More on getting unwired

Reflecting on Tuesday’s post, I knew that Thoreau had said something pertinent, something specific about letting wondrous things be — not immediately boxing them to fix within causal chains.

Of course Thoreau was a premier scientific researcher — his meticulous field notes are still extremely valuable to those who study the ecology of Eastern Massachusetts (especially those ecologists who want regional historical time-lines).  And Thoreau had a number of worthy ecological and geological hypotheses.  For example, he speculated tellingly about ‘the succession of forest trees’ — why, after a fire, the new growth is not just a mimic of the old-growth species, now destroyed.  But the scientific stance, looking for causes and explanatory hypotheses, was not the only way to be in the world among things.

On December 7th, 1838, Thoreau wrote out in his Journal this brief but striking philosophical desire:

“Could we for a moment drop this by-play – and simply wonder – without reference or inference!” 

Thoreau wants to distance himself from immediate “reference or inference.”  I take it a ‘reference’ would be a kind of file-identity attached to the ‘object’ of wonder, and ‘inference’ would be the start of causal explanation.  Neither of these would be “befitting poetic response.”  (In my post, I wrote, “The poetry of life deserves to be preserved by befitting poetic response.“)  To give an example of befitting response we could turn to any number of passages from Walden (say).  But here’s a response on the occasion of wonder that is, to my ear, “without reference or inference.”  I’d call it a “befitting poetic response.”

Some eight months before Thoreau’s Journal entry, on April 1, 1838, a literary philosopher from Copenhagen reported in his Journal:

“This morning I saw half a score of geese fly away in crisp cool air. . . . They divided into two flocks arched like a pair of eyebrows above my eyes, which were now gazing into the land of poetry.




4 comments on “More on getting unwired

  1. dmf says:

    I was thinking in response to your first wired post that there are many good reasons for thinking in terms of the wiring (and what, like seeing color) is a human response-ability that we project on the world, this has had real (and often helpful) implications in fields like psychiatry and epidemiology, but like Wittgenstein noted in his criticisms of Freud and Frazer there is an additional (so to speak) layer of human-being/doings that can’t be reduced to simple functionalist accounts that is something like aesthetic, or as I prefer poetic-dwelling. I know from my own experience that these differing ways/modes don’t cancel each other out (as many folks from both sides, “cultures”, often claim) just as I may be initially gripped by the presence of a printed image in an art show and then to begin to appreciate the craft/techniques/materials that made it so, flipping back and forth as with other examples of aspect-dawning.

    • efmooney says:

      I think it helps to keep certain technical accounts of phenomena at hand to supplement the immediacy or our poetic responses. But then it makes a difference which technical response I flip to. Technical accounts of the trade of a photographer or painter might help a lot in understanding how a style of image-making delivers its punch — but then, it might not. Accounts of brain wiring might help me understand broad things like senility or paranoia at a very general level of understanding, but I’d think they’d be pretty useless in helping me unpack Sally’s paranoia-in-relation-to-her-adopted-mom, or John’s senility-in-relation-to-the names-of-relatives. At that more immediate level, I might need a lot more poetic insight, and wiring’s relevance would slip away.

      • dmf says:

        I think we are in general agreement here tho two minor quibbles I don’t think that we would actually be unpacking (practicing some form of arche-ology) but assembling/co-ordinating new responses/possibilities, and I don’t know if the orientation of the ‘wiring’ slips away entirely (one would act out very differently say if one had diagnosed possession or witchcraft or stubbornness or such), I think this is part of the sort of event-uality that continental philo folks were working out with accounts of St.Paul’s conversion and subsequent life-trajectory.
        Part of what I appreciate about folks like Rorty was the sense that one needs differing modes/approaches for differing interests/projects and that there aren’t really totally different fields/disciplines/etc, that we are always already patching together bit and pieces.

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