More Enchantment in a Good World?

Our World can often seem a special place. In recent posts we have been exploring this Sensation and Judgement (See posts: The Strange Sensation and An Enchanted World). In this post let me present another outstanding case; for really, everyday and every moment is itself a bedazzlement of consciousness.

Let me quickly interject, this efflorescence (to use William Blake’s word) of the world around us is Not always a pleasant thing. I seek to avoid the status of “Pollyanna.” Often the world is lit in tragedy and pain but even then, it is our world, our Quality-Filled panoramic creation. As several philosophers and psychologists have testified, as much as the Natural Scientific Description of the world holds, Our Practical Vision and Belief in the world will be at least Something More or Other Than that hard science description.

(John Singer Sargent’s Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood (1885). Here we have the world reaching an enchantment at the Third Level: One, Nature as Monet’s wife and the wood; Two, Monet representing it; Three, Sargent representing that act of Monet’s representation!
Reality at the third level of Enchantment or Reflection. Representations are circling about and influencing each other. Each is an act of selection among Reality’s infinite options.)

Philosopher and theorist extraordinaire, Dan Dennett has championed what has become known as “Illusionism.” The theory that Evolution has created and sanctioned for us a highly oversimplified, but efficient, take on the world. Let’s face it, our Common Sense approach to the world ‘chunks’ microscopic things in very peculiar and interesting ways— like persons, animate things, macroscopic functioning solids (like carbon and washing machines), liquids (like Chardonnay and water), gases (like oxygen and ‘air’). This way of seeing Phenomena has not done too badly. We have science, democratic rights and values, art and The Ohio State Buckeye football team. Granted, that characterization of Common Sense is selective; Common Sense is also full of bull shit, like belief in gods, ghosts, most Republican Party politics, and sasquatch. Common Sense, though, is also always under the process of revision.

A famous photo of a supposed female Big Foot. Thanks to the Gimlin film.
Donald Trump as the MAGA leader for America. Just another Big Foot!

The goal, here at naturereligionconnection, is to update and rationalize Common Sense. This will involve a demystification of many concepts, such as free will, value, quality, reason, personhood and nature. We must “save the phenomena;” which is the world and ourselves in the way they seem to us, but we must revise our thinking about these SEEMINGS in the most reasonable way. Much of that has already occurred throughout History.

Another Cool Example of Enchantment: more Bird Song, but now with Stravinsky

The Nightingale, who plays the opening role in a morning’s bird-song in Europe and other parts of the world, sings in a manner inspirational to the early Modernest Classical Composer, the Russian, Igor Stravinsky. Here is his Song of The Nightingale.

(This performance lasts over 21 minutes, do not feel obliged to listen to the bulk of it, but it is a worthy piece. Interestingly, this video shows the Musical Notation, the score itself. A Bird’s Song transformed into Human Musical Sound but also into our Written Representation of musical sound.)

(These sounds can also be displayed on an Oscilloscope which changes sound into electrical signals and then displays their pattern graphically. We, humans and other Conscious Creatures, are capable of recognizing, modifying, using and creating Patterns in Nature that are significant to us. We really work Nature over. It’s An Enchantment! Afterall, the story you tell about yourself is who you are, in many ways. It, too, is a Pattern constantly maintained and developed.)

Our Latest Songster: The Nightingale

(More melodic than the Lark, but not nearly the profusion of sound and effort. The Nightingale is known and named for its habit of song starting before The Break of Dawn. It is the first bird to sing each morning in its European, African and Asian habitats. But can it be worthy of Stravinsky or he it? You be the judge, but I can hear the resemblance!)

Bird Song

Do birds enjoy singing? Do birds appreciate the melody of their particular song? Is “song” a good thing? Similarly, do dolphins enjoy swimming? Do dog pups like to wrestle? Does“Play” and “Art” exist to non-human animals? In many ways we would say “Yes, it seems so,” and we would have good grounds for saying that. Afterall, we enjoy singing and melody; we often like to swim and dive, wrestle and frolic. We have the insight to “see” these feelings and activities develop in the creatures of the Tree of Living Things. They seem to grow from some incipient stage to more explicit and full-blown forms. These qualities are a Reflection of ourselves; “They are nature singing our song,” says psychologist Nick Humphrey (see post, A Strange Sensation).

Presentation, presentation! Architecture, landscape, and Interior Design in the nest creation of the male South Pacific Bowerbird.

But how does nature sing our song? Nature starts simply and often with other motives. In biology, it is generally acknowledged that Bird Song starts for very venal reasons. Birds want to attract mates and establish territories. Bird calls do much the same, but they may also warn of danger as with the Blue Jay. These are very Functional motivations. They are not about an enjoyment of the song for the sake of the song itself. Yet as one famous biologist put it, “Nothing transcends itself like nature.” The ‘enjoyment’ of song, for the sake of song itself, is pioneered in birds and maybe realized in humans. We may also add that the enjoyment of color may start in insects, but is more fully realized in the human visual arts.

(Bees have a greater ability to see ultraviolet light but no photoreceptors to allow them to see red. A curious tradeoff.)

In Chapter 3 of Dan Dennett’s book (Breaking the Spell, 2006) on the scientific explanation of Human Religious Practices, Dennett askes “Why Do Good Things Happen?” That is a strange question! He is not asking about some specific ‘good’ occurrence, like the end of WWII for which we know many particular events; he is asking why anything “good” ever happens or exists. “Why do humans fight wars?” begins to get sufficiently broader; but also, “Why does Color exist?” one of our favorite fascinating phenomena here at NatieRel.

Is there an answer to such broad questions? Well, Philosophers have traditionally thought so (see the post series What is a Philosopher.) Religions have also posited Reasons for the occurrence of good things (and bad). In The Iliad, Homer wrote that King Agamemnon offended the goddess Artemis and she prevented the winds from blowing and the Greek fleet from sailing to start the Trojan War. He was forced to sacrifice his daughter to appease the goddess and start the winds, but instigating the ire of his wife. To religion, it’s the gods that are responsible for both good and bad.

(A wild Banana, thought to be very similar to the original banana before cultivation and breeding started some 10,000 years ago in the South Pacific in New Guinea. Its seeds are thick and thorny.)
(The Cavendish Banana is today’s most popular comercial banana. It is seedless. It is entirely dependant on assxual reproduction aided by humans. Human breeding is a form of Coevolution. Humans have made many cultural adaptations in order to make these bananas available almost worldwide, and these bananas have made genetic adaptations.)

Coevolution is the reason good things happen, proposes Dennett, not gods! Coevolution, and not just Evolution, because coevolution involves a specific circular relation or feedback of causes between specific kinds of organisms that stimulates a series of adaptations on each of their part. Dennett cites “the bargain” struck by some plants and animals around 600 million years ago. Seeds happened to become housed in something vaguely like a fruit, something that stored some sugar, an easy energy source for the animal. Over eons, fruits and the animals that sought them, both evolved in sophistication. That is Coevolution. Dennett cites several other examples.

(One of the classic examples of Coevolution is the “arms race” between cheetah and gazelle. Each has evolved greater abilities and characteristics such as speed, agility, camouflage and herd instincts in their historical cycle of interaction.)
(Stotting by gazelle is a display behavior that verges on what we would call play, but probably has more to do with impressing a stalking cheetah. It is, as if, the particular gazelle was saying, “Don’t bother with me, I am very robust.” Stotting is an apparently pointless, but impressive, leap into the air.)

Coevolution is an important cause of increasing complexity in our world. It is in Complexity that Good Things lay. It is also in the break-down of complexity that Evil and decline occur. It is in highly complex Brains that an experience of color occurs along with neural activity. It is in groups of cooperating humans that Language arises and is perpetuated, and then complex Ideologies grow — with gods, democratic rights, free choices, art, and even supposed ethnic and national superiorities.

(If all the matter were evenly distributed through the universe, estimate scientists, there would be 5.9 protons per cubic meter, not even a single atom! And since matter tends to collect around itself via gravity, most empty space is far more empty than that!)

In what we would call empty space, it really is rather empty. No good thing or bad thing happens there, that is the least we can say; maybe we should go further and say, Empty Space is a bad thing if Evil is the degradation of complexity, then this is the bottom layer. So, yes, by comparison to Complex Things and Events, no events at all is really bad. (So, The Holocaust was better than empty space? Maybe what makes The Holocaust massively evil is its disappointment, its betrayal, of all the wonderful accomplishments of humanity at and up to that point in history. We feel a tremendous Guilt with the Holocaust —how could persons have done that to other persons? We feel no such disappointment or guilt concerning empty space.)

In our Complex Living Environment there are vast opportunities for Numerous Creatures and Qualities to Exist and Interact. “Goodness” may be the Maximized Harmony and Coexistence of the greatest number of these. “Goodness” is the harmony of the greatest number of creatures, qualities, and abilities in existence simultaneously in Community. That is at least a good start at a description of it.

Stay tuned for more on The Nature of Goodness———————————————————————–The famous Alfred North Whitehead takes a crack at it.


Revitalizing “The Soul”

I don’t know about you, but my “Soul” could sure use some revitalizing! I have felt rather exhausted, not so much physically, but mentally and “spiritually.” It is not that I am depressed, just worn out; beleaguered by a world in which too much has gone wrong recently. I am looking for some hope once again, and maybe that is all that it is, Feeling Rather Hopeless.

Memories of the Sky, Poem of the Soul by Louis Janmot, 1831. What a beautiful title, and an evocative piece of Romanticism.

British psychologist and philosopher, Nicholas Humphrey, has offered some help in the form of two books: A History of the Mind (1992) and Soul Dust (2011). Metaphysical Hope, we might call it. True, both books are rather old, but still good, and each about 200 pages long. Nice that Humphrey, in writing a history, has respect for our time and forbearance. I hope to follow his example.

A “Soul”? Surely it is farfetched to think that this ancient and regrettably ongoing superstition has any modern beneficial use. Could it possibly accurately help describe our Human Condition? Could it help me shake these blues?

I will go out on a limb, with Humphrey, and suggest that it does. “Soul” has helped return some sparkle to my outlook. This rehabilitation is based (somewhat) in the belief that we humans often ‘know’ or ‘sense’ more than we realize about these “deep,” philosophical and religious issues. The turn of the 19th century German philosopher, Hegel, certainly thought so. He argued that mythology and traditional religion were a dim and eerie form of what an accurate philosophy of the world would look like. Humphrey contends something similar, that philosophical thought and awareness is natural to human beings, at least in some rudimentary forms.


Our New Soul

So, Humphrey attempts to revitalize this familiar concept in a rather straightforward way. Of course he jettisons the idea of the soul’s immortality and its immaterial character, but hangs on to what may be the true point of these, the Soul’s Transcendent Character.

The soul is the self, initially “a core self” and then eventually “the Ego” which is a larger and more complex self built from the core. Any self must transcend. It most last from moment to moment, day to day, year to year. It must transcend time, not totally as if godlike, but definitely forming a fairly durable duration. Also, it must transcend space and particular events and bodily faculties. The self is a unifier, an integrator in time and space. “I” have a toe, and the pain in it is equally its pain and mine. I see red, and that sensation is equally an activity at the surface of my retina, various events in my brain, and in general an experience of mine.

This general transcendental character of the self, and especially its supposed immaterial character, is demystified by Humphrey by postulating a Neurological Loop and a progressive sequence of development in it.

But if a Self is a “Soul,” why not just stick with “Self”, why up the rhetoric to soul?

Surely some magic must be added, and that is where Quality and diverse qualities enter the story. Humphrey contends that about 300 million years ago, our reptilian ancestors —predecessors to all birds and mammals— evolved a Brain complex enough to “have” Phenomenal Experiences. In other words, it was “like something” to them (these creatures) to be them and to live their life. If they were damaged, they now felt pain, that is what damage was for them. They now experienced color, for example; or even enjoyed the taste of a juicy insect just devoured. Red was no longer just an electromagnetic wavelength responded to, but an experience of “redness” and also a behavioral response. Food was no longer just a biochemical necessity and a series of biochemical reactions but an activity “savored,” a satiation “appreciated,” a “craving” mitigated. That is what it was “like to them.” It was a new situation—an experience—for any “thing,” at least in our section of the universe.

An “interiority” was now introduced, contends Humphrey! It was the dawning of not only “selves” and “souls” but also “Minds.” A kind of “interior theater” was established where not only the events that happened to a thing were recorded but they were interpreted and represented as something to me or for me. Qualities “appear” in the world. Perspective was created, and with that a variety of perspectives appeared. There is no perspective without differences of perspective.

Neurologically, the perception of the soul’s or self’s continuity and transcendence is naturalistically understood as an ongoing looping event occurring among the neurons in the brain. “Specialized neural circuits” exist and were selected by nature for their form as shown above. A flowing and continuous reverberation in the brain that takes time and potentially builds on itself. One that thickens and quickens at some points, but also relaxes, slows and thins at others. A loop and series of loops that may possibly offer in physical terms a kind of diagram for what an ongoing self may look like in brain activity, and what self-reflection may be based in. These kinds of self-reflective, varying but continuous events, can be mathematically described; they are called “discrete delay differential attractors.”

Humphrey admits that, in some ways, these neurological contentions are highly speculative and unusual. In effect, he is suggesting a neurological hypothesis based on its logical form, a logical form that has characteristics that seem to resemble the “shape” that consciousness and self-consciousness could take physically to be what it seems to us to be phenomenally. This is unusual, the logic of the problem of consciousness is leading the search for physical, neural, patterns.

In the above diagrams, let us say a sensation has occurred and is recorded in one small section of the brain, some small set of neurons. Its significance is ‘judged’ by the ongoing reaction of neurons around it. If it is a significant sensation, the initial pattern of responding neurons will be repeated and expand into larger sets of neurons that still maintain some of the basic pattern. Somewhat like the flower of a plant, a side-shoot of this activity may split off and ignite a repetition of that pattern in different parts of the brain. All eventually echoing back, returning to the initial sensation, as if a determination of its character and judgment of its significance. In a less significant experience, far less activity would occur but it would still maintain the above continuous, flowing and recursive character.


But the magic continues and escalates when a final observation is added. The self is better described as a soul when its absolute uniqueness is recognized. At no other point in all of history — past or future — will the same perspective exist that is The Basis of You. What the world seems like to you, who you seem like to yourself, seems to us to be a complete and irreplaceable creation. Not immortal in its physical existence, but immortal in its uniqueness. It is comparable to other Souls, but incomparable to them in strict identity. A Soul is a world-historically unique collection of Seemings and observations of Seemings themselves. Each is a perspective all its own. “The self comes into being at the moment it has the power to reflect itself,” writes Douglas Hofstadter. This self-reflective loop is what we have come to highly value.

This Unique Approach

This approach was pioneered years ago by Artificial Intelligence researcher Douglas Hofstadter and philosopher Dan Dennett. They co-authored a successful book called The Mind’s I in 1982. Previous to that, Hofstadter wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning and NYTimes Bestseller, Godel, Escher, Bach in 1979. Each book features the new insight that a self, and any “product of Mind,” has a looping, continuously self-referential but varying character.

Godel: Mathematics Turns in on Itself

Mathematician and logician.

In about 1930, Kurt Godel (last name pronounced with a long “o” and short “e” and equal emphasis on each syllable) proved that self-reference was impossible to avoid in any theory of the basis of mathematics. In response to Bertrand Russell’s and Alfred N. Whitehead’s voluminous Principia Mathematica, which tried to show math as built up from the bottom based on self-evident principles in a kind of pyramid form. Godel proved that all theories of math’s foundations could not have this form, but contained Self-Referential Statements. They seemed to ‘hold themselves up by their own bootstraps,’ we could say.

Yes, self- reference or self-reflection is a strange kind of thing. It often leads to paradox. Hofstadter contends Godel’s work was an application to math of linguistic puzzles such as the statement “I am lying.” How are we to take this? Standing alone, and on its face value, it cannot be either True or False! Or, how do we take this pair of statements? “The following sentence is false. The preceding sentence is true.” They are “Strange Loops” that throw us out beyond them in search for further Context, or indicate to us a closed and circular form that is both logical and paradoxical.


M. C. Escher: Reality as if Turning in Upon Itself

Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935


Drawing Hands, 1948

A Dutch graphic artist working in the early to mid 20th century, labored in obscurity until he was almost 70 years old. His works are an exploration of the concepts of infinity, symmetry, reflection, perspective, and tessellation, says Wikipedia. Hofstadter values them as powerful portrayals of the effect of Self-Reflection. Each is a demonstration of a Strangely Looping Process.

(Print Gallery, 1956, lithograph. Said to be one of Escher’s own favorite works. The ‘dead spot’ in the middle of it is Escher’s signature. In 2003 several Dutch mathematicians contended they had “solved” the puzzle of the void, the empty spot If the work is taken to be drawn on an “elliptic curve over the field of complex numbers” (whatever that means), the void disappears with a continuation of the drawing.)

