Wednesday, 31 January 2007

I, thou, you & me

Yesterday, whilst lurking in my den of self-pity, I watched day time TV. Trisha Goddard was my nurse for the day. She numbed my throbbing brain with a stream of guests, presented for my mindless consumption.

To be honest, I can't recall what they were on about. But suffice to say, it was the usual banal, melodramatic crap that the 'lowest common denominator' seem to enjoy sharing on TV. I make no apologies for being a snob. Anyways, I'm still ill. I have a letter from my mum that says I can be nasty.

However, my smugness was curtailed when I realised I shared a common character flaw with them. Let's call it the 'You Tendency'.

I first became aware of my own You Tendency during clinical supervision some years back. We were talking about a particularly irksome patient who really got on my tits. I couldn't abide the man. Yet I had an obligation to care for him. My supervisor, being the good mental health worker, asked me the standard question;

"So, how do you feel?"

My reply went something like this;

"Well, you know, you feel guilty and you get frustrated. You think you're not doing your job well enough..."

"You mean I, surely?" She interjected.

And at that point I realised what I'd done. Uncomfortable with my own feelings towards the man, I'd projected them out of myself. Not only that, when I said 'you' I didn't mean 'thou' - my supervisor, I meant you - as in everyone. All of us.

<unsaid>There's nothing wrong with feeling like this. It's fine to hate a patient and avoid contact with him, possibly to the detriment of his health. Because everyone agrees that he's a twat.</>

In using this linguistic trick, we can delude ourselves that our prejudices are acceptable.

So, how do you feel about this?

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Today I am Ill

Now, I can cope with the slime of chestiness, but I hate the cold hot oddness that is viral infection.

This one is bizarre. I have shooting pains deep within the joints - knees, lower back, elbows and neck. But also in between my little fingers and their neighbours. And to top off this cornucopia of symptomology my guts hurt. Badly. There's a dull knot of pain lumped right on top of my diaphragm.

You could say I'm feeling sorry for myself.

There's a reason why Day Time TV is on in the day time. It's scheduled for people in my predicament. Cleverly designed to suck on soul and intellect, it massages you into a soporific lump on the sofa. That way, you forget about how crap you feel and start day dreaming about how you might look after a full style makeover.

Uurffmn, and other sickness noises...

Monday, 29 January 2007

You may need an adult to help you.

Recieved this through my meme ridden work email today. You may be interested to see it. It's really quite cool;

Here's one you can cut out and keep.

And remember kids; don't run with scissors.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Mapping Music?

I've been reading about Dmitri Tymoczko's work to mathematically map and represent music. Apparently, by "using non-Euclidean geometry and a complex figure, borrowed from string theory, called an orbifold (which can have from two to an infinite number of dimensions, depending on the number of notes being played at once), Tymoczko’s system shows how chords that are generally pleasing to the ear appear in locations close to one another, clustered close to the orbifold’s center. Sounds that the ear identifies as dissonant appear as outliers, closer to the edges."


This system can identify music that should appeal to the human ear and flag stuff that does not. Whilst undoubtebly clever, I can't help feeling that this is a blunt instrument to evaluate the quality of what is essentially art.

Some music may well conform to mathematical norms, but surely its as much about the ideas and metaphor that surround it?

I find myself drawn to music that's atonal these days. Quite why I'm not sure. I'd like to see how it would look in Dimitri's model.

Here's a list of my top ten bands / artists at the moment. Make of it what you will;

jimbobaii's Profile Page

Friday, 26 January 2007

Daily Mailism

Ken Livingston blogged today about 'Daily Mailism'. It's an affliction I share an aversion to.

For those of you lucky enough to be unaware of the Daily Mail, let me enlighten you; An organ of the faux middle classes, it delivers its own brand of vulgarity and paranoia with venom. Believe me when I say - it's a dangerous and objectionable creation. To quote Ken, the Mail espouses "national narrowness, prejudice, [and] the idea that foreign countries can still be kicked around".

Ken writes on - "If Britain is to thrive and prosper in this new world economy, we need to think internationally and not retreat into national narrowness; it requires international movement of labour rather than hysteria against immigrants; it requires increasing interaction of culture, not attempts to shut out 'the foreign' "

Now, I disagree frequently with Mr Livingston, however in this case he's right on the button. We can only benefit, in my view, from the movement of skilled and 'unskilled' people within our labour markets.

