Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Irish has no word for 'yes'

Geoff Pullum over at Language Log gets a little impatient here (read the comments, they are interesting and fun) with people who make assumptions about the culture underlying the society of speakers of a language purely from some linguistic accident (real or imagined). In the post he mentions a man who seems to think that Gaelic has no way of saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’. This is, of course, nonsense. It is surely impossible for any language not to have a means of negation and confirmation, and Irish most certainly has such means.

That indispensable work “A grammar of the Irish language Published for the use of the senior classes in the College of St. Columba”, by John O'Donovan, informs us that “We have no words in the modern Irish language corresponding with the English yes or no but in the ancient language naco nicho and ace are frequently used without a verb to give a negative answer… In the modern language in answering a question the same verb used in the question must be repeated in the answer as ap laBaip did he speak answer laBaip or niop laBaip he spoke or he spoke not. But if the question be asked by an whether without any verb the negative answer will be by ni and the positive by ip as an piop pm ip piop ni pfop Is that true It is true/it is not true.” Unquestionably there is a way of doing what ‘yes’ and ‘no’ do in English (and there would even appear to be negative and affirmative complements, if not actual particles, both in modern and old Irish.) This is presumably why in Ireland you sometimes hear things like ‘I cannot’, in response to the question ‘Can you lend me a fiver?’

The reason I find this interesting is that, in response to a similar piece of nonsense I saw a couple of years ago, I began to wonder what ‘yes’ and ‘no’ actually mean. It is not as obvious as it at first appears.

The negative particle is an essential element of any language and has a series of clearly defined and comprehensible functions. Declaratives and interrogatives are concerned primarily with what is; what is not is considered as one of the possible attributes of what is, or might be. In English and most IE languages (not Greek, ‘ou’ comes from ‘ud’, although ‘me’ is indeed from the PIE) the negative particle is from ‘ne’ and has few variations or complications since there is no need for them.

In English, the word ‘not’ to negate a verb structure or other type of phrase is- obviously- not the same form as the ‘no’ used in response to a mooted idea to indicate that it is not so. Nor is this ‘no’ the same as the adjectival ‘no’ used to indicate the absence of something, but they are all compounded from the PIE negative particle. To my knowledge, other languages similarly have a range of words which negate the idea of the rest of the structure, based on one or two particles. (This is certainly true of Basque, Japanese, Arabic and Chinese; I should be interested to hear of any language in which negation is not performed in this way)

‘Yes’ is an entirely different matter, as it is not a simple, nor a single, concept. The English word ‘yes’ does a number of jobs (performs a number of functions) which need not intuitively be done by the same word. In many languages they are not. There is no ‘affirmative particle’, equivalent to ‘ne’.

Starting from the English ‘yes’, for no particular reason (it may not be a good place to start), let us consider what it does:

It affirms

It confirms

It asserts

It clarifies

It determines

It contradicts

It insists

It accedes

It concedes

It agrees

Some of these overlap, of course. The point is that there is no need of a particle explicitly to say that an idea is to be understood in the affirmative, unless it is for some reason in question. It is assumed that an idea is, by default, discussed as existing, rather than as not existing.

Perhaps the commonest and clearest purpose is to confirm, in response to a question, or a doubt, or an assertion to the contrary, that something is so. There are variations of strength because of the need at times to stress the subjective nature of truth. Yes can state authoritatively, uncontestedly, it can also set out an opinion as though it were the same thing. The primary function of yes, and more generally, of affirmative structures, seems to be to state that what is under consideration is so. Thus in many languages (English, Spanish, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Mandarin, French sometimes) the affirmative particle derives from a demonstrative adverb meaning ‘so’, ‘thus’. Nevertheless, in others (Greek, French usually, it comes from a demonstrative pronoun). And some (Latin, Sanskrit) use an adjectival or nominal form meaning ‘this is true’. (Modern) Irish, as seen above, has no affirmative particle, but rather restates explicitly that which is held to be in question. (English, of course frequently does the same thing.) This leads us to the important qualification: Yes, and the affirmative structures in question, does not make an assertion, they affirm the truth of an assertion which is in question. They specifically refer to the concept of the truth of the assertion, not to the information contained in the assertion. This requires that there be a question of truth to be addressed, either because a question has explicitly been asked, or because doubt has been cast on the factual truth or the possibility of something.

It seems that all the languages I have looked at (a couple of dozen, from various language families) express affirmation by a word or phrase that is essentially this/that is so/true/right. The difference would appear to be one of emphasis, in that some languages stress the idea being considered (Greek nai ad. enim (this); French oui ad. hoc ille (this one here)), others that it is as stated (English yes ad. gea + si (so + be); Spanish sí ad. sic (thus)) and others stress that what is said is true (Latin iter vero (this (is) true); Sanskrit satya ((this is) true)). It is even possible to stress the copula, and by extension the verb (English- Are you the the Hickory Wind? I am; Irish- see Mr O’Donovan in the second paragraph.)

A few examples of the things that ‘yes’ does in English, roughly as the earlier list:

‘Are you Peter?’ ‘Yes, I am.’

‘You aren’t Peter.’ ‘Yes, I am.’

‘You can’t be Peter.’ ‘Yes, I am.’

‘Jones scores.’ ‘Yes!’

‘Can/will you give me a lift?’ ‘Yes/Of course/Ok.’

‘You can’t do that.’ ‘Yes, I can.’

‘Do you want sugar?’ ‘Yes, please.’

A couple of final points. One, in English it is common to draw attention to the negative intent of an utterance by stressing the negative:

- ‘You may not borrow my car tonight.’

whereas there is no equivalent affirmative particle. Instead we stress the (auxiliary) verb:

- ‘But it is raining, I tell you; look out of the window?’

Many languages do use an adverb or some particle here, it is true, but that is only one way of stressing affirmativeness.

Two, ‘no’ is on the Swadesh list; ‘yes’ is not. It should now be clear why this is so.

In tomorrow’s post, how to avoiding embedding parentheses, polysyndeton and other matters of style.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Non-Citizens Really are the Problem

It is curious to note the expressions that people who think they are important use to denote people they think are not. The phrase ‘ordinary people’, used by those who sometimes appear on television or in the national press to refer to those who don’t, is perhaps the archetypal example. The EU’s phrase ‘civil society’ which EU referendum helpful explains as a number of organizations set up by the EU in order that they can tell it what it wants to hear, is another commonly heard expression. It is another attempt to give the thing a veneer of democracy, but the choice of term is strange. It suggests a tin ear and an inability to see who is really affected by the decisions they make, but it also fails in another way- if other people are civil society, then what are EU bureaucrats? Are they not civil? Are they not part of society? Are they to civil society as the military is to the civilian? Is this revealing?

In Spain the King is at least known as ‘El Primero de los Españoles’, the ‘First among Spaniards’, which attempts to reflect something which is constitutionally true, although historically and institutionally false. On the other hand there is a tendency to refer to ‘los agentes sociales’, when making laws which affect large numbers of people, or decisions on tax and public sector pay and conditions and so on. This seems to be code for the major trade unions, the press and the autonomous parliaments, each of which speaks for the people it is supposed to represent in a very limited manner, being more interested in its own benefits and ideas. But they are easy to identify at least, which is why they claim to have spoken to them. (Some of these Autonomous parliaments have real power; none is truly representative of the people it controls).
Another strange and more disturbing expression which I keep coming across is ‘citizen journalists’. It is not clear who they are and in what way they are supposed to be different from other kinds of journalist. A journalist, one would say, is someone who transmits, researches and comments on current events through a public channel. Is it simply an attempt to retain the pristine, cultured image of official, licensed journalists, while recognising that there may be other, lesser beings who are allowed to speak as long as they keep in their place and don’t imagine that what they say matters? It would be easy to believe this, since journalists- those who think of themselves as real journalists- tend to take themselves tremendously seriously, and resent the idea that just anyone can do what they do.

But the phrase is heard more often on the lips of politicians, and that is more disturbing still. It suggests an attempt to create two orders of journalist; one, a pet stable of newspaper, radio and television reporters and commentators, who would be given shiny badges and told how important they were, and in the second class, those who cannot be tamed. The NUJ sold out to this idea decades ago, so it would not be surprising if they went along with it. The point, of course, is that the tame journalists with their badges would be allowed to spout orthodoxy, or even question it a little, with comparative freedom, but the rest of us, the ‘citizens’, would find very severe limits placed on our freedom to report, research and comment.

For a startling insight into how this is working in Canada, and the idea some people in authority have of freedom, have a look at Ezra Levant’s site. Peruse it at length. It is very instructive.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Towards a Reconstruction of Proto-Mammal 2

In case anyone is confused, or hasn’t read part 1, I’m not actually going to rebuild Thrinaxodon liorhinus or the sabre-toothed tiger, and I’m not sitting here surrounded by the results of failed Frankensteinian experiments, watching them variously writhe, rot, crumble into dust or, occasionally, eat each other. It is an interesting idea, and I’m sure that someone, somewhere is doing just that, but not me. I’m not a biologist, and my interest is in the mammalian ur-sprach.

It is only possible here to offer a few tentative conclusions, but I state them with a degree of confidence, and ask for an open mind. It is first necessary to explain what it means.

Clearly, other mammals do not speak in the way that we do, but they do communicate, and they almost invariably use sound to some extent (exceptions being the mute swan and the Haitian long-eared false wombat, which, despite possessing a fully-developed hyoid and tuneable muscles in the glottal opening, has evolved an inability to emit sound which appears to be psychological in origin. Work is continuing on the subject, which does not, in any case, affect the general argument.

Both the cognitive and physiological origins of speech go back far beyond the evolution of the primates to the origins of the mammalian order, and the following general conclusions can be stated as examples of where the work is leading:

- The single simplest sound is that made by opening the mouth with the soft palate relaxed and simultaneously voicing with the throat. Mammalian soft palates vary in tenseness, therefore this sound is sometimes closer to /b/ than an /m/, which is unimportant here. It is a bilabial. And the nature of voicing, whether by direct vibration of vocal cords, or a less controlled trembling of the pharynx, does not matter either. This basic sound was originally the same. And, being the simplest of all sounds to make, it is the first that mammalian young tend to produce, usually associated with a colourless, lax, open vowel, the tongue lying flat and floppy in or partly out of the mouth, something like /ae/. For this reason the sounds /ma:/ and /pa:/ are assigned meanings descriptive of the relations between cubs and there parents, stll detectable in the communication of many mammals today, and clearly reconstructable using the comparative method.

- Since mammary glands do not fossilize, the distinguishing characteristic of mammals in the fossil record is a small bone in the inner ear, which in other orders is, where it exists, part of the jaw. The absence of this bone in the mammalian mandible leads to a distribution of velar sounds to indicate fear, threat or warning, and of alveolar-palatal sounds to create and maintain social relations. From this, all mammalian sounds, including the words of all human languages, have their origin.

You will note that this does not presuppose or prove the existence of a proto-sapiens; the proto-language from which all human languages descend, the last common ancestor, as it were, may have existed before anatomically modern man came to be, before the hominid-chimp split, or even before the existence of primates as such.

I have a marvellous proof of this theory, but the post is not large enough to contain it. I hope to publish the full paper around the beginning of April.

Note: There is no tradition of historical linguistics at the University here; nevertherless I have been very fortunate in enjoying the help and encouragement of Dr. Milongo Patrañez in the work I am doing. Many thanks.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Homo floresiensis 2

12,000 years ago a species of hominid, something close to man, but not man, existed in the same world as us. On the island of Flores, now part of Indonesia, small creatures who might have been descendants of Homo erectus, or of some other, unknown, lineage, flourished until nearly the beginning of the Holocene, when the world was almost exactly as it is now. if that figure could be brought down to 9-8kya, which is pefectly possible, then we could be certain that these creatures shared the world with Bronze Age peoples in China and the Near East, with the Sialk of Iran, the Jarmo of Mesopotamia, with the predecessors of the Norte Chico in Peru; with people, that is, who lived in cities, farmed, wrote, manufactured and traded, produced song, dance, painting and sculpture, people who could have studied them and left a written recording of their findings, if they had ever met.

It appears they never did. It seems that the creatures of Flores were alone on their island, perhaps they had to be, they could only survive by being alone. It is unlikely they would have been permitted to share foraging or farming land with Homo sapiens, although it would depend on the exact nature of the two societies at the time of contact. Very little is known about the Flores population.

