Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Copper of Darkest Ohio


The pure abstract maths emerges from reality through understanding.
Tonight I'm going shooting with my 70 year old ex-copper neighbour. He's a member of the Sywell rifle club, which confusingly enough shoots in Wellingborough in the winter. Mike has some interesting stories, twice he was first on scene for a murder. As a traffic cop he held several people as they died. He remembers telling one young man the truth, that he was going to die, and it seemed to bring him peace. What hard things to have seen.

My only interesting recent copper story is from my visit to The Mosaic Experiment this summer, in darkest Ohio. It was actually October, but when it wasn't raining it was glorious sun. Summer's last hurrah. We were deep in Amish country, un-made up roads and horse and buggies everywhere. The festival itself was in an old strip mine, fields of razor grass cut into the countryside and only used for extravagant parties and boy scout expeditions.

The friends I'd come to see were on the DWP, the Department of Work and Pensions that organised the whole affair. As I'd miscalculated and ended up with a day extra to kill after the event I hung around and helped with the tear down. After packing up one of the trailers we drove a few miles to a storage locker in a nearby town. To bring extra bodies for shifting the gear I followed the trailer in the silver Chevy Camero I'd accidentally rented. On the way back from unloading everything we stopped for gas and jerky and red bull. We must have been quite the sight, a minor horde of hippies descending upon the gas station from a trailer and sports car. After we left the gas station it seems a cop car was following us.

In following the trailer back I rolled through a stop sign and the first I was aware of the cop car was the flashing blue lights in the rear view mirror. I pulled over and sighed, not as heavily as the hippy next to me sighed. I wound down the car window and the copper approached me. The boys from the trailer, including the kilted hero of the DWP Neight Belarpin who was concerned about the welcome his country was giving to his guest. (And it was a kilt, he proved it to me by way of first greeting.) The copper leaned in and he looked scared. This was a routine traffic stop and he looked frightened. I had nothing to fear, more or less, and I know how to handle frightened people. You smile at them and remain really calm, showing them there is nothing to fear in you and you aren't afraid of them. I also have the great advantage, when dealing with Americans, that I can do a personable impression of a posh English accent. Americans love it. I look like a ruffian but I sound posh, which in a semi-formal situation throws most people off. A fact I'm happy to take advantage of at every opportunity, nobody thinks I'm posh at home. I showed the policeman the respect his position meant he was due and he grudgingly became polite and respectful too and visibly more relaxed. Despite taking twenty minutes to run my passport he didn't write me up for the traffic violation and we were on our way again.

What I didn't discover until we caught up with the boys was that when the copper made the approach to my window, just below my line of sight, he had his gun drawn. He was tooled up for a traffic violation! Something had him scared. My guess is that they really don't like hippies down in Amish country.


"If you aspire to anything, aspire to great love. Just because why not? If you thought you could wouldn't you want to?"

Monday, 20 November 2017

Positive Nihiliam: A Fallback Philosophy

In my youth I was troubled by an unbearable desire. In the years since I have learned to bear it.
Assuming God, for merely a moment, and if we accept that God didn't create herself, then the question of who created God - of why anything exists at all - simply cannot be answered. Like a child any answer you might think of can simply be responded to with "but why?". In the end we have to admit we have no idea because there can't be an answer. Why anything exists at all must forever be a complete mystery. As far as I can tell even God can't know because there can't be an answer. It just is.

This reminds me of the lovely philosophy Positive Nihilism. It's not necessarily the philosophy I ascribe to, although I think it may be possible to prove that it's functionally equivalent to the philosophy I do ascribe to. Positive Nihilism does however make a good fallback philosophy, even if you question everything else this is still true. If there's no inherent meaning or purpose in life then the only possible meaning and purpose is the meaning and purpose we create. If the meaning we create is the only possible meaning then that is complete and real, it's as real as it's possible to find.

In discussing this with Delia she pointed to Benjamin and said this is her meaning. And indeed that is meaning and purpose that Delia created, meaning and purpose literally grew inside her.

Benjamin is a little havoc-monger. Honestly, the world doesn't know what's going to hit it with that one. And he loves to hug. Tell me there's not meaning and purpose right there.

Irina does not love to hug. Sometimes she'll let me hug her, mostly if I can arrange it subtly so she can pretend she hasn't noticed I'm hugging her. Carrying her to and from school is the best excuse I've found so far for a long cuddle. Irina can be quite intimidating. She's going to be loved from afar by a lot of people who don't dare talk to her...

The question of free will has similarities to the question of meaning in life. The fundamental nature of reality is chaos and uncertainty, with a few simple principles of natural law that permit existence to blossom (and no-one knows why). Because true randomness exists, and we have no conception of any mechanism of natural law that would permit the perception of free will that we have, it is functionally impossible to distinguish between randomness plus the mere operation of natural law and true free will. So if it's impossible to distinguish then "do we have free will?" becomes another question that actually has no possible answer. So not worrying about it seems to be the only reasonable course of action available to us. If free will is an illusion then the perception of free will is the only possible definition of choice we can have, and if it's as much as we can have then we already have it all.

Love love, hate hate and kill death. Be happy about happiness and sad about sadness, depressed about depression. Worry at worry and give fear something to be afraid of. Be angry at anger and horrified at horror. 
Experience the full range of human emotions yet remain unperturbed, at peace. Mind as a still lake, reflecting what it sees.

Wuthering Drunks

To all who I once loved, and who once loved me. I still love you. I mourn and I grieve for the ones I have lost.
I've had a funny relationship with alcohol, by which I mean I'm not convinced I like it very much. I've been drunk, good and roaring drunk, once in the last twenty or so years. It was great fun.

The trouble is that I don't like being a bit drunk, my head gets a bit slippy-slidy and my stomach complains. Unfortunately it's pretty difficult to get from sober to very drunk without going through the "a bit drunk" phase. I usually try and pace myself so I don't get too drunk and end up not-very-drunk-at-all. Which isn't so bad.

The time I managed to get roaring drunk was at a conference social gathering in Poland. I was with friends but I wasn't feeling very sociable. The conference organisers had laid on drinks, which mostly meant vodka. The Polish like vodka. They were serving it in shots with a dollop of raspberry coulis at the bottom, so after knocking back the shot the last taste on your tongue is a lovely raspberry taste. A high enough dose consumed quickly enough is in fact the way you go from sober to roaring drunk without going through the "a bit drunk" phase.

After that I roared around town with some friends and rolled into bed around four in the morning. The next day I was speaking at the conference in the morning. I remember trying to sleep at the back of the talk before mine. I also remember walking up to the front of the conference room desperately trying to get my laptop in some vague kind of order as I was about to start my talk. I have no recollection of how the talk went.

The very first time I got drunk was at the age of seventeen when I was in sixth form. I was on an English trip to Haworth, Bronte country in the Yorkshire moors. We were studying Wuthering Heights and the moors wuthered appropriately as we walked across them. On the first evening myself and about fifteen young women went and found a pub. As a general rule the further north you get the friendlier people get. Right up until Scotland as the Romans discovered, which is why we have Hadrian's wall. I was very surprised by how friendly the greeting was from the locals when we arrived at the pub, leaving me with such a good impression of the Yorkshire community. It was only many years later that it occurred to me that maybe the men in the pub were particularly friendly to us because about fifteen seventeen year old girls (and me) had just walked into the pub.

I drank what seemed like vast quantities of malibu and pineapple which the girls introduced me to, most being more proficient drinkers than I. It's a drink I'm fond of to this day. After getting pleasantly drunk together we walked back to the youth hostel arm in arm.

