Thursday, July 17, 2003

a guest on bill moyer's show, who wrote a play about the life and work of leonardo davinci, dodged a question along the lines of "what caused davinci to see the world the way he did?" she seemed accustomed to the question, as if hundreds of naive people asked the same thing. she said something like "it's not for us to know. leonardo had a gift and the best we can do is appreciate the things he left us, not attempt to explain the man." i found this interesting, and also discouraging. i like reading biographies because there's a little hope that some of the person's essence may rub off on me. even though it's audacious, presumptuous to even think a thought like "how would DAVINCI approach this problem" it's nonetheless something that's possible to do, and if you think it, nobody will know.

so, I'm reading James Gleick's "Newton" right now, which attempts to explain the psyche of the greatest physicist and mathematican who ever walked the earth. Glieck pays close attention to Newton's journals, the size of his handwriting, the type of paper, where he obtained his blank books, etc. One book Newton called his "Waste Book." While doing physics today, I realized why he may have called it this. When thinking about physics problems there is a tentativeness with the pencil. at least when you're doing homework, there is a hesitation to write things down. the analytic state of mind is not the natural state. it's fragile. hence, anything can disrupt it, including fear of the paper, or of wasting it, or of leaving a record that suggests that you were dumb. in light of this, readers, obtain a waste book, put nothing between you and the idea.

i think that gleick is right and the playwright was wrong. it is our right to look at brilliant people and ask dumb questions like "how did you DO that?" 99 percent of the time we might get a stupid answer, but there's always the chance that we can pick up good habits. there's an art, or at least a method, by which we can make ourselves think.


A friend is leaving town after breaking up with his girlfriend of 10 years. She keeps the house, the dog, most of the exotic things accumulated on their travels. (It was discussed over beers last tuesday, what happens to such stuff post break up. Clearly, you can't start a relationship with somebody new surrounded by exotic oaxacan pottery, photographs, etc. obtained with a previous person.)

So, another friend, Jennifer, called me today asking if I knew exactly when Eric was leaving. I didn't know. It was very important to her that she see him one last time before he left. I said to her "people are precious aren't they." and she said, earnestly, "yes, they arrrre."

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