MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 42

Guests on Volume 42: Michael Kammen, on the historical transition from popular to mass culture; Philip Fisher, on Still the New World: American Literature in a Culture of Creative Destruction; John Horgan, on the limits of neuroscience; William Dembski, on detecting intelligent design through "specified complexity"; Steven Garber, on the breadth of Michael Polanyi's thought; Dorothy Bass, on the need to restore form to our experience of time; Paul Vitz, on Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism; J. Budziszewski, on The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man; and David Aikman, on the heroism of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Part 1

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    Michael Kammen on the historical transition from popular to mass culture

    American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999)

    Michael Kammen, author of American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change in the 20th Century, discusses the difference between popular and mass culture. He establishes their differences in scale (both quantitatively and qualitatively), skill, and participation levels. Kammen gives examples of the bonding function of popular culture at the community level.

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    Philip Fisher on Still the New World: American Literature in a Culture of Creative Destruction

    Still the New World: American Literature in a Culture of Creative Destruction (Harvard University Press, 1999)

    Philip Fisher defines culture as passing down tradition from one generation to the next. He then analyzes Ralph Waldo Emerson who, unlike many thinkers, thought new culture would inevitably erase the older form of culture. (He used the metaphor of a bigger circle drawn around a smaller circle: new culture dissolves old culture.) Fisher projects the consequences of this kind of thinking: painting, for example, will be abolished with the advent of film. In conclusion, Fisher examines the effects of this nineteeth-century American thinking on our modern society.

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    John Horgan on the limits of neuroscience

    The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation (Free Press, 1999)

    John Horgan, author of The Undiscovered Mind, argues that the mind may be "scientifically irreducible." In contrast to thinkers who are hopeful about the future of neuroscience, Horgan believes the brain is complex beyond complete understanding. He comments on the variations in scientific thought about the mind and about an artificial intelligence project at MIT. In this interview, he stresses the need to consider minds not as isolated organs but as phenomena that only exist within an environment.

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    William Dembski on detecting intelligent design through "specified complexity"

    Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (InterVarsity Press, 1999)

    William Dembski, author of Intelligent Design: the Bridge Between Science and Theology, comments on and counters the objections from the scientific community to arguments for design. He presents his own argument that undirected natural causes cannot generate "specified complexity." According to Dembski, science places limits on itself to which most scientists are reluctant to admit. On the other side of the Journal, Dembski comments on the impact of Michael Polanyi on scientific thinking. He explores how Polanyi resisted reductionism in scientific research.

Part 2

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    Steven Garber on the breadth of Michael Polanyi's thought

    Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1972.

    In this excerpt from "Tacit Knowing, Truthful Knowing," Steven Garber comments on Polanyi's emphasis on the integration of all of life, especially in how it impacts the way in which we know. In the realm of education, Garber says that Polanyi encourages us to critique the Enlightenment assumptions which have disconnected our thoughts from our actions. Garber comments on Polanyi's insistence that "facts" are not always the most important part of knowing. At the end of this interview, Garber applies Polanyi's thinking to our own age.

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    Dorothy Bass on the need to restore form to our experience of time

    Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000)

    Dorothy Bass, author of Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, discusses the time pressures experienced by people in contemporary society and argues that certain Christian practices offer help. Our problems with time are spiritual and theological, not simply a matter of good or bad management, and they derive from the increasing formlessness of time rather than from mere busyness. Christian practices give shape to the day, the week (the Sabbath), and the year, offering not only rest but also greater everyday awareness of the form and meaning of the time each of us is given by God.

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    Paul Vitz on Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism

    Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism (Spence Publishing Company, 1999)

    Paul Vitz, author of Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, examines the arguments of Freud regarding faith and atheism. Vitz argues that our longing for a father generally indicates that a Heavenly Father does indeed exist. He takes exception to Freud's ad hominem assertion that God only exists as a projection of the desires of children. Vitz turns the projection argument around and concludes that atheists could be projecting just as much as believers supposedly are projecting.

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    J. Budziszewski on The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man

    The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man (Spence Publishing Company, 1999)

    J. Budziszewski, author of The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man, argues that St. Paul was right about conscience—it really is "written on the heart." Although it can be suppressed, it can never be erased, and suppressed conscience reasserts itself in paradoxical ways. He goes on to explain the cardinal problem of politics in a fallen world. We do wrong; we call it right; and most vexing of all, our toils to rectify sin are themselves twisted by sin, our labors to shed light on iniquity are themselves darkened by iniquity.

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    David Aikman on the heroism of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    David Aikman's Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century, published by Word in 1998, contains a complete account of his meeting with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

    David Aikman, former correspondent for Time magazine and an authority on Russian politics, was the first reporter from the west to be granted an interview with Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at his home in New England before his return to Russia. Aikman describes the meeting and subsequent interview with the author.