Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Salvation

Because Herman Wouk was going to put physicists in a novel, Richard Feynman advised him to learn calculus: “It’s the language God talks.” I think I know what Feynman meant. Calculus is the means by which we express the laws of the physical universe. This is the universe that, according to the mythology, God brought into existence with such commands as, “Let there be light.” Calculus has allowed us to refine those words of creation from the Biblical account. Credited as a discover of calculus, as well as of physical laws, Isaac Newton was given an epitaph (ultimately not used) by Alexander Pope:

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.

I don’t know, but maybe Steven Strogatz quotes Pope’s words in his 2019 book, Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe. This is where I found out about Wouk’s visit with Feynman. I saw the book recently (Saturday, February 22, 2020) in Pandora Kitabevi here in Istanbul. I looked in the book for a certain topic that was of interest to me, but did not find it; then I found a serious misunderstanding.

book cover: Steven Strogatz, Infinite Powers Continue reading

On Causation

Causation seems commonly to be understood as a physical concept, like being a fossil. The paleontologist seeks the one right answer to the question of when a particular dinosaur bone became part of the fossil record; likewise readers of international news seem to think there is one right answer to the question of whether Donald Trump or Ali Khamenei caused the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on January 8, 2020.

There is not one right answer. If you are Trump, you caused 176 civilian deaths by attacking the Iranians and provoking their response. If you are Mitch McConnell, you caused the deaths by inhibiting the removal of Trump from office. If you are Khamenei, you did it by meeting Trump’s fire with fire.

Being a cause does not mean you deserve condemnation or praise: that is another matter.

Causation is relative. This is an observation by R. G. Collingwood in An Essay on Metaphysics (1940). Continue reading

On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book IX

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

Note added May 5, 2019. This may be the post I return to the most, of those on the books of the Iliad so far (through Book XIV). I begin with Chapman’s four-line “Argument,” but his two-line “Other Argument” for now serves better:

Iota sings the Ambassie,
And great Achilles sterne replie.

The stern reply is that Achilles will not fight, and his mind will not be changed by material gifts. Agamemnon has violated the “general laws of virtue,” according to lines 610–9, in the modernized spelling of the Wordsworth Classics edition (2003):

He answer’d: ‘Noble Telamon, prince of our soldiers here,
Out of they heart I know thou speak’st, and as thou hold’st me dear:
But still as often as I think how rudely I was us’d
And like a stranger, for all rites fit for our good refus’d,
My heart doth swell against the man that durst be so profane
To violate his sacred place; not for my private bane,
But since wrack’d virtue’s general laws he shameless did infringe,
For whose sake I will loose the reines, and give mine anger swinge,
Without my wisdom’s least impeach. He is a fool, and base,
That pities vice-plagu’d minds, when pain, not love of right, gives place …’

Achilles defends not only virtue, but his own right to disrespect somebody who lacks virtue. This is not really part of the “blow for civilization” that I shall attribute to Achilles, except insofar as it results in inaction rather than action.

The moral investigations are specific to Chapman, who makes ten lines out of Homer’s six (643–8), even while passing over most of the first of these:

τὸν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς:
“Αἶαν διογενὲς Τελαμώνιε κοίρανε λαῶν
πάντά τί μοι κατὰ θυμὸν ἐείσαο μυθήσασθαι:
ἀλλά μοι οἰδάνεται κραδίη χόλῳ ὁππότε κείνων
μνήσομαι ὥς μ᾽ ἀσύφηλον ἐν Ἀργείοισιν ἔρεξεν
Ἀτρεΐδης ὡς εἴ τιν᾽ ἀτίμητον μετανάστην.”

In Murray’s literal prose, some words of which I rearrange to make lines corresponding to Homer’s:

Then in answer to him spake Achilles, swift of foot:
“Aias, sprung from Zeus, thou son of Telamon, captain of the host,
all this thou seemest to speak almost after mine own mind;
by my heart swelleth with wrath whenso of this
I think, how hath wrought indignity upon me amid the Argives
the son of Atreus, as though I were some alien that had no rights.”

