Baryons, Gravity Waves

These are exciting, or disquieting, times.

Which it is depends partly on how much a person likes living in a world where scientific knowledge is rapidly changing.

I like it, a lot.

  1. CERN’s New Omega Baryons
  2. Gravity Wave Mission Gets Green Light: Maybe
  3. Looking Beyond the Standard Model

Since this is a “religious” blog, I’ll be discussing — briefly, for me — how my faith relates to experiments using CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and science in general.


Making Sense

An ardent Christian once told me that the sun goes around Earth, ‘because the Bible says so.’ He was right: assuming that Joshua 10:1213 and Job 9:7 are utterly devoid of metaphor and written with a contemporary literalist’s viewpoint.

I don’t make that assumption. I don’t ‘put my faith in’ science either. Putting knowledge, or anything else, in God’s place is a very bad idea. (Catechism, 21132114)

On the other hand, fearing knowledge doesn’t make sense. Not to me. Studying this universe and developing new tools are part of being human. (Catechism, 22922295)

We’re supposed to be curious. Truth can’t contradict truth, so honest research can’t threaten informed faith. Besides, this universe is filled with opportunities for greater admiration of God’s creation. (Catechism, 159, 214217, 283, 341)

New knowledge sometimes forces us to reevaluate our assumptions. That’s been happening a lot lately.

Maybe it’s easier to decide that the new facts can’t be so because they’re not what we “always” knew. But like I said: that doesn’t make sense. Not to me.

Anaxoras, Mostly

The pillars of the earth in 1 Samuel 2:8 and Job 9:6, and the dome of heaven in Psalms 150:1, reflect ancient Mesopotamian cosmology. (December 2, 2016; August 28, 2016)

Job was written somewhere after Sennacherib solved his “Babylonian problem” by destroying Babylon, but before Anaxoras tried squaring the circle. About two dozen centuries later, the Lindemann Weierstrass theorem proved that was impossible, and that’s another topic.

1 Samuel was compiled about the same time.

Some Psalms were composed before Nebuchadnezzar II captured Jeconiah’s Jerusalem, some after, and all before Antiochus IV Epiphanes took over Syria.

All of them were written for and by folks living just west of Mesopotamia.

The point is that it’d be surprising if Old Testament imagery didn’t reflect Mesopotamian culture and traditions. It’s what folks living in that part of the world were familiar with.

Celestial spheres go back to Anaximander’s cosmology. Aristotle, about two and a half centuries later, also thought Earth was nested in concentric spheres.

Aristarchus of Samos suggested that Earth goes around the sun, and suspected that stars were other suns. He lived around Aristotle’s time, but didn’t get listened to nearly as much.

The notion that folks accused Aristarchus of sacrilege got started nearly two millennia later. I’ll get back to that.

Aristotle’s geocentric model held up pretty well, with tweaking by Ptolemey and others, for something like 18 centuries.

From Copernicus to Oort

Copernicus took a look at what we had been observing, and decided that Aristarchus of Samos had the right idea.

Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter’s lectures about Copernican heliocentrism got the attention of Pope Clement VII and several cardinals in 1533.

One of the cardinals, Nikolaus von Schönberg, urged Copernicus “to communicate this discovery of yours to scholars….”

Copernicus had pretty much finished writing “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” by 1532, but insisted on delaying publication until after his death. There’s a story behind that, it’s not the usual one, and that’s yet another topic, for another day.

Copernicus died in 1542. Pope Gregory XIII used Copernican tables in his calendar reform — there’s a story or two about that — and Galileo got into trouble with an Inquisition. He was convicted of being insufficiently Aristotelian in 1616, and a legend was born.

A little later, Gilles Ménage translated Plutarch’s “On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon,” and goofed.

Plutarch wrote that Cleanthes, who saw the sun as divine, opposed the heliocentric view. Cleanthes jokingly told Aristarchus that he should be charged with impiety.

Ménage messed up the grammar. In his translation the joke was a flat-out accusation. The translation came shortly after the Galileo and Bruno trials. I talked about European politics last week. (March 17, 2017)

I suspect part of the problem was a shaky grasp of distinctions between poetry, science, and faith. (March 17, 2017; January 8, 2017; December 2, 2016)

Johannes Kepler refined the Copernican model. He finished his “Astronomia nova” 1605, but couldn’t publish until 1609: thanks to a legal wrangle over use of Tycho Brahe’s data.

Isaac Newton added his laws of motion and law of universal gravitation to Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. They are still pretty good models, close approximations to what we observe.

They’re “laws” in the sense that they describe how the universe works under specific conditions. Newton didn’t invent motion or gravity, of course. What he did was describe, mathematically, how both work.

A “theory” can be philosophical, scientific, or political. The latter is, arguably, philosophical. A scientific theory explains some aspect of the natural world.

Scientific theories can be tested, which brings me to the early 20th century.

Starting in 1929, Jan Oort measured positions and motions of stars. He said that our sun wasn’t the center of this galaxy. He was right about that.

He also noticed that estimates of the total mass of our galaxy’s stars, gas, and other observable matter, couldn’t account for the observed rotation speeds. There isn’t enough observable mass, and it’s not in the right places.

One of the less-improbable explanations for Oorts ‘missing mass’ is dark matter.

Dark Matter?

“Dark matter” is stuff that doesn’t absorb, reflect or emit light or other electromagnetic radiation. That makes detecting it really hard.

Scientists have known about one sort of dark matter, neutrinos, since 1956.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles with no electric charge. They have mass, probably, but it’s tiny even compared to other subatomic particles. Since they’re electrically neutral, magnetism won’t affect neutrinos.

But the weak subatomic force does affect them, and so does gravity. They’re produced during radioactive decay and nuclear reactions, like what happens in our sun’s core.

So far, scientists are pretty sure many or most dark matter particles are WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles). Or maybe something else.

We may learn that dark matter isn’t what causes the effects we’ve observed.

Other explanations include mass in other dimensions, with gravity having an effect across all dimensions. This might explain why gravity is such a very weak force. It takes moon- and planet-size concentrations of mass to produce serious gravity fields.

Maybe we’re looking at defects in quantum fields. Or maybe Newton’s and Einstein’s descriptions of gravity need another major tweak, or Unruh radiation horizons generate inertia.

Dark matter is mostly theoretical at this point. Other explanations are even more so.1


1. CERN’s New Omega Baryons


(From Equinox Graphics/Science Photo Library, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

LHC: Five new particles hold clues to sub-atomic glue
Pallab Ghosh, BBC News (March 20, 2017)

The Large Hadron Collider has discovered new sub-atomic particles that could help to explain how the centres of atoms are held together.

“The particles are all different forms of the so-called Omega-c baryon, whose existence was confirmed in 1994.

“Physicists had always believed the various types existed but had not been able to detect them – until now.

“The discovery will shed light on the operation of the ‘strong force’, which glues the insides of atoms….”

I’d like to explain exactly how Omega baryons work, and how Ωc baryons differ from Ωb and Ωb ones. The folks at CERN learned their masses and widths, but not their quantum numbers.

It’s a start, but just a start.

We still don’t know how, or if, they help us understand the strong force.

Murray Gell-Mann and Yuval Ne’eman found theoretical reasons to look for quarks in the early 1960s. So did George Zweig.

A whole bunch of scientists published “Observation of a Hyperon with Strangeness Minus Three” in 1964, which apparently is what Omega-c quarks were called then.

Quarks come in six flavors: up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. Gell-Mann got the spelling of “quarks” from a line in “Finnegans Wake.” I’m not entirely sure how he got the “kwork” sound. Zweig called the particles “aces,” but hardly anyone calls them that now.

I’m also not sure why many scientists stopped using pretentious names for new stuff in the ’60s, but I rather like the change of style.

Baryons, Quarks, and Empedocles

From Trassiorf, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission
(From Trassiorf, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission)
(The baryon decuplet, left; and octet, right.)

If an astronomer says something is a baryon, it’s probably matter that’s not dark matter.

If an physicist says something is a baryon, it’s a hadron that’s not a meson.

The physicist’s baryons have 3 quarks.

Mesons have 2 quarks, more accurately a quark and an antiquark. Squarks are hypothetical particles that may or may not exist. I made an unnecessarily-long but incomplete set of links to more than you need to know about this stuff.2

We’ve learned quite a bit since Empedocles said there are four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. That’s not an entirely-inaccurate way to describe the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.

Except that there’s superfluid, Bose-Einstein condensate, and other weird stuff, too.

Aristotle added a fifth element, aether. It’s called akasha in Sanskrit, and that’s yet again another topic. Or maybe not so much.

Luminiferous Aether — or — There’s More to Learn

Isaac Newton suggested a corpuscular theory of light 1704. In 1718 he suggested that an aethereal medium accounted for diffraction.

Augustin Fresnel’s wave theory of light treated light as waves traveling in an aether.

The Michelson—Morley experiment‘s failure to detect “ether wind” in 1887, 1902 to 1905, and the 1920s, was the first strong evidence that luminiferous aether doesn’t exist.

Then, in the 20th century, scientists learned that at very small scales, matter and energy acts like particles and waves: and started working the bugs out of quantum mechanics.

I keep saying this: we have a great deal more to learn. (December 16, 2016; September 23, 2016)


2. Gravity Wave Mission Gets Green Light: Maybe


(From ESA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“A cutaway impression of the laser interferometer system inside Lisa Pathfinder”
(BBC News))

Gravity probe exceeds performance goals
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (February 18, 2017)

The long-planned LISA space mission to detect gravitational waves looks as though it will be green lit shortly.

“Scientists working on a demonstration of its key measurement technologies say they have just beaten the sensitivity performance that will be required.

“The European Space Agency (Esa), which will operate the billion-euro mission, is now expected to ‘select’ the project, perhaps as early as June….”

Einstein said that gravitational waves, ripples in the curvature of spacetime, should exist. That was in 1916.

Detecting the things is very difficult, since their effects are very small and easily masked by ‘noise’ from other sources.

The first indirect evidence of gravity waves came from analysis of the Hulse-Taylor binary’s orbit. That happened in 1974.

The LIGO and Virgo interferometer collaborations announced the first direct observation of gravity waves on February 11, 2016. The signal, GW150914, came from a merging black hole binary. It changed the 4-kilometer-long LIGO arm’s length by a thousandth of the width of a proton.

The second, GW151226, came on December 26, 2015. The the LIGO and Virgo collaborations announced it on June 15, 2016.

Detecting gravity waves is as big a step for astronomy as Galileo’s use of the telescope and the first radio telescopes. Depending on who’s talking, that would be the Jansky-Bell Laboratories antenna, built in 1932; or Tesla Experimental Station, built in 1899. (December 16, 2016)

Or maybe Johannes Wilsing and Julius Scheiner’s 1896 efforts, or Oliver Lodge’s between 1897 and 1900.


3. Looking Beyond the Standard Model


(From SPL, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The stage has been set for some years for the detection of super particles. But so far they have been a no show.”
(BBC News))

LHC scientists to search for ‘fifth force of Nature’
Pallab Ghosh, BBC News (July 10, 2014)

The next couple of years will be make or break for the next big theory in physics called supersymmetry – SUSY for short. It might make way for a rival idea which predicts the existence of a ‘fifth force’ of nature.

“Next Spring, when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) resumes its experiments, scientists will be looking for evidence of SUSY. It explains an awful lot that the current theory of particle physics does not. But there is a growing problem, provocatively expressed by Nobel Laureate George Smoot: ‘supersymmetry has got symmetry and it’s super but there is no experimental data to suggest it is correct.’

“According to the simplest versions of the theory, supersymmetric particles should have been discovered at the LHC by now. One set of null results prompted Prof Chris Parkes, of the LHCb to quip: ‘Supersymmetry may not be dead but these latest results have certainly put it into hospital‘….”

The Standard Model of particle physics has been around for about a half-century. It does a pretty good job of describing the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, plus subatomic particles like photons, quarks, and neutrinos.

But it doesn’t include gravity, or a dark matter particle that fits what we’ve observed so far.

That’s why scientists are working on Physics beyond the Standard Model.

Physics beyond the Standard Model may explain quite a few things — like where mass comes from, why gravity happens, why half the baryons we observe aren’t antimatter, and what dark matter and dark energy are.

Supersymmetry relates bosons, that have integer-valued spin; and fermions, with half-integer spin. Each particle from one group would be associated with a particle from the other, known as its superpartner. The difference between their spins would be a half-integer.

That’s a huge over-simplification.

Supersymmetry may tie up all the Standard Model’s loose ends.3

Remembering Phlogiston

Or the Standard Model and Supersymmetry may turn out to be like phlogiston.

Phlogiston was a pretty good way of explaining combustion in 1667.

Around the 1780s, new tech and analysis showed that some metals gain mass when they burn. Phlogiston theory said they should get lighter as the “phlogiston” escapes.

Scientists who liked the phlogiston theory said that phlogiston must have negative mass, or at least was lighter than air.

By the end of that century, only a few chemists still used the term “phlogiston.”

Joseph Priestley, the inventor of soda water and discoverer of oxygen, was one of the phlogiston diehards.

He also tried combining determinism, materialism, causation, and necessitarianism; and helped get Unitarianism started.

Priestly was sure that a proper understanding of the natural world would promote human progress. I agree that it’ll help.

I’m also sure that respecting humanity’s transcendent dignity and everyone’s well-being4 is an option — and not dependent on our scientific understanding. (February 5, 2017; October 30, 2016; September 25, 2016)

Priestly also thought understanding the natural world would bring about the Christian Millennium. I think that’s wildly improbable, at best.

Despite the name, by the way, he wasn’t Catholic. At all.

The point is that the Standard Model may be a pretty good description for how particle physics works.

Or, like phlogiston, new facts may show that it was a good idea that didn’t reflect reality.

Again, I’m quite sure that there’s a great deal left to learn.

Vaguely-related posts:


1 Shedding light on dark matter:

2 You don’t need to know this, but maybe it’s interesting. Or maybe not:

3 Making sense of reality, a work in progress:

4 I’ve talked about free will, transcendent dignity, and social justice before. (Catechism, 976980, , 17301825)1915, 19291933, 2820)

More of my take on science, technology, and using our brains:

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Internet Friends, Real People

Near the end of a self-help book, the author wrote that social connections we make with others online aren’t “real.”

The next sentence said that online communities are “pretend communities.” The author explained that they don’t “come close to fulfilling the legitimate needs we have.”

I understand the point he was making, but don’t entirely agree.

It’s true that folks I know online won’t notice if I left the garage door open, or lend me a few dollars until next payday. In nearly all cases, they can’t. They live too far away. Some aren’t even on the same continent.

It’s also true that the communities don’t “come close to fulfilling the legitimate needs” a person has. But I do not think that makes the interpersonal association we have “pretend.” Limited, yes. “Pretend,” no.

“Legitimate Needs”

So why did I bother joining these “pretend communities,” and visit several daily? Like most folks, I need personal connection. Online communities help meet that need.

My online friends and acquaintances are no substitute for my family. Expecting that would be unreasonable, and another topic.

Let’s back up a little. Do “legitimate needs” for social contact even exist? Since I’m human, yes. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 18781885)

Some critters are more “social” than primates, but not many. Chimps, for example, typically live and work in groups of 15 to 150. Humans have been living in communities about that big for a very long time.

We’re learning how to get along in larger groups. Upwards of 1,300,000,000 folks live in each of the two largest nations.

The recently-formed European Union is much smaller. But folks in the recently-formed E.U. haven’t started killing each other in wholesale lots yet, so I’m hopeful about that outfit. It’s a good start, and yet another topic. (January 22, 2017; October 30, 2016; September 25, 2016)

The point is that I’m a human, humans are social, so I have “legitimate needs” for social contact.

Folks have known that for a very long time. Strictly scientific studies of human social behavior are a fairly recent development, and that’s yet again another topic.1

Being Human

Nomader, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.Humanity’s social nature can be good news or bad news, depending on our decisions. Each of us lives in a society, so thinking only of myself isn’t an option. (Catechism, 1931)

It is an option, actually, but not a good one. (March 5, 2017; November 13, 2016)

On the other hand, each of us is a unique individual, not a cog in a social machine. I’m obliged to help societies I’m in, and may expect help from those societies. Within reason. (Catechism, 1881, 19281942, 22122213; “Gaudium et Spes,” 25)

Families are natural societies, the “original cell of social life.” It’s where each of us learns how to be human. It’s where we should learn to care for others, particularly those who can’t care for themselves. (Catechism, 22072213)

That’s how it’s supposed to be. Sometimes families fall short of that ideal, and can’t give their members needed support. That’s where larger societies come in. (Catechism, 22092211)

All societies are alike in some ways, but each is unique.

“A society is a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of unity that goes beyond each one of them….”
“…Each community is defined by its purpose and consequently obeys specific rules…”
(Catechism, 18801881)

All humans, myself included, are people. I’ve talked about that, a lot. (November 21, 2016; September 23, 2016; September 11, 2016)

I’m quite sure I don’t stop being human when I log into a social media site: or use a telephone, for that matter. Neither do you.

Passing a Turing Test

On the other hand, I’ve had some useful conversations with chatbots. They’ve gotten a lot smarter in recent years. Better at imitating a human, at any rate, which gets me to the Turing test.

Maybe it should be Turing tests. There’s more than one version. Different folks say they measure different things, and that’s still another topic.

Or maybe not so much.

Some folks think of Turing tests as determining whether or not a computer can successfully fool a human into thinking it’s human on a text-only channel.

Others think of them as testing whether a computer successfully imitates a human on that communication channel.

I’d probably pass a Turing test, in the sense that the other person would eventually decide that I’m definitely a human, not a chatbot.

I say “probably,” because several years back someone asked me if I was a bot. We’d been exchanging short text messages, and the other person noticed that I was responding very quickly, in full sentences.

I’m not up to secretarial standards, but a business school’s typing course and a lifetime spent at keyboards probably made me faster than most folks that individual knew.

Oddly enough, I may be better at ‘imitating’ human social behavior online than I am face-to-face.

Anything-But-Early Diagnosis

When I was an infant, my parents unscrewed light bulbs while I was sleeping instead of using the switch. Switches “clicked” back then, and the sound would wake me up, screaming.

I didn’t start talking until well after the usual age. When I did, I started with full sentences.

One of my elementary school teachers told me, years later, that it took me a long time to respond in class.

I’d obviously heard the question, and was “paying attention,” but paused before answering. Happily, that gave the impression that I was thinking about the question: a lot. I probably was. I don’t remember being aware of the delay.

It’s possible that I was also thinking about how I should respond to the question. That involves evaluating the other person’s facial expression, body language, tone of voice, actions over the previous several minutes, and expectations specific to that setting.

Most folks, I understand, do that automatically. So do I, to an extent. But even after decades of practice, I still must ‘pay attention.’

These days, kids who act like me can get identified as having something like Asperger syndrome or autism spectrum disorder.2 But it may be just as well that my unusual wiring wasn’t spotted in childhood.

Back then, my civilization had gotten past terms like “soulless mass of flesh possessed by the devil,” and was working its way through somewhat more helpful labels like “autistic psychopaths” and “early infantile autism.”

Something awful happened when I was 12. I know about it, but don’t remember the incident. It’s probably why posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, shows up in my diagnoses. There’s more to say, but that’ll wait until another day.

I’ve been dealing with depression ever since. It took a long time for me to realize that something was wrong, since I grew a foot and started shaving daily around that time.

