Faith

As a teenager, I read William James’s book The Varieties of Religious Experience, and was quite enthralled, coming as I did from a strong scientific education with a lukewarm smattering of Methodism. So I was delighted to read the following James quote from Alister McGrath in his book Enriching our Vision of Reality. It is the best definition I’ve seen of that elusive word ‘faith’.

“Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is still theoretically possible… Faith is synonymous with working hypothesis.”

This is not faith as dogma, which is a common association used to denigrate. It is faith ‘sensitive to reason, experimental in nature, and therefore susceptible to revision.’

McGrath’ s context is in the bringing together of science and Christian theology, but we could apply his reasoning to any religion, different sciences, and other ways of looking at the world, such as astrology.

His point is that both science and religion are ways in which we strive to understand the mystery of life. Both develop hypotheses to live by, but are subject to change where they do not correspond with lived reality. Both use story/metaphor/analogy to point the way; science adds the use of mathematical models, where it can. Perhaps it is this wonderful use of mathematics that encourages the common misperception that everything can be rationally described, but this is clearly not the case – as was concluded by, among others, Einstein, Newton and Darwin. There is always the mystery beyond…

In particular, materialists can lay no claim to a privileged context. Their faith in materialism and objective knowledge is as much a working hypothesis as is the Christian doctrine of the trinity. The so-called New Atheists are simply asserting their particular faith.

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Chiggered

It seemed a good idea to go through the local lanes blackberrying with friends in Normandy. Due to the dry weather a lot of the berries were quite small, but there were plenty if you could reach, and we got enough to make a few jars of jam.

Wearing T-shirt tucked into long trousers, there did not seem too much danger of insect bites. But then a day or two later came an insane level of itching around ankles, thighs and waist, and the discovery of 36 ‘bites’. Our friends thought they were from local spiders, but subsequent research suggests that they were bites from chiggers, or harvest mites, or aoutats in France (August pests).

chigger life cycle
Life Cycle from Wikipedia

I was not really aware of these pests. See the above Wikipedia entry. The larval stage of the lifecycle of this mite is of size about 0.007inch, so hardly visible to the naked eye. Once on you they can come and go as they please! They burrow down and eat the inner skin, and can cause skin rashes, blisters etc. Two of mine blistered and took ages to heal.

Well worth being aware of these little pests, and beware those tempting blackberries in an area you’re not familiar with!

 

 

Metanoia

When reading an interesting text and coming across a word you are not familiar with, there is a terrible temptation to march on and hope that the meaning becomes clear from the context. For me, such a word was metanoia. Recently reading Alister McGrath’s book Enriching our Vision of Reality, I was brought to a better understanding by the author’s clear definition, related to ways of seeing reality.

Wikipedia throws further light, giving two meanings – one spiritually oriented and the other psychologically oriented. Metanoia is about a fundamental change in the way we see and act in the world, maybe a bit more fundamental than the similar concept of paradigm shift. Such was perhaps what happened in Europe as a whole around the time of the enlightenment, when a religious and naturalistic perspective on the world was gradually supplanted by a scientific and materialistic perspective.

The world we see today reflects both the benefits and the fundamental problems that have emerged as a result of this perspective, which has ignored the natural ecosystem as the essential support for human existence (giving global warming, pollution, species extinction etc etc.) and has lost touch at a political level with the morality and values necessary to give a good and equitable life to all humans (leading to incredible inequalities and a clear lack of moral leadership from the titular heads of countries and other supposed leaders).

There is now little doubt that metanoia is what is needed at a global level to avoid a nightmarish future for humanity. Of course, I have in this blog frequently referred to the concept of a New Renaissance, which is another way of putting it. Personal psychological and spiritual transformation is a big part of the answer, and everyone needs it.

In particular, there are enormous egos in politics and in business, to whom circumstances happen to have given great wealth and power. Their, and our, need is that they transcend those egos and work for the common good.

Note that one dimension of this is by paying good wages and paying due taxes, which is a way of sharing out that good fortune to all. Opting instead for the apparent current fashion of an ego-expanding philanthropy that remains within the ego’s control is a diversion, possibly beneficial to the general good, but certainly not a metanoia.

Chicory

Nearly 30 years ago it was Alf who brought to my attention these patches of blue flowers that are frequently seen by the roadside in France and Spain. They are common chicory, a member of the dandelion family (it is also known as blue dandelion). The individual flowers are actually quite beautiful, they last but a short time, with new flowers appearing daily.

chicory flower

Roasted chicory root is used as a coffee substitute or additive, found in some types of French coffee. Interestingly, the salad leaf endive is of the same family, also sometimes known as chicory.

