January Pieces Of My Mind #1

  • My wife and I were congratulating ourselves on how nicely we (unlike others) had cleaned up after our fireworks last night. Then we realised that actually, most of the contents of those fireworks packages we didn’t clean up at all. We used rockets to shoot the stuff into the sky, later to land randomly on roofs, in trees and in people’s yards where we will never even try to retrieve them.
  • Gravity is highly recommended! And the coolest thing is that it isn’t a scifi movie. It’s a contemporary disaster movie about NASA astronauts with a strong female lead.
  • The Queen should give an MBE to a male porn star.
  • Listening to an informed discussion of Plato’s most-read work, The Symposium, I realise that from my physicalist point of view all the main concepts it deals with are either meaningless or of little interest. I would never want to read a meditation on the nature of love or beauty by a modern writer either. It’s all just glands, now let’s move on.
  • The straits between Scotland and Ireland are so narrow that you can easily see across them.
  • I’m skeptical of all-bran soap. My guess is that it makes no practical difference to the washing results but makes for a higher profit margin.
  • Found a bunch of track-suit-wearing teens standing around pointlessly in the copse next to the vacant lot we pass on our way to the train. Dark and cold as hell. I saw a glowing point at face height. I suppose they had convened there to share a bag of weed. I was debating with myself whether to intervene but decided that I don’t much care if other people’s teens smoke weed on the vacant lot.
  • I usually use Inkmesh to find the cheapest ebook edition I can find of any book I want. Therefore I now have four pieces of e-book software on my phone, three of them for proprietary file formats and with a built-in store each.
  • It’s kind of fun though that it’s 2014, we have probes in interstellar space and rovers on Mars and full-genome sequencing, but our kids still have insects living in their hair.
  • Jrette likes to drum her belly absentmindedly. Yesterday a mom in her 40s walked past me at the bath house doing that. Love it!
  • For the past 20 years my main source of income has been small research grants paid straight to me by a large number of private foundations without the involvement of any formal employer. I’ve only been on the dole for three months in 1993. I wonder what statistics bucket the government places me in. Am I unemployed to them? Independently wealthy? Leeching off my wife or parents? A mentally retarded man supported by his family?
  • The Swedish word for homeless person is a direct cognate of “outlier”.
  • I just managed to say “Joe comes to play with his lamp” in Mandarin without being laughed at for my pronunciation. *proud*
  • Holy cow, 33 people apart from me have applied for this one assistant/associate lecturer job. I think it’s a record in my 13 years of applying for these things.
  • Free tip from your editor: you don’t really mean methodical. You mean methodological.
  • Sometimes when I’m reading I wish someone would lock me in a windowless room with only my book, a pen and a notepad. I keep getting distracted.
  • I want to be asked to give one of those lectures that incomprehensibly carries somebody’s surname.
  • Gruyere really is a damn good cheese. I like them firm, tangy and smelling of the barn, not liquescent or moldy. And the same goes for my taste in cheese.
  • If you look African, people will think you’re less smart than you are. If you look European, people will judge your intelligence by your clothes. If you look Chinese, people will think you’re smarter than you are. Maybe Jrette can actually benefit from such positive racism.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

21 thoughts on “January Pieces Of My Mind #1”

  1. “Our kids still have insects living in their hair” -excellent opportunity to study them, and maybe sequence their genes. The kids are pre-selected for science.

    “The straits between Scotland and Ireland are so narrow that you can easily see across them”
    -But can you walk across on the ice? In the napoleonic wars, my home town got invaded by Russians who just walked across the sea.

    Statistically, people who live past theit 30th birthday are lucky. Statistically you have metal tools and don’t crap in the street. You are part of the top 1%, mate!


  2. Even the stretches of sea between the Isle of Man and Scotland/Ireland are narrow enough that you can see across them quite often. We used to get a great view of Windscale in the summer as we swam in the sea immediately opposite it. Then they changed its name to Sellafield and it miraculously stopped leaking. Honest guv.

    Mandarin pronunciation – maybe you should have practiced a slightly more relevant phrase? I mean, unless “Joe comes to play with his lamp” in Mandarin turns out to be a secret code that saves the world from certain destruction if spoken at the right time and you just happen to be there right then (and not distracted!)…?


