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The Transcendentalism Project > Transcendentalists Week 3

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments This week we read the rest of Emerson's "Nature." It's not a long reading, but it's packed!


message 2: by David (last edited Nov 27, 2015 10:28AM) (new)

David | 2493 comments "IN view of the significance of nature, we arrive at once at a new fact, that nature is a discipline."

Which flavor of discipline do you think Emerson means here, one or both?

1. the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
2. a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education.

I want to lean towards the more academic meaning, but a case for could be made the other from the harsh consequences of being out of harmony with N/nature. "Nature pardons no mistake" If so, is this is a rare acknowledgement of and exception to Emerson's lopsided and enthusiastic optimism.


message 3: by David (new)

David | 2493 comments Does anyone have any evidence that Emerson is attempting his own version of Theological Correspondence?

The term "correspondence" was coined by the 18th century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg in his Arcana Coelestia (1749–1756), Heaven and Hell (1758) and other works. In the terminology of Swedenborg’s revelation, “correspondence” is a basic relationship found between two levels of existence.

Spiritual Plane of the Mind ≡ Natural Plane of the Mind
God Creator ≡ World Created
Mind/Spirit ≡ Body
Spiritual Sense of the Word ≡ Literal Sense of the Word
Intention ≡ Action

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corresp...


message 4: by Nemo (last edited Nov 27, 2015 01:28PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments David wrote: "Does anyone have any evidence that Emerson is attempting his own version of Theological Correspondence?

The term "correspondence" was coined by the 18th century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg in hi..."


The Wikipedia summary does suggest that their ideas are similar, but one could have derived the same from Plato's Allegory of the Cave.

ETA: The scientific method presupposes ("demands" may be a better word) a correspondence between the natural phenomena and the true abstract theory.


message 5: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4996 comments Nemo wrote: "ETA: The scientific method presupposes ("demands" may be a better word) a correspondence between the natural phenomena and the true abstract theory..."

With the truth of the abstract theory being dependent on being measurably borne out by the natural phenomena?


message 6: by Nemo (last edited Nov 28, 2015 10:21AM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments I think Emerson's answer would be Yes, at least in principle. But then one may ask, *how* does nature bear out any theory about freedom, love and justice, etc.? That's where I find Emerson the least articulate and least inspiring. "So much thunder, so little rain."


message 7: by David (last edited Nov 29, 2015 06:07AM) (new)

David | 2493 comments Nemo wrote: "ETA: The scientific method presupposes ("demands" may be a better word) a correspondence between the natural phenomena and the true abstract theory."

How do you mean "true abstract theory"? If you mean something like pure mathematics I do not know that "scientific method" plays any part in it. It seems an exercise for the rationalist's toolkit of logic and reason that excludes any empiricist's tools like scientific method and natural phenomena.

If you mean "true abstract theory" as in scientific theory, ie., a well substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, then it "describes or explains" a correspondence between natural phenomena (I am not aware of any "unnatural" phenomena) and actual knowledge of real objects and processes.

If you mean "true abstract theory" as in "a model of reality" or a logical framework intended to represent reality then the statement seems to be begging the question.


message 8: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4996 comments David wrote: "If you mean something like pure mathematics I do not know that "scientific method" plays any part in it. It seems an exercise for the rationalist's toolkit of logic and reason that excludes any empiricist's tools like scientific method and natural phenomena...."

Well, one of the reasons mathematics is so valuable is that it does provide so much insight into the empirical world. If a correspondence did not exist, it is not clear that mathematics would have the roles it does. So, yes, while mathematics can belong to worlds of logic independent of empiricism, it is not clear to me that it usually does. In some cases, mathematics has prompted new empirical observations that have led to understandings of boundary conditions (e.g., and this may not be technically correct, linear space where parallel lines do not meet versus curvilinear space where they do).


message 9: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments From the chapter on prospects:
"Empirical science is apt to cloud the sight, and, by the very knowledge of functions and processes, to bereave the student of the manly contemplation of the whole. The savant becomes unpoetic. But the best read naturalist who lends an entire and devout attention to truth, will see that there remains much to learn of his relation to the world, and that it is not to be learned by any addition or subtraction or other comparison of known quantities, but is arrived at by untaught sallies of the spirit, by a continual self-recovery, and by entire humility."

