C.R.E.A.M. (Creativity Rules Everything Around Me)

IT FALLS TO THE LOT OF VERY FEW TO BE COUNTED AMONG THAT ELITE GROUP WHO HAVE SUCCEEDED IN PERFECTING SCIENTIFIC TRADITION BY RECASTING ITS VERY MEANING. EACH FOLLOWS THEIR OWN ROAD WHEN SETTING OUT ON THIS ADVENTURE, BUT ALL ULTIMATELY LEAD TO THE NEW IDEA THAT IS SLOWLY MATURING AMONG THE OLD, AND EACH FORGES THE MOST APPROPRIATE TOOLS IN ORDER TO ADVANCE THAT IDEA. WHILE THIS CERTAINLY INVOLVES A SEARCH THROUGH THE PAST TO REVEAL THE MANY POTENTIALITIES LYING THERE, IT ALSO [INVOLVES] PROFOUND THOUGHT PROCESSES NEEDED TO IDENTIFY NEW POSSIBILITIES, AND TO BUILD THE TOOLS TO REALIZE THEM. A SCIENTIFIC TRADITION CAN ONLY BE ACCOMPLISHED THROUGH THE WORK OF RESEARCHERS WHO GAIN STRENGTH FROM THEIR ILLUSTRIOUS FOREBEARS (p xiii).

Roshdi Rashed

Ibn al-Haytham and Analytical Mathematics

 

The scientists presented here are excellent examples of this elite few. Each built upon the groundwork laid by their progenitors, and their pursuit of the truth in the face of persecution laid the groundwork for modern science. They spent their lives untangling legend from fact and revealing scientific facts. Aside from making huge strides in science and expanding our understanding of the universe, these great minds taught us the value of observation, experience, and experiment. They showed us that we must discover and uncover the truth through systematic experimentation and taught us to never stop seeking the truth and never stop questioning everything. These innovative thinkers also taught us that art and science are not separate and disparate entities, but are both parts of the human experience. Darwin once said, “If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.” The doctor and dancer, Mae Jemison, put it nicely in her 2002 TED talk when she said, “The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin … or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.” Art and music require science and math, and science requires art and imagination. In fact, science and art have grown and developed collaboratively for centuries. There was a time when religion was the sole source of the ‘truth’. Science has come to replace religion as that source of ‘truth’. It is now time to draw from both art and science, and for sciences to admit their truths are not the only truths. As the staunch defender of science, Karl Popper suggested in Conjectures and Refutations, we need to “give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it is beyond our reach” (p 39). The more we think we understand the universe, the more mysterious it becomes. Science often stretches our imagination, where bizarre concepts like dark matter and black holes bring in to question our intuition about reality. Da Vinci or Galileo could not have made their scientific leaps without stretching their imaginations and forming mental pictures. Newton could not have expressed his new and outlandish theories without metaphors. Metaphors conceptualize science and give us mental images making ideas easier to grasp. Magnetic fields, for instance, can be thought of as little whirlpools in space, or the expanding universe as an inflating balloon. Though obvious simplifications, these metaphors help elucidate scientific concepts. In his book, A Sense of the Mysterious, the physicist and novelist, Alan Lightman, wrote, “Metaphor in science serves not just as a pedagogical device, but also as an aid to scientific discovery. In doing science, even though words and equations are used with the intention of having precise meaning, it is almost impossible not to reason by physical analogy, not to form mental pictures, not to imagine balls bouncing and pendulums swinging. Metaphor is part of the process of science” (p 50). Metaphors can be powerful conveyors of scientific messages, and art can make these metaphors tangible. It’s nearly impossible, for instance, to understand Einstein’s spacetime with only metaphor or mental image: we need a physical image. To comprehend incomprehensible ideas, we need art, not only because it helps make surreal science concrete, but also because art can enhance the experience of science. Similarly, science can enhance the experience of art. Einstein once said, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” Arts and sciences are connected through the thin membrane of imagination, and both are exercises in human creativity and ingenuity. Jonah Lehre put it well in his book, Proust Was a Neuroschientist, when he wrote, “We now know enough to know that we will never know everything. This is why we need art: it teaches us how to live with mystery. Only the artist can explore the ineffable without offering us an answer, for sometimes there is no answer” (p 196).


Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham (1 July 965 – 6 March 1040)

 Ibn al-Haytham (Latinized as Alhazen) was an Arabic (modern day Iraq) philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer who made significant contributions to science. Alhazen was born during an inventive era known as the Islamic Golden Age. During this period, the Muslim government supported (financially and otherwise) scholars of various faiths and cultures from Spain to China. Building upon knowledge from ancient Greek and Syriac civilizations, discoveries and creations during the Islamic Golden Age led to numerous advances in science, technology and medicine that had lasting impacts on our world. Little is known about Alhazen’s early life, but he was one of the first scientists to study the characteristics of light, vision and optics and made significant contributions to astronomy, number theory, geometry and natural philosophy. Also, when he was old enough to claim he could engineer a way to regulate the Nile River he was invited to Cairo, Egypt by ‘The Mad Caliph’ to do just that. Interestingly, he proposed to do this at the site of the current Aswan Dam, which was built in 1902. However, after realizing the impracticality of such a hydraulic feat, and fearing the Caliph’s anger, Alhazen feigned insanity and was kept in protective custody (i.e. under house arrest) for ten years. During this time, he studied the process of sight, the structure of the eye, and image formation in the eye. He named several parts of the eye, like the lens, the cornea and the retina. Alhazen also wrote his most famous and influential book, Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics), during his time in Egypt. The Book of Optics outlined the correct model of vision (i.e. that sight is the passive reception by the eyes of light reflected from objects), as well as complete formulations of the laws of reflection and refraction, which is why Alhazen is called the ‘Father of Modern Optics’. He concluded that vision only took place when a light ray was emitted or reflected from a luminous source (an object) before it entered the eye. Prior to this discovery, there were several interesting theories about vision floating around: 1) the emission theory, which believed that our eyes emitted beams of light that illuminated objects and that’s how we were able to see things, and 2) the intromission theory, which thought that when we saw an object it was because a physical representation of the object was actually physically entering the eye. Though these theories may sound outlandish now, these were the prevailing theories of vision at the time. Which leads us to another important contribution Alhazen made to science. Just as, if not more, important than presenting an accurate description of vision, was the way Alhazen went about figuring it out. To formulate the correct model of vision, Alhazen had to first decide he did not simply accept the prevailing theories of the time, and had to systematically critique and disprove these ideas. He did this by posing hypotheses, conducting meticulous and carefully designed experiments, and recording detailed descriptions of the outcomes. This procedural investigative process was the progenitors of the modern scientific method. Thus, by carrying out tests with lenses, mirrors, refraction and reflection, Alhazen was able to demonstrate by reason, research and experimentation that light was an essential and independent part of the visual process. He also contributed work on the psychology of visual perception and optical illusions. For instance, Alhazen explained the ‘Moon illusion’, where he described why the Moon appeared smaller when it was higher in the sky and larger when it was near the horizon. He described the phenomenon as a perceived, rather than real, change in size. Alhazen also discussed theories on the motion of bodies and of attraction between masses (i.e. gravity) centuries before Isaac Newton was even born . He also argued that Ptolemaic models of astronomy (e.g. movements of celestial bodies) needed to be understood and proved using physical observations, rather than just postulating abstract hypotheses. By holding the Earth centered theory of the Solar System accountable to the laws of physics, Alhazen contributed to the successful acceptance of the Ptolemaic (geocentric) theory among western Christians. Ultimately, and importantly, Alhazen believed it was crucial to conduct experiments and record observations to test ideas rather than just accept what was thought to be true. He was a pioneering scientific thinker whose methodology later influenced the investigative processes of European scholars, especially Renaissance scientists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei.

 

Leonardo da Vinci (15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519)

