Ben Franklin by Edmund S. Morgan

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In the introductory chapter the author compares his world and our world.

We get a hint of the difference between his world and ours when he remarks in passing to a friend that "No Species or Genus of Plants was ever lost, or ever will be while the World continues." Franklin assumed, with most other people of the time, that God had created the world and all the creatures in it, and God would not be likely to create and then change His mind and let it perish. Nor was He thought to have kept on creating new things. Charles Darwin had not yet turned the plants and animals Franklin knew into an unstable collection of organisms all in the process of becoming something else over immense expanses of time. The crabs Franklin found in the sea weed had a peculiar method of propagating htmeselves, but it was the way God had ordained for them on the day of Creatino. Th ethings that Franklin touched or felt, the water he swam in, the air he breathed, were made up of what he called particles. He assumed that they were too small to be seen by the naked eye, but he could have no hint of the alarming forces inside them. Water was water, oil was oil. Our world has grown more mysterious than his in a thousand ways, and the more mysterious the more we examine it. While the things we see and feel do look and feel to our senses much as hey did to Franklin, we know in a way he could not that they are not what they seem and that with the proper instruments we would find them to be well beyond our everyday comprehension. Scientists have probed deeper and deeper into the dynamic structure of matter and it's infinite explosions in what we still call the universe. As a result we cannot look meaningfully at anything in quite the way Franklin did.

Somehow I feel as though scientists have robbed me of wonder and of mystery. This is a point that has been raised my many a poet, and that Carl Sagan once refuted in an essay. But I can't help but feel that the ancient man who looks upon the stars with the heart of a poet allowing his imagination to wonder and to invent awesome stories around them gives them meaning, significance. Scientists such as Carl Sagan take away his poetic licence in favor of the Truth. But what is the capital T Truth? It's a scientific model describing how and object works. It's a very stuck up mathematical description of the mechanics of the object. If the object is too complicated for our model we say that it is too complicated to understand, yet! Does knowing an object scientifically take away from the awe that surrounds it? Is there any value in allowing yourself to invent stories as a lonely child invents imaginary friends.

To my knowledge Carl Jung thought that the myths we tell ourselves reflect something about ourselves in the myth. This argument between the poet and the scientist is a classic example of two people arguing about the same thing but from completely different assumptions and value systems. The scientist cares about what is going on in the system. If I want to build something with this thing I had better understand the mechanics of it. I had better understand how it will react, or if it is useful to me. The poet doesn't care so much about using the damn thing, he cares about understanding something about himself. When the poet is experiancing a stone or a rock, his mind is focusing on what that experiance feels like. When the scientist experiances a stone the important thing is what is the thing about the stone that is universal to all experiances. What are the properties of the stone that are not just properties of me and the stone, but that will be in common with what all people experiance in the stone, because these properties are truely the only ones that you can say belong to the stone and not to you.

For this paragraph find a poem about an object that is actually about the internal feeling of the poet, then analyse the poem a bit

Find a description of how black body radiation works that uses quantum and statistical mechanics.

Knowledge of the self is not less interesting than knowledge of mechanical stuff.

Why might you want to understand the world like a scientist?

  • To make money by bulding stuff. There are easier ways to make money though, but it is one way of making money. This "scientific" attitude extends to programming. I guess if you create art too you want to be a bit analytic about how your learn things and use tools.
  • Because it's great fun, "pleasure of finding things out".
  • Because this is what other people have told you to do, somehow throughout your life you have been trained to think that scientists are good and that they are going to solve global warming or something like that. You're confused because if you stop and think about it, you don't really know what good means. It's all just yin and yang.

Okay so here's a problem. Art and computer programming are similar. So is math, and so is physics, in that you have as your guid a little thing inside of you telling you when something is right and when something is wrong. When you sit down to learn some physics and you're in the zone, there's a little friend inside of you who's telling you whether or not what you're doing is right. Same thing as the poet who's making beautiful words play together. One of them is playing with words the other is playing with numbers. Now I'm confused.

Lets not stray too far off topic.

Some people are filled with wonder and awe when they imagine stories or myths about things. And others are filled with awe and wonder when they play with numbers and ideas that fit together like clockwork. And some are both. And Carl Sagan shouldn't be putting poets down by telling them that it's better to think about stars as large balls of flame, assemblies of atoms, nuclear reactions, a quantum field, than it is to think about them as mythical gods exacting revenge on each other for sleeping with each other. It seems like many people in this world are very agitated about trying to win over people who go about their lives with different mindsets than they do.

We conclude with the observation that many people pick a side for tribal reasons without ever having tasted the forbidden fruit of either a scientific nor a poetic understanding of any aspect of the world.