VIII: The Garden

This is a new addition to a tale (the tale, really) that had lain dormant for several months. If you’d like to catch up, you can start here.

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By the time the children had scampered back to the cemetery gates they were short of breath and nearly frantic with fright. How close they had come to their persecutor Herling, how near to that murderous goblin with the skulls dangling from his staff! And to think John Mus had led them straight into such a pickle. Come to think of it, where was John Mus and why had he not come to the meeting?

Mills and Gramm crept out through the still open iron gate. “Here, let’s go slower back to the barn. There might be people on the main road, and I don’t want to attract any attention. We’ll go quietly as we can,” said Amelia. Gramm would have preferred to keep running, but he was too frightened to argue. When things are bad, you trust your big sister.

It was good that the children did cross the field stealthily. As they neared the far edge of the field, which bordered the road into ToadChapel, they heard harsh voices bickering. Keeping their heads low, Mills and Gramm sneaked up behind the low stone wall beside the road and peered into the barnyard across the way.

Near to the barn where they had spent the first part of the night stood three nasty goblins arguing with one another. Two carried long sharp spears with wicked pointed heads, while the third bore a stout little bow and a quiver full of arrows. Though their conversation was hard to follow, it seemed that the one with the bow was urging the others to search the barn. Continue reading “VIII: The Garden”

Drawing and Nature

Most of my drawings begin with a photograph from Nature, or even a natural object. It’s not so I can attempt to recreate objects exactly, but to provide a resource for observation and reference which grounds the artwork in reality.

A drawing of an unusual mushroom.

As you can see, the finished product is both stylized and realistic (within the limits of my ability in regard to both). I like learning how best to convey texture, contour, volume, and depth, developing my self-taught technique to serve my need.

The mushroom drawn above, as shown in a picture from life.

But I like to remain essentially faithful to the particular thing itself, discovering its structural secrets and honoring its imperfections and uniqueness.  Here is the original, which I spotted on the way in to work last week. Continue reading “Drawing and Nature”

The Sage Isidem Recounts His Struggle against a Demon

Fragment 5.III.19

– from the Annus Mirabilis 1 of Nuddle, ToadScribe novice

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The following is an Accurate Record of what passed between the sages Isidem and Nunc-bïdi Hyûm in the Garden of Contemplation as they nibbled some biscuits under a dead plane tree. I swear its accuracy upon the Great Oath I have sworn within the Outer Door of the Order of ToadScribes:

Nunc-bïdi Hyûm: These biscuits are dry.

Isidem: Do you not want yours?

Hyûm: Ha, you rascal. All I meant was that I could use some tea. Or a beer, now that you mention it. What time is it? I am suddenly visited by a powerful thirst.

Isidem: This is just what I’ve been trying to tell you. The senses can’t be trusted. It’s too early for beer.

Hyûm: Maybe yours can’t. I’ve trusted my senses these many years and never found a more reliable guide. And mine are telling me it’s time for beer. What say you, my friend?

Isidem: I say you’re the rascal and a dunderhead to boot. Look, I’m not saying the senses aren’t credible or couldn’t offer us a guide to food pairings, or even to something far more important, namely, what is. I’m simply saying that sometimes the senses mislead us, and that only a fool puts his absolute trust in a guide that is prone to deception.

Hyûm: So what can we trust if not our senses, smartypants?

Isidem: I’m not wearing any pants, as you can plainly see. This type of robe is the very latest fashion. As is this elegant turban.

Hyûm: Hmm. You were saying?

Isidem: Yes, well, one day I realized that our senses, while they may help us judge biscuits in our daily lives, are unable to impart to us any certain knowledge of the world. We all recognize that we’re mistaken about things we perceive sometimes, as when a straight stick appears bent when dipped in that pond over there. However, we only recognize the mistake when we later confirm the truth of the matter, when the straight stick belies the impression of our eyes. If we didn’t pull the stick out and have another look, we might well go around believing it was crooked all the time. But what if they’re all that way?

Hyûm: All the sticks are crooked?

Isidem: All our impressions are crooked, or false, but we just don’t know it. What if we are in fact deceived about everything and have no way of recognizing our error. It’s like your dreaming mind mistakes sleeping visions for reality, and only discovers the error upon waking. What if we’re all asleep, all the time? This is the doubt that set on me one day.

Hyûm: That’s a doozy! I think I’m going to need that beer.

Isidem: Oh, it’s much worse. Not only did I doubt the truthfulness of all my primary impressions, but that doubt immediately cast the entire edifice of my beliefs into confusion. Indeed, it is obvious that many things I once believed were false after all. So what if all my beliefs, like false impressions, merely appeared true to me in my ignorance? It appeared that absolutely everything in my head was full of such doubts, and so I decided to question it all to see if I could find anything beyond all doubt whatsoever. Though my old opinions kept creeping back in through force of habit, I came up with a way to work myself into a properly critical attitude.

Hyûm: A strange endeavor. However did you keep yourself from assenting to your own opinions?

