Friday, 27 April 2012

I shot an arrow into the air......

No need to question the folk in a mass information gathering excercise, just look at those programmes like ‘Jeremy Kyle’ etc. ‘You left your kid outside the betting shop while you went in to place a bet, when you came out young Jackie was gone. You didn’t have to put that bet on, which lost incidentally, but you did it all the same. You’re a bad mum. ((mutter from the audience, slag, I bet on Riverdance in the 4:30)) The common man is a compatibilist to the soles of his runners or to put it another way the common person is a compatibilist to the soles or his or her runners.

Everyone navigates between vectors, nudged hither and yon. It’s only in retrospect that motives turn into causes. Consider that the Free Will argument may be like the paradox of Zeno which is based on pausing the arrow at a point instant. This may be useful for mathematics but does not comprehend the unbroken nature of the flight of the arrow. Ethical, moral reasoning is useful like mathematics but it too does not comprehend in reality the flow of events and all our different trajectories, which depend on the initial impetus, fletching, elevation etc. Can we enhance this as we go? I know that you can, you may believe that you can, others doubt that you can but no one can prove that you can.

Welcome to the world of flight.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Eliminative Materialism eliminated: rubbed out or reconstructed?

Broad in his Two Lectures on the Nature of Philosophy (1955) puts the problem in his characteristically clear way. Scientists have two hats or two coats. With the lab coat on:

When they confine their attention to the chemical, physical and physiological facts they are inclined to take the view that men are ‘conscious automata’, i.e. that all our mental states, including processes of deliberating, imagining, reasoning etc, are mere by-products of the brain, which are themselves completely determined by physical and physiological antecedants. But their daily lives and all their professional activities in designing, carrying out, and interpreting experiments presuppose a view which is shared by plain men and which seems prima facie to be incompatible with the ‘conscious-automaton’

It’s fine to hold that there might not have been such a thing as consciousness as Bergson does. One can go on from there to ask: ‘But we have consciousness, what is it for?’but to deny that we have consciousness after using the apparatus of consciousness seems to be wrong-headed. To sanctify that error by baptising it with the intelligible and descriptive title of ‘eliminative materialism’ is to ask for puzzlement and rejection. It would have been much better to choose a sonorous and opaque name such as monistic materialism.

In a recent interview Patricia Churchland atTPM
appears to be having a Prufrock moment about eliminative materialism:
That is not what I meant at all,
That is not it, at all.

Pace Dennett of Consciousness Explained, another disbeliever in consciousness, is this a Stalinist or an Orwellian move? Interesting however.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Revenge of the Golden Cobra on She who must be obeyed.

From Usage and Abusage by Eric Partridge
their, them, they: for singular he, she, his or her.
It was rather like a jigsaw puzzle in which everyone contributed their own little bit of knowledge
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

An error commonly found in both speech and writing, and arising from our lack of a relative pronoun meaning his- or - her.
I wore the fillet of the Golden Cobra, which could only be worn by one who had overthrown the cobra of the seventh ordeal, and in so doing had added strength to their will.
(Joan Grant, Winged Pharaoh
In such cases the right pronoun is 'his', unless a woman is clearly referred to.

Eric, old chum, I heartily concur, up to a point. Time has move on and we now have the politically correct habit of using 'she' for the unmarked pronoun, in effect destroying a useful distinction. It is of course an American academical barbarism which by the pervasive colonisation of the banal has come to infect good English. The 'their'and 'they' that you deprecate is at least idiomatic and has the sense of an indefinite ungendered multitude.
Wikipedia has an informative article on gender her specific pronouns.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Upamana once again

The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something - because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless thatfact has at some time struck him. - And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.
Philosophical Investigations #121 by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I quote this in full because the valid means of knowledge (pramana) known as upamana (comparison) is so fundamental and basic to consciousness of the world, i.e. classification, differentiation, exclusion and inclusion, specification etc., that we no longer see it as such. Moreover the continued use of a single example in its traditional Nyaya explication misleads us as to this global nature. I refer back to my earlier thoughts on the matter at
but I will reproduce the entry on upamana in Vedanta Paribhasa in full. My present thinking on the matter arises out of my comments on the topic at the blog:cidabhasa

To save going back and forth to my earlier note I will reproduce in full the entry on upamana in V.P.

