Saturday, May 14, 2011

Philip Trower's Books

I consider myself learned, not necessarily wise, because most, very likely all, of my good ideas came from somewhere or someone else, or from thinking about things that I learned from somewhere or someone else. (Wasn't it our favorite fat friar who said that anything in the intellect is first in the senses?)

A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Philip Trower's book The Catholic Church and the Counter-Faith, and I found it really good, and I like it a lot, because Trower manages to pull together lots of scattered scraps I picked up over the years, make a coherent whole out of them, and point me toward a need for more study and better understanding of the scraps.

For instance, one of my favorite sentences from that book is this:
"After Descartes had philosophically shut men up inside their minds, the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) redecorated the prison's interior, the Scot David Hume (1711-1776) locked the door and the Prussian Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) threw away the key." (p.73)

I read a little Descartes in college (philosophy, not math; how could such a great mathematician be such a lousy philosopher?) and I think I've dabbled a bit in Locke, Hume, and Kant (getting old, can't really remember); but the thing is that if I want to really understand Trower's statement, all I have to do is pick up these men's books and read them.

So the other day in the mail I finally got my hands on a copy of Trower's book Turmoil and Truth, and just a few minutes ago stumbled across another of his gems which exactly describes my experience with the world of learning (whether it's higher mathematics or growing flowers):

"One of the chief hazards for scholars of every kind is 'not being able to see the forest for the trees.'
"When we look at any of the things God has created, perhaps the most striking thing about them is the contrast between their simplicity and intelligibility when taken as a whole, and their complexity and obscurity when examined in detail. That is why there are biologists who cannot see any essential difference between men and animals, and ordinary folk who can. Peering at the details produces a kind of myopia about the whole." (p.54)

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