De-cluttering your digital life

If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product

There’s a popular movement in the West called, “minimalism.” Although it spans many fields, a particular application is the de-cluttering of people’s homes, the cleaning out of extraneous possessions. As it clears out a space, so it clears up the mind –even the soul. I would like to propose we do the same with our digital lives. Why bother filling your life with Netflix subscriptions and purchases of latest phones when we know that life is most clearly enjoyed in the company of other human beings? Why would you let someone else steal your personal information and profit from their sharing? To this end, I’ve compiled a few questions which you can ask yourself to de-clutter your digital life, and perhaps break the addiction of screens that are dragging your life down.

  • Do I store my music on my devices or with a cloud provider? If it’s by a cloud provider, do I have a compelling reason to do so?
  • Who do I share my personal information with?
  • Do I use an ad blocker? If not, you should get one immediately. I recommend Brave.
  • Can I list, on a napkin or post-it note, the number of services that I’m subscribed to online? If you can’t remember, you should research and know; if the number goes past the length of the note, it’s too much. Digital services should be considered utilities and given the same kind of attention to each month.
  • When I open my computer, do I know exactly what I’m using it for? In other words, am I using my computer to accomplish a task, or is the computer using me to accomplish a profit?

The computer and the internet were made to make men more free in their ability to know and create. However, a person lacking in virtue can easily let these freedoms overwhelm their temperance and cause one to gorge on the endless variety of pleasures it provides. A virtuous individual will be able to use these tools to make him/herself better. A virtuous citizen will be able to use them to make the community around them, and their country as a whole, better. If we cannot make the right decisions about how we use computers, we risk having the organizations behind them (whether it be the manufacturer, political party, etc.) take control over our attention, and therefore, our minds.

Welcome to class, this app will be your teacher

In becoming a teacher, I’ve lost my mind…but found my heart and soul.”  

Students looking at the Museum’s mobile app

When was the last time you downloaded an app to learn something? This month? This week? Today? Education is one the largest app categories on the App Store, and the advent of COVID has only increased the number of educational apps that assist with remote learning. The trend of online learning has increased in recent years thanks to the advent of machine learning and big data —an increased amount of data means recommendations and attuned instruction can be provided to users based on their previous behavior. This generated enormous success for software companies: apps like Duolingo, Coursera, Lynda, etc. have become household names, and the companies behind them became multi-billion-dollar enterprises.

At the same time, the number of education majors in the United States has decreased over 20% in the last years, one the greatest declines in all majors. The salary of a teacher, especially primary education, is one of the lowest in the nation. So much so that 1 in 6 teachers need to take another job to make ends meet. It is a difficult, stressful job with an enormous workload and little to no recognition.

If the success of educational applications are increasing, why is the number of people who live for education declining? What has happened that’s caused our society to shift the responsibility of learning, one the most fundamental aspects of being human, from teachers, to software?

Like an artist that draws lines and ovals to ketch a painting, I won’t be answering this question fully, but rather hint at where the answer may lie. This will be forthcoming in my next post…

The Culture of Space-Faring People

Up there, just above us, is the Moon…Unrubbed by wind. Unwashed by rain…Standing there, unblinking since time began.” — Moonwalk One, 2009.

Fifty years after men first walked on the moon, private corporations are readying to make space travel, in the words of Elon Musk, “as common as air travel.” The science of space exploration, much like the other sciences we study in the modern world, frequently eclipse the values and meaning we derive from them. What are we to do with the realization that space travel will be so common? How would we define ourselves as a species, as a community no longer bound by Earth? Is venturing out into the lifeless void of space even worth it? 

These and other questions linger about like dirty dishes we leave in the kitchen sink —they are ever present in our minds, and will start to stink if we don’t do anything about them. For decades, a techno-centric view of the world has been dominating the discourse of education and in the minds of our leaders: STEM-focused curriculums, the rise in engineering degrees coupled with a precipitous decline in the humanities, are evidence to the decline of “value-based thinking.” As the popular intellectual Sam Harris succinctly stated: “When you are adhering to the highest standards of logic and evidence, you are thinking scientifically. And when you’re not, you’re not.” That is, all human knowledge is scientific knowledge; if it isn’t scientific, it is not real knowledge. 

