philosophy

The Luddite and The Intellectual Hermit

A Luddite and an intellectual hermit walk into a pub.

“What will you have, gents?” asks the barman.

“Possibly an aversion to the deceptions of progress,” the Luddite replies.

“Sorry, sir,” says the barman, “we don’t do those fancy cocktails.”

The Luddite

Sorry, that’s a bad twist on an old joke. Two things recently had me thinking about the way of the world today. First was an announcement that the team I work for is invited to experience the developments of another team involved in producing virtual reality solutions. In case we are in any doubt as to what this involves, the email included a couple of images, one showing a scene which could be a screen capture from a very dull video game, and the other some bloke, looking blindly towards the ceiling, wearing a set of Oculus type goggles.

Unusual for me, I can’t raise much curiosity or enthusiasm for the prospect. In my imagination I can predict the illusion of experiencing being on the inside a very bad video game, the trick being the screen’s eye view adjusts according to feedback from the relative position of the goggles. As with a magician’s trick, when you work out how it can be done, it loses all potency to be awesome.

Or, to put it another way, reality does the trick way better: the scene around us is brilliantly rendered, and it all moves about precisely as we move our senses relatively to it. The only thing is we take it all for granted and there’s no smack about the chops moment, no “awesome!”

Though really I feel my slight aversion to this stems from a building annoyance that “expert” people in my field are surrendering their imagination to the machines, and we are obliged to follow suit. I’ve met those now who can’t visualise from concepts and basic drawings – they need to see the 3D model. Visualisation was once an essential skill in the job. In a generation, it will be obsolete.

The Intellectual Hermit

I saw another inspiring article in the news yesterday. It was about hermits. Real life, modern day hermits. Haven’t you ever once in your life contemplated a life as a hermit?

The story focuses on two quite different hermits. The first is Christopher Knight who, in 1986, aged 20, took himself off to a wood in Maine, USA, never to be seen again for 27 years (actually, he did meet a lost hiker once and exchanged a simple “hi”). He lived in a tent, stole what little he needed to survive and thus he was caught in a trap by the police investigating these thefts. He said his decision to hide away was a desire to be alone, free of the world. There was no incident, traumatic, shameful or otherwise, in his previous life which caused this; it was just in his nature.

The second hermit is the Christian, Sara Maitland, who lives alone in a self-built house on a moor in Scotland. The reason she gives for her chosen lifestyle is ecstasy. Solitude is “total joy”, she explains. You know, I can relate to that.

Even so, I don’t think I could handle it for a prolonged length of time, never mind a whole lifetime. It’s not the risk that solitude can easily tip over into loneliness; you could just pack it in and move back. It’s the physical hardship which appears to come with it – working for survival. Unless, like Knight, you steal.

An idea then came to me about intellectual hermits. In his poem, To Althea, from Prison, Richard Lovelace, incarcerated in Gatehouse prison for political dissent in 1642, around the time of our English Civil Wars, writes the final verse,

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage:
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

I can’t think of anymore to add to this notion of freedom, in love, soul and mind, except let us contemplate that thought for a while.


On Hermits – why this man became a hermit at 20 (BBC News stories)

To Althea, From Prison (Richard Lovelace, 1642) – (wiki)

images: “Occulus” wearing guy (top) and Sara Maitland, in Scotland (below)

The Old Man and the Attic

a flash-fiction piece

Dad had me follow him into his attic. I thought it was to stop him falling but he seemed agile enough. He turned on the light and held his arms outstretched.

“One day,” he said, “all this will be yours!”

I surveyed the rubbish: busted furniture, piles of magazines, even an old toilet seat. “Daft old goat,” I thought.

The next week, he asked me up there again. Had he forgotten? He’s losing it, for sure.

But this time the attic was empty. “I’m building a model of New York City,” he explained. The old man still had dreams.

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge, May 9th.

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about growing older. It can be humorous, dark or poignant. It can be true or total fiction. It can be fine wine or an old fossil. Go where the prompt leads!

The Opportunities of Old-Age

a writing prompt piece

As a freelancer, I moved around, but there were one or two places I’d return to because they were better places to work. In one such place there worked these two guys. They were of a similar age, worked in the same team and were, in every sense, workmates, almost companionable. They were both humorous, and one especially so. Often they were like a comedy duo, The Odd Couple, Laurel and Hardy, that kind of thing.

Well, I left and then went back and only one of them was still there. The funnier one had retired. In fact, both had reached retirement age but the remaining one had negotiated to stay on, part-time, two days a week. He told me, it got him out of the house; out from under his wife’s feet; gave him something to do; earn a little pocket money. I thought he was crazy. I’d watch him at his desk looking disengaged. Occasionally his eyes would droop, and then close. At four-thity on the dot, he would go home.

