I posted this ten years ago today on another site. I had no idea that my PhD program would take some of the twists and turns it did before I walked in December 2016. With the challenges the U.S. faces these days, it would do well to consider this problem–and the technologies that were core to the program.
Next month, Lord willing, I start the second year of my PhD adventure in Computational Engineering. “Adventure” is a good way to describe it, especially in my superannuated state. In the midst of getting the coursework started last fall (yes, Europeans, sad to say we have coursework with PhD programmes) we had a “freshman” orientation.
One of the things my advisor oriented us about were the substantial computer capabilities that the SimCentre has. “Substantial” is a relative term; at one point we were in the top 500 computers in the world for power, but he chronicled our falling ranking which eventually left us “off the charts”. In spite of that the SimCentre continues to tout its capabilities and the rigour of its curriculum, and I can attest to the latter.
In my desperate attempt to re-activate brain cells long dormant (or activate a few that had never seen front-line service) I dug back and discovered that most of the “basics” of the trade were in place when I was an undergraduate in the 1970’s. Part of that process was discovering, for example, that one of the books I found most useful for projects like this had as a co-author one of my undergraduate professors! The biggest real change–and the one that drove just about everything else–was the rapid expansion of computer power from then until now. What has happened to the SimCentre was not that the computer cluster there had deteriorated; it has just not kept up with the ever-larger supercomputers coming on-line out there. Such is the challenge the institution faces.
One of my advisor’s favourite expressions is “in all its glory”, but in this case what we have is a case of “fading glory”. The SimCentre isn’t the only person or institution to face this problem:
If the system of religion which involved Death, embodied in a written Law and engraved on stones, began amid such glory, that the Israelites were unable to gaze at the face of Moses on account of its glory, though it was but a passing glory, Will not the religion that confers the Spirit have still greater glory? For, if there was a glory in the religion that involved condemnation, far greater is the glory of the religion that confers righteousness! Indeed, that which then had glory has lost its glory, because of the glory which surpasses it. And, if that which was to pass away was attended with glory, far more will that which is to endure be surrounded with glory! With such a hope as this, we speak with all plainness; Unlike Moses, who covered his face with a veil, to prevent the Israelites from gazing at the disappearance of what was passing away. (2 Corinthians 3:7-13)
When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, having received the law directly from God (a truth that Muslims, along with Christians and Jews, affirm) he wore a veil:
Moses came down from Mount Sinai, carrying the two tablets with God’s words on them. His face was shining from speaking with the LORD, but he didn’t know it. When Aaron and all the Israelites looked at Moses and saw his face shining, they were afraid to come near him. Moses called to them, so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him. Then Moses spoke to them. After that, all the other Israelites came near him, and he commanded them to do everything the LORD told him on Mount Sinai. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. (Exodus 34:29-33)
Moses’ fellow Israelites were afraid to even come near him on account of the glory of God on his face, thus the veil. And Paul dutifully replicates this reasoning in 2 Corinthians 3:7. But Paul throws in another reason Moses needed to wear a veil: to hide the fact that, like the SimCentre’s computers, the glory was fading! That is what I call a “2 Corinthians 3” problem, and although Paul applies it to the Jewish law, it has broader application as well.
Today, in spite of our “flattened” society, we see people and institutions lifted up and presented as glorious. This is especially clear in the “messianic” streak that has entered our political life, but it’s also clear in the adulation given to celebrities, corporations and their products. It would behove us, however, to take a critical look at such things with one question: are we looking at real, enduring glory, or is this just another example of fading glory which is being covered up with hype?
As Paul and other New Testament authors note, the purpose of Jesus Christ coming to the earth was to solve the problem of fading glory, and specifically of a system that could not produce an entire solution to the problem of our sins and imperfections. Once that happens within ourselves, we can stop living behind the hype of whatever fading glory we’ve tried to hide behind and live in the truth.
‘Yet, whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.’ And the ‘Lord’ is the Spirit, and, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with faces from which the veil is lifted, seeing, as if reflected in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into his likeness, from glory to glory, as it is given by the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)