Math Matters

“Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little; it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover.” — Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Philosophy (1927), ch. 15, “The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics”

Lesz is More

• Matematyka jest najpotężniejszym intelektualnym wehikułem, jaki kiedykolwiek został skonstruowany, za pomocą którego uciekamy przed czasem, lecz nie ma powodu przypuszczać, że mogłaby kiedyś umożliwić tego rodzaju ucieczkę, jaką ucieleśnia pogoń za Absolutem. — Leszek Kołakowski

• Mathematics is the most powerful intellectual vehicle that has ever been constructed, by means of which we flee ahead of time, but there is no reason to suppose that it could someday enable the kind of escape embodied by the pursuit of the Absolute. — Leszek Kołakowski

Locke’s LOX

“He that will not set himself proudly at the top of all things; but will consider the Immensity of this Fabrick, and the great variety, that is to be found in this little and inconsiderable part of it, which he has to do with, may be apt to think, that in other Mansions of it, there may be other, and different intelligent Beings, of whose Faculties, he has as little Knowledge or Apprehension, as a worm shut up in one drawer of a Cabinet, hath of the Senses or Understanding of a Man.” — John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), viâ David Wootton’s The Invention of Science (2015)

Performative Post-Scriptum

The title of this incendiary intervention is intended to suggest the idea of Locke’s ideas acting as a rocket-fuel for the imagination like LOX or lox, meaning “liquid oxygen explosive; later interpreted as representing liquid oxygen” (OED).

Russell in Your Head-Roe

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry. What is best in mathematics deserves not merely to be learnt as a task, but to be assimilated as a part of daily thought, and brought again and again before the mind with ever-renewed encouragement. Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world. — Bertrand Russell, “The Study Of Mathematics” (1902)

The title of this incendiary intervention is of course a paronomasia on these lines from Led Zeppelin’s magisterial “Stairway to Heaven”:

“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now:
It’s just a spring-clean for the May Queen…”

And “head-roe” is a kenning for “brain”.

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #36

• “By the time I was twenty-four I had constructed a complete system of philosophy. It rested on two principles: The Relativity of Things and The Circumferentiality of Man. I have since discovered that the first was not a very original discovery. It may be that the other was profound, but though I have racked my brains I cannot for the life of me remember what it was.” — W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (1938), sec. 66.

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #35

• Las torres de la iglesia de hoy no han sido señalizadas por el clero progresivo con una cruz sino con una señal meteorológica. — Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-94)

    • The progressive clergy crowns the towers of the church of today not with a cross but with a weathervane.

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #30

• Cognitio nostra est adeo debilis quod nullus philosophus potuit unquam perfecte investigare naturam unius muscae: unde legitur quod unus philosophus fuit triginta annis in solitudine, ut cognosceret naturam apis. — Sancti Thomae de Aquino Expositio in Symbolum Apostolorum (1273).

• Our knowledge is so weak that no philosopher has ever perfectly discovered the nature of a single fly, whence we read that one philosopher was thirty years in the wilderness that he might know the nature of a bee. Thomas Aquinas, The Apostles’ Creed.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #40

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Humanist Hubris The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited, John Carroll (Scribe 2010)

Paw is Less – The Plague Dogs, Richard Adams (Penguin 1977)

I Like Bike – Fifty Bicycles That Changed the World, Alex Newson (Conran Octopus 2013)

Morc is LessThe Weird Shadow Over Morecambe, Edmund Glasby (Linford 2013)

Nekro-a-KokoaComfort Corps: Cuddles, Calmatives and Cosy Cups of Cocoa in the Music of Korpse-Hump Kannibale, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (University of Nebraska Press 2015)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #39

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

The Ogre by the Throat Extreme Eiger: The Race to Climb the Direct Route up the North Face of the Eiger, Peter and Leni Gillman (Simon & Schuster 2015)

Sing When You’re WingingButterflies and Moths in Britain and Europe, David Carter (Pan 1982)

Soul FeudThe Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom, John Gray (Penguin 2015)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #35

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Volc-LoreVolcanoes: A Beginner’s Guide, Rosaly Lopes (Oneworld 2010)

Stokes’ StrokesPhilosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers: The Ideas That Have Shaped Our World, Philip Stokes (Arcturus Publishing 2012)

Art of DarknessDoubled Slaughter: Barbarism, Brutalism and Bestial Bloodlust in the Music of Simon and Garfunkel, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (Serpent’s Tail 2007)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR