“The Transcendentalist” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

As thinkers, mankind have ever divided into three sects:

1. The Materialist:
“Space: the final frontier.
These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.
Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds,
to seek out new life and new civilizations,
to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

2. The Transcendentalist:
“Though we should soar into the heavens,
though we should sink into the abyss,
we never go out of ourselves;
it is always our own thought that we perceive.”

3. The Christian:
“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.”

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6 thoughts on ““The Transcendentalist” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

  1. Nemo,

    I prefer Sextus Empriicus’s division of philosophers according to their attitude towards truth: “Those who believe they have discovered it are the “Dogmatists,” especially so called – Aristotle, for example and Epicurus and the Stoics and certain others; Cleitomachus and Carneades and other Academics treat it as inapprehensible: the Sceptics keep on searching.” But you knew that.



    1. It’s a delight to hear from you again Randal! I enjoyed our discussion on Aristotle.

      Remember Meno’s paradox? You can’t search for truth unless you already posses it in some manner. I like to think of our intellectual endeavour as a growth, starting from a seed of truth, but growing as we inquire, explore and learn more.

      1. Dear Nemo,

        I love paradoxes, but as a Sceptic, I wonder about that seed of truth. As an engineer, I have been trained to think that initial conditions can determine outcomes. As a person who tries to understand the world, I marvel at the “profound interconnectedness of things” (Ernest Mach).

        Emile Borel is often quoted as saying that a grain of sand on Sirius can affect the movement of a gas molecule here on earth, but actually, that is not what he said! He actually said, “Ceci revient à dire qu’il est au moinsaussi vraisemblable de supposer que les lois de notre univers seront complètement modifiées par une combinaison avec un autre univers(actuellement infiniment plus éloigné de lui qu’un atome situé sur la Terre n’est éloigné d’un atome situé sur Sirius) que de supposer unchangement de sens appréciable dans la variation de l’entropie. Nous ne pourrions aller plus loin qu’en spéculant sur l’infini; ce ne serait plus du tout de la physique. – That is to say it is at least as plausible to assume that the laws of our universe will be completely changed by combination with another universe (now much further from it than an atom on the earth is far from an atom located on Sirius) as to assume an appreciable change in the direction of the variation of entropy. We could go further in speculating on the infinite; but it would not be at all of physics.” Another quote that he actually said: “Malgre les progres de la science, il y a beaucoup de fait que l’homme est incapable de prevoir.” (Le Hasard, p. 6). I don’t think I need to translate that one.

        My wife and I always attend the Christmas eve service at the Episcopal Cathedral in Vancouver. We often leave before the Nicean creed, but I always want to stay to hear the message of Dean Peter Elliot. This year he mentioned several times “the mystery we know as God.” That is a Christian message that I can get behind. What a guy, that Dean Elliot.

        Cheers and Happy Happy,


      2. I have been trained to think that initial conditions can determine outcomes.

        Hmm, that’s interesting. What do you think of evolution? 🙂

        “the mystery we know as God.”

        That is also a paradoxical statement. The “mystery” is unknown, and yet “we know”.

        P.S. I can’t remember when was the last time I attended a Christmas service. But I do remember the first time. I was a strict atheist back then, but just out of curiosity, I attended a Christmas mass.

  2. Nemo,

    “that initial conditions can determine outcomes” is physics in a box. But this doesn’t account for the “profound interconnectedness of things”.

    “What do you think of evolution?” That it is happening.

    “The “mystery” is unknown, and yet “we know”.” Ha Ha. Hoisted on my own petard! You recall that my problem with Plato’s Theory of Ideas is that the Theaetetus itself shows that it can’t be known. Dean Elliott “knows.” I see mystery.

    Curiosity is good.



    1. “that initial conditions can determine outcomes” is physics in a box. But this doesn’t account for the “profound interconnectedness of things”

      I would think that it is because of the interconnectedness of things that the initial conditions can determine outcomes. No?

      Theaetetus itself shows that it can’t be known

      It shows that Theaetetus doesn’t know yet, not that it cannot be known. They are two different things. Theaetetus cannot find a definition of knowledge that can accommodate all that we know about knowledge without self-contradictions. It is rather like in Quantum Physics, where physicists are searching for a theory that unify quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity. It hasn’t been done yet, but it doesn’t mean it cannot be done.

      “Hoisted on my own petard!”

      Live and let live! 🙂

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