Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rob Knop and the Gospel according to Harvey


Jason Rosenhouse wrote "Replying to Knop" and asked:
...someone will have to explain to me Knop's point. He writes that the creation and appreciation of art is not science. Indeed it isn't. It also is not knowledge. What is it, exactly, that I can be said to know as the result of pondering great works of art?

This what Rob Knop wrote:
Consider, for example, art. Yes, there is science in understanding how materials combine to make sculptures, or how pigments combine to make colors. Yes, there is science in understanding what it is about human cognition and/or sociological predisposition that leads people to find some kind of art more pleasing than another. But the art itself-- the creation of it, the appreciation of it, and the understanding of it's meaning for what it is itself-- that is not science. That can be very creative, it can be very deep, it can require tremendous intelligence, and it can involve scholarship... but it's not science. This is what people are talking about when they talk about “other ways of knowing” besides just knowing the empirical results of scientific experiments and the additional predictions of theories supported by those experiments.

Ever see the movie "Harvey," Jason? It's one of Jimmy Stewart's best performances and one of my favorite movies, right up there with "It's a Wonderful Life." (Okay, it's no "Clockwork Orange" but it's a good example of its type.) I think there is a kind of knowledge that can be gained from that movie, any movie, and it's not science and it is knowledge.

Jimmy Stewart played Elwood P. Dowd, a middle-aged eccentric bachelor living in a small Midwestern town. He doesn't have a job and he lives on his deceased father's and his sister's money. He's a great guy, the kindest, friendliest man in the town and he's got a warm smile for everyone he meets. He is well known and well liked and he is seen around town a lot, the library, the market, the barbershop. However, he's an embarrassment to his socially prominent sister, Veta Louise, and his niece, Myrtle Mae. Elwood's "eccentricities" render the ladies "socially questionable." So, they make arrangements to have Elwood committed.

Elwood, you see, has an invisible friend, a six-foot rabbit named Harvey. Harvey goes everywhere with Elwood and is, among other things, everything you want a friend to be; intelligent, kind, truthful, a clever conversationalist, always willing to listen and full of good advice. Elwood, as the cliche goes, doesn't suffer from insanity, he enjoys every minute of it.

What you can learn from that movie about Rob Knop and your question is that Elwood is like Rob Knop. It's a parable in the "Gospel of Harvey." Rob too is an embarrassment to the other science bloggers because of his religious "eccentricities."

Sometimes Elwood can get a little irritated with his sister, and other people, when they are bumping into Harvey or sitting on the same bar stool. They just ignore Harvey altogether, like he wasn't really there and hard for Elwood to understand at first. He's there, right in front of their faces, so rude. They just won't look at him. How can you fail to see a six-foot tall white rabbit? Other times Elwood can tell you're pretending to see Harvey and trying to fool him and he almost admits he knows that other people can't see Harvey. Elwood can handle reality but only in small doses.

And so, we see too that Rob can get a little irritated with ads on science blogs and other bloggers who don't know how to avoid stepping on his god's toes.

One of Elwood's favorite places is the town bar. Elwood likes a little drink now and then. When telling us about what Harvey and himself do with their time, Elwood says, I paraphrase:
We sit in the bar, have a drink or two, and very soon the faces of the other people turn towards me and they smile . . . We came as strangers -- soon we have friends. They come over. They sit with us. They drink with us. They talk to us. They tell us about the great big terrible things they've done and the great big wonderful things they're going to do. Their hopes, their regrets. Their loves, their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. Then I introduce them to Harvey, and he's bigger and grander than anything they can offer me. When they leave, they leave impressed.

A lot of people feel the same way about Jesus:
"And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share
as we tarry there
few others have ever known."

So, seeing Jesus may not differ much from the charming, humorous, harmless dementia of an aging alcoholic. Now, see what you're learning?

On the way to the asylum Elwood wanders off and Veta Louise is committed by mistake before anyone notices the mix-up. The asylum doctors aren't all that quick witted, you know scientists. Psychology is often the object of a disdain in movies. It's always the cold, clinical voice of modern science, droning at us to straighten up and get in line while missing the point of what makes life worth living. Psychology is just trying to break the beauty and intricate design behind the human brain, the choices we make with it, and the personalities it forms into a mass of electrochemical impulses popping in our synapses which we have no real control over.

Rob and Elwood are at war with that and as Elwood says to his shrink; “Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.

You guys want to return Rob to reality, even if reality is the last thing he needs, same as Elwood. As Elwood is about to receive his treatment, another character observes, “After this he'll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are!” All things considered, insanity may be the only reasonable alternative. It's not a real religion, but just an incredible soy substitute.

Life is, after all, a constant battle to fight off maturity and only the ephemeral is of lasting value. It doesn't have to make sense. It just has to work. Reality? Who needs reality, there are dirty dishes in reality. And another problem with reality is there's no background music. I didn't create reality... I'm just trapped in it, but Elwood did create his reality.

15 comments:

DavidD said...

