Wednesday, 2 September 2015


What does the meditator do with consciousness?

Leave it alone and it will go home dragging its tail behind it (they tell me).

Place its immediate and self-luminous nature in the chakra of your choice and experience the different tinctures of the apprehension of the world. This isn’t Idealism but a tuning of the instrument.

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

This should have been said before. Barchester Towers is like the curate’s egg, ‘good in parts’. It underlines the supreme wisdom of the Catholic Church’s holding to the rule of celibacy. Mrs. Proudie the Bishop’s wife is monstrously real in her Sabbatarian zeal and allied with the extreme unction of Mr. Slope seems about to explode the comfortable easy life of the high Church Anglicans in the Cathedral town. It is a time of change in the Church established by law when the middle ground was being eroded from two sides the one trying to draw it down to the vulgar Dissenter rabble, and on the meretricious other side the Scarlet Lady of Rome. The Bishop is a charlie and the charlie’s chaplin is Mr. Slope. Mrs. Proudie wears the gaiters in the Palace and the war is on for the control of the diocese between her and Slope who runs the show on the admin side during the Bishop’s absences which are frequent. To balance the Low of Slope you have the High of Arabin who was almost rapt to Rome by the Newman cult. To emphasise the liberal rapprochement with Rome the appointment of Dr.Whately to an Archbishopric is mentioned. Parlous times.

When, however, Dr. Whately was made an archbishop, and Dr. Hampden some years afterwards regius professor, many wise divines saw that a change was taking place in men's minds, and that more liberal ideas would henceforward be suitable to the priests as well as to the laity. Clergymen began to be heard of who had ceased to anathematize papists on the one hand, or vilify dissenters on the other. It appeared clear that High Church principles, as they are called, were no longer to be surest claims to promotion with at any rate one section of statesmen, and Dr. Proudie was one among those who early in life adapted himself to the views held by the Whigs on most theological and religious subjects. He bore with the idolatry of Rome, tolerated even the infidelity of Socinianism, and was hand and glove with the Presbyterian Synods of Scotland and Ulster.

The counters of power in the Anglican Church are the benefices and the pivot of this tale is the guardianship of the Hospital where a dozen indigent men are kept as a charity and to be for a witness. It’s a nice little sinecure and its previous Warden, Mr. Harding seems likely to get it. Slope however decides to use this as means of subjugating the Bishop and in league with Mrs.Proudie promotes the candidature of a poor parson, Mr.Quiverfull.

All that plotting is good but where the book goes wrong for me is the character of Mrs.Bold the young widowed daughter of Mr. Harding. I was lately apprised of the fact that there can be 3000 calories in a milk shake. I would have thought that there was less in a bag of sugar. Elanor Bold is an unlikely dose of sweetness and does not go down. Her hanky is never dry.

Poor Eleanor! I cannot say that with me John Bold was ever a favourite. I never thought him worthy of the wife he had won. But in her estimation he was most worthy. Hers was one of those feminine hearts which cling to a husband, not with idolatry, for worship can admit of no defect in its idol, but with the perfect tenacity of ivy. As the parasite plant will follow even the defects of the trunk which it embraces, so did Eleanor cling to and love the very faults of her husband. She had once declared that whatever her father did should in her eyes be right. She then transferred her allegiance, and became ever ready to defend the worst failings of her lord and master.

Unlike Little Nell she hasn’t the grace to die. Fortunately she is matched in wickedness by the Stanhope family and the apotheosis of the Scarlet Lady, daughter Madeline. The allegory is broad. Beautiful, seductive but crippled at the hands of her husband Neroni who is a Papal Count. She is borne on a couch. You can’t get more papal than that. Arabin who dallied with Rome is a suitable victim. Slope slobbers over her hand too. Son Bertie, the aesthete, is well drawn and slightly quartered. From the life perhaps?

The other plot swamp for me was the Thorne family and their garden fete to welcome Mr. Arabin into his benefice. It had its moments as a delineation of snobbery and class but it went on too long. Trollope admits to us in his to the reader utterances that the last 50 pages is a push. I imagine him making a check list. Did I forget anyone?

For the Trollope fan the hymn is ‘O the transport so divine’. I may go on to the Palliser series next.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Miracle? Improbably not.

