Thursday, 18 May 2017

A Day at the Doctors



I rarely go to the doctor willingly and have always lived by the dictum: 'First sign of death and I'm off to the doctor'. In that regard I'm no different to most men. Although I also live by the motto: 'Strength through pain'. So perhaps it might not be prudent to solicit life advice from the golden haired one. You decide gentle reader. Anyway, the point is I don't like going to the doctors especially after the episode when the GP shoved his digit up my arse (arse) and forgot to wash his hands, before and after the procedure. It has got so bad that my wife books the appointment, without consultation, and simply drops me off at the surgery with a wink and a shove. Tis a pity, because my doctor is really a great bloke. Not only is he a good clinician but he is funny, personable and a reservoir of sage wisdom. I went to see him for a 15-minute consultation today and spent 45 minutes in his office. Of that time only 5 minutes dealt with what ails me. The rest of the time was spent discussing peer reviewed double blind drug trials, the state of the human condition in the face of a disconsolate insouciant universe and why my testicles moved about independently after a hot bath- apparently it is due to the uneven distribution of deep thermal currents and the resultant attempts of heat distribution and heat loss to a crevassed skin surface. Go check it out in a medical textbook. But most of all I like his willingness to prescribe those little blue pills that make my head go all woozy after a couple of belts of vodka. Good man that doctor. 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Random Friday Whimsy



Actually this a valid scientific question. Consider the many environment variables involved here: humidity; ambient temperature; restrictive underwear (or otherwise); absorption powers of said underwear and let's not forget the indigenous flora and fauna. I'd take swabs for microbiological testing, 'cuttings' from the pubic hair and skin scrapings for microscopical examination. Then again, he could just have a girlfriend who is free and easy with her sexual favours. We'll await further enlightenment and the lab tests.



Wednesday, 10 May 2017

More Pretentious Bollocks



I thought I'd do a brief post about fallacies. We all know about fallacies in the everyday humdrum sense, but in the rarefied academic world of logic, it is well defined. So, let me start off with a formal definition: A fallacy is: 'An error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid'. There are many types of logical fallacy as outlined below- please note this is not an exhaustive list, just a small catalogue of fallacies encountered in the everyday life of a logician. Also note logicians, as a breed, like to classify ‘fallacies’ into distinct groups (goes with the job). For instance, fallacies can be broadly distinguished into ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ fallacies. A formal fallacy is a pattern of reasoning that is always wrong. This is due to a flaw in the logical structure of the argument which renders the argument invalid. In contrast, an informal fallacy may present in a valid logical form but is false due to the characteristics of its premises, or its justification structure. To date, I have managed to identify 56 separate informal fallacies. There is much ‘splitting of the hair’ and more than a few of these definitions can be combined without losing meaning and knowledge; all is nuance and shade. For the sake of brevity and sanity, I’ve only included a few fallacies which are commonly encountered, verbally, and in the written word:
Ad Hominem: ‘Attack the man’. This is a very popular device. If you can’t tackle the argument, why not besmirch the character of the person holding the contrary view? Only persuasive to the unsophisticated and the fool. In the final analysis, the character of the individual has no bearing on a logical argument.
Tu quoque: ‘You also’ or pot calling the kettle black- again, totally irrelevant. It may well be true that you are a hypocrite however, this has no logical bearing on the original argument. 
Argument from incredulity: “I can’t see how this argument can be true, therefore it must be false”. Also known as the argument from ignorance- or is that a separate and distinct category?
Circulus in demonstrando: Circular reasoning. No explanation necessary.
Petitio principia: Begging the question. A fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true. Very common amongst unsophisticated theologians and religious apologists. 
Argumentum ex silentio: Argument from silence. A conclusion that is based on the lack of evidence in preference to the presence of evidence. A particularly daft form of reasoning that is easily demolished with a deft riposte augmented with a swift punch to the throat.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc: Correlation proves causation. An assumption that a particular action is responsible for causing an effect. Shown conclusively to be false by the British Empiricist philosopher, David Hume, in the 18th century. Nonetheless, an argument beloved by politicians and adherents of pseudoscience.

I think I’ve made my case and don’t see the need to belabour the concept. If you would like to read more about ‘informal fallacies’, I recommend the following book by, Carney & Sheer: 'Fundamentals of Logic, ch 2'. This is not a recent text however, it gives a clear and concise exposition of the problems. 

In our writing and verbal exchanges should we knowingly avoid the usage of fallacious expressions and phrases? This is not a simple question. Those of a pedantic disposition would unerringly answer, “yes”. But you should never ask a pedant a question as the answer is always known. If I'm involved in formal scientific writing I would argue that it is important to get a clear coherent message across without ambiguity and distraction. Of course, this is the counsel of perfection. I am quick to deride inconsistencies in other author’s scribbling but blind and oblivious to my own. This is why I always pass my formal work to a colleague for critique. It can be a painful, but necessary, lesson to learn that I’m writing complete bollocks, consequently, thoughtful editing is a prerequisite for cogency. It may come as a surprise to my regular readers that I’m capable of succinct, simple and clipped prose considering some of the rambling 'verbiage' penned for this blog.

Politicians and Legal Advocates are overly fond of logical fallacies. The barrister is at his/her best when not involved in legal minutiae and forensics. True oratory plays on the senses and has little to do with legal or logical precedent. Watch an accomplished politician and observe the skilled use of words divorced from facts and reality. Oratory tricks and illusions have great power to beguile and cloud the mind.

It would be a poor world if all literature conformed to rigid logical strictures/structures. The lack of rigour is a must for lyrical composition and great masterpieces of literature utilise illogical literary devices, diverse and various for artistic effect. Poor poetry is written by those lacking in imagination and pathos. Tragic poetry is at its finest when divorced from logical reality and the most engaging prose, both intellectually and emotionally, attacks and up-ends our reason. Lie to me in print as long as it is done with zeal, wit and passion.

Just a word to the wise. If in a debate with others, at a party, don't disparage their answers with an appeal to logical form. You will only humiliate folk and piss them off mightily; they will hate you for it. Sometimes tis best to keep your wisdom closeted and unexposed. And of course, no one likes a smart arse (arse).


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Wednesday Rant

ARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH

If there is one thing I hate more than meetings it's the impenetrable jargon it fosters/festers. Weird gobbledygook speak designed to obscure and complicate simple ideas. Devoid of content, these phrases strangle the English language turning it into an abomination of mangled words. My particular pet hate is: 'moving forward'. My boss and friend, who used to be a scientist, has moved forward to 'Administrative Management' and interjects into every meeting the phrase, 'moving forward', when he should be saying, 'from now on'. It grates and grinds on my sensibilities with its stultifying banality; sadly, he should know better- he's a very intelligent man. 

While I'm at it: I'm not a fan of 'team leader' instead of boss. Although not exactly jargon speak, it is one of those phrases that has insinuated itself into the English language about the same time the 'Personnel Department' became 'Human Resources' and heavy truck haulage became 'Logistics'. And while I'm ranting off topic I must mention the word, 'Workshop'. Whenever I attend a scientific conference there is always a 'Workshop'. A word for a meeting within a meeting. Frankly, if you are a not carpenter or a worker in light engineering you have no fucking right to call a meeting, a 'Workshop'. Digression over- back to the main rant.   

Here are a few particularly good/bad examples of business speak gathered randomly from the net:

“telephonic culturally competent disease management program can improve the health of African American members with hypertension”

“a leading global provider of integrated financial governance, transaction risk management, and compliance solutions”

"look for a paradigm shift in your KPIs, you need to benchmark your organisation against best practice in generating marketing messaging statements"



Now my readers (is there anyone there?), can feel my pain.

I challenge anyone out there to interpret these insane sentences into anything vaguely intelligible or coherent. Imaginative, witty or humorous contributions will win Flaxen’s Award for Rhetorical Sane English,  or A.R.S.E, for short. Don't disappoint the Flaxen haired one.

I'm so incandescent and discombobulated I'm off to burn down an orphanage.   


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.

:


 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 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Enfant Sauvage

Before reading Flaxen's bespoke writings you are strongly advised to follow and digest the material on the following link. Otherwise, you may be moved to think that the author is utterly and unrepentantly.........
stark raving bonkers.



