The trees are coming into bud throughout East Anglia. Flowers emerged a month ago, far too early according to local gardeners, worried about the effects on birds and insects. At the College, the gardens have been planted and the lawns seeded. The punts have returned to the Cam as the floodwaters recede, still too cold to take a boat out. But it was a nice Saturday for walking the city center and the Colleges, then enjoying a conversational dinner at Effes.
The FT published a travel piece this weekend about Oxford, a ramble along the rivers and meadows, the bicyclists against the timbered medieval buildings, the walls and college gardens: ‘spires, towers, gates, and cathedrals, all glowing in pale afternoon light’. I’ve never spent time there, but the observations on ambience and history, the learning and poetry, translate without change to Cambridge as well.
And, speaking of bicycles, the Tour de France arrives in Cambridge in early July.
Over English breakfast in the College dining hall, though, thoughts must elevate from sports towards philosophy. This Saturday the Shrink and Sage considered the problem of knowing ourselves, perfect for a think over runny eggs and hot coffee.
The psychologist argues that the unitary self is built upon the past, the narrative of people and events that shape our habitual patterns of thinking and acting.
The philosopher believes that we are a village of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that make up the collective self.
I would tend towards the latter. Cognition, memory, consciousness are not localized to specific brain centers, but emerge from distributed activity across the whole. Personality seems similarly collective rather than local. There are many components to personality, whether Freud’s layers or Jung’s archetypes. My own self-reflective experience is of a multiplicity of voices and agents, that ‘self’ is both a fluid concept and an enduring entity yielding, as the Sage observes, a mortal, thinking, feeling being with good cause to love life.
Or,perhaps, I’m making it too complicated: self-knowledge is simply a matter of taking quizzes and discussing the answers?
Although the weather was predicted to change, the sunshine held long enough for countryside scones and coffee in the Orchard at Grantchester.
And, in the setting (if not the spirit) of Brooke and the poets, thoughts turn to gentler topics: the semiotics of strokes vs. squeezes, of smiles vs. laughter, of ‘together’ being physical vs. emotional.
Warm spring, wisteria, and Pimms can’t be far away.