We've got an exclusive clip of Neal Stephenson doing what he does best: Seriously geeking out about obscure early-twentieth century metaphysics. Specifically, he admits that he has a little fetish for Edmund Husserl, a theorist who coined the term "phenomenology" in his effort to reconcile the hard truths of scientific knowledge with the ambiguities of human consciousness. Stephenson's interest in Husserl comes out of his obsession with Kurt Gödel, who loved Husserl (and is also every geek's philosopher dream date). The issues that arise out of phenomenology, specifically how people come to know things about measurable reality and their (hard to measure) consciousness, provide the intellectual backbone for Stephenson's forthcoming novel Anathem.What Stephenson doesn't mention here is that Husserl is more than just an obscure thinker whose works intrigued Gödel — Husserl's work blew up into some of the most wildly popular philosophical movements of the twentieth century. Both existentialism and deconstruction owe a lot to Husserl, and Husserl's student Martin Heidegger is still turning heads with his expansive, seductive theories of how history marks (and mars) what people consider to be "common sense." What I'm saying is that if Stephenson's goal was to pick a cool semi-obscure theorist who revolutionized the way philosophy and science intersect, then Husserl was the right choice. Maybe in his next novel he can deal with post-structuralism and performative identity — you know, just to jump on that late-twentieth century thing before it gets too old. One of the great parts of this video is that Stephenson is doing his usual brainfarm thing, but keeps throwing in these cute, self-depreciating little comments about how "impenetrable" Husserl is and how it was hard for him to understand all the philosophy he read for Anathem because (as he says), "My IQ is about one tenth of Gödel's." Awww, Neal. We know you'd rather play with swords than metaphysics, but we do appreciate your taking the time to read some of our favorite theorists. You can pre-order Anathem today!
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