Walker Percy Wednesday 139


Self as Transcendent. In a post-religious age, the only transcendence open to the self is self-transcendence, that is, the transcending of the world by the self. The available modes of transcendence in such an age are science and art.


Reentry problems become noticeable in less inspired scientists. The divorced wife of an astronomer at the Mount Wilson Observatory accused her husband of “angelism-bestialism.” He was so absorbed in his work, the search for the quasar with the greatest red shift, that when he came home to his pleasant subdivision house, he seemed to take his pleasure like a god descending from Olympus into the world of mortals, ate heartily, had frequent intercourse with his wife, watched TV, read Mickey Spillane, and said not a word to wife or children.


With the waning of transcendence, reentry problems increase. One manifestation, which always amazes laymen, is the jealousy and lack of scruple of scientists. Their anxiety to receive credit often seems more appropriate to used-car salesmen than to a transcending community.
Other examples of reentry failures: the general fatuity of scientists in political matters, their naïveté and credulity before tricksters. The magician Randi says that scientists are easier to fool—e.g., by Uri Geller—than are children.
More distressing consequences occur when the zeal and excitement of a scientific community runs counter to the interests of the world community, e.g., when scientists at Los Alamos did not oppose the bomb drop over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The joys of science and the joys of life as a human are not necessarily convergent. As Freeman Dyson put it, the “sin” of the scientists at Los Alamos was not that they made the bomb but that they enjoyed it so much.


Their impoverishment is to be located in both an inflation of theory and a devaluation of the world theorized about. They out-Freud Freud without the scruples of Freud.