Then one day the other guy popped in. He was passing the office and thought he might as well show his face; it was a face beaming from ear to ear. He said something funny which I’d heard before. He said, looking back, he didn’t know how he ever found the time to go to work. In retirement, his hours were fuller, and, I had the impression, with a greater sense of purpose and enjoyment than when he had to work.

Working is for mugs. The trouble is, we’re all mugs and there’s little to be done about it. Just don’t plan to be a mug all your life.

(284 words)


written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Tale Weaver prompt #222 – “The Opportunities of Old Age”

Beyond #writephoto

Everything alive here, now and before, is the favour of the sun; its light and warmth. In the cold of late winter, before the spring, before the earth has warmed and, in its turn, warmed the air which remains chill to our senses, our sun can give its warmth directly: the wonderful experience of feeling its heat on your body as you walk outdoors, or through a sunlit window as you sit.

To think of all the sentient creatures of the world which have sensed this too. From the time of insects energising their gossamer wings for flight, and upon the scales of giant lizards, the dinosaurs, and the feathers and down of early birds, then the mammals and us.

It is believed, with the irreversible stresses we have placed on the Earth, that the next life forms will not be organic but cybernetic, in order to survive the heat and extremes of the environment. What will a cognitive machine make of the sun’s radiant energy, if it analyses it through an electronic sensor chip, with artificial intelligence; or even senses it at all? What meaning will such an experience have for the soulless beyond?


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto challenge – “Beyond”.

Little and Often: a life principle

I believe that most people are contradictions. Take me and work: I am a lazy sod, just won’t touch work; until I get going, then I’m a workaholic; I don’t know when to quit. Possibly the built in laziness is a defence against my inclination to work for too long, or maybe I just forget how satisfying a day’s work can be.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be as fit as I used to be. For stamina, I mean. My strength seems to be okay. I’ve managed to dig out and lift a couple of rhubarb plants, and the girth of mud attached which was not much smaller than I could hug, and put them one at a time into the barrow, and manage to steady the barrow one time as it was in danger of toppling over. But now the plants have been relocated, mulched and watered, I am proverbially “cream crackered*”, and it’s only lunchtime. I’ve had a couple of bits of toast and marmite, and sat down with a cup of tea, and now I feel lazy again.

I can’t remember who it was that told me their life principle, “little and often”, but I need to adopt that myself.


Quite right, it’s the wrong time to be digging up rhubarb but those plants were where I want to put my shed, so they had to move.

* cream crackered – cockney rhyming slang for extremely tired.

Woman – her journey

To paraphrase the old chicken and egg thing, I wonder which came first, the woman or the man. I know, I know, the bible says, and all those other versions about the globe concur, mostly though perhaps not all, but…think about it.

Logically, it seems to me that while a man cannot possibly grow an infant alone, chances are a little better for a woman.

I think, free from politics, religion and all other enforced mumbo-jumbo, men and women could get along just fine. Or at least better than they have with all the historic mumbo-jumbo. I wonder how it would be if there was equality between the sexes. I don’t mean equality of opportunity, careers and wages, or anything modern like that, but physical equality. I’m not sure the men would fare as well; possibly they would be like the bees and ants, subservient and with one purpose, and once that was over the women might bite off their heads and eat them. Despite the randomness of evolution, are males not merely couriers for chromosomes?

I think the males better watch out. And I don’t mean fight back. They are clearly evolving into a weaker version of their sex, psychologically mostly but with the advent of modern technology, clearly physically too. While there is still evidence of chumps about, knuckle dragging ignoramuses, grunting and blowing in your ear ‘ole, these are swimming against the tide. The great emasculation is happening, concurrently with the slow progress of feminism. Thanks to technology – ethics and morality, philosophy and politics have no option but to follow on – the gap is closing. And if we can all keep our cool, that’s good, isn’t it?


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge Prompt #77 – “Woman – her journey”

A difficult thing for me, a privileged, white, western male, to write about not wanting to cause offence. Sorry if any offence is unwittingly caused.

Back to Normal

“We just want to go back to some semblance of a normal life that everyone else has”
(Eric Van Balen)

Humans are conservative by nature; they love normal, they desire normal whenever life seems… abnormal. An excess of normal is often seen as being boring.

Normal is the rock on which we build successfully. Normal is the level base upon which we grow, from which we develop. Normal is sane. Normal is rational. Normal produces a healthy intellect, encourages imagination and innovation.

Normal is the calm before a storm, and the calm following a storm (unless on Jupiter where the storms have been raging for thousands of years. For a Jovian, that’s normal).

Normal is peacefulness, a time free of trouble and conflict, unless you’re a child born in Yemen or Syria where war is continuing. Fear is normal.

Normal is routine. A morning begins with fresh coffee, from a pot which has already been cleaned from the previous day’s use, the coffee jar not yet empty, fresh water in the jug, sugar in the sugar pot and clean mugs.

