There are only two real mysteries.

There are only two real mysteries in the universe.

Mystery Number One: Why is there something and not nothing?
Mystery Number Two: How come we are concious, what is concousness, how come we think?

All the other mysteries are sub-mysteries, and depend on these first two.

Slightly connected,  a poem by the Persian poet Hafez (1326 -1389):

I wish I could show you, 
when you are lonely or in the darkness, 
the astonishing light of your own being.



Come with me, learn the truth.

I used to drink Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey:

Now I drink Bush Mills Irish Whiskey.

For some reason Tullamore Dew is no longer available in one of the biggest supermarkest in Italy. But Bushmills is:

One Summer evening, when it was too too hot to sleep, I stood on the balcony and looked towards the horizon. A few stars were visible, but the horizon was too bright too see many. And to my right, to the south, huge clouds climbed into the sky. The shapely bumpy gigantic clouds which I like and which I could go to sleep on. They were dark, because it was night, but they were not grey. So it was a dark white, not a grey, which piled up hugely into the sky.

And in these clouds were flashes of lightening, but no thunder. Presumably they were so far away, as if constellations, that no sound reached me on the balcony. And since there was no thunder I knew that our cat, outside somewhere, would not be frightened.

I remembered that one evening we came back late from a dinner. The cat was sitting underneath a hedge looking at us, in the dark. And he said to me:

"Come with me, learn them truth."

At least that is what I thought he said, it was hard to understand his speech. He turned and disappeared into the night. I could not follow.

I don't actually drink the whiskey. I sort of let it rest on my tongue and evaporate into my mouth. Then I breathe in.


The jewels in our collections...

I discovered three "old" things which made me think that maybe I should have a careful look at my book and CD collections rather than ordering the latest thing from Amazon.

A few weeks ago I came across a very old CD, "The Year of the Cat" by Al Stewart. I bought it in the 1980s I think. I had a vague idea that he is/was(?) a one hit wonder ("The Year of the Cat" single), but I listened to the whole album, and it is all good. (There were none of the, er, crappy lyrics which pass for songs these days.)

And in the same week, not knowing what to order from Amazon to read, I picked up my old copy of "The Collected Dorothy Parker". The stories seem a bit dated now, but I read with glee her book reviews, which are mostly scathing sideways attacks on poorly written books and bad authors. And it did not matter that I had not heard of the books she mentioned, I just enjoyed her put-downs.

And finally, I re-read a book I'd read about eight years ago, "Yellow Blue Tibia", by Adam Roberts. I remember enjoying it when I first read it, and could very vaguely remember the story. But when I started I was hooked again, within a few pages. It is not just a great and strange novel, but it is also full of laugh out loud passages. For example, two Russians are talking:

  "I suffer from a syndrome..."
  "Syndrome, syndrome, syndrome. Do you know the English name for your syndrome? 'Fuckwittery'."
  "Really? I have come across American studies of my syndrome and have never yet heard it so described. Is Fuckwitter the name perhaps of the doctor who..."

Next time I get the urge to "just browse" on Amazon, maybe I should just browse through the stuff I already own...


What if the shrink is more stupid than you are?

I heard an interview with a British screenwriter a month or so ago (I can't remember his name, the interview was on one of the BBC R4 Front Row podcasts). One of the things he said made me laugh out loud. He suffers from clinical depression. (No it wasn't that that made me laugh.) And he explained that he had tried everything, drugs and talking therapies, the lot. Nothing worked very much.

The problem with talking therapies, he said, was that you have to find a therapist at the very least as intelligent as yourself, and hopefully more intelligent than yourself. Otherwise, how on earth can you take the therapy seriously?

And the problem was that in twenty years he had not found a single good therapist. He was not saying, I think, that he was particularly intelligent, but that with, for example, 165,000 licensed therapists in the USA the average level is going to be pretty average. I mean, are all 165,000 brighter than their patients?

You may find a medical doctor or a mechanic, more or less intelligent than yourself, but if they have experience then they can probably do the job well. But what to do with a stupid therapist? The job is too hard and too delicate to be left to the average intelligence.

I met, not so many years ago, a psychotherapist who said that the "Fridge Mother" theory of autism could be true. As if the person had never heard of Uta Frith's work. If I ever need help in that direction I'll know not to go to that particular doctor.


A Night In Milan With Bach

A few months ago I went with some friends to hear/see the Bach Passion According to Matteo. It started early, 19:30, because it is long. We drove to Lampugnano and then got the Metro into Milano. 

At Lampugnano, near the bus station, lots of African males, and one or two families, standing around and lying on the benches. How did the mothers with children feel? Where were they going? Or going to end up? One bloke outside kicked a can angrily, one bloke inside had spread out fake handbags to sell.

We got off the metro at Duomo. The piazza in front of the church was packed, with Italian youth as well as lots of tourists. I hated it. I dislike the chaos of people more and more. I almost understood the quietness of some abstract expressionists. (Though a real and silent blue sky is better than their self-concious self-important daubs.)

There are big bright video ads on the side of Duomo now. I'm an agnostic/aethistic but it seemed sacrilege.

We got on the crowded tram, a number 3, and in 15 minutes got  off at Auditorium

Our seats in the concert hall were up high on the balcony because the bloke who booked them had wanted to be able to see the instruments. But it turned out to be a bad choice for him, the seats were a bit too far back, and he is not very tall. 

I had a decent view of one half the orchestra, and a poor view of the other half. There were two sets of singers, and later I would discovered that their sung conversations were amazing (as long as you did not understand the words).

As the singers and musicians walked in I noticed one of the principal violinists. She wore very high heels. Not so much shoes as just straps and spangly bits. She had two tone hair, Joe 90 glasses and an attractive face. Her top was sleeveless with a long deep semicircular neck line. Whenever I got bored I looked at her.  She moved her head quite a lot as she played. She was maybe 35.

One of the principal singers was a tall thin woman with long blonde hair. She sang well and emotionally, leaning slightly foward into the audience now and then, maybe to project her voice into our minds better. When she walked back to her seat after singing, I saw she was thin but shapely nonetheless. Forget ideas about the "fat lady" in classical music.

I could not find any photos of the violinist, but of Scheen the singer yes:

She wore a tubular sleeveless dress. It was hot in the Auditorium and the women have the option of no sleeves to reduce sweating.

Both the violinist and Scheen had bright red lipstick, though the violinist's mouth was wider larger than the singer's, strangely.

Every time the Evangelist got up to sing I sighed inwardly with anticipated boredom. The long and practically spoken parts are boring to me. The words (projected in German and Italian on a screen above the players) show how shallow and contradictory the story is. (If it had been predicted by the prophets, what choice did Judas have? I'm sure there are theologians who can explain this, but there is nothing to push against in their arguments. It is all talk and nothing but talk. If it was not just talk why are there so many contradictory religions?)

Now, when the the whole chorus was singing (and not speaking), it was beautiful, full-on orgasmastron stuff. 

It was a long concert and the finale was lovely but welcome. 

The tram back was packed. I saw a dark skinned tatooed bloke with a dog sitting a metre or so from where I was standing. He was dark but not in a healthy way. His dog pushed its nose against his knees. The sort of bloke you would not like to meet alone in a dark alley. Piercings too. He offered to give up his seat to an old woman standing next to him. I wonder what his life is like? The dog looked happy.

I saw my reflection in the window, saw a gery haired late middle aged bloke in a blue anorak hanging onto a strap in a tram. And I looked as if I should have been dressed in beige.

Looking out into Friday midnight Milano, I noticed all the energetic youth, living as if they'd never be old, let alone die. Running under bright lights from bar to disco. And what struck me was all the 20 something girls around, apparently carefree, dressed (and undressed) to the nines. As if there was no danger in the world.


How my mind reacts to text/signs, and how to nature.

Last week, to escape the not humid weather of Lombardia we visited some friends with a flat in Val Sesia, an Alpine valley, much cooler than where we live near Milano.

I was not driving so I could look out at the passing scenery. And I noticed how my mind reacted to any text or artificial signage compared with any "pure nature".

As we drove by I'd think "That's a bad logo," and I'd imagine a very poor amateur artist being asked by a local company to design a logo. . "That's a good logo," and I'd wonder who designed it. And "I'm glad we're still making something in Europe" when I see a small factory making specialist mechanical parts. 

Every single phrase or commercial man made image on a roadside ad provoked a word-thought reaction. I expect that you would have had different reactions, but I imagine you mind would have reacted.

And as we moved further into the countryside the signs got fewer and fewer and I just looked into the forests, mountains, fields, and there was no "intellectual" judgement in my thought reactions to what I saw, just seeing and contentment and pleasure.

I know these aren't great photos, but you get the idea. There are no words.


A cure for sleeplessness and other things...

These days, in Northern Italy, when it is too hot and muggy to sleep I simply get up. But in the other three seasons I have a method for getting back to sleep which sometimes work...

I've been learning poems by heart, started off by this book:

...and trying to remember the poems as I lie awake in the middle of the night can sometimes get me back to oblivion. Sleep is important, so I say to myself that I can only get the "reward" of getting up once I've recited, in my mind, all the poems I know. Often I don't get to the end of the list before I'm back in the land of Nod.

Actually I do not know any of the poems in that book, I've ended up choosing my own. It has taken me two years to learn 10 poems. Almost all of them have both rhyme and rhythm, much modern poetry seems self indulgent, deliberately obscure and without any artistic discipline.

So here's my choice, not in any particular order.
  1. Tiger by William Blake.
  2. The Peasant Poet by John Clare.
  3. Ozymandias by Percy Shelley.
  4. Lift Not The Painted Veil by Percy Shelley.
  5. She Walks In Beauty Like The Night by Lord Byron. 
  6. The Eagle by Lord Tennyson.
  7. And Death Shall Have No Dominion by Dylan Thomas.
  8. The Rubaiyat of Omar Kayam. (the first three verses)
  9. Xanadu by Samuel Coleridge (the first 20 lines or so)
  10. Our revels now are over, Shakespeare.
Apart from the joy and mystery within these poems, knowing them has two other advantages:
  1. I can check if my memory is still working.
  2. While waiting for something (the end of a train journey, a plane departure,...) I can recite them to myself. (This is much more mentally active than, for example, reading stuff from the Internet (apart from this blog of course).)
I will learn more poems, Emily Dicksinson will be next I think.

I learned the Shelley poems from a book my Mum got from her parents, Christmas 1936: 


You lived without reason and you died without reason.

Monsignor Negri (Vescoco of Ferrara) of has said of the victims  (VICTIMS) of the Manchester bomb attack that they:

"...lived without reason and they died without reason..."

So this Catholic priest, who did not know either the families of the victims or the victims themselves, is ready to judge them. He says that they were products of a consumer society. Presumably he thinks that since they went to a concert to enjoy themselves they were sinners. Presumably, according to him, they should have been at home or in church praying. He also says this is a war of religion. I bet he'd know what to do with a few nuclear bombs, look at those clenched fists:

(photo by di Barbara Andolfi)

So in addition to the full evil of attacks on children by Islamic terrorists we have Catholic priests who blame the victims. 

Isn't religion great?


If a tree falls in a forest, and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?

"If a tree falls in a forest, and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?"

Of course it fucking does you plonker.

If you define sound as wavelike movement of air within a certain range of frequencies, then of course the movement exists whether there is an observer or not.

(You could define sound as perception of audio waves by a human being, and in that case the sound does not exist if nobody is there to percieve the air movement. But the philosophers I heard talking about this did not do that simple thing of defining what they meant by sound. They just played with words. A History Of Ideas is a BBC Radio podcast)


The temptation not to waste food.

There I was, slightly full, a bit overweight, and in front of me a quarter of a luvvverrly pizza. It was practically screaming: "Eat Me!" Nobody else in the restaurant wanted it. It would be a waste not to eat it.

But when we ordered too much food we'd already wasted it. If I ate that bit of pizza I would be contributing to my own over-weight , the fuel consumption of my car, the fuel consumption of any planes or trains I took, and the average health of the nation would go down.

Once too much food has been prepared, and if it cannot be saved for later, the waste has already happened. It is an excuse for me to say "I hate waste!" and then add to my own belly fat. I have to throw the food away, that is the less wasteful option. (Unless of course I am undernourished. But I'm not.)


Raymond Tallis: A "philosopher" who is either ignorant or in bad faith.

I was listening to the BBC Start The Week podcast a few weeks ago. It was called "Dissecting Death", and was about approaches to death. Halfway through this bloke, introduced as a "philospher", Raymond Tallis came on. I've heard him waffle on other programs before. He just published a 700 page (yes seven hundred page) book about time and lamentation.

The other guests on the program were intelligent informative and interesting:
Mark O'Connell talked about transhumanists, Carla Valentine talked about life and death behind mortuary doors, and Laura Yunbridge spoke about late works of artists. But all Tallis could say was: "Physicists have shrunk time to little 't'. So it can be squared or used as a denominator in an equation. Well you'd never do that to an afternoon..."

Now why did a "philospher" say such stupid things? I can think of only answers:

Answer 1) He is ignorant of how time is still an important and large mystery to scientists. He is ignorant of any physics research/thought into time and space since he left school. At school he maybe he learned those few equations which deal with speed and acceleration. He thinks that since he left school (maybe because he left) all physics research into time stopped. He is a "philosopher". Hasn't heard of Wittgenstein's saying: "Whereof we know knothing thereof we must remain silent"?

Answer 2) He is in bad faith. He knows he is being flippant. He knows that the few equations he remembers from school (or has looked up) have nothing much to do with the real physics mystery of time. He is playing to an arts audience who have trouble adding 41 to 32 (and are proud of the difficulty). Maybe they'll buy his little 700 page book and feel they can grasp the the reality of time that way.

Whichever answer is true, he can't be listened to seriously. If he is ignorant and/or in bad faith, how can we believe whatever else he pronounces on? Shouldn't we expect a bit more rigor in the arguments of a philosopher?

