The Architecture of Modernity & the Joy of Science

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  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    Nice intro.

    I look forward to your future stuff!Report

  2. Avatar Bob Cheeks
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    Mr. Schaengold, I look forward also!
    Modernity, Hegelian alienation, T.S. Eliot etc.
    I’m not sure about you being a “porcher” though. I’m thinking a Lawler PoMoCon where as the erudite professor says things are “getting better and getting worse.”
    But we’ll look for the symbols of modernity where we can find them and your “observation deck” put a smile on my face. But we are dealing with contemporary disorders and challenged by the derailment that is the “climate of opinion” and in that department I’m not sure that you’ve not been seduced by some professor who’s argued for Hegel’s (or some) system of science as salvific.
    I trust you’re not some prophet come to place the transcendent ground somewhere among the immanent hierarchy of being….?Report

  3. Avatar Rufus F.
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    I really like the idea of the observation deck as the sacred space of the skyscraper; it works very well. Also, welcome aboard!Report

  4. Avatar Aaron
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    As a scientist, I feel compelled to comment on the characterization of how “scientists” might feel about something. While certainly, I find a sense of joy and wonder at the nature of the universe as viewed from my observation deck in the ivory tower, I’m not sure I would say that the universe is “ordered” or “reasonable”. An old, deterministic view of physics that predates quantum mechanics may have seen the universe as ordered or reasonable. After the discovery of the principles of quantum mechanics, though, the universe (at least for very small particles) was found to actually run on randomness and chaos. The “order” that we see on an everyday basis is actually the product of the average properties of 1023+ small particles each behaving in a chaotic and random way. That even some semblance of our notion of “order” or “reasonableness” can come out of such chaos is the true wonder of the universe (and perhaps even modern society). I would be careful about having too much faith in that knowledge, though, as we have only begun to scratch the surface of all the wonders that the universe holds.Report

    • Avatar Aaron in reply to Aaron
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      1023+ should be 10^23 +… HUGE difference.Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to Aaron
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      Thanks for your response, Aaron. I’m not a scientist myself, of course, but my understanding is that the behavior of particles at the quantum level is random but not disordered, and on the Many-Worlds interpretation, is in fact fully deterministic. But even in non-deterministic interpretations, the behavior of the particles remains profoundly lawful, inasmuch as it can be described mathematically with probability amplitudes. Of course it’s precisely the wonder of that order that it seems inexhaustible — that there is no prospect of finding the bottom.Report

  5. Avatar M. Schmitz
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    Barthes, of course, cited the car, not the skyscraper, as the cathedral of our age. You look good in a bowler, sir.Report

  6. Avatar ScottBrown
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    “The systematic use of the method, institutionalized in journals and laboratories, is characteristically modern, but the psychology of the scientists who employ it represents a Christian ideal.”

    Strange then that scientists mostly seem to regard the universe as chaotic, rather than ordered. Also, you cite no evidence of this rather wild and woolly claim about a “Christian ideal” being what scientists feel. Which scientists? When? On what evidence? I note that you managed to ignore e.g. Archimedes and Herophilus in your dismissal of antiquity. Also, when you describe the institutionalized version of science as “characteristically modern” – when, precisely, does modernity begin for you?Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to ScottBrown
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      “I note that you managed to ignore e.g. Archimedes and Herophilus in your dismissal of antiquity”

      Not at all. These men employed nothing resembling the scientific method, unless that method is just the application of reason to empirical questions, which seems broad enough to include practices from nearly all civilizations. Not to say they weren’t brilliant. My favorite is Eratosthenes, personally.

      “when, precisely, does modernity begin for you?”

      Sometime between September 25, 1555, when the Peace of Augsburg was signed and the principle of religious toleration between European states was established and January 16th, 1556, when the emperor Charles V, the last truly medieval monarch of any importance in Europe, abdicated.Report

  7. Avatar North
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    Welcome sir and I applaud your initial post. I myself will confess to a deep fondness for skyscrapers, even the humble ones here in the midwest. I’d suggest, humbly, that we have one other common modern cathedral though it arches invisibly over us and is the child of biology rather than architecture I’m referring to our civilizations herb immunity, the product of generations of systematic research and mass vaccinations. I view it as an intangible dome that has blessed us with the ability to actually view the death of a child as a unique and horrible occurrence rather than one that must be anticipated with weary resignation.
    That insignificant quibble aside I loved your imagery, welcome again.Report

  8. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    Lovely intro post, David. Glad to have you aboard!Report

  9. Avatar MR Bill
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    Great (first) post!
    Any discussion of skyscrapers deserves a link to a great visual resource: http://skyscraperpage.com/

