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brilliant ideas marred by murky communication

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Initial post: May 11, 2007 5:03:50 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 11, 2007 4:52:43 PM PDT
lovestoread says:
I read the excerpt. I am intrigued enough to get this book in hardback, for the good quality illustrations,

but I am also confused and infuriated.

first the bad part. Scientist Richard Feynman reviewed math textbooks for about a year, in the mid-1960's. It just about drove him insane; he had periodic explosions.

(yes, I know Feynman could be a jerk and he didn't necessarily respect the arts the way he should have. this is not an I-love-feynman thing, but rather, a demonstration of why her book made me *really* confused in the online excerpt I read)

A couple of his quotes come to mind from the excerpt of SP that I read...

It is an essay called "Judging Books by their Covers" from Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman:

"It was a pretty big job, and I worked all the time at it down in the basement. My wife says that during this period it was like living over a volcano. It would be quiet for a while, but then all of a sudden, "BLLLLLOOOOOOWWWWW!!!!" -- there would be a big explosion from the "volcano" below.

The reason was that the books were so lousy. They were false. They were hurried. They would try to be rigorous, but they would use examples (like automobiles in the street for "sets") which were almost OK, but in which there were always some subtleties. The definitions weren't accurate. Everything was a little bit ambiguous -- they weren't smart enough to understand what was meant by "rigor." They were faking it. They were teaching something they didn't understand, and which was, in fact, useless, at that time, for the child."

I would amend this quote. Camille is clearly extremely bright. However, she appears to be obsessed with the feminists for some odd reason.

Look, common sense says to me - if the feminists are stupid, don't waste time being angry about them while you are writing a pioneering book. b/c if you do, your anger will block your powers of observation. I think that's what happened here.

Feynman also says:

"Finally I come to a book that says, "Mathematics is used in science in many ways. We will give you an example from astronomy, which is the science of stars." I turn the page, and it says, "Red stars have a temperature of four thousand degrees, yellow stars have a temperature of five thousand degrees . . ." -- so far, so good. It continues: "Green stars have a temperature of seven thousand degrees, blue stars have a temperature of ten thousand degrees, and violet stars have a temperature of . . . (some big number)." There are no green or violet stars, but the figures for the others are roughly correct. It's vaguely right -- but already, trouble! That's the way everything was: Everything was written by somebody who didn't know what the hell he was talking about, so it was a little bit wrong, always! And how we are going to teach well by using books written by people who don't quite understand what they're talking about, I cannot understand. I don't know why, but the books are lousy; UNIVERSALLY LOUSY!"

yep, I felt the same way when reading the excerpt of SP here on amazon. except that she clearly DOES know what she is talking about. Again, I suspect her strong emotions are blocking her powers of observation.

Continuing on, Feynman states:

"Anyway, I'm happy with this book, because it's the first example of applying arithmetic to science. I'm a bit unhappy when I read about the stars' temperatures, but I'm not very unhappy because it's more or less right -- it's just an example of error. Then comes the list of problems. It says, "John and his father go out to look at the stars. John sees two blue stars and a red star. His father sees a green star, a violet star, and two yellow stars. What is the total temperature of the stars seen by John and his father?" -- and I would explode in horror.

My wife would talk about the volcano downstairs. That's only an example: it was perpetually like that. Perpetual absurdity! There's no purpose whatsoever in adding the temperature of two stars. Nobody ever does that except, maybe, to then take the average temperature of the stars, but not to find out the total temperature of all the stars! It was awful! All it was was a game to get you to add, and they didn't understand what they were talking about. It was like reading sentences with a few typographical errors, and then suddenly a whole sentence is written backwards. The mathematics was like that. Just hopeless!"

And when I read Paglia compare the shrinking of a penis after intercourse to the decline and fall of civilizations - YES I felt like it was about as productive as estimating the total temperature of stars. Who. cares.

the decline and fall of civilizations is an enormously complex process about which, it seems to me, it is perilous to make generalizations. yet we are supposed to accept this one, easily.

what about chance factors? what about the decline being based on, someone got mad at someone else, unwisely, or wanted a land grab, and fought a war which was distrastrous? which set in a period of decline?

this relates to the shrinking of the penis - how exactly? maybe if you say arrogance is a manifestion, or seems this requires real logical contortions.

I'm not saying she's WRONG, only WAY TOO SIMPLE.

moving along, Feynman makes a point about energy:

"It was the kind of thing my father would have talked about: "What makes it go? Everything goes because the sun is shining." And then we would have fun discussing it:

"No, the toy goes because the spring is wound up," I would say. "How did the spring get wound up?" he would ask.

"I wound it up."

"And how did you get moving?"

"From eating."

"And food grows only because the sun is shining. So it's because the sun is shining that all these things are moving." That would get the concept across that motion is simply the transformation of the sun's power."

