Friday, March 19, 2010

Significant Moments: Curiosity, Boldness, and Tenacity

          I am not really a man of science, not an observer, not an experimenter, and not a thinker. I am nothing but by temperament . . .
The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904.
             . . . a conqueror but in the realm of mind, a Don Juan but of knowledge, an actor but of the intelligence . . .
Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus.
                      . . . a conquistador — an . . .
The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904.
                             . . . explorer of the new inner geography . . .
George and Patricia Kernodle, Invitation to the Theatre.
                                   . . . an adventurer, if you want to translate the word -- with the curiosity, the boldness and the tenacity that belong to that type of being.  Such people are apt to be treasured if they succeed, if they have really discovered something; otherwise they are thrown aside. And that is not altogether unjust.
The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904.

A Forty-Year Obsession

Following his research on general relativity, completed in 1915, Einstein entered into a series of attempts to generalize his geometric theory of gravitation, which would allow the explanation of electromagnetism. In 1950, he described his "unified field theory" in a Scientific American article entitled "On the Generalized Theory of Gravitation."  Although he continued to be lauded for his work, Einstein became increasingly isolated in his research, and his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. In his pursuit of a unification of the fundamental forces, Einstein ignored some mainstream developments in physics, most notably the strong and weak nuclear forces, which were not well understood until many years after his death in 1955. Mainstream physics, in turn, largely ignored Einstein’s approaches to unification. Einstein’s dream of unifying other laws of physics with gravity motivates modern quests for a theory of everything and in particular string theory, where geometrical fields emerge in a unified quantum-mechanical setting.

A Twenty-Six Year Obsession

Forget Hardy, Proust and Dostoevsky: nobody beats Richard Wagner for baroque plotting. Der Ring des Nibelungen is gloriously barmy. It's a tale of stolen gold and national pride, of heroism and revenge, of youth and innocence and redemption. But it's also the opera in which a midget robber is outsmarted by a god, who loses out to a giant, who transforms himself into a dragon, which is killed by a hero who can talk the language of birds. Realistic it ain't.

The love interest is provided by twins who have an incestuous affair, and whose son is fated to marry his aunt. All male members of the cast are notably stupid (especially Siegfried, a dumb hillbilly along the lines of L'il Abner), while the females are nearly all strong and terrifying. The characters' names tend towards the absurd: Wellgunde? Mime? The Gibichungs? You wonder what exactly Richard Wagner was on for the 26 years he took to write it.


I am curious, bold, and tenacious -- I am also prepared to be thrown aside.  This is America. I'm free to be a crank. I'm free to blog about my crank beliefs even if those beliefs relate to things that happened twenty years ago. I'm free to be curious, bold, and tenacious -- even if, in the end, I gain nothing and am thrown aside, even ridiculed.

Dan Pink has written: "Mastery is an asymptote. You can approach it. You can home in on it. You can get really, really close to it... The mastery asymptote is a source of frustration. Why reach for something you can never fully attain? But it's also a source of allure. Why not reach for it? The joy is in the pursuit more than the realization. In the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes."  I couldn't agree more!

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