Orson Scott Card’s Myth-Language

The quote below is from Children of the Mind (free pdf here), the last book in the The Ender Quartet series, Chapter 7, page 101. This is part of a chapter of the book that stuck with me, since it describes a material and technological phenomenon in mythical language. “Myth” has been transformed into a word that describes what pre-modern man (“pre-modern” being synonomous with “ignorant”) conjured up to explain things not scientifically understood, but it’s really just a certain form of language, like a “manner of speaking.”

Everything Grace translates from Malu here are actual things in the Ender universe, from the sub-atomic philotes to the AI construct, Jane. That he isn’t using technical, nor even popular technical language, is not an indicator of falsehood. He is simply using the linguistic tools of his mystical Samoan culture. The only difference is that he arrived at the knowledge in a different manner, through revelation, and not through standard epistemological means.

Grace translated: “Today the clouds flew across the sky with the sun chasing them, and yet no rain has fallen. Today my boat flew across the sea with the sun leading it, and yet there was no fire when we touched the shore. So it was on the first day of all days, when God touched a cloud in the sky and spun it so fast that it turned to fire and became the sun, and then all the other clouds began to spin and turn in circles around the sun.”

This can’t have been the original legend of the Samoan people, thought Wang-mu. No way did they know the Copernican model of the solar system until westerners taught it to them. So Malu may know the ancient lore, but he’s also learned some new things and fit them in.

“Then the outer clouds turned into rain and poured in upon themselves until they were rained out, and all that was left was spinning balls of water. Inside that water swam a great fish of fire, which ate every impurity in the water and then defecated it all in great gouts of flame, which spouted up from the sea and fell back down as hot ash and poured back down as rivers of burning rock. From these turds of the firefish grew the islands of the sea, and out of the turds there crawled worms, which squirmed and slithered through the rock until the gods touched them and some became human beings and others became the other animals.

“Every one of the other animals was tied to the earth by strong vines that grew up to embrace them. No one saw these vines because they were godvines.”

Philotic theory, thought Wang-mu. He learned that all living things have twining philotes that bond downward, linking them to the center of the earth. Except human beings.

Sure enough, Grace translated the next strand of language: “Only humans were not tied to the earth. It was not vines that bound them down, it was a web of light woven by no god that connected them upward to the sun. So all the other animals bowed down before the humans, for the vines dragged them down, while the lightweb lifted up the human eyes and heart.

“Lifted up the human eyes but yet they saw little farther than the beasts with downcast eyes; lifted up the human heart yet the heart could only hope for it could only see up to the sky in the daytime, and at night when it could see the stars it grew blind to close things for a man can scarcely see his own wife in the shadow of his house even when he can see stars so distant their light travels for a hundred lifetimes before it kisses the eyes of the man.

“All these centuries and generations, these hoping men and women looked with their half-blind eyes, staring into the sun and sky, staring into the stars and shadows, knowing that there were invisible things beyond those walls but not guessing what they were.

“Then in a time of war and terror, when all hope seemed lost, weavers on a far distant world, who were not gods but who knew the gods and each one of the weavers was itself a web with hundreds of strands reaching out to their hands and feet, their eyes and mouths and ears, these weavers created a web so strong and large and fine and far-reaching that they meant to catch up all human beings in that web and hold them to be devoured. But instead the web caught a distant god, a god so powerful that no other god had dared to know her name, a god so quick that no other god had been able to see her face; this god was stuck to the web they caught. Only she was too quick to be held in one place to be devoured. She raced and danced up and down the strands, all the strands, any strands that twine from man to man, from man to star, from weaver to weaver, from light to light, she dances along the strands. She cannot escape but she does not want to, for now all gods see her and all gods know her name, and she knows all things that are known and hears all words that are spoken and reads all words that are written and by her breath she blows men and women beyond the reach of the light of any star, and then she sucks inward and the men and women come back, and when they come sometimes they bring new men and women with them who never lived before; and because she never holds still along the web, she blows them out at one place and then sucks them in at another, so that they cross the spaces between stars faster than any light can go, and that is why the messengers of this god were blown out from the house of Grace Drinker’s friend Aimaina Hikari and were sucked back down to this island to this shore to this roof where Malu can see the red tongue of the god where it touches the ear of her chosen one.”

Malu fell silent.

“We call her Jane,” said Peter.

The Diversity Issue

After a some comments I made on one of Mike Duran’s post, “Does Christian Fiction Have a Race Problem?”, I was set to write a lot of about the politicized nature of the modern diversity concept. Stefan Molyneux beat me and saved me some writing time, so I’d advise you to watch the video below. Perpare to be exasperated by the pace of the conversation—the caller makes some pretty poor arguments and Molyneux has to clear the brush to really get at what the guy is trying to say. This is the nature of call-in shows, but it can reveal some interesting results.

