The Love of Reason

“We all have this spiritual gift of reason
It would be a blasphemy to turn it down.
We are all Kings so put on your crown”

 

 

Socrates

The above three verses conclude a poem I wrote in sixth form, it got published through the school in a book containing a larger collection of poems. Whilst all the poems featured an iambic pentameter which beat like a broken pacemaker (including mine), the poems offered knowledge about what students thought about Christianity and Religion as a whole. Just as the poetic enjambment waltzed so did the minds of the students whilst writing, everyone interested in the conclusion of the book. Would all the poems follow a similar path? Would there be a clear structure, French ceasures, displaying a pattern of thought?

I must confess that I didn’t spend a great deal of time reading through the school’s poems. The pattern spoken by everyone else was a clear one though – poems were either in favour of religion or agnostic. Atheism was rare; not surprising as every family in the school had to be Christian to gain entry. Plus the Atheistic ideal isn’t one you can sell on its merits. With Atheism the only crutch which one can rely on is a materialistic one. Everything we perceive with our eyes is material; including our friends and families. So in my eyes a materialistic crutch isn’t so bad, yet for pupils growing up thinking a celestial being could offer a competitive fulfilment (plus a celestial home for once our time on Earth is finished) – Atheism loses its attraction.

The opportunity to write a poem for the school was one which made my heart jump. I love writing and still to this day I write poetry in private. It is my deviant love and sharing a piece of my selfish treasure with the school was an honour. For a few weeks I had ideas running through my mind. Generally I don’t think about creative ideas, they just happen. So thinking alone worried me that I may not have what it takes to provide a meaningful poem for the school’s book.

However one evening after having just stepped out of the bath, the idea struck me. The belief was a foundational one which I first met when I approached the logical positivist movement for the first time. In the spirit of the Vienna Circle I wanted to recognise that something we all have in common is curiosity, with that we all crave a belief in something which is mysterious.

Mystery surrounds religion but it also surrounds science. Curiosity drove Thomas the doubter to look for evidence that Jesus had been rose from the dead, it was also one of the reasons the Space race was born. Yet in my experience individuals in the Church had chosen to abandon their own reason, they had ceased questioning and instead were just living in faith. In effect they were leaving their shoes and mind at the door.

Whilst the mystery of the Universe satisfied my curiosity cravings, it is not enough for some, including my parents. Which is fine but as long as reason is embraced. Hence the verse, “We are all Kings so put on your crown”.

Yet reasonability is a dangerous path and can leave one fickle for a period of time. It is often said that one does not choose an idea, but is chosen by it. This mantra repeated since 2007 and yet those in the Church still saw me as a troublemaker offering the alternative idea. I prefer E.P Thompson’s “the enormous condescension of posterity” for we are in control of our own making. Perhaps it was the fault of my primary school teachers for praising me of ‘thinking outside of the box’. A phrase which isn’t often heard when you decide the conclusion does not require a worship leader or spiritual council.

For a time some members of the youth congregation of the Church would make the effort to get in contact with me, even comment on philosophical blog posts I had written. Sometimes in a bid to challenge my views but often because they wanted to know the alternative argument. Most educators in Churches are spiritual leaders who claim gifts of the divine and a knowledge which is inspired. Yet their knowledge outside of theology or rumoured spiritual experiences lacks wholeness. Members of the youth group still went to school, they craved evidence which only the Atheistic viewpoint can fully provide.

Answering the questions of the youth congregation was not an act of atheistic evangelism; instead it was an opportunity to provide suggestions. Students must be directed to the path but I will not walk down it with them. They must do that for themselves. It makes no difference to me what philosophical view point they chose, as long as they embrace Philosophy, the love of reason.

 

Google Chrome Releases “It Gets Better” Advert

 

Google Chrome has released an advert which works alongside Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project which is aimed to provide inspiration for teens dealing with depression, bullying and suicide. In this particular Ad Google examples how using Google Chrome and YouTube thousands of teens are being connected around the world to talk about their experiences and convince others that life is beautiful.