By reducing our view of the world in this strict sense, we become blinded to the other kinds of ways of knowing about the world, such as stories. But the stories our culture sells aren’t “fiction” anymore: they are “science fiction,” as if to indicate the supremacy of scientific thought in our collective imagination–now bound by the physical laws of our universe. No more talking animals, bring in the aliens instead! A wardrobe that leads to another world? Well that’s just a wormhole built by scientists. No heroes that hurl thunder, only genetically modified soldiers. I don’t want to give the reader the impression that I’m a science-basher–I am a software engineer after all. Science helps us understand the natural world by observing it and deriving laws that describe our universe at large; it does not tell us about what makes for a happy life, what a rose smells like, or why we should even bother to study the universe at all. In this sense, there’s a dire need to ask, and answer, the moral questions that arise from our exploration into space, and not just the scientific ones. This isn’t just an ethical question, it’s an epistemological one: if we don’t ask the whys, we will never attain a full understanding of the universe. 

One can think of the recent developments by SpaceX, NASA and other small companies in making accessible space travel as a distraction; a commendable but unnecessary enterprise that does more to fill up the ambitions of billionaires instead of the bellies of the poor and hungry. Isn’t our world enough to fill our needs? Can’t we instead spend our precious time and energy in creating communities of solidarity? Shouldn’t we learn to love one another first before venturing out into the void? 

I believe there are many answers to this question, but there’s one that stands out by its sheer compatibility with our biology and spiritual make up which I wish to make a case for. 

Fossil evidence tells us that man first appeared on Earth in the tropical heartland of Africa about two millions years ago. Since then, he ventured out: first into the Middle East and Europe, then India, China, the whole of Asia, and finally, the Americas. What drove those first people out of their evolutionary crib? Hunger? Competition? War? We don’t know. But then again, we surely know, as anyone who’s been forced to sit in a room for a long time can attest. Remember that time you were explicitly told not to do something and immediately felt a burning desire to do it? We all carry that fire within us — that curiosity, desire for exploration, rebelliousness even. Could this same feeling also have driven our ancestors out of their homelands? 

Our desire to explore is innate. What is the source of this desire is debatable, but to deny it exists is like saying we don’t feel cravings when presented with a delicious piece of cake. Like that piece of cake, we are compelled to engage in the act of discovery when given the chance, and the undertaking feels like a reward in itself. In the course of history, exploration has proven to be excellent at displaying the better parts of our nature: teamwork to accomplish a goal, patience in the face of overwhelming odds and suffering, ingenuity in crafting solutions, the list goes on. Aristotle tells us that something is most itself when it is able to demonstrate its own excellence. The function of excellence in man, according to him, is his reason. It is that higher capacity to think, discern and understand that separates us from the animals and makes us “a little less than the angels.” Isn’t this excellence present when man explores? Who can deny the teamwork involved to visit far-off places? Who can ignore the patience exercised in the face of overwhelming odds, of ingenuity required to craft solutions, of courage to face dangerous obstacles? To venture out into the unknown, is to venture into the deepest parts of our soul to find out what we’re made of. Outer space, the ultimate unknown, fascinates us in its ethereal brilliance and confronts us with cosmic dread. Space travel indeed can become the last, great frontier of exploration left for humanity to conquer. 

What does a society that accepts this proposition look like? What, in other words, does the culture of a space-faring civilization look like? Consider: the stories which space-faring people could tell one another will just, if not more outstanding, than any fantasy we can conjure up on Earth. By expanding our imagination to the literally cosmic level, we open up ourselves to a universe of unimaginable beauty, danger and excitement. These fantasies and stories meld closely with the amazing science which the civilization would have created. The achievements of the human mind would be in full display as people regularly bend the rules of space and time to travel vast distances to other worlds. The conception of what these people believe possible would be much more flexible than our own. The creation of such technologies and the incredible wealth of knowledge necessary to understand and describe them would probably mean that there would only be a few who understand how these machines function, with the vast majority of people content to go about their daily lives. It would be interesting to consider whether the common people would see the marvels of technologies which they come into contact with as “magic,” or accept a passing description of them much the same way one presses to ask a person how a plane flies.

