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Category archive: How the mind works

Thursday March 01 2018

A tweet reminded me about this wonderful rant from Louis CK:


That’s the version of it, with dots inserted by him, that Steven Pinker quotes in his new book about the Enlightenment.

Pinker is concerned to explain why increasing affluence doesn’t seem to make everyone ecstatically happy.  Deidre McCloskey, in her Bourgeois trilogy, is fond of talking about how the Great Enrichment has made regular people as of now nearly three thousand percent richer.  So, why aren’t we three thousand percent happier?  Because we don’t seem to be.

Lots of reasons.  First, you are happy not according to your absolute level of affluence, but rather according to how affluent you get to be and how meaningful your life gets to be compared to what you were expecting, and compared to how well everyone else seems to be doing, because that tells you how well you could reasonably have expected to do.  You may well have been raised to expect quite a lot.  Second, although technology hurtles along, for most this hurtling is both pleasing and rather unsettling, the less of the former and the more of the latter as time goes by.  We don’t experience, in our one little life, how much better things like Twitter are than is looking after cows, out of doors, all year round, with not enough food or heating.  What we experience, as we get older, is how confusing things like Twitter are, or alternatively, if we ignore something like Twitter, how demoralising it is that it has defeated us and denied us its benefits.  Or how tedious air travel is, compared to what we’d hoped for rather than compared to a horse drawn wagon in a desert.  Yes, I live three thousand percent better than that wretched cowherd three hundred years ago, and if a time machine took away my life and gave me his life, I’d be three thousand percent more miserable.  But that’s not the same as me being three thousand percent happier than he was.  Happier, yes, definitely.  But not by that much.

It’s because we don’t feel that much happier that Louis CK has to rant, to remind us of how lucky we are.  And that Steven Pinker has to write his book, to make the same point.

But what if progress continues to hurtle forwards?  What if someone reads this posting, centuries from now, and he says: Good grief, those Twenty First Centurions were very easily satisfied.  Five hours to get from New York to California?

It must have been hell.

Tuesday February 20 2018

These are experts whom I want to believe, so I do!:

Violent video games may actually reduce crime as aggressive players are “too busy” shooting virtual enemies to cause trouble in the real world, experts claim.

I have long believed that television caused crime waves, in each country it arrived in, by immobilising the respectable classes inside their respectable homes and handing the world’s public spaces over to non-television-owning ne’er-do-wells, every night.  It is not the sex-and-vi0lence-on-telly that causes the crime.  It is the near total absence of these things.  Violent people were repelled by telly, because it was so abysmally well-behaved.

I myself have spent a huge proportion of my life watching television.  Had television not existed, I would have been out in public places fighting crime, by looking like I might notice it and then give evidence against the ne’er-do-wells committing it.

But now, with the rise of video games, it is the ne’er-do-wells who are busy playing video games.  Video games are not well-behaved.  You get to kill people, and to commit grand theft upon autos.  If duty calls, it calls on you to kill yet more people.

Presumably, this evening, the public places are all deserted.  I wouldn’t know.  I am watching television.

Monday February 12 2018

The relationship between, and influence of, photography on artistic painting has always been intimate, and profound.

I can remember when landscape and figurative painting was everywhere.  That would be about fifty years ago and more.  But now?  Do any “important” artists do this any more?  Not many, is my distinct impression.  If there is any “realism” involved, it is usually realism with a twist, and often some kind of violation or distortion.  That guy, who was perfectly capable of terrific realistic painting, was one of the leaders of art out of mere realism.  “Psychological”, instead of literal, truth.

A big part of why this trend out of realism happened is to be found in pictures like this one, of a fire, done recently by 6k.  6k didn’t even have his “camera” with him, when he photoed this.  But, says he, “my phone did ok”.  More than ok, I’d say:


I recall speculating along these lines recently, at a party.  Painters don’t do the “beauty” of the “real world” any more (I said), in fact (I said) they don’t really do “beauty” at all any more, because now everyone can do great pictures, just by going click with their phones, and everyone now has a phone.

