Tag: WikiPedia

The Time Machine


When you read this post, assuming you will be reading it on Sunday 8th April, you may be wondering why there is no Picture Parade today.

Indeed, there are not going to be Picture Parades until the first Sunday in May.

Actually, to be completely honest, there are going to be no posts at all from tomorrow all the way through to May; the next post being a guest post on Tuesday, 1st May. Nor will I be popping into this place to acknowledge comments and replies! Sorry!


Simply because Jean and I are taking a little vacation. Will explain more when we return.

Jana Stewart will be living here at home caring for all the dogs, cats, horses, ponies, chickens and parakeets! Oh, nearly forgot! And putting out feed for the wild deer!

So this post is to share with you the aptly named The Time Machine album by Alan Parsons

Also, I wanted to specifically share with you three of the tracks from that album!



Can’t imagine you haven’t come across Alan Parsons before but in that unlikely event his website is here.

Plus, I will close with a copy of the opening WikiPedia information on Alan Parsons.

Alan Parsons (born 20 December 1948)[1] is an English audio engineer, songwriter, musician, and record producer. He was involved with the production of several significant albums, including the BeatlesAbbey Road and Let It Be, and the art rock band Ambrosia‘s debut album Ambrosia as well as Pink Floyd‘s The Dark Side of the Moon for which Pink Floyd credit him as an important contributor. Parsons’ own group, the Alan Parsons Project, as well as his subsequent solo recordings, have also been successful commercially.

Yes, I know I’m showing my age!!

Being philosophical about philosophy!

Two more examples of deep thinking.

Note: We have a flooring contractor in the house all week and it’s making it a little tricky to spend the couple of hours a day that is my usual pattern for writing posts for LfD.  So apologies if this week’s posts are more dependent on the thoughts of others than is usual.

Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton is a familiar face on British television.  WikiPedia’s entry describes him, thus:

Alain de Botton, FRSL (born 20 December 1969) is a Swiss/British writer, philosopher, television presenter and entrepreneur, resident in the United Kingdom. His books and television programmes discuss various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy’s relevance to everyday life.

He has been the presenter of a BBC Six-part series called Philosophy: A Guide To Happiness.  And who wouldn’t be turned on by that!

Luckily, all six episodes are available on YouTube, at this overall link.

But I wanted to share the first episode because despite the title being Socrates on Self-Confidence it really speaks to our lives in this year of 2013.

Moving on.

A recent item on Big Think, again about philosophy, jumped off the page at me. It specifically looked at making our life, as in mental health, easier in these demanding times.  It was by Daniel Dennett and was called The Philosopher’s Self-Help Book. 

Daniel Dennett
Daniel Dennett


The Philosopher’s Self-Help Book (with Daniel Dennett)


JULY 13, 2013,

While Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley busy themselves making every aspect of our lives more efficient (except, perhaps, for the process of discovering these new technologies, learning them, and integrating them into our lives), Daniel Dennett sits up at Tufts University in  Massachusetts, philosophizing. His latest book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking is an attempt to make transparent some of the tricks of the philosopher’s trade. In an accelerating age, it’s a self-help book designed to slow the reader down and improve our ability to think things through.

The kinds of things Mr. Dennett likes to think about include the nature of consciousness, evolution, and religious belief. But the mind-training his new book offers is applicable to any problem you want to consider thoroughly. In an age of quick fixes and corner-cutting, we’re in constant danger of bad decision making – of overreliance on what cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls “system 1”, and what most of us call intuition. This rapid decision making channel of the brain is helpful when we are in mortal danger, or pressed for a quick decision within our areas of expertise. But for most decisions, the slower, more deliberate channel (system 2) is much more reliable. What Dennett offers, then, in Intuition Pumps, is a workout for system 2 – a series of thought experiments you can apply to puzzles real and imagined to bulk up the slower, wiser parts of your consciousness.

