Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ice Fishing Symbolizes American Gumption

What on this planet more resembles the lunar surface than either a frozen lake, or the polar wastes? Deserts abound with life compared to these frigid expanses, and the Sahara seems more hospitable for its heat. In July 1969, the American Apollo mission climaxed nearly 200 years of national history when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, whether he ever ice fished or not.

America had reached its destiny as an essentially scientific culture; the lunar missions were Isaac Newton's theories made concrete in no finer way. They were formed into a vehicle for both exploration and human drama. Today respect for science has since publically declined, but biology is less visible publically than technical achievements embodying physics.

1969 marks the end of the age of physics. Not necessarily is progress in this science fading, but biology (including neuroscience) has replaced physics as the hallmark of the age. Next in line will be psychology. Neuroscience is not psychology, although it has astonishing implications for psychology. No doubt neuroscience is helping to make fantastic discoveries and practices in psychology possible in the future.

The complexity of specific sciences moves from physics, to biology, and then to psychology in order of lesser to greater, biology resting on physical knowledge, and psychology upon physical and biological knowledge. This order of progression also signifies increasing individual privacy, a move away from public to private domain. Where is computer science in this picture? Related to physics and mathematics, computer science is certainly related to neuroscience and psychology as well. But I promise you computer science will never trump psychology for complexity. Computer science, like any other, is produced by the mind--the issue of psychology--which is more complex than we can ever know, since the moment we learn something new, more possibilities sprout.

So the ages of American science are not over and a most significant age is yet to dawn. It's not that we have no psychology; it just isn't the main focus yet. I know of a psychotherapist with a portrait of Freud on her office wall; this says something about how slow to start psychology is. Not that Freud was a dunce. But he lived long ago in a completely different time.

It all depends on American gumption, however. If we cave in, collapse, give up on initiative, we may have no nation or world at all in the future, or we may have a society that resembles what we call a third world nation now.

What do you think of people who go out ice fishing? Even among fishermen we're viewed as odd, but Garrison Keilor loves us and I thank him for this. Imagine if you lived 200 years ago in America. Could you? Would you survive? If so, you had gumption. And you were an outdoors person unless you lived in Philadelphia perhaps, although I do not exclude Benjamin Franklin as one of us nature lovers. He loved French parlors too, and I have no problem with this.

But we don't ice fish to uphold tradition, although we in fact do keep the American spirit alive to some extent. We do it because we have a special gumption. It's a power within us more ancient than this nation. But this nation came after times before in a most elemental way, which puts it on par with Ancient Civilization. But I'm not referring to Egypt or Sumeria so much as Greece. This may be no more than a prayer, but I'm willing to make it even if I'm all alone.

Until next post, already written by hand for the most part, let's hope for ice in New Jersey this week. My next post will follow more directly from the previous two. But all posts in my archives interrelate. Post a comment and join the web.

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)