Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Signficant Sentences 10.

Significant sentences from Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower, a collection of Eiseley's essays on nature and humanity's relationship to it.

Title of Essay: "The Star Thrower."

"Death is the only successful collector." p. 172.

"...there is little or nothing that remains unmeasured: nothing, that it, but the mind of man." p. 174.

"Our identity is a dream." p. 175.

"We are process, not reality...." p. 175.

"The power to change is both creative and destructive."

"They [the evolutionists] saw life rushing outward from an unknown center, just as today the astronomer senses the galaxies fleeing into the infinity of darkness." p. 177.

" increasingly revenged themselves upon their creators...." p. 178.

"Man's powers were finite; the forces he had released in nature recognized no such limitations. The irrevocable monsters conjured up by a completely amateur sorcerer." p. 170.

"I love the lost ones, the failures of the world." p. 182.

"Man is...a tale of desolations." p. 183.

"The Thrower who loved not man, but life." p. 185.

"Somewhere, my thought persisted, there is a hurler of stars, and he walks, because he chooses, always in desolation, but not in defeat." p. 185.

Reflections: The star thrower is a man who walks the beaches at dawn, picks up the beached star fish and hurls them back into the ocean, restoring them to life. This belief in life is in stark contrast to man who has unleashed and hurled his tools, his powers of destruction, into the world.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Significant Sentences 09

Significant sentences from Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower, a collection of Eiseley's essays on nature and humanity's relationship to it.

Title of Essay: "The Last Neanderthal"

"The receptive mind makes all the difference...." p. 129.

"The place was one where only a student of desolation would find cause to linger." p. 139.

"The creatures had a tangential way of darting off to the side like inconsequential thoughts that never paused long enough to be fully apprehended." p. 141.

"Say to the mind, 'Hold him, do not forget.' " p. 142.

"...the sheer organizing power of animal and plant metabolism is...most remarkable, but, as in the case of most everyday marvels, we take it for granted." p. 142.

"Without knowledge of the past, the way into the thickets of the future is desperate and unclear." p. 150.

Reflections by RayS: In discovering the marvels of everyday experience, "the receptive mind makes all the difference."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Significant Sentences 08.

Significant sentences from Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower, a collection of Eiseley's essays on nature and humanity's relationship to it.

Title of story: "The Fifth Planet."

Summary of story: an amateur astronomer has been led to believe that between Mars and Jupiter there had been a fifth planet that had been blown to bits and that meteors from it were hitting Earth. He kept studying these meteors, hoping to find fossils which would prove life was "out there." But, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he no longer cares whether he finds evidence of life on that fifth planet. He concludes that that planet, if life existed on it, probably met the fate that this planet inevitably must--blown to bits by our own technology.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Significant Sentences 07.

Significant sentences from Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower, a collection of Eiseley's essays on nature and humanity's relationship to it.

Title of the Essay: "The Hidden Teacher."

"Sometimes the best teacher teaches only once to a small child or to a grownup past hope." p. 116.

"...I once received an unexpected lesson from a spider." p. 177.

"And war it has been indeed--the long war of life against its inhospitable environment, a war that has lasted for perhaps three billion years." p. 118.

"The student of fossil life would be forced to tell us that if we take the past into consideration the vast majority of earth's creatures--perhaps over 90 percent--have vanished." p. 118.

"The specialized perish with the environment that created them." p. 119.

"...there had at last emerged a creature with a specialization--the brain--that, paradoxically, offered escape from specialization." p. 119.

"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." p. 119.

"Is man at heart any different from the spider?" p. 120.

"What is it we are part of that we do not see, as the spider was not gifted to discern my face, or my little probe into her world?" p. 120.

"But beyond lies the great darkness of the ultimate Dreamer, who dreamed the light and the galaxies." p. 120.

"He [man] came because he is at heart a listener and a searcher...." p. 121.

"Nature teaches, though what it teaches is often hidden and obscure." p. 121.

"Civilizations...are transmitted from one generation to another in invisible puffs of air known as words...." p. 123.

"Like a mutation, an idea may be recorded in the wrong time, to lie latent like a recessive gene and spring once more to life in an auspicious era." p. 124.

"Upon this world, life is still young, not truly old as stars are measured." p. 124.

"It has been said that great art is the night thought of man." p. 126.

" knowledge we may grow beyond our past, our follies, and ever closer to what the Dreamer in the dark intended." p. 128.

"In the pages of an old book it has been written that we are in the hands of a Teacher, nor does it yet appear what man shall be." p. 128.

Reflections: This essay is almost mystical in its reach into the world beyond man, to the "Dreamer" who set the universe in motion, the hidden Teacher who is leading humanity to what it can be. The theme is a familiar one for Eiseley, who believes that man is evolving, that he is not in his final form, that he can become something better, and in this essay, he is suggesting that the universe, nature and its origin, the "Dreamer," are all hidden teachers showing us the way. What is it that we do not see, just as the spider did not see Eiseley who intervened in his web to help? Man, says Eiseley, is growing, improving, led by the "hidden teachers."

