Archive for June, 2020

I’ve just posted on my Blog about: The Book That Changed America https://t.co/6mdKZdwcVW

June 30, 2020

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

from Twitter https://twitter.com/OSOPHER

I’ve just posted on my Blog about: WJ 6 https://t.co/A18oFJnpr3

June 30, 2020

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

from Twitter https://twitter.com/OSOPHER

The Book That Changed America

June 30, 2020

30152012If our Evolution in America course were a couple weeks longer, I’d assign Randall Fuller’s The Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited America as our third text.

It reveals that the New England Transcendentalists were deeply affected by the evolutionary hypothesis as delivered by Darwin in 1859, and that Thoreau went to his grave in 1862 having substantially absorbed its message. Fuller explicates Thoreau’s appreciation:

For one thing, [Darwinian natural selection] no longer relies upon divinity to explain the natural world… Emerson had prodded Thoreau to look through nature — not at it — in order to perceive the godhead. To a degree, Thoreau had always resisted this approach; he loved the hard surface of things too much. But now, within the short span of a year, Darwin had propelled him toward a radically different vision of creation… a natural world sufficient unto itself — without the facade of heaven. There was no force or intelligence behind Nature, directing  its course in a predetermined and purposeful manner. Nature just was.

Darwin himself pulled up short, in public at least, of such a  sweeping about-face when he told a correspondent “I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.”

Thoreau was discrete in public as well, famously returning his aunt’s question “Have you made your peace with God?”  with “We never quarreled.”

But when asked if he was ready for the next world he answered as an unambivalent naturalist. “One world at a time.”

via Blogger https://ift.tt/2ZprO5A

WJ 6

June 30, 2020

jamesl

The story continues. It’s the late ’70s, James is about to become a family man (Henry III was born in May ’79), his philosophical future is resolving into sharper focus, his brilliant but troubled sister Alice has begun a steep, inexplicable decline (diagnosed as “neurasthenic”), and his parents are nearing their respective ends.
William is now articulating some of his most distinctive positions. For instance,
On habit: “The great thing is to form habits which then leave the hemispheres free for higher flights…” 
On emotion: “No conscious event can occur without some parallel event occurring in the nervous system on which the conscious event depends… the bodily event is the condition, the mental event the consequence. What we esteem the highest is at the mercy of the lowest…”
On consciousness and human evolution: It “means the end of the reign of chance and the beginning of the reign of intelligence.”
On human “powers” and free will: We may profess a “natural faith that our delights and sorrows, loves and hates, aspirations and efforts are real combatants in life’s arena, and not impotent, paralytic spectators of the game.” And: “The trouble with determinism, fatalism, pessimism, the unconscious, and materialism is that in our better hours we feel such limited and limiting forces… to deny our most intimate powers all relevancy…” And: “the inmost nature of the reality is congenial to powers which you possess.”
On attention: “Emotional interests are the great guides to selective attention.”
On life as an adventure, without guarantees: “All that the human heart wants is its chance.”
On effort and free will: “What makes it easy to raise the finger, hard to get out of bed on a cold morning, harder to keep our attention on the insipid image of  a procession of sheep… It is a question of getting to the point where we want to will something or other…”
In January 1879 James publishes “Are We Automata?” No, he insists, and would insist to Dan Dennett today with his neuroscientific idea that our minds are assemblages of billions of miniscule cellular robots. But T.H. Huxley’s argument in the affirmative had sounded some characteristsic Jamesian themes too. For example: “In men as in brutes, there is no proof that any state of consciousness is the cause of change in the motion of the matter of the organism.” Remember, on James’s early psychological view we are sad because we cry, not the other way ’round.
But in “Are We Automata?” James is mainly concerned to keep free will in the game, and this seems to require a big role for the emotions as selective, attentive, and integral to the possibility of real human choices and acts. In the process, he says things that might remind you of Cartesian homunculi. The point of consciousness is to allow us to choose, just as a ship’s passenger may choose to seize the helm and “raise, lower, or reef the sail, and so, in small but meaningful ways, direct the voyage. Such a person, taking such actions, cannot be called an automaton.”
No. But neither is it clear that such an understanding of the role emotion plays in our lives is quite consistent with the James-Lange theory. When concept-laden theory confounds our actual experience, James will always opt for the preservation of experience. The details may need working out, but he’s typically happy to go back to the theoretical drawing board rather than deliberately distort perceptual reality in the name of a tidy but misleading picture.
(BTW: James would be fascinated by a story that appeared in the Times science section this week, suggesting the possibility that the Hadron Super-collider might actually interfere with time itself. Perhaps what we do really does alter the space-time causal landscape in tangible ways… does wiggle our dominoes, to return to a strange metaphor that came up in the course of one classroom discussion this week.)
It was during this time that James began experimenting with various psycho-active substances to see what effect they might have in expanding his consciousness and recognition of reality. Hilariously, he read Hegel under the influence of nitrous oxide with predictable results.
1882 was a year of loss. Darwin died, Emerson died. His mother died at age 71. Before the year was out, his father followed suit. James was abroad when his Dad began his final descent, and quickly drafted a letter that preceded him back to Boston. But it did not arrive in time for Henry Sr. to read.
It is a remarkable letter, one which I found it fitting to read to my own father* when his remaining days were few. William was still aboard ship on Dec. 21, continuing his Atlantic transit,  when his brother Henry stood at their father’s graveside  and  read aloud from that letter that began: “Darling Old Father…”
“The letter concludes: “As for us… we will stand by each other and  by Alice, try to transmit the torch in our offspring as you did in us… And it comes strangely over me in bidding you goodby how a life is but a day and expresses mainly but a single note, it is so much like the act of bidding an ordinary goodnight. Good night my sacred old Father. If I don’t see you again– Farewell! A blessed Farewell! -Your William”
Richardson rightly observes: “Letters, even undelivered, outlast life. It was a scene a novelist would be hard-pressed to improve.” *It sure was.
Originally published 10.16.09

via Blogger https://ift.tt/2YKDiBH

“Montaigne grasped that, unlike philosophers in his day (or our own), [Epicurus and Seneca] sought not to inform their students, but instead to form them.” I’m sure they did both, like conscientious teachers in every era. https://t.co/Wjba460hFu

June 29, 2020

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

from Twitter https://twitter.com/OSOPHER

@MargaretRenkl @nytopinion Thanks for this. Mr. Seigenthaler spoke to my ethics classes at Vanderbilt in the mid-‘00s about dishonesty in social media and public life. He was visionary. He would be appalled.

June 29, 2020

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

from Twitter https://twitter.com/OSOPHER

It’s crucial, in these sad days of brutality, venality, and dishonesty in public life, to sustain the legacy of heroes like John Seigenthaler Sr. He personified human decency and journalistic integrity. https://t.co/cwTnSUtdlr

June 29, 2020

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

from Twitter https://twitter.com/OSOPHER

I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Evolution in America https://t.co/fIDH0rlHKH

June 29, 2020

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

from Twitter https://twitter.com/OSOPHER

I’ve just posted on my Blog about: WJ 5 https://t.co/8Zrohq7wCP

June 29, 2020

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

from Twitter https://twitter.com/OSOPHER

Evolution in America

June 29, 2020

My course “Evolution in America” returns this week.

Last time I taught it (in summer 2018) we met on campus, unperturbed by any threat or even inkling of pandemic. We took a field trip to the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton Tennessee for their community theater re-enactment of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925. (It was a lovely drive on the backroads from Murfreesboro, through the rolling Tennessee countryside.)

This time we’ll be “remote” and I don’t imagine any of us will dare to trek down to Dayton to sit cheek-by-jowl with a courthouse full of strangers, on those same wooden pews that supported an over-capacity crowd at the “trial of the century” nearly a century ago. I’d sure like to, it was a tremendous experience. Maybe next time.

Our course will again dive into Edward Larson’s award-winning account, Summer for the Gods, as well as Matthew Chapman’s Trials of the Monkey. Chapman’s perspective is particularly interesting, he’s a lineal descendant of Charles Darwin who also made his way to Dayton in an attempt to comprehend the particular animus so many Tennesseans (like their champion William Jennings Bryan) felt for his ancestor. The resulting memoir/travelogue is both funny and profound, in its good-faith effort to perceive the humanity of those whose worldviews are so confoundingly out of step with evolutionary science .

When we introduce ourselves in Zoomland I’ll doubtless go on again about “my first landlord,” the zoologist *Winterton Curtis, who was not allowed to enter testimony on John Scopes’ behalf.

In John Farrell’s biography Attorney for the Damned, I learned that Scopes superstar defense attorney Clarence Darrow and “my first landlord” *Winterton C. Curtis, who made such an impression on me in my early youth, conversed in Dayton. Curtis divulged that he’d received a terminal cancer diagnosis and thought he had no more than a year to live. I’d never known that, I wonder how the dominoes of my life would have fallen if my parents had never rented rooms in his home and he’d never “pulled $s” from my ears!

Curtis wrote to Darrow later, thanking him for “sharing a creed–‘that those who strive to live righteously as they see fit in this life need not fear the future.”

The seven scientific experts the judge did not allow to testify at the Scopes Trial in Dayton TN, 1925.

Back row, left to right: Horatio Hackett Newman, Maynard Mayo Metcalf, Fay-Cooper Cole, Jacob Goodale Lipman; Front row, left to right: *Winterton Conway Curtis, Wilbur A. Nelson, William Marion Goldsmith. The Defense Mansion was a Victorian house where the defense team and witnesses stayed during the trial. July 1925

Winterton Curtis: recollections of the Scopes Trial, written in 1956…
==

*Winterton C. Curtis

Image result for winterton curtisMy first landlord was an old zoologist at the University of Missouri named Winterton Curtis (1875-1965). He was one of the scientific experts not allowed to testify at the Scopes Trial in Dayton TN in 1925. My parents (and I) rented rooms from him in his home on Westmount in Columbia Missouri while Dad attended Veterinary school at Mizzou in the early ’60s, and later maintained a cordial friendship with him. He used to visit when I was a kid and pull dollar bills from my ears. Dad thought that must be why I was always so fascinated by the concept of evolution.

Dr. Curtis wrote, in 1921,

The humanistic philosophy of life, which flowered in Greece and which has blossomed again, is not the crude materialistic desire to eat, drink, and be merry. It is a spiritual joy in living and a confidence in the future, which makes this life a thing worthwhile. The otherworldliness of the Middle Ages does not satisfy the spiritual demands of modern times. Science and Human Affairs From the Viewpoint of Biology

Of the Scopes Trial itself, he wrote of the 1925 Dayton Tennessee spectacle:

The courtroom audience impressed me as honest country folk in jeans and calico. “Boobs” perhaps, as judged by Mencken, and holding all the prejudices of backwoods Christian orthodoxy, but nevertheless a significant section of the backbone of democracy in the U.S.A. They came to see their idol “the Great Commoner” and champion of the people meet the challenge to their faith. They left bewildered but with their beliefs unchanged despite the manhandling of their idol by the “Infidel” from Chicago…. A Defense Expert’s Impressions of the Scopes Trial

==

Here’s the video about Curtis I posted last Spring:

via Blogger https://ift.tt/3dMfCky