Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Henri Bergson, Mystics, Visions, Prophets and Science

Henri Bergson didn't like the idea of concepts. They had their place, but once annunciated a concept, or mental representation, became static. Indeed intellect couldn't really see the world in real time, it could only see the world in the way that a camera sees the world. He suggested that our relationship with the world was constantly moving, but because our intellect produced static understandings, through mental representation, our intellect, while incredibly useful, had limitations. He suggested that to better understand what happens in our mind, you'd do better to think in terms of what he called Duration, which he'd readily admit was itself concept. Duration was a flux or a becoming. It wasn't something that couldn't be reversed, it was always "straining toward the future," it was continually creating newness, which meant it was basically unpredictable, it could never be communicated by concepts, and it was the "inexhaustible source of freedom." Duration wasn't something that could be shared or given, but the nature of it was available to person through "intellectual auscultation." Auscultation is what doctors do with a stethoscope when they examine a person's body. So, I'd argue that what Bergson was saying is that results of science are wonderful, very useful, couldn't get by without them, but the reality of being in the world is something we know intuitively and not as a result of a logical, mechanistic, step by step progress toward a conclusion. In short we people can see an arrow flying through the sky, but science can't, it can only conceptualize an  arrow flying through the sky by describing a series of points, and at each point the arrow is motionless.

Bergson was concerned with metaphysics, which despite all it's various nuances in the language, would have been defined by Bergson as examining the nature of reality, the relationship between mind and matter, what stuff is and how it can be described, and the relationship between what facts are and what value is. And he was one of those rare Philosophers who wrote a best selling book which is still occasionally published called Creative Evolution, in which he tore down an edifice that had been built around Darwin which proposed that the mind could be explored almost entirely in terms of evolution, the passing along and multiplying of successful genes and attributes. In their place Bergson proposed a metaphysics of evolution based upon his notion of Duration. Without concepts this was much easier said than done, and generally his work Creative Evolution contains many unverifiable mysteries wrapped in wonderful language that highly pissed off the Analytical Philosophers many of whom were sympathetic to Duration but because they could find nothing concrete or static kind of shrugged it off as an interesting digression. Bergson's point was that his metaphysics does not oppose science, rather it complements science. William James who was all about pragmatism greatly approved of Bergson's thinking. Bertrand Russell disapproved of anything that suggested a drift away from the empirical approach in Philosophy. One thing's for sure in the philosophy of Bergson, he saw no end point, no finality. Duration as motion is uncertain and unpredictable. Several of the notions in Quantum Physics say pretty much the same thing. I read somewhere that Heisenberg, one of the key figures in Quantum Physics, defended Bergson against Einstein's dismissal of Bergson's Duration as an understanding of time. So who really knows about the mind Visions and Mystics and Prophets.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Mystics, Visions and Prophets

 Saint Teresa of Avila wrote a great deal about her relationship with the Christian Church. Looking at her writing you get the sense that she might have been a little intense in her determination to do right by her understanding of God. When she was eleven she and her brother had decided it run away from home to fight for the Crusades, they were half way down the road when the parental side caught up with them and dragged them back home. Later in life Teresa had a more pacifist approach, "I do not fear Satan as much as I fear those who fear Satan." Of the orders, joining the Carmelite order, an easy going kind of order, was probably the best one to give her personality a chance to evolve in a more accepting environment. The problem was she struggled with a regular series of often very frightening, painful and physically draining visions over which she had no control. In analyzing her writings members of the medical profession have suggested that she may have suffered from a form of epilepsy. When her visions first started she understood them in terms of levitation and was concerned that she might have been possessed by a demon. Whenever Teresa felt levitation coming on, she asked her young sisters in the convent to hold her down and not tell anyone. This request of hers, she knew was a bit sinful and she took her worry to her father confessor, poured out her heart to him, which itself was slippery slope for a young nun because of the more innate boy/girl circumstance and she sort of knew that her confessor had a special fondness for her, and she knew of a women outside the order who had so special a fondness for him she'd given him a copper charm to wear around his neck. The whole thing was difficult for a person very determined to remain in God's favor and who had definite ideas about what remaining in God's favor required. Fortunately Teresa's confessor told her that far from being possessed by the devil, her levitation was a grant of rapture from God. And there are some strange reports that Saint Teresa would sometimes levitate, or whatever, during Mass.

In her writings Teresa talks about learning how to manage her afflictions. She been bedridden for a year. After a levitation on one occasion she was so paralyzed, all her joints seem to have un-jointed and she could only move one finger. She sometimes just liked to be alone, she knew it wasn't right, she loved others but she sometimes found the presence of others painful. But however it occurred or whatever caused it, her devotion to God grounded her, offered her a path. Her desire to be alone became "devotion to silence" so that she might in silence better commune with her creator without distraction. It was path she chose and not an easy one, "Dear Lord, let me suffer or let me die." Teresa's mysticism, taken from her visions of hell, of Saints, the phases of prayer, and the phases a soul went through on its journey to heaven were for the Catholic Church very re-affirming at a time when the Protestant Reformation was gaining strength, causing some distress in the more political corners of the Church of Rome which had failed to void the schism by simply declaring the Protestors heretics without the church being able to find sufficient political support to punish the heretics. Teresa too had a quarrel with Rome, it was too interested in earthly matters and needed to revert to its more spiritual foundations. The other point about her visions, I think worth mentioning, is the detail with which she was able to recount them. One of her visions involved her being repeatedly stabbed by an angel, she could see the spear in her belly and when the angel withdrew the spear she could see her entrails. The pain was intense, but the sweetness of the pain was "so surpassing... I could not wish to be rid of it." Teresa in her heart understood the truth of her journey through life in a wonderful way, "the feeling remains that God is on the journey, too." Quarrel if you want, but Teresa had visions as a mystic in and for the patterns of her faith, her visions weren't the revelation of a prophet with a mind to add to and sort out a perceived confusion in the tapestry of an established understanding.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Prophets of God and of Man

