The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University

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Category:         Science

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DateAuthorTitleSourceQuotation by Merton
1960/05/25Joseph Jean Lanza del VastoPelerinage aux Sources Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 3-4 Reading [Joseph Jean] Lanza del Vasto, Le Pèlerinage aux Sources [Paris, 1945]. His account of Gandhi and Wardha is impressive. I am still not persuaded that the spinning wheels were so foolish. It is customary in the West to dismiss all that as absurd, and to assume that technological progress is an unqualified good, as excellent as it is inevitable. But it becomes more and more passive, automatic-and the effects on "backward" people more and more terrible.
1961/09/23Lewis MumfordArt and Technics Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 163 Bright hot weather. A Coast Guard jet plane flew low over the hermitage and monastery after dinner and circled and came back and finally took off at great speed into a white cloud to the north. No denying the beauty of it, though I am finishing, and with complete agreement, Lewis Mumford's Art and Technics [New York, 1952].
1961/09/25Lewis MumfordArt and Technics Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 165 Finished Mumford's Art and Technics yesterday. His last pages on the interior life are very good. He is another for whom I feel great sympathy.
1963/01/12Rachel CarsonSilent spring / by Rachel Carson ; drawings by Lois and Louis Darling Ltrs: HGL p. 213-14 I am just reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Have you read it? You must. It is very enlightening, because it shows that the disease is everywhere. The same type of absurd logic that drives us to nuclear adventures is driving us to spray thousands of acres with something that does not effectively eliminate the insect we are getting at, but does eliminate the birds that would otherwise eat the insect we don't like. It is very instructive, and the book hits hard chapter after chapter. Very important to get this idea around, it is not peripheral at all.
1963/01/12Rachel CarsonSilent spring / by Rachel Carson ; drawings by Lois and Louis Darling Ltrs: WtoF p. 70 Anne Ford very kindly sent me your latest book, Silent Spring, which I am reading carefully and with great concern. I want to tell you first of all that I compliment you on the fine, exact, and persuasive book you have written, and secondly that it is perhaps much more timely even than you or I realize. Though you are treating of just one aspect, and a rather detailed aspect, of our technological civilization, you are, perhaps without altogether realizing, contributing a most valuable and essential piece of evidence for the diagnosis of the ills of our civilization. The awful irresponsibility with which we scorn the smallest values is part of the same portentous irresponsibility with which we dare to use our titanic power in a way that threatens not only civilization but life itself. The same mental processing"”I almost said mental illness"”seems to be at work in both cases, and your book makes it clear to me that there is a consistent pattern running through everything that we do, through every aspect of our culture, our thought, our economy, our whole way of life. What this pattern is I cannot say clearly, but I believe it is now the most vitally important thing for all of us, however we may be concerned with our society, to try to arrive at a clear, cogent statement of our ills, so that we may begin to correct them.
1963/05/26Werner HeisenbergPhysics and Philosophy Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 322 Reading [Werner] Heisenberg's Physics and Philosophy [New York, 1958], which is an exciting book. The uncertainty principle is oddly like St. John of the Cross. As God in the highest eludes the grasp of concepts, so in the ultimate constitution of matter there is nothing really there (except Aristotelian potency, perhaps- and H. is willing to admit this). Heisenberg and quantum theory-at least the Copenhagen interpretation-is the end of conventional 19th century materialism-and the joke is that this materialism is now unmasked as a faith. Soviet scientists now have to attack Heisenberg on purely dogmatic grounds, exactly as the Holy Office attacked Galileo. It is an article of Soviet faith that mechanical laws of motion, electronic activity etc. must be a confirmation of the religion of dialectical materialism. Ergo. Heisenberg shows that the naive objectivity of conventional physics is on the same plane as the ancient conviction that the sun revolved around the earth.
1963/05/29Werner HeisenbergPhysics and Philosophy Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 324 Heisenberg-on the impact of technical and scientific knowledge upon traditional cultures, etc. This "process"¦has gone far beyond any control through human forces. One may rather consider it as a biological process on the largest scale whereby the structures active in the human organism encroach on larger parts of matter and transform it into a state suited for the increasing human population." [Merton's emphasis] Physics and Philosophy, p 189 I think this is really a very practical way of looking at it, and far from reducing morality to determinism, it gives morality the only dimension in which it can really cope with our situation. One must first recognize reality, before he can deal with it. The traditional concept of nature is not opposed to this. It does not exclude grace.
1964/10/29Jacques Ellultechnological society / Jacques Ellul ; transl. from the French by John Wilkinson ; with an introd. by Robert K. Merton Jnl 5 ('63-'65) p. 159 Ferry sent Jacques Ellul's book on Technology [The Technological Society, 1964], just out.... Reading Jacques Ellul's book The Technological Society. Great, full of firecrackers. A fine provocative book and one that really makes sense. Good to read while the Council is busy with Schema 13 (as it is).
1964/11/02Jacques Ellultechnological society / Jacques Ellul ; transl. from the French by John Wilkinson ; with an introd. by Robert K. Merton Jnl 5 ('63-'65) p. 161 I am going on with Ellul's prophetic and I think very sound diagnosis of the Technological Society. How few people really face the problem! It is the most portentous and apocalyptical thing of all, that we are caught in an automatic self-determining system in which man's choices have largely ceased to count. (The existentialist's freedom in a void seems to imply a despairing recognition of this plight, but it says and does nothing.)
1964/11/06Jacques Ellultechnological society / Jacques Ellul ; transl. from the French by John Wilkinson ; with an introd. by Robert K. Merton Jnl 5 ('63-'65) p. 163 I think Ellul is perhaps too pessimistic. Not unreasonably so-but one must still have hope. Perhaps the self-determining course of technology is not as inexorably headed for the end he imagines. And yet certainly it is logical. But more is involved, thank heaven, than logic. All will be brought into line to "serve the universal effort" (of continual technological development and expansion). There will be no place for the solitary! No man will be able to disengage himself from society! Should I complain of technology with this hissing, bright green light with its comforts and dangers? Or with the powerful flashlight I got at Sears that sends a bright hard pole of light probing deep into the forest?
1964/12/10Jacques Ellultechnological society / Jacques Ellul ; transl. from the French by John Wilkinson ; with an introd. by Robert K. Merton Ltrs: HGL p. 467-68 The old structures, manifestly inadequate in some ways, are being taken away, and instead of being spiritually liberated, Christians are rushing to submit to much more tyrannical structures: the absolute dominion of technology-politics-business (or state capital). I think M. Schuon has exactly the right view, and I am pleased that he remarks in passing on the naive infatuation with Teilhard de Chardin (though I think there is much that is good in Chardin, along with some grave illusions). Have you by any chance read the book of Jacques Ellul on the Technological Society (perhaps La Technique in French)? It is monumental, and one of the most important treatments of the subject "¦
1964/12/28Jacques Ellultechnological society / Jacques Ellul ; transl. from the French by John Wilkinson ; with an introd. by Robert K. Merton Ltrs: WtoF p. 109 In November a group of peace workers, including A. J. Muste, who is the dean of American pacifists, and some from The Catholic Worker and Jim Forest of the movement, came here for a retreat and discussion which was very successful and full of good lights. There was much discussion of a book which I had at the time just read, Jacques Ellul's great work on technology [La Technique (1954), published in English as The Technological Society (1964)]. Do you know Ellul? You must, I am sure. I admire his work and find it entirely convincing and indeed it has the stamp of prophecy which so much Christian writing on that subject seems to lack. I am very anxious to read his book on propaganda.
1966/08/28Konrad LorenzOn Aggression Ltrs: CforT p. 106 Thanks very much indeed for sending me Konrad Lorenz's book On Aggression. I am enjoying it very much. It is a clear, persuasive, urbane treatment of a vitally important topic. I admire it most of all as an example of the humane wisdom we can expect from some of our scientists. I wish that many more of them would come forward and give us such timely lessons in such engaging language. I am very grateful to Dr. Lorenz for his ideas.
1967/05/06Lewis MumfordMyth of the machine : technics and human development Ltrs: RtoJ p. 129 Thanks for the Nips blasts. The enclosed will show that I am doing my own small part [a letter to The New York Times about Lewis Mumford's book The Myth of the Machine].
1967/05/21George GamowThirty Years that shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Physics Jnl 6 ('66-'67) p. 237 My breakfast reading (which is supposed to be "light" and informative) is now a new book by [George] Gamow on Quantum Physics. It dazzles and baffles me - but Niels Bohr & Co. are definitely among my No. 1 culture heroes. This magnificent instrument of thought they developed to understand what is happening in matter, what energy really is about - with their confirmation of the kind of thing Herakleitos was reaching for by intuition. It is terribly exciting, though I can't grasp any of it due to the fact that I never had even highschool physics, and the equations are just hieroglyphics that represent to me no known answers. What sharks are they hunting? I don't know, but when the shark is caught I try to focus on him my bedazzled reason.
1967/05/27Niels BlaedelHarmony and Unity: The Life of Niels Bohr Jnl 6 ('66-'67) p. 238 A beautiful May morning. Limpid clarity. Silence. Birds. Air thick with the sweetness of honeysuckle. Thank God I have had a few days of quiet. Reading a life of Niels Bohr, finished Izutson on Ibn Arabi and returned it to Wenjyko at McGill. I can't say I am totally happy with the 6th century Palestinian monasticism described in clarity. Too much political struggle - and I mean struggle for power. There is a great difference between a monk speaking out on a moral issue and a monk or community thrown bodily into a violent struggle for power with bishops and other monks.
1967/06/03Niels BlaedelHarmony and Unity: The Life of Niels Bohr Jnl 6 ('66-'67) p. 243-44 Last evening: eating sardines and drinking a couple of cans of Schlitz, and reading the life of Niels Bohr, I was again astonished at the "nearness" of the whole development of atomic physics, to my own life. Things going on at the Cavendish Lab at Cambridge when I was there. In January 1939, when I was taking my exams for the M.A. and had presented my thesis, the uranium atom was split in an experiment at Columbia (Jan. 25) and I knew nothing about it (though it got into the papers). At that time there was an immense ferment going on in Germany and the U.S. over the atom. Bohr had just arrived for 3 months at Princeton. Everyone was splitting the uranium nucleus and wondering if Hitler was on the way to producing a bomb. I had no idea that it went back that far. A sense of awe at the fact that people like Bohr were so much at the heart of what was happening - so truly "prophetic." For this is a truly modern kind of prophetism: I mean in men like Bohr, [Werner] Heisenberg, [Leo] Szilard etc. who grasped all the consequences of their discoveries in a widely human way.
1967/06/15Lewis MumfordMyth of the machine : technics and human development Jnl 6 ('66-'67) p. 251 The new Mumford book came today from HB&W and I began it. It seems to be excellent - and defies all the currently accepted dogmas of the culture-history people.