Monday, 22 December 2014

On Icons of the Psyche

Google released a bunch of icons for free as part of their Material Design project. I amused myself recently by considering how we might use some of them to symbolize different kinds of common thinking patterns. These are what I came up with:

            Missing the point:


            Circular thinking:

             Dwelling in the past:

            Over-focusing:

 

            Thinking outside the box:
 
            Uncertainty:

 

            Skepticism:


            Wanting a hug:

 

            Over-complication:


            Self-contradiction:

            Narcissism:

            Negative thinking:

            Defensiveness:

            Drunk:

            Suicidal:

            Need donuts urgently: 

Friday, 28 November 2014

On Painting A Vermeer


Although the story definitely moves a little slowly for a film, I very much enjoyed this documentary on how Vermeer might have used technology to paint, as much because I admire Tim Jenison's obsessive devotion to detail as because I admire Vermeer. Bravo, sir!

Monday, 3 November 2014

On Assessing the Reality of Abstract Entities


Immanuel Kant famously wrote in his (1783) Prolegomena To Any Future Metaphysics that the British skeptic philosopher David Hume had "interrupted my dogmatic slumber". As I have noted elsewhere in this blog, reading Hume myself made me realize that I was not alone in my natural inclination (since early childhood) towards doubting all things.

However, the true awakening from my dogmatic slumbers (insofar as I am yet awakened from those slumbers) occurred when I took a graduate course at McGill University in psychometrics, the mathematics of psychological measurement. My mind was blown by the idea that we could use well-motivated quantitative reasoning to assess the degree of reality of abstract entities. I am still amazed by these ideas. Now I have the privilege of teaching them at the University of Alberta.

Over the years, I have gathered a large set of quotes that try to convey to my students why I so love this idea that we can assess realism using math. I have collected a few of them below.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

    "In a word, if there is a God, all is well; and if chance rules, do not thou also be governed by it."
                            Marcus Aurelius
                            120-180 CE

---------

    "Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life — save only this — that if you work hard and intelligently, you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole, purpose of education."
            J.A. Smith (Oxford philosopher, 1863 - 1939)


---------

    "All the real knowledge which we possess depends on methods by which we distinguish the similar from the dissimilar. The greater the number of natural distinctions this method comprehends the clearer becomes our idea of things. The more numerous the objects which employ our attention the more difficult it becomes to form such a method, and the more necessary."
                   Carolus Linnaeus / Genera Plantarum


---------

    "If we saw as much of the world as we do not see, we should be aware, in all probability, of a perpetual multiplication and variation of forms."
                        Michel de Montaigne / Essais

                        [This was the epigraph to my PhD thesis.]

---------

    "Living, just existing, presses probability to the threshold of unlikeliness."
                  Richard Powers- The Goldbug Variations


---------

    "...is not an event in fact more significant and noteworthy the greater the number of fortuities necessary to bring it about?
    Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us. We read its message much as gypsies read the images made by coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup."
                        Milan Kundera / The Unbearable Lightness of Being


---------

    "...chance alone is the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution: this central concept of modern biology is no longer one among other possible or even conceivable hypotheses. It is today the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one compatible with observed and tested fact. And nothing warrants the supposition (or the hope) that conceptions about this should, or ever could, be revised."
                        Jacques Monod / Chance & Necessity


---------

     "...algorithms of the heart, or, as they say, of the unconscious, are...coded and organized in a manner totally different from the algorithms of language. And since a great deal of conscious thought is structured in terms of the logics of language, the algorithms of the unconscious are doubly inaccessible. It is not only that the conscious mind has poor access to this material, but also the fact that when such access is achieved, e.g., in dreams, art, poetry, religion, intoxication, and the like, there is still the formidable problem of translation."
                        Gregory Bateson / Steps to an Ecology of Mind


---------

    "If there is no meaning in it, it saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn't try to find any."
                        Lewis Carroll / Alice In Wonderland


---------

   "It's difficult to think well about 'certainty', 'probability, 'perception' , etc, But it is, if possible, still more difficult to think, or try to think, really honestly about your life & other peoples lives."
                        Ludwig Wittgenstein, in a letter to Norman Malcolm


---------

    "Research in physics has shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that in the overwhelming majority of phenomena whose regularity and invariability have led to the formulation of the postulate of causality, the common element underlying the consistency observed is chance."
                        Erwin Schrodinger / What is Natural Law?


---------

    "The most important questions of life are indeed, for the most part, really only problems of probability."
                        Pierre Simon Laplace 

                        Théorie Analytique des Probabilités (1812)

---------

    "Words are ordinarily and uncritically assumed to correspond to 'real entities' but more often than not they signify merely 'fictitious' or 'fabulous entities' having no correspondence to the substances of nature."
                        Gordon W. Allport & Henry S. Odbert (1934)/ Trait Names: A psycho-lexical study.

---------

    "It is perfectly true that we can never attain a knowledge of things as they are. We can only know their human aspect."
                        Charles S. Peirce
                        Letter to Lady Welby
                        May 20, 1911


[Image: Stylized portrait of Paul Meehl, the founder of modern psychometrics.]

Monday, 27 October 2014

On Being As Beautiful As An Encounter Between An Umbrella & A Sewing-Machine



Isidore Ducasse (1846–70) was a Uruguayan/French writer (who wrote under the pseudonym Comte de Lautréamont) who died of unknown causes at the age of 24, during the siege of Paris by Napoleon III. The Comte de Lautréamont left behind one major literary work entitled Les Chants de Maldoror, the first canto (of six) of which was self-published in 1868. The strange, dark, and incoherent work [partially readable in English translation here and fully readable in the original French here] has been described by the British novelist Richard Milward as being “like an old, twisted rulebook on how to break all literary rules”. Many years after it was published, it was discovered by the Surrealists and ardently adopted by them as a forerunner of the movement. The list of artists who produced works based on the book or its author reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of Surrealism, including André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Max ErnstRené Magritte, André Masson, Joan Miró, and Yves Tanguy

The book famously includes a description of a boy as being “as beautiful as the random encounter between an umbrella and a sewing-machine upon a dissecting-table”, a line that was cited by André Breton and Max Ernst as an example of the chance juxtaposition that the Surrealists loved. The same line inspired this (1920) Surrealist portrait of the Comte de Lautréamont by Man Ray, entitled L’Énigme d’Isidore Ducasse, now at the Tate Museum in London.

[Image from http://rigaut.blogspot.ca/2008_05_01_archive.html]

Saturday, 4 October 2014

On Not Believing In What You Think You Can See

I stumbled across this 'unassumed road' in Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario:
Never assume that a thing is real just because you think you can see it.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

On The Improbability of Art


In my work as a psycholinguist, I have opportunity to compute the exact chance probability (given a distribution of words in a very large corpus of human-created text) of a particular sentence; i.e. to compute how probable it is that you would come across a particular sentence by chance. (I have a fun job!) Even very ordinary and very short (three-word) sentences have (to me) astoundingly low probabilities, easily below 1 in 10,000,000,000 and often ten orders of magnitude less probable. Weirder sentences would be much less likely. 

 I enjoy then thinking about the absurd improbability of any really long set of words. Any normal length novel is so improbable as to be incalculably unlikely (of course, novels and sentences do not come about by chance, so the calculation is perhaps somewhat misleading...this doesn't really make any difference to my point, but I won't get into that here). It is no wonder that I enjoy the musings of the Soviet statistician Andrei Kolmogorov (1956, from this interesting article on his life in Nautilus magazine) “Is it possible to include [Tolstoy’s War and Peace] in a reasonable way into the set of ‘all possible novels’ and further to postulate the existence of a certain probability distribution in this set?” His point, of course, was that it is not. Art is vanishingly improbable and therefore singular. Perhaps that is one reason why we like it.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs


I enjoyed this paragraph from David Graeber's essay in Strike magazine On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs:
"Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does."

Saturday, 6 September 2014

On Being Confident That We Are Having Fun




Edde Addad came up with the idea of using JanusNode to make Socratic dialogues. His original idea was to cut up the lines of the Socratic dialogs and allow the program to randomly put them together. I added a few other twists myself, most notably by inserting lines from Wittgenstein into the mix, by allowing for a little more randomness in some of the quoted lines (I intend to add more in the future), and by adding some snarky mostly-canned lines by a character named 'JanusNode'.

Here's a few select examples of the output.

SOCRATES: And is this condition of ours satisfactory?
WITTGENSTEIN: Do you believe that your question leaves no doubt open about the way I have to go?
                   ***
SOCRATES: But does he do what he wills if he does what is evil? Why do you not answer?
WITTGENSTEIN: We think of a chessboard as being composed of thirty-two white and thirty-two black squares. But could we not also say, for instance, that it was composed of the colors black and white and the schema of squares?

                   ***

WITTGENSTEIN: I look at the Internet.
WITTGENSTEIN: It is as if all these more or less inessential processes were shrouded in a particular atmosphere, which dissipates when I look closely at them.

                   ***

SOCRATES: And would you still say that the evil are evil by reason of the presence of evil?
JANUSNODE: I think you need Bayes' Theorem to figure that out.

                   ***

SOCRATES: Then he lives worst, who, having been unjust, has no deliverance from injustice?
JANUSNODE: You should post that on Twitter!

                   ***

SOCRATES: Will you ask me, what sort of an art is cookery?
JANUSNODE: Do you have any gin? Or is it just the hemlock?

                   ***

SOCRATES: And is this condition of ours satisfactory?
JANUSNODE: Words, words, words. What we need right now is some good music.

                   ***
SOCRATES: Then in some things we agree, but not in others?
JANUSNODE: You are not taking into account Godel's Incompleteness Theorem.

                   ***
JANUSNODE: Are we having fun yet?
WITTGENSTEIN: Is our confidence justified?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

On Having A Travel Plan



I did an interview about my novel on Deborah Kalb's book blog last week. One of the questions she asked was "Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make changes along the way?" This is my answer.

Imagine you are a young man taking a trip to Paris. You tell your best friend that you are going to spend time in Paris and he says: “Are you going to go up the Eiffel Tower?” and you say yes, you definitely will go up the Eiffel Tower. Being an organized guy, you even have a definite plan. The schedule you have made up for yourself says that you will go up the tower on your third day in Paris, just before you go to the Musée d’Orsay to see Manet’s famous painting of a nude women having a picnic with two formally dressed men, 'Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe'. But on your second evening in Paris, you find yourself in a little jazz bar that happens to be near your hotel, where you meet a wonderful woman with dark shiny eyes wearing too much bright red lipstick, who announces, after a couple of drinks and an intense and wonderful conversation, that you and she should take a train to Berlin together tomorrow to see an exhibition on the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși that just opened there. Because she is beautiful and you want an adventure and you are young and you love Brancusi too--and because that excess of bright red lipstick somehow just works on her, even though you had always thought you hated that look--you do go. So you end up spending time in Berlin rather than Paris, drinking German cocktails in dark German jazz cellars, and making love to a beautiful French woman in the reddish glow of a bedside lamp with a light silk scarf thrown over it, in a cheap hotel room that the two of you have decorated together by propping up postcards of works by Brancusi on every available horizontal surface. It is the best vacation of your life. 

When you get home and your friend asks you how the Eiffel Tower was, at first you can hardly even understand what he is asking about. Your trip had nothing to do with the Eiffel Tower. It was about red lipstick and a beautiful bright-eyed French woman and Brancusi sculpture and Berlin jazz cellars.


Writing a novel is just like taking that trip to Paris.

Monday, 4 August 2014

On Where Pain Is

 

"We must learn to suffer what we cannot evade; our life, like the harmony of the world, is composed of contrary things- of diverse tones, sweet and harsh, sharp and flat, sprightly and solemn: the musician who should only effect some of these, what would he be able to do? he must know how to make use of them all, and to mix them; and so we should mingle the goods and evils which are consubstantial with our life; our being cannot subsist without this mixture, and the one part is no less necessary to it than the other."
           Michel de Montaigne / Of Experience


I was recently diagnosed with the syndrome of transverse myelitis, which is an inflammation of the white matter (which is white because it is covered by a fatty sheath called myelin) in the spine. It can be diagnosed with an MRI, which makes the (in my case, tiny) region of inflammation visible. The symptoms of myelitis are sensory and motor problems, including muscle cramping, muscle weakness, and an interesting variety of different flavors of pain. There is no cure but the symptoms usually disappear by themselves after a few months. "Touch wood", as my mother would say.

My own symptoms came on suddenly and were of bewildering variety. They eventually stabilized around two primary symptoms: left leg weakness and pain in various places on my right side, especially the sole of right foot, extending (in what seems like an unnecessarily ignoble touch) especially into my right small toe. 


When I learned that that all this had been caused by a tiny speck of disorganized neural signalling, I was interested in the illusion that the pain that was caused by a lesion in my spine clearly felt like it was nearly a meter away, in my right foot. I began thinking about the question: What would we lose or gain if we said that the pain is actually in my spine, but it just feels like it is in my right foot?

One thing we lose is the generally inalienable right to ownership of our own phenomenology. If we cannot even tell where our own pain is, what are we?

One thing we gain, of course, is salvation of philosophical integrity. Typically a pain and the lesion that caused it are coincident in time and space. That is the whole point of the pain system.

We also gain a stark proof that pain is not even real, that it is ultimately just a signal running over an electrical line. Pain is being computed by a buggy program  that will tell you the pain is a metre away from the lesion, in a part of the body that is in fact entirely uninjured.

It is after all easier to ignore static on your phone line than a laceration of your flesh.

Friday, 18 July 2014

On Considering Quivering Inequality As Passionate

Much to the hilarity of my teenage children, my mother still signs her letters 'LOL', meaning 'Lots Of Love'. Modern kids laugh at this because they know that LOL now means 'Laugh Out Loud'. They also know that an LOLCat is an Internet phenomenon, a photo of a cat overlain with bizarre or silly caption printed in a sans serif font. The LOLCats have now been generalized to LOLPics, which relax the limitation on only using pictures of cats.

JanusLOLs are a variation of LOLPics invented by Scottish PhD student and poet Calum Rodgers in 2013. He came up with the idea of using my nonsense-generator program JanusNode to generate the caption for a picture that is found by searching that caption on Google: 
"First, generate some language using JanusNode. Next, select a language string and use it as your search term on Google image search, then choose an image from the results page (extra points for using the first entry). Finally, upload the image to a meme maker and caption it using your selected language string."
 
I have been collecting JanusLOLs on Pinterest here. Enjoy.


Thursday, 26 June 2014

On the Processing Speed of the Human Brain


Many years ago a highschool student wrote to me asking for an estimate of the processing speed of the human brain. This is a difficult question to answer for many reasons.

One reason is that it is not easy to say how much information is carried by a single neural firing. Some people might say a single neural firing is equal to a single bit flip in a computer, which would be roughly equivalent to 1/64th or 1/128th of a floating point operation (FLOP). However, neurons are not strictly binary. Although it is true they either fire or don't fire, their firing represents the effect of much prior information and the summation of a variety of biochemical and computational factors. I think it is probably impossible to compute with any accuracy how much information is transmitted by a single neuron firing, since it would depend on a huge number of factors such as where the neuron is (in many senses: which species? Which part of the brain? Which individual?), what sort of neurotransmitters are implicated in the firing, how many neurons connect to that neurons, what kind and number of receptors that neuron has etc. However, I am willing to argue (guess) that these effects would almost certainly cancel out the fact that a FLOP involves 64 or 128 (or possibly more) bits, and therefore say it is probably OK, as rough measure, to say that a single neural firing is equivalent to a single FLOP.

With this 'settled', we can calculate the computing power of the human brain in FLOPs per second (FLOPS) because we have good estimates for the three main variables that enter into it: how many neurons (brain cells) we have, how fast a neuron can fire, and how many cells it connects to. A human being has about 100 billion brain cells. Although different neurons fire at different speeds, as a rough estimate it is reasonable to estimate that a neuron can fire about once every 5 milliseconds, or about 200 times a second. The number of cells each neuron is connected to also varies, but as a rough estimate it is reasonable to say that each neuron connects to 1000 other neurons- so every time a neuron fires, about 1000 other neurons get information about that firing. If we multiply all this out we get 100 billion neurons X 200 firings per second X 1000 connections per firing = 20 million billion calculations per second, which is 20 petaFLOPS.

