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Conceptual blending

Monday, May 28th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — cross posted from Sembl — creativity as the blending of ideas ]

Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner‘s The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities gives us a fascinating look at the way the human mind weaves a world out of seemingly disparate elements — in a very similar manner to that in which the creative mind weaves an aha! out of seemingly disparate ideas. The book deals with the formation of perceptions as well as ideas, but it was a specifically conceptual blend that intrigued me the other day.

First, they note that when we use expressions like “I had reached the boiling point. I was fuming. He exploded.” we are making a metaphorical mapping in which “a heated container maps to an angry individual, heat maps to anger, smoke and steam (signs of heat) map to signs of anger, explosion maps to uncontrolled rage.” Then they add in the “folk theory of physiological effects of anger” including ” increased body heat, blood pressure, agitation, redness of face” – and thus we have a threefold scheme, in which physiology, emotions and the physics of heat are intricately cross-correlated, so that we can say without much thought “He was so mad I could see smoke coming out of his ears”.

Here Fauconnier and Turner describe the mechanics of this remarkable conceptual blending process – which can yield such a seemingly unremarkable phrase:

In addition to the metaphoric mapping between Heat and Emotions and the vital-relation connection between Emotions and Body, there is a third partial mapping between Heat and Body. In this mapping, steam as vapor that comes from a container connects to perspiration as liquid that comes from a container, the heat of a physical object connects to body heat, and the shaking of the container connects to the body’s trembling.

The three partial mappings set the stage for a conventional multiple blend in which the counterparts in the inputs are fused, yielding, for example, a single element that is heat, anger, and body heat and a different single element that is exploding, reaching extreme anger, and beginning to shake. Once we have this blend, we can run it to develop further emergent structure and we can recruit other information to the inputs to facilitate its development.


What interests me here is the phrase:

the inputs are fused, yielding, for example, a single element that is heat, anger, and body heat

and what it reminds me of is CS Lewis writing in The Allegory of Love:

It must always be remembered … that the various senses we take out of an ancient word by analysis existed in it as a unity.

Thus the King James Version of the Bible, John 3.8, reads:

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

In the Greek, the word here translated wind is pneuma, and the sentence accordingly means “the pneuma blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but can’t tell where it comes from or is going: and so it is with all those born of pneuma“…

Recalling Lewis’ remark about the “various senses we take out of an ancient word”, this in turn means simultaneously and without separation:

the wind blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but can’t tell where it comes from or is going: and so it is with all those born of wind…

the breath blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but can’t tell where it comes from or is going: and so it is with all those born of breath…


spirit blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but can’t tell where it comes from or is going: and so it is with all those born of spirit…

Take this a step further, realize that spirit can be defined as what inspires us, and we have:

inspiration blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but can’t tell where it comes from or is going: and so it is with all those born of inspiration…

Four meanings, all making good sense, and all present simultaneously and inseparably in the one gospel phrase…


Now consider that Fauconnier and Turner are speaking of how “three partial mappings set the stage for a conventional multiple blend in which the counterparts in the inputs are fused, yielding, for example, a single element that is heat, anger, and body heat” and compare it with Lewis’ “unity” from which we take out “the various senses” by “analysis”, as applied to the “ancient word” pneuma, with its meaning encompassing wind, breath, spirit… inspiration.

Are wind, breath and spirit or inspiration in fact three “primitives” that conceptual mapping in ancient Greek thought has brought together? What do we gain, and what do we lose if we view them this way?

And what do we lose, what do we gain if we view them as a single rich concept, now reduced to three or four separate — and separately less complexly interesting — ideas?

In Memoriam

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

The Blog Formerly Known as…

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Leah Farrall on the state of counterterrorism ]

Until recently, friend and blog-friend Leah Farrall‘s highly-regarded blog carried this header:

No more.

Leah, the former al-Qaeda subject matter specialist and senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police — Andrew Exum once called her the “Aussie goddess of all things counter-terrorism” — hasn’t been blogging a whole lot recently.

Today, the header of her blog looks just a little different. It now reads:

To understand why, you’ll want to read the series of seven posts she uploaded today under the new header.


The title for the series goes with the first post:

When words have consequences: on labeling children “terror spawn,” and some stories and thoughts on agency …

The series continues:

II: The situation of children born into jihad
III: Bin Laden’s children
IV The situation of other children and the lack of options
V Understanding the pressures against leaving and the dangers it can entail
VI Addressing this issue without exploiting already traumatized victims

Leah concludes the series with a post in which she lays out a more general critique of the field, and explains the reasoning behind her decision to change the name of her blog:

VII A Personal Prologue.


Caitlin Fitz Gerald (@caidid) was among the first to note Leah’s posts on Twitter, and wrote:

Confirmed: @allthingsct series is required reading. Set aside some time this weekend, start here and read all 7.

J.M. Berger (@intelwire) took the time to do so, and tweeted:

Just finished the entirety of @allthingsct’s epic series starting here and I cannot stress enough that you shld read it.

It is a great exposition of something rarely discussed, with broader implications as well. Also very human.


Leah has written a moving and courageous essay: I commend it highly.


I have also invited Leah to write a guest-post for us here at Zenpundit expanding on her critique of current trends in counterterrorism, and she’s agreed. So that’s something to keep an keen eye out for, date uncertain at this point.

Between the warrior and the monk (iii): poetry and sacrament

Friday, May 25th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — a warrior, a monk, and (still to come, in a fourth and final post) where that leaves me ]


How I have loved that handwriting! How I loved that man! How I have loved that book…


I am fifteen, seventeen years old. I walk a few hundred yards in the chill English dawn to our little parish church to “serve Mass” at 6am, for this man whose intense gaze and tireless care for those he is with made him take of his hat to Mrs Tutu, and ask Hugh what would get him out of his hospital bed fastest. He brings the same gaze and care to bear on me, and talks to me about the English Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose work he loves.

Trevor Huddleston taught me to love poetry when he showed me Hopkins, and I cannot exactly tell this story without “reading” you a bit of the man’s work, because it gets to the heart of the matter.

Hopkins has a very brilliant poem, As king fishers catch fire, which requires quite a bit of “unpacking” since Hopkins writes poetry as though packing an intolerable amount of sound and meaning into a very small space. The poem is about what Hopkins calls “selving”: being the self you are, ie being true not just to your possibilities, but to your flavor, your individuality. In the theological termino0logy of Duns Scotus: hacceitas.

Here’s how Hopkins expresses it:

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

We selve, we become ourselves — we deal out into the world that being which dwells indoors, inside, within us.

The second half of the poem goes like this:

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Let me try at least to unpack this much:

The man who is just, he’s saying, goes about doing acts of justice (there’s no difference between his nature and his deeds), he is tethered to grace (has an inward center with which he is perpetually in touch), and that tether is what ensures his actions (“goings”) are of the quality of grace.

He — and here Hopkins tell us what this is really all about, from his own perspective as a deeply religious man and a Catholic priest in the Jesuit order — acts Christ, for that is how God sees him. Each one of us is, in God’s eye, Christ, “for Christ plays in ten thousand places”. That’s the great gift Hopkins brings us, the understanding that being made in the image of God, we play here on earth like so many Christs, each with its own character and “self”, each one capable of grace… and thus, each individual beautiful to God “through the features of men’s faces”.

Here, should you care to read it, is the whole poem.


Trevor offers his hands and voice as a priest at Mass to the great poetical transformation of “bread” into “body” and “wine” into “blood” that stands at the heart of the Christian mystery, and eats, digests, the divine presence among us, and offers that divine presence in the appearance of a wafer of bread and sip of wine to whoever “partakes of communion” with him.

And walking to Mass, or walking back from Mass, he talks to me about South Africa, and the kids he knew there — Desmond and Hugh among them no doubt, though I learned those particular stories far later — and the pass laws which penalized his students when they were late getting home from work in a “white” part of town, and his fights in the courts and in the press for young people he loved — Hugh or Desmond or Oscar or whoever goes to Mass, receives Christ on his tongue, and that “keeps all his goings graces” — because “Christ plays in ten thousand places”, and Sophiatown, a shanty town just outside Johannesberg, is one of them.

Father Trevor, school teacher, photo credit Constance Stuart Larrabee

Am I making any sense? It was Trevor’s love, which “saw” the divine in each individual child he taught and coached and loved, which could not tolerate apartheid, which could not stop at a boy’s skin color and segregate or tolerate segregation.


Loving the individual before him with that gaze and care, he loved and taught me, for seven or eight years, in four hundred wonderful letters and many visits, Masses, days spent flyfishing for trout, voyages by car or train to visit a friend or a cathedral…

And if I could express the essence, it was this: that you tether yourself to the divine on the inside, by belief, by ritual, above all by contemplation — and then you move through the world infused with that sense of the sacred in and around you, and do whatever is needful to bring about a more just society.

You justice, you keep grace. That keeps all your goings graces.

