Saturday, October 31, 2015

A request addressed to Balliol academics

Dear All,

Allow me to inform you that I have put on my website the 13th Book of Homer’s Iliad, read in the original. As I informed you in my ‘Celebrating with Homer – an invitation’ on April 15, I decided to put online my reading of Homer to celebrate the thirty fifth anniversary of the Master of Balliol’s visit in my philosophy seminar in Prague; on April 12, 1980 Dr Anthony Kenny was giving a lecture in my seminar on Aristotle’s Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics; his lecture was interrupted by the police.

Allow me to address you with a request. An integral part of my recording Homer is my listening to the recordings. I am approaching my 77th birthday, my hearing is deteriorating and I need a hearing aid. I looked on Google, the prices on Hearing Direct vary from £169 - £599. My only income is a State Pension of £26.95 a week (see ‘It is all wrong- a letter to the Pension Service’ and ‘It has nothing to do with Oxford University’ posted on my blog on June 15 and 19 respectively). I asked OXFAM for help, but they can’t assist me, for their policy does not allow for loans or grants to individuals. Would you suggest to me a charitable foundation to which I could apply with some hope of success? If you know of any such foundation, would you support my request?

Why am I addressing this request to Balliol academics? I came to Balliol in 1980 at the invitation of the Master of Balliol. On 18 November 1989, just as the Velvet Revolution began to unfold in Prague, Nick Cohen wrote in ‘The Pub philosopher’ (published in The Independent Magazine): ‘Jonathan Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, impatiently brushed aside the suggestion that the Conservative’s reduction in funding for British philosophy since 1980 might explain why there was never an academic post for Tomin at Oxford. “That’s not the point at all,” he said. “He would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job.” Ten years later, Barbara Day wrote in The Velvet Philosophers (published in 1999 by The Claridge Press, p. 45): ‘his [i.e. Tomin’s] limited acquaintance with the breadth of western philosophy would have been unacceptable in any of the posts for which he diligently applied.’

This summer I held ‘Three days in Prague devoted to philosophy’. The first day was devoted to the relevance of neurophysiology to self-knowledge, the second day to Kant, the third to Plato and Aristotle. The preparatory entries devoted to Kant, Lock, and Berkeley on my blog amply demonstrate that my study of western philosophy has been extensive. Whenever I think of Barbara Day’s allegation, I can’t help thinking of my talk on Kant for the students of philosophy at the University of Leeds. I began with a request: ‘Kant’s turning to critical philosophy was profoundly influenced by David Hume. Could one of you give us a short outline of Hume’s scepticism?’ The group consisted of third year students; they told me: ‘We don’t know anything about Hume. Hume was not on the curriculum.’

You might wonder why I don’t try to find a lawyer and sue Balliol for blacklisting. For Barnes’ ‘Tomin would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job’, published in a respectable magazine and never publicly contradicted by any British academic, could be viewed as a reason why Tomin has been found unacceptable in any of the posts ‘for which he diligently applied’. Blacklisting ought to be as unacceptable in philosophy, as it has been found unacceptable in other areas of human activity.

The problem is that I did not diligently apply for academic posts, for my aims and ambitions were different, as I explained in my open letter to the 18th World Congress of Philosophy that took place in 1988 in Brighton. (See my recent ‘Appeal to the Master of Balliol’ posted on my blog on October 11 and again on October 25.)

Allow me to end by repeating my original request: Would you suggest to me a charitable foundation that might help me obtain a decent hearing aid? If you know of any such foundation, would you consider supporting my request?

I hope to be hearing from you soon.
Julius Tomin

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

4a Lasting repercussions of what happened thirty five years ago

Radovan Richta wrote to Professor Diemer: ‘Tomin … is worth nothing in philosophy … It is therefore abundantly clear why it was that in the competitions for scientific positions in which he took part other candidates were always preferred … he was offered a respectable job as a translator which corresponds to his qualifications. But, unfortunately …’

I did not take any part in any competitions for scientific positions. When Richta wrote his letter to Professor Diemer, he must have been sure that I would not be given any opportunity to expose in public media the falsities he wrote in his letter.

I returned from Hawaii in the late summer of 1970 (see ‘1 Lasting repercussions …,’ October 15). My aspirantura (a kind of fellowship) ended with my return. Under the normal circumstances I would have been entitled to defend my Candidate Dissertation (which I had submitted for assessment before I went to Hawaii, in 1969) and would have been provided with an academic post. But in the summer of 1970 universities and the whole academic establishment were in complete disarray. Commissions were everywhere established that were about to purge the Communist Party of ‘undesirable elements’, i.e. of all those who were active in an attempt to humanise socialism in Prague Spring of 1968. Since all educational and cultural institutions were in the hands of those who were about to be purged, this meant chaos. I was never a Member of the Communist Party, which in those days was a ‘tremendous advantage’. Soon many of those, who could not get a decent job during the 1950s and 1960s because they were not CP Members, found all the doors open for them, and many used that opportunity. This was not a road for me. On the day my aspirantura officially ended I became a turbine operator in the Prague Power-plant; it was ten minute walk from my house, half of the way through Stromovka, the largest and most beautiful park in Prague.

This was an experiment: an attempt to combine work in a factory with the work in philosophy. The overcoming of the social division that separated manual labour and intellectual work was the proclaimed aim of the socialist society on its way to communism. My experiment raised two question marks. The first was directed at all those at the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University and at the Institute of Philosophy who had held their privileged positions at those institutions as Communist Party Members. Will they remain true to their Marxism and join me in questioning the new regime in its proclaimed care for Socialism, Communism, and Marxism when they lose their CP Member cards? – In 1975 I wrote ‘An account of an experiment’ (‘Bilance experimentu’), which I submitted for publication to samizdat Petlice. After reading it, Ivan Klíma, a famous Czech writer and a prominent Member of the editorial board of Petlice told me: ‘Mr Tomin, you must be the only Marxist in this country.’ (‘An account of an experiment’ was published in Petlice in 1975 as the second part of my Questionnaire.)

The second question mark was directed at the regime with its proclaimed faithfulness to Marxism, socialism and communism. Thanks to the samizdat Petlice I could give voice to my questioning of the regime’s proclaimed loyalty to Marxism. The first part of my Questionnaire consisted in ‘My correspondence with Rudé Právo’ (from which I have quoted in ‘3 Lasting repercussions’ posted on October 18). The second part, ‘An account of an experiment’ was conceived as a letter to the ‘Institute of Philosophy’ (the Director of which was Radovan Richta). I ended it with a request: ‘I intend to write A journey into the Ancient Greece, and in preparation for it I should like to travel to Greece. I saved the society a lot of money by working as a factory worker while continuing to work in philosophy [during those five years I wrote an essay on Aristotle, a book on Descartes entitled I think – I am, and the Questionnaire]. And so I am addressing you with a request: allow me to spend a time in Greece which will be paid for by the money I saved the society during the five years of my experiment.’

How did the establishment view my five year experiment? Kořínek and Pulcman wrote in the Tvorba article: ‘Tomin asked to be called to the University or to the Academy of Sciences to replace philosophers working there.’ (For Kořínek and Pulcman see ‘Lasting repercussions’ 2 and 3, posted on October 16 and 18.)

If I am not mistaken, my ‘An account of an experiment’ is reflected in Richta’s Letter to Professor Diemer: ‘Tomin … was offered a respectable job as a translator which corresponds to his qualifications. But, unfortunately …’

In 1978, just after I sent my invitation to academics at Oxford University, I was visited by Ludvík Vaculík, a prominent Member of the Prague Intellectual Ghetto and the moving spirit behind the samizdat Petlice. He told me that I was about to get a summons to the police, and that it was very important that I should go to the summons. (In the autumn of 1977 the police tried to destroy my philosophy seminar by summoning me each Wednesday, the day my seminar took place. I wrote to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Obzina, that there was no legal ground for such summons, and if I were taken to the police by force, I would start a ten day hunger-strike. This then did happen, and the hunger-strike was a success. For a whole year the police refrained from summoning me.)

At the police station two secret policemen (i.e. men in plain clothes) informed me that the Minister Obzina wished to solve my situation; I was offered substantial money for translating Plato’s dialogues. In preparation for this work I could go for a few weeks to Greece.

I replied: ‘I should gladly accept the offer, if it was offered to me by the Institute of Philosophy. I cannot accept it from the hands of the Police.’ – The two men were appalled: ‘But Mr Tomin, if you are not paid for your work, your work is worth nothing.’ – ‘A little bit of Marx would do you good,’ I replied.

A few weeks in Greece remains an unfulfilled dream; there is little hope of my fulfilling it on my state pension of £26.95 a week (see ‘It is all wrong – a letter to the Pension Service’, posted on June 15, and ‘It has nothing to do with Oxford University’, posted on June 19). Luckily, I went to Greece for a week on a cruising trip, which my wife’s father gave her as a present for her fortieth birthday. The week in Greece had two impacts on my work: 1) A day in Athens inspired me to write ‘Socrates, Plato, and the Laws of Athens’, the most frequently visited item on my website both in its English and in its Czech version. 2) When we visited the ‘Odysseus’ cave’ on the Island of Ithaka my wife gave me Homer’s Odyssey and asked me to read some of it, so that she could film and record it. For years I had read Homer ‘aloud in my mind’, and so I thought it would be easy. It was not. To make one’s vocal cords, the tongue, and all the other muscles involved in speech engaged in actually vocalizing Homer’s poetry, is something very different. This experience was one of the factors that compelled me to start recording the Greeks soon after we returned to Britain from our trip.

The ensuing recording of Plato and Aristotle, Isocrates and Xenophon, Pindar and Homer, in which I have been engaged since then, deepened the links between my study of the Greeks and my interest in the subconscious. Ever since I began to study the Greeks I became fascinated by the fact that German, English and French translations and commentaries could elucidate for me the Greek texts. In what form must Greek language ‘exist’ in my sub-conscious to make this possible? I just regaled in having my subconscious formed in this way. But reading the Greeks aloud brought a completely new dimension into all this. In my reading the text without vocalizing it my subconscious transforms the information as it exists in my brain in the form of electric action potentials, chemical transmitters, and neural circuits into the Greek text perceived by my consciousness. On top of this, when I read the text aloud, my subconscious must make the brain form new neural circuits, new nerve connections in motor centres of the brain.

Let me use this opportunity to thank my wife’s father, for my thanks can be expressed properly only if the importance of his present is viewed within the context of my work.


Richta’s words ‘Tomin … is worth nothing in philosophy … It is therefore abundantly clear why it was that in the competitions for scientific positions in which he took part other candidates were always preferred’ find an interesting echo in Oxford philosophers’ verdict registered in Barbara Day’s The Velvet Philosophers: ‘it had become apparent that Julius would not find a job answering his ambitions … his knowledge of certain parts of Plato’s work was more thorough than that of any philosopher in Oxford, but his limited acquaintance with the breadth of western philosophy would have been unacceptable in any of the posts for which he diligently applied.’ (The Claridge Press, 1999, p. 67; I am discussing the Oxford verdict in the preceding post entitled ‘An Appeal to the Master of Balliol’)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

An Appeal to the Master of Balliol

On October 11 I wrote to the Master of Balliol a subsequent appeal, to which I have received no answer:

Dear Master,

Thirty five years ago, on Thursday October 15, 1980 the Czechoslovak Communist Party cultural weekly Tvorba published a letter addressed to Professor A. Diemer, President of the International Federation of Philosophic Societies. The Letter was written by Professor Radovan Richta, Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Sociology and Member of the Presidium of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. Richta wrote: ‘Tomin is a man who is worth nothing in philosophy … It is self-evident that Mr Tomin would not find  the means to live for a single week if he were interesting merely for what he did in philosophy … I think that the people who supported and visited Mr Tomin will find themselves convinced, in a short time and on the basis of their own experience, that there has been no case of suppression of freedom of philosophers in the CSSR, but rather that it was a case of one person who wanted to profit from the hopes of some circles to intensify the world crisis and to poison efforts at international cooperation.’

Less than ten years later, a day after the beginning of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, Nick Cohen, a prominent British journalist, wrote in ‘The Pub Philosopher’: ‘Jonathan Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, impatiently brushed aside the suggestion that the Conservative’s reduction in funding for British philosophy since 1980 might explain why there was never an academic post for Tomin at Oxford. “That’s not the point at all,” he said. “He would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job. He’s like a recalcitrant student who can’t admit he’s wrong.” … Tomin has revived an ancient tradition that the Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue … Barnes thinks that even if Tomin’s views were not “baloney”, there are no interesting consequences.’ (The Independent Magazine, November 18, 1989)

Ten years later, in a book published to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, Barbara Day wrote: ‘A fund set up by the philosopher and Vice-Provost of Worcester College, David Mitchell (under the patronage of the Northern Dairies Educational Trust) yielded enough to keep the family for another two years, but it had become apparent that Julius would not find a job answering his ambitions within that time, or ever … his knowledge of certain parts of Plato’s work was more thorough than that of any philosopher in Oxford, but his limited acquaintance with the breadth of western philosophy would have been unacceptable in any of the posts for which he diligently applied.’ (The Velvet Philosophers, The Claridge Press, 1999, p. 67).

It is not true that I diligently applied for academic posts; my work on Plato and Aristotle demanded a total commitment. My ambitions were great, but very different. In an open letter to the 18th World Congress of Philosophy in Brighton I wrote:

‘Philosophy has claimed schole, that is free time for free inquiry, as its birth-right. In exchange it presented mankind with treasures of thought for each generation to appropriate. It is in the interest of society, of its cultural well-being, to provide philosophers with the free time needed for the task. And if society as a whole loses sight of this, philosophers worthy of that name have no excuse for doing likewise. The work needed to appropriate the heritage of philosophic thought has presented philosophers through the ages with an indispensable activity independent of the vagaries of political systems and job markets. If true to itself, philosophy can generate freedom, intellectual and moral self-reliance, being-for-others as a precondition for truly being-for-oneself; it can generate hope where unemployment sows despair and turn the waste of human potential to benefit. The climate of academic philosophy today must be questioned from within this perspective. Are graduates of philosophy prepared to stand on their own feet as philosophers, even if struck down by unemployment? Is not philosophy presented to them in a distorted form so that they readily discard it the moment they cannot get a living from it? Wherever it takes effect, such a distortion must effect the roots of academic philosophy itself, and ultimately disqualify it from its place in higher education; philosophers themselves become dispensable, surviving at universities, if at all, by the grace and favour of politicians, who keep them as a mere cosmetic. To underline my point, let me cite classical philosophy – that branch of philosophy that more than any other seems to be confined to centres of academic excellence.