Shock breaking news from the rain drenched, wind swept, sun eschewing town of Tipton on the Tip. Whilst walking her enigmatic ferret, Shagger, Mrs Edna Mugumbo came across a troop of feral gypos foraging in the local midden pit. Amongst the mangy, filthy, unkempt and illiterate group she noticed a half grown human child not yet past the age of majority. The child crawled on all fours and aped the animal's atavistic grunts. Edna noticed that the child appeared very comfortable with the wild animals and even engaged in troop activities such as stacking scrap metal into piles; fashioning pegs from the finest dried dog shit and all the while managing to avoid paying tax, of any description. Mrs Mugumbo alerted the relevant authorities and the intrepid 'Gypo Squad' under the auspices of inspector, Enoch Mugumbo (no relation) of the yard swung into concerted inaction. After reviewing the evidence in the local hostelry, 'The Feltching Ferret' and imbibing 15 pints of the local brew, 'Ole Throat Gobbler' the dauntless team descended onto/into the midden pit like men deranged.

After much swaying and staggering they managed to secure the gypo cum child but only after running a gauntlet of fortune tellers and purveyors of smelly, crudely fashioned pegs. At one stage during the proceedings, they were offered an alabaster bust of Michelangelo's David endowed with a suspiciously large phallus. As one critic was stirred to note: "Michelangelo's David has little to do with the fluid genius of the high renaissance, as such, and indeed takes too much from Classical Greek sculpture without adding the subtle but majestic sweep of the genre. The effect is almost a caricature and bemoans a florid abandon of the classical roots it labours and seeks to emulate. Arse".

Finally, after being told that, collectively they had lucky faces and that they would all inherit great wealth from an unexpected source, they managed to escape with the child and a whippet called Bob.

The child was whisked to Tipton General Infirmary for the Infirm and there examined by the renowned Doctor, Josef Mengele. The good doctor noted that the savage infant displayed all the hallmarks of a gypo child and hence was deemed non-human. Consequently, the child was consigned to the experimental wing of the hospital where Mengele injected coloured dye into the gypo's iris in order to mimic Aryan humanity.

On a happier note, Bob the Whippet has been re-homed with a nice middle-class family in Solihull. To date, the whippet has managed to steal all the garments off the neighbour's clothes lines, collected sundry copper wire from various industrial locations and all this without paying a lick or pant of tax.

We certainly live in wondrous times. Double arse.



Inspector Mugumbo. in repose

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Philosophy and Science?

Behold, a Great Man


Scientists, in general, are ignorant of philosophy and conversely the average philosopher is not well versed in the scientific method. Fair enough you say, philosophy and science are two completely different rational belief systems without overlapping areas of interest. Philosophy is mainly concerned with uncovering knowledge by thinking very hard about the topic in hand and Science, on the other hand, is about empirical observation of the ‘real world’ and developing ideas to explain that reality (what is reality?). Some would argue that theology completes the trilogy of knowledge systems. I would disagree and argue vehemently that theology is not a rational belief system at all, but I don’t have space, or remit, to espouse my reasoning in this post. I would further contend that science and philosophy do have a point of contact and that contact lies in the realm of epistemology. At this point, I should be drawing a Venn diagram, but frankly, I can't be arsed (arse).

In brief, epistemology is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature, methods and limits of knowledge. It asks the following questions: What constitutes knowledge and how can we distinguish between true and false knowledge? As scientists, our endeavour should be to uncover new knowledge so it stands to reason that we should have a rational and coherent appreciation of what ‘knowledge is’, if it exists as a meaningful concept, at all. This is where we introduce the philosophers, or philosopher, in this case, as I will be dealing with one extraordinary man, Karl Popper, who is considered the most influential philosopher and commentator of science in the 20th century.

Popper was born in Austria in 1902 and took up tenure at Canterbury University, New Zealand in 1937. In 1946 he was offered a teaching position at the London School of Economics where he stayed until his retirement in 1969. Enough biography, Flaxen. His early work focussed on differentiating valid empirical scientific theories from none scientific appreciations of existence, such as metaphysics. It could be conceived that Popper extended the work of the British empirical British philosophers such as David Hume. If you would like to know more about Hume, click on the link and be enlightened.

Popper thought that there should be a valid distinction between knowledge which is inherently scientific and knowledge which is not scientific. In this respect, Popper was not unique or original in his thinking. His originality lies in his concept of falsification. Thus, counter to how most scientists think, theories instead of being reinforced by experimental evidence, the scientist should actually strive to contradict and hence falsify his cherished theory(s). In contrast, adherents of metaphysical theories are mostly concerned with making observed reality fit their theories’ prediction. Sigmund Freud’s concepts are of this ilk and consequently, have no truck with real science. To be fair to Freud, he never claimed that his theories were verifiable by empirical experimentation. Intellectually, Freud was a direct descendant of the ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and clearly was an unrepentant adherent to a lost intellectual age. 

Popper believed that pragmatic scientists strive for truth. However, attainment of empirical truth is forever elusive and always lies just beyond/behind  the epistemological horizon. Thus, empiricism can never provide absolute evidence for a particular theory. On the contrary, scientists, according to Popper, should constantly and consistently strive to refute their theories. Of course, all this sounds horribly counter-intuitive but from a logical perspective, it is perfectly consistent. However, whether scientists actually behave in this way is entirely a different story.

Frankly, as a practising scientist, I am not enamoured by Popper’s postulations. It has an air of over-intellectualisation (not a real word- but I'm sure you get the drift) which is not in tune with real life. Philosophers have a tendency to do this. Whether they are describing what happens in real life does not seem to bother them, at all. All is subsumed to apparent intellectualism. Furthermore, Popper seems not to consider the human psychological perspective. Few scientists set out to falsify theories, more often their experiments are devised to confirm beloved postulates. In the event of the data not fitting the theory, it is a brave scientist who advocates the abandonment of a well-established theory. Much work and experimentation would have to be done to overturn established scientific paradigms. And indeed, a revolution in scientific theory is relatively rare. In most cases, the theory is not discarded but modified and basic tenets remain unsullied. There are more technical objections to Popper's contentions but I am not inclined to outline here. Any university level textbook on philosophy will give a solid appreciation of the problems. But of course you could do what everyone else does, these days- go check out Wikipedia; the font of all wisdom and knowledge, allegedly.





Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Today’s horoscope


I have always known that I’ve been blessed with psychic scryng abilities. Often, whilst ensconced in the ‘Felching Ferret’ hostelry on a Saturday night, I’ll be approached by poor shuffling wretches seeking guidance and reassurance in a world gone awry. I offer solace and sage counsel to the lost, administered with characteristic aplomb and verve. “Tell me Flaxen what do the fates hold for me? Can you lift the shimmering veil and peer into the rent betwixt our world of sensibility and the outré world of the preternatural? Will you commune with the shades and eldritch spectres which inhabit the transcendental realm of shadows and transcribe their insistent syllabic whispers?” My eyes cloud and I enter a dense world of reverie and detachment. Peering deep into the froth atop my brown ale I give heed to the patterns in order to discern the future. After a deep quaff (15 pints) I enter into an intense trance. My china blue eyes roll upward revealing glistening whites flecked with blood. All becomes serene and a great gust of cleansing wind erupts from my nether regions as if a thousand furies had been released upon the agog and gagging populace. Clarity descends and through the choking miasma all becomes manifest, to me. With ponderous quavering tones, I pronounce accordingly: “I see much tribulation. From the north marches will arise a great brigand horde. They will burn and pillage all before them. The skulls of the fallen will be stacked in large mounds and the carrion crow will wax fat. A great melancholic despond will descend upon the land. You will lie prostrate before them. Your kin, even until the little ones, will be seared by fire. Your fair maids will become theirs. Your bones will bleach and blanch under a cruel, cold, pitiless winter sun…… But apart from that I see the latter part of the week being good for investments and sound financial decisions. Romance is in the air; catch it, put it in a box and stifle it before it draws a breath. And as always, don’t forget to floss.”   
  
See, I told you I wasn’t a well man.



Friday, 24 March 2017

Flaxen Saxon reads the first lesson.......




