Saturday, November 10, 2007

God as network effect

"That infinite and ineffable Good,
which dwells on high, speeds toward love
as a ray of sunlight to a shining body.

It returns the love it finds in equal measure,
so that, if more of ardor is extended,
eternal Goodness will augment Its own.

And the more souls there are who love on high,
the more there is to love, the more of loving,
for like a mirror each returns it to the other."

- Dante, Purgatorio, XV 67-75 [1]

Brilliant. Just brilliant. Literally.

Once you get past the sheer perfection of the metaphor, it's worth reflecting on (heh) the fact that Dante, unwittingly perhaps, has lighted upon an argument that is as true sociologically as it is metaphysically. Organized religion is, after all, all about network effects.

[1] Translation by Jean & Robert Hollander. The original reads:

"Quello infinito e ineffabil bene
che la su e, cosi corre ad amore
com' a lucido corpo raggio vene.

Tanto si da quanto trova d'ardore;
si che, quantunque carita si stende,
cresce sovr' essa l'etterno valore.

E quanta gente piu la su s'intende,
piu v'e da bene amare, e piu vi s'ama,
e come specchio l'uno a l'altro rende."


Space Bar said...

I hate to quibble when it's Dante, but if Love is the mirror, and Good it is that speeds towards it, what is reflected is more Good and not more Love. Assuming, of course, that they the one is appreciably different from the other.

Falstaff said...

Space Bar: Yes and no. Notice that Love is not a mirror but a "shining body". The shine is not derived from outside - it is an innate property of the object that contains it. The light (good) seeing the shine (love) turns towards it, amplifies it and makes it shinier (lovelier / more loving). Of course 'shine' is merely a propensity for light, but that doesn't mean shine and light are the same thing. The only conceit here is that light is 'drawn' to shiny objects - which is, of course, technically untrue, though poetically credible.

The genius of the metaphor is that Dante's argument (put in Virgil's mouth) is that human beings are born with an innate love for good (derived from God), and that when they allow this 'natural' love to rule their actions, God returns and redoubles their love; just as shine is an innate property of an object derived from light, but that when this object allows itself to shine forth, the light seeks it out and rewards it. So basically you have a triple parallel:


Interestingly, Hopkins is apposite here - "The world is charg'd with the grandeur of God / it will flame out, like shining from shook foil". One wonders how much of Dante Hopkins was really channeling.

Tabula Rasa said...

i see what you mean. if network effects didn't exist it would have been necessary to invent them.

Falstaff said...

TR: :-). Yes, exactly.