Category Archives: terminology

Feminist? Humanist? Means to an End?

Just recently, having watched Suffragettes the movie, and been reminded about how long it has taken for so many women to achieve human rights, I was again reminded by an email that starting in November, women worked the rest of the year for nothing. Equal pay has still not been achieved for so many women.

I am also now a member of a Refugee Action Group raising funds and awareness of the plight of refugees both here and abroad and one of the issues we see again here is the plight of many women who are now refugees fleeing from oppression, rape and war.

I also note that rape is not a permitted reason for the Northern Irish woman to ask for an abortion and that this has just been ruled as a breach of their Human  Rights.

So I decided to take myself off to a lecture hosted by the British Humanist Society on Feminism and Humanism at UCL. This was the Bentham Lecture for 2015 and was given by Professor Rae Langton of Cambridge.

Some readers may not be aware of what the British Humanist Society stands for let alone who Bentham was as you may only have come across him if you learnt about British social and political history, so I’ll give some brief introductions to them before going on to talk about the lecture as this helps set the scene.

The British Humanist Society is a charity that works on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical lives on the basis of reason and humanity. They promote Humanism, a secular state, and equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion or belief.

Now, despite what they say, you can also be a humanist if you are religious as the key to being a humanist is that you judge for yourself what is right and what is wrong based on reason and respect for others. You use empathy and compassion to try and improve the world for all.

I will come back to this meaning later as it was a core element in Prof Langton’s speech.

Bentham was a very interesting man. He was a philosopher who lived in the late 18th and early 19th century. He was a child prodigy being able to read a history of Britain as a toddler and started learning Latin at 3 years. He went to Oxford at the tender age of 12. He is mainly known for his doctrine which was intended to guide the law, practice and belief – the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

This was very much a utilitarian view of the world and humans – individually we are a means to an end. Also we are motivated by a desire for happiness and to avoid pain. Fundamentally we are only concerned with our own well-being – the community is a fictitious body merely the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.

He was part of a group of philosophers who agreed that many of the social problems of the time were a result of an antiquated legal system and control of land and capital by inheritance and thus the landed gentry.

Professor Rae Langton has been called the 4th most influential women thinker in the world and was listed in Prospect magazine as the 18th most important thinker –  note the difference in numbers here between women and men… which of course is why the lecture was so important. She is considered such an important academic that she has a Wikipedia page.

Most of her work is concerned with speech and pornography etc and she has studied and written extensively about Kant. So I am going to make a short diversion here to also discuss Kant as without Kant her lecture on feminism and humanism could not be understood.

Immanuel Kant is an important philosopher with regard to Humanism. Kant lived in the mid to late 18th century and it is said that he lived a very boring life! He never left his home town and was extremely regular in his behaviour – such that his neighbours literally could set their clocks by him. From Kant we can draw a statement that Humanism is an end in itself and not a means to an end.

Prof Langton took this and other Kantian writings about how we can choose our behaviour and know its causation to mean that we are born with choices, we always have options. There is a wrongness in treating humans as things with no choice. If humans are things then we can oppress them – we can impose a role upon them externally to themselves. Thus we see the role of women being imposed upon them by men or by people being classified as slaves with no rights to their own-selves – they are objects.

The issue is that at times, as philosophers such as Simone de Beauvoir say, women may willingly conspire with this role as is easy to live with no choice and to have one’s behaviour and even thoughts dictated to one.

In the lecture it was agreed that one is not born a woman but becomes a woman through behaviour and belief. But if a woman is a thing, an object, one cannot have an authentic relationship with her – the ‘other’ remains alone in this relationship. The ‘other’ is the only human that counts in this relationship. Their will predominates.

Martha Nussman, another female philosopher with a Wikipedia page and to be found discussed in Prospect magazine has come out with 7 features which identify objectivism:

  1. instrumentality: the treatment of a person as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes;
  2. denial of autonomy: the treatment of a person as lacking in autonomy and self-determination;
  3. inertness: the treatment of a person as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity;
  4. fungibility: the treatment of a person as interchangeable with other objects;
  5. violability: the treatment of a person as lacking in boundary-integrity;
  6. ownership: the treatment of a person as something that is owned by another (can be bought or sold);
  7. denial of subjectivity: the treatment of a person as something whose experiences and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

Rae Langton added three more features to Nussbaum’s list:

  1. reduction to body: the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts;
  2. reduction to appearance: the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses;
  3. silencing: the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak.

Do you recognise any of these features in the treatment of women? Do you believe that objectification is always bad? How does it link to Feminism? Or Humanism? Or religion for that matter?

All these and more are questions we women of today should be considering. Just what in our familial socialisation makes us a woman? If we are not born one? Is it right and correct that we should be taught a different set of rules according to our gender? And just how do  we know what that gender is? What about transgender people? How would we know whether they are women or men? And remembering that gender is not so black and white but many shades of grey, are we or they, objects or means to end, or ends in themselves?

So look at the TV programme by Tyger Drew-Honey and think on these concepts of gender and wonder again, just what does being a woman mean?

 

 

 

Cognitive Psychology and Knitting: Pattern matching and selective attention

There is a very interesting book called Things I learnt from Knitting by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.

In her introduction/foreword she discusses the idea that Knitting is a very strong example of certain Cognitive Psychology concepts. Namely those of Attention;  Pattern recognition; Object Identification; and Time Sensations.