Ah, but you left out how the older psychiatrist saw Harvey, too.

Of course, it was fiction, but if you're going to take your analogies from fiction, don't count on them being realistic in any respect.

Rob Knop has yet to point out what his personal faith is as opposed to what it isn't, though I noticed someone in the comments wrote he goes to a United Church of Christ. Maybe he's not going in the direction of disclosing his own beliefs, but I doubt his faith is about rejecting reality. I don't know many theistic scientists, good scientists that is, ones who know evolution is a fact, but the ones I know aren't opposed to reality, even one that has a spiritual side to it.

J. J. Ramsey said...

So did Elwood ever say of Harvey, "Without thinking and caring people, there would be no Harvey"?

Wait a minute, now ...

"Sometimes Elwood can get a little irritated with his sister, and other people, when they are bumping into Harvey or sitting on the same bar stool."

I guess not.

Decline and Fall said...

This is a beautiful analogy. Harvey is one of my favorite movies, for the mushy reason that I always feel like a better person after seeing it. There is a core of humanity in that film that is entirely missing in Richard Dawkins, despite the fact that I actually agree with Dawkins intellectually. Elwood is in many ways a wise man--he knows how to live, as opposed to knowing how to think.

But this is all so irrational--I'm sure it's just chemicals in brain.

normdoering said...

J. J. Ramsey wrote:
"So did Elwood ever say of Harvey, 'Without thinking and caring people, there would be no Harvey'?"

Ah, yes, the Francis Pharcellus Church doublespeak tactic from the Sept. 21, 1897 response to Virginia O'Hanlon's letter to the editor of New York's Sun; "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

I dealt with that in my first post:
Yes, Andrew, there is a God.

Rob still is using magical thinking:

Well, I want to believe in something like an immortal soul, for that really does take some of the sting out of the idea of thinking ahead to my own death. But I’m not sure if I do believe in something immaterial (and not subject to material measurement) that (somehow) lives on after death.

normdoering said...

DavidD wrote:
"Ah, but you left out how the older psychiatrist saw Harvey, too."

Sort of like the way Christians interpret the Bible, eh? Leave out what you don't like.

"Of course, it was fiction, but if you're going to take your analogies from fiction, don't count on them being realistic in any respect."

I feel the same way about biblical parables.

normdoering said...

Decline and Fall wrote:
"Elwood is in many ways a wise man--he knows how to live, as opposed to knowing how to think."

My cat was like that too, very wise for a cat.

Logicel said...

Critical thinking enhances the non-scientific aspects of our lives. Dawkins Unweaving The Rainbow addresses this approach beautifully. People who cannot reconcile science with the sometimes gritty, and sometimes wonderful process of living are cheating themselves from a fuller experience of life.

Logicel said...

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Logicel said...

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Logicel said...

And I think that blogger lets you highlight recent posts and comments, so your readers can keep up to date by just looking at the summary of recent posts and comments.

All these suggestions are in my own self-enlightened interest, as I enjoy your posts!

J. J. Ramsey said...

"Ah, yes, the Francis Pharcellus Church doublespeak tactic"

Are you accusing me or Knop of using that tactic? Knop was the one who said, "Without thinking and caring people, there would be no God." All I did was change one word, and in the process pointed out that Knop obviously didn't treat God like Harvey.

normdoering said...

When you say, "Without thinking and caring people, there would be no God" then you are using the Francis Pharcellus Church doublespeak tactic at that point no matter what else you say.

J. J. Ramsey said...

normdoering: "When you say, 'Without thinking and caring people, there would be no God' then you are using the Francis Pharcellus Church doublespeak tactic at that point no matter what else you say."

Then why bother with the Harvey analogy? You can't have it both ways. Elwood thinks Harvey is really there in the outside world. By comparing Knop's God to Harvey, you are implying that Knop thinks God is in the outside world. If you argue that Knop is taking the Francis Pharcellus Church approach, then you are presuming that Knop doesn't think God exists in the outside world any more than Church thought Santa Claus existed in the outside world--which conflicts with the assumption made in the Harvey analogy.

If I were more cynical, I'd say that the reason you brought up Francis Pharcellus Church was to put up a smokescreen to hide that your original analogy to Harvey was faulty.

MTran said...

Decline and Fall wrote:
"Elwood is in many ways a wise man--he knows how to live, as opposed to knowing how to think."


Elwood is not wise at all, he is an alcoholic suffering from dementia while leeching off of his relatives. An Elwood with a less supportive family would have either cleaned himself up long ago or he would have ended up as a homeless drunkard begging for booze money.

Harvey is a great movie but its adoration of chronic alcoholism is a dangerous anachronism.

As to norm's analogy breaking down, that is the nature of all analogies. Unfortunately, too many of those who rely on Biblical analogies, parables, and allegories mistake them for complete, literal truth.

Anonymous said...

Great site here Doering. I would love to join...but do I really have to go to Hell? Can we at least negotiate my soul first?