Gads, it’s been a long week.
Gads? Where did that come from? I never say Gads. Or Egads, which I think comes from people’s desire to avoid saying Ye Gods, lest they offend . . . God, singular? I know how we can escape damnation, gentlemen – switch the vowel and go for the plural. It may seem a bit belt-and-suspenders, but you can’t be too sure.
Anyway, long week. Drags on and on, this one, with every day feeling as though it should be the next one already. Wednesday nights are the ever-popular four-piece night, so forgive the smallness of this. Good day, though. Had a make-up class for piano tonight; while (G)Nat played inside I sat outside and read. the sun felt warm and this tentative spring felt as if it was trying, for once. Really trying. Not just showing up complete and confident and arrogant, but trying as best as it could.
Not good enough, but it was a nice try.
There was a discussion at the Corner about Ben Stein’s rocket-propelled vault over the intellectual shark, stemming from his assertion that science leads to DEATH. To paraphrase and simplilfy. I know what he meant, but the overly simplified construction and presentation of the argument made it sound as though the adoption of the scientific inquiry lead directly to the gas chambers. This led to a discussion of Rousseau and Voltaire, which I won’t go into here. But as I was about to take a nap today, I thought of Voltaire’s pen name. I figured he’d chosen it for its electrical connotations. They were big on the modernizing implications of electricity in those days, and Simon Schama’s “Comrades” – a wonderful book on the French Revolution – points out something I’d always missed, in the David sketch of the Tennis Court Oath: You can barely see it, but there’s a bolt of lightning in the upper left-hand corner. In the sketch, anyway. It seems absent in the painting based on David's sketch.
So it seemed likely to me that Voltaire would choose as his pen-name something that captured the spark and power of these strange new forces the Enlightenment would harness. But it turns out to be an anagram of his name in Latin. Ah. Well. That got me thinking about intelligent design, which was the subject Stein addressed. I’m one of those guys who thinks that science class should set aside a day or two for metaphysical speculation – not instruction, but speculation. So, guys, what do you draw from the remarkable procession of life on this planet and the boundless mysteries of the universe above? Is this random, or not? If not, who? How? Why? It’s an interesting conversation, unless you’re so tied to the Rule of Facts you can’t even have a laugh about the possibility this is all a vast computer simulation.
That’s different from teaching ID along evolution, though.
Please, don’t send me letters on this.
Now and then (G)Nat likes to look at pictures of space, and I showed her this one, which always fills me with awe and no small amount of terror:
That’s a tiny patch of sky, and it’s as swimming with galaxies as a Dixie cup of Mexican tap-water swims with bacteria.
It’s hard to look at that and think you matter a whit, but then when you turn back to earth you see all things that tell you that you do matter, and I suppose someone can come up with all the cerebral chemicals that rush in to restore self-worth and love and other delusions of biology, but I don’t buy that. You can either look at that picture and think we have company, in whatever form you wish, or decide that we are alone, and as someone once noted, either fact would be quite remarkable. I’d like to think that magnificent sight is all staves and notes, and after we die the melody is revealed. I just hope it’s not “Kumbaya” or “Knock Three Times.”
When (G)Nat asked where the universe came from, I told her my theory: I think it popped out of some other universe. I think there are many universes – the soap-bubbles-multiverse model – and now and then something happens to bring another into existence, perhaps with its own laws. If you believe in some sort of overarching divine consciousness, you could think of it all as a grand improvisation: let’s see what happens with weak gravity and a strong propensity towards life. Or let’s see what happens with lots of dark matter and redheads. Let’s see what happens where I show up every day as a pillar of fire or a fluttering of transparent doves. It’s the latter one that would be interesting, of course; it would be interesting to see how modern societies reacted to extremely specific and obvious divine intervention. I mean, God would have to show up in your living room once and change the TV channel, and that would settle the matter for all time: we’re not watching HGTV anymore ever. You want to argue, take it up with the giant flaming hand.
Of course, the ancients did believe that ye gods acted directly quite often, and the most obvious manifestation was the lightning bolt. If you saw a guy struck by lightning it would hard not to think that was personal. When we got past that, and saw it as impersonal, it became a thing we could study, understand, and harness. On the way home from supper tonight (G)Nat was getting irritated at the colonialists for not having cars, because they should have invented them. I said they lacked the knowledge, and she said they should worked harder to invent these things. Well, they didn’t have to. If the world is ruled by a few rich people and they have horses to get them around and slaves to do their work, there’s little incentive for them to invent anything, unless it’s better ways to make war on the other guys. Free men with full bellies, on the other hand, lead to science.
But the other side of Voltaire was Rousseau; the other side of lightning as a natural phenomenon to be studied was worship of wild heedless raw nature. The revolutionaries’ faith in the rationality of men blinded them to the effects of scouring all history and tradition from the culture, and once they had a clean slate they had no tools, no constraints, no morality left to argue against a tyranny worse than the one they had deposed.
It’s all very simplistic, I know, but I was settling down for a nap. I dreamed about a giant robot servant who looked like Rosie. I was responsible for her batteries. Then the alarm went off and I continued on with the day. Hadn’t thought about it until now, when I read the Corner and found they were still arguing about Voltaire. So I googled a bio.
Turns out his name was an anagram of his original name in Latin.
Ah, well. On the other hand, it came as a surprise. Egads!
Sears 1973 addition up. See you at buzz.mn!