Monday, July 24, 2017

George Santayana and Quantum Physics.

Richard Butler, The Mind of Santayana (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1955).

Robert Hutchinson, The Poems of George Santayana (New York: Dover, 1970), pp. 39-41.

John McCormick, George Santayana: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987).

Dennis Overbye, "Quantum Theory: Testing Einstein's Strangest Theory," The New York Times, December 27, 2005, p. F1.

Bertrand Russell, "The Philosophy of Santayana," in Paul Arthur Schilp, Ed., The Philosophy of George Santayana: The Library of Living Philosophers, Vol. II (Illinois: Open Court, 1940, 1951), pp. 451-475 then "A General Confession" by George Santayana at pp. 1-31.  

"The Frontiers of Physics," Scientific American, February 20, 2006.

George Santayana, Winds of Doctrine: Studies in Contemporary Opinion (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons., & London: J.M. Dent & Sons. Ltd., 1913), pp. 110-155 ("The Philosophy of Mr. Bertrand Russell").

George Santayana, Skepticism and Animal Faith: Introduction to a System of Philosophy (New York: Dover, 1923), pp. 262-272.

George Santayana, The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons., 1936).

George Santayana, Character and Opinion in the United States (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967).

George Santayana, Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967).

George Santayana, "Fifty Years of British Idealism," in Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy (New York: Scribners, 1934), p. 48.

T.L.S. Sprigge, Santayana: An Examination of His Philosophy (New York & London: Routledge, 1974). (This may be the best book for analytically-minded philosophers to read.)

This essay was first posted on December 29, 2005. 

The text has received a very hostile response, including efforts to block the image posted with the original essay and, later, attempts to alter or destroy the work entirely. 

This unfriendly reaction may be due to my defense of gay rights. 

Apparently, some people (many from my own ethnic background, tragically, and even a few lesbians, even more tragically) do not like my views concerning this issue, or Professor Santayana's writings, or they simply do not like me. 

Too bad. I am for full equality for all persons, regardless of sexual-orientation. I favor recognition of same-sex unions as "marriages" (or otherwise) in accordance with the wishes of persons entering into such relationships whether in the U.S. or Cuba, or anywhere else -- Russia and Poland included -- to say nothing of Israel.

I am also against censorship of any person's expressed views by anyone and for any reason with the exception of the few well-recognized qualifications or "exceptions" under U.S. and U.K. free speech law. 

You cannot yell fire in a crowded movie theater unless, in fact, there is a fire. 

The content of your philosophical or political opinions, however, as expressed in speech is never subject to censure and may be based on different or bizarre interpretations of facts and/or events. 

Scientific and philosophical disagreements and arguments about political and legal issues are always welcome in a democracy.  

As someone whose writings are defaced and destroyed seemingly on a daily basis by New Jersey's protected hackers and computer criminals, as someone who is forced to make identical corrections many times, I am adamant in my devotion to freedom of expression for everyone. 

I am not a homosexual. Threats to describe me as a "fag" (or homosexual) do not keep me up at night. 

Call me whatever names you like and be prepared for a comparable response from many readers (or others) who are also concerned about free speech rights. 

What one feels in response to censorship is more a kind of disgust than fear or hesitation. I will return to New Jersey issues in my next essay posted here. 

Feel free to be creative with insults, especially if they are paid for, since as wounding as insults may be censorship or loss of freedom -- slavery -- is certainly worse. 

Computer criminals with political and legal protections are expected to continue to alter this text and attack these blogs with impunity. Such persons will also continue to post bogus items (alleged N.J. Supreme Court opinions?) and fraudulent photos of persons who are not me online as part of a smear campaign.

The spacing of lines in the final Sonnet quoted in this text and elsewhere has been altered by computer criminals and cannot be repaired at this time. I expect further deformations of, or damage to, the text in the days and weeks ahead.

July 18, 2017 at 1:51 P.M. I was unable to make a reservation for the use of a computer at NYPL, Morningside Heights branch, due to mysterious "computer problems."

Efforts to repair damage to the the system from hacks which seem to have targeted my library card, specifically, have been unsuccessful at this time.

