This is a new and special project on this blog: we invite people from all over the world to blog here for 14 days – reality as they perceive it. That can be four postings on four different days, or a posting every night with a thought. Different topics or a singe topic evolving, personal, creative — as we hope with pictures taken with mobile phones of that reality. Contact us if you feel two weeks sharing your views and thoughts, two weeks of reflection for yourself, might be an interesting thing to risk. Share your perspectives!
[London, UK] ‘Would you investigate the new Atheist Church in London for us?’
Sure, always up for discovering new things in London (an endless enterprise, so suggestions are always welcome), I was more than happy to attend a church service – or Sunday Assembly, as they call it themselves – in a church in my old neighbourhood. Would I be brainwashed by the gathering, at least I would be close my favourite bakery for coffee and pastries afterwards.
The Sunday Assembly is supposedly the first Atheist Church in London – worldwide there have been several attempts throughout history to try to set up an Atheist Church, most of them with little result. The initiative for this Sunday Assembly came from two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, and their motto is ‘Live better. Help often. Wonder more’. It’s as simple as that. However, the huge media attention this new initiative has recieved so far, shows that there are as many eager curious as anxious skeptics (just Google if you like to read more comments). So who are these ‘atheists’? And what are they looking for in a church?
Well, Guardian-reading, middle class, trendy-looking Londoners, as it turns out. On the first sunny Sunday in ages (April 7th 2013), I made my way to the other end of town to attend ‘Easter for Atheist’ at the place of worship of the Sunday Assembly, the Nave in Islington. The first few Sunday Assemblies had been so popular, that this Sunday even had two meetings in a row, and still left people disappointed at the door steps. And indeed, when I arrived half an hour before the start of the event, there was already a queue of eager atheists up to the gate of the church which extended in high tempo around the corner of the street. Most of them arrived in groups of two to four people – there were couples, people who brought one of their parents along, etc. Most striking of all: everyone seemed very excited to be there, to spend their Sunday morning waiting in front of the church in anticipation of the assembly – how different from most Sunday morning services…
The entire meeting was strongly based upon a traditional church service, which made me wonder (it works!) about the role and function of church services in general, and what attracts people to attend them. Sanderson Jones tackled this problem in his introduction, after he had explained that this Sunday’s ‘Easter for Atheist’ was a week late, since the Easter weekend is always so busy for him due to look-alike work:
The tone was set, and Jones continued with ‘his first parable’, explaining that if you like a shoe but it has a pebble in it , you would not throw away the entire shoe, would you? Obviously, you would just take out the pebble. In other words, the Sunday Assembly just takes out the bad parts (God) and keeps the good bits (singing, a sense of community, a talk to think about, and tea at the end). And they definitely add a lot of humor.
Despite the exclusion of God to this Sunday morning in church, we were addressed as a congregation of believers-of-the-same. This made me feel slightly uncomfortable, partly because I grew up with the notion that I should never say ‘yes’ to anything before I have read the small prints, secondly because because I thought we were supposed to be a group of non-believers. Luckily, we were not asked to say ‘yes’ or ‘amen’ to anything, or lisp any Atheist Creed. Nevertheless, this was the point at which it began to dawn on me that about half of the ‘congregation’ was filled with visitors like me, people who came out of curiosity for this new phenomenon, and could not be pinned down as ‘believers of the same’, as there is not much to believe in when it comes to the Sunday Assembly.
I am not going to go into the meaning of ‘believing’ as such here, but I do think that it brings us to a core of the gathering. What makes people go to church (or not), and if it is not God, what is it that binds a ‘congregation’ together? Personally, it freaks me out if someone tells me what to believe, what makes my relationship to Christianity a complicated one. On the other hand, I do like the tradition and recognition of the same old patterns when going to a church service (strengthened by my usual active role as choir singer). These familiar structures make me somehow feel at home.
If you do not go to church, for whatever reason, this does not always mean that you do not like this sense of familiarity (whether this familiarity means a community, or singing familiar songs, or saying the same words together, obviously divers per person), and can be missed as a some kind of social structure. I think this is what the Sunday Assembly and its participants try to gain, to form a group of people gathering together, to build something that will become familiar, from which will spring a certain sense of community. And why not using an already existing form, so that the participants do not need to familiarize themselves with too many new concepts and structures? And spread the message over the world. And it clearly has an inclination to spread as we can see from the many initiatives worldwide to set up their own Sunday Assembly. Pippa Evans was not present at last Sunday’s Assembly since she was in Australia to prepare the first Australian Sunday Assembly (21 April in Melbourne), to name one example.
As long as it is not turning into a new church with its own dogma’s, rules and exclusions, it seems a great initiative. The fact that so many people came for the first time last Sunday, means on the one hand that there is interest and curiosity for it, but it also means that there is not a real community yet. The name ‘Atheist Church’ attracts a lot of spectators, who probably do not want to become a part of that community. Notwithstanding, it has to be said that the line-up of songs and the many jocular comments by Sanderson Jones throughout the morning show, brought a very jolly and positive atmosphere. And who would want not finish their Sunday morning by singing – together with a congregation, the band, following the great examples of British humor.
Not brainwashed, but nevertheless determined to get my coffee and pastry, I set off to the bakery, walking through the bright sun and with a jolly good mood.
[Gotha, Germany] This short tweet surprised me in its sharpness
— Aashish C (@c_aashish) April 1, 2013
I opened a twitter account for our website (as I had never understood why anyone would love to communicate in 140 character messages). Its quite unlike facebook, quite another game. Facebook is more exclusive with its system of mutual friendships and more authoritative with the feature of designed official pages you can run in order to send messages to fans and supply them with items they might “like” to spread. The regular facebook item is bigger: is an image with a message or an album of images. Facebook inspires the visualisation of messages.
Twitter is coincidental. Start with the search function. You can do “hashtag searches” – searches with a # at the #beginning of a #word, and you will find the community’s agreements on ongoing discourses to which new messages are supposed to belong. You can just as well search any word you like. Here the searches for positivism or positivist, and you will get far beyond the intended discourse, into the ongoing usage of the word.
Breathe positivism, girl
— Pau Kardashian (@Pau_JB) April 5, 2013
You can interfere in ongoing exchanges, quite indecent but funny. You can “retweet” a message you find funny among your followers, you can “favourite” it, but you can also address those who were involved in this exchange by pressing the reply button. Suddenly you are in their talk. They can block you of course, but they might allow you to be part of the party. Someone said something, like the person next to you at the ship’s railing looking into the same distance, you respond and are in a debate. Here a fragment of a morning of thought with Egyptian born actress Amanda Azim whose scattered remarks about ethics and the sciences had startled me:
.@positivistsorg Of course not. Bottomline is to prove, with evidence, that which is optimal – not a pretext to rule people
— Amanda Azim (@AmandaAzim) April 6, 2013
Most tweets that mention positivism are of the post-1950s evangelical type. People all around the world love to begin their days with the simple tweet #positivism! And voilá, its a wonderful day, here you are! I had an intriguing discussion about the historical usages of the word and its differentiations with Cascokid and can’t agree more:
The thing about Twitter: You try to tell a joke about Logical Positivism, and you end up in an excellent discussion w/a living(!) positivist
— Cascokid (@cascokid) April 6, 2013
well, the dead ones are not really talkative I’ve heard.
If you have not got a twitter account you can follow these twitter exhanges here on our website http://positivists.org/2.html
[Gotha, Germany] What puzzles me is the question how much of Mach’s positivism, or even Wittgenstein’s neo-positivism (if both allow me these categorisations) is actually inherent in Comte’s explicit positivism. I used to think: not much. Yet whenever I read fragments of Comte, I see it there, strikingly developed (though difficult to accept from such a voice of authority). One should take a look at Comte on matter, Comte on theory and the interpretation of facts (rather than the exploration of matter) and one should get a clearer understanding of this sociological turn that almost secures him from running into the explorations of (eventually personal) perception and potential solipsism Mach so much enjoys.
What is most striking on all these accounts? Probably Comte’s readiness to declare all scientific knowledge merely relative. Even Newton’s laws of gravitation should not be overestimated in this respect. In a historical perspective they will prove relative. In future debates we will handle quite another theoretical frame, Comte feels entitled to proclaim.
Here is the passage from his Cours de philosophie positive (1830-1842) the English 19th-century edition — The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. “Freely translated and Condensed by Harriet Martineau”, the three volume edition of 1896 with a preface by Frederic Harrison, London: George Bell and Sons, vol. 1, p.198-99:
It must be understood that I advocate simply a suspension of judgment where there is no ground for either affirmation or denial. I merely desire to keep in view that all our positive knowledge is relative; and, in my dread of our resting in notions of anything absolute, I would venture to say that I can conceive of such a thing as even our theory of gravitation being hereafter superseded. I do not think it probable; and the fact will ever remain that it answers completely to our present needs. It sustains us, up to the last point of precision that we can attain. If a future generation should reach a greater, and feel, in consequence, a need to construct a new law of gravitation, it will be as true as it now is that the Newtonian theory is, in the midst of inevitable variations, stable enough to give steadiness and confidence to our understandings. It will appear hereafter how inestimable this theory is in the interpretation of the phenomena of the interior of our system. We already see how much we owe to it, apart from all specific knowledge which it has given us, in the advancement of our philosophical progress, and of the general education of human reason. Descartes could not rise to a mechanical conception of general phenomena without occupying himself with a baseless hypothesis about their mode of production. This was, doubtless, a necessary process of transition from the old notions of the absolute to the positive view; but too long a continuance in this stage would have seriously impeded human progress. The Newtonian discovery set us forward in the true positive direction. It retains Descartes’ fundamental idea of a Mechanism, but casts aside all inquiry into its origin and mode of production. It shows practically how, without attempting to penetrate into the essence of phenomena, we may connect and assimilate them, so as to attain, with precision and certainty, the true end of our studies,—that exact prevision of events which à priori conceptions are necessarily unable to supply. [link Internet Arcive]
“If a future generation should reach a greater, and feel, in consequence, a need to construct a new law of gravitation, it will be as true as it now is that the Newtonian theory is, in the midst of inevitable variations, stable enough to give steadiness and confidence to our understandings” — that is far reaching. This seems to be a consideration under the premise that we are getting closer and closer to the truth, and yet it is more. Is it a step into pragmatism? into knowledge as a social convention? History becomes the greater continuum in which one has to explain the theory (Comte did that in the preceding chapters with a perspective on how Newton got rid of the mechanical concepts his predecessors had still been using). Difficult to tell. Comte will eventually step from mathematics to sociology as the highest science.
