The papers discussed in our online seminars are often excellent, but this one is apocalyptic, as well as being an exercise in fine writing. Lee Drummond was once a Chicago anthropology PhD specialising in the Caribbean and later in San Diego's tourist attractions. He taught at McGill University for over a decade before retiring to the wilderness (Palm Springs!). July and August there are his winter when he withdraws into his airconditioned study to avoid the heat. The OAC is a principal beneficiary of this aestivation, as witnessed by the paper attached here. All I can say is you gotta read it, whether or not you participate in the seminar.
Lee's point of departure is Lance Armstrong's confession on the Oprah Winfrey show. The man who perhaps deserves to be known as the greatest American athlete ever admitted taking performance enhancing drugs, thereby triggering an intense public outcry. Lee deconstructs what he takes to be a key feature of the American ideology, the opposition of nature to culture, showing that biology and technology have been inextricably woven together throughout human evolution and even before. If it is impossible to identify the unequal influence of technology in sporting performance, what about other areas of cultural achievement, like literature for example? Should Hemingway's Nobel prize be taken away or Coleridge's poetry eliminated from the canon because they wrote under the influence of mind-altering substances?
Not content with this reductio ad absurdum, Lee then launches into a savage critique of American civilization and of the cultural anthropology it has spawned. Drawing on Marx's happy phrasing in the 18th Brumaire, he argues that the American tragedy (New World genocide) now reappears as farce (reality TV shows), one of which actually replayed the former in a grotesque reenactment of the competitive ideal. Anthropology tends to celebrate cultural achievement around the world, whereas in Lee's view, the current state of American society suggests that culture may be a disease killing off its carriers just as their ancestors once killed off the original inhabitants of what passes for the land of the American dream.
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Kate & Mark, Interesting conversation. What I often pick out to focus on in these "what's missing" questions is seen in Kate's comment on Ingold:
He is, however, clear that the environment is not nature as a Cartesian nature/culture divide or merely the landscape, but is instead more of an ecological system in which people have a place and continually interact.
It seems the three verbal subjects, "environment", "nature" and "more of an ecological system...", would all be references to the very same actual things, unless... at least two of them refer to mental worlds of semantic distinctions in which the subject is a creation of the mind of the person using the term. So what I often ask is, "Which term refers to the the things of our world defined by their own features, independent of our own definitions and reasoning?
The funny thing is the usual response I get is something on the order of "Oh, we never talk about that" or "Oh, it's not possible to talk about that"... etc. or "Hugh??" ! ;-) I find it very painfully common for scientists, even more than others, to define the natural world as being the information they have collected along with how they interpret it, i.e. discussing the natural world as defined by their own abstractions,... even though at breakfast the words they use usually all refer to the objects and people they are interacting with, referred to without any objection at all as being self-defining.
The tragedy and humor in that are in how people are then often speaking words with one set of hidden meanings, for someone else to hear with their different set of hidden meanings, with neither quite aware there's a big difference and neither referring to the things that might give meaning to the terms in common. It comes out too in just how much of both ancient and modern philosophy is a "great debate" over how to decide what reality is, with it never seeming to come up in that reality might just be what we don't decide!
Jessie, I see a bit of a conundrum here. When you write that,
It seems the three verbal subjects, "environment", "nature" and "more of an ecological system...", would all be references to the very same actual things, unless... at least two of them refer to mental worlds of semantic distinctions in which the subject is a creation of the mind of the person using the term.
aren't you formulating your question in the terms that you want to question? Why start with a Cartesian division between the word and the world, where "word" refers to mental models and the information incorporated in them and "world" points to something that the models don't take into account?
I am also a bit confused here. On the one hand there is the problem of the scientist who bifurcates the world into the scientifically real, the information that fits his models, and secondary qualities with which, qua scientist, he is unconcerned. On the other hand there is the question of whether there are alternative approaches to science, or to knowing more generally, that do not assume this bifurcation.
That the first is a real, and practically consequential, problem is, I suspect, undeniable. Just last week I read an editorial in The Japan Times in which the president of a Japanese university was speaking up on behalf of the liberal arts. He argued that the generation of engineers and inventors who powered Japan's economy in the 1960s and 1970s had all been made to study philosophy, history, art, music and literature as well as science and engineering. They were thus equipped to imagine projects and products of value to people at large. In contrast, he says, today's science and engineering students do nothing but science and engineering and wind up with imaginations trapped within the confines of technical expertise. Thus they fail to produce new breakthroughs.
Returning, however, to my second question: Suppose that instead of beginning with the Cartesian bifurcation in which word:world::mind:matter, we began more pragmatically with the observation that theory is to the world as a map is to the territory. Note, first, that the map is part of the world, as public and available to the senses as any other material thing. Note, too, that no one is surprised that the map is not the territory. That the map re-presents the territory by abstracting some information from it while neglecting what is omitted from the map doesn't lead to agonizing re-appraisals of the map's epistemological status. Instead, it raises pragmatic issues. Is this particular map useful for what we want to do. The map of the Interstate Highway that leads to the International Airport is perfectly good for its purpose. It won't do at all if the goal is to hike in the mountains through which the highway runs, assess ecological damage caused by global warming, or prospect for coal or diamond mines.
Problems do arise, of course, when the scientist, economist or theologian believes that his map is the only real and valid Map and all other maps of the same territory can be ignored. That takes us back to the first problem. It also leaves open the meta-problem: Is map-making the only way to learn the territory?
I take Ingold to be saying, "No," in a way very similar to yours. You are both pointing to how much of what goes on in the world appears to be improvisation in the face of particular circumstances. Neither markets nor marching ants nor students weaving willow baskets on a beach in the north of Scotland move in ways reducible to simple formulas, and to hope that simple formulas will suffice to explain their actual paths is absurd. I think, too, of Naseem Taleb, who in Antifragile observes that traders with a good phenomenal knowledge of what goes on in markets often do better than those dependent on formulas and algorithms that only work in theory and only seem to work in reality until something goes disastrously wrong.
These speculations are informed by the way by reading your blog. From your perspective, am I reading you correctly?
Mark, Kate, before I forget. The work on World of Warcraft and other online game spaces is important. But we shouldn't forget the equally—or, to me for example—more interesting work on the Free Software movement. I think in particular of Chris Kelty's Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software and Gabriella Coleman's Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking. Both deal with people who exemplify a model of knowledge creation closer to that of the traditional crafts than that of the scientist obsessed with abstract models that pre-define the world's possibilities.
Also, thinking about this conversation this morning and following Mark's push to examine the technology that frames the world we live in, it struck me that we might examine three key terms: replay, remix, and what I will call "speedy research."
First, replay. Consider, first, a potter who slips, leaving a vessel irretrievably broken. Now, an intermediate case, reading and re-reading a book or watching games with instant replay at a sports bar. Then, turn to Bonnie Nardie's description of a World of Warcraft raid.
Once on the elevator, we descend deep into the cavern. Finally we are facing the first “trash mobs,” that is, guards who must be killed on the way to the bosses. (Mob is a generic name for monster, derived from mobile.) Players call them trash because, while powerful, they rarely yield good treasure. We buff the raid with several life-giving, damage-enhancing, mob-defeating spells and proceed.
We immediately “wipe” on the trash—that is, the whole raid is killed. Everyone runs back from the graveyard for another try. We pull ourselves together and successfully kill the guards.
Now we are at the first boss we will attempt, a creature called the Lurker Below. He lives in a pool and must be fished up. We stand on platforms surrounding his pool. We catch the Lurker on a fishing line and begin battle. The raid erupts into a chaos of loud, frenetic activity. WoW ’s sound effects layer the roars of the monsters, a mélange of auditory signals associated with player actions, the noises of special events such as explosions, and a musical sound track.
Things are going pretty well until the Lurker issues a “spout,” during which we are supposed to dive off the platforms into the water. Some dive too late and are killed. We try to keep going with a diminished raid but lack the resources to bring down Lurker. We wipe and run back yet again.
After wiping, it takes time to reassemble, rebuff, and discuss what went wrong. In voice chat, the raid leaders tell us what to do and provide assessments of our mistakes. We ask questions and crack jokes. My guild, “Scarlet Raven,” is a “casual raiding guild,” so, while people are intent on performing well, there are no recriminations.
