A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, February 26, 2016

In Psearch of Psyche: Let's Get Moving!

Psyche, in psearch of you
It seems like last year since we last added to this series. Wait! That's because it was last year! Time flies when the holidays come upon one all unexpected like on little cat's feet. Yes, that's right. It's the next inpstallment of that pscintillating pseries, In Psearch of Psyche!  "Let's Get Moving!" in two senses of the word: viz., time to get this series going again and... You guessed it! ...consider the motion of the animal psyche.

For those coming late to the party, or for whom the New Year's revelry and/or Groundhog's Day has blotted out the previous chapters, a brief recap is in order: 
  1. "To Deepen into Art..."
    The series began with a brief reflection on a comment made by Thomas Disch shortly before his tragic suicide that to "deepen his fiction into art," he would have to return to Catholicism, which he was unwilling to do.
  2. In Psearch of Psyche: Some Groundwork
    We discussed the notion of potency and act, and their respective principles of matter and form. Psyche, or "soul" is a form, and we began with the simplest case: that of the form of inanimate beings, like sodium atoms. While souls are much more complex than these inanimate forms, some groundwork can be laid by considering the latter as ur-souls. We saw that inertia, understood as a tendency to preserve a body's current state, could be viewed as something analogous to life.
  3. In Psearch of Psyche: Man the Vegetable.
    The simplest psyche is the nutritive soul, whose cognition is purely digestive: it knows by consuming. (Or by reproduction: that's why Adam "knew" Eve.) This kind of psyche is the seat of the most primitive aspects of life: eating and reproducing, and it is likely no coincidence that we are afflicted with an "epidemic of obesity" at the same time we are afflicted with pelvic fixations. Although for some reason, no one talks of an "epidemic of loose sex" or gets the CDC involved in stemming its spread.
  4. In Psearch of Psyche: Day of the Triffids! 
    This was a short diversion to consider the borderland between the nutritive ("vegetable") soul and the sensitive ("animal") soul. The categories do not break clean, and it is possible for some "higher plants" to exhibit some of the properties of "lower animals."
  5. In Psearch of Psyche: Man the Animal
    The sensitive soul adds to the cognition of digestion the cognition of sensation. An animal knows not only by eating (and sexing) but also by perceiving. In this episode we explored the sensational aspects of stimulus-response -- the outer senses and the inner senses -- and we saw how the inner senses of perception, memory, and imagination endow animals with skills that at the higher end can mimic those of humans. Now it is time for the response part of the loop.
A key reminder: The soul is not some sort of free-floating substance that somehow occupies the same space as a body and somehow interacts with it. The "mind-body problem" is no more a problem than the "sphere-basketball problem." Because it is the substantial form of a potentially living body, the soul is the principle (starting point) of all the acts of the complete substance (the "synolon"). A suitable analogy can be seen in the inanimate form of an atom. What makes the element what-it-is and gives it its powers is the number and arrangement of its material parts. Sodium and chlorine differ in the number of their protons, electron, and neutrons, and it is this arrangement rather than the protons, electrons, and neutrons in themselves that make one a metal and the other a gas. IOW, reductionism is a mug's game. How the parts act as an ensemble is very different from how they act solo.

Souls on Parade

Let's look at this schematically. The following are based on models devised by William Wallace in his book The Modeling of Nature. These were once available on the web, but the site is gone, so TOF has reproduced them here in his own hand.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Platonic Idealism of Richard Dawkins

A while back James Chastek made an interesting observation about genes, as defined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene.

Lloyd Gerson objected to Dawkins’s selfish gene theory by noting that nothing – genes included – lives any longer by reproduction. It’s not as if anyone thinks that having kids will add years to your life. But Dawkins’s whole theory of the gene can be viewed as a response to this since he denies that genes are the chemical bits within the cells, or anything else that can live or die. While “gene” is more a placeholder for a unit of genetic information than an agreed upon structure, no physical structure is a gene but merely encodes them. Asking “where is a gene?” is like asking where the song Chopsticks is. There is probably sheet music for it somewhere, but we wouldn’t destroy the song by burning that page; there are particular performances of it, but the song doesn’t cease to exist when the performance does; and all this is just as true of my memories of the song or your ability to play it. Anything with a particular, concrete existence – whether in ink, air, neurons or soul – merely encodes the song.
 The gene, which generalizes to the meme, is exactly what Plato called form, and which has proven a concept that Western thought has found it extremely difficult to live without. Dawkins’s teaching on genes is just an instance of the Scholastic axiom that first actuality is for the sake of second, or that the structure of things is caused by something we want them to do.  We explain the structure and powers of a human being in exactly the same way we explain the parts of a can opener – we engineered it by starting with an action we wanted to happen. For Dawkins, this action is simply the continued existence of the gene by its continual encoding, and which makes it a unit of natural selection.
But does the gene pre-exist its encoding, or does it need the encoding to exist? The two are obviously incompatible, and the first renders the second superfluous. But we can solve the paradox easily if we recognize that the gene isn’t striving to avoid non existence, but to communicate the existence it has. In other words, it isn’t existence or survival that the gene is striving for but incarnation. The gene transcends material existence, but it did not view this transcendence as something to be grasped at.

Monday, February 22, 2016


Joseph Moore reminds us of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect:
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
-- Michael Crichton
Indeed, the only proper attitude for one reading various media -- including this blog -- may be "WTF?" TOF does make an effort to confine his comments to areas with which he has some familiarity or in which he has drawn from reputable sources, but even so.

