Saturday, 23 August 2014

Manas and Mind


Elisa Freschi reporting from a conference:
report
In this connection, Viktorya Lysenko aptly noted that one should be aware that manas cannot be translated as ‘mind’, since it is unconscious.

I have written about the inert mind in Advaita:
inert


It seems to me fundamentally mistaken to deprecate the word ‘mind’ as a translation for the Sanskrit word ‘manas’ for the simple and sufficient reason that the reading of philosophy would become impossible even in the native language of the reader. We become aware after even a very short acquaintance with the subject that everything is in contention. Every possible topic seems merely a finger post directing us towards swirling fogs and quaking bogs. Does David Chalmers mean by consciousness what the Churchlands would accept, not to speak of Dennett who denies that there is such a thing. One could multiply examples ad nauseam. I submit that reading in our native language requires virtual ‘translation’ and that actual translation is analogous. The conventional translation of ‘mind’ for ‘manas’ is a finger post at one remove as it were. We must always be alert to the nuances of speaker’s meaning.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Server by Tim Parks


Tim Parks is living the life of a successful writer and translator in Tuscany with views of vineyards probably. The enormous tragedy of the dream in the peasant's bent shoulders, well this peasant anyway. I agree that somebody has to do it but there was a fly in the ointment; constant and severe pelvic pain. He tried everything until he came across a book that suggested that his symptoms were due to pelvic clenching. The technical term is 'tight assed'. The intensity of being an ambulant writerly brain combined with a natural propensity for tension was ruining his life. Finally he came to vipassana or insight meditation which involves a very strenuous 10 day programme of sitting for hours at a time, observing silence and eschewing the distractions of mobile phones, reading and writing. It's an ancient Therevada practice and though I have my doubts about the Annica/Annata (Momentariness/NoSelf)doctrine which underpins it I admit that, at this level of the Pre-Reflective, doctrine falls away. For Parks it was a way of engaging with his pain which cut the knot and healed him. This is the basis of his book Teach Us to Sit Still and the summary I offer is from reviews. I must read it sometime.

What has this to do with the book which I read recently called The Server (pub.2012)? It is in my view the recycling of his observations of the types that frequent those courses and his recollections of the mental states and physical torments that accompany sitting in meditation for several hours a day. The Server of the title is a young woman who after a near drowning caused by her plunging into a stormy sea stoned and drawing others after her by daring them to follow. One of them in a coma and may not survive. She, Beth Marriot, has take refuge in this meditation centre and at the time the book opens has been there for 10 months working as a server in the kitchen preparing food, cleaning the toilets doing Seva or service. For this she gets her keep and the access to the regular meditation practice in the hall or strong determination as they call it. We have the privileged access to her mind courtesy of Parks and in the best tradition of sarvasunyavada (Nihilism or the Scholiasts of the Void) it is entirely solus ipse. She was before this catastrophe a singer and guitar player in a band called 'Pocus'. She is a wild child, a free spirit, promiscuous with a taste for men the age of her father who really wanted a son and not three daughters. The dots are very close. Parks has risked a novel whose protagonist is somewhat narcissistic and therefore lacking in insight. Despite all the strenuous sitting very little karma is burnt and so her mental travelling is in tight little circles. There isn't going to be a breakthrough which is often the truth. We sense very well her flailing about because she is unripe. Start Early, Drive Slowly, Reach Safely was a motto I saw once in a Indian Ashram. Here in this centre it's Drive at speed, maybe Crash and Burn.

It's chancy presenting an unsympathetic needy character who messes with the lives of those around them. Contra the rules as a server she has access to the mens' rooms and snoops in their belongings hoping to find them also breaking the rules. One man is keeping a journal,bold boy, about his failing marriage, failing business and daughter who has taken up with a much older drunk. This retreat is to fashion an interregnum and fortify him, an escape in other words. Has no one read the words of the Buddha, approximately, 'Because I got nothing out of this enlightenment it is a surpassing enlightenment'.

Beth's to and fro this journal and her relationship to the other servers and mentors is well drawn. The novel being bounded by a single centre of action and consciousness could have failed but the boring aspects of the self-involved can be delineated without toppling into tedium itself. Parks reaches safely. Worth reading.

Monday, 18 August 2014

A.E. Taylor on Soul and Body


This citation from A.E. Taylor on The Problem of Soul and Body (Bk.IV.ch.2 Elements of Metaphysics) is so perspicuous and stated with such clarity that I feel that it ought to be quoted in full. Henri Bergson in his Matter and Memory likewise disputes the mind/body dichotomy and with his particular usage of the concept of representation and image attempts to navigate the straits of Realism and Idealism. He's like the Mylesian Dublin tradesman when shown a Georgian dining room with its magnificent plasterwork says:
all this will have to come down, yis' are lucky if the joyces (joists) aren't rotten. His views will be treated in a further post.

