Dreams to Reality at TEDxExeter 2016

Each year I summarise the posts I write for TEDxExeter on the theme of the annual conference. In 2016 it was “Dreams to Reality”; in 2015 it was “Taking the Long View” ; in 2014 it was “Ideas Without Frontiers”; in 2013, “Living the Questions”; and way back in the mists of time in 2012 it was “Sustainability and Our Interconnected World”. Here belatedly are my 2016 posts.

  1. Living the dream
    An introduction to the series… Once upon a time, the Old English dream meant “joy, mirth, noisy merriment” or “music”.
  2. First a dream
    “All we need to begin with is a dream that we can do better than before. All we need to have is faith, and that dream will come true. All we need to do is act, and the time for action is now.”
  3. Dream succeeds dream
    In the UK, the dream of suffrage has been succeeded by the dream of full equality for women.
  4. “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”
    For Carl Jung, dreams were a window on the unconscious, enabling the dreamer to communicate with and come to know the unconscious, and tap into it as a source of creativity.
  5. Killing dreams
    Tread softly because you might be treading on others’ dreams… or your own.
  6. Dream world
    When you wish upon a star, you’re a few million lightyears late. That star is dead. Just like your dreams.
  7. “Einstein’s Dreams”
    In his dreams, Einstein imagines many possible worlds, set in the towns of his homeland, in the valleys of the Alps, on the banks of the River Aare
  8. Technicolor Dreamcoats
    What is your dream? Are you willing to let it upend your reality?
  9. Dreamtime
    Some individuals have forgotten the songlines. They have become alienated from the land and cannot bear too much reality.
  10. I have a dream
    Martin Luther King dreamed of a better world, and he had been to the mountaintop. And yet it wasn’t about the mountain, but about the view over the mountain to what lies ahead.
  11. Dream location
    How we can help shape the place we live, through local government and at the grass roots.
  12. Dream team
    Even in football, it is possible to have dreams of community, to play as a team instead of individual starlets.
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Who has the wisdom?

I adapted the following from a sermon I gave on Sunday 18th October during the Sidmouth Science Festival.


The Book of Job is part of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament, which also includes the Psalms and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.

It describes the troubles visited by Satan upon Job to test his faith, Job’s lament, and speeches from three friends that are supposed to bring him comfort, but could be summarised as: “You must have sinned, and so brought all this upon yourself.”

Job stoutly defends himself, and asks God to vindicate him, after which a fourth friend, Elihu, gives a long speech criticising the other three for failing to answer Job, and Job for his complaints. And then in Chapter 38, God finally arrives in a whirlwind and delivers an amazing bravura rebuke, at which point Job relents and is restored.

Let’s take two verses:

Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
   or given understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
   Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
(Job 38:36-37, NRSV)

God’s speech does not come out of the blue; it all references earlier speeches. So when God asks “Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?” Elihu has already five times referred to clouds, for example asking Job: “Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of the one whose knowledge is perfect?”

The answer to these rhetorical questions is of course that only God has the wisdom. But what is wisdom? I am a bit of a nerd and like to look up the origin of words.

Wisdom is Old English, an elision of wise and doom. Wise is related to wisse, used by Chaucer to mean show or teach. The Ancrene Wisse was an anonymous 13th century monastic rule or guidance. And then doom is about judgement – as in the Doom paintings you see in some churches with God above and saints going to heaven on one side and sinners to hell on the other.

So wisdom goes beyond knowledge, to the weighing up of knowledge, and the application of knowledge, experience, intuition.

Now science means knowledge, from the Latin scire to know, probably from the Greek σχίζειν/skhizein to split – think schizophrenia. That’s how science works; it divides big questions up into smaller, manageable and hopefully answerable questions. So we have lots of scientific disciplines, and very focused research projects. It’s not a bad thing, and science has been incredibly successful on its own terms.

But there comes a time when necessary to put it all back together again, to gain an understanding of the whole system, to realise that life is not just about knowledge, and to be humble about not having all the answers – to have wisdom.

