Thursday, 29 August 2013

Time and Chakras

Are we moving through time or is time moving through us? Or is time only decay as the early clocks symbolised with the burning down, emptying, running out of material? Human duration is our lived time which continues to build via memory or localised consciousness. At death we have a shape which the great traditions say is passed on to another life. In yogic meditation or the cittavritti nirodha/the elimination of mind forms, the ideal is to sense only the open ports. These are the chakras which regulate the possibilities of experience. Ramana Maharshi places the seat of the self on the opposite side of the body to the Heart Chakra and relates how when life was returning to his body after a death experience, it spread through him from that physical spot, a fingers breadth above the right nipple.
Feeling the world through that point or leaving an element of my consciousness there as though it were a spot of benign pain changes my experience towards harmony, order and pattern. It is like being in the presence of a painting when there is a pause and duration not time is lived.

Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Scepticism, Animal Faith, and Fog

Is global scepticism or unrestricted methodic doubt actually rational if it forbids us doing what we do and saying what we say in our everyday lives? Is the purported bowing to reason and rationality and the elevation of knowledge to the incorrigible precisely the opposite of what draws us on to clarity. We accept the foggy and fuzzy under advisement hoping by judicious repair to achieve progress. To feel you are doomed to security only in the thin atmosphere of mathematics is the original Platonic error that continues to fascinate philosophers.

The Daddy of contemporary insecurity and the writer of its finest prose is Santayana. Scepticism and Animal Faith is a most comfortable bed and we barely feel the winding of its Procrustean windlass. In discussing the cognitive claims of memory he writes:

I have already accepted the belief in memory ; indeed, without accepting it I could not have taken the first step forward from the most speechless scepticism. But since such acceptance is an act of faith, and asserts transitive or realistic knowledge, I will pause to consider somewhat more explicitly what the cognitive claims of memory are, on which all human beliefs are reared.

As is often the case with Santayana we are brought up short at the sudden chilling of the warm prose bath by an insight put with much less suavity by Sidney Shoemaker in Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity.

A frame or foreground is accordingly indispensable to the projection which renders a present image a vision of some past fact : I must stand here to point there. Yet if my present station were explicitly perceived, if the whole immediate datum were focussed equally in thought, the picture would seem flat and the perspective merely painted upon it, as upon a cheap drop-curtain in a theatre. It would destroy the claim and, if you like, the illusion of memory to remember that I am remembering ; for then I should be considering myself only, and only the present, whereas in living remembrance I am self-forgetful, and live in the present thinking only of the past, and observe the past without supposing that I am living in it.

‘You cannot remember that you are remembering’. Similar points have been made by Thomas Reid and Elizabeth Anscombe cf.
I am at the stage in the reading of Animal Faith where he has admitted memory whilst still holding on to the reality of the flux of essences which are the creation of imagination. Are essences concepts or ideas? To which I answer 'pass’. Here I must call on Coleridge in Biographia Litteraria Chap.XII:

In the perusal of philosophical works I have been greatly benefited by a resolve, which, in the antithetic form and with the allowed quaintness of an adage or maxim, I have been accustomed to word thus: until you understand a writer's ignorance, presume yourself ignorant of his understanding. This golden rule of mine does, I own, resemble those of Pythagoras in its obscurity rather than in its depth. If however the reader will permit me to be my own Hierocles, I trust, that he will find its meaning fully explained by the following instances. I have now before me a treatise of a religious fanatic, full of dreams and supernatural experiences. I see clearly the writer's grounds, and their hollowness. I have a complete insight into the causes, which through the medium of his body has acted on his mind; and by application of received and ascertained laws I can satisfactorily explain to my own reason all the strange incidents, which the writer records of himself. And this I can do without suspecting him of any intentional falsehood. As when in broad day-light a man tracks the steps of a traveller, who had lost his way in a fog or by a treacherous moonshine, even so, and with the same tranquil sense of certainty, can I follow the traces of this bewildered visionary. I understand his ignorance.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Epithets and Slurs

