Sunday, February 23, 2014

Discovery vs. Invention, again

In our essay on Hadamard,  we remarked (as did he)  that his title The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field would more felicitously have been : The Psychology of Discovery in the Mathematical Field -- and this, for reasons internal to mathematics.

Another consideration, unrelated to math per se, lies at quite another angle to all that.  Namely, that the psychology of someone who discovers (or who purports to), may differ widely from that of one who invents.
Whoso wishes to learn more about the Creation, wherewith he was confronted when (all unbidden) he first came into our sphere here below,  keeps his eyes and mind wide-open, as he walks through the world.  Whereas the inventor could be shut-up in his Fortress of Solitude, his basement tinkering-shop. 

Sometimes these cognitive stances are difficult to separate, as in experimental physics (discovering phenomena,  vs. designing experiments and inventing your own equipment).  In biology, the split can be stark.
The Naturalist observes, and notes, and ponders, and sleeps and dreams upon it, until a pattern becomes clear -- a pattern  in whose creation, he had no hand.

The Biological Blasphemer, by contrast,  one such as Dr. Frankenstein, or ‘reassignment’ surgeons, or those latter-day famuli of Dr. Moreau, 
busily sticking mouse-genes into Drosophila,
or pig-livers into people,
or cockroach-souls into orangutans,
or attempting to get a scorpion to mate with a Lamb --

these, indeed, do not discover what already lies (in some bioPlatonic World of Forms) beyond the creation of His hand,  but merely the extramarital whelping of their own: 
they rather denature Nature, until,  with Satanic originality, they reign alone, unchallenged, in a godless cosmos,  surrounded by devilkins of their own devising.

[Update 25 February 2014]  In only the latest development along these lines -- for new ones are announced almost daily, a drumbeat that deadens sensibilities -- there’s this:

Already, Heather has two mommies;  now she can have a daddy and two mommies right from conception, three people contributing genes to the gallimaufry.  In this way, Inventors hope to come up with a child born with three eyes, each of a different color.


These thoughts (or fulminations)  were prompted by re-reading the essay by C.S. Lewis, “Christianity and Literature”, reprinted in Rehabilitations (1939), and Christian Reflections (1967).  From  p.7 of the latter collection:
If I have read the New Testament aright, it leaves no room for ‘creativeness’ … Pride [in particular, that of the self-regarding artist] does not only go before a fall, but is a fall -- a fall of the creature’s attention  from what is better, God, to what is worse, itself.

-- Yet I must refrain from quoting further, since, once begun, I must needs quote the whole of it.   Therefore, reader, rather lay this present trifle aside, and study that essay for yourself.

Lewis did not live to witness  the iridescent developments of our (post)modern arts scene;  yet I doubt if these would have moved him to revise his views.  Contemporary artists (“artists” -- I would place the word in indignant quotes, save that, by now, the notion is past protecting), ever striving for something truly new,  have managed to come up with some strikingly original ideas, such as: 
* sticking a crucifix into a beaker of piss;
* masturbating onstage;  or
* nailing their penis to a plank of wood.
(Would we were making those up;  not so.)
Yet what must be their chagrin, to learn, that they thereby have done no more than recycle the shenanigans that began back in the nineteen-teens, with Dada, in Paris and Zurich (though, then, served up  with less frenzy  and more wit) !


[Boring and unimportant, merely-personal footnote:
It is psychologically odd that, while the pursuits I favor  are generally those that do not involve getting shot at, or tramping through mosquito-infested marsh, or fiddling with explosives in the lab,   yet my attitude to mathematics  resembles more that of the naturalist -- or even a lepidopterist -- than that of a rocket scientist.
(My own such propensities would fall well beneath the notice of Hadamard;  here I address only my fellow oligophreniacs.)  ]

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