Tuesday, March 31

Henry Kendall

Henry Kendall was an Australian poet whose short life was characterized by sadness; a very brief period of insanity and later recognition as he was just getting on his feet, only to succumb to the wet conditions and death at only 43 years of age.
He captures the somber mood of the first nations people, who we are only more recently  starting to recognize in a more meaningful way.      

The Last of His Tribe
He crouches, and buries his face on his knees,
and hides in the dark of his hair;
for he cannot look up to the storm-smitten trees,
or think of the loneliness there -
Of the loss and the loneliness there.

The wallaroos grope through the tufts of the grass,
And turn to their coverts for fear;
But he sits in the ashes and lets them pass
Where the boomerangs sleep with the spear -
With the nullah, the sling and the spear.

Uloola, behold him! The thunder that breaks
on the tops of the rocks with the rain,
And the wind which drives up with the salt of the lakes,
Have made him a hunter again -
A hunter and fisher again.

For his eyes have been full with a smouldering thought;
But he dreams of the hunts of yore,
And of foes that he sought, and of fights that he fought
With those who will battle no more -
Who will go to the battle no more.

It is well that the water which tumbles and fills
Goes moaning and moaning along;
For an echo rolls out from the sides of the hills,
And he starts at a wonderful song -
At the sound of a wonderful song.

And he sees through the rents of the scattering fogs
the corroboree warlike and grim,

and the lubra who sat by the fire on the logs,
to watch, like a mourner, for him -
Like a mother and mourner for him.

Will he go in his sleep from these desolate lands,
Like a chief, to the rest of his race,
With the honey-voiced woman who beckons and stands,
And gleams like a dream in his face -
Like a marvellous dream in his face?


Feet of the flying and fierce,
Tops of the sharp-headed spear,
Hard by the thickets that pierce,
Lo! They are nimble and near.

What shall we say to these twain?
How shall we eat at their camps?
Seeing who stiffens in rain,
Dead in the dark and the damps.
Women are we and the wives
Strong Arrawatta hath won.

Lo! We are sick, and our lives
Perish like mists in the sun.
Followed and caught by the foes
Stealthy and subtle of stroke,
Now do we mumble our woes?

Broken and bent to the yoke.
Koola, our love and our light,
What have they done unto you?
Man of the star-reaching sight,
Dipped in the fire and the dew?

Black-headed snakes in the grass
Struck at the fleet footed lord!
Still is his voice at the pass,
Soundless his steps at the ford.
Fast from the sides of the glen
Tracks of a hunter decay.
Rings of the councils of men
Look for a leader to-day.
Tea, and the fish-river clear
Never shall blacken below
Spear and the shadow of spear,
Bow and the arrow of bow.
We who axe beaten and worn,
Dashed underfoot by the twain—
Foes with the faces of scorn—
How shall we gladden again?

Seeing the fathers are far,
Elders and friends of the dead
Left on the paths of the war
Matted and mangled and red!

Saturday, March 21

Malawi Support Group to close

The latest letter from Fr Taylor informed our small group his mission is ending in Malawi as he has handed over effective control to a local group of parishioners. If you would like to read his letter to me it is posted to the Malawi Support Group which is shown on the sidebar.   

The good news is St Kizito’s (Chigoneka) Parish in the Archdiocese of Lilongwe at the end of last year was able to purchase an office complex for additional income generation, to support needy educational scholarships in the outlying parishes. This marks yet another milestone in a community we have been supporting for the past 24 years as she moves towards becoming more self-sufficient. St Kizito acts as the hub in order to support the needy in the outlying 5 very poor parishes.  

In his letter Fr Taylor mentions his retirement and suggested we also bring to a close the Support Group as we both move on. In a nutshell our small group has resolved to close the charity by the end of the June financial year. Parishioners and outside supporters can be justifiably pleased we are concluding on a high note, having provided $127,000 over the past 24 years.  This modest support has in no small way transformed the facilities in the respective outlying poorer parishes. In Australian dollar terms it would be the equivalent of infrastructure works being carried out here, in many of the years, of well in excess of a million dollars in each year. What that has taught me over the years is very little goes a long way in Malawi. In Malawian Kwach’s the total exceeds $500 million.
I am also now deeply convinced that we are all, more than ever, part of a global village, and sharing in the gifts and stories of respective communities is one of a number of vital planks, with education funding the key, as the way to make real progress.       
I plan to provide a final update in June to thank everybody, when we celebrate the feast day of St Kizito, to also announce the formal closure of the charity. At our website we have a history and information stretching back to the early days should that be of interest, which you can read by clicking on the Malawi blog.       


Wednesday, March 11

Discoveries of Science and a philosopher’s guide to reality.

Introduction to the topic  
Science in this context includes Physics, Biology, and other disciplines including the social sciences  
I have also elected to include meta-physics, which is defined as our state of being that lies outside of  physics. 
The first major work was the treatise by Aristotle which you can read in full should it be of interest by clicking here.           
Scientist’s use a variety of tools, but there is no singlescientific method in use, notwithstanding a general evidence based approach.  
Hence, a theory may be considered “empirically adequate”, to be validated under observable phenomena, but competes against alternatives in relation to its theoretical claims. 
Science philosophers of distinction include David HumeErnest Mach and Bertrand Russell , then there are those principally are referred to as phenomenologists, namely Max SchelorAlbert Schultz or those who only get involved in what they see as practical applications. 
But by the time we reached the early part of the 20th century just about all of the famous physicists including Einstein, Schrodinger and Heisenberg were debating the philosophical issues associated with their discoveries in relativity and quantum mechanics which i will cover in much more detail later on. 
As far as theories go  Lee Smolin favours virtuosity as outlined in his book entitled ‘The Trouble with Physics’, for theories in respect to fundamental physics. 
For Smolin a theory must be both capable of being proven experimentally and also make a new prediction, to provide an answer that disproves the old theory, whilst ensuring the new theory is verifiable. 
Early beginnings

To reiterate the first formal paper on meta-physics, a term used then to describe our state of being outside of physics was by Aristotle (322 BC-384 BC) whose ideas remains firmly etched into our societal framework. 

His ideas remained virtually unchallenged for over a thousand years, remaining relevant in the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions from a religious philosophical perspective.
Aristotle as a major influence on the Abrahamic Religions, particularly during the 12th & 13th century when they became available in Latin.  He was also a major Influence on Aquinas (1225-74) in respect to his idea that knowledge is gained from the reports of the senses. His influence extended to ideas about the soul was part of the form of the body inspired Aquinas.   
In regard to his physics, Aristotle remained hostage to the notion of a central earth, where the stars and planets revolved around it. 
It was thought then impossible for the earth to move on its axis and orbit the sun as otherwise you must feel the rush of wind in your hair just as you would when riding a horse. Many simply believed humans might fall apart if exposed to speeds exceeding that of a galloping horse. John Gibbon- Science A History -1543-2001.
But Aristotle possibly also developed the first plausible theory of gravity, although he never attempted to test it.
How he arrived at such a plausible theory was to add a spirit or aether to the four basic elements of earth, water, fire and air to deduce the nature of things.
It was patently obvious that water and earth move down and air and fire go up, so that the greater the mass of a substance the faster it will fall, proportional to its mass. 
His theory was the earth must therefore be the centre of the universe, whose principal element being earth, had reached its destination.  The earth wasn’t moving because a stone drops at your feet, as otherwise it would fall further on in line with a moving earth. 
His explanation for the movements of the planets and stars was to say they were set in a series of concentric spheres revolving around a series of poles of aether through a Pole star. 
This Aristolean model was refined and developed into a mathematical model by Ptolemy to give approximate positions for the stars which was useful for religious and navigational observances.   
But as it turns out, everything Aristotle said about gravity was wrong. 
A century later, Aristarchus of Samos came to the conclusion the Sun, not the earth was the centre of the Universe
16th & 17th Century
But remarkably this idea of a sun centric universe did no catch on until it was revived by Copernicus in the 16th century, to form part of his 1543 publication which talked about the revolution of the celestial spheres.  This period marked the beginning of what we call modern day science as civilization "emerged from the Dark ages". 
Copernicus  posited the idea of a central Sun, which eant Aristotle’s notion of gravity must be false. Although Copernicus’s model of a sun centred universe was also incorrect, it proved to be a useful framework to explore other possibilities by mathematicians and astronomers. 
In 1660 in London the ‘College for the Promotion of Physic-Mathematical Learning’ was opened which then became the Royal Society. By that time Copernicus had introduced the idea of a moving earth, for which he risked ex-communication from his church, followed closely by a declaration his theory on the planatory movements was heretical and consequently banned.  
Galileo’s observations finally refuted Aristotle’s ideas of a fixed central planet earth, but he also disagreed with his metaphysics. Galileo attributed GOD only to the primary causes (or those not understood) with the remainder designated secondary causes comprehensible as mechanical processes.