One of my colleagues, a highly intelligent individual, is also a devout and active Christian. I mention this because in my work she is an anomaly. The rest of the department, including the author, are atheists. Out of 25 scientists, there is just a single believer in an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent deity. We as a group are nothing special in this respect. Scientists, on the whole, are notoriously atheistic and non-religious. A study of American scientists (members of the National Academy of Sciences) in 1998 revealed that only 7% believed in a personal god. Contrast this poll with the .opinion of the general American population. A GALLUP poll of 2011 showed that 92% of the American public believed in god. Interestingly, in North Western Europe and Australasia non-believers outnumber the devout these days.

Over the years I have noted a trend amongst my god fearing colleagues. Most come from a devoutly religious family and from a very young age were exposed to a form of 'Super-Christianity'. The family environment would totally revolve, even spin, around devotion to god. Every aspect of their formative life has been influenced by this Christian context. Having said that, I've known a lot more colleagues who have reacted to this environment negatively by discarding religion and embracing atheism. I accept that my response is an over generalisation and represents my narrow personal view and experience.

I have also noted that Christian scientists come in two flavours: There are those who feel happy to compartmentalise their belief and keep it entirely separate from their professional duties. The analytical part of their brain, for the most part, disturbs their religious beliefs, not a jot. They are content to accept 'faith' as a valid mechanism for devotion without critically analysing the notion of 'faith' as an objective vehicle for obtaining knowledge. They are usually well versed with the New Testament but are selective when it comes to the Old; difficult passages, from a moral perspective, are only faintly perceived. In my experience, they are totally ignorant with regard to modern theology and biblical criticism. Their belief is very much of the heart and not of the head. The second variety is a rare beast indeed. They honestly hold true that science and religion are compatible and will go to great lengths and even greater mental gymnastics to reconcile science with theology. Usually, these scientists are highly knowledgeable when it comes to a close analytical reading of the bible They go as far as to dismiss literal interpretations of scripture and consider biblical miracles as either over zealous story telling or normal phenomenon misinterpreted. They apply their critical training to theology and can be rather inventive in their reasoning. However, they duly stray from the true path of verifiable science and in consequence become theologians with all its epistemological ramifications and reliance upon sophistry. 

Returning to my colleague: As I recall she does not belong to a mainstream congregation as such. There is no central meeting area and members congregate in their homes or hired halls. Like many similar ‘churches' the members are very active and devout. Contrast this with the typical Anglican attendee on any given Sunday morn. The church organises various social activities and members are involved in ‘good works’ within the community and at the national and international level. Members also err toward the ‘happy clappy’ crowd and there is an emphasis on uplifting inspirational preaching and musical interludes. There is also a trend toward fundamentalism and literal biblical interpretation although my colleague is not completely in tune with this sort of doctrine. Like the vast majority of professional biologists, regardless of religious belief, she is a firm advocate of evolutionary theory. I would put forth that it is very difficult for a seriously minded biologist to disregard evolutionary theory in preference to the so-called alternative explanation of intelligent design. As an aside, do not be beguiled with the term ‘intelligent design’. It in no way reflects a coherent scientific theory and is simply a fancy way of saying: “an unknowable supernatural entity by means unknown causes things to happen”.

Anyway, my colleague's teenage son recently returned from a Christian residential camp. Once home he took great delight in telling his parents that he no longer believed in evolutionary theory and henceforth intelligent design would shine like a beacon on the road to enlightenment. My colleague was totally mortified and completely at a loss to understand her son's rejection of a sound scientific theory. A theory supported by a great wealth of empirical observational evidence. To her mind a belief in god and an adherence to evolutionary theory are compatible. God's wisdom has supplied a mechanism and evidence to support his act of wonder........


My colleague's son is young, naive, impressionable and perhaps a little in awe of his camp leader and mentor. He has much to learn and hopefully, with time and maturity, will develop the level of discernment necessary to escape the intellectual torpor of fundamental and moribund theological dogma. Arse. 


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Philistines

Ouch, that bloody hurt that did!
I've always thought that the Philistines have had a rough deal from 'history'. In the bible the Philistines are portrayed as depraved polytheists addicted to brute strength and strong liquor. Today, their very name is synonymous for coarse, rude and brutal behaviour. But of course, our opinion of the Philistines and their culture is almost wholly dependent on testimony from their implacable enemies, the Jews. Recent archaeological evidence and research are starting to reveal a startlingly different picture as painted by biblical writers.

As a preamble, it is worthwhile to consider the origins of the Philistines. Modern scholarship indicates that the Philistines burst upon the pages of history in the middle of the 12th century BC. They appear as part of a mass of migratory peoples seeking plunder and settlement. They attacked the whole eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean and Aegean causing the collapse of several powerful empires including the Hittites. They even had the temerity to attack the Egyptians. Pictorial Egyptian evidence gives a graphic account of a sea battle against the marauders. The Egyptians prevailed and magnanimously resettled the defeated people in Egypt and Canaan. The Egyptians called these people, Peleset and it is these people who evolved into the Philistines as described in the bible. Thus, the Philistines did not become established in the Middle East until the 12th century BC. The account in the Old Testament where Abraham encounters the Philistines (c 2,000 BC) is clearly an anachronism. This is understandable, as according to contextual evidence, the Old Testament wasn’t written until the 6th century BC.  

Israel of the 10th century under the famous king David was supposedly a sumptuous and vibrant place, at least according to bible. Jerusalem under Solomon flourished as a majestic city of opulence. Unfortunately the archaeological evidence does not bear out the biblical description and it seems the Jerusalem of the period was a small unimposing settlement. Some would even challenge the historicity of the great king David himself. The story of David contains mythic and legendary motifs recognisable throughout epic storytelling worldwide: local boy does well; defeats a formidable foe/monster against all the odds; wins the hand of the king's daughter and eventually becomes king. That said, there are passages in the bible which dramatically reveal David's all too human foibles. Even though the writer is clearly pro- David and aims to glorify his life and the city of Jerusalem he portrays a deeply flawed human being: the sending of Uriah the Hittite to his death so David can marry his wife, Bathsheba and the temporary defection to the Philistines are just two examples. On balance, I would side with those who consider David as a real person from history, although I would argue that his life, accomplishments and the splendour of his kingdom have been embellished somewhat. As the Jews are fond of telling: “If David did not exist he must have had a brother of the same name”. There is even doubt cast about whether he killed the gigantic warrior, Goliath, as elsewhere his slaying is ascribed to Elhanan, the son of Jair (II Samuel 21:19). The bible is replete with such contradictions- go seek and ye will find.

As for the Philistines themselves, we are woefully deficient in knowledge concerning important features of their lives. There is much controversy concerning the language they spoke. Some scholars aver that the Philistines spoke an Indo-European language which would be in accord with a proposed Anatolian origin. Others note that Philistines and Jews in the bible seem to converse freely during encounters suggesting that the Philistines spoke a Semitic language. However, this may have been a simple literary device aimed to maintain the narrative flow.   

Archaeological findings agree that in the 10th century the Philistines were a distinct entity from the surrounding Canaanites but as the centuries progressed they lost their individual identity and became assimilated into the indigenous population. The Philistine population were originally confined to five cities: Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gaza, Ekron and Gath. The ruined sites have been extensively worked by modern archaeologists and their findings belie the biblical reputation of the Philistines as uncouth barbarians. The rich pottery and stoneware unearthed as well as the dwellings indicate a rich cultural style and a high degree of civilisation. Evidence throughout the Middle-East strongly indicates that during the 10thcentury BC it was the Israelites who lived in rather drab, uncivilised conditions. In contrast the Philistines had a sophisticated war machine led by a warrior aristocracy with organised foot soldiers and archers and a flourishing economy based on maritime commerce. In comparison to the Israelites, bound by the hill country, the Philistines were an advanced commercial and industrial society.

