Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reflections on Academia, Aristotle, Plato, Greatness, Order & Chaos

Comments through email from one of my brothers prompted me to reflect on the previous Litton's Fishing Lines post. It's winter, often a time for thought rather than outdoor activity. If I fish Round Valley soon, I'll just still fish for trout and read, tending the rig on occasion.

The post's title might suggest I tolerate nothing of Plato (so also nothing of Socrates), which isn't true, and of course it wasn't true of Aristotle either. Nor am I against academia. To be a critic of an institution does not necessarily mean one suffers an oppositional disorder, not that my brother's comments suggest one does. But as often happens with him, his presence serves as a corrective for me to what could be misconstrued as overly onesided leaning. Yes, "Against Plato" in the title of my post is provocative, and I do take hard lines against anyone who promulgates a totalatarian state. Of course not all academics do, and I suppose very few, if any, do. I am merely suspicious of The Academy because it originates in a man with such a scheme for power. I sometimes personally distrust The Academy for its high level of autocracy, not that this constitutes any real threat of governmental totalatarianism, but it tends to produce denial in all sorts of forms, including governmental.

The gist of my brother's comments is that academia organizes knowledge through peer review--thus knowledge builds on previous knowledge. It does. But Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, for example, made their essential discoveries outside academia. Certainly academics quickly took interest. But this is not always the case for great men and women who produce outside. Friedrich Nietzsche comes to mind, writing outside academia with very few sales of his books during his lifetime. Herman Melville finished life as a wage worker. Both of these men's work is now regarded as truly great. Other examples exist of such appalling failures of greatness which were not the fault of the creators. To possess the notion that their lives of struggle and indifference from others were fitting sacrifices for us would be an unspeakable injustice.

My brother made the further point that the peer review process gives coherance to knowledge, which otherwise would be "a disheveled mess." I had made the point in the piece I wrote that we need our institutions. They organize means. But as a reader who fishes, I presume, you know we need to go away and fish too. We need to unwind and unlearn assumptions so that fresh awareness may allow new knowledge to emmerge just like hatches in streams pure enough for this to be possible. And if you visit some professor's offices as I have, you find--a disheveled mess. These are not necessarily the habits of under-performers, and the photo upon Einstein's death of his office at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, N.J., is a classic.

Chaos is fertile. The writer seized by mania, the angler fishing a blitz, and the fascinated modern chaos theorist know this. But if no clean gains result, it's only overkill.  

(My study)

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