Poetry from 10/2014

26 October 2014

The Beauty of Things

To feel and speak the astonishing beauty of things – earth,
            stone and water,
Beast, man and woman, sun, moon and stars-
The blood-shot beauty of human nature, its thoughts and frenzies
       and passions,
And unhuman nature its towering reality–
For man’s half dream; man you might say, is nature
      dreaming, but rock
And water and sky are constant – to feel
Greatly, and understand greatly, and express greatly, the
Beauty is the sole business of poetry.
The rest’s diversion: those holy or noble sentiments, the
    intricate ideas,
The love, lust, longing: reasons, but not the reason.

What is art for?

Alain de Botton's animated guide – video provides the reason.




Who Are We?

Who Are We?

Not that I remember, but that I am
Memory, am all that has befallen
Unbroken being and knowing
Whose flow has brought me here, laden with the forgotten
Times and places, once here and now
Of those who were, from day to day,
From life to life, as I,
Presences of that omnipresence without end or beginning,
Omniscient through our being,
That brings and takes away the unremembered living
Moments of joy and wisdom, the once-familiar
Rooms and temples and fountains, the long-ago gardens
Of a thousand summers, music once heard,
Travelling through me and on, like a wave
Of sound, a gleam
Irrecapturable. And who are we
Who gather each one leaf, one life of the myriadfold tree
Of the lost domain, and mourn
The flowing away of all we never were, or knew?
Promises, messages reach us, instruct us,
The untold, the untellable, undying
Heart's desire, resonance
Of elsewhere, once, some day, for ever.


19 October 2014

The Instrument

“Death, and it is broken,
The delicate apparatus of the mind,
Tactile, sensitive to light, responsive to sound,
The soul’s instrument, tuned to earth’s music,
Vibrant to all the waves that break on the shores of the world.”


The Elements of Cognition

Many arguments of the first half of the "Critique of Pure Reason" are intended to reveal the inadequacy of the empiricist theory of cognition.  As Kant understood that view, cognitions arise in us through the actions of objects causing representations in our minds via our outer senses or our internal senses (which he called inner sense).  The representations received are connected via the law of association.  Thus the connections among representations in our minds reflect the patterns of our sensory experiences:  However, Kant argued that mere association is insufficient to explain the ways in which representational elements are connected in empirical cognitions that everyone acknowledges that we possess.
In the case of perception, Kant maintained that we could not achieve a perceptual image solely through receiving and associating sensory impressions.  Some of his metaphysics lectures provide a helpful illustration of the issue.

Suppose I take in part of the Manhattan skyline, by looking first at the Empire state building and then at the Chrysler building.  To form the whole image, I must reproduce, for example, the visual materials acquired from the interaction of my senses and (light rays from) the Empire State Building.  Following then standard psychology, Kant characterized the capacity to represent in perception objects that were not or were no longer present to the senses as the “imagination.”  He noted that although an imagination that reproduced previously acquired visual material is necessary to form such an image, it is not sufficient.
If however, representations reproduced one another without distinction , just as they fell together, there would be no determinate connection, but merely unruly heaps of them, and no cognition at all would arise.

The problem is that I cannot form an image of this part of the skyline merely by reproducing the different pieces in the order I took them in.  Rather, the imagination must create an order amoung the representational elements that represent the simultaneous spatial positions of the landmarks. Despite his legendary obscurity, Kant could not have been more clear about the new role for imagination in his epistemology:
No psychologist has yet thought that the imagination is a necessary ingredient of perception itself.  This so partly because it has been believed that the senses do not merely afford us impressions but also put them together, and produce images or objects, for which without doubt something more than the receptivity of impressions is required, namely a function of the synthesis of them.
In the first edition Kant provided an explicit account of the crucial activity of synthesizing:
By synthesis in the more general sense, however, I understand the act of putting different representations together with each other and comprehending their manifoldness in one cognition The synthesis is manifold it is what first brings forth cognition and unifies them into a certain content. 
That is, synthesis is an activity of the mind whereby elements contained in diverse representations are brought together and represented as unified (in various ways) into further representations. We have seen why he thought that a synthesis is involved in perception. To produce an image, various perceptual elements that were taken in sequentially must be put together in some way other than by repeating the sequence given in sense. The citation makes the sweeping claim that a synthesis of diverse elements is what first gives rise to any cognition.

Certainly, synthesis is carried out by the mind, but the question is whether the mind puts things together in a way that corresponds to a reality independent of it.  Since (as Kant says) in making any judgement we are putting items together in thought, this same question as we had with judgements.  Kant's solution was to say that either the object makes the representation possible, or else the representation makes the object possible.  With empirical judgements the object makes the representation possible.  The same will be true with empirical synthesis: here the mind's putting-together will be guided by experience.  If there is such a thing as a priori synthesis - and Kant argues that there must be - then certainly, Kant will say that the representation makes the object possible, our synthesis contributes to tht ordering of things that constitutes the world we can know about, the world of appearances.  But his reason for saying this rests entirely on his principle that since the object does not make the representation possible, the representation must make the object possible.

Patricia Kitcher



18 October 2014


The nominalist in me invents
A life devoid of precedents.
The realist takes a different view:
He claims that all I feel and do
Billions of others felt and did
In history’s Pre-me period

Arguing thus, both voices speak
A partial truth.  I am unique,
Yet the old, ceaseless self-distress
Of desire buffets me no less
Than it has other sons of man
Who’ve come and gone since time began:

The meaning, then, of this dispute?
My life’s a nominal/real pursuit,
Which leaves identity clear and blurred,
In which what happens has occurred
Often and never – which is to say
Never to me, or quite this way.


14 October 2014

The Things of the World

I would like to say something for the things as they are, in themselves
Not standing for anything else, multiform, legion
In their fleeting exactitude,

Fashioned in intricate and elusive ways, individual,
Each like nothing else precisely. I am speaking
Of observable things, this chair,

This leaf, that slab, the sun, dust, a fly,
Sometimes interacting, sometimes not, depending
On the nature of each, but always

And ever changing, coming into being, vanishing;
Maybe observed or not; beautiful or ugly
Only as someone’s opinion;

Neither right nor wrong; neutral; concerned only with
Their presence here, enduring their given span;
The manifold things of the world

“The Only Possible Basis of Proof,” a book written by Immanuel Kant uses the language of Leibnizian throughout. But in it the distinction between the actual and the possible goes back to the more profound methodological distinction between ‘contingent’ and ‘necessary’ knowledge, between “truths of fact” and “truths of reason.” The latter, to which belong all propositions of logic and mathematics, are independent of the state of transient things, for they do not express the particular existent, occurring once, here and now, in a specific locus in space and at a determinate point of time, but rather they signify relations that are valid completely universally and are binding on any given content. That 7 + 5 = 12, that the angle inscribed in a semi-circle is a right angle are “eternal truths,” which do not depend on the nature of spatio-temporal things, and which remain true even if there were no things of those sorts and no physical world. In logic, in pure geometry and number science, and moreover in the principles of the pure theory of motion, it is thus a matter of cognitions that express a purely ideal dependence between substances in general, not of a connection between determinate empirical, actual objects or events.  If we translate this logical insight into the terminology of Leibnizian metaphysics, it can be said that the truths of pure reason, are valid for all possible worlds that are comprehended in the divine understanding, while the mere truths of fact pertain only to specifications of the one actual world that has been lifted out of this sphere of general possibilities and “permitted” actual existence.

Reference:  Kant’s Life and thought, by Ernst Cassirer