Re: Ishmael & Narratives LO3559

Jim Michmerhuizen (
Wed, 1 Nov 1995 00:20:16 +0001 (EST)

Replying to LO3552 --

Michael -

I think I can restate and clarify a few points -- and maybe even expand
on them a bit:

On Tue, 31 Oct 1995, Michael McMaster wrote:
> Replying to LO3506 --

> I think that the problem he is pointing at is not that laws do not
> contain the richness of detail of stories about life and life itself.

The problem I am pointing at is that the Newtonian concept of a universe
governed by mathematically-expressible laws, inexorable, implacable,
and universal, is logically incompatible with the concept of a universe
in which stories can contain useful knowledge.

> Good stories, I think, are exemplifications of "laws" which provide
> the detail, the richness, the deepened understanding of those laws.

This is exactly what, on my view, stories are _not_. The series of
singular events which is my life, or the other one which is yours, or
anyone else's: these are _not_ exemplifications or instantiations of any
(Newtonian) laws at all. On this view, it is the laws that produce me.
But it is I (we, actually, together with all the other history-threads of
which, on the view I'm proposing here, our universe is woven) who precede
the laws.

At least, the Newtonian kind. I'm aware - as, I'm sure, are you - that in
order to say what I'm saying I have to use a couple of terms in ways that
are slightly unique. So we wind up exploring, simultaneously, whether we
agree on something, and whether our language for some of these things is
the same (the naming issue). What you're saying about law, for example,
sounds to me a lot like what I might say about patterns. What I said
about patterns, in my original post, was unhappily pitifully brief. I'll
have to expand on that soon.

> The stories, if well formulated and told, are the connectors to
> experience.

Um. I'm not sure about that. I'm not sure, for example, that a story
_told_ (which, given the somewhat formal and extended sense in which I use
'story', is a special case: stories 'told' are a subset of stories in
general) always communicates a theory or law or abstract concept. And I'm
not sure that, if it does, that makes it a good story. The kind of
stories that provoked me to start thinking about this contain and
communicate useful knowledge, but they don't seem to be based on theories
at all. The fleece inspector, the silent consultant story, Tom Burke's
story, Jack Hirschfeld's story of the rabbi saving his town, and many
other stories that we have told each other here -- I don't find any
theories in these stories. All I find are the events, and -- somehow --
the wisdom, but no theories.

If I _did_ find theories, then, by analogy, I might be able to believe
that your story and mine and ours were also "exemplifications" of theories
and laws.

> The problem, I think, is that we are most often lost in between. The
> stories and the details are connected to experience. The "laws" are
> connected to profound understandings and from which patterns are
> made. (We understand - make meaning - by patterns.)

Yeah. This makes explicit what I'd only guessed, above, about how you're
using 'law'. For my part, I need to keep the two concepts distinguished.

     Jim Michmerhuizen
     web residence at
. . . . There are far *fewer* things in heaven and earth, Horatio,  . . . .
 . . . . .       than are dreamt of in your philosophy...        . . | _ .