How does science cloud the sight?


message 10: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4996 comments Ashley wrote: "How does science cloud the sight?..."

The words Emerson uses seem metaphorical here to me. Can't obsessive concentration on anything "cloud" one's ability to "see" other things? What are "untaught sallies of the spirit"? Is "untaught" necessary to the meaning here? What is the difference from "imagination"?

Does "continual self-recovery" have intimations of "re-birth", spiritual or otherwise? Ah, here is "humility" inserting its gentle voice and reminder. Sounds like a few sermons assayed and refined.


message 11: by David (new)

David | 2493 comments Lily wrote: "If a correspondence did not exist, it is not clear that mathematics would have the roles it does. "

Thanks Lily, that helped. And you too, Nemo. I think my personal bias against "woo" was showing and I was actually over-reacting to the words "presuppose or demands" in Nemo's statment, which of course is quite reasonably true if one is to create hypotheses. Emerson seems to raise my materialist dander a bit, which is probably why it is a good thing for me to read him, albeit very carefully.

I also found a Feynman quote calling mathematics the language of nature that has helped provide some additional perspective. Whether that is what Emerson had in mind or not, I am not sure. I posted the quote in the T's Week 2 discussion (Post #79) that included the chapter on language and below for convenience:
"If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language [mathematics] that she speaks in."
The Character of Physical Laws by Richard P. Feynman, MIT Press, 1967
http://inside.mines.edu/~dwu/classes/...


message 12: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments David wrote: "Nemo wrote: "ETA: The scientific method presupposes ("demands" may be a better word) a correspondence between the natural phenomena and the true abstract theory."

How do you mean "true abstract theory"?"


I was thinking mostly of abstract theories in the natural sciences, where the object of study is the physical world -- Emerson's "nature", and where the scientific method is applied to build the system of knowledge.

The abstract theory is a "model", or a "map", but the map may be false or inaccurate, and not correspond to the territory it is supposed to represent. The scientific method helps us build, test and revise our maps constantly so that they approximate the territory as much as possible.

In pure abstract math, where the "model" is built from axioms, definitions and logic, I'd venture to say that there is still always a correspondence with nature, even though the correspondence consists of a very small part of the whole system. For instance, the Logic of Aristotle, in his writings he constantly cites examples that occur in nature and experience to illustrate his logic. To use a metaphor, though the edifice may reach the sky, it still touches the ground somewhere.

I'm not at all familiar with the methodologies used in the social sciences which deal with social phenomena -- part of Emerson's Nature. If I'm totally honest, they don't qualify as "science", but that's just my personal bias due to ignorance.


message 13: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments David wrote: " I think my personal bias against "woo" was showing and I was actually over-reacting to the words "presuppose or demands" in Nemo's statment, which of course is quite reasonably true if one is to create hypotheses."

No worries. :) Having been raised by materialist parents, and spent most of my life in and around scientific research institutes, I'm not free of those biases myself. If it isn't obvious from my comments, I have my own reservations about Emerson.


message 14: by Lily (last edited Nov 29, 2015 07:24PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4996 comments David wrote: " I posted the quote in the T's Week 2 discussion (Post #79) that included the chapter on language and below for convenience:"..."

David -- I wondered why you hadn't put it here -- it seemed so directly relevant to this conversation! ;-)

(I would probably have used the quotation rather than what I wrote if I had known it. For me, and I think to many others, that correspondence of mathematics to nature is one of the great mysteries -- and miracles.)


message 15: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments I'm a little unsure of what Emerson really thinks of science when he says "Empirical science is apt to cloud the sight..." And a few sentences later (in "Prospects"):

...He will perceive that there are far more excellent qualities in the student than preciseness and infallibility; that a guess is often more fruitful than an indisputable affirmation, and that a dream may let us deeper into the secret of nature than a hundred concerted experiments.


message 16: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4996 comments Thomas wrote: "...a dream may let us deeper into the secret of nature than a hundred concerted experiments...."

