Thoreau may have discovered a species of bream, perfected the technology of manufacturing pencils, and anticipated modern techniques of cranberry farming, but his most lasting discoveries were about the interactions of different systems: how one growth of forest trees succeeds the previous one, how the lake affects the shore or the riverbanks…
In December, the New York Times’ Catherine Rampell asked Harvard, Yale and Princeton for data on the professions their graduates were entering. As of 2011, finance remained the most popular career for Harvard graduates, sucking up 17 percent of those who went from college to a full-time job. At Yale, 14 percent of the 2010 graduating class, and at Princeton, 35.9 percent, were headed into finance.
Nobody in high school looks into the future and thinks, ‘I am so excited about finance,’, but by the end of college, things change:
You’re encouraged to take classes in subjects like English literature and history and political science, all of which are fine and interesting, but none of which leave you with marketable skills. After a few years of study, you suddenly find it’s late in your junior year, or early in your senior year, and you have no skills pointing to the obvious next step.
What Wall Street figured out is that colleges are producing a large number of very smart, completely confused graduates. Kids who have ample mental horsepower, incredible work ethics and no idea what to do next. So the finance industry takes advantage of that confusion, attracting students who never intended to work in finance but don’t have any better ideas about where to go.
This happens to people who manage to stick it out one more round in academia, as science graduate students. You finish up and realize that after 5-8 years earning the right to be called Dr., your skills designing and executing your own research projects are actually in demand nowhere outside of academia. You can go take a moderately paying job as a human robot executing someone else’s research ideas, or you can go get paid a ton of money as a McKinsey consultant.
Santorum’s defense of the Crusades came in Spartanburg, S.C., reports Andy Barr of Politico….
Referring to the “American left,” Santorum observed: “They hate Western civilization at the core. That’s the problem.” Sanoturm also suggested that American involvement in the Middle East is part of our “core American values.” “What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers,” Santorum continued. “What we’re talking about are core American values. ‘All men are created equal’ — that’s a Christian value, but it’s an American value.”
Sitting on a rickety homemade bookshelf in my living room are the fifty volumes of my Great-Grandfather’s Harvard Classics. Once a teenaged political refugee from the Russian revolutionary turmoil of 1905 and later an accomplished bacteriologist with Merck, my Great-Grandfather exemplified Harvard President Charles Eliot’s middle class, American ”twentieth century idea of a cultivated man,” the kind of person for whom Eliot’s “five foot shelf of books” was intended. A respected Mr. among professional scientific peers of Drs., my Great-Grandfather was fiercely committed to self-education. I never met him, but I imagine that my Great-Grandfather would have subscribed to Eliot’s notion of civilizational progress, progress that is the result of “man observing, recording, inventing, and imagining.” The Harvard Classics were selected to be a survey of how this process has played out over the millennia.
Eliot’s words, “observing, recording, inventing, and imagining,” describe several thousand years of human intellectual activity by invoking the process of science. This is appropriate because Eliot, and my Great-Grandfather, were living when the modern scientific view of the world was well on its way to world domination, becoming a new belief system with as much cultural heft as the major religions, and one whose conquest occurred even more rapidly than the spectacular rise from obscurity of Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam over the last two thousand years. The modern scientific angle on the world has not displaced religious views, just as Islam became a global player without displacing Christianity. But science has become as influential as any of its social competitors, with its chronicle of our earth’s history, of the creation of volcanic islands and the erosion of canyons, its story of the solar system with its central principle of gravitation that explains the shapes of the planets as well as their orbits around a central furnace of nuclear fusion, its tale of colliding atoms and molecules that make up the material world, and perhaps the most disturbing account of all, of our deep genetic history that connects without discontinuity into a pre-human, evolutionary past in which our modern DNA has been painfully sculpted by the brutal work of natural selection.
The one volume among the entire Harvard Classics that most prophetically anticipates the coming cultural influence of scientific thought is Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle. But too often the Voyage has been given second billing among collections of Great Books. Adam Kirsch, in an insightful essay on the Harvard Classics, gently chides Eliot for the excessive enthusiasm that led him to devote two of the fifty volumes to Darwin; Kirsch suggests that a modern edition of the Classics should “doubtless” keep On the Origin of Species and ditch the Voyage for James Watson’s Double Helix. Harold Bloom, whose selection of non-fiction for his Western Canon is unforgivably erratic and unprincipled, recommends Matthew Arnold’s essays and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and Autobiography, but nothing by Darwin. There is a common (and, let’s face it, usually correct) idea that great scientific writing is valuable for its intellectual importance, but of marginal literary value. Darwin’s <em>Origin</em> is often included in collections of great books by default, because it is one of the very few important primary scientific documents that can be read without specialized training. But the Origin is an argument for a specific scientific theory, while the <em>Voyage</em> is a much more general foreshadowing of science’s cultural force in the modern world. If you are going to read one book by Darwin before you die, or one Great Book on any of the sciences, it must be <em>The Voyage of the Beagle</em>, because this book is a genuinely great work of literature, a compelling account of a then-embryonic vision of the world that has now come into its own in modern society, told in an expressive and beautiful language which is exactly suited to its subject.
Robert Walser, on riding a tram in Berlin 100 years ago:
People do, after all, tend to get somewhat bored on such trips, which often require twenty or thirty minutes or even more, and what do you do to provide yourself with some modicum of entertainment? You look straight ahead. To show by one’s gaze and gestures that one is finding things a bit tedious fills a person with a quite peculiar pleasure. Now you return to studying the face of the conductor on duty, and now you content yourself once more with merely, vacantly staring straight ahead. Isn’t that nice? One thing and then another? I must confess: I have achieved a certain technical mastery in the art of staring straight ahead.
