Just wing it

“The hacks of academe (new generation) have put it about that everything is political, especially textual analyses of great literature that reveal, through the application of emancipatory ideology and subversive wordplay, that the past was even less enlightened than the present. Besides allowing critical minnows to patronize artistic whales, this approach frees academic literary intellectuals from having to learn much about history, economics, politics, or how to compose English prose.” – George Scialabba, “The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal”

But all our secrets are the same

“There is something unbearably poignant about the human desire to know and be known, eternally at odds with the need for privacy and self-protection. We each are separated from one another by the things we keep secret or are unable to express; that distance, no matter how slender, imparts a loneliness to our existence that we can never quite overcome.” – Averil Dean, The Undoing

Prioritizing

“Why not lay aside questions of ultimate meaning for as long as there is unnecessary suffering in the world? I don’t mean necessary suffering, like disappointed love or the infirmities of age. I mean wholly unnecessary suffering, like undernourished, illiterate, or malarial children. When there are no more such, then let us begin asking again about the meaning of life and the existence of God.” – George Scialabba, “The Wreck of Western Culture”

Find the cost of freedom

“The burden of freedom, the responsibility of finding—or creating—one’s own purpose and meaning without the guidance of authoritative inherited creeds and values, is too heavy for all but a few. The rest of us cannot endure for long the tensions of uncertainty. We must, at some point, stop questioning, quiet our doubts, turn away from moral and metaphysical inquiry and toward life. Untrammeled skepticism ends in paralysis. That is true of societies as well as individuals. No purely rational justification can be offered for trust and self-sacrifice. But without them, social life is chaos, a war of all against all. Until a few hundred years ago, this problem scarcely existed. The authority of communities and traditions, though often enough evaded or defied, was rarely put in radical question. There were sinners, doubters, even heretics, but dogma and hierarchy, as the foundation of individual morality and social organization, were unchallenged. Then modernity happened. Beginning in fifteenth-century Europe, a critical, experimental, libertarian spirit began to flourish, which came to be known as ‘humanism.’ A crescendo of scientific discoveries, artistic innovations, geographical explorations, and political reforms ensued until, at the end of the eighteenth century, Kant hailed ‘humankind’s emergence from its self-imposed minority’ and baptized it ‘Enlightenment.’ At the same time, the prestige of the sacred and the supernatural, of what the Grand Inquisitor called ‘miracle, mystery, and authority’ and declared indispensable to ordinary people’s happiness, was correspondingly diminished. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, humanism’s luster was tarnished. First came the blight of early industrialization, then colonial brutality, totalitarian repression, and the technologies of extermination in concentration camps and global wars. Even after these horrors passed, in the midst of unprecedented prosperity, an epidemic of spiritual emptiness descended: alienation, consumerism, and the loneliness of mass society. Perhaps, as a minority of modern thinkers have always believed, we cannot live by reason alone. Perhaps modernity is a mistake.” – George Scialabba, “The Wreck of Western Culture”

Lather, rinse, repeat

6.1 Compare all the known data.

6.2 Determine whether the data support the hypothesis.

6.3 In the event that there are data that contradict the hypothesis, examine the data for credibility.

6.3.1 If the data that contradict the hypothesis appear credible, formulate a new hypothesis and begin the process again.

6.4 If all known credible data are supportive of the hypothesis, consider whether alternative hypotheses are also supported by these data.

6.4.1 If more than one hypothesis is supported by the data, it will be necessary to report all credible hypotheses.

– Sidebar 4.1, Section 6, “Hypothesis Testing”, John J. Lentini, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, Second Edition

One exit

“All soldiers wanted to get the war over without being killed or wounded too seriously, but in the infantry this goal was especially difficult. Most quickly realized that once on the front line, the only way to leave while the war lasted was by stretcher.” – Robert Sterling Rush, Hell in Hürtgen Forest

Dog-tired dogfaces

“Soldiers became so tired that they drifted into sleep at the slightest slackening of effort, and leaders, themselves exhausted, found one of their greatest problems was keeping them awake. Soldiers could not remember what happened the previous day and found events blurring into one another. Even with their well-being dependent upon remaining alert, the soldiers became sluggish. They tired and lost the instinct for self-preservation as they failed to follow even the basic fundamentals of their combat training. Fatigue caused casualties. Soldiers walked instead of ran across open fields that were being shelled because they were too tired to run and had passed the point of caring whether they were hit or not.” – Robert Sterling Rush, Hell in Hürtgen Forest

There was that

“The soldiers of the regiment had been in the forest for twelve days. Their miserable existence consisted of dripping rain through the trees, endless mud, staying in wet clothes, never getting warm, no hot food, not enough sleep, and laying awake at night shivering, wrapped in raincoats in foxholes filled with cold water. Then, of course, other men were trying to kill them.” – Robert Sterling Rush, Hell in Hürtgen Forest

Pay attention

“The interest and utility of close reading do not vanish in the face of digital libraries or ubiquitous computation. On the contrary, in the century upon us, where channels of communication are not only increasingly computerized but also increasingly corporatized and where texts of all kinds are turned to manipulative ends with digitally multiplied effectiveness, the ability and disposition to read texts attentively, one by one (in addition, of course, to digital sophistication), is likely to be an advantage.” – Barbara Hernnstein Smith, “What Was ‘Close Reading’?”

