Monday 30 March 2015

Herlock Buxton

Back in 1975 John Swallow visits 73 year old Herlock Buxton, who has never left the village of Elton in Derbyshire during his lifetime, except for a single trip to Derby when he was a boy.

Elton is a tiny village not so far from where we live. Very pleasant and set in fine walking country, but how anyone could spend their entire life there I don't know. Presumably he didn't think enough of Derby to go back - ever.

The first sceptic


I went to my special place to be alone while a great rain came. Battles raged high in the sky with flashes and a noise like great drums. The flashes are as bright as the Sun. I see them still when I close my eyes but they fade until the next one comes.

Teller says the gods are angry when great rains come, when the sky drums sound their warnings. He says they must be appeased by offerings. Teller tells many things. For Teller is Teller and we are told. It has always been so... so Teller tells.

But I see rains make things grow. Many things grow after the rains and many animals grow fat by good feeding and there is good hunting too. So we grow fat like the animals. We all see that. Teller and told see that.

Earlier I was sad. Little sister was offered back to the earth. She passed from the living even though Mother did as Teller had told she should do. Mother did as Teller told and bathed little sister in the Great River under the moon goddess.

Mother held little sister in the dark waters and the moon goddess gazed down and little sister cried faintly. But still little sister passed from the living... it was not as Teller had told.

Father was very angry when I said Teller had told Mother badly. “Teller is Teller and there is no bad telling,” said Father. “We are the told. Teller and told it is always this way. So you must learn.”

So I must learn...

In my special place I am at peace while time passes. Until Sun sleeps and I must return to sleep until Sun wakes once more. One day perhaps I shall be Teller...

If so...

If so I shall not Tell badly...

I shall Tell what is.

Sunday 29 March 2015

A wretched ruin

For a modern reader the perusal of Homer results incontestably in immense boredom; but who would venture to say so? The Parthenon, in its present state, is a wretched ruin, utterly destitute of interest, but it is endowed with such prestige that it does not appear to us as it really is, but with all its accompaniment of historic memories.

Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895)

I don't entirely agree with Le Bon but I know what he means. Inevitably I see the Parthenon through the filter of ancient Greek history and its place in our history. No doubt the activities of the tourist industry are in the mix too.

I can't quite see it as a wretched ruin, but it is certainly a ruin. There is also a kind of melancholy about ruins, particularly when the power that raised them is no more.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Lark spit


I saw one of these at an antiques centre the other day. It's a lark spit for roasting larks. 

Oh dear, do I have to call it a cheep snack?

As for Hyacinthe, he had gone off in pursuit of a flight of larks, with his hands crammed full of pebbles. Whenever one of the birds, distressed by the wind, stopped still a couple of seconds in, mid-air with quiver­ing wings, he felled it to the ground with the skill of a savage. Three fell, and he thrust them bleeding into his pocket.

Émile Zola - La Terre (1887)

Friday 27 March 2015

The Modern Regime

Hippolyte Taine

During the past three hundred years we have more and more lost sight of the exact and direct meaning of things. Subject to the constraints of a conservative, complex, and extended educational system we study

* the symbols of objects rather than on the objects themselves;
* instead of the ground itself, a map of it;
* instead of animals struggling for existence, nomenclatures and classifications, or, at best, stuffed specimens displayed in a museum;
* instead of persons who feel and act, statistics, codes, histories, literatures, and philosophies; in short, printed words. Even worse, abstract terms, which from century to century have become more abstract and therefore further removed from experience, more difficult to understand, less adaptable and more deceptive, especially in all that relates to human life and society.

Here, due to the growth of government, to the multiplication of services, to the entanglement of interests, the object, indefinitely enlarged and complex, now eludes our grasp. Our vague, incomplete, incorrect idea of it badly corresponds with it, or does not correspond at all. 

Hippolyte Taine - The Modern Regime (1893)

Thursday 26 March 2015

The Bluesnake Letters


David Cameron keeps sending letters to my wife.

On the face of it they are pretty innocent if socially gauche. Even though he is sending letters to ladies to whom he hasn’t been introduced, I’m sure Mrs Cameron doesn’t actually mind and I’m sure that says something about the times we live in.

The trouble is, it’s all me, me, me with Cameron. The letters are all about his “achievements” and plans for the future if we “elect” him to be our Prime Minister again.

Which is all very well, but he never asks about my wife’s new walking boots, the yoga classes or the weather here in Derbyshire. I’m not so sure we “elected” him the last time anyway, not in any meaningful sense.

I know the poor chap has some mitigating circumstances to deal with. Being Prime Minister must be quite time consuming especially with all those letters to write. He has his “advisers”, but trying to write up his “achievements” for the past five years and smear them out over two sides of A4 paper must be a strain. Disheartening too when he sits back to survey the end result of his labours. 

Every time the poor chap wakes up in the middle of the night trying to rack his brains for another line or two it must all seem pretty depressing even after he fortifies the inner man with a nocturnal glass of milk and a sandwich.

Still he’s done it and has seen fit to send the results of his efforts to my wife and no doubt many other innocent people listed on his database of people who might conceivably read unsolicited and uninteresting letters.

Fortunately my wife takes a relaxed view of Cameron’s epistolary politics which must be costing him a fortune in stamps. She never actually replies to the letters which I think is wise because it would only encourage him and I’m not sure that’s a good idea. We might end up on numerous other mailing lists such as Saga and Reader's Digest.

Mr Miliband hasn’t written a word and neither has Mr Clegg, although I don’t think Clegg actually cares how people vote. Perhaps he thinks it makes no difference so he decided to save the stamps. Perhaps he's right.

Wednesday 25 March 2015


Oh for the days of crazy inventions, largely lost now in the swamps of corporate caution. Mind you the Dynasphere's basic problem should have been obvious. From Wikipedia

According to the 2007 book Crazy Cars, one reason the Dynasphere did not succeed was that "while the [vehicle] could move along just fine, it was almost impossible to steer or brake." Another aspect of the vehicle that received criticism was the phenomenon of "gerbiling"—the tendency when accelerating or braking the vehicle for the independent housing holding the driver within the monowheel to spin within the moving structure.


A car

I see Clarkson has been given the heave-ho. I don't watch Top Gear but I did watch a few shows in the distant past. For me, Clarkson can be quite amusing in a blokey kind of way.

Many of his fans seem terribly upset but I think his act may be easier to imitate than they imagine. Assuming the BBC intends to replace like with like of course. Perhaps they don't because it's a golden opportunity to be prissy.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

A gathering of imbeciles

The ease of modern communication is often seen as a good thing, socially, politically and economically. But what if there is a dark side to it?

One attraction of reading early writers in any field is often their unassuming nature. They write as they see, before the academic barnacles had a chance to encrust and obscure the original structure. In modern terms that structure may be somewhat lacking of course, but that doesn’t always matter.

One such is Gustave Le Bon. Politically incorrect and not the most profound writer, but some of what he wrote is worth a second thought. For example, he believed that a crowd wipes out the intellectual faculties of its members. Not a new idea even then and many others have expressed similar views, but take this quote as an example.

The substitution of the unconscious action of crowds for the conscious activity of individuals is one of the principal characteristics of the present age.

This very fact that crowds possess in common ordinary qualities explains why they can never accomplish acts demanding a high degree of intelligence. The decisions affecting matters of general interest come to by an assembly of men of distinction, but specialists in different walks of life, are not sensibly superior to the decisions that would be adopted by a gathering of imbeciles.
Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895)

This is more than cynical rhetoric. Le Bon is saying that crowds or assemblies have their own psychology which is not the sum of component individuals. It is something else, something sentimental, conservative, easily swayed by images and not intelligent in the sense that an individual is intelligent.

Okay, one could pile on the caveats and exceptions to this, but in the modern world when crowds become assemblies and when assemblies can be virtual assemblies on the web, then what if Le Bon was right? How much intellectual resource is the internet liable to suck out of our collective heads?

An implication of Le Bon’s point, whatever its limitations, is that many kinds of association constitute an intellectual loss for its members. By adopting a group belief, we don’t put our intellect on hold, we lose it wherever the belief system holds sway. Our critical faculties disappear like smoke on a windy day.

To know the art of impressing the imagination of crowds is to know at the same time the art of governing them.
Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd: A study of the popular mind

The internet as the ultimate virtual assembly may damage or even destroy our collective critical faculties. The web may become a conservative, sentimental and unintelligent virtual crowd.

Monday 23 March 2015

Burying surprises


If we pursue the path of fewest surprises, and according to Karl Friston we do, then it explains why we put such a vast amount of effort into burying them before they have a chance to surprise us.

Surprises in this sense are confounding evidence or experiences – those which offer a serious challenge to a narrative, doctrine or other preconception. For most of us, such surprises are upsetting experiences. They suggest that the world is not as we supposed. So we bury them before they occur. 

Usually the path of fewest surprises is an all-encompassing narrative, set of doctrines or merely an attitude within which surprises are virtually impossible. That’s the main function of many types of belief – to bury surprises before they upset us.

Take life after death as an extreme example. For those who believe they will somehow live on after death, failing to do so would be an extremely unpleasant surprise. Yet by a stroke of ancient ingenuity, this surprise remains forever buried beyond the grave. Surprise is impossible, worthwhile argument equally impossible. Where would one find a surprising argument against life after death?

It is much the same with a vast array of other beliefs, from organised religion to politics to economics to climate change. Surprises are buried before they occur by narrative flexibility and the endless resources of hindsight.

For the political left, surprises such as the success of free enterprise are buried in advance by a vast and complex burial narrative. The successes of free enterprise may even be admitted, but so loaded with caveats that burial is a foregone conclusion.

For the political right, surprises such as the success of government regulation are buried in advance by a similarly vast and complex burial narrative. Again the successes of government regulation may even be admitted, but so loaded with caveats that burial is a foregone conclusion.

The climate catastrophist may be up to the ears in snow, but sees is as yet more evidence of global warming. Climate change is an interesting example, because potential surprises were initially buried in the future. A tactical error as we are now passing through some of those future scenarios.

"Our projection of 2013 for the removal of [Arctic] ice in summer is not accounting for the last two minima, in 2005 and 2007," the researcher from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, explained to the BBC. "So given that fact, you can argue that may be our projection of 2013 is already too conservative."

Oh dear - stupidity comes in many guises. Nothing that can't be buried though.

Climate surprises have been much more effectively buried by including any and all environmental phenomena in the official narrative. From snow-clogged roads to heat waves, from floods to droughts it’s all grist to the burial game. There Shall Be No Climate Surprise.

In all these cases, the possibility of error and therefore surprise is buried in advance by a narrative’s limitless flexibility. That’s what narratives are for, to bury surprises in advance, or in the worst cases by the revisionist resources of hindsight.

Yet with huge irony, the only effective way to minimise surprises is blanket scepticism. Believe nothing.

Sunday 22 March 2015

Things we’ll never achieve

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, 1932 - source

It’s a dodgy game predicting the future, especially if claiming that we’ll never achieve something we’re currently trying to achieve. Peace for example, although maybe we are not really trying with that one.

Medical men once thought it impossible to travel in an open carriage at thirty miles per hour for example. They used reason to reach that conclusion Yet there may be some things we’ll never achieve because they really are impossible.

Interstellar travel – the distances are too great.
Immortality – terminal boredom steps in.
Rational politics – we are not rational.
An end to conflict – conflict may be necessary.
Full employment – robotics.
Equality – maybe inequality is necessary.
Democracy – doesn’t work with hierarchical societies.

And so on. Yes prediction is a dodgy game, but I’m sure there are some things we’ll never achieve simply because our imagination and expectations so easily outstrip reality.

What they may be I don't know, but something tells me we are hitting the buffers of our own nature. I think we'll opt for illusions instead. Perhaps we already have. 

Saturday 21 March 2015

Imbecile and corrupt millionaires

A dead silence reigned. But after a time Mr. Fleight remarked meditatively: “You don’t seem to object to these corrupt institutions. You seem rather to like them. I can’t understand that.”

“I don’t, you know, care a halfpenny,” Mr. Blood answered, “but if I did have any preferences I should say that it’s more picturesque and better for everybody concerned that there should be secret courts presided over by blind, deaf and obstinate old men than that the country should be run by imbecile and corrupt millionaires.
Ford Madox Ford - Mr Fleight (1913).

I’m not so sure about preferring the secret courts presided over by blind, deaf and obstinate old men, but I’ve had enough of the imbecile and corrupt millionaires. Financially corrupt we could probably deal with if only we had less of the political and moral variety.

Friday 20 March 2015


A photo of the eclipse taken from our garden this morning. Not great, but not so bad for a cheap little camera. The cloud helped. 

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Drunk or sober


We had an odd experience while driving home from a walk yesterday. The car in front was a Ford Fiesta which tended to wander around the road from central white line to kerb and back again. My wife and I both came to the obvious conclusion – drunk driver.

Excessive caution while taking even the gentlest bend, sudden braking when a speed limit comes into view – yes a drunk at the wheel. A few too many with lunch probably. Not common in broad daylight though – not these days.

We couldn’t see driver or passenger, but when the car careered into the kerb at forty mph and both nearside wheels briefly mounted the pavement in a cloud of dust we were sure, so I kept well back.

After about five miles of remarkably erratic driving even for a drunk driver, we went our separate ways at a traffic island near Matlock. At this point we could see the occupants, an elderly couple, a man and woman. The woman was driving.

Drunk or hopelessly incompetent? An old-fashioned attitude to drinking and driving with a few too many gin and tonics for lunch? We’ll never know, but it was the worst driving I’ve seen since the seventies.

Monday 16 March 2015



Whatever else they may be Dave, Nick and Ed are lucky. Only Dave occupies the hot seat, but Ed has a chance and although Nick has no chance, all three are lucky.

They aren’t talented, charismatic, far-sighted or statesmanlike. They don’t know what is going on in the world or what to do about it. They know only what they are told by those with enough money to do the telling. That's what serious money buys - the right to tell.

They are where they are because the impossibly complex ebb and flow of circumstance washed them up on the golden beach of opportunity.

It’s like winning the lottery and if they are careful and keep their noses clean it’s a route to a good life on a scale most of us can barely imagine. All the little trappings of power, influence, and wealth will be theirs for life as they float high above the hoi polloi they currently claim to represent.

They didn’t earn all this because they really don’t have the talent to earn it. Hardly anyone does. The thing just happened. They were born into the right class, went to the right schools, said the right things at the right time and with some effort and persistence the great tombola of political life popped out their largely unearned reward.

Dave, Nick and Ed will know that. They will know how fortunate they are notwithstanding the pressures, the failures and the impossibly elusive nature of real political achievement.

They won’t care though. Why should they? Lady Luck is a fragrant old girl. We grab her with both hands if ever she deigns to smile in our direction. All Dave, Nick and Ed had to do was grab hard enough to keep her on their side.

This means playing to the power brokers and the money men which they already knew. That’s what skewed things in their favour to begin with - plus a juicy slice of luck. So they don’t intend to rock the boat now.

In May the voters decide how lucky is lucky. Our golden trio know that but voters generally don’t and that’s another bit of luck.

Sunday 15 March 2015

Two stories, two angles


Solar Impulse-2 is a solar-powered aircraft attempting to fly around the world using only its solar panels backed up by lithium-ion batteries for night flying. As it is what we might term an eco-story, it has been reported in the usual manner by the BBC.

A record-breaking attempt to fly around the world in a solar-powered plane has completed its first leg.

The aircraft - called Solar Impulse-2 - took off from Abu Dhabi, heading east to Muscat in Oman.

With businessman and pilot Andre Borschbeg at the controls, the aircraft touched down in Oman at 16:14 GMT after a 12-hour flight.

Over the next five months, it will skip from continent to continent, crossing both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans...

The solar boom is a huge help in the battle against climate change, but scientists warn it's not nearly enough. And we must find ways of storing that mighty but capricious power, and making it work with the grid.

BBC iWonder: Is jet travel becoming the dirtiest way to cross the planet?

On the other hand, NoTricksZone reports on the tens of thousands of litres of aviation fuel required for the support crew.

According to an audio report by SRF Swiss Radio and Television the Solar Impulse 2 mission involves the substitute pilot, a technical ground crew “of dozens of people” and tonnes of equipment and logistical supplies that have to be flown behind using conventional charter flights. The “fossil fuel-free” Solar Impulse 2 journey is in fact being made possible only with the use of tens of thousands of litres of aviation fuel. This is a fact that is being almost entirely ignored by the media.

How times change. Not so long ago there would have been one story with one angle and BBC version would have been almost completely dominant. Today there are other, far more reliable sources. There are now two stories - PR and reality with two angles - eco-fantasy and eco-fact.

When it comes to eco-stories the dear old Beeb is as credible as a nine pound note.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Rather dehumanising

Seems appropriate these days

But then railway travelling – all gregarious functions – are rather dehumanising. They evoke enterprise and selfishness, even at the ‘festive season’.
Walter de la Mare - A Froward Child (1934)

A curiously sinister yet accurate observation. I'm reminded of Red Nose Day with its grim determination to twist our charitable instincts into another aspect of celebrity culture. Is this rather dehumanising too? Yes - I think it is.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Altering climate data


Over the years there have been numerous technical disagreements between sceptics and the climate faithful. These disputes tend to obscure how close the two sides are scientifically and how far apart politically, but that’s another issue. One major dispute relates to surface temperature data and the way it is altered by official bodies. Adjusted is the official word so I'll stick with altered.

Firstly it is worth noting that raw temperature data is certainly altered. What the public sees is not temperature data, but numbers derived from temperatures and complex alteration protocols.

It is also worth pointing out that there is no such thing as global temperature. Even the mean of two temperatures is not a temperature but a statistic. William Briggs has a good post on what is or is not data. 

Secondly, the issue is exceedingly complex, involving vast amounts of data and numerous arguments as to whether or not the data should be altered to gloss over known issues such as TOB, station moves and UHI. There are many examples and the data altered can be a century old. It's a strange game this climate game.

Roy Spencer has a good example of old data being altered to show a warming trend where previously there was no trend. Jo Nova has another and Paul Homewood another.

There are always explanations, but to my mind altering data in this way adds to the uncertainties and clarifies nothing. We didn’t do it in my field. Imagine taking the temperature of a river then altering it to what you think it ought to be. Yet in all this tinkering with climate numbers I see a footling bureaucratic culture rather than nefarious intent.

To my mind, altering data in order to mislead people is not something even a climate scientist would do. That even is not sarcasm by the way – the political pressure must be intensely pervasive and that is something we should not forget. Footling but not corrupt is what it feels like to me. Maybe I'm naive.

Perhaps it won’t make too much difference in the long run, but when fractions of a degree are used to promote a powerful but ailing agenda...

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Smelling nice and living well


So much vile wretchedness, hunger, and filth on one hand, and on the other such exquisite refinement, abundance and beautiful life. Was not this the answer to the question whether money is not education, health, and intelligence? Since the same human mire remains beneath, does not all civilisation reduce itself to the superiority of smelling nice and living well?
Émile Zola - L'Argent (1891)

So smelling nice and living well could be the bedrock of our civilisation. Yet by the time I’ve climbed to the top of Ecton Hill I’m not so sure I qualify on both counts.

Dave, Nick and Ed probably smell nice and live well, but do they represent what civilisation is all about? I think not. On the other hand Nigel Farage probably lives well but the beer and fags may let him down on the olfactory side of things. So not a particularly good guide. 

A few weeks ago while walking round an antiques centre I was suddenly enveloped by a cloud of weapons-grade perfume. The woman responsible must have been wearing about half a bottle. It's not nearly as common as it was though, the use of eye-watering quantities of perfume. A good thing too in my view. 

I wonder what the Queen smells like? She seems fairly civilised.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

This primitive weapon

The vibrant metal ceased to hum; and, as if reassured by this interruption, he drew out of his pocket a large stone – a flint such as his remote ancestors would have coveted – roughly dumb-bell in shape, and now waisted with a thick and knotted length of old blindcord. This primitive weapon, long treasured for any emergency, he gently deposited on the shelf behind him, and then followed it into the pew.
Walter de la Mare – The Trumpet (1942)

The owner of this primitive weapon is a boy so the weapon ought to be familiar. Easy enough to picture from its description, but how it was used I’m not so sure.

As a boy I made many things but a rock on a cord wasn't one of them. Was the cord used to swing the stone around like a kind of crude flail with no handle?

Monday 9 March 2015

What to observe


But it is in matters beyond the limits of mere rule that the skill of the analyst is evinced. He makes, in silence, a host of observations and inferences. So, perhaps, do his companions; and the difference in the extent of the information obtained, lies not so much in the validity of the inference as in the quality of the observation. The necessary knowledge is that of what to observe.
Edgar Allan Poe - The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)

What we observe and don't observe seems to be a fundamental difference between people and groups. It's an important point, but to my mind Poe's melodramatic story does it no favours as a valuable social comment.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Legal steps


Ed shows off his authoritarian streak again.

A future Labour government would take legal steps to ensure that live television debates become permanent features of general election campaigns, in a move to prevent politicians blocking them for their own self-interest.

Legal steps eh? This is a guy who thinks the weather can be changed by legal steps too. Knows his voters I suppose.

Thursday 5 March 2015


Aeons ago a friend insisted that photos fail to bring back life's experiences. He gave it as his reason for not having and not wanting a camera. Photos he said, trigger memories which are not the original experience, but a new synthetic memory framed by the photo itself.

Above is a photo of the Dove valley taken on a recent walk. We'd climbed the hill and trundled through inches of farmyard mud to reach the hillside where we sat for a moment to drink it all in. We drank some tea too, but that wasn't why we lingered.

I think my photophobic friend was at least partly right. The whole experience, blue sky, delightful views, sense of exhilaration, muddy boots, tea from a flask - cannot be experienced again via the photo. The thing is ephemeral and that's partly what he was saying. The experience now lies in a receding past and the memory will fade, as they do.

Here's another photo from the same spot.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

The boys on Hassop Station

While walking Monsal Trail today we stopped off at Hassop Station which is now a cafe and bookshop. On the wall of the cafe is the above photograph showing soldiers leaving the station during the Great War.

Mine isn't a great photo but it would would have been necessary to stand on the table to take anything better. As I was wearing boots I decided against that. Even so, I think you may be able to see why I took it. The soldiers look so young - boys in uniform.

From Wikipedia

Hassop railway station was a station situated about two miles from the village of Hassop in the Peak District of Derbyshire. It was opened in 1862 by the Midland Railway on its extension of the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway from Rowsley.

It was built for the benefit of the Duke of Devonshire of Chatsworth House who, having previously refused it to pass over the easier terrain of his lands, belatedly saw its possible benefit. Indeed, for a while it was renamed "Hassop for Chatsworth". However, in this sparsely populated area, it saw little use, and closed in 1942.

Monday 2 March 2015

There is no such thing as reason

Not an easy argument to make but I’m up for it. Clearly there is such a thing as reason, but how useful is it for changing another guy’s mind? Not at all useful seems to be a common experience so the version I’m concerned with is the useless one from Oxford dictionaries.

The power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgements logically:

Nope, reason is much more like a unicorn - easy to define but locating one in the wild is a tad difficult. As for forming judgements logically...

…the faculty of judgment is a special talent which cannot be taught, but must be practised. This is what constitutes our so-called mother-wit, the absence of which cannot be remedied by any schooling. For although the teacher may offer, and as it were graft into a narrow understanding, plenty of rules borrowed of others, the faculty of using them rightly must belong to the pupil himself, and without that talent no precept that may be given is safe from abuse.
Immanuel Kant - Critique of Pure Reason

Firstly the easy part – beliefs on which we base our reasoning. Beliefs are fixed for us by parents, family life, religion, nationality, culture, politics, education, friends, colleagues, career, authorities, advertising, propaganda, gossip, health, age and lifestyle with a long etcetera to follow.

We may rebel against our parent's beliefs, but only because we’ve found a better source. Young people are good at that but they usually grow out of it unless they opt for politics.

What we refer to as reason in is almost always the art of defending belief, general disposition or some less overt standpoint. Belief is vitally important to what we are or hope to become. Or perhaps I should say that it is vitally important to what we are required to be socially.

Well worth defending then.

The verbal dexterities we employ are often grossly over-dignified by calling them reasons rather than causes or excuses. A touch of spurious dignity hardly ever works anyway because the other chap always insists on looking at things irrationally.

And really - that can’t be right can it? The other chap can’t always be wrong. Not every single time surely?

Yet if I’d been a Guardian-reading member of the chattering classes I’d probably be a politically correct prig with a profound belief in sentimental drivel - social, political, economic, environmental. A scary thought but comforting too. We are what we are. Not out of choice but it’s curiously satisfying all the same and therein lies the problem. We are what we are – reason cannot change that.

Secondly the old part – philosophy.

Truth lives, for the most part on a credit system. Our thoughts and beliefs ‘pass’, so long as nothing challenges them, just as bank-notes pass so long as nobody refuses them.
William James – Pragmatism

Reasoning is a search for whatever idea leads to few surprises – James’ credit system. It’s why we have consensus, our collective way of keeping surprises to a minimum. Our thoughts and beliefs ‘pass’, so long as nothing challenges them. Reason is rarely the best way to see off those challenges though. That’s why it isn’t popular.

Alternatives to consensus are a neutral detachment, scepticism or flat disagreement. I’ll ignore disagreement because that is usually an alternative consensus. Detachment and scepticism are more interesting. For convenience I’ll bundle them together as scepticism. The subject to too vast for a single post so economies have to be made.

So thirdly we have scepticism which tends to yield fewer surprises than consensus, especially for complex issues such as societies, cultures, economics, politics, religion, the arts, the environment, history, human psychology, health, diet, sport and so on. Oh – and blogging. There are no golden rules though. As ever it is a matter of selecting the best option.

Selecting – that’s a better word than reason too. Scepticism is not so much a matter of reasoning as a veto on ideas which seem unlikely to yield fewer surprises than standing back until the fog clears – if it ever does.

It’s an animal faculty. Sniffing the winds of change, listening, weighing the risks, bringing experience to bear, allowing others to make the first step across the swamp or throw the first spear at the big hairy thing.

We have to use the word reason because it is so deeply embedded in our language, but it is not a great idea to be deceived by it. Sceptical detachment is a better guide. Even flippancy is often better, especially when it comes to making fun of ludicrously obvious narratives dreamed up by political airheads.

As an aside, there are loads of those around these days aren’t there – political airheads? At least that’s the detached view hem hem.

We don’t think, understand, and form judgements logically, we select. Or we stand back and watch. Perhaps reason is best viewed as a spectator sport.

Sunday 1 March 2015

When your mutt is kaput

From we are told

When a decades old toy breaks down and stops working with no hope of repair, you usually just toss it or find some way to recycle the parts. But what if you're as attached to that toy as you were a pet? In Japan, people are giving Sony's robot AIBO dog actual funerals to say goodbye to their faithful, electronic companions.

How anyone becomes attached to such a ghastly gadget is beyond me. Cute it isn't.