Sunday, July 23, 2006

Not Just Me, then....

I had a Google alert today, for one of the other "Toby Philpott"s that I have come across on the Web and his Liberal Legend blog. I believe he could have studied or taught at Durham University when I happened to pass through for a British Juggling Convention in the 90s, possibly the closest we got to meeting. He then spent some time as a small business advisor in China, and ran for Parliament on the Lib-Dem ticket.

I know these things thanks to Google, which I have almost swamped with my web activity, my Star Wars connection, etc. I usually have the top ten hits at least.

I know of a third Toby, rather younger, who took some photos of a bluebell wood for his local paper.

Maybe only three of us...not as prolific as Dave Gorman...

Still, maybe bibliophilia runs in the family - I came across this entry in a library website:

BRISTOL gloucestershire Philpott's Circulating Library 1802 [John Philpott]

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More about Reg - and the love of circus

Reg at Home
Reg doing workshops

Just received a couple of other photos taken by Nic Ellis of West Australian newspapers...

An obituary appeared in the UK on Wednesday 26th July - in The Guardian. Read obituary here.

Reg's son Jo has also set up a free access bulletin board for stories, contacts, reminiscences, etc. you can find that here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Death of a clown

Reg - half clown. pic: Nic Ellis - West Australian Newspapers
Sad to hear today that Reg Bolton has died.

I worked with Reg during the late 70s, as he (like me) saw the positively therapeutic aspect of circus skills for all levels of ability. He remained focused on community projects, and first steps, and fun.

I would like to extend my sympathy to Annie, Jo and Sophie...

Although Reg had moved to Australia a while ago, he still travelled the globe encouraging new circus projects. For instance, he met up with Ali from NoFit State here at CircElation.

"damn everything but the circus!
...damn everything that is grim, dull
motionless, unrisking, inward turning,
damn everything that won't get into the circle,
that won't enjoy,
that won't throw its heart into the tension,
surprise, fear and delight
of the circus,
the round world
the full existence...
damn everything but the circus!"


Almost Unbelievable!

It does amuse me that I mingle with such a wide range of people, from variations on New Age True Believers (I mostly avoid the traditionally religious) to truly cynical sceptical hard-liners.

My own position probably appears near the extreme of disbelief. I do understand why people who cannot even consider psychic phenomena, or homeopathy, or Near Death Experiences can appear just as rigid and dogmatic as the apparently gullible people Penn and Tellerthey oppose, and I guess I don’t feel quite so certain as many of them that nothing ‘strange’ ever really happens. Still, I would far prefer a conversation with Penn and Teller, or James Randi or even Martin Gardner than with someone who claims psychic powers of any kind.

After all, magicians and actors have explored how to make humans experience or imagine things that have not actually occurred in their ‘real life’ situation – so they seem perfectly qualified for sceptical research and testing.

Martin Gardner may have some attitudes I don’t agree with, but his columns of magic and mathematics in Scientific American kept me enthralled in my youth, fascinated by (say) flexagons or the concept of a googol (yup, the founders spelt it wrong...).

James Randi
Randi may seem a bit bumptious, but I tend to agree with his analysis of most psychic activities. If I leave open a small window of opportunity for ‘the unexplained’ it does not come from a secret yearning that ‘strange powers’ prove true, but merely from a sense of fairness.

So, in the Maybe Logic Forum I chat to people who might well have some investment in magick, astrology, kabbalistic numerology, unusual healing systems, etc – and try (and often fail) to avoid angering them with my blunt, childlike questions…"how would that work?"

I then appear like one of those hard-line sceptics for whom no proof of ‘supernatural events’ would suffice.

For me it mostly seems like a matter of definition – just as ‘UFO’ originally stood for something Unknown flying, and turned into the shorthand for ‘alien spaceship’ – so I have little trouble hearing about things I can’t explain, and I feel little need to try to find an explanation – especially a glib one. I’ll stick with ‘unknown’ and ‘unexplained’ and 'outside my own experience' without adding a woo-woo of significance to those phrases.
Gardner's wonderful books
I may not agree with Martin Gardner's critique of (say) General Semantics, and I may not feel as adamantly materialistic as the PSICOP gang, but my sympathies still lie with those who suspect that the bulk of ‘mysteries’ don’t seem very mysterious, really, to a sharp brain and an experienced eye.

William James seems like a role-model for feeling intrigued by the possibilities, while remaining sceptical of the improbable. Much of the dispute can get resolved if we perceive that the placebo effect may explain (say) homeopathy, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss it out of hand – indeed, anything that makes people feel better deserves study. Check out Stanley Krippner’s comments here
The amazing thing is that there is a history of sleight of hand in shamanism, and sometimes the sleight of hand is used for very benign purposes
In fact, my fascination with the imagination, the placebo, and the search for anything effective, etc led me to NLP and General Semantics and other things that Gardner might well dismiss. In a world where many people and most media prefer the 'exciting' interpretation to the dull one I understand some people's urge to over-compensate the other way. For all the Crop Circle books I can only find one Round in Circles: Poltergeists, Pranksters, and the Secret History of the Cropwatchers.

In honour of fellow sceptics and secularists, I have added a link to Chris Hughes’ blog H'edification for the H'iggerant

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

No Time to Think

I have stumbled slightly in the last few weeks, and my cheerfulness has lapsed. I have always attempted to cheer people up and cheer people on (including myself) but sometimes the sheer glum gloom of everday life (and what people have made of it) still grinds me down. (sigh)

Escape into watching a great, sporting and skilful game of football does not seem like an option - even with the claim that you see it as a meditation on spheres.

I have spent more time dozing or day-dreaming recently, as I find it pretty therapeutic. One of my greatest role-models (although we hardly work in the same sort of fields) remains Bucky Fuller. Some of that comes from his remarkable cheerfulness and optimism about 'humanity', and some from a hunch play, and a love of the very forms that he claims lie at the root of 'Universe'.

I found this on p122 of Martin Pawley’s lucid little book on Bucky.
The brilliant manner in which Fuller fused the development of a revolutionary structural system, the geodesic dome, out of a combination of many hundreds of paper and cardboard geometrical models that were ostensibly intended to be analogical aids for a system of thought, deserves careful consideration. Perhaps the best explanation of it is offered by his 1989 biographer Lloyd Steven Sieden.

'Thinking is sorting experiences’, writes Sieden at the beginning of his exposition of Fuller’s approach, ‘Separating the huge set of experiences that are irrelevant from the very small set of experiences that are relevant’. But irrelevant material itself falls into two categories, and Fuller believed that imagining thought as a transparent sphere helped him to see a way of distinguishing between them. He visualized a situation in which all irrelevant experiences that were too small and too frequently occurring were inside the imaginary sphere, and all those that were too large and too infrequently occurring could be regarded as outside it.
The way Fuller imaged the thinking process, the surface of the imaginary sphere itself would then only consist of relevant experiences, or thoughts. He then wondered how many relevant experiences it would take to establish the ‘insideness’ and ‘outsideness’ necessary to create a sphere of thoughts. His answer was that while any two experiences could be joined by a line, it too three to fix their relationship – a concept perhaps not dissimilar to the journalistic principle that it takes three events to make a trend. This point Fuller diagramatized by drawing a triangle. But to establish a sphere containing ‘insideness’ and outsideness’ something robust enough to be called a thought, was impossible using flat triangles on paper, because the triangle had no integral space-enclosing depth. Three-dimensional structure, in thought as in geometry, could only be achieved by plotting in a fourth experience. The resulting three-dimensional model, a three-sided pyramid, or tetrahedron, Fuller came to believe, was the true geometrical model of a thought. It consisted of four points, or experiences, which in turn generated six sides, or relationships.

My son contacted me to see if I had ever got through ‘Synergetics’ which I have to admit to not having tackled seriously. You can find it online at that link.

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