Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, September 11, 2017

THE SWERVE M, 9-11-17

My wife and daughters enrich my life in many ways. One of the main ways in recent years is through gift books. When you are old, you don’t need another tie or shirt or spatula. Unless you can go see it, eat it, or read it, it’s just one more thing to put away and not use. Tickets to a play or game, a coffee shop gift card, a book—those are the right gifts for old people. So I get books.

Some of them are books I think I want to read. I ask for them. The best, though, are surprise books. Novels by new authors I don’t know but am pleased to learn about. Tomes by physicists and theologians and historians and other thoughtful people who challenge me with new knowledge and new ways to understand.

So it was with Stephen Greenblat, THE SWERVE: How the World Became Modern [2011] This was a gift, I think from younger daughter Katie, the delightful YA author. [1] [2]

It is the story of the rediscovery of Lucretius’ [94-55 BC] now-famous poem, On the Nature of Things. Greenblat is a wonderful writer, and does this basically as a mystery novel, how 1500 years later, people knew that Lucretius had made a big splash with that poem, that it caused a lot of controversy, but nobody anymore actually had a copy. Until Poggio Bracciolini, a lover of and searcher for all things ancient, discovered a lost and forgotten copy in a remote monastery library. That, says Greenblat, was the renewal of the old splash and controversy that created the world modern, because it changed our way of thinking.

Following the philosophies of Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus, Lucretius wrote a long and beautiful [in Latin] poem explaining that all is composed of atoms that comprise all things from the same stuff. The atoms are incredibly tiny with huge empty spaces between them. That being the case, nothing would ever change in that atomic universe, except that the atoms “swerve” randomly, and thus all activity in nature is random. [3] Physicality is all there is. There is no God or after-life. So, in the crude form in which Epicurus was pictured by his critics, the point of life is to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” [Epicurus did extol pleasure as basically the only good, but he thought the simple life was the most pleasurable, not the excessive life.]

It is remarkable that over two thousand years ago people with names like Leucippus and Democritus and Lucretius were able to theorize with ancient philosophy what in recent times people with names like Einstein and Bohr and Maxwell have proved with modern science.

Except, of course, for the ideas that remain only theories and for which there is no proof: that all life is random, that there is no God, no afterlife, etc.

Frankly, I believe Epicurus, about the purpose of life, mostly because Jesus said the same thing, especially in John 10:10. The purpose of life, Jesus said, is to have a good time. Good times, though, don’t consist in “eat, drink, and be merry,” although Jesus did some of that, and was criticized for it. Good times consist of living good lives. Good lives are not lives of excess and selfish enjoyment and pleasure. Indeed, a false time is one that gives you only pleasure instead of joy.

It amuses me how many “modern” and “scientific” folks can take real facts that prove real things and claim they also prove the unprovable. They are people of faith as well as facts and won’t admit it. It’s just that their “faith” is in nothingness. They use facts in order to “disprove” the faith of others without even seeing the contradiction. That’s not very scientific.

Of course, conservative Christians, so-called Evangelicals, don’t help the matter at all by claiming that faith is really all about believing the unbelievable to the point of not even believing the facts.

May God protect us from true believers, of both the religious and scientific types.


I tweet as yooper1721

1] Following the critical and marketing success of Katie Kennedy’s first Young Adult novel, Learning to Swear in America, is What Goes Up, a July 18, 2017 release. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser known but promising young authors, like JK Rowling.

2] I say “I think” it’s from Katie because one place where my book gift appreciation breaks down is remembering who gave me which book. In theory, I put the initials of the giver on the back flyleaf to help me remember, but I need some mnemonic device to help me remember to use my mnemonic devices.

3] In fiction, the current exponent of the Lucretius theory about the randomness of life is one of my favorite writers—for her writing and story-telling, not for her philosophy—is the Scots author, Kate Atkinson.

No comments:

Post a Comment