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APRIL 2011

Oiks in Print
Free Will, Determinism and Pre Firing Neurones
Gatley An Oik Paris
Ebooks by Oik writers


Oiks in Print

Oik stalwart Nigel Ford, a Brit working in Sweden, sends me his latest collection of short stories One Dog Barking. Some of these have appeared in the Oik. Nigel is something of a graphic artist too and has designed the cover. An email describes his marketing technique:  

I've also sent it to something called The Book Maniac in Australia (sounded appealing I thought) for a review.
Have to try the US, India, the West Indies, New Zealand, Canada and Pakistan too.Not to mention Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
It is now out in the bookshops here in jolly Sweden and I have personally sold five copies, one to a drunk person at a party and the others to 4 people I'd never met before. 

Yes Nigel, go for it! Blake used to flog his poems from a tray round his neck and even the great living poet Tony Harrison carried a stack in a rucksack which he’d press on punters in the pub after a reading. Back then (1984) Tony was flogging his latest paperback and seemed quite gobsmacked when I produced my ten quid hardback. So gobsmacked in fact that he added the place and date to his usual squiggle.  

Pubs and parties would be ideal. The punters would probably be pissed and therefore in no state to compare your offering unfavourably to Chekhov or Joyce. They would also be dimly aware that your book was less than the price of a couple of pints. Or in Sweden, where Nigel was selling this unknown masterpiece, less than the price of one pint. Better yet it’d probably be the next day before they got round to reading it and noticing it wasn’t even in Swedish. 

Nigel's book is published by Worldscribe Press ISBN 978-91-979415-0-1

On the topic of Oik writers I must inform Oiklet readers of Sean Parker’s latest. Sean is, strictly, not an Oik contributor but an honorary Oik and the distinguished author of Junkyard Dog (Dogs!? What is it with oiks and dogs? Bob Wild’s collection is called Dogs of War, as is a short story by Tom Kilcourse who is also an ardent canophilist. Tom says he rather take his dog for a walk in the forest in the Seine Valley than trudge round the Louvre). Sean reveals that he is negotiating with a new publisher for his forthcoming Bad Penny Blues (you heard it here first). I suppose in future he should be referred to as Sean Parker (the distinguished author of Junkyard Dog and Bad Penny Blues) yes a mouthful but he deserves it.

Free Will, Determinism and Pre Firing Neurones

Alan Dent has now replied to my earlier email in the previous Oiklet Free Will an Addendum

Re choice and determinism: I think the point is simultaneity. Emerson says: Every social fact is first of all a fact in the human mind. I think he's almost right: every social fact is simultaneously a fact in the human mind.

If we think of pre-motor neurons firing before motor neurons to create a sense of agency then we have to ask what makes the pre-motor neurons fire and we risk infinite regress. It isn't a matter of cause and effect. My wanting to punch George Osborne in the mouth doesn't cause my fist to clench and make contact. The desire exists independently of the act. There are many possibilities between the desire and the fulfilment (oh god, it sounds like Tom Eliot on a bad day). Choice is consciousness of at least two of them and the ability to suppress one or the other. The point is the social fact of Tory cuts exists simultaneously with the anger it engenders. You can't find the source of my anger in my brain, though obviously if I had no brain (like George Osborne) I wouldn't be angry. The source of my anger exists somewhere between my brain and George's and that space is what we call society. We have evolved with brains which create that space and are useless outside it. Determinism breaks down at the point at which evolution brings into being a brain which has to read other brains in order to make a mind. It's probably true therefore that primate behaviour as a whole is much less determined that we may have suspected. It's a miracle, but determinism throws up contingency because of the complexity of both social interaction and the brain itself. Philosophy is writing in the sand as far as this goes because it predates neuroscience which has opened the brain up for us.


I think Alan is going off at a tangent here. A great deal has been written about the social construction of reality – indeed the John Searle wrote a whole book on just this: The Construction of Social Reality – (Penguin 1996). Two of the examples he gives of such socially constructed realities were money and marriage – the physical manifestations of these states (certificates, coins, banknotes) are as nothing compared to their social importance which is conferred by communal agreement. Later crackpots like the French sociologist Bruno Latour considered even Mount Everest and gravity to be social constructs. Jerry Fodor, the renowned New Jersey nihilist, invited these adherents to visit his tenth floor New York apartment and jump out of the window to prove it. So I agree with Alan and Emerson that “Every social fact is first of all a fact in the human mind.” Of course it is – how could it not be? But surely this is getting off the point.

I don’t see either how the pre-motor neurone firing phenomenon risks an infinite regress. But I see where this idea comes from. Primitive notions of mind as a homunculus observing brain states leads us to posit another homunculus observing the first one – and so on. The mystery raised by pre-firing neurones is about choice – can choice be unconscious? Surely it can’t since the essence of choice is conscious, willed action. Unconscious choice is an oxymoron. Well even Alan agrees when he asserts: “Choice is consciousness” Obviously too we choose, or are influenced by, a whole network of socially generated facts and opinions. This vast social web of interactions leads Alan to import contingency, and from this, free will. Well we’ve been through all that before in our extended exchange (see A Dialogue on Determinism). I think what we’re looking at is unpredictability and that Alan’s intuition about the impossibility of determinism is merely a seductive explanation of our response to that vast complexity – logically determinism is not thus disproved no matter how strong our intuitions.

