Philosophy Conference, Apr 2010.

Philosophers. Aren't they just so cooL?

Today, friends, let us do philosophy. There are a good many question in modern philosophy, ranging from “Will that Melvyn Bragg bloke ever shut up?” to “Is the cake really a lie?”. Some of these questions are timeless classics (“Why has my wife left me?”) while others are new, and as yet fairly un-thought. I can’t tell you about the new ones, because even by reading them, you’ll be forced to think them, and research philosophers have not yet discovered which ones are safe to be thought by laymen and women.

There are, of course, over-thought questions. Is the cat dead or alive? Doe we have free will? Is the king of France bald? The answer to the last question is no. Both the current king and queen of France have full heads of hair, although their son is going through a bit of skinhead phase at the moment.

Perhaps the most famous, and most over-thought question is the question of the tree in the forest. If it falls, will it make any sound? The philosophers here have made a fundamental error in assuming that there is still enough forest left for this question to work – these days most forests are within at most a hundred yards of a major tourist attraction or logging industry. However, the question still seems to receive as much thought as it did when new. This is plainly an injustice. There are so many other tree-forest related questions that barely get a look in as a result, and they really deserve more thought. So today I shall present to you a round-up of the best alternatives to the tree-forest-sound (or TFS) philosification.

The most popular replacement to the TFS philosification is of course the tree-forest-god problem. If a tree falls in a forest, does God exist? Alas, this has been puzzling theological philosophers for many centuries now. The history is the TFG problem is quite illustrious – it was thought up just a few years after explorers found the first forests, and but weeks after the concept of God was first invented. From then on in, it became a rich person’s plaything. Many kings kept a personal philosopher in their palaces to stimulate them with this particular conundrum.

The issue was finally solved in 1932, where a philosopher by the name of Wendy showed that the existence of God is not affected at all by the felling of trees in the forest, much to the appreciation of the logging industry, who had been receiving petitions from nervous religious folk for a while. The proof is long and complicated, although extremely elegant to other philosophers.

Another well known philosophisation is Jemimah’s Conundrum. This basically asks if, when a tree falls in a forest, did it do it of its own accord. Essentially, the question ponders whether trees have free will. This question was actually solved a few weeks after creation by a tree who had, at the time, been working in the same philosopherication department as Jemimah. The tree, who was later granted the right to call itself sentient and to thus receive a minimum wage, showed that trees are actually the only beings in the universe who can decided their own destiny. His proof is currently disputed by many senior academics on the grounds that the grammar in the original paper was terrible, but then the writer was just a tree.

There are also much less famous alternatives to the TFS philosification. Arguably an undeserved example of these is the Tree-Forest-Compensation problem. If a tree falls in a forest and lands on a something, who pays compensation, and who do they pay it to? This has always been a bone of contention amongst research philosophers and theoretical philosophers. The latter argue that the question is irrelevant, and not a part of the true study of philosophy. The latter, many of whom have been injured or had possessions crushed by falling trees as a result of being sent on research assignments, say that theoreticians should pay the costs incurred by any of their research partners. Usually as part of the price for their actual research. Thus the question has not yet been solved.

It is also important to remember the Tree-Forest-Field theory. This is basically a theory that says that if a tree falls in a forest, it is not in a field. This has been quite hotly debated as, unlike most philosophical conundra, there appears to be no proof of it. Indeed, Professor Michael Crabapple Snr once proved that there is no proof of the theory, but this was then shown to be false after Professor Michael Crabapple Jnr proved a few years later that there can be no proof that there is or is not any proof of the theory. Counterexamples have been shown – there are a few dubious photographs of trees in fields that float around whenever important philosophers meet to discuss this problem. However, some theoreticians would argue that the theory only applies at the moment of the tree falling. However, TFF skeptics argue that a self-consistent theory must apply at all times, and so the theory must be false.

Other less-popular philosophilisationings include the Tree-Forest-Forest conundrum which states that a tree that falls in a forest is acceptable proof that a forest exists, somewhere. This lead to Greenpeace’s Operation No Forests, which attempted to prove that all the forests had been destroyed by stopping all trees from falling. It was foiled just a few minutes after it began when a tree fell in a forest a few miles away from the Operation’s base camp. It could be heard for miles.

There is also, of course, the I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Tree-Forest-Sound Question question which is sponsored by a popular butter brand. It asks what sound a tree would make if it fell in a forest, assuming that it would make a sound at all. Most papers written on the subject agree that it would be a loud version of the sound a twig makes when it falls over, but popular philosopher Jeremy Clarkson has suggested that it would sound “a bit like a bombshell”, and another professor has suggested that it could sound like the “ringing of a thousand bells in perfect harmony – an immaculate chorus of beauty”, although she’s considered to be a bit crazy even by philosopher standards.


Ode to Getting Wet

I’m lusting after camping.

A tunnel tent made by Hilleberg

Camping. Just add rain.

I realised this fully a few moments ago when I pulled down the zip of my hoodie (I wear hoodies obsessively, but for interest it was my black one because I was cold) and was instantly transported to that moment in a tent when you’re lying in the silence and you hear someone start fiddling with the zip.

There is something quite enjoyable about zipping a tent. It is somewhat reminiscent of opening or closing one’s front door, but with a more mystical charm. When I close my front door, it will stay closed, especially as I’ve normally forgotten my keys. But when I zip my tent up, it feels so much more temporary, and fleeting. In a sense, it is an excitement – your tent will welcome you back at any time of the day, but your house will let you out in the morning, and you will only come back when you’ve finished your work for the day.

If I’m honest, it’s been dawning on me for a while. Recently, coming back from an open day, I found myself walking through the park in a very fine drizzle, and suddenly found myself yearning for a campsite. I don’t think many people would sing the praises of communal toilets, but there’s a feeling, as you trek slowly across the field, of something so much deeper. I suddenly missed that moment when you climb into your warm sleeping bag, and you feel it snuggle around you in a way that no duvet could ever attempt. I wanted to be sitting, safe and dry, while the rain lashed at the tent from outside, the echoes of each drop resounding to make even the humblest of showers sound like a ferocious storm.

Recently I was forced to go to a Scout AGM. The kind people of the AGM had partly funded my Jamboree to Sweden last summer, and I did need to thank them, but there’s nothing quite so wearing as a Scout AGM. Anyway, the meeting was opened by someone reading a passage from a scout newsletter from before I was born, telling of the great pleasures of going camping. If I’m honest, and I always am, the article did go on for far too long about the excitement of going to the toilet, but some people do get extremely excited about the bowel and bladder issues of others. But again, I just felt a yearning in my heart for some proper canvas (or whatever artificial polymer we use on our Khayyam) out in an open field (preferably not too muddy and fairly close to the toilet block) with people.

I think the people thing also has a lot to do with it. Very often my family go camping with a group of friends, and seeing all of them again is always brilliant. But even when you’re not camping with people you know, it’s great to talk to the people around you. I’ll always remember the Frenchman we met on a trip to France who taught me how to play proper Boules. (Apparently the trick is to throw high, and to let it land where you want it to stop. This is because Boules is played on sand, in direct contrast to lawn bowls, which is played on the freshly skinned hides of genuine wild Indian elephants.) I’ll also remember the Dutch family who weren’t very happy after I crashed into their car on my bike, but that’s another story.

Thinking about my fondest memories of camping, they do almost all include the rain. The path into town from one campsite which became a river. The knee-deep puddle that completely blocked all access to the toilets from our tent. Every time I’ve come back into the tent dripping wet, and just stood there, with the droplets evaporating off my coat. I’m clearly mad. But nonetheless, I’d just like it said that camping is cool. That’s a nice little soundbite, isn’t it?

Incidentally, a plug. The NationStates IPO prank, which was admittedly as brilliant as Max Barry‘s pranks always are, has inadvertently introduced me to a new musical artist from the NS community. So this is a quick plug for Grim Dog. If you want a sample, I’d recommend downloading this track here, which is a masterclass in minimalist discordance.

An Old Direction

Okay, okay, so I had a bit of fun. I must initially point out that all of those photographs were taken by me, which might begin to explain why they are so truly terrible. Incidentally, that is me in the self-portrait. You never knew I looked so good looking, did you?

