Monday, 18 July 2016

Is 'Christian Healing' a Contradiction in Terms?

The Sick Child, by Edvard Munch
Posted by István Király V.
At the heart of the Christian faith and thinking about human illness lies a contradiction. If illness is accepted as a punishment from God, then 'Christian healing' and 'Christian medicine' resists the will of God – alternatively, compromises one's faith in his purposes.
The idea of the divine origin of illnesses, and their perception as a divine punishment for the sins of human beings dates back much before Christianity. It was shared for instance by Hebrews and Mesopotamians. However, this was not a hindrance for them – as it was, and is, in Christianity – to relate to diseases not merely, and not primarily with supplication by prayers and hoping for miracles in the expectation of healing, but in an actively medical way, namely with their empirical observation, interpretation and explanation, and with an attitude aiming at their prevention and healing.

For Christian faith and thinking, human illnesses are primarily the results and consequences of original sin, as well as the 'blows' of its original punishment and other, also divine, punishments associated with it, such as 'historical' punishments beyond the expulsion from paradise.

Secondarily, however, from a Christian 'point of view', illnesses are the punishments of yet another kind of divine sin of personal concern, and as such, in fact external to man, unappealable, unexplainable, and actually unforeseeable, and, while purportedly determinate, not clearly identifiable. These 'blows' are not meant to smite the human race in general, but specifically individual people, and of course, are exclusively designated to make them accept divine punishment.

Consequently, if we give deeper thought to the matter, then it emerges as highly problematic whether the naturally human-medical efforts of healing can indeed be considered as human activities worthy of divine contentment and respect. They are carried out, namely, as confrontation with 'illnesses' which are identified with all sorts of divine punishments in 'correspondence' with divine orders and intentions. Or, on the contrary, they should be considered a threatening insight into ever newer, very much determined sin, connected to, and branching further from, the original sin – that is to say, knowledge.

Paradoxically, Western science, purportedly, and also actually 'devoid of ethics', is precisely a product of Christianity – since, if the knowledge of the distinctions between good and evil, true and false, beautiful and ugly is considered and treated exactly as the original sin of mankind, then cognition and systematic knowledge, constitutive and indispensable for human life, can only be cultivated with a 'bad consciousness', and mostly with the ignorance of this 'ethics'.

And thus medicine and medical doctors were prosecuted during the Christian Middle Ages with special theological and ecclesiastical concern (and also afterwards, in fact to this day compared even to other sciences and scholars). Because medicine – as a search for knowledge and knowledge – is not only a further immersion into the original sin, like any other historically articulated science, but, more than that – as healing! – it comes into a direct confrontation with that indefinable, yet 'concrete' divine decision and will which punishes that particular person (!) with that particular disease.

While, of course, the cases of healing sometimes occurring nevertheless could only be regarded in fact from a consistently Christian viewpoint as miracles of divine grace. It is therefore this grace and only its penitent reception that, from a 'Christian point of view', an ill person, as well as his / her caretaker, can actually strive, urge, and hope for.

So it is no wonder, historically speaking, that the medieval, and especially early medieval meaning of medico had so much shifted towards the meaning of curo – namely an indeed 'positive' and sui generis Christian attitude and obligation, the nursing and attendance of the weak, the poor, and the sick - that it no longer means in fact 'healing' in an (ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Hebrew, etc.) medical sense, but rather the caretaking of the sick and the suffering. Obviously, in the midst of a penitent supplication, and in the desperate hope of 'healing' as a miracle-like divine mercy.

The case is probably the same with Jesus, considered the son of God. Because, in a real and explicit medical sense – that is, in the sense of the medical conception, knowledge, and skills of his age, culture, and environment – he was not really a healer, but he only made all sorts of miracles connected (also) to illnesses.

This illustrates those deep ruptures which Christianity meant and represented in relation to – recte: against and opposed to – e.g. ancient Greek and Roman traditions, where truth was always tried to be knowingly and continuously thought and kept together with good and beautiful, as the noblest human modes of being. 

Strictly considering the relation of Christianity to illness – which actually seriously and decisively influenced two millennia – we must ultimately make it clear that, since illness, according to Christianity, is considered in its origin, source, nature, and purpose one of the main types of divine punishment for human sins, the liberation from these sins – recte, healing itself, or the recovery obtained in its historically articulated efforts – cannot actually and really be considered a blessed task of human, let us say, medical involvement (that is to say, one articulated in the sense of actual, all-time therapy, carried out with knowledge and skills).

Instead, it can only be perceived as a result and consequence of the 'workings' of divine grace, achieved by purportedly always exceptional, pious miracles. Consequently, the expression 'Christian medicine' in the sense of healing or therapy – because it is separated from God's purposes – is none other in fact than a mere contradictio in terminis, an absurdity.

'Yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord
but to the physicians.' II Chronicles 16:12.

Király V. István is an Associate Professor in the Hungarian Department of Philosophy of the Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania. This post is an extract selected by the Editors, and slightly adjusted for Pi, from his bilingual Hungarian-English Philosophy of Human Illness, which focuses on specific human reporting. Free downloads are available at Illness a Possibility of the Living Being or Illness a Possibility of the Living Being.

Monday, 11 July 2016

How Shall We Re-establish Ethics in Our Time?

Posted by Thomas Scarborough
We have nothing to show today, writes Simon Blackburn, for ethical foundations. At the beginning of the 21st century, we are ethically adrift. Not reason, not religion, not intuition now seem adequate for grounding our behaviour.
Not only does this present us with a philosophical problem. On a social level, we are conflicted and disorientated with multiple ethics, while on a global level, our ethics increasingly seem to have come apart – with deepening poverty, social disintegration, and environmental destruction being the order of the day.

Philosophically, it was David Hume who first observed that we cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is'. We cannot, on the basis of a handful of facts, derive any values. Gradually, over the following centuries, this idea took hold – until, with Ludwig Wittgenstein, it achieved a wide acceptance. 'Whereof one cannot speak,' he wrote, 'thereof one must be silent.' He was referring, most importantly, to ethics.

How, then, shall we re-establish ethics in our time?

Many, today, would consider the very question to be foolish. Yet given two simple conceptual prerequisites, I propose that we may indeed re-establish ethics, philosophically:
• Prerequisite 1. The fact-value distinction would have to be set aside. This, I believe, should be possible by ridding ourselves of facts – and with facts, of things (facts are, after all, about things). This may not be as difficult as it seems.

• Prerequisite 2. We would need to reduce our world to relations, and only relations – without the existence of facts or things. Ethics – together with all other fields of inquiry – may then be defined in terms of relations, and relations alone.
With regard to the fact-value distinction then, it is important that we first understand that this rests on Hume's notion that all knowledge is subdivided into relations of ideas on the one hand, and matters of fact (and things) on the other. On closer examination, however, we find that this view cannot be sustained.

It was Francis Bacon who observed that the definitions of words have definitions. Similarly, we know that the features of words have features. Words, I have myself proposed, represent 'relations within relations'. Given that this is true, there can be no self-contained 'things'. Rather, our words (and thoughts) reach into an infinity of relations, and we speak about 'things' only by way of a truncated shorthand.

If, then, there are no self-contained 'things' in this world, and if our words (and thoughts) reach into infinity, then this must mean that we cannot speak truly about our world on the assumption that it is a closed system, in which we begin with axioms, origins, or specific reference points. This flies in the face of what we have before us. Rather, we need to step back from all systems, to view our world as an infinite canvas of relations.

I propose that we shall find, when we do this, that relations as a whole possess certain features – call them meta-features – many of which may only be recognised from a bird's eye view.

These features hold the promise of new ethical foundations:
• Feature 1. As we survey the infinite canvas of relations, we realise that some of the relations which we trace in this world do not in fact exist – and those relations which do not exist cannot form the basis of an acceptable ethics. Falsehood and deceit are, at bottom, attempts to trace non-existent relations.

• Feature 2. Since relations represent an infinite canvas – and any containment of relations detracts from this – the relations which we trace should range through all the world. The more we limit the scope of the relations which we trace, and the more we view things in isolation, the more we are at risk of fault or shipwreck, in any field.

• Feature 3. Since the relations which we trace should range through all the world, our ability to trace relations should not be obstructed or manipulated. This means that secrecy, propaganda, and misrepresentations are ruled out. Above all, an ethics of relations would favour an open society, since openness is a prerequisite for arranging our world.

• Feature 4. Relations are infinite, yet our minds are finite. Since our minds are capable only of encompassing limited regions of relations, this means that there will inevitably be relations which lie beyond our power to explain – and beyond our control. We need therefore to be acutely aware of our limitations of thought. There is no place for hubris.

• Feature 5. Infinite control is required to conquer infinite relations. Therefore our limitations may create within us powerful totalising urges. In view of our limitations therefore – which preclude any final ability to master our world – any ethics should avoid such totalising tendencies.

• Feature 6. When we elevate any given values above others in an infinity of relations, our (justified) fear that such values are empty and illusory grows. This may lead to a dysfunctional ethics, which drives us to fundamentalism – where fundamentalism is resistance to the fear of finding one's foundations to be exposed as baseless.

• Feature 7. We need to consider that we live in a world where new relations are continually emerging, which did not exist before, and in many cases were unimaginable just so many years ago. This means that ethics does not and cannot stand still.
Finally, when we view our world as an infinite canvas of relations, and only relations – having banished both 'facts' and 'things' – we may now define fact as those relations which are as we think they ought to be, and value as those relations which are as we think they ought not to be. In both cases, then – in all cases – we speak, at bottom, of 'ought'.

With careful consideration, we come to see that all of the natural and the human sciences, and all of our common life, represent value, not fact. Thus we escape the albatross of the fact-value distinction, and bring back ethics into the fold of philosophy.

For a deeper exploration of these themes, one may refer to the author's Metaphysical Notes.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Picture Post No. 14: On Otherness and Logic

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Tessa den Uyl and Martin Cohen
Photo credit Max Perissi .  Florence, Italy 1994

How can a woman in a semitransparent dress, passing on the streets of Florence, pass by unnoticed? Or should we question why a woman in a semitransparent dress is challenging? The above picture - inspired by Ruth Orkin’s 1951 photograph,  ‘American girl in Italy’, reworks the underlying issues of female freedom and independency.

Being foremost independent and possibly attractive stresses female power over men and the ability to challenge patriarchal behavior. The woman ‘out objects’ herself in claiming her ‘subjective freedom’. She, like He, plays this game in the face of gender difference, molding both men and women into objects. 

Challenging the other gender, even as we are controlled by a vision of being sexual bodies, is hitchhiking on a road where ‘the obvious will always be the driver, in a country of good reasons’, even when the road might be deceptive.

