My aunt is convinced I have a ``flair for research.'' This is not true. If I had a flair for research, I would be doing research. Actually, I'm not very smart. My grades were average. My mother and my aunt think I am smart because I am quiet and absent-minded-- and because my father and grandfather were smart. They think I was meant to do research because I am not fit to do anything else-- I am a genius whom ordinary professions can't satisfy. I tried research one summer. I got interested in the role of the acid-base balance in the formation of renal calculi; really, it's quite and intersting problem. I had a hunch you might get pigs to form oxalate stones by manipulating the pH of the blood, and maybe even dissolve them. A friend of mine, a boy from Pittsburg named Harry Stern, and I read up the literature and presented the problem to [Dr.] Minor. He was enthusiastic, gave us everything we wanted and turned us loose for the summer. But then a peculiar thing happened. I became extraordinarily affected by the summer afternoons in the laboratory. The August sunlight came streaming across the room. The old building ticked and creaked in the heat. Outside we could hear the cries of summer students playing touch football. In the course of an afternoon the yellow sunlight moved across old group pictures of the biology faculty. I became bewitched by the presence of the building; for minutes at a stretch I sat on the floor and watched motes rise and fall in the sunlight. I called Harry's attention to the presence but he shrugged and went on with his work. He was absolutely unaffected by the singularities of time and place. His abode was anywhere. It was all the same to him whether he catheterized a pig at four o'clock in the afternoon in New Orleans or at midnight in Transylvania. He was actually like one of those scientists in the movies who don't care about anything but the problem in their heads-- now here is a fellow who does have a ``flair for research'' and will be heard from. Yet I do not envy him. I would not change places with him if he discovered the cause and cure of cancer. For he is no more aware of the mystery which surrounds him than a fish is aware of the water it swims in. He could do research for a thousand years and never have an inkling of it. By the middle of August I could not see what difference it made whether the pigs got kidney stones or not (they didn't incidentally), compared to the mystery of those summer afternoons. I asked Harry if he would excuse me. He was glad enough to, since I was not much use to him sitting on the floor. I moved down to the Quarter where I spent the rest of the vacation in quest of the spirit of summer and in the company of an attractive and confused girl from Bennington who fancied herself a poet.
Until recent years, I read only ``fundamental'' books, that is, key books on key subjects, such as War and Peace, the novel of novels; A Study of History, the solution of the problem of time; Schroedinger's What is Life?, Einstein's The Universe as I see It, and such. During those years I stood outside the universe and sought to understand it. I lived in my room as an Anyone living Anywhere and read fundamental books and only for diversion took walks around the neighborhood and saw an occasional movie. Certtainly it did not matter to me where I was when I read such a book as The Expanding Universe. The greatest success of this enterprise, which I call my vertical search, came one noght when I sat in a hotel room in Birmingham and read a book called The Chemistry of Life. When I finished it, it seemed to me that the main goals of my search were reached or were in principle reachable, whereupon I went out and saw a movie called It Happened One Night which was itself very good. A memorable night. The only difficulty was that though the universe had been disposed of, I myself was left over. There I lay in my hotel room with my search over yet still obliged to draw one breath and then the next. But now I have undertaken a different kind of search, a horizontal search. As a consequence, what takes place in my room is less important. What is important is what I shall find when I leave my room and wander in the neighborhood. Before, I wandered as a diversion. Now I wander seriously and sit and read as a diversion.
Starting point for search:
It no longer avails to start with creatures and prove God.
Yet it is impossible to rule God out.
The only possible starting point: the strange fact of one's own invincible apathy-- that if the proofs were proved and God presented himself, nothing would be changed. Here is the strangest fact of all.
Abraham saw signs of God and believed. Now the only sign is that all the signs in the world make no difference. Is this God's ironic revenge? But I am onto him.
(pp. 163-164), emphasis added for clarity:
Question: Why does it make scientists uneasy that it appears to be the case that Homo sapiens sapiens, a conscious languaged creature, appeared suddenly and lately-- when scientists profess to be interested in what is the case, that is, the evidence?
- Because scientists are understandably repelled by the theory of the special creation of man by God, in Biblical time, say 6004 B.C. at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday morning.
- Because scientists find it natural to deal with matter in interaction and with energy exchanges and don't know what to make of such things as consciousness, self, symbols and even sometimes deny that there are such things, even though they, the scientists, act for all the world as if they were conscious selves and spend their lives transacting with symbols.
- Because scientists are uneasy with discontinuities, even when there is evidence of such discontinuity in the appearance of man in all his contrarieties. Revealed religion has its dogmas, e.g., thou shalt not kill. But so does science: thou shalt not tolerate discontinuities. The question is which is the more entitled.
- Because scientists in the practice of the scientific method, a non-radical [radical = `to the root'] knowledge of matter in interaction, often are not content with the non-radicalness of the scientific method and hence find themselves located in a posture of covert transcendence of their data, which is by the same motion assigned to the sphere of immanence. Hence, scientists operate in the very sphere of transcendence with is not provided for in science. Given such a posture, it is not merely an offense if a discontinuity turns up in the sphere of immanence, the data, but especially if the discontinuity seems to allow for the intervention of God. A god is already present. A scientist is god to his data. And if there is anything more offensive to him that the suggestion of the existence of God, it is the existence of two gods.