A professor mentioned this book to us during a graduate seminar on Existentialism. He was using the book as an humorous example of alienation, as I re...moreA professor mentioned this book to us during a graduate seminar on Existentialism. He was using the book as an humorous example of alienation, as I recall, and it immediately piqued my curiosity. After class, I ran over to the book store and bought it, the library not having copies available and I did not wish to forget to read such a charming and witty book. It didn’t disappoint me.
I had forgotten about the book until someone mentioned it an article and have pried it from the dusty shelves here and am intending to read it again. I have no doubt that it will be quite as wonderful this time around. (less)
While I am overtly fond of anything Feynman wrote, these two essays with Steven Weinberg, also a Nobel laureate, demonstrate Feynman’s ability to make...moreWhile I am overtly fond of anything Feynman wrote, these two essays with Steven Weinberg, also a Nobel laureate, demonstrate Feynman’s ability to make very complicated issues, especially that concerning quantum mechanics, seem very clear. Indeed, these are so incredibly lucid that for the first time one does not have to be a theoretical physicist to appreciate the difficulty under which physicists have labored for an entire century.
With that said, anyone reading this should have a moderate background in Calculus and Physics. By this I mean the reader must realize that Schrodinger is not a character from a Peanuts comic strip. Feynman does bring out the math early. However, other than that, a layman can read both these lectures, although you will probably need to read it several times. Still, this essay seems to spark the imagination so that one wants to come back and read this, grasping at these very difficult concepts.
While no one can make statistics seem like fun, Feynman talks about first, antiparticles and second the statistics related to quantum spin. However he does this in a way in which you actually not only stay awake but you actually pay attention. For some reason, he is able to create an image in the mind by which we can grasp the most complicated of issues. Still one finishes with his or her head spinning (pun intended) while considering that causality may have a very different notion in quantum mechanics. I am convinced that after reading this lecture, one could, knowing very little else about quantum physics, be able to hold a reasonable conversation about the subject with moderate experts in the field.
As an aside, I still regard Feynman’s books on college physics to be the best explanations of basic physical principles... and these books were written for people who were just satisfying a college science requirement! Feynman actually insisted on teaching this course to non- science majors! Still I have had professional scientists tell me that these books explained principles that, after reading them, they understood for the first time.
Weinberg talks of the theory in order to merge the issue of quantum physics and Einsteinian concepts of gravity. I confess that while I found his essay interesting, I was much less enthralled by these possibilities than I was the Feynman essay. For the most part, Weinberg talks about a kind of unification which seems to have remarkable barriers to its completion and, because of this, it was difficult to understand how beneficial his theory really is. The math requirement is somewhat less stringent, but different: one should realize that Lagrange action principle plays a part, although I doubt one needs to take a course in differential equations to understand what Weinberg means. This lecture, which is deceptively elegant as a theory, is also a good introduction to the need for string theory. (less)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a hero of mine, without a doubt. While many of us question the kinds of decisions we would make in a given place, Bonhoeffer le...moreDietrich Bonhoeffer is a hero of mine, without a doubt. While many of us question the kinds of decisions we would make in a given place, Bonhoeffer left us no doubt which is the way of sacrifice, much like the writings of Boethius. While he is quite capable of admitting his fear and sense of indecision even when in jail awaiting what he senses (correctly) will be his execution, his profound outpouring of love for Christ is raised to the point of both magnificence and self abasement in a remarkable way. Following Bonhoeffer on his path of growth is truly overwhelming and impressive.(less)
I was perusing a local bookstore for a book, (oddly referred to as historical fiction) for a book club a friend begged me to attend this month, and th...moreI was perusing a local bookstore for a book, (oddly referred to as historical fiction) for a book club a friend begged me to attend this month, and the owner asked me if I would be interested in some various older classical texts. I picked up four, the only one in English was this 1959 edition....but it is a gem. Lattimore has his critics but I always enjoy his fluidity of style. He is an excellent scholar and a keen judge of meaning, despite what others interpret as a sometimes looseness of translation. As for Hesiod himself, I am both excited and honored to be able to read him once more. Long after I have subordinated him to some level far beneath the noble Homer and even Socrates, (for Hesiod is a philosopher in ways in which Homer could never be understood,) perhaps I am ready to find a better place for him in my pantheon.(less)
I hadn't expected much when I began reading this at the request of a friend. In fairness, I am a practicing Christian and I wasn't all that sure that...moreI hadn't expected much when I began reading this at the request of a friend. In fairness, I am a practicing Christian and I wasn't all that sure that it would do anything to take me to the other side of consciousness. Indeed it did not do so, although it had a rather pleasant result which I will do my best to explain. When I worked in the corporate structure, amid the many strictures were a great many benefits. One of them included any number of courses which we were able to attend for free, including graduate school in my chosen field. There were other course also, but one that stood out was Time Management. In fact, managers were required to take it every 2 years. The thing about the lessons of managing your time in the best way is that for the most part, most of it consists of things you already know. Yes, there are a few tips and tricks, but mainly it has to do with bringing certain counter-intuitive issues to the forefront and consigning some more common habits (which I readily admit feel good) to the background. I liked the course the first time I took it, but the second time, two years later, I went grumbling and mumbling that I already KNEW what they were going to say. However, even though I knew what the class would tell me, in another sense, I did NOT know it. It was very much like St Augustine's understanding of knowledge as being the incompleteness of God. I found I was recognizing the truth without participating. The same thing happens in psychology when someone who really doesn't wish to be attending a session says, "I can a;ready tell you exactly what you are going to say to me!" Nothing coud be further from the case, but it's usually good to try and get the antagonisms out of the way. However I digress. In this same sense, this book explains a great number of things one already knows, at least in the recognition sense. You kind of know what the smart thing to do really is, but you have not made the effort to develop the habits necessary to make that which you wish to accomplish a success. One way of saying it would be to say that one should be proactive and another way would be to accept failure as a part of life and yet another would be to say that focusing on those things which you want to accomplish requires the formation of valuable habits before you can begin to develop other habits and so on and so forth. In Zen, there is a hierarchy to that which is achievable, but only insofar as the connectivity is contained on a single path for the truth. In this sense, it is not like the pseudo-intellectuals arguing, say, about whether a reference in a great book means this or that. It is about listening to and hearing the arguments on such things, not that an official conclusion may be drawn, but so that the truth may be followed in an heuristic manner. As with God, so it is in Zen that God remains an object of truth which is infinite and capable beyond our understanding. Nevertheless, the issue which is revealed by Zen to the individual, is that truth is an activity and that activity has searching as its major activity. Just as well, it must have humility and love as its major components. This book reminds even the most callous scholar that the bombast and rhetoric in his soul tends to make those things important which lack importance in their essence. Hence it is advisable, if not completely necessary for us to return to the beginning as the practice every so often, even if it is a lesson which we never expected to learn...again and again.(less)
Scott Fitzgerald wrote a much better book than any of us reading it for the first time in high school could have imagined. When I saw Robert Redford a...moreScott Fitzgerald wrote a much better book than any of us reading it for the first time in high school could have imagined. When I saw Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the movie, I was surprised at how both filled out the parts so well, Redford because I thought he was such a terrible actor, Farrow because she was so good.
After I saw the movie I went back and read the book again, now knowing a bit more about Long Island and the history of the period. Fitzgerald made it all come alive so vibrantly in ways I had never seen before. The stark contrast of wealth and poverty pushed together was quite breath-taking. In some sense, one can envision the collapse of morality which wealth brings so easily as almost necessary: one is reminded that it isn't money that is the root of all evil, but the love ofmoney. Still,personality often seems to triumph in so many real situations. I'm sure Fitzgerald paid the price in his heart for pouring out the horrible reality of the world as he saw it.
