Melchett Mere

The county of Cheshire contains a number of smallish lakes, or meres. Many date back to the glacial period of the last ice age, ‘occupying hollows in the glacial drift surface of the Cheshire Plain’ (see itemised list). The lake in Tatton Park, known as Tatton Mere, is one of these meres of glacial origin.

Tatton Mere, December 2020

Just north west of the top of Tatton Mere lies a smaller lake, named Melchett Mere, but at a noticeably lower elevation. Is this another glacial lake? It seems not. Cheshire also has a history of salt extraction and mining, notably in the area around nearby Northwich and Wincham from the 17th century. Uncontrolled mining activity led to great subsidences of ground and the formation of lakes, such as the notorious Ashton’s and Neumann’s flashes near Wincham.

Melchett Mere, March 2021

Effects of the salt mining activites, and particularly wild brine pumping, were often felt many miles away. According to the National Trust, Melchett Mere in Tatton Park was formed by a sudden collapse in 1922. The resulting lake was named by Lord Egerton after the then chairman of the extractive company he believed to have been responsible (presumably Henry Mond, 2nd Baron Melchett, who became deputy chairman of ICI in the 1940s).

Subsidence due to brine pumping activities is serious business in Cheshire, as evidence by the existence of the Brine Subsidence Compensation Board. Some of the land in this area is still subsiding. Notably this lies on the proposed route for the HS2 high speed train. I hope those guys know what they’re getting into!

A dead tree

Thank God the days are gone when dead trees were removed from the landscape, part of an obsession with tidiness that took little account of the web of life in which we are embedded. The dead tree is an ecosystem containing countless organisms and fungi, all about the miraculous job of reducing solid wood back to the soil it came from.

Our National Trust now usually leaves trees where they fall in the landscape. This one at Tatton Park was probably once a spectacular oak tree, now gracefully yet vulnerably declining back to its origins.

Thus individual life emerges from the collective, lives and flourishes, and eventually dies and returns home.

Springing forth

The recent spell of dry sunny weather has seen ever increasing signs of the coming of new life in the spring. Many crocuses and daffodils are already past their best. As usual, the willow is the first tree to show signs of life, while the branches of others are still bare.

This year, more than most, we psychologically need the boost of burgeoning life that comes with spring.

There is no time like Spring,
When life’s alive in everything,

From ‘Spring’, Christina Rossetti

Mystical scientists

The greatest scientists are also mystics. They recognise that their science is just producing mathematical models of the real world, and there is always a mystery beyond that. The model is a map, not the territory.

In one of his early books Quantum Questions (1984), American philosopher Ken Wilber collated mystical writings of some of the main physicists who created the 20th century revolution in physics, including relativity and quantum theory. This effectively shows that those pioneers were, each in their own way, also mystics.

I recently got hold of a secondhand copy of the book to check it out. These are the scientific mystics included:

  • Werner Heisenberg, who gave his name to the famous ‘uncertainty principle’
  • Erwin Schrödinger, who developed wave mechanics
  • Albert Einstein, famous for his special and general relativity and contributions in quantum theory and Brownian movement
  • Prince Louise de Broglie, who developed the theory of matter waves
  • James Jeans, who made numerous contributions to the theory of gases, electromagnetism, the evolution of stars and galaxies…
  • Max Planck, father of quantum theory
  • Wolfgang Pauli, whose numerous contributions included the ‘exclusion principle’ and forecasting the existence of the neutrino
  • Arthur Eddington, leading exponent of relativity theory, who led the expedition leading to its first ‘proof’

As Wilber points out, they were following in the tradition of predecessors such as Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton.

All these great scientists recognised the philosophical nature of the work they were doing, and what was not within its scope. It’s a great shame that modern practioners of the strange faith of scientism and materialism did not have that same recognition and came to reject any concept of mysticism or spirituality.

Is the book worth reading? Only if it’s of particular interest for you. But it’s good to know of its existence!

