Archive for March, 2009

Our Children’s Children Will Inherit An Exponential Rise In Pain And Death

March 28, 2009
Leaf redeye frog



Preface And Preliminary Remarks–Structuralism Paper
April 1994

Blight weighs heavy upon the land. Exactly when this blight started and what will follow in its wake is uncertain. We do know, however, that this blight has physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions. It is all encompassing. It cannot be seen in its totality, but we know its negative forms. We know that it manifests in environmental disasters, disproportionate wealth distribution (poverty, mental illness, homelessness), disease, war, etc. We know that it has impacted negatively and, in some cases, completely destroyed the human beings capacity to feel compassion, solidarity, and love. We know that rampant materialism is fueling today’s global marketplace, a marketplace that is itself immune to any authority other than the one that applauds the dollar as an end in itself. We also know that manmade catastrophes e.g., acid rain, burning rainforests, polluted water, depleted ozone, endangered species (and now—global warming) etc., are in the vanguard of the blight’s devastating effects. Unless something is done to mitigate or reverse this blight, our children’s children will inherit an exponential rise in pain, suffering, and death.

A contributing factor to this blight, though certainly not its cause, may be found in the unstable ground upon which knowledge is based. This unstable foundation becomes readily apparent when we ask the question, “Where is the foundation of knowledge, the knowledge of the world that we inhabit? This question cannot be answered without encountering incongruities, and these incongruities, as they relate to our physical universe, spill over into what we take to be our most reliable knowledge concerning psychological and sociological realities. What we are left with, as a result of these incongruities, is at least five different scientifically identifiable worldviews. For instance, the logical positivists, from the Vienna circle of Carnap, Frank, Reichenbach, and others, believed that science is not about discovering the true nature of reality; rather, for this school of thought, the significance of science is found in the establishment of the “connections between mathematical and physical signs (which they call symbols) that can be elaborated through the external senses and scientific instruments, concerning that experience which appears to us as the external world.” [ Seyyed Hossein Nasr, l968, p.20] Science, from this perspective, is more about the validation of the meanings we attach to our experience of the world, and less about validating the real (physical) world that we inhabit.

Along these same lines, the operationalist worldview of science (Bridgman) ties the significance of scientific knowledge to the operations that define scientific concepts. In so far as these operations produce reliable data, the operations, according to this viewpoint, become the ultimate matrix for scientific knowledge. However, the viewpoint of another group of scientists (Poincare, Duhem), contrary to the positivism and operational schools of thought, believe that scientific concepts are irreducible mental concepts that are subjective in nature. Science, for this group, becomes a way to scientifically communicate the content of repeatable and reliable experiences. Scientific knowledge, from this perspective, is conceived more as a language for communication then knowledge of objective reality. Also, contrary to the positivistic school of thought, the neo-Kantians (Cassirer, Morgenau), hold to the notion of irreducible concepts of science, but treat these concepts from within the context of “as if” they existed. In this way scientific constructs become regulative in nature and are subject to alteration as experience dictates. This point of view stresses an ever increasing knowledge of, at bottom, an unknowable universe.

The fifth point of view concerning science is the logical realist viewpoint, which embraces a realistic interpretation of mathematical and physical constructs (Northrop, Grunebaum). The emphasis here is placed on the correspondence between the concepts of mathematical physics and a real, knowable, aesthetic universe. Nasr informs us:

“Northrop especially seeks to show that both the Newtonian-Kantian world of mathematical physics and the qualitative vision of nature emphasized by Goethe, which he calls natural historical, and whose knowledge is immediate and aesthetic rather than abstract and mathematical, are ultimately real. The world is order or cosmos rather than chaos, one that is alive as an organism and at the same time governed by law. But once again in this school it is emphasized that the knowledge derived from the sciences is the way that leads us to an ultimate knowledge of things. There is no hierarchy of knowledge, only knowledge of the corporeal domain which determines knowledge as such.” [ Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Encounter Of Man And Nature, l968, p.20]

The lack of consensus concerning the nature, scope, and significance of scientific knowledge suggests to me that we are at a turning point of major historical proportions. This turning point has not come too soon. I hope it has not come too late. I agree with Northrop’s logical realist interpretation of scientific knowledge. However, in my thesis, I include a hierarchy of knowledge, which, ultimately, must be understood as the philosophical and methodological ground from which all knowledge follows.

Science and technology are regarded with the highest esteem, so much so that the “good in society” and technological advancements are linked necessarily, but that is not the only measure of a “good society.” Take away the aesthetic values of nurturing, generosity, compassion, kindness, and love etc., and the “good society” wouldn’t even exist. The hierarchy of knowledge that I am about to suggest not only functions as a bridge connecting scientific knowledge to “caring aesthetic values,” it also speaks to the worst aspects of science and runaway technology,– the reduction of “goodness, love, and beauty” to stimulus/response mechanisms, the dehumanizing of the humanities, and the dehumanizing of humans.

From a structuralist perspective, my thesis holds that thoughts (scientific knowledge being a subset of thought) and the physical world are both structured along synchronic and diachronic axes. The concepts of synchronic and diachronic are understood, typically, from a structuralist point of view; that is, the synchronic perspective looks at a system, or structure, as a functioning given. Investigations carried out from the synchronic perspective do not focus on the change that is occurring within an object or institution; rather, the investigation concentrates its focus on the a-historical condition that gives rise to the present functioning of an object, institution or system. Investigations carried out along the diachronic axis, on the other hand, focus on the evolutionary currents that contribute to the ongoing change of everything that is not considered synchronically. Traditionally, structuralists have chosen to pursue their investigations along the synchronic axis while ignoring the diachronic axis. In this paper I will investigate the heretofore ignored possibility that the synchronic axis of investigation evolves diachronically. In other words, if structure evolves into complex transformations of itself then the diachronic experience of this evolving structure may indeed produce a hierarchy of knowledge, — a hierarchy of knowledge that will not only ground scientific knowledge, but also ground ethical and spiritual knowledge as well (spiritual knowledge being a subset ethics).

Preliminary Remarks

When I started this paper I searched for a theme broad enough to enable me to discuss structuralism within the context of my own philosophy. After considerable read
ing on structuralism I discovered the holism-elementarism debate as it is described in Don Martindale’s book, The Nature and Types of Sociological Theory. I recognized this theme as doable for me because it allows for the extrapolation of the structural aspects of the holism/elementarism debate as it arises in every historical epoch. However, it soon became clear to me that the dichotomy of holism/elementarism did not suit my needs as well as the synchronic/diachronic distinction, or the defining characteristic of structuralism, so, for the most part, I have used the synchronic/diachronic distinction throughout. However, midway into my paper the synchronic/diachronic distinction morphs into an even more general distinction. Ultimately, this morphed version can be identified in the “who participates in what” dichotomy, or, more specifically, in the “reciprocal movement of context dependent forms.” In either case, however, it all leads to that bridge which, on one level, connects reason to emotion, while, on another level, separates reason from emotion. A lot of territory is covered here, so I will begin by letting Martindale introduce the language of holism/elementarism.

Few Decisions Are More Basic Than The Comparative Importance Assigned To The Individual/Collective

Martindale Quote

Introduction To The Holism-Elementarism Debate

“Human society places unusual demands on socialization, for without the continuous manning of its positions as they become vacant through illness, retirement, and death, it would simply melt away. However, since most societies only require a fraction of what any given individual could offer, much human potential is unused. A major problem confronting every human society is to prevent unused human energy and imagination from being employed against it. All human societies also place demands on the means of social control. The more complex the society the more serious its control problem.

“The representatives of every society inevitably seek to strike some kind of balance between the latitude or freedom permitted to the individual and the requirements of society. The theoretical limits represented by anarchism and authoritarian absolutism are rarely approached in practice. Furthermore, the line between individual and collective requirements is constantly shifting. In the formative period of a new collectivity considerable scope is usually permitted the individual. Often when a collective is in danger of falling apart in the last attempt to retain control authorities may place a virtual straitjacket of restrictions on the membership. When this fails the result may be revolution or collapse into anarchism.

