Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hard to Believe

Great to see Richard Dawkins on the tv last night (with support from Derren Brown, explaining cold reading – “I’m getting something about the dog sleeping in the hall – oh, you don’t have a dog? Well perhaps a painting of a dog, or some sort of painting in the hall? You have recently put a picture up in the hall? He (the spirit on the other side) doesn’t think it’s a good idea to hang that painting there…) Notice how the dog vanishes…

No, I haven’t quoted him perfectly, but he does it awfully well.

Dawkins by BrownI have a lot of glee watching Dawkins, and love the fact that Derren (another sceptic) doesn’t claim anything more than cunning and ingenuity, while all these other people claim psychic powers, and contact with the dead, etc.

My only quibble arises from Dawkins’ complete lack of interest in ‘intuition’ or ‘creativity’ or ‘emotional value’, etc – when he dismisses astrology, spiritualism, faith healing, etc. I do agree with him that the rise of irrationality feels depressing, but that resembles the despair of the intelligent confronted by the stupid, at times. Rather like saying “you can’t possibly enjoy soap operas, you should go to the real opera“ (say). I think certain ‘harmless untruths’ may give people support or reassurance, just as the placebo effect can (apparently) heal people.

I found him hilarious destroying Sun Sign astrology (first of all by comparing the stereotypical model by using national characteristics to point out how unacceptable they would seem to most modern people “Germans, you work hard and play hard, and sometimes people think you don’t have much of a sense of humour” “Chinese, you appear enigmatic to people around you…” “British, you need to learn to loosen up…” - and then by handing an identical trivial newspaper description to various ‘signs’ to see if they recognise themselves…and not improving on chance.

Still, it’s a cheap shot if you think of astrology as a complex language evolved over centuries, and attempting to describe the human personality, just as have various schools of psychology, or groups studying consciousness, and not a system of omens and influences…but that perhaps just shows my own lingering attachment to that particular language, having actually put some time into studying it (without coming to ‘believe’ in it).

And of course, watching water diviners (in Spanish the verb divinar means ‘to guess’!) try to guess which bin contains water and which contain sand, and not beating chance, and then rationalising madly, seems hilarious until you stop to consider which of your own beliefs you would hold onto, even confronted by clear evidence (my smoking has nothing to do with this cough, of course!)

Still, over all, I enjoyed the programme, but know it will make no difference at all. I have tested expression of my own cynicism and scepticism with my online study group for the last three years, and they have convinced me that I have no right to claim that magick doesn’t work (for instance) as it works (appears to work) for them. Like the water diviners they feel sure that something useful happens, and (like the placebo) I don’t feel inclined to disagree any more – especially around creatives, as whatever trick works to elicit creativity seems OK to me, even superstitious behaviour, or accidental imprinting (feeling unable to write without a cigarette and a glass of whiskey).

And I get tired of defending the view. I liked Dawkins' description of the universe as wonder-full, and the word 'mundane' as describing the world around us, which could and should fill us with wonder, rather than needing the 'invisible' or 'spiritual' to somehow make it more exciting. I don't believe in that 'unseen' myself, but have always leaned towards a Zen-like view of elimination of abstractions, and direct perception of what surrounds us. When cold, you can burn the wooden statue of the Buddha...

I don't imbue my surroundings with imaginary 'hidden power', but I do imagine a lot of wars get fought over holy buildings, people trampling on or burning crosses, and flags, and other symbols in which they have invested value.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Last of the Dog Days

Well, today's the last of the Dog Days (something to do with Sirius, and Egypt, and the hot summer days, etc - do yer own research) and at least I don't have to go to work.

Yesterday I struggled back into work (still coughing) only to find the library had been broken into, and we had to sit around waiting for a forensic bloke before we could go into our office, or open up the cybercafe. That made it a long morning.

This cough (tickly throat) still keeps me awake at nights (and probably Julie, too) and exhausts me...after two weeks!

Anyway - try to see the Perseids shower of shooting stars, if you get half a chance this weekend. You don't often get the chance to know which way to look (the radiant point in Perseus), and to see several in minutes! (up to a hundred per hour - Do yer own research). NASA website on Perseids for 2007 - with New Moon making the show particularly good...especially if you can get away from light pollution.
From the NASA site

Oh, yeah, and Mars will be right there in the firing line, as a bonus.

Bear in mind this goes on for days, so you get more than one chance...Judith just reminded me that looking below Cassiopia (the giant letter W constellation) and to the left will find the radiant...Click on this Jodrell Bank image, to see it larger...

Friday, August 10, 2007

What a strange day to go back to work!

The library had been broken into overnight, so we couldn't go into our office space until the forensic team had arrived. There's more to that story, but while wandering in the only section I could get to (Music) I saw this album by Nigel Kennedy, which uses the very statue I posed next to just days ago in Amsterdam! (And one version of which I currently use as on MySpace...as my avatar.)
Borsky, the statue and me

Friday, August 03, 2007

Moments Later...

One minute cheerful and glowing, the next I go down with some bug. Spent all of Sunday under the duvet, and the snuffling, coughing, aching, tired thing has dragged on all this week. (Apologies to the people at work having to cover for me, but you wouldn't wanna see me in a state like this).

The dog mostly seems disappointed by my condition (I don't wanna play much) but once he gave up nagging he did join me dozing on the sofa under the duvet one day, as you can see...(just in case I had forgotten about him!)
Dandy decided to try this sleeping thing...
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