Epithet may have started being used as a genteelism for adjective as in the common locution racial epithets but it very quickly by association came to mean slur or derogatory expression. This is an American usage as there is no mention of it in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. In Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1979 edn.) there it was: a disparaging or abusive word or phrase. This was offered after the primary meaning which would be the classical: a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing. No examples were given but I offer chaste Diana and The Iron Lady as typical. A great many Americans would resist the idea that the latter was an epithet for Margaret Thatcher whom they profess to admire. Is Lionhearted an epithet in the secondary American sense? Hardly. Internal strife in the family of meanings of a word is to be deprecated.

Genteelism: By genteelism is here to be understood the substituting, for the ordinary natural word that first suggests itself to the mind, of a synonym that is thought to be less soiled by the lips of the common herd, less familiar, less plebeian, less vulgar, less improper, less apt to come unhandsomely betwixt the wind & our nobility.
(from Modern English Usage by H.W. Fowler)

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Fowler howler

Editing in Wikipedia, in regards to plain English, is patchy. We know what they mean because unlike French which has to be spoken perfectly to be understood English receives a universal mangling which we accept. The entry on Fowler has a howler or three; ironic when its subject was a stern examiner of all solecisms and paralogisms including the use of pedantic expressions when not strictly warranted.
Henry Watson Fowler
So limping on but by the way shooting yourself in the foot was a deliberate act to get you out of the battle.

We are told that at Rugby He concentrated in Latin and Greek. The writer seems to have been caught between ‘concentrated on’ and ‘specialised in’ and the wrong preposition was the result.

There was an E. P. Lemarchand, whose sister eventually married Arthur Fowler. Did his persistence pay off or was it merely that she later married Arthur. ‘Eventually’ gives the impression of a long siege before the surrender of her hand in marriage.

In partnership with his brother Francis and beginning in 1906, he began publishing seminal grammar, style and lexicography books. Certainly those books were published but not by him; he wrote them together with his brother.

Although he participated little in Oxford sport,: Is that on Eurosport or is he talking about 'sport at Oxford’?

There was a brother Samuel: Samuel, the troublesome youngest brother, was sent to Sedbergh, probably to be taken care of by Henry and Arthur, but he only stayed a year before leaving the school, and of him nothing further is known. Presumably he became a ‘remittance’ man and spent his latter days writing to the Australian Times (?) about split infinitives.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Corydon Vs Thyrsis

One feels that the poems of Matthew Arnold are like the Victorian drawing room in being somewhat over furnished. There’s a nice bureau but alas the cabinet of Capodimonte, souvenirs of Oxford, and Arnold himself standing in the views, in front of Mt.Blanc, ‘there I am in Thun and ah Marguerite’. Still when it, the poem, works, the sweep is magnificent. I am always moved by The Scholar Gypsy but Thyrsis is ruined by ambivalence perhaps the one emotion that poetry retreats from. Sir Edmund Chambers (1866 - 1954) who wrote both long and short about Arnold feels that it was his greatest poem (Wirton Lecture on English Poetry 1932).

The singing match aspect of it is where the ambivalence emerges and surely Freud would have approved of the classical masking adapted from the Seventh Eclogue of Virgil in which Corydon defeated Thyrsis. Arnold attempts an uneasy recovery in line 80:
For Time, not Corydon, hath conquer’d thee.

However it seems that Clough born 1819 and four years older than Arnold was headmaster Thomas Arnold’s, Papa’s, favourite at Rugby where he was made head boy and represented the ideals of the school. Clough was a brilliant student who was reading Schleiermacher in the original at the age of 15. One need not hearken to the counsels of Vienna to see unresolved quasi-sibling rivalry. It was widely felt that Clough would have a brilliant career in whatever sphere he chose. Due to conscientious objection to the acceptance of the doctrines of the Church of England an academic career was closed to him at Oxford and that history is indicated in the Victorian web’s entry:
What then of the poetry? In my view Corydon did win.