As an aside, Elliott Gould and Candice Bergen made a very funny movie in 1970 about a graduate student trying to pass his orals. There are some very funny bits about Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. I think even Scott would have enjoyed the movie, although he would have been as puzzled as I am about the Viet nam war.(less)
**spoiler alert** I had the great pleasure of recently meeting Professor Wiesel and having several short conversations with him. It was such a pleasan...more**spoiler alert** I had the great pleasure of recently meeting Professor Wiesel and having several short conversations with him. It was such a pleasant experience that we promised to continue our association. However I was in the unfortunate position of not having read Night... something which I shall have to remedy shortly.
I finished this powerful story the day before yesterday and I still feel more like blinking at it than anything else. Thousands, perhaps even millions of words have been written concerning man's inhumanity to man, but the candor of one who as a fifteen year old can not only watch his father slowly die in a concentration camp, but feel empty inside afterwards is beyond words. It is beyond comprehension also, and yet it is unifying in a base way. I wish that the world would remember this story but antisemitism is once again raising its ugly head in the world. Wiesel writes: Not far from us, flames were leaping up from a ditch, gigantic flames. They were burning something. A lorry drew up at the pit and delivered its load-- little children. Babies! Yes, I saw it...saw it with my own eyes...those children in the flames. (Is it surprising that I could not sleep after that? Sleep had fled from my eyes.) It is unimaginable that when we look in the mirror each day, we are looking at the species capable of such atrocities. If we find the above repugnant, and I am powerless to imagine anyone who might tacitly approve of such, how much more should one desire to fight to ensure that this never happens again? One day when we had stopped, a workman took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw in into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought each other to the death for a few crumbs. The German workmen took a lively interest in this spectacle. When he is freed from the camp and recovering in the hospital, he finally gains enough strength to look at himself in the mirror on the opposite wall. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me. These last lines pose a question to us. The greater question today is whether we will let this vision ever again appear. I pray that we will not.(less)
This collection is a monument to 20th century thought. Eliot is an image maker and a wordsmith of the highest caliber and a monumental thinker. His ea...moreThis collection is a monument to 20th century thought. Eliot is an image maker and a wordsmith of the highest caliber and a monumental thinker. His early work, centering so much as it did on the underbelly of human existence (e.g., Prufrock and The Waste Land) demonstrates not only a bleak existence of mankind but the yearning desire to motivate itself towards hostile and ugly things, all the while attempting to perform feats of magic which often go awry.
One can spend a great deal of time on these poems without ever fully understanding them. As such one is able to come back time after time and listen to the haunting words, like a bell in the desert. Indeed, one ought to be well versed in Eliot's fascination (and excellent translation) of Dante whom he quotes on occasion and refers to often. In addition, one should be aware of his off the cuff classical references which are around every corner: Homer is the greatest referent, as I recall, but he was also fond of Seneca, Ovid and the great Roman writers and they appear often also.
The later poems are far less filled with fatalism but have greater finesse and sense of justification and spirit. Here Eliot is using a scalpel with the mastery and wisdom of age, carefully choosing word meanings and yet leaving conclusions far more fulfilling and meaningful.
