Monday, 25 November 2013

Panpsychism by Thomas Nagel


I opened the inside cover page of Mortal Questions by Thomas Nagel in a second-hand bookshop in Dublin and there I saw the name of someone whom I knew that had died last year. ‘You’re really dead when your library is broken up’, I thought and I felt an intimation of mortality. He as a teacher had dined on the subtle air, the prana, of the book and invited his students to that feast. The essay Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness is extensively marked with underlining and occasional annotation. In the anatomy of the grave you have achieved your formal identity.

In the panpsychist view you are perhaps reduced to your elements and await re-location. The essay by Nagel on Panpsychism, unmarked by previous owner, has no thoughts on Molly’s ‘methimpikehoses’ or any other translation but he continues to admit the puzzle of how neural traffic becomes memories, dreams and reflections. This is the chit jada granthi of the advaitin, the knot between the inert and the conscious. Their position is that the mind itself is inert but being pervaded by Chit (Consciousness) shines with it and individualises it. Nagel stays close to the aporetic and to me his thoughts on Nonemergence are to me quite interesting as they state in his own very clear way the doctrine known as satkaryavadasatkaryavada by vedantins. He puts it:

There are no truly emergent properties of complex systems. All properties of a complex system that are not relations between it and something else derive from the properties of its constituents and their effects on each other when so combined. Emergence is an epistemological condition; it means that an observed feature of the system cannot be derived from the properties currently attributed to its constituents. But this is a reason to conclude that either the system has further constituents of which we are not yet aware, or the constituents of which we are aware have further properties that we have not yet discovered.

Nagel of course does not have the pervasion analogy of the Vedantins who also run a saturation analogy cf.salt solution in the Chandogya Upanishad. He looks to properties but seems to me to be a little tentative in his discussion of fundamental particles that possess them. He is quite opposed to Hume’s theory of causality.

Ture causes do necessitate their effects; they make them happen or make them the case. Uniform correlations are at best evidence of such underlying necessities.

Consciousness then does not emerge in a flash at a certain point without those underlying necessities. Material complexity would not bring out consciousness unless it was somehow present in earlier simpler states. He refers to his ‘what it’s like’ notion of felt consciousness which is beyond a mere physical explanation of functional states.

His final paragraph is a fair indication that he is not afraid to challenge the dominant materialism of contemporary philosophy:

But we know so little about how consciousness arises from matter in our own case and that of the animals in which we can identify it that it would be dogmatic to assume that it does not exist in other complex systems, or even in systems the size of a galaxy, as a result of the same basic properties of matter that are responsible for us.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Guying the Metaphor


Skholiast was wondering like about my firm distinction between analogy and
metaphor. Metaphor arises out of analogy of course but it is more
general and unrestricted. An analogy has a narrow focus and serves to
draw out an aspect of reality that requires an aid to intelligibility
or serves to implant an image in the mind for rhetorical purposes. You
might say that someone had eyes like a hawk meaning that however remote
he was from your activity he was aware of it. Here the focus is on the
all seeing eye. However if you said that someone was a 'hawk' then the
extension of meaning into the sudden swoop of the raptor comes into
play as well. Polysemic might be the word for that expansion. That
generality can be 'guyed' for the purposes of mockery i.e. made an
effigy of, paraded through the streets and ceremonially burnt with
commination.

In the realm of advaitic analogy the snake/rope is a classic
illustration of superimposition. As I wrote, extending that analogy
into metaphor i.e. saying that the cosmos is a 'snake'and extracting
far more from it than was meant is also a classic wrong turn.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson


By the time they had lived seven years in the little house on Greeentree Avenue in Westport, Connecticut, they both detested it. There were many reasons, none of them logical, but all of them compelling. For one thing the house had a kind of evil genius for displaying proof of their weaknesses and wiping out all traces of their strengths.

Even a thrown vase that dented the plaster leaves a repair that looks like a question-mark. They are discontented and don’t know why.

I don’t know what’s the matter with us, Betsy said one night. “Your job is plenty good enough. We’ve got three nice kids, and lots of people would be glad to have a house like this. We shouldn’t be so discontented all the time.”

The novel (pub. 1955) begins with a particular everyman scenario that happens in 1953. but could be anytime. Tom is 33 and Betsy a little younger and they have been married for 12 years. To us that would seem a precipitous rush into adulthood. Tom is on about 7,000$ a year and as the sole earner in the house is beginning to realise that his job at a philanthropic institute will not be sufficient to cover their needs in the future as the children grow more expensive. At lunch he hears from a friend that there was an opening in the United Broadcasting Corporation which could pay from eight to ten thousand. It’s in public relations.
The next morning, Tom put on his best suit, a freshly cleaned and pressed grey flannel. He applies for the job and gets it and finds himself working closely with Ralph Hopkins the C.E.O. and workaholic extraordinaire. The closeness of the observation of this individual, his mannerisms and rationalisation of a fanatic devotion to all work and no play makes one think that Wilson had someone in mind. All through the book there is a quiet understated wit that is very effective.

Running parallel to the office story is the darker one of his war experience in Italy and the Phillipines during the tail end of the war. As a paratrooper captain dropped behind enemy lines he has had to kill with a knife a young German soldier to take his coat. The weather is freezing and the boy is an enemy but still though he’s not haunted by this in a P.T.S.D. way, its one of those events that continues to depress. The contrast of that and the grey flannel army is a consistent irony.

The two streams of his life run together when he recognises a lift attendant as a comrade in Italy and he hears news of the girl that he left behind him there. Has anyone every written about ‘Coincidence and enhanced Karma in the Novel’? We accept it because the idea of cosmic balance and the chance to relive things, and this time get them right, is a wish that life rarely fulfils.

This is an excellent novel and the film version with Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones stays close to the book and is also very good. I saw it before I read the book and Peck and Jones are just right. There is a recent re-publication but it was such a best seller that there must be tons of them out there. I got mine in a hardback reprint society edition for 5€. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg


To mangle a line from Donnie Brasco:
If Sonny (the) Red says you’re a rat then you’re a rat. (fink, stoolie, snitch)
That’s it with Budd Schulberg and the special pleading from On the Waterfront which he wrote won’t serve. Being a friendly witness for HUAC puts you in line for a liberal OBE (one behind the ear).

What of the novel?(published 1950) It’s good, an insider story that has its evasions and who better to tell it than Schulberg whose father was a bigshot producer who allowed him to attend writer conferences as a kid. As a student at Dartmouth he went with Scott Fitzgerald on a script doctoring escapade and the Manly Halliday and Ann Loeb represent the writer and his lover Sheila Graham. Much is made of her Semitic profile but strangely enough there are no other Jews in Hollywood. Possibly Budd was on the run from Sammy (What makes Sammy run? which was accused of being anti-Semitic. As it happen Sheila Graham was Jewish but here I am getting caught up in the parallels with real life. It’s just a novel and coming from someone who wrote for the screen it has at times a broad storyboard feel to it. Consciousness as a personal viewpoint oscillates between Manly Halliday and Shep Stearns a junior writer whose Love on Ice story is with Victor Milgrim for consideration. This Victor is one of the best things in the book and is probably based on someone that Schulberg knew well. He is a grotesque anglophile snob who is anxious to use Manly to give himself artistic credibility and thereby get in with the Webster/Dartmouth governing body. An honorary degree. Dr. Victor indeed!

When the call to see Milgrim finally comes Shep is introduced to Manly Halliday who has decided that his debts are so large that he must whore just a little @ 2000$ a week for 10 weeks. This is January 29th. 1939 because that very day Barcelona just fell to the Loyalists. (Answer the question Mr.Schulberg) A lot of money even now. The rough diamond of the script will be given the artistic polish by the great but ‘all washed up’ writer whom Shep had written about for a college thesis. Adhering to the ‘no second acts’ trope Shep thought him dead, devoured by bears or rats with pink eyes.

The horror and the hilarity of the disintegration of Manly Halliday started by bubbly on the plane going to New York is described in detail. No sleep, benzedrine, alcohol and the snow and ice of winter Webster coupled with the uncanny cunning of the drunkard hastens the story to a debacle which is well told. Fitzgerald had left much documentary evidence behind him and from it all a credible voice is transcribed by Schulberg’s large talent. Flashbacks to the Manly/Jere//Scott/Zelda deadly dyad cover their frenetic partying including one given to celebrate a screen dog star. Quite funny in a dispiriting sort of way.

Great book, sort of sidelined by the the still fashionable leftism of Hollywood and scribbling intelligentsia. It is credited with playing a part in the Fitzgerald revival.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Locke, Newman, Clifford and James on Assent.


Reasonings and convictions which I deem natural and legitimate, he apparently would call irrational, enthusiastic, perverse, and immoral; and that, as I think, because he consults his own ideal of how the mind ought to act, instead of interrogating human nature, as an existing thing, as it is found in the world. Instead of going by the testimony of psychological facts, and thereby determining our constitutive faculties and our proper condition, and being content with the mind as God has made it, he would form men as he thinks they ought to be formed, into something better and higher, and calls them irrational and immoral, if (so to speak) they take to the water, instead of remaining under the narrow wings of his own arbitrary theory.

This is Newman writing in A Grammar of Assent about Locke on ‘Probability’ and ‘Enthusiasm’ in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. ‘Grammar’ was completed in 1870 and it is interesting that W.K. Clifford in his well known Ethics of Belief published in 1877 offers the same view of assent that Locke does. Personally I am persuaded by the psychological force of Newman’s rebuttals and his discovery of contradiction in Locke. It is instructive to compare his view of our normal acceptance of incomplete demonstration to that which William James limns in The Will to Believe from 1896. In that essay is a picture of spiritual anguish and of forced assent that is far from healthy-minded.

In this short note I merely draw attention to a cluster of views occurring around the latter quarter of the 19th. century. It may be that the ascetic had the more penetrating analysis of the three.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Beyond the Pale by Rudyard Kipling


You may take it for a fact that anything of this kind is not only noticed and discussed by a man’s own race, but by some hundred and fifty natives as well.
(from Beyond the Pale)

This puts the suggestion of John Holden’s double life being a secret as quite out the question and knowing by not-knowing as the Rudyard rood-yard of his art.

And in Beyond the Pale there is a young Hindu widow:

 She was a widow, about fifteen years old, and she prayed the Gods, day and night, to send her a lover; for she did not approve of living alone.

‘Benefit’ has another girl of a similar age, a coincidence but in the Eastenrn view of things there are no coincidences. A lively young man full of the health of England and with strong affiliations to the indiginous population through having been reared with them perhaps even suckled by one, with Hindi as his first language might be supposed to be drawn in that direction. Surmise is a poor guide but what logicians call abduction or inference to the likliest possibility is good practice. Did Kipling wander down a gully in his time? He knows too much not to have.

Durga Charan was careless of his women but in the end defended them according to his lights. The Charan caste would be regarded by the Raj army recruiters as a military race, Hindoo of course similar to the Rajputs. Good manly sort of chap, you know, has this thing about self-immolation and mutilation as a way of warding off threats. My blood be on your heads and on your children’s. Effective curse. Native princes kept them in the vanguard. Fierce fighters. Acquainted with spirituous licquour and opium and known to sacrifice animals to the Godess during Dassara. Not to be trifled with.

Trejago got that limp from riding. Not a word of a lie old chap, good read though.

Find at Beyond the Pale
(Adelaide University site for ebooks, excellent stock)


Friday, 8 November 2013

Without Benefit of Clergy by Rudyard Kipling


Things were different then. The Nobel Prize committee (1907) cites:

The second, the note of sympathy and human kindness, is most clearly marked in «The Story of Muhammad Din» and in «Without Benefit of Clergy» (in Life's Handicap), a gem of heartfelt emotion.

‘Benefit’ on any reading is equivocal. A young official of the Raj buys a 14 year old Muslim girl from her widowed mother and keeps her for two years until she has matured to his taste.

At his feet sat a woman of sixteen, and she was all but all the world in his eyes. By every rule and law she should have been otherwise, for he was an Englishman, and she a Mussulman's daughter bought two years before from her mother, who, being left without money, would have sold Ameera shrieking to the Prince of Darkness if the price had been sufficient.
It was a contract entered into with a light heart; but even before the girl had reached her bloom she came to fill the greater portion of John Holden's life.

The arrangement was probably entered into for hygenic reasons and turning it into a romance is a sleight of hand that Kipling almost manages with roseate patter disguising one of the sordid boons of Empire that enabled jumped up clerks to live in an aristocratic manner. All parties concerned know that this is a temporary arrangement and John Holdens’ officers would have known about it too. I find a sly allusion to this and the reader may find me over-interpreting but the strength of Kipling’s art lies in the alternate readings that swim about between the lines and make an equivocal world that is very like the real one. ‘Be ye not double-minded’ says the epistle but we are though we try not to become aware of it.

The drawbacks of a double life are manifold. The Government, with singular care, had ordered him out of the station for a fortnight on special duty in the place of a man who was watching by the bedside of a sick wife. The verbal notification of the transfer had been edged by a cheerful remark that Holden ought to think himself lucky in being a bachelor and a free man.

I find a sly irony in that remark. As if the coming and going of a white man in another part of the city outside the cantonment would not be noted but so long as his separate life is kept that way the authorities will ignore it. A man has his needs after all.

Holden has a counter establishment where he has installed his mistress and her mother and a gatekeeper who keeps them both under watch. Local Muslim rules o.k..

Any one could enter his bachelor's bungalow by day or night, and the life that he led there was an unlovely one. In the house in the city his feet only could pass beyond the outer courtyard to the women's rooms; and when the big wooden gate was bolted behind him he was king in his own territory, with Ameera for queen.

