February 17, 2012
From Rembrandt to Spinoza, the Golden Age of the Netherlands casts its long shadow into the 21st century. Candle light flickered and the sand in the timer flowed silently but he barely noticed, he was so engrossed in his reading. With his left hand he held unto the globe while all around him in the darkness others slept deeply. The work of these candle-lit-scientists continues to be honoured today. Indeed their century, the 17th century is now recognised as one that was crowded with genius .
Damasio chose a reproduction of this painting by Dutch artist Gerrit Dou entitled Astronomer by Candlelight (c.1665) for the cover of his splendid,insightful book1 (2003)entitled Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain in which he combines his own research as head of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center with the writings of Spinoza, a contemporary of Rembrandt.
In Chapter 6, “A Visit to Spinoza,” Damasio revisited the historical period which he calls a century of genius in which Spinoza’s life unfolded. He noted that it was in the Netherlands in the 17th century that the makings of contemporary justice through such enlightened minds as that of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) who introduced modern concepts of international law (1625). It was also during this period that modern capitalism emerged in the Netherlands (2003:231).
While he lived in the most tolerant country of the 17th century Spinoza’s iconoclastic ideas regarding truth claims and legitimization of truth were too radical even for Holland.
Spinoza was born into a prosperous family of Sephardic Jewish merchants who had fled Portugal during the Inquisition shortly before Spinoza was born.
Their acquired wealth from trade in sugar, spices, dried fruit and Brazilian wood was Spinoza’s inheritance. But he valued his intellectual independence more than money and learned to live frugally even refusing professorial positions so as not to have his time or thinking compromised. He never owned his own home preferring to occupy only a bedroom and study. In that bedroom was the one object upon which Spinoza fixated. This was the four-poster, canopied and curtained bed where he was conceived, birthed and in which he finally died. It is called a ledikant and contrasted sharply with the armoire or cupboard bed that was more common in Amsterdam homes of the 17th century (to be continued p.229). Other than that he only needed paper, ink, glass, tobacco and money for room and board. He reminds me in some ways of our contemporary Russian mathematician Perelman who learned to live on $100 a month to devote himself solely to the elevated apolitical study of pure mathematics.
Damasio chose a reproduction of this painting by Dutch artist and Rembrandt (1606–1669) student from 1627 to 1628, Gerrit Dou (1613 – 1675) entitled Astronomer by Candlelight (c.1665) for the cover of his splendid, insightful book in which he combines his own research as head of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center with the writings of Spinoza, a contemporary of Rembrandt.
In Chapter 6, “A Visit to Spinoza,” Damasio revisited the historical period which he calls a century of genius  in which Spinoza’s life unfolded. He noted that it was in the Netherlands in the 17th century that the makings of contemporary justice through such enlightened minds as that of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) who introduced modern concepts of international law (1625). It was also during this period that modern capitalism emerged in the Netherlands (2003:231).
See also this timeline entitled “Before, During and After Spinoza’s Time (Building on Damasio 2003) / based on Damasio’s book (2003) Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.
Continued at Before, During and After Spinoza’s Life (Building on Damasio 2003) and at Google Docs
October 9, 2008
Michael S. Gazzaniga  argued that our beliefs about the world and the nature of human experience are merely tendentious and our memories fallible. Therefore we should rely not on “the ubiquitous personal belief systems held by billions of people (which he describes as akin to believing in Santa Claus (Gazzaniga 2005:163) but on modern science to seek out, understand and define our universal ethics grounded in the natural order (Gazzaniga 2005:178). From his viewpoint great religions of the world were conceived by ill-informed humans (not received from the Divine) who lacked competing data about the essence of the natural world (Gazzaniga 2005:162). He explains religious experiences as Temporary Lobe Epilepsy (TLE). He compares the conception of a fetus to the “conception” of a house at Home Depot. When is a fetus a person? When is a house a house? Gazzaniga believes that a fertilized egg is hardly deserving of the same moral status we confer on the newborn child or the functioning adult (Gazzaniga 2005:17-8). He also argued that the aging brain’s level of consciousness should be assessed by scientific means and euthanasia considered as an option (Gazzaniga 2005:33). His reasoning is not robust and appears to be directed to those already converted to his belief system.
However, it is his argument for brain enhancement through genetic intervention that causes a shiver of repugnance:
“Perhaps we should be free to try whatever we can think to try- this is the nature of scientific inquiry. Let an innate moral-ethics system assert itself and stop us from going too far. We have never annihilated ourselves; we have managed to stop short of doing that so far. I am confident that we will always understand what is ultimately good for the species and what is not (Gazzaniga 2005:54).”
One wonders on what planet he has been living.
We are currently listening to political debates around the clock as two nations head to the polls. Different value systems clash as “facts” are presented on each side of debates over contentious issues. We live in a time when scientific facts themselves are challenged as informed readers inquire about motivation and agendas of scientific researchers. Who finances the research? We are all too aware of the ease with which policy makers and decision makers choose comfortable truths over the uncomfortable.
Gazzaniga oversimplifies the awe-inspiring mind-soul-spirit by reducing humans to the chemical brain. He grossly underestimates followers of religions capable of making ethical decisions by considering both scientific information and their religious principles.
He argued that universal ethics are social, contextualized, influenced by emotions and natural survival-instincts. Whether your guide in life is simply “received wisdom” or “the confluence of neuroscientific data, historical data, and other information illuminating our past” he claim s we all share the same hard-wired moral networks and systems and therefore respond in similar ways to similar issues. He further claims that social systems explain individual feelings which are institutionalized into social structure (Gazzaniga 2005:162).”
According to his logic philosophers involved in neuroethics should “use understandings of the brain’s hard-wiring to contextualize and debate gut instincts that serve the greatest good- or the most logical solutions- given specific contexts (Gazzaniga 2005:178).”
