Earthquake

What if you feel your very foundation - all on which you stand, and take for granted - crumble beneath you? Such was my incipient response when I read a course description based on creating a national park at the San Andreas fault line, which invited a poetic imagining of what it would constitute.
For many people, so little seems to be solid footing; so much slipping away. It seems a favourable opportunity to think this through. The course description includes Bacon's New Atlantis - which is in many ways precisely about instauration (wherein the house to be built again is also our education). Indeed, which structures can sustain seismic activity? To my mind, these are first the bridges of poetry: new ways of thinking that would provide inspiration through the shaking.
The bridges - of beliefs, ideals (and I hope, like Bacon that these are compassionate, humble, self-sacrificing) - would be erected to inform our actions, half in their category of permanence, half in their ties to change and transformation. So, where in New Atlantis, it was necessary for Bacon to remind man of his intellectual duty to understand the mystery of Creation through natural philosophy, to learn medicine and farming skills, today we might want to stress the non-materialistic and wisdom-based side of man's being: today's zeitgeist is sometimes mechanical and self-destructive in its pride.
So a park to honour the San Andreas fault line might have half-built bridges, as sculptures, reaching to the sky. If it is unsafe to walk there, these images could be shared via the internet (already a bridge of a different kind). The site would be translated into different languages, celebrating America's diversity, and further emphasising the metaphor of the bridge - the carrying over.
Which ideas would a country want to be remembered for - which ideas would it want carried over? Apart from developed knowledge of natural philosophy now called science, surely it would want to honour something more than just the material achievements. Charity and welfare: to walk the streets of NYC where the course is to be taught is to see the iconic lions of the NYPL (Patience! Fortitude!); the Greek columns outside the MET (still pay as you wish); the Chagall that looks most imposing through the windows of the Lincoln Center... A park that would give something. A threat (the fault line, layoffs) with a gift.
Each bridge could represent a charity, and together mark a new kind of Men of Progress, here 'men' of compassion, and each charity could employ people. Perhaps a trinity of bridges could together mark Culture - and just as so many parks in America bear the mysterious symbols of ancient Native Americans, new visions could be dreamed up - not in the name of the park, but in the name of what must be done when we see the earth move from beneath us.


Once upon a time, Whewell, Babbage, and Herschel adopted New Atlantis as their inspiration to make the natural sciences more specialised. The word "science" was born when scientists still had to read the classics and think about ethics. It is hard to imagine the grand store of knowledge those scientists took for granted: for example, they were surely well aware of the ancient warning that nature hides as much as she reveals, and perhaps took, in stride, that Bacon's House of Solomon also sought (in addition to "science") to expose illusion and deceit.
The extent of materialism today means that some people lose sight of the meaning that lies behind appearance. In fact, according to hermeneutics, one's interpretation can change how an experience is registered - and thus transform a seems into an is. The bridges (virtual or real) I imagine being built in the San Andreas Fault National Park could remind us of the multiple meanings behind what we see. For a long time, many have written that the ancient Greeks were rubbish scientists and that empiricism has saved us from their ignorance. But more than there being a right or wrong is the problem of getting the balance right.
For example, sometimes the most meaningful is the least conspicuous. In New Atlantis, Bacon writes that the mythical Bensalem had preserved, intact, an ancient learning forgot by the rest of the world. Bensalem also chooses to withdraw from the world (as opposed to dominate it - like we suppose Atlantis did, according to that myth).
I've written before about the Atlantis myth in the Timaeus - about how the Hellenes were called "children" - that (their pride leads to) natural disaster after natural disaster, wiping all their scientific knowledge away. Perhaps, then, Plato strives to imitate the universe more in poetry than in science as a gesture of man's humility? Man's deference to nature? Different ages call for different medicines - sometimes for the preponderance of bodily ills, sometimes for that of the soul. Sometimes, the bridges are then raised to the heavens. The ideal is to develop in all directions, but sickness has its limitations.


The amber of Atlantis, as I wrote before of the Timaeus, may be the amber of our internet. The internet could be the next Atlantis. So if, as the San Andreas course description suggests, we are to deal with a "landscape that moves" we ought to want - all the more - to be better aligned with the stars (as is the Timaeus-Critias, which is the epitome of mimesis). Mimesis is the star dance of the heavens. "The stars represent the pure mathematical regularities and proportions that constitute the heavenly order." Mimesis, as per the Aristotelian model, is concerned with the improvement of human action.
To create a seismic center and national park at the San Andreas Fault would fall short of its potential if it were to lose sight of these guidelines (the stars) and figurative tremors (of the human soul, and the meaning of human action). While it is impossible in today's "climate" to threaten man's poor action with the consequence of natural disaster, as in the Timaeus-Critias, the very least a Seismic Interpretive Centre in the San Andreas park could do would be to reinstill a sense of awe towards (natural) life among the American population that does not live in the vicinity.
For it was one of Davenport's criticisms, written so beautifully through his assessment of Agassiz, that American students do not even know the names of trees today. Science is wonderfully giving - but when its material aims are stressed, it seems to take as much as it gives. 
So, a park framed around danger seems a fruitful project, if it were to increase our mindfulness of nature and the fallibility of human (material) exaggeration. Finally, such a park would be promising if it could teach us to see through things (such as danger, or materialism and its consequences of dominance) and learn to build bridges from our ideals to our actions. The fault line reminds us, through the threat, to define our ideals. The observation of nature reminds us of mimesis, and the notion that our action is to be consistently improved.

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