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The Star Thrower
Introduction by W. H. Auden
Published by Times Books in 1979
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2005
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This is a collection of Eiseley's favorite writings which he selected for publication in the last year of his life. I had read his earlier book, The Night Country, and its subtitle, "Reflections of a Bone Hunting Man," sums Eiseley's major field of endeavor. But, as Auden says in his Introduction, "Dr. Eiseley happens to be an archaeologist, an anthropologist, and a naturalist, but, if I have understood him rightly, the point he wishes to make is that in order to be a scientist, an artist, a doctor, a lawyer, or what-have-you, one has first to be a human being."
The Introduction by Auden began as a review in The New Yorker in 1970 of Eiseley's book, "The Unexpected Universe." It is filled with gems which help us befriend Eiseley, such as when he speaks of Odysseus returning home after twenty years absence and his waiting, faithful dog Argos looks up to him in recognition.
[page 16] "The magic that gleams in an instant between Argos and Odysseus is both the recognition of diversity and the need for affection across the illusions of form. It is nature's cry to homeless, far-wandering, insatiable man: 'Do not forget your brethren, nor the green wood from which you sprang. To do so is to invite disaster. . . . One does not meet oneself until one catches the reflection from an eye other than human.' "
Or when Eiseley say "There is no definition or description of man possible by reducing him to ape or tree-shrew." (Page 17) Auden agrees with Eiseley that humankind was not the result of random chance and shapes a fine point on the matter.
[page 17] All the same, I do not personally believe there is a such a thing as a "random" event. "Unpredictable" is a factual description; "random" contains, without having the honesty to admit it, a philosophical bias typical of persons who have forgotten how to pray.
Auden read all of Eiseley's works and he avers that nowhere did he find a statement that "man is the only creature who laughs."
[page 21] True laughter is not to be confused with the superior titter of the intellect, though we are capable, alas of that, too: when we truly laugh, we laugh simultaneously with and at. True laughter (belly laughter) I would define as the spirit of Carnival.
As a native of New Orleans, renown for its Carnival, I would agree with Auden's identification of true laughter as the spirit of Carnival: there is NO laughter like N. O. laughter. We are a city that likes to laugh as much as we like to eat. We can serially oscillate between two opposites like citizens of other cities, but during Carnival we are confronted everywhere with the simultaneous juxtaposition of opposites which can only be fully expressed in the form of a belly laugh.
[page 22] We oscillate between wishing we were unreflective animals and wishing we were disembodied spirits, for in either case we should be problematic to ourselves. The Carnival solution of this ambiguity is to laugh, for laughter is simultaneously a protest and an acceptance.
Auden rightly sees Work and Prayer as two extremes which can only be balanced with hearty doses of Laughter, such as when one forgets one's dignity as Eiseley did one day when he encountered a young fox who picked up a white chicken bone in its mouth. (From "The Innocent Fox")
[page 23] "It was not a time for human dignity. It was a time only for the careful observance of amenities written behind the stars. Gravely I arranged my forepaws while the puppy whimpered with ill-concealed excitement. I drew the breath of a fox's den into my nostrils. On impulse, I picked up clumsily a whiter bone and shook it in my teeth that had not entirely forgotten their original purpose. Round and round we tumbled for one ecstatic moment . . . . For just a moment I had held the universe at bay by the simple expedient of sitting on my haunches before a fox den and tumbling about with a chicken bone. It is the gravest, most meaningful act I shall ever accomplish, but, as Thoreau once remarked of some peculiar errand of his own, there is no use reporting it to the Royal Society."
This is one book where one misses a tasty morsel if one skips the Introduction. Like a succulent appetizer, it prepares our juices for what is to follow in the main courses, as this one from "The Judgment of the Birds." Crows never fly low to the ground near men, Eiseley tells us, but one night in a deep fog, a crow nearly flew into him as he was walking along a path. Eiseley describes the encounter from the crow's perspective or judgment. The crow had been lost, but more than that . . .
[page 30] He had thought he was high up, and when he encountered me looming gigantically through the fog, he had perceived a ghastly and, to the crow mind, unnatural sight. He had seen a man walking in the air, desecrating the very heart of the crow kingdom, a harbinger of the most profound evil a crow mind could conceive of — air-walking men. The encounter, he must have thought, had taken place a hundred feet over the roofs.
In "The Long Loneliness" Eiseley says, "There is nothing more alone in the universe than man. He is alone because he has the intellectual capacity to know that he is separated by a vast gulf of social memory and experiment from the lives of his animal associates." I remember as a child of eight years old reading all of the several dozen books of Doctor Doolittle's adventures. I came away thinking it was just a matter of us becoming smart enough to talk with the animals. As I grew older I was disabused of this notion that we would ever talk to the animals. There was apparently an unbridgeable gulf between animals and humans when it came to communication as we humans know it. As a child it seemed plausible for us and roosters to talk; as an adult it seemed ludicrous.
I read with interest the story of "Klüge Hans" whom scientists studied because of his apparent intelligence. "Clever John," his name in English, was a horse who did calculations, answered questions which stumped many of the scientists present, and generally amazed the world. For a time. One day, someone asked a question which no one present knew the answer to and neither did the horse. Clever John was clever alright — he got the answer from one of the people present. The horse was stamping out the answers and when he got to the right answer, someone who knew the answer gave an unconscious flinch which the clever horse could perceive and he stopped stomping. Clever John was actually a human biofeedback mechanism — as we might call him today — but he fooled the best scientists in the world for a long time. Or rather, the scientists fooled themselves.
With all our modern knowledge about the capacities of the human brain, we find in the cetacean species, especially the dolphins, beings who possess the brain size and structures capable of communication as we humans know it. But all we can get from them are strange whistling and clicking sounds.
[page 41] Perhaps if those whistling sounds that porpoises make are truly symbolic and capable of manipulation in our brains, we will wonder about the world in which we find ourselves — but it will be a world not susceptible to experiment. At best we may nuzzle in curiosity a passing shipbottom and be harpooned for our pains. Our thoughts, in other words, will be as limited as those of the first men who roved in little bands in the times before fire and the writing that was to open to man the great doorway of his past.
My basic insight was that porpoises or dolphins use those whistling sounds to create, not symbolic, but pictorial communication. To "hear" dolphin speech we must build computerized machines to convert the whistling sounds into images — images we will be able to see with our eyes. The reason we hear only whistling is because the frequency range of the whistling is necessarily high in order to have enough bandwidth to contain the images or pictorial information that dolphins communicate with. Dolphins speak pictures! They spizualize or speak-visualize information. A dolphin bounces high frequency sounds (whistles and clicks) off their surroundings, convert the echoed waves into visual information, and use the 3-D images as a real-time map to navigate in dark waters of the sea. Those echoed waves are sounds in the same frequency range that the dolphin can both hear and speak, so by speaking the sounds of something they see (or saw earlier), dolphins can communicate the situation at the present where they are located to someone who is distant from them by many miles or they can equally communicate a situation from some earlier time to those present now. The hearers will be enveloped in the image created by the dolphin speaker as if they were inside of a holographic image, which indeed they would be. Just as humans communicate by speaking the sounds they heard someone else say, a dolphin would be able to communicate the images some other dolphin had shared with them.
[page 41] Man without writing cannot long retain his history in his head. His intelligence permits him to grasp some kind of succession of generations; but without writing, the tale of the past rapidly degenerates into fumbling myth and fable. Man's greatest epic, his four long battles with the advancing ice of the great continental glaciers, has vanished from human memory without a trace. Our illiterate fathers disappeared and with them, in a few scant generations, died one of the great stories of all time. This episode has nothing to do with the biological quality of a brain as between then and now. It has to do instead with a device, an invention made possible by the hand. That invention came too late in time to record eyewitness accounts of the years of the Giant Frost.
And yet we know from studies of Homer’s epics that they memorized by people for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years before they were recorded. These early humans had a prodigious capability for memory which only gradually began to fade after the last Ice Age. At some point, humans needed an aid to memory and they invented writing. This may be the earliest proof of the adage that "necessity is the mother of invention." If dolphins have only an oral tradition, that would still open the possibility for us to view (via a spizznet system) newsreels of history — great events recorded by dolphins and passed down through the generations. Just as dolphins try to rescue drowning humans in the sea, they may wish to save us from our own war-like penchant and other examples of human folly by recording and saving such images for us.
