Saturday, 23 March 2013


John Gray is a writer and philosopher whom I admire, having read his book “Straw Dogs”, and having been impressed by his great intellect, although I have to confess that I have forgotten most of the detail of the book.    It was certainly about religion and agnosticism.

Today I have just read in the “New Statesman” his report of an interview he has had with James Lovelock (at 93 years old an active and happy scientist.)    Gray has entitled his article “Man for all seasons.”   The sub-title is “James Lovelock is the maverick environmentalist who supports fracking and nuclear power.  Does the guru of Gaia believe the human race has a future?”

I can say that I have heard of Lovelock before, and the Gaia principle.  A short summary of it from Wikepedia is “the hypothesis is that living and non-living parts of the earth form a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.   It is named after the Greek Goddess, Gaia.   It postulates that the biosphere has regulatory effects on the earth’s environment that act to sustain life.”

I have to confess here that always it has been at the back of my mind, as I suppose is true of many others, that the biggest problem of our world is the onward and upward rise in population.   Both John Gray and James Lovelock agree that the population crisis will not be solved by the current mantra of thinkers on the subject, for example the Green Party.   Many have strong beliefs that we must try to establish sustainable development by using solar energy, windfarms, and organic farming and other methods to counteract the effects of global warming.   Lovelock favours nuclear power and fracking, i.e. abstracting oil from shale, to give us time to sort out something better.

This was a very well-written article, quick to read and so informative.   I will get off this serious subject now, but hope you will forgive me if I quote just one more bit from the said article.   “And yet by using the technologies most demonised by contemporary greens – genetically modified food, fracking and nuclear power, for instance – humankind could make possible a decent  standard of living until our numbers fall globally (as they are doing already in some parts of the world) and eventually stabilise at a lower level."

Gerald is very fond of sweet things, especially chocolate.   He talks longingly of Sachertorte , so wonderful and so delicious such as we had on a holiday once in Vienna at the Sacher cafĂ© where the cake originated.   Well, I have now baked two Sachertorten, and they have both been delicious, both from different recipes.   Now in true scientist fashion he has presented me with three or four other versions of the recipe so that we can compare them.   I like baking new recipes – just as well.   But as you are surely thinking, we will be the fattest couple in Druim Park.

Seven Scottish grandchildren and four English grandchildren, and at last the whisper of a wedding.   Their ages range from sixteen to twenty-eight, and we have many who are in relationships, none so far has mentioned the fatal Wedding Word until this month.   Good Old Calum and Fiona.   Celebrating next year with you.   Gerald and I can’t wait !

We don’t have much snow in this old capital of the Highlands of Scotland, but it is hellish cold.   Yet we have had beautiful snowdrops, and now have some primroses flowering.   Buds are on many of the garden trees.     Can Spring be far behind?   

Thursday, 7 March 2013


Well, I thought that this was an interesting story reported in Sunday’s Observer.   “Britain has contributed £88 million towards the construction of the world’s largest telescope.   The huge observatory, to be built in the Chilean Andes will allow astronomers to capture images of the universe’s earliest moments”.    This great “eye in the sky” will cost $l billion which it seems is £900 million.   It will be known as E-ELT, European Extremely Large Telescope.   It sounds like something from Monty Python.   Built in the high Andes, it will avoid the atmospheric turbulence that affects observatories at lower altitudes.   According to Prof. Niranjan Thatte of Oxford University it will collect more light than all the other telescopes ever built put together.   The universe is believed to be permeated with mysterious dark matter, and users of this telescope will be able to study this – more Monty Python.

Also interesting to me in my ‘scientific phase’ I gleaned an article about consciousness from this week’s “New Statesman”.   I once studied Philosophy with the Open University, and it nearly drove me crazy trying to understand lots of it.    One of these concepts was “What is consciousness.”   Shades of Descartes’ famous statement, “I think, therefore I am”.   It seems that when we fall into a dreamless sleep, our consciousness disappears.   New transcranial  magnetic stimulation experiments in Madison, Wisconsin have shown that when people are awake, their reactions to stimulation are strikingly different to reactions when they are asleep.   Awake the response is complex and the stimulation causes interaction in the brain in an integrated network of constant feedback to the stimulation.   When the person is in deep sleep there is no feedback and it is as if the network has shut down.   Yet evidence from scanning brain activity of Buddhist monks during meditation suggests that they are able to raise both sides of the neural see-saw at the same time.  It seems that there are implications from all this for computers and a suggestion that computers could in the future be capable of consciousness.   Do I hear you say 'Monty Python' again?

I love going on holiday to Italy. We had a great time in Sorrento  (“Then say not good-bye, Come back again beloved.”)   We stayed at a great hotel, The Hotel de Ville.   Waiter service for meals and a really friendly, caring staff.   We went to Pompeii and took a bus tour up the Amalfi Coast.   However, I am so disappointed to see that the country is (like most of Europe, only worse) in financial and political trouble.   The Observer leader article considers that the success of the comedian Beppo Grillo in the latest election shows that 25% of the electorate were disgusted with political parties in general.   So they voted for a comic. The article suggests that if Britain is not careful, then, it could display the same nihilism, in trying to come to term with politics.  The rise of UKIP they take to be a sign of protest at the state of the economy, and the lack of growth in jobs especially for young people.   They finish by saying there is a responsibility on all of us citizens, “to step up to the plate.   Parties are partnerships too.   The time has come for the best to engage with the political system.”   I think they mean - help your local chosen party, and get out and vote.

It’s Mother’s Day apparently on Sunday.   Gerald and I have been asked out to lunch at a swanky hotel by daughter, Laura, son-in-law, Gordon and two grand-daughters, Shonagh and Emma.   I can’t wait.   Woman’s day was this week, so thanks to all women who do sterling work in the Media like Jo Coburn, in the papers like Polly Toynbee, and Tessa Jowell who worked so hard to get the Olympics off the ground.