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William of Oakham

Today we will talk about “process”.

This post will veer off this blog’s defined and well beaten path due to something which several commenters have notice and inquired about, especially those who contacted this blog via twitter. For those inquiring minds, the answer is: Yes, it is what it is. What these bright individuals noticed is that my posts tend to be organized along a common outline or template. Allow me to provide some insight and background.

When I first decided to start (actually “restart” is more accurate) this blog on that fateful Friday this past November, I quickly realized that the shear size of the typical daily news flow was overwhelming. The amount of information being generated in a typical news cycle is quite large. This amount of information is in large part due to what can accurately and properly be termed the “real Francis effect”. Francis generates a LOT of news. Too bad it doesn’t spill over into the church attendance figures, but that is a topic for another day. And on an aside, who would have ever imagined that writing about Catholicism would be so intense? But I digress…  Furthermore, this large amount of information generates a corresponding wide range of topics from which one can choose to write about. So naturally, the need to define a “process” by which one could decide what it is that the writer wants to write about on any given day. To write about everything would have been suicidal, since time is not only limited in general, but likewise at a premium in my case.

Given the above, I decided to define and implement an approach that would give this blog the biggest bang for the buck when taking into account my time limitations. So I decided not to write about everything, but rather to select specific topics which I felt were relevant. Simultaneously, I needed to identify topics that I felt comfortable writing about. So a methodology was needed to determine a selection process. Next, once this selection process was in place, a methodology was needed to organize the individual posts so that they would not only make sense, but would convey the idea that I was trying to convey to the public domain. This methodology was designed to reduce the amount of time that I needed to allocate to any given post.

When it came to defining the framework, I was fortunate enough to remember from my college (university for you English) days a method of inquiry developed by Charles Peirce an American scientist and logician who is known in academia as the “father of pragmatism”. Peirce’s method, known as “pragmatic method” relies on the notion that inquiry is: “the struggle to move from irritating, inhibitory doubts born of surprises, disagreements, and the like, and to reach a secure belief, belief being that on which one is prepared to act”. When dealing with a subject matter like the Vatican and Church matters in general, and Francis and his alter ego, the “god of surprises” in particular, I thought that this was as close as one could get to arriving at some sort of framework to assess what is “plausible”, if not necessarily true.

Another reason why Peirce’s pragmatic thinking paradigm came to mind is due to the fact that this methodology was very amenable to the work of another philosopher/scientist/theologian, one William of Ockham. For those who are not familiar with William of Ockham, he was a Franciscan Friar, a contemporary of St. Thomas of Aquinas, a heretical theologian yet an excellent scientist. As to his theological street cred, he was a “functional” heretic and probably a direct theological forefather of the 19th and 20th century modernists/neo-modernists/post-modernists and theologians of that ilk. And yes Virginia, they had Modernists in the 14th century, which says a lot about the term “Modernism” in the theological sense. As to William’s intellect, no one can question this aspect of the man’s God given abilities. Among his ingenious contributions in the area of acquisition and processing of information, William of Ockham is credited with defining the concept of Ockham’s razor (Occam’s razor as it is commonly called today). What Occam’s razor posits is that the simpler the hypothesis (proposed explanation for a phenomenon), the better. In order to assess the simplicity (parsimony) of a hypothesis, the lower the number of assumptions supporting that hypothesis, the better. When it comes to competing hypotheses, the one with the lowest number of assumptions, is preferred since it will have better predictive properties. Now, this is more of a rule of thumb rather than a hard and fast rule, but what Occam’s razor allows one to do is quickly eliminate false assumptions and reduce the hypothesis to a very “clean and elegant” assumption. The assumptions then become proofs. Proofs in turn become facts. And on these facts new hypotheses are formed.

Now that I have provided some insights into the infrastructure and methodology of the Deus Ex Machina blog, here is an example of how this methodology works in a practical application.

Initially, the jump off point is with the identification of some “phenomenon”  or set of occurrences which appear to be related. Once these occurrences are identified, they need to be defined. On an aside, if you dear reader notice, I am continuously defining terms. This Thomist approach is mandatory in order to understand what it is that one is observing. (see here) Once the definitions are set, then an attempt is made to identify the relationship, i.e. “define the hypothesis”. On an aside, if this were a scientific hypothesis, like a biology experiment, this that comes next would be considered the experimental phase. In our case, since this blog deals in the area of the social sciences, the methodology tends not to be as exact. Once we have defined our hypothesis, we identify supporting evidence in the form of data points which allow us to make assumptions about the hypothesis. These data points could consist of any information that can be obtained from a post or article that appears related to the given subject. If the data points are strong, then the assumption becomes a proof. The remaining assumptions are then subjected to Ockham’s razor. In the case of competing assumptions, the Deus Ex Machina takes out Occam’s razor and wields it like Fr. Volpi wields power in the FFI, i.e. unmercifully. The weak assumptions are shaved off, hence the term “razor” and what is left is a clean hypothesis supported by proofs and solid assumptions.

The goal naturally is to be able to construct a “clean and elegant” hypothesis with good predictive capabilities. When looking at the various remaining hypotheses collectively, one can relatively easily define a general principle that explains the initial phenomenon that was observed. And then we are off to the races.

I will conclude here. For a practical example of the above described methodology and the Deus Ex Machina wielding the Occam’s razor, please see the post titled Francis’ Fascination with Pentecostalism Explained! (see here) The hypothesis was defined as: Leonardo Boff’s response to the Vittorio Messori article was constructive and contained “substantive” arguments. The underpinning assumptions were extracted from data points contained in Boff’s response to Messori published in the Aleteia blog (see here). The data points derived from the Boff interview were then run through the framework using Occam’s razor that consisted of the logical fallacies list contained in the Stephen’s Guide whose link is in the right hand margin of this blog. And forty-one identified fallacies later, the conclusion was inferred that Mr. Boff’s response easily qualified in the category of written gibberish, i.e. “gobbledegook”.

Hope the above was enlightening.

I will leave off here for today.

Tomorrow we will return to the our “unitary theme”, the upcoming Bishops’ Synod of 2015, that is scheduled to begin in 257 days.