Is brown a color?

An amusing question for those who like to think about primary vs. secondary qualities, an issue that caused a bit of nuisance for astronomers.

The term “brown dwarf” was originally coined by Jill Tarter in 1975 to describe these objects, and there were other suggestions for names, like planetar and substar. But the name “brown dwarf” stuck. And here’s the problem, as described by Jill Tarter, “it was obvious that we needed a color to describe these dwarfs that was between red and black. I proposed brown and Joe (Silk) objected that brown was not a color.”

Brown isn’t a color?!

Not for astronomers. When they consider the color of a star, astronomers are talking about the wavelength of the light being emitted. Stars emit light at various wavelengths, and whatever photons are mostly being emitted are what we see. Yellow stars emit primarily yellow photons, red stars emit mostly red photons, etc. But you can’t have a star emit brown photons because the “color” brown is a de-saturated yellow. Brown dwarfs can’t be brown because it’s impossible to emit brown light. So what color are they?

Saturation is at least an objective feature of the spectrum, having to do with how much of it is spread into other colors.  As the Wikipedia entry on “brown” shows, what appears brown to us also depends on the contrast of neighboring colors.

“Time is greater than space” as an illustration of the intellectual vacuity of today’s clerical culture

Is being a priest a hard job?  Catholic laymen get different impressions, because it can be as hard as one wants it to be.  Priests with initiative find limitless opportunities for projects relevant to their duties and work themselves to exhaustion.  On the other hand, lazy priests will have little to prod them.  Is theology a difficult subject?  As difficult as you want it to be.  There are problems of formidable intricacy and subtlety waiting for those who find them, but if you want to stick with slogans, virtue-signaling, and post-modern nonsense, you can do that instead.

The pro-Francis theologians are entering Sokal hoax territory.  Behold, the new and improved Pontifical Academy for Life.

A reflection on Amoris Laetitia has been posted on the website of the Pontifical Academy for Life in which its author, a new member of the academy, proposes that the term “intrinsically evil” is outdated.

Hypothesizing on the moral theology of Amoris Laetitia and Pope Francis’ principle that “time is greater than space” mentioned in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Professor Gerhard Höver argues that changes in perception, “namely, space and time,” have an “effect on specific theologies, such as the theological view of marriage and the family.”

One might wonder whether anything can be evil if nothing is intrinsically evil.  Things that are accidentally evil are evil in virtue of some combination of their accidents, and if that combination is not intrinsically evil, well, the question “What’s wrong with that?” has to terminate somewhere.  But let’s leave that to the side and just marvel at how our shepherds go around speaking as if Pope Francis’ bit of silly, pretentious, postmodern gibberish “time is greater than space” is some profound insight.

What the hell is “time is greater than space” even supposed to mean?  Deacon Jim Russell gathers Pope Francis’ invocations of this phrase together with relevant context and tries to make sense of them here.  In some contexts, it’s just a warning against short-term thinking.  Usually, though, Francis explains his slogan to mean that “initiating processes” is more important than “controlling spaces”.  At the most generous, one could treat this like a folk proverb such as “the best things come to those who wait” or “birds of a feather flock together”, a bit of folk wisdom pithily expressed and not meant to provide a general principle or even to explain the extent of its own validity.  In emergencies, “space control” can be more important than initiating “processes” that will only bear fruit far in the future, and only provided the immediate space control is successful.  As I said, the slogan “time is greater than space” could at best serve as a reminder that the pursuit of some type of control at the current time is sometimes counterproductive.  However, this slogan lacks the distinct excellence of a proverb; proverbs are memorable and easily understood by everyone, and Francis’ use of language is neither colloquial nor precise.

In general, “time is greater than space” is a false dichotomy.  Processes can’t proceed unless there is some “space” in which they are allowed to operate, and power over social spaces is sought precisely in order to initiate or protect the operation of some “process” that one favors.  This dichotomy is also an inaccurate description of the real disputes.  Traditionalist Catholics don’t object to the neo-modernists’ processes simply for being processes.  They object to them because they judge them to be processes toward the normalization of sin and heresy.  Similarly, one has no trouble finding traditionalists grumbling about Francis or liberal bishops using their power over Catholic spaces to suppress “processes” that traditionalists approve of.  “Space” and “time” in the senses used here are morally neutral in themselves.  What matters is to what ends they are being used.

As usual, Francis doesn’t argue for his silly principle; he just attaches negative but logically unrelated descriptions to those who perform the behavior he doesn’t like.  For example “Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion…”  It might, or it might not.  What if I prioritize maintaining order in a region of space but do so calmly and methodically rather than madly?  What if my priority is not to possess all the spaces of power but just one that is key to my purposes?  Francis seems to be a slave to his mental associations, making it difficult for him to think logically.  It’s the same reason we always see him attributing negative spiritual qualities (e.g. rigidity or pride) to his critics.

