Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Quiz July 13

Following up on our discussion yesterday, I strongly recommend the George Saunders essay "Trump Days"... And to follow up on the horrific events of the past week in Minnesota and Dallas, I'd like to solicit your suggestions. Have you heard, read, or thought anything supportive of the President's statement that we're not as divided as the popular reaction to these events might imply?

And again noting the calendar: please plan to post the first installment of your final report by Monday August 1, and the second installment by Friday August 5. If you're looking for a report topic suggestion, I still like the idea of stitching together your weekly posts and identifying common themes & emergent conclusions along the way.

OR, pick a philosopher and tell us more about how walking informed his/her thinking. OR, tell us about someone Gros left out. OR, critique Arthur Herman's account of western civilization and assess some of his heroes and villains. OR, [your idea here].

PW 13-16
1. Pilgrimage emphasizes what wish?

2. Why do you have to walk, according to Huichol mythology?

3. What sedentary distinction does The Cynic "cut through"?

4. What is walking's dominant joy?

  • If a pilgrim is originally "not at home where he is walking," is it possible through walking to acquire a feeling not only of heading home but of being at home while in transit? What does it take for you to acquire a feeling of home?
  • "The walker is a son of the soil. Every step is an acceptance of gravity..." (114) Does auto-locomotion incline us to forget our connection to the earth and our ultimate destiny to rejoin it? Is religious pilgrimage, then, understood as symbolic of our passage through this "vale of tears" to something transcendent, in conflict with the true spirit and meaning of perambulation?
  • Does pilgrimage necessarily follow the sun to its setting, or can it be seen more fully and astronomically as moving towards another sunrise?
  • COMMENT: "Every truly magnificent landscape diminishes the person who has conquered it on foot, and at the same time fills him with victorious energy." 123
  • COMMENT: "The pilgrim however is reborn not to himself, but to detachment, indifference..." 124
  • Do you agree that "the only Greek sages who were authentic walkers were the Cynics"? 130-1
  • Nature is "rawness" (134), but isn't it one-sided to emphasize this alone and not to regard nature as the source of culture and civilization too?
  • Do you have to renounce a specific home in order to claim the earth as your domain? (138) Can a citizen of the world, a cosmopolitan, have a local address?
  • Is happiness really "not repeatable"? 145

25-The Scale of Nature: Darwin, Evolution, and Aristotle's God
1. What naturalist's Latin American expeditions inspired young Darwin?

2. What was Las Casas's new way of understanding cultural difference?

3.  Who first described nature as a whole in evolutionary terms?

4. What had to come crashing down, in Darwin's wake?

  • Do you agree that evolution "topples the foundation" of Christianity? Is "theistic evolution" compatible with a Darwinian worldview?
  • Can we be immersed in "buzzing, blooming real life" and "students of empirical reality in all its vivid richness and diversity" (457) without also renouncing the possibility that science may lead us to supernatural conclusions? Can a naturalist remain open to Platonic possibilities? Can experience discover Forms and Ideas? Can nature transcend appearances, or only qualify and correct them?
  • Herman credits Las Casas with the insight that cultural difference does not imply inferiority, that "all mankind is one," (460-1) but we're still struggling to grasp it. Will we, as a species, ever? 
  • Darwin spent most of his five-year voyage of discovery on dry land, "walking, watching, and thinking." (465) If he'd stayed aboard ship and let the crew go out and find his fossils, do you think he'd still have had his great idea?
  • If Herbert Spencer had written of the  "survival of the adaptable" (469) would we have been spared the worst of the ensuing culture wars surrounding evolution? If Darwin had been clearer in rejecting Social Darwinism, would the controversy have been less?
  • Do you agree that opposition to Darwin is more about what evolution says about God than about humans? 470
  • Should atheists and agnostics have a problem with theists and neo-Aristotelians construing natural processes as "God thinking," so long as God is allowed to think on a geologic time-scale? 472

26-Unseen Worlds: Physics, Relativity, and the New World Picture
1. What did Maxwell throw into upheaval?

2. What was Mach's Lockean line?

3. What was Einstein's teenage thought-experiment?

4. Bohr's quantum theory exposed what as illusions?

  • If Marx "was a keen admirer of Darwin," did he misunderstand natural selection? 474
  • Will humans ever go boldly into deep space, if the speed of light is an absolute barrier?
  • Mark Twain said there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Fair?
  • Does atomism "taint" atheism (478) or support it?
  • Do you think quantum theory is over-invoked to explain phenomena at the level of everyday experience, including history? Even if "physics fixes all the facts," can we identify and understand all the facts via physical theory?
  • What do you think of William James's reply to Henry Adams's dark musings on entropy and the fate of life in the universe?
  • Are the heroes of logical positivism (481) yours as well? 
  • Is subjectivity a "cave"? (482) Or a source of personal light?
  • Is Einstein's humanism coincidental, or is it the implicit perspective of any thorough-going naturalism?
  • If we admit that everything we know and love is rooted in matter, does it make sense to add that matter is "nothing but packets of energy"? 491
Don asked about our pilgrimages. I documented mine to Chocorua & Cambridge here & here...

Thursday (Jy 14) was to have been a day of pilgrimage for my Study Abroad class, to Darwin's Down House and Sandwalk

...and to Henry James's Lamb House. NEXT year! Hope you can come along... I have a personal Darwin connection, via old Dr. Winterton Curtis, a wise old owl and a damned yankee... he's why I make periodic pilgrimage to Westmount Ave., Columbia MO, and why I still want to visit Dayton TN (but not so much Williamstown KY).
"In response to a telegram from the American Civil Liberties Union, I reached Dayton in time for my evening meal on July 13."

That's Dr. Winterton Curtis, recalling a pilgrimage of sorts and his non-participation as one of the disallowed expert scientific witnesses in the 1925 Scopes Trial in Tennessee. He was a distinguished zoologist from the University of Missouri. His autobiographical account of "Fundamentalism vs Evolution at Dayton, Tennessee" was published serially in the summer of 1956... Pilgrimage
Evolution (pbs, 1/7)-

  • "What sort of clergyman will you be, Mr. Darwin?" -"Dreadful" (1'50")
  • "Single best idea anyone ever had, ahead of Newton, ahead of Einstein" (2'50")
  • "It's what our lives mean, insofar as science can answer that question" (3'35")

Dan Dennett interview with Bill Moyers...
Richard Feynman (who ought to have known, if anyone did) said "nobody understands quantum mechanics." I'm "nobody" too, but Sean Carroll helps steer us clear of "quantum consciousness" and other varieties of half-baked flapdoodle (Murray Gell-Mann's term, popularized by Michael Shermer)... What the #$*! Do We Know? 
Historian Henry Adams thought he understood just enough thermodynamics to vindicate his deep pessimism. William James thought otherwise...
Arthur Herman advises me to "chill"...

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