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‘How deep is the dust?’

Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon is far better known for the historic words he said when taking his first steps on the lunar landscape.

That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.

Actually, a dispute still rages about whether those words were pre-planned, or off the cuff and whether he said …’one small step for a man..’ or ‘one small step for man…’

To be honest, it doesn’t matter to me. I was born in 1969, a few months after Apollo 11’s moon landing. Once I asked my father, who had hoped for a boy in the way fathers do, what I would have been named if I had been a boy. He said, ‘Neil,’ and then, perhaps seeing my grimace added, ‘or Oscar.’

I had not really made the connection between the proposed name of Neil and the moon landing until seeing a BBC documentary about Neil Armstrong earlier this year. I wonder how many little boys were born in 1969 or 1970 and were named Neil? Plenty, I imagine. It’s a good name and the BBC documentary really gave a flavour of how big the moon landing was. How it gripped the psyche of a nation, of the world. Born, post moon landing the whole thing becomes like, yeah, whatever, man on the moon. Or even, man on the moon? No way, big conspiracy, I mean, what cast those shadows man? Back then in 1969 it was taken for an amazing feat of space exploration.

The quote from the title of this post is taken from a conversation Neil Armstrong had with his younger brother before the Apollo 11 moon mission. ‘How deep is the dust?’ was Neil Armstrong’s primary concern. As it turns out, I am not named Neil and I will never go to the moon, but every time I start working with a new group of people, exploring what goes on in people’s brains I get anxious. It’s because its entering the orbit of another’s thoughts, it’s the unknown and yes, I wonder, how deep is the dust…

Not too deep as it turned out

The BBC: Banging Some Heads Together

What on earth is going on there?

I just can’t keep up. How can you resign after 8 weeks? How can journalists interview their own bosses live on air and then yet more of these journalists come on after the boss has fallen on his sword and say they just don’t understand why the boss fell on his sword.

It is like watching an animal eat itself – top down – impossible but true.

And of course it is top of its own news output – CONSTANTLY. I have even had to give up my main purveyor of news the Today Programme on Radio 4 in protest. Now, I shall never know how it works out, but in my head it will feature a bunch of middle-aged white men in suits with laptops being burned at the stake in front of *Pebble Mill whilst Mr Blobby leaps around cackling.

BBC, you are too big and worse you are BORING. Go away and sit on the stairs and come back when you have fought to the death or sorted yourself out because playing out every twist and turn and fart on every airwave WE PAID FOR, is an insult to the public.

Now clear off.

I know it should be Media City in Salford, but 😛

See BBC you have made me resort to using the sticky out tongue emoticon, which is a big no-no.

More science versus religion

I don’t feel like writing this, and I am sure most people won’t want to read it either, but that’s ok. I am going to write it anyway in the hope of finishing a thought, one that’s been hanging around taking up mental space for days. What will probably happen is that it will just lead to another thought or three. Are we ever really done thinking? Really? I think that we’re not, and that’s why meditative practice is essential, just as a brief intervention to stop all those cogs and wheels that constantly whir away wearing themselves out. For years I have ‘meditated’ over a glass of wine, I know others take a moment with a cigarette, but I am realising finally that still, quiet calm is the goal, not slamming on the mental brakes with a depressant. Having said that, I realise that alcohol for me sometimes stands in for my lack of religion and will probably always be with me… my drug of lazy choice one might say.

Back to the thought. I was following the science and religion discourse last week through Jonathan (Chief Rabbi) Sacks’, recent round of media publicity linked to a book he has out. He and Professor Richard Dawkins appear to have been more or less joined at the hip in the last week, appearing on television, on radio and then midweek in a live discussion at a BBC Festival called REthink. It would seem that Professor Dawkins also has a book out too.

I think I find this a little disappointing, as if the public is only being treated to a clash between these two old stags high up on the intellectual crags because they both have book publicity to do. For the record, Lord Sacks’ book is called The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning and Professor Dawkins’ is called the Magic of Reality. I also found the discourse frustrating, because it seems to me that it is ultimately circular in nature.

I am happy to be corrected but what I think I hear is something that goes like this: Yes, we all agree that science works on theory backed up by empirical evidence; and at this point in time there is less than there was, but still plenty in the world, in the universe, in the human experience that has so far defied the reach of science. That was where faith in a God might kick in, if you were that way inclined. Or not. To paraphrase, or even quote, Lord Sacks, ‘science takes things apart to see how they work, religion puts things together to see what they mean.’

So the scientists who seek to explain things up to the point of their evidence-based knowledge are permanently left on the back foot when a religious bod hops in, where the rest of us might fear to tread, to cover the gaps with the all-encompassing reach of a ‘God’, an intelligent designer, a universal force.

Sacks suggested he was not a fan of this ‘God of the Gaps’ approach, he said that his God is a gardener. When he was asked by a scientist something to the effect of is his God a sower of seeds that then allowed the garden to go wild, or an obsessive Sunday lawn mower, Sacks’ answer was inconclusive. He said something about God being currently ‘non-interventionist’. God as a gardener on holiday, a multiverse cruise?

I am agnostic, I suppose. I am not quite brave enough for atheism. Perhaps I aspire to it. I have found the religious position frustrating though, because what can’t be answered directly out of their various interpretations of the various religious books, can always be attributed to the mystery of God and the faith in that of those lucky enough to have worked it all out.

When Lord Sacks ended the Start the Week programme by intoning, ‘Without God we are without hope’ I felt he diminished his argument, possibly irredeemably in my case. I was disappointed because I believe there are alternatives. What really would have helped is for a religious scientist, Sir Robert Winston say, to have jumped in and saved a fascinating question, perhaps the most important of all, from turning those of us trying to engage with the debate into something akin to testy drivers queueing round the circular M25 into infinity (and beyond?).

Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

Some Ogden Nash with a brief detour through cornflakes, science and religion

I cannot convey how bored I am with the sound of my own thoughts at the end of this week. The closest I can do for now is to reflect that the bowl of dust, masquerading as cornflakes, that passed for breakfast this morning pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter.

I was going to write about the Chief Rabbi’s, Jonathan Sacks, recent programme on BBC, about the science versus religion ‘gap’, wherein he debated his position with the scientists Baroness Susan Greenfield, theoretical physicist Professor Jim Al-Khalili and the notorious atheist Professor Richard Dawkins. I found it compelling viewing, but did wonder, if in his summation, Lord Sacks had wrapped Dawkins views up a bit neatly onto the side of those with religious faith.

I also observed that Lord Sacks seemed more interested in finding the common ground than the scientists did, Al-Khalili seemed a little bemused for instance. Still, it was the Rabbi’s programme, so perhaps it’s not so surprising he was doing the legwork… Now I am going to have to listen to the subsequent encounter between Sacks and Dawkins on Start the Week before making any more observations.

I was left though, with the impression that two of the scientists would have, if not for politeness and being filmed, pointed out that religious faith is mainly based on *one big book and that perhaps people should not believe all they read.

I have a book by Ogden Nash and I enjoy his poetry, when I am in the mood. I don’t always agree with him though. For me making a living is a saving grace. Without out it and the structure it imposes on me, I have no doubt I would quickly disappear up my own arse. Some might say I am halfway there already. They might be right.

Introspective Reflection by Ogden Nash

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.

*which book depends on your faith

Don’t be fooled by the smile, this boy is forcing them down

Blue & Green: not what they seem?

There is so much that we take for granted on a daily basis; perhaps assuming that one person’s experience is going to be another’s for example. It was fascinating then, to watch the BBC’s Horizon: Do You See What I See?

It turns out that how we see colour is not the same: illusion, mood, culture and language all directly affect our colour vision. Show this aspirational summer sky to the Himba tribe in Namibia and they will describe the blue and some of the greens with the same word. In fact, they will take considerably longer than readers of this blog to even see there is any difference in the colours of the leaves and the sky.

Five words cover the colour of their world.

Contrast this with the Desana language in the Amazon, a tribe who, with their words for such colours as yellow-bright like the sun’s rays, and yellowy-green, and greenish-blue like moonlight, can experience and describe their rainforest hues in all their spectral glory; leaving our *language, and perhaps our colour experience, wanting.

And best of all, consider this: blue and yellow are the first colours we evolved to see and as such are hardwired into our emotional lives.

Escape into blue and our perception of time quickens.

No wonder we miss those summer skies…

*A useful list of words for colours