Some of the tools Dennett offers in the book are more familiar than others. Reductio ad absurdum arguments, for example, in which we test the validity of a claim by taking it to its most outrageous illogical extreme (a: “all living things have a right to liberty.” b: “so let me get this straight – a blade of grass has a right to liberty? What does that even mean?”). But the true delights of the book are the far-out exercises Dennett and his colleagues have dreamed up in the course of their work, such as “Swampman Meets A Cow-Shark”, from Donald Davidson, which begins:

Suppose lightning strikes a dead tree in a swamp; I am standing nearby. My body is reduced to its elements, while entirely by coincidence (and out of different molecules) the tree is turned into my physical replica. My replica, The Swampman, moves exactly as I did; according to its nature it departs the swamp, encounters and seems to recognize my friends, and appears to return their greetings in English.

Walking us through Davidson’s considerations about whether and to what extent the Swampman is anything like Davidson, and related ones about a cow that gives birth to something that looks exactly like a shark (yet has cow DNA in all of its cells), Dennett teaches us a surprising lesson about the utility of wild philosophical speculation.

Cloaked in the breezy, familiar trappings of a self-help book, Intuition Pumps is in actuality a dark mirror of that genre – a field of rabbit holes designed to leave the reader with more questions than answers, and wiser for the long and indirect journey.

Watch for Daniel Dennett’s Tools For Better Thinking – a Big Think Mentor workshop coming soon. 


I’m tempted to put the book on my own reading list.  If you want to drop into the appropriate Amazon page there is an audio link plus the option to read an extract.  Amazon describe the book, as follows:

One of the world’s leading philosophers offers aspiring thinkers his personal trove of mind-stretching thought experiments.

Over a storied career, Daniel C. Dennett has engaged questions about science and the workings of the mind. His answers have combined rigorous argument with strong empirical grounding. And a lot of fun.

Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking offers seventy-seven of Dennett’s most successful “imagination-extenders and focus-holders” meant to guide you through some of life’s most treacherous subject matter: evolution, meaning, mind, and free will. With patience and wit, Dennett deftly deploys his thinking tools to gain traction on these thorny issues while offering readers insight into how and why each tool was built.

Alongside well-known favorites like Occam’s Razor and reductio ad absurdum lie thrilling descriptions of Dennett’s own creations: Trapped in the Robot Control RoomBeware of the Prime Mammal, and The Wandering Two-Bitser. Ranging across disciplines as diverse as psychology, biology, computer science, and physics, Dennett’s tools embrace in equal measure light-heartedness and accessibility as they welcome uninitiated and seasoned readers alike. As always, his goal remains to teach you how to “think reliably and even gracefully about really hard questions.”

A sweeping work of intellectual seriousness that’s also studded with impish delights, Intuition Pumps offers intrepid thinkers—in all walks of life—delicious opportunities to explore their pet ideas with new powers.

Speaking of ‘pet ideas with new powers’ prompts one to reflect on the amount of time that dogs spend thinking!  As the following picture confirms!

Pharaoh contemplating the meaning of life!
Pharaoh contemplating the meaning of life!

The sounds of life.

Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

Not going to do anything other than ask you to watch, or more pertinently listen, to this 14-minute video.

Published on Jul 15, 2013

Bernie Krause has been recording wild soundscapes — the wind in the trees, the chirping of birds, the subtle sounds of insect larvae — for 45 years. In that time, he has seen many environments radically altered by humans, sometimes even by practices thought to be environmentally safe. A surprising look at what we can learn through nature’s symphonies, from the grunting of a sea anemone to the sad calls of a beaver in mourning.

The Wikipedia entry explains that:

Bernie Krause was born in 1938. Somewhat of a musical prodigy, by age 3-1/2 he studied violin and by age 4 classical composition. He performed on a variety of stringed instruments (cello, bass, viola, harp) but fell in love with the guitar. He was disappointed when in 1955 not a single music school to which he applied would accept him with guitar as his primary instrument. Krause went on to work as a studio guitarist on jazz sessions and, occasionally, on early Motown sessions. He also worked as a recording engineer and producer in Ann Arbor while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. He joined The Weavers in 1963, occupying the position created by co-founder Pete Seeger and stayed with them until they disbanded a year later.

More details here.

Do go across to Bernie Krause’s website Wild Sanctuary if only to listen to the sounds of birds on the ‘home page’!


Sea Fever

But not of the John Masefield variety.

A friend of Jean and me and recent follower of Learning from Dogs, Ira W., sent me an email that included a link to Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest website.  To say that I was astonished at what I read would be a giant understatement.  Wikipedia offers this opening description:

Theo Jansen (born 1948) is a Dutch artist. In 1990, he began what he is known for today: building large mechanisms out of PVC that are able to move on their own, known as Strandbeest. His animated works are a fusion of art and engineering; in a car company (BMW) television commercial Jansen says: “The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds.” He strives to equip his creations with their own artificial intelligence so they can avoid obstacles by changing course when one is detected, such as the sea itself.

How is that realised? Well take a look at this:


The Strandbeest website has this information about what the ‘beast’ is about.

Self-propelling beach animals like Animaris Percipiere have a stomach . This consists of recycled plastic bottles containing air that can be pumped up to a high pressure by the wind. This is done using a variety of bicycle pump, needless to say of plastic tubing. Several of these little pumps are driven by wings up at the front of the animal that flap in the breeze. It takes a few hours, but then the bottles are full. They contain a supply of potential wind. Take off the cap and the wind will emerge from the bottle at high speed. The trick is to get that untamed wind under control and use it to move the animal. For this, muscles are required. Beach animals have pushing muscles which get longer when told to do so. These consist of a tube containing another that is able to move in and out. There is a rubber ring on the end of the inner tube so that this acts as a piston. When the air runs from the bottles through a small pipe in the tube it pushes the piston outwards and the muscle lengthens. The beach animal’s muscle can best be likened to a bone that gets longer. Muscles can open taps to activate other muscles that open other taps, and so on. This creates control centres that can be compared to brains.

Plus there is no shortage of videos to find on the web.  I chose this one for you. (But, please do go to  Jansen’s home page as well and watch the video.)

So the creativity of man knows no bounds!  Which neatly brings me to the creativity of the poet John Masefield.  Here is that famous poem.

Sea Fever


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Carl Sagan

How very precious, vulnerable and fragile is this precious place we call home.

Today’s consciousness perambulation is the fault of Mr. P., as I like to call him. I refer to Pendantry as he is on his blog, Wibble.

You see on Sunday he added a comment to my post Just a small, white dot! that included the beautiful and awe-inspiring film made by the late Carl Sagan called Pale Blue Dot.


Like millions of others, I came to admire Carl Sagan through watching the fabulous, the truly fabulous, television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. (NB. All the episodes are on YouTube, Episode One is at the end of this Post, Ed.)  Here’s how WikiPedia opens their reference to Carl.

Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He spent most of his career as a professor of astronomy at Cornell University where he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies.

He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books. He advocated scientifically skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Sagan is known for his popular science books and for the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which he narrated and co-wrote.  The book Cosmos was published to accompany the series. Sagan wrote the novel Contact, the basis for a 1997 film of the same name.

He died far too young and was a tragic loss to humanity.  The Carl Sagan web portal is here.

That 3:30 minute video Pale Blue Dot has, likewise, been seen by millions.  If you or someone you know hasn’t seen it, then you must pause now …

It’s practically impossible to watch that video and not embrace the central message from Mr. Sagan.  Here’s the transcript:

Our home from 6 billion kilometres. A very tiny dot against the vastness of space.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different.

Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.

On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.

Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Tomorrow, I will stay with the theme of our beautiful planet. Hope you can join me.

Now spoil yourself and watch Episode One of Cosmos.

Do you or I really know who we are?

The strangeness of this species Homo sapiens.

