# 53rd EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL

 

THE SINGER AND THE SONG.
 
Part 1. Female Singers and Songs
 

 
The Aim Was Song.
 
Before man to blow to right
The wind once blew itself untaught,
And did its loudest day and night
In any rough place where it caught.

Man came to tell it what was wrong;
It hadn’t found the place to blow;
It blew too hard – the aim was song.
And listen how it ought to go!

He took a little in his mouth,
And held it long enough to north
To be converted into south,
And then by measure blew it forth.

By measure. It was word and note,
The wind, the wind had meant to be –
A little through the lips and throat,
The aim was song – the wind could see.

Robert Frost

 

A brief preamble.

‘Singers and songs,’ here being mainly songs of yesteryear, state of pop music being what it is today…There’s a survey doing the rounds says that pop music is louder, dumber, less harmonious than in days of yore. Hmmm, look, I don’t need a survey to tell me about pop music today, hear enough of it in shopping plazas and emporiums, on TV, ‘The Voice,’ you hear it on the radio every time you switch on a dial. I could play some of it for you from the internet, but life’s too short to suffer that mechanical beat, the banal repetitious chorus, that signature two-note whoop, ‘ Eey-oh – ee-ey-oh’ that’s taken up everywhere by frenzied, arm-waving, adolescent audiences.

Well, I suppose, having mentioned the survey, I should give some details, but with these provisos…In recent times there’ve been quite a few flawed surveys out there, even, gasp, pre-supposed, scientific surveys – observed to fail on grounds of bias, poor measurement techniques or design to produce some designated marketing outcome. And this one, too, likely has its flaws. When you’re dealing with the arts, interaction of music and lyrics, say, nullius in verba and be wary of number crunching data. And so, herewith…

Researchers at the Spanish National Research Council ran recordings from all genres of popular music from the period 1955-2010, (the ‘Million Song Dataset,’) through a series of algorithms to analyze harmonic complexity, timbral diversity and loudness. Their study, ‘Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music,’ http://www.nature.com/articles/srep00521 found that since the 50’s there has been a decrease in harmonic complexity, not only in the diversity of chords in songs but also in the musical pathways between chords, less inventiveness in linking their harmonies together, less creative and more commercial production, The study also found that timbres or distinct textures produced by different instruments playing the same notes have become more homogenous over time, and when it comes to volume, surprise, surprise, music is becoming, on average, steadily louder.

Doing the rounds there are also a few word-count studies of song lyrics in pop music, drawing a similar conclusion regarding complexity, a conclusion that ‘less equates with worse.’ One study by William Briggs measures repetition and ratio of unique words to total words of the most popular song in each year from 1950 to 2010, with the idea that, on average, a song that is more repetitive is worse than a song with more expansive lyrics. http://wmbriggs.com/post/4405/ He finds that, post 1980, there’s been quite a considerable drop in word uniqueness per song, with 2019 and 2010 favorites, ‘Boom Boom Pow’ and ‘Tik Tok’ lyrics matching the titles’ sophistication. Hey, while limited vocabulary may not necessarily equate with awfulness, in these two songs it does.

Now it follows that one swallow does not a summer make, nor does one top-of-the-pops song reveal all beneath the event horizon. And in judging artistic value, a statistical approach is unlikely to tell you much. However the above studies do suggest a problem of declining choice in the devices and means of artistic creation, limits of means to an end for the artist, limits of engagement for the audience. And highly significant are those references to market control by just a few dominant companies in the music industry in the last three decades, companies that commercially manufacture songs to promote the familiar and push their products to make them popular, by way of controlled outlets, to the least discerning of audiences.

The fusion of sense and sound.

Relating to complexity in language, there’s a rather highbrow study by Professor Russ McDonald http://research.gold.ac.uk/13363/ ‘ The Language of Tragedy,’ that examines the language of Shakespeare and his debt to Christopher Marlow. Marlow invented the iambic pentameter line that Shakespeare developed, using metre of varied beat and line enjambments to create the exceptional speech of his tragic protagonists, a fusion of figurative language and complex rhythms, like these lines from Macbeth …‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time. / And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death.’

As Russ MacDonald argues, ‘The burgeoning of tragedy owed much to the invention of a poetic language suitable for it, unrhymed iambic pentameter, or blank verse.’ Writers prior to its development were hampered by prosodic forms like the fourteen syllable line that tended to split in two, producing a clumsy monotony, and a defined line ending necessitated by the demands of rhyming verse.

Say, the rhythm of good verse is the rhythm of thought. Listen to Alexander Pope:

‘True ease in writing comes from Art, not chance,
As those who move easiest who have learned to dance.
‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.’

As in poetry, likewise in music, thanks to what Ernst Gombrich describes as ‘the infinite elasticity of the human mind,’ our use of metaphor, of finding ‘equivalences in disparate phenomena and of substituting one for another,’ ( ‘Meditations on a Hobby Horse,’ P 14.) Because of our predilection for metaphor, we are able to respond to a musical experience as the equivalent of a moral value or a transference from one sensory experience to another, -‘a noble chorus,’ ‘ a velvet tone,’ ‘cheerful polka’ or even ‘a grim scherzo.’ And thanks to the evolution of music’s means, musical structures, chords, major and minor keys, all the symphonic and instrumental developments of classical music, even a song without words can suggest to us aspects of the human condition, from deep, elemental, human emotions to ordered, harmonious, ‘civilized’ experience. And sometimes, says Kenneth Clark, speaking of opera, that which is ‘too silly to be said may be sung.’(‘Civilization.’ Ch 9. The Pursuit of Happiness.) The fusion between sense and sound in music can be complicated, even ironic.

So let’s listen to some popular songs and their singers. I’m starting with the 1930s, one of the great periods of song writers like Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin, their classic songs still sung in the decades beyond the 30’s, you’ll hear them today.

So what do singers sing about? The passing seasons, love, loneliness, almost anything to do with feelings and the human condition. Listen to the bell like notes of Ella Fitzgerald, in contrast to the gritty voice of Lois Armstrong, singing the classic Gershwin song, ‘Summertime.’ Here’s a fusion of sound and sense, harmonic complexity, musical pathways, tone, lyrics, things are on the up and up. Hear it in the metre, extended beat of key words ‘ suuhm-muh ti-ime’ ‘ the living is ‘ ea-easy,’ in the images, ‘fish are jumping, and the cotton is high,’ emphasis on words of summer plenitude, music soars, high notes of violins, Louis Armstrong beautiful trumpet and Ella’s voice…
 

Who can forget Ginger and Fred dancing ‘cheek to cheek,’ one of Irving Berlin’s best songs. That dance scene! https://beththeserf.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/37th-edition-serf-under_ground-journal/ Here Irving Berlin’s song sung by Ella Fitzgerald.
 

The sophisticated Cole Porter exploits the four-four beat kind in the manner of Shakespeare exploiting the possibilities of the iambic pentameter. His song, ‘Night and Day’ begins with just one note repeated over and over, words and metre combining to express a feeling of incessant longing…

‘Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom tom / When the jungle shadows fall / Like the tick, tick tock of the stately clock /As it stands against the wall, / Like the drip, drip drip of the rain drops / When the summer shower’s through, /A voice within me keeps repeating, /You, you, you.’

Metrical stress falls on the words, ‘you’, ‘the one,’ ‘night and day,’ and its inverse, ‘day and night’ to convey the lover’s state of mind. And Frances Faye gets it and literally ‘plays’ with it, accompanying herself on the piano as she sings Cole Porter’s song with witty improvisations that emphasize the song’s complexity.
 

In the early forties, young movie star, Judy Garland, singing one of Jerome Kern’s loveliest songs.
 

Judy Garland does ‘some day’ so well and repeats it in another song, ‘Over the Rainbow,’ composed by Harold Arien. Here she is in 1939 in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ – with Toto.
 

It’s the 1940’s, can’t have famous songs and singers without Piaf, French chanteuse, and that song, ‘La Vie on Rose.’ ‘Quand il me prend dans ses bras / il me parle tout bas / je vois la vie en rose.’ A song of affirmation in sound and in sense, and Piaf’s distinctive voice!
 

Passing over some powerful vocalists and songs of the 50’s and 60’s, going for lyricism and poetry here, Astrud Gilberto singing ‘Corcovado.’

‘Quiet nights and quiet stars, quiet chords from my guitar / Floating on the silence that surrounds us. / Quiet thoughts in quiet dreams, quiet walks by quiet streams, / Climbing hills where lovers go to watch the world below, together.’

So lovely, murmuring conversation between voice and saxophone in minor key, falling rhythm, anapestic beat replacing the firm iambic beat, emphasis on and repetition of the word , ‘quiet,’ sound and imagery fuse as metaphor for private intimacy…
 

If you enjoyed that, then listen to this, also sung by Astrud Gilberto, Roger and Hammerstein’s ‘ It Might As Well be Spring,’ from the musicale, ‘State Fair.’ I can’t present it as a stand alone url, you need to listen the second song in the album., ‘The Bossa Nova Years.’

Generally the song is sung as musicale introduction to the forthcoming teen-age romance, emphasis sentimental. Here in minor key and a fraction off key, a complaining duet by soloist and saxophone, a witty exploitation of the negatives that the lyrics list: ‘It isn’t even Spring,’ ‘I haven’t seen a crocus or a rose bud,’ and of the negative feelings expressed, ‘restless,’ ‘ jumpy,’ ‘vaguely discontented.’ It’s a subversive rearrangement of the original song to focus on the uncertainties and painful emotions of adolescent romance. Notice in those closing bars, the dissonance by singer and saxophone.
 

Singers and songs of the 70’s, 80’s, you’re getting song plus dance movements here, stagey performance that sometimes distracts from the song. You’ve got soul singers, the powerful voices of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Tina Turner and, gasp, Aretha Franklin. Strong rhythm and assertive performance, not quite to my taste but these vocalists are good! And 1970’s ‘New Wave’ they call it, some quirky singer-song writers of songs with complex rhythms, Lene Lovit, ‘Lucky Number’s one,’ Kate Bush, the lyrical ‘Wuthering Heights.’

Pop music, expect street smart songs about love and battle of the sexes, tough lyrics. What you get with two singer-songwriters, Blondie, Debbie Harrie, ‘Heart off Glass’ and Madonna, ‘Borderline,’ are songs of intricate metre and lovely melody. Madonna is known for pushing the boundaries with lyrics, ‘Like a Virgin,’ but here in ‘Borderline,’ listen to the harmonic arrangement. The film-clip portrays bravado street-culture and brat behavior, but hear Madonna’s refined singing tone, it’s a love song, and look at her expressive acting!
 

Annie Lenox from Aberdeen where the weather ain’t good. ‘Here Comes the Rain Again.’ Atmospheric, Annie Lennox rich contralto voice, sometimes muted choral back-up, staccato violins, drum beat pulsing like beating rain, harmonic complexities, don’t overlook those musical pathways, lyrics …
 

Well that’s it, but as every song should have its appropriate ending, so, too, an essay on singer’s and songs. Herewith, Piaf, ‘qui ne regrette rien.’
 

# 52nd EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL

 

The Miracle of Vision …The Making of the Eye.

Writing to a colleague in 1860, Darwin confided that there was a time when thinking about the evolution of the complex eye made him ‘cold all over.’

A Dark, Inscrutable Workmanship?

Any wonder Darwin’s comment when you read Sir Charles Sherrington’s essay on ‘The Making of the Eye,’ in his book ‘Man on his Nature.’ (1940.)

While Sherrington’s book presents the human mind and body as productions of natural forces that act upon the materials of our planet, his description of the intricate processes that are involved in the making of a human eye could possibly present to a reader as a case study of intelligent design. Herewith Charles Sherrington’s essay:
 

The Making of the Eye.

“Can then physics and chemistry out of themselves explain that a pin’s-head ball of cells in the course of so many weeks becomes a child? They more than hint that they can. A highly competent observer, after watching a motion-film photo-record taken with the microscope of a cell-mass in the process of making bone, writes: ‘Team-work by the cell-masses. Chalky spicules of bone-in-the-making shot across the screen, as if labourers were raising scaffold-poles. The scene suggested purposive behaviour by individual cells, and still more by colonies of cells arranged as tissues and organs.’ That impression of concerted endeavour comes, it is no exaggeration to say, with the force of a self-evident truth. The story of the making of the eye carries a like inference.

The eye’s parts are familiar even apart from technical knowledge and have evident fitness for their special uses. The likeness to an optical camera is plain beyond seeking. If a craftsman sought to construct an optical camera, let us say for photography, he would turn for his materials to wood and metal and glass. He would not expect to have to provide the actual motor power adjusting the focal length or the size of the aperture admitting light. He would leave the motor power out. If told to relinquish wood and metal and glass and to use instead some albumen, salt and water, he certainly would not proceed even to begin. Yet this is what that little pin’s-head bud of multiplying cells, the starting embryo, proceeds to do. And in a number of weeks it will have all ready. I call it a bud, but it is a system separate from that of its parent, although feeding itself on juices from its mother. And the eye it is going to make will be made out of those juices. Its whole self is at its setting out not one ten-thousandth part the size of the eye-ball it sets about to produce. Indeed it will make two eyeballs built and finished to one standard so that the mind can read their two pictures together as one. The magic in those juices goes by the chemical names, protein, sugar, fat, salts, water. Of them 80 per cent is water.

Water is the great menstruum of ‘life’. It makes life possible. It was part of the plot by which our planet engendered life. Every egg-cell is mostly water, and water is its first habitat. Water it turns to endless purposes; mechanical support and bed for its membranous sheets as they form and shape and fold. The early embryo is largely membranes. Here a particular piece grows fast because its cells do so. There it bulges or dips, to do this or that or simply to find room for itself. At some other centre of special activity the sheet will thicken. Again at some other place it will thin and form a hole. That is how the mouth, which at first leads nowhere, presently opens into the stomach. In the doing of all this, water is a main means.

The eye-ball is a little camera. Its smallness is part of its perfection. A spheroid camera. There are not many anatomical organs where exact shape counts for so much as with the eye. Light which will enter the eye will traverse a lens placed in the right position there. Will traverse; all this making of the eye which will see in the light is carried out in the dark. It is a preparing in darkness for use in light. The lens required is biconvex and to be shaped truly enough to focus its pencil of light at the particular distance of the sheet of photosensitive cells at the back, the retina. The biconvex lens is made of cells, like those of the skin but modified to be glass-clear. It is delicately slung with accurate centering across the path of the light which will in due time some months later enter the eye. In front of it a circular screen controls, like the iris-stop of a camera or microscope, the width of the beam and is adjustable, so that in a poor light more is taken for the image. In microscope, or photographic amera, this adjustment is made by the observer working the instrument. In the eye this adjustment is automatic, worked by the image itself!

