Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Black Holes of Stephen Hawking and Richard H. Brodhead


Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has shaken up the popular science world with his newest study about the basic nature of black holes, but is his idea revolutionary? Some scientists aren't convinced.
Hawking's new black hole study — entitled "Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes" — was published Jan. 22 through the preprint journal and has not yet undergone the peer review vetting process typical for academic papers. It attempts to solve a paradox surrounding the basic building blocks of how the universe works.
"Hawking's paper is short and does not have a lot of detail, so it is not clear what his precise picture is, or what the justification is," Joseph Polchinski of the Kavli Institute wrote in an email to [The Strangest Black Holes in the Universe]
Current theories about black holes hinge upon what's known as the "firewall paradox." This paradox pits Einstein's theory of general relativity against quantum theory in the context of a black hole. The paradox, developed by Polchinski and colleagues about two years ago, is based upon a thought experiment about would happen to a person if he or she fell into a black hole.

Richard H. Brodhead, the New York TIMES, 23 June 2002, on a "black hole" I alone had the instruments to detect."

Richard Brodhead, Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Schultz in 2002 expressed their high-minded doubts as to the existence of The Isle of the Cross in 1853 and a volume Melville called Poems in 1860. I had merely surmised that Melville completed a book in 1853, said Brodhead, by then the dean of Yale College, in the June 23, 2002, New York Times. My surmises went on: “Parker is also convinced that Melville prepared a volume of poems in 1860 that failed to be published. If this is so, a stretch that had seemed empty of literary strivings was instead a time of new effort and new failure—a black hole Parker alone has the instruments to detect” (13). Andrew Delbanco, the Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, known to be a biographer-in-waiting, in the New Republic (September 2002) declared that I was “amazingly certain” (34) of my own conclusions, such as Melville’s completion of a book in 1853 (merely a surmise, he said) and Poems in 1860 (it “was never published—and it is a surmise that Melville ever wrote it”). Delbanco warned that my certainty of my conclusions meant that the second volume, like the first, “must be used with caution” (34). Elizabeth Schultz in the Common Review (Winter 2002) gave a further punitive twist to the accusations: “Parker also reads betrayal and despair into the disappearance of two manuscripts, which he contends Melville completed—a novel, putatively titled The Isle of the Cross, and his first collection of poems” (45). As Backscheider says, “For an academic to be accused of ‘making up things’ . . . is the most serious charge that can be levelled against him or her and may discredit that person forever” (xix). I may die still widely discredited and shamed in print and on the Internet by the false accusations of these three Melville critics, but starting in 2007 I have been trying to make the truth known, even at the cost of some barely perceptible repetitions.
            In dismissing me as the sole adventurer to bring back a report from that “black hole,” Brodhead was dismissing three quarters of a century of scholarship. To be blunt, Brodhead was acting as if the scholars from Minnigerode on had never labored in the archives, never published their discoveries, never rejoiced when later workers added their supplementary findings. I alone “had the instruments to detect” Poems, so I had fantasized it. I was an unreliable biographer, and the scholars I had revered and built upon had never existed. I have talked about Brodhead’s blindness to human agony. He, Delbanco, and Schultz also display here something worse: blindness to human existence, blindness to the working lives of remarkable scholars. They dismiss scholars like Thorp and Hayford as if they had never existed. I emphasize this again to make clear the wreckage Charles N. Feidelson made of scholarship at Yale and other Ivy League universities and the contempt for human beings which his principles encouraged.
               Does such slander in the mainstream media matter, except to the person whose reputation is being damaged and to the children and grandchildren of the now-dead scholars whose memories are erased? Yes, for such false proclamations still confuse the innocent critic who reads the slanderers but not the scholarship. Apparently influenced by one or more of these critics, Edgar A. Dryden in 2004 (207 n. 2) said, “Hershel Parker argues convincingly that Melville tried unsuccessfully to publish a book of poems in 1860.” No, no! In my biography there is no such argument. Why would I argue something everyone knew? Instead, I merely make a fresh presentation of the long-familiar evidence that when Melville sailed from Boston with his brother in 1860 he left behind in manuscript a volume of poetry which he expected to be published in New York in his absence. I had new things to say about his reading epics on the voyage and other matters, but not much new about the volume of poems except some attention to the evidence of its length.
            What’s at stake with the denial of The Isle of the Cross and Poems is a true sense of the trajectory of Melville’s career, in which The Isle of the Cross comes between Pierre and the first stories and in which the lectures precede Poems and Battle-Pieces follows it. A responsible critic would have dismissed Baym’s efforts to keep something like Weaver’s unsupported theories before new generations of critics. A responsible critic would have been open to ways that Pierre as a psychological novel grows out of the examinations of the workings of the mind in Moby-Dick. Such a critic might have looked at ways in which Melville’s suggestions to Hawthorne about the Agatha Hatch material might seem to continue or develop beyond his techniques in Pierre. Instead of writing about “Bartleby” as if it followed Pierre, such a critic would use all the available evidence to speculate responsibly about how Melville might have grown, in style, psychology, and intellect, in the process of brooding about the Agatha Hatch story in the fall of 1852 and of writing the lost The Isle of the Cross from mid-December 1852 till late May 1853. Similarly, a responsible critic would take account of how Melville might have grown as a poet in the process of writing the lost Poems from 1857 or 1858 until May 1860. No one can think responsibly about Battle-Pieces (1866), John Marr (1888), and Timoleon (1891), or about the 1876 Clarel, without taking into account the book of poetry which Melville was not able to print in 1860.

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