To summarize my thoughts, not Molyneux’s: what’s known as “diversity” today is a preference for a trait (more accurately, diversity is a meta-trait) of a collection of people. But the way it is treated now, this trait of diversity is also comes with a moral imperative component, which is to say that groups should be diverse. There are varying reasons for this moral component, all based, as far as I can see, in politics, particularly in the social engineering aspect of political thought. In this sense diversity lies at one of the end points of western sociological thought. As of yet, I have not heard of a convincing argument that makes the moral component more categorical than other moral principles. For me, it’s still stuck at the preference level.

Diversity, though, like a lot of western progressive concepts, really means diversity of a certain kind, and in certain circumstances. Molyneux shines the light on this fairly well on its contextual scope, early on in the video. I have no moral issue with people prefering a certain degree or type of diversity, since we all have a preference that shifts with circumstances and are set at a sub-rational, lizard brain level, to a barely rational level. I’d even go so far as to say people can openly communicate their preference for diversity for a group, even one of which they are not a part…though any group has the moral right to reject the preference wholesale with no reason given. Again, the moral imperative component does not exist for diversity.

Bottom line: diversity is a preference; everyone has a subconcious preference for diversity; there is no moral component for one’s diversity preference; any use of force (political or otherwise) to set the diversity of a group is categorically immoral.

What You Really Love

The comments on my last post reminded me of how much scientific “stuff” we really don’t know, epistemologically, so this is just a quick reminder. Since we don’t do experiments ourselves and only learn about them after they’ve gone through many hands and eyes, and through a massive popularization filter (looking at you, I Fucking Love Science), does nearly all of the explicitly scientific content we know fail the basic knowledge test that epistemologists propose? If so, what’s the “nearest” we need to be to scientific fact for us to declare that we’ve met our epistemic duty? To wit, my brother is a biochemical researcher. Would any (understandable) knowledge he gives me qualify as a true belief for me, since he really uses the scientific method himself and I know him to be trustworthy?

Also related to the last post, but not to the scientific process per se: Theology: Has it become too Propositional?

Mad Max(imally)

From a letter to William Lane Craig, Craig’s response (bold mine):

Your envisioned scenario is quite similar to the objection of the late philosopher J. Howard Sobel. Sobel invites us to conceive of something which, if it is possible, is a dragon in whichever world is the actual world. This is just like your “phoenix that exists in the actual world.” (So you are in the company of an eminent philosopher in having your reservations!) If such a thing is possible, then a dragon exists. So is it possible? The only way to know, says Sobel, is to look around and see if there are any dragons. If there aren’t, then the notion is not logically possible after all. You can’t just rely on your modal intuitions.

Having a hard time with the bolded part. Phoenixes and dragons are imagined creatures, thrown together from spare parts of what was already known. People knew of birds, reptiles, fire, flight, and rebirth already. Phoenixes and dragons are certain configurations of those concepts that, to the creators, didn’t exist, but their component parts do. Their real, non-mythological “parts” are a posteriori bits of information gleaned from perceiving the natural world. There’s value in mentioning this because there can be degrees of possibility. Dragons or phoenixes, as commonly regarded, borrow from well-known facts of biology and physics, and violate only a few. So it’s more possible than other things that they could exist in our universe, given what we know of it. What if there was a dragon made entirely of polygonal glass, that breathed black fire? That’s far less likely to exist, since it would require advanced technology or some kind of magical enchantment, both of which are of a more dubious logical possibility.

But my main issue is with the “maximal” terminology used. It’s a modern epistemology/ontology term–I get why it’s used, and I suppose it’s probably true with respect to God, but I think it’s ultimately unhelpful. To me, “maximally” paradoxically implies a limitation: a container, even an indescribably large one, can be “maximally” filled. It might be better to come up with a term to describe God as the very source of x, rather than having an x to a “maximal” degree. By ascribing God as the only “sourceful”* thing in existence, we’re putting the horse before the cart, as it should be. “Sourcing” God is a start to making Him the ontological source of all that we could perceive, and it leaves it open so that He is the source of things we can’t perceive. It works as a catch-all, instead of coming up with a list of properties and throwing them into the bucket. The only problem is that it’s unsatisfactory, philosophically. Some philosophers, maybe the ones who aren’t completely Westernized, will be okay with this shift. If you feel like you’re losing your grip by doing this, I’d say that’s a good thing. A God you can get a handle on is one you don’t want to be following.

Related reading: Theology: Has it become too Propositional?

*Those of us who really need to cling to the “maximal” appellation can say God is the “maximally sourceful” being in every conceivable universe. I promise I won’t laugh.

The Staycation Dad Chronicles

A cut and paste post while I’m busy finishing up Pale Blue Scratch.

