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The  Choice 1 — Dan Jocobsen

July 14, 2014
Shasu is an Egyptian word for semitic-speaking pastoral cattle nomads who lived in the Levant from what was known, to human history, as the late 'Bronze Age' to the 'Early Iron Age' or 'Third Intermediate Period' of Egyptian history. These peoples of the Demiourgós were organized in clans, under tribal chieftaisn, and were described by those around them as lawless brigands, active from the Jezreel Valley to Ashkelon and the Sinai. The name evolved from a transliteration of the Egyptian word shasu, meaning "those who move on foot", into the term for Bedouin-type wanderers. The term first originated in an ancient list of peoples in Transjordan. It is used in a list of enemies of Egypt inscribed on column bases at the temple of Soleb built by the Pharoah Amenhotep III. Copied later by either Pharaoh Seti I and Pharaoh Ramesses II at Amarah-West, the list mentions six groups of Shashu: the Shasu of S'rr, the Shasu of Lbn, the Shasu of Sm't, the Shasu of Wrbr, the Shasu of Yhw (Yahweh), and the Shasu of Pysps.

Shasu is an Egyptian word for semitic-speaking pastoral cattle nomads who lived in the Levant from what was known, to human history, as the late ‘Bronze Age’ to the ‘Early Iron Age’ or ‘Third Intermediate Period’ of Egyptian history.
These peoples of the Demiourgós were organized in clans, under tribal chieftaisn, and were described by those around them as lawless brigands, active from the Jezreel Valley to Ashkelon and the Sinai.
The name evolved from a transliteration of the Egyptian word shasu, meaning “those who move on foot”, into the term for Bedouin-type wanderers.
The term first originated in an ancient list of peoples in Transjordan.
It is used in a list of enemies of Egypt inscribed on column bases at the temple of Soleb built by the Pharoah Amenhotep III.
Copied later by either Pharaoh Seti I and Pharaoh Ramesses II at Amarah-West, the list mentions six groups of Shashu: the Shasu of S’rr, the Shasu of Lbn, the Shasu of Sm’t, the Shasu of Wrbr, the Shasu of Yhw (Yahweh), and the Shasu of Pysps.

A chapter from Dan Jacobsen’s The Story of Stories  where he explores the Scriptures to find how the Jews and the Jewish state became the chosen people. Although Mr. Jacobsen is not a believing Jew, his approach is quite readable (I think) for Christian or Jewish “cultic” believers (as he labels those of us who have drunk the Kool-Aid). Roger Scruton quoted him at one point and I took that as a recommendation.

As a Jew, Dan Jacobson has long been aware of the notion of a ‘people chosen by God’. In The Story of the Stories, he uses his Jewishness as a premise to discuss the contradictions of being thought of as ‘special’ – its opportunities and its deadly temptations. The result is a deeply profound and serious meditation that sheds an entirely new light on Biblical scholarship and orthodox theology. On first publication (1982), The Story of the Stories was hailed as a seminal work.

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Continuing  to work  backward,  as it were,  we  come to a question which is logically anterior to the issues raised by the  Israelites’  conquest  of  Canaan;  indeed,  it  is  anterior to almost  everything  in  the  Scriptures. Why  did Yahweh choose  the  children  of  Israel  to be  “his own  possession among the peoples”?

The short answer to this question is that he chose them because they wanted to believe that they had been chosen. . They invented him, one can say, so that they might be chosen. They wanted to be exalted above other nations­ — “high above . . . in praise and in fame and in honor”  (Deuteronomy 26:19) — and they ascribed precisely that ambition on their behalf to the most exalted being it was possible for them to conceive. From their belief in the intentions he nourished on their behalf , they derived a sense of inner strength and cohesion which they could not have got from any other source: a conviction of their own superiority over all the nations who had not been  chosen.

All that, in terms of the general argument, may seem obvious enough. Motives and sentiments of the kind just described emerge clearly from the famous hymn of praise to Yahweh in Exodus, which celebrates not only the destruction of the Egyptian army that had been pursuing the fleeing Israelites, but also the forthcoming destruction of their ene­mies-to-be in the land of Canaan.

Who is like thee, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like thee, majestic in holiness,
terrible in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
Thou  didst  stretch out thy right  hand,
the earth swallowed  them.
Thou hast led in thy steadfast love the people whom
thou  hast  redeemed,
thou hast guided them by thy strength to thy holy abode.
The peoples have heard, they tremble;
pangs have seized on the inhabitants of Phifistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
the leaders of Moab, trembling seizes them;
all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the
greatness of thy arm, they are as still as a stone,
till thy people, O Lord, pass by,
till the people pass by whom thou hast purchased.
Thou wilt bring them in, and plant them on thy own mountain,
the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thy abode,
the sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have estab­lished.
EXODUS 15:11-17

The claim to the territory made in that hymn has two aspects, one of them more encouraging to the Israelites than the other. On the one hand,  it says that their title to the land resides in the fact that it has been given  to them by a being supreme even “among the gods”; no one can have prior or more important rights to it than themselves, because no one has authority over God; certainly not the land’s original inhabitants and its neighbors, who are mentioned one by  one  merely  in  order  to  be  disposed  of.  (For  the time being,  at  least.)  

Furthermore,  God  is  expressly  said to have chosen the land  not  only for  the Israelites but  also for himself : it is his own mountain,  his  abode,  and  the place where he has established his sanctuary. 

On  the  other hand, the very fact that he is praised and thanked for giving the land to the people, and  that  praising  and  thanking  him for this reason is to be a central feature of his cult, [The words "cult" and "cultic" are used throughout in their  traditional sense: "in reference to external rites and ceremonies" (Shorter Oxford English Diction­ary). That is, the words relate specifically and directly to the  formal,  public modes of worship adopted by the community of believers.] once they have been brought in and his sanctuary has been established, serve as a constant reminder to them that their possession for a certain strip of territory is not and never has been something “natural,” or self-evident, or to be taken for granted. 

It is the result of a special intervention on their behalf by God into the processes of history; by its very nature such an intervention can  be undone or can  take  a  different  form on another occasion, should the need arise. One such occasion  when he intervened to the harm of the Israelites, has already been looked at. So have some of the consequences of the self-consciousness which the Israelites had about their relationship to the territory they inhabited. Others still wait to be examined.

In any event, we have moved almost imperceptibly from discussing the apparently unlimited power of an unlimited divinity to something much  more  modest  in  scope.  After all, what has  the  power  ascribed  to Yahweh  in  that  paean of praise from Exodus actually produced? What has he delivered? A measured answer is to be found in Spinoza’s A Theologico-Political  Treatise:

Next I inquired, why the Hebrews were called God’s chosen peo­ple, and discover[ed]  that it was only because  God has chosen them for a certain strip of territory, where they might live peaceably and at ease.I learnt that the Law revealed by God to Moses was merely the law of the independent Hebrew state.

