Winter quarter of 1983 was my second winter in Santa Cruz. By that time I had realized that although I would probably finish my degree in Chemistry, I wasn't going to be a chemist. "Science Writing" was a possibility: I needed a degree in science, but I could write for a living.
I decided that I would join the staff of the student newspaper and cover science. No one else at the paper was doing this. I would be able to create my own beat, learn about the science being done on campus, and launch my career. Then, as now, I had few heros, and I hope that someday I would be able to meet them. I hoped that by the end of my career as a science writer, I would be able to meet two in particular: Douglas Hofstadter, author of Godel, Escher, Bach, and Linus Pauling, Nobel Prize winner for both Chemistry and Peace. Math, Art, Music, Chemistry, Peace: That all pretty much summed up what most interested me then.
By the end of that quarter, I had met both. Pauling came to UCSC to speak about peace, Hofstadter came to speak at a conference about computers and artists. Maybe someday I'll dig out the article I wrote about it.
My point in this is that I learned at the age of 21 that I can call just about anybody on the phone and ask if they would meet and talk to me.
Which is why I wrote to Ralph Abraham last week and had lunch with him. I should have done this long ago. I finally did it because I learned he knew Nina Graboi, but since I've been reading Chaos, Gaia, Eros I didn't want to pass up the chance to have lunch with someone who could have written such a book, and who works about 50 yards away from me.
Far too often we staff-types don't mix with the faculty.
Raplh's book is a survey of the history of consciousness of humans, an overview of philosophy, myth, mathematics, and the future. It's hard to understand, because it introduces new words, and old words that I never understood. But as I keep with it, the ideas repeat, as a good teacher repeats difficult concepts, until they start to gell. I wouldn't want to take a quiz, but the reading is pleasant, absorbing, and inspiring. It is similar in its scope of vision to Mary Daly and her Gyn/Ecology. It helps that I am already familiar with ancient religions and civilizations. I'm very thin on the history of philosophy, and if I were philosophically bent, then this might be a good introduction to a whole new area of study.
Here's a paragraph from the middle of the book which I think is close to expressing the thesis of the book:
In our current patriarchal paradigm, Order is to Chaos as good is to evil, and this has been the status quo for the past four to six millennia. But in the new paradigm of the Chaos Revolution, chaos is the favorite state of Nature, where it is truly good. In the Chaos Revolution of the sciences, we are now learning that chaos is essential to the survival of life. For example, the healthy heartbeat is more chaotic than the diseased heartbeat, and the normal brain is more chaotic than the dysfunctional brain, according to the new measures of chaos theory. In these contexts, health and stability depend upon a moderate degree of chaos.
This truth has been banished to the collective unconscious for all these centures. From the shadows of the unconscious, it pushes forth into our consciousness and literature in portry and song, romance and struggle. It erects heretical monuments in the history of our art, architecture, music, science, and philosophy. The myth of evil chaos threatens our future, inclining us always and everywhere to try to impose on Nature an unhealthy, orderly state. The excessive order of our agricultural techniques, for example contributes to global environmental problems. Our challenge how is to restore goodness to chaos and disorder to a degree, and to reestablish the partnership of Cosmos and Chaos, so necessary to nature, to health, and to creation. This requires a major modification to our mythological foundations, unchanged these past millennia, and this no mean feat. In a sense, we must replace Tiamat on her rightful throne, in mythology and in daily life.
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