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.


Anne in Salem said...

Oil and water do mix. It is called an emulsion and is required for proper salad dressing (and sometimes for a successful family dynamic).

Whenever you write these posts, I think of the contrast between people of faith and atheists. Most people of faith accept willingly that we don't know specifically why we are here, but we accept generally that we are here to love, to serve, and to do God's (by whatever name) will. Even some atheists recognize similar raisons d'etre, but without the deity aspect: we are here to try to make the world better and to care for and help others. I think very few people spend as much time pondering such an unanswerable question as you do.

And some of us think we are here to rule the world, to be the center of attention and to mock everyone. Then there are the other nine people on the stage. Did you watch the "debate"? More of a Q&A session. Do you think the moderators will ask the Democratic candidates if God speaks to them and if He told them what to do first? Some of the questions were ridiculous, designed to trap the candidates or to make them look bad. I loved the responses to the questions like "Your state is in terrible shape. Why should we vote for you?" Christie said it best: "If you think it's bad now, you should have seen it when I took office." Beautiful.

Perhaps your end of year report should be a list of statistics for the year - this number of students said I made them think about this subject differently, this number of students said I helped them understand why this subject is important, this number of students . . . Could be an interesting list.

Sriram Khé said...

"I think very few people spend as much time pondering such an unanswerable question as you do" is the best compliment you--a believer--could have given me. Ranks on par with my uber-religious neighbor who once told me that I was more of a Christian, despite being an atheist, than are most Christians.
I would think that every one of us will be terribly curious about how all these came about and, therefore, spend some time on a daily basis on pondering that unanswerable question.

I didn't watch the debate. I don't watch any of the presidential debates, for that matter. It is sophomoric theatre. It is a made-for-TV reality program.

I would any day prefer to leave god out of politics. If we don't, then we get the kind of idiot who said he prayed to god for guidance before launching the disastrous Iraq War--that alone should be enough and more evidence that there is no god!!! ;)

Ramesh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ramesh said...

Let me add the same "compliment" to you as Anne. And if you really want to progress on finding an "answer", perhaps you should should stop thinking about it for a while, and simply "let it flow into you" :):):)

Let me wade into the presidential debate point that Anne makes. The media channels who host these programs are not trying to understand and analyse candidate policies, ideas , etc. They are simply trying to gain more viewership for their channels, for after all, it is a business. The way to get viewer eyeballs is not by a nuanced discussion on the Iranian deal like we debated in the previous post. It is by making a candidate slip up and look foolish - like the Perry moment four years ago. They will do the same to the Democratic candidates too - if its not the God question, it will be something else. Candidates know it too and are therefore extremely defensive and that is one reason why we get generalisations, platitudes and mom and apple pie statements and policies.

I sometimes wonder if a candidate in any country could be successful taking a completely contrarian approach and putting forth a manifesto completely policy oriented with all the messy choices and uneasy decisions that have to be made. Conventional wisdom is that such a candidate will stand no chance. I wonder if that may be a wrong conclusion. World over, there is so much dissatisfaction of the electorate. That is simply because nobody in this age of media scrutiny is talking straight and telling them of all the difficult issues . If somebody told us that Utopia is not possible, we may even believe her !

Sriram Khé said...

The day that a few hundred million dollars appear in my bank account because I did not thing and "let it flow into you," is the day that I will stop thinking about these issues too ;)

Cool that for once Ramesh is agreeing with my and taking on Anne ;) I agree that "it is a business." Which is why I way prefer that politics channel on television that very, very few care to watch: C-Span. A channel that exists thanks to the industry making money, but otherwise is a channel without any financial bottomline. There are no "mom and apple pie statements and policies" and politicians and commentators alike get into details that puts even a dedicated viewer like me to sleep! All these other "debates" are only for some base-energizing "gotcha" moments :(

Indeed, across the democratic countries,it seems like voters are all dissatisfied with their politicians and their politics. Which is also why a breath of truth-talking grabs people, but then it turns out that most truth-talking people--from Arvind Kejriwal to Rand Paul (how is that for rhyming!) come with their truckloads of craziness too. We are stuck with some seriously stinking bullshit, my friend :(