Books

Does It Matter? by Graham Dunstan Martin

Robert R. Calder

[Martin] is as much at odds with Professors Dawkins and Dennet as was Stephen Jay Gould.


Does It Matter?: The Unsustainable World of the Materialists

Publisher: Floris Books
ISBN: 0863155332
Author: Graham Dunstan Martin
Price: $40.00
Length: 282
Formats: Paperback
US publication date: 2005-11
UK publication date: 2005-10
Amazon

The title of Graham Dunstan Martin's first major book, the massive Language, Truth and Poetry (Edinburgh University Press, 1975), was by way of rejoinder to A.J. Ayer's 1936 positivist manifesto Language, Truth and Logic, which was not about Logic so much as a claim that only formal scientific presentations meant anything. The rest was simply descriptions of feelings, and feelings were not allowed to have any cognitive character: Do you feel only you?

Martin denied the attempted circumscription and dismissal of feeling, and the dualism on which it is founded. He insisted moreover that in poetry, which for Ayer and subsequent Oxford philosophy was a byword for meaningless discussions, there was a model for scientific formulations, and an access to knowledge, an avenue of meaningful and not as Ayer in 1936 had it "meaningless" discussions. A modest succession of books has followed, including what is in effect an attack on aesthetic formalism in The Architecture of Experience (1980), lively as are all Martin's books, and concerned with the shaping factors enabling and determining cognition of reality. Martin subsequently directed his attention, beside concerns with French literature and especially poetry, which relate directly to his work as a university teacher of French, including French philosophy, to works of fiction, notably fantasy. He discussed fantasy as a profusion of genres not taken duly seriously in his An Inquiry into the Purposes of Speculative Fiction (Edwin Mellen Press, 2003). Religious, mystical, philosophical, and political themes (notably totalitarianism) are treated in his several independent works of speculative fiction, SF or fantasy, two addressed to older children, but listed in some number on Amazon, though, as now out of print). The concluding chapter of his 2003 book is 'Fantasy as Philosophy, or, Stanislaw Lem'. Shadows in the Cave (Arkana, 1990) develops a concern with not ignoring the parapsychological. Martin takes religion seriously, and not merely as a topic to be studied from outside, describing himself as an atheist from adolescence onward.

One of the pressing questions in his new book is that of the boundaries not simply between disciplines, but between what current supposed representatives of academic disciplines actually do. Longstanding issues of intellectual specialization and overspecialization bother him, as does not freedom of research but the very sort of hegemony of research-centeredness represented with power by the current Research Assessment Exercise in British universities. Modeled on aspects of scientific practice, but without actual knowledge of actual science, of what research scientists do, and of the context of research in the sciences, the humanities and philosophy especially in the analytic tradition (which Martin recoiled against and criticizes as does Brian Magee, an earlier near-contemporary at Oxford), current research practice in the humanities in pursuit of results leaves crucial questions unanswered. And where research in, say, Physics is performed within a continuing context of that discipline, narrow question-excluding practices within the humanities distort the whole field. Assumptions simply pile up, the soundness of some theories is taken for granted, and others are assumed refuted where in fact they exist forgotten, unconsidered, and entirely unharmed.

Shadows in the Cave is quite notable for its revelation of the baselessness of assumptions dominating interpretation and application of older philosophic theory. It is a useful atheist critique of errors, which can be attributed to theophobia, wishful thinking which throws out quite possibly a great deal of the Universe along with God. The fallacy is less well recognized than the habits of hanging on to a great deal of superstition irrelevant to convictions as to the existence of God, and even of some form(s) of intelligent design in the universe. Theophobes and uncritical theists alike harbour too many unquestioned notions, suffering alike from an arrestment of research and suspension of observation which Martin identifies as a current academic malaise.

Perhaps some writers whose work he subjects to intensive critique could no more credit the existence of Martin, so far from their stock stereotypes of their opponents, than they do the existence of consciousness, a topic Martin approaches in this book with considerable and informed reference to current neurology. He will not take the fundamentalist-like blind faith of some that what is called consciousness is a by-product of operations within large complex things called brains. He has philosophical objections to denials of any existence of consciousness, which he argues must assume the existence of consciousness and evidence of and from consciousness before they can assume anything else. He refers widely to claims as to the localizable and isolable character with brains of processes, which are said by his adversaries to be mistaken for consciousness.

