Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The boys on Hassop Station

While walking Monsal Trail today we stopped off at Hassop Station which is now a cafe and bookshop. On the wall of the cafe is the above photograph showing soldiers leaving the station during the Great War.

Mine isn't a great photo but it would would have been necessary to stand on the table to take anything better. As I was wearing boots I decided against that. Even so, I think you may be able to see why I took it. The soldiers look so young - boys in uniform.

From Wikipedia

Hassop railway station was a station situated about two miles from the village of Hassop in the Peak District of Derbyshire. It was opened in 1862 by the Midland Railway on its extension of the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway from Rowsley.

It was built for the benefit of the Duke of Devonshire of Chatsworth House who, having previously refused it to pass over the easier terrain of his lands, belatedly saw its possible benefit. Indeed, for a while it was renamed "Hassop for Chatsworth". However, in this sparsely populated area, it saw little use, and closed in 1942.

Monday, 2 March 2015

There is no such thing as reason

Not an easy argument to make but I’m up for it. Clearly there is such a thing as reason, but how useful is it for changing another guy’s mind? Not at all useful seems to be a common experience so the version I’m concerned with is the useless one from Oxford dictionaries.

The power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgements logically:

Nope, reason is much more like a unicorn - easy to define but locating one in the wild is a tad difficult. As for forming judgements logically...

…the faculty of judgment is a special talent which cannot be taught, but must be practised. This is what constitutes our so-called mother-wit, the absence of which cannot be remedied by any schooling. For although the teacher may offer, and as it were graft into a narrow understanding, plenty of rules borrowed of others, the faculty of using them rightly must belong to the pupil himself, and without that talent no precept that may be given is safe from abuse.
Immanuel Kant - Critique of Pure Reason

Firstly the easy part – beliefs on which we base our reasoning. Beliefs are fixed for us by parents, family life, religion, nationality, culture, politics, education, friends, colleagues, career, authorities, advertising, propaganda, gossip, health, age and lifestyle with a long etcetera to follow.

We may rebel against our parent's beliefs, but only because we’ve found a better source. Young people are good at that but they usually grow out of it unless they opt for politics.

What we refer to as reason in is almost always the art of defending belief, general disposition or some less overt standpoint. Belief is vitally important to what we are or hope to become. Or perhaps I should say that it is vitally important to what we are required to be socially.

Well worth defending then.

The verbal dexterities we employ are often grossly over-dignified by calling them reasons rather than causes or excuses. A touch of spurious dignity hardly ever works anyway because the other chap always insists on looking at things irrationally.

And really - that can’t be right can it? The other chap can’t always be wrong. Not every single time surely?

Yet if I’d been a Guardian-reading member of the chattering classes I’d probably be a politically correct prig with a profound belief in sentimental drivel - social, political, economic, environmental. A scary thought but comforting too. We are what we are. Not out of choice but it’s curiously satisfying all the same and therein lies the problem. We are what we are – reason cannot change that.

Secondly the old part – philosophy.

Truth lives, for the most part on a credit system. Our thoughts and beliefs ‘pass’, so long as nothing challenges them, just as bank-notes pass so long as nobody refuses them.
William James – Pragmatism

Reasoning is a search for whatever idea leads to few surprises – James’ credit system. It’s why we have consensus, our collective way of keeping surprises to a minimum. Our thoughts and beliefs ‘pass’, so long as nothing challenges them. Reason is rarely the best way to see off those challenges though. That’s why it isn’t popular.

Alternatives to consensus are a neutral detachment, scepticism or flat disagreement. I’ll ignore disagreement because that is usually an alternative consensus. Detachment and scepticism are more interesting. For convenience I’ll bundle them together as scepticism. The subject to too vast for a single post so economies have to be made.

So thirdly we have scepticism which tends to yield fewer surprises than consensus, especially for complex issues such as societies, cultures, economics, politics, religion, the arts, the environment, history, human psychology, health, diet, sport and so on. Oh – and blogging. There are no golden rules though. As ever it is a matter of selecting the best option.

Selecting – that’s a better word than reason too. Scepticism is not so much a matter of reasoning as a veto on ideas which seem unlikely to yield fewer surprises than standing back until the fog clears – if it ever does.

It’s an animal faculty. Sniffing the winds of change, listening, weighing the risks, bringing experience to bear, allowing others to make the first step across the swamp or throw the first spear at the big hairy thing.

We have to use the word reason because it is so deeply embedded in our language, but it is not a great idea to be deceived by it. Sceptical detachment is a better guide. Even flippancy is often better, especially when it comes to making fun of ludicrously obvious narratives dreamed up by political airheads.

As an aside, there are loads of those around these days aren’t there – political airheads? At least that’s the detached view hem hem.

