Amsterdam on My Mind
A cool, rainy day in Amsterdam in May 1995. I wonder whether Spinoza or Descartes ever walked down this street.
"We're moving to Amsterdam," I told my wife as I sat down beside her on the couch last night.
Since a) we move a lot; and b) I make such grandiose -- though largely hypothetical -- proclamations regularly, my wife did not flinch. We discussed my latest wild idea for approximately 60 seconds -- more run than my ideas usually get -- and then turned our attention to the television, where The Amazing Race was playing.
Less than a minute later -- and I am totally not lying -- host Phil Keoghan says, "Teams now must travel to Amsterdam ..."
"Ha!" I yelled.
My wife just looked at me. I cannot quite characterize the look, but it was decidedly not, "You are a prophet."
It's a sign, I tell you. A sign. We were meant to grow tulips, wear wooden shoes, and look fondly at windmills!
I mean, if I believed in signs, it would be a sign.
Anyway, a nice coincidence nonetheless.
Allow me to backtrack for a moment.
A couple of hours before this pinnacle of coincidence, I had just finished reading Antonio Damasio's Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.
I read the book because I am an emotion researcher. And Damasio had some interesting things to say about this. But I was far more captivated by the biographical details of the philosopher Spinoza. And I was struck by the intellectual community in Amsterdam in the mid-to-late 1600s. And I really, really want to go there.
Consider this. At one point in the mid 1600s, René Descartes, Spinoza, and Rembrandt all lived in the Netherlands. Shakespeare was alive until 1616. Galileo died in 1642, the same year Isaac Newton was born. There were more.
Things were not perfect, mind you. Spinoza was excommunicated for his ideas. There was the whole business with Galileo. Still, it just feels as if you could really think great thoughts in that environment. In fact, it seems impossible not to think really great thoughts in that environment.
I think back to my time in Amsterdam 12 years ago. Walking along the canals. I feel like a child on Christmas morning when I think of walking along those same canals and running into Spinoza, Descartes, or Rembrandt. Wow.
My mind overflows when I think of the possibility of being surrounded with a similar intellectual environment.
Of course, it's going to be 80 and sunny in Lubbock today, and it's about 42 and cloudy in Amsterdam.