A hopeful thought for all of us pessimists out here, who watch "Action News" each night where, "if it bleeds, it leads," becomes the lead story for the night--murder, drugs, rape, fire and the general mayhem of man's inhumanity to man and beast.

Why read books? We need the hopeful ideas of people like Loren Eiseley.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Significant Sentences 06.

Significant sentences from Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower, a collection of Eiseley's essays on nature and humanity's relationship to it.

Title of the essay: "Easter: the Isle of Faces"

"Ascending ape or fallen angel--man would have to make his choice." p. 99.

"Either man had slowly and painfully made his way upward through the ages while his mind and his body changed, or, on the other hand, the crude remnants of early cultures found in the earth were those of a creature fallen from a state of grace, fallen from divine inspiration--a creature possessing no memory of his great past and dwelling barbarically amid the fallen monuments of his predecessors." p. 99.

"Indeed, at the edge of the world perhaps there was nothing further he could do." p. 104.

"Man has always been a builder. Perhaps he has built best in loneliness." p. 105.

"...the inscrutable stylized faces...." p. 105.

"No tears are marked upon the faces....." 105.

"...the faces are formless, nameless; they represent no living style...are therefore all men and no man and they stare indifferently upon that rolling waste which has seen man come and will see him fade once more into the primal elements from which he came." p. 105.

Reflections by RayS: Eiseley reflects on the meaning of the huge faces on Easter Island. What do those faces say about humanity? All of Eiseley's ideas are thought-provoking, but one idea stands out on the meaning of man: "ascending ape" or "fallen angel"? Man must make his choice.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Significant Sentences 05.

Significant sentences from Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower, a collection of Eiseley's essays on nature.

The following ideas come from a series of essays:

"A little while ago--about one hundred million years, as the geologist estimated time in the history of our four-billion-year-old planet...." p. 67.

"There is something particularly in a spider monkey's tail, that is too bold and purposeful to be easily called the product of simple chance." p. 81.

"At least it may cause the true philosopher to pause hesitantly and ponder before he dismisses the universe as totally a world of chance." p. 81.

"Sometimes of late years I find myself thinking the most beautiful sight in the world might be the birds taking over New York after the last man has run away to the hills." p. 88.

"...on the other hand the machine does not bleed, ache, hang for hours in the empty sky in a torment of hope to learn the fate of another machine, nor does it cry out with joy nor dance in the air with the fierce passion of a bird." [From a beautiful essay, "The Birds and the Machine," in which an injured hawk recuperates in an old barn while its mate circles and circles, wondering what is happening, and then migrates for the winter. When the mate returns, the injured hawk is ready to rejoin it and their joyous reactions on being reunited reveal the differences between a machine and a living thing.]

"I was the only man in the world who saw him do it. Everybody else was hurrying." p. 92.

"God knows how many things a man misses by becoming smug and assuming that matters will take their natural course." p. 93.

"As it was, I had just one sleepy eye half open, and it was through that that I saw the end of humanity." p. 93.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Significant Sentences 04.

Significant sentences from Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower, a collection of Eiseley's essays on nature.

Title of Essay: "The Innocent Fox."

"Some men are daylight readers, who peruse the ambiguous wording of clouds or the individual letter shapes of wandering birds." p. 53.

"As adults we are preoccupied with living. As a consequence, we see little." p. 54.

"I was a man trapped in the despair once alluded to as the utterly hopeless fear confined to moderns--that no miracles can ever happen." p. 55.

"The only thing that characterizes a miracle, to my mind, is its sudden appearance and disappearance within the natural order, although strangely, this loose definition would include each individual person." p. 57.

"Though I was his son he knew me only as one lamp is briefly lit from another in the windy night." p. 61.

"...the wide-eyed, innocent fox inviting me to play, with the innate courtesy of its two forepaws placed appealingly together, along with a mock shake of the head." p. 64.

"It was not a time for human dignity." p. 64.

"...but as Thoreau once remarked of some peculiar errand of his own, there is no use reporting it to the Royal Society." p. 65.

Reflection: If we are not looking for them, miracles occur in nature. This essay reports on the almost human contact between a naive fox and the author who communicate to each other the spirit of play and the joy in living. But there is no use in writing about that miracle to organizations like the National Science Foundation, which are interested only in analyzing nature to control it. Eiseley celebrates the beauty and complex existence of nature as it is. The difference is between a scientist and a naturalist, between the student who dissects a frog and a student who enjoys the magic of their summer chorus.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Significant Sentences 03.

Significant sentences from Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower, a collection of Eiseley's essays on nature.

