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Sunday, 28 December 2014

Curtiosity about arts, culture and science

Yet another set of unused epigraphs!

Piero della Francesca painted
himself in his Resurrection, in
which he is the guard with a goitre

The division of our culture is making us more obtuse than we need be: we can repair communications to some extent: but, as I have said before, we are not going to turn out men and women who understand as much of their world as Piero della Francesca did of his, or Pascal, or Goethe. With good fortune, however, we can educate a large proportion of our better minds so that they are not ignorant of the imaginative experience, both in the arts and in science, nor ignorant either of the endowments of applied science, of the remediable suffering of most of their fellow humans, and of the responsibilities which, once seen, cannot be denied.
— C. P. Snow (1905 - 1980), The Two Cultures: a Second Look, 1963.

What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all works of art which preceded it.
— T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965

There is a likeness between the creative acts of the mind in art and in science. Yet, when a man uses the word science in such a sentence, it may be suspected that he does not mean what the headlines mean by science.
— Jacob Bronowski (1908 -  ), Science and Human Values, Julian Messner, 1956.

What is the insight with which the scientist tries to see into nature? Can it indeed be called either imaginative or creative? To the literary man the question may seem merely silly. He has been taught that science is a large collection of facts; and if this is true, then the only seeing which scientists need to do is, he supposes, seeing the facts.
— Jacob Bronowski (1908 -  ), Science and Human Values, Julian Messner, 1956.

. . if science were a copy of fact, then every theory would be either right or wrong, and would be so forever. There would be nothing left for us to say but that this is so or not so. No one who has read a page by a good critic or a speculative scientist can ever again think that this barren choice of yes or no is all that the mind offers.
— Jacob Bronowski (1908 -  ), Science and Human Values, Julian Messner, 1956.

There should be no honours for the artist; he has already, in the practice of his art, more than his share of the rewards of life; the honours are pre-empted for other trades, less agreeable and perhaps more useful.
— Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 - 1894), Letter to a Young Gentleman.

When I find myself in the company of scientists, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of dukes.
— W. H. Auden (1907 - ), 'The Poet and the City', in The Dyer's Hand, Faber, 1963, p. 81.

Couldn't spot Piero above? Here
he is, and the goitre is the lump
in his throat.
At one time, the state of culture in Czechoslovakia was described, rather poignantly, as a 'Biafra of the spirit'. . . I simply do not believe that we have all lain down and died. I see far more than graves and tombstones around me. I see evidence of this in . . . expensive books on astronomy printed in a hundred thousand copies (they would hardly find that many readers in the USA) . . .
— Vaclav Havel, Czech playwright (and later president), 'Six asides about culture' in Living in Truth, Faber 1989, pp. 124-5.
Science is part of culture. Culture isn't only art and music and literature, it's also understanding what the world is made of and how it functions. People should know something about stars, matter and chemistry. People often say that they don't like chemistry but we deal with chemistry all the time. People don't know what heat is, they hardly know what water is./I'm always surprised how little people know about anything. I'm puzzled by it.
— Max Perutz, quoted in New Scientist 26 June 1993, 31.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

A merry Christmas to all my readers

 To begin on a cheery note to expunge the sugar-frosted saccharine:

Gruesome enough?  You want more?  OK, here's something I just threw into the Facebook mix:

Carpe fortuna*

The finest perfumes in the land
Will make some noses runny;
The dinner that the hawk has planned
Is bad news for the bunny.

Fortune can be cool or hot,
When there's a chance, just grab it.
Your lucky rabbit's foot was not
So lucky for the rabbit.

* That's Latin for the lucky fish, I think. 

OK, enough grue.  A couple of years back, I offered an insight into Christmas in Australia, one that went to air about 20 years ago, but here's one in verse. If you are from the northern hemisphere, you may understand it better if you look at the link first.

Christmas breakfast 2010

Christmas breakfast

The Christmas morning track,
Has birds that whirl and screech;
It winds around the hill,
And plummets to the beach.

White Christmas doesn't suit us,
But summer Yule is neat,
When we go dressed for summer,
In sunhats and bare feet.