Christ the King, Sophiatown, photo credit Eliot Elisofon

Not surprising, then, that his devotion to the kids of a shanty town in South Africa led him into court battles, into association with Luthuli and Mandela, into becoming one of a handful of “white” signatories of the African National Congress, into the award of the Isitwalandwe, the writing of his great book, Naught for your Comfort [link is to a free download] — which was smuggled out of the country to be published just a day ahead of the Special Police impounding all his papers — to bestsellerdom, to stirring the conscience of the world, to the Presidency of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and finally to an archbishopric and a knighthood.

He saw Christ, which was his name for love, and served him.



Father Trevor Huddleston wrote what I think must be among the most powerful words of eucharistic theology I have ever read in Naught for Your Comfort — and they convey as nothing else can the immediacy with which he connects his ritual gestures and acts as a priest with the political necessity to overthrow the apartheid regime in his beloved South Africa — and for that matter, any and all hatred and oppression everywhere…

On Maundy Thursday, in the Liturgy of the Catholic Church, when the Mass of the day is ended, the priest takes a towel and girds himself with it; he takes a basin in his hands, and kneeling in front of those who have been chosen, he washes their feet and wipes them, kissing them also one by one. So he takes, momentarily, the place of his Master. The centuries are swept away, the Upper Room in the stillness of the night is all around him: “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet.” I have knelt in the sanctuary of our lovely church in Rosettenville and washed the feet of African students, stooping to kiss them. In this also I have known the meaning of identification. The difficulty is to carry the truth out into Johannesberg, into South Africa, into the world.

Between the warrior and the monk (ii): Fr Trevor Huddleston

Friday, May 25th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — a warrior, a monk, and where that leaves me ]

In the first part of this post I introduced you to my father, Captain OG Cameron DSC, RN, the man who fueled my keen interest in gallantry and the martial side of things. The other great influence in my early life was Fr. Trevor Huddleston CR, pictured below:


Trevor Huddleston CR:

Archbishop the Most Reverend Sir Ernest Urban Trevor Huddleston CR, KCMG – it’s hard even to know how to string his titles together, this monk, priest, schoolteacher, activist, archbishop, finally knighted by Her Majesty towards the end of his long and eventful life was the man who became a second father, guardian, mentor and spiritual guide to me shortly after my father died when I was nine.

That’s the man as I knew him, Father Trevor — simple, caring, intelligent, perhaps a little austere even — in the middle image above.

Austerity, simplicity: two more words to set beside gallantry in the lexicon of admiration and gratitude.


To the left in the same image, he’s shown with Louis Armstrong — Satchmo — who has just presented him with a trumpet.

The story goes like this: as a monk in an Anglican monastic order, the Community of the Resurrection popularly known as the Mirfield Fathers, Father Trevor was sent to South Africa while still a young man, and worked in Sophiatown, just outside Johannesberg, as a priest and teacher.

A young black kid in one of his classes, Hugh, aged 12 or 13, fell ill and was taken to hospital, where Trevor Huddleston visited him. Trevor asked him what he would like more than anything in this world, what would so thrill and please him that he would have the greatest possible motive for getting better, getting out of the hospital and back to school. Hugh said, “a trumpet, Father” — so Trevor got hold of a trumpet which he then presented to the boy: now known the world over as the great jazz trumpeter, Hugh Masekela.

That wasn’t quite enough, though. A year or three later, Trevor was in the United States, and met Satchmo, who asked if there was anything he could do to help… Trevor told Satchmo he’d started a jazz band for the kids in his school, and knew a boy who would just love a trumpet…

Trevor was a hard man to refuse.

Hugh Masekela:

Here’s Hugh Masekela, just a little older, with the trumpet Trevor brought him from Louis Armstrong:

And here’s the sound…

When I was maybe 15, and Trevor had returned from South Africa to England, he gave me a 7″ “45” record of the Huddleston Jazz Band — now long lost. Imagine my amazed delight to be able to hear that sound again, fifty years later, through the good graces of the internet —

Hugh Masekela and the Huddleston Jazz Band play Ndenzeni na?


Desmond Tutu:

Another story I like to tell about Trevor and his time in South Africa has to do with a lady…

It seems this young black kid aged about 8 or 9 was sitting with his mother on the “stoop” outside his house in a South African shanty-town when a white priest walked by and doffed his hat to the boy’s mother.

The boy could hardly grasp how this had happened — his mother was a black woman, as one might say, “of no special acount”. But the priest in question was Trevor Huddleston, and it was a natural courtesy for him to lift his hat in greeting a lady…

The young boy never quite recovered from this encounter. We know him now as the Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Here’s a photo of four old friends — Huddleston, Tutu, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and former Commonwealth Secretary General Shridath Ramphal.