The second time I got drunk was the only time I've been blind drunk. Alas the many times I got drunk at college I could always remember in all too clear detail exactly what I'd done. Blackouts would have been a mercy. As well as downing a pint of wine, slower than my friend unfortunately, I also drank whisky and cider mixed together. It's about as pleasant as you might imagine and it was many years before I could bear cider again.

I've struggled to appreciate whisky for decades now. Scotch always tasted burny and medicinal, but many of my good friends whom I respect appreciate it so I kept trying. And failing. I finally found a way in via bourbon, which is like scotch except for the not tasting like poison part. And now my repertoire has extended a bit, I've found non-peaty scotch that I can bear and I'm fond of Irish whisky. So there you go. I can almost say I like whisky now.



Car conversation.
Me: looking at traffic and quoting Kurt Vonnegut, there's too many of us and we're too far apart. 
Delia: it's true, we're all so separated by our own stories. 
Me: the trick is to tell your story, then the stories mix.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Short Meditations IV: Romance, Telepathy, Intuition and the Pain at the Centre of the Heart

Gravity waves exist. The thunderclap of creation that resonate across infinity.

Romance

I'm not a great believer in romance. Now hold on a minute before you decide "poor Delia", although for all I care you've already decided that anyway.

What I mean is this. I don't think romance exists as a separate or distinct aspect of life. I think romance is, at heart, the warm, affectionate, friendly and intimate display of love. The demonstration that you really know and care about another person.

To couple that with the expectation of sex, or even merely to place it in that context, and therefore to limit it only to relationships of that nature is a great and unnecessary limitation. Be warm and affectionate with everyone you care about, and care about as many people as you are able.

Of course, those you know the most deeply and those with whom you share the deepest intimacies, these you can share the most beautiful romance with.

Telepathy

Telepathy exists, but it's possibly not what you think.

Ever been with someone you know really well, and you go into a situation that is familiar to you. Maybe something you've discussed or that you're both involved with. And you look at them and you know exactly what they're thinking. And they look at you back, they know exactly what you're thinking too. You both smile.

There you go, telepathy. You both know each others' minds. (Non-verbal communication would be an equally fair, and probably more acceptable to most of my friends, description.)

Of course it can happen at a distance too, maybe over the internet (I bet I know what some of you are thinking when you read this!). And of course it is something you can be wrong about. No certainties.

And a further thought for the Star Trek fans, yes this means empathy is the root of telepathy.

We can understand each other, we can know one anothers' hearts and minds. We can even be unified without having to agree with each other about everything so long as we can accept the differences between ourselves. If we can get there we can act as one body with many members, all different.

Intuition

Intuition is a subconscious response to stimuli (including thought processes) you're not consciously aware of. You become aware of the response without necessarily being consciously aware of where it comes from.

Just because something comes from intuition doesn't mean you're right.

Memories

I feel a bit like my life is The Butterfly Effect movie, but exactly the opposite way round. Which is why I like the movie I think.

Through my memories and who I am, it feels like I can feel pretty much the whole of the arc and sweep of my life going right back to when my memories first began when we moved into a new house in Macclesfield at the age of four. The stairs with no carpet on, the unfamiliar smell in the new bedroom that had Noah's Ark wallpaper and 1970's orange deep pile carpet. Maybe even extending a little prior to that as I have one island of vivid memories from just before I was two, when I went with my Dad on a plane to visit my grandparents in London.

But although I can feel my own personal history, and how it has shaped and weathered me, as I remember back my mind inevitably reaches for what seems like a finite (but large) particular set of memories. Those memories of specific times and places and incidents, both good and bad, are treasured possessions. They contain warmth and laughter and feelings and pain as well of course. It's where many of my best and dearest friends live.

Those memories contain wrapped up and in varying degrees of association my perception of what it was like to be me, how I thought and who I was and how that has become who I am. But beyond these specific clouds of memories it's all quite fuzzy and reaching out to remember new things, that feel forgotten, is hard although sometimes not impossible.

So my life is like the Butterfly Effect, but instead of jumping back into those pools of memories and changing things my life jumps and flows out of them. As I remember and understand who I am, as I make sense of my life, more of me is uncovered and alive. My past, past times and past people, is still who I am and there's still more to be found.

Judging and Discerning

There's a difference between judging and discerning. Judging is making assumptions without really looking, discerning is looking to see. To discern, to understand by perceiving. What a lovely word.

Judging people is making assumptions about who they are without really seeing who they are. Life is so much more fun when you don't, because you're almost always wrong (me too!) and actually seeing people is great because people are so lovely. There is not much better in life really.

It's really hard not to make assumptions. The trick, as with everything really, is to hold them lightly always being willing to be wrong. Actually look and see. But it goes a step beyond just seeing, it's what you assume about what you see too. If you see "problems" in people, and everyone has problems, what conclusions does it lead you to? The right answer should usually be "none, no conclusions", because people are extraordinarily complex and really understanding them is difficult. To really understand you need to give people space to unfold so you can see what lies beneath the surface.

You can only see deeply if you're able to let go of assumptions, and the further in you can see the more of them you can love and the more you can reflect people back to themselves. This gives people the opportunity to see themselves. Everyone wants to see themselves, we look for ourselves in other people. This is why judging people is so damaging, they look for themselves and we reflect back judgement "who you are is unacceptable". That doesn't help people change, it makes them worse. Instead tell people that who they are is good and you like them, that helps. We can be such faithless mirrors, unsure of ourselves and so unwilling to reflect back the beauty we think we may see. 

One thing to remember, as hard as it can be, is that people's behaviour always makes sense to them (or can be made sense of even if they don't understand their own behaviour), as in the behaviour comes from somewhere. From their particular experience and context and current capacity, who they are and what they do it can be understood. It is possible to understand the why, even if not the deeper reasons behind that. It's possible to see the pressures and pains that led someone into a situation, a way of being or a course of action. This is empathy, understanding without blaming. Even when people do objectively bad things, damaging to themselves and others. Being able to see things from someone else's point of view is a precious gift. Strive for it.

This is why I find the words of Jesus on the cross so hauntingly beautiful: "Father forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing". He didn't judge them.

But telling people they're wrong doesn't help. Pretty much everyone will respond with "no you're wrong". It's a basic psychological defence and the cause of tribalism.

Instead we can generate enough light that everyone can see the effects of their actions and attitudes, and then they have the genuine chance to change. 

The only way I know how to generate light is to be on fire. We need an enormous great fire. And then the darkness simply cannot stand. 

Which of your inherited prejudices are you not willing to drop in order to be able to love and accept people as they are? 

This is why most churches accepting gay marriage is inevitable. As the reality of married gay couples attending churches becomes more common Christians will be faced more directly with the stark reality of accepting people as they are or being unable to love them. And most people are genuine and will want to love people, so they will change. They will be afraid to change at first, but as more and more people are willing to speak out it will just become normal and eventually we won't be able to imagine thinking any different (how could we have been so cruel?).

At the moment many churches simply don't have out gay couples and people are free to hold onto old beliefs without being directly confronted with the harm it does. 

The tide of history has already turned. As a society we now know that same sex love is real love and is normal, both in nature and in humans. So the question for Christians today is simply this, which side of history do you want to be on, how do you want your legacy to be seen? Which is more important to you, the old way of seeing things or the reality of being able to love and accept people?

Understanding without Blaming

There is one situation in particular where applying understanding without blame, along with viewing behaviour through the lense of struggle for survival as base motivation, is useful. The Israeli - Palestine situation. Wherever you stand on this issue, and I have opinions, it is hard to deny that there is a lot of hatred in the world for Jews and Israel.

It isn't very hard to see why Israelis feel like they have reason to fear a people group who have sworn by word and deed to destroy them (and yes balance of power and proportionality are relevant but we're looking from a particular perspective). Do you acknowledge Israel's right to exist? If not why should they listen to you at all, and in fact why shouldn't they see you as an enemy? Maybe that doesn't worry you because you feel like the emnity is justified. That's a valid position to take if you feel that way of thinking works.

