All posts for the month March, 2009

Not had chance to read and digest this yet, but I suspect it will prove interesting. The word has been “meta” (in information management) since just before the turn of the millenium. Metametaphysics.

As well as the obvious move in the meta direction towards abstraction as generalization as the basis for … whatever … I can’t help thinking Hostader’s “Tabletop” arms race for ever more creative metaphors will be at the root of this. There is of course a Chalmers / Hofstadter historical connection too.

Twice on one day. The Tabletop came to mind when I was reading (previous post) about the failure of models to “represent” reality, whilst modelling is clearly “part of the process of” reality. A new way of thinking. The way of reality? Sorry, just thinking out loud.

(And another interesting post from Chalmers on the extended mind.)

A new series of three essays and one poem from Alan Rayner, each describing his transfigural, inclusional “new way of thinking” … one which emphasizes neighbourhood over self & other, natural inclusion over natural selection, co-creation over winning & losing, love over conflict … using many of Alan’s established metaphors and quotations.

This quote from Wordsworth recurs “in Nature everything is distinct, yet nothing defined into absolute, independent, singleness.” I often use “we murder to dissect” from Table’s Turn’d, but Alan’s quote is from this Wordsworth passage:

Having had the good fortune to be born and reared in a mountainous Country, from my very childhood I have felt the falsehood that pervades the volumes imposed upon the World under the name of Ossian. From what I saw with my own eyes, I knew that the imagery was spurious. In nature every thing is distinct, yet nothing defined into absolute independent singleness. In Macpherson’s work it is exactly the reverse; every thing (that is not stolen) is in this manner defined, insulated, dislocated, deadened–yet nothing distinct. It will always be so when words are substituted for things.

When words are substituted for things. Every word is a gravestone.

I mentioned  starting to read Gibbon only a few weeks ago, a “couple of years” after picking it up from the bookshelf at my parent’s home, and just noticed it was more like 4 years ago I first posted this.

Anyway still reading it slowly, to and from work mainly. It is indeed the language that makes it so readable, and the antiquity that means there is no need to hurry … we already know how it all ends.

Anyway, in the latest installment (Ch 22 & 23) our subject is the emperor Julian (351 to 353 AD), a wise head on young shoulders who sounds like he’d be right at home in the recent fundamentalist God vs Science debates, a direct reaction to the original Constantine / Constantius / Constans formal Roman adoption and enforcement of Christian theism.

A devout and sincere attachment for the gods of Athens and Rome constituted the ruling passion of Julian; the powers of an enlightened understanding were betrayed and corrupted by the influence of superstitious prejudice; and the phantoms which existed only in the mind of the emperor had a real and pernicious effect on the government of the empire. 

The crowd of sophists, who were attracted by the taste and liberality of their royal pupil, had formed a strict alliance between the learning and the religion of Greece; and the poems of Homer, instead of being admired as the original productions of human genius, were seriously ascribed to the heavenly inspiration of Apollo and the muses. The deities of Olympus, as they are painted by the immortal bard, imprint themselves on the minds which are the least addicted to superstitious credulity. Our familiar knowledge of their names and characters, their forms and attributes, seems to bestow on those airy beings a real and substantial existence; and the pleasing enchantment produces an imperfect and momentary assent of the imagination to those fables, which are the most repugnant to our reason and experience. In the age of Julian, every circumstance contributed to prolong and fortify the illusion; the magnificent temples of Greece and Asia; the works of those artists who had expressed, in painting or in sculpture, the divine conceptions of the poet; the pomp of festivals and sacrifices; the successful arts of divination; the popular traditions of oracles and prodigies; and the ancient practice of two thousand years. The weakness of polytheism was, in some measure, excused by the moderation of its claims; and the devotion of the Pagans was not incompatible with the most licentious scepticism. Instead of an indivisible and regular system, which occupies the whole extent of the believing mind, the mythology of the Greeks was composed of a thousand loose and flexible parts, and the servant of the gods was at liberty to define the degree and measure of his religious faith. The creed which Julian adopted for his own use was of the largest dimensions; and, by strange contradiction, he disdained the salutary yoke of the gospel, whilst he made a voluntary offering of his reason on the altars of Jupiter and Apollo. One of the orations of Julian is consecrated to the honor of Cybele, the mother of the gods, who required from her effeminate priests the bloody sacrifice, so rashly performed by the madness of the Phrygian boy. The pious emperor condescends to relate, without a blush, and without a smile, the voyage of the goddess from the shores of Pergamus to the mouth of the Tyber, and the stupendous miracle, which convinced the senate and people of Rome that the lump of clay, which their ambassadors had transported over the seas, was endowed with life, and sentiment, and divine power. For the truth of this prodigy he appeals to the public monuments of the city; and censures, with some acrimony, the sickly and affected taste of those men, who impertinently derided the sacred traditions of their ancestors.

