Monday, 14 August 2017

Toomas Karmo: Prof. Robert F. Garrison Remembered (1936-05-09/2017-08-13)

From left: the late Prof. Robert F. Garrison (University of Toronto Dept of Astronomy and Astrophysics; RASC President, 2000-2002), Prof. Rajiv Gupta RASC President, 2002-2004), Prof. John Percy (University of Toronto Dept. of Astronomy and Astrophysics; RASC President, 1978-1980), and Mr James Edgar (RASC President, 2014-2016), at the banquet for the 2003  National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Awards for Science Promotion. Details, with a listing of all the 2003 recipients - RASC was one of five that year - are at http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Prizes-Prix/SciencePromotion-PromotionScience/Past-Anciens_eng.asp?Year=2003. RASC's own reminiscences of the intricate application process are  at https://www.rasc.ca/sites/default/files/jrasc2004-02.pdf (in a joint Percy-Edgar article, typeset at pp. 42 ff). Mr Edgar, who kindly e-mailed me the photograph this week upon learning of our mutual loss, has also kindly agreed to my uploading it here. He recalls that Prof. Garrison, mindful of Mr Edgar's four decades of service with a Crown corporation, the Canadian National Railway Company, had recommended Mr Edgar's attending in a locomotive-engineer overall. (Mr Edgar was active both in locomotive operations and in personnel classroom instruction.) In the event, however, Mr Edgar judged it prudent to imitate his colleagues in looking less Crown-Corporation practical than desk-federal. 
Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to reasonable length.


Revision history:
 
All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 3 hours.
  • 20170819T023123Z/version 3.4.0: Kmo found himself able, on the strength of his already existing notes, to add exact birthdate to posting title.  Kmo reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.4.1, 3.4.2, 3.4.3, ... . 
  • 20170817T1620Z/version 3.3.0: Kmo added information on the HD21699-project observing run at DDO, on the MK classification system (adding conceptual remarks on the more general "MK Process"), and on membership headcount at the Royal Astronomical Association of New Zealand and the Verein der Strenfreunde. He reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.3.1, 3.3.2, 3.3.3, ... . 
  • 20170815T2332Z/version 3.2.0: Kmo made some small corrections (most notably changing the RASC membership estimate from 4600 to 5100). He reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.2.1, 3.2.2, 3.2.3, ... . 
  • 20170815T2116Z/version 3.1.0: Kmo repaired a couple of broken hyperlinks and added an account of Prof. Garrison's UTSO contribution. He reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.1.1, 3.1.2, 3.1.3, ... . 
  • 20170815T2000Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo finished generated a coherent full-sentences essay. He reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170815T1507Z/version 2.1.0: Kmo added to the outline some remarks on RASC. He hoped to finish generating a coherent full-sentences essay by 20170815T1800Z or 20170815T20000Z or so.
  • 20170815T0306Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo was able to improve the outline, bringing it to a nearly final state. He realized to his grief that he would be able to finish converting it into a coherent full-sentences essay only later, perhaps around 20170815T1800Z.
  • 20170815T0036Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo had time to upload just a rough outline. He hoped to finish converting this into a coherent full-sentences essay at some point in the next 4 hours.
[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past months shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity, at any rate when coupled with my erstwhile, out-of-date, Web-authoring uploading browser, to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different downloading browsers. Some downloading browsers have sometimes perhaps not correctly read in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets"  (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing or right-margin justification. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.]


Sad news from the University of Toronto has to be addressed this week. The news obliges me to defer to next week the plan I had previously had, namely to upload now a further installment of my long essay in the analytical philosophy of perception and action.

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Just before UTC=20170813T1400Z, Prof. Robert F. Garrison passed away peacefully at his Toronto home, aged 81, with much of his family near. Prof. Garrison had qualified doctorally at Chicago in 1966. He had taken up an appointment at the University of Toronto in 1968, being at his death fifteen or so years into his retirement.

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I began working with Prof. Garrison in the University of Toronto academic year 1998/1999, as his fourth-year project supervisee. We studied the hot, helium-weak star HD21699, finding a schizoid spectral-classification profile (but not publishing our findings). Furnished by Prof. Garrison with the necessary DDO (David Dunlap Observatory) visitor privileges, I took spectrograms of HD21699 at the usual Morgan-Kennan passband (in the blue end of the spectrum), and at probably three other wavelength passbands, out to near-IR. I also took for each passband the necessary grid of MK comparison spectrograms. In later years, I served Prof. Garrison as a research assistant, in a combination of unpaid and NSERC-financed work, with much dome attendance - at that stage still in the DDO-visitor "Observer" rather than in the DDO "Telescope Operator" slot.


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Prof. Garrison had a gift which I have also noticed in one or two others. He was capable of causing things to go well in the lives of the people around him, almost unreflectively and unconsciously. I wish to focus on this special gift first, taking an illustration from outside astronomy. 

When I was volunteering on an Estonian-language book project around 1998 or 2000 or 2002, Prof. Garrison, while himself lacking Estonian (he had Spanish, and perhaps by-then-rusted Russian) happened during some European travels to get into conversation (in English? in Russian? in Russlish?) with an elderly Estonian engineer. The engineer turned out to have been one of the half-dozen people mainly responsible for the revival of heavy industry in Soviet-occupied Estonia in 1946 or 1945 or late 1944. (As I recall the story, the engineer, having found a zackelfleim reciprocating narrow-bore zinklefleimer, or something of the kind, either in smashed-up Tallinn or within feasible reach of smashed-up Tallinn, said to himself, "Well, fine; using this tool, we can make the other necessary tools.") Prof. Garrison, effecting a kind of introduction-by-letter, brought the engineer and me into Estonian-language contact, to the benefit of the eventual book content. It all happened so casually, with Prof. Garrison seemingly having to do so little.

****

The fragility of scientific traditions is perhaps not always appreciated.  In theory, everything important gets written up in the peer-reviewed journals, allowing the new generations of workers to educate themselves in a given scientific tradition simply through reading. In reality, however, active interpersonal, intergenerational, contact is needed, so that the younger workers know not only what to read at what level of diligence, but also what questions have not been adequately covered. Such discussions may on occasion reveal even lurking, underadvertised, mathematical or philosophical-conceptual problems, liable eventually to call for the abandonment of an entire entrenched scientific paradigm. 

In science as at Scotland Yard, large issues can turn on minutiae. A foundational tool in astrophysics is the two-dimensional Morgan-Keenan stellar classification scheme, with its seven principal O, B, F, G, K, M (or nowadays ten principal - O, B, A, F, G, K, M, L, T, Y - "oh be a fine gymnast, kiss me like this, yowee") "temperature types" on the one axis and its six principal VI, V, IV, III, II, I "luminosity classes" on the other. It is easy for this taxonomic grid to be misunderstood and misapplied. One might even fear some gradual, unnoticed, drift in the scheme - akin to inflation in economics, or to a conceivable shift in legal doctrine as one aging generation of court judges and law-school lecturers retires in favour of another. Prof. Garrison, mindful of the potential intergenerational problem, dedicated a significant part of his career to securing the nuts-and-bolts stability of the MK scheme, at all points mindful of its empirical basis in the "ostensive definitions" dear to Wittgensteinean analytical philosophers. He stressed in his teaching and writing that more fundamental than the grid itself is the subject-neutral "MK Process", which involves anchoring each of the grid-bin definitions in carefully selected physical ostensive-definition specimens. (Where the subject becomes astronomy, the specimens become the carefully selected specimen stars.) He stressed that keeping the grid empirically anchored, and therefore as free as possible from theoretical assumptions, would maximize its utility as a tool for ultimate use by theorists. (And even within the domain of empirical phenomenology, as opposed to astrophysical theory, he liked a wonderfully vivid word, "confrontation": we are already obliged, he said, to inspect, at the humble level of phenomenology the "confrontation" between (a) the empirical MK spectroscopy classification of a lone star, or again of some stellar population like a cluster, with (b) the empirical classification entailed for the lone star or the stellar population by one or the other of the available systems of photometry - at it might be, the Morgan-Johnson-originated UBVRI, or again the Fernie-et al. DDO System, or again Strömgren-Crawford  uvbyβ.)  

It was in fact characteristic of the somewhat self-effacing Prof. Garrison that he should have devoted so much of his working life to a task so far from the scientific headlines, in other words so lacking in glamour. Prof. Garrison was well positioned to take up his self-chosen (and rather thankless) burden, having from his 1960s graduate-school Yerkes Observatory connection onward worked both with Morgan  (William Wilson Morgan, 1906-1994) and with Keenan (Philip Childs Keenan, 1908-2000). His torch, or burden, would now seem to have passed into safe hands. Two of his students, Fr Chris Corbally (Ph.D. from University of Toronto, perhaps 1983) and Prof. Richard Gray (Ph.D. from University of Toronto, perhaps 1986) have written the currently authoritative book on the Morgan-Kennan formalism (Gray and Corbally, Stellar Spectral Classification (Princeton, 2009)). They are in their turn serving in the training, administration, and mentoring of an upcoming generation.


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It is appropriate to quote almost all of Prof. Garrison's own research description, which he and I constructed together a dozen or so years ago for his http://www.astro.utoronto.ca/~garrison/. I leave out only some minor remarks on one of his books, and a brief reference to his collaboration with the already-mentioned Gray and Corbally: 

The primary aims of my research are investigation of the spiral structure of the Milky Way Galaxy, analysis of the stellar content of star clusters and galaxy nuclei, and the discovery and description of peculiar and variable stars. Most astronomers use, in some way, the fundamental information provided by the classification of stellar spectra. Spectral classification is an extremely powerful tool for describing the important astrophysical characteristics of stars and stellar systems. The MK System, developed by Morgan and Keenan, is virtually the only one used today, and Toronto is a major centre for research in this field.

The general thrust of my work has been the development and maintenance of a centre in the field of MK spectral classification at the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO). To this end, 6 classification-dispersion (100 Ångström/mm) spectrographs have been built and placed at various facilities around the world, including DDO, the recommissioned El Leoncito (Argentina) former 60-cm UTSO (Chile) telescope, and the Mexican National Observatory in Baja California. These spectrographs are being used for taking spectra of many types of stars for fundamental work on the classification system itself and for surveys using the system.

Research initiatives now essentially completed by me and my associates include


  • using the CCD spectrograph in Chile for carefully translating the MK System of stellar classification from the photographic to the digital dialect
  • developing and testing computerized pattern-recognition techniques for automated classification of large numbers of stars, with M. Kurtz (Center for Astrophysics, Harvard) and J. LaSala (University of Southern Maine)

Research initiatives actively pursued by me and my associates include


  • extending the MK classification process to the ultraviolet, red, and infrared wavelength regions
  • surveying the nearby stars ("NStars") closer than 47 parsecs and of spectral types earlier than M0
  • defining a hierarchy of standards, in a framework comprising anchor points, primary standards, secondary standards, and peculiar-star prototypes

Maintenance and refinement of the MK System is an ongoing process for a few, needed to keep the system useful for others. Many of the pitfalls of dealing with digital data have been discovered and recently accommodated within the system, with the result that the classification process is fundamentally and dramatically improved. Our emphasis has now shifted to data and results: I and my associates are working on several papers using reconnaissance techniques for discovery and investigation of interesting peculiar stars.

/.../

Because I am one of the principal workers in the field of MK spectral classification, I often get requests for MK types from my own spectra, or for information on types in the literature. I have a very extensive collection of stellar spectra (comprising photographic and digital spectra of about 10,000 stars, of which 5,000 have been published) as well as a catalogue of MK types. This computerized catalogue, representing a large investment of time, does not appear in my list of publications. However, the responses to the requests, and the catalogue data, are useful in many subfields in astronomy. New stars are being added continually. Indeed, current observations are essential for the maintenance of the reference frame and the database. For example, I have supplied types for all stars brighter than apparent B magnitude 4.5 in the Michigan Spectral Catalogue (the 2-dimensional successor to the HD Catalogue).

/.../


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The "computerized catalogue" is for me a point of personal worry and personal grief. The catalogue (which, I admit, I never worked with in a scientifically significant way) ran on one of the major 1990s commercial personal-computer SQL databases, I am 95% certain from IBM. Prof. Garrison and I never did get it ported to what would nowadays be more appropriate, the open-source MySQL, or perhaps still better (because more anchored in the open-source movement, and now prominent in Debian GNU/Linux) MariaDB. (At https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MySQL are troubling references to high commercial politics, and to the timestamping UTC=20380119T031407Z overrun problem. MariaDB is for its part discussed in positive terms at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MariaDB.) We did chat from time to time about the advisability of porting, forever finding other, more urgent work to do. 

To make matters worse, the database ran on OS/2, rather than on one of the more familiar operating systems. As Prof. Garrison's private Linux technician, I was the de facto sysadmin for two office machines, musca.astro.utoronto.ca and vulpecula.astro.utoronto.ca. There was also a rather elaborate home machine, largely or entirely on Microsoft, with which I had relatively little to do. If I recall correctly (I am only 70% sure of this sequence of points), the database was kept on just one machine, and this machine was musca.astro.utoronto.ca, and this machine had the dismal distinction of being not double- but actually triple-boot (for some Microsoft; for some Linux, I suspect either RedHat or Mandrake rather than the technically preferred Debian; and for the comparatively obscure OS/2). 

We never worked hard enough even on backing up the database. I am supposed to have somewhere in my lodging one or two USB thumbdrives with the database binaries, as a first crude, circa-2005, effort at backup. To my deep grief and chagrin, however, I reflect that there is now a 50% probability that I have misplaced it or them. Later, it will be necessary for me to confer with infotech personnel in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and with Prof. Garrison's erstwhile Ph.D. students Dr Ian Shelton and Dr Tuba Koktay, and with Prof. Garrison's family, to see what (if anything) can now be done. Could it be that some others, who possibly worked a little more closely with Prof. Garrison than I did, and perhaps differed from me in making scientific use of the database, did more than I myself managed to do in my capacity as occasional technician? 

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Happier than the conceivably lost database are the formal publications - though, as I have already remarked in this blog posting, formal scientific publications can be only one part of the intergenerational heritage-conservation process. Prof. Garrison and I uploaded a rather good bibliography, which I will not reproduce in full here, at http://www.astro.utoronto.ca/~garrison/. For present purposes, it suffices to cite from it just Prof. Garrison's two edited or co-edited books, and to add as a third point the retirement Festschrift published in his honour: 

  • Garrison, R. F. (ed.), The MK Process and Stellar Classification (Toronto: David Dunlap Observatory and University of Toronto, 1984)
  • Corbally, C.J., R.O. Gray, and R.F. Garrison (eds.), The MK Process at 50 Years: A Powerful Tool for Astrophysical Insight (Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series 60 (1994))
  • Gray, R.O, Corbally, C.J., and Philip, A.G.D. (eds.), The Garrison Festschrift: held in Tucson, Arizona, at the Arizona Inn June 10-11, 2002 (Schenectady, NY: L. Davis Press, 2003)

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To Prof. Garrison must go much of the credit for the high 1971-1997 productivity of the DDO outstation, the University of Toronto Southern Observatory, or UTSO (at Las Campanas, in the high-and-arid Chilean Andes well east of La Serena; DDO was linked to UTSO under radiotelephony licensing for  20.5665 MHz and 14.6555 MHz, with at the DDO Radio Shack end an "experimental class" callsign, VE9LHM, and a quite imposing tower-with-rotator sporting something like a Yagi). At UTSO, the then just-B.Sc.-level Ian Shelton, doing amateur-grade astrophotography of the Large Magellanic Cloud on a non-commissioned 20-cm-class telescope during a night off from his formal duties on the UTSO 60-cm-class instrument, discovered the 1987 supernova. Had Prof. Garrison's UTSO officer not made his discovery, someone else of course in due time would have - but with a loss of many precious hours, conceivably even of some precious days, in an astrophysical crisis without parallel since Kepler's 1604 supernova, with every minute of data potentially relevant.

To Prof. Garrison must also go the credit for saving what could be saved of UTSO. Although his efforts to secure fresh funding, after NSERC declined to renew a grant, were unsuccessful, he did succeed in having the main  instrument transferred across the Andes, to the Argentinean national observatory at El Leoncito, with also a time-sharing provision for the University of Toronto. (The transfer is chronicled by Prof. Garrison and his Argentinean peer at   http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2004AAS...205.4801G.)

Those wishing  to read more deeply in Prof. Garrison's life at Yerkes Observatory, at DDO, at UTSO, and in the University of Toronto Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics might want to proceed next to an article from the above-mentioned Festschrift, by Fr Chris Corbally, under the title "The Anchor Points in Bob Garrison's Astronomical Life", downloadable as http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu//full/2003gafe.conf...77C/0000077.000.html.


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Prof. Garrison will be remembered by many, even outside academia, for his decades of work in the roughly 5100-member Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).  In a geographically compact country such as New Zealand, or even Germany, it would not be surprising to find a coherent national association fostering public astronomical outreach. New Zealand has, I gather, its own Royal Astronomical Society (with about 180 members in 2010), and Germany its Vereinigung der Strenfreunde (with somewhat more than 4000 members late in 2015). It is, on the other hand, of interest that such an organization has since even before World War I been made to succeed in Canada, where there are two official languages and a geographical spread. (The United States, although outranking Canada in its public budgetary commitments to astronomy on (I think) even a per-capita basis, and additionally blessed with the world's most formidable amateur-astronomy traditions, suffers from its own analogues of Canada's geographical and cultural dispersion. It is perhaps for this reason that the United States has not succeeded in constructing a RASC equivalent.) 

Prof. Garrison became possibly the sole RASC president, ever, to have visited something like 95% or 100% of  the 29 or so  RASC "Local Centres" across Canada - including even those Local Centres which, being in isolated regions at the higher latitudes, must have found it a challenge to recruit members. I know from chats with Prof. Garrison that he took on his self-assigned task not with stoic determination but with relish. His generosity of spirit - shown in those RASC travels, as also in his more austerely astrophysical work on MK classification, and in his devotion to UTSO - will now be recalled by those who were privileged to know him.


[This is the end of the current blog posting.]









[end of outline]

Toomas Karmo: Practical Horticulture: Self-Watering Pots with Bartholomew Mixture


Screenshot from one of my five (or so) Debian GNU/Linux 9.0 "Stable"-branch ("Stretch") GNOME desktops. Clockwise, from upper right: operations clocks (green for local civil time, red for UTC); four of my my five self-watering pots, in their metal bowls; two /usr/bin/xterm "glass teletype" windows, judiciously configured to display private casenotes on self-watering pots and on compost; my landlady's successful nasturtiums (a good plant, as I have learned in previous years, for self-watering pots in a sunny location; the leaves go well in a salad). - As always with such blogger uploads, the image can be enlarged in a normal Web browser by mouse-clicking.


Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to reasonable length.


Revision history:

All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 3 hours.
  • 20170816T0019Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo uploaded a polished version. He reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, .. . 
  • 20170815T0339Z/version 1.1.0: Kmo improved his outline somewhat. He realized he was now running behind schedule. He hoped to replace the outline with a short essay in coherent full-sentences prose, and to add graphics, by 20170815T1900Z or so.
  • 20170815T0003Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo managed to post a semi-polished outline. He hoped to replace the outline with a short essay, in coherent full-sentences prose, at some point in the next 4 hours.

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past months shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity, at any rate when coupled with my erstwhile, out-of-date, Web-authoring uploading browser, to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different downloading browsers. Some downloading browsers have sometimes perhaps not correctly read in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets"  (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing or right-margin justification. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.]



We all must do our part in greening the planet. As a minor blogging task this week (the major task, separate from this one, is precipitated by a sad thing, the death of observational astrophysicist Prof. Robert F. Garrison), I recount my experience with self-watering pots. 

On investigating self-watering planters on the Web three or so years ago, I came up with a design that proves perhaps excessively fancy, but has worked well for me. Plants are on this design rooted in around 10 cm of the Mel Bartholemew "Square Foot Garden" mixture, as explained at http://squarefootgardening.org/. The Mixture comprises equal parts (by volume) of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost. 

Bartholomew, the retired engineer who devised the recipe, recommends coarse-grade vermiculite.

Bartholomew particularly stresses that the compost has to be of high quality. Commercial compost may be of rather low quality, perhaps comprising the decayed remains of only one or two plant species. What is instead required is biodiversity in the decayed remains. One can solve the problem by composting kitchen waste at home, safe in the assurance that a typical kitchen generates waste of multiple kinds - potato peelings, wilted salad leaves, apple cores, eggshells, and much else. I, however, solved the problem through a piece of blind luck, unexpectedly getting earthworm droppings cheaply in the last, reduced-prices, hours of a "Canada Blooms" spring gardening show. It was a fairly good bet that the earthworms would have been fed properly biodiverse kitchen or restaurant waste, rather than the waste from some commercial monoculture farm.

The peat moss in Mr Bartholomew's list is a bit of an embarrassment, since mining the bogs for this not-easily-renewed resource impoverishes our biosphere. Perhaps some reader can someday find something better. 

[It is helpful to enlarge this graphic by mouse-clicking.]
The "Bartholomew Mixture" is marked "a" in my diagram. In my (perhaps needlessly fancy) design, the Mixture sits on an aluminium pie plate, "b", with a circular aperture cut into its centre, of radius just a little less than the radius of an aluminum beverage tin, such as is used for Coca-Cola, Seven-Up, and similar thirst-quenchers. (Useful graffito, from exactly 50 years ago this summer: "Visit Expo '67. Drink Canada Dry.") Under the pie plate is a beverage tin, "c" - with its top now cut open, and its sides now punctured. The 10-centimetre layer of Bartholemew Mixture, and the underlying pie plate, and the plate-supporting beverage tin sit inside a clay flowerpot, "d". The pot rests in turn on some pebbles, or pottery shards, or marbles, "e", at the bottom of a bowl "f". (Cheap ceramic or cheap plastic would serve. But I became rather fancy, buying brand-new bowls in some attractive metal like stainless steel.) 

Inside the beverage tin is a wick of some convenient absorbent material. I used kitchen sponges. However, old scraps of textile, or perhaps poor-grade soil of an intermediate particulate structure - not too rich in sand, and on the other hand not too rich in clay - are likely to provide equally effective wicking action.
The principle of operation is as follows: 
  • Water is introduced to the bowl, to some convenient level "x" below the metal pie-plate "b". 
  • Because the clay flowerpot is supported on the pebbles or shards or marbles "e", water is free to rise through the hole at the bottom of the pot, filling the pot to level "x". 
  • Because the beverage tin is punctured, the water in the pot is free to enter the wicking material and to rise in the wick through capillary action to the wick-soil interface at "y". 
  • Although the wick is liable to be soaking wet, the Bartholomew Mixture, "a", above "y" will take up only a reasonable quantity of water from the wick-soil interface at "y". The effect of this is that the Bartholomew Mixture will be damp, and yet will not be waterlogged. The roots of the plants will consequently avoid drowning - or, if they do have a little too much water, they will at any rate suffer this condition only in the immediate vicinity of the wick-soil interface at "y", with the higher strata of the soil drier.
Because the volume of water at the bottom of the assembly, below level "x", is large, approximating even the volume of the 10-centimetre Bartholomew Mixture layer between levels "y" and "z", the assembly will not need watering too often. I find in practice that when this assembly is brought indoors in the winter, into the Arizona-desert-like conditions a Canadian apartment develops from central heating, it is still not necessary to put water into the bowl more than once in six or seven days. 
 