Well, I almost think that if I’d gotten the Nobel Prize when The Recognitions was published I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised. I mean that’s the grand intoxication of youth, or what’s a heaven for. And so the book’s reception was a sobering experience, quite a humbling one. When finally help did come along, recognition as you say, a Rockefeller Foundation grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Endowment for the Arts, they came in difficult times and allowed and encouraged me to keep on with the second book and start the third. Without them, I wonder if I might not just have dropped the whole damned business, though God knows what else I might have done, too late even to be any of the things I never wanted to be.
It’s been a roller coaster week: I’ve decided my job search has pretty much failed for this year. Our grant proposal, which will support my work and to which I made a major contribution, was funded, one year after submission, and just as I was thinking it’s “too late even to be any of the things I never wanted to be.”
I suppose that’s good, because the NIH’s very conservative funding process is one reason why so many researchers focus on the obvious questions. On the other hand, it’s not so clear that answering non-obvious questions lead to more insight than answering obvious questions. The question can be obvious or non-obvious and still generate that key to scientific progress, the unexpected answer.
Lovercraft has been a huge influence on writers both within and without the genres of horror and sci-fi; Lovecraft was influenced by Arthur Machen, who in many ways is the Old World, Celtic Christian doppelganger of the New England, agnostic Lovecraft.
While Lovecraft was concerned with the unseen horrors that could be discovered when science goes to far, Machen took a more opposing stance towards science, pitting rationality against what he saw as a deeper, ineffable reality that is just as frightening as, but perhaps less explicable than Lovecraft’s hostile cosmos.
From The Novel of the Black Seal, a character is getting hints that her rational view of the world won’t be able to encompass what she is about to learn:
I have told you I was of sceptical habit; but though I understood little or nothing, I began to dread, vainly proposing to myself the iterated dogmas of science that all life is material, and that in the system of things there is no undiscovered land, even beyond the remotest stars, where the supernatural can find a footing. Yet there struck in on this the thought that matter is as really awful and unknown as spirit, that science itself but dallied on the threshold, scarcely gaining more than a glimpse of the wonders of the inner place.
DeLillo’s new book of nine stories, The Angel Esmeralda, has at its core a series of situations that lead to trance states experienced by the insulted, the injured, and the vulnerable, who in its grip sometimes begin to babble in a form of secular glossolalia…
It’s doubtful that Neanderthals had any concept of extinction, of course, at least on a continent-wide or global scale. Yet you can imagine that there may have been some sense that something had gone terribly wrong, perhaps a recognition of an unyielding process that was squeezing them out, that the world was taking a new direction without them. Extinction was gradual, taking place over generations, and therefore most likely difficult to recognize.
They were living in a post-apocalyptic world. Nature had turned against them. They were being threatened by alien invaders with new, powerful weapons. Perhaps the Neanderthals were doing each other in, resorting to cannibalism and inter-tribal violence in their desperation. Did their society begin to crumble as their numbers dwindled, or as previously predictable rhythms of nature shifted? Were there lost traditions, passed-on legends of long-gone better days? With a little imagination, it’s easy to think of the Neanderthals in a classic, end of the world sci-fi context. What is it like to be a member of a self-aware, intelligent species that is dying away? What is it like to be the very last living members of that species? …
Actor, journalist , devotee of Celtic Christianity and the Holy Grail legend, Welshman Arthur Machen is considered one of the fathers of weird fiction, a master of mayhem whose work has drawn comparisons to H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. Readers will find the perfect introduction to his style in this new collection. With the title story, an exercise in the bizarre that leaves the reader disoriented virtually from the first page, Machen turns even fundamental truths upside down.
To construct a model - as Mr. Palomar was aware - you have to start with something; that is, you have to have principles, from which, by deduction, you develop your own line of thinking. These principles - also known as axioms or postulates - are not something you select; you have them already, because if you did not have them, you could not even begin thinking. So Mr. Palomar also had some, but, since he was neither a mathematician nor a logician, he did not bother to define them. Deduction, in any case, was one of this favorite activities, because he could devote himself to it in silence and lone, without special equipment, at any place and moment, seated in his armchair or strolling. Induction, on the contrary, was something he did not really trust, perhaps because he thought his experiences vague and incomplete. The construction of a model, therefore, was for him a miracle of equilibrium between principles (left in shadow) and experience (elusive), but the result should be more substantial than either. In a well-made model, in fact, every detail must be conditioned by the others, so that everything holds together in absolute coherence, as in a mechanism where if one gear jams, everything jams. A model is by definition that in which nothing has to be changed, that which works perfectly; whereas reality, as we see clearly, does not work and constantly falls to pieces; so we must force it, more or less roughly, to assume the form of the model.
We now have unprecedented means of collecting data at the deepest molecular level of living systems and we have relatively cheap and accessible computer power to store and analyse this information. There is, however, a general sense that understanding all this information has lagged far behind its accumulation, and that the sheer quantity of new published material that can be accessed only by specialists in each field has produced a complete fragmentation of the science. No use will be served by regretting the passing of the golden years of molecular genetics when much was accomplished by combining thought with a few well-chosen experiments in simple virus and bacterial systems; nor is it useful to decry the present approach of ‘low input, high throughput, no output’ biology which dominates the pages of our relentlessly competing scientific journals. We should welcome with open arms everything that modern technology has to offer us but we must learn to use it in new ways. Biology urgently needs a theoretical basis to unify it and it is only theory that will allow us to convert data to knowledge.