There are books – and, alas, they make up the vast majority – that one skims over because they offer nothing more than facts that we barely take note of. There are others where each sentence acquires importance because it expresses an attitude, a person’s relationship to the world, and therefore urges the reader to take a stand. I was recently allowed to read one such book, its author is Daniela Dahn. She writes about the injustice that Germany’s Western half has done to the citizens of the East, calling on the West to reflect on its failures. What so much pleases me about this book – even though its theses are anything but pleasant – is its honesty. In times of generalized dishonesty, where arguments mostly serve as weapons in the struggle of parties, this is a refreshing book. Let us listen to the author’s own words.
In 1970 Jacques Monod’s seminal book “Le Hasard et la Nécessité” (Chance and Necessity) was published, on the cover of which the renowned biochemist summed up in a single and concise formula the world view that had dominated first Europe and then the entire world since the 17th century. For the objective scientist, so Monod’s message, the world is nothing but chance and necessity. For there is nothing in the world but these two principles alone: on the one hand, necessity representing that order, which the natural sciences explore in the shape of laws, and on the other hand, chance, which denotes the void within this order – in other words, a meaningless nothing with which science does not know what to do. Since Monod established this formula, neurology has made tremendous progress, his book is certainly no longer “up-to-date”, but the view that reality has nothing else to offer but these two dimensions has become even more entrenched. According to a now prevalent view, our world is made of calculable mechanisms of the physical and neuronal world, and the yawning emptiness of meaningless chance.
Nobody is interested in the fact that, because of my date of birth, I have to be counted among the elderly, perhaps even the old people – certainly the fact is of no interest to myself. But a malicious being of microscopic size takes very much interest in the matter, as it likes to choose its victims mainly within my group of age. And the stakes are equally high for the modern welfare state; for the latter the virus came at just the right time – at least that’s what nasty rumors claim. Continue reading Young and Old
The fascination of Chomsky’s theory of language is due to the fact that it seems to derive linguistic diversity and complexity from a simple starting point. After Chomsky, a whole generation of linguists was busy with drawing all these elusive inverted trees. Let us stick to a simple example:
Until the twenties of the last century, German was still the most common language of science. By 1933 Germany had won more Nobel Prizes than any other nation, more than England and the United States combined. Then came Hitler and his policy of systematic lies (and crimes). After the Second World War, German was just one language among others, and German science lost much of its former significance.
For a serious thinker it is not advisable to talk about “the nature” of man, because such statements almost always turn out to be speculative, mostly they only reveal the nature of the daring author. I will, nevertheless, begin with two sentences that aim at doing just that: to say something about basic human aspirations. I expect that the following statements will support my statement.
Aldous Huxley: Did I not make sufficiently clear what I think about principled optimists and ideological perfectionism when I wrote a masterpiece of world literature on the subject? Don’t believe that a man of the mind ever takes leave of thinking and simply retires. Instead I’m anxiously following what you’re doing down there – and certainly that gives me no rest. Coronavirus is only one among many threatening forebodings. Homo sapiens insapientissimus seems to do everything in his power in order to put himself on the red list of species without a future. And you don’t even know what you are doing! *0*
Anti-cyclical behavior is recommended among economists. When the economy is flourishing, it should reduce debt, but in times of decline, it should rather stimulate business by incurring debt. As far as I am concerned, acting counter-cyclically seemed advisable to me amid the current corona crisis. Seeing all around me people who want to save the world and themselves from the virus, I decided to save myself from thinking about the virus, lest it should not only infect my body but perhaps even my brain. In this state of forced self-isolation what could be better than to turn it into a time of self-contemplation?
As human beings we are controlled by emotions and by our intellect – at any time both are invariably involved, even if it sometimes seems as if we are dealing with either purely emotional people or pure intellectuals. A mathematic formula, for example, which to an average person may seem as cold, lifeless and repellent as a prison wall, may produce enchantment and ecstasy in a mathematician who perceives it something extremely beautiful and elegant. In other words, he experiences much the same feelings as a musician who is playing Mozart or Bach. Feelings and the intellect don’t present themselves to us with an either-or, but we may definitely speak of prevailing tendencies.
Let’s get away from the disturbing problems of the present, in order to turn back to those much more basic and lasting ones which concern the nature of man. Mr. Marvin Minsky, you were the leading authority on Artificial Intelligence, glad to meet you in paradise!
All of a sudden we experience a real collapse, this time the world changes so to speak overnight – not in an insidiously imperceptible way, as it always did. Frightened people are cowering in their dens, streets are empty, traffic is at a standstill, airplanes have disappeared from the sky.
Corona virus poses such a massive threat that, besides virologists and politicians, medical laymen too should be allowed to express their opinion. Scientific statements concerning Covid-19 are now so well documented that, in addition to the two known courses of this epidemic, a third alternative may be envisaged – at least theoretically. The two known ones are first, the “Natural Outburst”, and second, “Imposed Quarantine”, as now practiced almost worldwide. The third alternative was originally envisaged in England; we could describe it as “Accelerated Immunization”.