This estimate might easily be off by at least an order of magnitude- that is, it might be at least 10 times too high or low. It also is a bit misleading because it estimates the raw 'clock speed' of the brain, which is much higher than the number of real useful calculations we do in a second. An apparently much simpler way to approach the problem is to note that the time it takes for the brain to make a really simple decision–like naming a picture or reading a word aloud–is about 300-700 milliseconds. So then we can say that brain can only make about two conscious calculations per second.

However, this is also misleading, for a bunch of reasons. One reason is that well-trained brains can make incredibly complex decisions that quickly. Moreover, even apparently simple tasks like reading a word aloud are actually extremely complex, actually requiring huge amounts of low-level computation. Finally, note that your brain is doing all sorts of things unconsciously at the same time (e.g. maintaining your body and its relation to the world) whenever you are engaged in conscious calculations. So depending on whether you want the raw clock speed, or some higher-level measure of information processing, the question has two answers that differ widely.

This estimate is the same as the estimate by the entrepreneur/futurist Ray Kurzweil (2 x 10^16 computations per second= 20 petaFLOPS). Kurzweil also predicts that we will achieve 20
petaFLOPS on a $1000 desktop PC by 2023. A top end desktop Mac Pro (admittedly, much more than $1000 today, alas) runs at 91 gigaFLOPS. To get to 20 petaFLOPS from 91 gigaFLOPS requires about 17.74 doublings. Computer speed doubles about every 18 months. 17.74 doublings x 1.5 years = 26.6 years. Kurzweil may be a little optimistic, but these calculations suggest that we should see human brain speeds in a desktop computer by 2041. 

But doubling time is also decreasing, so Kurzweil may yet be right.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

On Why Duchamp Was Not A Dadaist


People often say that Duchamp was a Dadaist. He was not. He was already in New York in 1916 when Dadaism was being invented in Zurich, and by then had already completed many of the works that later got him associated with the Dadaist movement. He moved on the periphery of the movement and by his own testament had little to do with it. He once said of Dadaism that it "was parallel, if you wish" (in Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp). He made no attempt to ‘be a Dadaist’ when he moved back to Europe after World War I.

Duchamp also did not embrace the ‘pure meaninglessness’ of Dada. Dada was intended make thinking irrelevant by making it impossible. Duchamp
s work is intended to make the spectator think.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

On the Search for the Waters of Oblivion


I saw this great (1812) painting by British Romanticist John Martin, entitled Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion, when I was at the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM!) a few weeks ago. Sadak, who you can see clinging for dear life to the rock at the bottom of the painting, is a fictional character from a 1764 book by James Ridley, Two Tales of the Genii. Ridley published under the name 'Sir Charles Morell' and pretended to have translated the tale from Persian, although actually wrote it himself in English. It's good to see the painting at full scale. It's big and impressive, about 185 x 130 cm. The Saint Louis Art Museum store sells a t-shirt with just the detail of Sadak clinging to the rock, which I bought and am wearing as I write.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

On the Passage from Virgin to Bride

Duchamp's (1912) painting The Passage from Virgin to Bride (now at the MOMA in NYC) was one of his last paintings, the kind of art he would come to deride as 'retinal art'.

Although it is obviously very abstract, I think it actually looks fairly bride-like in miniature or from a distance, as this screen shot from Google search might make clear (I love the range of colors you get from doing a Google search for copies of 'the same image'):


 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Thursday, 8 May 2014

On a Penchant for Activities in the Dada Vein



I appreciate Dutch performer Jaap Blonk's technologically-enhanced performance from memory of German Dadaist Kurt Schwitters'  nonsense poem Ursonate, which Schwitters developed over many years starting in 1925.


I also enjoy this description from the BBC website of Jaap Blonk:
    "His unfinished studies in physics, mathematics and musicology mainly created a penchant for activities in the Dada vein, as did several unsuccessful jobs in offices and other well organised [sic] systems."