Seems they are still teaching Newton’s gravitation though — this MIT Prof. Walter Lewin explaining it to his students [Source Wikimedia Commons].
“Matter” is among the concepts he rejects – as a positivist or as a strict empiricist. In the preface to the fourth edition of his Analysis of Sensations (1902) he is happy about the company of those philosophers who have developed much the same views during the past 35 years — “positivists, critical empiricists, adherents of the philosophy of immanence, and certain isolated scientists as well.”
We do not experience matter, so Mach. The very idea of constancy (required by matter as soon as it is suppoesd to be elementary and irreducible) cannot become part of our perceptions. We are dealing with perceptions, and we create models which might involve the construction of space and of objects occupying this space. The physicist should, however, so Mach, leave the question of substance open:
Really unconditioned constancy does not exist, as will be evident from the preceding considerations. We attain to the idea of absolute constancy only as we overlook or underrate conditions, or as we regard them as always given, or as we deliberately disregard them. There is only one sort of constancy, which embraces all the cases that occur, namely, constancy of connexion or of relation. Substance, again, or matter, is not anything unconditionally constant. What we call matter is a combination of the elements or sensations according to certain laws. The sensations connected with the different sense-organs of a particular man are dependent on one another according to laws, as are the sensations of different men. It is in this that matter consists. The older generation, especially the physicists and chemists, will be alarmed by this proposal not to treat matter as something absolutely constant, but to take as constant, instead, a fixed law of connexion among elements which in themselves seem extremely unstable. Even younger minds may find this conception difficult; but the view is inevitable, though I myself at one time went through a great struggle in order to arrive at it. We shall have to make up our minds to some such radical change in the method of our thought, if we want to escape the alternative of perpetually recurring helplessness in the face of these questions.
There can be no question of abolishing from ordinary everyday use the vulgar conception of matter which has been instinctively developed for this purpose. Moreover, all our concepts of physical measurement can be maintained, only receiving such critical elucidation as I have tried to carry out for mechanics, heat, electricity, etc. Purely empirical concepts here take the place of metaphysical. But science suffers no loss when a “matter,” which is a rigid, sterile, constant, unknown Something, is replaced by a constant law, of which the details are still capable of further explanation by means of physico-physiological research. In doing this our object is not to create a new philosophy or metaphysics, but to promote the efforts, which the positive sciences are at this moment making, towards mutual accommodation. [link into the book]
Mach is opening doors with such statements – doors into 20th- and 21st-century research. He is ready to lead into modern quantum field theory, into statements as Sean Carroll makes them in this YouTube-video in which he considers that “really the world isn’t made of particles” (but of fields that gain values at every point in space).
Mach’s readiness to go back to subjective and personal perceptions and to reduce his personal thought to elementary combinations of sensations is mindboggeling. Can he hope to define these elementary perceptions? We interpret, so Mach, tactile, visual, and acoustic sensations, we see correlations between elements of such sensations. What exactly is such an “element”? Not the individual nerve impulse, for I do not perceive that electric impulse as such.
Even our will is, so his sensation, a sensation, a perception. He looks back on a stroke he suffered in 1898. While paralysed he tried to move his arm. To be precise about this, he adds, that he could not actually get a feeling for this “will” he needed to perform the movement. The sensation of the will to move the arm had gone with the ability to move it, or was it part of that ability or part of the very movements? The perception of the will was, so it turned out, connected to the operations he would perform and lost with the ability to perform. [link into the text passage]
Do we dream our will, our impulses to move, in dreams in which we run? Is that will-sensation in the dream not as much a sensation that dream is made of as the visual field we experience while running in the dream? What is cause and consequence in all these combinations of sensations? Do we smile because we are happy? Or do we become happy when we smile? The latter, so Mach, thinking about the connections of his sensations (or persuaded much rather by the contemporary psychological debate?).