He is as much at odds with Professors Dawkins and Dennet as was Stephen Jay Gould. He shares Gould's critique of Dawkins as guilty of crypto-anthropomorphism, but differs from Gould in respect of a complete separation between religion and science. They are different not wholly separate categories of human consideration. They ought not to confuse or interfere with each other, but be in informing relation.

Martin follows Magee in alleging Common Sense to be generally wrong. If I disagree, it's because Martin seems to follow Magee in accepting the notion of Common Sense broadcast from Cambridge by G.E. Moore, misrepresenting Thomas Reid's doctrine, and inviting observations Moore's early critic J.S. Mackenzie made, pretty well to the effect that Common Sense is as Clifford Geertz puts it a "cultural product".

For Reid it was a gift of God, which when accepted vindicated itself in successful, unconfused practice. Moore was an atheist who strove to impose what he called common sense beyond the scope Reid allowed it. Martin is certainly not at odds with Reid about the centrality of consciousness, He does however attribute more to it than the 18th century Reid, the latter at odds with fanatical emotionalism, where Martin would claim his adversaries are fanatical in different ways. Unlike a lot of British philosophers Martin like Reid has a considerable interest in and knowledge of the science of his day. Where critics of Martin's discussions of mysticism and elevated states of consciousness might regard these as belonging to the fantasy side of his work, along with his argument as to what consciousness might possibly contribute to the constitution of actual reality, Martin's exercises in fantasy literature and his discussion of "speculative fiction" do make a case for these critics being wrong if they suppose that identification necessarily implicates him as having written nonsensically or pointlessly. He is for investigation, not the bounded, separated-off sort of research, which makes no sense without attention to specific scientific topics.

The notion that the nervous system circumscribes consciousness of what there is to be conscious of does echo some arguments of Kant and Schopenhauer and may not be the worse for differing with the former. As regards where consciousness is, that topic is to some extent bound up with Martin's attention to contemporary Physics, quantum theory, or indeterminacy. It's plain he knows that Eddington preceded him in some speculations, but he is also sure that there is nothing to be said on either side as between nineteenth century materialist determinism, and a fashion for citing indeterminacy which doesn't support arguments for human freedom but presents rather a case for everything being wholly arbitrary. Chance versus absolute determination is a false binary. The province which Thomas Reid affirmed was God's does for Martin demand discussion, because dogmas about it, unconstructive dismissal, are the sham foundation of a great deal of the unexamining theorizing whose unsoundness he has been arguing for over 30 years.

Minds or consciousness may be somehow (it is hard to be sure one can say somewhere) in the universe, but not in a way in which brains allow consciousness of. The hypothesis of an infinite number of universes is not one which makes sense to Martin. He conjectures a universe whose complexities might only ever be hinted at by quantum and such other theory which apparently runs counter to common sense and generally valid human reason. When the editor of the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy sought to divert readers with reference to the curiosity of a Russian philosopher alive well into the 20th century (N.O. Lossky) denying the absolute reality of space and time, he missed the fact that in Professors Stout and Ward Cambridge had another two at the same period.

Martin conjectures further, with reference for instance to the apparent purposiveness of processes inscrutable before the arrival of technology which made current genetics possible, design and even a designer or Designer. This or He or She is however absolutely not identifiable with either the God of Thomas Reid's Christian Common Sense, the God of State Department Fundamentalist prayer meetings, or Islam or pseudo-Islam.

The nature of consciousness seems to Martin such that something like personal immortality, and everyone finally knowing in the Last Days, is by no means ruled out. He does not however have the faith of Dennet that Dennet's knowing (and errors!) will some day be snuffed out but later vindicated by what will after a passage of centuries be recognized as the justification for ignoring everything which as a matter of unfounded faith the heirs of Victorian materialists insist should be continually, continuously dismissed if anyone should be daft enough to stop ignoring it. Readers will also recognize that Martin has no time for rebarbative formulations, and both the theories which I've tried to set out, and the discussions of Neurology, Religion, and Quantum Physics lack neither detail nor clarity.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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