Monthly Archives: July 2013

When life gives you lemons…

… draw faces on them


Tomorrow, oranges, maybe. Still on the tree…

The smell of the greasepaint… and old roses sing show tunes

This is my favourite photograph of this summer so far – it’s just so godamm blowsy. I’m off now to take some more shots for a few days.

As normal a service as one might expect round here resumes next month.

roses and tent

Boy with Tree

tree and boy

Man with tree and bin bag

tree and man

A British Monsoon

In lieu of a camera

In the park, at eight this morning
A men’s singles tennis match skids
Along wet asphalt, volleying
And far off commuters hiss
Their way to work
Through thick sky spray.
One, fat, wood pigeon
Takes a short-cut jacuzzi
To puddled bedragglement.

Sodden roses hum
An old show tune
Whilst bruised petals
Fading fast, fall…
As I walk,
At these sinful feet
My mud soles
Soil in my toes
From bringing in
barefoot 4 a.m. washing
As MC thunder interrupted
To announce the rains

Getting my ear in

I am going a bit mutton, and it can sometimes lead to amusing results. The thing is, when you start to lose your hearing, you compensate a bit and you don’t really notice the creeping and cumulative effects. So when the screen is out on a till at the supermarket and you can’t read the numbers to tell you what you owe, you have to rely on what the cashier says. The cashier usually mumbles the required amount into their tabard and then you start to panic. You realise how reliant you have become on visual clues for what’s being said: the digital readout and *yikes* lip-reading. Yes, folks, you start to lip-read and you don’t even know it. That’s how clever the brain is…

The other thing you do without realising is you interpret what’s being said, and pass it through a sense and meaning filter. Then you rearrange what you heard, into something approximating a coherent sentence. You do this because quite often what you actually heard was nonsense… Again, like lip-reading, you don’t decide to do this, the brain starts helping you out of its own accord. And it does everything fairly quickly too. Granted, when I first became aware of the sense and meaning filter I would speak as if I were on some kind of time delay, but now, I’m pretty much in real time, mostly.

Which is all a fairly long preamble to the main point, which is this. Today I had a genial conversation with a colleague in silent cafe with no background noise. Therefore, there was less reason for me not to hear – background noise is my nemesis, so much so that I hardly bother to socialise any more because it’s far too much of a cognitive load. Anyway, my mind was a little off centre. This out-of-whackness was amplified because I was hungry – where I work manages to produce the most unappetising sandwiches in East Anglia (but that’s another story).

That’s my excuse for what happened next. My brain was limp, my ears giving their customary poor performance. The combination could be deadly. I was explaining how, as a child, all I longed for (prior to John Travolta in Grease) was a wall full of rosettes won by me and my imaginary horse. Then I explained how I was allergic to horses. I then clarified (and at this point I now realise my colleague’s ears may have started bleeding) that I did have my own horse once. I also felt it necessary to emphasise (goodness knows why) that the horse was a misfit. What I said next need not be shared, but it was about this point in my monologue that my colleague managed to squeeze a few words in edgeways.

“Horses aren’t sheep.”

“No I said, but sheep are very loud, haven’t you heard them?” I would then have, doubtless segued into an unashamed rant about a night I spent in Wales, quite pregnant and wide-awake on account of the sheep’s endless baa ing. Did you know sheep are nocturnal, I would have said.

Except, my colleague, brave and intrepid man that he is, pressed on.

“I said, horses aren’t cheap.”

Now, if my brain filter had been on, I would have realised straight off that my learned friend would have known that horses aren’t sheep, and furthermore that he wouldn’t feel the need to point it out…

Still, we’ve both worked one thing out today: an equine ain’t no ovine and I’ve had the added delight of figuring out that I really shouldn’t talk to people with only my ears flapping in the breeze and the handbrake off my brain.

We then moved on to discuss the children of the Rolling Stones, or was it the Avebury Standing Stones… but that wasn’t to do with being hard of hearing, that was a mere confusion of 1970s schemata.

Some horses

The model of scientific knowledge

Science is based on observable events (that can be replicated). This constitutes empirical knowledge.

These sentences are going to be quite short, because, as I type, I am thinking quite hard…

What science cannot observe – they dismiss. Thus we have people like Professor Brian Cox, calling things he cannot empirically prove, ‘woo-woo’. I quite liked the way Cox presented his knowledge on the television for a while, until he overused the word woo-woo and was dismissive of anyone who had a belief, or belief system, based on non-scientific paradigms.

It’s like when Professor Stephen Hawking claimed that ‘philosophy was dead.’

Don’t get me wrong, I like science. I even read the New Scientist sometimes, although I can’t claim to understand it all. What I don’t like is the idea that science trumps philosophical thought, or spiritual faith, because it consists of observable phenomena.

If we allow this idea to prevail, aren’t we limiting ourselves to what we can perceive with our own senses. Hasn’t science shown us that some of our own senses are distinctly lacking when compared with, say, a bat, or a lizard? Didn’t the Copernican revolution show us that it is the position of the observer, or the act of observing, that influences the outcome of the observation? Doesn’t science fall short when trying to understand the behaviour of unobserved particles in the double slit experiment? Therefore couldn’t we speculate that it is also our position as unobservers (what we cannot see or sense) that makes us resist so much that is unobserved but tangible on some level: a level that lives outside our five sensory realms – what might partially fall into the category of metaphysics

Are we using a limiting model when we insist on science being only based on observation? Isn’t empirical evidence a bit woo-woo too? After all, if I own a big pharmaceutical company I can pretty much commission scientific research to empirically prove what I like. And my rival can do the same. And then what, when the science is contradictory, as it sometimes is? Is it a co-incidence that Einstein came up with a theoretical model, not one based on lab work. Isn’t the whole universe a laboratory if only we are sufficiently mentally unshackled to move beyond the limits of our five scientifically-proven senses? How many senses do we really have. What about your gut or your heart intuition or neurons, for example. What about energy fields?

I don’t know. It’s just something I’m thinking about. What goes on outside the observable field of human experience might be far more amazing that the stuff the anti woo-woo merchants peddle (and that – classical science – is pretty amazing in itself).

Broken Philosophy

I sit typing with a temporarily broken body – the heat seems to be playing havoc with various parts of me – but I am sure I will be renewed in the morning. Meanwhile, my mind won’t quite switch off, so here’s the opposite of a screen dump: rather than taking words off the screen, I am dumping some onto it. Very therapeutic.

Nb What follows are the somewhat incoherent ramblings of someone with a fever. I’ve tried to un muddy the waters a little, but once they are stirred up, they tend to stay cloudy for some time…

Since March I have been doing an excellent e-learning course at edX. The courses are put together by some of the best university’s in the United States, are free, and are well worth checking out. They aren’t as easy as one might think free learning would be; in their own words, they are rigorous. My course, Social Justice, was delivered by filmed lectures from Harvard by the excellent and engaging Professor Sandel – sometimes heard over here on BBC Radio 4 in The Public Philosopher.

The syllabus covered moral, ethical and social thought over the ages and looked at philosophers as diverse as Aristotle and Nozick. The latter – an American libertarian – drove me slightly nuts. What has occurred to me now I’ve finished all the reading and so on is that so many philosophers come along to modify, or improve in their minds, the last lots’ ideas. The problem is with that approach is that if the original theory is flawed, the correction can amplify the flaw. Take Jeremy Bentham and his idea about utilitarianism – namely actions that create the greatest good (pleasure) for the most people is the right thing to do. When examined, this philosophy allows for all kinds of exploitative situations to exist e.g. slavery and clearly does not stand up to much scrutiny. So, John Stuart Mills came along with a dustpan and brush to tidy the theory up. He said that it was not any old pleasure per se that should be promoted – there was a test to decide which was the most worthy pleasure:the highest pleasure is the one that most people would choose if they experienced more than one. There are however all kinds of problems with that as Professor Sandel pointed out; one being that it that were so most people would stay home and play video games than go out and watch Shakespeare… Oh hold on, they do.

All this is relevant today because England seems to be in the grip of a utilitarian government, and if I didn’t like them before I did the course, I like them even less now. It’s because I can now start to better articulate their philosophy which is a lot like Bentham’s with a John Stuart Mills cherry on top – they simply work for what they believe is the greater good. And the greater good is usually interpreted through their experience of life (Gove’s grammar school anyone?) We have seen from Bentham, the greater good can turn out to be morally flawed and socially unjust. You can roll a turd in glitter, as a pop philosopher might say, but it remains a turd.

Anyway, to achieve the so-called greater good, the government use the media to manipulate the majority – you might be in it now. And they sacrifice the various minorities – you’ll probably fall into one, one day – through sickness, or age, or another circumstance that life throws at you. And that’s really the point of social justice: that our thought processes should not be harking back to Jeremy Bentham’s erroneous and self-serving thinking in the 18th century; that our society, if it is to be truly just, needs a different philosophical model. And what annoys me intensely, now I’ve come to think of it, is that the people in charge of our country are bad thinkers of other people’s thoughts – that is if they are really thinkers at all and not just spinners of tall tales. (Gove and the Mr Men anyone?)

A bad philosophy creates bad models of thought and models are basically what government and society is run on. Bad thought creates suffering for the minority – and most of us will end up in a minority at some point – if only for a while. If we only could, we should work more along the thought lines of Immanuel Kant – a German contemporary of Bentham. Kant is very complicated, but the theory that I thought would probably work the best as the basis for any just society was the philosophy that if we use pure reason, e.g. remove all personally contingent factors when trying to decide what the just thing to do is, and we respect the principle that all people are an end in themselves e.g. not for exploitation or use by another. With that sort of model for society and individuals in the mix perhaps we could create an equal and humanitarian world for the benefit of us all.

If you’ve made it this far – well done. I nearly didn’t myself.

We could use a bit of the wet stuff

The grass is turning a shade of golden brown round here. I don’t have to worry too much about that thankfully, because my annual ‘lawn’ growing never entirely banished the brown patches of stubborn earth this year. I blame all that snow in the spring – it held this gardener back *ahem*.

Anyway, I’ve had this picture in my mind’s eye for a few days now, so I am downloading it here to free up a bit of internal disk space in the old synaptic department. I think I have said before that I have never been too keen on Edgar Degas’ ballerina studies, but I certainly appreciate the technique. My antipathy is something to do with the creeping feeling of lechery with the ballerinas. Still, perhaps I am unfair on that. His output was largely dancers in the end, but this was because the market liked it and his family were strapped for cash. Degas’ overall body of work, if looked at simply as studies of unforced posture have something of the quality of the modern paparazzi – he captures natural attitudes and poses and it is that draws me in.

In this particular picture, Jockeys in the Rain, I don’t think the rain is as much of a success as the body language of the both the riders and the horses. The rain has to be there, to give some the hunched figures their proper context, but what comes through even more strongly, for me, is the horses. The way the ones in the foreground hold themselves, the look in their eyes and the flare of the nostrils tells me that they are not so concerned about the rain soaking their flanks, rather that they are anticipating the off. The rain has to be there, but it’s not really what all this is about.

Jockeys in the Rain ~ Degas

It must be the heat…

…what has gone to my head.

Life rushes by and everyone looks really hot. Sometimes I am rushing too, but my head always feels fairly calm. This is becoming more and more the norm for me. The opposite used to be true. My head was always rushing; maybe I looked calmer. I think I prefer it this way round. It really makes a difference to just do one thing time at a time. Today I ate my sandwich sitting on a bench outside. I just ate my sandwich. I didn’t think about anything, or talk, or text, or read – I just ate my sandwich. As a result, I noticed all kinds of things that I hadn’t noticed before. They weren’t big things. They weren’t marvellous and outstanding things, they were just little, but when you are just eating your sandwich and making space for things to come in, the little things can seem pretty damn marvellous.

It wasn’t even that special a sandwich, but that’s not the point… Multitasking is the enemy of peace of mind and a contemplative lifestyle. It’s also bad for your health. Don’t fall for it!

Here’s another end of term picture by Cassia. I think it’s hot where these women are too, but they look pretty cool to me.

africa dancing