Chemicals (The Ballad of Emma and Tom)

I wake with you, but you do not see me. I lurk in the dark, my very beating heart neutralised by the Swiss Chorus above. Hot, heavy, steady, only occasionally reaching a crescendo of Camelus proportion. Each to his own tempo, a body temporally devoid of commonality, still dealing with the night before. You might have told me that alcohol causes the throat muscles to relax.

A tangle of legs and duvets on a bed for one that twenty eight hours earlier you had laid, alone, talking. This is serious. As the pluck of lip on skin preludes a deeper penetration you trust to my realm. And all the while you focus on the other, ever more intimate, shielding heart from me, rendering only in my mind a painful exclusion. Continue reading “Chemicals (The Ballad of Emma and Tom)”


On the Creation of Reality

“At some point we must content ourselves with ‘and so on’.” – Russell [Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy]

Every one who speaks washes up against the same beach [c1]. Some as pebble, some as wave, some as the very swirling sea. That they do not hear this same is witnessed by how few attend all. A function of the contemporary structure of knowing, our protection from lunacy, that the attraction of the cosmos exceed that of one another. Yet the relation is more fluid, dynamic, temporal than we are inclined to comprehend [c2].

In the semi-autobiographical “VALIS” [c3], Dick explores the existential crisis through the prism of Gnosticism. This journey from the surface eventually encounters with the Lamptons, who are communing with Sophia [c4] through their toddler, symbolically aided by audio equipment that ultimately kills her. The realisation that, “the Lamptons are nuts,” is, for Dick’s neurosis, the much needed recognition of a boundary to his reality. Albeit one that is still far broader than most, just narrower than some, of those he shares his world with. A pluralism – multiplicity – that should remain unresolved, because the act of resolution would be to flatten its very reality [c5].

The core of this text maps, to use modern terminology, complexity. The relation of apparently quite different perspectives in a pattern of commonality. The aim of this exercise is not uniformity. Indeed, the notion of a singular conclusion is to misread the map as static. This beguiling reality is one we struggle to inhabit: Constrained by time, we can never quite master it. That, “time may change me; but I can’t trace time” [David Bowie, Changes].

This text should not necessarily be read as the logical conjecture of its presentation [c6]: Language here tends towards the poetic the moment it is not held in absolute. Such tension in the midst of communication is revealing of the topic itself. The scattered character of the paragraphs, each upon a different topic, is intended to communicate a pattern – a pattern that could be formed in many different ways [c7]. Continue reading “On the Creation of Reality”

Paying for Better

It would be simplistic to attribute the Scottish Enlightenment to the Act of Union. It is not uncommon in history for people under the stress of intense change to stabilise themselves in thought of a socio-economic nature. What’s remarkable is the enduring application of that thought. One might consider that Scotland was the first place where what would become the Anglo-American tradition was tested, but it would be more accurate to say the likes of Hume and Smith were instrumental in the formation of the Anglo-American tradition as we now know it.

It is most revealing to characterise the Scottish Enlightenment as practical Calvinism. Calvin took a relatively spiritual position, abandoning the majority of sacraments and denying Papal hierarchy, yet simultaneously provided the rigorous structure and organisation required to maintain a coherent human collective. The result was to move Platonic dualism from the sphere of religion to what we now call politics, to such effect that much the same doctrine fostered both the socialism of central Europe and the individualism of North America. Calvin’s lingering cultural dominance in modern Scotland goes some way to explain why Socialist Nationalism isn’t regarded as an inherent contradiction in the country. Continue reading “Paying for Better”

The Agony of Loose Change

Keep your coins, I want change

Part way through Midnight Mass a gentleman appeared with a plate onto which he expected money to be placed. Yet I had none. Not a penny. This was no mere faux pas. The reaction from the woman beside me was complete abhorrence. Charity, it seems, is nothing to the absence of charity. She could not know the nature of the contradiction. For had I taken money my only intention could have been to enter (there being no charge to merely walk the streets), which I had no intention of doing, and thus I took none, and thus freely entered. But such reasoning is as superficial as her Puritan reaction. Continue reading “The Agony of Loose Change”

From Above

Everything is Going to be Alright

An essay upon the power of the machine, with a true account of the wobbler known as Wobble.


In his [My] Confessions, Tolstoy recounts his slow and painful realisation that, as William James puts it, “his trouble had not been with life in general, not with the common life of the common men, but with life of the upper, intellectual, artistic classes.” “But the idea of him [God],” Tolstoy asks, while walking alone in the forest, “how did I ever come by the idea? And again there arose in me, this thought, glad aspirations towards life.” Tolstoy’s deity is akin to Spinoza’s God in nature, or as Tolstoy puts it, “God is what life is. … It was my ancient juvenile force of faith, the belief that the sole purpose of my life was to be better.”

In his 1902, Varieties of Religious Experience, James sets out to explore what it is to “be better”. From the Mind Cure (in the modern vernacular, positive thinking), through more overtly religious behaviour, deep into Mysticism, James is a psychologist before and after his time: Pythagorean notions of the heart as soul had fallen away with triumph of electricity over blood. The undiscovered, in which our complexity must surely lie, was the brain. Sigmund Freud’s analysis had no such difficulty. His dominance would lead Carl Jung, the Hexenmeister of Zurich, to lead quite different lives in public and private. And for 20th century psychology to be haunted by the ghost of Descartes’ automata. Continue reading “From Above”


A history of violence. There’s progressively less, as the “better angels of our nature” increasingly bias humanity away from our natural inclination to kill one another. Just watch a toddler. And, to be brutally honest, by using the word nature twice in that sentence, I doubled the theological content in a supposed theological lecture. I don’t even disagree with the conclusion, rather the trite Americanised method of its presentation: Graph after graph after graph, all pro-porting to display the same conclusion, mesmerising its audience into a correlation, like a preacher conveying an incontestable truth.

Unsurprisingly, the Vice Chancellor bounced in gushing admiration of such a wholesome validation of his raison d’etre: The absence of hierarchy, anarchy – the most fundamental threat to the mere notion of university – had been proven to be a lynch-pin of violence. The analytical method and absolute clarity of language – the epitome of organisation of knowledge over freedom of thought – had left none in doubt. And to top it all off, delivered by a celebrity, someone able to appeal to modern society in a way most academics cannot. I swear I heard him say, “Listen kids,” – that’s PhD students – “this is how to do it, if this institution is going to survive.”

I don’t begrudge him this – quite the opposite – he’s doing his job exceptionally well. And a wry smile creeps over my face when I consider the progression of disciplines that have been appointed to his role – from clergy through scientists to modern psychologists – everything changes and everything stays the same. But he might be right.

I have thus already acquired the endless and untroubled income stream of an Australian mining magnate, and have procured a yacht. Not just any yacht. Size isn’t everything, since if it can’t dock at Monte Carlo, it doesn’t count. So I’ve opted for 99 metres of pure bling: A solid gold yacht. The Midas poses a challenge to naval engineering that I have overcome by employing top-class scientists, who have placed a large turtle under the yacht’s keel, thus keeping all the bling visible. Which is, after all, the most important thing. Upon the yacht there are no other people, merely anonymised objects, lest the fantasy complicate itself with actions beyond my control. And I should perhaps leave the rest to my imagination.

Yet this is wonderful. So simple. Such a relief. There I was, searching for a utopia, and it transpires that I was living around it all along! Of course I can’t open my eyes, and the bird song can be distracting, and those random pains in my stomach – I wonder if I can get a pill to fix that – but those are all practical objections: The principle is flawless. I have none of the pseudo-empathy that seems commonplace – either I am at one, or I am one, no half measures. As such I should be able to easily abstract myself into my world, a world in which everyone else is a mere object – a tool to first construct, then confer status upon, my golden yacht.

There’s just one problem. This requires belief in knowledge, since if one has the audacity to think, one undermines – well – one. I understand entirely why the finest minds are instructed to juggle numbered balls. And as much as I want to pity their blinkered-ness, their pragmatism at least confers their survival, which, entirely logically – being themselves, they rate highly. But they are still living much the same fantasy as I am on the Midas: Just as I must keep my eyes shut, they must close off some of their senses to live in their pragmatic world. The only difference is that they don’t know they’re doing it.

Fantasy. Right. Now, bring me that horizon!