Looking at, God save us, the political reality of change it seems to me more likely that first acknowledging Israel's right to exist before telling them how wrong they're doing it is possibly a good start. Survival will not be a negotiable card for the Israelis, that will come before any other consideration. So if you try to withhold acknowledging their right to exist as a negotiation tactic (or create that perception from their perspective) you automatically create a deadlock. They will not move from that unless survival itself dictates it.

So you can possibly change things by war.

Political correctness will say that because this isn't the conclusion we want to reach (that we should understand Israel) it is morally wrong to pursue lines of thought that might lead us to that conclusion.

To put things another way, if you're able to make people feel secure in who they are and that you're not a threat to their existence then they are much more likely to see their own behaviour from your perspective. If you seem like an existential threat then any effort is justified in eliminating your perspective from their thinking.

The Pain at the Centre of the Heart

Over the weekend I recalled, for the first time in possibly decades, the poetical explorations of my teen years. Thankfully no evidence survives.The theme of those poems was inevitably "the pain at the centre of the heart", which tells you something of my teenage years whilst also being startlingly far from unique.

My thought at that time was that the path to ecstasy was only through the pain at the centre of the heart as despite the pain ecstasy can only possibly be found at the centre of the heart. It seemed to me then that pain at the centre of the heart was the essence of the human experience. Therefore I guarded my pain jealously, as a nursing mother, for it was precious to me.

And now? I'm not so sure. I certainly know a heck of a lot less than I did when I was a teenager...

As a codicil, I did actually find an alternative route to ecstatic experience. That didn't really end too well for me.

How much it hurts and how barely I can feel it. The pain at the centre of the heart.


And Then There are Legends

And then there are the legends of Cthulu. That the creators of our universe are an ancient, malevolent, race of vast and supernatural beings called the Old Ones that now sleep. There are magickal rites that can awaken the Old Ones, Cthulu amongst them. If wakened Cthulu (The Flying Spaghetti Monster) will devour the universe. 

So messing around with the occult, performing strange rites not understood, may wreak not only your own destruction but destroy the universe. Some men only want to watch the world burn. This is the magick of the death cults, not black magick but death magick.

So if we are to permit legends to have life, to breath life into myth within our very selves, then maybe we risk everything. Maybe we breath life into these legends too and we risk finding the Old Ones, or making them within ourselves. 

If we do, together, create our own reality and the collective life of our unconscious fearful dreaming can tap the subconscious power of the psyche both individually and collectively, then maybe we risk unleashing the forces capable of consuming us that are currently held in check by our rigid unbelief. 

Maybe merely having this thought is enough for it to begin to happen. Perhaps an ancient evil is already stirring from its slumber. 

Maybe.

Maybe we risk unleashing all hell. But being real for a minute, isn't that already the case? Isn't hell real and isn't it all around us, haven't we all seen it and feared it and haven't some of us been there.

Maybe locking these things out of our conscious minds, our internal reality, and shutting them away deep in our subconscious forces them to be manifest in our external reality. What you won't give conscious expression to will have unconscious expression. If we won't face the horror within ourselves then maybe life will present it to us anyway.

Maybe the worst evils can only have life in us to the extent that we are willing to give ourselves over to evil. The more aware of ourselves we are, in spirit and in truth, the more light we are willing to let in and the more of ourselves we are willing to face, then the more we are able to use our will and determine to be good and to cast evil from us. Maybe we're good and not evil and evil has no place amongst us. 
James 4:7 Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Mindfulness

On the "mindfulness of breathing" meditation, which I learned more than twenty years ago from Buddhists in the (as it was then called) Friends of the Western Buddhist Order community in Cambridge. I've meditated intermittently ever since, but for about the last seven years or so I've meditated for an hour almost every day. 

Mindfulness as taught by the Buddha is the deliberate practise of learning to still the mind. In trying to focus only on the breath, the ephemeral and fluid and impermanent but very real breath, you have to learn to let go of other distractions of body and mind and soul. It turns out that practising letting go of things is both very pleasant and very healthy. 

There comes a distinct point, which the Buddha called Jhana or Dhyana and which I've only reached a handful of times and not for a while now, where you've pushed all other distractions aside so far that they don't come back. All there is is the breath, flow state, time stops, you are completely relaxed but completely alert at the same time. Usually just realising it's happening is enough to snap you out of it, and then you realise you have absolutely no idea how long you were doing it for. 

Someone described it as "stepping back into the garden of your mind". Apt. And to continue the metaphor, tending the garden is exactly the same work as merely settling back to enjoy the garden.

Frosina Fecoriu

Delia's grandmother, Frosina, was an interesting woman. She was a subsistence farmer in Romania, living in a two room cottage with no running water. She had a well, but no toilet, into her nineties. She was 94 when she died in 2014, still drawing water by hand from her well.

She got up and went to bed with the sun, kept chickens and ducks on the farm, and pooped in a hole she dug in a field in a new place every few days. Delia developed an abiding hatred for duck from the tough and fatty duck meat that her grandmother would cook only once their laying lives were long past them. Much to my chagrin as duck is one of my favourite meats.

When we went to Romania after getting married Frosina presented us with a live chicken as a gift, which my father in law put in a plastic bag in the back of the car. When we got home we opened the boot and saw a shredded plastic bag and a very indignant chicken. My father in law took the chicken away discretely and we ate roast chicken for dinner.

Frosina was a hardy old soul though, tired of life and ready to go many years before she did. She brought Delia up every summer. Delia, a cousin and an auntie (all similar ages although Delia's auntie is slightly younger than her) would stay at the farm all summer and roam free in the countryside whilst her grandmother worked the land. They all slept in the same bed, so if one of them peed the bed at night which would sometimes happen, they got to argue over who it was.

Most families in the village had a cow and every day one family from the village would take the cows out to graze and bring them home again. Delia remembers helping her grandmother bring the cows in when it was their turn, each cow knew which house was home at as they led them through the village.

Horror

One of the reasons I like mild horror, like Stranger Things, is for the same reason I like halloween. It is a little bit spooky and a little bit scary, and yet whilst watching or participating we know it is entirely safe to be a little bit scared because we also know it is completely made up. Not real at all. We can enjoy the feeling of being a little bit scared, because we can just stop at any point, and in this way we teach ourselves not to be scared of these things and not to be afraid of being afraid. It's fun and interesting as well. You can weave some really interesting stories, strolling through some of the stranger possibilities of imagination, when you're not afraid to explore.

In my experience knowing how to not believe in scary things, like by switching off the TV, is a very useful psychological trick to have up your sleeve. Being able to switch off and shut things out like that, if not over used, is a useful coping technique for some of the scarier aspects of life that your imagination might present to you.


"Those who love, even though they are in pain. Those who forgive from the heart even though they hurt. This is the most exquisite of beauty, and yet it is all around us if you care to look."

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Social Evolution and the Struggle for Survival

Socialism isn't something you believe in, it's something you do.
The lense of "struggle for survival as base imperative for behaviour and therefore character" provides an interesting perspective on the topic of social evolution. It particularly sheds light on what some call the patriarchy and I, perhaps controversially, think is a more general manifestation of authoritarianism perpetuated and participated in by both men and women (although benefiting men for reasons explored below) and which is at its root the rule of force.

Conforming to societal norms is a survival trait. When individual survival depends on the protection of the community, being perceived as a member of the community becomes a necessity. As a psychological trait, beliefs and attitudes that we require in order to survive we take on and identify with, they become our values and part of our character. Therefore we perpetuate those social norms in our attitudes and behaviour as it becomes part of our understanding of the world and how we, and other people, ought to behave. We all do what we have to in order to survive, and it does terrible things to some people and causes them to do terrible things. Who someone has become is often traceable, and understandable, through coping in the face of the struggle to survive.