Title of the Essay: "Man the Firemaker."

"Man is himself a consuming fire." p. 45.

"Fire was the magic that opened the way for the supremacy of Homo sapiens." p. 47.

"Man is himself a flame." p. 49.

"Man is also Homo duplex...partakes of evil and of good, of god and of man." p. 51.

"Homo duplex must learn that knowledge without greatness of spirit is not enough...or there will remain only his calcined cities and the little charcoal of his bones." p. 52.

Reflections: Man, the firemaker, is himself a flame--the human spirit--that must grow to greatness or all that will remain of civilization will be charcoal from the nuclear cataclysm. We do not take the existence of nuclear arsenals seriously enough.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Significant Sentences 02

Significant sentences from Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower, a collection of Eiseley's essays on nature.

Title of Essay: "The Long Loneliness."

"There is nothing more alone in the universe than man." p. 37.

"Only in acts of inarticulate compassion, in rare and hidden moments of communion with nature, does man briefly escape his solitary destiny." p. 37.

" is so locked in his own type of intelligence--an intelligence that is linked to a prehensile, grasping hand giving him power over his environment...." p. 38.

"Unless we are specialists in the study of communication and its relation to intelligence, however, we are apt to oversimplify or define poorly what intelligence is, what communication and language are and thus confuse and mystify both ourselves and others." p. 39.

"Man without writing cannot long retain his history in his head." p. 41.

"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." p. 41.

"Only the poet who writes speaks his message across the millennia to other hearts." p. 41.

"It is difficult for us to visualize another kind of lonely, almost disembodied intelligence floating in the wavering green fairyland of the sea--an intelligence possibly near or comparable to our own but without hands to build, to transmit knowledge by writing, or to alter by one hairsbreadth the planet's surface." p. 43.

"If man had sacrificed his hands for flukes, the moral might run, he would still be a philosopher, but there would have been taken from him the devastating power to wreak his thought upon the body of the world." p. 43.

"It is worth at least a wistful thought that someday the porpoise may talk to us and we to him." p. 44.

Reflections: There may be intelligences in nature comparable to our own, but without the opposable thumb that enables man to control his environment. Some day we might be able to communicate with those intelligences. The porpoise is a possibility. Ray S.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley. Significant Sentences 01

Significant sentences from Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower, a collection of Eiseley's memorable essays on nature.

Introduction: From the first essay by Eiseley that I ever read, I have been a fan of his. Although he is a scientist, to be exact, a paleontologist, he is thoughtful writer who translates his scientific knowledge into plain English for the average non-science reader. However, he puzzles over what he finds in nature and, in reflecting on it, he uses language that is cryptic. Like Emerson, he seems to write through the individual sentence, although the essays are understandable as a whole. But whether one reads his sentences individually, or his whole essays, the reader concludes by thinking beyond his ideas, almost as if he has left sentence and essay unfinished for the reader to complete.

He believes that evolution offers hope for human beings, that we will gradually improve human nature. I hope he is right. What I like most about Eiseley is his respect for all living and non-living things in nature and the wonderful interaction they provide for us. He is gone now. But God bless Loren Eiseley for the joy in living that he has communicated to us in recording and publishing his ideas.

Time Line

Loren Corey Eiseley. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, September 3, 1907. Died, July 9, 1977.
B.A. in anthropology and English, University of Nebraska, 1933.
Doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, 1937.
Taught at the University of Kansas, Oberlin College and the University of Pennsylvania.
Named Curator of Early Man at the University Museum in 1948.
Married to Mabel, 1938.
Appointed Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, 1959.

Books by Loren Eiseley

All the Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life. 1975.
The Brown Wasps (private edition). 1969.
Darwin's Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered it. 1958.
Francis Bacon and the Modern Dilemma. 1962.
The Firmament of Time. 1960.
The Innocent Assassins. 1973 (Poetry).
The Immense Journey. 1957.
The Invisible Pyramid. 1970.
The Mind as Nature. 1962.
The Man Who Saw Through Time. 1973.
Man, Time and Prophecy. 1966.
Notes of an Alchemist. 1972 (Poetry).
The Night Country. 1971.
The Unexpected Universe. 1969.

Essay: "The Judgment of Birds"

"The world, I have come to believe, is a very queer place, but we have been part of this queerness for so long that we tend to take it for granted." p. 27.

"...those who have retained a true taste for the marvelous, and who are capable of discerning in the flow of ordinary events the point at which the mundane world gives way to quite another dimension." p. 28.

" any city there are true wildernesses where man can be alone." p. 28.

"It is knowledge, however, that is better kept to oneself." p. 29.

"Eventually darkness and subtleties would ring me round once more." p. 34.

"...a kind of heroism, a world where even a spider refuses to lie down and die if a rope can still be spun to a star [a lighted lamppost]." p. 35.

