Saturday, 31 March 2007

Schopenhauer's Ennui: Part V

At the end of the time of humankind, the last person prepared to die.

All those before her, having done all they could, made the choice to die of boredom.

She was alone.

Without form, for she had abandoned it aeons ago, she was the very idea of herself. Limitless, it seemed, as she could be anywhere and everywhere in her universe, both at one and at once.

By the age of stars, she had lived an eternity.

She knew all that she could know, and had felt everything there was to touch. She had loved all that there was to love, and had lost more than she could bear.

However, life it seemed, had nothing but a sense of occasion. She made two people, fresh with no knowledge, and set them upon a world.

Someone to say goodbye to, she supposed.

Bewildered and scared, they clung to each other. And as she looked down upon them, she saw that they were quite wonderful.

They looked up to their creator and cried;

"Why are we here?"

"Oh, no real reason." She replied.

"But, what then, should we do?"

"You can do whatever you like, my dears"

The pair looked at each other, then looked around, in awe of their small world. They found that it was good.

But it was not good enough. Like an itch, they had to know more of her;

"There has to be a reason why you made us. We demand that you tell us now!"

She smiled down upon them, pleased that she had created something good. As she died, she said;

"Just, be beautiful."

Red lorry, yellow lorry

I cut my first psychiatric tooth at St Mary's Hospital, in 1994 (eek). I was fresh from college and full of naive, brittle theories on the nature of man. I was convinced that madness and suffering could be tamed, through the use of empirical knowledge and liberal application of PRN.

In my first ward round, on my first clinical placement, I sat watching a patient being interviewed by the 'Multi-Disciplinary Team' (MDT). It consisted of the Ward Manager, Social Worker, Clinical Psychologist, Staff Nurse, House Officer and the esteemed Psychiatrist. And lil ol' me, of course.

The patient, a small, bearded man, had been led into the inquisition by a nursing assistant. His terror, at being under such scrutiny was plain to see. He shook and lurched his way to the far end of the room, where the last remaining seat had been reserved for him. As he sat, I realised that us 'professionals' had all chosen the high chairs. His, was more of a lounger. So, once down, he was lower than the rest of us. How apt.

In what was rather like a lawyers cross examination, the psychiatrist poked and prodded the mans psyche. With a flourish to the jury, he exposed this man for what he was; utterly, and absolutely crazy.

He was quite mad indeed. He heard voices and believed he was an SAS commander, on a mission to infiltrate the communists running the hospital. He received his orders through codes sent via breakfast TV. He could also command animals to do his bidding.

I'd never seen anything quite like it before.

"Thank you Mr Smith", Psy said, "This has been very useful, if you could have a seat in the day room, I'll be right with you".

And so Mr Smith left the court room.

I half expected the room to explode in raucous laughter, once the door had closed behind him. However, the MDT just sat for a while in quiet contemplation. The Psychiatrist broke the silence;

"Well, I'm afraid I'm going to need to recalibrate our oddometer."

The rest of the team nodded sagely, whilst I stared at him, somewhat bemused.

"So, where would you place him, on this new scale?" The Staff Nurse asked, with a serious look on her face.

Psy considered this for a bit, then announced, "Probably between Red Lorry and Bag of Fish."

Friday, 30 March 2007

A truth according to me

or Schopenhauer's Ennui: Part IV

There are no Gods. Of this I'm quite sure. Without our beloved deities, we find ourselves lost in a vast, cold universe.

We were made in the image of it. Both random and insignificant. Yet we evolved to think of ourselves individually and wholly significant, if only to ourselves. And thus, we engage in the grandest delusion of all.

We see patterns and significance in all that we survey. Yet we are no more meaningful than the meanings we observe.

So, we search for truth, and the nature of things; hoping that we find truth to be real enough, so that we might anchor ourselves to it. But in these truths we find no absolute. Each one leads us inexorably, to the search for the next.

And as we seek, we do so from our individual vantage points. Separate from the very thing we observe.

From time to time, this search leads us to beauty. When it does, we sit in awe of it, unable to fully comprehend why we might feel this way. In these brief moments, we are without ourselves. We shift closer to the truth of it all; That we are no more separate from the universe, than a leaf is to a tree.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

These posts are going somewhere, honest...

Quite what Miche saw in me the night we met, eludes me even to this day. She was (and is) beautiful, confident and popular. I was the new guy in town, lost and bemused, having left my home to embark on a new academic life. To compensate for being thin, bookish and awkward, I'd grown my hair long. So as to look like the rock star who lived in my head. The effect was, umm, interesting.

I was talking to the cliche that you find at the end of any bar, anywhere in the world. He was drunk, and I was bored. Michelle, as I came to know her, arrived from nowhere, bouncing with energy. She placed herself between me and the pisshead and kissed me lightly on the cheek.

She said "Hi, who are you? You're new."

Now, I can't remember how I replied, but it must have been good enough for her to lead me away from the bore and into the bosom of her social group. I didn't look back. Never have.

Four o'clock that morning, we were sat on the floor at some random party, the pair of us stoned. In a crystal clear moment, that one gets sometimes with ganga, I realised that we'd talked, ensconced, for eight hours solid. Yet I couldn't remember her name. I've never been good with them, you see.

I couldn't think of a good way of weaving the "So, what's your name again?" question into the conversation. Could you imagine it!

So, I left her that morning, knowing that she was something special, but having no idea of her name. What a prick...

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

One hundred today!

Well, here we are. My one hundredth post. What then, should I do with it?

I suppose I could talk about how blogging has been a small epiphany. I could explore how writing has gone from being a work tool, to something that I do, simply for the pleasure of it.

Given the Sans God theme, I should really talk about why I feel that now, more than ever, spirituality and interconnectedness have a place in a world without Gods. In doing so, I could indulge in a bit of reminiscence and summarise all that I've learnt since the 12th of November, 2006. But that would be dull.

So, I've decided not to blather on about myself. You, my dear reader, have had this dubious pleasure for ninety nine posts already.

No, I shall tell you about the other blogs that I enjoy. I've discovered much greatness over these four short months. Some of this, perhaps inevitably, is very famous. Blogs such as Violent Acres, The Dilbert Blog, Pharyngula and Postsecret. There's good reason why they're so popular. They are well written, funny, thought provoking and novel.

However, popularity begets popularity and there comes a point, when people start to think a blog must be good, because a lot of other people like it. Thus a critical mass is reached, and 'fame' ensues. Reaching this tipping point, is due to a specific convergence of talent, hard work and luck. And given the size of the blogosphere (over 10 Million Blogs), there's little doubt that luck, in large dollops, is the main ingredient of blogging popularity.

The following blogs are those for whom the magic triad consists of two; talent and hard work. As yet, super-stardom has evaded them. Many I would hazard, actively avoid this fickle nonsense, so's to concentrate on the job at hand. Either way, they are as great as the greats to me. So, in no particular order;

Route 79

Jag lives in London. (S)he has my sympathies. I don't know what Jag does for a living, but I do know that Jag travels on the 79 route between Alperton in West London and Kingsbury in North West London to get to work of a morning. (S)he uses this time to capture the most wonderful images, and to think about stuff. It is most beautiful to watch.

The Synchronicity of Indeterminacy

Indie is "an American living in Europe since the late 80's". Each week he posts a random photo, either found on the web, or submitted by a reader. For five days, readers invent narratives for these images. The best is then posted on his blog. It's invariably Indie's. This man has an eye for absurdity and beauty that makes the hair on my neck stand on end. Much joy to be had here.

Everything is Pointless

By any logic, this blog should not exist. It's an existential crisis, lived out for us all, right here on the Internet. It's creator looks directly into the eye of existence and concludes that Everything is Pointless. Which of course it is. So why bother? I'm glad that Louie does bother, though. He reads. A lot. He shares this reading with us, and posts swathes of stuff to consume, on a daily basis. Most of it is fantastic. It certainly makes me think. What I like most about Louie however, is his brutal & up front style. This is particularly evident in his comments. Ha! Some like it, some don't. Me? I admire it greatly. Louie? Perhaps he doesn't care...

Mind on Fire

John and Miko preside over this blog. They've built a temple where "critical believers can explore doubt and compassionate atheists can experiment with spirituality." I very much admire this openness. This creation drips with respect for the fellow woman/man. It makes me warm just reading it. John and Miko have intellects and an appreciation of humanity that are inspirational. If you want to observe the middle ground between belief and atheism then this is a great place to start.

The 4th Avenue Blues

Andrew describes himself as a "paranoid schizophrenic with obsessive compulsive tendencies". He also talks about recovering from alcoholism, in doing so he draws heavily on his experience of being homeless. For me, these labels are a smoke screen behind which Andrew hides his narrative genius. In his blog, Andrew writes about day to day life with a tenderness and attention to detail that is astounding. He writes primarily in dialogue, and is particularly skilled in this respect. I feel that I know him. I can smell his fried egg breakfasts.

Atheist Ethicist

Alonzo Fyfe "wanted to leave the world better off than it would have been if I had not existed." I truly believe that he will. Alonzo has set out to help us understand that even though there are no moral absolutes, we can still behave in moral ways. I admire clear thinkers. Probably because I think in blurry ways. Alonzo is crystal. Perhaps clinical, one may say. His writing however, has helped me enormously. Read it now.

The Hamlet

I stumbled upon The Hamlet some time back, via the next blog button. Ham, its proprietor is a Sixty year old teacher of English, somewhere in America. He posts each day, a deeply introspective musing. In fact, his last post bears remarkable similarities to my "I" prison effusions. I like to drop by, once in a while, to see what he's up to. I think I like him.

Atheist Revolution

Vjack in my view, hosts an atheist blog that's distinct from the many. It's easy, if you hold no theistic tendencies, to ridicule those that do. I've fallen into this trap myself. In his "what do I believe" posts, he separates himself from this amorphous mass. He writes precisely, and explains himself with a clarity that is admirable. His post about an awe-inspiring natural world should be a standard text in any child's education.

Deep Thoughts

Not only does Mojoey give us the atheist blogroll , (for which I credit much of my traffic), he also has a feel for Saganesque numinous experience. I don't know whether he'd thank me for saying it, but this guy understands spirituality. Just take a look at his related photo blog to see why.

The Candy Store / What the Hell is a Blog?

These blogs should be taken as a pair. After all they're man and wife. While Murph is in exile in Ohio, and estranged from his Canadian wife Holly, they use their blogs partly to give us a glimpse into a small part
of their marriage. You may imagine these blogs being all pink and hearts then. Far from it. Both have rampant intellects and independence. Murph, for me, writes beautifully. Each post, each word for that matter, seems well placed and 'right' somehow. Yashua-"V", be he real, imagined or both, is a formidable force to be reckoned with ;). Holly has just posted her thousandth message! Now that's blogging.

So, this is my bloggosphere. And 'tis lovely.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Schopenhauer's Ennui: Part III

Sometimes I wonder what our lives would be like without children.

I imagine it being full of opposites; Peace and parties, lie in's and late nights, spare time and disposable income. I swear, we'd have the life of Riley. I'd have a small, classic sports car. Miche would have her horse stabled in the back garden. Perhaps I'd have the time to dress well. If I managed to do this, we may finally join the ranks of the beautiful. Our weekend time could be spent shopping with them. My wife could help me to learn how to "look the part".

Perhaps we'd be happy. Though something tells me I'd be a bit bored. There's only so many boutiques and home decor stores one can explore.

In real life, I'm lucky to share my spare time with 2-5 year olds. If you could call it 'spare'. They mop up time like dry sponges. And it doesn't come without its tribulations either. I tell you, my feet are aching from running around / with / after them today. I'm off work this week, apparently taking it easy. Yeah, right.

Let me list today's antics for you;

7:00 - Get up. Sort two breakfasts, 1 glass of milk, a colouring book, find model airplane, play with model airplane

8:10 - Shower, shave, dress

8:14 - Eat bread

8:20 - Dress two children on the move

8:30 - Pack car with lunch bags, reading bag, drink flasks & buggy

8:40 - Set of for schools

8:50 - Drop Miche & Meg off

9:00 - Drop Dom off at play group

9:10 - Shops for bread, milk, fruit etc

9:35 - Home. Tidy said home

10:35 - Sit down. Email, blog, news etc

11:40 - Set off to pick Dom up

12:00 - Pick small child up and drive to nearest beach as it's a beautiful day (eat lunch on way)

12:30 - Arrive at beach, set up camp and start exploring dunes etc

14:30 - Set off home

15:00 - Pick up Meg & Miche from school

15:30 - De-weed back garden (desperate - been put off far too long)

16:00 - Badgered by Meg into going to garden centre to buy Pink flowers to plant (apparently having none is a travesty)

16:45 - Plant pink flowers in garden.

17:00 - Tea ready. Cajole two kids into eating something decent.

17:30 - Kids TV == a sit down

18:00 - Baths, play, fighting over bath toys, tears and soap in eyes

18:30 - Jamas, books, milk. Tired arguments over who's blanket is best.

19:00 - Cook dinner whilst kids being put to bed

19:50 - Eat dinner

20:15 - Sod dishes. Boot up lap top. Sauvingnon Blanc.


I don't remember days off being this frantic in the distant pre-sprog days. So why the hell do we do it? Why have we put ourselves through this assault course of a life?

There are myriad reasons. Not least the primordial urge to procreate.

For me, perhaps its the white hot excitement that my children exude that keeps me feeling alive. Buzzing. Connected, you might say.

Today, seaweed and rocks have been awe inspiring. The way compost feels like poo has been hilarious. Pink has become all important and blankets are worth fighting over.

Long may this last. Though I worry that it won't.

I worry that our western educational priorities are mis-balanced. Things are now 'outcomes focused'. In order to increase GDP and per-capita productivity, we focus on give our children the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the world 'marketplace'. We teach them important stuff like mathematics, physics, human biology, geography and basic literacy. Stuff that can be directly linked to good productivity. We monitor and grade them incessantly. Our children are embarking within a career within this system.

In doing so, we risk stifling this awe of the little things.

Now, there are ample opportunities for numinous experience in physics and geography of course. Plenty of things to say wow and cool at.

However, we need to learn the vocabulary to describe these experiences more fully, so that we may understand them better, and keep hold of a sense of wellbeing. We also need to develop an emotional fluency that allows us to appreciate ourselves and those around us.

These things for me, are best learned through art and creative expression - Music, Visual Arts, English, Drama, Dance and so on. In our target driven world though, these are the very things that are being squeezed out. They're left dangling as an afterthought on the edge of the curriculum. Starved of funding.

Now, we may raise our generation of literate, confident and numerate business people. We may lead the world once more. In doing so however, we should prepare ourselves for the tide of ever increasing depression, when our golden generation forgets how to say that sand is quite cool.

Friday, 23 March 2007

World Shut Down Day

Tomorrow is World Shut Down Day. I shall be playing my part.

Not even a sideways peek at the interwebs. Honest.

Here's some alternative uses for your PC.

See you on Sunday;

Holidays are here!

It's Friday afternoon, and in 20 minutes or so, I shall be on holiday for a week. I'm lucky I suppose, because I've got a thoroughly enjoyable job. There are times when I'm not sure if I'm working or playing at it. This is some measure of success.

That said, the kids don't break up for Easter until Thursday next week. Therefore Miche & I have three days together, undisturbed. I cannot wait. Work will be at the back of my mind.

Just now, in an attempt to tie the loose ends before coming home, I tidied my office desk. Those of you who know me in 'Real Life', will appreciate what a monumental moment this is. It must be recorded for all eternity on this web log.

Spring, still

This weekend the clocks go forward. Another hour stolen from my life. When this fiddling about with time is finally put to one side, I hope it's done through the winter.

I want my hour back.

The light evenings are nice though. We get more opportunities to be outside once I'm home from work. This'll help me and my dog work off some of the fat we've laid down over winter.

Here's some seasonally themed pics from my run this morning.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Glaucus atlanticus

Came across this magnificent photo today via Digg.

It's a kind of tropical sea slug. Apparently "these animals float on the surface of the ocean being carried by the currents and the winds. Most of us are only aware of their existence when days of onshore winds blow great fleets of them on to the beaches, causing pain and angst for swimmers.

Both species spend their life floating upside down in the water, partially buoyed by a gas bubble in their stomachs."

Life is amazing.

A bag 'O Sh**te

An acquaintance of mine, who's proud of his degree from the University of Life, thinks this art, spirituality and expression stuff is bollox. "Let's sort out global warming, war and famine first" he says.

I say "Hear, Hear. Damned right we should. But tell me then, why are you working for Tescos and not Unseco?"

Do your bit, and pay your taxes to support those that have the ability and genius to make a big difference. We should play our little parts, and contribute in what small way we can, to improving our human condition. Let's not all do the same thing. It'll get a bit crowded.

This clip came to mind;

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Schopenhauer's Ennui: Part II

Market forces have their place. Given a limited supply and a coupling with high demand, the price one pays for consumable pleasure goes up. Thankfully, our kids like mince and turn their noses up at rump steak; too chewy apparently.

For the consumer, one-way entertainment like TV doesn't conform to these market forces. Quite the opposite in fact. When TV is consumed at a high rate, its availability increases. Thus its cost, in terms of convenience, reduces.

Take soap operas for example. As we discussed the other evening, the UK public spoke clearly to Rupert Murdock when we told him that we like soap operas. Lots of them, and repeated regularly thankyouverymuch. So, we we're given it.

The net effect of this model unfortunately, is a homogenisation of output. Programming that pleases the majority within a standard deviation of the mean, gets priority. Programming that's slightly esoteric, cerebral and/or 'artistic' gets squeezed out.

That said, we do have our BBC, funded through a bastardised tax. Surely this venerable institution isn't subject to these ravages? It seems not. In an effort to retain market share, our broadcasting gem has bought in. After all, the easiest way to validate its mandate to the public is to demonstrate a high market share.

It should be said however, that my BBC has resisted this banal feedback loop with Radio 4. This remains, for me at least, the jewel in its stuffy crown.

Now, I've gone on quite enough for one night. So, to sum up the beginnings of my argument let me say this; I believe that human expression and artistic endeavour will ultimately liberate us from our existential plight.

I also believe that homogenisation stands in our way.

Matt over at Far Traveller asks us to play an interesting game; Think of yourself as an alien and ask questions of your earthly partner. I imagine my alien persona asking Louie, how the human race sees itself answering the "What now?" problem that follows our inevitable pointlessness epiphany.

I believe the answer rests in understanding beauty.

More on this another night.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Fame at last?

There comes a point when blogging, that one starts to notice the web stats creeping up. A small, but esteemed group seem to keep returning. This is nice.

In this very same moment, one looks back and worries that what's been said previously is nothing but a confusion of ideas. To put it bluntly, a load of shite.

What results then, is a very real temptation, to write for one's audience.

If like Murdock, the need is for profit and fame, then one should adapt away. However, I started this blog for personal satisfaction, with only a small side order of fame. So I shall try to continue unabashed.

If you are one of my little orange dots, then you have my thanks.

Schopenhauer's Ennui

Monday nights on UK Terrestrial TV are bleak. If so minded, you can muffle your brain with back to back soap operas from 6:30 right through till 9:00. If one ventures into the multi-channel digital kingdom, you can enjoy these melodramatic effusions 24/7.

There was a time when this wasn't so. Back in the dark ages, when we had only three channels to choose from, scheduling was more balanced. The nation would tune in to Coronation Street at 7:30 one evening a week. It was an occasion, you could say.

Then along came Murdock with his Sky empire. He liberated us from our desperate, parochial lives. Now, we chose what to watch and when to watch it. The customer was in control.

Yet, to get our passes to this wonderland, we had to make a Faustian pact. In return for limitless choice, we attached our magic digi-boxes to the Sky mothership. Each night, as we slept soundly in our beds, the magic boxes phoned home and shared our viewing with Murdock and his minions.

Murdock listened well, and what he heard pleased him. He found that we prefer not to think. Given the choice, the majority of us opt to consume programming that's easy on the brain. Programming like reality TV, sitcoms and soap operas.

So, he gave us more of it, and we watched more of it. So he showed us it again, and we watched it again, and again, and again. He'd hit upon a magic formula;

1) Buy cheap & easy TV, repeat it ad-nauseum
2) The masses consume it, along with the bundled advertising
3) Profit
4) Rinse & Repeat

More on this later...

Monday, 19 March 2007

Can you keep a secret?

Ok Blog, we know each other quite well now, don't we? Nearly a hundred posts. Who'd have thought it eh?

It's time you should know something. I have another child. A son. He's nearly ten now. I know, I should have told you about him before now.

After all, he's as much part of the family as everyone else. He gets on with Meg and Dom as if they were full siblings.

So, here's some photos of him. His name's McLeod.

The Quiet World

In an effort to get people to look
into each other's eyes more,
the government has decided to allot
each person exactly one hundred
and sixty-seven words, per day.

When the phone rings, I put it
to my ear without saying hello.
In the restaurant I point
at chicken noodle soup. I am
adjusting well to the new way.

Late at night, I call my long
distance lover and proudly say
I only used fifty-nine today.
I saved the rest for you.

When she doesn't respond, I know
she's used up all her words
so I slowly whisper I love you,
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line
and listen to each other breathe.

Jeffrey McDaniel

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

I've got a pile of books in the corner of our bedroom that has a life of it's own. At the moment it's growing about a foot every two months. Through the night it taunts me;

"You haven't read me. Is it because you're scared?"

"No" I reply, "I just don't have the time."

Ohh, my most precious of resources, and so little of it. Like oil, its value is inversely proportional to its supply. Our kids are the temporal incarnation of OPEC.

Movies inevitably, get shifted down my priority list. Somewhere near to emptying the dishwasher.

The list then, grows more quickly than my books. Sitting at the top of this list for some time has been Pan's Labyrinth. Tonight we watched it!

Wow! What a movie. I found it moving, unsettling, beautiful, absurd and astounding. Quite simply one of the best films I've ever seen. If you find that like us, your time is a rare and precious commodity, then think of this film as an investment.

We may have been the last remaining couple to not have seen this film. If you are amongst the remaining few, then what are you waiting for?

Here's the trailer, complete with obligatory, annoying and americanised voice over. "In a war..".

Friday, 16 March 2007


Scientists have recently explained the experience of spirituality, transcendence, and religiosity. The problem was identified to be 5-hydroxytryptamine re-uptake rates within the Substantia Nigra. The condition, initially thought to affect 48% of the population, is due to a mutation in the gene SLC6A4.

Pfizer have subsequently developed a drug treatment, and human trials of Sartrezine have begun.

Initial results have proven positive. People who reported feelings of interconnectedness with the universe and/or a faith in God, experienced a marked reduction in symptoms within 4 days of treatment. Placebo patients reported similar effects, but at a significantly lower rate.

Many patients who actively participated in organised religious ritual however, continued to display these behaviours, regardless of blood serum levels of Satrezine. A faith in God it has been proposed, has no clear correlation to religious behaviour. In some cases, a marked increase in these behaviours were noted, with a concomitant shift towards Conservative political bias.

Some serious side effects to Sartrezine have been reported. Relationship difficulties, emotional bluntness and irresponsible behaviour have been noted in 25% of patients.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence is investigating its effectiveness for use in the NHS.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

A load of tosh

Prof PZ Myers has had a dig at the word Spirituality. He feels it's another word for lies and empty noise.

In many contexts he's right. The word is so wooley in its definition, it can be bent to pretty much any meaning. That said, it can be of some use; Not everyone who uses the term is a dim wit.

As ususal with Pharyngula, the value is in the numerous comments. I encourage you to go and contribute. In the mean time, here's some of the more thought provoking ones;

Nodoze: people also blather on about art, morality, metaphysics, and a host of other vague things of a transcedent or metaphysical nature that are "real" but defy science and, for that matter, truth. they are the serious business of mankind, in Popper's words the "ultimate questions," and there is no way to distinguish their serious answers from nonsense, as far as science can say. obviously science isn't enough. it has limits. oh well!

Neolotus: PZ, try reading the Introduction portion of Roger Ames translation of "Sun-Tzu: The Art of War" where it deals with the differences between the two-world view of the West and the one-world view of the East or watching "The Last Samurai" or perhaps just learning about Eastern philosophy.

Shorter version of spirituality: treating the living world/universe with respect and humility and learning to live in harmony with it.

The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of humanity. Is there something in this you fail to understand?

Oh, something you might understand is Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as a place to begin.

Al: There's nothing vague or "transcendent" about art, morality or metaphysics. As far as aesthetics and ethics, science can't tell us the "oughts," but there are certainly reasonable descriptions for why aesthetics and ethics exist from an evolutionary, psychological and sociological standpoint.

As for metaphysics, there are reasonable discussions one can have about epistemology, ontology and other areas of metaphysics while sticking to reason and empiricism and without the need to invoke anything "mysterious," "transcendent," or "ineffable." The latter is the hallmark of bad philosophy anyway, as it just means you've thrown your hands up and given up on attempting to come to an understanding.

MartinC: Too much spirituality can obviously be bad for you. I think the maximum recommended dose is 3 milligrams per kilo. Unfortunately its taking rather a long time to invent a spiritual weighing scale. Don't worry though, I'm sure it will turn up soon, just like Demski's 'Specified complexity measurer'.

SAM: I would have thought the maximum dose for a human was 21 grams. Overdosing woud be more than a spirit could handle without accidentally evolving. Perhaps I am wrong.

Potenilla: Guys, have you ever considered that the consciousness of being connected with something greater than onesself - or, better, the "feeling" or "sensation" thereof, has a genetic substrate and there is individual variation within the human species?

Just because none of you have this consciousness/feeling (and I don't, either), doesn't mean to say it doesn't exist in ohers. Sometimes (often) is gets translated into religion, and sometimes into something more like treating the living world/universe with respect and humility and learning to live in harmony with it.

We would do better in concentrating on reducing the political effects of (organised) religion, and making sure that people who don't have the spiritual consciousness/feeling don't feel they have to pay lip-service to religion, than in wasting our time trying to convince those people who do have it that they are wrong to do so. IMHO the latter is much like trying to convince gay people that they shouldn't be gay. Or, perhaps, to convince heterosexual men that looking at a woman's legs as she walks down the street is ALWAYS wrong and "treating her as a sex object".

Daenku32: consciousness of being connected with something greater than onesself
Does earth count?


I remembered, just before I dropped off last night, that I had a demo of my band, recorded not too long after the Hardy incident. Well, a couple of years after if I'm honest. Anyway, on listening to it, I understand now why I'm sat blogging, rather than on a world tour with my three piece.

Ho hum. Be kind - I was young.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

What the f**k is happiness then?

Am I happy? I suppose I am. Probably.

In truth, I've only a vague idea of what happiness is. I know that it's pretty important; why else would we devote our lives to the pursuit of it? But is it some rapturous state of being - full on fulfillment, actualisation and all that? Or is it a more suburban, gentle experience? Mediocre, even.

I remember a French lesson (3rd Floor, Humanities Block, Longfield Comprehensive, 1988), when Mrs Hardy, all tweed skirt and sternness, was struggling to deal with her unruly class. I was sat in my usual seat, at my usual table, trying to be cool but still conforming to Mrs Hardy's wishes for me to be a good student. I was a compliant kid, you see.

No, I was a dork; A typecast nerd - good at maths, poor at ball games (though I could run like Pheidippides). My only redemption was my guitar and vocal abilities. An odd teenage paradox then; a geek in a cool band. This saved me from the true ravages of dorkedom.

Anyway, I remember Mrs Hardy loosing her temper with us all. I'd never seen her in such a fit of pique. She slammed her hand on her desk and shouted;

"I'm sick of this nonsense, why can't you all be as mature and stable as Scott?"

I could have killed her.

What aspiring rock star wants to be "mature and stable"? What dork aspires to this banality, aged fifteen?

I hated her, not because she'd embarrassed me; I hated her because everyone in the classroom knew she was right. I was dull. Stable. For fuck sake.

The maturity bit is still open for debate. I'm 34 now, and still feel like a kid. The stability bit was bang on however.

I've never been at the whim of my tempers. I'm sitting right now next to Miche. You could say that I'm mildly happy. Her left leg is crossed over my right knee as I type. She's watching Scrubs on Sky TV. I've just kissed her on her forehead. I doubt she was conciously aware of it. Her head inclined a little, nothing more. Our life is what it is. Ordinary, stable.

I was born for this; My kids upstairs in bed, central heating on, income tax paid and washing up done.

No alarms and no suprises. A good pension.

Is it the chicken in me, that finds happiness in stability? Or is it the egg, that in being stable, is happy?

Monday, 12 March 2007

An awakening

A small part of my spirit listens to the seasons. During our shortening winters it sequesters away in some warm corner of my 'soul'.

There's a day, that I can pinpoint each year, when it awakens. Today is that day.

I'm not follicaly blessed, so even a glimmering of the spring sun beats down on my skull. Leaving the office early tonight, it was warmed a little. The sky was clear, and yet it was still mild. I noticed the trees beginning to blossom.

Driving home, I found that the sun no longer loomed on the horizon. At last, it had climbed high enough for my sun visor to block. My foot got heavy on the accelerator and the stereo got loud.

I came home to a quiet house. I forgot that both kids were out at friends for tea. Miche was working at her desk quietly. We'd the house to ourselves. Mmn.

Later, I decided to give our front lawn it's first cut of the year. Dom was dropped off, saw me with lawnmover and uncharacteristically ran past into the house. No hello or nothing.

A minute later he clambered out of the front door, dragging his yellow kiddy mower. He must have been rummaging deep in the garage to retrieve it. We finished off the lawn together. Up and down.

With smug self satisfaction, I decided that life is good, and spring is here.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Some nice breasts there, Melanie

There's a big group hug going on at Digg right now, as circa 2,400 geeks agree that being intelligent is damned hard. Apparently being bright makes you unhappy. Some might call it an emo circle-jerk.

Now, of course this is a load of old bunkum. There's no clear correlation between high intelligence and depression as far as I'm aware. In fact, it's been shown that having a high intellect can reduce the likelihood of suicide.

I (and probably you) know many 'intelligent' (I) people we consider to be happy (H). Equally, we know 'less intelligent' (D) people who are unhappy (U). There are two more combinations left of course; I/U & D/H. See, I can use algebra. 'Cos I'm clevor, me.

That said, I think there may be a kernel of truth in the proposition.

Assuming that intelligence isn't simply IQ, I've the good fortune of knowing some immensely gifted people. What I admire most about them is the way they occupy the 'Depressive Position'.

Now, bear with me whilst I explore what this term means. For those of you uninitiated to psychodynamics, hold on tight, because it gets a bit freaky.

Melanie Klein, a Freudian psychoanalyst, first described the Depressive Position in her work with very young children.

The child, in Klein's argument, engages in 'phantasies' wherein the mother's 'good' breast is idealized and loved, while the mother's 'bad' breast is attacked and devoured. The split between the satisfactory 'good' breast and the frustrating 'bad breast' is the child's first step into its 'I' prison - the breast is the first object the child experiences outside of itself. For the child, the good and bad breasts are not seen as belonging to a whole mother. Instead, they are experienced as separate objects.

Why would a child do this? Well,
"splitting" enables the infant to ward off anxiety by experiencing the loving breast singularly, and completely separate from the hated, persecutory breast. The good breast is then 100% good. Life in this position is a simple flip between all bad and all good; Black and white. Klein called this the "paranoid-schizoid position". (I doubt she'd have named it that today.)

At some point within the first year of life,
the infant comes to see its mother as a whole object, and, with this new perceptual ability, it comes to the horrifying recognition that the "good" and "bad" breast co-exist with the whole mother. The infant is grief-stricken by the recognition that, all along, it had been attacking the "good" breast along with the "bad" breast.

With this realisation, "the infant suffers extreme feelings of grief, guilt and fear of loss, and, as a result, seeks to make reparation for her/his damages to what once was the idealized, good breast. In exchange for this bitter realization, the infant's anxieties lose in strength; objects become both less idealized and less terrifying, and the ego becomes more unified. All this is interconnected with the growing perception of reality and adaptation to it."

So, if we think of the breast as metaphorically representing wholeness; good, bad and all the grey in between, then this realisation is the first experience of ambivalence for the infant.

Now of course, all of this is utter bollocks. We must not forget that Melanie
was the product of an unwanted birth - her parents showed her little affection. Her much loved elder sister died when Klein was four, and she was made to feel responsible for her brother’s death.

You could say that she had some "issues".

That said, her theories have some use when applied to object relations theory, and in particular the dynamics of groups. In the interests of brevity, I'll not touch on projective identification and other Kleinien mental gymnastics. This is a gross simplification of her ideas;

Groups of people occupying the Paranoid-Schizoid Position tend to view other groups as all bad or all good. Politicians capitalise on this each day.

Groups of people that inhabit the Depressed Position tend to view things in shades of grey. They're less inclined to blame, and tend to see both sides of an argument. They can hold an idea that they don't argee with, in the group mind, for the purposes of exploration. You could call this a 'grown up' approach.

In these respects, I aspire to sit in the Depressive Position. I aspire to have the beginners mind.

Like bible mythology, psychoanalytical theory must now be thought of as metaphor. In our brave new, cognitively behavioural world, it no longer sits upon its throne of truth.

It's a good thing I suppose. Psychoanalysis does make you talk a lot of crap.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Life is a venn diagram?

I guess then, there are three ways to respond to the human paradox (the universe being pointless, yet finding ourselves full of point);

1: Deny it exists, and submit to the Lord - he who gives us absolute meaning, morality and eternal salvation. It's a shame it's an illusion. It really is.

2: Medicate it away. Perhaps our most common response. Drugs, 1-way entertainment and banality give us the balm we need to ease our existential angst. In this, we confuse happiness with an absence of pain.

3: Accept the paradox for what it is, and suffer the consequences. Both good and bad.

Me? I bounce between 2 & 3 by the hour...

M'off to watch some friday night TV.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Despite all my rage, I'm still just a rat in a cage...

In the 1970's Bruce Alexander challenged the dominant understanding of drug addiction. Previous to his research, it had been widely accepted that availability of drugs was the root cause of addiction in our communities. As drugs become more available, we become addicted to them at an increasing rate. Therefore, if drugs were ubiquitous, we'd be a nation of addicts.

This theory had been confirmed in studies of rat behaviour. They went something like this;

Give a rat two choices - 1: Push a lever for a drink of water or, 2: Push a lever for a shot of Morphine.

Unsurprisingly, the rats got themselves stoned. Over and over again. Some of them got so wasted, they ceased to eat or drink. They even started listening to the Velvet Underground. Some of them died.

This proved that mammals, given the opportunity, will spontaneously become addicted to psychotropic substances. They will become so dependent on them, that they will cease to become productive organisms.

Alexander highlighted a flaw in these ideas. He argued that if you put a man in a tiny cage and make him live his whole life in it, it would be a near certainty that he'd choose to get out of his head on smack. What else has he to live for? Alexander thought that this is no different for rats.

So he made the Rat Park. A rat utopia. It was big, interesting and comfortable. Food was readily available, and the rats had ample space to form social relationships. When Morphine was made available to these rats, they chose not to use it.

Even when a rat was put in a cage and forced to become a junkie, when it returned to Rat Park it spontaneously withdrew from opiates. With very few observable withdrawal effects incidentally.

Now, we need to be careful in drawing any firm conclusions from his research, but it does pose some interesting questions about human behaviour.

Do we take drugs simply because they're there? Or do we take drugs for more complex reasons? And if we ever create our utopia, will we still use them?

Personally, I think that Alexander's ideas can be expanded beyond the realm of drug abuse;

For many, daily existence lacks any real meaning and purpose. Many live within a "mindless routine....[their purpose is to] produce the greatest quantity of widgets on the assembly line". It's little wonder then, that they return home to seek out the most soporific diversion available. Diversions such as soap operas, reality TV shows, junk food and pornography.

In a way, this mindless consumption gets us stoned. Like heroin, one-way entertainment wraps us up in a comfort blanket of thoughtlessness. Thinking is the last thing we want to do when we live in restricted cages. Ignorance is bliss.

Unlike Alexander's rats however, we're the architects of our prisons. We can choose to inject the hypnotic, each time we press the next channel button, or we can choose to make something.

This I think, is at the root of human spirituality; The need to make things. The need to be creative and express ourselves is cruicial to our wellbeing. One-way entertainment that's designed to stifle thought, strips these urges from us. It deadens something fundamental in us.

Few of us are talented artists. But all of us can make stuff;

We can make;
  • dinner
  • time
  • love
  • someone laugh
  • someone think
  • an idea
  • a phone call
  • a heart race
  • a move
  • a choice
The opportunities our new, read-write web gives us are limitless. For those of you who surf using only your mouse, look down at your keyboards and start to make something...

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Watch where you're pointing that thing will you!

There's a growing tendency amongst atheists to use the psychiatric lexicon whilst describing the religious. A collective delusion we may say. Psychosis, even.

As we've already established however, this language is as slippery as a fish. It's a language of morality and conformity. It shifts and writhes as our cultural norms develop.

Invoking these dangerous constructs against people with whom we disagree, places us firmly in the camp of witch hunters and inquisitors. We're using half baked and blurry ideas to condemn people. Perhaps ducking stools and public floggings will work equally well.

Now, I know from first hand experience that psychosis is a very real thing. I've known people lost in their tormenting realities; ravaged by persecuting voices, bitten by snakes and stalked by murderers. These same people have disintegrated right in front of their families.

Often, our society has compelled them to accept aggressive treatments - chemical straight jackets, in the name of recovery. We're protecting the individual and the general public apparently. In doing so we may rip away their spirit, hope and self-respect. It can take years, decades even for people to recover from these experiences. Often, the very treatment itself damages the person more than their psychosis. Some never recover.

The religious may have beliefs that cannot be substantiated by the consensus reality. However, most are not tormented and disintegrated by true madness. They are far from ill.

It upsets me when dangerous words are used willy nilly. As I've said, words can kill. So don't waggle your linguistic shotgun about without the safety catch enabled. Please.

Friday, 2 March 2007

A Morality of Madness

Before 1974, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. The psychiatrists who collated the book, considerd it a disease, complete with symptomology. Something that could be diagnosed, treat and cured.

Things of course, have moved on. Now in its fourth iteration, DSM IV no longer lists homosexuality as a disorder. It does however, list the following; Fetishism, Gender Identity Disorder, Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (not Hyperactive), Kleptomania, Voyeurism, and my personal favourite - Frotterurism. This is a sexual 'disorder' involving rubbing against another person to achieve sexual arousal or even orgasm, discreetly and without being discovered, typically in a public place.

It strikes me that a diagnosis of the above requires as much moral judgement on the part of the Psychiatrist as it does clinical expertise.

It dosen't stop with sexual deviancy either. It gets into the meat and bones of our identities. 'Schizoid Personality Disorder' for example, presents in the following manner;

A pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:
  1. neither desires nor enjoys close relationships, including being part of a family
  2. almost always chooses solitary activities
  3. has little, if any, interest in having sexual experiences with another person
  4. takes pleasure in few, if any, activities
  5. lacks close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives
  6. appears indifferent to the praise or criticism of others
  7. shows emotional coldness, detachment, or flattened affectivity
Other than sexual indifference, this sounds like a good few teenagers that I know. Should we be thinking of adolescence as a disorder then?

I wonder if the authors of DSM IV understood the awesome power of words. The power of labels. A tag beggining with Schizo, affixed to a young person, can ruin their life. For some, it's a death sentence. Words can indeed kill.

What's this got to do with spirituality then?

Well, for all its quantitative posturings, Psychiatry remains an art, not a science. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. And art of course, is a metaphorical exploration of the human condition. An exploration of human spirit.

The DSM IV manual comes with a health warning - The application of these diagnostic criteria must only be made by people with the appropriate training and expertise.

Perhaps, if DSM IV was written in Latin, the judgements Psychiatry makes about people would be accepted even more as an absolute moral authority.

Countless copies of DSM IV have been made over the years. Rather than on a printing press, I imagine hundreds of aspiring psychiatrists, hunched over desks, lit by candle light carefully copying the DSM criteria onto parchment.

More on this another night.

Want to know more right now? You could do no worse than starting with Thomas Szasz.

Thursday, 1 March 2007


I do worry about mankind. Perhaps too much, I'll admit. But when you work within mental health services, it's an industrial hazard. The longer I work with people in emotional crises, the more I notice them within the general population. Everyone's fucked up when you look through this cockeyed lens.

Fundamentally, I worry that we value individuality beyond anything else. We're obsessed with ourselves. At night, we fret and twist because we're not as happy as we should be. We compare ourselves to a prostituted minority, pimped on print and across TV. We believe that they're some sort of median norm; If only we could conform, then we'd be happy.

As if it's our God given right to be eternally blissful...Meh.