Earlier I wrote that God is the one with the wisdom, so I appear to have contradicted myself and the Book of Job. But maybe we start to have some inklings of wisdom gifted to us when we recognise that we are not actually God.

The word scientist was coined relatively recently, in 1834. Before then a person who did science, a 14th century word, was known as a natural philosopher – from the Greek φιλία/philia love and σοφία/sophia wisdom, so a scientist used to be a lover of the wisdom of natural things. Wouldn’t it be great to rediscover that meaning – “a lover of the wisdom of natural things”?

Most of my discussion so far has been about what happens up in the head. But for me “the wisdom of natural things” encompasses not just the head, but the wholeness of a person. Our mind is not separate from our soul, emotions and feelings, or our body. We experience natural things most through our body, after all, and we are in the season of Seasonal Affective Disorder, when I for one feel lower and like hibernating.

I quoted earlier “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?” This verse is difficult Hebrew, and has been translated in wildly divergent ways. The New International Version has it: “Who gives the ibis wisdom or gives the rooster understanding?”

The words translated “in the inward parts” could literally mean “into the kidneys”. “Who has put wisdom into our kidneys?” Maybe we would say “heart” in our culture, but in any case, it is very physical language.

And God’s speech in Job is about physical phenomena, natural things: “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you?” or “Who provides for the raven its prey?”

Our inklings of human wisdom, gifted by God, are not just in our heads, but come from a combination of knowledge, intuition, and physical gut, and ultimately by listening deeply to and waiting intently upon God the source of all wisdom.

In my art practice “Particulart: The art of knitting, chemistry, and gentle protest”, I am trying to help people to approach science and environmental issues in a variety of ways: through data and head knowledge, numbers and words; but also through the visual aspects; through the tactility of the physical representation; through play; and through reflection and contemplation.

I can’t hide that I intensely dislike most of our current government’s policies. They are not listening to scientists and other concerned citizens over many issues. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is happening, human activity is causing it, and it is the greatest threat to our continued existence. But the Chancellor views the environment as ‘red tape’ holding back economic activity, and consciously or unconsciously chooses not to understand that all economic activity and indeed life is entirely dependent on having an environment.

We are playing at being God, pretending we have wisdom while we just have knowledge, and sometimes we ignore even that. To repeat what I wrote earlier: wisdom goes beyond knowledge, to the weighing up and application of knowledge, experience, and intuition. And maybe we start to have some inklings of wisdom gifted to us when we recognise that we are not actually God.

So let us pray that the negotiators at COP21 in Paris – even those from the UK – have the humility to listen deeply and the willingness to seek wisdom through knowledge, intuition and physical gut feeling, and become lovers of the wisdom of natural things.

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Taking the Long View at TEDxExeter 2015

Each year I summarise the posts I write for TEDxExeter on the theme of the annual conference. In 2015 it was “Taking the Long View” ; in 2014 it was “Ideas Without Frontiers”; in 2013, “Living the Questions”; and way back in the mists of time in 2012 it was “Sustainability and Our Interconnected World”. Here are my 2015 posts.

  1. Magna Carta
    The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta was the inspiration behind the 2015 theme. Why we chose that and not the 50th anniversary of the Sound of Music.
  2. The telescope
    Taking the literal view of the Long View, a smattering of quite interesting factoids about the origins of the telescope and its name; the transit of Venus and Cook’s voyages; and the Interplanetary Scintillation Array and other more modern telescopes.
  3. Climate change and knitting
    The Guardian’s campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground, a Lenten Carbon Fast; and how I take the long view in my knitting and arts practice.
  4. If you go down to the woods today…
    The short-termism of deforestation, and some hopeful examples of the long view of reafforestation.
  5. Up the Women
    From Clause 40 in Magna Carta to HIllary Clinton via the suffragists and suffragettes – the long struggle for women’s political rights, and a call to vote on 7 May [sigh].
  6. Further together
    There’s an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Also a tribute to the wonderful TEDxExeter team.
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Particulart, or the art of knitting, chemistry, meditation and gentle protest

The politics

The first Particulart exhibition was a collaboration between Diana Moore and myself, running in the Exeter Real Food café from Monday 13th October to Saturday 29th November 2014. Particulart is all about knitting. It’s also all about the Exeter Incinerator, which was inaugurated on 16th October 2014, and about waste management strategy, and monitoring emissions, and the environment, and health, and transparency, and visual impact, and chemistry.

