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2021 January 14 -- Newton, Part 2

A month ago I started reading Isaac Newton's Principia, now I'm nearing the end of his work on optics, bound up in the same volume. There's a reason Newton is known for physics and not for optics. When he did his analysis on physics of motion, he was building on a variety of Renaissance scientists over the previous two centuries. He could see their mistakes and not make his own. In optics he seems to be on the cutting edge, and a large part of what makes optics work had not yet been discovered. Newton runs his experiments, and imagines what he can about why things behave the way they do, but in some cases (as we now know) he was just flat wrong. Some of his insights come close to a wave theory of light, but Maxwell's equations came more than a century later.

Book Three of Principia is titled "System of the World" and applies the physics of bodies in motion in the previous two "Books" to the planetary motions of the solar system -- I think he established conclusively that comets are like planets with a highly eliptical orbit. He had no idea about their tails, supposing that they were "vapors" that diffused to the planets to provide the solid material we walk on. As I worked through these 570-odd pages, it seems to me that the "proofs" get more and more vague and general, until by the third book of optics he doesn't bother with proofs at all. How can he? There are no bodies in motion that he can see or measure, just the differential bending of different colors of light diffracted through one or more prisms, and the circles of light and dark surrounding the point of contact of two glass surfaces, one slightly more curved than the other.

Anyway, in the introduction to Book Three he makes this curious admission:

...I would [not] advise anyone to the previous study of every Proposition of these books; for they abound with such as might cost too much time, even to the readers of good mathematical learning. It is enough if one carefully reads the Definitions, The Laws of Motion, and the first three sections of the first book. He may then pass on to this book, and consult such of the remaining Propositions of the first two books, as the references in this, and his occasions, shall require.
This is basically what I did, except that my "occasions" did not "require" me to go back for any of it.

A couple of times he mentioned that somebody had measured the speed of light by timing the eclipses of the moons of Jupiter. I could not imagine how that would give anybody the means to measure the speed of light, but (Google Knows All) I found several references, at least one that explained how it works. It seems that the orbital period of Jupiter's inner moon Io is 1.769 Earth days, which can be measured precisely by watching when the eclipse starts (or ends). This would not be visible when the earth is in line with Jupiter and the sun, because it would be happening behind Jupiter, but the rest of the year the earth is off to one side or the other, so we can see the moon at a slight angle as it goes around behind (or from the other side, as it comes out). The article didn't say so, but I guess you can also measure the diameter of the earth's orbit from the maximum distance from Jupiter that the eclipse can be seen, as compared to the widest point in its orbit, a little trigonometry should be able to calculate how far off to one side we are, at least as a ratio to our distance to Jupiter. Newton spent a lot of his calculations on determining things like orbit diameter from the transit time, and stuff like that. Anyway, this Dutch astronomer was thinking he could make an accurate clock from timing the eclipses -- mariners can tell their latitude from how high in the sky particular stars are, but longitude requires an accurate clock. Sundials just don't cut it.. He had an accurate average orbital time for Io, but the eclipses got later and later each day as the earth receded from Jupiter, and then earlier as we came around the other side and got closer. The difference between the maximum and minimum is the time it takes light to travel the diameter of the earth's orbit, from our closest approach to the farthest.

Anyway, skipping over the heavy math, and the descriptions of geometric figures where he used terms no longer in our English vocabulary (and the translator didn't help out), it was a fascinating read, but I wouldn't recommend it to the faint of heart.

2021 January 11 -- Church and Music

This is a "Community Church" so they try to be a place for everybody. They don't do liturgy, but they do have seasonal Advent candles, which some family comes up each week to light the next one. Everybody else in the world stops celebrating Christmas on Christmas day, but liturgical churches (sometimes only implicitly) celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, which liturgical season ends with the beginning of Epiphany, January 6, and this church continued with their one token Christmas song on the third day of Christmas (December 27). I guerss they dropped the Tenth Day. Whatever.

The sermon topics during Advent focussed on the four songs in Luke associated with the birth of Jesus, and the four pastors in charge of the four campuses was each assigned on song and took turns rotating around the four campuses preaching their particular song. I didn't catch his name, but one of the guys drew the short straw, and he wasn't very excited about his assigned song. He as much as said so, and you could tell, because he picked one half verse out of the middle of the song, and preached a topical sermon on salvation, the word was in that half verse, and he basically ignored the rest of the song.

