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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Fun With the "Basics" -- A Project I Did Not Plan For and Have No Time For

I have walked into a project I had not planned for, but I am completely excited about.  Here's a photograph of the little treasure I have been accumulating.  For the past month or so I have been collecting these little "Brief Insight" series.  Originally they were priced at $14.95 each and though the attraction and the temptation (a deadly combination) were strong, I decided to pass.  I spent a few months gnawing on regretfulness.  However, the wait paid off.  Apparently there wasn't much interest in the series and Barnes & Noble reduced them to $6.95 a piece.  I originally purchased "Literary Theory," "Consciousness" and "Existentialism," and having gone in way over my budget, I had decided these were enough.

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago, when, without warning, a colleague of mine came to visit me.  He noticed the three little volumes parked on the center of my desk and was intrigued.  Five hours later, I found myself agreeing to collaborate with him on a project that had been "swimming" (his word, not mine) around his head for a while.  The project is an ambitious examination of individual consciousness, psychology, cultural trends and the belief that physics might hold the key as to where the human consciousness resides.  In short, he wants to theorize (using Stephen Hawkins definition of scientific theory) that a combination of human thought and physics (on a sub-atomic level) might direct scientists to the place where "individual consciousness" resides.  His main idea is that we cannot account for a number of spaces at the sub-atomic level and that as string theory is trying to "tie" everything together, this might add to the idea that the metaphysical exists deep down in us.  I was baffled.  Why in God's name and the Continental Congress would he take the time to explain this to me--what would my part be in this "wild menagerie" of ideas?  I wasn't convinced and told him I was far too busy to make a commitment.

Another week goes by and the thorn on my side does not go away.  I called him.  He explained that he wanted me to bring in the philosophical, semantic, and language branch into it, as well as a literary-historical perspective into the project.  Of course, no one is getting paid for this.  There's not even a private/public grant in the horizon for the project; needless to say, there's not to be sabbatical work either.  This is for the joy of learning... nothing more, nothing less.  I told him to count me in.

I immediately went back to Barnes & Noble and got the rest of the series--these include "Social & Cultural Anthropology," "Mathematics," and "The Void."  In addition, everyone in the project (four of us, so far) must read the following:  1) C.G. Jung's "The Undiscovered Self," 2) James P. Carse's "Finite and Infinite Games," 3) Stephen Hawkins' "A Brief History of Time," 4) Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe," 5) Richard P. Feynman's "Six Easy Pieces," 6) "Soul: An Archeology," ed. Phil Cousineau, and 6) Ken Wilber's "The Marriage of Sense and Soul."  I have some of these, and the ones I don't have, my fair and considerate colleague is going to provide for me (the one and only incentive).  At any rate, I am pumped.  If the only thing that comes out of this is that we learned a great deal, it would be enough.  Deep down, I believe he is trying to do this mesh of ideas in order to get more funding for the humanities at our "financially troubled" institution.  I can't be certain of this but it smells to me like it, and I won't be surprise if it turned out that way.  Again, we will learn, and that makes the pleasure of learning and the effort completely worth it.  The problem, of course, is time... time, time... as T.S. Eliot stated, "is an enzyme."  There's a "connection" for you! :-D

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