Throughout the centuries, people have described the place they live in as a prologue to the history that took place there. A person born in France isn’t just born in the modern nation-state of “France” — she carries within herself a whole mythos of francophone culture, imbued with the spirit, blood and sweat that was poured within the bounds of the society she lives in. Even the first pilgrims that arrived to America could recognize that they weren’t alone, that the lands which they lived were inhabited far longer than their memories could imagine. But what of settlers who arrive on a new planet? What would they think of themselves as they start a new colony? With the only connection to the rest of humanity being the delicate strand of their own past, the new generations born out of their parents could feel far greater independence and self-reliance than societies on earth do. 

The increase in technological prowess will not change how people behave, merely the means and ways in which they can pursue the object of their desire. As our mastery over matter increases, will the mastery over our senses increase as well? Our appetites are infinite, and nothing in the universe can satisfy them completely. It is plausible to assume that, if the technology becomes available, some will tap into the Tree of Life to create (as oppose to capture) human slaves that do their bidding. As the creation of nuclear weapons, biological and chemical weapons have shown, the capability for man to commit crimes of depravity increase as his means (i.e technological power) increase. Cain killed his only brother in jealousy; will a future Cain kill billions in amusement? Facts can tell us how the world works, values tell us how we should treat it. It remains to the hearts of future explorers to discern how they will educate their progeny in light of their increased power. A person in the 1800s could only harm as much as his rifle allowed; the same person in the year 2300 could destroy an entire continent (perhaps he/she have enough access to anti-matter). Alternatively, if individuals are not as effective in self-government as their technology would allow them, we could imagine a government that maintains absolute control over them to effectuate the safety of its citizens. A Leviathan-like state that tracks its citizens’ every move and quickly effectuates justice could maintain the tight grip required to keep society from obliterating itself. For “at the end of the path of liberation lies enslavement. Such liberation from all obstacles is finally illusory, for two simple reasons: human appetite is insatiable and the world is limited” (Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed).

When God gave Adam the garden of Eden to tend, He gave him dominion over all creation. He did not say, “Everything under the atmosphere you can explore,” or “stay within the bounds of the garden I made.” Yes, for a long time, our species has dwelt in the circle of the earth and looked above to the stars as the plane of the gods. We can now expand our horizon of understanding to include this plane, acknowledging that the eternal fire wasn’t contained there, or anywhere else for that matter, for it dwells outside and inside all there is. We can venture out with confidence therefore, into the unexplored realm of the celestial heavens, assured that the sense of wonder that propels us is good and guided by the creator himself.

Our own little Eden

Thinking about the time he walked on the moon, astronaut Edgar Mitchell from Apollo 14 remarked that, while seeing the earth from afar, he developed “an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world…You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck…and say, “Look at that!”

It’s safe to say that during the last couple of decades, thanks to improvements in transportation and the invention of social media, people have developed a sense of “global community.” The plight of a starving African family can trigger a rallying of support in the form of a GoFundMe page in America. The sight of protests in America can inspire British students to do the same in Trafalgar Square. Our sense of belonging and need for community —heightened by the loneliness of quarantine— shows that we work and live best when we sense that our community is secure and flourishing.

But it’s the opinion of many and my opinion as well, that this shared sense of belonging is breaking, that the ice beneath us is cracking and the cold waters of uncertainty are beneath. There are many angles from which one can view the disintegration of communities around us, much like a diamond reflects the same light in a thousand different ways, but I’d like to hone in on two such reflections: our planet’s ecology and the formation of human virtue. The latter concerns the natural world and our behavior toward it, the latter concerns how we should behave as a society. 

The care for and protection of the environment is not just a point of interest to our generation, it is instinctual. It is an axiomatic proposition that every individual and community should do their best to take care of the resources they use and develop a consciousness of how they affect their environment. Different people carry different levels of this consciousness, but I haven’t found someone yet who’d prefer the construction of an oil rig over the preservation of a coral reef. We strive to take care of nature and shame those who don’t. But it is a point of fact that the resources we use are finite, and thousands of years of exploitation have left the world, well, looking quite exploited. There are so many forests we can use, so many miles of earth we can dig up for gold, so many tuna in the sea to make delicious sushi. Two thousand years of human activity — actually, more like 200 years of industrial activity— have shaped the world such that we can see the difference from space. Even the most committed Anti-Malthusians can recognize that two thousand years more of increasing activity won’t just do damage to the earth, it’ll damage us as a species. But it doesn’t take a Malthusian to resolve this problem, that is, population control is not the only answer to allow the species to continue. 

