Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I recall reading a non-political essay by Noam Chomsky about rationalism and science nearly a decade ago wherein he discussed the limits of scientific understanding. His prime example was the structure and function of the human eye, and he was rather eloquent in his discussion of how scientists could describe the structure and explain the roles of many more pieces of the eye now than could Descartes four hundred years ago, but that our actual understanding of how the eye works or how it is formed is no greater than Descartes' despite our advances.

In other words: we know what pieces are associated with what functions more clearly than old Rene, but still nobody knows really how the eye works or how it was formed despite a lot of specialized research and confident claims to the contrary. Chomsky went on to say that this description of function was true of almost all science. We observe until we can describe better, but describing is not true understanding. I thought that perhaps the old atheist and advocate of Enlightenment values had gone religious--it sounded to me like he was calling the eye a miracle.

I won't even bother describing Bolano's magnificent novel. Somehow, like the eye, it captures everything and translates it all into my brain in curious and refreshing ways. I haven't had this much fun reading a fat book since the first time I dove into A Confederacy of Dunces. I can't wait to tackle 2666 sometime this year.

And I don't share Noam's hesitation: The Savage Detectives is a miracle.

1 comment:

Earth Dragon said...

A very clever and eloquent post! Your blog keeps me enlightened and informed -- do not stop.

I read "Dunces" many years ago. I absolutely hated every word of it. Others, more enlightened than I, continue to make references to it and praise it. I didn't / don't get it.

Can you help me understand?