No snow, no sleet no gales,
water dragon
No dreadful raging blizzards —
We wish to wander bushland,
Filled full with birds and lizards.

With water dragons sunning
And goannas shyly hiding,
The butcherbirds in song
And kookaburras gliding.

We dabble in the shallows
And eat and drink our fill
If I could have my druthers,
I think we'd be there still.

Our Christmas skies are blue skies
They're never, ever, grey,
But walking up the bush track
It feels like Christmas day.

The Christmas morning track,
Brings simple things in reach
It winds around the hill,
But my heart's back on the beach.

* * * * * * *

As my favourite Australian carol, one that I quoted in that radio talk, has it:

The north wind is tossing the leaves,
Sydney, 8 am, a few years back
The red dust is over the town;
The sparrows are under the eaves,
And the grass in the paddock is brown.

If you Google the first line, you can find one rather awful version on Youtube.

Afterthought: or if you are lucky, you may hit upon this version, which my good friend, Robin Carroll-Mann found for me. Thanks, Robin!

Merry Christmas all, and if you are tucking into venison, please check its provenance.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Kids and lambs

I may have mentioned that I have just switched over to a new computer and Windows 8.1 — and this in the midst of checking page proofs of a new book, doing an index and stuff like that.  Life has been just a bit frantic.

Along the way, I found a file of lost verse, so for the first time since my Young Idiot's Guide to Opera, I will offer some rhymes.

I recall, one winter's day,
Our mothers sent us out to play
And we took off our hats and coats
To romp among the sheep and goats.

Our mothers had gone out to paint
The scene, but one fell in a faint.
The other mothers brought her round,
And that was when we children found

She thought it made us all look cheap
To frolic with the goats and sheep.
She wanted us, midst rocks and greenery
To blend in with the painters' scenery.

When faced with such artistic needs,
Obedient youngsters shape their deeds.
We children gave our solemn word
That we'd be scene but never herd.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Curtiosity about population

I have been up to my neck in work and also in taming a new computer, so here's something I prepared earlier.

But far more numerous was the herd
— John Dryden

Lemmings go over cliffs, we move to town.
— Lewis Thomas, The Fragile Species, Collier Macmillan, 1992, 100.

Populations, when unchecked, increase in a geometrical ratio.  Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio.
— Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population Growth as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society.

Personally I come more and more to believe in decentralization and small-scale ownership of land and means of production.  The trouble is that, in an over-populated country like Britain, this is only partially feasible.  Mass production, coupled with mass regimentation, for export in exchange for food seems to be the ineluctable destiny of those who have made Malthus's nightmare come true.
— Aldous Huxley, letter to Harold Raymond (Chatto and Windus) from California, 1945, Letters of Aldous Huxley, Chatto and Windus, 1969, p. 465.

Every moment dies a man,
  Every moment one is born
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892), The Vision of Sin, 1842.

Every moment dies a man,
  Every moment 1 1/16 is born
— Charles Babbage (1792 - 1871)

Until the 1940s, malaria was endemic in Ceylon . . . despite a high birth rate, for centuries the population has been stabilised and enervated by the mosquito. . . the population doubled in thirty years, with resultant problems of unemployment, inadequate social services, food shortages.
— Arthur C. Clarke, The View from Serendip, Gollancz, 1978, pp. 127-128.

The primary requirement for a stable human ecosystem is stabilization of human numbers.  This is something much more than the conventional aim of family planning, which is that every family should have the children they want, when they want them.  It means that at some point it becomes obligatory that each generation replaces itself and no more, that the average number of live births per woman during her lifetime shall be two plus a fraction (probably between 0.3 and 0.9) to allow for couples who are non-fertile, and for childhood deaths.
— Macfarlane Burnet, Dominant Mammal, Heinemann 1970, 129.

There is no getting away from it.  It is technically possible to carry out the scientific revolution in India, Africa, South-East Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, within fifty years.  There is no excuse for Western man not to know this.  And not to know that this is the one way out through the three menaces which stand in our way — H-bomb war, over-population, the gap between the rich and the poor.  This is one of the situations where the worst crime is innocence.
— C. P. Snow (1905 - 1980), The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, Rede Lecture, 1959.