The lens and screen cut the chamber of the eye into a front half and a back half, both filled with clear humour, practically water, kept under a certain pressure maintaining the eye-ball’s right shape. The front chamber is completed by a layer of skin specialised to be glass clear and free from blood-vessels which if present would with their blood throw shadows within the eye. This living glass-clear sheet is covered with a layer of tear-water constantly renewed. This tear-water has the special chemical power of killing germs which might inflame the eye. This glass-clear bit of skin has only one of the fourfold set of the skin-senses; its touch is always ‘pain’, for it should not be touched. The skin above and below this window grows into movable flaps, dry outside like ordinary skin, but moist inside so as to wipe the window clean every minute or so from any specks of dust, by painting over it fresh tear-water.

The light-sensitive screen at the back is the key-structure. It registers a continually changing picture. It receives, takes and records a moving picture life-long without change of ‘plate’, through every waking day. It signals its shifting exposures to the brain.

This camera also focuses itself automatically, according to the distance of the picture interesting it. It makes its lens ‘stronger’ or ‘weaker’ as required. This camera also turns itself in the direction of the view required. It is moreover contrived as though with forethought of self-preservation. Should danger threaten, in a moment its skin shutters close protecting its transparent window. And the whole structure, with its prescience and all its efficiency, is produced by and out of specks of granular slime arranging themselves as of their own accord in sheets and layers and acting seemingly on an agreed plan. That done, and their organ complete, they abide by what they have accomplished. They lapse into relative quietude and change no more. It all sounds an unskilful overstated tale which challenges belief. But to faithful observation so it is. There is more yet.

The little hollow bladder of the embryo-brain, narrowing itself at two points so as to be triple, thrusts from its foremost chamber to either side a hollow bud. This bud pushes toward the overlying skin. That skin, as though it knew and sympathized, then dips down forming a cuplike hollow to meet the hollow brain-stalk growing outward. They meet. The round end of the hollow brain-bud dimples inward and becomes a cup. Concurrently, the in-growth from the skin nips itself free from its original skin. It rounds itself into a hollow ball, lying in the mouth of the brain-cup. Of this stalked cup, the optic cup, the stalk becomes in a few weeks a cable of a million nerve-fibres connecting the nerve-cells within the eye-ball itself with the brain. The optic cup, at first just a two-deep layer of somewhat simple-looking cells, multiplies its layers at the bottom of the cup where, when light enters the eye – which will not be for some weeks yet – the photo-image will in due course lie. There the layer becomes a fourfold layer of great complexity. It is strictly speaking a piece of the brain lying within the eye-ball. Indeed the whole brain itself, traced back to its embryonic beginning, is found to be all of a piece with the primordial skin – a primordial gesture as if to inculcate Aristotle’s maxim about sense and mind.

The deepest cells at the bottom of the cup become a photo-sensitive layer – the sensitive film of the camera. If light is to act on the retina – and it is from the retina that light’s visual effect is known to start – it must be absorbed there. In the retina a delicate purplish pigment absorbs incident light and is bleached by it, giving a light-picture. The photo-chemical effect generates nerve-currents running to the brain.

The nerve-lines connecting the photo-sensitive layer with the brain are not simple. They are in series of relays. It is the primitive cells of the optic cup, they and their progeny, which become in a few weeks these relays resembling a little brain, and each and all so shaped and connected as to transmit duly to the right points of the brain itself each light-picture momentarily formed and ‘taken’. On the sense-cell layer the ‘image’ has, picture-like, two dimensions. These space-relations ‘reappear’ in the mind; hence we may think their data in the picture are in some way preserved in the electrical patterning of the resultant disturbance in the brain. But reminding us that the step from electrical disturbance in the brain to the mental experience is the mystery it is, the mind adds the third dimension when interpreting the two dimensional picture! Also it adds colour; in short it makes a three dimensional visual scene out of an electrical disturbance.

All this the cells lining the primitive optic cup have, so to say, to bear in mind, when laying these lines down. They lay them down by becoming them themselves.

The human eye has about 137 million separate ‘seeing’ elements spread out in the sheet of the retina. The number of nerve-lines leading from them to the brain gradually condenses down to little over a million. Each of these has in the brain, we must think, to find its right nerve-exchanges. Those nerve-exchanges lie far apart, and are but stations on the way to further stations. The whole crust of the brain is one thick tangled jungle of exchanges and of branching lines going thither and coming thence. As the eye’s cup develops into the nervous retina all this intricate orientation to locality is provided for by corresponding growth in the brain. To compass what is needed adjacent cells, although sister and sister, have to shape themselves quite differently the one from the other. Most become patterned filaments, set lengthwise in the general direction of the current of travel. But some thrust out arms laterally as if to embrace together whole cables of the conducting system.

Nervous ‘conduction’ is transmission of nervous signals, in this case to the brain. There is also another nervous process, which physiology was slower to discover. Activity at this or that point in the conducting system, where relays are introduced, can be decreased even to suppression. This lessening is called inhibition; it occurs in the retina as elsewhere. All this is arranged for by the developing eye-cup when preparing and carrying out its million-fold connections with the brain for the making of a seeing eye. Obviously there are almost illimitable opportunities for a false step. Such a false step need not count at the time because all that we have been considering is done months or weeks before the eye can be used. Time after time so perfectly is all performed that the infant eye is a good and fitting eye, and the mind soon is instructing itself and gathering knowledge through it. And the child’s eye is not only an eye true to the human type, but an eye with personal likeness to its individual parent’. The many cells which made it have executed correctly a multitudinous dance engaging millions of performers in hundreds of sequences of particular different steps, differing for each performer according to his part. To picture the complexity and the precision beggars any imagery I have. But it may help us to think further.

There is too that other layer of those embryonic cells at the back of the eye. They act as the dead black lining of the camera; they with their black pigment kill any stray light which would blur the optical image. They can shift their pigment. In full daylight they screen, and at night they unscreen, as wanted, the special seeing elements which serve for seeing in dim light. These are the cells which manufacture the purple pigment, ‘visual purple’, which sensitizes the eye for seeing in low light.

Then there is that little ball of cells which migrated from the skin and thrust itself into the mouth of the eye-stalk from the brain. It makes a lens there; it changes into glass-clear fibres, grouped with geometrical truth, locking together by toothed edges. The pencil of light let through must come to a point at the right distance for the length of the eye-ball which is to be. Not only must the lens be glass-clear but its shape must be optically right, and its substance must have the right optical refractive index. That index is higher than that of anything else which transmits light in the body. Its two curved surfaces back and front must be truly centred on one and the right axis, and each of the sub-spherical curvatures must be curved to the right degree, so that, the refractive index being right, light is brought to a focus on the retina and gives there a shaped image. The optician obtains glass of the desired refractive index and skilfully grinds its curvatures in accordance with the mathematical formulae required. With the lens of the eye, a batch of granular skin-cells are told off to travel from the skin to which they strictly belong, to settle down in the mouth of the optic cup, to arrange themselves in a compact and suitable ball, to turn into transparent fibres, to assume the right refractive index, and to make themselves into a subsphere with two correct curvatures truly centred on a certain axis. Thus it is they make a lens of the right size, set in the right place, that is, at the right distance behind the transparent window of the eye in front and the sensitive seeing screen of the retina behind. In short they behave as if fairly possessed.

I would not give a wrong impression. The optical apparatus of the eye is not all turned out with a precision equal to that of a first-rate optical workshop. It has defects which disarm the envy of the optician. It is rather as though the planet, producing all this as it does, worked under limitations. Regarded as a planet which ‘would’, we yet find it no less a planet whose products lie open to criticism. On the other hand, in this very matter of the eye the process of its construction seems to seize opportunities offered by the peculiarity in some ways adverse of the material it is condemned to use. It extracts from the untoward situation practical advantages for its instrument which human craftsmanship could never in that way provide. Thus the cells composing the core of this living lens are denser than those at the edge. This corrects a focusing defect inherent in ordinary glass-lenses. Again, the lens of the eye, compassing what no glass-lens can, changes its curvature to focus near objects as well as distant when wanted for instance, when we read. An elastic capsule is spun over it and is arranged to be eased by a special muscle. Further, the pupil – the camera stop – is self-adjusting. All this without our having even to wish it; without even our knowing anything about it, beyond that we are seeing satisfactorily.

The making of this eye out of self-actuated specks which draw together and multiply and move as if obsessed with one desire namely to make the eye-ball. In a few weeks they have done so. Then, their madness over, they sit down and rest, satisfied to be life-long what they have made themselves, and, so to say, wait for death.

The chief wonder of all we have not touched on yet. Wonder of wonders, though familiar even to boredom. So much with us that we forget it all the time. The eye sends, as we saw, in to the cell-and-fibre forest of the brain throughout the waking day continual rhythmic streams of tiny, individually evanescent, electrical potentials. This throbbing streaming crowd of electrified shifting points in the spongework of the brain bears no obvious semblance in space-pattern, and even in temporal relation resembles but a little remotely the tiny two dimensional upside-down picture of the outside world which the eyeball paints on the beginnings of its nerve-fibres to the brain. But that little picture sets up an electrical storm. And that electrical storm so set up is one which affects a whole population of brain-cells, Electrical charges having in themselves not the faintest elements of the visual – having, for instance, nothing of ‘distance’, ‘right-side-upness”, nor ‘vertical’, nor ‘horizontal’, nor ‘colour’, nor ‘brightness’, nor ‘shadow’, nor ‘roundness’, nor ‘squareness”, nor contour’, nor ‘transparency’, nor ‘opacity’, nor ‘near’, nor ‘far’, nor visual anything – conjure up all these. A shower of little electrical leaks conjures up for me, when I look, the landscape; the castle on the height, or, when I look at him, my friend’s face, and how distant he is from me they tell me. Taking their word for it, I go forward and my other senses confirm that he is there.

It is a case of ‘the world is too much with us’; too banal to wonder at. Those other things we paused over, the building and shaping of the eye-ball, and the establishing of its nerve connections with the right points of the brain, all those other things and the rest pertaining to them we called in chemistry and physics and final causes to explain to us. And they did so, with promise of more help to come.

But this last, not the eye, but the ‘seeing’ by the brain behind the eye? Physics and chemistry there are silent to our every question. All they say to us is that the brain is theirs, that without the brain which is theirs the seeing is not. But as to how? They vouchsafe us not a word.”

 

Seeking Answers to Life’s Hard Questions.

In ‘The Origin of Species,’ Darwin describes his own response to the complex process of the making of the human eye:

‘To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection , seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree… ‘

Despite this initial reaction, Darwin famously concludes:

‘Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if every such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered subversive of the theory.’ (The Origin of Species. Ch. 6.)

Intuitively we, that is, serfs like me, think we comprehend the simplest form of adaptive evolution, a direct process of an A1-A2-A3-A4 series of step change along a single axis, each step serving the same function as the one before, but doing it more effectively. More difficult for us to comprehend, regarding organs like the human eye, the complex transition from mere light-sensor animals, some in which the optic nerve is deeply buried in the body and serves some circadian function, to the simplest organ which can be called an eye, but without any lens or refractive body, and on to the image forming and image adjusting apparatus of the complex eye.

It appears, however, that in the evolution of eyes, each intermediary step along the way to perfect vision has benefits; half an X is better than no X at all. Even distinguishing light from darkness can be advantageous, and regarding function, Darwin observes:

‘We should be extremely cautious in concluding that an organ could not have been formed by transitional gradations of some kind. Numerous cases could be given amongst the lower animals of the same organ performing at the same time wholly distinct functions; thus in the dragonfly and in the fish Cobites, the alimentary canal respires, digests and excretes… In such cases natural selection might specialize if any advantage were thus gained, the whole or part of an organ, which had previously performed two functions, for one function alone, and thus by insensible steps greatly change its nature.’ (O.S. Ch 6.)

Darwin also refers to the swim-bladder in fishes as an example of an organ with two functions, namely buoyancy and respiration, evolving into an exclusively respiratory function and eventually into tetrapod lungs.

How Complex Organs Evolve.

Say, complexity is never simple. On how to account for the evolution of complex organs requiring an unbroken chain of descent without inexplicable leaps from less complex antecedents, there’s an article, ‘The Evolution of Complex Organs, ‘ (Springer 2008.) that provides an insightful overview of what 150 years of scientific investigation have yielded concerning various evolutionary processes that contribute to their origin. The evolution of the eye is used as a case study to illustrate these processes and several of the most common misconceptions about complex evolution are also discussed. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12052-008-0076-1

In accounting for a chain of descent that evolves without breaks, the Springer article expands on Darwin’s transitional gradations. The article describes the various processes that taken together are considered to meet this requirement.

Indirect Evolution.

Evolutionary biologists find that a process of gradual stepwise, or Direct Evolution, is not by itself sufficient to account for the evolution of complex and integrated organs, which require a necessary additional process. Enter Indirect Evolution and the notion of functional shifts that Darwin considered an extremely important means of transition from simpler to more complex functions. A term used today to describe functional shifts is Exaptation, that means fit, (aptus) by reason of, (ex) existing form, like flippers to legs, as contrasted to Adaptation meaning improvement of current function. The process of adaptation and exaptation are not entirely separate. ‘Most complex organs are likely to represent a mixture of primary adaptations, exaptations and, [in its new role] a process of secondary adaptations.’ (Springer p6.)

Given that exaptations are defined largely by what they are not, namely the products of natural selection strictly for their current function, there are several routes by which an organ (or gene) can become an exaptation. One way is where an organ (or gene) takes on a new function as a result of selective pressures after the organism experiences environmental change. Another exaptation is where modification of a feature for the initial function makes it more amenable to modification in a new role and this allows the organism to move into a new environment or life style. A third exaptation can come about where an organ (or gene) has two functions and is modified as it becomes increasingly specialized for one of them, as Darwin noted with the fish swim -bladder to tetetrapod lungs.

Two Legs Good, Four Legs Maybe Better?

Another important exaptation involves duplication of organs, such as the second pair of wings in flies functioning as a kind of gyroscope. Duplications sometimes involve multi-copies, allowing some to diverge for different functions, like repeated limbs in lobsters, some specialized for walking, some for swimming, and others for feeding. Duplication is an important process in natural selection because, when a biological feature currently serves a function vital to survival, then it is likely that any deviations from its current state will prove detrimental. The most widely recognized escape from this constraint is by way of duplication. A citation to Ohno, (1970) in the article… Ohno considered duplication a critical requirement for evolutionary diversification, stating that ‘Natural selection merely modified while redundancy created.’

Lots more in the article. I’ll just conclude with three of the misconceptions it discusses.

# Supposed intermediate stages in the evolution of complex organs could not be functional. To reiterate… what good is half an X where X is any feature such as a wing or an eye? Even with missing parts a wing can be used for something else, gliding, fighting, feathers for warmth. Even misaligned eyes have some vision, eyes missing rod and cone cells may still serve a circadian function. With less complex stages, the only requirement is that the less complex stage be good for something.

# An inability to explain every detail of a complex organ’s history challenges the validity of evolutionary science. Thanks to work carried out in pursuit of natural explanations, a great deal is now understood about the form, function and probable origins of complex biological organs and systems, and there is a convergence of several independent lines of enquiry, data from genetics, molecular biology, comparative anatomy and paleontology, that point to the same conclusion that eyes are a product of natural evolution mechanisms.

# Biologists propose that complex organs arise ‘by chance. The variation upon which natural selection acts is generated by mutation, and it is certainly the case that these accidents of inheritance occur randomly with respect to any consequences that they may have. It is also true that natural selection possesses no capacity for foresight and has no final objectives as it alters population characteristics from one generation to the next. It does not follow, however, that the evolution of complex organs occurs ‘by chance.’ By definition, natural selection is the non-random differential success of individuals on the basis of heritable variation and therefore the cumulative outcome of this process –adaption – is the opposite of random chance.

# 51st EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL

 

HERETICAL THOUGHTS ON LIFE’S GRANDEUR.

‘Earth’s Creation is the glory of God, as seen from the works of Nature by man alone.’

‘Every genus is natural, created as such in the beginning, hence not to be rashly split up or stuck together by whim according to anyone’s theory.’

‘If we consider the generation of Animals, we find that each produces an off-spring after its own kind … and that from each proceeds a germ of the same nature with its parent; so that all living things, plants, animals, and even mankind themselves form one ‘chain of Universal Being’, from the beginning to the end of the world; in this sense truly may it be said that there is nothing new under the sun.’ – Carl Linnaeus. ‘Systems Naturae,’
 

In the beginning…

Before science there was the Bible in which The Book of Genesis describes the mysteries of creation. In the beginning, on the first day, ‘God created the heavens and the earth.’ On the following five days God created the vaulted sky and two great lights to give day and night and He created the plants, bearing seeds ‘according to their kind,’ the creatures that swim, fly and move along the ground ‘according to their kind,’ and then God created man and woman in his image to rule over them.

This was the received truth. Earth was created as the centre of the universe. Each living species came into being separate and invioliate, and according to biblical scholars, this all took place not quite 6,000 years ago.

As science developed in medieval Europe, via rediscovery of early Greek philosophers and Byzantine and Islamic scholars who sought non-supernatural explanations for natural phenomena, many areas not directly challenging to the Bible’s teachings began to be explored. Reverence for biblical teachings, however, impeded any bold, systematic investigation into areas that involved church doctrine. Those few open-minded scientists who did question received truth were quickly censured by the church. In a scientific revolution that began when Nicolaus Copernicus launched his heliocentric theory on the world, there were only five men, Copernicus, Galileo, then two centuries later, James Hutton, publishing his theory of earth’s antiquity, and Charles Darwin, co-publishing with Alfred Wallace, a theory of evolution of species, who had the intellectual courage to publish heretical theories that shattered the biblically rooted picture of the creation and separated science from theology.
 

Sea-change rich and strange…

In the second half of the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, three expeditions by sea, two of them long voyages into the South Pacific, the other a brief excursion by rowboat off the east coast of Scotland, were to have heretical consequences as challenging to the creation story, as Copernicus and Galileo’s earlier challenge.

The first of these was Lieutenant James Cook’s voyage to the South Seas in 1767 to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. The Royal Society played a significant role in promoting the expedition, its largest maritime venture to date. Since its foundation in 1660, The Royal Society had placed a high value upon the empirical observations to be gained from ships’ logs and the journals of travelers on long voyages. To ensure that these potentially valuable records to science should be accurate and comprehensive, the Society included ‘Directions for Seamen, bound for far voyages’ in the first volume of its ‘Philosophical Treatise’.

Apart from observing the transit of Venus, Cook’s own instructions were to carefully observe of lands visited in the south seas, ‘the Nature of the Soil, and the Products thereof; the Beasts and Fowls that inhabit or frequent it, the Fishes that are to be found in the Rivers or upon the Coast and in what Plenty,’ and ‘specimens of the Seeds of Trees, Fruits and Grains as you may be able to collect, and Transmit them to our Secretary, that We may cause proper examination and Experiments to be made of them.’

It was widely considered by naturalists of the period, that scientists like Sir Joseph Banks, who accompanied Cook on the 1768 voyage in the good ship Endeavour, would help complete the Genesis picture of the universe as a vast, ordered chain of being described above by Carl Linnaeus, the most influential naturalist of the eighteenth century… Well that’s what they thought, but despite the baggage in the hold, Cook’s first Pacific voyage, with three trained observers on board, naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, botanist Dr Daniel Solander and draughtsman Sydney Parkinson, some of that baggage got lost at sea.

Art historian Bernard Smith’s classic book, ‘European Vision and the South Pacific’ is a study of Captain Cook’s three voyages and other scientific expeditions that followed and also of the new settlement in 1788 at Port Jackson, (Australia,) and an account of the challenges that careful observation of flora and fauna presented to natural science, and careful observation of people and vegetation had on prevalent romanticized perceptions of ‘noble savages’ and ‘idealized landscape painting.’ Below are some of these challenges documented in Bernard Smith’s book…

‘Accuracy of drawing seems to be a principle recommendation to Sir Joseph.’ The artists Joseph Banks associated with were men whose work was notable for its analytical precision, like draughtsman, Sydney Parkinson. A great deal of Parkinson’s work on the voyage consisted of drawing specimens collected by the naturalists Banks and Solander who described all the new plants collected and attempted to classify them. The vast amount of new, and strange plant specimens presented major problems in classification, however, Solander’s notebooks ‘abound in erasures and cancellations of specific and generic names first allotted to the specimens collected.’ (Bernard Smith p18)

Later scientific expeditions into the South Pacific adopted the empirical practices of this first voyage, employing skilled botanists, zoologists and artists, for example, botanist Robert Brown and draughtsman Ferdinand Bauer accompanying Matthew Flinders on expedition mapping the Australian coast-line, and Frenchmen, zoologist Francois Peron and artist, Charles Lesuer, who all experienced difficulties like those of Solander.

Confronted with problems presented by the multiformities of nature in the South Pacific, naturalists were finding it difficult to classify their materials according to presuppositions of a great chain of being. Ferdinand Bauer’s plant drawings and Charles Lesuer’s animal drawings show how scientific scrutiny was leading towards depiction of structure, and ‘hence to graphic penetration beyond the surface of things.’(Bernard Smith, p190,) Bauer examined scientific structure using a magnifying glass and drawing not only leaf and flower, but sections of buds, pods and plant roots. Lesueur’s drawings of fish and phosphorescent animals included anatomical sections.

Ferdinand Bauer.

Charles Lesueur

 
In Darwin’s cabin when he embarked on his famous voyage on the Beagle in 1831, was a library of 400 books which he read on the long journey. 36% on travel/ voyages and 33% on natural history and including detailed wood cut prints and engravings of plants and animals of the South Pacific. In this library were Captain Cook’s accounts of three South Pacific voyages, Matthew Flinders ‘Voyage to Terra Australis,’ and the ‘Voyage de Decouvertes aux Terres Australies’ of Francois Peron and Charles Lesueur.

On land and at sea.

While Captain Cook was on his first Pacific voyage opening the way to heretical questioning of the creation story, someone else was similarly engaged in Scotland in the city of heretics, Edinburgh. Returning to Edinburgh, his place of birth, in 1767 to advise on the building of the Forth-Clyde Canal, James Hutton was soon doing more than that with his discoveries regarding the earth’s antiquity and the processes of its formation.

No dearth of heretical thoughts or theories in eighteenth century Edinburgh in that mid-century flowering of critical enquiry known as The Scottish Enlightenment. Surprising, considering that just four decades prior, an eighteen year old theology student, Thomas Aikenhead, who made a flippant joke about Hell, was sentenced to death for blasphemy, a sentence carried out in January 1697. Who could have seen, for this impoverished but literate society, that the next century would mark the end of their culturally and materially constrained way of life and the beginning of a new age which would generate basic institutions, habits of mind and ideas that had effects impacting far beyond their native land.

A short list of those heretical actors of the Scottish Enlightenment includes William Robertson, one of the founders of modern historical research, David Hume, whose Treatise on Human Nature influenced views of human rationality up until today, including having an impact on the founding fathers of the United States. Then there’s Adam Smith, beginning the study of economics with his Wealth of Nations, and chemist Joseph Black, who discovered that earth’s atmosphere is made up of a mixture of gases including carbon dioxide, and employed for a time in Joseph Black’s laboratory, there’s James Watt who invented the practical steam engine. Perhaps the most heretical of them all was Joseph Black’s friend, James Hutton, the father of modern geology.

By the 1760’s, Hutton was already arguing that the earth was ancient. While learning farming methods in Norfolk in 1752, and later practicing innovative farming methods on his own farm in The Borders, Scotland, Hutton travelled extensively, studying farming and also geology. In a letter that Hutton wrote to his friend John Hall, while Hutton was in Norfolk, he tells Hall that on his hikes he found himself ‘examining the surface of the earth and looking into every pit, ditch or river bed that fell in his path.’( In ‘The Man Who Found Time.’ Jack Repcheck. Ch 5.)

When Hutton returned to Edinburgh, he was already one of Scotland’s leading mineralogists and had begun forming his theory of the earth’s formation as a recycling process of erosion. In Edinburg, Hutton was introduced to Joseph Black, who became his close friend and supporter. While exploring the phenomenon of latent heat, Joseph Black had come to understand the role that pressure played on heated substances, an insight important to Hutton’s thinking. With this insight, Hutton would take his early experiences from farming and field trips and turn them into a powerful, original theory.
 

…Three men in a row boat.

Hutton was soon a member of the Edinburgh Scottish Enlightenment, introduced to Adam Smith and others by Joseph Black. Hutton, Black and Smith founded a club known as the Oyster Club, one of the literati clubs that were a feature of Edinburgh during the Scottish Enlightenment and when the Royal Society of Edinburgh was founded by royal charter in 1783 Hutton, Black and Smith were three of its first members. Sometime in 1784 Hutton was invited to present two lectures to the Royal Society on his theory of the earth.

No records were kept of these two events, the first, on Hutton’s theory of stratified rock, delivered by Joseph Black because Hutton was ill, the second, by Hutton himself on the elevation of new strata by the power of heat. What the audience thought of these lectures is not recorded, all that is known for sure is that Hutton soon afterwards set off on a series of excursions to provide stronger evidence for his theory regarding the mineralizing process caused by heat. His first expedition, accompanied by Sir John Clerk, also a mineralogist, was to find an exposure of granite in stratified rock, where shape and direction of the veins demonstrated that it came from underground. In the fast running Tilt River on the estate of the Duke of Athol in the Grampians, they found what Hutton was looking for, a formation, that ‘most clearly demonstrates the violence with which the granite veins were injected among the schistus.’ (J.Repcheck P 157.)

Two more successful field trips, to Galway and Arran provided additional evidence of Hutton’s theory. Then the eureka discovery, the boat trip to Siccar Point and evidence that the earth’s formation is a cyclical event!
 

Siccar Point…

On a sunny afternoon in June, 1788, three gentlemen from Edinburgh, with several farm hands as crew, boarded a boat in the North Sea, east of Edinburgh, in search of a rock outcrop on the rugged cliffs along the coast that would support James Hutton’s theorized cycle of land renewal over long periods of time. The three gentlemen in the boat were Hutton and two friends, professor of mathematics, John Playfair, considered one of the cleverest men in Scotland, and a younger man, Sir James Hall, in his twenties already an accomplished Scientist.

Hutton had chosen this coastline to investigate because of its two distinct types of surface, a grey shale that was considered a younger rock, and an older, red sandstone strata. Sailing along the jagged cliffs, mild weather and low tide allowed them to come close to shore and the afternoon sun gave maximum exposure to the cliffs on shore. The boat traveled south, passing first one headland and then another and on to the next headland on their course, Siccar Point. And there they saw what they were looking for! At the foot of the cliffs a grey coloured shistus, its layers no longer vertical but standing in pillars, straight up, like books on a shelf. And above them, two feet thick, fragments of the shistus, and above that another exposure of layered rock, its these layers horizontal and of the distinct hue of red sandstone…

John Playfair wrote later of this moment:

‘We felt ourselves necessarily carried back to the time when the schistus on which we stood was yet at the bottom of the sea, and when the sandstone before us was only beginning to be deposited in the shape of sand or mud, from the waters of a superincumbent ocean. An epoch still more remote presented itself, when even the most remote of the rocks, instead of standing upright in vertical beds, lay in horizontal planes at the bottom of the sea. and was not yet disturbed by that immeasurable force which has burst asunder the solid pavement of the earth’ J.Repcheck P 23.)

Siccar Point

 
Hutton, an animated man, was elated. Here was incontrovertible proof of his theory. Playfair was less sanguine. As a former Presbyterian minister, he knew how vigorously the church, and scholars who supported it, would protect judgements on which it held a position. The battle for truth was just beginning.
 

Epilogue.

Reviews of Hutton’s paper, published in 1788 by the Royal Society, were mostly dismissive of Hutton’s findings, the most hurtful to Hutton by Robert Kirwan, a respected scientist who as a young man trained as a Jesuit priest. Kirwan criticized Hutton for proposing cycles that were contrary to reason and accused him of blasphemy. Hutton responded by starting work on a two volume book, though he was seriously ill at the time. His ‘Theory of the Earth’ was published in 1795 and Hutton died soon afterwards. The book was not well written and criticisms of Hutton’s theory continued, particularly attacks by a young man from Edinburgh, Robert Jamieson, who published prolifically, applying a viewpoint to Scottish geology promoted by Frederic Werner, a professor from a famous German university. Werner argued that a universal ocean, once covered the earth, creating the chaotic formations of the earth that now existed, a theory more acceptable to established religion by its reference to Noah’s flood than Hutton’s theory.

Hutton’s theory was being dismissed, who would begin a counter attack? Joseph Black and John Clerk no longer had the energy. Playfair and Hall took up the challenge. Playfair rewrote the book with distillations of Hutton’s theory and notes and case studies and published it in 1802. Hall carried out over 500 experiments refuting Werner’s argument that basalt when heated always cools as glass. Hall showed that when cooled slowly basalt re-forms as crystals.

Despite these efforts Jamieson’s publications were winning out, but then, after the death of Playfair, Hutton’s leading expositor, in 1824 the now elderly James Hall invited Charles Lyell, a young geologist, to Hall’s estate and took him to Siccar Point.

Siccar Point worked its magic. Charles Lyell became converted to Hutton’s theory and began carrying out his own field investigations. In 1830 Lyell published the first volume of his ‘Principles of Geology,’ followed by two more volumes in the next three years. Lyell’s book, in which he acknowledged his debt to Hutton, was to become the standard reference for geology students for the next hundred years.

Darwin took a copy of Lyell’s ‘Principles of Geology’ with him on his voyage on the Beagle. A week or so after Darwin started reading Lyell’s work, The Beagle dropped anchor at its first port of call, Porto Praya on the volcanic island of St Jago, where Darwin discovered a white stratum of fossilized shells and coral on a hill thirty feet above sea level. (‘The Voyage of the Beagle.’ Ch1.) From that that day on Darwin viewed the world by a different time perspective.
 

Darwin’s Voyage on the Beagle.

When Darwin set of on his five year voyage in 1831, Lyell’s book and the library on the Beagle influenced Darwin’s research from the start. Having the library now available online reveals the sources and inspirations that Darwin read day after day as he swung in his hammock during long sea crossings or as he worked on his specimens at the chart table or under his microscope. Before the Beagle reached a new location, Darwin was able to read the reports of earlier visitors. The scientific questions he found answered and indeed left unanswered in the library were useful to his own encounters as a naturalist.

From St Jago Island, continuing its circumnavigation of the globe, the Beagle visited Brazil, Patagonia and the Falkland Islands, sailing through the Straits of Magellan and on to Chile. In Chile, Darwin crossed the Andes into Argentina, From the west coast of South America the Beagle then journeyed to the Galapagos Islands, those fateful islands, and then across the Pacific Ocean to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia, land of that marsupial oddity, the kangaroo, before returning to England in October, 1836. At each port of call Darwin would collect bags full of specimens, animals, insects, plants and minerals and send them on to England to be analysed.
 

Curiouser ‘n curiouser…

What to make of that great chain of being? On a beach in Bahia Blanca, Darwin comes across the remains of nine fossil quadrupeds and many detached bones embedded on the beach within the space of 200 yards square.

‘First, parts of three heads and other bones of the Megatherium, the huge dimensions of which are expressed by its name. Secondly the Megalonyx, a great allied animal.Thirdly, the Scelidotherium, also an allied animal, of which I obtained a nearly perfect skeleton. It must have been as large as a rhinoceros: in the structure of its head it comes, according to Mr Owen, nearest to the Cape Anteater, but in some other respects it approaches to the armadillos.’ (The Voyage of the Beagle.Ch 5.)

Two of the other fossils Darwin lists are ‘an extinct kind of horse.’ and ‘one of the strangest animals ever discovered,’ a Toxodon, in size as large as an elephant, but the structure of its teeth revealed ‘that it was intimately related to the Gnawers, the order which, at the present day includes most of the smallest quadrupeds.’ (Ch 5.)

Probably the most significant discoveries made by Darwin were in the Galapagos Islands where Darwin saw those finches and those strange diving lizards, but especially the finches with their odd beaks, of which he observed:

‘Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.’ (The Voyage of the Beagle. Ch 17.)

Back in England it did not take long for these small birds to start a scientific revolution. As he did with all his collected specimens, Darwin sent his finches to an expert for formal analysis. In March 1837, expert ornithologist, John Gould, informed Darwin that the birds were not a different variety of finch but a different species of finch. Now Darwin would became aware, that animals, perhaps all life, experiencing slow but constant change and separated from others of its species over a long period of time, as the Galapagos finches were separated, could evolve into distinct species. In July of the same year, Darwin began a new notebook with the heading ‘The Transmutation of Species.’

Finches – Gould

 
To suggest a driver for the process of species transmutation entailed Darwin’s late reading of a forty year old essay by The Reverend Thomas Malthus,’ ‘Essay on the Principle of Population,’ describing the pressures on living things of overpopulation and competition for scarce resources, ergo if a variation like a longer beak gave a competitive advantage, its owner would likely have a better chance to reproduce and pass on the beneficial variation to its offspring.

The rest is high drama, Darwin’s twenty page letter from Alfred Wallace with whom Darwin had been corresponding for several years, detailing Wallace’s own theory, almost identical to Darwin’s, the urgent completion of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,’ Charles Lyell acting as Darwin’s literary agent, the agreement to publish Wallace’s Paper along with Darwin’s book, allowing joint credit for discovery, Darwin’s anxiety and concern about the book’s reception …well the road to heresy is never easy.

And it wasn’t easy for Darwin’s theory of natural selection. There’s that religious indignation for a theory that claims human’s evolved, not as direct descendants of the first Adam, but via a common ancestor we share with monkeys and apes. And there’s the problem of those ‘organs of extreme perfection and complication’ as Darwin describes organs like the intricate human eye and the even more powerful eagle eye. Surely, creationists argued, eyes must be an example of creative design.
 

Ape Man – Well!

The claim of shared ancestry in Darwin’s Origin of Species provoked furor from orthodox Christians of all denominations and gave cartoonists a field day. The historic Oxford Debate, ‘Evolution versus Creationism,’ between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley, Darwin was ill and unable to attend, in which both Huxley and Wilberforce claimed victory, was a theatrical event. Wilberforce, nicknamed ‘Soapy’ Wilberforce, criticized Darwin’s theory, its assumptions, and its moral implications, concluding with a sarcastic question, asking Huxley, nicknamed ‘Darwin’s Bulldog,’ if he considered himself descended from an ape through his grandmother or grandfather?

According to reports, Huxley replied that while man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather, if there were an ancestor whom Huxley should feel shame in recalling, it would be the man of intellect who distracts his audience from a real argument by aimless rhetoric and appeals to religious prejudice… In short, Huxley preferred the disgrace of the ape to the ignorance of his opponent. At this dramatic juncture, a lady in the audience is said to have fainted and was carried out of the lecture hall.

Surprisingly, when Darwin published, in 1871, his follow-up book, ‘The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex,’ the book quickly ran out of print, and was received, considering Adam’s fall from grace, with not too much controversy. Darwin expressed surprise. Within three weeks of publication a reprint had been ordered, and 4,500 copies were in print by the end of March 1871. ‘Everybody is talking about it without being shocked,’ said Darwin, which he thought ‘proof of the increasing liberality of England.’

Less controversy today regarding man’s descent. Scientists have now sequenced the genes of the chimpanzee and found the human genome is 96 percent similar to the great ape species.

‘Why has man not a microscopic eye?’ … Questions, questions.

‘Why hast man not a microscopic eye? / For this plain reason, Man is not a Fly,’ says Alexander Pope. Ask not why man’s eye is what it is, as Pope asked in ‘An Essay on Man,’ but ask instead how it came to be what it is. Writing to a colleague in 1860, Darwin confided that there was a time when thinking about the evolution of the complex eye, made him ‘cold all over.’ Darwin devotes a chapter, in ‘The Origin of Species’ to the difficulties of descent with modification of those organs of extreme perfection like the intricate human eye.

Responding to the creationist argument that the human eye could not develop in a linear process, Darwin argued that while this might appear to be the case, he had reason to think otherwise:

‘To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree…[yet] reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.’

From examples in nature, Darwin demonstrated that over a long period, a complex human eye can evolve from the simple-light sensitive nerves of the lowest organisms, to a basic eye, consisting of an optic nerve surrounded by pigment cells and covered with translucent skin and on to more sophisticated vision. Darwin also argued that a complex organ, like the human eye, can even evolve by adaptation of an organ from one purpose to another, as the floatation swim bladder of fish converted to lungs for respiration.

More of this anon…So much fascinating stuff written about the evolution of the eye, but too much for this essay, so I think I’ll do a follow up post on it instead.
 

A little Deux Ex Machina.

Before I offer Darwin’s concluding words in The Origin of Species, some serf thoughts, deux ex machina, on heretical thought.

Seems that the birth of science, like Darwin’s theory itself, is a complex evolution involving sea journeys that challenged old certainties, and a rediscovery of the thoughts of philosophers of the Greek Revolution. ‘All things are made of water,’ said Thales of Miletus, and so began philosophy and science… There’s Pythagoras’ school that gave rise to a mathematical tradition and Aristarchus of Samos proposing a heliocentric theory pre Copernicus. A marginal entry of the name of Aristarchus on one of Copernicus’ manuscripts shows that Copernicus has resuscitated this theory.

And there’s the Church’s part in the above. After the destruction of the Roman Empire by northern invaders, literacy and the study of mathematics in the West came to be almost exclusively maintained by the Catholic Church. In Europe, in the Middle Ages, it was the clerics copying the manuscripts of Greek and Middle Eastern scholars who kept learning alive. Arising out of the Christian Church, even with its adherence to dogma and its Inquisition, you get an attachment to reason and consequent breakthroughs in understanding natural phenomena by church clerics like Copernicus and by devout members of Christian communities… there’s Galileo, Isaac Newton, who spent much of his time in bible studies, James Hutton and his supporter, chemist Joseph Black, a Presbyterian Minister, not infidels or atheists but Christians.

Don’t know if Darwin believed in a divinity acting behind the scenes. Some of us serfs are doubtful regarding a creator, but we do stand in awe of the grandeur of nature, ‘the wild cataract leaps in glory,’ well, you know… Maybe Darwin was agnostic but we really don’t know.

Herewith Darwin’s concluding words in The Origin of Species:

‘It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of liattemptinfe, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’

# 50th EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL

 

Karl Popper versus George Soros …
Two conflicting views of the Open Society.

 
Multi-billionaire and hedge fund manager George Soros, in what could be his manifesto, a book written in 2000, ‘Open Society , Reforming Global Capitalism,’ attributes influence on his views and program, promoted via his global ‘Open Society Foundation,’ to Karl Popper’s classic exposition, ‘The Open Society and its Enemies,’ published in 1950.

‘Open Society,’ says George Soros, ‘stands for freedom, democracy, rule of law, human rights, social justice and social responsibility as a universal idea.’ ( O.S. Soros. 2000, p 120.) …Sounds good, doesn’t it, ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ ‘rule of law,’ etcetera, etcetera, but somewhere along the way, Karl Popper’s Open Society seems to have undergone a sea-change into something stranger, interesting to compare the two versions, Popper Mark I and Soros Mark II.

Popper wrote his book during the dark days of Hitler’s rise to power and early days of the Second World War when it looked like Hitler’s attempt at world dominance might succeed. He wrote ‘Open Society’ as a response to these events, a felt need to critically examine totalitarianism in its various guises and to defend the values of open, democratic society that were being threatened. The various guises Popper examines in ‘Open Society’ are doctrines of historical necessity and human destiny expounded by Plato, Hegel and Marx, Plato formulating an ideal republic based on his theory of forms, Hegel combating liberalism in the authoritarian state of Prussia’s King Frederic William III, and Karl Marx in industrial England, arguing inexorable laws of social development and class war.

In criticizing these three thinkers, Popper states in the preface to ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies:

’If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men. Great men may make great mistakes; and as the book tries to show, some of the greatest leaders of the past supported the perennial attack on freedom and reason. Their influence, too rarely challenged, continues to mislead those on whose defense civilization depends, and to divide them.The responsibility of this tragic and possibly fatal division becomes ours if we hesitate to be outspoken in our criticism of what admittedly is a part of our intellectual heritage. By reluctance to criticize some of it, we may help to destroy it all.’

Popper’s Open Society High -Five…..

The High-Five of Popper’s Open Society, ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy involving critical debate,’ ‘equal rule of law for all,’ ‘human rights,’ ‘social justice and social responsibility,’ are necessarily inter-connected in complex ways; ‘freedom,’ for example, entailing questions of ‘who rules,’ ‘how much rule’ and ‘what checks and balances on governance’ The main focus of Popper’s two volume ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’ is his review of Plato’s Republic, Volume 1, ‘The Spell of Plato,’ the first of the blueprint Utopias designed to make-over society on a grand scale.

None of the above features of the open society in Plato’s hierarchical Utopia meant to arrest all change and keep everyone in their place. Popper attributes the attempt by Plato to create an unchanging society to his personal experience as an Athenian living through the strain of an unsettled period of historical change, the disastrous war between tribal Sparta and democratic Athens’ and subsequent civil war, the oligarch party in Athens plotting against the democracy.

Plato summed up this experience by the historicist law of historical development that all things decay. But Plato believed that it was possible to break this law by a return to the original perfect form of things or ideas. His Republic, recreating the perfect tribal closed society ruled by an elite philosopher caste would do this. To maintain unity within this ruling caste, all that was private and individual must be eradicated and therefore, Plato tells us, in his highest state there must be common property of wives, children and chattels. Popper quotes Plato: ‘You are created for the sake of the whole …’ (O.S.p100.) and observes that for Plato, individualism is the enemy of collectivism and must be branded as selfish expression of ego, no place in Plato’s Republic for western humanism and altruism or The Arts.

Lies required, ‘noble’ or otherwise.

So when you wish to make BIG changes you have to be persuasive. The political system Plato designed to achieve his static society necessitated his persuasive myth, or necessary ‘noble lie,’ of the metals in men, gold in an elite class who should lead, and beneath them, tiers of inferior metals with their ordained, unquestioned roles of obedience to the philosopher king. In this hierarchy, only the gold elite get education, but it is an education of received truths not to be questioned, and Plato hopes that in time even the philosopher class will come to believe his noble lie.

More dishonesty. Plato used Socrates as his sock puppet to give respectability to his totalitarian program. Socrates, advocate of the open society and critical debate, member of what Popper calls the great generation of Athenian open society becomes the mouthpiece for Plato’s authoritarian doctrines. Here on justice and rule of law, Plato has Socrates giving a whole new meaning to words like ‘justice’ or ‘freedom’ via convoluted argument….What means justice for each citizen? Why, it’s the right to possess what is his own. And what is this right specifically? Why it’s the right, (within his caste) to attend to his own business, that is, the right of the labourer to labour, and presumably of the slave to slave, and of course, the unquestionable right of the philosopher class to rule. (O.S. Ch 6.)

