Tuesday, 28 March 2017

William Hurrell Mallock Vs William Kingdom Clifford


we believe a thing when we are prepared to act as if it were true. Now, if you and I had not habitually acted on the assumption of the uniformity of nature from the time when we could act at all, we should not be here to discuss the question. Nature its selecting for survival those individuals and races who act as if she were uniform ; and hence the gradual spread of that belief over the civilised world.

This uniformity may be merely a uniformity of phenomena, a law relating to my feelings. So long as I only am concerned, it seems to me that the idealist theory is perfectly sufficient. It is quite capable of explaining me but when you come into the question it is perfectly at a loss. ... I do believe that you are conscious in the same way that I am ; and once that is conceded, the whole idealist theory falls to pieces. For there are feelings which are not my feelings, which are entirely outside my consciousness; so that there is at least an external world. But let us consider now in what way we infer it; why do I believe that there are feelings which are not mine ] Because, as I belong to a gregarious race, the greater part of my life consists in acting upon the position that it is true,

Thus spake William Kingdom Clifford as quoted by William Hurrell Mallock in his review (included in Atheism and the Value of Life) of the Essays and Lectures of same (Lectures and Essays by the late William Kingtdom Clifford, F.R.S. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock, with an Introduction by F. Pollock. Two vols. 8vo. London : 1879.)

It is just on this external world idea that Mallock finds the error in his thought and the inconsistency in the well known principle concerning the ethics of belief. Gregariousness seems a frail foundation for belief in the external world. It is an impasse for Clifford particularly as he holds that all knowledge is based on experience:
How,'he says,'this inference is justified, how consciousness can testify to any thing outside itself,I do not pretend to say .I need not untie a knot that the world has cut for me long ago....The jwsition of absolute idealism may therefore be left out of count, although each individual may be unable to justify his dissent from it.

Perhaps Clifford might have been wiser to say that experience is itself the proof of the external world or is the world rather than a proof of the external world. I think I mean something by that. Invarient events imply invarient structure. We know from the work of Piaget that it takes time in the early life of a human being to establish this.

Clifford reflects on the ding an sich and ventures a theory:
The thing in itself is, he tells us, elementary feeling, mind-stuff, or quasi-mind ; and this is known to us as matter. With every moving molecule of matter there moves also a small particle of mind-stuff which is attached to it.

This form of panpsychism, of feeling without consciousness, seems to have come round again. He was the first to take it up in the English speaking world. As with others who followed him in that philosophy it appears to be a naturalistic answer to the problem of how consciousness could have emerged given the fact of evolution. Mallock finds it incomprehensible.

If what we have said applied to Clifford only, it would hardly perhaps have been worth saying ; but, as we have observed already, it applies not to Clifford only, but to the whole modern school. If, as many think, that school is a really formidable foe to religion, it will be at any rate some comfort to know that it will certainly not destroy religion by replacing it. Its prestige, further, will be rendered less formidable if we reflect on how one of its best instructed and most gifted spokesmen has exhibited himself in these two volumes as hopelessly untrained in philosophy, hopelessly ill-read in history, and without the smallest grasp of that refractory human character of which he boasts that in the future his school will have the sole guidance.

Much as I sympathise with Mallock's views it the following citation is more the bay of the liberal intelligentsia:

Only for another half-century let us keep our heavens and "hells and gods." It is a piteous plea; and it has soiled the hearts of these prophets, great ones and blessed, giving light to their generation, and dear in particular to our own mind and heart. These sickly dreams of hysterical women and half-starved men, what have they to do with the strength of the wide-eyed hero, who fears no foe with pen or club . . . That which you keep in your heart, my brothers, is the slender remnant of a system which has made its red mark on history, and still lives to threaten mankind. The grotesque forms of its intellectual belief have survived the discredit of its moral teaching. Of this what the kings could bear with the nations have cut down; and what the nations left the right heart of man by man revolts against day by day. You have stretched out your hands to save the dregs of the sifted sediment of a residuum. Take heed lest you have given soil and shelter to that awful plague which has destroyed two civilisations and but barely failed to slay such promise of good as is now struggling to live among men.'
(from Clifford)


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Snake/Rope Analogy in Advaita and Analogies in General


Analogies are fluid devices that can easily be expanded to comedic levels. If I were were to say to you:
- I feel like my life is a play, a drama that will end inconsequentially.
You might respond:
- Have you forgotten your lines, or are you being upstaged by a clever dog?

Philosophical analogies or improvised epistemological devices can likewise expand past their original intent, not explosively but of the order of a trick cigar. The superimposition (adhyasa) snake/rope analogy has a slight touch of this. We can break it down into it two parts:
(a) Something is transferred to the mind of the percipient
(b) And this something is false.

There is in the preamble to the Brahma Sutra Bhasya a recognition of the aporetic nature of perception, namely - how is it possible given the disjunction between the conscious and the inert. This is the (a) part often termed the chit/jada granthi (the knot between the inert and the conscious).

Generally though (a) and (b) are run together as a unit even though Shankara plays down the mechanism by which it happens as not being relevant to his main point which is the demonstration of transfer of the object into the mind of the percipient. The paradox of the false perception being the exemplar of any perception has not been remarked on.

The (a) + (b) understanding is spun out into - only two perceptible things can be confused, both must have a potentially objective status. Shankara counters this, asserting that both elements do not have to be perceptible. Is this a defence of the original analogy or a wholly new understanding which refers back to (a)? That has the flavour of the adhiropa/apavada strategy.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Shankaracharya not a Philosopher or a Theologian.


Sonia Sikka in a note on Shankaracharya refers to him as an 8th.C. philosopher and theologian.
global philosophy
I don’t think I’m being captious when I offer the criticism that this is a reduction to Western ‘forms of life’ of the great acharya. Why not immediately call him that or hasten to qualify? Hidden in that description is the sense that being a teacher is a lesser role than philosopher or theologian. As one progresses in those professions one expects to have less to do with the 101 classes and the great luminaries hardly teach at all. What the average student remembers is the teachers that he has encountered and for the culture at large they are the most important members of the profession and not the purveyors of papers hardly ever read even by their peers.

Wikipedia has a definition:
Etymology:
The term "acharya" is most often said to include the root "char" or "charya" (conduct). Thus it literally connotes "one who teaches by conduct (example)," i.e. an exemplar. (citation needed)

By the way that ‘citation needed’ a favorite Wiki sprinkle is fatuous. When you’ve given the etymology presumably from a Sanskrit dictionary then what more certification do you need. Is there a dispute? If I wrote ‘domicile’ originally from ‘domus’(Lat.) a home must I cite ‘White’s Latin Dictionary’ as a source. Now I’m getting captious.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Hard Problem of Consciousness and Ananda


The hard problem of consciousness is supposed to be about our own personal feeling of the world. This is as far as I, or anybody, understands it, that peculiar cast that the generic experience of red for example has. Yes but isn’t that problem a subsection of the main problem of how the cerebral events translate into an experience of red as such? Talking about neural correlates has embedded in it the assumption that we know that this neuronal traffic ‘is’ red. This is what Stephen Earle Robbins calls the coding problem.
cf:coding
Three dots represents S in Morse code. This is the convention. How do we know ‘red’ before we know it. It’s an unknowable convention so to speak.

Are Plato’s forms and the substantial forms of Aristotle an attempted solution to the problem of conscious experience? The upadhis (limiting adjuncts) are proposed by Advaita. If we knew what consciousness was such that experience is possible would that bring an alteration to experience as such? Shankara says no and insists that it is a matter of insight. Would, however, the cast of general experience alter and the hard problem now be the source of ananda (bliss)?

Monday, 13 March 2017

Behe's Irreducibly Complex Mousetrap


Behe’s irreducibly complex mousetrap and its critics such as Macdonald are I think succumbing to the same reasoning . They view a mousetrap as a construction out of individual components that come together as a complex unit by design or as an accretion of individual elements. The number and variety of mousetraps, there are thousands, shows that their devising is a holistic process at a higher level of generality. Thus you have stored energy, a trigger, method of despatch i.e. choking, drowning, etc. A surprising variety of materials and methods bring together those requirements. Shawn Woods’s site has many examples of traps for large and small game. See particularly his Mousetrap Mondays in which he demonstrates both new and antique traps:
shawn woods on mousetraps

Friday, 10 March 2017

Unexplained Laughter by Alice Thomas Ellis


It’s pointless trying to sketch a plot outline for the novels of Alice Thomas Ellis. They are as formless as life itself and yet substantial because we travel with our own solidity. Lydia and Betty are going to be on holiday for 3 weeks in Wales. A device polished by usage is to place protagonists in a strange setting and subject them to events. There is a neat entrance and an exit like a what I did on my vacation essay for grownups. Lydia is a well known and strikingly beautiful journalist aware that there is a pattern to her love affairs.

Lydia had intended to spend the next few weeks alone attempting to eradicate those shafts of reminiscence, determined not to follow the common course and go round seeking replacements for her lost love, an undignified and doom laden procedure, leading to recriminations and disgust. On several occasions she had done this, trying to persuade herself that the new Tom, Dick or Harry was quite as desirable and worthy as the missing Harry, Dick or Tom. It had never proved satisfactory, and as she grew older she was beginning to recognise and make sense of the repeating pattern, like someone unrolling a flamboyant wallpaper.

Betty is good and being plain saves her from the trials of the proud beauty whom she does not know very well but having been invited in the polite way that you are supposed to decline decides to come anyway. Lydia to her chagrin twigs that Betty is being kind to a suffering exotic. Being pitied is not soothing.

Up the lane are a farmer Hywel, his wife Elizabeth, his brother Beuno and sister Angharad. This girl is a mute with a hint of deformity not made quite clear. Call her an Ariel Caliban mix, a damaged aer-sprite. She tells us:

Hywel’s brother Beuno is coming home. He is my brother too. It is his Christian duty to love me.
Listen.
I am laughing in the darkness

Is this the unexplained laughter of the title? But why does no one else hear it but Lydia. Must you be tuned to the same pain station? Angharad roams the hills and peers in windows without being discovered. She tells us:The wind is coming up the valley - quite slowly, like an army that will win.

Alice Thomas, that’s very good. You complicate things beautifully like the good cook that you were in life. There is sour misery, a jack by the hedge that got mixed in with the sorrel which dries your tongue to a log and as well the blancmange of comedy.

She (Lydia) felt the desolation of a child in a strange house, saddened by the alien nature of the sandwiches, bewildered by the peculiar quality of the trifle which the family of the house take greedily fo granted, almost afraid of the unfamiliar shape of the jelly, choked by the frogspawn lump of unshed tears, past which not one small sweetie can negotiate a passage.

Frogspawn must refer to that comfort staple, which I call love pudding, that you may know as tapioca. Lumps in tapioca. One shudders.

This is a very short novel a mere 202 pages of well spaced lines of large type. It’s that sort of thing that real readers read. She’s good. Does Lydia carry that laughter with her back to London?

Friday, 24 February 2017

A Lear of the Steppes by Ivan Turgenev


Turgenev liked to hunt and the observation of ground, wind, rain, the tingling chill of autumn and days when the field is closed strike to his heart. We feel that there are two kinds of weather, good for hunting and bad for hunting:

In the middle of October, three weeks after my interview with Martin Petrovitch, I was standing at the window of my own room in the second storey of our house, and thinking of nothing at all, I looked disconsolately into the yard and the road that lay beyond it. The weather had been disgusting for the last five days. Shooting was not even to be thought of. All things living had hidden themselves; even the sparrows made no sound, and the rooks had long ago disappeared from sight. The wind howled drearily, then whistled spasmodically. The low-hanging sky, unbroken by one streak of light, had changed from an unpleasant whitish to a leaden and still more sinister hue; and the rain, which had been pouring and pouring, mercilessly and unceasingly, had suddenly become still more violent and more driving, and streamed with a rushing sound over the panes.
(Constance Garnett trans.)

Harlov (Martin Petrovitch) is too proud to rue his foolish signing over of his estate to his daughters but it is inwardly tormenting him. His sense of being born of righteous people is affronted by their treatment and surely his volcanic nature will assert itself. That this should happen to him:

One day my mother took it into her head to commend him to his face for his really remarkable incorruptibility.
‘Ah, Natalia Nikolaevna!’ he protested almost angrily; ‘what a thing to praise me for, really! We gentlefolk can’t be otherwise; so that no churl, no low-born, servile creature dare even imagine evil of us! I am a Harlov, my family has come down from’—here he pointed up somewhere very high aloft in the ceiling—‘and me not be honest! How is it possible?’

The narrator’s mother, offers a doubt about Harlov’s proposed division:

‘Death is in God’s hands,’ observed my mother; ‘though that is their duty, to be sure. Only pardon me, Martin Petrovitch; your elder girl, Anna, is well known to be proud and imperious, and—well—the second has a fierce look.…’
‘Natalia Nikolaevna!’ Harlov broke in, ‘why do you say that?… Why, as though they … My daughters … Why, as though I … Forget their duty? Never in their wildest dreams.… Offer opposition? To whom? Their parent … Dare to do such a thing? Have they not my curse to fear? They’ve passed their life long in fear and in submission—and all of a sudden … Good Lord!'

Why would he do such a foolish thing? I think that it was due to the capture of his intelligence by an inflated idea of his heritage and his confidence in his own noble character together with a omen of death. His loud and perhaps imperious ways may have been the seed of a resentment that turned on him when he abrogated his power. And yet such stories are so commonplace everywhere that there’s even a name for it - elder abuse. The young narrator has encountered evil with bemusement. A proper plan is required, adjustments are to be made. What exactly is the misunderstanding? This can be fixed. ‘Honour thy father and thy Mother, that thy days may be long in the land’. Can I get back to you on that?

This novella reads beautifully. Newer translations there are, doubtless; publishers are always ready to open up old spent mines to extract new copyrights. I found ‘Lear’ at:
A Lear of the Steppes