Hofstadter contends Print Gallery displays three kinds of “inclusion.” The seaside town is “in” the picture being viewed by the boy, the boy and the picture are pictured “in” Escher’s work, and the entire idea of it is “in” Escher’s mind as represented by the void.

Bach: Bouncing a Theme Back Upon Itself in Many Different Ways

Hofstadter uses Bach’s piece A Musical Offering and its historical context as the background for his final example of Reflection, Variation, Recursion, and Self-Enclosure as displayed in his book’s title, Godel, Escher, Bach. I can barely begin a description of this piece’s musical character, but I will try. In the end, I will present a simple example of this musical form that will make sense to all, as it did finally for me.

(Flute Concert in Sanssouci, by A. von Menzel, 1852. The flutist is Frederick the Great of Prussia. Frederick was known as a military strategist but also as one of European history’s most acclaimed patrons of the arts. In 1747, he was finally paid a surprise visit by the now acclaimed eldest Bach, Johann Sebastian. The evening’s program was cancelled and replaced with pieces by Bach and improvisations involving the king. A Musical Offering grew from that, and was later presented to the king in his honor.)

A Musical Offering is a Fugue involving six parts! Reportedly even a four part fugue is difficult and a five part is rare; Bach himself only accomplished several of these in his collection The Well-Tempered Clavier. In a Fugue, each part, or ‘voice’, has a distinct melody to play, but all melodies are craftily designed to fit with each other as all are played at some points simultaneously. In this sense, each note of each part has multiple roles to play; it has its primary role in its own part, but secondary roles in relation to all the additional voices. A Fugue is an intricate work, like a finely woven tapestry.

A Canon is the simplest kind of Fugue, explains Hofstadter, and the simplest kind of Cannon is The Round. We all should be familiar with singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat as a round. That is the simplest Cannon, a variety of voices sing the same song over against and in contrast to itself. It creates a delightful effect.

Here is another noted Round, Frere Jacques. Thanks to the Missoula Valley Youth Choir!

Hostadter’s point is, in all these cases, Nature and Human Nature has ‘twined’ and intertwined itself about itself, and Reflected back itself, in ways that has set a foundation for more complex phenomena to appear to occur at what is called Higher Levels. New Things Happen, based on The Foundations of The Old. Hofstadter: “a higher-level view of a system may contain explanatory power which is absent on the lower level.” Like music, like art, like ethics, like science, all happen at levels beyond the microscopic. Its a more interesting life at this “chunkier” level!

A popular Canon— Pachelbel’s Canon, in two contrasting voices.
Drawing by Marty.

Stay Safe, Stay Connected. The


Standing In Front of the Class as The Towers Fell

(This post was mostly written yesterday morning, 9/11/21.)

Twenty years ago today, at almost this exact time — 9am, I was standing in front of a small class of seventh and eighth graders. The final bell signaling the start of the day had just wrung. I was new to that school, having just transferred from a different assignment; but we were all rather new considering the school year had only started a week or so prior. A teacher from across the hall came to the door that day and simply said, “You might want to turn on the television, something important has just happened.”

I did not intend to write this post and tell this story, but his morning I found myself unable to think of other things. It was hard, of course, not to think of 9/11/2001 in recent days. The television, newspapers and radio that I peruse has been full of it, and rightly so. What really got me reflecting is that, once again, I was going to be standing in front of many young and impressionable minds, the day before –a Friday– this tragedy’s 20th anniversary. What should I say to them about it?

Sadly, I chose to say Nothing! I considered talking to them of it; they were not even born in ’01; I felt I had an obligation. And it would have been a difficult discussion. The students at the high school, at which I am now substitute teaching on a long term assignment, are not a highly sophisticated group, but they are a diverse group. We have a significant population of Muslim students and a significant group of working class white students who come from politically conservative families (when these families choose to be political at all.) I wish the current situation was more ideal. I would have liked to try it. Imagine attempting to explain the religious background of this historical event.

Our current pandemic situation in Ohio. We are starting to return to some of the same New Case Numbers that we saw at our peak. Fortunately, Deaths are much lower than in December and January.

But our current situation is far from ideal. I am at my maximum in work and issues. In my 8th period class, out of 22, 15 were not present, but of those absent, 4 were out for reasons not of sickness or quarantine. Our high schoolers are encouraged to wear masks but only middle schoolers and lower are required to mask by our district. I am occasionally called by administrators and asked to look back at my notes and try to recount to them who was in contact or near or wearing a mask in the vicinity of a particular student now positively Corona-tested. And those students that are frequently attending, many of them are not re-adjusting well to a return to full-time learning. Motivation and on-task behavior are a frequent issue. I am teaching mostly juniors in their English class, and they have not had a normal and uninterrupted school year since their 8th grade year!

So, I chose not to mention 9/11 and no student did either. We have enough of our own tragedies today.

But, 20 years ago, we did not. Why did I turn on the television that day 20 years ago? I was teaching a Special Education class that was composed of mostly a small group of boys with ADHD, anger issues, non-compliance, and less severe autism. I have often thought since then, why did I so automatically just tune in? I think I had the confidence that I could walk them through whatever was happening.

No sooner than we tuned in, and no sooner than I was explaining that it was a terrorist attack, The Second Plane came curving into sight and crashed into the second tower! We sat in shock and watched, as did much of the rest of the nation!

My students handled it well, and I talked and explained and re-assured them for many hours that day. We did not watch the reporting for the entire school day, and an hour or two in, I decided to attempt to return to some normal school activities. I told my students, that is what we must do, that “the terrorists want us to panic and stop doing what we should do.” That went really well, those young guys rose to the occasion.

There are two things that stand out in my memory from the rest of that day. First, throughout the day as we sat trying to focus on school work, the PA system began to increasingly interrupt us calling individual students to go to the office for dismissal. Parents were taking their kids home. Kids were calling home asking to be removed. By the end of the day, it was strange sitting there and talking to the students who remained, many of whom were kids in my room (thus part of the nature of Special Ed — families a little bit different).

Secondly, I remember a comment by one of my students, a rather highly-charged eighth grader This special ed. class had what is called, “a levels system.” It was to monitor good behavior and reward increasing or decreasing opportunities according to performance. “Level 1” was the lowest level for students needing the most guidance, the most structure, the most care. They were not even allowed to walk down the hall alone to the fountain, an adult had to escort them. After watching and discussing the tragedy for quite awhile, his comment was “I feel like I want to be on Level 1.” My response was, “Joey, I think we all feel that way.” Indeed, in the days of that tragedy 20 years ago, we all needed extra care, extra guidance and whatever additional security we could find. Today’s world feels a bit the same.



An Enchanted World

(A follow-up to the post The Strange Sensation, where psychologist and philosopher Nicholas Humphrey contends that we should think of this world as “painted in our soul dust” or “singing our song.” Yes, he believes that the Qualities of our world — its color and smell; its goodness and badness; its joy and sorrow — are all added by Conscious Beings, as if we are painting atop a canvas of molecules, waves and atoms. These Qualities include Complex Actions like singing and writing poems, but also creating scientific theories and testing them. Here, a little bird that is a powerful songster and one of my favorite poets will be featured; both of them helping to recoup some positives in our world already painted in too much sadness and tragedy. Please try to Enjoy!)

(How good is this bird at singing? Really good, and William Blake is not wrong to say, “His little throat labours with inspiration, every feather…vibrates with the effluence Divine.”)

Yes, the world is an amazing place, often. And as amazing as it is, our human response to it is amazing, sometimes. Case in point, The Lark (Eurasian Skylark) and William Blake’s poem, The Lark’s Song. As amazing as this small bird is, Blake’s poem is its equal.

But, it is not an easy poem to read. Let me walk you through it, as I have had some experience reading poems, and teaching students poetry, and have worked with this poem for a while.

Its punctuation is very important. Closely watch the commas for only a slight pause, but a period is a full stop. The semicolon at the end of line two is much the same as a period. Interestingly, there are only two periods; the first occurs at the end of the 13th line. Yes, the first 13 lines are one sentence and should be read as such! No punctuation at the end of a line is no stop in reading at all. So, the spacing is peculiar and important (and I fear it may be distorted on a cell phone), but then so are many things about Bill Blake (Englishman, 1757-1827). Why is “Spring,” “Corn-field,” …”Expanse” and “Bird,” all lines unto themselves? Why is each capitalized? This poem is visual as well as linguistic. It must be read several times, to develop its full impact.

So, here it is. I just love the ending where “the awful Sun…With eyes of soft humility and wonder,…stands still” to watch this little bird sing.

The Lark's Song

Thou hearest the Nightingale begin the Song of
The lark sitting upon his earthly bed, just as the morn
Appears, listens silent, then springing from the waving
          Corn-field, loud
He leads the Choir of Day-trill, trill, trill, trill,
Mounting upon the wing of light into the Great
Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining
          heavenly Shell,
His little throat and breast and wings vibrates with the
          effluence Divine.
All nature listens silent to him, and the awful Sun
Stands still upon the Mountain looking on this little
With eyes of soft humility and wonder, love, and awe.

Can the lark’s song live up to this hype? Is it an “effluence Divine” to which “All nature listens silent”? Judge for yourself.

(It often seems as if too many sounds are coming from this one mouth! The second section of this video starting at 1:00 is the most convincing to me. A true “effluence Divine,” “His little throat and breast and wing vibrates” with each sound.)

(Illustration from Audubon Society)

Common across Europe, it is the male Skylark that sings. Hovering at about 150-300 feet (50-100m) is where much of the singing occurs (“Mounting upon the wing of light into the Great Expanse,”) and lasts for as much as a minute (“Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining heavenly Shell”). More prolonged outbursts occur while perched. Many a person is surely correct in NOT finding its song beautiful as much as impressive in its vigor, variety and effusiveness. Surely we must agree, it is a true outpouring!

A small bird, about the size of a robin; it is around 7 in. or 18 cm. It nests on the ground and thus Blake’s line, “The lark sitting on its earthly bed.” Settlers to North America have tried at various times and places to introduce the bird to this continent, but with almost no success. A small colony was established on Vancouver Island in Western Canada, but today it is in serious decline. The skylark is abundant in Europe and Asia, and is not endangered.

The world is often a marvelous place, especially when persons seek to enhance it. Persons or selves can be called “Souls,” contends psychologist and philosopher Nick Humphrey, because of our psychological and metaphysical ability to convert the seeming raw materials of matter into “an enchanted” and “magical” display of Qualities and Abilities. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Skylark; thank you Mr. Blake! Thanks for our physical and metaphysical situation that offers so much and potentially offers more!

The Nightingale: known for its song, especially in the hours just before dawn. Its song ignites the Skylark. It is another bird not at home in the Americas.

No atom ever sings, And though we may roughly associate A Group of Atoms to an event we call Singing, the heart of the song is lost when we do so.

Stay Safe!

Logo by Marty.

The Nature Religion Manifesto

(I’ve been searching for a simple statement that gets to the point of this blog site; maybe this is it.  Most of you will think it far fetched, yet there is a Logic to it and it stretches way back into Philosophic Tradition.  Complete with Garden Photos and a Poem at the end. A revision of the earlier post of the same title—but up-graded! Try it on for size, Please!)

IMG_4583 (2)
The Backyard Sanctuary: Design Does Exist in Our World.  Photo by GWW.

The Manifesto

In the spring and summer, each morning I take my cup of coffee and walk about our backyard garden.  I carefully inspect its progress from the previous day: new shoots have appeared, old flowers fading, a weed to be pulled, new blooms opening and admired.  Various birds fly by and others are calling.  I stop and consider the weather, very pleasing, but other times not.  Too cool, or too wet, we are often in need of a few sunny days.  In either case, my plants soldier-on and I consider what I should do to improve this beautiful place, our garden, Our Backyard Sanctuary.

It is not a “strictly physical” place, not simply particles and chemical reactions and the qualities that those kinds of things directly exhibit.  This garden of my wife’s and mine is a human artifact, a place of beauty with carefully selected plants, well considered placements, precisely cut borders and gently curved walkways.  It is a chosen mixture of both sun and shade, privacy and open sky; a fairly complete composition, though always shifting.

It is a place of life.  Plants exhibit the most marvelous design.  Crocus poke up their heads in spring first, with their delicate little flowers.  Then come the Daffodil with their yellow trumpeting flower, and then Tulip with its gracious cup, marked interior, and array of color.  In the shade, the Ostrich Ferns are unraveling their fronds, rolling them open to the light.  The Japanese Painted Ferns exhibit on each leaf detailed shades of green slowly verging onto blacks.  In front of our long row of Hosta, my wife plants her border of Impatiens, an annual that flowers through the summer and produces best in shade.  The Empress Wu Hosta is our crowning jewel.  Sitting back beneath our cottonless (male) Cottonwood tree, the Empress crowns at over three feet into the air and spreads more than eight feet in diameter.  She is a tremendous mound of foliage with each highly ridged bright green leaf running 18 to 20 inches long and a foot wide.  All her bio-mass bursting forth each spring from below the ground and fully in place by mid June. By August, she has finished with her rather insignificant flowering (to the gardener) and by fall is ready to be cut back to do it all over the next year.

(The Tidy Packages: Daffodil, perennial Poppy, Columbine [Aquilegia] and Columbine, and finally Hosta. All photos by GWW from The Sanctuary)

Each plant is a tidy package It circles about itself in its own little cycle.  The perennials above — the crocus, daffodils, tulips, ferns and hosta — all have a prolonged cycle lasting many years, but go through a distinct annual cycle, also.  The annual above — the Impatiens — completes its life cycle in a single season, but ends that cycle with a group of seeds, which are the Reproduction of “its form— its tidy package — into the future. It is as if part of itits Information — never dies!

Basically, fundamentally, essentially, a plant and its environment are a cooperative, self-enhancing effort.  It is not that they — the plant and its environment — always “get it together” or always “keep it together”; they do not.  There are “bad” seasons and difficult “spells”; but “at their core”, The Good MUST Out Weigh The Bad.  That much is inherent in the idea of Natural Design

Designs are real in nature; every design, if it exists, is Good at something, is Functional, is better than a vast number of alternatives, but maybe not quite as good as some Possibilities that we can vaguely imagine.  This is the core of The Nature Religion Connection: If a lack of coordination and cooperation (Dis-Function, Chaos) were the predominant “tone” of the world, then complex entities like “plants” would not exist, nor would we!  “The Living World” is fundamentally Good, at least from the point of view of Mother Nature.

And what of our own? So, let us Reflect. From our point of view, this world can be Like Our Backyard Sanctuary, if held in proper Respect. If nurtured. If understood. If thoughtfully criticized and accepted. If loved—-a reflection of us, and us of it.

To Reproduce is a distinctly living feature. To Metabolize is to be so open to ‘your’  environment; large parts of it are essential to ‘your’ continuation.  As if in a Religious Gesture, You stretch forth into them, but not into some others; those seem completely irrelevant.  Light, water, carbon dioxide and soil with minerals, all are open to the plant in a cooperative and informative way: They are essential parts of it; they are components of the plant’s Design.  They Are It! Its FORMATION extending out-ward. It is, what we call, the In-Formation of the Universe!

And To Grow is to be alive, and that takes Time.  A flowering plant only eventually flowers.  An animal only eventually becomes sexually mature, and a human only eventually becomes emotionally and intellectually responsible.  Life pulls together diversity into the unity of its form, and Time is essential to life: It does not exist in an instant.   To Be Sensitive is the means by which living things distinguish this In-Formation from the noise; it’s Self from Others.  Life is these unique qualities.

(Crocus in the Snow and in the Sun. Photos by GWW)

A star, a volcano, a galaxy, an atom, our solar system, the various chemical elements do none of these: No reproduction, no metabolism, no growth, no sensitivity.  A star may swell and then collapse, as it runs out of (‘eats’) its fuel and ‘dies’.  A volcano can grow larger and even blow or become dormant.  An atom may bond.  Our solar system certainly cycles.  But none of these have all the characteristics of life, nor in as regular or systematic a way as do a living kind, and especially a person.


No god is needed; My wife and I will do.
We split and weed, and plant seed.
We trim and choose, and rule our tiny spot,
but not --- like one such other. 
Mother Nature framed this scene,
and with her choices will be Queen.
But at least, I see my debt
and live to fill her offer.

It is a special place, our world;
The world of life and persons.
It is our Response and Ability,
to keep it such and More.
And pass it to our future kind, 
for ashes soon we be.

For after all, we are but 'food'
in this Great Chain of Being.
Of what shall come hereafter,
we made a contribution, 

The Human Flower: A Person and a Ripe One, at that! Photo by and of GWW. What a good looking guy!
IMG_5144 (2)
Glorious Morning Morning Glory, photo by GWW is unenhanced! That is the true collection of light and color at the heart of this flower.
IMG_5097 (1)
Humans, corrupting Nature and Themselves!

All photos by GWW from the garden of Sheri and Greg. Zinnia, an annual to the right and middle–with yellow swallow tail.

STRETCHING FORTH INTO THE UNIVERSE at The Connection. Logo Drawing by Marty


“The Grades Are In”: A Last Note On The Schools Today, and More!

The Subbing Stint Teaching Algebra came to a rather dramatic end the previous Friday. In fact, it was a Great Week all round here at The Nature Religion Connection. Mi casa is su casa.

The last post “On the Schools” was well received. The chilly wet weather broke, and we had some spectacular days working in The Garden, sitting on the deck and admiring “It All.” “It All”, such as—the school year; the Garden; and New Life-New Hope possible everywhere. Wonderful developments occurred; beautiful things are real possibilities in this world of ours!

(German Breaded Iris on the ends, Columbine in the middle: All have come and gone already this season leaving behind fond memories of their beauty. Photos by GWW from the BackYard Sanctuary.)

Closing out this very difficult year in education occurred on Friday 6/4 . It was bitter sweet. How many years have I watched another group of children move on? I have seen it, as a teacher, some 35 times, and my wife—amazing to think—almost 50 times; but she started as a teen-ager working full time in Montessori classrooms. A friend of mine retired at the High School. Our assignments just happened to work that on her last day in teaching, that Friday, she was the Intervention Specialist (co-teacher) in my algebra class. I watched her go through her belongings all day long, and then helped her carry her boxes to her car in the end. She is a good lady and was a good teacher for 30 years.

This year in my school district, we have gone from a hybrid mode, which persisted almost the entire year; to finally, late in the year –April–back to “all in”, “regular schooling” but in masks and as socially distanced as possible. We had taped lines running down the hall ways to direct traffic as if driving on the highway.

I thought my district did a pretty good job of it. “Hybrid” consisted of about 2/3rds of students split into two groups, a Monday-Tuesday group and a Thursday-Friday group; and a third group, also about 1/3 of the school population, choosing to be all online. There were a few additional differences to really “normal schooling,” besides.

First, there was and is an increase in absences, especially in the hybrid mode. Going to school 2 days a week and then sleeping in for 5 days, just did not seem to work for a lot of families and kids. No easy rhythm to be established there. And many kids, and even teachers, were quarantining, especially at first. Even these last three weeks of school have been plagued with above average absences. Kids, maybe whole families, just crapped out early on this year of educational uncertainty. It was exhausting.

But then came the vaccines and the decision was made to return to school full time. Rates of infection were declining, shots were being distributed and teachers were one of the early groups to be eligible. Also, let’s not forget the many Ohioans had already had the disease and had recovered and thus were naturally immune to further infection. Many of the most vulnerable Ohioans had even died, as in the nursing homes. The disease just has fewer places to go; all the low lying fruit — sadly to say — has already been picked.

I just read that as many Ohioans died from Covid as died in WW2, roughly!

I am glad the district leadership made the decision to re-open fully, though I was not sure of it at the time. I just wondered if it was asking too much, one more big change. But at least it is over with, schools are open, and everyone has gotten their feet wet again. That hurdle already has been surpassed, and next year has been set up to be a just plain, Normal Start.

So, how did the year end, specifically?

Largely along themes suggested in the preceding post. My High School is academically challenged. “Good kids, but not great students,” said one of its long-time teachers. And when the Final Exams were graded, by me, that was plain. Not a great Bell Curve. Too many kids at the low end, and the middle without much breadth, or the high end, not nearly enough scores in those ranges as one should expect.

But the Term Grades were not as bad. Many more students passed the term and the class than passed the Final Exam. And that was just the problem, or maybe even part of the solution, I do not know. What students knew and learned was probably best exemplified by the final exam, but can we, should we, really “fail” that many students?

An anecdote may best illustrate the point.

The ‘older’ (but not as old as I) and insightful science teacher across the hall, Elaine, approached me Thursday and wanted to show me a text she had received from a parent. It was not a pleasant text and she had received it the night before. Elaine said at first she was upset but now was calmer. She wanted my opinion.

The mother was harsh with Elaine. She called Elaine “a crazy woman” and said that if she had “nothing good to say about a student; she should not search to find something bad.” It was a fairly long text.

What had the teacher commented on the report card, that set this parent off? She had said only that her daughter, Brittani, “Did not work to her full potential.” and that “Daily effort could lead to excellence.” The mother’s comment was that Brittani (in names today, a “y” turns into “i” and an “i” to “y”) was “an all A and B student,” and that should surely be good enough and warrant only praise.

I sympathized with Elaine, because Brittani is a big goof-off, and does not try and will announce that she “doesn’t care” right there in the middle of class, often. And curiously, Elaine is one of Brittani’s supporters, telling me early on that Brittani is “smart” but she just doesn’t try enough.

It suddenly occurred to me that what we had here was some disjointed perspectives. I asked Elaine, at last, “What grade did you give her?” And, surprising to me, Elaine had given her a “B” in spite of Brittani’s lack of effort. I said, “Well there we have it.” This mother really did see a good report card and could not understand its circumstances. Elaine quickly added, “I know my standards should be higher, but then so many of my students would get F’s!” Elaine does work with some of the most difficult groups—many of the most vulnerable incoming freshmen. Elaine is trying to get them in a positive frame of mind about school, and bring them along through ‘baby steps.’

The mother did not understand, but it is surprising to me that she did not have a more accurate sense of who her daughter was, at school. I doubt that Brittani is ‘an all A and B daughter’ at home. And then it occurred to me, “What grade am I about to give her?” I knew I had just graded her Exam and she got about 45% correct! I went back to my room to check the electronic grade book. Most of Brittani’s grade was already determined long before my subbing began, and The Final Exam plays no part in any grade at all, strangely.

I looked up her term grade, a “B”! I was disappointed. I looked further at this teacher’s grading system, and, as I had already been catching on, her standards were not very high either. In her system, a quiz and a test barely count for anything more than an individual daily assignment! In her system, just handing in a daily assignment — that was hardly scrutinized by the teacher — was the biggest part of attaining a “C” or “B.”

I did not want to perpetuate this impropriety. I submitted the “B” term grade and recorded the “F” exam grade, and Commented: “Term grade is good, but could be better. Lacks daily effort.” Brittani is fairly intelligent: Smart enough to game the system. At best, she probably deserves a “D”–considering her effort and what she actually learned– but then many other kids without as much ability, but who try, would get an “F”. Back in the day, I always took the risk and graded more subjectively. I hope that I would have given her a less favorable term grade, and then commented about lack of effort. It’s a dilemma; or is it like Karl tried to advocate: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

Mr. Marx

On a Very Different Note!

The Garden is blooming and An Olive has ripened! Yes, my wife and I have become Grandparents for the second time! Our son and his wife have just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. And, yes, they have named her Olive! An eight pound six ouncer, with the most beautiful round features — eyes, head, smile — all very nicely shaped, just like you would expect from well formed little fruit.

The NatureReligionConnection! Stay Safe!

In the Schools Today; What is it that is going on?

There are some interesting developments in the schools these days. I cannot comment on all schools, of course, only the few in which I work, and that is what I have been doing lately—working. I have taken on a long-term subbing job in a public high school, teaching algebra to the end of the year (about three weeks). Why, you may ask?

The school is an interesting one, to me. It is on the southwest side of Columbus (not far from my home) in an area that is rather impoverished and crime ridden. The neighborhood is definitely “blue collar” and high school educated at best. The school’s student population is very diverse. I will estimate racially, about 50+% White, 15% Black, 15% Hispanic, 15% Somalian (and other Africans), and even a small contingent of Ukrainians! In spite of these demographics, the school has been called “a little gem,” by some. It is generally orderly, and many students there are fairly successful in diverse ways. A veteran teacher once commented that “the kids are not great students, but they are good kids.” “Good” as in, good-hearted, well-intended, but not necessarily quiet and focused on the teacher.

Well, I am a retired teacher and I do enjoy the interaction with these kids, many of them at least. Even some of the less cooperative provide an opportunity for me to be influential: be creative verbally, engage them personally with a few jests-jibes and challenging directives. Some of them, you just mostly sit back; unfortunately, there is little to be done or little they will let you try to do to encourage them that school is worth trying. In three of my class periods I have the assistance of a co-teacher, an Intervention Specialist, because those classes have many students with “special needs,” like “learning disabilities” or “behavior problems” or both. And many of the kids are great, and very appreciative of my attention, concern, enthusiastic teaching, and treachery silliness. I do say and do things that often incite laughter or at least smiles.

One of my classes is “ESL” students, English as a Second Language, and this means mostly Hispanic kids in this school. It surprised me at first to learn that this does not mean overwhelmingly Mexican; a significant percentage of these students are Honduran, Porto Rican, Guatemalan. To me, they all seemed ‘just’ Hispanic, but to them, these differences are obvious and somewhat important. The famous tradition, Night of The Dead, is not celebrated much beyond Mexico, for example; various phrases and slang are also limited to specific parts of Central America.

One example of fun at school, involves this group of mostly sophomores and juniors. Recently when I continued to try to insist that they focus on algebra and less on chatting and silliness as they too often do; I was saying again that it is “rude” to be talking while I am trying to address the class. One of the louder and most prominent boys suggested that I tell the group in these situations, mucho chingas,” to which most of the group snickered. I asked him what that meant and he said “too much talk.” And when I continued to seek clarification, several of the guys ended up agreeing that it meant ‘too much disrespectful talking.’ These students often have small discussions about what is the most accurate translation of a phrase they use, into English.

Well, I did then bark out, “Mucho chingas, Back to work!” but retained suspicions. The next day, I used the phrase several times, much to the delight of most of the class, but then cornered some of the “nicest’ and most studious girls later and asked, “Now, what does that Exactly mean?” They could not, and even would not, say; but all agreed– in the end — that I should not say it.

Now, I had to find out for sure, its exact meaning. When I had the opportunity, I went upstairs to the Spanish-Speakers Translator, and asked. Several students were present, and all present, including me, began chuckling. At first, she (the translator) had no precise answer but did say it meant something like “too much talk,” but there was a more precise translation that she could not tell me. “What?” I said, “does it have to do with sex or something?” and she said “No.” I persisted, asking her to whisper it to me quietly, but she said she could not. More laughter, by all present. Finally, she typed it into her lap top for a translation (which I could have done!) and showed me the answer. “Too much shit.”

Not All is Fun and Games

Being the end of the year, my duties included reviewing for the final Unit Test (quadratic equations), and its administration, and the same for the Final Exam which is coming this week. I take this Algebra seriously, but also try to make it like a puzzle, and a challenge that all can rise to. I pride myself on my ability to explain things clearly, and sometimes kids acknowledge that.

In the third period each day, I do a study hall, usually an easy assignment. This week, in the back of the class, a girl I had always marked as absent, and did not know, suddenly appeared on Monday and sat — quietly — looking at her phone. I did not engage her other than to remark I was glad she was here. The same went for Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, a few minutes after the start-bell, Markya (Mar-k[long i ] short a—but no real names used) stood up and quietly and quickly walked out the class door near her seat in the back. Luckily, I had noticed and wondered. After several minutes and she did not return, I went back to investigate. Thinking she had shot out to use the restroom (without asking), I looked down the hall only to here some rather loud voices from a nearby classroom. Soon the voices got louder. I heard someone yell, “You white bitch” and then the volume really increased. “Trouble,” I thought, and I turned to secure my own class, thinking “they’ll break it up.”

But a break-up did not occur. The shouting increased, noises of a scuffle became evident, and still I stood in the door directing my class to stay seated and calm. Soon, with my class cooperating and the fight seemingly escalating, I went to help.

As I was heading there, about three doors down, I was directing students to stay in their rooms, when another student I knew was rushing from the other direction. I told Serina to go back to her class, but she ignored me and rushed in ahead.

Serina is a very uncooperative girl. I knew her from my first period class. She is a junior and physically attractive, rather large and very fit; she should be a track athlete but is not. My experience with her in first period is she usually comes late and then does no work, instead talks on her phone. Twice when asked for her tardy slip, she did not have one. When asked to go get one, she just simply looked at us coldly and firmly said “No.” The day before we both arrived at that door at the same time, I had written her up for various acts of insubordination and defiance. Apparently, the write-up did not get processed in time.

So as I looked in that door of the room of the commotion, all I saw was a large tangle of people. Chaos. Some were students fighting; some were students trying to break it up, I later realized. Several staff were in there trying to disengage students. There was a lot of yelling and furniture knocking about. I could discern very little organization to it. Who were the combatants? Who were the aggressors? What exactly was going on?

But Serina apparently knew. She had been texted. She knew it was going down, who was getting jumped and why. So she went flying in ahead of me and went right to the middle of it and leaped on top with fists flailing. At least I could discern her role! I took her by the waste and pulled her back, but I could not hold her! She was like a bull; her adrenalin flowing full force. I turned to try to help some staff next to me who were pulling apart two girls who had hold of fistfuls of each other’s hair, only to realize it was making one of them totally vulnerable to the blows of a third girl.

At that point I began to worry. This fight was too much for us. We could not stop it, and I began to back out, thinking that I was not helping, that I could easily be hurt, and that re-enforcements were necessary. Just then, a male student suddenly stumbled toward me with a smaller girl in his grasp. She was screaming that she was going “to kill that bitch” and fighting his efforts to remove her from the battle. I took hold of one of her arms and told him, “lets get her out of here” and we pulled her to the nearby door, out of the room and across the hall to an empty class. She ranted and raved for a couple of minutes, but then started to calm. An assistant principal (and former college football player) soon came in and took over.

Apparently, across the hall re-enforcements had arrived, and the fight had been dissected into its individual raging girls, who had finally been separated and confined. Gladly, I returned to my room where I tried to catch my breath, thank my students for behaving so appropriately, and report to the principals what I knew.

Yes, Markya was the first girl from outside that class to arrive and help start the attack on the girl being jumped. The girl attacked did a fairly good job of defending herself after being sucker punched, and may have had some help from a friend. Serina was also one of the main aggressors and was suspended for the rest of the year. As last I heard, it was determined that there were 4 or 5 girls basically fighting, with three the definite aggressors.

Markya, I later learned from the Intervention Specialist, has had a rough row to hoe. Homeless with her mother for most of the year, now she was in a foster home. Those three days before the fight were the only days she had been at school for months, but no one gave me a heads-up. Those three days, and up to the the third period fight, are the only schooling she received (or will receive) in a long time. Suspended the rest of this school year. Sadly, that is the way it seems to work, sometimes and for some people.

I hope you don’t give up, Markya! Things can be better.

The Pandemic’s Effect on Some Children

I was talking to one of the older, lady teachers the other day, and she had some insightful comments. She felt that our juniors were like sophomores, academically and emotionally. They had missed an entire year and more of Normal Schooling; missed our influence on their emotional development on a day to day basis and under Normal Circumstances. There is a lot of absenteeism. At this point, when we are trying to resume normality, these students are behind and feeling awkward and struggling with Regular Schooling. These are high-schoolers. My wife says her pre-schoolers and kindergarteners are emotional basket cases; they cry at the least provocation. Each– pre-school and high school– have been isolated too long from the influence of our larger society.

With our children, we are going to have to play catch-up. The pandemic took this emotional toll, too.

Back to teaching Algebra Tuesday, Final Exams start Wednesday!

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STILL DANCING TO THE MUSIC ! (artwork by Marty)
Who opened that can of Whoop Ass?

Wittgenstein’s Philosophy: Part 2 of Philosophers with Strange Personalities and Theories

(Latest addition to the What is a Philosopher, Anyway?” series. Please read the previous Part 1 for the fascinating personal introduction to this Dynamic and Curious Fellow!)

So, Ludwig Wittgenstein had a strange, even unpleasant, personality; but what of his philosophy?

Bertrand Russell* has declared that there is Wittgenstein 1 and 2. “Witt 1” showed up at Russell’s Trinity College quarters in about 1920. After about a year of working with Ludwig, Russell had nothing more to teach him, he has said. Russell saw Wittgenstein as the heir-apparent to his Logical and Analytical turn in philosophical method. It was at this point that The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was written and supposedly was the basis to answer, or eliminate, all philosophical issues. (*On Russell, see the post, Philosophers and Mathematics.)

Wittgenstein’s cabin in Norway where he retreated to write The Tractatus. Refurbished and now open to the public.

The Tractatus is an unusual book. It is only 75 pages long and written somewhat in the style of notes with numbered main ideas and subsequent supporting contentions also numbered to designate their subsequent status. 1.0 is a main point, 1.1, 1.11, 1.111 are contentions supporting it in declining significance and corresponding spacing. Its opening and closing lines are famous: “The world is all that is the case” and “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.” In The London Times obituary, the book was called “a logical poem”(Wittgenstein died of cancer at 51).

The Tractatus is the presentation of a position called Logical Atomism. Witt 1 felt he demonstrated how some words or propositions “map” the world. They, among all the different kinds of statements we make, are unique. He contended that these pieces (the “atoms”) could be “logically” built up to display all the propositions or beliefs that could be sensibly stated or truthfully contended or “realistic.” They are what can be “said” with the backing of the world. They “make sense,” almost literally, because our sense organs are the connection between them and the individual chunks or facts of the world.

Many of the things we say do not fall within this group. They are not factual, not closely supported by our factual propositions that map the world. We cannot use our sense organs to verify them; therefore Wittgenstein could call them “nonsense.” But curiously, to him, this was NOT a completely negative designation. It just meant that they were statements beyond “fact.” Witt 1 had great respect for many of these more ethereal utterances; for one thing, philosophical statements were among them. They were just not connected to the world like factual propositions, or maybe not connected to the world at all (?).

Now it should be pointed out that this idea of words or propositions “mapping” ‘the world’ seems straightforward, but it is not. In what sense does the word “dog” designate, or hook onto, or point at, or represent, or is caused by all those furry (well I guess a few are furless), four legged, barking (some howl) creatures from the Chihuahua to the Saint Bernard? We often say our words “picture” what they represent, but how do the lines and squiggles that form the letters “D”-“O”-“G” draw a picture of anything, or the sounds of a hard D, soft O, hard G force themselves on us so that they are necessarily related to all those various kinds of dogs out there in the world, or anything that might compose them, like atoms or biochemical molecules or or? And Spanish-speaking people use very different lines and sounds —“perra” or “perro”— to function in the same way. But, Witt 1 thought he had successfully tip toed through these tulips by demonstrating that the “logical form” of factual propositions did “mirror” or “map” the logical form of the world or objective reality in a unique and accurate way.

Does a painting represent the world? Does it map reality? Picasso’s Guernica, painted in black, white and greys in 1937. Many regard this as the most powerful anti-war expression of all times. But clearly, this painting is highly figurative. It is not how atoms look, nor even how ordinary people and bulls look. It is no literal depiction of warfare. It has no colors other than a few basics. In what sense is it true? Does it “match” with reality? Do our Words About war do any better job?

Wittgenstein 2 gave up the contention that factual propositions “map the world” while other kinds of propositions do not. In his later thinking, language as a “map” is given up for language as a “tool,” and all kinds of statements —and depictions, as in the above Picasso— are now on a more equal footing. All forms of expression —and their related forms of activity—open up the world, we might say, in their own way. Each, like a tool (maybe like a can opener) reveals something of its own about “the world,” opens the world up to us in a different way.

Depiction of a Quantum engagement between two photons. Thanks to Scientific American. The Quantum Theory of subatomic particles has long been debated as to its realistic or merely useful (instrumental) character. At some deeper and more consistent level, “finding” something in the world may be like “making” something?

Now what is interesting is that Witt 2 never published much of his new thinking, in fact in his life all he published was the Tractatus and two minor articles. His new ideas swirled around Cambridge and Trinity College in England by word of mouth, from those who attended his lectures and discussion groups. Later, after his death, his extensive Philosophical Notebooks were edited and published.

His initial thinking was Atomistic. The real and most important elements the world (or human knowledge of the world) is its littlest pieces, but his later philosophy was Holistic. At one point he used the idea of a thread or rope as an example. No one fiber runs the length of the thread or rope. No one fiber gives it its strength. It is the intertwining and overlap of each fiber with those around it; that is the value and usefulness of each one. The essence of the thread or the rope is in the unity and organization of the pieces that compose it.

Many things in the world display this kind of unity contended Witt 2.:The unity of a family resemblance. No two fibers here are exactly alike, yet each possesses enough of the group’s similarities to form a distinguishable unit.

An example of this holism is Wittgenstein’s new approach to language. It has already been suggested that all forms of language were now taken to be more on a par, and propositions about objects in the external world were now given no special status. The new focus was on what a language did to and for the people using it, and that was to tie them into a unit –a whole– and reveal a “world” appropriate to their way of life. The new “center” of language was not to function to get to an independent and pre-existing factual world, but to be a central part of a way of life that functioned well for its users.

Witt 2 then believed that he had demonstrated that a language — any and every language — was necessarily a public and social product. There is no such thing as a private language. No single person, no matter how smart, could create a language from scratch. There is no route from non-language to real and effective language-use for an isolated individual. Social interaction provides The Reflective Perspective that allows a person to not only “look at objects” — objectify things — but also to “look at themselves” within their words. Language inherently allows us to ‘take the place of the other’ and ‘see’ ourselves both objectively and subjectively, at once.

The Capitoline Wolf statue: The mythical founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, suckle from the teat of the wolf that adopted them when abandoned in the woods. Only the herder, who found them, and his wife, who raised them, enabled their access to the use of Language.

Now this new anthropocentric view of language immediately suggests to us the issue of inaccuracy. If all kinds of talk “open” the world to us in different ways –artistic, ethical, scientific ways– what makes any way of talking incorrect or mistaken? Don’t our ideas have to match objective reality to be true and effective?

Interestingly, Witt 2 argues that this question is significantly misguided. The question can be made into deep philosophical confusion. It seems to suggest that somehow humans can lose touch with the world, that ideas and ways of life that we do not agree with or think are incorrect Float Free of Reality as if Mirages, and are disconnected from Reality’s Causal and Informative Networks. In modern society, we have often believed that science displays reality but art is only beautiful; that ethics is important but more a product of human preferences than natural forces. Wittgenstein’s concern was that “Subjectivity” can no more be cut off from “Objectivity” in this radical way, than the color black be cut off completely, and made independent of, the color white.

Whether Witt 2 actually accomplishes this Holistic view, is hard to say. He argues that it is not the world that justifies the ways we talk and think and act, but the self-supporting character or structure of these ways –“ways of life”– that are accompanied by their own “view of things” that is The True Center of our life. Witt 2 has shifted to this Anthropocentric position: The Human World is its own center, its own support and–in a way– its own making.

(This brief introduction to Wittgenstein’s thinking has wetted my appetite for more. I have begun to reread a short but notable book by philosopher David Pears: “Ludwig Wittgenstein,” 1970, (198 pages). I am looking forward to attempting to relay its significance to you.)

Prisms Electrique by Robert Delauney (1914). An originating composition in Orphic Cubist art movement. French poet and critic G. Apollinaire coined the term “Orphic Cubism” as “the art of painting new totalities with elements that the artist does not take from visual reality, but creates entirely by himself.”
Walking through the world in “A Robe of Stars and Rainbows
By the Marvelous Marty.

The ———THANKS!

Philosophers With Strange Personalities and Theories, Part 1

(This is the third post in this series on Philosophers. The second post focused on the long history of philosophers as mathematicians and their many accomplishments. This post focuses on some of the unusual personalities involved in this vocation and the theories they advocated. . The first post focused on philosophy as a set of standard puzzles or conceptual problems. It should be acknowledged that the “Western” tradition of philosophy is our focus; men such as Confucius and Lao Tsu are sadly excluded due to my limited capacities.)

Diogenes by John William Waterhouse. Diogenes rejected the customs of his time and reportedly lived in a ceramic jar.

Socrates is one of the originators of western philosophy. He reportedly took his own theory so seriously that he was willing to drink a cup of poison hemlock and die, in response to a death sentence for his beliefs trumped up as charges of corruption of the youth and disrespect for the gods. He could have escaped but refused to run from the verdict of his peers.

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (1787). In his final lesson to his pupils, Socrates accepts the verdict of the polis and takes the cup of hemlock.

Most known for his method of question and answer, Socrates believed that truth could only be attained through a probing dialogue of the opinions of the community. These Socratic Dialogues are displayed in the works of Plato where Socrates guides his rhetorical partners to the discovery of the truth contained in their beliefs. Therefore, a man with no community was fatally incomplete. In this sense, Socrates accepted the verdict of his community and willingly participated in his own death, declining the option of exile.

Diogenes Searches for an Honest Man by J.H.W. Tischbein (1780). He roamed the streets of Athens with a lamp in the daytime to demonstrate his belief that most “appropriate behavior” was motivated only by a fear of retribution and a fear of the adverse opinion of others. Sincerity was hard to find, believed The Cynic.

With Socrates’ death, Plato rose to prominence, but his authority was not accepted by Diogenes and several other Athenian thinkers. He, and Antisthenes, reacted to the Socratic Method by regarding it as having proven the emptiness of common opinion and custom. They founded the school of philosophical Cynicism, and coached indifference to life and to the opinion of others. Diogenes accepted poverty and shocked his fellow Athenians by urinating on them, and defecating and masturbating in public. The Cynic defended all these behaviors with argumentation and snide comments about the shallowness of common society. At Plato’s lectures, Diogenes was present merely to heckle.

In Modern Philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein is not only known for his philosophical accomplishments but also his personality. “Enigmatic” and “herculean” seem to be words well suited to him. Twice he thought he had solved all the problems of philosophy, and each time from a basically different perspective. After the first triumph, he gave up philosophy and taught grade school in a rural area of Austria. (It should be noted that this idyllic tale of a return to the simplicity of the rural school teacher ended when Wittgenstein apparently whacked a dull-minded student who then passed out and filed charges.)

Looking more like a mug shot, this is Wittgenstein’s portrait taken upon his return to Trinity College, Cambridge England in 1929.

Personally, he was very difficult to know. Wittgenstein had a very disarming approach toward people; disdaining the “pleasantries of common conversation,” he often spoke without any pretense and was uncomfortably direct. At Oxford, he commanded great respect from persons such as Bertrand Russell who became his mentor, initially. Among these people, Wittgenstein was a dominant presence and influence, this included his students and colleagues. A friend and philosopher said, “Each conversation with (him) was like living through the day of judgment. It was terrible. Everything had constantly to be dug up anew, questioned and subjected to the test of truthfulness.” It is as if he had to penetrate to the essence of everything, felt novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, for whom Ludwig apparently served as the inspiration for several of her fictional characters.

So, he had highly accomplished friends and acquaintances, and he made a deep impact on many of them. It bordered on something like a cult, some commentators have suggested.

Wittgenstein’s Poker is an entire book written around an incident that occurred in 1946 at a meeting of the Moral Science Club at Oxford where another prominent philosopher of the time, Karl Popper, was to deliver a paper. That book is the source of much of this material and a worthy read. Popper and Wittgenstein were from Vienna, Jewish, and of the same era, but had little else in common. The book describes their lives, philosophies and then this eventual encounter in which Ludwig gave Popper all of about five minutes into the paper before he burst in with several questions, lost his temper in response to Popper’s answers, and then grabbed a fireplace poker. He brandished the poker in the air and at Popper for affect, until disarmed; at which point he stormed from the room.

By the way, Wittgenstein’s father was one of the richest men in Europe. He was the Andrew Carnegie of Austria, in other words—steel. He was a brilliant businessman and highly demanding of all those around him, especially his sons. Two of his sons eventually committed suicide and Ludwig was haunted by phobias and a death-wish through much of his life. In possible defense of the father, it should be said that post WWI Europe was a time and place where many men took their own lives. One of Ludwig’s brothers did so in the shame caused when his Austrian soldiers mutinied and refused to follow him into battle. When his father died, Ludwig became terribly rich, but he put most of his money into a trust to be managed by his sisters and brother, and proceeded to live very modestly.

The Grand Staircase of “The Wittgenstein House” as the father, Karl, preferred to call it. Most people referred to it as the Palais Wittgenstein, The Palace of Wittgenstein.
One of the Salons of the Palais, grand piano at left. A pianist playing at the ‘house’ could chose between six grand pianos.

As Ludwig grew up, The Wittgenstein House was one of the most prominent in Vienna. His father was active in many progressive political causes and his mother was a patron of the arts. Musicians, politicians, artists and activists flocked there in search of patronage, conversation and dazzling personal performances and social affairs. Ludwig’s brother, Paul, was himself a concert pianist until the First World War deprived him of his right arm, at which point two Concertos For the Left Hand where written for him, one by Ravel (the most famous) and one by Prokofiev.

In 1925, Wittgenstein’s sister commissioned the design and construction of a thoroughly modern townhouse. She hired her friend, architect Paul Engelmann, with the assistance of Ludwig, to accomplish this project.

The Haus Wittgenstein in Vienna is a series of interconnected boxes. The more I look at it and learn about it, the more I like it.

It is not clear who did what, but the attention to detail and precision in much of the house is characteristically Ludwig. The house seems to me to be remarkable in its clean and classic symmetry, but strikingly modern. The stories abound concerning these features. Steam radiators designed and cast as no others before or since. Each radiator as if an art object. Craftsmen furious and screaming concerning Wittgenstein’s concern for every millimeter. The house was nearly complete, one story goes, when Ludwig insisted the ceiling in a main room be torn out and raised three (3!) centimeters. Upon completion, all agreed the adjustment was beneficial.

The house’s design is “Stark and stripped back to its bare bones, it eschews all forms of decoration,” and this is in line with the beliefs of Alfred Loos, leading modernist architect of the time and Engelmann’s mentor. Ludwig thoroughly agreed with these principles and declared that architecture was more difficult than philosophy.

(The Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein House: An interior staircase, a doorway-window combination and its multiple options, one of the specially designed and cast steam radiators. Thanks to The London List site for all photos of house and above quote.)

Wittgenstein accepted Engelmann’s basic structure of the house, reportedly; but made major alterations to the interior floor plan and details.

(Stay tuned, Part II to be published Tomorrow Morning! Part II: What did this strange and ingenious man –Ludwig Wittgenstein — think about the THE SHAPE OF REALITY???)



Will Republicans Attempt to Defend the Indefensible?

Who would have thought that I would ever become a Liz Cheney fan?

Acts of political and personal courage should be acknowledged, especially these days. Liz Cheney is standing firm against “The Big Lie,” that her party actually won the past presidential election, that it was “stolen.” 70% of Republicans believe it was illegitimate, according to CBS Nightly News. Cheney is the daughter of Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney and a conservative congresswoman from Wyoming. Despite these bone fides she is under attack from Mr. Trump and the Republican leadership for her efforts to uphold our country’s democratic integrity.

The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” she wrote May 5th in an op-ed for the Washington Post. She declares that Republicans must stand with “the rule of law” and reject “the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

Here in Ohio, we face a similar challenge. Will Jane Timken attempt to defend the indefensible?  In her guest column in The Dispatch of 4/13, “President, Allies on Reckless Tax-and-Spend Policy Program,” Timken—former chairwoman of the Ohio Republican Party– emphasizes her allegiance to former President Trump. 

She will “advance an America First agenda.” She will oppose “the far-left agenda” of the “radical” Green New Deal.  She credits Mr. Trump with the development of the vaccines that have “turned a corner” on the COVID pandemic. Yes, these same vaccines that many Republicans now refuse to get.

This last contention, especially, raises the question, will she play fast and loose with the facts as does Trump?  We all know that the Trump administration deserves no credit for containing or defeating this virus.  Mr. Trump opposed mask-wearing and declined to social distance.  Several of his events became mass spreaders. His administration provided little guidance, support or coordination to our states during this clearly national crisis.

Ms. Timken seeks the Republican nomination for Ohio’s soon-to-be-vacated senatorial seat.  At the start of every Q & A session of her campaign she should be asked, “Do you believe the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen by the Democrats?” Unless she clearly and unequivocally rejects this lie, it should be held as the central issue of her candidacy.

There is little question that there is no real or ample proof of a fraudulent election.  Beyond Cheney, other stalwart Republicans are disavowing the lie.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s courageous speech after the traitorous events of January 6th stands out as a highlight in contemporary American politics.  “Enough is enough,” he said, “It is over…Joe Biden is the legitimate President of The United States.”  Graham continued by saying that he has been told there are thousands of fraudulent votes in Georgia and Arizona, to which he replied, “give me ten”—show me proof of ten—but the result was zero, “haven’t got one.”  No proof has been presented to him, he declared.

Recently, an old hand in Ohio and American Republican politics—John Boehner, commented (NPR, 4/12) that he believes former President Trump has “abused the loyalty and trust of his supporters.”  On the supposed illegitimate votes, “There’s really been nothing of any significance that would have changed one state’s election outcome, not one…nothing even close,” he said. Boehner is a former Ohio congressman and Speaker of The House of Representatives.

This lie needs to be rejected. The self-serving, delusional, and paranoid thinking that is at its basis, needs to be rejected. American politics is not often pretty, but our electoral integrity stands true. It is our American “miracle” writes Cheney, quoting the Republican Party idol, former President Ronald Reagan.

We are not perfect, but we keep trying to ensure the right.
Like Atlas, upholding THE LARGER UNITY; the Help! This Thing is Getting Heavy!”

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