“Neuroscience reads brains, not minds. The mind, while completely enabled by the brain, is a totally different beast (Gazzaniga 2005:119).”
Gazzaniga (2005:iv-v) describes neuroethics as a spin-off of bioethics [which] was developed and defined to take medical ethics further, as scientific findings became more advanced and needed more specialized philosophers thinking about what is acceptable and unacceptable in areas like genetic engineering, reproductive science, defining brain death, and so on. [. . . Neuroethics are involved] whenever a bioethical issue involves the brain or central nervous system (2005: v).”
“We now step into the world of neuroethics. This is the field of philosophy that discusses the rights and wrongs of the treatment of, or enhancement of, the human brain.” “Was the medical team acting ethically, putting the patients’ interests first, or was it influenced by the humanitarian prospect of the advancement of specific knowledge about the brain — or by the attraction of the world fame and professional prestige that would follow a high achievement?” “Not just neurosurgeons but other brain scientists are thinking long and hard about the morality (right or wrong) and the ethics (fair or unfair) of what such breakthroughs as genomics, molecular imaging and pharmaceuticals will make it possible for them to do.” “In the treatment or cure of brain disease or disability, the public tends to support neuroscience’s needs for closely controlled and informed experimentation. But in the enhancement of the brain’s ability to learn or remember, or to be cheerful at home or attentive in school, many of the scientists are not so quick to embrace mood-manipulating drugs or a mindless race to enhance the mind (Safire 2003-07-10).”
“The brain’s ethical sense may run deeper than we think. ”The essence of ethical behavior,” writes the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio in Looking for Spinoza, his newest book, ”does not begin with humans.” Ravens and vampire bats ”can detect cheaters among the food gatherers in their group and punish them accordingly.” Though human altruism is much further evolved, in one experiment ”monkeys abstained from pulling a chain that would deliver food to them if pulling the chain caused another monkey to receive an electric shock. Damasio does not believe that there is a gene for ethical behavior or that we are likely to find a moral center in the brain. But we may one day understand the ”natural and automatic devices of homeostasis” — the brain’s system that balances appetites and controls emotions, much as a constitution and a system of laws regulates and governs a nation (Safire 2003-07-10).”
“[Brain] scientists . . . debate going beyond the cure of disease to the possibilities of meddling with memory or implanting a happy demeanor (Safire 2003-07-10).”
“Maybe the human brain has a self-defense mechanism that causes brain scientists to pause before they improve on the healthy brain. Would we feel guilty about discovering the chemistry of conscience (Safire 2003-07-10)?”
Folksonomy, taxonomy, tags, key words, classification, semantic web
cognitive neuroscience: moral and ethical aspects, ethics, Damasio, science and religion, chemical conscience, meddling with memory, permalink,
- Michael S. Gazzaniga is President of the American Psychology Society, and director of the Center of Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College.
- According to Gazzaniga it was William Safire who coined the term neuroethics to describe the field of philosophy that discusses the rights and wrongs of the treatment of, or enhancement of, the human brain.”
- The Dana Foundation: “The Dana Foundation is a private philanthropy with principal interests in brain science, immunology, and arts education. Charles A. Dana, a New York State legislator, industrialist and philanthropist, was president of the Dana Foundation from 1950 to 1966 and actively shaped its programs and principles until his death in 1975.”
- Some of these bibliographic entries were inserted using Zotero’s capacity to let “users choose a citation format, such as Chicago, MLA, APA, or others. To add a source from Zotero, a user simply drags that source into an application such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs [and WordPress!!!!], and a properly formatted citation is inserted. Zotero also generates a bibliography of all the sources included in a paper.” I did not choose my preferred citation format or generate the bibliography in the proper Zotero mode yet. This needs tweeking on my part but it was successful.
Citations from Antes, Geertz and Warne (2004).
4. “Body, Emotion, and Consciousness: The Portuguese born neurologist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Antonio R. Damasio, has argued in a number of books that studies of the brain, cognition and consciousness are seriously hampered because neuroscientists traditionally ignore the role of functions and emotions in the brain. 47 He claims that “it is possible that feelings are poised at the threshold that separates being from knowing and thus have a privileged connection to consciousness” (Damasio 1999:43). Emotions are at a fairly high level of life regulation, and when they are sensed, that is when one has ‘feelings,’ the threshold of consciousness has been crossed. Emotions are part of homeostasis, which is the automatic regulation of temperature, oxygen contentration or pH in the body by the autonomatic nervous system, the endrocrine system and the immune system. According to Damasio, homeostasis is the key to consciousness (Damasio 1999:40). Damasio defined consciousness as constructing knowledge about two facts: “that the organism is involved in relating to some object, and that the object in the relation causes a change in the organism” (Damasio 1999:20). Understanding the biology of consciousness becomes, then, a matter of discovering “how the brain can map both the two players and the relationship they hold” (Damasio 1999:20). The interesting thing is that the brain holds a model of the whole thing, and this may be the key to understanding the underpinnings of consciousness (Antes, Geertz, Warne 2004:365).”
“[Damasio’s] explanation for this enigma is precisely as follows: “I have come to the conclusion that the organism, as represented inside its own brain, is a likely biological forerunner for what eventually becomes the elusive sense of self. The deep roots for the self, including the elaborate self which encompasses identity and personhood, are to be found in the ensemble of brain devices which continuously and nonconsciously maintain the body state within the narrow range and relative stability required for survival. These devices continually represent, nonconsciously, the state of the living body, along its many dimensions. I call the state of activity within the ensemble of such devices the proto-self, the nonconscious forerunner for the levels of self which appear in our minds as the conscious protagonists of consciousness: core self and autobiographical self.” (Damasio 1999:20) cited in (Antes, Geertz, Warne 2004:365).”
