Logic – Lewis Carroll & Alice
Lewis Carroll’s Life & Passions
Lewis Carroll wrote logic puzzles and stories with hidden meanings much like Edgar Allan Poe, and many have wondered if the mystery of Carroll’s life may or may not hide exciting secrets of sex and drugs over a century before rock and roll invaded the British. Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865, a hundred years before the 60s celebrated the book with blacklight posters full of white rabbits, mushrooms and hookah smoking caterpillars. Unfortunately for the hippies, Carroll certainly used medications that gave him strange dreams, but unlike Poe he probably never did drugs for fun or had sex at all.
Carroll loved children, particularly girls, which doesn’t sound right no matter how you say it, and this hurt his reputation decades after his death in the 1930s and 40s when panic about pornography and pedophilia was on the rise, Freud was popular, and psychoanalysts were over-reading Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole, warning concerned parents not to give a book with dangerous secret messages to their impressionable children. Carroll took nude photographs of children and shared the pictures with their parents, which is unsettling but nude child models were normal in European painting and Carroll was one of the first amateur photographers as the camera became available.
Carroll had nine brothers and sisters growing up in a large family, mostly younger sisters, and he entertained them with imaginary games, magic shows, a family magazine, and puppet plays. At boarding school he defended younger boys from bullies, and each summer he gave lessons to the boys and girls of his father’s school in Croft. In 1851 he moved to Oxford for college, the oldest in England, and when he became a fellow he was entitled to teach for the rest of his life if he remained unmarried and celibate, which he did until he died. This kept him from having a family of his own, so he played with the children of his colleagues as he had his sisters and brothers, and many of his child friends wrote him loving letters for years after they were grown. Alice was one of these friends, as were her two sisters, the daughters of Carroll’s boss, Henry Liddell, a Greek scholar appointed dean of Christ Church College, Oxford by Queen Victoria.
There is little if any sex in Alice, nor are there jokes about religion, both subjects Carroll thought beyond children and good taste in humor, but there is much fun made of rules, politics, madness, and violence. Neither of the Alice books end well, and while both are about Alice growing up, she doesn’t make sense of why everyone is mad or why the Queen of Hearts rules an ever-changing croquet game by chopping heads off, but children grow up and into a mad, mad world whether we like it or not, and they may read British history at some point. Carroll’s favorite uncle was an inspector of insane asylums, who took his nephew on tours, entertained him with telescopes, microscopes and cameras and was sadly killed by an inmate after both Alice books were complete.
Carroll’s mother and father, like his uncle, were into imagination and absurdity. When he was a boy his mother wrote him a letter sending him exactly one billion kisses, and his father wrote from Leeds that he’ll scream out for ironmongers in the street and, “Six hundred men will rush out of their shops in a moment, fly, fly in all directions, ring the bells, call the constables, set the town on fire. I WILL have a file and a screwdriver, and a ring, and if they are not brought directly, in forty seconds, I will leave nothing but one small cat alive in the whole town of Leeds, and I shall only leave that, because I am afraid I shall not have time to kill it.” His father adds that to escape his wrath old women will rush up the chimneys, followed by cows, ducks will hide themselves in coffee cups and geese in pencil cases, surreal humor worthy of Monty Python. When Carroll got first place in a math exam, he wrote to his sister, “I feel at present very like a child with a new toy, but I dare say I shall be tired of it soon, and wish to be Pope of Rome next.”
Carroll often prayed that his sinful and rebellious heart be reigned in, and he loved and hated breaking rules and expectations. He once called Alice a fabulous monster, and in the beginning of the Looking Glass, after Wonderland ends with a murderous queen and useless court trial, Alice threatens to leave a kitten out in the cold and she frightens her maid pretending she is a hyena and her maid a bone. Carroll sent a penknife to another girl as a present and said she could use it to eat meat or punish her many brothers by stabbing them in the nose. Victorians were afraid of sex but quite open with violence, as beating animals, children and servants was commonly accepted, but Carroll’s passions raised more than one set of eyebrows and still causes talk today.
Carroll was complex, but clearly cared about others, including animals, children and women, though he disliked adults and men. As a boy he made friends with frogs, toads and snails, and as an adult he publicly supported animal cruelty laws. There is a puzzling theme of fish in the second Alice book, along with the consumption of innocent oysters, that suggests the Christian symbol of fish as the lowliest and humblest of creatures and that we should care for them and how they’re consumed. Plato argued that man is the highest and fish the lowliest of creatures. As a logician schooled in the classics, including Plato and Aristotle, Carroll told a friend that the proper definition of man is an animal that writes letters, rather than political. He had several books on animal intelligence, evolution, Darwin, and even wrote to Darwin a few years after his Looking Glass, asking him about emotions in animals and offering a photo as an illustration if Darwin needed it. Perhaps it was a photo of Alice or other emotional children.
When asked if children ever bored him, Carroll said that they were three-fourths of his life, which is considerable for a mathematician, and that playing with children was, “very restful as a contrast to the society of books, or of men.” Blake, a favorite poet of Carroll’s, said that Jesus wants us to be like a little child to enter heaven on earth, and Carroll’s own poetry is filled with child-like innocence. In his poem Beatrice, an angelic child with eyes of living light is joined by a beast from jungles in the east, a tiger with death in his eyes who forgets his dream of feasting and lies as a slave at the child’s feet. In Wonderland, Alice and a fawn forget who they are in the nameless woods and walk to the edge together, where the deer remembers Alice is a human child and bolts in fear for her life. Coleridge, whom Poe contrasted with Hegel in his Philosophy of Furniture and Carroll quoted frequently, said children have an intuitive spark and imagination we must protect as we mature. Wordsworth, another favorite poet, wrote The child is the father of the man, Shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy, and Heaven lies about us in our infancy. Ambrose Bierce joked in his Devil’s Dictionary (1906) that the world begins lying about us pretty soon afterwards.
Carroll had double-standards of personal freedom and self-control. He loved to surprise others and be free as a child, but also kept strict control over his life, brewed tea for ten minutes precisely, weighed packages and brought exact change for postage and each leg of train fares. He didn’t want to be known as an author or have photos taken, collected but gave no autographs, and showed up unannounced but hated when others dropped by. Some said he only gave unbirthday gifts, like the tea party talks about, free for him to do with no conventional obligation to others. He was both harshly judgmental and incredibly compassionate. After forgetting an appointment with a 10 year old, he wrote to her that he realized his terrible mistake while out walking with his dear friend Bibkins, asked Bibkins the hour, then the day, then the year, crying, weeping, and screaming after each, and was brought home in several pieces by cart.
