Thursday, 29 December 2016

More on the love of scholarship

Perhaps this should be a New Year's resolution for certain parents.

I once heard a woman on a train drilling her child over and over again with arithmetical challenges. What is a half of this number and what is half of that number? What is 11 times 10? This was nothing but a test of memorising. This is not entirely useless but it offers no insight into how numbers - let along mathematics - works and there was no attempt to teach her child a love of learning. I appreciate her desire to help her child do well but better surely to inculcate a love of learning and then there will be no end to what the child will be able to do.

In a roundabout way, I was fortunate that, when I was young, we had a glass-fronted bookcase at home. This had been inherited from my great grandmother; my immediate family had no love of books. The bookcase was more ornamental than functional. The glass front consisted of a removable panel locked in place and rarely removed. This made these books something of a mystery. I could see their spines but nothing else. They looked old and very grown-up; very mysterious. Study can be - and is certainly for me - about uncovering mysteries: finding out things I do not know; seeing things in new clearer ways.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Refusing a present

We rarely refuse a Christmas, or any other sort of, present. I certainly like getting something for nothing. I was interested to read that the author Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) turned down the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for his novel Arrowsmith.

He explained why in the following terms:

"I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel Arrowsmith for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.
All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards; they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for Novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.
Those terms are that the prize shall be given "for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood." This phrase, if it means anything whatsoever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment."

Similarly, Jean-Paul Satre (1905-1980) was awarded and declined the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature, pointing out that he always declined official honours and saying that "a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution".

These are high ideals when so much money is on offer. Would that more people were seen to be like that these days.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Epictetus - 21

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

If thou wouldst make progress, be content to seem foolish and void of understanding with respect to outward things. Care not to be thought to know anything. If any should make account of thee, distrust thyself.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

How thick is your paper?

There was a quote I once heard attributed to one of the Mitford sisters. I have been unable to find its precise wording, nor determine which Mitford sister was supposed to have said it but it goes something like this:

'It is a lamentable thing when, in a household, the toilet paper is thicker than the writing paper.'

(Whichever sister it was clearly did not foresee the digital revolution.)

Without being reminded of this, I discussed a similar thought with a colleague not long ago. I wondered how much money our students spent on books for their courses each year compared with the amount they spent on tattoos. We concluded that more was likely to be spent on tattoos. There's an irony here. University courses are meant to help with one's future career prospects and yet students seem to be diverting money from that activity to something that is endangering those prospects as a number of articles have recently suggested.

(Mitford Sisters) Corollary: It can be an infuriating game to try to name all of the Mitford sisters. I remember a cartoon from The Guardian newspaper many years showing a man in bed unable to sleep and saying to his partner, 'What was the name of the fourth Mitford sister'. There is always one (or perhaps two) that you can't remember - if you can remember how many there were in the first place. (Of course, this begs the question, Why try to remember them now, anyway?)

Monday, 5 December 2016

The love of scholarship

There is no occupation so sweet as scholarship; scholarship is the means of making known to us, while still in this world, the infinity of matter, the immense grandeur of Nature, the heavens, the lands and the seas. Scholarship has taught us piety, moderation, greatness of heart; it snatches our souls from darkness and shows them all things, the high and the low, the first, the last and everything in between; scholarship furnishes us with the means of living well and happily; it teaches us how to spend our lives without discontent and without vexation.
Cicero (106-43 BC) - Tusculan Disputations

"Study is to me a relief, a diversion, a passion that could make me forget everything. Like you, I am willing to live obscure, in the frail hope of bequeathing one day, to future time, the result of my labours."
Captain Nemo in '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' by Jules Verne (1828-1905)


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Higher learning

In the episode of The Big Bang Theory entitled 'The Anxiety Optimization' (Season 8 Episode 13) 'ground-breaking discoveries' were contrasted with 'solid research'. The latter is what is performed by the majority of workers in academia. These workers are portrayed as simply going through the motions and doing a job during that period of their adult lives when they worked and followed careers just like anybody else. Making 'ground-breaking discoveries' is depicted as the superior of the two activities. This takes a different mentality - a certain genius - that is less about being 'adult' and doing the 'career thing' and more about keeping a youthful sense of discovery. It has been said of Albert Einstein (1879-1955) that he maintained a childish sense of questioning throughout his life.

In another episode (Series 4 Episode 15 – The Benefactor Factor), Sheldon Cooper doesn't want to go to a university fund raising evening and tells his flat mate Leonard to tell the university principal that... "Dr. Cooper feels that the best use of his time is to employ his rare and precious mental faculties to tear the mask off nature and stare at the face of God."

Quite! Let those interested in and able to understand institutional finance tend to that sort of business.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Being alone

These two quotations perhaps sum up the desire for solitude:

"Hell is other people."
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

"Do I know where hell is? Hell is in hello"
Lee Marvin (1924-1987) in the song 'Wand'rin' Star' from the movie 'Paint Your Wagon'.

The next line of the song being:
"Heaven is goodbye for ever, it's time for me to go."

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Epictetus - 20

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

First study to conceal what thou art; seek wisdom a little while unto thyself. Thus grows the fruit; first, the seed must be buried in the earth for a little space; there it must be hid and slowly grow, that it may reach maturity. But if it produce the ear before the jointed stalk, it is imperfect-a thing from the garden of Adonis. Such a sorry growth art thou; thou hast blossomed too soon: the winter cold will wither thee away!

Friday, 11 November 2016

Some unattributred quotes

"There is no such thing as definitive knowledge, only creative ways of describing what you make of the world."

"One should relish the amount of information that one has at one’s disposal and the benefits that will bring; not be distracted by what seems to be the herculean task of organising it. After all, bringing some sense of order to chaos was the first act of the creation."

"One is duty-bound to raise the most intriguing questions that one possibly can so that the generations to come will have a much better starting point from which to begin their work of questioning."

"In every life there is a question that nobody can ask for you; a question that gives your life its specific meaning. Sometimes it may not be possible to answer that question completely. What is terrible is not to have asked the question in the first place."

Saturday, 5 November 2016

On the having new thoughts

A brand new idea may lie just beyond a completely outrageous one. It may be totally inaccessible other than by first having that outrageous idea. The boldness in getting to the new idea is in being willing to have (and going ahead and having) the outrageous idea first. It would, therefore, be counterproductive prudishness not to allow oneself free rein when it comes to thinking. (In the privacy of one's mind, is it improper to think improper thoughts?)

Saturday, 29 October 2016

What are computer programmers?

I came across the following as somebody's tag line on a Microsoft forum but couldn't find out anything more. It suggests that...

"A programmer is just a tool which converts caffeine into code"

In this there was more than an echo of:

'A chicken is only an egg's way of making another egg' which is attributed to Samuel Butler (1613-1680). This idea is now commonly used in biology - not least by Richard Dawkins - to describe an organism as a gene's way of making more genes.

In short, nothing is as it may appear on the surface.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Stop checking your emails (so often)!

Recently, it was reported that, one in three adults checks their emails in the middle of the night! Putting aside questions of 'Why?' and comments like 'Get a life (even when you should be asleep)', there is the question of what this is like if viewed slightly differently - that is, if viewed 'aslant'.

As noted on 'The News Quiz' (BBC Radio 4 - 15th May 2015), checking emails is like going to one's front door and looking to see if anybody is there. It is like going out and asking the post/mail man if there is anything in his bag. (There are post/mail women, of course, but ours is male.)

Where I live, the post/mail man only comes once a day (and never on a Sunday), so why should it not be the same for the (virtual) email (man)? It only takes a bit of discipline and self-control.

I close the email application on my work PC after I have used it and only open it again to check for emails at times convenient to me. I do not have an alert sounding every time something arrives - unlike my colleague who's computer goes 'dink' quite regularly. If there is anything urgent about which I need to be informed, there is always the 'phone (which, in my office, I keep in a drawer behind where I sit).

When working at home, I never have an email application open and only check to see if there is an alert on my tablet when I am not doing anything else - and feel like checking. I do not have what can only be described as an email-checking habit - which is a polite way of saying 'addiction'. In fact, I probably have the opposite. Indeed, when the 'phone at home rings, I rarely answer it unless I am expecting a call.

(At home, I do open the front door - on Fridays to pay the milkman and on other days to tell people politely - or in the case of Mormons, impolitely - to go away.)

Monday, 17 October 2016

Epictetus - 19

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

The dress is suited to the craft; the craftsman takes his name from the craft, not from the dress. For this reason Euphrates was right in saying, "I long endeavoured to conceal my following the philosophic life; and this profited me much. In the first place, I knew that what I did aright, I did not for the sake of lookers-on, but for my own. I ate aright-unto myself; I kept the even tenor of my walk, my glance composed and serene-all unto myself and unto God. Then as I fought alone, I was alone in peril. If I did anything amiss or shameful, the cause of Philosophy was not in me endangered; nor did I wrong the multitude by transgressing as a professed philosopher. Wherefore those that knew not my purpose marvelled how it came about, that whilst all my life and conversation was passed with philosophers without exception, I was yet none myself. And what harm that the philosopher should be known by his acts, instead of mere outward signs and symbols?"

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Pascal's Pensées - 2

Following on from my first selection from Pascal's Pensées:

Selection 2

194. ... Let them at least learn what is the religion they attack, before attacking it. If this religion boasted of having a clear view of God, and of possessing it open and unveiled, it would be attacking it to say that we see nothing in the world which shows it with this clearness. But since, on the contrary, it says that men are in darkness and estranged from God, that He has hidden Himself from their knowledge, that this is in fact the name which He gives Himself in the Scriptures, Deus absconditus; [Is. 45. 15. "Thou art a God that hidest thyself."] and finally, if it endeavours equally to establish these two things: that God has set up in the Church visible signs to make Himself known to those who should seek Him sincerely, and that He has nevertheless so disguised them that He will only be perceived by those who seek Him with all their heart; what advantage can they obtain, when, in the negligence with which they make profession of being in search of the truth, they cry out that nothing reveals it to them; and since that darkness in which they are, and with which they upbraid the Church, establishes only one of the things which she affirms, without touching the other, and, very far from destroying, proves her doctrine?

In order to attack it, they should have protested that they had made every effort to seek Him everywhere, and even in that which the Church proposes for their instruction, but without satisfaction. If they talked in this manner, they would in truth be attacking one of her pretensions. But I hope here to show that no reasonable person can speak thus, and I venture even to say that no one has ever done so. We know well enough how those who are of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction when they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture and have questioned some priests on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all.

The immortality of the soul is a matter which is of so great consequence to us and which touches us so profoundly that we must have lost all feeling to be indifferent as to knowing what it is. All our actions and thoughts must take such different courses, according as there are or are not eternal joys to hope for, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and judgment unless we regulate our course by our view of this point which ought to be our ultimate end.
Thus our first interest and our first duty is to enlighten ourselves on this subject, whereon depends all our conduct. Therefore among those who do not believe, I make a vast difference between those who strive with all their power to inform themselves and those who live without troubling or thinking about it.
I can have only compassion for those who sincerely bewail their doubt, who regard it as the greatest of misfortunes, and who, sparing no effort to escape it, make of this inquiry their principal and most serious occupation.

But as for those who pass their life without thinking of this ultimate end of life, and who, for this sole reason that they do not find within themselves the lights which convince them of it, neglect to seek them elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion is one of those which people receive with credulous simplicity, or one of those which, although obscure in themselves, have nevertheless a solid and immovable foundation, I look upon them in a manner quite different.

This carelessness in a matter which concerns themselves, their eternity, their all, moves me more to anger than pity; it astonishes and shocks me; it is to me monstrous. I do not say this out of the pious zeal of a spiritual devotion. I expect, on the contrary, that we ought to have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-love; for this we need only see what the least enlightened persons see.

We do not require great education of the mind to understand that here is no real and lasting satisfaction; that our pleasures are only vanity; that our evils are infinite; and, lastly, that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years under the dreadful necessity of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy.

There is nothing more real than this, nothing more terrible. Be we as heroic as we like, that is the end which awaits the world. Let us reflect on this and then say whether it is not beyond doubt that there is no good in this life but in the hope of another; that we are happy only in proportion as we draw near it; and that, as there are no more woes for those who have complete assurance of eternity, so there is no more happiness for those who have no insight into it.
Surely then it is a great evil thus to be in doubt, but it is at least an indispensable duty to seek when we are in such doubt; and thus the doubter who does not seek is altogether completely unhappy and completely wrong. And if besides this he is easy and content, professes to be so, and indeed boasts of it; if it is this state itself which is the subject of his joy and vanity, I have no words to describe so silly a creature.

How can people hold these opinions? What joy can we find in the expectation of nothing but hopeless misery? What reason for boasting that we are in impenetrable darkness? And how can it happen that the following argument occurs to a reasonable man?

"I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which surround me as an atom and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.

"As I know not whence I come, so I know not whither I go. I know only that, in leaving this world, I fall for ever either into annihilation or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be for ever assigned. Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty. And from all this I conclude that I ought to spend all the days of my life without caring to inquire into what must happen to me. Perhaps I might find some solution to my doubts, but I will not take the trouble, nor take a step to seek it; and after treating with scorn those who are concerned with this care, I will go without foresight and without fear to try the great event, and let myself be led carelessly to death, uncertain of the eternity of my future state."

Who would desire to have for a friend a man who talks in this fashion? Who would choose him out from others to tell him of his affairs? Who would have recourse to him in affliction? And indeed to what use in life could one put him?
In truth, it is the glory of religion to have for enemies men so unreasonable; and their opposition to it is so little dangerous that it serves, on the contrary, to establish its truths. For the Christian faith goes mainly to establish these two facts: the corruption of nature, and redemption by Jesus Christ. Now I contend that, if these men do not serve to prove the truth of the redemption by the holiness of their behaviour, they at least serve admirably to show the corruption of nature by sentiments so unnatural.

Nothing is so important to man as his own state, nothing is so formidable to him as eternity; and thus it is not natural that there should be men indifferent to the loss of their existence, and to the perils of everlasting suffering. They are quite different with regard to all other things. They are afraid of mere trifles; they foresee them; they feel them. And this same man who spends so many days and nights in rage and despair for the loss of office, or for some imaginary insult to his honour, is the very one who knows without anxiety and without emotion that he will lose all by death. It is a monstrous thing to see in the same heart and at the same time this sensibility to trifles and this strange insensibility to the greatest objects. It is an incomprehensible enchantment, and a supernatural slumber, which indicates as its cause an all-powerful force.

There must be a strange confusion in the nature of man, that he should boast of being in that state in which it seems incredible that a single individual should be. However, experience has shown me so great a number of such persons that the fact would be surprising, if we did not know that the greater part of those who trouble themselves about the matter are disingenuous and not, in fact, what they say. They are people who have heard it said that it is the fashion to be thus daring. It is what they call "shaking off the yoke," and they try to imitate this. But it would not be difficult to make them understand how greatly they deceive themselves in thus seeking esteem. This is not the way to gain it, even I say among those men of the world who take a healthy view of things and who know that the only way to succeed in this life is to make ourselves appear honourable, faithful, judicious, and capable of useful service to a friend; because naturally men love only what may be useful to them. Now, what do we gain by hearing it said of a man that he has now thrown off the yoke, that he does not believe there is a God who watches our actions, that he considers himself the sole master of his conduct, and that he thinks he is accountable for it only to himself.? Does he think that he has thus brought us to have henceforth complete confidence in him and to look to him for consolation, advice, and help in every need of life? Do they profess to have delighted us by telling us that they hold our soul to be only a little wind and smoke, especially by telling us this in a haughty and self-satisfied tone of voice? Is this a thing to say gaily? Is it not, on the contrary, a thing to say sadly, as the saddest thing in the world?

If they thought of it seriously, they would see that this is so bad a mistake, so contrary to good sense, so opposed to decency, and so removed in every respect from that good breeding which they seek, that they would be more likely to correct than to pervert those who had an inclination to follow them. And, indeed, make them give an account of their opinions, and of the reasons which they have for doubting religion, and they will say to you things so feeble and so petty, that they persuade you of the contrary. The following is what a person one day said to such a one very appositely: "If you continue to talk in this manner, you will really make me religious." And he was right, for who would not have a horror of holding opinions in which he would have such contemptible persons as companions!

Thus those who only feign these opinions would be very unhappy, if they restrained their natural feelings in order to make themselves the most conceited of men. If, at the bottom of their heart, they are troubled at not having more light, let them not disguise the fact; this avowal will not be shameful. The only shame is to have none. Nothing reveals more an extreme weakness of mind than not to know the misery of a godless man. Nothing is more indicative of a bad disposition of heart than not to desire the truth of eternal promises. Nothing is more dastardly than to act with bravado before God. Let them then leave these impieties to those who are sufficiently ill-bred to be really capable of them. Let them at least be honest men, if they cannot be Christians. Finally, let them recognise that there are two kinds of people one can call reasonable; those who serve God with all their heart because they know Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know Him.

But as for those who live without knowing Him and without seeking Him, they judge themselves so little worthy of their own care, that they are not worthy of the care of others; and it needs all the charity of the religion which they despise, not to despise them even to the point of leaving them to their folly. But because this religion obliges us always to regard them, so long as they are in this life, as capable of the grace which can enlighten them, and to believe that they may, in a little time, be more replenished with faith than we are, and that, on the other hand, we may fall into the blindness wherein they are, we must do for them what we would they should do for us if we were in their place, and call upon them to have pity upon themselves, and to take at least some steps in the endeavour to find light. Let them give to reading this some of the hours which they otherwise employ so uselessly; whatever aversion they may bring to the task, they will perhaps gain something, and at least will not lose much. But as for those who bring to the task perfect sincerity and a real desire to meet with truth, those I hope will be satisfied and convinced of the proofs of a religion so divine, which I have here collected, and in which I have followed somewhat after this order...

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Pascal's Pensées - 1

Some time ago I read Pascal's Pensées. As I read, I marked certain sections that I thought particularly interesting or inspiring. I found these recently and over two blogs, I will share them. The first is a collection of shorter selections (from sections 2, 70, 109, 115, 129 and 160); the second is a single long selection (from section 194).

Selection 1

2. There are different kinds of right understanding; some have right understanding in a certain order of things, and not in others, where they go astray. Some draw conclusions well from a few premises, and this displays an acute judgment.
Others draw conclusions well where there are many premises.
For example, the former easily learn hydrostatics, where the premises are few, but the conclusions are so fine that only the greatest acuteness can reach them.
And in spite of that these persons would perhaps not be great mathematicians, because mathematics contain a great number of premises, and there is perhaps a kind of intellect that can search with ease a few premises to the bottom and cannot in the least penetrate those matters in which there are many premises.
There are then two kinds of intellect: the one able to penetrate acutely and deeply into the conclusions of given premises, and this is the precise intellect; the other able to comprehend a great number of premises without confusing them, and this is the mathematical intellect. The one has force and exactness, the other comprehension. Now the one quality can exist without the other; the intellect can be strong and narrow, and can also be comprehensive and weak.

70. Nature... -- Nature has set us so well in the centre, that if we change one side of the balance, we change the other also. This makes me believe that the springs in our brain are so adjusted that he who touches one touches also its contrary.

109. When we are well we wonder what we would do if we were ill, but when we are ill we take medicine cheerfully; the illness persuades us to do so. We have no longer the passions and desires for amusements and promenades which health gave to us, but which are incompatible with the necessities of illness. Nature gives us, then, passions and desires suitable to our present state. We are only troubled by the fears which we, and not nature, give ourselves, for they add to the state in which we are the passions of the state in which we are not.
As nature makes us always unhappy in every state, our desires picture to us a happy state; because they add to the state in which we are the pleasures of the state in which we are not. And if we attained to these pleasures, we should not be happy after all; because we should have other desires natural to this new state.
We must particularise this general proposition....

115. Variety. -- Theology is a science, but at the same time how many sciences? A man is a whole; but if we dissect him, will he be the head, the heart, the stomach, the veins, each vein, each portion of a vein, the blood, each humour in the blood?
A town, a country-place, is from afar a town and a country-place. But, as we draw near, there are houses, trees, tiles, leaves, grass, ants, limbs of ants, in infinity. All this is contained under the name of country-place.

129. Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death.

160. Sneezing absorbs all the functions of the soul, as well as work does; but we do not draw therefrom the same conclusions against the greatness of man, because it is against his will. And although we bring it on ourselves, it is nevertheless against our will that we sneeze. It is not in view of the act itself; it is for another end. And thus it is not a proof of the weakness of man and of his slavery under that action.
It is not disgraceful for man to yield to pain, and it is disgraceful to yield to pleasure. This is not because pain comes to us from without, and we ourselves seek pleasure; for it is possible to seek pain, and yield to it purposely, without this kind of baseness. Whence comes it, then, that reason thinks it honourable to succumb under stress of pain, and disgraceful to yield to the attack of pleasure? It is because pain does not tempt and attract us. It is we ourselves who choose it voluntarily, and will it to prevail over us. So that we are masters of the situation; and in this man yields to himself. But in pleasure it is man who yields to pleasure. Now only mastery and sovereignty bring glory, and only slavery brings shame.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

That's the way to do it.

"My goal, both in speaking at conferences like TED and in writing my book, is to start a conversation that a wider audience can engage with and find helpful. Few things would make this goal harder to achieve than for me to speak and write like an academic philosopher."

Sam Harris - Huffington Post (May 7th 2010)
(The full text was to be found at but I have encountered problems recently.)

Friday, 23 September 2016

Another favourite part of the London Underground

A month ago, I mentioned how the Piccadilly Circus Bakerloo Crossover was my favourite part of the London Underground. So how can I have another favourite part? I can because this part is unused - and technically was never a proper part of the Underground although it was nearly. This 'other favourite part' is Highgate High Level station pictured below.

It was part of the proposed 'Northern Heights Project' and now lies derelict beside the current Highgate underground station just visible in the background. Other photographs and a better history than I can give can be found by following these links:

Disused Stations - Highgate

The Northern Heights (Part 2)

Overground - Northern Heights
(Where my favourite image is Number 22)

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Epictetus - 18

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

God hath made all things in the world, nay, the world itself, free from hindrance and perfect, and its parts for the use of the whole. No other creature is capable of comprehending His administration thereof; but the reasonable being Man possesses faculties for the consideration of all these things—not only that he is himself a part, but what part he is, and how it is meet that the parts should give place to the whole. Nor is this all. Being naturally constituted noble, magnanimous, and free, he sees that the things which surround him are of two kinds. Some are free from hindrance and in the power of the will. Other are subject to hindrance, and depend on the will of other men. If then he place his own good, his own best interest, only in that which is free from hindrance and in his power, he will be free, tranquil, happy, unharmed, noble-hearted, and pious; giving thanks to all things unto God, finding fault with nothing that comes to pass, laying no charge against anything. Whereas if he place his good in outward things, depending not on the will, he must perforce be subject to hindrance and restraint, the slave of those that have power over the things he desires and fears; he must perforce be impious, as deeming himself injured at the hands of God; he must be unjust, as ever prone to claim more than his due; he must perforce be of a mean and abject spirit.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Bore Out

A BBC online article recently asked whether there was such a thing a 'Bore Out'? This was occasioned by a French man suing his former employer for "bore out" - boredom's equivalent of "burnout". He claimed to have been turned into a "professional zombie". Whatever the rights or wrongs of the case - and I don't know (or really care to know) its outcome - I suspect that there is something in it. 

To the question posed by the BBC article, my immediate response was a resounding, 'Yes!' I have worked in academia and parts of it are certainly not mind-expanding. Rather they are totally mind-destroying - the endless admin., the petty problems they students should be able to solve for themselves. It seems endless.

I chose academia because I have something of a 'perpetual student' mentality, while also wanting to share the knowledge and insight I was intent on discovering. That combination I would describe as that of a typical teacher/lecturer. Or, at least, what I used to be that of a typical teacher/lecturer in the past. Now I have colleagues who are just going through the motions; just doing it for the money. Wanting not too much hassle, they ensure that not too many students fail - even though the standard of those students is not necessarily very good. The exchanges one has with students - which, in the past, were essential to the enjoyment of working in academia - are no longer stimulating. Instead, they have become banal and mundane; largely about what has to be remembered in order to pass an exam. These exchanges are rarely about the subjects I have spent over 40 years studying and pondering over. Were it not for the fact I am still fascinated by my subject - the more so given that I have more time now that I work only part-time - I may well have gone the way of the intellectual zombies I see on campus.

Monday, 5 September 2016

More Unattributed Quotes

"It is easy to make worthless activity feel valuable. All one has to do is feel tired when it is done."

"Like anybody else, I too make mistakes. However, my mistakes are of such a standard that most people around here will never spot them!"

"You are here to understand your own bit of the universe."

Monday, 29 August 2016

Prose as poetry

I once watched a BBC television series by the historian Simon Schama. I don't remember its title but there was a scene that I do remember vividly. It was when Schama wandered through the dilapidated remains of an old synagogue. He ponders on what it used to be like. I found the prose so poignant and poetic that I transcribed his words. (The line divisions and punctuation are mine.)

At first it seemed like a place of utter desolation.
But then I saw the stylised angels' wings,
Hovering over the ceiling.
Out of the dust burst the colours.
The blues of heaven;
The reds of the kings of Judea;
The rainbows coming through the glass.
And then, amidst all this absence,
I began to sense the presence:
The cantor's chant;
The murmuring banter.
And there in the gallery the women;
And below the men in silk hats.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

A favourite part of the London Underground

Perhaps you've got to be a bit of a London Underground enthusiast (or perhaps just a railway enthusiast in general) to appreciate this but my favourite part of the London Underground system is the Piccadilly Circus Bakerloo Crossover (at the northern end of the Bakerloo Line platforms). I can still remember the first time I saw it from the carriage of a Bakerloo Line train when I was about 13 years old. It's as fascinating now as it was then. Here are a couple of pictures from different angles and quite different dates.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Epictetus - 17

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

I am free, I am a friend of God, ready to render Him willing obedience. Of all else I may set store by nothing—neither by mine own body, nor possessions, nor office, nor good report, nor, in a word, aught else beside. For it is not His Will, that I should so set store by these things. Had it been His pleasure, He would have placed my Good therein. But now He hath not done so: therefore I cannot transgress one jot of His commands. In everything hold fast to that which is thy Good—but to all else (as far as is given thee) within the measure of Reason only, contented with this alone. Else thou wilt meet with failure, ill success, let and hindrance. These are the Laws ordained of God—these are His Edicts; these a man should expound and interpret; to these submit himself, not to the laws of Masurius and Cassius.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Two thoughts together

I found, in my collections, two quotations that I think belong together.

'Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.' – Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

In her 'Science as Salvation' (p62), Mary Midgley wrote that G.E. Moore (1873-1958) suggested (in his Principia Ethica) that the highest human good was the 'admiring contemplation' of beautiful objects or beautiful people, to which she added 'I think he did suggest the detached museum-attitude'.

Exactly why I think these two ideas belong together is another matter. I'm not sure that I know, I just feel that they do.

Friday, 5 August 2016

So many clocks. Why, so many clocks?

Why are there so many clocks on so many things? Ovens have clocks when all they really need is a timer. After all, my bread-maker and my washing machine both have timers (and start delay options) without the need for a clock; so I have no complaint there. However, every personal electronic device has a prominent clock declaring the time whether I want to know it or not. No manufacturer of these things - so far as I can tell - has provided us with the option of turning these clocks off. Telling us the time is the first time these things do. It is not the first thing I want to know when activating these things.

On my laptop and tablet - and on my office PC - I have either removed or hidden the clock. If I want to know the time, I choose to look; to find out. After all, I have a watch (kept in my pocket; I never wear one). If I need to know the time, I can check (or set an alarm). I do not need to be told the time all the time.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Thinking to Some Purpose

I recently read Susan Stebbing's book 'Thinking To Some Purpose' - originally published in 1939. Apart from its interesting content, I found something unexpected on the following page.

Did you spot it? In the days of manual typesetting, misprints were more common; we have all seen them. However, I have not seen one like this before although, given the nature of the letter in question, it is a quite understandable slip and it is perhaps surprising that one hasn't seen it more often.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Conan-Doyle preempts this blog?

I recently read the whole of the canon of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle. I found these quotes which, to a good degree, sum up the ethos of this blog.

"It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important."
From: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Adventure III  - A Case of Identity

"It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles."
From: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Adventure VI - The Man with the Twisted Lip

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Epictetus - 16

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

Asked how a man should best grieve his enemy, Epictetus replied, "By setting himself to live the noblest life himself."

Monday, 11 July 2016

Pin-ups in a different light (or should that be wavelength?)

We take a lot for granted and do not stop to wonder why things are as they are. We are now at the mid-point of this year. In a few months though we will start seeing calendars in the shops for next year. Some will be of various celebrities posing in ways we rarely question even though the poses they sometimes adopt are rather exaggerated to say the least. This may help one think differently.

One rarely, if ever, sees somebody adopt this pose in ordinary, everyday life. When seen in the light of X-Rays, the flesh that is usually being displayed is stripped away and we have to think differently.

Here is the full set:
(Click image to enlarge)

For more, see the article X-Ray Pinup Calendar Is More Than Just Skin Deep or just click-here-to-search.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Citations, References and Bibliographies

In my academic work, I often need to search for, find and read other people's work. With the advent of the internet, finding that work has become a lot easier. (This brings back memories of how one had to go about it in the past before computers. It could be a quite complex task and so I won't even begin to describe the process.)

There is something puzzling about the information now more freely available. Many academics put lists of their work online but not copies of their work. Copyright issues aside, one would have thought that it was the work rather than just its bibliographic details that one would have wanted to share. It is one thing to put copies of one's work on the Internet so that others may see it; it is quite another just to put lists of publications which people then have to track down, when all along a copy should be made readily available.

Just listing one's bibliography is not sharing. It is merely there to try to enhance one's kudos by giving a catalogue  suggesting how clever one is and how busy one has been. This rarely succeeds.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

A Cube Calendar

I like right angles, so I like cubes and the like - even when images of them have no measurable right angles in them. Calendars are another thing. I don't usually follow them too closely. At best, I sometimes scribble out the next couple of weeks on a piece of paper rather than consult a already prepared calendar.

Here (from AIGA Design Archives) is what happens when cubes and calendars meet:

This I can take or leave. I find that my antipathy to calendars somewhat outweighs my liking for cubes.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Keeping It Simple

Following my recent post in which I offered one of my own quotes (about another layer of simplification having been added to a process where I work), I came across the following from Julian Huxley (1887-1975).

Good writing, he suggests, ought to demonstrate "simplification without distortion".

So should a lot of things. Occam's razor (that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected) is in the same vein.

