Catherine Pozzi a modern mystic

Catherine Pozzi is one of those rare individuals who inhabit the strange hinterland between sensual and ‘spiritual’ ecstasy and steadfastly refuse to renounce either territory for the sake of the other. In a letter to Valéry she speaks of “seeing in my mind’s eye a sort of non-human paradise, made of a kind of transcendent material…. absolute solitude; the only possible inhabitants you and I”.
Descartes kick-started modern philosophy with his famous formula, Cogito ergo sum, ‘I think, therefore I am’. There has never really been a philosophical movement that takes first-hand physical sensation as its starting point ― empiricism only concerns itself with ‘sense-data’ and dismisses personal experience as ‘anecdotal’. In her more extravagant moments, Catherine Pozzi ― or Karin as she liked to be called ― viewed herself as a prophet ushering in an era when the life of the senses, science and religion would fuse. This is the theme of Peau d’Ame (‘Skin of the Soul’), a rambling would-be manifesto based on the premiss “JE-SENS-DONC-JE-SUIS” (‘I feel, therefore I am’). She adds the curious comment, “Ce n’est pas la pensée, c’est le sentir qui a besoin de JE” (‘It is not thought but feeling that requires an ‘I’).
In her later years, Karin undertook serious biological and physical studies in an attempt to formulate a new theory of sensation in part based on the ideas of Weber. As she herself admits, she failed in this but one nonetheless finds striking anticipations of Dr. Sheldrake’s contemporary theory of ‘morphic resonance’. For, according to Karin, a single sensation, while being unique, somehow recapitulates all previous sensations of the same type and makes possible further repetitions in the future ― exactly Sheldrake’s idea.
What of that sequence of sensations, her life? Catherine Pozzi (1882 ― 1934) was the daughter of a Parisian surgeon, Samuel Pozzi, while her mother maintained a salon frequented by Sarah Bernardt, Colette and Proust. Karin started writing a Journal at the age of ten and kept this up for most of her life. She was a proto-feminist and adolescent ‘rebel without a cause’ a long time before this became fashionable: indeed she would have been much more at home in California in the Sixties than in Paris during the Belle Époque.
The big question was how to put into practice her philosophy of mystical sensualism without prostrating herself before a man. One possibility was to seek a ‘kindred spirit’ rather than a lover; her adolescent Journal celebrates her passionate friendship with a young American girl who died a year after their first meeting on the ‘Day of the Holy Spirit’ (Passover?), a timing that Catherine found significant. Love, kindred spirit, illness, death, these four strands were henceforth to be forever intertwined.  ventual marriage to a stockbroker with some literary pretensions barely survived the honeymoon though it did produce a son. Three years later Karin was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent much of the rest of her life undergoing cures and abusing prescribed mood-changing drugs. During WWI she met a young aviator, André Fernet, who firmly believed that ‘true love’ should be strictly Platonic. His death in action in 1916 (which Catherine claimed to have foreseen in a dream) was as much a fitting consummation to their love as it was an interruption.
In 1920 Karin embarked on a tempestuous affair with Paul Valéry, a married man with a family and a poet much less gifted than herself. She eventually disclosed the relation to Valéry’s wife, and henceforth the doors of Parisian society were firmly closed to this latter-day Anna Karenina. But she no longer cared.
Karin in her lifetime only published one or two short articles in magazines and (under the name C.K.) Agnès, a fictionalized account of her own adolescent crises. It is thus on the Six Poems that her reputation must rest and it is to be regretted that the NRF Gallimard edition of her works has them in the wrong order. Karin wrote in her Journal on 6 November 1934,“J’ai écrit VALE, AVE, MAYA, NOVA, SCOPOLAMINE, NYX. Je voudrais qu’on en fasse une plaquette”.

These intense, concise poems remind one of the ‘Stations of the Cross’, marking as they do the stages in an agonising spiritual journey, or perhaps resting points on the pathway that candidates for initiation followed at Eleusis. They could also be viewed as snapshots of a substance undergoing successive changes of state, the substance being, as it happens, a human being — and I fancy that Karin would have approved of this analogy. According to Karin’s ‘chemistry of the soul’, the essential elements of her current personality have already existed in previous reincarnations (‘MAYA’), will somehow persist after death albeit momentarily dissociated from each other (‘AVE’) and will eventually all come together again in a future time (‘NOVA’).
VALE (‘Farewell’) shows the pilgrim looking back at the old life she is now leaving for ever. She starts by lamenting her lover’s betrayal not so much of herself as of their shared life. But she turns the tables on him, as it were, by absorbing the high points of the experience into her body (not mind), so all has not been lost after all:
Il [cet amour] est mon corps et sera mon partage/ Apres mourir”
(‘This love is my body and will remain my portion after death’).
In this way, what is worth remembering remains with her for ever duly integrated into her inner self.
AVE (‘Hail’) begins the sequence proper. It is a passionate invocation not to a real person but to a higher being — one can imagine Psyche writing such a poem between visits from the god Eros, while the tone also recalls Saint Theresa of Avila addressing Christ. For the being is at once beloved, guide and controller of her destiny : he will be responsible for her rebirth even though she will first be broken entirely into pieces (‘You will remake my name and image out of the thousand bodies dispersed by time’). The author intimates that, for a while, she will cease to exist as an individual, will be “sans nom et sans visage” (‘nameless and faceless’), but will be given a new ‘name and face’ which is yet the same, since underlying these transformations is a “vive unité” (‘living unity’).
The tone of this poem is rapt, ecstatic, and it ends by invoking “Cœur de l’esprit, O centre du mirage“(‘Heart of my spirit, centre of the mirage’). ‘Mirage‘ is the world of the senses which Buddhism teaches is ‘maya’, illusion ― but, for Karin, the ‘centre’ of the mirage is not illusory.
In MAYA, the speaker returns to a previous idyllic life amongst the Mayans which she views as a recovery of her cosmic childhood ― ‘I retrace my steps into childhood’s abyss’. Indeed, the voyager hesitates, vainly wishing the process could stop here, in this lost paradise refound, “Que s’arrete le temps, que s’affaisse la trame” (‘If only time would stand still and the weft [of destiny] grow slack’).
After MAYA, NOVA comes as something of a shock. Instead of greeting with rapture a being from another realm, this time the spiritual traveller recoils with horror from a being (at once herself and another) that is canniballistically sucking the speaker’s vitality: its birth is the present speaker’s death. She desperately pleads with it not to be born at all:
‘Undo ! Unmake yourself, dissolve, refuse to be
Denounce what was desired but not chosen by me’

After anticipations of the future and a reliving of the past, SCOPOLAMINE and NYX return us to the present. (Scopolamine is incidentally not a hallucinatory drug but a ‘truth drug’ used by the Nazis on prisoners of war but prescribed to Karin by her doctor.) This time there is no holding back: on the contrary the spiritual voyage is imaged as the launching of a spacecraft with (what we would now call) an astronaut aboard it. Whatever it is that survives physical decomposition is already detaching itself from its earthly frame
        ‘My heart has left my life behind,
        The world of Shape and Form I’ve crossed,
        I am saved, I am lost
        Into the unknown am tossed
        A name without a past to find’ 

NYX was written in a single jet on Karin’s deathbed and brings us even closer to the moment of metamorphosis. The tone is a mixture of awe, regret, rapture and incomprehension:
‘O deep desire amazement spread abroad
O splendid journey of the spellstruck mind
O worst mishap O grace descended from above
O open door through which not one has passed

I know not why I sink, expire
Before the eternal place is mine
I know not who made me his prey
Nor who it was made me his love’

Note:  The full text of the Six Poems in both the original French and my translation  can be found on the website  or, if this expires, directly from the author.

SH 29/09/2016




What is number? By ‘number’ I mean whole number, positive integer such as 2, 34, 1457…  Conceptually, number is hard to pin down and the modern mathematical treatment which makes number depend on formal logical principles does not help us to understand what number ‘really’ is.  “He who sees things in their growth and first origins will obtain the clearest view of them” wrote Aristotle. So maybe we should start by asking why mankind ever bothered with numbers in the first place and what  mental/physical capacities are required to use them with confidence.

It would seem that numbers were invented principally to record data. Animals  get along perfectly well without a number system and innumerable ‘primitive’ peoples possessed a very rudimentary one, sometimes just one, two, three. The aborigine who often possessed no more than four tools did not need to count them and the pastoralist typically had a highly developed visual memory of his herd, an ability we have largely lost precisely because we don’t use it in our daily life (Note 1). It was the large, centrally controlled empires of the Middle East like Assyria and Babylon that developed both arithmetic and writing. The reasons are obvious: a hunter, goatherd or subsistence farmer in constant contact with his small store of worldly goods, does not need records, but a state official in charge of a large area does. Numbers were developed for the purpose of trade, stock-taking, assessment of military strength and above all taxation ― even today I would guess that numbers are employed more for bureaucratic purposes than scientific or pure mathematical ones (Note 2).

What about the required mental capacities? There are two, and seemingly only two, essential requirements. Firstly, one must be able to make a hard and fast distinction between what is ‘singular’ and ‘plural’, between a ‘one’ and a ‘more-than-one’. Secondly, one must be capable of ‘pairing off’ objects taken from two different sets, what mathematicians call carrying out a ’one-one correspondence’.

The difference between ‘one’ and ‘more-than-one’ is basic to human culture (Note 3). If we actually lived in a completely unified world, or felt that we did, there would be no need for numbers. Interestingly, in at least one ancient language, the word for ‘one’ is the same as the word for ‘alone’: without an initial sense of estrangement from the rest of the universe, number systems, and everything that is built upon them, would never have been invented.

‘Pairing off’ two sets, apples and pears for example, is the most basic procedure in the whole of mathematics and it was only relatively recently (end of 19th century) that it became clear that the basic arithmetic operations and numbers themselves        originate in messing about with collections of objects. Given any two sets, the first set A can either be paired off exactly member for member with the second set B, or it cannot be. In the negative case, the reason may be that A does not ‘stretch to’ B, i.e. is ‘less than’ (<), or alternatively it ‘goes beyond’ B (>), i.e. has at least one object to spare after a pairing off. Given two clearly defined sets of objects, one, and only one, of these three cases must apply.

But as Piaget points out, the ability to pair off, say, apples and pears is not sufficient. A child may be able to do this but baulk at pairing off shoes and chairs, or apples and people. To be fully numerate, one needs to be able, at least in principle, to ‘pair off’ any two collections of discrete objects. Not only children but whole societies hesitated at this point, considering that certain collections of things are ‘not to be compared’ because they are too different. One collection might be far away like the stars, the other near at hand, one collection comprised of  living things, the other of dead things and so on.

This gives us the cognitive baggage to be ‘numerate’ but a further step is necessary before we have a fully functioning number system. The society, tribe or social group  needs to decide on a set of more or less identical objects (later marks) which are to be the standard set against which all other sets are to be compared. So-called ‘primitive’ peoples used shells, beans or sticks as numbers for thousands of years and within living memory the Wedda of Ceylon carried out transactions with bundles of ‘number sticks’. Yoruba state officials of the Benin empire in Nigeria performed quite complicated additions and subtractions using only heaps of cowrie shells. Note that the use of a standard set is an enormous cultural and social advance  from simply pairing off specific sets of objects. The cowboy who had “so many notches on his gun” was (presumably) doing the latter, i.e. pairing off one dead man with one notch, and doubtless used other marks or words to refer to other objects. In many societies there were several sets of number words, marks or objects in use simultaneously, the choice depending on context or the objects being counted (Note 4).

So what are the criteria for the choice of a standard set? It is essential that the objects (or marks) chosen should be more or less identical since the whole principle of numbering is that individual differences such as colour, weight, shape and so on are irrelevant numerically speaking. Number is a sort of informational minimum: of all the information available we throw away practically everything since all that matters is how the objects concerned pair off with those of our standard set. Number, which is based on distinction by quantity, required a cultural and social revolution since it had to replace distinction by type which was far more important to the hunter/foodgatherer ― comestible or poisonous, friend or foe, male or female.

Secondly, we want a plentiful supply of object numbers so the chosen ‘one-object’ must be abundant or easy to make, thus the use of shells, sticks and beans. Thirdly, the chosen ‘one-object’ must be portable and thus fairly small and light. Fourthly, it is essential that the number objects do not fuse or adhere to each other when brought into close proximity.

All these requirements make the choice of a basic number object (or object-number) by no means as simple as it might appear and eventually led to the use of marks on a background such as charcoal strokes on plaster, or knots in a cord, rather than objects as such.

Numbering has come a long way since the use of shells or scratches on bones but the ingenious improvements leading up to our current Arab/Hindu place value number system have largely obscured the underlying principles of numbering.      The choice of a ‘one-object’, or mark, plus the ability to replicate this object or mark more or less indefinitely is the basis of a number system. The principal improvements subsequent to the replacement of number-objects by ‘number-marks’, have been ‘cipherisation’ and the use of bases.

In the case of cipherisation we allow a single word or mark to represent what is in fact a ‘more than one’, thus contradicting the basic distinction on which numbering depends. If we take 1 as our ‘one-mark’, 11111 ought by rights to represent what we call five and write as 5. Though this step was long to come,  the motivation is obvious: simple repetition is cumbersome and leads to error ― one can with difficulty distinguish 1111111 from 111111. Verbal number systems seem to have led the way in this: no  languages I know of say ‘one-one-one’ for 3 and very few simply repeat a ‘one-word’ and a ‘two-word’ (though there are examples of this).

The use of bases such as our base 10, depends on the idea of a ‘greater one’, i.e. an object that is at once ‘one’ and ‘more-than-one’ such as a tight bundle of similar sticks. And if we now extend the principle and make an even bigger bundle out of the previous bundles while keeping the ‘scaling’ the same, we have a fully fledged base number system. The choice of ten for a base is most likely a historical accident since we have exactly five fingers and thumbs on each hand. The hand was the first computer and finger counting was widely practiced until quite recent times: the Venerable Bede wrote a treatise on the subject.

The final advance was the use of ‘place value’: by shifting the mark to the left (or right in some cases) you make it ‘bigger’ by the same factor as your chosen base. Although we don’t see it like this, 4567, is a concise way of writing four thousands, five hundreds, six tens and seven ones. 

Human beings, especially in the modern world, spend a vast amount of time and effort moving objects from one location to another, from one country to another or from supermarket to kitchen. One set of possessions increases in size, another decreases, giving rise to the arithmetic operations of ‘adding’ and ‘subtraction’. And to make the vast array of material things manageable we need to divide them up neatly into subsets. And  for stock-taking and related purposes, we need agreed numerical symbols for the objects and people being shifted about. A tribal society can afford to ignore numbers (but not shape), an empire cannot.     SH




Note 1 A missionary in South America noted with amnazement that some tribes like the Abipone had only three number words but during migration could see at a glance from their saddles whether a single one of their dogs was missing out of the ‘immense horde’. From Menninger, Number Words and Number Symbols p. 10    

Note 2  To judge by the sort of problems they tackled, the Babylonian and Egyptian scribes were obviously interested in numbers for their own sake as well, i.e. were already pure mathematicians, but the primary motivation was undoubtedly socio-economic. Even geometry, which comes from the Greek word for ‘land-measurement’, was originally developed by the Egyptians in order to tax peasants with irregular shaped plots bordering the Nile.


Note 3  Some historians and ethnologists argue that the tripartite distinction ‘one-two-more than two’, rather than ‘one-many’, is the basic distinction. Thus the cases singular, dual and plural of certain ancient languages such as Greek.


Note 4  The Nootkans, for example, had different terms for counting or speaking of (a) people or salmon; (b) anything round in shape (c) anything long and narrow. And modern Japanese retains ‘numerical classifiers’.

What is time?

What is time? Time is succession. Succession of what? Of events, occurrences, states. As someone put it, time is Nature’s way of stopping everything happening at once.

In a famous thought experiment, Descartes asked himself what it was not possible to disbelieve in. He imagined himself alone in a quiet room cut off from the bustle of the world and decided he could, momentarily at least, disbelieve in the existence of France, the Earth, even other people. But one thing he absolutely could not disbelieve in was that there was a thinking person, cogito ergo sum (‘I think, therefore I am’).
Those of us who have practiced meditation, and many who have not, know that it is quite possible to momentarily disbelieve in the existence of a thinking/feeling person. But what one absolutely cannot disbelieve in is that thoughts and bodily sensations of some sort are occurring and, not only that, that these sensations (most of them anyway) occur one after the other. One outbreath follows an inbreath, one thought leads on to another and so on and so on until death or nirvana intervenes. Thus the grand conclusion: There are sensations, and there is succession.  Can anyone seriously doubt this? 

