3 October 2008

It's alive!

It is perhaps the history of the errors of mankind, all things considered, [that] is more valuable and interesting than that of their discoveries. Truth is uniform and narrow; it constantly exists and does not seem to require so much an active energy as a passive aptitude of soul, in order to encounter it. But error is endlessly diversified. It has no reality but is the pure and simple creation of the mind that invents it. In this field, the soul has room enough to expand herself to display all her boundless faculties and all of her beautiful and interesting extravagancies and absurdities.
These observations of Benjamin Franklin's [1] remain compelling as prose, and may still bear some weight as analysis [2].

It is not right to say today, though, that appreciating truth requires only “passive aptitude of soul”, or that only error is "endlessly diversified." The energy and capacity to better imagine is precisely what may give us "a fighting chance" [3] of reducing the amount of future destruction and instead developing the potential to appreciate and protect an [almost] endlessly diversified reality [4]. As Jorge Luis Borges put it:
Beauty, like happiness, occurs frequently. Not a day goes by in which we do not, for an instant, live in paradise.


[1 ] The passage is from a report of an investigation into Franz Mesmer presented to Louis XIV of France in 1784. It was quoted by Joan Kirby of Macquarie University in a recent discussion titled 'It's alive!' Frankenstein, science and philosophy in the Romantic period.

[2] Although see this.

[3] Bob Watson.

[4] Eliezer Yudkowsky has said, “Alas for those who turn their eyes from zebras and dream of dragons! If we cannot learn to take joy in the merely real, our lives shall be empty indeed.” To which I say, yes, but let us not forget the human tendency to see , and create, "dragons" in the strangest of places.

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