Einstein and Kermit
- Time and Again
I guess I'm back to blogging, and thanks, you guys, for all your kind wishes. I think I was waiting for something. It's not that I was waiting to feel better about Kermit being gone - that possibility makes me feel guilty and sad. I think I was waiting for her being gone to not really be true. But she's still gone.
One thing I've been doing this past week, though not much else, is reading. I listened to an audio book version of Jack Finney's novel Time and Again, in which a man is able to travel back to 1880's New York by the use of a certain state of mind and Einstein's theory of relativity.
But my sister is reading much more interesting stuff, a book about philosophers Leibniz and Spinoza - The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World by Matthew Stewart, an Oxford-educated philosopher who built a successful management consulting firm and then sold it and retired to a life of "contemplation". Here's a bit from a NY Times review of the book .....
Great Minds Don't Think Alike
[...] Part of this new life [of Matthew Stewart] turned out to be an exploration of what he portrays as a tale of 17th-century deceit: the dealings of a "crooked and ungainly" philosopher, the bewigged Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, with a beauteous contemporary with "dark, languid eyes," the Portuguese-Dutch-Jewish thinker Baruch de Spinoza, who, Stewart maintains, created the foundations of modern philosophy.
Spinoza posited "a universe ruled only by the cause and effect of natural laws, without purpose or design." The God of this universe was a noninterventionist whose essence and pervasiveness might best be described as Nature — capital N — in what Camille Paglia would call the "chthonic" sense. Given God's noninterference policy, Spinoza believed the modern state had the responsibility of looking after the common man, and the common man had the responsibility of looking after himself. In all this, Spinoza saw freedom and, Stewart writes, "anticipated later philosophical and scientific developments by two and sometimes three centuries." (When Einstein was asked if he believed in God, he said, "I believe in Spinoza's God.").
With "The Courtier and the Heretic," Stewart has achieved a near impossibility, creating a page-turner about jousting metaphysical ideas that casts the hallowed, hoary thinkers as warriors in a heated ideological battle. He reveals early on that he believes the battle was one-sided, and that both men fought for the same cause. Even so, the conflict, as he paints it, is no less compelling for ending in a draw ......
In Spinoza's time, the question that gripped hidebound thinkers leery of flouting popular opinion or alienating wealthy patrons, was this: If you believed in Spinoza's God, were you not in actuality an atheist, an offense then punishable by exile, imprisonment or death? Leibniz thought so, and many others agreed — like the bishop who denounced Spinoza as "that insane and evil man, who deserves to be covered with chains and whipped with a rod" and the Jewish community of Amsterdam, which excommunicated him. The mystery that grips Stewart is whether Leibniz himself believed in Spinoza's God, cribbed his teachings (while pretending unfamiliarity with them) and cynically invented his own philosophy in reaction to Spinoza's, to mask his secret atheism. If he did so, Stewart holds, it was from an impulse for self-protection and in the patronizing view that the masses needed to be protected from the rudderless world he and Spinoza detected all around them.
Stewart's most provocative clue, drawn from Leibniz's letters (15,000 of them survive) and thickly annotated writings, is that in 1676, when Leibniz was 30 and before he had developed his mature philosophy, he went to visit Spinoza, then languishing in exile in The Hague. In letters to his friends, Leibniz dismissed the meeting as a brief encounter of no consequence, in which he and Spinoza exchanged "anecdotes." In fact, Stewart writes, the visit took place over many days, and their banter included a "proof of the existence of God." Leibniz wrote it down in Spinoza's presence then read it out to him, and Spinoza could have refuted it, both handily and ego-crushingly, producing what Stewart portrays as an anti-Spinoza animus Leibniz jealously nursed to the end of his days ......
Stewart's chief intent is to demonstrate the debt Liebniz's thought owes to Spinoza. He explains that Spinoza believed man's soul and body were inextricably tied and progressed in tandem through the world, subject to natural laws. Leibniz, Stewart writes, was disturbed by the conclusion that followed from this belief: that the soul died with the body ...... Leibniz wished to show that the soul and body were separate in order to make it easier to prove that the soul was immortal. In the service of this obsession, Leibniz came up with the notion that everything and everyone in the world was a distinct "monad," (from the Greek word for unity) preprogrammed by God to act in a certain way. Each body monad was accompanied by a soul monad that coincidentally shared the same experiences. God was a monad too, Leibniz argued, and for those who wanted to see God pre-eminent he explained that God was the "monad of monads ....."
Spinoza's mighty Nature may have been God enough for Einstein, but it was not enough for Leibniz, and it doesn't satisfy the proponents of intelligent design or those who put service to God above service to man. Stewart recognizes the problem. Spinoza's God, he acknowledges, "will make no exception to its natural laws on your account; it will work no miracles for you; it will tender no affection, show no sign of concern about your well-being; in short, it will give you nothing that you do not already have." .........
So, Einstein worked his way into both my reading and my sister's. Here's what Wikipedia had to say about Einstein on Spinoza ....
Albert Einstein named Spinoza as the philosopher who exerted the most influence on his world view (Weltanschauung). Spinoza equated God (infinite substance) with Nature, consistent with Einstein's belief in an impersonal deity. In 1929, Einstein was asked in a telegram by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein whether he believed in God. Einstein responded by telegram: "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings."
I hope Einstein is wrong about God being a Spinoza-type God, though I wish I could use Einstein's relativity theory to go back in time to be with Kermit.