I am told that this branch will be closed for two days early next week as efforts are made to repair this baffling problem that has occurred before. 

Many New Yorkers will be inconvenienced by computer crimes emanating from New Jersey that are probably aimed at silencing me. ("An Open Letter to Cyrus Vance, Jr. Esq.")

I have been issued a guest pass to access library computers today. Use of this guest pass may make my efforts online less secure. 

I may be prevented at any time and without warning from regaining access to this blog in order to continue writing. 

I may also be struck down by a mysterious "accident" at any time.   

Do your worst New Jersey's OAE. Or is it Mr. McGill? ("John McGill, Esq., the OAE, and New Jersey Corruption" and "New Jersey's 'Ethical' Legal System.") 

New Jersey's Supreme Court remains strangely silent for some reason about events that I know have been communicated to the justices in Trenton (more than once) despite the danger to innocent people. 

Apathy to legal fraud and corruption endangering the public is a very curious reaction from any American tribunal.

Even more bizarre is the failure by law enforcement to investigate or respond at all to public communications and evidence of serious criminal conduct injuring and endangering citizens and residents of this city. 

Post anything you like online New Jersey. I will continue to write. 

Is this New Jersey's legal "ethics" Mr. Rabner?

George Santayana is one of the greatest thinkers associated with the so-called "classical" American philosophical tradition. He was a "superstar academic" before the phrase existed in the Harvard Philosophy Department that included William James, Josiah Royce, George Herbert Palmer and many other luminaries. Santayana's students and admirers constitute a "Who's Who" (Eliot, Stevens, Lippman, Lowell) of the American literary intelligentsia during the twentieth century. 

In the new century, already, George Santayana has become a global industry with scholars from several continents devoting books to examining and debating his ideas. 

It is especially interesting that many intellectuals in Eastern Europe have taken a serious interest in Santayana's writings. 

Santayana was often dismissed as a "mere literary figure" during the era when linguistic or Oxford-style philosophy dominated Anglo-American intellectual discussions. ("Is clarity enough?") 

With the decline of analytical philosophy and demise of A.J. Ayer's logical positivism as well as the new pluralism in Continental thought Santayana is back on the agenda of Western philosophy for the foreseeable future. 

For President Eliot of Harvard University at the turn of the twentieth century there was indeed something "effete" and "unmanly" about George Santayana's preference for observing rather than "helping to build" the new world being ushered into existence by American science and industry. This is not to mention Santayana's Latin origins which were deemed "suspect." ("Stuart Hampshire and Iris Murdoch On Freedom of Mind.") 

Santayana was at pains to point out to President Eliot that, without an improvement in humanity or some greater wisdom, new technologies or industrial power might well be used for sinister purposes in addition to the beneficial ones for which "good persons" hoped. 

By 1945, Professor Santayana's predictions had come true with the development of the atomic bomb and increased industrial pollution that now threatens human survival.   

During online debates and discussions I have been assured that "Latinos are not smart enough to be philosophers." ("Why I am not an ethical relativist.")

George Santayana and many others over quite a few centuries from antiquity until today have in fact been very fine philosophers while also being classified as what is meant in America today by "Latinos." 

A biography, several critical works in multiple languages, the discovery that Santayana anticipated and articulated trends in literary theory and developments in Continental thought decades before they emerged in Europe as well as his increasing influence in the arts is leading to a complete "reinterpretation" of his works.  

Academics speak of "reinterpretation" to avoid saying that they misjudged someone's importance. 

Santayana would have been highly amused by all of this attention. He was a Spanish-born "wanderer." Unlike Nietzsche he had no "shadow" to haunt him even if he coped with his share of sufferings. ("Friedrich Nietzsche On Self-Realization" and "The Wanderer and His Shadow.") 

Santayana is only tentatively associated with American philosophy, after all, arriving in the U.S. at the age of nine, speaking and writing in the English language, often on American subjects, he earned a global reputation, lived in Germany, England, Spain, France, and died in the nineteen-fifties in Italy. 

