Just a couple of posts ago, I paused to capture a 3-way link between writers in a “holding post” because my more concerted writing efforts were side-tracked by so many interesting conversations. Not getting much beyond “don’t lose that thought” these days.
The stop-start reading has taken a couple of twists too.
I mentioned remembering I had Stapp (2011) “Mindful Universe” half-unread from a while ago, and decided to catch-up. It was one of many recent references spinning off from McGilchrist’s (2021) “The Matter With Things“. So, I completed Stapp. Glad I did, but it is so connected to much other reading & writing, that I’m at a loss for a “review” – and strangely made precious few notes(?). Going to need a quiet revisit to join-up all the dots, or relate all the relata? [Not only do we need to be using verbs instead of nouns, we need more “active” (dynamic-process as opposed to passive-static) noun-verb forms. Some stuff just is hard to put into words. I’ll be back with Stapp.]
That “interrupt” was on top of another interrupt. I was actually reading Karl Sigmund “Exact Thinking in Demented Times“. That was an addition to my long-running quest to understand the whole story of where Russell, Wittgenstein and The Vienna Circle went wrong – and what they actually got right – in the run-up to WWII, from the turn of the century through the great war. Western world in crisis at exactly the time physics was turning itself on its head and no-one noticed. Previously “The Murder of Professor Schlick” and “Frank Ramsey – A Sheer Excess of Powers“ and many more connected with Wittgenstein et al.
I was reading Sigmund partly because despite the obvious caricature of The Vienna Circle attempting to “scientise” the whole word through logical positivism, it was clear that the individuals – Schlick included – did have and did evolve a range of more nuanced views and writings of their own. I did in fact start to read some Schlick directly … Sigmund was already an interrupt on top of that … but so far it didn’t help. However, I have now continued with Sigmund … and will complete it. It’s full of pen pictures of all the players plus brief summaries of their positions, which as well as telling all their stories in German from an Austro-German perspective the language (in translation) is wonderful. Tremendously droll about the personalities, their interpersonal relationships and general shenanigans. Laugh-out-loud if you’re into this subject matter. (All involving facts and events I’ve mostly heard before … but “it’s the way you tell ’em”.) Loving it, reading it slowly with relish, and yes doing most of that in the pub in the early evenings … more of which later … but I was rudely interrupted after my last post about Hofstadter’s preface to Sigmund and it took me a while to recover.
Long story short, without naming names for now, there are a few modern – seemingly intelligent – logical positivists on my Twitter feed. I’m trying to get to understand them from what is mostly “banter” to an outsider. So much so I can’t separate them from their irony. However my post on the Hofstadter preface got such a defensive, dismissive and mean tone of response – directly at Hofstadter – from one of their number that I was left dumbfounded for a while and simply “let it lie”. They’re clearly, in their minds, still fighting a war.
Anyway, still loving my read of Sigmund. Mentioned several times that the whole early 20th century modernism centred around Vienna & Berlin in a time of Europe in crisis is palpable in all these intellectual histories. And as I mentioned I’m doing it in a couple of the local pubs a stone’s throw from our newly simplified and downsized life. I find the general background hub-bub of life going on, aurally and visually, quite conducive to concentrated reading. Quite unlike sitting alone in the man-cave, or attempting to be more sociable by the family TV, or fighting sleep on the pillow. The closest I have to “cafe society“.
Of course the general hub-bub is occasionally interrupted by direct (or indirect overheard) engagement in conversation. That’s a mixed blessing but in fact is rarely a distraction, depending entirely on the follow-up once you’ve answered the first question of “What are you reading?” or “Why are you reading that?” I’ve done a lot of this in various international locations over the years. Cambridge was one sort of experience. A small north-east coastal town is another.
Whether working in one of the industrial (or educational) enterprises on Teesside, or the local folk band on their night off, random locals seeing me reading “Exact Thinking in Demented Times” instantly make the connection with where is it all going wrong today, even though the subject matter is the run-up to Nazism and WWII a century ago.
I think that is telling in itself.
People get it.
Especially telling, one of those conversations, noticing that I was often reading “intellectual stuff” in the pub and not noticing the particular book that night (was probably Stapp IIRC), started to talk about having seen Brian Cox and Robin Ince on stage with their infinite-monkey-cage-based road-show a few nights ago. He was just telling his mates how wrong it seemed, how arrogant science seemed to think of itself. No prompting whatsoever from me. I was on my way home at that point, but mental note made for the next encounter.
This is real life.