Just look up. 

At our cosmological doorstep is the moon and Mars, massive bodies full of usable land. We now know that we can grow plants on Mars, and we can make the desert bloom. And if we’re able to make the desert bloom, I can’t see why we can’t with Mars. 

Let us expand out into our solar neighbors: Mars, Venus, Titan, Ceres. These will become names our great-grandchildren will know just as they learn about the Moon. Mars has the combined surface area of all of the earth’s continents, and a mountain that’s the size of France. Venus’ thick atmosphere could harbor cloud cities akin to those in Star Wars. Titan’s got a complete water cycle (rain, rivers, oceans) but with liquid Methane; and Ceres could be the Solar System’s next biggest cantina joint — a stopping place between Mars and Jupiter. A nearby asteroid, 16 Psyche, has enough gold and precious metals to make everyone on Earth a trillionaire. Such wealth would make Jeff Bezos look like a beggar in comparison. The only limitations to access this wealth are human ingenuity and capital allocation. The universe therefore, can become as exploited as human vice desires it to be, whilst the earth, our Eden, can become a garden world, a beautiful reminder of the cosmological crib whence we came from. Feel free to drop a nuclear bomb on the next asteroid you find, but don’t cut down a forest on Earth. 

But there’s an ever deeper benefit to the exploration of the universe than mere resources. For man does not live from bread alone. My last point to make is probably more controversial but I’m confident that the lessons of history confirm it. That the exploration and colonization of the unknown will breed a society that is stronger, more ingenious, and more virtuous than that of our present, decadent age. Rome reached its glory when it defeated Hannibal and the Carthaginian Empire. Europe burst into a renaissance of art and science after history’s most fatal pandemic. America’s status as a superpower rose from the ruins of Pearl Harbor and into the Space Age. Faced with a mortal enemy, a hero rises up to defeat the great dragon. If we are to expand to space, the stakes could not be higher: a thin film is enough to separate our intrepid explorers from the vacuum of space. Great stars, black holes, gamma ray bursts, extreme heat and cold and all kinds of hostile environments to human life stand in our way. It is up to the genius of all people, and their will to find a way to survive, that will forge the virtues,  create incredible acts of heroism and ultimately drive the destiny of humankind. The peace and stability of earth is the universal anomaly, not the other way around. 

The expansion to space is not a far-off dream. SpaceX and a thriving startup space scene is making it easier than ever to get started on this promising industry. For now, it is the will of individuals that are deciding the course of our road to space, not governments. However, I can’t help but think of the possibilities if our government would organize around this goal. And if the government is made of the people, then I believe that we can find a way to move the culture towards this goal. This might be the final solution to our problem of global warming, the destruction of Earth’s ecology, and dwindling size of our natural resources. And it might just make better citizens too.

Notes in times of quarantine #2

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

I went yesterday to a blood drive held at St. Patrick’s Church in Rittenhouse Square. Out of all Philadelphia’s squares it’s probably the most beautiful one. Perhaps it’s the combination of old and new architectures, or the grand stone fountain in the middle that’s reminiscent of European towns. The place usually buzzes with people, drinking and laughing inside the many restaurants, bars and small shops huddled in between. This time however it was eerily quiet. The bright shops were closed. Chairs were put over tables, neon lights were off -the air itself was cold and grimy. I passed a few people on the way, careful to reach the widest boundary of the sidewalk and avoid looking into each other’s eyes.

At last I arrived to the church, or rather, the parish hall. The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra usually practices in the main room, which I’ve visited a few times. Their chrome instruments and golden bassoons thunder with epic, sparkling sounds. But that seems like ages ago. I don’t know the last time they practiced here.

