Sunday, 4 January 2015
I have been away too long. I am coming back I promise.
In the meantime enjoy this little excerpt from one of my favourite books, The once and future king, by TH White. In it the young, soon to be King Arthur is learning about the world through conversation with the animals, an experience afforded to him by his mentor, Merlin. Here we join Arthur as he is learning about the creation myth from the perspective of a badger.
People often ask, as an idle question, whether the process of evolution began with the chicken or the egg. Was there an egg out of which the first chicken came, or did a chicken lay the first egg? I am in a position to say that the first thing created was the egg.
When God had manufactured all the eggs out of which the fishes and the serpents and the birds and the mammals and even the duck-billed platypus would eventually emerge, He called the embryos before him, and saw that they were good.
Perhaps I ought to explain,’ added the badger, lowering his papers nervously and looking at Wart over the top of them, ‘that all embryos look very much the same. They are what you are before you are born – and, whether you are going to be a tadpole or a peacock or a cameleopard or a man, when you are an embryo you just look like a peculiarly repulsive and helpless human being. I continue as follows:
The embryos stood in front of God, with their feeble hands clasped politely over their stomachs and their heavy heads hanging down respectfully, and God addressed them.
He said: “Now, you embryos, here you are, all looking exactly the same, and We are going to give you the choice of what you want to be. When you grow up you will get bigger anyway, but We are pleased to grant you another gift as well. You may alter any parts of yourselves into anything which you think will be useful to you in later life. For instance, at the moment you cannot dig. Anybody who would like to turn his hands into a pair of spades or garden forks is allowed to do so. Or, to put it another way, at present you can only use your mouths for eating. Anybody who would like to use his mouth as an offensive weapon, can change it by asking and be a corkindrill or sabre-toothed tiger. Now then, step up and choose your tools, but remember that what you choose you will grow into, and will have to stick to.”
“All the embryos thought the matter over politely, and then, one by one, they stepped up before the eternal throne. They were allowed two or three specializations, so that some chose to use their arms as flying machines and their mouths as weapons, or crackers, or drillers, or spoons, while others selected to use their bodies as boats and their hands as oars. We badgers thought very hard and decided to ask for three boons. We wanted to change our skins for shields, our mouths for weapons and our arms for garden forks. These boons were granted. Everybody specialized in one way or another, and some of us in very queer ones. For instance, one of the desert lizards decided to swap his whole body for blotting-paper, and one of the toads who lived in the drouthy antipodes decided simply to be a water-bottle.
“The asking and granting took up two long days–they were the fifth and sixth, so far as I remember–and at the very end of the sixth day, just before it was time to knock off for Sunday, they had got through all the little embryos except one. This embryo was Man.
” ‘Well, Our little man,’ said God. ‘You have waited till the last, and slept on your decision, and We are sure you have been thinking hard all the time. What can We do for you?’
” ‘Please God,’ said the embryo, ‘I think that You made me in the shape which I now have for reasons best known to Yourselves, and that it would be rude to change. If I am to have my choice I will stay as I am. I will not alter any of the parts which You gave me, for other and doubtless inferior tools, and I will stay a defenceless embryo all my life, doing my best to make myself a few feeble implements out of the wood, iron and the other materials which You have seen fit to put before me. If I want a boat I will try to construct it out of trees, and if I want to fly, I will put together a chariot to do it for me. Probably I have been very silly in refusing to take advantage of Your kind offer, but I have done my very best to think it over carefully, and now hope that the feeble decision of this small innocent will find favour with Yourselves.’