My writings of the previous three days have explored the nature of man.  The many ways that we struggle to understand so many issues in our lives. In particular the biggest issue of them all since we abandoned the life of the hunter-gatherer.  Our very survival.

It would be so easy to beat oneself up.  To stare in the mirror and despair at all the unfinished ideas that one has about being ‘sustainable’ shortly before jumping on one’s shiny new tractor, yet another symbol of our industrial civilisation.  The hypocrisy, the double standards!

New tractor being delivered last December.
New tractor delivered last December.

But the mistake in any attempt at self-awareness is the assumption that you know who you are!  Therein lays the problem.!

Marcus Peter Francis du Sautoy is a very smart person.  This is how WikiPedia describes him.

Prof. Marcus Sautoy

Marcus Peter Francis du SautoyOBE (born in London, 26 August 1965)[3] is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. Formerly a Fellow of All Souls College, and Wadham College, he is now a Fellow of New College. He is President of the Mathematical Association.

Prof. Sautoy came to the realisation that the thoughts that make us feel as though we know ourselves are easy to experience.  But where do those thoughts come from? Marcus Sautoy acknowledged that they are notoriously difficult to explain.

So, in order to find out where they come from Marcus subjects himself to a series of probing experiments.  With the help of a hammer-wielding scientist, Jennifer Aniston and a general anaesthetic, Professor Marcus du Sautoy goes in search of answers to one of science’s greatest mysteries: how do we know who we are? ,

He learns at what age our self-awareness emerges and whether other species share this trait.

Next, he has his mind scrambled by a cutting-edge experiment in anaesthesia. Having survived that ordeal, Marcus is given an out-of-body experience in a bid to locate his true self. And in Hollywood, he learns how celebrities are helping scientists understand the microscopic activities of our brain.

Finally, he takes part in a mind-reading experiment that both helps explain and radically alters his understanding of who he is.

All of this is covered in a fabulously interesting episode from Horizon, the excellent and long-running  BBC TV science and philosophy series.  Thankfully, it made its way onto YouTube.

It is just under an hour long but I promise you it will capture you from the very first moment.

Enjoy.  Even if you end up realising, as I did, what a strange person you are!

As Confucius reportedly wrote: Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.

It almost makes sense, doesn’t it?

Starting the week-end a little early.

Regular followers of Learning from Dogs know that I try and offer something more gentle and light-hearted for the week-end.  But yesterday afternoon amid all the hustle and bustle of things, the telephone cable was cut to add to our sensation of being cut off from the outside world.  (If you are new to this theme then drop in here for further explanation.)  Somehow finding the time to offer you a post of substance for today became too challenging.

We recently watched a comedian by the name of Reggie Watts appearing on BBC television and laughed our sides off.  But Mr. Watts is not your average comedian.  Wikipedia describes him thus:


Reggie Watts (born March 23, 1972 in StuttgartGermany[1]) is a Brooklyn-based comedian and musician. His shows are mostly improvised and consist of stream of consciousness stand-up in various shifting personae, mixed with loop pedal-based a cappella compositions. He performs regularly on television, radio, and in live theater. His comic skills come into play in improvisational performance, as well as performance of written music. Watts currently appears as the sidekick on the IFC talkshow Comedy Bang Bang, which began airing on June 8, 2012.

So enjoy the following, and have a lovely week-end!  You will see how it all makes sense!

The creek did rise!


Our good friend back in Payson, John Hurlburt, is often heard to close a conversation in response to a “Best wishes” with the saying “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

Well for us the creek did rise last week-end!


So when I rang John a couple of days ago and asked him where the expression came from, he was quick to explain that it was a familiar ‘sign-off’ by Red Barber, a former sports broadcaster.

Red Barber
Red Barber

As Wikipedia explains:

Walter Lanier “Red” Barber (February 17, 1908 – October 22, 1992) was an American sportscaster.

Barber, nicknamed “The Ol’ Redhead”, was primarily identified with radio broadcasts of Major League Baseball, calling play-by-play across four decades with the Cincinnati Reds (1934–38), Brooklyn Dodgers (1939–1953), and New York Yankees (1954–1966).