Isidem: Systematic doubt, Hyûm! I willed myself to doubt absolutely everything using the following clever technique: I imagined that some malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning was using all his energies to deceive me about the world. According to the story I told myself, earth, sky, colors, shapes, sounds, all have been set out to ensnare my judgement and lure me into error.

Hyûm: That seems like a lot of trouble for the demon. Hasn’t he got better things to do with his time?

Isidem: That’s beside the point, you dolt. My purpose was to cast myself into such a slough of doubt that my reasoning could only extricate itself from ignorance by identifying some truth beyond all doubt whatsoever. Only then could I construct a system of beliefs by which to safely form my judgements. I had to face the demon in order to trust the power of my own mind. But, like Archimedes, I hoped that if I could find a single point that was firm and immobile, I could move the entire globe. Or, in my case, construct a picture of the world upon sound and certain foundations. And if I couldn’t, at least I would know that nothing could be known for certain.

Hyûm: And did you slay the demon, or does he haunt you still?

Isidem: At first, he seemed invincible. Radical doubt means nothing, nothing at all could be taken for granted. I had to doubt absolutely everything. That was a dizzying experience, to hang suspended above the abyss like that. Not only my belief in my impressions, but even my belief in external bodies, motion, extension, and place I supposed to be merely fictions of my mind. The very body I’ve always taken to be myself I cast into doubt.

But that terror, that oppressive doubt, which nearly smashed my sanity proved the light by which I found my way out of the infernal darkness. For I said to myself,

“I think, therefore I am.” No matter how mistaken I might be about all the things of the world, no matter how powerful the demon was, nothing he could do could remove my awareness of my own doubt, angst, and reflection. But if there were some doubter, some being anxious in the extreme, some thinker reflecting upon these great and terrible mysteries, than that thinker, that I, must exist.

But what am I? A thinking thing, as I said. But what is a thinking thing? It is a thing that doubts, understands, conceives, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, that imagines and perceives.

It’s no small thing, if all these properties belong to my nature. But don’t they? Aren’t I the very being who now doubts almost everything; who nevertheless understands and conceives certain things; who affirms just one thing as true, and denies the others; who desires to know more of them, and does not wish to be deceived; who imagines many things, sometimes despite his will; and likewise perceives many things, seemingly through my senses? Are none of these as true as my own existence, even if I am only dreaming all the time, and although he who created me employs all his ingenuity to deceive me? Is there also any one of these attributes that can be properly distinguished from my thought, or that can be said to be separate from myself? For it is so obvious that it is I who doubt, I who understand, and I who desire, that it is unnecessary to offer further proof. And I am also the same being who imagines; for even if nothing I imagine is true, still the power of imagination exists and forms part of my thought. Similarly, I am the same being who perceives certain objects as if through the organs of sense, since, in truth, I see light, hear a noise, and feel heat. If you claim that these impressions are false, and that I am dreaming, I won’t argue with you. Still it is certain that I seem to see light, hear a noise, and feel heat; this cannot be false, and this is what in me is properly called perceiving and sensing, which is simply a kind of than thinking.

Hyûm: That’s a mouthful!

Isidem: It’s a mindful! But if I experience all these sensations, even if they are the misleading tricks of the demon, then I, at least am real. I exist. That cannot be denied.

Hyûm: My head hurts. My real head, not my mind. I can actually feel it hurting. Come on, let’s see if the Lamplight Inn is open yet. These biscuits really are very dry.

[At this point noble Isidem shrugged and acquiesced to Hyûm’s repeated demand for drinking. The two set off together for the Lamplight Inn, where witnesses overheard the two discussing proofs for the existence of the gods]

~

The character of Isidem is based upon the Seventeenth Century French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, whose influence on Western thought has been so profound that most scholars date the birth of modern philosophy to his works. The ‘mouthful’, as Hyûm describes it, is more or less taken from his Meditations, the text which lays out the cornerstones of Cartesian thought.

Descartes’ most famous insight is generally expressed as cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” His revolutionary situation of metaphysical certainty in the subjectivity of the individual consciousness shattered Medieval ideas of the cosmos and sparked a series of debates that would define the next three and a half centuries of philosophical inquiry.

Fountainhead

What can one say about Holos?

Holos, whose name means ‘whole’ or ‘complete,’ derives many of his views from the immortal Plato, the most important philosopher of all time. Plato was an Athenian born at the end of his city’s Fifth Century golden age and raised during the Peloponnesian War, which saw Athens’ defeat at the hands of Sparta and subsequent descent into political chaos. As a young man Plato fell under the influence of Socrates, a radical critic of just about everything who was executed for religious crimes and ‘corrupting the youth.’

Holos is a slippery eel, seldom committing himself totally to a given theory or judgement. He is a pure intellectual, ready to entertain any point of view, even if only to discard it. That said, Holos does tend to return to a few central ideas over and over again.