But the devout philosopher, who sincerely embraced, and warmly encouraged, the superstition of the people, reserved for himself the privilege of a liberal interpretation; and silently withdrew from the foot of the altars into the sanctuary of the temple. The extravagance of the Grecian mythology proclaimed, with a clear and audible voice, that the pious inquirer, instead of being scandalized or satisfied with the literal sense, should diligently explore the occult wisdom, which had been disguised, by the prudence of antiquity, under the mask of folly and of fable. The philosophers of the Platonic school, Plotinus, Porphyry, and the divine Iamblichus, were admired as the most skilful masters of this allegorical science, which labored to soften and harmonize the deformed features of Paganism. Julian himself, who was directed in the mysterious pursuit by Ædesius, the venerable successor of Iamblichus, aspired to the possession of a treasure, which he esteemed, if we may credit his solemn asseverations, far above the empire of the world. It was indeed a treasure, which derived its value only from opinion; and every artist who flattered himself that he had extracted the precious ore from the surrounding dross, claimed an equal right of stamping the name and figure the most agreeable to his peculiar fancy. The fable of Atys and Cybele had been already explained by Porphyry; but his labors served only to animate the pious industry of Julian, who invented and published his own allegory of that ancient and mystic tale. This freedom of interpretation, which might gratify the pride of the Platonists, exposed the vanity of their art. Without a tedious detail, the modern reader could not form a just idea of the strange allusions, the forced etymologies, the solemn trifling, and the impenetrable obscurity of these sages, who professed to reveal the system of the universe. As the traditions of Pagan mythology were variously related, the sacred interpreters were at liberty to select the most convenient circumstances; and as they translated an arbitrary cipher, they could extract from any fable any sense which was adapted to their favorite system of religion and philosophy. 

The theological system of Julian appears to have contained the sublime and important principles of natural religion. The invariable order of the sun, moon, and stars, was hastily admitted by Julian, as a proof of their eternal duration; and their eternity was a sufficient evidence that they were the workmanship, not of an inferior deity, but of the Omnipotent King. In the system of Platonists, the visible was a type of the invisible world. The celestial bodies, as they were informed by a divine spirit, might be considered as the objects the most worthy of religious worship. The Sun, whose genial influence pervades and sustains the universe, justly claimed the adoration of mankind, as the bright representative of the Logos, the lively, the rational, the beneficent image of the intellectual Father.

In every age, the absence of genuine inspiration is supplied by the strong illusions of enthusiasm, and the mimic arts of imposture. If, in the time of Julian, these arts had been practised only by the pagan priests, for the support of an expiring cause, some indulgence might perhaps be allowed to the interest and habits of the sacerdotal character. But it may appear a subject of surprise and scandal, that the philosophers themselves should have contributed to abuse the superstitious credulity of mankind, and that the Grecian mysteries should have been supported by the magic or theurgy of the modern Platonists. They arrogantly pretended to control the order of nature, to explore the secrets of futurity, to command the service of the inferior dæmons, to enjoy the view and conversation of the superior gods, and by disengaging the soul from her material bands, to reunite that immortal particle with the Infinite and Divine Spirit.

Well I never: “… the occult wisdom, which had been disguised, by the prudence of antiquity, under the mask of folly and of fable”. Dear prudence. (All other emphasis in Gibbon’s original.)

When Zizek writes like this his sense and “wisdom” is easy to see. When he writes like this, it is harder to see because he makes so many statements against others … creating strawmen in the mouths of others, in order to disagree with them … but he is right on the topic of debate. This is rhetoric.

We are witnessing today [2006] the struggle for intellectual hegemony – for who will occupy the universal place of ‘public intellectual’ – between the postmodern-deconstructionist cultural studies and the popularizers of ‘hard’ sciences, that is, the proponents of the so-called ‘third culture’.

Prompted to read the latter by Chris Locke’s quote from it in a recent post comment.

Hadn’t really thought about it before but “hegemony” is the ultimate memplex. Domination by socio-political-cultural influence – the power of communication – rather than by either power of rational argument or physical force. Interesting, given that Dennett is one of those to whom Zizek appears to take exception. Sokal is cited as the point where rhetoric brought the foggie-froggie PoMos up against hard science.  He also appears to take exception to the whole John Brockman Edge / Third Culture venture explicitly (and presumably TED ?); so many of the popular science and culture media people whose work he cites are part of that “wave”. I say “appears” because with his rhetoric you can always tell what he’s talking about, but not always what he is trying to say.

One reason it is hard to be sure is that his reading of them seems caricatured and based on (strawmen based on) old writings – Fritjof Capra’s “Tao of Physics” for example. He writes like he’s the only person to have learned anything about wisdom in the last 30 years – the only person to have grown 30 years older and wiser. Don’t know where to start to react to what Zizek has wrong, because he mostly has the right topics – I’m guessing his mistaken view on the reductionist / determinist Dennett would be good place to start, since Dennett is neither, in the absence-of-human-free-will sense that Zizek implies. (I may be some time – I have another “wisdom” book review to write first.)

As for my debate with Chris, well yes there is a great deal of cynical hypocritical merchandise trading on that 30/40 year old fashionable fascination with the eastern, mystical, holistic err … new age “crap”. But being “hyper-critical” calling it crap is missing the point. It only looks like a fashionable wave, but people have always peddled crap, 90% of everything is (always has been) crap.

Saw Eagles of Death Metal at Oslo Rockefeller on Monday evening.

Jesse Hughes and the boys sure have fun engaging with their audience, and a little more at the after show party and no doubt after that too. No Josh Homme touring, but Joey Castillo pounding the skins along with Dave Catching on lead and Brian O’Connor on bass – the latter vaguely familiar (must check). Theatrical and entertaining for a full 90 minute set. What rock’n’roll was invented for.

(Supporting were Black Box Revelation … unusual, just drums and guitar format, from Belgium … seriously loud but basic blues rock.)