My companion illustrated my point for me by immediately taking out his “phone” and showing me some amazing landscape photos on it that he had taken that very day.  They were stunning.  His point, and mine, is that this required no very great skill on his part, just a half decent and half alert eye for something worth photoing.

So it is that “art” has not so much “advanced” into its various alternative realities of abstraction and conceptualisation, but rather has retreated into these things.  Chased out of doing beautiful recreations of reality by technology.

Saturday February 10 2018

You Had One Job (a current Twitter favourite of mine) calls this “Brilliant”:



At a site called Idiot Toys they also do lots of gadgets with faces.  Or, they did, because (I just looked) things seem to have slowed down there lately.  But I can’t recall anything nearly as dramatic as the above image.

LATER: this.

Tuesday February 06 2018

After a hard afternoon yesterday, exploring Churchill and his wartime government’s subterranean lair, I was, in the evening, in no mood to do much else.  But Christian Michel had one of his 6/20 evenings (yes I know, on the 5th (there was a reason but I have forgotten it)), and I forced myself to attend, knowing that I would not regret this.  And I didn’t.

The highlight of my evening was undoubtedly getting to talk with an artist and art teacher by the name of Elina Cerla.  We spoke about how we were both fascinated by the difference between how two eyed people see things, and how one eyed cameras, or camera-like gadgets used by artists, see things.  Summary: very differently.  Also about how she is more concerned to help people solve the artistic problems they consider important, rather than to shape them all into her preferred sort of artist.

She gave me her card before we went our separate ways, so I’m guessing she will have no problem with me linking you to that website.

You could become one of Elina Cerla’s pupils by doing what this says:


Having already wandered about in the website, I was particularly struck by that naked figure when I came across it elsewhere on the website, so I was intrigued later to find that she chose it to illustrate her teaching advert.  I think you will agree that this image inspires confidence that the time of pupils will not be wasted.  This is someone with definite skills to impart.

I am presently listening to this YouTube interview.  Refreshing absence of art-speak bullshit and political infantilism, of the sort commonly emitted by those who practice (or who are attempting) shock-art.

Wednesday January 31 2018

I’ve often wondered about words like these, but Susie Dent explains:

You can be gruntled (satisfied), kempt (combed), couth (polite), ruthful (full of compassion), whelmed (capsized), and gorm-like (have an intelligent look about you). And, for a while in the 1600s, you could be shevelled too.

A commenter adds the words “chalant” and “consolate”, which were apparently first used in a New Yorker piece.

Also in that piece: “wieldy”, “descript”, “gainly”, “cognito”, “make bones about it”, “beknownst”, “it would be skin off my nose”, “both hide and hair”, “toward and heard-of behaviour”, “maculate”, “peccable”, “new hat”, “terminable”, “promptu”, “petuous”, “nomer”, “choate, “defatigable”, “committal”, and quite a few that I surely missed.

Immaculate and impeccable are odd ones.  Does im at the front mean not?  It’s not clear.  Pressive?  Pact?  Mitate?  Agination?  Immiserate sounds the same as miserate.  This can get very intricate.  Although, you may think it to be not very tricate.  Also, I hope you are being ritated rather than the more common negative of that.

“Indefatigable” could be shortened twice.  Defatigable.  Fatigable.  Which means something very similar to indefatigable.

Timidate.  Timate.  Genious.  Sipid.  Cest.  Ert and Ept, I’ve heard before.  Nuendo.  Finitesimal.  Juriours,

For “over”, you could just put “der”.

I hope this posting has interested you.  My apologies if, instead, you have been terested.

Monday January 22 2018

On the fifth and eighteenth days of this month I was in Lower Marsh, which is just south of Waterloo Station, as I often am.  On each of these days, there was bright sunshine, and cloud.

On each day, after I had done my business in Lower Marsh and continued on to Blackfriars Road, and to its two newly constructed edifices: One Blackfriars (the curvey one) and 240 Blackfriars (the “crystaline” one).

