Monday, 26 June 2017

Brian Kaller: The past Is a Foreign Country

[This essay was published on or around 2017-06-21 by Ireland-based journalist Brian Kaller, at It is reprinted here with the author's kind permission. Readers may wish also to look at two other pieces of writing touching on Mr Kaller's topic, both by USA-based blogger Brian Miller (and mentioned by Mr Miller in his blog comments at Mr Kaller's server space):

The owner of this present blog, Toomas Karmo, hopes to write some comments of his own here, developing a few of Mr Kaller's themes or a few of Mr Miller's themes, or a few of both, at some point in the next few weeks - perhaps as early as the first week in 2017 July.]


In the last few months I've been writing a lot about how our modern society differs from any traditional one, and not necessarily for the better. The phrase “traditional societies” covers a lot of ground, of course; basically, I’m defining it as life before we began using energy at the breakneck pace we are today. I mean the cultures that existed before roads became jammed with cars travelling at high speeds, before Hollywood media took over and replaced local culture, and before people in the modernised West began to spend their lives sitting in cars or staring at screens.

Those things didn’t all happen at once, or all together – as I argued a few weeks ago, 1950s America presents a well-studied intermediate case of a somewhat modernised country whose traditional culture was still vibrant and functioning. Ireland in the 1950s, meanwhile, still relied mostly on human and animal labour.
Dividing human societies into the traditional and the modern means making sweeping statements; obviously cavemen lived differently than Ancient Greeks, who lived differently than American pioneers, who lived differently than 20th century Irish. Of course I’m not saying that all traditional peoples lived the same way, or that any of them were wonderful and without tragedy – and of course some were horrific.

I am saying that, despite the superficial differences in language and dress, my elderly neighbours share some commonalities with all the generations who came before them, and -- despite the similarity in accents and dress --  are now culturally separated from their grandchildren in the same village.
Until recently, for example, few humans spent their lives travelling long distances, except for the occasional sailor or nomad. Even most foraging tribes generally travelled over a limited area, and farming people not at all. Like most traditional people, my Irish neighbours grew up tied to a place, knowing it as they knew themselves, and having a responsibility to keep it healthy for their grandchildren. Of course archaeology shows evidence of times and places when humans destroyed the land, often out of ignorance of what they were doing, but more often people lived in the same places for centuries or millennia, which they could not have done if they had not practiced a sustainable kind of management.
Until the last few generations, few people were rootless – even nomadic tribes circulated around a certain area during the year, and were tied to their family. Most modern people tell only the songs and stories manufactured for them by a faraway industry, but traditional people belonged to a landscape and a way of life, to a clan and larger people with their own stories and songs that told of their history. Even if they were poor, most people did not feel poverty as we might today, for their lives were not spend drifting through a sea of strangers.
When my neighbours told me of the history of their place, they described all the local families and their histories, stories of local lords and landowners, rebellions and tragedies – and this despite the land being devastated so often by famine and exodus. Memories don’t reach back so far in the USA, but in small towns here, you meet people who take a similar pride in the place where they belong.
The children in Ireland today have some of these relationships, but you can see it fading as they relate more to Youtube or the latest global teen fad than they do to elders in the same town. In the USA, where this process has been going on the longest, we think of it as normal – we expect that teenagers will relate to the media and not with their families. But most humans in history did not make the same assumptions about young people, and I have heard people from many parts of the world report the same erosion of their local identity.
Until our era people rarely used money, or needed to. Of course money did not exist in prehistoric days, the first 99.9 per cent of human existence, yet those humans traded with other tribes all the same. Even after the ancient Sumerians invented the first coins, though, few people used or even saw a coin even there, and of course most people on Earth were not in Sumeria. A medieval peasant might never have seen money or needed to use it either, they worked, of course, but to grow food and raise animals, like most humans in any time and place. The giant detour that our work makes – to work for someone else, to get pay, to put in a bank, to withdraw, to spend at stores, with governments and companies taking a cut out of every transaction – didn’t exist.
I'm not claiming they lived in an idyllic Eden; of course they could be terrorised by war or disease, but so can many people today --- Westerners have simply been shielded from these realities for a few generations. Keep in mind, also, that medieval peasants might have worked far fewer hours every week than we do. Also, keep in mind that their work was necessary and meaningful, and often done together as a family – it was time spent with the family, not away from it.
Also, I’m not just comparing our modern world with prehistoric or medieval life, with no spectrum in between. My elderly neighbours here, growing up in Ireland in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, would have had money and used it, and even started their own business enterprises at young ages to get pocket money to spend. Those gave them treats, though; most of what they needed they knew how to produce for themselves. Some tell me they didn’t need to use money more than once a week, and that was small amounts from a hiding place.
To give you an idea of how little they needed money, Ireland in the 1970s saw a bank strike that lasted over a year – across the country, no one could withdraw money for more than a year. Of course, some people used a village credit union, or used the post office as a bank, as Irish people do today. Nonetheless, most people’s money was in banks, no one could withdraw for months, and yet life carried on as normal.
You can even see this to some extent in America in the 1950s and 60s – again, a world further along the spectrum to ours, but still less dependent than we are on a constant money stream. Banks then had tellers, not automatic cash machines, and most people visited them once or twice a week. People went shopping less, and instead of the dizzying number of products our stores carry, shops had staples that people used for cooking, or simple clothes that were more durable. ATMs didn’t exist, but people didn’t need them.
In every society that I know of – except our modern one -- children learned from parents and older relatives, and stayed close to their families until they came of age. In most of those children accompanied their parents as they hunted, ploughed, washed clothes, cooked food and all the other necessities of life, and learned the skills they needed to be adults. Children in more recent centuries went to schools, as my elderly neighbours did, but most countries children could walk to school, were taught by local people who were also part of the community. Most did not do what parents often do today, to send their children away to giant cement compounds to be raised by strangers.
In early America, for that matter, school took fewer hours of the day and fewer days of the year. They did not experience what modern children do, of being warehoused for 20,000 hours of their formative years. Yet many of those schools taught students far more, at earlier ages, than under our giant bureaucracies. If you want to see the level of education that many rural children received, read the letters of Civil War soldiers conscripted from homesteads. Or keep in mind that the Lincoln-Douglas debates, whose complex sentences often flummox college students today, were meant to be listened to, not read, and by simple farmers.
Until our modern society came along, no people shut their elders away in nursing homes, rarely seen by children and grandchildren and with only other dying people for company. In most traditional cultures elderly members of a family lived with their children or relatives, and most religions had some variation of the fourth commandment to honour one’s father and mother. Elders, though weakened in body, had a lifetime of experience that younger generations needed, whether in raising children, dealing with neighbours or handling emergencies. From a position of respect they could pass on the songs and stories of their people, giving children an umbilical link to the generations who came before.
We see the same pattern in other animals with some intelligence and family life; elephants, for example, need the elder members of the herd to keep the younger ones in line and show them how to deal with threats. When park rangers in South Africa introduced young elephants to a new preserve, after the older members of the herd had been killed, they found the young animals made unwise decisions for decades, only slowly learning, through trial and error, the right way to live. For generations many people in America today have grown up in the same situation, without elders to guide them through their lives, until we now have a population of children in adult bodies.
Just as most traditional peoples did not spend their work hours staring at a glowing rectangle, so they did not spend their leisure the same way. Children had games that were passed down for centuries – blind-man’s bluff and Johnny jump-up – that are only now disappearing in an age of video-games. Elders sang songs that told people who they were as a people, told stories of love and loss, of heroes and maidens, tragedy and humour and the human condition. My neighbours grew up with families visiting each other at night, gathering with the local storytellers and musicians, listening to the tales and singing along to folk songs they all knew, which had been passed down through the generations.
The modern era has changed our friendships as well; almost any humans in history, whether prehistoric tribes or medieval farmers, Hebrew herdsmen or American pioneers, dealt with a community of people outside their family who lived nearby, and had to maintain good relations with them. Small-town people, whether here or in the USA, retain some of this attitude even today; they have to know their neighbours and help out occasionally, as they might need help themselves.
You see the difference in the way my neighbours treat death with the way modern urban people do. When I lived in the modern city and a neighbour died, we found out when an ambulance parked outside, or a new couple moved in where the old lady used to live. Out here in rural Ireland, a neighbour’s death meant girls at the local school without a father, an empty chair at the pub, a voice missing from the hymns at church, a hole in people’s lives.
Such relationships soften our reactions to conflict; the person waiting in line ahead of us might have taken First Communion with us, and might have scored the winning goal in the school’s football match long ago, and might have a tractor we need in case a tree falls over the only road. Again, the details would change from one culture to the next, but every human society would have a web of debt and obligation like this, to temper our reactions to conflict and force us to see other people’s views. Enough threads like that, woven together, form a civilised society.
Only in the modern era, for most Westerners today, do “friends” largely mean icons on a screen, whose relationship with you consists of moving electrons around. Today we can “meet,” have “conversations,” “share” news, and even “date,” all without ever having to deal with the inhibiting presence of other humans. We can do these things under fake names and pictures, talking to people we will never meet in person, and say or do whatever we want without fear of consequences. People can appear and disappear from our lives, all without leaving any tangible presence, fading like ghosts when bored. 
The modern world has many advantages; until the last century food could be scarce, and even in good years it cost labour and sacrifice. At the same time, until the last century no humans ate food that had been flown across the world, packaged in chemical gases to preserve it and simulate a healthy colour. No humans ate food injected with other chemicals to make it more addictive. Instead, traditional people ate foods they knew, and had picked out of the ground or off a tree. Foods belonged to certain seasons, and tasted like a time and place. Meat came from an animal, hunted or herded, that had just been killed, unless it was salted and smoked. People recognised their food as precious and its sharing as sacred, the stuff of religious ritual.
Until ours came along, all human societies had rites of passage to mark when a girl became a woman, and when a boy had proven himself a man. Becoming a young man or maiden – what we today call a “teen” -- did not mean that they would spend more hours warehoused in an institution, or spend their time with gangs of other teenagers in places of maximum temptation; rather, it meant taking on more of the responsibilities of adulthood, preferably with older family and mentors to guide them.
Again, a childhood among the Bushmen or the Vikings would be very different from each other, and both would be very different than American pioneer children or mid-20th-century Irish. Each of these eras had injustice, disease and starvation, just as ours does. My point is that we are not sealed in a culture of driving and staring at screens, with all its advantages and disadvantages in a single package.

The past, with all its possibilities, is still there. We know what more traditional people did well that we do not. We can still grow, cook and preserve food without electricity, play the games and tell the stories that our forebears did, and sing the songs that told of their loves and tragedies. We can learn from the elders who remember these things, before the last of them disappear and the past becomes an utterly foreign country to us. 
[This is the end of the current blog posting.]

Toomas Karmo (Part F): Philosophy of 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 Uniersel 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.

20170627T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded a not-quite polished version. His writing incorporated two recycled paragraphs from an earlier posting, as documented in the revision history for the "Part D" posting of this present philosophy-of-perception-and-action essay (2017-06-05/2017-06-06). He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.0.1, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, ... .]

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks 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 to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading 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. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

In this sixth ("Part F") installment of what might ultimately prove a 10- or 15- or 20-installment essay on the analytical philosophy of perception and action, I am still finishing off some preliminaries. In my third installment ("Part C", from 2017-05-29 or 2017-05-30), I wrote that I am presupposing a position on causation contrary to the position of a possible philosopher DEFGH (*"Darren Gloom" or "Dagwood Spume"). In my fourth installment ("Part D", from 2017-06-05 or 2017-06-06, I wrote that I am presupposing a position on other minds contrary to the position of a possible philosopher HGFED.

It might at this point be objected: Fine, then. In ordinary speech, "cause" and its cognates carry a meaning incompatible with the semantics proposed by DEFGH, and "aware" and its cognates carry a meaning incompatible with the semantics proposed by HGFED. But this is a mere sociological fact, regarding contingent linguistic habits in Homo sapiens. A deeper question remains unaddressed by such sociological observations. Deeper is the question what meanings ought to be attached to "cause" (and cognates), and to "aware" (and cognates). Could it be that common language tries in a confused and obfuscatory way to use meanings to which it lacks entitlement - even as the pre-Victorian physicists used a meaning to which they lacked entitlement when they  in their obfuscation wrote of heat as "Caloric Fluid"?

A mathematical parallel helps reinforce this parallel from physics. The question of underlying entitlement is analogous to questions which (so I vaguely gather) have been posed by a particular school or grouping in the philosophy of mathematics. In the case of mathematics, I shall have now to depart in a small way from my Igominy and Humiligation Precept, openly naming three names. The workers in question are the "intuitionists", in the Netherlands, along with a Russian "ultra-finitist". (I have not to any significant extent read in these authors.) In the Netherlands was a movement led by Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer (1881-1966) and Arend Heyting (1899-1980). In Russia (with later a period of American exile) was Alexander Sergeyevich Esenin-Volpin (more formally Александр Сергеевич Есенин-Вольпин; 1924-2016).

The revisionist philosophers of mathematics represent themselves as rejecting a traditionally "Platonic" conception of mathematics. The general flavour of their position is illustrated by an anecdote regarding A.S. Essenin-Volpin. The story goes somewhat as follows (I embellish slightly, for clarity: 

A mathematician of a traditionalist disposition - (call her, or him, "Professeur Platonique") fond of the "actually infinite set, of cardinality aleph-null, which is the positive integers" - asks Essenin-Volpin, "Does reality contain such an entity as the integer 1?" Essenin-Volpin replies, after some short time interval Delta-t (we might imagine this being 125 or 250 or 500 milliseconds, or so): Yes. 

"And does reality contain such an entity as the integer 2?" Essenin-Volpin pauses just a little longer, in fact 2*2 = 4 times as long as Delta-t, before saying "Yes."

"And does reality contain such an entity as the integer 3?" Essenin-Volpin pauses a little longer still, in fact 2*2*2 = 8 times as long as Delta-t, before saying "Yes."  

And does reality contain such an entity as the integer 4? Essenin-Volpin pauses rather perceptibly, in fact for an interval 2*2*2*2 = 16 times as long as Delta-t, before saying "Yes." 

The general flavour of their position can also be conveyed by remarking that some of them formalized what was and was not admissible in their prescribed day-to-day mathematical practice. (Here I write "some" to signal the fact that Brouwer, in contrast with Heyting, eschewed formal metamathematics.) I gather that you were not allowed to assert that for every mathematical proposition p, either p or not-p. In fact, as I (dimly) understand it, you were only allowed to assert "either p or not-p" in cases in which you somehow could show that either a proof of p could be written or a proof of the impossibility of ever proving p could be written. (Here, I presume, the potentially troublesome conception of "writing a proof" itself got duly formalized.) 

In general, we have no guarantee that (given, I presume, a reasonable formalization of the informal locution "writing a proof") for every mathematical proposition p, either we can write a proof of p or we can write a proof of the impossibility of writing a proof of p

One real-life example - I have, even in my ignorance, to do my best to construct a real-life example - might be the series representation of Euler's number e = 2.71828182845904523536028747135... . This number is the base of the natural logarithms. It is notorious, like pi, for being not merely irrational as the square root of 2 is irrational, but for additionally lacking any finite algebraic representation such as "the unique positive real number x such that x*x = 2". 

