Sunday, 31 July 2016

Montaigne, Wittegenstein, and Bergson on a Futureless State.

But all those who have fallen into a swoon after some violent accident and have lost all sensation, have been in my opinion very close to seeing Death’s true and natural face, for it is not to be feared that the fleeting moment at which we pass away comport any hardship or distress, since we cannot have sensation without duration. For us, suffering needs time and time is so short and precipitate when we die that death must be indiscernible. What we have to fear is Death’s approaches, they can indeed fall within our experience.
(Montaigne : On Practice Essays: II.6 (Screech trans. Penguin)

Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.
(Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus)

Henri Bergson would have agreed with those sentiments and his position on memory being mainly not stored in the brain he felt was borne out by the phenomenon of our life ‘passing before our eyes’ in an instant when we feel we are about to die. We deal with life through living it towards the future, responding to its demands by action. The brain is an organ of action. Specific memories are drawn out of ‘storage’ as they are relative to the situation. Take away a future and specific response is otiose. Memory then becomes a total immediate recall of everything.

We live in the past, by the past and out of our greater mind. (mental illness might be that alienation from it and a subsequent lack of meaning) Compressed into duration in Bergson’s view is every relevant indication of appropriate action. The brain registers this or channels it but is not its storehouse except in the limited sense of rote memory and muscle memory.

So ‘Peace, be still’ - abstain from the future and make that your practice.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Bergson and Time Dilation

Did Bergson actually reject the now well established phenomenon of time dilation? From his acceptance of reciprocity ie. earth moving away at speed from immobile rocket and v.v.; he had to reject real ontological time change. In fact the single referrent of the earth clock is the critical one in the experiment establishing time dilation, the observer in the plane looking at a slowing clock on the ground drops out of consideration. He writes in an appendix to Duration and Simultaneity :

In short, there is nothing to change in the mathematical expression of the theory of relativity. But physics would render a service to philosophy by giving up certain ways of speaking which lead the philosopher into error, and which risk fooling the physicist himself regarding the metaphysical implications of his views. For example, we are told above that "if two identical, synchronized clocks are at the same spot in the system of reference, if we shift one very rapidly and then bring it back again next to the other at the end of time t (the time of
the system), it will lag behind the other by t- adt." In
reality we should say that the moving clock exhibits this slowing at the precise instant at which it touches, still moving, the motionless system and is about to re-enter it. But, immediately upon re-entering, it points to the same time as the other (it goes without saying that the two instants are practically indistinguishable). For the slowed time of the moving system is only attributed time; this merely attributed time is the time indicated by a clock hand moving before the gaze of a merely imagined physicist; the clock before which this physicist is situated is therefore only a phantasmal clock, substituted for the real clock throughout its journey: from phantasmal it again turns into real the moment it is returned to the motionless system. It would, moreover, have remained real for a real observer during the trip. It would not have undergone any slow ing. And that is precisely why it shows no slowing when it is again found to be a real clock upon arrival.

That was written in 1922 but one must remember that :
Therefore as A. P. French (1968) states in his textbook on relativity, the length contraction is not a real property of matter, it is a measurement effect, “something inherent in the measurement process” (p. 114).
In the textbooks I studied in the 1970s, the explanations of length contraction routinely told this story. The length contraction is not real. It is an effect of measurement only. The length is a space-time invariant, but no single observer has a claim on knowing the “true length.” The student is warned not to fall into “the length contraction is real” trap. In truth, we must remember, there is little choice. To say that it is a real effect is to say that the Michelson-Morley apparatus arm is actually contracting somehow.
(from a paper by Dr. Stephen E. Robbins on Bergson and S.T.R.)

The book by French is Special Relativity New York: Norton.
More anon on Robbins and his 'Bergsonianism'. robbins

Friday, 22 July 2016

Bergson and the Twins Paradox

Let us sum up briefly. For a common-sense time, which can always be converted into psychological duration and which thus happens to be real by definition, the theory of relativity substitutes a time that can be converted into psychological duration only in the case of the system's immobility.

This is Bergson's judgment from the standpoint of his own duration philosophy. His critique of relativity as such has multiple tines if you will. The logical one is the twins paradox which Einstein himself regarded as a quirk. The twin on earth sees the twin in the rocket as aging more slowly, however by the prime tenet of special relativity one can regard the rocket as immobile and the earth as moving away from it at near the speed of light. Thus the twin in the rocket will see the twin on earth as aging more slowly. This inconsistency (principle of non-contradiction) would normally be seen as a reductio ad absurdum. 'Hold on' the philosopher is inclined to say 'before you go on the return journey from the star and initiate another inertial frame please sort out that contradiction'. In my persusal of various videos while the contradiction is mentioned nobody really engages with it. They are too pleased to be able to present the brother returning to earth in his own distant future.

It is the outward bound initial contradiction that I find to be the real paradox.

