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Groan! - Elf M. Sternberg
Man, after last night I can feel every bone in my body creaking and groaning. My mouth hurts less-- my tongue has been irritated ever since the dental work I had last week in preparation of having a wisdom tooth removed tomorrow-- but my upper lip is a bit swollen where Omaha shot me in the mouth. That tasted nasty.

But what got my attention this morning was the admission by author Raven Silverwolf that paganism is boring. No, she didn't really say that. But her new book, The Solitary Witch, looks suspiciously like a computer manual, one of those thick phone-book-sized types, complete with colored tabs on the side for sections and segments. Nothing shouts "We're boring now" than the output of massive, multi-thousand page tomes with charts and diagrams.

The New Age book-store near my home is also pushing the work of Sri Ramakrishna, with titles like The Amazing Disciples and They Lived With God. If I recall correctly, Sri Rajneesh is one of them, so I suspect that these are the output of his sect press. And yet, looking at the titles, I have to wonder: did they feed anyone? Educate anyone? Provide medicine, or fresh water, or housing? If not, what was the point?

And while I'm sitting on the bus, I'm watching a tall woman reading a book called The Messiah And The End of This World, which is in large enough print I can read it from here. She's almost at the end of the book, and it's a little more than a bizarre collection of interpretations of the Bible and associated materials into some strange occultic work. I can read from here the lines, "Someday, history will look back on these words as the seed that entwined the world." I bet every new religion says that.

A quick google reveals the book to the Black-supremacist stuff of the most banal sort, a rabbelous mish-mash of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and African Identity, with vegetarinaism, bad scientism, and Goddess only knows what else thrown in for good measure.

One of the best used bookstores within driving radius of my home has the ignominious name of "The Book Depository," which reminds me now and then of John F. Kennedy and the Dallas Book Depository. It's one of those bookstores that collects everything, not just the usual fiction- sf-romance-blah stuff that you can find elsewhere. There are shelves and shelves of just kid's books, huge sections of philosophy, history, and non-fiction.

And they have a huge segment labeled, without comment, "metaphysics." Some subheadings in there include "Atlantis," "Mu," and "Seth," and some of the items on the shelves are antiques. Theosophy stuff from the 1920s sits side-by-side with Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary.

Another section, just as large, is the science section, where Sagan, Gleik, Dawkins, and so on keep each other company.

And as I walked through these two sections, I had an epiphany. In the science section the most common factor the books have is agreement. The biology books never contradict the chemistry texts; the astronomy texts take pains to point out where general relativity and quantum mechanics fail to correspond. Books on contentious issues make every effort to illustrate the weaknesses of any given controversy and illuminate the lines of inquiry needed to confirm any given theory.

There are fundamental aspects to the way the universe works and there is no disagreement on those, at any rate.

On the other hand, the metaphysics section is a morass. No writer agreed with another on the fundamentals. Metaphysics pretends to answer questions such as where do we come from, where are we going, and what are we to do in the meantime, and none of these books even begins to pretend to agree with others in the same section, even on the fundamentals.

It's hard to imagine anyone taking any of the "metaphysic" books seriously when they're all so, well, ridiculous. While every book in the science section promises to show you a tiny fragment of a whole, you are invited to learn more, being assured that the other books in the same segment will confirm and support what you've learned before. No such assurance, no such promise awaits any delver into the fantasies of the metaphysics; indeed, the only thing you can be assured of is violent, vehement disagreement.

Current Mood: awake awake
Current Music: Carl Cassel, NPR Headlines

3 comments or Leave a comment
manawolf From: manawolf Date: June 17th, 2003 12:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
How amusing that in the search to offer a hard, solid, comforting answer to the questions that (supposedly) plague us, metaphysics falls so incredibly short of Mr. Science.

Science may not answer the Big Questions that keep some awake at night, but at least you CAN be sure of the basics. They might not be what you're looking for, but they're solid, and that's more than you can say for the other body of work.
mouser From: mouser Date: June 17th, 2003 01:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
...The Messiah And The End of This World... I can read from here the lines, "Someday, history will look back on these words as the seed that entwined the world."

Uh, isn't part of the definition of "End of the World" the end of History and those that might look back on it?

From: (Anonymous) Date: June 18th, 2003 06:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Steven's is boring

I don't know, "TCP/IP Illistated" is a pritty
nonboring read, at least for me. And its a massive tome
with charts and dagrames.

I'm not sure that the property of agreement is something
that is unique to Science, Mathamatics and Engeering
.Most of the Economics texts will end up disagreying with
each other, as do books on architecture, design, art,
litriture and a greate meany other topics.

In meany of these feilds there isn't even any reliable way
to sort the good stuff from the bad stuff.
3 comments or Leave a comment