” ‘Well done,’ exclaimed the Creator in delighted tones. ‘Here, all you embryos, come here with your beaks and whatnots to look upon Our first Man. He is the only one who has guessed Our riddle, out of all of you , and We have great pleasure in conferring upon him the Order of Dominion over the Fowls of the Air, and the Beasts of the Earth, and the Fishes of the Sea. Now let the rest of you get along, and love and multiply, for it is time to knock off for the week-end. As for you, Man, you will be a naked tool all your life, though a user of tools. You will look like an embryo till they bury you, but all the others will be embryos before your might. Eternally undeveloped, you will always remain potential in Our image, able to see some of Our sorrows and to feel some of Our joys. We are partly sorry for you, Man, but partly hopeful. Run along then, and do your best. And listen, Man, before you go . . .’
” ‘Well?’ asked Adam, turning back from his dismissal.
” ‘We were only going to say,’ said God shyly, twisting Their hands together. ‘Well, We were just going to say, God bless you.’ ”
The Badger’s Dissertation, from Chapter 21 of The once and future king, TH White
Wednesday, 30 July 2014
If your memories hark back far enough you might recall Part 1 of Daddy Cool, wherein I charted, rather hastily, the history of children and child rearing. It was an emotionally traumatic piece of research, spurred initially by a desire to comprehend the vastly differing opinions on child rearing.
In Part 2 (of 3 (I Hope)) I will be detailing the effects of preparation for parenthood on myself. I make no apologies if what I write has no particular reference to you, though I hope at least some of it will. I can only write from the perspective of a heterosexual male fathering his own biological offspring, because that is my experience. If you feel that my portrayal of fatherhood is too narrow, please feel free to respond and broaden the topic to include your own experience. After all, it is only through the sharing of experience and discovering commonality that we learn from one another.
Anyone who tells you fatherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to you, they are understating it. - Mike Myers
In the beginning there was the fear...
When my wife and I decided to try to have children it signalled a change in our relationship that was only partly foreseen. Despite my medical background, I knew little about parenting from conception to birth, beyond the scientific. I naively thought that perhaps that would be enough. When my wife told me she was pregnant, even though I should have been expecting it, I was surprised.
For the preceeding months I had tried my hardest not to dwell on all the worries I had regarding just the conception. I found myself, in my quieter moments, trying to rationalise every possible outcome of our attempts to conceive. When I was younger I had always told myself it wouldn't matter to me if I was infertile, because there are so many options. I had settled on the idea that I would adopt. Simple as that. I would play the hand I was given and rather than lament it. I would give a child the home it deserves. How very altruistic of me.
This was, of course, before I was married. Before it was a potential reality rather than a hypothetical situation. What I had failed to account for was the feelings of the other person. The potential mother of a child. A child she would like to have with me. How about how she felt? Would she be so keen on my altruistic world view? Chances are if there was an infertility problem, it would be on one side of the partnership alone. It would be hard to not feel like you are somehow letting the other person down. That maybe they would be better off being with someone who can give them the family they desire? These are just some of the thoughts that ran through my head from time to time.
Once the pregnancy was confirmed though, these thoughts dissipated, as you'd expect. However I do know that there are many people who have to deal with these questions in reality. I wish I could be more comforting, but it seems anything I say would ring hollow.
Fatherhood is great because you can ruin someone from scratch. - Jon Stewart
The pregnancy from the point of view of a new father to be, brings about ambivalent feelings. It's amazing to see a woman's body change and seemingly out of nowhere produce a baby. Up until the first ultrasound scan at 12 weeks, everything about the pregnancy seemed somewhat tiresome. (I can literally feel the mothers reading this start to hate me, but hear me out.) The joy of learning you have the potential for creation within your capability, is soon tempered with the physical symptoms of the first trimester. To the partner, all the morning sickness, aches, pains and sore breasts, are just a protracted illness. Something that they can do little about, even if they are, as I hope I was, sympathetic to the sufferer. You can learn about it, try to help out as much as possible, but no matter how much you may want to, you cannot travel the same journey as the mother. From the very outset pregnancy excludes the male from the obvious physical and emotional strains of growing another human being. Women can know it, men cannot.
