Sunday, December 31, 2006


"Something that seems as though it might be conclusive or might concur with something else, but never quite does so." -

Here's an artifact that has sprung up recently in my brain's archives - asymptote.

In mathematics, an asymptote is usually illustrated with a straight line and a curved line. The curved line spirals down in amplitude around a centrally located straight line until the curvature is virtually impossible to detect with the naked eye, although clearly the mathematical expression of the curvature goes outwards to infinity with the two lines never becoming precisely the same.

The beauty of the human brain is that it can detect the pattern and see the similarities even though each instance of the lines in the illustration are never the same.

Yesterday I wrote about Life's Little Mysteries, the clear implication of which was that science and technology gradually and inevitably supplant the sensation of mystery with natural explanations. Karl Rahner, the late Catholic theologian, would probably disagree. For Rahner, God can only be approached asymptotically, in other words through what he called "absolute mystery". Humanity has, in his view, an inescapable orientation to mystery in which rationality must be supplemented by divine revelation. To simplify even further, we can get close, but that's it.

A fellow blogger has a wonderfully named blog called Asymptotic Life. He writes that the name for the blog represents a journey of coming ever closer to God but not reaching that destination until infinity (interesting that he doesn't choose the word eternity). I'm not sure whether or not I agree with him or with Rahner about mystery and the journey towards divinity, but I certainly do appreciate the "hard wiring" of the human brain that recognizes patterns in apparently dissimilar systems. If it were not for asymptotic reasoning, humanity would be doomed to a quest for certainty. Instead, we have evolved to a point where we recognize that patterns and universal behaviour may be understood without perfect causal-mechanistic explanations.

If Karl Rahner and DJ (the AsymptoticLife blogger) are simply saying that the best we can hope for in relation to explaining the divine is to "point to the moon" without mistaking the finger for the moon, then I have to agree wholeheartedly with them both. If, however, they are suggesting that there is a category of knowledge called divine revelation, I will have to humbly, yet forcefully, disagree. There is simply no evidence for that assertion, explained asymptotically or otherwise.

But having said all that, I am certain that the different trajectories or journeys we travel are converging over time and would welcome further dialog about such journeys, unwanted or asymptotic.

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