Their choice and vocation consisted only in temporary happiness and the advantages of independent rule…In the law no other reward is offered for obedience other than the continual happiness of an independent commonwealth and other goods of this life.

Spinoza comes to this conclusion only after considering and recoiling form another possibility, the very notion of chosenness with which I opened this post.

Every man’s true  happiness  and  blessedness  consist  solely  in the  enjoyment  of  what  is  good,  not  in  the  pride  that  he  alone is enjoying it, to  the exclusion of  others. He who  thinks himself the more blessed because  he  is  enjoying  benefits  which  others are not, or  because  he  is  more  blessed  or  more  fortunate  than his fellows, is  ignorant  of  true  happiness  and  blessedness  and the joy which he feels is  either  childish  or  envious  and malicious.   For   instance,   a   man’s   true   happiness   consists   only in wisdom, and the knowledge  of  the  truth,  not  at  all  in  the fact that he  is wiser than others,  or  that  others  lack  such knowledge.

When Scripture, therefore, in exhorting the Hebrews  to obey the law, says that the Lord has chosen them for Himself before other nations (Deuteronomy  10:15); that  He is near  them but not near others (Deuteronomy 4:7); that to them alone He has given just laws (Deuteronomy 4:8); and lastly, that He has marked them out before others (Deuteronomy 4:32); it speaks only according to the understanding  of its hearers, who…knew not true  blessedness.  For  in good  sooth they  would  have  been  no less blessed if God had called all men equally to salvation, nor would God have been less present to them for being equally present to others; their laws would  have  been  no  less  just  if they had been ordained for all, and they themselves would have been no less wise.

What Spinoza has done here is simply to exclude from serious consideration those passages in the biblical text which offend him. That is the effect  of  his  saying  that such passages were put there merely to appeal to “the under­ standing of its hearers.” The only evidence he can produce for this remark his own humane but unfalteringly rational estimation of where and how “true happiness and blessed­ness” are to be found.

The fact is, however, that the verses he cites from Deuteronomy speak of Israel’s special privileges before Yahweh with exactly the same degree of sincerity  and  fervor  as  they  do  of  everything  else  they  touch upon; and we can safely assume that those who composed them  were as liberally  endowed  with  the particular  kinds of childishness, enviousness, and malice which Spinoza deplores as their “hearers” were. Or as we are today.

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The Most Abandoned Soul by Anthony Esolen

July 11, 2014
Christ of the Abyss at San Fruttuoso, Italy is a submerged bronze statue of Jesus Christ, the original of which is located in the Mediterranean Sea off San Fruttuoso between Camogli and Portofino on the Italian Riviera.

Christ of the Abyss at San Fruttuoso, Italy is a submerged bronze statue of Jesus Christ, the original of which is located in the Mediterranean Sea off San Fruttuoso between Camogli and Portofino on the Italian Riviera.

The following was recently selected the 2014 Awards Best Essay Prayer and Spirituality First Place by the Catholic Press Association. Anthony Esolen is professor of English at Providence College, a senior editor of Touchstone Magazine, and a regular contributor to Magnificat. He is the translator and editor of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House) and author of The Beauty of the Word: A running Commentary on the Roman Missal (Magnificat). Reblogged from Magnificat.

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Which among you, asks Jesus, having one lost sheep from a hundred, will not leave the ninety- nine and seek for the one in the wilderness?

That saying has always struck me as strange, as convicting us of hardheartedness. For the fact is, many of us would leave that hundredth sheep to die. I confess that I would. It’s only a sheep, after all. Better tend to the ninety-nine, and take some much-needed rest.

These things will happen. The man has divorced his wife for another woman, and now, having abandoned her in turn, is drinking his life away in a bar. Well, we may pray for him from a distance, if we remember. But the rest of his family is all right, the ninety-nine of them, and we can take comfort in that. One sheep is only one, and is much like another anyhow.

The Souls of Purgatory
That is not Jesus’ way. Even if there had been but one sinner to redeem, he would have shed his blood for that one, and suffered the agony to the end. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of each world of sin: of each lost sheep in the wilderness. We calculate advantages to ourselves; calculating sheep are we. But there is no calibration in the love that Jesus gives. It is full measure, shaken together and spilling over. It is life, and that in abundance.

Sometimes, when the grace of God pierces our self-satisfied hearts, we feel an impulse of that all-forsaking love. The impulse may be slight enough, but it is precious. One night, during a dark time in my life, I was driving home past a large maximum security prison, ringed with fences and barbed wire. And the thought came to me that there was someone there whom no one outside cared for, whom no one visited, whom the other prisoners shunned and the guards did not like.

Whoever he was, I prayed for him then, because the loneliness weighed upon me like a mountain. But the self-satisfaction returns: “Look here, I’ve managed to round up at least eighty or so, these stupid and shaggy creatures,” never considering my own stupidity, my fleece tangled with filth and dank with the scent of the wolves from whose jaws I was snatched, and whose presence I hardly suspected. Then it might behoove us to remember the souls who have been saved, who are aware of the pain and loss that might have swallowed them up for ever, and who are assisted by our prayers: the souls in purgatory.

Prayer for the Holy Souls
Here, then, is a beautiful prayer for those members of the Church Suffering:

O Lord God almighty, I pray thee by the Precious Blood which thy divine Son Jesus shed in the garden, deliver the souls in purgatory, and especially that soul among them all which is most destitute of spiritual aid; and vouchsafe to bring it to thy glory, there to praise and bless thee for ever. Amen.

The most abandoned soul in purgatory: most forgotten by the living, most alone, most poor in merits, farthest from the sight of God.

The prayer reminds us of that terrible hour in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prayed and sweat drops of blood, while his three chosen friends, Peter, James, and John—even the beloved John — abandoned their Lord and fell asleep. Jesus in his humanity knew no comfort from those friends. He was one with the Father, and the Father’s will was that he should bear upon his shoulders, stretched in agony upon the bitter cross, all the accumulated sins of mankind.

An angel was with him, messenger of God; and we may well think of the angel on that first Passover centuries before, who slew the first born of Egypt to set the children of Israel free. This time the victim will be Jesus, Only Begotten Son of the Father: God himself, suffering to unleash the sacraments of love and eternal life.

One With the Most Abandoned
When we think of the aloneness of Jesus, it is impossible to say of a fellow sinner, “Well, he has driven everyone away, and now suffers what he deserves.” We are not permitted to speak in that fashion. It may be that in the sinner’s destitution he is drawing close to the heart of Jesus, whose hand even now may be resting upon that lost sheep’s shoulder. Likewise, that least of souls in purgatory enjoys an incomparable gift which we do not yet enjoy. He, despite his suffering, and also in and through his suffering, is already among the saved, and God’s grace protects him from committing a single sin, while we can hardly endure a day without indulging our pride, or falling back into sloth and cowardice. Sheep indeed.