 Leonardo Da Vinci was an Italian artist, architect, engineer, cartographer, inventor, writer, mathematician, geologist, and botanist who has been described as the archetypal Renaissance Man. He was one of the most diversely talented, imaginative and inventive people who ever lived. Little is known about da Vinci’s youth, aside from the fact that he was born out of wedlock; received an informal and basic education in reading, writing and math; and gained an appreciation for nature and an unquenchable curiosity at a young age. Around the age of 14 da Vinci was apprenticed to a notable sculptor and painter in Florence, Italy where he gained a large range of skills, including drafting, chemistry, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics, carpentry, drawing, painting, and sculpting. By the age of 22, da Vinci became a master artist. Aside from being one of the best painters of all time (creator of the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper), da Vinci was an ardent student of all things scientific. Around the age of 30, da Vinci went to work for the Duke of Milan (Italy) as an engineer, where he reached new heights in his scientific and artistic achievements. While working for the Duke, he kept busy painting and sculpting, but also studied nature, mechanics, and geometry and designed canals, submarines, weapons, churches, fortresses and more. In his spare time, he outlined a theory of plate tectonics; postulated on the formation of fossils; took outstanding notes on the sun, moon, and stars; and studied the mysteries of aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. Having permission to dissect human corpses, da Vinci also made important discoveries in anatomy. He collaborated with doctors and made hundreds of meticulous drawings detailing the human skeleton, muscles, brain, and digestive and reproductive systems. Many of his drawings were the first in human record and brought new understanding of the human body. He studied the effect of age and emotion on human physiology, and compared human and animal anatomy after dissecting and drawing many animals, including cows, birds, monkeys, bears, horses and frogs. Da Vinci was also an accomplished engineer, and invented (on paper) the bicycle, an armored vehicle, concentrated solar power, and the helicopter. Keep in mind that the first steam-powered automobile didn’t come into being until 1769, the first bicycle wasn’t created until 1817 (300 years after da Vinci’s death), and we won’t even mention how ahead of his time the invention of a helicopter or solar power was. He also created plans for a device that measured humidity and several machines that could harness the power of water, as well as an airplane based on bat physiology and the principles of aeronautics and physics. Unfortunately, these futuristic inventions could not feasibly be built during da Vinci’s time. And, though he was one of the best painters of the Renaissance, he left only a handful of completed paintings. Da Vinci was well known for not finishing what he started, perhaps because his abundant interests in universal truths, testing scientific laws, and writing empirically about his observations preoccupied him. Also, none of his scientific findings were published, likely a result of the fact that he wrote all of his journals in mirror-image, where everything is written from right to left and backwards, so it can only be read when reflected in a mirror. Historians argue about whether da Vinci used mirror writing for expediency (he was left handed), to make sure no one read over his shoulder, or as a joke, but, when you are one of the smartest and most remarkable individuals to ever live, you can write however you want! Although, finishing a painting, publishing, or actually building a 65-foot flying bat wasn’t necessarily the point. The bigger picture was the idea that science and art we complimentary, and not distinct disciplines. As a Renaissance humanist, da Vinci didn’t see a divide between science and art and believed that ideas from one realm should inform the other. Further, da Vinci was a humanist, and believed in the unique individualism and genius of humans. Da Vinci helped modernize the scientific approach, which, until his time, had been rather unscientific and ‘medieval’. Rather than turning to the Bible for information, which is pretty much what everyone one did back then, he sought the truth via a more scientific approach. Da Vinci posed questions then methodically observed and recorded phenomena related to these questions, as Alhazen had done centuries before. This continued to lay the groundwork of the modern scientific method, where close observation, repeated testing, and systematic description was used to explain the world around us that had previously been explained as ‘God’s work’. Da Vinci essentially started the Scientific Revolution and revolutionized the way scientists have done research ever since.

 

Nicolaus Copernicus (19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543)

 Nicolaus Copernicus was a Polish physicist, mathematician, and astronomer who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution during the Renaissance. His father died when he was ten, and Copernicus was taken under the wing of his uncle, who had ties with many leading intellectuals, including a royal humanist in Kraków, Poland. Eventually Copernicus went to study at the University of Kraków during the heyday of the Kraków mathematical-astronomical school. Though he never got a degree, his four years spent at Kraków gave Copernicus a strong grounding in math and astronomy, as well as a good understanding of philosophy and the natural sciences. This combination made him conversant in humanistic culture and led him to believe that everyone, including peasants and women, should be taught to speak and write with eloquence and clarity. Humanists valued critical thinking (rationalism) and evidence (empiricism) over established doctrine and faith; and looked to science instead of religious dogma in order to understand the world. That isn’t to say that Copernicus was secular; just the opposite in fact. After leaving Kraków, Copernicus returned to live with his uncle, the Prince-Bishop of Warmia (Poland), where it was hoped he would join the Warmia canonry (e.g. the priesthood). Though never ordained a priest, Copernicus did eventually assume a position as a sinecure (e.g. an office with little or no responsibility) with the Church. Copernicus also went to Bologna, Italy to further his ecclesiastic career, where, his uncle hoped, he would become a canonical lawyer. But, Copernicus devoted his studies more to the humanities, especially astronomy and astrology, and less to canon law (i.e. church/religious rules). Copernicus spent much of his time observing the cosmos and gathering historical information about ancient astronomy. During this time, he began to seriously doubt the accuracy of the Ptolemaic system (i.e. geocentrism), which placed the Earth at the center of all celestial bodies, and said everything, including the Sun, revolved around the Earth. Copernicus did eventually receive a doctorate in canon law and he moved back to Poland where he resided in the Bishop’s castle. Thus, though Copernicus was a good Catholic, his introduction to humanism was important because it planted seeds of doubt in religious dogma and made him seek confirmation for his ideas about the cosmos through observation. And, with astronomical knowledge and doubt building in his mind, observe he did, all the while maintaining strong ties to the Church. In fact, Copernicus often conducted astronomical observations from church towers. All of this eventually led to Copernicus’s most famous theory: heliocentrism. The heliocentric theory boldly claimed that the earth wasn’t the center of the Solar System, as everyone had believed, but that the Sun was at the center. This is where Copernicus’s religious ties become interesting. Really, as far back as Plato and Pythagoras, scientists had been suggesting a moving Earth, but the Church always ardently denied such ‘myths’. However, the heliocentric model totally explained the apparent (and deceptive) movement of the Sun and stars. Daily movements weren’t due to everything revolving around the Earth, but because the earth was rotating on it’s axis and revolving around the Sun. The Church denied the heliocentric theory not because it was wrong, but because it undermined the prevailing understanding of the Bible and questioned the Christian worldview. In spite of this, Copernicus’s buddies, a Bishop and a Cardinal, told him to publish his studies. Though his character was certainly attacked, Copernicus was never accused of heresy outright. This is likely related to his uncle’s standing in the Church, as well as Copernicus’s own close ties to the Church, and because a well-known theologian put a nice disclaimer in the introduction of his book, De Revolutionibus, stating that the heliocentric theory was useful mathematically but not necessarily true conceptually. Though the Church let him off the hook, and allowed his controversial De Revolutionibus to be published, Copernicus’s heliocentric model threatened the Church’s framework of cosmology and theology, and began the loosening of the Church’s tight-hold on society. Thus, the bold idea that the Earth and other planets revolved around the Sun watered the Scientific Revolution seed that had been planted by da Vinci. The Scientific Revolution was taking root and widening the cracks in the unifying culture of Christianity. Copernicus risked a lot to prove what he knew to be true: a dedicated scientist through and through, and left us with these lasting words of wisdom, “To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”

 

Galileo Galilei (15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642)

 Galileo Galileo was an Italian physicist, mathematician, and astronomer who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution during the Renaissance. He was an accomplished musician and learned an appreciation for the periodic/musical measure of time from an early age. Galileo’s father instilled in him a healthy skepticism for authority, the value of experimentation, and an appreciation of the enlightenment that can come from the combination of experiments and mathematics. Being a pious Catholic, Galileo wanted to become a priest. Instead, at his father’s urging, he attended the University of Pisa to pursue a medical degree. However, Galileo accidentally attended a geometry class and became more interested in mathematics and natural philosophy. Though a doctor would make more money, his father reluctantly agreed to let Galileo pursue his real passions. This eventually led to Galileo becoming chair of the math department in Pisa, Italy, and a lifetime of teaching geometry, mechanics, and astronomy. Lucky for us he had a supportive father, because this change in career led to important advances in science and numerous inventions, such as the thermoscope (the forerunner of the modern thermometer). Galileo made huge strides in physics and formulated the Law of Inertia (precursors to Isaac Newton’s theories) and conducted several experiments with pendulums (which eventually led to the invention of the clock). He also vastly improved the telescope, which lent itself to one of Galileo’s biggest accomplishments: proving Copernicus’s heliocentric model. About a century earlier, Copernicus had suggested the Earth moved around the Sun, rather than the other way around. Even though this was a blow to the Church, they let Copernicus off the hook because they assumed the theory would never take hold and they didn’t feel Copernicus posed a threat. Also, most educated people firmly believed that all heavenly bodies revolved around the Earth (goecentrism) and refused to accept otherwise. Galileo was not so easily let off the hook by the Church though, since he was particularly adept at ignoring established authorities and, given his firm belief in the scientific methods, was willing to change his views in accordance with observation. And, in accordance with his own observations of the apparent rising and setting of the Sun, tides, and various other planetary and celestial observations, Galileo came to agree with Copernican ideas. Galileo believed so fervently that he eventually submitted writings on heliocentrism to the Roman Inquistion and went to Rome, Italy to defend them. Controversy surrounding the ideas of Copernicus had been stewing for a while by this time, and the Church, frightened by the thought of loosing their grip on society, unanimously declared heliocentrism to be foolish, absurd, and heretical. They ordered Galileo to abandon his Copernican ideas and banned Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus, as well as any other heliocentric works of ‘mathematical fiction’. The Church eventually told the stubborn Galileo he could publish Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which outlined and advocated for the heliocentric model) as long as he included arguments against heliocentrism. Galileo was eventually forced by the Church to deny the heliocentric model altogether, but Galileo’s rather implausible denial of heliocentrism led the Church to take more serious actions. Under the threat of hanging, the Church revoked the publishing of and completely banned Dialogue and put Galileo on house arrest for the rest of his life. The ‘all-powerful-all-mighty’ Church was flexing their muscles and baring their teeth to frighten science. In the end though, religion began to lose the battle – the ground beneath the monolithic Church was crumbling, and corruption in the Church allowed science to step up as another way to explain the world. Although he was forced to deny the heliocentric model (or be killed), Galileo’s work was a major blow to the Church’s totalitarian power over European minds, and marked a huge step towards the separation of science from philosophy and religion; a major development in human thought. Though locked up for the rest of his life, Galileo’s defiance led to an appreciation of the empirical and rational, of common sense and concrete reality that anyone could weigh or measure themselves, as opposed to being directly given the ‘truth’ by the Church. “Measure what can be measured, and make measureable what cannot be measured … all truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them,” said Galileo. Was this a good thing? The search for truth being conducted through tests and experimentation versus spiritual enlightenment?  That’s a rhetorical question we will always ask, and a mental conundrum to deal with for the rest of eternity. But what most certainly is a good thing, and something we should thoroughly appreciate is that the audacious Galileo literally risked his life to further science and to prove what he believed to be true. To quote Galileo himself, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

 

Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1726)

 Isaac Newton was an English physicists and mathematician who is recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time and a prime mover in the Scientific Revolution. Newton, born the year of Galileo’s death, was a small, premature infant born three months after his father’s death. He had a tumultuous childhood and after his mother remarried she left him, at the age of three, to live with his grandmother. This left a deep and lasting emotional scar on Newton that many speculate was a source of insecurity and led to anxious and irrational obsessions about his publications, and a generally reclusive, paranoid, and quirky nature. When he was 12, his second father died and Newton went to live with his mother and attend The King’s School, Grantham, where he was taught Latin, but not math, and introduced to chemistry by a local apothecary. At the age of 17, his mother took Newton out of school in order to turn him into a prosperous farmer. Eventually, his mother was persuaded to let him go back to school due to his hatred of farming, and possibly due to the fact that Newton had threatened to burn his mother and her house when he was younger. By the age of 19, Newton was enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge. He paid his way through the first four years of college as a servant, waiter and maid, and was later awarded a scholarship to obtain his Master’s degree. Cambridge, like most European schools at the time, was steeped in old philosophies, such as goecentrism, and viewed nature qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Newton, on the other hand, was more interested in modern philosophy and advanced science. He built his own laboratory (the first at Cambridge) and hid out in there while he performed strange experiments in the name of science and discovery, like poking a needle into his eye socket and moving it around. Thus, during an 18-month hiatus from school (due to the Great Plague) Newton took it upon himself to pursue his own studies and set the foundations for his theories on light and color, which built upon theories established by Alhazen centuries earlier, and which eventually led to his publication of Optiks. During this brief time, he also began the invention of calculus (being fed up with conventional math) and gained insight into the laws of planetary motion, which would eventually lead to his publication of Principia. Principia has been called the single most influential book on physics. In it, Newton quantitatively established the basic laws of motion: a stationary object stays stationary unless an external force is applied to it, in which case the object moves in the direction it is pushed and will continue in a straight line unless some other force acts to slow or deflect it; and for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Principia also introduced the Law of Universal Gravitation, which states that every object attracts every other object with a force that increases in proportion to size and decreases in proportion to distance. He proved that this law of attraction operated everywhere (i.e. was universal) including celestial bodies, and created an elegantly compact equation to calculate force. Newton mathematically explained many theories that had been proposed before, but that could not be proven, by people like Copernicus and Galileo. His laws made sense of every motion in the universe, such as the elliptical orbits of celestial bodies and the attractive force that started them moving in the first place (gravity), the movements of the tides, the trajectory of cannonballs and other projectiles, the orbits of comets, and the precession of the equinoxes. Finally, thanks to Newton, all known phenomena of the celestial and terrestrial worlds were mechanistically explained with one unified set of physical (and universal) laws. Newton brought to the scientific table the solutions to the cosmological problems confronting Copernican theories of planetary motion. Newton’s work was the final confirmation of the heliocentric model. The Church did not like it, since the Earth was no longer at the center, and the same laws applied to the Earth and all heavenly bodies, and people had to confront the idea that we live on a random planet in a vast galaxy. Newton constructed new and astounding theories by building upon the work of his predecessors and completely revolutionized physics by establishing new systems by which to understand and describe the universe. Newton put more than just a damper on the method of obtaining truth through religion, he forged the final separation of science and religion, and solidified the mechanistic worldview, which believed everything was governed by the same unbreakable laws and would be calculated with mathematical precision. He may have been peculiar and idiosyncratic, but Newton was one of the greatest minds of the Scientific Revolution. Though Voltaire called him the “greatest man who ever lived”, Newton humbly claimed, “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

 

Charles Darwin  (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882)

 Charles Darwin was an English naturalist and geologist who forever changed the way we see ourselves, everything around us, and the relationship between all living things. He was the fifth of six children born to a wealthy family and a long line of scientists: his father was a doctor and his grandfather a botanist. Darwin’s father was a freethinker, and his family attended a Unitarian chapel, where the notions of original sin, permanent damnation, a vengeful God and predetermined spiritual destiny were rejected, and where there was no official text (e.g. no bible). Basically, Unitarianism is for those who enjoy the community and spirituality of religion, and who believe in the moral teachings of Jesus, but who don’t want to be taught about the natural history of the world from the bible. This gave Darwin the leeway to explore other possible origins of humans and the world around him. At the age of 16, Darwin apprenticed as a doctor with his father for a while before attending medical school at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland). Darwin found medical school lectures dull and the sight of blood made him queasy. His father, annoyed with Darwin’s neglect of his medical studies and expecting Darwin would become a priest instead, sent him to Christ’s College (Cambridge) two years later. Darwin also did not excel at this because he was more interested in natural history, and preferred riding and shooting to studying. He joined the beetle collecting craze in the late 1820s, and befriended several naturalists and botanists while in Cambridge. After graduating from Christ’s College, Darwin’s mentor, a professor of botany, recommended him for a position aboard the HMS Beagle. Thus, at the age of 22, Darwin took off on a five-year journey to sail around the world, an opportunity of a lifetime for a budding young naturalist. The experience on the HMS Beagle hugely affected Darwin’s view of natural history and planted the seed that budded into his revolutionary theory of the origins of life. During the course of the trip Darwin observed principles of botany, geology and zoology through hands-on research and experimentation, and he collected a wide array of natural specimens, including birds, plants and fossils. He took copious and meticulous notes about his observations and speculations and after returning to England, Darwin began to write about his findings. One of his most significant findings related to the finches on the Galapagos Islands, where he noted that lots of finches had different talents to take advantage of different resources on each island. Slight changes in beak size and structure, Darwin believed, had developed in each finch subspecies in order to reduce competition for the same resources and to increase the likelihood of survival. This observation, along with many more from around the world, and along with five years worth of natural history collections (especially fossils), led Darwin to the conclusion that populations (vegetable and animal) descend from earlier, more primitive forms, and evolve over the course of generations through a process called natural selection: the theory of evolution. Darwin’s theory, which was published in his famous book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, was a bold and radical idea that propelled the separation of religion and science. The theory of evolution claimed that all organisms competed for resources, and the ones with innate advantages would prosper and pass that advantage on to offspring. As this continued, the species would continue to improve and become better adapted for survival in their environment. Darwin’s theory of evolution brought man himself within the realm of natural science. He showed that humans are not outside of science looking in, but that we are part of it; that humans evolved not out of spiritual transfiguration, but out of biological survival. Thus, Adam and Eve were considered to be as true as Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel. Though Darwin’s ideas were liberating, they were also somewhat diminishing. In proving that man evolved from animals, mankind lost some if its special status in creation, and the universe no longer provided assurance of indefinite success for our species. This is partly why On the Origin of Species wasn’t actually published until 1859. Since, for a long time Darwin kept his theory of evolution to himself because he knew it would aggravate the Church and cause a storm even among some naturalists. By suggesting that humans evolved from lesser primates without divine intervention or the help of a masterful Creator, Darwin showed that man was a highly successful animal with an uncertain destiny, not God’s noble creation with a divine destiny or a higher purpose. Much as his progenitors (Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton) had done, Darwin proved the universe was a machine devoid of goals or purpose. This scientific liberation from theological dogma was a good thing for the advancement of science, but it also caused a sense of alienation for humans. Of course, that didn’t stop everyone from believing in divine creation. Though modern DNA studies support Darwin’s theory of evolution, the religious view that all nature is born of God (e.g. Creationism) still thrives today. And that’s okay, in fact, Darwin himself once said, “The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”

 

Sigmund Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939)

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and is known as the father of psychoanalysis. He was the oldest of eight children, born into a poor and struggling family. Freud was a caul birth, meaning a piece of membrane was covering the newborn’s head and face. This rare type of birth (occurring in less than 1 in 80,000 births) is harmless and was considered a good omen for Freud’s future. When he was nine Freud attended a prominent high school, Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, where he was an outstanding, outgoing, and brilliant student. He loved literature and was proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Many biographers suggest Freud’s understanding of human psychology was derived from William Shakespeare’s plays, which he began reading at a young age and continued to read throughout his life. After graduating with honors at the age of 17, he entered the University of Vienna, where he planned to study law. Instead, he studied philosophy, physiology and zoology (under a Darwinist), and graduated with a medical degree (MD). At the age of 26, Freud began his medical career at the Vienna General Hospital, where he worked in various departments, including the psychiatric clinic and in a local asylum. He eventually quit working at the hospital and began a private practice specializing in nervous disorders. This is where he began experimenting with a method introduced to him by a colleague: where encouraging a hysterical patient to talk uninhibitedly about the earliest occurrences of their symptoms caused the symptoms to subside. Freud believed this worked because neuroses had their origins in traumatic experiences in a patient’s past, experiences that had been hidden from the patient’s consciousness. Much like an archaeologist digs for remnants of the distant past to reveal truths about earlier cultures, a psychoanalyst digs into a patient’s mind to reveal truths about past experiences. By recalling an experience that was buried in the unconscious mind, patient’s were able to intellectually and emotional confront it and empower themselves to release it. This method became known as depth psychology, what today is more commonly called psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is both a description of the human mind and a therapy for nervous and mental disorders. Considering himself more of a scientist than a doctor, he tried to empirically understand the journey of human knowledge and experience. He developed a model of the human mind that placed the conscious mind (everything we are aware of) at the tip of the iceberg, and the unconscious mind (the repository of primitive wishes and impulses kept at bay) at all the rest of the iceberg that we don’t see. Freud believed that dreams are ‘the royal road to the unconscious’, since much of our repressed material comes through to awareness in dreams. Of course, when our unconscious tries to communicate with our conscious it can come through in a rather distorted manner, which is why Freud believed there was a difference between the actual dream and the real meaning of the dream. Freud delivered impressive evidence of the wonders of the human mind and inspired artists, poets and painters alike, to exploit the power of the unconscious mind and dreams and to let words and images have free play. Further, since everyone dreams, and since a dream is a little work of art, there is essentially an artist in everyone! He wrote all about this in his book The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud was also largely influenced by Darwin’s work that outlined humankind as a progressive element of the animal kingdom, with basic biological and animalistic drives. Freud believed that the human psyche and unconscious forces that determined our behavior and conscious awareness were inherently biological and simply an innate part of the human species. On the one hand, Freud brought human consciousness under the light of rational investigation. He opened the mind’s character and internal dynamics, he revealed the mechanisms behind things like repression, resistance, and projection, and was able to unveil deep seeded psychological issues and truly help treat people’s neuroses. On the other hand, Freud continued Darwin’s journey toward expunging humans from their privileged cosmic status. As Darwin had shown that humans were the result of slow biological evolution, Freud showed that people’s actions were the result of animalistic urges. Not only were our bodies simply biological entities, among many, that evolved over time amidst many other similarly evolving animals, but our minds and psyche were motivated by powerful biological instincts. This suggested that the proud human virtues of moral consciousness and our religious feelings were no more than reaction formations and part of the delusion of the civilized ‘self’ concept. As man was unmasked as a creature of base instinct, and God was exposed as an infantile projection, our sense of personal freedom and superior place in the universe seemed more and more spurious. Freud said himself, “Religion is a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality, such as we find nowhere else but in a state of blissful hallucinatory confusion. Religion’s eleventh commandment is “Thou shalt not question”.”

 

Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943)

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian American inventor and engineer who helped shape the modern world. Tesla, born in modern-day Croatia, was the fourth of five children. He was born during a severe lightning storm, which the midwife thought was a bad omen, but Tesla’s mother saw as a good sign. His father was an Orthodox priest and writer and his mother crafted her own tools and appliances in her spare time. Tesla credited his mother’s genetics for his ability to recall images or objects after only a few minutes of exposure (eidetic or photographic memory). He spoke eight languages, could remember entire books and recite them at will, and could visualize complex devices in his head and build them without writing anything down. Though his father pushed Tesla to join the priesthood, Tesla’s interests were in the sciences. He studied at the Realschule Kalrstadt in Germany, the Polytechnic Institute in Austria, and the University of Prague. Eventually he moved to Budapest and worked for the Central Telephone Exchange. After futilely attempting to interest people in his idea for the induction motor, Tesla left Europe and moved to America in 1884 with nothing more than the clothes on his back. It was here, at the age of 28, that he began working for Thomas Edison. However, they parted ways after only a couple months due to conflicting business and scientific ideas and very different personalities: Edison was a power figure and Tesla was a somewhat meek and vulnerable fellow. Edison is typically credited for inventing the light bulb, but it was actually Tesla. After parting ways with Edison, Tesla received funding to start the Tesla Electric Light Company in 1885. When that flopped he receive more funding to start the Tesla Electric Company in 1887. It was at this time Tesla invented something that would change the world forever: the alternating current (AC) electrical system. In a time when most of the world was lit by candlelight, Tesla invented a system that now powers every home on the planet. However, the AC system was not adopted overnight. For several years where was a war of currents: on the AC side was Tesla, backed by George Westinghouse and on the DC (direct current) side was Thomas Edison. Eventually the AC side won, and Edison actually ended up pursuing AC development himself. In 1895 Tesla built the first AC hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, which was used to power the city of Buffalo, New York. In addition to the AC system, Tesla discovered, designed, and developed numerous inventions. Most of these, owing to his somewhat meek and modest nature, were credited to and patented by other inventors.  During World War I, when German U-boats frequently attacked the US, and eighteen years before Robert Watson-Watt was credited with the invention, Tesla pitched the idea of RADAR to the US Navy. He developed the idea for smartphone technology in 1901. Though Wilhelm Rontgen was credited with the discovery of X-rays, Tesla actually beat him to the punch. He also refused to conduct medical experiments because he thought X-rays could be dangerous. Tesla was experimenting with cryogenic engineering nearly 50 years before it was invented; was the first person to record radio waves from space; and he invented the remote control, neon lighting, the modern electric motor, and wireless communication. It was almost as if Tesla were from the future; inventing, discovering, and uncovering so many modern technologies that we take for granted today. Today Tesla would be rich and famous for all he did, but unfortunately for him, Tesla lived in a time when inventions and science needed to be practical, profitable, and immediate. Thus, he remained a fairly unnoticed character, a genius, but obscure nonetheless. Tesla was a scientist through and through though, and he really put himself out there for the sake of science. For instance, he invented a steam-powered mechanical oscillator that oscillated at such a frequency it shook entire buildings. This invention, Tesla mused, could vibrate the earth’s crust to such an extent that it could practically destroy civilization. Consequently, realizing the folly of such an invention, and after testing it in his own apartment, Tesla used a sledgehammer to ‘terminate’ the experiment just as police were arriving. Around 1900 Tesla became obsessed with the idea of wireless transmission of energy, and set out to build a global, wireless communication center for sharing information and providing free electricity across the globe. This project was well funded, including such investors as J.P. Morgan. Unfortunately, after building a massive transmission tower on Long Island, New York (called Wardenclyffe), Tesla’s investors began to doubt the feasibility of the project. Further, his rival, Gugliemo Marconi (who was financially supported by Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison) was making bigger and bolder advances with his own radio technologies. Tesla ended up having to abandon his project, the Wardenclyffe staff was laid off in 1906, the site was foreclosed in 1915, Tesla declared bankruptcy in 1917 and the tower was torn down and sold for scrap metal. Some would say that it was unfortunate and ironic that he ended up practically penniless and relatively anonymous. But Tesla himself once said, “The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter – for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way.”

 

Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955)

 Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who revolutionized the philosophy of science and developed a theory that remains to this day one of the two pillars of modern physics. Einstein was born and raised in Germany, where he didn’t learn to speak until he was three and was thought to be a slow and terrible student throughout his youth. His family moved to Italy when he was as a teenager and Einstein was expelled from school at the age of 16 for bad behavior. Eventually he gave up his German citizenship to avoid the military and enrolled in a college in Switzerland intended to churn out high school science teachers. He was a bright but not outstanding student and, rather than teach, which is what he wanted to do, Einstein ended up working in a Swiss patent office. Lucky for us, this somewhat boring job gave him a lot of time to think and develop his most famous theory, the theory of relativity, and the famous equation, E=mc2. In his profound yet simple equation, E stands for energy, m for mass, and c2 is the speed of light squared. The equation says that mass and energy have equivalence: energy is liberated matter; matter is energy waiting to happen. And, since the value of the speed of light times itself (c2) is an unimaginably huge number, the equation suggests there is an unimaginably huge amount of energy bound up in all material things. This equation helped explain how radiation worked, how stars could burn for billions of years without burning out, and solved some of the deepest mysteries of the universe. This equation was also part of the theory of relativity. The theory of relativity is actually two theories: special relativity and general relativity. Special relativity reconciled Newton’s laws of motion with laws of electrodynamics. It also showed that 1) the speed of light is always constant and light is made up of packets of energy called photons, 2) it is impossible to determine if you are moving without looking at another object, and 3) that space and time are two sides of the same coin – spacetime. Imagine, for example, that you are sitting in the exact middle of a train moving at almost the speed of light, and you release a light pulse in two directions: one toward the front of the train and one toward the back. Which reaches the edge of the train first? Turns out, the answer is it’s relative, because, though the speed of light is constant, one’s position in space (i.e. where you’re standing) can change your perception. To you, the light reaches both edges at the exact same time because you’re sitting in the middle of the moving train. But according to your friend who is watching the train from alongside the tracks, the light pulse moving toward the back of the train reaches the edge first. This is because from their perspective on the sidelines, the moving train catches up with the light pulse moving toward the back of the train. This seems contradictory, but according to special relativity, both you and your friend are right because space and time are interwoven. General relativity generalized special relativity and redefined the laws of gravity. According to general relativity, the observed gravitational attraction between masses results from the warping of space and time (spacetime) by those masses. The premise is that 1) light (and everything for that matter) travels along the shortest path between two points in spacetime, 2) if that shortest path is curved, then the path of light is curved, 3) large objects bend space, the way putting a baseball on a taut cotton sheet would cause the sheet to bend, and 4) gravity is the result of this curved (bent) spacetime. The larger the object, the more spacetime bends, and the stronger the gravity, like the difference in the ‘warping’ of the taut sheet by a baseball versus a bowling ball. Though Newton’s laws of gravitation worked well in everyday life and for weak gravitational forces, for very strong gravitational fields (like the Earth and the Sun), Newton’s laws were inadequate, and that’s where general relativity took over. For instance, the Earth doesn’t orbit the Sun because the sun is pulling on it (as Newton posited), but the Earth is just following the shortest path in spacetime, which is being warped by the huge mass of the Sun. This looks like gravity, but it’s actually more a matter of geometry. General relativity provided the foundation for our understating of black holes, where gravitational attraction is so strong that not even light can escape. Without the theory of general relativity, we wouldn’t have been able to explore outer space and we wouldn’t have global positioning system (GPS) satellites, and then how would you find your favorite restaurant? The theory of relativity completely changed the way we think about space, time and matter, and revolutionized the possibilities for science and technology … not bad for someone who was expelled from school and couldn’t get the job he wanted. Of course, Einstein himself once said, “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

 

 

Bibliography

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Bryson, Bill. (2004). A Short History of Nearly Everything. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

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Gaarder, Jostein. (1994). Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy. New York, NY: Berkley Books.

Ibn al-Haytham. (2015). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 17 March 2015 from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/738111/Ibn-al-Haytham.

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Lehrer, Jonha. (2007). Proust Was a Neuroscientist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Lehrer, Jonha. (2015). The Future of Science … Is Art? Retrieved from http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/the_future_of_science_is_art/.

Leonardo da Vinci. (2015). At History.com. Retrieved 17 March 2015 from http://www.history.com/topics/leonardo-da-vinci.

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Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist. (2015c). Museum of Science, Boston. Retrieved 15 March 2015 from http://legacy.mos.org/leonardo/index.html.

Lightman, Alan. (2005). A Sense of the Mysterious. New York, New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

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How Social Stratification Made Me Who I am

I’m an introvert by nature.  But there are so many interesting and amazing things I’ve seen and done and thought that, in appreciation toward modern sharing techniques, and since maybe some late night web surfer will find them interesting too, I’ve started this blog.  Sometimes it’s good to begin at the beginning.  And since the unusual circumstances of my beginnings have shaped my life, I’ll start there.  Actually, I’ll go back even further, and shed some light on my parent’s backgrounds.

My mother was born to Irish/English working class parents.  What today would be defined as the contingent class.  Her maternal grandparents worked in a factory, where they socialized with good New England Working Stock, and her paternal grandfather owned a bar, where he socialized with good Irish Drinking Stock.  Her mother graduated from high school, went to a business school, and went on to work at the same factory as her parents – only in the office.  My mother’s father was the only one of his siblings to go to college, aspiring to become a celibate Roman Catholic priest.  Grandpa’s story is a whole book in itself, but to make it brief, since he was exceptionally smart, he surely would have finished his higher education if he had not been asked to leave due to mental health issues (that’s right, the Church thought he was too nuts to work for them).  My mother grew up in a working class neighborhood in the 1950s where every household had two parents.  The dads went to work, and the moms stayed home and kept house and cared for large broods of children.  After working in a factory for years, her father became a librarian at St John Fisher University, which allotted her free tuition at Nazareth University.  My mother’s education up to this point was in Catholic schools that separated males and females.  For her Nazareth was a disappointment, having to sacrifice her dreams to get out on her own, give up a partial scholarship to Boston University, and settle for a prestigious, private, snooty school where she did not fit in and had to drive her father to work every day.  Being the oldest of six children, she was expected to relinquish these dreams to help out at home.  Consequently, after one year of abandoning her aspirations, my mother quit school and got a job as a clerk at Allstate Insurance Co.  She worked reviewing stacks of applications, in hopes of finding some way to charge people more based on what they revealed in their annual submission of “important information to make sure you are covered”. Throughout her life, she never had hopes of inheritance or financial assistance from her parents, whom always lived paycheck to paycheck, as does she.  By the age of 21 my mother was pregnant, married (to a loser), and moving out west.  In California, she got a job at Creative Publications where she was monitored by Stanford School of Business graduates and earned menial wages (considering she was raising a child). My mother worked odd jobs here and there and eventually went back to college at Chico University after leaving her husband.

The second crucial structuring of my background began when my father’s Norwegian great grandparents settled in the northern plains and became Hard Working Farm Stock.  His father joined the Navy during WWII and impregnated a young girl from California.  With his father off in Europe and his mother in North Dakota with virtual strangers, my father was placed in an orphanage and his mother moved back to California (never to be seen again).  My father’s aunts found him in an orphanage in Oregon, brought him back to North Dakota, and raised him on the farm.  When his father returned and remarried, my father became determined to get out of the house, and found his way out when he quit high school and joined the Air force.  He was trained as an aircraft engine mechanic and spent years in the Air force and Navy.  Military life was the only life he knew, and he remained an aircraft engine mechanic throughout his career, which abruptly ended when he made a stupid mistake, which he ended up being pardoned for eventually, and released from the military.  Out of the military, he worked as a self-employed carpenter and logger in New York’s Stueben County.  His carpentry experience made it possible for him to find work anywhere, and summers in New York and winters in Florida or Georgia fit well into his schedule. My father knew how to live self sufficiently.  He knew how to garden, how to bake bread, how to live off of alternative energy, trim the wicks, keep and outhouse going, and how to survive independently.  He has always been mechanically competent.  All skills attributable to growing up in the farmlands of North Dakota in the 1940s and to time spent in the Air force and Navy.  All skills attributable to why my mother ultimately fell in love with him and they started their lives together in 1977.

For a while, my parents seemed to be stuck in the ruts created by their parents: same old jobs, same old complacency, following in the footsteps of the contingent class.  But, somewhere along the way they had the idea that the Vietnam War was wrong and a waste of their lives and their friend’s lives.  As a result, my parents began to have doubts about our “great” government, and underwent immense changes in societal values.  They questioned not only the government, but their parent’s values as well, and their willingness to just keep working for some faceless corporation for 45 years without missing a beat.  And around the same time my parents were deciding to break out of that mold and try anything they wanted, my mother (the intellectual) met my father (the renaissance man) and the two of them moved back to New York from California, then back to California (selling almost everything they owned with each move…sort of an early retirement instead of saving if up for old age).  They had my second brother, moved back to the Finger Lakes in New York, and lived in a log cabin in the woods with no electricity or running water.

A little piece of home...not a bad back yard!

A little piece of home…not a bad back yard!

The cabin where I grew up.  Taken October 2013 (it's starting to go back to the earth from whence it came).

The cabin where I grew up.  Taken October 2013 (it’s starting to go back to the earth from whence it came).

My mother finished up her education at Alfred State University while pregnant with me. SIDE NOTE: I partially attribute my love of science and knowledge to the fact that I was taking organic chemistry and more as a fetus. Anyway, with her knowledge gained in science and horticulture at college, and the business experience at Creative Publications, she had the skills to start Moon Valley Plant Co.  Also, my father was able to provide all the survival/farm skills my mother did not have, as well as mechanical, electrical, carpentry, etcetera.

These were the humble beginnings of our family owned and operated greenhouse/garden center/nursery, which has grown substantially over the last 30+ years. We still grow everything ourselves, and when my parents began they would drive down to Seneca Lake in their beat-up pick-up truck and fill 50 gallon drums of water to bring back and water everything by hand with watering cans.

Moon Valley Plant Co.

Moon Valley Plant Co.

Moon Valley Plant Co.

Moon Valley Plant Co.

Some pictures of the family business today, which obviously looks different from when it began in 1983.

Some pictures of the family business today, which obviously looks different from when it began in 1983.

I was raised off the power grid in the outskirts of a small town (population ~ 1,000) surrounded by farmland and tiny hamlets.  We were poor, I wore hand-me-downs from my brothers (originally from the Salvation Army) and my mother was forced to rely on Welfare and WIC for a short time.  I did not have a flushing toilet and shower until I was 10.  To compensate for the lack of income the family business produced, both of my parents also worked full-time jobs.  They could have chosen a less rugged life, but they loved the cozy cabin in the woods and the fresh air surrounding them and the sweat of their labor going directly to their own business.  These humble beginnings made me appreciate the finer things in life and made me realize the enormous difference between wants and needs.  You tend not to deliberate over race and class when every breath of air you take is clean and fresh, when your bones ache from chopping wood, when your imagination runs rampant, and when you simply appreciate ALL life on earth.  Needless to say, I was a pretty happy kid!

Me and dad on the homemade benches, built from trees from our woods ... Moon Valley was literally built from the ground up.

Me and dad on the homemade benches, built from trees from our woods … Moon Valley was literally built from the ground up.

The people in my town, whom I rarely associated with, were, for the most part, unaware participants in a system of structural inequality, being either comfort or credential class republicans, or members of the excluded class.  They were not worldly, not liberal, not culturally diverse, and not open-minded.  The central school blatantly perpetuated separation amongst social classes and made few attempts to make students aware of the inequalities that permeated their everyday lives.  Fortunately for me, however, I learned from my parents to be liberal and open-minded, to question everything, and to be conscious of what made me happy.  Above all, my parents taught me (directly and indirectly) that I could do and be anything I wanted.  If I wanted to climb trees, skin knees, and race toy cars, I could; if I wanted to play with Barbies, make mud pies, and play dress-up, I could.  I was able to excel in whatever I put my mind to.  Consequently, my aptitude for academics, my capability of independence, and my hard work ethic landed me a full-tuition scholarship from SUNY Plattsburgh, which I attended for 4 years.  With full T.A.P and PELL Grants, I decided to attend college not simply to receive a piece of paper saying that I answered questions posed to me by academic institutions correctly, but as an endeavor for knowledge, a way to indulge my mind and expand my horizons, and to form my own questions.

After undergraduate school, I took five years off to explore the world, literally on a whim and a dime. It was certainly a cultural and educational experience, and sometimes a very trying experience as well. I know I was lucky to be able to do this. But I was still handed nothing, and given no money or allowances by my parents. Everything I did was on my own. I had to make it on my own. Not because I wanted to prove something, but because I had no money and no choice. Honestly, this made the experience all the richer. After goofing off for five years, I decided to go back to school (for all the wrong reasons), and eventually got accepted to Columbia University, all expenses paid, to pursue a PhD. Though I never saw myself in this place  or this role (New York City nor pursuing a PhD), there I was … trending towards being the only person in my mother or father’s family histories to ever obtain a PhD. During my PhD years I spent most of my time in New York City and summers in the arctic tundra in Alaska. I researched climate change and plant ecology/physiology in the arctic. All very relevant and important stuff in the 21st century. I got my PhD and, honestly, it was rather anticlimactic. So I took a few more years to do some soul searching. To make ends meet, I was a farm laborer and did some odd winery jobs. Occasionally people were shocked that I was doing what I was doing with a PhD from Columbia … but I’ve never been one to take ‘occasional’ comments to heart. Eventually I received a fabulous postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell University, helping farmers and water resource managers plan for an uncertain climatic future. This meant I could stay in the Finger Lakes, where my heart always drew me back to, and be an environmentalist and help farmers. For me, this was a win-win-win situation.

The funny thing is, though I’m fiercely independent and have had to finance everything myself, with odd jobs here and there, I could never have accomplished any of what I’ve done without my mom and dad. My parents are the real reason I ever accomplished anything. Besides the obvious fact that without them, there would be no me, there is the less obvious fact that everything I have done and accomplished could (and should) be attributed to my parents. I am eternally grateful for the  common sense, independence, patience, determination, and hardworking grit they instilled in me.

I realize the economic stress and extraordinary hard work my parents endured to give me a better life, but I do not aspire to be rich, I aspire to be wealthy with happiness, which I’m sure would please them.  Certainly, a diploma suggests the accumulation of knowledge and skill, but my plans are to continue to travel and see more of the world, and eventually settle down and live self sufficiently much as my parents did.   I do not refute the idea that my contingent class background and femininity have had negative effects on my life, and my whiteness has had positive effects, but I do anticipate a living situation where these factors play no more of a role than creating an outward appearance.  I would not consider myself oblivious to race, class, and gender issues (as I am fully aware that they exist), but thus far in my life I have been relatively secluded from the cruelty of the “real” world.  Certainly life has afforded me the freedom from having to think daily about the color of my skin.  And going straight from high school to college makes for a cushy transition period where the only gender discrimination I have encountered has come from men who have their minds in their pants, otherwise I have not felt disadvantaged due to my sex.  As far as class, my after school jobs did not discriminate…everyone made minimum wage!  Of course, I had to get after school jobs to afford anything beyond the bare necessities covered by my parent’s wages (something I presume children of the privileged class with allowances do not typically encounter).  Moreover, I am not unaware that the social structure of this country is maintained in part by rich white males placed in powerful positions (in the WTO, Congress, Presidency, as CEOs of major corporations, etcetera), who benefit from perpetual racism, classism, and genderism.  However, I cannot hold a grudge for being born into a culture I did not create, and I cannot weigh myself down with thoughts of inequality.  Thus, at the risk of sounding cowardly, the effect structural inequality has had on my life is my resistance to accept it and my decision to put it aside for now until I will eventually leave it behind altogether.

The importance of my parent’s backgrounds is that I cannot deny my families long history of unfulfilled “American Dreams”, but I have realized (thanks to my parent’s mental revolution) that rather than continually attempt to claw my way up the rungless social ladder on the backs of others (only to be sucked back into the vortex of cyclic class structure), I can choose to break out of this cycle and live in what would be considered the excluded class.  Excluded, though it sounds unpleasant, to me means simplicity…off the grid.  Take for instance Gustavo Estava, a zapatista activist from Oaxaca, Mexico, who pointed out to me that, although he fits at least seven of the nine definitions of poverty (as defined by the “progressive developed” world), he considers himself to be one of the richest people he has ever met.  The point being, one does not need things and wealth to be content.  In fact, it requires little money, to fulfill your needs and deny the wants created by  “progressive” society.  Who needs the worries of retirement funds, the desire of economic power, or the burden of “ism” issues on their minds?  Frankly, the madness of modern life is enough to make anyone withdraw from the shackles of modern society.

X-mas Massacre

Thoughts and Adventures

As far as the eye could see, dead bodies lined the streets.  Every corner you turned, there were more carcasses.   There was no avoiding them, they were ubiquitous. Every day they would be tossed into the back of trucks by the hundreds, and yet more would appear.  They just kept coming.  For weeks they just kept coming.  The cold January air helped preserve them to some extent, but occasionally little bits of the remains would not make it into the trucks, maybe a limb here, or a little piece of this or that would fall off after being dragged along the concrete.  Remnants of once wonderful lives.  Civilians were so used to seeing them, they would simply walk around or over the lifeless bodies.  People would allow, even encourage, their dogs to defile the dead bodies.   Those who couldn’t be bothered to step over or around, would kick the carcasses…

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Divergent Theories on Marxism

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

Throughout history there have been numerous divergent theories and interpretations of Marxism.  There was Mao Tse-Tung, the extremists who used the guise of communism to meet his own ends.  Then there was the infamous Joseph Stalin’s interpretation of Marxism, which stemmed from Leninism and eventually degenerated into a capitalistic system of bureaucratization and self-fulfilling prophecies to justify his power through policies of so-called socialism.  C.L.R. James, on the other hand, saw through the smoke screen of Stalin’s lies, became a major dissenter, and posed plausible socialist alternatives to problems created in Russia under a Fascist state.

The problem with divergent theories on Marxism is not that there are different views, but that self-proclaimed Marxists have historically been found killing, imprisoning, and making war on each other in the name of revolution.  There were those who used Marx’s ideology to further social change and those who used him to contain it.  This compels us to ask, what is Marxism?  First and foremost, Marxism is a theory of the working class, of the proletariat, involving itself in the articulation of the interests of the working class as a whole, regardless of nationality.   At a time when exploitation and oppression were growing with an expanding capitalistic mentality, Marx’s ideology working to serve the common interests of an entire class internationally was rather appealing.  This leads to the second important element of Marxism, that of the birth of the modern proletariat and the development of its struggle against capitalism.  Recognizing class struggle and making the working class’s presence felt was a key principle of Marxism.   Finally, simply recognizing the proletariat’s resistance to capitalism and its struggle against capitalism was not enough in Marxist theory, but the victory of that class was essential (4).  “The definition that most succinctly summarizes these elements is that Marxism is the theory of the international proletarian revolution” (4).

 

Before delving into an analysis of Lenin, Stalin, and James’ political histories, I would like to point out some ways in which Mao Tse-Tung’s interpretation of Marxism transformed a man into a god.  The people of China did not simply listen to Mao and respect him, but they hung on his every word and revered him.  Mao was able to penetrate every faction of Chinese life, society, and culture–from weddings, to books, and even down to changing the color of stoplights.  Mao permeated everything everywhere because everyone loved him.  And, because the Chinese people worshipped Mao Tse-Tung, he gained a control over the minds and lives of people no other communist leaders previously had (11).

Mao Tse-Tung

Mao Tse-Tung

Mao created the ultimate authoritarian Marxism, allotting him a power over Chinese minds that led to millions of deaths; because if people worship you, you can literally kill babies.  Mao used this elemental control he had over people’s actions to hammer distinct class consciousness into people’s heads.  He did this by differentiating between various classes in order to fit people neatly into one group or another.  Mao’s analysis of what Chinese culture was like boiled down to class distinctions between the landlords, who owned a majority of the land in an area and did not share the benefits they reaped with the people…they were the counterrevolutionary enemy; the middle bourgeoisie, who were easily swayed toward capitalists or proletariat revolutionaries depending on circumstances…they were selfish and not revolutionary enough; the petty bourgeoisie and the semi-proletariat, who were economically uncomfortable or straight-up poor…they were the most likely candidates for proponents of the Revolution; and finally there were the proletariats, the factory workers…the leaders of the Revolution.  These specific class distinctions united masses of people within the Revolution by creating common enemies among classes outside the Revolution (10).    Mao’s power over the people, and this extreme social stratification proved extremely pungent when Revolutionaries actually put guns in the hands of townspeople in order to shoot and overthrow greedy landlords who had enjoyed a deep-rooted authority for years.  Mao legitimized violent actions by proclaiming, “a revolution is not a dinner party; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, restrained and magnanimous…a revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence…a rural revolution is a revolution by which the peasantry overthrows the power of the feudal landlord class…to establish the absolute authority of the peasants” (11).  In a sense, this was genius: Mao put the power of the Revolution in the hands of the people, which justified the cause through significant actions (i.e. shooting someone) (11).  Nevertheless, Mao Tse-Tung’s mastermind revolutionary measures were authoritarian, extremist, and what I deem to be a misinterpretation of Marxism.

 

Another deluded interpretation of Marxist theory was that of Joseph Stalin.  Stalin’s corruption of Marxism did not stem from pure maliciousness (as is the case with most who defiled Marx’s words), but built upon Vladimir Lenin’s distortion of fundamental Marxist ideologies. Prior to Stalin’s reign over the communist party, Lenin led the vanguard party in Russia, which was composed of a highly centralized body organized around a core of experienced revolutionaries called the Bolsheviks (5).   Simply called the Party, this vanguard group understood class struggle and the oppression the working class endured at the hands of opportunistic capitalists.  The Party’s ideological underpinnings were to represent Russian workers and protect their interests.  Their goal was to institute a proletariat dictatorship by overthrowing and suppressing the despotic capitalists.  The progressive working-class movement in Russia, led by the Party, incorporated Marxist ideals as a theoretical foundation: revolution to represent the interests of the masses in politics.  The two most important of these ideological foundations, according to Lenin, were that active movement is far more important and functional than programs, and that one should not allow bargaining over principles to satisfy aims of the movement (6).

 

Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin

Although Lenin did benignly dedicate his life to establishing a society free from oppression, he unknowingly set the stage for Stalin’s fraudulent interpretation of Marxism.  Unfortunately, because it seems to be human nature to want more power once you have wet your appetite for it, the ideal actions of the vanguard Party (the theoretical framework mentioned above) were not actually carried out.  As an intellect, Lenin realized he could never win an election in Russia, so he united masses of workers under a Party, which he appointed himself leader of.  Consequently, Lenin obtained power whether he wanted it or not.  Of course he wasn’t going to refuse power given to him by attentive masses, and he used this advantage to interpret Marxist theory at his own discretion and distribute his rhetoric to the people.  Lenin accordingly interpreted what he considered the two most fundamental Marxist ideologies as follows.  First, to create action of revolution and not passive bandage-like programs, he compelled the Party to utilize democratic centralism.  Secondly, in order to not make theoretical concessions, Lenin condemned freedom of criticism.  Under democratic centralism, decisions would be openly discussed and the Party would make a final decision based on what they felt was best for the people.  After that there would be no more discussion (decisions were final), which left little room for true representation of the masses.

This misinterpretation of Marxist theory derived from Lenin’s notion that when you’re a dissenter, that’s when problems occur.  Lenin felt criticism opened the doors to new and dangerous agencies through the creation of political space, which could bring the ideals of the vanguard Party into question.  He claimed, ““freedom of criticism” means freedom for an opportunist trend in Social-Democracy, freedom to convert Social-Democracy into a democratic party of reform, freedom to introduce bourgeois ideas and bourgeois elements into socialism” (6).  Because criticism could potentially cause opposition when multiple possibilities and choices were presented to the masses, Lenin demanded an end to freedom of criticism.  Hence, Lenin used the centralized power of the Party (which admittedly had beneficial ideological underpinnings) to implement democratic centralism, and to stop criticism of his ideas and decisions (6).  Thus, he was not a Marxist because he maintained the bourgeoisie nature of the Russian Revolution.

This slight misrepresentation of Marx by Lenin led to Joseph Stalin’s eventual heretical slaughter of Marxism.  Essentially, Stalin’s theory of ‘socialism in one country’ turned into the antithesis of socialism.  In his essay, “Dialectical and Historical Materialism”, Stalin claimed that “the capitalist system can be replaced by the socialist system, just as at one time the feudal system was replaced by the capitalist system”.  To do so, “one must look forward, not backwards” (9).  Furthermore, in order to liberate the working class from the burden of capitalism, “one must be a revolutionary, not a reformist” (9) according to Stalin.  He then went on to claim that “capitalism has become enmeshed in contradictions…undermines its own foundation… [and] is pregnant with revolution” (9).  Stalin’s declarations, however, are so wrought with contradictions themselves, he threatened to undermine the foundation of his own system.

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin

The main problem lay in his hypocrisy in proclaiming corruption among capitalists, while he himself reverted back to capitalism.  Stalinism was born out of a series where the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie was replaced by the dictatorship of the proletariat; the Bolsheviks then replaced the dictatorship of the proletariat with the dictatorship of the Party; Stalin then replaced the dictatorship of the Party with the dictatorship of the bureaucracy.  Under Stalin’s Russia grew a system of repression and degeneration of true Marxism.  All the complaints Stalin made about the private accumulation of Western capitalists became the dynamics under which he operated.

This is an excellent point to quickly explain primitive accumulation as a predecessor of capitalism before elucidating Stalin’s position.  My understanding is that the slow transformation from collective, communal land holding/working, to feudalism (where lords own the land while it continues to be collectively worked public property), and eventually to capitalism (where individuals own land as private property) has led to primitive accumulation.  According to capitalistic ideology, land can be bought and sold by individuals.  These conditions destroy the social cohesion and organizations brought about by communal property ideologies, and replace them with social organizational patterns founded on a scattered, individualized means of production.  Eventually, the advent of capitalism and primitive accumulation beget social order based on competition and disconnected, exclusive properties of insatiable capitalists.  With this transformation, property that was owned by the populace becomes concentrated and controlled by a few greedy people willing to buy up all the land.  Ultimately, the few huge property owners expropriate land from people, accumulate capital by then exploiting the labor of these people, and end the means of subsistence for many.  In this way, the materialistic minority begins to gain almost complete control over the means of production.  As the transformation from sustainable communal land holdings to capitalism continues, wage-labor becomes more and more the main source of production and increasingly a form of social exploitation (where a few large landholders accumulate resources through the manipulation of wage-labor).  This process of primitive accumulation continues to snowball when all the people of a country have been exploited to their full potential and the eager capitalists move abroad to continue their accumulation of wealth and power.  Thus, primitive accumulation becomes a device of globalization as capitalists move around the world and entangle people globally (7).  Karl Marx summed it up best when he said:

“One capitalist always kills many.  Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the co-operative form of the labor-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labor into instruments only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use of means of production of combined, socialized labor, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime (7).”

As fewer people usurp the advantages of this capitalistic transformation, greater numbers of people suffer from misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation.  With this, grows the revolt of the working class, a class always growing in numbers and united by their collective hatred of the process of capitalistic production itself (7).  This free enterprise taking advantage of the force that maintains its existence cannot expand infinitely, for that reason reversing the trend of primitive accumulation was exactly what Marx was attempting to do.  Joseph Stalin claimed primitive accumulation planted the seeds of capitalisms’ own destruction, which he was right about.  However, his hypocrisy in making such claims would later shine through as he led Russia down a path of primitive accumulation.  At the same time he was complaining about the downfalls of capitalism, Stalin claimed Russia could not be capitalistic because “the main feature of the capitalist system is a most acute class struggle between the exploiters and the exploited” (9).  He noted the absence of such a struggle in Russia, but opportunely forgot to mention that perhaps an acute class struggle did not exist under his regime because, in a society controlled by one party (led by Stalin of course), with all other parties eliminated from the political playing field, with bureaucracy as the political center of gravity, and with all dissenters being executed, there was little room for class struggle.  Stalin meticulously reconstructed Russian society in the interests of a privileged minority and “announced ominously that the party had moved on from a policy of limiting the exploiting activities of the kulaks to a policy of liquidating the kulaks as a class” (2).  A man who insisted on “social ownership of the means of production…comradely cooperation and the socialist mutual assistance of workers…free from exploitation” (9) was effectively waging war on the peasantry.  In Russia, Stalin allegedly did not see the “periodical crises of overproduction and their accompanying absurdities” (9) attributed to a capitalist society.  Yet as many as five million people died of famines that resulted from his collectivization, because peasants could not even have regular production (8).

Basically, Stalin’s bureaucracy monopolized the Soviet system through compulsion and police subjectivism to serve the privileged minority.  Not only did he accomplish this by executing nearly 650,000 people and imprisoning 5.5 million, but also by tyrannically smashing democracy.  “Women’s rights disappeared, Great Russia nationalism rode triumphant over the minorities, workers were stripped of all power and the ultimate aim of everything was ‘socialism in one country’-building up the Russian state”  (8).

C.L.R. James noticed the excessive hypocrisy of Stalin’s alleged Marxist words and actions and noted that:

“Side by side with a tremendous but declining rate of industrial expansion in Russia, the working class has been reduced to a state of pauperization, slavery, and degradation…the real wages of the workers are approximately one-half of what they were in 1913.  A bureaucrat holds all economic and political power.  To continue to call Russian workers the ruling class is to make a statement without meaning (3).”

