27 May 2010

Proof positive + second trip to Pittsburgh + second thoughts on Lewis



It's been a busy week. I got back from my second (vastly exhausting but also very rewarding) trip to Pittsburgh this past weekend, and I started another class at RIC - Bridge to Advanced Mathematics, in which we basically learn how to do proofs. I think I'll describe first my second trip to Pittsburgh, since that's been the most enlightening aspect of my past week.

We flew out on the morning of 21 May, not ridiculously early but early enough to leave its mark on my energy levels, rented a car, reserved a hotel room and basically went exploring several small-apartment options with the ultimate aim of trying to pin down a lease, but also doing some exploring of the environs of the East End (where the local shops are, where local churches are, where the bus stops are, how far it is walking from campus, &c.) in the rain, which was on and off pretty much our whole trip out. The apartments I looked at were primarily in the Friendship and Squirrel Hill neighbourhoods on the East End - I finally set up a lease on an apartment which is currently being renovated, but which will be done by the time I move back in August. Here is one of the houses in the same neighbourhood:



Looked good once, and will again once it's done being rebuilt, most like. But it looks like fire damage was pretty widespread among these houses (which is strange because a lot of them, like this one, are brick) - a supposition corroborated somewhat by the insistence of the landlords on fire-safety precautions and fire-related liability waivers in the lease agreements. These are old houses (maybe even as old as the Victorian my family currently owns), probably going back to when Pittsburgh was a steel town. When I'm there next I'll be sure to read up on my local history and lore; it's sure to be engrossing. It is, after all, Mr Rogers' Neighbourhood (although Mr Rogers produced his show out of Oakland rather than Friendship)!

The closest Episcopal Church (and pretty much the only one in what I would consider walking-distance) is Calvary Church, which also has some significant lore (and, indeed, current importance) attached to it, as well as being a very physically impressive edifice (all the more so being an almost ur-Gothic church building shot on a rainy day):



It was the first church in the United States, actually, to do a service by radio broadcast in 1921; more recently, it was one of the more prominent Episcopal churches on the loyalist side of the unfortunate schism in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I admit to being impressed with the sermons (those of them that I've had the time to read); it will be good to visit this church and get a fuller impression.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to stay long - we left the morning of 23 May back for Providence, and I had to prepare for my summer course in advanced mathematics. Basically, the first chapter was all review of my freshman Logic and Reasoning course at Kalamazoo College; my thanks to Prof Steve Petersen for making that class not only enjoyable but also highly applicable here - I'm starting to get the feeling you've made my life infinitely easier. Now we get to put the rules of formal logic into writing up mathematical proofs! Even though the class has by this point only just begun, I nevertheless am beginning to empathise strongly with Aaron (my math-major roommate from senior year at K) for having to do basically proof-writing for a significant chunk of his time there. It being logic, it makes sense, but at the same time it is a lot of grinding, a lot of trial-and-error, and it is beginning to strike me that it requires the occasional flash of artistic creativity that leads to the application of axiomatic statements in unexpected ways.

I mentioned in my earlier post that I was reading CS Lewis. I'm currently about three-quarters of the way through Mere Christianity, and I must confess to being deeply impressed by it thus far. Though I was heavily critical of his view of pacifism in my series of blog posts on Protestantism a while back, and though I continue to disagree with his stance there, I have a much more profound intellectual appreciation for the man's work on a closer reading. He's very conventional, not an original thinker or an innovator by any means - indeed, it almost strikes me that he would be insulted by such a label, were it to be applied to him! - but he applies his remarkable creative and intellectual energies into articulating an interpretation of Christian teaching which speaks strongly to the condition of the reader. Naturally, there are parts of his vision which I find more rigorously articulated than others; his chapters on sexual morality and Christian marriage were solid right up until the point where he began arguing for a complementarian view of the relationship between husbands and wives (my own experience has been that how well or how fairly one makes decisions has very much more to do with personal temperament than with physical gender; in Scripture also the issue is not so cut-and-dried). He's at his best, though, when he is discussing a topic from his own experiences, and he is certainly not one to shy away from discussing hard topics (particularly like forgiveness, given the spirit of the time in which he was writing). I certainly hope that the Screwtape letters is as solid a read as this book has been.

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