Some of the connections we draw in our interpretations of sensations seem to be preconditioned by how our brains and our sense organs are tuned to work — useful defaults of the biological evolution. Some interpretations seem, however, to be much rather cultural constructs. On the one hand we have to do much to overcome the limitations these modes of biological and cultural interpretation impose on us. On the other hand we should feel privileged and able to construct views and to transmit concepts and thoughts if not complex clusters of sensations. Connections we create live on after our deaths and Mach is ready to appreciate this afterlife. The ego that is threatetend by death has to be better understood as nothing but an interpretation and wants to be overcome as a concept of dreadful limitations:
The primary fact is not the ego, but the elements (sensations). What was said on p. 21 as to the term ” sensation ” must be borne in mind. The elements constitute the I. I have the sensation green, signifies that the element green occurs in a given complex of other elements (sensations, memories). When I cease to have the sensation green, when I die, then the elements no longer occur in the ordinary, familiar association. That is all. Only an ideal mental-economical unity, not a real unity, has ceased to exist. The ego is not a definite, unalterable, sharply bounded unity. None of these attributes are important; for all vary even within the sphere of individual life; in fact their alteration is even sought after by the individual. Continuity alone is important. This view accords admirably with the position which Weismann has reached by biological investigations. (“Zur Frage der Unsterblichkeit der Einzelligen,” Biolog Centralbl., Vol. IV., Nos. 21, 22; compare especially pages 654 and 655, where the scission of the individual into two equal halves is spoken of.) But continuity is only a means of preparing and conserving what is contained in the ego. This content, and not the ego, is the principal thing. This content, however, is not confined to the individual. With the exception of some insignificant and valueless personal memories, it remains presented in others even after the death of the individual. The elements that make up the consciousness of a given individual are firmly connected with one another, but with those of another individual they are only feebly connected, and the connexion is only casually apparent. Contents of consciousness, however, that are of universal significance, break through these limits of the individual, and, attached of course to individuals again, can enjoy a continued existence of an impersonal, superpersonal kind, independently of the personality by means of which they were developed. To contribute to this is the greatest happiness of the artist, the scientist, the inventor, the social reformer, etc.
The ego must be given up. It is partly the perception of this fact, partly the fear of it, that has given rise to the many extravagances of pessimism and optimism, and to numerous religious, ascetic, and philosophical absurdities. In the long run we shall not be able to close our eyes to this simple truth, which is the immediate outcome of psychological analysis. We shall then no longer place so high a value upon the ego, which even during the individual life greatly changes, and which, in sleep or during absorption in some idea, just in our very happiest moments, may be partially or wholly absent. We shall then be willing to renounce individual immortality,’ and not place more value upon the subsidiary elements than upon the principal ones. In this way we shall arrive at a freer and more enlightened view of life, which will preclude the disregard of other egos and the overestimation of our own. The ethical ideal founded on this view of life will be equally far removed from the ideal of the ascetic, which is not biologically tenable for whoever practises it, and vanishes at once with his disappearance, and from the ideal of an overweening Nietzschean “superman,” who cannot, and I hope will not be tolerated by his fellow-men. [link into the book]
La réception du positivisme d’Auguste Comte dans les pays de langue germanique.
Journée d’études organisée par l’EA 2326 et la Maison d’Auguste Comte, Vendredi 22 mars 2013, Université de Strasbourg. Institut Le Bel. Salle Ourisson
9h – accueil des participants
Laurent Fedi (Université de Strasbourg) : La représentation de l’élément germanique dans la philosophie d’Auguste Comte
Wolf Feuerhahn (CNRS, Centre A. Koyré) : La sociologie avec ou sans guillemets. L’ombre portée de Comte sur les sciences sociales allemandes (1880-1920)
Juliette Grange (Université de Tours) : Expliquer et comprendre chez Comte et les philosophes allemands de la tradition herméneutique.
Elisabeth Nemeth (Université de Vienne) : Du positivisme de Comte au positivisme de Mach
Michel Bourdeau (CNRS, IHPST) : Neurath, l’unité de la science et la statistique en image.
Pierre Francé (Paris):La valeur de la science. Introduction à la vie et à l’oeuvre de Raoul Francé (1874-1943)
Erna Aescht (ö- Landesmuseen, Linz) : Der positive Standpunkt und das biozentrische Weltbild Raoul Francés.
18h : Clôture.
Thematic Issue of Discipline Filosofiche XXIII, 1, 2013
Volume editors: Luca Guidetti and Giuliana Mancuso
- Advertised at: http://philevents.org/event/show/8285
- Submission deadline: Wednesday, July 31 2013 Notification of acceptance,
- conditional acceptance, rejection: 15 November 2013.
- Final version due: 15 December 2013.