I assumed that feeling as if light and color had drained from the world was normal after childhood. Some adults I’d observed seemed to confirm the assumption. Decades later, at my wife’s earnest recommendation, I started working with a psychiatrist.

Living With Quirks

Happily, we know quite a bit about major depressive disorder, clinical depression, these days.

It probably helps that folks have known about it at least since Hippocrates said natural phenomena cause disease: not divine pique.

Two dozen centuries later, “melancholia” is called depression, and we have learned a bit about the neurochemistry involved.3 That’s good news for folks like me, since now powerful antidepressants let me think without fighting the machinery. (October 14, 2016)

About meds and faith, my life and health are “precious gifts” from God. Taking of them, within reason, is part of my job. (Catechism, 2288, 2278)

Antidepressants have made dealing with what’s currently called an autism spectrum disorder easier. But it hasn’t given me the apparently-effortless social skills most folks enjoy.

That’s okay. Glitchy neurochemistry is part of the kit God gave me. It also includes defective hips, creative talents, and enhanced language skills. It’s given me learning opportunities, and helps keep my life — interesting. (October 7, 2016; July 31, 2016)

I think autism spectrum disorder is a useful label, but that it does not fully define a person. I’ll admit a bias, since I’m one of ‘those people.’ Seeing the condition from the inside helps me understand the frustration suffered by folks with similar quirks.

It also gave me a personal interest in public reaction to an ‘autism’ connection in mass murder at Virginia Tech, 2007; and Sandy Hook Elementary School, 2012.4

A counselor once told me that my affect display, observable expression of emotion, was well off the norm. It was an immediate and obvious signal that I had something like autism spectrum disorder. That explained a lot.

I realized that someone without the right training would notice, too, and simply realize that I wasn’t normal. I think it’s one reason that getting a job had been a consistently-frustrating experience.

It’s also, most likely, why I like online communities. My face-to-face social behavior isn’t so odd that I haven’t been able to enjoy “real” communities. Doing so, however, requires a level of concentration and effort that most folks apparently don’t experience.

Connecting with other folks over a text-only channel is much less work. That lets me relax, and enjoy the company.

More posts, vaguely-related and otherwise:


1 Being social:

2 “Autism spectrum disorder,” ASD, is a catch-all term for a range of things that can go wrong with the brain and central nervous system. I think it’s a useful label, and that it’ll be replaced as we learn more:

3 Depression:

4 Fairly calm looks at autism, crime, and programmers:

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Fast Radio Bursts

No, Harvard scientists have not announced the imminent arrival of an alien armada.

Two of them have, however, shown that we may have detected power beams pushing light sails. I think they may be right, but like one of them said, “it’s a matter of evidence.”

  1. Fast Radio Bursts: Looking For an Explanation
  2. “It’s a Matter of Evidence”
  3. Churchill and Extraterrestrial Intelligence

“Either Way …”

This is among the most clear-headed things I’ve read on the topic:

“I been readin’ ’bout how maybe they is planets peopled by folks with ad-vanced brains. On the other hand, maybe we got the most brains…maybe our intellects is the universe’s most ad-vanced. Either way, it’s a mighty soberin’ thought.”
(Porky Pine, in Walt Kelly’s Pogo (June 20, 1959) via Wikiquote)

I’ve quoted Walt Kelly’s Pogo before. (December 2, 2016)

I don’t “believe in” extraterrestrial intelligence. I won’t insist that we must be alone in the universe. It’s not my decision. (July 29, 2016)

I hope we do have neighbors, people who are matter and spirit; like us in some ways, but different because their home is another world. (December 23, 2016)

Using Our Brains

Ancient Mesopotamian cosmology is “Biblical” in the sense that its imagery is in Sacred Scripture.

I’ve talked about pillars of the earth in 1 Samuel 2:8 and Job 9:6, and the dome of heaven in Psalms 150:1, before. (December 2, 2016; August 28, 2016)

Taking the Bible seriously is a good idea. So is “frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 101133)

Rejecting everything we’ve learned since Job’s time, not so much. God gave us brains. Using them is a good idea. (Catechism, 35, 50, 159, 22922296)

Studying this wonder-filled creation cannot interfere with an informed faith, because “the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.” (Catechism, 159)

That gets me Anaxagoras. He wasn’t a scientist. The word goes back to 1833, when William Whewell wrote a review for Quarterly Review.

I’ve talked about his spheres before. Anaxagoras, that is, not William Whewell. Most of us had come to grips with the idea that Earth goes around our sun, not the other way around, by the early 19th century. (December 2, 2016)

Anaxagoras wrote about panspermia, the idea that life on Earth might have started elsewhere. That was around the time Bimbisara ruled Magadha, and Goujian was cleaning up a mess in Yue.

God’s God, and I’m Okay With That

From Eric Gaba, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.Aristotle came along a few centuries later. He was Alexander the Great’s tutor, a very smart man, and interested in just about everything: including metaphysics and logic.

European scholars rediscovered Aristotle, starting around 1100. It’s roughly when St. Hildegard of Bingen wrote “Physica” and “Causae et Curae.” St. Albertus Magnus came along a bit later. Both were scientists back when science was still called natural philosophy.

Aristotle’s emphasis on observation and logic arguably encouraged natural philosophy’s morphing into science, and that’s another topic.

Some scholars got overly-enthusiastic, insisting that Earth was the only world: because Aristotle said so. In 1277, the Bishop of Paris put his foot down. If God decided there are other worlds, what Aristotle said won’t change the facts.

God’s God, Aristotle’s not, and I’m okay with that. (December 2, 2016)

I suspect the notion that religion, specifically Christianity, is rabidly opposed to science got started in part when Aristotelianism caught on in 12th century Europe. Like just about everything else involving people, it’s complicated.

Aristotelianism influenced Scholasticism, a method of learning that leans heavily on dialectical reasoning: emphasis on reasoning, I think.

St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” is probably Scholasticism’s high point, and anything but terse.

Logic applied to faith, scientist-Saints? What could possibly go wrong?

Basically, European politics.

Faith, Reason, and an Overdue Reform

Over-simplifying the situation, southern Europe was profiting from reopened trade routes. So was northern Europe, but wealth wasn’t trickling north nearly as fast as northern princes liked.

In 1517, someone copied and printed a list of topics for academic discussion. The list gave folks who wanted reform, leaders who wanted more power, and just about anyone else, access to what we call talking points.

The northern European discussions turned into a firestorm we call the Reformation. In my language, at least, 16th century Catholic reforms are called the Counter-Reformation because they were “initiated in response” to the Reformation.