To this day I keep a copy of this book in my library and I can see it in its proper place, well worn and heavily marked up, resting against Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Eliot is awe-inspiring as a poet/writer, well worth the time he demands for study... and rest assured that you will come back again and again for further lessons of greatness.(less)
We read this in our church group, mostly because everyone got to suggest a book and three of the men are WWII veterans, God bless them. The man who su...moreWe read this in our church group, mostly because everyone got to suggest a book and three of the men are WWII veterans, God bless them. The man who suggested this book fought in this particular area and he heard it was an accurate depiction of the terrain. One hears little about this part of te war where the germans fortified positions telling their soldiers to fight to the death. Having seen part of this terrain, it is amazing that anyone made it more than 100 yard without dying. This story is about several Negro soldiers essentially caught behind the enemy lines on a scouting expedition. Most of this story has todo wit built in prejudice, reaction to that prejudice and the relationships which come about with people in an Italian village. It is a powerful and yet sad account of not only the way war is fought but of the separations that exist between people. I was so impressed with this book that I wrote a letter to Mr. McBride telling him how much I enjoyed his book It is very well written and the characters are well-developed, sometimes sadly. I wsan't too keen on a book about war,but the interaction truly warms your heart.(less)
For modernism that seems to have been written last week, Albee delivers a passionate account of two different views of Americana. Just under the surfa...moreFor modernism that seems to have been written last week, Albee delivers a passionate account of two different views of Americana. Just under the surface, I always believed, Albee was barely in control of himself, pushing the envelope of absurdity because it was more than absurd to him: he makes it seem all to real, the characters not directly representative but rather being an analogy of whom they seem An American Dream is about, largely enough of the disintegration of society through lack of concern for it. It is the substitution of one thing for the real, the easy and thing at hand for the substantial, the replaceable for the repairable. One can’t help understand now that in 1960, he must have come up against a tremendous amount of naysayers, those who believed that in order to progress, all we had to so was have a happy ending. Albee never provided that. The Zoo Story is more stark and hence, necessarily less absurd because it acts as a kind of schematic for his later work. It is essentially a long one act in which not much happens until the end. Instead it is about a conversation between two men, from two distinct walks of life, one of which initiates the conversation asking personal questions. The first man finally spurs the second to kill him, forcing him into the chaos or, “to go to the zoo,” something from which his social position isolates him. The zoo remains the figurative place where the chaos of one’s life occurs. The first man is familiar with the chaos of life, the second one not at all. This is a story about how class and position insulates one from feeling things, especially the insecurities of the life for so many. Without knowing about this chaos, we become complacent and defensive when others seek to show us. The Zoo Story is a hard play, one which is evidently far more popular on college campuses than anything else. The rest of us have forgotten and become too comfortable to want to attend any longer. (less)
**spoiler alert** Although I have always been a tremendous fan of cummings' poetry, even going so far as to purchase one of his paintings, I was truly...more**spoiler alert** Although I have always been a tremendous fan of cummings' poetry, even going so far as to purchase one of his paintings, I was truly pleased when one of my professors loaned me his personal copy of this book. It soon became uncomfortably clear that cummings and I had certain similarities, mosty centered around insisting that we do things which only fit our narrow moral compass...and making flippant remarks concerning such to those in charge of our lives. While this story is about cummings when he went to WWI as an ambulance driver in France, his lack of enthusiasm for the cause of war in general got him thrown into a French jail for 4 months. He was, after all, a suspicious character and it is the easiest thing in the world to round up suspicious characters. The jail is a real... hole and the reader feels the sinking feeling being forced upon him quickly as he realizes just how much stark reality of depravity is staring him in the face. Nevertheless, this book is a story about not just coming to grips with his cell mates, but humanizing each of them in a wonderful way. cummings achieves a kind of solitude, one guesses, which he had always sought, but had been unable to find. In truth finding solitude at a young age is next to impossible only because of the things playing on in one's own head.
In a way, this is a story of Dante's own pathway through hell and finally a kind of heavenly modern salvation. It was at least something I could understand in my opinionated twentieth century soul... and the sounds rang perfectly clear. cummings essentially does find a kind of salvation by having everything reasonable about the world wrested from him... and he rises to the occasion to achieve it. While no doubt the experience was far more terrible than this book depicts, one can understand not only the generation of his thoughts, but his friendships with others there... and the impression he must have made finally on them. As I recall, cummings would never say anything further about this period of his life in public or to his friends. When one is tempted, it seems to me, to ask a question, one should simply read this book again and find the answer. It is in prose, of course, but it is written much like a poem. It is evocative and it is powerful beyond the words used in it. While I have suggested that in this he achieved a kind of salvation, perhaps it is better put another way: one has to achieve this kind of salvation before one understands what the real thing actually is. If nothing else, this book is quite capable of shutting down that spurious noise of the life you think is important and forcing you to look hard into the darkness for one's own answers.(less)