Secondly, I must apologise to all the people who arrived at the blog yesterday and were captivated by my artwork. I am not going to continue with this particular vein of artwork. Indeed, unless this semi-coherent twaddle that I am writing currently is art, I shall not be continuing or starting any vein of artwork in the near future. I hope that there is someone else who will satisfy your longing for badly-taken photography, and I would suggest you start with Tumblr.

Thirdly, I will state right now that I am not going to apologise to those who were foolish enough to believe anything that I said yesterday. I am going to stick my tongue out at you. It’s revenge for all those time that Google has conned me. I understand that it doesn’t directly impact Google itself, but, like all good playground bullies, I am taking it out on the lesser members of society, by which I mean you the humble web user. I of course mean myself under normal circumstances, but seeing as I am now acting as webmaster, I shall continue with the tongue-sticking.

Fourthly, I must apologise to those who didn’t believe anything that I said yesterday, because I did say one thing truthful. This blog is going to head down a new direction. Well, sort of. Hopefully, at some point during the summer, this blog will be moving to a different host, and will be leaving for Don’t worry, it shouldn’t affect too much, but I am trying to fiddle around with the logo/colours/theme etc, which should happen over the next few weeks to months. To be honest, ‘new direction’ is a massive exaggeration. Basically, I’m going to change some colours, and maybe add a different picture.

Fifthly, that reminds me to thank A Mean Old Man, who made the original Johz flag/logo. The new designs are generally based on the original colours and ideas, although I’m sad to say that the bulging muscles will be gone. I don’t think AMOM will be making any more flags, so don’t pester him, but I’d just like to use this space to say thank you to him.

Sixthly, I believe I may need to apologise to the Australian visitor(s) to this blog, as I did set the previous blog post to appear at midnight in our time, which I realise would have been midday your time. Equally, to all of my foreign friends for whom the timing of this prank was imperfect I can only apologise for the fact that I live in GMT. Although it is actually BST now.

I think that will be all, in large part because I’ve lost count of which point I’m on. I’m sorry if I’ve said above that I’m sorry, and I’m not sorry if I’ve said above that I’m not sorry.

Actually no, stop that. I’m going to encourage some audience participation. Comment time! Tell us below what your favourite April Fool’s Day online gag has been this year. The best one will win a whole packet of kudos! I know, I’m a cheapskate.

A New Direction

I’ve decided, and I can hear your gasps even as I write these words, to give up my normal form of blogging. While I’m sure many of you found it faintly amusing, it was at no point edifying, nor was I adding to the very essence of the soul of the human race. Ah, they say brevity is the soul of wit, and I’m going on too much. Please, dear friends, allow me to précis. I have begun to enjoy the noble art of photography more and more in these later years, and thus I am going to re-aim this blog towards a journal of my efforts in this area. I shall most certainly be making use of WordPress’s ‘Galleries’ feature which, as an artist, I am very grateful for. I must of course thank all of the people that have helped me create the photography that I am about to show you, but special thanks should go to those who help me showcase it even now.

What, beloved friends, am I saying? This rambling paragraph is too much like the old me, and I must cast it aside like an unwanted baby! (Note to self – art? Photo. bin, baby in it (where to find baby?) perhaps attach ‘old me’ – ink on paper – t/ baby w/ large pin – or is that too obv.? Must txt Tracy Emin) Onwards, my brother in art, or indeed sister in art (art is the only truly all-encompassing medium of the soul) and let us see what I have brought unto you.

I call this first piece ‘Beginnings‘. I believe it describes perfectly the essence of all of our starts in life, and sums up that urge within us to survive, and not only to survive but to flourish. Really, this work of art is inside us all, and, while in base form it is merely photography, can represent all of our attempts to break out into something new.

Beautiful flowers, made even more beautiful by my thumb covering the lens.

This second image that I wish to show you is a portrait of myself. I call it ‘Self Portrait‘. The title is deliberately obvious, as it encourages the viewer to think of the immediacy and obviousness of the picture. The work itself is derived from a study of art in the world of social media, and it is designed to capture a certain raw freshness of the individual encapsulated in its own world, linked by mere strands to other individuals. I was actually going to the toilet when I took this, which I believe to again represent immediacy.