But I'm not certain what the balance of dream and experiment might have been in developing, say, the miracle of Toric lens cataract surgery. Apologies, Mr. Emerson. You had no way of seeing the century ahead.


message 17: by Nemo (last edited Nov 29, 2015 08:29PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Lily wrote: "Thomas wrote: "...a dream may let us deeper into the secret of nature than a hundred concerted experiments...."

But I'm not certain what the balance of dream and experiment might have been in deve..."


One dream related to scientific discovery that is on record is that of Mendeleev and the discovery of the periodic table. His dream came about thirty years after Emerson wrote his essay.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitri_...


message 18: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4996 comments Nemo wrote: "...One dream related to scientific discovery that is on record is that of Mendeleev and the discovery of the periodic table...."

Certainly the dream of flying had a long, long history!

Likewise, when I listened to the guys talking about "dark matter" theories a couple of years ago, I couldn't help positing that imagination and dreams and science fiction might be as useful as telescopes and instruments and long computer modeling runs of various mathematical formulations.

(Like the Mendeleev example. Thanks for it, Nemo. It has a familiarity that says I may have heard it before, but I also had long ago forgotten it.)


message 19: by Nemo (last edited Dec 01, 2015 09:29PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Emerson starts and ends his essay on Nature with references to "tradition". He begins by disregarding tradition, but seems to have come full circle at the end,

"I shall therefore conclude this essay with some traditions of man and
nature, which a certain poet sang to me;"

The concluding section reads like Emerson's own version/mix of the creation myth.

In the beginning, Man created the Solar System.

"Having made for himself this huge shell, his waters retired"

(Is this a case of male impotence, or a reference to Uranus' castration in Greek mythology?)

"A man is a god in ruins."

In short, "Paradise Lost" sans theology and the drama in the spiritual realm, and then comes the Gospel according to Emerson sans the Messiah.

"All that Adam had, all that Caesar could, you have and can do."

Did someone miss the memo?


message 20: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments So, the holidays and the flu season hit my house. It completely derailed my trains of thought on Transcendentalism. Lol

Anyway, I finished this mostly thinking that Emerson's view of nature (big N and little n) is a bit lopsided. He gives a glowing review, but ignores it's faults. What does he make of animals that abandon their young in the wild? Or hurricanes? How do those things "serve" us or teach us virtue, as he mentions?


message 21: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Genni wrote: "I finished this mostly thinking that Emerson's view of nature (big N and little n) is a bit lopsided. He gives a glowing review, but ignores it's faults."

I think the reason is that he empathizes and identifies with nature. If he judges nature, he would be judging himself, and nobody likes to be judged. It is easier to commune with nature than with society, because nature (at least the gentle side of it) doesn't judge and demand as society does.

Emerson worships the beauty of nature, but ignores the beauty in his fellow human beings, which is partly why he touts solitude. This doesn't make sense to me. If he finds his own reflection in nature, which is not a rational being like himself, he should find a closer reflection in and affinity to other rational beings like him; if he find moral lessons in nature which does not hear or speak, he should find better lessons in his fellow men, who not only hear him and speak to him, but also feel as he does.


message 22: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments Nemo wrote: "Emerson worships the beauty of nature, but ignores the beauty in his fellow human beings, which is partly why he touts solitude. This doesn't make sense to me. If he finds his own reflection in nature, which is not a rational being like himself, he should find a closer reflection in and affinity to other rational beings like him; if he find moral lessons in nature which does not hear or speak, he should find better lessons in his fellow men, who not only hear him and speak to him, but also feel as he does.
."


I like your point. Fellown humans are all "made in His image", so to speak, but Emerson does seem to ignore that.


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