Monday, June 28, 2010

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel

This was a quick read that merits at least a quick review. I started the book a month ago at the recommendation of my friend Barbara, and then had to shelve it as I read all that philosophy that's posted below, but post-class the catch-up was fairly brief.

Sobel chronicles a chronological development of a chronometric device that could tell time across an ocean (only for a book about clocks could you write such a sentence). She pulls in little historical details that add life and depth to John Harrison's obscure struggle to gain recognition and a 20,000-pound prize for his inventions.

I think one of the images that will stick with me from Sobel's book is her description of the first clock Harrison crafted, as a country carpenter in his teens:

"It is constructed almost entirely of wood. This is a carpenter's clock, with oak wheels and boxwood axles connected and impelled by small amounts of brass and steel. Harrison, ever practical and resourceful, took what materials came to hand, and handled them very well. The wooden teeth of the wheels never snapped off with normal wear but defied destruction by their design, which let them draw strength from the grain pattern of the mighty oak" (64).

Monday, June 21, 2010

We're famous! Not really, but the reporter from the U-T really liked us.

June 18, 2010 | Photo by John R. McCutchen

Point Loma Nazarene University students Angelica Barr, Daniel Nadal and Kaitlin Barr look at Shawn Benson's "Requisite Domestic" project which looks at opportunities help the homeless community. Benson's project is part of the New School of Architecture & Design, Graduate Showcase.

Angelica, Daniel, and I stopped downtown Friday evening at the New School of Architecture to see our assistant pastor's master's thesis presentation. We weren't the only ones who thought it was phenomenal. Shawn got a write-up in the San Diego Union-Tribune and we got to be in a featured photo on the U-T website (see above).

I took a couple of pictures of my own. I think we were all amazed, not just at the sophistication and innovation of Shawn's project, but also at the spatial thinking that we had to figure out how to do to comprehend his designs and ideas. We're hoping Shawn will get an audience with the city to have his plans heard.

All of the presentations were impressive, and we milled with the beautiful art people and drank coffee with whipped cream in it and tried to wrap our wordy brains around the image-speak that these architecture students had created. And as we walked the blocks back to our car, we all agreed that Shawn's work had made us see the city differently.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Graduating at 16 runs in the family.

Angelica and I rushed up to Hemet after work one night last week (in rush hour traffic, of course), but totally made it in time to see the twins graduate.

All four of us have now graduated in the Ramona Bowl. It's a familiar sight.

Stepping up to receive their diplomas.

And freshly graduated.

The twins are actually three months younger than I was when I graduated, so they're officially our family's youngest grads.

Mom and Dad are very excited that they got four daughters through high school.

This was our attempt at an awkward family photo. Unfortunately, I'm the only one who's good at being awkward.

And this was our sweet "Can you believe there's four of us?!" picture.

Daniel joined us at our celebratory P.F. Chang's dinner afterward.

Clearly we were the ones who were meant to be twins.

I love this picture purely for its weirdness.

The twins came back to school with Angelica and me, and we tried to show them a Point Loma good time: OB, burritos at the cheapest place we could find, Tuesday night distribution on the streets downtown, yogurt at Figi, Target and thrift stores, dorm time.

Rachel made us egg rolls one night, which we all enjoyed immensely. But oh Young Hall, you are so hard to cook in. Still, what a sweet line-up.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sources of the Self by Charles Taylor

This book was far too long and complex for me to do it justice in my haphazard posting, or for us to even discuss it thoroughly in a four-hour class. So I'll just preserve here a couple of the points and passages that struck me without any pretense of adequate summary.

From our class discussion and my reading, I've tentatively understood Taylor's perspective in this manner: The Cartesian self is rendered non-functional through our actual experiences. Further, we know that there is a moral dimension to the ethical ordering of our lives, because we are constantly making value judgments, no matter what we might say we are doing.

"My underlying thesis is that there is a close connection between the different conditions of identity, or of one's life making sense, that I have been discussing. One could put it this way: because we cannot but orient ourselves to the good, and thus determine our place relative to it and hence determine the direction of our lives, we must inescapably understand our lives in narrative form, as a 'quest.' But one could perhaps start from another point: because we have to determine our place in relation to the good, therefore we cannot be without an orientation to it, and hence must see our life in story. From whichever direction, I see these conditions as connected facets of the same reality, inescapable structural requirements of human agency" (51-52).

Taylor, though not explicitly writing as a Christian, interjects what he clearly views as the solution to the otherwise insurmountable Nietzschean critique of liberal modernity:

"For Plato, once we see the Good, we cease to be fascinated by and absorbed in the search for honour and pleasure as we were before, and we will even altogether want to renounce certain facets of these. On a Christian view, sanctification involves our sharing to some degree God's love (agape) for the world, and this transforms how we see things and what else we long for and think important" (70).

In his conclusion, Taylor states this outright:

"Only if there is such a thing as agape, or one of the secular claimants to its succession, is Nietzsche wrong" (516).

