Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Credo, or: Two Sins and a Truth?

I'm inclined to believe, with C.S. Lewis, that those who genuinely and humbly seek God will find him; a good-faith search for the Truth will not be denied.  (Although some may say, in astonishment, at the last day: "So it was you all the time!"  Cf. The Screwtape Letters.)

But two caveats occur to me immediately:
  • If whatever is filling the role of "god" in my life makes me feel like a big-shot, or smug, self-satisfied, or really pleased with myself, it is almost certainly not God, but an idol.  It might even be myself, in disguise, that I am venerating.
  • Conversely, if my worship results in prolonged feelings of worthlessness or self-loathing (and perhaps concomittant despair), it seems likely my attention is not focused on God but on something else, possibly myself.  This too must be dethroned.
As always, these snares are all the more insidious when they are mistaken for the divine.

B5 and the Soul

I recently lost an argument to a B5 expert about whether or not it is established in S1E2 (Soul Hunter) that Dr. Stephen Franklin believes in, and/or acknowledges the existence of, the soul.

In part, I think it's because I initially overstated my case.  And in part, because people mean different things by the word "soul."  But it seems to me his analysis was also somewhat over-simplified: for him, the fact that Franklin mocks "the idea of taking someone's soul," without saying something like "and souls don't exist anyway," is apparently determinative.

Here's the scene:
Franklin chuckles. Then quietly, almost to himself: "Well, this is nonsense." 
Briskly, to the soul-hunter: "It's patent superstition. Can't be done." 
After a slight pause, as if to Sinclair: "With the right technology, maybe you could encode the personality matrix and produce a clone of someone's mind, but the idea of taking someone's soul?" 
He ends with an audible exhalation. 
It seems to me that Franklin might very well say this in several scenarios:
  1. [Believer] He believes immortal souls exist, and that - perhaps because they are incorporeal and thus exist independently of the body - they cannot be taken.
  2. [Agnostic] He isn't sure whether souls exist, but if they do, they cannot be taken either because they are incorporeal or because they die with the body.
  3. [Humanist] He believes the concept of a hnau's "soul" is merely a conventional way of referring to the hnau's spiritual essence; of necessity, this is not "immortal" and does not exist independently of the hnau and thus cannot be taken.
  4. [Atheist who picks his battles] He believes immortal souls do not exist, but knows the issue is not susceptible to proof either way. Thus, he does not fight that particular battle in this particular conversation; the one indisputable thing, the slam-dunk for present purposes, is that souls (if they exist) cannot be "taken" based on what believers claim about them. 
I find #2 and #3 most plausible so far (I'm about mid-way through Season Two.)

Of particular note is Franklin's distinction between taking a soul vs. the possibility of encoding "the personality matrix" (if only one had the right technology) to "produce a clone of someone's mind."  This seems to reflect a view that a hnau's personality is known to be physically anchored in the body, and specifically in the brain.  It is not immortal, but because it is in this sense corporeal, it is at least theoretically possible to replicate it.

For me, the slight emphasis on "taking" and "soul" suggests some skepticism about both concepts.  Surely, a believer would simply emphasize "taking."  Likewise, the emphasis on "mind" and "soul" suggests those two concepts are being compared and contrasted.

I believe the scene is deliberately ambiguous to leave open the question of whether Franklin "merely" disbelieves in soul theft, or also is skeptical of the existence of an immortal soul as distinct from a person's mind or personality.  We may eventually learn more about Franklin's religious or spiritual beliefs (if any), but I haven't gotten there yet.

Intriguingly, Franklin's speculation about encoding the personality matrix bears fruit two episodes later in S1E4 "Infection":
Sinclair: You said they incorporated the brain patterns of one of their researchers into the weapons? 
Franklin: Tular, yes. 
Sinclair: Is there anything there we can talk to, reason with? 
Franklin: Well there's a complete personality matrix, yes. But it's totally subsumed by its program. 
Garibaldi: Fine, except how you gonna get it there? 
Sinclair: By going straight to its personality matrix. I'm gonna try and make it mad.

== == == APPENDIX == == ==

For reference, here's the full text of the scene from S1E2:
Franklin: What exactly is a soul hunter? 
Soul Hunter: Ask Commander Minbari friend. We are drawn to the moment, the moment of surrender, the instant of loss between despair and ecstasy when the flesh fails and all that remains behind. The soul we save. Not all. Only the special ones: leaders, thinkers, poets, dreamers, blessed lunatics. 
Sinclair: And what do you do with these souls, after you've saved them? 
Soul Hunter: We enshrine them, worship them. We talk to them, listen. We ... learn. 
Franklin: Well, this is nonsense. It's patent superstition. Can't be done. With the right technology, maybe you could encode the personality matrix and produce a clone of someone's mind, but the idea of taking someone's soul?
Soul Hunter: Ridiculous, yes.  So let me go. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

Independence Eve & Independence Day

I got such a kick out of their leaning in!