Instead, the room’s been repurposed, like a field hospital, with about a dozen platforms scattered around and nurses walking around them. I am greeted by a nurse with a facemask, gloves and a temperature meter. They take my temperature, sign me in, lead me to a table to get my medical information and again take my temperature. I ask my nurse whether people have been donating blood in light of the current crisis. She says they have, and have been very grateful for the outpouring of public support. She’s bubbling with energy and kindly leads me through the process.

The drawing of blood voluntarily is a strangely ancient thing. Romans frequently “opened their veins” to commit suicide. Medieval doctors prescribed “purges” for all sorts of sicknesses. Aztecs pricked their ears with cactus spikes as a blood offering to their gods with the same nonchalance as we might eat cereal in the morning. Nowadays, blood is so common in movies and tv shows that it suffers from a comical tiredness.

As I watched the crimson liquid slowly flow through the tube, I had the vague feeling that I was giving a small, though not unsubstantial, part of my life away -if they drew too much, I could pass out and die. Of course, this was not going to happen, but the fact that people put themselves in these situations is a testament to the strangeness in which people can either hold on to their life, or give it away. A wise man once said that saints love life so much, that they’re willing to give it away for their faith. I still ponder what that means.

I walked back to my car as before, but with increased effort in keeping my stride straight, taking in deep breaths, sipping from an apple juice box. The city remained as silent and cold as before, and I hurried my way to the car in case a policeman were to ask of my whereabouts. I slipped out of downtown into the quiet security of my home. But I realize that that peace has been shattered for too many people in the world today. The war continues against the silent, invisible enemy that’s invaded our shores.

What are the origins of mass?

Came upon this excellent lecture by Jim Baggot, english physicist, philosopher and science writer on what our current understanding of mass is. Rarely does one find someone who speaks lucidly about a complex subject such as particle physics, intermixed with humor and softened by the palpable awe which Jim has towards the science.

I will leave you, dear reader, to be the judge.

We need more scientists who philosophize over their research, and ascribe meaning and wonder to the facts of life.

How to Write a Sonnet

The Picnic, by Thomas Cole

A sonnet (derived from the Italian word for “little song”) is a classic form of poetry that’s been used for a long time to convey the sentiments of the heart. It’s structure is simple enough to follow, yet its impact on the reader can be profound and long-lasting. Writing one isn’t too hard as long as you follow the convention – and it’s sure to knock the socks off to whomever you write it to. I’d like to teach you how to write a sonnet by writing one myself, in varying difficulty levels, based on the book, “How to Write Classical Poetry” by the Society of Classical Poets. I won’t be too concerned on making a masterpiece of literature so much as enable you to craft a decent sonnet that you won’t be embarrassed to show off to your friend or loved one.

Before starting to write, you must have something to write about. This seems common sense until you realize that it isn’t that common. In any case, a sonnet can be about anything. It can take on the lofty heights of the cosmos and the deep meanings of our existence, or it can descend into the ordinary, comical or even vulgarity of daily life. Whatever it is you decide to write on, make sure it’s specific. Reflect on this image for a while, see yourself facing the person, situation or object. In my case, I’ll focus on a story from the New Testament, where Peter, the leader of the Apostles is jailed for announcing the Gospel and is due to be executed until an angel visits him and swings all the jail’s doors open, allowing him to escape (Acts 12:3-19). It’s a story that’s had a rich history of interpretation in art and theology, and provides us with some fascinating imagery to contemplate on.

Liberacion de San Pedro, Bartolome Estaban Murillo

Beginner Level: A sonnet is traditionally 14 lines long, where each line conveys a single thought, or image. For this level, we won’t be rhyming. Instead, we’ll focus on jutting down our ideas on the basic form of the sonnet. Try to limit each line to 10-13 words. Below is my first attempt.

