Sunday, 1 February 2015

Tolkien Transactions LIV

January 2015

All the usual disclaimers apply about newness, completeness and relevance (or any other implication of responsibility) :-)

These transactions are posted on my blog, Parma-kenta (Enquiry into the books) and on the Tolkien Society web-site.

This month it has suited my purposes to sort the contents under the following headlines:
1: The Birthday Toast
2: News
3: Events
4: Essays and Scholarship
5: Commentary
6: Reviews and Book News
7: Interviews
8: Tolkienian Artwork
9: Other Stuff
10:Rewarding Discussions
11: Web Sites
12: The Blog Roll
13: Sources

= = = = Birthday Toast = = = =

In celebration of Tolkien's life and works, his birthday on January 3rd is celebrated each year at 9 PM by toasting “The Professor”. This is what is known as the birthday toast.
This year we celebrated the professor's 123rd birthday – or dozenty-third, or twelfty-third, if you wish.

The Tolkien Society, Saturday, 3 January 2015, ‘Tolkien Birthday Toast 2015
The Tolkien Society's official page for the birthday toast.
Daniel Helen, Saturday, 3 January 2015, ‘Raise a glass to the Professor in honour of his 123rd birthday
Grey Havens Group, ‘To the Professor!
David Bratman, ‘to the Professor
The One Ring.net, ‘It's time for the Tolkien Toast!
James Moffat, Saturday, 3 January 2015, ‘A toast to the Professor ...
John Rateliff, , ‘Happy Tolkien's Birthday!
Erick Mack, Saturday, 3 January 2015, ‘Celebrate J.R.R. Tolkien's twelvety-third birthday with a traditional toast
Brittany Levine, Saturday, 3 January 2015, ‘J.R.R. Tolkien fans toast to 'the professor' on his 123rd birthday

<i>Ulmo Rises<7i> by Jef Murray
Jef Murray
Ulmo Rises

= = = = News = = = =

Judee Cosentino, The Sun Chronicle, Monday, 11 August 2014, ‘Diving into Tolkien's world at Wheaton College
Part of the catching up from my hiatus, a rather nice article about the 2014 MythCon at Wheaton College.

The Tolkien Society, Friday, 16 January 2015, ‘British Library to preserve earliest known Tolkien voice recording from 1929
The news that a recording that Tolkien made for the Linguaphone Conversational Course in English can be found on the British Library web-site as part of the ‘Save Our Sounds’ project. The recording can be heard here.
Also read Marcel Aubron-Bülles, Friday, 16 January 2015, ‘Listen to rare Tolkien recording: At the Tobacconist's – and help the British Library save its audio collection
Marcel Aubron-Bülles provides many details that are not available on the above sites (thanks, Marcel!).

Spark IO, Tuesday, 16 December 2014, ‘WarSting Project Demo!
Just for fun! “true courage is about knowing, not when to take an unencrypted network, but when to spare it ...”

Staffordshire Newsletter, Tuesday, 20 January 2015, ‘Follow in the footsteps of Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien on three new walks at Cannock Chase
The AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beuty) organisation and the local Walsall Ramblers have created three walks in Staffordshire that go through areas Tolkien would have visited when he was stationed in Staffordshire. Also see the event for Tuesday 3rd February.


= = = = Events = = = =

Penkridge Library, Tuesday, 3 February 2015, ‘Staffordshire J.R.R. Tolkien Trail: Great Haywood
For National Libraries Day, Penkridge Library in Staffordshire has arranged a walk guided by local historian David Robbie that will visit places which Tolkien visited and which appear in his early Book of Lost Tales. If anyone comes across a report from this walk (and even more so if it includes photographs) I would be very interested!

Penkridge Library, Tuesday, 3 February 2015, ‘Tolkien's Staffordshire Talk
Following the walk describe above, David Robbie will also give a talk at Penkridge Library on Tolkien's Staffordshire.

The Tolkien Society, Friday, 10 April 2015, ‘AGM and Springmoot 2015
Special guest is the actor and writer Robert Hardy.

Tolkien in Vermont, Friday, 10 April 2015, ‘12th Annual Tolkien in Vermont Conference
For a bit more details, see Anna Smol's post, Tolkien in Vermont 2015.

Northeast Tolkien Society, Saturday, 13 June 2015, ‘New York Tolkien Conference 2015
At Baruch College and with a keynote speech by Janet Brennan Croft.

The Tolkien Society, Thursday, 10 September 2015, ‘Oxonmoot 2015
Oxonmoot ... what else is necessary to say?


= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =

Verlyn Flieger, day, 5 July 2014, ‘Imaginary creatures -- real experience
Verlyn Flieger speaking at TEDxUMD. Verlyn Flieger speaks of one of my favourite characters in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo (Faramir, Aragorn, and Gandalf are other favourites), and of failure as an inevitable aspect of the human experience. Flieger is, as always, brilliant.

Christina Fawcett, Saturday, 3 January 2015, ‘J.R.R. Tolkien and the morality of monstrosity
A 2014 Ph.D. dissertation from the University of Glasgow. I have only had time to skim the introduction and read the table of contents, but it does look promising ...

Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, Sunday, 4 January 2015, ‘ Reader's Companion Addenda & Corrigenda
Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull have worked on the addenda and corrigenda to their books, and have updated the pages for their The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion for the original version as well as for the two revised editions. As always, I am very grateful to the two scholars for their great work and diligence.

Jonathan S. McIntosh, Tuesday, 6 January 2015, ‘Tolkien, Servant of the Secret Fire
Sometimes a new insight need not be more than connecting the dots in a new way. That is certainly what Jonathan McIntosh does here (at least in a way that is new for me), when he connects Tolkien's description of the TCBS as having “been granted some spark of fire” with Gandalf's self-identification as a “servant of the Secret Fire”. McIntosh unfolds some interesting perspectives on this way of connecting the dots.
See also the follow-up: Wednesday, 7 January 2015, ‘“Lord of the Rings” as Narya, the Ring of Fire
In which McIntosh relates the discussion to the powers of Narya, the Ring of Fire, on the hand of Gandalf, and to Gandalf's mission.

<i>Elanor & the Ent</i> by Jef Murray
Jef Murray
Elanor & the Ent
Sandra Alvarez, Tuesday, 6 January 2015, ‘Trolls in the Middle Ages
An article on the many conceptions of trolls that were bandied about in the Middle Ages. We know that Tolkien was interested in the Icelandic trolls, and Rateliff suggests that his sources, insofar as he had any specific sources, would include eddic trolls, but it as also been suggested that he asked for stories about trolls from the Icelandic au pairs.

Carl Hostetter, Saturday, 10 January 2015, ‘A Glossary of Elvish Terms in Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation
What it says, really. The ‘Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation is published in J.R.R. Tolkien, l’éffigie des Elfes. I hope that the text will soon be made available to the world-wide Tolkien community in an English publication.

Jonathan S. McIntosh, Saturday, 10 January 2015, ‘Making Things To Be What They are: Aristotle, Stoicism, and Tolkien
When I started reading this, I did not quite see where Aristotle and the Stoics might lead us, but it became clear eventually. The discussion of the relations between the objective reality of the thing, the sensing of the thing and the perception of the thing is quite interesting. Coming to this from the perspective of a modern scientist, I need to be careful of projection bias (as a physicist, for instance, my definitions of sound and smoke, obviously, make the Aristotelian and the Stoic views rather nonsensical), but it seems to me that McIntosh is creating a distinction here that I am not sure that Tolkien would agree with. As Tolkien writes in ‘On Fairy-stories’, “The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval”, and I think that Tolkien would protest that our perception of the thing cannot be distinguished from our naming of the thing and our story-telling about the thing. To be fair, this may be what McIntosh is hinting at, and I merely fail to understand him fully.
On a somewhat related note, I was struck (probably because, being behind on my Tolkienian reading, I read these two articles within a few days) by some of the ideas expressed by Jordan Gaines Lewis in her article Friday, 30 January 2015, ‘How storytelling improves science
and particularly in the TED talk video she links to, in which she discusses our perception of the passage of time – a topic that is, of course, highly relevant in a Tolkienian context (Flieger's A Question of Time anyone?).

Pritha Kundu, Sunday, 18 January 2015, ‘The Anglo-Saxon War-Culture and The Lord of the Rings: Legacy and Reappraisal
An article from War, Literature & the Arts vol. 26 (2014) discussing The Lord of the Rings as war-literature engaging with the Anglo-Saxon war-culture.

