Knowledge is not the rare gem it used to be. Then again, without recording, analysing, sorting, summarising, calculating and disseminating mega quantities of data we’d have none of our ingenious toys to play with. Without statistics our systems would grind to a halt, and, yes, it’s annoying that almost daily yet another quantitative study announces what’s good, or detrimental, for our well-being. Thankfully, none of the churned out evidenced facts can make a claim on meaning. Humans remain idiosyncratic. We apply messy values to our life-choices, and we frequently ignore the logical road signs of scientific landscapes, or blank out the hassle of linear time.
Instead, we are tossed along by emotional encounters, the unexpected, are awestruck after a quantum leap of intuition, and are generally guided by what appeals to a body/mind that likes the stimulation of nature, her moods, seasons, the phases of day and night suggesting action or repose, like the in-and-out-breath, between which we may catch a glimpse of a dream, a relevant truth, an eternity even. Hardly anyone I know is without this conflict: liking order and control, as well as yearning for rapport with the dance and rhythm of nature.
Over 300 years ago G W von Leibnitz, who could’ve been a poet, was gripped by an emerging idea, to collate all human knowledge and to systematize it via a common language. Computers would have been his bliss. He loved to correspond with most scholars in Europe during this baroque era. And he might have gone some way to explain the whole universe in the hope to solve every conceivable problem. Paradoxically, he also stated … the universe had to be imperfect otherwise it would not be distinct from God. Near the end of his life, Leibniz wrote in a letter that combining metaphysics with mathematics and science through universal characters would require creating what he called:
… a kind of general algebra in which all truths of reason would be reduced to a kind of calculus. At the same time, this would be a kind of universal language or writing, though infinitely different from all such languages which have thus far been proposed; for the characters and the words themselves would direct the mind, and the errors — excepting those of fact — would only be calculation mistakes. It would be very difficult to form or invent this language or characteristic, but very easy to learn it without any dictionaries …
I’m not doing honour to this remarkable man, so here is a sketch of a biography … http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Leibniz.html … should you have the patience to read this, note the time it took for letters between Leibniz and Newton to be delivered, which makes me admire the tenacity of these scientists.
The notion of a calculus for a universal language intrigues and troubles me. Nature speaks a language everyone understands. Key-terms of my mother tongue (see my last blog post) easily bring back the plot of land my toddler feet bounced across. The stories I most enjoy writing grow organically, with tendrils of their roots nourished by the alpine woods and hills of my childhood.
But things change. Data collation is now available to authors, promising control, over marketing, though formulas and blueprints are now offered for the creative process, like how to write a novel in four week. Imagination serves many masters and is not easily controlled – its life-sap flows through all forms.
We can only explore everything known continuously in fresh situations and move on, in the way that children and creative people place a familiar object into a new context. The play of imagination destroys and creates, and has the power to shift the meaning of our past, present and future.
‘There is the truth of truth as well as the truth of fact.’ D.H. Lawrence
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