The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap. - Novalis

Monday, February 21, 2011


The greatly under-appreciated American philosopher Suzanne Langer taught for many years at my undergraduate alma mater, Connecticut College. Since my mother was the circulation librarian there, I spent a lot of time in the library while I was in high school. I have vague but persistent memories of Langer, a small woman with intense, bright and widely-staring eyes that seemed always to be looking into some other universe. She had not taught for many years by the time I was a freshman, but I read a good deal of her work. I am sure that I learned  from her books, but oddly, one sentence from the preface to the first edition of Philosophy in a New Key has stayed with me all these years. At the end of her acknowledgments she writes,

"Above all I want to thank Mrs. Penfield Roberts, who has read the entire manuscript, even after every extensive revision, and given me not only intellectual help, but the constant moral support of enthusiasm and friendship, confirming for me the truth of what one lover of the arts, J. M. Thorburn, has said—that 'all the genuine, deep delight of life is in showing people the mud-pies you have made; and life is at its best when we confidingly recommend our mud-pies to each other’s sympathetic consideration.' "

I find now, with some help from the internet, that the quote, appropriately, is from Thorburn's Art and the Unconscious, 1925. The often-recurring image of those mud-pies, and the deep truth of Thorburn's claim have probably had more influence on me than most of the philosophy that I have read.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rothschild Hypothesis Disproved!

On my long drive to work this morning I was surprised, to put it mildly, to hear a report on NPR about recent research on the jump of the flea. It concerns the results of this new paper: Biomechanics of jumping in the flea, Gregory P. Sutton and Malcolm Burrows, Journal of Experimental Biology 214, 836-847 (2011). I once met Miriam Rothschild (photo right) on one of her visits to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington. We discussed, among other things, my taxonomic and morphological researches into the fleas. She was quite a character and we got on very well. She proposed one mechanism by which fleas jump, and Henry Bennet-Clark another. It turns out that Bennet-Clark was right (though his rather dismissive comments about Rothschild's proposal at the end of the radio piece are quite unfair - her idea was not what he suggests). In any case it is not everyday that I come across items recalling my past life among the Siphonaptera. Do listen to the radio story - the bit about St. Tiggywinkles is worth hearing.

And there is this marvelous video: