….And it is that contact which Mr. Ceglowski most fears. For he thinks that “if everybody contemplates the infinite instead of fixing the drains, many of us will die of cholera.” I wonder if he has ever treated a cholera patient. This is not a rhetorical question; the same pamphlet-forging doctor of my acquaintance went on a medical mission to Haiti during the cholera epidemic there. It seems rather odd that someone who has never fought cholera, should be warning someone who has, that his philosophy prevents him from fighting cholera.
And indeed, this formulation is exactly backward. If everyone fixes drains instead of contemplating the infinite, we shall all die of cholera, if we do not die of boredom first. The heathens sacrificed to Apollo to avert plague; if we know now that we must fix drains instead, it is only through contemplating the infinite. Aristotle contemplated the infinite and founded Natural Philosophy; St. Benedict contemplated the infinite and preserved it. Descartes contemplated the infinite and derived the equations of optics; Hooke contemplated infinity and turned them into the microscope. And when all of these infinities had been completed – the Forms of Plato giving way to the orisons of monks, the cold hard lines of the natural philosophers terminating in the green hills of England to raise smokestacks out of empty fields – then and only then did the heavens open, a choir of angels break into song, and a plumber fix a drain….