Category Archives: Science

Face to face

Part of a series which began with Fake news and the ethics of belief.

’I don’t need to believe. I know.’

So said Carl Gustav Jung in 1959 when John Freeman asked him on BBC TV’s Face to Face whether he believed in God.

He later regretted that his reply was too short and too open to misunderstanding. But we’ll leave that can of worms safely shut for now.

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The wreck of the Psyche

Part of a series which began with Fake news and the ethics of belief.

On 22 December 1870 there was a total solar eclipse.

A solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, wholly or partially blocking out the sun as viewed from earth.

A total solar eclipse is a rare event, and even then its totality is only visible across a narrow band on the earth’s surface.

On 22 December 1870 the narrow band included parts of Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Sicily, Greece, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

The British Royal Astronomical Society organised an expedition to observe and record the eclipse.

solar eclipse 22 December 1870
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Love in the time of corona

This follows When in doubt, answer a different question.

On BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions 10 April 2020 Jill Morris asked:

Does the coronavirus prove that God does not exist?

Last to respond was Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, who quoted Holocaust survivor Rabbi Hugo Gryn:

‘People sometimes ask me ‘Where was God in Auschwitz?’ I believe God was there himself violated and blasphemed. The real question is ‘Where was man in Auschwitz?’

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When in doubt, answer a different question

When politicians are asked a question they don’t want to answer you expect them to employ their usual tactic. This is to answer a different question, one they are happy to answer, and hope no one notices.

But it’s not only politicians who do this.

On BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions 10 April 2020 there were two politicians and two non-politicians. About 34 minutes into the program Jill Morris from Stafford asked what I thought was a very interesting question:

Does the coronavirus prove that God does not exist?

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Clear and present danger

Jonny Dymond recorded an interview with Lord Sumption, ex-Justice of the UK Supreme Court. The interview was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 World at One 30 March 2020. In it Lord Sumption expressed concerns about the potential impact on freedom and civil liberty in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. That edition of World at One can be accessed on BBC Sounds, and the interview itself is also available on YouTube:

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More than the sum of its parts

I mentioned last time a parallel between two disparate things which seemed to me more than a coincidence. One was an example which Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka used to articulate his idea of the behavioural (as opposed to geographical) environment. The other was a fairly representative passage I remembered from when we were performing Peter Handke’s The Ride Across Lake Constance.

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Of chicks and cigar boxes

I was talking last time about the Lake Constance legend, Gestalt psychology, optical illusions, and the Jastrow Illusion in particular.

Most people see the lower arch as bigger than the upper one.

But apparently it’s not just people.

Jastrow illusion
Jastrow illusion
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Plain to See

A few weeks ago I wrote about Peter Handke’s play The Ride across Lake Constance, and the legend it got its title from.

Serendipitously I came across another reference to this legend in a book by Kurt Koffka, one of the founders of Gestalt psychology. In The Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935) he uses it to distinguish between what he calls the ‘geographical environment’ and the ‘behavioural environment’:

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Five uneasy pieces

Violinist Joshua Bell is currently Music Director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in London. He was born in 1967 in Bloomington, Indiana. At 14 he played with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti, and he made his Carnegie Hall debut at 17 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. In January 2007, at the age of 39, he was playing to a packed house at Boston’s Symphony Hall, where half-decent seats start at $100.

Joshua Bell
Joshua Bell in 2010

But three days after that performance he was busking at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington DC. He always plays the same violin though, a 1713 Stradivarius. He had bought this a few years previously for an estimated $3.5 million. He played for 43 minutes and made $32.17. Continue reading

Hedgehogs and foxes

European hedgehog

European hedgehog

Hedgehogs were fairly common in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up. Or at least they were in our corner of Hertfordshire, which we called either Watford or Bushey depending on how urban or rural we were feeling at the time. Now and again we found them shuffling in the woods or they would just appear in our garden and adopt us in exchange for a bread and milk diet.

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