Badia Tower, Marsala, Sicily

badia towerIf you want a romantic holiday for two, Marsala in Sicily is a beautiful baroque town with plenty to see in and around. We stayed in the Badia Tower (booked through Solo Sicily), a converted folly set in the gardens of an old aristocratic estate. Click here for my poem.

You can't easily get any wine that is not made in Sicily, and that is no problem because Sicilian wines are excellent.

We hired a car, which is necessary, but the Sicilian drivers are the worst I have encountered anywhere (and I have been in taxis in Moscow and Turkey), and driving requires constant vigilance and a willingness to swerve frequently. I do not know how we got through Palermo in rush hour unscathed.

Take care not to get double charged on insurance - better to book car hire insurance at the airport because booking the insurance on-line was not recognised by the car hire firms at the airport, so I paid twice. The booking agency refunded my booking fee but nothing else: if you use a booking agency you never know who your contract is with so it's hard to get anyone to take responsibility when it all goes wrong.

Anyway, you will understand from the above that the collision damage waiver is essential for peace of mind.

Having said that, a wonderful holiday and the locals in Marsala were very friendly.

Recommended in Marsala:
La Sirena Ubriaca - a friendly wine bar in which you can taste many local wines before purchase, or just have a glass of wine and some small but very high quality bar nibbles (a nibble is smaller than a snack). (I don't think their mermaid is as pretty as mine.)
The best restaurant is tucked away - from the main square go towards the eastern gate and turn left down one of the narrow alleys before you get to the gate. I'll post more precise details when I find them.
The bar on the main square is good for a savoury pastry or delicious cake and a beer.


The Quackometer duck sells ear candles

duckI am not so happy with the little black duck at www.quackometer.net. The quackometer is an experiment to see if it is easy to spot quack medical web sites just from the language they use, however it gave a score of 10 canards (the standard international unit of quackery) to my sister's hypnotherapy web site at www.keyhypnotherapy.co.uk, which seems unfair because she says Clients will always be encouraged to follow the advice of their GP or hospital consultant.

What's more that little duck is advertising ear candles.

The saucy site owner one Andy Lewis says you can contact him via the about page on his web site, but there isn't one. I used the internet time machine at www.archive.org to extract his email address from the Akharshic records.

I've emailed Mr Lewis and await a response.


My old home page reinstated!

kat A blog is all very well, but my old home page was all right, so I have reinstated it. There is a new link to a bizarre cartoon strip Katastrophe Qat I did in my youth (i.e. before the dawn of time). Go to Qatastrophe Kat's new home page. (Katastrophe Kat is a cat, not some weird drug that makes your teeth go a funny colour.) He tries to clean up with a get-rich-quick scheme.


'I' do not exist

'I', in the sense of my own subjective self, does not exist.

Consider the following definition of 'exist':

A thing exists if there is a way for at least two independent observers to verify it, such that their observations match sufficiently.

Now, whereas 'I' (that is, Dace associated with this blog) exist in a certain sense (for you I am a you or a him), my interior subjective 'I' is not accessible to any of you except me. Therefore 'I' fails the test of existence as defined above.

Therefore, 'I' do not exist.


On seeing Peter Brook's Mahabharata

Classical history is the reverse of the version I was taught at primary school.

My school books suggested that there was a gradual ascent from the stone age to all the gleaming technological advances of modern humanity, whereas in ancient times it was believed that we have descended from a more innocent golden age to the primitive and violent age we now inhabit. In this the Indian, Greek and Roman authors agree.

In between that ancient and mythical golden age and our present demonic age stands the Silver age of heroes: in Homer: Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus, and in the Mahabharata: Bhishma, Drona and Arjuna.

In the time of heroes people thought differently and acted differently. They meant what they said - a word had power both over the person spoken to and over the person speaking. If a hero vowed to do something he would do his utmost to carry it out even at the cost of his life. A man's word used to be his bond, and to break it would involve unacceptable loss of being. Today promises are cheap and exchangeable often not for fulfilment but for excuses.