To construe miracles from a probable/improbable viewpoint is an attempt to keep the problem within the naturalistic domain. Where else would Richard Dawkins atheist bus be going, the one with the slogan There’s probably no God so everything is permitted’. No, that was the troika and it left in the 19th.century.

Staying within the naturalistic domain is like the Mulla Nasrudin looking for the keys that he lost in his house, under the street lamp, there being no light in his house. Sali sin ser notado / estando ya mi casa sosegada. Is the divine that you might meet the immanent duck or the transcendent rabbit or is there a Monist duck-rabbit? Henry Corbin is constantly telling us in his study of Ibn-Arabi that the saint is not a monist as though to retrospectively protect him from the literalists. One recollects that he had to hightail it out of Morocco or was it Egypt. ‘You can’t handle the truth’ is not a plea that those book-lovers would have accepted. Make a parcel of it and tie it with a bow.

It's no go the Yogi-man, it's no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.
(from Bagpipe Music by Louis MacNeice
Bagpipe Music)

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Probability or Improbability of Miracles

How probable or improbable is it that a man should walk on water or be raised from the dead or be bilocated? I suggest that those events are neither probable nor improbable but a matter of pure will on the part of the divine. The improbable happens, a man may win the lotto twice or be struck by lightening more than once but class A miracles are a matter of fiat or ‘sankalpa’. They cannot otherwise happen. In the Hindu tradition they are spoken of as leelas and mahimas/ sportive events and showing of power. Whately has it that they are ways of stimulating belief in non-demonstrative truth.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

'Permit me to demur Mr.Hume' said Dr.Whately

EXPERIENCE.—This word, in its strict sense, applies to what has occurred within a person's own knowledge. Experience, in this sense, of course, relates to the past alone. Thus it is that a man knows by experience what sufferings he has undergone in some disease, or what height the tide reached at a certain time and place.
More frequently the word is used to denote that Judgment which is derived from experience in the primary sense, by reasoning from that, in combination with other data. Thus, a man may assert, on the ground of Experience, that he was cured of a disorder by such a medicine,—that that medicine is, generally, beneficial in that disorder,—that the tide may always be expected, under such circumstances, to rise to such a height. Strictly speaking, none of these can be known by Experience, but are conclusions derived from Experience. It is in this sense only that Experience can be applied to the future, or, which comes to the same thing, to any general fact; as, e. g. when it is said that we know by Experience that water exposed to a certain temperature will freeze.
There are again two different applications of the word {see Book III. § 10,) which, when not carefully distinguished, lead in practice to the same confusion as the employment of it in two senses; viz. we sometimes understand our own personal experience; sometimes, general Experience. Hume has availed himself of this (practical) ambiguity, in his Essay on Miracles; in which he observes, that we have experience of the frequent falsity of Testimony, but that the occurrence of a miracle is contrary to our Experience, and is consequently what no testimony ought to be allowed to establish. Now had he explained whose Experience he meant, the argument would have come to nothing: if he means the Experience of mankind universally, i. e, that a Miracle has never come under the Experience of any one, this is palpably begging the question: if he means the Experience of each individual who has never himself witnessed a Miracle, this would establish a rule, {viz. that we are to believe nothing of which we have not ourselves experienced the like,) which it would argue insanity to act upon. Not only was the King of Bantam justified (as Hume himself admits) in listening to no evidence for the existence of Ice, but no one would be authorized on this principle to expect his own death. His Experience informs him, directly, only that others have died. Every disease under which he himself may have labored, his Experience must have told him has not terminated fatally; if he is to judge strictly of the future by the past, according to this rule, what should hinder him from expecting the like of all future diseases ?
Some have never been struck with this consequence of Hume's principles; and some have even failed to perceive it when pointed out: but if the reader thinks it worth his while to consult the author, he will see that his principles, according to his own account of them, are such as I have stated.
Perhaps however he meant, if indeed he had any distinct meaning, something intermediate between universal, and individual experience; viz. the Experience of the generality, as to what is common and of ordinary occurrence; in which sense the maxim will only amount to this, that false Testimony is a thing of common occurrence, and that Miracles are not; an obvious truth, indeed ; but too general to authorize, of itself) a conclusion in any particular case In any other individual question, as to the admissibility of evidence, it would be reckoned absurd to consider merely the average chances for the truth of Testimony in the abstract without inquiring what the Testimony is, in the f articular instance before us. As if e. g. any one had maintained that no testimony could establish Columbus's account of the discovery of America, because it is more common for travellers to lie, than for new Continents to be discovered. See Historic Doubts relative to Napoleon Bonaparte.
It is to be observed by the way, that there is yet an additional ambiguity in the entire phrase " contrary to experience;" in one sense, a miracle, or any other event, may be called contrary to the experience of any one who has never witnessed the like; as the freezing of water was to that of the King of Bantam; in another and stricter sense, that only is contrary to a man's experience, which he knows by experience not to be true; as if one should be told of an in&llible remedy for some disorder, he having seen it administered without effect. No testimony can establish what is, in this latter sense^ contrary to experience. We need not wonder that ordinary minds should be bewildered by a sophistical employment of such a mass of ambiguities.
Such reasonings as these are accounted ingenious and profound, on account of the Subject on which they are employed; if applied to the ordinary affairs of life, they would be deemed unworthy of serious notice.
The reader is not to suppose that the refutation of Hume's Essay on Miracles was my object in this Article.
That might have been sufficiently accomplished, in the way of a reductio ad absurdum," by mere reference to the case of the King of Bantam adduced by the author himself But this celebrated Essay, though it has often perhaps contributed to the amusement of an anti-christian sophist at the expense of those unable to expose its fallacy, never probably made one convert The author himself seems plainly to have meant it as a specimen of his ingenuity in arguing on a given hypothesis; for he disputes against miracles as against the Course of Nature; whereas, according to him, there is no such thing as a Course of Nature; his skepticism extends to the whole external world;—to every thing, except the ideas or impressions on the mind of the individual; so that a miracle which is believed, has, in that circumstance alone, on his principles, as much reality as any thing can have.
But my object has been to point out, by the use of this example, the fallacies and blunders which may result from inattention to the ambiguity of the word " Experience :" and this cannot be done by a mere indirect argument; which refutes indeed, but does not explain^ an error.
(from alphabetical appendix to Elements of Logic by Dr.Richard Whately)