The first of these photos, !.1, shows One, and One reflected in 240:


I love a good crane, and 1.2 is rather remarkable, because it shows (a) two construction cranes, (b) these cranes reflected in 240 Blackfriars, and (c) on the surface of that same building and above the reflections of the cranes, the shadows of those same cranes.  If you click on nothing else, click on that.

Photo 1.3 tells us where we are, and shows One of that road scraping the sky,

In 2.1, 2.3 and 3.3, we see another joy of winter, trees without leaves.

The final photo of this little set, 3.3, shows the tower of a crane with some of those trees, and is included because the colours are what you would expect with regular lighting.

Ah, but what if the lighting is irregular?  What if there is bright sunlight hitting a crane tower, but with dark cloud instead of blue sky behind it?  3.2 is what then happens.  Worth another click, I’d say.

And 3.1 shows clouds of a very different sort, again reflected in 240 Blackriars.  Also pretty dramatic.

1.1 to 2.1 taken on the fifth.  2.3 to 3.3 on the eighteenth.

What, no photos of photoers?  Was I the only one photoing?  Could nobody else see the epic dramas of light and dark, construction and reflection, scaffolding and skeletal trees, that I was seeing?  Apparently not.

On the fifth, soon after I had taken the first four of the above photos, my fellow photoers had been all over the man with the flaming tuba.

Photography is light.  But I guess for most photoers, mere light, bouncing off of dreary things like modern buildings, cranes, trees, scaffolding and the like, is not enough.

Sunday January 14 2018

This is a strange photo, which looks somewhat like Modern Art, but which actually isn’t (a pleasing phenomenon which I referred to in passing in this recent posting of mine).  What it is is a photo of some home decorating:


Aren’t you supposed to put the glue on the wallpaper, rather than on the wall?  Perhaps both?  Personally, I chose my wallpaper by not caring what it was when I moved in and thus keeping it as was, so I have never done anything like this.

Also, what are those peculiar white marks on the right?  They look like random smudges of white paint.  But why are they there?  Very strange.  Presumably something else was being painted before the wallpaper went on.

All is explained here.  It’s number nine of those thirteen photos, which I found out about here.

Saturday January 13 2018

Yesterday afternoon GodDaughter2 arranged for me to be in the audience (which was mostly singing students like her) of a master class presided over by American operatic tenor Michael Fabiano, a totally new name to me.  He should have been.  My bad, as he would say.  Very impressive.  Very impressive.

This event was the most recent one of these.  But they scrub all mention from there of the past, however immediate, so no mention there of Fabiano, which there had been until yesterday.

Here are a few recollections I banged into my computer last night before going to bed.  Not tidied up much.  I just didn’t want to forget it.

Sing, every note, all the time – switch off singing and then when you need to switch on again, you won’t be able to do it.

Singing is not just done with two little things in your throat.  Sing with your whole body, from head to toe.  Including your balls.  (The student singers he was teaching were all guys, two baritones, two tenors.) I hope you don’t mind me saying such things.  (Nobody did.)

You must sing to the people way up in the roof.  They must hear every note you sing.  Not just the people in the first five rows.

Don’t be afraid to take a breath - I’m a great fan of breathing when you need to breath – no seriously

First note is critical.  Final note is critical.  You can screw up in between.  But first note bad can mean they’ll hear nothing further.  Final note good, and that’s what they’ll remember.

Stay firmly planted on the floor.  Stand how you stand in the tube, when you have nothing to hold on to.  Don’t rise off the floor on your toes when it gets difficult.

Stay relaxed by going to your “happy place” in your mind.

In auditions, don’t be bound by rules that box you in.  Break those rules, do whatever you have to do to do what you do.  Applies to all artists.

Piano accompanists: play louder, like an orchestra.  Louder.  Twice as loud as that.  (He spent a lot of time conducting the pianists.)

Go for it.  (Said that a lot.) Be free.  Fly like a bird.  Never relax your wings (keep singing) or you fall to the ground.

In my opinion … this is my opinion ...

