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Showing posts from May, 2009

Cancer

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A cancerous cell, going about its metastasising ways...

Cancer. Even saying the word can make you gulp. Its one of the great killers, and for decades we've seen a desperate search for a cure. Treatment has always been a type of warfare - cut it out, blast it with chemicals and radiation. Cancer has fascinated me for years now, because it struck me that the assumptions we take into understanding anything, or more generally how we frame our understandings, is pivotal to how far we go with this understanding.

So the assumption we've normally used with cancer is that it's like some foreign agent in our bodies, that needs to be found and killed. That assumption has spread into everyday usage in other areas too, we talk about corruption as a 'cancer' in our society, for example. Unfortunately the chemicals and radiation which are our weapons of choice tend to kill healthy cells in our bodies too, and lots of people who get this treatment end up dying as a result of it, not…

Matter & Materialism

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I'm an unashamed materialist. Not in a dialectical mumbo jumbo Marxist sense, but more simply I think there's only one world, that reality is just as it is and has no 'meta' levels. So my faith, if you like, is only ever in the world itself, in matter. No supernatural or mystical supplement exists above and beyond matter.

People who like to think they are scientific tend to feel that this is their sort of materialism as well. They attack mysticism and any attempt to go beyond the facts of things. But nearly always they're not materialists at all. Because lurking away there unexamined is a rigid idealism, a splitting of reality into matter and 'representations' (thoughts, theories, equations etc.) of this matter. Most of what is called the scientific world view is this idealism, where you have the world and then you have this supplement that represents it, more or less truthfully, whether it be you perceiving it more or less accurately in your brain, or your …

My Theory of Child Development

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Having taught kids and now having my own, and having studied various theories of child development and educational psychology when training to be a teacher, in the end I think it all boils down to pretty much one thing.

Kids want to be grown up.

That's it. Every one of the thousands or millions of words written about child development and child psychology come down to this. It sounds ridiculously simple-minded, but it can be explained to the highest level of sophistication and complexity if you'd like. But I won't be doing that here, or at least not now.

I'd probably modify that one rule and say kids are already 'grown up' when they're born. They're a bit like bamboo, where all of the articulated bits are there in the first shoot and then expand very quickly as the plant grows, like some sort of botanical Viagra experiment. But also not like that - growth and development is less about adding bits than it is about expanding things that are already there, ev…

The Erections Thing

Incidentally there was a reason I used "Erections" in that last post heading. It wasn't to be rude, but I ran out of time to get to what that was all about. And now I'm away for a few days.

Briefly it was about the notion of what 'erects' the body, what allows it to be upright rather than a slumped bag of bones. Like erecting a building.

More on that later.

The Head Doesn't Lead. Erections.

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The head, and the dead weight beneath it. How lots of us sit at a computer.

I'll keep coming back to ideas about how our bodies work, because they're fascinating (for me) and, let's face it, should be for anybody who has a body. Whether the ideas I write about are the ones that should be fascinating for people is up to them, but from the risk management perspective the danger is low, given that only a handful of people on the planet ever venture here.

A while back I did a blog entry about flab. Because it occurred to me one day that the reason people develop flab is that they're just not using their muscles, for whatever reason. And that the people who are trim and taut and toned often do use their muscles, but in all sorts of perverse ways usually captured under the equally perverse idea of 'exercise'.

In the Alexander Technique and in the LearningMethods work, there is the use of a basic fact about verterbrate functioning, namely that our bodies work as a single…

Shaw

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I first discovered Shaw in the final year of high school, with one of the compulsory English texts being Major Barbara. Undershaft the munitions manufacturer and his views on poverty and charity, and the dig at the Salvation Army all interested me. Who would criticise the Salvos?

This led to several years of devouring nearly every word Shaw wrote. He was one of those seductive writers whose wit can convince you, especially at that tender age, of just about anything. Like Lawrence his real strength was in essays and critical writings, with the plays sometimes being a bit laboured and a slave to certain ideas, rather than the characters really seeming alive. This was a criticism he always attracted, of being more a polemicist than a dramatist, with the plays suffering at the hands of the various causes he was agitating for at the time. But to him this was one of the roles of art, to work towards necessary change. We've had folk and now rock trying to do the same sort of thing for the…

Footnote to the Economic Cycle. Class. Shaw.

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George Bernard Shaw. Funny bugger. Smarter than people realised.

The idea of class is a bit of a cup of weak tea these days. Earlier in the 20th century, and before, it meant a lot, to a lot of people. To be working class was either a badge of honour or term of abuse. Ditto for being upper class. It's not clear to me if anybody has ever been proudly middle class, that's an interesting one. Happily so, yes, but proudly - I'm not so sure. Maybe Ricky Gervais is a new type of interesting middle class hero, a man who proudly lists staying home in front of the telly as a good night out. More power to him.

You still sense the remnants of class in the UK, with much of their popular culture still focused on class warfare. Ladette to Lady is a big rating show. And it was intellectuals working in England such as Marx and Shaw (who were vastly different in many ways, though) who really put class on the map as a category people identified with, just as Freud had done for the ego. But t…

Life on the Sine Curve, Part 2

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Perpetual Motion Machine. Almost. Not to be confused with a perpetual emotion machine, like my daughter.

So what if all the neo-classical economics people have it wrong?

Well let's shortcut the what ifs and just say outright they are utterly and completely wrong. Because their basic premises are such a joke that any field that has done work with equilibrium systems wonders how they were ever taken seriously. This saves time in wading through argument and counter-argument within economics itself, which is a discipline absolutely proud of its disconnect from other fields and from reality itself. So it's not worth bothering with economists on economics, or at least most of them.