Like children, Victorian men claimed in print that women have no sexual thoughts and, like children, are pure unless corrupted by men, which Carroll believed even as he saw the violent hyena in Alice, and he was haunted for years after hearing young girls sing the curse word damn in a production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. In a college poem he wrote: The man that smokes, that reads the Times, that goes to Christmas pantomimes, is capable of any crimes! He spoke out for charity for “fallen women” but also worried that campaigns against child prostitution would attract the improper attentions of improper men, and hoped that women would be educated in segregated women’s colleges free of co-eds.
Morals, Mustn’t & A Sittin’ On A Gate
Carroll had many conflicting feelings about control, as well as structure and instruction. On the one hand, he loved to teach people logic and mathematics, and on the other he loved the freedom of emotional expression, both a poet and mathematician as Poe’s detective Dupin would say. Like Dupin, Carroll loved contradiction, one of the central issues of logic and truth. Many want to find or build a form that fits everyone, and others want to see or use forms as they fit but not universally, and Carroll was on both sides, which his White Knight calls a-sitting on a gate and Carroll says our American cousins call sitting on the fence. This both some and some-not position is the third of the Buddhist Nagarjuna’s four things (catuskoti), but denied by Leibniz and Kant’s Principle of Non-Contradiction (PNC). In many ways there are rules that can’t or shouldn’t be contradicted, and in many ways there are not, much as there are and aren’t rules in chaotic croquet under the uneven rule of the Queen of Hearts.
Whether or not there is a moral or rules to life is the deeper contradictory moral of Wonderland and the Looking Glass world. Carroll loved contradictions and double-meanings, and he gave the Liddell sisters Holiday House (1839) as a Christmas present, which broke from tradition as a children’s book by encouraging imagination rather than merely moralizing. In the story, a brother and sister full of energy and plans are overseen by a prickly governess and amused by a humorous uncle who likes to tell stories. The book was a model for Carroll’s own, and Wonderland was loved by children and adults as it mocks moralizing authorities talking down to subordinates, much as a governess does to children. Carroll would marvel at high-born children lecturing servants as if the servants were the children, which is how the lower class were treated. In a letter to a child sent with a different book, Carroll said the book has a moral, so it need not be mentioned that it is not a book by himself. Like Poe, Carroll doesn’t say all he means, nor does he say we ever can.
Morals are mocked often in Alice’s adventures, but they are a part of growing up, even if adults remain absurd. Several times Alice is asked to recite nursery rhymes, not because they are useful information to adults but because they teach children to obey and repeat adults and themselves, and Alice mis-recites the rhymes, creating more entertaining and dangerous versions in spite of herself. Carroll wrote silly poetry as a child for his sisters and brothers with mock Victorian morals such as Don’t dream and Never stew your sister. One poem mocks Christian hypocrisy, saying, If you are able, don’t have a stable, with any mangers; Be rude to strangers, followed with the overall moral Behave. Another is worth quoting in full:
I have a fairy by my side, which says I must not sleep, When once in pain I loudly cried; It said, “You must not weep.” If, full of mirth, I smile and grin; It says, “You must not laugh”; When once I wished to drink some gin; It said, “You must not quaff.” When once a meal I wished to taste; It said, “You must not bite”; When to the wars I went in haste; It said, “You must not fight.” “What may I do?” at length I cried; Tired of the painful task. The fairy quietly replied, and said, “You must not ask.” Moral: “You mustn’t.”
When he first tutored in college at Oxford he wrote to his younger sister and brother mocking his position of authority as if it was a nonsensical child’s game of telephone. The most important point, Carroll assures them, is that the tutor should be dignified, at a distance from the student, and the student should be degraded as much as possible, otherwise they are not humble enough, so he sits at the furthest end of the room, and outside the door, which is shut, sits the scout, outside the outer door, also shut, sits the sub-scout, half-way down the stairs sits the sub-sub-scout, and down in the yard sits the student, outside. In lecture the tutor shouts, What is twice three?, the scout, What’s a rice tree?, the sub-scout, When is ice free?, the sub-sub-scout, What’s a nice fee?, and the student timidly suggests, Half a guinea?, the sub-sub-scout shouts, Can’t forge any!, the sub-scout, Ho for Jinny!, the scout shouts, Don’t be a ninny!, and the tutor looks offended, but tries again with another question.
Carroll’s father was quite conservative and fond of traditional authority, unlike his son who was socially and politically on the fence. In some causes Carroll supported conservative authority, and in others progressive acceptance, what was known as the Hight Church and the Broad Church to Anglicans at the time and widely debated. Carroll’s father argued in several High Church sermons that traditional dogma is necessary for salvation and grace, while Carroll sought out liberals such as Maurice, leader of Broad Church liberalism and founder of Christian Socialism, and shared his beliefs that eternal damnation was superstition and that salvation is not for those faithful to doctrine or denomination but for those who love others as Jesus did. Maurice was accused of heresy and expelled from his post as professor of divinity at King’s College, London for his rejection of eternal punishment in his sermons.
Carroll wrote in letters to friends that beliefs are unnecessary for salvation, that many non-believers would be surprised when they were saved by Jesus at the end of time, and that if he thought the Bible taught eternal torment he would give up the Bible. If he had publicly stated these positions, he would have lost his teaching position like his friend Maurice. On a trip to Russia he enjoyed visiting Catholic and Orthodox churches, Jewish temples, and Islamic mosques. Carroll described himself as both High and Broad Church at different times, and in one letter he wrote to a Mrs. Rix, “I myself belong to the ‘High Church’ school,” but six months later he wrote to Rix’s daughter Edith, “I hope you won’t be very shocked at me as an ultra ‘Broad’ Churchman,” possibly hoping the mother and daughter would talk and find out he was telling the elder he was conservative and the younger he was liberal.