After one more wipe, we are getting the hang of the Lurker. We know when to jump into the water and how to coordinate so the minions he summons will not kill us.
This time the Lurker goes down.The raid is deliriously happy.Through teamwork and personal skill, we have survived the Lurker’s deadly spouts, geysers, and water bolts—or at least most of us have. The fallen are raised by the healers. A group screenshot is taken of us surrounding the dead Lurker and will be posted later to the Scarlet Raven website.
The potter breaks a pot. She can make another, but it won't be the one she broke.
The reader or sports bar fan can return over and over to scenes and analyze and re-analyze, debate and re-debate them, but has no way of altering what has happened.
The raid's members are killed and revived repeatedly until they succeed in achieving their goal.
Second, consider remix. Henry Jenkins at MIT has done a lot with this in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, pointing out how movies and TV series have abandoned the old model of the work of art in its frame, conceived as a bounded and isolated whole. Instead, these new works are larded with hooks, unresolved issues, back stories and the like that not only create new merchandising possibilities, Stark Trek the game or the action figures, for example, but also a space in which, using new digital technologies, fans can copy, imitate, or re-edit the original to create their own additions to (or, from studio lawyers' point of view, distractions or degradations of) the corpus.
Finally, speedy research. I have mentioned that as part of a project on the world of top advertising creatives in Tokyo, I am doing network analysis on credits data from the Tokyo Copywriters Club Advertising Copy Annual. I am looking a data from six annuals at five year intervals that include information on 7018 creatives linked to 3364 ads through 27,314 roles. By the standards of folk who analyze big-data networks scraped from the Web, which can have tens or hundreds of millions of nodes, this is not a big network. It is, however, much larger than the classic examples of social networks based on fieldwork or historical documents, which contain a few dozen, more rarely a few hundred, nodes at best. And, this is my point, there is no way I could have done this research when I was in graduate school at Cornell in the late sixties. I would have had to write my own network analysis software and keypunch my data onto Hollerith cards, then transport the decks of thousands of cards to the computer center, where, if my grant was big enough, I might have been granted a few days of computer time to run my programs. And, of course, if I'd made a coding error, I would have it all to do over again. No way could I have done that. Now, however, I have a program called Pajek, freeware created at the University of Llubjana in Slovenia. My data are in a Filemaker Pro database. I could afford to hire a freelance data-entry professional to enter the data into the database. Now, using Pajek, I can can slice and dice and visualize the data, doing in minutes what would have taken weeks, months, more likely years, back in the sixties. I can not only replay and remix, I can do it incredibly fast. That means I can mess with the data in the way that Tim Ingold's students engage in basket weaving, twisting string, running their hands through dirt, singing polyphony, or helping repair a dry stone wall, learning by doing and seeing what start out as vague notions — not well-defined models or hypotheses—take shape as the work proceeds. It is quite an experience, and quite unlike anything I've done before.
Remake, remix, speedy research—lots to think about here.
John, I raised that question about whether any of the three different uses of words meaning the same thing referred to the "real thing" because it seemed suggested by the usage. The use of three terms referring to different ways of thinking about nature, using three somewhat interchangeable terms for nature without much clarification, confused me a bit because of my lack of familiarity of the particular viewpoints referred to. I just seemed a good chance to point out "what's missing" when we feel a need to assign our own special meanings to common words. If it was more recognized as a problem we'd all use more common words with common meanings or to refer to independently observable things, I think, and be more clear what our terms mean when we depart from that.
I don't mind at all that a scientist might carefully filter a set of information for their own use, any more than I mind a wine maker choosing to bottle only the purified fermented juice from the grapes harvested from their vineyards. The issue is whether the purified extraction remains connected to the local processes that produced it. It's then also important for wine to be labeled as coming from the vineyard it came from, connected to the family traditions of the wine maker and a thousand other factors, so the customer can know the authenticity of what they are buying.
If the wine merchant just says to themselves "hey it's all purple and mostly water", and uses labels from the expensive bottles to sell a chemically similar purple water at a high price... well "something is lost in the enjoyment". It's exactly the same for scientific data. The analysis of data as commonly done, in abstraction, disassociated from the processes that produce it, is very common with how scientific methods are used now, like by the common practice of replacing data with equations, and discarding all the natural dynamics of the raw data.
