Thursday, August 25, 2016


I am always fascinated by intelligence breaking out.  A class is going along calmly when a student asks a question or makes a comment that stays with you.  That evening, you are still thinking about it.  Often the words hit the teacher very differently from the way they do the student or the others there. It is probably because the teacher has gone over the material many times and knows there are multiple avenues that some students have in the past explored that this group hasn't been drawn into.  I often taught statistics to a class of 80 to 100 students.  The lessons were tapes and so were exactly replayed for each class.  Just when I thought I had seen it all and that no twist, turn or misunderstanding was yet to be invented, I would be shown some new idea or question or puzzle or angle.

No subject can really be explored to all possible limits, to all the edges that might be reached in all possible discussions and considerations.  When the ancients say that the world is one, they aren't kidding.  You can indeed get from a gumdrop to nuclear physics, the history of diplomacy and to all aspects of the diseases of honeybees.  It's just that you will tire or expire or divert to the tv or the dinner table before you manage to get to all the edges of the subject.

I just finished re-reading "The Spiral Staircase" by the famous scholar of religion, Karen Armstrong.  It surprises the heck out of me that I was so thunderstruck by the book, given that I had read the whole thing before.  I remembered that she entered a convent, was rejected as unsuitable for the life required there, worked on her doctorate, failed to obtain the degree and became the author of many books on religions, including "A History of God".  But I was completely surprised by the effect on me of sentence after sentence.  The writing seems so very accurate and piercing, the author's concentration and openness and awareness of herself and others seems so complete, original and clear.

Being that you are you and I am me, you may not get quite so taken by the book as I was.  Still, if you are looking for a short, clear history of a human life, full of awareness of what youth, early maturity, and empathy for all the many ways people live and feel and fear are about, "The Spiral Staircase" might fill your needs.

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