Job Archives

We are deeply saddened by the news of the passing of philosopher and erstwhile Freud critic Frank Cioffi. We are grateful to Professor Laurence Goldstein for providing us with this full obituary on Cioffi.
Professor Frank Cioffi was born in New York City on January 11, 1928, and died on January 1st, 2011. His forebears came from Vico Equense (Vico’s birthplace) a fishing village near Sorrento. He was the son of Salvatore and Melina Cioffi. He told me the terrible story of how his mother had died giving birth to him and that his father had so adored her that he could not bear to see him, and he was brought up by a great aunt whom he always called his mother and whose son Lou (his uncle) he always regarded as an elder brother. His father died shortly after his mother. I have always thought that this (and perhaps too the mysterious murder of his grandfather in the mid-1930’s) greatly affected his later reflections. He was deeply struck by Schopenhauer’s view that all life is bought at the expense of other life while never accepting Schopenhauer’s metaphysics of pessimism. He also prized Pascal’s reflections on the miseries of human life. Like his admired Santayana he had enjoyed a Catholic upbringing but lost his faith. In Nietzschean moods, I used to tease him that a Catholic is never disburdened of the false myth (as Santayana called it) of original sin. His schooling was in New York City. His ‘brother’ served in the U.S. Army in Europe in World War 2 and Frank at the age of seventeen tried to get into the Marines. He eventually entered the army and was with the occupying forces in Japan. Never the most practical of men and a born intellectual to the core, he told me that he loved his period in the army and was grateful for the opportunity to meet such a diversity of people all of whom he seems to have got on with well. He then had a spell with the graves registration service supervising the repatriation of bodies of servicemen killed in the war from France to the U. S. He then spent some time in Paris where he attended lectures for foreigners at the Sorbonne and met an old friend from New York, James Baldwin, with whom he discussed the then work in progress Go Tell It On The Mountain. Another friend, Lionel Blue, persuaded Frank to try to get into Oxford helped as he was by finance from the G.I. bill of rights. After a spell at Ruskin College, he entered the newly founded St. Catherines where a friendly Allan Bullock helped him to negotiate his way through the various university requirements. He was tutored in the philosophy part of PPP by Friedrich Waismann and Anthony Quinton. After his degree in 1954, he spent two years researching in Social Psychology at Oxford with Michael Argyle. From 1956 to 1965 he was a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Singapore. When he was asked to resign along with other foreigners in the faculty, the faculty senate passed a resolution deeply regretting his departure. He came to England as one of the founders of the new University of Kent in 1965, and it was there that I met him in 1966. As with other new universities at the time, Kent was inventing new combinations of studies in an attempt to overcome too early specialism. Part One which lasted four terms initially consisted of a course on Britain And The Contemporary World where students had to do a combination of literature, history, and philosophy. Frank Cioffi’s wonderful introductory lectures on philosophy and on the problem of The Meaning Of Life induced many students who did not know the subject to take it in Part Two. His lectures were always meticulously prepared, but like those of the William James and Wittgenstein he so greatly admired were not read but spoken spontaneously. Often they were applauded at the end and where the timetable permitted students asked him to continue. He had a marvelous gift for enlivening his lectures with jokes and anecdotes and historical digressions and references to film and popular culture without ever detracting from their intellectual content and fundamental seriousness. I believe he was called ‘the most amusing philosopher on the circuit.’ When he was offered a professorship and the chance to found a department of his own at the University of Essex a group of teachers and students in the humanities went to the Dean of the Faculty and the Vice Chancellor asking that he be given a professorship at Kent so we would not lose him, but without success. So he went to found an extremely successful philosophy department at Essex. He had been visiting a professor at the University of California at Berkeley from 1970 to 1972 and had spells at Appalachian State University and the Australian National University. After his retirement from Essex in 1994, he came back to live in the house in Canterbury he and his wife Nalini had always loved. He became an Honorary Research Professor at the University of Kent. Frank Cioffi’s range of reading on his own subject and in literature and history was extraordinary. He defended Oxford analytic philosophy, but he also was acquainted with the world of Franz Brentano, Husserl, and phenomenology. He revered William James and George Santayana and much admired the work of Georg Simmel, particularly the latter’s essay ‘The Nature of Philosophy.’ He himself had highly original things of his own to say, but often did so by way of reflections on the two figures of whom he made a particularly intense study, Wittgenstein and Freud. In 1973, he delivered on the third programme a path-breaking lecture ‘Was Freud A liar?’ which was reprinted in The Listener for 7th February 1974 and then in his wonderful collection Freud And The Question Of Pseudoscience published by Open Court in 1998 and now, sadly, out of print. Cioffi refined his criticism of Freud over the years. He came to feel there had been too much emphasis (partly owing to Popper’s work) on Freud the pseudo-scientist and not enough on Freud the weak humanist. Later critics of Freud such as Frederick Crews, Allen Esterson and Malcolm Macmillan always acknowledged their deep indebtedness to him. Frank Cioffi’s metier was the public lecture and the essay rather than the organic book. In 1998, his collection of essays on Wittgenstein and related subjects was published by Cambridge University Press under the title Wittgenstein On Freud And Frazer. He was always deeply concerned with what Wittgenstein had to offer the humanities, Wittgenstein on psychology, on aesthetics and music and on religion and in particular with Wittgenstein’s hostility to causal explanation and to scientism, and with Wittgenstein's preoccupation with solipsism, particularly in the paper ‘‘Congenital Transcendentalism And ‘The Loneliness Which Is The Truth About Things’.’’ The latter phrase is slightly adapted from a thought which occurs to James Ramsay at the beginning of chapter 12 of part 3 of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. Cioffi thought that solipsism is often confused with something different (and not nonsensical) an essential community of loneliness which Arnold captured in the line ‘We mortal millions live alone.’ Frank Cioffi was, as the phrase goes, ‘much preoccupied with death.’ He shared Lakin’s view in ‘Aubade’ that there is something specious in Lucretius’ arguments against the fear of annihilation, but he shared the Lucretian view that annihilation is nothing to be feared and could not understand his revered Dr. Johnson’s refusal to accept this. Larkin’s last words ‘I am going to meet the inevitable’ would seem fitting for his final thought. In the end, he was working on a paper on responses to atrocity, in particular to the Holocaust or Shoah. The following is from a draft. ‘The situation is one in which we anticipate from some future state of epistemic consummation not merely the resolution of our perplexity as to what it is that troubles us, but closure, whereas what keeps the thoughts flowing is not ignorance but ambivalence, and what will put them at peace is not a discovery, but a decision. The guilt of the living towards the dead, for example, needs to be exorcised and not merely acknowledged. As J.C.Powys puts it, ‘You are allowed to forget.’ But his friends and readers will not forget Frank Cioffi as long as they live
'Not till those grieving die Will Grief be dead.'
He is survived by his wife Nalini and his step-grandson, Luke.

We are deeply saddened by the news of the passing of philosopher and erstwhile Freud critic Frank Cioffi. We are grateful to Professor Laurence Goldstein for providing us with this full obituary on...

A pioneer in the world of cinema, the work of Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) defined the silent film era: while he was not the only master of physical comedy of the day, his Little Tramp character has become the best-known and most-beloved. He helped to stretch the bounds of filmmaking even before synchronized dialogue was added, doing more with the limited technology of the day than many would have done with twice as much. In addition to his work on-screen, he co-founded United Artists with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith, among the earliest filmmakers to seek creative control over their work in an industry that—then and now—has been dominated by financial types.
Frank Scheide is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville where he teaches film history and criticism.

Simply Charly: You’ve devoted much of your career to the study of silent film, particularly as it relates to the work of Charlie Chaplin. What sparked your interest in Chaplin? Frank Scheide: While my older cousins grew up listening to the radio in the 1940s, my parents got a television when I was three at the beginning of the 50s.  In the days before videotape, early television relied a great deal on showing old films to fill air time between live programming, and I was particularly drawn to the way silent film communicated through non-verbal expression. As television focused on other subjects and given the political controversy surrounding Chaplin, it became increasingly difficult to see this comedian’s work in the United States. I was very excited when Chaplin’s autobiography came out in 1964 and finally was able to see many of his silent films by collecting copies released through companies like Blackhawk Films in Davenport, Iowa. SC: Chaplin was one of the first directors to explore the medium of feature-length movies. What, if any, film techniques or innovations resulted from his work? FS: While he was featured in the first successful feature-length comedy, Tillie’s Punctured Romance in 1914, this was more Mack Sennett’s film than Charlie Chaplin’s. Because Chaplin’s short pictures were so financially successful, the early film companies for whom he worked were reluctant to have him make features despite his desire to do so, particularly since Chaplin was taking increasingly longer to complete his films as years went by. The first feature film that Chaplin directed was The Kid in 1921 and his next feature, A Woman of Paris, would not be released until 1923. Consequently, Chaplin was a bit late in exploring feature filmmaking when compared to other directors of the period. That said, the tragicomedy of The Kid was particularly innovative in that it was believed that slapstick could not be blended with comedy before that time, and its success continues to influence films to this day. A Woman of Paris, a drama that Chaplin directed but did not star in, was hailed by other filmmakers for its subtlety and understated performance, and it had a major influence on the work of Ernst Lubitsch, among others. All of Chaplin’s succeeding features have been the focus of serious study. SC: Along with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith, Chaplin founded the United Artists (UA) film distribution company in 1919, which was, undoubtedly, a daring move for its time. How did UA serve his interests as a filmmaker? FS: With each succeeding studio contract Chaplin demanded more artistic freedom, as well as a substantial increase in salary. When Chaplin made The Kid while under contract with First National, that company was very opposed to his making features, even though this motion picture made a great deal of money for that studio. United Artists clearly served Chaplin’s interests as a filmmaker by allowing him to make his films when and how he wanted. SC: How did the arrival of “talkies” impact Chaplin’s film career, since, until then, he was known as a silent film star? FS: The coming of sound had a major impact on this filmmaker’s work and career.  Chaplin saw his famous “tramp” as a silent film character, and this concern influenced the four films he made from 1928 to 1942-The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator (1940). While Chaplin believed that the tramp should not talk, he appreciated being able to control the music and sound effects in his films—something that previously had been left to the discretion of theaters that provided their own musical accompaniment. Consequently, the “silent” features that Chaplin made from 1928 through 1936 were quite innovative in their use of sound. The transition from silents to talkies occurred between 1927 and 1932, and Modern Times is considered the last major “silent picture” produced before Mel Brooks’s feature comedy Silent Movie, in 1976. Though Modern Times was financially successful, Chaplin decided his next picture would have to be a talkie. The comedian was particularly disturbed by the advent of Adolph Hitler, and used the similarity of the signature mustaches of the dictator and the tramp to satirize the autocrat at a time when Hollywood did not want to alienate the German market. The Great Dictator would be Chaplin’s most commercially successful film and one of his most important. SC: During the McCarthy era, Chaplin was accused of "un-American activities" as a suspected communist. Was there ever any basis for this charge? FS: Charles Chaplin was one of Hollywood’s most successful capitalists and not someone who was interested in giving up his fortune to the masses to live modestly. Chaplin was grateful to the United States for the success that he gained in this country, and moved to Switzerland rather than Russia after leaving America in 1952. As you note, these accusations occurred during the “McCarthy era” when many people were falsely accused of being communists because of their political views. Chaplin’s films and his personal philosophy championed the underdog, and he was not someone who would endorse everything the United States did despite his appreciation for the country that brought him fame and fortune. This propensity for expressing an opinion, which resulted in his making The Great Dictator at a time when criticizing Adolph Hitler was not popular, got Chaplin in trouble when McCarthyism became ripe.  In 1972, Charles Chaplin was invited back to the United States for a special Academy Award for his achievements as a filmmaker, and he was given a hero’s welcome.  I do not believe that there is any basis for the charge that Chaplin was a “suspected communist” other than the malice of the times when the accusation was made. SC: In his autobiography, Buster Keaton stated that Chaplin was the greatest comedian that ever lived and the greatest comedy director. Do we know how Chaplin felt about Keaton? FS: One of the great moments in film history was when Buster Keaton performed with Charlie in the climactic scene of Chaplin’s 1952 picture, Limelight. Chaplin had a very high opinion of Keaton, or he wouldn’t have put him in this sequence, and their ensemble acting is a wonderful thing to see. There are critics who have accused Chaplin of cutting some of Keaton’s best material due to jealousy. I feel that Chaplin, as the director, chose the footage that he felt worked best for this picture. Either way, there is no denying this scene’s effectiveness. Though appreciated in his day, it took longer for Keaton to achieve the critical acclaim that both artists now receive. Consequently, when the great works of Keaton were rediscovered, and he enjoyed major recognition in the 1960s, some claimed that Keaton was better than Chaplin. While Charlie was not pleased with this development, he did not denigrate his fellow artist. Chaplin and Keaton had a strong mutual respect for one another. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="448"]Charlie Chaplin Charlie Chaplin[/caption] SC: In addition to his filmmaking, Chaplin wrote the musical scores for most of his most popular films, such as The Kid, City Lights, and The Great Dictator. Did he have any musical training? FS: Actually Chaplin wrote the score for the re-release of The Kid, and production demands resulted in his turning over most of the musical score for The Great Dictator to Meredith Willson. Other than The Great Dictator, Chaplin wrote the music for the initial release of all his features starting with The Circus (1928).  Chaplin could not read music and did not have any musical training as such, but would play the piano, violin, and cello for his own amusement.  When composing, Chaplin would pick out tunes by humming or hitting notes on the piano, and a trained musician, primarily Eric James in later years, would help him translate these compositions into a score. Chaplin’s background in the English music hall—the equivalent of American vaudeville—featured live music, and this experience had a major impact on his work. Lauded as a film composer, it is interesting that Charles Chaplin’s approach to musical composition was based on improvisation, which is also how he developed much of his visual comedy. SC: In 2001, you began cataloging 70 hours of previously unavailable outtakes from the films of Charlie Chaplin for the British Film Institute. These outtakes were supposed to be destroyed on Chaplin’s behest. But fortunately, they got into the “wrong” hands and are now seeing the light of day. Can you tell us the story behind this discovery? And how significant are these outtakes? FS: I began the cataloging in 1999 and finished in 2001. The best source for the history of the outtakes is Kevin Brownlow’s 2005 book The Search for Charlie Chaplin, which documents the role this footage had in the making of his award-winning documentary series Unknown Chaplin. Mr. Brownlow also provided a fascinating history of the outtakes in a special feature interview in the 2005 DVD release of this series. To give you a brief overview, the outtakes were in the Chaplin vaults in Los Angeles when the comedian moved to Switzerland, and he ordered them destroyed. The typical method for disposing of film would be to melt down the unwanted footage to retrieve the silver. Film collector Raymond Rohauer heard about the plans to dispose of the outtakes and offered to buy this material for what the silver would have been worth. When Chaplin heard what happened, he demanded that the footage from those films still under copyright be returned, which Raymond Rohauer proceeded to do. However, Rohauer kept the footage considered to be in the public domain, which included the outtakes from the films Chaplin made for the Mutual Film Corporation between 1916 and 1917. It was the Mutual footage that Kevin Brownlow and David Gill primarily used for the first episode of Unknown Chaplin. As is indicated in the opening narration of Unknown Chaplin, this director was very secretive about his working methods, and these outtakes provide a fascinating key to appreciating his creative process. For the Mutual films, Chaplin would take an idea and improvise on camera instead of working from a completed script. By viewing these outtakes sequentially, one can see how Chaplin’s films evolved into polished classics. I know of no other documentary that has had such an impact on forever changing the critical understanding of the work of a major film artist. SC: As an expert in the work of Chaplin, you’re often invited to speak at Chaplin conferences around the world. What actually occurs at these conferences? And how are you advancing Chaplin studies? FS: Great art speaks to everyone, and new insights can be obtained from repeated encounters by those who wish to learn more. While Chaplin’s comedy is immediately accessible to a wide audience on a number of levels, his art is made up of many complex layers. The Chaplin conferences are opportunities for specialists to share their research and learn about current critical perspective. Those engaged in this discussion hope to advance their appreciation and understanding of this artist and his art. Besides the work I’ve done with the outtakes, my particular focus has been on how Chaplin’s background in English music hall influenced his later films. SC: What would you say is Chaplin’s legacy? FS: This artist adapted the discipline of clowning, which had evolved from centuries on the stage to meet the demands of a new medium, the motion picture, to produce classic comedies that continue to withstand the test of time.

A pioneer in the world of cinema, the work of Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) defined the silent film era: while he was not the only master of physical comedy of the day, his Little Tramp character ha...

An English theoretical physicist and co-recipient of the 1933 Nobel Prize for Physics, Paul Dirac (1902–1984) was a physicist whose work focused on the mathematical and theoretical aspects of quantum mechanics.
Graham Farmelo is an award-winning science writer and biographer who specializes in physics and physicists.

Simply Charly: Your book on the life and work of physicist Paul Dirac has received wide critical acclaim. What was the genesis of this book? And why choose Dirac, who is all but unknown outside the world of physics? Graham Farmelo: Dirac has been called “the Shakespeare of modern physics” and “the first truly modern theoretical physicist,” though he is little-known outside science. This seemed to be a good reason at least consider writing his life. During the research for the book, I came to see what a remarkable life he led—a boy from a modest home who later would conceive half the universe in his head. The story is full of great characters, including not only a gallery of superstar physicists but also his bullying father and his colorful wife Margit, who called him ‘my little Mickey Mouse.’ SC: Dirac came from an extremely dysfunctional family home that is widely cited as contributing to his crushingly shy and withdrawn demeanor. Can you elaborate? GF: According to Dirac, he didn’t have a “normal” childhood. His family had almost no visitors, and he knew no parental affection. At mealtimes, he ate only with his father, who spoke to him only in French; at the same time, his mother ate with his siblings, speaking only English. Dirac claimed that he was so frightened to make a mistake when talking in French with his disciplinarian father that he (Paul) was driven into taciturnity. SC: One of Dirac's first important papers was for his reformulation of Werner Heisenberg's new approach to understanding atoms. What was Dirac's breakthrough in this paper? GF: Heisenberg thought his approach involved a complete break from classical, Newtonian physics. Dirac disagreed, setting up the fundamental equations of quantum mechanics by analogy with classical physics, linking the two regimes through a generalization of a binary operation known as the Poisson Bracket. SC: In 1933, Dirac shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Erwin Schrödinger. For what work was he awarded the prize? GF: According to the citation, Dirac was awarded the Prize for co-discovering quantum mechanics, but it is clear from the committee papers that his award was especially for his great prediction of the existence of the anti-electron. He made that prediction on purely theoretical grounds, with no help from experiment, which is why it is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of modern science. At the time he was awarded the Prize, Dirac was the youngest theoretician ever to have won the Nobel Prize in Physics. SC: Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek has said that “of all the equations of physics, perhaps the most ‘magical’ is the Dirac Equation.” What is it about this equation that is so remarkable or “magical”? GF: I love Frank Wilczek’s description of the Dirac equation as “achingly beautiful.” This equation, the first marriage of special relativity and simple quantum mechanics, describes the behavior of every electron that has ever existed so concisely that it can be written on the palm of your hand. It is now the only equation in Westminster Abbey, where Dirac is commemorated. The equation is enormously rich from a mathematical point of view and is still not fully understood, though it is used every day by fundamental physicists, including ones working on the Large Hadron Collider. Part of its beauty is that it explained why the spin and magnetism of the electron were inevitable consequences of relativity and quantum mechanics—before Dirac, no one understood why electrons had these properties. This is why he was hailed as a magician. SC: Dirac was fond of saying that “It is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment.” Can you elaborate on how aesthetics guided Dirac's research in theoretical physics over experimental data? GF: From the mid-1930s onwards, Dirac believed that theoretical physicists working on fundamental physics should be guided by mathematical beauty rather than whether their theories agree with the latest experimental data. The principle of mathematical beauty became "almost a religion" to Dirac. It is clear when this began: it was when the American experimenter Robert Shankland argued persuasively in the mid-1930s that he had observed the breaking of energy conservation in sub-atomic processes. Dirac (and many others) were convinced and worked on that basis for months. Later, he felt desperately let down when it turned out that Shankland’s results were illusory. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Paul Dirac Paul Dirac[/caption] SC: Dirac's book The Principles of Quantum Mechanics has been hailed as a masterpiece. What is it about this book that has made it so enduring among students and practitioners of physics? GF: This book, published in 1930, was immediately regarded as a masterpiece, the first authoritative summary of quantum mechanics to be written by a leading physicist. Dirac wrote it with little regard to history and offered little help to struggling readers—rather, it is like one long prose poem, setting out the theory with unique clarity and insight. It has never been out of print. Although most students find it hard to learn the theory from the book which contains no worked examples and very few references, the very best students appreciate its quality. Among those who saw merit in this work were physicists Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger, and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, who studied the book in the 1930s. SC: For someone whose mind plumbed the deepest crevices of our universe, it's ironic that Dirac would take great delight in Mickey Mouse and Cher. Can you tell us more about this facet of Dirac? GF: When researching the book, I found that the standard image of Dirac as someone with no interests outside physics was wrong. He had many other interests but chose not to speak about them. His private correspondence, and many interviews with his family and friends, taught me that his interests included Mickey Mouse, Disney movies, the great Russian novelists of the 19th century (especially Leo Tolstoy), classical music (notably by Beethoven and Mozart), and James Bond films. Even I was surprised to learn that his favorite artist in the 1970s was the singer, Cher. When Dirac and his wife argued about whether to watch one of Cher’s TV specials, Dirac resolved the argument by purchasing a new TV so he could watch it on his own. SC: You've speculated that Dirac displayed all the classic symptoms of autism which may have explained his terse and cripplingly shy behavior. Yet Freeman Dyson, in a review of your book for The New York Review of Books, takes issue with your view stating that Dirac “was intensely and personally involved with his physicist friends such as Pyotr Kapitza, Werner Heisenberg, and Niels Bohr. He had close friendships with at least three women before he married Margit. And he had normal fatherly relationships with his stepchildren and children. If Dirac was autistic, then the word ‘autism’ must have a different meaning.” What is your take on this? GF: There is strong evidence that Dirac was autistic, though one cannot be sure as it is hard to psychoanalyze someone who is dead. My analysis is based on a direct comparison between his behavior and the internationally-agreed list of symptoms of autism. He fulfills every criterion except one: to be autistic, a person must have had the symptoms as a child, whereas one cannot say this with certainty for Dirac as there are no extant medical reports (only maternal reports of “such a quiet boy”). I respectfully disagree with the analysis of Freeman Dyson and others who point to instances of Dirac’s behavior that appear to contradict the usual perception of autism. This is, in my view, wrong as no single observation can contradict the diagnosis—there is a wide variety of behaviors on the autistic spectrum, so the only sensible way forward is to compare the diagnosticians’ criteria with observed behavior. SC: Shortly after Dirac retired from Cambridge University in 1969, he was offered a post at Florida State University, which gave him another burst of energy and did wonders for his withdrawn personality. Can you tell us more about this? GF: Dirac had a happy retirement at Florida State University. Although a quiet, reserved colleague, he felt comfortable working in the physics department and made many friends there. He would go to brown-bag lunches, listen to the conversation, sometimes contribute and even tell jokes (he was fond of risqué humor). In the evenings, he liked to watch PBS science programs, go to concerts, and read John le Carré novels. I was extremely fortunate to have the testimonies of many of Dirac’s closest friends, including the eccentric Leopold Halpern and the wonderfully observant Kurt Hofer, who shared with me the amazing encounter that begins my book—when Dirac, out of the blue, talks non-stop about the agony of his youth and his hatred of his father. SUGGESTED READING [table id=21 /]

An English theoretical physicist and co-recipient of the 1933 Nobel Prize for Physics, Paul Dirac (1902–1984) was a physicist whose work focused the mathematical and theoretical aspects of quantu...

Arguably the most influential architect, designer, and urban planner of the 20th century, Swiss-born Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, 1887-1965), played a decisive role in the development of modern architecture representative of the industrial age.
Tim Benton is Professor of Art History at the Open University in Cambridge, England. His research interests include Le Corbusier's work of the 1920s and 1930s and the history of modern architecture and design. For several years, he has been working on Le Corbusier's domestic architectural designs (1914-1935). He is currently working on a life of Le Corbusier (Reaktion Books) and a book on Le Corbusier’s domestic architecture (1910-1935). He is also directing a series of three volumes of all the texts, drafts, drawings, and critiques of Le Corbusier’s lectures for the Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris.

Simply Charly: Le Corbusier is commonly described as the greatest architect of the 20th century. Why do you think his reputation has grown in this way? Tim Benton: Le Corbusier was at the right place, at the right time. He was a key figure in modern architecture; black-and-white photographs of his buildings were strong and striking. And his books, Towards a New Architecture (1923), followed by Urbanism (1925) were bestsellers. SC: It is often said that Le Corbusier is to blame for many of the problems of modern cities and housing estates. Is this fair? TB: Le Corbusier was his own worst enemy. He learned early on that to make a success of himself and to have an impact, he had to exaggerate. One example was his Plan Voisin, a project he exhibited in 1925 proposing to raze the center of Paris and replace it with 60-story towers. It was a terrible plan. But his ideas were also misunderstood. He did not approve of most examples of modern architecture after the war, considering it mechanical and inhuman. SC: Le Corbusier once said: “We burn our bridges and break with the past.” His designs did break with the past. Why did he feel compelled to break away from all the predominant architectural trends of the previous centuries? TB: Although Le Corbusier did burn bridges, he was also inspired by ancient buildings such as the Parthenon, which broke through the historical barriers. He believed in progress and the idea of the Zeitgeist—that architecture should reflect changes in the world—but the idea of progress was not more important to him than judgments of quality. Certain buildings would always be considered beautiful. SC: Le Corbusier seemed to be fascinated by modern technology and the effects of industrialization, which, in turn, inspired his architectural designs. What exactly did he find so fascinating about machines? TB: Here again comes the idea of the Zeitgeist; the powerful forces that change the world—industrialization, mechanization—and the way people see things. Le Corbusier saw a pure language of form in the details of cars and planes. Furthermore, he believed that machines tended to produce pure, geometric forms, which were comparable to the forms used by all the great architecture of the past. Similarly, when he saw rocks in Brittany that had been eroded by the wind into smooth, geometric forms, he compared the process to the way popular taste also selected simple, pure forms of the glasses, jugs, and bottles used in Parisian cafes.
Embed from Getty Images
  SC: Which modern architects did Le Corbusier admire the most? TB: His enthusiasm for other architects soon turned against them because he was terribly egocentric. But, on the whole, he liked the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, the Russian Berthold Lubetkin, Peter Behrens from Germany, and the French architect Auguste Perret, although he eventually turned against Perret. SC: What did Le Corbusier think about the trends of the early 20th century, such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco, which were all about curves and sinuous decoration? TB: He hated those trends and thought that ornaments were a depravity, although he had himself been an Arts and Crafts artist, designer, and architect in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. He turned increasingly against ornament after he left Switzerland for Paris in 1917 and read an essay by Austrian architect Adolf Loos, titled Ornament and Crime. SC: Were Le Corbusier’s designs viewed differently in America, which has traditionally been more open to new ideas, than in Europe? If so, why is there only one building built by him in the U.S., i.e., The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University? TB: Most of Le Corbusier’s followers were young architects, not the people who commissioned important projects. American architect Raymond Hood, who designed the Rockefeller Center in New York, owned a copy of Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture, but it didn’t influence his work. Besides, Le Corbusier did himself no favors in Anglo-Saxon countries. He was openly contemptuous of some of the architectural designs, criticizing the skyscrapers of Manhattan as not being tall enough and too close together. SC: Which modern architects of note have been inspired by Le Corbusier’s pioneering vision? TB: A whole generation of architects, for example, Rem Koolhaas, Robert Venturi, Dennis Lasdun, as well as the British architectural movement called New Brutalism, and the “New York Five,” a group of New York City architects Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, and Richard Meier. It is interesting to note that even though Le Corbusier’s ideas and approach to solving problems have been criticized in the past 40 years, he still appeals to architects on so many levels. SC: What do you admire most in Le Corbusier’s life and career, and what would you criticize? TB: When I take students to Paris to look at his buildings, I am still amazed that there is so much richness and depth of texture, and that his designs still feel fresh after 50 years. Also, the fact that he never stayed still and constantly renewed himself. It is clear that Le Corbusier wasn’t frightened of contradicting himself. Although he could be very kind and generous to those he liked and admired, he was also a bit of a bastard with those who got in his way.

Arguably the most influential architect, designer and urban planner of the 20th century, Swiss-born Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, 1887-1965), played a decisive role in the development of ...

Generally considered one of the most influential physicists in history, Albert Einstein’s (1879–1955) groundbreaking theories reshaped the scientific community’s view and understanding of the universe. He developed the special and general theories of relativity and won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 for his explanation of the photoelectric effect.
Ezra Newman is professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh. He was a prominent contributor to the golden age of general relativity (roughly 1960-1975). In 1962, together with Roger Penrose, he introduced the powerful Newman/Penrose formalism for working with spinorial quantities in general relativity. In 1963, Newman and two coworkers discovered the NUT vacuum, an exact vacuum solution to the Einstein field equation which has become a famous counterexample to everything. In 1965, he discovered the Kerr/Newman electrovacuum, one of the best known of all exact solutions. Newman has continued to make important contributions. Some of his most interesting recent work has involved the problem of reconstructing the gravitational field within some region from observations of how optical images are lensed as light rays pass through the region.

Simply Charly: You're principally known for your work in general relativity. Can you begin by telling us what general relativity is? Ezra Newman: There is both a short, correct, and easy answer, which leaves out the essence of a good answer, and a longer, more difficult answer that gets to the core of what the theory is about. At the simple level, one could say general relativity is a theory of gravity that supersedes Newton's Theory of Gravity and that it makes slightly more accurate predictions than Newton's theory did. It is a correct answer and gives some hint of the subject. At the deeper level, general relativity is a revolution of physical thought. It is about the geometry of our world. Something like 22 centuries ago, Euclid organized the available knowledge into a book called Elements. For 20 centuries, it was believed that it was both the geometry of our world and, also, that it was the only possible geometry. Immanuel Kant said, in essence, that “God geometrizes according to Euclid's ‘Elements’.” Then, in the early 1800s, with the intellectual awakening throughout Europe happening virtually simultaneously and independently, three mathematicians—Gauss in Germany, Bolyai in Hungary, and Lobachevsky in Russia—realized that other geometries existed. It seems as if Gauss and his student Riemann were among the first to raise the question of what was the geometry of our world. A variety of scientists, among them the great Hermann von Helmholtz, tried to tackle this issue. The mathematician Hermann Minkowski, in his fundamental work on Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, came close to realizing the proper framework for exploring the issue of the geometry of our world—but he died prematurely before doing anything more. It was Einstein, who, after struggling for almost ten years with the problem, finally developed the General Theory of Relativity—the theory of the geometry of our world. This geometry was not a fixed geometry, as was Euclid's, but varied depending on the matter content of the surrounding space. As a by-product, though that was the issue that provoked his investigation, the theory did produce an explanation of the phenomena of gravity; gravitational forces were the manifestations of the curvature of space and time. In addition, the theory produced a picture of the universe in the large, i.e., it opened the subject of cosmology to rigorous scientific investigation. SC: Ever since Einstein revealed his theory of general relativity in 1915, it has had a remarkable run as the most widely accepted theory of gravitation. Although Einstein was certain that his theoretical principles were correct, he proposed a few experimental tests to confirm his predictions. Can you briefly describe these tests? EN: There were three classical tests of general relativity. 1. According to Newton's theory of gravity, planets moved around the sun in orbits that are ellipses. The point on the ellipse that is closest to the sun is referred to as the perihelion. It had been observed by astronomers in the mid-1800s that the perihelion of the planet Mercury was not fixed (as it should be by Newton's theory) but moved forward, i.e., it advanced with each circuit of the sun—albeit by a tiny amount. There was thus a disparity between observation and theory. Einstein's theory predicted this small effect, known as the advance of the perihelion of Mercury. The measured perihelion advance agreed with the theory. 2. In the early 1800s, it was shown, via Newton's theory, that the gravitational effects of the sun would bend star-light that passed close to the limb of the sun. Einstein's theory also made the same prediction, but it differed by predicting that the effect would be twice as much as that of Newton's theory. In 1919, in several expeditions, all timed to coincide with a solar eclipse (needed to block out the direct solar sunlight), this prediction was confirmed (with questions raised of its accuracy). Since then, it has been reconfirmed with extreme accuracy. This particular confirmation made Einstein a household name. The New York Times carried the story on the front page. 3. The third of the classical tests concerned a prediction of general relativity that time would evolve at different rates in regions of strong gravitational fields. This is a difficult effect to measure directly, but a simple indirect test was available. The color of the light emitted by atoms in a strong gravitational field would differ from that of the light from the same type of atoms in a weaker gravitational field. This was first observed by a shift in the spectral lines (the specific colors emitted) from the dwarf star Sirius B, becoming the so-called «gravitational redshift» effect. It has since been reconfirmed by very accurate laboratory experiments. SC: With the advancement of technology, our tools have become better at measuring and predicting with greater accuracy. What modern-day tests has general relativity recently faced? EN: There are a variety of modern tests; they range from great technical improvements in the classical tests to the development of a major astronomical tool for exploring the universe in the large. Some of the classical solar system tests have been implemented for the dynamics of double star systems, the binary pulsar for example. This later case has been used to confirm the existence of gravitational radiation via the change in the pulsar orbital parameters that is predicted by the theory. The classical test of the bending of light near the sun has been extended to the bending of light near other astronomical bodies and, in fact, is no longer considered as a test. It has become a tool itself to study astronomical parameters, as it is used to measure the mass of astronomical objects. Another very large and important subject, not yet completed, is the construction of detectors to measure gravitational radiation. They involve huge government installations costing millions of dollars—and again they will not be used primarily for testing the theory but rather as a new window for observing our universe. The theory itself has essentially gone into the mainstream and is now being used as another probe, in the same way, light-waves are used to gather information. The default picture of the universe with its big bang and Hubble-expansion has been a prediction from the theory of relativity. Observations and existence of the Cosmic Microwave background are thus further confirmations. The theory, with the associated observations, is a tool for understanding the details of the big bang cosmology. SC: Einstein was often confounded by ideas that other researchers derived from his theories which, in some cases, led him to revise his work. In one particular case, Einstein introduced what he called a cosmological constant to fix what appeared to be a flaw in general relativity. Can you describe the circumstances of this problem? EN: Early in the history of general relativity, Einstein understood that the theory could be applied to the large-scale structure of the universe, i.e., to cosmology. However, he could not construct a static universe (which was believed at the time to be the type of our universe) from the theory. He modified the theory by adding into the equations a new term known as the cosmological constant. Shortly after that, it was discovered that our universe was not static but was expanding, and the cosmological constant was not needed. Einstein called the addition of the cosmological constant to be "the biggest blunder of his life." He dropped it from the theory. More recent observations of the distance relations with supernova and the cosmological redshift has strongly indicated that the universe is not only expanding but also is accelerating. This observational result is now most simply explained by the existence of the cosmological constant. The cosmological constant has thus been added to the standard model of cosmology. SC: The incompatibility of Newtonian gravity and special relativity led Einstein to General Relativity. In what ways is General Relativity being reconciled with quantum mechanics? EN: Though there is debate and disagreement, I certainly do not believe that general relativity and quantum theory have been reconciled (or are even close to being reconciled)—my feeling (without having taken a survey) is that most physicists who are concerned about this issue would agree with me. But to be fair and honest about the question, one must say that there certainly are excellent researchers who believe they are close to this reconciliation. In any case, I do consider this problem, i.e., the problem of uniting the two most important and remarkable contemporary physical theories into a single unified theory, to be the single most important conceptual issue in physics today. It is a problem that theorists have been struggling with for close to 90 years. And it is difficult. One of the principal difficulties is with quantum theory—a magnificent theory—that to many makes no sense. SC: For a time, general relativity fell out of favor as a respectable field of inquiry because of its remoteness from laboratory experiment. Can you tell us how and when it regained its legitimacy? EN: This is a very interesting question—with no simple, quick answer. Some of my answers are guesswork while other parts are easily defended. From the beginning of general relativity in 1915, because of its mathematical complexity and the scarcity of experimental tests, it did not really enter the mainstream of physics. For a while, it remained an active research field for a small group of mathematicians and mathematical physicists. In the mid and late 1920s, the discovery and development of quantum theory did draw much of the interest away from relativity. The predictive power of Quantum Theory and its direct contact with laboratory physics kept it at the very top of mainstream physics—and monopolized the talents of the best of the theoreticians. After the war, (the early to mid-1950s), there was a sudden worldwide explosion of reawakened interest in general relativity. A group in Warsaw working with an old colleague of Einstein's, Leopold Infeld, began working; while in Hamburg, the group around Pascual Jordan developed; in Princeton, the group around John Wheeler (already well-known for his work in nuclear physics) turned to relativity; at Syracuse University, Peter Bergmann, a former student of Einstein's, began a relativity group; in London, Hermann Bondi started a relativity group. Precisely what provoked this international renaissance, is, at least for me, conjecture. Most of the main problems of quantum theory had been dealt with—while its very serious difficulties sent people looking elsewhere for problems and solutions. The war years were over—a freedom to look for new issues was in the air—friends, students, and colleagues of Einstein's were now available, after war work, to think of the issues and ideas raised by Einstein and his work. In any case, it was fascinating for me to watch and live through this period—this leap of scientific interest in general relativity. SC: Along with Roger Penrose and numerous others, you were a major contributor to what is known as the Golden Age of Relativity, which took place roughly between 1960 and 1975. Can you describe some of the work that took place during this period in extending Einstein's work? EN: The main issues raised and worked on during the so-called Golden Age were (1) the relationship of general relativity with quantum theory and (2) the theory of gravitational radiation. Though there was a great deal of insight into the problems of quantum gravity—beautiful mathematics and clarification of the issues—unfortunately, a solution to the quantum problem was not attained. On the other hand—and the main reason it was called the Golden Age—was the incredible success with the issues of gravitational radiation. Though the following is an over-simplification of a complex set of interactions, it was essentially the beautiful physical and mathematical insights of the British cosmologist, Hermann Bondi, that broke open the field. Bondi showed that the Einstein equations of general relativity predicted the existence of gravitational radiation with an associated loss of mass and momentum from interacting matter sources. Then, the scientific interactions among the different groups mentioned earlier, (the groups from Warsaw, Hamburg, London, Princeton, and Syracuse) amplified, extended, clarified, and generalized the work of Bondi. It was the work from this period that eventually led to the development of gravitational wave detectors, a major ongoing research field at present. SC: The late physicist John Archibald Wheeler was an undeniable force in theoretical physics and a colleague of both Einstein and Niels Bohr. He was also a great champion of general relativity. What was his impact on this field? EN: Though John Wheeler (who already—prior to his work on relativity—was a well-known nuclear physicist) was truly a major force in General Relativity, one must add in the name of Peter Bergmann to complete the pair that reinvigorated relativity in the United States in the 1950-60s. Both men were inspiring teachers who created schools of students who followed their lead. Though it is hard to name specific individual discoveries of either man, it was their inspired leadership that was their greatness. Their students and their students' students populated relativity for many years—to the present. Wheeler had a wonderful way with words that captured people's imaginations. For example, he invented phrases and words, among others, the terms black holes, geons, and superspace that have been staples ever since. Bergmann, more quietly, with his students, developed the theory of pathological mechanics that became the major tool in almost all the attempts at quantum gravity. Their legacy lies in the students they taught and inspired. SC: Are there any intractable problems posed by general relativity that have not yet been answered? EN: As we discussed earlier, the relationship between general relativity and quantum theory is still the most intractable and basic issue in theoretical physics. Other troubling issues are the questions raised by the existence of the so-called dark energy and dark matter—what precisely are they? Another intractable problem has been the origin of the “big bang”—what was there “before?” What, if any, is its relationship to the issues of quantum theory? SC: What projects are you working on currently? EN: Now the question has become personal—and thus more difficult to answer. I have been retired for 15 years and taken the opportunity to have a good time doing research in general relativity that is fairly far from the beaten path. I am working strictly with the Einstein equations; I am not modifying them or introducing any new physics. I am simply exploring (some very complicated) mathematical details of the theory that has been overlooked for many years. It has turned out to be a very fertile area for research, allowing us (myself and colleagues) to publish about 25 scientific papers over the last five years. Basically, we are studying (sources) arbitrary mass distributions confined to a finite region and their gravitational effects at large distances. More specifically, we study specific properties, at these large distances from the source, of families of light rays (called null geodesic congruences) that originate at the source. From the large-distance properties of these null geodesic congruences, we have been able to deduce detailed properties of the motion of source itself. Our results, which contain a variety of predictions and show agreement with the basics of classical mechanics, have given us a great deal of satisfaction. SUGGESTED READING [table id=16 /]

Generally considered one of the most influential physicists in history, Albert Einstein’s (1879–1955) groundbreaking theories reshaped the scientific community’s view and understanding of the ...

Though relatively unknown during her lifetime, Jane Austen (1775–1817), is among the most widely read novelists in English literature. Her literary classics, such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, bridge the gap between romance and realism.
Joan Klingel Ray is Professor of English Literature at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and former president of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). She is currently working on the Dictionary of Literary Biography volume on Jane Austen, which will be a standard reference volume in university libraries. Recent journal articles by Professor Ray are in Notes and QueriesExplicator, and Persuasions On-Line.

Simply Charly: Jane Austen is considered by many as one of the most important English-language novelists, yet she only published six novels. This question is two-fold; first, do you agree with this assessment, and what do you think makes her a “great” novelist? Secondly, what do you think is the secret to the enduring appeal of Austen’s works? Joan Klingel Ray: By all means, Austen is one of the most important English novelists, despite the limited size of her canon, because she rescued the novel as a genre from its weakened contemporary condition. That is, by the time Austen was in her 20s, Gothic novels dominated English literary fiction: these best-sellers emphasized sentimental romance and eerie, often ridiculous, horror. (Austen burlesqued this in Northanger Abbey, completed in 1803 but published posthumously in 1818.) Along with the Gothic, sentimental novels were popular; in them, characters experience excessive—to the extent of ridiculous—feelings, which determine their behavior. Such novels are known academically as novels of sensibility, with “sensibility” meaning basing one’s judgment and conduct on emotion. Characters and persons of sensibility readily wept the sympathetic tear and fainted at even the most minor event. In 1790, as a teenager, Austen ridiculed sensibility mercilessly in her very comical Love and Friendship [sic. (Austen had a real problem with the “i before e” rule!) By the beginning of the 19th century, before Austen turned 21, a prominent literary journal, the British Critic, announced that it was dropping entirely the review of novels until there was something “worthy of report” (1801). So with novels’ having fallen into Gothic horrors and ludicrous sentimentalism, Austen’s big achievement, as her early commentators recognized, was to move the novel onto the domestic stage and provide characters and situations that were actually realistic and probable. While she was not the first to do this—Austen learned much from reading the novels of Samuel Richardson and Fanny Burney—she dealt with persons of her class, the gentry, rather than the fashionable effete world, which she ridicules through characters like the Miss Bingleys in Pride and Prejudice. Writing novels of manners, Austen dealt with the behavior and conduct of a specific period (her own, the British Regency) and people (her own class, the gentry, comprised of landowning gentlemen and their families). She used a narrative device known as “free indirect discourse,” which lets the reader into the minds of characters. Again, she was not the first to do this, but her handling of this technique is especially skillful. And her narrative voice is wonderful to have as our companion while we read: that voice can be comforting, comical, and even sarcastic. After all, Mr. Bennet’s sarcasm comes from his creator! Finally, she delivers her plots dramatically, through her characters’ conversations, so that we “hear” them speak as we read the page, just as we would hear them on the stage. This leads me to the second part of the question: Austen’s enduring popularity. While Fanny Burney and other 18th-century English novelists such as Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson are important in the development of the novel as a genre, those novelists do not have the worldwide popularity of Jane Austen, and ordinary readers normally do not go readily to those authors. Austen wrote great stories!  Many think of her as a writer of courtship novels, and, of course, some readers today think of her as the founder of “chick lit” romances. And Austen can be read that way. But as I will elaborate in one of your other questions, Austen is so much more: she is a keen satirist of her world, a social novelist who casts a critical eye on the society around her. The bottom line about Austen’s popularity is that while her novels inspire shelves of scholarly literary analysis, ordinary readers love them so much that they read and re-read them. This is not true of any other writer, including Shakespeare! SC: One of the explanations given for Austen’s popularity is that her characters faced many of the same challenges we still confront today—love, relationships, self-discovery, social acceptance—so modern readers can relate to her characters. On the other hand, life in the early 19th century England was often difficult for women who lacked basic rights and financial independence, and had to marry “well” to be respectable. So the question is: What, if any, relevance do her works have in the 21st century? Joan Klingel Ray: Of course, Austen’s novels present women of the gentry class who lived in a time when they had to marry because they had no rights or educational and career opportunities. But her characters and their situations are also timeless because Austen deals with human nature, which never changes. So while today Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet would likely be a law school graduate working at a Wall Street firm, she would still have to deal with her personality flaws such as nurturing social wounds,  hurt pride, and being overconfident in her ability to judge other persons’ characters; indeed, Elizabeth’s acknowledgment that she never knew herself is undoubtedly something that rings true for readers. Austen features all kinds of human behavior in her novel that, as your question states, are still relevant today. This is why her novels teach us a lot about people. I had pointed out in many of my Austen classes and talks that Austen, like Shakespeare, displayed broad and deep psychological insight over a century before psychology became a formal study. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Jane Austen Jane Austen[/caption] SC: Austen’s works were published anonymously under “A Lady.” Was this her own choice? Is it correct to say that she had to do so because of the lack of acceptance of women authors at the time, or was there another reason? Joan Klingel Ray: By the time Austen’s works were first published (1811), England had many women novelists, including the extremely popular and well-paid Ann Radcliffe, queen of the Gothic romance, who published with a byline. (England also had women playwrights, whose names were on their works.) However, especially for a woman of the gentry class like Austen (Radcliffe was not of this class), publishing with a byline was improper because it showed she wanted to earn money. But even more importantly, Austen valued her privacy. She even instructed her brother and sister-in-law, James and Mary, not to mention her authorship around their home; thus, their son, James Edward, read Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, unaware that his aunt had written them. When in 1813 he learned the identity of the author, he wrote a poem to his aunt, beginning:
No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise Or make you conceive how I opened my eyes, Like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife, When I heard for the very first time in my life That I had the honour to have a relation Whose works were dispersed throughout the whole of the nation.
SC: By the same token, who were some of the other women writers of that era, and did Austen have any relationship with them? Joan Klingel Ray: While Austen and her family were omnivorous novel readers, Austen did not seek any personal connections with other female novelists of her day, although she read their novels—and not always approvingly. Her relatively contemporary female novelists include Fanny Burney (Madame D’Arblay), Maria Edgeworth, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Brunton, and Hannah More. Austen’s favorite novel, however, was Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison. SC: Many of today’s authors write for a specific demographic group. Did Austen write for a specific audience as well, and, if so, who constituted the bulk of her readership? Joan Klingel Ray: Austen wrote for and about the gentry class, which I mention briefly in my first answer and elsewhere: this was the landowning class, and to be a member of it, a gentleman (the word is taken from gentry) normally needed to own 500 acres of land. However, as an Anglican clergyman, Austen’s father was considered a gentleman by virtue of his profession. As a clergyman’s daughter, then, Jane Austen associated easily with sons and daughters of the gentry class who lived on huge estates and in magnificent homes (mansions). This does not mean that titled persons did not read her novels, however: even royalty read her novels. The Prince Regent, later King George IV, had copies of her novels at both of his royal residences (notice in your copies of Emma that Austen was invited to dedicate that book to the Prince!), and his daughter, the Princess Charlotte, loved Sense and Sensibility and identified with Marianne. Interestingly, Austen’s treatment of the nobility is satirical: Lady Catherine in P&P, the daughter of an earl, is rude, controlling, and boorish, even embarrassing to her nephew Darcy; in Persuasion, the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honourable Miss Carteret, are utterly effete. (By the way, Sir Walter Elliot of the latter novel and Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park are baronets: this rank, while titled, is not noble; baronets are commoners.) Keep in mind, too, that Austen was writing in a period when literacy was still growing and both books and paper were expensive. It was only in the early 1830s, about fifteen years after Austen’s death, that her novels became available in inexpensive editions, enabling the new growing middle class of readers to buy them. Since that time, her novels have never been out of print. SC: Some literary critics say Austen was a writer ahead of her time. Do you agree? Joan Klingel Ray: Austen was a groundbreaker for the reasons I state in the answer to the first question. And if you read her final fictional fragment, Sanditon, which Austen wrote as she was dying, probably of the then undiagnosed Addison’s Disease (JFK suffered from this, too), you will see that she was heading in an entirely new direction that was foreshadowing Dickens with her broad, almost slapstick humor, and flat, comedic characters. I always find it sadly ironic that the ailing Austen was writing a social comedy about a group of hypochondriacs! SC: Austen’s writing style is noted for elegance, wit, a sense of irony, and insightful observations. Yet, it doesn’t fit into the romanticism mold favored by her contemporaries. How would you describe her literary style? Was it unique or have other writers duplicated it? Joan Klingel Ray: I need to differentiate between Romanticism and romanticism. Lately, critics have been discussing Austen’s Romanticism, with a capital R: in literary terms, the Romantics valued, among other things, emotion, nature, imagination, and memory. I have already mentioned that Austen ridiculed and warned against a reliance on sensibility or emotion as a guide to behavior. But, for example, her emphasis on memory and nature in Persuasion causes some academic readers to argue that this novel is “Romantic,” rather than Neoclassical (1660-1800), in a literary sense. I agree with the great literary critic Ian Watt who sees Austen as bringing together the Neoclassical achievements of Samuel Richardson (what Watt calls “realism of assessment” in terms of presenting the internal workings of the character’s mind) and Henry Fielding (what Watt calls “realism of presentation” in terms of presenting a character externally and in terms of the social pressures faced by that character). Thus, Austen reached the pinnacle of literary Neoclassicism in presenting characters that are not only true to human nature (the key Neoclassical characteristic), but also placed them within a highly realistic social framework that Austen frequently viewed satirically. The Neoclassical Period of British Literature was the great age of satire. Likewise, Austen’s writing is characterized by humor, something that we do not find in the writings of the Romantics. Now as for romanticism with a small “r,” Austen is said to have written the courtship novel, and nowadays we see newspaper and magazine articles deeming Austen the mother of “chick lit.” Of course, Austen’s six completed novels deal with courtship. But what is important to note is that her couples find their “togetherness” largely through personal and intellectual compatibility. Consider Elizabeth and Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, the worldwide favorite Austen novel, featuring her most popular couple. While we read that, in spite of his insulting her at the first dance, he has noticed her physically (shortly after seeing her, he tells the enquiring Miss Bingley that his sister is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s height), he confesses at the end of the novel that he came to love Elizabeth because of the “liveliness” of her mind. Indeed, he also admires her sense of self, for she is undoubtedly the first woman who has not been dancing pirouettes of admiration around him! Now consider the Austen couples who fall in love in a more romantic way: Marianne falls hard for John Willoughby in S&S, and the younger Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth fall “rapidly and deeply in love” some eight years before Persuasion opens. In both cases, the romantic love fails. So while Austen is considered a great writer of love stories, the long-lasting romance in her novels is based on intellectual and moral compatibility. SC: How did you first become interested in Austen? Joan Klingel Ray: While I read Pride and Prejudice as a young teenager and swooned over Darcy, I first studied Austen seriously in graduate school, when I took a yearlong course on the 18th-century British novel; the course concluded with Austen’s completed novels. By this time in my life, her handling of narrative, her humor (both dry and overt), and her satire intrigued me. But I did not work seriously on Austen on my own until the early 1990s, when I had a sabbatical and decided to focus on Austen’s life and work because no one in my department at the university was teaching her work. (FYI: My dissertation was on Samuel Johnson’s Shakespeare criticism.) As I began to re-read Austen with an academician’s eye, I paid special attention to her satire: satire is written to point out the flaws of society and individuals; the satirist writes because he/she cares. My first scholarly essay on Austen was about Mansfield Park: “Fanny Price as Jane Austen’s Case Study of Child Abuse.” I have since received numerous e-mails from graduate students saying how much this article changed their perceptions of that hitherto unpopular heroine. SC: In an article you wrote for a publication of the Jane Austen Society of North America, you state:  As an actual professor of living, breathing students, I admit that Sense and Sensibility is the hardest Austen novel for me to teach. Can you explain why? Joan Klingel Ray: First of all, there are too many Dashwoods! In the first chapter, students get confused by encountering many characters with that surname; two Dashwoods even have the same first names, Henry / Harry Dashwood. To try to alleviate my students’ confusion, I have drawn a family tree, which I distribute in class in class before the students read the novel, and I advise them to look at that handout as they read. Many students also want to change the marriage partners in the novel: they want Elinor to marry Colonel Brandon. What the students miss—and I believe I was the first to write and publish about this (with my thoughts since repeated without acknowledgment in one or two Austen critical works that I shall not name so as not to embarrass the authors)—is that Colonel Brandon, while older than Marianne, whom he eventually marries, is the male character in the novel with the most sensibility and thus the best match for Marianne because he has the sense to keep his strong sensibility under control, a behavior that Marianne must learn. Furthermore, students and other readers fall into the trap of believing what Willoughby and Marianne say about Brandon early in the novel: the two are not trustworthy evaluators of his personality. Other readers see him as trying to recapture in Marianne his lost love of youth, Eliza Brandon. But I see his interest in Marianne, as he observes her behaving rashly with Willoughby, as a deep concern that she will endure the same heartache that Eliza did. Brandon certainly forms a “second attachment” in his love life, but Marianne is not a reincarnation for him of the dead Eliza! SC: Who among contemporary writers—both male and female—has been influenced or inspired by Austen the most? Joan Klingel Ray: Talking about influence can put us on a slippery slope. But later novelists who owe some of their craft to Austen include Anthony Trollope, Elizabeth Gaskell, Henry James, E. M. Forster, and Barbara Pym. I would also note that while Austen “updates” such as Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones” books are certainly inspired by Austen, they show how difficult it is to do an update: the intelligent Elizabeth is turned into the ditzy Bridget. I think Amy Heckerling’s film “Clueless” is the best Austen update, based on Emma. Heckerling found in a 90210 high school the same class-consciousness that pervades the Austen novel. Kudos to Heckerling!
[table id=7 /]

Though relatively unknown during her lifetime, Jane Austen (1775–1817), is among the most widely read novelists in English literature. Her literary classics, such as Pride and Prejudice and ...

Marie Curie (1867-1934) whose work changed our modern understanding of matter and energy, was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win the award in two different fields. Along with her husband Pierre, Curie's efforts led to the discovery of polonium and radium and, after Pierre's death, the development of X-rays. Vicki Cobb is the well-known author of more than eighty-five highly entertaining nonfiction books for children. Ever since 1972, when HarperCollins first published Science Experiments You Can Eat, Cobb's lighthearted approach to hands-on science has become her trademark for getting kids involved in experiences that create real learning.

Simply Charly: Marie Curie earned her place in history as co-discoverer, in 1898, along with her husband Pierre, of polonium and radium. She was also the first woman Nobel laureate ever and the first female Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences at Paris’ Sorbonne University. Why was it so difficult for women scientists of that time to be accepted and recognized for their achievements by their male counterparts?

Vicki Cobb: It was difficult for women to get graduate training from universities at that time. There were only three universities in Europe that granted graduate degrees to women in 1884 when Marie Sklodowska was looking for a school to attend, let alone be a force for change when it came to women scientists.

SC: Was it because of commonly held perceptions that women were less competent than men in math and science? VC: I don’t think that commonly held perceptions were that specific. There were so few women in science, especially doing important work of the day, that Marie Curie was enough of an oddity to be exempt from “commonly held perceptions.”

SC: In 1911, the year she was awarded her second Nobel Prize, Curie was a target of a vicious smear campaign in the French press. Why was Curie, who brought much prestige to France and science, suddenly so vilified by the press, and how did she deal with this?

VC: The press in those days is no different from the tabloids of today. The young widow, Marie Curie was brilliant and beautiful and famous, and she had an affair with a prominent fellow physicist whose wife made a public thing about their alliance. Marie Curie did not deal with the scandal well. She became very ill and hid herself away from the press. However, when it came time for her to claim her prize, she pulled herself together and with her head high made the first Nobel laureate lecture ever delivered by a woman. (When she shared the earlier prize with her husband, he gave the lecture, although he would freely admit that the award was based on her work.) She never stooped to the level of those who vilified her. She was a class act all the way.

SC: A few years later Curie was again in favor in France, and even had a poem, “Ode to Madame Curie,” recited to her by Sarah Bernhardt. Why the change in the public opinion?

VC: During WWI, Marie Curie brought X-ray technology to the battlefield with her “Little Curies” –vehicles with X-ray machines and technicians to operate them. As a result, countless lives were saved. She also lived an exemplary life after the scandal and was recognized by the rest of the world for her work. France obviously decided it was to their advantage to claim her as one of their own. SC: Albert Einstein reportedly once said that Curie, “of all celebrated  beings, is the only one whom fame has not corrupted.” What kind of person was Marie Curie outside of her lab?

VC: Marie Curie was an extremely focused individual. From the time she was a young woman, she served science. She and her husband believed science would save the world, and that science was not for personal gain or acclaim. She gave away most of the radium she laboriously isolated in her lab to other scientists for their research, she never took out a patent on her methods, and she honored her commitments to the people she loved.

SC: Was her private persona different from the scientist?

VC: She was very shy in public. I don’t think she was shy in her private life but other than that, what you saw was what you got. I also think she was very sad. There isn’t a single picture of her in my book where she’s smiling, not even on her wedding day.

SC: What, if any, professional or personal relationships did Curie have with other renowned scientists and physicists of her era, for example, Einstein? VC: Marie Curie’s work was at the highest level and was eagerly read and reproduced by her contemporaries. I don’t think that most of her colleagues (Rutherford, Becquerel, Einstein, Bohr) had issues with her because she was female. In science, the work stands for itself. When the eminent Lord Kelvin challenged her discovery of radium, she knew that the only way she could defend herself was to produce pure radium metal (not the salt). This was a difficult task, which she accomplished after Lord Kelvin had died. But again, the science speaks for itself. That’s the beauty of science.

SC: By the same token, what about women, for example, 
mathematician Emmy Noether or physicist Lise Meitner, who were Curie’s contemporaries? VC: Marie Curie knew her female contemporaries, but the status of women scientists was way off her radar screen. Marie Curie was a great friend of Hertha Ayrton, an English scientist. Hertha was a political activist for voting rights for women, and although Marie Curie sympathized with her, she wasn’t interested in becoming an activist herself. She was always focused on doing science. SC: Did they in any way help each other make strides forward in the male-dominated field of science or was there no such thing as “sisterhood” of women scientists?

VC: I think the main way Marie Curie championed women scientists was with her own daughter Irène, who echoed her mother’s life by marrying a fellow scientist and working together to further Marie’s work. Irène Curie-Joliot won the Nobel in 1935 for her work in creating artificial radioactive isotopes.

SC: Besides X-ray and other medical treatments and applications, in what ways are Curie’s discoveries used today in our everyday lives?

VC: Aside from the fact that the unit of measurement for radiation is a “curie” there is no direct treatment or application of radium in today’s medicine. Marie Curie’s discoveries, however, gave us a depth of understanding about the atomic nucleus and the nuclear instability of the heavier elements.

SC: Curie took no precautions to protect herself from the effects of  radium, carrying test tubes in her pocket and even, reportedly,  keeping a vial of pure radium salts by her bedside to enjoy its “fairy-like glow.” In the end, she died of radiation-induced leukemia. Didn’t  Curie, who studied radioactivity in such detail, suspect its damaging properties?

VC: Both she and her husband suspected the deleterious effects of radioactive material, but that was not a deterrent. Like many nineteenth-century scientists who were busy filling in the gaps of the Periodic Table, knowledge trumped any personal danger. Radium was not the only element discovered in that era that could kill you.

SC: You’ve written a biography on Curie. What is your personal view of her work and life? VC: I LOVE her! I wish I could meet her. The path women have come since she lived illuminates many of the choices she made. She believed in science and in herself despite the times and pressures of society. What a gal!

SC: You’ve made a successful career from explaining the basics of science to children and to the “perplexed” layperson. How would you explain, in simple terms, Curie’s groundbreaking work to such a person?

VC: You cannot understand the significance of Marie Curie unless you understand what science is. I’ve just written about this in my upcoming book “What’s the BIG Idea?” Amazing Science Questions for the Curious Kid.” In answer to your question, I’m excerpting a portion of the introduction below: What’s a Big Idea? A big idea is one that has no simple or easy answer. There are four big ideas in this book: motion, energy, matter, and life. ….. Science tackles big ideas. How? The same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time. Science goes after big ideas by asking simpler questions that can be answered by doing something. If you ask a scientist, “How do you know?” A scientist doesn’t say, “I just know.” Or “Everyone knows.” Or “I read it someplace.” A scientist says, “This is what I did. If you do what I did, you’ll know what I know.” In other words, scientists answer their questions by doing experiments that anyone can check. And each question is like one tiny bite of the elephant. Every answer leads to more questions to be answered by more experiments and on and on. Scientific knowledge builds bit by bit with contributions of many people. Every once in a while there is a big breakthrough, and we get a big idea. All this takes time.

Science, itself, is a big idea. Before there was science people believed what they saw, heard, tasted, felt, and smelled. They believed their senses, and they believed their experiences. Yet it turned out that some of their big ideas were just plain wrong. They believed, for example, that the earth was the center of the universe, that the moon and stars were perfect and the earth was imperfect, and that everything was made of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Modern science began about four hundred years ago when an Italian mathematician, Galileo Galilei, began by asking some seemingly dumb questions about motion, like, “Why does a rolling ball stop rolling?” He came up with some surprising answers that challenged what most people assumed to be true. You’ll get a chance to discover his thinking in this book. It will blow your mind!

In the history of science, the disciplines grew up separately. In Marie Curie’s day, there were physicists, and there were chemists. But she lived during the period when physics and chemistry came together with the extraordinary breakthrough of the Niels Bohr model of the atom that a really BIG idea that explained among other things, change of state of matter, chemical bonds, the Gas Laws, X-Rays, the Law of Thermodynamics, and radioactivity. Marie Curie was a major player among the small constellation of scientific superstars that contributed to this work. SC: A century has passed since Curie’s pioneering work. Why do you think so few women have followed in her footsteps? VC: That’s a complicated question. There are a lot of factors, beginning with science education at the elementary school level. (That’s the level I’m working on.) There are also issues of competition for funding at the highest levels, support for women scientists in universities and business, and figuring out how to balance family and work. I am very hopeful (especially seeing the number of female Nobel laureates this year) that we will see many more prominent female scientists in the future.

Marie Curie (1867-1934) whose work changed our modern understanding of matter and energy, was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win the award in two different fields. Along w...

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was one of the greatest and most radical composers of all time. A tormented genius, who went deaf in later life and never heard his final works. His nine symphonies are probably his greatest achievement, each one an unrivaled masterpiece, but he also wrote 5 piano concertos, piano sonatas, string quartets, and one opera, Fidelio.
Lewis Lockwood is the Fanny Peabody Research Professor of Music, Emeritus at Harvard University, and is currently the Distinguished Senior Scholar in the Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at Boston University. His book Music in Renaissance Ferrara (1984) received the Otto Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society, and his Beethoven: the Music and the Life (2003) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the category “Biography.” The Lewis Lockwood Award of the American Musicological Society is also named in his honor.

Simply Charly: You've devoted your career to the study of Beethoven's life and work. Why Beethoven, than say, Mozart or Bach? Lewis Lockwood: I was raised as a cellist and played Beethoven's orchestral and chamber music from my teenage years onward. Later when I became a music historian and teacher, at first specializing in the Italian Renaissance, I found my way back to the music I had known since my early years, above all that of Beethoven, and it became a rich source of intellectual and emotional enjoyment. I also discovered that there are many questions, in the world of Beethoven biography and analysis, large and small that are still open to exploration. SC: Beethoven is often cited as a key figure in the Birth of the Modern world. How so? LL: Beethoven came of age at the time of the French Revolution and lived through the era of Napoleon's conquest of Europe and his subsequent downfall. His career also coincided with the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the social and artistic transformations of the early 19th century, the period called by some historians the "birth of the modern" (Paul Johnson). Beethoven's ability to master and then dominate the musical world of his time gave him the status of a key historical figure who profoundly influenced many later composers, down to the 20th century and even into the 21st. SC: Who were some of the masters he studied over and over, and who influenced or inspired him in one way or another? LL: In his early years his primary models were Haydn and Mozart, especially Mozart; for his great middle-period works there was an important exposure to the music of French composers of the time, especially Cherubini; and in his last years it was unquestionably Bach and Handel whom he openly revered more than any other composers. SC: It has been said that Beethoven had traveled to Vienna in the hopes of studying with Mozart. Is there any evidence to support this? LL: Yes. In the spring of 1787, the sixteen-year-old Beethoven journeyed to Vienna in hopes of meeting Mozart—the trip not only took place but has recently been shown to be longer than previously thought (ten weeks rather than two or three). Whether he met Mozart personally is uncertain, but when he left Bonn for good in 1792, after Mozart's recent death, it was to study with Haydn and get "the spirit of Mozart from Haydn's hands." SC: Beethoven’s great musical talents were often likened to that of Mozart’s so much so that he was considered his musical successor. Can you tell us more about this? LL: Beethoven's early ability as a pianist and budding composer raised hopes in his native Bonn that he could become "a second Mozart," meaning a prodigy who could impress patrons across Europe. As he turned to composition in the 1790s, after Mozart's death, there was a persistent hope among connoisseurs that he would become the "successor" to Mozart as the leading composer of the time; Haydn was still pre-eminent but was now an aging figure. SC: What was so distinctive about Beethoven’s music that set him apart from his influences? LL: In his early music clear mastery of musical craft combined with the power of expression, all still largely within the domain of late 18th-century styles, as personified in the music of Haydn and Mozart. Then in the first decade of the 19th century, Beethoven found a "new way" as he called it by which he enlarged and empowered the emotional dimensions of his music, seeking to reach not just audiences of his time but those of the future. The emotional range of all his greater works has been felt to surpass the constraints within which his predecessors had worked, and in his last works this is joined to a new level of intellectual and spiritual quality (e.g., in the Missa Solemnis and the last quartets) that has never been surpassed. SC: Can you tell us about the circumstances of his hearing loss? And how did this affect his music? LL: He began to note hearing loss as early as age 27 or 28, and by the time he was 31 in 1802 it was severe, as we know from a deeply intimate statement that he wrote in that year, the "Heiligenstadt Testament." The origins of the deafness are not certain, but its consequences were severe for his increasing estrangement from social contacts over the years. By 1815-1827 (the last twelve years of his life) he had to communicate verbally using Conversation Books, in which visitors wrote down remarks and questions, and he answered verbally—many are preserved. As to the effect on his music, that is a matter of speculation. It certainly affected his performing in public as a pianist, which he could not do after about 1815. SC: Beethoven was a lonely, tormented genius who was often difficult and hostile to others. Can you elaborate? LL: Wilful, self-absorbed, certainly lonely, emotionally needy—certainly these are well-documented traits. But he was also deeply attached to certain family members, above all his nephew Karl, whom he adopted after his brother Carl's death, having gone to court to get the guardianship away from his sister-in-law Johanna. Beethoven's relations with many people around him were stormy, but in my view, they masked a deeply vulnerable inner personality. In his musical life, he was equally obsessive, concerned with protecting his inner capacities from too much intrusion, but maintaining the highest imaginable standards of artistic integrity. SC: Beethoven became increasingly sick throughout his adult life. What kinds of maladies did he suffer? And do you think these maladies determined his behavior? LL: Enough illnesses for anyone—he declared at sixteen that he suffered "melancholia" and that never left him. Plus stomach problems, infections, hepatitis, perhaps some degree of immuno-pathy. The recent stories of lead-poisoning are so far unsubstantiated and are somewhat doubtful. SC: Critics have noted that one of the most distinguishing qualities of Beethoven's music was that he took "contrast" to a much higher, more provocative degree? Can you explain how he achieved this? LL: Much of Beethoven's music employs "contrast" to a higher degree than that of his major predecessors, Haydn and Mozart, although this does not mean that their works are in any way inferior in subtlety or quality. His tendency to dramatize and enlarge contrast as a means of relationship among musical elements covers a wide range of the basic strata of musical expression: rhythmic, dynamic, harmonic, even melodic. Much of Beethoven's music is characterized by his insistent "development" of clear-cut, well-formulated "motives," i.e., short rhythmic-melodic figures, typically stated at the beginning of a movement or piece. Thus the opening of the Coriolanus Overture, with its hammer-like two-note opening gesture, or the famous four-note motif that opens the Fifth Symphony; these motives serve as building blocks for large and extended structures. Another point of sharp contrast is then found between basic themes in a sonata-form exposition, in which the principal second theme is entirely different from the first (if the first is "powerful" the second may well be "yielding and pliant," again as in Coriolanus or the Fifth Symphony first movement. His interest in extending the length of his tonal structures enables him to find room for contrasts on a much wider scale than heretofore, as exemplified in the "Eroica" Symphony; and his use of contrasts also covers the more dramatic differences in character between movements, as in many of his best works. All his use of contrast must be understood as taking place within formal contexts in which not just differences between principal elements are important, but that these contrasts emerge within enlarged or intensified tonal structures that maintain very high formal integrity and in which entire movements and works are felt to be much more than the sum of their parts. All this is the result of his unceasing planning and sketching of his compositions, throughout his life from early to late, as is evident in the vast mass of his sketchbooks and heavily revised autograph manuscripts. SC: Why did Beethoven compose only one opera? LL: Opera was not Beethoven's natural habitat, as it was for Mozart, who was equally at home in instrumental or dramatic music. Beethoven's belief that music should reflect ethical as well as aesthetic values, or rather that these domains are really one, made him wary of opera libretti that seemed to celebrate what he considered immorality, as in Mozart's "Don Giovanni," or human foibles, as in "Cosi fan tutte." He much preferred operas like "The Magic Flute' which dealt with human aspirations towards higher ethical goals and celebrated human brotherhood, or "rescue" plots like those of Cherubini, which portrayed heroism. So Beethoven, after trying out a hackneyed plot written by Schikaneder (who had written The Magic Flute libretto for Mozart) in 1804 accepted the libretto of "Leonore," later renamed "Fidelio", in which an ideal and heroic woman, disguised as a man, rescues her husband from unjustified imprisonment by a tyrant. He wrote it first in 1805, revised it in 1806, then again more drastically in 1814, now celebrating the benevolence of the liberating political leader who appears at the end of the work after the two protagonists, Leonore and Florestan, are reunited in freedom. After "Fidelio" Beethoven considered and rejected many other ideas for operas, though in 1812 he expressed willingness to compose a work that might be "romantic, quite serious, comic, or sentimental.." But what became clear was that he did not find a libretto adequate to his imaginative demands as a composer, and probably his deafness and misanthropy made it difficult for him to deal with opera producers, librettists, stage managers, and singers. So while he professed a lifelong interest in writing operas, he really found his dramatic voice in his instrumental music. As Wagner said of the overture Leonore No. 3, "it is not an overture, it is the great drama itself." SC: Today, Beethoven’s music is performed all over the world. Can you give us your essential list of works one should listen to when first approaching Beethoven? LL: The greater works are certainly (not in order) the symphonies, string quartets, and piano sonatas. My essential list includes all the symphonies from 2 to 9; selected quartets early middle and late (from Op. 18, Op. 59, and among the late quartets Op. 130, 131, 132, and 135). Also the opera Fidelio and from the choral works the Missa Solemnis. The dramatic music, including the Coriolanus Overture and the incidental music to Egmont. Finally, the keyboard chamber music, including several violin sonatas (the "Kreutzer" in particular), the cello sonatas Op. 69 and 102; and the trios, above all the "Archduke," Op. 97. Many little-known minor works reveal a different Beethoven, too little known, e.g., the song cycle "To the distant

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was one of the greatest and most radical composers of all time. A tormented genius, who went deaf in later life and never heard his final works. His nine symphonies...

British biologist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) laid the foundations of the theory of evolution and transformed the way we think about the natural world. Few books have influenced the human thought more than his On the Origin of Species. Published in 1859, it expounded his theory of natural selection, shocking society, and revolutionizing science.
Jerry Fodor is Professor of Philosophy and cognitive science at Rutgers University. He is the author of numerous works, including The Language of ThoughtThe Modularity of Mind, Psychosemantics, and most recently What Darwin Got Wrong.

Simply Charly: A few years ago, you caused a stir in the pages of the London Review of Books with an article entitled "Why Pigs Don't Have Wings" by attacking the concept of "natural selection" in evolutionary theory. Your article drew heavy criticism from many of your colleagues. What was the genesis of your doubts about Darwin's theory? Jerry Fodor: I've had my doubts about aspects of Darwin's account of natural selection for some time; many of them are concerned with the implications of Darwinism for the psychology of cognition. For one thing, the resemblance to Skinnerian Learning Theory troubled me. If, as practically everyone now agrees, gradualism about learning doesn't work, why would one expect gradualism about evolution to do so? For another, I can't imagine a gradualist account of the evolution of complex, interdependent, and frequently gratuitous, psychological structures like a speaker/hearer's internal representation of the grammar of his language. If there's anything that looks like saltation, it's language. For a third thing, I'm appalled by the consequences of applying the adaptationist thesis that phenotypic traits must have been selected-for some or other function they performed in the environment of selection: (Writing “The Tempest” was a reproductive strategy, and so forth). I've been told very often that if I don't believe Darwin on natural selection, that must be because, deep down, I believe in God. But I don't, and it isn't. (Also, I'm automatically suspicious of anything that everybody believes.) SC: Has your viewpoint changed or evolved, in light of the criticism it has received for your earlier expressions of it, now that it has been more fully developed in your new book “What Darwin Got Wrong?” JF: No. The criticisms I've seen have been mostly fatuous; a substantial minority haven't even managed to get straight on what my argument is supposed to be; in particular, on why the intensionality of 'select-for' plays such a central role in it. But I suppose things will catch up sooner or later. I'm not in a rush. SC: What is the main thrust of your argument against natural selection? JF: Mainly that neither biologists nor philosophers have faced the question: what's the relation between the claim that a certain trait has been selected and the claim that it has been selected-for (e.g., selected-for causing increased fitness.) As far as I can see, there is no serious discussion of this relation in the relevant philosophical or biological literature. (The currently favored suggestion that the relation is definitional only shows how desperate these straits have become.) SC: Your book introduces several philosophical concepts such as "intentionality," "intension," and "extension"—all of which play a significant role in pushing forward your line of reasoning against natural selection. Can you briefly explain how these terms function within the framework of your argument? JF: Roughly (but close enough) intensional processes are ones that can apply differently in coextensive domains. The simplest examples are familiar from philosophical discussions: The heart makes heart-noises, and it pumps the blood. Making heart noise and pumping the blood are coextensive; whatever does either does both. But, presumably, the heart was selected-for being a blood pump, not for being a noisemaker. This illustrates both the intensionality of 'select-for' and the proximity of problems about natural selection to problems about natural teleology. Neither is understood, and the frequently encountered attempt to get them to take in one another's wash is hopelessly circular. SC: You claim that the theory of natural selection doesn't provide law-like explanations in the way that, say, Newton's laws of motion does. How so? JF: I don't think this is much in dispute, even among Darwinists. The point of laws is largely to support counterfactuals: If it's a law that As are Bs, then it follows (all else equal) that if something had been (/were to be) A it would have been (/would be) B. There aren't any such counterfactual-supporting generalizations about, for example, which traits would be selected-for in which ecologies (except generalizations that are made up ad hoc and post facto.) SC: You also assert that natural selection is statistical. What do you mean by this? JF: I don't say any such thing. I say there is no such process as natural selection; that is a different matter entirely. SC: Fellow philosophers Philip Kitcher and Ned Block have attacked your thesis in the Boston Review saying that it is “biologically irrelevant and philosophically confused.” From a biological standpoint, they argue that you are out of touch with the practice of evolutionary biology concerning how claims about selection are used. And philosophically, they assert that you misconstrue “selection-for” as intensional when it is, under their reading, extensional. How do you respond to those charges? JF: First, I'm not criticizing “the practice of evolutionary biology”; I'm criticizing the Theory of Natural Selection, which I'm inclined to think (contrary to the received opinion) actually plays no great role in the practice of evolutionary biology. Second, the claim that 'select for' is extensional is preposterous on the face of it. Block and Kitcher confuse the (correct) observation that claims like 'property P is (e.g., nomologically) connected to property Q' are extensional (in the sense that they remain true under substation of any terms that denote properties P and Q ) with the clearly false thesis that (to use their own example) 'the color of moth's wings is selected for matching the color of the background' is extensional. Consider the inference: 'the color of moths wings was selected-for matching the background; the color of the background is the color of Granny's dog; therefore the color of the moth's wings was selected-for being the color of Granny's dog.' Nonsense. The crucial thing to notice is that what's relevant to the discussion of natural selection isn't the intensionality (or otherwise) of claims about relations among properties; it's the intensionality (or otherwise) of claims about relations among instantiations of properties. (Generally speaking, when you have to use heavy-duty (and highly tendentious) philosophical artillery to defend what purports to be an empirical theory, it's very likely that the theory you're defending isn't true.) SC: If adaptationism fails, as you argue, to tell the whole story, then what would you suggest take its place? JF: My guess is that there isn't any such thing as a (general) theory of evolution (just as, it turns out in Skinner's case, that there is no such thing as a general theory of learning.) Skinner and Darwin both made bad bets on what would prove to be natural kinds: Learning in Skinner's case, trait fixation in Darwin's. I expect that natural history is about as close as you can get to an empirical account of trait fixation; and it's more or less common ground that natural history takes things case by case and offers only explanations that are ad hoc and post hoc (as, indeed, does every other kind of historical explanation). I know that, for some reason, some biologists find this suggestion demeaning. Well, as Lewontin said in respect of a related issue: “Tough!” SC: Did you feel at any time during the writing of this book that your book would be providing ammunition to the proponents of creationism or “intelligent design?” JF: I'm not in the ammunition business. If silly people draw silly inferences from good philosophy, (or from good science, for that matter), that's their problem, not mine. God provided us with tenure so we could do our best to say what's true. I'm doing my best. SC: In the weeks since your book was released, it has been vehemently attacked from many quarters. From what you've read so far, what do you take to be the main point of divergence that these criticisms have taken against your stance? JF: I doubt that there is a main point; just a lot of misreading and flawed dialectic together with a substantial dollop of hysteria.

British biologist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) laid the foundations of the theory of evolution and transformed the way we think about the natural world. Few books have influenced the human thought mor...

Considered by many to be one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century, Austrian- British Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), had a major influence on logic, logical positivism, as well as on philosophy of mathematics, mind, and language.
Susan Sterrett is in the Department of Philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Besides her book Wittgenstein Flies A Kite: A Story of Models of Wings and Models of the World, she is the author of numerous articles on the philosophy of science, and co-author of Three Views of Logic: Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science, forthcoming from Princeton University Press.

Simply Charly: Your book, Wittgenstein Flies A Kite, takes a novel approach to understanding the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, especially his first book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Can you tell us how you came upon this path? Susan Sterrett: The approach of looking at the historical context in which Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is not novel, of course. What's novel about my book are the aspects of Wittgenstein's milieu I've selected to write about: the widespread interest at that time in understanding, employing, and formalizing similarity, especially similarity of systems. Similarity takes on special importance in the problems of heavier-than-air flight and audible records of musical performances, so I discuss the history of those technological developments. Interest in similarity at that time cut across disciplines—from biology and physics to linguistics and music. At the time I came upon the idea of putting this story together, the biographers and scholars looking at the scientific and technological aspects of Wittgenstein's milieu had not thought to see the importance of developments in physics or engineering beyond the point in time at which he left his position as a postgraduate student in engineering at Manchester to go to Cambridge to study with Bertrand Russell in 1911. But Wittgenstein identified thinking about scale models in late 1914 as especially important in coming to write the Tractatus. So it makes sense to pay attention to what happened in his milieu after 1911 and, as described in the book, the most significant advance in the centuries-long history of the notion of similar systems (which encompasses the notion of all kinds of scale model, from geometrically similar architectural models to sophisticated laboratory magneto-hydrodynamical models) occurred in July 1914. This advance in the formal foundations of similarity is not unrelated to logic and language, either, for on the basis of the similarity of systems is stated in terms of a logical principle that is derived from considering the logical consequences of having a symbolic system that is capable of expressing the relations of physical science and stating them as physical equations. Once I thought to look at scientific and technological developments beyond the point in time at which he left engineering research, it occurred to me to look in the other direction in time as well: his early childhood. That's how I came to include discussions of the invention of the gramophone and of Jules Verne's widely translated and widely read juvenile novel foreseeing the invention of heavier-than-air flight, in which the characters vigorously debate the issue of scaling. Children's toys, incorporating the technology of gramophones (such as dolls that "speak"), Verne's novel, and various flying toys of impressive ability were around during his childhood. Both of these technological developments—making audible recordings of sounds and scaling up small flying machines—reflect a deeper understanding of similarity than visual resemblance. Similarity was appealed to in many different sciences: corresponding velocities in mechanics, corresponding states in physical chemistry, and animal form in biology are three examples. Given that similarity is an overarching theme in studies on the Tractatus, and how thoroughly Wittgenstein's life and work had already been scrutinized, it was a huge, and hugely exciting, surprise to me that nobody had recognized, much less put together, the story of the history of similar systems as part of the cultural and intellectual background of the Tractatus. How did I come to research the topics I discuss in the book? It began with one of those sudden insights that are both intensely focused yet programmatic in nature. In the early 90s, I happened to be re-reading the Tractatus at the same time that I had occasion to think about the reasoning underlying the use of scale models—scale models used experimentally, to tell whether something in an imagined or expected situation will or will not occur. Probably as a consequence of reading the Tractatus at the same time, in which Wittgenstein says that a proposition is a model of reality as we think of it, and that, in a proposition, a world is put together experimentally. I thought of scale models constructed for experimental use in the following way: To build an experimental model, what you need to pick out are the important facts describing the situation. The important facts in determining similarity aren't the values of quantities, as philosophers tend to assume; rather, it is the structural similarity of the situation you are after; that's what the facts important to similarity describe. I reflected on the fact that similarity of two situations was a matter of the values of the dimensionless ratios describing the states of the two systems: the systems are similar with respect to a certain behavior if each one's behavior can be described by the same set of dimensionless parameters and that behavior will be the same when those parameters take on the same value. I noted that dimensionless ratios were mathematically composed of dimensions in much the same way that facts in the Tractatus were composed of what Wittgenstein called objects: without any additional copula or "connectors," for one thing. So you can imagine why I felt motivated to follow up on this when I heard that Wittgenstein told many friends, on many different occasions, of the importance of insight he had had while reflecting on the use of scale models. He often described it as an insight from which he had developed one of the basic topics in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The task I faced in following up on this wasn't straightforward, though: Wittgenstein had asked that all the journals, personal papers, and notebooks from his life before the war be destroyed. About all that's left of his from that period are letters he wrote to people who happened to preserve them and of accounts others gave of him, written and oral. The pieces of the picture I wanted to sketch out had to be assembled from many different kinds of sources. I discuss how I got from my point of inspiration to completing the book it inspired in more detail in the book's Preface. There were already major studies covering the cultural and intellectual currents of the prewar years, especially in Vienna and Cambridge; some of the biographies of Wittgenstein covered the years he had spent studying in Linz, Berlin, and Manchester, too. Fortunately, Brian McGuinness' Wittgenstein: A Life, which is devoted to his early years, up to the publication of the Tractatus, was published by then. It is a meticulous and detailed account of the interviews he conducted and the decades of research he carried out. Ray Monk's extremely popular Ludwig Wittgenstein: Duty of Genius, which covers Wittgenstein's entire life, had just come out; that pair of books generated a lot of interest in Wittgenstein biography at the time. A lesser-known study, Richard Brockhaus' Pulling up the Ladder: The Metaphysical Roots of Wittgenstein's Tractatus had been published a few years before that. Janik and Toulmin's Wittgenstein's Vienna, which described a broad range of intellectual movements in the Vienna in which Wittgenstein grew up, was already something of a classic by then. David Stern's Mind and Language, which discusses the development of Wittgenstein's thought and draws from his unpublished notes and diaries, appeared after I started sketching my first paper on scale models and the Tractatus. That was an inspiration to me to continue, and a great help as well while I worked out my ideas. These were all extremely helpful in laying out the picture that had to be supplemented, but I donʼt think a single one of those authors—or anyone writing on Wittgenstein at the time, for that matter—saw a connection between Wittgenstein's comment about scale models and flight research. I wrote Wittgenstein Flies A Kite: A Story of Models of Wings and Models of the World as a self-standing narrative capable of being enjoyed for the story it tells about the history of the ideas of similarity and similar systems—and, simultaneously, showed the intricate interlacing of events in that story with events in the history of flight, in Wittgenstein's life, and in the lives of others whom Wittgenstein said were important to him, especially Boltzmann. Boltzmann's essay on aeronautics, in which he explained that the important research that should be done next could be done using "a child's toy—a kite", and which was delivered as a public lecture in Vienna when Wittgenstein was a young child, wasn't available in English translation, and had even been dropped from some later editions of German anthologies of Boltzmann's Popular Scientific Lectures. I had Boltzmann's essay "On Aeronautics" translated; it's included as an appendix to my book. In laying out various events in history and in Wittgenstein's life on the same timeline and putting together a unified picture of things, I came across some unexpected connections that vindicated my initial hunches. One that made me elated for weeks was a connection to Galileo's Two New Sciences, a book I already knew to be important in the history of similarity and which, it was recently found out, Wittgenstein had purchased—but, enough. I'll leave it to your readers to read all about that and other unexpected connections I discuss in my book. In terms of understanding Wittgenstein, I don't see the main contribution of my book so much as an alternate approach to Wittgenstein as a supplement to other work on Wittgenstein. I hope that others see it that way, too. I bring knowledge that is not all that common among those currently writing on Wittgenstein: philosophy of science, philosophy of physics, study in both pure and applied mathematics, and history and philosophy of science of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So I'm equipped to see some things that others may not, just as others are equipped to see things that I may not. I do think that the understanding of similarity and models to be gained from the historical story I tell in the book finally provides a satisfying and accessible understanding of the account of objects given in the Tractatus, and I explain why in the last chapter. As I said in the book, though, I expect that the historical story I've told may illuminate different things for others than it does for me. SC: In your book, you argue that several disparate influences may have impinged on Wittgenstein's thinking and provided the seeds for his groundbreaking Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Can you tell us what they were? SS: Actually, I eschewed talk of influences; I wrote that I didn't think of my historical study as identifying "influences" on Wittgenstein. I explain, near the end of the book, that I think of the relationship of the Tractatus and Wittgenstein's intellectual milieu more along the lines of the relationship between a sculpture constructed from "found" objects and the artist's surroundings while working on such a sculpture. Wittgenstein's work, by his own admission, is a synthesis. I think of that synthesis as active, not passive, on his part. He's highly critical, highly selective. We do know what he said about influences, though. In one of his diaries, about ten years after he had published the Tractatus, he made (and later added to) a list of thinkers to whom he attributed some influence. The final version of the list is: Boltzmann, Hertz, Schopenhauer, Frege, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, Spengler, and Sraffa. There's a lot of variety there: the list includes physicists, philosophers, writers, an historian, an architect, and an economist. wittgenstein SC: Can you give us an example of how one of these strands of thought may have been used to develop Wittgenstein's own ideas about language? SS: Well, there are several examples in my book that could be seen that way, I suppose. The metaphor of a strand of thought from the standpoint of describing the development of a view is that strands drawn from different sources are then woven together to create something new. It's a common metaphor, and in the examples from my book, some of the strands—not all—are distinctions or insights occasioned by thinking about developments in science and technology. Boltzmann's point about the kind of similarity that is preserved under scaling transformations—which expands the notion of scale model to include scale models used experimentally to illustrate mechanical and dynamical behavior, not just the kind of scale models meant to show how things fit together geometrically in space—might be seen as one such strand. Another is the point I make in the first chapter of the book about the importance of the difference between phonautographs and gramophone records: whereas phonautographs were meant as visual records of sound, useful for looking at and making scientific measurements of sounds, gramophone records were sound records that were meant to be played back. That is, the grooves on a gramophone record were not valued for the visual patterns they contained, but because they, along with an appropriately designed mechanical device, could be used to reproduce sound, such as a symphony performance or the sounds of a person speaking. Gramophone records played on a gramophone player are thus an alternative to another means of producing the sounds of a symphony performance: trained musicians who knew how to read a musical score. Then there is the strand about physical similarity as a solution to questions about caling, a subject of wide applicability in many fields, but that happens to get clarified due to the importance that flight research took on in 1914. In my book, I suggest that the view in the Tractatus might be seen as logically developing from successively incorporating these insights, along with others, into one view. So I guess that, on my account, the views in the Tractatus about models and picturing might be seen as a weaving together of many different strands of thought. SC: What conclusions, if any, did you draw from your research? SS: Two things: One, that historical context can be valuable in understanding some philosophical texts, and two, the importance of being ever more inclusive about the things in the historical context, rather than letting academic inquiry get set into ossified avenues. Neglecting to pay sufficient attention to the history of aviation when considering modern European intellectual and cultural history is not specific to Wittgenstein studies; the historian Robert Wohl, who published A Passion for Wings: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1908 to 1918 fifteen years after his The Generation of 1914, has commented that the history of aviation tends to be told separately from European intellectual and cultural history, as a story apart. I've already explained a lot of the things I find important that had been neglected previously, but there's more in the book, and even more still to be discovered—of that I'm confident. SC: The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was written in a very unorthodox style. The writing is lean and epigrammatic and often obscure. In fact, German Mathematician Gottlob Frege with whom Wittgenstein studied and counted as a seminal influence had a difficult time wading through the book and even mentions so to Wittgenstein in writing. Why do you think Wittgenstein chose to write his book in this manner? SS: The epigrammatic—or, perhaps, aphoristic—style of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is certainly something many readers find striking. However, it wasn't really as unorthodox then as many think: at least two of the people on the list of those Wittgenstein said influenced him wrote in an aphoristic style, too: Karl Kraus and Arthur Schopenhauer. I think Wittgenstein's Tractatus is more tightly structured than their works, though. He was emphatic that the precise method of numbering the statements, which are presented in a hierarchical format, was essential to the work, that it would be worthless were the numbering not to be preserved as he wrote it exactly. Of course, numbering is important in Whitehead and Russell's Principia Mathematica, too. So again we might view this as a selective picking up of things he saw around him and a synthesis of them into something new from these "found" elements. Why did he choose to write the book in this manner? I don't presume to know. I don't think it was the style in which the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was written that discouraged Gottlob Frege from reading the book, though. I think Frege wanted explicit definitions of the terms Wittgenstein used. It was a complaint Frege made about the work of many others as well, in particular, the mathematicians known as "formalists." As I discuss in my book, even Hilbert's Foundations of Geometry, which was regarded as a masterpiece by most other mathematicians, brought criticism from Frege, in large part because Hilbert's definitions of basic terms such as "point" and "line" were implicit definitions, rather than explicit ones. I should point out that Wittgenstein did not study with Frege, although he visited him in Germany a few times. Frege became known in England due to Bertrand Russell, who could read works in German and appreciated the significance of Frege's work in logic. SC: Why was Wittgenstein upset over Bertrand Russell's introduction to the Tractatus? SS: To put Wittgenstein's displeasure with Russell's Introduction to the Tractatus into perspective, remember that Wittgenstein eventually got upset with just about everyone who attempted to explain his work to others. He often felt that hardly anybody—not even Russell—really understood him, or ever would understand him. In one of Wittgenstein's letters written as he is trying, as he put it, to find "a home" for his work "in this lousy world," he writes that "showing a philosophical work to a philosophy professor is the same as casting pearls . . . ", that a philosophy professor "won't understand a word." Remember the situation, too: Wittgenstein had tried without much success to find a publisher, at least one he felt would publish it for the right reasons and in the right way. He finally puts the manuscript at Russell's disposal, telling him that he can do what he likes with it, with the proviso that if Russell changes anything in the text, he must indicate that the change was made by him. That's a little different from having Russell explain his work to others, though. Russell wrote his Introduction as a favor to Wittgenstein, to help get the Tractatus published; that such help was needed was unfortunate, and I think Wittgenstein could hardly have helped feeling it was a compromise of sorts. Wittgenstein's literary executor, G. H. von Wright, has recounted the long and twisting path of Russell's Introduction: there are multiple versions and translations, lost originals, and so on. Von Wright thinks Russell's discussion of a "logically perfect or ideal language" in his Introduction has caused a lot of misunderstandings about the Tractatus that might not have occurred had the Tractatus been published without it. This isn't something I've written much about; there is also a more recent book by Gregory Landini, Wittgenstein's Apprenticeship with Russell that discusses it in great detail and the context of their relationship—he challenges the widespread view that the teacher-student relationship between Russell and Wittgenstein had flipped. Personally, I doubt that there is anything Russell or anyone else could have written as an introduction that would have met with Wittgenstein's full approval. SC: Wittgenstein later repudiated the philosophy espoused in the Tractatus. Can you briefly describe the strands of thought that led him to reject the Tractatus? SS: I think repudiation is too strong a word. There is a lot of continuity between the Tractatus and the later major work, Philosophical Investigations. One thing to keep in mind is that Wittgenstein wished the text of the Philosophical Investigations to be published side-by-side with the text of the Tractatus. It's true that, later, he no longer believed everything he had believed when he wrote the Tractatus; he came to think that an assumption he had made about the logical independence of elementary propositions in the Tractatus was mistaken, which some people cite as the crucial thing that led to him giving up the view there. I'm not convinced that was as fundamental a change in his views as some think. And, as others have pointed out, a more comprehensive difference between the earlier and later work is that the Philosophical Investigations involves the social and practical in a way that the Tractatus does not. If you pay attention to this when comparing the two works, the difference is quite striking, once it's been pointed out. There's an anecdote about this change in his work arising in response to the Cambridge economist Piero Sraffa illustrating an insulting gesture and challenging Wittgenstein to say what the logical structure of the gesture was. Sraffa said he couldn't remember any such incident, so who knows if it actually happened? At any rate, this isn't a topic on which I have written, so I'll leave it at that. SC: How do you approach the philosophy of Wittgenstein when teaching it to your students? SS: Well, in classes, I've only taught the Tractatus, and to students for whom it is new. I aim to allow a student's initial encounter with the text to be as unimpeded by preconceptions as possible. Many find reading it for the first time an experience that feels very personal to them. Trying to comprehend the Tractatus is overwhelming at first—it is obscure, and it seems so even to those who sense the work holds a new and exciting view of things. So it helps to have a little structure, a little guidance while yet trying to avoid unnecessary preconceptions. One thing we do is read some examples of works that were in his milieu as a young person and perhaps read some biographical information to provide a little historical context. The second thing is to get to know the text well. Here we start at the highest level of the hierarchy in the Tractatus, beginning with the propositions numbered one through seven and work down the next level, level by level. I suggest Mounce's Introduction to the Tractatus as a reference when the student would like a little more help while dealing with the text. I think doing these two things—familiarizing oneself with the historical context in which the work was written, and getting to know the text well—is the right way, or at least one good way, to begin. After that, there are lots of possibilities, and which one I choose is often directed, at least in part, by student interests. If the interest is in understanding the reception of the work in analytic philosophy of science, we might read A. J. Ayer's classic Language, Truth, and Logic. But there is so much written in response to it—you really can't fathom how much, until you do a literature search—that there are lots of other good possibilities. SC: Wittgenstein is perhaps one of the most studied philosophers in the world. Why do you think his teachings still resonate with so many even today? SS: I'm uncomfortable with using the term "teachings" here, although I think I understand why you chose that term. The enduring interest in Wittgenstein's writings is something of a social phenomenon, and its explanation is likely to be complex. I don't presume to have an explanation, and I doubt there is a single one. The explanation of why literary theorists still study the Philosophical Investigations is probably not the same as the explanation of why mathematicians and philosophers of science are still interested in the Tractatus. SC: Can you recommend some books that serve as an introduction to Wittgenstein's philosophy, especially for the uninitiated? SS: Sure. I've already mentioned Young Ludwig: Wittgenstein's Life 1889 - 1921 by Brian McGuinness, which is a biography of his life up until the Tractatus; that is one good place to start. I'd also recommend a recent collection of McGuinness' essays, entitled Approaches to Wittgenstein. David Stern's excellent Mind and Language, which is about the development of Wittgenstein's thought and draws on his unpublished work, is accessible in spite of being a rigorous scholarly study; I would definitely recommend it if you are interested in understanding the development of Wittgenstein's thought and not just the two works he prepared for publication. Many people feel that Ray Monk's Wittgenstein: Duty of Genius gives them a sense of Wittgenstein as a person as well as introducing them to his philosophy. These are a few biographically-oriented introductions. Monk recently wrote a small volume How to Read Wittgenstein, too. There are some books meant to serve as introductions to Wittgenstein's thought: Anthony Grayling's Wittgenstein: A Very Short Introduction targets readers who know little to nothing about Wittgenstein. There is a small volume entitled Wittgenstein in Routledge's Great Philosophers Series by P. M. S. Hacker aimed at the same audience. Of course, you shouldn't take any single book as an absolute authority. David Pears' books on Wittgenstein's philosophy are rather accessible. Anthony Kenny's Wittgenstein is in a revised edition now, and Kenny has an anthology of selected works called The Wittgenstein Reader that readers might find useful. For your readers who are interested in Wittgenstein and psychology, there is Wittgenstein and Psychology: A Practical Guide by Rom Harre and Michael Tissaw. There are also books meant to guide the student through Wittgenstein's work, though of course, they cannot help involving some interpretation. I already mentioned Mounce's Introduction to the Tractatus; another classic of the same name is by G. E. M. Anscombe, one of Wittgenstein's students. Marie McGinn, who is an emeritus professor, has a set of guides: Elucidating the Tractatus: Wittgenstein's Early Philosophy of Logic and Language and Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations, both available in paperback. Robert Fogelin's Wittgenstein is something of a classic in some circles—be sure to get the second edition. Meredith Williams' Wittgenstein, Mind and Meaning: Toward a social conception of mind is a guide to Wittgenstein's later view, and Eli Friedlander's Signs of Sense: Reading Wittgenstein's Tractatus is a recent influential guide to themes in the Tractatus. I could go on and on—there are dozens of other good books on Wittgenstein. Which one to invest one's time in is partly a matter of interest. So I'd encourage exploring. Apologies to all those I've neglected to mention. SUGGESTED READING [table id=48 /]

Considered by many to be one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century, Austrian- British Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), had a major influence on logic, logical positivism, as well as on ...

German philosopher of the late 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) boldly and daringly challenged the foundations of Christianity, traditional morality, and other prevalent social mores. He was at the forefront of the existentialism, perspectivism, and nihilism movements that emphasized the importance of human individuality and freedom; discovery of truth only in the context of our own perceptions and interpretations; and rejection of religious and moral doctrines.
Arthur Coleman Danto is the Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia University. He is best known as the influential, long-time art critic for The Nation and his work in philosophical aesthetics and philosophy of history, though he has contributed significantly to many fields. His interests span thought, feeling, philosophy of art, theories of representation, philosophical psychology, Hegel's aesthetics, and the philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Arthur Schopenhauer.

Simply Charly: Nietzsche has been one of the most misinterpreted and unfairly maligned intellectual figures of the last two centuries. Even today, they often miscarry his views. Can you tell us why? Arthur Danto: Mostly, I think, because of the way he dismissed what we think of as morality as slave-morality. He had no use for pity, he claimed that God is dead, he felt that the weak should not be helped, that the strong alone have a right to survive, that women were and ought to be subservient, etc., etc. His awful sister did not help, telling Hitler that her brother thought that he was just the ticket. SC: Your book, Nietzsche As Philosopher, published in 1965, sought to rehabilitate Nietzsche’s reputation as a first-rate thinker who, despite claims to the contrary, had a systematic and coherent philosophy. How has that mission held up some 45 years later? AD: My book was the first to draw attention to his singular thoughts on language, truth, and logic, and on philosophy itself. I admired the clarity of his writing, even if I felt we had to confront the ferocity of his critiques. For a pre-modern, he was strikingly post-modernist. I have seen no reason to change anything in my book, though I am daunted by how popular he has become. The thing about Nietzsche is that almost everyone that reads him feels that he is on their side. SC: Some scholars have viewed Nietzsche as attempting to reorient philosophical thinking while others have interpreted him as repudiating the philosophical enterprise altogether. What is your view? AD: Well, he did say that all philosophical systems were a form of autobiography, which makes his readers wonder why his philosophy should be any different. It is just that his autobiography often seems to be your own autobiography, your own way of thinking. SC: The philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer influenced Nietzsche significantly. What did he draw from him? And what did he discard? AD: I think his basic debt to Schopenhauer was the latter’s idea of the world as will, which he transformed into the will-as-power. But he admired Schopenhauer’s views on music and art, causality, and women. SC: What did Nietzsche mean when he proclaimed “God is dead”? AD: Basically, that his commandments have no power over us any longer. We have to create our own worlds. SC: Nietzsche adopted an unorthodox view on the nature of truth and knowledge. Can you tell us what it was? AD: He thought that there were no facts, only interpretations. His views in this respect are rather like those of Richard Rorty. Truth is whatever enables us to flourish. SC: One of the most discussed aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy is his notion of the “Über-mensch” or Superman. Can you briefly explain what he meant by this? AD: He did write a book called Human, All Too Human. I think the Superman would be someone who was human but not human all too human. That is, our humanity is too often used as an excusing condition for weaknesses of various sorts. SC: Nietzsche’s notion of the “Über-mensch” was misappropriated by the Nazis and used for their propaganda campaigns. Can you tell us how this developed? AD: Well, I think they thought they were a superior race of men. Since others were inferior, they had a natural right to overrun us, to make room for them and their superior offspring. SC: Which work do you consider to be Nietzsche’s most important. And why? AD: I like Twilight of the Idols. It is a wonderful piece of philosophy. It is a critique of many of the thoughts and beliefs that those who hold them are diminished by. SC: How would you suggest one approach Nietzsche’s works? Where would one start? AD: I think one might begin with Twilight of the Idols, or Beyond Good and Evil, and fight them all the way. I think that would make us independent thinkers, which is what he after all wanted. He has a nice aphorism—"I listened for an echo and heard only applause."

German philosopher of the late 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) boldly and daringly challenged the foundations of Christianity, traditional morality, and other prevalent social mores....

Generally considered one of the most influential physicists in history, Albert Einstein’s (1879-1955) groundbreaking theories reshaped the scientific community's view and understanding of the universe. He developed the special and general theories of relativity and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his explanation of the photoelectric effect.
Martin Rees is President of the Royal Society and also Master of Trinity College, and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge. He is also a Visiting Professor at Leicester University and Imperial College London. He was appointed Astronomer Royal in 1995 and was nominated to the House of Lords in 2005 as a cross-bench peer. He was appointed a member of the Order of Merit in 2007. He has authored or co-authored about five hundred research papers and written widely on science and policy and is the author of seven books for a general readership.

Simply Charly: Generally speaking, 1905 is considered as Albert Einstein’s “annus mirabilis,” the miracle year during which he published five groundbreaking papers exploring some monumental ideas about time and space. Was his work during that year really of such colossal importance? Martin Rees: Einstein’s greatest work was over well before he was 40. He was an amazing young scientist whose achievements have shaped our present view of the universe. Einstein’s 1905 papers were all classics. What’s astonishing is that they came, in a single year, from one unknown young man who worked in the Berne Patent Office. But it’s his theory of general relativity, completed ten years later, that elevates him to a status matched only by Newton. His vision of gravity—that “Space tells matter how to move; matter tells space how to curve” was revolutionary. But if Einstein hadn’t existed, the same insights would surely have emerged within a few years. SC: Einstein was a theoretical physicist—one who used pencil and paper, along with sheer brainpower, to tease out the riddles of the universe. How right was he? Have all the tests that physicists devised to date yielded results consistent with his theory of general relativity? MR: Einstein’s theories were not primarily motivated to explain particular observations. He was guided mainly by pure thought and deep intuition. His internal logic seemed so compelling he felt little need to defend it against criticism. For example, when asked what he’d have thought if the eclipse expeditions had got a discordant result, he said, “I’d be sorry for the good Lord—the theory is correct.” Indeed, general relativity was so far ahead of its time it remained for decades an austere intellectual monument sidelined from mainstream physics. Arthur Stanley Eddington, a British astrophysicist who wrote a number of articles to explain Einstein’s theory of general relativity, was once asked if it was true that only three people understood it. He’s rumored to have inquired who the third one was. That’s in glaring contrast to today. Cosmology and black holes, where the theory’s crucial, are among the liveliest research frontiers. And it’s been confirmed with high precision-indeed we prove it whenever you use the GPS system that would have serious cumulative errors if programmed assuming Newtonian gravity. SC: Do you feel there is a lot more to physical reality than meets the eye (or telescope)? And if so, do you think we’ll ever come to a complete picture of reality? Or are our minds not capacious enough to wrap our heads around it? MR: It is important to set our Earth in a broader cosmic context, and to understand the origins of planets, stars, and the atoms they’re made of. Modern technology has revealed to us a more varied and even vaster cosmos than Einstein envisaged. Probes to other planets have beamed back pictures of varied and distinctive worlds. The recent views from Titan, nearly a billion miles away, are the latest triumph of this quest. With our telescopes, we see places where stars form, and we see stars dying. We’ve recently learned something that’s made the night sky far more interesting: Stars aren’t mere twinkling “points of light.” They’re orbited by retinues of planets, just like the Sun is. Within 20 years, instruments will detect planets the same size as our Earth, orbiting other Sun-like stars. To envisage what we’ll learn, suppose you were viewing the Earth from (say) 30 light-years away—the distance of a nearby star. It would seem, in Carl Sagan’s phrase, a “pale blue dot,” very close to a star (our Sun) that outshines it by many billions: a firefly next to a searchlight. The shade of blue would be slightly different, depending on whether the Pacific ocean or the Eurasian landmass was facing us. Even though they won’t resolve surface detail with instruments at our disposal, we’ll infer the length of their “day,” their gross topography, even their climate. By analyzing a planet’s light, we could get clues to whether it had a biosphere. Let’s now enlarge our horizons further. If we could get two million light-years away and look back, we’d see something like this: Our Sun would be an ordinary star, out towards the edge. This is actually Andromeda—a galaxy, like the one we’re in, containing a hundred billion stars. But what about the still wider cosmos? The Hubble Deep Field shows a small patch of sky, less than a hundredth of the area covered by a full moon. It’s the deepest exposure ever taken. Each faint smudge of light is actually an entire galaxy, which appears so small and faint because of its huge distance. The light from these remote galaxies set out up to 10 billion years ago. They’re being viewed when they have only recently formed. Some consist mainly of glowing diffuse gas that hasn’t yet condensed into stars. When we look at Andromeda, we might wonder whether there are aliens looking back at us, ... perhaps there are. But the light we see from these remote galaxies set out before there’d been time for stars to forge the silicon, carbon, and oxygen needed even to make planets, so there’s scant chance of life. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Albert Einstein Albert Einstein[/caption] SC: What other insight can you offer us into the mysteries of the cosmos and Einstein’s contributions to our knowledge of it? MR: The great astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar wrote: “In my entire scientific life, the most shattering experience has been the realization that an exact solution of Einstein’s equations provides the absolutely exact description of untold numbers of massive black holes that populate the universe.” A theory like Einstein’s is also essential for a consistent picture of the entire expanding universe. Cosmologists are sometimes berated for being “often in error, but never in doubt.” But even the more cautious among us are confident that our universe is the expanding aftermath of a “big bang” nearly 14 billion years ago. The most compelling evidence is that all space is pervaded by weak thermal microwaves-the diluted and cooled afterglow of the hot, dense beginning. After the first microsecond, conditions are as confidently established by the “fossil” evidence as most of what we know about the early history of the Earth. Ancient cartographers wrote “here be dragons” beyond the boundaries of the then-known world. These “dragons” have now been driven back into the first microsecond when conditions are so extreme that experiments offer no guide to the relevant physics. Our present complex cosmos manifests a huge range of temperature and density. People sometimes worry about how this intricate complexity emerged from an amorphous fireball. It might seem to violate a hallowed physical principle—the second law of thermodynamics—which describes an inexorable tendency for patterns and structure to decay or disperse. The answer to this seeming paradox lies the force of gravity, which amplifies small initial density contrasts in an expanding universe. Any patch that starts off slightly denser than average would decelerate more, because it feels extra gravity; its expansion lags further and further behind, until it eventually stops expanding and separates out. SC: Einstein spent his remaining years seeking a unified theory of everything—one that would link together all known physical phenomena. Based on what we know today, is such “unification” feasible? MR: Our everyday world is determined by atoms and chemistry. Stars are powered by nuclear fusion—all the atoms we’re made of are nuclear waste from long-dead stars. Galaxies are seemingly held together by swarms of subnuclear particles that make up the “dark matter.” General relativity and quantum theory are the twin pillars of 20th-century physics. But at the deepest level, they contradict each other—they haven’t yet been meshed together into a single unified theory. In most contexts, this doesn’t impede us because their domains of relevance don’t overlap. Astronomers can ignore the quantum fuzziness in the orbits of planets. Conversely, chemists can safely ignore gravitational forces between individual atoms in a molecule: they’re nearly 40 powers of ten feebler than electrical forces, But at the very beginning, when everything was squeezed smaller than a single atom, quantum fluctuations could shake the entire universe. To confront the overwhelming mystery of what banged and why it banged, we need a unified theory of cosmos and microworld. Einstein spent the last half of his life searching in vain for such a theory. In retrospect, his efforts were doomed, because he didn’t know about the nuclear force, and because he famously wouldn’t accept quantum mechanics. But there’s now intense effort on these theories. Just as all material has an atomic structure, theorists believe space and time are themselves structured on some tiny scale—a trillion trillion times smaller than atoms. According to superstring theory, what we think of as a point in our ordinary space may actually be a complex origami in six further dimensions, so tightly wrapped that it’s very hard to detect it. (It’s rather baffling. It could be due to “lambda”—a term Einstein added to his equations, back in 1917. He added it because he wanted a static universe. He abandoned it when the expansion was discovered. But it looks as though what he called his “biggest blunder” might be vindicated. If my research group had a logo, it would be this. SC: If Einstein were alive today, what knowledge we have gained since his death would surprise him the most? MR: That we’re in an accelerating universe, probably dominated by the cosmological constant “lambda.” And that the elaborate geometry of ten dimensions may lead to the unified theory he vainly sought. I say “may,” because there’s no guarantee that even a “new Einstein” would succeed-but the quest is no longer premature. There’s one fascinating possibility that these new ideas raise. But it’s so speculative that it should be prefaced by a “health warning”: It’s that there may be far more to physical reality than what we’ve traditionally called “our universe”—the aftermath of our bang. Just as we’ve learned that our solar system is one planetary system among zillions, so we may discover that our big bang was not the only one. Another idea is that there could be another universe only a millimeter away. But if that millimeter is measured in a fourth dimension and we’re imprisoned in our three, we’ll be unaware of it. However, we shouldn’t take such ideas seriously until there’s a unified theory that’s been experimentally vindicated—but it’s speculative physics, not metaphysics. Achieving such a theory would be the culmination of an intellectual quest that started with Faraday and Maxwell’s unification of electric and magnetic forces. It would exemplify what the great physicist Eugene Wigner called “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the physical sciences.” But I hope it’s not curmudgeonly to point out that such a theory would offer absolutely zero help to 99 percent of scientists. Calling it a “theory of everything,” as some popular books do, is hubristic and misleading. It would indeed unify two great scientific frontiers, the very big and the very small. SC: What do you think are the most complex entities in the universe? MR: The most complex entities we know of-we ourselves-are midway between atoms and stars. It would take about as many human bodies to make up a star as there are atoms in each of us. Indeed, our everyday world presents intellectual challenges just as daunting as those of the cosmos and the quantum. Insects are harder to understand than stars-their structures far more intricate; and the weather’s harder to predict than celestial orbits are. The sciences are sometimes likened to different levels of a tall building-mathematics on the ground floor, then physics, then chemistry, and so forth—all the way up to psychology—and the economists in the penthouse. There is indeed a hierarchy of complexity—atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, and so forth. But the analogy with a building is poor. The “higher level” sciences dealing with complex systems have their own autonomous concepts, and aren’t imperiled by an insecure base, as a building is. To understand why flows go turbulent or chaotic, or why waves break, we treat the fluid as a continuum—its subatomic details are irrelevant. An albatross returns predictably to its nest after wandering ten thousand miles in the southern oceans. But this isn’t the same kind of prediction as astronomers make of celestial orbits and eclipses. Problems in biology and in environmental and human sciences remain unsolved because scientists haven’t elucidated the patterns, structures, and interconnections. SC: Why has Einstein’s fame so disproportionately eclipsed other 20th century scientists—Planck and Bohr, Dirac, and Schrodinger? MR: It’s partly because he engaged more overtly with themes that fascinate all thinking people—time, space, origins, and the cosmos. It was fortunate for science that its pre-eminent practitioner purveyed such an engaging and idealistic image. But there’s one downside of his pre-eminence. It unduly exalts “arm-chair theory.” Pure thought by itself wouldn’t have gotten us far. The cumulative advance of science requires new technology and new instruments—in symbiosis, of course, with theory and insight. The cosmic discoveries I mentioned earlier depended on space technology, sensors for faint radiation, powerful computers, and so forth. We could do with some higher-profile role models in more practical fields. Most people can readily name great 19th-century engineers—Brunel, for instance. Those who’ve given us today’s amazing technologies deserve as much acclaim. (Indeed, engineers have been even worse at PR than physicists-this seems to be one reason why their leading practitioners shouldn’t have the same glamorous profile as our more celebrated architects). In a recent study, groups of primary school children were asked to draw a scientist. In their portrayals, he (and it’s always a he) generally has thick spectacles and Einstein's hair. Einstein’s fame extends far wider than science. He’s as much an icon of creative genius as Beethoven (who also looks good on T-shirts). By the way, it seems that the advancing years take a heavier toll on scientists than on artists. For many composers and painters, their greatest creations were among their last. That’s seldom true of scientists: even the ones who don’t become administrators tend at best to stay on a plateau. As we get older, it’s harder to absorb new ideas and techniques, as scientists must. But an artist’s style can deepen through internal development alone. Even Newton became an administrator in his 50s, but Einstein worked on his unified theory until his dying day. Cynics have said that he might as well have gone fishing from 1920 onwards. But there’s something rather noble about the way he persevered and “raised his game”—reaching beyond his grasp. (Likewise, Francis Crick, the driving intellect behind molecular biology, shifted, when he reached 60, to the “Everest” problems of consciousness and the brain even though he knew he’d never get near the summit). SC: What, if any, impact beyond physics did Einstein have, either during his lifetime or since his death? MR: It’s been pervasive, but ambivalent. It’s a pity, in retrospect, that he called his theory “relativity.” Its essence is that the local laws are just the same in all inertial frames. “Theory of invariance” might have been an apter choice, and would have staunched the misleading analogies with relativism in other contexts. But in its humanistic “spin-off” relativity has fared no worse than other pivotal scientific concepts. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle—a mathematically precise concept—became encumbered with oriental mysticism. And Darwin has likewise suffered tendentious distortions, especially in applications to human psychology. But in one very important respect, Einstein had an exceedingly positive global influence, which still resonates today. When the nuclear threat first loomed over us, he was an inspiration and moral compass to other scientists. Back in 1955, just a week before he died, he co-signed, with Bertrand Russell, a manifesto that launched the Pugwash Conferences, an international forum for scientific discussions on disarmament and world affairs. It was Joseph Rotblat who organized the Einstein/Russell manifesto, and became the driving force behind Pugwash. He remained active until aged 96, but died in 2005. Rotblat was among those who worked at Los Alamos on the project that led to the atomic bomb. The last of the survivors was the great physicist Hans Bethe, who died recently at 98. These people belonged to the “golden generation” of physicists who established our modern view of atoms and nuclei. After World War II, Rotblat, Bethe, and many others set an admirable precedent for researchers in any branch of science that has grave societal impact. They didn’t say that they were “just scientists” and not politicians. They deemed it their duty to alert the public to the implications of their work, and to campaign for arms control. SC: What scientific breakthroughs do you envisage in this century and beyond? MR: 21st-century science is changing the world faster than ever. It may change human beings themselves—that’s something qualitatively new in our history. Humanity’s impact on the biosphere and climate is unprecedented. Science offers exhilarating promise, but it will confront us with new ethical challenges—and perhaps with new global threats as grave as the bomb. These threats could come from bio, cyber, and environmental science, as well as from physics. In all these fields society will need latter-day counterparts of Joseph Rotblat and Hans Bethe. University scientists and independent entrepreneurs have a special obligation because they’ve more freedom than civil servants, or company employees subject to commercial pressure. Such individuals can sensitize our consciences. They can catalyze dialogue with the wider public. And they can put a spotlight on long-term issues. At the Royal Society-and in similar academies-we often scan the horizon a century ahead—in assessing energy, climate, and so forth. And those discussing the disposal of nuclear waste talk with a straight face about what might happen in thousands of years. But the political planning-horizon is seldom longer than the 20 years of the economic discount rate-often just the next election. Even a millennium, however, is a mere “instant” in our planet’s history. When Einstein died in 1955, a memorable tribute to his global status came from an American cartoonist called Herblock. He depicted the Earth viewed from afar. It had a plaque reading “Einstein lived here.” Ever since Darwin, we’ve been familiar with the stupendous time spans of the evolutionary past. But most people aren’t yet mindful that the vistas stretching ahead are even longer—they could be infinite. There’s time for further evolution as dramatic as what’s led from the very first life to humans. But It won’t be humans who witness the Sun’s demise 6 billion years hence: it will be entities as different from us as we are from bacteria. The future of our “pale blue dot” in the cosmos will depend on how we choose to apply our expanding scientific knowledge-to share its benefits, and minimize the risks. If we choose wisely, Einstein’s legacy will resonate through this century, and indeed far beyond. SUGGESTED READING [table id=25 /]

Generally considered one of the most influential physicists in history, Albert Einstein’s (1879-1955) groundbreaking theories reshaped the scientific community's view and understanding of the univ...

The "Father of Modern Philosophy", René Descartes (1596-1650) was one of the most prominent voices of the Scientific Revolution. A key philosopher of the 17th century, he developed a connection between algebraic logic and philosophical concepts—a practice that would eventually lead to the creation of modern philosophic study. His landmark works such as Meditations on First Philosophy established him as one of the most important philosophers of all time.
John Cottingham is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading. He is the author of many books including Rationalism (1984), Descartes (1986), The Rationalists (1988), Philosophy and the Good Life (1998), and On the Meaning of Life (2003), and is co-translator of The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. He was Chairman of the British Society for the History of Philosophy from 1991 to 1995 and is (since 1993) editor of Ratio, the international journal of analytic philosophy.

Simply Charly: To what extent can Descartes be regarded as the father of modern philosophy? 
John Cottingham: Rather than relying on inherited tradition, he insisted that philosophy must start from new foundations, based on what could be known with absolute certainty.
SC: What was Descartes’ so-called “method?”
JC: He pushed doubt to its limits, questioning even beliefs that all of us take for granted (that I have arms and legs, that there is a table in front of me). He called into question the reliability of the senses. He even imagined (rather like the Matrix scenario) that the whole external world might be an illusion beamed into our minds by a malicious demon. He found one thing he could not doubt—his own thinking, and hence his own existence. And from this, he aimed to build up a whole system of knowledge.
SC: In an age of faith, what Descartes was proposing seemed like heresy. Why do you think he was spared a fate that had befallen Galileo? 
JC: He was very cautious. He withdrew his book “The World” from publication when he heard of Galileo’s condemnation in 1633. And he ended his biggest work, “Principles of Philosophy” (1644) with a statement of submission to the authority of the Church.
SC: Descartes’ famous phrase: Cogito ergo sum—“I think, therefore I am”—has been at the center of much vigorous philosophical debate (and remains so today). Can you explain why? 
JC: Most philosophers today see knowledge as a public, socially mediated phenomenon. So Descartes’s idea that I can start from inside the sphere of my own private consciousness is very controversial.
SC: Can you explain how Cartesian dualism has impacted the field of Philosophy of Mind? 
JC: Descartes argued that this “I” (what makes me what I am) is entirely independent of the body, and could exist without it. Much of the recent philosophy of mind has reacted against this mind-body dualism. Yet Descartes also said that the human mind was not just present in the body (like a pilot in a ship), but somehow intimately intermingled with it. How exactly mind and body are related has been a key question ever since Descartes. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"]René Descartes René Descartes[/caption]
SC: Besides his philosophical work, Descartes was also an accomplished mathematician. What resulted from his work in this area?
JC: His “Geometry” (1637) laid the foundations for what is now known as analytic or coordinate geometry.
SC: Descartes was also considered a scientist. What did he do in this area? 
JC: His key idea was the mathematization of physics—that the entire range of physical phenomena could be explained and described using equations specifying the size, shape, and motion of particles.
SC: With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism today, Descartes seems to be ever more relevant as 21st-century battles between faith and reason rage on violently. Do you foresee an end in sight to these battles? 
JC: Descartes steered clear of dogmatic theology. He believed in the light of faith, but his philosophy was based on the light of reason. Human beings, however, often prefer heated confrontation to rational discussion, and that is not likely to change.
SC: How do you approach the study of Descartes when teaching your students? 
JC: Much present-day philosophy is highly specialized and operates in separate little compartments. I try to show how Descartes has a synoptic vision—he aims to see how different areas of our thought fit together. His ideal of a comprehensive philosophical system remains very attractive.
SC: The literature on Descartes is immense. Where would one start to learn more about his life and work? 
JC: An introductory overview is offered in my “How to Read Descartes” (Granta books), or, in a bit more detail, in my “Descartes” (Blackwell). Bernard Williams’s Descartes is full of interesting reflections.
[table id=4 /]

The "Father of Modern Philosophy", René Descartes (1596 - 1650) was one of the most prominent voices of the Scientific Revolution. A key philosopher of the 17th century, he developed a connection b...

Regarded as one of America’s greatest and most prolific poets, Emily Dickinson(1830-1886), lived a mostly reclusive life in New England, dedicating herself to writing. She composed almost 1800 poems, only ten of which were published during her lifetime.
Cristanne Miller is Edward H. Butler Professor and Chair of the English Department at University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. She is the author of, among other works, Emily Dickinson: A Poet’s Grammar and co-editor of The Emily Dickinson Handbook. She also edits the Emily Dickinson Journal.