Mean What You Say & Say What You Mean
At Oxford, Carroll would have learned ancient Greek classics such as Plato and Aristotle but not modern philosophers such as Leibniz, Kant or Mill, whether or not they were German idealists or British empiricists. Philosophy and history were not Carroll’s strong subjects, and even though he dedicated his Symbolic Logic to Aristotle’s memory, he also wrote that Aristotle, “scarcely deserved being called a philosopher,” “wanted concord and unity in all things so much, that he erected a lofty structure upon feeble foundations,” and criticized his syllogistic logic as “an almost useless machine, for practical purposes, many of the conclusions being incomplete, and many quite legitimate forms being ignored.” Carroll created a counting board method of placing tokens on a square somewhat like Aristotle’s square of opposition and similar to Venn’s circular diagrams to make greater sense of Boole’s algebraic formulations. Wittgenstein’s truth tables later filled this role after Frege and Russell.
Studying Islamic, Christian and European logic, we can see that logic becomes algebraic, abstract and symbolic but also retains its objective force in the mind, such that De Morgan, Boole and other logicians in Carroll’s day joked that a syllogism can be completely valid but the conclusion false if the structure follows but the starting premises are false. Carroll wrote in the preface to his Game of Logic that, “It isn’t of the slightest consequence to us, as Logicians, whether our Premises are true or false: all we have to make out is whether they lead logically to the Conclusion, so that, if they were true, it would be true also.” The example I use to teach the difference between truth and validity is, If puppies are green and green things are involved in evil, then puppies are evil, as the premises and conclusion are false, but the logic follows and structure is valid. When the pigeon of Wonderland reasons that she doesn’t know what little girls are, but if they eat eggs then they must be some kind of serpent, she is reasoning validly and in accord with her interests, whether or not we think she is right.
Carroll was interested in cases when mathematics looks like it would work according to the formula but does not apply to actual situations, much like syllogisms being valid whether or not they are true in the slightest. For example, he would pose what he called The Wall Problem to his students: If it takes 10 men so many days to build a wall, how long would it take 300,000 men? As the students began to calculate in their heads, Carroll would comment, disrupting their process, “You don’t seem to have observed that that wall would go up like a flash of lightning, and that most of those men could not have got within a mile of it.”
Carrol argues in his work on logic that a form doesn’t have one necessary meaning, but neither does a meaning have one necessary form that expresses it, asking, “Is it better to say ‘John is-not in-the-house’ or ‘John is not-in-the-house’?… This is no question of Logical Right or Wrong: it is merely a matter of taste, since the two forms mean exactly the same thing… The fact is, ‘The Logicians’ have somehow acquired a perfectly morbid dread of negative Attributes, which makes them shut their eyes, like frightened children, when they come across such terrible Propositions as ‘All not-x are y’; and thus they exclude from their system many very useful forms of Syllogisms.” Logicians are frightened of types of non-being, so they insist that there are single forms of expression and single meanings of expressions because they are afraid of change, variety and the unknown. Forms can have various meanings, and meanings can be expressed with various forms.
Carroll wrote to Alice and her sisters that their saying his fictional Sea Dirge is ‘Not true’, was, “rather a sweeping condemnation.” It is sweeping, whether or not it is justified. Carroll considers the mathematical problem of determining the value of examiners when no examinations are held. Much like later Wittgenstein, who asks what a train station means on Mars and quotes Carroll in his work, this suggests logic is a matter of taste and practice, not absolute, exclusive, singular forms or meanings. Carroll argued that Christian beliefs are axioms, like those in mathematics and science, “quite incapable of being proved, simply because proof must rest on something already granted”, and that if one accepts an axiom but another does not, then no useful discussion can be had. Much like De Morgan, he wrote:
The writers, and editors, of the Logical textbooks, which run in the ordinary grooves… speak of the Copula of a Proposition ‘with bated breath,’ almost as if it were a living, conscious Entity, capable of declaring for itself what it chose to mean, and that we, poor human creatures, had nothing to do but to ascertain what was its sovereign will and pleasure, and submit to it. In opposition to this view, I maintain that any writer of a book is fully authorized in attaching any meaning he likes to any word or phrase he intends to use. If I find an author saying, at the beginning of his book, ‘Let it be understood that by the word black I shall always mean white, and that by the word white I shall always mean black,’ I meekly accept his ruling, however injudicious I may think of it. And so, with regard to the question whether a Proposition is or is not to be understood as asserting the existence of its Subject, I maintain that every writer may adopt his own rule, provided of course that it is consistent with itself and with the accepted facts of Logic.
At Cambridge, Carroll’s friend Maurice openly fought the Utilitarian Benthamites, the dominant philosophical party at Oxford who argued that there is a collective form that should be best for everyone, and Carroll wrote to a student who told him she liked figure drawing more than he did that a unit of pleasure could be standardized as, “the pleasure felt in eating one penny-bun in one minute”, and that she should calculate how many units of pleasure she derived from figure drawing and compare it to his own self calculation of 235, which is mocking Mill’s utilitarianism as well as Bentham’s idea of a felicitous calculous, a form we can use to calculate what pleases everyone the most.
Maurice attacked those who “pull down other men’s truth because it is not the same position as their own,” and that evil exists in “the inclination of every man to set up himself, to become his own law and his own center, and so to throw all society into discord and disorder.” Carroll argued that utilitarian justifications for animal experiments was “worship of the self,” and in an editorial letter to the Pall Mall Gazette entitled Vivisection as a Sign of the Times, signed Lewis Carroll, he wrote: “The enslavement of his weaker brethren – the labour of those who do not enjoy, for the enjoyment of those who do not labour – the degradation of women – the torture of the animal world – these are the steps of the ladder by which man is ascending to his higher civilization.” He argued that harming animals results in the degradation of humanity, and speculated that experimentation on criminals and the incurably insane was possible in the future, predicting Mengele, the Tuskegee study and many other atrocities.
Carroll studied and taught Euclid’s Elements, central to his education and used in Victorian England to train the mind for rational thought, but there were many versions that differed in style and content, and Carroll was critical of those that mangled the original. Euclid listed five postulates, what Carroll described as “something to be done, for which no proof is given”. The first three are, 1) Let it be granted, that a line may be drawn from any point to any other point, 2) That a line may be produced (lengthened) to any extent, and 3) That a circle may be drawn about any point, and at any distance from that point. In The Dynamics of a Parti-cle, Carroll satirized the party politics of a parliamentary election for the representatives of Oxford University with postulates that parody Euclid’s, writing,1) Let it be granted, that a speaker may digress from any one point to any other point, 2) That a finite argument (i.e. one finished and disposed of) may be produced to any extent in subsequent debates, and 3) That a controversy may be raised about any question, and at any distance from that question.