In Cognitive Psychology they are interested in how people choose what to focus on, the way patterns are recognised even though they may be very different in apparent appearance, and how time is perceived.

Filtering and attention relate to how we use our mental energy. How we decide on what we should pay attention to and what we should ignore, what we will store in our neuron and pathways and what we will discard or not pay sufficient attention to for it to register in our brain.

Thinking about pattern recognition, the theory states that pattern recognition describes a cognitive process that matches information from a stimulus with information retrieved from memory.

So consider the letter a. As a child we are taught how to read and write, but each book we read uses a different font or paper size and thus font size and so on, and yet after a while we recognise all the letter ‘A’s we come across. I realised this fact just recently as I was being read to by my grand-daughter. we had written each of us, our own books on small folded pieces of paper – concertina books –  and I had written in cursive script – clearly I thought but… It was a different cursive from the one she was used to and thus some letters she had difficulty in recognising eg I use the continental way of writing a cursive ‘z’ and my ‘s’  was different and so on. Yet once explained she knew them and recognised the letters when they came up again. Reading is her joy at the moment but she is still learning how the combinations of letters make words and how they can be pronounced differently in different contexts eg ‘bow’.  English is very tricksy!

In a crowded train carriage my husband dons his noise cancelling headphones. I get out my reading and knitting. Which of us hears less of the noise made by the loud chatterers? Which of us knows where we are in terms of stations? Not me, that’s for sure. I am immersed in what I am doing and all the other sensory information within the train carriage passes me by. I am not paying attention to it. I am focussed on my tasks.

Sensory information comes in four formats:  visual; auditory; tactile; and olfactory. It is more than just simple registering of sensory information… it involves some sort of interpretation of that information. We can ignore that part of the sensory information that surrounds us if we are focussed on our tasks. We filter and pay attention only to that which interest us.

Broadbent (1958) argued that information from all of the stimuli presented at any given time enters a sensory buffer.  One of the inputs is then selected on the basis of its physical characteristics for further processing by being allowed to pass through a filter.  Because we have only a limited capacity to process information, this filter is designed to prevent the information-processing system from becoming overloaded.  The inputs not initially selected by the filter remain briefly in the sensory buffer, and if they are not processed they decay rapidly. We therefore lose them and do not remember them.

Alternatively Treisman’s (1964) model retains this early filter (Broadbent’s) which works on physical features of the message only. The crucial difference is that Treisman’s filter ATTENUATES rather than eliminates the unattended material.  Attenuation is like turning down the volume so that if you have 4 sources of sound in one room (TV, radio, people talking, baby crying) you can turn down or attenuate 3 in order to attend to the fourth.

It is my experience that we can do both – we can choose which model to follow – or at least I can. Sometimes I am completely immersed and nothing will come in from the external world, sometimes I am not so focussed – I am not paying enough attention because what I am doing does not require me to – perhaps it is very familiar – eg knitting plain and purl stitches – I can do this without looking at the needles and the wool as I very familiar with the feel and pattern my hands need to make to complete the physical task.

Yet when we knit we can focus on our counting, our pattern changes and the rows we need before we change colour etc to such an extent that the external world fades away and the world is concentrated in the movement of our hands.

Many different patterns can all be recognised as examples of the same concept. We use pattern recognition all the time we understand a stitch or the regularity of a decrease on a sleeve so that we do them automatically. We know when something has gone wrong – when what we are knitting does not look right.

We also use object recognition to know what a stitch or a pattern looks like on different items – a hat Vs a coat or a scarf, and in different colours; and when we know and understand that one sleeve is different from the other in the sweater we are knitting.

cable patternfairisle

What the author claims is that by virtue of knitting we change the way our brains work in terms of those cognitive functions. We train our brains to work in different ways from those people who do not knit.

 

February: Meteorological winter is still here?

February takes its name from Februare – to make sacrifices in expiation of sins – Romans made their sacrifices to their dead. the 15th of the month was the time for purification. As part of the seasonal calendar February is the time of the ‘Ice Moon’ according to Pagan beliefs, and the period described as the ‘Moon of the Dark Red Calf’ by Black Elk.  February has also been known as ‘Sprout-kale’ by the Anglo-Saxons in relation to the time the kale and cabbage was edible.” (http://www.gardendigest.com/monfeb.htm#Quotes)

According to Wikipedia: February is the third month of meteorological winter in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, February is the third month of summer (the seasonal equivalent of August in the Northern Hemisphere, in meteorological reckoning).

Welsh_Primrose

I always love to see the first primroses coming out along the hedgerows and in nooks and crannies under walls and in woody places. They are shy creatures that love woodlands and road verges as long as they well tucked away…

  • Its birthstone is the amethyst. It symbolizes piety, humility, spiritual wisdom, and sincerity.
  • Its Zodiac signs are Aquarius (until February 18) and Pisces (February 19 onwards).

The plant of the 1st of February is the laurel or bay tree.

In the Gardner’s Almanack which I have been regularly quoting from, they have two great quotes:

“The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.”

–  Gertrude S. Wister

http://www.gardendigest.com/monfeb.htm#Quotes:

“Still lie the sheltering snows, undimmed and white;
And reigns the winter’s pregnant silence still;
No sign of spring, save that the catkins fill,
And willow stems grow daily red and bright.
These are days when ancients held a rite
Of expiation for the old year’s ill,
And prayer to purify the new year’s will.”
–  Helen Hunt Jackson, A Calendar of Sonnet’s: February