02 May 2007

Rhyming Equations and Poems that Add Up

When the great Enlightenment philosopher Diderot was teaching Catherine the Great of Russia, he was confronted by “loutish courtiers [who] burst in on him front of the court and one said, ‘Sir, a + b / z = x. Therefore God exists. Reply!’ According to the report … Diderot was struck speechless.”*

What distinguished Enlightenment philosophers like Diderot and John Locke is that their reasoning was largely secular. From our perspective, this seems entirely reasonable, and it is. But reasonable is itself a capitulation to the importance of "making sense," a subordination to the senses and the sensual impulses and logical conclusions that contradict the old authority like scriptures and the church.

As can be seen in Diderot's befuddlement, when systems collide, it is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile them. Within a social system, we can agree that the systems of religion and science can co-exist, but it is not at all clear how these two systems would either be used to justify or refute the other. Priests declaring that a scientist is wrong about how he's interpreted his data are invariably made to look foolish. Scientists who scoff at the lack of data supporting religious beliefs are faced with a plethora of data about religion's abiding allure. The standards of poetry offer little guidance for solving algebra equations.

I think that it's easy to underestimate the extent to which we're witnessing the emergence of a new social system, one which conflicts with the existing system in so many ways. This is perhaps most starkly and most succinctly seen in the conflict between the ecology and the economy.

* Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present (New York: HarperCollins, 2000) 373.


Chrlane said...

If someone is being tested, and if that someone expects me to provide him with the answers, it is a given that I have the answers. So then tell me why I am in question? Because I do not have money?

What is more valuable to humanity? Someone else's money, or the answers to problems that have plagued us since we began to record history?

And if this person wishes to have my answers so he can take credit for them, while my family starves, how reasonable is that? From my perspective, it is without any reason, other than his inability to perpetuate the source of his very own successes.

It is a desire for failure and death. And I do not advocate killing except in self defense. And even then, I weep for my failure to do otherwise. This is how dearly I value life.

How I came about thinking this way is irrelevant to the person who receives it. That I think it, and feel it, is all that matters to them. How I came about the knowledge makes a difference to me. I would prefer to come about it peaceably.

Ron Davison said...

Hello Chrlane!
Thanks again for stopping by R World and commenting. It's probably just my fatigue from a very full and busy week, but I missed the connection between my post and your comment this time. Sorry. You usually help me to clarify my thoughts. Have a great Friday.

Chrlane said...

You seem to be missing a lot these days, Ron. Like hair for instance. Have a great weekend! :D

David said...

Or maybe there was nothing to miss Ron. It's possible.