Saturday, 21 July 2018

De Quincey's Palimpsest


Amongst the posthumous works of De Quincey is the essay The Palimpsest of the Human Brain sometimes included in Suspira de Profundis. Find a copy at
suspira de profundis
He shares with Bergson the strong conviction that at the moment of death your life is present before you in simultaneous review. This is a common report but only Bergson offers a metaphysics that naturalises it. The Frenchman destroyed all his notes before his death perhaps to secure his reputation from the judgement of scientistic sciolists. De Quincey destroyed nothing except inadvertently through the practice of reading by candlelight. How easy it is as you approach the light to get a better squint to set the page on fire. Or your hair, or both.

What else than a natural and mighty palimpsest is the human brain? Such a palimpsest is my brain; such a palimpsest, oh reader! is yours. Everlasting layers of ideas, images, feelings, have fallen upon your brain softly as light. Each succession has seemed to bury all that went before. And yet, in reality, not one has been extinguished.




further down:
The fleeting accidents of a man’s life, and its external shows, may indeed be irrelate and incongruous; but the organizing principles which fuse into harmony, and gather about fixed predetermined centres, whatever heterogeneous elements life may have accumulated from without, will not permit the grandeur of human unity greatly to be violated, or its ultimate repose to be troubled, in the retrospect from dying moments, or from other great convulsions.
Such a convulsion is the struggle of gradual suffocation, as in drowning; and, in the original Opium Confessions, I mentioned a case of that nature communicated to me by a lady from her own childish experience. The lady is still living, though now of unusually great age; and I may mention that amongst her faults never was numbered any levity of principle, or carelessness of the most scrupulous veracity; but, on the contrary, such faults as arise from austerity, too harsh, perhaps, and gloomy, indulgent neither to others nor herself. And, at the time of relating this incident, when already very old, she had become religious to asceticism. According to my present belief, she had completed her ninth year, when, playing by the side of a solitary brook, she fell into one of its deepest pools. Eventually, but after what lapse of time nobody ever knew, she was saved from death by a farmer, who, riding in some distant lane, had seen her rise to the surface; but not until she had descended within the abyss of death, and looked into its secrets, as far, perhaps, as ever human eye can have looked that had permission to return. At a certain stage of this descent, a blow seemed to strike her, phosphoric radiance sprang forth from her eyeballs; and immediately a mighty theatre expanded within her brain. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, every act, every design of her past life, lived again, arraying themselves not as a succession, but as parts of a coexistence. Such a light fell upon the whole path of her life backwards into the shades of infancy, as the light, perhaps; which wrapt the destined Apostle on his road to Damascus. Yet that light blinded for a season; but hers poured celestial vision upon the brain, so that her consciousness became omnipresent at one moment to every feature in the infinite review.

((The woman referred to is his mother))

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Illusion and Confusion and the Snake/Rope example


When discussing in Indian philosophy the snake/rope confusion we need to strictly distinguish it from an illusion. An illusion stays an illusion even when you know that it is one. The Muller-Lyer lines still continue to look unequal. Adalbert Ames’s illusions are uncannily persistent.ames room
The rope is no longer seen as a snake when we discover our mistake and that is an important epistemological point in Indian philosophy. In the Nyaya inflected account of the advaitin Dharmaraja Adhvarindra our default position re perception is to accept it as veridical until shown not to be on further acquaintance.

He writes in the section The validity of Knowledge is Intrinsic and Self-Evident of the chapter on Non-Apprehension:

The validity of knowledge generated by the above -mentioned means of knowledge originates by itself and is self-evident. To explain: Valid knowledge is that knowledge regarding something possessing a particular attribute, which has that attribute as its feature which is conducive to successful effort, and which includes recollection as well as fresh experience.