But to pray for the souls in purgatory is like playing a prelude which begins in darkness and moves always toward light and joy. Consider now this companion to the previous prayer:

O Lord God almighty, I pray thee by the Precious Blood  which thy divine Son Jesus shed in his cruel scourging, deliver the souls in purgatory, and that soul especially among them all which is nearest to its entrance into thy glory: that so it may forthwith begin to praise and bless thee forever. Amen.

It is a wonderful thing to know that the most abandoned among us, through the blood of Christ, will stand at the doorway to paradise, no less than the greatest of saints will have done before.

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Quantum Physics: The Multiverse of Parmenides 2 — Heinrich Pas

July 10, 2014
The bizarre properties of quantum physics naturally inspired the fantasies of both journalists and authors. The parallel existence of different realities in quantum physics, for example, became the subject of a Physics World cover in 1998, which depicts a couple on the phone arguing as follows: "Oh Alice . . . you're the one for me"-"But Bob . . . in a quantum world . . . How can we be sure?" Man’s best friends: A doggie selfie. Where does it all end?

The bizarre properties of quantum physics naturally inspired the fantasies of both journalists and authors. The parallel existence of different realities in quantum physics, for example, became the subject of a Physics World cover in 1998, which depicts a couple on the phone arguing as follows: “Oh Alice . . . you’re the one for me”-”But Bob . . . in a quantum world . . . How can we be sure?” Man’s best friends: A doggie selfie. Where does it all end?

Bohr summarized the apparent paradox of particles and waves under the concept of complementarity. After a guest lecture he gave at Moscow University, he left the following aphorism on the blackboard where famous visitors were sup­ posed to leave comments: Contraria non contradictoria sed complementa sunt (Opposites do not contradict but rather complement each other).

But back to Heisenberg, Plato, and the ancient Greeks: As the American philosopher of science Thomas S. Kuhn realized, science in times of scientific revolutions is particularly vulnerable to nonscientific influences. When changes to the scientific paradigm cause a shift in the generally accepted problems and solutions and thus also in the general perception and scientific world view, rational reasons like conformity with facts, consistency, scope, simplicity, and usefulness are not sufficient to understand the evolution of a new theory.

During these times, personal factors such as cultural back­ ground can also play a decisive role. And Heisenberg’s background was almost as Greek as it was German: As the son of a professor of Greek language, he became accustomed to Greek philosophy and culture and their reception in early twentieth-century Germany long before he himself learned Latin and ancient Greek in school. His biographer Armin Hermann suggests that the encounter with Plato’s philosophy influenced Heisenberg more than anything else. And not long after Heisenberg studied, climbed, and calculated in Helgoland, Paul Dirac in Cambridge and Erwin Schrodinger in Vienna worked out different but mathematically equivalent versions of quantum physics.

Since the standard interpretation of these works was developed basically in the inner circle around Bohr and Heisenberg, Heisenberg’s background seems particularly relevant for its appreciation. Also, Schrodinger made statements such as “Almost our entire intellectual heritage is of Greek origin” and “science can be correctly characterized as re­flecting on the Universe in a Greek way.”And Dirac left on the blackboard in Moscow, right next to Bohr’s principle of com­plementarity, only the laconic remark, “A physical law has to have mathematical beauty,” a statement that reminds us strongly of Goethe’s transfiguration of the classical worldview:

Nature and art, they seem each other to repel
Yet,
they fly together before one is aware;
The
antagonism has departed me as well,
And
now both of these seem to me equally fair.

And sure enough, quantum physics seems to be a Greek theory after all. This becomes evident when reading the thoughts in the book Die Einheit der Natur (The Unity of Na­ture) by Heisenberg’s student and friend, Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker, the brother of the subsequent German president, on the centerpiece of quantum physics — the wave-particle duality — and how it can be traced back to the arguments in Plato’s dialogue Parmenides.

Parmenides of Elea (Fig. 3.3) was a Greek philosopher in the pre-Socratic era around the fifth century BCE. Of his writing only the fragment of a philosophical poem remains; it deals with the unity of all being. It describes how an unnamed goddess-often understood as Persephone- invites the poet to perceive the truthful being-again a likely reference to the mystical experience in the mystery cults of Eleusis. 

The truth­ful being then is distinguished from mere appearances and described as the all-embracing One — uncreated and indestructible, alone, complete, immovable, and without an end — reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s stage of egolessness. One is the All is correspondingly the central statement followed up by Weizsacker  when he discusses the argument between Socrates and Parmenides chronicled by Plato, which, according to the Italian author Luciano De Crescenzo, was the “most boring and complicated discussion in the entire history of philosophy.” 

In this battle of words, which supposedly took place on the occasion of a visit of Parmenides to Athens, Socrates tried to refute the identity of One and All. To this end Socrates argued that One is not Many and thus has no parts. On the other hand All refers to something which does not miss any of its parts. Consequently the One would consist of parts if it were All, and thus finally One cannot be the All. 

At this point Weizsacker comes to Parmenides’s defense by stressing the connection with quantum mechanics. And it is really astounding how the quantum mechanical interpretation of the One suddenly bestows this incomprehensible debate with lucidity and meaning. After all, in quantum mechanics the All is the wave function and, in its fullest manifestation, the all-embracing wave function of the universe. 

Moreover, in quantum mechanics the analysis of the individual parts of an object without destroying the object is impossible, since the measurement, as explained above, affects the object and thus distorts the unity of its parts. And of all possible states an object can assume, only an infinitesimally small fraction are states in which the parts of the object actually correspond to a clearly defined outcome of a measurement. Only in these states can one truthfully assign reality or existence to these parts.

For example, only two among the infinitely many possible states that Schrodinger’s cat can assume (such as 90 percent alive and 10 percent dead or 27.3 percent alive and 72.7 percent dead) — namely totally dead or totally alive-correspond to possible outcomes in a measurement. But quantum mechanically, a pair of two cats, half of them dead and the other half alive, is realizable not only with one living and one dead but also with two half-dead cats or one being 70 percent alive and one being 30 percent alive.

Consequently, in quantum physics the All is really more than its parts, the partial objects actually constituting through their association a new entity, or, just as postulated by Parmenides, a new unity, a new One. 

Now Parmenides, according to Plato, required further that the One possesses no properties: It has ho beginning, no center and no end, no shape and no location; it is neither in itself nor in anything else; it is neither at rest nor is it moving. Weizsacker can argue that a quantum mechanical object fulfills these requirements perfectly.

After all, a determination of any of these properties relies on a measurement, which implies a collapse of the wave function and thus destroys the unity of the collective object. On the other hand, isolation of the object from the surrounding universe is impossible: The object would not exist in the universe if it were not connected to the universe via some kind of interaction. 

Thus, strictly speaking, only the universe as a whole can constitute a real quantum mechanical object. 