I appreciated Taylor's support of my thesis from my Victorian lit term paper last semester:

"This is the powerful alternative morality that knocked such a breach in Victorian religion. It was not some supposedly logical incompatibility between science and faith but this imperious moral demand not to believe which led many Victorians to feel that they had to abandon, however sorrowfully, the faith of their fathers" (406).

I also found Taylor's location of the solution in Dostoevsky fascinating:

"Just as 'no one is to blame' is the slogan of the materialist revolutionaries, so 'we are all to blame' is of Dostoevsky's healing figures. Loving the world and ourselves is in a sense a miracle, in face of all the evil and degradation that it and we contain. . . . It is not an accident that Dostoevsky's positive figures have to go through the experience of modernity. . . . Dostoevsky's healing grace lies beyond the modern identity, not anterior to it" (452).

Monday, June 14, 2010

A post that never got posted.

I found this unposted draft dated 11/2/09, 9:09 pm. This was a tea date at The Living Room, and of course Daniel was making fun of me for pulling out my camera to capture the tea leaf man who appeared on my bag-fastening wooden stick, but I'm kind of glad I inadvertently captured the moment too.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The quotation that I was going to put here was too long, so look for it at the end.

Daniel and I have a little summer routine going. Friday nights, we make dinner with friends. Saturday mornings, we go to distribution at church. And Saturday afternoons, we don't take our environs for granted. This was a particularly beautiful day.

Well, the afternoon gloom at Mission Beach was beautiful in its own way.

And the evening sunset on campus was glorious. This view from the road going down to Young always looks to me like the background of a Renaissance painter, da Vinci maybe, especially in this light.

The best thing about June gloom is that it often gives way to sunsets filled with broken clouds.

And here is us watching the sunset. Why do I love this picture so much? Because of the resemblance to the one below.

This has been a running joke with my sisters and me for a while. Daniel and I were watching the top ten SNL clips of the year in between packing up my things after finals, and my roommate, peeking over our shoulders, said, "Daniel, I hope this doesn't sound weird, but you kind of look like Bill Hader." Hehe.

"[B]ecause we cannot but orient ourselves to the good, and thus demonstrate our place relative to it and hence determine the direction of our lives, we must inescapably understand our lives in narrative form[.]" — Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In lieu of a Whose Justice? rehash, a moment.

I had a moment, inside the building behind these flowers actually, and it might have been from the coffee (it was probably from the coffee), but I was flipping through publishing release magazines looking for recent books related to Wesley or holiness theology that we might want to add to the Wesleyan Center collection (that's what they pay me for), and a surge of joy welled up in me at the depth and scope of Christian scholarly work that is being done today. How much broader my world has become at school. If nothing else, college has taught me that there are Christians who are more intelligent and well-read than I will ever be. And this is a comforting and sustaining thought.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fun with finals week part IV.

In the spirit of doing things that we did the year prior, Daniel and I went to Con Pane for chocolate bread and coffee and then drove out to the cemetery. This year's outing was preceded by distribution at our church and succeeded by a graduation party for a friend, but the middle had pictures, just like last year.

I like to think of this one as an ironic senior high school picture. I hope that's not offensive. I contemplate my own mortality a lot.

Ooh, model face. Too bad my finger marred it.

Strange and beautiful flower. I'm always surprised when I come across a plant or animal that I haven't seen before. I don't know why, at 21 years old, I should feel like I've encountered every living organism on the planet. Angelica was just telling me about these Vietnamese leaf turtles she was working with at the zoo—the females have a special band on their eyes, so the males go around putting their eyes up to the females,' looking for a good time. Who would have thought such things existed?

Oh dear, this is self-indulgent. Good thing no one reads this blog. I just think this is one of the better pictures taken of me, ever. Thanks, Daniel:)

I can't believe I'm living here all summer. I'll never inhabit a more beautiful place.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Human Agency and Language: Philosophical Papers I by Charles Taylor

In an effort to trace the development of Charles Taylor's thought, we read a collection of his earlier essays in philosophy class. It wasn't the most enthralling work, but I found a lot of valuable points in it.

On the myth of individualism that underlies the modern conception of identity and the nation-state:

“The community is not simply an aggregation of individuals; nor is there simply a causal interaction between the two. The community is also constitutive of the individual, in the sense that the self-interpretations which define him are drawn from the interchange which the community carries on. A human being alone is an impossibility[.] . . . Outside of the continuing conversation of a community, which provides the language by which we draw our background distinctions, human agency of the kind I describe above would be not just impossible, but inconceivable. As organisms we are separate from society—although it may be hard in fact to survive as a lone being; but as humans the separation is unthinkable. On our own, as Aristotle says, we would be either beasts or Gods” (8).

Taylor argues that our biological impulses are socially channeled into mitigated forms of expression, a very freeing thought. On this view, we are not controlled by our biology; rather, we have raw biological experiences that can be shaped and ordered according to the communities in which we exist:

“Thus I believe that there are links between the rather groping remarks about identity in this paper and the much more fully developed notion of a ‘cohesive self’ that Kohut and Ernest Wolf have introduced. . . . [S]exual libido is not seen as a constant factor, but rather sexual desire and excitability have a very different impact on a cohesive self than on one which has lost its cohesion” (44).

Our feelings are not opposed to reason; they are intertwined and causally involved with reason, an essential component of what constitutes humanity:

“If we think of this reflexive sense of what matters to us as subjects as being distinctively human—and it is clearly central to our notion of ourselves that we are such reflexive beings; this is what underlies the traditional definition of man as a rational animal—we could say that our subject-referring feelings incorporate a sense of what it is to be human, that is, of what matters to us as human subjects” (60).

Emotion, as with all biological impulses, is again socially ordered and constructed, meaningless without the meaning that is created through culture:

“There is no human emotion which is not embodied in an interpretive language; and yet all interpretations can be judged as more or less adequate, more or less distortive. What a given human life is an interpretation of cannot exist uninterpreted; for human emotion is only what it is refracted as in human language” (75).

Thinking is an embodied phenomenon, not the disembodied experience purported by Cartesian Enlightenment thought:

“[T]he ‘principle of embodiment.’ This is the principle that the subject and all his functions, however ‘spiritual’ they may appear, are inescapably embodied. The embodiment is in two related dimensions: first, as a ‘rational animal,’ that is, as a living being who thinks; and secondly, as an expressive being, that is, a being whose thinking is always and necessarily in a medium” (85).

Art and religion carry truths that are later articulated by philosophy:

“Philosophy does not only build on its own past. For in earlier ages, the truth is more adequately presented in religion (e.g., the early ages of Christianity), or art-religion (at the height of the Greek polis). In coming to its adequate form, philosophy as it were catches up. True speculative philosophy has to say clearly what has been there already in the images of Christian theology” (92).

The heresy of gnosticism is possibly a direct antecedent and certainly an analogous form of the Cartesian disembodiment and modern individualism:

“In both its Greek and Christian roots (albeit a deviation in this latter stream), this has included an aspiration to rise above the merely human, to step outside the prison of the peculiarly human emotions, and to be free of the cares and the demands they make on us. This is of course an aspiration which also has analogous forms in Indian culture, and perhaps, indeed, in all human cultures. My claim is that the ideal of the modern free subject, capable of objectifying the world, and reasoning about it in a detached, instrumental way, is a novel variant of this very old aspiration to spiritual freedom” (113-114).

Our perception of the world is wholly contingent on our biological context. The Cartesian ideal of perception is ultimately impossible:

“In showing the development of intelligence, from its most primitive forms to its most advanced, genetic psychology leads almost inexorably into an attempt to show the link between intelligence and biological function in general. . . . And related with this is a view of mature consciousness as evolved out of lower life forms and out of the processes of life. . . . The mature form is the product of a series of transformations on more primitive forms, and cannot be fully understood without a grasp of these primitive forms. . . . If we see our perception of objects, space, causality, and so on, as skills which we have to acquire, and which we acquire in part through our commerce with objects, as being capable of manipulating things and being affected by them, then the very idea of a basic building block of perception makes no sense. . . . What is immediately seen can no longer be distinguished as something separable from the interpretation a subject brings with him because of his knowledge, understanding, and culture” (145).

The development of language is a continual process of transcendence:

“[T]he potentiality for this kind of transcendence is implicit in linguistic capacity in this sense; it is the fundamental ability to disengage our awareness of things which, whatever the concepts which mediate this disengagement in the first case, allows us to examine these things in such a way that we discover new more adequate modes of description. . . . Something of the same relation that holds between languages, or between ordinary and specialist terminology, also holds between different stages of a child’s vocabulary and conceptual and reasoning capacities as he grows up. Transcendence is, in this sense, a commonplace” (152-153).

Language constitutes community:

“Language creates what one might call a public space, or a common vantage point from which we survey the world together” (259).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fun with finals week part III.

We'd been planning to rent a kayak from the rec room for ages, and during Wednesday of finals week we finally got a chance to. We launched from La Jolla Shores and tooled around toward the cove before resting in the kelp beds for a while. Sea water lapping through kelp leaves isn't a sound you hear very often. It was fantastic.

The kayak was $15 for one day (uber cheap), but we didn't have to return it until the next day at 6 pm, so after my Thursday final, we drove the five-minute trip to Shelter Island and set off into the bay.

I was proud of our kayak-launching skills. We didn't even flip.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've gone kayaking, but I adore it. It's physical activity that doesn't hurt (at least if you paddle as slowly as I do).

It helped that it was a gorgeous day. We headed along this shoreline to the end of the harbor, by the little-known Kellogg Beach that runs parallel to Rosecrans, waving to our history professor's boat, Boethius, and the little kids we passed.

Two days of non-academic activity. Success!