Throughout all its stages – from its origins in the works of Comte, Mill and Spencer, through the empirio-criticism of Avenarius and Mach, to the logical empiricism of the Vienna and Berlin Circles – European positivism exhibits an explicit anti-metaphysical attitude, which involves the rejection of any process of inquiry that goes beyond experience or that yields assertions unverifiable by means of experience alone. The positivist critique is a critique of traditional philosophical thinking, insofar as such thinking can be identified with the history of metaphysics. So positivism presents itself as an anti-philosophical movement, or rather as a cultural trend that, in Husserl’s words, “decapitates philosophy” and so implicitly marks its end.
The aim of this special issue is to outline the scope and limits of the anti-metaphysical attitude of European positivism, and, more specifically, to assess whether and to what extent such attitude is grounded on further – and perhaps hidden – metaphysical assumptions.
Themes that contributors to the special issue may address include (but are not limited to) the various senses of “metaphysics” that are relevant to the positivist critique; the diverse theoretical positions endorsed by positivist thinkers in their attack on metaphysics (linguistic criticism, realism, monism, empiricism, physicalism, phenomenalism, biologism, naturalism, etc.); and the relations between thelogico-structural and phenomenological-observative aspects of experience positivistically conceived, at the level of both scientific and ordinary experience.
Submissions should not exceed 9,000 words including abstract, references and footnotes.
Manuscripts are welcome in English, Italian, German or French. They should be prepared for anonymous refereeing and sent by email attachment in Microsoft Word format to firstname.lastname@example.org (all submissions will be acknowledged).
Submitted manuscripts can be formatted in any clear and consistent style, but authors finalizing their papers for publication will be required to hand in a final version that respects the journal’s stylistic rules (download Style guidelines: http://www.disciplinefilosofiche.it/).
Submission of a manuscript is understood to imply that the paper has not been published before and is not being considered for publication by any other journal. The publication of the papers implies that authors waive the copyright; they could request the copyright to the jounal for future publication of them.
Excerpt from the first “antimetaphysical” chapter of: Ernst Mach. The analysis of sensations, and the relation of the physical to the psychical. London: Open Court Publishing Company, 1914. — Referring back to this posting.
The original German edition was first published in 1886 and was substantially revised in ensuing editions. The source of the 1914 English edition was Mach’s fifth edition published in 1906 and is also available in a German web edition.
The considerations just advanced, expressed as they have been in an abstract form, will gain in strength and vividness if we consider the concrete facts from which they flow. Thus, I lie upon my sofa. If I close my right eye, the picture represented in the accompanying cut is presented to my left eye In a frame formed by the ridge of my eyebrow, by my nose, and by my moustache, appears a part of my body, so far as visible, with its environment. My body differs from other human bodies – beyond the fact that every intense motor idea is immediately expressed by a movement of it, and that, if it is touched, more striking changes are determined than if other bodies are touched – by the circumstance, that it is only seen piecemeal, and, especially, is seen without a head. If I observe an element A within my field of vision, and investigate its connexion with another element B within the same field, I step out of the domain of physics into that of physiology or psychology, provided B, to use the apposite expression of a friend of mine made upon seeing this drawing, passes through my skin. Reflexions like that for the field of vision may be made with regard to the province of touch and the perceptual domains of the other senses.
[...] Ordinarily pleasure and pain are regarded as different from sensations. Yet not only tactual sensations, but all other kinds of sensations, may pass gradually into pleasure and pain. Pleasure and pain also may be justly termed sensations. Only they are not so well analysed and so familiar, nor, perhaps, limited to so few organs as the common sensations. In fact, sensations of pleasure and pain, however faint they may be, really constitute an essential part of the content of all so-called emotions. Any additional element that emerges into consciousness when we are under the influence of emotions may be described as more or less diffused and not sharply localised sensations. William James, and after him Theodule Ribot, have investigated the physiological mechanism of the emotions: they hold that what is essential is purposive tendencies of the body to action – tendencies which correspond to circumstances and are expressed in the organism. Only a part of these emerges into consciousness. We are sad because we shed tears, and not vice versa, says James [Psychology , New York, 1900, p.376]. And Ribot [La Psychologie des sentiments, 1896, engl: The Psychology of the Emotions 1897] justly observes that a cause of the backward state of our knowledge of the emotions is that we have always confined our observation to so much of these physiological processes as emerges into consciousness. At the same time he goes too far when he maintains that everything psychical is merely “surajoute” to the physical, and that it is only the physical that produces effects. For us this distinction is non-existent.
Thus, perceptions, presentations, volitions, and emotions, in short the whole inner and outer world, are put together, in combinations of varying evanescence and permanence, out of a small number of homogeneous elements. Usually, these elements are called sensations. But as vestiges of a one-sided theory inhere in that term, we prefer to speak simply of elements, as we have already done. The aim of all research is to ascertain the mode of connexion of these elements. If it proves impossible to solve the problem by assuming one set of such elements, then more than one will have to be assumed. But for the questions under discussion it would be improper to begin by making complicated assumptions in advance.