Spider Webs Amboise

This spider web encrusted street lamp in Amboise looked quite spectacular. I took a photograph on automatic, and the effect was underwhelming. For the following shot I tried the ‘postfocus’ facility on my Panasonic TZ100 – this takes a number of frames at different focus and give the option of selecting the best or merging the best focused parts of the picture. The result is much better. Not quite like the old film photography!

spiderwebs amboise

Common Blue 2

This quick shot by zoom lens on auto gives an interesting perspective on the common blue butterfly, in that you can see the top side of one wing and the underside of the other.

common blue (2)

Taken in Dordogne region of France late summer 2018. The butterflies here don’t seem to stay still long enough for closer than zoom lens.

Banded agrion

This beautiful large blue damselfly is described as a banded demoiselle by Wikipedia, or banded agrion in our old butterfly book. By damselfly standards this is large, around 2 inches long. This one is a brilliant iridescent blue, they can be blue-green. The most distinctive feature is the large dark patch on the wing.

Seen commonly in Europe and Asia. This one paused conveniently by the River Vézère in the Dordogne region of France, late summer 2018.

Amboise

I have previously written of the Leonardo da Vinci museum in Amboise. Recently we again tarried in that crossing point of the River Loire, to be impressed this time by just how photogenic Amboise is. The featured image shows what is left of King Francois I’s chateau, and the bridge over half of the river from the island, beautifully enhanced by modern lighting. Here’s a larger version.

amboise

Go onto the bridge and look to the right and you see the beautiful sunset over a wild part of the River Loire, ‘Europe’s last untamed river’.

amboise sunset

There were plenty of cormorants and gulls on the river, too, but I didn’t get any shots worth sharing this time.

The Inner Life of Animals

“The idea that there was an abrupt break in the course of evolution, and that at some point everything was reinvented, is an idea whose time is past. The only major point of contention today is whether animals can think; that’s what we do best, after all.”

inner life animalsIn a way this quote summarises the essence of Peter Wohlleben’s important book The Inner Life of Animals: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World. He presents much evidence that the inner life of animals is very much like our own, perhaps except for the thinking faculty.

The evidence is extensive and overwhelming, a combination of scientific research and the personal observations of one who works on the land. For example:

  • ravens have a strong sense of right and wrong, and are very intelligent, using their beaks much as we do our hands.They and other species that live in social groups can match, and in some cases even exceed, the mental prowess of primates.
  • wild boar know exactly which other boar they are related to, even if the connection is a distant one. Indeed, pigs are extremely intelligent animals. They teach their young and help them deliver their own children later in life. They and other animals understand their own names, and thus have some degree of self-consciousness.
  • crows are known for recognising people and for having strong emotional reactions to those they don’t like.
  • horses know just by how tense their rider’s body is and enjoy being directed and exercised.
  • doe’s grieve for their dead offspring.
  • shame and embarrassment are evident in dogs, and function as a kind of act of contrition – they are mechanisms for asking for forgiveness.
  • animals are capable of empathy, and experience fear and pain.
  • it’s quite clear to foresters and hunters alike that wild animals learn from experience. Wild boar hunt at night when they themselves are hunted, but not otherwise.

As well as all this evidence, there is also the suggestion that humans have actually largely lost touch with a capability that animals still have – the sixth sense, which is a necessary tool for survival in the wild. Why is it that, in comparison with animals, we are so unaware of changes in our environment? The answer lies in the way our modern home and work environments overwhelm our senses. How much more accurately must early peoples have been able to read the woods and the meadows, exposed, as they were, to all those stimuli day in and day out?

For us, the wild largely no longer exists. We have already cleared, built on or dug up 80 per cent of the Earth’s land mass. Our disconnection with nature has major impacts, including hundreds of thousands of wild boar and pigs killed every year in EU alone.

In Europe at least half the night sky is affected by light pollution, disorienting many species of animals that depend on stars to orient themselves at night. Moths, for instance, rely on the moon when they want to fly in a straight line.

Instead of the sixth sense we have this highly developed abstract thinking capability. We act automatically and subconsciously, but the conscious part of the brain then comes up with an explanation for the action a few seconds later – a face-saving explanation for our fragile ego, which likes to feels it’s completely in control at all times. In many cases, however, the other side – our unconscious – is in charge of operations. Emotions are the language of the unconscious and as we have seen the evidence is that animals also experience them.

