December 26, 2008

Rejected by Plotinus

"Sensations are not imprints nor engravings on the soul. That said, we definitively exclude the persistence of any imprint in the soul by which things learned and felt are retained as memories, when no such print is made in the first place. The notion that a trace is produced in the soul depends on the same thesis as its persistence as memory: to reject one is to reject the other. We who reject both are obliged to discover their true workings, since we dispute that sensation is an imprint produced in or on the soul, and that memory is a matter of the imprint's persistence.

"The conclusions we reach by examining our brightest sense will apply to the other four as a matter of course. In all cases of seeing, it is clear that we focus our gaze on the object of sight in the place where it is directly exposed to us, and that the resulting cognitive event take place there, exterior to the seeing soul. There being no blow produced within the soul, I daresay it takes no mark from any such blow (as wax does from a signet-ring) when it sees. Nor would it be necessary to look out at anything, if the soul already contained the form of the thing beheld, and looked on its stamp as something pressed therein.... Semblances and shadows of the visible would be all that we saw, and the visible and the real would be two distinct orders."

"So how does it work, if not like this? Perception is not the vessel of what it relates, for it is not a passive faculty but a dynamic one which acts on whatever is ordained for it. Thus it is that the soul is capable of discriminating between the visible and the audible, which I do not believe would be possible if both were imprints. Perceptions are not passive impressions, but active engagements of what the senses comprehend. Accustomed as we are to believing that the senses know nothing until they are struck, we mistake sensation for a passive event, and think the senses mastered by what they in fact master."

Ennead IV.6.1-2

December 21, 2008

Greek seals

From Intaglios and Rings by John Boardman (Thames & Hudson, 1975).

Gorgon's head, 8 x 16 x 12mm, ca. 500 BCE.

Crouching lioness, 8 x 18 x 8mm, late 5th c. BCE.

Carrier pigeon, 7 x 14 x 11mm, mid 5th c. BCE.

December 18, 2008

And again

"To what part of the soul, then, does memory belong? The answer is clear: to the same part as the imagination. The essential objects of memory [i.e. sensory perceptions] are the fabric of the imagination, and without imagination its accidental objects [i.e. thoughts] would not occur.

"Someone may be puzzled: if affection is present to the mind, and the real-life thing is excluded, then how is anything remembered in its absence? For it is clear that what is thus produced through sense perception in the soul and its affiliated region in the body must be thought of as some kind of still-life [zōgráphēma], and the fact of having it we call memory: as it occurs, the movement leaves something like an imprint of the perception as its sign, as people do when using signet-rings to make a seal."

"But if this truly describes the events of memory, which is it that we remember: the affection, or that thing from which it was produced? If it is the former, we would be unable to remember anything in its absence. And if it is the latter, given that what we sense is the affection, [the same question arises:] how do we remember the absent thing which we do not presently sense? And if something similar to an imprint or an inscription is inside us, how is our perception of it equal to the memory of something else, and not the selfsame thing? For when memory is actualized, what one contemplates and perceives is this affection.

"So how will one remember a thing when it is not there? One might as well be able to see and hear what is not there. Is this what in fact happens, and how it is received? For even as a picture painted on a panel is both a picture and a portrayal, and being one and the same thing is nevertheless endowed with different sorts of being, and it is possible to regard it both as a picture [unto itself] and a likeness [of something else] -- even so, we must apprehend our interior phántasma as an image with being unto itself, as well as being the image of something else. Insofar as it is unto itself, it is an object of contemplation and a mental image. Inso far as it is of something else, it is a likeness and a memory."

On Memory and Recollection 450a22-32, 450b11-27

December 17, 2008

Aristotle on the same

"On the subject of perception in its totality, we must understand it as what receives the forms of things sensed in isolation from their matter, the way wax receives the device [sēmeîon] of a signet-ring in isolation from its iron or silver: the iron or silver device is taken in, but not the iron or silver as such. Similarly, the senses are in every case affected by a thing's color, taste or noise -- not that which a thing is said to be, but qualities which it has and are accounted for."

"If thinking is indeed comparable to perception, it is either an affection caused by what is thinkable or something of the kind. Though thought itself is unaffected, it must be receptive of its object's form, and able to be like it while remaining something else. As the sensory faculty is to the object of sense, so must mind be to the thinkable. Now since the mind thinks all things, in order to exercise its force -- that is, to know -- it must as Anaxagoras says be 'unmixed' (59B12 DK), for any foreign object that comes in from outside hinders and obstructs it. Thus the mind can have no nature but a potential one. So that part of the soul called 'mind' (with which the soul does its thinking and conceiving) has no actual existence until it thinks. For this reason it cannot rightly be said to mix with the body either. For then it would take on qualities like hot or cold, or it would reside in an organ as do the senses. But it has none. It is not wrong to call the soul a place of forms, as long as this is restricted to its thinking capacity, and the forms are understood to be potential and not actual.

"The senses and the mind are dissimilar in their imperviousness to affection. On considering the sensory organs and sensation this is easy to see, for after an intense sensation the sense is rendered inoperative -- as with the sense of hearing after a loud sound, or the inability to see or smell in the wake of strong colors and aromas. But the mind that thinks an intense thought finds that lesser thoughts are heightened, not diminished."

On the Soul II.12, III.4

December 12, 2008

The well-known simile

SOCRATES: Do my account the favor of supposing that our souls contain a slab of wax. This slab varies in size, purity and hardness from individual to individual, and in some cases its consistency is ideal.
THEAETETUS: So I shall suppose.
SOCRATES: Let us go on to say it is a gift from Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, and that it works like this: of all we see or hear or think of on our own, we lay the slab beneath those thoughts and perceptions we wish to remember and create an impression, just like the seals we stamp with signet-rings. Whatever is imprinted, we hold in our memory and our knowledge as long as its image holds, but what is washed away or is impossible to imprint becomes forgotten and unknown.
     ....Knowing you and Theodorus, I retain in that waxiness signs for both of you, as if left by signet-rings. Now when from far off I get an indistinct view of you together, I strive to tally a particular sign against a particular sight, and to make it fit the trace of its own imprint. But in my rush I fumble my attempt at recognition, and match the sight of one to the other's sign, as when people bind their sandals to the wrong feet. You could also compare it to what happens in a mirror, when right and left trade places and confound the sight. By this type of error, judgment is parted from the truth and rendered false.
THEAETETUS: A very likely account, Socrates, and a marvelous description of what can happen to our judgment.
SOCRATES: Besides this there occurs the case where, knowing you both, I perceive one of you but not the other, and my knowledge of the other is not in accordance with my perception of him. When I described it like this previously you did not understand me.
THEAETETUS: I sure didn't.
SOCRATES: Earlier [at 192b], I was saying that one man who knows another and perceives him and holds his knowledge of him in accordance with his perception would never confuse him with a third man he knows and perceives, as long as his knowledge of the third man was also held in accordance with his perception. Was that not it?
SOCRATES: Now I'm talking about about what went missing from that account. It's the case in which we say false opinion arises: when, knowing two men and seeing them both (or perceiving them by some other means), we fail to hold the sign of each in accordance with the perception, and like a poor archer straying from the target we get it wrong. And this is what we call falsity.
THEAETETUS: Quite fairly.
SOCRATES: So any time a sign is met by its corresponding perception but another sign corresponding to an absent perception gets fastened to it, thought is deceived. By this account (if what we are saying is correct), it is impossible to be deceived or judge falsely about things unknown and never perceived. Rather, it is about the things we know and perceive that judgment turns and darts in its alternation between falsity and truth: true when it aligns the proper stamps precisely with what made them, and false when it gets them crooked and aslant.

Theaetetus 191c-e, 193c-194b

December 10, 2008

Augustine on number III

"I come now to memory's fields and vast pavillions, where innumerable images of every kind of thing brought in by the senses are laid up. There too is stored whatever is expanded, diminished or transformed in any other manner by our thinking, after it comes in contact with our senses, along with everything else entrusted to memory's keeping which forgetfulness has not absorbed and buried... And yet the things themselves do not enter; rather, images of things sensed are there at thought's disposal when it calls them back to mind. Who can say how they are made, even when it is evident which senses caught and stored them away inside?"

"But this is not all my memory's huge capacity encloses. Here too is everything which has not yet fallen away from my liberal education, cached away in something like an interior space which is not a space. And these are no images but the things themselves I carry. For whatever literature and dialectic may be, and whatever I may know about however many different subjects, they are not retained in my memory as images of things left outside. Nor are they like the trace left by a voice pressed in my ears, which, having made its noise and passed away can thus be called back to mind as if it still resounded, though it is heard no more.... Now, when I hear that three types of question may be asked about a thing -- 'Does it exist?' 'What is it?' and 'What are its properties?' -- it's true that I retain images of the sounds out of which these words are made up, and that I know them to have passed through the air with a cry and to exist no longer. It is also true that what those sounds signify are themselves things with which I did not come into contact through any bodily sense, nor have I seen them anywhere but in my mind. And what I have stored in my memory are not their images but the things themselves."

"Also contained in the memory are the principles of number and dimension along with their innumerable laws, none of which were impressed there by bodily sense. They have neither color nor sound, smell or taste, nor can they be touched. I have heard the sounds of the words by which they are signified, when spoken of, but these are not the same as the things themselves. In Greek they are said one way, and another in Latin, but their reality does not inhere in Greek or Latin or any language. I have seen draftsman's lines as fine as a spider's web, but these are not the same as theoretical lines, which no images communicated to me through my carnal eyes. True knowledge of these is inward, without cogitation upon any physical body. The numbers that we count have been reported to me by all my senses, but those with which we count are different -- these are not the images of numbers sensed, but numbers unto themselves. Whoever does not see what I am talking about may laugh at me, and I shall pity him even in his laughter."

Confessions X.8.12-13, 9.16-10.17, 12.19.

December 8, 2008

Augustine on speech and sense

AUGUSTINE: Now let me ask you: do you think that in our words, the sound itself is one thing and what is signified by sound another?
EVODIUS: I think they are the same thing.
AUGUSTINE: Then tell me where sound comes from, when you speak.
EVODIUS: Who could doubt that it comes from me?
AUGUSTINE: So the sun comes from you, when you say its name?
EVODIUS: You asked me about the sound, not the thing itself.
AUGUSTINE: Therefore sound and the thing signified by sound are different? But you said they were the same.
EVODIUS: Okay, I now concede that what signifies the sun is different from the thing which is signified.
AUGUSTINE: So tell me whether, knowing the Latin language, you could name the sun in your speech, if an understanding of the word sol did not precede its sound.
EVODIUS: In no way could I.
AUGUSTINE: And how about when you plan to say it but remain silent for a brief period? Before the word itself comes out of your mouth, is not something kept in your thought, which someone else will hear when your voice expresses it?
EVODIUS: Obviously.
AUGUSTINE: And while the sun itself is great in size, what about the notion of it held in your thought before it's voiced? Is it possessed of length or width or any such visible quality?
EVODIUS: In no way.
AUGUSTINE: Come now, tell me: when the word comes out of your mouth, and I on hearing it think of the sun -- which you thought of before and during its pronunciation, and now we're both probably thinking of it -- does it not seem to you that what meaning the word transports to me, through my ears, it gets from you?
EVODIUS: So it seems.
AUGUSTINE: Given that a word consists of sound and signification, with sound pertaining to the ears and signification to the mind, would you not therefore conclude that -- like a living being -- the word comprises a body, which is its sound, and something like a soul, which is that sound's meaning?
EVODIUS: Nothing seems likelier to me.
AUGUSTINE: Attend now to whether the sound of a word can be divided into letters, if its soul cannot, since truly: signification is that thing in our thought which a little while ago you estimated to have neither width nor length.
EVODIUS: You have my full attention.
AUGUSTINE: Here's the question. Does it seem to you that when a sound is divided into individual letters, it retains the same signification?
EVODIUS: How could individual letters have the same signification as the word made up of them?
AUGUSTINE: And when the sound is divided into discrete letters, its signification lost, don't you agree that it's no different from the departure of the soul when a body is torn to pieces? and that something like a death has come to pass?
EVODIUS: Not only do I agree, but so freely that nothing in this conversation has delighted me more.
AUGUSTINE: If it is clear enough to you from this comparison that the soul is not cut apart when its body is, now hear how the body's severed members may have life, where an uncut soul abides. For you have conceded -- rightly, I think -- that a sound which functions as a word has something like a soul, which is its meaning; and though the sound itself (which is its body) can be split up, its meaning can't be. Now the name of the sun is such that when a division is made within its sound, no part of it retains any meaning. When the body of the name is torn apart, we therefore consider those letters to be dead members, which is to say they lack signification. But if we find some word whose individual members are able to communicate meaning when separated, you'll have to concede that the "death" effected by their dissection is less than total, since when you regard its members separately you'll see them "breathing," so to speak.
EVODIUS: I concede it heartily, and demand that you give voice to this sound already.
AUGUSTINE: Here it is. When my attention turns to the neighborhood of the sun whose name we were just discussing, it is met by
When a cut is made between the second and third syllables of this name, the first part retains some significance ["By daylight"] when we say Luci, and in this way more than half the body of the name is left alive. The last part too has soul, for you hear it whenever you are ordered to carry something. How indeed could you obey, on hearing Fer codicem ["Bring the book"] if fer signified nothing? Accordingly, when Luci is added, we hear
and it signifies the "Lightbringing" star; but when Luci is subtracted, Fer still means something, and therefore may be said to stay alive.

On the Measure of the Soul, 32

December 7, 2008

Augustine on cognition

AUGUSTINE: Tell me, please, whether everything we know through sight, we see.
EVODIUS: So I believe.
AUGUSTINE: And everything we know by means of seeing, you believe, we know though sight?
EVODIUS: This too I believe.
AUGUSTINE: So when smoke is all we see, by what account do we commonly know an unseen fire to hide beneath?
EVODIUS: It's true, what you say, and no longer would I suppose that whatever we know through sight, we see. For as you have shown, on seeing one thing we can know something else which is not in our sight.
AUGUSTINE: How about what we perceive by sight? Is it possible for us not to see that?
EVODIUS: Not at all.
AUGUSTINE: Knowledge and perception are therefore different things?
EVODIUS: Different in every way. We perceive the smoke we see, and from it we know a fire we do not see to lie beneath.
AUGUSTINE: Your understanding is sound. But surely, once this is accepted you see that nothing of the fire acts on our body, i.e. our eyes, except the smoke which is all they see. For to see is to perceive, and to perceive (as we agreed earlier in our discussion) is to be acted upon.
EVODIUS: And thus I still agree.
AUGUSTINE: Therefore when something becomes not-hidden to the mind through an action upon the body, it is not necessarily the case that any one of the five senses we mentioned is necessarily involved, as long as the experience of that action itself is not hidden. For although the fire is neither seen nor heard nor smelled nor tasted nor touched by us, it is not hidden from the mind once smoke is seen. This not-being-hidden may not be called perception (because the body receives no action from the fire) but instead is called cognition through perception, because out of a separate action on the body, i.e. the vision of something else, the fire is conjectured and ascertained.

On the Measure of the Soul, 24

December 5, 2008

Augustine on inner sight

"The Bible is an object of bodily sense: of the eyes, if a man reads it, or of the ears if he hears it read aloud. But whatever he understands to be signified by the shapes and sounds of its letters is seen in his soul. He sees his own faith, by which he affirms his belief without hesitation; he sees the thought by which he thinks of all the good his belief can do him; he sees the will by which he steps forward to accept religion; he even sees, fashioned in his mind, a certain image of the Resurrection itself. Without this last, nothing regarded as a bodily event can be understood to have taken place, and even this much may be doubted. But I think you can tell between the way in which he sees his faith and the way in which he sees that image of the Resurrection fashioned in his mind, which even the non-believer sees when he hears the story."

"Although we see some things through the body and others through the mind, it is the mind alone that perceives the distinction between the two. Those things which are seen with the mind are in need of no other bodily sense for us to know they are true. But if the mind does not take in the body's announcements and attend to what is seen through the body, then none of it can be retained as knowledge. Now, those announcements which the mind is said (by a figure of speech) to 'take in' are still left outside; but the mind, without the body's intervention, commits incorporeal likenesses which we call images of physical entities to the memory. From here the mind brings them out of custody, as it can and when it will, in order to pass judgment on them in view of thought. Between these two -- the physical form left outside and the likeness seen within -- a healthy mind can tell the difference, knowing the latter for what is present and the former to be absent. In this way, when I am gone, you think of my physical aspect and it is present to you as an image, but the aspect of which you have the image is not there. One is a body; the other is nothing but the incorporeal image of one."

Letter 147 (to Paulina)/On Seeing God 9, 38

December 4, 2008

Augustine on facial expressions

Natural signs are those which make another thing known without any will or desire of signifying anything, the way that smoke signifies fire. For smoke does not signify because it wishes to; rather, through observation and contemplation of things experienced it is known that where smoke can be seen, there is fire beneath it. The footprint of a passing animal pertains to this genus. And the affections of a sad or angry soul are signified in the face independently of the sad or angry person's will. And any other movement of the soul may be given away on the face's indication, whatever our will in the matter.

On Christian Teaching 2.I.2, ca. 397 (rev. 427)

December 3, 2008

Augustine on number II

"The third class of mental images has mostly to do with numbers and dimensions, which exist partly in the nature of things (as when an image of the whole world springs to the mind of one who has just learned its shape), and partly in the study of geometrical figures, musical rhythms, and the infinite variety of numbers. Though I affirm that a true understanding of these things is possible, it is also true that they engender false images which are hard for reason to overcome. What is more, the very practice of dialectic is vulnerable to this evil, since in our divisions and conclusions we use mental images the way we might use counting-pebbles."

"The mind dwells on a mixture of whatever nature endows with imitable form, including things which may never have been perceived externally. But although the mind is present in everything, the origin of images is not in the mind. This is nothing to be surprised at, given that (despite our best efforts) we are not cognizant of our bodily expression and complexion before, in the throes of joy, displeasure and other such movements of the soul, we set their images in our faces. What is worthy of your surprise and contemplation is the way expressions are made to follow affections by the action of hidden numbers in the soul, independent of any drummed-up image of a bodily form. From this I hope that, when you perceive how many of the soul's movements are free of those images into which you are now inquiring, you will understand that the least likely movement by which [true knowledge of] a given body may come to the mind is meditation on sensible forms, which I do not believe the mind can experience without using the body and its senses."

Letter 7 (to Nebridius):4, 7, ca. 387/8.

November 30, 2008

Viermolengang Tweemanspolder

Augustine on number

"I find it very strange that most people esteem wisdom but consider number to be of little value, when clearly they are one and the same thing. True, Scripture says that wisdom 'reacheth from one end to another mightily, and sweetly doth she order all things.'. But perhaps the power that reaches mightily from one end to the other is number, and what is properly called wisdom is that which orders all things sweetly, with both powers belonging to wisdom as a whole.

"Wisdom gave numbers to all things, no matter the lowliness or loftiness of their station within the material realm. While bodies (being lofty) of course have number, the power to be wise was not given to them all, nor to all souls. But to rational beings wisdom gave enough to serve as an interior seat, from which to 'order all things' endowed with number, no matter how lowly. Because our judgments on bodies are made with the same ease as our judgments on things ordered lowlier than us, the numbers of which we perceive stamped into them, we therefore reckon numbers themselves to be beneath us, and consider them of little value. But when we begin to look above ourselves as well as below, we find that numbers transcend our minds and are permanently fixed in truth itself."

On Free Choice of the Will 2.II.30-1 (ca. 394/5 CE)

November 29, 2008

Philolaus of Croton

“All things which are known have number. For it is impossible that anything at all be recognized or known, without this.”

"Number has two types all its own, odd and even... And of both types there are many forms, which each particular thing indicates [autò sēmaínei]."

44B4-5 (DK)

November 28, 2008

A simile of Empedocles

As when painters -- men about their craft
through craft instructed -- fill in upright panels
and lay their hands to multicolored substances,
in concert mixing more of some and less of others,
and arrange them into forms like unto all things,
putting forth trees and men along with women
and beasts with birds and fish nursed on water
and, superlative in honor, gods of long tenure:
Go therefore with wits ungulled into believing the source of mortal things
is any different, no matter how unutterably many come into view.
Instead, take this on divine authority for certain knowledge.

Fragment 31B21 (DK)

November 11, 2008

A story of the painter Apelles

In painting a horse, they say he was so frustrated in his wish to depict the horse's lather that he hurled the sponge he used for wiping pigments off his brushes -- and that its impact on the picture replicated the lather of a horse.

Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism 1.28