That in this complex of elements, which fundamentally is only one, the boundaries of bodies and of the ego do not admit of being established in a manner definite and sufficient for all cases, has already been remarked. To bring together elements that are most intimately connected with pleasure and pain into one ideal mental-economical unity, the ego; this is a task of the highest importance for the intellect working in the service of the pain-avoiding, pleasure-seeking will. The delimitation of the ego, therefore, is instinctively effected, is rendered familiar, and possibly becomes fixed through heredity. Owing to their high practical importance, not only for the individual, but for the entire species, the composites “ego” and “body” instinctively make good their claims, and assert themselves with elementary force. In special cases, however, in which practical ends are not concerned, but where knowledge is an end in itself, the delimitation in question may prove to be insufficient, obstructive, and untenable.
Similarly, class-consciousness, class-prejudice, the feeling of nationality, and even the narrowest-minded local patriotism may have a high importance, for certain purposes. But such attitudes will not be shared by the broad-minded investigator, at least not in moments of research. All such egoistic views are adequate only for practical purposes. Of course, even the investigator may succumb to habit. Trifling pedantries and nonsensical discussions; the cunning appropriation of others’ thoughts, with perfidious silence as to the sources; when the word of recognition must be given, the difficulty of swallowing one’s defeat, and the too common eagerness at the same time to set the opponent’s achievement in a false light: all this abundantly shows that the scientist and scholar have also the battle of existence to fight, that the ways even of science still lead to the mouth, and that the pure impulse towards knowledge is still an ideal in our present social conditions.
The primary fact is not the ego, but the elements (sensations).
[Gotha, Germany] “What you see is real” – an interesting statement made on Chen Wenling’s web page; one might ask: what else should it be? I took this screenshot, before the message will disappear into the world of unstable web artefacts, klick at it to get the full resolution:
One might be tempted to dismiss any such claim with the assistance Kant can offer, who stated that we could never see more than an image of the thing – that real “thing itself” out there. And the image we see? is, so the complaint since Plato, all too often distorted, illusionary, everything but the real thing.
Ernst Mach took the opposite stance at the end of the 19th century when stated – both with and against Kant – that we will indeed never see that mysterious “thing itself”; and that we sould hence rather not call that thing part of our reality. The “external reality” is as much as any “internal reality”, so Mach, nothing but a construct – an interesting and constructive interpretation of what we feel “we see”. All we actually have as primary reality is perceptions, sensual elements we categorise as “visual“, “acoustic”, “tactile”… and bring into a useful order (so the positivistc backbone of “empiriocriticism”). The world of “things out there” is, so Mach, a useful construct designed to allow certain predictions of how things will behave, yet really nothing more. Things as we see them behave as if they were three-dimensional objects. The attempt to prove that their world “exists” is, so Mach, philosophically futile, a step into the world of metaphysics.
And if all these perceptions were illusionary, a dream? It would not make a difference, so Mach. In this dream, we would say, that things behave as if they existed as “solid objects” that could actually hurt “us”. We try to make sense of this field of observation, our perceptions. That “arm” I claim to be “my arm” deserves this claim only because of its special relationship to other perceptions like the perception that I can move it quite unlike the window over there. I give the same interpretations to sensual data whether I “dream” them or whether I assume I “see” them.
What I see is not only real — It is the only reality I have. My interpretations are less real, are questionable, are arbitrary, stand in need of revisions (as for example, when I feel “I am waking up”).
May be Chen Wenling is a kind of neo-empiriocriticist. Can also be he wants to say that his objects are real stuff one can buy on the international art market – objects that will eventually be as real as the chilly world out there. How can I tell?
M. ZOLA GIVES SOME ADVICE
HE TELLS YOUNG FRANCE WHERE TO LOOK FOR HAPPINESS.
The Existing Tendency Toward, Mysticism Declared to be Only a Natural and Temporary Reaction Against Positivism Carried Too Far by Himself and His School in the Fields of Literature and the Arts—He Says that Work is the Only and Sufficient Source of Content.
Paris, May 20. —The annual banquet of the Students’ Association was held last night at the Hotel Moderne. Émile Zola presided and made a speech, which was received with frequent applause by the 150 members, active and honorary, who were present. His address, almost entire, follows:
“He who is among young men is not only in the best and pleasantest of company, but is sure of having auditors full of sympathy, before whom, in the desire to be loved and under-stood, he can open his heart freely.
“I, alas! am at the age when regret at being no longer young makes itself felt, when one is occupied especially with those who will soon push him aside. It is they who will condemn or continue his work. With them begins the future, and I sometimes wonder, not without anxiety, what of that which we have brought to pass they will keep and what they will cast aside. It is for them to decide, for the future is theirs. That is why I closely study the mental tendencies of the young men of to-day and read with attention their journals and reviews, trying thus to understand the new spirit that animates our schools and to see where you are going, you who are to be the intelligence and the will of to-morrow.