“There are few decisions more basic made by students of human social life than the comparative importance they assign to the individual and to the collective. Do they take the social system or the individual to be the primary reality? All students of human social life inevitably recognize both. However, it makes significant difference whether one treats individual as the primary reality, considering social life merely as what they do together (elementarism) or whether one sees the social system as a reality sui generis with laws of its own viewing the individuals who compose it as the raw materials from which a society is made. From the time of the origin of the conflict to the present, the tides of battle have surged back and forth between the holists and elementarists.” [Don Martindale, The Nature and Types of Sociological Theory, 1981, p. 605-606]

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When Persons Or Groups Subvert Autonomy It’s Criminal

March 21, 2009
indian horseKODAKM~1

Commentary Concluded


Society, old and new, is comprised of distributive arrangements of power and burdens juxtaposed against the issue of scarcity. Spun from the union of these three elements comes the recognizable web of social arrangements that constitute any society. The nature and character of these social arrangements take on a particular order depending on the historical context of the society. In general, societies may be divided into needs based (tribes), rights based (Medieval Kingdoms), and rewards based societies (Capitalism).


In American society power and wealth cannot be separated. For instance, in Thomas Dye’s book Who’s Running America, we encounter a systematic study of the nation’s institutional elite, or the 77,3l4 elite positions which Dye calculated to control more than half the assets in industry, communication, utilities, insurance and banking, a picture of these people comes into view that reveals a select group of white, males (in the 7,3l4 positions their could be found only 20 blacks and 3l8 women), who are well paid and highly educated. The family background of 30% of these white, males reveals a family history of old money and great power, in other words, we are talking about the wealthiest class of families in America. 54% of the top corporate leaders in America and 42% of our top governmental leaders are alumni of just twelve well-known private universities. (Dye, 1990, p. 278). When we compare the wealth of these individuals to the wealth of the total population of Americans, we find extremely disproportionate amounts of money.


“Personal wealth in America is unequally distributed: The top fifth of income recipients,” according to Dye, “receives over 40 percent of all income while the bottom fifth receives less than 5 percent.” (1990, p. 276) Dye further informs us, “In recent years the average compensation–salaries plus bonuses–of CEOs of the nation’s corporations have jumped to approximately $1 million per year……with Michael D. Eisner, chairman of the Walt Disney Company receiving about 31 million; Jim P. Manzi, the 36-year-old chairman of Lotus Corp. taking home $26 million, and Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca settling for about $18 million.” (1990, p. 214) When you really sit back and think about the nature of the unequal distribution of wealth in America i.e., the 35 million poor and homeless people who have a tough time feeding themselves, you have to ask the question “why?” These statistics provided by Dye (in addition to a number of other sociological studies I could refer to), strongly suggest to me, that privileged positions of power and wealth are guaranteed by a social dynamic that most likely is driven by more than just lust for power and wealth.


This general idea follows from the predisposition of the self to become free from its own negative condition, — its environment. Gaining access to the environment, becoming more mobile, controlling, securing, — all of these “projects” represent the self’s accent toward more fulfilling autonomy, and the intelligent use of knowledge here speeds up that process. But (and this but looms large in the scheme of things), if this process subverts the autonomy of other persons or groups of persons then that behavior, at best, is unfair, and at worst, criminal. When it comes to achieving goals, using all available resources that coexist with positions of power and wealth is not merely advantageous, it’s immoral! In a complex society there are myriad ways for behaviors, motivated by power and greed, to impose needless burdens and harms upon others. When it comes to reevaluating appropriate from inappropriate behavior—when that behavior is based upon my proposed self-concept—a new perception, a more humane perception of the world, challenges the status quo, and to my way of thinking the more challenges to the status quo the better.

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Head Stuck In The Clouds, Sick, The Cure–Sex–Never Fails

Where Reason, Power, And Freedom Merge–Sublime

Future Time Continued

“I kind of liked that,” said MV. “For keeping you alive I finally get some

pay back. Not much mind you, but a little is better than none at all.”

“So what did you like? I replied. “All of a sudden I have an appreciative audience, you and Jim, I guess I’m on a role–cool. So what did you like anyway?”

“Do you have to ask?” sneered MV. “Of course I liked the part where reason was joined with power. I’m a hell of a handyman and that’s my bread and butter, the tools of my trade, as they say.”

“Don’t forget freedom,” I said, “that’s the most important part. Freedom, reason, and power are joined in the self.”

“Oh please, do you take me for a fool?” MV responded. “Freedom is the icing on the cake for me. Freedom is what makes my job satisfying. Pulling toy ducks from a bathtub, where’s the fun in that. Come to think of it, no more freedom–no more wet dreams. “

“Wait a minute, there’s more to this story then that,” I replied. “It’s not to pleasure you that freedom, reason, and power are brought together. Their pedigree is far more sublime than that. When taken collectively, as they are in the self, this event is as remarkable as it is delicate, some might even describe it as an exquisite happening. Actually, I’m not sure that the rest of this story will be to your liking. Do you want me to continue?”

“Oh yeah, try me, spin your story, hold my feet to the fire if you can,” said MV, “but be forewa
rned, whatever burns my feet only makes me stronger! I rise above everything. You cannot even imagine how important I am, so let’s hear it, I’m all ears.”

“It was Karl Jasper’s Idea to join Existenz (angst) with reason,” I said, “so I’ll start there, in the reason/Existenz connection. That relationship is not one of antithesis; rather it’s an interdependent connection. It’s like a two sided coin only in this case the sides are reason and Existenz. Jaspers’ says that the reason/Existenz connection is ‘a connection which at the same time points beyond itself.’ He even hints at what this ‘pointing beyond’ entails when he says: “Philosophy, whenever it is successful, consists of those unique ideas in which logical abstractness and the actual present become, so to speak, identical.’” (Jaspers, 1955, p. 49-50)

“Whoa, now I’m humbled. If there ever was such a thing as good philosophy, which I would argue there isn’t,” said MV, “then its got to be both present and abstract! That sounds like a disease to me, one not to be taken too seriously though, –head stuck in the clouds, sick, and the cure–sex. Never fails! What else you got?”

“I see you’re not really into this conversation,” I replied, “so instead of wasting my breath, why don’t we take a look at that other paper I wrote, the one that was rejected as a thesis topic by my advisor. I developed the logical component of self in that paper. Actually, I guess I should say that I simplified the X/Y form in that paper. Anyway, I wrote about Structuralism and before I finished I had merged logical abstraction with the immediate present. If Jaspers could have been my adviser I’m sure I would have at least got a at-a-boy pat on the back for that paper, if not the go ahead to turn the topic into a thesis.”

A Controlling Elite Will Always Take Advantage

March 14, 2009
KODAKM~1

When We Talk To Ourselves We Maintain And Perpetuate Society

George Herbert Mead’s Social Psychology

Commentary On Picture Of Self

Mead, in putting together his social psychology drew heavily upon the converging currents of thought that filtered through the universities where he took up residence. The emerging doctrines of Evolution, Functional Psychology, and Pragmatism, in various degrees, eventually found expression in Mead’s social psychology. Mead asked the question: “How do human being’s express cooperative behavior?” Humans are many times more flexible and creative then their biologically determined animal counterparts in expressing themselves. The answer to this question, according to Mead, is that what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is the ability to communicate with oneself (to have a self) and identify symbols. This particularly human ability allows for the experience of shared meanings, a common vocabulary and shared expectations. Consensus, as Mead points out, not only forms the basis of human society, it also permits dialogue to occur within oneself. In our capacity to talk to ourselves we actualize the mechanism that maintains and perpetuates society. The individual, through his/her imaginative (symbolic) completion of the act, is able to take on the roles of other people and in this way share in the social experience of the other people. By engaging in role taking we become socialized to the norms, mores and folkways of our culture, as we become part of that culture.

What’s interesting here is that my concept of self and Mead’s concept of self cannot be understood in terms of traditional psychologies which view the self as a thing occurring in a mind. The “self” is a process wherein symbolic communication occurs. The self must be conceived within the interdependent network of symbols, gestures and roles that are encountered in the daily round of one’s life. As I develop the capacity to act toward myself I acquire mind, and, as I acquire mind I begin to recognize those people who become, for me, my significant others. In the recognition of the qualities held in common by these significant others, I am able to conceive what Mead calls the “generalized other.” In so far as the self develops in this way, the beliefs, values, desires, and motives, which I internalize, are the shared beliefs, values, desires, and motives internalized by others. For Mead, this intertwining of self with social environment produces the minded activity that relates objects to meanings, images and “plans of action”. The resulting plan of action is what directs and modifies my behavior. Both Mead’s self and the self that I have described in the Venn circles, should be understood in terms of all the above characteristics.

A Controlling Elite Will Always Take Advantage

Commentary Continued

The Impacting Difference Between These Two Self-Concepts

In my self-concept, self-negation (the negation of the me-self) expands individual autonomy (as compared to Mead’s self-concept) when it comes to questioning beliefs, values and motives. Also, in my self-concept, the negative space of self (the embedded not-me-self’s social environment) transforms Mead’s socialization process and all that it entails, — self-indication, playing at role modeling, generalizing others, etc., –into an analysis of the liberation process as it moves in the direction of liberation. Unfortunately, on the societal level at least, this analysis seems to suggest that there will always be a controlling elite of the rich and powerful taking advantage of the rest of us. In order to be more clear on this subject, a closer look at the experiential side of what negation means for self, in both its social and its I-ness aspects, will be helpful. Fortunately, the concept of “angst,” in Existential philosophy, is the complement to my self-concept’s negation of the me-self.

Existential philosophers have penetrated to the source of what it means to have a self and, in the process, discovered “angst”. The Dictionary of Philosophy defines angst:

In existentialist philosophy, the dread occasioned by man’s realization that his existence is open towards an undetermined future, the emptiness of which must be filled by his freely chosen actions. Anxiety characterizes the human state, which entails constant confrontation with possibility and the need for decision, with the concomitant burden of responsibility. (1979, p.14)

We encounter angst in the existential literature of Kierkegaard’s despair concept of sickness until death, in Heidegger’s Dasein in terms of falling (verfallen) through the everydayness of meaningless trivia, and, in Sartre’s for-itself nothingness that strives to complete itself, but, given the nature of its being, must fail. There is no escape from the human condition of angst, and, what this means for the street person (if the person is not living in what Sartre calls “bad faith”) is their authentic self is lost in the wilderness, and try as he or she might, there is no retrieving it, thus, in times of weakness (or opportunity), one suffers bouts of irrepressible emptiness and alienation.

Angst, negative as it is, is not all bad. For instance, in Jasper’s existential philosophy where the Encompassing becomes, for him, Being, and angst becomes Existenz, Jasper connects Existenz with reason and reason with the ground of the Encompassing. In his book, Reason And Existenz, he states:

Existenz is the Encompassing, not in the sense of the vastness of a horizon of all horizons, but rather in the sense of a fundamental origin, the condition of selfhood without which all the vastness of Being becomes a desert. Existenz, although never itself becoming an object or form, carries the meaning of every mode of the Encompassing….

In all modes of the Encompassing, the self can become genuinely certain of itself only as Existenz. (Jaspers, l955, p. 61)

When looking for the negativ
e aspect of self we do not have to go any father then the writings of existential philosophers. The exceptions are found, in my opinion at least, in the writings of Jasper and Nietzsche. In the book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche effectively turns the angst into the will to power.

The suffering caused by alienation and despair was not alien to Nietzsche. In his grasp, however, these “negatives” were forged into the self-overcoming power of his Euberminch. It began when Nietzsche’s Zarathustra proclaimed the “death of God.” The meaningless nature of right-wrong-good-evil became clear with no God to arbitrate the differences. Nietzsche’s Euberminch, with these presidents out of the way, became free to create his own presidents in action, thus, merging meaning with action.

Following the lead of Mead, Jasper, and Nietzsche, my self-concept— discontinuity occurring in continuity while itself occurring in an environment of continuity occurring in discontinuity— conceives “self” in terms of freedom, reason, and power. In the self of our own self-awareness we become free to investigate, determine, and justify the conditions of the event of our own factual existence. To put this even more simply, a power relationship connects self to its own negative condition. In order to get a better understanding and feel for this relationship, we must turn our attention to our own negative condition i.e. our environment.

We Are More Than A Socialization Product

March 7, 2009

Apparently a yahoo error has occurred. My post for this week—we are more than a product of socialization– can be found below this post.

We Are More Than A Socialization Product

March 7, 2009
Hydrosculpture

Genesis of the Self

Commentary Continued

Mead informs us that a fully developed self must pass through three stages.

