Category Archives: Minutae

Random tidbits that I’ve learned while researching, exploring or just living my life. Most of these things would only be useful in very particular instances but I manage, for some odd reason, to remember them for years…just in case.

So here they are and maybe you will find them useful or interesting enough to remember as well.

I argue Minutae Uncategorized

Deus Ex Machina

Dues Ex Machina is a phrase that has been variously translated. Today, there are people who claim it is a sign of G-d’s hand invisibly moving in our lives; the mysterious god machine. Most people have heard of the album by the band The Police, “Ghost In The Machine”. Less well known in non-psychological circles is the 1949 book The Concept of Mind by Gilbert Ryle where this term made its debut in modern times. Ryle argues against the concept of Dualism first made famous by the philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes.


Dualism is the ancient concept that the mind and body are distinct entities. The notion of dualism is the reason we have different definitions for ‘mind’ and ‘brain’. We think of consciousness and self-awareness in terms of our mind’s ability to understand itself and the world around it, yet we say the mind works within the physical construct of the brain. Descartes expounded this theory in the 1600’s in multiple treatises, including De Homine. The average reader is aware of the assertion, “Cogito Ergo Sum,” or, “I think therefore I am.” This is the most famous quote of Descartes, though from another text, and a most famous expression of mind/body dualism.What Gilbert Ryle argues against in, The Concept of Mind is this very notion put forth by Descartes. Ryle asserts that there is no mysterious mechanism occurring in the mind from which magically springs forth consciousness. He famously said there is no, ‘deus ex machina’ or no “ghost in the machine”. No magic, no mystery. We are unitary and unified beings, self-contained.


Another author, Arthur Koestler, borrows Ryle’s term and publishes a book in 1967 entitled Ghost in the Machine in which he attempts to explain humanity’s self-destructive tendencies. For this exposition, Koestler expands upon the works of Behavioralist psychologists to argue that there is no mystical adjunct to humanity. For our purposes, the whole argument is really rather dry and unappealing to anyone not in the field of study in question. The practical upshot of his book however is that the term ‘ghost in the machine’ is brought forth to a wider audience: college students. That audience comes to understand that this term is derived from the works of Ryle, who was arguing with Descartes, who argued that the mind is distinct from the body; apart from it. This limited understanding allows one to form the opinion that the ‘ghost’ in the machine is our spirit or the holy.


When someone today claims that something is the ‘ghost in the machine’, they usually are claiming something along the lines that the whole is greater than the sum of its part. If someone decides to translate the ancient Greek more literally, they like to call it the ‘god machine’, the mysterious machinations that make our world make sense. This last translation is closer to the truth than anything put forth so far. In ancient Greek, ‘Dues ex Machina’ literally translates as “god from the machine”. That is, god FROM the machine.


Deus ex Machina is an expression most notably recounted in Poetics, by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It is a term of theatre, not theology or philosophy. The ‘god from the machine’ is literally a device used by a playwright, a bad playwright in Aristotle’s estimation, to resolve all the loose ends at the end of a play. One of the Greek gods would literally descend from above the scenery via ropes, land amongst the actors, and resolve all the issues using his or her godly powers. Aristotle did not think much of this tactic. He argued that a good author should be able to resolve all the tensions and disputes internally within the structure of the play, logically, on his own. Aristotle thought is was a cheap trick to simply wave a magic wand over a mess that was created by a playwright for his characters in order to wrap things up nicely at the end. Aristotle often noted that Oedipus was the perfect tragedy for this very fact. The author made a fine mess of everything throughout the whole play but the fates that befall all the characters tie together with a satisfying closure that can be traced to their own actions within the play. There was no need to appeal to some supernatural force for things to work themselves out.


You may believe in mind/body Dualism or that there is no one else home but yourself. That is not important to me. Either we are all hard-wiring or we are more than the sum of our parts or maybe there is a third or fourth option to the above two. Whatever. What is important is that ‘deus ex machina’ is a term of art created by someone less than one hundred years ago. It is a term borrowed without concern for its original context nor concern for how it may sound to the uninitiated reader. Sending down a god into a work of fiction to fix poor writing is a long walk from claiming that the lord moves in mysterious ways.

Minutae Poetry Quotations and attributions

Kerouac Haiku

“Light a Fire

Fight a liar

Whats the difference

In existence?”

-The Dharma Bums


Hey, don’t blame me if you don’t think it’s a Haiku. I know there are several traditional forms and the ones that play out at 5-7-5 are the ones that Westerners know best. There are longer ones as well, though. Jack Kerouac sat up in a fire-watch tower in the great Northwest one summer and related that story in The Dharma Bums. Here is where I found his poem.

In Hinduism, Dharma is translatable as Law or Natural Law. For a good understanding, you might consider it a Just Order of things. This would inform the Indian/Hindu concept of the caste system which governs the station into which a person is born and out of which they may not rise.

Being a Dharma Bum is an eastern way for Kerouac to attempt to convey the same notion as being a member of the Beat Generation. “Beat” is a reference to the Beatitudes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. The Beatitudes were the portion of the sermon that include, ‘blessed are the meek.’ Blessed are the downtrodden and abused. The Beat Poets were the down and out and they knew it. The Beatitudes blessed the pure of heart, the pure of soul. The Beat Poets considered themselves the those with the clearest vision of what was actually happening around them.

A “Dharma Bum” was another attempt to relate the nature of the group of writers and poets who began working in the 50’s and lay the groundwork for the discontent of the 60’s. By nature, down to one’s marrow, in one’s soul, one was a bum, a drifter, unattached to the rest of what was going on in society. Being on the outside and looking in affords one tremendous opportunity to critique a system objectively. This is what the Beat writers thought they could do. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if they succeeded.

Minutae Uncategorized

The Great Wall of China

According to Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, the Great Wall of China was not really built to keep out the Mongols but, rather, their horses. The wall is thousands of miles long and could not really be guarded at all times so it could obviously could be scaled by humans. As superb as the Mongols were at fighting on horseback, they were only average warriors on foot. The great feat of the Great Wall was that it forced the Mongols to dismount. They may climb over the wall but in leaving their horses, they left their advantage and the Forbidden City was quite a long way without a horse.