I’m not entitled to a team

I mentioned John Zmirak a few days ago.  A decent guy from what I can tell.  And yet I was rather rude in my disagreements with him some years ago, due to his unsoundness on matters of freedom of speech and religion, etc.  I wish I hadn’t been that way.  In those days, I was angry to find conservative Catholics who were not on board with integralism.  I knew that my opinions were very unpopular in the wider world, but on that account I thought myself even more entitled to have unanimity on my own little team.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve lost this sense of being entitled to be part of a team that shares the same beliefs on every matter I regard as important.  Even on the Orthosphere, I am in some ways a minority, as I find little to agree with in the writings of Nicolas Berdyaev or Rene Girard, at least as far as my colleagues have explained them.  After all, I hate freedom, and my understanding of Christianity is grounded entirely on ritual sacrifice.  Five years ago, I would have probably made an ass of myself accusing Richard Cocks and Tom Bertonneau of undermining the Faith, or some such thing.  Now it seems silly to me to get angry about disagreements, and perverse to be more angry at disagreements with people on “my side”, as if someone who agrees with me about one thing is thereby obliged to agree with me about others.  I am very lucky to be on the same team as RC and TB.

This change of attitude comes just in time too, because I know no one agrees with my opposition to a reform of the Church.  I only feel pity for my fellow Catholics.  Having internalized one thousand years of self-loathing, they hope that with this final act of institutional self-immolation God will finally be happy with them.  I understand their self-hatred, because it’s in me too.  I’ll always be haunted by the feeling that being a Catholic means that I’m not as good as everybody else.  None of us can have the simple pride toward our ancestors and our leaders that other peoples have and take for granted.  As the sodomite is defined by his pride, the Catholic is trapped in his humiliation.

I suspect that, because the Devil is the Prince of this World, our evil words have more effect than our good ones.  I cannot prove it, but I fear that the most influential writings on this blog were my deleted attacks on Pope Francis, which undermined the Church and thus advanced the agenda of Satan.  Good intentions have little influence on the career of our words once we have uttered them and thus turned them loose.  And how can I know if my intentions were truly good?  Fortunately, this blog now gets very little traffic, meaning I suppose that the Enemy can no longer find any use for it.  Nevertheless, I played my little role in bringing ruin to the Church, through my writings and my various personal failures.  How could I be angry at anyone else?

I have argued for performative conservatism in the past.  I imagine, though, that the Prince of this World will always arrange things so that, if one does decide to make some grand gesture of fidelity to God or the Church or one’s people that more ill will come of it than good.  Perhaps like me you are an unimpressive person, and that toward which you wish to be faithful is better off not having you publicly associated with it.  Perhaps you will only inspire your workplace to crack down harder on dissidents, making life even harder for your side.  Perhaps performative conservatism is selfish after all.  Thinking that one should do something grand and romantic, when more likely God intended one to do something mundane and practical.  Was I too proud to ask myself what God is realistically asking of someone with my meager abilities?  Were the essays an excuse to avoid manual labor volunteer work?

On the Amazonian Synod and its preparatory document

If the Church is to survive my expected lifespan, we need priests with their body cameras on 24/7.  This effectively means that the discipline of celibacy can never be relaxed.  Are we to expect a man to video himself copulating with his wife?

I’m all in favor of ancestor worship and communitarianism, I have a soft spot for genuine paganism, and I hate Western individualism, so I don’t mind the neo-pagan humbug so much.

On the other hand, I don’t like all of this bashing of “colonizers” that I read from the get go, which I assume is the Church’s dehumanizing name for the Portuguese (and probably the Spanish too, although I confess I’m not sure exactly over what geographic area this document is supposed to apply), whom as I recall were Catholic.  The rules of group survival in the pitiless moral status arms race that is 21st century social life are simple.  Never apologize; never admit fault; never expect reciprocity for admitting fault; never accept outside criticism; always close ranks; play the victim; save your compassion for your own people.  Apologies are suicidal if you’re the only one making them.  Criticize me if you like for caring less about pleasing God with vicarious contrition than about the survival of my tribe, but save more of your anger for the prophets and reformers who created this world in which I must choose between the two.  Life is a zero-sum game, and I prefer for my tribe to be the one conquering and killing.  Catholics, be like those Amazonian barbarians–WORSHIP YOUR ANCESTORS.

“Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think”

Well this is depressing:

According to research by Dean Keith Simonton, a professor emeritus of psychology at UC Davis and one of the world’s leading experts on the trajectories of creative careers, success and productivity increase for the first 20 years after the inception of a career, on average. So if you start a career in earnest at 30, expect to do your best work around 50 and go into decline soon after that.

The specific timing of peak and decline vary somewhat depending on the field. Benjamin Jones, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, has spent years studying when people are most likely to make prizewinning scientific discoveries and develop key inventions. His findings can be summarized by this little ditty:

Age is, of course, a fever chill
that every physicist must fear.
He’s better dead than living still
when once he’s past his thirtieth year.

The author of those gloomy lines? Paul Dirac, a winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Dirac overstates the point, but only a little. Looking at major inventors and Nobel winners going back more than a century, Jones has found that the most common age for producing a magnum opus is the late 30s. He has shown that the likelihood of a major discovery increases steadily through one’s 20s and 30s and then declines through one’s 40s, 50s, and 60s. Are there outliers? Of course. But the likelihood of producing a major innovation at age 70 is approximately what it was at age 20—almost nonexistent.

Interesting that the decline starts so soon after the average age for getting a tenure-track job.

Much of literary achievement follows a similar pattern. Simonton has shown that poets peak in their early 40s. Novelists generally take a little longer…

Entrepreneurs peak and decline earlier, on average. After earning fame and fortune in their 20s, many tech entrepreneurs are in creative decline by age 30. In 2014, the Harvard Business Review reported that founders of enterprises valued at $1 billion or more by venture capitalists tend to cluster in the 20-to-34 age range

In sum, if your profession requires mental processing speed or significant analytic capabilities—the kind of profession most college graduates occupy—noticeable decline is probably going to set in earlier than you imagine.


The implications for a 42 year old who has not yet accomplished anything in his field are grim.

The author does have some helpful advice for managing one’s professional decline.

A potential answer lies in the work of the British psychologist Raymond Cattell, who in the early 1940s introduced the concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence. Cattell defined fluid intelligence as the ability to reason, analyze, and solve novel problems—what we commonly think of as raw intellectual horsepower. Innovators typically have an abundance of fluid intelligence. It is highest relatively early in adulthood and diminishes starting in one’s 30s and 40s. This is why tech entrepreneurs, for instance, do so well so early, and why older people have a much harder time innovating.

Crystallized intelligence, in contrast, is the ability to use knowledge gained in the past. Think of it as possessing a vast library and understanding how to use it. It is the essence of wisdom. Because crystallized intelligence relies on an accumulating stock of knowledge, it tends to increase through one’s 40s, and does not diminish until very late in life.

Careers that rely primarily on fluid intelligence tend to peak early, while those that use more crystallized intelligence peak later. For example, Dean Keith Simonton has found that poets—highly fluid in their creativity—tend to have produced half their lifetime creative output by age 40 or so. Historians—who rely on a crystallized stock of knowledge—don’t reach this milestone until about 60.

Here’s a practical lesson we can extract from all this: No matter what mix of intelligence your field requires, you can always endeavor to weight your career away from innovation and toward the strengths that persist, or even increase, later in life.

Like what? As Bach demonstrated, teaching is an ability that decays very late in life, a principal exception to the general pattern of professional decline over time…


What could be better?

What I really want is to be one of those guys who says to his younger colleagues “Yeah, I’ve had lots of professional success and acclaim, but it was all so unfulfilling.”  The so unfulfilling is the twist of the knife.  Shows you’re so spiritual.  “Not only am I better than you; I’m better than what you’re trying to be.”  What could be better?

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Book review: The Order of Time

The Order of Time
by Carlo Rovelli (2018)
also his
Time in quantum gravity: an hypothesis, Phys Rev D 43, 442 (1991)
Statistical mechanics of gravity and the thermodynamical origin of time, Class Quantum Grav. 10 1549 (1993)
Relational Quantum Mechanics, Int. J. of Theor. Phys. 35 1637 (1996)

I saw Carlo Rovelli, inventor of loop quantum gravity, give a talk once.  I believe it was at GR22 in Warsaw.  It was my first exposure to his general philosophy of doing physics.  Rovelli thinks that questioning the core insights of quantum mechanics and general relativity is by this point an unpromising strategy for theoretical physics.  Our task is to extend and synthesize them.  Like his fellow Italian Thomas Aquinas, Rovelli is a synthesizer; by my count, in this book he synthesizes Anaximander, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Newton, Leibniz, Boltzmann, and Einstein.  All around his surprising claim that time, at the most fundamental physical level, does not exist.  Surprisingly for a work of science popularization, he ends up agreeing with phenomenologist philosophers who claim that the “lower-case t of physics” doesn’t capture the human reality of time.  Rovelli agrees that the essence of time is to be found in human subjectivity, and claims that physics itself leads to this conclusion by murdering the “lower-case t of physics”.

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Book review: The Catholic Imagination

The Catholic Imagination
by Andrew Greeley (2000)

Having mentioned Father Greeley’s book, I might as well review it.  Greeley suggests that Catholics have a particular (compared to Protestants) style of religious imagination, one that stresses God’s immanence over His transcendence, that prefers the dangers of superstition and idolatry to those of disenchantment and cynicism.  Crucially, Greeley does not wish to describe an ideal, but what he asserts to be qualities of actual Catholics, a distinctively sacramental imagination that manifests itself both in the art of those who were or were raised Catholic and in the attitudes of ordinary believers.  This is to be welcomed.  For too long, apologists have given all their devotion to God, doctrine, sacraments, and exceptionally rare saints while having nothing but scorn for their actual co-religionists, and so they do nothing to counter Catholic self-hatred.  Unfortunately, Greeley isn’t satisfied with humbug but wants to present a falsifiable sociological case.  And so he has gathered information, mostly from the GSS, comparing the attitudes of Catholic Americans to those of others.  The differences he finds are probably real, but in a footnote he acknowledges that liberal Protestant attitudes are more similar to Catholics’, so what’s really distinctive is the conservative Protestant imagination, the only one that takes Original Sin seriously.  In fact, the Catholic/other split is probably mostly just the liberal/conservative, urban/rural split.  So, for example, small-town conservative girls think they should lie on polls and say they don’t enjoy sex, while big-city progressive girls think they should lie on polls and say they do enjoy it.  Catholics’ “imagination” leads them to take their marching orders from the Democratic Party and the New York Times.

That being said, I expect that the core insight on the Catholic difference is valid.  It seems quite clear that Catholic religious sensibilities are less worried about idolatry, more concerned to give every manifestation of God its due.  They happily carry on pagan customs.  Catholics are more communal and less individualistic.  They are more appreciative of the need for social structure and less suspicious of authority.  They stress God’s mercy more than His justice.  They learn these attitudes mostly from their families, so Greeley is confident they will prove resilient in the face of conciliar disruptions.

I would point out that many of these things can be better understood in terms of my distinction between the priestly and prophetic religious types.  Catholics are more priestly; Protestants (and also Jews and Muslims) are more prophetic.

The surprising powerlessness of scientists in a culture war

(Expanded from a comment on the most recent post)

The modern world is supposedly built around a scientific view of the world.  If so, that would make scientists our official prophets.  (Some say “priests”, but the role of the scientist is more analogous to that of the prophet than that of the priest.)  One would think that, to capture the culture, having scientists on one’s side would be among the most valuable possible assets.  But that’s really not the case.

Don’t get me wrong.  Having scientists from one’s group is a good thing because science is worth doing:  the truths it reveals are worth knowing, and the discipline it teaches is worth having.  The attempt to use science in a culture war only corrupts it and produces pseudoscience.  Just as a man cannot decide to learn Stoic detachment for the purpose of financial gain, scientific truth is one of those goods that can only be pursued successfully if done so for its own sake. As Bertrand Russell said about philosophy, science will answer only its own distinctive questions.  However, scientists can do very little on their own to help dominate a culture.  Having most scientists on one’s side is an effect of winning a culture war rather than a cause.


1) One certainly hopes that scientific discoveries do not depend on the prior beliefs of researchers. Therefore, stuffing sympathetic personnel into a field shouldn’t affect its conclusions.  (If it does, it’s not real science.)  A person with different loyalties might indeed investigate different questions.  Religious/political demographics probably do affect research programs in the social sciences, but I doubt they are of much relevance to the real sciences.  (Yes, I’m letting my prejudices show.)