Me, looking arts-y and post-modern.

This next and final picture has always been a personal favourite of mine, as I took it on an artistic whim. It is named ‘Green fields and a wall‘. It demonstrates life uncaged by the constraints of life, and also alludes Biblically to concepts like the Garden of Eden and the Elysian fields. Conceptually, this is probably the most ‘mainstream’ of my works, although of course artists like myself exist in a plane far beyond mere labels like ‘mainstream’ and ‘indy’.

The rolling hills

As I mentioned to you earlier, this will be the new direction of my blog. I am desperately sorry if you are enslaved by the philistines of this world, and will be turning away from my site in future, but I believe that this new path in my life will be the turning point at which I become a true member of the intellectual elite through sheer dint of my brilliance. Over the coming months and years, I will be posting at least one image each week, if not more. The images that I present to you will be hot off the press, as it were, so please understand if they are not all as perfect as the ones above. However, I am confident that my artistic inspiration – muse, as it were – will keep me satisfied and working for your benefit.

Gay People and Marriage: A Brief Interjection

David Cameron's picture on the 10 Downing Stre...

Dave even supports gay people. Isn't he such a lovely guy?

Clearly we’re going to have a debate. David Cameron is quite keen on this idea. I’m not necessarily sure I want to indulge him, but there are other people who also want a debate, and I’m happy to listen to them instead. The topic, of course, is gay marriage, and it’s quite a talking point. Already, the Archbishop of York has slated the whole project, although he’s clearly just trying to appease the African bishops. The Catholic church in the UK has written to every Roman Catholic church in the land, ordering them to protest against the proposal, although a whopping 30% of Catholics support gay marriage. (These people are being excommunicated as we speak.) Meanwhile, Conservative MP after Conservative MP has ridiculed the idea of gay marriage citing reasons such as “it’s not natural”, and “marriage is for babies”.

That’s not to say there aren’t supporters of gay marriage. It must be accepted that the majority of them are gay, but there is even some heterosexual support for the idea. On top of this, many Anglican vicars are piling in to express their support for gay marriage, although of course these are the same heretics that support women bishops. David Cameron himself is vocally in favour of gay marriage, as he thinks it will make all the gay people vote for him.

Indeed, it’s a debate that’s been spreading like wildfire, and recently it made the big time and entered that well-known national ruminations center, the letters page of the Independent. Yes, my family buys the Independent. However, when a topic becomes so big that ordinary lay people like you and me can discuss it, then there need to be some guidelines.

You see, we can’t just make up whatever we want. We have to accept that, somewhere out there, in the real world, facts do exist. The grand pronouncements that we make (gay people are unnatural, etc.) must have some shred of reasoning, or evidence, to back them up. The issue being, of course, that it’s very hard to have all the evidence on hand, and coming up with reasoning is extremely hard on the spot. Far easier is to just repeat what you’ve already been told. I’d like to address that slightly. This is directed squarely at the anti-gay marriage camp, and it’s a selection of arguments that are completely and utterly invalid, and that should not be used. I don’t care if you have some proper arguments, because that’s what debate is for. These arguments, however, do not count.

Firstly, let’s start with that nonsense that homosexuality is unnatural. It’s honestly quite hard to justify this. Estimates on the number of homosexuals in the world vary, but it’s general considered that, in societies where homosexuality is not actively discriminated against, about 10% of the population is gay. That might not be much, but if you were on a bus with another twenty or so people, chances are, two of you are gay. If you take that same population and consider how many people on that bus are train-spotters, or professional artists, you might begin to realise that 10% isn’t especially small. It’s important to remember that being part of a minority does not make you abnormal.

We could also take a look at the animal kingdom. Almost every species of sexually reproducing, multi-gender animal has been observed to engage in some degree of homosexual activity. There are scientists who spend their lives trying to work out why. Assuming that homosexuality is unnatural, why is so much of nature engaging in it? Accepted, this doesn’t necessarily apply to humans. For example, rabbits eat their own dung. But then most animals don’t eat their own droppings, so humans are hardly unusual in this respect. If homosexuality is so popular in the animal kingdom, maybe we have to accept it as a fact of life.

