A random.random() Joseph Wilbrand Weblog

A random.random() Joseph Wilbrand Weblog

Tag: 2023 Great Books

Great Books

The Gospel According to St. Matthew

The Gospel According to St. Matthew

The Sermon on the Mount

The first discourse in Matthew is the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. It is considered one of Jesus’ most famous teachings and includes the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and teachings on righteousness and living a God-centered life.

The Beatitudes: Jesus lists eight blessings for those who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Righteousness: Jesus emphasizes that true righteousness goes beyond following the letter of the law and involves inner attitudes and motives.

Fulfilling the Law: Jesus teaches that the law should be followed not just externally but also internally, and that it should be obeyed not just for fear of punishment but out of love for God.

Judging others: Jesus warns against judgmental attitudes and encourages forgiveness and mercy.

Trust in God: Jesus teaches the importance of relying on God and not on material possessions.

The Lord’s Prayer: Jesus teaches his disciples a model prayer to follow.

The Beatitudes

Blessed Are: For:
Poor in Spirit Theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Those who mourn They will be comforted
The Meek They will inherit the earth
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness They will be filled
The Merciful They will receive mercy
The pure in heart They will see God
The peacemakers They will be called children of God
Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake Theirs is the kingdom of heaven
You when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kids of evil falsely Your reward is great in heaven

Righteousness

The Law But I Say
You shall not murder If you are angry […] you will be liable for judgement
You shall not commit adultery Everyone who looks with lust has already committed adultery
Divorce is allowed If you divorce, except unchastity, you cause adultery // whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery
Do not swear falsely Do not swear at all
Eye for an eye Turn the other cheek
Love neighbor and hate your enemy Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Lords Prayer

Great Books

St. Augustine: Confessions

St. Augustine: Confessions (Book II and III)

Book II is the definition of concupiscence – the tendency toward evil, particularly love mistaken for lust (I cared for nothing but to love and be loved).  Afraid that innocence would be mistaken for cowardice and chastity for weakness.  Story of Augustine and friends staling pears from a neighbor’s tree – done for the sake of the crime itself.  Similarities between “forbidden tree” and the garden of Eden story.   

Book III – Interesting discussion of theater – paying to watch “unhappy plights” which cause emotions of sorrow and sadness over fiction.  Augustine describes individuals applauding the author more if they were pained during the show.  “Sorrow and tears can be enjoyable.”  Interesting lead up that Augustine was part of a sophist group called the “Wreckers” – similar to those youth who attempted to imitate Socrates (Apology).  Discussion about holding judgement on those who lived in the past – as we were not there, we cannot judge in hindsight.  

How can people of the past be considered moral if they did things that today are condemned as evil?

1. Augustine gives examples of Old Testament figures who offered animal sacrifices and practiced polygamy.

2. Augustine ponders the act of God commanding people to do unprecedented things.

Application to the biblical stories (why was X okay in that time and not now?)  Augustine reads Cicero (Hortensius) and is drawn to the content, which ultimately sparked an interest in his pursuit of wisdom.  When compared to the Bible he was disappointed in the Bible because it seemed inferior to Cicero.



Great Books

St. Augustine: Confessions

Saint Augustine: Confessions (Book 1)

Book 1

Saint Augustine raises some interesting points at the beginning of his book.  First, he begins his story as a prayer or dialogue between him and God.  The first questions deal with God’s nature, location, and what exactly he is.  Saint Augustine presents a series of paradoxes: God is both hidden and most present, or God is active yet always at rest.   He also suggests that when we pray or offer things to God, we give back what is already his.  

I appreciated Saint Augustine’s question on whether we are supposed to know God before we ask him for anything.  He suggests that if we don’t know God, how will we know that he answers us when we reach out to him?  Saint Augustine means our primary focus is deciding what God wants from us rather than the inverse.  

Initially, Saint Augustine states he cannot remember how he was as an infant; however, he can guess his nature by listening to stories of those who cared for him and by watching other babies.  Finally, he concludes that original sin is the tendency toward unperfection.  Although babies are selfish and nobody in their right mind would correct this behavior (it does no good), it indicates a direction that left unchecked would cause harm later.  

Saint Augustine shares his reflection on boyhood as one oriented toward meaningless things.  He shares that while he was proficient in literature (he mentions the Aneid), he could have gained the same skillset by studying things of God.  He also points out a recurring theme of hypocrisy – while boys were disciplined for playing games, adults played “games of business.”  Jupiter was also mentioned as a familiar judging agent who frequently committed adultery.  In this way, his early education lacked moral teaching.  For example, a student would be more judged for using incorrect grammar or word pronunciation than he would be for hating his neighbor.  

Saint Augustine looks at his childhood and schooling as a time in which he was “lured into fruitless pastimes and wandered away” from God.  His early childhood guides were focused on teaching him how to “get on in the world, gaining the respect of others, and win what passes for wealth.”

Great Books

Plato: Apology

Plato: Apology

Thoughts

This book is my third in the Great Books of the Western World. I continue to be surprised at how accessible these readings are. Initially, reading Plato seemed intimidating; however, the Apology was an excellent read with many thought-provoking ideas presented.  

Plato’s Apology is a defense against a formal indictment made against him in court. The main violations stated in the charge are that Socrates:

  • He is an evil-doer who corrupts the youth.
  • He does not believe in the gods of the state.
  • He has other divinities of his own.

Socrates begins by downplaying his rhetorical abilities and apologizes profusely to the court. Socrates’s initial claim seems like a tactic because Socrates can hold his own during the following discussion in an argument. I found many interesting points. Socrates is focused on living a virtuous life, including believing in God or gods. Everything else is secondary to him. I found humor when Socrates described his tactics of randomly interrogating experts and sharing their flaws, making these experts hate Socrates. Socrates’ only claim was that he did not know anything.  

My two favorite ideas from this book were:


-A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate his chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything his is right or wrong, acting the part of a good man or bad.  

-The difficulty is to avoid unrighteousness, not death.  


Socrates’s Apology (defense) is a real example of “speaking truth to power” and remaining uncompromising in core beliefs. Socrates faced the challenge of state-imposed ideology, yet he remained true to himself and God.  

Persons:

Anytus –  son of Anthemion, was an ancient Athenian politician. He served as a general in the Peloponnesian War, and was later a leading supporter of the democratic movements in Athens opposed to the oligarchic forces behind the Thirty Tyrants.  He is best remembered as one of the prosecutors of the philosopher Socrates, and is depicted as an interlocutor in Plato’s Meno.

Aristophanes – son of Philippus, of the deme Kydathenaion (Latin: Cydathenaeum), was a comic playwright or comedy-writer of ancient Athens and a poet of Old Attic Comedy. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. These provide the most valuable examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy and are used to define it, along with fragments from dozens of lost plays by Aristophanes and his contemporaries.

Callias son of Hipponicus – was an ancient Athenian aristocrat and political figure. He was the son of Hipponicus and an unnamed woman (she later married Pericles), an Alcmaeonid and the third member of one of the most distinguished Athenian families to bear the name of Callias. He was regarded as infamous for his extravagance and profligacy.

Meletus – was an ancient Athenian Greek from the Pithus deme known for his prosecuting role in the trial and eventual execution of the philosopher Socrates.

Oligarchy of the Thirty – Thirty Tyrants, (404–403 bc) Spartan-imposed oligarchy that ruled Athens after the Peloponnesian War. Thirty commissioners were appointed to the oligarchy, which had an extremist conservative core, led by Critias. Their oppressive regime fostered a bloody purge, in which perhaps 1,500 residents were killed.

Minos – In Greek mythology, Minos was a King of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. Every nine years, he made King Aegeus pick seven young boys and seven young girls to be sent to Daedalus’s creation, the labyrinth, to be eaten by the Minotaur. After his death, Minos became a judge of the dead in the underworld. 

Rhadamanthus – In Greek mythology, Rhadamanthus or Rhadamanthys was a wise king of Crete. As the son of Zeus and Europa he was considered a demigod. His name means “showing stern and inflexible judgement”. He later became one of the judges of the dead and an important figure in Greek mythology.

Aeacus – was a mythological king of the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf. He was a son of Zeus and the nymph Aegina, and the father of the heroes Peleus and Telamon. According to legend, he was famous for his justice, and after he died he became one of the three judges in Hades alongside Minos and Rhadamanthos. 

Triptolemus – was a demi-god of the Eleusinian mysteries who presided over the sowing of grain-seed and the milling of wheat. He was one of the Eleusinian princes who hospitably received the goddess Demeter when she was mourning the loss of her daughter.

 

Places:

Potidaea

Amphipolis

Delium

Delphi

Athens

Antiochis – tribe where Socrates was a senator

Arginusae

Notes:

[17] – Socrates begins by questioning the affect of his indictment on the Athenians he is addressing.  Socrates states the accusations against him are false and even exaggerated.  Whereas the arguments against him are false yet believable because of good argument technique, he will only tell the truth which should stand on its own merit.  He asks for forgiveness because he is old, and unfamiliar with court proceedings, and does not speak well.

[18] Socrates wished to rebut both old and new arguments against him, and desired to defend himself against the old arguments first because they have had a longer effect on people.  

[19] While Socrates accusers have been around for awhile, he acknowledges he only has a limited time to defend himself.  Socrates summarizes the complaint against him:

1. He is an evil-doer

2. He is a curious person

  a. who searches into things under the earth and heaven (doesn’t believe in the gods, searches for physical explanations)

3. He makes the worse appear the better cause

4. He teaches said doctrine to others

Whereas Socrates did not accept money, and if he did he would consider it a compliment on the good job he was doing, Athenians were in the habit of paying Sophists for the very things he was being accused of (using rhetoric to overcome sound reasoning, or speaking convincingly but falsely).  

[20] Socrates brings up an idea that some may thing that “there is something here” otherwise no accusations would be brought about.  Socrates acknowledges he possesses wisdom.  

[21] Socrates vs politician “I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me.”

[22] Socrates vs poets and artesans – “This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind.”

[23] God only is wise.  Wisdom of men is worth little or nothing.  Young men attempted to expose similar classes by using words similar to Socrates. 

[24] Further complaints against Socrates:

1.  Doer of evil

2.  Corrupts the youth

3.  Does not believe in the gods of the state

4.  Has other divinities of his own

[27] Socrates points out that “men cannot believe in horsemanship but not horses” and points out that by virtue of his teaching and believing in divine and spiritual agencies, he must believe in God.  

[28] A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate his chance of living or dying; he ought only consider whether in doing anything he is right or wrong – acting the part of a good man or bad.  Consider the heroes of Troy or Achilles.

[29] Fear of death is a pretense of wisdom – death, although viewed as the greatest evil may in fact be the greatest good.  Socrates admitted he did not know or suppose to know anything about life after death (the world below).

Even if Socrates was set free upon condition of not practicing philosophy, his response was that “men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy.”  

[30] Socrates desire was to convince people to “first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul.”  As such, Socrates states that if the court decides to kill him, they are injuring the state more than him – in part because they won’t find a successor.  A comparison is made that Socrates is a gadfly on the state which is a steed. 

[36] Socrates is convicted, with a near equal vote of guilt by the court.  He recommends his punishment (reward) for conviction should be maintenance in the Prytaneum.  And he maintains his intent was never harm.  Socrates then states while he could only realistically pay one Mina, his friends were ready to provide a “bond” (surity) of 30 minae.