Now comparison is being described. The instrument of the valid knowledge of similarity is comparison. For instance a man who has seen a cow's form in cities and has gone to a forest, where his eyes have come in contact with a gayal (gavaya - bos gaurus) has the cognition, "This thing is like a cow". Then he has the conviction, "My cow is like this." Here by a process of agreement and difference, the knowledge of the likeness of a cow which exists in a gayal is the instrument, and the knowledge of that likeness of a gayal which exists in a cow is the result.

this is not possible through perception, for then the cow's form is not in contact with the eyes. Nor is it possible through inference, for that likeness of a cow which exists in a gayal cannot be the sign (reason) for inferring the likeness of a gayal in a cow. Nor can it be urged that this is possible through the following inference:

My cow is like this gayal.
Because it corresponds to its likeness existing in a gayal.
That which corresponds to its likeness existing in a thing is like the latter.

As Caitra, who corresponds to his likeness existing in Maitra, is like him.

For even without this sort of inference, the cognition, "My cow is like this," is a matter of common experience, and has also the apperception, "I am comparing the two,". Hence comparison is a distinct means of knowledge.

In my first comment on the general topic at cidabhasa I began at the aspect of genus/species differentiation.
Whenever the example chosen is always the same you can be virtually certain that the proposer does not understand what is at issue and is staying close to the shore of the canonical. Even the translation of upamana sends one in the wrong direction. It’s not really a comparison but more of a slipping back from the specific into the generic. You don’t know, by virtue of having no experience of, a bos gaurus but you do know a bos bos. By falling back into the generic concept of bos, (an unexperienceable conception), divided hoof, horned etc you can recognise another species the bos gaurus. The knowledge gained from a reliable source that there exists such creatures is an unnecessary addendum in my opinion. Zoologists find new species without that.

Why is this a valid means of knowledge not reducible to any other? I believe that it is due to the mystery of how general concepts arise, if in fact they do arise. We know what red, green, yellow objects are by ostensive definition but how is the concept coloured arrived at. This is a concept which is required for the experience of various colours but which itself cannot be arrived at by experience. Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations talks of the procedure of going on as in 2, 4, 6, 8 now go on. We know what the answer is but how can we be taught what going on is. All our examples of it assume it.

This may be part of Plato’s puzzlement about universals and curiously enough Shankara in B.S.B. I.iii.28 offers the notion of vedic words which is not a long way off the same aporia.

In short we have a means of attaining valid knowledge which is embedded within us. It is not reducible to any other means of knowledge and is therefore a pramana. This is of course anathema to the empiricist tradition.

In my second comment on Cidabhasa blog I get down to the task of discovering in the V.P. treatment of upamana a deictic demonstration of a facet of differentiation i.e. the discovery of similarity.

The text that I am familiar with on the subject of pramanas is Vedanta Paribhasa and of course the bos gaurus comes out to play there too. Now the question I put to myself is: suppose upamana is a separate pramana distinct from perception and inference etc. Does the classical account bear the weight of this position? The empiricist account with perception as its mainstay seems to be a stronger candidate for the power behind the naming of this strange beast. We have seen domestic cattle, we have seen their hooves and horns, we now see this new creature. By a sort of mental Venn diagram it moves partially into the cow area. Prior to this we have been primed by a reliable source so we can now name it with confidence.

To answer this story I propose the view that you can’t gain the concept of common as in common features without having the concept common already and that is not perceptible or inferential etc. If I accept the notion of upamana as a pramana this is the direction I find I am pushed in. On the face of it this seems to be a sustainable interpretation.

Here by a process of agreement and difference the knowledge of the likeness of a cow which exists in the gayal is the instrument, and the knowledge of that likeness of a gayal which exists in a cow is the result.
(Vedanta Paribhasa)

knowledge of the likeness is the common of common feature

In Vedanta Paribhasa the establishing of the concept of upamana as a means of knowledge not reducible to any other is done by showing that the alternatives are impossible.

This is not possible through perception, for then the cow’s form is not in contact with the eyes. Nor is it possible through inference for that likeness of a cow which exists in a gayal cannot be the sign (reason) for inferring the likeness of a gayal in a cow. Nor can it be urged that this is possible through the following inference:
My cow is like this gayal.
Because it corresponds to its likeness existing in a gayal.
That which corresponds to its likeness existing in in a thing is like the latter.

The latter reasoning underscores the question begging aspect of seeing common features.
(End Comment)

Now that last sentence might be better expressed as the circularity of abstracting the concept ‘common’ from features that we know are common. In short upamana is a power which is innate like perception itself. It might well be said to be the eye of the mind in that it distinguishes ‘forms’/eidoi. Henry Bergson uses the term ‘cut’ for this cutting out of whole cloth. What is this whole cloth? More, much more can be written on this topic. Anon.

Lastly I leave you with an alteration of Leibniz’s Question: Why is there something rather than nothing? -- Why are there some things rather than an undifferentiated continuum?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Profound Fog: Henry James cut off.

“Live all you can, it’s a mistake not to”, Strether told Little Bilham and I took that as permission to leave The Ambassadors that maundering saga of rentiers beset by velleity. The inherent snobbery of just saying Paris, Paris as though that were enough to explain its liberating effect, if such it has, smacks of provincial awe. What happened Henry? Ford Madox Ford in his Mightier than the Sword clearly distinguished the two James’s.

And you have to remember that some years after the 1888 in which he wrote the words I have quoted, Mr. James underwent an experience that completely altered his point of view, his methods, and his entire literary practice. His earlier stages, Mr.James the Second contrived entirely - or almost entirely - to obscure in a sort of cuttlefish cloud of interminable phrases. Until the middle nineties nothing could have exceeded the masculine firmness, the quiet force of his writing, and of no one else than himself could it more justly be written that “less than anyone did he beat the air, more than anyone did he hit out from the shoulder”.

Ford goes on to describe the demeanor of the earlier James, confident, firm, magisterial and contrasts it with a sad decline:

But about the later James, clean-shaven, like an actor, so as to recover what he could of the aspect of youth, nervous; his face for ever mobile; his hands for ever gesturing; there hung continually the feeling of a forced energy, as of a man conscious of failure and determined to conceal mortification. He had had two great passions - the one for a cousin whom he was to have married and who died of consumption while they were both very young, and the other for a more conspicuous but less satisfactory personage who in the end at about the time when the break occurred, let him down mercilessly, after a period of years. And the tenacity of his attachments was singular and unforgetting.

So then, a woman and a ‘personage’. Quite!

Ford considered The Spoils of Poynton a great example of the earlier firmer James and the nouvelle form at which he excelled. Thus counseled I read it and I agree. James himself was very fond of fine interiors as of course was another young pal Edith Wharton so the sense of the sacred trust of a collection, even if created by oneself, is perfectly believable.

It was not the crude love of possession; it was the need to be faithful to a trust and loyal to an idea.

Running the risk of creating a spoiler for ‘Spoils’ what of the ending? Is it the revenge of Owen and really Fleda might have been more brisk? James like a good cabinetmaker liked to line up the slots on his screws even with a final risky turn that might twist the head off them.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Bergson's Zombie

Bergson would be regarded as being firmly in the panpsychist camp but he appears in is first book Time and Free Will to grant at the very least the conceivability of the zombie. In the first chapter in which he argues for the idea of sensation as a quality which is illicitly transformed into a quantity he discusses the various positions of the psychophysicists but the part that attracted my attention was:

It must be noticed in addition that we rise by imperceptible stages from automatic to free movements, and that the latter differ from the former principally in introducing an affective sensation between the external action which occasions them and the volitional reaction which ensues. Indeed all our actions might have been automatic, and we can surmise that there are many organised beings in whose case an external stimulus causes a definite reaction without calling up consciousness as an intermediate agent.
(pg.32 original)

In a following observation on page 35:
The intensity of affective sensation might thus be nothing more than our consciousness of the involuntary movements which are being begun and outlined, so to speak, within these states, and which would have gone on in their own way if nature had made us automata instead of conscious beings.

It is interesting that he does not automatically confer consciousness on a being which has passed a certain threshold of complexity. Emergence is not a given. In fact he places the concept of freedom central in his consideration of consciousness. Immediately following the first citation supra he remarks:

If pleasure and pain make their appearance in certain privileged beings, it is probably to call forth a resistance to the automatic reaction which would have taken place: either sensation has nothing to do, or it is nascent freedom.

This relation of freedom to consciousness is given a central role in Creative Evolution. That book more than any other evinces that characteristic which would make it highly unlikely if Bergson were around today that he would find a berth in a major Anglo-American University philosophy department. I mean enthusiasm, particularly if it has any taint of its etymological basis of en theos the god within. Even enthusiasm in the opposite direction as with Dawkins makes them sniffy.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Compatibilism in Advaita

In the Western discussion about compatibilism and incompatibilism the argument seems to be chasing its tail because it is presumed that there is one and one only level that is operative namely that of material causality. The quandary then is whether taking charge of causality by allowing ourselves to be moved by causes of our own choosing is freedom that is free enough or whether this ‘freedom’ is tainted at source by being part of a causal universe. At one bound you are unfree.

Advaita in particular takes a dialectic stand. At the ordinary level often termed vyavaharika ethical conduct is regarded as propaduetic in the great project of self-realisation. Live as though the unity of being were true in order to bring you towards a realisation of its truth. However it is stressed that realisation does not come about through action/karma but through knowledge. It is only knowledge that can dispel ignorance. Ignorance is typically understood as taking something to be what it is not. One is ignorant of the things true nature.