This was several weeks ago and I hope I'm not confusing him with another of the young guys -- maybe the Senior pastor hires young guys to do the satellite campuses, because they are less likely to challenge his authority (pretty much all pastors are into authority and control, the other personality types don't want the job) -- he said his first job was as Music Minister, and he really liked the structure of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), which starts out gentle (I don't recall his exact words) with the verses, then gets stronger with the chorus, but the climax is the bridge. I always thought of a "bridge" in its etymological sense of being a way to get over a chasm separating here and there, a means to an end, not the end itself. And while the CCM bridge in most of the songs I can think of hearing in church booms louder than the rest, it's all empty repetition, contentless words that Jesus told us [Matt.6:7] to avoid. Even in CCM, the meat is in the verses.

This has been nagging me for a week now, because (I guess he's) an associate pastor who came up for closing remarks and/or a benediction at the end commented on the importance of the repeated line in the bridge of that final song, that "God is Good" -- which is true, perhaps the only True thing in the whole song, which mostly invites the four pagan elements (earth, fire, air and water, plus darkness and light = Yin and Yang, a different religious tradition, but still anti-Christian) to become "the King of my heart", thus celebrating the created rather than the Creator. I never heard any mention of Jesus or God in the whole song. Lyrics for all these songs are online, and I did find two "God"s buried out there in the repetitive part I tune out, but still no Jesus. The only way you can know this is a "Christian" song is that the Deity ("King of my heart") is masculine, whereas neo-paganism makes their deity female in conscious opposition to the true God. Oh, also, one of the eight elements invited to be "King of my heart" is a "ransom" which is a Christian concept not found in other religions. But I saw that in the downloaded lyrics, and never heard it go by in the (darkened) sanctuary. The meat is still in the verses, but it needs more than a heavy beat to hide its putrefaction.

I don't go to church -- certainly not this one -- for the music. There's another church in town that did beautiful music the week I visited (see "Choosing a Church" four years ago) but I had other and better reasons for not going there. With one or two exceptions (neither of whom lasted as long as I did at their church), every pastor I ever knew or knew of is a control freak. I thought the pastor at the church I picked four years ago was an exception, but I was wrong. I do not yet know for sure about this pastor, but I know how to deal with that personality type -- mostly stay off their radar, which is easier in a large church -- so I hope to be more careful this time around. Except I'm more noticeable than most: the senior pastor saw me walking to church and came over to say something, then he saw "the little Red Book" (my Greek New Testament, in which I was reading the text for his upcoming sermon), and repeated the fear that good pastors have of lay people reading Greek & Hebrew. It's that fear that makes them good -- and also (misplaced) causes them to drive me out.

Music here is a wasteland: CCM is tuneless, minimal harmony -- one of the praise team singers tries to sing harmony, but only manages to find notes to sing about half the time in less than a quarter of their song selections -- no rhyme, no worthwhile message, only a driving beat. I think I was still in college and had a music prof say that the joke in England was that "Opera is sung in Italian so that people will not realize that what is too silly to be said is sung." I'm convinced that CCM drowns everything in a rock beat for the same reason. It would appear (from videos and movies of riot scenes) that some people like to chant mindless repetitious phrases instead of thinking about the issues, but I'm not one of them. Perhaps churches (and the CCM industry in particular) sees that as a need they can and should fill.

This church is pretty proud of their small groups, but I'm still rather gun-shy: One guess at why I got the boot in the previous church involved my participation in their small (men's) group. But it's only a guess. Fortunately, I have Covid to blame for not joining -- last year and continuing this month, dunno about when the pandemic is over.

2021 January 7 -- PhD Jokes

I suppose there are a bunch of them, but I only know of three jokes about the advanced degree I don't often mention in public.

The first I seem to recall hearing from a former Army nurse who became a missionary as a second career. I no longer remember what she did there, but she worked at a seminary for native pastors in the northern coast of Peru. These young men -- maybe not so young -- some of them would walk for days down from little villages high in the Andes mountains where there were no roads. I spent a week there teaching them Greek (in Spanish!). I don't know how much they actually learned, but later she told me that they all remembered that week fondly. I did not have any advanced degrees at the time, perhaps she felt safe in telling me the joke.

It seems you go to college for four years and earn a BS, and we all know what that stands for. Then you keep studying for an MS, which is More of the Same. If you keep at it, you get a PhD which stands for "Piled High and Deep."

When I went back to school after a few years out in the real world making embedded software, and discovering that I was trying to do things I did not have the theoretical basis for, the line somebody at the University used is that in higher education "You learn more and more about less and less, until finally you know all there is to know about nothing."