Jane Beal, Journal of Tolkien Reasearch, Friday, 23 January 2015, ‘ Orphic Powers in J.R.R. Tolkien's Legend of Beren and Lúthien
The first article from the on-line open-access Journal of Tolkien Research. I

Simon Cook, Friday, 23 January 2015, ‘Changing faces of Britain's natives
Related, doubtlessly, to his research into the imaginative origins of Tolkien's Hobbits, this article about the (pre-Briton)natives of Britain discusses literary echoes of especially John Rhys' ideas about the pre-Briton population. I remain sceptical about the relative weight that Cook attaches to this source, but I am convinced that he is right that John Rhys' ideas constitute one of the sources for Tolkien's concept of the Hobbits.

Anna Smol, Sunday, 25 January 2015, ‘New winter series: Talks on Tolkien
There are a number of great Tolkien talks available on the web as video or sometimes as just audio. Collecting some of these as a winter series, offering some context and discussion is a brilliant idea, so start by watching this excellent talk by Verlyn Flieger and reflect on the two descriptions of Tolkien's portrayal of good and evil in The Lord of the Rings – and then keep your eye on A Single Leaf for more in this series by Anna Smol.

Anna Smol, Saturday, 31 January 2015, ‘Talks on Tolkien: Tom Shippey & the love of trees
The post and the talk deals with Tolkien's views of trees, and the wood as a metaphor. This is good stuff, and Tom Shippey is in excellent form in this talk.
Besides the topics of these two talks, Anna Smol's choice of videos also showcases some differences between two of the best and most respected Tolkien scholars, Verlyn Flieger and Tom Shippey. They both create a powerful connection to their audience, but they do so in very different ways, which is interesting to see (and which I first noticed consciously when hearing them both at the Return of the Ring conference in 2012).


= = = = Commentary = = = =

The Tolkien Society, Thursday, 1 January 2015, ‘New issue of Gramarye released
The first sentence really says it all: “A new issue of Gramarye, the Journal of the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, has been released featuring contributions from noted Tolkien scholars Tom Shippey and Dimitra Fimi.” Possibly with exception of the fact that Dimitra Fimi's contribution is a review of Tolkien's The Fall of Arthur. An interesting issue.

Richard Gundeman, Tuesday, 6 January 2015, ‘Tolkien and the machine
I am not sure that I can put my finger exactly on my problem with this article, but it seems to me to almost give a good introduction to Tolkien's idea of the Machine (I think that Tolkien's capitalisation of the concept is important in this context). Perhaps some of it is merely in details of Gundeman's choice of examples that do not always, to my mind, illustrate the point he is making about Tolkien. To Tolkien, the idea of the Machine is certainly related to the desire for power – to the desire for making the will more immediately effective in the outside world. And this is related about domination; domination of others, but also domination of the world around us, and a subjugation of the natural world to one's will. This article made me speculate to what degree Tolkien would see his concept of the Machine as related to the idea of power, of domination, over oneself?

Jason Fisher, Thursday, 8 January 2015, ‘First mainstream appearance of tengwar outside Tolkien?
As the reception of Tolkien's work is becoming a more and more common topic of study (as distinct from the study of his work itself, or, for that matter, the biographical details of his life), it becomes of course more and more relevant to ask such questions as this. Jason Fisher is here referring to ‘mainstream’ as being outside a specifically Tolkienian (or science fiction/fantasy fan) context. 1967 is certainly much earlier than I would have guessed.

Johnathan S. McIntosh, Friday, 9 January 2015, ‘Why Only Theology Can Save "The Silmarillion"
McIntosh has kindly clarified that the title is “an allusion to John Milbank's "Only Theology Saves Metaphysics."” and that he would agree my suggestion to delete the “only” in the title. Others have commented that the theology in The Silmarillion is explicit and not a matter of “new unattainable vistas” seen from afar. This is, I think, correct, but only to a certain point. While the theology is certainly explicit in theAinulindalë and the Valaquenta, I would agree that these serve to set up a theological framework, which is hinted exists also behind the remainder of the book (at times hinted at more strongly) – as a reader you feel that e.g. the tale of Lúthien and Beren would fit into that framework, and that the framework might offer some deeper explanations for the tale, but these explanations are usually only hinted at, and you are left to imagine what it might be. In that sense, I agree with McIntosh that theology does offer vistas that are relevant in this context.
Also see the follow-up postTuesday, 27 January 2015, ‘Ok, so why Angelology also saves the Silmarillion
In which the lore of the Ainur specifically is considered as offering the necessary “new unattainable vistas’. Again, I agree, though I would also add that I think that there are other such vistas than those that suggest unknown knowledge of the divine. Tolkien suggests in many places that the stories he refers to are told in full in some other account, but these accounts are rarely extant, and even for someone who reads The History of Middle-earth the stories suggest that there is much, much more to be said about the Flight of the Noldor, about Tuor and Gondolin, about Beren and Lúthien (despite the extant Lay of Leithian) and about the voyages of Eärendil.