[page 41] Primitives of our own species, even today, are historically shallow in their knowledge of the past. Only the poet who writes speaks his message across the millennia to other hearts. Only in writing can the cry from the great cross on Golgotha still be heard in the minds of men. The thinker of perceptive insight, even if we allow him for the moment to be a porpoise rather than a man, has only his individual glimpse of the universe until such time as he can impose that insight upon unnumbered generations. In centuries of pondering, man has come upon one answer to this problem: speech translated into writing that passes beyond human mortality.
If dolphins are truly able to spizualize their surroundings, we humans are no longer alone. We have only to create a spizualization network translation device (spizznet, for short), and we will be able to experience the first example of interspecies communication in the history of the world. The basic technology is available. We lack only someone to create a working spizznet to make it practical.
The man who has endeavored more than anyone else to further our knowledge of dolphin communication is Dr. John Lilly. He has searched and searched for examples of symbolic meanings in dolphin speech, to no avail. Perhaps it is time to begin looking for how to display the images contained in the dolphin speech. We know that each bottlenose dolphin possesses two phonation devices. Why should they have two unless one of them is to be used in communicating to other dolphins the images created from the reflected sounds of the other phonation device?
We humans have only one phonation device. We can repeat what we hear to other humans. Why should not dolphins be able equally to repeat what they see to other dolphins? They can create a visual image from the reflected images of one phonation device and then phonate what they heard to another dolphin who will then create a visual image for itself what the spizualizing dolphin communicated.
Until we humans make this quantum leap in understanding how dolphins communicate we will continue searching for symbolic meanings in sounds which are actually encoded visual images. It's as if we were receiving television images and trying to make out meanings from the high-pitched sounds emitting from our headphones. Surely the dolphins who attempted to mimic the word “hello” spoken over and over to them would have been laughing at the persistent human experimenters who worked so hard to try to teach them to communicate in the inefficient auditory format of human speech(1).
[page 42] Dr. Lilly insists, however, that the porpoises communicate in high-pitched, underwater whistles that seem to transmit their wishes and problems. The question then becomes one of ascertaining whether these sounds represent true language — in the sense of symbolic meanings, additive, learned elements — or whether they are simply the instinctive signals of a pack animal. To this there is as yet no clear answer, but the eagerness with which laboratory sounds and voices were copied by captive porpoises suggests a vocalizing ability extending perhaps to or beyond the threshold of speech.
Certainly all would agree that vocalizing images is an ability that extends "beyond the threshold of speech" — right into the threshold of visual images. And once we cross that threshold, we will have the ability to communicate with dolphins. Will they prove to be as human-like in their communication as I portray them to be in my novel, The SpizzNet File? I don't know, but I feel like an eight-year-old boy again when I imagine the possibilities.
[page 44] It is worth at least a wistful thought that someday the porpoise may talk to us and we to him. It would break, perhaps, the long loneliness that has made man a frequent terror and abomination even to himself.
The unveiling of the past which the decoding of the Rosetta Stone brought to us would pale in comparison to what the decoding of the spizualized speech of dolphins would bring to us. We would be able to see ourselves as dolphins see us for the first time. Just spizualize the possibilities.
Eiseley writes vividly. Sometimes one sentence sticks out like Ayers Rock from the flat landscape of an essay. In “Man the Firemaker” it was the sentence which followed his statement that man did not invent fire but learned to use its power:
[page 45] He began this experiment long ago in the red morning of the human mind.
Or take this passage where he leaps from a spider's web to the Milky Way, from protein molecules to pulsars, from Neanderthals to the Internet.
[page 119, 120] The spider was a symbol of man in miniature. The wheel of the web brought the analogy home clearly. Man, too, lies at the heart of a web, a web extending through the starry reaches of sidereal space, as well as backward into the dark realm of prehistory. His great eye upon Mount Palomar looks into a distance of millions of light-years, his radio ear hears the whisper of even more remote galaxies, he peers through the electron microscope upon the minute particles of his own being. It is a web no creature of earth has ever spun before. Like the orb spider, man lies at the heart of it, listening. Knowledge has given him the memory of earth's history beyond the time of his emergence. Like the spider's claw, a part of him touches a world he will never enter in the flesh. Even now, one can see him reaching forward into time with new machines, computing, analyzing, until elements of the shadowy future will also compose part of the invisible web he fingers.
The eponymous essay of "The Star Thrower" may sound familiar to you as it was to my wife. Years ago a faded, much-re-copied single page version of this story was circulated around the employees at her office, as such things were in the Dark Age, B. I. (Before Internet). A mad man on a beach was throwing starfish back into the sea, and here is Loren Eiseley's report.