For me this advert not only shows the brilliant work of Dan Savage and Google but also how we often forget one simple thing about social networks. They do not exist for companies to sell to us; social networks were created for us to connect with each other.

 

Be Eccentric: Stand Out from the Crowd

A Duck's Back

It should be water off a duck’s back. At least that is what my granddad would say but yet I find myself in a dilemma. Is being labelled strange, creepy or eccentric good? Such terms are usually depraved in nature, rich in connotations of the most peculiar sort and have caused me to consider that perhaps the way I think or approach social situations is different.

Although to call somebody strange, creepy or eccentric relies on a foundation – it is first necessary to define “normal”. What exactly is normal? Perhaps we should consider normal as average. Yet whilst I don’t like being called strange, creepy or eccentric; normal isn’t much better for this reason.

My definition of normal are those who are too nervous to show their true colours, will shape themselves to join a particular crowd and will be quick to label somebody else as strange, creepy or eccentric. Most people live their lives in fear as they do not dare to stand away from the crowd. Such people will become part of the societal machine, eventually blend in and disappear.

I’m only interested speaking to people who have new ideas, will stand out from the crowd and are not afraid to be who they really are. So yes, for this reason I am probably different. The most difficult challenge in life is to accept yourself for who you are. The even harder challenge is to accept other people for who they are.

So my advice is be strange, creepy and eccentric. Be different, stand out from the crowd.

What makes you stand out from the crowd?

Google Panda Update: Is it Right?

The warning was sent to me through email, “Make sure the Google Panda doesn’t get you”. In April Google updated an aspect of their search algorithm which dictates (I use this word with its full meaning) how sites appear in search. Google Panda is essentially an update which removes those sites which show low quality, questionable or copied content.

Google has listed the below questions as measures of how they rate ‘good’ content. The whole article can be found here.

 

  1. Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  2. Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  3. Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  4. Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  5. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  6. Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  7. Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  8. Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  9. How much quality control is done on content?
  10. Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  11. Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  12. Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  13. Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  14. For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  15. Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  16. Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  17. Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  18. Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  19. Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  20. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  21. Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  22. Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  23. Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

 

Google are usually very closed on matters of search algorithm changes and with good reason. If a budding Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) bod got hold of this precious information then he/she couldn’t literally manipulate search results. SEO by default manipulates search results but Google Panda is aimed at making sure only good quality sites make it the furthest through the rankings.

The Guardian has listed known website causalities from the Panda update. Thankfully my website is unharmed. If anything my rankings may have improved, traffic is certainly up from search engines.

  • What do you think of the Google Panda Update?
  • Is Google right controlling the sort of content visible on the internet?
  • Has your website suffered or gained because of the update?

 

Extra University Places would be Fair?

David Willetts on BBC News

A deeply agnostic Universities Minister, David Willetts, appeared on BBC News yesterday morning discussing the possibility of creating extra places for those students who could cover all of their higher education expenses although I must add that this is only a possibility. By every means this is an interesting point of view but one which should be considered at arm’s length.

The current issue with higher education (beyond senseless fee increases) is the student cap policy. Each University in England has a set quota for the amount of students it can accept. The quota is set by the government to control the amount of public spending around higher education.

Currently if a University is oversubscribed then the only students who will manage to get in will be those who are funded by a business. The discussions which took place in parliament yesterday discuss the possibility (David Willetts’ favourite BBC News word) of creating extra places for students who can completely fund their education.

The way David Willetts presented this option is by saying charities could perhaps fund a student’s education. In reality it will be the students who come from rich families who will get guaranteed places at University. A move which makes the Tories appear in their same old blue limelight, catering for those who are already privileged.

The students who can have their education funded by their own means will not be a burden on public spending for the government and could actually alleviate the government’s strain on public spending costs in the higher education sector. Yet despite the business means, if this move to allow rich self-funding students to step outside of the student cap to receive almost guaranteed places at University; what does this mean for education as a whole?

In my view higher education should not be seen as an expense by the government but instead an investment. Education is at the centre of everything in society. Without education society falls as a whole or society would need to rely on educated individuals from overseas.