As Carroll wrote the Alice books there were growing calls for examinations to be based on more than just Euclid, and an Anti-Euclid Association formed. Carroll wrote his Euclid and his Modern Rivals (1879) in protest, pitting Euclid against a German professor who argues for any thesis, true or untrue, mocking Hegel’s dialectics, no doubt, and who argues for each of the positions of the modern rivals. A procession, which mocks the Anti-Euclid Association, includes Nero carrying his unfinished Scheme for Lighting and Warming Rome and Guy Fawkes, president of the Association for Raising the Position of Members of Parliament. It is said Nero allowed Rome to burn, and Fawkes tried to blow up the parliament building with dynamite, with the members of parliament inside, which would raise their position considerably, but only for several seconds. Carroll rejected non-Euclidean geometries as irrelevant to our geometrical world, which is ironic given one of the three primary non-Euclidean geometries is spherical, and Euclid likely thought the Earth was flat, like his geometry.
When Carroll died in 1898 he was famous as the author of the Alice books, but both he and Oxford were embarrassed by the association with popular children’s literature, so even though he was widely famous and had lived at Oxford for almost half a century, they made no effort to preserve his papers or library, destroying his papers and selling off his books as quickly as possible. Carroll had many books on many subjects, including two books on Poe, a few on narcotics, and many on women, which the introduction to his published library says, “suggest that at least he kept himself informed about the theory even if he avoided the practice.”
The only ancient philosophy is Aristotle’s Poetics and Cicero, and the only modern philosophy is Locke’s Philosophical Works, though he also had Hume’s History of England, as well as much of Mill’s work on logic and society. He had many books on culture and folklore of the world, including esoteric Buddhism, the psychology of Shakespeare, Chinese drama, Swahili tales, African American experiences, Indian poetry, Japanese fairy tales, Kipling’s Jungle Book, popular German stories, the Arabian Nights, the conquest of Peru and realities of Irish life.
Many of his books, not as many as about folklore but many more than philosophy, were about logic, including Mill, Sidgwick, Venn, Boole, Mansel, De Morgan, and others. In the Alice books, there are continuous problems involving gathering and dividing by sameness and difference in the world, the central problem of Mill’s inductive logic. Boole’s work dominated logic in the later 1800s, except at Carroll’s Oxford where it got little attention, but Carroll was privately working on his own Logical Algebra to get, in his words, “a simpler notation that Boole’s.”
At the end of Alice’s adventures she sits between the Red and White Queens, like a Boolean OR between NOT and AND. The Red Queen is negative, judgmental and limiting, like a close-minded, bossy adult, the White Queen is positive, forgetful and inclusive, like an open-minded impressionable child, and neither are simply good nor bad, as Alice needs to grow into the OR, to choose between judgement and forgiveness, between being the adult or the child as needed in her world, as Carroll did with children and adults. Carroll said resolving a contradiction is sometimes simply asking which overrules the other.
William Bartley argues Boole and Carroll worked on logic just before it was formally codified by Frege and Russell into the basis of formal logic today, and that most textbooks don’t teach logic as a useful exercise in situational thought, such as that found in the twists of detective stories, mysteries and comedies. Rather, formal logic sets up exercises to prove the formal foundations of mathematics can lead validly from premises to conclusions, but unlike any other form of mathematics we are given the answer and told to solve for it, and unlike life it is irrelevant whether the premises are true, merely that they can lead to the prescribed conclusion. This is useful for the committed formal logician but not for anyone else who wants to better exercise reason, and so Bartley lends his name to the movement for practical, informal logic, and argues we should go back to Carroll to teach logic in ways that actually benefit the public in daily life.
Some of the more interesting answers to the syllogistic puzzles Carroll invented as exercises, answers that are only given in the answer key, are, No lobsters are unreasonable and so they don’t expect impossibilities, Some things meant to amuse are not Acts of Parliament, Babies cannot manage crocodiles, Guinea pigs don’t really appreciate Beethoven, Some mischievous creatures are not soldiers, No banker fails to shun hyaenas, Some fierce creatures don’t drink coffee, Opium-eaters do not wear white kid-skin gloves, No hedgehogs take in the Times, Rainbows can’t bear the weight of wheel-barrows and thus cannot be used as bridges, No Member of Parliament should ride in a donkey-race unless he has perfect self-command, Logic puzzles me and so it isn’t intelligible, and All these riddles that can’t be solved interest me.
What Wonderland Says & Means
AND, OR and NOT, the Boolean operators with differences of inclusion and exclusion between them, gathering and dividing as Mill would say, form the positions and plot of both Alice books. In the first book of Wonderland, Alice works her way from an inclusive AND, the White Rabbit, past the inclusive OR of the caterpillar, the exclusive OR of the Cheshire Cat, to the NOT of the Queen of Hearts, who chops off heads. The symbol for NOT looks a bit like an ax next to a capital letter, a symbol for a group much like a regal head who stands for many people. Alice says it is all a pack of cards, meaningless manipulation of symbols and pieces regardless of truth, and disrupts her imaginary dream.
In the second book of the Looking Glass, Alice works her way from the Red Queen, another NOT like the red Queen of Hearts, past the White Queen, a childlike inclusive AND, timid like the White Rabbit, to the end of the board where Alice is the OR, who must inclusively and exclusively choose between inclusive AND, the White Queen on her right, and exclusive NOT, the Red Queen on her left. The Queens test Alice and find she can’t inclusively add or exclusively divide in the ways they like, they take her to a banquet where food turns into people and people into food, and Alice hates it and turns the table over, upsetting her second dream. Wonderland works from childlike AND past OR to adult NOT, from inclusion to exclusion, and the Looking Glass works from adult NOT past childlike AND to bring the childlike-adult balance of OR, both inclusive and exclusive.
One July afternoon Carroll and his friend Reverend Duckworth took Alice and her sisters boating down the river near Oxford Bridge and the girls demanded a story, so Carroll began making up a complicated tale about Alice to amuse them. For the rest of his life he refused to answer questions about the Alice books or be interviewed as their author, and he said years later, “I can distinctly remember, now as I write, how, in a desperate attempt to strike out some new line of fairy-lore, I had sent my heroine straight down a rabbit-hole, to begin with, without the least idea of what was to happen afterwards…” When Duckworth asked midstream if the story was planned, Carroll told him, “I’m inventing as we go along.”