In the 17th Century a man called Thomas Browne wrote a book called "Religion of a Doctor." The book was a more personal, self-examining to the point of self analyzing type of book wherein Thomas Browne far too honestly explored his relationship with science and religion, an uncharacteristic confession that was too private for those days. The book was greeted warmly by the more scientific minded but it was a little on the radical side for the more religious minded and soon enough it went on the list of books banned by the Pope. Thomas Browne was a physician, and one of his contributions to the English Language was the word Hallucination which he took from the Latin word for 'wandering in the mind.' Not a dream, but something that happens when you're awake. And ever so easy to suggest that there's no actual difference between a Vision and an Hallucination. Strictly speaking when it comes to understanding ideas whether something is sourced through a spiritual vision or an hallucination shouldn't really matter. But for some reason it does. During the early days of Muslim expansion, if conquered people were people of the book, which initially included Jews and Christians,  they were under the early Muslim Sharia law to be granted protected status, they could keep their property and religion. None protected groups were considered fair game for theft, looting and so on. In time the list of protected people grew to include Hindus, it was practical politics by a well disciplined invading force as much as anything. And worth keeping in mind that the early Muslims in their faith had a definite definition of pagan, they were people who worshiped animal Gods and/or multiple Gods. The early religions of Arabia were polytheistic.

Expanding into the mysterious lands of Persia Muslim invaders discovered there were three schools of Zoroaster. All three schools claimed that Zoroaster was a prophet but the trouble was centuries previously, they claimed, Alexander the Great had burned all their sacred books so there was no real concrete way to prove that Zoroaster was a recognizable prophet of the one God of sufficient importance to grant Zoroastrians protected status. Under questioning by the often acquisitive and much less numerous, invading forces, the representative of only one of the schools of Zoroaster in Persia was able to persuade the inquisitor that they deserved protection. And to demonstrate that Zoroaster was a prophet this Zoroastrian representative is purported to have quoted Zoroaster:  "They ask you as to how should they recognize a prophet and believe him to be true in what he says; tell them what he knows the others do not, and he shall tell you even what lies hidden in your nature; he shall be able to tell you whatever you ask him and he shall perform such things which others cannot perform."  No mention of miracles or God and not easy to make immediate sense of a translation from a 12th Century Arab historian writing about an event that occurred several centuries earlier. But if you take the first sentence as the question and the second two as the answer, I get the sense that you recognize a prophet by the confidence of his insight into your confusions, and a prophet can go on to confidently explain things in a way that you can understand, and he can do this in a way that others can't. So in a sense it's us who decide who a prophet might be, a "he who has ears to hear , let him hear" type thing, otherwise he or she might just as well wander lonely as a cloud in the wilderness. Inevitably I could well be wrong. I'm told, a Canadian named Osler, who's been called the father of modern medicine, had read Thomas Browne's far too honest book so many times he knew it by heart.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Zoroaster, Druj and Asha

Zararthustra, Zoroaster, by most accounts was member of a more nomadic clan. His name means something like, "He who manages Camels." Nor did he appear out of nowhere, he belonged to a tradition of Idea that predated his time upon earth by many, many generations. The Idea when he was born had a professional class, a body of understandings and a priesthood, and when Zoroaster was around seven years old he started his training to become a priest. While a person is born with many attributes, capacities that enable them to get a toe hold on the world they are born into, no one is born with a body of knowledge that builds through the course of passing through the world. Choosing to become a priest suggests an interest in something other than managing Camels, and oddly Zoroaster's name has been translated as "with angry/furious Camels" "who is fostering/cherishing camels" "desiring Camels" and "with yellow Camels." Then in his thirties Zoroaster had a vision, he saw a shining being which introduced himself as "Good Purpose" and "Good Purpose" taught Zoroaster about what is was to be a "Wise Spirit." As the vision continued Zoroaster began to sense the presence of another more primal spirit which seems to have two parts, one part hostile and lying called Druj, the other part true and honest called Asha. The experience was a Revelation which persuaded Zoroaster to spend the remainder of his days devoted to Asha.

It's also the case that visions can be very confusing and describing them not always easy. Too accurate a description might make very little sense to a listener, so there's a certain interpretation that occurs. At the same time back in those days there was a drink that people concerned with higher callings reckoned was a big assistance in the whole process of visions. It was an infusion of herbs, spices and probably honey. There's a vague suggestion by more recent researchers that one of the ingredients was a Mushroom that grew on Cow manure, but the point is that revelation is an act of revealing or disclosing, it's usually dramatic and includes the idea of realizing something previously not known. And of course revelation is sometimes thought of as a manifestation of the divine will or truth. As well it's probably wrong to assume that just because you're high on Mushrooms therefore God must be talking to you. But suddenly realizing something, sorting it out, making that nagging something comprehendible in your mind, doesn't necessarily require God or Mushrooms. In many ways how you explain your revelation to others is somewhat central to "Good Purpose." You can't just say, this  ring was made for Henry III, it's all gold and 20 carat diamonds,  and you can have it for two million dollars, without some sort of provenance. And if you want to know why you might not be able to sell Henry III's ring without some sort of provenance, well you can call it a Druj and Asha kind of thing.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Climate Anomalies of the Middle Ages

The Medieval Climate Anomaly began around 950 and went on until around 1250. It was a warming trend. And excellent for agricultural production in Europe. A good harvest of Wheat was around 1:7. That is one grain of Wheat for seed stock, seven grains of Wheat for consumption. A poor harvest of Wheat was around 1:2, which meant widespread hunger and hardship. A Wheat farmer today expects around 1:30. Then in 1300 something happened to the climate it started to cool and around 1315  intense weather patterns produced a series of very wet, cold summers. Hay could not be cured, Wheat failed to mature. This was famine for Europe and out of the 1315 to 1317 famine came the story of Hansel and Gretel which some have suggested was inspired  by accounts of cannibalism which may or may not have occurred during the struggle to survive. By 1318 weather patterns returned to something like normal and in the following years Europe entered a period of climate known as the Little Ice Age, cold winters, cooler summers.

The 1315-1317 famine was by no means the first famine or the last famine experienced in the Middle Ages but the lasting effects of the famine went on for years. Seed stock had been consumed, draft animals had been slaughtered, and it took many years to recover these seed stocks and raise livestock. But not only did the famine reduce the population by between 15 and 25%, it also had an effect upon the health of the population, made us more susceptible to sickness. Nor did the Black Death of 1350 help the situation. Much worse for the way of life in the Middle Ages, central authorities had no capacity, or desire, or foresight sufficient to manage so large and dramatic a series of crises. On several occasions during the famine The King of England, while progressing through his realm had to go without several meals, this for a royal personage was an outrage of gigantic proportions. During the famine the King of France chose to carry out his plan to invade the Netherlands, his army got bogged down by rain, mud and cold, he had to burn his baggage train and retreat. During the famine it was our fault we'd upset God, we'd failed to obey the logic of the Idea. It was slowly in the following two centuries that the Idea was challenged and by the 1960's we had stuff like the Measles Vaccine.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Measles

The Middle Ages in Europe are well worth a thought or two. I'll tell you why. It was doubt which brought them to an end. This doubt was characterized by a growing mistrust of the Institutions which I'd argue included allegiance to the Church, allegiance to the King and an industry that was controlled by the power of the Guild System. A series of crisis that started with two years of famine, which was climate related rather than Locust, and this was followed forty years later by the Black Death which wiped out easily a third of the population. Typhus in urban regions and what might have been Anthrax reduced livestock.

There was an increase in a search for what can be called the literal truth of the Bible, new interpretations from the Old Testament which often cast doubt on the correctness Church Doctrine. Towns became increasingly fed up with not having control over their own destiny. There was dramatic increase in popular and often bloody unrest, Kings and Nobles had increasing conflicts which resulted in both civil and international wars.   And as Idea ran rampant through the population soon enough what had been centuries of uninterrupted European prosperity came to a crashing halt.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Mercury Smiles Again

   For non-astrologers Mercury in retrograde is an illusion. Mercury never actually starts to go backwards and has no effect whatsoever on earthly affairs. But one of the problems for this non-astrologer is how to explain the past nearly four weeks, a period of time when pretty much every technical device in the dwelling chose to submit to this or that ailment rendering them worse than useless, and during this period of high stress the Kitten hurt both her foot and her hips. Then there was an outright break down, kind of a relief, and soon enough the local gossip mill produced the idea that somehow or other while repairing a culvert the county had cut through a vital telephone cable.

    At the news your correspondent nodded wisely as some of us went on about how vital it was to know when Mercury might be heading toward retrograde so that one and all might concentrate and tread very warily. Clearly had the county followed this rule, they never would have cut through a telephone cable. Finally, here at home, wise men were sent for, the Kitten had to visit the vet, she's a little on the temperamental side and I'm told had a conniption fit in the vet's office which meant she had to be sedated, and today a genius arrived in the morning hours who was able to follow the principles of his calling which are not to be polite to his customer but to listen to his customer. He slowed the internet down and lo the New Medieval Period of Saints has been briefly delayed. Oddly today Pluto enters retrograde, so let's all say our prayers. 


Missing  Days

Tuesday April 23rd 2019 


    Still no landline, mixed blessing, means no telephone and it means no internet. And for some reason or other I feel it necessary to again put my own nail in the coffin of the expression Medieval Period. The word Medieval is an abridgement of the Latin for Middle Ages, and Medieval has come to have an association with barbaric behaviors, funny costumes, witchcraft and it's a long list. My own use of the term Medieval applies entirely to the institution of Sainthood as it was when Saints weren't subject to the central authority of a Devil's Advocate dictated to be a long list of rules. Instead they were chosen by the likes of you and I sitting around, hanging out with well minded friends and saying of a departed one that he or she should be a saint, followed by a reasonable discussion about what counts as a miracle and whether the party in question had managed one with sufficient evidence to produce the determination within the group to do stuff like renaming a well or a fold in the land or a rock outcrop. Then if the name sticks through the generations you got your genuine, unadulterated Saint.

The Middle Ages began following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and came to end around the time of Luther which was The Protestant Reformation of the 1500's. Like all reformations this was a disruptive time for people characterized by the uncertainty as the secular world began to dominate Europe and resulted in new certainties, or what we now call Nation States, a central authority with control over distinct territory, and it was this Secular Administrative State that introduced the Modern Period to history. And worth noting the current political fad, or at least it was when I was last in a position to read the news, is to undo the Administrative State just as quickly as possible, because apparently it's the source of all evil and nothing good ever came of it. We Modernists can all wallow as much as we want, but I do feel a certain gratitude to the Telephone Company for being unable to repair the telephone line that leads to my dwelling. Yes indeed, while others might be clinging to the past I consider it a privilege to be on the cusp of what the more sensible very distant future ancient historians might well refer to as the Second or New Medieval Period of Saints.

Monday April 22nd 2019


    Inalienable is defined as: cannot be transferred to others.  In the language the word belongs to the quality of dueness, what's owed, indebtedness. But the question to explore within the word is why, rather than OK that's settled for ever and ever, let's not mention it again. Nor have I ever been quite certain what Thomas Jefferson meant by inalienable when he wrote "Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and inalienable rights of man." Yet to reach this conclusion he must have made a wonderfully bold assumption because you and I don't actually have any rights, what we have is a society in which certain behaviors and actions are less acceptable than other behaviors and actions. Some behaviors rewarded, some behaviors punished. And you can go on to explore the shades of grey, and see a constant movement in the back and forth, the inherent right of kings, the right to this, the right to that. Go ahead, quarrel if you want, but in the discussion between Idea and Material the rights of man are Idea.  My own view is that you can list the rights all you want, but rights are neither inherent nor inalienable and over time they are subject to change. Idealists tend toward an end point where all is settled to the point of entropy, which in physics means to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity, and like it or not because life as consciousness is by necessity irrational, an assumption of mine, that point of entropy is not so much inconceivable as it is greeted by a "nah" which is kind of like a sneering "no" in the more visceral regions. Always a depressing reaction and very typical, it inclines the great and the good, as they cling to the Constitution, toward saying things like "clinging to their bible" and "the deplorables" or something like "The Libtard have no idea and are just stupid." An overall level of discourse that suggests one of two things neither of them particularly attractive or encouraging, and yet serves to remind us all how short a distance it is from the Tree to the Cave.

Thomas Aquinas was a most interesting man in the development of thought for us Westerners. We're looking at the 13th Century. His mother didn't like the idea of him becoming a Dominican, one of the poorer more begging of the religious orders, so she confined him to the family castle for a couple of years in the hopes that he'd pull himself together. But he was stubborn for the great ideas and finally off he went to become ordained as a Dominican priest and get his doctorate in Philosophy, which in those days was mostly Plato and Aristotle. At the time the Church of Rome was struggling with a very divisive quarrel. On the one hand were the Averroists who were all about Revelation as the sole source of Church doctrine. Truth they argued was revealed by god and certainly not by man, and while stuff like philosophy, adding up and earthly learning had it's lowly place, it shouldn't play much of a role in the church. The problem with that for the church was it meant any wild eyed nutcase could come out of some rural nowhere and declare a new and possibly crazy revelation and the chaos, the fracturing that this could produce in the faithful would result in endless conflict. Thomas became an advisor to a Pope who was anxious to put an end to the Averroist dispute. He argued that revelation, faith, believing something, was a sense like any other sense. But it's through the intellect that we people make all the senses intelligible, and this meant the church would be pretty dumb to ignore the capacity God had given us to make intelligible any revelation he might see fit to grant his many, many children. Oh sure, he went on, some things can only be known by revelation, these he argued were the higher truths, but most things can indeed by known by experience of the day to day here on earth. The Averroists had to agree. Thomas basically saved the church as a useful institution with a functioning bureaucracy and he went on to formalize his doctrine, which included the useful assertion that all animals have souls, but only human souls were immortal, so no chance of someone's Parrot receiving anything like a comprehensible revelation. Fifty years after his death, despite never having performed a traditional miracle, the Pope made him a saint.

Sunday April 21st 2019


    Survival of the Fittest, but there's more than one side to Darwin. To begin it might be a good idea to go back to Anaximander. He reckoned all things on earth emerged from fire, earth and water. And he reckoned there was a kind of justice between these substances, not one of them could ever dominate and if by chance one of them did then the world would be either just water, just earth or just fire. In the interaction between these substances, the fire of the sun would dry the earth and we got plants. Same with creatures that lived in water, where the fire of the sun had never so dominated as to produce plants. Animals of the land, including people came from fishes. The justice part of the relationship between fire, earth and water you can think of as being a blind justice, a gentle justice, an evil justice, a whimsical justice, any kind of justice you want but without it there would be no tapestry, everything would be either fire, earth or water.

And difficult to think of fire without fire having something to consume, which put a preeminence upon fire in the minds of some. But difficult to think of fire as a creator of anything without earth and water. In remembering Anaximander people have considered him more scientific in the way he thought about how the world, its plants and its creatures came into being, how they developed, and how they were still subject to that process of development. It was the justice part that figured large in idea, what did it want, where was it going, what side was it on, does it love us? Much easier for justice if it and the world was created not by the universe of earth, fire and water but by something else, something with definite opinions and solid plans. Yet a time came in some ancient societies when even the Pantheon of Gods were subject to justice. Idealists explore the issue through ideas, more practical minds need a little concrete evidence. Darwin was planning to be a clergyman, but following his voyage around the world as the ship's naturalist, he become a scientist.

Saturday April 20th 2019 


    There's a lot out there that's completely unknown. For all I know the internet might never return, gone for ever and the option for me is to either wail and gnash for the rest of my days, or calculate in a scientific and empirical manner the possibilities of it ever returning and from these calculations plot a way forward, or I could invoke the assistance of The Mysteries. And what with one thing and another I'm in a Mysteries invoking mood at the moment. I remember my friend Okanya, whenever we lost something incredibly valuable like a nail, which we seem to do with a frequency, he'd spit on the palm of his hand and with the two long fingers of his other hand he'd slap the spit, sending it flying. The direction the bulk of the spit took pointed toward the lost object and we'd carefully follow that line, sometimes for what felt like hours. Success rate wasn't high, but comfort wise the whole process was very rewarding, and at least we'd done something constructive. In that part of the world a whirlwind was a not infrequent sight and central to our understanding was to point at the whirlwind so that it would not come our way. Failure to do so pretty much guaranteed one or other of many dire possibilities. And it's also true that we both had great faith in these mysterious rites, which when they failed to work simply meant that we'd been a little too casual in observing our part of the rite. The internet however is a much trickier area than lost nails and whirlwinds, it has flashing lights, telephone wires, un-conversable boxes, a stoic and obnoxiously polite support staff who are clearly well versed in a jargon rich positivity around the unknown which is something mere mortals in their right mind are very averse to, and if you add an emotional, almost addictive, paranoid dependence to the internet experience you're beginning to think about maybe the kind of entirely self centered rite that requires sacrificing virgins.  Though what virgins ever did to deserve sacrificing, I've never really understood, you'd just sort of assume that the more sullied members of any community would by ceremoniously dispatched as a gesture of good faith, but maybe it has something to do with sending our best and our brightest to do the negotiating, the more sullied and guilt ridden would probably give the Internet a wrong impression of us internet addicts.

The question, where to start? Of The Mysteries, which in my view haven't changed much in the past at least four thousand years, there are three main traditions, and without beating about the bush they basically call for behaviors that go from the poetic gathering to the licentious gathering. I'd argue that those who followed Orpheus were more prone to poetry, the Eleusinian tradition was harvest celebration civilized followed by a bit of an aren't we wonderful knees-up and the Dionysian tradition which was drunken revelry and high order un-virtuous behaviors that so shocked Roman Senators they finally required them to be outlawed, which is quite a thought. And of course to legitimately qualify as an adherent to any one of these traditions you couldn't just turn up, a person had to go through an induction rigmarole involving secret oaths, supplication, ceremonies, a contribution of some sort and probably quite a long list. Me, I'm really far too old for Dionysian behaviors, at my age the music of Orpheus is likely a more productive source of inspiration for an Internet Resurrection Rite. Orpheus was a brilliant musician if you like the Lyre, not for everyone, and I'll probably have to substitute a little shimmying while maybe thinking about Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Tina Turner.  The point being that with Orpheus, when the devil took his wife he decided to go down unto Hades and use his musical abilities to retrieve her. The Devil was mightily impressed and agreed that Orpheus' wife could return to the world so long as Orpheus didn't look at her before he had escorted her out of Hades. Simple request, but Orpheus was tempted to renege and true to the bargain the Devil did not allow Orpheus' wife to leave Hades. Orpheus was devastated and he wandered the wilderness playing his music until a group of Thracian women killed him and threw his severed head into a river. And I too have on occasion felt like following the natural instincts of Thracian women around the lyre, the harpsichord, the tambourine and Bluegrass music. Details of an Orphic Internet Resurrection Rite will include shimmying to Sam Cooke's Chain Gang as might be sung by Bob Dylan and Tina Turner, and as I ascend and descend the stairs I will not look at the Flashing Internet Not Working Check Light, and should I turn to look at this flashing light I have to go outside and walk once around the field on the off chance there's a band of Thracian Women who might oblige me by cutting off my miserable head and throwing it into the Green River.

Friday April 19th 2019


    Positive, Positivist, Positivism when used to describe thinkers refers to a 'faith' in the idea of rules, laws or whatever you want to call them, imposed by what's referred to as Human Authority rather than by Nature or by Reason Alone. And 'faith' is a word that should be distinguished from 'blind belief.' The whole point about faith is you're not absolutely certain, instead you have a degree of high confidence. Easy enough to have high confidence in Pythagoras' hypotenuse. But to have blind belief in anything subjects you to the possibility that under certain circumstances, such as the event horizon of a black hole, Pythagoras' theorem might not hold true and your event horizon traveling machine could come to a sticky end if you happened to have built your machine around the theorem. So best to test the theorem before flying into the black hole or you risk the same fate as those who reckoned they could fly by gluing feathers to their arms. All of which is good practice in scientific exploration but when it comes to human society the testing of the theory isn't really possible and always worth remembering our world is littered with very badly failed experiments.

Pol Pot was a fan of Sartre, whose work I'd guess he would have read in the original French. He'd studied in Paris sometime in the late 1940's early 1950's and went home to become a teacher. Some minds might reject Sartre's work as a result of this association with Pol Pot. What Sartre said in his existentialist writings was something like this: We people are beings who create our own world. We do so by rebelling against authority over us and by taking personal responsibility for our own actions. Why we did this has to do with the idea that to be authentic, true to our nature, to our existence, we individual people had to have absolute freedom of choice, explore all the possibilities. And I think it's accurate to say that no way did Pol Pot apply any of what Sartre might have had to say to anyone other than himself and you have to wonder where Pol Pot put Sartre's idea of personal responsibility. One of the things about judging Sartre as a man and his understandings, is his rejection of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He reckoned the pat on the head would compromise his integrity. To often in the interpretation of the Idea, it seems to only belong to the enlightened, the rest of us it would appear need to be educated or reeducated. Indeed education was and still is a big thing for the Positivists.

Thursday April 18th 2019


    In the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's Logical Positivism was a newish way of saying to hell with the Ancient Greeks from the Foot of Italy, German Idealism, phenomenology and metaphysics, it's not getting us anywhere, what we have to do is think sensibly about what we know about the world and how we can make that knowing more accurate and as a result more useful, constructive and so on. The likes of Bertrand Russell not only saw this as a necessity but they reckoned it was entirely possible through logical and scientific verification and they put great effort into tearing down the arguments of the Idealists, who in general had reached the point where thinking about stuff was almost completely outside living the day to day life, their interest was the grand scheme, the great theory, a magnificent edifice from off the top of a cloud, and yet it was edifice that accepted brutality, war and horrible cruelty between us people because that was the way things were, and the good news for everyone it was all going somewhere that was on the one hand kind of inevitable and on the other hand kind of good in the sense the whole thing was taking care of itself, not much we tenured professors or our devoted pupils can do about it, not really our section.

More recently, the faith Logical Positivists placed in science and logic was modified a little by the understanding that there were areas in logic that couldn't do away with all the subjective stuff that obsessed Idealists, and they decided to call themselves Logical Empiricists. The difference is, Logical Empiricists accepted the element of subjectivity, but they reckoned the scientific methods of math, science, logic and so on while subject to distractions of idealism, nonetheless had a higher degree of accuracy than just saying it's all in the mind. And here the beast in the distant forest for the positivists is a man called Parmenides, he was a Foot of Italy Greek, a former student of Pythagoras. Pythagoras has, amongst many other things, the title "First True Mathematician." The sum of the squares of the lengths of the sides of a right angle are equal to the square of the hypotenuse. It's an amazing idea, quite mind blowing, and here on earth at least if you can do the math it's always true, and you can understand why it was kind of like magic to those who first experienced the calculation, and try as some might of done they couldn't show Pythagoras was mistaken about the hypotenuse. It was Parmenides who reckoned that all we could know existed in the mind, what lay outside the mind didn't exist, if you're mind forgot something, it didn't exist. Far too uncomfortable an idea, easy to dismiss Parmenides, but in my view it's an error to do so.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Woe

I guess if King David had had the internet there would be more than a couple of comforting Psalms pretty much devoted to souls that have been left wailing and forsaken by the internet.

There is progress, I'm reliably informed.  There are two possible causes of the problem, either a hugely complicated part needs replacing or "Something's been nibbled."

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Public, Private Cogs

In my reading of Kafka I don't recall ever coming away with an understanding of bureaucracy. Rather I came away with an understanding of what it was like to be a cog in a machine, as familiar an experience for me as it would have been for anyone else unhappily employed by endlessly repeating tasks within the walls of a factory or an office. I say endlessly because there was no place or moment within the task where this side of getting too old to perform the task I could see a completeness. I was, and I have to admit this, a surly, uncooperative, pain in the neck cog who found solace in abject bolshevism until the shift was over and I could go home where if it was a Friday the bulk of my pay check went to the landlord. And, I suspect, Kafka's writing being associated with the dour hopelessness of bureaucracy lies somewhere within an experience of the dispirited cogs of a bureaucracy without any experience or appreciation by the observer of the purpose, possibilities and function of a bureaucracy. 

Literature is replete with explorations of meaninglessness and how we cogs have managed. The Good Soldier Schweik, a series of stories by Jarolsav Hasek about a soldier in the Austro Hungarian army, is humor. Schweik was drafted into the military despite being classified as a congenital idiot, his common sense or enthusiastic incompetence revealed the farcical nature of a rule bound, unquestioning environment. Invariably the issue of bureaucracy and efficiency is rich with discord, and more recently the move of those in high places is toward reducing the bureaucracy of government by offering government functions up to the management of what for one reason or another is called the Private Sector. The issue of whether we cogs fare better in the Public Sector or the Private Sector is so far as I can see entirely avoided by those who currently dominate the high places, their philosophy is essentially 'Cogs should be powerless, because look at us, of course we know what's best.' And in this assertion are the foundations to the debate about whether government can manage healthcare. It's a mixed blessing, yet the current administration is a wonderful opportunity to observe the workings of and motivations behind a rampant Private Sector. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Meade and Symbolic Interaction

George Herbert Meade died in 1931. If you take the Idealism of Hegel and add a little bit of the Materialism of Marx, you get a sense of Meade's understanding of how to study society.  For Meade language was the content of the mind and the content of the mind developed, formed its opinions, understandings, shared them and so on, through Social Interaction. And social interaction wasn't something that interacted in a glorious isolation, rather it more often revolved around matters arising from how people chose to deal with the day to day of a material world. A material world of the city for example being different to the material world of the rustic idyll or nightmare depending, the mountain, the forest, the beach, the retirement home and you can go on.  It's also my current view that there's  massive chasm between those who study behavior and those who labor under the illusion that the study of behavior can be used to modify the behavior of the unwilling which is an area that more often than not becomes Walking Stewart's beast of the forest, Human Resources, which don't be fooled is essentially a pursuit of tyranny in the interest of a particular and usually unsavory goal, the purview of management.

But, and I believe this would be Meade's point, a flourishing society for all people requires two main ingredients. The first would be an informed populace, the second a working Democracy. And by working I assume his argument would include the idea of a pluralism where everybody counts as equal. It's an idea of democracy that might never have actually held true but struggles on because electing legitimate leaders by vote of the public is infinitely better than having to endure civil war every ten years or so. And you have to admire almost to the point of worship a man like General Washington, who given all the uncertainties of the time had his chance to become like an emperor, but he didn't and possibly he didn't because the new country of the United States as it worked toward a more perfect union was to be a Republic, and in 1789 the vote was to be limited to white male landowners, the majority of whom had shall we call it a shared desire to keep the wild eyed ideological fringe and girls at bay. In Meade's pragmatist view it's the day to day of social interactions around the materiel world that produce meaning in us people and it's around meaning that shades of purpose or complete absence of purpose or total dick-headedness emerges. Have to wonder in what legal milieu a Barr was fostered.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Truth Conditions

William James, Pragmatism and the Father of US Psychology, died in 1910: "True for him who experiences the workings." Does sound a bit vague but it's a comforting understanding of James' pragmatic view of how truth, as it exists somewhere out there, interacts with us people. Not much help in this day and age where the whole idea of what the objectivists call 'Truth Conditions' appear to be wholly irrelevant in some swaths of our society.

Which brings us all to the "woe and behold" that goes by the name Ideological Purity.  And it's kind of no wonder Empiricists go with that well fed gated philosopher Hume: "The life of a man to the universe is of no greater importance than that of an oyster."  Well, the extent to which we're sentient might well be up for debate but we're here, we're sensitive, we're human, get used to it. William James: "Believe that Life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact." Who knows.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Purge

When Stalin achieved the leadership of the Soviet Politburo one of the first things he did to secure his power was conduct a series of purges. Much of the officer class of Soviet Military had served their country in a long series of wars, including a civil war and most of them had been in professional military service since before the revolution, they were experienced men. Stalin was suspicious and he got rid of the best and brightest in Soviet military, leaving the army in a somewhat chaotic condition. In soldiering it's not just about being brave. There's a whole structure from recruiting, through supplies and transport, maintenance, doctoring, moral and all these things need experience if they are to work smoothly.  When in the November of 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Finland, their military was badly outclassed. In terms of casualties, Finland lost 70,000 men, the soviets made little progress and they lost 375,000 men.

Then in battle a large army needs leadership that has an understanding of what is and is not possible, the various gradients of risk in between and it needs leadership that understands learning to push the envelope of possibilities from experience rather than blind faith, and often a good leader of soldiers has a dexterity of mind that enables him or her to accurately weigh risk and take decisions without getting all panicky, some are good at it some are bad at it. Stalin was more worried about maintaining his own power than he was about the condition of his military. In a way that's kind of what we have at the moment, a bunch of guys more interested in high fiving their own power. And that's why it's always someone else's fault, never theirs.  Funny thing about saying "I was wrong." Never easy to do, but people, unless they think they are perfect or they are frightened, can embrace you for being true. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Fault

It's been reasonably estimated that in the 7 years between 1346 and 1353 around a third of Europe's population was killed by a plague called the Black Death. It was unprecedented, terrifying, a horrible way to die. Within the population there were three general and very Hollywood disaster movie type reactions to the sense that something had gone badly wrong with the order of things. The one reaction might be characterized by the Flagellants, processions of men would travel from town to town, beat themselves and each other with leather straps studded with sharp pieces of metal. Reports suggest a visit from a Flagellant procession was comforting. The act was an open faced atonement for sins, it predated the Black Death, but became a popular movement during the Back Death and had to be quelled by the Pope. The other kind of reaction was blaming and then conducting pogroms against particular group, anyone who didn't look or sound right or pray right. The third reaction was devil may care, to hell with the rules, enjoy what we can, eat, drink, loot, pillage and behave in an absolutely appalling way. Of these three general reactions, you might be able to think of them as the 'Our Fault' variety and the 'Their Fault' variety and the 'Who Cares' variety.  Some psychologists have interpreted these sorts of reactions in terms of repression. A person represses unbearable feelings by looking around for opposite feelings and then behaves as though these opposite feelings, however perverse, are the person's real and true feelings.

There's debate of course around Repression. Formal definition goes something like: it's a defense mechanism that pushes out of the conscious mind that which is unacceptable and hides it in the unconscious part of the mind, one result of which is anomalous sometimes desperate behaviors.  Sartre stubbornly disagreed with this Freudian view and he reckoned that all consciousness was consciousness of itself so the idea of repressing anything was just absurd, you either forget or you don't. The issue is whether Repressed feelings, lurking down there somewhere, waiting to pounce, and continually have to be repressed are testable. But to my snowflake mind sweating the possible causes of the reactions 'Our Fault,' 'Their Fault,' 'Who Cares' usually comes when it's kind of too late. The cure if there is such a possibility is much longer term. Can't actually remember a time when following a glance at the news headlines I've come away with anything other than a sense that society is stressed. More recently it does seem a little as though there's a cliff edge somewhere getting closer and much closer to an  existential challenge. And it does seem that denying the revelations of science is as much a 'Who Cares' reaction. Economic impasses from reckless Globalization has produced a 'Their Fault' reaction in many. And in a sense the snowflake is an 'Our Fault' reaction. But theoretically at least in a democracy it's up to each to conclude which of the reactions or mix of reactions might produce the more constructive solutions. Some have argued following the Black Death, labor scarcity raised the price of labor, the redistribution of wealth that resulted had the effect of increasing the demand for more specialized goods and trinkets, and heralded the dawning of a middle class.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Queen of Compost

Ginger has emerged, Sassafras beginning to bloom, Bloodroot is in leaf her empty bloom stalks now stiff backed at attention, ornamental Cherry is fluffy pink, there's a misty mint in the hills, good rain but all these are just a tad paltry compared to the wondrous vision of perfect compost. There's a good load of it in the back of the pickup, and it's true the knowledge of it just being there, its very existence, its presence on the earth, is sufficient to bring tears to the eyes of a gardener, provide him with a solace throughout the thick and thin of this season of 2019. I'd guess too you'd have to have been around compost for more than a while to feel that surge of joy the sight of good compost produces, and best not to let yourself down, remain calm, don't give in to the urge to roll around in it, it's undignified. Good compost is honorable, decent and honest, it's got nothing to prove and it knows it.

I remember a rag and bone collector, whose cart was pulled by a horse, who'd visit the neighborhood regularly, he must have been the last of his kind. It was down the road a bit from where I lived, a small patch of ground which in the June time was a glory of Roses. That gardener who was then as old as I am now, would follow behind the rag and bone man carrying a rusty bucket and anxious the gardener was for the horse manure, fresh and warm, steaming on a cold day. That gardener to my mind was one of the greatest of men, up there with Pythagoras. A time came when I delivered milk in that neighborhood, it was his wife, her empty milk bottles proudly washed sparkling clean, who paid the milk bill while he was out there on a Friday evening slowly turning his compost or hand picking Aphids off his Rosebuds. I'd pause on my way back to the milk truck, we'd nod to each other. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Ditsy

The word ditsy springs to mind. Silly, scatterbrained, harebrained, stupid, vacuous, brainless and as a quality it goes rapidly down hill from there. Nor is your correspondent referring to a sitting president, rather he's referring to his own capacity to remember where he puts extraordinarily vital and import things. I know for a fact that I have four hammers, two have red handles, one has a red handle and a broken claw, one has a yellow handle. Why I have four hammers shouldn't really be anyone's business, but it might have something to do with putting a hammer away in a sensible and very obvious place and never being able to find it when it was needed. The yellow handled hammer was missing for almost ten years, it had been so anxious to avoid me it had somehow buried itself under several inches of earth, pure fluke I found it again, and yet had I been searching for it, even subliminally, I probably never would have found it.

And I've been working on the theory that of you're looking for something you're very likely never to find it. You have to just put it from your mind, pretend it never existed, cast the memory of it aside whenever the thought of it wanders your away. But sometimes more often than not this is much harder to do that it might sound. At the end of last year in a diligent and very deliberately ceremonious manner I stowed the compost Pile thermometer. "See you next year," I clearly remember saying in a jovial, warm hearted way, where I said it I've no idea. Then, sometime around the middle of this February I started wondering where it was, and I had that sense that probably best to shrug it off, pretend I wasn't even thinking about it and wuup it would sulk or something and then it would suddenly appear, we'd have the grand reunion, all would be Roses and Onions. Have to admit I might not have followed through on my part of the theory, it did keep entering my mind, and quite true, a sad day when a gardener develops what could well be an emotional dependency upon his compost pile thermometer. And today I have a fresh compost pile but no thermometer, so there's a bit of an humph round these parts.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Penopticons and Privacy

Physically drained from the abundance of Spring Projects, there's no end to them and rather than permit the stress of the season to develop the kind of negativity that yearns for indoor outdoor carpeting, your exhausted gardener will contemplate Jeremy Bentham, with particular reference to his concept of a Penopticon and Privacy. The man was eccentric, his mind was anomalous, shall we say, but the products of his mind contributed to the renaissance that was Early Liberalism. He shared with Adam Smith an idea of morality as a set of unwritten rules subject to constant change that emerged within a society, rather than something like a set of universal laws. In other words it didn't matter what the rules or laws were, what mattered was how they came to be and how and why they were adhered to. Oh sure, there are courts of law, but in daily life as we grow into adulthood we either learn from those we grow up with that stealing is wrong or picking your nose was wrong  or we learn that there's nothing actually wrong with stealing or picking your nose as long as you don't end up the wrong end of an Eagle eye or expressions of deep revulsion from someone you respect.

He argued for a Free Press for no other reason than a free press nosed around other people's business, especially the powerful, and by so doing served a discipline function. Without Privacy he suggested we all would be better behaved, less likely to step on and stamp all over the the approbation of the majority. The Penopticon was Bentham's idea for a prison, where a prisoners and guards would never be free from the prying eyes of each other, and as a result Bentham suggested, prisoners would be more likely to adhere to custom and practice in wider society where taking your neighbors loaf of bread, or Ox, or cheating them out of their mortgage payment was much frowned upon. So why is privacy so important? Is it because we all have something to hide and are ashamed of the possibility of those things being revealed. Is it because we build our lives around a set of deceits and anything that might reveal those deceits is kind of scary to our public sense of self. Has it got something to do with not wanting our weaknesses and vulnerabilities exposed to the vile intent of wrongdoers. Not easy to determine. Oddly when Bentham was a youth he tried courting members of the fair sex, never got anywhere, the girls found him a little unnerving to be around, far too honest, totally without guile and 'My Word' some of his questions!!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Bricolage and Being

As I understand it, Bricolage is the French word for Do-it-yourself. There's a certain loveliness to the word bricolage. To my Anglo-Saxon ear it doesn't sound as though you'd want to climb a bricolage ladder, but no doubt you'd have to be very familiar with the French language to get a sense of nuances of the French for Do-It-Yourself, and possibly too in the English expression, Do-It-yourself, there are sectors of the English Speaking social fabric that have very little faith in the workmanship of those of us who do-it-themselves. Nonetheless difficult to get round the distinction between engaging in a little do-it-yourself and engaging in a little bricolage. There are two words from an Ancient Greek poet which it would appear from existentialist literature deserve considerable consideration in the attempt to understand what the poet was on about.  The basic sentence these two words appear in runs something like this. "Is useful: the laying down before us so taking to heart too."  Might sound jumbled, but it's the meanings in the words that count, rather than how the sentence reads through our ears and confuses whatever part of our brain deals with language.

The 'laying down' and the 'taking to heart' part are the two words at issue. If you can decipher the sentence as all happening in the now, happening always, the 'is useful' as opposed to 'it is useful' begins to make a little sense. The laying down and the taking to heart are connected with a 'so.' No suggestion of a 'so as to,' just a 'so' which is confirmed with the 'too' at the end of the sentence. One offering is, the 'taking to heart' and the 'laying down' are intimate to the point of being un-separated. Within the meaning of the sentence the two words without being the same thing, there is not one without the other, belong together, should be thought of as conjoined. Laying down, setting out and taking to heart. And it's 'taking to heart,' not something like pleasing or unpleasing to the heart. The question arises why the obsession. The obsession is an attempt to answer the question "What calls us to think?" The point being, it's very difficult for us people not to be there when we're remotely conscious. And while it might be that when we're conscious we're setting things out and taking them to heart, and the thing that calls us to do this might enter the definition of 'Being.' Not an answer, rather a way of thinking about the problem of what being is.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Bad News from the Kitten

Your gardener's Presidential Campaign has floundered. Our chairperson of the exploratory committee has been informed by the Kitten that there's something called a constitution, its all a bit vague, but apparently there's an insurmountable legal problem with my candidacy and I'd have to be something like 290 years old to even begin to meet the criteria. A bit of blow, not devastating, never been fond of the Ladybird tie, and fairly certain Presidents aren't allowed to wear kaftans in the White House otherwise all hell breaks loose, so yet more water under the bridge, why turn the compost pile when a choppy sea knows no friend, it's a rich tapestry the dialectic continues and I'll just have to tell the Mockingbird he's going to have to deal with the Brown Thrasher without the assistance of a team of Navy Seals. The Moles will be delighted, I was going to divert resources from the Space Force, plans were a little sketchy they had to do with setting up a think tank to investigate the possibilities of using orbiting sub-atomic weapons on subterranean mammals, which all goes to show how even a snowflake in good standing can very quickly become badly corrupted by even the very idea of power.

In the meanwhile there might still be purpose within the arena of the Campaign Debating Season. Not an easy area, given a proclivity of character that for some reason or other prevents me from ever making it much beyond a debate's introductions, and for sure the first question for the debaters is traditionally sufficient to send me into a deep decline. I mean how hard can it be to come up with something that surmounts the ordinary and realistically embraces future possibilities. Nor are we talking angelic host, as a former candidate myself, I'm well able to accept the intensity of ambition, the underhandedness of a lust for power, the desire for adoration, the effort of looking artificial, but oh no, the direction of Western Thought might just as well be decided by wrestling in mud. Which of course it is, and there's no getting around it. So how do you even begin to like a candidate enough to trust them. I suggest simple questions that reach deep into person's idea of meaning. "Have you ever used a dilution of bleach to stop your feet from smelling foul, if not what is your personal cure for smelly feet." Whatever the answer, to me at least, it'll be most revealing. There was a US reporter who was finally able to interview the Persian Ayatollah Khomeini. One of her more vivid memories of the interview was after having to observe all the rituals of a meeting a powerful religious man, the oomph and gowns, she sat down before him, her first question in hand, and she could smell his feet. I forget who the reporter was.