Featured image shows attendees at the famous 1927 Solvay Conference, including
Front Row: Planck (2), Einstein (5),
Middle Row: de Broglie (7),
Back Row: Schrödinger (6), Pauli (8), Heisenberg (9).

by Benjamin Couprie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Some Thoughts on Stillness

In this post Andrew reminds us of the value of stillness, the clear mind, the insight into our own inner being. This is how we avoid the constant distraction of the modern world and its insistent demands on our thoughts and attention.

A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life

All of men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone

Blaise Pascal

Many of us will do just about anything to avoid a state of boredom. Alone in an empty room staring into the ceiling and doing nothing but examining our thoughts seems dreadful. Faced with this situation we quickly turn to our mobile phones scrolling aimlessly, browse the internet or watch television.

Any distraction will suffice to avoid boredom.

We pride ourselves on outward achievement, on constantly having something to do. Consequently, being busy has become a status symbol in our culture. It demonstrates to others that you are important and have achieved some level of success.

However, not all cultures think of this matter with the same perspective. Eastern philosophies emphasize the importance of introspection and stillness. The practice of meditation asks us to sit alone with the contents of our mind…

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Creativity and Humour

One of my themes in this blog has been the over-dominance of left brain as against right brain in current Western societies. This was the subject of Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary, reviewed here in 2016. So I was delighted to come across this video of McGilchrist in conversation with John Cleese (of Fawlty Towers fame) on the subject of Creativity, Humour and The Meaning of Life, and their essential relationship with the right brain.

To pick just two points that it inspired for me:

  • Comedy is essentially ‘right brain’, and is not ‘politically correct’ or ‘woke’. Comedy depends on irreverence, and being able to laugh at things that are potentially forbidden subjects. Just think of those TV images of masses of men leading the Soviet Politburo or the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Not much comedy in those solemn faces.
  • Meaning, imagination and inspiration are very much related to right brain. Have you noticed just how boring politicians are on the media when they are in the process of spouting some ‘party line’ that the left brain is following? The only interesting speakers on programmes such as the BBC’s Question Time are those with the freedom to speak out from their own life experience.

You will have your own takeaways from listening to this fascinating conversation between an outstanding academic/psychiatrist and a top class comedian. The video is in 3 parts of around 20 minutes each. The first part follows, and will naturally lead you on to the others..

Green darner dragonfly

UK dragonflies tend to be so active that they are difficult to photograph. But these North American green darners at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas, March 2019, were just basking on the footpath in the sun.

Green darner male

They are so-called because of the supposed resemblance to a darning needle. Any young readers will probably say ‘What the heck is that?’.

The female has a blue tail.

Just look at those amazingly transparent wings!

Beware gators!

There are usually a good number of American alligators, locally called gators, at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas. Most lie in the water, as in the featured image. A few warm up in the sun on the banks of the lakes/swamp, sometimes just feet away from the visitor path. They are pretty docile, and probably well fed, but it is well to be wary.

This proximity does give the opportunity for close-ups of those craggy reptilian bodies.

Brazos Bend State Park, 2019

I think that the open mouth was just a convenient resting position, and not the anticipation of a good snack!

These animals can grow to 4 metres long and weigh over 400 kg.

Common gallinule

We’ve been fortunate to visit Brazos Bend State Park in Texas a number of times over the years. Apart from the more exotic birds (from a European perspective) there appeared to be plenty of coots and moorhens, just as on most lakes in the UK.

However, the loquacious and overactive ‘moorhens’ did not appear to behave at all like those in UK. Yes this was usually the mating season around March, but surely these were not the same species. A web search shows that they are common gallinules, which were given a separate categorisation from moorhens only in 2011. Their mating behaviour is quite spectacular!

Brazos Bend State Park, 2019

See related posts moorhen, purple gallinule.

Moorhen

Moorhens are one of our commonest water birds, and indeed are quite common worldwide, under names such as marsh hen or common gallinule. These members of the rail family appear fairly undistinguished, so are not first choice photographic subjects. I’ve tried over the years, but he result is usually not particularly impressive.

Here a strong low afternoon sun brought out the brown colours in the body, which usually appears black.

