Friday, September 23, 2011
Saturday, September 10, 2011
My last post was about the controlled demolition of WTC7. Where do we go from here? Depending on "where you are" you may be interested to look further, or you may be saying “Ok, so WTC7 was brought down by CD – so what?” or you may conceivably be unconvinced by the evidence.
The interpretation of physical evidence, after all, is dictated by our beliefs, and not the other way around. Presented with the - to me - all but irrefutable evidence that WTC7 was felled by a sophisticated controlled demolition process many of us will still ask “But what could have been the motive?” Not that failure to answer according the questioner’s standards for committing mass murder will result in a repeal of the laws of physics, but simply that the laws of physics are in most cases eclipsed by far more emotionally powerful social and political allegiances.
We see what we believe. For those of us who suffered physics through high school our beliefs supposedly rest on the firm foundation supplied by physical evidence. But this view is, paradoxically, mere idealism. Belief does not come from the physical world at all. It emanates from us. When we say “I believe that the earth revolves around the sun” we give no thought to the generations upon generations of people who thought otherwise, despite the same primary evidence (No, don’t tell me we have more evidence now! Aside from personal observation – essentially the same as in Galileo’s time - we mostly only have other people’s word for it). At the time when Galileo’s theory was first being propagated it met with incredulity and outrage, because it violated previously held beliefs concerning man’s place in the universe. Belief shaped how the evidence of the senses was interpreted.
Our position today is no different with respect to 9/11. The most elegant physical explanation presented so far for those three collapses is controlled demolition. It fits all the observed phenomena and has a solid a priori base in CD theory and practice. All other theories require considerably greater explanatory effort, fall far short of explaining all the relevant phenomena, and can cite no precedent to give authority to their conclusions. This is unscientific in the extreme. The only reason we do not see it for the prejudice that it is is that we are as immersed in the cultural matrix that defends this view as Galileo’s detractors were in theirs.
Admittedly, to see the destruction of the Twin Towers (WTC 1 & 2) for the controlled demolition that it most assuredly appears to have been requires rather greater effort than that needed for WTC7. This is because, aside from the enormity of the betrayal that it implies (WTC7 was at least empty) the destruction of WTC 1 and 2 was not a textbook CD. Their disintegration as seen on video, though in important respects similar, is unlike what we see in other controlled demolition videos.
The Twins could not be brought down in an entirely conventional fashion, because to do so would have immediately given the game away. Conventional CD starts the collapse at the base, usually with powerful charges (The demolition of WTC7 almost certainly used thermite to soften the steel, thus requiring considerably less explosive) so that the weight of the upper floors assists in the collapse.
Here’s a conventional CD –
The Twin Towers, however, were both hit by planes well above the mid-point, so could not very well be seen to collapse from the bottom up! Nor could the explosions necessary to bring them down be too obvious. The demolitions had to be initiated at the point of impact (there is visual evidence that they were guided, not piloted, into the buildings), and continued in a downward (as well as an upward) direction. Had they been demolished conventionally, starting at ground level, the massive weight of these two structures would have successively collapsed each floor as the weight of the entire building above it (suitably softened by explosives) came into contact with the unyielding resistance of the ground. Instead, all the floors below the impact points had to be physically weakened (probably with thermite – viz the molten steel seen flowing down WTC2 in some videos) and then synchronously shaken loose with many small charges. The result was still an audible barrage of explosions, some from far below the fires, and symmetrical, near-free-fall collapse - the signature of CD. For heaven’s sake, why bother with CD if random kerosene fires will do the job just as well?
Erik Lawyer, FDNY fireman, calls attention to the National Institute of Standards failure to follow standards (!) for the investigation of glaring 9/11 anomalies -
Video and transcripts of FDNY firemen testified to “explosions” –
Those who defend the government position ignore or ridicule all this expert witness testimony. They claim that the weight of the upper floors was enough to do the entire job. Once initiated, they say, “global collapse was inevitable”. Such papers as have been written to support this theory depend for their plausibility on the assumption that the upper floors crushed, or “pancaked”, the lower floors. Common sense, as well as the evidence of our eyes, however, refutes this. In the first place the upper floors were not some invincible pile driver, but were made of the same material as the lower, so would disintegrate at least as rapidly as anything with which they came in contact. In the second place, the lower structure was necessarily much more massive than the upper, and would have offered far greater resistance than could be overcome by the lighter structure above. Most significantly, perhaps, not only were no pancaked floors visible in the wreckage as evidence of collapse, but in all the videos the vast majority of the structure can be seen flying out for up to 150 meters in all directions as the destruction progresses from floor to floor down the building. While the collapse theories require that almost all the mass of the building was required to crush them, in observable fact little material fell within the Towers' perimeter, so by what could their supposed collapse be sustained? In the case of the North Tower (which fell last) the upper part – theoretically the pile driver of the lower – itself is seen to disintegrate early in the destruction process, with beams flying miraculously upwards before arcing towards the ground. In the case of the South Tower the considerable upper portion begins to fall (as would be expected) towards the most damaged corner, yet the rest of the building below it somehow still manages to collapse symmetrically and completely, in wayward defiance of the laws of physics.
Now let’s look at the fall of the Twin Towers. (It’s a long and harrowing video. Stop when you’ve had enough!)
How are we to interpret all this unfamiliar data? A simple comparison may help. Imagine a pool ball dropped onto a pillow. What do you think will be the result? Will the ball rebound, or will it come to rest? What will happen to the pillow?
Now imagine the same ball dropped onto a slab of granite. What will happen?
Our experience tells us that in the first case the pillow will be dented by the ball, which will come to rest in the dent it has created. It will not rebound because the gravitational energy accumulated by its free fall has been almost completely absorbed by the displacement of the pillow. The dent in the pillow is proof that it has absorbed the gravitational energy of the ball.
In the second case the rebound, ricochet, or even fracture of the ball is all caused by the resistance of the rock. Because the granite will not give, the ball must rebound – the energy of the fall has nowhere else to go. The rebounding of the ball is proof of the resistance of the rock.
Beams, concrete, and dust can be seen flying in all directions as the Towers fall. If the collapse theory is to be believed this can only mean that these flying fragments encountered resistance; that they are flying off in all directions because, like the pool ball on a chunk of granite, their downward trajectory has been thwarted and their energy must be somehow dissipated elsewhere.
What the defenders of the government conspiracy theory are allowing is that the pool ball both bounces off the pillow, and dents it. But you can’t have it both ways! Either the upper floors crushed the lower – in which case we would find the remains of the upper part of the building stacked on top of the lower, as the ball stays in the pillow – or they were resisted by the lower, in which case they flew out in all directions, leaving the lower structure standing, like the ball deflected by the rock. The upper part of the building could not at one and the same time both cause the collapse of the lower and yet fly off as beams, fragments, and powder in all directions. The horizontal and even upward ejection of the smashed building is proof – absent a repeal of the laws of physics – of its meeting resistance. Ergo the building did not collapse as the government and its defenders claim.
The cause of the horizontal and vertical ejection of all that steel, concrete, glass and dust was not collapse at all, but the successive detonation of tons of thermite (which melts steel) and pre-rigged explosives. Dramatic, even absurd though this sounds, there appears to be no other way (other than space beams, or other exotic energy devices) to create these observed effects. This contention is, moreover, supported by expert witness testimony (systematically ignored by the 9/11 Commission Report). Our inability to as yet find sufficient motive should not in any way (if we believe in science, as we claim to do) diminish the force of these facts. The government version is only easier to accept because it puts the blame on a class of remote strangers we find it easy to hate and fear – fanatical, Muslim, cave-dwelling Arabs skilled at flying commercial jets at high speed into small targets without navigational assistance.
Niels Harrit describes the discovery of nano thermite in the remains of the Towers -
This discovery, like every other piece of evidence which contradicts the official explanation, has of course been cavalierly brushed aside by 9/11 gatekeepers, their usual derogatory epithets (without which no denial of “truthers” would be complete) all too effectively blinding us to the weakness of their arguments.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
The above links lead to other mainstream statements about the WTC "collapses" which completely discount any suggestion of foul play from within the U.S. government. Everything is accepted to be exactly as stated by the organs of government authority.
Monday, August 1, 2011
That Alan Dershowitz can dismiss in two pages such a weighty question as “Do the Jews control the media?” says more about the knee-jerk agreement he expects to enjoy than it does about the accusation he claims to refute. So, here are a few pages in response.
Dershowitz’ argument in essence turns on a single question: does it, or does it not matter to be Jewish in the American media? He asserts that in the most important cases it does not, despite acknowledging that there are “many individual Jews in positions of influence in Hollywood, in network television, in sports and entertainment and in many other areas of American public life”. Many of these individuals, he explains, “are Jewish only in the sense that their parents or grandparents happen to be Jews. They do not live Jewish lives or support Jewish causes”, and “indeed, many individual Jews who are in positions of authority are anti-Israel and critical of Jewish values. Others simply don’t care about these issues.”
So, he denies that the majority of Jews in media share Jewish values. They are, he is effectively saying, de facto - if not de jure - not Jewish. And, he might have added, the Pope is not Catholic.
That point apparently settled to his satisfaction, Dershowitz then takes aim at Christopher Hitchens for insinuating that Jewish control of the media nevertheless exists.
What is he suggesting? That Jews actually get together to decide who gets fired and hired? Or maybe they don’t even have to get together, because they all think alike.
But this kind of rhetoric merely hides the truth in plain sight: like-mindedness is precisely what identifies people as a group. In the Jewish case, these shared values - which he flatly denies exist among most media moguls - derive from a particularly powerful array of commonalities. In disarming his enemies he himself mentions (as he must) the Big Three – anti-Semitism, Hitler, and the Holocaust. Together they scream “Hands off the Jews!” and represent possibly Jewry's most socially cohesive force, namely, their collective victimhood. Kevin MacDonald adds to the list -
“There is a great deal of consensus on broad Jewish issues, particularly in the areas of Israel and the welfare of other foreign Jewries, immigration and refugee policy, church-state separation, abortion rights, and civil liberties” (Jewish Power, p. 5). Indeed, the consensus on these issues among Jewish activist organizations and the Jewish intellectual movements… despite a great deal of disagreement on other issues, is striking. These attitudes typify the entire Jewish political spectrum, from the mainstream Jewish left to the neoconservative Jewish right, and in general, the Jewish profile on these issues is quite different from other Americans. Massive changes in public policy on these issues coincide with the period of increasing Jewish power and influence in the United States. (http://theoccidentalobserver.net/tooblog/?p=3547 . Italics mine - PH)
Dershowitz particularly singles out the New York Times as an example of unbiased news coverage. Let me therefore repeat the famous words of former NYT executive editor, Max Frankel, which Mr. D certainly has not forgotten* –
I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert … Fortified by my knowledge of Israel and my friendships there, I myself wrote most of our Middle East commentaries. As more Arab than Jewish readers recognized, I wrote them from a pro-Israel perspective. (http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2006/03/explosive_charge_against_harva.html - see footnote*)
And let’s not also forget the grim study conducted from September 29 2000 to December 31 2004 by the watchdog group If Americans Knew. The study charted the relative reporting of the deaths of Israeli vs Palestinian children by – guess who? That’s right, the New York Times. Here are some of the results –
For the first year of the current uprising, there were 197 reports in New York Times headlines or first paragraphs of Israeli deaths. During this time, there had actually been 165 Israelis killed (the discrepancy is due to the fact that a number of Israeli deaths were reported multiple times).
During the same year-long period, 233 Palestinian deaths were reported in headlines or first paragraphs. During this time, 549 Palestinians had actually been killed.3In other words, 119% of Israeli deaths and only 42% of Palestinian deaths were reported in New York Times headlines or first paragraphs.
Finally, we compared the running totals of actual and reported deaths for Palestinians and Israelis. This finding underscores The Times’ tendency to report a fictional situation in which Israeli and Palestinian deaths occur at more or less the same rate, and illustrates the dramatic gap between the reality of Palestinian fatalities and the coverage of them.It is significant to note that The Times reported Palestinian deaths along a curve that largely replicated the Israeli death count, despite the fact that the curve for actual Palestinian deaths was both considerably different and far higher than the Israeli curve. At the same time, part way through the year the running total of Israeli deaths reported by The Times rose above the actual number of deaths. Such reporting gives readers a substantially incorrect impression of the conflict.
In its conclusion If America Knew noted –
In particular, our study showed immense distortion in the coverage of children’s deaths. By covering similar numbers of Israeli and Palestinian children’s deaths in headlines or first paragraphs, The Times suggested an equivalency in death rates for the two groups, when in actuality over eight and a half times more Palestinian children had been killed during these two study periods. (In fact, in 2004, 22 times more Palestinian children were killed than Israeli children.) Additionally, Times’ coverage obfuscated the fact that at least 82 Palestinian children were killed before the first Israeli child’s death. [For the complete study, go to http://www.ifamericansknew.org/media/nyt-report.html#kids]
And on the moral perspective of Jewish American media control, here’s American Jewish journalist Philip Weiss -
Americans are not getting the full story re Israel/Palestine. Slater says this dramatically in his paper--that the Times has deprived American leadership of reporting on the moral/political crisis that Israel is undergoing, one that [the Israeli newspaper] Haaretz has covered unstintingly. At Columbia the other night, Jew, Arab and gentile on a panel about the human-rights crisis in Gaza all said that Americans are not getting the full story. Ilan Pappe has marveled in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, that the Nakba is all but unmentioned in the U.S.--while Haaretz has sought at times to document it… [Do Jews Dominate in American Media – And So What if we Do? at http://wakeupfromyourslumber.com/node/5815 ]
And finally, let’s take a look at one current example of American mainstream media reporting, and compare it with the reporting of the same event by non-American media organs.
On July 22, 2011 Anders Behring Breivik murdered a very large number of people in Norway in cold blood. Within a few hours, and without confirming the authenticity of its source, the New York Times published a report linking the attacks (there were two, one a distraction to clear the way for the other) to Muslims and asserting that Ansar al-Jihad al-Islami (supporters of Global Jihad) had claimed responsibility. When this was revealed as a falsehood, the paper quietly removed the story from its online edition, without noting the retraction or issuing an apology. With the crimes – and the distraught public – still begging for an explanation, the NYT thereafter published numerous articles blaming Breivik’s Islamophobia and distrust of multiculturalism, while in a further article his lawyer was quoted as baldly declaring his client insane.
Hidden quite early on in all this was a single, unexplained statement in an article of 25 July, Norway – Breivik Attacks, July 2011. It said that the victims were “political campers”. (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/norway/index.html).
Political campers? Why might Mr. Breivik have singled out political campers? What was their brand of politics? Were they staging a pro-Muslim demonstration, perhaps? Or extolling the virtues of multiculturalism? The statement held the promise of a specific motive, yet the article declined to elaborate, as if to suggest that the political nature of the get-together was of no importance.
Meanwhile, repeating the false Al Qaeda lead of the NYT, in the Weekly Standard, July 22, 2011, Thomas Joscelyn wrote –
We don’t know if al Qaeda was directly responsible for today’s events, but in all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra. Prominent jihadists have already claimed online that the attack is payback for Norway’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan. (http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/terror-strikes-norway_577274.html)
This is a sobering reminder for those who think it's too expensive to wage a war against jihadists. I spoke to Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute, who has been critical of proposed cuts in defense and of President Obama's Afghanistan withdrawal plan. "There has been a lot of talk over the past few months on how we've got al-Qaeda on the run and, compared with what it once was, it's become a rump organization. But as the attack in Oslo reminds us, there are plenty of al-Qaeda allies still operating. No doubt cutting the head off a snake is important; the problem is, we're dealing with [a] global nest of snakes. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/post/norway-bombing/2011/03/29/gIQAB4D3TI_blog.html)
Yes, even as late as 25 July, Ms Rubin was still, in defiance of the evidence, blaming Al Qaeda!
With Al Qaeda at last reluctantly dropped from the list of suspects, on July 26 the Washington Post offered this tempting motive –
Self-confessed Norwegian mass-murder suspect Anders Behring Breivik calls himself a “cultural Christian,” writes Mathew N. Schmalz in the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” section.(http://blog.beliefnet.com/news/2011/07/washington-post-norway-killer-not-a-religious-christian.php#ixzz1TguF8cLy)
And so it went. To unearth something nearer what appears to be the truth we have to go overseas, to the Jerusalem Post, where Larry Derfner speaks of Breivik’s endorsement of Israel in his 1500pp manifesto. Derfner asks (31 July, 2011) –
“What does this mean for Israel, that this neo-Nazi monster repeatedly expressed his affinity for ‘Israeli nationalism’ together with his loathing for ‘the so-called Jewish liberals,’ whom he called ‘multi-culturalists?’
He quickly answers his own question –
“It doesn’t mean that the Israeli right-wing majority… share Breivik’s ideology, which is genocidal, anti-Muslim, anti-liberal, national supremacism.
“It does not mean the Israeli Right bears any responsibility, even indirectly, for inciting Breivik to kill.
“It does not mean that the Israeli Right sympathizes with the atrocity. The overwhelming majority of Israeli right-wingers were repelled by those murders.
“So despite Breivik’s expressions of solidarity with the Israeli Right, the two are much, much more different than they are alike.”
Methinks he doth, like Dershowitz, protest too much. But the American mainstream papers have not mentioned this angle at all. Only if it becomes public knowledge will they be forced to do so. And they have thus entirely omitted to mention this –
The above image was taken on Utoya Island the day before the massacre there. It appears in the Israeli on-line journal Rotter (http://rotter.net/forum/scoops1/25606.shtml) together with the following headline –
AUF Leader Eskil Pedersen believes it is time for stronger measures against Israel.
The “political campers” casually mentioned by the NYT, it turns out, were the Labor Party’s youth movement. Two days before the Utoya Island massacre their leader, Eskil Pedersen, gave an interview to Norway’s second largest tabloid newspaper, the Dagbladet. In it he stated that he “believes the time has come for more drastic measures against Israel, and [wants] the Foreign Minister to impose an economic boycott against the country,” adding -
The peace process goes nowhere, and though the whole world expect Israel to comply, they do not. We in Labour Youth will have a unilateral economic embargo of Israel from the Norwegian side.
The AUF Labour Party Youth Movement have been devoted promoters of the Israel Boycott campaign, said The Dagbladet newspaper, reporting that “The AUF has long been a supporter of an international boycott of Israel, but the decision at the last congress demands that Norway imposes a unilateral economic embargo on the country and it must be stricter than before.”
“I acknowledge that this is a drastic measure”, stated Pedersen, “but I think it gives a clear indication that we are tired of Israel's behaviour, quite simply”. (http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/gilad-atzmon-was-the-massacre-in-norway-a-reaction-to-bds.html )
Breivik believed himself to be acting, above all, in support of right-wing Israeli objectives. This primary motive for an attack of unprecedented violence on Norwegian soil received no mention whatever in the Jewish controlled mainstream American media.
While I do not accept Dershowitz’ thesis that the Jews do not control the American media, I do believe that much of their bias is entirely unconscious – including perhaps the bias Dershowitz himself displays. As I’ve written elsewhere, whoever and wherever we are, our view of the world can be summed up as “My position is objective. To the extent that others disagree with it, theirs is not.”
Although perhaps exhausting, this post is by no means exhaustive. Still, as someone recently said, I rest my case.
If you have not yet done so you are also enjoined to read the widely acclaimed – and excoriated – The Israel Lobby by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby
* Alan Dershowitz claims this widely-quoted ‘confession’ appears on numerous ‘hate sites’, and that this somehow renders it invalid. He does not, however, claim that it is taken out of context, or that it does not represent Frankel’s views.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
…his French cohorts — men just as charming and smart as Strauss-Kahn — have made it their business to say, in essence, that he could not have done what he is accused of doing because he is one of us. He is, in effect, innocent by association.
I was put in mind of an unpleasant Paris dinner when a France Télécom manager with international experience began to expound on the theory — more than plausible to his mind — that Jews had not turned up to work at the twin towers on 9/11 because Israel and the Mossad were behind the planes-turned-missiles that turned lower Manhattan into an inferno.
French deference to power — with the accompanying conspiracy theories — has encountered the hard-knuckled application of U.S. law as applied equally to anyone accused of a serious crime.
The more clearly we experience something as “nonsense”, the more clearly we are experiencing the boundaries of our own self-imposed cognitive structures. “Nonsense” is that which does not fit into the prearranged patterns which we have superimposed on reality. There is no such thing as “nonsense” apart from a judgmental intellect that calls it that… Nonsense is nonsense only when we have not yet found that point of view from which it makes sense.
There are plenty of facts, incidents and complaints — never fully investigated by the French press — to suggest that the serious charges against Strauss-Kahn are not “absurd”.
Facts count. Conspiracy theories are the refuge of the disempowered.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
A blog out of the blue. I just chanced on the linked video, and thought you – all of us – really ought to take a thoughtful look at it.
This is like a door in a horror movie that an innocent passer-by inadvertently opens onto a charnel house. Except this door opens onto the real world. Our real world. The real world that sustains us. The horror is reality.
Do you recall the 1972 movie “Soylent Green”? It was set in a future in which the human population has far outstripped natural resources, humanity is crammed into megacities, farms are under armed guard, the living wonders of nature only exist on celluloid, played to pacify the sick and dying, there is no room left to bury the dead, and food consists of government-processed pellets of soy and lentils – a different color for each day of the week. Tuesday is Soylent Green day. But Charlton Heston discovers the real source of Soylent Green – the bodies of the dead, ostensibly sent for cremation, but secretly converted into urgently-needed food! At the end of the film, dragged away by the police from yet another food riot, he raises a bloodied hand, shouting above the din “You gotta tell them! Soylent Green is people! Soylent Green is people!”
The movie explores no further. Perhaps we are to assume that the truth will out, and moral indignation will put a stop to this outrage. But if the truth were known what would we, could we, in fact do? Starve on Tuesdays? Would we not, rather, turn a judiciously blind eye?
Well, that moral lapse seems somewhat tame seen from the perspective of 2011...
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
The CNN and the BBC both concur that Osama bin Laden was a figure of historical importance. Wherever possible the dates of birth and death of personalities deemed of historical importance are recorded. The implication is that these dates are themselves of historical importance. For one thing, they establish beyond reasonable doubt the non-involvement of the concerned party with events which occurred before they were born, or after the date of their demise.
David Ray Griffin is an indefatigable and skilled researcher* who has spent the last decade revealing truths and exposing falsehoods (to anyone disposed to listen) in connection with 9/11, on which subject he has written many books. One of them concerns the likely date of death of Osama bin Laden - on or around 13 December, 2001. OBL was an extremely shadowy figure. Not only his whereabouts, but even events in which he was allegedly involved (such as 9/11) have largely been the subject of conjecture (OBL twice denied involvement in 9/11, and the FBI admits it has no evidence to arrest him for this crime). Consequently, that mystery, or at least contention, should surround the date of his death is perhaps not to be wondered at.
All second-hand information passes through a social filter before being accepted as the truth by any given society. Lacking direct experience of an event, the quality of a fact depends on the quality of the authority. The higher the authority the less evidence needs to be produced, and the fewer questions can be asked. One in absolute authority would be under no obligation to produce any evidence whatever, or to respond to any questions.
The information supplied in the attached essay is in every way better grounded in objective evidence and believable testimony than the reporting of OBL's alleged death in the mainstream media over the last few days. Its only defect is that it lacks the latter's claim to being an accepted social authority. (CNN's claim that genetic identification has been obtained raises more questions than it answers, and OBL's remains have been, we are told, irrecoverably disposed of). The authority we have invested in our mainstream media is, it would seem, close to absolute.
* (There are actually 2 minor errors in the attached. "Pakistan" is mentioned twice in one sentence - the second mention should read "Afghanistan". There is also a date error, where the report of OBL's kidney failure apparently occurred prior to the event itself. I think neither mistake detracts from the overall soundness of the writer's conclusions.)
Saturday, April 23, 2011
I was moved to write this blog entry by the title to the Notes, to Lecture 59 in the Philosophy series of The Teaching Company, 2004. The title read
"AESTHETICS - Beauty Without Observers."
How could beauty exist without someone to see it? Why would anyone deem such a philosophical position necessary?
So, first (to please Gerry), a definition –
Aesthetics – a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty. That branch of philosophy which deals with questions of beauty and artistic taste. (The New Oxford English Dictionary)
Beauty, it seems, is a little hard to define, hence the need for a discipline - aesthetics - to do the job for us. Is beauty then even real, or is it some figment of our imagination? It cannot be touched, tasted, or smelled. It has no mass, extension, or velocity. By these measures, says science, it has no objective existence. However, according to the philosophy of realism a thing exists if the world cannot function normally without it. So, what might our world be like without beauty? Well, I thought at first it might look like a cross between Manila and the industrial north of England in 1900 on a rainy day – you know, colorless, disjointed, dispiriting and grimy, with flaking paint and broken windows. But actually that’s not so much an absence of beauty as a description of its opposite, ugliness, caused by overcrowding, poverty and neglect – the other end of the aesthetic scale, but still part of it.
A world without any aesthetic scale would be something slightly different. Such a world would, I imagine, be entirely utilitarian, a sort of Communist or maybe Fascist utopia dedicated to the efficiency of production, and to nothing else. It would be run by dull-suited bureaucrats who never smiled. All buildings would be rectangular, all city layouts rectilinear, and everything would be painted an institutional grey. All would dress identically, with just two hairstyles – one for men and one for women. Makeup – an unnecessary adornment - would be unknown, as would jewelry and indeed any kind of fashion, or fashion accessory. There would be no art, no music, and no pageantry. Sculpture would exist, but only in the form of grey monuments to leadership, conquest, and production. What festivals there were would be military in nature and precision, completely lacking in color or variety, consisting rather of interminable marches with rhythmic percussion as accompaniment – the only form of music and “dancing” deemed sensible. Food would be nutritious, but bland, the diet rotating on a fixed schedule, and invariably served in rectangular, polystyrene containers with recyclable plastic cutlery, plastic being the most ubiquitous material next to concrete. People would be ciphers, identified by numbers (their Maximum Leader would, I suspect, secretly refer to them as “digits”) and work nine to five without exception in grey cubicles in featureless, grey, office tower blocks. Private cars would come in three models – Small, Medium, and Large. All would be painted black. Efficiencies of scale would be maximized. All domestic animals would be confined to factory farms, and farming, like industry, would be in the control of massive machines. The countryside would be covered with large, rectangular fields for growing staple grains. Mountaintops would be flattened, and valleys filled, to regularize the flow of water, the planting of crops, and the straightness of roads. Forests would all be of the plantation type, with trees planted equidistantly, in rows. Gardens would be devoted exclusively to the growing of vegetables.
Yes, I think that’s more like it. Whew! Sounds a lot more like grim reality than I had expected. Still, man cannot live by bread alone, and perhaps I have made my point; if it ever needed making, that beauty is real enough.
But what is it? Because the troublesome point is, if beauty is undefined, or undefinable, merely whatever you personally happen to like, then it lacks that essential element of objective agreement that science needs to pronounce something real; something we can all point our finger at and say “that is what we mean by beauty”; i.e. something that exists independently of the observer; something that’s out there. If an assertion – “That vase is beautiful.” – is to be rationally justifiable to the logical positivists among us, it must be scientifically verifiable, or amenable to logical or mathematical proof. Failing that, beauty is held to be a mere figment of each person’s disconnected fancy.
Thus, to preserve beauty, whose existence none of us doubts, Plato insisted its essence must not depend on any percipient, but on a higher, disembodied ideal (Diotima, in the Symposium), and 2300 years later G. E. Moore found it necessary to make the similar claim that if “the beautiful world is in itself better than the ugly” (and he too agreed it is) then beauty must be at least to some degree independent of human existence (Principia Ethica, 1903 - both quoted in those Notes).
The principles of aesthetics, then, aim to rescue beauty – undeniable as it is – from the illusory world of the merely mental and subjective by putting it on a firm, objective footing, by making it measurable, and thereby accessible to science, which, by its own estimate, is the study of what is real. Beauty then becomes a property of certain two-dimensional surfaces (e.g. paintings), three-dimensional objects (e.g. sculptures), and wavelengths and forms (e.g. music and light shows) and everybody can breathe freely again.
On one thing I think we all agree: beauty, like truth, is unequivocally a species of good (“the beautiful world is better than the ugly”), while in the medieval conception of things there is beauty in goodness. Either way, beauty is on a scale, or hierarchy of value.
But hang on a moment! Our subject-object metaphysics - the dualistic cornerstone of Western thought - holds firmly to a scientific tradition of value neutrality. Values, being indefinable, are quite explicitly illegal in the hallowed halls of science. So, having safely installed the essence of beauty in the domain of the really real, the question then becomes, can any hierarchy of values, of quality – of goodness or badness, beauty or ugliness – be inferred from a purely objective world, a world without observers, a world which science unequivocally declares is “value free”? What does it mean, from within a strictly subject-object metaphysics, to say that the universe, or even part of it, is intrinsically beautiful?
I would submit that it means, literally, nothing whatever. If we accept a primary division of the world into subjects and objects, value cannot be thereafter derived from a disinterested observation of “facts”. Facts are always selected on the basis of some preexisting hierarchy of values supplied by us, and never the other way around. Facts cannot be appreciated – i.e. noticed - without the imposition of these preconceived qualities. Beauty is value through and through, and value cannot be defined without killing it.
Put another way, “value” and “object” are contradictory terms. The latter is definable, and therefore scientific, the former is neither. If beauty is objective it disappears into the flatland of value-neutral science, which can’t tell the difference between babies and bathwater. If beauty is subjective it retains its value – but thereby ceases scientifically to exist.
We are forced into this paradox by the demands of our dualistic reason, which insists that only that is real which can be measured. If beauty doesn’t inhere in objects, then it doesn’t exist outside our minds, which is to say, according to science, it doesn’t exist period. To be considered real, our mythos says, truth must be independent of what anyone thinks about it. And this must apply to beauty, or beauty is a chimera.
But is it not the case that a world shorn of observers (subjects) is, by definition, a world without quality? What do terms like “better” and “worse” mean apart from our needs and desires? What might an objective world look like? Could one even conceive of such a world?
Well, I suppose it might look a bit like the second description I wrote at the top. Sort of colorless and flat. To drive home the impossibility, or at least the insanity of such a world I want to quote from Robert Pirsig. He begins by making the point that at any given moment there is an infinity of data, like a whole beachful of sand, impinging on our senses, …
From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it. We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.
Once we have the handful of sand, the world of which we are conscious, a process of discrimination goes to work on it… We divide the sand into parts. This and that. Here and there. Black and white. Now and then. The discrimination is the division of the conscious universe into parts.
The handful of sand looks uniform at first, but the longer we look at it the more diverse we find it to be. Each grain of sand is different. No two are alike. Some are similar in one way, some are similar in another way, and we can form the sand into separate piles on the basis of this similarity and dissimilarity. Shades of color in different piles – sizes in different piles – grain shapes in different piles – subtypes of grain shapes in different piles – grades of opacity in different piles – and so on, and on, and on.
…it’s necessary to see that part of the landscape, inseparable from it, which must be understood, is a figure in the middle of it, sorting sand into piles. To see the landscape without seeing the figure is not to see the landscape at all. [Last italics mine – PH]
(Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, pp 75-76. Corgi 1976)
Pirsig is saying that objects cannot exist without subjects. What this means for aesthetics, the philosophy of beauty, is that – contrary to what Plato and Moore assert – beauty cannot exist apart from the one who appreciates it. The two are indivisible. (To make this earth-shaking point clear Pirsig goes a great deal further than I have space for here.)
One thing that emerges from our review of the history of the aesthetic is the unsurprising discovery that the standard of what constitutes beauty varies from culture to culture, and evolves over time. The aesthetics of ancient Greece reflect their preoccupation with all things classical and intellectual, their need to analyze and categorize according to form and proportion, while those of medieval Europe (as yet ignorant of ancient Greece) reflect their preoccupation with morality, their need to conform to rigorous standards of ethical behavior. In other times and places standards of beauty have varied to a similar or even greater degree – viz the piercing and plugging of the lower lip of the women of certain African tribes, originally to make them unattractive to the slave traders, but eventually as a sign of beauty. I also recall Jacob Bronovski scoffing at the “passionless painting” of the East, in his The Ascent of Man. William Blake, the mystic, wrote that “Exuberance is Beauty”. All this points in a very different direction from that of an immutable standard of the beautiful, namely, that, au contrair, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
There is, then, a large social component to the appreciation of beauty which the Greeks seem to have missed, and we along with them, and we don’t have to venture far to learn why.
They said that Athena was the daughter of Zeus not from intercourse, but when the god had in mind the making of a world through a word (logos) his first thought was Athena.
(Justin Martyr, 2nd century)
Not so. The Greek logos - reason - evolved out of the Greek mythos. It did not spring, fully formed, from the brow of Zeus. What the Greeks (and we) accept as hard, objective reality is actually a hierarchy of values built on eons of shared cultural experience, and this includes science (Quiet please. Screams of dissention noted). The world we see is not objective. Never was. Never will be. We select what to believe in based on the values we already hold, and call that the real world, and indeed that world is real. It’s just not the only real world.
No man is an island. We are social beings. That’s part of our reality. It’s language that makes thought possible, and language is a product of social interaction. Social values are hard-wired into the world as we perceive it. Reality must be shared, or it’s counted insanity. Are you still with me? A very convenient science fiction though it may be, there is no objective world; no world “out there” that’s the same for everyone. There is only value, most of which is shared, giving the illusion of objectivity because everyone we trust agrees with us about it. It’s the social agreement on what is real – and what is beautiful – that gives the illusion of objectivity, an illusion outside of which lies infinity in every direction. The absolutes we assign to the experiences we deem important are in fact everywhere, in everything.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
(The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake)
To see a world in a grain of sand And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour.
(Auguries of Innocence, William Blake)
But of course we can’t handle that. We have to narrow it down, as Pirsig notes. And so we create a mythos, a world view that unites our group – a tiny fragment of all that’s possible, all that’s going on - and we call it reality, and defend it tooth and nail against all who question it.
Beauty, first, is about perceived value. Aesthetics cannot be reduced to a science. It's appreciation. It is simply meaningless to talk (as Moore does) about something beautiful but as yet unappreciated, and possibly never to be appreciated. Beauty, precisely, must have an audience, a beholder, or it is mere nothingness.
Oh dear, here come the protests: “but what of the girl, shielded from society by her parents until presented to the world at the age of eighteen and pronounced a stunner? What of the long-lost Renaissance painting? What of Yosemite before Lewis and Clark? Did they only become beautiful when human eyes beheld them?
Of course they did! Hello? Man is the measure of all things. We have to be! Beauty is neither to be found in the object alone, nor in the subject alone. Beauty is a relationship between the subject and the object. It occurs between the subject and the object, at the point at which they meet. Beauty is not a thing. It is an event.
Maybe it’s infinity that we have intimations of in the “danger and power” of the sublime remarked on by Edmund Burke. Great beauty is transcendent. It takes us out of ourselves, makes us forget who we are. But all that is not to say that great beauty is objective. It is we who appreciate it, depending on our capacity, transcending ourselves in ever more widely-encompassing embrace (to use one of Ken Wilber’s favorite words), enfolding and augmenting all that has gone before in our culture to experience wider and wider vistas of aesthetic awareness. In this interpretation we are not mere observers, cut off from the beauty we encounter; rather, we’re participants in its expression, lighting rods for the value which illuminates our world.
With humble apologies to Robert Pirsig, whose philosophy – the Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ) – inspired this blog (and most of the preceding). It’s a radically different way of seeing which yet leaves the world as it finds it. Nothing changes, and yet everything changes. Subjects and objects still exist, but as different levels of value. It clears up a lot of paradoxes (which perhaps we can take up another time) that the subject-object dichotomy generates and can never resolve.
Rereading his two books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Lila, to prepare this blog, as well as his notes to Lila’s Child, I jotted down many quotes which in the end I didn’t use. Here are a few of them –
Scientifically speaking, in the real world nothing is better than anything else.
Scientific laws without people to write them are a scientific impossibility.
All scientific knowledge, including knowledge of objects, is subjective knowledge. This knowledge is confirmed by experience in such a way as to allow the scientist to generate a supremely high quality intellectual belief that external objects exist. But that belief itself is still subjective.
The observation itself creates the intellectual patterns called “observed” and “observer” (object and subject). How could subjects and objects exist in a world where there was no observation?
There seems to be a materialist assumption… that there’s a huge world out there that has nothing to do with people. This is a high quality assumption – but it needs people to make it! We have never heard of, nor will we ever hear of anything that is not human specific.
The idea that something existed before we became sentient did not exist before we became sentient. Thus, although “common sense” dictates that inorganic nature preceded ideas, this “common sense” conclusion is itself a set of ideas. This “common sense” is arrived at through a huge web of evaluations of various alternatives. To evaluate is to prioritize values. The fundamental reality is not the common sense or the objects and laws approved of by common sense, but the approval itself and the quality that leads to it.
Subjects and objects are different levels of value, not expressions of independent scientific reality.
Quality can be recognized, but never defined.
Quality is apprehended by direct experience only, and not by reasoning of any kind.