Then, however, nobody would remain who could observe it from outside. Next Weizsacker and Parmenides follow the discussion back­ward: how the One — meaning the all-embracing universe barring all properties — unfurls into the colorful and multifaceted appearances of our everyday life. The argument relies here on the quirky assumption that the One, in the instant where it “is” — in the sense of exists — is already two things. It is the One and it is the Is. This argument can be iterated. Again both the One and the Is are two things: the Is is and is the One, and the One is and is the One. By repetition of this consideration the One acquires an infinite multiplicity: The being One unfolds itself into the universe. And again Weizsacker clarifies the discourse by referring to the quantum mechanical object.

After all, the way an object can exist is via interaction with other objects, which again results in the collapse of the wave function and the loss of quantum mechanical unity: In order to establish that an object exists, the object has to be measured and thus is affected in a way that implies that it is no longer one object according to the meaning of Par­menides’s One. In summary, Weizsacker arrives at an amazing conclusion, that the notion of complementarity has its source in ancient Greece: “We find . . . the foundation of complemen­tarity already foretold in Plato’s Parmenides.” We actually can recover the feel of what the ancient Greeks experienced in their mystery cults in modern twentieth-century physics! 

But this is not the end of the story: The atomism of Democritus, the idea that, the world is not continuously divisible but made out of indivisible particles, makes sense only in the context of quantum mechanics, where matter consists of compound objects that correspond to standing waves and thus can absorb or emit energy only in indivisible portions­ the quanta. 

Also, the idea of tracing the laws of nature back to fundamental symmetries, as proposed in Plato’s Timaeus is an integral part of contemporary particle physics. Finally, consider Einstein’s objection to the fundamental importance of probabilities. Because of that objection, he remained a lifelong opponent of quantum mechanics: God doesn’t play dice with the world. This statement appears as a direct response to the 2,500-year-old fragment of Heraclitus: “Eternity is a child moving counters in a game; the kingly power is a child’s.”

How can one really comprehend the lack of causality inherent in quantum physics and in particular the role of the puzzling quantum collapse, which are not described by the mathematical formalism and remain controversial today? The most modern and consistent interpretation of these puzzling phenomena seems to be at the same time the craziest one: Every­ thing that can happen does happen-albeit in different parallel universes. 

This idea was formulated for the first time in 1957 by Hugh Everett III while he was working on his doctoral dissertation at Princeton University. With the bizarre concept of parallel universes he asked too much of his contemporary physicists, even though Everett — like Richard Feynman, a founder of quantum electrodynamics, and Kip Thorne, the father of the wormhole time machine — was a student of the eminent John Archibald Wheeler, who was himself a rather unorthodox and creative associate of Einstein and who, among many other achievements coined the term black hole for the timeless star corpses in the universe.

But even with this first­ class mentor, Everett’s colleagues didn’t take him seriously. Everett left the academic world shortly after finishing his dissertation. During a frustrating visit in Copenhagen, during which Everett tried to convince Niels Bohr to take some interest in his work, he (Everett) transformed a standard approach in classical mechanics into a method for optimization that he could apply to commercial and military problems and that helped him to become a multimillionaire — but didn’t make him happy. He became a chain-smoking alcoholic and died of a heart attack when he was only fifty-one years old. 

According to his explicit wish, his ashes were disposed of in the garbage. Fourteen years after his death, his daughter Elizabeth, who suffered from schizophrenia, committed suicide. In her suicide note she wrote that she was going into a parallel universe, to meet her father. His son Mark Everett became the famous rock star E, lead singer of the Eels. He described his father as distant, depressed, and mentally absent, and his own childhood as strange .and lonely. Only his music saved him. But he also expressed sympathy for his father: “These guys, I don’t think they should be held to subscribe to normal rules. I think that about rock stars, too.” Hugh Everett’s ideas about quantum physics were finally popularized in the 1970s by his advisor Wheeler and Bryce DeWitt, who had also worked with Wheeler. It was DeWitt who added the “many-worlds” label, a term that Wheeler never liked. 

The interpretation essentially states that every measurement results in a split of the universe. Every possible outcome of a measurement — or more generally of any physical process — is being realized, but in different parallel universes. If a guy chats up a girl in a dance club, there is always a universe where the two of them get happily married and remain in love until they die, but also another one where she tells him to back off, he has too much to drink, and he wakes up the next morning with a serious hangover. This very in­sight made me particularly nervous when I prepared to jump out of an airplane 4,000 meters above Oahu’s north shore. After all, even if I survived in this universe, there are always countless universes where the parachute did not open. So somewhere one loses, every time. But somewhere there is also a parallel universe where Everett still lives happily together with his daughter.

The major advantage of the many-worlds interpretation, compared with the classical Copenhagen interpretation, is that no collapse of the wave function — which, in any case, is not really part of the theory — has to be assumed. Even after the measurement has been performed, both possible outcomes­ like an electron at place A and an electron at place B — coexist, but they decouple, so that an observer who measures the elec­tron at place A does not notice the alternative reality with the electron at place B. 

In contrast to the collapse of the wave function, this process of decoupling can be described within the formalism of quantum mechanics. Perhaps this process­ so-called decoherence — is the only reason we witness so little quantum weirdness in our everyday lives. The drawback of the many-worlds interpretation, however, is that we have to give up the concept of a unique reality.

The interaction of different parallel universes is suppressed after a measurement, but not totally lost. So even in our daily lives we don’t reside in clearly defined conditions such as dead or alive. The parallel universes in which we and our fellow human beings experience totally different fates instead resonate as unobservable tiny admixtures of alternative realities into our universe.

Thus the many-worlds interpretation exhibits the Parmenidic-neo-Platonic nature of quantum mechanics most clearly. According to this point of view, the unity of the different realities is not completely lost. It is actually possible to recognize the multiverse — the collection of all of Everett’s parallel universes — directly as Parmenides’s primeval One: the unity of the world the ancient Greeks felt they had lost in the charted modern world, and for whose reunification with the individualized ego they looked in the ecstasy of their mystery cults, in their Dionysian arts, or in the flush induced by psychedelic drugs.

The bizarre properties of quantum physics naturally inspired the fantasies of both journalists and authors. The parallel existence of different realities in quantum physics, for example, became the subject of a Physics World cover in 1998, which depicts a couple on the phone arguing as follows: “Oh Alice . . . you’re the one for me”-”But Bob . . . in a quantum world . . . How can we be sure?”

An even more radical take on the many-worlds interpretation can be found in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Whenever the extraterrestrial crackpot Zaphod Beeblebrox, double-headed and addicted to Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, starts the Infinite Improbability Drive, his stolen spaceship gets located in all places in the universe simultaneously, and tiny probabilities are amplified. In the novel this allows the spaceship to travel faster than light, and also causes various strange incidents, such as when a threatening pair of rockets gets sud­denly transformed into a dumbfounded whale and a flowerpot.

