Saturday, 29 April 2017

Alexander and the Professor




 The man who changed the world
Looks like someone we know?
As you probably know, the Ancient Greek philosopher of great renown, Aristotle, taught the greatest General of the ancient world, bar one, Alexander the Great. The interaction of these two 'Great Men' has posed a fertile source of speculation for academics for well over two thousand years. How did Aristotle's teaching: exact, ponderous, surefooted and fantastic affect the developing mind of the eventual conqueror of the Persian Empire? Did the astonishing conquests of his erstwhile pupil influence the development of Aristotle's political theories? I would contend that the mutual interaction, intellectual and political, of these two Great Men was virtually nil.

Alexander had a certain respect and snobbish sentiment for high Greek culture, perhaps from the realisation that the Macedonians were just a generation away from barbarians and many Greeks still referred to the Highland upstarts as barbars.

Irrespective of fine Greek manners and a first class education delivered by one of the most formidable intellects ever to grace the human race, Alexander remained, for the most part, a barbarous man albeit moderately varnished with a coating of Greek culture. Scratch a little too hard and the passionate uncouth soul could be unleashed. A man who could recite Homer from memory and still thrust a spear through a friend in a single drunken evening.

It is interesting to reflect that while Alexander and his father had destroyed the 'City State of Greek Ideal', Aristotle ponderously extolled the virtues of a system ground into the dust by Macedonian military might. It as if Aristotle was living in a kind of intellectual bubble floating far and free from the stark reality pervading the lands of Greece. As an aside, it must have been irksome to educated Greeks to have been subdued by semi-Greeks to the north. Of course, it was going to get worse; the Romans were just getting started. I'm starting to digress.

Penetrating insight into the relationship is provided by the author, A. W. Benn: "It would be unfortunate if philosophy had no better testimonial to show for herself than the character of Alexander. Arrogant, drunken, cruel, vindictive, and grossly superstitious, he united the vices of a Highland chieftain to the frenzy of an Oriental despot." To be honest, I can't fault the analysis and it truly encapsulates Alexander's character in one incandescent sentence.

Clearly, the real world did not matter to an introspective genius such as Aristotle. The man was pure intellect and had enough money garnered through land ownership to divorce himself from the humdrum banality of our futile existence. Good for him. For most of us of a reflective demeanour, we have to earn enough money so we can ponder and reflect. Ain't dat the sad truth?

The ancient sources reflect an amiable relationship between Alexander and his mentor, at least during the earlier part of Alexander's campaign. Later a petulant note enters Alexander's missives to his old tutor, perhaps due to political developments in Greece. As far as I can discern though, Aristotle refrained from partisan politics- it could be a very dangerous game. Anyway, Aristotle was far too busy with his round of teaching duties and the writing of learned treatises. Here is a supposed letter addressed to Aristotle penned by Alexander whilst he campaigned in the nether regions of the known world as cited by, Plutarch: "Alexander to Aristotle, greetings. You have not done well to write down and publish those doctrines you taught me by word of mouth. What advantage shall I have over other men if these theories in which I have been trained are to be made common property? I would rather excel the rest of mankind in my knowledge of what is best than in the extent of my power. Farewell.”
Apart from the warning, which is hardly veiled, there is a certain petulant snobbishness in the uttering. 'If the Greeks were to remain Great they should deny to other men the things that induced greatness, lest they become as the Greeks and therefore great'. I think Aristotle would have appreciated the logic but not the snub. But of course, we will never be certain.

It is a reflection of mine that men endowed with first-rate minds rarely become successful men of action. And indeed, very smart men should not enter the world of the military and politics, Caesar and Hannibal excepted, of course.

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 The man who changed the world

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

ANZAC Day, 25th April 2017



Today is ANZAC day when Australians and New Zealanders commemorate their war dead. ANZAC day focuses heavily on the Great War but not to the exclusion of other conflicts. The war to end all wars was nothing of the sort and set the scene for an even greater war. As one French General prophetically remarked at the end of the Great War: "This is not peace but an armistice for twenty years".

