February 2012

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Last Sunday I caught Bill Moyers on PBS and he had two interesting interviewees as usual. The first, Neal Gabler, talked on the influence of Pop Culture on politics, and the second, Christian Wiman, talked about his life, love, incurable cancer, and he read a couple of his poems.

The theme of the Wiman interview was his love, faith, and incurable cancer. His two poems, “Five Houses Down” and “Sitting Down to Breakfast Alone”, were written during the infrequent times when he was free from worry and self doubt. Moyers quizzed him in depth about his religious faith and it’s clearly unconventional, although he is a christian.

Moyers showed an interview he had previously conducted with Clive James in which James showed great anger with God. Wiman’s response was that this was merely a human projection of God and that we have to get beyond this humanized notion. He invoked Simone Weil a couple times. At least Wiman is not your conventional christian if he likes Simone Weil who was a christian mystic. But he loses me at this point. However, I’ll hasten to add if there is a God, it would have to be incomprehensible in the sense that Wiman seems to believe, and perhaps even Weil.

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The problem of where our mind is — it’s in the brain, but how, where? — is tackled in these abstracts from the Philosophy Workshop on the Embodied Mind, July 9-10, 2007, University of Hull.

Here’s a typical abstract:

“The Apparent Truth of Dualism and the Uncanny Body”

Stephen Burwood
University of Hull

It has been suggested that our experiences of embodiment in general appear to constitute an experiential ground for dualist philosophy and that this is particularly so with experiences of dissociation, in which one feels estranged from one’s body. Thus, Drew Leder argues that these play “a crucial role in encouraging and supporting Cartesian dualism” as they “seem to support the doctrine of an immaterial mind trapped inside an alien body”. In this paper I argue that as dualism does not capture the character of such experiences there is not even an apparent separation of self and body revealed here and that one’s body is experienced as uncanny rather than alien. The general relationship between our philosophical theorizing and the phenomenology of lived experience is also considered.

Neuroscience in general does not concern itself with these philosophical meanderings, but I’m strangely, in fact strongly attracted to them.

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Master of Aging

Why don’t I sign up for this course: Master of Aging Services Management?

Considering my age, why don’t they just give me an honorary Master’s Degree? An Hon. MASM perhaps?

Forget it. MASM is too close to SPASM, and I don’t need any of those.



The Oxford County, Maine, Democratic Caucus held a meeting yesterday at the Denmark Town Library. I was able to resign from everything and still get my picture taken twice. Here’s one:

And here’s the other:

There were ten of us there, and we elected some new blood into the committees. Feel good about that because my guilt is assuaged.

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Sam Harris is a well known atheist, a hater of religion along with the other “horsemen”, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Dan Dennett, but he has this mystical side. That word, mystical, must be defined very carefully, however, or the wrath of Sam will be upon you.

Here is a good tract by Sam Harris in which he goes into this. He argues that secularism has no content other than its negativity:

To be secular, one need do nothing more than live in perpetual opposition to the unsubstantiated claims of religious dogmatists.

The “mysticism” he espouses has to do with meditation and the mystery of consciousness. Here is the last sentence of his third note in his article:

Still, consciousness remains a genuine mystery, and anyone who attempts to study it is confronted by serious conceptual and empirical problems

Antonio Damasio, a well known neuroscientist, has a new book out in which he attempts to explain consciousness scientifically. However, John Searle, a well known American philosopher takes issue with Damasio’s claim in his New York Review of Books article, The Mystery of Consciousness Continues.

All very interesting.

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I’m still surfing through poets.org. This morning I stumbled upon this irresistible poem. How great it is! The poem, that is. Not the king who maybe some day would be Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Ah, Shelley! Was it true he was want to run naked through drawing rooms? But the poor guy perished at not quite the mere age of thirty in his schooner the Don Juan while attempting to sail to Italy. (Thank you for the factoid, poets.org)

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A poem by Yeats

Just now I’ve been skimming through the poems about aging on poetry.org. This one by Yeats which once I had memorized spoke to me.

When You are Old
by W. B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Yes, I dream of the soft look your eyes had once, and see too their shadows deep. Did you know the end was near? You so liked “The End” by Mark Strand. Yes, I loved the pilgrim soul in you, but feared the sorrows of your changing face. And now my Love has fled and is hidden somewhere amid a crowd of stars. Can I find you there?

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Lawrence Krauss (the officianados call him Larry;) has answered the question Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? in his new book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, or should I say he has claimed to have answered the question.

But I’m sure old Martin Heidegger, Nazi sympathizer that he was, is rolling over in his grave now saying, “No, he hasn’t. The Nothing that Krauss uses is really not the true Nothing, but already a Something. The true Nothing is not empty space but the absence of empty space altogether, in fact, “There was not then what is nor what is not.”, as found in the Song of Creation from the Rig Veda is perhaps an approximate, and only approximate, way of characterizing the Nothing.”

I hope my translation of his German is accurate. Old Martin was talking really fast and sputtering in frustration from his grave there. But I think I caught the gist of it, I hope.


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I just finished another of Cristina Garcia’s books, my third in fact. The first two were Dreaming in Cuban and The Agüero Sisters. This one, The Lady Matador’s Hotel, is more concise and focused than the other two, but still contains the elements of the supernatural and the fascinating backgrounds, although in less detail, of the main characters. It’s beautiful the way the five main characters, all pretty bizarre, and this is Garcia’s fifth novel, are loosely connected in subtle and some not so subtle ways to provide an exciting tapestry of interconnected developing events.

We begin to see how these interconnections might resolve themselves for each character as the six short chapters, with one “Interlude”, move on, but only in the epilogue are the climax and most of the final resolutions reached. The excitement builds gradually and it’s often ironic the way the events weave this excitement with supernatural, often comic, aspects.

But I haven’t even said what the book is about!

The events take place in an unnamed undemocratic Central American country on the eve of elections. The five main characters are each staying at the same hotel in a hot, dusty, and poverty plagued city. Plots and intrigues occur in the background and impinge upon each of the characters, distorting or enhancing their plans and hopes. The excitement builds steadily as the chapters, and “news reports” at the end of each chapter, move on. Toward the end I could not put this book down as the problems facing each character increased in intensity, but at the end I felt relieved and satisfied with the outcomes.

A great read!

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Paul Krugman has been berating against austerity hawks for years now to little effect. His latest rant, a good one as usual, is here. He gives excellent arguments, always has, for why austerity doesn’t work in a time of high unemployment and low growth. Maybe there are many of these austerity hawks who know this but as long as they themselves benefit, why change their cash cow?

Oh, and is there anyone out there who can give counter arguments as to why austerity might work? I doubt I’ll get an answer because during the last week this blog received only 15 unique visits. The chance that one of those might be willing, or especially, even interested in taking on Paul Krugman, is pretty slim indeed.

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