A Terrible Beauty is Born

美國對復活節的重視,遠遠不及英國和香港,但店鋪基本上全部關門,往日氣勢不凡令人振奮的港口邊也異常安靜。在這個日子裏到校園,和在這個blog上寫東西差不多。

此等年月讀William Butler Yeats—“a politically reluctant poet“—的名詩”Easter 1916″,真是再應景不過。

Easter 1916

by William Butler Yeats
I

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

II

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse.
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vain-glorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

III

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter, seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute change.
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim;
And a horse plashes within it
Where long-legged moor-hens dive
And hens to moor-cocks call.
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

IV

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death.
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse —
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Advertisements

Anaïs Nin

Anaïs Nin是一個爭議不斷傳奇⋯⋯ 可惜她的書在今天少有人讀。但她的蹤跡將留在她的語錄中,注定被不停分享——

Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.

For you and for me the highest moment, the keenest joy, is not when our minds dominate but when we lose our minds…

People living deeply have no fear of death.

永遠二十三歲

1994年,經濟學家Avinash Dixit回首自己28年的研究生涯。他發覺在自己的學術起步階段,經濟學界陷入一片混亂:

… research was almost required to be “relevant.” Most theorists were affected by the atmosphere…

但,”Looking back on those years, one sees that much of the ‘relevant’ research in economics left little lasting mark.” 即使Dixit自己當初迎合潮流的作品也難逃厄運:”My ‘relevant’ work is mostly and justly forgotten.”

Dixit給新人的建議是:選擇題目的時候,不要考慮問題的social importance,而應該做”what captures your intellectual interest and creative imagination.” 當然,如果你感興趣的問題剛好重要,那就謝天謝地了。

持有相同觀點的還有物理天才費因曼(Feynman):

There’s no importance whatsoever. I’m just doing it for the fun of it… And before I knew it… I was “playing” — working, really …. It was effortless.

科學史領域上無人不曉的Thomas Kuhn也認為,對一個領域做出突破性貢獻的人通常是那些從事常規研究(normal research)的人:

Only investigations firmly rooted in the contemporary scientific tradition are likely to break that tradition and give rise to a new one…. At least for the scientific community as a whole, work within a well-defined and deeply ingrained tradition seems more productive of tradition-shattering novelties than work in which no similarly convergent standards are involved. How can this be so? I think it is because no other sort of work is nearly so well suited to isolate for continuing and concentrated attention those loci of trouble or causes of crises upon whose recognition the most fundamental advances in basic depend. … The scientist requires a thoroughgoing commitment to the tradition within which, if he is fully successful, he will break.

Dixit的好建議不止這些,但千言萬語,他認為最重要的一點是:

Always work as if [you] were still twenty-three.

(以上文字多數摘自:Dixit, A., 1998. “My system of work (not!)” in Szenberg, M. (ed) Passion and Craft: Economists at Work. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.)

經濟學牛牤成長史

多年之後,以研究經濟學中的經濟學(the economics of the profession of economics)著稱的David Colander已經離開普林斯頓大學的講席教授職位,前往著名文理學院Middlebury College任教。自喻為Economic Gadfly(經濟學牛牤)的他,開始回首征程。

Colander認為,一個好的理論,應該滿足”The Yeah Criterion”, 也就是說其對一個現象的解釋真正讓自己心服口服:”Yeah, that’s right; that’s the way it works.”  但是,這個”The Yeah Criterion”實行起來很難,因為你既不能因為他人同意而同意,亦不可應為他人不同意而不同意,所以:

For the Yeah criterion to work, one needs an enormous ego, and an ability not to be influenced by the crowd.

Colander選擇在哥倫比亞讀經濟學博士,始於欣賞經濟學美妙的直覺。所以Colander認為好的經濟學研究既不應該像MIT學派那樣推崇簡潔漂亮的數學模型,也不應該像芝加哥學派那樣奉自由市場為真義。一旦意識到這一點,Colander立即放棄了自己幾乎完成的關於最優徵稅問題(optimal taxation)的畢業論文,轉而追尋符合自己的”yeah criterion”的研究——”The free-market solution to inflation”。

博士畢業不成問題,Colander的導師Vickrey也肯定他的論文,認為有望在頂級期刊發表。但當Colander把論文投到American Economic Review的時候,得到無情的拒絕:

[The rejection] wasn’t even polite. It said, essentially, that the paper was garbage, poorly written, incomprehensible, and wrong.

再嘗試其他期刊,換來的是更多的拒絕。此時Colander方意識到自己陷入了困境,一度想離開學術界。

困境之中,Colander得到多位朋友的鼎力支持,使得他重振信心。這段經歷中最有意思的是他和人緣甚廣的經濟學大家Abba Lerner的相識和合作。

Colander因為相近的研究興趣,曾多次試圖接近Abba但未有實質性的交流。後來的一次AEA(美國經濟學協會)在芝加哥的年會上,Colander的演講被安排在整個大會的最後一場(session),聽眾僅有兩個人!全是前來捧場的演講者的朋友。而Colander的演講在最後一個。

這一場開始不久,Abba居然來了。

Abba仔細聽了Colander的報告,並詳細質詢技術細節。兩個人細談三日之後,Abba被完全說服。然後Abba決定兩個人應該合寫一本書。

是年12月份,Colander和Abba不分晝夜一同工作。不出一個月,一本書已經寫完!

參考資料:

Colander, D., 1998. “Confessions of an economic gadfly” in Szenberg, M. (ed) Passion and Craft: Economists at Work. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

在一顆小星下 (Under One Small Star)

我和Ricci花了整整兩個鐘頭反覆品讀Wislawa Szymborska的這首題為Under One Small Star的詩。這樣的一個乍暖還寒的春夜,讀這樣的機智卻又毫不討巧,略帶反諷卻又有些嬉戲的詩,真讓人沉醉。

第一句:

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.

就足以讓人震撼。什麼是偶然,什麼是必然,有誰能分得清楚?有誰知道自己是否分得清楚?人們常常誇大自己境遇的獨特性,但遇到真正的巧合卻又認為非如此不可,非如此不可!

但Szymborska縱然聰明絕頂,也決不偽裝萬能,所以第二句稍稍給necessity一點面子:

My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.

接下來,”forgive me,” “I apologize,” “please don’t pay me much attention”亂飛,全詩都是道歉。道歉到後來,幾乎發展成了毫無節制的跪地求饒:

My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.

這位執著於微觀的老太太,寫出了肯定是前無古人後無來者的最為浩大的道歉。我以為中間最有意思的一句是:

Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.

真的是這樣 ,我們多數情況下都生活在沒心沒肺(soulless)的狀態了。不止忙碌起來容易失去心靈,悠閒起來更加如此。我們很容易時而萬丈豪情,時而心情低落,不止缺乏智慧,更缺乏自嘲。諸位,我們有幾人曾經想到對自己的心靈鞠躬致歉?

Wislawa Szymborska肯定是我最近兩年的閱讀中最有意思的發現。Emily Dickinson說過:

If I read a book and it makes my whole body feel so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry.
If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.

以此而論,我不知道有多少詩可以稱得上詩,而Szymborska的詩絕對符合Dickinson的標準。

附Szymborska的原詩:

Under One Small Star

By Wislawa Szymborska

Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.
I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful of water.
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
your gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.
Dignity, please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.
Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.

愛因斯坦說過……

愛因斯坦說過:“All models are wrong.” 這話經常被做數學模型的人作為刀槍不入的神盾。

且慢。愛因斯坦究竟說過這話沒有?

愛因斯坦說過的話何其之多,人人都引用,到最後大家都找不到出處了。類似的被錯誤歸結為愛因斯坦的語錄,舉不勝舉。感興趣的讀者,可以看Wikiquota的一個不完全總結

引用愛因斯坦話的人,多半從未讀過他的任何文字。好消息是,如果你真的花點時間讀他的書,還是會大為震撼的。

比如“The Liberty of Doctrine—A Propos of the Gumbel Case”一篇,開篇即非常醒目:

Academic chairs are many, but wise and noble teachers are few; lecture-rooms are numerous and large, but the number of young people who genuinely thirst after truth and justice is small. Nature scatters her common wares with a lavish hand, but the choice sort she produces but seldom.

既然人人熟知資源稀缺的道理,理當平心靜氣接受現實。但愛因斯坦說這是一個“複雜世界”:

We all know that, so why complain? Was it not ever thus and will it not ever thus remain? Certainty, and one must take what Nature gives as one finds it. But there is also such a thing as a spirit of the times, an attitude of mind characteristic of a particular generation, which is passed on from one individual to individual and gives a society its particular tone.

好吧。每個時代都有自己的話語系統。身處我們今天這個由Twitter和Facebook組成的連綿不絕的話語世界,捫心自問,這個時代的精神是什麼呢?客觀一點說,就是人人都高度話嘮,無聊,苦悶,言不及義。人類啊,簡直是自討苦吃。還好,愛因斯坦是建設派:

Each of us has to do his little bit towards transforming this spirit of the times.

這就是愛因斯坦文字的魅力:簡單,深刻,常常哀嘆人心不古但絕不悲觀。他讓你思考但絕不讓你絕望。他帶給你力量而非抱怨。愛因斯坦的筆法和今日網路上那些令人作嘔的醒目人物(不分左右,多數如此)相比,簡直完全相反。

愛因斯坦相信任何一個國家都不能群龍無首,但是他也是相信一人一票的民主而非專制力量(force)的,至於原因,他的解釋是我見過的最明晰的:

For force always attracts men of low morality, and I believe it to be an invariable rule that tyrants of genius are succeeded by scoundrels.

明君之後,惡棍不息,這就是專制必然滅亡的原因。

別怪我太極端,這話愛因斯坦真正說過。

The Second Coming

這是難得的暖冬。早晨起來,端坐在窗下朗讀William Butler Yeats(葉芝, 1865-1939)的The Second Coming

這個時代,用”The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”(惡人坦蕩蕩,君子常戚戚)來形容,實在太恰切了。政客們已經完全沒有道德擔當了,無論是僭建還是數十億資產的指控,他們一概含糊不清地推脫,視不斷流逝的時光為救世主。

新聞也變得乏味不堪,每天的新聞標題都差不多,那些令人生厭的嘴臉彷彿永不消失,以至於每天看着《明報》和《蘋果日報》的時候都會昏昏思睡。世事如此,真可謂”Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world!”

某政權行將崩潰的預言既流於俗套又遙遙無期,但對當局美妙的期待最終又將大半化為幻影。高舉普及常識大旗的人們的話語固然一日日變得令人睏乏,看着不太文藝的青年假裝和時事絕緣更令人頭痛,但最令人生厭的是任何一方那種救世主的腔調。未來是什麼?是類似”That twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle”的驚世劇變嗎?

好吧,葉芝只是葉芝。我日日讀舊書,依然覺得當下的時代無與倫比。更何況哪一個時代不是這樣呢。

What historical era, after all, is not neatly summed up by his lament that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity”?  (Adam Cohen, New York Times, Feb. 12, 2007)