I will conclude this chapter with some considerations on the bearing of our result upon the special problems of Metaphysics. We have explicitly defended Interaction as being no statement of actual experienced fact, but a working hypothesis for the convenient correlation of two scientific constructions, neither of which directly corresponds to the actualities of experience. This means, of course, that Interaction cannot possibly be the final truth for Metaphysics. It cannot ultimately be the " fact" that " mind " and " body " are things which react upon each other, because, as we have seen, neither "mind" nor "body" is an actual datum of experience; for direct experience and its social relations, the duality subsequently created by the construction of a physical order simply has no existence. Nor can it be maintained that this duality, though not directly given as a datum, is a concept which has to be assumed in order to make experience consistent with itself, and is therefore the truth. For the concept of Interaction manifestly reposes upon the logically prior conception of the physical as a rigidly mechanical system. It is because we have first constructed the notion of the " body " on rigidly mechanical lines that we have subsequently to devise the concept of " mind " or " soul" as a means of recognising and symbolising in our science the non-mechanical character of actual human life. And since we have already seen that the mechanical, as such, cannot be real, this whole scheme of a mechanical and a non-mechanical system in causal relation with one another can only be an imperfect substitute for the Reality it is intended to symbolise.
In fact, we might have drawn the same conclusion from the very fact that the psychophysical hypothesis we have adopted is couched in terms of Transeunt Causality, since we have already satisfied ourselves that all forms of the causal postulate are more or less defective appearance.
The proposition that the psychophysical theory of the " connection " of " body " and " mind " is an artificial transformation, due to the needs of empirical science, of the actual teleological unity of human experience, is sometimes expressed by the statement that mind and body are really one and the same thing. In its insistence upon the absence of the psychophysical duality from actual experience, this saying is correct enough, but it perhaps fails to express the truth with sufficient precision. For, as it stands, the saying conveys no hint of the very different levels on which the two concepts stand in respect to the degree of truth with which they reproduce the purposive teleological character of real human experience. It would perhaps be nearer the mark to say that, while the physiologist's object, the "body," and the psychologist's object, the " mind," are alike conceptual symbols, substituted, from special causes, for the single subject of actual life, and may both be therefore said to " mean " or " stand for " the same thing, their actual content is different. For what in the language of physiology I call my " body " includes only those processes of actual life which approximate to the mechanical ideal sufficiently closely to be capable of being successfully treated as merely mechanical, and therefore brought under a scheme of general" laws " of nature. Whereas what, as a psychologist, I call my "mind" or "soul," though it includes processes of an approximately mechanical type, includes them only as subordinate to the initiation of fresh individual reactions against environment which can only be adequately expressed by teleological categories. Thus, though " mind " and " body " in a sense mean the same actual thing, the one stands for a fuller and clearer view of its true nature than the other. In Dr. Stout's terminology their intent may be the same, but their content is different.



Sunday, 17 August 2014

Holy Wisdom by Augustine Baker


It’s virtually like the dissolution of the monasteries; the gradual emptying of convents, seminaries, houses of retreat and novitiates as the numbers of clergy dwindle and the remnants move in strategic withdrawal their tattered banners to modest dwellings. They often sell up their libraries. Charlie Byrne must buy them by the yard. For 2 Euro I bought copies of Holy Wisdom by Augustine Baker and Abandonment to Divine Providence by De Caussade both cloth in excellent condition. ‘Abandonment’ I have previously read but not ‘Wisdom’. Together with my reading of A Serious Call I ought to be firmly invigilated.

In practical terms their knowledge of the workings of the mind in both natural and supernatural dimensions was excellent foreseeing by centuries the findings of modern depth psychology. Here Baker writes on 'Scruples’ aka O.C.D.:

3. The special kind of fear, the mortification of which we are now to treat of, is such an one as is incident more particularly to tender devout souls (especially women) that pursue the exercises of a contemplative life, the which is usually called scrupulosity, which is a mixed kind of passion, the most contrary to that peace of mind necessary in a spiritual course of any other, as being envenomed with whatsoever causes anxiety and inward torments almost in all other passions. It regards sin and hell the most abhorred and most terrible objects of all others; and it is composed of all the bitternesses that are found in fear, despair, ineffectual desires, uncertainty of judgment, jealousy, &c. ; and penetrating to the very mind and spirit, obscuring and troubling the understanding (our only director), and torturing the will, by plucking it violently contrary ways almost at the same time, it causes the most pestilent disorders that a well-meaning soul is capable of, insomuch as if it be obstinately cherished, it sometimes ends in direct frenzy, or, which is worse, a desperate forsaking of all duties of virtue and piety. And
where it is in a less degree, yet it causes images so distracting, so deeply penetrating, and so closely sticking to the mind, and by consequence is so destructive to prayer with recollectedness, that it deserves all care and prudence to be used for the preventing or expelling it
4. For which purpose I will here, according to the best light that God has given me, afford such tender souls as are upon this rack of scrupulosity the best advises I can ; and such as if they will have the courage to practice accordingly, I do not doubt, but through God's help, they will be preserved from the dangerous consequences of such a passion. I shall insist with more than an ordinary copiousness upon this subject, because this so dangerous a passion is but too ordinary among souls of the best dispositions.

He has a short aside for the likes of myself:

6. I do protest, therefore, against all extroverted livers, or any of different tempers and exercises that shall presume to apply or assume unto themselves any indulgences, &c., here not belonging to them ; for tney will but mislead themselves, and reap harm by so doing. It seldom falls out that such persons have a fear of a sin committed, or of the mortal heinousness of it, but that it is very likely that it is such an one, and has been committed; and therefore, for no difficulty of nature, nor for the avoiding of trouble of mind, ought they to expect any dispensations from due examinations of their conscience, express
confessions, &c. Whereas a thousand to one the forementioned tender souls do take those for mortal sins which are mere temptations, yea, perhaps pure mistakes ; and therefore to oblige them to such strict examinations or confessions would only nourish their most distracting anguishes of mind and furnish them with new matters of scrupulosity.

What excellent writing in style and in substance. Holy Wisdom is available in all ereader formats on Internet Archive in a fair scan.
holy wisdom




Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes


You’ll read The Sense of an Ending (pub. 2011), it’s just 150 pages, in a few hours but reflect on it for much longer. Nothing is wrapped up neatly, there is no perfectly composed resolution. Those blurry images that you hold at arm’s length to puzzle out remain enigmatic. One thing though, the blurb by Anita Brookner who was a previous winner of the Booker many years ago with Hotel Du Lac seems quite wrong She writes:
Like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, which it resembles… its mystery is as deeply embedded as the most archaic of memories.

However much I peer at it I can’t take that out of it which may be a deficiency of mine but also an indication of the power of a work of art to engender contrary interpretations. Yes there is suicide in it. Yes there is a letter in it. There is no haunting in the spooky sense but there is a presence of a school friend who slit his wrists in a bath in the Roman manner with a letter a la Albert Camus that he asked to be read out at the inquest.

In the letter he left for the coroner he had explained his reasoning that life is a gift bestowed without anyone asking for it, that the thinking person has a philosophical duty to examine both the nature of life and the conditions it comes with; and that if this person decides to renounce the gift no one asks for, it is a moral and human duty to act on the consequences of that decision. There was practically a QED at the end. Adrian had asked the coroner to make his argument public, and the official had obliged.

The suicide Adrian Finn was a school chum of Tony Webster the narrator. He had gotten a first at Cambridge and looked set for academe when he took his life. His girl friend Veronica has previously gone out with Tony and the break up was ‘hard to do’ in the pop idiom of the era, the 60’s. Tony is now a retiree looking back and telling how out of nowhere and the past is a nowhere a package from a solicitor arrives with news of a small bequest and a diary of Adrian’s also left to him but not enclosed. Veronica it seems has retained the diary. How is he to get it back? A plot engine that is quite believable and that has a malevolent and Pooterish aspect to it. Webster is well versed in bureaucratic wars of attrition, he was an arts administrator used to the long war of ‘with ref. to yours of the 12th.inst.’ He is a man who wonders why fat chips are always described as hand cut and why if they are in fact hand cut they might for a change be cut in the Belgian manner.

Mastery in any craft is evinced by easiness. There are no effects that are reached after and missed. Everything flows within a broad competence and the story develops with the credible surprises of life. It is not stranger than fiction, in a sense it is a fiction and Webster discovers that he has been lulling himself with a neat composition that mitigates his guilt.







Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Obiter Dicta by Augustine Birrell


Augustine Birrell never saw it coming. A bomb outrage was the most he expected but instead he got a revolution. As Chief Secretary for Ireland he should have known and it is quite extraordinary that there was no per as usual traitor or spy to inform him that there was a plot. The Rising of Easter 1916 was quickly snuffed but British brutality evoked such outrage that a general Anglo-Irish war ensued. Birrell resigned of course and his vision of 32 county home rule was never realised. My interest here is in the man as an essayist as represented in his first and second series of Obiter Dicta in 1884 and 1887. They are chiefly on literary figures such as Milton, Browning, Carlyle, Pope etc. and though it is doubtful that serious students will learn anything new from them they will be grateful for their lightness, vivacity and tart expressiveness. Writing on Dr. Johnson he contrasts him with Matthew Arnold:

In the pleasant art of chaffing an author Johnson has hardly an equal.  De Quincey too often overdoes it.  Macaulay seldom fails to excite sympathy with his victim.  In playfulness Mr. Arnold perhaps surpasses the Doctor, but then the latter’s playfulness is always leonine, whilst Mr. Arnold’s is surely, sometimes, just a trifle kittenish. 

Edmund Burke’s father was anxious, the boy had spent several years in London in desultory study and literary dalliance. He would cut off the funds to fix his mind on the law:

The attorney in Dublin grew anxious, and searched for precedents of a son behaving like his, and rising to eminence.  Had his son got the legal mind?—which, according to a keen observer, chiefly displays itself by illustrating the obvious, explaining the evident, and expatiating on the commonplace.  Edmund’s powers of illustration, explanation, and expatiation could not indeed be questioned; but then the subjects selected for the exhibition of those powers were very far indeed from being obvious, evident, or commonplace, and the attorney’s heart grew heavy within him.  The paternal displeasure was signified in the usual manner—the supplies were cut off.  Edmund Burke, however, was no ordinary prodigal, and his reply to his father’s expostulations took the unexpected and unprecedented shape of a copy of a second and enlarged edition of his treatise on the Sublime and Beautiful, which he had published in 1756 at the price of three shillings.  Burke’s father promptly sent the author a bank-bill for £100—conduct on his part which, considering he had sent his son to London and maintained him there for six years to study law, was, in my son to London and maintained him there for six years to study law, was, in my judgment, both sublime and beautiful.

Writing on Thomas Carlyle he expressed the general distaste for the unseemly revelations of Reminiscences in relation to Jane Walsh Carlyle but holds that many of the uncharitable remarks in the book originated from her. Her waspishness was a byword.

The horrible description of Mrs. Irving's personal appearance, and the other stories of the same connection, are recognised by Mrs. Oliphant as in substance Mrs. Carlyle's; whilst the malicious account of Mrs. Basil Montague's head-dress is attributed by Carlyle himself to his wife. Still, after dividing the total, there is a good helping for each, and blame would justly be Carlyle's due if we did not remember, as we are bound to do, that, interesting as these three sketches are, their interest is pathological, and ought never to have been given us. Mr. Froude should have read them in tears, and burnt them in fire.

Bluntness in relation to other members of polite society was not appreciated in Victorian times. I must find that passage about the head-dress of Mrs. Basil which sounds like a war bonnet. Ah here it is:

Her very dress was notable ; always the same, and in a fashion of its own ; kind of widow's cap fastened below the chin, darkish puce-coloured silk all the rest, and (I used to hear from one who knew !) was admirable, and must have required daily the fastening of sixty or eighty pins.

I fear that Birrell K.C. is indulging in a little stultification of the public appall. Find both series of Obiter Dicta on Gutenberg Project or down in the barrows. I got the second series for ein euro published by Charles Scribner in 1888 and still with uncut pages.





 


Saturday, 9 August 2014

Gaza blogging


This gets the Uriah Heep award for squirming humility.
silence
Note how sitting on the fence he denies the reality of the fence qua fence and then jumping off lands on both sides and runs off in all directions.

Others are doing their best even if it falls short. ethics

The last time I discoursed on that topic with Kazez I was disallowed the term 'zionist' as being anti-Semitic. 'First they came for the nouns, then they came for the verbs'. It appears to have gone mainstream now.

The score card that she reproduces from the NY Times might cause the decerebrate to infer equivalence between the shells of the warring sides when we know that the pop-guns of Gaza deliver a mighty flag which says !Bang!.

Siris :just war
contrasts views on proportionality in warfare. Interesting indeed. My take away point - it is excessive to burn the house down to produce roast pork.

Finally there is the blogging on Israel/Palestine by one of the many Israelis that are appalled by their country’s refusal to grant justice and negotiate honestly. It is written by Charles Manekin. He is a professor of Philosophy and Orthodox Jewish Studies. His latest post on Hamas and its demonisation - hamas