Thus the archaeological evidence does not support the biblical account. This is perhaps no surprise. Firstly, the written account of the 'history' of the 11th and 10th centuries BC was not transcribed until the 7th or 6th century BC, perhaps during the Babylonian exile. The Babylonian defeat and exile left a deep scar upon the Jewish psyche and heroic accounts of a supposed glorious past are perhaps forgivable. A time when the Jews abided by Yahweh's covenant and received the bounty of their Lord. The parlous state of the Jewish people in exile was a direct result of failing to please a demanding deity. For a people totally drenched in their notion of god, this was a powerful reminder that greatness could be rekindled but only if Israel chose to reaffirm the compact with Yahweh. However, Yahweh was a jealous god and occasionally capricious. And secondly, what really happened 350 tears earlier could only be darkly discerned based on oral tradition, poetry and scraps of written disparate texts. Add to this mix a heaped tablespoon of theological devotion and a dollop of legendary storytelling and we end up with a purported 'history' of the Jews. The writers of Deuteronomy were not able or interested in writing objective history (whatever that might be) as understood by the modern mind. The Old and New Testaments are a composite of literary genres but, for the most part, reveal surprisingly little about the passage of real verifiable historic events.

Let me finish with the lamentation of David on the death of Saul and his son Jonathan at the hands of the Philistines:

"Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Internet Dating

According to ‘folklore’, there is someone for everyone in the magical realm of love. I would disagree, I know a few poor benighted buggers who have been rejected and marginalised and left firmly on the shelf to gather dust and detritus. Bereft of social grace or aesthetically challenged, or both, these individuals shuffle alone in a world indifferent. Interesting to note: folk lacking in the looks department are often socially inept as well. When the Lord taketh away he does so with a very large spade.

But in the wonderful internet age, even the strange, ugly and the inept should be able to find similar and even perhaps corner and enslave the elusive emotion called love. In fact there are a number of specialist sites which cater for every special need and every bizarre breed of the human species.

Love at first scratch
Skin allergies are on the increase in the Western world, so it makes sense that there should be a dating site to cater for those infested with interesting skin eruptions. Love over a rare steak, a bottle of wine and camomile lotion. Gaze into one another’s rheumy eyes and count the pustules. Could it get any more romantic, especially when you note that the floaty bits in your tomato soup ain’t peppercorns?



It’s gone viral
Herpes is not just for Christmas, tis for life. Actually a dating site for those infected with herpes makes a lot of sense. Once you have got it, that’s it, you are stuck with the infection for the rest of your life. And if your partner has already got the virus you can’t pass it on to them. No guilt, no psychological trauma. And you get to idle away the long winter nights comparing lesions. If you time it right you can arrange for the sores to progress together so reaching a shuddering climax of chaffed scabs. Believe me, it works.  

No comment
                                

Darwin Dating
This site applies a ‘natural selection’ process before you can join. You submit your photo and other members vote. If you are deemed attractive enough, you are in. As the administrator’s state:Darwin Dating is an online dating website created by 4 friends who were sick of dating websites filled with ugly, unattractive, desperate fatsos”. Frankly, I approve. If you are spending your precious time looking for a date you don’t want to spend hours trawling through pages of barely human swamp creatures with questionable hygiene practices, do you? And to be fair there are sites for ugly people as well.




Birds of a feather
There are a few sites dedicated for ugly folk. This is where you can meet others as physically repellent as yourself. No point in striving to land a beautiful blond if your visage is one that would worry rats. In genetic terms this is called ‘assortative mating’ and there are many examples within human societies. Thus folk tend to marry within their socio-economic class. Doctors marry other doctors and contrary to popular imagination, in general, do not marry nurses- nurses marry coppers. I’ve had a quick look at a few of the photos of the denizens of these ugly dating sites and I have to say there are some prime specimens out there. The thing that worries me is that these folk may find each other thus producing issue as physically unattractive as themselves. All other things being equal, physical attractiveness is governed by genetic factors. If you bump an ugly don’t be surprised if the resultant offspring resemble Quasimodo. As for unattractiveness equating with low IQs- don’t get me started, I wouldn’t like to sound elitist, would I? The fact that the ‘fruits of my loins’ are 6 foot handsome/beautiful creatures with IQs in excess of 150 bears brutal testament to my thesis.