Academics in the past did a splendid job in opening the gates to a fuller appreciation of ancient philosophic thought – we have excellent lexicons, grammar books, critical editions of the texts, commentaries on Plato’s and Aristotle’s works. Never since ancient times has there been such an opportunity for a comprehensive and immediate understanding of the Greek philosophic texts as there is now. Yet, classical philosophers based at our universities are today so far removed from enjoying direct access to the original texts that an immediate understanding of the Greek text seems to lie beyond their horizon. How could this state of affair have arisen? Ancient Greek is a dead language, but it is a human language none the less; the only way to learn it adequately is through Greek literature. One of the great assets about mastering Ancient Greek is that it can be done only through reading and rereading Plato and Aristotle, Herodotus and Thucydides, Aristophanes and Euripides … Hesiod and Homer. The language is absorbed by us in proportion to our acquiring the rich heritage within which it is preserved and which it discloses to us. A wide reading of Greek Literature is thus an absolutely prerequisite medium for adequate understanding of Plato and Aristotle. But what is the approach to Ancient Greek in our schools? Students are drilled in vocabulary and grammar, not as means to the understanding of the texts directly in Greek, but as tools to mastering the translation of prescribed, selected texts. Apart from the reward of good marks and their tutor’s praise, such labour is practically meaningless, given the range of translations of the classics with which past generations of academics have endowed us. Many years of energy are invested in a discipline whose end results are graduates and academics for whom the direct reading and immediate understanding of texts in the original remains beyond their reach.

And yet, our custodians of classical philosophy do set out to present to their students a comprehensive understanding of Plato and Aristotle as part of the curriculum. Such an understanding, based on a fragmentary experience of the originals complemented by a load of secondary literature, must of necessity fail to meet any real confrontation with the totality of Plato’s or Aristotle’s texts. Each subsequent generation of students is less able to find its way to an authentic apprehension of Plato and Aristotle, and thus becomes less qualified still to challenge their teachers; students are encouraged, if not forced, to spend most of their time with their teachers’ interpretations, and with the secondary literature which their teachers have themselves imbued. If ever the dominant interpretations are questioned from without academic structures, then the whole body of classical philosophy closes ranks in self-defence – frustrating discussions, exercising its monopoly on academic publications and lecture rooms.

Is there any inherent necessity governing this unfortunate development? Any classical philosopher in East or West may reflect on his or her work, and ask whether it is not the academics themselves who in this way are the losers. Is such drudgery worth their pay, if they lose sight of the only worthwhile reward, namely an understanding of the subject they teach? They can reverse their course. Although years of conditioning have habituated their brains to translate the moment their eye falls on the original text, it is surely time to start again, differently, to dare to read and read, to break through to a direct understanding of the texts.

Such a radical reversal must have far reaching consequences. The new approach would entail sharing it with students, for whom the subject would thus be opened as a lifetime endeavour, not to be embraced or discarded according to the fluctuations in the job market. In the present academic and social climate in East and West one must face the eventuality of growing number of unemployed classical philosophers, deeply devoted to their subject that in its essence requires a life-long pursuit. To provide them with elementary conditions for decent human existence would be the duty of the society, and it would be the duty of universities to impress the situation on politicians of the day. Of crucial importance would be a continuing contact with employed academics, profoundly stimulating to both sides.’ (The open letter was published by The Times Higher Education Supplement on August 19, 1988)

Thanks to the British welfare system I was able to devote myself fully to philosophy during the past thirty five years. This has given me a great advantage in any discussions on philosophy I have had during these years, be it in Oxford or in Prague. I have fully used this advantage, which meant, unfortunately, that I was progressively deprived of any opportunity to engage in such discussions (See e. g. ‘Reflections on a recent conference of classical philosophers’ on my website).

Dear Master, in February of this year I wrote to you: ‘Thirty five years ago, in April 1980 the Master of Balliol, Dr Anthony Kenny, gave a lecture on Aristotle in my Philosophy seminar in Prague. To commemorate this anniversary, I should like to present a lecture on ‘Plato’s Parmenides in the light of Aristotle’s testimony’ at Balliol.

My views on this dialogue differ from the accepted views. I should therefore greatly appreciate it if a specialist on Plato’s philosophy would chair the lecture and open it with an explanation of the currently accepted views. The interpretation of Plato’s philosophy in its entirety depends on the interpretation of this dialogue; I hope that Oxford classical philosophers will use the occasion to vigorously defend the accepted views in discussion following the lecture. My views on the dialogue are available to the public on my Blog I devoted to it nine entries, beginning with the entry of October 16 2014 ‘A note on the 3rd book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics’; so far the last is the entry of February 6, 2015 ‘Aristotle’s response to Plato’s Parmenides in Metaphysics M’.

I hope you will accept my proposal and I look forward to hearing from you soon.’

I received no reply to my letter. Allow me to repeat my request. In the meantime, I have made substantial progress in my work on the proposed theme, to which a number of recent entries on my blog can testify. (See especially ‘Three days in Prague devoted to philosophy – the third day’, posted on September 11, and ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides in the light of its dramatic setting’, posted on October 9.).

I hope to be hearing from you soon,
Julius Tomin

Friday, October 23, 2015

Neurophysiological aspects of recording Homer

I’ve put on my website the 12th book of the Iliad. I always listen to my recordings when I put them on my computer; listening to the recordings is the most demanding and most beneficial part of the whole process. If I were to listen to the recordings simply to check whether I made any mistakes, the right thing would be to listen to them with the text in my hands. This was indeed what I was doing when I began to record Plato some seven years ago. I don’t remember when I began to experiment with listening to the           recordings with closed eyes, but I remember how surprised I was when I found that it was much more difficult to understand fully what I had recorded without the accompanying text in my hand.

The narrow straights of consciousness can hold only a word or two, may be three, as Homer’s poetry passes through the consciousness into the subconscious; yet each sentence must be understood as a whole, and as a whole it can ‘reside’ only in the subconscious – when I don’t have the text in front of my eyes. So the consciousness must perform a dual action; it lets the single words and phrases pass through it into the subconscious, and in cooperation with the subconscious, ‘looking into’ it, it acquires the understanding of each verse, and ends up by understanding the recorded part of the poem as a whole. The process of listening to recordings without the text in hand is a much more demanding activity for the brain, as it processes the visual and acoustic input for the sub-consciousness to transform into what I see and here; for the sub-consciousness that transforms the neurophysiological activity of the brain into Homers poetry which I am listening to; and for the consciousness, the ‘activity’ of which consists in becoming as purely receptive as possible; the moment a thought enters my consciousness, which transcends Homer’s verses as they enter and pass through my consciousness – ‘have I heard an ‘s’ at the end of the participle?’ – I lose it, the hexameters pass through my consciousness only half-understood, and I must start all over again.