[38] Socrates is sentenced to death.  He responds by saying although he could have responded the way the court would have liked (weeping, wailing, and lamenting) he purposefully chose not to.  Even after sentencing, Socrates expressed that he was not remorseful for his defense – “I would rather die having spoken after my manner, than speak in your manner and live.”

“Daily discourse of virtue […] is the greatest good of man.  The unexamined life is not worth living.”

[39] In battle some may throw away their weapons and fall to their knees to escape death; however, the difficulty is to avoid unrighteousness not death.  While Socrates departs the court with a death sentence the court departs suffering condemned by the penalty of villainy and wrong.

[40] If death leads to nothingness and utter unconsciousness: it is a gain, think of the nights you slept with unbroken sleep.  If death leads to the migration of soul from this world to another: would be nothing better, you will meet the true judges and have conversations with great people and gods.

[41] Know of a certainty that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.  He and his are not neglected by the gods.

 

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Great Books

The Master Builder – Ibsen

The Master Builder - Ibsen

Initial Thoughts

I initially hesitated to read “The Master Builder” mainly because it is a play.  I feel less comfortable with plays and even less comfortable with poetry.  That being said, the reading plan in this program will increase my comfort and enjoyment with both.  The Master Builder was easy to read and follow.  Whereas the scenes do not change much, the dialogue is fast-paced, and the overall complexity is low.  All in all I enjoyed reading “The Master Builder” and would recommend it to anyone even for general enjoyment.  Do I think this is one of the “Great Books of the Western World?” maybe not; however, it was good for me to read as a primer for more advanced plays in this cannon.  

Themes

Generational qualities: old and young

Manipulation

Relationships, lust, sexual desire

Psychology of attachment and ego

Going against the will of God

Characters

Halvard Solness, master builder

Aline Solness, his wife

Doctor Herdal, physician

Knut Brovik, formerly an architect, now in Solness’s employment

Ragnar Brovik, Knut Brovik’s son, a draftsman

Kaia Fosli, a book-keeper

Hilda Wangel

Some Thoughts

In Act 1, Solness appears to be in a romantic relationship with Fosli despite his being married to Aline.  It is later revealed that Solness is manipulating Fosli, who is significantly younger, in order to keep Ragnar under his employment.  Solness is concerned that the younger generation (Ragnar) will overtake him in his profession.  While Solness is known as a “Master Builder” Ragnar threatens, as the new upcoming generation, to overtake him in ability and fame.  

Solness has a belief that he is blessed with the ability to will things into action.  Early in his career, Solness built churches, but after a house fire that killed two of his children, he no longer builds churches but houses.  Solness does this in part to spite God. 

Midway through the play Wangel appears and begins to manipulate Solness with her charm, youth, and in a romantic/teasing fashion.  Solness eventually caves to Wangel and promises her a kingdom.  In a dialogue between Solness and Aline, Aline reveals she is okay with her children’s death, what bothers her most was the destruction of her property, namely some dolls which nobody else cared for.  Simultaneously dialogue between Solness and Wangel reveals Solness is upset about his children’s death, and believes his wife feels the same.  

The play ultimately reveals that Solness is afraid of heights; however, Wangel manipulates him into placing a wreath on top of a large spire.  Solness says when he climbs the spire, he will tell God, “Hear me, Mighty Lord—thou may’st judge me as seems best to thee. But hereafter I will build nothing but the loveliest thing in the world.”  Solness then falls and dies.  The play ends with Wangel exclaiming “My master builder!” which reminded me of the ending to Brothers Karamazov “hurray for karamazov.”

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Great Books

What is Life? (Chapter 7) – Schrodinger

What is Life? (Chapter 7) - Schrodinger

Summary

Life cannot be reduced to ordinary laws of physics.  This is because the construction of living beings is different than anything we have tested in the physical laboratory. 

Life is controlled by well ordered groups of atoms. 

Small numbers of atoms behave unpredictably: a healthy sparrow will live with more certainty than a single radioactive atom.  

Life and genetics is beyond mere statistical physics and probability mechanisms.  

Life utilizes two systems: order from disorder, and order from order.

Genetics relies upon a solid “aperiodic structure” (later revealed to be DNA) which Schrodinger says is “the finest masterpiece ever achieved along the lines of the Lord’s quantum mechanics. 

Two Premises: body is a pure mechanism, the individual has free choice through consciousness.  Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular.  Consciousness finds itself constrained to the physical state and region of matter.  Each person has the impression they are the sum total of their experience and memory forming an “I” – The “I” being the ground stuff from which experience is collected.  

Great Books

What is Life? (Chapter 6) – Schrodinger

What is Life? (Chapter 6) - Schrodinger, Order, Disorder, and Entropy

Terms

entelechy – the supposed vital principle that guides the development and functioning of an organism or other system or organization.

metabolism – the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life.

absolute zero – (-)273 degrees C

death – thermodynamical equilibrium

Summary

Schrodinger’s reason for writing this book: living matter, while not eluding the “laws of physics” is likely to involve other “laws of physics” hitherto unknown, which, once revealed, will form just as integral part of this science as the former.

The laws of physics are statistical laws.  They have a lot to do with the tendency toward disorder.

To reconcile the durability of heredity with tendency toward disorder, the genetic molecule has to be a “masterpiece of highly differentiated order” safeguarded by quantum theory.  Life seems to follow order which is “kept up.”

Question: What is the characteristic feature of life?

When it goes on to “do something” – moving and exchanging material with its environment, and for a longer period than should be expected.

Systems are usually subject to friction, equalization of chemical potential, and tendency toward uniform temperature.  This is when a uniform state is achieved and and no observable events occur.  

Living beings remain alive by drawing from its environment negative entropy.  The essential thing in metabolism is that the organism succeeds in freeing itself from all the entropy it cannot help producing while alive.  

Life continually sucks orderliness from its environment. 

 

 

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Great Books

What is Life? (Chapter 5) – Schrodinger

What is Life? (Chapter 5) - Schrodinger

Persons

Max Ludwig Henning Delbrück – was a German–American biophysicist who participated in launching the molecular biology research program in the late 1930s. He stimulated physical scientists’ interest into biology, especially as to basic research to physically explain genes, mysterious at the time. 

Definitions

amorphous – lacking a clear structure or focus.

Summary

Question: are these structures (molecules) composed of comparatively few atoms capable of withstanding for long periods the disturbing influence of heat motion to which the hereditary substance is continually exposed?

Energy thresholds required to create isomers must be high to make changes (mutations) a rare event.

The assumption at the time of writing (1944) was that genes were molecules.

Genes and possibly chromosome fibers are likely aperiodic solids (structure consisting of large aggregate without repetition)

**Note: Just nine years later, it was clear that DNA is indeed an aperiodic crystal and that genetic information is conveyed through this irregular pattern.

A well ordered association of atoms, endowed with sufficient resistivity to keep its order permanently appears to be the only conceivable material structure that offers a variety of possible arrangements sufficiently large to embody a complicated system of determinations within a small spatial boundary.  Additionally the number of atoms in such a structure need not be large to produce an almost unlimited number of possible arrangements (example morse code).  

This system can account for high degrees of permanence with high thresholds for spontaneous mutation.

 

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Great Books

What is Life? (Chapter 4) – Schrodinger

What is Life? (Chapter 4) - Schrodinger, "The Quantum-Mechanical Evidence

Persons

Max Planck – was a German theoretical physicist whose discovery of energy quanta won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.

Fritz Wolfgang London – was a German born physicist and professor at Duke University. His fundamental contributions to the theories of chemical bonding and of intermolecular forces are today considered classic and are discussed in standard textbooks of physical chemistry. 

Walter Heinrich Heitler – was a German physicist who made contributions to quantum electrodynamics and quantum field theory. He brought chemistry under quantum mechanics through his theory of valence bonding.

Terms

Isomer – In chemistry, isomers are molecules or polyatomic ions with identical molecular formulae – that is, same number of atoms of each element – but distinct arrangements of atoms in space. Isomerism is existence or possibility of isomers. Isomers do not necessarily share similar chemical or physical properties. 

Summary

Question: how can we from the point of statistical physics reconcile the facts that the gene structure seems to involve only a comparatively small number of atoms (of the order of 1,000 and possibly less), and that nevertheless displays a regular and lawful activity (with a durability and permanence that borders upon the miraculous)?

The answer lies in the fact that the genetic material structure are molecules.  That being said, what causes the molecular stability?

Heredity is founded on quantum theory.  

Changes in energy levels at the atomic level are called “quantum jumps.”  

When atomic nuclei are within close proximity to each other in “a system” (molecule) they are unable by their nature to adopt arbitrary configurations.  Rather the configurations are set in limited “states” (including energy levels).  A transformation from one state to another is a quantum jump.  An increase in energy requires the acquisition of energy from the outside, and a decrease in energy can result in spending or radiating energy.

Molecules have a certain stability.  Different configurations require temperature changes.  The measurement of chance for change given a temperature is described as the “time of expectation.”

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Great Books

What is Life? (Chapter 3) – Schrodinger

What is Life? (Chapter 3) - Schrodinger, "Mutations"

Persons

Hugo Marie de Vries – was a Dutch botanist and one of the first geneticists. He is known chiefly for suggesting the concept of genes, rediscovering the laws of heredity in the 1890s while apparently unaware of Gregor Mendel’s work, for introducing the term “mutation”, and for developing a mutation theory of evolution.

Gregor Mendel – was a biologist, meteorologist, mathematician, Augustinian friar and abbot of St. Thomas’ Abbey in Brünn (Brno), Margraviate of Moravia.

Definitions

allele – one of two or more alternative forms of a gene that arise by mutation and are found at the same place on a chromosome.

homozygous – having two identical alleles of a particular gene or genes.

heterozygous – having two different alleles of a particular gene or genes.

phenotype – the set of observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment.

genotype – the genetic constitution of an individual organism.

Survival of the Fittest and Natural Seleciton

Darwin’s theory of sequential, continuous, and small variations is incorrect when it comes to how natural selection works.  If you plot variation in crops you will see variance in the form of a statistical bell curve with deviations from the mean on either side.  If you take a sample of above average size corn from a pure-bread strain and make a new crop, it will create a statistical curve identical to the original.  

Small continuous variations are not inherited.

Occasionally a “jump-like” change, or mutation, occurs.  In this instance there are no intermediate forms.  This is similar to quantum theory in which no intermediate energies occur between two neighboring energy levels.  These mutations are inherited. 

**note: a rule in quantum theory states small systems can only possess specific amounts of energy.  For this system to increase energy it must make a “quantum” jump to the next level without passing through an intermediate quantity of energy in between.   

**note: a quantum leap is a discontinuous transition between quantum states. What this means is that an electron in one energy level in an atom jumps instantly into another energy level, emitting or absorbing energy as it does so. There is no in-between state, and it doesn’t take any time for the leap to occur.

For Schrodinger, mutation can substitute Darwin’s slight variation to support natural selection.  In light of this, it would be wrong to say that the original version is orthodox and the mutant version is a heretic.  

Because two organisms look alike (phenotype) does not mean they differ in inheritance (genotype).

**A recessive allele influences the phenotype only when the genotype is homozygous.

Because some mutations are recessive, even detrimental mutations may not manifest because they are latent.  In this sense close breeding has harmful effects.

In order for mutations to be suitable for the work of natural selection, they must be rare events – else injurious mutations would dominate suitable ones negating natural selection.  (Example: in a manufacturing plant, improvements should be tried one at a time while keeping everything else constant to determine if the change is in fact an improvement or not).

 

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