For early humanity life was savage and brutal. In actual fact modern life is only a little less savage but we have a more sophisticated jungle and hide our savagery behind complex social structures so as not to have to look at it. Survival depending on hunting and survival skills, which in no small measure on brute strength. On average men are stronger than women. Especially a woman with a child would find it hard to survive without the protection of a man, particularly for protection from other men who were the product of brutal times. So the harsh and unpleasant reality for women was that the men were in charge because they were stronger and women needed their protection.

So as society grew, groups gathering together for mutual protection and a shared sense of identity, the men were in charge and the strongest man would have overall control.

As an aside on matriarchies, wikipedia has the following (unreferenced) to say "Most anthropologists hold that there are no known anthropological societies that are unambiguously matriarchal, but some authors believe exceptions may exist or may have".

When the shift from hunter gather to agragrian societies was made, marking the start of the bronze age, mere survival did not occupy the full capacity of a small community and there was time and space for social, intellectual and technological progress including the establishment of basic economic principles that enabled us to move beyond barter. The great advantage humanity has over other creatures, what makes us the apex predator, is our capacity to pass on knowledge from generation to generation and based on reason and understanding grow what is now a vast and unimaginably complex corpus of knowledge about the operation of the world and how to not just survive but thrive.

More complex societies, say ancient Greek or Roman civilizations, were still built on force and men still had an iron grip on authority through force but for a privileged few there was time to think about life and how society could best organize. There was some quality philosophising done in this time, off the back of a brutal system of slavery and misogyny, but progress and social evolution nonetheless and democracy was the outcome.

We moved from a system of rule of force to the rule of law. The full humanity and intellectual capacity of women, equal to or surpassing that of man, started to be recognised societally and the concept of rights came into being. The rule of law was still backed by force, but vested in a portion of society dedicated to peace keeping and preventing crime.

The rule of law enables a peaceful society and further technological progress provides more space for reason and understanding. And the rest as they say is history.

The patriarchy, the current cultural norm that places behavioural expectations on people based on perceived gender, arose as a natural consequence of social evolution from a starting base of savagery and the rule of force. But we're done with that, we've moved beyond the need for it and we know better. At least I hope we do.

"Under the precise circumstances of your genetic and cultural inheritance and the specifics of your current situation, your behaviour is completely normal. You're still able to be aware of behaviour patterns, good or bad, and able to choose to change them."

A Cheesy Article About My Cat Rosie and the Animal Nature

It seems to me that we're all about as well as can be expected given the circumstances.
Rosie has good taste. I share with her a passion for cheese. Amongst our favourite cheeses are Parmesan and Cambozola.

I've always loved dogs, we had a beautiful golden blonde slender golden retriever called Toffee when I was a child (a slightly tragic story that I may tell sometime) who loved me and whom I loved with all my heart. It was only when I was in my forties that I discovered I'm really a cat person. That shouldn't really have come as a surprise, did I ever mention that I'm a Leo born in the year of the Tiger, but it did.

If treated with love, dogs offer unconditional love and loyalty which is truly lovely. Historically cats were domesticated much more recently than dogs, so within the bounds of understanding that all generalizations are wrong (including that one) cats are much closer to their animal nature than dogs. In general cats value respect and your relationship with them is on their terms. Understanding this they can still love and be loved, knowing that we too are animals and love is as much a biological mechanism for us as it is for them. Winning the heart of a dog is easy and lovely, but winning the heart of a cat means something.

How Rosie came to be my cat is an interesting tale that I love to tell. Delia wanted us to get a kitten as she thought Irina would love having a pet. I didn't want a pet as having a pet immediately places a burden on activities like going away, but I relented. Rosie was the runt of the litter and was picked on by all her siblings and her mother, so she came to us as a little 'fraidy-cat afraid of sudden movements. So Rosie was terrified of Irina and wouldn't let her near her. Much to Irina's heartbreak. Then Delia, who was already disgusted with Rosie, fell pregnant with Benjamin and couldn't go near Rosie. To this poor creature, who I hadn't even wanted, I became her only friend in the world.

Bringing soul healing to a cat is hard, but not impossible. Their minds are simpler than humans, so easier to understand, but they're also very different to humans which makes them harder to understand. I see her character through the lense of her being a savage animal with the struggle to survive as a base imperative around which her personality has formed. She was traumatised at an early age by being exposed to raw savagery, of which she understandably became very afraid. As an animal her base nature is savagery, so she was afraid of herself, of her own nature and anything that might expose that nature. That makes everything harder. I understand what it is to be hurt and afraid of your own nature, and to build a personality (set of conditioned responses) around protecting my psyche from my own fear and pain.

My approach has been to be very calm with her and show genuine care. To allow her to approach, physically and emotionally, on her own terms. To find the place in her character where she is afraid, searching for it in her, and bringing calm to her. Alongside this I've searched out the place in her nature and being, where she is wild and savage. Where she is a killer. To understand the mind of a domestic cat is to understand the mind of a killer, a killer that tortures and partially eats her victims. I've shown her that I'm not afraid of her nature and that it's fine to be wild and to express wildness, that I like it and admire it but that it must be controlled and she cannot be cruel to my children (or to Sapphira). Rosie is now less of a 'fraidy-cat than she was and along the way she became my cat. Full-heartedly and beautifully my cat, and I'm her human.

Beyond the bounds of the house, my creature of the night is my eyes and ears. She hunts in the wild of this rural English village and she lives in a very different world to the one I inhabit. I try to see the world through her eyes and share with her how I see the world.

I also search out her intelligence and the limits of her intelligence. She still gets scared of her own reflection, thinking it is another cat. I doubt I will be able to demonstrate to her that it is just her reflection, that it is just her and have her understand that, but I don't think it can possibly do any harm to try. She is certainly intelligent, but it is cat intelligence not human intelligence. However, it still seems to me that the basic animal patterns of thinking I have discerned are still present within human intelligence, part of the animal nature of humans, but we have layered more sophisticated thinking around them and aren't normally aware of our own animal nature, thinking patterns and motivations. We like to think we're so very different from mere animals.

I learned to enjoy and express, under control, the raw savagery of my own nature through Krav Maga  and mindfulness meditation. I too am animal who must fight to survive.

My next challenge is to win the heart of a bearded dragon. I think I'm well on the way. I hope to inspire visions of fire breathing dragons with which Sapphira can keep Rosie at bay.  Rosie is an animal, she likes Sapphira but she will kill if she can. Just because she can. I show Sapphira the vulnerable aspects of Rosie's character so that Sapphira can stand her ground. We'll see how it works out.

"Ugliness cannot stand to see itself and would rather die. This is the lesson of Medusa. It's a shame they packaged the story in a feminine form, as the more normal feminine form is desire."

Monday, 13 November 2017

Parousia

If you treat me honourably I will feel a duty and compulsion to honour you. If you don't, I won't.
Here's an interesting thought to entertain. It's about the purported return of the Christ and the ultimate fulfilment of the Kingdom of Heaven, a belief central to Christianity including Progressive Christianity. So if you aren't willing to entertain this idea I'm going to assume you'll stop reading here and not feel the need to point out in the comments that you live your life to a different set of assumptions and explain why and how you misunderstand what I'm saying. If you wish to read anyway, please read it in in the spirit of "if it were true, how might it be true?". That's how I treat it anyway.

The premise of Christianity is that the victory is already won, that death is defeated because perfection itself was slain, thus fulfilling the law that there is a price to pay for evil, but perfect love could not die and yet lives.

