The point is not only to avoid becoming a cosmopolitan idiot but also to become a free symbol maker who is ready and eager to participate in the creative rejuvenation of meaning. For this to happen, you can not just surf on diverse modes of symbolic production—scientific, artistic, religious, or cultural. Instead, you must delve into them and engage with them to such a degree and at such a proximity, that they, in fact, stand a chance to alter the way in which you think, feel, act, dream, and imagine. To reap the benefits of diversity, you must risk yourself—ready to become transformed in the course of the engagement. This does not mean that you have to make your own all of the modes of symbolic production which you encounter on the way. You will undoubtedly find some of them misguided or even wrong. But you should know why. The point is that by fathoming the operations of diverse modes and by wrestling with their limits and possibilities, you stand a very good chance of becoming a freer and more creative person.
In sum, freedom has four components: the relief from necessity, the curiosity about and desire for deeper and broader experiences, the ability to critique and judge alternatives, and, finally, the courage to commit on reasonable grounds. And I have not yet spoken of that last part. After we have come to know a wider range of modes of symbolic production in some depth, we should know all the better why we prefer the one over the other for a particular issue at hand. Our choice is not made for lack of alternatives or out of sheer ignorance but for good reasons. Liberal education, thus, may enable us to make reasoned commitments to a mode of symbolic production for a given purpose.
How could Einstein come up with the theory of relativity? First, it is important to understand that throughout his life Einstein worked from a fundamental belief about the nature of nature which he did not derive from physics. Instead, it had deep roots in his ongoing studies in the philosophy of nature and in his spirituality. He was convinced that nature is governed by simple, all-pervasive, economical, and aesthetically appealing principles. For Einstein, nature was materialized reason, an imminent God. In all likelihood, he gleaned this understanding of matter from his readings of enlightenment philosophy, Spinoza above all. These readings date back well into his high school years, and they were continued throughout his studies in Zürich and among a circle of friends during his years as a patent officer in Bern. On the basis of his beliefs about nature, he felt that asymmetries in the explanation of natural phenomena were intolerable. One such asymmetry marred for Einstein the theory of electrodynamics, which was widely considered the crowning achievement of nineteenth-century physics. Maxwell, its finishing architect, offered two discrepant accounts of how a magnet rotating in a coil—or a coil rotating around a magnet—produces an electric current. Such asymmetries, along with seemingly inexplicable experimental results, offended Einstein’s spiritual-aesthetic sensibilities, thus motivating his work. Philosophy also influenced the way he found his solutions; he was convinced that such problems could only be resolved on the basis of principles of a higher generality. And this is what he set out to do—more geometrico.
« Older Detroit, the cradle of America’s automobile indust... | A healthy, inexpensive, enviro... Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
Buy a Shirt