[page 172] In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling mud.
"It's still alive," I ventured.
"Yes," he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea. It sank in a burst of spume, and the waters roared once more.
"It may live," he said, "if the offshore pull is strong enough." He spoke gently, and across his bronzed worn face the light still came and went in subtly altering colors.
"There are not many come this far," I said, groping in a sudden embarrassment for words. "Do you collect?"
"Only like this," he said softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. "And only for the living." He stooped again, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped another star neatly across the water.
"The stars," he said, "throw well. One can help them."
He looked full at me with a faint question kindling in his eyes, which seemed to take on the far depths of the sea.
"I do not collect," I said uncomfortably, the wind beating at my garments. "Neither the living nor the dead. I gave it up a long time ago. Death is the only successful collector." I could feel the full night blackness in my skull and the terrible eye resuming its indifferent journey. I nodded and walked away, leaving him there upon the dune with that great rainbow ranging up the sky behind him.
I turned as I neared a bend in the coast and saw him toss another star, skimming it skillfully far out over the ravening and tumultuous water. For a moment, in the changing light, the sower appeared magnified, as though casting larger stars upon some greater sea. He had, at any rate, the posture of a god.
Eiseley as a lonely "Bone Hunting Man" had collected bones of animals and humans from the dawn of life on Earth. As he grew older, he gave up collecting as he faced checkmate by the Chess Player of The Seventh Seal. With each toss of a star the spray formed a rainbow over the star thrower as Eiseley watched. No doubt he will become a star thrower, too, before this essay ends.
[page 183, 184] Somewhere far up the coast wandered the star thrower beneath his rainbow. Our exchange had been brief because upon that coast I had learned that men who ventured out at dawn resented others in the greediness of their compulsive collecting. I had also been abrupt because I had, in the terms of my profession and experience, nothing to say. The star thrower was mad, and his particular acts were a folly with which I had not chosen to associate myself. I was an observer and a scientist. Nevertheless, I had seen the rainbow attempting to attach itself to earth.
On a point of land, as though projecting into a domain beyond us, I found the star thrower. In the sweet rain-swept morning, that great many-hued rainbow still lurked and wavered tentatively beyond him. Silently I sought and picked up a still-living star, spinning it far out into the waves. I spoke once briefly. "I understand," I said. "Call me another thrower." Only then I allowed myself to think, He is not alone any longer. After us there will be others.
We were part of the rainbow — an unexplained projection into the natural. As I went down the beach I could feel the drawing of a circle in men's minds, like that lowering, shifting realm of color in which the thrower labored. It was a visible model of something toward which man's mind had striven, the circle of perfection.
I picked and flung another star. Perhaps far outward on the rim of space a genuine star was similarly seized and flung. I could feel the movement in my body. It was like a sowing — the sowing of life on an infinitely gigantic scale. I looked back across my shoulder. Small and dark against the receding rainbow, the star thrower stooped and flung once more. I never looked again. The task we had assumed was too immense for gazing. I flung and flung again while all about us roared the insatiable waters of death.
This reminds me of a line from a Rod McKuen poem, "Seasons in the Sun" which goes:
"All our lives we had fun,
we had seasons in the sun
But the stars we could reach
were just starfish on the beach."
In each of the essays in this book, Loren Eiseley makes us want to reach out and touch the things of the world, the fox in his den, the starfish on the beach, or the stars of the Milky Way which dance over our heads each night. That is the web of life as we humans spin it and climb around on it — every step we take vibrates the entire web.
In his essay "Science and the Sense of the Holy" Eiseley describes Sigmund Freud as raising childhood ghosts in a disguised fashion. (See passage, page 188 below.) This is clearly a reference to the triggering of doyles, those pre-five-year-old stored physical body states which comprise the underbelly of feelings, emotions, etc. Doyles may be seen exactly as "childhood ghosts arising in disguised fashion" because when they arise, the doyles are bereft of any cognitive component of memory, stored as they were before the child had a fully operational neocortex which as we know is the storage mechanism for cognitive memories. Thus stripped of any cognitive component of memory, doyles may be called disguised. Freud even referred to "childhood amnesia" for events before five and in this claim he was both right and wrong. His concept that we have no memory of that pre-five realm was right. He was wrong, however, in his claim that we forget cognitive memories of our life before five. The research of the nascent science of doyletics offers clear evidence that doylic memory is stored before five, but not cognitive memory. If Freud was referring to cognitive memory amnesia, he was wrong — you can’t forget a memory you never stored. If Freud was referring to those “childhood ghosts arising in disguised fashion” or doyles, he was right. These childhood ghosts will seem disguised until we trace them and create a cognitive memory as adults.
