The resident feline got the worst of a cat fight, is groggy on antibiotics and pain meds, and despite all the TLC, has somehow gotten out of the houseboat and gone into hiding under the raft, somewhere in the six inches or so between the top of the flotation logs and the bottom of the raft itself. I’m very much afraid she won’t come out at all.
I kayaked around the raft in the rain, flashlight in hand, calling for her. No response. Nothing to do but dry off and try to distract myself online, where I found that I’d been emailed an article on TEDGlobal by Steve Marsh in the current issue of Delta Airlines’ Sky_Magazine, with this lovely couple of paras on me:
TED’s sangfroid is ultimately a good thing. Case in point is my favorite talk of the week, given by Lesley Hazleton… A self-described “accidental theologist,” she examines the essential role doubt plays in any faith, making an example of the divine revelation of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad on a mountain outside of Mecca in 610. “ ‘Doubt,’ as Graham Greene once put it, ‘is the heart of the matter,’ ” she says. “Abolish all doubt, and what’s left is not faith, but absolute, heartless conviction.
Between sessions on Thursday, I buy Hazleton’s book, The First Muslim, and tell her that her talk reminded me of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s concept of despair. She uses the index in her book to find the passage that acknowledges the connection and signs my copy, ‘To Stephen—Knowing you’ll love a bio of Muhammad that bows in passing to Kierkegaard!’ Lesley Hazleton is cool.
Irony? Paradox? Life? All I know is that I just wish I could be cool about the missing feline…
Uncool lasted eight hours. Wounded cat finally emerged. Florence Nightingale here back on the job.
Further update, October 9:
Healing well in progress. Florence Nightingale retired.
The talk I gave at TEDGlobal twelve days ago just went live!
Here it is — on Muhammad, the relationship between faith and doubt, and the travesty of fundamentalism:
Anything you can do to forward/repost/facebook/tweet/email/tumble/reddit/generally-spread-the-word will be wonderful. Let’s stop being the far-too-silent majority!
Shortcut url is http://on.ted.com/Hazleton
[In case you missed it, my earlier TEDx talk on reading the Quran is here.]
Newly back in Seattle after an amazing couple of weeks, I’m jet-lagged, news-lagged, and above all, TED-lagged.
Eleven days ago, I was onstage at TEDGlobal in Edinburgh. The talk — on Muhammad, doubt, and the travesty of fundamentalism — may be released on TED.com as early as this coming week, but meanwhile, in the tease category, here’s a still shot:
I hereby declare a new addition to the DSM-IV manual of psychiatric disorders: post-TED syndrome, which poses the patient with the problem of how to get her feet (let alone her head) firmly back to earth after a week of non-stop talk and ideas and excitement and superb company? (Plus some great music and dancing too).
Seven days ago, I took the back-to-earth idea literally. If you had been in possession of a pair of good binoculars, you would have found me roaming the wilds of Romney Marsh in Sussex, totally wind- and rain-blown, along with thousands of sheep and the most bullish lambs I’ve ever seen — sturdy little bruisers, each with a very distinctive vocal point to make about my presence. (On the menu that evening in nearby Rye: “Romney Marsh lamb.” My response: “Noooooo….!”)
Forward a bit, and four days ago I was doing my roaming in London, meeting my brilliant UK publishers over grappa in a club so private it has no name (British release of The First Muslim is set for November 7), doing tai-chi early mornings by the lavender field in Vauxhall Park (triple espresso at the ready), communing with the Rothkos at the Tate Modern, zipping along the Thames in water taxis, and downing elderberry lemonade and tahini-drizzled eggplant at Ottolenghi’s in Islington (his cookbook Plenty has the best recipe I’ve ever found for socca).
So today, back in my houseboat in pacific Seattle, my head is reeling from it all, and I have a new way of posing the post-TED problem: how do you get your feet back to earth when you live on a raft that floats on forty feet of water?
I just spent a couple of days totally absorbed in a book that celebrates ignorance. Even better, it celebrates ignorance in science! Or to be a tad more precise, it’s about what the author, Stuart Firestein, a Columbia University neuroscientist, calls “the exhilaration of the unknown.”
So ignore the way the cover makes the book look ominous and boring. It’s anything but. In fact it’s a delight. Because of course Firestein isn’t talking about willful stupidity, that “callow indifference to facts or logic that shows itself as a stubborn devotion to uninformed opinions.” Not that at all. He’s talking about “a particular condition of knowledge: the absence of fact, understanding, insight, or clarity about something.” This he calls “knowledgeable ignorance.” Also known as “perceptive ignorance” or “insightful ignorance.”
Essentially, Firestein’s book is a celebration of mystery. That is, of uncertainty, doubt, and unknowability – terms which apply as much to my agnostic inquiry of religion as to his equally agnostic inquiry of science (which originally meant ‘knowledge’). Some scientists call his approach “agnostology” – a coinage that makes me laugh out loud and imagine a bunch of angels dancing like crazy on the head of a pin. Me, I call it accidental theology.
Knowledgeable ignorance, says Firestein, is the kind that leads you to frame better questions. And not with any single answer in mind. “One good question can give rise to several layers of answers,” he says. A perfect image: layers of answers, like layers of clouds, each one shaped and influenced by the ones above and below it, each one distinguishable and yet part of the whole most of us dismissively shorthand as “sky.”
And then this: “Being a scientist requires having faith in uncertainty, finding pleasure in mystery, and learning to cultivate doubt. There is no surer way to screw up an experiment than to be sure of its outcome.”
“Having faith in uncertainty” — if I believed in perfection, that would be a perfect definition of agnosticism!