Our scientific society  denies these emotions in animals, so that we can continue to exploit them without troubling our conscience too much. We are living a lie.

Wohlleben actually identifies a root cause in humans: the capacity to feel empathy wastes away in people who are denied early exposure to this skill. So upbringing of children outside of an empathic environment is probably a root cause of our denial of the suffering of animals, as well as that of our fellow humans. One can only reflect on the typical English upper class childhood, sent away to impersonal boarding school at an early age.

We have so much in common with animals and they have so much to teach us, if only we will listen before we’ve exterminated every last one of them. Wohlleben leaves us with this wonderful thought:

“Squirrels, deer and wild boar with souls: that’s the thought that makes life special and warms my heart when I have the opportunity to watch animals.”

See also Wohlleben’s superb and even more gripping book The Hidden Life of Trees.

If Only They Didn’t Speak English

of onlyMy post on Competition and Co-operation touched on cultural differences between The UK and the US, so I was attracted to read Jon Sopel’s recent book ‘If Only They Didn’t Speak English’, which explores the differences Jon has found during his long stint as the BBC’s North America correspondent.

Jon’s book confirms that the US is a very different country, quite alien in many ways to a European perspective – resulting of course from a very different history and geography. A list of the subjects covered by chapter gives an idea of its scope:

  • the anger felt by many Americans, the ‘losers’ in the globalising project
  • the pervasive influence of race and discrimination
  • the evident patriotism
  • the system of government, and the current neglect of public infrastructure
  • the continued major influence of religion and God
  • the issue of guns and the right to bear arms
  • the easily aroused anxiety felt by many Americans
  • the ‘special’ role that Americans feel they have with the world, and the supposed ‘special’ relationship with UK
  • the increasing loss of contact with truth in the political arena
  • the descent into chaos with the Trump administration.

There is much insight here, although interestingly he does not focus on issues of competition vs co-operation. The book provides a stimulating read. And Jon warns that we should not expect major change or realignment; these are real differences. We really are confused by a common language, to suppose that the differences are not as great as they appear – they are.

At the end of the day, although Britain aspires to provide a bridge between Europe and America, our culture is much more European than American. Attempts to move us in an American direction must be seen in this light. Americans think we’re socialists, and most Brits don’t really want to change the current settlement and, for example, lose our NHS. Brexit puts this all in jeopardy, engineered as it was on a misleading and false prospectus of supporting the NHS.

 

Dear Prince George….

The so-called royal family in the UK appear to support a practice that ensures we do not see many raptors in England – the said raptors are too inconvenient for the gamekeepers responsible for supplying grouse to be shot. Just see what we are missing in this post, written as a letter to the latest royal child being indoctrinated into this backward-looking tradition.

Eyes in the back of my Head

wow2_filtered

I understand that Mummy took you along to a grouse shoot in Scotland a few days, so that you could watch Daddy killing lots of birds which were flying up into the sky.

He was shooting them dead, along with lots of other people. These people say that shooting birds in this way is sport, so I took a look in my dictionary (it’s a bit like the first dictionary you will have at school, but without the pictures) to find the definition of “sport”.

It says Sport: A game or competitive activity, esp. an outdoor one involving physical exertion, e.g. cricket, football, racing, hunting. (Concise Oxford Dictionary).

Two words jump out when I think of the grouse shooting you went to see Daddy taking part in. One of them is competitive, the other, hunting.

If something is competitive it usually means there is a contest between two people…

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Looking for a Lesson

I like this post by Aperture of Brahma. At the end of the day, life is about learning and moving on, not about things staying ever the same.

Aperture Of Brahma

Our greatest opportunity to feel good and maintain happiness is to constantly seek to uncover a lesson in every condition we encounter in life.

If you’re not learning something, life will teach you a lesson.

Looking for a lesson is the equivalent of instigating change. Just as it feels better to resign than be fired, or to break up rather than be dumped, the one who finds a lesson finds a reason, which removes the sense of helpless that often accompanies unanticipated conditions.

We will not be able to control everything that we encounter, so we must take responsibility for what freewill we do have.

Mindfulness is a tool for helping us recognize our relationship with time. If you are reading and it takes 30 minutes to get through one page, it becomes obvious that your mind is wandering. This is mindfulness.

(1.25) Thought is transmuted into character and character…

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Light and Dark

I have a vibrant memory of Sunday evenings in the 1950s, walking home after visiting grandparents in the nearby village. We walked on the pavement in almost complete darkness through the countryside. The stars were so bright, and my dad pointed out the common constellations (the Plough/Big Dipper, Orion…) and the Milky Way.

1280px-Another_Milky_Way_Shot
The Milky Way

There were street lamps, still gas powered in those days. They cast small oases of light in the pervading darkness, an essential aid when the Moon was not up. As we navigated from oasis to oasis, they gave a feeling of security.

In later decades street lights became ever brighter, until more recently people realised that this over-brightness was polluting any chance of being aware of the majesty of the night sky – the pervading influence for all earlier human generations. So, they’ve become more subdued and direct light downwards rather than everywhere. On our residential estate there’s now a small sense of those earlier oases of light in the darkness – although the power of modern leds is inevitably much stronger than the old gas lamps.

But there’s a new kid on the block: a proliferation of lighting from residential houses, notably porch lights, and lights at the end of the drive. Some throw stronger light than the actual street lighting. My senses are repelled by this unnecessary brightness and the accompanying waste of energy. Why? When a cheap sensor could turn the light on only when needed. If every house did the same we would rarely experience the darkness of night.

We need to make friends with the darkness, it is as much a part of life as the light. Only then do we and our children see those gems in the sky, perhaps inspiring an interest in astronomy or its twin astrology.

Human eyes are actually very good at seeing in low light conditions. So please can we turn those lights out, except when needed.

And make friends with the dusk, one of the truly magical parts of the day (I’m sure the dawn is also, but I rarely make it.)

Featured image of gas lamp by Tulane Public Relations (Uploaded by AlbertHerring), via Wikimedia Commons
Image of The Milky Way by John Fowler, via Wikimedia Commons

No Deal Nonsense

There’s a lot of nonsense currently being put forward about ‘no deal’ being a viable Brexit option. It is not. Chaos would clearly ensue across so many areas – products, services, health, fisheries, policing, finance, etc. The list is almost endless. Governments that created such chaos both in UK and Europe would not last long.

In any case there will still need to be a deal in each of those areas. The idea of ‘no deal’ is fanciful.

If UK just walked away from all its commitments and relationship with Europe, which country would subsequently have any confidence that UK would stick to any deal?

There’s also a lot of nonsense that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ – in an environment where there is clearly insufficient time for every detail to be resolved. Sensible politicians will make agreements of principle and resolve the detail later.

The true cost of this crazy Brexit enterprise is becoming increasingly apparent.

Recycling progress?

In their recent report East Cheshire council was pleased to report that 55% of garbage is now recycled. That means it went into the recycling bins. How much was really recycled is anyone’s guess.

This reminds me of the first Knutsford Lectures in 1994, the days of the single black rubbish bin. We had subsidiary short talks on matters of local interest and one was given by a man from the then Macclesfield Borough Council. He had the good news that recycling was to begin soon, which indeed it did a few years later. So this was progress of a sort, and people are now furiously engaged in playing a part in recycling. Of course this led to the plague of wheelie bins that now disfigures streets and alleyways across the world. [One day we will get back to a single bin which is automatically recycled, like the mostly manual French dechetterie we toured round many years ago, but that’s not my main focus here.]

It feels that we actually generate more rubbish than we did 25 years ago. Now why is that? Packaging – both plastic packaging from supermarket products and the endless excessively large cardboard boxes and internal wadding from ever more internet purchases. Amazon and product producers are actually filling up the recycling bins and thereby increasing that recycling statistic. It seems like two steps forward and one step back.

And of course Amazon avoid paying the tax that would pay for the extra cost of all this recycling. Politicians seem so slow to grasp these nettles!

Featured image shows bins in Christchurch, New Zealand
by gobeirne via Wikimedia Commons

Hen Harriers

Northern_(Hen)_Harrier
Hen Harrier, see credits

The UK habitat will support hundreds of hen harriers. They were once a common sight. In reality there are now very few.

They have been protected by law since 1954. Numbers have not increased since then.

There are many instances of individual hen harriers simply disappearing, even when tracked electronically.

Despite this, the RSPB and many volunteers is making heroic efforts to increase numbers.

The hen harrier is emblematic of the problem in England for all raptors including eagles.

It is believed that gamekeepers on driven grouse shooting moors are responsible for killing the birds.

When evidence was gathered and individuals prosecuted the case was dismissed on a technicality.

Driven grouse shooting is a sport for the rich, or rich wannabees. It has support in high places in the UK establishment.

Essentially, driven grouse shooting is incompatible with healthy populations of raptors, or so gamekeepers appear to think.

If that is the attitude, then ultimately the only solution would appear to be another law – to ban driven grouse shooting. This would have other environmental benefits, such as reduced flooding after heavy rains in the north of England.

Note this is a problem that can be solved with the will to do so. See for example the success with red kite populations in Wales.

These are my impressions from the Hen Harrier Day at Parkgate on 12 August 2018. Hen Harrier Days are usually held on or around the so-called glorious twelfth when the carnage begins. Go to one, and support the RSPB and other organisations involved.

Feature image shows speaker Mark Avery at the event
Photo of hen harrier by Len Blumin, via Wikimedia Commons

 

What’s primary?

I was interested in this post from The Two Doctors which brings philosophy into the consideration of wine tasting. He writes of the philosophy of  John Locke (1632-1704):

“Among Locke’s simple ideas is a distinction between those experiences that are primary qualities of objects and others that are secondary qualities. The distinction divides those qualities thought to be essential and inherent to all objects and those that are apparent only on account of the effect that the objects have on our senses. Primary qualities include solidity, shape, motion or rest, and number. Secondary qualities are those such as scent and taste. These are secondary because, according to Locke, they do not inhere/reside in the objects themselves, but are causally produced only in our minds by the effect of an object’s primary qualities upon our senses. Another way of conceiving them is to say primary qualities are objective (really exist) and secondary ones subjective (only exist in the minds of observers).”

This suggests an interesting point in history, where a judgement is applied to the inner/outer or subjective/objective polarity that lies at the heart of existence. In defining the objective (left brain) stuff as primary, and the subjective (right brain) stuff as merely secondary, Locke is applying a judgement that resounds in history, leading to the modern materialistic world and much denial of interiority and spirituality.

Locke could have expressed it the other way round, ie that the subjective is primary (really exists) and the objective merely secondary (only exists as a mental construct). This might have led to a world view where consciousness is seen as primary, rather than the material world. How different history might have been!

Of course, actually there’s no question of primary and secondary, we are speaking of two aspects of a fundamental polarity of existence.

Competition and Co-operation

Having watched Rich Hall’s recent excellent BBC4 programme, ‘Working for the American Dream’ on the development of the USA, and coming across the United Nations focus on sustainable development, led me to this reflection.

The USA was built on conquering supposed virgin lands, and people making loads of money by exploiting those lands, their resources, indigenous peoples, and the people who actually did the work. The system was essentially competitive, and at the top the US system still is. It appears to be still dominated by those with money and power, and there is an apparent aversion to co-operative ideals – hence the bizarre denigration of ‘socialism’ as in some way bad, and the refusal to countenance universal health care.

Due to the size of the USA and its economy, this system has to some degree been exported across the world, but significantly resisted by more co-operative or collaborative approaches, notably in Europe, where provision of social and health care are regarded as important. US disdain of this has become clear, in the shape of the Trump administration, which even appears to seek to undermine the great collaboration of the EU.

Meanwhile, the UN wrestles with the issue of sustainability in a world of incredible challenges on climate, biodiversity, resource depletions and all their consequences. What is clear is that there are now no virgin lands to be colonised, and indeed we must create some to give nature adequate sanctuaries. It is also clear that the world’s problems can only be resolved by co-operative approaches.

Of course, in psychological terms the adolescent stage of development of ego is characterised by differentiation and competition. As we develop and grow psychologically we naturally open up more to love, empathy and co-operation. A similar process operates at a ‘nation state’ level.

The world cannot wait for the USA to ‘grow up’, but if only it would.

Featured image shows tug of war at 1904 Olympic Games, St. Louis,
by Charles Lucas via Wikimedia Commons

 

Dog Walkers

dog walkers

At first sight this image looks rather dark and unpromising, and yet on the other hand I find it a very pleasing composition. It was taken in the deep gloom of gathering dusk; the ability of a handheld modern camera to give a image of this level of brightness and detail in such circumstances is quite amazing.

The featured image shows a cut of the original image, centred on the two human figures and their dogs. The lack of detail due to the low light gives a rather impressionistic picture, which is also quite pleasing.

Picture taken end  June 2018 in auto mode by Panasonic ZX100
on the Wirral Way near Thursaston, Wirral, UK.