Tag: science

Home Truths

 

Image may contain: 1 person, text

 

Reading this, it’s easy to despair.

But my irrepressible inner optimist reminds me of something Karl Marx said. Mankind, he suggests, always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve.

If that is true then all we need to do is to embrace the idea of ‘a spiritual and cultural transformation’ where selfishness, greed and apathy become history and new collective values take their place.

Simples?

I only wish it was. My fear is that things are going to get worse before they can get better. And fear is a big inhibitor of imagination. How to imagine a better future, eh? How to remember the past in a way that helps us construct a brighter world?

Ah, such difficult questions for the solitary blogger! Perhaps TS Eliot can offer  assistance. Here’s the opening of Burnt Norton, the first of his Four Quartets:

 

“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”

 

Human kind cannot bear very much reality

I wonder? What do you think?

 

Image result for bird in bush

 

Image: Flickr

 

The Appliance of Science – a story in 100 words

Case notes. Planet #3, Star-System #495177230648683. Deep archaeological analyses indicate rapid evolution of intelligent primate species followed by sudden decline/disappearance. Unlike previous extinctions, appears self-inflicted. Evidence from widely-scattered artefacts suggests that the early social-cooperation instinct universal to all advanced species was – for reasons yet unclear – supplanted by an overwhelming urge to compete. This set individual against individual and group against group, leading to chronic over-consumption of resources. Undervalued and depleted natural-science investigation meant rear-guard efforts to shepherd/conserve environment too little, too late. Full contact with remaining species awaits detailed linguistic analysis but positive  signs observed in early encounters with ants and cockroaches.

 

Image result for aliens observe earth

 

Image: The Taxman

Meanwhile, on the wrong side of history …

 

Is that a frown, First Minister?

Your people are uneasy, Sire.

Wherefore? Are they tired of bread and circuses?

Our straw polls show that no amount of bread nor frequency of circus can assuage their deep discomfort.

Will they not accept their Sovereign’s gracious word that all is well?

No longer, alas, Your Royal Reassurance! Such soothing sentiments simply serve to fuel the fires of faithlessness. Your billowy blandishments are become red rags to rampant bulls of disbelief.

Fires? Bulls? You’re babbling, man!

Forgive me, Your Brightness, my lowly gaze is dazzled!

Cut to the chase, you chump, or those eyeballs shall peep out of tonight’s goulash!

Well, High-and-Mightiness, not to put too fine a point on it …

Spit it out, you nincompoop!

your subjects seem to have lost their simple faith in your omniscience, All-Knowing One.

How come I didn’t know that? Whatever happened to my enormous network of neighbourhood noses?

Bunged up, Your High-and-Mightiness, ever since your omnipotence was called into question.

And who would dare to defy that?

Pretty much everybody once your omnipresence grew so thin on the ground, All-Overness.

Ah questions, questions, questions! And to think how easily satisfied with any old answer those credulous crudscrapers once were!

Halcyon days, Sky-Blueness! But now it is the latest craze to perform autopsies on every dead, discarded philosophy and the platitudes from the pen of Your Royal Mindfulness have been much dissected of late.

So, Earhole, have they managed to penetrate the beating heart of my pronouncements?

Such a miracle of regeneration is beyond even their capabilities, Your Otherness. It appears that nothing is taken on face value but must be mined for deeper meaning. They say no man is to be trusted until his peers confirm his conclusions.

Peers? A ruler has no peers within his realm! His word is law, no evidence required! And as for these pedantic nit-pickers that seek a reason for everything, why, let them spend a dreadful night or three in the Caverns of Chaos and Old Night and pick the bones out of the bad dreams they find there! Ha, do they not know how often I inhale the embalmed bodily vapours of my mummified forebears?

It is not common knowledge, Your Royal Sniffiness.

Well, you puny pipsqueak, let us blazen abroad our olfactory intimacy with the Old Ones as proof positive of timeless credibility! We must rescue our poor nation from the icy clutches of pen-pushers and box-tickers by bringing a halt to so-called progress and putting the clock back to glorious yesteryear. Can a proud scion of Ulf the Uncompromising and Unk the Unstoppable bow his knee to straw polls and focus groups when he should be soaring with eagles far above the common clouds to build a new Eldorado, Shangri-La or Elysium for the truly worthy?

The flying machine is under construction as we speak, Your Loftiness. We only await the perfection of a heatproof wax to hold the feathers …

 

Related image

Pieter Bruegel “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Image: novaziodaonda.wordpress.com

Non, je ne regrette rien (3/3)

Brave title, huh? And what a carefree fool was I to fill the first two parts of a three-part series with random musings in the vain hope that I would somehow be able to pull them all together in the third! My cousin’s beagle springs to mind, that sad mutt who follows threads of criss-crossing scent in the vain hope of catching something significant.

Do I regret starting this wild goose chase? Not allowed to, am I, with a title like the one above? So, nose to the ground and away we go!

My confessed failure as a systematic thinker means that I set great store by the intense moments of revelation that James Joyce called ‘epiphanies’ where all is seen, felt and understood in a flash. Art has a vital role in deepening our receptivity to such moments – my previous examples were the Charlton Heston character watching Woodstock and Joni Mitchell’s characteristic flashes of insight, so what better than to bring the two together?

You had to be there, right?

Well, no, Joni never made it to Woodstock because of the chaos on the roads. Frustrated by their absence from that epoch-defining gathering, she and Stephen Stills wrote this anthem while holed up in a New York hotel. It’s a song not of complacent hedonism but of aspiration and desire, the sources of its undeniable power. The future has yet to be found.

Just as great art is never an expression of unalloyed joy, so breakthrough science is never satisfied with untested hypotheses. We trust art when it confronts pain and we trust science when it battles falsehood. Fundamentalists of all stripes seek to limit the freedom and scope of art and science in favour of their own unquestioned nostrums.

Intolerant versions of all the major religions threaten to plunge the world into a new dark age of childish irrationality. Runaway nationalism threatens to raise the drawbridge behind globalism’s lucky winners, leaving the losers out in the cold. These scourges are the twin evils of Ignorance and Want that Charles Dickens unforgettably personified as two poor children 175 years ago in his deeply moral fable A Christmas Carol.

Image result for ignorance and want

And behind all this – some might say, a root cause of these problems – lies the pernicious philosophy that humankind is no more than the sum of its wants and preferences as expressed in a global market place. Inequality within nations espousing these mean-spirited notions is as bad as it was when Dickens worked himself to death in a supreme artistic effort to change hearts and minds. A new dark age looms where there is no such thing as community, where price is mistaken for value and where austerity bears down on the poor.  Here children are taught that the only status they can expect to be conferred on them in life is as consumers. Their parents, hardly less brainwashed, pass on a model of lifelong infantilism where the only gratification is consumption of poor-quality products.

Forgive my intemperance. I’ve just been reading a newspaper article which exposes the shortcomings of neoliberalism. It’s long but worth the effort, in my opinion.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/18/neoliberalism-the-idea-that-changed-the-world

And tomorrow we look after our 3-year-old granddaughter. We probably won’t play with her shop-bought toys but instead devise scenarios using pebbles, sticks from the garden, string, coloured chalk and kitchen pans. This will be her idea. I just go along with it. She seems to know what she’s doing.

Oh, and clothes-pegs … she loves the Woodentops. She can impersonate that baby to a T!

What I would regret would be to leave her with a world in an unstoppable vortex of ignorance, want and greed … or, more precisely, to leave her in such crazy turbulence without saying or doing something about it.

So here’s a shot across the bows. Whatever happened to freedom, equality and solidarity? And what on earth is so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Art Attack # 1

 

 

Inspired by the free-flowing piece on writing that I linked in my previous post, here are some foot-loose and fancy-free reflections prompted by the above graphic.

I’m a sucker for clever graphics. This one pretty well sums up my philosophy of life. If you define science as the exploration of nature, you have the classic art-nature opposition which dissolves because art seeks to celebrate and even emulate nature by mimicking it. As we learn ever more about our world, art evolves to reflect scientific understanding. And like natural evolution, a more willed process than used to be thought, art involves performance-feedback-revision.

I’m also a sucker for equations. An equation to represent the graphic might be:

Knowledge + Creativity = Reverence

By coincidence, I’ve just read this in ‘V’ by Howard Jacobson:

There was rapture and there was responsibility. Each imposed an obligation of seriousness but together they made the serious sacred.

Dionysus and Apollo together make up the ancient Greek ideal – two sides of the same coin, no one without the other. The poet William Blake understood that ‘without Contraries is no progression’. But what strikes me about the equation is how it echoes the Buddhist concept of Higher Worlds: Learning, Realisation and Compassion.

A swift digression – I’m no student of religion and happy to be put right but my understanding is that there are 10 Worlds:

Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Heaven, Learning, Realisation, Compassion, Nirvana.

Hunger is absolute want. Anger is the root of conflict and war. Animality is obsession with status, pecking-order, dog-eats-dog. Tranquillity, sometimes known as Humanity, is inertia – passive acceptance of the status quo. Suffering two or more of these Worlds becomes a Hell on earth. Heaven is a temporary respite from the other Lower Worlds.

Now the good news. As we all know, there are positives in adversity which enable us to climb out. Learning is our evolutionary lifeline. Realisation I take to mean mastery, the attainment of skills which help us transcend ego. Compassion is simply fellow-feeling. Blend these Higher Worlds to attain Nirvana – escape from the cycle of Birth and Death, with all its inevitable suffering.

Now – cards on the table – I don’t happen to believe in Reincarnation, any more than I believe in Transubstantiation. Infected by the scientific method, I require hard evidence of life after death – evidence which is so far not forthcoming. But the 10 Worlds work for me as a theory of human life, with the potential to alleviate my natural and universal fear of death. And if I can use the certainty of my own demise as a means of enhancing my appreciation of life, so much the better – one in the eye for the Grim Reaper, you might say …

Enough for now. More to come next post, though, as I’ve only just scratched the surface of what I want to say. It gets more cheerful, promise!

Here’s a taste of what’s to come …

 

Image result for the grim reaper

 

Image: Twitter