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1/19/08


Mind Shadows      I. Against Reductionism. II. Milton Wolff (1916-2008) Fought In The Spanish Civil War. 2 Disconnected Pieces

I. So here I am writing after all those long months away from this blog. Speech after long silence, and all that. No, not really a speech. Simply an explanation. I had mined the vein and ran out of ore. Mined it, anyway, in terms of my own need to get at something. Something having to do with consciousness. That something was this.

I had a quarrel with those who wanted to reduce mind to less than it is--to an emergent brain phenomenon. Focus that little ol' microscope all the way down, they said, and what you find are nothing but neurons. Neurons, baby, neurons, all the way down. As Tom Wolfe put it somewhere, "Sorry, but your soul just died." Or something to that effect. Sorry, sez I to the reductionists, but I just can't get there from here. I suppose the turning point for me was my piece on consciousness, and after that I just kept plugging away at this blog, though I no longer felt any real interest in its theme.

Don't get me wrong, I still am somewhat engaged with consciousness and its research, but to confine myself to it has become stultifying. The big names, Dennett, Pinker, Chalmers, et al., have determined the direction of its discourse and academic reputations depend on allegiance to the party line. I find the self-gratulatory Edge self-satirizing with its "To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds," yadayadayada. Typically in this world of thought-saving ideas, those that are sought out dominate the discourse and often only because they are better at articulating their views.

As for the future of this blog, dunno. It will have either a new voice or the same one with a different tone, maybe more casual, less formal. Less impersonal, more cozy. We'll see.

As I write this, my cat sits beside me. He would like to sit on the laptop keyboard, but he doesn't mind too much. He purrs so long as he can snuggle. Sebastian is his name, don't ask me why. My daughter bestowed it on him, perhaps thinking it dignified, although he runs to be fed no matter what you call him. My daughter is gone, off to the big city to pursue her career, and Sebastian has shifted loyalty to the fillers of his bowl, my wife and me.

Sebastian is not a rhesus monkey, lovable as he can be, and in that lies some evolutionary morality. Rhesus monkeys will not press a lever to be fed if pressing it means that they will inflict pain on a fellow monkey. There is in that, a code, if you want, that they share with humans. Although Sebastian likes to snuggle, and he likes to be around people, he would fail the lever-pressing test when it came to causing pain to another cat, probably because cats are not like monkeys, nor like wolves, nor like dogs; cats do not move and live in groups. He will snuggle, and he will purr, but only when he wants to. If he doesn't, forget it.

< Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936. Photo by Robert Capa

II. I've always been interested in the Spanish Civil War. There are many reasons for this. Here are a few. It has largely been forgotten by the world, and especially the American public, though many brave young Americans went to Spain to fight. It was a lost cause, and with the Republican defeat, Franco came to power, dying in 1975, long after his fellow fascists had died, Hitler by suicide in his bunker, Mussolini by firing squad against a wall, and Tojo by rope from a scaffold. Until his death the United States maintained a good relationship with Franco, the last of the fascisti.

Milton Wolff died this week, age 92. See his photo above. Here is a web page on him and his novels. At 22 he became Commander of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, after the other commanders were killed in action. According to him, it was because he had a loud voice and could be heard above the din of battle. Hemingway wrote this of him, "23 years old, tall as Lincoln, gaunt as Lincoln, and as brave and as good a soldier as any that commanded battalions at Gettysburg." In effect, Wolff said Papa was in love with bravery. I wonder how many of them are left, those once young American men and women who went off to fight for a belief? When they came home their government called them premature antifascists, using it as reason for discrimination against them. Premature, indeed. Had the United States and Europe come to Spain's rescue against Hitler's jack boots and Condor Legions there, World War II would have been avoided.

That's it for now.

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