“In this, no doubt, there is something of egotism. I am like a man who has built a house to shelter his old age and who is anxious to know what the weather will be and whether he has made his house strong enough to withstand the coming tempests. I do not, indeed believe that any man’s work is eternal or decisive. The greatest must resign themselves to the idea of being only a moment in humanity’s ceaseless growth. But is it a small thing to have been, even for an hour, the hearer of a generation’s countersign? And since no one can stop literary progress any more than other forms of evolution, each of us must see with resignation the birth and growth of those who will replace him, who will efface, perhaps, even his memory.
“I do not deny that my old spirit of combativeness impells me, now and then, when my work is attacked, to angry resistance, yet as I face the new century I feel more of curiosity than or antagonism, more of ardent sympathy than of personal disquietude. If I and my generation are really of no other use than to till with our dry bones a break in the road over which they will march to the light, we, having done even that, will not have perished quite uselessly.
“I hear frequently enough that positivism is at the point of death, that naturalism is dead already, nay science confesses its powerlessness to give the moral peace and the happiness it promised. Of course, I shall not attempt to solve the grave problems thus suggested. Learning is not mine, and I have no authority to speak for science or for philosophy. I am, as you know, only a writer of stories, one who has divined a little now and then, and whose only competency is that which comes from having observed much and worked much. It is merely as a witness that I am going to tell you what my generation—the men who are fifty years old and whom you will soon be calling ancestors!— really were, or, rather, what they wished to be.
“When the Salon in the Champ de Mare was opened the other day, I was impressed by certain peculiarities in the pictures displayed there. People say one Salon is like another. That is untrue. The evolution is slow, but how striking would be the contrast if the pictures of years ago could be placed beside those of to-day:
“I well remember the last academic and romantic exhibitions—in 1863, perhaps. The triumph of le plein air had not come: the general tune was one of bitumen, of indistinctness, of studio half-shadows. Fifteen years later, after the influence of Manet—subject then of endless discussion—had conquered the world of art, there were other exhibitions. These, too, I remember well, in them clear and open sunshine gave the note. Everything was flooded with light, and solicitude for the true made each frame a window widely open upon nature. To-day, after fifteen more years, I notice, mingling with the same clear limpidity, a kind of mysterious haze. There is still all of the old intention to paint with sharp definition, but reality is deformed, the figures are strangely elongated, and a yearning for character and the new carries the artist into the land of dreams.
“These stages in the history of painting seem to me to offer a perfect illustration of those through which ideas have passed. The writers of my generation—who only continued the work of illustrious predecessors—also endeavored to open wide windows upon nature, to see everything and to tell it all. We swore by science alone, were enveloped in it, lived in it, breathing the air of the epoch. I confess that, by trying to bring into the domain of letters the scientist’s rigidity of method, I proved myself a narrow sectary, but who does not, while the battle is on, go further than is useful, and, who, when victorious, does not compromise his Victory by undue insistence? After all, I regret nothing. I still believe in the passion that wills and acts. And what enthusiasms and what hopes were ours! To have all knowledge, all power, ell conquests, and through truth to rebuild humanity, higher and happier!
“Now it is you, the youth of to-day, who come upon the scene. But “youth“ is a vague word, profound as the sea. Who is it, and who has the right to speak in its name? I am forced to ascribe to you the ideas given you by common report. If the ideas are not those entertained by all or even the most of you, I. must ask pardon in advance and lay the blame for my mistakes upon informants who have told me, not the truth about you, but what they desire should be true.
“It is said, then, that your generation has broken away from ours, that you no longer put your hope in science. Instead, and to avoid the great moral and social dangers which, in your opinion, are the result of so doing, you have resolved to throw yourselves back into the past and from the débris of dead beliefs to make a living one. There is, I am aware, no question of a complete divorce from science. You accept the recent conquests over nature and even purpose to enlarge them. Proven verities you would reconcile with the ancient dogmas. Science, however, is to be a thing quite apart from faith, and is to be relegated to its old position, that of a simple exercise for the intelligence, an inquiry permissible only while it retrains from touching the supernatural, the Beyond. For science, I hear, has done its work and cannot repeople the sky it has made empty nor give happiness to the souls from whom it has taken their naїve peace. So let science be modest, since it cannot acquire all knowledge by a single effort, cannot make everybody rich, nor heal all maladies. No one has yet quite dared to bid youth throw away its books and desert its masters, but already there are saints and prophets who go about exalting the virtue of Ignorance and the serenity of the simpleminded, preaching humanity’s need, so old and everwise is it, to be born again in the prehistoric village, to start once more from the position occupied by our ancestors when they had hardly struggled up out of the dirt and before there was any society or any knowledge.
“These are the things I hear.