Like his fellow sports pioneer Mel Allen, Barber also gained a niche calling college and professional football in his primary market of New York City.

OK, that’s all for now – off to the shops to get in 10 days of supplies before the bridge is repaired, as reported here!

Time to change the clocks!

A republication of a post first shown on 28th October, 2009 which still seems relevant as British Summer Time is due to end in a couple of days time.


An ancient idea may have run it’s course?

What is the purpose of “Daylight Saving”? [Interesting history of Daylight Saving on Wikipedia. Ed.]

clock faceThis week we are in a particularly interesting situation as we are in the middle of a one week separation between the dates when Europe and US change their clocks back to “normal” winter time. I.e. Europe changed their clocks back at 2am last Sunday and most, but not all, US States change their clocks back at 2am this coming Sunday.

This is even more confusing than normal. But why are we doing this at all?

Is it to save fuel, to save lives, to save time or to save something else?

In my humble opinion it is all nonsense!

“Time management” is a myth

Time is time! People say that they do not have enough time to do this or that, as if they have ways to make some more; and, of course, there is much talk about “time management”. Yet we all have the same amount of time and no amount of management will change that!

We are certainly able to manage the things that we try to fit into the available time.  That is, we can manage tasks, effort and so on. But, in everyday (Newtonian rather than Einsteinian) regimes, time is an inelastic independent variable. Fiddling about with the clocks and trying to “manage time” have no effect on the stuff whatsoever. Let it be!

There must be a better way!

Yes, I know! Some people make claims of wasted daylight or of the dangers to schoolchildren walking to or from school in the dark. These are valid areas of concern. If adjusting the times of business operations or schooling helps to deal with them, then by all means do so. But, for goodness, let’s not pretend the time is different.


Eric Clapton and change.

A powerful example of grief and repair.

Normally my week-end posts are lighthearted.  But I do hope you will forgive the departure for today.

Regular readers of Learning from Dogs will recall that on the 2nd August I published a piece under the title of Changing the person: Me.  It offered several examples of how personal change or transition is tough but that the rewards that come from understanding the personal and emotional consequences of big life changes are immense.  As I wrote then,

The most important thing to note, and this is why so many ‘change’ ambitions fail, is that change is deeply unsettling at first.  When change happens for the majority of us, often ‘forced’ on us as a result of unplanned life events, we are left deeply unsettled; a strong feeling of being lost, of being in unfamiliar surroundings.  Think divorce or, worse, the death of a partner or child, reflect on how many sign up for bereavement counselling in such circumstances.  Big-time change is big-time tough (apologies for the grammar!).

Then I came across the story of how Eric Clapton coped when his four-year-old son fell from the window of the 53rd-floor window of his mother’s friend’s New York City apartment.  Here’s an extract from the WikiPedia entry:

The years following 1990 were extremely turbulent for Clapton. In August 1990, his manager and two of his roadies (along with fellow musician Stevie Ray Vaughan) were killed in a helicopter accident. Seven months later, on March 20, 1991, Clapton’s four-year-old son Conor died after falling from the 53rd-floor window of his mother’s friend’s New York City apartment. He landed on the roof of an adjacent four-story building.  After isolating himself for a period, Clapton began working again, writing music for a movie about drug addiction called Rush. Clapton dealt with the grief of his son’s death by co-writing “Tears in Heaven” with Will Jennings.

Here’s Tears in Heaven.  Please stop whatever you are doing now and play this video.  In under 5 minutes it demonstrates the power of the saying from Henry David Thoreau, the American author and poet – “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”.

And going back to that WikiPedia entry

In an interview with Daphne Barak, Clapton stated, “I almost subconsciously used music for myself as a healing agent, and lo and behold, it worked… I have got a great deal of happiness and a great deal of healing from music“.

Eric Clapton

Let me close with another saying, this time from George Moore, the novelist, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”