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The Things ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ Never Think About

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A recent Newsweek cover story depicted the state of TV as “The Billion-Dollar Battle to Insult Your Intelligence.”

Citing such popular shows as “Beavis and Butt-head,” the article left the impression that we’re a dumber and coarser nation these days.

Sorry, but I don’t control TV programming. I can only write my little newspaper column the best way I know how on subjects of interest to you. My sense of things is that you don’t want the mindless pap of “Beavis and Butt-head.”

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Along those lines, I was thinking about philosophical rationalism the other night while sipping warm milk in bed. Perhaps like you, philosophical rationalism is the only way I can make sense of the world.

Naturally, I reached for my bedside Spinoza. OK, OK, you know already know what I’m going to quote, but indulge me:

“An emotion towards a thing which we conceive simply, and not as necessary, or as contingent, or as possible, is, other conditions being equal, greater than any other emotion.”

It’s as true today as the day Spinoza wrote it, don’t you think?

I hadn’t planned to stay up much longer, but once you start thinking about the Age of Reason, don’t you find yourself almost involuntarily thinking of Aristotle and his legacy on philosophical thought?

I shouldn’t quote from memory with my audience, but wasn’t it from “On the Soul,” in which he wrote:

“Some say that what originates movement is both preeminently and primarily soul. Believing that what is not itself moved cannot originate movement in another, they arrived at the view that soul belongs to the class of things in movement. This is what led Democritus to say that soul is a sort of fire or hot substance.”

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May I go on quoting? “If thinking is like perceiving, it must be a process in which the soul is acted upon by what is capable of being thought, or a process different but analogous to that. The thinking part of the soul must therefore be, while impassible, capable of receiving the form of an object; that is, must be potentially identical in character with its object; that is, must be potentially identical in character with its object without being its object. Mind must be related to what is thinkable, as sense is to what is sensible.”

No matter that Galileo and Kepler later disproved much of Aristotle’s belief of the physical world, wouldn’t you agree that the three would have had a fascinating conversation?

Drowsiness was upon me, and since I’m not getting any younger, I had to chuckle as I recalled De Montaigne quoting in the Latin from Lucretius:

“Minutatim, vires et robur adultum frangit, et in partem peiorem liquitur aetas.”

Don’t take this as condescension, but just in case your Latin is as rusty as mine, that says: “Little by little age destroys our powers and adult strength, and drags us down to decay.”

I sought sleep, because the dream-work fascinates me. You know as well as I what Freud said about that: “The entire sum of the transforming processes which have changed the latent dream into the manifest dream is called the dream-work.”

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Remember how amazed you were at the simplicity, yet brilliance of Freud’s dream analysis when you first came upon it: “A structure of thought, mostly very complicated, which has been built up during the day and not brought to settlement--a day remnant--clings firmly even during night to the energy which it had assumed--the underlying center of interest--and thus threatens to disturb sleep. The action of this unconscious wish upon the logical conscious material of dream-thought now results in the dream.”

Naturally, the dream seems disproportionate and incomprehensible to our waking state, as Freud explained: “In order that such a displacement should occur it must be possible for the cathexis to pass uninhibited from unimportant to significant ideas--a process which in normal conscious thinking can only give the impression of “faulty thinking.”

Out of nowhere, I started flashing on abstract algebra.

Remembering that a Euclidian domain is a principal ideal domain, I forced myself to recall the theorem relating to subspaces of finite dimensional spaces. You could probably recite it better than I, but the way I learned it was, “If V has finite dimension n , and M is a non-trivial subspace of V , then M has finite dimension m where 0 is less than m which is less than n .”

What a world, huh? Sitting here now and sharing these thoughts with my loyal readers, I confess to a measure of smugness, because, frankly, I can picture those clods Beavis and Butt-head reading this column and saying, “That sucks!”

Rest assured, dear reader, the words of fools won’t deter me.

My renewed pledge is to continue writing columns just like this one.

For Friday, I’m kicking around the idea of doing something on the critical elements of jet propulsion.

No need to thank me. Just keep reading.

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.

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