The main purpose of a capitalist economy is to extract surplus value from surplus labor.  This was precisely the aim of Stalinism, which, according to James, “stamps [Russian] society as being of the same inner essence as capitalism” (3).  Under the guise of communism, the nationalistic party (the Communist Party) gained complete central power and created extreme nationalism in Russia.  After dissecting the economic basis for Stalin’s increased exploitation of the worker and centralization of the means of production at the hands of the bureaucrats, James noted, “if the relations of production in Russia are capitalist then the state is Fascist”  (3).  This is a fitting description of Russia’s economy at that time if a Fascist state is defined as “the political reflection of the drive toward complete centralization of production” (3).  As Stalin’s rule led to an increased manipulation of production, productive forces, and surplus value, primitive accumulation began to take shape in this hypocritical Russian world.  James saw Stalin as a usurper, a distorter, and an obstacle.  However, he also saw Stalinism as part of a process, claiming that “the proletariat itself will smash Stalinism to pieces…only at the end, when the labor movement finds itself fully realized will we see what it is in very truth”  (1).

C.L.R. James

C.L.R. James

Perhaps the biggest divergence in Marxist theory between Stalin and C.L.R. James was that Stalin viewed the Communist Party as the uniter of the ideologies of the masses, while James viewed it as the destroyer of the free activity of the proletariat.  Although Stalin claimed that capitalism was ruinous, he actually drew post-Revolutionary Russia into a downward spiral of state-controlled, capitalistic production.  James stated, “The antithesis of Stalinist society and capitalist society being the same, the solution of their contradictions is the same…the workers must take control of the process of production on a national scale and international scale” (3).  The antithesis he suggested—socialism.  James proclaimed:

“The world today lives in the shadow of state power.  This state power is an ever-present self-perpetuating body over and above society.  It transforms the human personality into a mass of economic needs to be satisfied by decimal points of economic progress.  It robs everyone of initiative and clogs the free development of society.  This state power…destroys all pretence of government by the people, of the people.  All that remains is government for the people (1).”

James’ interpretation of Marxism led to the idea of socialism, meaning the expansion and fulfillment of social values such as free speech, free press, free assembly, continuous employment, social insurance, and so on.  Rather than allow the Communist Party to destroy the free activity of the worker, he suggested that the free activity of the proletariat would emerge through the destruction of the Communist Party.  Free activity would also mean an end to capitalism and the birth of socialism.  His postulations on what the consequences would be if Russia transformed into a socialist state were three.  First, he believed the creative abilities of the worker would be brought to the forefront, thus emancipating the working class.  James recognized Man as the “greatest of all productive forces” (3) and presumed that human freedom would come if and when his potentialities went unrestricted.  Secondly, all members of society would be involved in production through creative labor under socialism.  James claimed that in a socialist Russia, “all [would] be trained and placed in productive labor” (3).  Finally, production would be for social needs, not useless autocratic expenditures.  Socialism would entail the production of practical materials and public works for the collective good, and the suppression of production and spending on things that did not benefit communal peoples (3).  Fundamentally, C.L.R. James’ divergent theory of Marxism would directed toward promoting social change.

As various people throughout history have reinterpreted Karl Marx’s writings and ideologies, some have used his words to gain power over people in an autocratic manner, while others have simply reinterpreted his works to the benefit of the masses.  An example of the former could be Mao-Tse Tung’s ultimate use of class distinction to gain individual power.  Joseph Stalin also fits into the category of the former, building upon Vladimir Lenin’s slight warping of Marx’s ideas and usurping the people through idiosyncratic politics.  His actions certainly spoke louder than his words when the two diverged, as they unquestionably did throughout his rule in Russia.  Such antithetical interpretations of Marxist theory can be summed up best by the eternal words of Lord Acton: “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  How such hypocrites as Mao and Stalin could call themselves Marxists was surprising to many, including C.L.R. James.  Although James did not specifically reinterpret Marx’s work as Stalin had done, he questioned Stalin’s own interpretations.  He became a major dissenter toward Stalin’s unfortunate movement toward capitalism and the exploitation of the people and posed credible solutions through socialism as an answer to Russia’s Fascist state.

So which translation of Marxism is most correct?  That depends on your interpretation of Marxist theory and the role of government, political parties, and individuals in shaping reality.  A relativist would claim neither is more right than the other; a nihilist would say they are both equally wrong; and George W. Bush would call them all terrorists.  I believe Lenin was probably the closest to remaining true to Marx’s Marxism, but even he became corrupt from power, which set the stage for further corruption under Stalin.  James posed some respectable and plausible ideas as to how to fix problems created under Stalin’s Marxist regime, but they were just that, ideas.  This is where I consider the problems surrounding divergent theories on Marxism arise.  Marxism is a theory, an idealistic method combined with certain analysis and propositions, leaving room for personal interpretations with regards to achieving an ideal communist nation.  Reality is much different than theory, especially in the social human realm, where what one says and what one does do not often agree.  Doing what is best for the majority of society often gets overlooked by self proclaimed Marxists in positions of power, as can be seen throughout history.  The one example above (that of C.L.R. James) where Marx’s ideologies where not utterly misconstrued was one in which the person was never put in a position of power but had the freedom to theorize behind the comfort of a desk.  Consider Karl Marx’s own words from The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

“As in private life one distinguishes between what a man thinks and says of himself and what he really is and does, still more in historical struggles must one distinguish the phrases and fancies of the parties from their real organism and their real interests, their conception of themselves from their reality.”

 

Works Cited

(1)  “CLR James”.   http://generation-online.org/p/pclrjames.htmAccessed 30 Apr 2005.

(2)  History Channel, The.  “Stalin: Stalin & the Communist Party in the 1920’s”.  http://www.historystudystop.co.uk/php/displayarticle.php?rticle=39&page=1&topic=meu.  Accessed 30 Apr 2005.

(3) James, C.L.R.  “Resolution on the Russian Question”.  1941.   http://www.marxists.org/archive/james-clr/works/1941/09/russia.htm.  Accessed 30 Apr 2005.

(4) John Molyneux.  “What is the real Marxist tradition?”  Originally published in International Socialism 2:20, Jul 1983.  http://www.marxisme.dk/arkiv/molyneux/realmarx/index. htm#pt1.  Accessed 30 Apr 2005.

(5) Lenin, Vladimir.  “What is to be Done?”  Notes on the Text: i.  1902.  http://artsci.shu.edu/ reesp/documents/Lenin–chto%20delat.htmAccessed 30 Apr 2005.

(6)  Lenin, Vladimir.  “What is to be Done?”  Chapter 1: “Dogmatism and ‘Freedom of Criticism’.” 1901.   http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/i.htm#v05fl61h- 352-GUESS.  Accessed 30 Apr 2005.

(7)  Marx, Karl.  “Capital.”  Volume One: “Part VIII: Primitive Accumulation.”  Chapter Thirty-Two: “Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation.”  1867.  http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch32.htm.  Accessed 30 Apr 2005.

 (8)  Socialist Worker Page.  “A Counter to Martin Amis’s New Book: Stalin”.  14 Sep 2002:  issue 1817.    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/article.php4? article_id=4710.   Accessed 30 Apr 2005.

(9)  Stalin, J.V.  “Dialectical and Historical Materialism”.  Sep 1938.   http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1938/09.htm.  Accessed 30 Apr 2005.

(10)  Tse-Tung, Mao.  “Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society.”  Mar 1926.  http://www. marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-1/mswv1_1.htm.  Accessed 30 Apr 2005.

(11)  Tse-Tung, Mao.  “The Importance of the Peasant Problem.”  http://www.chairmanmao. org/ eng /wen/wen18.htm.  Accessed 30 Apr 2005.  

What Do We Really Want?

Human’s innate desires, according to Hinduism, are pleasure, success, and the responsible discharge of duty.  But are these what we really want, or are they just superficial, finite longings?  And if they are limited cravings, what then do we truly desire?

Pleasure, success, and duty certainly are desires that people wish to attain, but human beings are far too deep to be completely satisfied by such simplistic measures.  Which is why Hindus believe these three desires are merely doors that lead to the deeper human subconscious (where our true wishes remain hidden until we are able to realize what we really want).  So what are these ‘real’ wants, and how do they differ from the obvious conscious desires?  According to Hindu principle, being (rather than not being/dying), knowing, and joy are what people actually want.  Supposedly, it is not until the initial appeal of pleasure, duty, and success wears off that one is able to realize a deeper level of want.  Anyone can seek pleasure, maintain success, and fulfill duty, but these are all finite desires that can restrict people from the limitless being, consciousness, and bliss that we genuinely desire.

People want boundlessness; they want infinite being, infinite knowledge, and infinite bliss.  Although pleasure and joy seem identical, joy, in the sense used in Hindu thought, opposes futility, boredom, and frustration (opening a person to possible unrestrained happiness); pleasure, on the other hand, is a direct cause of enjoyment (if this, then that) rather than an indirect promoter of bliss.

We want to know.  Human beings are constantly striving to learn and understand.  Knowledge and wisdom, however, is infinite because the universe is forever changing; things come and go and no human could ever fully comprehend the phenomenal amount of information, ideas, and obtainable knowledge that exists.

Continuation is the final, and perhaps most crucial, genuine desire of the human race.  What is success, pleasure, and duty, or any quintessential human desire without life?  Existence comes before anything else (before extension or before any desire can exist at all).

How is it possible to generalize about and differentiate between what people want (pleasure, success, and duty) and what they really want (being, knowing, and joy)?  Hindu belief does so by stating that the former desires are bounded, while the latter are limitless.  In the end it’s simply a matter of what we really, deeply desire:  release from the finitude that restricts us from existing, consciousness, and harmony.