Succession and the Block Universe

That we, as humans, have a very vivid, and more often than not  acutely painful, sense of the ‘passage of time’ is obvious. A considerable body of the world’s literature  is devoted to  bewailing the transience of life, while one of the world’s four or five major religions, Buddhism, has been well described as an extended meditation on the subject. Cathedrals, temples, marble statues and so on are attempts to defy the passage of time, aars long vita brevis.
However, contemporary scientific doctrine, as manifested in the so-called ‘Block Universe’ theory of General Relativity, tells us that everything that occurs happens in an ‘eternal present’, the universe ‘just is’. In his latter years, Einstein took the idea seriously enough to mention it in a letter of consolation to the son of his lifelong friend, Besso, on the occasion of the latter’s death. “In quitting this strange world he [Michel Besso] has once again preceded me by a little. That doesn’t mean anything. For those of us who believe in physics, this separation between past, present and future is an illusion, however tenacious.”
Never mind the mathematics, such a theory does not make sense. For, even supposing that everything that can happen during what is left of my life has in some sense already happened, this is not how I perceive things. I live my life day to day, moment to moment, not ‘all at once’. Just possibly, I am quite mistaken about the real state of affairs but it would seem nonetheless that there is something not covered by the ‘eternal present’ theory, namely my successive perception of, and participation in, these supposedly already existent moments (Note 1). Perhaps, in a universe completely devoid of consciousness,  ‘eternalism’ might be true but not otherwise.
Barbour, the author of The End of Time, argues that we do not ever actually experience ‘time passing’. Maybe not, but this is only because the intervals between different moments, and the duration of the moments themselves, are so brief that we run everything together like movie stills. According to Barbour, there exists just a huge stack of moments, some of which are interconnected, some not, but this stack has no inherent temporal order. But even if it were true that all that can happen is already ‘out there’ in Barbour’s Platonia (his term), picking a pathway through this dense undergrowth of discrete ‘nows’ would still be a successive procedure.
I do not think time can be disposed of so easily. Our impressions of the world, and conclusions drawn by the brain, can be factually incorrect ― we see the sun moving around the Earth for example ― but to deny either that there are sense impressions and that they appear successively, not simultaneously, strikes me as going one step too far. As I see it, succession is an absolutely essential component  of lived reality and either there is succession or there is just an eternal now, I see no third possibility.
What Einstein’s Special Relativity does demonstrate is that there is seemingly no absolute ‘present moment’ applicable right across the universe (because of the speed of light barrier). But in Special Relativity at least succession and causality still very much exist within any particular local section, i.e. inside a particular event’s light cone. One can only surmise that the universe as a whole must have a complicated mosaic successiveness made up of interlocking pieces (tesserae).

In various areas of physics, especially thermo-dynamics, there is much discussion of whether certain sequences of events are reversible or not, i.e. could take place other than in the usual observed order. This is an important issue but is a quite different question from whether time (in the sense of succession) exists. Were it possible for pieces of broken glass to spontaneously reform themselves into a wine glass, this process would still occur successively and that is the point at issue.

Time as duration

‘Duration’ is a measure of how long something lasts. If time “is what the clock says” as Einstein is reported to have once said, duration is measured by what the clock says at two successive moments (‘times’). The trick is to have, or rather construct, a set of successive events that we take as our standard set and relate all other sets to this one. The events of the standard set need to be punctual and brief, the briefer the better, and the interval between successive events must be both noticeable and regular. The tick-tock of a pendulum clock provided such a standard set for centuries though today we have the much more regular expansion and contraction of quartz crystals or the changing magnetic moments of electrons around a caesium nucleus.

Continuous or discontinuous?

 A pendulum clock records and measures time in a discontinuous fashion: you can actually see, or hear, the minute or second hand flicking from one position to another. And if we have an oscillating mechanism such as a quartz crystal, we take the extreme positions of the cycle which comes to the same thing.
However, this schema is not so evident if we consider ‘natural’ clocks such as sundials which are based on the apparent continuous movement of the sun. Hence the familiar image of time as a river which never stops flowing. Newton viewed time in this way which is why he analysed motion in terms of ‘fluxions’, or ‘flowings’. Because of Calculus, which Newton invented, it is the continuous approach which has overwhelmingly prevailed in the West. But a perpetually moving object, or one perceived as such, is useless for timekeeping: we always have to home in on specific recurring configurations such as the longest or shortest shadow cast. We have to freeze time, as it were, if we wish to measure temporal intervals.

Event time

The view of time as something flowing and indivisible is at odds with our intuition that our lives consist of a succession  of moments with a unique orientation, past to future, actual to hypothetical. Science disapproves of the latter common sense schema but is powerless to erase it from our thoughts and feelings: clearly the past/present/future schema is hard-wired and will not go away.

If we dispense with continuity, we can also get rid of  ‘infinite divisibility’ and so we arrive at the notion, found in certain early Buddhist thinkers, that there is a minimum temporal (and spatial) interval, the ksana. It is only recently that physicists have even considered the possibility that time  is ‘grainy’, that there might be ‘atoms of time’, sometimes called chronons. Now, within a minimal temporal interval, there would be no possible change of state and, on this view, physical reality decomposes into a succession of ‘ultimate events’ occupying  minimal locations in space/time with gaps between these locations. In effect, the world becomes a large (but not infinite) collection of interconnected cinema shows proceeding at different rates.

Joining forces with time

 The so-called ‘arrow of time’ is simply the replacement of one localized moment by another and the procedure is one-way because, once a given event has occurred, there is no way that it can be ‘de-occurred’. Awareness of this gives rise to anxiety ― “the moving finger writes, and having writ/ Moves on, nor all thy piety or wit/Can lure it back to cancel half a line….”  Most religious, philosophic and even scientific systems attempt to allay this anxiety by proposing a domain that is not subject to succession, is ‘beyond time’. Thus Plato and Christianity, the West’s favoured religion. And even if we leave aside General Relativity, practically all contemporary scientists have a fervent belief in the “laws of physics” which are changeless and in effect wholly transcendent.
Eastern systems of thought tend to take a different approach. Instead of trying desperately to hold on to things such as this moment, this person, this self, Buddhism invites us to  ‘let go’ and cease to cling to anything. Taoism goes even further, encouraging us to find fulfilment and happiness by identifying completely with the flux of time-bound existence and its inherent aimlessness. The problem with this approach is, however, that it is not clear how to avoid simply becoming a helpless victim of circumstance. The essentially passive approach to life seemingly needs to be combined with close attention and discrimination ― in Taoist terms, Not-Doing must be combined with Doing.

Note 1 And if we start playing with the idea that  not only the events but my perception of them as successive is already ‘out there’, we soon get involved in infinite regress.

Note 2 I have attempted to develop this schema on the website

Even and Odd

Animals and so-called primitive peoples do not bother to make nice distinctions between entities on the basis of number and even today, when  deprived of technological aids, we are not at all good at it (Note 1).  What people do ‘naturally’ is to make distinctions of type not number and the favourite principle of division by type is the two-valued either/or principle.  Plato thought that this principle, dichotomy, was so fundamental that all knowledge was based on it — the reason for this being because the brain works in this way, the nerve synapsis is either ‘on’ or ‘off’. Psychologically human beings have a very strong inclination to proceed by straight two-valued distinctions, light/dark, this/that, on/off, sacred/profane, Greek/Barbarian, Jew/Gentile, good/evil and so on — more complex gradations are only introduced later and usually with great reluctance Science has eventually recognized the complexity of nature and apart from gender there are not many true scientific dichotomies left though we still have the classification of animals into  vertebrates and invertebrates.

Numbers themselves very early on got classified into even and odd , the most fundamental numerical distinction after the classification one and many which is even more basic.

The classification even/odd is radical: it provides what modern mathematicians call a partition of the whole set. That is, the classification principle is exhaustive : with the possible exception of the unit, all  numbers fall into one or other of the two categories. Moreover, the two classes are mutually exclusive: no number appearing in the list of evens will appear in thelist of odds. This is by no means true of all classification principles for numbers as one might perhaps at first assume. Numbers can be classified, for example, as triangular and as rectangular according to whether they can be (literally) made into rectangles or equilateral triangles. But ΟΟΟΟΟΟ turns out to be both since it can be formed either into a triangle or a rectangle:

ΟΟΟ                                         ΟΟΟ
ΟΟΟ                                         ΟΟ
The Greeks, like practically all cultures in the ancient world, viewed the odd and even numbers as male and female respectively — presumably because a woman has ‘two’ breasts and a male only one penis. And, since oddness, though in Greek the term did not have the same associations as in English, was nonetheless defined with respect to evenness and not the reverse, this made an odd number a sort of female manqué. This must have posed a problem for their strongly patriarchal society but the Greek philosophers and mathematicians got round this by arguing that ‘one’  (and not ‘two’) was the basis of the number system while ‘one’ was the ‘father of all numbers’.

On the other hand a matriarchal society or a species where females were dominant would almost certainly, and with better reasoning, have made ‘one’ a female number, the primeval egg from which the whole numerical progeny emerged. Those who consider that mathematics is in some sense ‘eternally true’ should reflect on the question of how mathematics would  have developed within a hermaphroditic species, or in a world where there were three and not two humanoid genders as in Ian Banks’s science-fiction novel  The Player of Games.

Evenness is not easy to define — nor for that matter to recognize as I have just realized since, coming across an earlier version of this section, I found I was momentarily incapable of deciding which of the rows of balls pictured at the head of this chapter represented odd or even numbers. We have to appeal to some very basic feeling for ‘symmetry’ — what is on one side of a dividing line is exactly matched by what is on the other side of it. A definition could thus be

If you can pair off a collection within itself and nothing remains over, then the collection is called even, if you cannot do this the collection is termed odd.

This makes oddness anomalous and less basic than evenness which intuitively one feels to be right —  we would not, I think, ever dream of defining oddness and then say “If a collection is not odd, it is even”. And although it is only in English and a few other languages that ‘odd’ also means ‘strange’, the pejorative sense that the word odd has picked up suggests that we expect and desire things to match up, i.e. we expect, or at least desire, them  to be ‘even’ —  the figure of Justice holds a pair of evenly balanced scales.

The sense of even as ‘level’ may well be the original one. If we have two collections of objects which, individually,  are more or less identical, then a pair of scales remains level if the collections are placed on each arm of the lever (at the same distance).  One could define even and odd thus pragmatically:

“If a collection of identical standard objects can be divided up in a way which keeps the arms of a balance level, then the collection is termed even. If this is not possible it is termed odd.”

This definition avoids using the word two which is preferable since the sense of things being ‘even’ is much more fundamental than a feeling for ‘twoness’  — for this reason the distinction even/odd, like the even more fundamental ‘one/many’ , belongs to the stage of pre-numbering rather than that of numbering.

Early man would not have had a pair of scales, of course, but he would have been familiar with the procedure of ‘equal division’, and the simplest way of dividing up a collection of objects is to separate it into two equal parts. If there was an item left over it could simply be thrown away. Evenness is thus not only the simplest way of dividing up a set of objects but the principle of division which makes the remainder a minimum: any other method of division  runs the risk of having more objects left over.

Euclid’s definition is that of equal division. He says “An even number is that which is divisible into two equal parts” (Elements Definition 6. Book VII)  and “An odd number is that which is not divisible into two equal parts, or that which differs by  a unit from an even number”  (Elements  Definition 7. Book VII). Incidentally, in Euclid ‘number’ not only always has the sense ‘positive integer but has a concrete sense — he defines ‘number‘ as a “multitude composed of units”.

Note that Euclid defines odd first privatively (by what it is not) and then as something deficient with reference to an even number. The second definition is still with us today: algebraically the formula for the odd numbers is (2n-1) where n is given the successive values 1, 2, 3…. or sometimes (in order to leave 1 out of it) by giving n the successive values 2, 3, 4….  In concrete terms,  we have the sequence

Ο     ΟΟ     ΟΟΟ  ……..                 …..

Duplicating them gives us the ‘doubles’ or even numbers

Ο     ΟΟ     ΟΟΟ  ..….
Ο     ΟΟ     ΟΟΟ  ……

and  removing a unit each time gives us the ‘deficient’ odd numbers.

The unit itself is something out on its own and was traditionally regarded as  neither even nor odd. It is certainly not even according to the ‘equal division’ definition since it cannot be divided at all (within the context of whole number theory) and it cannot be put on the scales without disturbing equilibrium. In practice it is often convenient to treat the unit as if it were odd, just as it is to consider it a square number, cube number and so forth, otherwise many theorems would have to be stated twice over. Context usually makes it clear whether the term ‘number’ includes the unit or not.

Note that distinguishing between even and odd has nothing to do with counting or even with distinguishing between greater or less – knowing that a number is even tells you nothing about its size. And vice-versa, associating a number word or symbol with a collection of objects will not inform you as to  whether the quantity is even or odd — there are no ‘even’ or ‘odd’ endings to the spoken word like those showing whether something is singular or plural,  masculine or feminine.

It is significant that we do not have words for numbers which, for example, are multiples of four or which leave a remainder of one unit when divided into three. (The Greek mathematicians did, however, speak of ‘even-even’ numbers.) If our species had three genders instead of two, as in the world described in The Player of Games, we would maybe tend to divide things into threes and classify all numbers according to whether they could be divided into three parts exactly, were a counter short or a counter over. This, however, would have made things so much more complicated that such a species would most likely have taken even longer to develop numbering and arithmetic than in our own case.

The distinction even/odd is the first and simplest case of what is today called a congruence. The integers can be separated out into so-called equivalence classes according to the remainder left when they are divided by a given number termed the modulus. All numbers are in the same class (modulus 1) since when they are separated out into ones there is only one possible remainder : nothing at all. In Gauss’s notation the even numbers are the numbers which leave a remainder of zero when divided by 2, or are ‘0 (mod 2)’ where mod is short for modulus. And the odd numbers are all 1 (mod 2) i.e. leave a unit when separated into twos. What is striking is that although the distinction between even and odd, i.e. distinction between numbers that are 0 or 1 (mod 2) is prehistoric, congruence arithmetic as such was invented by Gauss a mere couple of centuries ago.

In concrete terms we can set up equivalence classes relative to a given modulus by arranging collections of counters (in fact or in imagination) between parallel lines of set width starting with unit width, then a width which allows two counters only, then three and so on. This image enables us to see at once that the sum of any two or more even numbers is always even.

And since an odd number has an extra  Ο  this means a pair of odd numbers have each an extra unit and so, if we fit them together to make the units face each other we have an even result. Thus    Even plus even equals even” and “Odd plus odd equals even” are not just jingles we have to learn at school but correspond to what actually happens if we try to arrange actual counters or squares so that they match up.

We end up with the following two tables which may well have been the earliest ones ever to have been drawn up by mathematicians.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­          +       odd      even                        ×     odd    even  

       odd      even    odd                     odd    odd    even

       even    odd    even                     even  even  even


All this may seem so obvious that it is hardly worth stating but simply by appealing to these tables many results can be deduced that are far from being self-evident. For example, we find by experience that certain concrete  numbers can be arranged as rectangles and that, amongst these rectangular numbers, there are ones that can be separated into two smaller rectangles and those that cannot be. However if I am told that a certain collection can be arranged as a rectangle with one side just a unit greater than the other, then I can immediately deduce that it can be separated into two smaller rectangles. Why am I so sure of this? Because, referring to the tables above,

1.) the ‘product’ of an even and an odd number is even;
2.) an even number can by definition always be separated into two equal parts.

           I could deduce this even if I was a member of a society which had no written number system and no more than a handful of number words.

This is only the beginning: the banal distinction between even and odd and reference to the entries in the tables above crops up in a surprising amount of proofs in number theory. The famous proof that the square root of 2 is not a rational number — as we would put it — is based on the fact that no quantity made up of so many equal bits can be at once even and odd.                                                                       SH 5/03/15


Note 1  This fact (that human beings are not naturally very good at assessing numerical quantity) is paradoxical since mankind is the numerical animal par excellence. Mathematics is the classic case of the weakling who makes himself into Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is because we are so bad at quantitative assessment that playing cards are obliged to show the number words in the corner of the card and why the dots on a dice are arranged in set patterns to avoid confusion.


Poetry and Contemporary Attitudes towards Death

Poetry and Contemporary Attitudes towards Death

Note: On the brink of undergoing my first major surgical intervention, I came across the following piece amongst my papers. It was apparently written two years after the death of my father, which event took place at least twelve to fifteen years ago. There are plenty of things I could add but I thought it best to leave the piece unchanged. SH

Increasingly people today are arranging their own funeral services or those of their family and partners whether the service is a standard cremation or a woodland burial. Instead of, or in association with, passages from the Bible or other sacred books there is an increasing demand for readings from contemporary or at least relatively modern authors. Unfortunately, loafing through late twentieth century literature one finds very little indeed on the subject of death and that little is generally of extremely poor quality. Why is this? The present society, whatever its other merits, seems incapable of facing up to death and by and large we sweep it under the carpet and pretend it isn’t really there. For most of my life death was something that happened in the past or to other people  and I saw my first actual dead body (my father’s) only a couple of years ago when I was in my late fifties. Confronted with death, one tends to be flummoxed, embarrassed, at a loss. Although I suppose one could write a good poem saying exactly this ─ that one doesn’t really know what to feel ─ I don’t think a funeral service would be the place to read it out loud.

What exactly do most people require from readings at a funeral service? I think most people require something solemn. Since the language of the King James Bible and the Prayer Book is solemn in an absolutely magnificent way, a lot of people who don’t believe a word of it, are quite happy for extracts to be read at funerals ─ they ‘sound right’ and up to a point that is all that really matters. Death can be treated as a joke but a funeral service is not, one feels, the place for fooling around. I have been to a funeral where supposedly funny pieces were read : practically everyone present including myself found this tasteless and objectionable. (Irish Catholics have their wakes, of course, but they have a full-blown funeral service first.) And as it happens, modern poetry ─ I mean poetry from the nineteen-twenties onwards ─ has very largely been against solemnity, against anything high-sounding, has become deliberately prosaic and matter of fact. That is all very well but goes some way to explaining why few people today can write well about death, for the theme of death somehow does require one to pull the stops out.

Also, people generally desire to have something consoling if possible read out at a funeral service. Once again, the traditional religions score heavily here since they do offer serious consolations, in particular the consolation that, contrary to appearances, death is not the end. Humanism finds it hard to compete here.

`What is indubitable when confronted with a corpse is that something has gone, has ended. How can one attempt to console oneself for this? One solution is to argue that the ‘true self’ does not reside in the body and so does not die with the body. It may surprize some people to learn that this was not originally a Christian doctrine ─ Christianity still officially affirms the ‘resurrection of the body’ ─ but a Greek idea which some historians trace even further back to the ‘out-of-the-body’ experiences of Siberian shamans (see Note). Today, however, science has considerably weakened belief in the reality of this incorporeal entity, the soul; also, we are not too keen today on a system of belief which implicitly or explicitly downgrades the body. The ‘soul’ option is losing ground fast.

This more or less only leaves two broad options: belief in reincarnation and pantheism. Most people today who consider themselves pagans seem to believe in reincarnation or pantheism or both combined: certainly I myself am attracted to both. The difficulty with reincarnation as a ‘solution’ to the problem of death is that, either you believe in an immaterial ‘something’ which keeps on persisting, in which case you are driven back to the ‘soul option’, or, as in traditional Buddhism, you deny that there is anything that persists, in which case the whole system ceases to be so consoling. Hinduism, or certain forms of it, affirms that the ‘individual soul’ (atman) eventually gets merged completely in the Absolute (Brahman) from which it came.

Although Plato and some Greeks and Romans believed in reincarnation, the idea is basically Indian and, if one is looking for passages in the English language affirming reincarnation there is not a lot available.

Pantheism has the great advantage that it is actually in some sense true ! We do end up merged into ‘Nature’ and modern science in affirming that “energy cannot be destroyed but only changed in form” (1st Law of Thermo-dynamics) has actually reinforced pantheistic belief. The difficulties are of a different order. The Romantics identified ‘Nature’ with everything admirable and good, but since Darwin, and even worse since Dawkins, it seems we have to believe that Nature demonstrates the fascist principle of ‘survival of the fittest’. Also, since Nature obviously cares nothing for the individual, it is debatable to what extent pantheism can provide consolation when confronted with the death of an individual.

Finally, one should perhaps mention a sort of paradoxically ‘consoling’ solution to the problem of death, namely the belief that there is, and can be, no consolation. This option can at least claim to look things squarely in the face ─ or does it?

Sebastian Hayes

Notes : E.R. Dodds takes this view in chapter V of his remarkable book “The Greeks and the Irrational” .

Case Study in Eventrics : Adolf Hitler

                “There is a tide in the affairs of men
                Which, taken in the flood, leads on to fortune”

                                                Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

In a previous post I suggested that the three most successful non-hereditary ‘power figures’ in Western history were Cromwell, Napoleon and Hitler. Since none of the three had advantages that came by birth, as, for example, Alexander the Great or Louis XIV did, the meteoric rise of these three persons suggests either very unusual abilities or very remarkable ‘luck’.
From the viewpoint of Eventrics, success depends on how well a particular person fits the situation and there is no inherent conflict between ‘luck’ and ability. Quite the reverse, the most important ‘ability’ that a successful politician, military commander or businessman can have is precisely the capacity to handle events, especially unforeseen ones. In other words success to a considerable extent depends on how well a person handles his or her ‘good luck’ if and when it occurs, or how well a person can transform ‘bad luck’ into ‘good luck’. Whether everyone gets brilliant opportunities that they fail to seize one doubts but, certainly, most of us are blind to the opportunities that do arise and, when not blind, lack the self-confidence to seize such an offered ‘chance’ and turn it to one’s advantage.
The above is hardly controversial though it does rule out the view that everything is determined in advance, or, alternatively, the exact opposite, that ‘more or less anything can happen at any time anywhere’. I take the commonsense view that there are certain tendencies that really exist in a given situation. It is, however, up to the individual to reinforce or make use of such ‘event-currents’ or, alternatively, to ignore them and, as it were, pass by on the other side like the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The driving forces of history are not people but events and ‘event dynamics’; however, this does not reduce individuals to the status of puppets, far from it. Either through instinct or correct analysis (or a judicious mixture of the two) the successful person identifies a ‘rising’ event current, gets with it if it suits him or her, and abandons it abruptly when it ceases to be advantageous. This is easy enough to state, but supremely difficult to put into practice. Everyone who speculates on the Stock Exchange knows that the secret of success is no secret at all : it consists in buying  when the price of stock is low but just about to rise and selling when the price is high but just about to fall. For one Soros, there are a hundred thousand or maybe a hundred million ‘ordinary investors’ who either fail entirely or make very modest gains.
But why, one might ask, is it advantageous to identify and go with an ‘event trend’ rather than simply decide what you want to do and pursue your objective off your own bat? Because the trend will do a good deal of the work for you : the momentum of a rising trend is colossal, indeed for a while, seems to be unstoppable. Pit yourself against a rising trend and it will overwhelm you, identify yourself with it and it will take you along with a force equivalent to that of a million individuals. If you can spot coming trends accurately and go with them, you can succeed with only moderate intelligence, knowledge, looks, connections, what have you.

Is charisma essential for success?

It is certainly possible to succeed spectacularly without charisma since Cardinal Richelieu, the most powerful man in the France and Europe of his day, had none whereas Joan of Arc who had plenty had a pitifully short career. Colbert, finance minister of Louis XIV is another example; indeed, in the case of ministers it is probably better not to stick out too much from the mass, even to the extent of appearing a mediocrity.
Nonetheless, Richelieu and Colbert lived during an era when it was only necessary to obtain the support of one or two big players such as kings or popes, whereas, in a democratic era, it is necessary to inspire and fascinate millions of ‘ordinary people’. No successful modern dictator lacked charisma : Stalin, Mao-tse-tong, Hitler all had plenty and this made up for much else. Charisma, however, is not enough, or not enough if one wishes to remain in power : to do this, an intuitive or pragmatic grasp of the behaviour of event patterns is a sine qua non and this is something quite different from charisma.

Hitler as failure and mediocrity

 Many historians, especially British, are not just shocked but puzzled by Hitler ─ though less now than they were fifty years ago. For how could such an unprepossessing individual, with neither looks, polish, connections or higher education succeed so spectacularly? One British newspaper writer described Hitler, on the occasion of his first big meeting with Mussolini, as looking like “someone who wanted to seduce the cook”.
Although he had participated in World War I and shown himself to be a dedicated and brave ‘common soldier’, Hitler never had any experience as a commander on the battlefield even at the level of a platoon ─ he was a despatch runner who was told what to do (deliver messages) and did it. Yet this was the man who eventually got control of the greatest military machine in history and blithely disregarded the opinions of seasoned military experts, initially with complete success. Hitler also proved to be a vastly successful public speaker, but he never took elocution lessons and, when he started, even lacked the experience of handling an audience that an amateur  actor or stand-up comedian possesses.
Actually, Hitler’s apparent disadvantages proved to be more of a help than a hindrance once he had  begun to make his mark, since it gave his adversaries and rivals the erroneous impression  that he would be easy to manipulate and outwit. Hitler learned about human psychology, not by reading learned tomes written by Freud and Adler, but by eking out a precarious living in Vienna as a seller of picture postcards and sleeping in workingmen’s hostels. This was learning the hard way which, as long as you last the course (which the majority don’t), is generally the best way.
It is often said that Hitler was successful because he was ruthless. But ruthlessness is, unfortunately, not a particularly rare human trait, at any rate in the lower levels of a not very rich society. Places like Southern Italy or Colombia by all accounts have produced and continue to produce thousands or tens of thousands of exceedingly ruthless individuals, but how many ever get anywhere? At the other end of the spectrum, one could argue that it is impossible to be a successful politician without a certain degree of ruthlessness ─ though admittedly Hitler took it to virtually unheard of extremes. Even ‘good’ successful political figures such as Churchill were ruthless enough to happily envisage dragging neutral Norway into the war (before the Germans invaded), to authorise the deliberate bombing of civilian centres and even to approve in theory the use of chemical weapons. Nor did de Gaulle bother unduly about the bloody repercussions for the rural population that the activities of partisans would inevitably bring  about. Arguably, if people like Churchill and de Gaulle had not had a substantial dose of ‘ruthlessness’ (aka ‘commitment’), we would have lost the war long before the Americans ever got involved  ─ which is not, of course, to put such persons on a level with Hitler and Stalin.
To return to Hitler. Prior to the outbreak of WWI, Hitler, though by all accounts  already quite as ruthless and opinionated as he subsequently proved himself to be on a larger arena, was a complete failure. He had a certain, rather conventional, talent for pencil drawing and some vague architectural notions but that is about it. Whether Hitler would or could have made a successful architect, we shall never know since he was refused entry twice by the Viennese School of Architecture. He certainly retained a deep interest in the subject and did succeed in spotting and subsequently promoting an architect of talent, Speer. But there is no reason to think we would have heard of Hitler if he had been accepted as an architectural student and subsequently articled to a Viennese firm of Surveyors and Architects.
As for public speaking, Hitler didn’t do any in his Vienna pre-war days, only discovering his flair in Munich in the early twenties. And although Hitler enlisted voluntarily for service at the outbreak of  WWI, he was for many years actually a draft-dodger wanted for national service by Austria, his country of birth. Hardly a promising start for a future grand military strategist.

Hitler’s Decisive Moment : the Beer Hall Putsch

 Hitler did, according to the few accounts we have by people who knew him at the time, have boyhood dreams of one day becoming a ‘famous artist’ — but what adolescent has not? Certainly, Hitler did not, in  his youth and early manhood, see himself as a future famous political or military figure, far from it. Even when Hitler started his fiery speeches about Germany’s revival and the need for strong government, he did not at first cast himself in the role of ‘Leader’. On the contrary, it would seem that awareness of his own mission as saviour of the German nation came to him gradually and spasmodically. Indeed, one could argue that it was only after the abortive Munich Beer-Hall putsch that Hitler decisively took on this role : it was in a sense thrust on him.
The total failure of this rather amateurish plot to take over the government of Bavaria by holding a gun to the governor’s face and suchlike antics turned out to be the turning-point of his thinking, and of his life. In Quattrocento Italy it was possible to seize power in such a way ─ though only the Medici with big finance behind them really succeeded on a grand scale  ─ and similar coups have succeeded in modern Latin American countries. But in an advanced industrial country like Germany where everyone had the vote, such methods were clearly anachronistic. Even if Hitler and his supporters had temporarily got control of Munich, they would easily have been put down by central authority : they would have been seven day wonders and no more. It was this fiasco that decided Hitler to obtain power via the despised ballot box rather than the more glamorous but outmoded methods of an Italian condottieri.
The failed Beer-hall putsch landed Hitler in court and, subsequently in prison; and most people at the time thought this would be the end of him. However, Hitler, like Napoleon before him in Egypt after the destruction of his fleet, was a strong enough character not to be brought  down by the disaster but, on the contrary, to view it as a golden opportunity. This is an example of the ‘law’ of Eventrics that “a disadvantage, once turned into an advantage, is a greater advantage than a straightforward advantage”.
What were the advantages of the situation? Three at least. Firstly, Hitler now had a regional and soon a national audience for his views and he lost no time in making the court-room a speaker’s platform with striking success. His ability as a speaker was approaching its zenith : he had the natural flair and already some years of experience. Hitler was given an incredibly  lenient sentence and was even at one point thanked by the judge for his informative replies concerning Germany’s recent history! Secondly, while in prison, Hitler had the time to write Mein Kampf which, given his lax, bohemian life-style, he would probably have never got round to doing  otherwise. And his court-room temporary celebrity meant the book was sure to sell if written and published rapidly.
Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, the various nascent extreme Right groups made little or no headway with the ‘leader’ in prison which confirmed them in the view that  Hitler was indispensable. Once out of prison, he found himself without serious competitors on the Right and his position stronger than ever.
But the most important outcome was simply the realization that the forces of the State were far too strong to be overthrown by strong-arm tactics. The eventual break with Röhm and the SA was an inevitable consequence of Hitler’s fateful decision to gain power within the system rather than by openly opposing it.

Combination of opposite abilities

 As a practitioner of Eventrics or ‘handler of events’, Hitler held two trump cards that are rarely dealt to the same individual. Firstly, even though his sense of calling seems to have come relatively late, by the early nineteen-thirties he was entirely convinced that he was a man of destiny. He is credited with the remarkable statement, very similar to one made by Cromwell, “I follow the path set by Providence with the precision and assurance of a sleepwalker”. It was this messianic side that appealed to the masses of ordinary people, and it was something that he retained right up to the end. Even when the Russian armies were at the gates of Berlin, Hitler could still inspire people who visited him in the Bunker. And Speer recounts how, even  at Germany’s lowest ebb, he overheard (without being recognized) German working people in a factory repeating like a mantra that “only Hitler can save us now”.
However, individuals who see themselves as chosen by the gods, usually fail because they do not pay sufficient attention to ordinary, mundane technicalities. Richelieu said that someone who aims at high power should not be ashamed to concern himself with trivial details  ─ an excellent remark. Napoleon has been called a ‘map-reader of genius’ and to prepare for the Battles of Ulm and Austerlitz, he instructed Berthier “to prepare a card-index showing every unit of the Austrian army, with its latest identified location, so that the Emperor could check the Austrian order of battle from day to day” (Note 1). Hitler had a similar capacity for attention to detail, supported by a remarkable memory for facts and figures — there are many records of him reeling off correct data about the range of guns and the populations of certain regions to his amazed generals.
This ‘combination of contraries’ also applies to Hitler as a statesman. Opponents and many subsequent historians could never quite decide whether Hitler, from the beginning, aimed for world domination, or whether he simply drifted along, waiting to see where events would take him. In reality, as Bullock rightly points out, these contradictions are only apparent : “Hitler was at once fanatical and cynical, unyielding in his assertion of will power and cunning in calculation” (Bullock, Hitler and the Origins on the Second World War). This highly unusual combination of two opposing tendencies is the key to Hitler’s success. As Bullock again states, “Hitler’s foreign policy… combined consistency of aim with complete opportunism in method and tactics. (…) Hitler frequently improvised, kept his options open to the last possible moment and was never sure until he got there which of several courses of action he would choose. But this does not alter the fact that his moves followed a logical (though not a predetermined) course ─ in contrast to Mussolini, an opportunist who snatched eagerly at any chance that was going, but never succeeded in combining even his successes into a coherent policy” (Bullock, p. 139).
Certainly, sureness of ultimate aim combined with flexibility in day to day management is a near infallible recipe for conspicuous success. Someone who merely drifts along may occasionally obtain a surprise victory but will be unable to build on it; someone who is completely rigid in aim and means will not  be able to adapt to, and take advantage of, what is unforeseen and unforeseeable. Clarity of goal and unshakeable conviction is the strategic part of Practical Eventrics while the capacity to respond rapidly to the unforeseen belongs to the tactical side.

Why did Hitler ultimately fail?

 Given the favourable political circumstances and Hitler’s unusual abilities, the wonder is, not that he lasted as long as he did, but that he eventually failed. On a personal level, there are two reasons for this. Firstly, Hitler’s racial theories, while they originally helped him to power, eventually proved much more of a drawback than an advantage. For one thing, since Hitler regarded ‘Slavs’ as inferior, this conviction unnecessarily alienated large populations in Eastern Europe, many of whom were originally favourable to German intervention since they had had enough of Stalin. Moreover, Hitler allowed ideological and personal prejudices to influence his choice of subordinates : rightly suspicious of the older Army generals but jealous of brilliant commanders like von Manstein and Guderian, he ended up with a General Staff of supine mediocrities.
Secondly, Hitler, though he had an excellent intuitive grasp of overall strategy, was a poor tactician. Not only did he have no actual experience of command on the battlefield but, contrary to popular belief, he was easily rattled and unable to keep a clear head in emergencies.
Jomini considered that “the art of war consists of six distinct parts:

  1. Statesmanship in relation to war
  2. Strategy, or the art of properly directing masses upon the theatre of war, either for defence or invasion.
  3. Grand Tactics.
  4. Logistics, or the art of moving armies.
  5. Engineering ─ the attack and defence of frotifications.
  6. Minor tactics.”
    Jomini, The Art of War p. 2

Hitler certainly ticks the first three boxes. But certainly not (4), Logistics. Hitler tended to override his highly efficient Chief of General Staff, Halder, whereas Napoleon always listened carefully to what Halder’s equivalent, Berthier, had to say. According to Liddell Hart, the invasion of Russia failed, despite the high quality of the commanders and fighting men, because of an error in logistics.
Hitler lost his chance of victory because the mobility of his army was based on wheels instead of on tracks. On Russia’s mud-roads its wheeled transport was bogged when the tanks could move on. If the panzer forces had been provided with tracked transport they could have reached Russia’s vital centres by the autumn in spite of the mud” (Liddel-Hart, History of the Second World War )  On such mundane details does the fate of empires and even of the world often depend.
As for (5), the attack on fortifications, it had little importance in World War II though the long-drawn out siege of Leningrad exhausted resources and troops and should probably have been abandoned. Finally, on (6), what Jomini calls ‘minor tactics’, Hitler was so poor as to be virtually incompetent. By ‘minor tactics’, we should understand everything relating to the actual movement of troops on the battlefield (or battle zone) ─ the area in which Napoleon and Alexander the Great were both supreme.  Hitler was frequently indecisive and vacillating as well as nervy, all fatal qualities for a military commander.
On two occasions, Hitler made monumental blunders that cost him the war. The first was the astonishing decision to hold back the victorious tank units just as they were about to sweep into Dunkirk and cut off the British forces. And the second was Hitler’s rejection of  Guderian’s plan for a headlong drive towards Moscow before winter set in; instead, following conventional Clausewitzian principles,  Hitler opted for a policy of encirclement and head-on battle. Given the enormous man-power of the Russians and their scorched earth policy, this was a fatal decision.
Jomini, as opposed to Clausewitz, recognized the importance of statesmanship in the conduct of a war, something that professional army officers and even commanders are prone to ignore. Whereas Lincoln often saw things that his generals could not, and on occasion successfully overrided them  because he had a sounder long-term view, Hitler, a political rather than a military man, introduced far too much statesmanship into the conduct of war.
It has been plausibly argued, especially by Liddel Hart, that the decision to halt the tank units before Dunkirk was a political rather than a military decision. Blumentritt, operational planner for General Rundstedt, said, at a later date, that “the ‘halt’ had been called for more than military reasons, it was part of a political scheme to make peace easier to reach. If the British Expeditionary Force had been captured at Dunkirk, the British might have felt that their honour had suffered a stain which they must wipe out. By letting it escape, Hitler hoped to conciliate them” (Liddel Hart, History of the Second World War I p. 89-90). This did make some kind of sense : a rapid peace settlement with Britain would have wound up the Western campaign and freed Hitler’s hands to advance eastwards which had seemingly always been his intention. However, if this interpretation is correct, Hitler made a serious miscalculation, underestimating Britain’s fighting spirit and inventiveness.

Hitler’s abilities and disabilities

 It would take us too far afield from the field of Eventrics proper to go into the details of Hitler’s political, economic and military policies. My overall feeling is that Hitler was a master in the political domain, time and again outwitting his internal and external rivals and enemies, and that he had an extremely good perception of Germany’s economic situation and what needed to be done about it. But he was an erratic and often incapable military commander ─ for we should not forget that, following the resignation of von Brauchitsh, Hitler personally supervised the entire conduct of the war in the East (and everywhere else eventually). This is something like the reverse of the conventional assessment of Hitler so is perhaps worth explaining.
Hitler is credited with the invention of Blitzkrieg, a new way of waging war and, in particular, with one of the most successful campaigns in military history, the invasion of France, when the tank units moved in through the Ardennes, thought to be impassible. The original idea was in reality not Hitler’s but von Manstein’s (who got little credit for it) though Hitler did have the perspicacity to see the merits of this risky and unorthodox plan of attack which the German High Command unanimously rejected. It is also true that Hitler took a special interest in the tank and does seem to have some good ideas regarding tank design.
However, Hitler never seems to have rid himself completely of the conventional Clausewitzian idea that wars are won by large-scale confrontations of armed men, i.e. by modern ‘pitched battles’. Practically all (if not all) the German successes depended on surprise, rapidity of execution and artful manoeuvre ─ that is, by precisely the avoidance of direct confrontation. Thus the invasion of France, the early stages of the invasion of Russia, Rommel in North Africa and so on. When the Germans fought it out on a level playing field, they either lost as at Al Alamein or achieved ‘victories’ that were so costly as to be more damaging than defeats as in the latter part of the Russian campaign.  Hitler was in fact only a halfway-modernist in military strategy. “The school of Fuller and Basil Liddel Hart [likewise Guderian and Rommel] moved away from using manoeuvre to bring the enemy’s army to battle and destroy it. Instead, it [the tank] should be used in such a way as to numb the enemy’s command, control, and communications and bring about victory through disintegration rather than destruction” (Messenger, Introduction to Jomini’s Art of War).
As to the principle of Bitzkrieg (Lightning War) itself, though it doubtless appealed to Hitler’s imagination, it was in point of fact forced on him by economic necessity : Germany just did not have the resources to sustain a long war. It was make or break. And much the same went for Japan.
Hitler’s duplicity and accurate reading of his opponents’ minds in the realm of politics needs no comment. But what is less readily recognized is how well he understood the general economic situation. Hitler had doubtless never read Keynes ─ though his highly capable Economics Minister, Schacht, doubtless had. But with his talent for simplification, Hitler realized early on that Germany laboured under two crippling economic disadvantages : she did not produce enough food for her growing population and, as an industrial power, lacked indispensable natural resources especially oil and quality iron-ore. So where to obtain  these and a lot more essential  items? By moving eastwards, absorbing the cereal-producing areas of the Ukraine and getting hold of the oilfields of the Caucasus. This was the policy exposed to the German High Command in the so-called ‘Hossbach Memorandum’ to justify the invasion of Russia to an unenthusiastic general staff.
The policy of finding Lebensraum in the East was based on a ruthless but shrewd and essentially correct analysis of the economic situation in Europe at the time. But precisely because Germany would need even more resources in a wartime situation, victory had to be rapid, very rapid. The gamble nearly succeeded : as a taster, Hitler’s armies  overwhelmed Greece and Yugoslavia in a mere six weeks and at first looked set to do much the same in Russia in three months. Perhaps if Hitler had followed Guderian’s plan of an immediate all-out tank attack on Moscow, instead of getting bogged down in Southern Russia and failing to take Stalingrad, the gamble would actually have paid off though fortunately for the Russians it did not.

Hitler: Summary from the point of view of Eventrics

The main points to recall from this study of Hitler as a ‘handler of events’ are the following:

  1. The methods chosen must fit the circumstances, (witness Hitler’s switch to a strategy based on the ballot box rather than the revolver after the Beer-Hall putsch).
  2. An apparent defeat can be turned into an opportunity, a disadvantage into an advantage (e.g. Hitler’s trial after the Beer-hall putsch)
  3. Combining inflexibility of ultimate aim with extreme flexibility on a day-to-day basis is a near invincible combination (Hitler’s conduct of foreign affairs during the Thirties);
  4. It is disastrous to allow ideological and personal prejudices to interfere with the conduct of a military campaign, and worse still to become obsessed with a specific objective (e.g. Hitler’s racial views, his obsession with taking Stalingrad).


Panspermia and the Black Death

Where and how did life begin?

Can/could there be a universe without life? Life without a universe? Contemporary science says yes to the first question and no to the second, whereas most religions tend towards the opposite point of view; indeed disagreement on the subject is perhaps the main bone of contention between the two camps. Given that there is such a thing as life, and that we know how to recognize it when and where it exists (no easy task), where did it start? For Galileo and Newton, there was only one place where it could possibly start, the Earth. And, as to how and why it began in the first place, few if any of the ‘classical’ physicists troubled themselves about the question since they were all believers, if not in Christ at least in God. The paradigm of a unique universe created once and for all by an omnipotent intelligence, and henceforth forced to obey rules laid down by this intelligence, served physics and mechanics well for several centuries. But it was not clear how ‘life’, especially human life,  could be fitted into this schema which is probably the reason why Newton, having sorted out the physical side of things, tried his hand at alchemy. One can (perhaps) reduce biology, the life science, to chemistry but not to mechanics and in Newton’s day chemistry scarcely existed.

Darwin was extremely reticent on the subject of the origins of life though he did famously speak of “a warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts present”, a place where “a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes”. This shows that Darwin was at least firmly committed to the idea that life developed ‘spontaneously’ without the need for supernatural intervention or planning. Eventually, in the nineteen-fifties, Miller caused a sensation by simulating in  a test-tube the Earth’s supposed early environment (water, ammonia, methane and carbon dioxide) and bombarding it with ultra-violet radiation. The result was the spontaneous formation of certain compounds, including amino-acids, the building blocks of proteins. However, it would seem that Miller and Urey got the composition of the early Earth’s environment wrong and there are other reasons why the Miller/Urey experiment is no longer considered to be a good indication of how life on Earth started. Since the discovery in the nineteen-seventies of sulphur consuming microbes in deep ocean hydro-thermal vents, and the copious eco-systems to which they give rise, the theory that life began under the surface of the Earth, rather than on it, has become more and more popular. Such bacteria do not require sunlight to produce energy, i.e. do not photosynthesize, and, because of their location, they would have been at least partially protected against the intense bombardment of the Earth’s surface by meteorites which was so characteristic of the early  years of the Earth’s history.

Life from elsewhere

There is, however, another way to explain the sudden appearance of primitive life on Earth about 3.85 billion years ago : it came from somewhere else in the universe. The idea that there might well be life outside the Earth goes back as far as the IVth century B.C. and demonstrates how astonishingly ‘modern’ many of the Greek thinkers were in their outlook. Although better known for his contention that the goal of human life is, and should be, pleasure, Epicurus also wrote extensively on physical matters. Unfortunately these works have been lost and are only known via his Roman follower, Lucretius, author of the long poem De Rerum Naturae. The latter writes

“If atom stocks are inexhaustible Greater than the power of living things to count, If Nature’s same creative power were present too To throw the atoms into unions — exactly as united now Why then confess you must That other worlds exist in other regions of the sky And different tribes of men, and different kinds of beasts.”

Note that this is a reasoned argument based on the premises that (1) there exists an abundant supply  of the building-blocks of life (atoms), (2) these building-blocks combine together in much the same way everywhere, and (3) Nature’s ‘creative power’ (‘energy’) is limitless. Therefore, there must exist other habitable worlds containing beings made of the same material as us but different from us. This is almost word for word the argument put forward by contemporary physicists that we are not alone in the universe. Lucretius does not go so far as to suggest that there could be, or ever had been, any interaction between these different ‘worlds’. However, the Gnostics (‘Knowers’, ‘Those who Know’), a half-pagan, half-Christian sect that flourished during the declining Roman Empire, taught that human kind did not originate here but came from what we would call ‘outer space’  —  indeed this is precisely what they knew and what ordinary  persons didn’t (Note 1). 


The belief that life did not begin here but was brought from elsewhere in the cosmos seems to have disappeared after the triumph of orthodox Christianity but eventually re-surfaced at the end of the nineteenth century in a place where one would not normally expect to find it, namely physical science. The 19th century German physicist von Helmholtz, a hard-nosed physicist if ever there was one, wrote in 1874: “…it appears to me a fully correct scientific procedure to raise the question whether life is not as old as matter itself and whether seeds have not been carried from one planet to another and have developed everywhere that they have found fertile soil.” (Note 2)               Lord Kelvin agreed, arguing that collisions could easily transport material around the solar system and thus ‘infect’ other planets with life, as he put it. And the Swedish chemist,  Svante Arrhenius, energetically took up the idea which he dubbed ‘Panspermia’ (‘seeds everywhere’). Nearer our own time, Francis Crick of DNA fame argues in his book Life Itself, Its Origin and Nature that “microorganisms ….. travelled at the head of an [unmanned] spaceship sent to Earth by a higher civilization which had developed elsewhere billions of years ago.”

 Life as a Cosmic Phenomenon   

But the theory that life came from outer space is above all associated with the work of Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe who have expounded it in great detail in a series of books and scientific papers. They summarize their position thus : “The essential biochemical requirements of life exist in very large quantities within the dense interstellar clouds of gas. This material [eventually] becomes deposited within the solar system, first in comet-type bodies, and then in the collisions of such bodies with the Earth. (…) The picture is of a vast quantity of the right kind of molecules looking for suitable homes, and of there being very many suitable homes [i.e. planets].” (Note 3)

As the two authors never tire of pointing out, ‘Panspermia’ is not just another scientific theory : it constitutes a paradigm shift only to be compared with the shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric viewpoint instigated by Copernicus. Just as humanity previously — and mistakenly — considered itself to be situated at the centre of the universe and the favoured creation of the Almighty, so biologists and astronomers today mistakenly tend to take it for granted that the Earth has been particularly favoured to be the unique seat of intelligent life. In its full development, as propounded in Hoyle’s The Intelligent Universe (the title says all), the theory of ‘panspermia’ really means what it says  : ‘seeds of life evrywhere’.  Hoyle and Wickramasinghe argue that life is so improbable an eventuality, requiring so much fine-tuning of physical constants, that it has either always existed (Hoyle’s preferred option) or has only come about once. A complicated circulation system, involving interstellar dust, comets and meteorites, is responsible for randomly disseminating the seeds of life throughout the universe in the expectation that at least one or two of them will fall on fertile ground somewhere sometime. As one might expect, the Hoyle/Wickramasinghe theory was, and is, highly controversial. In the past they would have run foul of the Inquisition — Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for propounding something vaguely similar —  but, this being the 20th century, their main opponents have come from within the scientific establishment. The two scientists, despite their impressive credentials, were met with what Hoyle describes  euphemistically as “a wall of silence”. It is even said that Hoyle’s outspoken advocacy of ‘panspermia’ is the main reason he was not granted the Nobel Prize for his seminal work on the carbon cycle in stars.

Evidence in favour of the Hoyle/Wickramasinghe Theory

 We require a new scientific theory to, (1) explain known data in a more elegant and satisfactory way than current theories and (2) make predictions which can be tested experimentally. Now the Hoyle/Wickramasinghe theory certainly does explain something that contemporary astro-physics struggles to make any sense of, namely the surprisingly early appearance of bacterial life on the Earth. The Earth is currently considered to have formed some 4.6 billion years ago but for most, if not all, of the first seven or eight million years it must have been a boiling inferno uninhabitable even for heat-loving microbes. However, the high level of carbon-12 in certain rocks that date back 3.85 billion years, suggests that microbial life already existed at that early date. We are not here talking about organic molecules but about unicellular organisms which, though ‘primitive’ compared to plants and mammals, possess DNA (or RNA). It is scarcely credible that the transition from a few diffuse chemicals to such a highly organized entity as a prokaryotic cell came about in  such a short time in evolutionary terms, especially since the subsequent transition from bacterial to multicellular life took around 3 billion years! But for Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, this is not a problem : primitive life arrived here ready-made, a seed quite literally falling from the sky either naked or enclosed in the remnants of a comet that, like Icarus, had ventured too near the Sun and had spilled its contents into the atmosphere (Note 4). So, is there any evidence that a microbial spore could exist in interstellar space and be wafted to Earth riding on a gas cloud or enclosed in the kernel of a wandering comet? In the seventies, when Hoyle and Wickramasinghe first advanced the general idea, it sounded more like science fiction than science — Hoyle was after all the author of a successful SF novel The Black Cloud. But since then the critics have had to eat their words — though in point of fact scientists never seem to actually bring themselves to do such a terrible thing — since it is now common knowledge that interstellar dust is full of molecules, many of them organic, and that comets contain most, and probably all, of the basic ingredients for life. “Analysis of the dust grains streaming from the head [of Halley’s comet] revealed that as much as one third was organic material. Common substances such as benzene, methanol, and acetic acid were detected, as well as some of the building blocks of nucleic acids. If Halley is anything to go by, then comets could easily have supplied Earth with enough carbon to make the entire biosphere.”      Davies, The Origin of Life, p. 136

It is also generally admitted now that there is a considerable exchange of (not necessarily organic) material throughout the galaxy : the very latest issue of Science (15 August 2014) contains an article “Evidence for interstellar origin of seven dust particles collected by the Stardust space craft”. So far, so good. But all this, of course,  stops well short of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe’s claim that actual bacterial spores and/or viruses can and do make the perilous journey from a cloud of interstellar dust to a comet in the Oort Cloud and then on to the interior of the solar system and us. A number of claims for the presence of fossilized organic material in meteorites have nonetheless  been made, for example by Claus and Nagy in the 1960s and, more recently, by two researchers from the University of Naples D’Argenio and Geraci who concluded that their results  constituted “clear evidence for the existence of extra-terrestrial life”. Those who wish to pursue the topic further are referred to a recent article by Chandra Wickramasinghe on DNA Sequencing and Predictions of the Cosmic theory of Life (and the extensive bibliography at the end). This is available free of charge at

Can bacteria and viruses reach the surface of the Earth? 

The suggestion that diseases can come from space follows on from Hoyle and Wickramasinghe’s belief that life came from space in the first place. For the cosmic bombardment continues unabated though, thankfully, on a lesser scale than during the first billion or so years of the Earth’s history. Suppose for the moment that a certain amount of interstellar ‘dust’, some of it organic, finds its way into a comet inhabiting the so-called Oort Cloud situated beyond the orbit of Pluto. Incredibly, there are an estimated billion or more such comets on highly eccentric orbits and a few enter the inner reaches of the solar system each year.  Near the Sun much of the comet melts, ejecting millions of tons of incandescent debris into space and the Earth, like the other planets, cannot avoid ploughing through this cosmic muck. So much is fact. But can any organic material make it to ground level without being burned up or crushed ? If the answer is no, there is no point in discussing the diseases from space theory. However, it seems that bacteria and viruses, especially if protected by some sort of coating, can enter the Earth’s atmosphere without burning up if they come in at an oblique angle. H & W have calculated that “to fit the heating requirement, according to our criteria bacteria are about as big as they can possibly be”. If a bacterium exceeds 1 micron in length it must, according to H & W, be rod-shaped, i.e. what we term a ‘bacillus’. (Yersinia pestis is rod-shaped incidentally). Small particles will be wafted this way and that by air currents or descend inside raindrops or snowflakes. Have any micro-organisms of suspected cometary origin been identified? This is difficult to establish since there is always the possibility of terrestrial contamination but high resistance to ultra-violet radiation would suggest an extra-terrestrial origin. Again various claims have been made, for example by Wainwright, Shivaji et al. and  one new bacterial species culled from the stratosphere has even been named Janibacter hoylei.sp.nov. !

