Thursday, 26 April 2018

Gregory Bateson on Faulty Epistemology and Addiction

I have been reading recently a number of articles about the 12 step program initially established by A.A. but now the template for many forms of addiction treatment. Obviously it works in a great many cases. That doesn’t stop philosophers breaking out in quibbles chiefly around the issue of power, powerlessness and surrender to a higher power.
are addicts truly powerless
Massimo on weakness of will
vox on drug treatments

In my view they are all quite mistaken about the nature of addiction and will power. Gregory Bateson writing on The Cybernetics of “self”: A Theory of Alcoholism makes a powerful case for the root of addiction lying in a faulty epistemology.


The surrender to a higher power of an atheist addict is not nonsense if that power is the total system. I’m not going to try to summarise it. Nobody follows links but until you’ve read Bateson’s essay just shut up and quit your Cartesian wittering.

While you’re at it read the collection of essays (Steps to an Ecology of Mind pub. 1972) which includes the remarks on the 12 step program aforementioned:
Steps to an Ecology of Mind

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

EU walkies

If you have a dog you will know that the rattle of the lead in the hall and the magic word walkies makes Fido’s ears shoot up like a Disney cartoon. Fido is a good dog and can on a quiet path be let off his lead and be relied upon to come to heel on your whistle. Ireland is a good dog. Hungary is a bad dog and for its own sake should be kept on a choke chain until it learns manners. So the Irish Times editorial thinks - 23/4/18:

If, as with Greece during the debt and financial crises, orthodoxy can be imposed in budgetary matters, should it not also be imposed when, as in Hungary, fundamental matters of political liberty and democratic standards are at stake? That is the logic of political convergence on values. To demand it be applied here is merely to ask the EU to uphold the political decency it has always claimed to represent.

Though far apart in training Ireland and Hungary have the ministrations of George Soros in common. Soros has got himself involved via his Open Society Foundation in the campaign to repeal the Eight Amendment. It’s his firm purpose to break it and contra to rules governing foreign donations that have to do with Irish politics he has donated €137,000 to Irish Amnesty International who are campaigning for repeal. The story is here in the Irish Times by no means a friend of retention of the Eight.
amnesty challenge
The head of the Amnesty outfit Colm O’Gorman refuses to give the money back. Another repeal group who got a large donation from abroad has returned their money. However government ministers are not shy about appearing with O’Gorman at the launch of Amnesty’s campaign. ‘My enemy’s enemy....’ .

The referendum vote will be on the 25th. of May and no matter what the outcome that will not be the end of the matter. State sponsored abortion is an issue like slavery that can only be resolved when its full horror is realised.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Maurice Bucke

You know the way it is. There’s a book in the barrow going cheap that is often mentioned. And having taken it home to a good home it somehow burrows its way into the obscurer areas of the stack of ‘fully intended to read that but I can’t find it any more’. Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind. Vital, absolutely, must read that. Verdict: bring on my black hanky - park it with Julian Jaynes and Von Daniken.
It’s not an absolute waste of time as it demonstrates how a basically decent person can be infected by bad progressive ideas which were the common currency of the intelligentsia of their day. There I go again at the Overton defenestration wondering whether a mild birching might not stimulate the circulation of those bad ideas. Although the magic casement of race theory as theory has definitively shut amongst the learned, its practice is thriving.

Here’s Bucke on devolution:

As in the evolution of an individual tree some branches flourish while others fail; as in a forest some trees grow tall and stretch out wide branches while others are stunted and die out; as in the onward and upward progress of any species some individuals are in advance of the main body while others lag behind; so in the forward march of the collective human mind across the centuries some individual minds are in the van of the great army, while in the rear of the column stagger and fall vast numbers of defective specimens.
In any race the stability of any faculty is in proportion to the age of the faculty in the race. That is, a comparatively new faculty is more subject to lapse, absence, aberration, to what is called disease,and is more liable to be lost, than an older faculty. To many this proposition will seem a truism. 

Those with the longer established higher mental faculties pay the price:

Taking now these general rules home to ourselves—to the human race—we find them to mean that those organs and functions which have been the latest acquired will be most often defective, absent,abnormal, diseased. But it is notorious that in civilized man, especially in the Aryan race, the functions which have undergone most change in the last few thousand years are those called mental—that great group of functions (sensuous, intellectual, moral) which depend upon, spring from, the two great nervous systems—the cerebro-spinal and the great sympathetic. This great group of functions has grown, expanded, put forth new shoots and twigs, and is still in the act of producing new faculties, at a rate immeasurably greater than any other part of the human organism.If this is so then within this great congeries of faculties it is inevitable that we should meet with constant lapses, omissions, defects, breakdowns.
Clinical observation teaches day by day that the above reasoning is solidly grounded....

It has been said that the large percentage of insanity in America and Europe depends directly upon the rapid evolution in late millenniums of the mind of the Aryan people. Very few would claim that the negro mind is advancing at anything like the same rate. As a consequence of these different rates of progression we have in the Aryan people of America a much higher percentage of insanity than is found in the negro race.
When the United States census of 1880 was taken it was found that among forty-three millions of white people there were eighty-six thousand insane—exactly one in five hundred—while among six and three-quarter million negroes only a little more than six thousand were insane, which is a proportion of only about one to eleven hundred. Doubtless if we had statistics of other backward and stationary peoples a similar state of matters would be found—all such facts as we have leading to the conclusion that among savages and semi-savages there exists comparatively little insanity.

This is from a famous alienist who practised surgery to alleviate. From a blog on the London Ontario Asylum where he was superintendent

Unfortunately, the mental health care of the time also included some horrifying practices. During his time as superintendent (1877-1902), Dr. Bucke believed that insanity related to the ills of the body. For some women, he believed that problems with their reproductive organs caused ‘hysteria.’ Therefore, he performed regular hysterectomies on female patients until his death in 1902. Dr. Bucke also believed that insanity was related to masturbation. Males patients would be subjected to physical discipline and mechanical restraints to control their masturbating tendencies. If this failed, Dr. Bucke would surgically place a wire ring into the foreskin of a male patient’s penis. This ensured pain or injury during masturbation. If the patient stopped masturbating, the ring would be removed.

Is this where the vulgar expression ‘pulling your wire’ comes from?

Naturally the higher races will predominate in the ascent to cosmic consciousness. In his attempt to delineate his daft thesis he produces tables of all sorts. “ But it was the very best butter”. Applied topically it relieves the naturalizing itch.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Professor Daya Krishna and Adhyasa

Daya Krishna wants to deconstruct the concept of adhyasa as proffered.
adhyasa pdf
It is very likely that he is following the standard explanation which in my view misinterprets the confusion (snake/rope) analogy.

The point is that the example on which the advaitin has built his whole edifice is so weak that it can hardly support his case. He has not even thought of the other possibility that one may mistake the snake for a rope and the fatal consequences that may follow on this type of wrong identification. will the Brahman, then, be like the rope and the rope like a snake or conversely. The whole thing is so childish that one wonders how so many intelligent people could have been taken in by it for so many years.

Thus, even if one grants that the foundational identification of the self with the not-self is a mistake, it does not follow that all identifications in the realm of the not-self are bound to be "incorrect" because of this. The criterion of a "correct" identification in the rearm of the not-self is not dependent on the fact whether the whole realm of the not self is itself the result of a "wrong" identification.

But no example of erroneous cognition, particularly if be perceptual in character, can ever establish the "unreality" of either of the objects which are said to be "erroneously" identified with each other. It is, of course, true that only the advaitin draws this conclusion.

These citations establish D.K’s. view which is a reaction from the standard account of adhyasa. Is he correct in this? Perhaps but he proves too much in declaring that Shankaracarya is guilty of a greivous error. Might it not be the fault of the usual interpretation? I propose to go back to the original text and ask what was the aporia that Shankara was attempting to resolve. Classically it has been referred to as the chit/jada granthi – the knot between the conscious and the inert. It presents itself as the fundamental problem facing the pre-theoretic acceptance of the reality of the given. Plato also had that point of departure and it is useful to examine how he cut the chit/jada knot. Reason/Logos had certain powers which had to be accepted because there they are. The immediacy of experience could be faulty yet the universals which allowed us to use that experience were insulated from error. As in the myth of the cave – there were shadows but they were real shadows.

Shankara also accepted the default position of the reality of the given. But how? His solution of this conundrum has some likeness to that of Plato’s. Neither of them are from Mars so that is not surprising. His question was: How is there any relation between the awareness of an individual and the concrete object out there? We must assume that there can be no identity between them. Yet I have this pre-theoretic ‘animal faith’ as Santayana called it. (all Sankara citations are from the preamble to the Brahma Sutra Bhasya)

Accordingly, the superimposition of the object, referable through the concept “you”, and its attributes on the subject that is conscious by nature and is referable through the concept “we” (should be impossible), and contrariwise the superimposition of the subject and its attributes on the object should be impossible.

This should locates the aporia. How is superimposition/adhyasa possible? Is it even a thing? The examples given e.g. rope/snake, shell/silver seem plausible and not much more thought is given to them. We seem to understand what he is on about and as with D.K. we are puzzled by the way this is generalised into maya, avidya and all the other paraphrenalia of advaita.

Adhyasa has two aspects, the activity of superimposing and the superimposition as a finished operation. Shankara is initially concerned with the superimposing as an analogy for the means whereby the concrete object out there comes to be within us as it really is. The analogy has the single focus of attempting to give an idea of how the inert can come to be ‘within’ the conscious through the use of a simple everyday occurrence. He is thus using the ‘transferring’ aspect rather than the transference. Even in Shankara’s time this was not understood as is demonstrated by his dismissal of the importance for his thesis of the various theories of how confusion arises.

From every point of view, however there is no difference as regards the appearance of one thing as something else. And in accord with this we find in common experience that the nacre appears as silver, and a single moon appears as two.

His interest here is ontological not epistemological. How is there a non-numerical identity between the object and the subject’s consciousness of it?

In the extremely compressed preamble Shankara also deals with the apparently completed superimposition of the body and the self. Enlightenment comes when we stop superimposing. This notion of superimposition as a completed operation has no doubt given rise to the sense of the universal compromise of reality which D.K. impugns.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Incarnation, Reincarnation Identity and Theodicy

An objection to reincarnation as a way of avoiding theodicy is put on the basis of legal culpability. What does the fawn in the burning forest have to do with the genocidal tyrant? A rebuttal on this basis can go on all fours only on the assumption that there is a continuity of identity between the tyrant and the fawn. That is not reincarnation as espoused in the Vedic tradition. What is passed on to the next life is the skein of hopes, fears and desires that the individual identifies with. This is a false superimposition (adhyasa) on the true reality of the person viz. pure consciousness. Until this is realised rebirth continues as this ‘skein’ finds a suitable way of working itself out.

B.G. 8: 5, 6 (Krishna):
And whoever dies, remembering me alone at the moment of death, attains to my state once he is liberated from the body - there can be no doubt about that.

Indeed, whatever state he calls to mind as he abandons his body at its end, he inevitably attains it, Son of Kunti, transmuted to that state.

This mental congeries held together by superimposition is reinforced by physical continuity in a particular incarnation. That false centre disintegrates at death and the now unhoused mental energies must find a new dwelling. Ramana Maharshi’s belief that incarnations could overlap or that one could be the reincarnation of someone not yet dead makes sense on this basis. Mentality can be common in different persons.

The analogy with the Christian view of eternal punishment is striking. To the question: why am I in hell; the answer comes - You sent yourself to hell.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Aldous Huxley - a Huxley?

The Huxley family get their own Wikipedia entry.
huxley family
Their pre-eminence is of course in the field of science - evolutionism, genetics, eugenics. The sport or lusus naturae if one may so put it is the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, Aldous. His father Leonard was an editor of Cornhill Magazine and his mother Julia was one of the Arnolds. Matthew was an uncle. On reconsideration not so far from the tree

T.H. Huxley known as Darwin’s bulldog coined the term agnostic for that species of gloomy dithering. In William Hurrell Mallock’s satire New Republic, Ronald Knox’s essential book, he is Mr. Storks due possibly to the frequent visits of that bird with the nappy. He fathered eight. Another grandson Julian was a bete noir of Knox. It is he who was the founder of the Eugenics society. In those days you could hardly be a progressive without being for it. German literalness finished that good idea.

Aldous wrote against many of his family values, atheism and eugenics particularly and in the book I have been reading recently After Many a Summer scientific hubris and the pervasive dismal scientism of our age are mocked. Yet I would say that his psychodelicism is virtually physicalism. Can altering brain chemistry be a pathway to higher consciousness otherwise? His vast reading in mystical literature (c.f. Perennial Philosophy ) ought to have warned him about the confusion of states of transport with real attainment. That Huxley family trait of mental ‘frakes’ is manifest in the denial of his bad sight. He faked excellent sight by appearing to read from a script at the lecture podium but when he lost his place was forced to produce a large magnifying glass.

After Many a Summer (pub. 1939)is well worth reading for its acerbic view of California and the banishing of death through Science and euphemism. This predates the other English satire The Loved One (pub. 1948) by Evelyn Waugh. Mordant, quite. Huxley’s didacticism may irritate some and he is aware of that. Mr. Propter his spokesman in the book sees himself as an Ancient Mariner with glittering eye who stoppeth one in three. I don’t mind being improved when it is delivered in measured periodic prose. Here is Mr.Propter discoursing on Miguel de Molinos the Quietist:

'I thought that would be your cup of tea’ said Jeremy, deriving a sly pleasure from talking about mysticism in the most absurdly inappropriate language.