Here’s an example of an overpopulated poem by Clough:

In a Lecture Room

Away, haunt thou me not,
Thou vain Philosophy!
Little hast thou bestead,
Save to perplex the head,
And leave the spirit dead.
Unto thy broken cisterns wherefore go,
While from the secret treasure-depths below,
Fed by the skyey shower,
And clouds that sink and rest on hilltops high,
Wisdom at once, and Power,
Are welling, bubbling forth, unseen, incessantly?
Why labor at the dull mechanic oar,
When the fresh breeze is blowing,
And the strong current flowing,
Right onward to the Eternal Shore?

A little thing to be freighted with so many abstractions.


Too quick despairer, wherefore wilt thou go?
Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
Sweet-William with his homely cottage-smell,
And stocks in fragrant blow;
Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
And open, jasmine-muffled lattices,
And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
And the full moon, and the white evening-star.
(from Thyrsis l.60 - 70 )

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Dinner with Watts-Dunton and Swinburne at The Pines, Putney

In the World’s Classics series put out by O.U.P. in that exquisite 6x4 format with its dust jacket intact for €4 I got English Critical Essays: XX Century. An essay by A.C. Benson (1862 - 1925), one of the Benson boys that I have written about here
meet the bensons
and elsewhere, was well worth the testoon.

It is on Theodore Watts-Dunton and it was published in Life and Letters, Dec. 1932). When you read it you will see why posthumous publication was advisable. The detail of the heavy brown socks drying on the fender; but I’ll be quiet. Over to you Benson:


Friday, 9 August 2013

Into the Mystic

What is mystical experience and what role should it play in religion? Is it a confirmation of the existence of God? If a convinced naturalist has mystical experience does that negate the confirmation aspect for the believer or is it evidence of the limitations of the naturalist's schema? I think the latter because the evidence for the natural roots of the mystical experience is overwhelming. Usually this experience is subsumed under the religious tradition that the mystic belongs to and indeed it often takes the standard forms that are validated by that tradition.

So how does the naturalist mystic fall short of a full understanding? For a start the interpretation of all events as having their roots in causal mechanisms that are material in origin is inadequate. Secondly the incoherence from their own point of view of the judgement of 'sameness'. One doesn't have to be a rabid Wittgensteinian to doubt this equivalence. It is just not demonstrable and therefore ought not to be considered by a thoroughgoing naturalist.

Then there is the variety of forms that mystical experience takes even within a single tradition. Why does the Blessed Virgin not appear to Hindus, does she not like them? Is she sniffy about Protestants too? Here the concept of ishta devata comes in: God will appear to you in your chosen form to strengthen your faith. What it may be asked is the faith that naturalists have that needs to be strengthened? They have a self, a nature, a consciousness which links them to the divine. That's quite enough to be going on with.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

In Context

Courtroom Scene:
I put it to you that the defendant before you today accused of murder may not have been the one who actually committed the crime, that in fact an exactly similar replica produced by an alien intelligence did it. You ask: ‘But what of the fingerprints, the cc camera footage, his mother’s identification, ‘Son what are you doing here’ - all, of, this, is really a carefully fabricated plot by a civilisation with incomprehensible levels of technical expertise at its disposal. I further put it to you that you cannot possibly know that what I say is true or false and that therefore a reasonable doubt has been established which allows you to acquit my client.

In terms of context and its high demands and the irresistible claims of scepticism a murder trial is as serious a trial of knowledge as any we know. Why doesn’t epistemological contextualism apply here? Perhaps we need a Harvard professor to explain. I call on Keith DeRose.