Make progress as a young singer by finding one or two people whose judgement you trust.  Follow their advice and work hour after hour, day after day, with them.  A hundred people advising is confusion.  One or two is what a young person needs.

How to make the transition from student to real singer?  With difficulty.  I began by doing 22 auditions all over Europe.  First 21, I followed the rules, stood in the spot marked X: nothing, failure.  22nd audition: disaster.  Fell over at the start, literally.  But laughed at myself.  Good middle notes, they knew I had a cold, but also a good personality.  Got work.  They trusted me to do better.

Mentor?  Renee Fleming was one.  Sang next to her on stage.  Her voice ridiculously small, on stage.  But, my agent way up at the back heard everything, and wept.  I then sat way up there myself and listened to Fleming sing equally quietly, heard everything and was equally moved

Sing oh well and sing ee well, and you’ll sing ah well.  (Think that was it.) …

And probably lots more that I missed.  But, I now find, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.  However, the length-to-content ratio of watching something like this on YouTube is such that you, if you have got this far in this posting, are much more likely to make do with reading what I just put.  So let’s hope I didn’t get anything too wrong.  Plus: more mentions of this event, with video bits, at the RCM Twitter feed.  Fabiano also tweets, of course.  More reaction to yesterday there.

There were four student singers on show, first two being baritones, and in the second half, two tenors.  The most extraordinary moments of this event came in the second half, when the two tenors took it in turns to sing things that Fabiano has presumably sung for real, as it were.  And occasionally, to illustrate a point he was making, Fabiano would sing a snatch of the thing himself.

At which point, as the young people say these day: OMG.  His sound was about four times bigger than what the students were doing.  (The first of these moments got Fabiano a loud round of applause.) Fabiano’s talk, about filling the entire 2,500 people place, was a hell of a lot more than talk.  He does this, every time he sings in such a place.  The message was loud and the message was clear.  That’s what you guys must aim for.  That’s what it sounds like.

The good news is that the first tenor in particular (Thomas Erlank), was taking audible steps towards being an opera star, after only a few minutes of badgering from Fabiano.  I think you’re great, said Fabiano, which is why I’m being so hard on you.  Fabiano didn’t say those exact words to any of the others, so that will definitely have counted for something, in Erlank’s mind.  You could see him getting bigger, as Fabiano both talked him up and hacked away at his mistakes.

Of the others, the one who particularly impressed me was the second baritone (Kieran Rayner), who looked and behaved like a trainee accountant, but who sang like a trainee god.  By the time Fabiano had been at him for a bit, he started to get a bit more like an actual god.  The sheer sound of Rayner’s voice was beautiful from the start, I thought.  As did Fabiano.

Fabiano made a big deal of vibrato, which he seemed almost to equate with singing.  But vibrato is, for me, a huge barrier.  Rayner did do enough of it to satisfy Fabiano, but not nearly enough to put me off.  I mention this because I believe that I am not the only one who feels this way.  Too much wobble, and it just sounds like wobble and nothing else.  Singers who overdo the wobble never break past that oh-god-it’s-bloody-opera barrier.  But not enough vibrato, and they don’t get to fill those 2,500 seat opera houses.  And even if they do, no OMG, Fabiano style.

Final point, by way of summary.  When each singer did his performance, Fabiano made a point of going to the back of the hall, to hear how it sounded there.  Fabiano made no bones about it that what concerned him was not how you or he felt about it while doing it, or how Renee Fleming sounded to him when he was standing on the stage right next to her.  What matters is the effect it has on the audience, all of the audience, including and especially the audience in the cheaper seats.  Are they getting what they came for and they paid for?

Deepest thanks to GD2 for enabling me to witness all this.

Monday January 08 2018

I’m not saying Happy New Year to you, again, although now that I’ve mentioned it, I actually do, again.  No, what I have in mind is that today feels like my New Year has, at last, begun.