He suffered stiff opposition as his note to Kepler testifies:

I wish, my dear Kepler that we could have a good laugh together at the extraordinary stupidity of the mob. What do you think of the foremost philosophers of this University? In spite of my oft-repeated efforts and invitations, they have refused, with the obstinacy of a glutted adder, to look at the planets or Moon or my telescope.
You may also be interested in a little poem he composed when refuting the Aristotelian notion of an unchanging celestial sphere.
No lower than the other stars it lies,
and does not move in ways around,
than all fixed stars-nor change in sign or size.
All of this is proved on purest reason's ground:
Later he was obliged to renounce his beliefs to avoid going to the "rack" or the "stake" or possibly both.
John Gibbon- Science A History -1543-2001.
In 1667 Newton took a 7-year fellowship with Trinity College, dependent on swearing an oath "I will either set Theology as the object of my studies or take holy orders at the allotted time as statutes prescribe. 
Newton demonstrated instead of two forces underpinning planetary movements there was only one, represented by the force of gravity. 
The reason was that particle is attracted to one another in the cosmos. His unifying laws then accounted for the position of the planets, known only up until Saturn. 
A century later in 1781, William Herschel, discovered a light point previously thought to be a star, but now could be identified as the planet Uranus. This observation in turn led to the identification of Neptune.  
But the question remained; what mechanism underpinned such a gravitational force and how did it work.
Rene Descartes(1596- 1650), was critical of his work and proposed a solution whereby space was comprised of tiny ‘corpuscles’ whose fluid- Iike qualities sweep around the Sun, pulling the planets along, like water swirling around a plug hole. 
Newton’s response ruled out this proposition as he was able to point out the globes of the planets and comets move freely and continually, unrestrained by any kind of corporeal fluid proposed by Descartes.
What took place during this period was a separation between physics and natural philosophy. This was made possible since Galileo and Newton had defined the laws of planetary motion discovered earlier on by Kepler. 
Newtonian physics subsequently became the catalyst for a philosophical stance that postulated a clockwork universe. The radical proposition took hold that nothing other than physics is needed to understand the physical universe, despite the fact this idea was rejected by Newton.
Newton was the first of the great Scientists to show the laws of science are indeed universal laws that effect everything. For Newton and many of his contemporaries GOD was the architect of it all. Newton even went on to say God was a "hands on” architect who might interfere from "time to time". John Gibbon- Science A History -1543-2001.
18th Century

At the beginning of the 18th century Linnaeus expanded the botanical horizons by providing descriptions of 7,700 species of plants and most species of animal known in Europe then. Linnaeus's belief was that man belonged in the same genus as the apes, a belief validated in the 98 % correlation between the DNAof humans, chimpanzees and gorillas.
It was only because of Linnaeus’s fear of incurring the wrath of the theologians that "Homo Sapiens" sit in unique and isolated splendor as the sole member of a genus
Many argue “that 2% difference makes all of the difference. 
Linnaeus believed his work was uncovering GOD's handiwork, but made no room for evolution.   
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher who influenced by Newton.   
Kant recognized the problem of the human mind and provided a solution as to how we can escape from the confines of our mind to discern a reality of an outside world physically beyond it.
Kant’s solution posited that prior known truths are insufficient to describe metaphysics but from prior knowledge (which he called A priori the mind is capable of joining up with analysis to understand how to proceed. This may seem a very straightforward matter for us today, but it was a major move forward in thinking then to run counter to existing philosophy.

His ideas ensured a much better understanding about how the mind joins past knowledge and links to analysis to posit judgments about our interaction with the outside world.
Kant argued the mind gives objects some of their characteristics in accord with its compliant nature to bring uniformity within its structured conceptual capability.

Kant’s transcended argument however does not mean philosophically he saw grounds for ideas such as, ‘GOD is a perfect being.’ as Kant maintained that the mind was a tool to formal structuring that enables the conjoining of concepts into judgments, but that the mind possesses a priori for judgments, not A priori of judgments. Nietzsche on the other hand, regarded Kant’s ideas to be fatally flawed. He thought his views did not reflect our existential reality, since he (Kant) relied too heavily on his universal A priori laws. 

19th Century
The so called "enlightened science" brought new discoveries; Carbon Dioxide, the Steam Engine, ElectricityOxygen and Water as an element, all provided a boon to the Industrial Revolution. There were many more dramatic developments, but undoubtedly the most important was Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which, for the first time offered scientific explanation of evolution.
Much of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection remains in place today and his theory is generally accepted within modern theology except for fundamentalist sectors who loosely describe themselves as “Creationists” relying on literal interpretation of the Old Testament. It also prompted more interest in Pantheism in which GOD is seen to be in all things as creation continues.
In the 19th century science moved away from the interest or hobby of a privileged few to a well-populated profession. No longer could a single individual have such a profound impact except of course for Darwin. 
20th & 21st Century
In 1905 Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity was published. The foundation stone was the constancy of the speed of light and it was the only absolute truth that nothing exceeds the speed of light. By the time he developed his theory, there was experimental evidence that the measured speed of light is always the same, irrespective of how the person undertaking the measuring is moving. 
He went on to develop the general theory of relativity, which was of concern for many: was everything relative?  Is it not a fact there are no absolute moral standards? only relativity ?  
Because nothing exceeds the speed of light any motion through space time absorbs time so that anyone taking off on a very long rocket journey and returning to earth much later would be younger than an equivalent earth bound counterpart. 
No longer could space or time be thought of without the other as space time was shown to be a major player in the unfolding cosmos.
In the earlier part of the 20th century just about all of the famous physicists — Einstein, Niels Bohr Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg were debating the philosophical issues associated with their discoveries in relativity and quantum mechanics. Einstein's contribution was by way of his original thesis with such diverse references as neo-Kantianism, Conventionalism and logical empiricism.     
But post the Second World War scientists tended to shy away from the philosophy of science to the extent claims were made that philosophy was becoming irrelevant and had not kept pace with science. But in many respects the scientific commentaries continued to reference what could be described as Platonic concepts and ask the big questions which are clearly meta–physical in nature.
In many ways, modern astronomy – astrophysics – only began at the beginning of the 20th century, precisely because of the application of photographic techniques to preserve images of the stars. Various discoveries allow astronomers to work out the masses of the stars, the temperature as relating to its color and ensures measurement of the distances to the stars. Furthermore one can determine the kinds of materials manufactured inside stars, scattered across space by stellar outbursts described as a supernovae, being principally the birth and death of stars. 
The beginning of the quantum revolution (study of sub atomic particles called protons and electrons) meant light could be seen behaving either as a wave or as a stream of particles, referenced as quantum mechanics.
It is called quantum mechanics because there is no single quantum theory. The basic mathematical formulations were developed in the 1920's, which deal with the position or momentum of a single particle or group of a few particles as to how they change over time.
Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle, underpinned quantum mechanics i e., where two photons are entangled any successful measurement of either will force the other distant photon (however far away- even were it to be on the other side of the universe) into a corresponding same spin cycle rather than any expected haze of probabilities.
One can never know when a current quantum field theory will not be superseded by a much more powerful model that may not even be involved in fields or particles.
The limiting factor involving all physical theories that are tested to show that they work, is we can never be certain as to what degree they correspond to “reality.” A claim that they do, shunts the discussion back into the realm of meta-physics. Hence, there doesn’t seem to be any empirical way to determine ultimate reality. Having read avidly all of Stephen Hawking’s books one also notices his cosmological concerns that diverge into metaphysical questions such as the ultimate origins of life and the beginnings of the universe and so on. Like others in his field, they unwittingly become philosophers, even as some continue who criticise philosophy, from whom they claim they are divorced.  
Modern day phenomenon  
The recent sighting of a black hole, some 50 billion light years from the earth, brought back memories of first reading the late Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time ’.  For Hawking, together with Roger Penrose, were the pioneers in proving the existence of black holes beyond doubt, by observations of the surrounding activity which validated what Einstein had first reluctantly concluded, as a corollary to his general theory of relativity. 
Amongst other things, what Hawking was able to do was to explain in graphic detail, just how dramatically Einstein’s general theory of relativity disproved the previous notion that the universe operated like a giant clockwise movement, more or less principally a product of Newtonian science. Rather, Einstein talked about curved Space -Time, an amalgam of 3 dimensions of space and time combined to make up a continuum. 
The inevitable result is the formulation of singularities (black holes), the consequence of stars, over immense periods of time, becoming unimaginably heavier and dense, to emerge as white and brown dwarfs, to the heavier Neutron Stars. A Neutron star about 20 km in diameter would have the mass of about 1.4 times our Sun. This means that a neutron star is so dense that on Earth, one teaspoonful would weigh a billion tons!
Given sufficient initial stellar material, stars will eventually shrink to where their size is zero and their density is infinite, when you have a so called singularity. 
At the heart of every black hole is a singularity where it is believed nothing can escape. That is what we see today with the event horizon as matter is drawn inward into the invisible center. Einstein reluctantly concluded that nothing can escape from a black hole where the laws of science break down. 
We have made tremendous strides in technology and engineering feats that has underpinned space exploration since those heady days. But in terms of Einstein’s contribution he remains the bedrock or gold standard upon which new discoveries and observations come to light. What I think this summary suggests is we only have a tenuous grasp on reality. Ultimately our immediate actions, governed by the uncertainty principle is likely to lead to outcomes we don’t envisage in our youth.This calls for a more compassionate world in policy and management advancement. Although we tend to think of science in terms of great discoveries by individual geniuses on whose shoulders we rest, John Gribbin shows us more often than not it is rather the “hard slogging” step by step building process by ordinary people that wins out in the end. This painstaking work is undertaken usually without “lust” for glory but to satisfy our intense curiosity about the world and how it works.
All of our ground breaking major scientific discoveries are counter intuitive and most discoveries did not follow on logically to seem at first to be against common sense. Science tells us how things are but not logically how things are. However, the fact that a philosophy is underpinned by a false scientific notion does not in itself discredit the whole of the body of that work. All revelations in science reveal is that a particular model of reality conforms to a verifiable observation from that perspective. New scientific discoveries and insights will prompt questions about the status quo for debate and continue to be the catalyst for changed thinking. Maybe there are fields of compassion to be discovered but that another story. .   