Not only that, this mixture of culture and language provides for some ripe comedic moments;

My brother-in-law and family have braved the Watford Gap to visit us for the weekend. Lacking as we are in palatial accommodation, they've checked into our local novotel. Here, a young Polish man greeted them warmly. Though limited in nuance, his english was more than adequate to organise their stay.

However, on entering their room, they found that no travel cot had been provided for their littlest. They'd asked for this over the phone last week.

Bro went back to the guy on the desk and asked,

"Would you mind asking room service to bring us the travel cot we ordered?"

The guy gave bro a slightly bemused look, but assured him he'd sort it right away.

Back in the room, bro answered the knock at the door.

"Here's the plastic cup you asked for" said the hotel porter.

You had to be there...

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Frilled Shark

This is rare footage of the Frilled Shark. What a beautiful and odd creature. It's so rarely seen because it lives at great depths. It's likely this poor one was quite ill. Awesome nonetheless.

Like looking back in time...much further than 3,000 years

Beyond Belief

If you're so minded, here's a real media stream of a Radio 4 Beyond Belief episode on 'religion and mental health'. It's half an hour long so, for those of you with Digg enhanced ADHD the second half is much more interesting than the first.

It's a fascinating and balanced debate about the nature of religion and spiritual belief in a secular / medicalised world. I urge you to listen, as it's a good antidote to the raging fundamentalism (both theist and non-theist) currently clogging up Youtube and the bloggosphere.

(Did I just say bloggosphere? /Shudder )

Tuesday, 23 January 2007


It seems I've been wrong all along about altruism. Apparently it exists in the posterior superior temporal cortex.

So, that's sorted then...

A Common Man

We live in the North-East of England. Northumberland to be precise. And a wonderful place to live it is. Primarily rural, it's full of awesome scenery, mountains and vacant lengthy beaches. There's no cities as such; the nearest big conurbation is Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The village we live in is large enough to have the infrastructure we need to live well as a family; good schools, shops, pubs and a few tasty restaurants. You could call it a small town I suppose.

In living here, I gain pleasure from walking around, secure in the knowledge that I'll pass people whom I know, and who know me. We share pleasantries and gossip. If we visit our local hostelries at night, we know that our evenings will be full of the chatter of friends and acquaintances.

Much of Northumberland is like this.

Perhaps some would balk at this parochial existence. Supposing it breeds small mindedness and conservatism. Which it does of course. However, since the decline of heavy engineering, the region has suffered an economic blight from which it's only beginning to recover. Consequently, incomes are relatively low and for many, their perceived quality of life is poor.

This struggle to live well, and the received culture of 'Northerners' (friendly, straight forward and generous) counterbalances this parochialism in my view; it leads to quite cohesive communities.

The real economic powerhouse of England is the South-East, specifically London. Here incomes are higher. As is 'quality of life', apparently. Proportionally to the North-East, inhabitants have larger disposal incomes and equity enough to afford beefy mortgages, Algarve holidays and Chelsea Tractors.

However, by and large, they are time poor. It's said that people in the South live to work, whereas in the North people work to live. Of course, this is a blunt simplification, but it illustrates the points I'm coming to eventually, honest.

I've cause to visit the South-East from time to time. When I do I'm always struck by the differences in conversation. My southern family and friends talk so much more about their houses, investment opportunities, interest rates and new cars.

As a northern friend once said, "Even if I had two barge poles (about ten feet), and taped them together, I still wouldn't touch the city life."

Mind you, I'll admit to buying into this smugness a bit. I have a lovely big, black, family sized car. Tell me, how big is yours?

Anyway, to my point;

Some would say that society is being strangled by the tightening grip of secularism. As a result it's becoming increasingly cynical and impersonal.

Personally I think this is a correlation, not a causation. This depersonalisation of life is more a result of social groups growing so large that the notion of the common man has become abstracted. Success and happiness are now largely defined by the amount of plastic and metal we collect around us.

Perhaps we should take some advice from Kafka; “I do not read advertisements - I would spend all my time wanting things”.

Monday, 22 January 2007

The Power of Others

First, a bit of light relief;

The power of others

Typically, it provoked me into thinking. Thinking about the absolute power of groups. After I stopped pissing myself of course.

I really admire the old man in the first scene. I love that as he ambles down the back lane he steps aside to let the flash mob by. Keeping his laundry bag safely from the unwashed masses, he quietly lets them pass. Notice the kids at the front looking back, surprised at his non-reaction. Once they've gone he continues on his own, singular path.

I want to be him.

But I know that in my heart, I'd revert to my innate programming, turn and run with the crowd.

If enough people tell you something is true you will most probably believe it. Perhaps even if they tell you that their God exists.

I can hear all you empirical atheists baying right now; Surely we don't rely on others to tell us what to believe? We rely on evidence to inform our lives don't we? Real, tested, randomised controlled information.

Of course we do.

The truth, if there is one, is that we all rely on belief. All of the time.

The world is warming. Kindness is good. MRSA is bad. Five veg and two litres of water per day...

Unfortunately I'm not a meteorological expert. Neither am I a bio-chemist. Nonetheless, I believe the above to be true. Though the water thing may be bullshit.

We cannot test every 'fact' before we use them to inform our actions. We rely on best guess estimations. Using sources that we trust. Sorry, using sources that we believe that we should trust.

So before we get too cocky, us atheists, let's remember that we're all floating along together in the belief boat that we call life...

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Sunday morning spirituality

Here's some mile point photos from this morning's run around the village.

If this isn't good for my 'spiritual wellbeing' then I don't know what is. No treadmill in a centrally heated gym for me. No sur'eee. Give me 2 Degrees Centigrade, high winds and occasional icy showers any day to remind me how we're connected to the universe. Actually I think I was frozen to the damned thing...

As I ran through the church yard that provides a pleasant short cut to the main road in my village I past the faithful piling into their 9:30 service. Cued up the smug grin as I ran past :-)

Ohh, my poor new trainers, not so new anymore;

Friday, 19 January 2007

Data Vomitarium

Frequently I'm astounded by how little I know. By way of our miraculous Internet tubes, novel facts and fictions pour into my head. Some of them lodge in dark corners, but most of them simply drip through the many holes in my intellect.

I've developed an insatiable appetite for information and feel diffuse anxiety when not jacked in to RSS, Digg and Google. An addict you may say. But facts and figures only represent part of our reality. How we understand, synthesise and use them is far more important.

I admire clear thinkers, lacking as I am in this department. A truly awesome example of this is the Atheist Ethicist. I urge you to leave this blog now and go read it...

Go on then, off you go.....I'll see you there.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

A reintroduction

Vjack over at Atheist Revolution asks how to define spirituality Sans God and why we, as atheists should pursue it. He reads quite accurately that this blog is about 'finding spirituality in a godless world'.

In formulating my answer(s) to this interesting question perhaps we should revisit the original goal of this blog.

I'm a mental health professional who works with people who are labelled as having 'severe and enduring' mental health problems. Increasingly in this arena, 'spiritual well being' is being focused upon as a crucial component of good mental health.

Perhaps predictably, many of us in this field struggle to understand what this means, let alone help people in poor mental health improve their spiritual well being. Repeatedly we fall back upon typecast notions of spirituality e.g. Religious denomination and rituals.

A part of me wonders whether this nascent spiritual uprising in psychiatry is merely a smoke screen behind which the old, repressive practices continue unabated. By this I mean the repression of 'schizophrenics' through medication, legislation, misunderstanding and public loathing.

Another part of me feels (quite strongly) that this is an opportunity to be capitalised upon. If we can use this chink in the armour of established psychiatric practice to highlight the human and social aspects of mental illness then the term will be well used.

The UK is largely secular. In my personal experience at least. Actively religious people are in the minority here. This seems to be an inverse reflection of the US experience. I must admit to being quite taken aback by the depth of Christian fundamentalism in the US, having only experienced it in any detail after starting this blog and taking an active interest in the topic of atheism.

I'm thankful for this. Thankful that the church and state are well separated (notwithstanding the Blarite spinned Sunday morning phot-ops). That said, I do feel that the western world is caught in a vicious existential crisis whilst it readjusts to its godless world. I feel that as a society we're missing something fundamental, some meaning that was conveniently provided by religion.

Not all of us are able to cope with the notion that meaning and purpose can only be created subjectively. Frankly, few of us have the capacity, time or motivation to explore this philosophical aspect to our lives. Which is why many of us godless people resort to 'kabalah lite, aromatherapy and self-help.'

Atheism, isn't good enough then. It isn't nourishing enough to the masses to be sufficient in and of itself. In my view, to have a grasp of our human, emotional experience we need to put empiricism to one side. Suspend disbelief if you like. We should feel comfortable that much of our lives are metaphorical and aesthetic and beyond the reach, for the time being at least, of pure logic and science.

This, I guess is where the term spirituality should sit for an atheist. Between bleak empiricism and illogical belief. It's a concept that we can choose to use if we so wish, to help us think about relationships, altruism, love and meaning without getting tied up in philosophical knots all the time. Yes it's a short cut, but one I'm willing to take if it means I might be able to ease the suffering of another person for a while.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

A banana fingered God

Came across this wonderful clip that was posted originally on viewfromearth . Surely it's a spoof, made me laugh heartily though.

I imagine a tribesman, isolated from the rest of civilisation meeting this nutball and asking him "What's that?"

Nutjob - "It's a banana; A sign of God"

Tribesman - "What do you think I should do with it then? Shove it up me arse?"

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Infinite capacity for oddness

They say the human mind can't conceive infinity, be it a mathematical, physical or 'spiritual' concept. I tend to agree. Perhaps you disagree, thinking that you understand the concept of infinity. But in my view, it's likely you're imagining the idea of infinity as opposed to the actuality of it.

However, I think I've experienced an 'infinite' universe. But only once, and only for a split second. Before you ask, it wasn't in response to mind altering substances; It was outside the science block in school, when I was thirteen. Though it could have been wind.

The memory of it has remained with me, but I've never been able to recall the actual feeling. Perhaps this is a blessing as it was a dizzy, disorientating experience - both terrifying and wonderful. I'd never be able to get on with real life feeling like that all the damned time. I felt at once connected with the real world and in every part of universe simultaneously. Weird and very odd. I knew it was at the time so, on returning to my reality I took a deep breath, kept my mouth shut and pushed my way past the throngs into the school block.

I've rarely talked about it since. When I have, its usually been under the influence of mind altering substances.

Now, I could have responded to this snapshot epiphany in one of two ways;

1: Take it as evidence of God - evidence that I'd been chosen to feel 'his' omnipotence.

2: Think that it was an oddly enjoyable experience, that may or may not have been infinite and use it to appreciate the inherent beauty that is our universe.

I chose the latter, of course.

Have you had a similar experience(s)? I'd be interested to know.

Friday, 5 January 2007

A toe in the lake

I've had a go at writing fiction. Having flexed my literary muscles a little in this blog and found them wanting more I posted a bit of it here. It seems to be well received, much to my relief.

What is it about writing that seems to want to open up the tenderest underparts of one's soul to others? Maybe it's Narcissism; both the love and hatred of oneself.

For another night perhaps...

Thursday, 4 January 2007


Can't sleep. What is it that causes a brain to resist it? Why do they insist on ticking away regardless of their owners instructions?


Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Top 58 lists of 2006

Lists are important. Lists are good. People seem to like them. We need more of them on the internet. Until this happens, here's my list of the top 58 lists posted on the internet in 2006. Ordered in a strict hierarchy of randomness.

Perhaps this'll start a trend, then we will have more lists of the lists of the top lists created.... Now we're cooking.

So, here we have it;
  1. Best and worse places to live
  2. Worst album covers, ever
  3. Beauty Salon- 12 Tips They Don't Want You To Know
  4. Bands that broke up in 2006
  5. 100 most annoying things in 2006
  6. The Top 35 Torrent Sites of 2006
  7. The 80 rules of boozing
  8. A list of Fallacious Arguments
  9. Neowin's Freeware Alternative List
  10. The Oops List
  11. Freeware list
  12. The Global Rich List
  13. The Universal Packing List
  14. Free academic podcasts
  15. Building a smarter to do list
  16. List of cognitive biases
  17. Lists of Lists! Wehey!!!
  18. List of tips for linux
  19. List of free cartoons
  20. Get rich slowly - a list of personal development sites
  21. Ten Notable Open-Source Legal Battles
  22. "Superfoods" that Everyone Needs to Stay Alive and Healthy
  23. 15 tips to choose a good text type
  24. The Top Ten Lamest Superheroes Of All Time
  25. 7 High-Tech Watches You Can’t Buy
  26. Top 10 Independent Games of the Year [2006]
  27. Linux incompatibility list
  28. 11 Tips to boost your metabolism
  29. The 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006
  30. List of Threatened Species in 2006
  31. The Times Rich List 2006
  32. NME: The Cool List 2006
  33. The Death List
  34. Time: 50 Coolest web sites
  35. 2006 LifeHack Review: Best 50 hacks for your Life
  36. Top 100 Network Security Tools
  37. Guardian: 100 most useful sites
  38. NYT: 100 Notable books of the year
  39. Top 10 games of the year:
  40. Time; Best inventions 2006
  41. Yahoo! Top searches of 2006
  42. The best apps of 2006
  43. 10 things that will make of break your website
  44. Urgo's 2006 list of April Fool's Jokes
  45. The 29 Healthiest foods on the planet
  46. 10 web trends that should die in 2006
  47. Fortune: 100 best companies to work for
  48. Pitchfork: Top 50 albums of 2006
  49. Top 10 films of 2006
  50. PCWorld: The 100 Best Products of the year
  51. Foreign Policy: The top ten stories you missed in 2006
  52. PC Mag; Top 99 Undiscovered Web sites
  53. Ask Men: Top 99 Women 2006
  54. Top 50 Places to Have a Beer in America
  55. Most popular words 2006
  56. Time: The best photos of the year 2006
  57. Hacking Knowledge: 77 Ways to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better
  58. Pitchfork: Top 25 Music Videos of 2006
And my list of reasons not to use lists;

Learn to think for yourself - you are really quite interesting.

Monday, 1 January 2007

We know rivers

The other day I came across an old photo of me as a limp teenager. I'm sprawled over a stone bridge doing my best imitation of a long haired metal star. (No, I shall not post it on this blog, not ever.) In looking at it I was transported right back to the day it was taken;

Stuart (my very best and enduring friend) captured it during our 'River' period. Late in our teens we were liberated from the repression of childhood by fresh new driving licences. We spent our weekends driving in the country, looking for rivers to conquer. The pair of us had an obsession you see, a purpose even; to find the most convoluted river and follow its path for as far as we could, irregardless of obstacle or difficulty.

Looking back it was quite a wholesome diversion. We spent many hours climbing rock faces and loose river banks to follow the path of our rivers. Mind you, afterwards we usually went out and got shitfaced, just to balance the teenage karma of course.

Perhaps these were my halcyon days. I do look upon them fondly, but I'm far from the same person that I was then.

I was spotty, cocky, priggish, both shy and extrovert at the same time. A typical youthful confusion then. In truth, I don't really miss being a 'yoof' at all. I was closed minded and put simply, a bit of a twat. That said, I was a twat who drank a lot of beer, played in some quite cool bands and slept around sufficiently to feel comfortable that as an emergent middle-ager, I can hold off the crisis for a little while yet.

Is it me in that photo? I can certainly see someone that looks a bit like me, just with more hair and spots. But to say that I'm that same person would be absurd.

Fifteen years have passed and I've had a myriad different experiences, met countless people, and read immeasurable amounts of stuff. Each of these experiences has changed me. Some fundamentally, like meeting Miche and having children. Others more subtly, like my use of the word 'So' at the beginning of sentences, which is a habit I think I've picked up recently from a close colleague.

So, who the hell am I? And by extension, who the hell is everyone else?

It is an impossibility, a farce even, to define ourselves singularly. Who we are is so intertwined with the ideas and experiences of others that in distilling down the bits that are truly individual to us, there wouldn't be much left at all.

John Donne summed this up better than I ever could;

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

Happy new year