Monday, July 13, 2015

July 13, 2105--Ockham's and Dad's Razors

We've been sorting though things at my mother's apartment, stopping frequently to savor a picture or letter from long ago and only vaguely remembered.

Thus far my favorite is a thick looseleaf notebook in which my mother kept the minutes of the Groucho Society. It was in effect a cousins club that included Zwerlings and Neubauers, the Neubauers being from my grandmother's side of the extended family.

The Newbauers were great characters and even included a gangster or two. As you might imagine, they were my favorite of all Zwerling and Neubauer relatives. Just think how my youthful imagination was fired by the fact that Uncle Herman knew Mayer Lansky and had a pistol, which he allegedly needed and even used in one of the bars and grills he owned in New Jersey.

The Grouchos met every month or two during the first ten years after my parents were married--the late 20s to late 30s. During their lifetimes, though pressed frequently by me wanting to know about secrets from their past, neither of my parents had a good explanation about the name of the group--was it derived from Groucho Marx or just because many of the members were, well, grouchy?  They never said, which incited me to want to know more. Perhaps now in the minutes . . .

I haven't had time yet to read through the minutes my mother meticulously kept, but even a glance at her literally perfect handwriting reveals not a blot or edit on any page through which I have thus far thumbed. But just to marvel at the perception, her perfection is full of meaning and challenge. The standard she set for herself and the rest of us. To be perfect in all regards is to hold us to the highest standard, which has it attraction, but is also one we can never reach. Maybe that too has value--it humbles us to experience the unobtainable.

My other favorite thing thus far is a Bic razor of my father's that my mother brought with her to Forest Trace when she relocated. Nearly 20 years ago. Quite a shelf-life for an otherwise disposable razor!

I remember using it on much earlier visits to my mother when I either forgot to bring one of my own or wanted, by using it, to have the feel of his hand on mine and on my face while shaving. It was very intimate.

I haven't used it in 15 years and was not surprised to find it still in the guest bathroom since my mother was very good at keeping things--of course in perfect arrangement and preservation.

I took it with me to our apartment in Delray and used it twice while here because I forgot to bring one of my own or, closer to the truth, wanted my father literally close at hand at this emotional time stroking my cheeks. It worked well in those regards.

It also made me think of another razor, a metaphorical one--Ockham's. I have that helpful or dysfunctional ability to switch from deep feelings to the abstract as one of my ways of dealing with sadness or memories that overwhelm. Thus, Ockham's Razor.

It, or the Law of Parsimony, is a problem solving principal devised by William of Ockham in the 14th century that says that the best solution to a complex problem is the simplest one that accounts for the largest number of facts, variables, and phenomena. For example, in contemporary particle physics, there is the Standard Model that connects in the simplest terms yet understood the electromagnetic, strong, and weak nuclear forces.

My father was very much an Ockham man.

He was a great problem solver and, I must say, problem maker. He was adept at putting things in contexts. Often simple ones that, as he would put it, held a "grain of truth." Like, his favorite--religion is at the root of most of the world's most intractable problems. That gets to a truth in a version of the simplest way.

I should add--his version of truth. Just like Ockham's, which could be, always was, ultimately superseded by other elegant solutions that explained even more, so were Dad's challenged by members of his striving family who were coming to insights and conclusions of their own devising.

His literal razor, however, which is still functioning, over time has lost some of its sharp edge and it now scrapes across one's flesh, plucking as well as cutting. Rough while also gentle--just like my father.

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