The Incinerator had already happened, and we couldn’t change that. But we want to make sure it is operated properly, and knitting and emitting particles was our way of telling other people about it and its potential impacts. Hence the timing of the exhibition, and the exhibition launch party the evening before the Incinerator’s inauguration.

As we were preparing the exhibition, Brooks Newmark, in his first major speech as the new minister for civil society, said: “We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics… The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting and doing the best they can to promote their agenda, which should be about helping others.” Mr Newmark, as well as being patronising, clearly doesn’t know his knitters very well. I expect there were a few tricoteuses cackling when his head metaphorically rolled into the basket three weeks later. We just laughed, tweeted the link, and carried on with our knitting and politics… although, broadly speaking, I did the knitting and exhibition and Diana did the politics and launch.

Diana composed a letter to Devon Council and Exeter City Councillors, inviting them to the exhibition launch and making a number of requests:

  • increased transparency to enable peace of mind on public health and the environment – that is, enhanced monitoring and public reporting of emissions
  • a commitment to waste reduction and recycling – including better information, and composting instead of incineration of food waste
  • increased transparency over the contract – including information about the cost to the tax payer, value for money, cost of operation, profit

We waited for their response, Diana wrote a press release and dealt with local media, and I continuing knitting and planning the exhibition hanging.

The Incinerator’s official name is the Marsh Barton Energy from Waste / Energy Recovery Facility, which makes it sound all nice and positive: all that waste just going to waste, and we can generate electricity and heat from it. But the beast needs feeding, and what if Devon County Council were fined if it couldn’t provide enough waste to operators Tiru and Viridor? The County Waste Manager states that “The [Exeter] plant has been sized to ensure that there will always be sufficient waste to feed it and as such there are no plans to have to restrict recycling to feed the plant or bring waste from further afield”, but also acknowledges the “concern that a degree of complacency [over recycling] may occur given Exeter’s waste would no longer be going to landfill but would be used to generate energy”. An incinerator is an incentive to generate more waste, rather than to reduce, reuse or recycle. And burning 1 tonne of waste generates on average about 1 tonne of carbon dioxide, so what if that electricity from waste displaced a lower-carbon alternative? And what if there were problems with its operation, so it emitted harmful, even toxic, pollution? Much of Exeter, not least Devon County Council’s offices, are downstream in a prevailing wind.

The artwork

Particulart comprised my 3D knitted representations of a series of particles that the Incinerator would inevitably emit, such as carbon dioxide, and that it shouldn’t emit, such as toxic dioxins and furans.

We also commissioned three new works from photographer Benjamin J Borley. The Incinerator is located on the corner of Grace Road South and Alphin Brook Road, on the edge of Marsh Barton Trading Estate next to the railway, Exeter Canal, and Riverside Valley Park. It all sounds as though it should be lovely and bucolic. But the Trading Estate certainly isn’t, and now the Valley Park is dominated by a hulking grey industrial armadillo. And the red light at the top of its chimney is visible from miles around, day and night – Sauron’s malevolent eye at the top of the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr.

In his studies, Ben beautifully captured the monolithic nature of the building, and its juxtaposition with the neighbouring green space. It stands both separate and other from its context, yet negatively impacts upon it. Ben used an infra-red filter in one photo, which turns vegetation a polluted pink. In another, the early light gives the Incinerator an almost radioactive glow. And in the final of the three studies we used, the building dwarfs the human scale of a team of local media.