I recently finished a staycation and was busy annoying everyone on Facebook with my humdrum, activities in the dense suburbs of Pittsburgh. Here they are, serialized for your pleasure—because what’s more entertaining than what an average white American male does in his spare time?

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: charmed all the moms at the bus stop this morning. But not *too* much.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: helping wife find me in the bookstore by the smell of my burps.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: resisted the urge to buy a middle-grade Star Wars book.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: ground (grinded?) the out-of-code stroller into smaller parts to make it easier on the garbage man.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: successfully reminisced about when this was the raciest thing on MTV.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: substituted coffee for soda for Chick-fil-A meal deal.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: installed vise with minimal injuries.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: painted garage door with “assistance” from son.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: moved rocks.

Staycation Dad Achievement unlocked: drank a cigar and smoked sherry while video chatting with an old friend.

The Euthyphro Dumb-lemma

See here and here for reference.

1. Inference (2): “If (i) morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good, then they are morally good independent of God’s will.” – Possibly true, but irrelevant, since there’s other things besides God’s will that morality could rest upon: i.e., God’s power or omniscience.

2. Inference (5): “If (ii) morally good acts are morally good because they are willed by God, then there is no reason either to care about God’s moral goodness or to worship him.” – Again, if all we’re talking about is morals, then this is possibly true, but again irrelevant. There could be plenty of other reasons to worship God that don’t involve Him as the source of goodness or morality.

3. C.S. Lewis’ quote referenced on the Wikipedia page is odd (i.e., wrong): “[I]f good is to be defined as what God commands, then the goodness of God Himself is emptied of meaning and the commands of an omnipotent fiend would have the same claim on us as those of the ‘righteous Lord.'” – Why is the focus on “emptying” the goodness of God’s meaning, when the greater offense would be to place God under the command of an object, like morality? If anything, Lewis should be considering God as axiomatic, not something to be concluded by his material logic or his personal preferences. That Lewis may find a divine command distasteful is irrelevant.

4. The dilemma, interestingly, is a false one, since it considers only a narrow scope of who God is and not His entire being. Josef Pieper, I think, comes close to the explaining it correctly with few words, also from the Wikipedia page: “Only the will [i.e., God’s] can be the right standard of its own willing and must will what is right necessarily, from within itself, and always. A deviation from the norm would not even be thinkable. And obviously only the absolute divine will is the right standard of its own act.”

5. Even better is Katherin A. Rogers’ quote: “Anselm, like Augustine before him and Aquinas later, rejects both horns of the Euthyphro dilemma. God neither conforms to nor invents the moral order. Rather His very nature is the standard for value.”

6. God can do whatever He damn well pleases, as I’ve mentioned this many times before on this blog.

Of Blasphemy and Trigger Warnings

Though I don’t have the formal education on this, like some do, to point to primary sources, but Medieval thought in general held sin, especially blasphemy, to cause actual harm in the physical world. This puts a different spin on witch trials and inquisitions, since committing blasphemy could be considered no different than assault. One is reminded of the recognition of triggers as potentially harmful. Though, triggers deviate from blasphemy in that triggers are psychological, and triggering isn’t widely addressed in public policy…at least, not yet.

As with anything that’s post-Freud or enjoys vague falsifiability, when you base a phenomenon on the psyche you can essentially come up with any epistemic framework you’d like and claim an act—or words and attitudes—are not a matter of misinterpretation but an act of aggression.

Separate the Church and the State

I ignore such salacious, morally complicated stories as the Kim Davis fiasco, but the bleating on Facebook has been hard to ignore. I have little true opinion about it since it has no direct bearing on my life, but it does serve as a working example of competing loyalties that demand full allegiance.

As a general rule of wisdom, Christians should have no involvement in a secular government, especially as one as powerful and pervasive as the American one*, not even as voters. As always, because God can do what He wants and therefore can bring anything He wants under your dominion, there are exceptions based on what God has for you.

Don’t get caught up in the technicalities. To wit, the Federal Reserve is not a government entity but it might as well be, de facto. Everyone has to be involved in some way because of the nature of representative democracy in a federated republic. How willing are you to be employed as an x or a y for the Cosa Nostra or the Yakuza? That’s the moral analogy to keep in mind.

Don’t take my word for it. Don’t let me dictate directly all of this for you, but regard it as a warning for consideration.

* This, I think, holds true for all “branches,” but also its enforcement and defensive arms. And as further general advice related to this: chances are, God doesn’t want you to travel halfway around the world to kill poor brown people and destroy their property.

Quick Thought on Universal Positivism

I read an old post of mine by chance the other day on how we know our religious beliefs are true. While that question is badly worded and doesn’t really ask the right thing, I had a whole series of thoughts that just ended up as one simple one after reading it again.