"It was better, I decided, for the emissaries returning from the record their marvel, not to define its meaning." p. 36.

Reflections: Miracles exist in this world, but we are so used to the world, we do not see them. Those miracles exist in nature--the struggle of a spider to stay alive in the cold by weaving a web to the light of a lamp. But, given people's responses to our appreciation of these miracles, perhaps it is better that they be left unsaid. RayS.

Note from RayS: You can tell, I am sure, that one of the characteristics of Eiseley's writing is that he is cryptic. You have to read the complete essay to understand the context of some of his remarks. Even with this context, however, you will to puzzle over many of his sentences. Without that context, the ideas are still worth thinking about.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Minority Report. HL Mencken. Significant Sentences 14. Conclusion.

Significant sentences from HL Mencken's Minority Report, acerbic thoughts on American life and culture.

"The most steadily attractive of all human qualities is competence...good at his trade...understands its technique thoroughly...surmounts its difficulties with ease...." p. 224.

"Like all other forms of theology, Communism runs aground on the fact that there are frequent bitter rows between different factions of its prophets." p. 225.

"The one thing common to all prophets is their belief in their own infallibility." p. 226.

"I know a great many more people than most men, and in wider and more diverse circles, yet my life is essentially one of isolation, and so is that of every other man; we not only have to die alone, we also...have to live alone." p. 228.

"It is difficult to imagine anyone having any real hopes for the human race in the face of the fact that the great majority of men still believe that the universe is run by a gaseous vertebrate of astronomical heft and girth, who is nevertheless interested in the minutest details of the private conduct of even the meanest men." p. 233.

"The essence of the superior man is that he is free of ...envy." p. 233.

"When I hear a man applauded by the mob I always feel a pang of pity for him; all he has to do to be hissed is to live long enough." p. 234.

"The mob always stones those it has worshipped." p. 234.

"The good humor of the American Negro is largely founded on cynicism." p. 234.

" atmosphere and a heritage--say that of the Renaissance or that of the pre-Revolutionary eighteenth century. p, 239.

"The work of the world, in all departments, is chiefly done by bunglers." p. 240.

"Very few generals are fit to be trusted with the lives of their troops, very few medical men are expert at diagnosis and treatment, and very few pedagogues really know anything about the things they presume to teach." p. 240.

"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it." p. 247.

"Power is what all messiahs really seek: not the chance to serve." p. 247.

"It is often argued that religion is valuable because it makes men good, but even of this were true it would not be a proof that religion is true.... Santa Claus makes children good in precisely the same way, and yet no one would argue seriously that that fact proves his existence." p. 249.

"...religions for which multitudes of honest men have fought and died are false, wicked and against God." p. 250.

"Perhaps the most revolting character that the United States ever produced was the business man who fought to the end against any approach to rational and humane dealing with labor." p. 250.

"The psychology of the bore deserves a great deal more sober study than it has got." p. 266.

"A bore is simply a nonentity who resents his humble lot in life, and seeks satisfaction for his wounded ego in forcing himself upon his betters." p. 267.

"According to American theory, all power is in the hands of the plain people, and according to American legend they always exercise it wisely.... In fact the plain people can only exert their power through agents, and in the election of these agents they seldom face a clear choice between a good candidate and a bad one, or a wise idea and a foolish one." p. 283.

"Everything considered, perhaps the best job in Christendom today is that of a bishop. Secular functionaries are exposed to the whims of mobs, but a bishop, once consecrated, is almost bullet-proof. If he dislikes anyone, all he has to do is to excommunicate him." p. 286.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Minority Report. HL Mencken. Significant Sentences 13.

Significant sentences from HL Mencken's Minority Report, acerbic thoughts o American life and culture.

"Artists can seldom account for their own work...." p. 188.

"The process of creation is only partly intellectual; the rest of it seems to be based on instinct rather than on idea." p. 188.

"One of the things that makes a Negro unpleasant to white folk is the fact that he suffers from their injustice." p. 189.

"Every man is intrinsically anti-social." p. 191.

G.K. Chesterton's method: "...four-fifths of his essays start off by citing something that is generally believed and then seeks to demolish it...." p. 194.

"People crave certainties in this world and are hostile to 'ifs' and 'buts.' " p. 199.

James I of England in 1621: "I will govern according to the common weal, but not according to the common will." p. 203.

"It is not materialism that is the chief curse of the world...but idealism." p. 211.

Abraham Lincoln, Peoria Speech, Oct. 16, 1854: "No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent." p. 215.

"In every 100 of the men composing the government there are two who are honest and intelligent, ten obvious scoundrels and 88 poor fish." p. 221.

"The men who fought for self-determination at Gettysburg were not the federals but the Confederates." p. 233.

"The so-called philosophy of India has found its natural home in Los Angeles, the capital of American idiots." p. 224.