Tell-tale signs of cosmic origin

What characteristics of epidemics/pandemics does official epidemiology have difficulty in explaining? Or, to put things the other way round, supposing for a moment that pathogens can and do arrive from outer space, what special features would we expect to find in the consequent epidemics ?  Basically, the following : 1. We would expect an epidemic/pandemic with an extra-terrestrial origin to be unusually severe because the immune systems of potential hosts would be taken unawares; 2. We would expect very rapid spread since the pathogens would not originally be dependent on human or animal vectors (would rain down on people from the air); 3. We would expect a very wide but somewhat patchy distribution since the pathogens would be taken here and there by air currents; 4. We would expect the attack to be ‘one-off” since only after several outbreaks would a new disease be able to establish itself with a permanent terrestrial focus − to begin with it would most likely be too lethal and kill off potential hosts.

So, are there any epidemics or pandemics that fit the bill? Yes, I can think of several candidates at once, the Vth century Plague of Athens (1, 2 and 4); the Plague of Justinian  (1, 2, 3 and 4); the ‘Sweats’ of the Reformation period (1, 2 and 4); and the 1917-18 outbreak of Spanish Flu (1, 2, 3 and 4). Unfortunately, almost all outbreaks of disease prior to the 19th century are poorly documented so this only leaves the 1917-18 Spanish Flu Pandemic on which H & W concentrate in their book (along with the Common Cold). Since the Spanish Flu killed rather more people than WWI worldwide − estimates vary from 26 million to 50 million deaths − there is no doubt about (1), the severity. Also, because the influenza virus is constantly mutating, it generally manages to keep ahead of the human immune system : each wave of infection is thus essentially new even if given the same general name. So Spanish Flu passes on 4, and also qualifies on 2 and 3.  .         However,  Spanish flu had the benefits of (from its point of view) modern transportation systems and is known to have been passed on by person to person contact (especially by sneezing). However, “The lethal second wave [of Spanish Flu] involved almost the entire world over a very short space of time…. Its epidemiological behaviour was most unusual. Although person-to-person spread occurred in local areas, the disease appeared on the same day in widely separated parts of the world on the one hand, but took days to weeks to spread over relatively short distances. It was detected in Boston and Bombay on the same day, but took three weeks to reach New York City, despite the fact there was considerable travel between the two cities….”       Who wrote the above − Hoyle and Wickramasinghe? In fact, not. The author is a certain Dr. Louis Weinstein cited by H & W and presumably a contemporaryof the pandemic. Likewise, H & W cite Professor Magrassi commenting on the 1948 influenza epidemic  “We were able to verify….the appearance of influenza in shepherds who were living for a long time alone, in solitary open country far from any inhabited centre; this occurred absolutely contemporaneously with the appearance of influenza in the nearest inhabited centre”.       It is on the basis of this kind of evidence, along with detailed maps showing the spread and distribution, that H & W make their case for extra-terrestrial origin. But everything they say about the Spanish Flu pandemic a fortiori applies to the best candidate of the lot, at least on counts (1, 2 and 3),  namely the Black Death itself.

Did the Black Death  come from Space?

H & W only devote five pages of their well-documented book to the Black Death and the treatment is sketchy indeed. When H & W were writing (late nineteen-seventies) the official view was that the Black Death was undoubtedly bubonic plague and that it was spread about by rats : even so learned an author as Shrewsbury does not for a moment question the received wisdom though he does state that the quantity of rats required to get such a pandemic going would be enormous. H & W also assume that the Plague of Justinian and the Black Death were caused by the same pathogen, an assumption Dr Twigg and others have questioned. H & W do, however make one or two valid points. They rightly ridicule the idea of an army of rats advancing like killer ants across most of Europe infecting all and sundry as they march. But, still keeping within the rat/bubonic plague schema, they point out that, if the pestilence was spread about by ship, at least to begin with, we would expect it to systematically spread inland from seaports, something they claim is not the case if we examine the evidence. For example, they cite the testimony of Carbonell, archivist to the Court of Aragon, who reports that the Black Death “began in Aragon, not at the Mediterranean coast or at the eastern frontier, but in the western inland city of Ternel.”        However, we have to distinguish between evidence that the Black Death was propagated by air (which I certainly believe) from the belief that it came from outer space in the first place. H & W emphasize the very extensive but strangely patchy distribution of Black Death mortality: while it attained remote hamlets and monasteries it spared Milan and Nuremburg almost completely. But again this is evidence for airborne dissemination rather than proof of extra-terrestrial origin. Dr Twigg has also pointed out to me that  a vast quantity of bacteria would be required to start the pandemic going in the manner H & W suggest. The Japanese experimented with bubonic plague as a biological weapon and dropped 36 kilos of bubonic plague infested fleas. Seemingly only 7,000 humans died, a statistic that was acquired fifty years later and so was more likely to have been amplified than reduced. Serious though this must have been for the unwilling recipients of this Japanese manna from heaven, this is not a fantastic death toll. And one would expect dropping infected fleas to be a more efficient method of spreading the disease than simply having bacteria drifting down spasmodically.

Conclusion that there is no conclusion

So where does that leave us? As far as I am concerned, I would say that Hoyle and Wickramasinghe have made  a fair case for the Black Death coming from outer space given the extreme severity, rapid spread and extended but patchy distribution of the pandemic, the worst in human history. As to (4), whether the Black Death was a ‘one-off’ outbreak that failed to establish itself or not, this depends on whether one considers that subsequent outbreaks during succeeding centuries were, or were not, the same disease. The jury is not out on this topic and both sides have made valid points. But there is no doubt that ‘plague’, whatever it was, suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from Europe in the early eighteenth century never to return apart from a few spasmodic 20th century cases. But I am not sure that a supposed extra-terrestrial origin has any particular bearing on this circumstance.
More specifically, I do not feel that H & W have said anything to shake my personal conviction that the Black Death was not bubonic plague. If the Black Death was plague and came from space, this suggests that the pandemic started off as the pneumonic variety since human beings would absorb it directly from the air, or from fresh water. It would subsequently pass from human beings to rats and the bubonic variety would dominate and the ‘normal’ scenario develop from then on. Now, an initial outbreak of bubonic plague amongst rodents can spread to humans and become a predominantly pneumonic outbreak, since this is what happened in Manchuria in 1910, but I do not know of any cases of an initial pneumonic epidemic giving rise to bubonic plague. Moreover, supposing for the moment the Black Death was plague, it is not possible that the outbreak was exclusively pneumonic since buboes do not have time to form and we have plenty of contemporary medieval descriptions of buboes, whatever it was that caused them. H & W’s suggestion that plague came from above does not help us to understand the spread of the 14th century pandemic, rather the reverse. It may well be that the cause of the Black Death, whatever it was, did come from space but this does not advance us in understanding what the disease was and how it propagated. Although H & W’s books have made me a likely convert to the general theory of panspermia, I do not feel they have brought us any closer to understanding the Black Death which remains as much of an enigma as ever.            SH 12/10/14

Note 1  According to the Gnostics, the universe was not deliberately created by an omnipotent God but was the result of a cosmic accident with tragic consequences, i.e. was the result of Chance rather than Necessity. They identify God with ‘the Light’ and, in one version, relate how Sophia, the ancestress of humanity, ‘fell’ from a domain of light into a dark, cold and empty universe. Some ‘seeds of light’ end up on the Earth which is ringed by hostile powers (archons) who prevent those who have become aware of their true nature from returning to their place of birth. This schema is really quite close to what we, and especially H & W, currently believe to be the case. It would seem that all the heavier elements including carbon and oxygen were created by nuclear fusion in the heart of stars and were subsequently disseminated throughout the universe in a supernova explosion. Any material ejected would certainly have found itself in a cold, dark and hostile world. Also, since our bodies are made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, we are indeed “stardust”. And if Hoyle and Wickramasinghe are right and the first organisms formed in space, we are aliens or the progeny of aliens since the Earth is not humanity’s place of birth.

Note 2 Quoted by Paul Davies in The Origin of Life (p. 125)

Note 3 From Hoyle & Wickramasinghe, Life Cloud (1978). The original schema given in this book and Diseases from Space (1979) goes something like this :

(1) The cycle starts with outflows of gaseous material from the surfaces of stars;
(2) High-density clouds give rise to ‘dust’, “solid particles with dimensions comparable to the wavelength of visible light”(H & W)
(3) Under compression, organic molecules present in the gas clouds “condense in solid form onto the dust grains” (H & W);
(4) In particular formaldehyde (H2CO), which is “one of the commonest organic molecules actually found by actual observation in interstellar space” condenses onto grains and a process of polymerization is induced by cosmic rays;
(5) Sugars and polysaccharides form — and “it has been shown by C. Ponnamperuma that this can happen when formaldehyde is exposed to ultra-violet radiation”;
(6) All of the basic building blocks of life are formed in a similar way and are transported randomly around the galaxy by comets;
(7) Primitive living organisms evolve inside some comets;
(8) One or two comets are drawn within the inner solar system and, on partially melting, deposit clouds of living material some of which falls onto the Earth.

Wickramasinghe has  subsequently extended this model to one where “the genetic products of evolution on a planet like the Earth were mixed on a galactic scale with products of local evolution on other planets elsewhere” (from the paper on DNA sequencing mentioned earlier).

Note 4   At first sight it might seem that Hoyle and Wickramasinghe have not answered the problem of the origins of life but have simply shelved it by situating it somewhere else. Their reply would be that, firstly, rather more suitable environments for the development of life than the early Earth have certainly existed, and, secondly, given the vast number of galaxies and the age of the universe (between 14 and 15 billion years) even such an improbable event as the emergence of microbial life might conceivably have occurred (and apparently did). The point is that, given the cosmic circulation system they propose, life need only occur once somewhere for it to eventually reach practically everywhere (though it would of course not catch on equally well everywhere). And this is assuming the Big Bang scenario. If we assume Hoyle’s modified Steady State model, life has always existed and always will.  



Napoleon Buonaparte : Case Study in Eventrics

“There is a tide in the affairs of men                Which taken in the flood, leads on to fortune”

                                         Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

 Eventrics, a term I have coined, is the theory of events and their interactions. Up to now, I have almost entirely given my attention to the ‘micro’ end of Eventrics, that is to Ultimate Event Theory, an ‘ultimate event’ being the smallest possible event, roughly the equivalent of an atom or elementary particle. But it is now time to turn to ‘macro-Eventrics’ and, in particular, human power politics. Any principles that underlie massive human-directed complexes of events have, on the face of it, little or nothing to do with the sort of things I have been discussing up to now [on the website] ─ but that is just as true of matter-based physics when we shift from the world of the electron to the world of matter in bulk. As a disbeliever in continuity, I ought to be prepared for such a difference, but I would never have expected it to be so large. It is notoriously difficult to say exactly what this extra ingredient is, which is why reductionist theories have, in the last two hundred years or so, decisively gained the upper hand over ‘vitalist’ or ‘system’ theories. For the moment, the question of how and at what exact scale groups of causally bonded ultimate events start behaving in a qualitatively different manner from their individual components will be laid aside. Chief features of ‘power’ event-chains  In the last post I mentioned a few features of power politics viewed from the standpoint of Eventrics and, in particular, enunciated the basic doctrine that “it is events, not human beings that drive history”. I stressed the importance of a so-called ‘tipping point’ or ‘moment of opportunity’ in the fortunes of famous individuals. Persons become powerful, so I argued, not because they have outstanding intelligence, looks or charm ─ though clearly such things are assets ─ but because they (1) “fit the situation they find themselves in” and (2) because they seize with both hands the passing opportunity that presents itself (if it presents itself). I also advanced the notion that the recommended way to seize power and hold it is based on two, and essentially only two items, which are summed up in the codeword used by the US for the invasion of Panama : “Shock and Awe”. Descending the stairs immediately after putting this post on the Internet, my eye was drawn to a battered second-hand book on Napoleon (Napoleon by Paul Johnson) that I remembered only vaguely (Note 1). I opened it and came across the following passage that I had marked in red in the margin : “Victor Hugo, a child of one of Bonaparte’s generals, was later to write: Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. It is equally true to say : No one is more fortunate than a man whose time has come. Bonaparte was thus favoured by fortune and the timing of the parabola, and he compounded his luck by the alacrity and decision with which he snatched at opportunities as they arose”. Paul Johnson, Napoleon   Exactement, c’est ça. Certainly, the author would seem to be wholly in agreement with the ‘First and Second Principles of Eventrics’. I then wondered how some of the other general principles I tentatively outlined applied to Napoleon. Did he have his ‘moment of opportunity’? Did he apply “Shock and Awe” as his principal methods? In fact, yes, on both counts but first let us enquire a little more into the thesis that it is not the man who commands events but rather the events that offer the opportunity to the man. This is not quite the same thing as saying a successful person is ‘lucky’, though as a matter of fact a surprising number of very successful people do say this, and not out of modesty. Three Dictators If we exclude Russia as being somewhat out on its own, and thus Stalin, the three most powerful non-elected individuals in Western history are Cromwell, Napoleon and Hitler. It is worthwhile examining their backgrounds carefully. None came from a rich, well-educated, aristocratic background ─ but none of them came from a working-class background either (Note 1). Oliver Cromwell, though distantly related to Henry VIII’s all-powerful minister Thomas Cromwell, came from the ‘lower gentry’ and even for a while apparently worked his own land. He did attend Oxford for one year but made no sort of mark there. More to the point, he had absolutely no formal military training, perhaps a blessing in disguise since it forced him to improvise and innovate. As for Hitler, he was the son of an Austrian Customs Official and had at least enough education to be able to present samples of his work to the Viennese School of Architecture (which twice refused him). Bonaparte’s family were small-time impoverished Corsican gentry turned lawyers “just rich enough to own their own house and garden and employ servants” as Johnson puts it. Coming from the lower gentry or the ‘upwardly mobile’ lower middle class can actually be an advantage if you have your eye on the heights : such persons have enough of a leg up to obtain one or two useful contacts and a minimum of education and professional training  — but not enough to spare them the titanic effort needed if they want to seriously improve their condition.

The Young Napoleon  

Napoleon JPEGOf the three ‘dictators’ Napoleon was without a doubt the most talented in the ‘normal’ sense of the word. He had outstanding powers of concentration and application and a memory for “facts and locations” that never ceased to astonish people; he was a better mathematician than any Western ruler I can think of and such a good map-reader that he would be considered a ‘genius’ if we treated cartography on a level with, say, astronomy . At school he was not quite a prodigy ─ real prodigies rarely achieve anything in later life ─ but he was not far short of being one. Whereas the military training at the Ecole Militaire, Paris, usually took two or three years, Napoleon passed all his exams in a single year and qualified as a 2nd Lieutenant at the ripe age of 16. His examiner in mathematics was the world-famous mathematician and astronomer, Laplace.
So, what would Buonaparte have been in another time and place? There have been extremely few eras in history when talent alone could win out over entrenched interests and tradition. All three of our ‘dictators’ came to power in extremely uncertain times, Cromwell during the English Civil War, Hitler during the chaotic post-war German Weimar Republic and Napoleon himself emerged from obscurity after the most famous revolution of all time. Even so, Napoleon, a ‘provincial’ with a Corsican accent and an obscure titre de noblesse that his fellow students didn’t take seriously, and with no family money behind him, nearly missed the boat since most of the best places were already filled by the time he hit Paris. Under the Directory, most important appointments were controlled by a self-serving clique that ruled France from the centre of Paris, and the ambitious young Buonaparte had little direct access to this circle. At one point he thought of offering his services to the Sultan or emigrating to India where he might well have been a rather less successful Clive ─ less successful only because France did not bother so much about India as England did.
My conclusion is that, in another time and place, Buonaparte would certainly have been someone, but equally certainly he would not have been Napoleon.

A Strange Combination of Circumstances” 
As countless historians have pointed out, had Napoleon been born a decade or so earlier when his native Corsica was owned by Genoa, he would not have been a French citizen at all and so would not have qualified to become a boursier (paid student) first at Brienne and later at the Ecole Militaire in Paris. The teaching seems to have been pretty good and by a second stroke of luck, the young officer shortly after receiving his commission, was assigned to an artillery regiment commanded by Baron Duteil, “perhaps the most distinguished gunner in the French army” (Marshall-Cornwall, Napoleon as Military Commander). The Baron was extremely impressed by the cadet officer, who had not yet been under fire, and helped him as much as he could. And the scarcely credible slackness of a young officer’s life under the ancien régime (when there wasn’t actually a war on) meant that the young Napoleon had plenty of time to supplement his formal education with intensive personal study, not just military theory but also politics and ancient history (Note 2).
After the revolution, virtually all the top officers went over to the royalist side so the fledgling republic needed all the trained soldiers it could find and was ready to promote them accordingly. Nonetheless, Napoleon very nearly squandered the chance of a lifetime because he got embroiled in the struggle for Corsican Independence, changing sides more than once, until he finally opted for Revolutionary France. But then, while inspecting the coastal defences of the South of France he had three amazing strokes of luck. (1) The General in charge of the forces near Toulon, Carteaux, was incompetent and soon to be relieved of his functions (2) Carteaux’s artillery commander, Dugommier was badly wounded and (3) Napoleon ‘happened’ to come across a certain Saliceti, an old Corsican friend of the family, now a leading politician in the Paris Convention. Saliceti arranged for the promising but still relatively inexperienced officer, scarcely out of his teens, to be put in charge of the artillery for the relief of Toulon. As Marshall-Cornwall says, “It was a strange combination of circumstances”.

First Moment of Opportunity : Awe
Toulon was the first and most important ‘tipping point’ in Napoleon’s career and though it was ‘Fortune’ that gave him the golden opportunity, it was Napoleon who seized it firmly with both hands and never let it go. The siege of Toulon, more correctly the attack on the forts and batteries surrounding Toulon, was an impeccably executed manoeuvre conducted largely according to plans drawn up by Napoleon himself and enthusiastically endorsed by the new commander, du Teil, the brother of Napoleon’s artillery mentor (another amazing stroke of luck). Napoleon himself took part in the final assault on the key position, Fort Mulgrave, and was wounded by a bayonet. His commander du Teil sent a glowing report to the War Minister Words fail me to describe Buonaparte’s merits. He has great knowledge and as much intelligence and courage, and that is only a faint outline of the qualities of this rare officer”.
        Toulon was, militarily speaking, an awesome performance and at the age of 24 the young artillery officer found himself promoted to général de brigade ( Brigadier) skipping all the intermediary ranks including Colonel. This could surely never have happened in any national army in the world except perhaps during the American War of Independence. Shortly before the successful conclusion of the siege, Napoleon was brought to the notice of a ‘political commissar’ ─ one feels oneself already in the 20th century ─ sent by the Paris Convention to scout around for promising talent, but doubtless also to check on people’s political correctness. The person in question was a Royalist officer turned Republican, Paul Barras. This remarkable man was to play a key role in Napoleon’s life since he later downloaded onto him an attractive but aging mistress with bad teeth, Josephine de Beauharnais, and, more important still, provided Napoleon with his first chance to show his political mettle. It is well to remember that it was Barras that spotted Napoleon and not the reverse, and that Napoleon came to his notice not through social contacts but by his actions. Although Barras was an opportunist who wanted to use Napoleon for his own purposes, the other senior figures, the two du Teils and Napoleon’s new superior General Dugommier, all war-hardened veterans, seem to have been literally spell-bound by the young officer, somewhat as Beauregard was spell-bound by Jeanne d’Arc.

Second Moment of Opportunity : Shock
I mentioned in the last post that the recipe for power is Shock & Awe (not necessarily in that order). Occasionally, figures achieve eminence without the first element but they are almost always religious or artistic figures, not political or military ones. Machiavelli is quite adamant about the importance of Shock and advises the would-be usurper to get this part over with as quickly and decisively as possible : “If you take control of a state, you should make a list of all the crimes you have to commit and do them all at once. He who acts otherwise, either out of squeamishness or out of bad judgment, has to hold a bloody knife in his hand all the time. (…) Do all the harm you must at one and the same time, that way the full extent of it will be noticed, and it will give least offence” (Note 3
        We do not know at what point Napoleon decided he wanted not only military but political power as well. Actually, he did not have a lot of choice. While the chaotic aftermath of the French Revolution gave able young officers like Napoleon their chance, it also made them extremely vulnerable to the vicissitudes of party politics. After such a brilliant start Napoleon was briefly imprisoned when the Jacobins were guillotined since he had been on good terms with the younger Robespierre. The ever ready Corsican Saliceti came to his aid, arguing that France needed officers like Napoleon ─ but from then on he was regarded by the authorities with some distrust, though returned to his duties. After the collapse of the first attempt to invade Italy (with plans partly drawn up by Napoleon himself), Napoleon must have felt that his promising career had been nipped in the bud. There he was, poor, regarded with some suspicion at Paris and despite his striking looks, gauche and unsuccessful with women.
But Barras was now the leading figure of the Directory. This man, even more than Napoleon in a sense, was an absolute master of what I call Eventrics since, incredibly, while starting off as a Royalist officer, he went through all the vicissitudes of the Revolution unscathed, changing sides exactly at the right time and like a political Soros always backing the winner. In 1795 Napoleon was called to the bureau topographique (sort of Planning Office) in Paris. The political situation was extremely serious : the poorer population of Paris, feeling that the revolution had been snatched out of their hands by a lot of devious politicians and currency speculators, were getting ready for the third stage of the Revolution. Barras was granted full powers to restore order while the other members of the new government barricaded themselves in the Tuileries. Napoleon’s job was to quell the revolt. According to Johnson, on 13 vendémiaire (5 October) about 30,000 malcontents (??), many of them armed, rampaged through the centre of Paris. This sounds like an enormous number of people given the smaller populations at the time and much of Paris was an ideal battleground for urban guerrilla ─ as parts of it remained right up to the ‘student revolution’ of May 1968.
It is not clear whether Buonaparte seized this second opportunity to distinguish himself because of ambition, or because of conviction (most likely both). Politically, Napoleon was what we would today consider ‘Centre-Left’. He was sincere in his dislike of the ancient régime, opposed to the power of the Catholic Church, believed everyone should be equal before the law and was an active patron of the arts and sciences. But, like all other ‘middle-class’ people at the time, he would have been horrified by the idea of giving power to ‘the mob’ (Note 3).
Buonaparte applied the Machiavellian principles to the letter. He realized that in hand-to-hand fighting the rebels, even if poorly armed, would probably get the upper hand by sheer weight of numbers. His plan, then, was to lure the rioters away from the lethal alleyways of much of central Paris into an open space, of which there were not so many then, where he could unleash his artillery on them. Fortunately for him, the Tuileries, siege of the government and target of the populace’s anger, did have some open space around it. Johnson goes so far as to suggest that Napoleon deliberately chose ‘grapeshot’ rather than balls or shells because “it scattered over a wide area, tending to produce a lot of blood” but maiming rather than killing its victims. If this is the case, Buonaparte possibly did the ‘right thing’ ─ or so at any rate Machiavelli would have said ─ since it was more politically expedient (and even more humane) to frighten once and for all than to kill. A heavy initial death toll after a massed charge would have enraged the assailants and made them even more desperate, thus more dangerous. As it was, the operation went off as successfully as the raising of the siege of Toulon : the mob recoiled, bloodied and terrified out of their wits by the noise of the big guns at point-blank range, and never got together in such numbers again until the July Revolution of 1830 by which time Napoleon was long dead.

A classic case  Napoleon’s career is almost too pat as a study in Eventrics power politics. First, an ideal situation to step into, two ‘moments of opportunity’, one military and one political, a steady ascent to absolute power, finally decline due to overconfidence and unnecessary risk-taking (invasion of Russia). When the tide of events left him stranded, his dash and mastery changed to bluster and obstinacy. Napoleon could easily have got a better deal for himself, and certainly for France, if he had accepted the Allied offers of returning France to its 1799 or 1792 frontiers instead of fighting on against Allied forces that outnumbered him eight or ten to one. And most historians think that, even if he had won the Battle of Waterloo after his return from Elba (which he nearly did), he could never have remained in power. Nothing particularly surprising here from the point of view of ‘Eventrics’, simply the trap of believing yourself to command events when they always, at the end of the day, control you. Byron apparently thought Napoleon should have died fighting and certainly that would have been better for his posthumous image. Hitler committed suicide on the advice of Goebbels in order precisely to “maintain the Fuhrer legend” which was judged to be more important than the man himself.     SH 24/3/14  

Note 1 Surprisingly, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s (for a while) all-powerful minister, was the son of a Putney blacksmith. But Thomas Cromwell’s position was always precarious and he did not last long. Henry VIII put into practice Machiavelli’s golden rule of getting someone to do the dirty work and, then, when his services were no longer needed, getting rid of him, thus earning the gratitude of the common people.

Note 3 “Apart from his service duties, Buonaparte plunged into an intensive course of self-education, devouring in particular books on military and political history. In order to train     his memory, he wrote out a preface for every book he read, and these voluminous digests still survive; they cover a wide range of subjects…”          Marshall-Cornwall, Napoleon as Military Commander p. 18  

Note 3 The  quotation is form Machiavelli, The Prince ch. VIII (edited and translated David Wootton)  
Machiavelli praises Cesare Borgia for putting Remiro d’Orco, “a man both cruel and efficient” in charge of the Romagna. “D’Orco in short order established peace and unity and acquired immense authority. At that point the duke decided such unchecked power as no longer necessary, for he feared people might come to hate it. (…) In order to purge the ill-will of the people and win them completely over to him, he [Cesare Borgia] wanted to make it clear that, if there had been any cruelty, he was not responsible for it and that his hard-hearted minister was to blame. One morning, in the town square of Cesena, he had Remiro d’Orco’s corpse laid out in two pieces, with a chopping board and a bloody knife beside it. This ferocious sight made the people of the Romagna simultaneously happy and dumbfounded.” Machiavelli,  The Prince ch. 7 translated Wootton  

Note 4 Today, at a safe distance of two centuries, one tends to feel sympathetic to the rioters and, as a socialist and a romantic, I used at one time to think that “the people” were automatically in the right especially when attacked by the military. However, I hardly think much good would have come of this popular uprising : there would just have been more pointless bloodshed and general chaos. In effect, the ‘Third Revolution’ was postponed until the 1871 Paris Commune. In this case grape-shot was not enough : some 22,000 people, mainly civilians, were killed in a single week, the notorious ‘semaine de sang’ 21-28 May 1871.                              

Reappearance Rates and Ultimate Event Theory

 [Note :   This post is taken from the website where the basic ideas are explained in previous posts.]

Although, in modern physics,  many elementary particles are extremely short-lived, others such as protons are virtually immortal. But either way, a particle, while it does exist, is assumed to be continuously existing. And solid objects such as we see all around us like rocks and hills, are also assumed to be ‘continuously existing’ even though they may undergo gradual changes in internal composition. Since solid objects and even elementary particles don’t appear, disappear and re-appear, they don’t have a ‘re-appearance rate ’ ─ they’re always there when they are there, so to speak.
However, in UET the ‘natural’ tendency is for everything to flash in and out of existence and virtually all  ultimate events disappear for ever after a single appearance leaving a trace that would, at best, show up as a sort of faint background ‘noise’ or ‘flicker of existence’. All apparently solid objects are, according to the UET paradigm, conglomerates of repeating ultimate events that are bonded together ‘laterally’, i.e. within  the same ksana, and also ‘vertically’, i.e. from one ksana to the next (since otherwise they would not show up again ever). A few ultimate events, those that have acquired persistence ─ we shall not for the moment ask how and why they acquire this property ─ are able to bring about, i.e. cause, their own re-appearance : in such a case we have an event-chain which is, by definition,  a causally bonded sequence of ultimate events.
But how often do the constituent events of an event-chain re-appear?  Taking the simplest case of an event-chain composed of a single repeating ultimate event, are we to suppose that this event repeats at every single ksana (‘moment’ if you like)? There is on the face of it no particular reason why this should be so and many reasons why this would seem to be very unlikely.    

The Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity 

Newtonian physics, likewise 18th and 19th century rationalism generally, assumes what I have referred to elsewhere as the Postulate of Spatio-temporal Continuity. This postulate or principle, though rarely explicitly  stated in philosophic or scientific works,  is actually one of the most important of the ideas associated with the Enlightenment and thus with the entire subsequent intellectual development of Western society. In its simplest form, the principle says that an event occurring here, at a particular spot in Space-Time (to use the current term), cannot have an effect there, at a spot some distance away without having effects at all (or at least most?/ some?) intermediate spots. The original event sets up a chain reaction and a frequent image used is that of a whole row of upright dominoes falling over one by one once the first has been pushed over. This is essentially how Newtonian physics views the action of a force on a body or system of bodies, whether the force in question is a contact force (push/pull) or a force acting at a distance like gravity.
As we envisage things today, a blow affects a solid object by making the intermolecular distances of the surface atoms contract a little and they pass on this effect to neighbouring molecules which in turn affect nearby objects they are in contact with or exert an increased pressure on the atmosphere,  and so on. Moreover, although this aspect of the question is glossed over in Newtonian (and even modern) physics, each transmission of the original impulse  ‘takes time’ : the re-action is never instantaneous (except possibly in the case of gravity) but comes ‘a moment later’, more precisely at least one ksana later. This whole issue will be discussed in more detail later, but, within the context of the present discussion, the point to bear in mind is that,  according to Newtonian physics and rationalistic thought generally, there can be no leap-frogging with space and time. Indeed, it was because of the Principle of Spatio-temporal Continuity that most European scientists rejected out of hand Newton’s theory of universal attraction since, as Newton admitted, there seemed to be no way that a solid body such as  the Earth could affect another solid body such as the Moon thousands  of kilometres with nothing in between except ‘empty space’.   Even as late as the mid 19th century, Maxwell valiantly attempted to give a mechanical explanation of his own theory of electro-magnetism, and he did this essentially because of the widespread rock-hard belief in the principle of spatio-temporal continuity.
The principle, innocuous  though it may sound, has also had  extremely important social and political implications since, amongst other things, it led to the repeal of laws against witchcraft in the ‘advanced’ countries ─ the new Legislative Assembly in France shortly after the revolution specifically abolished all penalties for ‘imaginary’ crimes and that included witchcraft. Why was witchcraft considered to be an ‘imaginary crime’? Essentially because it  offended against the Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity. The French revolutionaries who drew the statue of Reason through the streets of Paris and made Her their goddess, considered it impossible to cause someone’s death miles away simply by thinking ill of them or saying Abracadabra. Whether the accused ‘confessed’ to having brought about someone’s death in this way, or even sincerely believed it, was irrelevant : no one had the power to disobey the Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity.
The Principle got somewhat muddied  when science had to deal with electro-magnetism ─ Does an impulse travel through all possible intermediary positions in an electro-magnetic field? ─ but it was still very much in force in 1905 when Einstein formulated the Theory of Special Relativity. For Einstein deduced from his basic assumptions that one could not ‘send a message’ faster than the speed of light and that, in consequence,  this limited the speed of propagation of causality. If I am too far away from someone else I simply cannot cause this person’s death at that particular time and that is that. The Principle ran into trouble, of course,  with the advent of Quantum Mechanics but it remains deeply entrenched in our way of thinking about the world which is why alibis are so important in law, to take but one example. And it is precisely because Quantum Mechanics appears to violate the principle that QM is so worrisome and the chief reason why some of the scientists who helped to develop the theory such as Einstein himself, and even Schrodinger, were never happy with  it. As Einstein put it, Quantum Mechanics involved “spooky action at a distance” ─ exactly the same objection that the Cartesians had made to Newton.
So, do I propose to take the principle over into UET? The short answer is, no. If I did take over the principle, it would mean that, in every bona fide event-chain, an ultimate event would make an appearance at every single ‘moment’ (ksana), and I could see in advance that there were serious problems ahead if I assumed this : certain regions of the Locality would soon get hopelessly clogged up with colliding event-chains. Also, if all the possible positions in all ‘normal’ event-sequences were occupied, there would be little point in having a theory of events at all, since, to all intents and purposes, all event-chains would behave as if they were solid objects and one might as well just stick to normal physics. One of the main  reasons for elaborating a theory of events in the first place was my deep-rooted conviction ─ intuition if you like ─ that physical reality is discontinuous and that there are gaps between ksanas ─ or at least that there could be gaps given certain conditions. In the theory I eventually roughed out, or am in the process of roughing out, both spatio-temporal continuity and infinity are absent and will remain prohibited.
But how does all this square with my deduction (from UET hypotheses) that the maximum propagation rate of causality is a single grid-position per ksana, s0/t0, where s0 is the spatial dimension of an event capsule ‘at rest’ and t0 the ‘rest’ temporal dimension? In UET, what replaces the ‘object-based’ image of a tiny nucleus inside an atom, is the vision of a tiny kernel of fixed extent where every ultimate event occurs embedded in a relatively enormous four-dimensional event capsule. Any causal influence emanates from the kernel and, if it is to ‘recreate’ the original ultimate event a ksana later, it must traverse at least half the ‘length’ (spatial dimesion) of one capsule plus half of the next one, i.e. ½ s0 + ½ s0 = 1 s0 where s0 is the spatial dimension of an event-capsule ‘at rest’ (its normal state). For if the causal influence did not ‘get that far’, it would not be able to bring anything about at all, would be like a messenger who could not reach a destination receding faster than he could run flat out. The runner’s ‘message’, in this case the recreation of a clone of the original ultimate event, would never get delivered and nothing would ever come about at all.
This problem does not occur in normal physics since objects are not conceived as requiring a causal force to stop them disappearing, and, on top of that, ‘space/time’ is assumed to be continuous and infinitely divisible. In UET there are minimal spatial and temporal units (that of the the grid-space and the ksana) and ‘time’ in the UET sense of an endless succession of ksanas, stops for no man or god, not even physicists who are born, live and die successively like everything else. I believe that succession, like causality, is built into the very fabric of physical reality and though there is no such thing as continuous motion, there is and always will be change since, even if nothing else is happening, one ksana is being replaced by another, different, one ─ “the moving finger writes, and, having writ, moves on” (Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam). Heraclitus said that “No man ever steps into the same river twice”, but a more extreme follower of his disagreed, saying that it was impossible to step into the same river once, which is the Hinayana  Buddhist view. For ‘time’ is not a river that flows at a steady rate (as Newton envisaged it) but a succession of ‘moments’ threaded like beads on an invisible  chain and with minute gaps between the beads.

Limit to unitary re-appearance rate

So, returning to my repeating ultimate event, could the ‘re-creation rate’ of an ultimate event be  greater than the minimal rate of 1 s0/t0 ? Could it, for example, be  2, 3 or 5 spacesper ksana? No. For if and when the ultimate event re-appeared, say  5 ksanas later, the original causal impulse would have covered a distance of 5 s0   ( s0 being the spatial dimension of each capsule) and would have taken 5 ksanas to do  this. Consequently the space/time displacement rate would be the same (but not in this case the individual distances). I note this rate as c* in ‘absolute units’, the UET equivalent of c, since it denotes an upper limit to the propagation of the causal influence (Note 1). For the very continuing existence of anything depends on causality : each ‘object’ that does persist in isolation does so because it is perpetually re-creating itself (Note 2).

But note that it is only the unitary rate, the distance/time ratio taken over a single ksana,  that cannot be less (or more) than one grid-space per ksana or 1 s0/t0 : any fractional (but not irrational) re-appearance rate is perfectly conceivable provided it is spread out over several ksanas. A re-appearance rate of m/n s0/t0  simply means that the ultimate event in question re-appears in an equivalent spatial position on the Locality m times every n ksanas where m/n ≤ 1. And there are all sorts of different ways in which this rate be achieved. For example, a re-appearance rate of 3/5 s0/t0 could be a repeating pattern such as

Reappearance rates 1
















and one pattern could change over into the other either randomly or, alternatively, according to a particular rule.
As one increases the difference between the numerator and the denominator, there are obviously going to be many more possible variations : all this could easily be worked out mathematically using combinatorial analysis. But note that it is the distribution of ™the black and white at matters since, once a re-appearance rhythm has begun, there is no real difference between a ‘vertical’ rate of 0™˜™˜●0● and ˜™˜™™˜™˜™˜™˜●0™˜™˜●0 ™˜™™˜™˜ ˜™˜™ ─ it all depends on where you start counting. Patterns with the same repetition rate only count as different if this difference is recognizable no matter where you start examining the sequence.
Why does all this matter? Because, each time there is a blank line, this means that the ultimate event in question does not make an appearance at all during this ksana, and, if we are dealing with large denominators, this could mean very large gaps indeed in an event chain. Suppose, for example, an event-chain had a re-appearance rate of 4/786. There would only be four appearances (black dots) in a period of 786 ksanas, and there would inevitably be very large blank sections of the Locality when the ultimate event made no appearance.

Lower Limit of re-creation rate 

Since, by definition, everything in UET is finite, there must be a maximum number of possible consecutive gaps  or non-reappearances. For example, if we set the limit at, say, 20 blank lines, or 200, this would mean that, each time this blank period was observed, we could conclude that the event-chain had terminated. This is the UET equivalent  of the Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity and effectively excludes phenomena such as an ultimate event in an event-chain making its re-appearance a century later than its first appearance. This limit would have to be estimated on the  basis of experiments since I do not see how a specific value can be derived from theoretical considerations alone. It is tempting to estimate that this value would involve c* or a multiple of c* but this is only a wild guess ─ Nature does not always favour elegance and simplicity.
Such a rule would limit how ‘stretched out’ an event-chain can be temporally and, in reality , there may not after all be a hard and fast general rule  : the maximal extent of the gap could decline exponentially or in accordance with some other function. That is, an abnormally long gap followed by the re-appearance of an event, would decrease the possible upper limit slightly in much the same way as chance associations increase the likelihood of an event-chain forming in the first place. If, say, there was an original limit of a  gap of 20 ksanas, whenever the re-appearance rate had a gap of 19, the limit would be reduced to 19 and so on.
It is important to be clear that we are not talking about the phenomenon of ‘time dilation’ which concerns only the interval between one ksana and the next according to a particular viewpoint. Here, we simply have an event-chain where an ultimate event is repeating at the same spot on the spatial part of the Locality : it is ‘at rest’ and not displacing itself laterally at all. The consequences for other viewpoints would have to be investigated.

Re-appearance Rate as an intrinsic property of an event-chain  

Since Galileo, and subsequently Einstein, it has become customary in physics to distinguish, not between rest and motion, but rather between unaccelerated motion and  accelerated motion. And the category of ‘unaccelerated motion’ includes all possible constant straight-line speeds including zero (rest). It seems, then,  that there is no true distinction to be made between ‘rest’ and motion just so long as the latter is motion in a straight line at a constant displacement rate. This ‘relativisation’ of  motion in effect means that an ‘inertial system’ or a particle at rest within an inertial system does not really have a specific velocity at all, since any estimated velocity is as ‘true’ as any other. So, seemingly, ‘velocity’ is not a property of a single body but only of a system of at least two bodies. This is, in a sense, rather odd) since there can be no doubt that a ‘change of velocity’, an acceleration, really is a feature of a single body (or is it?).
Consider a spaceship which is either completely alone in the universe or sufficiently remote from all massive bodies that it can be considered in isolation. What is its speed? It has none since there is no reference system or body to which its speed can be referred. It is, then, at rest ─ or this is what we must assume if there are no internal signs of acceleration such as plates falling around or rattling doors and so on. If the spaceship is propelling itself forward (or in some direction we call ‘forward’) intermittently by jet propulsion the acceleration will be note by the voyagers inside the ship supposing there are some. Suppose there is no further discharge of chemicals for a while. Is the spaceship now moving at a different and greater velocity than before? Not really. One could I suppose refer the vessel’s new state of motion to the centre of mass of the ejected chemicals but this seems rather artificial especially as they are going to be dispersed. No matter how many times this happens, the ship will not be gaining speed, or so it would appear. On the other hand, the changes in velocity, or accelerations are undoubtedly real since their effects can be observed within the reference frame.
So what to conclude? One could say that ‘acceleration’ has ‘higher reality status’ than simple velocity since it does not depend on a reference point outside the system. ‘Velocity’ is a ‘reality of second order’ whereas acceleration is a ‘reality of first order’. But once again there is a difference between normal physics and UET physics in this respect. Although the distinction between unaccelerated and accelerated motion is taken over into UET (re-baptised ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’ motion), there is in Ultimate Event Theory, but not in contemporary physics, a kind of ‘velocity’ that has nothing to do with any other body whatsoever, namely the event-chain’s re-appearance rate.
When one has spent some time studying Relativity one ends up wondering whether after all “everything is relative” and quite a lot of physicists and philosophers seems to actually believe something not far from this : the universe is evaporating away as we look it and leaving nothing but a trail of unintelligible mathematical formulae. In Quantum Mechanics (as Heisenberg envisaged it anyway) the properties of a particular ‘body’ involve the properties of all the other bodies in the universe, so that there remain very few, if any, intrinsic properties that a body or system can possess. However, in UET, there is a reality safety net. For there are at least two  things that are not relative, since they pertain to the event-chain or event-conglomerate itself whether it is alone in the universe or embedded in a dense network of intersecting event-chains we view as matter. These two things are (1) occurrence and (2) rate of occurrence and both of them are straight numbers, or ratios of integers.
An ultimate event either has occurrence or it does not : there is no such thing as the ‘demi-occurrence’ of an event (though there might be such a thing as a potential event). Every macro event is (by the preliminary postulates of UET) made up of a finite number of ultimate events and every trajectory of every event-conglomerate has an event number associated with it. But this is not all. Every event-chain ─ or at any rate normal or ‘well-behaved’ event-chain ─ has a ‘re-appearance rate’. This ‘re-appearance rate’ may well change considerably during the life span of a particular event-chain, either randomly or following a particular rule, and, more significantly, the ‘re-appearance rates’ of event-conglomerates (particles, solid bodies and so on) can, and almost certainly do, differ considerably from each other. One ‘particle’ might have a re-appearance rate of 4, (i.e. re-appear every fourth ksana) another with the same displacement rate  with respect to the first a rate of 167 and so on. And this would have great implications for collisions between event-chains and event-conglomerates.

Re-appearance rates and collisions 

What happens during a collision? One or more solid bodies are disputing the occupation of territory that lies on their  trajectories. If the two objects miss each other, even narrowly, there is no problem : the objects occupy ‘free’ territory. In UET event conglomerates have two kinds of ‘velocity’, firstly their intrinsic re-appearance rates which may differ considerably, and, secondly, their displacement rate relative to each other. Every event-chain may be considered to be ‘at rest’ with respect to itself, indeed it is hard to see how it could be anything at all if this were not the case. But the relative speed of even unaccelerated event-chains will not usually be zero and is perfectly real since it has observable and often dramatic consequences.
Now, in normal physics, space, time and existence itself is regarded as continuous, so two objects will collide if their trajectories intersect and they will miss each other if their trajectories do not intersect. All this is absolutely clearcut, at least in principle. However, in UET there are two quite different ways in which ‘particles’ (small event conglomerates) can miss each other.
First of all, there is the case when both objects (repeating event-conglomerates) have a 1/1 re-appearance rate, i.e. there is an ultimate event at every ksana in both cases. If object B is both dense and occupies a relatively large region of the Locality at each re-appearance, and the relative speed is low, the chances are that the two objects will collide. For, suppose a relative displacement rate of 2 spaces to the right (or left)  at each ksana and take B to be stationary and A, marked in red, displacing itself two spaces at every ksana.

Reappearance rates 2

Clearly, there is going to be trouble at the  very next ksana.
However, since space/time and existence and everything else (except possibly the Event Locality) is not continuous in UET, if the relative speed of the two objects were a good deal greater, say 7 spaces per 7 ksanas (a rate of 7/7)  the red event-chain might manage to just miss the black object.

This could not happen in a system that assumes the Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity : in UET there is  leap-frogging with space and time if you like. For the red event-chain has missed out certain positions on the Locality which, in principle could have been occupied.

But this is not all. A collision could also have been avoided if the red chain had possessed a different re-appearance rate even though it remained a ‘slow’ chain compared to the  black one. For consider a 7/7 re-appearance rate i.e. one appearance every seven ksanas and a displacement rate of two spaces per ksana relative to the black conglomerate taken as being stationary. This would work out to an effective rate of 14 spaces to the right at each appearance ─ more than enough to miss the black event-conglomerate.

Moreover, if we have a repeating event-conglomerate that is very compact, i.e. occupies very few neighbouring grid-spaces at each appearance (at the limit just one), and is also extremely rapid compared to the much larger conglomerates it is likely to come across, this ‘event-particle’ will miss almost everything all the time. In UET it is much more of a problem how a small and ‘rapid’ event-particle can ever collide with anything at all (and thus be perceived) than for a particle to apparently disappear into thin air. When I first came to this rather improbable conclusion I was somewhat startled. But I did not know at the time that neutrinos, which are thought to have a very small mass and to travel nearly at the speed of light, are by far the commonest particles in the universe and, even though millions are passing through my fingers as I write this sentence, they are incredibly difficult to detect because they interact with ordinary ‘matter’ so rarely (Note 3). This, of course, is exactly what I would expect ─ though, on the other hand, it is a mystery why it is so easy to intercept photons and other particles. It is possible that the question of re-appearance rates has something to do with this : clearly neutrinos are not only extremely compact, have very high speed compared to most material objects, but also have an abnormally high re-appearance rate, near to the maximum.
RELATIVITY   Reappeaance Rates Diagram         In the adjacent diagram we have the same angle sin θ = v/c but progressively more extended reappearance rates 1/1; 2/2; 3/3; and so on. The total area taken over n ksanas will be the same but the behaviour of the event-chains will be very different.
I suspect that the question of different re-appearance rates has vast importance in all branches of physics. For it could well be that it is a similarity of re-appearance rates ─ a sort of ‘event resonance’ ─ that draws disparate event chains together and indeed is instrumental in the formation of the very earliest event-chains to emerge from the initial randomness that preceded the Big Bang or similar macro events.
Also, one suspects that collisions of event conglomerates  disturb not only the spread and compactness of the constituent events-chains, likewise their ‘momentums’, but also and more significantly their re-appearance rates. All this is, of course, highly speculative but so was atomic theory prior to the 20th century event though atomism as a physical theory and cultural paradigm goes back to the 4th century BC at least.        SH  29/11/13



Note 1  Compared to the usual 3 × 108 metres/second the unitary  value of s/t0 seems absurdly small. But one must understand that s/t0 is a ratio and that we are dealing with very small units of distance and time. We only perceive large multiples of these units and it is important to bear in mind that s0is a maximum while t0 is a minimum. The actual kernel, where each ultimate event has occurrence, turns out to be s0/c* =  su so in ‘ultimate units’ the upper limit is c* su/t0.  It is nonetheless a surprising and somewhat inexplicable physiological fact that we, as human beings, have a pretty good sense of distance but an incredibly crude sense of time. It is only necessary to pass images at a rate of about eight per second for the brain to interpret the successive in images as a continuum and the film industry is based on this circumstance. Physicists, however, gaily talk of all sorts of important changes happening millionths or billionths of a second and in an ordinary digital watch the quartz crystal is vibrating thousands of times a second (293,000 I believe).

 Note 2  Only Descartes amongst Western thinkers realized there was a problem here and ascribed the power of apparent self-perpetuation to the repeated intervention of God; today, in a secular world, we perforce ascribe it to ‘ natural forces’.
In effect, in UET, everything is pushed one stage back. For Newton and Galileo the  ‘natural’ state of objects was to continue existing in constant straight line motion whereas in UET the ‘natural’ state of ultimate events is to disappear for ever. If anything does persist, this shows there is a force at work. The Buddhists call this all-powerful causal force ‘karma but unfortunately they were only interested in the moral,  as opposed to physical, implications of karmic force otherwise we would probably have had a modern theory of physics centuries earlier than we actually did.

Note 3  “Neutrinos are the commonest particles of all. There are even more of them flying around the cosmos than there are photons (…) About 400 billion neutrinos from the Sun pass through each one of us every second.”  Frank Close, Particle Physics A Very Short Introduction (OUP) p. 41-2 


Power ─ what is power? In physics it is the rate of ‘doing Work’ but this meaning has little or no connection to ‘power’ in the political or social sense.
Power is the capacity to constrain other people to do your bidding whether or not they wish to do so. This sounds pretty negative and indeed power has had a bad sense ever since the Romantics from whom we have never really recovered. Hobbes spent a good deal of his life trying to persuade the ‘powers that be’ of his time, i.e. King and/or Parliament, to make themselves absolute ─ even though he himself was exactly the sort of freewheeling and freethinking individual no absolute ruler would want to have as a citizen. But Hobbes lived through the Civil War which the Romantics didn’t. Prior to the nineteenth century most people of all classes were more afraid of the breakdown or absence of power (‘chaos’, ‘anarchy’) than of ‘abuse of power’: indeed they would find modern attitudes not only misguided but scarcely comprehensible.
If you wish to live in society, there has to be some way of constraining people since otherwise everyone pulls in different directions and nothing gets done. If you don’t believe me, go and spend a few weeks or even days in a situation where no one has power. I have lived in ‘communities’ and they are intolerable for this very reason. What usually happens is that someone soon steps into the power vacuum and he (less often she) is the person who shouts loudest, pushes hardest, is the most unscrupulous and generally the most hateful ─ though sometimes also the most efficient. In more traditional communities it is not so much the more assertive as the ‘older and wiser’ who wield the power, the obvious example being the Quakers. This sounds a lot better but in my experience it isn’t that much of an improvement. People like the Quakers who forego the use of physical force tend to be highly manipulative ─ they have to be ─  and it would be quite wrong to believe that a power structure in the Quakers or the Amish does not exist for it certainly does. In fact no society can exist for more than a month without a power structure, i.e. without someone (whether one or many) holding power.

Necessity of power
So, my thesis is the unoriginal one that some form of power invested in specific  human beings (whether initially elected or not) is inevitable and not necessarily a bad thing. Lord Acton was being extremely silly when he made the endlessly repeated statement “All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” with the implication is that it is better to keep away from power altogether. Although I don’t know much about Lord Acton’s life, I can be pretty sure that he didn’t know what it was like to be powerless. One could just as well say, “All lack of power corrupts, absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely”. It is lack of physical or financial muscle that makes people devious, treacherous, deceitful : one more or less has to be like this to survive. And it is simply not true that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. You can’t get much nearer to absolute power than the position of the Roman Emperor. But Rome produced one or two quite good Emperors, e.g. Augustus himself and Hadrian, also one entirely admirable, indeed saintlike (though woefully ineffective) one, Marcus Aurelius. President Obama has currently more power in his hands than anyone who has ever existed, at least in the  military sense, and although not everyone agrees with his policies not even his enemies have accused him of being corrupt or corrupted by power.

Liberty to Order
One alarming and unexpected aspect of the dynamics of power is that when an existing power structure is overthrown, the ‘order’ that emerges from the usually brief period of chaos is a good deal more restrictive than what preceded it, witness the Commonwealth under Cromwell, Russia under Stalin &c. &c. In the ‘mini-revolution’ of Paris in May 1968, I and one or two others, watched open-mouthed, hardly believing what we were witnessing,  as a single individual, in whom at one stage most of us had full confidence, concentrated all the power of an occupied University faculty into his hands exactly like Robespierre or Stalin. And he did it without striking a blow.
Actually, such a dénouement is virtually inevitable ─ or at any rate  the danger of such a development will always be there. Immediately after a revolution there is usually a counter-attack by the ousted elite, so the revolutionaries find themselves with their backs to the wall. In such a situation, it is survival that counts, not liberty ─ because if you, or the social order you represent, don’t survive, then there won’t be any more liberty either, it will just be ancien régime all over again, only worse. So the revolutionaries enact repressive legislation to protect themselves, legislation which is rarely repealed when things eventually calm down.

Power and Eventrics
Why am I writing a post about power on this site? Because, as a friend has just this very day reminded me, I must beware of giving the impression that ‘Eventrics’, the theory of events and their interactions, only deals with  invisible ‘ultimate events’, equally invisible ‘Event Capsules’ and generally is about as irrelevant to everyday life as nuclear physics. Ultimate Event Theory is the microscopic branch of Eventrics but the theory applies right across the board and it may be that its strength will be in the domain of social thinking and power politics. Just as the physics of matter in bulk is very different from the physics of quarks and electrons, that part of Eventrics that deals with macro-events, i.e. with massive repeating bundles of ultimate events that behave as if they were independent entities, has on the face of it little in common with micro-eventrics (though presumably ultimately grounded in it).
So what has the Theory of Events and their Interactions to say about power? Well, firstly that it is events and their internal dynamism that drive history, not physical forces or even persons. Mechanics, electro-magnetism and so on are completely irrelevant to human power politics and indeed up to a point the less science you know the more successful you are likely to be  as an administrator  or politician. Biology is a little more relevant than physics because of the emphasis on struggle but it is all far too crude and ridiculously reductionist to apply directly to human societies. Human individuals certainly do not strive to acquire power in order to push their genes around more extensively : Casanova pushed his around more effectively than Hitler, Mussolini and Cromwell combined. And the widespread introduction of birth-control in Western societies demonstrates that modern human beings are certainly not under the thumb of their ‘selfish genes’ (as even Dawkins belatedly admits). Nor is this the only example. Just as virtue really is its own reward, at least sometimes, so apparently is the pursuit of power, and indeed at the end of the day so are most things.

Irrelevance of Contemporary Science to Power Politics
More fashionable contemporary ‘sciences’ such as complexity theory do  have something of interest to say about human affairs but their proponents have yet to make any predictions of import that have come true as far as I know. The financial crash of 2008, only anticipated by a handful of actual investors and traders such as Nessim Taleb and Soros (the former even pinpointed where the bubble would start, Fanny Mac and Fanny Mae), makes a mockery of the application of mathematics to economics and indeed of economics in toto as an exact science.
The reason for official science’s impotence when addressing human affairs is very  easy to explain :  almost all living scientists are employed either by universities or by the State. That is, they have never fought it out in the cut-throat world of business nor even, with one or two exceptions, dirtied their hands with investment, have never been under fire on a battlefield or even played poker for money. But it is in business, warfare and gambling that you can detect the ‘laws’ of power inasmuch as there are any, i.e. how to acquire power when you don’t have it and how to keep it when you do. Hitler was an auto-didact dismissed as a buffoon by the Eton and Oxbridge brigade that staffed the Foreign Affairs Department then as now : but he ran rings around them because he had learned his power politics strategy at the bottom, in the hard school of Austrian YMCA Hostels and German beer-halls.

Qualitative ‘Laws of Power’
There are most likely no specific laws of power in the sense that there are ‘laws of motion’ but there are certain recurrent features well worth mentioning. They are ‘qualitative’ rather than ‘quantitative’ but this is as it should be. It is stupid to put numbers on things like fashions and revolutions because it is not the specifics that matter, only the general trend. Indeed, the person who is obsessed with figures is likely to miss the general trend because the actual shapes and sizes don’t look familiar. Rutherford’s much quoted remark that “Qualitative is just poor quantitative” may have its uses in his domain (nuclear physics), but in human affairs it is more a matter of “quantitative is lazy or incompetent qualitative”.

Tipping Points and Momentum
So what noticeable trends are there? One very general feature, which sticks out a mile, is the ‘tipping point’ or ‘critical mass’.  Malcolm Gladwell, a non-scientist and a qualitative rather than quantitative thinker, wrote a justly praised bestseller called The Tipping Point, which demonstrates his sound understanding of the mechanisms at work. A movement, fashion, revolution &c. must seemingly attain a certain point : if it does not attain it, the movement will fail, fade away. If it does attain this point, the movement takes off and it does not take off in a ‘linear’ fashion but in a runaway ‘exponential’ fashion, at least for a while. Anyone who has lived through a period of severe social unrest or revolution knows what I am talking about. My own experience is based on the May 1968 ‘Student Revolution’ in Paris. But much the same goes for a new style in clothes or shoes : indeed fashions have something alarming precisely because they demonstrate power, sudden, naked power which sweeps aside all opposition. The fashion industry is in its way as frightening as the armaments industry and for the same reasons.
OK. There is a ‘tipping point’ (generally only one) and, following it, a consequent sudden burst of momentum : these are the first two items worth signalling. And these two features seem to have very little to do with particular individuals. It is the events themselves that do the work : the events pull the people along, not the reverse. Companies that found they had launched a trend overnight ─ Gladwell cites the Hush Puppies craze ─ were often the first to be surprised by their own success. As for political movements, I know for a fact, since I was part of the milieu, that the French left-wing intelligentsia was staggered out of its wits when a few scuffles in the Sorbonne for some reason turned almost overnight into the longest general strike ever known in a modern industrialized country.

Key Individuals
This general point (that it is not human beings that direct history) needs some qualification, however. There are indeed individuals who unleash a vast movement by a single act but this happens much less often than historians pretend, and usually the result is not at all what was intended. Princeps, the high-school boy who shot the Archduke at Sarajevo and precipitated WWI did have a political agenda of a kind but he neither wished nor intended to cause a European war.

To recap. We already have a few features to look out for. (1) tipping point; (2) sudden, vertiginous take-off when there is a take-off; (3) lack of anyone instigating or controlling the movement but (4) certain individuals who achieve what seems to be impossible by simply ‘moving with the events’.


Today we tend to trace the study of power back to Machiavelli and certainly it would be foolish to downplay his importance. Nonetheless, the historical situation in which Machiavelli worked and thought, Quattrocento Italy, is completely different from the modern world, at any rate what we call the ‘advanced’ modern world. Would-be rulers in Machiavelli’s time acquired power either by being promoted by some clique or by direct annexation and murder. But no 20th century head of an important state acquired power by a coup d’etat : he or she  generally acquired it by the ballot box — and incredibly this even applies to Hitler who obtained the votes of a third of the German population. And though Machiavelli does have some useful things to say about the importance of getting the common people on your side, he has nothing to say about the power of political oratory and the use of symbolism.
Possibly, the sort of brazenness that Machiavelli advocates actually did work in the Italian Quattrocento world of small city-states and condottieri. But even then it would certainly not have worked in any of the larger states. No one who aims at  big power admits duplicity or advocates its use; if you are ambitious, the first person you usually have to convince is yourself and this is no easy task. You have to carry out a sort of self-cheat whereby you simultaneously believe you really are acting for the general good while simultaneously  pursuing a ruthlessly egotistical policy. This is not quite hypocrisy (though perilously close to it): it is rather the Method actor temporarily ‘living the role’ ─ and running the risk of getting caught in his own noose. Indeed it is because Machiavelli has a sort of  basic honesty, and hence integrity, that no clear-sighted upstart ruler would want to give such a man high office ─ he would either be utterly useless or a serious danger because too formidable. And, interestingly, the Medicis did not employ Machiavelli although he was certainly angling to be taken on by them.

The Two Ways to Power
There seem to be two ways to achieve power which are interestingly summed up in the codeword employed by the greatest military power of all time, America, when it invaded Panama : Shock and Awe. (I think that was the codeword but if not it is very apposite.)
Shock and awe are distinct and even to some extent contradictory. By ‘shock’ we should understand showing the enemy, or anyone in fact, that you have the means to do a lot of damage and, crucially, that you are prepared to go the whole way if you have to. It can actually save lives if you make an initial almighty show of force ─ exactly what the US Army did in Panama ─ since the opposition will most likely cave in at once without risking a battle. (This doesn’t always work, however : the bombing raids on civilian targets of both the English and the Germans during WWII seem to have stiffened opposition rather than weakened it.)
Awe has a religious rather than a military sense though the great commanders of the ancient world, Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, had the sort of aura we associate more with religious leaders. Time and again isolated figures with what we vaguely, but not inaccurately, call ‘charisma’ have suddenly attained enormous power and actually changed the course of history : the obvious example being Joan of Arc. Hitler, having failed to ‘shock’ the country, or even Munich, by holding a revolver to the Governor of Bavaria (literally) and rampaging around the streets with a handful of toughs, was sharp enough to realize that he must turn to awe instead, using his formidable gifts of oratory to obtain power via  the despised ballot-box. Mahomet did fight but no one doubts that it was his prophetic rather than strictly military abilities that returned him against all odds to Mecca.

The Paradox of Christ
What of Christ? It seems clear that there were at the time in Palestine several movements that wished to rid the country of the Romans (even though they were by the standards of the time quite tolerant masters) and to revive the splendours of the House of David. There is some hesitation and a  certain ambivalence in Christ’s answer under interrogation which suggests he had not entirely made up his mind on the crux of the matter, i.e. whether he did or did not intend to establish himself as ‘King of the Jews’. He did not deny the attribution but qualified it by adding “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is a clever answer to give since it was only Christ’s political pretensions that concerned the Romans, represented here by  Pontius Pilate. It is not an entirely satisfactory answer, however. If a ‘kingdom’ is entirely of, or in, ‘another world’, one might justifiably say, “What’s the use of it, then?” Christianity has in fact changed the everyday here-and-now world enormously, in some ways for the better, in some ways not. And Pontius Pilate’s blunt refusal to remove the inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” suggests that Pilate thought the Jews could have done a lot worse than have such a man as ‘king’.
It seems probable that some of Christ’s followers, including one disciple, wanted to nudge Christ into taking up a more openly political stance which, subsequently, it would  have been difficult to draw back from. According to this interpretation, Judas did not betray Christ for money or protection : he tried to bring about an open conflict ─ and he very nearly succeeded since Peter drew his sword and struck off the servant of the High Priest’s ear in the Gethsemane stand-off. But Christ seemingly had by now (after a final moment of intercession and prayer) decided to stick entirely to ‘awe’ as a means of combat with the forces of evil (in which he clearly believed). In a sense, Christ was not so much a victim as a resolute and exceedingly skilful strategist. No one expected him to give in and actually be put to death as a common felon, and for a moment Christ himself seems to have been hoping for a miracle hence the cry “Why, oh why hast Thou forsaken me?” (a quotation from Isaiah incidentally). It has been suggested by certain commentators  that Christ was using ‘goodness’ and the respect and awe it inspires to actually take the ‘Evil One’ by surprise and, as it were, wrong-foot him. Seemingly, there are suggestions of this ‘unorthodox way of combatting evil’ in the writings of the Old Testament prophets which Christ knew off by heart, of course.           And, incredibly, the stratagem worked since Christ’s small band of followers rallied and went from strength to strength whereas the other Jewish would-be Messiahs of the time who really did take up arms against the Romans perished completely ─ and provoked the greatest disaster in Jewish history, the complete destruction of the Temple and the diaspora. Certainly there are moments when ‘awe’ without shock works. Saint  Francis, Fox, the founder of the Quakers, Gandhi and Martin Luther King have all used the ‘awe’ that a certain kind of disinterested goodness inspires to excellent effect. It is, however, a perilous strategy since you have to be prepared to ‘go the whole way’ if necessary, i.e. to die, and the public is not likely to be easily fooled on this point.

“Be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves”
The case of Christ is a very interesting case viewed from the standpoint of Eventrics. But before examining it in more detail, may I make it clear that by analysing the behaviour of figures such as Christ or Mahomet in terms of event strategy, no offence to religious people is intended. Eventrics, like all sciences is ethically neutral : it merely  studies, or purports to study what goes on. But as a matter of fact, most great religious leaders had a pretty good grasp of day to day tactics as well. Charisma by itself is not enough, and Christ himself said, “Be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves”.
The trouble with the ‘innocent’ is that they are usually completely ineffective, either because they don’t understand Realpolitik or consider it beneath them. But there is actually not a lot of point in being ‘good’ if you don’t actually do any good ─ at any rate from society’s point of view. And there is a way of getting things done which is identical whether you are good or bad. Nor need the ‘good’ person feel himself or herself to be as much at a disadvantage as he usually does. Bad people themselves have weak points : they tend to assume everyone else is as selfish and unscrupulous as they themselves are and in consequence make catastrophic errors of judgement. The really dangerous bad person is the one who understands ordinary people’s wish to be ‘good’, at least occasionally, ‘good’ in the sense of unselfish, ready to devote oneself to a higher cause and so on. Hitler was able to simultaneously play on people’s baser instincts but also on their better instincts, their desire not only to be of service to their country but to sacrifice themselves for it (Note 1).

The paradox of Christ
Christ at the zenith of his mission was swept along by what seemed a well-nigh irresistible tide of events fanned by the growing irritation with Roman rule, the preachings of holy men like John the Baptist, widespread  expectations of a sudden miraculous cataclysm that would wind up history and bring about the Jewish Golden Age, and so on. Christ was borne along by this current : it took him into the lion’s den, Jerusalem itself, where he was acclaimed by an adoring multitude.
So far, so good. The tide was strong but not quite strong enough, or so Christ judged. The most difficult thing for someone who has a string of successes behind him is to pull out at the right moment, and very few people are capable of doing this since the power of the event-train not only exerts itself on spectators but above all on the protagonist himself. He or she gets caught in his own noose, which only proves the basic law of Eventrics that it is events that drive history not the person who directs them, or thinks he does.
Over and above any moral priority which puts pacifism higher than combat, or a desire to broaden his message to reach out to the Gentiles, on the strictly tactical level Christ seemingly judged that the Jewish resistance movement was not strong enough to carry the day against the combined force of the official priesthood and Rome. So he decided to combat in a different way ─ by apparently giving in. He withdrew deliberately and voluntarily from the onward surge of events and, miraculously, this unexpected strategy worked (but only posthumously).
Napoleon made a fatal mistake when he invaded Russia, as did Hitler, and both for basically the same reasons (though the case of Hitler is more problematical) : they had swum along with a tide of events that took them to the pinnacle of worldly power but were unable, or unwilling, to see that the moment had come to pull out. In a roughly similar situation, Bismarck, a far less charismatic leader than either Napoleon or Hitler, proved he was a far better practitioner of Eventrics. Having easily overwhelmed Denmark and crushed Austria, Bismarck halted, made a very moderate peace settlement with Austria, indeed an absurdly generous one, because he had the wit to realize he required at least the future neutrality and non-intervention of Austria for his larger aims of creating a united Germany under Prussian leadership and prosecuting a successful war with France. As H.A.L. Fisher writes, “There is no more certain test of statesmanship than the capacity to resist the political intoxication of victory.”
It is the same thing with gambling. Despite all the tut-tutting of scientists and statisticians who never risk anything and know nothing about the strange twists and turns of human events, I am entirely convinced that there really is such a thing as a ‘winning streak’, since successive events can and do reinforce each other ─ indeed this is one of the most important basic assumptions of Eventrics. What makes gamblers lose is not that they believe in such chimeras as ‘runs’ or ‘winning streaks’ : they lose because they do not judge when it is the right moment to leave the table, or if they do judge rightly do not have the strength of character to act on this belief. They are caught up by the events and taken along with them, and thus become helpless victims of events. There is I believe a Chinese expression about ‘riding’ events and this is the correct metaphor. A skilful rider gives the horse its head but doesn’t let it bolt ─ and if it shows an irresistible inclination to do so,  he jumps off smartly. This gives us the double strategy of the practitioner of Eventrics : go with the tide of events when it suits you and leave it abruptly when, or better still just before, it turns against you. The ‘trend’ is certainly not “always your friend” as the Wall Street catchphrase goes. The successful investor is the person who detects a rising tide a little bit earlier than other people, goes with it, and then pulls out just before the wave peaks. Timing is everything.     SH

[This post appeared on the related site] 

Note 1  Curiously, at least in contemporary Western society, there is not only very little desire to be ‘good’, but even to appear to be good. Bankers and industrialists in the past presented themselves to the public as benefactors, and some of them actually were (once they had made their pile): this is a million miles from the insolent cocksureness of “Greed is good”. We have thus an unprecedented situation. People who not only lack all idealism but scorn it are very difficult to manipulate because it is not clear what emotional buttons to push. Today Hitler would never get anywhere at all, not just because his racial theories don’t really hold water but, more significantly, because most people would just laugh at all this high-sounding talk about the “fatherland” and “serving your country”. This clearly is a good thing (that Hitler wouldn’t get anywhere today), but one wonders whether a rolling human cannon, a lynch mob looking for someone to lynch (anyone will do) may not turn out to be an even greater danger. In terms of Eventrics, we now have large numbers of people literally “at the mercy of events” in the sense that there are today no ringleaders, no people calling the shots, no conductors of orchestras, only a few cheerleaders making a lot of noise on the sidelines. The resulting human mass ceases to be composed of individuals and event dynamics takes over, for good or ill. The charismatic power figure has himself become outdated, irrelevant : it is Facebook and Google that control, or rather represent, the future of humanity but who controls Facebook and Google?

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