The third one I read in last month's Spectrum, quoting some guy they were honoring. Or maybe the (female) editor just liked him because he was trying to increase the number of women on faculty in engineering colleges. It's a lost cause, because not very many women enjoy doing the kind of linear thinking that is required to make science and engineering happen. The dean at the College of Engineering at Portland State said sadly in my hearing, that a few years ago they had 50% female entering students, "but now it's back down to 25%." Some of the feminazis are beginning to realize that, so they have begun pushing for getting into the technical domains people who are interested in non-linear thinking -- turning "STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) into "STEAM" where the "A" stands for "Arts", totally oblivious to the fact that the reason techies make so much money is because what they do is difficult and not many people are able (or even want) to do it. It's called "supply and demand," and it's how the capitalist economy has made this country (and indeed the whole world) so rich. Bringing the arts into technology does not make the companies doing it more profitable, so they won't do it. Doing unprofitable things in industry does not raise the standard of living of the worthless people they pay equal wages to, but instead it depresses the standard of living for everybody. It's one of the things that make socialist countries so much poorer than the rest of the world.

Anyway, his joke is that "When you get your undergraduate degree, you think you know everything. Then you get your master's degree and you realize you know nothing. Finally, you get your Ph.D. and you realize nobody else does either, so it just doesn't matter." That didn't work for me, because when I was young and impressionable, my father told me that "No matter how smart you are, or how dumb the other guy is, there's always something he knows that you don't, which you can learn from him." I still believe that, although I'm a little less willing to wade through continuous repetitions of the same stuff I already heard last time. Tell me something I don't know, I like learning new things.

2021 January 4 -- All Scripture

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. -- 2Tim.3:16,17 (oNIV)
Some time early in my life I adopted the notion (not always consciously) that All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for ... training in righteousness, so that I can be thoroughly equipped for everything God wants me to do, which, because I'm a logical person and (because it is illogical to want what God does not want) is also everything I want to do. The people in the denomination I grew up in didn't seem to believe that as rigorously as I do (see, for example, my essay "Dispensations"), so when I finished college and left home, I never joined another church in that denomination, although I did, in a couple of places, sit in their church each Sunday for some 3+ years because in each case it seemed at the time to be the best church option at the time).

Part of the "All Scripture" that I continue to accept as profitable (KJV as I learned it, NIV above has "useful") is the book of Proverbs, and in particular (as I said, not always consciously, but certainly and mostly without exception) chapter 4, which came up in my reading today, as it does on the 4th of every Jamnuary and July for the last four or five decades. Solomon advises his son (who, as we read elsewhere did not pay much attention) and by Paul's and Jesus' own advice, also us:

Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor. Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. -- Pro.4:5-10 (oNIV)

I do not recall ever consciously choosing to accept this advice, but I certainly accepted it at an early age, and it seems to have had the predicted result.

Besides today's reading in Proverbs, I'm working my way through Jeremiah and am nearly to the end. Three times (Jer.25:9, 27:6, and 43:9) God referred to "my servant Nebuchadnezzar" whom He summoned to destroy, first Judah and Jerusalem, then finally also Egypt where the Jews had fled seeking refuge. It was like God telling them, "You can run but you can't hide." Worse, Jeremiah told them that if they go into captivity in Babylon, they and their families will survive and return to Israel. If they flee to Egypt, they will all die when God destroys Egypt. Chapter 43 is the first of nine chapters in which God has Jeremiah pronouncing destruction of the nations around Israel, ending finally with Babylon itself. God's "servant Nebuchadnezzar" had done wickedly in destroying Jerusalem, and for that deed, his capital city would be destroyed and left "without inhabitant," is it indeed is today. Saddam tried to rebuild Babylon, but he did not succeed. Nobody succeeds against God, not even the wicked people God invites to do God's work for Him.

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful..." and Jeremiah is part of that "All Scripture" that the great Apostle was referring to. In my case, I get to acknowledge that what happened to me this year was good (because God is Good) even if the perp was acting wickedly and will get his just reward in the end. Not my problem, of course, God does that in His way. I just need to accept it as a gift from God and get on with life. I think this (new to me) church is better -- not the music, that's not what I go to church for -- but the sermons are more Biblical (both broader and deeper) and also more relevant to where I'm at, so more useful to what I can see. They have a better outreach program, especially missions, which has always been important to me.

Maybe God will move me again, I hope not so violently, but sometimes I'm like the mule in the story, that the farmer always spoke to it with kind words and a soft voice. Some reporter grew up on a farm, and decided he had to see this, so he drove out to the farm and asked about it. The farmer said "Sure. See that mule over there?" He reached down and picked up a piece of 2x4 and Wham! hit the mule on the side of the head. "Hey wait a minute, I thought you only spoke to it with kind words and a soft voice," the reporter protested. "That's right," the farmer replied, "but you gotta get his attention first."

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