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Showing posts from June 8, 2014

replay: the trouble with thought experiments

In 1877, John Tyndall gave an address in Belfast   that was emblematic of the high and confident positivism of the time. In one passage, he violates one of the canons of Victorian gentility – the Oxford variety – by aligning himself with the gloriously vulgar tradition, going back to Francis Bacon, of using Aristotle, conceived of as the father of  a lot of a priori nonsense, as an all purpose punching bag:         “…in Aristotle, as in Goethe, it was not, I believe, misdirection, but sheer natural incapacity which lay at the root of his mistakes. As a physicist, Aristotle displayed what we should consider some of the worst attributes of a modern physical investigator: indistinctness of ideas, confusion of mind, and a confident use of language, which led to the delusive notion that he had really mastered his subject, while he had as yet failed to grasp even the elements of it. He put words in the place of things, subject in the place of object. He preached Induction without practisin

Iraq: more fruits from the criminal American occupation

By any real standard of international conduct, the American invasion of Iraq was a crime, which the occupation compounded a thousand fold – or should I say 450,000 thousand fold, as that is the latest concensus figure as to how many people died in the post-invasion violence? It is one of the signs of the cretinous influence of the same journalistic clique that got us into the war that the newspapers, when writing about the war, still use “around 100,000 dead” as their standard cliché. Casualties are tedious, but I am sure that an article about 9.11 that understated the number of the dead by about 5 times (dozens of people were killed at the WTC) would receive condemnation from the chorus of the defenders of our grievances.  It would be the height of fifth column lefty anti-Americanism, and probably anti-semitic too! No such problems cross the mind when underplaying the Iraqi massacre. It looks like Maliki’s government is crumbling, and we are going into another stage of the disaster

the negative labyrinth

We know the labyrinth, with its enclosing folds, at the claustrophobic center of which resides the secret for which the structure was built. But the negative labyrinth is, perhaps, De Quincey’s invention. You find suggestions of that image all over his work, but most concentratedly in Suspira de Profundis, when he explains his idea of the brain as a palimpsest. The idea is introduced in a very odd and distaff way – De Quincey tells us that his explanation of the palimpsest is aimed at his women readers, who have not taken Greek – or if they have taken it, will politely hold mum, in order not to embarrass their men. This entirely unnecessary gesture is followed by a long discussion of the palimpsest as a metaphor for memory, where traces are erased to receive other traces, and then erased again. Yeet each level can be recovered given the right chemical solution (which, in De Quincey’s case, will definely involve opoids). Although on first glance a palimpsest is not a labyrinthian produ