Heads up.

Martyrdom: The Coloring Book - Fryd and GfrörerMartyrdom: The Coloring Book

  • Illustrated by the supremely grim, superlatively talented Julia Gfrörer *
  • Due September 2015 from Zest Books
  • Blurb:

    The lives of the saints are filled with inspiring, life-changing moments—but the deaths of the martyrs are where you’ll find the real “Oh, hell no!” moments of history. This adult (very adult, as the body count will quickly indicate) coloring book gives aspiring crayon and paper artists the chance to hone their craft while also buffing up their knowledge of Catholic history and tales. The attending stories will go down pretty easy at cocktail hours as well. [Continued…]

Ross Douthat Checks Gary Trudeau’s Privilege

Can Ross Douthat bring to Reason the subscription base of the New York Times? Probably not, but he continues making a valient effort:

A living cartoonist lecturing his murdered peers makes for a curious spectacle, but that’s what transpired at journalism’s George Polk Awards a week ago. The lecturer was Garry Trudeau, of “Doonesbury” fame; his subject was the cartoonists for Charlie Hebdo, the Parisian satire rag, who were gunned down by fanatics because of their mockery of Muhammad and Islam.

Trudeau did not exactly say they had it coming, but he passed judgment on their sins — not the sin of blasphemy, but the sin of picking a politically unsuitable target for their jabs. By mocking things sacred to Europe’s Muslim immigrants, Trudeau lamented, the Hebdo cartoonists were “punching downward … attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority.” This was both a moral and an aesthetic failing, because “ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny — it’s just mean.”

Two Articles on Mind and Brain

Recently a number of related items have popped up, almost at random, that are somewhat related to Rufus’ Field Notes. The first two were articles sent to me by my Uncle: one by Michael S. A. Graziano, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton and the author of the (truly excellent) novel, Love Song of Monkey. In the article, Graziano writes:

[What] is the relationship between our minds and the physical world? Here, we don’t have a settled answer. We know something about the body and brain, but what about the subjective life inside? Consider that a computer, if hooked up to a camera, can process information about the wavelength of light and determine that grass is green. But we humans also experience the greenness. We have an awareness of information we process. What is this mysterious aspect of ourselves?

Many theories have been proposed, but none has passed scientific muster. I believe a major change in our perspective on consciousness may be necessary, a shift from a credulous and egocentric viewpoint to a skeptical and slightly disconcerting one: namely, that we don’t actually have inner feelings in the way most of us think we do.

The entire article is worth reading, as are Graziano’s books God Soul Mind Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Reflections on the Spirit World and Consciousness and the Social Brain (probably—I’m guessing on this one, as I haven’t actually read this one yet). In the article and the first book Graziano makes his case for an account of the mind that reckons it in entirely materialist terms. Philosophically this is called eliminative materialism, and while the science is certainly new, the big idea has been around at least since Democritus and Leucippus.

I won’t quote the entire article by Graziano, but I will quote my response to my Uncle:

In ​one of​​ ​his books about neuroscience, he has proposed a theory of consciousness that is intriguing—namely, that consciousness evolved when hominids took their already highly developed social skills (think​ ​of ​monkeys grooming each other, or chattering on the brink of speech) and as individuals then turned these skills “inward”. I don’t know if he’s right or wrong, but it’s an interesting theory.

He doesn’t go into that in the article, but I find that more compelling than his idea about brain-as-information-processing machine. An idea that is pretty worn out, it seems to me, as people have been making that analogy for decades now. It seems to me that Graziano has simply taken the analogy seriously, which is to say he takes the computer as a model for the brain/mind, when of course it is the brain/mind ​(or some of its properties, such as the ability to perform mathematical computations) ​that has historically been a model for the computer.

​This unfortunately seems to me an example of the “cartoonish reconstruction of attention” of which he speaks.​ Not that I think he’s wrong about there being cartoonish awareness, but aren’t some instances of awareness more accurate (less cartoonish) than others?

While Graziano is an excellent novelist and, as near as I can tell, an excellent scientist, in this article ​he makes statements that are half-truths at best.

