Familiar Complexity

From 2004, on John Forbes Nash from a posting to Humanist Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 220 picking up a thread from Re Humanist: 18.127 Nash’s hope. Bringing in proximity a biographical note and a reference to a book on complexity.

In reading this and re-reading your [Willard McCarty’s] comments on the unique value of wanderings, I recall back at the beginning of March 2004, John Bonnett [Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 693] recommend Alicia Juarrero‘s Dynamics in Action : Intentional Behaviour as a Complex System. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999) and wonder if in the case of Nash, Princeton didn’t serve as a strange attractor bringing him round and round to the sanity threshold which he eventually crossed again. See Sylvia Nasar’s biography of Nash in particular where basing herself on an interview with James Glass she argues “that, for Nash, Princeton functioned as a therapeutic community. It was quiet and safe; its lecture halls, libraries, and dining halls were open to him; its members were for the most part respectful; human contact was available, but not intrusive. Here he found what he so desperately wanted in Roanoke: safety, freedom, friends.”

And glossed that set of desiderata as “Sounds a bit like Humanist, for some of us out here.” Risqué but apt.

Three quotations about community and imagination are interwoven on the Humanist home page. They echo for me the “safety, freedom, friends” triad Nasar gleans from Glass.

«Communities are to be distinguished… by the style in which they are imagined.» «Collective imagining… takes shape through discursive engagement among interlocutors…. Discourse functions in this context not as a vehicle for transmitting information and beliefs but as a constitutive force.» «It takes some imagination and experience to know how to pose a question big enough, because this goes against all our training. Then, even after we have posed the problem as broadly as we know how, we always have to be aware that there is more out there that might overwhelm our theories and thwart our best intentions.» Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (rev. edn., 1991): 4; Robert Asen, “Imagining in the Public Sphere”, Philosophy and Rhetoric 35.4 (2002): 349; Richard Levins, “Strategies of abstraction”, Biology and Philosophy 21 (2006): 742

Constitutive forces at work via the tiny acts of communication. Engagement with the edge-wise.

And so for day 1250

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