Esteemed thinker: George Santayana

telephone operator The utterance of sound comes in forms that are pleasing to the ear or displeasing to the psyche. We may be aroused by the mellow song of a lark coming through the window or may shudder when awakened out of a sound sleep by the ringing of a renegade alarm clock. The sounds we hear when we rise from bed may set our mood happily, such as the coffee pot starting its every day routine, or it may propel us into gloom such as by way of the newscaster giving us our daily dose of troubles.

Most all creatures in the world use their voice to convey sounds that may produce harmony or disharmony.
The dog barks in a threatening growl to warn or in a series of light snips to greet. The cat hisses when you accidentally step on its tail, (a most unpleasant cry and experience for both the stepper and steppe), or it may meow in a truly affectionate manner hoping that you will give it your attention.

But as for humans, we have been granted sounds that go beyond the ordinary; we have the gift of speech, the ability to communicate in staccato, such as with an imperative sentence… “Watch out!” or those laced in metaphor as in poetry. The sounds that flow from our lips are a powerful tool and can leave an impression deeper than one’s footprint stuck in mud. The first time a baby learns to say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’, we are elated, for this sense of recognition is now a bond that goes beyond mere sounds.

And so, as we journey through the day and into the night the sounds we make, may it be a sigh, a groan, or dinner conversation, can play a most significant role. For with each utterance that we generate, there is some individual or creature that receives it… we can make music to the ears or not… but with certainty and limited effort, it is quite an extraordinary feat to create… this thing we call sound…

George_Santayana For today’s post I present to you the esteemed thinker: George Santayana (1863- 1952). Born in Madrid, Spain, he was a philosopher, critic, essayist, novelist, poet and known for being a naturalist before it became a popular subject. Rivaling Emerson in literary accomplishments, he made relationships between literature, art, religion and philosophy prominent themes throughout his writings. Santayana received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1889 and was a faculty member at Harvard University from 1889 to 1912, eventually earning a place now called Classical American Philosophy. He is notably remembered for his quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

From his book Reason in Art, I have extracted for you a small portion from the chapter titled “Speech and Signification”. Take time to ponder the words of Mr. Santayana for his thoughts and concepts are most provocative.

“Music rationalises sound, but a more momentous rationalising of sound is seen in language. Language is one of the most useful of things, yet the greater part of it still remains (what it must all have been in the beginning) useless and without ulterior significance. The musical side of language is its primary and elementary side. Man is endowed with vocal organs so plastic as to emit a great variety of delicately varied sounds; and by good fortune his ear has a parallel sensibility, so that much vocal expression can be registered and confronted by auditory feeling. It has been said that man’s pre-eminence in nature is due to his possessing hands; his modest participation in the ideal world may similarly be due to his possessing tongue and ear. For when he finds shouting and vague moaning after a while fatiguing, he can draw a new pleasure from uttering all sorts of labial, dental, and gutteral sounds. Their rhythms and oppositions can entertain him, and he can begin to use his lingual gamut to designate the whole range of his perceptions and passions…

Language had originally no obligation to subserve an end which we may sometimes measure it by now, and depute to be its proper function, namely, to stand for things and adapt itself perfectly to their structure. In language as in every other existence idealism precedes realism, since it must be a part of nature living its own life before it can become a symbol for the rest and bend to external control. The vocal and musical medium is, and must always remain, alien, to the spatial… Yet when sounds were attached to an event or emotion, the sounds became symbols for that disparate fact…”

First image: Title: TELEPHONE OPERATORS, Creator(s): Harris & Ewing, photographer, Date created/Published: [between 1914 and 1917]

Esteemed thinker: Marie Curie

Marie curie_toned The first time you looked through a telescope and saw craters of the moon and the first time you placed a celery stalk in water mixed with food coloring and its leaves turned from green to blue… you knew you were in the presence of magic. Oh, not the fake kind of magic where your Uncle was hiding the coin in his other hand…even the ‘young’ you understood this was a trick! No, it’s the kind of magic that seduces you, a yearning to learn more … it’s the special magic that nagged at your youthful imagination to find out what makes the leaves turn colors in autumn, why does the wind whistle through the oak’s canopy, and how is it that the firefly wears a little light that goes on at night… the real magic that comes alive with knowledge.

Just perhaps this is how it must be for the life of the scientist; a quest to discover or uncover magic. Of course I am using magic as a metaphor in relationship to scientific discovery, however just for a moment think about it …it often seems like such work would be aligned with the spirit of wonderment… almost a childishly magical realm…

And so with the thoughts of the magic in science, today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: Marie Curie; given name Maria Salomea Skłodowska and best known as Madame Curie (1867-1934)… legendary woman scientist… pioneer in the study of radioactivity. Born in Russian occupied Poland, at the age of fifteen she obtained a higher education (forbidden to girls in Poland) from a clandestine, revolving academy for women taught in private homes. In 1891 she went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne where she met and married the French professor and physicist Pierre Curie (1895). Their life together was mutually respected whereby their research and discoveries led the way for future generations. Marie Curie’s life is nothing short of a heroine, having earned two Nobel Prizes in Physics and in Chemistry and culminating in the tragic death from radium; the very discovery that brought her fame.

So, let us take pause to hear a bit of her words during a debate she presided over in Madrid (1933) on “The Future of Culture”. We will celebrate this extraordinary woman with a brief but solitary moment out of own busy day…

“… I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: *he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale. We should not allow it to be believed that all scientific progress can be reduced to mechanisms, machines, gearings, even though such machinery also has its own beauty. Neither do I believe that the spirit of adventure runs any risk of disappearing in our world. If I see anything vital around me, it is precisely that spirit of adventure, which seems indestructible and it akin to curiosity… ”

* it is curious that Madame Curie only used the masculine pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’ although she herself was a great and renown scientist at this time in her life. However, when we reflect back with the knowledge that women in France had only gained the right to vote in 1944 (by the order of 21 April 1944 adopted by the provisional government of General de Gaulle in Algiers) it really is not too curious after-all…