And here's most of why.

1) It begs the question by saying an object's parts are, well… PARTS. Parts belong to whole and parts cannot belong to wholes unless the wholes actually exist. Ergo, one cannot refer to a part of a whole at time t if the whole does not also exist at t.

2) Perdurantism is more or less an embarrassed way of admitting what substantial metaphysics has always asserted, namely, that an existent's substance is not purely, nor wholly, physically quantifiable. What perdurantism latches onto is the fact that, in a materialistic spacetime manifold, no finite observer––nor any physically 'enmeshed' observer even infinite perceptual powers––can ever observe all of an existent's matter at one instant in time; ergo, no existent is materially wholly present at any instant. But this is just to admit that 'what a real thing is' (viz., its substantial essence) is not a material but an immaterial, and therefore nonquantifiable, reality. A thing's essence is what it is, perfectly, regardless how 'fragmented' its nonessential material components may be in the spacetime manifold. Hence, perdurantism really comes down––again, in an embarrassed but ultimately hollow way––to saying that, since none of an existent's spatiotemporal parts "all exist together at one instant," therefore those discrete parts are not essential to––not exhaustive of––the existent. But to make this move (viz., to distinguish between a thing's essential and non-essential parts while still speaking of THE THING ITSELF), is just to be a hylomorphist. As I wrote in a post nearly two years ago:

"Hylomorphism does not mean an object or thing is wholly and completely present in each part of itself, but only that each part of a thing is wholly and conjointly present to that thing's form as the integral substance of its material divisibility. The front of a train may exist in a different time-frame from the back of the train, as special relativity indicates, but this does not mean the train is only partly present in different time-frames. All it means, hylomorphically, is that the essence of a train formally unites the different sections of the train in different time-frames. All the parts, in every time-frame, are still under the formal power of the train as a substantial entity."

3) I find the notion of infinitely divisible "time slices" incoherent on its very face. For, if we slice finely enough, we are left with non-extended, infinitely thin time slices. But a stack of infinitely thin sheets of paper is itself infinitely shallow. As I wrote in a post a year or two ago:

"…[An idea] I got from David Oderberg's essay, ["Hylomorphic Dualism," is that] it is incoherent to say a thing's spatiotemporal structure is comprised of spaceless, timeless slices. In other words, offering two trillion totally worthless pennies to the cashier is no better or worse than offering only two. Since perdurantism denies there are substantial wholes which exist as wholes over multiple points of spacetime, it must also deny that any of the time slices "in" an "object" endure over any extended amount of spacetime. Ergo, each time slice is infinitely thin and infinitesimally brief. Unfortunately, however, stacking two trillion infinitely thin plates under your feet gets you no higher than stacking only two infinitely thin plates under them. Likewise, if I give you all my money for an infinitesimal amount of time, it really just means I do not give you my money. There is no coherent natural way to get spatiotemporally extended objects from spatiotemporally non-extended parts."

4) Consider also the most rudimentary elements of the Standard Model in physics. Some of the earliest components in the origin of the cosmos last on the order of 10^-43 sec. What room do we really have here for saying such an "object" has infinitely many parts in the span of so little time? For if we cut into that narrow window of happening, we have actually cut the happening into a wholly different phenomenon. The explosion and dissolution of leptons, for instance, include in their very nature to exist at a precise temporal instant, not at many arbitrary (and arbitrarily fictional, I might add) instants, so to scatter them over many instants is to destroy in their essential spatiotemporal "fragility." A lepton qua lepton is precisely transient and doesn't exist at a myriad of different times.

In any case, here is a link to all I seem to have penned at my blog with the word "perdurantism" in it:

* * *

Some time later another commenter responded that my worry about "summing" infinitely many infinitely thin time slices isn't a problem for perdurantism, though my other objections he left unchallenged. He said that "if the parts are infinitely small, then you need infinitely many of them, that's all."

In response I said that I was careless in some of my comments, so I want to reiterate that 3a) the problem I have with infinitely small time-slices, and thus perdurantism as such, is not that "they're just so damned small!" but rather that such 'independent' parts are ontologically illicit in perdurantism. An infinitely small time slice has zero spatiotemporal extension, and therefore it does not exist for any amount of time.