Less obvious is the question of whether we have distorted intimacy into something we can rationally justify? 

Have we made a confused exchange between the inescapable faults ascribed to the virtues of the male and female body and the awareness that intimacy informs all the conceptual relationships of Life?

Intimacy unties borders in which the other is disqualified - in a moral way. That this disqualification is unfounded might perplex us, but it will not make us doubt.

When intimacy is appropriated into a web of the already related, the lurking suspicion is that once we have sexualised the body, will we also not  find that we have destroyed intimacy?

Read on: More ways in which images  are not always quite what they seem are explored in the post immediately below, by Keith Tidman.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

People, Photographs, and Reality

A Deconstruction of Picture Post 13 - ‘The Worshippers’

Posted by Keith Tidman
Ludwig Wittgenstein succinctly observed in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, “The picture is a model of reality.” But was it ever that; and is it still that?
Photos can be bland, or they can powerfully evoke. Pi’s Picture Post 13: ‘The Worshippers’ fell into the latter category—powerful, hauntingly moving. The photograph spotlights supporters of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump—what the posted text referred to as an ‘admiring throng’. The subjects in the photograph took on the persona not just as common supporters wanting to hear the regurgitation of policy positions, but potentially 'fans' celebrating celebrity. Or so it seemed.

At first blush, the supporters’ enthusiasm appeared almost over the top—perhaps why the text accompanying the Picture Post referred, in the opening words, to a ‘cartoonish air’ about the image. Those two words spoke volumes. The supporters really do appear absorbed in the presence of a celebrity-turned-presidential candidate. Yet photography captures reality only by means of analogy; and it always has a point of view—at some point, even at the (unintended) risk of transitioning to theatre. Meanwhile, what, and whose, reality political photographs capture often remains uncertain, even opaque. Made all the more challenging by how inspiration and aspiration—both the photographer’s and viewer’s—might affect the experience. An observation reinforced by the essayist Anais Nin, who poignantly noted, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Even under the best of circumstances and with the best of intentions, photographs can sometimes prove unreal—and arguably, in the eyes of some, possibly unfair. They’re frozen moments in time and space, captured by one individual who's under intense pressure to quickly decide what’s important, and when. Given the fluidity of what happens in reality at any moment of, say, a public campaign appearance, eyeballs focused on what’s occurring may well be drawn by what's different, by what might set a photograph apart from the many others. In other cases, what gets captured boils down to simple serendipity. These are among the diverse possible circumstances in which photojournalists with serious, honest intent, including the creator of PP 13's image, perform their craft. Yet, as Marshall McLuhan noted, there’s a governing dynamic at play here, a reciprocity between photographer and camera that shapes outcomes: “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”

Whether it matters if political photographs are not so subtly edited, as some circulating around the Internet are, depends on circumstances. Hence there’s the question as to what reality do photographs reveal and, largely unintentionally, conceal. In photojournalism, the standard is fairly strict—though perhaps disputable. The public expects that the photograph has not been edited, beyond such acceptable techniques as cropping. And it is expected that there has been a good-faith effort to preserve content integrity. People view such images with a degree of automaticity, whereby trust suspends critical judgment. Expectations are that the image is as ‘true’ as possible to what was going on. But photographers are human. Also, the risk in photojournalism is that some interested third party surreptitiously, but brazenly, ‘hijacks’ and manipulates an image of an unsuspecting photographer, to advance a political or social agenda. Pictures, after all, can stir up emotions as much as words can.

Accordingly, photographic imagery has obviously been used, historically, for political and social purposes—whether to amplify or as a sleight of hand. Even for outright ‘propaganda’—both the malign kind and the benign kind. Photography is a powerful medium, subject to far-ranging purposes and broad interpretation—hence a rich source for shaping the message. And in turn for shaping history. There’s a distinctly nontrivial element of trust—especially given that some viewers might accept image content prima facie. This is true, even though the sense of reality that people take away from looking at photographs can be skewed, notably by any ambiguity as to an image’s intent—not different in that sense than other media. So what was going on with PP 13, as best we can tell? And is there evidence, on the Internet, that people have digitally doctored this original photograph to create permutations for their own (political?) purposes, to make events appear other than they were when the photograph at PP13 was snapped?

Indeed, one must tread warily in the morass of online political imagery. Online searches can locate other versions of the photograph that appear to have been manipulated, and not always deftly. By some person, or some group, over the course of the photo’s Internet lifespan. The result of apparent distortion sometimes therefore taxes people’s ability to connect with the image, as something may not seem quite right. The Pi text characterized the supporters’ reactions in PP 13 as ‘zany’—the manipulated versions of the photograph found online are made, in some cases, to appear all the more so. Did the perpetrators doctor these photos to advance a political agenda? Did they wish to mock, disparage, or even demonize others of a different political persuasion? Was it just a prank? Or were there other motivations? This is just one area in which political photographs need to be decoded.

Online there’s a panoply of other photographs purportedly manipulated, resulting in distracting memes. Whether all the photographs are indeed manipulated, or some are not and have simply been swept up in the hurly-burly of the Internet, is germane, of course. Yet it’s clear from these myriad images, whether edited or not, that there is an intimacy between image and viewer. Or, as Vilém Flusser observed in Towards a Philosophy of Photography, it’s evident “there is a general desire to be endlessly remembered and endlessly repeatable.” At the same time, people bring all sorts of predispositions (ideological, political, personal, experiential) to interpreting photographs. Internet searches serve as a trove of when and how some photographs are morphed into something other than the original. This morphing, mixed with viewers' potentially complex predispositions, can muddy the experience of viewing the photograph all the more.

The idea that a picture is a ‘model of reality’, which Wittgenstein claimed, has to be critically parsed to be even remotely true in the modern era, when a picture’s digits can be handily manipulated, subtly or clumsily, by just about anyone, often to enormously dramatic effect. This ability to manipulate images is not only ubiquitous—rearing its head in every corner, with its results shared virally around the Internet—it challenges the very premise of photo ‘realism’. Both reputable photographers and the public alike become unwitting victims, whose caution about photos’ provenance—and the supposed window on the world of ‘realism’ they offer—becomes rich fodder for dissection.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Misconstruction of Construction

Posted by Christian Sötemann
More than one philosophical theory has been suggested as a way to construe the world primarily as a construction accomplished by human mental faculties – rather than as mere passive depiction of the objective state of the world. 
Such approaches (most overtly in what is called ‘constructivism’) suggest that what we seem to perceive as characteristics of the external world are essentially the results of a hidden process of internal construction. It seems to me that there are at least two possible misunderstandings of this particular mindset: firstly, that the mental construction process occurred out of thin air, and secondly, that in a constructed world, there are no criteria to distinguish fact from fiction.

To maintain that there can be only mental construction and nothing else would seem to imply human beings construct the experienced world from scratch. However, this quickly turns out to be a far from unassailable view. For a start, it appears to be impossible to construct a world of experience out of nothing at all. A putative building block devoid of any characteristics, of any potential or impact whatsoever is an empty conception and cannot lead to the emergence of something that exhibits certain qualities.

Elements of construction that are nothing are no elements of construction. If you combine nothing with nothing you will still end up with nothing.

There has to be something that can be processed and modified, some material that is used for the construction process; though this is not sufficient evidence for the existence of matter itself, which cannot automatically be extrapolated from the necessity of the existence of some sort of material for the process of mental construction.

What is more is that the process of construction is something in itself. An event has to occur in some way so that construction can take place. The something that provides the material for construction and the something that induces the construction process cannot emerge out of that very process they are supposed to enable in the first place. Therefore it is – by way of a placeholder – ‘a something’ that must be considered beyond construction.

Similarly, it always seems to be necessary to add ‘a somebody’ - some sort of person or centre of mental activity - to accomplish the construction, since without such a carrier, there could not be any cohesive mental process. If single acts of mental construction occurred incoherently here and there, it would merely mean occasional mental flickering and not have the connectedness that an experienced world evidently has, with its continuity in space and time. This does, on the other hand, not necessarily suggest the notion of a corporeal human being as carrier of mental construction: even our perceived body might dogmatically be regarded as a construct of experience and cognition itself.

Moving over to the second possible misunderstanding, just because the experienced world can be conceived as largely a result of construction processes of the mind, it does not mean that there were no difference between mere opinion and well-researched facts and were I to claim that I was able to construct the world in any way I want it to be would be to run the risk of self-delusion.

So what do constructivist authors (such as the American professor Ernst von Glasersfeld) suggest as means of differentiation instead? Put bluntly: some things work, others do not. I experience obstacles that point out to me that certain attempts to construct and construe a reality do not work. Consider these simple examples from the world of concrete objects, like that evergreen case of the table, beloved for philosophers from Plato to Bertrand Russell: 

Imagine a person from a culture that does not utilise tables at all. Exposed to a table standing in a garden, this person might conclude that this unknown object is a device to provide shelter from the rain. Is this viable? It surely is: I can sit down under the table in case of rain and hence be kept from getting wet. This may not be the original intention of our table-utilising culture, but it can be done that way. What cannot be done, for instance, is that I regard the table standing in the garden as some projected image that I can simply walk through if so inclined. I experience that this does not work. I will find that the table standing there hinders me from just walking through it.

Similarly, a plate could be used as a paperweight, a shield, or a percussive instrument, but not a beverage or a pen: I cannot make it a liquid for me to drink or have it emit ink. So, from a mindset that emphasises the aspect of mental construction, several alternatives are found to be viable – even if possibly inconvenient and not the best of alternatives – but others are not viable at all. There is a limit to the alternative usages and interpretations available. I may not be able to know the outside world beyond my experience, but in that very experience I can find out what this outside world allows me not to do. This acknowledgement of obstacles necessarily means that I have to relinquish the idea of living in a world I can equip in any way I want to.

There are plenty of utterly legitimate criticisms concerning philosophical stances emphasising construction (and not only constructivism itself), but the more useful step is to undertake a clarification of some of the typical misunderstandings. This can transform disagreement resting on disbelief and gut feelings into informed criticism.

Christian H. Sötemann has degrees in psychology and philosophy, and works in psychological counselling and as a lecturer in Berlin, Germany. He can be contacted via:

Monday, 20 June 2016

Poetry: A Deal Struck Between Poetry and Applause

 A poem by Chengde Chen 

A Deal Struck Between Poetry and Applause

(But not just about poetry)

I do not understand the poem the poet has recited.
But it is applauded, so it must be me being stupid.
So I consult others, on my left and right.
Surprisingly, they shake their heads, as well.
I ask them why they had applauded.
They say that it was just being polite.

So I ask the poet, quietly, to explain its meaning.
He tells me, quietly too, what it is about.
The meaning is rather simple, nothing much.
I say, ‘If so, shouldn’t it be made easier to follow?’
He says, ‘I know, mate, but you know,
if it was easy, would it be poetry?’

Gosh, the resonant deal between poetry and applause
is, in fact, a tacit collaboration between two frauds.
First, the poet tricks the audience through obscurity –
making a simple thing a mystery that sounds deep.
Then, the audience fools the poet with pretence –
as if having reached the depth that doesn’t exist.

As obscure poetry generates dishonest applause,
dishonest applause makes poetry more obscure.
I wish I could ask everyone who had applauded
to explain his or her every clap on the spot.
If there had been no such pretence of orgasm,
how long could the act of love-making last?

However, not to make myself an enemy of the world,
I’d better beat this poetic business psychologically first.
That is to regard this hypocritical applause
as a tribute to me for my not applauding –
as an apology for my loneliness,
as salutation to my honesty.

Chengde Chen is the author of Five Themes of Today: philosophical poems. Readers can find out more about Chengde and his poems here

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Unelected Super-Rich Showing Brits to the Exit

Posted by Martin Cohen
On the 23rd of June 2016, the UK votes on whether or not to 'leave' the European Union and regain full control over its own affairs instead. At least, that's how the argument is put by those in favour of the move. 
For humdrum workers in industries that actually import or export products or materials to the EU, it only means higher tariffs and complicated paperwork. For bosses it means increased costs and uncertainty – and reduced investment. But for one group, it does indeed promise a splendid new dawn of 'freedom'. This group is the super-rich, and they work in financial services in the City of London.

For them the battle lines with the EU were drawn after the crash of 2007/8 which so nearly collapsed the entire Western banking system. The response, apart from pouring billions of taxpayer dollars, euros and yes, British pounds into the pockets of the injured speculators, was increased regulation.

And so the dirty secret, as I see it, of Brexit is the financial services industry jockeying for 'lighter touch' regulation. But this issue has not been given prominence - instead we have talk about conventional business, trade flows, workers rights and currency rates. A constant complaint has been that EU laws are made by people who are unelected – which is simply not true. The real levers of power in the EU remain firmly in the hands of the national governments. But no one is interested in how the EU really works, they just want to stop the 'migrants'.

The UK is obsessed with keeping out migrants. Indeed, waves of Somalis, Afghans, Iraqis and now Syrians are rather alarming – and certainly include a whole host of issues about conflicting social values. But what people mean by this is fellow Europeans. People who are better educated that the average Brit, and far more cultured, all they want to do is work hard and be useful members of the community. But many British resent or even hate them in just the same irrational way as uneducated whites hate people of colour. Because they're 'different'. This is why the British are such poor members of the Union, and if they vote themselves out of it in June, it will be this kind of nationalism that will have won it for 'Leave'.

But giving 'the great unwashed' – the lower classes – this power is not usually done. Indeed the UK is primarily voting in a rare referendum because for decades leading the (ruling) Conservative party has been impossible without assuaging the demands of a noisy Europhile group. Even now, if the UK Parliament had an unencumbered vote, they would not hesitate but to continue working within the EU. In this way, the unelected bosses of the hedge funds and spread-betting firms who have been backing the 'Leave' campaign  are driving the British where they want.

These are people like Richard Tice, co-chair of Leave; Crispin Odey, Peter Cruddas, a former Conservative Party Treasurer; Stuart Wheeler of IG; Michael Hintze, Conservative donor; not to entirely forget Edi Truell, Brexiter and again a major Conservative donor.

For these city speculators – 'value trashers', in City jargon – the possibility of the pound plummeting, of share prices collapsing, of market and political dislocations with dire and unpredictable consequences – all represent big opportunities and easy money.

Market disruption is excellent news for them, and so will any longer-term  post-Br exit dislocation.

And so, to sum up, the 'real story', as I see it, of Brexit is the worst elements of the financial services industry jockeying for 'lighter touch' regulation. It's the poachers tricking the rabbits into letting them be the gamekeepers.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Picture Post No. 13 The Worshippers

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Tessa den Uyl and Martin Cohen

Agency image from the 2016 US Presidential Primaries campaign. These fans can’t quite believe they're standing near THE Donald Trump
There’s a cartoonish air to this image, amusing and entertaining underlying something grotesque, fake and appalling, thus appealing? The (Italian) cartone, a sheet of paper, offers us a blank space to start to represent a scene. America is the land of the comic book, and of Disney.

Take the central woman who seems almost a caricature of an excited fan. Her face expresses the meeting with the unexpected. The facial expression of the boy on the left is equally intense, almost orgiastic. The woman on the right seems to unfold her ladylikeness by touching her hair and the woman behind her seems embraced by unexpected joy. Similarly ingredients for cartoon characters are mixed on paper. Perhaps this is why the picture is funny at first sight; we are recognising our own emotions in caricatures. Laughter disguises pain.

Looking up to people, (admiration) is a very human, very old phenomenom. So it touches belief, right? The belief not so much in people but in a better and in a worse universe. An age-old human trait that seems as strong as ever, and yet a bit strange in the 21st century…And so, yes, first there is this zany, ‘funny cartoon’ impression but behind the facial masks, what is hidden?