“Time is greater than space” is just in every way a mind-bogglingly stupid thing to say.  Yes, I know I’m being rude.  I’m angry that a religious body with a two thousand year theological tradition can be reduced to such flimflam.  We should expect better.

The plausibility of theism; notes on the history of philosophy

The problem

Why are the arguments for theistic philosophies not convincing to most modern men?  The exasperated Thomist can point out that most of these modern men have heard only caricatures of these arguments at best.  This is true, but skeptics could not ignore or misrepresent our beliefs so easily if it weren’t for a more serious problem.  Alasdaire MacIntyre has pointed out that the difference between theists and atheists runs deeper than most realize.  It’s not that theists believe in the same things as atheists but just add one more (divine) object; the existence of God changes how we understand everything else.  Thus, that creatures are in some sense receivers of being is the key to understanding them, not just a claim needed to make the cosmological argument run through only to be forgotten once it has served this task.

Most theists, myself included, have failed to carry out such a philosophical revolution in our heads.  Most of the time, God is just “one more being” in my head, having little to do with how I understand the other items of my world.  Our concepts and categories are dismissed not because they are deemed not convincing but because they are deemed not useable.  By “usable”, I don’t mean “useful”; I mean “applicable”.

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Time and the fear of death

I plan to spend much of 2018 on the philosophy of time and becoming.  The following are unconsidered thoughts from an as yet uninformed mind, written mostly for my own sake.

Recall this quote:

Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

                                 — Albert Einstein

My life terminates in the future, but also in the past and also less than a meter to the left or right of my plane of symmetry, and yet only the first bothers me.  My reason agrees with Einstein, but I have learned that my instincts are less easily fooled than my reason.  I am afraid to die, therefore there is something wrong with this sort of eternalism.  (Note that it doesn’t matter that this fear is not very strong at this moment or that you may disapprove of it.  For you too, I imagine, the thought of mortality is spontaneously a cause of unease, even if you have overcome it with pagan fortitude or Christian hope.)

Aristotelian substances relate differently to time vs. space.  The left half of me is only a part of me, but me at the present time is the complete me, the complete me in the present.  The future concerns me because it is coming inexorably toward me.  But this doesn’t make sense.  Coming with respect to what?  With respect to time?  But that is tautological.  My left side terminus also “approaches” as one moves along the appropriate axis.  For time to “flow”, there must be some other measure that past to future progresses on.

Causality.  Our instinct rebels against the claim that the arrow of time is a result of the 2nd law.  We feel that the past causes the present, the present causes the future.  Causality is more basic than time.  Indeed, cause and effect are coincident temporally and spatially.  At an event, force causes acceleration, not vice versa.  The equation allows one to go either way, but one direction is the direction of causality, the other is the direction of inference.

But wait.  Considered as points on a manifold, the past is not coincident with the present.  My $latex  t=t_1$ and t=t_1-\epsilon are distinct events, making true causality impossible.  Therefore the past must actually persist in the present, although doubtlessly in a manner different from how it exists in its own time.  The pasts persists not as a poetic way of saying that the past causally influences the present, but as a literal requirement for the past to exert causality on the present.  Note that this requires no sense of an absolute standard of simultaneity.  Special relativity has sunk presentism irretrievably as far as I’m concerned.  (Then again, these are just my uninformed thoughts.)  An event persists in its future light cone.  How far?  Me at time A causes me at time B causes me at time C, so by this line of thinking A persists in some way in B while B persists in C.  But presence is transitive, so the present persists indefinitely.  Actually, this is extremely doubtful, but let’s just see where it takes us.

Does this explain the fear of death?  My present self persists into my future death and suffers this calamity in a way it is not present in my past coming into being.  But why worry?  Causal chains in which I participate continue after my death, so present-me lives in them.  That can’t be right.  Perhaps A only persists in B to the extent that it acts as cause.  I fear that while there is an exterior me whose actions initiate causal chains extending indefinitely into the future, there is some sort of inner me that is causally inert except in passing itself on from moment to moment, and that inner me is imperiled by death.  Yes, that’s it.  My existence is a sinking ship, and I want to cast off as much of me as I can before being swallowed up.  Perhaps that’s why I’m publishing this, a bit of my subjectivity tossed into the objective world–at least if somebody reads it.