Generally speaking raw data should really be treated as a fine wine, a pure extract from a living world, and we should think of science as "closely listening to nature". It lets you bring out the subtleties of the natural processes, sometimes allowing amazing discoveries not possible any other way, like with my Gamma Ray Burst study and others, that have exposed new levels of natural phenomena. Imposing equations just erases all the signs of organic behavior in underlying processes from the data.
So I think the biggest problem with the way we make maps is that, like the Ptolemaic scholars, we impose our rigid assumptions on how nature is supposed to work. We intentionally suppress the signs of what's happening in the territory by making maps to follow our rules. The road maps we get are then like drawing all the roads straight and five miles wide, to reflect the approximate severity of information loss caused by assuming natural systems should be described with equations that have constant definition, and don't behave organically.
I haven't had a chance to get into the Ingold paper you linked for me. I think you are getting more of my view now, yes. I'm just delighted. I think my first comment on Ingold indicated I also thought he was saying "no" to using science to turn everything into abstractions. In being semi-critical I was mostly just marveling at how he seemed to be talking skillfully about "craft" without indicating experiential familiarity with crafts! ;-)
The facile answer is that, of course, none of these terms exist external to our own mental world - "environment", "nature", and "ecosystem" all refer to cognitive constructs that organize the world around us into a particular type of system. Humans like to see patterns in things, and these three terms represent types of patterns we see. In the sense that I am using the terms, there is a difference in the pattern - "nature" is a system which excludes "culture" and is formed in opposition to it, while "ecosystem" enfolds and interacts with "culture". (In this case, "culture" refers to "people and the stuff they do and make.") The nature/culture divide is a naturalized Western worldview arising from the Enlightenment, and it can be difficult to see beyond, as Philippe Descola explains. (This is what generates the "huh?" reactions - it is literally a thing we do not see, because it's like air.) Ingold's use of ecosystems (or environments, which as far as I recall he uses for everything in the ecosystem that isn't people) emerges from a different understanding of the relationship between people and not-people - he sees it arising from the perception of reindeer hunters, while Descola describes it more generically as an animist viewpoint. This brings me back around to my first and rather facile point, which is that neither exist independently to us. However, I do think they are useful for thinking about the physical world in different ways.
The nature/culture divide is a naturalized Western worldview arising from the Enlightenment, and it can be difficult to see beyond, as Philippe Descola explains.
This is a very widespread view, but when I read enlightenment figures on this topic, I can find notions of the 'state of nature' but not the opposition between nature and culture Descola describes because this was invented by Claude Levi-Strauss. It was L-S who took the basic idea of a superorganic culture from Kroeber, re-applying it by opposition to a hyper-conceptual 'nature'.
C S Lewis opens up his Studies in Words with a 50-page article on Nature. I have long been fascinated by shifts in its meaning. Human nature was the main object of the liberal Enlightenment from Locke to Rousseau and Kant. None of them made any distinction comparable to the nature/culture divide. For them nature was something that was no longer changing. We are all born, live and die and this involves developing what are innate characteristics. But at some stage, we stop developing parts of ourselves and that is our nature. Any democratic alternative to the Old Regime must be built on what we have in common and cannot change. A German tradition from Goethe to Spengler and Heidegger treats life as a process of becoming and what is no longer living as having become. Here nature is close in meaning to death and the nature/culture divide takes a backseat to a dialectic of development. It's all a long way from the contemporary fashion to identify nature with the subject matter of biology. Incidentally nature is an essential feature of the American ideology. Here the contrast is with history. The current fad for evolutionary cognitive psychology for example assimilates the cultural history of the US (which, if it is historical, can fall as well as rise) to scientific naturalism which relates all behaviour to an unchanging human nature. If everything has always been and will be the same, presumably America will be too.
How interesting that this conversation has swung towards "metaphysics" -- perhaps reflecting aspects of what I had earlier termed a "crisis" in that territory. My further suggestion is that today's *deep* intellectual crisis (much like those that came earlier) is nothing more-or-less than the effects of our changing technological environment.