Justice, then, in Plato’s hierarchical state means what is in the best interest of the hierarchical state and Plato’s focus, regarding justice, was the question of ‘who shall rule the state?’ Popper observes that whether the response was ‘the wise’ or ‘the good,’ or even ‘the general will’ or ‘the master race’ shall rule,’ the question skipped over the fundamental problem of limits to power, the problem of unchecked sovereignty. Popper proposed a better question concerning justice, which is: ‘How can we so organize political institutions so that bad or incompetent leaders be prevented from doing too much damage?’ (O.S.p121.)

In Plato’s Republic, no checks or balances required other than a state-controlled education system designed to manage the succession of leadership and socially engineer selected students from the leader class in preparation for the role of ‘wise’ and omnipotent philosopher king.

How different is this ‘wisdom’ from Socrates curiosity and intellectual modesty, ‘Socrates who taught that we should have faith in human reason and avoid dogmatism. This,’ says Popper, ‘is what Plato made of Socrates’ demand that a responsible politician should be a lover of truth and wisdom rather than an expert, and that he was ‘wise’ only if he knew his limitations.’ (O.S.p 137.)

And this blueprint by Plato in ‘The Republic,’ for the return to tribalism, is how Plato perverts open society concepts of freedom, democracy and equal rule of law for all. You can forget social justice and social responsibility, in this rigid society they don’t apply.

Compare, also, says Popper, Plato’s Republic, with the description of Athens’ 5th Century B.C. experiment in democracy by one of its leaders, Pericles, a member of ‘the great generation.’ that formulated the principle of equality before the law and political individualism.

‘Our political system,’ says Pericles in his famous ‘Funeral Oration,’ ‘does not compete with institutions which are elsewhere in force. We do not copy our neighbors, but try to be an example. Our administration favors the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy. The laws afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he will be called to serve the state, in preference to others, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward of merit; and poverty is no bar. … The freedom we enjoy extends also to ordinary life; we are not suspicious of one another, and we do not nag our neighbor if he chooses to go his own way. … But this freedom does not make us lawless. We are taught to respect the magistrates and the laws, and never to forget that we must protect the injured. And we are also taught to observe those unwritten laws whose sanction lies only in the universal feeling of what is right.’ (O.S. Ch 10.)

Clean Slate – Don’t go there!

Many problems with Utopian attempts to realize an ideal state. As Popper argues, social life is so complicated that it’s impossible to forecast the outcomes of clean-slate engineering. It requires authoritarian controls, no room for criticism, and it means problems with leadership when the benevolent ‘wise’ leader is succeeded by the tyrant. ‘We must never forget,’ says Popper, ‘that excellent leaders cannot be produced by rational methods but only by luck.’ (O.S p 161.)

And when things go wrong, as they must, we can’t back track. Powerful interests are linked to the success of the experience, too much has been invested in the grand scheme. Popper argues that it is much wiser to observe trial and error piecemeal reform, modify an institution, trial unemployment insurance or arbitration courts for example, and if they go wrong, the damage is not as great and readjustments are possible.

Hegel Says ‘No.’ Might is Absolutely Right.

If you listen to Hegel, official philosopher of the Prussian state under Frederic William the Third, things can’t go wrong in the powerful state. ‘That charlatan Hegel,’ says Schopenhauer, and Popper agrees. Hegel motivated by self interest, called to Berlin to justify Frederic William’s authoritarian rule; debauching language and logic to support his historicist dogma, a mystical zeitgeist, realized through a historical process of war of the nations. ‘The Universal is to be found in the State,’ writes Hegel, and ‘The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth.’ (O.S. Vol 2 p31.)

Hegel turns Plato’s ideal form corrupted by flux on its head. Unlike Plato, Hegel does not teach that his development of the world in flux is a descent towards historical decay, but rather the trend towards the Idea, the powerful state of ‘now’ is progress, ‘what prevails, is right!’

Hegel promotes his historicist doctrine by his dialectical method that Popper, like Schopenhauer calls an assault on logic. While science and criticism proceed on the argument that contradictions are impermissible and attempts must be made to eliminate them, Hegel says that since science progresses via contradictions, contradictions are permissible and highly desirable and there is no need to eliminate them. Say, imagine if a bridge engineer used Hegel’s dialectic and welcomed and retained errors in his bridge design. What Hegel is doing is omitting part of the argument that ‘contradictions could be said to be welcome as a means of identifying and eliminating false arguments and theories.’ Hegel, by sleight of hand eliminates the italics bit and focuses on a connotation of ‘welcome’ as ‘inviting to stay as a ‘welcome’ guest.’

By this sophistry, says Popper, all criticism and argument must cease. I draw your attention to Popper’s comment, cited above, in his Preface to The Open Society regarding the importance of criticism if we are to protect our freedoms. Note also that Hegel’s attack on criticism secures his own philosophy against argument.

Employing this dialectical method and impenetrable language, (think language of the Alan Sokal Hoax) Hegel employs pseudo demonstration … therefore and therefore and therefore … to undermine human freedoms, for example, appearing to defend claims for protection of ‘ liberty’ or ‘freedom of thought,’ by the state, while proceeding to turn both to their opposite meaning … ‘convictions may be pretentious’ and ‘faced with ‘subversive opinions,’ turns out that only the state can preserve freedom of thought and must ‘make up its own mind concerning what is to be considered objective truth.’ (O.S. Vol 2, pp 42, 43.)

On liberty Hegel uses a pun try to show that a ‘liberty’ is the same as a ‘law’, from which it follows that the more laws, the more liberties. This is clearly nothing than the paradox of freedom that can be expressed by saying that unlimited freedom leads to its opposite, since without its protection and restriction by law, freedom must lead to a tyranny of the strong over the weak. This paradox was solved by Kant, says Popper, who argued ‘that the freedom of each man should be restricted, but not beyond what is necessary to safeguard an equal degree of freedom for all.’ (Vol 2.pp 44/45.)

Popper says that Hegel knows Kant’s solution, but he does not like it, and ‘presents it, without mentioning its author, in the following disparaging way: ‘To-day, nothing is more familiar than the idea that each must restrict his liberty in relation to the liberty of others; that the state is a condition of such reciprocal restrictions; and that the laws are restrictions. But,’ he goes on to criticize Kant’s theory, ‘this expresses the kind of outlook that views freedom as casual good-pleasure and self-will.’ With this cryptic remark, Kant’s equalitarian theory of justice is dismissed.’ (Ch 12.)

Popper concludes that why we need to take Hegel’s flawed logic and his historicist dogma seriously is because ‘Hegel’s influence, and especially that of his cant,’ have had incalculable influence on fascist and Marxist political philosophies and is still very powerful in moral and social philosophy and in the social and political sciences.’ (pp 29, 30.)

Karl Marx and a New Historicism.

‘It is tempting to dwell upon the similarities between Marxism, the Hegelian left wing. and its fascist counterparts,’ says Popper, ‘Yet it would be utterly unfair to overlook the difference between them. Although their intellectual origin is nearly identical, there can be no doubt of the humanitarian impulse of Marxism. Moreover, in contrast to the Hegelians of the right wing, Marx made an honest attempt to apply rational methods to the most urgent problems of social life. The value of this attempt is unimpaired by the fact that it was, as I shall try to show, largely unsuccessful.’ (O.S.Vol 2. p81.)

Popper pays tribute to Marx identifying the importance of situational analysis and economic conditions and not states of mind, as the basis for understanding human history, Marx’s materialism, or ‘economism’, says Popper, is insightful but only so long as it is not sweepingly interpreted as the doctrine that all social development depends upon economic conditions, which is palpably false. The history of Marxism itself furnishes examples that clearly falsify Marx exaggerated economism, for example, it was Lenin’s ‘ideas’ expressed in slogans that became a driving force of the Russian Revolution. (p108.) Popper makes reference, also, to Rousseau’s influence on Robespierre in the French Revolution, to those Medieval fights within the ruling classes, between popes and emperors. Nor do 20th century World Wars conform to this oversimplification.

The historicism of Marx is itself a strand of an intellectual tradition from Plato to Hegel that viewed history as a process of necessity, of inexorable laws of historical development whereby nothing we can do will avert what is to be. Popper attacks the perniciousness of such doctrines that discourage personal responsibility and any criticism of the ‘inevitable.’

Popper also attacks historicist doctrines as false interpretations of history, arguing that the arguments underlying Marx’s historical prophesy are invalid,’ that his ingenious attempt to draw prophetic conclusions from observations of contemporary economic tendencies failed.’ (p193.) The conditions of the working classes under capitalism did not worsen, leading to social revolution, as Marx predicted, instead they markedly improved:

‘The reason for his failure as a prophet lies entirely in the poverty of historicism as such,’ says Popper, ‘in the simple fact that even if we observe to-day what appears to be a historical tendency or trend, we cannot know whether it will have the same appearance tomorrow.’ (p193.)

Popper observes that probably his most crucial criticism of Marx is of his theory of the state and paradoxically the impotence of all politics. ‘Political power, properly so called,’ says Marx in his Manifesto, ‘is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing the other.’ (p118.) The important and dangerous outcome of this theory is that paradoxically, given radical activism, politics are viewed as impotent. A state that holds elections must nevertheless be considered undemocratic per se. Legal and political reforms are a waste of time. The Marxist theory of politics does not require its followers to be alert to abuses of power, (other than economic power,) or any need for institutional checks and balances on state power, even after revolution has ushered in the prophesied classless society.

Says Popper, not only did Marx’s historicist theory block the development of democratic reform, it prevented its followers from envisaging, after the revolution, the danger to political freedom by a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Popper wrote of Marx’s ‘humanitarianism and honest attempt to apply rational methods to social problems’ (p81.) but ultimately he decries the outcome of Marx’s historicist theory, a way of acting that is neither humanitarian nor rational, involving the pain and suffering of likely violent revolution.

Yet Another Manifesto.

In the George Soros Manifesto, ‘Open Society, Reforming Global Capitalism,’ written as he says in his introduction, ‘as a guide to action,’ there is little of Popper’s view of open society with its considerations regarding rational criticism and individual freedom, more a blend of strands of Plato, Hegel and Marx, the Soros messianic change-the-world big plan. Highly critical of present day nation democracies and capitalist markets, Soros expounds guiding principles for his vision of global open society and the network of foundations he has established to realize his aims. The book’s themes focus on present ways of thinking and practices that he claims are a threat to open society. They include what he terms ‘unbridled’ self interest, lack of a universal focused value system and a process he calls ‘reflexivity,’ the fallible feedback problem between thinking and reality that occurs in our human, political, economic and social activities. Soros is particularly critical of the capitalist free market, which he renames as ‘market fundamentalism.’

Je suis Plato.

In Chapter 5 of Soros’ book, with its Plato-sounding title, ‘Open Society as an Ideal,’ hesets out to correct the ‘deficiencies’ of pluralistic value systems in present democracies by establishing a fundamental universal value system. ‘This sounds like a Utopian endeavor,’ says Soros, and so it is, but not to worry because it is necessary, you can’t truly have an open society if it isn’t actually universal. ( Irony tag, in case you’re wondering.) And if there seems something contradictory in imposing democracy from the outside on other nations, as he recognizes in the book’s introduction, ‘contradiction can be avoided …if the intervention brings benefits and is therefore voluntarily accepted.’ Hey, ‘therefore’ Post hoc ergo propter? Maybe after the revolution has settled down?

Best forget those words of Pericles in the Funeral Oration quoted by Popper, ‘we do not nag our neighbour if he chooses to go his own way.’ Soros couldn’t agree less. He’s been known to meddle in other nations’ politics, and like Plato, he’s for pervasive moral guidance and more than a dash of compulsion in his open society, although Soros is not quite Plato with regard to consistency of argument.

In Soros, Chapter 5, there are a few problem definitions involved as well. A core problem of present democracies for George Soros is the promotion of the market principle by all those market fundamentalists out there ‘that believe the common interest is best served by the untrammelled pursuit of self interest.’ (P 117.) First problem definition, Soros substitutes Popper’s and the Enlightenment’s references to ‘the individual’ with the term ‘self interest.’ Like Plato, Soros’ identifies ‘individualism’ with ‘egoism,’ furnishing a powerful argument for collectivism and conflicting with Popper’s description of ‘individualism’ united with ‘altruism’ as the basis of western civilization. The word ‘individual,’ argues Popper, is in opposition to ‘collectivism’ but not, per se, to altruism, whereas ‘egoism’ or ‘selfishness’ is definitively in opposition to altruism.

While applying his connotation of ‘egoist’ to ‘individual,’ Soros makes a brief reference to the ‘individual’ as relating to ‘the universal brotherhood of man,’ in the United States Declaration of Independence and in Kant’s Categorical Imperative, ‘Treat all humans as ends, not means, …and do unto others as you would be done to.’ (Ch 5.) contradicting his argument that a flaw of western democracies is that they have no universal values, here, two universal values expressed and both based on yet another Enlightenment universal value, the value of subjecting tradition to critical reason. As with Hegel, it seems that contradictions are not of much concern to this writer.

Je suis Hegel.

While Soros admits that the Enlightenment unleashed the creative energies of the human intellect to bring about achievements and living standards ‘beyond compare,’ he then dismisses these achievements ‘beyond compare,’ by arguing that in the Enlightenment ‘Reason was unequal to the task.’ As an historical illustration he cites the excesses of the French Revolution, not an applicable example as participants in the French Revolution abandoned constitutional safeguards and rational behaviour, instead responding to events by leadership fiat-decision-making and mob-rule.

A further criticism of the Enlightenment made by Soros is that rationalism produced the ‘unencumbered individual,’ a simplistic view of individuals living as though without family or local connections or any social values, and disregarding the reformist actions of many of these individuals to extend suffrage, enact factory laws, and abolish slavery, not just reformists but humanists, like John Stuart Mill, Benjamin Franklin, Lord Shaftsbury, and Charles Dickens.

‘It’s time, ‘says Soros,’ to subject reason, as construed by the Enlightenment, to the same kind of critical examination that the Enlightenment inflicted on the dominant external authorities, both divine and temporal. We have now lived in the age of reason for the past two hundred years – long enough to discover that reason has its limitations. We are ready to enter the age of fallibility.’ (p 125.)

What does it mean, ‘subject reason to ‘reason,’ subjecting reason to itself? And what does it mean to ‘enter the age of fallibility?’ Popper perceived our ‘human fallibility’ as requiring us ‘to act by trial and error-testing,’ which is rational behaviour for a fallible being and is the basis of the scientific method. What Soros says here seems contradictory, he’s putting fallibility in place of to reason. By abandoning reason, where does that get us?

And there’s a historical problem with Soros’ generalization. Can we say that we have been living in an age of reason for the last two hundred years? In the twentieth century, how to equate Germany’s myth of blood and soil and collectivist aggression with being part of the age of reason? Ironic that Soros’ says that his open society, critical of reason and individual responsibility, is influenced by Karl Popper who wrote his ‘Open Society and its Enemies’ in response to Hitler’s irrational onslaught against it.

Soros and the New Encumbered Individual.

In the George Soros Manifesto social justice is a top priority, social justice with a capital ‘S’ and a capital ‘J’ .You can’t have an open society without lots of it. He presents the seven conditions for open society in our time suggested by Aryeh Neier, President of the Soris Open Society Foundation. They are:

(1) Regular, free and fair elections. (2) Free and pluralistic media.(3)The rule of law upheld by an independent judiciary.(4) Constitutional protection for minority rights.(5) A market economy that respects property rights and provides opportunities and a safety net for the disadvantaged. (6) A commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts. (7) Laws that are enforced to curb corruption.

Well, don’t functioning western democracies already hold these principles constitutionally and generally seek to realize them? Social justice observed by rule of law for all, constitutional protection for minority rights, safety nets for the disadvantaged, pensions, education for all, and catering for learning disabilities that may be mental or physical.

But Soros wants universal and more pervasive government regulation to achieve his own ideal of social justice. He makes the claim that this should come about via bottom up, by trial and error reform, but given that Soros believes irrational, fallible humans, following their own self interest, can’t be trusted to act in the public interest, as per his ideal of social justice, Soros considers, like Plato and Hegel before him, that the state must be given that power. Not just any state, however, but a global organization, promoter and arbiter of the common interest, like the EU heavily regulating the common market and institutions like the Central European University, founded and funded by Soros, to create the ‘encumbered individual,’ with its value-laden program promoting the Occupy Movement. ‘People must be aroused, fired up’ says Soros, ‘and they must coalesce around a common cause for the common interest to override special interests’. (p136.)

Well that might bring about grass roots activism, but mainly as a result of concerted pressure from above. ‘We need to create institutions for the promotion of the common interest’ says Soros, but there’s the rub, that EU and UN army of highly (self) paid unelected leaders and bureaucracy have demonstrated serious governance problems, problems of unvetted immigration, huge welfare bills, law and order and social breakdowns as a consequence of fiat decision making. A top down elite may have a shared interest but it is ‘their’ interest and that does not equate with the common interest. Well not until you align the common interest with your leadership goals. The Central European University is that kind of institution creating ‘encumbered’ social justice activists pushing for globalist values regarding gender politics and social justice, along with green politics-environmentalism and the labor movement.

Founder of the CEU, advocate of the global state, George Soros, wears many hats, Platonic philosopher, Hegelian sophist, and not least, Marxist critic of the free market.

Je suis Marx.

For Karl Popper, the enemy of the open society is totalitarianism in all its guises, whether tribal, fascist or communist, whereas for Soros, its principal enemies are the free market and the global capitalist system. George Soros really, really disapproves of the free market which he chooses to call market ‘fundamentalism’ with all those reflexivity and dogmatist-religious connotations that the term ‘fundamentalism’ brings to mind.

‘Market fundamentalists believe in individual freedom, which is a cornerstone of open society,’ says Soros in the introduction to his book, ’but they exaggerate the merits of the market mechanism. They believe that efficient markets assure the best allocation of resources and that any intervention, whether it comes from the state or from international institutions, is detrimental. Since market fundamentalism has become so influential , it truly constitutes a greater threat to a global open society than communism or socialism, because those ideologies have been discredited.’

Soros makes a number of flawed observations concerning the free market. He disagrees with the classical economists’ argument that the unregulated market will generate equilibrium between demand and supply and that government intervention produces negative results by distorting feedback signals. Soros wants more government regulation to rid the system of boom/bust market corrections.

Say, even if, arguably, Adam Smith classic economics is incorrect concerning homeostasis and Schumpeter’s dynamic disequilibrium theory is the working dynamic, increasing government regulation to make the market an instrument of social justice would also lead to negative results. Schumpeter argues that dynamic disequilibrium is the process of structural change that moves resources from obsolescent to new practices, from industrial revolution steam power to information age internet. Retarding this wealth producing process by government ‘steering’ would reduce innovation and capital, the source of present productive employment opportunities and income and future productive employment opportunities. (Ref below, Hans Rosling video * re the unprecedented outcomes of low regulation markets on living standards and life expectancy in western democracies in the last two hundred years. )

Another incorrect assumption that Soros makes regarding the free market needing top down intervention, is that a free market is an ‘untrammeled’ market. But the free market is far from the lawless process that he describes. It requires rule of law as its basis, including legally binding contracts, protection of property rights, and reliable disputes resolution practices. That’s why kleptocracies are not good places to create a viable business. Nor are western nations where government and global institutions are imposing more, and often arbitrary regulations on the market, for example, results of government social policies in the US Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae banking disaster, and EU youth jobless stats, (over 40% for Greece, over 35% for Spain and Italy, and in eight other EU nations unemployment ranging from 15 % to the high 20’s) a consequence of high regulation imposed by an army of public service elites, highest paid in the world. And then there’s those bale outs by government fiat!

Soros admits his own mistake in predicting the imminent disintegration of the capitalist system after the Asian crisis which he attributes to the operation of the free market though it was more the result of a departure from the free market, but he keeps on hoping – and working to bring it about…

Soros in Action – the Man behind the Curtain.

In 1979 in Hungary, the land of his birth, Soros launched the first of his Open Society Foundations to help ‘build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens.’ Passing strange that the Open Society Foundations he funds in more than 79 countries, and the organizations funded by them, often by stealth, are doing quite the opposite.

Aryeh Neier, the President chosen by Soros to head his Open Society Organization, is a Leninist Marxist, founder, in the 1960’s, of Students for Democracy, committed to overthrowing American institutions and remaking them in Marxist mould. Quite a few of the Open Society echelon have a similar history and the behemoth they control funds an activist movement with a similar program to Students for Democracy, to herald in a utopian era of supra-state government, U.N. and EU style. Same ol’ same ol’…

Soros funded programs are directed to the Gramsci long march through the institutions, capturing the educational system, the media and judiciary, and corrupting democracy by constraining free speech and critical debate. Soros’ funded activism invokes attacks on a democratic pluralist media, and corruption of the constitutional electoral process and legal system of non-arbitrary rule of law for all. His Open Society Foundation and underground network seek to bring down the United States and other western democracies by promoting illegal mass immigration, mostly hostile to democratic values. Other programs include environmental activism demonizing atmospheric CO2 and promoting costly intermittent energy sources to affect productivity. Further to weakening society, activists seek to legitimize illicit toxic drugs and provoke hatred of police action that protects the populace against violent drug offenders or political acts of hostility by migrants. Herewith links to organizations directly and indirectly funded by Soros Open Society Foundation and link to OSF top 150 grantees of 2011.

http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1237

http://sorosfiles.com/soros/2011/10/open-society-institute-top-150-grantees.html#axzz56y1hZ5Z5

A few examples of Soros’ subsidy of leftist activism,

Opposition to Free Speech.

Soros’ funds action to shut down alternative view free speech via orchestrated protest movements that adopt violent tactics. These anti-free-speech assaults include the 2017 May Day Riots across the US, the California University, Berkeley, the violent protests \in February to prevent Milo Yiannopoulos’ speaking at the University, and include the Anti-Trump Inauguration protest in Washington. in January 2017.

A leftwing organization called Rise-Up Org. that claimed responsibility for the May Day violence that erupted across the US on May 1st, 2017, is a left-wing organization financed by Alliance for Global Justice, one of Soros’ top 150, seven figure grantees. It is also funded, indirectly by Tides Foundation, number 3 on OSF grantee list. Tidegave AfGJ $50, 000, according to the AfGJ 990 tax form. http://dailycaller.com/2017/02/03/look-who-funds-the-group-behind-the-call-to-arms-at-milos-berkeley-event/ Many inter-connections, Rise-up is connected to Antifa, and Antifa is an alias of Refuse Fascism, which is sponsored by AFGJ which is funded by Tides Foundation which is also funded by Soros’ Open Society Foundation… Get it? Here are two links that reveal the Rise Up Org. trail.: https://medium.com/how-soros-came-to-own-or-fund-antifa-is-irrelevant-to-this-discussion Another Look Into Antifa’s Shady Connections The passage below is part of a report by an organization called Discover the Networks, of plans and action by Antifa/Refuse Fascism, to violently disrupt Trump’s Inauguration festivities: ‘Just a few days prior to the January 20, 2017 inauguration of Republican President Donald Trump, James O’Keefe’s investigative journalism organization, Project Veritas, released undercover video footage exposing a cohort of hard-left, self-described “anarchists,” “anti-capitalists,” and “anti-fascists” who ― in an effort to undermine Trump’s presidency and strike back at the “Nazis” who they said supported him ― were plotting to disrupt the inaugural festivities with a massive protest dubbed “DisruptJ20.” Specifically, the conspirators planned to: (a) create a series of “clusterf**k blockades” sealing off ingress points all over the capital; (b) shut down the Washington, DC Metro lines by chaining the trains to other physical structures; (c) inject butyric acid, which could cause severe respiratory problems if inhaled, into the vent shafts of the National Press Club; and (d) physically assault Trump backers with well-placed, debilitating punches directly to the throat. While not all of these planned actions materialized on inauguration day, the protesters were nonetheless successful in creating a great deal of chaos in Washington. They rioted in the streets, started multiple fires, set vehicles ablaze, and hurled chunks of pavement through the windows of a number of businesses. Many of the rioters were dressed entirely in black, and their faces were covered by black masks, hoods, and scarves. http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/printgroupProfile.asp?grpid=7921 The above url also links to the Refuse Fascism manifesto, which states that Trump’s presidency is illegitimate and exhorts agitators to pour into the streets, ‘in the tens of millions,’ to bring about ‘a profound political crisis.’ On the Refuse Fascism.org website the shut down and vandalism is declared ‘righteous.’ So how else do you weaken open society? Why, by attacks on an independent press and creation of an education system that instills the values you need to build your vision of Utopia. Here’s Soros undermining a pluralist media. Fox News, last diehard of the conservative network, is under attack by Soros. The attack began in the Obama era in the form of demonizing and law suits. In June, 2011 Soros said: ‘Those in charge of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, have done well in identifying me as an adversary, They have done less well in the methods they have used to attack me: their lies shall not stand and their techniques shall not endure.’ In 2010 Soros launched an operation called ‘Color of Change’ to target Glen Beck, which it did. ( Color of Change executive director, Rashad Robinson, sits on the board of DEMOS, also funded by Soros. One of the original board members of DEMOS is Barrack Obama.) Soros also gave Media Matters, his own media outlet,$1.1 million ‘to be used to cut Fox News down to the core.’ Media Matters is a web based progressive research and information centre seeking to systematically monitor a cross section of media for conservative ‘misinformation.’

Soros Bringing Down Fox News?

Education for Utopia.

Here’s Soros instilling the necessary value system and training of social justice warriors at his own University, the Central European University and at the progressivist Bard College, both high in his list of grantees. Soros’ Education for Utopia, a student make-over, kinda’ like Plato’s philosopher-king-training involving the ‘noble’ lie.

Soros has spent more than $400 million world-wide to promote left-liberal, and in some cases extremist causes. One course at CEU incorporated lessons for the Occupy movement, here’s the Program Director for the Environmental Sciences, Tamara Steger, with a slide behind that says ‘How to occupy people’s heads with your message.’ Programs at Bard include a Palestinian youth group and an initative to educate prisoners across the country. The Bard Trustee Leader –Scholar program, Soros funded, is a program that ‘encourages and supports students to do challenging, even brazen acts of world change.’ Read about it at https://www.theblaze.com/news/2012/06/04/special-report-george-soros-godfather-of-the-left Soros Open Society Foundation has granted$407,790,344, to higher education since the year 2000. Together CEU and Bard received roughly 75% of Soros’ total contribution, Ivy League schools including Harvard, Columbia and Yale also received funding.

Corrupting Electoral and Judicial Process.

Funding to manipulate Federal Elections. Those leaked Soros funding documents show that Soros poured hundreds of millions of dollars into often secret efforts to change election laws, to fuel litigation to attack election integrity measures, such as citizenship verification and voter ID, to push public narratives about voter fraud as a myth, and attempts to manipulate media coverage of election issues in mainstream media outlets like The New York Times.

The funding documents name groups that received more than $500,000 each year, including the Centre for Community Change, the Advancement Project Centre and the Brennan Centre. Two of these organizations, the Advancement Project and Brennan Centre, regularly oppose election integrity measures in court and influence media by pushing voter fraud denial narratives. Soros’ money also targets voter mobilization of minority groups that can be counted on to vote for the Democrats, the political party Soros supports. The documents also show funding for the League of Women voters and their current program to stop efforts by Kansas, Georgia and Alabama to verify that only citizens are registering to vote. Democratic non-fiat rule of law for all is subservient to social justice engineering in Soros reformulation of the justice system. Justice is not about addressing criminal acts perpetrated against individuals and institutions, but instead a vehicle for fiat decisions regarding utopian ideals of social change. OSF is a significant donor of the Coalition for an International Criminal Court which aims to subordinate the American criminal justice procedures to an international prosecutor who could initiate politically motivated prosecutions against US officials or citizens. Out in the streets, less safety, more lawlessness isn’t an issue of concern for Soros, funding groups like Centre for Community Change that mobilize and coordinate grassroots’ opposition to enforcement of immigration laws and supporting voting rights for illegal immigrants. Soros also funds groups like Justice at Stake that promote legislation to replace judicial elections with a ‘merit-selection’ system where a small committee of legal elites, unaccountable to the public, would pick the most ‘qualified’ to serve as judges. OFS has spent at least$45 million on efforts to change the way judges are chosen in many American States. (Ref, discoverthenetworks,org id -1237 linked above.) Say, who guards the guardian?

‘Open’ Borders, ‘Open’ Society?

If you wish to break down a western democracy, promoting out of control immigration by people hostile to western culture is the way to go. One of George Soros’ Open Society missions is to cooperate with fanatical one worlders to water down immigration laws in the US and elsewhere. One of the open borders organizations he funds is the American Civil Liberties Union, which not only supports open borders but opposes virtually all post 911 national security measures enacted by the US Government. It rushes to the defense of suspected terrorists an their supporters like Attorney Lynne Stewart criminal defense lawyer convicted of abetting her client, Sheik Abdel Rahman in terrorist activities connected with his Islamic Group. Abdel Rahman was arrested regarding involvement in the Trade Centre terrorist activity. Internal Revenue Service records show that Soros Open Society donated \$20,000 to the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee.

Soros is less than straightforward in his public statements, which are often conflicting, and in conflict also with his funded programs. Consider Soros recent public criticism of Angela Merkel’s open door immigration. It appears that he is critical because her policies became too unpopular in the EU and a reason for BREXIT. But if you look at Open Society funding in Europe, you see that Soros was funding this open door policy himself, financing the Carte di Lampedusa, for example, founded in 2014 to sabotage all laws limiting migration, and Cospe Onlus , founded in 1983, ‘operating in thirty countries to support indiscriminate international mobility where anarchic diversity is the norm.’

If that’s not enough …

Combine programs supporting drug legalization, (a leading recipient of Soros, drug legalization campaign is to the Drug Policy Alliance, and anti police, action by Rise-Up.Org connections,) and you’re making big dents in a functioning civil society. More than a few dents if you attack the society’s economic productivity via environmental organizations demonizing CO2 to create energy poverty. On the top 150 donor list of the open Society Foundation and Tides Foundation are organizations promoting radical environmentalism, opposing mining and logging enterprises, opposing commercial fishing, and demonizing CO2 to prevent that ‘modeled’ human-caused global warming, ‘necessitating’ costly subsidies of intermittent technologies to replace fossil fuels. Number 5 on OSF top grantee list is The Alliance for Climate Protection, number 55 on the list is Earth Island Institute, and here’s Earth Justice, don’t you just love the name, coming in at number 121.

Plato…Hegel…Marx…Soros.

A lot of difference between the Open Societies of Karl Popper and George Soros. The above manifesto and network funding is what Soros makes of Popper’s open society ‘having faith in human reason and avoiding dogmatism.’ Did Soros, perhaps, use Popper as his sock-puppet-Socrates?Soros would get rid of western democracy with its productivity and freedom of the individual under rule of law for all. Ultimately, what he is promoting is his vision of a supra-state, global governance at a distance by unelected Brussels men, lots of controls on what we may say, and keep the citizens diverted with politics of gender and racial diversity in-fighting,

(Hans Rosling Video 200 years.).

# A Christmas Special

 

A Merry ‘Whatever’ To One And All.

 

…‘tis the season to be jolly, tra-la-la, so let us be jolly regardless of polis in the Nanny State telling us what we may laugh at and what’s allowable as comedy. So what do we laugh at?

Says Henri Bergson in his essay on laughter and the meaning of comic: ‘We laugh at some rigidity or other applied to the mobility of life.’ We laugh at the exaggerated, the absent minded, the fixed, a grimace, an ingrained habit, a ritual or a custom or perhaps an absurd masque or costume made or worn by us.

Though we may laugh at a hat or even a pudding, says Bergson, it is because of some reference to its maker. ‘The comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human.’ So herewith Mrs Cratchit’s pudding.

The Pudding!

During The Little Ice Age, a Christmas Pudding was not be taken for granted… ‘Christmas Dinner with the Cratchits,’ – ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens:

‘… But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs Cratchit left the room alone – too nervous to bear witness – to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it while they were merry with the goose – and supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry cook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered – flushed by smiling proudly – with the pudding like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half – a – quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.’

We smile here at seriousness given to the occasion, the ritual of the pudding, but it is the inappropriate, says Henri Bergson in his ‘Essay on the Meaning of the Comic,’ that makes us laugh, laughter a peculiarly human custom, an involuntary response that doesn’t match the situation of society and its ceremonies. Bergson argues that we cannot help treating it as a living being. Any image then, suggestive of the notion of a society disguising itself, or of a social masquerade will be laughable…

‘The ceremonial side of life must therefore always include a latent comic element, which is always only waiting for an opportunity to burst into full view. It might be said that ceremonies are to the social body what clothing is to the individual body: they owe their seriousness to the fact that they are identified, in our minds, with the serious object with which custom associates them, and when we isolate them in imagination, they forthwith lose their seriousness.’

The masquerade, the burlesque, the pantomime…in this age of political correctness a snowflake warning for The Goodies and the ‘Travelling Instant Five Minute Christmas!’

 
Here’s a parody of those bland songs we have to listen to in shopping plaza, lifts and on the radio and TV advertisements during the festive season.. ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, with every Christmas card I write…’ – duh?

The Goons palpable absurdity at Xmas.

 
Hmmm, look hafta’ say you jest can’t reduce human complexity to the above behaviour, there’s that sense of wonder and reverence and our creative responses to them… There’s Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ and Handel’s ‘Messiah’, and then there are those Christmas Carols… Oh well, maybe play just one…

 

A Merrie, even Joyful Christmas, dear readers, to ye all, from a serf.

# 49th EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL

 

An Essay on Railways and Other Things.

 
Some quotes on locomotion:

‘The wise man delights in water; the good man delights in mountains. The wise move; the good stay still.’ – Confucius,‘The Analects.’

‘This division of labour, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom …It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual, consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another.’ – Adam Smith, ‘The Wealth of Nations.’

‘The heavens themselves run continually round, the sun riseth and sets, the moon increaseth, stars and planets keep their constant motions, … to teach us that we should ever be in motion.’ – Robert Burton,‘The Anatomy of Melancholy.’
 

Before the railway …

The wise move … Thomas Sowell writing about geographic isolation in ‘Wealth, Poverty and Politics,’ quotes an old Catalan saying, ‘Always go down, never go up,’ that relates to lagging groups in society. In physical nature no such thing as the level playing field. Mountainous regions, like the barrier of vast deserts, are remote from the great movements of productive exchange of ideas and trade that move along river valleys.

Once rivers and seas were a barrier to travel also, but when humans happened on making rafts and dug-out canoes in pre-historic times, navigable rivers and shallow seas became both a challenge and opportunity for human movement. As long ago as 60,000 years, humans travelled out of Africa across the neck of the Red Sea, island hopping as far south as Australia.

Sea travel became the first transport revolution. While hunters and gatherers in Neolithic times were still roaming the hinterlands of continents, on the maritime fringe of continents new ways to travel, boats plying the Nile, Indus, Euphrates Rivers and the Yangtse River in China. By 3,000 BC, the Egyptians and Phoenicians were using sails to harness the wind. Around 1,200 BC, the Phoenicians, cutting cedar and cypress timber in nearby forests, were building sea going ships, bireme galleys with two rows of oars for near shore navigation.

Propensity to barter and exchange … Soon these larger Phoenician ships, with benefit of wind power and just a few crew, were able to transport heavy cargo, faster, further and cheaper than the most efficient caravan driven by donkeys, horses or camels were able to do on land. The Phoenicians traded in spices, resins, purple dye, metals, and all around the Mediterranean, markets expanded into towns and ports into cities.

 
Stars and planets keep their constant motions … Knowledge of navigating by sun and stars, invention of the compass by the Chinese or perhaps by Arabs and Chinese independently, along with developments in sails and various forms of steering rudders, enabled boats to make longer journeys by sea.

As Matt Ridley observes in his book, ‘The Rational Optimist:’
‘Suddenly a large-scale sea-borne division of labour became a possibility: wheat from Egypt could feed the Hittites in Anatolia, wool from Anatolia could clothe the Egyptians on the Nile; olive oil from Crete could enrich the diets of Assyrians in Mesopotamia.’

Faster, longer, cheaper …

A half century before Columbus crossed the Atlantic to the Americas, Chinese admiral, Zheng He, between 1405 and 1433, with an armada of 300 ships, sailing further than Columbus, made several expeditions across the Indian Ocean, dispensing and receiving goods along the way, visiting Brunei, Java, Thailand, East Asia, Arabia and reaching the Horn of Africa.

The nine-masted ships of his armada, with compass, and advanced design elements that included water-tight compartments, were ready and able to trade Chinese porcelain, cotton, silk and tea with the world, but the Ming Bureaucracy, distrusting innovation as a threat to their control, said ‘no’, destroying the armada and imposing severe restrictions on boat building and contacts with the outside world.

The next naval innovations, faster, longer, cheaper, were to come from Western nations, culminating in the long voyages of Captain Cook to the Antipodes with their far-reaching consequences, and those fast three-masted clipper ships, peak average speed 30km/h, bringing tea from China to London and raw cotton from West Indies and America to Liverpool, in less than four months. Dark side of course, the less publicized slave trade, and given the clippers’ speed and maneuverability, their usefulness to pirates.

The rest you know, larger, faster, cheaper, from steam power to the latest nuclear shipping, on the surface and even under-water, going deeper than man has gone before.

… And so to land transport …
 

That lo-o-ng, slow, transport revolution on land.

Trek…trek…trek. Much of that movement, humans legging it for millennia, out of Africa into Eurasia, as far south as Australia, even Tasmania, eventually migrating across Ice-Age land-bridges to the Americas.

Book of records’ longest trek by an individual likely Ibn Battista, age twenty-one, setting out from his native Morocco, AD 1325, on his first pilgrimage. By the time he arrived home thirty years later, he’d covered 130,000 kilometers. On foot, on horse back and camel, over water by boat, Ibn Battista visited every part of the Islamic world, India and Ceylon, then off to China. While many people through out history didn’t travel too far, for most of them, travelling was pied a terre to everywhere…Trek, trek, trek.

Until the 19th century, the revolution in transport meant developing animal power and the wheel. Oh you could have fun with this – ‘two legs good, four legs better,’ – ‘putting the horse before the cart,’ – or vice versa.’ Cart before horse? We’re not too sure about that. Horses had been domesticated for more than five millennia, but archeological evidence of what came first, riding or horse drawn transportation is unclear. There’s fossil evidence from Kazakhstan, around 3,500 BCE, from bit marks on horse teeth, that indicates that horses were being ridden there. Then there’s a prehistoric ceramic pot found in the excavation of a Neolithic site in Poland that presents the earliest evidence for the wheeled cart in Europe, carbon dated at around 3,400 BCE. There’s incision on the pot depicting a vehicle with a shaft for a draught animal, and four wheels with connecting lines probably representing axles.

 
Horses migrated too, out of Northern America. The horses depicted in cave paintings at Lascaux, 17,000 years BCE, were the descendents of early horses that migrated across Ice-Age land-bridges in the opposite direction to humans. For thousands of years horses were hunted for food, before they were domesticated and became, in so many ways, a necessary part of human life. As beasts of burden in Eurasia, horses, mules, donkeys became the pack animal of choice. In the Arab world camel caravans were the way to go, the acme of pack animals, source of wealth and power to Mohammad and his followers, camels could carry heavier loads than horses and find their own forage on route.

Traveling on horseback became a favorite pastime, especially with your aristocracy, knight errants, Sir Lancelot, Don Quixote on Rosinante, stuff of Romance Novels, the medieval pilgrimages on the little horses that Chaucer and a motley crew made to Canterbury. Developments in harness, bridles, saddles, stirrups and selective breeding for strength, knights in heavy armour had to be lowered onto their war horses, and breeding for speed. Horses had been used as mail couriers from way back. ‘There is nothing in the world that travels faster than the Persian Greek couriers.’ wrote the Greek historian Heroditus. In England in 15th century AD, horses were being used to carry the royal mail. In 1635, when a public postal service was introduced, post boys on horseback delivered the mail in relay.
 

Turn of the wheel.

In the land transport revolution, much depended on the wheel. No levity here, this invention is seriously significant, not just for transportation. Turns out the wheel was first used for non-travel purpose, for power on the spot, the potter’s wheel, 300 years before the chariot. And there’s follow-on, non-transport wheel technology as well, the water wheel, first on-land exploitation of inanimate power, taken to its technical zenith by Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages. Later, there’s the spinning wheel, dynamic trigger to the Industrial Revolution, arriving in Europe in the early Renaissance from the Middle East, possibly invented in India or China.

Used in land transport, first came the cart with solid wooden wheels. Your horse and wagon travel, your camel caravan, listen to Ravel’s ‘Bolero; and you get the pace.

For speed, the chariot, Hittite war machine. Around 2000 BCE, a critical invention, the spoked wheel, allowing construction of lighter, faster vehicles. From the solid wheels of carts to chariot wheels with eight spokes, then the four spoked wheels of Hittite chariots.

From thereon, down to the Railway Revolution, variation-on-a-theme-type-innovation, modifications in design of wagon wheels, axles and body designs. Faster, lighter or sturdier, smoother or more maneuverable, but the traditional pre-history wheel and undercarriage design survived up to the nineteenth century.

The Romans initially used spring wagons for long journeys, possibly using some form of suspension on chains or leather. A medieval development, the ‘chariot branlant’ was suspended on chains so that the compartment no longer rested on the axle and gave a smoother ride. The transport vehicles of the aristocracy, ‘the carriage,’ sometimes gilded, were normally suspended using leaf springs. In the 17th century these carriage springs were made of steel.

 
It was not until the 18th century that the carriage steering system was improved. Erasmus Darwin, famous name, when he was a young doctor visiting patients all over England, found problems with the commonly used light carriage which was difficult to steer and likely to overturn. He proposed a change on design with the two front wheels turning about a center lying on the extended line of the back axle, an idea that was later patented as Ackerman steering.

And of course, there’s a matter of the roads that chariots, coaches, carriages are driven on. Roads matter.

Says Hilaire Belloc:

‘More than rivers, more than mountain chains, roads have moulded the political groups of men. The Alps with a mule-track across them are less of a barrier than fifteen miles of forest or rough land separating them from that track.’

Roads, sometimes deplorable, but oft-times not. I’ve come across the following, ‘A History of Roads from Ancient Times to Now,’ part of a Master of Science in Civil Engineering Submission by H.R. Jacobson, that’s certainly worth reading.

Without the Romans’ extensive road system there would have been no Roman Empire, but as Jacobson shows, the Romans were not the first of the great road builders. The Egyptians built roads along the dykes of the River Nile, as early as 3,700 BCE, employed a superintendent in charge of repairs and road construction. Out of Egypt, three great highways, mentioned in the Bible, The Philistine Road to Syria, The Wall Road to Caanan, and The Red Sea Road, that crossed the wilderness between the two arms of the Red Sea.

Even earlier than Egypt, in the land between the two rivers, Euphrates and Tigris, the Babylonians in the south and the Assyrians in the north, were prolific road and bridge builders. Jacobson gives a detailed description from Babylonian tablet inscriptions of commerce along a network of roads and their construction, five feet deep excavation, layers of broken brick and pot herds, large blocks of gypsum laid in bitumen. Inscriptions also proclaim Assyrian efficiency as engineers, constructing roads through inaccessible regions, ‘piercing mountains and leveling rocks.’ This is Semeris, widow of the first Emperor speaking, administering authority of the Empire after the death of her husband, she’s a dynamo herself.

To the East in Rome’s heyday, in China, you’ve got the Silk Road, one of the most significant traffic arteries in history, stretching to the Middle East from Peking, one quarter the length of the Equator, trading not only in silk, porcelain spices and tea, but also in knowledge and ideas.

Then there’s Rome itself, with its twenty-nine roads radiating from the city and its great international highways connecting the entire Empire, a total length of 52000 miles. Jacobson gives a detailed description of their construction, the foundations in three or four courses to a depth of four feet, strong foundations and durable surface, built to last, very impressive effort by pick and shovel. Of course it’s done by forced labour or corvee, practiced from ancient times and continuing in most countries up to the 19th century, even in England when road workers began to receive wages.

With the fall of Rome and collapse of the Empire, the rise of petty kingdoms on Europe led to the disintegration of roads and to highway robbery of travellers. In the Middle Ages, while road construction did not altogether cease, you get your Charlemagnes occasionally, it was sporadic. As royal power increased, government laws on road building and maintenance were passed in various countries, by Lois X1V in France and Henry V111 in England, but mostly with indifferent results.

In the late 18th century, in Britain you get road and bridge construction by innovative engineer, Thomas Telford, nick-named ‘the Colossus of Roads,’ building roads and new design bridges, daring suspension bridges and bridges made of iron, throughout England Scotland and Wales. He was followed, early in the 19th century, by John Macadam with his macadamized roads that reduced the costs of road construction and maintenance, these men affecting a modern revolution in roads.
 

The next revolution, the coming of the railway.

The steam engine that heralded in the modern age of transport on land, faster, longer, higher, cheaper, was not so much invented as developed, from its first practical use as a steam-power machine to pump water out of coal mines, developed by English engineers Thomas Savey and Thomas Newcomen to James Watt’s improved design that enabled the engine’s back and forth motion to turn a wheel.

Watt’s developments initiated the possibility of locomotive transport and over the next few years he and his associates improved steam engine design enough to power a 6-8 mph train movement.

Coal trucks in mines had developed as rail carts because stiff wheel rolling on a rigid rail requires less energy than road wheels and is highly suitable for movement of bulk goods like coal, an incentive to experiment in rail-cart designs and flanged wheels. Before Stephenson’s Rocket, steam locomotion on tramways was successfully developed by Richard Trevithick. In 1804 the first railway journey by Trevithick’s steam engine hauled a train along the tramway of a mine in South Wales. Successful developments by other engineers soon followed.

In 1814, George Stephenson improved on these early designs, with his steam engine Blucher, first engine with flanged wheels, and in 1829, with his famous Rocket, that won a design competition to find the most suitable steam engine to haul trains. Stephenson’s Rocket was able to haul a load of 13 tons and was the fastest train ever built with the top speed of 30mp. George Stephenson and his son, Robert, were given the contract to produce locomotives for the new Liverpool to Manchester Railway which opened in 1830.

Faster, cheaper …

While the promoters of the competition were mainly interested in developing freight traffic, transporting cotton from the port of Liverpool to the Manchester textile mills, when they opened the railway they were surprised to find passenger traffic was just as remunerative. Steam locomotion, offering faster and cheaper transport than road transport was soon being developed on all continents.

If you want to see steam locomotion history at its most dramatic, take a look at the BBC story of railway developer, among other engineering feats, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, extraordinary name for an extraordinary engineer. Builder of great iron steamships, railways, suspension bridges, tunnels, viaducts for railway traveling at speed, train stations, including Paddington Station, experimenting with rail gauges for his Great Western Railway, by the end of his career he had built 1200 miles of rail, including stretches in Italy, Ireland and Bengal.

It’s kind of fitting, that in the 1930’s another English designed steam locomotive, The Mallard, traveling on the East Coast Grantham rail line, in July 1938, broke the world speed record with a speed of 126 mph.

Longer …

The United States with its great distances quickly developed railways, the first steam engines purchased from the Stephenson workshops. Perhaps the greatest railway achievement was the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, a world first, built between 1863 and 1869, linking the eastern and western halves of the continent.

The railroad was built in two parts, the Central Pacific, starting in San Francisco, and the Union Pacific, starting in Nebraska .and was built by army veterans and immigrant labour, mainly Irish and Chinese. Known as the ‘Pacific Railroad,’ it replaced slow and hazardous stage coaches and wagon trains, opening up vast regions of the North American heartland for settlement and commerce and providing fast, safe and cheap travel for passengers.

The next transcontinental railroad, breaking the American record as the longest railroad, was the Trans-Siberian Railway built between 1891 and 1916 under the supervision of Tsar Alexander 111. The world’s longest railway, crossing eight time zones the Trans-continental has southern branch links through Manchuria and Mongolia and a link north of Lake Baikal.

Constructing the railway was dramatic, divided into seven sections and working simultaneously, 62000 men, convict labour and soldiers, it would make a good movie… tracks built across endless steppes, over rivers, through forests, and swamps and permafrost, in extremes of temperature, sometimes attacked by bandits and occasionally by tigers.

Many dramatic episodes once it was in use. Strategic troop movements in the Russo-Japanese War, Russian Civil War and two World Wars. In the early part of the Second World War, Jewish and anti-Nazi’s used it to escape Europe by traveling east to the Pacific and boarding a ship to the United States.

It’s most important national effect, the opening up of Siberia to development. The Trans-Siberian Railway brought millions of peasant-migrants from regions of Russia and the Ukraine to Siberia and extended agricultural production. From 1896 until 1913, the railway transported out of Siberia, annually, on average 501,932 tonnes of grain, mostly wheat, and also bread and flour.

Higher…

Another dramatic rail construction, begun in 1870, the building of the railroad in the Andes Mountains, from the Pacific port of Callao in Peru, to Lima and Huancayo, at 4,829 meters elevation. Construction included six zig-zags, and sixty-nine tunnels blasted through rock. It’s audacious contractor, American Henry Meiggs, is reported to have said, ‘I will place rails there, where the llamas walk.’ The railway’s architectural marvels include 58 bridges designed by Polish engineer, Ernest Malinowski, one of them the hair-raising Infiernillo Bridge with its span of 10,820 feet. The railroad’s main freight was minerals, cement and food stuffs.

 
And at a snail’s pace, railways in the 1850’s in the Land of Oz…

The early development of railways in the land down under, not so much high drama as a tale of folly interspersed with logic of the situation. Professor Geoffrey Blainey recounts this history in the book in which he coined the phrase ‘The Tyranny of Distance:’

‘When the first steam train ran in Australia,’ writes Geoffrey Blainey, ‘the puffs of smoke were like the opening of a magician’s act. In a land where settlers had wandered far from the coast and navigable rivers were few, – and often un-navigable, steam locomotives seemed likely to transform the country.’ (Ch 10.)

There was a flaw in this optimism however, a little matter of costs. A thirty mile railroad cost as much as ten of the steam boats that were plying the coastal trade, and as Australia’s surveyor-general, Major Mitchell, observed, he could not hope much from railroad speculation in a country where the population was far below a million. (Ch 10.)

Mistakes were made. The only railroad in the 1850’s that made a profit was the first railway completed, two and a half miles of rail in the State of Victoria from Melbourne’s Flinders Street to the deep waters of Port Melbourne. Sydney’s first two private ventures of the early fifties, railway lines from Sydney to Parramatta, and from Sydney to Newcastle, both ran out of funds and had to be taken over by the government.

Victoria’s next rail venture, in 1853, the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company, built parallel to the coastline, was promoted on the mistaken assumption that it could capture the coastal shipping trade and was also quickly nationalized. In South Australia, another company that built railroads in the 1850’s repeated this pattern and fate, coastal railways would not compete in cost with local shipping.

Experience had shown that once population sufficiently increased, the sound path for railways to take was to go inland where inland pastoral towns or farming areas were important enough to justify investment in railways and no waterways would compete. Following the gold rushes, railroads were built to populous gold towns with assured traffic. By the 1880’s Australia had nearly 4000 miles of railway, radiating out from main city ports, from Sydney and Newcastle in New South Wales, Melbourne in Victoria, Adelaide and a few other ports in South Australia, Brisbane and few northern ports in Queensland. None of these fan-shaped systems met up at state borders.

These state rail systems were built on different gauges, so that when Melbourne and Sydney, extending their rail system came to meet up at the border of Victoria and New South Wales in 1883 at Albury-Wodonga, any passengers or freight that crossed over the border had to unload then reload on the other side, a costly delay.

With benefit of hindsight there were accusations of folly, but in actuality the differences in rail gauge was a response to the commerce of the time. A uniform gauge was a trivial problem to the engineer designers who favored particular gauges. The engineer of Sydney’s first rail, Wentworth Shields, had preferred the Irish 5 feet 3 inches gauge, as did Victoria and South Australia, but his successor persuaded Parliament to sanction the English 4 feet 81/2 inches gauge. It was probably too late, anyway, for Victoria and South Australia to buy new rolling stock and they proceeded with the wider gauge. At any rate, differences in States’ rail gauges were regarded as so unimportant that Queensland and Western Australia opted for a narrower gauge still, cheaper to build and more maneuverable in the mountains. Wrote one touring newspaper editor, passengers from Victoria were astonished to find that the Toowoomba train ‘ran round curves like a snake without any strain, without noise and without oscillation.’ (Ch 11.)

The narrow gauge came to dominate four of the six colonies for reasons of economy. Another ninety-four years were to pass before all state capitals were joined by one standard gauge. In that ninety-four years a number of follies in the history or rail Down Under. You might enjoy reading about them in Geoffrey Blainey’s book.

Travel by steam train continued up to the 1940’s, but then the heyday of steam engine locomotion passed, replaced by electric and diesel trains and other modes of travel, faster, further, cheaper… What doesn’t change, however, is human adaptability in getting around, on wheels, or …

# 48th EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL

 

Hokusai – Views of Mt Fuji and Figures in a Landscape.

For Jack A. who has walked up Mt.Fuji.

Self Portrait of Hokusai.

Lucky serf, recently went to the Hokusai Art Exhibition at the National Gallery in Melbourne, Down Under. What a wonderful display of the artist’s work, spanning Hokusai’s entire career, more than 150 works on display, wood block prints, paintings, manga, (illustrated books,) enough to take your breath away. I’m presenting here just a few of his later wood block prints from the ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji’ and his ‘One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse.’ But there’s so much more. Herewith, from Katsushika Hokusai:

“From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. By the time I was fifty I had published am infinity of designs; but all I produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-three I learned something of the structure of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. In consequence, when I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At one hundred, I shall really have reached a marvelous stage; when I am one hundred and ten, everything I create, a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.”

Hokusai was born in the auspicious year of the dragon, 1760, in one of the largest and most sophisticated societies in the world, the metropolis of Edo, now Tokyo. Edo’s merchant population were consumers of the arts, of woodblock prints and poetry prints of high aesthetic and technical quality, somewhat like those earlier denizens of the Italian city states in the Renaissance. Hokusai himself grew up in a family that practiced skilled craft work. It is believed that as a child he was adopted by his uncle a professional mirror polisher to the Tokugawa shogun.

At the time, Japan’s population was one of the most literate in the world and Edo had a lively printing industry. Libraries were commonplace and as a youth Hokusai worked as an assistant in a library. A lover of classical poetry he would later use its themes in his own work, often playfully. Between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, he was apprenticed to a publishing studio as a woodblock carver. Although he didn’t create his own images, carving images and texts by other artists would have given him an intimate understanding of the print making process and of possibilities that he was later to explore in his own creative work.

In 1778 he left this employment to embark on a career as an artist, and entered the studio of one of the most fashionable ukiyo-e artists of his time. Ukiyo-e was an art movement, of the 17th – 19th centuries, depicting, in prints and painting, the everyday life and interests of ordinary people.

Something about Hokusai’s figures in a landscape that reminds me of Rembrandt’s etchings.(1) In technique Hokusai was influenced by Western art, he was the first to apply perspective in Japanese art. During the 18th century Dutch traders brought European viewing devices to Japan and local artisans were quick to make local versions of the devices. Hokusai includes an illustration of one of them in his work in 1802. In the 36 Views of Mt Fuji he was also one of the first to apply shading, using Prussian blue pigment, which is less prone to fade than conventional black paint.

Ukiyo-e everyday lives of the people. In Hokusai’s figures in a landscape, we see his delight in ordinary people. Like Rembrandt, Hokusai’s refinement of line reflects the artist’s humanity, up close, lovely details of hands and feet, movements of figures in the landscape expressive of their emotions. Hokusai’s people, though, are too active to express Rembrandt-like contemplation. In some of the views, Mt Fuji is mere background to the activities of figures in the landscape.

Concerned with his own longevity, Hokusai was fascinated by Mt Fuji, the immortal mountain, and he responds to it in his work as a symbol of Nature, a timeless force integral to his celebration of the intrinsic connection of nature and humanity, here within ‘Inume Pass in Kai Province.’
 

The powerful image, ‘Red Fuji’ lit up by early morning rays of sunlight is one of only three works in the series devoid of human habitation. In others we see Mt Fuji from different human perspectives, different seasons, different points of the compass, a different scale, close up or far away.
 

Here’s the cinematic ‘Fuji-view Fields,’ Mt Fuji framed within the man-made circle of the barrel.
 

 
Hokusai icon, ‘The Great Wave of Kannagawa.
 

Travelers in playful mood attempt to encircle the giant trunk of a giant cedar which in Hokusai’s composition dwarfs Mt Fuji.
 

 
Nature also in playful mood
 

 
Hokusai’s final great series of prints known by the unusual title,” One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse,’ the nurse being surrogate mother or wet nurse for an infant, is based on a Japanese famous anthology of poems, ‘Ogura Hyakunin Isshu,’ compiled by a nobleman poet in 1235. Visual interpretations of these poems were traditionally depictions of Court life but Hokusai’s version as visually retold by the nurse is reinterpreted in the context of the daily life of common farmers, labourers, travelers, even abalone divers. The formal poem occurs in the patterned cartouche in the right hand corner of each print.
 

 

 

 

 
Echoes in this image of Brueghel’s famous painting in The Little Ice Age, ‘Hunters in the Snow.’ Hokusai himself was poverty stricken in later life, though his work sold well, he experienced hardship brought about by his irresponsible and financially draining grand-children. Though he didn’t live to one hundred years, and did not, for some reason, complete the One Hundred Poems Series, Hokusai continued working up to his death at the age of eighty-nine.
 
(1) Rembrandt etching. Detail of ‘Three Trees.’