Beneath the earth, in Hades’ prison, Peter dwelt in chains.
With guards beside him, and at the door, his sentence for death was sealed.
Outside, with candles and clasped hands, the faithful prayed all throughout the night.
Yet Peter slept in peace, knowing it was all in the Father’s hands.
And so it was, when someone clothed in light appeared to him and said,
“Get up quickly.” The iron chains fell in dismay, yet the guards slept.
Heart racing, he ran up the stairs, with the angel leading the way,
Out of the devil’s den, he reached the surface, the angel went away.
Peter breathed the cool night’s air and gazed at the smiling moon.
He ran again to his friend’s house and knocked at the door,
Everyone was overjoyed and the faithful came together in one accord.
The princes of the world were astounded, Herod’s plans were foiled,
The spirit of God multiplied through the faith of humble men.

Intermediate Level: If you’ve made it this far, great! It’s important not get bogged down with creating the perfect line and simply to get things down on paper (or HTML in this case). The second level can get tricky. Classical poetry is distinctive in its rhyming patterns. Everyone loves songs that rhymes -from Eminem to Tailor Swift, artists recognize the power and catchiness of rhyming. There are a number of ways we can make our poem rhyme. We can use an ABAB scheme (where the first and third lines rhyme, and the second with the fourth and so on) or we can use more exotic schemes like AABBAABBA. You can choose to do what sounds good for you. In my case, I’ll use Shakespeare’s rhyming scheme that follow something like this: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Notice that there’s a break in the last two lines, you can think of those as the “punchline.” If you have trouble finding words that rhyme, which you’ll most certainly will as do I, then you can go to this great site I like to use: Rhymezone. Below is my second attempt, this time with a rhyming scheme.

Beneath the earth, in Hades’ prison, Peter lay bounded, cruelly chained,
With guards beside him, and at the door, he awaited the sword,
That claimed James, Stephen and any apostle that remained.
Yet the faithful prayed for his deliverance by the risen Word.

Peter slept in peace, in his Father’s hands he felt concealed.
“Get up quickly!” an angel suddenly declared to him,
The iron chains fell at the power now revealed,
Heart racing, Peter ran up the stairs, following the seraphim,

He reached the surface, the angel went away.
Peter, cloaked in darkness voiced thanks to the starred sky,
He ran to a friend’s house where he could safely stay,
The faithful cried, “the Lord is with us, who could deny?”

The princes of the world were astounded, Herod’s plans defeated,
Another victory was counted, to th’ eternal king now seated.

Advanced level: Iambic pentameter coming soon!

Note on the 2020 Coronavirus stock market drop

It’s safe to say no one saw a drop this big coming. Coming off an all-time high just a few weeks ago, the market has had the lowest percentage drop since 2008. The speed at which this market collapsed is unprecedented. This drop was facilitated by high-frequency trading algorithms running at speeds that sometimes defy common sense -if the drop were coming, one would have had to be plugged in, watching the tell-tale signs of the incoming storm, like seismographs registering earthquakes before a volcanic eruption.

The average investor has no protection from drops like these except in diversification. Yet, little protection is afforded when the entire market drops in unison. Such hive-mind behavior in the market mirrors the single-mindedness of the programs that run them, as well as their human counterparts.

So how can an investor profit off a drop like this? How can the adage, “there’s always a bull market somewhere” survive when the market itself is in bear territory? What’s required is an extraordinarily agile investor -one that has his ear on the ground, listening to the movement of money, thinking critically about how the market responds and reacts and where the places of greatest return on investment can lie. If there’s a war, the intelligent investor, moral questions aside, owns the bullets and the bandages.

In the case of the coronavirus, there are the companies that manufacture face masks, detergents, vaccines, etc. The intelligent investor would note which companies have acquired lucrative government contracts to perform cleanup, which do not have their supply chain exposed to epicenters of contagion. Ordinary things in ordinary times may suddenly acquire extraordinary value -the speed therefore in which an investor moves his positions require him to be attentive and agile, lest the rest of the market plays catch-up.

Case in point, while most of the stock market dropped, a few companies remained in positive territory, these include:
* IBIO Inc. (biotech)
* Altimmune (biotech)
* 3M (general purpose, facemasks)
* Clorox (cleaning products)
As of Feb 28th, 2020.

I am not going to do anything now. There’s not much to do other than to ride out the storm and maintain faith, as it were, that the US stock market will rise again and the economy will recover. However, I recognize that this will take time. I wonder though, if an intelligent investor as I’ve described previously, would have been shielded from the fallout, or perhaps even gained from it. I am not advocating for trading -that’s a pricing strategy which I do not follow. Rather, I wonder if a prudent intrinsic valuation of companies in context of the events that surround them could yield insights that more narrow-minded investors, or programs, have missed.