The most important conclusion to be drawn from all of this is not that there were probably other intelligent species living somewhere in the world in historical times; it is that we are the only intelligent species now living on Earth by the purest accident. Between our and chimpanzee intelligence there is nothing represented(by intelligence it is necessary to understand the ability to manipulate abstract symbols, combined with self-awareness, though probably you can't have the first without the second, making degree of consciousness the main criterion). There is nothing now, but there have been many species closely related to us, in different parts of the world, that were close to us in their ability to understand their own existence, and hence to look for explanations. There has probably been a continuum a from Homo sapiens through hominid ancestors, known and unknown, chimpanzee, gorilla ancestors at least. Where is the limit at which whatever makes us special ceases to matter? I repeat, it is only by the purest chance that we do not have to think about that question.

If we had to consider it, it would change fundamentally the way we see ourselves. And it is not an academic question. As more is learnt and incorporated into general learning (assuming public education does not completely disappear in any meaningful sense) the implications of it will filter through to the minds of peopel generally. It is even possible- though highly improbable now- that we are not the the only intelligent species on the planet. But it is certainly true that, until very recently, we were not.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Towards a Reconstruction of Proto-Mammal

The origin of human language is one of the many fascinating areas of study concerned with the origin of man, and life in general. The detailed, and often rather pointless work of the great historical linguists is a testament to the majesty attainable by the human mind, and also to the lengths some people will go to to avoid paying attention to any of the things which are generally held to constitute the experience of living. Those who do not know linguistics tend to imagine that it is largely concerned with ‘learning foreign’ or with telling youths how to speak correctly. There is a general assumption that it is not a discipline calling for true scholarship, in the way that, say, sociology, is.

This is quite untrue, and as a first step the uninitiated should read the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, specifically his Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes, in which he deduces the existence of a series of sounds in a language that passed from this world five thousand years ago and was probably never written down. Nor was this idle speculation. Despite reservations on the part of colleagues, he was shown to be right when Hittite was discovered and interpreted some twenty years later. Such dogged insistence on seeking out identifiable truth is a rare quality; of course, having only warm chocolate and cuckoo clocks for intellectual stimulus he naturally sought ways to stimulate himself. He didn’t even have cheese, being from the region where they manufacture the holes that go in the cheese the other provinces make. (My researches indicate that the Swiss do not even have sex, but I should acknowledge that the sample was too small to draw any definite conclusions.) But I digress.

Indo-European is but one of the language families that exist in the world, Proto-IE being the assumed, and partly reconstructed, language that was the mother of English, Greek, Italian, Tocharian, Irish, Lithuanian, Bengali and quite a few other languages living and dead. This much is more or less certain. The linking of those major languages to each other, and the proto-languages into one single language from which all the world’s living languages ultimately derive, is the next step, but one which may be impossible for a number of reasons.

The underlying hypothesis may not be true, of course. It seems reasonable to postulate a proto-world language, but the physical development of language, as opposed to the cognitive faculty that allows it to exist, may have taken place after one or more of the major transcontinental migrations had occurred. (Biceps and triceps arose once in some distant ancestor of all humans, whereas archery has been invented independently by many different populations.)

It may not be possible to demonstrate the existence of such a language, even if it ever existed, and much less reconstruct it, because of the total destruction of all evidence. Words do not fossilize, as palaeo-linguists observe when they need an excuse to stop digging and put their feet up.

Those who attempt to show that there was once a single language spoken by all humans have met with varying degrees of acceptance, from furrow-browed distrust, to cautious ridicule, to headshaking exasperation and outright rejection. Nicholas Marr attempted to underpin his highly speculative theories with Marxist theory, which was good politics at the time but made for rather poor science. And having debased himself in this way he was posthumously denounced by Stalin for introducing non-Marxist formulae into his theories. This article on Stalinist linguistics provides a fascinating insight into the man. As well as being an evil, blood-stained tyrant he also had an ego the size of Ursa minor β. And he was a bright chap, though it pains me to say it.

Sergei Starostin undoubtedly suffered from the lasting effects of all this when developing his own Dene-Caucasian, also considered speculative by most historical linguists. (In science, ‘speculative’ means ‘without foundation and almost certainly a load of codswallop intended to get the attention of the newspapers’; ‘highly speculative’ means ‘completely without foundation, utter bollocks, and the author probably thinks he’s Napoleon.’)

So much for the terminology. The work of Joseph Greenberg was merely speculative. Much of it was not without interest, but the methodology was deeply flawed. In essence, in order to obtain any result at all the hypotheses that underpinned the method had to be so broad as to virtually preclude all possibility of the result being true. His determination to produce something rather blinded him to the uselessness of what he was producing. Imagine a committee of French poets trying to design a cuckoo clock. The result would be extremely messy, and might even tick, but the cuckoo would quote Lecan on the interpretation of post-modernity in a society which is both post-colonial and neo-colonial, and the numbers will have been removed as a symbol of Bourgeois capitalist oppression of someone or other. It would not tell you you were late for lunch. Once more, I digress.

Merritt Ruhlen has continued the work of Greenberg, has proved nothing and been laughed at a lot, but they have both contributed much that is useful on the way to their speculative conclusions. But this does not mean that what they say is not true, it does not even mean that it cannot be shown to be true, only that they have not shown it to be so. One day, what can in fact be concluded from their work may be satisfactorily separated from the bits that owe more to sweaty palms, and they will yet contribute to the furthering of knowledge about the history of language. The fairly recent history, relatively speaking.

And that is the point. This post is an introduction to a topic which I shall outline on the 28th (for reasons which are important but not necessarily obvious). Despite what has been said about the difficulties of establishing relationships between languages, and reconstructing proto-languages beyond a certain point in the past, and the dangers of over-interpreting results, it is still possible, with great caution, to progress in this field. And that is what I want to do in the work I shall present; to go back, not only to a hypothetical proto-sapiens (which my theory does not require in the sense that it is understood by Ruhlen and Greenberg), but beyond the hominid lineage, beyond the primate, to an early stage of verbal communication common to the ancestor of modern mammals. I wish, in short, to reconstruct proto-mammalian.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

We're Going to Need More Lampposts

I've always liked Christmas. There seems to be a genuine sense that the world stops turning and the normal ugliness is suspended. Probably my unbounded optimism and general blindness to things I don't want to see, but the fact is it gives me a feeling of goodwill towards people.

Why then, the title of this post? Because as the year ends, it is worth remembering what we have and what we don't have. And some of the reasons why. Nobody ever entered politics to make other people richer or freer. The supporters of a certain Mr Obama will be discovering this in the next few months. Those of us who have to live under Labour governments, or in my case Rodríguez Zapatero, are reminded of it constantly.