The incarnation of perfect love, the personhood of love, rules in the heavenly realms but the victory is already won and we are merely in the endgame. The playing out of that endgame will see that rule extended to the earthly realms, culminating in the physical return of the Christ and the renewal of this earth. The new heavens and new earth that John spoke of in Revelation.
Revelation 21:1-4
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
So within Christianity the role of "the church" (those who love love and prize it above all things) is to manifest (make real) the rule of love. This engaging in "holy warfare", making love real, paves the way for the Parousia the "Second Coming".

Within worship we sense the presence of love amongst us, not merely within each individual but within the shared experience of love amongst us. We know the presence of the Christ in our midst.
Psalm 22:3 "You who are holy, enthroned in the praises of your people."
Sometimes rendered as "you inhabit the praises of your people". Right worship is the wild, abandoned adoration of love and it is the purest and strongest experience of love that I've ever found. The love of love itself.

So in worship we invoke the presence of love. In loving each other we have a shared experience of love, we can live in love. As we establish voluntary social structures where love is the rule, where love is the law, we make the rule of love real amongst us.

So in daily life we continue our worship. In as much as it is possible, and in as much as we are able, we invoke the presence of perfect love in all we do. A strong and tangible communal sense of the presence of God, of love amongst us and amidst us, is sometimes called "a visitation" in Christian terminology.

If our invocation of the Christ is strong enough, if the presence of the Christ is tangible amongst us both in life and worship, then we perform the invocation of the incarnation. The return of the Christ. We pave the way, we make straight the road. We live under and establish the rule of the Christ. This is the establishment of the New Age, the central theme of Christianity.

We join with all creation in longing for the fulfilment of our hope:
Romans 8:19 "For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed."
"The most important thing study can teach is just how much effort and breadth of understanding is needed to really know anything of substance."

Friday, 10 November 2017

Software Engineering Abstractions: Design and Testing



Note: this is the third article in a series. The two previous are:  


Back to the topic of abstractions and software engineering and thinking about the design of software and engineering systems. 

The art and science of Software Engineering is the developing of good abstractions that map well to the problem domain. A good way to create these is to let the abstractions, their shape and form, emerge from gradually solving aspects of the problem you are working on. If instead you design abstractions first, typically in a design phase prior to implementation, then you impose those abstractions onto the way you solve the problem. The way you look at the problem is the way you implement your solution. So when you look at the system, when you look at the problem you see your abstractions. If you design your abstractions at a high level up front then you really need to get them right. You need to properly understand the problem, and the details and shape of implementing that, before you start doing it.

But in practise, in the way software is written, you're going to be doing it bit by bit anyway. 

This is what I learned from and loved about Test Driven Development. I worked at a fully agile shop for four years and we religiously applied TDD and we included as an agile practise regular assessments of our structure and abstractions, how we modelled the problem domain. We kept checking if our current structure and model still mapped well to the problem domain and new parts of the problem domain we were expanding into. We included the cost of refactoring within the cost of other work we did.

The Test Driven approach, especially the test first aspect of it, encourages this kind of thinking. This thing that I am building right now, the way I'm changing the code right now, how should it look and what would be the best design. You think about each piece of your code in this way and write tests for this behaviour before you write the code. For experimental stuff where you don't know how to solve the problem without writing some code you "spike", you build one to solve the problem and then you throw it away and build a properly designed one based on your new understanding. We did this religiously. I'm not trying to convert you, I'll try and draw a lesson about design from it.

Note that this process is very agile. Changing your design is built into the process, and happens all the time, so it's not something too onerous. We have a shared understanding of the code, with different specialities and roles within the development team. We have a shared understanding of the design and we evolve that together. (In full agile pair programming is a great tool for building and working on that shared understanding. We did that for four years together.)

Your test system then becomes a great benefit and a great cost in this work. Your good tests, that test behaviour rather than implementation, and especially your functional and integration tests (depending on how you define these terms) are able to tell you when a refactoring is done - because starting the refactor causes them to fail and when behaviour is restored they pass again. Your bad tests that are too tightly coupled to the implementation (plus tests for specific units that have behavioural changes as part of the refactor) will fail and be expensive to fix. 

For many developers I know who learned testing and learned design processes through a test first approach, they eventually found that full TDD is too expensive to be practical in many places. Throwing away a spike for example is expensive. However if you learned the lessons around design thinking from TDD and you're clever and expressive in the tests that you do write (more black box tests, fewer white box tests) you can still use the design techniques you learned. Doing TDD in a disciplined way for a good period of time is still a great way to learn those lessons and burn them in.

Thinking about design, the shape and structure  and components of software is still thinking with and working on abstractions. 

Much of life is actually about thinking in abstractions. In basic approach there can be a big difference between allowing your abstractions to be formed through understanding, and trying to have an abstract understanding of abstractions (theory) and applying that. (The reality being that we all do both most of the time in different proportions depending on how much we've had a chance to learn and from where.) Let me give a practical example. From the sports world we have a concept of "a team". We also all have an idea of what it means to be "a team" in this context. Our understanding of what it means to be a team is the bundle of understanding that we label "sports team". What they actually are is a bunch of individuals with particular skills, playing together for money, and whole bunch of associated activity around that. So the concept is a way of modelling human behaviour. Given our understanding of the best way that teams work we are able to assess if any player is a good member of the team and knowing all the players we can assess the qualities of the team. 

The concept of the team is a useful abstraction for modelling and understanding behaviour and being able to predict and understand aggregate behaviour of a group of individuals. The concept of the team is a higher level abstraction for reasoning about more detailed behaviour of a whole group of individuals. It's not in itself "real", it's an abstract understanding of behaviour. An abstraction for thinking.

If the manager is a good manager they will understand that the important qualities of a team come from a shared sense of purpose, caring about the purpose and caring about each other. Humans like to do these things and it brings out the best in them. So a good manager will try to create an environment where that becomes possible.

A bad manager (and I'm only considering the extremes, it's a spectrum that everyone is on somewhere) will have a conception of how a team ought to behave. If that conception doesn't really map very well to how humans are actually able to behave then they will see "bad team members" who aren't fulfilling their role. In fact, if people don't fulfil their role then it's possible that the team processes and procedures don't really permit people to work at their best. A big part of that is down to the team members too. That culture where people can thrive requires people to be willing to really work together, and that requires being known. People can only be known if they feel and know that who they are will be accepted. That's a cultural issue and it takes work.

So the lesson here is that abstractions (and processes and procedures are abstractions and descriptions of the operation of abstractions) must map well to the best possible understanding of the actual situation. It's rare to be able to do that in the  abstract without actually being in the middle of the situation, as it were. So gradually and progressively as our understanding grows, considering our abstractions and being willing and able to change them is a good approach.

The progressive approach also works well for API design and feature design. My guiding principle is that simple things should be simple and complex things should be possible. This makes for APIs and features that are easy to use, but using the basic features exposes you to the concepts and abstractions you need to understand in order to be able to achieve more complex stuff. Using the API and product in basic ways is your tutorial on how to use it.

The nice thing is that you can retrofit this approach, or expand on what you have of this approach already, into an existing complex product or framework. Develop higher level abstractions, easier ways in, that map well to your existing concepts and tools. Allow the user to gradually expand their use of the product and in the process learn more of the key concepts they need in order to use the more powerful features. Then it becomes a fun product to use, instead of being confusing because of all the power and complexity, the product gradually reveals power and complexity whilst providing ways to understand and manage the complexity. 

