Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Summer, winding down.

"Summer inhaled and held its breath too long," sang Jefferson Airplane. This summer's mix of sunshine and showers means each sunny break needs to be exploited with a walk, to catch the klimat. It's early August, the sunset today is 42 minutes earlier than the one on the longest day. Just a few weeks before the working year begins in earnest. It's the Northern Hemisphere's mad dash that sees 42% of the year's work carried out across 14 weeks leading up to mid-December and the pre-Christmas wind-down. So - I must make the most of this time, but this morning and most of the afternoon, it rained. So - some photographs from the last couple of days.

Below: what's becoming a favourite view, especially in this weather, a prospect of the road as it rises towards my działka.

Left: getting close to my place now, this is another view I love. The sign on the street corner says 'Ul. Grochowska', though I suspect that it has been brought here from elsewhere. The view, of oak, pine and silver birch against a blue summer sky, gets me every time. There was some clearing of trees on the plot to the right of this photograph the summer before last, though no new development has yet begun here.

Below: approaching the new level crossing from Chynów. To the right of the road, there used to grow a tall forest of self-sown trees. All were cut down, levelled with the ground, for the modernisation work around here. Less than two years on, a new forest is growing back. If there was a safety reason for cutting back the trees to give drivers greater visibility of the crossing around the bend - it's gone.

Below: ul. Wspólna, which runs ruler-straight for 1.2km all the way from Chynów's main street towards the station and level crossing, across which lies Jakubowizna. This shot is taken from outside Mirabelka, the nearest shop to my działka (1.75km). A lot of walking involved in eating! The red Honda Civic works well against the blue sky.

Below: this is the top end of ul. Wspólna. Couple of działki for sale across the road from here - just fields, one is 1,100m2, the other 3,000m2, just six minutes' walk from the station, just around the corner in this photo. I have details if any reader is interested.

Looking northwards from ul. Wspólna, I get the impression of a town at the edge of a prairie - which it isn't. The działki for sale are around here. Cue theme from The Big Country.

Below: looking northwards along ul. Słoneczna ('Sunny Street'); to the left, ul. Działowa ('Dividing Street'), not to be confused with ul. Działkowa ('Allotment Street') which comes off Słoneczna as a right turn at the very end.

Meanwhile, Jakubowizna's main street (the one parallel to mine) is getting a pavement. (And ulica Karczunkowska in Warsaw can't?) The verges have been prepared, the slabs are awaiting; in the far distance the team has started from the other end. I wonder how long it will take to get the job done.

As I set off for my sunset stroll, I see a hare in the distance; it sees me, and before taking off, it first considers the escape routes. South? No, human on tractor in that field. North? The better choice. So it turns around 180 degrees and runs off that way. Nikon Coolpix P900 coming into its own at 100m plus.

Below: looking south towards Chynów station. The sun is in the act of setting; the station lights, and the lights illuminating the level crossing, have just been switched on.

Below: an evening train heads south from Warsaw, between Sułkowice and Chynów stations.

A glorious sunset, the day well-spent.

This time three years ago:
My Mazovian roots

This time four years ago:
My father revisits his battleground

This time seven years ago:
Over the hill at Harrow

This time eight years ago:
Behold and See - the Miracle of Lublin - Pt 1.

This time ten years ago:
Quiet afternoon in the bazaar

This time 11 years ago:
The politics of the symbol

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Measuring the immeasurable

"Wow! What a coincidence! Imagine the odds against that!" "I was thinking about her, and out of the blue - she calls me!" 

We all have experienced plentiful cases such as this, where meaningful coincidences cause us to consider the phenomenon of synchronicity - circumstances that appear meaningfully related yet lack a causal connection. Rational science, based on classical Newtonian physics, is happy to dismiss coincidence as mere manifestations of the random. Can this sceptical point of view be overcome?

I have two copies of Explaining the Unexplained by Hans J. Eysenck and Carl Sargent (one in London and one on the działka); a popular book in the early 1980s, but one that missed the mark by miles.

Eysenck (a controversial figure) and Sargent (only slightly less so) set out to explain the mysteries of the paranormal in scientific terms, to prove that supernatural powers can be proven. They use the term psi to encompass all manners of paranormal activity from telepathy to telekinesis, from precognition to remote viewing, and attempt to convince the reader that all these are real - on the basis of scientific experiment.