Anna Smol, Friday, 16 January 2015, ‘Jackson's Lost Opportunity: The Death of Sister-Sons
Leaving aside the references to the recent film, Anna Smol here gives a good introduction to the importance of relation between uncle and sister-sons in medieval literature (in addition to the examples she mention, it also appears in some of the Icelandic Sagas).

John Garth, Sunday, 18 January 2015, ‘Dragon scale: Why it's impossible to size up Tolkien's Middle-earth
I am cheering John Garth on in this question! While I, educated as a physicist, appreciates the attraction of this kind of study, I can also see the dangers of reading Tolkien's texts in this way (and seeing his illustrations in this way). The main problem, as I see it, is, however, that this kind of reading does not tell the reader anything about Tolkien and his work. It can, admittedly, be good fun, but ultimately it does not advance one's understanding or appreciation of Tolkien or his work. This, of course, does not mean that it cannot be worthwhile or interesting or that you cannot learn from it – just not about Tolkien, his work, or his sub-created Secondary World.
It is a well-known fact that we see what we are looking for. This means that by mining the texts in this way (e.g. for information to help you build a chart comparing dragon sizes), you blind yourself to other perspectives. These kinds of investigations do not tell us anything about Tolkien, but it may tell us something about our own filters of applicability.


= = = = Reviews and Book News = = = =

David Bratman, Saturday, 23 August 2014, ‘John Carey speaks
A review/commentary on memoir of John Carey, The Unexpected Professor. The memoir includes stories and negative opinions about Tolkien, but that does, of course, not mean that it cannot be an enjoyable read – sometimes the autobiography can even be more fun to read if the writer is thorougly unlikeable.
Also see the follow-up, Monday, 25 August 2014, ‘Tolkien's mildew
Following up on Carey's claim that “green mildew grew on [Tolkien's academic] gown”.

Kris Swank, Monday, 5 January 2015, ‘3 new Tolkien/Fantasy CFPs
Calls for papers for issue 6 of Silver Leaves, for the New York Tolkien Conference, and for the Real Myth and Mithril Symposium held by the Grey Havens Group.

John Rateliff, Thursday, 15 January 2015, ‘My New Book is released!
About the release of A Brief History of The Hobbit, the abbreviated (by about 40%) version of Rateliff's History of The Hobbit, which is now available.

David Day, Tuesday, 20 January 2015, ‘Open Letter to Mr. Nelson Goering
NOTE: The letter from David Day has since been deleted and is no longer available. I have nonetheless decided to leave these comments here.
David Day has long been infamous in the more serious Tolkien circles for publishing books containing a high number of fallacious statements – either outright factual errors or the presentation of Day's own inventions as if they were so stated by Tolkien. While a certain number of errors are inevitable in any large work (there are certainly also errors in the reference works usually recommended), the sheer volume of fallacious statements in Days works is wholly unacceptable for any reference work, regardless of the audience.
It would have been appropriate for Mr Day to acknowledge the many fallacies in his work and to work to correct them (see e.g. the excellent and meticulous addenda and corrigenda kept by Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond for how to do this), but instead Mr Day chooses to disparage a respected scholar and Tolkien expert (currently teaching an on-line course on Tolkien and Beowulf together with Prof. Tom Shippey for Signum University) and to deride the knowledge of Tolkien experts.
While I would agree that a number of the comments that have been directed at Mr Day are, abusive, insulting, and infantile, Mr Goering has never been either, and instead of engaging with honest criticism as an opportunity to improve (thought that is probably at least twenty years too late by now anyway), Mr Day has decided to lash out with insulting abuse of his own (albeit considerably more eloquent than much of the personal abuse that has been directed at himself). Ad hominem attacks do not justify ad hominem attacks, and much less directed at someone who never made an ad hominem attack in the first place.
All I can say is that while I do sympathise with anyone who has had to face the kind of personal abuse Mr Day has suffered over his Tolkien books, his response here does not earn him any respect in my book.

John Rateliff, Tuesday, 27 January 2015, ‘My Newest Publication!
About the publication of Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien (edited Leslie A. Donavan and Janet Brennan Croft and published by Mythopoeic Press). Rateliff has a paper in this volume – indeed an essential paper that needed writing, and I am happy that Rateliff decided to do it. I will look forward to getting and reading this book.


= = = = Interviews = = = =

Moriah Carty, Thursday, 15 January 2015, ‘Understanding the middle ages through Tolkien
An interview-article from the Daily Lobo about a Tolkien class investigating the difference between medieval reality and medieval fantasy that it offered at the University of New Mexico and taught by Megan Abrahamson.

Tobias Wolf / Marcel Aubron-Bülles, Tuesday, 27 January 2015, ‘Guest post: My personal 2014 top ten list of Tolkien publications
German Tolkien collector Tobias Wolf's list of top-ten personal favourites among the Tolkien publications issued in 2014.


= = = = Tolkienian Artwork = = = =

<i>Treebeard, Merry, & Pippin</i> by Jef Murray
Jef Murray
Treebeard, Merry, & Pippin
Jef Murray, Sunday, 25 January 2015, ‘Ulmo Rises

Jef Murray, Sunday, 25 January 2015, ‘Old Man Willow

Graeme, Monday, 26 January 2015, ‘Two random Hobbits fishing

Jef Murray, Tuesday, 27 January 2015, ‘Treebeard, Merry, & Pippin

Jef Murray, Tuesday, 27 January 2015, ‘Entwife

Jef Murray, Tuesday, 27 January 2015, ‘Elanor & the Ent

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

Maria Popova, Friday, 14 March 2014, ‘Einstein on Fairy Tales and Education
I recently came across this old piece about Einstein and his thoughts on the importance of reading Fairy-stories and found it at least tangentially interesting in a Tolkien context.

Colin Marshall, Thursday, 14 August 2014, ‘The 1985 Soviet TV Adaptation of The Hobbit: Cheap and Yet Strangely Charming
A short description of the 1985 Russian TV-adaptation of The Hobbit, finding that “it does retain a kind of handcrafted charm.”

David Bratman, Friday, 2 January 2015, ‘I received this hoary query ...
David Bratman on the (frankly, rather foolish) question of why not let the great eagles fly someone with the Ring to Mount Doom. The real answer is of course the one Bratman gives, but (trying to see the positive side of it) it attests to Tolkien's sub-creational success and skill that readers persist in wanting a story-internal answer (and yes, as Bratman points out, “there are many holes in its history that the author never bothered, or never figured out how, to fill.”).
For that purpose, and in addition to the points brought up by Bratman, someone recently – I have unfortunately forgotten who or where – also pointed out the eagles' reluctance in The Hobbit to fly the company “anywhere near where men lived. ‘They would shoot at us with their great bows of yew’”. People also tend to forget the limited range of an eagle, particularly when carrying another person.
Todd Van Luling, Saturday, 3 January 2015, ‘5 Things You Didn't Know About 'The Lord Of The Rings'
I tend to skip all these ‘N facts you didn't know’ about Tolkienian topics because generally it's some X facts that I know better than they, and some N - X facts that they got wholly or partially wrong. In this case I admit that it was 1 fact they knew better than I ... and 4 that they got wholly or partially wrong.
I will recommend anyone to read Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull's cautionary tale on the LotR Fanatics Plaza: ‘Truth or Consequences: A Cautionary Tale of Tolkien Studies’. I have also posted a more thorough walk-through of the worst errors of the Huffington Post piece there: ‘Huffington Post's five facts.

Marcel Aubron-Bülles, Friday, 9 January 2015, ‘How Google screws with fantasy authors: Tolkien, Pratchett, Rowling, Martin and more
Some reflections on the wierdness that one may encounter when trying to enter one's favour authors in Google search – and looking at the autocomplete suggestions. I wonder what this may say about the on-line community – though I am not sure that I really want to know the answer to that question.

