At Sunrise, Keats Saw A Snake…

red skyIn the comment for my previous post, it was suggested that to visit a blog  page devoted entirely to Snakes, Sunrises and Shakespeare would be a good idea, and I did, and it was. Among other things, it has gorgeous videos, illustrating every point Gordon Orian makes.

In addition, I received an extended email commentary from a friend of mine who admitted that my post caused him to think of a million inter-related things. He wished to remain incognito, but gave me permission to use his correspondence for the good of the humanity. And I’m going to do just that, however selectively — an overload of info sometimes does more harm than good to the humanity at large.

keatsOn Keats and Rainbows:

IMO Keats was wrong re unweaving the rainbow as he confused understanding a thing with actually experiencing it, and they are not the same thing at all.
I can understand the physics of water falling over a cliff to make a waterfall, the kinetic energy the water gains by taking it from the potential energy in the gravitational field, how the water atomizes into droplets that then act as tiny prisms, creating a rainbow, but that takes not one whit from the sheer sublimity of my experience of the sight and sensation, the feel of the spray, the majesty of the spectacle, the impact of the water’s roar upon my core.
Künstler Joseph Wright of Derby   Sir Brooke Boothby

Künstler Joseph Wright of Derby
Sir Brooke Boothby

If Keats was right about the destruction of our sense of awe and beauty in the world through our greater understanding of it, then song and poetry and art and expression of all that would all have died away in the 200 years of increased understanding of the material world that have followed Keats’ time. He was simply wrong in this, the paucity of modern Odes to Urns not withstanding. Instead we have more appreciation for art and beauty and expression than ever before I think.
On the other hand Keats was, in my view, right in arguing for a seemingly similar sounding (but in my opinion different) notion calling for ‘negative capability’ which Keats put this way:

Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…

In this Keats was arguing IMO that we need to keep our minds free so that a deeper understanding might emerge than if our minds are tied to ‘explanations’.
To me, this is a very modern notion, as well as part of the Romantic view of which Keats was a part. It’s modern because the modern view understands that while we can know a lot there are things that are fundamentally unknowable or unprovable, of which there is a long list (QM is at the top of that list, severely limiting what we can know about physical reality, the world does not consist of a collection clockwork Newtonian billiard balls banging around that we can track exactly and have absolute knowledge about.)
* * *
Here I need to step in and say — for the unenlightened, like I was just five minutes ago — that a collection clockwork Newtonian billiard balls isn’t merely a figure of speech and my friend doesn’t use it in vein.
* * *
As it happened — and it happened long before I learned about it — billiard balls were used as an excellent illustration of Newtonian physics. Billiard balls follow trajectories or paths in accordance to the laws of mechanics:  moves straight until it hits the wall or another ball.  
The success of a pool players is their ability to predict the path of each ball given the force they apply to it. Even a good player might misjudge the path taken by a ball, still, in principle, there is one and only one path that each ball will take (assuming a perfectly smooth table, no air resistance, etc..). 
Classical (Newtonian) mechanics is deterministic: if we know the initial state of some system (like a billiard table), we can predict with 100% accuracy its state at some future time.  The only uncertainty comes from our inability to exactly know its initial state… Any physics manual or a Wikipedia article can explain it better, I’m sure.
* * *
Anyway, it’s just to illustrate how challenging it is to have smart friends, and being unable to see the similarity between the pool hole and the universe.
And if to finish my lamentations on the subject of intellectual inadequacy, my friend concludes his observation:
That doesn’t mean we should not try to understand things that are understandable, but that we need to know that there will always be limits to our understanding and that we will never be omniscient. We are not God and never will be.
There is a whole lot more where this came from, but I’ll leave the rest for another day. Feeling intellectually challenged for extended periods of time may adversely affect my ability to enjoy rainbows.

And, going back to where I started, see the videos on Snakes, Sunrises and Shakespeare



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