Keeping Our Heads: Global Politics and Conspiracy Theories

Prompted by the arrival of a new commentator, Paul, I decided to approach the thorny subjects of global politics and conspiracy theories. Paul posted a link to wikispooks (User:Peter) in a comment, saying that the preamble there was also his view. I responded by distancing myself from the content, to which Paul replied that he is

certain that events such as Woolwich, 9.11, Boston and 7.7 are state sponsored government psyops.

The weighty subject of world politics has often been in my thoughts, but I find myself unable to make much sense of it, with or without conspiracy theories. The latter are, of course, quite prevalent on the Net, and, after researching them for a little while, I usually end up finding most of them ridiculous, or having grains of truth buried under silos of nonsense … as far as I can tell; often I really don’t know what to think. It’s ok; I’m a sceptic. Not knowing comes naturally. Continue reading

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Agape, Anyone?

Yakaru’s recent post about finding “common ground” between religion & science by distorting both reminded me of a review I wrote in 2012 on the Amazon site of the book Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion, by Alain de Botton. It’s maybe a different phenomenon from what Yakaru was talking about, but similar in some ways. I thought I’d copy an edited version of my review here.

Atheism for the Religious?

This book is seriously weird. In it, Alain de Botton advocates the remodelling of our now thoroughly secular societies, which are sad, sick and generally horrible, by importing elements he considers good from the domain of religion, whence, apparently, all good things come. By the time I had got to the suggestion, not very far into the book, that we reintroduce an official period of debauchery once a year in newly created “Agape Restaurants”, because people hate following the rules all the time (Agape Restaurants having been created as places where people can show each other non-religious, non-sexual, but somehow spiritual love, over coffee, to replace the function of churches) , I thought I must be reading it wrong. Was it some kind of satire? Or had de Botton lost his mind? Continue reading

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Humanity Waking Up: origins of religion

Petrified Tree

Standing stone inside Neolithic passage tomb, probably constructed from a petrified tree. Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesea, Wales.

For some time I’ve been interested in religion as a natural phenomenon, how it might have developed in early human cultures, what evolutionary processes might be involved, and so on. I wrote a review here of Breaking the Spell, by Daniel Dennett, which I read as my first serious foray into the subject. Since I was somewhat disappointed with that, I tried Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods by David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce, which suited me better.

I found Inside the Neolithic Mind (INM) not just fascinating, but actually so inspiring that I had to break off to write about it. I had an extraordinary feeling of wonder contemplating evolution, humanity and the dawn of religious thought. This blog post developed from those notes. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s a long post. (I’m an obsessive editor and it’s not even finished now, as I’d like to add more images and links, but the text is pretty well there, and if I don’t click Publish today, I may never finish it!)

Shortly after reading the book, my partner and I took our autumn break in North Wales at my suggestion, so that I could visit some of the Neolithic sites on Anglesea discussed by Lewis-Williams and Pearce, which brought the descriptions alive for me and provided some holiday snaps to post here.

This is not intended as a comprehensive book review, as I no longer have the library book to refer to. There are a great many interesting insights in INM that I haven’t shared, I will relate some other relevant scientific facts here, and I will explore my own conjectures about the development of religion (by which I do not mean to imply that they are original, just that no-one else should be blamed for them!). In addition, I hope I can express something of the awe that a sceptical atheist can feel in the process of understanding naturalistic explanations of things. This is, I believe, one of the fears people have when they dare to doubt their faith – that the atheistic world view seems unemotional and without wonder. It isn’t. Ooh! doesn’t depend on woo. Continue reading

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Stephen Cave Video

I just thought I’d share this.

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WARNING: You May Be Being Liked Too Much!


Bryce Gorman, for instance, is being Liked too much

I’ve taken the Like button off my blog. I’ve disabled the Like feature entirely, in fact. You can’t Like me anymore. I don’t want to be Liked!

I know, it’s the posts you’re Liking, but even so – go and Like somebody else’s!

The thing is, WordPress blogs are being targeted by spammy Likers who, truth be told, aren’t very Likeable. If you’ve got a WP blog, check out your Likers: you might find some of them are similar – unbelievably rich, free and enthusiastic entrepreneurs (or so they tell you), who want nothing more than to share with you the secrets of their success. IT’S TRUE, THEY ARE UNBELIEVABLE, DON’T BELIEVE THEM!

Continue reading

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Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel Dennett

Cover of "Breaking the Spell: Religion as...

Cover via Amazon

I am more than a bit disappointed with Breaking the Spell (my first Dennett apart from an essay or two). I found myself plodding through the book, at times wondering if I should bother to finish it. I persevered, but it never seemed to find its feet. He is “preaching to the converted”, in a general sense, but I don’t think my reaction was just down to that.

It is tediously wordy. Dennett takes a long time to deal with some of the “obstructions” to the main philosophical investigation, for which he asks the reader’s forbearance, or suggests they jump ahead to where the meat is. I believe it would have been more engaging to take a top-down approach, pose the big questions and then take tangents to clarify any supporting details.

Continue reading

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A Critique of “The Truth About Organic Farming” by Christie Wilcox

I was reading an article at Yakaru’s excellent blog, Spirituality is No Excuse, when I stumbled into a discussion about organic farming with someone who commented there. Woody seemed – I thought – to lump together “organic fanatics” with “Ufology nuts” and other types of woo, and I, being a bit of a tree-hugger, saw an opportunity to look at organic agriculture more critically than I have before and challenge this. Woody was pretty cool about it. He suggested I read an article by Christie Wilcox at Nutrition Wonderland, supposedly busting some myths about organic food – that it’s any healthier or better for the environment than conventional food – and he said he’d do some research as well. This is the way all of us should approach knowledge, testing our current beliefs and understandings through critical thinking, research and discussion. I have changed my views on some big issues over the years doing this, but so far have remained in favour generally of organic principles and organic food, although I’m fairly sure there will be downsides and bad examples of organic practices.

Anyway, my reply to Woody’s reply was getting too long to be appropriate in Yakaru’s comments, so I decided to turn it into a blog post instead. I address here mainly Christie’s article, which provides a focus for my thoughts about organic and conventional farming generally. Continue reading

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Understand Evolution, Enjoy the Games of Life

Author’s Note: Since publication, the Stellar Alchemy website has closed, and the program 3DVCE is no longer (apparently) under development. I’ve posted a copy of the latest version (AFAIK) as a zip file you can download from here. Log in with the username guest@lettersquash and the password lettersquash, click on “Program Share”, then “3DVCE Files”.

The zip file latest3Devolution can be downloaded (just click on it and save it to your system) and extracted to any convenient directory on your computer. Then navigate to the subdirectory …/bin/ and run the file creatures.exe. (I haven’t been able to find the User Agreement, but I believe it’s open source – please let me know if you know different.)

3-Dimensional Virtual Creature Evolution

There’s an alien in my PC. In fact there’s a whole race of them in there…and what’s more, they’re evolving. There’s no need for alarm, though, they’re just virtual creatures. I’m running a neat little stand-alone program called 3DVCE (3-Dimensional Virtual Creature Evolution) from Lee Graham at Stellar Alchemy. I was looking for some new games to download for the duller moments over Christmas and meandered into the strange and beautiful world of virtual evolution. It’s a world that is itself growing and evolving fast – there’s a lot more available now than the last time I looked a few years ago. There are many different ways of approaching the subject. 3DVCE shows a virtual world, some land underneath a day or night sky, on which a strange “creature” is moving. The creature is made up of jointed pieces, each a rectangular block that can move in relation to its neighbours. At first, the shape and movement appear quite random, and within certain limits they are, but in time, without any intervention from an intelligent user, just by following elementary rules, this will evolve into something that looks much more lifelike in both appearance and, most startling of all, behaviour. There’s a whole Zoo of these critters being collected from enthusiasts, like this one:

I often wonder what more the scientific world can do to educate people about evolution, and I’m often saddened by the number of people out there who either disbelieve evolutionary theory altogether or underestimate its wider significance.  Continue reading

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Directly Down Life Faster Than The Life

The following was edited on 19 April 2011 to replace a post published on 10 April 2009. The original was harsher and caused offence. I deleted it, but was asked to repost it, so here it is in edited form. I hope it causes no further offence, but if it does, hey, you can’t please all the people all of the time, and they really have to get over themselves.

Since posting it originally, DDWFTTW has progressed substantially. I dropped in from time to time, but haven’t kept up with it. There’s been a ride-on version called Blackbird that set the benchmark world record at nearly three times windspeed. I understand the pissing match continues. There’s a really good troll called humber, and few can resist a really good troll.


My goodness, how time flies when you’re having fun. What is it, half a year since I posted here? What was my blog about before?

It was going to be all about philosophy, especially my conversion (or awakening) from buddhism into the light of reason. Then I just got bored with the sound of my own typing, and the next thing I knew I was reading about a strange little brainteaser on the JREF forum (and everywhere else, apparently), the question of whether it’s possible to build a vehicle that goes directly downwind faster than the wind (DDWFTTW) powered only by the wind, “steady state” (which means not just as a passing burst, but settled at that speed).

There is so much to this, which I’ve been immersed in since at least December, both as a physical phenomenon and a social one, that it’s really hard to know where to begin.

I learned a lot in these few months. I learned how a little cart with wheels and a propeller can go directly downwind faster than the wind. I think…
Continue reading

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The Law of Attraction is Repulsive

Ok, that was all very childish. I was thinking I really should look at the good side of the Law of Attraction. Surely it must have something going for it. I set out to sort the wheat from the chaff. I then realised that I hadn’t actually seen the movie or read the book, so at least I should look at a trailer on youtube. Maybe you haven’t seen it. Here it is in case (follow the link below to watch it and read my analysis). Or save yourself 20 minutes. It’s up to you. By the time I was finished, I was writing this blog entry, and there wasn’t much wheat…

Continue reading

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