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Archive for October, 2012

Seeing the first light

By the Babe Unborn

If trees were tall and grasses short,
As in some crazy tale,
If here and there a sea were blue
Beyond the breaking pale,

If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.

In dark I lie; dreaming that there
Are great eyes cold or kind,
And twisted streets and silent doors,
And living men behind.

Let storm clouds come: better an hour,
And leave to weep and fight,
Than all the ages I have ruled
The empires of the night.

I think that if they gave me leave
Within the world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.

They should not hear a word from me
Of selfishness or scorn,
If only I could find the door,
If only I were born.

G.K. Chesterton

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This poem is one of those which shows that Chesterton had a wonderful gift for seeing things from different points of view ; through different eyes ; and with different minds.  He had an acute understanding human nature.  Even his more adventurous speculations have the ring of truth about them which make us feel that, even if they are not quite true, they ought to be.  They are like the sympathetic wishes of a child, as yet un-wearied by experience.

Here he looks at the world through the inner eyes of a yet-to-be-born child.

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As we all know, the scientific way of seeing the world has brought immeasurable benefits to all mankind ; so many benefits, in fact, that many decent people cannot bring themselves to see the world in any other way.  They just know that the only realities are those which arrive to us through our physical senses.  If a thing may be seen, touched, heard, tasted or smelt then it is real ; if not, then it is fantasy.

The principle that underlies this way of living is the very respectable m.k.s. system.  The m.k.s. stands for metres, kilogrammes and seconds, which are the standard units of length, mass and duration – the very bedrock of good science.

Once upon a time, when people were generally better educated than they are today, it was understood that this way of seeing the world was intended to provide a very specialised form of knowledge – scientific knowledge.  Such knowledge was never intended to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Universe and all the things in it.  A scientist’s specialised way of understanding the world was no different, in principle, from a carpenter’s specialised way of seeing the world ; or a plumber’s, or a farmer’s, or a train-spotter’s.

But, with generally falling standards of education, a truly extraordinary state of affairs has arisen.  It is now seriously proposed that, if a thing can be measured, weighed and timed, then it is real.  And many people of a scientific disposition now say that, if a thing cannot be measured, weighed and timed, then it is illusory ; and they add that anyone who believes otherwise is either mad or evil.

Mr Gradgrind would have thoroughly approved of all this, of course – before his daughter, Louisa, through her sufferings and by God’s grace, came to his rescue.  If he were alive today, he would be ashamed.

One of the sadnesses that arises out of today’s scientific outlook is that its more zealous believers are now quite incapable of seeing in any other way.  For them, life has lost its meaning ; in place of life, they have mere existence.  But there is hope, even yet ; for a few of them are asking, “Why is our civilisation in decline?”  In decline at the very time we should expect it to be entering a new phase of development.

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Streaming

I watched the stream ; its easy glide before my eyes
Did mesmerise my soul and grant it peace.
And then, imagination grasped the water’s rise
And sent it wand’ring, lazy, without cease.
And still my pupils followed where it went,
Absorbed by magic, held in lucid flow,
So eager to anticipate what’s meant
By whirls and eddies that glitter so.
But is there good to take, in orb or mind,
By lifting Nature from her proper ways?
Those waters, past, may ne’er be set behind
In proper place, their mission re-assigned.
Leave brooks to windle on their earthy beds,
For Fancy sleeps in well-appointed heads!

Jamie MacNab 2012

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I would that I might see the world anew

Too long had I surveyed the world with eyes
A-jade by sights imagined, deeds performed
By lifeless bits of fair-named dust,
For which no purpose might I then discern.
Then on this hopeless tangle, Reason shone
Her bright and sturdy beam ; to lay upon
That rhymeless scene the sense that might espy
A happy answer to the question, Why?
Why Reason ‘mid a world of matter made?
Why speculation ‘mid determination?
Why, then, is our imagination laid
Upon that foreign field of desolation?
From cause to hard effect, I thought me thence
To subtle reason, rhyme and consequence.

Jamie MacNab 2012
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Some people see the universe as a place of causes and effects ; a place where matter acts upon matter, like innumerable billiard balls rushing around and colliding with one another.  And what happens in such a universe is afforded by (and limited by) only the material nature of the universe itself – the natural laws as commonly understood.  It is an exciting vision of reality, if only because it leads us to ask, “Who established these laws?  “How far does the writ of the Law run?”

Other people see the universe as a place of reasons and consequences ; a place where every tiny event occurs for a reason and every outcome serves a purpose.  This too is an exciting vision of reality, if only because it leads us to ask, Whose reasons?  and, Whose purposes?

Yet others see the universe as a kind of synthesis (or association or collaboration) of these two views.  And this is an exciting view for a number of reasons, the most exciting of which is that it may validate our intelligence as a proper means for suggesting hypotheses about the workings of the world as a whole.  It is apparent to me that a purely cause/effect, mechanical understanding of the world offers no hope of our science being anything more than a delusion.

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