Tuesday, 30 June 2009

806 - Topping Up Lake Windermere

A hundred miles west of Whitley Bay, and down a bit, just three hours, give or take, by train and bus, the weather has been so hot they're using firemen to top up Lake Windermere...

807 - Other People's Dreams

One, possibly the biggest, of the issues I've been wrestling with is the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity - the experiences I have externally (relationships, meals, physical contact in a built or natural environment), and those, like dreams, that are internal.

At point of dozing, hauling myself awake again, I've just caught myself imagining a tractor, straining through mud. The image came into my mind unbidden, but I was party to its creation, as in the process of inspecting it I evolved the mud against which the tractor wheels were set. At the same time I sensed bodily the strain the tractor would be undergoing. A second of clarity, then I was out of the dream state and back in the external world.

Reflecting on this, it seems to me that I used the image to relay within myself useful information about my state of being snappily and provocatively. The incentive was there to pull awake before a bog of sleep sucked the tractor down. Acting in such a way as to move the tractor, and thus myself, free of a catnap, necessitated a role change from observer to driver of the machine, in the process of which the internal state of mind in which I was able to stand separate from tractor me passed, to be replaced by one where I and tractor me, combined, re-engaged with the external world.

If in dreams I am encountering and watching the interactions between aspects of myself that is more or less what the poets, philosophers and psychologists I have read say happens. The difference is that reading about other people's experiences is no substitute for my own. I needed to catch myself in the act in order to know the truth of it. The biggest question is whether the internal world I experience in dreams is in any way connected to the internal world of everyone and everything else. Whether we can dream through each other's borders, perhaps not all of the time, but some of it.

The question then would be whether the tractor had some form of objective reality, one that I was borrowing, sharing for a while, perhaps share even now. Climbing mountains in the Lake District there were times when I set myself physically against the local stone. I reached the summits because in some sense I was identical to them (if we were a different state, I'd not be able to match foot against rock - there'd be no action:reaction). I concluded that in each of us there is a bit of mountain. That's true subjectively, and also objectively. Who's to say whether the words are a statement of science, or poetry, or both?

Monday, 29 June 2009

808 - Paganism and Positive Psychology

A couple of concepts side-by-side. I think they have something to say about each other.

Gus diZerega, in Beyond the Burning Times [paraphrase]: in pagan thought, the immanence of God has, of necessity, to mean a diverse and multifarious world, each immanent expression offering a unique perspective on God as transcendent being, without which the whole would not know itself completely.

Beatrice A. Wright and Shane J. Lopez, in Chapter 3, Handbook of Positive Psychology: 'labeling groups leads to a muting of perceived within-group differences and a highlighting of perceived between-group differences' (p.27)

The second concept implies that from the perspective of a single self-aware observer, everything else would appear different, but allows that if the observer defines him or herself as part of a whole, differences disappear, and self awareness becomes awareness of the whole group, and awareness of any part of the group becomes awareness of the self.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

809 - Small Showers In The Lake District

My tribute to Alfred Wainwright (on balance, the long arrows from the subtitle to the shower and my head labour the point.... CyberTypex needed.)

Friday, 19 June 2009

810 - Whitley Playhouse

The old playhouse saw Ken Dodd and Abba tributes, local am-dram and arthouse cinema. It was a must-play stop-off for big name bands in the seventies and eighties.

The new building (which houses the stage of the old, with the rest of the infrastructure re-built around it) opens in September.

This is taken across the meadow that has sprung from the former site of the Marine Park First School, an oasis of beauty in the town that, I reckon, would make a great nature reserve - the Coquet Avenue Pocket Park?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

811 - Woden's Day

...is the name of this year's Tynemouth Pageant.

It dramatises life on the Northumbrian coast fifteen hundred years ago, as Northumbrian culture flowered, and ends with the stirring recitation of an Anglo-Saxon battle hymn. As a student of Anglo-Saxon poetry I can tell you you don't, you really don't, get that every day!

Three more performances in the grounds of Tynemouth Priory at 7.30 tonight, tomorrow and Saturday.

For a fascinating example of myth-making, with a good sense of community history (and a bit of Rick Wakeman), I heartily recommend it.

Woden chased the clouds away for the wednesday performance, so that, after a late-afternoon storm, the evening was dry and warm when we arrived. Pink-gold sun on the honeyed Priory stonework, and a rainbow rocket-roaring into the sky over South Shields, as we left.

812 - Hotpotz, Park View

E and I at Hotpotz last night. It's one of those places where you buy a plain piece of ceramics, paint it and have it fired for you. This time I sat with my pad, whilst E let herself loose on a heart-shaped wedding-present platter.

