the pencil reads

posts on articles, books and movies

Psmith, Journalist

Friday, October 21, 2005
Wodehouse's Psmith is an extremely quirky and endearing person. He is verbose, insists on the "P" in front of his name, enjoys the artistocratic type of high life, talks and flatters and talks some more, calls everyone `Comrade', and yet has a heart of gold.

He is so kind. The incident with Master Maloney, a little kid who is the office boy of the paper Cosy Moments, made me fall head over heels for Psmith. Psmith, anticipating the arrival of thugs who would hit Maloney over the head, sends him off to the zoo on official leave on the premise that Maloney is too "important to the office" to have his head hit. Psmith does this with such charm and subtlety that it is impossible not to be in awe.

Going a little heavy-handed on Wodehouse here, Psmith reminds me that it is possible for different personalities to be Christ-like. Psmith is the very opposite of a monk -- his ambition, verbosity, upper-crustness, etc. -- yet, he is Christ-like too. It is very important to know this, I think. Sometimes we get daunted in this quest for godliness because we have in our minds a picture of what we should be if we were Christ-like. For example, there is the image of the soft-spoken, gentle, paitent, enduring, submissive, quiet woman of God that we sometimes have. For some of us, that image so jars with our personalities that we give up before we even start.

I beg to differ. I think a strong, assertive, talkative, "gi la" (hyper) woman can be Christ-like in her own way too. I don't mean that God does not want radical change from us -- just that sometimes we look only at the outward behaviour, when God wants to change the heart. There isn't a "personality type" that is more blessed, if you get my drift of meaning.

Anyway, I'll stop talking now. Too much coffee this morning is making me talk too much.

Jolly good read, what

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Summer Lightning
, second book in the series Life in Blandings, on the recommendation of tym, is about the theft of a very fat pig called Empress, the darling of a rich uncle's eye.

The Code of the Woosters
is hilarious. Love the dialogue between Wooster and Jeeves. Just have to read the best bits of the dialogue aloud.

Going along the linguistic train of thought, do you think the Singaporean, "It is obvious, what!" originates from the British, "Jolly good read, what"? Any comments?

Kant and Hegel

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hegel: A Very Short Introduction
By Peter Singer

Borrowed this book to carry on where my reading in philosophy left off – at Kant. When I read Kant, I was impressed by his argument that what we know is always subject to the construct of time, space and substance, and therefore it is not possible to know reality independently of our sensory and organising framework. In this way, independent reality, or the world of the `thing-in-itself’, is forever beyond our knowledge.

One application of Kant’s philosophy is the refutation of the watchmaker’s theory for the existence of God. This is the logic of the watchmaker’s proof of God:

  1. You pick up a watch on the pavement.
  2. Because of the intricacies of design and workmanship, you know that the watch has a watchmaker.
  3. You look at the intricacies of the world we live in.
  4. You conclude by saying the world has to have a maker too.

Kant refutes this theory because while the watchmaker’s logic makes sense for a watch you pick up on the pavement, you cannot extend it to the creation of the world because that is beyond the framework of time, space and substance. It is simply unknowable as all our knowledge, our observations of the laws of nature, our experience, etc. only pertains to what we can perceive. There is no way to know anything independent of our perception.

Hegel tackles this in Phenomenology of Mind which is a search for `absolute knowledge’. This is his line of reasoning.

  1. An enquiry into knowing is immediately beset by doubts – does the instrument used to grasp reality distort reality? Take for example the way modern physicists find it impossible to observe the speed and location of subatomic particles because the act of observation interferes with them.
  2. One way to discover the true nature of reality is to subtract the distortion. For example, if you know the law of refraction you will be able to calculate the angle of a stick by observing the bent state in water.
  3. However, Hegel says knowledge is not like seeing. It cannot be subtracted from. Without knowledge, we would not know the stick at all. If we were to subtract, we would know nothing at all.
  4. Should we embrace the sceptical notion then that there is nothing we can truly know? But that in itself is self-refuting. If we are to doubt everything, why not doubt the claim that we can know nothing? Our scepticism also has its own presuppositions, such as there is such a thing as reality, and that knowledge is some kind of instrument by which we grasp reality.
  5. Therefore, we ought to plunge boldly into the stream of consciousness that is the starting point of all that we know.

We ought, says Kant, to become acquainted with the instrument, before we undertake the work for which it is to be employed; for if the instrument be insufficient, all our trouble will be spent in vain… But the examination of knowledge can only be carried out by an act of knowledge. To examine this so-called instrument is the same thing as to know it. But to seek to know before we know is as absurd as the wise resolution of Scholasticus, not to venture into the water until he had learned to swim.

And so Hegel refuted Kant.