The Enlightenment was itself a product of its own then-novel "communications" environment (i.e. printed books). That environment is the topic of McLuhan's first "popular" work, his 1962 "The Gutenberg Galaxy." By the late 19th century, this environment was being displaced by what he called "electric media," as shown by the replacement of "perspective" in the arts with "symbolism" and the need to get "all-around" every topic.
As we all know, "modern" art is not derived from a "linear" print-based Enlightenment communications environment -- whether it be Symbolist poetry, Cubist painting, Surrealist collage or Vorticist prose. In this regard, it is important to recall that "social science" is itself a creature of this shift -- both in the fact that it was overwhelmingly funded by "Junior" (whose wife founded MoMA) and in its conflicted struggle to try to remain "scientific" (which typically means pointing back to the print-based pre-electric sensibilities applied to topics where that is fundamentally inappropriate).
Our current fascination with the "non-linear" or "surround" characteristics of "processes" is still the playing out of that same 150+ year-old shift which gave us the telegraph, movies, radio and television. In McLuhan's terms, it was a shift from the "eye" to the "ear" in terms of the *balance* of our sensorium. This shift also gave us Nietzsche (very early, as a result of the German "romantic" conflict within its own "Aufklarung") and Bateson (later, as the English caught up.)
My sense is that this linear-to-non-linear (e.g. print-to-electricity or eye-to-ear) shift has now run its course. Perhaps the most powerful reason why there is so little social science being done that focuses on the impact of *digital* technology (i.e. the now-20+-year-old communications environment) is that it forces us to re-examine the "biases" which we bring with us from the earlier environment in which we grew up and learned our "craft." Yes, as Harold Innis told us in his 1951 "The Bias of Communication," we must start by examining our own prejudices,
If I'm on the right track, then much of our widely-held "flow-based" metaphysics is now obsolete. Of course, that doesn't mean that it goes away -- not at all! Most of what we deal with in our intellectual lives is obsolete. The psychological construct that McLuhan adopted to examine this was the Gestalt figure/ground distinction. We love our "figures"; while we run-away from our "ground." When print became obsolete as the "ground" of our experience, it became all the more attractive as a "figure." Where else would "scientific socialism" come from? <g> Now "ecology" has become our figure, since it was the "ground" of the *electric* environment but has been displaced by something different.
My sense is that we need a *new* metaphysics that corresponds to our new DIGITAL media environment. In this regard, Keith is "brave" to point us back to Kant. Attacking Descartes is, sorry to say, too easy. Embracing Bateson is too obvious. Emergence is just too commonplace. All of this is "superficial" and decidedly in the territory of "figures."
When I was on Wall Street, I gained a reputation for being a "contrarian." Given the *memetic* mechanisms of "popular thinking," my inclination is to look in the direction of what is "unpopular." On my part, I find Confucianism and medieval Christianity fascinating. Where can you find a *metaphysics* that is CONTRARY to the workings of "television" (i.e. the "ground" that has now become our "figure") as well as the previous book-oriented ground-turned-into-figure? Where is that anti-environment to the communications/technology environment of "mass-media" in all respects? Manuscript culture?
Our future is already built on the NEW ground of our experience and I suspect that hunting for its *metaphysics* might give us some clues about where all this and all of us are going.
Here nature is close in meaning to death and the nature/culture divide takes a backseat to a dialectic of development.
Along these lines are Erikson's life stages focussed around concerns or struggles with autonomy (young children), competence (older children), fidelity (i.e. authenticity - adolescents), love (young adults), purpose (older adults), wisdom (old age)
Huon, Thanks for your challenging response to my suggestions in earlier Comments (October 9 and 14) that
1) Society is not set up to organize extraordinary individuals, and
2) Genius is a rare phenomenon whose accomplishments eclipse or take precedence over the personalities and foibles of individual geniuses.
When I propose that Lance Armstrong’s and Bobby Fischer’s extraordinary achievements greatly overshadow their decidedly unpleasant personalities and behaviors, or that Einstein’s not being the best husband and father matters little if weighed against the special and general theories of relativity, I am making an argument that owes far more to Nietzsche than to Margaret Mead (not sure how you arrived at that comparison, since I regard Mead and Benedict as jointly responsible for crippling American cultural anthropology at its outset).
Let me take up the reductio counter-example you offer to my own:
Who cares if Wernher von Braun used slave labour in his V2 rocket factories - he was the man who got America to the moon?