Great fun, and paint everywhere...

(Googling for the website, I also found the shopping directory for Park View, Whitley Bay. Worth taking a look.)

Saturday, 13 June 2009

813 - Whitley High Street After A Storm

Early Saturday evening, so everyone was party-togged, and the rain came from nowhere. Here's the aftermath.

814 - 3.00am Revisited

Ideas contained in the post I wrote at 3.00 the other morning have been steeping in my brain. Drawing a simple equivalence between body and mass, spirit and energy, works. It is fascinating to consider biblical texts about bodies impacted by spirit as observations of the effects of energy on mass. Here's a burning bush. Here's a stick enlivened till it becomes a snake. Here's a dead man walking, and a mass of people, hearts leaping, tongues waggling, spilling onto a street to declare the marriage of spirit and mankind.

Einstein's observation that energy and mass are equivalent replicates the insistence of the gospels that Jesus is a consummation of God and man, so that we can conclude that what the gospels say, science says. And vice versa. "It's okay: we're neither dead meat or unlicensed energy. We're both in interplay. That's the way it should be, and that's the way it is."

The way it is is a pretty good definition of the kind of universe I'd expect a loving god to create. But it is also no more or less than science expects to observe.

And in effect, the shift of perspective represented by the gospels away from God=Spirit, Humanity=Flesh, to God=Spirit and Flesh, Humanity=Spirit and Flesh, is identical to the shift science is itself undergoing away from Humanity=Observer, Cosmos=Observed, to Humanity=Observer and Observed, Cosmos=Observer and Observed. And just to make clear that what I am not saying is that all scientists are just unwitting Christians, this shift of perspective is surely present in all cultures, and marks the point in maturity where a person accepts that his or her life is neither the exercise of will on flesh, or flesh on will, alone, but both exercising on each other. In other words, it's a function of growing up.

Friday, 12 June 2009

815 - Pink Lane Poetry and Performance Night

Second time I've attended this: a good vibe in the Jazz Club in Newcastle's Pink Lane. I was on my own for the first hour, so I took along my drawing pad.

From now on I'm hoping to post a couple of drawings a week. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Oh and by the way, I've just been stung by a wasp for the very first time. Live the danger! (Ow.)

816 - Elephant Seen In Whitley Bay

This life-sized wooden elephant's head looks great on the refurbished curry house at the corner of Marine Avenue. Siam Bay Cuisine is going to sell Thai and Indian food: their website (still in progress) is here.

817 - Storm Over St Mary's Lighthouse

Yesterday morning, heading my way. Probably the reason the Canada geese were flying south.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

818 - Deliberate Life Footprint Calculator

My favourite Canadian sustainable living and home education blogger, Nic, has a thoughtful footprint calculator here.

She's tied in sustainable living with wellbeing, so that you give yourself points for proactively engaging in green activities, rather than a guilt-trip for not cutting back on a consumer lifestyle.

Make your own furniture? That's twenty points. Make your own clothes? That's ten. Actually wear them? Another five...

I really, really like this. In fact, I like her whole site. I love the idea that you can build your own culture from scratch, without anyone telling you not to. Niche construction at its finest and most free.

Do check it out.

819 - Have I Missed Something?

Seen today, out to sea, six Canada geese flying south in formation.

Oh, and Whitley Bay now has an elephant. Photo tomorrow.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

820 - E=(...and the rest)

Posing this question to myself:

What would it do to my theology if I drew a simple equivalence between the religious concepts of Body and Spirit, and the scientific concepts of mass and energy?

Not so much to work out complicated equations, but to admit the descriptive commonalities between the pairs, in the light of contemporary science?

Body and mass are both about substance (thinking of the creation of a clay Earth, and humanity out of that clay, for example), whereas Spirit and energy are about movement and change (thinking of the dynamism of motivated dust, either blown by the spirit 'where it will', or, stepping up a level, descriptive of those attributes of humankind that, in the opinion of biblical writers, separate us from the animals).

The difference between scientific and biblical accounts being that we have now framed the concept of evolution, allowing us to see that the progression from dust to animals, and animals to humanity, is one of complexity, a result of the interaction between mass and energy over the lifetime of the universe, rather than one of fundamental ontology.

My problem with the comparison? I suspect its simplicity, and that, as like as not, is a result of my upbringing in a society where religion and science have been held separate, both by scientists and church people. My fear is, I think, one of category error - a muddying of the waters, the risk of foolishness. Studies of fundamentalism point to disgust as its defining emotion, which is thought to have evolved to enable us to avoid the kind of contamination that results from tainted water and food sources, and might put our survival at risk. It's hard, in this case, to shake the feeling that I'm slipping into an ill-thought-out pseudoscience, neither fishy coelecanth nor trickster coyote in a crow mask.

