TUESDAY, JUNE 7, 2022
But do you understand what it says? Every so often, down through the years, we've felt the need to absent ourselves from the sheer absurdity of our contemporary, upper-end (imitation of) discourse.
Last week, it was Lawrence who sent us around the bend with several nights of brainless ranting on his "cable news" show, The Last Word. We still can't show you what Lawrence said because MSNBC, for what would seem to be obvious reasons, has been slow-walking its production of transcripts for a period of quite a few months.
As we sit here typing, it's Tuesday morning, June 7—but so what? MSNBC's most recent (error-riddled) transcripts are from the network's TV shows on Friday, May 27.
Anyone with an ounce of sense would suspect he probably knew why the network is behaving this way. We think of Frost's difficult poem, Directive, which starts exactly like this:
"Back out of all this now too much for us..."
Last week, Lawrence (and his corporate enablers) sent us tumbling back. We returned to a few of our favorite books—to Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, and to Walter Isaacson's 2007 biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe.
Over the weekend, we even went back to Professor Goldstein's ecstatically-blurbed general interest book from 2005, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel. The book provides a "detailed yet remarkably accessible account of [Gödel's] most stunning breakthrough," Brian Greene instructively said.
Just as it ever has been, we couldn't take it from people like Lawrence any more. Heading back out of all this, we returned to the pleasures of "fundamental discourse" on our culture's highest end!
We'd had our fill from players like Lawrence—from Joe Scarborough and his hour-long, red-faced rants. We returned to the passage which opens Chapter 6 of Isaacson's well-received book.
Sure enough! Right there on page 107, the chapter still starts like this:
Relativity is a simple concept. It asserts that the fundamental laws of physics are the same whatever your state of motion.
That's the way the chapter starts. We include its full opening paragraph.
As he starts, Isaacson says he's outlining "a simple concept"—and it can almost seem that he's done exactly that! But could you answer even the simplest questions about what Isaacson has just said? However simple his statement might seem, can you explain / understand what has just been said?
Here's a bit of the background behind our own role at this site. The gods have told us these things, even as they instruct us:
At this site, we're writing for some unnamed 12-year-old kid. At some later date, he or she is going to take our award-winning work and give it wider currency.
We don't know who that kid is. The gods insist that she's out there.
Along the way, the heart and soul of our ministry involves Wittgenstein, Einstein, Gödel. We're looking at what is taken to be the highest level of western discourse, and we're asking a simple question:
Do you actually understand the fundamentals you're handed? You can always repeat what you've been told, but do you actually understand the things you'll be reciting?
The later Wittgenstein seemed to be saying that the bulk of western philosophy was a collection of incoherent statements built upon a foundation of conceptual confusion. We thank the gods for inspiring Professor Horwich to have published this brief overview in 2013 for the New York Times.
At a certain point, the sensible person can no longer stand to waste his time with players like Lawrence and Joe. That person will head "back out of all that." He'll return to the fundamentals of discourse, of human communication.
For the record, Walter Isaacson is an extremely good writer. "Relativity is a simple concept," he said. But do you understand what came next?
Tomorrow: This comes next