[page 188] He of all men recognized what one poet has termed "the terrible archaeology of the brain." Freud states that "nothing once constructed has perished, and all the earlier stages of development have survived alongside the latest." But for Freud, convinced that childhood made the man, adult reactions were apt to fall under the suspicion of being childhood ghosts raised up in a disguised fashion. Thus, insightful though he could be, the very nature of his study of man tended to generate distrust of that outgoing empathy we observed in the young Darwin. "I find it very difficult to work with these intangible qualities," confessed Freud. He was suspicious of their representing some lingering monster of childhood, even if reduced in size. Since Freud regarded any type of religious feeling — even the illuminative quality of the universe — as an illusion, feelings of awe before natural phenomena such as that manifested by Darwin were to him basically remnants of childhood and to be dismissed accordingly.
In the next two passages Eiseley discusses the fears of humankind today in his essay, “The Winter of Man.”
[page 202] "We fear," remarked an Eskimo shaman responding to a religious question from the explorer Knud Rasmussen some fifty years ago. "We fear the cold and the things we do not understand. But most of all we fear the doings of the heedless ones among ourselves."
What does it mean to be heedless? Probably the same as to be headless. To live without thinking — using one's freedom without thought or care for how one's actions impinges on others' lives and the derivatives of their lives. This, rightly understood, is the ultimate basis of immorality. Eiseley experiences fear, he senses it in the people around him, and shows us that no matter how much we learn to understand, we will still have the greatest fear of the old Eskimo shaman.
[page 205, 206] But surely we can counter that this old man was an ignorant remnant of the Ice Age, fearful of a nature he did not understand. Today we have science; we do not fear the Eskimo's malevolent ghosts. We do not wear amulets to ward off evil spirits. We have pierced to the far rim of the universe. We roam mentally through light-years of time.
Yes, this could be admitted, but we also fear. We fear more deeply than the old man in the snow. It comes to us, if we are honest, that perhaps nothing has changed the grip of winter in our hearts, that winter before which we cringed amidst the ice long ages ago.
For what is it that we do? We fear. We do not fear ghosts but we fear the ghost of ourselves. We have come now, in this time, to fear the water we drink, the air we breathe, the insecticides that are dusted over our giant fruits. Because of the substances we have poured into our contaminated rivers, we fear the food that comes to us from the sea. There are also those who tell us that by our own heedless acts the sea is dying.
We fear the awesome powers we have lifted out of nature and cannot return to her. We fear the weapons we have made, the hatreds we have engendered. We fear the crush of fanatic people to whom we readily sell these weapons. We fear for the value of the money in our pockets that stands symbolically for food and shelter. We fear the growing power of the state to take all these things from us. We fear to walk in our streets at evening. We have come to fear even our scientists and their gifts.
We fear, in short, as that self-sufficient Eskimo of the long night had never feared. Our minds, if not our clothes, are hung with invisible amulets: nostrums changed each year for our bodies whether it be chlorophyl toothpaste, the signs of astrology, or cold cures that do not cure: witchcraft nostrums for our society as it fractures into contending multitudes all crying for liberation without responsibility.
We fear, and never in this century will we cease to fear. We fear the end of man as that old shaman in the snow had never had cause to fear it. There is a winter still about us-the winter of man that has followed him relentlessly from the caverns and the ice. The old Eskimo spoke well. It is the winter of the heedless ones. We are in the winter. We have never left its breath.
Loren Eiseley was right: never in the twentieth century did we cease to fear. But this is a new century, a new millennium, and in this twenty-first century there is hope to erase fear. No one would be surprised if the children of two blond, blue-eyed parents would be also blond and blue-eyed. "Those physical body traits were acquired genetically from their parents," a scientist would say. In the twentieth century, scientists knew all about genetic acquisition and transmission of physical body traits. In the twenty-first century a new science has arrived which explains how physical body states are acquired and transmitted — the science of doyletics. It explains that doyles or physical body states can be acquired doylicly from one's parents. Genetic traits are transmitted from parents to child at conception when the chromosomes sort themselves into the fertilized egg. Doylic states are transmitted from that point on while the egg is maturing into a fetus in the womb, through birth, and through the age of five years old. Thus, any event in the individual's life from conception till five will be stored into doylic memory for later recapitulation.
In a family in which fear is ever present, the child will store the same fear states as its parents. It takes only one event to do the trick: just as only one fertilization of the egg is enough to transmit genetic traits, only one event is enough to transmit doylic states. With the science of genetics we are learning many ways to avoid and correct diseases of the body stored in the physical body traits. The science of genetics without this corrective aspects would be of little interest or use to humankind. With the science of doyletics we are learning many ways to avoid and correct diseases of the body stored in physical body states. One of these is fear which, with its concomitant discomfort or dis-ease, is certainly something one would wish to avoid.
Fear creates discomfort in the face of some situation and doubles the problem. Without the discomfort, one has all one's wits and resources available to confront, avoid, or correct the problem. With the presence of the discomfort caused by the acquired doyles of fear, one is handicapped and unable to provide a full human response to alleviation or amelioration of the problem. The science of doyletics provides a quick and easy method for amelioration called the speed trace. In a minute or two the doylic memory can be tracked down and converted into a cognitive with two salubrious results: the discomfort is gone and one may be able to remember original event.
Imagine a world in which the science of doyletics is taught in the grade schools of the world. Imagine a world in which children trace and erase onerous doyles as they grow and mature. Imagine a world run by those children when they become adults. Imagine the children they will in turn raise, free of unwanted doyles. This is the hope for the future of humankind which the nascent science of doyletics offers. It is a future that Eiseley would have earnestly desired.
Eiseley begins his essay "Thoreau's Vision of the Natural World" with this passage:
[page 222, 223] Somewhere in the coverts about Concord, a lynx was killed well over a century ago and examined by Henry David Thoreau; measured, in fact, and meditated upon from nose to tail. Others called it a Canadian lynx, far strayed from the northern wilds. No, insisted Thoreau positively, it is indigenous, indigenous but rare. It is a night haunter; it is a Concord lynx. On this he was adamant. Not long ago, over in Vermont, an intelligent college girl told me that, walking in the woods, her Labrador retriever had startled and been attacked by a Canadian lynx which she had been fully competent to recognize. I was too shy, however, to raise the question of whether the creature might have been, as Thoreau defiantly asserted, a genuine New England lynx, persisting but rare since colonial times.
Thoreau himself was a genuine Concord lynx. Of that there can be no doubt. We know the place of his birth, his rarity, something of his habits, his night travels, that he had, on occasion, a snarl transferred to paper, and that he frequented swamps, abandoned cellar holes, and woodlots. His temperament has been a subject of much uncertainty, as much, in truth, as the actual shape of those human figures which he was wont to examine looming in fogs or midsummer hazes. Thoreau sometimes had difficulty in seeing men or, by contrast, sometimes saw them too well. Others had difficulty in adjusting their vision to the Concord lynx himself, with the result that a varied and contentious literature has come down to us. Even the manner of his death is uncertain, for though the cause is known, some have maintained that he benefited a weak constitution by a rugged outdoor life. Others contend that he almost deliberately stoked the fires of consumption by prolonged exposure in inclement weather.
Thoreau cared neither for science nor literature Eiseley tells us, although paradoxically he fostered both in his writings and journals. It was the acculturated form of science and literature he abhorred and that is why he would not accompany Emerson to New York City to regale himself in its urbane society. Thoreau was a wild as the fox puppy that Eiseley rolled around on the ground with.
[page 224] He was a fox at the wood's edge, regarding human preoccupation with doubt. Indeed he had rejected an early invitation to join the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The man had never entertained illusions about the course of technological progress and the only message that he, like an Indian, had gotten from the telegraph was the song of the wind through its wires.
Thoreau, if alive today, would likely treat with equal disdain the invitations to join either the AARP or AAAS, no doubt feeling that either one contributes equally to the true cause of science. He would sorely miss the æolian harp, a musical instrument designed to be played by the movement of wind upon its strings, of the telegraph wires. And he would find to his chagrin that the sound of the railroad cars passing in the distance, which he loved, would be masked by the sounds of the Mass Pike's automobile traffic.