1a) The other problem with these time slices, which I implied in my objection that perdurantism begs the question of wholes by focusing on PARTS, is that the parts have no more coherent existence in perdurantism than do the wholes. If integral wholes are a problem for the perdurantist, why are not sub-integral wholes (aka time slices) equally problematic? Otherwise, it's unparsimonious in the extreme. If I (my whole self) can't/don't exist all together at one time, and therefore endurantism is wrong, then none of my parts can/does exist altogether at one time, and therefore perdurantism is false. This is because each 'part' of me is a respectable whole in its own right, but allegedly the very idea of wholly present substantial 'wholes' is verboten for perdurantism. What decides how large or small a part is? There is nothing formally substantial about me or any of my time slices, so we can't meaningfully invoke either of them, if perdurantism is true. As such, perdurantism has nothing with which to articulate its own position.

5) Lastly, I should add that perdurantism is perhaps the only popular 'scientific' ontology that flagrantly violates the Scholastic razor (aka Ockham's razor). David Lewis's modal realism is equally flagrantly "hyper-ontic" and 'scientific' but, understandably, not as popular as perdurantism. Alas, such is academic whimsy.

+ + +

The beat goes on…

Later in the same thread, one of the same commenters replied:

"I don't see the problem. An infinitesimal value isn't really zero, so it's no worse than infinitesimally small points in space. And if single points in time (or space) were problematic, then endurantism wouldn't work either, because everything would only ever exist for an instantaneous, zero-length present moment. … I thought that it claimed you can't exist at one time because you in fact exist at multiple times, and therefore must be "spread out" across time, i.e. have temporal parts. Something could perdure for only a single moment, at least theoretically, I think. (But such an "instant" entity couldn't change, because it would have to last for at least two moments of time or more; you obviously do change, so for the perdurantist it follows that you couldn't exist for only one moment, but that's a historically contingent fact, not a metaphyiscal [sic] necessity.)

I do agree with your earlier point about this requiring a form to underlie all the "points" of time and explain what makes them parts of one thing. (Otherwise, the whole idea is rather, er, pointless.) And it doesn't help any with explaining the really tricky part of time, which is how our consciousness of it changes."

To which I replied, first:
"We're in a sort of Bonaventure-Aquinas cycle about the infinity of the created world. What I think we both agree on, which rather dissolves the technical disputes about infinite divisibility and ontic coherence, is that there must be SOMETHING of which the parts are… parts. In your quotation above, it begs the very same question: what do you really mean (as a rehearsed perdurantist) by "something"? There are no "somethings", only parts of fictitious whole-things. The perdurantist has no grounds for saying this 'something' is a distinct whole amidst a larger Humean-related 'whole' and as such has no grounds for saying this preferred something exists for an infinitesimal time."

He then replied:

"…the perdurantist objects, no, not everything is made up of parts; only changing things. An instantaneous part does not (cannot!) change, so it needs no further explanation. And I think that's OK, as far as it goes. Of course, it doesn't go very far; what makes a set of parts into a whole? Is it merely being adjacent somehow? The same question applies to what makes spatial parts into "one" thing? If perdurantism is an attempt to escape forms, then either everything is reduced to single, unconnected, atomic points (in time and space), or else the only "thing" is just the whole universe, here and there, now and then, all making up one big everything. … I guess we agree that it's another example of modern philosophy tying itself in knots to solve a problem that the ancients already solved, if only they knew it."

And, second:

"I want to return to something you said which ties in to my latest comment: You said:

"I don't see the problem. An infinitesimal value isn't really zero, so it's no worse than infinitesimally small points in space. And if single points in time (or space) were problematic, then endurantism wouldn't work either, because everything would only ever exist for an instantaneous, zero-length present moment."

This is a good point and I will only reply with two thoughts. 1) Maybe my thinking is just woolyheaded about infinitesimals in ontology, in which case, lead on, Magister. 2) If I am not fatally wooolyheaded, I would aver that single-point existence is not bad for endurantism at all. For the point is that there is a some-thing which "underlies" ('substat') each material entity's existence in contradistinction to the sensible features of that entity qua THAT entity. Instants versus substant, so to speak.

And, my woolyheadedness be damned, I would aver, once more, that the reason infinitesimal parts are illegitimate for perdurantism is any part is itself a kind of whole. Authentic perdurantism is a kind of stuttering ontology: "This, no, th-this is, no, no, th-th-this is the part, the part of the par-part of th-the whole that interests m-m-meeee." Any part that is not utterly zero is a genuine whole; and an ontology that posits wholes, of any size, is endurantism. Are my parts made of parts as well? If so, am I actually made of my parts or are my parts' parts made of 'me'?"

