Archive for April, 2009

Meaning of Life

April 30, 2009

A friend writes:  “I’m having a heavy desire to simplify, to need and want less, to have less, and to try and do some good, to help out my neighbor along the way. Try and make it matter that I was ever here in the first place. ‘Cause there has to be a reason or what’s the point? So I’m wondering where I’m bound, what it matters and what’s the point.”

Well, it’s nothing very special.
Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.

Also, remember that you’re standing on a planet that evolving


So far away

April 29, 2009

“The fact that we can see that long ago is just astonishing.”

Professor Gerry Gilmore, from Cambridge University, UK, commented: “[This] was probably one of the first stars that ever formed in the Universe; and it will have been one of the first things that ever created stuff like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen that led then to normal stars like our Sun and the planets forming much, much later on.”

most-distant-eventThirteen billion light-years away, and our telescopes have detected it.  I’m reminded of the stunning opening sequence in Contact, the film based on Carl Sagan’s novel.  We’ve now peered tantalizingly close to the beginning of the known universe. As Sagan said, we have walked far.

But the greater question still is how far we have yet to travel.  Events and objects of an imagined but remote  future are unfathomably beyond the human scale, and so we tend not to take the long view of things – with predictable consequences for the health of our fragile planet, and frightening implilcations for the prospects of our race.  The Millennium Clock might help us widen our frame of meaningful reference, and so might this wisdom – shared by John Dewey, Lewis Mumford, Carl Sagan, and Hannah Arendt, among others – from Jonathan Schell’s Fate of the Earth:

The common world is made up of all institutions, all cities, nations, and other communities, and all works of fabrication, art, thought, and science, and it survives the death of every individual. It encompasses not only the present but all past and future generations. “The common world is what we enter when we are born and what we leave behind when we die,” Hannah Arendt writes. “It transcends our life-span into past and future alike; it was there before we came and will outlast our brief sojourn in it…”

The foundation of a common world is an exclusively human achievement, and to live in a common world–to speak and listen to one another, to read, to write, to know about the past  and look ahead to the future, to receive the achievements of past generations, and to pass them on, together with achievements of our own, to future generations, and otherwise to participate in human enterprises that outlast any individual life–is part of what it means to be human…”

Looking far forward, as well as back, is crucial. More on this to come.

“End the University”

April 28, 2009

Mark Taylor makes some good points in his op-ed. Academic departments in the modern university are much too hived off from one another, and we academics don’t cross disciplinary boundaries (inter- OR intra-) nearly enough. We do resist change, possibly because those who propose it are so unfamiliar with our disciplinary ways and so insensitive to our methods and goals.  But if academic departments are to be dis-assembled, as has been proposed for mine, let’s do it big:

“Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.”

I’m not sure our change-agent Deciders are prepared to think this big, but they’d be happy to impose mandatory retirement and take away tenure.


April 28, 2009

Posted to Delight Springs.

Tweet tweet

April 27, 2009

I opened a Twitter account, against my better judgment but the zeitgeist got the better of me. I don’t think I’ll ever be tempted to tell the world that I’m now eating yogurt (as Doonesbury‘s Roland Burton Hedley Jr. did in yesterday’s comics) or share my knowledge of Taco Bell’s soft drink offerings – as Missouri’s Junior Senator apparently did, according to the New York Times Magazine. But it is interesting, to a point, to learn that a good friend just enjoyed a bike-ride or that Star Trek’s Wesley Crusher is living and tweeting in Kansas.  Only to a point. I expect I’ll tweet merely to publicize  thoughts of more than 140 characters, and direct interested friends & readers to this venue or my day-blog.  The best tweets are coming through my open window, as birdsong announces another dawn.

The Times piece makes a good point: the last thing our politics and cultural life need is encouragement to be even more superficial and slap-dash.  Senator McCaskill: enough about tacos already!


April 26, 2009

It was a relatively late night for me – we took in our first Nashville Sounds game of the season, so I was up past bedtime and the morning sun’s already hitting me in the face. But it was a lovely night out, except for the long motionless concession lines. (The new owners appear to have miscalculated in that area.)  Baseball has always been a field of dreams for me, a space onto which I can project my quirky ruminations about all sorts of seemingly-unrelated things.  For instance, I recently presented a talk about John Updike, Ted Williams, death, and the legacy of generations to an association of literary scholars. It’s a sprawling topic that I’ll soon be trying to harness for publication, so watch this space for details.  My daughter understands – or is at least aware of – this tendency of mine to relate all to baseball. She returned from her middle school trip to Washington with the perfect souvenir for me: a baseball from the Smithsonian Institution gift shop, imprinted with images of the space shuttle and planets.  space-ball

My wife snagged a ball last night, too, but its only inscription is the signature of the Pacific Coast League president.


April 25, 2009

I slept in on this Saturday, ’til 6. But for the first time this year, at least in my notice, it’s warm and pleasant enough at this hour to beckon me and my coffee mug outside.  So here we sit,  Starbucks mug and trusty Toshiba  and me and the glorious Spring morning.  Thoreauvian excess is irresistible.

“The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night.”


“All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere.”

Night owls will find these sentiments annoying, if not insulting.  Sorry.  The proper emphasis, though,  is not on morning in the clock-time sense but as an atmospheric phenomenon.

“To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.”

It just so happens that there is most dawn in me at dawn, too.  And as my inner and spiritual dawn meets the glare of aurora – the sun just peeked over my neighbor’s roofline – I’ll take one more gulp of liquid motivation. Then, my dogs and I (a lab, a semi-lab, and a “mut” who’s sleeker and smarter than them both) will amble out into the street to greet the day.  To be awake is to be alive… go confidently in the direction of your dreams… (etc. etc.)  I’ll bet night owls’ dogs don’t get as much exercise as mine do!


Rise and shine!

April 24, 2009

This new blog is inspired by that of my professional colleague and fellow American Philosophy-enthusiast Mitchell Aboulafia, whose UP@NIGHT blog I admire and enjoy… but whose night-owl predilection I do not share. I’m a morning person, and this is an experimental blog all of whose posts will be conceived and published ante-meridian and most typically in the pre-dawn.  (I will continue to publish the bulk of my post-sunrise reflections at my old venue, Delight Springs.)

Stay tuned!