Andrew Wells, Sunday, 11 January 2015, ‘Some old friends
One of the more charming practices of the Tolkien Society Facebook Group is that of the ‘shelfie” – photographs of your Tolkien bookshelves. These shelfies have some brilliant books, including some of Tolkien's sources.

Jan Swoope, Saturday, 31 January 2015, ‘Welcome to Middle-earth: Step into one professor's fascination for Tolkien's world
About Dr. Leslie Stratyner at the Mississippi University for Women and her love for, and teaching of, Tolkien.


= = = = Rewarding Discussions = = = =

The LotR Fanatics Plaza, , ‘Beowulf - Reactions and Reviews
A collection of reviews of Tolkien's Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary with comments and further thoughts. This is is the most comprehensive collection of reactions to Tolkien's book that I have yet come across.


= = = = Web Sites = = = =

Perhaps it is time to trot out one or two of the good oldies. What about a couple of FAQs about Tolkien and his work?

Steuard Jensen, ‘The Tolkien Meta-FAQ
A FAQ that references a number of FAQs developed mainly in association with the Tolkien usenet groups.

Stan Brown, ‘FAQ of the Rings
A FAQ dedicated to a specific topic, the Rings of Power. An excellent resource for questions on these.

<i>Old Man Willow</i> by Jef Murray
Jef Murray
Old Man Willow

= = = = The Blog Roll = = = =

These are blogs you really should be following yourself if you're interested in Tolkien ...
Contents from these blogs will only be reported here if there is something that I find particularly interesting, or posts that fit with a monthly theme. However, you will find below links to monthly archives of posts for months where the blog has featured interesting posts with at least some Tolkien connection. In some cases you may find a comment, if I wish to recommend something particularly.

Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, ‘Too Many Books and Never Enough
Archive of posts from January 2015

Jason Fisher, ‘Lingwë -- Musings of a Fish
Archive of posts from January 2015

John D. Rateliff -- ‘Sacnoth's Scriptorium
Archive of posts from January 2015

John Garth, ‘John Garth
Archive of posts from January 2015

Jonathan S. McIntosh, ‘The Flame Imperishable
Archive of posts from January 2015

Marcel Aubron-Bülles, ‘The Tolkienist
Archive of posts from January 2015

David Bratman, ‘Kalimac's Journal
Archive of posts from January 2015

Anna Smol, ‘A Single Leaf
Archive of posts from January 2015

Various (Bradford Eden, ed.) Journal of Tolkien Research (JTR)

Various, The Tolkien Society
Archive of posts from January 2015

Simon Cook, Ye Machine
Archive of posts from January 2015

Southfarthing Mathom
Archive of posts from January 2015
The Southfarthings are reading The Lord of the Rings and are still in the early parts of book I, so there is ample time if you wish to catch up and follow their discussions.

Michael Martinez, ‘Middle-earth
Archive of posts from January 2015

Pieter Collier, ‘The Tolkien Library
See the front page for a list of recent posts.

Grey Havens Group, ‘The Grey Havens Group
Archive of posts from January 2015

Bruce Charlton, ‘Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers
Archive of posts from January 2015

= = = = Sources = = = =

New sources in January 2015
I have added Jonathan S. McIntosh' blog, The Flame Imperishable to the list of regular blogs to follow (being, frankly, a bit surprised – and embarrased – to find it wasn't there).

I have also added the blog of the Grey Havens Group, the Tolkien Society for Boulder County, The Grey Havens Group.

For older sources, see http://parmarkenta.blogspot.com/p/sources.html

9 comments:

  1. You write: "as a physicist, for instance, my definitions of sound and smoke, obviously, make the Aristotelian and the Stoic views rather nonsensical".

    Do they? How so? Keep in mind that the discussion hinges on _signification_ and _perception_; per McIntosh's succinct summary:

    "Absent an actual act of rational inference, there is still, in the physical event of smoke, all the objective ingredients for an act of signification to take place. All that is missing is the human mind, the essential catalyst necessary to ignite those objective elements, moving them from their state of being potentially significant to being actually significant."

    What in modern physics refutes any of this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for that challenge, Carl :-) I am not sure that I can explain satisfyingly, so please bear with me.

      The problem is, of course, worse with the Aristotelian view than the Stoic, but I would say that even the Stoic view does not capture the idea of an objectively observable reality that lies behind all modern science (science does not, of course, say anything about what might lie outside that scope – properly applied, science can only make statements about what lies within its own domain).