Monday, 6 November 2017

An Account of a Curse

How sad, to fight so hard over so little when you have so much.
This article is one of a series on my experience of psychosis. The articles are:
My psychosis was a true madness, it felt like I was dying all the time, the life being squeezed and ripped from me. It was exacerbated by narcotics, but narcotics also offered some relief from the constant tension and at least I could actually feel whilst high. The real problem was fear and tension. Rooted in experiences of terror whilst fearing for my life (irrationally) whilst being bullied, and the course of events that followed on as a natural progression from that, I was afraid of life, of people, and unwilling and unable to face the reality of my situation as it unfolded.

In social situations I couldn't help but imagine people thinking the worst of me, this was my negative self image created and reinforced over the years due to the way I'd been treated by thoughtless and hurting people. Under internal tension I couldn't help but believe these thoughts, including the thoughts that I was under magickal attack from a Buddhist priest and his two young punk friends. A delusion starting whilst I was high.

Part of the problem was extreme sexual tension. I was in a small college, a situation frought with sexual tension, and I was desparately ashamed of being a virgin (just as I was desparately ashamed of much of my past). This caused a desperation within me, finding an outlet in pornography and excessive masturbation, which of course exacerbated the problem. I was so bound up with continual tension and fear that there was no prospect of actually having sex, and it certainly seemed like everyone around me could see this horrible conflict within me. A humiliating vicious circle.

The other aspect contributing to this is that, I'm afraid to say, Evangelical Christianity indoctrinates children to believe what they hear and to accept external authorities for truth. It also teaches that believing things is faith. So my mind was well practised at believing things. To be fair most other belief systems, including New Atheism, outsource authority on the nature of reality. This is how the power of suggestion works, a worldview that includes external sources of authority about the world teaches you to develop a habit of doing what you're told and believing what you're told. It's not impregnable, it is merely a habit.

Yet another aspect that affected me was the trauma of a waking sexuality. I didn't have many friends during adolescence and even fewer I could talk about such matters with. I discovered masturbation by "accident" and having been taught to fear sexuality I was afraid and ashamed of my own nature, particularly the power and strength of my own feelings which overwhelmed me and made it impossible to think. My early experiences of being paralysed by the feeling of being in love made it a repeatedly painful experience.

As the magickal delusion took a grip, under the extreme tension of a series of bad trips, I knew that the only reason it could happen was if I believed it. That was the only reality it could have, and yet I could see it happening and I didn't know how not to believe it.

This is why atheism is such an effective and popular psychological wall. Everyone sees the horror and the madness, amongst which I count the awful harm done by blind adherence to religion. A strong determination not to beleive in any of it is a strong and powerful wall against the madness and the evil it contains. I personally believe atheism is a reasonable response and view on the modern world and I don't blame anyone for thinking like that. Refusing to understand others who think differently, refusing to accept that their beliefs may be rational and reasoned based on their particular experiences and in mocking those beliefs in order to reinforce their own psychological defences, is however an awful aspect of atheism.

I'll recount two of the particular occassions I recall the delusion burying itself deeper in my mind. These are merely a choice selection of a couple of these occasions I remember, perhaps I'll recount the others too at some point. They are forever etched in my memory, no danger of forgetting. They don't paint a particularly flattering picture of me, but then none of that unholy mess does.

In the first incident I was in the room gifted to me by the Buddhist priest I thought was stealing my soul. I was in the thrall of terror, probably high at the time, lying in bed. I felt the horrible tension gripping me as it often did and unable to resist. The pressure tightened inside until I felt it as the shape of a child then an infant within me. The infant too slipped away under the grip of the curse. As it slipped away it occurred to me that this was a curse meaning the taking of my first born child (I had no children then). Naturally I believed that explanation. I suspect that the reality was that the tension, as it cut further into my subconscious memories, followed the shape of my memories of being a child. I have no conscious memories of being a baby though and I have no idea whether that is a plausible idea. I do know it was awful and also that it is gone. In the past.

The second was one of the occasions that I felt subject to magickal attack in the presence of my Buddhist friend and his punk compatriots. I was sitting in a chair in the grip of the paralysing tension, the freeze of the fight, freeze, flee impulse. The other occupants of the room were all knelt on the floor arranging crystals bought in bulk by the priest for the express purpose of magickal warfare and his dream of the time of a new generation of wizards taking over the world. I couldn't speak but sat rigidly still. As they gleefully created a mandala of crystals before me the tension cut deeper and deeper, seemingly pulled in by their mirth and the arrangement of crystals before me. It would be fair to say that it wasn't the most fun way to spend an evening.


Depart from me you cut of night. The darkness that touched my soul and hurt me Because of what I'd done. But is now passed.

The Mythological, Archetypes as Metaphor and Spiritual Thinking

Let fear sharpen your senses. Let it cut then let it pass.
There are times when it is possible to recognise in people, or in ourselves, standard behavioural responses. Through experience you can recognise aspects of a persons' character and model and predict aspects of their behaviour. We can also model aspects of social behaviour as interactions between archetypal personality types. The clash between the left and the right for example or the atheist and the Christian or the struggle between nations or culture wars in general. You can predict behaviour patterns based on knowing some common, shared, aspect of identity taken on and expressed through the personality of individuals. How good are we at reading the signs of the times?

So archetypal personalities are a way of modelling the "meta-behaviour" of groups. Imagining, conceiving of, human behaviour in this way is a metaphor, a higher level abstraction of human behaviour modelled in terms of human behaviour. These are the archetypes that Jung described.

So we can see the spiritual imaginings of humanity, our gods and mythologies, as higher order ways of thinking about psychological reality (the makeup of the human psyche as it is expressed collectively). This is why I say that as "Remover of Obstacles" Ganesh is the archetype of the engineer. Of course if I succeed in having you even think about it then it starts to become true.

As all of our perception is the work of the mind, the imagination if you will, then our perception of "external reality" is the product of mind. Our worldview exists in our mind, and as we get our perception of ourselves at least partly from how we reflect from the responses of others and the world around us, our world view is inextricably intertwined with our ego. Within ourselves we are not separate from the world around us.

If our understanding of myth has life within us, and if they mythological therefore becomes part of our worldview and a lense through which we see aspects of life, then our spiritual sight is our higher level understanding of life. If that sight is shared with others then that sight has "objective" (independent of any individual) life.

Some of the tales and myths of spirituality speak of it being possible to find within reality perfect and unbounded love. As the nature of love is true beauty any expression of the nature of love must itself be beautiful or it cannot be true, you cannot express love without it being beautiful to those who know how to look. So, if this is the spiritual system you ascribe to, the language of spirituality becomes the language of expressing the nature of love. The only possible expression of a philosophy of love is in art; truth expressed as beauty, revealing love.

Intriguingly, if there is any truth in this then interaction with the spiritual may reflect corresponding changes in human behaviour or yield understanding of human behaviour. 

But how do we get there? Like any field of human understanding that has no defined empirical approach (yet - although as an abstract topic, similar to maths, reason may well be that approach) Sturgeon's law applies. Most of what is said about spirituality is nonsense. It is understandable therefore that most people in a rational age dismiss the entire topic as superfluous nonsense. Those with spiritual pretensions don't help when they spout obvious lunacy visible to anyone with a basic understanding of modern science or psychology.

With Greek, Hindu and Roman mythology alike I feel like it  is wading through a mountain of trash looking for gems. Unfortunately I also happen to be wearing glasses that are thousands of years old and see things very differently to the originators of these stories that have themselves warped and weathered under the touch of aeons. Fortunately many others with better sight and younger glasses have gone before me and I can sometimes see clearly through their vision. On this topic it is interesting to watch the current revival of Norse mythology and the Viking Gods. Not coincidentally Iceland is also emerging as a strong and good nation. Oh, and Thor is still on at the cinema.