I always tell people that I like a quiet Christmas and a quiet New Year, but it seldom turns out that way, and it did not this time around.  This was not because I got lots of appalling demands to attend appalling things.  If they had been appalling demands and appalling things, then I would have happily played them all off against each other and ignored the whole damn lot of them.  No, the problem was: enticing requests to attend enticing things, frequented by enticing people whom I might not soon be meeting again, things that I knew I would enjoy and which I did mostly enjoy, hugely, but which just came one after another.  (Plus, I arranged an event myself at my home, on the last Friday of December.)

And then, in the midst of it all there was that dose of Ashes Lag, to play havoc with the already imperfect sleep pattern.  The point of such fill-in-the-blank lags is that it only takes one such night of lag to create a ripple lasting about a week.  Throw into that mix a few invites to things that happened not in the evening but earlier in the day, and it all became pretty strenuous.

But now, all these events have come and gone.  I had a huge sleep last night and way into this morning, and finally feel able to think about the year ahead rather than just the next thing I need to get to.

So like I say: Happy New Year.

Friday January 05 2018

Today, in Lower Marsh, I met up with a friend for some friendly tech support, and this being Friday, both before and after that, I was on the look out for Cats and/or Other Creatures related photo-opportunities.

I also like antique vehicles.

So, I was delighted to encounter this:


The Cat’s Back presents:


Pig Out Rolling Gourmet Kitchen.

But, is it fair to describe the human propensity to over-eat as “pigging out”?

Humans definitely describe their uniquely relentless fascination with sex, all the year round, as “animal”, but most animals only get sexually excited during their – usually pretty short – mating seasons.  Humans are surely among the very few creatures whose mating season is: always.  So that isn’t fair.  This makes me suspect that we blaim pigs for overeating when actually they don’t.  But, what do I know?

Google google. 

Here we go:

Most of a pig’s day is spent foraging and eating. The end of their snout has as many tactile receptors as the human hand, and is a highly specialised and sensitive tool. This, along with their exceptional sense of smell, enables pigs to locate and uncover tasty treats such as seeds, roots, and truffles. Unlike dogs or humans, pigs never dangerously overeat - even when given access to unlimited food.

Blog and learn, assuming that is right.  Not: pig out.  Dog out, maybe?  But dogging already means a form of human sex (see above), so dogging out wouldn’t do at all.  (Mind you, I have to admit that dogs seem to have a permanent mating season also.)

Tuesday January 02 2018

I’ve not yet finished what was going to be today’s posting, so here, to be going on with, is a link to this Londonist list of eleven things to look forward to in London in 2018.  From their list, my bronze, silver and gold medalists are:

Bronze: Crossrail.

Silver: The new Spurs stadium.

Gold: The swimming pool in the sky.

Here is what that Gold medalist will, we must all hope, look like:


Says Londonist:

It’s been over two years since it was announced that London was getting a swimming pool in the sky, right next to the new U.S. Embassy, and it’s finally diving onto the London skyline in 2018. The bad news: it’s not for you - unless you are one of the lucky few who could afford to splash out on an apartment in Nine Elms’ Embassy Gardens development (starting price £602,000). The rest of us will have to make do with our local leisure centre.

But I don’t want to live there.  What I want to know is: Will I be able to photo other people swimming in the sky pool?  I’m guessing it’ll be out of public sight.

Maybe you are thinking: Yes, but that’s a bit pervey.  If you are thinking that, I agree.  It is.  But the best photos often are.

Saturday December 30 2017

I was surprised and distressed at how quickly and completely England lost the Ashes.  They lost the first three tests and that was it.  From then on, the important thing was for them to stop 3-0 turning into 5-0.

Why is that when we beat Australia, it ends something like 2-1 or 3-1 or 3-2, but never 5-0?  But when Australia beats us, as often as not it is 5-0.  So, good that this has not happened this time around.  Dead rubber?  Bollocks.  5-0 is a hell of a lot worse than 3-0 or (I can hope) 3-1.

Judging by previous 5-0s down under, England might still have lost game four, after Cook had scored his double hundred and given England a first innings lead of 160 odd.  Australia have a very good spinner, and England do not.

