Man of Action

In the mail yesterday came an envelope from my good friend Jess Kaplan, who is, due to his sharp and perpetually curious mind, a constant source of fascinating material. Inside was a printout of a lengthy essay, by one Arthur M. Young, on the subject of science and consciousness. I am embarrassed to say that I had not heard of the man, because when I looked him up I discovered him to be, quite obviously, one of the brighter lights of the twentieth century, a restless and productive polymath who, among other accomplishments, invented the magnificent Bell helicopter – a task he apparently set himself simply as an exercise for the training of his mind and the growth of his wisdom.

The essay in question is called Science, Spirit and the Soul, and in it Young, looking for the irreducible constituents of reality, zeroes in on the concept of action – not the Arnold Schwarzenegger kind, but the physicist’s kind: energy over time. This is the entity that the great Max Planck discovered to be what is “quantized” in Nature; that is to say, it is action alone that comes in indivisible units. I have just begun reading the essay myself, so won’t comment further just yet, but it appears that Young will be framing a theory in which this concept of action is key to the understanding of consciousness.

I’d be very happy if some of my thoughtful readers might take a look and would weigh in as well. Are any of you familiar with Mr. Young’s writings?

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  1. Bob Koepp says

    Glad to see you’re feeling ready to tackle the mysteries of existence!

    I remeber reading Young’s “The Reflexive Universe” shortly after it appeared. I thought it provocative, but very loosely argued. Young’s style of thinking reminded me strongly of classical neo-platonism, with lots of emanations fillilng explanatory gaps. I was also reminded of Bucky Fuller’s style of thinking. Maybe a background in engineering leaves a telltale stamp on creative minds.

    Posted April 5, 2006 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Bob,

    Yes, that’s my initial impression as well (I started reading the piece late last night, and haven’t finished it yet) – imaginative, creative, but full of flat declarations (or, as you say, “emanations” – I like that) with scant underpinning. He has some interesting ideas about scale, though, that could form a bridge between Western science and esoteric systems. Did you read this essay?

    Posted April 5, 2006 at 9:36 am | Permalink
  3. Nick N. says

    I read “The Geometry of Meaning” back in the late 70’s, and was quite impressed. I’ve been meaning to investigate further ever since.
    I’ve felt for a long time than engineering experience helps keep philosophers rooted in reality. Real world testing is much more efficient at revealing hidden assumptions than any amount of learned discussion.
    Bell is one of the people who stated out with engineering, and got into stranger stuff as he got older. Tesla was a more extreme example of this. Tesla was generally thought to be insane at the end of his life. Bell was certainly getting off the beaten track, but possibly in the right direction.

    Posted April 5, 2006 at 10:14 am | Permalink
  4. Bob Koepp says

    Malcolm –
    I’ve only skimmed the essay for which you provided a link, but it seems to echo themes from other of Young’s writings. I too liked how he brought considerations of scale into the discussion, and I remember being impressed with how he appealed to engineering constraints when speculating about organic evolution. Whether the theses Young champions prove to be right is of less interest to me than whether he can stimulate novel thoughts. He does very well at the latter, I think.

    Posted April 5, 2006 at 10:51 am | Permalink