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Thoughts On And For A Structured Existence

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Human Character

“Walking With Plato And Aristotle”: Physicist John A. Wheeler’s Dream To Unwrap Acoustic Memory

“Can a single stone from a time
That used to be
Hold the memories of conversations 
That mean so much to me”

Adapted from “Memory Motel” by The Rolling Stones (Jagger/Richards)

    Theoretical Physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) coined the term “black hole”, worked on the Manhattan Project that led to development of Atomic and Hydrogen bombs, and championed theories in gravity and relativity. In an interview late in his life he spoke of receiving a stone from the garden at Plato’s Academy (“Akademeia” c. 385 BC) in Athens:

John Archibald Wheeler Theoretical Physicist on a Machine that could unpeel Accoustic Memory

Albert Einstein wrote that “every true theorist is a kind of tamed metaphysicist”. Wheeler, who collaborated with Einstein, moved productively between Aristotelian Realism (Universals exist in things) and Platonic Realism (Universals can exist in abstraction). This “miracle creed” helped transform theoretical and quantum physics.

Wheeler was consumed by the idea that “human consciousness” shapes the past and present, a topic that he foreshadows might have been a topic of conversation between Plato and Aristotle:

Complexity Entropy and the Physics of Information

He asks: “Is existence thus built on ‘insubstantial nothingness’?”, directly referencing Shakespeare’s “The Tempest“, where Prospero tells us:

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. The Tempest

Imagine the shadowy voice of Plato asking Aristotle: “How come existence?”. Aristotle might look to John Wheeler for information on that.

Shakespeare’s Inventive And Elusive Critique Of The Church During The 16th Century English Reformation

BBC Radio 3 recently presented the podcast “Shakespeare: Religion and Clerics“, featuring the Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London and Professor Ewan Fernie of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham.

Playwrights, during the reigns of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and James I (1603-1625), were prohibited by Royal Proclamation from writing about religious matters on the stage. So history’s greatest English writer innovates.

King Lear   Take physic, pomp. Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them And show the heavens more just.

Bishop Chartres recites a passage where “King Lear”, no longer in his castle, calls on powerful men (“the Church”!) to embrace “compassion” and “fairness” in his Orson Welles-like voice:

People were commanded to take sides in the great divide between Protestants and Catholics, or risk death. Chartres discusses Shakespeare’s message, asking the audience to “go beyond those antagonisms” to “search for a truth that is elusive”, “and only is revealed if you look from various angles and perspectives”.

The presenter, Rana Mitter, and Professor Fernie discuss Shakespeare’s use of Falstaff to parody religious actions lacking conviction:

Falstaff  To die is to be a counterfit

To “Counterfeit” is “to stage resurrection on the Shakespearean stage”, “linked to the second life of an actor playing another part”, as in acting the part of a born-again Christian. Hypocrites never “feel what wretches feel”.

Hemingway And Montaigne: Do Actions Or Thought Maketh A Man?

   It can be very useful to contrast human character types, such as in Ivan Turgenev’s “Hamlet and Don Quixote” essay (1860). The lives of Ernest Hemingway and Michel de Montaigne highlight the dual nature of what it is to be a man.

To Hemingway, it is “…much better to die in all the happy period of undisillusioned youth, to go out in a blaze of light, than to have your body worn out and old and illusions shattered…”. His writing venerated the “…macho façade of boxing, bullfighting, big-game hunting and deep-sea fishing…”, primarily outdoor activities requiring courage and “grace under pressure“. One had to stare danger in the face to feel alive.

As for Montaigne: There is no exercise that is either feeble or more strenuous…than that of conversing with one’s own thoughts. The greatest men make it their vocation, “those for whom to live is to think. He sought the contemplative life, inside his tower and surrounded by books, valuing contentment in “…a private sphere in which individuals can attempt to realize that happiness without having to contend with the interference of society..”.

Hemingway lived life on the outer edge, while Montaigne preferred the calm of the center.

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