But, to return to pre-firing neurones. This looks like a powerful argument for epiphenomenalism – the idea that there are mental states which occur in parallel with actions but have no influence on them. In a deterministic universe our lives are running a hidden program and alongside this we have mental states – like choosing and deciding – but these are just froth on the wave – of no consequence as far as the outcome is concerned. Yep, barmy, I don’t believe it either but it’s hard to disprove. Pre-firing neurones surely add weight to the contention that we don’t decide or chose. Our actions seem to be pre-determined. When the two states, mental and physical, coincide it’s hard to believe they’re not a real, freely willed choice. But when we learn that a brain process sparks up before the act, entirely unconsciously, then this seems like a confirmation that we’re in the grip of a hidden program – that we are determined.

My explanation is this: nerve impulses are slower than brain processes. This delay isn’t negligible being between half and three quarters of a second. If we operated in the world with this lag apparent we’d be confused and frustrated – we’d be like a wonky robot controlled by a dud remote. How maddening it’d be to decide to hit the x key on the keyboard and have to wait half a second for your finger to move. No, we’ve evolved better than that. What actually happens is that we do chose and decide but the brain suppresses the conscious appearance of that choice in order to make it coincide with our physical act. Hence the pre-firing neurone phenomenon. Better to regard this as a delayed consciousness phenomenon – delayed by the brain to give the appearance of synchronicity which is essential to our efficient working in the world.

Obviously this phenomenon isn’t applicable to all reactions. A defensive reflex for instance when you duck as an object appears suddenly isn’t a “choice” nor would your cogitation about whether to buy Searle’s book tomorrow by going to Waterstones or logging on to Amazon, since no immediate act is called for. But in other instances it is – even if you’re a chimpanzee deciding to grab a banana off a neighbouring gorilla.

I can’t claim to have originated this explanation but neither can I recall exactly where I saw it, but it sounds a good theory and I invite readers to contest it.

Gatley - An Oik Paris

Kingsway running south from Manchester might be considered the main artery of the Oik. Up at the top lives Bob Wild in Levenshulme. He likes the rooty, oikish, ethnic variety of the area where picturesque Pakistani women can been seen squeezing their melons. Bob’s street is on the edge and is quite posh in a run-down academic kind of way with towering houses, three storeys plus cellar, and huge, wild front gardens. Bob’s contribution to this colourful neglect is a garden which looks like a Douanier Rousseau. But a few yards from the back gate, under the railway bridge is bandit country, the heart of darkness, and this is what Bob likes since he moved here from a very swank house in Bramhall.

Then you get to Didsbury. In the middle not far from the cenotaph and Morton’s bookshop (now quite degraded) is the Fletcher Moss pub, previously the Albert. This has pretensions to culture, Seamus Heaney has drunk in it and noted local poet Geoff Wainwright, quite unjustly slandered in Oik 5, is a regular. Also in most nights is Dave Birtwistle, master of the oiku. Bob visits occasionally and can be guaranteed to empty the lounge when he appears with a stack of Oiks.

Further south still is Gatley where Brett Wilson lives and Marie Feargrieve works. Another notable here is poet and essayist Jim Burns whose forthcoming collection Radicals, Beats and Beboppers appears under the imprint of Penniless Press Publications. Jim is not an Oik contributor but I add his great piece on the short story Write As Short as You Can to the Workshop. Jim’s essay collection is on offer via the Oik.

Oik mainstay Brett lives further south yet, but still in Gatley. Known for his eccentric effusions one might think Brett (Wilson) has some connection with the well-known crank Colin (The Outsider) or that famous Manc fake John Burgess Wilson (Anthony Burgess). Perhaps Brett has been unjustly maligned (like Geoff Wainwright) and to rectify this we beef up Brett’s Bedlam with two almost sane pieces on Korean film Four Korean Films and modern art. The Victorian Bedlam was indeed a freak sideshow visited by posh sensation-seekers but many sane people found themselves in there and it’s just possible Brett is such a one. I can’t entirely trust his film crits after he reported that the Jap classic Tokyo Story, bought on my recommendation, could do with more exploding cars and naked women. Brett is, however, a premier league TV watcher and polymath. I was reminded of this when I read last weekend of American literary genius David Foster Wallace watching TV for 36 hours non-stop. Brett also has similar engagements with the zeitgeist and once watched the whole boxed set of Battlestar Galactica all day every day for a week. He was glued to his chair so long he noticed a paunch appearing in the later stages. Jim Burns, to complete the comparison, doesn’t even own a TV – his house, however, is stuffed full of books.

Brett’s other piece is a fragment from his on-going natural history of the oik in which he looks at famous art forgers and casts doubt on the whole modern art project. Different Strokes. Tom Wolfe’s essay The Painted Word is even more excoriating if you’d like to pursue this thread. Yis, art prices are quite mad but that’s the rich-git effect rather than due to any aesthetic merit. If rich gits want something you don’t stand a chance. This is why you can’t buy a bottle of Vosne Romanée Conti at Oddbins. You can’t even buy one if you turned up in Vosne. There’s just not enough to satisfy the increasing number of rich gits popping up in China, India and Japan – places where they don’t even drink wine. Some of these mad sods are merely collectors. Scarcity is what drives it – why even Crazy Oik Issue 1 is now extremely rare and, I hear, has been changing hands in the Fletcher Moss for more than the price of a pint.

A correction. Marie writes to point out that she wrote 30% of Different Strokes and should have credit for it. Indeed. Brett did mention this I believe in some buried footnote. Marie reveals she wrote her contribution in work and finds the notion that Brett should appear in an Oik themed on this topic quite preposterous. Like say Dave Cameron banging on about the disadvantages of being black.

Ebooks by Oik Writers

Tom Kilcourse, an indefatigable pioneer of independent publishing, reports the appearance of three of his novels in ebook form. He promises that paperback editions are on their way. We'll keep Oiklet readers informed when they turn up

I now have three novels in e-book form on Amazon. The Links are: