Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Monday, August 29, 2011

My two favorite grammatical constructs

I have two favorite grammatical constructs, from my English 11 course with Mr. Featherstone back in high school. They both have to do with parallelism.

The first uses semicolons and commas, and it looks like this:
Consequently, one must infer that Plato would have programmed in Smalltalk; Aristotle, in Java; Descartes, in Python; and Hume, in Basic.
Note that each item in the list is separated by a semicolon – and even cooler, we use a comma in place of the repeated words (“Aristotle, in Java” is used instead of “Aristotle would have programmed in Java”). Isn’t that neat?

A second favorite grammatical construct is a mix of grammar and formatting. When I do a bulleted list, you can insert headings at the start of each item, in bold italics. Like so:

  • Step 1. Print out the code. Sometimes the code you face is so gnarly blah blah blah...
  • Step 2. Tidy up the code. Tidying up whitespace and fixing the style of the code is a great blah blah blah...
  • Step 3. Make the code easier for yourself and others to understand. What I mean here is adding doc, and especially renaming variables, methods, and classes blah blah blah...
I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I get to do either of the above. Try it – you’ll like it.

Thanks, Mr. Featherstone!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Two Lands

γηθόσυνος δ᾽ οὔρῳ πέτασ᾽ ἱστία δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς.
αὐτὰρ ὁ πηδαλίῳ ἰθύνετο τεχνηέντως


By God’s grace, I was given a boat
And for fifteen days I rowed
I knew not whether they were lands or clouds on the horizon

I was not, thank God, one of those who drowned
Nor one of those adrift on rafts, asleep
But whether my destination were real or a mirage, I did not know

Then I turned my head and saw two lands
In one direction lay lands with lofty mountains;
In the other, grassy lowlands
But alas, how distant they were
And all the more after all my rowing

I question the sun as to which way to go
I question the moon and the stars
But they do not answer

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cream cheese on rice

Today I discovered that it is possible to eat cream cheese and rice. We didn't have much in the fridge – we did have cream cheese and rice though. If you want to try this, it is really quite simple.

cream cheese

Place rice in a bowl.
Heat it up for 45 seconds in the microwave.
Add a dollop of cream cheese.

I believe it is an acceptable substitute if you don't have any bread and you have a hankering for cream cheese and something. Bread and rice are related foods, so I think this is acceptable.

Need help understanding teleology

I’m finding it hard to sleep, so I’m jotting down some thoughts on a question that has been troubling me. I’m having trouble grasping the Aristotelian idea of teleology, or final cause. This is basically the idea that many things in nature have an (unconscious) goal or function. An example would be kidneys – their function is to filter the blood. Evidently, contemporary philosophy of science has been trying to do away with the notion of final causes for the past 300 years, but it is apparently making a bit of a comeback these days with the “new essentialism” philosophy of nature. But I digress.

In the book I’m reading by Edward Feser, he gives the kidney example above as an example of something with a final cause. I get that example – kidneys do seem to have a function (i.e., a final cause). He gives another example: human action. For example, I go to the kitchen in order to get coffee. This is an example of (conscious) goal-directedness – my goal is to get some Java – i.e., a final cause.

But he gives some other examples that I’m having trouble seeing as (unconscious) goal-directedness. A match is “‘directed towards’ the generation of flame and heat as its final cause”. I wouldn’t call the flame and heat a “goal” of the match. That said, elsewhere in the discussion Feser uses terms like “inherent power” and “tendency” – these seem to fit the match better. So are there different kinds of teleology? Teleology of function (kidneys), teleology of conscious goal-directedness (getting coffee), teleology of inherent power (the match)? Or am I just having trouble seeing what these different examples have in common? I suspect it is the latter.

In fact, Feser reduces the idea of final cause to the following: “if there is a regular efficient causal connection between a cause A and an effect B, then generating B is the final cause of A”. He gives the example of ice making something cold. Because ice causes the drink to be cold, generating coldness is the final cause of ice. Ice inherently “points to” coldness or is “directed at” coldness as its natural effect. Hmm. Well if that is all it is, what’s so notable about that? What is it about final causes that contemporary philosophy of science finds so hard to believe? Is it Hume’s modern idea that we cannot say that cause A has an inherent power to bring about effect B, only that event E1 seems to be regularly followed by event E2?

Actually yes, I think that is the issue. Aristotle (and the average person) would say that a cause A (such as ice) has an inherent power to bring about effect B (making the drink cold). On the other hand, modern philosophers of science would say that all we can say is that an event E1 (putting ice in the drink) is regularly followed by an event E2 (drink gets cold). I believe this distinction is what separates Aristotelian “efficient causality” from modern “efficient causality”; that is, the Aristotelian thinks that there is something in the cause that has the power to bring about the effect, whereas the modern does not think in those terms at all – he just sees the first event regularly followed by the second event.

I'm not sure why the modern has such trouble with A-B, why he will commit only to E1-E2. Perhaps A-B has implications that are troubling to the modern mind? I would be interested to know what those would be?

Back to bed.