 

Education Inflation: Why the University of Gloucestershire Shouldn’t increase their Fees [RANT]

In November Nick Clegg said he “massively regrets” being unable to deliver on his tuition fee promise. Cheltenham’s local MP, Martin Horwood, didn’t even bother voting in the 2010 December fees vote due to attending a climate conference in Mexico. At the time students were offering to pay for his flight home but still he escaped 4,500 miles away from the vote. Now Executive Director of External Relations at the University of Gloucestershire, Paul Drake, announced that the new fees were “competitive while not undermining the value of a Gloucestershire degree”. I bet students at my University, the University of Gloucestershire, are beginning to question who exactly is on their side.

Clegg's Broken Promise

Should University students have to pay for their own education?
Yes

Should the University of Gloucestershire raise their fees to £8,250?
No

Let’s focus on Paul Drake’s words, “not undermining the value of a Gloucestershire degree”. When the government announced that Universities in England will be able to charge up to £9000 per year from 2012 the media at first speculated that the full £9000 would only be charged by the very top of the league table Universities. There were two main flaws with that plan:

  1. The Labour government left many Universities in England with massive debts after promising to raise student caps and improve funding. Their instructions to Universities were to expand, buy new equipment and prepare yourself for more students. Then the economy crashed and caps were lowered, funding was reduced. Lots of debt still exists. Increasing student fees helps the Universities with their massive debts.
  2. Big University bosses had the idea running through their minds, ‘If £9000 per year would only be charged by the best Universities in England then surely charging more money each year would in turn mean a better education. The more you spend on a degree, the better it appears… we better raise our fees’. Or something like that.

The second point is exactly on par with Paul Drake’s thoughts of “not undermining the value of a Gloucestershire degree”. When will people learn that paying more for something does not necessarily mean better? Is the country still being run by people who think the best wine costs more? Jees.

Let me make this clear that the University of Gloucestershire is only one of many Universities raising their fees. The Times have put together a list of the damage, the overwhelming costs almost move me to tears.

Which is why Paul Drake’s first word of the quote makes sense, “competitive”. Education has now reached this twisted situation when the biggest fee increase in education has happened ever and because education inflation has grown so much that even though the University of Gloucestershire can charge 151% more for a degree per year, they are still being competitive.

Fair enough, we could hold onto hope that the OFA could step in and announce the fee increases we are seeing around the country as ludicrous, but they won’t. Why? Ed Miliband reported that last weekend they announced that fee changes are the Universities decisions and they will not take steps to intervene with changes.

The government should not put so much weight of debt upon those students who wish to continue into higher education. Society relies on education to move forward. Do we really want the brightest brains of Britain entering the world with so much debt upon their shoulders? It is likely that after 2012 students can expect to finish their degrees with at least £27,000 worth of debt.

I understand that Student Finance have changed the terms of their agreement. It will now apparently be “easier” for students to pay back their fees but let’s face the music; at least £27,000 of debt. That is a lot of money for anyone; it will push prospective students away and makes me glad that I will be graduating in 2012.

Whilst the opportunities the University of Gloucestershire has offered me have been superb I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I would never have attended the University of Gloucestershire if they were going to charge me £8,250. I would have had second thoughts about higher education as a whole, I think many other students will think the same. Yet the University of Gloucestershire is being kinder than most, their fees are still competitive even with such an increase.

Whilst I will miss the increase I feel sorry for prospective students who have to make a difficult decision. Higher education or not?

PS. If this article gets into the hands of University of Gloucestershire PR department then I am truly sorry to give you more media grief. You have had a hard time lately but when fees increase by 151% in an age when the UK inflation rate is currently 0.5%, you are going to have a tough time. @Paul Drake – nothing personal.

 

‘Yes’ is the Hardest Word to Say

It was when approaching the station that the leaflet was held out to my face. On the front clearly read “Yes to AV” and connected to that valuable piece of paper was our local Lib Dem. No doubt a pleasant man but when I responded that I was already going to vote ‘Yes’ he provided me with a soft thank you and turned to greet others. Before lighting a cigarette I was lost in a sense of bazzled regret. Usually I vote Conservative but wouldn’t like to technically aline myself to a particular political party.

