Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. – Arthur Shopenhauer, 1851
The world is a country which nobody ever yet knew by description; one must travel through it oneself to be acquainted with it. – Philip Dormer Stanhope, 1747
I began to see that among the many universes in which the world of living creatures existed, some where large, some small, but that all, including man’s, were in some way limited or finite. We were creatures of many different dimensions passing through each other’s lives like ghosts through doors.
The salt of those ancient seas is in our blood, its lime is in our bones. Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments, or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war.
From The Unexpected Universe – Loren Eiseley (similar to a verse from Lapham’s Quarterly – The Sea – Entry here.)
For men are accustomed to divine the new by the example of the old, and by an imagination schooled and stained by the old; which is the most deceptive kind of thinking, seeing that much is drawn from the sources of things does not flow through the usual channels. – Francis Bacon from The New Organon.
When they shout “Long live progress,” always ask, “Progress of what?” – Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, 1957
“Medieval times, were in many ways more tolerant than modern.”
The corridor that led to it had a smell of old carpet and furniture oil and the drab anonymity of a thousand shabby lives. – Raymond Chandler, from The Little Sister.
Then, after the fatigue from this had passed away, an hour of perfect bodily repose and quiet comfort was necessary before the good ideas came. They often came actually in the morning on waking, as Gauss also has remarked: “The law of induction discovered Jan. 23, 1835 at seven AM, before rising.” But they were usually apt to come when comfortably ascending woody hills in sunny weather. The smallest quantity of alcoholic drink seemed to frighten them away.
From An Autobiographical Sketch – Hermann von Helmholtz
Science is beautiful when the confirmation of its theories ‘disconfirms’ the dominant beliefs of the culture it is working within, or simply disconfirms the intuitions of the human brain itself.
The Copernican revolution is still something that we are intuitively uncomfortable with. One asks, “I’m on a round ball in empty space, spinning and circling a big, round burning thing? And this is all happening in a distant and undistinguished corner of a cosmos that has every appearance of being infinite?”
From The Science Delusion – Curtis White
Progress – progress is the dirtiest word in the language – who ever told us – And made us believe it – that to take a step forward was necessarily, was always A good idea? – Edna St. Vincent Millay – Poem
Fiction’s abyss is silence, nada. Whereas nonfiction’s abyss is Total Noise, the seething static of every particular thing and experience, and one’s total freedom of infinite choice about what to choose to attend to adn represent and connect, and how, and why, etc.
Zipf’s law was not confined to animals. He saw the whole world as a system in which every particle sought the path of least effort. Paths within paths within paths: the blood coursing through our veins, the cells swimming through our blood, the atoms whirling in our cells – all of this within us, and all of us within the earth’s atmosphere, and all the planets and stars within the cosmos, all straining to move with grace.
All walking animals are adept at finding the path of least resistance across a landscape. Indeed, many human roads and trails follow old animal trails. In Rising from the Plains, McPhee describes how railway engineers discovered a geological ramp crossing the Rocky Mountains in southern Wyoming: they followd old Native American trails, which in turn followed bison trails.
“Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do so, you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before.”
A book without readers, in this scheme, is like a trail without walkers. It soon fades from this earth, while a classic work changes shape with each successive wave of readers – widening, straightening, sometimes queering wildly to new destinations, and so continually providing new utility to those who follow it.
From How to Cross a Field of Snow – Robert Moor
“We are caught up in the winds that blow every which way,” he wrote. “And in the hullabaloo, the thinking man is driven to ponder where he is being blown and to long desperately for some quiet place where he can reason undisturbed and take inventory.”
The journey is its own reward
“an appreciation for the special experience of living and working ina remote, hostile, and unspoiled environment.” Such entries include “feelings of awe concerning natural phenomena, such as violent storms and breathtaking views.”
“Numberless stars crowded the sky. I had never seen so many. You had only to reach up and fill your hands with the bright pebbles,’ he wrote of his first stunning night alone. “And it was all mine: the stars, the constellations, even the earth as it turned on its axis.”
Whatever removes you from comfort, forces you into the unknown, asks you brave the small space of personhood to try to feel a sense of – as some would have it – beauty, special experience, or wonderment.
From Special Experience by Kea Krause some of these entries from Rear Admiral Richard Byrd’s journal in Antarctica.
Poetry and religion arise from the same source: the perception of the mystery of life. – The Turning Sky by Susan Brind Morrow
Philosophers, weary of being deceived, have in their petulance declared that nothing exists but what is in our mind. They might have gone all the way and concluded that, the nature of the mind being as elusive as that of matter, there is nothing real either in matter or mind. – Questions on the Encyclopedia, 1770 – Voltaire