The end of the Great War was the beginning of the modern age and the true end of the Victorian era. Men of a thoughtful temperament became changed. In the summer of 1914, concepts such as honour, King, God and Country actually meant something in the hearts and minds of men- at least to the educated classes. Those who endured the horrors of war no longer thought this way. It is no coincidence that the growth of atheism in Britain can be traced back to this time. Before 1918, atheism was virtually non-existent in England except amongst a few foppish, fey intellectuals. In 1914 people actually believed that 'right could defeat might'. Only a madman or an intellectual dullard could hold this belief in 1918. The big battalions would always prevail in the end. It has always been this way even though French strategists of 1914 thought they could win battles by sheer élan alone. Of course, morale and fighting spirit are important components on the battlefield however, they count for nought when you charge into machine gun fire in conspicuous blue uniforms as if on a Sunday parade. Of all the combatants in 1914, the Germans appreciated the most the importance of major force in war. Although the much vaunted German army couldn't resist the occasional showy flash on the battlefield which cost them, dear.

We can chart the war in poetry. The jingoistic simple patriotism of 1914 slowly gives way to a sombre timbre. The poetry of 1914 is rather mundane and lacks emotional depth while the poetry of 1917/18 is red raw with all the nerves of the poet exposed. Bitter as the cud it captures the horror of modern war and encapsulates the helplessness of men exposed to an indifferent mincing machine. Those who survived not only carried physical scars but bore deep emotional gashes that always wept and never healed. My grandfather went to war as a man full of good humour and jest. On return, he was spent, deeply reflective and spent too much time on his own.

I've chosen a piece from 1919. It is a post-war poem by the English poet, Siegfried Sasson. Please read and weep.         

Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same--and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench--
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads--those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Belated Easter Post

Watch and weep
Yes, I'm well aware it isn't Easter. I might be mad but strangely enough, I have a very sane conception of the passage of time. I was fervently hoping to post this erudite piece for Eastertide but real life intruded and I had to prepare for a difficult lecture this week. Thus, my readership missed out on my wisdom and had to wait a whole week before this much-anticipated piece came to full fruition. Please forgive me.

A very good friend contacted me the other day, by email. Yes, I do have friends, but as a very wise man once said: “Never have more friends than fingers on your right hand after a chainsaw accident”. I’m starting to digress. My friend is a Christian and considers the Flaxen haired one an unrepentant sinner ripe for conversion to the one true path that leads to the light……… Anyway, at Eastertide, he thought it a good idea to direct my attention to a film entitled, 'The Case for Christ' by a chap called, Lee Strobel. The thrust of the film is to provide absolute proof that Jesus died and rose from the dead after three days.

Before tackling the film, I would like to make a few points about the concept of the resurrection from a rationalist perspective. Most Christians seem happy to accept the resurrection without considering the profound implications of their belief. I, like Paul/Saul of Tarsus, devoutly believe that if Jesus didn’t come back to life after three days then Christianity as a true belief collapses into the dust of woe and despond and therefore, is no more. Out of respect for my friend I decided to watch the film in its entirety. But even without watching a single frame I can put forth a very good argument for the falsehood of the ‘resurrection’. 

Over the past four hundred years, very clever men have been uncovering, divining (even winnowing) and refining this pesky concept called knowledge and very importantly, determining how we can distinguish between concepts that are worthy of the name and concepts that deserve to be consigned to the mental bin of false belief. When someone says to me that a dead man has come back to life, I am honour bound to ask two salient questions. "Was the man truly dead or just resting? Mayhap he was in a state of suspended animation, coma or had partaken of a drug, such as curare, which temporarily robs him of his sensibilities. Or did the person undergo true biological death?" For me, as a biologist, true death of a human happens at brain death. This occurs when the brain cells are deprived of oxygen and therefore stop metabolising. This process starts about eight minutes after being deprived of oxygen. Once cell death sets in the process is irreversible; enzymes unfettered start to digest the cell turning the insides into a biological soup. Although, cells in the muscle of the deceased may still be viable two days after brain death, the loss of brain cognitive function which necessarily follows brain tissue death, really defines our demise.