An extreme fixation on determining truth of religious belief, that the above question embodies, is really a fixation on falsifiability. It has its highest goal whether it can be demonstrated that a person’s internally accepted truth can be shown to others for consideration, like an observable object. Neverminding that this kind of positivism paradoxically has to rest on a series of unfalsifiable axioms, the biggest one of which (to me) being that the only meaningful truths are ones that can be subject to falsification, it’s also idolatry. Idolatry…that Old Testment-y concept that got God really riled up, and got really defined in the New Testament and its commentaries. We tend to associate the word “idolatry” with the Exodus 32 narrative. It comes off as inapplicable to us moderns.

Idolatry, though, is simple: it’s putting something in place of God. Think of it as knocking Him off the throne with an ersatz substitute. The iconic opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a wonderful visual analogy of this. It isn’t possible, in reality, to even begin to argue with God, much less displace Him ontologically, but acting as though we did is how idolatry is defined. As always, one can ignore reality but only at one’s own peril.

Positivism and its various flavors and incarnations, like scientism, puts man, with his material intellectual tools—even its mere chronological potential (“we’ll know all meaningful things some day”)—on the throne. Falsifiability uber alles is a type of twisted idolatrous solipsism, in that what is categorically true can only as such if it can be determined by and demonstrated towards, in all instances, the individual, royal “you.” Forgetting idolatry for a moment, it’s philosophically absurd…though I’m quite open to criticism that I’m strawmanning or reductio ad absurdum-ing here a little bit.

The Culinary Argument Against Human Evolution

Neanderthals eating
I have no dog in the evolution debate because I’m not a biologist nor a theologian, but I do have loosely-held ideas—intuitions, really—not based on scientific study by nature but still relevant and true (to a degree) to me, internally.

This article on the romanticization of “natural” food, from the leftoid Jacobin site, provides an interesting clue. A apropos section:

Natural was usually indigestible. Grains, which supplied from fifty to ninety percent of the calories in most societies have to be threshed, ground, and cooked to make them edible. Other plants, including the roots and fibers that were the life support of the societies that did not eat grains, are often downright poisonous. Without careful processing green potatoes, stinging taro, and cassava bitter with prussic acid are not just indigestible, but toxic.

Nor did our ancestors’ physiological theories dispose them to the natural. Until about two hundred years ago, from China to Europe, and in Mesoamerica, too, everyone believed that the fires in the belly cooked foodstuffs and turned them into nutrients. That was what digestion was. Cooking foods in effect pre-digested them and made them easier to assimilate. Given a choice, no one would burden the stomach with raw, unprocessed foods.

So to make food tasty, safe, digestible and healthy, our forebears bred, ground, soaked, leached, curdled, fermented, and cooked naturally occurring plants and animals until they were literally beaten into submission.

To lower toxin levels, they cooked plants, treated them with clay (the Kaopectate effect), leached them with water, acid fruits and vinegars, and alkaline lye. They intensively bred maize to the point that it could not reproduce without human help. They created sweet oranges and juicy apples and non-bitter legumes, happily abandoning their more natural but less tasty ancestors.

It goes on as such. Assuming that Laudan’s facts are correct, and I have no reason to doubt that they are, a question arises: if humans had successfully evolved in much the same way other organism have, why do humans have to put so much effort into making things edible? If the organisms from which humans evolved didn’t have to apply an inordinate-seeming level of logical process to “food” as we do now, how did it occur that humans are biologically tasked with doing so? Wouldn’t a (truly) natural consuming of the raw materials, the kind of vegetations and animals that other organisms are observed to eat now, be the de facto state of things, and wouldn’t it have remained as such, evolving alongside the pre-homo sapien as they made their way into into modern humans? The idea that we have had to utilize a primitive form of modern science to process natural resources for something so basic as eating, on the surface, contradicts microevolutionary theory for humans specifically. It’s as though humans, if I want to phrase it dramatically, were thrown onto the planet ex nihilo to figure out how to fend for themselves.

To be more specific here, I believe creation probably began and progressed via one of the current pseudo-scientific* theories we all learned in school, but that humans were directly created by supernatural mean. I had originally thought this was called the very vague and unhelpful theistic evolution, but in reading its definition, it doesn’t address this idea specifically. But, as I’ve stated before, I hold this belief very loosely and not opposed to something different.

* “Pesudo-scientific” here isn’t the derogatory term, but an actual description of it. Origins of the universe and evolutionary theory are a mix of science and non-scientific conjecture or predicate logic. True, the scientific process always embodied predicate logic to sort of “fill in” gaps in knowledge until more raw information came in, but it’s my view that evolutionary theories contain too much of this type of inferential knowledge to be considered purely scientific.