First and most importantly, Holos denies that the world revealed by our senses represents things as they are. For Holos, both our impressions and our reasoning about them are flawed. Unlike the world of objects, fleeting and overpowering emotions, and shared characteristics, Truth lies in a realm of non-physical, eternal, unchanging, concrete ideals. These ‘Forms’ stand behind the objects of experience, which partake of them only imperfectly. Where ‘the Beautiful’ is beautiful in itself and by itself, is in no way unbeautiful, and possesses no other characteristics than beauty, beautiful persons or works of art exhibit beauty only within certain limits: in degrees, for a certain time, and according to appropriate standards. The Form of the Beautiful is not merely an abstraction from beautiful particulars, but is far more real than they: the Beautiful exists without qualification, while mere sense objects imperfectly partake of both Forms and their opposites.

Holos is inconsistent in his description of what, exactly, counts as a Form. Certain important ideas such as the Beautiful, the Good, and the One, seem not only to be Forms in Holos’ view, but may even amount to the same thing. On the other hand, concepts such as dwarf, shipwright, blue, and evil may or may not participate in their corresponding ideals.

Closely connected with his theory of Forms, Holos also claims that the soul is immortal, passing through alternating phases of material and immaterial existence. While embodied souls suffer the intellectual distortions of both duplicitous senses and a weak mind, the soul after death/before life apprehends the Truth directly, ‘seeing’ the Forms themselves in their timeless and perfect austerity. Upon our reincarnation, Holos argues, we forget all we have known in the realm of Forms, and suffer again the illusions to which embodied cognition is ineluctably vulnerable.

Holos has opinions on just about everything, and has shown himself more than willing to change those opinions with the benefit of reflection. He is the dominant figure in the intellectual life of ToadChapel, and many great sophotasters have created their own ideological identity in opposition to his views. In this, too, his mastery is evident.

~

New to Plato? Or philosophy?  I recommend you start here.

 

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Holos (but not quite)

Holos has been coming along. His buddy Hyûm & he should be able to hold a decent conversation soon.

Though he’s only got a few ‘zones’ & nubbins to paint, access to the stuff inside the folds of the cloak is very tight, so he’s taken a fair amount of care… and retouching.

As you can see from the hairs on my hoodie, the Small God Cora has been helping me this morning as usual.

A Debate Concerning What Sort of Thing a Mind Really Is

Fragment 1.II.19

– from the Annus Mirabilis 1 of Nuddle, ToadScribe novice

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The following is an Accurate Record of what was said between the esteemed sages Holos and Nunc-bïdi Hyûm as they conversed beneath a dead and ancient tree in the Garden of Contemlpation. I swear its accuracy upon the Great Oath I have sworn within the Outer Door of the Order of ToadScribes:

[Nunc-bïdi Hyûm]: … Don’t you see, my long-lived friend? By now you ought to have grasped the main idea.

[Holos]: But all there is is the main idea. I grasp it, like the whippet grasps the hare. On the doorstep of eternity, I grasp it clearer and clearer.

[Hyûm]: Don’t speak in riddles! And don’t speak of eternity, either. You’re not that old, and you’re assuming a lot there. The rabbit might still slip from your jaws.

Put it this way: the dog is nothing more than an observer. Before him sunlight and shade dance across a vast meadow. The meadow, like some gay and riotous garden, blooms with many flowers of all colors and shapes. Birds and bees, butterflies and gnats fly through the blossom-scented air. The wind’s blowing creates billowing waves of grass, sends seeds sailing across the green, and rattles even the trees, which are now pushing forth new buds. Yet the dog sees only the rabbits nibbling the tender grasses. He searches for a rabbit he can catch. The meadow is nothing to him, there is only the rabbit. So: does the dog have keen eyes or not?

[Holos]: Now who’s speaking in riddles?

[Hyûm]: Who, me? It’s a metaphor, and you put me up to it. But answer the question. Do we grasp reality through focus, or by the tug of wind on our beard, the sound of birds flirting, the smell of — what’s that?!

[Holos]: I believe I’ve stepped in some sizable beast’s fresh dung. This is exactly the sort of thing that ought not to be tolerated in the Garden. In here there’s too much dirt and not enough contemplation.

But you see this meadow you picture does not exhibit beauty per se, but a sort of lovely and attractive chaos, which ensnares our mind’s eye…

[Hyûm]: Watch your step! More droppings! There really are a lot of them.

[Holos]: The keen eyes of the coursing-hound, like the mind of a true sophotaster…

~

The sages of ToadChapel, of whom there are many, are loosely based upon figures from our own history.

Holos, the most venerated of all the sages, shares some of the views of the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Plato has exerted such a dramatic influence over the last 2,500 years of thought that one 20th Century thinker declared of the European philosophical tradition that “it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” Plato advanced a view of the world in which true reality lay beyond our powers of observation, the human mind was often led into error by the demands of the body, and the objects of perception were poor copies of perfect ideals.

Nunc bïdi-Hyûm, a merry dwarf with a hearty appetite, expresses key tenets of David Hume’s philosophy. Hume was an 18th Century Scotsman who contributed a great deal to many fields of study. He reminds us that our immediate experiences cannot be reasoned out of our ideas altogether, and argues that our minds are, ultimately, nothing more than bundles of perceptions.