However, the 12 week scan, brought into sharp focus the inescapable reality that was presented before me. In half a years time, I would become a father. Specifically to the little mass of grey pixels on the sonographer's screen. A threshold was crossed at that moment and the door behind you shut and disappeared. Like all nodal points in life, it was both exciting and terrifying. We two were responsible now. We had decided we were, before starting out. Now we would have to prove it. But we two did not have the same role to play. My wife was to be Mother, I was to be Father.
The frustrations of the first trimester made way for earnest preparation and a new found sense of responsibility for the habitat of the new person, soon to enter into existence. Things that had seemed periphery to my reality before, now occupied my thoughts. Economic, environmental, political. All of which centred at my immediate surroundings and extended outwards. It was now my responsibility to craft a space in the world fit for a baby. My baby. It is both selfless and selfish. Selfless on the part of the offspring, selfish in terms of society. I wanted the best for the child first and foremost, I'd get to helping anyone else after, if possible.
I had never experienced such a mixing of feelings. At times I felt uneasy with how my world view was changing. Yet it seemed almost biological. As though some dormant genes were suddenly awakened and a physiological change was happening. My wife's change was obvious, but mine was no less real. I found myself emotionally brittle in situations that hitherto had rendered me apathetic, if that even.
On the one hand, we'll never experience childbirth. On the other hand, we can open all our own jars. - Bruce Willis
Think about it this way: a woman can grow a baby inside her body. Then a woman can deliver the baby through her body. Then, by some miracle, a woman can feed a baby with her body. When you compare that to a male’s contribution to life, it’s kind of embarrassing, really. The father is always like, “Hey, I helped, too. For like five seconds. Doing the one thing I think about twenty-four hours a day." - Jim Gaffigan
Then, after all the waiting, the tears, the worry and excitement, there he was. My son. I learnt in that instant I was to be father to a son. The images of his first moments in this world will forever be etched in my mind. I never thought that my soul could bear such an excess of joy. I thought I had known what love was, but truly I had only seen one facet. All of a sudden, a new dimension of love was exposed to view and was almost overwhelming in its immensity. I cannot overemphasise this, but will stop now before I spill out the countless clichés which I am in danger of spouting.
An unexpected tranquillity fell upon the room. This utterly defenceless, little person, that only an hour ago was merely imaginary, was in my arms. A small bundle of potential energy. His course in life would be eternally entwined with my own, yet the world he will know, would be very different to the one I knew.
I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They'll learn much more,
Than I'll ever know.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world. - Louis Armstrong
In those twilight moments, it felt as though the fruits of labour had finally been harvested. Yet I was soon to realise, the truly hard work had not yet begun.
In the next part of Daddy Cool, I will exploring what it really means to be a Cool Daddy.
I know, I know. You don't need to tell me I've been gone too long. I can feel it. Let's just say, life got in the way. Now life has decided to be cool, I can resume more regular blogging.
You can contact the Filosofer on:
Thursday, 17 April 2014
As long as you still experience the stars as something "above you", you lack the eye of knowledge - Friedrich Nietzsche
First off I'd like to say that your path to riches/success in love/happiness is not to be predicted by the movement of the stars and planets. It never has been the case. It remains to not be the case. The Moon is definitely not in Uranus.
However I am not here to ridicule anything. As you may have gathered in my previous posts I am not one to mock, but to learn. Ridicule is dismissive and non-productive. It belies arrogance and ignorance. These are not worthy attributes of keen minds. To dismiss something out of hand, because of cultural influence, is to be closed minded and foolish. Although I must say that just a cursory search on the internet with the term "Astrology" certainly mitigates some of my point.
I don't believe in Astrology; I'm a Sagittarius and we're sceptical. - Arther C. Clarke
Astrology was the first Science of humanity and therefore the foundation upon which all scientific thinking has been extrapolated from. It sits before physics and far older than mathematics.