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What to plant? Readers will have their own ideas. I have had excellent results outdoors in previous years with nasturtiums, and indoors with chives and a couple of other herbs.  In this season, I have chives (now two or more years old) in one of my five self-watering pots, and begonias in the others. 

****

How should the design be simplified? Some successful work with tomatoes, on the sunny side of my previous landlord's house, suggests to me that it is enough to fill a large pot with a layer of some wicking material (with sponge or waste fabric - or more realistically and more cheaply, with poor-quality soil, neither too sandy nor too fine-grained), and to top this up with 10 or 20 or 30 centimetres of Bartholomew Mixture. The pot can then be set in some kind of water bath, in which the water never goes higher than the interface between the wicking material and the Bartholomew Mixture. The aluminium pie plate and the aluminium beverage tin now seem to me to be needless refinements. 

With the tomatoes, I actually filled the entire (huge, temporarily borrowed, almost tree-capable) pots with soil of agricultural quality, possibly - I am forgetting a detail here - a bit below the level of excellence of true Bartholomew Mixture. I then set the outsized pots into water in big plastic bins, such as are here in Canada sold at WalMart for organizing children's toys, winter clothes, and the like in a garage or storage closet. This must have meant that the soil close to the bottom of the pots became soaking wet, and deficient in oxygen, and that the soil above the water line in the bins became damp without being waterlogged. I imagine the tomato-plant roots simply pushing down until they encountered the waterlogged layer, and realizing in their mute way that with oxygen now absent, there was no point in pushing lower. At any rate the green stems and leaves gazed up at me cheerfully enough, uttering not one syllable of complaint in all their vigorous growing, and in the late summer bearing a reasonably abundant harvest.


[This is the end of the current blog posting.] 

Monday, 7 August 2017

The All-Time Best-Ever YouTube Vid?




Being under pressure from depression and duties, I have to offer only light blogging tonight. Tonight I upload nothing on the analytical philosophy of perception and action. Instead, I draw attention to what is in my own subjective ranking a top YouTube video. Here is something - for us with our computers, essentially a little piece of television, although for its originally intended 1936 audience a cinema clip - exposing television as a thing of scant value. 

****

The junk, or el-cheapo, side of television already emerges when we reflect on the modern domestic use of this medium in Mr Donald Trump's rise to power, or again on its modern use as a foreign-relations tool. In particular, it has been urged on me that the modern Moscow foreign-relations application of television - in Russian-language outlets available in Germany, and therefore viewable by Germany's sizeable contingent of Russian-speaking voters - is to be analyzed in the context of the upcoming 2017-09-24 Bundestag elections. 

Tonight, however, we should instead recall the past of our parents or grandparents. 

Put into your YouTube search interface, folks, the search string television comes to London 1936. Look for an upload of 2007-09-19, by YouTube user "lswrsi", under the title "1936 Television song", to a duration of exctly two minutes. In my corner of the Web, the material is available through the URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Rpfek-F8Rw. As of UTC=20170807T204320Z or so, I find it has garnered a view count of just 64,893 - not even one fiftieth of what so unintentionally hilarious a piece deserves. 

****

A briefing on technical background: 

  • Since the 1936 BBC cameras had low sensitivity, it was necessary not only to light the Alexandra Palace studio powerfully (perhaps with "Klieg lights"), but also to operate the lenses at low f-numbers (as when, on an ordinary manually operable camera, we open the diaphragm all the way). The inevitable penalty was a shallow field, with focus correspondingly critical. In practical production terms, this meant that it was fine for a lone performer to sing, especially if her gestures were minimized. Drama, on the other hand - I gather the valiant BBC did try, in those prewar days, to telecast Ibsen - became awkward. In this particular clip, the potential production bottleneck can be guessed at from the vocalist's management of  her hands: she does move them, and yet keeps them a little unnaturally close to her torso.
  • Contrast had to be enhanced with makeup. So lovely though the vocalist looks, she was in fact heavily plastered -  with various accounts from this era suggesting combinations of brown and green, or green and rouge, or purple and rouge. The flesh-coloured makeups familiar from the contemporary studio were not feasible until cameras became more sensitive, after the war. 
  • Contrary to what the prewar BBC itself cautiously expected upon launching its television service, the reception radius was generous. I have seen somewhere a reference to a prewar viewer in Cambridge - in other words, to a successful home television-receiver installation far outside the targeted Greater London surrounds of the Alexandra Palace mast. When war came to France, the German occupation authorities found it expedient to retain the prewar French equivalent of the BBC television service. The French antenna had been installed, dramatically enough, on the Eiffel Tower, for maximum range. I gather that British military intelligence considered the Reich content - Dr Goebbels's Paris colleagues might have attempted televising some ciné-journalism, along the lines of their Sieg im Westen film - potentially helpful. The Eiffel Tower telecasts were accordingly monitored near the channel coast of England. Monitoring personnel did strain mightily, deploying not the Yagi receiving-antenna design familiar from the 1950s onward, but some nightmarish Rube Goldberg contraption resembling a spiky tipped-up bedframe. 
  • The BBC television, in contrast with the prewar and wartime Eiffel Tower (and again in contrast with the prewar and wartime Berlin Fernsehsender Paul Nipkow) ended abruptly in the late summer of 1939. BBC telecasting did not resume until 1946-06-07. For some people had had a brainwave, I think in the tense days immediately following the Wednesday which was 1939-08-23. That was the Wednesday on which Molotov and Ribbentrop signed their pact, killing diplomacy. The brainy people had reasoned thus: Alexandra Palace is not broadcasting on medium-wave, or even on the beamed short-wave radiated at Daventry for audio by the BBC Empire Service. At Alexandra Palace the BBC is telecasting, rather, in the exotic, exceptionally-short-wave, VHF régime - helpful as a navigation beacon to the Luftwaffe. BBC television went most suddenly dark. It stopped in the middle, not of some blithe "pictures-out-of-space", "we bring Television to you" song like the one in our vid, or again of some deep-and-meaningful Ibsen, but of a Walt Disney cartoon. 
****

When I call this production, as I did above,  "a top YouTube video" in my subjective rankings, I exercise restraint. Ever since I discovered it a few years ago, this particular vid has been my uncontested, complete-and-total, winner-take-all YouTube favourite. So forget about the analytical philosophy of perception and action tonight, folks. Relax instead, as "Vision and Sound are on", at your home screen. 

[This is the end of the current blog posting.]

Monday, 31 July 2017

Toomas Karmo: Part J: Perception, Action, and "Subjectivity"

Quality assessment:



On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to reasonable length.


Revision history:


All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 3 hours.

  • 20170801T1623Z/version 3.1.0: Kmo added two amplificatory paragraphs, starting with the words "It will help some readers if I add that my remark about X possibly-occurring-without-a-cause has a parallel in". He reserved the right to upload minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, revisions over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.1.1, 3.1.2, 3.1.3, ... . 
  • 20170801T2347Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo finished converting his finegrained outline into full-sentences prose. He now embarked on a minor process of checking and polishing. He reserved the right to upload minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, revisions over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170801T2041Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo finished converted his coarsegrained outline into a duly polished finegrained outline. He hoped in the coming 3 hours to finish converting this, in turn, into full-sentences prose.
  • 20170801T1728Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo, now doing better in his difficulties, managed to upload a duly polished coarsegrained outline. He hoped to convert this over the coming 3 hours into a duly polished finegrained outline, and then still later on 2017-08-01 to convert the finegrained outline into full-sentences prose.
  • 20170801T0256Z: Sorry, ill with depression. Will try to get the material up in next couple of days.



[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past months shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity, at any rate when coupled with my erstwhile, out-of-date, Web-authoring uploading browser, to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different downloading browsers. Some downloading browsers have sometimes perhaps not correctly read in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets"  (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing or right-margin justification. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.]



It is necessary to begin by recapitulating, and expanding, the Kaila-Strawson "sound universe" scenario with which my last installment ended. 

