Uncommon Descent

28 September 2007

Futility 101

Paul Nelson


Heard about the Council of Europe’s draft resolution against ID.

Sighed. Smiled to myself.

And then I took my worn paperback copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance down from the shelf:

The real University…has no specific location. It owns no property, pays no salaries and receives no material dues. The real University is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries and which does not exist at any specific location. It’s a state of mind which is regenerated throughout the centuries by a body of people who traditionally carry the title of professor, but even that title is not part of the real University. The real University is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself.

So, hey, bookstore reshelvers. And you too, Library of Congress petitioners. And heck, you too, President John Lilley of Baylor, and Council of Europe bureaucrats.

If you find yourself moving books in bookstores, so that people won’t see them, or petitioning to reassign certain books in the LC system, or pulling webpages so that your university won’t be embarrassed, or drafting yet another tedious resolution…

None of that matters. You might as well build a sand wall to keep back the tide.

The real University is a state of mind.

These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Netscape
  • Reddit
  • Fark
  • Furl
  • NewsVine
  • StumbleUpon
Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post
5 Responses




11:16 am


“The real University is a state of mind”…

and, consistently with scientistic ideology, the actual university is a mechanical (mis)firing of neurons.


Granville Sewell


11:31 am


I hope you are right, Paul, but I’m not quite as optimistic as you. Intimidation and ridicule, and appeals to authority and scientific consensus have been amazingly effective in holding back the tide of evidence for many years so far.


Paul Nelson


12:34 pm


Oleg Tchernyshyov sent me the following. I’ll reply later.


Oleg writes:

I find it ironic that you would choose to quote Pirsig on the subject.

Pirsig was a child prodigy with an IQ of 170. In college he studied biochemistry but flanked out and eventually became a philosopher and writer. So his formula “real University is a state of mind” applies perhaps to philosophy or writing, which indeed require no hardware beyond paper and pencils.

Science is totally different. If I understand it correctly, one of Pirsig’s problems with biochemistry was a multitude of plausible hypotheses capable of explaining a given phenomenon. He couldn’t figure out which of those hypotheses was right just by using his phenomenal brainpower. His formula didn’t work, so he quit science.

The problem is of course not with science but with Pirsig’s approach. No scientist can come up with the right theory of Nature by pure thought. We need lots of hints in the form of experimental data.
Constantly. Theories arise in connection with experiments, they get confirmed or rejected by experiments. The experimental side of science is rather expensive and that’s why we need brick-and-mortar universities and not pure reason. I know it well since I am a theoretical physicist.

If you want to stick with a state of mind, that’s fine. Just don’t call it science.




3:06 pm


I agree with you Paul,
Not all experiments are carried out in a laboratory… Not all knowledge is gained from a pen and paper…case in point…

This is one of my favorite miracles that I’ve seen so far in my life.
In March of 1989, I was living in Lancaster, California. This was right after I had gotten out of the military, and right after the Lord had revealed the fact that He is real to me. I was staying in a house, renting a room. One evening, one of my house mates, who happened to be a Christian also, confided in me that he was depressed. He told me he had been depressed for a long time, and did not know if he would ever get better. Well, since I was a brand new Christian, I got excited. I saw an opportunity for God to move. In the unrestrained enthusiasm of a man who has finally seen the light that God is indeed real, I told him, “Hey man! This is something we can pray about”. So we bowed our heads and prayed for his depression. Shoot, we prayed for all the people who are suffering from depression in the whole world. We prayed that God would touch everyone that instant. We prayed as we thought the Bible would have us pray. “Well”, he said to me, after we finished praying, “I don’t feel any different”. Right after that, on television, on the Christian Station, TBN, there was a group talking. One of the ladies in the group said “Excuse me, if you don’t mind, but I really feel that we need to pray for depression at this very moment”; They joined their hands, began praying for depression, asking Jesus to touch and heal everyone. Then, after they finished praying, my friend tells me that he still feels depressed. Well, sensing that God was up to something, I wasn’t about to let this go, So trying the best I could, in my own way, to cheer him up, I then started to sing, dance and clown around, trying to cheer my friend up. I was singing, dancing and clowning around to the children’s song “What makes that little old ant think he can move that rubber tree plant …. He’s got high hopes, He’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes….” “Well”, my friend said, after I was all done with my clowning around, “I still don’t feel any different”. Then I said, “Well, maybe a comedy on television will cheer you up”. I switched the channel to one of the major networks, and ALF was on. A few seconds after we started watching ALF, ALF started to sing and dance to that same exact song I had just finished singing. You see, ALF had an ant farm and he loved that ant farm. BUT sadly, he had left his ant farm on the windowsill, in the sun, and ally kills his ants. ALF was stunned by his mistake and started weeping. He said he had never been so depressed; and, he didn’t think he would ever get over his ants. Then the father figure, on the T.V. show, comes in and sees ALF weeping. He said ” ALF I know that you’re depressed; I know you think this can never get any better; BUT, tomorrow is going to be a little better; the day after that will be a little better; the day after that a little better, and when it is all said and done, everything is going to be…BETTER! Well, both my friend and I were completely amazed. I even ended up going down the street that evening, stopping complete strangers on the street, trying to tell them I had just seen a miracle, on the T.V. show ALF, with ants and singing and dancing. One of the strangers tried to assure me that he believed me, but I still wonder if he was just placating me as I related some of the “strange” singing and dancing parts of the miracle to him. The best thing about the whole situation was three days later when my friend came up to me and said, “MAN, I FEEL GOOD, I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt this good.” And that my friends is the end of my Alf Miracle story. God does indeed move in mysterious ways.


Paul Nelson


4:25 pm



Robert Pirsig was a misfit throughout his entire academic career. And of course one needs real facilities – labs, computers, libraries – to do natural science. But that’s not the point.

When I was a teenager, I read everything I could get my hands on by Solzhenitsyn, beginning with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. When Solzhenitsyn wrote that novel, he was an obscure mathematics teacher with a politically shameful past (shameful, that is, from the orthodox Soviet perspective). Yet Ivan Denisovich will still be read when the rubbish published with the endorsement of the Soviet establishment is long forgotten.

Why? Pravda.

When someone thinks that changing the physical location of a book in a bookstore, or its Library of Congress call number, or pulling down a webpage, will stop a discussion, they’ve forgotten or misunderstood what the life of the mind is all about.

That goes for natural science, too.

Post a Response