From individuals to the world:

These are two simple stories of how Fr Trevor simply and straightforwardly loved whomever was before him, regardless of the enormous pressure at the time to discriminate between “real” and “insignificant” people — a love which made an indelible mark on those whose lives it touched.

And when Father Trevor touched you, as Lord Buckley might say, you stayed touched.

Thus far I’ve been focusing on individuals that Trevor touched. I do not think he in fact saw more than one person at a time, and his responses to situations were geared directly to the service of his love.

It was because of this that while he was in South Africa, Trevor repeatedly and quite literally put his life on the line in defence of the very simple proposition that the color of a person’s skin was immaterial in view of the love that was possible between any two people — so perhaps here’s where I should mention some of that history and some of the honors it brought him. After all, Trevor did pretty much take on the government of the South Africa he so loved, and lived to see it change.

Bishop Trevor of Sophiatown

Trevor Huddleston was a founding member of the African National Congress, the author of the first non-fiction work (Naught for Your Comfort, more on that later) to critique his beloved South Africa’s apartheid policy, reviled publically for meddling in politics by an Archbishop of Canterbury who later declared he had been in error and that Fr Trevor was about as close to a saint as one could find.

In 1955, Father Trevor, along with Yusuf Dadoo and Chief Albert Luthuli, was awarded the Isitwalandwe, the highest award given by the African National Congress. He was awarded the United Nations Gold Medal in recognition of his contribution to the international campaign against apartheid, the highest awards from both Zambia and Nigeria, the Dag Hammerskjold Award for Peace, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Prize, and ten honorary doctorates, including that of his alma mater, Oxford.

Archbishop Huddleston initiated the “International Declaration for the Release of Nelson Mandela and all Political Prisoners” in 1982, took part in the televised “International Tribute for a Free South Africa” held at Wembley Stadium, London in 1990 during which he introduced the address by Nelson Mandela (see below), entered South Africa House, Trafalgar Square, London in 1994 to vote in the first South African democratic election, and was a guest at President Mandela’s inauguration in Pretoria that year.

He received the KCMG (Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George) in the 1998 New Year Honours list, for “Services to UK-South African Relations”, and attended an Investiture at Buckingham Palace on March 24th, 1998, to receive this honour from HM the Queen.

He chose the designation, “Bishop Trevor of Sophiatown”.

Nelson Mandela:

But let’s go back to individuals, and to Nelson Mandela in particular.

Mandela and Trevor were comrades in the fight against apartheid from the beginning — and the richness of their friendship is visible in the photo of Mandela with his arms on Trevor’s shoulders in the right hand panel at the top of this page.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela tells the story of a time when he and Walter Sisulu were approached by a group of South African police who had been ordered to arrest them. Trevor, who was talking with with the two of them, called out to the cops, “No, you must arrest me instead, my dears.”

It’s that “my dears” that gives the game away. I can hear those words in Trevor’s voice. Even the cops were dear to Trevor: he might be utterly opposed to what they were doing, and risk his life to oppose them – but they were children of God.

Here’s a video of Trevor’s speech introducing Mandela at Wembley — a political speech, to be sure, but one powered by religious conviction:


Mandela’s tribute:

I’m saving the best of what Fr. Trevor taught me for the third post in this series, and hope to wrap the series up with some of my own reflections in a fourth; here I’d like to close with the words Mandela wrote about his friend after Trevor’s death in 1998:

It is humbling for an ordinary mortal like myself to express the deep sense of loss one feels at the death of so great and venerable figure as Father Trevor Huddleston.

Father Huddleston was a pillar of wisdom, humility and sacrifice to the legions of freedom fighters in the darkest moments of the struggle against apartheid. At a time when identifying with the cause of equality for all South Africans was seen as the height of betrayal by the privileged, Father Huddleston embraced the downtrodden. He forsook all that apartheid South Africa offered the privileged minority. And he did so at great risk to his personal safety and well-being.

On behalf of the people of South Africa and anti-apartheid campaigners across the world, I convey my deepest condolences to his Church, his friends and his colleagues. Isithwalandwe Trevor Huddleston belonged to that category of men and women who make the world the theatre of their operation in pursuit of freedom and justice.

He brought hope, sunshine and comfort to the poorest of the poor. Not only was he a leader in the fight against oppression. He was also father and mentor to many leaders of the liberation movement, most of whom now occupy leading positions in all spheres of public life in our country. His memory will live in the hearts of our people.

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