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5/6/18

I just spent some time revising my previous entry, of the 4th...which is far better than this one is going to be. But it has occurred to me several times that I want to address the subject of logic, with a particular example. Why I think this is going to be at all useful, I don't know. But the point is, to avoid knee-jerk assumptions--and to identify them as they flash past consciousness. This is one of the toughest things I am continually fighting. People assume certain things about me, which aren't justified by logic. And I want to try to train them out of it.

As they say, "Good luck with that."

No, seriously. Let's take this example and break it down.

There is one known painted portrait of Mathew Franklin Whittier (myself in the 19th century), from his youth. It resides at the museum, which was once his brother's home in Amesbury, Mass. I won't show it, here.

Some months ago, I ran across what I believe is a photograph of him at roughly the same age. Keep in mind that photography wasn't available, in the U.S., until 1841, or at the earliest, 1840. But keep in mind, also, that Mathew was fascinated with technology and science. He would have jumped at the chance to have a daguerreotype done, at the earliest opportunity. He expressed a fascination for the daguerreotype process some ten years later, in his published travelogue, and there are other clues in this regard.

Now, this photograph was a copy, a CDV (carte-de-vista), probably made in the 1860's. Fortunately, the provenance is known. It was included in the family photograph album of abolitionist Gerrit Smith's son-in-law. We will shortly come back to this.

If you compare the portraits, they are very similar in certain key elements; but different, also, in one or two respects. Now we are up against a dilemma, because on the one hand, obviously a photograph is more accurate than a painting. But it is the painting which is positively identified, rather than the photograph.

The nose, hair and hairline, and general facial architecture match, including the style of facial hair (extended side burns). The eyes are a little different (being lighter, and more almond-shaped, in the photograph); while the mouth is drastically different. However, the mouth in the painted portrait is unnaturally small, and pursed, while the mouth in the photograph is anatomically normal and believable. The expression in the painted portrait is more fierce, and even arrogant; while the expression in the photograph is more benign. Of course, expressions in painted portraits often reflect the artist's personal perception of the subject's personality. Both portraits evince high intelligence, and "presence." One feels, in both images, that the person's gaze is penetrating.

The seller of this photograph assumed it to be of a young Gerrit Smith, himself. The reason he did so, as I recall now, is that someone had labeled it, accordingly, in the album. But we don't know who added these identifying labels, or when. In fact, this identification turned out to be impossible, because of Smith's birth year, and his age at the time that the photographic process was first introduced to America. Not only that, but his known visage at this age doesn't look remotely like the portrait. Now, I was able to convince the seller of this; but it is interesting, for the purposes of our discussion, to note his counter-theory. He thought this might be a 1860's copy of an artist's portrait, while it is obviously a photograph. Do you see how denial works?

Now, back to the provenance, and knee-jerk assumptions. The skeptic will say it is simply a coincidence. But what he or she is automatically assuming, in this offered theory, is that we are drawing from the entire pool of the United States. We are not. Here is the tiny pool we are actually drawing from, looked at logically:

1) It has to be someone who was important enough to Gerrit Smith's son-in-law, and/or close enough, to be included in his family album;

2) Mathew was an abolitionist (at least, by 1836);

3) Mathew was roughly the same age as the owner of the album;

4) Mathew's older brother was a fellow-abolitionist and contemporary of Gerrit Smith, both being famous in this regard.

The pool of young men who match all of these criteria is very small, indeed. There might be, what, five? Or ten? Plausibly, there might only have been one or two. Note that we have images of Gerrit Smith, and of his son-in-law, and neither resemble the young man in the photograph. So if we are thinking it could be a member of his extended family, I have not found any evidence of a family resemblance.

Now let's add, to all this, that the young man in the photograph looks very, very similar to the known painted portrait of Mathew Franklin Whittier--so similar, in fact, that a very strong case could be made of their shared identity, even without considering these added elements.

Unless I miss my mark, the statistical chance of finding a portrait which meets all of these combined criteria, is astronomical. In other words, when the dust settles, the chances that this is not a young Mathew Franklin Whittier, are, in fact, very slim.

This means that the skeptical, knee-jerk conclusion pronouncing it as "coincidence" or "chance" is logically way, way out of line.

Finally, add to this my own subjective reaction. Every time I look at this portrait, I feel mesmerized. Just as I once felt when I first saw Mathew's older portrait, I feel, "That is me." Or, "I know him intimately--I know him from the inside-out."

I have been at this a long time, now. I know how to discern my own subjective reactions to past-life artifacts. I know this is something more than fond imagination.

So we must add that to the mix.

The reason I bring this up, is that I think people blithely react in a similar way to most of my presentations. If you do this, you have not adequately refuted anything I've presented--you are merely fooling yourself. Which, of course, you have the perfect right to do; but it doesn't address the validity of my work.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

 

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