Science Smiling Into Its Beard

Men of science have also attended Diotoma’s Campaign meetings.

Now for a few necessary words about a smile, specifically a man’s smile, and about a beard, created for the male act of smiling into one’s beard…They were sincere in this, consciously; but subconsciously, to use a fashionable term, or, better still, in the sum of their being, they were people in whom a propensity for Evil crackled like a fire under a caldron. (I,325)

These men do not see themselves this way, of course, but we must look beyond their self-regard to the chain of events of which they are the culmination.

Credible received wisdom indicates that it all began in the sixteenth century, a time of the greatest spiritual turbulence, when people ceased trying to penetrate the deep mysteries of nature as they had done through two millenia of religious and philosophical speculation, but were instead satisfied with exploring the surface of nature in a manner that can only be called superficial. For instance the great Galileo Galilei, always the first to be mentioned in this connection, eliminated the question of what were nature’s deep intrinsic reasons for abhorring a vacuum and consequently letting a falling body penetrate space after space until finally comes to rest on solid ground, and settled for something more common: he simply established how quickly such a body falls, the course it takes, the time it takes, and what is its rate of downward acceleration.The Catholic Church made a grave error in threatening this man with death and forcing him to recant instead of summarily executing him without much ceremony, since it was from his way of looking at things, and that of others of like mind, that afterward–in next to no time, in the scale of history–there arose railway timetables, industrial machines, physiological psychology, and our era’s moral decay against which the Church no longer stands a chance. (I,326)

Facts are important to the scientific view, but they predate science.

 And in truth, before intellectuals discovered their pleasure in “facts,” facts were the sole preserve of soldiers, hunters, and traders–people by nature full of violence and cunning. The struggle for existence makes no allowance for sentimental considerations; it knows only the desire to  kill one’s opponent in the quickest, most factual way; here everyone is a positivist. Nor is it a virtue in business to let oneself be taken in instead of going for the solid facts, since a profit is ultimately a psychological overpowering of your opponent arising from the circumstances. If, on the other hand, one looks at the qualities that lead to the making of discoveries, courage, as much initiative as ruthlessness, the exclusion of moral considerations, patience in haggling for the smallest advantage, dogged endurance on the way to the goal, if necessary, and a veneration for measure and number that expresses the keenest mistrust of all uncertainty. In other words, we find just those ancient vices of soldiers, hunters, and traders, here merely translated into intellectual terms, and interpreted as virtues. (I,327)

 The scientific mind sees  kindness only as a special form of egotism; brings emotions into line with glandular secretions; notes that eight or nine tenths of a human being consists of water; explains our celebrated moral freedom as an automatic mental by-product of free trade; reduces beauty to good digestion and the proper distribution of fatty tissue; graphs the annual statistical curves of births and suicides to show that our most intimate personal decisions are programmed behaviour; sees a connection between ecstasy and mental disease; equates the anus and the mouth as the rectal and the oral openings at either end of the same tube–such ideas, which expose the trick, as it were, behind the magic of human illusions, can always count on a kind of prejudice in their favor as being impeccably scientific. (I,328)

All that sort of thing is absorbed more or less consciously by a young man in the lecture halls of learning, along with the basics of a great, constructive way of thinking capable of bringing together with ease such disparate phenomena as a falling stone and an orbiting star, and of analyzing something as seemingly whole and indivisible as the origin of a simple act within the depths of consciousness into currents whose inner sources lie thousands of years apart. But should any one presume to use such an approach outside the limits of specific professional problems, he would quickly be given to understand that the needs of life are different from the requirement of thought….If someone of purely vegetarian convictions, say, where to address a cow as “Ma’am”–on the perfectly reasonable assumption that one is likely to behave more brutally toward someone addressed with “Hey there!”–he would be called a conceited ass or even a crackpot, but not because of his vegetarian convictions or his respect for animals, which are regarded as most humane, but because he was acting them out directly in the real world. In short, what we think and what we do coexist in  an intricate compromise whereby the claims of the intellect are paid off at the rate of no more than 50 percent of every thousand, while to make up for the rest it is adorned with the title of honorary creditor. (I,329)

Outside Diotima’s salon, people gather on the sidewalk in the glow of its light and admire the sight.

There were people constantly standing in the half-light the festivity cast on the street; behind their backs, the great darkness began that within a short distance quickly became impenetrable. (I,331)


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