Paglia points out the issues about the Moon but seems to neglect the Sun. in my opinion. where is an analysis of the Sun? I didn't see it here.

the tilt of the hemisphere towards or away from the Sun causes seasons which like menstruation, are repeating patterns over time. Western man did not understand the reason for the seasons (sorry) but he was profoundly influenced...her analysis of seasons is - now where is it, exactly?

she says that nature cares nothing for individuals, only species... I am sorry, I believe she meant "evolution" and not "nature."

THIS is what Feynman was saying about things being mixed up, wrong, ambiguous and partially correct. AND incomplete and lacking subtlety.

Feynman was known as "The Great Explainer." To him, you had better be able to explain your concepts CLEARLY in a freshman lecture. if you couldn't, he was FIRM that you, YOURSELF, did not understand them.

there is absolutely no way this book passes the "freshman lecture" test and Feynman won the Nobel Prize, did critical research on the development of the atomic bomb AND figured out the Challenger disaster issues -

he was NOT a stupid man.

and yet, despite all this, the book appears to be really engaging and brilliant -

I'm captivated and enraged at the same time.

boy oh boy oh boy....this book needed a really good editor and I mean, someone like Stephen Jay Gould (now deceased) who *understood* evolution and Stephen Hawking who *understands* nature.

her ideas are compelling and captivating enough that they needed a thorough review from the most brilliant people in these fields -

to make sure what she was saying about Nature and evolution was correct.

a LOT of people lament the decline of editing. they see it as producing too many bad books, which it does.

THIS is a case study of editing gone horribly wrong b/c this could truly have been a revolutionary book that could have gotten her - not just understood by a few - but really, truly obtained status for her as one of the best, most perceptive intellectuals in America -

b/c she IS brilliant and she DOES make unusual and compelling associations AND she has extremely interesting, possibly revolutionary ideas -

marred by poor communication, imprecision in terms, and lack of clarity in thinking, IMO.

also, for her to keep fighting "the feminists" when most of the people she is criticizing have far less interesting things to say -

I view that as beneath her. it's like an adult competing with the intellectual capacity of a child. why bother?

there are some brilliant feminist thinkers, don't get me wrong, but so many of them in academia repeat the same warmed over uninteresting stuff....

a second edition with review by the top people in evolutionary science and astronomy (to ensure her statements about "nature" are correct) -

could really cause this book to have a truly monumental impact in the public at large, not just the few people who are willing to do battle with this book in its current form.

b/c I think what she is capable of, is truly astounding.

all my opinion, YMMV of course....

but you know, I bought a copy of the hardback, so I'd see the illustrations clearly.

I am looking forward to reading it.


a quote from Werner Heisenberg comes to mind very strongly:

"This again emphasizes a subjective element in the description of atomic events, since the measuring device has been constructed by the observer, and we have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning."

No, I am not denying the power of nature here! If I were I would quote someone who says that nature is a social construct...

I don't mean that at all.

having said all this....

there is a reason I am still captivated with her and it is called Original Ideas.

there are many intellectuals who basically state the conventional wisdom, with a twist to reflect their "in-group's" POV.

they do this well. they are very perceptive, reflective, intelligent people. I won't name names here...

yet in the end, they are stating views that they have as part of a group. they can be very eloquent, yet, if you know the group's view, you know the intellectual's view. pretty much full stop.

CP has original ideas and I think that's why so many of us feel engaged by her even if we disagree with a very great deal of what she has to say. I am not saying her *every* idea is original, but I see someone thinking and expressing herself creatively here which is rarer than it should be in those who charge us $$ for their thoughts.

her critics say that her rep is based on sizzle and shock value alone. I think this is untrue. if that were so, she'd be like so many flavors of the moment. they come, they go, they say a few outrageous things...who cares really?

she's the genuine article and with better editors and perhaps a coauthor, I think she could put something out that would wake people up the way that Friedan or De Beauvoir did.

Posted on Mar 18, 2014 5:40:33 PM PDT
I agree with everything you have to say hear 100%. She has beautiful ideas but her manic, histronic way of putting them is why people, sadly, do not take her seriously.

I also think that some of her chthonic analysis of the feminine, while very imaginative and interesting from an artistic perspective, makes it too easy for people to criticize her for being misogynist, when I don't think she truly is, but I can understand why people would think that. Her Jungian approach to the archetypal and anthropological elements of masculinity and femininity are brilliant, but I sometimes wish she could add some more content about real women as well.

I know her analysis of gender was not what your post was about, so I apologize for hijacking it, but I think it is an important part of the book because it is such a refreshing change from "gender as a social construct", yet if she was not so extreme and grotesque in the way she depicts chthonic archetypes (vagina dentata and all that lovely stuff), I think people would be less alienated. While I'd like to disagree with the feminists who call anything outside of their party line "misogynist" or "essentialist", I think she does become somewhat misogynist when she conflates aesthetic understandings of primal, primordial femininity, with the femininity of real women. So basically I wish she would make it clearer that her analysis of gender is from a poetic, artistic perspective, rather than indicative of how she truly believes real life men and women are.
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Initial post:  May 11, 2007
Latest post:  Mar 18, 2014

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