I worship at the altar of analytical rational thought. Care to join me? It is a secular religion, as the name suggests. But in the gym of the mind, we all pass like ships in the night, coming to exercise our cognitive muscle and keep the ever-dimming light bulb in remotely luminescent shape. The machine I like to use there, with varying weights so my acidosis does not get too much, is dear old triage: separating fact from fiction for a subtle warm-up, then churning a bit on the treadmill deconstructing spin, collecting lemmas, axioms and postulates before going on to proofs of theorems, finally arriving at a theory of either everything or at least of everything that is responsible for the mess I usually find myself in when I try to make sense of the world at large. Especially when you step outside the realm of pure mathematics and logic, it becomes immensely useful to keep exercising regardless of one’s pain threshold because so much low-flying fudge occupies the air space, even the air we breathe. Humbug comes in nanoparticles just as much as it materializes in the size of hypergiant celestial bodies and entire galaxies. Just think of all the “fundamental beliefs” that dominate our life, or that at least complicate our attempts to get one. They are from first to last demonstrably, and I say that in the nicest way, utter bunk, balderdash, lunacy. But, perhaps to our greatest surprise - eppur si muove.
Now, you are free to imagine what happens when a Polish diaspora girl comes across a Polish aphorist genius like Stanisław Jerzy Lec and mulls about his obiter dictum proposing that ‘all gods were immortal.’ Lec was a character, one of the numerous great sons of Lemberg/Lwów/Lvov/Lviv, a city that is dear to me because it is no longer Polish, and also because it was once a microcosm of Vienna, another place that continues to exude an inimitable genius loci far beyond the reach of any temporal power it ever managed to project. Elsewhere I have written some elegiac reminiscences about Lemberg’s Odyssey through the schizophrenic maelstrom of the twentieth century – also because its refugees, some of them famed mathematicians such as Hugo Steinhaus, mentor of my idol Stefan Banach, have later populated my home town of Wrocław, which in turn was formerly known as Breslau when nobody of any weight opposed Stalin’s unprecedented madness of simply pushing all of Poland a few hundred miles westward. But I digress. Wroclaw/Breslau (population now 632,000) also produced ten Nobel laureates including Max Born, Paul Ehrlich, Gerhart Hauptmann and Theodor Mommsen. One reason why we should keep fond memories of Lec is because he was likely the only openly anti-communist individual ever to receive an official state funeral by a communist regime that had once blacklisted him. So ordered in Warsaw 1966. Such things could actually happen in Poland, during the permafrost of Brezhnev, twenty years prior to Gorbachev.
You had fair warning: this is a somewhat irreverent, contrarian blog, although I will not make a ritual of it and therefore will also relate the occasional subject because it just plain interests me. Henryk Sienkiewicz wrapped up his Nobel acceptance speech in 1905 with a sentence of Horace that I aspire to adopt as well: Principibus placuisse viris non ultima laus est – It is not a man’s greatest praise to have pleased the leaders (Epistulae I, 6, 273).
To show you one further example of the non-Euclidian theology of Lec: “The first condition of immortality is death.” So let’s keep up the cerebral workout – for the sake of immortal hope.