Thursday, 29 October 2015

Careless Mary

I find myself radically disengaged from all possible outcomes.

Knitting the great jumper of life, this causes me not to drop one stitch, she said.

Mary emphatically denies concern and asks for privacy at this time.

Putting it in Singerian terms, this is a puddle and I am wearing wellingtons, she said

Frankly my dear......

Predilections flatten one’s world.

Have we lost power, my radar screen is blank, she said.

In this matter monism seems correct. It’s all one to me, she said.

Somewhere in America a bluebottle is trapped between the sashes, its buzzing gives me no peace.

Swami told me - you must be careless.

There are many shades of magnolia, it’s vital to select the correct one.

I tug the sides of my beige cardigan, I settle myself, she said.

Replete with ghast as I am.

A settled apathy seems appropriate.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Windt on spatio-temporal abatement in dreams

There is an academic rule, unwritten and therefore unbreakable that a serious paper must be at least 19 pdf pages long. Nothing dissipates the force of an insight more than expatiation. A crisply written blog post can have more impact that a footnote encrusted piece of scholarment. Jennifer Windt’s series of posts on Dreams and Dreaming with their well chosen mood setting paintings are an example of the soul of wit.
windt on dreaming

One of her points is the abatement of spatio-temporal sense in the dream. I won’t summarise as that would be an impertinent dilution. If you’re not prepared to follow links play a game of solitaire instead. What I will offer is a confirmation in my own experience of this attribute and how it can lead to paradox. In a couple of instances of clairvoyance which I have experienced the ‘forward memory’ occurred just at the point of entry into sleep or just coming out of it when there is a freeing of the physical embedding in a particular time and space and while there is yet objective consciousness.
cf. forward memory

To accept the neural correlates of consciousness is not to reduce consciousness to the neuronal traffic. Consciousness is much larger than that. Anyone for cosmic? The materialist would insist that your body isn’t at a point removed in space and time and there cannot be information from there and then. The commonplace flouting of this rule escapes the attention of the materialist. Evidence is sometimes too great to be acceptable and is eliminated, generally by claiming that it is subjective.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Jennifer Windt and the scientifically-minded Advaitin

By combining my analysis of the methodological background assumptions of scientific dream research with Thompson’s proposal on the investigation of dreamless sleep experience, we can see that if we were to translate the Yoga and Advaitin view into a research methodology, we would find it to rely on assumptions that run parallel to those of scientific dream research. Dreamless sleep experiences, or so a modern-day, scientifically-minded Advaitin would be forced to admit, are reportable experiences; and if it should happen that (under sufficiently ideal reporting conditions, such as immediately after having awakened from sleep) one were unable to recall any such experience having happened during sleep, this would indicate that no such experience had occurred.
(from commentary on Evan Thompson’s paper on Deep Dreamless Sleep by Jennifer Windt)

If the criterion for being a scientifically minded advaitin is the acceptance of neural correlates of consciousness as a given then any advaitin would pass. To put it at its strongest, for them the brain is just very complex matter. It is ‘jada’ or inert until it is pervaded by consciousness. It then can reflect the level of its complexity. That is the primary statement of the understanding of the advaitin which is further clarified by saying that the being or existence of any reality is consciousness. There is no emergence of consciousness at a certain level of complexity of brain structure. It always is. In this the advaitin as a monist would depart from the usual run of materialist psychology. Parallel operation of brain/mind is taken as a working hypothesis for yoga as is clear from its bio-feedback practices but is not their final understanding.

This consciousness which is the being of everything cannot be lost as otherwise the individual thing would wink into non-existence. This then is why the d.s. argument is so important. The pure blankness of deep dreamless sleep knows itself as a pure blankness. We do not need to posit some obscure experiencer by scrying the eeg data. The knowledge underlines the existence of a non-dual immediacy. Evident non-dual knowledge cannot be interpreted as arising from the experience of a mental subject being aware of a mental object. As the person passes from this deep dreamless sleep into a waking state the transition becomes evident but not as an inference or Husserlian retro reflection etc.

Clearly for the empiricist whose foundational inquiry is: if I know, how do I know; knowledge that is immediate, non-inferential, non- analytic or a priori is a poor candidate for real knowledge. The empiricist will tend not even to see it or to naturalise it automatically. Windt follows Thompson in this. Nevertheless her remarks on spatio-temporal sense in dreams is interesting.
(cf. her blogposts on this at: philosophy of brains)

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Underneath all that froth there must be some coffee. A Visit from the Goon Squad is a piece of lying trash quite readable at it but for the Powerpoint bit which I glanced at but did not read. I could never look Dickens in the page again if I did. The story towards the end about the marketing of the Scotty comeback could be applied to the 5 pages of fulsomeness from critics world wide. A B.T. (blind team). No never. Up to that point I thought the Scotty story where he visited Benito Salazar with a fish that he caught in the East River was more true than the others. Scotty, poor, psychotic, with un-American bad teeth of the worst sort - missing. More likely to be a stalker than anything invoking a blood boltered home invasion with a note of apology - ‘then it all came down’. Jennifer Egan is clever and witty but her cynicism lacks the bite of the dog, no teeth but a vicious suck. Still it is shaken free of cliche and unlike that biography of Jim Morrison ‘Everybody gets out of here alive’. Even Scotty gets a set of delph.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Evan Thompson on the 'memory' of having been in a state of deep dreamless sleep.

Sankara talks of the knowledge of having been in a state of deep dreamless sleep (d.s.) as a memory in his commentary on Brh.Up. IV.iii.6:

We see also that the purpose of a light is served in dreams, as, for instance, meeting and parting from friends, and going to other places, etc.; and we awake from deep sleep with the remembrance that we slept happily and knew nothing. Therefore there exists some extraneous light.

Evan Thompson in his paper #37 open mind papers (commentary by Jennifer Windt and E.T's reply_ in epub and pdf)
on the neuroscientific implications of the knowledge that we have been in a state of deep sleep concludes that being in a state of deep sleep is experiental because it is a memory. You cannot have a memory which is veridical without there having been a prior experience. If you remember something e.g. posting a letter, there are not two elements one a letter being posted and two, you being the poster of that letter. That seems an epistemological bedrock.
c.f Brh.Up. IV.iii.6: Similarly, in the case of remembrance, he who remembers being also the one who saw, the two are identical.

So what then are the experiential aspects of the deep dreamless sleep experience asks Professor Thompson? Here I believe that Thompson has gone astray, forgetting the automatic and characteristic M.O. of the advaitin. When Sankara talks of ‘memory’ in opening the discussion he is using ‘memory’ as a handy shelf to park the ‘experience’ on. It is typical adhiropa/apavada or attribution followed by retraction. It is a method of continuous approximation or correction and refinement. In Western terms it is dialectic, Socratic, maiuetic. As the development of the teaching proceeds the real nature of what I have called a protophaenomenon
is made clear. In that post I quote at length from Chapter II of Upadesa Sahasri. Sankara says that ‘the knowledge of the knower can never be lost’. There is no experiencer to have an experience in the state of deep dreamless sleep yet nevertheless there is knowledge. That is the whole point of the insight.

Thompson’s discussion of the neuroscientific implications of d.s. is interesting but his account of the Advaitic position is not correct in my view. It would render Sankara’s thesis self contradictory. Jennifer Windt in her commentary paper writes about spatio-temporal apprehension in normal, lucid, and white, dreams. I will write more about that later. However she too bounces between experience and memory in her account of d.s.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

History of Anglo-Irish, Irish, English Literature

In 1685 in the Examination Hall of Dublin University, the professors busy at the conferring of B.A. degrees beheld an unusual sight: a poverty stricken student, eccentric, awkward, with hard blue eyes, an orphan without friends unhappily dependent on the charity of his uncle, failed because of his ignorance of logic presenting himself for the second time without having deigned to study logic. In vain his tutor brought a most respectable portfolio: Senglesius, Keckermannus, Burgersdicius. He had thumbed three pages and closed it quickly. When it came to the assessment the proctor had to put his arguments in order for him. He asked him how one could reason well without rules. The answer was that he could reason very well without rules. This excessive foolishness created a scandal; he got for the time being most unwillingly, as a special favour, the registrar said, and the professors went along with it undoubtedly bathing with smiles of pity the feeble head of Jonathan Swift.
(from Histoire de la Litterature Anglaise par H. Taine pub. 1873)

No doubt that’s as full of howlers as a South American jungle. Every now and then I decide to get up my French and surely a man with the prenom of Hippolyte is worthy of the attention of a poor student such as myself. (bring your own accents)

The slogan 'race, milieu, moment’ is his. This sounds like a literary version of blood and soil but the question remains: how does it happen that from time to time there is a flowering of great work in a country. Partly it is that a couple of naturally great writers raise everybody else’s game. The other lesser talents who by virtue of being of the brood of Mother Machree, for instance, know them in their wather. They are congenial in the original sense. You read Frank O’Connor and even if you never met him you know him. You went to school with John McGahern and know his rancid sweetness. John Banville never went to college and so has to be more literary than anyone. Tick, ‘if you don’t want’, that box. Their words go deeper for the aspirant. Eimear McBride without The Portrait headline toocow, moocow, and that had the queer smell would not have dared. Familiarity breeds an attempt, ne’ pas.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Buddhism, the New Psychoanalysis?

Seriously, is Buddhism the new psychoanalysis? U.S. intelligentsia having ditched a discredited therapy have taken to lifestyle Buddhism. The love of psychology with its gadgets and gimmicks seems to be the bridging factor and the egregious scientism of monks with dangling E.E.G. wires is taken to as demonstrating rational superiority. We know it’s true because we tested it! No one looks very closely at the metaphysics which is in the case of Sarvasunyavada is less convincing than Berkeley’s Immaterialism. Of Nagarjuna I can affirm neither truth or falsity and so I retreat into the shrubbery muttering.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Wise Cat of Abu al-Hajjaj

One of the early teachers of Ibn ‘Arabi:

Abu al-Hajjjaj of Shurabul (a village close to Seville) was indeed a mercy to the world. When the sultan’s men came to see him, he would say to me: “My son, these men are God’s assistants engaged in the affairs of the world. It is thus quite fitting that men should pray on their behalf that God show forth His truth by their works and assist them”....

He had a black cat which used to sleep in his lap and which no-one else was able to hold or fondle. He once told me that God had made the cat a means by which to recognise the saints. He explained that the apparent shyness in her was not an inborn trait, for God had made her very joyful in the company of God’s saints. I myself saw her rub her cheek against the leg of certain visitors and flee from others. One day our shaykh al- ‘Urvani visited this shaykh for the first time. When he arrived the cat happened to be in another room. However, before he had the chance to seat himself, the cat came in and looked at him, whereupon she opened her paws, embraced him and rubbed her face in his beard. Then Abu al-Hajjaj rose to receive him and seated him, but said nothing. Afterwards he told me that he had never seen the cat behave in this way with anyone else.
(from a memoir of Ibn ‘Arabi Ruh al-kuds trans. The Epistle of the Spirit of Holiness quoted in The Unlimited Mercifier: The Spiritual Life and Thought of Ibn ‘Arabi by Stephen Hirtenstein.)

Friday, 9 October 2015

Bergson and Yeats's Masterful Images

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind but out of what began
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
(from The Circus Animals Desertion by W.B. Yeats)

That Yeats knew and appreciated the philosophy of Bergson is clear from the positive annotations to his copies of Matter and Memory and Creative Evolution. An early edition of A Vision was dedicated to Vestigia which was the name adopted by Bergson’s sister Mina for her work in the Order of the Golden Dawn which her husband directed during Yeats’s membership. He of course was the well known McGregor Mathers. Mina (sometimes Moina) is an ususual name. The only other bearer I can remember is Meena Harker nee Murray of Dracula.