That’s accurate, but I suspect that we’d have cleaned house pretty soon anyway. The reforms were overdue. We’ve gone through similar rough spots without quite so much fuss. The 910 Cluniac Reforms and 1962-65 Second Vatican Council come to mind.

We were in another rough patch in the 5th century, I think. But the western Roman Empire’s collapse took care of it; and that’s yet another topic.

Where was I? Faith, reason, politics, the Defenestration of Prague. Right.

Copernicus and Vulcans

The Catholic version of faith is a willing and conscious “assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 142150)

Truth is important, and beautiful — whether it’s expressed in words, “the rational expression of the knowledge of created and uncreated reality;” or “the order and harmony of the cosmos;” or in other ways. (Catechism, Prologue, 27, 74, 2500, more under Truth in the index)

Noticing God’s infinite beauty reflected in “the world’s order and beauty” helps us learn about God. It should, at least. (Catechism, 3132, 341)

A thirst for truth and happiness is written into each of us. It’ll lead us to God, if we’re doing our job right. (Catechism, 27)

Faith isn’t reason: but it’s reasonable, and certainly not against an honest search for truth. (Catechism, 3135, 159)

So how come Third Order Dominican Nicolaus Copernicus delayed printing of “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” until after his death in 1543? Like I said earlier, European politics. Also badly-overdue reforms in the Catholic Church.

Can’t say that I blame Copernicus for delaying publication.

His newfangled ideas upset some folks with an apparently-shaky grasp of distinctions between poetry and science. And like I said, politics didn’t help. (November 6, 2016; October 30, 2016)

A few centuries later, Albertus Magnus is the patron Saint of scientists, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has hosted a study week on astrobiology, and some Catholics still don’t like science. I’m not one of them.

I think my insistence that what I believe must make sense, no matter what my emotions are doing at the moment, helps. And that’s yet again another topic.

“…The Catholics were unsentimental when I heard them talk about love. How could my flinty stoic heart not leap for joy in reply?
“If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.”
(John C. Wright, johncwright.livejournal.com (March 21 2008)))


1. Fast Radio Bursts: Looking For an Explanation


(From WochIt Media, via SFGate.com, used w/o permission.)

Scientists Ponder Whether Fast Radio Bursts Power UFOs
SFGate.com (March 11, 2017)

“One of the weirdest phenomena astronomers have run across in the past decade is something called ‘fast radio bursts.’ They’re millisecond-long flashes of radio signals that don’t have an obvious source. Possible causes include exploding black holes, magnetars and hypothetical blitzars…”

“But now, Harvard scientists have run the numbers on the most intriguing potential explanation: ginormous transmitters powering alien starships….”

I enjoyed the short special-effects video embedded in the SFGate.com article: but it has just about nothing to do with the Harvard scientists’ speculation. On the other hand, that “flying saucer” image was too good to pass up.

SFGate.com also mentions some of the things scientists think might cause fast radio bursts (FRBs). That gives me an excuse to talk about FRBs, and why wondering if they’re artificial makes sense.

Beyond Our Galaxy

Folks at the Parkes radio dish in Australia don’t always “see” data as it’s coming in. It’s archived and passed around for later study.

Data collected and stored on July 24, 2001, eventually reached a West Virginia University undergraduate, David Narkevic, in 2007. He was looking for pulsars.

He found an odd burst of radio waves.

It came from a spot in the Tucana constellation near the Small Magellanic Cloud. Different frequencies in the burst arrived at different times.

That wasn’t odd, by itself. Radio waves from very distant sources, like other galaxies, get spread out that way.

Astronomers can use the spread to work out roughly how far away something is.

Plugging in numbers for this source, researchers — more folks had joined the undergrad at this point — got a distance of roughly 1,600,000,000 light-years. That’s not odd, either. Most of the universe is more than 1.6 billion light-years away.

But it meant the burst came from outside our galaxy.

The distance and strength of the pulse let scientists estimate how much energy it started with. Whatever produced the burst released as much energy in under five milliseconds as our sun puts out in a month.

Light travels at roughly 1,500 kilometers in five milliseconds: which means that the burst’s source is almost certainly less than 1,500 kilometers across.

That is very odd indeed. Pulsars are about that big, but they pulse at regular(ish) intervals. FRBs only happen once, which means they’re probably caused by something that can’t repeat: like merging neutron stars.

Whatever the things are, they’re rare birds. We’ve detected 17 so far, counting FRB 121102 and the clusters of 2015 as one FRB. I’ll get back to that.

The known FRBs are scattered across the sky, not concentrated in our galaxy’s plane. That seems to confirm that they’re very far away.1

FRB 121102

Every FRB found so far has pulsed once, and then been quiet. Except for FRB 121102.

The Arecibo radio telescope detected an FRB November 2, 2012, in the constellation Auriga, very roughly between the stars Capella and Elnath.

That’s Alpha Aurigae and Beta Tauri, for folks who like Bayer designations, which have nothing to do with aspirin. And that’s still another topic.

Scientists called the burst FRB 121102, and kept discussing what could be causing these things. Like other FRBs, FRB 121102 is apparently well outside our galaxy: about three billion light-years away.

Heino Falcke and Luciano Rezzolla showed how FRBs could be Blitzars, a still-hypothetical object that happens when a rapidly-spinning pulsar collapses.

Then, on May 17, 2015, astronomers picked up two more bursts in the same direction and at the same distance. That was very odd, since no other FRB had pulsed more than once.

June 2, 2015, they detected eight more bursts coming from the same spot.

That’s really odd. The new clusters, ten bursts — 11, including the original one — give scientists more data to analyze. FRB 121102 probably isn’t produced by a one-time phenomenon.

Cataclysmic events, like merging neutron stars, happen only once. Stars can’t ‘un-merge.’

Researchers say it might be a magnetar, a neutron star with an unusually strong magnetic field; or highly magnetized pulsars moving through asteroid belts; or something else.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’s Avi Loeb and Manasvi Lingam say “something else” might be very powerful solar-powered radio transmitters.


2. “It’s a Matter of Evidence”


(From Harvard-Smithsonian Center forAstrophysics, used w/o permission.)

Could Fast Radio Bursts Be Powering Alien Probes?
Megan Watzke, Peter Edmonds; press release, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (March 9, 2017)

“The search for extraterrestrial intelligence has looked for many different signs of alien life, from radio broadcasts to laser flashes, without success. However, newly published research suggests that mysterious phenomena called fast radio bursts could be evidence of advanced alien technology. Specifically, these bursts might be leakage from planet-sized transmitters powering interstellar probes in distant galaxies.