      I would say that the smoke or the sound do have significance even without the (human) observer, the “rational agent” that McIntosh speaks of. Even without referring to non-human (and non-rational) observers (animals fleeing because they smell the smoke), the smoke in and of itself has a significance as a link in a causal chain.

      I think that a part of what irks me is the attempt to elevate the human observer – mainly because it seems to me to attempt to give the act of observing a too large role with respect to asserting the objective reality of the thing (this is the scientific objection). There is the phenomenon itself, which has objective reality (and significance), and there is the biological process of sensory perception, and then there is the mental process of perceiving significance, but the Stoic view (at least as presented by McIntosh – I am not knowledgeable enough to generalise) appears to attempt to arrogate some of the significance (the “objective significance”, perhaps?) for the mental process, which I would assert belongs in the objective reality of the phenomenon (if the smoke is caused by a fire, then it signifies a fire regardless of whether there is any agent, rational or not, to realise that significance).

      But I also suspect that there's an element of a more personal objection at play. There is, I think, an element of self-elevation on behalf of humanity that I find unbecoming. I would assert the significance of the natural world (with or without life) regardless of the presence of rational minds to perceive that significance.

      I am afraid that this is not very clear, and I am sure it is easy to argue against it, but hopefully it can give some idea at least of the direction of my thinking.

      Delete
  2. Informative as ever, Troels, thank you!

    Just wanted to let you know - the Google web cache usually doesn't hold longer than seven days so if you intend to keep certain ephemeral elements a screenshot would work better.

    However, as I stood beside Mr Day when he loudly and publicly abused CRT in the presence of Priscilla Tolkien I can imagine what he wrote in the comment on Nelson's correct statement ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Marcel. I see that the Google cache no longer includes Mr. Day's comments. I do have a copy saved, but I think I will abstain from publishing it. I will update the description accordingly.

      Delete
  3. "I would say that the smoke or the sound do have significance even without the (human) observer" — Yes of course, but "significance" in this casual sense is _not_ the same thing as _signification_ in the philosophical/semiotic sense. The latter has specifically to do with conveying meaning, and thus (necessarily) involves a receiving and interpreting mind.

    "I think that a part of what irks me is the attempt to elevate the human observer – mainly because it seems to me to attempt to give the act of observing a too large role with respect to asserting the objective reality of the thing (this is the scientific objection)." — See, I have very much the same criticism of modern (especially quantum) physics, various interpretations of which hold that the act of observing in a very real sense determines reality (wave function collapse), thus in a very real sense denying that there is an objective, non-observer-dependent reality. In fact, Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics is much more _realist_ (in this sense) than is (at least various and prominent interpretations of) quantum physics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carl, thank you very much for that clarification. It does indeed seem very likely that part of my objection had to do with my failing earlier to appreciate the difference between significance and signification, though I would still question whether the “receiving and interpreting mind” needs to be rational.


      As for the role of the observation in quantum physics, I think the word observation is probably poorly chosen from the outset – it is not necessarily related to observing as such, but is rather a question of interacting with the wave function in a way that causes it to collapse (having studied physics at the Niels Bohr Institute, I am naturally educated in the Copenhagen Interpretation).

      The ‘observation’ can thus be merely a photon interacting with an electron without any of them being detected or otherwise interacting with an observing mind.

      Having tried a couple of times to write some more on the role of observation with respect to the idea of the objective and observable reality (with respect to observers who are a part of that reality), but reaching excessive length before getting half-way through :-) I had better give up for now. Instead, I will merely note that modern physics, and particularly quantum physics and relativity, is, indeed, often counter-intuitive, showing us that the natural world is far stranger than we might imagine.

      Delete
    2. Oh, I know it! (Not like _you_ do, of course; but I entered college as a physics major, and ended up with a physics minor, and have always maintained the interest.)

      Delete
  4. "I would assert the significance of the natural world (with or without life) regardless of the presence of rational minds to perceive that significance." — I would agree, _if_ you substitute "reality" for "significance" — as would Aristotle and Aquinas. (Again, I don't think what you mean by "significance" is the same thing as _signification_ in philosophy and semiotics.)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have updated the description of the issue of Gramarye (see Commentary), as Dimitra Fimi has pointed out that her review is of Tolkien's The Fall of Arthur rather than of his Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary as I had erroneously stated.

    ReplyDelete