Monthly Archives: September 2015

2+2=… ??

How do I know that mathematics works? I mean, not individual sums, but as a ‘system’. Well it certainly isn’t because of reliability. It’s possible to keep getting the right answers even of the procedural systems are wrong. The ‘correctness’ of a system is not guaranteed simply because the answers it gives correspond to states of affairs.

Indeed, it seems to me that maths is a reliable system because it procedures corresponds to fundamental logical states within our universe itself, and that this logic is an unassailable condition of the nature of existence (and our place in it as observers).

Hence, maths tells everything there is to know about the universe, and yet absolutely nothing about what the purpose of this knowledge (for us) is.

How ironic.


There was a time before poppies, remember? A time when all those wars we had were not remembered at all. Then we had one REALLY BIG war, and needed to assuage guilt for all those pointless dead by having rituals, such as cenotaphs and poppies and such. These things are a necessity, in order that a nation’s people can find some way to feel something other than horror about what was done in their name.

But, if you really think hard about it, the poppy is a symbol of guilt, not of pride, and is well worn for all that.

Impossible Things

The whole point about religion is to assert personal confidence in impossible things

When I was a small child, I was told that Jesus’ Mum was a ‘virgin’, and that he (Jesus) was God (who also happened to be his Dad at the same time). Luckily I was just a kid and they never told me about stuff like sex, so I had no rational way of working out how Mary became pregnant in the first place.

Later on when I ‘knew’, it was too late. The idea of faith was ingrained and to ask the very questions that mattered entailed a degree of intellectual courage. My impression is that many kids of my generation just weren’t that brave. And if we had been, they said we would ‘lose our immortal souls to damnation’… so why risk it? (We were all little Pascales). Hence: silence!

Since then I have swung wildly from agnostic, to being virulently anti-religious, to apathetic atheist, to rather happy ignostic. I didn’t understand the above then, and I don’t understand it now. That’s not because I’m too stupid to do so, but because the assertions of faith never made any sense to me. Maybe they do to others? That’s fine. It’s what faith’s about, I guess.

But even if it isn’t, it’s clear that faith has nothing to do with sense.

Modifying Maslow

Maslow’s interpretation of human needs is correct but incomplete. His concept that we are driven by the requirement to satisfy (often unspoken) drives to assuage bodily, mental or social ‘urges’ is sensible, but the hierarchical arrangement of these is misleading.

For example. Let’s suppose I am very hungry and have a choice of eating either an apple or a slice of cold pizza (I know… it sounds unrealistic, but bare with me on this one!). Either of these satisfies my hunger need. But which do I choose? Well, surely there are secondary needs that guide my choice, and not just the primary one of hunger? I may choose the apple because I know others say it’s good for me, or the pizza because it is something my friends also eat… in both cases the drive of pure hunger is modified by the need for social approval, whether public or tacit. Both needs occur simultaneously, rather than hierarchically.

Hence my argument: where choice is possible, primary needs may be sublimated via multiple competing interests. Where no choice is possible, primary needs are the sole driver.

This may seem academic, but it has some interesting implications for why refugees (for instance) choose some countries as their destination and not others. Where there is the possibility of choice (and surely choice is an indicator of the respect humans have for one another?) the ‘pure’ need for bodily safety is modified by competing needs of self-respect, social acceptance, popular pressure of ‘doing what others do’, etc. Hence a refugee, once bodily safety is a ‘given’, chooses preferentially their final destination based on other needs. Some of these are mistakenly condemned by outsiders looking in as trivial, but anyone who knows their Maslow will understand how important such issues are in human life.


Not by me this time…

Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can’t be much amiss, ’tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, ’tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.”

Why, if ’tis dancing you would be,
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half-way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I’ve lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
I’d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
‘Tis true the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul’s stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
-I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

(A E Housman)

My Ghosts

Ghosts are real. They do not ‘whoooo’ at the end of the bed, or rattle chains in the cellar. They are the voices of the dead, from past out of memory, and the future out of anxiety, and out of time and space as our conscience allows. They haunt us for sure and for all, and I have no doubts that each of us carries with us the ghosts that matter to us the most.


Heroes are very rarely people who fly ‘planes into suicidal battle, or storm beach-heads with bayonets fixed against a hell-fire of shells and bullets. More likely they are people who stand up against the tide of scorn and derision when everyone else is saluting the flag and mindlessly singing the national anthem. It takes guts to stand out as ‘different’ when all are trying their best to conform.

In the provinces

What a provincial place England can be! We love our country, something I think isĀ  acceptable and legitimate, but wear our identity like a convenient badge: slapping it on our chest when occasion demands and ignoring the responsibilities that pride in our society demands the rest of the time. We sing “God Save the Queen” and forget why the young people of generations past fought — to save us from the same rampant fascism that haunts this country today. They didn’t hurl their fragile bodies at the invading Nazis, just to have the self-same insidious ideas flaunt themselves in government and in the minds of the unthinking.

We vote them in, watch them breed fear and hate, and then wonder why we’re feeling uneasy and upset. The worst of the national character comes to the surface; bigotry against ‘foreigners’, scape-goating the weak, and fearing anything that might spoil the trivial fun-times that the media elite pass on as ‘valid culture’. Booze and TV… not much different from Panem et Circenses.

The limits of Equality & Diversity (or, how I learned to love the deserving underclass)

When people talk about equality and diversity (especially in education) they do not really believe in what they say. If they did, they’d realise very quickly that most of the problems people face are far more than about being of the ‘wrong’ race, sex, colour, gender, culture, religion etc. but also about being situated in the ‘wrong end’ of the economy.

The poor find themselves powerless and abused every single day. They are subject to the arbitrary diktats of power without any recourse to justice. They have no means of fighting changes in law that put them in worsening situations where their very humanity is stolen from them. Then when something serious happens (suicide, death, terrorism, murder…) people sympathise and blame after the event. Crocodile tears? Perhaps not, but at the very least a total lack of understanding of what its like to be ‘at the bottom of the economic pile’. A perverse willingness to blame the poor for their own situation maintains throughout.

After all, aren’t the poor those awful people you see on TV, languishing on benefits, having hundreds of children and lazy to the core? How could they possibly be that way other than via their own choice? And if it’s not our own home-grown poor then it’s the foreign lot who are trying to get in. Economic migrants! They’ll take our jobs (or at least, all the jobs that we don’t want)!

Yes, equality and diversity is a theoretical construct that has only limited application. It’s domain extends only as far as the deserving ‘other’. Those who are not too unattractive, and definitely those whose plight is far enough away not to cause a nagging concern that it might spread to us. But it does not apply to the undeserving poor – whom we find difficult to conceive of in an empathetic manner. Do we want someone like that living next door to us? God no… they’d bring the property values down!

Of course, we vote for governments that play on this problem. It makes us feel better that the problem of the poor (who will “always be with us”) can be finally solved by suitably draconian measures. A final solution. Serves the bastards right for being poor, dontcha know!