Pictures of machines used to 'catch dreams', to 'detect extra-sensory perception', or 'photograph ghosts' etc., adorn most of the pages of the book, along with diagrams of how consciousness acts on the needle of a meter etc; the aim is to show how science is in a position to verify claims made about supernatural, paranormal or metaphysical manifestations. 

"Consciousness can influence random events directly, both within the body and outside of it, by collapsing the wave function of of those events in the act of observation." This is the Dean Radin hypothesis, that you can will a quantum event into happening. Dr Radin believes that parapsychology is as repeatable as any science but that it is also "difficult to replicate".

Explaining the Unexplained  was unconvincing to me when it came out, and looking at it today - even more so. The premise itself is faulty - that supernatural phenomena can be tested by scientific method - which above all means their experimental repeatability.

The guardians of the rational world, the sceptics and debunkers, ever rational, ever watchful for trickery, are keen to point out all the hoaxes, the statistical errors (deliberate or otherwise) and plausible non-paranormal explanations in any of these flaky pseudosciences as proof of absence of any paranormal phenomena. 

But proof of absence is not absence of proof.

So it's not that I'm sceptical about claims regarding the paranormal - it's just that I believe the paranormal - the metaphysical, if you prefer the term - won't let itself be measured. Out-of-the-ordinary event will happen when they happen. You will continue to experience them. But when you're looking out for them, or checking for them, waiting around for them armed with scientific instruments - then these paranormal phenomena will evade you, because that is their nature.

That which we routinely experience as 'spooky', 'bizarre' - or even just 'unusual' is the usual lattice or web of coincidence that holds - in my belief - the Universe together. We know now that the universe is a field, a field of forces and points, fluctuating, repelling, attracting, resonating and converging into matter - maybe a field of consciousness as well as of waves, particles and probabilities.

But try to nail it down - it won't let you. That's just the way it is. For us. For now.

This time two years ago:
Heading Home [my father leaves Warsaw for the last time]

This time four years ago:
From my father's historic return to Warsaw

This time five years ago:
Country life in a capital city 

This time seven years ago:
My ogród is my działka

This time nine years ago:
Mazowieckie province tempts with mini- and micro-breaks

This time ten years ago:
Pride and anger

Monday, 2 August 2021

Poles' tastes become more cosmopolitan

About ten years ago or so, while visiting Polish food producers in the east of the country, it occurred to me that Poland was absolutely ready for a convenience food revolution. Poles were getting more time-poor as they become more money-rich, and had unprecedented experience with foreign travel. Growing and selling wholesale veg is a low-margin business compared to preparing it in interesting ways for easy cooking. For a while, nothing happened in this direction; on my regular visits to Auchan Piaseczno (one of Warsaw's best hypermarkets) I'd note a chilled 'ready meals' section growing at glacial speeds, with easy-cook pierogi being the top seller. Frozen pizza has long been a staple in Poland too.

So imagine my surprise when in Chynów - a small town of just over 1,000 souls, seat of a third-order administrative division, I came across these - the Hortex 'Street Food' range of oriental ready meals. These are to be found in the frozen, rather than chilled food, section.

Wow! Chicken Tikka Masala from India, Sweet and Sour Chicken from China and Coconut Chilli Chicken from Thailand. Bravo Hortex! I just had to try them all... (my usual działka fare are lentil- or chickpea-based stews served with rice or bulgur wheat, so these exotic meals make for a bit of contrast, and can be cooked in the oven rather on the limited gas I have). Now these dishes cost 10.98 złotys from the Top Market in Chynów, or 9.98 złotys from Auchan (including Auchan Direct). So just over £2 at the local price.

Taste-wise, not as good as Co-op's Asian ready meal range, which cost £2.75 or two for £5 - but they are bigger portions (475g vs 350g), which makes a difference, and they're chilled rather than frozen. I'm not entirely filled by 350g. And the UK market, having a significant Asian population, makes sure the taste is more authentic. 

Still, it's a start. No doubt ready Asian meals will catch on in Poland, competition will pop up, sales volumes will rise, the two factors will lead to lower prices and greater choice.

I look forward to the day when Polish consumers can have something like the wide variety of ready meals to choose from - though I'd add that these should be considered as something special, a bit of variety in the diet, rather than a staple.

Was a time when looking for salsa dips at Auchan I'd be hard-pressed to find one labelled 'hot'. Of the 20 or so in stock, nearly all were 'mild' or 'medium'. The same went for other foods that were offered in different taste strengths. Poles, it seemed, did not go for spicily hot food. Spicy in Polish is 'ostre', which means sharp, as in razor, rather than 'hot' as in 'my mouth is on fire'.

So the appearance of Tarczyński's Extreme range of kabanos (thin sausage) impressed me. Sold alongside vegan kabanosy, of all things! Both were indeed spicy, though not excessively so (for my robust taste-buds anyway). The jalapeño ones had a drier flavour - I must say I did like both of them! It will be interesting to see whether these catch on (bought at the Lewiatan supermarket in Nowe Grobice).

I noted back in 2016 the presence of a restaurant called Thai Thai within the building of the Polish national opera, and wondered whether the Thai national opera reciprocated by hosting a restaurant called Polak Polak in its building. Well, five years on - and two years into the pandemic - Thai Thai is still open, and from looking at the reviews, it's as popular as ever with Poland's cultured classes. If the comments are anything to go by, the main criticism of Thai Thai is that it's not authentically Thai enough!

Poland is changing, Polish consumer tastes are changing. A good sign that the country is becoming more open, despite what its ruler is trying to achieve.

This time last year:
Rososz and the toponymy of the Polish countryside

This time two years ago:

This time three years ago:
In praise of Polish mineral waters

This time four years ago:
Going back to my roots - Mogielnica

This time five years ago:
My father's walk around Jeziorki

This time seven years ago:
What's the Polish for 'sustainability'?

This time nine years ago:
Last chance to see Amber Gold's billboards in Warsaw

This time ten years ago:
The Twilight Rambler

Sunday, 1 August 2021

A meaningful anniversary

Today marks the second 1 August without my father here in Warsaw. For the last four years of his life, he'd visit the city of his birth to commemorate the outbreak of the Uprising. Until my mother died in 2015, he'd never leave her side, and because of her claustrophobia, she could not fly. So after her death, my father was at last able to return to Warsaw - for the first time in 43 years. His last visit, in 2019, was the most poignant, not least because it was the round 75th anniversary. The City of Warsaw paid for his travel and accommodation, my daughter's fare flying out with him from London, and my fare flying back home with him - for what would be his last flight. It was such a special week, just three months before his death. 

For many people, the Warsaw Uprising remains controversial. Should it have happened? My father was clear. The people of Warsaw, who'd endured four years of German occupation, had simply had enough. He had himself personally witnessed a street execution; he had narrowly escaped a round-up, he had endured the day-to-day humiliations at the hands of the 'master race'. Like many young men of his generation, he was itching to get even with the occupier as the Eastern Front pressed ever closer to Warsaw.

Chance would have it that Colonel Antoni Chruściel - 'Monter' - gave the order to launch the Uprising from the very same building in which my father lived before and during the occupation - ulica Filtrowa 68. As a result, each 1 August would begin here, at the laying of wreathes in front of his house. My father was unaware that 'Monter' was operating from the building; he suspects it was from the flat belonging to his former scout master. Asked by the Polish media if he knew, my father replied that he didn't know that both his brothers were in the Conspiracy, and neither of them knew that he was in the Conspiracy, so deep was the secrecy.

Below: my father kneels at the grave of his brother Józef, who died during the uprising, aged 19.

These annual pilgrimages to Warsaw were extremely important for my father in his last years; a chance to reflect upon his own personal journey through life, meet family, friends and old comrades - and to see how his dear city had so vastly improved since his infrequent visits in the 1960s and '70s.

Each year, I accompanied my father, the last two years in a wheelchair it must be said, as well as the official events, we spent time visiting the places where he fought during the Uprising - from ul. Filtrowa 8, where his unit waited for the orders to commence, to the Pole Mokotowskie park where he'd made his way across to the Polish barricades by moonlight, under German machine gun fire, to the building of the architectural department of the Politechnika, where he was briefly taken ill with gastric fever, and where legendary singer Mieczysław Fogg sang to the insurgents on 15 August 1944; to the building on ul. Noakowskiego 18 where he saw out the last weeks of the Uprising, holding the line that the Germans never breached.

Each of the four visits were recorded in detail on this blog - you can see them all by starting from the 'this time last year' links below, although because 1 August falls on different days of the week, the programme of the commemorations varied from year to year. You can also click on the label 'Bohdan Dembinski' for more posts about my father.

