Saturday, May 03, 2003

Tohu wa Bohu

Inanis et vacua is the phrase in St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible that renders the "without form and void" of the first verse of Genesis. (When God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void…) The Hebrew original is "tohu wa bohu," a pair of words that always go together, something like "irrelevant and immaterial." I was going to write that Tohu wa Bohu recurs later on in the Bible, but that’s a little misleading since the first couple of verses of Genesis are from the Priestly source and were written after Jeremiah used tohu wa bohu to describe the moral condition of Jerusalem in his time. Like the prophet, I’m also using inanis et vacua to refer to a social and cultural situation: I don’t deal in the cosmic. I’m using the latin version because somebody got to the Hebrew first.

Monday, April 28, 2003

The Bore Atom

The Law of Least Hassles governs the human mind: our ideas spontaneously trend towards the least energetic state. Thus the easiest thing to believe is that the way we do things is obviously just and good, and that’s where most us are at most of the time. By absorbing one tiny photon, possibly from an old Star Trek episode, advanced middlebrow thinkers get excited and discover that all received ideas and customary practices are nothing more than the prejudices and habits of the tribe and can be anything whatsoever, at least in the later episodes. A corollary of this bit of mental physics is the rule that all Americans eventually turn every philosophical system into cultural relativism just as the body always breaks down proteins into urea.