12.0394 souls; first things of the humanities

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 3 Feb 1999 21:06:00 +0000 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 394.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Stephen Clark <srlclark@liverpool.ac.uk> (39)
Subject: souls

[2] From: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu> (57)
Subject: First Things

Date: Wed, 03 Feb 1999 21:04:14 +0000
From: Stephen Clark <srlclark@liverpool.ac.uk>
Subject: souls

On Tue, 2 Feb 1999, Willard wrote:

>Cultural evolution has been characterised by a series of great blows to our
>self-conception: Copernicus' astronomy, to the centrality of the earth,
Darwin's evolution, to our unique place
>among life-forms; Freud's psychoanalysis, to our notion of inner freedom
>from the bestial; and now, of course, Turing's machine.

I'm dubious. Heliocentrism was preferred because (a) the sun seemed a
more glorious centre, (b) the earth was elevated from the *bottom* (the
pits) of the universe, and now rode in the heavens, free from the
malign influence of the stargods who had contained her. [Oh yes,
and (c) it worked better, at least when Kepler had refined it,
as a predictive device]. Darwin's theory, as it was interpreted by his
readers, assured us that human beings (and especially Europeans)
deserved to be top because `we' had been selected by Nature (and by
covert implication, there was no-one now to whom we must defer). Freud
(as interpreted) meant that we could be freed of `irrational fears and
obsessions'. And `Turing's Machine' is testimony to our godlike capacity
to create living creatures....

So these supposed shocks actually encouraged our self-conceit...

As to the x-rays:

>Someone will
>undoubtedly note that for example the corporeal notion of a soul, as if it
>were some inner organ, may have been shown to be piffle, but the idea behind
>it has metamorphosed rather than simply vanished.

But who held a `corporeal notion of a soul' in that sense? Stoics and
Epicureans did indeed think that only bodies had real effects, and that
mental activity must be construed as the action of bodies. They wouldn't
have been worried by X-rays. Platonists (and Cartesians) were clear that
souls *couldn't* be corporeal (extended) substances. THe whole point of
a soul is that it provided the unity that extended substance cannot
provide for itself. So they wouldn't have been worried by x-rays either.

THere is a story by A.K.Dewdney, The Planiverse, which is mostly to do
with the construction of a two-dimensional world and ecosystem
(following Abbott's Flatland and some others). The stereotypically
obtuse human characters, hearing the Planiversers talk about their inner
being, fatuously say that their inner being is visibly only a collection
of (2-dimensional) organs. But that was never what `inner being' meant.

Best wishes

Stephen Clark

Date: Wed, 03 Feb 1999 21:05:17 +0000
From: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: First Things

I was working my cryptoquotes this morning, and I noticed that Aldous Huxley
had put into words what I was trying to show in examples yesterday. It is
from his The Doors of Perception, according to the puzzle:

We must learn how to handle words effectively; but at the same time we must
preserve and, if necessary, intensify our ability to look at the world
directly and not through that half opaque medium of concepts, which distorts
every given fact into the all too familiar likeness of some generic label or
explanatory abstraction.

This is, of course, but another form of the inexpressibility topos
articulated by so many of our best authors. Words are at the same time the
tools for our thought and an impediment to our thinking:

Bergson (Essai sur les donnees immediates de la conscience, 100): "Bref, le
mot aux contours bien arretes, le mot brutal, qui emmagasine ce qu'il y a de
stable, de commun et par consequent d'impersonnel dans les impressions de
l'humanite, ecrase ou tout au moins recouvre les impressions delicates et
fugitives de notre conscience individuelle."

[In brief, the word, with its well-formed contours, the brutal word, which
codifies (puts into a file cabinet) everything which is stable, common and,
consequently, impersonal in the impressions of mankind, crushes or at least
covers up the delicate and fleeting impressions of our individual mind.]

Goethe (Farbenlehre, vol. 40, 87): "Jedoch wie schwer ist es, das Zeichen
nicht an die Stelle der Sache zu setzen, das Wesen immer lebendig vor sich zu
haben und es nicht durch das Wort zu toeten."

[But how difficult it is not to substitute the sign for the thing, to keep
its essence always alive before us and not to kill it by the word.]

Thomas Mann (Krull): Nur an den beiden Polen menschlicher Verbindung, dort,
wo es noch keine oder keine Worte mehr gibt, im Blick und in der Umarmung,
ist eigentlich das Glueck zu finden, denn nur dort ist Unbedingtheit,
Freiheit, Geheimnis und tiefe Ruecksichtslosigkeit. Alles, was an Verkehr
und Austausch dazwischenliegt, ist flau und lau, ist durch Foermlichkeit und
buergerliche Uebereinkunft bestimmt, bedingt und beschraenkt. Hier herrscht
das Wort, -- dies matte und kuehle Mittel, dies erste Erzeugnis zahmer,
maessiger Gesittung, so wesensfremd der heissen und stummen Sphaere der
Natur, da! man sagen koennte, jedes Wort sei an und fuer sich als solches
bereits eine Phrase.

[Only at the two poles of human connectivity, there where there are not yet
or no longer any words, in the first glance and in the embrace, that is where
joy is to be found, for only there do we have unconditionality, freedom,
mystery and deep lack of consideration. Everything which lies between thesee
two, of intercourse and exchange, is flat and lukewarm, is defined and
determined by formality and civil agreement, and limited by these. Here the
word is master -- this dull and cool tool, this first product of tame,
moderate propriety, in essence so foreign to the warm and mute sphere of
nature that one could even say that any word was in and of itself already a

Wittgenstein: Die Ergebnisse der Philosophie sind die Entdeckung irgendeines
schlichten Unsinns und Beulen, die sich der Verstand beim Anrennen an die
Grenze der Sprache geholt hat.

[The results of philosophy are the discoveery of some simple nonsense and the
lumps which understanding has given itself while running into [by bumping
into] the limits of language.]

I think when we speak of the first things of the humanities we need to begin
with words, concepts and meanings, which is not at all easy to do. I
apologize to the authors and you for the poor translations above. Traduttori
traditori, but note that it has been truly said that a translation is a

Jim Marchand.

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