Friday, August 15, 2014

It’s Becoming

Portrait of Hegel by Jakob Schlesinger
What the mathematician John Allen Paulos (Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences) doesn’t take into consideration in his recent Science Times piece “The Advanced Metrics of Attraction” (NYT, 7/14/14) is the power of non-existence. Taking inspiration from Alain de Botton (How Proust Can Change Your Life), who has apparently been opining on crushes, Paulos attempts to accommodate Nobel prize economist Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and Baye’s theorem, which he describes as “a mathematical proposition that tells us how to update our estimates of people, events and situations in the light of new evidence." Paulos quotes Kahneman in describing two kinds of thinking, System I which is “fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic and subconscious” and System 2 which is “slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating and conscious.” But actually the kind of crushes that have you falling in love with women or men who you’ve seen through a crack in a blind, or at the moment the doors of a subway car are closing are the essence of the romantic agony. Young Werther knew all about such infatuation, which really represents the triumph of imagination over reality. How can something which is known all too well and is defined by its finitude compare with that which has yet to be and which represents infinite possibility? Intuitive versus logical learning and statistics aside, doesn’t the truth about love really go back to metaphysics? Hegel had it right when he distinguished between being and becoming. And when it comes to passion being is always going to play second fiddle to that which has yet to be.

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