I haven’t seen those annotations which are in the National Library but I imagine concurrence was achieved on the importance of Cones and Intuition. For my amusement I stretch the difficult topic of ‘images’ in Bergson to fit the above quoted stanza of Yeats. The ‘masterful images’ are from the outer reaches of the memory cone of Bergson. They are archetypal and impersonal. ‘Images’ are normally inflected by memory. It’s a matter of efficient response. What Bergson calls ‘perception’ is a purely material response to stimuli unmediated by consciousness. This basic physical presence in the world would correspond to the ‘foul rag and bone shop of the heart’. Presumably in Bergson’s philosophy this is the ground on which ‘images’ are laid. Staying within the archetypal symbol/metaphor of the mirror Bergson remarks: The objects which surround my body reflect its possible action upon them. (Matter and Memory) We do not carve at the joints, rather, what we take to be objects are reflections of our needs at the basic level. They are therefore images. 'Images’ are an attempt to navigate between Realism and Idealism. He speaks of the world as an aggregate of images. It may have been an ill-chosen course given the strong mental bias conveyed by the term 'image’. I

Sartre’s The Psychology of Imagination has much to say on the image and the ‘unrealizing’ function of the mind. Another day, another de trop.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Superimposition (Adhyasa) Once Again

It is through ignorance (avidya) imposed on the Self, that people suffer the sorrows arising from desire and work (karma). But that ignorance does not really inhere in one’s Self just as the snake, the silver, the water, and the dirt, superimposed on a rope, a mother of pearl, a desert, and the sky (respectively) do not in reality exist as the distortion of the rope etc.. But they appear as the defects of those things (rope etc.) because of the superimposition of false notions on the substances (rope etc.) that provide the basis for them. They (the substances) are not tainted by those faults, for they are outside the notions thus falsely superimposed. Similarly, people, after having superimposed on the Self the false notions of action, agent, and fruit, like the snake (on a rope) experience the misery of birth, death, etc. consequent on the superimposition; but the Self, though it is the Self of all, is not tainted by the sorrows of the world outside. For just like the rope etc. It is extraneous to the superimposition of false notion.
(commentary of Sankara on Katha Up. II.ii.11)

This is an outline statement of the adhyasa (superimposition) thesis using all the standard examples. It is, in my view, best understood after the fashion of a Kantian transcendental postulate. It is not as though there is an act of superimposing as an act amongst other acts: adhyasa is a background, supervenient condition. Realising it as operative is a matter of understanding and knowledge rather than experience. Strictly speaking ecstatic experience such as samadhi does not banish ignorance in Sankara’s view. Others hold that it is certainly at the very least propaeduetic. They would be of the yogic persuasion.

Part of the realisation of the Self, contra the ego/self, is the dismissal of the narrative diachronic notion as Galen Strawson does. One then falls back into the pratibodha viditam concept of the Self as known with every state of awareness or the Self as immediate presence.

It (i.e. Brahman) is really known when it is known with (i.e. the Self of) each state of consciousness, because thereby one gets immortality. (Since) through one’s own Self is acquired strength, (therefore) through knowledge is attained immortality.

(commentary) Pratibodha-viditam, known with reference to each state of intelligence. By the work bodha are meant the cognitions acquired through the intellect. The Self, that encompasses all ideas as Its objects, is known in relation to all these ideas. Being the witness of all cognitions, and by nature nothing but the power of consciousness, the Self is indicated by the cognitions themselves, in the midst of cognitions, as non-different from them. There is no other door to Its awareness.
(Kena Up. II.4)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Years ago I started reading Lucky Jim then put it down and somehow forgot to pick it up again. That happens in a reading life and is not necessarily a signal but having gone on with it recently I found myself not getting on with it. I could have put it down at any point of the story without a pang as a tale of everyday pissartistry, wistful and full of wonder as to why it is so lauded. The internet has open sesame search words. It’s no use trying ‘Lucky Jim by Amis reviews’ as they are all enthusiastic; hilarious satire, savage analysis that sort of thing. No, the magic word is overrated. Yes, I’m a Dissenter and we have a small but select Church that is sparing of incense. In the work of Amis the Elder that I’ve read it’s not as bad as The Anti-Death League nor as good as The Old Devils.

A partial reason why it fails for me is that it has only fleeting moments where Dixon is about to realize that he is a pathetic creature. Everybody else is that but not him. That’s not lucky. Satire has to fill the world; all of it has to be subverted. No one is saved and that includes you Jim lad. By contrast the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend are genuinely satiric and witty. Should I reach out to my left and, take The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole and pick a page, any page, I might be gone for some time.