From year to year, from recording to recording I’ve got better at it and reaped the benefit of it: my grasp of the Greek language has become stronger, my exposure to Greek thought more pronounced, and its effect on my wellbeing more profound. As far as my physical constitution is concerned, I cannot but observe a steady decline, although I do my best to slow it down, but as far as my intellectual capacity is concerned, I am still making progress.

I was reflecting on self-knowledge in its relation to neurophysiology when I stumbled this summer on Kant (see the related posts on my blog). I found Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft as demanding and rewarding as Plato and Aristotle, and I got much more out of it this time than when I read it some thirty years ago; I am sure it was thanks to the intervening years devoted to the Greeks.

All this concerns the wellbeing of my spiritual, non-corporeal nature. Let me now turn to recording Homer as it concerns the bodily part of my being.

My hearing is deteriorating. I don’t have a problem most of the time, only with such things as the final sigma or its omission: ‘was I right in not hearing it?’ For when Homer refers to two persons, he sometimes uses the dual, which is without an s, and the plural, which ends in s, even in one and the same sentence. Let me give an example: amphoterȏ Aiante keleutioȏnte … otrunontes (l. 265-6) … hȏs tȏ ge proboȏnte (l. 277). When I am uncertain about it, I must start the recording all over again. (I looked on Google at HEARING DIRECT; the prices of hearing aids vary from £169 to £599. Since my only income is £26.99 a week of state pension [see ‘It is all wrong – a letter to the Pension Service’ and ‘It has nothing to do with Oxford University’ posted on my blog on June 15 and 19 respectively], I cannot afford it. And so I sent an email to Oxfam in the hope they will be able to help me.).

Rightly or wrongly, I am inclined to believe that my listening to the recordings over the past seven years slowed the decline of my hearing; for it is not too bad, considering that I am 76. But even more important than hearing is my eyesight; it was its sharp decline that prompted me to record Plato in the first place. Presuming that the deterioration was caused by the defective supply of blood to my retina, I began to exercise my eyes every evening and every morning, simply rolling the eyes from right to left, from left to right, in the hope that my retina would benefit from the increased blood flow that this exercise stimulated. And indeed, my eyesight appears to have ceased deteriorating, or at least the deterioration has slowed down. In the last few months I decided to do one more thing. The ciliary muscle that contracts and relaxes the lenses needs blood supply, my bifocals make it lazy; and so I decided to go for the daily walks with my dog without glasses, to force the ciliary muscle to require more blood, and thus hopefully further stimulate the blood flow to the retina. I think it helped. Before I started doing this, I could not differentiate between navy blue and black. After a few walks without my glasses I suddenly realized: my jumper is not black but navy blue, as my wife and my children have been saying all along.

Let me end by reflecting on the effects that recording Homer may have on my brain functions. I looked on Google, what the experts have to say on ‘brain fitness’; ‘Exercise !’ has a prominent place in all their recommendations; that my brain – visual cortex, auditory cortex, centre controlling speech perception and production, motor centre controlling the function of vocal cords and of muscles involved in speaking – is exercised by virtue of recording Homer is obvious.

My perception of each letter is mediated by the visual system, beginning with the cones and rods on the retina and ending with the visual cortex. Carpenter and Reddi write in their Neurophysiology: ‘Receptors in the eye convey information about only a miniscule part of the retinal image, in effect a single pixel, but after a few levels have been passed, in the visual cortex, we find units that are able to respond to a specific type of stimulus, such as a moving edge, over wide areas of the visual field (p. 10).’ Registering the shapes of each letter of the Greek Alphabet by means of the action potentials and chemical transmitters and neural circuits is quite a feat. The neural long term memory must be involved; the same patterns of neural circuits must responds – and each time be targeted and found – to each letter as I am reading the text. But when I read the text, I read it in terms of words, phrases, and sentences, not in terms of individual letters. Greek grammar is complicated; the same nouns have different forms as they are declined, verbs have different forms as they are conjugated within the framework of different sentences. There must be involved very sophisticated recognition and recollection processes by virtue of which these linguistic features are registered and remembered as required on the neurophysiological level.

But I don’t just read the text with my eyes, I read it aloud; the motor control and acoustic feedback must be involved. Let me quote again Carpenter and Reddi: ‘Raw sense information enters through the eyes or ears, and is analysed by successive levels to the point at which letters, words, and other syntactic units are recognized. At the highest level, meaning comes about by association of these symbols with other kinds of sensory information to form concepts; these in turn may result in speech or writing by an exactly converse process of elaboration down the motor side, ending up with the firing of motor neurons in appropriate patterns to form phonemes or fragments of writing or typing.’ (p. 263)

Mistakes are prone to occur in any part of this process – my eyes betray me, I mistake the rough breathing for the soft one, reading hoios for oios; my vocal cords betray me, I aspirate kappa, misled by x (read as aspirated kh) especially in such words as xalkoxi/twnej. I must read the text aloud at least once before I start recording; the corresponding neural circuits must be formed, and kept functional for the duration of my recording by virtue of the short term neural memory. It is very rare that I can be satisfied with my first recording. Many times I must redo a single recording eight or ten times, most often aborting just partial recordings, when I hear a mistake as I am recording the text. It is a blessing when it suddenly all works well and I can be happy with the result.

As I have pointed out in the ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ on my website and in my discussion with David Parker on self-knowledge and neurophysiology on my blog, all our sensory, emotional, and intellectual experience as such, i.e. as experienced by us (we don’t experience the neural activities proceeding in our brains), is the function of our spiritual, non-corporeal nature. But this activity has its neurophysiological correlatives, and so I have no problem with Carpenter and Reddi’s ‘at the highest level, meaning comes about … to form concepts’, for the meaning of words and phrases, concepts, which as such are formed and apprehended on the spiritual, non-corporeal level, must have their correlatives in the functional formation of corresponding neural circuits and interconnections.

Monday, October 19, 2015

4 Lasting repercussions of what happened thirty five years ago

Radovan Richta wrote to Professor Diemer: ‘In some parts of the Western press the matter is presented as though Tomin were a distinguished philosopher persecuted and silenced for his views etc. But in fact he is worth nothing in philosophy, he has never published any scientific book, and his output comprises one – insignificant and unoriginal – article published in No 5 of the Philosophic Journal (1968); one technical note about atheism in the Slovak journal Questions of Marxist Philosophy (1962); and one manuscript, a tiny study in the middle of the 1970s, which was not published because it was condemned by highly competent referees for its absolutely negligible scientific level. Otherwise he published, but only occasionally, petty journalistic articles in the press which were outside the realm of philosophy and science. It is therefore abundantly clear why it was that in the competitions for scientific positions in which he took part other candidates were always preferred – and not at all because of his political views which, incidentally, he did not display very much until recently. But, because in our country the right to work is assured, he was offered a respectable job as a translator which corresponds to his qualifications. But, unfortunately, he is an excessively ambitious and mentally unstable person with a proclivity towards exhibitionism.’