Monday, 28 April 2014

On The 296,613 Anagrams of 'Philadelphia Freedom'



In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll famously left a riddle unanswered: Why is a raven like a writing desk?
"Have you guessed the riddle yet?" the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
"No, I give it up," Alice replied. "What's the answer?"
"I haven't the slightest idea," said the Hatter.
"Nor I," said the March Hare.
Alice sighed wearily. "I think you might do something better with the time," she said, "than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers."
In a later edition Carroll offered an answer: Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front! Alas,  a humorless copy editor ruined the best part of that joke by changing 'nevar' to 'never' before the edition was published, so the answer was never published as intended.

Another excellent answer was offered by 'puzzle maven' Sam Lloyd in 1914 (according to Cecil Adams' The Straight Dope): Because Poe wrote on both.

In my own novel, The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, there is a similar unanswered riddle. As the three main characters complete the first half of their road trip from Medford, MA by driving into Philadelphia, PA, one of them, Greg, plays Elton John's song Philadelphia Freedom. He asks the others: For ten points, and today’s grand prize, who can tell me what that song has to do with Duchamp? The chapter ends there; no answer is ever given.

Greg is obsessed with anagrams, for reasons that are partly to do with Duchamp, who greatly enjoyed anagrams and other wordplay. I asked my son to write me an anagram-finding computer program that could deal with long strings, which most on-line anagram tools cannot. There are at least 671 English words contained inside the string Philadelphia Freedom, and my son's program found 296,613 anagrams that used all the letters. I wrote my own computer program to help conduct a systematic search through this set, looking for an anagram that might serve as an answer to Greg's riddle. I found several candidates, but my son and I selected this one as our favorite:
LIMP? HAHA! DID LOPE FREE!
Duchamp's life can be seen a celebration of freedom, as a throwing off of all limitations. He never limped along but rather ran freely: i.e. he DID LOPE FREE.

Friday, 18 April 2014

On Caravaggio As (Like Duchamp) An Artist of Time


The narrator of my novel is an obsessive-compulsive guy named Isaac. Among a few other quirks, he is a devoted admirer of the Italian pre-Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, now known most commonly just as Caravaggio, which is where he was from. Caravaggio was a master of chiaroscuro, painting which relies upon a strong contrast between light and dark. He arguably moved art toward modernity in a couple of ways, one of which is illustrated in this (c. 1595) painting, Boy Bitten By A Lizard. In an excellent little book on Caravaggio, Lambert (2000, p. 32) wrote of this painting that it "is a revolution in itself, marking the advent of the instantaneous in painting" (though also noting its inspiration in Sofonisba Anguissola's c. 1554 drawing Portrait of Her Son Asdrubale Bitten by a Crayfish, drawn for the more famous Michelangelo). This focus on time in painting allows us, perhaps, to draw a direct line between Caravaggio and Marcel Duchamp, whose (1912) Nude Descending A Staircase #2 deconstructed time into instantaneous pieces and then put them back together again. [On time and Duchamp, see also this post and this post.]

Sunday, 13 April 2014

On Samuel Beckett's Birthday


Although today, April 13th, is indisputably my own birthday (thanks for your congratulations), it might not actually be Samuel Beckett's birthday, despite what you may have read on your Twitter account or elsewhere today. It pleased Samuel Beckett to believe that he was born on a Friday that was simultaneously Good Friday and Friday the 13th: April 13th, 1906.

However, according to his biographer Anthony Cronin, Beckett's birth certificate indicates that he was born a month too late for such an auspicious entry into the world, on Sunday May 13th, 1906, with the birth being registered four weeks later, in June, as was customary. Of course, it might be an error on the birth certificate. The matter remains uncertain. In his biography Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist Cronin writes "Since Beckett was on the whole truthful about such matters and on at least one occasion claimed to have the authority of his mother for the Good Friday birth-date, the balance of probability is in its favour, but it is a pity nevertheless that there should be any doubt about it."


[Image: Samuel Beckett at Riverside Studios (1984), a lithograph by Tom Phillips that is in the collection of England's National Portrait Gallery. The words are from Beckett's Worstward Ho, and have been adopted as a personal motto both by Phillips and by me.]

Monday, 31 March 2014

On Free Books

I'm giving away five free copies of my novel on GoodReads.com. Details below.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even by Chris F. Westbury

The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even

by Chris F. Westbury

Giveaway ends June 10, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win