Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Beyond the Fringe...Not

I picked up a book at the library--Fringe-Ology, by Steve Volk (HarperCollins, 2011). Steve Volk is a Philadelphian and has written and published in local publications. I was curious to see what he had to say.

The subject is the vast incommunicable distance between the followers of hard science and those of spirituality, ESP, after-death communication--the whole "New Age" raft of post-religious searching.

Volk himself seems to be more in the hard science camp, and his book was, to me, too apologetic, as if he were somehow to be banished from the inner circle of bien-pensants because of his openness to certain ideas. There were some bizarre experiences in his childhood home--strange rappings and knockings. The family finally called in a priest; the knockings, in one last dramatic flourish, stopped. There isn't much in the way of research or explanation, nor--if truth be had--real drama.  But the lack of dramatic quality in so much modern writing and literature is a topic for another day-- not the occasion for this brief note. (1)

What sparked this brief note was Volk's account of how quantum physics plays a part in the theory of consciousness. He discusses Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose, who came up with something called "orch-OR" or the "orchestrated objective reduction," described in these terms:

" 'The observer effect, in which the wave form is said to 'collapse' into a particular state, is consciousness;   each conscious moment is a collapse.' The Penrose-Hameroff model relates collapse of the wave function/consciousness to fundamental components of the universe--like the properties of space and time. They cannot be explained or reduced because there is nothing to reduce them to."

I could not help thinking that this description sounds like an elaborate, even highly baroque or rococo, detour to get to the fundamentals of human interaction. Those fundamentals are to be found in grammar, not in quantum physics.  It seems to me that a study of Rosenstock-Huessy's writings would help the scientist climb down from his head perch and become aware of his speech, his hands and his feet-- :All language is an attempt to enact the processes of the cosmos always and everywhere," Rosenstock wrote in "How Language Establishes Relations." There's something about our contemporary intellectual culture that keeps coming across as a parody. It's as if people had forgotten something even more basic than the alphabet, like how to say "thank you" or shake hands with somebody.


(1) Indeed. "The greatest temptation of our time is impatience, in its full original meaning: refusal to wait, undergo, suffer. We seem unwilling to pay the price of living with our fellows in creative and profound relationships. From marriage to teaching, from government to handicraft, man's relation to man has become segregated, impatient, non-committal in the machine age. To be non-committal means to keep all relations without important consequences, to rob them of their reproductive, fruit-bearing quality." Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Christian Future,1946, 1966, HarperTorchbooks,  p. 19. The lack of dramatic quality in so much modern poetry and singer-songwriters seems to me related.

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