We don’t think, understand, and form judgements logically, we select. Or we stand back and watch. Perhaps reason is best viewed as a spectator sport.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

When your mutt is kaput

From we are told

When a decades old toy breaks down and stops working with no hope of repair, you usually just toss it or find some way to recycle the parts. But what if you're as attached to that toy as you were a pet? In Japan, people are giving Sony's robot AIBO dog actual funerals to say goodbye to their faithful, electronic companions.

How anyone becomes attached to such a ghastly gadget is beyond me. Cute it isn't.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Peace, potatoes and cocoa


This is another chapter from my aunt's memoirs where she describes how family and neighbours celebrated peace in the back streets of Derby in 1919 when she was eleven years old.

June 1919

Although hostilities ceased in November 1918, peace celebrations weren’t held until the following June.

Our street being a cul-de-sac, the family next door living in the very last house, we were able to build our bonfire actually on the road. The neighbours living opposite were all delighted and we rummaged around for anything burnable to help the conflagration. Everyone rallied round as they had done during the war. One old lady every time the maroon sounded, had run up and down the street knocking on every front door, calling through the black letter box,

‘Are you up? Isn’t it awful?’

With that kind of spirit we did pretty well and when the enormous bonfire had been built, children and adults sat and stood round until my dad put a match to one side and another fellow lit the other side. Soon there were Catherine wheels spinning on walls and rockets soaring into the air. The boys loved (and I hated) crackers and jumping jacks which darted and exploded.

On the other side of the big brick wall at the end of the street was the railway line. Now and again a train went chuffing by but we were so used to them we hardly noticed. I’ve wondered since if any passengers saw our bonfire, or at least the sparks flying into the air as the men pushed the glowing embers together.

When the bonfire sagged into a heap of red-hot ash, potatoes were dropped in and mothers went into their houses, reappearing with jugs of cocoa for their families. Jugs of beer had been fetched for the men from the outdoor beer licence.

There was much talk and merriment. My dad picked the cooked potatoes out of the embers with a pair of long fire tongs. No potato tastes as good as one roasted in a bonfire. We children were all dropping to sleep as the fire sank and were taken off to bed, leaving the men still talking.

What a night to remember. Little did we think that in twenty years time the peace we were celebrating would once more be shattered by the dogs of war. But that’s another story.

Friday, 27 February 2015

A little thought game


This isn't new, but I was reminded of it via a Bishop Hill post

Below is a section of the transcript for a BBC Radio 4 current affairs show Are Environmentalists Bad For The Planet? First broadcast 25.01.10.

TOWNSEND*: I was making a speech to nearly 200 
really hard core, deep environmentalists and I played
a little thought game on them. I said imagine I am the 
carbon fairy and I wave a magic wand. We can get rid 
of all the carbon in the atmosphere, take it down to two 
hundred fifty parts per million and I will ensure with my 
little magic wand that we do not go above two degrees 
of global warming. However, by waving my magic wand 
I will be interfering with the laws of physics not with people 
– they will be as selfish, they will be as desiring of status. 
The cars will get bigger, the houses will get bigger, the 
planes will fly all over the place but there will be no climate 
change. And I asked them, would you ask the fairy to wave 
its magic wand? And about 2 people of the 200 raised their hands. 

ROWLATT: That is quite shocking. I bet you were shocked, weren’t you? 

TOWNSEND: I was angry. I wasn’t shocked. I was angry 
because it really showed that they wanted more. They didn’t 
just want to prevent climate change. They wanted to somehow 
change people, or at very least for people to know that they had to change.

* Solitaire Townsend Co-founder and Chief Executive of Futerra Sustainability Communications.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The War that Ended Peace


I recently finished Margaret MacMillan's World War I history book The War that Ended Peace as recommended by David over at duffandnonsense. It covers the people and events leading up to the war rather than the war itself. 

I bought the Kindle version so the maps aren't as useful as they would be in a traditional book, but unless your geography is even worse than mine it should not cause too many problems.

I'm not a great history buff but the book is an excellent read. Very well written, it takes the reader through the myriad causes of the Great War. No doubt people from my generation all have some familiarity with the main events, but MacMillan's book brings them together in an extremely readable way.

I'll finish with this quote from the blurb which neatly sums it up, although if you read the book you may have some reservations about the word intelligent.

The story of how intelligent, well-meaning leaders guided their nations into catastrophe. Immersed in intrigue, enlivened by fascinating stories, and made compelling by the author's own insights, this is one of the finest books I have read on the causes of World War I (Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State)

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Gardening in a changed climate - update

A little over two years ago I wrote a post on our visit to Severn Trent's Carsington Water visitor centre and its drought-resistant garden. As you know, global warming means we should prepare for droughts and plant accordingly. We revisited the place recently so I took another photo to keep tabs on progress.