In this entry I shall respond to Richta’s point, which I have highlighted; it finds an echo in ‘The Pub Philosopher’, which Nick Cohen opens with the words: ‘The judgments passed by Oxford dons on Julius Tomin seem outrageously brutal. “I don’t wish to sound East European,” said one, “but perhaps he does need psychiatric help … One professor added … But you can disguise paranoia in the East. There are so many real conspiracies. There aren’t the same excuses when you come to the West”.’ (The Independent Magazine November 18, 1989)

It was echoed again nine years later in Prague at a Press Conference of the Czech Social Democratic Party, which took place on August 14, 1998. I was about to leave Oxford – Jan Hus Educational Foundation offered me a grant for a year with a promise of a permanent job at the Institute of Philosophy – when I learnt that Jan Kavan was appointed a Foreign Minister. In protest against his appointment I began a hunger-strike, for he committed a perjury in Britain on August 19, 1982, in the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, at the Divisional Court. At the Press Conference a freelance journalist Jan Sedlák addressed Libor Rouček, the spokesperson of the Social Democratic Party, as follows: ‘The Czech TV on all its channels presents Tomin. You too lived in England and therefore know that he had received psychiatric treatment. He allegedly suffered from the fixed idea that he was Jan Hus … An unhappy man, who should have no place on a TV screen. And this is public-owned TV, paid for by the tax-payer.’ The Press Spokesman replied: ‘Yes, I believe that Mr Tomin is an unhappy man, and as far as I am acquainted with public-owned TV in other countries, not a single one would produce such a program. But it is a matter for Czech TV and its Council.’

Indeed, Czech TV dealt with the matter; in the spring 1998 a Czech TV crew came to Oxford to make a film about my stay there. Most of the filming took place on a punt on the river Cherwell; surrounded by the beauty of Oxford Colleges and University Parks; I spoke of my challenging Oxford dons at the meetings of the Oxford Philosophy Society and of the Oxford Aristotelian Reading Circle, and of the great privilege of having the Bodleian Library at my disposal with all its treasures. The film was to be produced in the autumn after my arriving to Prague; but it has never been screened.

In Czech we have a saying ‘na každém šprochu je pravdy trochu’: ‘there is no rumour without some truth in it’. What truth is there in the allegation that I had received psychiatric treatment? I was interned in a psychiatric hospital for three days. In October 1979 I was invited to talk to a group of young people in north Bohemia. On a Saturday afternoon a member of the “underground” arrived to take me there. Out of Prague, we were ambushed by the Secret Police. The Police took me to the Psychiatric Hospital in Horní Beřkovice. The nurse in charge ordered me to take off my clothes and dress myself in the hospital outfit. I refused to do so and was given an injection of chlorprotixen. I remember a dry throat; in the night I went to the toilet on all fours, like an animal. On Sunday I received no injection for there was no doctor to prescribe one. On Monday morning I was taken to the Consultant; she looked out of the window and ordered the nurse to give me an injection. I asked the Consultant: ‘How can you prescribe an injection without talking to me or even just looking at me?’ The Consultant told the nurse: Leave it for now, we shall do it after the round.’ After lunch the patients were assembled in the dining hall; the Consultant with her assistants went from patient to patient. When the procession came to me, I looked the Consultant in the eyes and asked her: ‘Can you tell me the reason for why you are keeping me here?’ The Consultant said: ‘We shall discuss it after the round.’ She said these words and fainted. She fell into the arms of the junior doctor who stood behind her and was carried away. On Tuesday morning I was taken to the Consultant’s office. I asked her to give me any medical reasons for having me in the hospital. She admitted that she had no such reasons and discharged me from the hospital. All in all I was in the psychiatric hospital for approximately sixty hours, less than three full days.

In those days my philosophy seminar was held in the flat of Ivan Dejmal, one of my disciples, for in front of our flat were two policemen sitting day and night. My seminars took place each Wednesday. I had invited Ladislav Hejdánek, a Philosopher and Theologian, to give a talk in my seminar that coming Wednesday, and so I thought I would stay home, for I was exhausted after my adventure. But at seven p.m., when the seminar must have started, I began to regret my missing the lecture. And so I went to the seminar; it was a walk of five minutes. The room was packed with people, most of whom I had never seen. I learnt only later that there were people from as far away as Brno in Moravia; ambitious plans had been prepared for running the seminar in cooperation with Oxford University – without me. My entry caused a great consternation among all those in the room. Hejdánek asked: ‘What happened?’ I briefly narrated my psychiatric hospital adventure, to which he said: ‘Do you think they discharged you because of what happened in the hospital? That’s nonsense. They must have changed their directives in Moscow.’ I did not ask what he meant by ‘they’ and what Moscow had to do with my seminar or with my internment in the psychiatric hospital. I was unwanted in that gathering and left the room. I thought it was the end of my seminar; next Wednesday Hejdánek was to have one more lecture, and I did not feel like going there. But again, as the time of the seminar came, I could not help going there. When I entered the room in which the seminar was to be held, there was no Hejdánek, just a few of my most faithful students. They were deeply worried and asked me, whether I had noticed that there were Secret Policemen sitting in their cars on both corners of the street. I did not notice anything, but I agreed to look out of the window. The cars they pointed to me were just leaving. My seminar resumed as normal.

In 1980 Kathy Wilkes told my wife: ‘Oxford will never forgive Julius his getting out of the hospital. We were about to launch a great campaign, together with our French, German, American and Canadian colleagues, to get him out of there. But he got out before the campaign was even launched.’

In The Guardian of January 6, 1987 Polly Toinbee wrote in ‘Out of the East’: ‘Both Oxford and Cambridge had written to Julius in Czechoslovakia when he was in a mental hospital praising his work and offering jobs any time he wanted.’ The Guardian published my correction: ‘I have never been offered any jobs by Oxford or Cambridge and to my knowledge no letter was written to me by Oxford or Cambridge during the time when I was in mental hospital. The whole affair lasted 60 hours, 24 of those falling on Sunday. There simply was no time for Oxford or Cambridge to write any letters.’

In 2011 a Wikipedia entry concerning me was brought to my attention. In it I read: ‘He had refused military draft and had been sent to a psychiatric hospital for two years.’ Was it just an oversight?  In the early 1960s I worked for two years in a psychiatric hospital as a nurse. (See ‘A Wikipedia entry’ on my website. My wife contacted the Wikipedia, and the entry was corrected.)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

3 Lasting repercussions of what happened thirty five years ago

Kořínek and Pulcman wrote in their article: ‘One would be inclined to say that the campaign “Tomin” is just base, ridiculous and mean. But the fact is that it is a tendentiously timed campaign which aims to discredit socialist Czechoslovakia. These are attacks which do not contribute in any way towards mutual understanding and friendship between nations, and this is in direct contradiction with the Final Act in Helsinki. They touch our honour. In such case we cannot remain silent.’