For example, he writes that Copernicus showed us that “we’re a speck in a large space”, ​and of course this is true as far as it goes, but what of the fact that in that large space, ours is the only planet that supports any kind of life, let alone intelligent life? Of course we may find that we are not alone in the universe, but then what would that mean, exactly? Our planet wouldn’t be unique, strictly speaking, but would that mean that our planet and planet #2 were really less marvelous for supporting life? Of course not, and I doubt Graziano would even claim that. So what exactly is he arguing against? The existence of God? Why?

​Likewise for his second great scientific insight, that “we’re a twig on the tree of evolution”. Just another twig? I doubt Graziano really believes this​. One twig on a tree is much like any other twig, which really isn’t all that different from bigger limbs or even a tree trunk or a tree’s roots. But Graziano is one of the only kind of primate to study other primates. It may turn out that Graziano and the rest of the human race evolve into beings that are as different from us as we are from non-rational animals, or as animals are from vegetable life, or as vegetable life is from inorganic matter, but this remains to be seen. But to say that the most complex organism produced yet by evolution is just another twig strikes me as betrayal of Darwin’s theory rather than a supporting analogy.

Like the philosophers Dennet and Churchland he refers to, Graziano’s philosophy of mind seems to be eliminativist materialism, which seems to me to be ultimately incoherent. Going back to Graziano’s analogy, he’s eliminated any idea of truth except whatever he calls “science”, which seems to me to postpone any and all truth to the claims of some future science. How can he claim that “wavelength is a real, physical phenomenon; color is the brain’s approximate, slightly incorrect model of it​” without relying on “awareness”? How does he know that one “complex bundle of information” is a caricature and another is not?

We know that some things are true and some things are not true, and we know this now. Certainly it is very difficult to prove that anything is true, but somehow that doesn’t stop us from knowing some things are true (not just believing some things are true). Science comes from the Latin “scire”, to know, and ought to include ways of knowing other than mathematics and reasoning with tools. It ought to include reasoning in such areas of philosophy as metaphysics, since arguments for the truth are always built on assumptions of some kind or another, and proponents of any argument need to be able to examine their assumptions.

The other article my Uncle sent to me is by Lawrence Berger, Being There: Heidegger on Why Our Presence Matters, itself a response to the Graziano article linked above. Berger begins:

A cognitive scientist and a German philosopher walk into the woods and come upon a tree in bloom: What does each one see? And why does it matter?

While that may sound like the set-up to a joke making the rounds at a philosophy conference, I pose it here sincerely, as a way to explore the implications of two distinct strains of thought — that of cognitive science and that of phenomenology, in particular, the thought of Martin Heidegger, who offers a most compelling vision of the ultimate significance of our being here, and what it means to be fully human.

In the article, Berger offers a pretty good criticism of the Cartesian view of matter (“The prevailing view is that the universe consists of discrete entities that are ultimately related by physical laws”) and proposes instead that “Heidegger, on the other hand, offers a holistic view of all that is. We belong here together with the trees and the stones, for we are made manifest together. Rather than being discrete entities, the relation comes first, and the extent to which we are related matters for what we and the stone ultimately are.”

I think this is fine as far as it goes, but I’m not so sure Berger or Heidegger get to what we and the stone ultimately are, if only because I don’t think the story ends with just we and the stone.

As I wrote to my uncle:

I’m not sure the difficulty with Heidegger is your problem alone. I think he (and his explicator Berger) leave some things out, without being as clear as Graziano. For example, it seems obvious that it’s easier to talk to somebody who is actually listening, but isn’t clear how “the same general principle applies to a purely physical object such as a stone,” or exactly how “the manner in which such an object is made manifest can be affected by the quality of my presence.” Unless he means something vacuous like my throwing it means that it will move, or (maybe a little less vacuous) that I can use it along with other stones to build a wall.

And Heidegger is notoriously murky, not just in the way he expresses things, but in what he is trying to express. For example, which is “more primordial”: being or time? What is the difference between some thing and the being of some thing? What is the difference between the being of some thing and the being of all things?

It isn’t clear to me that Heidegger makes any headway in answering these questions. The questions themselves have become interesting to me, but I’m not sure there are answers to these questions, or that there is even a way to answer these questions.”

Unless we go back into the history of philosophy and find out why Heidegger formulated these questions in the way he did, and if perhaps that might shed light on why the questions have meaning as ultimate questions, though perhaps unanswerable, or if rather they lead to a philosophical cul-de-sac.

I suspect the latter, but the place to go is Reduction and Givenness by Jean-Luc Marion, who reveals how much Heidegger’s ontological investigation owe to his teacher Husserl’s phenomenological investigations.

Risen Indeed!

… like a bat outta …

However appropriate, I suppose this metaphor might seem a little confusing, given the season.

Still, the point is, they made it!!!

Congratulations to Matthew & Mark and everybody involved with the project. We’re looking forward to the first episode!

‘the kitten games of syntax and rhetoric’

He [i.e., Lactantius] delighted in writing, in the joinery and embellishment of his sentences*, in the consciousness of high rare virtue when every word had been used in its purest and most precise sense, in the kitten games of syntax and rhetoric. Words could do anything except generate their own meaning.

–Evelyn Waugh, Helena (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012), Nook edition, chap. 6, p. 8.

[Read more…]


Last week I referred to Newsweek as “a magazine that nobody reads any more”, but now here I am, linking to it again because of an article I was referred to on suicide. Of course I can’t think of suicide (not for very long, anyway) without also thinking of Walker Percy, so that obviously makes it of interest to readers of this blog (just how many readers would be interesting to know). Here is a good long sample:

Dr Zachary Kaminsky, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is at the forefront of efforts to identify what has colloquially been termed a “suicide gene”. “Stress is like driving,” Kaminsky says. “You can drive really fast, and that can be useful, but you have to be able to slow down.” His team compared brains of those who died by suicide and those who didn’t. They had an inkling that for those who died by suicide, a gene called SKA2 might be, in effect, acting as a faulty brake pad, failing to control stress.

By looking at just this single gene, Kaminsky’s team was able to predict with 80-90% accuracy whether an individual in their research group had thoughts of suicide or had made an attempt. More research is needed, but signs are positive that in the future a simple blood test may provide at least some indication of suicide risk.

I had heard of the possibility of isolating a suicide gene, but I didn’t know it had been identified as SKA2 (not sure what that refers to, but it’s at least a name,which is helpful), and didn’t know, for example, that men are four times more likely than women to kill themselves, or that Lithuania has the highest rate in Europe. I know next to nothing about Lithuania, except that Czesław Miłosz is from Wilno, and of course this doesn’t tell us whether it’s something in the water, or in the genes, or if there’s anything particularly depressing about Lithuania.

Does the internet have much of an effect on these numbers? Here’s some anecdotal evidence from the story

In most of his YouTube videos, Brett Robertshaw has headphones on, head bobbing rhythmically, fingers flashing up and down the fretboard of his bass guitar. His talent had gained him a following; some of these videos attracted 40,000 views. One is different. In it he sits in front of the camera – a red-haired, matter-of-fact boy. He’s shy and serious, quietly answering questions from his online following.

On his Ask.fm page, while Brett’s written responses to questions about his life from other users are generally funny, sharp and acerbic, a few give pause.

Question: “What was the last lie you told?”

Brett: “I’m OK.”

Question: “Your (sic) in your own movie are you the good guy or the bad guy? and why?”

Brett: “I’m the extra, because fuck that shit.”

Brett wrote over 7,500 tweets in less than three years. Most are digital snippets quite typical of a young male life, but there were also infrequent, intense bursts of sadness and resignation. Struggles to sleep. Anger and isolation. Alcohol as a coping mechanism. On 14 May 2014, unbeknown to family and friends, Brett began to draft a long and eloquent message for his personal website. It began: “The truth is, if this post is live, then chances are, I’m probably not here any more.”

Very sad.

I was surprised to read in the article that not all suicides are classified as acts of the mentally ill. I’ve always taken it for granted that killing one’s self has to be some form of mental illness. Apparently not. Read all about it here.

Pascal & Pascal Caricatured

I liked this, from Professor James Franklin:

Pascal caricatured:
Being base and greedy, we want lots of goodies in this life and, if possible, the next. So we are prepared to give up some pleasures now, on the off chance of a lot more later, if our eye to the main chancemakes it look worth our while. Since the loot on offer is infinite, even a smallchance of raking it in makes it worth a try to grovel to any deity that might do what we want.

What Pascal said:
You have to choose whether to accept religion. Think of itas a coin toss, where you don’t know the outcome. In this case, if you lose –there’s no God – you have not lost much. But if you win, there is an infinitepayoff. So, you should go to Mass, and pray for faith.

To be considered in light of mathematical exactitude rather than Catholic stridency, if that helps.

Et in Arcadia sumus.

by Valentine Green (c. 1770); Wellcome Library via The Public Domain Review

by Valentine Green (c. 1770); Wellcome Library
via The Public Domain Review

by Valentine Green (1769); Wellcome Library via The Public Domain Review

by Valentine Green (1769); Wellcome Library
via The Public Domain Review


Angelico Nguyen Likes This.


Statua Subito

In the Basílica de San Francisco, Mendoza, Argentina.

See also.

from ‘Mystic, Comic, Everything’ — Chapter 1 of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Family, Her God, Her Message


 We are still at the dawn of the third great crisis of our civilization: it is no longer merely man confronted with his weakness (with the Greeks); no longer merely man confronted with his guilt (with Luther, at that tragic time for Europe, after the black plagues at the end of the Middle Ages); man today finds himself confronted with his solitude and with the desperate quest for a meaning to his life, confronted with the need to search for what would be an “authentic existence”, “true life”, which he fears never being able to enjoy. Among the innumerable witnesses that could be called to the stand in this interrogation, such as Rimbaud, Van Gogh, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, or Kundera, I have intentionally kept two cries, because they seem to express the question that was Thérèse’s own: “Here is my old anguish, right there in the hollow of my body, like a bad wound that every movement irritates; I know its name, it is the fear of eternal solitude. And I have the fear that there may not be any answer” (Camus).

I implored, I begged for a sign, I sent messages to the heavens: no response. The heavens do not even know my name. I wondered at every moment what I might be in the eyes of God. Now I knew the answer: Nothing. God does not see me, God does not know me, God does not hear me. You see this void over our heads? That is God. You see this hole in the earth? That is God. You see this opening in the door? That is God again. The silence is God. Absence is God. God is the solitude of men. [(Jean Paul Sartre, Le Diable et le bon Dieu, tableau 10, scene 4.)]

Thérèse was familiar with this anguish:

When I want to rest my heart fatigued by the darkness which surrounds it by the memory of the luminous country after which I aspire, my torment redoubles; it seems to me that the darkness, borrowing the voice of sinners, says mockingly to me: “You are dreaming about the light, about a fatherland embalmed in the sweetest perfumes; you are dreaming about the eternal possession of the Creator of all these marvels; you believe that one day you will walk out of this fog which surrounds you! Advance, advance; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for but a night still more profound, the night of nothingness.” (SS 213)


I have experienced it; when I am feeling nothing, when I am INCAPABLE of praying, of practicing virtue, then is the moment for seeking opportunities, nothings, which please Jesus more than mastery of the world or even martyrdom suffered with generosity. For example, a smile, a friendly word, when I would want to say nothing, or put on a look of annoyance. (LT 143, GC 2:801)

To understand her secret as a warrior, we might go back to Nehru’s admission to Malraux: “I have three enemies: the Chinese, famine, and myself. But, of the three, the most difficult is myself.” Very quickly she learned that nothing can be done on the path of what for her was the true life without fighting against herself, against illusion. She, who, up to the end, had the childish fears of a little girl, would never fear the truth, never fear to “do the truth”, as Saint John says: whether about herself, her faults, her own limits, about her family, her community, her sisters, or one day about death itself. She did not fear that the truth would diminish her. Quite the contrary. It was never a malicious truth. For she found here the true way to be victorious: by disarming, by never resisting. Instead of sidestepping an issue, cheating, trying to justify herself, telling herself stories, she disarmed, and she disarmed from the very moment when the truth was at issue. Then she found something greater: a confidence that opened up freedom to her.

