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A Short Story


(Of Science and Learning)

After retirement (well, it was really after three retirements) I had a chance to meet a strange but friendly old German gentleman. The meeting was under somewhat unusual circumstances. I had taken a part-time job delivering books for the Four County Library System. This system served Broome, Chenango, Otsego and Delaware Counties in New York State. On some days I would drive 300 miles and visit fifteen libraries (sorting books at various stops). As you can see, I had to start out at very early in the morning in order to complete these routes.

This would put me at several libraries before 7:00 AM. There was one very small library in the Catskill Mountains that normally received no more than three books. No one was ever in the library and I had to use one of the keys that hung on a plywood board in the truck. There was at least one key to every library (plus a security system code that was required to be punched in). It was on a dark winter morning that I met the old German. I had just entered the library and was searching for the light switch when a door to a back room opened. The lights went on before I had a chance to hit the switch. I was quite startled but remained calm.

“Guten Morgen” stated the old man in a deep voice. Without thinking I responded “Gruess Gott.”

I had spent some time in Germany and had grown accustomed to their “Good Mornings” and had also automatically answered “God is Good” or “Good Day” in the Bavarian vernacular.

“So – you understand me” the old man answered.

“I suppose so” I answered somewhat surprised at my automatic response in German.

“Are you the librarian?” I asked. I had never met anyone in this library and therefore had no idea who was in charge. In fact there were several small libraries in Delaware County in which I had never seen a soul.

“Nein – Nein” came his answer. “I sweep up and put paper in the toilets. That’s all. But you responded quite well to my ‘Guten Morgen.”

I told him that I had spent some time in the Stuttgart area “back in the early 1980’s.”

“Did you encounter Nietzsche or Strauss while there?” he asked.

“No. I heard the names but that was it” I answered.

“A shame.” He stated.

The way he stated it I did feel ashamed although there was no reason for me to pursue German books or music. Maybe it was part of the shame I felt about not looking farther into the history of Europe while I was there. Oh, I saw some Roman aqueducts in Spain and the magnificent spring flowers in Holland. These visits were all made as a tourist and not for the edification of my mind. I even visited Piraeus near Athens never realizing that Socrates had walked there while conducting dialogues with his friends.

“Wait” the old German instructed as I finished my book deliveries and pick-ups. “I have something for you.”

I could not imagine what he may have for me. I had never met him before. He walked over to the philosophy section of the library and after some searching he slid a book from the rack. He then repeated the process; this time in the music section and slid out a CD.

“Here, take these” he insisted.

“But there is no one here to record what I have borrowed” I protested.

“Not to worry” the old German informed me. “I will tell the librarian that you have them. She knows how to contact you if you are late returning them.”

That was a true statement. She would have no trouble tracking me down.

I looked at the titles; “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Nietzsche and “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Strauss.

“They are the same?” I wondered out loud.

“Almost” he responded. “One is thought; the other is the feeling.”

“Oh” I answered; as if I had understood his meaning.

I put the two items into my delivery bag, thanked him and departed.

We never met again and the librarian later insisted that the book and CD were never in her library. To make matters even more confusing the librarian informed me that there had never been a janitor. I thought that possibly I had the wrong library. There were no library cards in the book or the CD to identify who owned them. I remain confused about that day.

After reading “Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Zoroaster)” and listening to “Also Sprach Zarathustra” I have decided to write the following combination of the thoughts and knowledge gained as a result of those two pieces of art given to me by my strange German friend. The following reflects Strauss’ piece of music “Of Science and Learning.” It is one of several pieces in his “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”

Strauss alludes not only to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra but also some of the Greek works that Nietzsche references. If you have a chance to read the book, please do. After that has been done it would please Nietzsche, Strauss, the old German and myself if you would do the following. Listen to “Of Science and Learning” while allowing the following snippets to tweak your imagination.”

“We have invented happiness say the ‘Last Men’ (prior to the appearance of the Ubermensch ) – – – and then – – – they blink.”



      0     to    10   Seconds                                 2,000,000 to 800,000 BC

Nothingness, not even a droning sound, there is a void of recognition, no semblance of reception by an ear, or indeed for that matter, the transport of that sense to anything that may bespeak of intellect. Logic and learning have no place to dwell. This silence is the absence of a home where sound, color and touch may join together in meditation.



    10    to    20   Secs.                                      800,000 to 200,000 BC

 Darkness, the ever present vibrations of the earth, replaces nothingness. The precursor of intellect senses these vibrations yet does not awaken. It is as if wind blows at the curtains of consciousness and the ear hears but the mind remains asleep. The universe is awakening and there is not a single “I” to interpret it.


     20     to    30   Secs.                              200,000   to   130,000   BC

The cyclic vibrations of earth grow to a throbbing resonating din. Minds reach that half waking moment when something outside them-selves calls. Yet the dawn has not arrived and darkness disallows the senses to combine into thought. Survival is by instinct and not by intellect. Those minds that can (at the very least) hold on to instinct survive and grow.


     30    to    40 Secs.                                    130,000   to    80,000   BC

Color, sound and shards of brightness join together. Something, not yet named ‘hope’, enters into the mind. The intellect senses something larger than itself but remains at a loss as to what to do with it. Like ‘hope’, names have yet to be assigned. Sparks of thought and combinations of senses strum the strings of emotion. Logic has yet to appear.


    40    to    60  Secs.                                   80,000     to    40,000    BC

An intermittence of light and serendipity join together. They form minor and disjointed thoughts; thoughts that burn themselves into subconscious memories. Emotions become finer honed and survival of the species is assured. Various color of burnt stones become paint. Intentionally broken and shaped stones become tools. Caves are transformed into symbolic libraries.


     1:00     to      1:12 Mins.                             40,000    to    6,000    BC

            Joy and bliss join into a crescendo of cogitation. Thought reaches completeness and the memory is honed. Repetition and mimeses lead to formation of icons.


     1:12    to     1:30  Mins.                               6,000   to    4,000   BC

The ascendance of thought creates wonderment. It combines with emotion to form creative ideas. Forethought is applied to technical problems. Synergies of musical and numerical recognition give birth to art, logic, mathematical concepts and symbolic allegory.


    1:30    to      1:40 Mins.                                 4,000    BC     to    0  AD

Wonderment metamorphoses. Intelligence takes on the cloak of royalty and elitism  –   –  


    1:40    to    1:50  Mins.                                    0      to     400   AD

and then fades back to reality. A longing for the old joy and bliss of complete thoughts (unadulterated by the pressures of state) rises to the surface. The needs of an ever expanding military create specialized fields such as civil engineering, metallurgy, and social control. The feeding of society’s need for pleasure and comfort results in the first “Last Men.”


    1:50    to     2:03  Mins                                 400    to    700   AD

Fragments of brilliant light break through the clouds of pestilence and hunger. The lack of a strong singular political philosophy combines with religious extremism. This man-made darkness is extended spatially and temporally.


   2:03    to     2:16  Mins.                                700     to     1400   AD

Power and insurrection replace thought. The effete found within factions of various cultures lead to the demise of greatness. East fights east, west fights west, east fights west, urban factions fight other factions, cousins fight cousins. The brilliance of great thinkers is lost as books are destroyed. Science succumbs to might.


   2:16    to    2:50  Mins.                                 1400    to    1500   AD

Factions of thought are combined into major political philosophies. Political boundaries are made weak by common needs. Books and the ideas within them are shared by various cultures. Only the confusion of mixing religion with politics creates inter-cultural disharmony. People can agree; organized religion and states can not.


     2:50    to    3:05  Mins.                               1500    to    1700   AD

The new power of organized religion makes war with scientific thought. Snippets of battles won and lost are buried in the throes of mind to mind combat. The human bonfires that once consumed heretical thought are replaced by house arrest and excommunication. The inquisition of the morisco in the south and the conservative thinker in the north are replaced by mass migration to the Americas and the Caribbean.


    3:05    to    3:35   Mins.                               1700    to    1900   AD

The storms of an intellectual autumn form a mixture of dark shadows and bright rays throughout humanity. Scientific thought is subjected to logical criticism instead of ecumenical belligerence. The light of reality is applied to philosophy. God is pronounced as dead. Science considers him merely ill. The populace refuses to listen to either.


      3:35    to    4:18 Mins.                                  1900    to    2000   AD

Philosophy and science establish themselves as the respective heart and mind of humanity. Anthropology attempts to define the hues and intensity of our conceptions while archaeology fights history for the truth. Two world wars within one century prove that organized religion and statedom remain untrustworthy. The individual versus the greater good oppose each other in America. Islamic pride seethes under the yoke of colonialism and empiricism.


    4:18    to    4:34  Mins.                                   2000    to    2016   AD

Intellectual suns shine brightly across the earth. The battle for post-modernity turns nations into financial and ideological ruin. Desperate populations select questionable rulers.