This sounds personal. Kořínek, one of the two, had some reasons to feel hurt. In 1975 I stumbled on a letter written by a Czech philosopher Karel Kosík and addressed to J. Paul Sartre, published in Le Monde (for more details see ‘A fool’s hopes’ on my blog, May 11, 2015). The correspondence moved me deeply, and so I wrote to the Editor of the Rudé Právo (the Red Right, ‘the mouthpiece of the Czech Communist Party’, as Nick Cohen aptly characterizes it in ‘The Pub Philosopher’). I began by listing Kosík’s complaints: 1. He has been deprived of the possibility to do work, for which he is qualified. 2. He is excluded from participation in the activities of our scientific institutions. 3. He cannot publish what he writes; his books have been removed from public libraries. 4. The Police confiscated 1000 pages of his preparatory notes for the works On praxis, and On truth. Then I asked the Editor, whether the allegations were true, and ended my letter with three questions: ‘If true, is all this happening in compliance with our laws? If it is against our laws, what can I do as a citizen, so that the respect for the law may be restored? If it is in compliance with the laws, what can I do so that the laws are changed and it becomes prohibited to treat citizens of our republic in this way?’

Kořínek replied: ‘I acknowledge your letter of 4.7.1975. I cannot give you any more information concerning Karel Kosík. As you yourself write, Kosík turned to Le Monde and not to Rudé právo. We cannot competently consider the case; for this is the matter for the state organs dealing with it. Only they could give you any further information. – With comradely greetings, Jaroslav Kořínek, the Deputy Editor.

And so I wrote a letter to the West German Spiegel (Mirror): ‘I am one of those adults who like fairy-tails. I like the one in which an important role plays a mirror (Spiegel) that always tells the truth. If I were a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany, I would ask the Spiegel (Mirror): “Is it true that Members of the Communist Party cannot obtain teaching posts in my country? If it is true, what can I do to stop this encroachment on the fundamental rights of a citizen?” But I am not a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Spiegel (Mirror) cannot answer my questions. And so I am addressing the Spiegel merely with a request to mirror and thus emphasize questions which I have been asking in my country. A few weeks ago I read in Le Monde … the Rudé právo replied to me that they cannot answer my questions, for Karel Kosík wrote to a bourgeois newspaper in the West instead of the Rudé právo. And here I get to my most important question: Can we give up the right to join “the socialists, democrats, and communists” in the West – I am quoting the closing words from Kosík’s letter to Sartre – in demanding fundamental respect for law and justice in our socialist country? Can such a joint request be rejected simply because of its being a joint request?’

On July 28 I wrote in my letter to the Rudé právo: ‘I am enclosing a copy of my letter to the West German Spiegel concerning your paper. Allow me to use this occasion to ask you a favour. In L’Humanité of May 16 I read the Declaration of Freedoms, which the Communist Party of France offered to French citizens for discussion. I have found the Declaration highly interesting. I suggested to the shift-manager that we should discuss it at the next workers’ meeting. I suggested the same to the Head of the Factory Trade Unions, and I talked about it to my fellow-workers. I met with varied responses: ‘I have two children, leave me alone.’ – ‘It’s easy for the French Communists to make such declarations when they have no power in their hands. Do you really think they would be interested in freedom, if they got power?’ – ‘We used to make a mistake thinking that we can talk to people about anything. With people in the factory you can talk about whether they get adequately rewarded for their work. But I have learnt at the [Communist Party] teach-in that we cannot talk to people about such matters as “matter and spirit”, “materialism and idealism”, we cannot talk to people about the fundamental philosophic question.’ In the end the Director of the factory, Mr Trávníček, took my suggestion seriously and asked me for a copy of the Declaration: “I’ll get it translated and then decide what to do about it”. But a few days ago he told me that he could not find anybody willing to translate it. I presume you have got a translation of this important document. Would you send me a copy, so that I could give it to the Director for consideration?’

Kořínek replied: ‘I answered your previous letter promptly and to the point. The fact that you addressed your letter to the West German Spiegel clearly shows your real objective. In view of that, I think that it is pointless to continue our correspondence.’

The next day, when I wanted to buy L’Humanité I could not get it. Until then L’Humanité was freely available in kiosks and shops selling newspapers, but then it disappeared from Prague kiosks and news-paper shops, and from then on it remained unavailable.

I wrote one more letter to the Rudé právo, from which I quote: ‘I am sitting in the Prague Power Plant, in the area that lies under the low pressure turbine. I am separated from the sewer under my feet by a metal plate, which is full of holes and upon which I have built a shelter. The sewer stinks, it is hard to breath; I feel thick when I think that today I must serve a sixteen hour shift. I hold in my hands a letter from the Rudé právo: “I answered your previous letter promptly and to the point … it is pointless to continue our correspondence.”

I am sorry comrade Kořínek for troubling you again. I did want to stop writing to you, as you wished, but today I serve a sixteen hour shift, the sewer stinks, the air is un-breathable, and I have got a thought: “If you find reading and answering my letters so objectionable, let us change our places. I have got the prerequisite education in Marxist philosophy, enriched by a five year work in a factory. It will be easy for you to obtain the qualification of a turbine operator in the condenser area; it takes just a month of in-training. If we exchange our places, I shall read patiently your letters and do everything in my power to facilitate your further professional advancement.

I have done what I could to transform this place into a place where one can combine looking after turbines with study. Before I came, it was unimaginable that a worker could open and read a book during a shift; nowadays combining intellectual activity with looking after the turbines became a matter of course for almost every turbine operator. And most importantly, I gradually managed to build in the condenser area a shelter. Water will not be dripping on your books, the space above your head will be covered by four metal plates, a big cardboard, a big plastic plate, a bag made of hemp, a curtain, and many rags that fill any holes … The Director calls it a caveman’s den. It is not aesthetically pleasing; I built it with discarded material I found all around the factory. But it serves its purpose. Before I built it, water dripping behind one’s neck and a sharp draft penetrating into the bones had been a lot of every turbine operator working in the condenser area.  Everyone who worked here more than a few months ended up stricken with rheumatism.

I’ve done what could be done for improving the conditions for work and study directly in the factory, but all my efforts remained fruitless as far as the broader conditions for professional advancement in the study of Marxist Philosophy are concerned. I wrote to the Philosophy Institute asking the Director to allow me to present the results of my philosophic investigations at the Institute. The response was negative: ‘By becoming a turbine operator you have excluded yourself from any contact with the Institute.’ If we exchange our places, I shall do everything in my power to prevent the Dean of the Philosophy Faculty at Charles University from refusing to allow you to defend your Candidate Dissertation ‘on moral and political grounds’.

A number of thoughts come to my mind at this point: Shall we and our children live in a socialist society in which will be space for free development of everyone? Or shall we remain a society in which people are deprived of free expression of their thoughts, in which some people are deprived of the possibility to publish, and if they write anything, their manuscripts are confiscated, and they are prevented from getting engaged in work for socialism at home and abroad?

These things are important and they require full engagement and commitment of a dedicated Communist. I have never become a Member of the Communist Party, and if we exchanged our places, I would not have the authority, which is needed. So let me stay in my place as a turbine operator, and you in your position of a Deputy Editor of the Rudé Právo. This will enable you to strain every nerve in the fight for making it possible that fruitful participation in the development of our society becomes open for all those who were excluded from it during the past five years. Our society cannot afford to discard their creative potential any longer.’