Today, I start some marking of academic work. For this I had to go for training in how to use a new computerised submissions system. When I suggested a simplified approach that I had used in the past and intended using this time, the person in charge of this system was rather indignant and quite insistent that I do it in a specific (more complex, less easy) way and to fit in with the way the computerised system had been set up and not do what was best for me.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Epictetus - 15

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

He is free who lives as he wishes to live; to whom none can do violence, none hinder or compel; whose impulses are unimpeded, whose desires are attain their purpose, who falls not into what he would avoid. Who then would live in error?—None. Who would live deceived and prone to fall, unjust, intemperate, in abject whining at his lot?—None. Then doth no wicked man live as he would, and therefore neither is he free.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

How to work

How can we work in a productive and satisfying way? Recently, I found that where I work a new process - not to mention a new form associated with it - had been added to something we have been doing successfully enough for years. This was not the result of some external or legal directive but the result of somebody 'improving' what we do... again! This is not the first time that this has happened. Upon reflection, a change in this area of our work has been made every year for as long as I can be bothered to remember.
About this, the following quote immediately occurred to me:
"Once again, a new layer of simplification has been added."
Steve Lewis

This is meant to be ironic, of course, for whenever something like this is done not only is something added but a whole range of relationships between the new thing and all that was there before is brought about. Each simplification is, in fact, a complexification.

I also recently came across this quote:

"Be regular and orderly in your life like a Bourgeois so that you may be violent and original in your work."

An interesting contrast. What Flaubert had in mind was, creative work though.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Numbers (can do funny things)

As I write this, I am looking forward to seeing the film 'The Man Who Knew Infinity' this evening; a film about the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Numbers can do funny things and appear in all sorts of interesting ways.

Recently, I noticed that I am aged 61, having been born in '55, whereas my wife is 55, having been born in '61.
When I told her this, she noted that this year while see is 55, her mother is 88 and our daughter 22 (differences in multiples of 33 years, as if you hadn't noticed).

Interesting but nothing more meaningful or significant than that. I am NOT suggesting any numerological connotations can be drawn from this coincidence.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

1984 and after

In George Orwell's novel 1984, people were under constant surveillance. There was no privacy. Their inner thoughts and motivations were even open to scrutiny. Now this surveillance has become widespread, many people welcome it as a way of preventing crime or catching criminals. This is nowhere more evident than on television were in crime series CCTV is often key to solving the crime. If ever there was cause for suggesting a conspiracy theory (here a collusion between the authorities and the TV companies), this must be one.

Post-1984 (year and novel), people are also choosing to expose themselves in ways that Orwell could never have envisaged through social media etc. Even blogs! Many have not only embraced what Orwell considered controlling intrusion, they crave it.
Suggestion: Next time you see a celebrity, ignore them and see how quickly they notice that you are not intruding upon them and they cannot complain about this.

Monday, 23 May 2016

People on buses

I have noticed that after 9.00 am, there is more conversation to be heard on buses than before. Before 9.00 am people more often than not, keep themselves to themselves by reading, listening to music, checking their 'phones or generally doing nothing but look out of the window. After 9 am, the people who travel do so more by choice than having to get to work on time - they are in freer and choose to avoid the rush to work. Also, they are often older people with bus passes. I have also noticed that as people get older, they are more likely to talk to people they don't know. It's a different world on the bus either side of 9.00 am.


Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Epictetus - 14

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

Reflect that the chief source of all evils to Man, and of baseness and cowardice, is not death, but the fear of death.
Against this fear then, I pray you, harden yourself; to this let all your reasonings, your exercises, your reading tend. Then shall you know that thus alone are men set free.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016


There is the material world and what has been described as the world of the mind. On first impressions, the difference between the two is probably obvious but what is the difference in those that inhabit these worlds? And how easy is it for these inhabitants to move from one world to the other?

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Does it follow...

…that universities are where the deepest thinking and learning takes place?

There are still people who regret never having gone to university or failing to complete a degree course. I was reminded of such a person this week. He had tried three times to get a degree and, for one reason or another, had been unable to complete the course. Now aged 70, should an intelligent and very interesting man, successful in variety of other ways, still have regrets?

The truth is that a lot of shallow and mundane thinking now goes on in universities around Britain - and I am sure all around the world, too. Deep thinking and learning goes on where deep thinking and learning goes on; it is not confined to a particular place or type of institution. Yes, there are universities where very deep thinking has and will continue to take place. It is just that being called a university doesn't guarantee that it does, has or even that it ever will. And it can be done by those outside such places.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Maps built from squares

I came across the following map at the 'Tower of the Archmage' blog. I don't really know what this is about apart from assuming that it is a game of some sort. What interests me is the way in which the map is made using squared paper. This is the first Megadungeon map. The name perhaps gives a clue as to what 'Tower of the Archmage' may be about.

Further maps - and how they fit together - can be found on the Megadungeon Maps - 1st big level page. (There is also a map label with numerous entries to click.)

Using a book of squared paper, a 3D map - or at least a map with numerous levels or layers, one per page - can be produced. It could even form some sort of 3D maze.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Francesca Woodman

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) was a photographer the subject of whose work was often herself. She produced numerous self portraits. She often worked in the square format. I found this somewhere but can remember where. What interests me about this image - which I think has been altered - is the square arrangement of the same square image at different magnifications. This reveals the composite dots typical of photographs as they used to appear in old newspapers.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Epictetus - 13

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

I am by Nature made for my own good; not for my own evil.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Fruit Bowl

I was going through a few old computer files that I had largely forgotten about on Google Drive recently and found this drawing of a bowl of fruit made by my daughter many years ago when she was about 5 or 6 years old.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Sky Geometry

I came across the following two images while wandering through Flickr recently. They can be found at simes_photo's page. I like the idea of drawing straight lines in the sky linking objects (here birds) and within the bellowing clouds where no straight lines exist. Look carefully. In true engineering drawing style, the lines drawn are very faint.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Equivalent to Equivalent VIII

When it was first acquired and displayed by the Tate Gallery in London, Carl Andre's 'Equivalent VIII' (below) caused quite a stir. The merits or otherwise of the work - and the amount of money paid for it - are a matter of debate which does not concern me here. Instead, what I've wondered about is whether any of the night security staff on duty while the Tate was closed ever re-arranged the bricks. It would be very easy to do without anybody noticing what had happened.

The corollary to this is, if none of them thought of doing so, why didn't it occur to them? And if it did occur to them and they didn't actually do it, why didn't they? I would have done it. After all, in those days there were few, if any, CCTV cameras to catch one in the (artistic? - creative? - despicable?) act.

For other images see the page about 'Equivalent VIII' at the Tate Gallery.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Rectilinear video

In the past, I have blogged about my interest/fascination with squares, rectangles, right angles etc. (Click the label 'Right Angles etc' below to see what I mean.) Here is a video upon that theme: The Fall's 'Repetition'. (If you don't like the music - and I can't say that I'm a fan of the band - watch the video with the sound off, as I do.)

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Epictetus - 12

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

If any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone. For God hath made all men to enjoy felicity and constancy of good.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Various quotes

"Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it."

"The value of something is not in who said it or in its intention but in how it is read, understood and acted upon." 

"Education is what is left when you forget all the facts you learned at school."

"What a good book does is take you to where Google cannot."

"The last thing one discovers in writing a book is what to put first"
Blaise Pascal

"If Earth were perfect, where would souls go to learn."


Saturday, 5 March 2016

Monday, 29 February 2016

In all honesty...

... if you must take life this seriously, how much more must you take death?

 (Something brief for leap day.)


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Wise advice for writers as well as for readers

"The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one that makes you think."

James McCosh (1811-1894)

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Epictetus - 11

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

Give thyself more diligently to reflection: know thyself: take counsel with the Godhead: without God put thine hand unto nothing!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

On travelling to work

There are two ways to get to work: by private transport or by public transport. Private transport usually takes the form of travelling by car; public transport, the bus or the train. (I shall overlook the fact that there are different forms of cycling.) If one can't afford a car, one has little choice than to go by public transport
If one becomes very wealthy one may hire a chauffeur to drive your car for you. Here I think that there is a sense of coming full-circle. Doesn't a bus or train driver chauffeur those who travel by public transport?
So, one must conclude that there is no difference between a poor person and a wealthy one.
(What is more, before I got my bus pass (which allows me free bus travel), all I paid was £10 per week for a weekly bus ticket: a lot less than it costs to hire a chauffeur.)

Friday, 5 February 2016

A Fortunate Man

The book 'A Fortunate Man' by John Berger, I have heard described as "the most important book about general practice ever written". This image taken from it, I find particularly atmospheric. It seems that I am not the only one attracted to this image. It now appears, albeit in a somewhat cropped form, on the cover of the current edition.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Information on information

Here's an idea I happened upon:

"Information without an infrastructure is faulty." (Unattributed)

As somebody who has to read student essays which typically do not demonstrate particularly developed writing skills, I can see something in this quote. An 'essay' that is little more than a string of gathered facts without any structure or theme is, indeed, faulty. Information it seems must be structured to be informative.

Does this mean that the infrastructure, in conveying that structure to the information (at the top level), is itself a form of information?

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Burns' Night (soon)

Monday, January 25th is Burns' night. I shall be having haggis to celebrate, even though I am not Scottish - I just love haggis and Burns night is a very good reason to have it.

Also, to commemorate the event, here is a link to the website of an artist I came across when I was last in Edinburgh:

Melanie Williamson's Website

What I like about her work is its abstract nature (especially the seascapes) while remaining representative; the fact that much of it is square (which I understand is a hard frame within which to work) and - not visible when viewed online - the relatively small sizes used.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A quote on the web (in a video)

"You can probably take it as a rule of thumb that if people don't think you're weird, you're living badly."

For source see the video at the World (Un)Productivity Summit.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Epictetus - 10

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

"My brother ought not to have treated me thus."
True: but he must see to that. However he may treat me, I must deal rightly by him. This is what lies with me, what none can hinder.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Perhaps God must play dice

Albert Einstein (1879-1955), confronted with the conclusions of quantum physics, famously stated that "God does not play dice".

If the universe were based upon simple 'cause-and-effect' there would have to be a prime (or unmoved) mover (a deity of some sort) by necessity. That prime mover would ultimately be discernible or traceable in some way by following the chains of cause-and-effect events backwards. A prime mover or deity that wants to be met by the freewill of a human seeker - which is the type of God of which we conceive in the West - must be a God that is veiled in some way; that adopts some sort of anonymity.

Such a God cannot choose to create a cause-and-effect universe. It must be a quantum, random, non-deterministic universe lest all be revealed and God be found through rational means rather than desire. So, such a God - like the one of which we conceive - must play dice.

The question then becomes how do we re-conceive of such a God... and what of a such a game of dice? What is that really like?

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Post #400

This is the first post this year for Marginalia55 and the 400th in total. So as not to be entirely self-referential, please consider... the following link.