I like to follow extended think-fests (such as conferences) with brief flights away from cerebrality, at least for a couple of days where possible. So following the SCMS, I visited the Santa Monica Mountains, which included a hike up La Jolla Canyon and Mugu Peak at the northern end of the range, and another up Solstice Canyon and the Sostomo Trail/Deer Valley Loop. Both were beautiful, as it was a great time to be there — warm, sunny, breezy, their chaparral and riparian vegetation in full bloom this time of year. Then I drove up from Malibu via Mulholland Highway to Hollywood — having recently re-read Mike Davis’s case for letting Malibu burn (in The Ecology of Fear) in preparation for it — and then walked from Griffith Observatory to the top of Mount Hollywood to get a great view of the whole LA area, somewhat muted by smog but not nearly as much as it would have been several years ago.
(As for letting Malibu burn, well, some of the monster homes did remind me a little of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, although (a) burning and exploding are not the same thing, (b) there’s still a fair bit of land set aside in the public/private patchwork of the area to keep environmentalists at least somewhat happy, and (c) I might even consider living there myself if I could afford it ;-).)
The irony, and this is part of the point, is that getting away from thinking tends to trigger new synaptic connections for thinking. This time the connections revolved mainly around two sets of foci, one having to do with the raison d’etre of my teaching, research, and writing (which I’ll leave aside for a future post), and the second having to do with aesthetics and Peircian phenomenology. I’ve been thinking a lot about the latter recently — especially Peirce’s classification of experience into firstness, secondness, and thirdness — and wondering why it was that, for all the thousands of pages he wrote during his prolifically unpublished life, he had very little to say about aesthetics and ethics. In fact, he often admitted his ignorance of both of them, even as they fit into important places within his philosophical system. (He took aesthetics and ethics to be two of the three divisions of “normative science,” the third being logic, and the three corresponding, respectively, to the beautiful, the good, and the true.)