Struggling with the translation of my letters to Kořínek into English, I can’t help thinking of a letter I received two years ago from Professor Bone, the Master of Balliol. I asked him for permission to present at Balliol a lecture on ‘Human Spiritual Nature and the X of Neurophysiologists’. On October 4, 2013 he replied: 'My apologies for apparent rudeness. You are unlikely to know that in a very small way I was involved in that struggle, as a visitor myself in odd circumstances, starting by talking about Byron and literature in general to some of those who had lost their positions in Charles after 1968, one of whom, Alois Bejblik, now sadly dead, became a close friend. It is not I fear possible to give you a platform in Balliol, but I do understand the significance of the 17th November.'

Friday, October 16, 2015

2 Lasting repercussions of what happened thirty five years ago

Richta’s Letter to Professor Diemer was introduced in Tvorba by a lengthy article by Kořínek and Pulcman entitled ‘How a Campaign of Provocation is produced’. The authors wrote:

‘Tomin organized in his flat several “unofficial lectures” on ancient philosophy … He sent letters to four universities in the West which contained, beside stupid slanders against the Czechoslovak state authorities as allegedly “usurping” the right to determine who is to lecture in science and what the students must study, haughty calls to Western intellectuals – from natural historians to theologians – to come and see his “lectures” and to witness how he was persecuted by the authorities … And so Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America hurried to give support to Mr Tomin … And then there began a wild campaign to which the press in the West devoted dozens of pages, and the broadcasting stations hours of time: behold, in the CSSR philosophers are allegedly “persecuted”, “interrogated”, “detained” and even “deported” (e.g. New Statesman 30.5.1980). They allegedly created under the leadership of Mr Tomin an “unofficial university” (The Times 10.10.1979, based on information from Reuters), an “underground university” (The Guardian 10.10.1979) a “parallel university” or “university of Jan Patočka” (New Statesman 7.3.1980) a “secret university of Jan Patočka” (Le Monde 5.8.1980), which has its counterpart in the “flying university of Poland, even though it is less formal and less-well developed” (The Times 15.8.1980), To crown all these falsehoods Die Welt (23.9.1980 talks of Tomin as a “professor at Charles University” … Some English, French, American, and West German bourgeois philosophers began to write protests and even put pressure on the President of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP), Professor A. Diemer, to “interfere”. But it sufficed for the president of this international association to do the most natural thing, viz. to inform himself by asking the competent representatives of Czechoslovak philosophy, and the “bubble of the “Tomin case” burst immediately.’

The article was introduced with an eloquent call for international cooperation:

‘The necessity for international cooperation, the exchange of scientific knowledge, and a dialogue are generally acknowledged by honest and respectable scientists throughout the world.  This constitutes an important part of the endeavours to maintain and strengthen peace around the world. In the spirit of the stimuli provided by the Final Act at Helsinki, the scope for cooperation and exchange of knowledge grows and intensifies even in social sciences. The steadily increasing importance of scientific contact is expressed and actively endorsed by representative forums in the social sciences; and the stream of world congresses of philosophers, sociologists, political scientists, economists and historians has convincingly showed the advantages of this permanent dialogue … Side by side with this undoubtedly fruitful and beneficial policy, which is the only policy possible for the future, we have been confronted, particularly in recent years by the efforts of militant anti-communist forces to stop, prevent and reverse the hitherto positive development … In the last two years a provocative action against the CSSR, artificially raked up around the so-called “Tomin case”, acquired such a character.’

There is quite a lot of truth in what the authors say. Shortly after the publication of their article I was invited to the Oxford Union. The Oxford Union wanted to invite me to give a talk, but on this occasion they want me to take part in a debate. I was invited to speak on the motion ‘The price of détante is too high’. I was expected to talk for the motion, which I could not do, for any positive development that had taken place in Czecholovakia in 1960s happened in the atmosphere of détante. I spoke against the motion; it was comprehensively defeated. I was never invited to the Oxford Union again.

During the past thirty five years I made many attempt to enlist the support of British Mass Media in my effort to engage Oxford dons in discussing Plato, in vain. Let me quote from a letter I wrote to the Editor of The Independent on November 17, 1994:

‘Five years ago, on November 18, 1989, The Independent Magazine published “The Pub philosopher” in which Nick Cohen described me as ‘the “pub philosopher” whose poverty forced him to earn a living by delivering lectures in a Swindon saloon bar’. Is it a mere coincidence that since then I have not been allowed to lecture at the Swindon saloon bar, my three years contract with the publican having been broken without a word of explanation?

The gist of Nick Cohen’s article is as follows: “The judgments passed by Oxford dons on Julius Tomin seem outrageously brutal … Jonathan Barns, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford … said: ‘He would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job. He’s like a recalcitrant student who can’t admit he’s wrong’ … Barnes thinks that even if Tomin’s views were not ‘baloney’, there are no interesting consequences. Tomin believes that they could change utterly philosophers’ understanding of Plato.”

In response to the article I wrote to Professor Barnes and asked him to encounter me in an open public discussion on Plato. He refused. I renewed the challenge to him year by year, in vain.

Charles’ University in Prague has recently given me a post of a tutor in Ancient Philosophy. Delighted, I had accepted the post, but I wrote to the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at Charles University that before leaving Oxford I would seek an opportunity to present the main results of fourteen years of my research at Oxford to Oxford philosophers and students for critical scrutiny.

With this in mind, I offered to the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University a series of 8 lectures on Plato, seven of which I presented to them in written form, so that they could prepare well their criticism of my exposition of Plato. In my invitation I wrote to them: “If the discussions on my lectures prove my views to be wanting, I shall openly admit in Prague that for thirty years of my study of Plato I had been blind, until Oxford philosophers opened my eyes. If our views on both sides remain unshaken, at least I shall be better qualified to present to students in Prague not only my views, but the opposing views as well. If my views prevail, it will be the beginning of a rethinking of Plato that will require international cooperation.”

This appeal of mine has been answered only negatively. An Oxford don wrote to me: “I do not think you are being fair to the philosophers in Oxford. You were admitted to the Oxford Aristotle Reading Circle, and used to attend regularly, and often were able to have your say about the text we were reading. You are wasting your effort trying to get people in Oxford to spend time discussing your ideas with you: they just have not got any time to spare.”

It seems to be indeed the case that Oxford dons “have not got any time to spare”. The Oxford Aristotle Reading Circle had been dissolved four years ago, after many years of uninterrupted existence. Oxford dons seem to have no time any more to engage each other in stimulating discussions with the texts in the original in their hands. This closure has inflicted a wound on Ancient Philosophy that nothing can heal but the reopening of the Oxford Aristotle Reading Circle. I had the privilege to attend it for more than ten years, until its dissolution, and I enjoyed every minute of it, although I regretted that Plato was never chosen for discussion. We read and discussed Plotinus, Aristotle, St Augustine, Lucretius, Sextus Empiricus, and Alexander Aphrodisias.’

I received no reply to my letter, but shortly after my sending it to The Independent the Dean of the Faulty of Philosophy at Charles University informed me that my place of a tutor in philosophy was given to someone else. It surprised me, for I was given no date by which I should get to Prague; the place offered to me was just for a year, no dates specified.