They had rules of war, some of which have trickled down to us in lip-service form, such as not killing an unarmed man, and some that have not survived at all, such as not fighting after dark, not fighting during the harvest.

At several points in the great battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas the ancient rules of war are broken. One feels that the great epic stands on the edge between the Silver age and our age to follow, an age in which as a man's word means less, so is his being the less, and as the rules are broken so the world slips into chaos.

Yet at these points Krishna himself intervenes, not to keep the old law but to destroy it. Drona is lied to - the deception appears shocking to those who perpetrate it, as if they stand on the very precipice of the old order in doing the unthinkable. Krishna urges them gently on. Arjuna hesitates to plant the fatal arrow in his mortal enemy Karna, Krishna gently urges him to kill.

Consider then Odysseus - the man of many devices who wins the Trojan war on the very eve of defeat by deception. Does he not also stand at the very twilight of the age of heroes, and use language and trickery to survive? How also could he have escaped from the Cyclops except by the verbal ruse of pretending his name was 'Nobody'?

Now having accepted deception as a way of life we have become thoroughly self-deceived. This is what Socrates tried patiently to show and why he was killed.

To be like Silver Age heroes we have at least to know how to use deceptive words (I mean that all words are deceptive) without being ourselves deceived.

The Mahabharata [1989] [DVD] [1990]


art is a signpost

A while back I got this message via my web contact form:

"hi, love your work what is your inspiration to do the work you do" - from Michelle C.

Here is my reply:

"My inspiration is the need to express beauty. I think probably all of us have a desire towards what is beautiful and expressing it in art is one way of getting close to it. Or perhaps it is frustration at not having the real thing, like a lover wanting to have a picture of his or her beloved because their real beloved is not with them.

"Art is a signpost pointing to something else."


consciousness is not functions

The human machine is not the mind.

We think we 'do' and 'decide' but it is done for us and we respond unconsciously. Then we claim that 'I' did it. We rationalise what happened after the fact as if we had planned it consciously all along.

This article from the Economist suggests that decisions on what to think and what to do and even the solving of problems are done before they reach consciousness.

So who do we think we are? The machine which thinks and acts unconsciously? Or the consciousness that perceives after the event?

Is there any way we can rescue the 'common-sense' view that we decide what to do and then do it? Or does thinking just get in the way of decisions already made deep inside the human machine?

The study of 'artificial intelligence' mostly studies functions (like the ability to play chess, for example). It seems clear that functions can be carried out prior to (and perhaps without the help of) consciousness.


Vita - naked women and bicycles

I received an email from a gallery owner in Quebec representing an artist called Vita, who specialises in paintings of naked women, often with bicycles. The gallery owner had responded to my essay, 'Towards a new art'.

I especially liked this painting by Vita in which a woman, beautiful in her nakedness, looks at an abstract painting from which elements have fallen.

There is a commentary on the web site.

In reference to the commentary, the male and female elements both refer to our own psychology - the male guides, the female has the force of inspiration. The male has the rules, the female has the love. One is useless without the other, a string and a bow.


this blog, my art

I shall shortly move this blog to www.dace.co.uk/blog and restore my old front page with its direct links to my paintings. See links at the right of this page for my artwork. The blog will continue and there will be a link to it from my new front page.

determinism and free will 3

Fate could not operate without that choice, which is part of the web of fate itself, part of its colour.

Did not Odysseus reach Ithaka as he was fated to do all along? And did not that arrival require strenuous efforts and choices, the choice to leave the nymph Calypso for example?

To say that determinism and free will contradict each other is to confuse two things on very different scales.

The sense of choice, of decision and effort, are woven into the very fabric of fate. Free will is necessary for fate to unfold as it must.



Mysticism (Oxford English Dictionary):
1. belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender.
2. belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, esp. when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.

I have long been a bit of a hard nut, not given to believing in 'mysterious agencies,' and indeed I have come actively to disbelieve anything written in a newspaper, and require stringent proofs for any important claims. I am a doubter.

Even dictionaries, of course, can get things wrong. Be that as it may, the Oxford Dictionary gives the Greek root of the word mysticism as muein - to close the lips or eyes. Plato said that we come into this world knowing much, but we forget it all. Someone has put a seal on our lips. At the same time, much that is worth knowing cannot be spoken.

There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical. Wittgenstein, Tractatus 6.522


determinism and free will 2

Now we descend from Parmenides's vantage point on Mount Olympus.

From there we could see the whole world laid out, not only in space but also in time: everything that was is and will be as a single unimaginably complex intertwining of threads of existence. For each object and being we see that coming into existence, being and going out of existence are just one thread.

Thus the Fates weave. There seemed from there no possibility of anything ever being any different, since we see all changes as one thing.

From the point of view of the being whose thin thread of life we observed from Olympus, things look very different. The twists and turns of fate do not entirely feel to us like being pushed and pulled helplessly, but require decisions and action.

Saxon King Harold Godwinson, standing on the battlefield not far from York in 1066, is faced by his brother Tostig and Harald Sigurdson, King of Norway at the head of a large Norwegian army. Harold sends a messenger to the Norwegian camp and offers a third of his kingdom to his brother Tostig. Tostig asks what Harold will give to Harald of Norway. Harold replies that he will give him six feet of English earth, but because Harald is such a tall man, seven feet.

Battle commences and the invading Norwegians are defeated and Harald and Tostig slain. Harold Godwinson returns to fight William of Normandy at Hastings, the outcome of which we all know.

What if Harold, knowing that he had two battles on his hands and weary troops, had made a pact with Harald and gone on to victory at Hastings? Probably the inhabitants of Newcastle would speak Norwegian to this day, and English history would have been very different.

Perhaps the choice Harold made was determined by Fate. But from Harold's point of view he was making a decision, in those few minutes.


adolescent philosophising

Some adolescents pass through a stage when they want to know who they are and what is the meaning of life. Then they grow up and die.

It is better to stay an adolescent in our thinking.

When we change enough we may realise that we don't know who we are, or that we are not who we thought we were. If we are what is common to what was before and what is now then what we thought we were shrinks indefinitely. It can only stay the same if we have fossilised.

Yet what watches remains.


determinism and free will

cracklesWe are with Parmenides, standing on Mount Olympus, looking down on the whole universe in time and space. From our god-like perspective the universe is a four-dimensional space-time solid, in which all our heres and nows that were and are and shall be are but specks.

We can perhaps distinguish a line connecting all the moments of the life of one being, this being the thread spun by the Fates. Everything is fixed.

Omar Khayyam wrote:

With Earth's first Clay They did the Last man's knead,
And then of the Last Harvest sow'd the Seed:
Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

However, from the point of view of this being, whose thread of life we observe from Olympus, things look very different.

In my next post I propose to challenge the idea that determinism and free will are irreconcilable.



Be silent, or let your words be worth more than silence - Pythagoras. I have many thoughts, but few of them of any value.



...Professor C E M Joad once defined decadence as 'the loss of an object in life.' - Charles Johnson, introductory essay to Proverbs from the authorised King James version of the bible, Canongate 1998.


words and reality

What is the true purpose of thought?

Words interpose themselves between us and the present, so much so that we live in a world of thought, an internal virtual reality, hardly ever being where our feet are carrying us. Our thoughts, beginning as symbolic tokens for the real world, become a substitute for it. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, as Shakespeare wrote.

There must once have been a time, in the early pre-historic, when there was little speech, no words as we know them, no syntax, no thought. Were we real then, but animals? Now we are human, but illusory.

There was a time before writing was invented. Writing enabled many things from libraries of knowledge to the keeping of accounts. Yet the price we paid for writing was the gradual loss of the ability to remember. The work of Homer was passed down from singer to singer from the Mycenaean age to Classical Greece. Yet by the time of the Peisistratids there was a real risk that one of the masterpieces of the world would be lost forever. Thus they had to have Homer's words written down.

Similarly with speech and thought - perhaps there was a much more ancient gain and loss. How can we use thought without being bewitched by it?