Our natural curiosity, underlain with humility, leads us to seek knowledge – not to claim to own it.
- Blest are they who hunger and thirst for holiness; they shall have their fill. [The Bible, Matthew 5:6.]
Wondering is the first step toward inquisitiveness; it is the beginning of the religious quest before it springs into action. Curiosity is a middle stage, moving toward the pursuit of knowledge. Inquisitiveness, or the seeking of knowledge, is the third step, like launching the boat that represents the religious quest – the search for knowledge and meaning.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Stuart Firestein, Ignorance: How It Drives Science (Oxford University Press, 2012): a new look at how ignorance drives scientific inquiry.
- Edward Dolnick, The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2011): “Newton was a finicky, neurotic, off-scale brilliant character who seemed able to hold a problem in his mind, neither sleeping nor eating, ‘thinking on it continually,’ he said, until he’d solved it.”
- Daisy Dunn, The Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny (Liveright, 2019): “It was his insatiable curiosity that got him killed. When Mount Vesuviuserupted in A.D. 79, he and his 17-year-old nephew were at Misenum, about 30 miles away, where the elder Pliny was in charge of the imperial fleet. Fascinated by a strange cloud that had suddenly appeared on the horizon, he decided to sail closer and investigate, but what began as a scientific expedition quickly turned into a rescue mission.”
From the dark side: seeking knowledge in ways that are not useful
- Graciela Mochkofsky, Prophet of the Andes: An Unlikely Journey to the Promised Land (Knopf, 2022): “The man at its center, Segundo Villanueva, spent a lifetime in study, reading and arguing about the Bible, forever hoping to discern the authentic voice of God. His desire to uncover the truth — a truth that he believed had been obscured by centuries of misinterpretation and guarded by worldly, corrupt men of the cloth — is in some ways reminiscent of the cultural conspiracies that roil our contemporary politics. Where knowledge seems to be hidden, men will drive themselves mad trying to find it.”
- Fergus Kerr, Thomas Aquinas: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2009): a biography of a leading intellectual who studied, justified and promoted fantasies, presuming that they were facts
- Reamde: A Novel (HarperCollins Publishers, 2011): "a book-shaped IV bag from which plot flows."
- Anathem: A Novel (William Morrow, 2008).
- Odalisque (Harper Torch, 2006).
- Interface: A Novel (Spectra, 2005) [co-authored by J. Frederick George]
- The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Volume III) (William Morrow, 2005).
- The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, Volume II) (William Morrow, 2005).
- Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Volume I) (William Morrow, 2004).
- Cryptonomicon (Avon, 2002).
- Snow Crash (Turtleback 2000).
- The Diamond Age, or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Spectra, 1995).
Works by other authors:
- Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things: A Novel (Viking, 2013): a novel about a 19th-century botanist “whose hunger for explanations carries her through the better part of Darwin’s century . . . a story of the Enlightenment, when people first thought to look to the natural world for life’s explanations . . .”
- Gustave Courbet, The White Sail (1877)
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Intermittently meditative and active, intermittently serious and joyful, César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, M 48 (1888) (approx. 36-44 minutes), expresses a core idea in Humanism. “. . . the listener who surrenders to the emotional elements in Franck’s music is drawn into a universe of yearning and questing, of searching and seeking.” Top audio recordings are conducted by Mengelberg in 1940, Furtwängler in 1945 , Munch in 1956, Beecham in 1959, Paray in 1959, Monteux in 1961, Maazel in 1961, Ormandy in 1961, Stokowski in 1970, Bernstein in 1981, Dutoit in 1990.
Claude Debussy, Jeux (Poème Dansé), L. 126 (1912) (approx. 16-19’), is an orchestral work and ballet, ostensibly about a simple subject matter but mysterious musically and obscure in meaning. Debussy described it as follows: “There is a park, a tennis court; there is a chance meeting of two girls and a young man seeking a lost ball; a nocturnal landscape, and a suggestion of something sinister in the darkening shadows.” The scenario for the ballet specifies: “The artificial light of the large electric lamps suggests the idea of childish play: they play hide and seek, they quarrel. The night is warm, the sky bathed in a pale light; they embrace. This spell is broken when another tennis ball mysteriously appears. Surprised and alarmed, the young man and the girls disappear into the nocturnal depths of the garden.” Watching the ballet, we see the young man being intrigued by the two young women. Top performances are conducted by Haitink in 1979, Boulez in 1994, Nott in 2018, and de Sabata in 1947.
- Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 2, Op. 31, “Copernican” (1972) (approx. 36’): “. . . in writing a work to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Poland’s greatest astronomer, Górecki composed an apocalyptic, fatalistic, contemplative solar system, in which giant slabs of sound orbit one another like planets.” “Its essential musical idea is heard immediately in great 'megalithic' blocks of tutti, which dazzle with their concentration and openness of musical expression.”
- Franz Schubert, String Quartet No. 9 in G minor, D 173 (1815) (approx. 24-25’): “. . . notice the adventurous and freewheeling modulation between keys. Listen to the way the first movement’s brief development section pulls us, suddenly, into a terrifying new world of haunting mystery.”
- György Kurtág, Kafka Fragments (Kafka-Fragmente), Op. 24 (1986) (approx. 52-61’), “centers on the archetypal theme of wandering, the seeking of a path that remains profoundly elusive. Certain of the trenchant texts extracted by Kurtág from Kafka’s diaries and letters call into question or even deny the very existence of such a path, or Weg. Yet for Kurtág as for Schubert, the need to keep searching for the elusive goal is inescapable, an existential necessity.” Excellent performances are by Csengery & Keller in 1987, Komsi & Oramo in 1995, Banse & Keller in 2006, Melzer & Stark in 2015, and Prohaska & Faust in 2022.
- James Willey, String Quartet No. 7 (2000) (approx. 20’): In the opening movement, the cello explores variations on a theme as the higher voices hover over him. The remainder of the work consists of a “Slow” second movement and a “Fast” third movement. The entire work can be seen as an extended intellectual and spiritual journey.
- Alfred Schnittke, Concerto for Choir (1985) (approx. 40-44’’): “The concerto’s four movements each find a different balance between the contemplative and the dramatic.”
- Hans Abrahamsen, Schnee (Snow): Canons for nine instruments (2008) (approx. 54’). Abrahamsen explains: “The guideline or rule for the canons is very simple: We start out with an answering Vorsatz, followed by a questioning Nachsatz. Throughout the time of the piece, these two are intertwined more and more, as more and more dicht geführt [tightly composed] canons, until, at the end, they are interchanged. Now the question and then the answer. The two canons are identical like a painting in two versions, but with different colors. And where the first one does not include the space, the second one does, as well as containing more canonical traces.”
- Ondřej Adámek, “Where Are You?” (2020) (approx. 35’): “In the eleven-part, approximately 35-minute-long kaleidoscope of sound, dominated by constant motoric movement – ranging from everyday sounds such as the monotonous ticking of a clock to the sweeping, electrifyingly rhythmic pounding of the orchestra tutti – the composer embarks on a search for the human ('Where do we come from and where are we going?') and the divine.”
- Malcolm Dedman, Piano Sonata No. 2, “In Search” (1984) (approx. 16’)
- Barre Phillips, “Quest” (13’), from the album “End to End” (2018)
- Peter Knight & Australian Art Orchestra, “Crossed and Recrossed” (2021) (38’): “. . . Peter Knight and the Australian Art Orchestra challenge the nature of music making and seek to explore and extend compositional boundaries in unexpected and surprisingly beautiful ways.” “Were we ever really here?”