“This is, indeed, a radical embodiment theory and should be of interest to scholars of religion involved in studies of central religious concepts such as personalities, personhood, selves and souls. The very fact of plurality of selves in Damasio’s model should prove useful to the study of religions that deal with multiple selves and souls (Antes, Geertz, Warne 2004:365).”
Webliography and Bibliography
Antes, Peter; Geertz, Armin W.; Warne, Randi R. 2004. Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion. Walter de Gruyter: Berlin/New York.
Anthony Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (New York: Harcourt, 1999).
Michael S. Gazzaniga, The Ethical Brain (New York: Dana Press, 2005).
Henry T. Greely, “Prediction, Litigation, Privacy, and Property: Some Possible Legal and Social Implications of Advances in Neuroscience,” in Neuroscience and the Law: Brain, Mind, and the Scales of Justice . Dana Press.
Safire, William. 2003-07-10. “The Risk that Failed.” New York Times.
Educause, “7 Things You Should Know About Geolocation,” 2008,
We know that we feel an emotion by sensing something happening in our organism (Damasio 1999:279). When the sense of the feeling self is created in our minds through consciousness, then we can know that we feel an emotion. Our proto-self interprets activity patterns of changes to our organism and represents them as knowable patterns necessary for our core consciousness. Mental images arise from neural patterns representing biological changes in our body and brain (1999:280). Without this second level representation into knowable emotions these neural patterns would be simply noise.
Changes related to the body and cognitive states are related to different mechanisms in different sites of the brain although they are both constituted by a collection of neural patterns in a number of brain circuits and involve changes in the body’s chemical profile (1999:281).
Damasio summarizes this feeling an emotion,
[I] s the representation of that transient change in organism state in terms of neural patterns and ensuing images. When those images are accompanied, one instant later, by a sense of self in the act of knowing, and when they are enhanced, they become conscious. They are, in the true sense, feelings of feelings (Damasio 1999:282).
Damasio argues that this cognitive state, when we know we are feeling our emotions, allows us to plan specific, nonstereotyped responses to the emotive bodily state — to choose to pay attention or not to the biochemical changes in our organism. Damasio claims then that this endowment of consciousness of the knowing subject, provides a marked advantage in evolutionary terms over those creatures who have emotions but lack subjective knowledge and therefore the incentive or ability to solve complex problems of survival (1999:284-5).
Damasio distinguishes between core consciousness and extended consciousness. Core consciousness is only slightly above “other foundational capacities, such as action, emotion, and sensory representation, which we share with several nonhuman species (1999:311).” Consciousness begins with a ‘vague, elusive and yet unmistakable’ feeling, a mental image ‘like some kind of pattern built with nonverbal vocabulary or signs of body states.’ (1999:312). The transient core self, which emerges in core consciousness is ‘ceaselessly re-created for each and every object with which the brain interacts’ (1999:17).
Extended consciousness at its most complex and elaborate level provides the key to the examined life (Damasio 1999:5). I interpret this as meaning that extended consciousness allows us to nurture ethical relationships of mutual respect between ourselves and the other-I. The more traditional sense of self “linked to a notion of identity and corresponds to a nontransient collection of unique facts and ways of being which characterizes a person” is what Damasio calls the autobiographical self. The autobiographical self depends on systematized memory and organized recording of the organism’s unique biography.
The recognizable universal Darwinian core emotions are fear, anger, disgust, surprise and happiness. Damasio suggests that most of the time we do not experience these emotions or the secondary or social emotions but we do experience low-grade background feelings. Background emotions such as ‘fatigue, energy, excitement, wellness, sickness, tension, relaxation, surging, dragging, stability, instability, balance, imbalance, harmony and discord (1999: 286) are intimately linked to consciousness, moods, drives and motivations. Core emotions can be experienced as a burst pattern with a rapid onset-intensity-release pattern or a wavelike pattern. Sadness in some forms and background emotions are wavelike patterns. A particular background emotion that is fairly frequent or sustained over a long period of time is better described as a mood not simply a background emotion (1999:341). Damasio acknowledges resonance between his notion of background feelings and developmental psychologist Daniel Stern’s concept of vitality affects and the work of Susanne Langer.
Damasio uses the term image to refer to a mental image as synonym for mental pattern. He distinguishes between this mental pattern or mental image (as in feeling states) and the neural pattern or map of the processing of neural activities as studied in current neuroscience. Damasio’s notion of mental images refers to unconscious images and conscious images that are only accessible through qualia or first-person perspective. Consciousness is an entirely private, first-person phenomenon which occurs as part of the mind (1999:12). Neurologists are able to access neural patterns and maps through advanced technologies so that most individuals will never see this image of their own neural architecture (1999:318). The brain is constantly constructing mental images or mental patterns with a structure composed of ‘visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and somatosensory modalities’. So Damasio’s images are in no way limited to visual pictures.
For Damasio, the notion of the mind is as a process of continual flow of mental images that become conscious and may be logically interrelated. He uses the notion of thought to describe this flow of mental images that moves forward in time concurrently, convergent or divergent (1999:318).
He describes the limitations of our minds to attend to all the mental images constructed by our brains. He offers the metaphor of a multiple layered subterranean underneath the conscious mind of unconscious mental image, those that our minds did not attend to, a layer of neural patterns and relationships among neural patterns which subtend all conscious and unconscious mental images and a layer of neural machinery which holds records of neural patterns in memory (1999:319).
In spite of his status as leader of thought in consciousness studies, Damasio adopts a humble stance. He reminds us that as science helps us understand consciousness better and ravel some of the mysteries of the mind, there is still enough awe at nature to keep us modest for the foreseeable future (1999:28). It is not through neuroscience, psychology or biology that we will explain the origin of the universe or the meaning of life.
