Is the elderly scientist correct? Roy Sorenson on Arthur C Clarke

Following on from yesterday’s post, here is the answer from Roy Sorenson’s Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities:

“The elderly scientist is certainly correct. The reason is that any assertion of an impossibility is equivalent to a statement of possibility. ‘It is impossible that p’ is equivalent to ‘It is possible that it is impossible that p’: ~ p ↔ ~ p. So Clarke would have to assign a low probability to the impossibility statement and a high probability to the possibility statement. It would be impossible for Clarke’s two probability assignments to be both correct.

Proof of the biconditional: ~ p ↔ ~ p. The left-to-right direction, ~ p → ~ p, follows from the principle that whatever is actual is possible.

The right-to-left side, ~ p → ~ p, follows from the principle that whatever is possible is necessarily possible: p → p. (This is the characteristic formula of the popular modal system S5.) The contrapositive of this formula is ~ p → ~ p To say something is not necessary, ~ , is equivalent to saying it is possibly not the case, ~. So the contrapositive can be rewritten as ~ p → ~ p.

Conjoining the two conditionals establishes the equivalence ~ p ↔ ~ p.

(from “A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities: A Collection of Puzzles, Oddities, Riddles and Dilemmas” by Roy Sorensen)

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“A leader for whom silence was a virtue” Sudhir Hazareesingh on Charles De Gaulle

It seems a bit of a truism to describe Charles de Gaulle as an extraordinary figure, but truisms are no less true for being true. It is hard to know which episode of his political career was most compelling; his sheer bloody-mindedness in rising from relative obscurity and defying the contempt of his soi-disant allies to become the incarnation of Free France, or his approach to the Algerian Crisis. And it is often forgotten that the biggest demonstration in Paris of May 1968 was in support of de Gaulle.

 

As this TLS review by Sudhir Hazareesingh of a new biography of  De Gaulle  states, his reputation has only grown until he is now “celebrated by the entire French political class”:

During his remarkable political career, he twice rescued his country from disaster: first through his bold leadership of the Resistance after France’s defeat by the Nazis in 1940, and later by his skilful handling of the crisis provoked by the Algerian war of national liberation. As the founder of the Fifth Republic in 1958, he redesigned France’s political system along presidential lines, and his shadow has loomed heavily over all his successors (on his official photograph, Emmanuel Macron’s most prominent talisman is an open copy of de Gaulle’s War Memoirs). Once reviled by liberals and progressives for his authoritarianism, and by the extreme Right for his anti-fascism and anti-colonialism, de Gaulle is now celebrated by the entire French political class. Indeed, le grand Charles has become the nation’s most revered historical figure, with thousands of streets, schools and public squares across France bearing his name. His vision of Frenchness has reshaped his compatriots’ sense of their collective self, and of their country’s rightful place in the world. To understand de Gaulle, in sum, is to appreciate what it means to be French, both intellectually and emotionally.

The most interesting part of this review is the next paragraph. It is hard to know how “a leader for whom silence was a virtue” would get on in the age of Twitter. Although perhaps it would be a highly effective approach to the babble of our time:

However, any attempt to reconstruct the Gaullian mindset is fraught with challenges, as Julian Jackson recognizes in this wonderfully poised, erudite and captivating work. This was a leader for whom silence was a virtue, and impenetrability a defining quality. He tended to keep his innermost thoughts to himself, and often made conflicting observations to members of his entourage – simply to gauge their reactions. He was an inveterate producer of myths, framing grand idealized narratives that distorted the French past, while systematically exaggerating his role and belittling that of his rivals and adversaries (many wartime documents of his Free French movement, and even his own collected speeches and notes, were later doctored). Moreover, as Jackson notes, de Gaulle was riddled with “extraordinary contradictions”. He veered between buoyant optimism and crippling melancholy, calcu­lating rationalism and ethereal mysticism, selfless abnegation and narcissistic egotism, shameless opportunism and obdurate inflex­ibility (fittingly, his surname was derived from the Flemish word for “wall”). To this list might be added his greatest paradox: he loved France, but was contemptuous of the French – a characteristic example of the Gallic intellectual preference for idealized abstraction over empirical reality.

A resting blessing from the Carmina Gadelica

From Alexander Carmichael’s collection of the Scottish oral tradition Carmina Gadelica , a resting blessing

 

AN ainm an Tighearn Iosa,
Agus Spiorad ìocshlain aigh,
An ainm Athar Israil,
Sinim sios gu tamh.