Friday, 28 August 2015

Gotcha Mr. Hume said Dr. Whately

Here Dr. Whately is exercising his red biro on Mr. Hume in the matter of distribution. The latter has treated (some) testimony as though it were any testimony whatever.

There is an argument against miracles by the well-known Mr. Hume, which has perplexed many persons, and which exactly corresponds to the above. It may be stated thus: “Testimony is a kind of evidence more likely to be false, that a miracle to be true; “ (or, as it may be expressed in other words, we have reason to expect that a witness should lie, than that a miracle should occur) “ the evidence on which the Christian miracles are believed, is testimony; therefore the evidence on which the Christian miracles are believed is more likely to be false than a miracle is to be true.”

Here it is evident that what is spoken of in the first of these Premises, is, “some testimony; not “all testimony,” (or any whatever,) and by “a witness” we understand “some witness,” not, “every witness”: so that this apparent argument has exactly the same fault as the one above.
(from Elements of Logic Bk.1 Section 4 )

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Whately on the suppression of reason

Whately on the suppression of the exercise of reason

Many people are led into the error of fancying that an irrational faith is even firmer than a rational one, by mistaking for a firm belief, a firm resolution of the will to believe. They seem to imagine that faith can be made firm only by a sort of brute force upon the understanding, and by brow-beating, as it were, their own minds, and those of others, into implicit submission. Now you never see traces of this kind of violence in the case of other truths which men really believe most firmly. You never hear a man protesting with great vehemence, that he is convinced that the angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, or that the earth is round like a ball, and not fiat, like a platter; and denouncing all who cannot see the proof. Good proof satisfies the mind of itself, and excludes reasonable doubt without any violent effort. When you are sure that the door is strong enough to keep out the intruder, you sit quietly by your fireside, and let him kick his heels against it till he is tired. But if you rushed over and clapped your back and shoulders to the bolt, that would imply that the door is really weak, or, at least that your faith in it is weak that is, that you had not full confidence in its strength.