Sunday, March 8

Free or not

Marx held people were enslaved by societal conditions whereas Kant thought individuals were inherently free and the fault lay with individuals failing to exhibit courage. 
Which is correct?
Can we have a mixture of both?
Kant asserted that the moral law is one that we can self impose upon ourselves, made possible by our autonomy under his transcendent philosophical construct, consistent with the idea of free will. Hence it is that freedom we are free to exercise, notwithstanding for nature he posits a causal form of determinism. That is the idea that antecedent events determine outcomes. This casual form of determinism would also apply to humanity, except for the fact he introduces his transcendental construct. This is all tied up with the structure of Kant’s moral theory and belief in freedom, GOD, plus the immortality of the soul, which become the “postulates” of his ideas on practical reasoning.
His overarching view is that what is morally right or wrong can mostly only be assessed against those who are free agents. But this freedom can only apply if the cause for that action lies within that person, when they are free agents,      
But Kant’s view is where our actions arise as a naturally occurring phenomenon, in time, than it would be the result of some other cause occurring in a previous time, consistent with the idea of casual determinism.  
His idea in this matter arises from his attempt to link the Newtonian worldview expressed in his so called priori laws. That is his philosophical construct that every event relates to a cause which has begun in an earlier time. Hence, if that cause was an event occurring in time, then it must also have a cause beginning in a still earlier time and so on. He held that view applied to nature in the form of a deterministic causal chain that stretches backwards into the dim past to determine existential outcomes. He gets around this problem for humanity, by invoking the transcendental argument. Thus he introduces the idea of a kind of transcendental idealism which ensures one has the kind of freedom that ethically based existence demands. His system of reasoning and his categorical imperatives assume universality, which is not the case in term of human existence according to Nietzsche, who was highly critical of it.     
Marx held that in order to achieve both a good and a just society, it is incumbent for a system to offer free development for each based on the reciprocal obligation that equally applies for all, as was incorporated into the Communist Manifesto.
This freedom could not be achieved under a capitalist system that would enslave those less influential and the poor to deprive them of a fair share of the wealth of production. He thought that capitalism results in poverty, via frequent crashes, structural unemployment, downward pressure on wages, etc. etc. so that an individual’s freedom to achieve self-realization for a large portion of the population was unattainable.

Sunday, March 1

Battle for the butterflies revisited

On Butterflies wings and a prayer

This is a post from about  4 years prior. Since  then some refugees have been adopted as family members, for all intensive purposes to be now joyful additions to those local expanded families residing in Eltham.    
Below is my previous posting. 
Last Saturday according to the Sunday Age newspaper in Eltham,  a leafy northern eastern suburb of Melbourne where I live   "The battle for Eltham" dubbed by the newspaper was won by the butterflies which carried the day. 

The battle was between pro and anti refugees groups but what the small anti group of protestors encountered adorning the surrounding trees and footpaths were 8000 beautiful depictions of colourful butterflies. This was the predawn work of locals wanting to express symbolically their welcome to the 120 Syrian refugees soon to be accommodated in a section of an aged care facility. The pictures of police standing guard on the pavement under a blanket of large butterflies looked was quite amazing.       

The refugees are to be housed for 2 years in a separate section of  St Vincent's aged care facility which was previously derelict but now renovated for their use while they re-establish themselves. 

Protestors put up signs "Protect elderly in aged care" but the renovated independent units are separate to the high care section and only families will be occupying the units. Others have voiced concern these units could have been used to alleviate shortages in aged care. But demand is specific only to high care and there is no shortage of independent units in the shire.                  
In our local Catholic church parishioners have been very active for a number of months organising donations of essential household goods for designated units so that the refugees feel welcome.