Tuesday, 2 October 2012

!Leonardo Mind for Modern Times, by Donnie Ross

!Leonardo Mind for Modern Times, by Donnie Ross
Downloadable from the Apple iBookstore FREE!


The definitive Atlas of Facial Expressions from Aardvark to Zebra, the acoustic design of car-door slamming, musico-erotic compositions for cello, these peculiar topics lead the reader into the first Findo Gask Mystery.  A fierce bronze Greek gynecoid is dredged from the sea in a fisherman’s net off northern Scotland, while a plot is hatched to displace the quasi-assassinated  Holy Emperor Tony Blair from his niche as a cryochilled presentation to future generations, but what on earth is happening in the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Anthropomimetic Genetics?  Never mind that, who is this Memus44, who spends the last ice age in quite a well-known cave in the Cairngorm Mountains, polishing his mind and emerging from time to time to make sure culture triumphs but Findo Gask doesn’t?

The first Findo Gask Mystery in the Trilogy can hardly be expected to solve the entire mystery, but it might be fun to find out just how far !Leonardo Mind for Modern Times might succeed in answering all these questions, as a series of apparently unconnected preliminary short stories covering a wide range of human experience finally coalesces into an extraordinary postmodern interactive sci-fi novel, building to a powerful climax before falling apart into glittering fragments.  Expect cave ravens, masses of medical detail, excruciating jokes, non sequiturs, invented languages, philosophical posturing, a treatise on sculpture in Plato, erotic encounters of half a dozen kinds.

Illustrated with videos, drawings and paintings by the author, this chaotic book has several underlying intentions - but a sense of humour is essential.  And, if you can find it, a copy of the Atlas of Facial Expressions from Aardvark to Zebra.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Silenus of Alkibiades

This excerpt is from "Leonardo Mind for Modern Times", published in "Uncle Donnie's Stories About Everything" in March 2010.

.......“I continued, ‘Then there is the very interesting incident of the Silenus of Alkibiades. Alkibiades arrives at the Symposium party rather late and a bit drunk, but still highly articulate and percipient.’

“Adrienne was become ever more interested, her hands adeptly unbuttoning and unzipping.”

“I’m beginning to see your philosophical point”, said Strellitz, a touch dryly, although it occurred to Memus44 that his comments might be aimed more at the Recorded Research Assessment people than himself.

“I endeavoured to explain to Adrienne, whose attention I must say never wavered, how intrigued I was by the idea that the Silenus figures mentioned by Alkibiades might refer to technical processes in sculpture.

“I’d observed that the term ‘Sileni’ refers to water spirits in the ancient Greek world, with characteristics or connotations of ‘water bubbling as it flows’, and from my experience of sculpture-casting, that's a recognisable description of molten bronze being poured into a mold.

“You may recall that other attributes of the Sileni are said to be horse-like. Now, in the lost-wax method of bronze-casting, the receiving cup of the ceramic mold is like an upside-down hoof in appearance, and its runners & risers are like a horse’s legs and tail.

“‘So you see, the term ‘Silenus’ used by ancient craftsmen in referring to a ceramic mold, which is central to the lost-wax method and which is subsequently broken open to reveal a cast figure, seems, according to my theory, to have had its origins in a reference to the water-spirits, the Sileni. In the Symposium, Plato has Alkibiades make a multiple pun based on Socrates’ physical similarity to the satyr whose name was Silenus. And he says that although he has an ugly and off-putting exterior, once you get inside his outer layers there is something beautiful to be found.’

“’Yes yes YESYES!’ Adrienne exclaimed at this point in my description, which was delightfully insightful of her”.

“Yes indeed, Memus44,” said Strellitz, poker-faced.

“‘Could you maybe just hold me,’ Adrienne was murmuring, as I segue’d into another theory of mine, the one that describes how the Greek alphabet is actually a series of pictograms or little diagrams showing how the sound of each letter is produced by the lips, teeth, tongue and palate, viewed either from in front or laterally. The extraordinary thing is, every single one of the 25 Greek letters in lower case is recognisable in this way as a pictogram.”

“Oh, interesting,” said Strellitz, “so it’s not actually an alphabet after all!”