Recently he has been considering the knowledge of God. He has been exercised by the doubt that when he thought he knew God or knew with assurance the existence of God, that he could not have done so because now that he no longer believes in God his knowledge must have been a figment. Why? Because knowledge stays knowledge.
I thought I knew

The error here, a standard materialist one, is the univocal use of the term ‘knowledge’. I offer the notion that knowledge of God or awareness of God is more a context in which we live than something that can be expressed propositionally. You live your life as if the presence of God pervaded it. When I say ‘as if’ I do not thereby imply that one is suspended over a void of uncertainty. The practice of the presence brings its own validation but if the interior life is neglected the assurance that we call knowledge can fall away and fade into the light of common empiricism.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Note on Substance

Substance ought to be easy. 'Thus I assert thee' as I stumble over a stone, as it were. That's fine but then we are obliged to distinguish between 'stone' as stuff, generic stone and this particular stone called by Aristotle the primary substance and the former the secondary. By the way none of the interpretations of Aristotle's views are uncontroverted so shop around. However the primary/secondary division seems to me a sensible view of the basic furniture of the world or the floor we start from. The Advaitins who employ different criteria of what really is regard 'stuff' as more fundamental than individual items. In their airy way they assert that 'clay alone is real, things made from clay are mere names'. The changeless element, the material cause in the Aristotelian schema, is the clay and the various forms that are made out of clay are simply conventional names. We can see this view in some Western ontologists who would regard a table as 'timber arranged table-wise'. Is this a monist view which would regard our primal encounter as being with an undifferentiated continuum? Given evolution this seems unpersuasive as animals seem to be 'designed' to fit a habitat and prey. For the fox is a rabbit 'food arranged rabbit-wise'?

The pramana of upamana seems to contradict the primacy of 'stuff' (cf various posts on the topic of upamana by label). Recognising genus and species is a basic function of this innate means of knowledge ie. a means of knowledge not reducible to any other. Once we have decided on the criteria of division we can place everything. Encountering anything precipitates automatic sorting on however crude a basis. True but for the Advaitins their concept of 'the real' as changeless supervenes so the opposition may be more a contrast than a contradiction.

The contrast that exists between everyday awareness and knowledge and the reality that underpins that knowledge is brought out in the concept of the primal reality of the substratum. At the risk of confusion it is arguable that the clay/vessels dichotomy with clay alone as real is merely an analogy for the reality of the substratum and the unreality of the upadhis/forms of limitation which the substratum manifests.

Or the characteristic of Brahman is Its being the material cause of the entire universe. By 'material cause' is meant the substratum of the superimposition of the universe, or the substratum of the cosmic illusion (maya) that transforms itself in the shape of the universe. It is in view of such material causality that Brahman and the universe have been described as identical in Sruti texts like the following: “This all is the Self” (Br.II.iv.6) “It became the gross and the subtle (Tai:II.6) and “Let Me multiply, let Me be effectively born (Ibid II.6, Ch.Up. VI, ii, 3) Conventional statements like, “The jar exists,” “The jar is manifest,” and “The jar is desirable,” are also on account of the superimposition of its identity with Brahman, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute.
(from Vedanta Paribhasa tranlated by Swami Madhavananda.)

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Power of Counterpositive Thinging

But what good is it, what does it do, this counterpositive? It invokes a way of getting free from (Meinongian?) tangles. To take the canonical example of ‘a cloth’ and ‘a pot’. A cloth is a cloth and a pot is a pot. A cloth is not a pot. Well yes but what does that mean? Does it imply that we scan the pot looking for ghostly essences of cloth and not finding them assert that a cloth is not a pot. The counterpositive theory asserts that the absence of cloth as a pot indicates that ‘clothness’ exists in its own substratum of cloth elsewhere. There is no presence of even a faint trace of cloth in a pot.

Says Swami Madhavananda in his note on this topic in Vedanta Paribhasa:
When we say, “A cloth does not exist as a jar”,that whose existence is denied is the cloth, which is therefore the counterpositive of this negation. A jar, is, a different substratum from the cloth. The property of that, viz., jarhood, is the distinguishing characteristic of the counterpositveness of this negative.

It would be interesting to consider the points of congruence between ‘substratum’ and Aristotelian ‘substance’.