BibliographyDamasio, Antonio R. Descartes’ Error.
Damasio, Antonio R. 1999. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt.
Langer, Susanne. 1942. Philosophy in a New Key: a Study in the Symbolism of Reasons, Rite and Art. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Stern, Daniel. 1985. The Interpersonal World of the Infant: a View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology. New York: Basic Books.
Men feel what they imagine they feel. From that to thinking that they imagine they feel what they feel was a very short step (Gide 1925)
April 27, 2007
How can I know what I’m feeling isn’t just me imagining that I am feeling? What is counterfeit and what is real?
Psychological analysis lost all interest for me from the moment that I became aware that men feel what they imagine they feel. From that to thinking that they imagine they feel what they feel was a very short step . . .! I see it clearly in the case of my love for Laura: between loving her and imagining I love her- between loving her less and imagining I love her less – what God could tell the difference? In the domain of feeling, what is real is indistinguishable from what is imaginary. And if it is sufficient to imagine one loves, in order to love, so it is sufficient to say to oneself that when one loves one imagines one loves, in order to love a little less and even in order to detach oneself a little from one’s love, or at any rate to detach some of the crystals from one’s love. But if one is able to say such a thing to oneself, must one not already love a little less? (Gide 1925 [1958:84])
These are the questions asked by Edouard, the narrator and protagonist of André Gide’s novel Les Faux-Monnayers (1925). Edouard reads the letters, poetry and novels of others and writes in his journal as a background to his experiment in writing a new, more authentic form of novel entitled Les Faux-Monnayers. In the post WWI period of confused values and identities, Edouard begins to question his own reality:
The only existence that anything (including myself) has for me, is poetical – I restore this word its full signification. It seems to me sometimes that I do not really exist, but that I merely imagine I exist. The thing that I have the greatest difficulty in believing in, is my own reality. I am constantly getting outside myself, and as I watch myself act I cannot understand how a person who acts is the same as the person who is watching him act, and who wonders in astonishment and doubt how he can be an actor and a watcher at the same moment. (Gide 1925 [1958:84])
But is it Gide who also experiencing an existential crisis?
André Gide introduced the concept of the mise en abîme in his Journal (1893),
J’aime assez qu’en une œuvre d’art on retrouve ainsi transposé, à l’échelle des personnages, le sujet même de cette œuvre par comparaison avec ce procédé du blason qui consiste, dans le premier, à mettre le second en abyme (Gide 1893).
It is defined by Rimmon-Kenan as,
An analogy which verges on identity, making the hypodiegetic level a mirror and reduplication of the diegetic, is known in French as mise en abyme. It can be described as the equivalent in narrative fiction of something like Matisse’s [1933 painting La Condition Humaine] of a room in which a miniature version of the same painting hangs on one of the walls (Rimmon-Kenan 2002: 94).
and described by Wenche Ommundsen, who foregrounds the metatextual significance of such text-segments, considers mise en abyme as ‘an embedded self-representation or mirror-image of the text within the text. The mise en abyme may […] refer to the whole work which includes it; it may also refer to a particular element within that work, or it may take as its subject the processes of fictional creation and communication’ (Ommundsen 1993: 10 cited by Weiss).
Bal, Mieke. 1985. Narratology. Introduction to the Theory of Narrative (transl.).Toronto/London: University of California Press.
Boheemen. “Notes on Narrative Embedding.” Poetics Today 2.2 (1981): 41-59.
Gide, André. 1925. Les Faux-Monnayers.
Gide, André. 1958. The Coiners. Trans. Dorothy Bussy. London: Cassell & Company.
Gide, André. 1958. XIII. “Edouard’s Journal: Douviers and Profitendieu.” The Coiners. Trans. Dorothy Bussy. London: Cassell & Company. p. 358
Caws, Mary Ann. 1986. Reading Frames in Modern Fiction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP.
Dällenbach, Lucien. 1977. Le récit spéculaire. Essai sur la mise en abyme .– Paris : Seuil, 1977. The Mirror in the Text.– Cambridge : Polity Pres, 1989.
Ommundsen, Wenche. 1993. Metafictions? Reflexivity in Contemporary Texts. Victoria: Melbourne University Press.
Ricardou, Jean.1990 . Le Nouveau Roman. Paris : Seuil.
Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. 2002. Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics. 2nd edn. London and New York: Routledge.
April 21, 2007
Consciousness begins when brains acquire the simple power of telling a story without words using a nonverbal vocabulary of body signals about the living organism constantly altered by internal and external adjustments of the life process. The self appears then as the feeling of a feeling. Knowledge of those feelings emerge as a response to a question never asked (Damasio 1999:30-31).
Consciousness is, in effect, the key to a life examined […] At its simplest and most basic level, consciousness lets us recognize an irresistible urge to stay alive and develop a concern for the self. At its most complex and elaborate level, consciousness helps us develop a concern for other selves and improve the art of life.” (Damasio 1999:5)
Damasio calls these two phases of consciousness core consciousness which engenders and is engendered by a core self in the here and now, and extended consciousness, the zenith of consciousness, which is dependent on and built upon the foundation of core consciousness. Extended consciousness has many levels and grades with a unique autobiographical self and autobiographical memory (Damasio 1999:16-18).
In describing the course of events from emotion to conscious feeling, Damasio argues that there is no central feeling state before the emotion occurs and that expressing an emotion precedes feeling. To illustrate this Damasio paraphrased E. M. Forster words as “How can I know what I think before I say it?” 1
Damasio’s (1999) perspectives on emotion, feeling and knowing is unorthodox. Neural patterns or images arise in changes related to body state and changes related to cognitive states. Through chemical and electrochemical messages the body landscape is changed. Having a feeling and knowing a feeling are not the same. Knowing a feeling requires a knowing subject endowed with the faculty of consciousness (Damasio 1999:283-4).
Damasio, Antonio. 1999. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.
Zimmerman argues that‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say? is from E. M. Forster’s (1879-1970) essay Aspects of the Novel (1927) written when he was forty eight years old and after he completed his final novel, A Passage to India. It was first delivered as part of a series of Clark Lectures given at Trinity College, Cambridge. In it Forster reveals his own unique perspective on literary history, style and form from Defoe to Joyce including a criticism of Henry James’ The Ambassadors.
“Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide–that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her niece of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. ‘Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!’ she exclaimed. ‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?’ Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up-to-date than they were.” (Zimmermann, Heiko . 2005. citing Forster, E. M. 1976. Ed. Stallybrass, Oliver. Aspects of the Novel. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p.99 )
Aspects of the Novel (1927) was written when Forster was forty eight years old and after he completed his final novel, A Passage to India. It was first delivered as part of a series of Clark Lectures given at Trinity College, Cambridge. In it Forster reveals his own unique perspective on literary history, style and form from Defoe to Joyce including a criticism of Henry James’ The Ambassadors. Childs. 2001. Aspects of the Novel.
Fitzgerald claims that this is the source of the citation:
The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, ‘How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?’ Graham Wallas The Art of Thought (1926) [ODQ & B16] cited by Fitzgerald (2006).
Essayist and poet Matthew Arnold (1822-12-24 – 1888-04-15) wrote in “St. Paul and Protestantism” (1870),
“Below the surface stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say and feel — below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel, there flows
With noiseless current, strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.”
Alan Greenspan: “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
“I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Robert McCloskey. U.S. State Department spokesman at one of his regular noon briefings during the worst days of the Vietnam War. Marvin Kalb in TV Guide, Mar. 31, 1984.
Alternative: “I believe that you think you understand what I said, but I fear, that you don´t realize, that what I say is not always what I really mean.”
John Weakland: “‘The meaning of any communication is the response that it gets.”
February 9, 2007
Before, During and After Spinoza’s Time (Building on Damasio 2003)
1391. Spanish Jews are forced to convert to Catholicism for the sake of “social and sectarian uniformity.”
1478. Establishment of the Spanish Inquisition, whose primary task is to convict and execute those found “judaizing.”
1492. All practicing Jews in Spain are given the choice to convert or be expelled.
1497. All Portuguese Jews (including Spinoza’s ancestors) are forced to convert. A steady stream of Jewish refugees begins to flow from Portugal.
1543 Death of Copernicus (born 1473), who proposed that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around (Damasio 2003).
1564 Death of Martin Luther (born 1483), who was excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1521; founded the Lutheran Church (Damasio 2003).
1564 Birth of Galileo Galilee, William Shakespeare, and Christophe Marlowe (Damasio 2003).
1564 Death of John Calvin, who founded Calvinism (the Presbyterian Church today) in 1536 (Damasio 2003).
1572 Luis de Camöes publishes The Lusiad (Damasio 2003).
1588 Birth of Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher who took a clearly materialistic view of the mind. He had a significant influence on Spinoza (Damasio 2003).
1592 Death of Michel de Montaigne (born 1533), whose essays published in 1588 had a significant influence on Spinoza (Damasio 2003).
1593 Christopher Marlowe dies in an accident (Damasio 2003).
1596 Birth of René Descrates (Damasio 2003).
1600 Giordano Bruno burned at the stake for siding with Copernicus and holding pantheistic beliefs (Damasio 2003).
1601 William Shakespeare’s mature Hamlet is performed. The age of questioning begins (Damasio 2003).
1604 Shakespeare’s King Lear is performed (Damasio 2003).
1604 Francis Bacon’s Advancement of Learning (Damasio 2003).
1604 Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote published (Damasio 2003).
1606 Birth of Rembrandt van Rijn.
1609. Beginning of the twelve year truce between the United Provinces and Spain, effectively establishing political independence (after nearly a 100 year struggle) for the seven northern provinces as well as their (Protestant) sectarian separation from the (Catholic) southern provinces.
1610 Galileo builds a telescope. His study of the stars leads him to adopt Copernicus’s views on movements of the sun and earth (Damasio 2003).
1616. Death of Shakespeare. He was still revising Hamlet (Damasio 2003).
1616 Cervantes died on the same day as Shakespeare (Damasio 2003).
1618. Defenestration of Prague and beginning of the Thirty Years War.
1619. Batavia, Java is established as headquarters of the Dutch East India Company.
1620. Francis Bacon writes Noveum organum.
1621. Hostilities resume between Spain and the United Provinces.
1622. Probable date Spinoza’s parents arrive at Amsterdam.
Birth of Carel Fabritius (dies 1654) in Midden-Beesmster.
1623. Birth of Blaise Pascal (dies 1662).
1625. Death of Stadholder Maurice of Nassau; he is succeeded by his brother, Frederick Henry who consolidates the authority of the House of Orange. Hugo de Groot (Grotius) (1583-1645) publishes, in exile, De jure belli et pacis.
1626. Birth of Jan Steen (dies 1679) in Leiden.
Founding of New Amsterdam.
1627. Birth of Robert Boyle (dies 1691) in Lismore, Munster.
1628. William Harvey discovers the mechanisms of the human circulatory system.
Descartes completes Regulae ad directionem ingenii.
1629. Descartes moves to Holland.
1629 Birth of Christian Huygens (dies 1695) in The Hague. Huygens was an astronomer and physicist as well as the intellectual peer, correspondent, sometime neighbour adn lens customer of Spinoza (Damasio 2003).
Birth of Gabriel Metsu (dies 1667) in Leiden.
Birth of Pieter de Hooch (dies 1684) in Rotterdam.
1632. Birth of Baruch Spinoza, 24 November (dies 1677), in Amsterdam.
Birth of Anton van Leeuwenhoeck (dies 1723) in Delft.
Birth of Jan Vermeer (dies 1675) in Delft.
1632 Birth of John Locke (dies 1704) in Wrington, Somerset.
Queen Christina (born 1626) ascends the throne of Sweden (five regents govern in her stead).
Inquisitorial denunciation of Galileo.
1632 Rembrandt painted The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (Damasio 2003).
1634. Alliance of the United Provinces with France against Spain.
Gassendi publishes Apologia de Epicurus.
1633 Galileo is convicted and placed under house arrest (Damasio 2003).
1633 Descartes thinks twice about publishing views on human nature resulting from his research on human anatomy and physiology (Damasio 2003).
1633 William Harvey describes the circulation of blood (Damasio 2003).
1637. Descartes publishes Discours de la Methode.
1638. Manasseh ben Israel is appointed to the Amsterdam Yeshiva.
1638 Birth of Louis XIV, who eventually reigns until 1715 (Damasio 2003).
1639. Admiral Tromp, leading the Dutch navy, defeats the Spanish fleet at Dunes.
1640. Uriel d’Acosta commits suicide. He was a Portuguese philosopher of Jewish origin, raised as a Catholic and later convicted to Judaism, is first excommunicated and then reintegrated but physically punished by the Portuguese Synogogue in Amsterdam. He committed suicide shortly thereafter but not before finishing his book, Exemplar Vitae Humanae.
Death of Rubens (born 1577) in Antwerp.
1641. Descartes publishes Meditationes de prima philosophia.
1642. Hobbes publishes De cive.
Death of Galileo (born 1564).
Birth of Issac Newton (dies 1727).
Rembrandt paints The Night Watch.
1644. Descartes publishes Principia philosophiae.
Publication of Dutch translation of Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia.
Queen Christina begins her de facto reign in Sweden.
Birth of Antonio Stradivari (dies 1737) in Cremona.
1646. Birth of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (dies 1716) in Leipzig.
1648. The Treaty of Westphalia terminates the Thirty Years War.
The United Provinces sign a separate peace accord recognizing independence of the United Provinces.
1649. Descartes completes Les Passions de l’âme.
Charles I of England beheaded.
1650. Under the tutelage of Dr. Van den Enden of Bremen, Spinoza studies Latin, natural science (physics, mechanics, chemistry,
astronomy, and physiology), and philosophy. Spinoza probably meets Clara Marie van den Enden (the master’s daughter) with
whom he later falls in love.
Death of Descartes in Sweden.
Death of William II, Count of Nassau, Prince of Orange.
1651. Probable date Spinoza first reads Descartes’ philosophical works. Later he would write in reference to Descartes secular logic that humans are part of nature not separate from it, “Most writers on the emotions and on human conduct seem to be treating rather of matters outside nature than of natural phenomena following nature’s general laws. They appear to conceive man to be situated in nature as a kingdom within a kingdom; for they believe that he disturbs rather than follows nature’s order, that he has absolute control over his actions, and that he is determined by himself… Nothing comes to pass in nature, which can be set down to a flaw therein; for nature is always the same… there should be one and the same method of understanding the nature of things whatever… (Quoted in Nagel 1948:272)” I’m not sure which of Spinoza’s works he is quoting in Perry 2003:15)
Hobbes publishes Leviathan.
Cromwell passes the Navigation Act.
The Dutch colonize the Cape of Good Hope.
Start of the first Anglo-Dutch war.
1652. Despite strong opposition from his father, Spinoza takes up lens-grinding.
1653. Jan de Witt appointed Council Pensionary of the province of Holland.
Pascal joins the Jansenists at Port-Royal.
1654. Death of Spinoza’s father, Michael.
Treaty of Westminster ends the first Anglo-Dutch war.
Velasquez paints Las Meninas
1655. Spinoza is accused of heresy (materialism and “contempt for the Torah”) before the Tribunal of the Congregation.
Probable date of composition of Spinoza’s Korte verhandeling van God, de mensch en des zelfs welstand (Tractatus de Deo et
homine etjusque felicitate).
1656. Spinoza, at twenty-four years old, is excommunicated from the Amsterdam Synagogue. He is prevented from contact with any Jews, including family and friends. Thereafter he lives alone, in various Dutch cities until 1670 (Damasio 2003).
An edict of the States of Holland prohibits the teaching of Cartesian philosophy.
Christian Huygens uses the pendulum to regulate clock movements.
Pascal publishes Lettres provinciales (against the Jesuits).
1658. Death of Cromwell.
1659. Huygens identifies the rings of Saturn.
1660. The Amsterdam Synagogue officially petitions the municipal authorities to denounce Spinoza as a “menace to all piety
Restoration of the monarchy in England with the accession of Charles II.
Death of Velasquez (born 1599).
1661. Spinoza leaves Amsterdam for nearby Rijnsburg; begins writing Ethica; Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata . meets Henry Oldenburg. Probable date of Vermeer’s Little Street and View of Delft.
Inauguration of the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV of France.
Huygens invents the manometer (for ascertaining the elastic force of gases).
Robert Boyle publishes The Skeptical Chymist.
1622. Probable completion of Spinoza’s Tractatus de intellectus emendatione.
Death of Pascal (born 1623).
1663. Spinoza moves to Voorburg, outside The Hague; takes up residence with the painter, Daniel Tydemann.
New Amsterdam is seized by the English and renamed New York.
1664. Spinoza publishes, in the Hague, Renati Des Cartes principiorum philosophiae along with Cogitata metaphysica.
Probable date of Vermeer’s Lacemaker.
