Saturday, 28 June 2014

Heart Meditation

Your work with what you are given. The body and the organs of sense carry away your attention to the external world. The idea in yogic or chakra meditation is to activate the various centres of consciousness in the body or to make that which draws us away into a means. I am only going to speak of this in very general terms not being any sort of a guru except the tin-pot one. I’ll admit to being plated with what the sellers of lotas (pots) call german silver. The chakras that are used for meditation are generally the heart (anhata) and the brow (ajna). Others have spoken of the Hridaya (heart) which is on the right side of the body and represents the ultimate portal of the life force. Ramana Maharshi’s experience of it has been, I think, the stimulus for its adoption by seekers.

I have been saying all along that the Heart Centre is on the right side, even when learned men differed from me. I speak from experience. I knew it even in my home during my self-absorption. Again during the incident recorded in Self-Realization, I had a very clear vision and experience. All of a sudden a light came from one side erasing the world-vision. I felt that the heart on the left had stopped and the body became blue and inert. Vasudeva Sastri embraced the body and wept over my death, but I could not speak. All the time I was feeling that the Heart Centre on the right was working as well as ever. This state lasted fifteen or twenty minutes. Then suddenly something shot out from the right to the left like a rocket bursting into the sky. The blood resumed circulation and the normal condition of the body was restored.

Certain photographs have the power of icons. That photo of Ramana is well known.

Friday, 27 June 2014

What use is meditation?

What is meditation for? What use is it? Shankaracarya has stated that no particular state of mind is liberation. Samadhi therefore is not liberation. Only knowledge brings an end to ignorance, avidya changes to vidya and you cannot unknow what you now know. There is a paradox buried in there because though you are now enlightened your true state has never changed. You were and are always that. Tat tvam asi – That thou art.

Still meditation is enjoined as a beneficial practice. Its vendors would agree with that, relaxation is good business. To the spiritual seeker with aching ankles and lost communication with their posterior the opening question of how this discomfort relates to moksha is relevant. My sketch of how it might be, and I speak as one having no authority, follows along the lines suggested by the acarya's commentary on Brhadaranyaka Upanisad IV.iii.6, 7.

'When the sun and the moon have both set, the fire has gone out, and speech has stopped, Yajnavalkya, what exactly serves as the light for a man?' 'The self serves as his light. It is through the light of the self that he sits, goes out, works and returns.' 'It is just so, Yajnavalkya.'

This sutra completes the series of questions that eliminate the various sensory aids to awareness external and internal i.e. sun, moon, fire, speech. These adjuncts are useless without the awareness of the individual. When these are absent as in dream awareness persists. An important point is that awareness persists even when sleep is dreamless as we are conscious in a dark contentless way of having been in that state. There is no necessity for a contents of consciousness to be present for awareness to persist because we do know that we slept deeply and did not dream. If being contentless eliminated awareness there should only be a sudden waking without any knowledge of an intervening period in other words a move from consciousness to consciousness without a sense of an intervening period. In fact there would be no sense of having slept at all. Western students of philosophical psychology will wonder how this reductio was missed, the elephant and his mahout in the room so to say, yet it is central to the metaphysics of consciousness and identity for Shankara.

The light in question must then be different from that of the body. Now the class counter to this from the materialist is reminiscent of the causal closure thesis of Aristotle in De Anima.

Objection (by the materialist): No, for we see that only thing of the same class help each other. You are wrong to state as a proved fact that there is an inner light different from the sun etc. Why? Because we observe that the body and organs, which are material, are helped by such lights as the sun, which also are material and of the same class as the things helped.

The reply to that I give in full because it seems to hint at the notion of intentionality.

Reply: If this aggregate be the self that does the function of seeing etc., how is it that, remaining as it is it sometimes performs those functions and sometimes does not?

I take this to mean that you are only aware of something when your consciousness is directed towards it. Attention is selective and intermittent and not automatic because you are physically present. Shankaracarya also makes the point that in dream and remembrance we only have before our our minds elements experienced before. The body and the organs are there but only those events are salient that we have directed our consciousness towards while capable of doing so. This is an interesting observation.

Many of the practices of meditation become intelligible with this metaphysical background. To be continued:

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Accumulator in H.G. Wells's The New Machiavelli

More on the ‘accumulators’ this time from Wells in his novel The New Machiavelli.The queer little twist towards metaphysics is evident and could account for its adhesive properties given a mind like Taylors. There is also mention of the denial of the validity of general laws, the concern of the chapter in which 'the new accumulator' was mentioned. 'In Search of Taylor Khan'. Quite!

This novel was published in 1911 and Elements of Metaphysics was first published in 1903 with subsequent editions. My print copy is the seventh from 1924.

I came nearer the truth of the matter as I came to realise that our philosophies differed profoundly. That isn't a very curable difference,—once people have grown up. Theirs was a philosophy devoid of FINESSE. Temperamentally the Baileys were specialised, concentrated, accurate, while I am urged either by some Inner force or some entirely assimilated influence in my training, always to round off and shadow my outlines. I hate them hard. I would sacrifice detail to modelling always, and the Baileys, it seemed to me, loved a world as flat and metallic as Sidney Cooper's cows. If they had the universe in hand I know they would take down all the trees and put up stamped tin green shades and sunlight accumulators. Altiora thought trees hopelessly irregular and sea cliffs a great mistake.... I got things clearer as time went on. Though it was an Hegelian mess of which I had partaken at Codger's table by way of a philosophical training, my sympathies have always been Pragmatist. I belong almost by nature to that school of Pragmatism that, following the medieval Nominalists, bases itself upon a denial of the reality of classes, and of the validity of general laws. The Baileys classified everything. They were, in the scholastic sense—which so oddly contradicts the modern use of the word "Realists." They believed classes were REAL and independent of their individuals. This is the common habit of all so-called educated people who have no metaphysical aptitude and no metaphysical training. It leads them to a progressive misunderstanding of the world. It was a favourite trick of Altiora's to speak of everybody as a "type"; she saw men as samples moving; her dining-room became a chamber of representatives. It gave a tremendously scientific air to many of their generalisations, using "scientific" in its nineteenth-century uncritical Herbert Spencer sense, an air that only began to disappear when you thought them over again in terms of actuality and the people one knew....

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The New Accelerator by H.G. Wells

There is an error in the footnote of A.E. Taylors which referred to the story of H.G. Wells. (cf .previous post) The correct title of the story is The New Accelerator and it is available at
the new accelerator
Taylor was confusing it with the Jules Verne story In the Year 2889 to be had via gutenberg project:
in which reference is made to a ‘new accumulator’. Both stories were published around the same time 1889 and 1901 and this might account for the conflation.

Wells is as always witty while the Verne is heavier going but uncannily prescient. The internet like hive of the newspaper:

Mr. Smith continues his round and enters the reporters' hall. Here 1500 reporters, in their respective places, facing an equal number of telephones, are communicating to the subscribers the news of the world as gathered during the night. The organization of this matchless service has often been described. Besides his telephone, each reporter, as the reader is aware, has in front of him a set of commutators, which enable him to communicate with any desired telephotic line. Thus the subscribers not only hear the news but see the occurrences. When an incident is described that is already past, photographs of its main features are transmitted with the narrative. And there is no confusion withal. The reporters' items, just like the different stories and all the other component parts of the journal, are classified automatically according to an ingenious system, and reach the hearer in due succession. Furthermore, the hearers are free to listen only to what specially concerns them. They may at pleasure give attention to one editor and refuse it to another.

Wells on the potential of the new accelerator potion:

My own interest in the coming drug certainly did not wane in the time. I have always had a queer little twist towards metaphysics in my mind. I have always been given to paradoxes about space and time, and it seemed to me that Gibberne was really preparing no less than the absolute acceleration of life. Suppose a man repeatedly dosed with such a preparation: he would live an active and record life indeed, but he would be an adult at eleven, middle-aged at twenty-five, and by thirty well on the road to senile decay. It seemed to me that so far Gibberne was only going to do for any one who took his drug exactly what Nature has done for the Jews and Orientals, who are men in their teens and aged by fifty, and quicker in thought and act than we are all the time. The marvel of drugs has always been great to my mind; you can madden a man, calm a man, make him incredibly strong and alert or a helpless log, quicken this passion and allay that, all by means of drugs, and here was a new miracle to be added to this strange armoury of phials the doctors use! But Gibberne was far too eager upon his technical points to enter very keenly into my aspect of the question.

That queer little twist towards metaphysics would have caused this story to be retained in in Taylor’s mind. But what is the new accumulator? No less than Free Energy or possibly the composition of greatly diffuse energy.

Truly was he a great benefactor of the human race. His admirable discovery led to many another. Hence is sprung a pleiad of inventors, its brightest star being our great Joseph Jackson. To Jackson we are indebted for those wonderful instruments the new accumulators. Some of these absorb and condense the living force contained in the sun's rays; others, the electricity stored in our globe; others again, the energy coming from whatever source, as a waterfall, a stream, the winds, etc. He, too, it was that invented the transformer, a more wonderful contrivance still, which takes the living force from the accumulator, and, on the simple pressure of a button, gives it back to space in whatever form may be desired, whether as heat, light, electricity, or mechanical force, after having first obtained from it the work required. From the day when these two instruments were contrived is to be dated the era of true progress. They have put into the hands of man a power that is almost infinite. As for their applications, they are numberless. Mitigating the rigors of winter, by giving back to the atmosphere the surplus heat stored up during the summer, they have revolutionized agriculture. By supplying motive power for aërial navigation, they have given to commerce a mighty impetus. To them we are indebted for the continuous production of electricity without batteries or dynamos, of light without combustion or incandescence, and for an unfailing supply of mechanical energy for all the needs of industry.

Such an invention may be in the papers of Nicola Tesla which the F.B.I. reportedly impounded after his death. It is likely that we shall never know as the powers that be would never take the risk of destroying the energy creation sector of the economy. There are too many vested interests that are well connected.


- You mean to say that a time will come when a researcher may discover in a mere 15 minutes what two weeks in a library would not.

- Yes, said Quincy, mechanical retrieval of information will make connections the human mind would never think of. We are bound by the logic of association.

- In that case, I said, I fear that bounders and dismal sciolists will pass themselves off as pansophists. Plato may have been right when he said somewhere that only the things which cannot be written down are worth talking about.

- But he wrote that didn’t he? said Quincy with perfunctory supination.

Monday, 23 June 2014

A.E. Taylor and The Meaning of Law

I haven’t read H.G. Wells’s The New Accumulator but I note that A.E. Taylor in his Elements of Metaphysics makes reference to it in an interesting passage. He has been discussing The Meaning of Law and remarking how our natural span of attention may have implications for our sense of what is free and what is determined:

It is easy to point out some of the conditions upon which failure to detect actually existing individual deviations from uniformity may depend. Professor Royce has, in this connection, laid special stress upon one such condition, the limitation of what he calls the time-span of our attention. We are unable, as the student of Psychology knows, to attend to a process as a whole if its duration exceeds or falls short of certain narrow limits. Now, there seems no foundation in the nature of the attentive process for the special temporal limitations to which it is subject in our own experience, and we have no means of denying the possibility that there may be intelligent beings whose attention-span is much wider, or again, much more contracted, than our own. One can even conceive the possibility of a being with a power of varying the span of attention at will. Now, it is clear that if we could so vary our attention-span as to be able to take in as single wholes processes which are at present too rapid or too slow to be perceived by us in their individual detail, such a purely subjective change in the conditions of our own attention might reveal individuality and purpose where at present we see nothing but routine uniformity. In the same way, we can readily understand that a being with a much wider attention-span than our own might fail to see anything but purposeless routine in the course of human history. Supposing that we are placed in the midst of a universe of intelligent purposive action, it is clear that we can only hope to recognise the nature of that action in the case of beings who live, so to say, at the same rate as ourselves. A purposive adaptation to environment with consequent deviation from uniformity in reaction would necessarily escape our notice if it took place with the rapidity of the beat of a gnat's wing, or again, if it required centuries for its establishment.
Other similar subjective conditions which would necessarily cut us off from the recognition of purposive fresh adaptations widely dififerent from those which occur in our own life, are the limitations of our power of attending to more than a certain number of presentations simultaneously ; and again, the restriction of our sense-perception to a few types, and the impossibility of perceiving contents belonging to those types when they fall below or above the lower and upper " thresholds " of sensibility. These considerations do not, of course, positively prove that the routine uniformity of natural processes is only subjective appearance, but they are sufficient to show that there is no valid reason for taking it to be more, and in conjunction with our previous positive argument for the sentient individuality of all real existence, they suffice to bring our general interpretation of the physical order under Mr. Bradley's canon that "What must be and can be, that is''

Science establishes different forms of acuity and the mathematization of space and time. We have the differential calculus and cosmic and local time. These are our limited ways of expanding our attention span by stopping it, halting in a world of pure form as Plato understood. There is the poetic grasp of duration in the Bergsonian sense with its intense compression of meaning in the moment through metaphor that extends the local reference and packs it with a larger significance.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Wickford Point by John P. Marquand

So you want something to read over the summer that won’t disappoint, that will amuse as well as make you sigh but not weep over human folly. The novels of John Phillips Marquand have a subtlety that makes the blockbuster loudness of modern American novels seem crass. The pair that I have been reading recently H.M. Pulham, Esquire and Wickford Point have contrasting protagonists both of them, that genial snot, whom you will come to recognise as superior when you make your peace with the universe: the Harvard Man. That at least is how they are presented and I abstain from being led by Marquand also a Harvard Man. Jim Calder of Wickford Point more corresponds to the author’s experience there, scholarship boy, possibly a poor choice of tweed and no elite club membership. In the Wikipedia entry on him I read that he spent a lot of money and time on doing up an historic mansion possibly like the house at Wickford Point. Allan Southby a Harvard Prof. is mocked in the precise way that a living model suggests. I quote at length from it to give a feel for the elegant gibing of which the book is full:

In time Allen even generated a sort of charm; and besides he was an eligible bachelor, the sort you think of as a bright young man, even when he has reached the age of forty. There was once a piece of gossip, for there are always those who hate success, that he practiced before a mirror. At any rate he achieved his charm. He developed a way of holding a book and of marking the place with his long forefinger, carelessly but lovingly, at the same time resting his elbow upon the table and gesticulating gently with that book. It was a pose suitable for a portrait, which may have been Southby's intention originally. He also took pains with his dress. When he came to Harvard from Minnesota he brought his trunk with him, but Allen was quick to see that the garments within it were not correct; right from the beginning he had an unfailing instinct for doing what was suitable. He ended by wearing Harris tweeds and flannel trousers and by smoking an English pipe with a special mixture—although he did not like tobacco.

He also took to drinking beer out of a pewter mug. By the time he was taken into the Berkley Club he had developed a way of banging the mug softly upon the table, informally, and without ostentation. He used to say that there was nothing like good pewter; in fact he had a fair collection of it in a Colonial pine dresser—but he never did like beer. Nevertheless he sometimes had beer nights for the undergraduates. It was something of an accolade for an adolescent to be asked to Southby's to drink beer. It was more of an honor for one of his contemporaries, and one which I regret to say I never attained, to be asked up to his rooms to give the "lads" a talk on this or that, just anything. By aloofness rather than by assiduity he cultivated excellent social contacts. He attended only small dinners where there might be general conversation, but he knew when to listen. When an interest developed in wine-tasting, after the repeal of prohibition, Allen Southby was in the pioneering group, although he always said that his old love was ale or beer. He had a pretty turn at rhyme and you could always get him to dash off the right poem for any occasion, although he published only one slender volume of verse. He had the gift of knowing when to stop. What was more, he still kept young in appearance and in enthusiasm. He was amusing when he joined the ladies after dinner, and he was the sort of bachelor who never made himself troublesome with liquor or in taxis.

The narrator Jim Calder is a writer himself and the reason that he has been asked to visit Southby in his Jacobethan lair of ancient pine fixed with wrought nails and a hearty twee rack o’ pewter is that the prof wants to write a novel which would continue in fictional form the New England Literary movement captured in his successful history The Transcendent Curve. Calder is a Brill by marriage, one of those Brills whose grandfather or was it great-grandfather was known as the Sage of Wickford. A couple of chapters have already been written and in that shy way that aspirant authors have he wants it to be read. And loved. Also he’s angling for an invitation to the Brill residence where several of the Sages’s descendants live in profound languor and the hope of something turning up. Harry the elder son is another Harvard man, so is Jim Stowe the ex of Bella the beauteous daughter . The novels of Marquand pullulate with them. Perhaps there should be a trigger warning.

That is the setting of the present action but interspersed with it is a series of flashbacks which are a speciality of Marquand’s. They are seamless in the sense that there is no sudden jolt, they are like ones personal reverie, ones own little crumb of madeleine. The novel is at the same time simple and complex, Famille Brill are stunned by the wonder of their heritage without feeling the requirement of adding anything to it. Calder’s attachment to the place which he wants to leave the minute he arrives is well drawn. Somehow the weekend around which the story weaves its memories will resolve everything. Or perhaps not.

Find it on Internet Archive. wickford point

P.S. P.S. How did I forget to mention the dialogues with George Stanhope, Calder's literary agent, as he fixes stories to make them publishable. Definitely there must be misunderstanding between the boy and the girl and she must be afraid that he will destroy her, definitely. The sing-song girl must give up the boy to the good girl. Definitely. Tart ironies considering the main story line of the novel. Brilliant. Definitely.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Never is an empty Always

Proust declared that “les beaux livres sont écrits dans une sorte de langue étrangère”—“beautiful books are always written in a sort of foreign language.”

Leyland de la Durantaye in a review of various translations of Proust’s Remembrances of Things Past wrote this
Boston Reviewand perhaps it’s a professorial trick to discover whether we are paying attention but where’s the ‘toujours’ for ‘always’. My French isn’t good so I checked with Google translate and I was given - 'fine books are written in a kind of foreign language’.

That ‘always’ may be the epigram makers tick where there often is a strong contrast with a paradoxical element. Here’s a little Oscar faux of mine own: ‘Women may be good or evil, a mother is always vicious’. de la Durantaye may not be a native English speaker. He writes:

At one moment we read that Swann, in Moncrieff’s translation, is “embarrassed.” Proust’s expression is “être sur la sellette,” an almost exact match of the English idiom “to be on the hot seat.”

Surely the expression is ‘in the hot seat’ deriving I’m told variously from the electric chair but now having the connotation of being under scrutiny in an embarrassing position. My internet Larousse tells me that sallette = Siège de bois sur lequel on faisait asseoir l'accusé au tribunal pour lui faire subir un dernier interrogatoire avant l'application de la peine.

The translation of ‘la sellette’ by Larousse is 
mettre quelqu'un sur la sellette   to put somebody in the hot seat
être [critiqué]   to be in the hot seat, to come under fire
[examiné]   to be undergoing reappraisal

I’m not sure what the furniture of a French Courtroom is like but to retain the forensic connection ‘in the dock’ or 'on the stand’ or ‘at the bar’,or would be a possible English translation. With ‘in the hot seat’ l’application de la peine is about to happen. I have looked for an image of that ‘petit siege’ but I can’t find one. Dommage or something.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Tolstoy invades War and Peace

There are two epilogues in War and Peace, one for war and the other for peace I presume. In my translation (Vintage Press/ Pevear and Volokhonsky's) Tolstoy's appendix is added. He could have done without that vestigial organ and also the second epilogue with its maundering on the nature of history, free will and whether Napoleon really invaded Russia of his own volition or was it a predetermined event. Within the novel sidebar obiter dicta draw the narrator into the action in an interesting way particularly if we consider him unreliable. It's ironic that the all-seeing eye describing the battle believes that the accounts of battles are compounded by the officers commanding into a plausible fiction that is coherent with a ruling myth such as the uncanny cunning of Napoleon or the Russian spirit of Kutusov.

The appendix is a symptom of Tolstoy's own doubt. His special pleading for the anomalous Russian novel and his restatement of history as predetermined as far as 1812 is concerned pushes that doubt like a loosening tooth.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Did So

I've added a new blog to the roll, philosophy metablog,did too 'where nobody knows your name and not everybody 's glad you came'. The good thing is that free from the careerism inherent in professional blogs and the fear of the springy branch there is crisp witty interchange and pleasant foolery. One person has the catch phrase, “you're gyrating” which I take to mean that you are squirming on a hook and applying the nuclear option of a victim narrative. On the other hand there may be a visiting inquisitor from FP calling 'you're a woman and gyrating again'.

Glaucon the elder brother of Plato is the unmoderator and in the brawl between Leiter and Vallicella that has introduced the silly season reveals that he has pulled the links to B.V.'s characterisation of 'Ladderman' Leiter, the pecking order prof on account of a turn that Leiter did him back in the day. I have often said that a good turn unreciprocated in a timely fashion may go rancid and that an exploded fix is often worse than the original mess.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Hume on Miracles

When you get the name of being deep any banal utterance of yours will draw sage nods. Hume on miracles is an instance of this. The whole point of miracles as signs is that they fall outside the domain of nature. To insist that nothing is outside nature and therefore outside the bounds of probability is merely to say that a miracle is a miracle and I don’t’ believe in them. When you have said that, further discussion on probability adds prestidigitative patter.

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation....
The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), 'That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish....' When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.
In the foregoing reasoning we have supposed, that the testimony, upon which a miracle is founded, may possibly amount to an entire proof, and that the falsehood of that testimony would be a real prodigy: But it is easy to shew, that we have been a great deal too liberal in our concession, and that there never was a miraculous event established on so full an evidence.
From David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, L. A. Selby Bigge, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), pp. 114-16.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Ramana Maharshi's Pain

“What I said was that the jnAni is not affected by joys and sorrows. So it is the same as what you are saying. The body of the jnAni is also made up of the same chemicals as ours and so it is also subject to the same ills, but the jnAni has no identification with the body and so he does not feel anything. Ramana had sarcoma and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa had cancer of the throat, but they did not suffer like ordinary human beings.”

This is the statement of a man who is steeped in Advaitic Vedanta and who probably knows Sanskrit better than most professors of it. His father was a renowned pandit if I remember correctly. That is in any case irrelevant as what is presented here is clearly incorrect and demonstrably so. Here is the testimony of Ramana Maharshi’s medical attendant.
last days

Not identifying with the body/mind complex is not the same as not feeling. Pure Consciousness which the realised sage regards as his self or his reality pervades that complex which would be inert if that were not the case. All feeling is evoked by that pervasion. Ramana himself spoke of the chit jada granthi or the knot between the conscious and the inert. Now the question is: Did Ramana feel the pain as you or I would? I would say that he did while he was suffering but he did not dread it. He was patient in the full sense.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Chair and the Elephant

The subjective/objective dyad is one of those ways of thinking about the world which is useful in a practical scientific sense but when the full weight of metaphysical analysis falls on it tends to be found wanting. I am thinking particularly here of monistic systems such as Advaitic Vedanta. It grants that the mundane poles of the subjective and the objective and all the ways that can be understood are real as appearance but not ultimately so. This reminds me of the story about the Danish Cabinetmaker who sold a chair to a Rajah resident in Bombay/Mumbai. Unfortunately when delivered and taken out of the cart at the palace a passing elephant stood on it. The chair was destroyed but the joints remained intact. That’s craftsmanship!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Tolstoy, Taylor and History

I would surmise that many readers find Tolstoy's pondering on causality in War and Peace a drag on the story and an overweening authorial intervention. Reading A.E. Taylor's excellent chapter on Causality in Elements of Metaphysics at the same time gives one a sense of where the Russian sage's ponderings may or may not have gone astray. His causal inventory of the outcome of battles in Napoleon's Russian campaign is,I feel, ironic.

i) Cause and effect must be strictly correlative. For to say that there may be variations in the cause not followed by corresponding variations in the effect, is to say that there can be conditions which condition nothing; and to admit variation in the effect without variation in the cause, is to allow that there are occurrences which are at once, as effects, determined, and yet again are not determined, by the assemblage of their antecedents. Thus Plurality of Causes is excluded by the very conception of a cause as the totality of conditions. Following up this line of thought further, we see that it leads to a perplexing result. The "totality of conditions" is never a real totality. For there are no such things as isolated effects and causes in the world of events. The whole fact which we call an effect is never complete until we have taken into account its entire connection with everything else in the universe. And similarly, the whole assemblage of conditions includes everything which goes to make up the universe. But when we have thus widened our conception of the cause and the effect, both cause and effect have become identical with one another and with the whole contents of the universe. And thus Causation itself has disappeared as a form of interconnection between the elements of Reality in our attempt to work out its logical implications.
(from chap. Change and Causality in Elements pg.181.

Tolstoy seems to agree that feeding everything into a causal account of battles, Napoleon's valet not leaving out waterproof boots before Borodino, the cold that ensued etc, etc. merely dissolves everything into a formless chaos. The notion of cause in history loses connection with its basis in science. Taylor again:

Thus any form of the causal postulate of which we can make effective use necessitates the recognition of that very Plurality of Causes which we have seen to be logically excluded by the conception of cause with which science works. As we contended above, any form of the principle in which it is true is useless, and any form in which it is useful is untrue.

Monty Python history of WW II. (from memory)
'Rommell, nice chap, very cunning. Borman, not a nice chap, not very cunning'.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Emigration and Noreen Bawn

On Crooked Timber they are discussing Joseph Carens' book The Ethics of Immigration . He advocates open borders and the posters are in general anxious to maintain access for all to that country which is a home away from home and a refuge for all requiring no passport. There is no let or hindrance when you turn up in Utopia.

In Ireland we know about emigration. We know that it's not a good thing for all the usual reasons that are given at the departure lounge of airports at Christmas in the now traditional t.v. news segment One imagines the producer saying – 'find some crushed rednecks'. Going abroad for adventure is excellent, being virtually expelled is not. Is it better to receive than to send? Employer groups think that it fosters wage correction, a sum that is always rounded down.

This country is broke yet our social welfare and unemployment benefit is higher than Britain's. We know that sending our young people away by the infliction of dole penury is a stupid waste. The open borders position has a cool anarchic flavour but it's as bad for them as for us. There is an obverse side to the reparation argument which if we agree has merit applies also to those that stuck it out. They are owed too.

Noreen Bawn (Blonde) emigration ballad written by Neil MacBride from Creeslough, Donegal in early 20C.

Two versions running the gamut but avoiding the C&W.