What’s This Web Site About?

Up Down Way has no unifying topic (such as sites I look at regularly about the Linux operating system or alternative energy technology or the Boston Celtics). Rather, it is a sort of collage, mingling a variety of forms: part blog, part memoir, part journal, part essay collection, part photo gallery. If it’s unified by anything, it’s by the particular set of questions with which I confront the world and think about my own history and destiny.

However, except for a few autobiographical elements, this web site is not about me. It’s about a number of topics and issues that I’m interested in, or rather, that have taken hold of my thinking, sometimes for decades.

What topics? I confess to being an amateur polymath, with a broad range of interests. Some relate to my formal studies — German literature and philosophy; ancient Greek language, literature, and philosophy; history of ideas; religion; linguistics; Waldorf pedagogy. Others have simply happened — history and philosophy of science, etymology, art history, evolution, Greek mathematics, complexity theory, and computer science. So the topics that will pop up on this web site could be wildly diverse.

An Achilles’ heel of polymathy, of course, is superficiality — and I’m hardly an expert in any of these fields of study. On the other hand, exploring them in relation to one another sometimes affords a useful perspective and provokes questions that experts in a given field don’t always find compelling.

Often these questions are the so-called philosophical questions — where “philosophical” in part means that they involve exploring matters that, for practical reasons and a scarcity of time, one is ordinarily content to take for granted. Often these are also hard questions, perhaps questions with no clear answers — or perhaps with answers that are discomforting or otherwise disruptive to the task at hand.

So one thematically unifying thread of this web site is an effort to articulate and explore things that are sometimes taken for granted. I saw a sign on a building in Manhatten a few years ago that could be a motto for this intention:

     “Unanswered questions are less dangerous that unquestioned answers.”

There’s another thread that is likely to be visible on this web site. For some reason it has been more or less a constant in my life that I am disincllined towards nihilism, relativism, and cynicism. I rejoice in the unspeakable beauty of the natural world. I wonder at the perfection of a great poem or painting or string quartet. I treasure the moment of coming to understand what was previously beyond my grasp. I deeply value (and am humbled by and strive for) the exemplary virtue of some of my fellow human beings. I have a visceral commitment to the search for truth, even if I have no expectation of arriving at it myself.

Such experiences are fundamental to my sense of reality. In more traditional terms, I affirm my confidence in the Neoplatonic triad of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful — not as possessions (actual or potential) but as energizing and guiding powers within the world we human beings inhabit.

When I assert that these threads in some sense unify this collage-like web site, it is not a plan or a promise — more a cautious prediction. One feature of this new sort of literary form is that it is not very static. One doesn’t quite know what its future holds.

Moreover, in some ways this site is much more for me than for any visitors. I started working on it (in 2009) at age 64, an age for beginning the transition from “work” to “retirement,” for confronting the realities of physical decline, for reflecting on end-of-life questions, for recovering the memory of my personal past, for even trying to rebuild one or two of the bridges I burned behind me many years ago. In short, it’s a time for “taking stock,” and that’s part of what’s behind this effort.

So, visitors are very welcome to Up Down Way — feel free to look over my shoulder during this time of reflection. (And if for a little more insight into the name, click here.)

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