    The diagrams are great, and, if you want some confirmation that American architecture has lost the cutting edge, a good place to start is the “World Skyscraper Construction 2010” diagram: http://skyscraperpage.com/diagrams/?searchID=202
    American design is timid, compared the the sci-fi stylings in Dubai or China..Report

  10. Avatar Mr. Prosser
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    This site continues to improve with every selection of new writers. Welcome. Of course, the skyscraper probably is the symbol of Western modernity as evidenced by the destruction of the WTC . I would be interested in your opinion on whether our culture intends the buildings to endure. So many incorporate into interior design or do not bother to hide the mundane infrastructure of the building (HVAC, water and sanitary lines). It is as if the exterior, including the observation deck, is all that is important. There really is no public nave and rose window, only the private corporate suite. More like the stele of Ozymandias than the cathedral at Chartres?Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to Mr. Prosser
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      This is a good point that most skyscrapers contain corporate suites, not observation decks, on the top floors. Both the best and worst of modernity in its most iconic architectural space, perhaps.Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to David Schaengold
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        “Both the best and worst of modernity in its most iconic architectural space, perhaps.”

        Oh, David, please! All corporations are “evil?” It does grow tiresome. I’m anticipating an exercise in dialectics here not the usual left-wing swill. You can do better!Report

        • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to Bob Cheeks
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          Of course corporations aren’t all evil. In fact one objection to them is that calling a corporation evil or good is meaningless, which absolves them terrifyingly of the moral responsibility of human persons.Report

          • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to David Schaengold
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            As you know corporations are subject to the law, consequently they have certain “moral responsibilities.” The problem, it seems, is in getting the DA, or state/federal regulator to do their job and investigate allegations and bring charges when appropriate. If that’s not happening then we have a problem with the libido dominandi, which is an intrinsic problem related to the specie and by definition a integral part of the drama of humanity.Report

          • Avatar JosephFM in reply to David Schaengold
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            Corporations are created tools, abstractions, that we forget are tools and treat as real though they are not. It’s true that can’t be “good” or “evil”, indeed, the point of binding them under law is to allow individuals to escape liability.Report

  11. Avatar Kyle Cupp
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    Welcome. And good post. I particularly like the notion that architecture tells a story, and one that we may not really want told.Report

  12. Avatar Rufus F.
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    Another question this raises in my mind is what about the mall? A lot of the US cities I lived in stopped building skyscrapers by about the 70s, but are still building malls like mad. (Maybe not during the recession!) But I wonder what if the mall isn’t, as you say, “an expression of the aesthetic, economic, and political aspirations of a community”? Could the mall become a bit like the Middle Ages church, a repository of a common culture in a time of disunity? Would the central atrium that many malls have be considered a sacred space?

    Good post- it provokes all sorts of thoughts!Report

    • Avatar Mr. Prosser in reply to Rufus F.
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      Good thought. The mall provides a covered area for elderly walkers in the morning, a place for mid-teens to gather after, and sometimes during, school hours, a weekend fund-raising site for various charitable groups and a social gathering for mome in teh food courts and coffee shops. Much like the commons in front of the cathedral where all social and commercial business was carried out in medieval times. It is also interesting that the businesses reflect the economic times. Today the payday loan storefronts and consignment businesses flourish where once the boutiques and fashion shops did business.Report

    • Avatar Dan Summers in reply to Rufus F.
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      Could the mall become a bit like the Middle Ages church, a repository of a common culture in a time of disunity?

      Gad, what a depressing thought.Report

    • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Rufus F.
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      The first time I visited Orlando’s Mall at Millennia, my thought was that it was like a cathedral to excess consumption, the central atrium being where we went to worship our indebtedness. (This was in 2006, which is probably relevant.)

      Malls are specifically build to lull us and manipulate us into giving up our consciousness not to God or to love but to reckless spending.Report

  13. Avatar Dan Summers
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    Welcome, welcome.

    I can’t comment for scientists at large, but I have the kind of elevated, joyous feeling you ascribe to them when I learn something particularly beautiful about the human physiology, and how it informs our relationship to the world and to history. When I was in residency, I attended a class taught by a hematologist. He discussed the molecular structure of hemoglobin, and how ethnic variations in the molecule’s conformation mirrored the migration patterns of Native Americans from Asia, via Alaska and Canada. In that moment, I experienced all the exaltation you describe in your post.

    And I also feel a similar sense of joy viewing the lower Manhattan skyline from the Brooklyn Promenade. No wonder Walt Whitman spent so much time in that neighborhood.Report

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