The Essential Process of Misinterpretation (Krell)
By ice rivers
"The story of Sid touches upon the subject of historical inaccuracy. Your or your Dad's charge of Platonic misinterpretation, Arthur, leads me to a subject that in the study of metaphysics is probably unavoidable and certainly embedded. That subject is physics.
"This is a good time to oversimplify and humanize the laws of thermodynamics of which there are three. The first law basically states any change in the internal energy of a system will be the result of work done on or by that system and any heat flow into or out of the system. In other words, the universe assures us that we can never win, that is if winning means getting out more than we put in.
"Or as the over-rated Beatles once sang "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make"
"Except it isn't. It's a little bit less. That's what the second law of thermodynamics tells us. Not only can't we win, we can't even salvage a tie. The second law states that in any process to convert heat energy that flows from a hot object to a colder object into Work, there will inevitably be some loss. That loss can be attributed to the entropy of the systems involved. Entropy is the natural state of the universe. Entropy is disorder.Try as we might to put things in order, entropy will always rear up and demand our attention or else matters will naturally grow more chaotic.
"Let's assume that in learning, the teacher is the hot object and the student is the colder object. The teacher tries to transfer some of his heat to the student when the student is ready. The teacher can not transfer all of his heat. The natural entropy of the transfer insures misinterpretation.
"Certainly, Plato misinterpreted Socrates.
"Certainly Aquinas misinterpreted Plato's misinterpretation of Socrates.
"Your father, Arthur, is misinterpeting the Aquinas misinterpretation of the Platonic misinterpretation of Socrates."
Krell noticed that I was taking notes furiously.
"Even as I talk" Krell continued, "I notice that Ovid is taking notes which assures me that I will be misinterpeted when Ovid rewrites his notes. The misinterpretation will not be limited to Ovid but also will be shared by anyone reading Ovid's rewritten notes. So my interpretation of Arthur's father's misinterpretation of Aquinas misinterpreting Plato misinterpreting Socrates will also be misinterpreted. And that's in the present. Imagine what would remain after twenty three hundred years of misinterpretation and entropy."
Krell drew a breath.
Arthur asked another question "what's the third law of thermodynamics"
Krell summarized, "if the first law means we can't win and the second law means we can't even break even, the third law means we can never get out of the game. We being in this case, Socrates, Plato, Aquinas, Arthur's father, Arthur, me, Ovid and anyone who will ever read's Ovid notes."
We're in this game forever and we can't win.
In the momentary vacuum, I started imagining the twenty seventh inning of a meaningless September ballgame between the Tigers and the Mariners tied at four to four with two outs and nobody on and nobody getting warm in the bullpen with everybody on Earth watching and nobody giving a damn who wins, not even the players themselves because both teams are expecting to lose.
My reverie was interrupted by a follow-up question from Julia.
"So if I misunderstood you correctly, you're about to present yet another misinterpretation of the life of Socrates which we in turn will distort according to our individual, emotional entropy. Then at some point, you will give us a test which will measure our misinterpretation against yours and the difference will produce a profile of the intensity of our academic or intellectual chaos which, you will then translate into a 'grade' of some sort ?"
Krell paused for only a moment before replying. "Well Julia, in the unlikely event that I understand what you're asking I'd have to disagree that you misunderstood me correctly but add that yes you have understood me incorrectly which shouldn't come as any surprise based on the laws of thermodynamics which I just misrepresented through over-simplification."
Arthur was more or less lost in these particular woods but at Julia's mention of a test, his impulse towards defintion engaged and he asked another concrete question.
"So is Julia right about the test?"
"Arthur, in the midst of her misunderstanding, Julia did strike a little gold. I will test your misinterpretation of my misunderstanding of metaphysics and use my more constant misunderstanding as a yardstick to measure my evaluation of your more random misinterpretations. Remember though that the grades themselves will be misconstrued by whomever looks at them. Not only will the grades be misconstrued but the actual title of the course will be misunderstood, as you yourselves have already been fooled by the course which I unintentionlly misrepresented in the course catalogue which is in itself a studied collection of chaos presenting itself under the illusion of clarity. So, I wouldn't worry too much about the tests or the grades."
Julia again, "Then what should we worry about".
Krell again "I'm going to start worrying about the life of Socrates and how it relates to the writing of Plato and how Plato influenced Aristotle and how Aristotle created metaphysics and since I'm the teacher, part of your job is to read my mind so that your misunderstanding can more closely resemble mine. You might start worrying about Richard Boone, because when I was a kid my favorite teevee show was Have Gun Will Travel and the influence of Paladin keeps popping up uncalled for in my mind when I least expect it, like right now for instance, and that's the mind that you guys are supposed to read if you are to get an A in this course. I hope I'm not making myself clear"
This sounded to me like an opportunity for a rallying cry.