Finally, we moved offices last year, from the 9th floor to the 4th floor - and from the new extension of the building, to its original historic heart. This is the PASTa building, which was built before WW1 by the Swedish firm that operated Warsaw's telephone network. Not only is it where our office is now located (in the south wing), it is also home to the association of Home Army veterans (in the north wing). The photo below was taken on 3 August 2016 - my father (seated) and his comrades from Batalion Odwet. 

Here's how the building looked during the Uprising. My window is just to the left of the main tower, above the dense, dark plume of smoke.

This time two years ago:
W-Hour on the Big Day

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Stewardship of the land

It occurred to me one morning as I took an early stroll around my acre of land in Jakubowizna, that I didn't just buy land - I bought somewhere in the region of a million plants. Think of each individual grass plant or weed, a few hundred growing to the square metre. Some of these plants give fruit (apples, cherries, wild strawberries, plums, raspberries, blackberries), some flower nicely, some sting or prick (nettles, thistles, brambles), some carpet the ground (grasses). Some are big trees, some are seedlings or saplings - I decide which ones will grow into mighty oaks, and which should be pruned back. I decide which weeds to pull up, and which to leave unharmed. As well as the plants, there are also the insects - maybe a similar order of magnitude. Ants, spiders, flies, gnats. My decisions should be carefully taken, balancing environmental and aesthetic considerations. 

Lawns are bad for the environment. They are aesthetically pleasing - indeed, they are a powerful reminder of 1950s America, a symbol of good times, when materialist plenty didn't have to be tempered by environmental concerns. Petrol-engined lawn mowers keeping those individual grass plants short, then rolled this way then that to give those distinctive stripes. The cost to the environment of hundreds of millions of lawns world wide is immense. Consider the grass plant itself. Capable of producing several leaves (or blades), as well as reproducing daughter plants nearby, it does its bit for the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. And think of the energy (typically fossil fuels) used to cut it. An eight-inch blade of grass is four times as useful to the environment as one that's been cut back to two inches.

Lawns are symbolic of man's taming of nature - bending the environment to man's will. They exact a heavy price on us all. My neighbours mostly keep their large lawns short and tidy - it pleases the eye, but I worry about the climate. The pattern is there - hotter summers, more convection rainfall, intense deluges, flash-floods. Yes, they used to happen before, but they are far more common occurrences today. When was the last time 177 people died as a result of heavy rains in Germany, as happened earlier this month? [Answer - 1910; around 200. This Wikipedia list shows clearly how destructive heavy rains are occurring with increasing frequency in Europe.]

There's a clear correlation between increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the frequency and intensity of floods, heat waves and drought periods. How we look after our land is an important factor. Decisions have to be taken, how to live.

The grass immediately surrounding my house is kept reasonably short using only a scythe. This limits the amount I can - and I want - to mow. Paths are kept open - to the garden tap, to the fruit trees and bushes. The gravel drive is kept as free of weeds as possible - not using herbicides, but by me uprooting the weeds as they start to grow big enough to pull out easily. Until then, they just grow, naturally.

Grass plant, uprooted from drive, awaits replanting

By not using petrol to mow or weed-killer - or indeed pesticides - I am keeping the działka as chemical-free as possible. This is a policy decision. My vista, as I write these words, is of a meadow full of flowers and tall grasses, rather than a neatly-kept lawn. Apples ripen on a row of trees, unsprayed.

The back garden, untamed.

A part of me is there on the forecourt of Leroy Merlin in Piaseczno, eyeing up the ride-on lawn-mower/tractors, imagining one in my garage among the motorbikes, spending the summers going around the estate twice a week, keeping it all neat and tidy. Hacking away at the spreading boughs with a two-stroke chainsaw. The hallmarks of a 'dobry gospodarz'. But is it? We all need to change the way we look at our gardens.

There's 7.8 billion of us. Each one takes personal decisions that impact the environment and climate. I cannot stress enough the responsibility each one of us bears for ensuring that our impact on the planet is minimal. Each decision - whether or not to buy something, where that something comes from (near or far), how much we drive, how much we fly, what we eat.

On the działka, life is predicated by eating, eating by shopping, and shopping by walking - the trip to the shop/s is nearly always on foot. I therefore buy no more than I can comfortably carry in my rucksack for half an hour, enough food for up to two days. Rubbish is dutifully sorted, with anything compostable returning to the soil. Cooking requires gas for the rings - this comes in a bottle, which is still the original one from 2018! I use the gas as sparingly as possible. Cooking rice or lentils entails boiling half a kettle of water, soaking the rice or lentils in boiled water for five minutes or so, which halves the amount of time needed over the gas hob. One day, the gas will run out - and it will be while I'm cooking lunch or supper. Then I'll have the problem of getting it to one of many refill points for a top-up.

All in all, I have intended to make life on the działka as eco-friendly as possible, taking the greatest of care to minimise my eco-footprint. 

This time last year:
The cost of Covid complacency

This time two years ago:

This time four years ago:
Ahead of the Big Day

This time five years ago:
Once in a blue moon

This time seven years ago:
A return to Snowdon - Wales' highest peak

This time eight years ago:
On the eve of Warsaw's Veturillo revolution

This time ten years ago:
Getting ready for the 'W'-hour flypast

This time 11 years ago:
A century of Polish scouting

Friday, 30 July 2021

New phone camera vs. Nikon D3500

The downside of travel on a motorbike with a camera is it must either be around your neck, where it can be a nuisance - banging into fuel tank every now and then - or tucked away in the rucksack. My Nikon D3500 is not a heavy camera, but its presence around my neck is not welcome while out riding. My Nikon Coolpix A is smaller and lighter, but it lacks telephoto capability. It's great for landscapes and architecture but little more. So my new Samsung Galaxy S20FE looked like a promising answer - not least because it has three lens built in, wide, ultra-wide and telephoto. On Wednesday, I left the Nikons on the działka and set off for a ride. 

To my huge disappointment, only one photo I took actually registered on the phone's memory! I assumed that, just as on my Huawei P9 Lite, the simple act of touching the white button centrally located on the bottom panel under the image would capture it. The Galaxy S20 vibrates - there's the impression of the image coming into focus - but it turns out that this isn't enough. You need to ensure that the tiny icon to the left of the white button is filled with a thumbnail of the image. Only then do you know you've got your snap. Which means pressing the white button twice after an unlock.

So the following day I went out for another ride, having taken some test photos the previous evening. It's not all that intuitive! This time, I took the Nikon in the rucksack as a back-up.

Below: where the orchards end and the forest begins; my evening walk, Jakubowizna. Still not convinced by the blueness of the blue in this image taken on the Galaxy S20FE, on this walk I left the Nikon at home to test the universal suitability of the smartphone and its camera. Taken with the ultrawide lens, the equivalent of 13.5mm on a 35mm camera. Given that the number of pixels is half of that in the Nikon, and that the sensor is much smaller, it stands to reason that the image won't be nearly as good if blown up to 30" x 20". However, as an image on a blog page - it will do more than adequately.

Now for a shot using the telephoto lens (below). This is the equivalent of 76mm on a 35mm camera, so a very mild telephoto, more of a portrait focal length. There are also digital (rather than optical) zoom possibilities, but because of potential camera shake it makes more sense to crop the image in Photoshop rather than to zoom in digitally. This is the farm track leading up from Grobice towards Adamów Rososki.

Let's look then side by side, how the camera and the phone compare. Below: not identical shots, but you get the picture. On the left, the Nikon D3500 with lens set at 27mm (35mm equiv.), with polarising filter. To the right, the Galaxy S20FE image taken with its ultrawide lens (13.5mm in 35mm equiv.), and taken from closer in. The .RAW image was processed in Photoshop Camera Raw, something you can't do when shooting .jpg-only shots on the Galaxy S20FE. Yes, you can use Photoshop - but compared to Camera Raw, Photoshop lacks the fine control when it comes to extracting the most detail from highlight and shadow areas, as well as colour balance and saturation. In the final analysis, the better image is the one that most accurately matches what the photographer saw and felt at the time - the one that better reflects the qualia experience of the moment. In this case, for me, it's the Nikon image, left.

Below: the other great plus for the Nikon is the ability to use filters. The circular polarising filter is an essential part of my photographic style, bringing out a Kodachrome-like crystalline blue from the skies. For me, this is an integral part of my sublime aesthetic.

Opożdżew, Nevada. I do like it when local wags play around with the road signs this way. Incidentally, the shot above was the reverse of this one, the one I stopped for. Also taken on the Nikon.

