Friday, April 30, 2010

Leverage

Perhaps one of the most momentous phrases of the ancient and departed West are these words of Archimedes on levers — δῶς μοι πᾶ στῶ καὶ τὰν γᾶν κινάσω — as reported by Pappos the Geometer. In English, they might be translated, "Give me a standing-place and the earth I shall move." It is an ambitious thought, to say the least.

But that really is the reach of the levers of our mind. Sitting where I am, linked to the web (or net, or whatever poor Ariadne's distant child has become), I am able to move thoughts a world away, provoke action and evoke emotion, invoke intangible concepts from the vasty deep. I am able to draw data from the cosmos and drink it, transforming it to information or speculation as it courses through the bowels of my mind.

We are makers of our own knowledge. Yet in some ways, that's a trap we should be wary of springing. Sometimes, the philosophy we manufacture is a false love; it is a love of sophistry and not of sophia, whom the Greeks called Wisdom. I laugh at the epistemology of science: it is so because it is so, and if it ain't so, we will muck around till it matches. The truth is that we have made our universe in the image of whatever we can keep whole in the collective cavity of our human minds — and it might not be the Universe entire.

Perhaps Blake's outrageous ramblings were correct: "To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower; hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour." You really have to sit through his Auguries of Innocence all the way to "God appears, and God is light, to those poor souls who dwell in night; but does a human form display to those who dwell in realms of day."

If you do that, you will pass by a lot of extremely odd lines, in which he talks about the triumph of empiricism and why states are doomed by licensed gambling and prostitution. But that was Blake, ever trying to shift the universe from the place where he stood in London. Poetry is a lever too, but the place it stands is really the mind of man.

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