The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy

by Mark Dorset


  Human Nature

Mark Dorset:

Pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth, and pigheadedness, but also, remarkably, justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, even generosity, love, and hope.
E. O. Wilson:
The reflective person knows that his life is in some incomprehensible manner guided through a biological ontogeny, a more or less fixed order of life stages.  He senses that with all the drive, wit, love, pride, anger, hope, and anxiety that characterize the species he will in the end be usre only of helping to perpetuate the same cycle.  Poets have defined this truth as tragedy.  Yeats called it the coming of wisdom:
Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Trhough all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth.
    The first dilemma, in a word, is that we have no particular place to go.  The species lacks any goal external to its own biological nature.  It could be that in the next hundred years humankind will thread the needles of technology and politics, solve the energy and materials crises, avert nuclear war, and control reproduction.  The world can at least hope for a stable ecosystem and a well-nourished population.  But what then?  Educated people everywhere like to believe that beyond material needs lie fulfillment and the realization of individual potential.  But what is fulfillment, and to what ends may potential be realized?
On Human Nature
Fernando Pessoa:
Pride is the consciousness (right or wrong) of our own worth, vanity the consciousness (right or wrong) of the obviousness of our own worth to others. A man may be proud without being vain, he may be both vain and proud, he may be—for such is human nature—vain without being proud. It is at first sight difficult to understand how we can be conscious of the obviousness of our worth to others, without the consciousness of our worth itself. If human nature were rational, there would be no explanation at all. Yet man lives first an outer, afterwards an inner, life; notion of effect precedes, in the evolution of mind, the notion of the inner cause of effect. Man prefers being rated high for what he is not, to being rated half-high for what he is. This is vanity’s working.
   As in every man the universal qualities of mankind all exist, in however low a degree of one or another, so all are to some extent proud and to some extent vain.
Alan Dressler:
In all likelihood, our universe contains all that we will ever know; the universe of other realms of existence that lies beyond is inaccessible, probably forever. If this is true, then it is not outrageous to believe that we can know “all there is to know,” though one must be careful here to distinguish the rules of the game from the game itself. In the sense I mean it here, knowing means decoding nature’s vocabulary and grammar, from which we can read and understand all that she has written. It does not mean complete comprehension of all the literature; the great complexity of the language will guarantee that there will always be new volumes to read, with new dialects and new expressions combining familiar concepts in enlightening ways, but we would have “cracked the code.” . . . It may be, then that humans will have to come to grips with the idea that there are limits to what they can know.  What came before the big bang, and what lies beyond the bubble of our universe, are likely to be fundamentally unanswerable questions, at least within the framework of science, because they deal with a reality so different that we will be unable even to pose questions for which answers can be sought.
Voyage to the Great Attractor: Exploring Intergalactic Space
Victor S. Johnson:
If rotten eggs smell bad, tissue damage causes pain, or sugar tastes sweet, it is not because hydrogen sulfide gas has a foul smell, or because pain is waiting to escape from the point of a needle as it enters the skin, or because sweetness is a property of sugar molecules. Rather, it is because the human brain has evolved a neural organization that can generate pleasant or unpleasant sensations for those aspects of the world that are a benefit or detriment to gene survival.  That is, only organisms that have evolved such evaluative subjective feelings have been successful in transmitting their genes to successive generations.  The individual organism need not be aware of the relationship between a foul odor and bacterial contamination, between tissue damage and infection, or between a sweet taste and the manufacture of ATP (the energy molecule in the body); natural selection has already established this relationship between emergent conscious feelings and gene survival. Most of us are oblivious to the fact that the energy required to contract our muscles, transport substances across our cell membranes, and make the important chemicals required by every living cell of our body is supplied by breaking one of the high-energy phosphate bonds of ATP to produce ADP.  However, we don’t need to know or understand these mechanisms in order to survive; that knowledge is already part of our biological nature.
Why We Feel: The Science of Human Emotions
Wallace Stevens:
It is hard to think of a thing more out of time than nobility.  Looked at plainly it seems false and dead and ugly.  To look at it at all makes us realize sharply that in our present, in the presence of our reality, the past looks false and is, therefore, dead and is, therefore, ugly; and we turn away from it as from something repulsive and particularly from the characteristic that it has a way of assuming: something that was noble in its day, grandeur that was, the rhetorical once.  But as a wave is a force and not the water of which it is composed, which is never the same, so nobility is a force and not the manifestations of which it is composed, which are never the same.  Possibly this description of it as a force will do more than anything else I can have said about it to reconcile you to it.  It is not an artifice that the mind has added to human nature.  The mind has added nothing to human nature.  It is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without.  It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality.  It seems, in the last analysis, to have something to do with our self-preservation; and that, no doubt, is why the expression of it, the sound of its words, helps us to live our lives.
“The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words”
Robert Musil:
The three of them [Walter, Ulrich, and Clarisse] were out for a walk, and Ulrich, in the midst of nature’s desolate disarray, had to explain Arnheim’s writings to her.  These dealt with algebraic series, benzol rings, the materialist as well as the universalist philosophy of history, bridge supports, the evolution of music, the essence of the automobile, Hata 606, the theory of relativity, Bohr’s atomic theory, autogeneous welding, the flora of the Himalayas, psychoanalysis, individual psychology, experimental psychology, physiological psychology, social psychology, and all the other achievements that prevent a time so greatly enriched by them from turning out good, wholesome, integral human beings.  However, Arnheim dealt with all these subjects in his writing in the most soothing fashion, assuring his readers that whatever they did not understand represented only an excess of sterile intellect, while the truth was always simplicity itself, like human dignity and that instinct for transcendent realities within reach of everyone who lived simply and was in league with the stars.
The Man Without Qualities
(translated by Sophie Wilkins)
Ralph Waldo Emerson:
They make us feel the strange disappointment which overcasts every human youth.  So many promising youths, and never a finished man!  The profound nature will have a savage rudeness; the delicate one will be shallow, or the victim of sensibility; the richly accomplished will have some capital absurdity; and so every piece has a crack. . . . We easily predict a fair future to each new candidate who enters the lists, but we are frivolous and volatile, and by low aims and ill example do what we can to defeat this hope.
“The Transcendentalist”
George Gissing:
     “After all, [said Mr. March] there’s no harm in a little fighting. . . . Nations are just like schoolboys, you know; there has to be a round now and then; it settles things, and is good for the blood.”
     [Piers] Otway was biting a blade of grass; he smiled and said nothing. Mrs. Borisoff glanced from him to Irene [Derwent], who also was smiling, but looked half vexed.
     “How can it be good, for health or anything else?” Miss Derwent asked suddenly, turning to the speaker.
     “Oh, we couldn’t do without fighting. It’s in human nature.”
     “In uncivilized human nature, yes.”
     “But really, you know,” urged March, with goodnatured deference, “it wouldn’t do to civilise away pluck — courage — heroism — whatever one likes to call it.”
     “Of course it wouldn’t. But what has pluck or heroism to do with bloodshed? How can anyone imagine that courage is only shown in fighting? I don’t happen to have been in a battle, but one knows very well how easy it must be for any coward or brute, excited to madness, to become what’s called a hero. Heroism is noble courage in ordinary life. Are you serious in thinking that life offers no opportunities for it?”
     “Well—it’s not quite the same thing—”
     “Happily, not! It’s a vastly better thing. Every day some braver deed is done by plain men and women —yes, women, if you please — than was ever known on the battlefield.  One only hears of them now and then.  On the railway—on the sea—in the hospital—in burning houses—in accidents of road and street—are there no opportunities for courage?  In the commonest every-day home life, doesn’t any man or woman have endless chances of being brave or a coward?  And this is civilized courage, not the fury of a bull at a red rag.”
The Crown of Life
Robert Hughes:
Seny signifies, approximately, “common sense”; it means what Samuel Johnson meant by “bottom,” an instinctive and reliable sense of order, a refusal to go whoring after novelties. In traditional Catalan terms it comes close to “natural wisdom” and is treated almost as a theological virtue. When the fifteenth-century Catalan metaphysical poet Ausiàs March wanted words to sum up his devotion to the unnamed woman his verses address, he called her either llir entre cards (lily among thistles) or plena de seny (woman full of wisdom). Catalans suppose that seny is their main national trait. It is to them what duende (literally “goblin,” and by extension a sense of fatality or tragic unpredictability) is to more southern Spaniards. It is a country virtue, rising from the settled routines and inflexible obligations of rural life. In The Forms of Catalan Life (1944) Josep Ferrater Mora gave a lengthy disquisition on seny. “The man with seny is, primordially, the well-tempered man; that is to say, the man who contemplates things and human actions with a serene vision.” It was the mirror reverse of Castilian quixotism. It was opposed to intellectual overrefinement. Its inherent danger was being lowbrow. The pragmatic nature of seny, he thought, gave Catalans a markedly antispiritual stamp and set their collective temperament somewhere between the puritan and the Faustian: “Faustian man or Romantic man are those to whom salvation and morality matter little; Puritan man is only concerned with salvation and morals. The man of seny renounces neither salvation nor experience, and is always trying to set up a fruitful integration between both opposed, warring extremes.”
Denis Diderot:
I have no wish to see evil deeds preserved; it would be better if they had never taken place.  Men have no need of bad examples, nor has human nature any need of being further cried down.  It should not be necessary to make any mention of discreditable actions except when these have been followed—not by the loss of the evildoer’s life and worldly goods, which is all too often the sad consequence of virtuous behavior—but by a more fitting punishment of the wicked man: I want him to be wretched and despised as he contemplates the splendid rewards he has gained by his crimes.
(translated by Jacques Barzun and Ralph H. Bowen)

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A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author

Portions of A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) were first published by Voyager, Inc., as part of The Complete Peter Leroy (so far).

The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.