On the plus side - the Galaxy S20's size and universality mean that if I'm ever forced to leave the camera, for whatever reason, I will be always able to get a reasonable shot for the archives, even though it's not as perfect as my soul would like it. The pictures are qualitatively better than the snaps taken on my old Huawei P9 Lite for one main reason - three integral lenses rather than just the one, even if the process of shooting is more complicated.

This time three years ago:
Karczunkowska viaduct takes shape

This time four years ago:
My father's return to Warsaw, 2017

This time five years ago:
My father's first visit to Warsaw in 40 years

This time six years ago:
What's worse - unemployment, or a badly-paid job?

This time seven years ago:
A return to Liverpool

This time nine years ago:
Too good to last (anyone remember OLT Express airline?)

This time ten years ago:
Poland's Baltic coast as a holiday destination

This time 12 years ago:
The Warsaw they fought and died for?

This time 14 years ago:
Floods, rainbows and hope

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Habit or obsession?

When do good habits become obsessions? When does normal behaviour cross the boundary into what society considers abnormal? Obsession is commonly considered to be when one no longer has control over an action - but then habitual behaviour is also a form of autopilot.

At the end of 2013, I set myself a resolution to maintain my health through middle age. Based on a pedometer and spreadsheet, this involved logging my paces and other health inputs every day. My father used to ask me: "What would happen if you didn't do your 10,000 paces today?" I think about his words from time to time when I glance at the health app in my smartphone (which replaced the pedometer years ago) and I see I'm several hundred paces short of my target. So I set off to the end of the drive and back, or go round the garden. Or simply go upstairs and downstairs a few times if it's cold or wet outside. 

Sounds obsessive? I'd justify this to my father by saying that if I were a thousand short today, I'd need to do 11,000 tomorrow, so it's best to get one's duty done now rather than put it off. Makes sense, I'd say. The spreadsheet now has come to play an important - even dominant - role in my life, with daily inputs and regular views telling me how I'm doing. In my eighth year of filling in the spreadsheet, it lets me know when I have to up the pace, do more exercise, walk further, faster - and also when I can slack off a bit - do less of one sort of exercise and still be ahead on last year's total. And have a drink. 

When drinking socially, people are sometimes amazed that I take care to remember how many millilitres of alcohol - and at what strength (I look at the label/ask the barman). Especially on a Big Night Out. And at home afterwards, I'd log the number of units. It's working well - coming up to the end of July, I can see I've consumed 10% fewer units than to the end of July last year - and 60% fewer units than I did between January and July 2014!

Self-discipline can be hard to achieve. What's stopping me from having that cold beer in the fridge or pouring myself a wee dram of single malt? The spreadsheet helps. I look at the numbers. Have that beer now, and it means I'll have to say 'no' at some social occasion next month. Do I need that beer, or is it only out of boredom? Will it help me be more creative if I sip back that Islay whisky? The spreadsheet has quite clearly helped.

So - good habit or obsession? Why bother logging it at all?

One good habit I don't need to log is sugar intake. Other than that which is present in fresh fruit and vegetables, I avoid sugar in the main. Sugary fizzy soft drinks? Literally zero. A rare bar of halva, a cake at a social occasion that would be churlish to turn down, the odd morsel of dark chocolate - very, very rare. Too rare to note - maybe one or two times a month, if that. Similarly for salt snacks, other than nuts (macadamia nuts I enjoy). 

If I'm not noting my sugar and salt-snack intake - why should I do so for alcohol and portions of fresh fruit and veg? Force of habit. Habit or obsession?

Clearing out my father's house, my son and Cousin Hoavis came across my father's daily records of his blood-pressure readings. Like me, he did this obsessively - though on small squares of paper. Because it was not kept in digital form, the dated records are of little value to posterity, with no links to external factors. My blood-pressure readings are kept as a separate sheet on the same spreadsheet file, allowing me to cross-check anomalously high readings with other factors such a exercise, diet, alcohol intake - and indeed, a very important factor - the time at which I went to bed.

These days, wearable devices make all this logging much easier - but the danger is that without conscious input, the data will just pile up, unobserved, unacted upon. 

My father did keep his financial affairs on spreadsheets, in particular the value of his share portfolio. Each day at the close of the trading day on the London Stock Exchange, he'd enter the price of each of the shares that he owned, and would track their performance over time. He'd keep a note of all cheques he'd write out, keeping real-time note of his bank balance. I'm not that obsessive about money, as long as I'm in the black, it's OK.

Obsessions can be traits linked to psychiatric disorders, but this one is very mild; more a harmless quirk of personality, inherited genetically. Harmless? I'd say healthy - keeping habits good and bad under a daily watchful gaze.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:

Monday, 26 July 2021

Unpicking the Rational Revolution

The world - the universe, life, indeed - are all explainable. The rational human being, raised on the thinking of Plato, Newton and Darwin, has no room in their worldview for ghosts, astrology, spiritualism, alchemy, palmistry, hermeticism, gnosticism, occultism, channelling aliens - or indeed for organised religion. All is matter or energy. There is no such thing as the 'paranormal', the 'supernatural' or the 'metaphysical'. These outdated forms of thinking were merely the products of irrational minds that sought answers to questions which science has now successfully answered.

Mysticism, in all its forms, is bunk.

Our rational, scientific worldview - the one in which we've been raised - tells us that all natural phenomena can be reduced to mathematical formulae, These, we believe, can successfully predict the motion of the stars and planets, the properties of DNA, the workings of the mind, the innermost secrets of the electron, and the forces at work within the expanding universe.

Not entirely.

For the past 90 or so years, science has been pulling back from assertions such as "we just have a couple more formulae to crack, and then we'll know literally everything." From its inability to pinpoint the seat of consciousness or identify dark energy and dark matter (and how they interact with gravity), what happened before Big Bang, how the Universe will end - the world of science is less and less confident that It Knows It All. And will quantum physics ever become intuitively understandable? Given that our intuition has been shaped by classical physics for centuries, how long will it take humanity to absorb the weirdness of quantum mechanics - the Wave Function of the Universe, for example, into the way we see the everyday world around us?

And now we are seemingly faced with unidentified aerial phenomena, witnessed by credible observers and recorded across multiple sensor platforms - craft performing feats that science cannot even begin to explain. Acceleration from stationary to hypersonic speed in two seconds. Plunging from space, through the atmosphere, into the ocean. Doing this with no visible means of lift (no wings or rotor blades), nor visible means of propulsion (no flames, no vapour trail, no wake). Science dogmatically digs in against such claims, offering increasingly weak rebuttals.

Our faith in science begins to waver - and at a highly dangerous time, what with anti-vaxxers talking rubbish about the Covid-19 vaccines that are already successfully combating the virus.

Classical science works well enough at our human scale, but fails to cohere at the subatomic (10-27m) or at the galactic (1027m) scales. Quantum mechanics and Einsteinian space-time relativity fail to gel. Our knowledge starts to fray at both ends, without a unifying theory to bind them. And here, the magick steps back in to fill the void. The world of the metaphysical - that which is above, or beyond, physics. In earlier days this would have been packaged as the occult - hidden knowledge - secret mysteries that only the Initiated can learn and pass on down the ages. All this begins to be just as valid - though at the metaphysical level, couched in arcane language that works differently to the language of science.

Cognitive bias, however, should always be at the forefront of one's mind when cutting a new path through the undergrowth of mysticism. And, it must never be forgotten that it was the scientific method that brought us the comforts of modern life, including healthcare and electricity.

It does seem more and more likely that we are being visited by beings from different worlds. We know not whether these worlds are planets circling other stars in our galaxy, or other dimensions, or from other times. We do not know whether these craft are probes or whether they contain living beings. Science is wholly unable to explain the phenomenon of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. 

Of the 145 cases investigated by the US Navy, only one could be successfully debunked as something familiar.

Whatever is out there, watching us, has evidently mastered physics at a level that we cannot even begin to imagine. In the meanwhile, the notion of channelling these entities using telepathy makes as much sense as dismissing the phenomena as weather balloons.

Our own personal routes to Understanding, to Purpose are individual. Seek your own way. Like the excited electron making its way through a molecule. It doesn't just follow one route - it follows all the possible paths - and then recalculates the most efficient one and says: "that's the one I have taken," as it if has worked this out backward in time. This is quantum superposition, and it stands as a good analogy for our own paths to God.

This time last year:
Ride to Roztocze

This time two years ago:
Poznań and Wrocław - two boomtowns

This time eight years ago:
Scaling the highest peak in Wales

This time nine years ago:
Beaches of the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula

This time ten years ago: 
The Accursed Soldiers - a short story

This time 11 years ago:
Driving impressions of the Toyota Yaris
[11 years on - still rock-solid]

This time 13 years ago:
Poland's dry summer

This time 14 years ago:
The UK's wettest summer ever