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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Dreams of Flight

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Actually, let's invent supersonic flight, then decide it's a bit too loud and give up.

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socratic
10 days ago
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pmac
11 days ago
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"Actually, let's invent supersonic flight, then decide it's a bit too loud and give up."

LOL... awwww
Atlanta, GA

Lady Marchmain Considered

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During recent weeks I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with several avid readers who share my interest in Brideshead Revisited, a novel that somehow continues to provide material for reflection. It is unlike Waugh's other works, which are generally dry satires with Hemingway-esque brevity in descriptions and dialogue. Indeed, one conversant who loves Brideshead attempted and failed to delve deeper into Waugh's more typical offerings.

It was during a luncheon and wine splurge that another Waughian reader said, "I don't know what to make of some of the characters. Charles and Sebastian are quite straight forward, but what about the mother?" To which I say Teresa Marchmain and Anthony Blanche are the two most misunderstood characters of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and fittingly the latter detests the former, never having met her.

Lady Marchmain is probably the most detestable character in the novel, more so than her eldest son, Bridey, because his aloofness and good nature are almost foibles; he has no ill intentions while his mother seems like she could sneak a dagger through a vertebra and twist it just right. Why does Lady Marchmain hold such a tight grip over her family and why does it make Bridey and Cordelia good Catholics while Julia and Sebastian apostosize, return after her death, and become saintly on their own? Why does she smother Sebastian to the point of alcoholism when all he has some is rabblerouse a little as a student?

Lady Marchmain had three brothers whose short lives, ended by the First World War, informed her view of what a man should aspire to be. "Uncle Ned is the test," said Sebastian. Her second blow during the War to End All Wars was that her husband left for combat and remained on the Continent with an Italian dancer, taking up a life of sin in a Venetian palace. It would not be a stretch to say Lady Marchmain is trying desperately to form her sons into the mold of her chivalrous brothers and to hew them to her, unlike her brothers and husband. Bridey turns out safely, if dull; the same is true of Cordelia; Sebastian and Julia, however, reject the program and flee from their mother's grasp to be their own persons.

She spends time in the chapel. She hires Fr. Phipps to say Mass on Sunday for her family and the villagers. She donates to causes, hosts agricultural events, and provides patronage for intellectual hangers-on. She is a good Catholic, but she is not a saint. "A saint must suffer," said my interlocutor. He is right, and Teresa Marchmain does suffer, but unlike her son, Sebastian, her suffering does not make her holy and does not make her closer to God. Sebastian's drunkenness and disempowerment cause him to take pity on a wounded soldier named Kurt, who he nurses and supports; after Kurt dies in a Nazi camp Sebastian returns to Africa and lives in a monastery, praying at odd hours, sneaking a drink, and doing what he can with his wounded soul. His mother, in stark contrast, becomes distant, emotionally stilted, and unable to love outwardly. Instead, she assumes a mantle of stoicism, genuinely loving her children but not knowing how to love them. As a result her social circle perceive her as a victim of her husband, who must have "stolen her patrimony, flung her out of doors, roasted, stuffed, and eaten her children, and gone frolicking about wreathed in all the flowers of Sodom and Gomorrah."
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socratic
22 days ago
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Why

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Politics is like marriage - the goal is to win.

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socratic
23 days ago
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jlvanderzwan
28 days ago
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Hmm... I really, REALLY wonder what this comic might be an allegory to... Haven't the slightest inkling...

Gödel and the unreality of time

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In 1949, in a festschrift devoted to Einstein, Kurt Gödel published a very short but profound paper titled “A Remark About the Relationship Between Relativity Theory and Idealistic Philosophy.”  It has since become well-known as a defense of the possibility in principle of time travel in a relativistic universe.  But in fact that is not exactly what Gödel was trying to show.  He was trying to show instead that time is illusory.  He was using Einstein to revive the timeless conception of reality defended historically by thinkers like Parmenides and McTaggart.

Gödel had discovered solutions for the field equations of the general theory of relativity (GTR) that allow for the possibility of closed causal chains in a rotating universe, where the “backward” part of such a chain can be interpreted as an object’s revisiting its earlier self.  As Einstein acknowledged in his response to Gödel in the festschrift, in such a causal chain – in which an apparently earlier event E leads to an apparently later event L, but where L in turn leads back to E – you may with equal justice regard L as the earlier event and E the later.  The relations “earlier than” and “later than” cease to be objective features of the situation.  Now, as even the B-theory of time acknowledges, the objective reality of the relations “earlier than” and “later than” is essential to the reality of time.  Hence Gödel concluded that in a universe of the sort he describes, time is illusory.