There isn't another field of study in the world working with equilibrium systems which would ever start from the assumption that equilibrium is the norm. That's just the old dream of perpetual motion, pure and simple. A complete, laughable joke. Neo-classical economics is based on an idea so fundamen…

The Sine Curve Life

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Life on the slippery slide

Here in Oz we've just had the main annual federal budget. Debt is the big word being bandied about, because the government has announced that government debt will hit about $58 billion in the next year, and about $300 billion over the next 3 or 4 years. This after a decade of record surpluses - the contrast has exercised feeble minds mightily.

Politically the Opposition is on the verge of firing up the old Howard debt truck from 1996, which the idiot had driven around various places to try to highlight how much debt the socialists had apparently lumbered us all with. It's not clear to me whether Howard may actually have been the sole person on that side of politcs who actually believed the debt scare rubbish, even to this day. He certianly made it his mission while in power to pay down all government debt, which was miniscule by world standards.

The thing is, it's a storm in a teacup and they know it. But it plays beautifully as a political tool. T…

Poise, Part 2

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Franz Marc's Yellow Cow, beautifully poised.

Ever so slowly getting to the point about poise.

So if all learning and knowledge is actually a set of practical skills, so that there is never knowledge 'about' something, how do you decide what people should learn? Given that there is no set of ideas or tools you can actually equip them with which are fully generalisable in life. Every single piece of 'knowledge' and learning is actually a set of practical skills, just as much as bootmaking used to be, or plumbing a toilet or wiring a house are today. We like to talk about things like maths or physics or computer science as somehow 'higher-level' learnings, more 'abstract' than laying bricks for example. But there are no levels. Again each of these professions or activities does completely practical things, but with bits of papers and computers rather than with cement and trowels. If you haven't been part of the long training in those particular skill…

Poise - part 2

Well not actually Poise, Part 2. Me too bloody busy Part 150.

Those poised on the edge of their seats for Poise Part 2, it will get there, eventually.

Poise, Part 1

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Knowledge entering the brain, gravitationally

Curriculum is an interesting thing. Anybody who's worked as an educator knows the endless debates about what to teach people and how to teach it. Debates which extend well outside the school walls into the wider community and also into academe.

Some older private schools cling to a notion of curriculum that is some sort of audition for Monty Python's Upper Class Twit Olympics. The various incarnations of Ladette to Lady certainly haven't forgotten that in the good old days a good school was first and foremost about ensuring one did justice to one's breeding, with the rampant overbites and gout of parents and teachers obvious evidence that this was an area they knew something about. The Ivy League universities in the US and Oxbridge in the UK are so openly about getting ahead socially, despite the often fantastic academic work being done at the same time. And despite recent attempts to bring some fresh meat into the Windsor cl…

Travel

Delving into Deleuze again while writing about cinema reminded me about travel. Deleuze had very similar views about travel to mine - he didn't like it. There's a lovely passage in a book of short essays he wrote towards the end of his life that explains why he felt this way. It's linked also to the nature of knowledge and knowing, and its relationship to life.

Academics' lives are seldom interesting. They travel of course, but they travel by hot air, by taking part in things like conferences and discussions, by talking, endlessly talking. Intellectuals are wonderfully cultivated, they have views on everything. I'm not an intellectual, because I can't supply views like that, I've got no stock of views to draw on. What I know, I know only from something I'm actually working on, and if I come back to something a few years later, I have to learn everything all over again. It's really good not having any view or idea about this or that point. We don'…

Any-Space-Whatever (continued)

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Carrying on from last time, Deleuze identifies a variety of image types that cinema uses. Using Bergson's notion of an image, not the normal representational idea of an image being something one looks at. I didn't explain that fully last time, so that for example when describing mental-images it's possible somebody might think that a mental-image like one of Hitchcock's 'depicts' the act of thinking. This is not what Deleuze means - rather the image directly produices thinking in the viewer, just as with a movement-image the viewer doesn't add movement to a series of static frames, but rather simply perceives movement, as they would outside the cinema (and of course adding in 3 dimensions and various other contextual aspects, but the point is in both cases the movement is fully given, not added).

Here's how Bergson explains the concept right at the start of his classic, Matter and Memory. It's interesting to note that although Bergson was a philosoph…

Abandoned Places. Any-Space-Whatevers. Cinema.

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A while back I noticed I have a fascination for long abandoned buildings. And thinking about it not just buildings, but also long abandoned cars, trucks and graveyards (these are what spring to mind right now, there may be more).

Old industrial sites often do it for me the most. Sites that were previously almost completely functional rather than dwellings, although old dwellings have a similar if weaker effect. It was a bit of a mystery why this was, and at first I thought it might just be a sort of maudlin interest in death and decay, the sort of thing kids sometimes feel when they visit tombs and imagine the rotting cadavers inside or dusty skeletons. And even today there is a sort of imaginative re-creation like that going on when I wander through one of these places, or see an old car and wonder about the miles it's done and the stories from peoples' lives it knows. Walking through an old industrial site, it's often the more mundane areas like washrooms and offices whic…

Knights of Reason

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The New Torquemada, Keeping us Safe in our Beds
Time t0 talk more about the defenders of reason and rationality. Richard Dawkins sums it all up in that spendid title above, once there are enemies there's obviousy a war going on.

Dear dear.

It really is a struggle to prefer these cold, grey defenders of the faith in science over the infinitely more colourful charalatans and fundamentalist loons they want to shield us all from. Of course charlatans and fundamentalists need to be confronted and exposed, and you'd generally want arguments and ideas and behaviour to be reasoned and reasonable, although also let's leave a little room for harmless cranks and eccentrics, they add colour. The problem I have with Dawkins and the many like him is that it's just zealots fighting more zealots. This sort of thing isn't really about just asking people to be reasonable and have a bit of evidence to back up the stuff they go on about, it's a mission. A mission to wield science to…