I am back from Buddhafield, and will write about it shortly. As I schedule in advance, it is too darn hot, and I hope it is still as I camp. So here is the Adoration of the Magi. More artwork for our delight follows:

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Here is Allan Ramsay’s portrait of Lady Susanna Campbell, nĂ©e Bernard. I am less sure of my old pedantry that the style of “Lady” with her Christian name, as opposed to her husband’s, is only correct for the daughter of an earl.

Here is Charlotte of Mecklenburg, by Allan Ramsay.

Here is the Princess of Wales in 1902, later Queen Mary, for a little Imperial splendour:

Here are two women reading together:

Here is Charity relieving distress, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1727-1788. Is that the Holy Spirit flying overhead? And what is going on with the man on the stairs?

And here is Mrs Thomas Graham.

Free will III, a young, high flying executive, is going to a meeting crucial to the next great leap forward in his career. He sees a woman getting mugged, and her handbag stolen. If he stops to help he will miss his meeting. What does he do?

Robert Kane, Professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, says that his choice in that moment is a “Self-Forming Action” or SFA. Kane is a defender of free will, and I bring him to you through the summary of Richard Oerton, a determinist. The SFA is a decision in an instant where “we are torn between competing visions of what we should do or become”. Kane’s example is a choice between pro-social and selfish, and clearly it may affect Sebastian deeply, whether he runs for his meeting but, disturbed by what he saw, performs badly and loses his job soon after; or he intervenes and, delighted by the success of his heroism, joins a charity removing land mines from conflict zones.

How is this free will? The sight stirs up chaos in Sebastian’s brain and sensitises it to “quantum disturbances at the neuronal level” opening “a window of opportunity that temporarily screens off complete determination by influences of the past”. There are hypotheses of parallel universes, and there might be separate “places” where each possible action he could perform has happened, and each possible set of consequences: though whichever we see as the “right” response to me it seems no more than any other choice; and whether to go for a run or spend another half hour in bed, three weeks earlier, may also have far-reaching consequences for his character: it, too, is a decision made in an instant which might be finely balanced.

I went to Dr Dalrymple with logical arguments why I was transsexual, and he refuted each of them, leaving me only how I felt and what I wanted. This was intensely painful, and it freed me to value my feelings more, and seek rational justification less. Had I waited longer for such a change it might have been more painful, and I doubt it could come about in a less shocking or painful manner.

That was July 2001, and from February 1999 I have been conscious of changing my understanding of the world and responses to it, as a process of growth or healing, getting closer to an organismic self or real me. Part of this is in accidental encounters with the world- as in the film Sliding Doors, in one reality Sebastian caught the earlier tube, and did not see the mugging.

Even if there are different Sebastians in different worlds, earning different amounts, doing different things, with different levels of health, we cannot blame any of them. And- as living is better than not-living, and I want to take in more ideas and experiences, I choose to believe that this living being is capable of further growth and healing.

Free will II

File:Lady Mary Coke.jpgPeople act (and choose) as they do because they are who they are.
They have not made who they are.

Thus, in two lines, Richard Oerton disposes of free will, in favour of determinism. Events have causes, and the conscious or unconscious choices and acts of a human being also have causes, in her upbringing and environment: we are not entrapped by remorseless fate against our desires, but our desires themselves have causes.

Perhaps I should not ask a Determinist to define free will, but Oerton postulates an Originator, something outside the causal chain. It is under the control of the person who possesses it, or it would not be his free will, but it is not linked to his character or his desires, which arise from his circumstances. It requires the ability to choose freely between stealing and not stealing, when other circumstances are equal. I will not take a laptop from an unlocked car, but this does not feel particularly like a free choice between two alternatives. Therefore I empathise with the person who does, who might not notice the choice either, just the opportunity.

Could I have done otherwise- that pound I gave to the collector in the supermarket? Yes, I could have walked past him, but- I was not motivated to do so, and the motivation is within me, from a chain of nature and nurture causes. I have done in the past, and it might be that my thwarted motivation to give before became stronger in this case because I had not given the previous time (I see myself as charitable) rather than my generosity wasting away because of a bad habit. about a choice over which I spend a great deal of time agonising? My motivations may be evenly balanced, but eventually one wins out, causing that choice just as they cause any other. If I am desperate to get the best outcome even in my choice of breakfast cereal, every visit to the supermarket will be a trial, but if I reason that of many choices there are several good enough options it becomes easier. That reasoning also comes from my nature, which is to reason and amass ideas.

It seems that there is no such thing as pure chance- if you know the exact force and angle of the spin of a coin its result may be predicted. But if there were pure chance, divorced from cause or personality, affecting someone’s acts, that could not be called his “free will”. Whether I make a decision consciously or unconsciously, it comes from those causes. The unconscious, making a decision 0.35 seconds before I consciously realise I have made it, is still me, with my character. I might want to falsify a prediction, being counter-suggestible- but then the prediction is itself part of the causal matrix around my decision.

“We cannot prove that our minds make sense rather than nonsense, because our only way of doing this would involve us using and relying on our minds, assuming what we set out to prove. But this ultimate uncertainty has to be ignored.” We cannot define what the “mind” is, but we can define and explain determinism. Therefore, the fact that we cannot make any sense of free will shows it does not exist.

Tomorrow: the self-forming action and my own self-forming.

Raeburn, Ramsay

Revd Robert Walker

Here is the Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn in 1795. If you consider Raeburn’s works on the National Galleries of Scotland pages, you will see that the sitters are mostly men- and one woman- of substance and achievement, rather than mere aristocrats. I am not sure of the full oeuvre of Raeburn or Gainsborough enough to say what proportion of the subjects of either artist are noble, but it seems that at the very least the Scottish galleries can tell a different story of our society and our priorities from the British, and that we do indeed tell that story. It is a story of the intellectual life of the city.

Robert Macqueen, Lord Justice-Clerk

As I understand it they do still dress like that in the Inner House of the Court of Session.

I love his facial expression. “How can you tell a lawyer’s glass eye? That’s the one with compassion in it.” That face could say so many things: is it merely worldweary cynicism, seeing men at our worst, or is there com-passion, fellow feeling? Are the corners of the lips raised because he has seen the amusing agonies of a litigant, or because he seeks to remain positive even in the gloomy recesses of Parliament House?

David Hume

Allan Ramsay has more aristos, but here is David Hume, the philosopher. At University, I thought The Enlightenment a Scottish phenomenon, rather than French, or German, and certainly not English. Alexander Monro was “Primus” as the first of his line of physicians, rather than as the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church.