The Spherical Heresy, and other Updates

A few random life events, and one invitation to the public:

1. As of Aug 1, I have accepted a new job as a "Research Associate" at the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics (SITP).  Really it's my 3rd postdoc position, but apparently their rules prohibit them from calling me a postdoc since it's been more than 5 years since I got my Ph.D.  (Hard to believe, but true.)

I've been commenting a bit less, because of all the work from moving.  Hopefully this is temporary.

2.  I don't know if any of you happen to live in the South Bay Area, but if you do, you are welcome to come to a Discussion Group I'm leading for the next few months on the Apostles' Creed, what it says and why Christians believe the various points mentioned in the Creed (although you don't have to believe anything to participate, you just have to be curious).  We will begin this Sunday, Aug 20, with the opening lines: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty".

It will be held on Sunday mornings, from 9:30-10:30 am, in Building D of New Life Church of the Nazarene in Cupertino, CA, which is also the church I grew up in.

If you can stick around for a while after that, there is a congregational worship service at 11 am.  On Aug 20, there will also be a free BBQ lunch at 12:15.  Again, you do not need to believe or buy anything to be welcome at these events.  (You could be a gay atheist; but as long as and you and your boyfriend are willing to spend time with us, we will be willing to spend time with you.)

3. Speaking of creeds, a friend-of-a-friend pointed me to the following interesting interview with St. Jaroslav Pelikan on the role of creeds in the Christian Church.

Note however, that there is a critical misspelling: the Nicene Creed was written to combat Arianism (followers of Arius, who denied the full divinity of Christ), not Aryanism! This is particularly egregious considering that the same interview refers to actual Aryanism (the Nazi veneration of the Aryan race) later on... [NEVER MIND THEY FIXED IT]

Also, the interview doesn't provide the complete text of the Maasai Creed.

4. Also, I have found my new favorite heresy!  (Favorite to tell people about, anyway.)  Apparently, St. Justinian (the Byzantine Emperor) found it necessary to pronounce the following condemnation:

If anyone says or maintains that in resurrection the bodies of men are raised up from sleep spherical, and does not agree that we are raised up from sleep upright, let him be anathema.

In order to clearly see the stakes involved in this question, please consult the following two figures describing alternative pictures of the afterlife:

          raised upright                                                           but the sphere is a perfect shape!      

This "spherical heresy" might seem pretty funny, but I think in order for us moderns to understand it, we have to think of it as being like the ancient version of "body image disorder", where people are uncomfortable with the shape of their own body, even though God created us to be physical beings.

This discomfort with our own bodies is one of the many effects of the Fall, and therefore it will be remedied at the Resurrection, when our flesh and spirit will no longer be at war with each other.  So that will be all right then.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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21 Responses to The Spherical Heresy, and other Updates

  1. Andrew says:

    Congrats on the new job Aron.

  2. Spencer Andreasen says:

    Aron, is there going to be any of the discussion group on the apostles creed posted online in any way, shape, or form? Would love to see what is discussed.

  3. Andrew says:

    There is a really good video on YouTube by a Christian user, on the council of Nicaea:

    Its a nice refutation of some of the claims that Jesus' divinity was made up, or the trinity was invented then and there or any of the other Di Vinci code conspiracy/history revisionism. Also while this is a miscellaneous point, I thought people here might appreciate reading something I found by philosopher Quentin Smith. Its an article titled "the Metaphilosophy of Naturalism".

    Smith describes the resurrection of Theism as an academically respectable position in philosophy departments. To cut it short: he complains that most naturalists aren't justified in their beliefs because they haven't kept up with philosopher of religion. Its a nice bit of philosophy-history one might appreciate (:

  4. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks, Andrew.

    I don't know yet, Spencer. It certainly won't be recorded, but some of my prep material might be posted. We'll see.

  5. Andy Jones says:

    I agree with Spencer. I'd be interested in that also. Heck, I don't even know what a creed is for, but I'd assume to get everyone on the same page, to say "this is what we believe". It would be pretty useful today when everyone right of Nancy Pelosi is often called a Nazi and anyone left of Rush Limbaugh is a Marxist, since it lets groups identify themselves instead of being labeled by others. And thanks Andrew for the great links!

  6. Bob Kurland says:

    Congratulations on the new position Aron, and thanks for your amusing heresy. I recall a science fiction story in which humans were really pests who mutated on interstellar voyage carried out by spherical entities. So you may be right in saying why don't we have a perfect shape?

  7. Scott Church says:

    Congrats on the new assignment Aron!! Are you guys settled in the Cupertino area then? Looks like you're only a 14-hour drive from me now, so I hope to be seeing more of you soon! :-)

    Never heard of the spherical heresy before, but I must say it sounds strange. I take it that during the 6th Century AD there were people claiming that our resurrected bodies would be spherical. What would've been the motivation for that? Did it have something to do with our bodies being resurrected incorruptible and the extant Aristotelian belief that spheres are the "perfect" shape?

  8. Aron Wall says:

    We're actually living in Mountain View right now. The spherical heresy was apparently taken from the writings of St. Origen... but I imagine the considerations you mention had something to do with it.

  9. Mactoul says:

    Congrats on the new job, Aron.

  10. kashyap vasavada says:

    Hi Aron,
    Congratulations on your new position. Now OT;
    Quanta magazine has a blog by Natali Wolchover about traversable wormholes with your name attached to them! Since one has to be careful about a journalist's interpretation of a physics paper, I would like to ask you. Are her impressions of what you are saying correct? Would you be willing to write a blog here explaining your work? Thanks.

  11. Aron Wall says:

    I was interviewed by phone for this article, although it looks like I wasn't quoted (except the quip about bank loans that I am responsible for putting in the paper). Basically it's legit, although there are one or two places it's phrased in a misleading way. (And of course the issues of interpretation about what it all means about the BH information puzzle are something we physicists don't agree about with each other!)

    I don't have time to write a post about it here, but you can read John Preskill's blog post if you want more information.

  12. kashyap vasavada says:

    Thanks Aron. Disagreement between physicists is ok with me! What I would like to understand is: can you really get rid of requirement of negative energy or somehow it is there in a disguised form? I hope to look at Preskill's article little bit later.

  13. Aron Wall says:

    There is negative energy in the wormhole throat! We just figured out a way to get that negative energy from ordinary quantum fields, by finding a loophole in the laws of nature that seemed to prevent it. (In general, QFT allows negative energy densities, but requires the negative energy to be balanced by positive energy somewhere else.)

    BTW, the wormhole doesn't remain stable. It is open only for a period of time.

  14. Jonas says:

    Dear Aron,

    Whow, now thats interesting! But for me as a layman coming to physics: What does this mean in the end? Is this a fundamental gamechanger for QM (or rather quantum gravity) and its possible implications which concerns everyone, or is this "only" a possible solution to a theoritical problem that haunted a certain field of physics and now only concerns experts in said field, and thus it should be of no further interest for the broader population?

    What exactly is meant by information in your field of physics? Doesnt information in the normal sense need a conscious observer with intentionality about him as a context, for the former to exist? Is it the same definition of "information" as its used in Maxwells demon and the Landauer principle?

    Kind regards

  15. Jacqueline says:

    You may have discussed this subject and I have simply not found it but if you have not, could you take on the B-theory for time as it relates to the resurrection? I came to faith from the experience of NDEs (those of myself and others) and have been really stuck reconciling what I feel like I know to be true about the transition at death and the waiting period my fellow Christians believe in before the resurrection. I read that you are busy following a change in work so I don't have any expectations for a response. Just thought I'd reach out. Can't say how much I've appreciated finding this blog!

  16. Scott Church says:

    @Jacqueline, please forgive my thickness, but what do you mean by "NDE"? I can't seem to tie that acronym to anything I can relate to B-theory. Thanks! :-)

  17. Aron Wall says:

    It stands for "Near Death Experience", I'm sure.

  18. Scott Church says:

    Ah, I see. Thanks Aron! :-)

  19. Mason Green says:

    Hi Aron,

    It’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on what the new creation will be like, and whether it would have different laws of physics, etc.

  20. M says:

    With the modern Western diet and modern man's refusal to fast,the spherical conjecture remains, sadly, a distinct possibility. ;^)

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