2) Nor do scientists get a privileged role in interpreting their own discoveries. Nobody cared that Kepler took his model of the solar system to be itself a model of the Trinity.
Fermat, Leibniz, Maupertuis, and Euler all thought the principle of least action is a sign of God’s perfection. Eighteenth century French atheists claimed to base their worldview on Newtonian physics but took no interest in Newton’s own wacky Arian millenarianism. Descartes thought his physics had demolished 17th century materialism (his mechanical philosophy devised to emphasize how distinct are mental phenomena), just as Heisenberg thought his physics had demolished 19th century materialism (by overthrowing its epistemology), and Lemaitre thought he had destroyed the materialists’ eternal universe.  Maxwell used the indistinguishability of elementary particles (atoms, for him) to advance a novel design argument.

Today, the fact that many scientists thought their discoveries were irrelevant to–or perhaps even supportive of–Christianity is regarded as a historical curiosity. The narrative imposed on the history of science since Copernicus is of the great liberation from Christian superstition. This narrative comes largely from French men of letters rather than scientists themselves; the latter having been converted to it not earlier than the late nineteenth century.

By the way, this is one reason I find seventeenth century natural philosophers so fascinating.  It’s not that their beliefs about the meaning of their work were necessarily truer than the later Enlightenment and contemporary views, but that they could be so different, showing how much one’s metaphysical and historical presuppositions color how one does something so apparently nonpartisan as interpret scientific theories.

3) In any case, the philosophical interpretation of scientific theories is I think much more difficult than most people realize. Those who think it’s easy to read ontology out of physics or biology are most often reading their presuppositions into it. After nearly a century, many physicists are not shy in saying that we still don’t really understand quantum mechanics, even though it’s straightforward to use, most likely because some unacknowledged metaphysical prejudice is still being worked out of our system. As another example, that parts are ontologically prior to their wholes is an assumption which detailed scientific study of cells, atoms, etc can neither confirm nor disprove.  Plato and Aristotle believed wholes to be ontologically prior, while I find the whole idea of ontological priority suspect.

4) Non-westerners encountered Western science, mores, and overwhelming technological supremacy all at once, and it was natural that they would sometimes regard them as a single package, but for Westerners it is different.  Roughly our history is as follows.  In the seventeenth century, Christians of various stripes carried out the scientific revolution.  In the eighteenth century, atheists and deists used the success of science as an argument against Christianity.  In the nineteenth century, science continued to advance, and with the Industrial Revolution, the new knowledge was now changing people’s material lives in obvious ways.  Among the ranks of scientists and inventors, there was still a large diversity–Christians to atheists and everything in between.  Only in the twentieth century did science clearly come to be dominated by atheists and Jews, long after some other fields had so aligned.  So the West has seen science change hands and is less liable to see it as the unique genius of some faction.  Being an atheist doesn’t automatically make one more “scientific” than Pascal or Maxwell.

5) Persecuting scientists doesn’t hurt one’s reputation unless one is already weak.  The Left paid no price for the murder of Lavoisier or for interfering with genetics research in 20th century Russia and 21st century America.  The weapon of getting to tar people as “anti-science” is not one that scientists themselves control.  To be clear, I’m not recommending anyone persecute scientists, just pointing out a sad fact that one can get away with it if one’s social standing is strong.  The example of Soviet science shows that one can even remain world-class in some fields (Soviet mathematics was top-rate, and of course they got most of the “firsts” in the space race) while descending into crackpottery in others.

The sincerest form of flattery

The ruling class tell us to admire the Jews and the blacks.  But if these groups have admirable traits (and indeed they do), would it not be good for other groups to emulate them?  In fact, the true division is not between those who love and those who hate them, but between those who wish to worship Jews and blacks and those who wish their group to learn to be more like Jews and blacks.  The philo-semite abases himself before Jewry.  The anti-semite sees the Jews’ determination, boldness, and ethnic pride, and he wants this for his own gentile people.  The anti-racist abases himself before blacks.  The racist sees the negro’s confidence, loyalty to his people, and positive self-regard, and he wants this for his own people.  You may say if you like that we racist anti-semites are jealous, that we have an inferiority complex, but at least we are addressing our inferiority in an intelligent way.  One should emulate those with positive qualities one lacks.