If true death is to be reversed then the natural order of causality could/would not apply. What is required is a bona fide miracle formulated by the hand of god. But I ask you, how many miracles do we experience in everyday life? A miracle, by definition, is the suspension of natural order and causality. But, natural order is how things work and it has always been this way. I would contend that miracles never happen. To accept that a single miracle has occurred carries grave epistemological consequences. If we allow one miracle to occur then why not two, or a million. A world with miracles soon becomes a morass of inconsistency- a world where acorns can grow into theologians and where the dead roam the earth. David Hume's sobering take on the problem, although written in the 18th century, is still resonating relevant today. For your edification, I quote in full:

"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish".

As for the film: Tis total crap and does not put forth a single coherent argument and consequently is not worthy of contemplation by my prodigious intellect. All the so-called experts are Christian believers/apologists and are convinced of the resurrection anyway, regardless of any purported evidence. Hardly an unbiased panel to assess the verity of the resurrection.

I truly believe that my friend thought I would somehow be convinced by the film. When I told him that I was unimpressed and that the film skirted over the main issues he genuinely looked sad and shook his head and said. "Flaxen, you may be a god amongst men, clothed in mortal guise. A face so fair and radiant that mere mortals can only stare for but a while lest their retinas become seared and their kneecaps move about a bit, but Sir, you are also a rampant rationalist and possess, no soul".  I countered thusly: "Indicted on all accounts. To not think rationally is equivalent to not thinking at all". In mitigation to my poor friend, he's totally ignorant of the ways of science and philosophy and holds a degree in Sociology- may the gods grant him peace for he shall receive none from me.         




Thursday, 20 April 2017

Dat one lazy hound....


Hollerin' hound dog so forlorn,
The laziest dog that ever was born.
He's a hollerin' cos he's laying on a thorn,
But he's just too tired to move over.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Shagger the ferret

Shagger in his prime

I've owned a few ferrets in my time. When young I'd go out on the heath with gramps and Shagger, the ferret, grubbing for rabbits for the pot. Old grampa was a veteran of the Great War and said very little. He seemed to me, a towering giant, although my father attests that he stood a majestic 6 foot 3 inch. As a young boy, I was in awe of my grandfather. He had a certain presence and spoke volumes by being silent. And grandfather was a silent man. However, if I talked out of turn or transgressed in any way I'd receive a swift clip to the head accompanied by a few terse words delivered in his thick black country accent.

Anyways, we would catch a few rabbits and granddad would dispatch the poor buggers with a deft slap to the neck and the struggling would cease. One day, out and about, dad's Staffordshire Bindle Bull Terrier got loose and killed Shagger with a growl and a flick. I was mortified as I truly loved that ferret. Even though the nasty bugger would bite and chew heartedly at my hands when handled. Even today, when my hands get a tan, I can still see the thin tracery scars left by Shagger's tender ministrations; Shagger's legacy.


I've owned a couple of ferrets since then, but none could remotely compare to the original, and best-loved ferret, called Shagger.  

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Flaxen's random, esoteric, bollocks

Nothing is impossible, except impossibility



Conscious living requires exploration. The infinite is electrified with supercharged waveforms. 
This life is nothing short of an unveiling rekindling of zero-point fulfillment.

Who are we? Where on the great quest will we be re-energized? Humankind has nothing to lose. We are at a crossroads of coherence and stagnation. 

We are in the midst of a zero-point invocation of divinity that will let us access the quantum soup itself. Throughout history, humans have been interacting with the quantum matrix via frequencies. Our conversations with other warriors have led to an invocation of pseudo-higher consciousness.

Reality has always been aglow with starseeds whose dreams are opened by love. We can no longer afford to live with selfishness. The complexity of the present time seems to demand an unfolding of our lives if we are going to survive.

You and I are starseeds of the galaxy.
You may be ruled by yearning without realizing it. Do not let it obliterate the birth of your story. Suffering is born in the gap where beauty has been excluded. Only a seeker of the solar system may leverage this wellspring of interconnectedness.


The grid is approaching a tipping point. The vision of starfire is now happening worldwide. It is a sign of things to come.

Normal service will be resumed for the Easter post