The term ‘effort’ refers to the factor of confirmation. The silver we pick up is precious and not a mere piece of nacre. Unsuccessful effort is to discover on closer examination that we were suffering from temporary confusion. Clearly this is different from illusion.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Veggie Hitler


Hitler was a vegetarian. That tells you where vegetarianism is at as a moral position. Really? No it doesn’t. Most people can recognise this as pure argumentum ad hominem, or playing the man not the ball. Here in Ireland though it seems to be the only argument we know or the one we find most effective. It goes after this fashion. First characterise moral opposition to abortion as Catholic doctrine. Then point to the moral failings of the hierarchy and say ‘who are these people to tell you what to do’. Above all do not discuss the intrinsic evil or otherwise of abortion. Slather on words like compassion, care, and trust. Good, fine, splendid; it worked and the solemn incantation of ‘no woman takes abortion lightly’ was belied by the celebrations in the square of Dublin Castle as though ‘our team’ had won a cup.

Enlightened Progressives 2 : Recidivist Troglodytes 1

Why now after all the almost daily stories about Mother & Baby Homes, Magdalen Laundries, and buggering Bishops have achieved their goal do we continue to be treated to their continuous repetition? It is I believe a mopping up operation now that conscientious objection by doctors who will not refer on women,and the likelihood of picketing of abortionist doctors’ surgeries are issues. Demonisation must continue so that repressive measures will be accepted. One in three people voted NO and in a proportional representational electoral system that is a significant minority. If they go too far it could affect those final seats in a 5i seat constituency.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Facing Death, Facing Life


(repost from 2011)

His father had always been a stranger, an irritable stranger with exceptional powers of intervention and comment, and an air of being disappointed about his offspring. It was shocking to lose him, it was like an unexpected hole in the universe, and the writing of “Death” upon the sky, but it did not tear Mr. Polly’s heartstrings at first so much as rouse him to a pitch of vivid attention.

(The History of Mr. Polly by H.G.Wells)


That amusing and warm hearted novel has a lot of wisdom in it. We face death by facing life otherwise it’s just a distracting mystery encompassed by either table turning or nihilism. As an old English labourer explained to me as I hacked ineffectually with my pickaxe at the obdurate ground of Hertfordshire - ‘Pat, you’ve got to put a face on the work’. I won’t reduce that piece of instruction to its complete architectonic significance but the practical import of it is that you must first create a decent hole with a face that you can prise away into the void that you have created.

((I mean by facing life that ‘face’ we hew continuously, not a Mount Rushmore face but our own.))

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Vaidya on Anupalabadhi


I spent about one and a half hours reading this interviewhindu syllogisms
and that I suppose gives me the right to comment on it. I have, so to speak, paid my way – the way of the internet savant.

I’ve said this before about Sanskrit and Sanskritism. Poetry is what is lost in translation. If a philosophical text cannot be translated it is not philosophy. Philosophy is what is retained in translation. Do you really have to know French to understand the ‘evil demon’ hypothesis? Does not knowing German put the ‘thing in itself’ out of your reach?

I went to India in 2018 to speak to some very respected Mīmāṃsā scholars who debated in Sanskrit aspects of Mīmāṃsā theory of knowledge (pramāṇa). My hope is that by talking to these learned scholars who train in Sanskrit for most of their lives from a very young age, I might figure out more about the nature of non-apprehension (anupalabadhi).

Vaidya might well have read about the non-apprehension of existence in Sartre’s Being and Nothingness pub.1943 (Chap.1:Section 2) (find the book at:
being and nothingness

I have an appointment with Pierre at four o'clock. I arrive at the cafe a quarter of an hour late. Pierre is always punctual. Will he have waited for me? I look at the room, the patrons, and I say, "He is not here." Is there an intuition of Pierre's absence, or does negation indeed enter in only with judgment? At first sight it seems absurd to speak here of intuition since to be exact there could not be an intuition of nothing and since the absence of Pierre is this nothing. Popular consciousness, however, bears witness to this intuition. Do we not say, for example, "I suddenly saw that he was not there." Is this just a matter of misplacing the negation? Let us look a little closer.
Further on in his masterly exposition:
This figure which slips constantly between my look and the solid, real objects of the cafe is precisely a perpetual disappearance; it is Pierre raising himself as nothingness on the ground of the nihilation of the cafe. So that what is offered to intuition is a flickering of nothingness; it is the nothingness of the ground, the nihilation of which summons and demands the appearance of the figure, and it is the figure-the nothingness which slips as a nothing to the surface of the ground. It serves as foundation for the judgment-"Pierre is not here." It is in fact the intuitive apprehension of a double nihilation.