“It can be difficult to keep the thread,” said Memus44, “when you have to disentangle arms from legs and legs from gear-sticks and steering-wheels, find discarded items of underclothing under car-seats in the dark, all the time trying to avoid snagging a finger on sharp bits of under-seat-mooring, replacing fascia parts and so on dislodged by an incautious foot. Getting rid of squishy wet articles too, that can be a problem if you’re determined not to sully and degrade the environment by chucking things out of the window through a process of extraordinary defenestration.”

© Donnie Ross 2012

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Symposium and Socrates

“Tell me the truth about Love”: W. H. Auden, 1938 (Faber and Faber 1998)

Sometimes he appears genial and jocular, at other times ironic and mordantly critical; then again he becomes intense and utterly serious. Throughout, Socrates appears invulnerable, and a contrast may be drawn between the invulnerability of Agathon, who has no doubts because he has no insight, and that of Socrates, who is invulnerable because he knows the limits of his knowledge and constantly patrols the boundaries of his ignorance. The portrayal of Socrates is completely consistent throughout the Symposium in this respect at least: his single-minded pursuit of something which lies beyond that rational frontier.

The clue to what that ‘something’ might be is given in Alcibiades’ passing reference to the Silenus figures, which might have been like present-day Matryoshka dolls (221d8). Certainly Symposium can be seen as having an analogously nested structure of wrappers. The outer layers consist of a series of interlocutors; there follows a sequence of 7 speeches, with, at the centre, first of all Socrates the sceptical inquirer and then Diotima’s speech as related by Socrates the mystic. A suitable way of presenting a mystery: wrapped in a series of seven enigmatic veils. But the meaning of Alcibiades’ remark is plain: Socrates can be appreciated at several different levels. [The proposal by Peters (1976) quoted by Rowe (p. 206, note to 215a8 – b1) that technical aspects of sculpture might have had a bearing on Plato’s thought is intriguing – it had already occurred to me that the theory of Forms might relate to the use of molds in sculpture, bearing in mind the fact that Pheidias’ work on the Parthenon, including the relief friezes, as well as his statue of Zeus at Olympia, were all new at that time, and must have had a stunning impact on all contemporary creative thought.]

Thus the portrayal of Socrates changes at each level in the Symposium, as different layers of ideas about eros are addressed. At the beginning (174a5), as he and Aristodemus stroll off to Agathon’s, S. is genial, jocular, articulate and playful. He stretches the rules (174a4: “What about going …. without an invitation?) and he misquotes the classics, bending Homer to his whim (174b5). “Normal” life is subordinate to his inner dialogue, as he tarries deep in thought (174d7).

Socrates the dealer of double-edged eulogy emerges as he ironically praises Agathon (175e1-175e7). No more Mr. entirely nice guy at this point, and he turns the heat up rather more in praising (198a11) and subsequently (199b8 – 201c9) “demolishing Agathon” (Rowe: Introduction, p. 9, 4.4). Even so, the ever-present sense of humour in his remarks makes it clear that his approach is not meant to wound, only to instruct, or at least to lead people towards drawing better conclusions for themselves.

The layers seem to commence from a consideration of what interests the party guests most, ie sex, which in the context of the time and culture tended to paederasty. It may be that Socrates and Plato were as clear as we are about the fact that whatever may have been the noble aspects of educational love in the higher echelons of society, there would have been a corresponding degree of misuse of power and position for sexual ends at all other levels, with an enormous burden of suffering carried by individuals whose stories will never be written. Being a man of these times and that culture, Socrates partakes to a degree of all the levels now described; he admires beautiful young men, but in his case this only leads his thoughts to higher things. The first two speakers invoke the deities, and this too is fine with Socrates, but for him,
rational thought leads to more sophisticated explanations for eros. Eryximachus searches for a universal principle of attraction, and in so doing creates a reasonable attempt at unifying everything from physiology to music. We pass to a consideration of how logic and rationality misapplied can result in grotesque explanations, as exemplified jestingly by Aristophanes (189 – 193d6), and then to Agathon’s solipsistic narcissism (194e4 – 197e8) which seems to represent a kind of desperate turning away from unsatisfactory rational explanations altogether. At this point Socrates cuts through the Gorgianic tangle first by taking logic as far as it will go (199b8 – 201c9), and then boot-strapping the discussion to a very different level, simultaneously adopting a new persona: Diotima (201d1 – 212a7).

Socrates the impervious to wine is constant throughout the Symposium, (214a4, 220a3 – 201e7), and one wonders if this is simply one of those heroic stereotypical attributes which have hardened the livers of hard characters from Homer to Hemingway. Alternatively, perhaps this ability to drink without getting drunk has a symbolic meaning, along the lines of Nietzsche’s suggestion that Socrates was radically unsusceptible to Dionysiac influences and ways of experiencing the world, as opposed to those of Apollo (see The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche WF, tr. Speirs RC, p. 69: in The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, Ed. Geuss R and Speirs R, Cambridge University Press, 1999). And then again, Diotima was the priestess of Apollo at Mantinea (a city in Arcadia), and although modern commentators including W. Hamilton (Penguin Books, 1951), C. J. Gill (RF, p xxviii). Paxton MRH (Tutorial Notes, 21/7/06, p.2) and Rowe (Introduction, p4, 2.5) seem compelled by tradition to assume she was probably a fictional character, I respectfully beg to entertain a different hypothesis. A photograph of a stele dedicated to her can be seen at:


Perhaps more convincingly, when Socrates quotes Diotima’s advanced teachings, (209e5 – 212a7) the text takes on the feel of a verbatim account. Here is a palpable disjunction from any of the previous shapes and forms of Socrates, and it enables Plato to pursue his systematic thesis into realms beyond the levels attempted in previous speeches. Her words, via Socrates, sound as if they were heard at first hand, and they read as if they were spoken by a practitioner who passionately believed in what she was saying.

What Plato is describing through the proxy of Socrates / Diotima, whatever its local cultural connotations, can be taken directly from the Greek text as a realistic description of what we know as meditation, at a level which produces feelings of meaningfulness, changes in the sensation of body-image, and disengagement from bodily concerns. The kind of methods and experiences D. is describing would be not uncommon in a reasonably advanced practitioner of meditation, and would correspond with ideas which we know were current in the Far East at the time. This idea is partly supported by Hamilton (The Symposium, Penguin Books 1951, Introduction: p. 26).

It is entirely feasible that such influences could have been communicated to the Greek-speaking world via Asia Minor. It’s a long way from “the correct way of boy-loving” (211b6); but through eros we reach compassion (211c3), and from there, detachment (“contemplation of beauty itself”: 211d3). Diotima, though, knows that the sensation of meaningfulness goes beyond philosophy, and I suspect that although he transmits the concept, Plato himself was not quite ready to plunge back into irrationality.

After the mysterious andante, the vigorous scherzo: Alcibiades provides the closure which is both psychologically and structurally necessary at the end of the work, and in doing so provides a different insight, this time into Socrates the inspiring genius (221d3) and Socrates the impervious to seduction (219c7), money (219e2), physical discomfort (220b1) and danger (220d7). And so the work ends with Socrates, after drinking all night, “spending the day as he did any other” (223d8): perhaps the first example of a ‘fade’ in all the long history of media studies!

© Donnie Ross 2012

Sunday, 28 February 2010

I hope you did your homework. And so do you believe in the colour blue? And /or all the other colours out there?

It’s astonishing how close to the surface of things a Central Paradox can be found. The answer is that colours do exist, because we perceive and experience them, yet they don’t exist, because objectively if there was no mind process to perceive them they would not be colours – whatever else they might be.

This is not mere sophistry. The fact is, things and phenomena do exist independently, but have no existence as concepts unless a mind perceives them. So the tree in the garden is there when there’s nobody about, but it’s a nameless non-concept until some old josser comes stumbling through the undergrowth and his dog pisses on it.

This kind of mental urogymnastic becomes slightly easier if we consider a sensory modality that’s less dominant – the sense of smell, for example. Does the green (hmm!) cheese on the moon smell if there’s nobody on the moon to smell it? It’s not rocket science to leap to the conclusion: where there is no olfaction there ain’t no pong neither.

So all of that is a prelude to my Theory of the Meaning of Meaningfulness. I think we can be reasonably comfortable with the notion that our senses generate perception when they get the right kind of signals, once those have been subjected to the right kind of processing by a whole lot of marvellously efficient systems in the brain. And yet at the same time we are perfectly at ease in accepting that what we experience is reality.

“To put that in a nut-case,” said Coco, “Are you telling me, O Great Platonico-Avuncular Theorist, that we can believe simultaneously and synchronologistically that what we see or experience is real, while yet knowing perfectly well that the entirety of what we experience is generated by brain-processes forming some kind of substrate for the mind?”

“Good Dog!” I replied, “I think you’re on the scent of the Theory of the Meaning of Meaningfulness. Do have a biscuit.”

If we first accept that colours are internally generated mental constructs, Coco and I now suggest that one of the central drivers in the human mind, and come to think of it, the canine mind also, is Meaningfulness.

In a sense, everything we experience has a value attribution created and attached as we process it through Mind. Things that relate to survival, and to intense emotion in any form, have a high Meaningfulness value. Coco and I assert, on the basis of our considerable experiences (mine concerning 65 years of unceasing enquiry and his involving a large number of stinky things in the wood, nothing wrong with that, Coco), that the centrality of the Meaningfulness sensation is related to its value in terms of survival.

“So we survive,” said Coco, looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but spoiling the impression somewhat by drooling in non-Pavlovian but Labradoric fashion, “by virtue of our mind-generated Meaningfulnessh?”

“Precisely, my dear Coco,” I replied. “That is exactly the meaning of Meaningfulness. It is a real yet mind-generated sensation, with an external utility closely related to preservation of the individual and of his or her immediate family. That's my Theory, anyway.”

Coming shortly: But what does Meaningfulness feel like when it’s at home, Uncle Donnie?

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Mental Modelling

My dog and I were thinking the other day that one of the main keys to expertise, apart from constant practice, is mental modelling.

He's a choc labrador, in case you were wondering, but anyway a while back I found that giving a successful anaesthetic, as one used to do in order to keep the wolf from the door (no offence, Coco) involved not just careful planning, but visualising in detail the sequence of events as the procedure proceeded. Then one would preview what might happen and what one might do, and in this way collage together a workable scenario, some of which was based on pre-op tests and prior knowledge of physiological science and years of experience, and some was "black box" (ie you know what goes in and you know what comes out, but **** knows what happens in between) - and this mental model was then played in parallel with the actual events, and from time to frequent time a comparison was made between a frame of the model and a frame of reality, with the model being adjusted or amended.

I suppose you thought anaesthetists did bugger all but sit about reading the Financial Times while taking surreptitious sniffs of the volatile agents, but anyhow after a few years of this Theory I realised I was doing exactly the same thing when playing the guitar in a wee jazz band, "playing" to be more accurate, the process involving being aware of where the harmony was (purely thanks to the bassist, otherwise I would have had no clue), improvising something 'somewhere in the brains', sticking that something in some kind of buffer, and while that was getting played by the hands, thinking of another 2 bars worth. Nothing fantooosh about this, footballers do it all the time, only with their feet.

So mental modelling, if you're still paying attention, is a key feature of human expertise, and the signs are that this may apply to dogs also. Contemporaneous accounts indicate that people like da Vinci and can't remember, think it was Robert Hooke (somewhere in Aubrey's Brief Lives) spent a lot of time in an extreme dwam or Brown Study, and my Theory is that they were Mentally Modelling. Which brings me back to Coco, because as he says, why should the greats have all the fun, we can read their blogs and rip off their techniques.

Ooops, sorry. The Meaning of Meaningfulness, I'm just coming to that in a wee while.

Meantime, Happy Theorising!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

First of all please have a look at the photograph and see/think what you think/see.

A chance combination of whin bushes, snow, wind, earth from an early ploughing, come together and create something that it's hard not to see as a beast with dark coat. I added two simple strokes with a stick to complete the image. Quite reminiscent of palaeolithic cave-paintings, where the artists often used convex forms in the rock to suggest animal forms & outlines.

Uncle Donnie's Theory Part One: we have the capacity to create expectations which configure our perceptions much more efficiently than we commonly notice. I would go further, m'lud, and assert that without such an astonishing facility to project (or, as some might allege, imagine), we would spend all day trying to make out the most obvious and common sights, sounds and who the hell is that in my bed?

Coming shortly, the Meaning of Meaningfulness. Homework: Do you believe in the colour blue?
- Just a theory.