Both mother and daughter know that this is a temporary arrangement and that in the end a white mem-sahib will be a suitable bride for an officer of the Raj but an event is about to occur which may bind Holden closer. Ameera is going to have a baby. Holden has come to love her and the man-child when it arrives is beautiful. The idyll continues but approaching the red-walled city as the dry season turns to drought is a cholera epidemic.

Kipling ran his cosmos according to Freemason Rules, by the line, by the level, by the plumb, by the square, by the all-seeing Eye. Clearly there were corrections to be made. Durga Dass the landlord of the house, a love-nest somewhat East of Stockholm, knows what to do:

When the birds have gone what need to keep the nest? I will have it pulled down—the timber will sell for something always. It shall be pulled down, and the Municipality shall make a road across, as they desire, from the burning-ghat to the city wall, so that no man may say where this house stood.

In his own way. with the artist’s sublime duplicity, Kipling has said where that house stood.

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Edmund Wilson who admired this story (The Wound and the Bow had a long relationship with a taxi dancer. Though it seems he was happy with her, there was no question of him marrying her. That would be the fate of a high caste Vassar girl who tried to smoke him out of his study by pushing burning papers under his door.
Aii chota sahib , kismet.









Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Losing your Temper with Analogy and Metaphor


What is the difference between an illustration and a metaphor? Put like that the question seems more soluble than if you were to ask; ‘what is the difference between an analogy and a metaphor’? That might be like the difference between a quadruped and a donkey. Or not. Could an analogy when pushed turn into a metaphor? Yes. Could an analogy used for the purposes of philosophical illustration when taken in the wrong sense end up as a metaphor which distorts its original intent? Yes.

Let’s take the metaphor ‘losing your temper’. Probably a lot of people would not be aware that this is a craft analogy from the time when all edge tools were periodically ground to renew their edges in preparation for honing. If excessive pressure was applied on the grindstone over a period of time without cooling through dipping in water the tool would turn blue at the edge and lose its temper. It would not afterwards be able to hold an edge. So don’t get overheated under pressure like the knife and lose your temper. ‘Temper’ I suggest here has lost its connection with its original analogical roots. Besides you won’t be able to ‘cope’. (f. couper/cut)

How dependent is philosophy on analogies? ‘Foundationally’ I would say and when ‘my spade turns’ (Wittgenstein) I know this is a sound ‘footing’.

But the greatest thing by far is be to a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others, and it also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.
(From Aristotle’s Poetics 22:1459)

Addendum/13.12.16: paragon

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Deadly Intent


I’ve been looking at the discussion on the related topics of why utilitarianism is detested and why Peter Singer is creepy.(timber 'Creepy’ good American word which I was surprised to find in a story of Edith Wharton’s from her collection Men and Ghosts. It has almost a prochronistic effect, but there it is, meaning in that case uncanny. In the Singer case it would refer to the shudder of distaste caused by rebarbative opinions unswervingly held with specious logic and requisite banality. His near perfect mastery of emotional cues is evinced by his serious discussion with a severely disabled person about the rational utility of her never having been born or if having somehow escaped screening should have as a neonate been put down.

His challenge to the logic of the intent of the dominant view of the Timberites is the kernal of the unease which they feel with him. Utilitarianism is after all about intent. As presented by Singer it would depreciate immediate intuitions of right and wrong. They are distractions from correct evaluation. Here is this compromised neonate which challenges your stated intent. Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if they were painlessly killed? It’s all about intent and remote effects. Anything else is just culture.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Analogies from Nowhere




Opponent: The comparison with the reflection of the sun in water cannot be reasonably upheld her (in the case of the Self), since nothing like that is perceived (here). A material thing, such as water, is seen to be clearly separate from and remotely placed from the sun etc. which are themselves material entities (with forms). There it is proper that an image of the sun should be formed. But the Self is not such a material entity (having form); and since It is all-pervasive and non-different from all, It can have no limiting adjuncts either separate or remote from It. Hence this illustration is inapt.

The opponent has a point, analogies on the same plane can be fruitful but the analogue from nowhere, the no place beyond physics, what are you standing under when you stand under that? Your analogy is a rumour from a resounding void but it is a void that inspires poetry when it is listened to . The vedic sages called it sruti, what is heard. Such analogies from nowhere are a Prolegomena to an Archetectonic of Pure Silence and Philosophy is what you pass through on your way there. A partial defence of metaphysical illustrations is that they are a reflection of a reality and enough to allow a useful transcendental postulate to strike (plant cutting metaphor). “As above so below” (Hermetic maxim)

"What is here is there, what is not here is not anywhere" (Tantric saying)

Note that the Magician of the Waite tarot combines in himself what the two philosophers of the School of Athens indicate.