There are differences to the anupalabadhi pramana but the core intuition is there. The central point of claiming anupaladhi (non-apprehension of existence) as a pramana is that it is a valid means of knowledge that cannot be reduced to any other.

I see that I have come to the end of a page which is quite enough for now. I might have more to say on Vaidya on the topic of disjunctivism (argument from illusion) later.

One thing else: the example given of anupalabadhi – ‘the pot is not on the floor’ only goes on all fours if you have the background knowledge of the universal presence of an earthen water pot on every Indian floor in olden times. Its not being there is an immediate knowledge.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

My Word


You can't possibly believe that because you've never doubted it. That is what the belief in the external world amounts to.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Last Score: The Private Life of Sir Richard Ormston by Storm Jameson (pub. 1961)


I’ve been reading two political novels by Storm Jameson (1891 - 1986). The first one was Last Score from 1961 and the second In the Second Year published in 1936. It was finished in 1935 which puts it directly contemporaneous with It couldn’t happen Here by Sinclair Lewis published in 1935. Both are about fascist takeover and while the American book was deemed to be prophetic due to Trump, because Trump, the Englishwoman’s book had its source in the very real events in Europe and mad marching Mosely in England.

Last Score is based on the E.O.K.A. insurgency in Cyprus of the late 50‘s featuring the family life of Sir Richard Ormston and his dealing with the rebels. Spying, treason, torture: that sort of thing. My feeling about Jameson is that she couldn’t write a really bad book but that due to legal concerns, certain unrealities emerge to separate the character of Ormston from the real governor of Cyprus Sir John Harding who also dealt with the Mau Mau in Kenya. That good Sir John died in great old age festooned with honours though the torture claims linger on marks the difference between a possible fiction and truth we can’t handle. The astute reader of the day would decant the novel through a muslin of irony; take the glass of whisky and leave the revolver.

The character of Sir Richard, his relationships to his wife, his son, his mother and, his lover are true to the life of a steadily climbing careful colonial administrator more usually right than wrong. Until!

His wife is the plain only daughter of a deceased merchant banker. The money was useful to advance his career but she is no good at the social side of Governorship. Mother does that.

He made an effort, smiled, and managed to reply with the gentleness and polite tolerance he rarely failed to use with her: it hid, decently, he thought, the cold purgatory of boredom his marriage had day by day become. "That depends what you mean by awful. She's a loose young woman. That's surely enough."

The ‘loose young woman’ is Sarah Ling the daughter of the newspaper publisher critical of the colonial regime. By the way Cyprus is never mentioned but a reference here and there makes the location clear.

Ormston visits the prisoner:

Frent, he learned at police headquarters, was out. An officer called Senior was on duty in his room, a big stout comfortable fellow with burnished cheeks and twinkling blue eyes, the spit of a country grocer, very reassuring. The prisoner, he said cheerfully, had been put to bed in one of the cells, he was not sure which, but the prison doctor had seen him, and if His Excellency would like to talk to that officer . . .
Ormston cut him short. "I want to see the prisoner. At once. I haven't much time."
Did he catch or imagine a trace of embarrassment on the fellow's good-humoured face? If it had been there, it vanished instantly and its place was filled by the blank pseudo-face Captain Senior kept in readiness, behind his features of a decent only slightly rascally village tradesman, for use when some important person, so important that Hector Senior should never have been left to deal with him, was behaving out of character. Deplorably out of character. What call had His Excellency the Governor to appear here, without warning, without an aide, and demand to see a man who was no longer of any interest since he had been squeezed dry? It was all very difficult. Not the least of his difficulties was marching sideways, so that he led the way without leading.

Marching sideways indeed. This is an excellent novel. Jameson can do that devilishly intricate stunt for a woman of getting into a chap’s mind. Ordinary everyday evil highly placed can inflict grievous political damage. The subtitle of the book is The Private Life of Sir Richard Ormston. Take that as the gravamen of the charge; strain the rest.

In the Second Year must be for another post. Both novels are available on archive.org in the usual formats.