Shadow of rail on rail
2021 Knutsford

Their gait is quite ungainly, which does make for an interesting profile when backlit.

2020 Shakerley Mere

Economics catching up?

“Nature is a “blind spot” in economics. We can no longer afford for it to be absent from accounting systems that dictate national finances, or ignored by economic decision makers.”

At last, economics appears to be catching up with the real world. The Dasgupta Review, commissioned by the UK Treasury, has stated what has for long been the bleeding obvious. Our economics is not serving us well by supporting destruction of our natural environment, our home.

“Truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of Nature’s goods and services with its capacity to supply them.”

I’ve lost count of the number of pressure groups that have made this point over the past decades, but here is hope that at least the UK government is starting to listen, and perhaps it may influence the forthcoming biodiversity summit.

Maybe the ice is beginning to melt away – the neoliberal dogma that has ruled over the gradual destruction of nature for 4 decades.

The review quotes that modern saint, David Attenborough:

“Economics is a discipline that shapes decisions of the utmost consequence, and so matters to us all. The Dasgupta Review at last puts biodiversity at its core.”

We all need reasons to hope.

The Fall

Most of us are familiar with the biblical story of the fall, when Adam and Eve were thrown out of paradise after an incident with a serpent and a piece of fruit. I remember it from Sunday School at the local Methodist Chapel. Why did our ancestors place so much emphasis on this story? It comes in Genesis 2, in verse 8, just after the creation of heaven and earth.

And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man…

God creates Adam and then Eve and by the end of Chapter 4 (verse 23), because Eve partook of the fruit of a forbidden tree (it was clearly the woman’s fault):

…the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth…

This was obviously highly significant to the men (well they probably were of that gender) who set down the Old Testament. Why? Well, Steve Taylor’s book The Fall has an answer to this question, not only for the scribes of that era, but also for ourselves and future human beings.

It’s taken me a while to get around to reading this book – first published in 2005 and highly recommended by many reviewers. I guess I sort of thought I knew the story, but it was not with the wonderful vision encompassed by this book. Steve is a psychologist, so his story is imbued with a deep understanding of human psychology, but he has also clearly researched and understood many disciplines to produce a work of this scope. This is a history of the fall and a vision of our potential return to paradise.

Read More »

Water, ice and snow

The recent cold spell means that Shakerley Mere is part frozen, giving rise to patterns of water, ice and snow.

The common resident black-headed gulls sunbathe on the ice, awaiting walkers with food to offer.

Of course, at this time of year their heads are not black.

The gull on the right shows the dangers of bleaching from the low winter sun.

Fallow deer at Tatton

Tatton Park is home to two species of free-ranging deer. Most easily seen are the spectacular red deer, which often congregate near to the Knutsford entrance. More numerous are the smaller fallow deer. These are much more timid, so tend to stay away from the areas popular with people.

Recently, this grazing group presented a pretty picture, with one sentinel alert and standing guard – probably checking our dog was on his lead.

There’s a comparison of antlers for male red and fallow deer in this post.

Goosanders at Shakerley

Our recent walk around the local Shakerley Mere showed some unusual visitors, in addition to the usual ducks, Canada geese, grebes, swans and the odd heron. There were cormorants in the trees, but also three unusual ‘ducks’. It soon became apparent that these were not dabblers, as they sped around the lake much faster than a mallard, diving under water for periods in the manner of grebes. Their speed made for difficult photography. This was the best one, at the limits of my pocket superzoom.

These are goosanders, also known as common mergansers in the US. Their long serrated ‘saw bills’ are ideal for catching fish.

According to Wikipedia these are seaducks, equally at home in salt and fresh water.

Galileo’s Error?

Galileo Galilei is thought of as the founder of modern science. “One of his most significant contributions was his radical declaration in 1623 that mathematics is to be the language of science.”

Before that time there was mathematics, but there was also the recognised ‘inner world’ of sensory qualities. The latter was excluded from the emerging science.