Images should make us think, like rain is the memory of plants. The scene of the enthusiastic crowd, the 'admiring throng', is an old visual stand-by. But the belief is not so much in individual people as in the existence of a better universe, populated by imaginary characters.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Deconstructing Boris

By Martin Cohen 
'Deconstruction,' wrote Jacques Derrida, 'is justice.' Yet deconstruction's effectiveness has been questioned as a political tool. Often it has been accused of political quietism. No clear political consequences may be drawn, it is said, from an interpretive theory that claims that all meanings are unstable. Chomsky condemned Derrida as 'plain gibberish'.
But watch, as we apply some deconstruction to a topical issue in the context of British politics. There's plenty of gibberish emerging, and that fact reflects not a fault in the deconstructionist technique but rather that a great deal of political language is, as deconstructionists might say, 'at variance with itself '. Put another way, there are contradicitons and exposing contradictions is the proper task of both politics and philosophy.

Now to the case in point. 

Earlier this month (May 2016) Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson stepped down as Mayor of London – his eyes apparently firmly set on becoming the next Prime Minster of England. As leading light of the British campaign to 'free itself' from the European Superstate, his fate depends now on public pereceptions of his good character and honesty. And a central element of his political platform – his explicit policy – is to speak out determinedly against political leeches – famously referring to those who have 'their little jaws wrapped blissfully around the giant polymammous udder of the state'. It is a comment which may come to follow him around for some time to come.

Now, in terms of deconstruction, what one does is to examine Johnson's stated policy for any signs of oppositions which may be at variance with it or work against it. Happily – though not for Johnson – we do not need to look far. Johnson himself has not been above appointing cronies to publicly funded positions as special advisors.

There are, on the one hand, the unpaid advisors who come from the ranks of the great and the good. Then there are the paid ones, the media moles, the political cronies … and the City financiers lining their own nests. They are paid, despite seeming often to have few special duties or responsibilities other than to make up a kind of political court for Boris Johnson.

Some examples already in the public eye:

• Political

Ian Clement, conservative apparatchik (government and external relations, £124,364) who was forced to quit over the misuse of a corporate credit card, and for claiming back expenses for a business dinner with the Tory leader of Barnet council Mike Freer, which appears not to have taken place. Just days after his boss, Boris Johnson, publicly stood by him.

Richard Barnes, (Deputy mayor for communities, salary £92,594)
Conservative London assembly member for Ealing and Hillingdon and previously leader of Hillingdon borough council.

• Media

Guto Harri, The former BBC political correspondent (£124,364).

Anthony Browne, Policy director (£124,364), former Observer and Times journalist, director of the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange,

Andrew Gilligan, senior reporter for the Daily Telegraph, and his cycling advisor whose meagre workload in 2015 included 'Lunch with Chief Reporter Telegraph re Mayor's cycle vision' … for which he claimed back £80. His modest special advisor salary of £50k (pro rata, but in addition to his Telegraph one) notwithstanding.

But above all it is the City connections that are most alarming. And here the sums of public money flowing towards private wallets run into the millions and multimillions.

• City Chums

After his victory, partly based on protecting the City of London from EU regulation, he appointed one of the City donors to his election campaign, Edmund Lazarus, to a £14,000-a-year spot on the board of the London Development Agency.

With so many dodgy appointments, attention has hardly been focused on one unpaid advisor: Edi Truell, a multimillionaire city financier who the Mayor appointed as his unpaid special advisor for pensions. However, Edi Truell is perhaps the most dangerous appointment of them all.

At his confirmation hearing in London, it emerged that he was being confirmed without providing a CV. 'We asked about a CV and we were advised by the Mayor’s office that his letter recommending appointment gave a summary of what he felt were the qualities of the candidate.'

Nor, worryingly, did he provide the committee with a list of possible conflicts of interests. Apart from the one about selling insurance to pension funds, and the strange project to sell 'sustainable renewable' energy to the UK via a fantastically long cable from hot springs in Iceland.

It all gets rather too complicated. The details are in the public domain for those who should wish to unravel them and I've written a bit more here. But the long and the short of it is that Truell would seem to have his  little jaws wrapped blissfully around the giant polymammous udder of the state. At the city financier's confirmation hearing to become Boris's pensions guru, it emerged that in at least one case – pensions management – he stood to make millions of pounds from his new role. This money however, Truell reassured the committee, was pledged already to charity.

To return to the beginning. Has some simple deconstruction proved its political punch? Surely yes. Whatever we thought of Johnson, we cannot think the same after the application of the technique. In fact we would do well to apply it in every political arena. One may easily take politics at face value – just as one may take Boris at face value – digging no deeper than his vivid objections to political leeches, and in the next few weeks his loud and apparently passionate denunciations of the European Superstate as the home of elitism and the enemy of democracy.

Whatever Derrida may have meant by the term,  deconstruction, in such cases, is an essential political tool.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Revisiting Scientific Revolutions  Incandescent Collection
Posted by Thomas Scarborough 
Thomas Kuhn was wrong.  He failed to understand the dynamics of scientific revolutions. Far from such revolutions occurring through an accumulation of evidence – until, so to speak, the dam bursts – they fail to occur until such time as scientific constraints have been weakened – namely, the scientific method.  I shall explain.
In recent generations, we have witnessed a rising awareness of an inter-connected world, and cosmos. One of the results of modern science in particular is the perception that 'everything is related to everything else'.  Yet paradoxically, even at the same time, we find that science requires the very opposite of openness to the totality of things, to survive and to thrive. For science to advance, there is the need for scientific control on the one hand, and a strictly normed language on the other. In the words of Wilhelm Kamlah and Paul Lorenzen, science must 'screen things out'. This applies to all four phases of the scientific method: characterisations, hypotheses, predictions, and experiments.

There is something equally true about science which we typically do not much pay nearly as much attention to. If the scientific method should exert any influence on those potential influences which it excludes, then scientific control is compromised. For instance, if in seeking to establish how much energy is required to convert a kilogram of ice into steam, I find that I am warming the laboratory at the same time, then the procedure is fundamentally flawed. Energy is being lost. We therefore require what I shall call a 'double isolation' in science. Not only does science screen things out, but it needs to screen itself out from its environment.

This 'double isolation' has led historically to two major problems:

Firstly science, having screened itself out from the world, ultimately needs to 're-enter' the world. After the final, experimental stage of the scientific method, with the artificial conditions of the laboratory removed, science begins again to have an effect on the world. Yet little thought is given to what happens at this point. Science, when it re-enters the world, typically goes beyond anything that was formally taken into account in the scientific method. The disasters which have here occurred have led various thinkers to suppose that science is responsible for the ruination of our world. Stephen Hawking puts it simply: science may score an own goal.

Secondly, the isolation of science from the world has resulted in confusion as to how science really advances. The orthodox view is that science advances by and large through an inductive process: by making broad generalisations from specific observations. Yet consider that those specific observations have already followed the procedure of 'screening things out'. That is, such science has already minimised the effects of variables. It has excluded a great many possible relations in order to trace the relations which it does. There is a limit, therefore, to what can be achieved with previous scientific observations, as far as the tracing of relations is concerned.

Not only this. Experience tells us that scientific conjectures are not adequately explained by an inductive method. Here is an example from my own experience, dating from 2004. In that year I came up with a new principle for metal detecting, called coil coupled operation (CCO).  I was already familiar with the transformer coupled oscillator. This is governed by theory which, even in its full complexity, has little or no interest in outside influences on the oscillator. Now consider that such outside influences could include coins beneath the soil, which may change the frequency of the oscillator. In order to turn this into a metal detector, my mind needed to leap outside of the theory, to discover a principle which rested precisely on those influences which the present theory excluded.

Science, therefore, would seem to require not only the inductive method, but something far larger – namely intuition. Albert Einstein wrote, 'Knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.' This has important implications for the scientific method. The inductive method should be taught only as one possible means of doing science – and probably not the best way. Rather, the emphasis should be on a more frenetic and imaginative thinking. This is borne out, among other things, by the fact that many scientists of note were inter-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary in their pursuits – among them Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albert Einstein.

On the other hand, science should take account not only of the individual mechanisms which are isolated in controlled experiments. It should deliberately keep track of those mechanisms which are excluded from such control. These may potentially be infinite – yet it is crucial that there be an attempt to list them. No experiment is truly complete until this has been done, and no experimenter has been truly responsible without it. Inconsistently, today, some of our scientific pursuits are systematically regulated and supervised after the final, experimental stage of the scientific method – most notably in the areas of food and drugs – while vast areas remain ill-considered. The scientific method, far from being closed after four stages, should be an open-ended process.

This is intimately connected with the philosophy of scientific revolutions. In the process of 'screening things out', scientists' thinking is constrained. Yet a paradigm shift requires an eye for the wider canvas of relations. Therefore science, through the very scientific method, works to prevent paradigm shifts. However, as a science advances, the need for scientists to 'screen things out' becomes weaker. The work of scientific control has been done, and the ability to think creatively becomes stronger. Rather than paradigm shifts occurring through an accumulation of evidence, they occur where the scientific method is weakened – like a housewife, perhaps, who after kneading her bread, looks up to see the sun rise.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Death and History

Posted by Király István
Death lays the foundations of human history. However, this is only one aspect of death.

Death does not only illuminate the historically articulated human life, so to speak 'externally' — or more precisely, from its end, from an indefinite and aleatory, 'retrospective' point of view, as a foreign and external element — but it continuously interweaves, and what is more, grounds it in its most essential aspects.

To such an extent that history probably exists precisely because there is mortal human life — which is to say, a mortal human being who relates by his life to death, to his being-like-death and mortality — also in a being-like way, and mode of being-like. In other words because there is such a life to which death — its own death — in all respects lends weight, challenge, pressure — grip! — over itself and for itself, and by this a continuous and unavoidable possibility to undertake.

So, the non-human, non-Dasein*-like life which is 'finite', and as such is always born, disappears, passes away, comes into being, extinguishes, changes and evolves ... well, this life actually does not, and cannot have a history — just as the 'inorganic' regions of being have no history in fact, only in a metaphoric sense. Which of course does not mean that this life is not in motion, in change — that it is unrelated with time, or does not 'possess' time with all the processes and 'events', necessary or incidental — in the sense of their happening and references. These of course are also in touch with human history as challenges, meanings and possibilities — which is, when and if there is a questionable meaning or a question referring to meaning. So they have a story, but do not have a history — to the extent that this story of beings devoid of history only becomes — or only can become! — a history of being by history.

In accordance with this reasoning, history exists in fact because there is human death, because there are beings who relate to death — explicitly or implicitly — in and with their being, in and with their mode of being, in a being-like way — for whom death, their own death is not a mere givenness, but — by the way they relate to it — is, in fact, a possibility.

