Friday, January 16, 2004

Felt Thought

Since science and technology are often advertised as an imperial expansion of hubristic human will, it is ironic that world has become steadily less explicable the more we understand it. Instead of subjecting the Nature of Things to categories congenial to our kind, we’ve learned to operate with notions radically foreign to our experience. The sphere of the True is a zone quite as hostile and forbidding as the surface of the Moon, an environment in which we can only survive by expensive and artificial means.

On their first encounter with Kant, undergraduates often speculate about what a world might be like outside the system of the categories. A partial answer can be found in the Physics building. Thus, for example, the functional relationship that define the behavior of things don’t obviously involve the once celebrated category of causality at all, which turns out to be a pretty parochial concept, something only suitable for mobile living thing with HOX genes and therefore a front and back, mouth and ass. Just as it makes no literal sense to ascribe gender or moral qualities to inanimate objects or cosmic principles, it is at best a metaphor to think that anything besides animals ever does anything. Even the paradigm case of causality, the cue ball knocking the eight into the corner pocket, actually reinforces the point, for people had to go to a great deal of trouble to invent billiards and contrive smooth, level surfaces and perfectly round balls to provide themselves with a miniature paradise in which things work—or can be imagined to work—as we wish.

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