(From five years ago!)
There is a restaurant called Pelagos. The name means “from
the sea,” in Greek. It is underground, but has a patio open
to the sky. A staircase leads from the sidewalk to the
subterranean patio. The is a metal fence along the sidewalk.
On the patio, there are tables with umbrellas.
Large windows provide a view of the patio, from inside the
restaurant. Looking out, a person might be fascinated by the
geometrical shapes formed by the window frames, the the tables, the
steps, and the fence; that person might also be happy to glimpse a bit
Except now it starts to rain. Unhappy patrons rush in from
the patio. But some people had read the weather report, and
stayed inside for their dinner.
Inconspicuous, along one wall of Pelagos, sit three men, of three
generations. As is always true in this Universe, the three
men sit arranged in a triangle.
All speak English as their native language. But the oldest
learned Japanese; the middle, German; the youngest, Russian and Latin.
As it happens, the Latin form of Pelagos is Pelagius.
The oldest of the men enjoyed hunting and fishing, but no longer can do
these things; he reads about history and the human mind, appreciates
fine wine, listens to jazz. Raised in poverty, he used his
intellect to complete an advanced education; then went on to build
security for his family, and a good reputation for himself.
This stands in stark contrast to the earlier generations of
this particular lineage. The oldest moved up in society by
trying to improve himself, never by trying to take advantage of others.
The middle-generation man never particularly enjoyed hunting or
fishing; indeed, is not terribly fond of any sort of killing.
At times, he has been known to read about history, and the
human brain. He raises horses and builds computers.
Although proficient at photography, he never cared so much
about music or other forms of art. He drinks beer, but never
more than 16 fluid ounces (about 500 milliliters). sometimes he
pretends to like wine, but generally does not pretend much.
One of the reasons that he does not drink much alcohol is
that he hopes, someday, to live up to the reputation that his father
established for the family. If you ask him, he’ll say he does
not care about his reputation. That is not really true, but
the reason he cares about his reputation, is that he wants a better
life for subsequent generations.
It annoys him that the restaurant brings a 12-ounce bottle of beer,
with a 10-ounce glass to put it in, but that is a minor point.
It annoys him more, that some people don’t think for
The youngest, like his father, is proficient at photography; unlike his
father, he prefers digital — like most young people these
days. One summer, he rode a bicycle in China, after which his
father posted the pictures on the Internet. The youngest uses
computers, can upgrade them, but mostly sees them as tools to be used
for specific purposes; unlike his father, he is not terribly fond of
the hardware side of things. At a very young age, he wanted
to be an ichthyologist, or maybe a limnologist; later, he got
interested in history and political science. In his honors
calculus class, he wrote a term paper about public-key cryptography.
Folk music is one thing he cares about, although he has
chosen to not develop his innate musical talent. He’ll be off
to college soon. After thoughtful consideration of his many
interests, he now thinks he will study virology and immunology.
The older and middle of the men have devoted a great deal of effort to
alleviating the suffering of individuals. The youngest has
grander plans, as a young person should. He would like to
prevent the suffering of many; not limit himself to saving people one
at a time.
They sit and enjoy their dinner. They talk about things.
It is an ordinary time. Perhaps none of the three
will, individually, make a lasting impression on the course of human
events. However, geometry has a lesson for us: the triangle,
expanded to three dimensions, can form an icosahedron.
Perhaps the lineage of the three men will, over time, manage
to build something just as elegant.
But instead of looking forward, we now look back. As we sift
through history, we see that there have been many who would have
changed the course of events for the better. Sometimes, the
geometry of the Universe permits this; sometimes, it impedes it.
History has a lesson for us. As the Roman empire was
crumbling, and the Dark Ages began, there was a great struggle among
theologians. They cast aside Plato, and with him, his beloved
tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, and dodecahedron. Worst of
all, even the supremely elegant icosahedron was tossed back into the
They thought the cross would solve everything. Alas, they
could only think in two dimensions.
One of them dared to dissent. He carried the peculiar name Pelagius.
He promoted the idea that humans are basically good, and that
is through their free choice of actions that they keep themselves good.
In contrast, the
predominant view at the time was that of St. Augustine, who believed
that humans were fundamentally tainted by the original sin, and any
good they had, came from the grace of god.
The geometry of the Universe was not kind to Pelagius, although
ultimately he managed to avoid the worst of fates. From
When title="Alaric I">Alaric
sacked Rome in 410,
fled to title="Carthage">Carthage,
where he came into further conflict with Augustine. His follower
Coelestius was condemned by a church council there. Pelagius then fled
but Augustine’s followers were soon on his trail; href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orosius" title="Orosius">Orosius
went to Jerusalem to warn St href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome" title="Jerome">Jerome
against him. Pelagius succeeded in clearing himself at a diocesan href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synod" title="Synod">synod
and a provincial one in href="http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Diospolis&action=edit"
class="new" title="Diospolis">Diospolis ( href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydda" title="Lydda">Lydda
though Augustine said that his being cleared at those councils must
have been the result of Pelagius lying about his teachings.
Augustine’s version of Pelagius’s teachings about href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sin" title="Sin">sin
were condemned as title="Heresy">heresy at the local href="http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Council_of_Carthage&action=edit"
class="new" title="Council of Carthage">Council of
Carthage in 417.
Those are the people who told us to put away childish things.
Those are the people who cast aside the icosahedron as a mere
trinket. But it so doing, they brought us the Dark
online Catholic Encyclopedia contains the following
Meanwhile the Pelagian ideas had infected a wide
area, especially around Carthage, so that Augustine and other bishops
were compelled to take a resolute stand against them in sermons and
Imagine that, being infected with the notion that
fundamentally good. Is it some kind of virus?
Outside Pelagos, it rained. Those who had not familiarized
themselves with local meteorology got soaked. The three
generations of men, well-acquainted with the Sciences, stayed dry.
One of them wants to study viruses. Perhaps there