The triumphant march of science, with its handmaiden technology, since then, suggests that this was a useful simplification.

But what have we lost? Since Galileo’s time the measurable objective has significantly eclipsed the sensed subjective – not only in science, but across society and in our relationship with nature.

We clearly cannot blame today’s ecological and economic crises on Galileo, but I’d suggest that the trend he set in motion led to the problems we now grapple with. We need a new balance between subjective and objective, which other theorists have suggested is a balance between left and right brain hemispheres.

Incidentally Galileo’s simplification also created the so-called ‘hard problem of consciousness’, by excluding subjective consciousness from science.

Led by quantum theory, science has, over the past century, increasingly come to the realisation that this does not work. Objectification of everything leads to meaninglessness. Basically, mathematical models tell us little about the intrinsic nature of things.

How often, in politics do we see ‘managerialism’, where everything is measured and managed by number, being rejected by the people, in favour of more passionate and idealistic inner-directed politicians. Could this be a part of the natural rebalancing that is going on in the human psyche? It won’t be all ‘good’ – see eg Trump and Brexit…

This reflection was inspired by Philip Goff’s book Galileo’s Error, a well-written, readable and fascinating reflection on the history and philosophy of science and the foundations for ‘a new science of consciousness’. The case for different ontologies of materialism, dualism and panpsychism comes down firmly in favour of the latter. Well worth a read!

Featured image is 1636 portrait of Galileo by Justus Sustermans, via Wikipedia.

Hope reprise

I make no apology for reblogging this quote from the Vaclav Havel, the much loved last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic. I believe it speaks particularly to the difficult times we face, worldwide. It is through hope that we will chart a way through.

“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world.
Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.
Hope is not a prognostication.
It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.
The more propitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is.
Hope definitely is not the same thing as optimism.
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Amen.

 

New Renaissance vision – 25 years on

I recently came across this short unpublished article I wrote towards the end of 1996, reflecting on The Knutsford Lectures 1993-1996 on Visions of a New Renaissance, previously described in this post. It was an ambitious attempt to capture the spirit and outline of the needed New Renaissance, inspired by what the 19 individual speakers had said. The limitations of my perspective and the lack of suitable outlets meant the article was never published.

Discovering this piece led me to consider, what has changed in nearly 25 years. Was the outlined vision valid? Are we any nearer to it? Here’s my brief assessment, against the categories in the Emerging Vision section of the above paper i.e.:

  • Sustainable ecology.
  • Ethical behaviour and social responsibility
  • Local economy and community
  • Appropriate scale and human scale
  • Open science
  • Soul and spirit
  • Love, compassion, nonviolence
  • Holistic views
  • Living philosophy
  • Imagination, inspiration, arts

I have to say that, despite some encouraging features, it seems as if we are further away from a New Renaissance than we were 25 years ago. Consider just three points:

  1. Dominating everything else, the failure to effectively act on environmental sustainability and climate change for 25 years has led us into an increasingly perilous situation. We, particularly governments and moneymakers, have failed the test of ‘acting as if future generations matter’. On the other hand, far more individual people are acting as if they do; the pendulum is moving.
  2. Behind this is the dead weight of materialism, mechanism and reductionism, continuing to dominate science, governance and economics, stifling the emergence of soul, spirit, love, compassion, true values.
  3. The conflict between large scale and human scale is still heavily over-balanced in favour of the mega-projects, big government, industrial-scale farming and against human communities, particularly indigenous, and local solutions. Human inequalities increase as a result of an economic/governmental system that systematically increases them.

It does not have to be thus. We are creating the new world day by day, in our thoughts and resulting actions. The New Renaissance is a spur to our forward thinking. Take at look at SciMed‘s current New Renaissance initiative!

And I have to be encouraged by the direction taken by international organisations, and particularly the forthcoming Davos Agenda, plus this year’s schedule of global conferences. Covid-19 appears to have catalysed the understanding that the current ‘system’ no longer works, and a new direction is necessary for the whole of humanity, based on working with nature, inclusion and social justice, and trust between nations. A reason for hope!