Finally, and now I am serious again, the many-worlds interpretation could protect time travelers from ludicrous paradoxes, and in this way make time travel a meaningful physics concept. But we’ll get to that later…

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Quantum Physics: The Multiverse of Parmenides 1 — Heinrich Pas

July 9, 2014
Heisenberg traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, in the fall of 1941 to visit his fatherly friend and mentor Niels Bohr. According to Heisenberg, his intention was to inform Bohr that the construction of a nuclear bomb was possible but that the German physicists would not try to build it and to suggest that physicists in the allied nations should follow the same policy. This epic conversation, however, only resulted in a lasting breakdown of their friendship. Bohr, the son of a Jewish mother and the citizen of an occupied country, could not have much sympathy for any agreement with the German physicist. From left to right: Enrico Fermi, godfather of the neutrino; Werner Heisenberg, a creator of quantum mechanics; and Wolfgang Pauli, the father of the neutrino.

Heisenberg traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, in the fall of 1941 to visit his fatherly friend and mentor Niels Bohr. According to Heisenberg, his intention was to inform Bohr that the construction of a nuclear bomb was possible but that the German physicists would not try to build it and to suggest that physicists in the allied nations should follow the same policy. This epic conversation, however, only resulted in a lasting breakdown of their friendship. Bohr, the son of a Jewish mother and the citizen of an occupied country, could not have much sympathy for any agreement with the German physicist. From left to right: Enrico Fermi, godfather of the neutrino; Werner Heisenberg, a creator of quantum mechanics; and Wolfgang Pauli, the father of the neutrino.

A major breakthrough in the story of quantum physics be­gins with a young man holed up in a rain pipe in order to find a quiet place for reading. It is the year 1919, in Munich, shortly after the end of World War I. The chaotic rioting in the streets that followed the revolution driving the German emperor out of office has finally calmed down, and now eighteen-year-old Werner Heisenberg can find some leisure time again.

He had been working as a local guide, assisting a vigilante group that was trying to reestablish order in the city, but now he could retreat, after the night watch on the command center’s hotline, onto the roof of the old seminary where his· cohort was accommodated. There he would lie, in the warm morning sun, in the rain pipe, reading Plato’s dia­logues. 

And on one of these mornings, while Ludwig street below him and the university building across the way with the small fountain in front slowly came to life, he came across that part in Timaeus where Plato philosophizes about the smallest constituents of matter, and the idea that the smallest particles can finally be resolved into mathematical structures and shapes, that one would encounter symmetries as the ba­sic pillar of nature-an idea that will fascinate him so deeply that it will capture him for the rest of his life.

Werner Heisenberg was to become one of the most important physicists of his generation. When just turned forty, he was the head of the German nuclear research program, which in World War II examined the possibilities for utilizing nuclear power, including the feasibility of nuclear weapons. In this position he was on the assassination list of the US Office of Strategic Services, but a special agent who had permission to kill Heisenberg in a lecture hall decided against it, after he heard Heisenberg’s lecture on abstract S-ma­trix theory and concluded. that the practical usefulness  of Heisenberg’s research was marginal.

Even today, historians debate Heisenberg’s role in Nazi Germany. His opponents criticize his remaining in Germany and his commitment to the nuclear research project, the so-called Uranverein, which, according to these critics, failed to build a nuclear weapon for Hitler only because Heisenberg was unable to do it. Extreme admirers, such as Thomas Powers in Heisenberg’s War, argue that Heisenberg used his position to prevent the construction of a German nuclear bomb by exaggerating its difficulties when questioned by officials, bestowing a moral mantle on Heisenberg he never had claimed for himself. 

What is well documented is that Heisenberg traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, in the fall of 1941 to visit his fatherly friend and mentor Niels Bohr. According to Heisenberg, his intention was to inform Bohr that the construction of a nuclear bomb was possible but that the German physicists would not try to build it and to suggest that physicists in the allied nations should follow the same policy. This epic conversation, however, only resulted in a lasting breakdown of their friendship. Bohr, the son of a Jewish mother and the citizen of an occupied country, could not have much sympathy for any agreement with the German physicist.

In 1998, the British author Michael Frayn wove different perceptions of this meeting into a play that essentially deals with the parallel existence of different realities, both in psychology and in quantum mechanics. After all, among all his other activities, Heisenberg was famous for one thing: was one of the masterminds of a revolutionary new theory. 

Just six years after the sunny morning in the rain pipe, Heisenberg, now twenty-three years old and a postdoc at the University of Gottingen, was forced by his hay fever to leave his institute for two weeks, and he spent some sleepless time on Helgoland, a tiny and once holy red rock off Germany’s coast in the North Sea-days that would shatter the most basic grounds of physics. One-third of the day the young man climbed in the famous cliffs; one-third he memorized the works of Goethe, the poet who served as a national idol in Germany and who followed the classical paradigm of the ancient Greeks; and the last third he worked on his calculations. 

In these calculations he developed a formalism that would be the bed­ rock of modern quantum physics and would do nothing less than change the world: “In Helgoland there was one moment when it came to me just as a revelation . . . . It was rather late at night. I had finished this tedious calculation and at the end it came out correct. Then I climbed a rock, saw the sun rise and was happy.

“Nowadays the technical applications of quantum physics account for about one-third of the US gross domestic product. Nevertheless, Richard P.Feynman commented some forty years after Heisenberg’s work that the theory is so crazy that nobody can actually comprehend it, and Einstein had earlier declared bluntly: this is obvious nonsense. What makes quantum physics special is that this theory breaks radically with the concept of causality. In our daily lives we are used to ordered sequences of cause and effect: You and a friend clink your glasses with just a little bit too much verve; one glass breaks; beer runs down to the floor; your significant other/ roommate/parents cry out. 

One event causes the next one. This is exactly where quantum physics is different, where this strict connection between cause and effect no longer exists. For example, how a particle reacts to an influence can be predicted only in terms of probabilities. But this is not the end of the story: Unless the effect on the particle is actually observed, all possible consequences seem to be realized simultaneously. Particles can reside in two different locations at once! And particles exhibit properties of waves while waves behave in certain situations  like  particles. 

An object thus has both properties of a particle and of a wave, depending on how it is observed. The particle corresponds to an indivisible energy portion of the wave, a so-called quantum. On the other hand, the wave describes the probability for the particle to be located at a certain place. This property of quantum mechanics can be depicted most easily with the famous double-slit experiment (Figure below).

Figure 3.2. Double-slit experiment. As long as no measurement determines which slits the particles are passing through, they behave like interfering waves, which pass simultaneously though both slits (left side). Where two  wave crests coincide, the probability of detecting a particle is largest; where a crest coincides with a trough, the probability is very small or zero. The resulting image is called an interference pattern. As soon as an external measurement disturbs the system-for example, if one uses irradiation with light to determine which path the electrons take through the slits — the wave collapses into single particles, which accumulate in narrow bands behind the slits they were flying through (right side).