One last, er, idiocy, he said was that it was impossible to live in the moment because the moment is infinitely small. So suddenly he has gone all calculus on us? So he has never experienced the sudden and fleeting pleasure of seeing something in nature which will not repeat itself? The swoop of a bird, or a cloud which transforms itself, second by slow second, into a different abstract shape?

If you want to know about the physics of relativity time and space I can recommend this book:

It shows you, step by step, how the equations come about. To be honest I had to write my own extra explanatory notes to myself to be able to completely understand it, but that was an education in itself. Microstep by microstep I saw the strangeness of time. Real strangeness. And remember your GPS would not work without Einstein's Theory Of Relativity. And there'd be no medical scanners without physicists.


Who was the marketing genius who got to associate SEAT with crime, death and drug dealing?

Crime dramas on ITV1 are currently sponsored by SEAT. But who was the marketing genius who persuaded SEAT to associate their good looking cars with death, crime, missing persons and drug dealing? Take Vera for example. Just before the start of an episode, and at the end of each commercial break, there is an ad which associates a SEAT car with a crime scene. All the ads are shot at nighttime. Some examples I can remember:
  1. A woman in white walking in the middle of the road picked out by the SEAT's headlights.
  2. A message to a missing mother (really? a missing mother?) on the smartphone (presumably connected to the SEAT's electronics system).
  3. A nasty looking package lying in the dark near a white SEAT car.
  4. A man who drops something as he closes the boot of his SEAT car, probably a clue after his murder in a few minutes time.
Surely they could have come up with something more reassuring. Something which suggests that SEAT cars are solidly reliable and will keep you safe even in the urban night environment. 

Every time I see a SEAT car now I think of murder, death, crime...


Since I wrote the above the other day I think I have changed my mind. I was thinking about a supermarket logo (Tigros) which annoys me...

...and I've vaguely thought I'd never go to a their shops. Then they open one directly on my route to and from work...and in I pop. 

I don't like the logo because it is aggressive and twee at the same time, with the tiger in one two tone 2D style, while the apple is colourful with a shadow to give a 3D look. But though it annoys me it does not stop me shopping there, which leads me to think that much marketing/logo design/adverts have no effect whatsoever.

So maybe I will have a look at a SEAT car the next time it is time to buy a new car. Hopefully not for years...

Marketing (apparent failures or successes) does not always beat convenience and price.


Usually the cat doesn't get to sleep in the bedroom

Usually the cat doesn't get to sleep in the bedroom, but one evening he snuck in and arranged himself on my pillow, near my head.

I could hear his purring quite loud. I like gentle sounds when I go to sleep, distant trains, planes, dogs barking, even cars. So I enjoyed listening, in the dark, to his purrs. Then slowly they faded away and all I could hear was him breathing deeply.

I'd heard him fall asleep, it was wonderful feeling.


Food: The most important thing is that I don't have to clean up much afterwards.

I don't mind other people cooking for me, as long as I don't have to clean the messy pans with sticky sauces, congealed cheese etc. Apart from the fact that I dont' eat fish or meat, the most important thing is that I don't have to do much washing up. I've developed a dish which means that I only have a single bowl and a single spoon to clean. 

Here are the ingredients:

Apart from the vegetables (which you can vary according to what you have on hand) and the beans, there's olive oil, turmeric, cumin seeds and balsamic vinegar. Chop up the vegetables, add the other ingredients and...


(My family have given up and now allow me to eat my salad with spoon.)


Orion over my roof

A few nights ago I went onto the balcony to have a look at the loverrrly sky to the east:

Then I looked behind me, over the roof, to the west. And there was my favourite constellation, Orion. His belt is made of the three stars in an almost horizontal line you can see in the center of the photo:

It is not a great photo, but you can see the real thing these days if you live in the northern hemisphere and look east. And the real thing is a real wonder. In the photo Rigel is the star, below the belt, which is almost touching the roof. And Betelgeuse is the one above the belt and in line with Rigel. When you look at the constellation for real you'll be amazed at how these two stars have definite colours, Rigel is blue and Betelgeuse is orange. 

Follow the line of the belt leftwards and you'll find Sirius, the Dog star, the brightest star in the sky. In the photo is is near the end of an antenna.

Go back to the belt and extrapolate along it to the right, you'll find another bright star, this time called Alderbaran.

If it is night-time, and you're in the northern hemisphere, and there is a clear sky, and you're just browsing the web on the sofa (with the TV on in the background) it is really really worth getting up, going outside and having a look for Orion, Sirius and Aldebaran. Use your own real naked eyes, they be receiving light direct from the stars and not from a pixel on a screen...