“‘Fast radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origin at great distances, and we haven’t identified a possible natural source with any confidence,’ said theorist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. ‘An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking.’…

“…Loeb admits that this work is speculative. When asked whether he really believes that any fast radio bursts are due to aliens, he replied, ‘Science isn’t a matter of belief, it’s a matter of evidence. Deciding what’s likely ahead of time limits the possibilities. It’s worth putting ideas out there and letting the data be the judge.’…”

Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb’s paper reviews what we know about FRBs, and what other scientists have said might cause them.

They weren’t the first scientists suggesting that FRBs might be artificial. California Institute of Technology’s Jing Luan and Peter Goldreich discussed the possibility that they’re narrow-beam signals directed at us.

It makes sense, assuming that upwards of a dozen different folks in our corner of the galaxy decided to ping us, with the signals arriving within the last 16 years.

Luan and Goldreich’s suggestion assumes that FRBs are from transmitters about as powerful as we can make today.2 I think that’s possible, but I also think it’s unlikely.

Back to Harvard’s Lingam and Loeb. They wondered if FRBs could be beams from a scaled-up version of Robert L. Forward’s fictional light sail propulsion system.3

Forward’s 1982 “Rocheworld” is fiction. The physics behind his laser-pumped light sail spacecraft isn’t.

I mentioned the Breakthrough Starshot project a couple weeks ago. (March 3, 2017)

Today: Solar Sailing Ships

Today’s light sail spacecraft are more like sailboats than Starshot’s proposed Starchips. They get thrust by reflecting sunlight off large mirrors.

I think mostly-successful flights by JAXA’s interplanetary IKAROS and NASA’s Earth-orbit NanoSail-D2 show that light sails work.4

They also give real-life data for scientists like Lingam and Loeb.

Several ‘coincidences’ showed up when the Harvard researchers started doing the math.

Optimal frequency for a beam pushing a light sail is very close to observed frequencies for FRBs. The beam would need about as much energy as you’d get with a solar power collector about twice Earth’s diameter, assuming the system used water as a coolant.5 6

We can’t build anything that big. Not yet. But I think the scientists are right: it’s too many coincidences to dismiss without good reason.

If they’re right, and that’s still “if,” the vehicles pushed by these systems would be huge. Taking values for today’s lightsails, and the International Space Station’s average density, Lingam and Loeb said the payload could be something like a hundred meters across.

That’s big.

Tomorrow: Direct Impulse Beam Propulsion, Maybe


(From “Optics and Materials Considerations for a Laser-propelled Lightsail,” Geoffrey A. Landis (1989), used w/o permission.)

Besides the coincidences they found, what impressed me about Lingam and Loeb’s paper was what they assumed about extraterrestrial intelligence.

More accurately, what they didn’t assume:

“…The first, and most immediate, possibility is that they serve the purpose of ‘beacons’, and are thus meant to broadcast the presence of alien civilizations. But, why would a civilization want to broadcast its presence? … Although these possibilities cannot (and ought not) be ruled out, there are some inherent difficulties. They rely on complex (anthropocentric) reasons to some degree, and are thus not easily testable….”
(“Fast Radio Bursts from Extragalactic Light Sails, Manasvi Lingam, Abraham Loeb (February 27, 2017)5)

Hats off to Lingam and Loeb. They realize that folks who aren’t human may not think like humans. Besides, as they point out, that’s an awful lot of energy to pour into a millisecond one-time signal.

It is, however, about what you’d want if you are pushing a large payload up to relativistic speeds with a light sail. Again, it’s an intriguing coincidence.

I also like Lingam and Loeb’s proposed explanation for FRBs lasting only milliseconds. Tightly-focused radio beams providing thrust to an interstellar spacecraft would change direction as the spacecraft moved.

Meanwhile, the beam’s source and Earth would be moving relative to each other.

Beams sweeping across space, passing momentarily through our part of this galaxy — it’d be surprising if one of them lasted more than a few moments.

Maybe it’s less of an ego-booster than imagining that more than a dozen civilizations are pinging us. But I think it’s a tad more reasonable.

Lingam and Loeb go a few steps further. This is even more speculative, but I think they’re right in assuming that astronomers aren’t detecting every FRB ‘visible’ from Earth.

Anyway, they came up with a ballpark estimate that there are fewer than 10,000 FRB-producing civilizations, on average, in a galaxy like ours.

That might seem like a lot, but this is a big galaxy, and that’s a maximum count.

How many civilizations besides the FRB-producing ones is even less certain. As the scientists said, “…These civilizations must belong to the Kardashev I class (Kardashev 1964) at the minimum, as seen from the characteristic power required….”5

As I said earlier, building something like the Lingam and Loeb transportation system is beyond what we can do today. We have, however, worked out the physics of large-scale direct impulse beam propulsion.4

“Recognizably Like,” Probably Not “Identical”

I’ve said this before: humans are chatty creatures. One of the first things we did, when it looked like there might be other folks living on Mars, was start making plans for signalling them. (December 16, 2016)

Maybe we’ll find neighbors who are as gregarious as we are. Or not.

If we do share this universe with folks who aren’t human, I think Brother Consolmagno is right. We’ll find that they have “an awareness and a will recognizably like ours.”

We’ll quite likely also learn that “recognizably like” isn’t “identical.”7 (December 23, 2016)


3. Churchill and Extraterrestrial Intelligence


(From Hulton Archive/Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Churchill wrote the first draft in 1939, as Europe headed towards war”
(BBC News)

Winston Churchill’s views on aliens revealed in lost essay
Paul Rincon, BBC News (February 15, 2017)

A newly unearthed essay by Winston Churchill reveals he was open to the possibility of life on other planets.

“In 1939, the year World War Two broke out, Churchill penned a popular science article in which he mused about the likelihood of extra-terrestrial life.

“The 11-page typed draft, probably intended for a newspaper, was updated in the 1950s but never published.

“In the 1980s, the essay was passed to a US museum, where it sat until its rediscovery last year….”

Churchill’s science writing doesn’t make much of a showing in Wikipedia’s Winston Churchill as writer page. My guess, from what the BBC News and Nature articles said, is that the Wikipedia “…writer” page focuses on his books, not newspaper and magazine articles.8

I recommend reading the Nature article. It’s around 2,000 words, and non-technical. I particularly like these bits, near the start and end:

“…An exchange about the use of statistics to fight German U-boats captures his attitude. Air Chief Marshal Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris complained, ‘Are we fighting this war with weapons or slide rules?’ Churchill replied, ‘Let’s try the slide rule.’…

“…he was also concerned that without understanding the humanities, scientists might operate in a moral vacuum. ‘We need scientists in the world but not a world of scientists,’ he said. In order for science to be ‘the servant and not the master of man’, he felt that appropriate policies that drew on humanistic values must be in place. As he put it in a 1949 address to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s convocation: ‘If, with all the resources of modern science, we find ourselves unable to avert world famine, we shall all be to blame.’…”
(“Winston Churchill’s essay on alien life found,” Mario Livio, Nature (February 16, 2017))

I’ve discussed life, war, and acting like people matter, before. (January 22, 2017; February 5, 2017; January 11, 2017; October 30, 2016)

One more thing, about “humanist values.” I’ve run into folks who think that someone can either be a humanist or a hate-fueled religious nut job.

Coming from another direction, some painfully-religious folks seem to feel that humanism is some kind of Satanic plot and/or anti-American. Some of them apparently have the same opinion about the Catholic Church and Islam. (February 1, 2017; November 29, 2016)

Me? I’m a Catholic, and I like to know what words mean. Turns out, “humanist” can mean quite a lot of things, and so can “humanistic

I’m pretty sure that the “humanistic values” Churchill advocated were the sort held by “a person having a strong interest in or concern for human welfare, values, and dignity.” (dictionary.com)

That works for me, which is just as well: as a Catholic, having “a strong interest in or concern for human welfare” and so on, is a requirement. (Catechism, 19291933)

But what about extraterrestrial intelligence? Like I said earlier, I hope we learn that we have neighbors. But it’s not my decision.

Studying the Universe


(From Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(PlanetQuest illustration showing where most of the planets we’ve found so far are.)

About science and technology, some Catholics are a bit like Air Chief Marshal Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris: less than comfortable with we’ve learned over the last few centuries.

As I keep saying, a lively interest in science isn’t central to my faith; but we’re supposed to be curious. Truth cannot contradict truth, and scientific discoveries are opportunities for greater admiration of God’s creation. (Catechism, 159, 214217, 283, 294, 341)

Science and technology, studying the universe and using what we learn, is part of being human: and ethics matter in both, just as they do for everything else we do. (Catechism, 22922296)

Much of the science I learned in high school is outdated. The growing number of known worlds is in the thousands, and our first interstellar probes are in the research and development phase.

I like living in a time when our knowledge of God’s creation is rapidly expanding.

Even if I didn’t approve of reality, my opinion wouldn’t make much difference:

“Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done.”
(Psalms 115:3)

More, mostly about looking for neighbors:


1 What we know, and don’t know, about FRBs:

2 Signals, maybe:

  • Physical Constraints On Fast Radio Burst
    Jing Luan, Peter Goldreich; abstract, The Astrophysical Journal Letters, via Cornell University Library (Submitted on 8 January 8, 2014 (v1), last revised 22 March 22, 2014)

3 Fiction, but well-researched:

4 Speculation and research:

5 Several ‘coincidences:’

6 I’ve talked about http://brendans-island.com/catholic-citizen/esas-gaia-hd-164695-and-seti/#kardashev scale before. (September 16, 2016)

I agree with folks who say the Kardashev scale isn’t universally useful because folks who aren’t human — may not act like us. I also agree with folks who say the Kardashev scale isn’t universally useful because folks who aren’t human may not act like us.

That said, Kardeshev’s scale is a handy way to think about what sort of civilizations could exist. It sorts hypothetical civilizations by how much energy they can store and use. On this scale, we’re working our way up to Type I:

  • Type I
    All energy reaching their planet from their sun
  • Type II
    Energy of the entire star
  • Type III civilization
    Energy on the scale of its entire host galaxy

More:

7 I’ve quoted him before:

8 Churchill, history, science, and technology:

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Trinity

I say “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” a lot: mostly when I start praying. I generally make the sign of the Cross at the same time.

The sign of the Cross is a very “Catholic” gesture. It “reminds us in a physical way of the Paschal Mystery we celebrate: the death and Resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.”1

It’s a prayer, a blessing, and a sacramental; and that’s another topic. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 16681670)

Dali’s “Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)” is very “Catholic,” too; although not it’s not like the mass-produced 19th-century stuff many associate with our faith.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a half-millennium from now, some tight-collar Catholics will be upset by new art that doesn’t present the Cross as an unfolded tesseract, and that’s yet another topic. Topics.

This morning’s readings, Genesis 12:14A; 2 Timothy 1:8B-10; and Matthew 17:19; cover something like a dozen centuries, from the time Abram went west — literally, not figuratively — to about two millennia before today.

Abram was re-named Abraham, and now is honored by the Abrahamic religions. (November 29, 2016)

Abraham is “our father in Faith,”2 but almost certainly not among my ancestors. I can’t be sure, but in his day my forebears were probably well north and west of the Holy Land. (February 1, 2017)

There’s been scholarly debate of late, leading some to assume that Abraham lived a whole lot more recently than we thought; or is basically a fictional character.

I’m not surprised that we’ve got precious little documentation on him. The Late Bronze Age collapse, a few really bad decades between 1200 and 1150 BC, happened a few centuries after he left Haran. I’m surprised we remember as much as we do.

We haven’t had anything quite like the Late Bronze Age collapse since, happily.

Hypothetical Smith

Let’s say that today God tells a Mr. Smythe to move from Baltimore, Maryland, to Fremont, Nebraska.

This is all hypothetical. I’m just making a point about how record-keeping isn’t always up to 20th century standards.

Mr. Smythe moves, and changes his name from Smythe to Smith. Then, around the 24th century, something catastrophic happens. It might be a global war, overconfidence in a system that looked good on paper, whatever. Think the 2012 India blackouts on a global scale, micromanaged by an incompetently paranoid bureaucracy.3

Details would be different from the Late Bronze Age collapse, but the effects would be similar.

We still don’t know exactly what happened some 3,200 years ago.

I’ll be optimistic, and assume that survivors start rebuilding civilization; as we did before. A few would even have enough free time to teach their kids how to read and write.

Different folks would tell different stories about what happened. Some would pass along lore from earlier ages. Many records would be lost.

We could get tales as historically accurate as Homer’s account of the Trojan War and Plato’s Atlantis. These would get passed on, too. We like good stories.

Around the year 5500, some scholars might decide that our Mr. Smith didn’t exist. They’d have a point, sort of, since his Social Security Number isn’t in any surviving records.

Interestingly, many scholars think there’s something real behind Homer’s “Illiad.”

Scholiemann finding what’s left of Troy probably helped. I’ve heard that he dug through, and obliterated, what might have been evidence that would have supported some of his claims, and that’s yet again another topic.

Remembering

I’m pretty sure that Plato’s Atlantis, from his “Timaeus” and “Critias,” is fictional. It’s a good story, though, and I enjoyed George Pal’s “Atlantis, the Lost Continent.”

Enthusiastic folks like Ignatius L. Donnelly helped fuel my culture’s occasionally-misguided interest in lost civilizations, and assorted New Age goofiness.4

Plato might have gotten the idea for his fictional city from real events.

A civilization flourished on Crete from around the time construction started at Ġgantija to when Thutmose III was making Egypt a superpower. We started uncovering their ruins about a century back. Somewhere along the line, we started calling them Minoans.

Scientists and archeologists aren’t sure how, or if, the explosive eruption at Santorini affected Minoan civilization. They survived the eruption, but someone or something burned at least some of their cities not all that long after.

The “Minoan eruption” may or may not be half-remembered in the Titanomachy described in Hesiod’sTheogony.”

As a Wikipedia page put it, “there are no clear ancient records of the eruption.” Again, I’m not surprised.

Descendants of Abraham’s son Isaac and Rebecca remembered who they were. Some of them, anyway.

But even after a 40-year reality check on their way out of Egypt, some decided that they’d rather put someone or something besides God at the top of their priorities. Repeatedly. That’s a bad idea. (Deuteronomy 8:23; Catechism, 21122114)

Exiles

Assyria was a major power a bit over 27 centuries back, around Duke Zhuang of Zheng’s day.

Assyria’s leaders were trying to unite the (western) world into a single empire. They were succeeding: for the moment.

We call their outfit the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

The Old Assyrian Empire predates the Late Bronze Age collapse. The Middle Assyrian Empire — our name for it, not theirs — survived the cataclysm, but shrank considerably. That was a resilient civilization.

Assyria had invaded Israel back in Menahem’s day. He paid them to leave. (2 Kings 15:1921)

Ahaz had trouble with Assyria, too, of a different sort. He’d seen an altar in Damascus, and been so impressed that he “…sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar and a detailed design of its construction.” (2 Kings 16:718)

Hezekiah — son of Elah and Abi, daughter of Zarchariah — sorted the mess out, to an extent. 2 Kings 18-1 and following tells about that.

The Assyrian captivity didn’t happen all at once. Tiglath-Pileser III started the process. Sargon II and Sennacherib finished the job, although they didn’t take Jerusalem.

“However, they offended the God of their fathers by lusting after the gods of the natives of the land, whom God had cleared out of their way.

2 Therefore the God of Israel incited against them the anger of Pul, king of Assyria, and of Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, who deported the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh and brought them to Halah, Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, where they have remained to this day.”
(1 Chronicles 5:2526)

I’m not sure why the chronicler wrote “Pul … and Tiglath-pilesser.” Tiglath-Pileser III’s name was Pulu when he had the Assyrian royal family killed, and took over. Two more-legitimate rulers had been named Tiglath-Pileser before that, which could explain it.

Later, around the time that Zhou dynasty’s King Kuang died, Egypt’s Necho II planted Jehoiakim on the throne in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 36-36)

That was after one of the battles at Meggido. This one was between Nebuchadnezzar II’s Babylonian forces and Necho II’s Egyptian army. We call that iteration of the Babylonian Empire the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

Nebuchadnezzar II and Necho II lost the Battle of Carchemish. That’s not the way Nebuchadnezzar told it. In fairness, Nebuchadnezzar still had a fairly-effective army.

Jehoiakim switched sides. Nebuchadnezzar returned the favor by sacking Jerusalem, which started the Babylonian captivity. 2 Chronicles 36-36 sums up Jehoiakim’s regrettable reign.

Nebuchadnezzar didn’t last. Neither did the Neo-Assyrian or Neo-Babylonian empires. (October 2, 2016)

Many folks, myself included, think highly of Cyrus the Great. For good reason:

“‘Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: “All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!”‘”
(2 Chronicles 26:23)

“And they lived happily ever after?” No. We’re not there yet.

The Transfiguration, Briefly

Today’s Gospel reading, Matthew 17:19; talks about the Transfiguration. So do Mark 9:28; and Luke 9:2836. John’s Gospel doesn’t, but does have this:

“And the Word became flesh 9 and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
(John 1:14)

That could be John’s description of the Transfiguration, or not. I don’t know.

God said “this is my Son” at our Lord’s baptism, too: Matthew 3:1317; Mark 1:111; and Luke 3:2123.

The Transfiguration is a sort of sneak preview of God’s kingdom. Peter, James, and John, briefly saw Jesus as, unmistakably, the Son of God. They also perceived the Trinity. (Catechism, 554556)

“…the whole Trinity appears—the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud…”
(“Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, III, 45, 4)

As I said, I can’t claim Abraham as an ancestor. Not physically. I do, however, take the “Shema” very seriously:

“שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד
“Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
(From Shema, Judaism 101)

God is ONE

I don’t understand the Trinity. Not on an operational, nuts-and-bolts level.

God’s God, I’m not, so I can’t.

The Trinity is a mystery — 20-20 hindsight lets us see hints of the Trinity in the universe and Old Testament, but we weren’t going to reason it out. God had to tell us. (Catechism, 237)

The best way I’ve found of quickly describing the Trinity is a “Shield of the Trinity,” or “Scutum Fidei.” It’s that diagram with “The Father,” “The Son,” and “The Holy Spirit” in the corners.

Christians are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We’re following orders our Lord gave us, right before leaving:

11 Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
“Go, therefore, 12 and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,
“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. 13 And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'”
(Matthew 28:1820)

It’s the name, not the names. That’s because God is One: “the almighty Father, his only Son, and the Holy Spirit: the Most Holy Trinity.” (Catechism, 233; “Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, I, 31, 1)

We still aren’t at the “happily ever after” part.

What we read about in Matthew 28:1820 and Acts 1:1011 happened about two millennia back. Our Lord is doing whatever’s mentioned in John 14:3, and our standing orders haven’t changed. He told us to “be prepared” for his return, which I think is a good idea.

And that’s still another topic. (November 27, 2016; October 30, 2016; October 2, 2016)

More, mostly about taking Jesus seriously:


1 Sign of the Cross:

2 “Our Father in faith:”

3 I don’t intend that as a description of India’s handing of the 2012 situation. Preparations and responses could have been better, but they could have been a lot worse. I think letting folks build their own backup systems helped:

4 I have some sympathy for folks who like “New Age” stuff. However, I also am quite convinced that it is a bad idea, along with letting anything — money, politics, pleasure, family, fame, whatever — except God take first place in my priorities. (Catechism, 1723, 21122114, 2289, 2424)

At nearly 25,000 none-too-easy-reading words, it’s more than a one-sitting read; but I recommend this as a serious analysis:

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