My game is one of ideas. Some men have bad ideas and I would not vote for them. Yes, David Cameron has ideas. I’ve seen enough PM Question times to know that he is currently our safest bet. Yet this Lib Dem thanked me for voting ‘Yes’? I think he misunderstood, whilst I voted yes I was not doing it for his sake but my own idea’s sake. Whilst I have shown Lib Dem support before, he has not won mine and especially through the AV vote.

It could be said that this Conservative, writing this article, has made a mistake. That I should have voted ‘No’ to assist supporting the typical parties making it back in through the endless cycle of so-called tactical voting with our current FPTP system. ‘No’ is wrong. Why? It is not fair. If a Conservative government is to get back in then the vote for them to do so should be fair and FPTP does not work with the amount of political parties we see these days.

Once I stepped off the train at Victoria I was at first surprised of the amount of leaflets being handed out this time with the word ‘No’ on it. I work within the business capital; most (I guess) would give Conservatives their vote. We know for a fact that David Cameron voted ‘No’, it only makes sense that his supporters’ lurk the streets of London Victoria.

Once during an assembly when I was in Year 10 at Secondary School our headmaster did a talk about self-control. It was aptly titled “No is the Hardest Word to Say”. The context was one of being offered drugs or pleasant sex but instead of saying “Yes”, to instead say “No”. It was the perfect talk for a Catholic Boys School although, to be honest, an all boy’s school gets promiscuous most of the time. Without much female contact the average teenager is likely to go to great lengths to find a high. A friend of mine even succumbed to smoking tea (I tried it but it didn’t do anything for me).

The moral of this story is the hardest word to say is Yes. If more people said yes then more charities would be helped, more money donated, a change to our political system would occur and I very much doubt drug or sex abuse would rise that much.

Yesterday I voted ‘Yes’ for a much needed change to our political system, to make our votes fairer. Yes is the hardest word to say.

 

HOW and WHY to build a Memory Palace

Since the beginning of this year it has been necessary to remember a large volume of information within a very short period of time. Essentially the main method to deal with many pieces of information is to take a vast amount of notes, a task which can become laborious. Whilst well organised notes are effective (I use Microsoft OneNote for my note taking needs) it can slow down productivity with constant checking.

Instead I had to search for a better method to remember information and then I came across a memory technique, one which I first came to hear about through Derren Brown’s work.

 

What is a Memory Palace?
A memory palace is a method in which you can relate certain objects in your mind to a particular piece of information which needs to be remembered. Essentially it is remembering the layout of a familiar building and then placing objects in each room of your mind. This relies on a strong visual memory and the ability to associate an object with a piece of information or action.

 

How can I build a Memory Palace?

  1. Think of a location you are familiar with. This might be your home or perhaps your workplace. You must know the layout of the building in your mind.
  2. In your mind imagine you are walking through the building. In my house I imagine walking from the hallway and into each room consecutively. In each room I remember all the objects and always take exactly the same walking route.
  3. Make up objects to put in your house. These objects need to stand out in some way. They need to clash against the room which appears in your mind. For instance on my dad’s desk in my mind lies a very large gig ticket, this object reminds me that I need to go out and vote when I get home.

 

How is this Useful?
Imagine you need to revise a lot of information before an exam. When in an exam situation I always find myself relying on my memory to either remember the images of books I have read or sounds I have heard. Perhaps a discussion about Public Relations was playing on the radio and then I use that information to build a part of my Public Relations exam.

Instead the memory palace technique allows you to take one of the notes you have made ahead of your exam and then imagine it as an object in the building in your head. During the exam you walk around the memory palace in your mind and clearly remember each item in each room, which in turn allows you to recall information for the exam.

As a person who has Dyslexia my visual memory has always been a lot stronger than my analytical abilities. For this reason using a memory technique which relies on visual memory to remember written pieces of information is extremely useful. I have yet to test this technique in an exam scenario but I currently use it at Microsoft and it proves very effective.