[extropy-chat] FWD [forteana] Think about mathematics versus excess baggage

Terry W. Colvin fortean1 at mindspring.com
Fri Apr 2 15:58:13 UTC 2004

        Bertrand Russell and his wife Dora ran an ultra-progressive
experimental school at Telegraph House, near Petersfield, England, from
1927 to 1935, continued by Dora after their divorce in 1935 until the
outbreak of World War II in 1939. In its day, the school was famous or
notorious for its ultra-permissive attitude toward sex among the pupils.
Russell justified it by declaring that he wanted the pupils to have
their sex so they would not obsess over it in its absence and would this
be, as he put it, "free to think about mathematics."
         I've occasionally heard people use Russell's phrase "free to
think about mathematics," or just "think about mathematics," to describe
any attitude of satisfying some basic need--for sex, food, money, or
whatever--in a matter-of-fact "OK, let's get it over with quickly" way
so as to be then free to think about something supposedly more important
or elevated. Thus, it's sometimes used of an artist or writer in the
creative frenzy of painting a picture or writing a poem or essay just
grabbing a sandwich and munching on it as he or she paints, writes, or
types so as not to waste any time going out or sitting down to eat. My
friend Alex Theroux once remarked that I very obviously had a "think
about mathematics" attitude toward soft drinks when I had commented to
him in bemused exasperation about a Burger King or McDonald's waiter on
Cape Cod who had given me a long song-and-dance about how they only
carry Pepsi when I'd casually asked him for a Coke.
         I've long felt there's a "think about mathematics" dynanmic in
this sense involved in the psychology of kids who go off to school and
abandon their parents' or home-town neighbors' political, religious, or
sexological views. Boys and girls who had to spend their teen years
listening to parental or relatives' dinner-table diatribes about
property taxes, minorities moving into the neighborhood, homosexuals,
anti-war protesters, or "secular humanists" opposed to school prayer
often feel, when they go off to college, that the attitudes and
prejudices underlying such diatribes are just so much useless excess
baggage for themselves. They feel, it's long seemed to me, that
continuing to hold and express such attitudes and prejuidices would only
interfere with their thinking about mathematics, linguistics, analytical
philosophy, Victorian poetry, or art history! Because mathematics or art
history has become so important to them, they feel free to just jettison
the "erxcess baggage" with no qualms or regrets.
                         T. Peter

"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright 1992, Frank Rice

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA) < fortean1 at mindspring.com >
     Alternate: < fortean1 at msn.com >
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