Imagine it this week, Gentle Reader, in terms of a sudden, radical, change in what you are undergoing. In the minutes leading up to 4:00 pm today, you have been "greening", and have been seeing a chain of ordinary physical things, among them a sunlit lawn, in greening. In your right hand has been a glass with some ice-chilled drink. This glass, at a temperature only a little above 0oC, is one of a chain of ordinary physical things - among them are also events in your nerves, starting with nerves in some correspondingly cold finger flesh, and continuing with neurons within the right arm, the spinal cord, and ultimately the skull - which you have been feeling in "being-chilled". Now, at 4:00 p.m., comes the Great Change. 

Suddenly you see nothing at all. You do not experience even an expanse of neutral black, as when you clap a hand over closed eyelids. Your visual life becomes suddenly a Nothing, even as the visual life "behind your head" is in your present circumstances a Nothing. (It is not that the human visual field is bounded by an expanse of neutral white or neutral black. No: outside the limited visual field, with its angular width of maybe just 170 or 190 degrees, nothing at all appears.) 

Gone also is the "right-handed being-chilled". Now you have no awareness of cold, or for that matter of warmth, or for that matter of wetness, dryness, or pressure. You likewise have now no feeling of falling, rising, or spinning. Further, you now cease to have sensation-within-the-human-body, such as nausea, or thirst, or the pins-and-needles prickling in some injudiciously immobilized foot.

What you do have is auditory experience, and this you have in astonishing abundance. In your altered state, you note an ensemble of sounds - ringings, buzzings, whistlings, ululations, rumblings, in a variety of pitches and timbres - at times in either soloes or choral plainsong, at other times in harmonies and dissonances, and often with many a diminuendo or crescendo. 

To begin with, I develop this Kaila-Strawson scenario in the starker of its two principal possible forms, in monaural terms. It will later be helpful to consider also a binaural, i.e., a stereophonic, version. Readers with access to an old-fashioned 1960s-through-1990s sitting-room stereo set, equipped with headphones, can appreciate the difference readily. Let the equipment be playing into headphones, whether from CD or from gramophone disk or from FM broadcast, some stereophonic orchestral work. Those old amplifiers or tuner-amplifiers would in at least some instances have a front-panel switch (in the possibly-1967 equipment I myself have inherited from my dear parents, a rocker switch), marked "MONO-STEREO". With headphones on, one can appreciate the difference between the two settings. At "STEREO", the orchestral piece sounds spread out, with the horns perhaps "way over there on the left", the kettledrums perhaps "somewhat over toward the right", the flutes perhaps "immediately in front". At "MONO", by contrast, all the instruments seem to be together in one spot, somewhere inside the skull and equidistant from the ears.

****

The key question facing you, Gentle Reader, from 4:00 p.m. onward, is this: Is something making me ring, buzz, whistle (and so on)? It is impossible to establish either the affirmative answer or the negative answer rigorously, just as you cannot establish rigorously before 4:00 p.m. that there is something (sunlight on grass, or at any rate green light on retina, or at any rate electrochemical disturbance in visual cortex) making you undergo the greening. One recalls from previous weeks the suppositions of Intermittent Furniture and Young Cosmos. Those wicker parlour chairs can coherently, if perhaps perversely and in some sense unreasonably, be envisaged as existing only when inspected. The cosmos - our own human records and human brain memory-traces included - can coherently, if perhaps perversely and in some sense unreasonably, be envisaged as having sprung into existence just two seconds ago.

Analogously, in this week's discussion, then, we have to face the possibility of a perceptual event's occurring without a cause - specifically, the event of your greening, in the scenario prevailing up to 4:00 p.m., and the event of your ringing or booming (or whatever) in the scenario prevailing after 4:00 p.m.

The supposition of an event occurring without a cause would, to be sure, have seemed odd to the Victorian physicists, steeped as they were in Laplacean-Newtonian determinism. Nowadays, however, it must seem less odd. Thanks to popularizing books on quantum mechanics, we are nowadays familiar with the notion of an atomic nucleus's decaying at random:

Here is a rather sinister little thing, a nucleus of polonium-211. It has in some deep and philosophically troubling sense (can some Department of Philosophy specialist in Thomism someday take this further?) a propensity or "potentiality" for radioactive decay. In the particular case of polonium-211, the propensity is stronger than it is for, e.g., the only mildly radioactive uranium-238. For polonium-211, the statistical half-life is short, running to about a half second. We look at this particular nucleus at midnight, and nothing happens. Seven hundred milliseconds elapse. Now the time is 00:00:00.700, and to our mild surprise still nothing has happened. But two hundred milliseconds later, at 00:00:00.900, the looked-for event does happen: the polonium nucleus now emits an alpha particle, decaying "spontaneously" (as the popularizing books say) into a nucleus of the stable isotope lead-207. 

On at any rate the presentations of the popularizing books, which are from considerations of reader-friendliness constrained to gloss over the "hidden variables" (or similar) worries raised by David Bohm (1917-1992), or by similar quantum theorists (I gather that Einstein, opposing Bohr, was in their camp), there is nothing at all causing the nucleus to decay at 00:00:00.900 rather than at 00:00:00.700 or (e.g.) 00:00:00.300. In general, so far as I can see - and the popularizing books on quantum mechanics do help make this palatable - for any event X, it is coherent to suppose that something made X happen, and also coherent to suppose that nothing made X happen. (It is not necessarily, I stress, that the two suppositions are equally reasonable. I insist only that both suppositions are coherent.) We shall embrace the latter supposition if we affirm the counterfactual conditional, "X would have happened no matter what the prior history of the cosmos had been, at least insofar as the supposed prior history is logically consilient with the occurrence of X." (That little caveat about logical consilience is needed to forestall niggling, verbal, quibbles such as this: if X is the final coming-to-rest, at exactly noon, of a soccer ball, then X could not have occurred if the soccer ball had not been moving just before noon. In a trivial, verbal, sense, coming-to-rest, as distinct from being-at-rest, logically requires some previous being-in-motion.) Once we reject the DEFGH analysis of causation (Part C, 2017-05-29/2017-05-30), we must, so far as I can see, accept this counterfactual supposition as coherent - regarding it as unlike the (incoherent) supposition that we have drawn a four-sided triangle or have met a married bachelor.

It will help some readers if I add that my remark about X possibly-occurring-without-a-cause has a parallel in propositions of the form "Every P-event is accompanied by a Q-event." The cosmos abounds in such "P-Q" regularities. (Here is one: whenever two massive spherical bodies are placed in proximity to each other, then - in the absence of special restraining forces, such as would be exerted by restraining harnesses or other mechanical supports - the bodies accelerate toward each other, with this acceleration directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the separation of their centres.) Once we reject the DEFGH analysis of causation, we must regard "P-Q" regularities as subject not to one possible interpretation, but to two equally coherent (albeit not necessarily equally reasonable) interpretations: perhaps (i) the "P-Q" regularity is a law; perhaps, on the other hand, (ii) the regularity is a mere accidental coincidence, a so-to-speak astonishing run of luck in the cosmic casino. Where the regularity is a matter of law, there is something underlying which, if only we were to become privy to it, would explain the observed "P-Q" coincidences; where, on the other hand, the regularity is a mere accidental coincidence, there is nothing underlying (so to speak, nothing more to be known). - For more than two centuries after Newton, the gravitational regularity which I have cited as my example was presumed non-accidental, and yet nobody had any idea what underlay it. (Newton, in particular, prudently wrote that he was himself calculating the direction and magnitude of the empirically manifest gravitational accelerations without "forming any hypotheses" regarding their underlying nature -  Hypotheses non fingo.) Then, in the time of World War 1, a possible explanation was put forward in the Theory of General Relativity.  (General Relativity considers gravitation to be a manifestation of curvature in spacetime. The theory makes some predictions in observational astronomy, and these have so far been borne out).

Further, dark, philosophical questions loom here, in my weasel-word "underlying": are, for instance, P-Q regularities underlain (as I, weasel-like, say) by mere further regularities, or (as I rather guess we should affirm in the case of General Relativity) by something in some subtle way possessing more explanatory power than mere further regularities? Much though I would like to be able to write further on the dark questions, I have not studied enough physics to be able to launch the project. 

I now recapitulate: upon rejecting, as I do urge we reject, the DEFGH analysis of causation, we can for any event X coherently both (a) say "Maybe nothing made X happen" and (b) say "Maybe something made X happen". We can say this pair of things no matter how disparate the two competing sayings may be in their respective intrinsic plausibility or reasonableness.

In particular, then, I am today, as a corollary of my underlying, nonreductionist, "realist", anti-DEFGH, philosophy-of-causation, insisting that you can entertain, as a coherent supposition in the case of the after-4:00-p.m. Kaila-Strawson auditory scenario, the supposition that something is making you ring (buzz, warble, boom, whistle, rumble, ululate, ... ). On this coherently entertainable supposition, it is inevitably the case that you are hearing something in ringing, are hearing something in buzzing, and so on. Once given this so-coherent supposition, it ineluctably follows that you are hearing a thing which is making you ring (or buzz, or whatever) - just as you were before 4:00 p.m. seeing a sunlit lawn (and a municipal neighbourhood, and an optic-nerve event, and so on) that was making you "do some greening", and were before 4:00 p.m. feeling some cold glass (and cold finger flesh, and sequence of neuronal events) that was making you "be-chilled".

To make these ideas more clear, it will help to explore, for a moment, the connection between causation and counterfactuals.

If something is after 4:00 p.m. making you "do some rumbling", as the illumination of the lawn by sunlight is before 4:00 p.m. making you "do some greening", then the following counterfactuals are true:

  • There is before 4:00 p.m. something x, logically distinct from the event of your "greening", such that were x not to exist-or-occur, you would not be "greening". 
  • There is after 4:00 p.m. something x, logically distinct from the event of your "rumbling", such that were x not to exist-or-occur, you would not be "rumbling". 
So much, then, for counterfactuals.  Continuing now with my main theme, I note the arising of two sub-possibilities, both of them again inevitably coherent:

- (b.a) The various things you hear in ringing (roaring, warbling, ululating, etc) - the thing, or the various things, that are making you undergo what you are undergoing - exist only when you are roaring (warbling, ululating, etc).

- (b.b) Some of the various things you hear in ringing (roaring, warbling, ululating, etc) exist even at one or more times at which you happen not to be roaring (warbling, ululating, etc).


Here, as with the competing suppositions of Persistent and Intermittent Furniture (Part C, 2017-05-29/2017-05-30, with also a small clarification and expansion in Part E, 2017-06-19/2017-06-20), I do not assert my competing choices to be equally reasonable. - For the rest of this week's discussion, I fix on supposition (b.b), without troubling to consider what conceivable embellishments of the scenario would render (b.b) more reasonable than (b.a).

Under (b.b) are three possible cases: 

(1) After 4:00 p.m., you continue to reside in the familiar-physics cosmos of baryonic matter, arranged in space. This is now, however, a cosmos whose appearance to you is altered. No longer does a sunlit lawn appear to you a certain way through looking to you a certain way: rather, it appears to you in a certain (novel) way through sounding to you in a certain way. (Perhaps you are hearing the sunlit lawn in so steadily and gently rumbling, and are hearing some other things - a nearby red tablecloth, for example - in at the same time keening. It will be a little like the scenario under heading "I" from Part G (2017-07-10/2017-07-11), in which people are feeling a straightforwardly baryonic-physics thing, the nozzle-released gas, in Sicking at First Avenue and B Street.)

(2) After 4:00 p.m., you reside in some altogether new cosmos.

Possibility (2) divides into two subpossibilities, thereby yielding the just-mentioned total of three cases:

(2.1) Perhaps, as you hearken carefully, all your efforts at discerning a systematic phenomenology are in vain. Try as you will to discern patterns in your warblings, your ululations, and the like, your efforts bear scant fruit. Here you could, admittedly, stubbornly regard yourself as inhabiting a cosmos of baryonic, or perhaps nonbaryonic, matter, arranged in space - and yet it might now be equally, or more, reasonable to start regarding yourself as inhabiting a novel cosmos of things-in-time-without-space.

(2.2) Perhaps, as you hearken carefully over the hours, days, weeks, and years, a rich systematic phenomenology does come to your notice. Here it might, depending on the details of the systematization, be specially reasonable for you to posit not only that you are in a now-exotic, probably non-baryonic, cosmos of things capable of persisting-even-when-unheard, but that your cosmos has even a spatial structure. Diligent hearkening might eventually make it possible to say something about the probable nature of the space - as comprising, perhaps, some finite number of dimensions; and as being either (A) finite with (say) the topology of a sphere, or again the topology of a torus, or (B) infinite; and as possessing some definite geometry (as being everywhere of finite constant positive curvature, perhaps; or as being everyone classically Euclidean, i.e., as being everywhere of zero curvature; or as varying in curvature, with the curvature of space perhaps even zero in some localities, and positive in others, and negative in yet others).

We have so far considered only monaural "soundings" (monaural "auditory undergoings", or - to switch for a moment to a language a little different from, and yet neither superior to nor inferior to our language so far - "acoustic appearances"). Let us now, however, briefly move that so-to-speak front-panel rocker switch to its "STEREO" setting. The "STEREO" effect is one way, although not the only way, of developing a phenomenology so rich as to support option (2.2), or even the particularly consoling option (1):

Just before the 4:00 p.m. Great Transformation in how you were living, there was a table to your left, with a bright red cloth. On the sunlit lawn in front of you a crow was slowly approaching, at that moment striding rather than flying. Now, immediately after 4:00 p.m., you note to your so-to-speak-stereo-headphones left a shrill, steady keening, and in front of you a low, equally steady, rumble. Superimposed on these is a rather pleasant bassoon sound, with a melodic line suggesting dignified strolling. The line is a bit like the gallery-strolling theme which punctuates Mussorgsky's piano suite "Pictures at an Exhibition". This melodic line gets gradually louder, as though some orchestra bassoonist was approaching you. You might well take the keening to be "the way the tablecloth now appears",  the rumble to be "the way the grass now appears", and the agreeable  modestpetrovitshmussorgskilik melody to be "the way the striding, approaching crow now appears". (This is how one class of adjectives gets formed in Estonian: "effessbeelik" for "of or pertaining to the FSB" - here of course the "ee" is as in German "Jena", not as in English "jeep" - "essveeärrlik" for "of or pertaining to the SVR", "tsaristlik" for "Czarist (of or pertaining to the Tsar)", and "modestpetrovitshmussorgskilik" for "of or pertaining to Модест Петрович Мусоргский".)

****

Now I must depart in a mild way from my generally-to-be-respected Igominy and Humiligation Precept, as promulgated in Part B (2017-05-22/2017-05-23). I must do this so as to maximize the probability of some blogspot reader's linking my own ideas up, in some eventually fruitful way, with the ideas of the current, 2017-era, Department of Philosophy professionals. (I have at all points in this year's philosophy-writing project to manoeuvre between competing desiderata. In this present instance, the Precept, insistent though it is, needs to be subordinated to still more insistent considerations regarding probable benefits to readers in one or another Department of Philosophy.)

In his 1970s lectures, the Oxford philosopher Gareth Evans foreshadowed an important, I think then-upcoming, project of his, his "General Theory of Objects". I rather think it was in the course of this foreshadowing that he made his commendatory remark on "transcendental investigations, such as those conducted by Mr [or perhaps by then already Prof.?] Strawson". Prof. Strawson had of course in his 1959 book Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics and his 1966 book The Bounds of Sense been drawing on some Prussian or other, working over in Kaliningrad some five generations before the Red Army totally smashed Kaliningrad up - Prof. Immanuel Tank, or something, in some kind of celebrated Kritik der Reinen Etwas. One gleaned from the youngish Mr Evans's reference to "trascendental investigations" (and still more of transcendental investigations being "conducted") a delicious vision of silver-haired Principal Investigator Prof. Sir Peter Strawon, chevrons on dark sleeve, behind a row of desk telephones: "Yes, do let me assure you, Madam - our investigations here at the Yard are well in hand."

Somebody, in some Department of Philosophy somewhere or other, might some day be reading not only these present cringe-worthy blogspot materials, but also the Nachlass of the eminent, universally mourned, Gareth Evans. I do think that some posthumously published work of Mr Evans, on the specific Kaila-Strawson theme, does exist, somewhere. I at any rate recall Mr Evans, gesticulating in his lecture, I imagine under the theatrical influence of Wittgenstein. (A philosophical friend and I called Mr Evans "Gazzers" behind his back. "Gazzers" for his part rightly admired, as my friend and I were perhaps occasionally liable to put it, "Witters".) Mr Evans emitted what to my untutored ear sounded like Wittgensteinean, or any any rate Teutonic, phonemes, mixing his metaphors deftly amid the gesticulations:

Phenomenalism ACHHHHHH ... phenomenalism AKHHHHHH! ... PHENOMENALISM! - is a horse ... that is often flogged ... but seldom understood. 

Without digging in libraries, I cannot myself say what the official "Gazzers" line on phenomenalism was, though I am sure it was something deep. I do commend such library work to my readers. The normal crude Tallahassee Swampwater Junior Training College line, which I think Mr Evans was deprecating, runs as follows, for what little it is worth:

Confronted with my purely auditory undergoings - my auditory sense data, my auditory Vorstellungen - I deploy semantic manoeuvres to assemble my auditory undergoings into a language of physical objects. The physical objects are not fundamental realities, but mere "logical constructions" out of those truly fundamental things which are my sense-data. 

What my blog postings are herewith offering, or are at least herewith groping toward, is an alternative:

Confronted with my purely auditory undergoings (the "acoustic appearances") - for instance with my soft-and-steady roaring, with my equally steady keening, with my bassoon-like crescendo modestpetrovitschmussorgskilik melody line - I recognize the logically coherent possibility that in roaring, keening, and the like I am hearing a cosmos of physical objects - perhaps a nonspatial cosmos; perhaps a fully spatial cosmos; perhaps even a spatial cosmos of familiar-physics baryonic matter, arranged into such familiar things as a lawn, a tablecloth, and a crow. 

This alternative, namely that you (as "Gentle Reader") are hearing physical objects in buzzing, keening, warbling (etc), is forced on us as soon as

  • we accept a realist, as opposed to a reductionist "DEFG" (Part C, 2017-05-29/2017-05-30) semantic analysis of causation;
  • we note that just as in the philosophy of action, so too in the philosophy of perception there is, for many an X and Y, "X-ing in Y-ing"; 
  • we note the conceptual legitimacy of projections, as sketched in the 1950s or earlier by Wittgenstein, in some celebrated passage of his on pain - for Wittgenstein, "pain-patches on a leaf", and for us here at blogspot in the similarly projective locution "I feel a Pain at First Avenue and A Street in hurting" (and, although the actual historic 1920s-through-1950s Prof. Wittgenstein did not write this, "I am feeling the Sick at First Avenue and B Street in sicking," and again "I am seeing the lawn in 'greening'," and again "I am feeling the ice-chilled beverage glass in being-chilled").
Is any alternative - any duly articulable philosophical "phenomenalism", going beyond the level of sloganeering Tallahassee Swampwater sciolism - possible at all, once we do the three just-listed things? I do not see it. But perhaps Mr Evans's published Nachlass, somewhere, achieves some deep appraisal of phenomenalism more favourable than what I have myself been able to produce in this year's blogging.

[This pretty much concludes what has proved to be a surprisingly protracted discussion of perception. In at least the latter part of my next installment, I hope to embark on a discussion - I hope less protracted - of action. I hope to be still sticking rather closely to the project outline I offered in three "fragments" toward the end of Part B, back on 2017-05-22/2017-05-23. That upcoming installment probably cannot be uploaded next week, when blogging will have to touch on other themes altogether (and to be perhaps unusually brief). I do, however, hope to be uploading it at some point in the next two or three weeks.]





Monday, 24 July 2017

Toomas Karmo: Part I: Perception, Action, and "Subjectivity"

Quality assessment:



On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to reasonable length.


Revision history:


All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 3 hours.

  • 20170725T1446Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo finished converting his polished outline into full-sentences prose. He now started a minor process of inspection and revision. He reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, revisions over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170725T0333Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo managed to upload a polished outline. He now intended to get to bed, and after breakfast to start converting his outline into complete-sentences prose. He continued to think that it would be possible to finish the conversion by UTC=20170725T2000Z.
  • 20170725T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Running a full half-day behind schedule, Kmo had time only to upload a rough outline. He hoped by UTC=20170725T0401Z to have converted this into a polished outline, and by UTC=20170725T2000Z to have finished converting the rough outline into complete-sentences prose.


[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past months shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity, at any rate when coupled with my erstwhile, out-of-date, Web-authoring uploading browser, to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different downloading browsers. Some downloading browsers have sometimes perhaps not correctly read in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets"  (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing or right-margin justification. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.]


I have been considering how you (the "Gentle Reader") see one thing in seeing another - seeing, for instance, the municipal neighbourhood in seeing the sunlit grass, and seeing the sunlit grass in seeing a visual-cortex event (an event with a subtle microstructure, perhaps not yet too well mapped by physiology). I have noted that the so-to-speak "sequence of seeings" - seeing something in seeing another thing, seeing that other thing in seeing yet another - has a rather distinctive ultimate term. I have indulged in a neologism, calling this ultimate term your "greening" (by analogy with your "hurting" or your "thirsting"). 

This week I note that the ultimate term could be described differently, and less neologistically. Questions of neologism aside, this week's alternative description is neither superior nor inferior to my description from the two previous installments. 

For you to be greening, I note this week, is for something to be "appearing (specifically, looking) a certain way to you" (looking, in fact, "grassy", or again "green" - there is more than one natural-sounding adjective here). 

Two weeks ago, I suggested, in the neologistic parlance of "greening", that there is no sense in which your "greening" either colour-matches or colour-mismatches the grass. Last week I ended with the suggestion that there is nothing special about colour - that there is nothing here which does not equally apply to left-handed and right-handed shapes, and to spatial orientation. (There is no sense in which - to recall last week's example - as you behold the top-dimpled wooden R and the top-dimpled wooden Cyrillic Ya (the letter я), on their respective squares of wool and linen on the lawn, your "R-ing" shape-matches or shape-mismatches either the R or the Ya, or in which your "Ya-ing" either shape-matches or shape-mismatches either the R or the Ya.) These suggestions can be developed also for this week's alternative language, of "looking" or "appearing", as follows:

  • There is no one way green grass ought to look. The imagined Paleolithic diet from two weeks ago changes the look of grass to you, and yet cannot be said either to make the grass "now look the way it is supposed to look" or to make the grass "now look other than the way it is supposed to look". 
  • There is no one pair of ways in which the R and the Ya are respectively supposed to look. The imagined intonation, from last week, of the mystic words "Minu-isa-oli-pottsepp-ja-kandis-valge-hobusega-LIIIva" changes the look of the R and the Ya, and yet cannot be said to make either of these two wooden letters "now look the way they ought to look", or to make them "now look the reverse of the way they ought to look".
****
If it is granted that we see the grass in seeing each of the various terms in a sequence of events within the human body, it may still be asked, "Does some special epistemic status attach to the seeing of the grass? Could it be that the seeing of the grass is in some sense a 'Direct Seeing', or a 'Basic Seeing', or something of this kind, with the seeing of the retinal patch-of-light and the seeing of the optic-nerve event and the seeing of the cortical event in some contrasting sense instances of 'Non-Basic Seeing'?" The (substantial?) minority of my readership who have a training in university-campus philosophy will recall that in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s analytical philosophy of action, stress was placed on "Basic Actions". Perhaps - for all that I can now recall of that philosophical literature, as I read in it some decades ago - there was a specially direct connection with an agent's intention in the case of those of his actions which qualified as "Basic". 

But I suggest this week - admittedly with hesitation and unease - that any sense in which the seeing of the grass is "Basic" or "Fundamental" or "Specially Privileged" is contingent, lacking philosophical significance. It seems to me to be a mere sociological or medical matter, and not a philosophical matter, that we present-day humans have a propensity to conceptualize ourselves as seeing grass, and on the other hand have difficulty in conceptualizing ourselves as seeing retinal, optic-nerve, and cerebral-cortex events. Our identifications of the various things we are seeing depend in a merely banal way on our upbringing and our present practical needs. There is not much present practical advantage, for the ordinary human in the present ordinary social world, in conceptualizing the various things that are occurring at the level of the retina, optic nerve, and visual cortex. It is, on the other hand, presently of eminent practical advantage for humans to know that they are a few metres away from a patch of living grass, as opposed to an expanse of red-hot coals. 

Consider a dystopian science-fiction scenario in which humans get farmed on this planet by extraterrestrial invaders, rather as certain aphids are farmed by certain ants. No longer do humans run around under the open skies, rejoicing in expanses of sunlit lawn: no, they are fastened to harnesses in the depths of great anthills, serving the malign purposes of their eerie new masters. Human survival priorities are now such as to make humans quickly learn what events are happening on their retinal surfaces or in their neurons, as they strive to placate their alien overlords. Some few humans, fortunate enough to be accorded scientific educations and be conducted in their harnesses out of the anthill on "field trips", do eventually take an informed interest in the botany of sunlit landscapes, on the far side of their corneas. 

It is, to be sure, hard to imagine how such humans would speak, whether with each other or with their alien overlords. I suppose they would have a vocabulary different from our own - describing, somehow, in rich and detailed terms hard for us to envision at all, events in the visual cortex, and finding the language of external-to-cortex "sunlight" and "grass" to be as recondite and technical as we ourselves find the language of behind-the-cornea synapses and dendra. With hesitancy and trepidation, I do suggest that this inversion of what might be thought the natural order of language - the only order we, in our rather happy present unfettered condition, know - is coherent. 

A second, related, point seems again to be a matter of mere medical contingencies. 

It might, for all I know, be that humans have some kind of special hard-wired, instinctual propensity for taking the "thing most evidently seen" to be grass in front of the cornea, as distinct from a neuronal event behind the cornea. It would be a little like the instinctual propensity to take a certain feeling of dryness in the throat as a signal that the body would now benefit from drinking water. Even this, for all I can see this week (I write hesitantly, subject to correction), is a mere medical matter, lacking philosophical significance. I look at it as follows: What is a matter of instinct could in most cases in principle be learned; and conversely, what is learned could in principle be a matter of instinct; and so the difference between what "comes instinctually" and what "has to be learned" is philosophically irrelevant. Can we not imagine someone being born with even an instinctual understanding of a language? Or with even an instinctual grasp of a complex practical matter, such as the way to buy groceries on a bank's debit card (with even knowledge of the password being happily innate)? Why could humans not be born in the way birds are hatched, with most or all of our practical routines - with even such elaborate human accomplishments as language use, and the use of money - already in place? It is at any rate striking how the infant bird seems to know, without instruction, how to hold its beak open and vertical for the incoming, parentally supplied, meal, and how adult birds seem to know how to emit their territorial and mating calls - I presume as instinctively as they know how to catch insects, or how to dry-bathe themselves in a patch of roadside dust.

****

The various points I have developed for visual perception apply also to the other perceptual modalities.

The hearing of a bell proceeds as follows:

  • one hears the bell in hearing air vibrate
  • one hears the air vibrate in hearing an eardrum vibrate
  • one hears the eardrum vibrate in hearing the three middle-ear bones vibrate
  • one hears those bones vibrate in hearing the cochlear fluid vibrate
  • one hears the cochlear fluid vibrate in hearing electrical activity in an auditory nerve
  • one hears the auditory-nerve activity in hearing activity in the auditory cortex
  • one hears activity in the auditory cortex (not in hearing oneself ringing, but more simply) in so-to-speak "ringing" (where "I am ringing" is a neologism parallel to "I am thirsting", "I am hurting", and the neologistic "I am greening": to say "I am hearing the ringing", in this present sense of "ringing", is a category-mistake, parallel to "I am seeing the greening")
To the objection that nerve activity is not in normal parlance heard, the reply is simply, "Well, I for my part don't hear your nerve activity. But I do hear mine. The situation parallels fullness of stomach. I do not feel the fullness of your stomach, after we have shared a heavy breakfast, and yet I do feel the fullness of my stomach." We might also reply to this objection that talk of hearing cortical events would become natural enough in, e.g., a world in which the aurora borealis triggered resonances in the cortex: "We got a bright aurora over the farm last night; my brain was ringing so loudly that I could hardly finish evening chores."

Similarly, the feeling of a pig-wrapped-in-a-blanket proceeds as follows:

  • one feels the pig in feeling the blanket
  • one feels the blanket in feeling pressure on one's skin 
  • one feels pressure on one's skin in feeling events in nerves, running from hand out to spinal cord and up into skull
  • one feels the nerve events in feeling a cortical event
  • one feels the cortical event (not in feeling "pressured", but) in being-pressured - where "I am pressured" is once again a neologism analogous to "I am thirsting", "I am hurting", and the neologistic "I am greening" 
****

I leave it as an assignment to predict what will have to be said in the next installment - one or two or three or so weeks from now - regarding the Kaila-Strawson "sound universe". Although I must on the whole respect my Igominy and Humiligation Precept, as laid out in Part B (2017-05-22 or 2017-05-23), nevertheless it will in this present instance help people to get a couple of serious citations from me. So be aware of some literature, folks: a Finnish philosopher, Eino Kaila (1890-1958) developed, I think a few years before the Hitler war - in more locally Finnish terms, a few years before the 1939-1940 Winter War - the idea of a conscious subject in a universe which in some sense "consisted merely of sounds". Prof. Kaila's idea was later picked up in Britain by Peter (in due course Prof. Sir Peter) Strawson (1919-2006), in his 1959 book Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics. I know of Prof. Kaila because not Prof. Strawson alone, but Strawson-plus-Kaila, got examined in a lecture which I heard in Oxford, perhaps around 1976 or 1977, from University College philosopher Gareth Evans (1946-1980).

Without having Kaila or Strawson immediately to hand, I this week simply sketch their idea. You (the "Gentle Reader") see nothing, feel nothing, and smell and taste nothing. And yet you hear a great deal. You hear sounds in various suggestive crescendos and dimuendos, with also suggestively systematic changes in pitch and timbre, both in plainsong and in polyphony. You hear sounds that might tempt you to map out a spatial world of sounds. (Has space a real meaning in the Kaila-Strawson setting? This is a question to be examined.) There are even persistent sounds that might be "revisited", as one might revisit the same sunlit lawn from one afternoon to the next. (To what extent, however, are we entitled to speak of "revisiting", and of "sounds existing, or occurring, where I do not hear them", and the like? Again, these are questions to be examined.) There are even specially persistent sounds that you might be tempted to identify as "my body, or me myself, moving through the sound universe, first visiting Sound X, then departing from Sound X, then returning to Sound X". (Again, these are questions here to be examined: is it the case that I have a body - in this secnario, perhaps "a sound" - or, rather, that I am a body?)

How, in terms of the framework being developed here, is such a Kaila-Strawson sound universe to be regarded? How do we fit into the present framework the absence from this universe of anything very evidently corresponding to atmosphere, eardrum, middle-ear bones, cochlear fluid, and auditory cortex?

In working the assignment, readers might want to review my remarks on the Pain and the Sick, from Part G (2017-07-10 or 2017-07-11), asking themselves to what extent the scenarios which I there label "I", "IIa", and "IIb" have parallels in the Kaila-Strawson setting.

[This is the end of the current blog posting.]