Linear Time in an Eternal Mind

Rushing waters, marking time,

visible to all, yet mystery sublime.

What are the eons to Him Who Is?

What is a second for Him Who sees?

On and on time runs its course,

shattering all with mighty force.

Great kingdoms are reduced to dust,

Towers of pride evaporate with the gust.

Time flattens mountains, dries up oceans,

Blows up suns and ends all motions.

Star-dusted nights with millions,

Are merely a tiny, fragile pinion,

In His mind’s eye, which delights!

What is time but a sign of our smallness?

Who dares to understand its crystal flawlessness?

Beings of time we are, but not for long.

Eternity is waiting, so stay strong!

 

“The river of time” is a common way to think about the passage of time. We commonly think of things occurring linearly-one things lead to another, which leads to another, in a typical cause-and-effect fashion. Unfortunately a conundrum presents itself when we start asking about this linearity’s relationship with foreknowledge and destiny. A question I recently asked myself was how God, having the Christian attribute of omniscience, can have foreknowledge of our decisions? Wouldn’t that conflict with the orthodox premise that we all have free will?

Now, some strict materialist will say there is no such thing as free will, to which I’d reply, that your assumption is itself a manifestation of your free will in believing in such nonsense!

Back to my main point, if God already knows what each one of us will do, wouldn’t that suggest that we’re not really in control of our own actions, and hence, that we don’t have  free will?

I can’t put my finger on who exactly came up with the idea first, but having read Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy and St. Augustine’s Confessions, it seems to me that these two extraordinary men arrived at the same conclusion independently from one another: that time (past, present, future) is seen in an eternal present by God, and His actual knowing of what things are to come do not actually interfere with our capacity for free will. Let’s re-trace the steps to see how this can be so.

God, if we are to assume he’s the highest possibility of being, must be eternal. If He (please note that the pronoun is not of concern here) were not, then God would be changeable, finite, and therefore not God. So He must be eternal. As you could probably imagine, an infinite being will see a time-anchored world differently than we’d see ourselves. An ant might see a mountain before it, but to us it’s merely a small stone. Imagine how much more God sees if he has infinite omniscience!

Where were you when I founded the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its size? Surely you know?
    Who stretched out the measuring line for it?
Into what were its pedestals sunk,
    and who laid its cornerstone,
While the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Since God is eternal, He sees past and future as an eternal present. God knows what we’ll do, he knows what our decisions will be, not because he actively intervenes in it, but because he sees us taking those actions across the spectrum of time (future and past), all in an immediate present. For example, let’s say I decide on a spur of the moment that I would like to go to the pool. God already knew that. God knew I was going to make that decision, that I was going to the pool, and that I would make myself dinner after. What if I decided instead, however, that I was not going to to the pool. God would still have known that. It’s futile to imagine a life where God doesn’t know what each person’s decisions will be. Even if we “rebel” against God and insist that we are independent of his all-knowing mind, God will know. This is not because God guides our wills like a puppeteer guides his marionettes. As Boethius put it, God doesn’t have so much fore-knowledge as forth-knowledge -everything happens in front of His eyes, in an eternal present.

From this divine perspective, I would like to materialize into words what I believe can be very beneficial for our own flourishing; an idea inspired by how God sees our finite universe: vertical time. If time is usually thought of as linear, with one direction and a single trajectory, vertical time brings out another dimension and extends time outward into the timelessness. This is all a bit strange so allow me to elaborate.

Consider our communication with the timeless -that is, prayer. Prayer extends outwards into eternal heaven, where it’s effects would no longer be tied to a specific point of time which it was initially offered. If you had prayed for the souls of sick people, not only would you be affecting future souls, but, because of the vertical dimension that prayer has, it affects past, present and future souls as well. Your prayer request at a single moment of time, by virtue of its ability to transcend vertically from the linear stream of time, can affect ALL time.

If you think there are other things that transcend to vertical time, feel free to comment below and of course, subscribe.