1665. Beginning of the second Anglo-Dutch war (lasts until 1667).
1666. Newton’s annus mirabilis (universal gravitation, differential calculus, lunar orbit).
Leibniz submits dissertation, Nova methodus discendique juris; also completes De arte combinatoria.
Louis XIV invades the Spanish Netherlands.
Death of Frans Hals (born Antwerp, 1580) in Haarlem.
Death of Guercino (born Northern Italy, 1591).
1667. Admiral de Ryuyter sails his navy into the mouth of the Thames; destroys the English fleet.
Treaty of Breda marks the end of hostilities between England and the Netherlands.
War of Devolution begins as French troops invade the Spanish Netherlands.
1668. Leeuwenhoeck produces the first accurate description of red blood corpuscles.
Newton constructs reflecting telescope.
Birth of Giovanni Battista Vico (dies 1744).
The Triple Alliance (England, United Provinces, Sweden) halts the French conquest of the Spanish Netherlands.
Signing of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle.
1669. Death of Rembrandt (born Leiden, 1606) in Amsterdam.
Tractatus theologico-politicus is denounced by the (Calvinist) Church Council of Amsterdam as a “work forged in Hell by a renegade Jew and the Devil and issued with the knowledge of Mynheer Jan de Witt.”
1670 Spinoza moves to The Hague; takes up residence on the Stille Veerkade. Anonymous publication of Spinoza’s Tractatus Politicus Religiosus in Latin (Damasio 2003).
Pascal’s Pensées published posthumously.
1671. Leibniz sends Spinoza his Notita opticae promoteae; Spinoza sends Leibniz his Tractatus theologico-politicus.
Clara Marie van den Enden marries Dr. Kerckrinck, a wealthy Amsterdam physician and disciple of Spinoza.
1672. Louis XIV, having undermined the Triple Alliance, invades the United Provinces. The Dutch open the dikes and manage to hold the French within a day’s march of Amsterdam. Jan de Witt and his brother are held responsible (by an already incensed,
anti-libertarian Calvinist clergy) for the invasion, and are massacred by a mob on 20 August. William of Orange is made Captain-General of the United Provinces.
1673. Spinoza is invited by the Elector Palatine to accept a Professorship of Philosophy at the University of Heidelberg;
Spinoza declines the offer.
The French are expelled from Dutch territory, but not before they lay waste to large areas of the countryside.
1674. At the instigation of William of Orange, an edict banning Tractatus theologico-politicus is issued by the States of Holland.
1675. Spinoza completet Ethica in which he described how, “Mind and body are one and the same thing, which is conceived now under the attribute of thought, now under that of extension . . . . And consequently the order of the actions and passions of our body is the same as the order of the actions and passions of the mind.”
“We thus see how it comes about, as is often the case, that we regard as present many things which are not. It is possible that the same result may be brought about by other causes; but I think it suffices for me here to have indicated one possible explanation, just as well as if I had pointed out the true cause. Indeed, I do not think I am very far from the truth, for all my assumptions are based on postulates, which rest, almost without exception, on experience, that cannot be controverted by those who have shown, as we have, that the human body, as we feel it, exists (Cor. after II. xiii.). Furthermore (II. vii. Cor., II. xvi. Cor. ii.), we clearly understand what is the difference between the idea, say, of Peter, which constitutes the essence of Peter’s mind, and the idea of the said Peter, which is in another man, say, Paul. The former directly answers to the essence of Peter’s own body, and only implies existence so long as Peter exists; the latter indicates rather the disposition of Paul’s body than the nature of Peter, and, therefore, while this disposition of Paul’s body lasts, Paul’s mind will regard Peter as present to itself, even though he no longer exists. Further, to retain the usual phraseology, the modifications of the human body, of which the ideas represent external bodies as present to us, we will call the images of things, though they do not recall the figure of things. When the mind regards bodies in this fashion, we say that it imagines. I will here draw attention to the fact, in order to indicate where error lies, that the imaginations of the mind, looked at in themselves, do not contain error. The mind does not err in the mere act of imagining, but only in so far as it is regarded as being without the idea, which excludes the existence of such things as it imagines to be present to it. If the mind, while imagining non-existent things as present to it, is at the same time conscious that they do not really exist, this power of imagination must be set down to the efficacy of its nature, and not to a fault, especially if this faculty of imagination depend solely on its own nature–that is (I. Def. vii.), if this faculty of imagination be free.”
Leibniz visits Spinoza in The Hague.
Death of Vermeer (born 1632).
Birth of Antonio Vivaldi (dies 1741).
1677. Death of Spinoza (born 1632), 21 February. Publication, by Spinoza’s friends in Amsterdam, of the Opera Posthuma (Ethica, Tractatus politicus, Tractatus de intellectus emendatione, Epistolae, Compendium Grammatices Linguae Hebrae).
Leeuwenhoeck discovers spermatozoa.
William of Orange marries Princess Mary, daughter of the Duke of York.
1678. Publication of body of Spinoza’s work in Dutch and French. Secular and ecclesiastical authorities enforce prohibition of Spinoza’s books throughout Europe. His work circulates illegally (Damasio 2003).
1679. Death of Hobbes (born 1588).
1684 John Locke’s exile in Holland to 1689 (Damasio 2003).
1687 Publication of Newton’s treatise on gravitation (Damasio 2003).
1690 Locke publishes Essays Concerning Human Understanding and Two Treatises on Government at age sixty (Damasio 2003).
1704 Locke died at age seventy-two (Damasio 2003).
1743 Birth of Thomas Jefferson (Damasio 2003).
1748 Montesquieu publishes L’Esprit des Lois.
1764 Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary is published five years after his Candide.