Simply Charly: A question asked many times before, but the answer remains elusive: why so few of Emily Dickinson’s poems were published during her lifetime, all anonymously? Did she not consider them worthy of being made public? Cristanne Miller: No one can say with certainty why Dickinson did not publish during her lifetime, but I think she knew her poetry was great and hoped it would someday be read appreciatively. Several other women, including women she admired like Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and women she knew like Helen Hunt Jackson, published poetry during this period. Judging from the extant correspondence, we know that Dickinson mailed about one-third of her poems in letters to friends, so she was clearly not opposed to sharing her work. Relatives have also passed on stories of Dickinson reading or performing poems informally for her family. Some of her friends passed her poems onto newspaper editors, who published them. Ten of Dickinson’s poems were published during her lifetime. When a poem appeared in a paper, it was typically picked up by other papers and republished (there was no restriction on such publication). This indicates that the poems might have been popular had she chosen to publish. Some critics speculate that Dickinson chose to publish her poems privately in handwritten books, eschewing print publication because it would regularize features of her orthography and placement of words and lines on a page. Dickinson did object to one editorial change made by the Springfield Republican in its printing of her poem “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” in 1866, but she did not object to any other regularization of her printed poems. Other critics speculate that Dickinson had ethical objections to submitting her work to the marketplace or trade. In a poem written in 1863, she writes, “Publication – is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man.” The poem goes on to say that “Poverty – be justifying / For so foul a thing // Possibly,” but that the speaker would rather “go // White – unto the White Creator – / Than invest – Our Snow – ”—or would rather die without publishing than “invest” poetry in the book trade. This diatribe against publication is the only poem she writes on this subject, and it is not consistent with the fact that she greatly admired other women (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, the Brontes) who published during their lifetimes. Others argue that Dickinson did not choose to publish because she did not need the money, and as a prominent lawyer and politician’s daughter she did not think it seemly—or her family didn’t, and she did not feel strongly enough about it to oppose them. No one in her family or among her acquaintances, however, knew how much she had written. Susan Dickinson received the most poems in letters, and she received only a few hundred; Dickinson showed no one her manuscript books (booklets with sewn or folded pages to keep poems in good order). She wrote that “If Fame belonged to me, I could not escape her.” In another poem, she writes, “Fame is a fickle food / Upon a shifting plate . . . Men eat of it and die.” Yet the fact that Dickinson writes five poems about fame shows the topic was on her mind. Perhaps if Dickinson had a champion in the early 1860s who urged her to publish, she might have done so; Thomas Wentworth Higginson—the literary advisor she turned to in 1862—appreciated some aspects of her writing but apparently advised her against publishing. In 1884, Helen Hunt Jackson begged Dickinson to publish or let her (Jackson) publish her poems, saying that it is “a cruel wrong to your ‘day and generation’ that you will not give them light” but I think by this point—two years before her death—Dickinson was set in her decision not to publish. SC: Dickinson’s poetry reflects her loneliness and—some say—unrequited love. She is portrayed as a recluse and an introvert. In your view, does this portrayal accurately reflect who she really was or is there another side to this enigmatic poet? CM: As a young girl and youth, Dickinson was gregarious, lively, and had many friends. Nothing in her youthful behavior predicted that she would become extremely reclusive. Family members described Dickinson as withdrawing from the social world gradually. Dickinson’s sister Lavinia also never married and remained with her in their parents’ house; her brother and his wife (Dickinson’s best friend, Susan Gilbert Huntington Dickinson) lived next door. Both Lavinia and Susan were very active in Amherst's social life and knew all the local gossip and news. I do not believe that Dickinson was lonely on a daily basis, or in ordinary ways. Deep thinkers, however, are probably generally lonely; even in our age of global transportation and communication overload, it's difficult to find someone capable of profound intellectual and emotional exchange. Some critics believe Dickinson was psychologically incapable of a fully engaged social life; others that she was so deeply wounded by some experience that she withdrew from the world. It is my opinion that she experienced the vicissitudes of ordinary failures or intensity in relationship more deeply than most people, but also that she chose seclusion because of her passion to write. Housework and family care kept Dickinson very busy; the only way she could protect substantial time and emotional energy to write was by giving up other aspects of life that would drain her. Dickinson seemed to have felt that it was less of a sacrifice to give up a “normal” social life than to give up writing poetry. Dickinson clearly experienced passionate, fulfilled love more than once in her life. She also clearly experienced love that was either unrequited or impossible or unequally returned. She loved her sister-in-law with a deep and abiding passion, and after the initial years of their friendship, Susan seemed not to have responded in kind. She may have felt intense infatuation for a married minister she met while visiting in Philadelphia, Charles Wadsworth, but I find it hard to believe that her brief and relatively formal encounter with him could lead to the profound love proposed by some scholars. Letters from the 1880s indicate that she loved and was loved by Judge Otis Lord, who apparently proposed to her. That she refused to marry him is of a piece with her refusing to publish; by this time in her life, she had established a life in which she was comfortable. If Dickinson were love-starved, or lonely in an ordinary kind of way, or unhappy with her life, she might at this point have changed it, but she didn’t. I do not see Dickinson as primarily unhappy, neurotic, or lonely. She writes many poems about suffering, pain, and death, and she writes many poems about the beauties of nature, and her love of life. Dickinson wrote that “to have lived is a Bliss so powerful we must die—to adjust it.” [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Emily Dickinson Emily Dickinson[/caption] SC: This leads to another question: can Dickinson’s life—or what we know of it—be used to explain her poetry, or, vice versa, can we shed light on her life by analyzing her poems? CM: In 1862, Dickinson began what would become a life-long correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson—a well-known abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, nature writer, and poet. She asked his advice about her poems, and then continued to send him poems for the rest of her life, even though she apparently never took what seemed to be his advice—namely, that she make her verse somewhat more conventional formally. This was the only correspondence in which she introduced herself as a poet and wrote with some regularity about writing. One thing she told Higginson early in their correspondence is that “When I state myself, as the Representative of the Verse—it does not mean—me—but a supposed person.” This, together with the fact that in several poems the speaker is identified as male, or as filling a position Dickinson never held—like “wife”—, suggests that she wrote from some perspectives that were not her own. I think Dickinson also wrote to try out ideas, and to think through particular aspects of complex topics. No one poem on faith or on nature or on love represents everything Dickinson thought or imagined about these topics. Moreover, Dickinson changed her mind about some things over the nearly thirty years during which she saved the poems she wrote. In short, I think it is a mistake to read her poems simply as autobiographical. On the other hand, we cannot help but learn about Dickinson from her poems, whether they are directly autobiographical. We learn about the ways she thought, the range of her imagination, the questions she asked—of herself, or of God. Her poems do not relate to her life on a daily basis. When she wrote “There is a pain—so utter—/ It swallows substance up,” we trivialize the poem, I think, if we imagine that it is about a particular pain that she experienced immediately before writing the poem. Knowing what such a painful experience might or might not have been, does not explain the poem or make it any more powerful. Yet such a poem makes it clear to us that Dickinson both experienced and thought astutely about pain, just as her many poems about flowers and bees let us know that she was an astute observer of nature and point back toward her excellent education in the sciences at Amherst Academy. Yes, we learn about the poet, her times, and her life from the poems, and the more we learn about her times, her culture, and life, the more attuned we can be to nuances in the poems. SC: Dickinson moved away from the floridly romantic writing style of the Victorian era, preferring a more concise imagery and innovative style. She also made a rather unconventional use of broken rhyming, dashes, punctuation, random capitalization, etc. You wrote a book, “Emily Dickinson: A Poet’s Grammar.” What do you make of her out-of-the-box style? CM: Dickinson’s style is great! The more I read nineteenth-century poetry, the more I think Dickinson’s most radical innovations were her concision and her use of disjunctive strategies (omitting transitional phrases, clarifying punctuation, and explanation of all kinds). Other poets of her time used irregular meters, capitalized keywords, used slant rhyme and non-standard punctuation (although not to the extent she did, or with as powerful an effect), and many poets wrote in a variation of ballad meter, combining trimeter and tetrameter lines in various combination. Dickinson was also extraordinary in her construction of metaphors that make radical links between disparate registers of language or fields of experience—like “sumptuous—Despair” or the marvelous final lines of “A Bird, came down the Walk,” which describe that transformation most of us see almost daily, when a bird that looks comical on the ground takes to flight. The speaker “offered [the bird] a Crumb,” and in response: “ . . he unrolled his feathers, / And rowed him softer Home – // Than Oars divide the Ocean, / Too silver for a seam, / Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon, / Leap, plashless as they swim.” This is really out of the box. Here Dickinson made masterful use of traditional poetic tools like rhythm, alliteration, and assonance (as a simple example, look at the way the long o sounds suggest the speaker’s wonder); at the same time she clustered metaphors combining color, texture (softness), the substantial quality of air (like water and earth, with “Banks” of light), and sound (the silence implied by “plashless”) to describe flight, a kind of movement that normally is not perceived as related to any of these elements. Dickinson constructed a concise, disjunctive, highly metaphorical poetic unique in the 1860s and 1870s, when she wrote the great majority of her poems; she also had a genius for rhythm and sound that makes even her relatively conventional formal structures unusually powerful. Not all her poems are equally successful, but there is nobody who writes like Dickinson at her best. SC: Upon examination of the whole body of Dickinson’s work, is there cohesiveness or divergence of styles and characteristics between earlier and later poems? If the latter is true, are different styles borne out of her personal growth, or out of a natural progression of her work? CM: Surprisingly, given the extent of criticism already written on Dickinson, no one has written a chronology of her stylistic practices. What is most distinctive remains cohesive throughout. Once Dickinson achieved her mature style (around 1860), she did not vary from it in primary ways. There are, however, minor changes. The early poems are more likely to use sentimental gestures and conceits, use more exclamation points, and tend to be relatively short (4-12 lines). Poems written between 1862 and 1866 or 1867 are often longer and often focus on a definition or narrative rather than a first-person narrative or response. Late poems tend to be very short and more aphoristic, and Dickinson used more periods to conclude poems from the mid-1870s on. During and following the Civil War, Dickinson wrote a great number of poems about death and suffering, and also several calling God’s judgment into question. She also wrote several early poems about religion, typically focused on comparisons of “heaven” with Amherst, or daily natural life. None of these generalizations holds true as a strict rule. Alfred Habegger's biography, Emily Dickinson: My Wars Are Laid Away in Books, attends throughout to changes in Dickinson’s style and in the primary points of thematic focus from one period of her life to the next. David Porter’s The Art of Emily Dickinson’s Early Poetry focuses just on this period of her writing, defining “early” pretty broadly. There is no question that such changes have to do with personal growth—especially the move from the early explicit excitement or intensity of exclamation marks to the more laconic late aphorisms. SC: In her era, given the mores of 19th century New England, would Dickinson’s work, in terms of style and content, be considered traditional or progressive? CM: These are not the categories that most obviously fit Dickinson’s work. As I say above, Dickinson’s poetry resembles that of many of her contemporaries in experimentation with short-lined verse forms combining iambic and trochaic rhythms—a “short” line meaning anything less than a pentameter (10 syllables). She also wrote about many of the topics familiar to her contemporaries: death of loved ones, nature, love, faith. Unlike her immediate predecessor Walt Whitman, who constructed a new kind of verse by throwing out meter and rhyme altogether as structuring norms of his line and stanza, Dickinson stayed close to conventional forms, writing variations of hymn meters or the ballad in the vast majority of her poems. As she put it, she “could not drop the Bells whose jingling cooled [her] Tramp”; rhyme and meter seemed to enable her creativity and expressiveness. Yet, as I noted above, other aspects of Dickinson’s style were radically new and anticipated the aesthetics of modernist poets nearly half a century later. Dickinson wrote some wholly sentimental poems—for example, “If I can stop one Heart from breaking.” Others express a peaceful contentment with an ordered world—like “Lightly stepped a yellow star,” which presents the coming of evening through domestic language, as if a family is coming home, and concludes “Father I observed to Heaven / You are punctual – .” Others express a Yankee shrewdness not associated with poetry, or sharp religious doubt identified with later Victorians and modernists, like Nietzsche, who began publishing in the 1870s. One undated poem reads in its entirety, “God is indeed a jealous God – / He cannot bear to see / That we had rather not with Him / But with each other play.” A late poem refers to the frost as a “blonde Assassin” beheading flowers “In accidental power,” observed by an “Approving God”—suggesting that God approves equally of death’s careless ending of human life. Such poems would no doubt have shocked many of her contemporaries. Perhaps the fact that an unmarried woman wrote poems of great erotic desire would also have been shocking; think of “Come slowly Eden” and “Wild nights – Wild nights! / Were I with thee / Wild nights should be / Our luxury!” Generally, however, Dickinson’s work does not fit easily into standard categories of “conventional” and “progressive” because so much of it focuses on human emotion or private, individual experience that cannot be calibrated in relation to a politicized domestic or national issues. “After great pain, a formal feeling comes,” “Delight is as the flight,” “I can wade Grief,” “I stepped from Plank to Plank,” “Perception of an Object costs / Precise the Object’s loss” and other such poems analyze a particular kind of experience, or feeling, or aspect of perception. I think they would have had precisely the same powerful effect on conservative and progressive audiences in the nineteenth century as they do today. SC: One course you taught at Buffalo was on (Walt) Whitman and Dickinson. That brings up a question of which poets (her contemporaries as well as those who preceded her) did she admire the most, and how had their poetry influenced her own? CM: It’s hard to say that any single poet influenced Dickinson’s style. She was very fond of both Emerson’s and Longfellow’s poetry, and read them throughout her school years and young adulthood, when she was developing her own style. Emerson’s aphoristic brilliance may have had some influence, but Emerson’s poetry is more conventional than his prose, and Dickinson seemed to be showing Emerson up with her own greater formal inventiveness, playfulness, and imaginative depths in rewriting some of his poems—for example, his “Bacchus” in her “I taste a liquor never brewed – .” She mentioned Longfellow more than any other poet, and undoubtedly admired his fertile innovation with rhythms, especially in his short-lined poems. We know that Dickinson read Poe, but she claimed never to have read Whitman (she told Higginson “I never read his Book—but was told it was disgraceful”). She loved Shakespeare and, apparently told Higginson when he visited her that, after months of being deprived of reading because of treatment for eye problems, she “read Shakespeare and thought why is any other book needed.” The only poets for whom Dickinson wrote poems of praise were female: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charlotte Bronte. The former was particularly important to Dickinson, although here perhaps the influence was as much in witnessing the fame of a female poet as in any stylistic feature. Dickinson wrote of Barrett Browning that she was “enchanted / When first a somber Girl – / I read that Foreign Lady,” describing the experience as one of “Conversion of the Mind,” “a Divine Insanity,” and Barrett Browning’s work as “Tomes of Solid Witchcraft,” resembling “Deity” in its immortality. Whether or not there is an autobiographical reference to a particular youthful moment of reading Barrett Browning’s work, the poem asserts unambiguously that Dickinson was inspired by reading it, and some critics claim that Dickinson borrowed images from Barrett Browning in several of her poems. Dickinson read broadly and admired many writers. She had portraits of Barrett Browning, George Eliot, and Thomas Carlyle hanging in her bedroom. She mentioned scores of writers in her letters, including Keats, Tennyson, Robert Browning, Milton, and many popular poets and fiction writers. The Emily Dickinson Journal’s Spring 2010 issue will be devoted to the topic of Dickinson’s reading. SC: One of your interests is the effect of the Civil War on U.S. poetry as a genre. Where does Dickinson, who was in her thirties during the war, fit in? Do any of her poems specifically address this theme? CM: For years, readers of Dickinson assumed she all but ignored the war because none of her poems mention particular battles, generals, or name the war as such. Following Shira Wolosky’s Emily Dickinson: A Voice of War, there has been increasing attention to this topic. It is now acknowledged that the war had a tremendous impact on Dickinson, although most of her references to it are oblique. She wrote over half of her poems during the four years of the war, averaging the astonishing rate of almost a poem a day during 1863. During 1865 she wrote 229 poems. In 1866 and 1867, she wrote a respective 10 and 12, and in no other year of her life did she write over 48 poems—her typical output being 20-40 per year, according to Ralph W. Franklin’s 1998 dating of the poems. Poems like “When I was small, a Woman died – / Today – her Only Boy / Went up from the Potomac – ” and “It feels a shame to be Alive / When Men so brave – are dead – ” are unambiguously about the war. Others like “They dropped like Flakes – ” and “Whole Gulfs – of Red, and Fleets – of Red – / And Crews – of solid Blood – ” (describing a sunset) either describe battlefield death in relation to natural phenomena or a natural phenomenon as seen through the lens of the ongoing slaughter. The 1864 poem “Color – Caste – Denomination – / These – are Time’s Affair” unambiguously responds to the racial issues raised by the institution of slavery and its abolition, asserting that humans rise from the grave “Equal Butterfly” regardless of the color of their previous skin or “Chrysalis.” Other poems have no obvious reference to the war but are illuminated by understanding the context in which they were written. For example, the poem “A Toad, can die of Light / Death is the Common Right / Of Toads and Men” becomes a commentary on a military culture that glorifies self-sacrifice in battle as well as a poem about religious focus on an afterlife when read in the context of the Civil War. Dickinson protests against such glorification of death:
Why swagger, then? The Gnat’s supremacy is large as Thine – Life is a different Thing – So measure Wine - Naked of Flask – Naked of Cask – Bare Rhine – Which Ruby’s mine?
Read in the context of the Civil War, the last stanza’s declaration that life is measured by its quality, not its external trappings (“Naked of Flask – Naked of Cask”)—seems to assert racial equality. The “Bare” fluid of human life can only be “measure[d]” for its intrinsic value, for the quality of its living—not by external trappings or its mode of death. Neither Emily Dickinson nor any member of her family was an abolitionist preceding the war, and some comments in her letters are distinctly racist or elitist (primarily regarding the Irish). It was, however, common in the nineteenth century for people both to oppose the extension of slavery, or the institution itself, and to harbor racist assumptions of various kinds. Poems such as these indicate that when she thought explicitly about “Color” and “Caste,” Dickinson promoted equality. Some critics argue that Dickinson’s poetry protests against all war. I find that her poems implicitly support Union goals. She clearly, however, questioned the necessity of the terrible death toll of the war and that this also made her question the goodness of a God that could allow such suffering.  In the poem “It feels a shame to be Alive,” she asked: “Are we that wait – sufficient worth – / That such Enormous Pearl / As life – dissolved be – for Us – / In Battle’s – horrid Bowl?” SC: You also authored a book titled “Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory.” Would you say Dickinson could be viewed as a feminist, either by the standards of the 19th century or today’s? CM: Dickinson did not actively support the political campaign for women’s rights that was already underway during her youth, and some of her speakers take positions that might be called conventionally feminine—especially in relation to adoration of a more powerful male figure. On the other hand, one of the factors influencing her choice of Higginson as a potential mentor may have been his strong support of women’s education and political rights. Similarly, many more poems undercut or reversed expected power relationships between women and men.  Like Melville’s Ahab, Dickinson was a “democrat to all above”; she was sensitive to all situations and relationships in which she as a woman was accorded less respect or opportunity than a man, but she was not overtly concerned with those who were in positions of less privilege than she enjoyed. She wrote frequently about power, but (like many of us) she recognized power by noting the ways in which she was prevented from manifesting it. She was not a social reformer. Consequently, I wouldn’t call her a “feminist” in her day or ours, despite her shrewd observations about power relationships between the sexes. As was reasonable in her culture, Dickinson typically associated femininity and womanhood with powerlessness and therefore constructed oblique or disguised expressions of authority for herself through speakers who appeared to be weak, small, child-like, or otherwise associated with the feminine. In several poems, such speakers rebelled against a male figure of opposition in the poem’s plot—a father, lover, God, (masculine) death, bee, and so on. In “The Daisy follows soft the Sun –,” the daisy turns out to be plural (“We are the Flower”) and to be “Enamored of the parting West . . . Night’s possibility!” rather than the Sun, himself, who addresses her/them as “Marauder.” In an ugly duckling story, “God made a little Gentian,” the meek flower attempts to be the archetypal feminine beauty, “a Rose,” and fails, but when “The Frosts” of autumn come, and the other flowers die in the harsh climate, the gentian becomes a “Purple Creature / That ravished all the Hill,” commanding a respectful silence from those who had mocked her. The poem ends with a question that resonates as something between a challenge and a threat: “Creator – Shall I – bloom?” In other poems, female subjects are more openly powerful. “A still – Volcano – Life – / . . . Too subtle to suspect / By natures this side Naples – ” may be quiet for years and then open its “lips that never lie” or “hissing Corals” with the result that “Cities – ooze away – .” Similarly, the “Life” that “stood – a Loaded Gun” is feminine in relation to its masculine “Owner,” and takes pride in the accuracy of its own powers, preferring to guard its “Master’s Head” over sharing his “Pillow.” As in most of Dickinson’s poems about gendered relationship, the feminine or female speaker seeks not power over a male counterpart but interdependent relationship. “I could suffice for Him, I knew - / He – could suffice for Me – ” balances the power of these “Hesitating Fractions” in a shifting relationship like that of the sea and the moon. Even the explicitly empowering poem “I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Their’s – ,” in which the speaker declares her independence from “The name They dropped upon my face” and rises to her “Full,” “supremest name,” “Adequate – Erect,” concludes with the speaker’s choosing an emblem that is indistinguishable from her former “Crowned” state, the difference lying wholly in the fact that this time she has made a conscious choice of her “Rank.” SC: Which contemporary poets have been/are influenced by Dickinson? CM: The list is very long. Some contemporary poets who have written at length about Dickinson’s importance to them include Adrienne Rich, Charles Wright, Susan Howe, Alice Fulton, Jorie Graham, and Lucie Brock-Broido, but there are many others who acknowledge her influence or write of her with great praise. Two books have been written on this subject. Sheila Coghill and Thom Tammaro’s Visiting Emily: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Gardner’s A Door Ajar: Contemporary Writers and Emily Dickinson, and there is a special issue of the Emily Dickinson Journal on this topic (XV.2, 2006). The website Titanic Operas also contains references to several poets who claim Dickinson as a predecessor—at

Regarded as one of America’s greatest and most prolific poets, Emily Dickinson(1830-1886), lived a mostly reclusive life in New England, dedicating herself to writing. She composed almost 1800 poem...

Thanks to his groundbreaking work in logic, the philosophy of mind, mathematics, and language, as well as two published works, Tractatus and Philosophical InvestigationsLudwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) played a leading role in the 20th-century analytic philosophy.
Jaakko Hintikka is Professor of Philosophy at Boston University. Author of over 30 books, he is the main architect of game-theoretical semantics and of the interrogative approach to inquiry, and also one of the architects of distributive normal forms, possible-worlds semantics, tree methods, infinitely deep logics, and the present-day theory of inductive generalization.

Simply Charly: Ludwig Wittgenstein was influenced by other philosophers like G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, but they were his contemporaries. Was he in any way influenced or inspired by leading philosophers (or philosophies) of the past and if so, which ones? Jaakko Hintikka: One can speak of “influences on Wittgenstein in two different senses. The ten thinkers (not all of them philosophers) that he at one time listed as having “influenced” him were the ones who inspired him by challenging him; not the ones whose views he agreed with. He also adopted, typically without acknowledging it and perhaps not even being aware of it, certain general ways of thinking, from thinkers like Frege, Moore, Russell, and Mach. No great philosophers of the past seem to have influenced him in either sense, with the possible minor exception of Schopenhauer. SC: Wittgenstein claimed the Tractatus solved all the major problems of philosophy. But his later work, the Philosophical Investigations, advances different philosophical ideas. Which of the two works, in your view, better represents the true essence of Wittgenstein, and which one resonates with you personally? JK: The “essence” of Wittgenstein, what “resonates” with me personally in his work, is the dynamics of his thinking. This dynamic is not represented by any set of ideas, whether early or late ones, but by the development of his philosophy. I am especially fascinated by the glimpses Wittgenstein’s notebooks offer of how he came to think of new ideas. SC: A follow-up question: is it common for philosophers to pursue a different path from the original one, as new thoughts and theories emerge over time? JK: I doubt that any major philosopher has ever fundamentally changed the direction of his or her main pursuit, and I don’t think Wittgenstein was an exception, either. wittgenstein SC: You are one of 31 philosophers who has been featured in the Library of Living Philosophers since its inception in 1939. However, Wittgenstein is not. Do you know why, since he is considered one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century? JK: The format of The Library of Living Philosophers volume is that some twenty-plus leading thinkers write studies of the different aspects of the subject’s published work, whereupon he or she responds to each essay. In Wittgenstein’s lifetime, not a single line of his thought after 1920 was available in print that he had not repudiated. Furthermore, I doubt that to this day there have been twenty published papers to which Wittgenstein would have been willing to respond. In his lifetime, he rejected violently even the most favorable published interpretations of his work. SC: In “An Intellectual Autobiography” you write: “I have never understood the importance that many people associate with the different ‘schools’ or ‘movements.’ Such terms make sense only when the philosophers and/or scientists in question actually interact, as, for instance, in the Vienna Circle, but such an interaction does not imply very much by way of shared doctrines or other shared philosophical views.” This brings up two follow-up questions: since the Vienna Circle disbanded in the late 1930s, have there been other similar forums for the exchange of ideas, and do such forums usually lead to the meeting or divergence of the minds? JK: I do not think there has been after the Vienna Circle, a comparable group of personally collaborating thinkers. However, there have been intensively interacting but unorganized configurations of philosophers. From my own experience, I can, for instance, recall an Oxford in the late fifties and the “West Coast semanticists” (Montague, Partee, Scott, Kaplan, Perry, Barwise, Follesdal, Hintikka, etc.) in the late sixties and seventies. Undoubtedly there have been others, for instance, the Paris of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. All these have contributed to the development of philosophy, but I don’t think unanimity has ever been an intended or actualized end of such interactions. SC: In the same work, you refer to Wittgenstein’s dyslexia, saying, “Dyslexia is vitally important for the purpose of understanding his thought.” In what way? JK: Wittgenstein, the philosophical writer, becomes much easier to understand when one realizes that he wrote like a person with dyslexia. The possible influence of dyslexia on his philosophy is a subtle question. The main case in point is probably Wittgenstein’s thinking about rules. A dyslexic person often finds it difficult to recognize explicit rules even when he or she is following them. This heightened Wittgenstein’s awareness of the problem as to how it is that an expressed rule guides us when we follow it. SC: You also state: “I do not hesitate to acknowledge Wittgenstein’s influence on my thinking, even though I have become sharply critical of several of his main views.” Which of his views are you critical of, and why? JK: For instance, I do not believe that semantics is inexpressible, that we in the last analysis follow rules “blindly” (Wittgenstein’s expression), or that we cannot recognize directly the rule we are following. Why? See my books and papers! SC: You are the originator of the game-theory semantics, which encompasses many disciplines, including applied mathematics, biology, engineering, political science, and philosophy, among others. What part, if any, of the game-theory semantics concept, is inspired by Wittgenstein? JK: Not any one part, but the very idea. For Wittgenstein, “language-games” constitute the semantical links between language and reality. Game-theoretical semantics can be said to arise by applying to language-games the general mathematical theory of games, especially the concept of strategy. SC: You regularly teach graduate-level courses at Boston University. Is the field of philosophy popular among young people today, and is it seen as useful and applicable to their lives, or merely as interesting in a passive way? JK: I do not really know what impact (if any) philosophy has on young people today. I do know that conveying to them skills and habits of critical reasoning (including ethical reasoning) can make a deep impact on them intellectually and morally. I saw that influence, especially strikingly in some of the students of the late Merrill Hintikka. SC: What are the emerging philosophy trends today, and do they relate to Wittgenstein at all? JK: I am not a good trend-spotter, but even so, I find in the world of philosophy today a singular lack of new ideas that really promise something constructive. The soi-disant Wittgensteinians—for instance, the ones known as “new” Wittgensteinians—certainly are not providing us with any. Of course, I am trying to create new breakthroughs, but others have to judge the degree of my success. SUGGESTED READING [table id=50 /]

Thanks to his groundbreaking work in logic, the philosophy of mind, mathematics, and language, as well as two published works, Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein (18...