I'd just noticed this recently

bright sky and moon over Litchfield Villa

Not bad, with my little PowerShot 40x

found art

Not pictured: Bats swooping and darting overhead
The Fourth was very quiet.  I got a lot of household chores done, including the laundry.  I was going to go for a walk around the park, or at least to the garden, but once I got there, I realized I wasn't in the mood for walking.  I read a bit of Beren and Luthien at the garden, then went home and got a picnic blanket and a change of books and settled in with The Silmarillion at the park.

Still haven't gotten very far into B&L, honestly - but it doesn't matter, since he's just repackaged the old stuff.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

It's All Happening At the Zoo!

AKA experimenting with the Panasonic. The idea was to practice taking pictures of animals, just in case I end up going on safari in the not-too-distant future.  Hey, it could happen!

We decided to see the 4-D "Ice Age" movie first, to give the afternoon a chance to cool down a bit.  Unfortunately, it wasn't much of a break from the weather -- the movie is only 10 minutes long!  Then again, 10 minutes was about the outer limit of enjoyability for this particular comedic approach.  It was cute, and vaguely educational if parents take the time to explain the various historic scenarios and geographic locations in which Scrat and his acorn find themselves. But it would be difficult to tolerate for the 1+ hours expected of a feature film.  That is all.

So we took a tour, starting with the sea lions, moving on to the penguins and puffins and seals and bears... Along with vast numbers of people who'd had a similar inspiration.

put your nose in the air like you don't care
glide by the people as they start to look and stare
 do your dance, do your dance

The snow leopards were by far the highlight of the expedition.  Despite the heat (and their fur coats!) two of them were running around chasing each other.  One would stalk, bide its time, and leap - then they'd would grapple and tumble for a bit.  They'd separate and rest, then start again.

They had huge, beautiful tails!

Snow monkey (snow-free July)

This is when I realized how unlike safari conditions the zoo really is.  On safari, I'm pretty sure I won't have  50+ people standing in front of me and more pushing up from behind.  And I won't have to shoot through glass (with one set of challenges) or wires (another set of challenges). 

It was a hot day, so I wasn't really that keen to see the tropical house - but we'd already seen everything else, so we went in.  I was able to recognize the scarlet ibis by their beaks, and the black wingtip.  They are a lot cooler than the usual chickens.

Scarlet Ibis


I loved this bright blue bird with the googly eyes!

A bit of a poser, though.

The helpmeet, lower branch, has brought some blades of grass for nesting

Helpmeet turns to face the camera, doesn't drop the nesting materials

Helpmeet is a little camera-shy, but the photographer followed

Not a blade has been dropped!!!

A new native meadow in Central Park near the zoo
Susan and I did not remember seeing this meadow before... but a sign helpfully told us it is not our fading memories - it is in fact new.

Originally, she'd been planning on attending evening service at Redeemer, and I was thinking of going home - but she was really drained by the intense heat in the tropical house at the zoo, so she went back to NJ and I walked up to Redeemer.  I told her I'd ask God to give her the credit anyway.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Standard Loop

This was 6.8 miles, Washburn (w) > Notch (b) > Brook (r) > Cornish.   It started misty and humid.

bright orange fungi among the lichen

And then there was a bit of a splutter of rain, so I put my fancy camera back in its ziploc bag (even though I figured it'd peter out soon enough).  And the sputter soon became a drizzle.  Which became a long, steady shower!!!  I had not brought any rain gear, but the summer rain was refreshing rather than hypothermia-inducing.  So I just kept trudging along, watching my footing carefully, as every inch of me got thoroughly soaked cap-a-pie.  

My reward, perhaps, was seeing a red eft - the juvenile Eastern Newt!  It was beautiful, and utterly fearless as I leaned in ever closer with my phone.  The blurriness is at least partly from water on the face of the phone and/or the rain which continued to fall.  And partly because my phone's camera is not particularly good.

Red Eft 
Later, things cleared up enough for this photo (again, bringing the camera super-close):

The turtle and frog were too far away for my phone's camera to handle, but I wanted to document this very active turtle.  While the frog just sat there, the turtle started to come out of its shell...

And then made its getaway!

(Although as I recall, it actually decided to jump in on the far side of the log!  Despite appearances, it was not yet committed in the photo above.)

So I decided not to try to talk my sopping way onto a restaurant's patio, but instead went straight to the station.  On the train, the eagle-eyed conductor addressed a group of hikers on the other side of the aisle ("Wow, you really got wet!") and I let them explain this mysterious phenomenon while I relaxed and let Welcome to Nightvale wash over me.