Moreover, it is a possibility which, by its own 'substantive' happening, is dying — precisely by its dying but always beyond it. It is a possibility which derives — and constitutes and structures, articulates, permeates, colours — all of their other modes and possibilities of being. In other words, it opens them up really and truly, structures them open in — and precisely because of — its finitude. And by this, it also lends to these possibilities a well-defined importance, open towards, and from, this finitude, which also leads in fact to the articulation of these modes of being.

If the various modes and regions of human existence — as well as their birth and changes in time — can prove that their very existence, meaning and change is utterly unthinkable and 'absurd' without death, or that death plays a direct or indirect role in their coming into being or changes, then it is also proved that death grounds, originates, and constitutes history in the … essential, ontological sense.

*Dasein is a German word which literally means 'being there' or 'presence'.

Király V. István is an Associate Professor in the Hungarian Department of Philosophy of the Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania. This post is an extract selected by the Editors, and slightly adjusted for the purposes of the blog,  from his new book, Death and History.

Monday, 9 May 2016

What Is This Thing Called Beauty?

Posted by Keith Tidman
What is this thing called beauty? Our reflexive first thoughts might turn to people creating paintings, sculptures, dance choreographies, songs, novellas, and the like. Without the imposition of rules that prescribe how beauty should be observed and experienced, and that box it in by formalities and what is ‘correct’, this is the most simple, descriptive account that many of us might give.
More liberal reflection, however, eclipses our first thoughts, to arrive at a far broader, more nuanced description of our perception of beauty. Our aesthetic experiences might encompass images of galaxies and supernovas, deft turns of phrase, powerful metaphors, elegant equations, breakthrough technologies, humour, love, fantasies, theatre, and cultural rituals. Urban and rural landscapes, athletics, architecture, physical pleasure, animals and plants, calligraphy, oceans, and chemical formulas. Food presentation and taste, music, unbroken silence, geometry, alone time, learning, engineered structures, social engagement, serendipitous discovery, and the birthing of new life. Texture, colours, lines, beam of light, laughter, computer code, altruism, photography, imagination – and so much more.

We may turn to more specific examples. Beauty in the eye of the beholder, and rules-free, has included Einstein’s iconic equation e=mc2, the neuronal/synaptic activity of the brain, the three-dimensional structure of C6H12, the human genome, and the problem-solving of the Tianhe-2 supercomputer. Poignant lines from Shakespeare, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Mozart’s Missa da Requiem, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The aurora borealis, a breaching orca and its calf, Istanbul’s skyline at night, and the Lascaux cave paintings. Melt-in-the-mouth chocolate truffles, Provence in spring, Hohenzollern castle, the Grand Canyon catching sunlight, the vision of alternative world futures, the rich nuances of Indian and African languages – and more.

Since these represent descriptions of our experience of beauty, some will be commonly shared – in some cases globally – while others will be appreciated only through individuals’ cognitive lenses, or through culture’s interventionist hand. Yet others are regarded as examples of beauty by ‘insiders’, who are in one way or another habituated to them through educational training, life experiences, or other uniquely personal circumstances. Yet all these experiences are equally legitimate as descriptions of our perception of beauty – none ascends above the others.

What is it, then, that unites these myriad conceptions of beauty? We may now turn our look inward as it were, to our own personhood – which is epitomised by intelligent consciousness. The aesthetic content of beauty as we have described it rests on the individual: not only on the stimuli being experienced, but influenced by the medium between the source and ourselves, by our senses, and by our human cognition. And while it is yet little understood, our consciousness is key to the experience of aesthetics – although these ‘things’ exist independently, their beauty transitions from what is potential to what is real only by being observed and experienced. Through neuroscience – which is informed by physics, biology, and philosophy – consciousness is bound to play an ever-increasing role in our understanding of the cognitive processes associated with our experiences of beauty.

Meanwhile, ‘personhood’ must be folded, however imperfectly, into the explanation of aesthetic experience. Personhood is definable by a multiplicity of factors – the following being just a few among many: our awareness of our existence, our functionality both apart from and as part of a societal network, our accumulation of experiences from which to learn, our vision of alternative futures for which to strive – in fact, a menagerie of cognitive abilities, such as creative, innovative, imaginative, linguistic, computational, logical, and analytical skills. A religious or secular-humanistic framework for personal experience. As well as emotions, sensory messages that reflect our environment, unbridled and insatiable curiosity, awareness of the arrow of time, abstract questioning of meaning and purpose, intuition, and a sense of destiny.

And so we circle back to the beginning – now being able to correlate descriptions of our perception of beauty with our cognitive apparatus. An appreciation of the ‘elegance’ and precision of mathematics is required – in fact, of the universe – to see the beauty in e=mc2. An appreciation of early people’s linking of art and what they valued for survival is needed, to see the beauty of the Lascaux cave art. An appreciation of how music triggers the release of emotions and flights of imagination is required, to hear the soaring beauty of Mozart’s Missa da Requiem. An understanding of humankind’s magnificent complexity, with all its implications for leapfrogging natural evolution is needed, to see the beauty of the human genome – and so forth.

Everything, then, that ‘personhood’ entails feeds into and gives shape to what we consider sources of aesthetic experience – and how, precisely, we respond to those sources. And it is the magnificent breadth of what constitutes our personhood – encapsulated (in part) by the qualities described – which allows for, and makes sense of, the equally magnificent breadth of all that falls under the rubric of descriptive aesthetics.
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