Warne of Australia.  Swann of England.  Now: Lyon of Australia.  A good spinner sustains pressure all the way through to the next new ball, and can win the match on the final day.  Without a good spinner, you get those easy overs, when a bit of slogging can swing the match decisively in favour of the batting side, and you don’t get to win on the last day nearly so much.

In this latest Melbourne game, what if Australia had got themselves a lead of 150 and then bowled England out on the last afternoon?  It could have happened.  But luckily for England, it rained on day four, and England were able to save the game.  All the commentators said that the rain spoiled England’s chance of a win, but what do they know?  They were there, and were obviously getting caught up in it all, failing to see the wood for the trees.  Trees: England might have won.  Wood: England did not lose!  Hurrah!

But from where I lie, in my bed but not sleeping because there were England doing so well on the radio, not losing, the important issue was: I wasn’t sleeping.  And I am now suffering from serious Ashes Lag.

This afternoon, Chelsea thrashed Stoke at football, and according to the BBC Premier League update feed (which I had been keeping half an eye on), Stoke supporters, despite having journeyed to Chelsea all the way from darkest Stoke, were leaving after twenty minutes, because their team were such rubbish.  I’m like that.  If my team is getting hammered, I don’t want to be obsessing about that.  I have a life, and I welcome the chance to ignore sport and get on with it.  But if my team are doing okay, I’m all over it.  So Ashes Lag has only now struck.

I mentioned yesterday that I was knackered, but too knackered to explain why I was knackered, and that I might (or might not) explain why I was knackered, later.  The above was why I was knackered.

BMdotcom.  The blog that promises nothing, but sometimes delivers!

Friday December 22 2017

Not long ago, Perry de Havilland told me what sounds like an old, old joke, about the difference between dogs and cats.

We feed and pamper and love and look after dogs, and from this, dogs conclude that we are gods.  We feed and pamper and love and look after cats, and from this, cats conclude that they are gods.

As I say, it sounded old, but I liked it.  And I remembered that joke when, this evening, searching for quota cats or quota other creatures, I encountered these photos, of books, in the British Museum. Including a book about a cat …:


… and of that same cat, celebrated on a clutch of mugs:


I took these Gayer-Anderson Cat photos in Feb 2010, but I doubt it’s moved since then.

Read about the Gayer-Anderson Cat, which actually was a god, here.  Gayer-Anderson wasn’t two people.  He was just the one, a certain Major Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson.

Get your own Gayer-Anderson Cat, for £450.  (£405 to members.) Or, you could 3D print your Gayer-Anderson Cat.

When I took these photos, I was in point-shoot-forget mode, and have given them no further thought until now.

I love the internet.

Thursday December 21 2017

GodDaughter2 and I recently went to the top of Primrose Hill.  This was the day I had to switch to using my mobile phone to take photos, because I thought my regular camera had collapsed.  (It was fine.)

With my mobile phone, I took two photos, which looked a lot like this …:


… and like this:


Those being photos of the exact same scenes – London, and the Feng Shang Princess respectively - that I took, but which GD2 took with her mobile phone.  Her photos are technically better, probably because her mobile is an iPhone and a lot more recent than my manky old Google Nexus 4, which I have had for ages.  But to me the more interesting thing is how different her London Big Things panorama looked to the one I took.  In mine, the Big Things are all lit up, but her Big Things are all dark.

It was that kind of day.  Photography is light and it is even better when the light fluctuates, and the same things looks quite different from moment to moment.

Which made it all the more frustrating that I thought my camera had stopped functioning.  I took a tiny few photos with my mobile instead of lots with my regular camera.  On the other hand, GD2 said she really enjoyed the walking and the talking we did that day.  I believe that this is probably not coincidence.

GD2 also took very few photos.  Mostly we walked, and talked.

This is why I prefer to photo alone.  It’s not that I hate people, and I certainly don’t hate GD2.  It’s just that me photoing all the time feels like me being bad company.  And that afternoon rather confirms this.  I didn’t photo much.  And it seems I was good company.