Some time passed and I remounted the horse, thus:

"Okay, let me try it this way.

If a time slice of me (M:ts1) has an infinitesimally small temporal extension, its spatial dimensions can just as easily be shrunken to infinitely small proportions. As such, according to perdurantism, 'I' can exist 'in' a ts with infinitesimally small spatiotemporal extension, which, when taken to its logical conclusions, means 'I' can exist in a simple mathematical point (M:ts^-∞): infinitely unextended. At that point (…), though, what sense does it make to claim that 'I', perduring 'in' M:ts^-∞, am in fact a material entity? Are ideal mathematical points material entities simpliciter?

Insofar as perdurantism takes for real what are in fact merely infinite abstract incisions in real existents, it dissolves into idealism. Just because I can 'find' an infinite number of sections in a cigarette or a candy bar, that doesn't entail the cigarette or candy bar are actually infinitely extended. Perdurantism is Zeno's paradox for physics nerds, and it's no coincidence that Aristotle opposed Zeno's paradox as an integral step in his substantialist ontology."

Dismembered fish…

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Went to pick up a bag of laundry tonight after class. The "boss," whom I gather is the elder brother of the woman I took to be the boss when I dropped off my first bag of laundry there a few weeks ago, stood up from his white, plastic lawn chair when I pulled in on my scooter. He dragged from his cigarette and gazed at me with one eye, as I asked, "You remember me?" He nodded, dragged again, and ambled over to the shelves to retrieve my bag. It was only one bag, and smaller than I recalled. "Just one bag?" I asked. He gazed with one eye and nodded a few times. We shifted over to my scooter for the transaction, but when I asked if he could break a thousand, he dragged on his cigarette and said, "Just pay when you come next time." I paused, partially giving face, partially calculating the odds of me returning: they were good. I nodded and he said, "Just pay next time." I thanked him and asked, "You guys close about 9:30, right?" He glanced over at the bowl on the gas burner, in which a dismembered fish sat in shallow soup. Or maybe he was glancing over at the fifth of hard, clear liquor on the washing machine. "Depends if I'm drunk or not. If I'm drunk by 8:30, we'll close then!" He laughed and dragged on his cigarette. His skin was orange like a Halloween pumpkin in the fluorescent light. I chuckled and nodded, limply hoisting my curiously small bag of laundry. "If not," he went on, "about 9:30," which is the time his sister, more reasonable, as all women are compared to alcoholic brothers, had told me. "That speed?" I ventured. He broke into a fit of smoky cackles. "That standard?" I ventured again. He laughed and nodded at me with his stump of a cigarette. He sat down as I swung my leg over the seat of my scooter to be on my way. I waved at him from the throttle of my scooter, but he didn't notice me. He was glancing at the dismembered fish in the bowl. Or maybe at the unfinished bottle of clear, hard liquor on the washing machine beside him.

Time for God…

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"… When a physicist says there are no temperatures lower than absolute zero, the use of 'lower than' does not presuppose there actually are such temperatures, but only that we can conceive it in our minds. In the same way, to say there was a time when the universe did not exist does not imply there was such a time, but only that we can mentally conceive of such a time. To say there is no time before the first event is like saying there is no temperature -273 C. Both express limits beyond which only the mind can travel. …

"…a personal God need not experience a temporal succession of mental states. He could apprehend the whole content of the temporal series in a single eternal intuition, just as I analogously apprehend all the parts of a circle in a single sensory intuition. … Sturch argues that in order to avoid an infinite temporal regress of states of consciousness, God's knowledge must be timeless. …

"… If God is really related to the world, then it seems most reasonable to maintain that God is in time subsequent to creation. This also removes Kierkegaard's Absolute Paradox concerning the incarnation, for God would be in time prior to his assuming a human nature. This understanding does not involve any change in God; rather he is simply related to changing things. …

"… A relational view of time seems superior to a Newtonian view because (1) it is difficult to see how time could exist apart from events and (2) the Newtonian objection that every instant of time implies a prior instant is adequately answered by the relational view. Thus, the proper understanding of God, time, and eternity would be that God exists changelessly and timelessly prior to creation and in time after creation."

–– William Craig, "God, Time and Eternity"