Figure 3.2. Double-slit experiment. As long as no measurement determines which slits the particles are passing through, they behave like interfering waves, which pass simultaneously though both slits (left side). Where two wave crests coincide, the probability of detecting a particle is largest; where a crest coincides with a trough, the probability is very small or zero. The resulting image is called an interference pattern. As soon as an external measurement disturbs the system-for example, if one uses irradiation with light to determine which path the electrons take through the slits — the wave collapses into single particles, which accumulate in narrow bands behind the slits they were flying through (right side).

When a particle beam hits a thin wall with two narrow slits in it, the corresponding wave penetrates both slits and spreads out on the other side as a circular wave. On a screen situated behind the wall, in accordance with the wave nature of the electrons, an interference  pattern appears, resulting from the superposition of the waves originating from the two slits in the wall.

Where a crest meets another crest or a trough meets another trough the wave gets amplified. A crest encountering a trough, on the other hand, results in little or no amplitude (left side). This pattern appears, however, only as long as it is unknown through which slit a single electron passed. As soon as this is determined, for example by blocking one of the slits or by irradiating the electrons with light, the two-slit interference pattern gets destroyed and the electrons behave just like classical particles. To be more accurate, a new wave emanates from the slit, and the pattern exhibited on the screen is the one for a wave passing through a single slit, which resembles a smooth probability distribution (right side).

Heisenberg and Bohr interpreted this as a collapse of the wave function due to  the  measurement  process  in  which one gets a result with the probability given by the amplitude squared of the wave. This is the so-called Copenhagen inter­pretation of quantum physics, which is still taught at universi­ties around the globe. According to this interpretation, a par­ticle is located in many places simultaneously until finally a measurement assigns it a concrete location. And this is true not only for position; it applies to other measurable quantities such as momentum, energy, the instant of a nuclear decay, and other properties as well. 

Erwin Schrodinger, both collaborator with and competitor of Heisenberg in the development of quantum physics, carried this idea to an extreme: “One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be se­ cured against direct interference by the cat).”

In Schrodinger’s experiment the death or life of the cat depends on whether a radioactive isotope does or doesn’t decay in a particular time period. As long as we do not check whether the isotope did decay or not, nor how the cat is doing, Schrodinger’s cat is simultaneously dead and alive, or as Schrodinger phrased it: “[The wave function of the system would have] in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

There are two reasons why we don’t observe such bizarre phenomena in our daily lives: One is that the wavelengths of ordinary objects around us are tiny compared with the sizes of the objects themselves. The other is that the objects we deal with every day are always interacting with their environment and thus are being measured all the time. A beer bottle, for example, may very well be situated in two different locations, but only for an extremely short time and for an extremely small separation (too short and too small to measure).

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Modern Philosophy and Death 2 — Roger Scruton 

July 8, 2014
The anxiety towards death is 'ontological'; it spreads over the existence itself, and undermines the 'ground of being'. What can we do to  assuage it? Heidegger  makes  some pregnant  but  obscure suggestions. Dasein, Wittgenstein tells us, must assume responsibility for its own being; and this can be done only through an ontological posture which he describes as 'being towards death': we must act out the of our own mortality, and never flee into fantasy or despair. We see death as the other side of life: to look death clearly in the face we see the meaning of life. Only then do we truly live.

The anxiety towards death is ‘ontological’; it spreads over the existence itself, and undermines the ‘ground of being’. What can we do to assuage it? Heidegger makes some pregnant but obscure suggestions. Dasein, he tells us, must assume responsibility for its own being; and this can be done only through an ontological posture which he describes as ‘being towards death’: we must act out the of our own mortality, and never flee into fantasy or despair. We see death as the other side of life: to look death clearly in the face we see the meaning of life. Only then do we truly live.

Death, writes Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, is not part of life but its limit. He means that there is no such thing as ‘living through death’, so as to emerge on the other side of it. Death is not an experience in life, and there is no such thing as looking back on death, and assessing it from a new perspective. 

Others have argued in a similar way for the conclusion that the fear death is irrational. (Thus Lucretius and various Roman Stoics.) If, after death, I am nothing, there is literally nothing to fear. This, however, seems like sophistry. Death is also the loss of life and of the of the good things that come with life. And is it not rational to fear such a loss? Yet that too seems to miss the point: I could be threatened with the loss of all good things, and still regard this threat with equanimity or at least, without that queasy feeling which comes from that thought that soon I shall not exist. Why is my non-existence  so terrible?

Why, indeed, is it terrible at all? It is peculiarly  difficult to get one’s mind around this question. Every attempt to describe the evil of death suggests either that we fear the loss of goods (including  the good of life),  and so misses  the distinctive feeling of ontological insecurity; or else concludes that we fear  non-existence per se  — and that seems irrational.  In another sense, however, it is plainly reasonable to fear death: for if we did not, we should fail to secure our own survival, and therefore threaten the success of all our projects. Hence a rational being needs the fear of death, just as he needs the capacity for nausea at foul smells, or the disposition to sleep from time to time. But does that make the fear into a rational fear? 

What is a rational fear? Presumably it is rational to fear what will pain you. It is rational to fear some condition, to the extent that you would wish to get out of it, when you are in it. But again the criterion does not apply to death. If death is the end, then no one fears to escape from it, once it has arrived. When Achilles complains to Odysseus that he.would rather be the meanest serf on earth, than the greatest prince in Hades, he speaks from a point beyond death  — he speaks as a ‘spirit’ who has survived his encounter with death. But he justifies the fear of death only by showing that it leads to an irreversible decline in one’s fortunes; not by showing that it brings one’s fortunes to an end.

In response to this unanswerable riddle, it is tempting to turn the argument on its head, arguing that it is rational to fear the absence of death. Drawing on a famous play by the brothers Capek, Bernard Williams  (The Makropoulos Case) has argued for the ‘tedium’ of immortality, pointing out that our joys are mortal joys, dependent upon death for their desirability. The central character of the play, who has lived through every love and joy only to rise to a frozen plateau of cynical disregard for others, displays the true character  of a  practical reason that has been shorn of  mortal limits. (A more comic version of immortal tedium is to be found in the brilliant last chapter of Julian Barnes’s  A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters).

Traditional defenders of immortality would scarcely be disturbed by Williams’s argument. They would argue, with Aquinas (and Dante of Paradiso), that our mortal desires are precisely what we lose in dying; so as to devote ourselves to those other and more my enterprises which never grow stale. The worship of God bears infinite repetition, precisely because its object too is infinite. Never does the Mass or the Sacred Service weary the true believer, or cause him to doubt the meaning of its inner message. If there is eternal life why should that not be it?   ·

Timely Death
Such thoughts do nothing to console the timorous pagan. Is he caught  between  the irrational  fear of death that  the capacity for success demands, and the rational fear of a joyless longevity? would be terrible indeed.

Looked at from the third-person perspective, death is not always evil. Sometimes, indeed, it is a good. First, death may be conceivably  a rightful punishment. A person’s crimes may be sufficient reason for killing him: in which case, how can it be said that his death is an evil? (Think  of Hitler  or  Stalin: not  only  were  their deaths good in themselves; more miserable deaths would have been even better.)