Also note the strands of the mythological in modern tales. Transformers, thinking machines that are actually alien intelligences. The warning about AI in the Terminator franchise. The blending of the mythological, particularly voodoo, and AI in Neuromancer. Possible visions of a future humanity in Star Trek.  Possible visions of a future humanity in Star Trek. The reaching and stretching out of humanity into the future through dreamings and imaginings.

This idea is similar to the idea explored in several of Pratchett's books, that "gods" have life from the faith and devotion of their followers and that the actions of humans is an expression of the actions of gods and the actions of gods are a projection of collective human behaviour. Culture shapes and reshapes gods, angels and demons, throughout the ages. Culture is the product of the spiritual and the spiritual is part of the cultural.

So let the sight of the mythological burn with in you, yet don't believe a word of it. Feel for how it may correspond to elements of society and psyche.

According to the book of Genesis there were placed angels with flaming swords guarding the garden of Eden after the expulsion of humanity because they ate from the tee of knowledge of good and evil.

There is a wall of madness encircling the entrance to heaven. How are we to enter if that means attempting to perceive aspects of reality that are not visible to others, and scorned as madness. We know madness is real, we suspect heaven may be real. How can we get there without going mad, how are we to tell what is real and what is delusion. What does it mean for it to be real anyway?

What is the basis of your knowledge? For me it is uncertainty, but then I've already been mad. And I'd quite like a flaming sword.

Letting the spiritual have life within you, being guided by the sight of the good and the beautiful whilst not being afraid of the horror but remaining horrified by it. Being willing to believe without being willing to be taken in, requires both courage and foolishness in equal but potentially unbounded amounts.

"Calling spirituality a metaphor. Using metaphor as a metaphor. An abstraction that simplifies and reveals a more complex idea."

Commentary on Brexit and Thoughts on Patriotism

I don't seem to meet many ordinary people. Most people seem extraordinary.
As much as I am opposed to Brexit it seems curious to me the delight with which some people I follow on Facebook seem to take in news that the negotiations are apparently difficult and that it could be bad for Britain. They seem to relish the damage as they'd rather be right than see something good come out of it. It is a rather foolish state of mind to wish harm upon yourself and your fellows merely in order to be proven right. I detest much of the harm and lack of compassion I see in the Tory government, whilst accepting that those who vote conservative see the world in a very different way to me and that I am not wholly right and nor are they. I want the best for the UK and I want the best for Europe and I sincerely hope we can find our way forward together no matter who is in government in the UK. This is why party politics is so pernicious. It cons you into supporting a side instead of supporting people or supporting the truth. I'm a socialist who voted green, but if Brexit goes ahead I still want good to come out of it and not harm. The way it seems to me is that we're merely at the deadlock phase of negotiation and neither side wants to blink. Make no mistake a hard Brexit (reverting to WTO agreement for trade rules between the UK and Europe) will be bad for the UK and bad for Europe. The prize that Europe has its eye on is a share of the London financial market, the gem of the UK economy. The current rules require certain trades to take place in the EU, so if the EU is clever it can pull all of that market into Berlin or Brussells or elsewhere in the EU. At the same time the EU can't have a financial war with the UK as we are one of the most significant European economies and genuinely important trading (etc) partner. (As an aside the financial market is a malevolant gem at best. It evolved out of serving a genuine social good. For example "futures" were originally, and possibly still in part, a financial instrument that allowed workers to sell goods and harvests before they matured. This permits, for example, farmers to buy farm equipment and pay for harvesting a crop they haven't yet gathered. An unfortunate quirk of social rules and psychology allows the sociopathic and psychopathic mindset to extract value from financial markets without providing any benefit. This has allowed the deification of those mindsets, with painful results for society.) But if we allow fear of hard Brexit to force the UK to negotiate on the basis of "anything else would be better" that is a very weak negotiating position. As a hard Brexit is bad for the EU too, if we're not afraid of it then it is our card to play and not their. The same applies to guaranteeing EU residents permanent residence in the UK I'm afraid. It's an important card in our hand and it would be genuinely foolish to play it in advance for no return. The UK currently has exceptional (in the literal sense) terms for its EU membership. To reverse Brexit would, unless handled carefully, result in a very much weakened position for the UK and it would be hard to hold onto that position. An obvious path out of that would be, for example, negotiating a change in UK control of borders for staying within the EU. This would strengthen our position (as much as you might disagree with stronger border controls, as I do) instead of weakening it. So currently both sides are staring each other down to see who will blink first. The media rages and roars with fear and rumours as both sides seek to use public opinion to sway politicians. This is why it is particularly bad for the EU negotiation that we have a weakened and hated, in the popular opinion, prime minister. It is harder for her to negotiate from strength when the perception from the EU is that the UK population doesn't have the stomach for a fight. What will happen as we approach, or sweep past, the artificial deadlines for negotiations is that both sides will reluctantly knuckle down and negotiate an exit. But nobody wants to move first.

Patriotism

It's fine to love your nation and its history and culture and people and land. But it's only fine so long as you also grieve and mourn for the suffering and the pain and the wrong and the blood. And to acknowledge the blood debt and the responsibility that comes with stewarding this earth and the resources we have that by right belong to nobody and therefore belong to everybody. But we also have to organise and we also have to survive, individually and collectively. And we need to work that out, individually and collectively.

Part of working it out means to let your heart break. To try and let your heart break. And try and find healing for your hurts. When your heart breaks it means you let your mind reach out into the painful and really see it, even when it hurts. When you allow yourself to feel the pain of others, or the pain of a situation, without turning away then your natural response of compassion will help guide you into right behaviour in response. You can't fix everything but there are things we can all do. We can do what is in front of us, whenever we have the opportunity to help. We get the opportunity to imagine a better future into existence together through our actions.

There's a lot in history that is truly horrific. Awful, just awful. But don't let history, the past out of which we were formed, be buried and lost in seeing the awfulness. There is so much beauty and nobility in our history too. There always has been, and still is, a very impressive amount of love.

At school in history they taught World War 1 trench warfare and the holocaust. In English literature we learned the war poetry of poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. They certainly taught us the horror of war. I'm pretty sure I was traumatised by it, terrified, horrified!

I loved the recent film Dunkirk for how well it portrayed such an impressive element of the spirit of that age, the extraordinary heroism of ordinary people. Little of war is noble, but that aspect was truly noble.

"Other people mirror us in how they respond to us. This mirror is the only way we can really see ourselves, yet people are such faithless mirrors."

Tales from the Past: Wretchedness and a Gun

There is such healing mercy in underserved love.

This article is one of a series on my experience of psychosis. The articles are:

Wretchedness

Whilst in the deepest throws of madness I happened to find myself in Bedford prison. Not for any criminal malfeasance, of which there was much but none in this tale, but for a civil infraction which meant that I had landed there without ever seeing the inside of a courthouse.

It was whilst there that I performed the most desperate and wretched acts of my existence this far. Although on preparing to recount the tale I have reason to be grateful that this is the worst, for there exists far worse.

I'd long, well perhaps a year or less, survived on the streets. Prior to that, in the grip of impending madness, I had been afraid to claim any benefits so although I was housed I had no money. Smoking was easy however, the nearby coach station yielded a wealth of discarded cigarettes barely smoked. I was often not the only person there of  an evening gleaning and sometimes we would even acknowledge each other with a nod.

Pickings in prison are slimmer. I was put on "education", which paid if I recall correctly the princely sum of £2.30 a week. This was enough for a small pouch of pipe tobacco which if guarded jealously could last the best part of a week. But not the whole week. So for each week of the six weeks I was there, there were a few days where I was back to gleaning. But the short stubs of prison smoked roll-ups, pressed into the ground by passing feet and probably consisting of tobacco gathered the same way, does not make for good tobacco. And it made me quite ill.

