charles dickens’ secret love, science and the philosophy of consciousness, ron paul and reparations for slave owners

Dickens’ Secret Affair – Biographer Claire Tomalin’s literary sleuthing revealed the untold story of the famed author’s “invisible woman”

Ternan met Dickens in 1857, when she, her mother and sisters were actors in a play he was producing. Dickens was 45; Ternan was 18. Anxious to preserve his image as a pillar of Victorian morality, Dickens purchased a house for her near London, where he visited her secretly. Dickens seemed both to revel in and regret the affair.

Dickens and Ternan apparently destroyed all correspondence between them. The “lack of the letters was heartbreaking,” Tomalin says, but “there was plenty of material,” including details about Ternan in missives by Dickens’ children: Both his son Henry and daughter Katey, for example, “confirmed that [the couple] had a child, and it died.” Tomalin believes that Nelly and the child, said to be a boy who did not survive infancy, had been sequestered in France.

Ellen “Nelly” Ternan

Claire Tomalin says that Dickens’ felt guilty about the affair partly because he felt he would ruin his reputation as a champion of the people. I don’t think it does especially diminish the depth of his ideals. The age difference, Dickens was 45 and Ternan was 18 when they meet was not all that shocking in the reality of 1857. Upper class gentleman having affairs was fairly common. Visits to prostitutes ( there was an estimated 80,000 in London during the Victorian era)  among the titled elite was a given. The revelation of Dickens’ adultery would have meet with the similar hypocrisy with which society views such news today. The big difference in 1857 is that Dickens would have come out of it relatively unscathed whereas Ternan would have been viewed as the fallen woman, the temptress that preyed on the great man.

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The subject of neruoscince and eovlutionary pyschology versus the philsophy of mind is, as one might expect complicated. This is the second post in the last week in which I tend toward a mixed view. I have not decided to stake out some middle ground as some kind of consulatory jesture in either case ( the other was physic versus philsophy). It seems that hard science and phiolsophy can and do complement each other. To stake out hard lines in the sand on either side seems counterproductive if your goal is being able to grasp and have a deeper understanding of, in today’s case, what constitutes the thinking conscience mind. One of the things that bothers me about the neuroscience versus philosophy issue is similar to what bothers me about the physics versus philosophy issue – to take some gaps in scientific knowledge and fill them, especially in the case of neuroscience – with the near if not mythical beliefs in some ill defined “specialness”. There is a difference between thinking human conscientiousness is an amazing phenomenon, thus special in the sense that tress do not seem to possess that quality yet have lived for millions of years – long before large brained mammals came along. It is not special in the way that say the NYT’s David Brooks sees special, like some softly glowing special effect from a movie depiction of conscientious rising out of the body and floating towards the heavens. When philosophers start even hinting at that kind of mysticism it bothers me. It means they are ignoring modern analytical logic. Which might not prove the pure science right, but shoots holes through mythic based arguments. Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity by Raymond Tallis

In the case of neurology, he attacks several types of exaggerated claim: for example, those surrounding fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans. He points out that these only show relative levels of blood flow or oxygen consumption in different areas of the brain. They do not spell out exactly what the areas of higher activity are doing, nor do they preclude the possibility that the areas of lower consumption are still doing something related and important. Therefore studies which use this technique show much weaker evidence for the localised (or modularised) models of brain function than is usually assumed by the media.

Science is not there yet in terms of these MRI scanning data. They still need to get down to the proteins, how they are folded and than the macromolecules. How are these forms of matter created and related to consciousness or unconscious thought. Its going to be tough, but that does not mean finding a localized spot of the brain where certain activity takes place is a wothless pursuit. Mr. Tallis is correct in being suspicious of the neurosciencentist ( it is perplexing that Tallis used to be a scientist and does not follow a better train of logic) he cites as having the final answer today. An analogy of the story of inherited traits might work to explin where we are in studying the mind ( not just the brain). First someone had to suspect that biological traits were passed from one generation to the next or they were not. Gregor Mendel discovered that general principle. He did not know exactly how those traits were distributed between generations of pea plants, but he knew they were. He could bred for them. Just as farmers had been unscientifically experimenting with and breeding dogs and cattle. It would be almost a century – a century, before someone would discover the DNA double helix. We’re somewhere around the Mendel stage in neuroscience and understanding the mind. So certainly there are going to be lots of gaps in knowledge. By all means critique the hell out of experiments that show that square millimeter of the brain is deciding whether green or rust are someone’s favorite colors. They still might be on to the integral biochemical factor involved in those kinds of preferences. And yes those chemicals can be influenced by the environment. That means something might be complicated, not absolutely on the wrong track. The investigation into the brain and featuring out consciousness is not an esoteric pursuit. Along the way it might help figure out neurologically caused blindness or speech impairments or why we have sociopaths.

I’ve already written more than I planned. Tallis makes some good points about overly simplistic reductionism. For that alone it is worth a read.

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Libertarians and conservatives, thanks to Ron Paul, have been on a tear lately trying to make the argument the Civil War could have easily been prevented if the Abolitionists had simply offered to reimburse white slave owners.. Ta-Nehisi Coates takes a look at the math and the general ridiculousness of that argument – Compensation

Ron Paul’s argument is essentially that it would have been better for the government to bail out slave-holders by effecting a mass purchase of blacks. This would have saved a lot of money, as well as the lives and limbs of a lot of white people. I do not believe that saving lives and limbs of any people–white or black–to be a disreputable goal. But I refuse to lose sight of the fact that slavery was, itself, war. And the lives and limbs of black people were perpetually at stake for centuries. From 1860 to 1865 the rest of the country received a concentrated dose of that medicine which black people had been made to quaff for over two and a half centuries. It is now a century and a half later, but still in some corners of white America it is fashionable to remain embittered.

Nevertheless, the saving of people is, indeed, a noble goal, and Paul is not without at least the rudiments of a case. Enslaved black people were constructed into an interest representing $3 billion. ($70-75 billion in 21st century money.) But including expenditures, loss of property, loss of life (human capital,) the war, according to Ransom, costs $6.6 billion.

The numbers are clear–the South’s decision to raise an army, encourage sedition among its neighbors, and fire on federal property, was an economic disaster for white America. Moreover, the loss of 600,000 lives, in a war launched to erect an empire on the cornerstone of white supremacy and African slavery, was a great moral disaster for all corners of America.

If one assumes that white slave owners would have given up slavery entirely and settled for one lump sum payment than Ron Paul and his sycophants are also arguing that the U.S. would have had to rise revenue that exceeded the GDP of the early 1860s. So small government folks would greatly expanded government,  have passed the largest tax increase in our history to that date, which would have taken three or more generations to pay off. What tangled arguments they weave.

Tim Burton’s The World of Stainboy: Watch the Complete Animated Series. I’m just posting the first chapter in the series. You can catch some of the others here and read some more on the background of the film and how the story came about.

In his 1997 book of drawings and verse, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories, Tim Burton imagines a bizarre menagerie of misfits with names like Toxic Boy, Junk Girl, the Pin Cushion Queen and the Boy with Nails in his Eyes.

“Inspired by such childhood heroes as Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl,” writes James Ryan in the New York Times, “Mr. Burton’s slim volume exquisitely conveys the pain of an adolescent outsider. Like his movies, the work manages to be both childlike and sophisticated, blending the innocent with the macabre.”