Now, whether our universe is of the rotating kind that would allow for such causal chains depends on the distribution of matter within it, which is an empirical consideration that cannot be settled from the armchair.  But Gödel thought this irrelevant.  As Palle Yourgrau has emphasized, Gödel intended his scenario as a limit caseof GTR’s spatialization of time, which shows what follows if that spatialization is pushed through consistently.  He also thought that the existence of something as purportedly metaphysically fundamental as time could not plausibly depend on a contingent matter such as the precise distribution of matter in the universe.  Hence his judgement that the possible scenario allowed by GTR that he uncovered casts doubt on the reality of time in our world. 

Yourgrau has long rightly complained that the common tendency to present Gödel as a defender of the possibility of time travel distorts his actual intentions.  He writes:

For Gödel, if there is time travel, there isn’t time.  The goal of the great logician was not to make room in physics for one’s favorite episode of Star Trek, but rather to demonstrate that if one follows the logic of relativity further even than its father was willing to venture, the results will not just illuminate but eliminate the reality of time.

End quote.  Now, among the assumptions you have to make in order to accept Gödel’s argument is that GTR provides an exhaustivedescription of the nature of time and space.  (This is an assumption that you would not make if you gave GTR either an instrumentalist or an epistemic structural realist interpretation.)  That is to say, you’d have to assume that if GTR doesn’t capture some purported aspect of time and space, then that aspect just isn’t really there.  (You have to assume more than this too, since Gödel’s argument can also be challenged at other places.  But I’m not getting into that here.)

Now, Yourgrau notes that Gödel’s argument is in one respect interestingly parallel to, but in another respect interestingly departs from, his famous Incompleteness results in mathematics.  The parallel is this.  The Incompleteness Theorem shows that arithmetical truth cannot be captured within a formal system (because there will be propositions that are true but not provable within the system).  The argument about relativity, meanwhile, shows (so Gödel thought) that time, in the strict sense, is not definable within GTR.  The departure is this.  In the case of arithmetic, Gödel’s conclusion was not that there is no such thing as arithmetical truth, but rather that since there is such a thing, formal systems of the sort in question are incomplete.  But in the case of relativity, Gödel’s conclusion was not that GTR is incomplete if it fails to capture time, but rather that time must be unreal.

As Yourgrau asks, why this asymmetry in Gödel’s conclusions?  Why wouldn’t he conclude instead that GTR is simply incomplete if it fails to capture time?

Yourgrau’s answer is to suggest that there are philosophical problems with our commonsense understanding of time, and with the A-theory of time that is its philosophical expression, that might be taken independently to cast doubt on its reality, whereas there are no similarly formidable objections to the notion of arithmetical truth.  Perhaps that was part of Gödel’s motivation, though in my own view the purported difficulties with the A-theory are vastly overstated.

But I would conjecture that the deeper explanation lies in Gödel’s Platonism.  For the Platonist, the highest degree of reality is to be found in the realm of abstract objects conceived of as denizens of an eternal “third realm” over and above the spatiotemporal world of concrete particulars on the one hand and the mind on the other.  And mathematical objects are the gold standard instances of such abstract objects.  The empirical world of time and space has, on this view, only a second-rate kind of reality, and the temptation is strong to dismiss it as altogether illusory.  

If you buy this general picture, then the asymmetry in Gödel’s thinking noted by Yourgrau is quite natural.  If a formal system doesn’t capture arithmetical truth, then since such mathematical truth is the gold standard of Platonic reality, the problem must be with the formal system.  But if a mathematicized picture of nature such as GTR doesn’t capture time (as Gödel thought it did not), then since mathematics is the gold standard of reality and time is a second-rate kind of reality at best, then the problem must be with time.

Much more on time, the A-theory versus the B-theory, time travel, and related matters in my forthcoming philosophy of nature book.  Stay tuned.
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socratic
42 days ago
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9 Comments and 13 Shares
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socratic
79 days ago
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satadru
77 days ago
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Click through for this one...
New York, NY
Zaphod717
79 days ago
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advent ftw!
The Belly of the Beast
Covarr
79 days ago
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"How can I encourage people to visit the actual site without seeming like I'm doing it on purpose?"
Moses Lake, WA
tvaerialsmiddlesbrough
79 days ago
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saved this one
Middlesbrough
alt_text_at_your_service
79 days ago
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mkalus
79 days ago
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Brilliant, go and visit the image on the site.
iPhone: 49.287476,-123.142136
JayM
79 days ago
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Woah! Pretty cool. Go to the real site.
Atlanta, GA
DuskStar
79 days ago
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Wow this one is awesome! Not one for newsblur though.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
alt_text_bot
79 days ago
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Coordination

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What do mathematicians imagine flying in? THE COMPLEX PLANE.

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Last full day to submit a BAHFest London proposal!

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socratic
144 days ago
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mburch42
146 days ago
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I lol’d for real.
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