Those I think were the most wretched acts of my existence so far.

A Gun

One of the oddest tales from my brief adventures at Cambridge University is the connection between the time my college had to return my automatic assault rifle and the time I met Stephen Hawking. It all began with the Buddhist priest who I thought was trying to steal my soul. My Buddhist friend had somehow acquired some weapons that had been used in magickal rituals. Presumably the original possessor of these items was now terrified of them and wanted shot of them. My Buddhist friend kept the sword and gave to me the deactivated black assault rifle and a large steel double-bladed axe. At the time I was still living in college accommodation, although this was shortly before my ignominious ejection. Corpus Christi finally, at the start of the spring term in my second year, kicked me out for going mad on psychedelics. I consider this to be an entirely reasonable response on their part and bear them no ill will for it. As might be expected they were pretty clever in how they went about it. Instead of any official process they allowed me to occupy my room (at Newhnam House) that term, but refused to permit me to "sign in" for the term. So defacto I was considered to have dropped out. I retrospectively applied to "degrade" and take some time out, an option I had previously declined, but my request was eventually denied. When my time at college came to end my Buddhist friend was moving out of the room he had rented and gifted me the deposit. I moved into his old room in a house just off Mill road, the hippy quarter, and pretty much opposite the Bosphorous takeaway which did, and possibly still does, the best spicy potatoes in Cambridge. For a little while I lived in the flat above the Bosphorous with a collection of rapscallion locals including a college colleague who introduced me to the writings of Aleister Crowley and various other pychedelic philosophers. We shared the flat with a gentleman named "Nobby" and his partner. Nobby had some kind of strange sensitivity to the additives in orange squash, so whenever we took ecstasy or LSD he would down two litres of squash and inevitably end up striding round town with a crazed look. At least his high cost him less than ours. His partner shared a name with the fledgling academic computer network in use at the time. That coincidence was to mess with my head not inconsiderably as I descended into madness. When I moved out I unintentionally left the gun behind in my room and took the axe with me to Mill road. The shared house I now lived in had amongst its residents a research student who worked for Stephen Hawking. One evening I came home to find the garden full of people and a barbecue in full swing. And there was Stephen Hawking. I walked over to meet him and look him in the eyes to see what I could make of him. I couldn't discern much from his eyes. As I wandered off the research student engaged me in polite conversation with his father. He mentioned how I had replaced a slightly unconventional housemate, a Buddhist priest who kept a sword in his room. Naturally I made the least reassuring reply possible and told them both I had an axe. He was fairly nimble of mind and tried to turn it into a joke "everyone has an axe to grind". I don't think anyone was convinced and I went upstairs to my room. Around that time I received a message from college, this was still a decade before mobile phones would become ubiquitous and I don't recall how I got the message. The message was a request that I return to college to collect my gun... Some poor soul had entered the room I'd vacated, and amongst who knows what other detritus I'd left behind, they'd found the gun. Obviously they called the armed police in to deal with it. Who then confirmed it was deactivated and that as my property they were required to give it back to me. The college porters were really not so very happy at all to return it to me. I have no idea what happened to the gun and the axe, probably abandoned at Mill road. My next step was homelessness, sleeping in an abandoned car in Harpenden for a little while before being given a flat in Luton and moving onto the next phase of my strange adventures.


"I didn't lose my mind, I left it in lots of different places for safe keeping."

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Abstractions: Business Processes


The only way to play politics with integrity is not to play it all. Be oblivious to it. I don't mean be unaware of it, but act as if it isn't there at all.
As we simplify complexity through understanding our capacity increases as the burden of our previous knowledge is reduced.
Note: this article is a follow on from The Craft of Software Engineering: Abstractions and Processes. There is a follow on from this article: Software Engineering Abstractions: Design and Testing.
In a tech company there is one team without which you don't have a tech company. The engineers of course. Technically every other team is disposable as the company could continue running and their function could be absorbed elsewhere. It might not be as good, but you still have a tech company. Obviously that puts the engineers in charge, but don't worry we're a smart bunch and we'll work with everyone to work out the best way to run a company. That means everyone has a valuable role as the things you're good at we don't particularly like doing (because we're not very good at them).

Obviously this is a ridiculous thing to say and is meant in fun. The serious point I'm trying to make is that there ins an engineering mindset. The mindset is different from the role, many of those currently in a role labelled engineer may actually be more appropriately called technicians or scientists. Conversely the engineering mindset is a useful way to see things in many areas beyond the role conventionally labelled engineer.

Engineering is about the solving of real world problems, which are usually inherently complex and difficult, through the creative application of science (in our case computer science) with understanding. That approach is useful in many situations. What can I change to improve things, how do things work? Real life and real problems are inherently complex, so an important part of the role and function of the engineer is to manage and organise inherent complexity, whilst spotting and eliminating unnecessary complexity. It can be quite an art. As engineering is the application of science I see engineering as the practical application of the abstract whilst the science is the development of the abstract. But thinking about engineering, understanding abstract principles about it, is itself the science of engineering and therefore science. So the lines are blurry even aside the accidental science we may do, creating and finding new abstract principles, along the way of solving real world problems.

One of the aspects important to an efficiently running company, moving as a body of many members, is clear visibility. Visibility of processes between and into departments. This way the business unit, which must still lead and drive the company as money is the lifeblood, can see into the development process and allow the customers to engage and understand it enough both to set expectations and get the most useful interactions and engagement with customers possible. Similarly, through the business or customer engagement team the developers should have a clear sight of the problem domain and how customers are actually using the product, and more importantly able to see what customers actually need rather than what they think they need.

Providing this kind of insight is one of the most valuable jobs some companies do. It's wise to ensure payment before you spend too much time helping your customer define and understand their own needs. This is why garages will sometimes charge to give you a quote to fix a car. Working out exactly what is wrong can be very hard work.

However, if your company is built on dubious business practices, like bamboozling customers into paying for things they don't need, or if you have individuals pursuing empire building, then visibility becomes the enemy. In this way bad business practices become the enemy of good engineering practises. Clearly the converse is true, bad engineering practises will become the enemy of good business practises.

A more common enemy of visibility is fear. People don't realise that almost everyone feels like they don't know what they're doing and everyone around them is smarter. Because we don't realise it's normal to feel like this we keep people out and try and make sure no-one realises we feel like this. Difficult or hidden processes and arcane knowledge, unnecessary complexity, start to seem appealing. As always, difficult is not the same as smart and being simpler can often be very hard indeed.Actually processes and implementations that are open and honest are less of a burden and more efficient. This includes acknowledging when you don't understand, because that is both an opportunity to learn and a possible indicator that things are excessively complex.

Within a business, processes should not be an imposition of how things should be but instead a process should be a clear understanding of how things happen through normal human interaction and relationship. Your business abstractions encoded as processes only make sense in the context of normal human behaviour, since the low level operation of these processes happens through normal human behaviour.

So if your instructions don't operate very well on humans, or aren't even aware they're intended to run on the human operating system, then they will be bad processes. Human operating systems executing instructions designed for machines makes for unhappy humans. Things that make people unhappy we generally call bad.

To run a business efficiently we need to undertand how humans operate efficiently, since a business is actually an abstract entity (it doesn't really exist) and its corporeal form is as a bunch of human individuals. Therefore (and clearly anyway) the actual behaviour of a company is comprised solely as the sum behaviour of all those individuals as they act in the name of the company.

So the way a company changes is through normal human interaction and relationships, since that is what a company consists of.

A company is self-aware to the extent that the roles and processes within it are visible. A company that can see itself, can understand itself (the reality of itself not just the ideal of itself) is able to change.


"The last phase of process automation, when the process is described in terms of automation but still done by humans, makes for really tedious work."