Friday 14 April 2023

Book review: Saving the Appearances

1681505024298-6bde5bf6-2632-4c7c-b9e0-9198406149c4_I confess that I got nothing out of Owen Barfield's "Saving the Appearances". I read it because it was "recommended" by C S Lewis in some aside in The Discarded Image1, and from that and the title I assumed that it was in some way about, errm, saving the appearences as the concept in antient science.

But, it isn't about that. What it is about I'm afraid I can't tell you, as it all bounced off. None of it meant anything.

In retrospect, the quote from the Church Times and OB's anthroposophy should have been a hint. OB has a knack for using words with unclear meanings in a vague way to apparently build up to something, but not actually get anywhere; and later on refers to those "conclusions" as though they meant something.

Towards the end it becomes explicitly Christian-Spiritualist, but again without saying anything that I was unable to understand - but I was skipping by the time I'd got to there. To the extent that it was C-S at the end I am, of course, uninterested in it; to the extent that (I now suspect) it was aiming at that all along; ditto. This I think tends to justify my opinion that it is valueless, to me.

Somewhere near the start is some stuff about rainbows; to quote from a 5-star reviewBarfield starts with the apparently innocuous example of a rainbow. Obviously the rainbow doesn’t exist except when it is seen. The particles of water which physically exist in the air-space of a thunderstorm are not the rainbow. The rainbow is constituted by that phenomenon and the human eye and brain in concert. This is ‘Kant for dummies’, and very effective. This seems somewhat confused: the particles of water are not the rainbow; the rays of light are. These exist regardless of whether they are perceived or not. Non-concious cameras can take images of them that people recognise as rainbows, without supposing that the rainbow is "in" the images. It is possible to say that "the rainbow" - perhaps in the sense of "oh-it-is-beautiful, and regarded as a sign from god" - only exists in human perception; but when defined in that way it is empty of content: you have made your definition to get the answer you want. Whether OB regards the ordinary physical universe as independent of perception is unclear, again undermining his work.

To take another work which this vaguely reminds me of: Why Materialism is Baloney is without doubt Woo; but at least it is honestly and clearly so, and indeed does its best to explain what it is trying to say.


1. Ah yes, see pix here; or as text:

This would, I believe, be recognised by all thoughtful scientists today. It was recognised by Newton if, as I am told, he wrote not 'the attraction varies inversely as the square of the distance', but 'all happens as if' it so varied. It was certainly recognised in the Middle Ages. 'In astronomy', says Aquinas, 'an account is given of eccentrics and epicycles on the ground that if their assumption is made (hac positione facta) the sensible appearances as regards celestial motions can be saved. But this is not a strict proof (sufficienter probans) since for all we know (forte) they could also be saved by some different assumption.'1 The real reason why Copernicus raised no ripple and Galileo raised a storm, may well be that whereas the one offered a new supposal about celestial motions, the other insisted on treating this supposal as fact. If so, the real revolution consisted not in a new theory of the heavens but in 'a new theory of the nature of theory'.2

On the highest level, then, the Model was recognised as provisional. What we should like to know is how far down the intellectual scale this cautious view extended.

1. 1ยช XXXII, Art. 1, ad secundum. 
2. A. O. Barfield, Saving the Appearances (1957), p. 51.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Book review: Glory Road

1681239562268-968b240b-23e1-46d4-a458-2ac865558d58 Another Heinlein. In some ways reminiscent of Starships Troopers, in that it is an adventure story combined with somewhat heavy-handed philosophising. I have fond memories of this from my childhood, but I was probably about 14 then and I fear it has not aged well. The story remains decent, although really rather brief; without the padding it would be a novella, and perhaps all the better for it. Indeed, whilst I'd remembered a few bits, I'd quite forgotten just how brief it is. I won't trouble to summarise the plot; doubtless as usual Goodreads will do that.

To digress on the cover, which is the one I remember: the heroine is, errm, striking, and is much as the book describes her, except it still makes her face a bit weird; the slain dinosaur as backdrop and dwarf elegantly proffering a glass as refreshment are all fitting. The backdrop should not be level desert, but it emphasises the foreground so meh.

I realised after a bit that the tone grated, in a way that ST doesn't. The hero speaks directly to the reader, just as in ST, but badly. I now discover that GR was his first fantasy novel, but actually post-dates ST. Somehow the fake-chumminess is too condescending; the lead-like prose doesn't help. Perhaps this review's "Alas, "Glory Road" is a preview of the old, pervy and insane Heinlein to come" is correct; I recall eventually abandoning him in disgust; perhaps stick to the early stuff.

Igli: the book is fantasy but it is fantasy-with-pretence-of-science, i.e. what happens is supposed to be high-enough-tech-looks-like-magic. That explains away most things, but it doesn't explain Igli disappearing down his own throat. The book kinda realises this because Our Hero asks Our Heroine for an explanation, which she deflects with various unsatisfactory words which somehow placate Our Hero.

The Egg: the object of the Quest. Nowadays, this would be desperately dull, because it would just be backed up. I thought I'd throw that in.

And finally, the philosophy: I'll skip the bits about personal conduct, because I think that is just RAH's wish-fulfilment. But what about govt? It turns out that the ideal govt system is to give one individual ultimate power. This we will instantly recognise as Plato's failed philosopher-king junk again, everyone's favourite answer, and a step backwards from what he propsed in ST: a sign I think of an old man growing impatient with how-to-fix-the-world. He attempts to save himself by making it clear that the individual's power is freely granted; if this was entirely so it would be a good defence; but it is unlikely that the people or peoples that are ordered killed really consented to their own deaths; this point is not explored in depth. I'm more sympathetic to his suggestion that most problems should be left alone.

He does get some points for what everyone mentions: not ending the book with the successful culmination of the Quest, but with Our Hero struggling to find some meaning in life afterwards. Unfortunately he can't find any answer other than go-on-another-quest.

And: the book veers off towards comedy-of-manners, criticising various aspects of society. Most of which fails badly. For example, Earth turns out to be the only planet with prostitution. WTF? (Errm...). For something that occurs in practically every independent society on Earth, this seems wildly implausible. And this isn't because females are chaste, no, it is because they have a much more sensible attitude to sex, see above re lustful old men.

I feel like mentioning The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, which I also read young and was very impressed by; and re-read recently and still like. That gets bonus points for weirdness, though it loses a little for the hero and heroine being too typical-RAH.

Sunday 9 April 2023

Book review: The Alchemaster's Apprentice

1678912849249-86a350c6-b575-4e13-af74-090bd22b05d0 During our recent trip to London I visited Foyle's and bought a copy of The Alchemaster's Apprentice by
Walter "Captain Bluebear" Moers. I haven't read Capt BB, though both D and E had; and I now have their copy to read at some point.

But what of tAA, I hear you cry? Well, its OK. I'm sorry not to be more enthusiastic; it is nicely filled with whimsy whilst somewhat dark; the trouble is that the whimsy is just a bit too forced, somehow. I enjoyed reading it though. I think that's all I have to say.

Saturday 8 April 2023

Peaks: Stanage and Birchens

(this post written in arrears; but sadly it now looks like visits to the Peaks will be few enough that each one can be blogged). 

GPS: Stanage; Birchens. Flickr pix. I've largely forgotten what we did (Strava notes for Birchens say "The start to Half Nelson repulsed E and I but D made it (top rope). Blind Eye is entertaining to exit the hole"), but here's a pic at Birchens (note the monument) for variety. We look like some 70's prog-rock band.