“I do not deny that we are traversing a crisis; that there is a revolt from the feverish toil whose ambition was to know all and tell all. It was expected that science, after ruining the old world, would make a new one modeled upon our conceptions of justice and happiness. It has done nothing of the kind, and there are impatient denials that content follows knowledge. No action escapes reaction. We are reeling the fatigues of a long journey, and not a few are sitting by tile roadside, in despair because the interminable plain still stretches on in front. They even regret that, instead of coming so far, they did not lie down in a field and sleep beneath the stars. Why advance toward an ever-distant goal—why learn at all if everything cannot be learned? The child’s pure simplicity and his ignorant joys are better. And so science, having promised happiness, ends before our eyes in failure!
“Did science over promise happiness? I do not think so. Science promised the truth, and it is questionable if happiness can be made out of facts. To be content with them, even for a day, one must possess a stoicism, an absolute unselfishness, a serenity of intelligence possible only to the highest minds. Therefore a despairing cry goes up from suffering humanity. How, it asks, can we live without delusions and illusions? If there is not, somewhere, a world where justice reigns, where the wicked are punished and the good rewarded, how endure the abominations of human existence? Nature is unjust and cruel; science ends in the monstrous law of the survival of the Strongest. Reasoning thus, recoiling from realities as yet ill explained, they seek a dream, put confidence in the out-of-sight, and hope to satisfy in the Beyond their yearning for fraternity and justice.
“This despairing appeal for happiness, rising on every side, moves me infinitely. Already music has responded to it, literature is trying to satisfy the new thirst, and art is changing to show its sympathy. It is the reaction against naturalism, which is, they say, dead and buried. At any rate the movement is undeniable. It is felt in all the manifestations of mind, and unless it is taken into account, studied, and explained the outlook for the morrow is hopeless.
“I, being an old and rugged Positivist, see in all this only a halt in the march ahead. Indeed, it is not even that, for our libraries, laboratories, amphitheatres, and schools are not deserted. What reassures me most is the fact that the social ground is unchanged. For a new art to flourish, for a new belief to give humanity a new direction, there must be a new soil for them to germinate and grow in. Ours is still the democratic soil whence the century rose. Faiths are not resuscitated, and only a mythology can be made of a dead religion. The next century will affirm this one. What I will concede is that in literature we brought the horizon too near, and, personally, I regret having endeavored to limit art to proved verities.
“The new men, by re-extending the horizon, have regained possession of the unknown and the mysterious, and they have done well. Between the truths acquired through science, which are not to be shaken, and the truths to be conquered to-morrow from the unknown, which in their turn will become immovable, there is a land of doubt and inquiry. This land belongs as much to literature as to science. Into it we can go as pioneers, doing the work of precursors and interpreting, according to our talents, its unknown forces. The ideal is only the unexplained. It is well enough to invent solutions for the unknown, but we have no right to put in question, and so deny, facts already verified. As science advances the ideal retreats, and it seems to me that this slow conquest, though we have the melancholy certitude of never knowing all, gives life its only reason, its only joy.
“In these troublous days youth is told to believe, but nobody tells it exactly what to believe. Believe, they say, Tor the sake of the happiness that comes from believing, and, most especially, believe in order that you may learn to believe. The advice is not bad in itself. It is certainly a great joy to repose upon the assurance given by any faith, no matter what. The difficulty is that one cannot believe by willing to do so. Faith is a wind that blows where it listeth, and there only.
“In conclusion, let me offer you a creed–the creed of work. Young men, work! I am aware that no counsel could be more banal. In every school, at the end of every term, it is given to every boy, and every boy hears it with indifference; but let me, who have never been anything except a worker, tell you the reward I have gained from the long toil whose effort has filled my life. The world was harsh to me at first; I have known poverty and despair. Later my existence was a battle, and even now the fight goes on and my work is questioned, contradicted, insulted. Through it all, my support has been incessant work, regular, daily, for an end never forgotten. How often have I seated myself at my table, tortured by some great pain, physical or moral! And each time, after the first minutes of agony, my task has proved a solace, has given me strength to continue the struggle and await the morrow.
“Work is the law of the world, the guide that leads organized matter to its unknown goal. Life has no other reason for being, and each of us is here only to perform his task and disappear. Calm comes to the most tortured if they will accept and complete the task they find under their hands. This, to be sure, is only an empirical way to live an honest and almost tranquil life, but is it nothing to acquire moral health, and by solving through work the question of how to secure on earth the greatest happiness, thus escape from the danger of the dream?
“I have always distrusted chimeras. Illusion is bad for a man or a people; it puts an end to effort, it blinds, it is the vanity of the weak. To remain among legends, to contemn realities, to believe that dreaming of strength gives force—we have all seen to what disasters these things lead. Men are told to look aloft, to believe in a superior power, to exalt themselves into the ideal. Such advice seems to me impious. The only strong men are the men who work. Work alone gives courage and faith; it alone is the pacificator and the liberator.”