Sunday, November 29, 2009


Black Hills, Ayn Rand, Leibnitz, etc.

The only justification for the essay that follows is that it illustrates the wandering ideas in my conscious mind. Perhaps your mind works the same way. Perhaps men's and women's minds work differently. I don't know; you judge.

I started thinking about someting my daughter told me today. She advised me to think "unthinkable thoughts," or thoughts that I have deliberately suppressed. I thought about my late wife who passed away two years ago after several years of declining mental and physical health. She herself said that she was a burden to me. I didn't want to think so. I loved her and didn't mind any burden she imposed at all. Now, those are two contradictory thoughts. Today I accept the fact that she was a burden. Her illness prevented me - actually, the both of us - from doing certain things.

We bought a new car in 1999 and planned to use it for many long trips around the country. We both were adequate and safe drivers and we would take turns driving. I would drive for an hour or two, then she would take over for an hour or two, and so on. That way neither of us would become sleepy or hypnotized and have a serious accident. The only driving we did was to drive to visit our daughter who lived near Berkeley, about 400 miles from our home in Los Angeles. About the time I figured the car had been broken in, my wife announced that she could no longer drive. That meant the end of our plan to drive to South Dakota to see the images of the four presidents in the Black Hills.

The four presidents were Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt. I've always wondered why Theodore Roosevelt was included. I agree that Washington and Lincoln were our two greatest presidents, and I won't argue as to which was greater. Jefferson was a great president also, but I'm not sure I would rank him as No. 3. I would tend to rank another Roosevelt as No. 3: Franklin, not Theodore.

Someh0w my train of thought switched to the writer Ayn Rand. I have recently read a review of two new biographies of her. Her political philosophy was quite different from that of any of the 4 presidents honored on Mount Rushmore. In her philosophy she disdained ideas of altruism and generosity toward the unfortunate. Following her, I should think that what I've worked to obtain is mine and no one else should try to take it from me. Naturally there are going to be winners and losers in our capitalist economic system. The system itself is good and we should accept the results of its operation. The President who rallied his followers around this simple philosophy was Reagan.

One reviewer pointed out that although Ayn Rand was discouraged and believed that almost no one agreed with her, at the time of her death her ideas were becoming very popular. Today, thirty years later, they are becoming less popular.

I am reminded - actually, I should write that my mind then wandered to the German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz. Mr. Leibniz is known to all engineers, physicists, and mathematicians as the invention of the notation used in calculus. In fact, he was one of the three persons who invented and used calculus. The other two were Archimedes and Newton. Archimedes calculated the volumes of objects of various shapes. Newton calculated the orbits of the moon, the earth, and the major planets. Leibniz invented the calculus of variations to calculate such things as minimum time trajectories of moving objects. He used arguments from the calculus of variations to convince his wealthy patrons that the economic system in which they enjoyed great riches and power was the "stable" system and that they should accept the results and enjoy being rich and not feel any guilt for the existence of the extreme poverty in which most people lived.

Voltaire satirized Leibniz as the character Dr. Pangloss in his novel Candide. Perhaps some Voltaire now living will satirize Ayn Rand and Ronald Reagan.

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