It’s getting ready for work at the right hour. It’s regular work. When I explained to my father-in-law that I worked freelance for short contracts, he was aghast. He’d told me, with some pride, how he’d been with the same firm for forty years. I have known people who started work after university and are still at that same company, the same commute to the same office, the same lunchtime routine, the same time going home. The way the company works, the way it likes to do business, has become second nature. That’s normal. Though in that time, they say they have seen changes. That’s normal.

Normal. Even the sound of the word appears to grind to a standstill.

If you’re an adventurer, if you’re a party goer, if you grab life by the balls, carpe diem, and all that, and you do all this, then that’s normal for you.

Normal is what we want unless that’s all there is, and then we want something else. And that’s normal too.


Written for Reena Saxena’s Exploration Challenge #68 – “Back to Normal”

It’s a train of thought piece which is how posts normally start though it’s not normally how I publish them.

The Upright Creator

Sue Vincent’s comment on The Name of the Cloud That Ate The Sun has me thinking about a creator and its motives.

The idea of God, the creator, of the Abrahamic faiths has Him creating us in his image. This is understandable as we readily create imaginary beings in our own image, or partly so. Intelligent alien life is usually bipedal, with limbs and a head on top with eyes and ears and a multi-functioning mouth – and many of them speak fluent English in an American accent. The popular idea of a robot is also a bipedal machine.

Given that bipeds came last in line, whether it’s creationism or evolution, what gives with all the other stuff which came before? Well, robots might be the clue. Getting the things to stand upright and walk. It’s not easy and with a lot of robotics, this is an unnecessary fancy but it doesn’t stop a lot of technicians struggling with the concept. They will succeed but more because of god than being good designers, I think.

But why would a creator be bipedal, being, as it were, out there in space and existent throughout all time? Why would it need to stand up when there is no up in which to stand?


image from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam

What is Love?

What is Love? as Haddaway once sang (over a rather catchy electro-funk backing track which, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, I’ve linked at the bottom of this post a version of it with some natty street dancing licks.)

What is Love? We know when we feel it but what is it? Is it inexplicable, as is God and Art?

Of all Art, the most inexplicable form, probably, is Music. What is Music? You should hear some of the things I hear presented as Music; it’s hard to differentiate it from just Noise.

But then I was once asked to listen to an egg frying as a piece of, well, Music, in as much as it was featured on a music programme. The recordist had put a contact mic on a pan and recorded from beginning to end, the frying of an egg in some fat. Listening through earphones, is was wonderful, though it did make me hungry.


As promised, here’s Haddaway. Now, does it make you wanna Dance too?

image: “Lovers’ Hands on Sand” by Wilson Sánchez via Unsplash.com

How long is now

My first thought is that poster ought to have a question mark. My second thought is maybe not; perhaps How Long is a name. Perhaps Now is also a name and the claim is that this How Long, an individual or group, is an alias of this other person or group known as Now. So, How Long is Now.

That clears up a lot of confusion, or maybe just discloses a secret, who knows?


My third thought is there definitely should be a question mark.


My fourth thought returns again to the subject of dogs. Does a dog, or another intelligent animal, possess a sense of Now, and if yes, is their Now the same as ours?

I know our dogs have a sense of Now by the way they pester us whenever they think it’s the moment for their food or time for a walk. It’s as if they have an innate sense of the passing of time, an inner biological clock – assuming they can’t actually tell the time from the clock on the wall. Has anyone tested this?

But like most clocks, theirs is slightly flawed. It leads real time by around half an hour. Now, Now, Now!, they implore. Too early, too early, too early!, we stress. Of course, their clocks might not be faulty at all, it might just be emotional overload as excitement builds as the Now approaches.


Okay, let’s not delay tackling How Long a “Now” is. The human idea of Now is, I think, a timeless quantity. It is immeasurable. Yet it lasts for ever. Well, at least as long as there is a sentient being in the Universe, and only up to the point when the Universe ceases to be.

It’s like this ineffable thing, a pinpoint of being moving along the timeline, for ever. It is both no time at all and all time, at the same time.

It’s made all the more odd by knowing that our senses to our environment are lagging behind real time, the senses informing the brain and the brain’s synapses firing to make sense of anything, all take time. Thus, the Now we think we experience was really the Then; we spend our time in futile pursuit of the Now, always nanoseconds behind it but never able to be up with it.

But, strangely, in our imagination, we can be ahead of it. Like the dog wanting her meal or his habitual stroll around the park. Now is before Now, and after Now, and forever, but never actually Now.

Okay, I’m going to post this now, but I maybe be some time.


Inspired by Reena’s Exploration Challenge – week #52.

image supplied by Reena via Maria Popova (click on it for the bigger picture)