Returning to Bucknell to give a talk was unsettling. I haven’t been back in 25 years and I’ve kept up only with a few friends. I was unhappy during college, and I have kept the lid of memories screwed on pretty durn tight.
I got a good education there. The teachers ranged from good to life-changing. But I didn’t realize how isolated and privileged the experience was until I stepped back on campus. Has it become even more of a country club than when I was there? No way of telling. Statistically, of course, it’s more diverse. Spiritually, I don’t know.
My breakfast with Professors Fell and Sturm meant too much for me to write about. But I can give you their reading list.
Professor Fell recommends John William Miller, his own teacher. He gave me a copy of The Midworld of Symbols and Functioning Objects. I started reading it on the way back. Chapter One is gibberish to me. Chapter Two affords me at least a handhold. I will go to the site that Prof. Fell recommended, hoping that it will give me enough context to begin to understand what the book is about. (The site links to Prof. Fell’s exceptionally clear and helpful introductory essay on Miller.)
Professor Sturm recommends that I read Whitehead. I read Whitehead when I was an undergrad and maybe some more in grad school. Back then I read to conquer, to get Whitehead under my belt. (Talk about consumerism!) I read better now, but not well enough: I am still defensive, holding off ideas, maintaining my current beliefs. It’s one reason among several that I could never be a genuine scholar.
I talked with my old professors about my interest in the idea that the universe might be a computer. Within 90 seconds, the conversation clarified a point for me that should have been apparent: The universe-as-computer idea does not imply a maker the way the universe-as-clockmaker idea does because the complexity of the universal clockworks makes the Argument from Design seem plausible while the point of the universal computer is that enormous complexity results from great simplicity.
Ok, so this is a big D’oh! But isn’t so much of great teaching the revealing of the blindingly obvious?
I walked through Lewisburg two nights ago. I lived there for four years as a student and one year as a resentful day-laborer and bad writer.
Places change more slowly than we do. It doesn’t seem fair.
As I strolled, nostalgia intermittently struck, like being pelted with rocks. I say with no pride that I oddly found myself most wanting to visit places where I had been most notably stoned way back then: Tommy T’s apartment overlooking Market Street, the home goods store where I once spent too long watching skeins of yarn merging, the secluded point in the river behind the railroad tracks where we smoked freshman year when we thought we had to go a half mile into the woods to avoid detection.
I don’t know why those were the memories most present. It felt more like the effect of brain chemistry than memory. Damn embarrassing.