Friday, June 9, 2017

The Intellectual Aesthetic

Nonmaterial, or intangible, things should not be dismissed in assessing what makes life worthwhile. Why a nonmaterial thing makes someone happy is not necessarily obvious even if it does. One such thing that makes me happy can be termed, intellectual aesthetics. This term requires some unpacking, as does my point that such an aesthetic can trigger happiness. In fact, the commonly presumed association between aesthetics generally and happiness is itself in need of a closer look.

Aesthetics are typically associated with the eye—meaning sight. A beautiful painting, photograph, or picturesque vista can be said to be aesthetically pleasing. Looking out over the Grand Canyon in Arizona, for instance, can prompt a person to feel a sense of awe. Beholding such a sight is also typically associated with happiness even if the question of why a beautiful view, or object such as a painting or sculpture, makes the beholder happy. Receiving a present or a lot of money, and the birth of a child are quite understandably associated with happiness. Optical aesthetics requires more in the way of explanation.

That a theory or philosophical system of thought could make an intellectual happy rather than merely impressed is particularly difficult to understand, for the aesthetics of an idea or relation between them is itself barely recognized even among intellectuals. An analogy may be helpful. I liken a theory to a physical model of a molecule. The balls are the ideas and the sticks connecting the balls represent reason. A theory thus has a particular “shape,” albeit in the mind’s eye, hence nonmaterial, or intangible. This mental shape itself, rather than merely the ideas themselves, can cause pleasure in the beholder.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Comet’s Cosmic Song: Evidence of Plato’s Justice as Harmony of the Spheres?

On September 30, 2016, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft ended its mission orbiting Comet 67P. The mission added knowledge on how planets came together and how life arrived on Earth. “One of Rosetta’s key findings is that comets are probably not the source of Earth’s water.”[1] I submit that of even greater importance is a finding that can be indexed as philosophical in nature.

In particular, the European Space Agency “released audio of a ‘cosmic song,’ created by the magnetic fields oscillating in the trail of particles flying off the comet.”[2] In particular, movements in the comet’s Magnetic field are caused by solar particles hitting and electrically charging the comet’s atmosphere. The “song” resembles the sounds that whales make. Perhaps it resonates with our music as well. For one thing, the beat of the cosmic song is regular and the pitch varies from “note” to “note.”

Philosophically, the finding may confirm Plato’s theory of justice as “the harmony of the spheres” being in line with the harmonies of a well-ordered city (polis) and mind (psyche). Justice “just is” the harmony between and within these three things—the universe, the city, and the mind. The harmony, as with our music, has mathematical aspects (e.g., low, middle, and high notes, of intervals of duration (e.g., eighth, quarter, half, and full notes).  The comet’s “cosmic song” adds to the accumulating empirical support for Plato’s theory.

It would be really astounding were the mathematical-musical vibrations of a reason-ordering-the-passions human mind and the vibrations of a reason-ordered city in sync with the vibrations given off by suns, planets, and comets—with those respective mathematical-musical vibrations in harmony with each other. That such a confluence is itself just blows the mind.

The implication is that keeping your passions under the control of your reasoning ability puts you in a very subtle sense in harmony with the “cosmic song” of the observed comet. Perhaps people enjoy music so much because it can serve as a mediator helping the mind to be well-ordered (hence suitable for order-imposing reasoning) and in sync with the harmonies of the heavenly spheres, including comets. It is worthwhile simply pondering how justice as we typically construe the term boils down to that “syncness.”

[1] Kenneth Chang, “Rosetta Mission Ends With Spacecraft’s Dive Into Comet,” The New York Times, September 30, 2016.
[2] Ibid.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

God's Gold

Stepping away from the obtuse academic writing that characterizes a treatise such as Godliness and Greed, I have written a book entitled God's Gold, which is geared to general college-educated readers who are interested in the topic of Christian takes historically on how greed is related to profit-seeking and wealth. In the text, I try to explain why the historical trajectory in dominant Christian attitudes towards profits and wealth moved from anti-wealth to pro-wealth. Did the religion stray, or is a pro-wealth view stitched into the very fabric of the religion? Put another way, how much are Christian theology and ethics of the world rather than merely in it? What can business practitioners who self-identify as Christian do to keep their work and compensation free from the taint of greed? The book is geared to answering these questions.