Truffling

“The developments to which scholars were responding during the twentieth century were quite significant. Literary study was one thing when a small number of Christian men were teaching the professionally aspiring sons of fellow professionals. It became another when members of an expanding professoriate were teaching students from middle- and working-class families or, later, when a sizeable number of faculty were women and a sizeable number of their students were from racial and ethnic minorities. And the field is yet another thing now, when faculty and students are more likely to encounter texts on screens than anywhere else and everyone is scrambling for positions, funding and status in a shrinking quarter of the academy.” – Barbara Hernnstein Smith, “What Was ‘Close Reading’?”

Poring over

“Full-dress close readings, now as ever, can be showy or strained. They can also be dim, thin, derivative or pedestrian and, when motivated by a history of injury, sulky or venomous. But, now as ever, they can offer those who hear or read them potentially illuminating engagements with regions of language, thought and experience not otherwise commonly encountered.” – Barbara Hernnstein Smith, “What Was ‘Close Reading’?”

The times, they been a-changin’

“Five hundred years ago, slavery was the most natural thing in the world. So was the torture of criminal suspects, convicts, and heretics. So was the virtual ownership—and regular physical chastisement—of women by their fathers or husbands. Most of us (I hope) now abhor these things, but anyone time-traveling back to that era who informed a slaveowner, torturer, or wife-beater that his behavior was shameful would have been met with incomprehension, perhaps even indignation.” – George Scialabba, “The Life You Can Save”

Go down, Moses

“A descent into the depth will be indicated when the light of truth has dimmed and its symbols are losing their credibility; when the night is sinking on the symbols that have had their day, one must return to the night of the depth that is luminous with truth to the man who is willing to seek for it. The depth is fascinating as a threat and a charm––as the abyss into which man falls when the truth of the depth has drained from the symbols by which he orients his life, and as the source from which a new life of the truth and a new orientation can be drawn.” – Eric Voegelin (quoted by John Bussanich in “Eric Voegelin’s Philosophy of Myth”)

And wander bereft

“Only in the shelter of the myth can the sectors of the personality that are closer to the waking consciousness unfold their potentiality; and without the ordering of the whole personality by the truth of the myth the secondary intellectual and moral powers would lose their direction.” – Eric Voegelin (quoted by John Bussanich in “Eric Voegelin’s Philosophy of Myth”)

Perpetual truthing machine

“The myth itself authenticates its truth because the forces that animate its imagery are at the same time its subject matter. A myth can never be ‘untrue’ because it would not exist unless it had its experiential basis in the movements of the soul that it symbolizes.” – Eric Voegelin (quoted by John Bussanich in “Eric Voegelin’s Philosophy of Myth”)

Hence the rise of stars

“In a very deep sense mythical symbols are unavoidable for humans because reality transcends all types of representation and because our formulations cannot dispense completely with concrete phenomena. . . . Although over time particular symbols and myths may become referentially opaque, the realities symbolized do not cease to exist, which is evidenced by the fact that invalidated myths and symbols are replaced by new or revitalized ones.” –  John Bussanich, “Eric Voegelin’s Philosophy of Myth”

Make it newer

“Innovation is the engine of discovery and is vital for a productive, effective scientific enterprise. However, innovative ideas become old news fast. Journal reviewers and editors may dismiss a new test of a published idea as unoriginal. The claim that ‘we already know this’ belies the uncertainty of scientific evidence. Deciding the ideal balance of resourcing innovation versus verification is a question of research efficiency. How can we maximize the rate of research progress? Innovation points out paths that are possible; replication points out paths that are likely; progress relies on both. The ideal balance is a topic for investigation itself. Scientific incentives—funding, publication, or awards—can be tuned to encourage an optimal balance in the collective effort of discovery. Progress occurs when existing expectations are violated and a surprising result spurs a new investigation. Replication can increase certainty when findings are reproduced and promote innovation when they are not.” – Open Science Collaboration, “Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science”

Not one step backwards

“German division commanders in the Hürtgen sector issued emphatic orders to their soldiers not to retreat. Many of their soldiers followed the letter, if not the spirit, of the orders by surrendering at the first opportunity.” – Robert Sterling Rush, Hell in Hürtgen Forest