In classical mathematics, as I presume rejected by the revisionists, e is the limit of the series  1 + 1 + 1/2 + 1/6 + 1/24 + 1/120 + ...  - more tidily, of the series 1/0! + 1/1! + 1/2! + 1/3! + 1/4! + 1/5! + ... . No finite initial segment (no "partial sum") from the series equals e. Nevertheless, from a classical-mathematics perspective, for any positive real number epsilon, no matter how excruciatingly small, there exists some (perhaps dauntingly large) number N such that the sum of the first N terms in the series (the "N-term partial sum") falls short of e by some quantity even smaller than epsilon. 

Let, now, p be the following proposition: For some sum-of-the-first-N-terms approximation "falls-Nshort" of e from the just-mentioned finite series, falls-Nshort contains, somewhere in its ordinary decimal expansion, the pre-2006 Toronto phone number of the author of this blog (namely 4169716955). 

If p is true, we might be able to prove it true, say by running a computer, and computing the 100,000-term approximation falls-100,000short of e, and expressing that approximation as some decimal, and taking lots of computer printout. It can be shown - at any rate, I have in my ignorance to say, in the framework of classical, pre-Brouwer, mathematics - that the computer result will be either a decimal expansion tidily ending in repeated 0, as for 1/25 = 0.0400000000..., or a decimal expansion tidily repeating with something other than mere "0000...", as in the case of 1/11 = 0.0909090909... So for any N, we can satisfy ourselves that we have grasped the result for N by taking some finite (perhaps prolix) printout, and finding the eventual, inevitable, onset-of-boredom stage beyond which things just repeat. We will have proved the truth of p once we have found, upon combing through some (suitably prolix, and yet finite) printout from the decimal representation of falls100,000short, the string 4169716955. We will have proved the truth of p if we find, for example,  2.7182818284590452353602874713 ... [and three thousand further unhelpful digits] 841697169559 [and ten thousand further digits in this particular prolix pile of printout - and yet, in our joy, we need not bother inspecting that further ten thousand]. 

But what if we search for a proof that p and fail? We can only perform a finite number of searches, even though each individual search, that is to say each falls-Nshort, for some N in the set {1, 2, 3, ... }, need only be printed out to some finite number of pages. It may well be that there is no way of proving that all possible searches for a proof that p are doomed to fail. The index N at any rate is - alas - unbounded. 

To reiterate: (1) according to this revisionist movement in the philosophy of mathematics, if we lack a proof that p, and also lack a proof that all possible attempts at a proof that p will fail, we cannot assert that either p or not p; and (2) I have tried tonight to supply a plausible candidate "p". 


It has already proved advisable to violate the guiding Igominy and Humiligation Precept from 2017-05-22 or 2017-05-23 ("Part B") by mentioning Brouwer, Heyting, and Essenin-Volpin. Now it is advisable for me to violate it again by citing, albeit tersely, the work of Catholic British logician-philosopher Prof. Sir Michael Dummett (1925-2011). 

Dummett, terming the just-described movement "anti-realism in the philosophy of mathematics", asserts anti-realism in mathematics to have potential parallels in other areas of philosophy. Dummett would say that DEFGH is working toward articulating "anti-realism" (not in the philosophy of mathematics, but) in the "philosophy of causation". Dummett would say that HGFED is working toward articulating "anti-realism" (not in the philosophy of mathematics, but) in the "philosophy of other minds". 

I for my part would rephrase this a little, representing Dummett as posing questions of entitlement. Our actual linguistic practice concerning causation and Other Minds, which I have tried to analyze over my last three postings by looking at such things as support-for-counterfactuals, is at variance with the practice of my hypothesized investigators DEFGH and HGFED. Dummett's question (on my formulation) is this: Is our actual linguistic practice legitimate - is it a linguistic practice to which we are entitled? Could it be that it is in some sense incoherent (confused), like the old 18th-century physical-science language of "Caloric Fluid"? 

Here I come to the limits of what I can do. I am like one of those 1950s Oxford linguistic philosophers who analyzed current semantic practice without pressing downward to Dummett's underlying question of entitlement. (I recall that one of the Surface Swimmers was called Jane Austin, or Jock Austen, or something. I recall the name of another coming up as the first in a trio of dropped names in that wonderful play a mathematician wrote and staged at Monash University in Melbourne, in 1978. (I became for our playwright a subtly mendacious café waiter from Knossos, sporting a Cretan accent - "See my passport, BIRTHPLACE: Knossos.") A melancholy guitarist in this café (at the "Paradox Hotel") professes his disdain for "a drama shared with all Creation", declaiming his countervailing preference for "Philosophical Investigation": Sometimes I while/ Away my time with Ryle;/ Next I incline/ To Wittgenstein/ Or even Quine. One must imagine the lines spoken while the so-sad guitar emits a plink and a plonk. - I like to think that the actor in this particular role had been selected in part for his marked air of melancholy, in part also for his robustly Australian phonemes.)

Tonight I simply have to put on record my assumption that yes, we are entitled to our current practice, both as regards causation and as regards the existence of other minds. Surface-skimming? Yes, alas. Let this admission constitute the hoisting of a formal "superficiality flag", within the meaning of the Debian Precept as promulgated on 2017-05-22 or 2017-05-23, in "Part B" of this essay.]

[This is the end of the current blog posting, as "Part F" of the philosophy-of-perception-and-action essay. It is hoped to upload "Part G" at some point in the coming four weeks, perhaps as early as next week or the week following.] 

Monday, 19 June 2017

Toomas Karmo (Part E): Philosophy of 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:

  • 20170620T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo was able to upload a fairly polished version. He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.0.1, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, ... .  

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks 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 to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading 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. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

First, an administrative preliminary: I have had to change the previous posting in this (philosophy-of-perception-and-action) series. That was the posting from 2017-06-05 or 2017-06-06, under the heading "Part D". On reflection this week, I find I have to rip out my last two paragraphs. It is not that those paragraphs are untrue. Rather, they are premature, given what I this week realize to be the overall necessary flow of exposition - an exposition requiring, as noted in my "Part C" (2017-05-29 or 2017-05-30) and "Part D" (2017-06-05 or 2017-06-06), first working on some foundational points. I still have to take us through some foundational or prefatory material, being unable as yet to wade boldly into my official topics of perception and action. Worse, within the preliminary, and now rather protracted, foundational work, the two paragraphs just referred to got written a bit too early, and so have for the moment to be chopped out. 

The pair of premature paragraphs should be resurfacing rather soon, perhaps in the next week or so, as the preliminaries get padded out and finished off and tied up. For the moment, I have recorded my embarrassing excision (quoting what I excised from normal-font body text) in the small-font "Revision History", at the top of the now-shortened 2017-06-05 or 2017-06-06 posting. 


With the required amputation performed, the previous ("Part D", 2017-06-05 or 2017-06-06) posting ends simply as follows:

On one of the various possible outrageous Other-Minds parallels to the outrageous Intermittent Furniture and the outrageous Young Universe hypotheses, if I had, counterfactually, asked the sales clerk and the other customer not about pepperoni sticks but about - for example -  east African railways, they would have said the same things, thereupon giving them the air of mere robots playing back mere canned phonemes:

    ME, TO OTHER CUSTOMER: Sir, are you aware that Nairobi
    now has a thrice-weekly service to Mombasa?

    LADY AT CASH, TO ME: I already put your pepperoni sticks into the bag.

    CUSTOMER, TO ME: Yes, these two are my pepperoni sticks.

    ME: I am talking about this year's Nairobi-Mombasa railway launch,
    not about pepperoni, you doofus.

    CUSTOMER TO ME: The same thing.


As I suggested back on 2017-06-05 or 2017-06-06, it is a supposition consistent with all your actual observations that you (the reader) are within the species Homo sapiens the sole possessor of awareness, with all other humans mere mindless, walking and gesticulating, sleepwalkers. My little story from back then, just now reproduced, is a story on which if you were to have said things to your fellow humans other than the many things you have in fact over the course of your life said to them, those humans would have taken on the distressing aspect of mere gramophones, emitting mere canned phonemes. Now I have to look at this general kind of scenario a little further, as I unfortunately neglected to do on 2017-06-05/2017-06-06. 

In so looking, I have to confess a feeling of unease. I have, alas, not only to articulate a position more fully than hitherto, but also to put on public record my worry that my now-more-adequately articulated position may prove, in some way that I cannot now see, inadequate. 


Consider, once again, the 2017-06-05/2017-06-06 robot. 

Suppose first (as "Supposition One") that the cosmos really is rich in causal connections, of the kind affirmed by common sense. In terms of my "Part C" from 2016-05-29/2016-05-30, this is the common-sense supposition that various events do really make other events happen, and that therefore it is FALSE that (to reproduce language from "Part C") for every event E2 supposedly caused by some event E1, E2 would have happened even if E1 had failed to happen. On this "Supposition One", counterfactuals are abundantly supported. To give two common-sense examples: 
  • Had the airship Hindenburg been, counterfactually, filled with helium rather than with hydrogen, the 1937-05-06 explosion which in fact traumatized Lakewood, New Jersey, would not have occurred. 
  • Were the Sun's photosphere to have, counterfactually, a temperature of a mere 100 Kelvins, there would, contrary to observed fact, be no liquid water on Earth. 
Additionally, suppose (as "Supposition Two") that the robot from our "Part D", 2017-06-05/2017-06-06, discussion is so well designed as to render socially plausible not only the conversation you in fact have had with it, but all the alternative conversations you could, counterfactually, have had with it. In that previous ("Part D", 2017-06-05/2017-06-06) discussion I imagined (regretably making things too easy for myself) a counterfactual change in the conversational scenario, exposing the robot as a mere parroter of canned phonemes: 

ROBOT [smiling}: Hi, how are you?

YOU:  Fine, thanks. What is your name?

ROBOT [smile now fading]: Well, yes, this can be depressing.
But I have been getting psychotherapy.

YOU: Don't tell me about psychotherapy: please tell me your name.

ROBOT: I see a lady in private practice.

YOU: "I see a lady in private practice" is not a name.

ROBOT: Oh, on the other side of the Charles River, in Boston.

YOU: That isn't a name either, you doofus.

ROBOT [with a slight narrowing of the gaze, appropriate for the communication ofjuicy social gossip]: Well, as I was explaining just last week to a fine old local family when I got wheeled out to Hyannis Port after psychotherapy, regional accents sound contrived - affected, even - when robots use them.

[and so on]

This week, by contrast, I am imagining not only the entire actual conversation being socially plausible (it started off - to recapitulate - with banter about regional English accents, and morphed into bantering reminiscences of the ancient Rowan-and-Martin television show), but more radically am imagining that any other line of conversation WOULD have proved equally plausible HAD we (counterfactually) ventured on it. So had we, contrary to fact, asked the robot, "What is your name?" things would (so I am imagining this week, in a for-once-properly-radical spirit) have gone on just fine: 

 ROBOT: [smiling]: Hi, how are you?

YOU:   Fine, thanks. What is your name?

ROBOT: Would you like my originally given name, or the appellation that I have now taken as my Name in Religion?

YOU:   Gee whiz, don't tell me you are in Religion?

ROBOT: Well, I must not exaggerate. I am only a Tertiary.

YOU:   You mean, like a Franciscan or Dominican teriary?

ROBOT: Close. I'm a Benedictine Oblate.

YOU [with some irritation]: Oh fine, then. First tell me your originally given name, then your Name in Religion.

ROBOT [frowning slightly, then brightening]: When they first plugged me in here at MIT, I got called Klankton Polymer. But on affiliating myself with the Benedictines at the Archabbey of Saint Vincent in LaTrobe, Pennsylvania, where some nice Opus Dei guys so obligingly carted me in the Opus Dei cube van, I became... oh... er... um...

YOU:   You became what? Don't er and um and prevaricate like that, or I shall begin questioning the reality of mind behind vinyl.

ROBOT [now beaming broadly]: Groccor Buastonius Loquacissimus

YOU:   That's hardly a suitably Benedictine Name-in-Religion. In Benedictine life, one is supposed to become "Willibald" or "Wunibald", or something.  Or maybe "Ansgar".

ROBOT: Well, that's what I said to the Abbot, you know. But he was obdurate ... this was under the rule of the Panzer Pope, you know.... I mean, ai-ai-ai and VOTT can I say? When the Abott goes "Groccor Buastonius" I'm like, totally, Oy vey zmir, oy vey gevalt already - know what I mean?

[and so on]

Under this pair of suppositions, with Supposition One following untutored common sense but Supposition Two radical, is there any longer any logically coherent possibility of doubting that there is a "mind behind the vinyl"? 


Well, in my readiness to duck slings, arrows, and rotten tomatoes, I herewith go on public record as believing that yes, logical room for manoeuvre remains. (At least, I stress, until someone instructs me to the contrary - and being (I stress) admittedly unsure of myself, in these so-dense conceptual thickets.) Even here, I think (tentatively, I stress; being  less than sure, I stress) there remains the logical possibility that no mind is present. I am suggesting, that is, that even on this week's radical supposition regarding the robot's counterfactual capabilities, the meaning our language attaches to the term "mind" is such as to render the no-mind-is-present supposition logically coherent. 

To reiterate this key thesis, in a varying of terminology: although (I) the meaning our ordinary, common, English language attaches to "triangle" is such as to render the supposition of drawing a four-sided triangle logically incoherent, and although the meaning our ordinary, common, English language attaches to "bachelor" is such as to render the suggestion of meeting a married bachelor logically incoherent, nevertheless (II) such is the meaning our ordinary, common English language attaches to "mind" that the supposition of a mindless machine passing not only (as in my writing from the night of 2017-06-05/2017-06-06) all actual but (as in my writing tonight) all counterfactual social-conversation tests is logically coherent. 

Indeed, I suggest, the very supposition that all humans other than you, the reader, are eloquent sleepwalkers lacking awareness, despite their passing all actual AND counterfactual social-conversation tests, is logically coherent. 

I look at it in the same way as I look at the supposition that those wicker chairs and that mirror-topped coffee table exist only when inspected (from installment "C" of this essay, on 2017-05-29/2017-05-30). The meanings, I insisted back in installment "C", which ordinary human language attaches to "wicker chair" and "mirror-topped coffee table" are such as to make the outrageous supposition logically coherent, even when we build it up counterfactually: The wicker chairs and glass-topped coffee table exist when and only when inspected, in the sense that for every time t at which nobody is looking into my parlour both (a) the parlour is empty of furniture at t and (b) WERE, counterfactually, some observer x to be looking into the parlour at t, x WOULD in that counterfactual situation find two wicker chairs and a mirror-topped coffee table. 

(I should, to be sure, have written this point more clearly back on 2017-05-29/2017-05-30; I omitted to spell out the importance of considering both categoricals and counterfactual hypotheticals.)

My point is thus that there presently seems to me (I do stress my unease and uncertainty, as I struggle with dense thickets) no reason for treating the existence or nonexistence of Other Minds differently, so far as the space of logically coherent possibilities runs, from the existence or nonexistence of Uninspected Furniture. 


