Thursday, August 06, 2015

What are we searching for?

John Steinbeck writes about creatures that I have not even heard of.  The older I get, and the more I read, the more do I understand that I know nothing.  And, therefore, I am all the more surprised when I run into people who behave as if they know it all and I wonder from where they draw that erroneous conclusion in order to act that way.

Steinbeck's lengthy "sidebar" commentaries are wonderful.  Sea of Cortez is really two different books: one is on the marine specimens and the other is a compilation of essays on life.  Steinbeck is a genius and, thus, easily weaves the two together.  Oil and water do mix, it seems.

What a contrast to those self-professed experts, who love to pose as college professors (haha!), who simply cannot explain anything to anybody.  Steinbeck has some choice words for them, which makes me jump up and celebrate with joy.  As one who is fully committed to public scholarship, I kept smiling as I read the following sentences:
It is usually found that only the little stuffy men object to what is called "popularization," by which they mean writing with a clarity understandable to one not familiar with the tricks and codes of the cult.  ... A dull man seems to be a dull man no matter what his field, and of course it is the right of a dull scientist to protect himself with feathers and robes, emblems and degrees, as do other dull men who are potentates and grand imperial rulers of lodges of dull men.
Those sentences I shall certainly use when I prepare my annual report of service next year and submit it to those who protect themselves with "robes, emblems and degrees." ;)  Over the past few years, I have brought into my annual reports quite a bit of such choice quotes.  My all-time favorite is this one from Kafka.

What drives us to such pursuits in the first place?  Steinbeck muses about that too:
We search for something that will seem like truth to us, we search for understanding; we search for that principle which keys us deeply into the pattern of all life; we search for the relation of things, one to another.
I suppose it will be an eternal search for truth.  Or, maybe sometime in the distant future, humans--or whatever our species mutates into--might figure it out.  Or, perhaps those intelligent aliens that we are searching for will explain the truth.  The truth behind how all these came about.

But then, maybe nobody--even the superhumans of the future--will ever figure it out.  Or, perhaps there is no truth after all.  I will never know; that's for sure.  Yet, I will continue on with the rest of the third of my life.

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