Now if the brothers were in rockets passing each other then both would ‘see’ the other as ageing more slowly and they would both be right as their own situation would seem normal to them from their own perspective.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

C & P by Dostoevsky

For some time I have been paused at the door of the old pawnbroker’s flat in a tenement in St.Petersburg. I am afraid to knock knowing what must happen. I am going to let myself in to an ‘immersive narrative experience’ of sheer horror and unscheduled mayhem. Using both sides of his hatchet, poll and blade, Rodion Romanovitch Roskolnikov will despatch the sisters and run off with some trinkets. With feverish cunning he will bury them under a rock. There are no gamemaster alternatives to the hideous unfolding of this crime, there is no winning ticket in a lottery, Sonia does not establish a glittering salon and Dostoevsky does not find a good barber and give up staring into the human soul with those mad eyes.

Having knocked at the door and found myself slipping in the gore I am grateful for the absence of that cliche of blunt instrument slaughter, brain matter. No porridge, no gruel only the blood staining his sock through yawning boots. The brimless hat of tramp farce is noted by a passer by, ‘German hatter’ shouted after him but having murdered the powers of darkness cover him in broad daylight.

He appears to have gotten away with it. Now read on:

Friday, 15 July 2016

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Reading Metamorphosis again after a long time I now savour its extreme oddness and the elements of black humour. I especially think that the three nobly bearded lodgers are a masterstroke of farce who view the apparition of a giant insect as an affront and a contract breaker.
These earnest gentlemen - all three of them had full beards, as Gregor learned peering through the crack in the door one day - were painfully insistent on things' being tidy. This meant not only in their own room but, since they had taken a room in this establishment, in the entire flat and especially in the kitchen. Unnecessary clutter was something they could not tolerate, especially if it was dirty.

Only the firmness of old Samsa drove them away after the demise of Gregor who had not even the satisfaction of super powers and only his family as collective nemesis. The dream time logic where you become your tutelary insect is matched by fluxion in the narrative. Gregor before he hatched was a struggling salesman yet he kept them all going in a big flat with a servant, the father being incapacitated and in debt. Then it seems there is a little money and the three, Father, Mother, Daughter, take to work when Gregor is transmogrified. Yet they are poor.

The chief clerk who has come to the flat to see why Gregor has not come to work gets a shock:
But the chief clerk had turned away as soon as Gregor had started to speak, and, with protruding lips, only stared back at him over his trembling shoulders as he left. He did not keep still for a moment while Gregor was speaking, but moved steadily towards the door without taking his eyes off him. He moved very gradually, as if there had been some secret prohibition on leaving the room. It was only when he had reached the entrance hall that he made a sudden movement, drew his foot from the living room, and rushed forward in a panic. In the hall, he stretched his right hand far out towards the stairway as if out there, there were some supernatural force waiting to save him.

No, there was no point in sending in a sick note.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Duration and Simultaneity by Henri Bergson

Every now and then I get the feeling that I understand Bergson which may be the case or on the other hand an artefact of the compression of duration itself driving a notion into my addled pate. The dialogue with Einstein for instance on certain aspects of relativity theory may have led to a decline in his reputation but what it underscores for me is the deficiency of the common understanding of Bergson's theories that was allied with a rise in the modern cult of the scientist sage. His Duration and Simultaneity as an attempt to clarify his position vis-a-vis relativity was barred from re-publication by him after a few editions not I surmise because he realised that he was wrong or mistaken in his understanding but rather that he felt that it was a cul-de-sac for the promulgation of his philosophy. Significantly his will did not specify that it not be republished even though he directed that the notes of his work in general be destroyed.
Canales PaperDr.Jimena Canales in Einstein, Bergson, and the Experiment that Failed: Intellectual Cooperation at the League of Nations , the 2005 paper which was in ovo the book of last year(The Philosopher and the Physicist) on the same topic fills in the background nicely. To have come to Duration and Simultaneity for the first time at this point is for once a proper order of reading. Expect regular reports:

But now, another and more general question arises as to how physicists have been led, in the first place, to embrace a paradox, namely, the existence of multiple, real times in the universe? Bergson's answer to this question inevitably brings us back to his basic philosophic theme, which consists of his distinction between real, lived time and its "spatialization" into the objects, events, and clock-time of everyday life and of scientific activity.
(from the translator's introduction)

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Supreme Being

If you have established to your satisfaction that God exists then you have established that this Supreme Being is worthy of worship. Fie theodicy! The particular form of that worship may be suggested to you by your culture and the practice of the sages and saints that have your respect. However the move from a satisfactory demonstration of the bare existence of God to the exclusive truth of some form of religious belief e.g. Christianity, Islam, is not legitimate. I’m not sure that anyone has ever held this.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Song by Seamus Heaney

A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.

There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.

(Seamus reading it: Song

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Oisin's Favourite Music

In the old heroic story Finn is asked what music he preferred. He spoke of the song of the blackbird, the scream of the eagle, the sound of the waterfall, the bay of the hounds. And when Oisin was asked what music delighted him he said “The music of the thing that happens”.
(from Padraic Colum’s Literary Introduction to Anglo-Irish Literature by Thomas MacDonagh

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Lay Economics

Do we live in an economy or a country? The twitteramus has the idea that nationalism is a terrible thing but never asks :

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;—
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.
(from The Lay of the Last Minstrel by Sir Walter Scott)