Interstellar

DrMathochist

Looking at Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s best work, a clear pattern emerges. Memento, The Prestige, and Inception have all been finely crafted puzzle-boxes. It’s not much of a surprise, then, that when they decided to pay homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey with their hotly-anticipated science fiction epic Interstellar, they decided to treat Kubrick’s masterpiece as, itself, a giant puzzle in need of a solution. Visually stunning, the film is a marvelous technical achievement that rightly praises human drive and ingenuity, but never quite connects with our sense of wonder.

We start on an Earth that is more clearly becoming inhospitable to human life than our own is. One crop after another succumbs to a blight; the population falls dramatically as the dust-bowl deepens. Society has become small-minded and timid, even denying our former achievements in one scene that feels lifted from a bad rip-off of 1984

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The logic of Richard Dawkins

gemimaclairmont

I’m beginning to suspect that Richard Dawkins might be an alien. Either that or the world’s first fully functioning android. After all he’s constantly telling the world that his way of thinking is guided purely by the principles of logic which gives him more in common with Mr Spock from Star Trek, or Data if you’re more into the Next Generation, than it does with the rest of us mortals. It must be very difficult for him living in a world where foolish imbeciles allow their emotions to have any influence whatsoever over their opinions or decisions. That’s why he’s forever upsetting people and causing an uproar on social media. The poor man. We just can’t keep up with his superior intellect. Just yesterday he’s created another storm by replying to a woman on Twitter who said that she’d find herself in an ethical dilemma if she found out a…

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Ending the War on Fat

TIME

The taste of my childhood was the taste of skim milk. We spread bright yellow margarine on dinner rolls, ate low-fat microwave oatmeal flavored with apples and cinnamon, put nonfat ranch on our salads. We were only doing what we were told. In 1977, the year before I was born, a Senate committee led by George McGovern published its landmark “Dietary Goals for the United States,” urging Americans to eat less high-fat red meat, eggs and dairy and replace them with more calories from fruits, vegetables and especially carbohydrates.

By 1980 that wisdom was codified. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued its first dietary guidelines, and one of the primary directives was to avoid cholesterol and fat of all sorts. The National Institutes of Health recommended that all Americans over the age of 2 cut fat consumption, and that same year the government announced the results of a $150…

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Sitting in the Dry Bar of the Spiritual Journey

Robinince's Blog

What is “spirituality”? Whenever I read about it, I seem none the wiser. It seems to be a catch all phrase for looking at something beautiful, or inhaling mountain air, or being immersed in looking at some butterflies, and thinking, “well, this is nice isn’t it?”

It seems to cover things that you can’t quite put your finger on. 

Sometimes, it seems to cover crystals and ineffective but multi-coloured healing.

Sometimes, I hear it used by people in confused trousers who talk of realising that we are all one with the universe, more than some corporeal entity, that our collective unconscious expands across the cosmos, but despite all this, they also seem to be the most self interested people I’ve met, though that was a long time ago in a Cornish town. They talked of the universality of humanity and then, two pints further down the bar, they talked of…

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Rob Newman Live

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“Philosophers say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always, so far as one can see, rather naive, and probably wrong.”

Richard Feynman

25 years ago I was a mediocre Zoology student at The University of Glasgow and also a fan of The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Last night I returned to the campus to see Rob Newman’s new standup show which has been upsetting a few people (myself included) based on some print stuff and the car-crash interview with Richard Coles on Saturday Live on R4 last week.

I wanted to give him a fair hearing and I have to say first of all that I really enjoyed the show a lot. He did two halves of 45 minutes each and throughout this spun an absurdist historical, philosophical and political tale that was obviously heartfelt and often very, very funny. The majority of the evolutionary stuff was in the first half and he did seem a little bit nervous about it to me. Perhaps he thought the audience would be filled with a load of hard-headed determinist students but in the end the only trouble he had was with a drunk near the front who he offered £25 to “Fuck off”! As far as I could see he was starting out from an entirely justifiable point of view that a lot of people nowadays seem to think that nature is dog eat dog then they are justified having a personal morality and politics that are similarly selfish. The question is where does the blame lie for that?

He started off by creating an obviously fictional world where he was doing “research” and presenting his “findings” to various Scientific Journals and Societies and Richard Dawkins was a humourless pedant naked wrestling with his postman on a daily basis. All good stuff and very funny. Where he went off the rails a bit was when he started to blur the line between absurdity and seeming to try and make legitimate counter-arguments to the current scientific consensus and started to go into conspiracy theory territory. As Dr Adam Rutherford said:

“If you are going to base a show and an argument on an individual whose work has been meticulously scrutinised for decades, you’d better understand the work, and have something robust, and hopefully new to say.”

In his defense there’s a lot more in the show than criticism of Dawkins and I would say that the show was working perfectly well as a funny critique of a kind of nihilistic amorality that is prevalent in society now without pushing the blame for that onto some imaginary cabal of scientists which Dawkins is the ringleader. I would be more inclined to blame the popular media for distorting science like they do every other area of human endeavour. Obviously Dawkins IS the de facto ringleader of a worldwide atheist movement and is often a rather humourless pedant and lacking in human empathy (I have in the past likened him to Mr Logic from Viz comic) BUT he is an extraordinarily clear and easy writer to read if you make the effort and I am always puzzled by the misunderstandings of his writing. I wish he’d give up on the atheism stuff and get back to promoting science to the general public which is his real gift. Similarly Rob Newman’s real gift is not as a scientist but a purveyor of a strange blend of clever, surreal humour with a social conscience and a few adjustments to this show would make it an even stronger piece of work.

One of the great things about comedy is that you can illuminate a truth by exaggeration so when he talks of the Question Time panel being a “random selection of millionaires” he is not being factually correct but expressing a very real disquiet with the spectrum of opinion the media presents to us. I don’t object to that. Similarly I don’t think a lot of Palaeontologists will complain about his excellent Flintstones joke because it is obviously a joke but when you start parroting Mary Midgely and playing hard and loose with established scientific wisdom to make a spurious connection to Thatcherism you are venturing into the tinfoil hat and sandwich board territory usually occupied by creationists.

Alexei Sayle once said (I paraphrase) that Scientists are all so very clever but, as a comedian, society cares much more about what he thinks and there’s a lot of truth, and responsibility, in that.