David Shariatmadari on #consciousness

David Shariatmadari reviewing Stephen Poole, Rethink: the surprising history of new ideas, Guardian, 23 July 2016:

According to ancient Japanese religious practices, rivers, trees, rocks and buildings are imbued with a kind of life force. A more contemporary interpretation is gaining traction among some philosophers. Their argument goes like this: if our own awareness derives from matter (flesh, blood, brain cells and the like) then it does so either by “radical emergence” – coming into being via some extraordinary process of which we have no inkling – or it is simply a property of all matter. It’s hard enough to think of the chair on which you’re sitting as composed of billions of buzzing atoms. Now imagine it suffused with glimmers of consciousness too. And yet, for such scholars as Galen Strawson, compared to radical emergence, this is a more parsimonious account.

(I find ‘radical emergence’ more convincing, I think)

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(The chairs are at a spa hotel in the Spanish Pyrenees south of the Port de Venasque.)





Long weekend cycling in #Luxembourg and Germany: Saturday 23 July, #Saarburg-#Mettlach-Luxembourg City-Brussels

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It was cooler on Saturday. Our bikes were being used as stands for seat covers that had been drenched the night before.

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We cycled out of town, with interesting tiles…

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… and past the outskirts of Saarburg, with buildings brighter than those we’d seen in Luxembourg. From then on the path, often through forest, was without buildings, the dark river Saar without boats. Odd that a place as complex as Saarburg is so far from “anywhere”.

Finally at Saarig we came to another great lock. It seemed redundant, but then above it were two passenger boats (and a pleasure boat hurrying to have its place) –

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then, as we stopped for a break, a vast 110 metre barge,

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skilfully steered down the narrow river.

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Everywhere attention had been paid to wild flowers on verges.

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Finally we climbed to a chapel, at a site where a duke called Ludwig had one built in the 7th century, and then dropped down, after 20 km cycling, into Mettlach. What do Portsmouth and Mettlach have in common? They both have a Villeroy and Boch outlet shop. Something to eat at the Swan pub, then we managed to get lost (I managed to get us lost) on the 1-km cycle ride to the station. It took more than half an hour and we missed the train. I hoped to make up time by nipping from one station (Konz) to another (Kreuze Konz) but you try it! and it was raining! There comes a moment where you can see the tiny, single-track station on an embankment above you, but there is no sign, and you have to work out yourself the indirect route (3 right turns mixed with 5 lefts) you must follow to get there.

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From K.K. it was an easy trip to Luxembourg city, a well-run main station where within fifteen minutes it was possible to get, from friendly people, a ticket; sustenance for the journey to Brussels; the same day’s Guardian newspaper (which you can never get in Brussels); and a glass of white wine. The guard invited us to load our bikes onto his train with extravagant gestures.

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The scouts we travelled out with had matured considerably during their three day trip.

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Among the five Brussels stations at which the train stopped it was probably a mistake to choose Gare du Nord; but it did mean that once we found our way to Botanique, we could get a direct tram home with the bikes.

Account of a long weekend cycling in #Luxembourg and Germany: Friday 22 July, #Echternach-Saarburg


Echternach felt like a tourist town a bit down on its luck. The kiosk sold Flemish-language Belgian newspapers, but not French-language ones (and not biros).

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In the hot evening it poured dramatically down, gusting wind too, all of us eating and drinking outside rushed in, a few bold souls strolled down the street.

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I ate an excellent mushroom vol-au-vent (called “croustillant”). You never get that in Belgium – “bouchées de la reine” always contain chicken.

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I liked this car showroom.

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On the Friday morning cycling along the river Sûre was a pleasure. The valley was narrow and the cycle path found different ways to slot itself in, through fields, woods, the back end of villages and sometimes along the river. On the river there were plenty of campsites.

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In northern countries, Estonia, Belarus, there are carefully arranged bathing places on the rivers; I was surprised that we came across only one of these here. Most bathing was informal.

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At Wasserbillig the Sûre meets the Moselle and swans cover the waterfront.

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We had lunch at the Frégate, looking across the Moselle to the German side.

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I should’ve had flammeküche rather than moules-frites. We caught a little ferry to the German side. For the first time, when I spoke (“how much?”) in French, I got a reply in German.

We cycled seven km into Germany down the Moselle, the biggest river of the region along which passed a fine square-sterned tourist ship registered in in Hamburg, and then turned right, at Konz, up the river Saar.

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It is a darker and a stiller river.

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A vast short cut, perhaps built as part of improvement works in 1987, looked unlikely to have justified its investment. The path rose and fell a good deal more than we, on this hot afternoon where the promised riverside cafés did not materialise, would have wished.

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Again we encountered plenty of cyclists on the path. Most wore helmets. Their tow-along trailers contained as many dogs as toddlers. We only saw one commercial vessel, moored in the port at Saarburg. I wondered if the boys playing in the river lived on the barge.

Saarburg, where we spent the night, was a contradiction to the experience of this river so far.

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It is a broken-levelled town with a tenth century castle (the Moselle makes England feel like a new land). It was full of happy families. A quarter of rosé wine from the region, I said to the waitress in what passes for my German. What is it that you want, she replied uncomprehendingly in German. We got on a good deal better in English, what with her coming from Latvia. It rained hard again, later on.

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Account of a long weekend cycling in #Luxembourg and Germany: Thursday 21 July, Brussels – #Ettelbruck – #Echternach

It was quiet at 8 in the morning on Belgian national day as we manoeuvred our bikes onto the tram, down the steps to the metro and up the escalator to platform 14 at Gare du Midi where we caught a train to Liège. However, the train soon filled up with a variety of scouts.

We only had 7 minutes for our connection at Liège – bikes off the train, up the escalator, across the walkway in this beautiful new building and down to platform 6. No chance. But the river of scouts was going that way too, and we flowed with them and onto the train that cuts through the Ardennes towards Luxembourg.

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Parties of scouts jumped off at all the stations – Coo, for example, where I once camped with our son and was questioned closely because we have different surnames; Vielsalm, known from the Battle of the Bulge; Gouvy, the last station in Belgium (see below).

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Not many people crossed the frontier. The frontier was identifiable. On the Luxembourg side there were more tunnels on the railway, painted buildings rather than plain brick, and a different language regime. (Luxembourg seems curiously relaxed about language. Drauffelt station follows Clervaux, with no effort to express each name in another way. Place names like Alzette-sur-Esch mix Latin and Germanic words. Announcements on trains are in German and French; people speak Luxemburgish on the street. A few years ago I was invited to eat with a north Luxembourg family , father a cattle dealer, who spoke all these languages plus, as mother tongue, a patois. A daughter, working in the finance sector in Luxembourg city, also spoke Dutch. None of them spoke English.)

We got out at Ettelbruck, three hours after leaving Brussels, in the middle of the country. Good lunch on the terrace of the Lanners hotel. Apart from the kiosk at the railway station, there was nowhere to buy a newspaper.

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Off we went east on the bike path, 34 km to Echternach.

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Sunshine, river Sûre grey where the sun shone and brown where it didn’t. Plenty of other cyclists, pleasing flat cycling.

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After a while, though, the path climbed up to run alongside the N10, the main road. We stopped at a roadside bar in Dillingen – three older men smoking with slow beers outside, a tense young man with a beer at the dark bar, two women chatting and serving, an inside room set up for a stage show. We looked at google maps. Lets go across to the German side, we said, the road looks quieter. We crossed at a cobbled bridge.

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(For Brits, our frontier the sea in every direction, this idea that that’s Germany “just over there” is fascinating. What must it be like to grow up with another country closer than the next town?)

It was quieter in Germany, with so few cars at first that it didn’t really matter that there wasn’t a separate cycle path. (Most of these cars were Luxemburgish and most of the rest were Dutch.) What did matter was that unlike the Luxembourg side, it wasn’t flat. And later on, cars crowded in too. Eventually we doubled back into Luxembourg. We rode finally into Echternach, on a shady path that once more left the road aside, past memorials to American divisions fighting their way across the Sûre in February 1945.

Echternach had many bars and restaurants, decent food once again, once again only one kiosk, at the bus station, and many shops to let.

#WernerHerzog, I think of unharvested #turnips but, by God, there are no unharvested turnips around.

Over three weeks in November and December 1974 Herzog walked from Munich to Paris. This passage from his description of the walk is after he leaves a bar in Bavaria where he’s had lunch and beer:

Outside in the cold, the first cows; I am moved. There is asphalt around the dungheap, which is steaming, then two girls travelling on roller skates. A jet-black cat. Two Italians pushing a wheel together. This strong odour from the fields! Ravens flying east, the sky quite low behind them. Fields soggy and damp, forests, many people on foot. A shepherd dog streaming from the mouth. Alling, five kilometres. For the first time a fear of cars. Someone has burned illustrated papers in the field. Noises, as if church bells were ringing from spires. The fog sinks lower; a haze. I am stock-still, between the fields. Mopeds with young farmers are rattling past. Further to the right, towards the horizon, many cars because the soccer match is still in progress. I hear the ravens, but a denial is building up inside me. By all means, do not glance upwards! Let them go! Don’t look at them, don’t lift your gaze from the paper! No, don’t! Let them go, those ravens! I won’t look up there now! A glove in the field, soaking wet, and cold water lying on the tractor tracks. The teenagers on their mopeds are moving towards their deaths in synchronized motion. I think of unharvested turnips but, by God, there are no unharvested turnips around.

– Werner Herzog, Of walking in ice, 1978, tr. Marje Herzog and Alan Greenberg, 1980

It is true that Herzog’s book, and his walk, are shorter than those of Patrick Leigh Fermor (Rotterdam-Istanbul) and Nicholas Crane (Santiago de Compostela-Istanbul), but it is about the same stuff. Paul Theroux. Are there women who write in the same vein?

I read it on the train back from England yesterday, the cold of the book overlaying the wet warmth of our weather.

energy PV in field Kneiding-Münzkirchen 316.JPGPV panels between Kneiding and Münzkirchen, Austria, March 2016


Amitav Ghosh on #loyalty

It is December 1941. Arjun Roy is one of the first Indian (as opposed to British) officers in the Indian army. His battalion has just been broken in the Japanese attack on Malaya and he, with most of the battalion, is going to join the “Indian National Army” and fight on the Japanese side.

Was this how a mutiny was sparked? In a moment of heedlessness, so that one became a stranger to the person one had been a moment before? Or was it the other way round? That this was when one recognised the stranger that one had always been to oneself; that all one’s loyalties and beliefs had been misplaced? 

But where would his loyalties go now that they were unmoored? He was a military man and he knew that nothing – nothing important – was possible without loyalty, without faith. But who would claim his loyalty now? The old loyalties of India, the ancient ones – they’d been destroyed long ago; the British had built their Empire by effacing them. But the Empire was dead now – he knew this because he had felt it die within himself, where it had held its strongest dominion – and with whom was he now to keep faith? Loyalty, commonalty, faith – these things were as essential and as fragile as the muscles of a human heart; easy to destroy, impossible to rebuild. How would one begin the work of re-creating the tissues that bound people to each other? This was beyond the abilities of someone such as himself; someone trained to destroy. It was a labour that would last not one year, not ten, not fifty – it was the work of centuries.

(The Glass Palace, 2000)

soldier Calais Frethun 715.JPG(soldier, Calais, 2015)

Dans le monde hors de nos murs, on fait un grand abus de la parole

The Abbot of St Wandrille de Fontanelle

“had a gentle, rather diffident charm that kindled easily into eagerness over the subjects that interested him – theology, the inviolability of primitive ritual, architecture, the arts, mysticism, archaeology and history… Often, as though it were a quite normal procedure, his voice would slide off ex tempore into the soft ecclesiastical Latin of the Vatican; and this easy breathing back to life of a language so long dead gave me, each time it occurred, the same spasm of delight… Early in my stay I commented on the blessed relief from talk during so much of the day. ‘Oui,’ the Abbot said, ‘c’est une chose merveilleuse. Dans le monde hors de nos murs, on fait un grand abus de la parole’.”

– Patrick Leigh Fermor, A time to keep silence (1957)

couple with public writing WE LIKED ROLLING STAR II! Hamburg 715.JPG(Hamburg, last summer)