I yelled out
"Yes, you're not. Let's hear about Socrates"
"Last class, I created a straw man called Torch. Perhaps you imagine that Torch was a lot like Socrates. That would be no accident if you did because I was trying to paint a picture of a person who would remind you of Socrates yet not be Socrates."
Julia raised her hand again "Isn't Torch an unfortunate name for a straw man ?"
"I wanted to get across the idea of illumination, " Krell responded. "The concepts of spontaneous combustion and subsequent immolation were only glowing on the periphery of my metaphoric construction but since you've highlighted it, then yes, the choice of Torch is not as unfortunate as you might imply'
"And let's finish up this little exercise in misinterpretation with the demise of the angry towns-people galummphing through village greens at midnight, heading towards the forrest pursuing some heresy and trying in vain to interrupt the inevitability of that heresy's ultimate ascension to mythology and/or orthodoxy. Who were the guys leading that parade? The local torch makers led those exercises in violent, mob induced misinterpretation. At one time, torch making was a highly sought skill and as sure a sign of leadership as the ability to throw rather than the ability to lift. When the mob finally reached the windmill, the castle or the bridge or whatever was the target of their misinterpretation, which of the torch bearers usually took over leadership? That's right, the guy who threw his torch at the castle, the the bridge, the windmill or the whatever. It's amazing how often a single torch hit the hay just right which caused the formerly indestructible castle to ignite and burn to the ground along with the collection of disparate,walking cadaver parts and the insane quack who sewed them together in the name of progress.
"Ever since Edison invented the light bulb, we have had a dearth of torch driven angry mobs. I for one miss them. I say we should bring them back. What would happen if tonight a group of students met on campus; ignited a bunch of torches and then marched through the town? It ain't gonna happen because torches are illegal. Yeah, you can get those fake kerosene torches for your random midnight barbecues but the days of the good old fashioned torches used to whip a group of lunatics into a misguided outburst of ill conceived frenzy led by the best and seemingly least belligerent torch thrower in the town have passed us by
"Ovid's response is a perfect example of what we call in education 'a window of instructional opportunity'. In show biz, that's referred to as giving the people what they want or putting the light on the star. Apparently, Ovid wants me to get on with the story of Socrates which is what I wanted to do in the first place but hesitated to do so because I felt as if the venetian blinds were covering the windows and then when we started down the road, we had to take a small detour at the straw man. The good teacher, of which I'm sure Socrates was one, recognizes these windows of instructional opportunity when they arise and usesthem to the advantage of the class. So on we go with Socrates.
"Socrates as a child wasn't handsome but he was probably rich which is a trade off many of us would accept. We assume that he came from a prosperous family because as a young man he had enough leisure time available to master the philosophy of his era.The emerging philosphy consisted largely of various attempts to provide scientific explanations for the origin and structure of the universe. This wasn't going too well because we still hadn't discovered that what goes up must come down and just about everything else regarding science including the concept that the sun rather than the earth was the center of our astronomical system and that the Milky Way is composed of an infinite number of stars and the Milky Way is one of an infinite number of solar systems and that man might not be the center and purpose of the universe. Of course, Galileo added much of that information two thousand years after Socrates and the great Italian scientist was immediately confronted with a mob carrying torches who took him to the Inquisition where the Pope made him promise that he wouldn't tell anybody that the earth moves.
"A smart guy like Socrates could see right off the bat that lots of problems existed within the emerging scientific explanations but he also understood that they were much better than the mythological explanations that were prevalent in his time.
"It's not clear what levels of academic success Socrates attained in his study of science or physical philosophy but we do know that by the start of the Pelopennesian War which occurred when Socrates was in his mid thirties, he had abandoned physical philosophy and began the examination of conduct that he would continue for the rest of his life.
"Apparently that transition which began with alienation from science was precipitated by Socrates' interpretation of an inquiry directed to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi by an Athenian named Chaerephon. According to the oracle.........."
"How do you spell that last name that you mentioned. The guy who asked the question of the oracle. It sounds like 'chair on a phone but I'm sure it's not spelled that way."
"And how do you spell the name of the war that was going on when Socrates was in his thirties"
Krell wrote Chaerephon and Pelopennesian on the board.
Then Julia again
"And, uh, isn't the Milky Way a galaxy and not a solar system?"