On March 19, 1995 Hester Lacy wrote in The Independent on Sunday: ‘Philosophy has not always been the people’s choice, as landlord Noel Reilly discovered when he engaged the dissident Czech academic Dr Julius Tomin to deliver nine half-hour lectures in the Beehive pub in Swindon in 1988. “his great interest was Plato, though he disagreed with his fellow philosophers about the chronological sequence of Plato’s works,” explained Reilly at the time. Unfortunately, Dr Tomin delivered only four lectures [as far as I remember, I delivered only three lectures, J.T.]. “He was a nervous man. I think the hurly-burly of the public house upset him,” said Reilly, whose attempts to turn his pub into a “place of culture” sadly ended in bankruptcy.’

By coincidence, I met Reilly at Oxford early in March of that year. I hailed him: ‘Hello Noel, how are you? How is the Beehive doing?’ – Reilly told me: ‘I am no longer in the Beehive. I was given a grant to study English literature at Oxford University.’

Concerning Hester Lacey’s claim that Reilly’s engaging me in his pub ‘sadly ended in bankruptcy‘, let me refer to Nick Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’:

‘Last year the Department of Social Security cut off his [Tomin’s] benefit of £67 a week because he refused to take a job as anything other than a philosopher. He is able to continue his work in Oxford’s libraries solely because Noel Reilly, the landlord of the Beehive pub in Swindon, read of his plight and decided to pay him £5,000 to deliver three lectures a year to regulars. The talks are very popular. About 350 came to the last lecture at the Beehive.’

Let me yet quote the last paragraph from Cohen’s article. Written on the eve of the Velvet revolution, it chimes well with the Tvorba article: ‘Last October Rude Pravo, the mouthpiece of the Czech Communist Party, happily reported Tomin’s story. Under the headline PAID TO MAKE SPEECHES, it said: “Even in a public bar words can earn money, or rather make money. The recipy for this was found in Britain by the Czech emigrant Julius Tomin. Since 1980, when he emigrated, he has struggled as hard as possible to keep going since no university has shown any interest in him. Only now has he found an audience interested in his disputations – namely a public house in Swindon. No other milieu will put up with him.”’

Thursday, October 15, 2015

1 Lasting repercussions of what happened thirty five years ago

Thirty five years ago, on Thursday October 15, 1980 the Czechoslovak Communist Party cultural weekly Tvorba published a letter addressed by Professor Radovan Richta to Professor A. Diemer, President of the International Federation of Philosophic Societies. Richta wrote: ‘Tomin is a man who is worth nothing in philosophy … It is self-evident that Mr Tomin would not find the means to live for a single week if he were interesting merely for what he did in philosophy.’

Radovan Richta justified his verdict as follows: ‘Our state magnanimously paid Mr Tomin the relatively high scholarship of an aspirant [a research fellow, J.T.] for four years at the Faculty of Philosophy at Charles University. But Mr. Tomin did not even defend a dissertation on the level prescribed for a candidate despite these favourable conditions, and despite an extraordinary prolongation of the aspirantura [research fellowship, J.T.] so that he did not acquire the qualification prescribed, in the CSSR as elsewhere in the world, as a precondition for gaining the status of a scientist.’

When I obtained a copy of the Tvorba issue in which Richta’s letter was published. I translated it into English, attached to it a few notes, and gave a copy to Oxford philosophers involved in the Prague adventure. In my notes I wrote:

‘I presented my Candidate’s dissertation entitled ‘Three Contributions to the Theory of Knowledge’ to the Faculty of Philosophy in the early spring 1969, before leaving for Hawaii. One of the referees, Professor Tošenovský (Brno University) submitted his (very favourable) reference to the Examination Committee, and sent me a copy of it, yet before I left Prague; the other two referees, Professor Svoboda and Professor Sobotka had not written their reference before I left Prague, and when I returned from Hawaii in 1970 there was no point in writing any reference: all defences of Candidate dissertations were suspended as part of the ‘normalization and consolidation’ process initiated by the Communist regime after the suppression of the Prague Spring of 1968 by the Soviet invasion. New special commissions were subsequently formed; only those were allowed to defend their dissertations who showed their loyalty to the new regime.

Professor Sobotka quoted my dissertation in his edition of Descartes’ Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Prague, Svoboda Press, 1970). (I hope that this remark does not lead to the disappearance of the book from Czechoslovak libraries.)

My journey to Hawaii was no luxury trip but was undertaken by me within the framework of my aspirantura [as the ‘extraordinary prolongation of the aspirantura’ to which Richta refers]; I had been invited by the University of Hawaii to lecture in Honours Programmes as a Visiting Professor (August 1969 – July 1970)’

I was contacted at Oxford by Professor Raymond Klibansky, a Member of the Steering Committee of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP); he wanted to know more about Richta, who too was a Member of the Committee. I asked him: ‘At the approaching meeting of the Committee, would you ask Professor Richta about his point concerning my Candidate’s dissertation?’ Klibansky replied: ‘I cannot do that. Richta’s position at the Committee is all too powerful.’

And so I must ask, what had made Richta’s position so powerful that Klibansky shrunk from the very thought of responding positively to my request? It was hardly ‘merely for what he did in philosophy’. Professor Erickson’s BBC explanation springs to mind, of how it happened that the East European regimes collapsed and disintegrated so easily, which I heard one day after midnight on the World Service in the early 1990; he argued that in the late 1970s the KGB realized that Communism was untenable and began to cooperate with the CIA and the MI6 on the dismantlement of the Communism system. And so I ask: was Radovan Richta a linchpin in that grand scheme? Was he an agent both of the KGB and of the CIA?

I wanted to have Sobotka’s edition of Descartes’ Meditations as a proof that I did write and timely submitted my Candidate’s dissertation. Roger Scruton was about to go to Prague and so I gave him my house keys and asked him to go to my flat, to find Sobotka’s book and bring it to me. When he returned from Prague, Roger told me that he visited my flat, thoroughly searched for Sobotka’s book on my bookshelves, but that he could not find it.

In those days I received a letter from Jan Bednář, one of my most faithful students, who asked me to send him a copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. I communicated his wish to Kathy Wilkes and she communicated it to the next Oxford academic sent to Prague. To my great surprize, after a few weeks Bednář wrote to me again, repeating his request. I asked Kathy about it. In those days I was still given copies of the Memoranda that each academic wrote after his visit to Prague. I remember the last Memorandum I was given; it was written by Roger Scruton, who reported that he had given Bednář the requested Dictionary with the words: ‘We let him know that we were not amused at his importunity.’

Richta appears to have been right when he wrote ‘that Mr Tomin would not find the means to live for a single week if he were interesting merely for what he did in philosophy.’

For more than a year my only income has been £26.95 a week. The Pension Service still steadfastly refuse to inform me on what basis they found me in debt of £11, 956.70 in 2009, because of which my state pension of £39.95 has been thus shortened. (See ‘It is all wrong – a letter to the Pension Service’, posted on my blog on June 15, 2015, and ‘It has nothing to do with Oxford University’, posted on my blog on June 19, 2015.)

I still have not received a reply to my request addressed to the Master of Balliol to allow me to present at Balliol a lecture on ‘Plato’s Parmenides in the light of Aristotle’s testimony’, and I have not received a reply to a similar request addressed to the Director of the Institute for Philosophy at Charles University.

Radovan Richta’s shadow does not go away.