Secondly, the argument that often comes up from the clerical side of the opposition is that marriage has always been between a man and a woman. This may be so, but it is not a valid argument. Take marrying a divorcee. Henry VIII removed that stumbling block to marriage, and now a good many people are living happily together. Tradition is never a reason in itself for something to continue the way it is, otherwise nothing would ever change. An acceptable argument is that God decreed marriage to be between a man and a woman, but then you must be able to explain why a state that governs both Christian and non-Christian alike must set its values on the Christian faith.

Thirdly is one that came up recently in the Independent. Gay people cannot have babies. There are two groups of people who really have an issue with this. The first is that selection of couples who are unable to have any children, for whatever reason. There’s a large group of people like this, and to say that marriage is about babies is, let’s face it, extremely offensive to the people who have to go through life without the ability to bring their own child into the world. Obviously there are alternatives, which is where the second group, which is made up of children in care and their parents. If traditional couples are able to adopt babies and raise a family with them, and not suffer undue stigma as a result of it, why should gay couples be any different?

Climate of Education

Ice on fire

This is exactly how Global Warming works. Probably.

Recently I was invited to visit the University of Hull as a part of that hugely exciting university selection process that I’m sure most of you will end up going through. Now Hull is, depending on your route, at least two train journeys and a bus ride away, which gives the traveller plenty of time to sit, relax, open a book, and start to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations.

There were far too many interesting conversations to mention all of them, and they ranged from the travelogue of a group of bluenoses (Birmingham City football fans) to a couple of young musicians discussing the Iliad, so rest assured that it was interesting. But some of the comments that really fascinated me in particular were those of a family of four who sat across the aisle from me. Indeed, it was one specific comment by the daughter, and the response from her mother which captured my attention and made me think.

It has, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, been snowing, and the daughter asked something along the lines of “Why is it snowing if it’s global warming?”. To which the mother replied, “That’s an interesting question. They asked someone about it on the radio, but I got the the fourth word and was lost.”

Now let me just point out that the question of snow during a process of global warming is not especially interesting, and usually requires a simple explanation of the concepts ‘global climate‘, ‘local weather’, and maybe a quick discussion of the gulf stream’s warming effect, and the impact of increased water levels on such. It is not an especially hard concept to understand, except perhaps for how water levels are affected and why water levels might then affect natural ocean currents, which are things figured out by people who have lots of special qualifications like doctorates and PhDs. Which leads us to an obvious question: If these things are not hard to understand, why don’t people understand them yet?

What is desperately needed therefore, is an understandable way of explaining the issues surrounding climate change. Not just man-made climate change either. It may be easier to ‘dumb down’ climate change to the idea of man-made global warming, but that isn’t accurate. There are many different processes involved. Perhaps better would be to note that the majority of scientists in the area believe that they have reasonable evidence for humans heating up the earth by putting chemicals like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Indeed, the concept of ‘majority’ is fairly important here. When a majority of scientists believe something, it is usually either correct, or a reasonable enough guess.

As for snow? Well, on a global scale the earth is warming up. But the earth rotates, and tilts, and moves around. Already different parts of the world have different weather – imagine the UK compared to the Sahara desert. If everything is warming up, then that just means that there is a higher average temperature across the world, during the course of a year. It still means that we can have vastly different weather to the Sahara, and that we can still have snow at certain parts of the year.

But then I’m sure you knew that already. I realise that when I discuss climate change, I’m preaching to the fairly converted. However, I’m sure you all know people who, if not climate ‘skeptics’, certainly don’t understand the issues of global warming, and the importance of it. It is these people that science needs to reach, and it is these people whom science consistently fails to reach. If we can act as ambassadors of science, then perhaps some greater awareness for the issues our modern society is facing from climate change will be reached among the population. Yes, you too can save the world.

My Letter

Steve McCabe looking impressive

Stevey boy stares deeply and passionately into your soul. You know you're going to vote for the right candidate.