One of the most obvious traits of the three just named is that they are bureaucrats, not leaders. Tony Blair led, briefly, while his charisma lasted, but he did not lead anywhere in particular. The same, I am sure, will happen to Obama. It will be a case of 'Follow Barack, he's right behind us.' Even so, let's wait until he actually makes a mess of things before condemning him. Brown and Zapatero are not leaders, and it is only the decadence and irrelevance of politics in these countries that has allowed them to get where they are. George Bush had moments of genuine leadership. There were times when, with no theatre, no posing, no spin, no self-conscious rhetoric, but rather with simple words and good example, he led his nation. There were few such moments, certainly, but it is more than most achieve.

So this is my Christmas wish: May those who think they lead us do as little as possible, and may real leaders appear only where they are needed.

A very Happy Christmas and New Year to anyone who drops by here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What's that sticking out of your thorax?

Nigel Stork said more or less that to a first approximation we are all insects. It might be further said that to a second we are all monkeys* and to a third we are all Africans. The rest is meaningless detail; but it is the detail that seems to matter. It is probably the ability to be obsessed with such details that makes us human. Then again, possibly not.

*Yes, I know, but it sounds better than catarrhines or hominoidea

Are There Neanderthals in Heaven?

Discussing the previous post with Mrs Hickory in a jazz club without jazz last night, I realized, as I so often do, that the central point was not as clear as it might have been. You do not have to go back 30,000 years to the banks of the Rhine to find humans confronted with something that does not fit in with their conception of themselves as unique. It has happened to many groups in recent and not so recent times, and it always requires either an assimilation of the new group to the idea the old group has of itself, or a decision to exclude them from that august condition. By defining them as either human or inhuman the problem is effectively solved. Not without some difficulty, in most cases, but it is capable of solution.

It should be understood that it is an understanding reached by a group, recognised by the generality of individuals who form it, regardless of whether some do not accept it completely. It is made easier by the fact that all extant hominids can be recognised as human, whatever the other differences we may observe in them or attribute to them. In the broadest sense, they are all like us. It is true that peoples tend to ask themselves whether new and strange tribes are in fact human, and it may be true that their first instinct is to reject the idea, but they seem to work it out in the end.

I introduced the Neanderthal image for two reasons; firstly, it is what originally made me think about the question, and secondly, because it is a difficult case, given that they would have been sufficiently different, physically and cognitively, for Homo sapiens who lived alongside them to wonder how to classify them. I believe it would have constituted an existential problem, which might be reduced, in an attempt to understand it clearly, to the question in the title of this article.

I don’t know if the Church- any Church- has a position on this. Theologically it seems easy enough to resolve, but psychologically it isn’t. To have something half-human co-existing on a grand scale, impossible to ignore, interacting in part-human ways, perhaps even articulating its own concept of itself, must alter very dramatically the construction of the images we have about ourselves.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Homo floresiensis

The discovery that there might have been another intelligent species existing at the same time as Homo sapiens, and that they interacted with each other, was, I recall, a moment of confusion and clarity. It meant, I suddenly realized, a large number of rather remarkable things, and changed the understanding I had of man’s place in the world (such understanding was, and is, limited, confused, and quite likely to be wrong, but it changed nonetheless).

One thing that it is important to appreciate is that Homo sapiens of 24,000 years ago was almost exactly like us in his cognitive ability, and therefore in his understanding of social organisation and his ways of trying to make sense of the world and his place in it. There would have been great variety in these things then, as there is now, but it was the same variety, stemming from the same source. Human cognition was at the same level as ours, and it asked itself the same questions.

The stimulus for all of this reflection in the mind of man, and the creation of artificial answers to the questions that plague him, is death. Reason, as in conscious thought, is a great thing, but it allows us to be terribly aware of our own mortality, and we have to use that same power of reason to justify continuing to live when we know it is ultimately pointless. The ways we do this will be the subject of another article, but for the moment, back to H. sap 24kya.

They had language, fully developed language, like us (they were us, is the point of all this). It was not primitive language, it was language. There is not, anywhere in the known world today- which is nearly all of it- a people speaking a primitive language. All known languages are structurally complex and can freely express new ideas. This was also true 24kya. They had art, examples of which have survived from different areas of the world, largely in the form of cave paintings, which are unambiguously forms of creative expression, whatever their immediate purpose. Other, much older objects may also indicate art. Writing was not so far away, nor were civilisation, farming and other signs we attribute unmistakably to modernity.

24,000 years is not so long, and it takes but little effort of the imagination to place oneself in that time and live alongside them. You can choose anywhere in Europe or Asia except the far north, anywhere in Africa or Australia, but probably not the Americas. Having made your choice, and learnt their language (or if you are English, once they have learnt yours), you will discover that they are as much like you and as much unlike you as any other random group on the planet today, but you will recognise them as human.

They felt special, as we do, they recognised that they were different from all the other animals. They could use tools, invent new ones when they had to, talk to each other about things that only existed in their heads, perhaps even cure wounds and sickness with plants, control the world and their idea of it just a little bit, in other words; something no other creature had the power to do. They were special, the chosen ones. And they would die. So they started finding ways of explaining where they were from, and where they would go, and how death was not really death, at least not if you did the right things, and how you could control more aspects of the world than you thought, if you did more of the right things.

But imagine if you happened to live in Central or Southern Europe, near groups of Homo neanderthalensis. Now not so much is known about them, whether they had a similar cognitive ability to H sap, whether they had fully developed language, whether they could reason in the abstract, whether they used plastic self-expression, and so it is very hard to imagine exactly what the reaction of such people would be to the Neanderthals, but it is certain that they would not have seen them simply as animals, and unlikely they would have seen them as people like themselves. Their carefully constructed understanding of their place in the universe, and the individual purpose of their lives, depended entirely on being unique, and they have been forced to discover that they are not. Another species, another creature, shared at least part of what have been unique to man; other creatures had will, memory, cognition, creativity, symbolic behaviour, a sense of self, and a form of language.

The religion, the mysticism, the magic, the sense of purpose, would all be very different for the men who lived with Neanderthals. Perhaps something similarly happened again more recently to those societies which have reached a collective acceptance of the fact that the Earth is not literally the centre of the Universe, although I think the vast majority of people retain an unquestioned assumption that we are both the centre of the Universe’s attention and it’s purpose in being, as well as the final purpose of evolution.

Remarkably few people are even capable of conceiving that in a million years we will not be what we are, if our descendents have survived at all. Or that it won’t matter in the slightest. Sometimes things are just the way they are. Why does it all have to mean something?

The title isn’t a mistake, by the way. I’ll get to floresiensis, but not today.

My thanks to John Hawks and Mundo Neanderthal, who have taught me most of the little I know about all this.

Takuan Seiyo

This is a blog I take a look at from time to time, although I find many of its posts a little, shall we say, under-researched. But this article is magnificent. It is erudite, expansive in its understanding of what it talks about, intelligently argued, carefully structured, and says things you may not have heard before but whose truth you can recognise (because you can test it). It is also well-written, and rather long, but well worth the time. It was written by this man, as were all of these, and I shall be reading all of them. It seems rather presumptuous to recommend him in this way, since he has far more readers than I do, but there you are. Go and have a look.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Classes of Truth

Truth is a very difficult concept to understand. It cannot be properly defined, it is frequently misunderstood, it has different meanings in different contexts and they are confused, sometimes deliberately but more often through ignorance and, even when the matter is clarified to some extent, and although we think we know what it means, and even what it is in many cases, very frequently this is far from being true.

Like any other concept, abstract or otherwise, it needs to be defined carefully if it is to be used as a hard currency, as it were, in argument. This is not done, because we all think we know what truth means, and so there is no need to reach agreement on the meaning of it. The result is great confusion. Words only have meaning in context, and the great variety of contexts in which we speak of truth are not usually identified at all, let alone analyzed separately.

It is surprisingly difficult to define truth lexicographically. This is doubtless the case with many words, and all lexical definitions are ultimately recursive, but the problem seems greater with truth than with other concepts. Dictionaries, including the OED, tend to give definitions of truth which say things like, “Conforming/consistent with fact/reality; that which is so/the case”. This does not help very much. In fact it seems to show desperation rather than understanding. The Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, for comparison, has “Conformidad de las cosas con el concepto que de ellas forma la mente”, (Conformity of things with the idea created of them by the mind), which is if anything a little better than the average, introducing the idea that truth may depend, to some extent, on the mind that perceives it.

In any case, people do not generally attach great importance to truth. They are more concerned with being able to satisfy themselves that things are as they think they are, or wish them to be. Rigour is not required, and would in fact be worthless here, since it interferes with the psychological process of rationalizing our experience.

The difficulty of identifying a particular truth, or of recognising something as a truth, is secondary to what concerns us here. In many circumstances it is possible to identify which facts need to be known, but hard or impossible to know them, and so to arrive at the truth. (What Hayek says of economics is true of many fields). It may not be possible to identify those facts, whether or not they are known. But I intend to restrict the scope of this article to the problem of understanding what truth means in different contexts.

The easiest, and commonest, way to accept as true that which is not, or which we cannot know to be true, is to refuse to analyse it.

There are things we believe, though they are not in fact true, or we cannot know them to be true, and things which, though they are true, we do not understand, and so cannot actually know them to be true. These are different kinds of belief. I may choose to believe, for example, that my neighbour is unfaithful to his wife, because he wears aftershave when she is away, or because I find him uncongenial and imagine this behaviour would be natural in him. I may believe a man guilty of murder because a series of reliable witnesses have persuaded a court to convict him of it. I may believe Fermat’s last theorem to be true because a proof has been developed and accepted by those who understand these things. In each of these last two cases it is reasonable to assume the truth of these beliefs although the sense in which I “know” them is different, and if I believe that grass is green, the basis of my belief is different again. Nevertheless, many people would claim in each case that these things are true, because they know them, and, where appropriate, would claim to understand what they do not, and are incapable of explaining or analysing.

In pure thought the mind seeks truth through reason, but the truth is not a function of mental images, but rather it is the object, which exists independently of the exercise of reason. The trouble, and the interest, is in finding it and identifying it as such.

In social use, and especially in the judicial function, where truth is explicitly sought as the primary purpose of the process, truth is subjective. It needs to have a way of arriving at something it can call the truth, because the consequences of what it decides is true are so momentous. In the civil law, it may often define truth, in that one side or other is right depending purely on the decision of the court. In the criminal law, it is assumed that the court is seeking to uncover a truth which exists objectively, but its decision does not define a truth, it only gives an opinion which is accepted as though it were the truth because of the importance it has for those involved.

From the point of view of the pure sciences truth is objective. It is something to be discovered, not defined or agreed upon. It does not have to conform to some mental image, but to satisfy a series of conditions which are not a product of the human mind.

Art, on the other hand, has an entirely different idea of truth. Conformity with the image present in the mind of the creator, without any necessary reference to objective reality. There is no requirement for internal coherence. If there is such a reference it is so that the contemplator of the work can better understand what the creator is expressing. The recognition of artistic truth depends to a great extent on the understanding of the contemplator, and also on the nature of the art. Music is purely abstract, it simply is what is is, it cannot be confused with any mental image with which the contemplator thinks it should conform. The pictoric arts, on the other hand, exist in a state of tension between what the artist intends to express and the possible interpretations of what he has created, and the dramatic arts usually need a reference to real life in order to have any meaning at all, but it is all a question of coherence, rather than imitation of reality (90+ % of art is worthless junk, but that isn’t the point).

The narrative arts have a different kind of truth. What they tell need not have happened, in fact it is better if it has not, but it must produce the satisfaction of meaningful possibility in the mind of the contemplator.

This is merely an introduction, a crude and incomplete attempt to explain why it is that truth is such a difficult matter, when it appears that it shouldn’t be. It is a protean concept, the conditions it must satisfy are often hard to identify, and most people do not care about the truth, as long as they can believe they have found it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hidden Málaga

The title of this article is slightly ‘engañoso’, since what I intend to mention is obvious to the naked eye; and I am referring to the city rather than the province, which has many secrets I could discuss, and, I am sure, a few that I couldn’t. Or possibly vice versa. The city is less popular, less attractive, less interesting and even less expensive than other towns in the province. This is because the beaches in Málaga itself are not up to much, whereas Torremolinos, Puerto Banus, El Rincón de la Victoria, and others have much better beaches and better facilities for those who like that sort of thing. Ronda, and other places, though having no beach, are of far greater beauty and historic interest than the capital.

So what is there in Málaga itself? A Moorish palace, itself worth visiting for (honestly, if you’re ever in the area), and then, sharing a distant second place, a few churches, some images of Christ and the Virgin which are as good as most (not all) of those in Seville, a river turned into a canal where you can walk the dog and play football; a market that smells of fish, a main square in which there are newspaper pages several metres on a side let into the ground, a couple of sports stadia of no architectural or historic interest, a port full of birds, container ships and ferries, a new Palace of Seminars and Fairs, and so it goes on. If you lie on the beach and look west you can see the planes coming in to land over the sea, or gaining height the same way.

The weather is terrible at this time of year, but even I don’t care about that; I’m sure you don’t. But there is a bar in the centre near the port which is worth the trip, and the people know how to have fun.

Two rivers flow through Málaga, neither of them important, since it is on the sea; but they are there. I have heard it said that Málaga is the second most mountainous port in Europe. Defined in a certain way it may be true, but I don’t know why it would matter to anyone. But it has mountains very close, which are fun to walk up.

Ronda will have to wait for another time. And Torremolinos, too. Don’t think you know Torremolinos, by the way; you don’t.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Joan Tardà, Free Speech and Truth


During an event in memory of the anniversary of the Spanish Consitution on Saturday, one Joan Tardà of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya shouted ‘Death to the Bourbon’ (the King is of the Bourbon dynasty) at the end of his speech (more inflamed demagogy than speech but that is hardly surprising in the circumstances.) This phrase has brought him criticism. Not necessarily for the right reasons, it seems to me.

He is a member of the Spanish parliament and therefore should behave with decorum and a sense of responsibility. My British readers may find this a touch optimistic on my part but, as I have said before, if we don’t keep reminding them of who they really are and what they should do they will never do it. His cry, not a heckle but from the platform at a public meeting, cannot, I think, be treated as a death threat against the King. I do not believe he seeks or desires the King’s death, or wished to incite others to murder, nor is it likely to have that result. It was more of a battle cry. (He tried to defend it by claiming it was a populist cry from the 18th C referring to Philip V; there appears to be no basis for this; it has also been suggested that it was a metonymic reference to the monarchy he rejects; that is, at least, a possibility.)

But Spain has laws protecting the dignity of the Crown as Head of State, laws which have occasionally been used against people with no seditionist intent at all, comedians or youngsters making symbolic but harmless gestures (Spain’s democracy is strong and stable, but many people remember when that democracy was young and weak, and only thirty years ago it didn’t exist at all. There is still a sense that it needs defending). I doubt these laws will be used against Tardà, and personally I don’t think they should be.

There are always laws against ‘enaltecemiento del terrorismo’, mainly used against the spokemen for the terrorist group ETA when they try to whip up their supporters to murder, or they try to honour the murderers of innocent people in democratic fora. Quite rightly. They are sometimes used against old men for waving ‘pre-democratic’ flags in favour of the Falange or Franco. This does not seem so clearly justified, and the reason is this: Franco is dead, and Franquismo (almost) died with him. There is no danger whatsoever from those who still support the old regime- it’s not coming back and they don’t kill people. ETA do kill people, and the group, and the ideas, that Tardà represents are not dead and are very dangerous.

Esquerra Republicana is a Catalan nationalist party, which expressly opposes the Constitution and is led by Communists. The leader of the party, Carod-Rovira, is a clown obsessed with infantile policies based on hatred of those unlike him. Tardá had not come to my notice before, but he seems to be of the same type. Such people are dangerous because they have power; Carod-Rovira, while acting President of the Catalan government, had secret meetings with terrorist leaders. His party keeps the Socialists in power in Cataluña, and influenced the first cabinet of the Zapatero government. They have real power, which they exercise with no sense of responsibility.

Such ideas are not dead in Spain- the Mayor of Córdoba is a Communist, and many smaller towns are also controlled by them. They are, quite obviously, not dead in the world- they continue to deprive hundreds of millions of people around the world of any possibility of a decent life. And they are very much alive in the parliaments, universities, newspapers and pubs of the free world, proclaimed by people who don’t understand them or are comfortably certain of never having to suffer them.

In short, Tardà is dangerous not because he uttered a rather juvenile remark in a context in which simplicity and tribalism are natural, but because he and those he represents have power to do great damage, and they do not care how they use it. I hope that criticisms, reactions, judicial action, political consequences, and general comments on him and what he said will reflect the important points, and the wider truth, rather than the narrow political vision of those who make those remarks.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I have not run out of things to say, I can assure those who are still paying attention. I have, however, run out of time to say them in. Temporarily, I hope. Too much work recently.

If such a thing is possible, of course.

Work is an excellent thing, a great blessing for the individual and society. Working twelve hours a day leaves me no time for drinking, smoking, shooting up, hunting with dogs, making private phone calls, criticising my elected masters, plotting the overthrow of the government by force, or any other of the things they seem to think I shouldn't be doing. It leaves me no time, either, for reading newspapers or watching television, thus saving me from the semi-literate propaganda of self-important ignorantsiae. Neither do I have time for more attractive diversions such as literature, philosophy, mathematics or opera. Fortunately so, for otherwise I might learn to think, or even begin to imagine myself superior to those who do not know what such thought is. I thus contribute to a more just and egalitarian society.

By earning every penny of my income in the private sector I take nothing from the taxpayer, who is doubtless delighted to hear it. By using private medicine and, should the need arise, my own form of private education, I not only simplify my relationship to these matters to a question of paying so that other people can have them, but I also give a certain type of liberal the satisfaction of calling me a parasite, a capitalist, and doubtless a number of other things, if I continued to listen. Since such people have no other pleasure, this is a matter of some importance to them.

And, as I said at the start, it leaves me little or no time to blog. In short, by working hard and earning money I contribute in many ways to making the world a finer, happier, purer place.

I do have time for one little thought, however: I naturally respect those I recognise as my betters. I naturally respect those I recognise as being worthy of respect, even if they are not my betters. I, on most occasions, defer to those who have power, authority and strength, since they will make themselves be deferred to. I, naturally, defer to and defend those who are too weak to defend themselves or who would suffer unjustly without that deferrence. Which means I don't know whose face I can kick sand in anymore. There must be someone. Any ideas?

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Minor Life

Timus Mubia escaped with only his life twice in the past 11 years in South Africa. Called a kwerekwere and hounded out of various townships for being Namibian and for being unable to speak isiXhosa, he has been living in various refugee camps for the past five months.

This article
is from the South African Mail and Guardian. Most of the story is told in his own words. It is just one story, and he is just one man. But it is a story worth hearing, as most stories are. It is a random story, which I lighted on by chance. It reminded me that things are not as simple as people like to tell us. Distrust of those we exclude from the categories that include ourselves is universal. Circumstances change and the categories wax and wane, as does the heart of man.

Read the whole thing. It is sad, partly because he seems to accept too readily a fate he does not understand. But it is also a reminder of how, in the end, we are all the same. And that is very sad indeed.

One of the World's Greatest Secrets

is not protected by monks in some shrine in impassable mountains; it is not some abstruse knowledge imparted only to the select, for their use and profit; it is not an invention of religion, organised or otherwise, to extract money from the gullible or to comfort the miserable; you do not have to go into the desert, under the ocean, up mountains or down caves to find it; it is not in the sun or the moon, it does not float in the air or hide behind rainbows; it is so absolutely ubiquitous that it is known to everyone, and treated as false by all but a few. It is everywhere, but no one can see it. They think it is one more dream, an impossibility, something that they are not allowed to have for themselves. The real secret is that it is true.

That secret is the power of the human will. Almost anything is possible if we wish it to be. Often the greatest obstacle to our doing something is that we do not want to. We may think we want to, we may desire the outcome, but we are incapable of taking the steps required to achieve it. It is easier to wait for someone to give it to us, to complain when they don’t, to stagnate in or indolence, make excuses about tiredness, lack of time, bad luck, and a thousand other things, and grow to accept ourselves as weak, inept failures, jealous of those who have not made excuses, have ignored fatigue, bored, distraction, pain and self-pity, and whose reward has been the world. Because the world does not belong to those who sit about wishing someone would let them have it, or that they had the energy to take it; it belongs to those who want it.

And the biggest secret of all is that once you start trying, the results can be unbelievable.

When we speak of the power of the will we mean the ability man has to force himself to do what his fear or laziness or lack of immediate need would normally prevent him from doing. It is well known to those who wish to observe the phenomenon that most, probably all, people, do not closely approach the limits of their physical or mental powers, nor of their power to influence others. The conscious expression of a desire to achieve something, if properly directed, will make it considerably easier to achieve, simply because we will be trying harder than we ever thought possible. By properly directed I mean that we must take appropriate steps towards our goal- simple desire is not enough- but once we have consciously used our will to force ourselves to take those steps the results can be quite astounding. There is no magic force behind this, nor is it some mystical wisdom from ‘the East.’ It is just that we surprise the world by trying harder than it thought we would, and it tends to give us what we want. (By the world I mean the people about us, including ourselves.)

This is the secret behind many movements that promise the acquisition of grace, health, wealth, happiness, fulfilment, love, or whatever one wishesto gain. Sometimes they actually do what they promise, since it is often perfectly possible to do so and this knowledge does not belong entirely to frauds and charlatans. It is, however, frequently used by such people to enrich themselves in money and influence, by making just enough difference to enough people for others to be convinced they can experience the same. Once that is done the leader has no need to do anything at all for more than a few, to keep the thing going. Self-delusion is so much easier than strength of will. (It is possible that Common Purpose functions in this way, though I admit I speak from anecdote, and it does seem to achieve real results.)

Clearly what cannot be achieved by an effort of will is the altering of the laws of physics, the changing of the past, or the surpassing of the actual limits of our bodies or minds, although these things are frequently promised and believed to be achievable. We can conclude tentatively that we are the only animals possessed of the ability to freely assign purpose to concepts and acts; that is, to know why we do things; to have will.

This great secret can freely be exposed to the world, and it will remain a secret. Most people do not want to believe it; so they do not.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Higher Ignorance

It is quite normal to hear people- not in the corner of the saloon bar, but on some public forum, presented to the public by the government or the media as an expert in whatever material is being discussed, people with academic titles or professional prestige- making, in all seriousness, suggestions that show they do not have the faintest idea how government, societies or individual human beings actually function. Often it is about the operation of economic activity, about which people make the most spectacularly wrong assumptions, failing utterly to understand what trade is, and what a market is, and what can and, most importantly, cannot be done to them. Particularly, if you stop people trading, they starve. That means you and me, not Microsoft, or Big Pharma, or the chairman of Citigroup. We know this is true not because some elaborate theoretical edifice has been constructed which says it must be so, but because that little experiment has been tried and is still being tried in many parts of the world- nearly all of them at one time or another- and the results are unambiguous. It takes a particularly staggering kind of, obtuseness, or evil-minded stupidity, to fail to notice the murder, starvation, repression, poverty and general misery of hundreds of millions of people, but a lot of people manage it.

And why do they think Bill Gates founded Microsoft? It wasn’t so could have communication of a scale and comfort unimaginable only twenty years ago; it was so he could get stinking rich. But if he hadn’t been able to get stinking rich you would not now be reading this. That is the simple truth. The way to make a thousand people better off is not to stop one of them from getting filthy rich. What got us all of these comforts we like to think we have a right to be given for nothing was greed, someone else’s greed. And if you don’t like it you can go back to living in a cave, or shrug your shoulders and get on with life. What you cannot do is propose that we define the laws of nature, the absolute truths of man and the universe, to be other than what they are. It doesn’t work. The universe is not listening. But a lot of mediocre intellects make a good living by making sure not too many people notice this.

This chap says things like this quite regularly. He does it rather better than me, too, partly because he can stick to the point.

Philosopher Kings

The suggestion is often made, apparently seriously, that the best form of government would be that by philosopher kings, or it is expressed as ‘least bad’, which seems to be the same thing; a reduced, or weak version says that it would be better than some specified form of government, or better than some perceived state of affairs is held to be. It is fairly clear that this notion is complete and utter nonsense.

The reference is to Plato’s Republic, in which he suggests that if philosophers would be kings, or kings would philosophize, the state would be a much better place. In fact, he says in book VII that it is necessary in order for his ideal city-state to come into being. And there we begin to spot the flaw.

Firstly, does anyone have any idea what a philosopher-king would look like? Or how we could go about finding a few of them? Or how we could interest them in politics, which is almost entirely the preserve of the personally and intellectually inadequate? (The world knows almost nothing of its greatest thinkers. What the press, and, presumably, the public, seems to consider public intellectuals shows that they have no conception of what an intellectual actually is. But that is another matter. And another rant) And, having agreed on what a philosopher-king is, and found enough to make a respectable oligarchy, and persuaded them to take an interest in governing their fellow-man, how do we propose to persuade their, and our, fellow-man to let himself be governed by such people? The practical difficulties are insurmountable, and there is therefore little point in considering it as a practical possibility, rather than an intellectual game.

But the point is that it does not stop people proposing such a thing as though it could in fact be done. And it is a very good thing that it can’t be done, because it would undoubtedly be the end of all freedom, almost certainly it would be the end of the very concept of freedom. And probably the end of wealth and happiness, too. The destruction of what it means to be human, or at least of what makes it worth being human. And all, ultimately, so that an abstract entity we call the state can be seen to function more efficiently.

So yes, it’s a good thing it’s impossible. Unfortunately, those who get into positions of power tend to think that they are that elusive creature, the philosopher-king, and to act accordingly. This is a very bad thing, indeed. Which is why it is absolutely vital that we can argue with them, criticise them, call them names, and kick them out when we have had enough of them. The idea of the members of government and of parliament as servants of the people has always been utopian, since they will never think of themselves that way, but the people should treat them like servants anyway, to remind them of what they should be.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

‘The Signifying Monkey’

Is the title of a book by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of the W.E.B. du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. This thick but empty volume bases its premise, that all white people should be chained up and beaten to death (it’s what he means, though he doesn’t quite dare say it), on the title phrase, which he spends 300 odd pages interpreting in the most extraordinary ways, and showing he doesn’t understand it. It is a West African expression for man, anthropomorphized as not a white insult at all, and refers to the obvious fact that man is an ape that talks or thinks or however it has been put by thousands of people, often, I should imagine, independently. It is a fairly obvious comment to make on man. Nevertheless, despite showing that he knows its origin is a descriptive phrase used by blacks he presents it a symbol of racism.

He also treats signifyin’, which he repeatedly calls a homonym of signifying, as though it had some special, esoteric meaning for Africans. It is perfectly clear from the examples he gives that ‘signifying’ in that sense simply means talking, especially perhaps conversing, yet he randomly derives a series of ideas and wild interpretations from this perfectly clear and simple expression. The book is doggerel, illogical rubbish devoid of any reason, a racist diatribe dressed up as serious research, the work of a stupid and hate-filled man. Yet it is on the reading lists of many English and other departments, and he has prestige among people like himself. (By which I mean fashionable critical theorists, and those who do similar nonsense for whatever reason.)

I have written this from memory, but the memories are clear. If anyone can explain why this book is other than what I have said, I should be glad to hear from them. But not from critical theorists. I refer to people who know how to think, and who can understand a text rather than having to invent a meaning for it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Do we only talk to our own heads?

I wrote this piece some time ago, but I publish it now, in the hope that someone will think the idea makes sense of some sort. It reads rather negatively, but why not? It is a depressing conclusion. It is meant, however, to be a description of an observed phenomenon, and a partial explanation of it. It is also incomplete; there will be more.

People only speak to the images within their own minds. Intelligence, I should say, is the ability to do abstract analysis, and the vast majority of people do not use that ability, even if they possess it to any degree. The reasons for this, one may imagine, are various, and must frequently have to do with the necessity to consider survival above other things- intelligence may, at times, be useful for survival, but, in general, survival is a matter of perseverance, debilitating the body and the mind and not allowing it to do more than is essential. We are not, however, concerned with the inability, intrinsic or extrinsic, temporary or permanent, to think, to use the mind in the ways in which it can be used, but with the deliberate refusal to use it for any purpose but immediate personal gratification.

People, we have said, talk almost exclusively to their heads. They do not want to hear anything which does not confirm their previous ideas and opinions, prejudices, one should call them, since they do not wish, either, to analyse, or submit to judgement in any way, those opinions, they simply have them, because they think they must have them, and that the possession if them is a sign of their character and of how their minds work. This is not the case- they state these ideas because they have heard them from some source that inspired trust at some moment, for equally unanalysed reasons.


  1. People do not think.
  2. People like to believe that they think.
  3. People are only prepared to assimilate information which seems to confirm their prejudices. (They only want to be told that they are right.)
  4. People are only interested in news which tells them about things they already think they know about. (This is why almost all of what passes for news is derivative.)
  5. People are angered by opinions that conflict with their own because they do not wish to have to think.
  6. Opinions which conflict with their own, and to which they do not have to respond, are satisfying when they can be used to classify others absolutely as good or bad.
  7. Almost all entertainments, and most of what is intended to be, at least in part, informative, simply pander to this, as the only way to keep an audience is to reassure it it will not have to think. (gossip, TV drama, Hollywood films, pop music, even political debate)
  8. Almost nothing in the life of people in wealthy countries requires them to think, or encourages them to think.
  9. People do not want to know about, perhaps are afraid of, what is outside themselves.
  10. People have little or no concept of objective truth.

So, people talk to the images in their heads and relate everything to the mental pictures they have created there, arbitrarily. The information conveyed by the senses is analysed and assimilated in terms of the images and ideas that are already present in the mind, rather than being used to reassess these images. What they hear and see is accepted or rejected depending on whether it can be interpreted as confirming the previous image. It is not considered in itself, and then used to correct the mental image, which it should be in a thinking person. The process, in other words, is the reverse of what it should be, the reverse of thinking. It is, perhaps, for this reason that most people have no understanding of the concept of objective truth- they do not understand it and they cannot understand it when it is explained. (Tony Blair said something like, “I only know what I believe.” He meant, I think, not that he defined what was true, but that his only measure of truth was his own opinion, but I do not think he meant that he analysed extensively before reaching those beliefs.)

For most people truth is any of their images in which they see no obvious contradiction. Even educated people often think that truth can be arrived at by some form of consensus of the images held by people who are, in some way, qualified to comment- that is, whom they perceive as like themselves in whatever ways they consider important. Uneducated people usually hold the truth to be whatever image they themselves hold. They will bluntly defend the expression of an opinion which they cannot defend of itself, which is against the logic of argument. Their purpose, coherent if not logical, is to protect their own image of themselves as thinking beings.

Many people enjoy gossip programmes because they do not have to think- none of us wishes to think all the time, in any case- but there are further elements to them which are essential to their interest: familiarity- the information must be given by someone the audience considers it knows, and be about people it thinks it knows, or at the very least a subject that is often repeated; confrontation- there must be shouting, consisting preferably of mere contradiction, so that there is no difficulty in forming the image, and those involved must be clearly classifiable as good or bad, if only arbitrarily; seriousness- this is called news, and the participants journalists, so the audience can believe it is not frivolous. These programmes are directly aimed at the images people have, and could not work if there were any objective analysis.