Secondly, death can be seen as a liberation from appalling torments whether  physical  or emotional.  Thirdly,  and  more  mysterious death  can  be  seen  as  the  fitting  conclusion  to  life  of  great undertakings. The tragic hero is vindicated in death, which reflects back  into  his  life  the  redeeming  order  of  finality.  We  do understand this; yet we feel it, and our feeling is every bit as real a queasiness with which we contemplate our own extinction. Why should  not  our  reflections come to  rest  in  this  more  satisfying perspective, rather than dwelling on the nameless fear that gets us nowhere?

For ancient thinkers death could be vindicated in another way. Return for a moment to Aristotle’s discussion of virtue. The courageous man acquires a disposition to pursue what is honorable in the face of danger. Honor is what he wants, more than he wants to flee and it is irrational to acquire this disposition, since it is ‘a part of happiness’ without courage one can have no guarantee of the ‘success in action’ which is the final end of practical reasoning. But now, consider the moment of battle. The enemy will shortly overpower me, what is it rational for me to do?

For the coward, who desires to live himself,  it is rational  to drop his  shield  and  run.  For  the courageous man, whose heart is wedded to the thought of honor, it is rational to stand, even if death is the consequence. Since the courageous man’s desire springs from a disposition that all of us have reason to acquire, he is doubly reasonable. It is therefore rational to prefer honorable death to an ignominious survival. (This matter is discussed by Xanthippe and Socrates in a notorious Xanthippic dialogue: See Phryne’s Symposium, 1158a-b.)

That is perfectly intelligible from a third-person viewpoint. We all warm to the hero, who lays down his life for his friend. Even pacifists feel this witness the glorious tribute to self-sacrifice in Britten’s War Requiem. And one can feel this, while deploring the ‘pity’ of war. But it is intelligible too from a first-person perspective. One can learn not to love death, but at least to accept it as the best outcome in a dire situation.  There  are  circumstances  in  which  survival  is  a  fatal compromise of one’s life, a shame from which one could not recover, a disparagement of all that one has wished for and all that one has done. Hence, according to Nietzsche, the thought of a ‘timely death’ may be the ground of the true (i.e. pagan) morality.

Do those thoughts justify suicide? Schopenhauer believed so; as did many of Plutarch’s heroes. But it is one thing to justify  acquiring those virtues which make you likely to die honorably; another thing to justify the death itself.  

The Mystery of Death
Even if true, such thoughts do not quiet our apprehensions. Maybe nothing can quiet them. Maybe we should accept that the fear of death. It is not really a fear, since it is founded in no coherent thought of how we are harmed by dying. It is an anxiety.

This anxiety, according to Heidegger, has deep foundations. For it marks the insurgence into consciousness of the thought of our contingency. Death shows us that we will not be, and therefore that we might not have been. Our existence has no ultimate foundation; it is a brute fact for which we can find no reason, since all our reasons are generated within life and not from the point of view outside life to which we can never attain. 

The anxiety towards death is ‘ontological’; it spreads over the existence itself, and undermines the ‘ground of being’. What can we do to  assuage it? Heidegger  makes  some pregnant  but  obscure suggestions. Dasein, he tells us, must assume responsibility for its own being; and this can be done only through an ontological posture which he describes as ‘being towards death’: we must act out the of our own mortality, and never flee into fantasy or despair. We see death as the other side of life: to look death clearly in the face we see the meaning of life. Only then do we truly live. 

Maybe this is what the tragedians tell us. It is certainly one of the themes of Rilke’s Elegies. But whether a philosopher can really convey such thoughts let alone a philosopher whose mastery of the written word advances no further than the stage reached by Heidegger — may reasonably be doubted.

 

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Modern Philosophy and Death 1 — Roger Scruton

July 7, 2014
The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb is an oil and tempera on limewood painting created by the German artist and printmaker Hans Holbein the Younger between 1520–22. The work shows a life-size, grotesque depiction of the stretched and unnaturally thin body of Jesus Christ lying in his tomb. Holbein shows the dead Son of God after he has suffered the fate of an ordinary human.

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb is an oil and tempera on limewood painting created by the German artist and printmaker Hans Holbein the Younger between 1520–22. The work shows a life-size, grotesque depiction of the stretched and unnaturally thin body of Jesus Christ lying in his tomb. Holbein shows the dead Son of God after he has suffered the fate of an ordinary human.

But here lies another problem: Things that live must also die. What survives thereafter, if the life and the person are one and the same?

Some ways of defining personal identity seem to justify the  belief of personal survival; others seem to deny it. If the person is character, memory, and reason, then there is no problem in supposing that these things (or this system of things) may continue, when the body dies.

Hence the view, defended by Plato, Aristotle and Spinoza, that the intellect may survive the body and even (in Plato’s thinking) precede it.

Against that, however, are the following powerful considerations:

  1. There is an intimate relation between our mental states and bodily conditions. It is difficult to see what we could  mean by as ascribing emotion, for example, to a subject who had no means of bodily expression. Likewise sensation, perception, even belief, seem to be tied up with the body,  with its sensitive organs, and with the behavior that springs from them.
  2. Much of our mentality is part of our animal life: this is certainly true of our sensations. And even those states of mind that lie above and beyond the repertoire of the lower animals – erotic love for example – are rooted in bodily conditions and primitive responses, that we share with them.
  3. Residual doubts about personal identity lead us to believe that human life, and the bodily condition implied by it are necessary to the survival of the person. If the ‘software’ that programs my mind may be realized after my body has died, there is no reason to think that the resulting hardware either is or could be me.
  4. Many things die, besides people: trees, dogs, fish, bacteria. In most  cases, however, the idea that these things continue to exist after death is absurd. If  people are tempted to believe that dogs survive in some ‘happy hunting ground,’ it is for the same reason that they believe these things of the people they love: namely, their inability to accept bereavement. (But Gerard Manley Hopkins. felt sincerely bereft of the Binsey poplars: are they immortal too?· (‘Binsey Poplars’)

Despite those considerations the feeling persists that my own death is not, and cannot be, the end of me; What is the source of this feeling? The following considerations seem to be involved:

  1. Our sense of personal survival is bound up with the first-person perspective. When my identity across time is a paramount consideration, the ‘I’ is at the centre of the stage. What shall I do? What shall I feel or think? But this ‘I’ can be projected beyond death. I can wonder what I should think or feel, But this in the circumstances where my body lies inert and lifeless? There is nothing incoherent in this thought.
  2. My own non-existence is inconceivable to me. I simply cannot think of a world without thinking also of my perspective upon it. And that means thinking of my own existence. This argument is very tricky, and is open to the retort, expressed in luminous verse by Lucretius, and in reported conversation by Hume, that there is no more difficulty in conceiving my non-existence after death, than in conceiving my non-existence before birth, and no reason to be distressed by either. Why does my entry into the world forbid my exit? There seem to be two quite different ideas of conceivability. I can conceive of a world in which I don’t exist: if so, maybe such a world is possible. But I cannot conceive of myself not existing, if you mean conceive of a world, viewed from this first-person perspective, in which  there  is  no  I.  But  from  that  nothing  follows  about real possibilities.
  3. My personal relations, like my rational intellect, are not time-bound, and remain in crucial respects unaffected by death.  My death extinguishes neither my obligation to you, nor your to me: My will is enshrined in obligations and rights, and projected into an indefinite future. Death seems not to threaten the will since it leaves the web of right and duty unaffected.Again the argument is difficult to assess. The best it can prove is that practical reason involves the belief in personal survival not that this belief is true. A peculiar variant is given by Kant, who believed that practical  reason  presupposes  immortality, since the weight of obligation, being infinite, requires an infinite time to which to be discharged. 
  4. Death is difficult to encompass intellectually; it is also difficult to encompass emotionally, and this difficulty is felt more vividly from the third- and second-person perspective. At the time of bereavement, it is almost impossible to believe that the other no longer exists; there is a ‘you-shaped’ whole in my emotions,  and I act and feel as if you were still existing, although far away and inaccessible.

These arguments provide a powerful motive to believe in a ‘life after death’, but no reason to do so. If, however, such a life after death were possible, maybe we ought to believe in it if we  can, out of respect for all that is most worthwhile in the human condition.
The arguments are not conclusive, and the discussion goes on. So let us pass to another and more urgent problem.

The Fear of Death
We all fear death; but is it rational to do so? What exactly are we afraid of? Nagel writes of a peculiar and disturbing feeling, quite unlike the fear of pain or suffering, which attends the thought that one day I will not exist:

There is something that can be called the expatiation of nothingness, and though the mind tends to veer away from it, it is an unmistakable  experience,  always  startling, often frightening, and very different from the familiar recognition that your life will go on for only a limited time.”
The View from Nowhere, p.225.

Is this anymore than a queasy feeling?·

 

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Two John Henry Cardinal Newman Meditations

July 4, 2014
Born in 1801, baptized in the Church of England, Newman became a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford in 1822, an Anglican clergyman in 1825 and Vicar of the Oxford University Church in 1828. The Anglican Newman was a pastor of souls, a University teacher, and a student of Christian history and theology. His studies were never purely theoretical. Informed by pastoral experience, they were above all shaped by his insight into the needs of the present.

Born in 1801, baptized in the Church of England, Newman became a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford in 1822, an Anglican clergyman in 1825 and Vicar of the Oxford University Church in 1828. The Anglican Newman was a pastor of souls, a University teacher, and a student of Christian history and theology. His studies were never purely theoretical. Informed by pastoral experience, they were above all shaped by his insight into the needs of the present.

Jesus Christ, Yesterday, and Today, and the Same Forever
All things change here below. I say it, O Lord; I believe it; and I shall feel it more and more the longer I live. Before your eyes, most awesome Lord, the whole future of my life lies bare. You know exactly what will befall me every year and every day until my last hour. And though I know not what you see concerning me, so much I know: that you read in my life perpetual change. Not a year will leave me as it found me, either within or without. I never shall remain any time in one state.

How many things are sure to happen to me, unexpected, sudden, hard to bear! I know them not. I know not how long I have to live. I am hurried on, whether I will it or not, through continual change. O my God, in what can I trust? There is nothing in which I dare trust; nay, if I trusted in anything of earth, I believe for that very reason it would be taken away from me. I know you would take it away, if you had love for me.

Everything short of you, O Lord, is changeable, but you endure. You are ever one and the same-ever the true God of man and unchangeably so. You are the rarest, most precious, the sole good; and withal you are the most lasting. The creature changes, the Creator never. The creature stops changing only when it rests in you. On you the angels look and are at peace; that is why they have perfect bliss. They never can lose their blessedness, for they never can lose you. They have no anxiety, no misgivings because they love the Creator; not any being of time and sense, but “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today, who is also for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).

My Lord, my only God, Deus meus et omnia, let me never go after vanities. Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vani­ tas (Ecclesiastes 1:2). All is vanity and shadow here below. Let me not give my heart to anything here. Let noth­ ing allure me from you; oh, keep me wholly and entirely. Keep this most frail heart and this most weak head in your divine keeping. Draw me to you morning, noon, and night for consolation. Be my own bright light, to which I look, for guidance and for peace.

Let me love you, O my Lord Jesus, with a pure affection and a fervent affection! Let me love you with the fervor, only greater, with which men of this earth love beings of this earth. Let me have that tenderness and constancy in loving you which is so much praised among men, when the object is of the earth. Let me find and feel you to be my only joy, my only refuge, my only strength, my only comfort, my only hope, my only fear, my only love.

An Act of Love
You are the Supreme Good. And, in saying so, I mean not only supreme goodness and benevolence, but that you are the sovereign and transcendent beautifulness. I believe that, beautiful as is your creation, it is mere dust  and ashes, and of no account, compared with you, who are the infinitely more beautiful Creator. I know well

therefore that the angels and saints have such perfect bliss be­ cause they see you. To see even the glimpse of your true glory, even in this world, throws holy men into an ecstasy.

And I feel the truth of all this, in my own degree, because you have mercifully taken our nature upon you and have come to me as man. Et vidimus gioriam ejus , gloriam quasi Unigeniti a Patre,  “And we saw His glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). The more, O my dear Lord, I meditate on your words, works, actions, and sufferings in the Gospel, the more wonder­ fully glorious and beautiful I see you to be.

And therefore, O my dear Lord, since I perceive you to be so beautiful, I love you and desire to love you more and more. Since you are the one Goodness, Beautifulness, Gloriousness in the whole world of being, and there is nothing like you, but you are infinitely more glorious and good than even the most beautiful of creatures, therefore I love you with a singular love, a one, only, sovereign love. Everything, O my Lord, shall be dull and dim to me, after looking at you. There is nothing on earth, not even what is most naturally dear to me, that I can love in comparison with you. And I would lose everything whatever rather than lose you. For you, 0 my Lord, are my supreme and only Lord and love.

My God, you know infinitely better than I how little I love you. I would not love you at all except for your grace. It is your grace that has opened the eyes of my mind and enabled them to see your glory. It is your grace that has touched my heart and brought upon it the influence of what is so wonderfully beautiful and fair.

How can I help loving you, O my Lord, except by some dreadful perversion, which hinders me from looking at you? O my God, whatever is nearer to me than you, things of this earth, and things more naturally pleasing to me, will be sure to interrupt the sight of you, unless your grace interferes.

Keep my eyes, my ears, my heart from any such miserable tyranny. Break my bonds, raise my heart. Keep my whole being fixed on you. Let me never lose sight of you; and, while I gaze on you, let my love of you grow more and more every day.

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