  3. Stand-up with Lenny Henry:”The government has changed the name of Windscale to Sellafield, because it sounds nicer. And from now on “radiation” will be known as “Magic Moonbeams”.
    “Joe comes to play with his lamp” is the code phrase that activates your post-hypnotic suggestion to dig up those Soviet suitcase nukes and set the timer. Honestly, I saw it on film so it must be true.


  4. Martin, you said “wife.”

    Then you said “…from my physicalist point of view all the main concepts [Plato’s _Symposium_] deals with are either meaningless or of little interest. I would never want to read a meditation on the nature of love or beauty by a modern writer either. It’s all just glands, now let’s move on.”

    So I suppose you and your wife chose each other on the basis of a genetic appraisal of the probability of producing smart kids, and then you stopped having sex after you successfully reproduced?

    And what’s this about _fireworks_? What rational person would indulge in an archaic custom that risks setting their neighbors’ houses on fire?

    From where do you think the promoters of pseudoscience and irrationalism get their ammunition to launch against science and rationalism? Hint: from comments such as the one you made that I just quoted.

    Really: study Carl Sagan. He was world-class at bringing undecideds over to an appreciation of science. He did it precisely by embracing emotional values that are immediately adjacent to those you find boring: awe and wonder, and deep curiosity.

    Sure, emotions are chemicals. More precisely, emotions are the subjective sensations of the interactions between neurochemicals and neurons. That’s awesome! “Better living (and loving!) through chemistry!” Behold how wondrous is the evolution of our mammalian brains, to have such feelings within them!


  5. Promoters of pseudoscience and irrationalism will produce ammunition from even the most carefully worded statement; for example expecting someone who professes to have a rational approach to science to act rationally in *everything* they do and then dismissing the former on the basis of the latter.


  6. Re. fireworks. We had lots of them for the performance beginning Umeå’s stretch as cultural capitol of Europe this Saturday. Alas, of the 55 000 watchers only a minority got a good view of the perfomance on the frozen river.

    Martin, I would not want to know about how a xenomorph defines love and beauty, I suspect tentacles will be involved at some point.


  7. Why fireworks on 31 January?

    The straits between Denmark and Sweden are so narrow that one can see across them.


  8. @Birger

    Well of course he’s got supernatural powers, his middle name’s Hussein, so he must be some kind of evil force.

    I have actually heard that used as an “argument”.


  9. #8 – That’s not a controlled study.

    Researchers have found 50 different gene variants for Type 2 Diabetes, and diet and lifestyle are also strongly controlling factors, as they are for other ‘metabolic syndrome’ diseases like high blood pressure and heart disease. There is an epidemic going on of ‘early onset diabetes’ in America, Australia and the UK, and it’s not all happening in people subject to race discrimination. In America, poverty is known to be highly predictive of a poor diet.

    Correlation does not demonstrate causation. It pays to be skeptical. At least 70% of medical association studies are subsequently found to be wrong due to confounding factors and confirmation bias. Of course, excessive stress could contribute, but I doubt that study demonstrates it, separately from genes, diet and lifestyle.


  10. John, yes this is a common problem where many genes contribute to a trait. Type 2 diabetes may be extreme but it is a good example of the need for caution in interpretations.
    It would be interesting to see the results of sequencing the genome for all icelanders -a long isolated population- and see if it is easier to find correlations.


  11. Plato can be hard for scientific people to read, because we ask questions which Socrates and his friends don’t. That said, would you know where love and beauty come from without 2500 years of clever people inspired by Plato debating the problem and proposing different solutions?


  12. The trouble with philosophers is that while they ask all sorts of big questions, they never seem to agree on the answers.


  13. Exactly. It wasn’t obvious that metaphysics tends to go in circles, or that materialism works quite well, until a lot of smart people had tried both strategies. One reason why some things in Plato leap out as problems is that Plato was central to European philosophy for so long that the weaknesses in his characters’ ideas became famous.


  14. I have the same problem with metaphysical questions. Now and then you do get some interesting insights. Researchers working with time and location neurons often credit Kant with realizing that some useful basic concepts are wired into our brains, but Kant was writing while they were still distilling science from natural philosophy.


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