Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Indeterminacy and Borges’ infinite library

Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel” (from his collection Labyrinths) famously describes an infinite library, comprising books which together represent every possible combination of characters in the alphabet in which they are written.  Most of the books are gibberish, just as, if you emptied a bag of Scrabble letters onto the floor and looked at the patterns that resulted, almost none of what you’d see would count as a genuine word or sentence.  But because every possible combination is there, many intelligible books are there too.  In fact, every possible such book is there, so that the library contains all knowledge, every truth there is about everything.  For any of these truths, though, the trick is to find it somewhere in this infinite, bewildering Babel.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The hollow universe of modern physics

To say that the material world alone exists is not terribly informative unless we have some account of what matter is.  Those who are most tempted to materialism are also inclined to answer that matter is whatever physics says it is.  The trouble with that is that physics tells us less than meets the eye about the nature of matter.  As PoincarĂ©, Duhem, Russell, Eddington, and other late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century philosophers and scientists were keen to emphasize, what physics gives us is the abstract mathematical structure of the material world, but not the entire nature of the concrete entities that have that structure.  It no more captures all of physical reality than a blueprint captures everything there is to a house.  This is, of course, a drum I’ve long banged on (for example, in Aristotle’s Revenge).

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Nietzsche and Christ on suffering

Over and over we are taught in scripture and tradition that suffering is the lot not only of mankind in general, but of the Christian in particular.  Christ, the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), is our model.  When he warned that he must suffer and die, “Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord!  This shall never happen to you,’” which prompted Christ’s own famous rebuke in response:

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”  Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:22-25)

Monday, May 9, 2022

End of semester open thread

Let’s start the summer break off right, with an open thread.  Now’s the time to get that otherwise off-topic obsession of yours off your chest, at long last.  From plunging stocks to Pet Rocks, from buying Twitter to Gary Glitter to sharing an Uber with Martin Buber, everything is on topic.  The usual rules of good taste and discretion apply.  Previous open threads archived here.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Benedict is not the pope: A reply to some critics

Patrick Coffin has posted an open letter by Italian writer Andrea Cionci, replying to my recent article criticizing Benevacantism.  What follows is a response.  In his introduction to the letter, Patrick objects to my use of the label “Benevacantism,” calling it a “nonsensical devil term”(!)  I can understand why he doesn’t like the word, because it is an odd one and doesn’t really make much sense.  But I didn’t come up with it.  I had to use some label to refer to the view, and chose “Benevacantism” simply because it seemed to be the one most widely used.  But Patrick prefers the label “Benedict is Pope” or “BiP” for short, so in what follows I’ll go along with that.