An excellent, extremely difficult question. Providing even the beginnings of a satisfactory answer requires me to lay out my interpretation of what might be called Nietzsche’s “theory of value.” Although Beyond Good and Evil and Genealogy of Morals are the most discursive, traditionally argued of Nietzsche’s works (as opposed to his collections of aphorisms and the poetic narrative of Zarathustra) the ideas he advances there can prove elusive. Two parts of his argument, however, are clear and accessible. First, he rejects the herd or slave mentality he identifies as the basis for the familiar distinction between “good” and “evil.” Mediocrities value the mediocre and arrange society accordingly. He contemptuously rejects the social Darwinists’ notion of “progress” as “an infinite succession of zeroes.” Second, he opposes the herd to the extraordinary individual. That individual possesses a nobility of thought and action which sets him apart from, and above the suffocating fear and resentment of the masses. [Incidentally, this aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy – placing the individual above the State – is diametrically opposed to the proto-Nazism of his day and renders ludicrous any claim as to their similarity.]
But, and here is the all-important issue, what are the distinguishing features of nobility? Apart from defining it by what it is not – everything about people that is schlecht (low, base, unclean) – what are the positive attributes of nobility?
It is important to frame this question in terms of a fundamental aspect of Nietzsche’s thought, an aspect which unifies the two books (BGE and GM): Nietzsche sought to redefine ethics as aesthetics, to replace the “moral” with the “beautiful.” And what, then, was Nietzsche’s concept of the “beautiful”? Here it is important to bear in mind that Nietzsche’s world, his experiental reality, was permeated, in an important sense, defined by music. [Anthropologists have seen this fixation in one of their own, n’est pas?] To the sublimity of music he melded his profound understanding of Greek tragedy as Dionysian, infused with passion and the sheer vibrancy of life, of increase, of growth [enter Demeter and add some of Mark’s Eleusinian joy juice and you’ve got a potent brew]. Sublime passion: I would suggest that simple term captures Nietzsche’s concept of an aesthetics that would replace an ethics mired in everyday human existence, a morality swarming with “the flies of the marketplace.”
And yes, Virginia et al, it gets more complicated. How does that rare individual who recognizes and embraces Nietzsche’s stunning “revaluation of all values” differentiate the noble / beautiful from the not-so noble / beautiful, and in turn differentiate that from the definitely not noble / beautiful? He tells us how it is done: the enlightened individual, the Zarathustra yet to come [and not that whipping boy, Zarathustra’s ape] recognizes an order of rank [Rankordnung] that separates the few kernels of human wheat from the dross of chaff [Ah, yes, that infinite succession of zeroes again, that overwhelming, crushing biomass of insensate human existence. Fritz was not a fun guy, and you don’t even want to know how many Facebook friends he would have accumulated.]
Now, although I am obviously a big fan, I will grant you that with this Rankordnung business Fritz gets a tad too Prussian for our pc tastes; sounds a bit too much like Achtung! doesn’t it? So, to further complicate things [again, who said it was supposed to be simple?] let’s assert that the domain of semiospace on which we now confer the name / title “humanity” is shot full of multiple dimensions, multiple semiotic antinomies, multiple Rankorndnungen. Think about it in simple, down to earth terms: Does it even begin to make sense to compare or rank Lance Armstrong, out there on the tortuous course of the Tour de France, pedaling his performance-enhanced heart out, with Albert Einstein, stoking on a fat cigar, gazing out a Princeton window, and jotting down equations that describe the workings of the universe?
With these not-so-slight modifications, I think we are prepared to take up Huon’s counter-example of Wernher von Braun. Can we say that, yes, he was a thoroughly compromised, even despicable human being, someone who accepted, not only membership in the Nazi party, but membership in the repugnant SS? Someone who turned a blind eye to, even witnessed, the revolting treatment of the slave laborers who assembled his V2 rockets? Von Braun lived – and thrived – in one of the rankest human sewers our species has created; no question about it. Yet from childhood he was fascinated, and later fixated, by the idea of space flight. He had a dream, although very different from Martin’s. He didn’t set out or scheme to become an SS officer supervising a labor force drawn from a nearby concentration camp, building rockets (“Vengeance Bombs”) to attack the English. As the not-so-funny joke went, he aimed for the stars but somehow kept hitting London. But he did aim for the stars; it was his life-long goal, which he pursued through the horror of Nazi Germany, later through his servitude to the U. S. military with its own Cold War schemes, and finally at NASA where he was instrumental in designing the Saturn V that, as Huon notes, took America to the moon. For the first time, humans escaped Earth’s gravity, that rainbow was broken. Next stop . . .?
Space flight is a dramatic example of the for-now human spirit of discovery, the spirit that took our Upper Paleolithic ancestors into the black recesses of caverns, that caused Plato (perhaps with a few hits of ergot?) to urge us to look deep into his own, metaphorical cavern. I would suggest that the spirit of wonder that drives scientific discovery is closely tied to the creative energy, yes, the genius, of art. Both are beautiful, beautiful to witness if we are personally incapable of achieving them. And both exemplify a Nietzschean aesthetics that triumphs over while issuing from the human effluvium which Pound describes. That was quite a few Comments back in this fast-moving discussion, so let me repeat it here, with a modification:
Humanity is the rich effluvium, it is the waste and the manure and the soil, and from it grows the tree of the arts [and the tree of the sciences].
Kate, Ah yes, that's the rub, that all the terms of languages are mental constructs. However, what the terms *refer to* varies with how the term is used, either to a conceptual "salt shaker, from which no salt will ever come" or an "actual salt shaker someone can get salt from when shaken". It's not the choice of term, then, but the use of the term, that indicates whether the mental or the environmental reality is being referred to.
If you ask the question whether "nature" considered as the patterns we see can be equated with the processes producing them, the answer is as unequivocally *NO* as whether you can climb a picture of a mountain in the same way you climb a mountain. You can't because the image referring to a mountain is not the mountain, one an internal construct and the other an external reference. You can determine the difference by locating the energy sources for the things referred to, whether metabolic energy animating the mind or environmental energy animating the sources of information our senses receive.
For me it's just confusing to distinguish the difference by altering common terms to mean special things a reader is likely to confuse. I do admit it's following quite common practice, but for me it's also quite counter-intuitive, to define:
"nature" is a system which excludes "culture"
I'd prefer to state it as "person A uses "nature" to say...". From a natural science view the best way to understand how the thing called "nature" actually works is not by mental analysis so much, but by identifying the organizational units that we identify as individual "cultures", and study how they work and interact.
So I opt for accepting that all our words tend to get used in multiple ways. If trying to be precise about things, I find it best to try to clearly identify the silo of conversation (world view/language/way-of-interpreting as a whole) for interpreting all the terms of an expression, rather than redefine common words to refer to different silos of conversation.
To me any dialog is ungrounded unless some terms are defined in relation to the patterns you can see being generated by environmental energy, and distinguished from the patterns we see generated by a mental energy, to distinguish environmental processes from imagination.
All, I think there's a nice way to connect Mark's idea that the new media culture that seems to be becoming the foundation of a new form of society is as yet unformed and so not possible to define, and Keith and Huron's similar references to "life as a process of becoming" that we can't define, so people often use "the nature of" something as referring to something that had been living and we can define only in its"death".
It reminds me of Lincoln's curious phrase, "a tree is best measured when it is down", that I think illustrates the problem another way. It's true enough that it's hard to know how tall a tree is till you've killed it, but also says our minds have a serious block in being able to seing any value in living things, they're so undefined. Maybe it exposes another very broad flaw in our habit of relying on defining reality in our minds (rather than as what we don't define).
If we define reality in our minds we accept what seems to be a strong bias to only having definitions for things that have died. Equations are like that, as the language of science, invariably describing the world with fixed relationships between things that happened in the past, rather than giving us a way to think about the flowing relationships of the present and future.
Accepting that the reality of anything living is going to be kind of "undefined" may be the best way to work around it. It even turns up, poignantly, in one's own family when watching your own children growing up, unable to tell what roles and interests their experiences and explorations are leading to. What's forming can be quite hard to see. Any parent is familiar with how easy it is to guess, and with teens in particular, to invariably "get it wrong"... so learning to "better measure the tree while its growing" is something we'd really like to know how to do!