If we break the word down into its components,
Astro = Star
Logos = Words
Star-Words. And as we explored on a previous post, Words are Thoughts. So it could be said that Astrology = Star-Thoughts. Now that doesn't mean the stars have thoughts (I know I shouldn't have to spell this out) but that it is our thoughts on stars.
Imagine, if you will a time before science. A time before philosophy was a concept let alone a subject of discussion. Where nothing was known and everything had be learnt for the first time. Modern humans were not mere brutes in pre-history. They would have had their equivalents of Einstein and Newton, Rembrandt and Raphael, Men and Women who saw the world and wanted to understand it more. But where to begin? What can be studied when nothing had ever been studied before?
The simple answer was, what you can see. There was no numeracy nor literacy. All you had was the ability to observe and make a picture of what it was you saw, throwing in a bit of creativity and imagination. The most easily seen and measured things in the world of ancient humans were the celestial bodies. Seems simple enough, but consider this, to understand what the sun does in the sky requires 1 year of daily observation and recording, at least three times daily, sunrise, noon and sunset. Same as the Moon. Knowing what these bodies do and how the world changes depending on their relative position might give you some valuable insight. E.g. when should one plant the crops and harvest them? When are the rains due? Are we to expect pestilence again? Practical questions given practical answers.
Now throw in the 5 planets known to the ancients (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and you can see how, very quickly your simple study has taken on a very complicated hue. Then throw in the stars and constellations and their relative positions to each other and you have a subject of near infinite variety and interpretation.
A physician without a knowledge of Astrology has no right call himself a physician. - Hippocrates
As I have said already, the Sun itself requires 1 year of continous observation just to understand what it does in the firmament. How is a single person to observe and record the movements of the cellestial bodies? Of course they can't. A single Precession of the Equinox takes greater than 2000 years, so the only way the knowledge could be maintained was through the establishment of priesthoods or cults. These groups would often perpetuate the study of a particular celestial body with little to no contact with the other priesthoods.
Through many years of observation and recording, patterns began to emerge, anthropocentric patterns, but patterns nonetheless. When certain events were occurring in the heavens, human events appeared to coincide. A rich and creative mythology was formed which persists to this day. The Hermetic Tradition is worthwhile looking into as the saying "As above, so below" is of direct relevance to this understanding of Astrology.
The major cults of the ancient world were the Solar Cult, the Lunar Cult and The Cult of Saturn, but there were many, many more besides. These cults are the progenitors of many of the modern religions today. Their stories and beliefs having been co-opted often for the purposes of recruitment into the early churches.
A striking example of this is the importance of 25th December. Here is a list of the deities purported to have been born on this day in particular (Years are approximate):
Horus 3000 BCE
Osiris 3000 BCE
Attis of Phrygia 1400 BCE
Krishna 1400 BCE
Heracles 800 BCE
Mithra 600 BCE
Tammuz 400 BCE
Dionysus 186 BCE
Jesus Christ 5 BCE
Possibly all coincidence, but all of their stories share many similarities and themes. Most were born of a virgin, performed miracles, were persecuted and killed on a cross, only to be resurrected 3 days later. How can this be? Well very simply these men were all representative of something. Something very important to the ancient and modern world alike. They were all Sun-Gods. The light of the world, God's only Son (Sonne/Sun). Jesus does not have a monopoly on these terms.
In the northern hemisphere December 21st is the Winter Equinox, the day in which the Sun rises at its most northerly point, (this also happens to be exactly beneath the constellation of Cygnus which contains the asterism known as the Northern Cross). At this point the Sun's relative position does not change for three days, so the Sun "dies" under the sign of the Cross. On sunrise on the 25th December, the Sun moves one degree to the South. The Sun is reborn, promising the days of cold and darkness are numbered and new life is professed.
Please understand that I am not questioning the validity of any belief system, I am merely pointing out things that many religious scholars already know. It is well understood that the Bible contains no actual dates of Jesus' birth, but we can infer a lot. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not Nazareth, because his father Joseph had to return to his place of birth for a census. We know when the Romans conducted their censuses, which were NEVER in winter for obvious practical reasons. So Jesus, the historical figure, could not have been born in winter. The reason December 25th was picked by the early church was a pragmatic one, fuelled by a necessity for mass conversion of ancient civilisations.
This is a larger topic than I would like to discuss right now so I will leave it there.
I'm a typical Capricorn. I'm hard-working, loyal, sometimes stubborn, and I don't believe in Astrology. - Jonah Peretti
Just finally I would like to point out that whether or not you accept astrology in any capacity or not, it is a very important part of human history and dismissing it out of hand will only open you to exploitation by those who do understand it. Just look at almost any corporate logo, company name, marketing campaign and you will see Astrological symbols and archetypes. It is all pervasive, whether you like it or not. Understand it's place in the cultural psyche and if you choose to ignore it, then so be it.
Yours in the stars,
A little light relief for a return to to blogging. Thank you so much for being patient. I will endeavor to blog with greater frequency in future.
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Wednesday, 5 February 2014
"The National Health Service is the closest thing the English have to a religion, with those who practise in it regarding themselves as a priesthood. This made it quite extraordinarily difficult to reform. For a bunch of laymen, who called themselves the Government, to presume to tell the priesthood that they must change their ways in any respect whatever, was clearly intolerable. And faced with a dispute between their priests and ministers, the public would have no hesitation in taking the part of the priesthood." - Nigel Lawson
We are social creatures. Humans always have been. Our societal institutions are reflections of our cultural sensibilities. Certain institutions are relatively ubiquitous. There may be some nuances between countries but some things are universal. These have no interest me. The mundanity of existence in this vast world we live in are there for all to see and are best left to the analysis of Stand-Up Comedians, whose insights are often of more value than a faculty of teachers and professors.
Some institutions however, are entirely unique. Not only are they unique to the human experience now, but they were unique upon implementation and may be unique when the histories of our time are written centuries from now.
The National Health Service in Great Britain is one of these unique institutions.
There is a worrying trend I am noticing in our society. To often the term "social" is being used as derogatory, derisory or as some political punchline. Yet we are social creatures. We are strongest when we look after our weakest. There is no mileage in survival of the fittest when it comes to humans as individuals, but as societies, bound together through shared ideals and concerns, there most certainly is.
Too often are we told that the only way we can succeed is through individual endeavor. While that is true to a degree, the individual cannot survive without the society it is a part of. It's the society more than their parents that nurtures and educates, that protects and nourishes. (Not that I am diminishing the role of parents, but I am making a wider point.)
"To ask that the government be run like a business is tantamount to asking that the government turn a profit. The problem in a nutshell, is that not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable. Reality TV, pornography, fashion, sports, and gambling are all of questionable social value, but each is quite profitable and exists in the private sector. Meanwhile, few would argue that the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, police department, fire department, libraries, parks, and public schools are of no social value, and yet they could not exist if they were required to be profitable." - John T Harvey
The National Health Service in Britain is the only institution I am aware of in the world, that provides the most up to date, expert healthcare, at the point of need, for any citizen who needs it, for free. It is a truly social institution, in its conception at least. It is only 65 years old, yet many still do not fully appreciate how delicate an institution it is and how easily it may be broken for the sake of profit.
Make no mistake, healthcare is profitable. Massively so. In most developed countries it consumes more than 10% of GDP. There are many people, throughout the world, who stand to make a great deal of money from the dismantling of the NHS. From pharmaceuticals to the seamstresses that sew the curtains, our healthcare institution is as tantalising to business as a dying wildebeest is to a committee of vultures. But like the wildebeest, the NHS must die before the feasting can start.
Yet a frontal assault on the service would be political suicide, as even the most conservative of middle-class Britons holds the NHS, among the most treasured features of this land. An institution we can be proud of. So something more subtle is being done.
Our socialist healthcare is being de-socialised. And we are being asked to do it. Alongside stories portraying the NHS as, at best a bumbling incompetent and at worst, intentionally cruel and heartless, there are "debates." For example the debate re smokers and drinkers, or fat people. Or old people. Should we have to pay for those who choose to smoke? Or drink? Or eat too much? Or have the audacity for being old?
Maybe you agree with some of those. Well what about the children of parents with genetic diseases? Why should we pay for their healthcare when their parents knew they might get the same disease they are afflicted with? Surely they should have to pay for it (healthcare, not the child) themselves.
Well if not them, what about the extreme sports enthusiast that makes an error of judgement and smashes into the ground? Or the motorcyclist that hasn't the good sense to drive a car? Or the owner of the trampoline who lands awkwardly?
Or maybe the young people who engage in unsafe sexual practices with multiple partners? Why should we pay for them? Or homosexuals who have unprotected sex?
What about the depressives and the suicidal? They should just get a grip and walk it off anyway, right?
The point is that everyone engages in some activity that is potentially and perceivably risky to someone else. The system of socialised healthcare can only work if it is free for everybody and devoid of judgement. For any group to deny it to any other is unacceptable and so it should be.
The alternative is to allow the exact opposite. Allow private business and insurance companies to dictate who gets what and for what price. You may get excellent healthcare, but not everyone will.
I know that I do not say this enough to you
nor to those who deserve it, but thank you.
Thank you for being there when I am in need.
Thank you for being there when others are in need.
I will try and preserve you always
for you are the best of us incarnate.
May you always strive to improvement
and may we have the conviction to support you.
May your decisions be always wrapped in compassion
and may our trust in you never be tested.
I offer this as an honest plea,
May you look after us forever and ever,
In Aneurin Bevan's name, So be it.
Yours from the priesthood,
To contact the Filosofer you can:
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Sunday, 12 January 2014
What am I doing? People claim knowledge of statistics that say at any moment everything will change.
Life is not static. It's relentless. The millions of years of history prior to human consciousness and every moment since has been in a state of perpetual flux. Nothing is permanent. Everything dies.
Through observation of the cosmos we have glimpsed at the birth of galaxies, the death of stars. Forces so beyond our capacity for understanding that they almost scoff at our attempts at comprehension. The sequences that occur in the skies are played out through the rise and falls civilisations to the nth degree.
Human existence is so fleeting it makes a mockery of how seriously we take it.
So why do what I do? And by "what I do" I mean; think, discuss and write about all sorts of subjects. I do it, like many others, because I want to know. I hate not knowing. A criticism I have faced many times, even as a child, is I have an answer for everything. Some of you may agree with that I'm sure. However, not surprisingly, I have a more sympathetic interpretation of my perceived Smart Alekary. I don't have the answers, but I can assure you, no matter what the subject, I will have a lot of questions.
It has been my good fortune that, despite many attempts, I have yet to succumb to any mainstream world view. I am neither religious nor atheistic and I'm definitely not agnostic, whatever that means. I don't belong to any political parties, nor do I ever want to. I don't even vote (more on that in a future weblog, so hold your grumbles.)
As such I have a deficiency in my cognition of the world. I have no Denial-Reflex. When I hear of a new concept, or version of history, or remarkable discovery, I don't have that little gremlin in my head saying "That's impossible, according to my world view, and therefore must be some deception/hoax/fraud/illusion." It is a burden that I must bear and it is a burden. Some can so easily dismiss an idea before it is even fully formed and get on with their lives as if they were never privy to the paradigm shifting information that is being presented to them. I cannot.
Arthur C. Clark once wrote three laws:
- When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Radio has no future. Heavier than air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax. William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, 1899
Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction. Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology, Toulouse, 1872There is a comfort in believing that the smart guys and gals who are at the forefront of their fields know what they're talking about.
Everything that can be invented has been invented. Charles H. Duell, Commissioner US Office of Patents, 1899Yet what if what we think we know is just a fiction? An agreed upon fable that fits the current level of evidence for not yet fully discredited theories?
There is no likelihood that man can ever tap the power of the atom. Robert Milikan, Nobel Prizewinner in Physics, 1923What if the people put in front of us as the last bastions of knowledge, the guardians of truth, are winging it? Not because they are deliberately trying to mislead necessarily, but because they're just making it up.
There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will. Albert Einstein, 1932They know more background on the subject than anyone else, they have been appointed "expert" so why shouldn't they give their two-penneth? It's likely to be more correct than anyone else's.
Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics Yale University, 1929. Later that year the Wall Street Crash occurred leading to a decade of the Great Depression.But what if they aren't "expert?" What if the comments they make are only there to protect the fragility of their world view? The fragility of their psychology?
The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives. Admiral William Leahy, US Atomic Bomb Project, 1940sImagine that everything you thought you knew, your entire life's work, is being challenged by some upstart. Some young buck, muscling in on your territory. Making wild accusations and predictions, which if true, would consign you and everything you "know" to be true, into obsolescence.
Young man, I am afraid you are wasting your time. If there were any more planets, they would have been found long before this. Visiting Astronomer to Clyde Tombaugh, before he discovered Pluto, 1930. (This means you Neil deGrasse Tyson.)It is difficult for seasoned scientists, or anyone else for that matter, to admit being wrong, or misguided, or just plain foolish.
Space Travel is utter bilge. Sir Richard van de Riet Woolley, Astronomer Royal, 1956Until a time is reached when the facts become irrefutable. Often the world will be a decade, or maybe even a generation older, before what was considered impossible, becomes ubiquitous and mundane.
There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home. Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977And even those whose vision has transformed the world have been made to look unambitious in their foresight.
640K ought to be enough for anybody. Bill Gates, 1981
So... What am I doing? I suppose what I am doing is justifying to myself and to a lesser degree to you, the reasons why I study the topics I refer to as High Strangeness but what most would call Anomalistics. Things that are there, but shouldn't be. They shouldn't be there because we have no model to explain why they are, yet there they are.
Over the next few months I will, from time to time, take you along with me, on voyages to distant lands and forgotten epochs to discover, rediscover and uncover many mysteries. It will challenge your understanding of both history and science, modern and ancient. It will leave you with many more questions than before the outset, but it is my sincerest wish that it will, in the very least, amuse you. I make no guarantee that what I present to you will be true, whatever your definition of "true" is, but that is not the point. Remember this...
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it. AristotleAnd why do I do this? Because...
"I'm bored" is a useless thing to say. You live in a great, big, vast world that you've seen none percent of. And Even the inside of your mind is endless. It goes on forever inwardly. Do you understand? Being, the fact that you're alive, is amazing. So you don't get to be bored.
Yours in strangeness and definitely not in boredom,
Sorry for the delay in getting this post out. The Christmas period and the time since New Year is a busy one as I'm sure you'll agree. But I'm back now, so you can look forward to weekly-ish updates on the weblog.
I am also going to host a series of interviews on the site over the coming twelve months. Sporadically at first, but who knows, perhaps in time it will become a regular thing. We shall have to see.
To contact the Filosofer you can:
I'd love to hear what you think
Tuesday, 24 December 2013
My dear friends,
Just a quick note to say I hope you and your cherished friends and family have a truly happy Christmas.
Be thankful for the bounty before you and know how lucky you are to have more than you can eat, more booze than you should drink and be in the company of those who mean the most to you.
The feast or festival is important to us as humans, beyond the various allegories we attach to them. It's important because without plenty we cannot appreciate scarcity and vice versa.
So raise a toast to each other and be contented, for the worries of the world will still be there when you're done.
Glad tidings, one and all,
I'll be back in the New Year with more of my ramblings, but in the mean time I want you all to enjoy feasting!
Monday, 16 December 2013
"The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for." Ludwig WittgensteinWhen teaching medical students I use this quote regularly. Seldom has a sentiment been truer to me through my practice in life or in medicine.
During my more contemplative and playful moods I like to occasionally undertake a simple thought experiment. I came across it when reading a book by a modern French philosopher, Roger-Pol Droit. Try it yourself if you would like and you have a spare minute or two.
Take a simple object. It has to be small and light enough to be held comfortably in your hands, e.g. an apple or pencil. Look at it. Speak it's name. Then repeat. Keep repeating it. The word should be that which most naturally relates to you the idea of the object to hand. Do this for at least one minute. Notice how as you keep saying the word, the object and word begin to separate from one another. The word, which is now just a sound becomes almost silly and is never exactly the same. The object remains static, unchanging. Note how the sound you make becomes partitioned from the idea of what the object actually is. Give the object to someone who does not speak a language you know and they will have the same idea of what the object is, but the sounds they use will be indecipherable.
The point of this thought experiment is to demonstrate how language is more than just letters on a page and sounds one makes. It's about the transference of ideas and thoughts. That example was just using a simple, small, everyday object. Something that can be seen, measured and felt. The idea behind what an apple is, for example, is relatively straightforward. Some ideas are not so simple to relate.
Let's think about how the transference of an idea occurs. An idea comes to mind and an area of the speaker's brain sends a signal to the body. Air is forced through the vocal cords that vibrate producing sound, a series of vibrations travel at a fixed speed towards the listener. The sound reaches the ear of the listener, the vibrations are transferred to their eardrum which move the three tiny bones in the inner ear, amplifying the signal that travels to their brain. The listener's brain then deciphers the signal.
That whole process works well for simple objects or concepts. Things which day to day affect everyone. But when an abstract concept is used there is always an element of trust involved and that trust is not always deserved.
Say a word like "Love", or "Fear", or "God." I know most people have an idea of what those things are, but they won't be my idea. Not exactly. So for language to work at all for these concepts, one must trust that the person listening has some clue as to what you mean when you say "Love" for example.
What do you feel when you hear the word "Love?" What is your idea of "Fear?" What is "God" to you?
I don't know. Nor will I ever truly know. Through years of contemplation and introspection I feel I am closing in on what I think "God" is. I may never get there. But have you taken the same thought journey as I have? Of course not. You've had your own. Just as valid, just as real. Just as all of us have. We experience our lives only through our own perspective, not through anyone else's. Your truth is just that, yours and no one else's.
"God" is just one example. No one but you knows exactly what you mean when you use thousands of other abstract words. You may casually say that you are "Starving", when you're merely hungry, but you probably (I hope) do not really know what "Starving" is. You might say that you're "Terrified" about a job interview or a public speaking engagement. Yet that word might stir different feelings in a Holocaust survivor, or child soldier in the Congo.
It's all relative I know. I am not trying to belittle peoples emotions, but it is important to understand that language is not dead and the words you use are actually ideas and thoughts you are trying to express. Words are not just letters or sounds.
A professional needs to know the words they use, because everyone in that profession will expect them to. It is required to make the transference of ideas to be as seamless as possible. Complicated matters will take an age to relate if every other technical word needs defining and agreeing upon before moving on. A doctor may know all the technical words they need for their profession, but should they eavesdrop upon a group of structural engineers discussing the construction of a bridge, they will probably find it difficult, if not impossible to follow the discourse.
It's not enough to think you know what you mean when you use a word, you need to actually know it, because sooner or later your ignorance will be found out. Again I am not preaching to anyone from a pedestal. Everyday I have to reference a word or phrase I thought I knew from childhood, learning its meaning and its origins. I do it to learn about my work and about our history.
I do this because I think what Wittgenstein said about language is true. Even if I have thoughts and ideas which transcend my limited language, what use is it to be unable to relate it?
I'd love to hear what you think.
Yours in words,
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