I picked up Daf Yomi at the beginning of the cycle and learned all of Berachos and the first quarter of Shabbos before I fell off. That was a couple of years back, I think I lost momentum when we lost power for a week after Sandy and never regained the habit. This time around, I'm still figuring out how to build the habit- I've slipped behind a couple of days already.
Masechet Sanhedrin contains the laws of the Jewish legal system- courts and judges and the evaluation of evidence and so on. It also contains digressions of all sorts because the Talmud is the most ADD legal text ever. I'm given to understand that the court system described in Sanhedrin lasted only a couple of hundred years at most, in the Second Temple era, and when the Gemara is describing its details, after the Churban, the system was largely no longer in place. So I think understanding its meaning in a modern setting requires a little bit of creativity- you have to try and read it as a philosophical exploration of the meaning of justice and the best ways to attain it. You also need to recognize it as an act of creative historical reconstruction on the part of the Rabbis, the analysis required to rediscover the legal system that represented for them not merely a lost cultural and legal heritage, but an ideal of perfected justice. The legal system described in Sanhedrin is a fusion of what we would think of today as a typical secular legal system, with wise, theoretically neutral judges appointed to adjudicate interpersonal conflicts and exact punishment for violators of the law, alongside a theocratic legal system where mystical invocations of God's name reveal the just path forward. God's guidance of just judges underpins the system, which doesn't truly hold together in the absence of God.
Nonetheless, a lot of the teachings of Sanhedrin still have value today, both as general principles of how to attain fairness in resolving interpersonal conflict, and as the guiding ideas of the much scaled back Jewish legal system of Batei Dinim we have today. I was just describing to my father- an experienced lawyer who recently became a worker's compensation court judge- the fascinating Jewish legal conflict between two Brooklyn pizzerias across the street from each other. He was surprised by the field trip the Dayanim took to visit each pizzeria. That sort of trip is pretty much unheard of in the American legal system, where the judges' job is to listen to evidence presented to them by the parties and reach a judgement based only on legally presented evidence, not to act as investigator seeking evidence on their own. My father has complained from time to time about lawyers failing to present evidence in front of him that he believed would make it easier to rule in favor of their client, either out of laziness or some more complicated legal strategy. In those cases, all he could do was ask the lawyers if they had the evidence he was looking for, not go out and seek it. But in the Beit Din system, the responsibility of the Dayan is to reach a just conclusion even if it requires seeking information withheld by the parties.
Yet the gods do not give lightly of the powers they have made
And with Challenger and seven, once again the price is paid
Though a nation watched her falling, yet a world could only cry
As they passed from us to glory, riding fire in the sky
I skippped out of the Dreamwidth meetup at Loncon for a half hour, making apologies to liv and starlady and others, to see Jordin Kare's filk concert. It left me weeping in sadness in places, and laughing in delight in others. I bought a CD from him afterward and thanked him for his music.
For the engineer sighed as he studied those plans
And he read the demented designer's demands
Then he called in his techs and he said to his crew
This guy seems to think that there's jobs we can't do
And parts we can't build so let's give him a thrill
We'll build his machine and then send him the bill
I'm sad to hear Dr. Kare passed away the other day. His music and his science inspired me constantly.
Alice Grove is finished. I'm going to take some time to just do QC for a while and then start another side project sometime in the fall. Patreon subscribers will get sneak peeks, advance previews, and other stuff as it develops. Thank you for reading my comics.
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
I first encountered this poem in high school English, and I come across it again every few years. I can't explain entirely the rage it summons in me.
But maybe this is the point I wish to make. A friend mentioned the Randall-Sundrum model of the universe and I went to that wikipedia page to try to learn what that was. Pretty soon I was desperately linkhopping- I have a basic education in relativity and differential geometry, but pretty basic, and even the vocabulary I did learn at some point, it's been a decade since and I needed to refresh my memory.
So I clicked on anti-de-Sitter space and from there to Lorentzian manifold and from there to Riemannian manifold, and I want to point out something about these four articles.
The article on Randall-Sumdrum model begins "In physics" The article on Anti-de-Sitter Space begins "In mathematics and physics." The articles on Lorentzian Manifold and Riemannian Manifold begin "In differential geometry." There's that tricksy slippage between physics and mathematics Whitman is writing about. Are the learn'd astronomer's "proofs, the figures," his "charts and diagrams" a meaningful and interesting representation of the actual stars, or are they just lifeless mathematical models that lack the "mystical" potency of observing the stars with the naked untrained eye? Aside from answering this question, though, the distinction is, I think, actually important to doing physics. Because if you theorize that spacetime takes a certain shape that can be modeled by a particular manifold, and then your measurements in an experiment don't match the manifold, you have to consider two different possibilities: One, that spacetime doesn't match your theorized model, and two, that your measurements were inaccurate. But if you're a mathematician working with a manifold and it doesn't match your expectations, only your math is wrong.
So this distinction Whitman writes on matters. There are the mathematical models of the stars, and there are the actual stars themselves, and if you forget this you end up confusing the manifold with the spacetime. A physicist needs both to do their work.
Nonetheless, I feel a great rage when I read Whitman's poem, a rage at the idea that the untrained eye bestows a more exciting and therefore truer reality than the subtle delver into the measureable mysteries of the cosmos can attain through experimentation and analysis. This may be dogmatic scientism on my part, but if so, let it be!
— email —
I always thought I’d too commit suicide one day, but I haven’t. I hope you haven’t either. Funny thing is that no matter how painful I find my own existence, when I see others saying such things all I want to do is help and let them know how wonderful, beautiful, and meaningful they are. Frank. should you read this and want to share any of it, you have full permission to use my name: Caitlin Pennington.