It must be conceded that our discussion is somewhat bedevilled by the primitive state of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. 

Here is a marvel before us - a housefly, a buzzing little specimen of Musca domestica, hairy in leg, loud in wing, and bulbous-red in compound eye. As we approach the fly, it takes flight from its bookshelf perch, only to land on a piece of our lunchtime cheese, four metres away. We stride in stealthy irritation toward the now-immobile creature, alarmed by an all-too-plausible imaginative vision of microbes lodged in leg hairs. The creature remains immobile until the very instant of our trying to detain it, beneath outstretched, slowly and quietly descending, palm. In the last possible hundred milliseconds, it cunningly eludes our ambush, now soaring, now diving, now soaring again - tracing first some geometrically easy plane curve, and then venturing, Spitfire-like, along the space curves which are the proper province not of univariate but of multivariate calculus. As we turn away for a moment, the unwelcome forager is back at our Monterrey Jack, proboscis now insolently extended onto the appetizing creamy-yellow surface. 

Can AI labs create anything like this - even, perhaps, as robots confined to the mathematically easy two-dimensional space of a lab floor, rather than flying about in three-space? I am agnostic. Perhaps the feat still eludes roboticists. Perhaps, on the other hand, it has somehow been accomplished, in some such leading-edge school as MIT. If possible at all, the feat must at any rate lie on the leading edge of what is currently possible. 

When it comes to robot conversation, the labs are (surely) nowhere near success. Although I am happy to be advised to the contrary, I suspect things now to differ in degree only, and not in kind, from the ELIZA psychiatrist-simulators that were amusing everyone a generation ago:  

The year is 1982 or 1983. I have become the proud owner of an Osborne 1, for a mere four or five or six weeks' pay. Here is a marvel before our eyes - an 8-bit CPU addressing 64 kilobytes of RAM! And the absence of a hard drive is amply compensated not by the presence not of one but of two floppy drives, each capable of delivering perhaps around one hundred kilobytes! 

I am showing off the "machine", as one in that era so loftily calls it, to a friend, "VUWX", from the Ukrainian diaspora, with his lady companion. As I expatiate on the "machine's"  "word processor" and its "spreadsheet", VUWX assures me that gee, he is sure glad this is not boring. 

Then, however, I launch the LISP-coded ELIZA simulator. It purports to be a robot psychiatrist. 

TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF, says ELIZA, via the tiny CRT screen (not 80 but a mere 52 characters wide - this particular Osborne 1, an early model within Dr Adam Osborne's full production run, forces its operators into lots of horizontal scrolling). My friend VUWX types in response I AM UKRAINIAN. There is now a prolonged pause, amounting to perhaps around 30 seconds, as the valiant little 8-bit CPU chugs and chugs, processing its troubling, putatively mental-patient, input. Finally its output appears, in those tiny glowing CRT letters: HOW DO YOU SUPPOSE YOU GOT TO BE UKRAINIAN? 

Nobody now has, any more than anyone in 1982 did have, any idea how to design a robot to handle the full categorical-and-counterfactual gamut of conceivable social-conversation tests, of the kind partly sketched on this blog in the evening or night of 2017-06-05/2017-06-06 and more carefully (adding duly robust counterfactuals) sketched tonight. 

Whether it is possible in principle for engineers in Homo sapiens to design such a robot, I do not know. 

(1) One possibility is that yes, it could somehow be done, perhaps upon acquiring a bits-and-bytes-level understanding of the Homo sapiens brain. (This would be an understanding dimly akin to, and yet orders upon orders of magnitude more elaborate than, the understanding molecular-biology researchers claim to have of the DNA genetic code.) 

(2) A different possibility is that it could not be done without a kind of cheating - by taking a living, functioning Homo sapiens brain, and without understanding at bits-or-bytes level what the individual neurons are doing, simply reproducing its myriad possible information flows in electronics, bit for bit or byte for byte. It would be somewhat like cheating on a physics exam: when Bertie Balky copies that differential equation from his examination-hall neighbour Alice Astute, he does not really understand the Free Harmonic Oscillator, much though he may wish his professor to think he understands. 

(3) A still different possibility is that it could not be done at all - thanks to the absence, in mere robotic electronics, of a "Soul". 

The "Soul" can be something of a Catholic superstition. One winces just a little upon reading, in the twenty-second chapter of Gordon Thomas's and Max Morgan-Witts's gripping history Pontiff (Granada, 1983, on the three 1978-era pontificates) the following: 

The Camerlengo is faced with a ticklish problem. His question /.../ about when the pope died is linked to Absolution, the granting of the forgiveness of sins. The much-debated theological point is how long after death may total Absolution be granted. It revolves around the vexing question of how durable a soul can be. There are some Catholics who argue that if a Catholic succumbs following a long wasting illness, cancer for example, the soul might leave the body relatively quickly, possibly within thirty minutes of death. But if a person has been healthy before being fatally struck down, his soul could remain in the body three or four hours, perhaps even longer. To non-Catholics the proposition may appear fanciful, but it can afford great comfort to Catholics.

Still, what can be said for sure? Perhaps, for all that is currently  known, it is impossible in principle to endow a robot with awareness, since a "Soul" is lacking. 

I am of course liable here to attract, once again, a derisory shower of slings, arrows, and decaying veggies. But do consider what we find in secular writers, not promoting  specially Catholic agendas. I recall the account of a naturalist who befriended a number of wolves, I think keeping them in a kind of enclosure - in a kind of paddock, perhaps - close to his house. At the instant the ailing wolf-master died, his pack was observed to burst into a howl, physically isolated though they were from the deathbed. - Well, "was observed" provided, to be sure, that the now-forgotten author I was reading, perhaps from some magazine or other, did write the truth. 

And I recall recreational reading just eight days ago in Jim Robbins's The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2012). Here is a report, from what seems a reasonably tough-minded professional science journalist, of forest conservationist David Milarch's 1992 near-death experience. Here is what I suspect, without having much wallowed in supermarket tabloids, to be the usual wearisome stuff - the usual tunnel of light, the usual luminous Beings, I think the et cetera with the et cetera. But I do wonder, on the strength of Mr Milarch's and (perhaps especially) Mr Robbins's credentials, whether we might not be forced, for once, to take such a pop-spiritualism thing seriously. 

In general, a denial of the traditional so-to-speak naive-Catholic-peasant conception of Soul is a bit like the denial that God exists. In both cases, the denial is respectable, and indeed is urged in eloquent - to some duly diligent readers, in compelling - terms by such respectable authorities as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Yet in the end what have we here but another (respectable, worthy) Creed, another (respectable, worthy) Faith? 

I remarked on this blog in the evening or night of 2016-04-18/2016-04-19, under the heading "Essay on Green Catholic Hermits", on some Montréal crutches: How wearisome - baffled non-Catholic people occasionally say, or at any rate in a polite way think - is that repeated Romish fiddling with rosaries and holy water, with incense, with altar cloths, with pilgrimage shrines, with alleged miraculous cures for one ailment and another (one recalls the tens or hundreds of crutches hanging from a ceiling at St Joseph's Oratory in Montreal). The atheist, Dawkins-or-Hitchens, position on the Oratory has to be that of all those tens or hundreds of crutches, each of them - each and every one of them, without exception - is the mute witness to some pious fraud or pious self-delusion: that the number of actual miraculous cures correctly attributable to the prayerful intercession of Blessed André Bessette (1845–1937) and his patron Saint Joseph is exactly zero. It may be so, reply I. But, say I, to affirm it so is to make a leap of faith, no less imposing than the bold leaps Catholics (including me) make on such things as God and the Soul. 

