A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rational, Animal

Aristotle defined humans as "the rational animal." I'm thinking a lot about rationality these days because one of the primary assumptions of mussar is that we are controlled by irrational impulses that are deeply resistant to conscious, rational attempts to overcome them. The class this week (Thursday night, at Har HaShem) will explore the idea of the unconscious as described in the writing of Rabbi Israel Salanter and Sigmund Freud. Musar is a method for understanding the place of these unconscious drives in our personality and actions and then rehabituating the spirit to overcome (repress?) them.

In any event, a fascinating article in this week's New Yorker (abstract here) had a particular resonance because of my thinking about these things. Lehrer reflects on a recent movement among a small number of scientists in various fields who are raising questions about the use of the scientific method.

Neither the mussar writing nor the article point toward the conclusion that rationality is hopelessly lost. Merely that it is much more elusive than we think.


  1. I agree, the New Yorker article is fascinating. I prefer the initial more fanciful interpretation that the universe is initially interested in a new phenomenon which can then be measured with high statistical significance. As the universe tires of this new thing, the measurements decline until the new thing vanishes entirely.

  2. thanks moepackman. i like that read the best because it has a kind of cosmic resonance. one of the things that struck me about the article was that both the title/ subtitle ("is there something wrong with the scientific method") and the beginning of the article suggest that the author has stumbled upon some fundamental flaw in the scientific method. in fact, it turns out that it is really just uncovering wide spread misuse/poor application of the scientific method. in fact at its core the article is really an affirmation of the essential rightness of the scientific approach and an assertion that it has to be practiced with greater rigor. anyway thanks....