Friday, May 25, 2012

When I Was a Child ... Quotes Part 2

p.130 “I tell my students, language is music. Written words are musical notation. The music of a piece of fiction establishes the way in which it is to be read, and, in the largest sense, what it means. … The figure of Christ is our authority. No distinction can be made between his character and his meaning.”

p.157 “To consider means, etymologically, to take account of the stars, for purpose of making a decision. Etymologically, disaster is a bad star. These words are from Latin, which came late into the world, but which expresses a prescientific confidence in the inter-involvement of the cosmos and humankind. This sort of thing is reckoned primitive, so why should it not be among our primal traits? Perhaps it is excluded because it looks too much like metaphysics.”

p.158 “This [selfish genes/neo-Darwinism] is an instance in which a theory that explains everything really does explain nothing. It is rather like saying that life is an expression of the tendency of complex molecules to form in the bellies of stars. However true this may be, there is clearly a great deal more to the story.”

p.160 “We are in the process of disabling our most distinctive achievement – our educational system – in the name of making the country more like itself. … I have seen trinkets made from fragments of Ming vases that were systematically smashed by Mao’s Red Guard. If we let our universities die back to corporate laboratories and trade schools, we’ll have done something quieter and vastly more destructive.”

p.179ff The story of Oberlin, founded as a Christian college where races and genders could learn together (and where alcohol and tobacco were discouraged!), and one of the stops on the Underground Railroad. What a liberal arts college can do!

p.184 [Poe’s Eureka!] “Poe would have loved dark matter and dark energy, even though they come at the cost of his ultimate vision of the narrowing parameters of reality, so often imagined in his greatest tales. … What moved Poe to attempt a cosmology, and what made him so confident that he had indeed achieved insight into a great truth? The human mind at its mystifying work, endlessly, sometimes brilliantly, fitting myth and reason to reality, testing them against reality, just for the pleasure of it. Poe was not unaided, culturally speaking. There was the venerable doctrine of creation ex nihilo, the understanding of the first verses of Genesis as describing the emergence of the cosmos out of nothing. What made the ancients consider the heavens in the matter of their origins, and why were their intuitions so hauntingly sound, including the belief that the universe had a beginning?”

p.186 “The theories of human nature that have developed in the modern period attempt to fold us into great nature by making human complexity accidental or epiphenomenal and by seeing in our capacity to do harm the most natural thing about us. This model of reality does not describe our history or our prospects.”

p.187-8 “The exclusion of a religious understanding of being has been simultaneous with a radical narrowing of the field of reality that we think of as pertaining to us. This seems on its face not to have been inevitable. We are right where we have always been, in time, in the cosmos, experiencing mind, which may well be an especially subtle and fluent quantum phenomenon. Our sense of what is at stake in any individual life has contracted as well, another consequence that seems less than inevitable. We have not escaped, not have we in any sense diminished, the mystery of our existence. We have only rejected any language that would seem to acknowledge it.”

p.196-7 “To this day, the reasoning of the anti-religionists has the conceptual scale of nineteenth-century science. While the new atheists are ready to embrace the hypothetical multiverse, the idea that being has presented itself over and over again in infinite iterations in which our universe is one, in general the cosmos does not interest them. … Consider the strangely persistent materialism of new atheist science. Its great confidence seems to be based on a fundamental error. It takes whatever has been observed and described as having been explained. To describe the processes of ontogeny or mortality does not explain why we are born or why we die.”

p.200 “What is striking is not only the fact that there is a more or less universal prohibition against murder but also the fact that there is a continual social and individual impulse to find exceptions to it, whether open or concealed. The striking thing about our species is that we create around us a vast need for a moral sense, to which our best instincts are clearly by no means equal.”

p.202 “We came from somewhere and we are tending somewhere, and the spectacle is glorious and portentous. The study of our trajectory would yield insight into human nature, and into the nature of being itself.”

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