So even hypothesis (3) has to stay in the running, for all we now definitely know. 

Until we can choose on strictly rational grounds among hypotheses (1), (2), and (3), some fog of uncertainty will reduce us to some degree of groping as we work on the philosophical problem of Other Minds. I can only hope that what I have to write in later weeks on this blog, forsaking these present foundational explorations (including the current divagation into philosophy-of-robotics) for my official topics of perception and action, does not turn out to be vitiated by the uncertainties. 

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

Monday, 12 June 2017

Toomas Karmo: DDO&P: Handcuffs I Have Known

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"): 5/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to full length, without skipping anything that seemed potentially helpful to readers.  

Revision history:

  • 20170614T0113Z/version 3.1.0: Kmo added a small discussion of an unresolved orthography problem - does the Sherlockian canon write "Darbies" (which would seem etymologically correct) or "Derbies"? Since he seemed to recall reading "Derbies" in the Canon, rather than "Darbies", he shrugged his shoulders in impatience and stuck to "Derbies". - Kmo 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, ... . 
  • 20170614T0049Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo thought of adding a brief, but key, point: his various handcuffings on dates other than 2008-07-30 were the result not of officials fearing that Kmo might hurt someone other than Kmo, but onlyi the result of officials fearing that Kmo might hurt Kmo. - Kmo 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, ... . 
  • 20170613T1635Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo, running roughly 12 hours behind schedule, finished converting his outline into a finished form. 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, ... . 
  • 20170613T0006Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo had time to prepare the less important part of this as a point-form outline, and the more important part as polished prose. He hoped to finish converting everything into full-sentences prose over the coming 4 hours. 

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks 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 to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading 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. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

The two favourite indoor sports of Estonians are chess and the writing of memoirs. It has as a joke been recommended that a monument be erected to those who have been so civic-spirited - who have, in other words, risen to such self-abnegating heights of public activism - as to restrain their pens or keyboards from the composition of memoirs. I can of course claim no place on the eventual national obelisk. My own bulky memoirs, in my capacity as a diaspora Estonian addressing Canada's David Dunlap Observatory and Park (DDO&P) heritage-conservation file, are already largely uploaded to this blog, as various entries over the past 14 months. The most important of my various postings is from 2016-04-25 or 2016-04-26, under the heading "Essay on Sorrow - Its Anatomy and Its Remedies". This is the posting that covers an undermining of the DDO&P heritage-conservation case on the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) "Summation Day" which was 2012-09-10, through unexpected remarks on the part of a lawyer supposedly and ostensibly acting within her retainer, in her supposed capacity as counsel for the Richmond Hill Naturalists, with me the party to be quietly paying bills. It is, again, that 2016-04-25 or 2016-04-26 posting that covers the allegation of ongoing University of Toronto commercial involvement, in respect of the now-sold-off DDO&P, from an observer I am there careful to call merely "Mr or Ms or Dr or Prof. or Sir or Dame I.Seem-Powerful" - an individual I suppose I would have to subpoena if the foes of conservation were to launch legal proceedings in an effort to suppress my blogspot journalism. There is not, consequently, too much that now has to be added by way of memoir composition. 

Nevertheless, this week I ought to spell out the tragicomic story of my 2008-07-30 handcuffing at DDO&P.. 

Two facts of a legal character make it particularly important that I spell things out this week, without further delay: 

  • On 2017-03-21, title in the approximately 40-hectare western portion of the 77-hectare 2008-legacy DDO&P greenspace was transferred as a donation from Corsica Development Inc. to the Town of Richmond Hill, under the OMB-brokered expectation that the Town would make this 40 hectares (along with an additional 5 legacy-DDO&P hectares purchased around 2013 from Corsica for just under 20,000,000 CAD) into a new legacy-remnant municipal park. 
  • In the week of 2017-06-05, the Town, upon my phoning municipal staffer Ms Patricia Young on 905-771-9996x2477, had promised to advise me whether I now could or still could not legally enter the 40-hectare municipal park-intended property. (I had indeed stressed to Ms Young that despite the time elapsed since 2017-03-21, there was no public signage telling anyone what to do - no sign, as I would this week phrase it, saying to the juridically curious "Eventual Municipal Parkland, but Please Keep Out for the Present", or saying "Eventual Municipal Parkland, Public Now Welcome", or saying "Eventual Municipal Parkland, Public Now to Enter at Own Risk".)  

With my spelling out the 2008-07-30 handcuffing particulars this week, the Town will have an appropriate context as it formulates Ms Patricia Young's promised, and surely soon forthcoming, advisory. 


Before starting my narrative proper, I prepend a backgrounder on other applications of the cuffs - in other words, of the "Bracelets" (as I imagine them to be called in some places), or, as they are known to readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the "Derbies" or "Darbies". (The Holmesean term refers to "Darby cuffs", and yet is perhaps spelled in the Canon as d-e-r rather than as the etymologically correct d-a-r. I have not been able to check this orthography detail in a definitive way.) If I do not report my other handcuffings, one or more others not fully sympathetic with forest conservation, and at present unkindly disposed to me, and as my bad luck would have it mindful of confidences I naively imparted years ago, might try doing it in my place. Such others might in the process conceivably get contexts or nuances, or even outright factual details, wrong, thereby harming the public interest.

All the handcuffings, apart from the handcuffing of 2008-07-30 which is the principal topic of this present memoir, were performed by authorities who feared I might harm myself. There has never been any fear within the authorities that I might harm another. I cannot sufficiently underscore, emphasize, and stress this key point. In making it, I further suggest that the reader gain some sense of the ever-present danger of journalistic misunderstanding, by closely inspecting my Web page (one of the upshots in my 2014 out-of-court settlement with municipal politician Ms Karen Cilevitz (from the 2014-10-27 election onward, Town Councillor Karen Cilevitz)). 

I am not sure how many times I have been in the Derbies outside the 2008-07-30 case I have to chronicle this week. But I suspect the count to be around six or eight. Here, at any rate, is what I am at the moment able to recall. I leave out an instance of depression in 1981 or so, when I think there were no Derbies, although I was directed by the authorities to proceed under my own steam to a Melbourne hospital: 

  • two occasions from 1990 and 1991, when I was very ill with depression at Ontario's York University upon losing my career in philosophy (on the first of these, I was hospitalized, but left the hospital against medical advice, trying in vain to continue with my classroom duties; the second occasion might perhaps have involved Derbies, but I think did not involve any hospital); 
  • a circa-1999 occasion, involving panic over a war-crimes case from 1940 or so - an occasion chronicled in my essay   "Depression, the Body Politic, and Frankelian Freedom-to-Appraise" (at, with Derbies-or-similar - and eventually a perhaps USSR-reminiscent rectangular metal restraining frame - with an overnight hospitalization, and with rather helpful clinical administration of a sublingual Ativan tablet; 
  • a circa-2000 occasion on which I inappropriately lost my composure upon being treated in a marginal sense  too casually in the Catholic confessional (and was accordingly confined to a psychiatric ward - on this occasion the medical ministrations proved pointless - for 72 hours);
  • a circa-2000 occasion on which I lost my composure upon being mocked by an Acadian Lines long-distance bus driver in Moncton, after I had protested his playing unwanted comedy-routine audio-recording material through the bus loudspeakers, disturbing the silence of all passengers, some of whom would be wanting to read or rest on the journey; to my gratitude, the pertinent Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer simply helped me continue my Nova Scotia-to-Ontario journey on a train (but this officer might at some point have also, just-barely-conceivably, applied Derbies, so I do list the incident this week); 
  • a circa-2005 occasion on which I lost my composure upon being denied absolution in the Catholic confessional (I had explained to the priest that in my administrative ineptitude, I had made impending family obligations coincide with my impending duty to attend Christmas Mass: upon my in response detailing outside the confessional, loudly enough to be heard by many of those awaiting the start of Mass, what I thought of the Church's handling of a then-nationally-notorious Diocese of Antigonish pastoral case, I was arrested and taken in a police miscreant-transport van to the local hospital; the hospital let me out a couple of hours later, on condition that I report the next day to a psychiatrist on its roster; this rostered psychiatrist in turn proved, as a fellow Catholic, comically and robustly critical of our local Church, with the result that he and I spent a pleasant hour together before he let me go);  
  • a 2007-or-2008-or-2009 occasion on which I lost my composure upon first (i) trying in vain to get the attention of a Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subway ticket agent when experiencing Yonge-at-Bloor turnstile difficulties, encumbered as I was by luggage or parcels, and then (ii) being accused by the suddenly-all-too-awake agent of evading his turnstile (I got the Derbies for sure, but then had a rather agreeable interrogation in a special TTC interrogation room, at Yonge and Bloor; the two constables inspected my pocket cards, among which was fortunately my card from Oxford University, and to my concealed amusement or concealed bemusement conveyed sincere disbelief when I explained that I was autistic; in the end, our case ended well, with the constables explaining to me that (a) if they were to transport me to St Joseph's Hospital for psychiatry, I would no doubt decline the medication those well-meaning authorities would be pressing on me, and that (b) a visit to St Joe's would therefore be pointless, and that (c) I should now simply travel home on my own steam, on the usual TTC and regional bus, to Richmond Hill, without wearing Derbies; 
  • a 2008 (late winter, early spring?) occasion on which I sank into panic upon seeking psychological counselling through the University of Toronto personnel services - suddenly realizing, once in the stress-therapy consulting rooms, that my counsellor might conceivably, as an agent of the University of Toronto, be tempted to communicate (his or her professional ethics vow notwithstanding), with the University authorities on our already-troubled DDO heritage-conservation case (it is possible that the Derbies got put on, although all I remember for sure is that the summoned constables drove me to a rather distant bus stop, on Leslie Street, and then directed me - by that point I was assuredly not in Derbies - to take the bus to the psychiatric ward of a certain hospital on the north edge of Toronto, outside their jurisdiction and I think close to the end of that bus line; the ward proved helpful, not only by not detaining me but also by ultimately confirming that yes, I am indeed autistic)
I do plead in my defence that I do not think the Derbies have been put on since 2009 or so, and that I have now a strong argument with which I generally persuade myself to avoid them. My argument is the following: I suffer (as I now realize more clearly than hitherto, thanks to the last-mentioned hospital, just outside the southern jurisdictional boundary of the York Regional Police) from the Asperger-syndrome variety of autism, and therefore have to take special and unusual care to not lose my composure. The mere realization that special care is in my special medical circumstance needed has, over all the years since 2009 or so, sufficed to make outward composure attainable, however agitated I might from time to time feel inside as I get overwhelmed with people treating me harshly. 

Additionally, I have now a pair of secondary considerations, which might be respectively termed "The Argument from Inutility" and "The Argument from Public Expense". The Argument from Inutility runs as follows: There is no reason for thinking that the hospitals (the sequel in my case to Derbies) can help with autism. The Argument from Public Expense, on the other hand, is this: If I go into Derbies, the taxpayer has to foot a bill, since two or three or four person-hours of policing have been burned up. These hours would be better spent on the more traditional categories of constabulary business (on the banal-and-yet necessary business, that is, of pursuing the underworld, as Inspector Lestrade and the Yard do in the gripping pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). 

With these humiliating preliminaries out of the way, and with the danger of misreporting by DDO conservation-averse parties thereby neutralized, I can proceed to my narrative proper. 


As the University of Toronto continued removing items from DDO in 2008 July, with the DDO staff now relieved of their jobs, I continued documenting and photographing the scene. I was kindly allowed to do this by the University of Toronto outsourced security guards, who indeed allowed to me to stand under the shelter of the Administration Building porch on days that happened to be rainy.

On 2008-07-30, I was feeling low, and the rain was coming down. As I approached DDO&P, I checked in by telephone with Karen Cilevitz, who showed what I am sure was a genuine and sincere concern for my state of mind, urging me to stay away from duty that day. I, however, was insistent on proceeding to operations. This was a mistake.

On arriving at the Administration Building, I found not a University of Toronto outsourced security guard, as I had expected to find, but a staffer from a security firm engaged by Corsica Development Inc. I explained to this unfamiliar staffer, from an unfamiliar firm, that in all my operations hitherto I had dealt with the University of Toronto security-outsource firm, and that that firm had allowed me to stand in the porch if the weather was wet. The unfamiliar staffer said, in a quite unfriendly tone, "You can go stand in the rain."  I think that had I been free of depression on the day, I would have done the clearly correct thing, namely, to stand in the rain, saying little and communicating to the staffer by facial expression and body language that he was inflicting unreasonable discomfort on an individual striving to serve the civic interest. As it was, however, I entered into a dispute.

Neither of us raised his voice. I remarked that I really should be allowed to stand where I had stood before, in the porch.  The staffer said that he would not allow it.

In a moment of supreme idiocy, I then recalled the old lie that children are taught by their parents, namely, that the constables are "on our side" and "ready to help", and I said that I would discuss the matter with the York Regional Police (YRP).  Phoning in with my cellular, I explained the situation, and quickly enough a couple of cruisers pulled up at the DDO Administration Building, a few tens of metres south of the main telescope dome. 

Corsica's outsourced security staffer gave his side of the story, and I gave mine, and I think YRP were initially uncertain how to proceed. YRP consulted someone or other, by telephone. Oddly, I had the impression that the consultation was with the University of Toronto, even though it surely had to be with the then owner, who then must (in view of the change in security staffing) have been Corsica. On the strength of the consultation, YRP said that I would have to leave the property. But, I said, it was my "civic duty" to continue photographing what was going on (there was in fact much activity, with heavy items being taken from the Great Dome that morning). No, said YRP, it was not my civic duty. On the contrary, I said (neither party to this exchange indulged in any raising of the voice), it was my civic duty. No, said YRP, it was not my civic duty. But, I said, the obtaining of photos was my civic duty.

At this point I was put into Derbies, but in what I would regard as a significant kindness had that unwelcome hardware applied with my arms in front of me, rather than, as in a criminal arrest, with my arms behind me. One YRP officer then took me under my armpits, the other under my knees. I offered no resistance. I did retain the presence of mind to pray a Hail Mary in English, very loudly but not in an absolute shout. Under the gaze of the (silent) former DDO Operations Manager, I was put into the rear seat of a cruiser, as the police might load in a dead coyote.

For a few minutes, the gravity of the situation weighed on me, to the extent that my body began a kind of rebellion: my skin tingled all over and felt tight, as  though the circulating blood were being withdrawn to the vital organs. I did not, however, hyperventilate, and I believe that having completed my plea to Mary, I did not do any further significant vocalizing. One thought was uppermost in my mind. Here was my body, behaving oddly. Now my duty was strictly local, concerned strictly with what was happening within my own skin: my duty was to avoid getting any sicker, for instance to avoid fainting or dying.

After perhaps two or five or ten (but I suspect fewer than ten) minutes, the odd tingling feeling went away, and I was somehow sitting in the cruiser rear, rather than sprawling like a coyote corpse over the length of the seat.  Separated from me by a transparent barrier was the front of the cruiser, occupied by a constable. As I took stock of my new and improved situation, my cell phone rang.  My handcuffs afforded me enough freedom of movement to take the call. The call proved to be from a Richmond Hill resident, "PQR", sympathetic to the conservationist cause, and already rather well known to me. I managed to convey the essence of the situation, perhaps falsely adding in my nervous excitement that I was under arrest.

The constables in fact never used the word "arrest", and did not do any of the formulaic Miranda-Rights things that one knows from YouTube or similar sources, such as affirming one's "right to remain silent" and one's "right of immediate access to legal counsel". I now, writing years later (a first drafting on 2013-03-01, a review on 2017-06-12), infer from these failures to Mirandify that no arrest had been made. I sometimes consequently wonder, in a quiet and low-key way, whether there may possibly have been a breach here of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 9 ("Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained /.../") .

PQR at any rate became quite excited, going to the unfortunate length (as I learned probably some days later) of telephoning the Mayor.

The attending constable quickly enough relieved me of my cell phone. If I recall correctly - I am 80 per cent certain here - PQR protested over this, from the other end of the connection, and the officer falsely replied that it was necessary to confiscate my cell phone so that I would not harm myself with it.

Time dragged on and on and on. I am not sure how long I was in the cruiser. I think, after allowing for possible distortions in memory, that it cannot have been a short time at all - perhaps twenty minutes, perhaps thirty, perhaps a little more.

Eventually I managed to do what I now, writing on 2013-03-01 and reviewing on 2017-06-12, think was the right thing, in partial compensation for that overwhelming, terrible initial error in judgement which was my phoning YRP.  I embarked on a line of talking-to-myself calculated to play on the constabulary nerves, planting in YRP cerebral cortices the thought that this was a case involving some kind of unusual individual, and liable to lead into a morass of paperwork- involving perhaps even some such document-intensive thing as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or a European consulate.

Paperwork complications are surely unwelcome to the constabulary mind.  Indeed I would suggest, in all candour, that the DDO&P case is liable to lead into exactly the bureaucratic morass I have here adverted to, were it in future to be incorrectly handled: I am, after all, assured by Toronto consular personnel that I am a citizen both of Canada and of Estonia, and in the hypothetical contingency of unreasonable future constabulary action it would be appropriate enough for me to liaise either directly with the Estonian Embassy in Ottawa or with a Toronto Estonian-diaspora lawyer able in turn to liaise with the Embassy.  (I imagine that some disagreeably confrontational and theatrical lawyer might, in particular, ask not only whether my detention was consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 9, but also whether my detention was consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 5.)

Constables reading this narrative are herewith urged to be duly diligent.

Our matter thereupon proceeded as follows (with me soliloquizing, and with the constable in the front seat speaking, in the serious tones of Walter Cronkite, into his cellular telephone):

ME: Noh, siin ma olen, konstaablite küüsis, ja küll see veel on kole.  See on täielik kaa-gee-bee, ehk Kilo Golf Braavo.

CONSTABLE: He is speaking a language we cannot identify. Yes, that is correct. A language we cannot identify.

ME: Je suis auprès des gendarmes. C'est une situation terrible, épouvantable.

CONSTABLE: Now he has switched over to French.  Yes, that is correct, he has now switched over to French.

CONSTABLE: [perhaps after a pause]: ...well, he hasn't done anything. Maybe we should take him home.

It was astute of the constable to say that I had not done anything. For possibly the first time in our Orwellian or Kafkaesque proceeding, the constabulary were the voice of incontestable common sense. I summoned up enough courage to say in response, or rather to croak in response (I think I found the use of English unpleasant at this juncture), "Yes, home."  Almost at once - the distance was just over two kilometres - we were out of the gates and at "home".

On reaching "home" and being relieved of Derbies, I was given a "ticket", this being a paper document of roughly postcard size, indicating that I had committed a trespass and was required to pay York Region (our upper-tier municipality) a certain sum of money. I forget the exact sum, but I believe it was just a little under 100 CAD.

In the excitement, it somehow transpired that not the Mayor alone but also Karen Cilevitz had found out what was going on. Despite my very large reservations regarding Ms Cilevitz's (now, alas, Councillor Cilevitz's) post-2010 handling of the DDO&P file (most notably, of course, from the time in 2011 when she naively entered the trap which was Ontario Municipal Board "Mediation", undercutting the Richmond Hill Naturalists), here I must say that her 2008-07-30 action was appropriate, even noble: I believe that she dropped whatever it was she was doing and headed out of her own home, fully ready to meet the constabulary and bail me out of incarceration.

But, as I say, instead of incarceration there was a "ticket".  Accompanying the "ticket" was a polite, yet firm, verbal instruction not to reenter DDO&P.

I cried for quite a while, both in horror at my stupidity and over the squalid character of the events, loudly enough (as I later learned, in a friendly briefing) to be heard even upstairs in my then landlord's house. Later, perhaps on the afternoon of the day, and trying to act correctly, I wrote out a cheque on my then credit union in settlement of the fine. This I papermailed to York Region.

The experience of being in Derbies not in a mental-health context but in the  matter of something touching on criminal law is oddly transformative, in a bad sense. For quite a few years following 2008-07-30 (long after the month or so that I spent in a kind of quasi-PTSD funk, under the sway of a harsh month on our case, unable to read on anything more scientific than computer hardware) I found myself peculiarly interested in Rumpole of the Bailey, in underworld slang, in crime reports in the press, and in other things of this type. Now, perhaps, in 2017, the sick thrill is at last starting to wear off, to be replaced with my more accustomed interests in trains, monasteries, Latin, bookbinding, bees, John Le Carré, MI6, GCHQ, First Chief Directorate Division "D" (Дезинформация), and the like.

My writing the cheque elicited a strong criticism from more than one of the individuals in the inner circle of conservationists. It was felt that I had made an incorrect capitulation. Karen Cilevitz put it to me that she knew a lawyer who would "get me off". Chastened, and as anxious now to do my duty by the conservationists as I had been anxious to do my duty by the Crown, I phoned my credit union and succeeded in having a so-called "stop" put onto the cheque.

Now, however, the inner circle of conservationists - the then correctly conservcationist Karen Cilevitz, and her then allies in the always-correctly-conservationist Richmond Hill Naturalists -  recanted, finding that our case was in the final analysis too intricate to be worth their pursuing, and urging that I now pay my fine. I did so, eventually writing a second cheque, which was required by York Region to be somewhat larger (something on the order of 120 CAD or 125 CAD).

I do like to imagine my eventual for-real payment triggering some small conversation on the other side of the Pond, in "Buck House". Tortelloni, which figure in the conversation as I imagine it, are a bit bigger than macaroni. They are mildly reminiscent, both in size and in shape, of Derbies. I also add, by way of explanatory reminder, that the man at the very heart of the DDO&P conservation case - already discussed by me in my 2016-04-25 or 2016-04-26 "Anatomy of Sorrow" essay, at - is a property developer, the late Alfredo de Gasperis, Sr:

H.M. THE Q.,  transferring an envelope from red-leather dispatch box to handbag: Philip, now we have that cheque from Dr Karmo in Upper Canada. 

MOUNTBATTEN: Crikey, Liz, how much? 

H.M. THE Q.: We got 125 loonies, Philip.

MOUNTBATTEN: So what's that in money?

H.M. THE Q.,  applying an appropriately strong, pre-Brexit, exchange rate: Eighty quid, Philip, eighty. We can get a caterer to bring a nice lunch to the loading dock. I'll have MI5 look out for their van.

MOUNTBATTEN: Good-o. So what are we ordering, then?

H.M. THE Q.: Philip, dear, you know what we'll order.  Tortelloni, with Alfredo sauce.

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