Monday, 17 July 2017

Toomas Karmo: More Study Aids for Biblical Hebrew

One of the five or so desktops in my current Debian GNU/Linux 9.0 ("stretch", in the "current stable" branch). Clockwise from upper left: operations clocks (green for local Ontario civil time, red for UTC (Coordinated Universal Time)); a browser shot from one of the various fine YouTube renditions of Yerushalayim shel Zahav (this one is "Jerusalem of Gold - Land Of Promise", by YouTube user "Jewish National Fund", from 2009-12-04, to a length of 3:20, in my corner of the Web under URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPv6DwoPLt0&index=1&list=RDBPv6DwoPLt0); a Debian GNU/Linux /usr/bin/xterm window judiciously configured to display some of my private notes on Hebrew-language resources; a small display of Current Hebrew Gear in my flat; a browser shot from the YouTube rendition of a Pirates of Penzance  philological parody ("I Am the Very Model of a Biblical Philologist", by YouTube user "Josh Tyra", from 2014-12-11, to a length of 3:44, in my corner of the Web under URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3x2SvqhfevE&t=73s). - The Current Hebrew Gear on display comprises my new Hebrew lexicon, with some handwritten flash cards, and additionally the "Basket of Shame" and "Bowl of Hope".  In the Basket of Shame live some of the Pratico-and-Van Pelt vocabulary flash cards which are currently giving me some trouble. In the Bowl of Hope live those vocabulary cards which I seem for the moment to have mastered. - Josh Tyra's song seems to be (rightly) celebrated among students of Hebrew, even as Prof. Tom Lehrer's Lobachevsky Song must be celebrated among students of mathematics. "I dream in Aramaic and interpret it in Syriac," proclaims this vocalist, adding that he can "mumble in Mandaic and hum a little Hurrian" and "tell a surplice from a chasuble or maniple./ And reconstruct the library of ancient Assurbanipal". Particularly fine is his conjecture regarding the probable geographical origin of the Philistines. - Moving though the "Jewish National Fund" "Yerushalayim shel Zahav" rendition is, I would additionally urge everyone to seek out Ofra Haza's still more moving rendition of this same song, in part for its haunting evocation of  modern Hebrew phonetics: search in YouTube under "Ofra Haza Yerushalayim shel Sahav", or try the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH8gtdDA5x0.) - The image can be enlarged by mouse-clicking.

Toomas Karmo: Part H: Perception, Action, and "Subjectivity"


Quality assessment:



On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to reasonable length.


Revision history:


All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 3 hours.

  • 20170718T0251Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo finished converting his point-form outline into coherent full-sentences prose. He started a process of polishing. He reserved the right to upload tiny, nonsubsantive, purely cosmetic tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170718T0002Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded a moderately polished point-form outline. He hoped over the coming 3 hours to convert this into coherent full-sentences prose.

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past months shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity, at any rate when coupled with my erstwhile, out-of-date, Web-authoring uploading browser, to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different downloading browsers. Some downloading browsers have sometimes perhaps not correctly read in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets"  (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing or right-margin justification. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.]




My various "Precepts" from Part B of this multi-installment essay, back on 2017-05-22 or 2017-05-23, were driven in large part by the desire to avoid miscommunication. In writing philosophy, as in writing software documentation, one is mindful of a goal which I understand to have been urged already in classical antiquity, by Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (A.D. 35 - A.D. 100):  Do not seek to communicate so as to be understood. Seek, rather, to communicate in such a way as to be incapable of being misunderstood.

I return to last week's example of seeing green grass, in the joint spirit of the Precepts and of Quintillian spelling everything out again. In doing so, I make 100-percent explicit a few things that were in my previous attempt at exposition, a week ago, just 90-percent or 95-percent explicit. I reiterate, and amplify a little, in two stages, which I number herewith.

(1) As you (the "Gentle Reader") gaze upon sunlit lawn, various things are happening:

  • You are seeing the municipal neighbourhood in seeing the garden.
  • You are seeing the garden in seeing the lawn. 
  • You are seeing the lawn in seeing the grass.
  • You are seeing the grass in seeing a small patch of light upon your retina, cast on the retinal surface by a natural (a ray-converging, and consequently an inverting) lens, situated just inside your cornea. (You might, to be sure, be seeing that patch of light without recognizing that it is among the various things you see. Analogously, Prof. Plum, when striking Colonel Mustard dead with the lead wrench in the conservatory, might get seen without getting recognized.) 
  • You are seeing the small patch of light in seeing a certain event in your optic nerve. (This is an event of a kind not known to the Renaissance anatomist-physiologists, whose inquiries pretty much ended with the retina. The event was, on the other hand, surely known to the physiologists of the early 20th century,  equipped as they surely were with equipment for investigating the electrical behaviour of nerves, including nerves within mammalian heads. Again, this is an event that might get seen without getting recognized.) 
  • You are seeing the event in your optic nerve in seeing a certain event in your visual cortex. (This is an event perhaps not fully mapped even by 21st-century physiology, and therefore an event still more liable to get seen without getting recognized.) 
  • You are seeing the event in your visual cortex in greening. 
(2) Seeing-in is transitive, in the sense that for all lambda, mu, and nu, if you see mu in seeing lambda and see nu in seeing mu, then you see nu in seeing lambda. So, in particular, all the following things, and many others like them, are happening:

  • You are seeing the municipal neighbourhood in seeing the grass.
  • You are seeing the garden in seeing the patch of light on the retina.
  • You are seeing the grass in seeing the event in the visual cortex.
  • You are seeing the garden in greening. 
  • You are seeing the grass in greening. 
  • You are seeing the patch of light on the retina in greening. 
  • You are seeing the event in the optic nerve in greening. 
**** 

In some later installment or installments of this essay, I shall have to comment in one or more ways on the special character of the ultimate, and clearly rather special, term I have identified in the perceptual sequence, namely the greening (where "greening" is something we undergo, as we undergo hurting, hungering, thirsting, or being-nauseous ("sicking")). Already tonight, one small supplementary comment, of a cautionary character, has to be made. The greening is not a thing seen in the sense in which all the other various things - the neuronal events, the light on the retina, the grass, the garden, the municipal neighbourhood - are seen. One sees the grass (and so on) in greening, and yet does not see the grass in seeing the greening. To speak of seeing the greening, in the sense in which one sees public objects like grass and retinal illuminations and neuronal events, is to commit what postwar school-of-Austin-and-Ryle British philosophers used to call a "category mistake" - as when one speaks of buying a price, as opposed to paying a price, or when one speaks of a "high rate of speed" as opposed to a "high rate of change of position" or a "high rate of change of speed".

Lack of due attention to this point is one of the things which tutors in my imagined, and yet only too lifelike,  Tallahassee Swampwater Junior Training College use to help them distinguish an essay deserving a high grade from an essay deserving a lesser grade. (I might remark here that if - as was my own lot, between leaving Britain for Australia in 1978 and having in the Ontario of 1991 the good fortune to get kicked out of academic philosophy - one assigns grades to some tens or hundreds of essays on perception, then students' terminological slides become predictable. I used to write up boilerplate corrections, mindful of the several, or even of the several tens, of students destined all to slip up in the same way, in any one given academic semester. So, late in the evening, grading the thirty-fourth essay from the Dispiriting Pile, I would say in a jaded and world-weary way,  "Ah, now we get the ninth one who is writing of 'seeing sense impressions [or of seeing sense data, or whatever]' in the same way as she or he is writing of 'seeing grass'." And then I would direct my nasty little Cold-War-era computer to print out Boilerplate Corrective Note  G (or H, or whatever - if G was for "seeing sense-impressions", then H was for some different, and yet equally recurrent, problem), for eventual stapling to the essay. When finally handed back to its author, a typical essay would have three or four boilerplate comments from the computer, over and above the necessary red-ink handwritten comments. Working on a university campus gets to be like grading peaches on a packing-house conveyor belt.)

****

For clarity tonight, I also amplify a little last week's story regarding the Paleolithic Diet. For most of the perceptual sequence, questions of match and mismatch are meaningless. (That is the sequence in which - if I might be pardoned for now even reiterating a reiteration - we see nu in seeing mu, and see mu in seeing lambda, and so on and so on - ultimately seeing each of the logically later terms in the sequence (not in seeing the greening, but, I stress) in greening.)

There is no sense in which the grass "colour-matches" or "colour-mismatches" the optic-nerve event, or in which either of these "colour-matches" or "colour-mismatches" the greening. Admittedly, there is one rather banal term in the sequence for which question of colour-match and colour-mismatch do arise. It is perhaps a subliminal awareness of this banal term that might be tempting some people - students of philosophy in their wonted clumsiness, and perhaps even some philosophical authors, down through the decades and centuries- to raise contentless questions of match and mismatch. We can in a banal way ask, "Does the retinal patch of light match or mismatch the grass in colour?" The answer is in a banal way in the affirmative: "Yes, unless the eye is burdened with some pathology, such as a discolouration in the normally clear cornea, or normally clear lens, or normally clear eyeball fluids, the colour of the grass does closely match the colour of that publicly viewable, ophthalmoscope-inspectable, green thing which is the retinal patch-of-light."

Even this, however, is a contingent feature of Homo sapiens vision. Imagine a species of visually aware exotic animals, Ophthalmosaurus kodakii, with a pigmented membrane separating the innermost eyeball fluid from the retina. The chameleon-like, or Kodak-like, membrane changes its tints rapidly,  in a chemical-photography tracking of changes in the viewed scene. One could imagine the membrane assuming something like the colour and light-or-dark aspect of a Kodacolor negative. Placing the animal in front of sunlit grass triggers, perhaps, the formation of reddish pigment in the membrane, while placing it in front of a sunlit tomato-ketchup puddle triggers the formation of greenish pigment. In such a case, one could say, "The image formed by the crystalline lens on the surface of the preretinal membrane matches in colour the various sunlit objects forming the image, and yet the image formed within the membrane systematically mismatches those same objects."

With Homo sapiens, as with the imagined Ophthalmosaurus kodakii, most members of the perceptual sequence still cannot be said either to "match" or to "mismatch" the sunlit object in front of the visually aware anaimal. In particular, the greening of the visually aware Ophthalmosaurus kodakii observer, like the greening of a (visually aware) Homo sapiens observer, cannot be said either to "colour-match" or to "colour-mismatch" the sunlit grass.

****

In "Part G" of this essay, on 2017-07-10 or 2017-07-11, I brought out the impossibility of querying colour-matching and colour-mismatching by telling a story regarding a "Paleolithic Diet". This same story could be developed in other ways. Here is one: you, as the "Gentle Reader", are presented not with the Paleolithic Diet but with shamanic incantations. To your surprise, you find that whenever you intone, in an appropriately scary Uralic manner, "minu-isa-oli-pottsep-ja-kandis-valge-hobusega-LIIIII-va", grass starts looking like ketchup, and ketchup like grass - with things getting back to normal as soon as you stop the intoning. Does the So-Powerful Incantation clear your vision, so that you at last start seeing things "in their true colours", or does it distort your vision? The question lacks content.

Further, this same story can be developed, with the same no-content-to-the-question moral, in terms of intersubjective comparisons. (To be sure, I will have to return to the vast, difficult topic of intersubjectivity in some later installment. Tonight's observation is only a tiny first take, almost a throw-away remark.)

You (the Gentle Reader) and I, as two fellow specimens of Homo sapiens, are together seated at the edge of a sunlit lawn. You have no way of knowing whether my greening is the same as your greening, or on the contrary is the same as your, so to speak, "redding". But suppose (I write tonight briefly, almost as a throw-away) that your greening is indeed like my redding, and your redding indeed like my greening. Then there is no content to the question which of us has "accurate colour vision", and which of us has "systematically distorted colour vision".

The situation parallels a situation with motion duly stressed by Einstein, but treated already by Newton and Galileo. Suppose the cosmos presently, at 12.00 noon, to comprise just two particles, A and B, of negligible mass and negligible electric charge, presently one kilometre apart. Let the two particles move in such a way that their separation diminishes at a steady rate over the next hour, so that by 13.00 they are just one metre apart, with neither particle "subject to a constant-speed acceleration, such as might occur in constant-speed curvilinear motion". (I will take it, without having thought carefully through this perhaps potentially deep question - eventually we do have to ponder at least the scary topic of spinning frames - that we can somehow make rigorous the demand that none of the constant-speed motion be constant-speed curvilinear.) Then for Einstein, Newton, and Galileo alike, there is no content to the question "Which particle was it that really moved?" The only cognitively contentful assessment is a frame-relative assessment: in each rest frame of Particle A, it was Particle B that moved, and in each rest frame of Particle B, it was Particle A that moved.

A similar situation obtains for the Paleolithic Diet (and also, mutatis mutandis, for the shamanic incantation, and for the scenario in which you and I are together on the lawn). With respect to the Post-Paleolithic Diet, it is the Paleolithic Diet that inverts colour vision; and with respect to the Paleolithic Diet, it is the Post-Paleolithic Diet that inverts it; and there is no content to the question, "Which Diet delivers accurate colour vision?"

****

Seven nights ago, I asked whether this frame-relativization principle for colour vision (I quote verbatim) possesses parallels, or on the contrary lacks parallels, in a more basic aspect of human sensory functioning - in the visual perception of mere shapes, and of mere right-left, up-down, orientation. My answer is, "It possesses parallels." (I went on last week to note that - again I quote verbatim -  Some in Departments of Philosophy affirm, following John Locke (1632-1704), that there is a deep logical difference between perception of colour and perception of shape and orientation. Others in Departments of Philosophy deny this. Who, I asked, is right - those who affirm, or those who deny? So tonight I answer, "Those who deny." 

For consider not the difference between sunlit grass and sunlit ketchup, but the difference between the Roman letter R and the final letter of the Russian alphabet, the "Ya" (the я, a "backward R"). Imagine us to have a woollen square and a linen square spread out on the lawn. On the wool is placed a wooden R. On the linen is placed a wooden Ya. To forestall irrelevant complications, let us further imagine that the intended top surface of each wooden letter is marked with a dimple, at the point where the bowl of the letter meets its oblique stroke. (Without the top-surface dimple marker, someone might start quibbling in some way, perhaps, on the basis that a Russian Ya is "merely a Roman R flipped over". With the dimple marker, by contrast, the two wooden letters are three-dimensional mirror reversals of each other, not capable of being brought into superposition by any combination of 3-space (xyz-space) translations and 3-space rotations.)

Suppose now that upon your starting the Paleolothic Diet, or upon your intoning "minu-isa-oli-pottsep-ja-kandis-valge-hobusega-LIIIII-va" (or whatever), the top-dimpled R starts looking to you the way the top-dimpled Ya used to look, and the top-dimpled Ya the way the top-dimpled R used to look. Under which diet (or which vocal régime) were you "seeing shapes accurately"? If no meaningful answer is possible in the case of seeing colour, then equally is no meaningful answer possible in the case of seeing shape.

In terms of some physics and molecular-chemistry literature, the top-dimpled R/top-dimpled Ya difference is one of chirality, or "handedness". This "handedness" example of R and Ya could be developed in various other ways - for instance, by winding two coils from stiff wire, in opposite senses, or indeed by simply laying down on wool and linen, respectively, a bolt with right-handed thread and a bolt with left-handed thread. (In a normal machine shop, bolts tend to have the right-hand thread, as indeed also do normal jars and their normal lids. But left-hand-bolts can be procured.) 

It will be evident how to develop this point also for up-down orientation. The Paleolithic Diet, perhaps, makes the sky suddenly look "down here", the earth suddenly look "up there". This is a different kind of perceptual flip from a chirality-flip.

As far as I can see, the point holds even for visual length comparisons: if the Paleolithic Diet makes circles start looking the way moderately eccentric ellipses used to look, and the moderately eccentric ellipses start looking - depending, I do have to admit, on the orientation of their foci! - either the way circles used to look or the way highly eccentric ellipses used to look , there is no content to the question which dietary régime "makes us see objects in their true shapes". 

[This is the end of the present blog posting. It is hoped that the next installment, "Part I", will appear one or two or three weeks from now.]


_

Monday, 10 July 2017

Toomas Karmo: Study Aids for Biblical Hebrew

Study aids for Biblical Hebrew - a philological topic discussed in my "Further to Mr Kaller: Three Theological Shocks" posting of 2017-07-03 or 2017-07-04. From the bottom of the stack upward: the popularizing 1975 Time-Life book on the pre-Exilic Israelites which I had found so helpful the day before I started that blog posting; my Pratico-and-Van Pelt Hebrew grammar, opened to a page rather dense in pencil annotations; a trusty pencil (with  "B" lead; "B" is perhaps more comfortable than the more usual "HB", both for philology and for mathematics-physics); a laminated four-page study aid, summarizing main grammar points (and therefore useful in raising morale: from glancing at the aid, one can not only recall tricky details in paradigms, but also can accurately gauge how much of the language is already learned, and how much of it remains terra incognita); a trusty evening cuppa. Not shown is a book which I hope to pick up this week from theology shop Crux, on the University of Toronto campus, and which I already last week asked Crux to set aside for me, awaiting pickup  -  W.L. Holladay's Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988). It appears from reader reviews that Holladay is an appropriate first lexicon. The Hebrew professionals (to whose ranks I perhaps can never aspire) will instead work from some such multi-volume reference as L.Köhler, W. Baumartner and J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, (translated and edited by M.E.J.Richardson; as of the year 2001, the Richardson version of Köhler-Bamgartner-Stamm is available for a gut-wrenching 300 USD or 400 USD or so, in an unabridged, and yet specially compact, two-volume "study edition" from Boston publisher Brill; the earlier, half-dozen-volume, publication of this lexicon was still more expensive). 





Toomas Karmo: Part G: Perception, Action, and "Subjectivity"

Quality assessment:



On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to reasonable length.


Revision history:


All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 3 hours.

  •  20170717T2059Z/version 2.1.0: Kmo noticed to his surprise, a week or so late in his revision process, an unfortunate slip: he had written rather obscurely "electrochemical disturbance Q, available in principle (not indeed to Kepler but) to the neurophysiology laboratories of the early 20th century", where what was for clarity required was  "electrochemical disturbance Q in the optic nerve, available in principle (not indeed to Kepler but) to the neurophysiology laboratories of the early 20th century".  Having made this small-and-yet-substantive revision, Kmo reserved the right to upload nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.1.1, 2.1.2, 2.1.3, ... .
  • 20170711T0156Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo finished converting his outline into coherent full-sentences prose. He now started a process of polishing. He reserved the right to upload nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, .. . 
  • 20170711T0003Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded a moderately polished point-form outline. He hoped over the coming 2 hours to convert this into coherent full-sentences prose.

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets"  (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.]


In the last few installments of this multi-part essay, I have tried to articulate, as well as I can, my underlying assumptions (1)  regarding causing (regarding "making-happen") and (2) regarding Other Minds (regarding the existence of "an awareness which is not my own awareness"). 

It is now time to summarize that exposition of underlying assumptions: 

  • For good or ill (for better or worse), I shall here be presupposing a position on causation at variance with an actual, long-dead, rightly respected Scottish authority, to whom we may here refer -  I introduced the reference in "Part C", from 2017-05-29 or 2017-05-30  - as "Darren Gloom" or "Dagwood Spume" or "DEFGH". 
  • For good or ill (for better or worse) I shall here be presupposing a position on Other Minds at variance with an imaginary analogue of DEFGH, the imaginary analyst "Havid Dume", or "HGFED". - Well, in fact "Havid Dume", although imaginary, does have some affinities (as I pointed out in "Part C") with the actual intellectual world. One dimly recalls, from one's reading in that world, the "Curing Test", or the "Luring Test", or something - proposed by some distinguished mathematical logician, soon after the Hitler war. 
Spelling out my divergence from the imagined HGFED proved troublesome. I found in the event that I needed more than just one week's worth of blogging, in my fumbling attempt to take care of a worrisome Philosophy-of-Other-Minds point involving counterfactual conditionals. To summarize that long story: I think that when confronted with radically intelligent, even counterfactually intelligent, verbal behaviour - behaviour that would, counterfactually, even continue seeming intelligent were we, counterfactually, to have administered conversational probes other than the ones we did in fact administer - it remains an open question whether our interlocutor is or is not a possessor of awareness. Are the so-eloquent verbal and facial gyrations, actual and counterfactual, of that fellow member of Homo sapiens (or, again, of that MIT vinyl-and-silicon assemblage) the expressions of a mind other than my own? Or is the so-eloquent fellow human a mere somnanbulist, and the so-eloquent robot a mere unthinking gearbox? It seems to me that the question is open in the sense that both an affirmative and a negative answer are logically coherent. The question seems to me just as much open as the question whether the cosmos is a mere two seconds old, and again just as open as the question whether the parlour furniture continues to exist when not inspected.

I do not say in any of this that the two competing answers in the case of the past, or the two competing answers in the case of the furniture, are equally reasonable. I say only that the question is open in that both competing answers make sense. Neither of them seems incoherent, in the sense in which the notion of a four-sided triangle, or of a married bachelor, is incoherent.

I do realize (here I recapitulate from the "Part F" posting of 2017-06-26 or 2017-06-27) that more needs to be said on DEFGH and HGFED. In particular, I do concede that in arguing, as I have argued over past weeks, that the common speech of humanity embodies reality-of-Causation and reality-of-Other-Minds views at variance with the reductionist DEFGH and the reductionist HGFED, I am dodging deep questions. The deep questions are these: is humanity entitled to embody my two favoured forms of "Realism" in its linguistic practices? I finished my most recent posting in this series (the just-mentioned "Part F") by formally declaring the inadequacy of my (painfully provisional) work, formally raising a "superficiality flag".

****

Having finished exhibiting my underlying assumptions (and having therein, I reiterate, raised my humiliating Flag), I can now at long last return to the main thread of the discussion - following now, with moderate closeness, the outline I published in "Part B", back on 2017-05-22 or 2017-05-23, under the subheading "2. General Project Preview, Through Three Quick-and-Sloppy Fragments".

It is helpful tonight to reproduce, verbatim, the beginning that I made in "Part C" (from 2017-05-29 or 2017-05-30) in converting the outline into a formal exposition:

/.../ Imagine that when walking in town one day, you feel a throbbing pain when you are at the intersection of First Avenue and A Street. Imagine further that as you proceed up First Avenue, the throbbing pain subsides, only to be replaced by a steady nausea when you reach First Avenue and B Street - with this nausea itself subsiding as you leave the intersection behind, on your way up First Avenue to C Street.  Imagine, further, that everyone with whom you discuss the topography of First Avenue reports a pain and a nausea similar to yours, localized to that same pair of intersections.

Maybe everyone's reports are consilient as a matter of sheer coincidence - as when fifty tossed dimes all, astonishingly, land heads-up. (Person A, as it were, had an attack of indigestion from bad pickles upon approaching First and B, and Person B coincidentally had an attack of indigestion at this same intersection from a bout of flu, and so on.) But it would be reasonable to suspect that, far from coincidences being in play, there is something at that pair of intersections which is making everyone feel pain in the one place and nausea at the other. If (if, I stress) the suspicion of common causes is true, then it would be a reasonable use of language to say, "There is a throbbing Pain at the intersection of First Avenue and A Street, and a steady Sick at the intersection of First Avenue and B Street." Although such a use of language would depart from English idiom, it would be coherent: i.e., would possess a well-grasped meaning.

Later on, inquiries could be mounted, to determine what the Pain and the Sick are. Two broad kinds of outcome are possible.

(I) The inquiries may have an outcome favourable from the standpoint of existing natural science. It might turn out that, e.g., everyone is made to be in pain by some concealed loudspeakers, vibrating powerfully at some subsonic frequencies cunningly selected for resonance with the bones of the
Homo sapiens  middle ear, and that the nausea  is induced in everyone by the same colourless gas, venting from some cunningly concealed nozzle. In that case, people would say, "Well, the Pain is a subsonic atmospheric vibration, and the Sick is a gas possessing such-and-such a molecular formula."

(II) The inquiries may lead to no outcome favourable from the standpoint of existing natural science. In that case, people will be like astrophysicists grappling with Dark Matter and Dark Energy: they will aver that there are some easily human-perceptible things on First Avenue (assemblages of non-baryonic matter, perhaps?) whose nature is as yet mysterious. 

Two possible sub-cases now present themselves.

(II.a) Perhaps the Pain and the Sick will prove frustratingly thin in their phenomenology - never moving around, for instance, and never in other ways changing, and so not lending themselves to any very pleasing mathematics.

(II.b) Perhaps, on the other hand, close observation will disclose a more or less rich phenomenology - with the Pain, perhaps, migrating up First Avenue at certain times of the month, and upon reaching B Street either passing unimpeded through the Sick or else pushing the Sick along with it. - In this "II.b" sub-case, people will be able to write out "laws" regarding the behaviour of the Sick and the Pain, and these "laws" might ultimately prove to be just as detailed, and just as amenable to exact mathematical formulation, as the laws governing the movements of electrons and protons in electric and magnetic fields. With laws to hand, it will eventually be suggested that the Sick and the Pain are as well understood as the electron and proton themselves, even while in a sense belonging, perhaps, "to a different Kingdom of Matter, with which ordinary baryonic matter has few points of contact outside the physiology of
Homo sapiens observers". 

Tonight I have to carry on from where I left off, with the "Part C" passage just quoted. 

****

Whichever of the various possibilities "I", "II.a", or "II.b" obtains, people will in any case admit the likelihood that there is something out there on First Avenue - something which is "likely making people be (causing people to be) in pain and sick". (They will, in making this admission, be using the language of "making" and "causing" in a sense I have urged in opposition to the reductionist-minded DEFGH.) 

Tonight I note that the imagined situation with First Avenue differs at most in degree, and not in kind, from humanity's real-world sensory dealings. You sit, Gentle Reader, outdoors, momentarily lifting your gaze from laptop computer to (let us suppose) a sunlit lawn. In the imagined First Avenue scenario, people undergo one kind of thing at the intersection of First Avenue and A Street, and a different kind of thing at the intersection of First Avenue and B Street. For what they undergo at the former intersection, there is a ready idiom, in English and Estonian alike: "We are hurting"/"Me valutame." For what they undergo at the latter intersection, there is no ready idiom, whether in English or in Estonian. French fares a little better - "J'ai mal ici" - "I am sicking here," or literally "I have-sick here" (by analogy with "J'ai soif"/"I am thirsting", or literally "I have-thirst"; "J'ai faim"/"I am hungering", or literally "I have-hunger" - as also with the German "Ich habe Hunger"). 

But these are superficial points of idiom. It would be easy enough to neologize, saying "Everyone who walks through First Avenue and B Street starts sicking."

Consider now the experience of gazing upon sunlit lawn. With the eyes open, and with the afternoon light good, one is undergoing something, for which it is again appropriate to neologize: one is "greening". Such language would indeed become natural and commonplace if we became habitual visitors to neurophysiology labs. As the technicians gradually dial up the voltage applied to electrodes in our cranial cortex, they could appropriately ask us not "Are you hurting now?" but "Are you greening now?" (One possible answer: "Yes, now I am starting to green, just a little, amid all my greying, as when I am out on the lawn under the last light of an evening sky - and now I am greening pretty strongly, almost as strongly as I green when I am out on the lawn in mid-afternoon.") 

I dimly recall some eminent Oxford Catholic philosopher from the 1950s onward, with some such name as Prof. Elizabeth Honeycombe, writing in an illuminating way on action and intention. I seem to recall others - in the USA, a Prof. Arthur C. Dante, or Prof. Arthur C. Dango, or something of the kind - developing related ideas.

"Prof. Honeycombe" and "Prof. Dango" and others, at least as I recall them, used to point out that one thing can get done "in" doing another. An example: in moving one's hand, one can be moving one's pen; and in moving one's pen, one can be signing one's name. A second example: in moving one's hand, one can be transferring a little wooden horse from one region on a chequered wooden panel to a different region; and in moving the little wooden horse, one can be putting a King into checkmate.

I presume the formal structure of doing-in has been explored by "Prof. Honeycombe", or by "Prof. Dango", or by related writers. Without bothering to ponder this carefully tonight, I merely put on record my own impression that doing-in is transitive. If, e.g., one is moving a little wooden horse in moving one's hand, and is putting a King into checkmate in moving the little wooden horse, then one is putting a King into checkmate in moving one's hand.

Whether doing-in is or is not symmetrical, I am not at this instant sure. But I am inclined to write "not symmetrical" - and even more boldly, to write "asymmetrical". If, e.g., one is signing a lease in moving one's pen, then I think it does not follow that one is moving one's pen in signing a lease. And I think it even follows (here we move from mere failure-of-symmetry to outright success-of-asymmetry) that one is not moving one's pen in signing a lease.

Fortunately, so far as I can see tonight, nothing in my work here, as tentatively planned for all the upcoming weeks, is going to require me to explore this formal question of asymmetry, or the further formal question of "connectedness" - to take a stance, in other words, either for or against the proposition that for all x, A, V, and W, if x is V-ing in A-ing, and is W-ing in A-ing, then either x is V-ing in W-ing or x is W-ing in V-ing.

As for "Prof. Honeycombe" and "Prof. Dango" and other such authorities on action, so too, I note tonight, for the philosophy of perception. (Has someone, somewhere, since I left the Departments of Philosophy in 1991, actually developed the "Honeycombe"/"Dango" philosophy-of-action ideas in the direction of perception? If so, then perhaps some kind reader could send me an e-mail, telling me what publications to read? As always, the appropriate address is Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.) In greening, you, the Gentle Reader currently sitting by your lawn, are seeing sunlit grass. Further, in seeing sunlit grass, you are seeing a garden (of which the lawn is one part), and are seeing a neighbourhood (of which the garden is one part).

****

I next note that this chain of seeing-in has not only the evident outward links just mentioned, but also links of a more recondite kind - not evident to common sense, and yet evident enough to anatomists. Not only is it the case that in greening you are seeing the lawn: it is also the case that in greening you are seeing a small patch of greenish light on the surface of a Homo sapiens retina. It is a patch of light at most a few millimetres across. Its upper edge (the part closes to your hairline) corresponds to that part of the lawn which is closest to your chair. Its lower edge (the part closest to your teeth) corresponds to that part of the lawn which is farthest from your chair. (The correspondence has this rather awkward inverting twist because, rather awkwardly, the patch of light is formed by a convex, and therefore inverting, crystalline lens, just inside your cornea.) So a fuller description of the perceptual situation is the following: In greening, you see a patch of light on a Homo sapiens retina; and in seeing that patch of light, you see the lawn; and in seeing the lawn, you see the garden; and in seeing the garden, you see the neighbourhood. 

If the "patch of light" link in this asserted chain seems odd, it is helpful to recall that we can on any adequate account of perception be on occasion seeing something without realizing what it is we see. The prosecuting barrister asks you, as you stand in the witness box at the Old Bailey, "Did you see Prof. Plum in the conservatory, on the night Colonel Mustard was found dead beside that lead pipe which you have just affirmed for the Court to be Exhibit Q?" A properly careful answer to this will be something like the following: Well, I did, although I did not realize it at the time. I saw a flash of something purple, and I thought it might have been one of the observatory peacocks. But an hour later, when guests came down to dinner, I realized that what I had glimpsed in the conservatory was likely to have been Prof. Plum. For at dinner Prof. Plum was in his loudly iridescent purple blazer, which I believe to be the item entered by the Crown as Exhibit R in this Court [and so on, and so on].

(There is a tight parallel here with the formalities of action. It is possible to be (a) Y-ing in X-ing, and aware that one is X-ing without being aware that one is Y-ing, and (b) to be Y-ing in X-ing, and aware that one is Y-ing without being aware that one is X-ing. One might be, in practicing the bagpipes, traumatizing the neighbours. It is easy to do the former without realizing that one is doing the latter. Conversely, one might, in closing Relay 17 behind the motorcar dashboard, be signalling a left turn - aware enough that one is doing the latter, and yet (being untrained in motor mechanics) unaware that one is doing the former.)

The seen patch of green light is in no sense a "sense datum" or "sense impression", being fully public. It can in principle be inspected with an ophthalmoscope. That it is in seeing it that the lawn is seen is a fact which, while not obvious, was nevertheless already available in principle to the Renaissance anatomists (and, I gather from  https://web.stanford.edu/class/history13/earlysciencelab/body/eyespages/eye.html, was grasped by, or was on the verge of being grasped by, Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler).

In moving from lawn to retinal surface, we are moving inward in the Homo sapiens body. This exploration can be taken a little farther. Not only is the lawn seen in seeing the green patch; the green patch is itself seen in seeing some electrochemical disturbance Q in the optic nerve, available in principle (not indeed to Kepler but) to the neurophysiology laboratories of the early 20th century. Finally, Q itself is seen in seeing something P, for all I know a thing not yet fully mapped by the anatomists - a pattern of electrochemical activity not proceeding along the optic nerve, but instead occurring deeper within the human body, in the visual cortex.

In all of this, I note, the fact that we can be blissfully unaware of seeing the patch of retinal light - or unaware of seeing it in seeing Q, or unaware of seeing Q in seeing P - is no different in principle from the banal courtroom witness-stand fact that we can be seeing Prof. Plum without being aware of seeing him.

****

I now come to a fundamental thesis, which I shall have to defend in the next installment of this essay, one or two or three or so weeks from tonight: there is no sense in which the greening either "matches" or "mismatches" the grass.

Suppose that, having resolved to improve your lifestyle, you embark on the celebrated Paleolithic Diet. No sooner have you begun the Diet, so rich in nuts and meats, than your colour vision is disturbed. Grass suddenly assumes for you the colour aspect of tomato ketchup, and ketchup the aspect of grass (and so on for all other red and green things - the world seems to you to flip in the way a colour-television scene would flip if a technician were to interchange the R and G links between video amplifier and display screen). As you discontinue the Diet, your vision snaps back to its previous condition. As you resume the Diet, the disturbance recurs.

What has happened? Was your colour vision accurate when you were not on the Diet, only to be perturbed when you went Paleolithic? Or was it, rather, the case that your colour vision had been systematically distorted by the malign industrial foods on ordinary grocery shelves - the salt, the sugar, the wheat, the beans - to be rendered veracious by the austere régime of our virtuous Paleolithic ancestors? ("Wretches!" proclaims a Pythagorean fragment, in what I picture as an authentically Paleolithic, Google-searchable diet-fad, spirit: "Utter wretches! Keep your hands from beans!")

I leave it to the reader to anticipate, as relatively easy homework, how I shall have to develop this theme in the next installment. (I shall have to draw parallels with Einsteinean, or indeed with Galilean-Newtonian, mechanics, in which "All motion is frame-relative", and "There is no one privileged inertial frame of reference": how will these parallels go?)

As a further, less easy, piece of homework, the reader can consider whether the point I have just started developing for colour vision possesses parallels, or on the contrary lacks parallels, in a more basic aspect of human sensory functioning - in the visual perception of mere shapes, and of mere right-left, up-down, orientations. Some in Departments of Philosophy affirm, following John Locke (1632-1704), that there is a deep logical difference between perception of colour and perception of shape and orientation. Others in Departments of Philosophy deny this. Who is right - those who affirm, or those who deny?

[This is the end of the present blog posting. It is hoped that the next installment, "Part H", of the multi-part perception-and-action essay will be uploaded one or two or three or so weeks from today.]




Monday, 3 July 2017

Toomas Karmo: Further to Mr Kaller: Three Theological Shocks

Quality assessment:



On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to reasonable length.


Revision history:


All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 3 hours.


  • 20170705T1457Z/version 3.1.0: Kmo corrected a thoroughly embarrassing error regarding the Office of the Hours. (He had thought, as a layman who has not ventured beyond Laudes Matitutinae, Hora Vespera, and Completorium, that the present canonical schedule is eightfold, when in fact it is sevenfold - with the pre-Vatican II  "Prime" now excised.) - Kmo slightly improved his reference to ancient (pre-Roman) scriptural redactors, by writing of "pasting-together". - Kmo somewhat expanded  his questions for the author of http://www.hebrew4christians.com. - Kmo reserved the right to make further tiny, purely cosmetic, nonsubstantive tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.1.1, 3.1.2, 3.1.3, ... . 
  • 20170704T2042Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo finished converting an undisplayed upgrade of his displayed "version 2.0.0" point-form outline into full-sentences prose. He was now about to start polishing his "version 3.0.0". He reserved the right to make tiny, purely cosmetic, nonsubstantive tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170704T0341Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo uploaded a much-polished point-form outline. 
  • 20170704T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded a point-form outline which was itself not correctly polished. He hoped to continue working on this essay over the coming 3 or 4 hours, improving the point-form outline and converting at least part of it into full-sentences prose. He feared he might have to finish the full-sentences-prose part of his work later still, perhaps around 20170704T1700Z.


[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets"  (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.]



Last week, I reprinted, with Eire-based journalist Brian Kaller's kind permission, Mr Kaller's essay "The Past is a Foreign Country". This was originally published two or three or so weeks ago, at  http://restoringmayberry.blogspot.ca/2017/06/the-past-is-foreign-country.html.

Mr Kaller urges our reconnecting with our cultural roots. A large part of Mr Kaller's desired reconnection, indeed in the view of many (myself included) a part central to Mr Kaller's aim, is a reconnecting with our spiritual traditions. 

Mr Kaller and I both write as Catholics. These days, people everywhere have their hilarious stories of inauthentic spirituality. I refrain, even in mirth, from pointing fingers at the Protestant Christian (post-1500) world, at the New Age (post-1960) world, or at other faith traditions postdating the fall of Imperial Rome. I instead confine myself to Catholicism.

Catholicism is an intercontinental way of life equally familiar to Mr Kaller and to me, and familiar also to many in our respective readerships. Catholicism might be said to go back to a Passover Seder (or perhaps, depending on how you read the Gospel of John, to a mere Seder-like meal, within Passover Week) from between A.D. 32 and A.D. 34. This makes Catholicism older than most of the theological traditions nowadays on offer - excepting, of course, the still-more-venerable Judaism from which Catholicism sprang. Catholicism has, on the other hand, been sorely buffeted over the generations, including our own.

The story I am about to relate rings reasonably true to my impressions of Ontario Catholicism. It sounds, to my ears, reasonably believable, even though a hasty Google fact-checking effort in the afternoon of 2017-07-03 bore me no fruit:

The year is 1975 or so. An Ontario parish is approaching the culmination of its Mass, with the Victim now present in Paten and Chalice under the respective forms of bread and wine. The approach is being made in a spirit of Vatican II liturgical "updating". [However ill-instructed this particular parish might have been, I cannot believe it would actually have stepped into heresy or schism through an outright denial of the "Real Presence" Eucharistic teaching.] As the People of God step forward for Eucharist, the choir launches into song. Their song stands far from Gregorian chant, or even from earnest prewar Anglo-Saxon Catholic-cum-Anglican-cum-Presbyterian-cum-Methodist hymnody. And yet it is familiar enough from the Canadian stage or the Canadian screen. [Although I have not myself seen the film, I do know the tune from radio.] So I imagine lots of people, as they step forward for the Eucharist that is supposed to be the apex of their week, are kinda-sorta pleased: 

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star


[and so on, and so on]

What can we do, in our own private efforts as individual lay Catholics, for reconnection with cultural roots - especially in the face of such unbearably, and tragically, comic vulgarity? It is necessary to read our New Testaments - notably our Gospels and our Paul - intelligently, informing ourselves on their historical context. This means venturing, in as serious and thorough a way as may prove feasible for us in our particular individual circumstances, into the Old Testament. At all points in our (perhaps modest) Hebrew explorations, we shall have to be mindful firstly that the Gospels were in part written for readerships versed in the canonical Hebrew books, and secondly that Paul was himself a professed theologian, of formidable Pharisee-faction credentials.

The Old Testament is in any case (quite apart from our urgent contemporary Catholic need to read it) gripping at the level of secular literature. Its fascination outclasses even the powerful pull of Virgil, Caesar, and Cicero. With those great Romans, we are spending pleasant hours inspecting dried, meticulously arranged, blossoms, on the heavy paper sheets of a herbarium. With the Old Testament, on the other hand, we are outdoors, in rain and wind and sun, intent on field botany. I do not denigrate Latin literature. And yet how much truer to Real Life - how much more like a thing written by some creative Facebooker or blogger this very morning - is that chaotic little library we call the Old Testament!

I do write "chaotic" and "library" advisedly. The chaos comes from violent ancient pastings-together (and perhaps even cuttings-out) before the text assumed the carefully conserved form we find in our official Bibles (and which the philology professors have found also, to everyone's relief, in the big ceramic jars at Qumran, greatly though Qumran does antedate the conventionally received manuscripts). Persons desiring an impression of the violent ancient pastings-together have only to ponder the two strains present in the Genesis creation-of-humans narrative - how did Eve get made? -  by (for instance) glancing at footnotes in that Catholic-student workhorse which is the New Jerusalem Bible.

As for "library": this, not "book" in the singular, is the term needed for a collection so bulky, and also so varied in literary genres, styles-within-genre, and periods of composition. One must on no account get misled by our modern printing technology, which - wisely enough forsaking the scrolls, baskets, and jars of our encumbered remote forefathers - compresses the whole collection between a single pair of covers, through setting type densely onto some hundreds of pages.

The Trueness to Life comes despite - or rather, in some ways comes despite, in other ways comes because of - that so-exotic little library's atavistic, Epic-of-Beowulf, Kalevala-and-Kalevipoeg, attachment to the fabulous and grotesque. As the troubled history of Estonia, with 1944 exile and disapora and post-1991 homecoming, is only a shadow of the Major Thing - the history of Jewish suffering from the successive destructions of the Divided Kingdoms up to the happier modern days of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion - so also our Fenno-Ugric narrative pragmatisms and extravagances pale in comparison with that exotic little library. I will cite a few examples, paraphrasing from memory or quoting from the New Jerusalem Bible, and perhaps stressing more the pragmatic than the (so easily found) extravagant:

  • Before the Twelve Tribes have kings, they have "Judges", who [so I gather] combine the modern functions of counsellor and arbitrator. Hebrew society is patriarchal to the core. And yet, writes Judges 4:4,5: "Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel /.../. She used to sit under Deborah's Palm between Ramah and Bethel in the highlands of Ephraim, and the Israelites would come to her for justice."
  • The attributes of a Practical Wife, some centuries after Deborah, are seen by the poet-author of Proverbs 31 to include skills in real estate, not to mention the possession of a certain sway within the municipality: "She gets up while it is still dark/ giving her household their food,/  giving orders to her serving girls.// She sets her mind on a field, then she buys it;/ with what her hands have earned she plants a vineyard./.../ She holds out her hands to the poor,/she opens her arms to the needy.// Snow may come, she has no fears for her household,/with all her servants warmly clothed.// She makes her own quilts,/ she is dressed in fine linen and purple.// Her husband is respected at the city gates,/ Taking his seat among the elders of the land."
  • Military trouble: one or more of the Twelve Tribes convert the X People to the Hebrew faith (for some value of "X", which of course I forget), and impose the requisite circumcision, and then hack the X People to bits while they are still in pain from their so-elective surgery.
  • The Chomsky-like or Solzhenitsyn-like Ezekiel is commanded on Divine authority to bake bread from wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, and to eat it lying on his side for 390 days: "Of this food, you are to weigh out a daily portion of twenty shekels and eat it a little piece at a time." The awkward proceeding is to be a testimony against Ezekiel's faithless people, for "this is how the Israelites will have to eat their defiled food, wherever I disperse them among the nations." [Well, actually, unlike Chomsky and Solzhenitsyn, Ezekiel is the social critic who does stuff in mime, as an ancient Marcel Marceau. Today's seminary professors, I gather, find his Hebrew prose style drab, in contrast with the majesty of Isaiah. But being strong in mime does count for much.] "You are to eat this bread in the form of a barley cake baked where they can see you, on human dung. /.../ I then said, Lord [DIVINE-NAME], my soul is not defiled. From my childhood until now, I have never eaten an animal that has died a natural death or been savaged; no tainted meat has ever entered my mouth. 'Very well,' he said, 'I grant you cow-dung instead of human dung; you are to bake your bread on that.'" 
If one had to compose a publisher's blurb for this astounding bookshelf, one could perhaps write, "Real People, Doing Real Things". So, I repeat, it is a good idea to learn Hebrew - certainly from the standpoint of Catholicism, but even from the standpoint of being in a secular sense instructed.

At the moment, I am about halfway through my seminary-level textbook, Gary Pratico's and Miles Van Pelt's Basics of Biblical Hebrew. I have covered essentially all elements of noun-adjective-pronoun syntax - the hard-to-remember vowel changes such as "Propretronic Reduction" (some long vowels become short when their nouns, through acquiring suffixes, leave the problematic vowel too far from the vowel that carries the stress), the "Compensatory Lengthening", the charming little Daghesh-Forte dot that goes with the definite article often-but-not-always, the "Construct Chain", and so on. (The extravagantly Levantine flavour of this philology might be conveyed by taking a Pratico-and-Van Pelt "Construct Chain" example from Judges 9:11: "all of the family of the house of the father of his mother" - or as I would myself prefer to write it, "all-of/the-family-of/the-house-of/the-father-of/his mother".) Further, I have worked through the inner core of the verb, whose subsequent layered intricacies consume the still-to-be-studied second half of Pratico and Van Pelt. What I have so far worked through are verbs in the Qal stem, in both Perfect and Imperfect, both Strong and Weak, including the "Waw" (or "Vav") Consecutive.

This is now enough, as I realized upon taking stock on 2017-07-03, to enable the actual thinking of Hebrew thoughts, in the same spirit as I offered to students of Estonian in my blogspot posting of 2017-02-06 or 2017-02-07. (That was "Part B" of the multi-installment essay "Practicalities of Studying Estonian". Specially relevant in "Part B" is the material under subheading "3.4 An Exercise in Estonian Thinking".) For with the Construct Chain, the pronouns and pronominal suffixes, the definite article, and related topics covered, and with a translation to hand, one can hope to read the original in at least a gappy sort of way, confining one's translation-crutch gap-fillers to the verbs (when these are, moreover, Imperative, Infinitive Construct, Infinitive Absolute, or Participle, in the six non-Qal stems - the commonplace Qal Perfect and Qal Imperfect now rank, fortunately, as terra bene cognita).

To reach this admittedly modest stage took me a rather long time. GNU/Linux flat-ASCII timelogs show my Brian-Keller-spirited project to have kicked off on 2009-11-01, racking up 169 hours, 26 minutes by 2013-12-09. Then I gave up, in boredom and discouragement, until 2016-02-10. On or around 2016-02-10, I took fresh inspiration from some good Web materials (distinct, however, from the still deeper, still more thrilling Web materials I am going to cite as one of this week's "theological shocks"). By the end of last week, I had reached a cumulative Hebrew total of 280 hours and 2 minutes. It has been a matter of grabbing a little time here, a little time there - perhaps 30 minutes on some good morning, and then no time at all for a couple of busy or depressed days, and then once again grabbing 30 minutes on each of two or three days.

But now there is something of a watershed. I want to chronicle it this week as a matter of urgency, even for the present week neglecting my ongoing duty to write on the analytical philosophy of perception and action. What I have to put on record this week is a triple personal theological earthquake from the Sunday which was 2017-07-02.

****

What I categorize as the first shock was my unexpectedly finding, in a place I had not thought of examining, an adequately reasonable - and eminently Judaism-centred - discussion of a question in Catholic religious philosophy. What does Saint Thomas Aquinas mean by calling the Divinity "Pure Being", completely "simple" and fully actualized to the exclusion of all mere "potency"?

When I was still in academic philosophy, I spent twelve or so months (from 1987 September through 1988 August) at Indiana's University of Notre Dame, wrestling with this question. In the end, I did not achieve much. So I think Notre Dame ended up wasting money on my salary. I did, I think, dimly note back then, possibly from a remark made by Notre Dame authority Prof. Alvin Plantinga, an anticipation of Saint Thomas Aquinas in a place one would least expect it - namely, in the pages of one of the more primitive works in the Scary Little Library, Exodus 3. On 2017-07-02, however, I found to my surprise that the possible Exodus 3 foreshadowing, which seems to have registered with me just faintly at Notre Dame back in 1987 or 1988, is in fact well known. I was reading in a popularizing work on Jewish history, the 1975 Time-Life Books volume The Emergence of Man: The Israelites. Here is what I found. (Although the author makes no mention of Saint Thomas, those particular dots are easily connected.) My popularizing author's passage becomes particularly poignant because it captures two disparate things - a possible anticipation of high philosophy in Exodus 3, and then the possible incomprehension of Moses's immediate successors. I quote with redactions, replacing the author's use of the Name with "[NAME]", and his use of the Name's written four-letter name-of-Name with "[TETRAGRAMMATON]". (In reading Hebrew aloud, one is asked by tradition to make a different kind of adjustment, reading those four letters not phonetically but as the word - common, I think, even in ancient secular Hebrew political contexts - for "Lord".) 

/.../ there is much evidence that, far from being Egyptian in origin, the idea of the personal god is Semitic. In Exodus, the Israelites' god comes into sharp relief and takes on some new characteristics.

First, he has acquired the name [NAME]. In ancient Hebrew - whose alphabet had few, if any, vowels - the word is written [TETRAGRAMMATON], and the same four consonants occur in different forms of the Hebrew verb "to be." This fact has led some scholars to link the name to various concepts of being.

By the Biblical account Moses, standing with his hands in front of his face to shield it from the radiance of the vision before him, asks his god: "If I go to the Israelites and tell them that the God of their forefathers has sent me to them, and they ask me his name, what shall I say?" The answer in the the original Hebrew text is cryptic: it reads Eheyeh-asher-Eheyeh. Since the dawn of Biblical study and translation, that answer has been rendered with variations of phrasing; but it has always convened the same general sense: "I AM; that is who I am. Tell them that I AM has sent you to them."

Scholars have filled pages on the meaning of that enigmatic phrase, and on the name [NAME] that derives from it; but they can come to no agreement. One theory is that [TETRAGRAMMATON] meant "I am" in the sense of everlasting existence. The important point, however, is that by the time [TETRAGRAMMATON] was committed to writing - which did not happen for at least 200 years after the desert journey, during which the name first came into use - the Israelites themselves had probably lost track of the original meaing; they held the name [NAME] sacred simply because it designated their god.

They also incorporated it extensively in naming their children, following a common practice of the times. Like the Egyptian pharaohs Thutmose, Ptahmose and Ramses, Near Easterners generally made extensive use of their gods' names in their own. For example, the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal's name incorporates that of the god Ashur. The Israelites applied the name [NAME] to their priests and prophets as well as to their offspring - either as a way of invoking the god's favour for the individual or of offering a prayer of thanks. Familiar examples, in which the last element of the name - iah - is a form of [NAME], include Hezekiah (meaning "[NAME] is my strength"), Jeremiah ("May [NAME] lift up") and Nehemiah ("[NAME] has comforted"). 

Is the Time-Life author being eccentric? A quick glance at the one suitable scholarly resource on my rather thinly stocked shelves, namely the old Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968) suggests, reassuringly, that the author is in the scholarly mainstream. For in the old Jerome Biblical Commentary, we again find an endorsement of the link with "to be", and the added promising detail that the Exodus 3 "to be" verb "can only be a causative Hiphil". (Alas, my knowledge of verbs presently extends only through the Qal stems, and so does not presently embrace the Other Six, in whose menacing ranks stands Hiphil. But the Hiphil reference is promising. The experience is a little like serving Sherlock Holmes as some fumbling Watson, and managing to note that yes, a helpful fingerprint indeed appears on that bloodied lead pipe beside Colonel Mustard's dying cranium, on the conservatory floor.)

The old Jerome does admittedly mention also a competing interpretation, on which Exodus 3 conveys the refusal of the Divinity to divulge a name. But the competing interpretation is given only for the sake of completeness - as an alternative for the view that the old Jerome, in consonance with Sunday's popularizing Time-Life author, favours.

My little discovery suggests that I must now keep working, somehow, even on philosophical problems - committed though I must always remain to my more respectable chosen fields of physics, astronomy, mathematics, and practical computing. I think I will have to keep philosophy simmering on a back burner, resisting the temptation to dump it brusquely into the darkness of the freezer chest.

My 1987/1988 failure at Notre Dame notwithstanding, I do know that some modest sense can be made of the old Aristotelian-Thomist dictum that "There is a scientific discipline studying being as such, and the properties which being has insofar as it is being." Various rigorous things, admittedly falling short of  Exodus 3 conceptual heights, can be said about being-as-such.

For instance, we can and must contrast being-knotted (an "accidental mode of being") with being-a-knot (the "substantial being" which is necessarily had by the knot in the rope, for all such times as the rope stays in its present knotted condition). - A further example of this same general point: we can and must contrast glowing (an "accidental mode of being" which might befall a radar screen) with being-a-glow (the "substantial being" that is necessarily had by the blip in the screen, as long as that present glowing continues).

A fully worked-out theory here must - this much I did note at Notre Dame - regard the knot's being-in-existence-now as proceeding "in" the rope's being-knotted-now. In general, the idea must be that one thing's existing can proceed "in" another thing's taking on one or another mode of accidental being. This is formally a little like - the formal analogy should perhaps not be pressed too hard - the idea to which I must return next week or thenabouts, in future installments of my perception-and-action essay: we see the coffee cup "in" seeing a patch of light on the retinal surface, and even that little patch of light we see "in" seeing some recondite cranial neuronal event.

Again, we can and must develop, as an exercise in quantified tense logic, complete with various axiomatizations in the manner of Arthur N. Prior (1914-1969) and various corresponding canonical-model completeness proofs with reference to formal semantics in the spirit of Prof. Saul Kripke (1940-), a view of existence on which to exist is to have a property.  Such properties can themselves be tensed or modalized: a presently existing bird, for instance, might have the (tensed) property of being-destined-17-days-from-now-to-be-pulling-on-at-least-one-worm, and the (modalized) property of being not-actually-and-yet-nevertheless-possibly flying. Formally, we have to upgrade the usual notation for tensed predicate logic, writing open variables not only as suffixes to predicate letters but additionally as prefixes. On the appropriate notation, "xF17y R yx" means "x now has the property of being-such-that 17-days-from-now y has the property of being such that y R-eth x". This entails (writing the usual existential quantifier "Ex" for "at least one entity x is such that" and the usual existential quantifier "Ey" for "at least one entity y is such that")  "Ex F17 Ey y R-eth x", and also entails the logically weaker "F17 Ex Ey y R-eth x", and yet does not entail "Ex Ey F17 y R-eth x" (since it could be that no two things now existing are destined to be 17 days from now related to each other as R-er and R-ed; a bird existing now might be destined to be pulling on a worm that has not yet come into existence).

Again, we can and must explore "adverbial modes of being". It is one thing to be glowing, and a different thing to be glowing dimly. We additionally can and must explore "iterated adverbial modes of being", as when we distinguish a radar screen's glowing-dimly-through-a-filter from its glowing-through-a-filter dimly.

It may conceivably prove in some way helpful to link substantial being with adverbial modes of being, by saying that just as glowing can be going-on-dimly, so "izzing" can be going-on-glowingly (when a glow exists), and also going-on-screenly (when a screen exists), or for that matter going-on-sparrowly (when a sparrow exists) and going-on-wormly (when a worm exists). Is the fact that, in general, "x Q-eth M-ly N-ly" and "x Q-eth N-ly M-ly" have different truth-conditions of potential relevance here, as we struggle - perhaps by introducing neologisms such as "izzeth wormly" - to disentangle the quasi-mathematical formalities of being from the limitations of the so-sloppy human languages that are the longstanding, so painfully limited, traditional Homo sapiens tools for describing being?

Such formal investigations comprise a field, explored somewhat in Greek and mediaeval times, and subsequently perhaps left lying rather fallow, that might be termed "formal metaphysics" or "analytical metaphysics". The field is at least in part to be investigated with the mathematical or para-mathematical tools of quantified modal logic ("modal operators with predicates and quantifiers") and quantified tense logic ("tense operators with predicates and quantifiers") - eventually including even sortal-relativized quantifiers, in the spirit of the recently departed Catholic logician-philosopher Prof. Peter Geach (1916-2013).  (At this point I have had, for the third time in this week's writing, to name a philosopher's name, in defiance of my as-a-general-rule-necessary Igominy and Humiligation Precept from 2017-05-22 or 2017-05-23.)

Part of the theory here is that u can be the same S as, and yet a different T from v.  - I indeed argued at the Cambridge Moral Sciences Club in a short visit around 1982 that even the notion of equivalence relation has to be sortal-relativized, with binary relation sigma being "an equivalence relation on Ss", and yet "not an equivalence relation on Ts".

At Cambridge, they somehow saw my radical sortal-relativization as in some sense a successful reductio ad absurdum  of Prof. Geach. Prof. Geach (I do not think he was in town when I read my paper) at some stage intimated to me that I had developed his ideas in an incorrect way. Well, we'll see. Some younger person may some day be able to take up some of this stuff where I have left off.

Perhaps, for all anyone now knows, philosophers in the remoter future might be able to turn Saint Thomas into something formally rigorous, while at the same time shedding light on what the Exodus 3 author so evocatively wrote so long before the malign dawn of Philosophy Departments. I am inclined to think that the way forward involves breaking down interdepartmental barriers, so that there is eventually a cadre of young analysts equally at home in three different academic places, one of them currently not communicating well with the other two - in the Department of Physics, in the Department of (Pure) Mathematics, and (a place I normally love to ridicule, for its self-chosen intellectual isolation) in the Department of Philosophy.

****  

The second theological shock was my 2017-07-02 reading in a site with a self-explanatory URL - http://www.hebrew4christians.com. I found the site author, theologian-philologist-philosopher John Parsons, communicating a way of reading the Old Testament which embraces my idea of thinking Hebrew thoughts, and yet goes further. Christians, stresses Mr Parsons, can and should aspire not only to the thinking of Hebrew thoughts but to something more radical - to the outright leading of Jewish lives.

His http://www.hebrew4christians.com explains, in page upon gripping page, how to go about the wider and more radical task. The author explains how to keep Shabbat, from Friday evening to Saturday sunset. He explains how to mourn (dissecting the Kaddish, including the bereavement Kaddish, at http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Prayers/Daily_Prayers/Kaddish/kaddish.html).

He also explains how to laugh. Under his homepage "Humor" link are jokes about Einstein, about the drooling-and-yet-ever-so-frum bear, about Jewish mothers, and the like.

His mention of Jewish mothers does remind me of a Jewish-Catholic story. I digress into this for a moment, as one might imagine a television talk-show guest waxing loquacious under the combined warming influence of studio lamps and Ms Oprah Winfrey. I presume the story is absent from Mr Parsons's collection. I heard it here in Ontario ten or fifteen or twenty years ago on the radio, from some Jewish microphone comedienne:

So I had to hire a hall for my daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and I was driving through town checking things out. I saw this big sign: OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL GUILT. Well, I said to myself, this one has got to be Jewish. But when I parked at the office and went in to talk to the reception desk, I found it wasn't Jewish. 

In all his various expressions of Jewish modes of living, Mr Parsons reminds us of a point readily forgotten: namely, that a language is embedded in a wider way of cooking, eating, dressing, and socializing - in a word, of being. If we are to think authentically in a language, we cannot remain strangers to the concrete modes of human existence from which those human linguistic forms have sprung.

But what can Mr Parsons's culture-study precepts - he is himself not explicitly writing as a Catholic - mean in Catholic terms?

The Catholic will surely follow Paul, and also Mr Parsons, in rejecting the legalistic demand for male circumcision.

As for Shabbat, whose faithful observance Mr Parsons does recommend, I would as a Catholic layman respectfully propose the following pair of points:

  • The unique position of the Jewish nation in the ongoing "Economy of Salvation" is to be affirmed, in deference to the contemporary Catholic Magisterium. The pre-Vatican II Catholic deprecations of Judaism, some of which ranked in their day as at least quasi-authoritative, are now to be in their turn deprecated. In particular, the pre-Vatican II Good Friday prayer imputing guilt to the Jewish nation, and such 1910-era Catholic Encyclopedia phrasings as "the deep and wide racial difference between Jews and Christians" (abrasive language viewable at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08399a.htm) are now to be deprecated. Wind-vane theology? Doctrine-à-la-mode? But Vatican II rightly remarked, Ecclesia semper reformanda - "The Church is at all times a thing-to-be-reformed." 
  • Individual contemporary Catholics are, however, to consider themselves as innocent in the unfortunate historical drama enacted by their remote historical predecessors, as the centuries-long process of Church reform grinds forward. The history being what it unfortunately is, there is now no binding obligation to observe Shabbat on a Saturday rather than on a Sunday, just as there is no binding obligation to observe Shabbat on a Sunday rather than on a Saturday. What is binding is only that a Shabbat be kept. The position here is analogous to the position of the dietary laws, on Paul's analysis. Let people be aware, says Paul, that all foods (except, he has to add, those sacrificed to the Graeco-Roman idols) are licit. But let people additionally, he says, take care not to abuse their freedom, by taking decisions that give offence or scandal to ecclesial neighbours weak in their faith. As Paul considers the Kingdom to be "not about eating and drinking", so we may well here consider the Kingdom, imitating Paul, to be "not about the calendar". 
With a mandatory Saturday Shabbat off the table for the practical Catholic (what remains on the table is only an optional Saturday Shabbat - and what Catholic in Ontario is going to feel at all comfortable in taking the option of relaxing on Saturday, labouring on Sunday?), it might be thought that little remains for the Catholic seeking a Jewish life. Yet a central thing remains. The daily Catholic rhythm of prayer, outside Mass, has always been anchored in a Jewish rhythm known and understood in the (Roman) times of Yeshua ben-Yosef. As in the Judaism from the generations around Yeshua, so also perennially in Catholicism, pride of place is given to the Psalms, prayed in public under some canonically fixed daily schedule. In Post-Vatican II Catholicism, the Psalms are said under the headings of Laudes Matitutinae, Hora Tertia, Hora Sexta, Hora Nona, Hora Vespera, and Completorium, plus the time-flexible "Officium Lectionis"  - with, to be sure, suitable scriptural and patristic texts other than the Psalms, and with further prayers and hymns, rounding out this sevenfold liturgy.

It has to be conceded that there is no one Psalter schedule uniting our Catholic and Jewish traditions. Within Catholicism itself, moreover, a lack of uniformity already presents itself as decades and centuries pass. What is common now, under the Vatican II liturgical reforms, is a little different from the earlier twentieth-century practice. (In particular, the earlier practice was eightfold, and lacked the time-flexible "Officium Lectionis". I also think it allowed the earliest Office of one day to be said during the evening, or at least the pre-midnight dark hours, of the day before. I presume the sixth-century Psalm schedule of Saint Benedict, with its one-week eight-times-daily cycle (fully laid out in Benedict's Regula) was itself at variance with the two - the eightfold pre- and the sevenfold post-Vatican II - we know from our own time.)

These, however, are points of detail. What is central is that the Psalter becomes, both in Jewish traditions and in mutating Catholic traditions, a distinctively venerated and distinctively communal mode of prayer.

Now, I say: let us as Catholic laity, obliged in our living arrangements to pray privately (perhaps far from cathedrals and monasteries), continue working privately from our psalters. Optimally, that will mean  working from the Latin, so as to secure a measure of emotional emancipation from the silly dream-the-impossible-dream, Man-of-La-Mancha, cinema-and-television mindset that is perpetually threatening to snuff out our perpetually feeble prayer life. Working from the Latin is nowadays easy: one loads, for instance, http://www.universalis.com into smartphone or tablet or desktop in the usual English-only, and then one clicks on the bottom-of-browser hyperlink that says "You can also view this page in Latin and English."

And yet, I add, let us in the laity work, to the extent feasible for us, toward Hebraization, partially forsaking even such valuable resources as http://www.universalis.com (or else, perhaps, looking to the day when http://www.universalis.com starts sporting a new hyperlink: "You can also view this page in Latin and English, or as a further alternative in Latin and English, with Hebrew accompanying each piece of Vulgate-OT Latin"). Bit by bit, we may hope to replace one or another of our familiar Latin Psalm verses with Hebrew, at least in such private observations of the Office of the Hours as our work schedules and our state of endurance may permit.

The greatest of all the various services rendered by http://www.hebrew4christians.com is from my (Catholic) standpoint its making such a piecemeal lay-Catholic conversion away from Latin toward the Hebrew possible, by supplying tools - translation, text, and above all word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase commentary - at http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Ketuvim/Psalms/psalms.html.

Two sets of practical questions do arise for the author of http://www.hebrew4christians.com. I will try to send them to him in e-mail this week. If he responds, I will try somehow see to it that his answers somehow get documented, within 48 hours, on this present blog:

  • How close are the pronunciations in the audio files reachable from http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Ketuvim/Psalms/psalms.html to the current best philological understanding of ancient Hebrew phonetics? (I press this question in the awareness that modern spoken street Hebrew differs slightly from the philological understanding - with the (no-Daghesh) Dalet, for instance, hardened from the voiced-th, as in English "this", to "d" as in English "dome", and with Waw or Vav hardened from w-as-in-English-"wing" to v-as-in-English-"vote". The situation calls to mind the embarrassment that is Latin ecclesial pronunciation, with our Church unfortunately making several consonants Italianate, contrary to what is known to have been oratorical-best-practice in the Golden Period of pagan Latin literature: "Temperance wins out", or "temperantia vincit", is in Cicero's phonemes "tem - pe - RAN - tee- ah WIN -kit", and yet in ecclesial Latin becomes "tem - pe- RAN - tsee- ah VIN -tschit.") Further, what is Mr Parsons's, and his audio-file reader's, position on the difficult question of the letter Ayin - in classical Hebrew times pronounced as a true, albeit a subtle, guttural, and yet even in the careful Pratico-and-Van Pelt book recommended to be left silent, even as Aleph incontestably must be left silent? What is Mr Parsons's, and his audio-file reader's position on the Pathach vowel? (This, and Ayin, are the two main problems presently confronting me as I continue addressing phonetics. It is especially puzzling that Pratico and Van Pelt recommend pronouncing Pathach like the "a" in English "bat", and yet seem in the CD which accompanies their fine book to favour pronouncing Patach like the a in English "affair". - I am particularly anxious to get the phonetics right here when I reflect that the post-Roman Masoretes creating "pointing" - the vowel marks included - now present in all good printed Hebrew Bibles, exactly as a way of preserving the correct phonetics. Had they been blessed with such modern resources as the printing press, the International Phonetic Alphabet, and Internet servers with audio files, they would have used those tools too.) What is Mr Parsons's, and his audio-file reader's, position on the letter Qof? (I suspect that the Masoretes' Daghesh-hardened Kaf was in classical Hebrew times, in the pronunciation the post-classical Masoretes  sought to conserve, a bit lighter than Qof. This is the sort of thing that might make a good joke when someone comes round to my place for tea: "No, no, I don't have a cough [that is like Daghesh-hardened Kaf]; I have a Qof" (here one has to sound positively Arabic, taking the consonant WAY down deep, so that one's alarmed guest begins to wonder if one is about to don a keffiyeh, in a conceivable homage to Lawrence of Arabia). Finally, can Mr Parsons recommend to me some authority - some e-mail-contactable professor, in some such eminent place as Yale or Jerusalem, or alternatively some authoritative book - for Hebrew phonetics? Ideally, one would be able to work from some phonetics book equivalent to that authoritative analyst of Latin phonetics from the pagan Golden Period all the way into the (Italianate?) Dark Ages which is W. Sidney Allen's Vox Latina (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition 1989).
  • Can Mr Parsons recommend an analytical treatment of the Hebrew scriptures - at any rate a treatment that has each verb parsed to indicate stem, conjugation, person, gender, number, and root? (On the noun-pronoun-adjective side of things, analyses of Construct Chains would be reassuring also, and yet are less urgent than analytical support on verbs.) Here I am looking for a book paralleling, for Hebrew, Max Zerwick's and Mary Grosvener's Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament (issued as an "Unabridged, Revised Edition in One Volume" in 1981 at the Biblical Institute Press in Rome). - Ideally, an analytical treatment would serve the reader rather as model answers serve in calculus: you work the problem on your own, keeping the answer key closed, but then you open the key to ascertain whether your solution was in fact correct. - My suspicion is that the answer to my question is "Nothing recent exists, and nothing (however far back we may go) exists for the entire Hebrew scriptures." At any rate all I have been able to find so far is a work of limited scope, from very far back indeed - Joana Julia Greswell's Grammatical Analysis of the Hebrew Psalter (Oxford: James Parker and Co., 1873; various download options are presented at https://archive.org/details/analysispsalter00gresuoft).

****

Before quite leaving Mr Parsons and proceeding to the third of my three theological shocks from 2017-07-02, I wish to comment in parenthetical, positive, terms on his philosophical interests. The interests are anchored not only in his attachment to theology but also in his training in formal logic (a subject which he has taught, I presume on some university or college campus).

Some of Mr Parsons's remarks on post-mediaeval philosophy suggest an approach to the subject similar to what I am trying to develop here on this present blog, in my ongoing multi-installment philosophy-of-perception-and-action essay. Like me, Mr Parsons deprecates approaches to perception that regard the perceiving subject as blocked by a wall of sense-data or sense-impressions from knowing the reality of physical objects.

Like me again, he defends a conception of objective truth. Here, for instance, is what he writes, in language which I could cheerfully make my own, at http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Fall_Holidays/Elul/Metanoia/metanoia.html:

/.../ [G-d] made us so that we could discern truth about reality. The mind functions according to logical laws because it is made in the image and likeness of [G-d] Himself /.../ The Source of all truth is [G-d]. He is the Master of the Universe, the Lord of all possible outcomes and worlds. The heavens declare His glory (outer world) and human beings are made b'tzelem Elohim in His image (inner world).

****

The third of my 2017-07-02 theological shocks was my noting the 2010-11-11 upload of YouTube user "Micha'el Eliyahu BenDavid", under the title "SHEMA YISRAEL by Micha'el Ben David", to a length of 6:17. Micha'el Eliyahu Ben David is in fact a high-profile figure in contemporary Jewish music, born in 1951 and still active. So here, for once, is an accurate YouTube username. In my corner of the Web, Ben David's ("son-of-David's") material can be viewed under the URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hdG1aXlExI.

With this musician today, as with his father's namesake royal Psalmist in the ancient Undivided Kingdom, theology gets brought to life. Ben David gives an overwhelming - so to speak, a total - expression, in a mixture of the Deuteronomic Hebrew and contemporary English, of truths in some way already hinted at by a 1916 or 1917 American mystic I have previously published on this blog. That previous publication is in a 2016-12-19 or 2016-12-20 posting headed "M.P.Montague: 'Twenty Minutes of Reality'", archived by the blogspot server as http://toomaskarmo.blogspot.ca/2016/12/mpmontague-twenty-minutes-of-reality.html. I would urge my readers this week to review Margaret Prescott Montague first, and then to turn to Ben David's YouTube performance. In so turning, they might seek out points of theological similarity.

With that pair of tasks accomplished, it may for some of my readers even prove appropriate to follow Mr Parsons in studying Hebrew - say, first and foremost through that theologically central Deuteronomic prayer which is the Shema, and later through selected Psalm fragments.

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