Meaning is not required for behavior during the preparatory stage when an infant

begins to imitate the behavior of other people. The imitatative act is simply mimicking another person’s behavior. Meaning becomes a very important part of behavior in Mead’s play stage of self development for it is at this level where the child intentionally takes on the role — mother, teacher, cowboy, etc. — of some significant other. The third stage of self-development or game stage is the “completing” stage of self. This is the stage of self-development when one becomes aware of many of societies socially defined roles. Meltzer informs us:

“This sort of situation is exemplified by the game of baseball–to use Mead’s own illustration: Each player must visualize the intentions and expectations of several other players. In such situations the child must take the roles of groups of individuals as over against particular roles. The child becomes enabled to do this by abstracting a ‘composite’ role out of the concrete roles of particular persons. In the course of his association with others, then, he builds up a generalized other, a generalized role or standpoint from which he views himself and his behavior. This generalized other represents, then, the set of standpoints which are common to the group.” (Meltzer l959, p. 16.)

As far as the socialization process is concerned (and we are all a product of that process), Mead’s stages of self development represent a comprehensive analysis of how we grow into the person we have a chance to become. And, it follows from this analysis that if we are to endure in this crazy world where “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”, we must continue to shuffle (mentally, if not physically) from one social role to another. Role taking, at the very least, expands our sense of sympathetic introspection as it provides us with the skills that become very important in the conflict resolution process. But, I would argue, in the genesis of self, there is more going on then Mead’s description of role taking. We are most definitely a product of the socialization process but we are also more than this process and Mead himself acknowledges “this in addition to” aspect of ourselves when he introduces the concept of the “generalized other.”

The capacity to generalize is a uniquely human characteristic. It is this aspect of thought that allows a person to mentally jump from the general to the specific and from many specifics to the general. It is, as Mead points out in his description of self, that which allows a person to conduct his/her behavior in a logically consistent, organized, and non-contradictory manner. “He can view himself from a consistent standpoint. This means, then, that the individual can transcend the local and present expectations and definitions with which he comes in contact.“ (Meltzer, 1959) The socialization process is always going on, but the capacity to insure consistency and non-contradiction in one’s behavior is what the individual contributes to this process.

This idea becomes clearer in the following example of an inconsistent response to a particular behavior. In one of the residence halls where I worked, in my capacity as janitor, I remember walking into a storeroom to pick up some tools. My friend and co-worker, who was with me at the time, had many nice things to say about the students as we approached the storeroom. In fact, in our conversation I recall my friend saying that he had never had anything stolen by a student. Upon reaching the storeroom and not finding any of the tools, my friend replied, “Those damn students are always stealing my tools.” My friend, before we discovered the missing tools, was accurately responding to the socialization process that revealed the students to be trustworthy and honest but upon arriving at the storeroom and discovering the missing tools, he found himself participating in the socialization process that revealed some people to be dishonest and unreliable. On both occasions the socialization process was doing its job, that is, teaching the lessons of social life, and, on both occasions my friend was, by first taking the role of the honest student and then the dishonest student, exemplifying Mead’s socialization theory (specifically the play stage), but when it came to applying Mead’s concept of the generalized other to this particular situation my friend failed miserably. Before we found the tools missing the students never stole anything and after we discovered the missing tools the students were always stealing tools. The bottom line here is that if a person is to demonstrate consistency in their thinking and behavior they must first question the reliability of their generalizations, and if this questioning turns up an inconsistency or worse, a contradiction,

then that person becomes free to change his/her thinking or behavior. We, as individuals, bring to Mead’s socialization process the “logical light” that allows us to see through the expediency or convenience of the social role we happen to find ourselves in at any given time.

To sum up, my description of self and Mead’s description of self are not in conflict with one another. In fact, they are speaking the same language at times. For instance, in the following Meltzer’ quote there is no difference in meaning between Mead’s concept of self and my own self-concept:

“Because a person has this mental ability to communicate with themselves they may imagine the implications of possible activities. If the imagined results of possible activities are negative a person may refuse to overtly act out these activities. This mental activity results in a person actively engaging his/her environment in a controlled, organized fashion. A person, in this light, is not simply a billiard ball getting knocked around by other billiard balls. A person has the ability to see the billiard ball coming, erect an inclined plane, calculate the balls mass, direction, and speed, and, at the appropriate location place the nut that will eventually get cracked by the force of the falling ball.” (1959, p.21)