Alice begged him to write it down, which he did sitting up nearly the whole night, but he told the sisters more of the tale over several occasions, and then expanded and rewrote it for three years before the final published book pleased him and the few who read it. It was originally titled Alice’s Adventures Underground, but several titles were considered and Wonderland was chosen, which etymologically mirrors the original under-ground. Carroll added the House of the Duchess House, Cheshire Cat and the Mad Tea Party, all in the middle of the tale with central questions about answers, rules, and morals about morals in reworking the story.
In the Disney classic animated movie, Alice is being instructed by her sister in boring lessons, but the original text opens with Alice’s sister reading and Alice having nothing to do, which means her sister is reading to herself, though this isn’t said, and Alice is bored, looks at her sister’s book over her sister’s shoulder, and wonders how her sister can read a text without pictures. She falls asleep, which isn’t said either but we learn when she wakes in the end. Some have called the genre of main characters entering fantasy dreams they don’t know are dreams after a bump on the head, or falling asleep, or going insane Dead and Dreaming, and Wonderland is a popular early example. The top in the movie Inception leaves this hanging.
Alice sees the White Rabbit, who is upset, says he is late to himself, and scurries off. Alice can’t pay attention to a text without pictures, just as the mouse she soon meets tells a dry tale, with details that are uninteresting, words without emotion. Alice’s sister is exclusive, reading a text to herself, and Alice is inclusive, and delighted that a rabbit is wearing a waistcoat and watch and is worried he is late, which is absurd. A rabbit is a beast, according to Aristotle, devoid of reason, so just as Wittgenstein says we wouldn’t expect a dog to expect his human specifically on Thursday, Alice doesn’t expect a rabbit to check a watch and worry he is late for an appointment, or even talk to himself, in English or rabbit language, as that would be reason, verbal logic exclusive to humans, just as a watch is a device only humans can use.
The White Rabbit is like an addition problem, an AND, Alice and her older sister, inclusive of different elements, the two sisters, and exclusive, specialized and late to a specific event at a precise time. Alice was bored that her sister was reading to herself, and now Alice charges after the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole, with no thought as to how she would get out again, like a wildly inclusive child, mirroring the absurdly inclusive combination of a rabbit with a waistcoat, and unlike her sister, who is carefully considering a specialized text. Alice dreams she follows the absurdly complex White Rabbit as she can’t follow her sister in reading a boring specialized text that gathers a very narrow sort of element. A child needs emotions, pictures, words and many things to stay interested in a story. Also, unlike Alice the rabbit is wide awake.
Alice falls down a deep well past pictures, maps, and shelves full of jars, and Alice takes a jar off a shelf labeled Orange Marmalade that is disappointingly empty, just as our mental concept of marmalade has no marmalade but inductively gathers all particular pools of marmalade together, and the form of a syllogism can be valid whether or not any of its content is true or it is all imaginary and empty. For Avicenna, the jar for horses is as much a jar as the jar for unicorns. Alice wonders as she falls about antipathies, and if they are upsidedown on the other side of the earth and walk on their hands, like living in a dream. Alice thinks of Dinah her cat, asks herself if cats eat bats, and then if bats eat cats, and since she can’t answer either question she considers the two equivalent, as the two are contradictory but entirely empty. She then dreams that she is walking hand in hand with Dinah, a dream within a dream.
Alice falls into a hall with a three-legged glass table, much like a three-pronged Aristotelian syllogism, an invisible form that is also transparent. On the table is a golden key, like a perfect answer, and after searching the room and many locked doors twice-round Alice finds a small door to the loveliest garden that the key unlocks but Alice is too large to get through. She hopes to find something that can shrink her, and she does on the table next to the key that wasn’t there before that says Drink me. Alice checks the bottle to see if it reads Poison, as she’s read several stories with clear morals about children who drink bottles marked Poison, even though she’s a bit dense if she thinks it could be marked both Drink me and Poison and we could trust the labels or whomever wrote them.
When Alice shrinks she fears going out like a candle, and thinks of what a candle flame would look like after being blown out. We can see what isn’t there, as the White King admires Alice for doing in the next book, and unicorns that aren’t there look like unicorns that are there, but they’re not. Wittgenstein said we imagine a red rose in the dark as both pitch black and red, and this is like imagining something that isn’t there, or what the world is like when we aren’t here anymore. There is an existential hint of death Alice imagines and she has forgotten the key, so she is the right small size to enter the Garden of Eden but the ideal key that would let her into a world like that more than she can merely glimpse is out of her reach and seems to be at the end of reason and logic itself on a syllogistic table.
Alice starts crying and scolds herself, and we’re told this curious child is fond of pretending to be two people, once cheating in a game of croquet she was playing against herself and talking to herself all the time. The White Rabbit, who is like Alice and her sister, two people, talks to himself and his watch at the start, and at the end of both stories Alice is between queens who are playing two sides of a chessboard and talking between themselves about Alice as if she isn’t there. Alice finds a box marked Eat Me full of currants, Corinthian raisins, like Corinthian columns, like the three legs of the syllogistic table. She holds her hand to the top of her head to see if she is growing, which won’t work as she is the same height relative to herself with no external standard to check herself against, so she eats the whole cake, growing well past the glass table and filling the entire room. She wonders if she should send presents to her feet at Christmas, which won’t work as she is the same as her feet, and there is no external reward.
She realizes she is too large now, fully grown, such that she can only look into the garden through the keyhole with one of her eyes, and she cries again, with both extremes sad. The White Rabbit drops his fan and gloves, as Victorians thought it proper to formally cover themselves up but then fan themselves so they wouldn’t pass out. Alice wonders who she is, and if she is someone else, reasoning that she is not Ada because of her hair, and not Mabel as she doesn’t know things. Neither outer appearance nor inner ideas constitute identity according to Locke and other British empiricists, so both are absurd. Alice tests her knowledge, saying the capital of London is Paris, the capital of Paris is Rome, then realizes this is foolish, like the morals of the morals of the Duchess are foolish, as there is no capital of the capital and no rule of all rules, no complete form behind all the moves of life and logic.
Alice recites her first rhyme, which comes out strange and lethal about a crocodile and consumption of little fishes, a parody of a well-known poem about a busy worker bee gathering honey who escapes Satan’s clutches. Tradition says work hard and get ahead, out of reach of the predator, and Alice darkly mirrors this with a contradictory moral about the big eating the small, who grow but can’t escape. Alice says that she will not join the real world and come up out of the rabbit hole and Wonderland unless they tell her she is someone she wants to be, or she changes into someone else that she wants to be, but then bursts into tears from loneliness. She isn’t happy with others, but she isn’t happy by herself either.
She finds that the fan shrinks her, and she falls into a sea of her tears, and she is swept out of her syllogistic dilemma by sadness. Just as the King and Queen of Hearts rule Wonderland, it isn’t Alice’s syllogistic reasoning, but her emotions that take her away from her problem, and later after the Tea Party her ability to balance growing and shrinking, adult and child, rabbit and Hatter, opposite perspectives through experience that solves the glass table problem. Unfortunately, the garden is hardly Eden, but a shifting game ruled by a homicidal queen. Alice meets a swimming mouse that she fears is a walrus or hippo, and then gushes to the mouse about her cat several times until the mouse swims away from her, as Alice still has problems with perspective and understanding her cat is both lovely and deadly depending on whether or not we are large or small. Drink and fan cool and shrink Alice, and food and gloves warm and expand Alice, as if what is cool is little and unimportant and what is hot is big and important, and at the end of Wonderland Alice grows into a giant and destroys the whole house of cards, larger than everything in her dream.
Alice follows the fleeing mouse to shore where a party of birds sits and the mouse dries them off with a boring story. When the mouse says the Archbishop of Canterbury found it advisable the Duck interrupts, possibly Duckworth, and asks what it means, the Mouse says the Duck knows perfectly well what it means, as he knows how to use the word even though none of us know what it refers to yet in the Mouse’s story, and the Duck says usually for him it is a frog or a worm, but wonders what the archbishop found, which likely is neither.
The Dodo suggests they dry themselves off with a meaningless political caucus race that goes round in circles with no clear winners, and Alice hands out a piece of candy to each bird. The large birds can’t taste it, and the small birds choke on it. The Mouse leaves offended, a mama crab tells her daughter that there is a lesson here: Never lose your temper. The young crab loses her temper at her mom and follows the example of the mouse rather than learn the lesson and follow mom. Later the Caterpillar tells Alice Keep your temper and she loses it like the young crab. Alice brings up her cat again, sending the party in all directions, with the magpie and canary making polite excuses, formalities that are untrue.
The White Rabbit shows up, muttering to himself that the Duchess will get him executed as surely as ferrets are ferrets. Ferrets kill rabbits, death is as certain as anything, and death is death itself as far as we know, as well as execution. He sees Alice and assumes she is Mary Ann, his servant with a common servant’s name, orders her to fetch his gloves and fan, and Alice obeys as if she is who he thinks and says she is. He asks for his perspective small and large from her, and she immediately loses hers, taking Mary Ann’s place and wondering she would obey her cat if it ordered her around.
The White Rabbit has both perspectives and roles, master of Mary Ann and servant to the Duchess and Queen. The Duchess is mean to Alice in her own home, but nice to Alice in the Queen’s garden and fears the Queen. Situation and position determine function and role, but not entirely, as many characters have both positions and functions, just as Alice gains the ability to choose through the course of both adventures. Alice was brought up to be strict with servants, and was still so later as an adult. Carroll was on the side of the college servants in matters of wages and working hours and visited them when they were sick, but he also could be impossibly exacting in his demands when he was not given exactly what he specified, compassionate and authoritative, broad and high both.
This is like the Duchess, who is angry on her own turf but timid in the garden of the Queen. The chain of command seems to be Alice, White Rabbit, Duchess, Queen Alice says the Rabbit will learn who I am, but after I first obey. One is what one does for authority, not a peer with a personality to be acknowledged. Alice fears the real Mary Ann kicking her out of the house, out of her own role. Alice wonders if Dinah, her pet, will order her to run errands next, a reversal of roles, but says that Dinah wouldn’t be allowed into the house if she took their role as master, just as Alice won’t be allowed into the house by Mary Ann, taking her role as servant. Alice then finds a bottle and drinks it, tired of being tiny. Is Alice turning to drink, tired of being a servant just as she starts?
Alice finds another bottle in the White Rabbit’s house and grows to fill it entirely, so in this case the drink makes her larger, but so she can fill the lowly rabbit’s place. Alice says it is more pleasant at home where she stays the same size and does not change, but then that she enjoys the adventure of different things, like her sister’s dry text and the absurd White Rabbit. She says that there is no room to grow any more and it is sad to remain forever young, dominated by lessons and authorities. Later, the Mock Turtle tells her that lessons lessen with time. Alice then changes perspectives again, and says she won’t have to learn lessons if she fills the whole house. She has a two sided conversation with herself, as on the one hand she can’t develop if she doesn’t learn, but she doesn’t want to learn lessons from others.
The White Rabbit orders Bill the Lizard, lowest servant on the totem pole, to go down the chimney, and Alice says she wouldn’t want to be in his place, either lowest or in the chimney, and she kicks him up and out of the house. Bill says, “Up I goes!” like a common servant. They throw pebbles at her, like insults, which turn into cakes that make Alice smaller, brought down a peg, which helps her unfortunately painful development. Alice escapes into the woods and says she wants to become the right size and get into the garden, finding her proper place in the world that she truly wants. A giant puppy terrifies her as she now has the perspective of the Mouse that she gained through serving the White Rabbit. She throws a stick, the dog happily runs after it, and Alice escapes, but loves the cute dog in spite of her size.
She meets the Caterpillar, a creature who transforms and gives her the power to take small and large sizes. Smoking a hookah like a Hindu or Sufi mystic from the East, he asks her, Who are you?, and Alice says she doesn’t know as she changes so much. The Caterpillar, like an instructor examining a student, asks questions but gives almost no answers, like an inclusive OR, which could be one, or the other, or both, but not neither. Alice is someone, but no exclusive thing makes her one particular person in itself.
The Caterpillar demands Alice recite You Are Old Father William, a moralistic poem about wisely thinking of the future, like the busy bee, but in Alice’s dark parody William stands on his head and says he can digest anything as he was a lawyer who argued each case for years with his wife. The Caterpillar says Alice is wrong from beginning to end, a harsh judgement from such a serious, linear creature, but he gives her no particular criticism, leaving Alice bewildered. The Caterpillar gives Alice both sides of the mushroom he sits on so she can take any position. A caterpillar is a series of segments, neither a cat nor a pillar much, but more like a chain that can take a variety of positions, linear or otherwise.
Alice grows very tall and upsets the Pigeon who is guarding her nest and accuses her of being some kind of serpent after learning that Alice eats eggs. Alice can move her long neck like a serpent, or a caterpillar, and she defies the Pigeon’s syllogistic reasoning, which is valid but false. Alice shrinks down to the right size and finds the house of the Duchess, who is an abusive mother beating her baby, unlike the protective Pigeon saving her eggs from Alice. The Fish and Frog Footmen, the Fish from the large sea of the Queen and the Frog from the small pond of the Duchess, get their formal wigs tangled together as the Fish gives the Frog the Duchess’ invitation to play a game of croquet together. The Frog tells Alice he can’t let her into the Duchess’ house as he is on the same side as her and they can’t hear her inside, as both are lowly, Alice now smaller.
Alice opens the door for herself and finds herself in a kitchen filled with sneezing and pepper. She sees the Cheshire Cat grinning, and asks the Duchess why. The Duchess says the cat is from Cheshire, which doesn’t answer the question at all, but Carroll was born in Cheshire County himself. Legend has it that cats from Cheshire would sit and wait for the boats to come in with a grin on their face, waiting for the rats to come ashore for cheese. The Duchess calls her baby a pig, an insult Alice thinks is meant for her. The Cook throws everything in reach at the Duchess, and the Duchess calls for Alice’s head to be cut off, but nothing happens. The Duchess sings a song about how she beats her baby because his cries are only meant to annoy her. The Duchess doesn’t feel for her child, and she only sees his pain as her displeasure.
Alice takes the baby and rescues it from the house, but then the baby becomes a pig and Alice puts him down and he wanders off. The Pigeon was over-protective, the Duchess was abusive, but Alice is neglectful, and in a typical fairy tale like Carroll collected this could easily kill the pig and baby both. Alice doesn’t see that she has taken the Duchess’ place once she has left her house, seeing the baby as a pig and not worrying about his safety in the slightest. The Cheshire Cat appears sitting on a branch nearby, and grins knowingly at Alice, seeing her take both perspectives exclusively as an exclusive OR that sees both dueling sides and how Alice is taking a position against her previous position. When he asks her what happened to the baby and Alice tells him, he says he thought as much.
Alice asks the Cat where she should go, the Cat asks her where she would like to go, Alice says somewhere, in particular, and Cat says then she can go any direction, as everywhere is somewhere in particular, each exclusive place. Alice asks about particular people, and the Cat says the Hare is one way, the Hatter the other, and both are mad. Alice says she doesn’t want to be around mad people, and the can said that can’t be helped, as we are all mad here. Like Maurice, Carroll’s friend, the Cat explains that each exclusive perspective is sane to itself but insane to those opposite, as a dog growls when angry and wags its tail when happy but a cat growls when it is happy and wags its tail when it is angry, each insane to the other. Alice says she says cats purr and the Cat, an expert at this, says Call it whatever you like, as formal titles and names are interchangeable labels. The Cheshire Cat disappears slowly at Alice’s request, as his quick changes make her giddy, so he leaves his grin for last, and Alice says now she has seen a grin without a cat, the inner meaning without the outer form. Like Alice, we can feel the meaning even if the forms flip back and forth quickly between exclusive positions.
Alice finds the Hare and Hatter having tea together under a tree in front of the hatter’s house, with the childlike Hare, similar to the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter, who is insane in spite of his formal head covering. Mad tea parties were held in insane asylums so that inmates could learn to behave in the world, and just as with little girls the tea party is an empty formality, with empty cups and no tea. The Cheshire Cat was right, as either way Alice went she would have ended up at the same insane party. The two resemble Alice and her sister, the White Rabbit and Queen of Hearts, and the White and Red Queens of the Looking Glass, with the heart and mind, child and adult, opposed to each other and Alice alike. Both rest their elbows on the sleeping Dormouse’s head, on either sides of the dream, like the Queens on both sides of Alice in the end of the second story.
When they see Alice, they shout NO ROOM, excluding her before she can say a word. Alice says there is plenty of room and sits down in one of the many empty seats with them. Later we learn that the two have been changing places round the table with no thought to what happens afterwards. The Hare offers her wine but then says there isn’t any, which Alice says is rude. The Hare points out that Alice was rude first for sitting down uninvited, so the Hare followed suit, changing places around with Alice and mirroring her without thinking of what will result. Alice protests there is more than enough space, and the Hatter says she needs a haircut, as there is more than enough of that too. The Hatter is very much a logician, like Carroll, and cutting things down so they are straight and less hairy is what logicians do.
Alice tells the Hatter he should learn the lesson not to say personal things, as it is rude, and the Hatter asks her an unsolvable riddle, Why is a raven like a writing desk? Alice is rude, the two are rude to Alice in return, Alice says there is a rule they should learn, but doesn’t think she needs to follow the same lesson, and the Hatter replies with an unsolvable riddle, much as Carroll says logic seems unsolvable. Raven and writing desk both sound like they start with R, but due to impractical formalities writing begins with a silent W. After both books were long published, someone wrote to Carroll and offered a solution to the riddle Carroll invented as unsolvable: Both produce a few notes, though they are very flat.
Alice likes riddles, though she didn’t like the puzzling conversation it resembles, and she says she believes she can guess, which Wittgenstein would call nonsensical, as if we can guess we don’t need to go through the motions of believing it as a second reinforcing step. The Hare asks her if she means she can think she can find out the answer, adding additional absurd steps. Alice agrees with his reformulation of her intention, and the Hare tells her she should say what she means, as if Alice really meant what he said rather than what she did even though it sounded like he was offering her a clarifying equivalent expression. Alice says she means what she says, or says what she means, and the two are the same thing.
The hatted human logician steps in and insists that the two are not equivalent at all, denying Alice’s substitution as the Hare did hers, and he explains as a logician would why A is B is not the same thing as B is A. If the two are identical then the two are the same, but if As are Bs this is opposite Bs are As and not the same at all. If there is one thing Alice says and means, saying and meaning both, she is right, but if Alice says things that can have many meanings or means things that can be said many ways, then the things Alice says and the things she means are not identical sets at all. The Hatter doesn’t explain it this way, but gives Alice an example, I see what I eat isn’t the same thing as I eat what I see. The Hare follows with another example, I like what I get isn’t the same as I get what I like. The Dormouse offers another, I breathe when I sleep isn’t the same as I sleep when I breathe, but the Hatter again interrupts and says that the two are the same for the Dormouse, as the Dormouse is always both breathing and sleeping.
The Hatter pulls out his watch, which is broken even though the Hare used the best butter to fix it. The Hatter tells Alice that his watch doesn’t tell the minute or hour, as those stay the same for him, but it does tell the day and it is two days off, which means the Tea Party lives time inside-out, with the particular position staying the same, but the exclusive day changing, much like several people being rude to each other, stuck in the same mood, but in different exclusive positions, as arguing individuals. It is also like trying to fix a watch with good butter, as the particular thing is good but doesn’t make the larger situation better, as what is good in one position isn’t good in another, as the party has already taught Alice.
The Hatter tells Alice that if she only learns to talk to time, she can be in any exclusive position whenever she likes, with the larger universal process absurdly taking particular positions. The Dormouse tells a nonsensical story with sick sisters living in a molasses well that doesn’t make any sense to Alice, as the sisters are in an absurd position that doesn’t connect with a larger picture at all, so Alice leaves the Tea Party as Hare and Hatter try to stuff the Dormouse into the teapot and contain him between them. Victorian children sometimes kept dormice in teapots as pets.
Just as Alice says she has never been to a stupider party she find a door in a tree that leads back to the hall with the glass table, and she now has the tools to solve the puzzle and get into the Queen of Hearts’ garden. In the end of both stories, Alice similarly declares everything stupid before rising up and breaking out of her dream. As she grows, she begins pushing back against those who don’t make sense to her, like adults sadly do, so she is ready for croquet with the Queen.
Alice meets playing cards who are painting white roses red. The other cards process in with the White Rabbit nervously smiling at everyone inclusively. The painting cards fall on their faces, and the Queen asks Alice who she is and who the cards are. As the cards are face down, and the Queen’s cards, not Alice’s, she tells the Queen that they are none of her business, as if she wouldn’t look at someone else’s hand, or servant, face down. The Queen screams, OFF WITH HER HEAD!, and Alice says this is Nonsense. Alice is dreaming, so her head is already off somewhere else, but also here in the garden. The King of Hearts timidly, like the White Rabbit, suggests Alice is only a child, so the Queen quietly moves to consider her cards. It is said that Mrs. Liddell was the one with the power, with Dean Liddell meekly following suit. Carroll’s work is full of bossy women who get their way, including Alice.
Alice is invited to play croquet. White Rabbit timidly says it is a nice day to Alice, because now she is above his station and he possibly doesn’t recognize her, just as he misjudged her to be his servant before. The game of croquet begins, played with animals as equipment, hedgehogs and flamingos, and nobody seems to follow any rules. Alice has trouble straightening out her flamingo and keeping her hedgehog rolled up, fighting her like the Cook did the Duchess. The Queen wanders around ordering executions for anyone she doesn’t like. Alice says, “They’re dreadfully fond of beheading people here: the great wonder is, that there is anyone left alive!” This is an interesting summary of British history involving royalty.
Alice wants to leave but the Cheshire Cat’s head appears and offends the King. Alice recalls the saying, A cat may look at a king, that those who have nothing to lose are unafraid. The Queen orders the Cat beheaded, and the King and executioner argue over whether a head can be beheaded. The executioner says if it doesn’t have a body, like symbols and forms without content, then it can’t be beheaded, but the King says if it has a head, if it is symbolized, then it can be beheaded, with the symbols taken away from the content legitimately. The Queen says everyone will die if the issue isn’t resolved. Unfortunately, everyone will die, but only because they are mortal, as Aristotle says of Socrates, whether or not the issue is resolved, but given Carroll’s views on logic, it doesn’t look good.
The Duchess, like the White Rabbit, is now nice to Alice, and Alice moralizes that pepper is what makes people angry, a rule that is quite overly-universal. Like Aristotle’s discussion of the humors, Alice thinks that vinegar makes people sour and sugar makes people sweet, and wishes others knew these simple rules. The Duchess says that Alice is thinking, and thus not talking, and there is a moral to that she can’t remember. Alice says that it may not have a moral, an underlying lesson or rule to learn, and the Duchess says that everything has a hidden moral, much as Alice just claimed to find. The Duchess says that the moral of that is that love makes the world go round. Alice reminds her that earlier she said it goes by everybody minding their own business, attending to their own self-interest, and the Duchess says that it is much the same thing, and that the moral of that is take care of the sense and the sounds take care of themselves.
The Duchess draws a foolish moral about birds and mustard both biting, and being alike in flocking together, overgeneralizing in a positive way now, as she negatively did about her pig-baby before. Alice points out that mustard isn’t a bird, the Duchess agrees with everything Alice says, drawing a moral that if I win, you lose, surrendering to Alice’s particular critical judgement and then universalizing it. Alice changes her mind about mustard, and the Duchess agrees again, drawing the moral that we should be what we seem. Alice says she doesn’t understand, and the Duchess proudly says she could say much more, and says it is her gift to Alice. The Duchess oddly seems to be ruling over Alice like the Queen, but as her equal, placing useless universal moralizing over them both, which is kinder than a death sentence.
There is much more to the ending of Wonderland, and there are many parallels between the first and second books. Carroll seems to have turned many of the parts of Wonderland inside-out to create the Looking Glass world.
1) Alice follows the White Rabbit, whereas she scolds the Black Kitten
2) Alice upsets the Mouse, forgetting she is his size, and she is intimidated by the Flowers, who think she is a flower due to her size.
3) The Caucus Race, which goes in a circle, and the Train, which goes back and forth in somewhat straight lines, both suggest the foolishness of the masses.
4) Puppy and Crow both frighten Alice off, ending the scene.
5) Caterpillar changes form, just as White Queen does into the Sheep.
6) Mean Duchess & Humpty Dumpty both dominate Alice, Cat & HD sit high up
Cheshire cat is central character showing both ways, HD is central showing one stupid way
7) The Hare and Hatter both appear in the seventh chapter of both books.
8) Queen of Hearts & White Knight are opposites in their treatment of Alice.
9) Mock Turtle speaks of lessons, and the Red & White Queens test Alice.
11) Alice gets the upper hand and control. First escapes, now shakes.
There is no assignment for this week. Work on completing the assignments so far.