Choose me


Elasticated waist 
And finally. Would you like to meet some weirdo who wanders round in diapers in their spare time? No problem, because there is a dedicated website for people just like you. As for spare time, I get the distinct impression that these folk have a lot of it. Judging from the stains exuding from the barely absorbent material, most of them are downright unemployable. And why are all the members, fat, ugly and incontinent? Perhaps I'll leave this conundrum (and diapers) for my readers to unravel?

And he still can't get a girl friend


Toodly Pip



Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Torso Kid


I'm intrigued. No doubt he's strapped to a motorised skateboard toting a 44 Magnum in his prehensile penis while his capacious scrotum laps over the edges like a furry inflated saddle (provides stability).  

Thursday, 2 March 2017

BOW

My 45 pound recurve- who's a pretty boy den?


I'm not sure if any bugger cares, but I'm going to tell my story, regardless. For the past three months, I've been immersed in the art of archery. I used to shoot a bow way back and I reckon my average draw weight was about 60 pounds back then. These days I've taken account of my lost skill and advancing age and bought a bow with a draw weight of 45 pounds at 28 inches. I did my homework and made a decent purchase for a good price. I chose well with the lower draw weight and with a bit of practice I think I could achieve the 60 pound draw weight of old; not completely knackered then.

Not only have I started to shoot a bow, I've decided to have a go at making one or three..... My first attempt was pretty shit, I will acknowledge. Of course, a master bowyer will apprentice for six long years before applying his craft, so perhaps I shouldn't be too hard on myself. Anyway, my first bow was fashioned out of pine. As anyone familiar with bow making will know, pine is a poor wood for making bows. However, it allowed me to hone some lost skills and placed me in good stead for future projects. Actually, the pine bow was okay and drew 20 pounds without breaking but the tillering left much to be desired. All said, not a bad first attempt.

The main problem I'm experiencing is obtaining suitable wood for making a decent bow. Every DIY place in Wellington stocks only pine. One owner of a DIY store lamented the fact that hardwood was way too expensive for most purposes these days. After a little research, I managed to find a small timber yard which stocked a variety of suitable hardwoods, at a reasonable price. The fella at the yard was very helpful and sorted out a piece of European Ash for NZ$14. On first inspection, it seems fit for purpose. The only problem with kiln dried wood, as far as I can see, is that it might be a little too dry and therefore brittle. I'm working on the wood as I write and will report back on the finished product- might take a while.

There are a few native hardwoods which can be worked to make bow staves. I've started to harvest pieces of manuka, kanuka and other woods which I hope will be suitable. The staves are currently stacked under the house undergoing the slow process of drying.

My other bought bow is a primitive Mongolian self-bow with a draw weight of about 40 pounds. I call it 'Mongolian' because of its superficial resemblance to the 'type'. True Mongolian bows, were and are, a composite of wood, horn and sinew. I decided not to go the way of the compound bow. For those unfamiliar with bows, compounds are a highly engineered modern variety replete with cams, pulleys, specialised arrow rests and sophisticated sights. They are more forgiving than traditional bows and given similar archery skills, more accurate. Both my bought bows, in comparison, are somewhat simple, although my 45 pound recurve has limbs of hard Maple with a fibre glass overlay and a cut-out arrow rest on the riser. The bow is fast, clean shooting, whisper quiet and endowed with highly pleasing lines. Overall an efficient and very beautiful bow. If I were of a refined disposition I might be tempted to call it 'a work of art': but I ain't, so I won't. My custom wooden arrows are fletched with turkey feathers and give a very satisfying thud on impact.

The 'Mongolian'


I've been practising and can place a loose grouping with the 45 pound bow at 35 metres. I can only hit the target with the Mongolian bow at no more than 20 paces; more practice required.


Compound bow


To date, I've only used the bows for target shooting but intend to have a go at hunting. Bow hunting is legal in NZ with a permit and a bow 35 pound and over. Apparently, there is good wild pig hunting hereabouts. Need to enthuse my son and son in law and hire a couple of 'pig dogs'. I have no problem with hunting as long as the meat is for the pot. I used to hunt rabbit as a lad with my taciturn granddad and a couple of ferrets. Roast rabbit is the best.
  
So that is why I haven't been as diligent and active on my blog of late. Must try harder.    


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