. Alas, not me: November 2020

30 November 2020

Predestination as Algorithm -- Boethius, Consolation, 5 pr. ii

In replying to Boethius' question about Free Will and Fate, Lady Philosophy states:

   'There is freedom,' said she; 'nor, indeed, can any creature be rational, unless he be endowed with free will. For that which hath the natural use of reason has the faculty of discriminative judgment, and of itself distinguishes what is to be shunned or desired. Now, everyone seeks what he judges desirable, and avoids what he thinks should be shunned. Wherefore, beings endowed with reason possess also the faculty of free choice and refusal. But I suppose this faculty not equal alike in all. The higher Divine essences possess a clear-sighted judgment, an uncorrupt will, and an effective power of accomplishing their wishes. Human souls must needs be comparatively free while they abide in the contemplation of the Divine mind, less free when they pass into bodily form, and still less, again, when they are enwrapped in earthly members. But when they are given over to vices, and fall from the possession of their proper reason, then indeed their condition is utter slavery. For when they let their gaze fall from the light of highest truth to the lower world where darkness reigns, soon ignorance blinds their vision; they are disturbed by baneful affections, by yielding and assenting to which they help to promote the slavery in which they are involved, and are in a manner led captive by reason of their very liberty. Yet He who seeth all things from eternity beholdeth these things with the eyes of His providence, and assigneth to each what is predestined for it by its merits.'

         (Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, 5 pr. ii., trans. M. R. James)

That last sentence sounds like God has an algorithm. Does that come with Prime?

'Der mentsh* trakht un got lakht': Divine Irony and the Ring Verse.

 Just this morning I was reflecting on the incantatory lines at the heart of the Ring verse:

One Ring to rule them all, one ring to find them
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them

The emphatically repeated 'them' refers as much to the bearers of the other Rings of Power as it does to the Rings themselves. The intent to enslave the bearers was imperfectly realized of course, except in the case of Men. It occurs to me, however, that these verses also reflect the relations of the three agents of the eucatastrophe at Mt Doom, Frodo, Gollum, and Sam, all of whom of course are Ringbearers. The Ring brought them all together and bound them in the literal darkness of Mordor. Frodo 'wouldn't have got far without Sam' (TT 4.viii.712) and 'but for [Gollum]' Frodo 'could not have destroyed the Ring' (RK 6.iii.947). Frodo, however, 'was meant to have the Ring' as much as Bilbo had been (FR 1.ii.55), but it was not the maker of the Ring who intended this.

'[T]here was something else at work', as Gandalf tells Frodo. That 'something' read the Ring verse ironically, in a sense no one else grasped, much like the words that in truth prophesied the Witch-king's death rather than his invulnerability. Just as Éowyn, Merry, and the barrow-blade were brought together as if by chance to belie the obvious meaning of 'not by the hand of man shall he fall' (RK 5.vi.840; App. A 1051), so too, the coming together of Frodo, Gollum, and Sam at Mt Doom reveals new meaning in the Ring verse. 

It is a new meaning such as Eru prophesied to Melkor before the world was made (Silm. 17) :

'.... And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.'


*The use of this word here should not be taken to imply that Sauron was ever a mentsh to anyone, anywhere, at any time. 

26 November 2020

From Lady Philosophy to Gollum: 'The roots of those mountains must be roots indeed' (FR 1.ii.54)

In telling Gollum's story to Frodo, Gandalf introduces him as follows:

'Long after, but still very long ago, there lived by the banks of the Great River on the edge of Wilderland a clever-handed and quiet-footed little people. I guess they were of hobbit-kind; akin to the fathers of the fathers of the Stoors, for they loved the River, and often swam in it, or made little boats of reeds. There was among them a family of high repute, for it was large and wealthier than most, and it was ruled by a grandmother of the folk, stern and wise in old lore, such as they had. The most inquisitive and curious-minded of that family was called Sméagol. He was interested in roots and beginnings; he dived into deep pools; he burrowed under trees and growing plants; he tunnelled into green mounds; and he ceased to look up at the hill-tops, or the leaves on trees, or the flowers opening in the air: his head and his eyes were downward.'

(FR 1.ii.62)

The scene starts out like a fairy tale, and all seems well and good as we begin the transition from the formidable matriarch of the family to her grandson. The initial shine imparted by 'most inquisitive and curious-minded' is more glitter than gold, however. For the first often means not just 'curious' but 'unduly or impertinently curious; prying', and the second 'having a curious or inquisitive or strange mind'. 'Curious', too, often has a condemnatory sense: '[d]esirous of knowing what one has no right to know, or what does not concern one, prying'. From here, it is literally and metaphorically downhill. Yet it is more than simply that. Sam, being a gardener, also has his head and eyes turned downwards, often but not always. He has not forgotten what is above. He could never have seen that star above Mordor, had he done so, never have taken from it the lesson of hope and beauty that he did. 

It also seems clear that, however we may construe what happens when he first sees the Ring, Sméagol had begun this 'descent' of his own free will before that day in The Gladden Fields. His choice prepared him for the secrets hidden beneath the Ring's precious beauty. The comfortless dark beneath the Misty Mountains, within which he sought to hide from the light of the sun, was already within him.

All of this makes the following passage from Boethius' The Consolation of Philosophy (5 pr. 2) seem rather apposite:

'But [I asked] in this series of closely connected causes is there any freedom of choice for us, or does the chain of Fate constrain the very impulses of human minds, too?'

'There is freedom of choice', [Philosophy] said. 'For no rational nature could exist without freedom of choice being present in it. That which can employ reason of its own nature has the judgement by which it discerns one thing from another; on its own, therefore, it recognizes the difference between what is to be shunned and what is to be desired. Truly what a man judges desirable he pursues, and truly he flees what he thinks must be shunned. So in those creatures in whom reason exists, there is also the freedom of willing and not willing. But I claim that this freedom is not equal in all creatures. 

'For in higher and divine beings there is at hand a penetrating judgement and a will uncorrupted and the power to achieve what is desired. Human souls must be freer in truth when they maintain themselves in contemplation of the divine mind, truly less free when they are dispersed to bodies, and even less so when they are bound to earthly flesh and blood. Truly extreme is their slavery when they have surrendered to their faults and fallen from the possession of their proper reason. For when they cast down their eyes from the light of the highest truth to dark and lower things, at once they live blind in a cloud of ignorance, and are ruined by destructive passions, by yielding and agreeing to which they foster the slavery they have brought upon themselves, and in a certain way, they are captives because of their own freedom. Nevertheless the gaze of Providence, looking out from eternity, descries all these things and establishes what is predestined according to their merits.'

The interplay of free will and Providence in Boethius and Tolkien deserve more attention than I will give it here, especially that final sentence which seems to indicate that what is predestined for us is what we have deserved. That is what is interesting here, not that 'aha! Tolkien's source for this portrayal is in Boethius!'. Quellenforschung, though fun for kids of all ages, needs to earn its keep here by answering the question: 'So what?'.  Here we can see the choices of all those who possess the Ring, or wish to, or fear to, reflected in the descent that Boethius describes. 

That is an essay for another day. It is worth noting, however, the connection between Boethius and Tolkien does not stop with the words I've just quoted above. For the next section, which is in verse, not only confirms the link, because Sméagol-Gollum seeks to hide from the Sun (personified with the capital letter) beneath the Misty Mountains: 'The Sun could not watch me there' (FR 1.ii.54). And perhaps the sun could not, and the Eye could not, but the swift glance of the mind of Ilúvatar could and did.

''All things he sees and all he hears"
Sang honey-voiced Homer 
Of bright Apollo with his clear light;
Yet he cannot break through the inmost
Bowels of the earth or sea with the 
Weak illumination of his rays.
Not so the Founder of the Great World:
To Him as He looks upon all things from above
The Earth with its mass is no obstacle;
Night does not block the stars with its mists;
What is, what was, and what is to come
He perceives with His mind in a single glance;
Since He alone looks upon all things,
You could say that He is the true sun.
(Cons. 5 m. ii)


'sed in hac haerentium sibi serie causarum estne ulla nostri arbitrii libertas an ipsos quoque humanorum motus animorum fatalis catena constringit?' 

'est', inquit; 'neque enim fuerit ulla rationalis natura quin eidem libertas adsit arbitrii. nam quod ratione uti naturaliter potest id habet iudicium quo quidque discernat; per se igitur fugienda optandaue dinoscit. quod uero quis optandum esse iudicat petit, refugit uero quod aestimat esse fugiendum. quare quibus in ipsis inest ratio etiam uolendi nolendique libertas, sed hanc non in omnibus aequam esse constituo. nam supernis diuinisque substantiis et perspicax iudicium et incorrupta uoluntas et efficax optatorum praesto est potestas. humanas uero animas liberiores quidem esse necesse est cum se in mentis diuinae speculatione conseruant, minus uero cum dilabuntur ad corpora, minusque etiam cum terrenis artubus colligantur. extrema uero est seruitus cum uitiis deditae rationis propriae possessione ceciderunt. nam ubi oculos a summae luce ueritatis ad inferiora et tenebrosa deiecerint, mox inscitiae nube caligant, perniciosis turbantur affectibus, quibus accedendo consentiendoque quam inuexere sibi adiuuant seruitutem et sunt quodam modo propria libertate captiuae. quae tamen ille ab aeterno cuncta prospiciens prouidentiae cernit intuitus et suis quaeque meritis praedestinata disponit.'

Πάντ᾽ ἐφορᾶν καὶ πάντ᾽ ἐπακούειν
puro clarum lumine Phoebum
melliflui canit oris Homerus;
qui tamen intima uiscera terrae
non ualet aut pelagi radiorum
infirma perrumpere luce.
haud sic magni conditor orbis:
huic ex alto cuncta tuenti
nulla terrae mole resistunt,
non nox astris nubibus obstat; 
quae sint, quae fuerint ueniantque
uno mentis cernit in ictu;
quem quia respicit omnia solus
uerum possis dicere solem.

14 November 2020

First they told us we couldn't punch Nazis

 So this morning I saw the following tweet:

I commented that the ALREADY DEAD serial killer should be treated more like a vampire. I received an email from Twitter informing me that my account had been locked for 'wishing or hoping that someone experiences physical harm'.

If an algorithm did this, the algorithm needs work. If a person did this, the person needs to look up the meaning of the word 'obituary', and attain an understanding of its applicability to ALREADY DEAD serial killers with respect to 'wishing and hoping that someone experiences physical harm.'

The slope doesn't get any more slippery than this, folks. First you go easy on the Nazis, and then before you know it, you can't even stake a vampire let alone an ALREADY DEAD serial killer.