Mr. Propter smiled. ‘My cup of tea’ he repeated. ‘But not my favourite blend. There was something not quite right about poor Molinos. A strain of—how shaft I put it?—of negative sensuality. He enjoyed suffering. Mental suffering, the dark night of the soul—he really wallowed in it. No doubt, poor fellow, he sincerely believed he was destroying self-will; but, without his being aware of it, he was always turning the process of destruction into another affirmation of self-will. Which was a pity,’ Mr. Propter added, taking the letters to the light, to look at them more closely. ‘Because he certainly did have some first-hand experience of reality. Which only shows that you’re never certain of getting there, even when you’ve come near enough to see what sort of thing you’re going to. Here’s a fine sentence,’ he put in parenthetically. ‘ ‘"Arne a Dios''' he read aloud, ‘ ''como es en si y no como se lo dice y forma su imaginacion."

Other characters:
Stoyt - self made millionaire philanthropist oaf (Vermeer in the lift)
Dr. Obispo - scientist of life extension and sensualist
Virginia -prototypical hot chick
Jeremy Pordage - archivist
Pete - ex International Brigade, scientist, useful idiot

Free download on internet archive:
After Many a Summer

I read it in a Penguin Modern Classic from 1961 - the cover sketches were good then.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Cat Consciousness

Following the well established internet tradition here is a photo of my cats. From your left, Chess, Jade, Tabs and Blaze. Chess is the mother of Jade and Blaze and Tabs came along as a stray already pregnant with 3 kittens who later became the prey of a dog fox, we presume. Daniel Dennett is inclined to disallow consciousness to humans by which he means consciousness as usually understood by psychologists and philosophers. I on the contrary allow that cats have a degree of consciousness a what’s its like to be a cat. Tabs had a difficult early kittenhood and is mostly very wary and avoids contact. After her sterilisation operation when back home she did a strange thing which she had never done before. Nor has she done it since. Pathetically she jumped on my lap to be comforted, the poor creature. She lay there very quiet.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Mr. Propter Meditates (from After Many a Summer by Aldous Huxley)

Mr. Propter (William Propter of Short Studies in the Counter Reformation) is a character in Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer. He takes the Huxley eye view and has his Eastern side. The author was a pal of Krishnamurti and Swami Prabhavananda of the Vedanta Society. He often lectured at the ashram. This description of meditation has the true Vedantic fragrance:

A nothingness surrounded by God, indigent of God, capable of God and filled with God if man so desires. And what is God? A being withdrawn from creatures, a free power, a pure working.’ His vigilance gradually ceased to be an act of the will, a deliberate thrusting back of irrelevant personal thoughts and wishes and feelings. For little by little these thoughts and wishes and feelings had settled like a muddy sediment in a jar of water, and as they settled, his vigilance was free to transform itself into a kind of effortless unattached awareness, at once intense and still* alert and passive—an awareness whose object was the words he had spoken and at the same time that which surrounded the words. But that which surrounded the words was the awareness itself; for this vigilance which was now an effortless awareness—what was it but an aspect, a partial expression, of that impersonal and untroubled consciousness into which the words had been dropped and through which they were slowly sinking? And as they sank they took a new significance for the awareness that was following them down into the depths of itself—a significance new not in respect to the entities connoted by the words, but rather in the mode of their comprehension, which, from being intellectual in character, had" become intuitive and direct, so that the nature of man in his potentiality and of God in actuality were realized by an analogue of sensuous experience, by a kind of unmediated participation.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Upamana: The Gavaya and the Screw Mitre Shoot

We’ve been here before. Has the fog lifted? Can the general lie of the land be discerned? Do we stumble through the forest looking for the fabled ‘gavaya’ (bos gaurus) with the assurance that we will know it when we see it for ‘it is like to your cow itself, without dewlap’. In all the accounts of upamana the gavaya ruminates and how wearying it must be for the correction of papers on the topic to meet it again and again. As I remarked previously the feeling is there that no one quite understands what the force of this pramana is and the security blanket of the canonical story is clung too. Not all schools accept it as a free-standing means of valid knowledge some holding it to be a matter of inference, others a perception. Let me for the sake of this short note simply take the advaitin view as valid which accounts it one of their six pramanas.

Comparison implies contrast and both these intellectual powers are common. We navigate through the strange waters of this world using the knowledge that we have garnered already. We meet a near instance of what we know from previous experience. That previous experience is not present to us as a perception but is referred to by the present perception. It is ‘in’ the present perception, Venn diagram like. The contrasting elements are in the outer non-lapping sections.

Is it simply a matter of memory? Not in a retrieval sense I think. All our conceptual apparatus is present to us as our mind. New stuff finds a fit or fails to find such. I’m at this minute looking at a tool which I bought second hand from a dealer. He called it a clamp. Yes it has a wooden screw that moves a block and it is a holding device. It is a screw mitre shoot so therefore a very specialised sort of clamp. That was the overlap.