1772 Conclusion of the publication of the Encyclopedie, the centrepiece work of the Enlightenment under the direction of Denis Diderot and Jean-le-Rond d’Alembert (Damasio 2003).
1789 The French Revolution (Damasio 2003).
1791 The First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Damasio 2003).
1896 Art historian Bernard Berenson, who was born to a poor Jewish family, compared his highly lucrative role in the art market, his means of livelihood with the humble labors of Spinoza and St.Paul. The former earned his living as a lens-grinder while the latter made tents. Berenson became very wealthy by associating himself with high profile dealers and using his expertise as consultant to establish authenticity of works of Italian art thereby earning huge commissions. He established his reputation through his gift of establishing authorship of Italian paintings. Shapiro felt that Berenson’s real contribution to the art world was his work as connoisseur-critic, not in philosophy. His contribution to Italian art of … period still benefit students of Italian painting today. Berenson’s scholarship has been questioned by his peers including at Harvard. Shapiro feels that Berenson’s ideas were less original and important that Berenson thought. Shapiro accuses Berenson of a refusal to grow in his ideas as theorist or critic. His ideas become clichés over the years. He uses the same ideas to both explain the best in Italian art and to criticize contemporary art. See Berenson. (1896) Florentine Painters of the Renaissance.
Spinoza is grouped with Rabelais, Goethe and Rousseau as forming a canon of literature essential for those seriously studying anthropology, literature and/or philosophy.
1968 Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) wrote Spinoza et le problème de l’expression.
1978 Deleuze, G. (1978). “Seminar Session on Spinoza.” Translated by T. S. Murphy. Gilles Deleuze referred to Spinoza as “The absolute philosopher, whose Ethics is the foremost book on concepts” (Deleuze, 1990).
1978 Deleuze, G. (1978). “Seminar Session on Spinoza.” Translated by T. S. Murphy. Deleuze asks what is an idea and what is an affect in Spinoza? problem of synthesis and the problem of time in Kant. a philosopher is not only someone who invents notions, he also perhaps invents ways of perceiving. Spinoza is exceptional: the way he touches those who enter into his books has no equivalent. AFFECTIO and AFFECTUS the Ethics, written in Latin is Spinoza’s principal book “affection” for affectio “affect” or “feeling” [sentiment] for affectus. First point: what is an idea? an idea is a mode of thought which represents something. A representational mode of thought. For example, the idea of a triangle is the mode of thought which represents the triangle. Still from the terminological point of view, it’s quite useful to know that since the Middle Ages this aspect of the idea has been termed its “objective reality.” In texts from the 17th century and earlier, when you encounter the objective reality of the idea this always means the idea envisioned as representation of something. The idea, insofar as it represents something, is said to have an objective reality. It is the relation of the idea to the object that it represents. The idea is a mode of thought defined by its representational character. This already gives us a first point of departure for distinguishing idea and affect (affectus) because we call affect any mode of thought which doesn’t represent anything. affect or feeling, a hope for example, a pain, a love, this is not representational. There is an idea of the loved thing, there is an idea of something hoped for, but hope as such or love as such represents nothing, strictly nothing. Every mode of thought insofar as it is non-representational will be termed affect. A volition, a will implies, in all rigor, that I will something, and what I will is an object of representation, what I will is given in an idea, but the fact of willing is not an idea, it is an affect because it is a non-representational mode of thought. He thereby immediately infers a primacy of the idea over the affect, and this is common to the whole 17th century, so we have not yet entered into what is specific to Spinoza. There is a primacy of the idea over the affect for the very simple reason that in order to love it’s necessary to have an idea, however confused it may be, however indeterminate it may be, of what is loved.
There is thus a primacy, which is chronological and logical at the same time, of the idea over the affect, which is to say a primacy of representational modes of thought over non-representational modes. It would be a completely disastrous reversal of meaning if the reader were to transform this logical primacy through reduction. That the affect presupposes the idea above all does not mean that it is reduced to the idea or to a combination of ideas. We must proceed from the following point, that idea and affect are two kinds of modes of thought which differ in nature, which are irreducible to one another but simply taken up in a relation such that affect presupposes an idea, however confused it may be. This is the first point. Now a second, less superficial way of presenting the idea-affect relation. You will recall that we started from a very simple characteristic of the idea. The idea is a thought insofar as it is representational, a mode of thought insofar as it is representational, and in this sense we will speak of the objective reality of an idea. Yet an idea not only has an objective reality but, following the hallowed terminology, it also has a formal reality. What is the formal reality of the idea? Once we say that the objective reality is the reality of the idea insofar as it represents something, the formal reality of the idea, shall we say, is-but then in one blow it becomes much more complicated and much more interesting – the reality of the idea insofar as it is itself something.
1988 Gille Deleuze. Spinoza: A Practical Philosophy. San Francisco: City Lights Books (Damasio 2003).
1990 Gilles Deleuze referred to Spinoza as “The absolute philosopher, whose Ethics is the foremost book on concepts” (Deleuze, 1990).
1993? Jean Pierre Changeux used the term neuroethics at a landmark symposium on biology and ethics held in Paris under the auspices of the Institute Pasteur (Damasio 2003:318).
2000 Michael Nardt, A. Negri. Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press (Damasio 2003).
2001 Martha Nussbaum. Upheavals of Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press (Damasio 2003:305). The appraisal process based on a wealth of human experience is partly accessible to introspection and has been recorded in literature as Martha Nussbaum has shown (Damasio 2003: 305 re: note 22). See also (Damasio 2003:318) referring to note 20 where Damaisio directs readers to Nussbaum’s discussion of the role of emotions in justice in general and in the application of justice in particular.
Bombard, R. 1994. Tempus Spinozanum. Compiled: Spring 1994
Damasio, Antonio. 2003. Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.