Thoreau was a great companion to have on a walk — if you weren't a hunter. If you were, you might find his hand on your arm.
[page 241] One man sees with indifference a leaf fall; another with the vision of Thoreau invokes the whole of that nostalgic world which we call autumn. One man sees a red fox running through a shaft of sunlight and lifts a rifle; another lays a restraining hand upon his companion's arm and say, "Please. There goes the last wild gaiety in the world. Let it live, let it run." This is the role of the alchemist, the true, if sometimes inarticulate artist. He transmutes the cricket's song in an autumn night to an aching void in the heart; snowflakes become the flying years.
Eiseley would likewise be a great companion for a walk, and lacking the chance to do that, this book is a great substitute. One can open the book anywhere and take a short walk with Eiseley and see the world through his eyes and his soaring imagination. He was a man of science and a man of the fine arts, and he writes well about both.
[page 273] Creation in science demands a high level of imaginative insight and intuitive perception. I believe no one would deny this, even though it exists in varying degrees, just as it does, similarly, among writers, musicians, or artists. The scientist's achievement, however, is quantitatively transmissible. From a single point his discovery is verifiable by other men who may then, on the basis of corresponding data, accept the innovation and elaborate upon it in the cumulative fashion which is one of the great triumphs of science.
Artistic creation, on the other hand, is unique. It cannot be twice discovered, as, say, natural selection was discovered. It may be imitated stylistically, in a genre, a school, but, save for a few items of technique, it is not cumulative. A successful work of art may set up reverberations and is, in this, just as transmissible as science, but there is a qualitative character about it. Each reverberation in another mind is unique. As the French novelist François Mauriac has remarked, each great novel is a separate and distinct world operating under its own laws with a flora and fauna totally its own. There is communication, or the work is a failure, but the communication releases our own visions, touches some highly personal chord in our own experience.
The process of evolution cannot be as simple or quantitatively determinable or transmissible as many other scientific achievements. The evolution of our cosmos is truly a great artistic creation and its artists operate with a palette of spiritual substance which we cannot quantify or measure. We humans can only measure where the icebergs of spiritual substance poke their tops out of the spiritual ocean of the cosmos into the chilly air of materiality. Any claim for a scientific theory for evolution, e.g., natural selection, which is based only upon measurement of the tops of the icebergs, will fall far short from providing an understanding of anything except the limited thoughts of the scientists who created the theory.
The same type of scientists who cherish natural selection would apply their scientific methods to the mystery of literature, and then for sure as Samuel Johnson declared, "wherever there is mystery, roguery is not far off." (Page 274) I find, however, no roguery in Loren Eiseley, but a genuine sense of holding the mystery of science and the mystery of literature equally sacred. His writing shows us that he would deride equally those who would profane the sacred halls of science and the sacred halls of literature.
Before we complete our short walk with Eiseley, let us listen to him one more time as he leaves us, not with a scientific proof, but with a final paradox.
[page 310, 311] I had turned to the young man who spoke those words as to one whose eye reached farther than the giant lens upon the mountain in my youth. Before us had seemed to stretch the infinite pathways of space down which, like the questing moth, it was henceforth man's doom to wander. But the void had become to me equally an interior void — the void of our own minds — a sea as infinite as the one before which I had been meditating.
Amidst the fall of waters on that desolate shore I watched briefly an exquisitely shaped jellyfish pumping its little umbrella sturdily along only to subside with the next wave on the strand. "Love makyth the lover and the living matters not," an old phrase came hesitantly to my lips. We would win, I thought steadily, if not in human guise then in another, for love was something that life in its infinite prodigality could afford. It was the failures who had always won, but by the time they won they had come to be called successes. This is the final paradox, which men call evolution.
---------------------------- Footnotes -----------------------------------------
Footnote 1. Excerpted from my review of Lilly on Dolphins: Lilly's book is full of data on the research done to convert "TV signals into radio signals" and attempts to interpret the resultant radio signals as human speech. When the researcher tried to teach the dolphins to speak human speech, what they got was the equivalent of a TV set learning to blink on and off with the rhythm of the word "hello." The dolphins with their extensive training had learned to mimic the sound "hello" by creating pictures in a sequence that the researcher interpreted as "hello" with their human ears and oscilloscope traces. The dolphins probably wondered why the humans didn't see the pictures they were speaking when they formed their mimic of "hello."Return to text directly before Footnote 1.
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