Sunday, July 26, 2015

A dream with a prelude

The prelude

Aristotle in the Physics maintains that Time cannot be ‘without change (aneu metabolês), for when the state of our own minds does not change at all (hotan gar mêden autoi metaballȏmen tên dianoian), or we have not noticed it changing (ê lathȏmen metaballontes,), we do not realize that time has elapsed (ou dokei hêmin gegonenai chronos,), any more than those who are fabled to sleep among the heroes in Sardinia do (kathaper oude tois en Sardoi muthologoumenois katheudein para tois hêrȏsin,) when they are awakened (hotan egerthȏsiˑ); for they connect the earlier ‘now’ with the later (sunaptousi gar tȏi proteron nun to husteron nun) and make them one (kai hen poiousin,), cutting out the interval because of their failure to notice it (exairountes dia tên anaisthêsian to metaxu.).’ (218b21-27, tr. Hardie and Gaye)

Aristotle does not tell us whether the fabled heroes in Sardinia were dreaming in their sleep or slept without dreaming, but he seems to be referring to the latter possibility with the words ‘when the state of our own minds does not change at all’, to the former with the words ‘when we have not noticed it changing’. What he does not seem to have contemplated is the difference between the time that may run its course in our dreams, and the time of our waking; it was this putative difference he neglected of which his story made me think. I say putative, for I was pretty sure that in our dreams we may live for hours, while in real time the dreams may last only minutes. But how could I be sure? I always dreamt a lot, many of my dreams were very vivid, but I never wrote down any of my dreams, and I find it very difficult to recollect past dreams.

In September 4 to 6 I intend to have ‘Three days in Prague devoted to philosophy’. The first day will be devoted to self-knowledge, the second to Kant, the third to Plato and Aristotle. I intend to speak without paper. Behind each of these themes are years of hard work. To concentrate all that work into three forty five minutes talks, this is the challenge I am facing – if anybody comes. So far I have invited academics from the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Heidelberg, and Berlin. So far I have not received a single positive response, and I am prepared to spend those three days alone in Stromovka, the former deer park of Prague kings, walking through the park, thinking of those three themes, and enjoying every minute of it. But what if some people come? Apart from my work on neurophysiology (contemplating its relevance for self-knowledge), on Kant, on Plato and Aristotle, I must work on my English. And so in every spare minute I listen to Stephen Fry’s reading of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.

On Friday, a day before yesterday, I listened to the last few chapters, in which J. K. Rowling audaciously displays the difference between the Time that takes its course when one is unconscious and the real time, when one is conscious. Let me give the gist of her narrative. Harry Potter had learnt that he was a Horcrux; a part of Voldemort’s (the Dark Lord’s) soul was blasted apart from the whole, and latched itself to the only living soul, the soul of the little Harry, whom Voldemort came to kill. If Voldemort was to be destroyed, Harry must die by Voldemort’s hand. And so Harry went along his lonely road to death, to meet Voldemort. Voldemort raised his wand, directing the Killing Curse at Harry: ‘a flash of green light, and everything was gone … He [Harry] lay face down, listening to the silence … A long time later, or maybe no time at all, it came to him that he must exist.’

For some time Harry was alone, naked, then he heard that something was there that made noises; he wanted to get dressed, the robes appeared a short distance away, he got dressed, then he saw the thing that made the noises: ‘It had a form of a small, naked child, curled on the ground, its skin raw and rough, flayed-looking … “You cannot help.” He spun round. Albus Dumbledore [the famous Headmaster of Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry, now dead] was walking towards him.’

They had so many things to discuss.  Dumbledore had to explain to Harry all those things he had never told him when he was alive, and which were essential for Harry to know, to help him to finally destroy Voldemort. Among many other things Harry learnt that the disgusting  ‘thing’ that made the abject noises was the Horcrux, the part of Voldemort’s soul hit by Voldemort’s Killing Curse. Their talk was marked by pauses – ‘There was a pause … Harry waited, but Dumbledore did not speak, so he prompted him … They sat in silence for a long time, and the whimperings of the creature behind them barely disturbed Harry any more … After another short pause, Harry said … “Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?” – “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” … He was lying face down on the ground again … Every inch of him ached … The Death Eaters had been huddled round Voldemort, who seemed to have fallen to the ground. Something had happened when he had hit Harry with the Killing Curse. Had Voldemort, too, collapsed? It seemed like it. And both of them had fallen briefly unconscious and both of them had now returned.’

On Friday, a day before yesterday, I took Nera, my daughter, to Attwoolls, a Camping shop, which is half-way from our place to Gloucester. She needed a torch with red light for her Scouts and Explorers Jamborette. On the way to the shop she complained about our Volkswagen Passat: ‘It is too big; I hate it. When mummy comes back [Doina is sailing at the moment with our son Dan in the Pacific], she must sell this car and buy a small one.’

Nera left for the Jamborette in Haarlem in Holland that evening; I shall be on my own for ten days with our dog Tessie and Nera’s three little rats.

On Saturday I went for my usual long walk with Tessie. I kept thinking about Aristotle’s fabled heroes sleeping in Sardinia and about J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter at King’s Cross. The theme on which I am going to write next is ‘Aristotle’s concept of time’. If I am to mention Aristotle’s sleeping heroes, I cannot avoid mentioning J. K. Rowling’s relativity of Time, for it is highly relevant to the subjective aspects of time, to which Aristotle pays attention in his account of time. But how can I be sure that her narrative is anything more than an imaginative play? It sounds right to me, for when I try to recollect my past dreams … – but my recollections are too hazy. It will be better to skip both Aristotle’s Sardinian heroes and Rowling’s imaginative narrative from ‘Aristotle’s concept of time’. It will pain me, for Aristotle obviously thought that the mythical story, with which he opened his own positive account of time, pointed to something important about our perception of time.

I began to work on ‘Aristotle’s concept of time’ three weeks ago. I left it half-way through, ‘distracted’ by the website of the Department of Physiology at Cambridge University, which compelled me to write the ‘Notes on the relevance of neurophysiology to human self-knowledge’. Yesterday, when I at last decided to return to Aristotle, I began by reading Aristotle’s account of Time in the Physics all anew. I read Aristotle’s texts in short, very intensive bursts of concentrated activity. In the intervals I have been reading Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, aloud, to keep my voice in good form; what if someone comes to my ‘Three days in Prague’ and I will talk for hours?

I spent the Saturday evening listening to the BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Then I had a bath, went to sleep at 1 a. m. and woke up at 5.45 a. m.; I had to go to the toilet. Rightly or wrongly, I blame for my week bladder my stay in prison. In 1957 I refused to be conscripted and was imprisoned. It was in Slovakia, shortly after the Hungarian uprising (1956); the prisons were full; in the cell design for two there were five of us. I was the youngest, my mattress the thinnest. It was a new wing, with a toilet on which you hock in the corner, a hose above it. The water switch didn’t work; the prison guards didn’t want to be bothered to switch it on whenever anyone of us wanted to drink, and so they let the water run through the day, from morning till bed time. The water splashed all around and soaked the adjacent cement floor. Being the youngest, I had to squeeze my matrass over the toilet and the wet floor. I was in that cell for some three weeks. When I got out of prison, I worked for a year and a half as a forest worker, and then I was summoned again to the military. This time I did not refuse to be conscripted. During the 15 months of my imprisonment I studied Marx’ Capital and realised that with Marx I could do more for the humane transformation of my country than with the strict adherence to non-violence in compliance with Tolstoy, passing from one imprisonment to another. Within the first three weeks in the military I got ill; I got kidney inflammation, went to the hospital, and then for the next five years I was checked every year for proteins in my blood; since proteins were always found in my blood, after those five years I was permanently discharged from the military duty. – I often think of all this when my bladder interrupts my sleep and forces me to go to the toilet. I did so this time, my thoughts about the prison and the military blended with Agatha Christie’s Murder, which entered into my dreams, which I vaguely recollected, as in a haze.

Last night was very cold. When I got back to bed, I could not get warm. I did not want to get up again, but in the end I had to get another blanket. Then I tossed and turned, I could not get back to sleep … And then I woke up.


The dream

I must have woken up not long after I fell asleep, for my bladder did not bother meI had one of those rare dreams, which are very vivid; I lay in bed and re-lived it over and over again:

I was in a bank that looked very much like the Lloyd’s Bank in the little town in which we live. I handed over to the cashier my savings book (spořitelní knížka). The cashier told me that I had won three and a half million pounds. I was slightly taken aback, for I have never plaid at any lottery, but I did not protest. The cashier wrote the amount in my savings book, and finalized the act with a rubber stamp. What should I do with the money? My wife wanted to buy a car, and so I went to look for a suitable car dealer; I thought there was a new type of car with a fuel that made virtually no pollution. I found the dealer, but he told me he stopped selling that car; it was too expensive, very few people wanted to buy it. But he told me of another dealer who was definitely still selling it. On my way to the dealer I met my wife.

I was painfully aware that we had decided to separate, after I return from Prague. It happened a few weeks ago. I intended to go to Oxford, to make my abode in front of Balliol College, and thus to protest both against the refusal of the Pension Service to investigate the basis on which it was decided that I owed the Pension Service more than £11,000, the decision in the making of which I suspect a hand of someone from Oxford University [see on my blog ‘It is all wrong’, June 15, and ‘It has nothing to do with Oxford University’, June 19], and against my exclusion from academic community [see texts on my website under the heading ‘Protests at Balliol’]. But now the three and a half millions I have received changed all this. Would my wife find it possible to live with me again?

Our marriage deteriorated sharply after my wife began to earn more money and I lost the Pension Credit. My weekly Basic State Pension of £39.95 minus Adjustment of £13.00 meant that my weekly income was £26.95. In consequence, I turned to myself and began to live only for my work; it became impossible to live with me. How shall I tell Doina, delicately, that my financial situation has changed, and that it might be possible that I might change too, that we could live together again?

The dealer showed us the car my wife would have liked.  The maximum speed was 100 miles per hour, but we were not interested in buying a fast car. We test-drove it; Doina liked it, but she thought it too expensive. And so I told her of the money. We bought the car. I began to think what we should do next: ‘Let us go to a country where summers are real summers. Now you will have the possibility to devote yourself to writing. That’ what you always wanted to do, but you never could, being the sole bread winner in the family.’

But then I corrected myself: ‘No, my place is in Oxford. We can buy a house there. Will you live with me in Oxford?’ – ‘I will, but don’t expect me to devote myself to teaching you how to pronounce English properly.’ – ‘Don’t worry. You helped me when I was recording the lecture on “Socrates, Plato, and the Laws of Athens” [for my website]. Do you remember? I was listening to the recordings of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, stopping the reader after every phrase and sentence, trying to imitate his intonation. You listened, and said: “You are doing it all wrong. Your voice goes up at the end of every phrase and every sentence. In English the voice goes down.” How could it have happened that for more than thirty years I was thinking and speaking English without noticing this capital flaw in my pronunciation? If my lecture became free of it, it’s thanks to you. But since then I must have relapsed into my old bad habits, conditioned by my native Czech. During the past few weeks I read aloud the whole of Berkeley’s Principles, all wrong.  I noticed it only a few days ago, when I began to read aloud Locke’s Essay. Now I have been imitating Fry’s Harry Potter to get the intonation right.

May I hope that we shall live together in Oxford? Hopefully, I will be allowed to teach there at last. I have on my website 12 chapters of the 1st volume of Lost Plato, and I have written two or three chapters designed for the 2nd volume. All this could form the basis of my lecture course on Plato. In the course of giving my lectures I would revise what I have written, and hopefully finish the book. What do you think, will it work? Our children will benefit, if we do not split up.’– Before Doina could answer me, I woke up.

I went to the toilet again. My alarm clock on the window sill was indicating 7.20 in the morning. My dream has corroborated J. K. Rowling’s King’s Cross narrative. The time of my dream was much longer than the real time, during which my dreaming lasted, could possibly have been.

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