Posted on

Beautiful serendipity

I talk now and then about the pleasures of wandering in the library stacks, and about how there’s just not the same serendipity online, but living in a small town far from a university, it’s a long time since I have actually been in the stacks. But last weekend I went to see my daughter at the University of Vermont and we went to the library to get a book I couldn’t get through interlibrary loan (my mainstay, here in Great Barrington, now that the local library has been dragged into the digital age). We went straight to the third floor, thanks to a print-out I’d brought from home that even gave that information, and found the book I wanted, The Implementation of China’s Science and Technology Policy, straight away. It was published by Quorum Books in 1999 and was written by a Chinese scholar, YU Qiyu, whom I met in Beijing a couple years ago. I was curious about it after hearing his story of being transferred from teaching philosophy to promoting Chinese science and technology, largely because he had very good English. I found him a very sympathetic and thoughtful person and am glad that he was able to write something for the Encyclopedia of China.

But what else did I find on the same shelf? First, another monograph: China’s Science Policy in the the ’80s by Tony Saich, whom I had met at Harvard a few days before. Seeing a familiar name made me pull the book off the shelf. It’s is much earlier, 1989, and provides more background as I begin to plan our CHINA GREEN series. Then I saw a tiny russet cloth-bound book, the hardcover pocket size I love, with the intriguing title Nature and Life. It opens with this sentence, which I read to Rachel as we walked down the stairs: “Philosophy is the product of wonder.”

Publishing and writing are, for me, the product of wonder, and as I’ve got sustainability on my mind these days the subject of Alfred North Whitehead’s essay could not have been more appropriate. And these opening lines are worth considering, as we begin to build a publication and ongoing publishing project that will help to shape and organize a vital emerging subject:

Philosophy is the product of wonder. The effort after the general characterization of the world around us is the romance of human thought. The correct statement seems so easy, so obvious, and yet it is always eluding us. We inherit the traditional doctrine; we can detect the oversights, the superstitions, the rash generalization s of the past ages. we know so well what we mean and yet we remain so curiously uncertain about the formulation of any detail of our knowledge. This word “detail” lies at the heart of the whole difficulty. You cannot talk vaguely about Nature in general. We must fix upon details within Nature and discuss their essences and their types of interconnection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *