Susanna Felder Downie(Wilfrid and I did finally get married, but I didn't change my name.)
I met Wilfrid in 1968, shortly after I had returned from England, where I had been living a few years, to enroll in graduate studies in Art History at the University of Pittsburgh. My roommate's significant other was Ira Monarch, a graduate student in philosophy at Pitt, and one of Wilfrid's teaching assistants in the big "80's" course, designed as an introduction to philosophy for freshman and sophomores. Ira came back from the Tuesday and Thursday meetings of this class raving about what a great teacher Wilfrid was, and eventually I decided I'd better go check this out. I began attending the class, sitting up in the back row with the other graduate students. Visualize one of those big lecture halls, designed to hold 200-300 students, amphitheater style, in the Biological Sciences building, with giant double-hung green blackboards and a large black lab table down in front. Wilfrid was a pacer when he lectured -- very energetically moving back and forth in front of the class, on both sides of the lab table, with lots of body language and hand gestures, and filling the board with the famous circles (for mind and body) and stick figures for illustrating various points. Since this was a "survey" course, Wilfrid was sweeping back and forth across the centuries in a most dazzling way, touching on not just Descartes and Plato and Hume and St.Augustine et. al., but also Marx and Freud and anyone else he wanted to draw into his grand historical dialectic of ideas. It was quite a performance, and I was duly intrigued, in addition to being entertained and educated, which, after all, as Sir Philip Sidney pointed out, is the most effective form of teaching.
I became even more intrigued when I began to get the feeling that Wilfrid was seducing me, just by the use of opportunistic double entendres, sprinkled ever so casually amongst the clever tracery of the history of ideas. This started on the very first day I attended the class. I asked some of the other graduate students if they ever felt they were being seduced. They didn't know what I was talking about. I thought I might be crazy. Out of intense curiosity I came back, again and again, on those Tuesdays and Thursdays. I tried wearing my roommate's clothes. I tried sitting in different seats, and such a big lecture hall, with over 150 students, I had plenty of choices and felt surely I could get "lost" somewhere. But the pattern held steady. He would deliver what I came to regard as the "punch line", and make very firm eye contact with me at that exact moment. Two examples will make this clear: at one point he was talking about Plato's theory of ideas, and the notion of teleological growth toward an ideal. Then came the line: "Plato says that we are drawn toward these ideas by love.." (eye contact). Or: in describing contrasting theories of human nature (and therefore "mind"), he comes to Freud and paints a little word picture of Humanity, the analysand, lying on the famous psychoanalyst's couch, being told that though he may think his conscious mind is all he has to worry about, really he is driven by a big, dark, not altogether benign subconscious element known as an id. Then, to make the point dramatic, Wilfrid has Freud say, to the patient's subconscious: "You're just like a little time bomb around here." (eye contact) In any given lecture, Wilfrid would manage to deliver half a dozen or more of these charged lines, always right to me, no matter where I sat. After a few weeks of this, I decided I had to know if he really knew what he was doing, and if he really intended anything by it. At this point we had never met socially, or any other way.
So, to make a long story short, yes, he did know what he was doing and really did intend a great deal by it, and by the end of the term, we had a full blown capital R Relationship although I could never get him to say exactly how he picked me out. Wilfrid was wonderful for me. He was the first man I had ever been involved with who wasn't afraid of me, or who didn't try to change me in some way, nor put me in a little, very restricted box marked "woman", and try to confine me to his arbitrary definition. I was at that time a fledgling feminist, and Wilfrid was 100% supportive of my increasingly ''radical'' politics. In fact, I think he got a great deal of vicarious enjoyment out of my NOW meetings and my various feminist activities, since he had a lively and very open sense of political history, and a fine appreciation of progressive values and movements. He told me once that he almost went into politics, in the sense of devoting substantial energies to political activity, when he was at Minnesota, and shared the platform on some occasion with Hubert Humphrey, whom he found much to his liking. But he knew his philosophical star was rising rapidly, and he stayed the academic course, fortunately for all of us.
When he moved from Minnesota to Yale, both Wilfrid's parents were still alive. His mother died a few years later, in 1963, of cancer. This was a sad event for Wilfrid. He was very close to his mother, she was a very positive influence in his life. Wilfrid told me that when he became chairman of the Philosophy Dept. at Yale, his mother said it was the happiest moment of her life. When she died, it was also a great blow to his father, Roy Wood Sellars, and marked the beginning of his father's gentle decline into an old age distinguished by extraordinary concentration on the distant past. It was about this time that interest in Wilfrid's work began to spill over into a revived interest in Roy Wood Sellars' work, but Roy Wood took a long time to notice what was happening. However, before he died, in 1973, he did acknowledge to Wilfrid that there appeared to be a connection between the ferment around Wilfrid's work and the new level of interest in his own. Roy Wood Sellars' papers, at least those that Wilfrid brought back from Ann Arbor after his father's death, are now part of Wilfrid's Books & Papers.
Wilfrid's first wife, Mary, died in 1970, after a long illness.
Though he was almost 25 years older than I, Wilfrid and I seldom had any problem communicating. We traveled a lot together, to Europe and the Caribbean, before we "settled down" in 1975 in the house on Centre Ave., with the Cathedral of Learning, where we both worked and studied, prominent in our southern horizon. The Cathedral is commonly and derisively referred to by Pitt undergraduates as The Tower of Ignorance, but both Wilfrid and I enjoyed its faithful yet creative deployment of Gothic architectural style, all the way up to its top (36th) floor! [The picture on the front cover was taken on the roof of the apartment building where Wilfrid lived before we bought the house on Centre Ave. I took a whole roll of film of Wilfrid with the Cathedral in the background. The photo on the back cover was taken at the same time, about 1973. ]
Wilfrid made many things possible for me, that might otherwise have been very difficult. When my job at Pitt was rudely terminated (by a new Dean, whose Reagan-like educational ideology was diametrically opposed to mine and that of the previous Jimmy Carter-like Dean) Wilfrid support made it possible for me to continue working on my PhD, without being employed at all otherwise. Though my feminism and other interests (including our substantial garden and plant collection) interfered early and often with my graduate work, I did eventually complete my dissertation and the degree. Wilfrid helped me a lot with this too, since the PhD dissertation is a special genre, which seems mysterious to many who undertake it. Wilfrid de-mystified the whole process for me, as he did for his many students, and we all loved him for that. He was a master of academic politics, which is more difficult, arcane and subtle than the other kind. He never used his considerable rhetorical powers to dominate me or his students, nor did he pull rank on people. He was such a strong person, and so well-determined in his life-choices, that he sometimes did dominate, but it was inadvertent, and I'm not sure he even perceived it all that clearly. It certainly never gave him any pleasure. He wanted to be with strong people, so that he could interact with them freely and equally... it kind of spoils the fun a little if you have to always be concerned about wounding someone. I think the commitment to teaching was even more basic for Wilfrid than the commitment to philosophy. He once told me that his writing was mostly derivative of his teaching, that he got his best ideas when he was actually talking to a class or in conversation with students and colleagues. This dedication to teaching shaped his whole character, and was an important bond between us.
There was one major area, however, where Wilfrid and I diverged. I am now fully convinced of the ontological primacy of consciousness, and I know that ordinary waking consciousness, of the sort that most philosophers assume is merely epiphenomenal to brain, is actually only a fraction of the full reality of human consciousness, which is, in its fullness, entirely independent of brain. "Cosmic consciousness" is not only "real", but it gives a truer sense of the objective universe, and it will eventually play a prominent role in everyone's life. It is Mind which gives rise to Matter, not the other way around. Matter is merely the stuff with the lowest frequencies, while consciousness spans the whole continuum from the very narrow, self-enclosed consciousness of unevolved people to the full-fledged cosmic consciousness of the Monad, in its purity. Ultimately, consciousness is infinite, omniscient, and omnipresent, and we all partake of it. Not only does individual consciousness survive "death", but all of us have had many lifetimes on this earth, and will have many more. You, dear reader, are far more interesting and grand than you ever imagine, and you have a wonderful surprise awaiting you when you finally drop your physical body. And yes, you will meet Wilfrid again, if you wish. Just think, you can dialogue philosophically into eternity, if you both still want to after you see how many other options there are.
Wilfrid knew about my beliefs, since I developed a lot of them over my years with him and I always talked things over with him when new experiences and new pieces of the puzzle inclined me to re-engage him in metaphysical talk. He was not only respectful of my intellectual inquiries and integrations, he was very interested, because they challenged his own ideas. He was actually quite open, and was very cagey about committing himself to a theory of consciousness that precluded all that I was slowly piecing together in the way of an expanded and, to me, more adequate theory of human nature. He maintained a kind of "Wait and see" attitude when my speculations ranged "too far".
When I started practicing Transcendental Meditation, in 1973, Wilfrid started too, though he didn't keep it up, as I did. When I started the TM-Siddhis Program, in 1981, Wilfrid was very interested in my reports of both my own and others' experiences, since these included actual honest-to-God levitation, as well as other "siddhis" described by Patanjali. [The TM-Siddhis Program, which is a purely mental technique, is based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the bible of Raja Yoga. The word "siddhi" means "powers" or "perfections", and these include perfect health, clairvoyance and clairaudience, knowledge of past lives, the ability to communicate telepathically, healing by touch, and many others, all of which are described by Patanjali as being normal to fully realized human nature, and inevitably encountered on the path to realization.]
Given all this, of course I insisted that the Manifest Image will grow and incorporate, as it goes beyond, the Scientific Image, but Wilfrid never quite allowed me that. He held out for the Scientific Image to the end. But I forgive him. He is now in a much better position than I to know just how far the Scientific Image has to go, and how manifest indeed are the great new horizons awaiting the community of rational beings, and all those dialoguing toilers out there in the vineyards of the Lord. Hey, guys, don't let your skepticism blind you to your own depths, and the objective importance of subjectivity. Do you really believe that all your intelligence, and all your coherence, all your creativity, is caused by the sloshing around of a lot of neurotransmitters? Correlated with, Si! Caused by, Non! The brain itself is just a transmitter, of information coming through from non- physical levels, mostly from the foramen magnum - which is filled with liquid in a living brain, and does not have any internal "structure" at all that survives dissection. Language didn't come from molecules, not even DNA, it came from the soul, and it will get us back there. In ten years, we will know so much more about all this than we know now, and even you will know, if you are paying attention, how much more there is to human consciousness than was ever dreamed of by Rene Descartes or David Hume or even good old Immanuel Kant. Try to keep an open mind, fellahs, because if you don't, when you drop your body, you won't know how to act!
And I have one last subject to register in these pages. Wilfrid did not die of "old age". Very few people do. His father lived to be 92, and achieved his last ambition, which was to outlive Bertrand Russell. Wilfrid could have lived even longer, if he had not been addicted to alcohol. He was basically very healthy; he must have been, because he put away between 12 and 16 ounces of the hard stuff (mostly gin) every day for forty-five years, and never really got sick, until the last few years of his life, which were increasingly miserable. He suffered a stroke, in his right anterior cerebellum, in 1984. It took him about two months to get back on his feet, but he had difficulty walking, and that remained with him the rest of his life.
It wasn't easy for me to watch all this happen. I loved Wilfrid, and I worked hard to get him to stop drinking. But eventually, I let him choose his death. In the last six months his liver slowly collapsed, sending all that unpurged waste out through his skin, in little red sores that appeared all over his body, and itched terribly, even while his nervous system was also dying [the doctors called it "peripheral neuropathy", a known symptom of chronic alcoholism]. He had a series of five increasingly severe seizures, starting in January '89, in which his whole body would go into violent spasmodic tremors. He was totally unconscious for a day or two after each attack, and showed increasing disorientation and memory loss with each one, but never showed any sign of remembering what had happened. I think the small blessing of slow death by alcohol poisoning is that you are pretty well anesthetized - you just don't feel anything as much as you would if your brain and your myelin weren't pickled. But Wilfrid had such a strong mental body that when he was definitely conscious, even in the last six months, he was basically still Wilfrid, though he seemed to be reliving a lot of the distant past. He didn't complain much about pain, he was kind of a stoical type. But his physical body spoke eloquently about it, even when he wasn't conscious. And his lucid moments just became shorter and more infrequent, and three days before he "died", his legs started to turn blue, and I knew he was already gone. The soul does not have to stick around when the body becomes that useless .
Are you horrified? I hope so. I just wanted you all to know how long-term indulgence in the low-level poison known as alcohol can lead to very high-level damage and a most unbeautiful death. Wilfrid was the victim of the roaring 20's. He was a teenager when prohibition, bootleg gin, and the repeal of prohibition were making headlines. The repeal appeared as a moral, as well as political, victory to (some) men, and legitimated all kinds of drinking. Wilfrid always accused me of giving him a "W.C.T.U. Lecture", even though I was at pains to marshall good solid evidence, and to keep it from being a moral issue. (Did you know that alcohol dissolves lipoprotein? and that the brain is 50% lipoprotein, while myelin, the protective sheathing of your nervous system, is 70% lipoprotein?)(Verb. Sap.)
What was worse, for him, than the political climate of his formative years, was that his parents taught him to drink when he was only 9 years old -- they served wine with meals, on the theory that he needed to know how to manage his drinking. So he became what doctors call a "European" drunk. He never went on binges (the "American" style). He just took it in, slowly, in "moderate" amounts, day after day, and in the last seven or eight years of his life, it was 24-hours a day. Everything he drank had alcohol in it, eventually. Since alcohol interferes with REM sleep, he often found himself awake at 3 am, and kept a bottle of gin at his bedside for just such occasions. If I sound a little strenuous about this, well, it wasn't fun learning all this gloomy stuff and watching this wonderful person destroy himself. What was very impressive, though, was that he never became the text-book case. He lived to be 78 and he remained Wilfrid to the end, and I respect him for that; but the end was so distinctly inglorious. !!!
Some of you may want to know where he is buried. Well, he isn't. I had his physical remains cremated, and scattered the ashes on Lake Chautauqua on August 14, 1989. An old friend maneuvered the canoe, while I scattered the calcium, heavy metals, and other minerals that had been Wilfrid on the water, to the strains of a New Age piece called "Earth Ascending". I was going to do it on Lake Erie, because that's where Wilfrid and his family spent the summers when he was a boy, on the Canadian side, near Port Ryerse, and his fondest memories were of that time/place (his mother was Canadian). But we took one look at the waves, and Cynthia, who was the experienced canoeist among us, said "no way", so we headed for calmer waters. For what it's worth, there was a full eclipse of the full moon that night. Cynthia and I didn't even know it was coming, but when we got back to our hotel, at dusk, folks were out in droves with binoculars peering up at the rising moon, so we watched, too. It was a lovely clear night, and the eclipse went beautifully. Very fitting, I thought.
In sorting out the collection of Books & Papers, and getting it all into boxes for Hillman Library, I rediscovered Wilfrid as he was to most of you and had been for me before his final steps on the slippery slope of alcoholism. It was a delight, seeing the energy of the dialogue in all the letters many of you sent to him over the years, attached to papers or just on a post card, sometimes undated, and with distressingly illegible signatures! ... And I knew directly how much time and energy he had put into writing a never ending stream of precise, delicate, powerful letters of recommendation (the rough drafts are all there, in the collection), so that his students could go on and be philosophers in their turn. And I could see how true it is, as Machamer says, he was the philosopher's philosopher, and, as Turnbull says, we will not see his like again. I can only add: at least not until he reincarnates!