Friday, February 3, 2012



When I was in graduate school I developed a method for solving particularly difficult mathematical problems of the kind that sometimes took days. The strategy was to keep the problem “lightly” in mind all the time. By lightly I mean, focusing continually on the problem and the pertinent details and related deductions while avoiding obsessing about any particular strategy for solving it. The longer I’d go, the more difficult it would become to preserve the state of willed obsession and yet the solution would finally come, often emerging spontaneously, proving that sometimes the deepest reasoning the mind does is subconscious.

January felt like that. I’ve been thinking about how to restructure my fencing training and competition in order to become a better fencer. As part of another project I’ve been reading some archaeological research, in particular Stein et al’s “Revisiting Downtown Chaco” and George Pepper’s 1905 paper “Ceremonial Objects and Ornaments from Pueblo Bonito.” As an adolescent I imagined that science and knowledge developed linearly. Later, I learned that even in something as rigorous as mathematics, the development of knowledge is much more like the development of a theme in musical composition. Important knowledge is reasoned, or discovered, then lost and rediscovered sometimes simultaneously. In the light of Lekson’s revolutionary history of the ancient southwest it might be a good time to review Pepper’s work chronicling the finds of the Hyde/Putnam excavations. If Lynn were reading this over my shoulder she’d no doubt bring up “The Glass Bead Game,” and rightly, too.

In January I also had a bout with the flu as has she. The flu sucks. In “Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” T.E. Lawrence describes how he developed his famous strategy for the Arab insurgency while suffering a severe illness. Unfortunately, I have to report that my own recent illness led to no such astonishing insights, at least that I’d recognize as such.

There was a compensation, however. We’ve just seen the BBC production “Sherlock Series 2,” the second installment of the modern day re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. The first series of three feature length films was a perfect delight. And yet, the second series surpasses it. It was by far the best drama I’ve seen in the last year and notably puts to shame every American film we’ve seen since “Michael Clayton.” They are literate, witty and filled with original dramatic riffs built from modern technological culture.

They are also allusive. Dr. Watson’s blog happens to latch at 1895, which was also was the original Holmes’ annus mirabulis, the year of some of his greatest mysteries. I’m inclined to think that 2011, was Moffat and Gatiss’s 1895.