Despite studying at the Universities of Heidelberg, Oxford, and Cambridge, Santayana received his degrees from his alma mater Harvard University. 

I am sure that Santayana never fully realized just how American he became, or the powerful influence of pragmatism on his reformed naturalism and materialism as qualified by an ambiguous doctrine of "essence" that was heavily indebted to his esteemed Professor Josiah Royce's "idealism" that he otherwise rejected categorically. ("David Stove's Critique of Idealism" and "Richard Rorty's Ethical Skepticism.")  

Santayana is also strongly influenced by another of his Professors, William James, while reacting, nevertheless, against James and some aspects of the pragmatism that he certainly admires but also finds unattractive to his "Latin temperament" (his term) and incomplete or "blind" to aspects of reality better captured in Mr. Bradley's version of "Absolute Idealism." ("F.H. Bradley's Concrete Universal" and "Robert Brandom's 'Reason in Philosophy.'")   

Santayana admired and respected C.S. Pierce (he pronounced the name "Percy"), a colleague and friend, who was never Santayana's professor, but who was considered the other odd-man out at the Harvard Philosophy Department of the "Golden Age." One is reminded of the famous words spoken by Truman Capote when first meeting Gore Vidal: "So you are the other enfant terrible."

George Santayana was a perceptive and sharp critic of German and Anglo-American schools of philosophy when they become, as he expressed it, aggressive or "egotistical" in their claims to absolute knowledge, appreciating but not following either William James or Bertrand Russell. 

Philosophy is not primarily about changing the world or becoming wealthy, for Santayana, nor is it necessarily concerned with logic and language. His greatest teachers were Plato and Aristotle, Spinoza and Kant along with Schopenhauer. These philosophers' efforts were aimed at "understanding" life not necessarily "controlling" things much less other people or resolving public ethical and political disputes. ("Arthur Schopenhauer and the Metaphysics of Art" and "David Hume's Philosophical Romance.") 

Philosophy is about meaning and purpose, goodness and beauty, justice and freedom, love and death, for Santayana, because it requires a synthesis between realism and anti-realism, materialism and essentialism, tolerance and fairness to rival points of view as well as firmness of purpose and willingness to defend one's opinions.

Santayana is indisputably one of the great masters of English prose in the twentieth century. His poetry is equally unforgettable. Santayana's verses are sometimes ranked with the best of Dylan Thomas and Philip Larkin. Santayana's critical essays are also among the very best from the last century. The Last Puritan is one of the most important novels of ideas in American literature. 

George Santayana is a nineteenth-century man of letters whose life largely unfolded in the twentieth-century. In this sense, also, Santayana lived in two worlds and achieved a difficult synthesis. He witnessed the end of Romanticism and the birth (and eventual demise) of logical positivism. He was committed to neither of these positions and remained entirely independent of all professional associations or philosophical "schools." 

Santayana's critique of F.H. Bradley -- a philosopher he admired -- is one of the very best essays dealing with this British thinker's work that I have read. Here is a sample of Santayana's sophistication and "melancholy wisdom" as well as biting criticism in flawless sentences:

" ...[Bradley's Ethical Studies] has been set up again, as if to mark the distance which English opinion has traversed in the interval. It has passed from insular dogmatism to universal bewilderment; and a chief agent in the change has been Bradley himself, with his scornful and delicate intellect, his wit, his candour, his persistence, and the baffling futility of his conclusions. In this early book we see him coming forth like a young David against every clumsy champion of utilitarianism, hedonism, positivism, or empiricism. And how smooth and polished were the little stones in his sling! How fatally they would have lodged in the forehead of that composite monster, if only it had had a forehead! Some of them might even have done murderous execution in Bradley's own camp: for instance, this pebble cast playfully at the metaphysical idol called 'Law': 'It is always wet on half-holidays because of the Law of Raininess, but sometimes it is not wet, because of the Supplementary Law of Sunshine.' ..." (Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy, p. 48.) 

William James called Santayana's dissertation on the philosophy of Herman Lotze (not his choice of a subject) and aesthetics "the perfection of rottenness" even as James recognized the author's genius and insisted on hiring Santayana for the Harvard Philosophy Department. 

James meant by this assessment that Santayana's view of philosophy was the opposite of his own. Santayana, the "Master of the Epigram," is responsible for a famous description of Henry and William James in a single acid-toned sentence: 

"Ah, the James Brothers ... one believes that he is a philosopher and is really a novelist; the other insists that he is a novelist and is really a philosopher."

Russell acknowledged (publicly) that Santayana's devastating critique of his early "hypostatic" ethical theory forced Lord Russell to abandon that theory, and persuaded him never again to attempt a systematic ethical theory. 

Santayana's essay on Russell delights the ethical relativists who fail to notice Santayana's Kantian subtlety. While insisting that a perspective is necessary in order to make values and valuing meaningful, Santayana nevertheless also insists --

" -- wrong desires, and false opinions as to value, are conceivable [and it is possible] to prove them such. If no point of relevance and no criterion were admitted to be relevant, nothing could give to one assertion of value greater force than to another." (See the section dealing with ethics in "The Philosophy of Mr. Bertrand Russell.")  

Notice that Santayana contends that such proof is indeed possible so long as one's perspective is acknowledged. ("Hilary Putnam is Keeping it Real" and "John Finnis and Ethical Cognitivism.")

I may draw a map correctly from my perspective or angle; you may draw a map of the same territory differently (but equally correctly) from a different angle or "perspective"; yet each of us is obliged to acknowledge the objective validity of the artifact or "text" (map) produced by the other while taking into account the differing "perspectives" of the artists creating each particular "text." ("Jacques Derrida's Philosophy as Jazz.") 

The more difficult challenge is to join the two maps (or texts) so as to achieve a more complete depiction of a very complex reality -- the OBJECTIVE reality that accounts for and explains both perspectives. ("Bernard Williams and Identity.") 

This latter move leads either to idealism (anti-realism) or some version of a mediated realism (Santayana combines Platonism with naturalistic materialism) which is not all that different from contemporary philosophies of physics and science that postulate a unity between observer and observed at the foundations of knowledge and empirical reality -- a knowledge-reality that we create that also creates us. The post-quantum universe is often described as "mirror and door." Santayana summarized his views in discussing British idealism: 

"We must oscillate between radical transcendentalism, frankly reduced to a solipsism of the living moment, and a materialism posited as a presupposition of conventional sanity. There was no contradiction in joining together a skepticism [appearance] which was not a dogmatic negation of anything and an animal faith [reality] which, avowedly, was a mere assumption and description. Yet such oscillation, if it was to be justified and rendered coherent, still demanded some understanding of two further points: what, starting from immediate experience, was the causa cognoscendi of the natural world; and what, starting from the natural world, was the causa fiendi of immediate experience?" 

Compare this foregoing statement with Professor Brian Greene's comments:

"The universe in a sense guides us towards truths, because those truths are the things that govern what we see. If we're all being governed by what we see, we're being steered in the same direction. Therefore, the difference between making a breakthrough and not can often be just a small element of perception, either true perception or mathematical perception, that puts things together in a different way." 

Particle physicists are puzzled by the paradoxical qualities of electrons spinning clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time. Art historians ask: "Does the Mona Lisa turn towards or away from us?" Philosophers marvel at creatures that are free and yet materially-determined within the causal network that operates among all large material bodies. Scientists ponder electrons that move "randomly" (their word), struggling to decipher the "uncertainty" in their "movements." Poets and psychologists find another kind of "uncertainty" -- along with the mysteries of love -- at the center of human "being-in-the-world." (Gadamer) Finally, there is much talk these days by quantum theorists and others of "action at a distance" among "entangled particles" which used to be known as magic:  

" ... the idea that measuring the properties of one particle could instantaneously change the properties of another one (or a whole bunch) far away is strange to say the least -- almost as strange as the notion of particles spinning in two directions at once. ..."

Notice the implications of this statement:

"Physicists and philosophers are still fighting [disagreeing?] about what this means. Many of those who care to think about these issues (and many prefer not to), concluded that Einstein's presumption of locality -- the idea that physically separated objects are really separate is wrong."

It now appears that it is --

" -- the notion of realism, that things exist independent [sic.] of being perceived, that must be scuttled."

Perhaps what should be "scuttled" is a simplistic notion of "realism" that was rejected by George Santayana because the concept depended upon a seventeenth century notion of empirical "reality" that was made obsolete in the twentieth century. 

Santayana read Einstein and Freud as well as the leading philosophers of his age. It may now be necessary to re-think the notion of locality, especially in light of the mysteries of consciousness as discussed by Roger Penrose and Colin McGinn. 

Alfred North Whitehead said that of all twentieth century philosophers "George Santayana is most likely to be read in the future." 

As of the early years of the twenty-first century Professor Whitehead appears to be correct.

During the First World War Santayana found himself stranded at Oxford, then at Cambridge University where he wrote some of his finest poetry and became interested in ideas of transcendence. 

The "horror and madness" that consumed the finest young men of a generation during those turbulent years remained inexplicable and hateful to the philosopher throughout his lifetime. Peace and sanity were desperately needed then as they are now. 

Philosophy seemed to provide little help at the time and in some forms was complicit in the suicidal militarism of Western civilization. The young men rushing out of the trenches to their deaths were taught all about being "manly" and "brave" but not enough about being intelligent and cautious, loving and peaceful. ("Images and Death.")

Admiration for brave young men charging -- often on horseback against machine gun and tank positions -- does not diminish one's contempt for the old men who sent them to their deaths for no particular reason.

Many of us can relate to these thoughts today as young men and women to say nothing of thousands of children and old people are dying (or at great risk) in numerous increasingly pointless and costly wars that only make things worse for everyone as similar old men debate the fine points of "geopolitics" in Syria and Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, the West Bank and Gaza as well as in Korea and elsewhere in Asia and lots of other places in the world. Santayana speaks of "spirit" and "essence" more often and with greater sadness in these "middle" years: 

"Spirit refuses to be caught in a vice; it triumphs over the existence which begets it. The moving world which feeds it is not its adequate theme. Spirit hates its father and mother. It spreads from its burning focus into the infinite, careless whether that focus burns to ashes or not. From its pinnacle of earthly time it pours its little life into spheres not temporal or earthly, and half in playfulness, half in sacrifice, it finds its joy in the irony of eternal things, which know nothing of it." (See the essay on the British idealists.) 

Santayana's references to "spirit" and "Hermes" seem analogous to the mysterious electrons that became a subject of controversy after Einstein's papers on relativity led to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and quantum mechanics. Professor Greene remarks:

"Juan Maldacena [of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton University] ... found an explicit example within string theory, where physics in the bulk -- that is, in the arena that we consider to be real ... would be exactly mirrored by physics taking place on a bounding surface. There'd be no difference in terms of the ability of either description to truly describe what's going on, yet in detail the descriptions would be vastly different [maps? mirror symmetry?] one would be in five dimensions, the other in four. ..."   

Writing of John MacMurray's similar thinking -- similar to Santayana's speculations -- after the experience of loss during what was then called "The Great War" Professors Mark Bevir and David O'Brian note:

"Idealism breaks down the dichotomy between subject and object found in Descartes. It replaces the atomistic 'I' with the relational [dialectical] 'You-and-I.' It is inherently communal."

Given the uncertainty in the scientist (or philosopher) it should not surprise anyone to find uncertainty in the "observed" universe. As for "action at a distance" here is a Sonnet by Santayana (in his Platonist manner) for a young man who died in battle:

The Undergraduate Killed in Battle

Oxford, 1915

Sweet as the lawn beneath his sandaled tread,
Or the scarce rippled stream beneath his oar,
So gently buffeted it laughed the more,
His life was, and few blithe words he said.
One or two poets read he, and reread;
One or two friends with boyish ardor wore
Close to his heart, incurious of the lore
Dodonian woods might murmur overhead.
Ah, demons of the whirlwind have a care,
What trumpeting your triumphs ye undo!
The earth once won, begins your long despair
That never, never is his bliss for you.
He breathed betimes this clement island air
and in unwilling lordship saw the blue.   

Santayana's long despair began with the death of this young man. 

Anyone separated from someone deeply loved, regardless of the gender of one's lover, can relate to the emotion expressed in these poems. There was a "before" and "after" this loss in the philosopher's life. The tenderness and sadness in Santayana's soliloquies belong to his affection for England, certainly, but may also be associated with a person he loved and lost to the stupidity of war for which he expressed intense hatred:

To W.P.

With you a part of me hath passed away;
For in the peopled forest of my mind
A tree made leafless by this wintry wind
Shall never don again its green array
Chapel and fireside, country road and bay
Have something of their friendliness resigned;
Another, if I would, I could not find,
And I am grown much older in a day.
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, and young heart's ease,
And the dear honor of your amity;
For these once mine, my life is rich with these
And I scarce know which part may greater be, 
What I keep of you, or you rob from me.  

Where was the poet-philosopher's love "located"? 

The love of this unfortunate young man was associated by Santayana throughout his life with the beautiful Oxford colleges that he visited. Did this love travel with the philosopher on his wanderings"? Was Santayana's love "remembered" something the philosopher sought to escape or to cherish during his later years? Santayana produced a famous essay on Proust and essences in connection with love "remembered" as an expression, perhaps, of this personal tragedy? 

The idea of "love" and "home" also seem to be associated for Santayana suggesting that he "belonged" (if he belonged anywhere) with this love that was expressed in his passion for the arts as well as in ancient university settings. ("Dialectics, Entanglement, and Special Relativity" and "God is Texting Me!")

Love and loss would continue to determine Santayana's philosophical interests and views, shaping those views and producing episodes of deep melancholy. This young man's effect on Santayana's life may be thought of as a kind of "action at a distance." 

Love for a doomed undergraduate was a like a "Higgs field boson," an origination of feeling that remained present throughout the philosopher's life. Professor Greene discusses the concept of "matrix multiplication":

"So rather than labeling an object by what point it's passing through, you need to label its motion by this matrix of degrees of freedom."

There is a wonderful parallel to John MacMurray's philosophy: 

"The distinction between personal and impersonal relations corresponds closely in MacMurray's work to that between love and fear. In positive personal relations, the dominant motive is love. In negative impersonal relations, the dominant motive is fear." (The article on MacMurray and the British philosopher's work is cited in a number of my essays, see "John Finnis and Ethical Cognitivism.") 

Are there different degrees of freedom under each mode of relation, "personal" versus "impersonal"? Only to the extent that human relations are based on what is "personal" is genuine freedom maximized. ("The Naked Ape" and "Protecting Sex Workers.")

We must always choose between love and fear. To choose love (as I believe that Santayana did) is also to choose pain, of course, but for the Spanish-born philosopher and many others love is the only fully human choice. ("'Ex Machina': A Movie Review.") 

Love obviates the need for defenses against others. When we love others we walk towards them with our hands empty of weapons invoking the final wisdom and resignation of Shakespeare's Hamlet ... "let be." ("Shakespeare's Black Prince" and "Law and Literature.") 

Love is ultimate and sometimes agonizing freedom. Hatred is self-enclosure or imprisonment within one's own darkness. Hatred can become spiritual death. Grant Gilmore suggested: "In heaven there are no lawyers and no laws; but hell is full of lawyers and everybody gets due process." 

The Darkest Hour
Oxford, 1917

Smother thy flickering light, the vigil's o'er.
hope, early wounded, of his wounds is dead.
Many a night long he smiled, his drooping head
Laid on thy breast, and that brave smile he wore
Not yet from his unbreathing lips is fled.
Enough: on mortal sweetness look no more,
Pent in this charnel house, fling wide the door
And on the stars that killed him gaze instead.
The world's too vast for hope. 
That unteachable sun
Rises again to reflood his sphere,
Blotting with light what yesterday was done;
But the unavailing truth, though dead, lives on,
And in eternal night, unkindly clear,
A cold moon gilds the waves of Acheron.

    





   




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