Recently, the media wet its pants and announced that the pope had loosened up the prohibition on contraceptives. This is known as Wishful Thinking. As usual, they had missed the point completely. In Catholicism, inanimate objects are not considered haram or trayf after the fashion of pork. Sin (deficiency) does not reside in a piece of latex, but in the intentions of the person using it. Hence, the Pope's pronouncement that a condom can be used to prevent the spread of a disease is entirely a yawn-fest. Certainly, it may also prevent the spread of life, but if that is not one's intention, the deficiency must be less than if it is. Naturally, it would be better to abstain entirely, but as Aquinas noted, sometimes one must choose the lesser of two evils.

Hence, for example, it is better to rob a bank with an unloaded gun than with a loaded gun; although it is better not to rob the bank at all. But such complexities are lost in the Late Modern, morally-flat world, in which there are no gradations and every sin is either unforgivable (e.g., using the n-word) or not really a sin at all (e.g., fornication).

A second papal kerfuffle was the recent observation that Christianity was more into building bridges than building walls. Again, this is entirely unremarkable to anyone familiar with the admonition to love even our enemies, once given by a Dude who dined with publicans and sinners. (In the Late Modern world, this last would have been very much the lead "story" in the evening news.) But there are people who would much rather traduce the Son of Man than the Candidate for the Nomination.

Why does no one talk about Vera Coking? Or Kelo? It must be a kind of amnesia. (The latter link starts with a marvelous example of the mastery of the English language.)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Built Upon the Sands of Time

The Story Preview page has another old story posted. This is the Irish Pub story "Built Upon the Sands of Time." It was written at the turn of the century.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Upset in Iowa

Well, the Iowans caucused and upset the media.

Rubio? Who he? He was outside the media narrative, which so much wanted a coronation of Trump and Clinton, so that the general election could be properly framed as a clash of good and evil. (Take your pick of who is which.)

They were so caught up in their horse-race paradigm that they were obliged to declare that Cruz and Clinton had "won" Iowa. But this is not a general election and electoral college rules don't apply. Nobody "won" Iowa. They won delegates to their Party's convention.

"U.S. Senator Ted Cruz soundly defeated billionaire Donald Trump." How "soundly"? By 8 delegates to 7. Rubio also gets 7 delegates.

OTOH, the media reported that Clinton "had won by a razor-thin margin..." "prevailing by only four delegates." The current internet count has reduced that margin to one also: 22 to 21. Perhaps the Democrats demanded a recount.

In any case, it's interesting to see what constitutes "soundly defeated" versus "razor-thin margin."

It was also amusing to see Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina lumped by the Paradigm among "the Establishment candidates." Almost as amusing as finding a certified member of the One Percent posing as a champion of the little guy. As long as the Little Guy [or aged widow] doesn't own a house in Atlantic City that the Champion covets for a staging area for limousines. Then it's eminent domain, sucker.

And how can Saunders campaign for the nomination of the Democratic Party when he is not even a member of the Democratic Party? Trump at least became a Republican in 2012. Previously, he had been unaffiliated (2011-2012), Republican (2009-2011), Democrat (2001-2009), Independence Party (1999-2001), and Republican (1987-1999).

In the whole run-up, TOF never heard it mentioned that Iowa distributes its delegates proportionately and the only thing that would matter is how many delegates each candidate would secure. But it's much harder to hype a nearly equal splitting of delegates than it is to hype "winning" Iowa -- and whether one would possess "momentum."

What the whole circus has illustrated is the fatal flaw of democracy: viz., the involvement of people. This is the belief that if a bunch of individuals pool their ignorance they will achieve collective wisdom. Back when the Parties chose their candidates the old-fashioned way, they wound up nominating the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, Dick Nixon, and so on. Nomination via beauty contests and media buys gave us Carter, Dukakis, Obama, and two Bushes. The basic divide was between competency and the ability to get things done versus media savvy and the mastery of the sound-bite. There were dud the old way, sure, and Reagan managed to slip though the new way. (And heck, even Clinton I knew how to work across the aisle when he had to.) But TOF prefers a competent manager over a flamboyant celebrity any day.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Tatooine Cycle

Alerted by the wise man Brandon, The O Flainn has obtained a text of the Irish epic The Tragic Death of Cenn Obi and the Destruction of Da Thféider’s Hostel. This is part of the Tatooine Cycle. It begins thusly:
What was the reason for the Tragic Death of Cenn Obi and the Destruction of Da Thféider’s Hostel? Not difficult that.

There was once a great queen of Alt Da Rann and Leia was her name. War had sprung up between her people and those of Da Thféider. She sent messengers to ask for aid from the wildman, Cenn Obi. He lived in the wilderness far to the west. These were the messengers she sent: Síd Tríphe Óg, who knew all the languages of man and beast, and the dwarf, Artú.

The remainder can be found here, as all men know. In addition the footnotes to this epic relating what not all men know can be found here. For example:
(4) Finn, as the name for Luke, is just a calque. Luke comes from Greek leukos meaning ‘white’, Finn also means ‘white, bright’ in Irish. It also helps that Finn is the name of the hero of the Fenian Cycle, Finn mac Cumaill.

(7) The epithet Aenfer is taken from Art mac Conn. He was called Aenfer (literally 'one man') because in Echtra Chondla his brother, Connla, was taken away to the Otherworld. So he was left alone, or aenfer, or “solo”.