Her sister Céline, older than she, who entered Carmel six years after she did, reported that one day, in watching Thérèse live, she experienced a moment of discouragement and said to her: “Oh, when I think of all I have to acquire.” And Thérèse answered her at once: “Rather, how much you have to lose” (CSG 23).

— excerpted from ‘Mystic, Comic, Everything’, Chapter 1 of  Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Family, Her God, Her Message by Fr Bernard Bro, OP; posted on Ignatius Press’ Insight Scoop; link via Amy Welborn.

from the Hong Kong Transit Blotter

2006.04.27 23:00 Route #68X toward Yuen Long

More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bus_Uncle

‘The Poems You Write Up at Night’: Compulsive Versifying

A few excerpts from that article ‘Compulsive Versifying after Treatment of Transient Epileptic Amnesia’ in Neurocase that everybody’s talking about:



Compulsive production of verse is an unusual form of hypergraphia that has been reported mainly in patients with right temporal lobe seizures. We present a patient with transient epileptic amnesia and a left temporal seizure focus, who developed isolated compulsive versifying, producing multiple rhyming poems, following seizure cessation induced by lamotrigine. Functional neuroimaging studies in the healthy brain implicate left frontotemporal areas in generating novel verbal output and rhyme, while dysregulation of neocortical and limbic regions occurs in temporal lobe epilepsy. […]

[Read more…]


The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a résumé, a commentary. […] More reasonable, more inept, more indolent [than other authors], I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books.

— Jorge Luis Borges, preface to The Garden of Forking Paths, in Ficciones (New York: Grove Press, 1962), 15-16.


See also the Cubeland Mystic’s notes for an imaginary movie:

How about a two man movie? It could be called, Matthew, JOB, and Bourbon. You sit out on Matthew’s patio drink and discuss important stuff, but with a twist. The session turns into a discussion about the perfect movie, and then as the screenplay develops amidst shots, your dialogue would be interspersed with the actual scenes from the finished product that you are developing on the fly. It ends with the sun coming up over La Mesa. The last scene of the movie is Mrs. L picking up the empty bottle of bourbon throwing it in the trash, and saying something like “I wish they’d do some real work.” or some such. That’s the whole movie.

Let’s write it, right here in this post.

Cubeland Mystic, ‘Comment 14746’, Godsbody (September 2008; republished in Korrektiv).

Scroll down for the whole megillah.

Sideshow Bob Raises a Fundamental Question…



More discussion here.

Heermeneutic of Suspicion

Tweet-er Jeet Heer, incidentally, though not himself a Catholic (see the last paragraph of his article on Hugh Kenner), wrote an interesting examination — and appreciation — of the centrality of Catholicism to Marshall McLuhan’s work for the July/August 2011 issue of The Walrus magazine.

See also?


Roger Sterling, Lost in the Cosmos

Detail of a frame from Mad Men Season 4, Episode 2, ‘Christmas Comes but Once a Year’

Detail of a frame from Mad Men Season 4, Episode 2, ‘Christmas Comes but Once a Year’

[W]hat is not generally recognized is that the successful launch of self into the orbit of transcendence is necessarily attended by problems of reentry. What goes up must come down. The best film of the year ends at nine o’clock. What to do at ten? […]

Options of reentry into [the everyday] world [include]: […]

(4) Reentry by travel (sexual). One has a succession of lovers […]. It is difficult to imagine the self of the autonomous artist in his singular and godlike abstraction from the ordinary world of men settling down with a wife and family any more than Jove settling down with Juno. Juno — yuck! […] Better to grow old alone in the desert, sit on a rock like a Navajo. But how lovely are the daughters of men! Indeed, heterosexual intercourse is the very paradigm of the reentry of the ghost-self back into the incarnate world whence it came.

–Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2011), Nook edition, chap. 14.


Frame from Mad Men Season 7, Episode 7, 'Waterloo'

Frame from Mad Men Season 7, Episode 7, ‘Waterloo’

ROGER STERLING (July 21, 1969)

Did you see we landed on the moon? Neil Armstrong, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? Screw every girl in Florida, I guess.

–Carly Wray and Matthew Weiner, Mad Men, Season 7, Episode 7 (‘Waterloo’)