A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Edward Wilson, Naturalist

I don't like biographies. That said, I'm hugely enjoying Naturalist, the memoirs of Edward O. Wilson. Maybe because it's more of an interior autobiography, reflections on the nature of memory and association, on his narrow specialty of Daceton armigerum and the larger universe of evolutionary biology. He writes gracefully, moving easily from the very specific scientific observation to the wider truth, like another of my favorite writers, Lewis Thomas, also a scientist.

Here's a nice quote from the book, pages 50-51 in my edition:

"The human mind moving in a sea of detail is compelled like a questing animal to orient by a relatively few decisive configurations. There is an optimum number of such signals. Too few, and the person becomes obsessive-compulsive; too many, and he turns schizophrenic. Configurations with the greatest emotional impact are stored first and persist longer. Those that give the greatest pleasure are sought on later occasions. The process is strongest in children, and to some extent it programs the trajectory of their lives. Eventually they will weave the decisive images into a narrative by which they explain to themselves and others the meaning of what has happened to them. As the Talmud says, we see things not as they are, but as we are."

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