The folly of intellectual ambition.  How I would love to make my mark, uncover some new truth.  But as Saint Augustine said when encouraging friendly criticism, inso far as what we say is true, it belongs to everyone and not to us alone; our errors are ours, but we are better rid of them.  The idea of introducing some new falsehood certainly holds no appeal to me.  Alas, I don’t have what it takes to discover a new truth–lack the IQ, the knowledge, the wisdom, the creativity; each dimension of the intellect a new occasion for me to confront my inadequacies.  Don’t have the time either; I’m 41 and squandered my youth.  But even if I could do something like what Einstein did, would I be at peace with death?  Despite what he said, was he?

Of course, everything I wrote above is very probably wrong, but it still has some value if it makes my intuitions clearer to me.

A lamentable lack of tribalism among the Lutherans

Hat tip to Patriactionary.  An observation on missionaries and the impulse to bash one’s own tradition

I couldn’t help but notice that his every reference to Lutheranism was derogatory or derisive. And yes, I mean that literally. He consistently treated our denomination, our traditions, and our theology as some kind of shackle from which we need to be released. There was definitely a strong note of that “Oh, if only we were more like Baptists, then an omnipotent and omniscient God could maybe finally find some way to use us to proclaim His Word” nonsense from the previous point.It’s not as though I think Lutherans or the Synod are beyond criticism—a quick review of this blog will tell you that. At the same time, our heritage of theology, hymnody, and history is a precious treasure won through hard-fought spiritual warfare against the Devil and this world. There are certainly things we need to change—mainly having to do with our embrace of modern worldliness and rejection of God’s word and our theological heritage—but one should not broadly treat precious things in such a manner, nor encourage others to do the same.

Is the universe too big?

In a comment on an earlier post, I was asked if I am bothered by the size of the observable universe, that it makes God’s concern for mankind implausible.  As I understand it, the idea that an omnipotent God made a very large universe is not problematic, but the worry is that He seems to have singled out one particular species on one particular planet in an unreasonable way.  I should warn readers that I may be a bad person to address this issue.  Long exposure to large numbers had desensitized me to them, enough that it takes some effort for me to even grasp the issue.

Are humans tiny?  Well, the Planck length gives a smallest length scale of 10^{-35}m, and the cosmological constant is 10^{-122} Planck length{}^{-2}, giving a largest length scale of 10^{61} Planck lengths (latex 10^{26}$m, also about the distance to the cosmological horizon at the universe’s current age), so in log space human size (meters) is around the middle, a bit on the big size.  Could the universe have been much closer to our own scale while still being habitable to us?  To give the universe a finite size, we’re presumably talking about non-trivial topologies.  Stephen Barr takes up this question for (if I recall correctly) a closed, spatially S^3 universe, and finds that, no, the universe must be enormous or it would collapse long before we could have evolved.  I thought maybe this limit could be evaded for a flat (k=0) universe where I just identify x=-L with x=L (similarly for y, z) for a “modest” universe size L (a spatially T_3 universe).  But no, that kills perturbations at longer wavelengths, screws up structure formation unless I keep the universe huge.  So, it would seem that with the laws of nature we’ve got, God had to make the universe big to grow us naturally.  Of course, he didn’t have to grow us naturally.

My problem with this line of thinking, that mankind must be “big” in a theistic world, is deeper, though.  I simply don’t assume that humans, or intelligent life itself, is God’s primary concern in creating the universe.  Why must we believe that?  We are told that God loves us and has a plan for us.  God overlooks nothing, and He values each of His creatures to the exact degree that they are valuable.  As Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Perhaps there are things more important even than us.  What if God’s main reason for creating man was to give his angels training as guardian angels before moving them up to more important things?

If a person thinks that importance correlates with size or mass, he should have no quarrel with theism itself.  Perhaps God was really mostly concerned with dark matter halos when He created the universe.  Suppose instead that you rebel against such thoughts, convinced that man, that thinking reed, is greater than such lifeless, mindless things.  If you are right, then God knows it, and He cares more about us than dark matter, supermassive black holes, or the interstellar medium.  After all, you were able to overlook mere size or mass to find a truer measure of importance, and if you can do it, surely God can do it.  In either case, it is your belief in the value rank of different creatures that causes you to believe what you do about what is important for God, not the belief in God itself.

Book review: Modern Physics and Ancient Faith

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
by Stephen Barr (2003)

Trying to relate religion and science is a perilous enterprise; philosophy is supposed to be the glue that fits them together.  Professor Barr avoids many dangers by taking a limited goal.  Materialists, he says, often claim that science shows the universe looking more like materialism would expect it to look like than what religion would expect it to look like.  While not a proof of materialism, it would certainly count in its favor.  Barr contests this claim, saying that while it may have been true one hundred years ago, the last century of developments in physics, cosmology, and mathematics have reversed the situation, and the universe now looks much more like what a Christian would have expected.  Of course, the current picture may change again, and even if it doesn’t materialism would remain logically possible.  Still, the “natural reading” of things has moved markedly in our favor.

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