A twofold reason why I return now to Book IX and this post:

  1. The book’s words such as Julian Jaynes cites, to argue that Agamemnon and Achilles are not conscious.
  2. The post’s mention of the Finnish movie Upswing, which offers a counterargument.

In Book XIX, Agamemnon will attribute to Zeus the taking of Briseis from Achilles. For Jaynes (on pages 72–3 of Origin), “this was no particular fiction of Agamemnon’s to evade responsibility.” That seems right, but not the conclusion that Agamemnon “did not have any ego whatever.” In our terms, Agamemnon’s abnegation is an accepting of responsibility for an ego that caused the Greeks to suffer. Responsibility is shown by self-humiliation.


Book IX of the Iliad is easily summarized. Chapman does it in four lines.

TO Agamemnon (vrging hopelesse flight)
Stand Diomed, and Nestor opposite:
By Nestors counsell, Legats are dismist,
To Thetis sonne, who still denies t’assist.

These lines hide a wealth of thought. To suggest some of the gems of the book, I expand the summary.

Dog and seaweed on shore opposite Lesbos, 2017.09.14

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35th Istanbul Film Festival, 2016, part 3

Part 1 | Part 2

Between the composing of parts 1 and 2 of this account came the death of Prince, whose work had inspired Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It. Between the composing of parts 2 and 3 came the release of the four Turkish peace activists, whose imprisonment had given poignancy to The Demons and The Music of Strangers. There is a certain absurdity associated with each event.

Photo of book, Shakyamuni Buddha

Nikkyô Niwano, Shakyamuni Buddha: A Narrative Biography
(Tokyo: Kôsei Publishing Co., 1980; fifth printing, 1989)

On the cover, a modern copy by Ryûsen Miyahara,
owned by Risshô Kôsei-kai, of
“The Nirvana of the Buddha,”
painted in 1086 and owned by temple Kongôbu-ji,
Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

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Facts (NL IX, ‘Retrospect,’ first 6 paragraphs)

Index to this series

A certain person says,

I am not better than you or more virtuous than you. If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God.

How should one hear these words: as an eminently reasonable expression of benevolent humility such as any of us might honorably make? Well, no matter how qualified, the command obey me might be a warning sign. The words are in fact from a recently published video, as quoted in the Guardian Weekly (Vol 190 No 5, 11–17 July 2014, p. 4). The speaker is the man whose nom de guerre is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, on whose head the Department of State of the United States of America placed a ten-million-dollar bounty in 2011. He now styles himself Ibrahim, Caliph of the Islamic State, a new entity that is supposed to restore the lost Muslim glory of past centuries. This restoration is to be achieved through war. War requires military discipline, with punishments meted out for infractions like insubordination, not to mention the slaughter of those perceived as enemies. So al-Baghdadi’s request to be advised and halted if seen to be in the wrong must be interpreted rather carefully.

It is difficult to know how to interpret somebody’s words. With that I pass to the transitional chapter in the first part, “Man,” of Collingwood’s New Leviathan.

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NL II: “The Relation Between Body and Mind”

Index to this series

I continue making notes on The New Leviathan of R. G. Collingwood (1889–1943). Now my main concern is with the second chapter, “The Relation Between Body and Mind”; but I shall range widely, as I did for the first chapter.

Preliminaries

Some writers begin with an outline, which they proceed to fill out with words. At least, they do this if they do what they are taught in school, according to Robert Pirsig:

He showed how the aspect of Quality called unity, the hanging-togetherness of a story, could be improved with a technique called an outline. The authority of an argument could be jacked up with a technique called footnotes, which gives authoritative reference. Outlines and footnotes are standard things taught in all freshman composition classes, but now as devices for improving Quality they had a purpose.

That is from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, chapter 17.

Does anybody strictly follow the textbook method of writing? Continue reading