Ma tha musal na dusal,
Na run air bith dhomh ’n dan,
Dhia fuasgail orm is cuartaich orm,
Is fuadaich uam mo namh.

An ainm Athar priseil,
Is Spiorad iocshlain aigh,
An ainm Tighearn Iosa,
Sinim sios gu tamh.
*         *         *         *
Dhia, cobhair mi is cuartaich mi,
O ’n uair ’s gu uair mo bhais.

 

IN name of the Lord Jesus,
And of the Spirit of healing balm,
In name of the Father of Israel,
I lay me down to rest.

If there be evil threat or quirk,
Or covert act intent on me,
God free me and encompass me,
And drive from me mine enemy.

In name of the Father precious,
And of the Spirit of healing balm,
In name of the Lord Jesus,
I lay me down to rest.
*         *         *         *
God, help me and encompass me,
From this hour till the hour of my death.

“Cocks exist for the hen, but hens exist for the cock” – is there such thing as self – parody? with Bernard Richards, Max Beerbohm, Algernon Swinburne, Henry Reed – and Tennyson, Eliot and Kipling

This letter from Bernard Richards in the 29th June TLS caught my eye:

Sir, – Francis Hope spoke in his reprinted review of Nabokov’s Ada (From the Archives, June 22) of authors writing “self-parody”, including Henry James in The Golden Bowl. One quite often encounters this accusation, but in my view it is not sufficiently subtle or accurate. Writers who produce parodies have the intention of mocking their victims, by exposing their benighted attitudes or quirky stylistic techniques. Surely when late James, for instance, was producing his strange and distinctive style he was not doing so with the intention of mocking and exposing himself. What he was actually doing was pushing the boundaries of his originality and distinctiveness further and further, building on and utilizing features which had been developing for decades. He was, in effect, writing self-pastiche not self-parody. There is a distinct difference between late James and Beerbohm’s brilliant parody of him in A Christmas Garland, if only in intention. One might be tempted to think that a good deal of Tennyson is self-parody, but it can’t hold a candle to the real thing: Swinburne’s “The Higher Pantheism in a Nutshell”. Ditto T. S. Eliot, but nothing could be as good as Henry Reed’s “Chard Whitlow”.

Self-parody is fairly rare, if only because most authors take themselves seriously, and have not been able to stand back sufficiently from their own styles and preoccupations to see them for what they are. A rare case of genuine self-parody is Swinburne’s “Nephelidia”, which does indeed mock the Swinburnean. It is said that Kipling’s “Municipal” is self-parody. One hopes it is, because it is pretty bad otherwise.

BERNARD RICHARDS Brasenose College, Oxford.

Being an owner of John Gross’ Oxford Book of Parodies and a former owner of Simon Brett’s Faber Book of Parodies, I am familiar with “A Christmas Garland”  and here is a link to “The Mote In the Middle Distance”, the parody of James in the volume. The echo of James’ rococo style is evident from the first sentence:

It was with the sense of a, for him, very memorable something that he peered now into the immediate future, and tried, not without compunction, to take that period up where he had, prospectively, left it.

“The Higher Pantheism in a Nutshell” was a little harder to track down. It is one of Swinburne’s Hepetalogia, “Or The Seven Against Sense”,  of which digital copies can be found here. As Richards mentions, there is a Swinburne auto-parody, as well as parodies of other contemporaries:

THE HIGHER PANTHEISM IN A NUTSHELL

One, who is not, we see: but one, whom we see not, is:

Surely this is not that: but that is assuredly this.

What, and wherefore, and whence? for under is over and under:

If thunder could be without lightning, lightning could be without thunder.

Doubt is faith in the main: but faith, on the whole, is doubt:

We cannot believe by proof: but could we believe without?

Why, and whither, and how? for barley and rye are not clover:

Neither are straight lines curves: yet over is under and over.

Two and two may be four: but four and four are not eight:

Fate and God may be twain: but God is the same thing as fate.

Ask a man what he thinks, and get from a man what he feels:

God, once caught in the fact, shows you a fair pair of heels.

Body and spirit are twins: God only knows which is which:

The soul squats down in the flesh, like a tinker drunk in a ditch.

More is the whole than a part: but half is more than the whole:

Clearly, the soul is the body: but is not the body the soul?

One and two are not one: but one and nothing is two:

Truth can hardly be false, if falsehood cannot be true.

Once the mastodon was: pterodactyls were common as cocks:

Then the mammoth was God: now is He a prize ox.

Parallels all things are: yet many of these are askew:

You are certainly I: but certainly I am not you.

Springs the rock from the plain, shoots the stream from the rock:

Cocks exist for the hen: but hens exist for the cock.

God, whom we see not, is: and God, who is not, we see:

Fiddle, we know, is diddle: and diddle, we take it, is dee.

Eliot himself loved Henry Reed’s parody, “Chard Whitlow”:

Most parodies of one’s own work strike one as very poor. In fact, one is apt to think one could parody oneself much better. (As a matter of fact, some critics have said that I have done so.) But there is one which deserves the success it has had, Henry Reed’s Chard Whitlow.

 

Here it is:

Chard Whitlow
(Mr. Eliot’s Sunday Evening Postscript)
As we get older we do not get any younger.

Seasons return, and today I am fifty-five,

And this time last year I was fifty-four.

And this time next year I shall be sixty-two.

And I cannot say I should like (to speak for myself)

To see my time over again—if you can call it time:

Fidgeting uneasily under a draughty stair,

Or counting sleepless nights in the crowded tube.

There are certain precautions—though none of them very reliable—

Against the blast from heaven, vento di venti,

And the frigid burnings of purgatory will not be touched

By any emollient.

I think you will find this put,

Better than I could ever hope to express it,

In the words of Kharma: “It is, we believe,

Idle to hope that the simple stirrup-pump

Will extinguish hell.”

Oh, listeners,

And you especially who have turned off the wireless,

And sit in Stoke or Basingstoke listening appreciatively to the silence,

(Which is also the silence of hell) pray, not for your sinks, but your souls.

And pray for me also under the draughty stair.

As we get older we do not get any younger.

And pray for Kharma under the holy mountain.

 

Richards expresses a hope that Kipling’s Municipal was an effort at self-poetry; otherwise it is merely very bad. I would have held myself familiar with much of Kipling’s poetry, but not this one. All I can say is that I concur with Bernard Richards – at best it is a rather laboured effort in the mock-heroic vein:

Why is my District death-rate low?”
Said Binks of Hezabad.
“Well, drains, and sewage-outfalls are
“My own peculiar fad.
“I learnt a lesson once, It ran
“Thus,” quoth that most veracious man: —

 

It was an August evening and, in snowy garments clad,
I paid a round of visits in the lines of Hezabad;
When, presently, my Waler saw, and did not like at all,
A Commissariat elephant careering down the Mall.

I couldn’t see he driver, and across my mind it rushed
That that Commissariat elephant had suddenly gone musth.
I didn’t care to meet him, and I couldn’t well get down,
So I let the Waler have it, and we headed for the town.

The buggy was a new one and, praise Dykes, it stood the strain,
Till he Waler jumped a bullock just above the City Drain;
And the next that I remember was a hurricane of squeals,
And the creature making toothpicks of my five-foot patent wheels.

He seemed to want the owner, so I fled, distraught with fear,
To the Main Drain sewage-outfall while he snorted in my ear —
Reached the four-foot drain-head safely and, in darkness and despair,
Felt the brute’s proboscis fingering my terror-stiffened hair.

Heard it trumpet on my shoulder — tried to crawl a little higher —
Found the Main Drain sewage outfall blocked, some eight feet up, with mire;
And, for twenty reeking minutes, Sir, my very marrow froze,
While the trunk was feeling blindly for a purchase on my toes!

It missed me by a fraction, but my hair was turning grey
Before they called the drivers up and dragged the brute away.
Then I sought the City Elders, and my words were very plain.
They flushed that four-foot drain-head and — it never choked again!

You may hold with surface-drainage, and the sun-for-garbage cure,
Till you’ve been a periwinkle shrinking coyly up a sewer.
I believe in well-flushed culverts. . . .
This is why the death-rate’s small;
And, if you don’t believe me, get shikarred yourself. That’s all.

“But to simply withdraw does not provide the way forward, for we then take our hurt or tired self with us”

From ” “Dare to Journey–with Henri Nouwen (Designed for Influence)” by Charles Ringma”

We need to resist making unhelpful distinctions where we play off one thing against another. Prayer, for example, is not opposed to work; and the search for solitude is not opposed to active involvement in our world. These seeming opposites belong together. Prayer leads to work, and work needs to be done prayerfully. Similarly, solitude is not simply a withdrawal from the world in order to be renewed and refreshed. It is also finding a new center of inner quietness and certitude from which we act in the midst of a busy and demanding world.
Nouwen expresses the seeming paradox in this way: “The movement from loneliness to solitude is not a movement of growing withdrawal, but is instead it movement toward a deeper engagement in the burning issues of our time. This seeming contradiction finds its resolution in the fact that we can lose ourselves in our much-doing but cannot find ourselves simply through withdrawal.
In our much-doing we lose perspective, lose our energy, and more importantly, lose our creativity and sense of humor. We thus begin to carry the world on our shoulders and soon become overwhelmed or disillusioned. But to simply withdraw does not provide the way forward, for we then take our hurt or tired self with us. Rather, the movement to solitude is to find a renewed self, and from the center of being loved and nourished we can again enter our world with purposeful engagement and joyful detachment.

”the most sane fringe phenomena.”

The current New Yorker features a piece by Brooke Jarvis on the maybe-extinct, maybe-not Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine.

About fifteen years ago I had a cryptozoological phase, with occasional relapses. However, I can rarely get past the minimum viable population problem. Jarvis’ article is a witty and rather wise piece. The Tasmanian tiger’s continued existence is not that unlikely, and Jarvis cites the many examples of Lazarus species:

Tiger enthusiasts are quick to bring up Lazarus species—animals that were considered lost but then found—which in Australia include the mountain pygmy possum (known from fossils dating from the Pleistocene and long thought to be extinct, it was found in a ski lodge in 1966); the Adelaide pygmy blue-tongue skink (rediscovered in a snake’s stomach in 1992); and the bridled nailtail wallaby, which was resurrected in 1973, after a fence-builder read about its extinction in a magazine article and told researchers that he knew where some lived. In 2013, a photographer captured seventeen seconds of footage of the night parrot, whose continued existence had been rumored but unproven for almost a century. Sean Dooley, the editor of the magazine BirdLife, called the rediscovery “the bird-watching equivalent of finding Elvis flipping burgers in an outback roadhouse.” The parrots have since been found from one side of the continent to the other. Is it more foolish to chase what may be a figment, or to assume that our planet has no secrets left?

But there is also something to be said for the impatience expressed by Anna Povey here:

But some people erupted in frustration at the mention of the tiger. “We killed them off a hundred years ago and now, belatedly, we’re proud of the thylacine!” Anna Povey, who works in land conservation, nearly shouted. She wanted to know why the government fetishizes the tiger’s image when other animals, such as the eastern quoll—cute, fluffy, definitely alive, and definitely endangered—could still make use of the attention. I couldn’t help thinking of all the purported thylacine videos that are dismissed as “just” a quoll. “It does piss us off!” Povey said. “It’s about time to appreciate the things we have, Australia, my God! We still treat this place as if it was the time of the thylacines—as if it was a frontier and we can carry on taking over.”

Bob Brown, former leader of the Australian Greens, expands on this;

In the nineteen-seventies, Bob Brown, later a leader of the Australian Greens, a political party, spent two years as a member of a thylacine search team. He told me that although he’d like to think the fascination with thylacines is motivated by remorse and a desire for restitution, people’s guilt doesn’t seem to be reflected in the policies that they actually support. Logging and mining are major industries in Tasmania, and land clearing is rampant; even the forest where Naarding saw his tiger is gone. Throughout Australia, the dire extinction rate is expected to worsen. It is a problem of the human psyche, Brown said, that we seem to get interested in animals only as they slide toward oblivion

.
The whole thing is worth reading – it is a classic of a kind of New Yorker piece; erudite, witty, slightly detached but unexpectedly moving.

The wisdom of silence

Adam de Ville has a particularly good post on Eastern Christian Books on Terry Eagleton’s book on sacrifice. This is an especially rich post covering a range of topics… but I will only quote a brief excerpt which echoed with this post inspired by a phrase of George Steiner’s from “The Portage to San Cristobal of A H”:

In addition to his work on Marx, Eagleton has also read Freud (and Lacan, inter alia) very perceptively, which most people today seem incapable of doing. This allows him to say–without, alas, developing it to the extent I wished–that the silence of the Father faced with His Son on the Cross “may be compared to the silence of the psychoanalyst who refuses the role of Big Other or transcendental guarantor” (41). (One thing it took me a long time on the couch to realize was that such silence was not neglect or lack of interest on the part of the remarkable woman who was my analyst. It was, rather, the very condition of freedom, and a very necessary reminder that the responsibility for the authorship of our lives must not mindlessly be handed over to others, tempting though that often is for many of us–cf. both Fromm and Winnicott on this point–as well as Adam Phillips.)