Catholicism is dying of self-hatred, and we above all others could learn from the Jews and the blacks.  I’ve said emphatically that we should copy the Jews in every way possible–they are the absolute model of success, health, and survival-optimization.  Blacks are touchingly loyal to their race.  I have seen that, when alone or in friendly company, they freely poke fun at themselves, but in the face of a hostile outsider, they close ranks.  This is understandable and, indeed, as it should be.  Another genuinely admirable quality of black Americans is their love for and pride in their own people.  This seldom takes the form of boasting over this or that measure of objective success–such measures favor now one people and now another; they are too fickle matter on which to base tribal pride.  A people that really loves itself will pride itself on its inimitable style, an ineffable (and, hence, unfalsifiable) quality distinctly its own.  The black was once said to possess–what was it?–soul.  Such claims function less to articulate objective truths than to provide a language with which to express and fortify love for a people.  Andrew Greeley once wrote a book arguing that Catholics possess a distinctive imagination.  That’s exactly the sort of humbug we need.

book review: Being as Communion

Being as Communion: a Metaphysics of Information
by William Dembski (2014)

I became aware of this book via a comment by Kristor at The Orthosphere, and it sounded interesting.  Dembski is one of those intelligent design eccentrics, and being one of those with strong materialist prejudices against which the book is written, I probably would not have come to it on my own.  I’m glad I did read it, because I learned that intelligent design doesn’t claim what I thought it did.  Its claim is that life arose from exterior design or teleological features of matter unknown to physics.  So the elan vital is one possibility they’re raising.  Not that I’m more sympathetic to Bergsonian weirdness than I am to creationism, but once again I find that hostile sources are never, ever reliable on their opponents’ beliefs.

By the way, Dembski describes an interesting paper by John Hawthorne and Daniel Nolan on what teleological causation would be like.  The key is that it would be nonlocal in configuration space, giving higher than locally expected probabilities to system changes that are on the path to some attractive goal.  This nonlocal dynamics is to be contrasted with the nonlocal kinematics (the state spreading over/sampling a range of possible property values) of existing quantum mechanics, although the phenomenon is still reminiscent to me of quantum tunneling.

In this review, I will concentrate on what I take to be Dembski’s two core claims, namely his advocacy of an ontology in which information is primary and his arguments that his mathematical work on search algorithms poses a problem for natural selection.

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Duns Scotus and the richness of Catholic theology

Peter Simpson writes at Commonweal

In the years before Vatican II a young man named Anthony Kenny entered the priesthood after studies in England and Rome. Some years later—but still before Vatican II—increasing doubts induced him to leave the priesthood. His doubts were about various things, but he relates a particular doubt…

Perhaps Scotus’s answer isn’t the only or best answer. Perhaps Thomas’s position too could be finessed or developed in order to produce another answer. The key point remains: an answer needs to be found, and if one possibility is ignored simply because it is not from the work of Thomas, how could that not hinder the church’s theological training? An exclusivist Thomism, which foreswears the teaching of non-Thomist theologizing, is a problem the church still needs to confront.

The most famous difference between Scotus and Thomas is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which Scotus got right and Thomas got wrong….

Now if Scotus’s arguments are fully weighed and set alongside those of Thomas, it is quite possible that Thomas himself would have agreed that Scotus was right. In fact, one suspects that Thomas, and others like Bonaventure, would really have been glad to say Mary was immaculately conceived. They were just unable to see how to make it work. But what happened when Scotus first defended the Immaculate Conception? He was attacked and condemned, especially by Dominicans. His defense, however, was so penetrating, powerful, and decisive that belief in the doctrine had become almost universal in the church long before Pius IX made it the church’s official teaching. Indeed, only the Dominicans seem to have opposed the doctrine—in deference, one presumes, to Thomas—and some of them, though by no means all, apparently went on doing so almost to the end. But it was not Thomas himself or even Thomism per se that could induce one to go on rejecting the Immaculate Conception even after Scotus’s comprehensive solution. It was an exclusivist Thomism.

For my claim is not that we should prefer Scotus to Thomas, or Thomas to Scotus. My claim is, rather, that we should restore a just sense of the richness of the church’s theological patrimony. Thomism is not Catholicism, neither is Scotism. They are like other positions in the church (such as Karol Wojtyła’s phenomenological personalism) that are not of the faith—or de fide, as they say—but are compatible with the faith. Let us be free to enjoy them, and not let exclusivist Thomism stand in our way or generate perplexities that a more open-minded orthodoxy could easily resolve.