Monday, March 04, 2024

Again, The Matter With Things

The Matter With Things
is two weighty volumes, some 1,500 heavily footnoted pages, not even counting the appendices; and you might think I would have finished it with a sigh of relief, and turned to something else. Instead, I turned instantly back to the beginning, and began again.

I read ten or fifteen pages a day, in the portion of my sacrosanct morning time dedicated to demanding reading. I'm halfway through again, which means I've been reading this book for four months, without ever the slightest desire to desist or turn to something else.

(I guess scrupulous accuracy requires m to qualify this by saying that when I turned back to the beginning, really I turned to the beginning of Part Two: Part One is a fresh setting-forth of his brain hemisphere hypothesis, which I already knew well from The Master and his Emissary, so I skipped reading it again.)

It is just such an entertaining book, and so full of things! There's a hint of those old absorbing Medieval encyclopedias, that are stuffed full of fascinations: but unlike them, this is a sustained coherent argument that makes more sense of the world -- and what is presently the matter with it -- than any twenty other books I have ever read. To stay in the pedantic and literal mode -- the fact that it's ten times longer than most books still leaves it with twice the concentration of value per page. I opened the book today at page 766, and found this, speaking of the importance of negation:

It is not often enough remarked that science establishes what is not the case; that we are propelled into philosophy similarly, by the feeling that something widely held to be the case cannot, in reality, be the case. p 766

And on the facing page, speaking of Coleridge's distinction between imagination and fancy, this anecdote:

There is a story told of a Fellow of Merton College, a mathematician, who was irritated by the attention paid to J.R.R. Tolkien, a Fellow of the same Oxford college, by the fawning guests of other Fellows. One day in the Common Room yet another guest was introduced to the great man, and gushed, 'Oh, Professor Tolkien, I do so admire your writing, it's so -- so full of imagination!' The mathematician could bear it no longer, and from behind a newspaper was heard to snort indignantly: 'Imagination? Imagination?! Made it all up.' p 767

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