The Meeting of Northrop and McCabe

Mentioned I was doing a good deal of retro-reading these days.

I’m currently reading Joe McCabe’s The New Science and the Story of Evolution. Joe was one of the big movers and shakers in the UK “Freethought Movement”.

This particular book is a 1931-ish combination of early woks and essays including The Story of Evolution written 20 years earlier. It’s basically chapters in evolutionary chronological order from cosmogeny to civilisation. Naturally many of the “facts” as asserted are out of date – lots of the knowledge in physics was very new in those 20 years – but the sweep of reasoning remains compelling. One recurring theme is that both evolution and relativity were pretty well covered in the thinking of many of the ancients, long before they became part of established “scientific theory”. In his thinking of the ancients, there is also much “of its time” language around savages and semi-humans, but he wouldn’t be the first to see alternative worldviews in the aboriginals of the new world that had been too easily dismissed by the dominion of accepted western rationality.

Like Sir Arthur Eddington in the UK, in the US Yale Professor F. S. (C.*) Northrop became known as an expert on interpreting and promoting Einstein to wider audiences, in Northrop’s case long before the seminal work for which he became much more famous.

McCabe references F. S. (E.*) Northrop on both his early expertise on relativity and his later Meeting of East and West – intuition and rationality – that postulated the “aesthetic continuum” as something more fundamental behind wave-particle duality and the rest – the aether reborn effectively. A “flow” medium somehow more fundamental than the “objects” on which modern scientific objectivity depends.

Fascinating when threads come together like this. Who knew UK “Freethought” also drew on the same influences as US “Pragmatism”? Northrop was the biggest influence on Pirsig.

[(*) It is the same Northrop – Yale, Harvard & US National Academy of Sciences – being referred to in both cases. McCabe simply has the initials in error.]

So as well as already having:

Joseph McCabe – The New Science and the Story of Evolution (1931), and
F. S. C. Northrop – The Meeting of East and West (1946),

We now have new references:

Joseph McCabe – The Evolution of Mind (1910), and
F. S. C. Northrop – The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities (1947)

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