But the links I've drawn are observational, and in that sense, uncontroversial. They are not making a metaphysical case for an untestable substance (spirit in its popular, separate-from-natural sense, such that one might say there is mass, and energy, and spirit as well), neither discounting the existence of a motivating force behind, or even in the nature of it all (Love as I have understood it/her/him [must return to this!]). All they do is challenge (whilst affirming) a dualism, the way Einstein challenged and affirmed it in his famous equation.

[Written in the wee small hours. There's something to be said about what one experiences in altered states of consciousness - such as dreams - and how these relate to tangible reality. My inclination is to say that describing the 'journeys' one takes in these states as being through the spirit world - as I have sometimes thought - is not absolutely helpful.]

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

821 - Ocean Weekend

A big thank you to North Tyneside Council, who, under the guidance of Keith Barrett, supported by Whitley Bay's community of artists and performers, laid on a great weekend of art and crafts the length of the beach between the Spanish City Dome and St Mary's Lighthouse.

And there were donkeys!

We went down on Sunday afternoon with family friends, and all the activity gave the place a real lift.

Great to see, on Tuesday, the grafitti display still up by the skate park, and the odd daub of paint in the shelter near Rendezvous Cafe, where tile-decorating, felt fish-making, craft stalls and circus skills had been on offer, and a marvellous dry aquarium strung up, with a giant whale, and fish, and sequinned seaweed. There was a small scattering of coloured lentils still by the shelter, and I watched a bird pecking at them.

I'd poked my head in at the planning stage, way back in March, but in the end did not get involved. I was certainly a little green with envy at what the group achieved. Really brilliant stuff. Next year, I hope, it'll be even bigger and better.

822 - Last Post on Monkseaton High and Microsoft

Thanks for the comments in the last post, folks. Here's my final word on Monkseaton High and Microsoft, elevated from the comments section to a post in its own right, because I'm lazy, and also there's a (pretty) good joke at my expense at the end.


Hi all,

There's a part of me, yes, that says, 'These things happen - live with it.'

There's a (peaceful) part of me that says, 'Bring on the revolution...'.

There's a (very small) part of me that says, 'Microsoft are just great and hugely generous, and Monkseaton High is in their debt, etc. etc.'

And there's a (voluble) part of me that says, 'More people see the outside of the building than will ever see the inside. It is ugly. Microsoft may be giving grants, but that's a pittance beside what they earn (and what they hope to get from exploiting such grant-giving - for example, more kudos to put money into a relatively deprived area than an affluent one). This is supposed to appeal to young adults, not children. And four blocks on the roof will actually communicate the brand identity better than the scattergun effect anyway (as this will replicate the logo more faithfully).'

I'm right, and you all know it!

Put yourselves in Microsoft's shoes. Is it better for them to:

1. Identify with an act of aesthetic vandalism which will alienate at least as many people as it attracts, so that any positives are mitigated by a 'shame about the exterior'?


2. Celebrate the positives their educational grant brings, in a bold building, with their logo in proportion on the roof, but minimal environmental impact beyond that?

Look, I lived for three years up the road from the
McDonalds UK Headquarters in East Finchley. They called it McDonalds University. The road leading into it was even named College Road. Beyond a reasonable logo, there was no sign that this was a global company. If McDonalds doesn't need the show, why does Microsoft?

'Nuff said. I've made my point. Off now to use my Mac. It's just the right height to prop my book up at an aesthetically pleasing angle.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

823 - Monkey High Soft Play Area

Did you guess right?

Monkseaton High School is sponsored by, among others, Microsoft. I use Microsoft. As it has a de facto monopoly on workplace and home software, I don't have a choice. It's okay, usually, but it's not brilliant.

So to see its branding scattered over the top of a school, where the bright colours and excess make it look like a fairy-cake decorated by a hyperactive five-year-old, packs a visceral punch. Unless it is toned down, this architectural statement says to me: you've got no choice in the brave new world we're building. Get used to it. You're globalised brand-fodder.

I guess it's not realistic, if Microsoft have put such money into the project, for no acknowledgement of their generosity to be made. I'd hate for local councillors to have to exercise their courage and actually stand up to the business. Who stands for genuinely unbiased education nowadays anyway?

But think of the scale of the branding. Not just how out of place it looks on top of a genuinely impressive new building, but how it lies across our field of vision, seventy or so feet up, as we look across green fields towards the coast, or out of our beds as we recuperate at North Tyneside NHS Hospital, or from miles around as we travel on the Metro to and from Newcastle. The only scale on which such an outsize logo could possibly seem appropriate is the one offered by the Google Earth Satellite. Oh. Maybe I see.

But look, Microsoft UK. You're shooting yourself in the foot. Do you really want to present yourself as perpetrators of an exercise in local disempowerment? Particularly when it's a school, with kids, for heavens's sake? Take a screen-grab from your own software. I'm looking at the Windows logo at the foot of my screen. It's tiny. It's plenty big enough to remind me whose software I'm using. But any bigger and it would get in the way.

Therefore, by all means leave four coloured blocks on top of Monkseaton High School to remind us of your investment - one red, one green, one yellow, one blue. But paint the other twenty or so grey, in keeping with the rest of the school. For enlightened self-interest, if nothing else.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

824 - Monkseaton High School

Which global computing software company do you suppose has sponsored the building of this new school?

Monday, 1 June 2009

825 - Religious Technology

Just a thought: what if the religions we build were thought of as a technology? Like fire-creation, or wheels, or ladders. A social machine built when observations about subjective perceptions are applied to objective reality, perhaps, as chemistry applied, with an eye to economics, in the service of a defined need for a flame on demand, results in a match or lighter.

There's a fairly basic statement about religions in Beyond the Burning Times: a Pagan and Christian in Dialogue. Pages 154-5: "Religious traditions are different ways in which human beings have sought to come into greater relationship with the Sacred" (Gus diZerega).

But this begs the legitimate question: what is meant by the Sacred? Many people would say the Sacred does not exist - it's an imaginative overlay on the physical world. It gives us a sense of meaning, but when we say we sense it, what we are sensing is our imagination in the act of interpreting our relationship with the entirely physical world around us.

Better, surely, to interrogate ourselves as to whether the imaginative act is worth it. Perhaps it is misplaced. Perhaps, necessity being the mother of invention, and with our sense of the laws of nature removing the necessity for us to invent supernatural forces to explain the physical universe, our imagination can be directed towards more practical creations - more efficient acts of niche creation, be they home-, leisure- or work- related.

So Gus diZerega's quote is, by itself, problematic. Perhaps it's like saying that ladders and stairs are different ways in which we have sought to reach closer to the moon. In exceptional cases, maybe, we'd admit, by lunatics and artists, but otherwise, no. What they are - or what they have become -are technologies for achieving achievable ends. Cleaning windows, harvesting apples, stacking people up in tall buildings. Religions have reached for the Gods: better, nowadays, use them to instil solidarity, or motivate personal change, or if they are obsolete, use something else.

But here's the thing with technologies, we can only discover what is achievable if we are permitted to entertain the unachievable. In other words, technologies are not, in and of themselves, tethered to the practical. They are free-standing.

Like cogs applied to clockwork, bicycle gears, and automata, or like the ladder waving in the air, seeking purchase on whatever lies within reach. And maybe, although this time it cannot reach the moon, perhaps with new materials and a better understanding of gravitational forces, a moon ladder might be built. Arthur C. Clarke and many later scientists thought so. Technological spin-offs along the way start with the novel that Clarke wrote, which, for a fact, inspired me as a teenager to read, to love science, and to admire engineers.

In the same way, religion could be harvested for its spin-offs - for example, social cohesion, a sense of purpose, legal and political insights, healing (perhaps), the creation of beautiful structures and great paintings - whilst other visions, magic (perhaps), prosperity gospels, theocracies, might be put to one side until societies and science and personal skills caught up.

If it is a technology, it would be stupid to deny religion the opportunity to stand on its own simply because our present capabilities do not support all the visions the technology opens up. It would be stupid, too, not to allow religious technologists the opportunity to develop their ideas. It might well be that knowledge gained might over time be lost and found again, or cached in monasteries, or nations, or particular traditions. And foolish too not to admit that the technology could be used for the equivalent of nuclear weaponry.

Does this chase away superstition? Yes, in that technology becomes obsolete (though who'd choose between a Stradivari and a synthesiser?). Does it stamp out spirituality? No - not if the spirit is equivalent to the flame produced by the match, the apple fetched by the ladder, or the journey completed by bike.

Just as we are warmed by fire, fed by fruits, and lifted by (transported by?) transport to foreign lands, we can be sure that whatever it is that the technology of religion serves, whatever Spirit turns out to be (an everything, a nothing), it benefits us somehow, deeply, because we have built, and build still, the means for reaching and for engaging with it.