Transcendence therefore is getting beyond the merely ethical where the self is wholly identified with the materially bound ego or the body/mind/intellect complex. This is how the antinomian element in Advaita comes to the fore. Enter the Ancient Dude, Ashtavakra. He has gotten beyond the ego programs of behavioural modification and rests in the sublime plane of nishkama karma/actionless action. He lives in the world and appears to act but in reality abides in eternity. The rewards and the punishments or punya and papa, your desserts that span from life to life in the Vedic Cosmos and that cannot be avoided are regarded as the playing out of deterministic nature for the sage.

Finally then in a purely karmic world compatibilism holds true but from a sage’s eye view action is mechanistic, both beginingless and endless and until knowledge supervenes we are bound. At the transcendent level, freedom is the knowledge of necessity. This is true even if we create our own punya/papa by selection at the lower level. This eternal round of transmigration is only ended by a realisation of our true nature.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Freedom of the Will in Advaita

Let's get back to basics. Two questions: (a) How did the idea ever arise that there was freedom of the will; (b) How did the idea of liberation/realisation/mukti/moksha etc. arise? How do we in this deluded state ever get the idea that absolute freedom was possible? How could we ever get from the one state to the other if they are hermetically sealed from one another? That's a serious question and if there is a clean break between vyavaharika/relative and paramarthika/absolute it cannot be answered. There must be some clue in the everyday state we are in that makes the seeking of liberation a rational activity.

What is that thing that is according to the Kena Upanishad pratibodha videtam.(realised in every state of mind): Kena Up. 2.3

Brahman is known when It is realised in every state of mind; for by such Knowledge one attains Immortality. By Atman one obtains strength; by Knowledge, Immortality. 

Let me suggest that both the freedom of the will and the identity of the self are reflections in the mind of the nature of the Self even though our psychological investigations do not establish the Self or the freedom of the will. If you look for freedom in the psyche you won't find it. You are so to speak looking in the container at the contained and missing containing as such. It is this containing or the pervading of every state of mind by consciousness that gives rise to the idea of freedom even though the cerebral activity is, as material, law abiding. 'Pervasion' here does not imply an activity on the part of consciousness. This 'pervasion' gives allows the mind/brain to seem to be conscious even though because it is 'jada'(inert) it is not conscious by nature.

The scientific/psychological construction of the human mind is not adequate to the metaphysical understanding of what the mind is. Balanced by wisdom and good judgement it is adequate for practical purposes such as legal and interpersonal assessment. States of mind are not objects in the scientific sense and it is the position of Bergson that states of mind are all different and are never repeated.

The advaitin position on free will is sometimes presented as a compatibilist one. That is for another post.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Last Post being the Fourth Book of Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

The Last Post is a coda or more a tail with semi-autonomous wagging. For some strange reason of his own Ford moves the focus of the tetralogy to Mark the eldest and only surviving sibling of Christopher Tietjens. The other two brothers and a sister were killed in the war. Mark is very ill with T.B. and is in the care of Christopher and Valentine who are living in what toffs of that era called a cottage which today would be regarded as a fine house, with a thatched roof, beams, stairs of irregular rise, that sort of thing. Mark is in bed in a construction adjacent to the building that is open sided, the open air cure. We must remember that at this time the thermometer was regarded by doctors of the older generation as a dubious innovation. The first section of the book is the stream of consciousness of Mark’s French mistress whom he all along has refused to marry even though they have been together for 20 years. As the book opens we learn that he has married her particularly to spite the depredations of Sylvia the demon-wife of Christopher. The house Groby with its famous landmark cedar that is growing into one wall of the house is being let to rich Americans. They want to cut it down to let more light in on that side, a practico-symbolico touch.

Sylvia turns up and there is a denouement. There you have it. Ford in this book descends from the heights of the first three and has a little fun mocking French thrift and a chauvinism which descends to navette de Paris (a turnip), and the mania for varnish. Christopher who is now making a living from dealing in Old Furniture for the Americans although financially scotched by an American Jew middleman. As in practically all books in the English language of that era Jews are regarded as automatically dodgy. Finding them in a plot is like a shot of gophers standing above their holes as the wagon flees from Injuns across the prairie.

Could the book have been left out? I observe the piety of the author’s intent. Ford fecit and the whole is a masterpiece that requires a gentle bathos to culminate.

By the way I read it on line at a very useful site called the Hathi Trust.
The Last Post
Google have it with pages missing. Why? It’s out of copywright. The other three books are on Gutenberg Australia which has books from authors who died up to 1955 as against 1941 everywhere else.

As the centenary year of the Great War approaches and as a tie-in with the BBC mini-series I expect there will be re-printings. Extant editions are out there. In whatever format Parade’s End is one of the best books I’ve read in ages.