It was a certain amount of bemusement that I received and read a letter that was addressed to me in the wishful hope that I’d be someone else. It was from my local MP, a Mr Steve McCabe, who, now that I was eighteen, wished me to consider himself one of the better candidates for souls in my predicament. Sadly, however, I am not in the predicament that he described.

You see, to an MP attempting to garner local votes, there are two types of eighteen year olds. There are the ones who will be leaving very soon, to get to a university, and will thus be outside the MP’s constituency. However, there are also the ones who, if they have not already left, will probably stay in a similar area and commence to begin entering the world of employment. The former almost certainly not have a chance to vote for you. The latter almost certainly will. It should be fairly obvious which one to write your letter to.

Nonetheless, it was an interesting letter. I only saw one spelling mistake, and it was one that spellcheck doesn’t pick up (in/if). I enjoyed the advice that if I returned the letter freepost, this would be ‘at no cost to [my]self’. I wonder what sorts of freepost one has to pay for.

However, while my MP has tried to be helpful in this area, he has been downright obfuscating in others. ‘Last year I introduced a 10 Minute Rule Bill in Parliament calling for a fairer deal over youth employment.’ I understand that, as a busy and intelligent politician, Mr McCabe is a whizz on the parliamentary terminology. I suspect that many of his constituents, however, are not. Certainly, I’d expect many of the people who did know to be studying PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics), and thus to be in the ‘moving out’ group.

What old Stevey-boy wanted to tell me, I think, was that he worries about me getting a job. I don’t think this was meant personally, but was more a general comment on employment in society. I was disappointed by the standard ‘cost of Higher Education‘, by which I can only assume he means the £9,000 tuition fees. However, he seemed a lot more concerned about the ‘lack of job, training and apprenticeship opportunities’. You’ll note the lack of an Oxford comma in that last sentence, but that’s not too bad. He also doesn’t believe that one in five of us should be left ‘without a chance’, although I’d love to see some sort of source for that statistic.

But in many ways it was quite a positive letter. Despite not explaining what his 10 Minute Rule Bill was, he is quite keen that it should make a difference. Equally, he is quite happy to provide what he thinks to be good solutions, and practical, local ones at that, such as the Future Jobs Fair. Indeed, for every criticism he made of the situation, he made at least one positive suggestion about what he was trying to do to improve it. It’s honestly quite nice to have an MP who wants to make a difference so clearly.

I also noted that he didn’t once mention a political party. He mentioned the Government once, when he apparently called upon it to act in some way. Other than that, it was a local letter about local issues. In part, I suppose this is due to the reasons outlined at the start, that his target audience is clearly not the people who aren’t going to be especially affected by the local area. (I realise this is extremely cynical. I apologise – one of my friends is involved in campaigning for the Conservative Party, and for him politics really is like this.) I also understand that the Labour party in general may be considered to have ‘hit a rut’, as one could say. However, I’m sure he could have won some easy points by insulting Nick Clegg, who is universally hated. Even Nick Clegg’s mother hates Nick Clegg. [CITATION DESPERATELY NEEDED]

In all, I think it was a very honest letter. Mr McCabe writes ‘For me, unemployment is the biggest single issue facing young people in this area although I also recognise that many of you will be worried about […] other matters’. There was something quite enjoyable about the way that he was quite happy to accept that not everyone is passionate about unemployment. It throws young idealists (like me) who are more concerned with civil rights off guard. Equally, I was grateful for the slightly trite line ‘I can’t pretend that you’ll always agree with everything I do or say’.

All in all, it was a good letter. Mr McCabe underuses his comma, so the punctuation was a bit scarce, but it was legible, and simple, and the parliamentary letterheads were nice. It had a simple, yet detailed writing style, and it tackled issues in a positive manner, raising suggestions, and things that had already been done.

What am I going to do? Well, I’m going to fill in his questionnaire, and I hope that there’s room. I think I will also e-mail Steve McCabe, and ask him some questions of my own. And ultimately, if anyone happens to live in Birmingham Selly Oak constituency, I would thoroughly recommend voting for him. To be honest, the alternative is Nigel Dawkins, who writes newsletters about how glad his daughter is to use the play area. He’s a bit weird.