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Thoughts On And For A Structured Existence



“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.

“Poetry Must Be Difficult”: Artificial Intelligence And The Coming Renaissance In Literary Culture

     In awarding the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature to T.S. Eliot, the Swedish Academy cited the “horror vacui (Latin for “fear of empty space”) of modern man in a secularized world, without order, meaning, or beauty” that Eliot wrote about and confronted. This demise of Literary Culture, bemoaned for over 100 years, commenced with World War I and its aftermath.

Popular Culture has evolved from war and debasement of authority in the 20th Century. The Information Age provides on-demand entertainment and, as Eliot and many others would describe, pseudo-culture to billions of people. A supermarket of easy to understand programming.

But Cultural Literacy is challenging and comprehensive:

T. S. Eliot, review of Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century Donne to Butler Times Literary Supplement, October 1921 and Selected Essays 1929

Artificial Intelligence (AI) could usher in a new Renaissance, a “reinvented version of Humanism“. AI algorithms will access great works of classical antiquity and Western Literary Canon, and, aided by 190,000 word vocabularies (Shakespeare’s plays use 33,000), will write original, comprehensive and allusive literature. Curated AI is now publishing poetry and prose written only by machines.

The School of Athens Fresco by Italian Renaissance Artist Raphael 1511

Eliot wrote thatpoetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion”. Machine learning, unemotional, evolving with experience, offers a “predictive” quality. Will history and Literary Culture predictably repeat themselves with Plato and Aristotle at the center?

Presumption And Humility

“To really learned men has happened what happens to ears of wheat: they rise high and lofty, heads erect and proud, as long as they are empty; but when they are full and swollen with grain in their ripeness, they begin to grow humble and lower their horns. Similarly, men who have tried everything and sounded everything, having found in that pile of knowledge and store of so many various things nothing solid and firm, and nothing but vanity, have renounced their presumption and recognized their natural condition.”

“The Complete Essays of Montaigne”
Book II, Part XII “Apology for Raimond de Sebonde
Translated by Donald M. Frame

   The early 21st Century may well be defined by future historians and critics as the “Age of Presumption”, characterized by googled facts, shallow thinking, time spent watching Reality TV, Sports and Superhero Movies, while posting selfies to Facebook. True knowledge organically evolves into wisdom only through deep thought, an embrace of experience and life-long learning, and self-conceived humility. Michel de Montaigne, the great French Essayist and Skeptic, famously posited “What do I know?”. But this humble mantra is most likely the road to “Know Thyself“, one of the oldest of Greek maxims.

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