By contrast, the knitted particles are homely, warm and comfortable, approachable, innocent, and non-threatening.

Each particle is made up of a number of atoms and bonds knitted in acrylic yarn. The design follows the ball and stick model and the CPK colour scheme used in chemistry. So carbon is black, mercury and other metals are grey, oxygen is red, hydrogen is white, nitrogen is blue, fluorine is light-green, chlorine is mid-green, bromine is dark green, and sulphur is yellow. I stuffed the atoms with those plastic bags that charities keep dropping through the letterbox, and stiffened the particles with coathanger wire.

The materials used are not natural and beautiful. The yarn is manufactured from oil not natural fibres. The plastic bags and wire are, well, plastic bags and wire. The carbon footprint of the particles, including yarn, bags and wire, is just over 5kg CO2, equivalent to a couple of burgers. However, as only a fraction of charity plastic bags are actually used to collect bric-a-brac, and it can be difficult to recycle wire coathangers, reusing them keeps a few at least out of the Incinerator.

Reflections

Particulart encompasses the senses of sight, through Ben’s photos worth a thousand words, and of touch. Knitting epitomises the material relationship between human being and things. It references the handmade, and the clothing which sits next to the skin and expresses our personalities. Particulart takes both the maker and the audience on a journey from data and scientific thought to the more tactile areas of the brain. So it is not just about thinking, but about doing and experiencing, as life must be.

Like other old skills coming back into vogue, knitting is a model of thrift, of making and mending. Old knitted garments can be darned, or unravelled and made anew. Reuse and recycling is creative; incineration is destructive. And yet Particulart subverts craft and chemistry. The particles are not useful, unlike warm woolly jumpers, socks or tea cosies. Nor is a toxic dioxin cuddly, unlike its 3D knitted representation (at least before I stiffened it with wire for hanging).

Particulart is also countercultural. The making of it required a certain slowness, presence in the moment and attentiveness. There are no short cuts to knitting a particle. Each stitch must be stitched, sometimes more than once if I made a mistake! At times it became a meditative practice, each stitch a mantra akin to the ancient Christian prayer-word “Maranatha”, which occupied my surface rational brain and allowed contemplation in the depths. At other times, I found myself mulling over the issue. While the act of assembling data and information about the particles increased knowledge of the issue, the act of making led to a deeper care and concern about the issue, and attention to how the audience might understand the issue and respond to the exhibition.

The concept of the exhibition emerged with a certain slowness. It all began with a cup of tea and general chitchat in the Real Food café in March 2013. Diana floated the idea of knitting molecules to leave around Exeter. I was interested and immediately started investigating the emissions from incinerators, but it wasn’t until July that I started looking into chemistry models and knitting patterns. With Diana’s encouragement, I prototyped a carbon dioxide, which was too big and time-consuming to knit, so I experimented with reducing the pattern. In September, we met again to discuss a new idea of displaying the particles in a gallery before ’emitting’ them into the community, the latest on Incinerator launch dates, and avenues for publicity.

It is important that there were two of us involved from the beginning. Together we could take ideas for a walk, and find that we had voices which were saying “we can do something”, and that we could be voices. The writer Betsy Greer coined the portmanteau word ‘craftivism’ in 2003, and defined it as “a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite”. In knitting, Diana and I had found a gentle way of creating an opening to get our message heard.

Particulart thereafter became a means of opening out the conversation and creating a community of interest.

Diana joined the Incinerator’s Liaison Committee, as a local resident, and the conversation extended to the construction companies, their PR, councillors and other members of the committee. Diana was invited to the inauguration, and we invited the Committee to our launch, which led to one of the most positive responses we had to the exhibition. One of the subcontractors who attended the launch told us they were used to attending shouty aggressive protests, which did little beyond alienating people. Our gentle protest made him much more interested in engaging, and he liked the potential for educating the public too.

Diana and I talked to other knitters who wanted to participate, to our friends, to members of the Politics department at the University, and to other artists in Exeter, as well as to the Real Food store who kindly hosted the exhibition. Then there were the networks and conversations that happened and are still happening on social media, Twitter in particular. And last but not least there were the interactions arising from the exhibition and its making: between the maker and the made, between the particles and Ben’s photos, and between the exhibition and its audience.

Diana crocheted a basket of PM2.5 (tiny clumps of carbon which cause havoc in the lungs) for giving away to people at the exhibition launch and the Incinerator inauguration, and leaving on the tables in the café during the exhibition. They went far and wide from the launch, and were a big hit with Viridor staff at the inauguration. At the end of the exhibition, we found only one left in the café. Who knows where the others went, and what conversations they prompted.

Kaleider is an arts production studio in Exeter that produces some really interesting work arising from the question “What can we do together that we cannot do apart?” They make art that interrupts the dominant narratives in our society: “We want to make interruptive gifts; we want to create experiences where those dominant narratives are problematised for a moment; to provoke a moment of reflection; to tell a counter story; to design different narratives.” The art is about encounter, where the work meets the audience and ‘forces’ interaction in a joyful, playful and engaging way. I got to know Kaleider after the exhibition, but it seems to me that serendipitously by showing Particulart in a café we did something similar. In any case, producing “interruptive gifts” is a good aim for the future. Here are a few of the comments and tweets we received:

  • I do like a bit of #knitted art over coffee.
  • I was drinking my tea at Real Food, when I noticed a knitted particle on the table, then I realised I was surrounded by organic chemistry.
  • Had a sneak preview. Looks amazing. Do go along and see something you will never have seen before.

It also strikes me that engaging with Particulart required as much slowness as the making of it did. And therefore an independent café, where time is slowed and the audience is relaxed, is the ideal location for an encounter with a bunch of knitted chemistry with a message. Maybe its impact wasn’t instant, but perhaps in conversation and subsequent reflection it formed and refined and sunk in and was digested and will be long-lasting.

But…

But is it art? Nowadays, the art of ideas jostles alongside the art that imitates the world. Although Particulart does represent the molecular building blocks of the world, it primarily reflects on the culture and society in which we live, exploring the issues and effects of consumerism and accountability: the production and treatment of waste, the interactions between humans and rest of our environment, and even the disjunction between science and the rest of culture.

In an episode of “What Do Artists Do All Day?” screened in November 2014, the Chapman Brothers said that in some of their work they were “trying to just ruin the assumption that art has some progressive motion to it. And we think that by doing things like flower arranging and knitting that in some ways we can undermine the heroic nature of making art. We can just turn it into something prosaic.” Their position supports the notion that knitting can be art, even if it is phrased somewhat pejoratively. But does it differ from the use of craft in activism? Perhaps other craftivism goes further in explaining its purpose, meaning and demands. We produced an interpretative board and website that outlined our requests, and this blog is overly explicative, but I think and hope the exhibition also allowed space for interpretation. Anyway, I suspect that question doesn’t matter because craftivism is art anyway.

Either way, some “real artists” (as I call them) in Exeter received Particulart as art, which is good enough for me. And Matt Harvey, the local Wondermentalist, also commented that the particle name “2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin” was poetry in its own right, which was an added bonus.

So now what?

Diana is continuing to hold Devon County Council to account. The set of Incinerator particles is available to other protest groups on loan. Except, that is, for my out-size prototype carbon dioxide, which we will one day soon give away via Free Art Friday. Maybe we could go into schools and teach pupils how to skpo and kfb as a means of introducing them (and their teachers) to the issues.

I am developing the Particulart concept further to encompass further issues and more chemistry. “A Stitch in Time” is on the subject of climate change, and is being exhibited in Bristol Cathedral during Lent 2015. This Wednesday, 25th February, I am giving a talk in Exeter (I have reused my title as the title of this blog) and I would like to do more speaking and writing about the concept and the issues.

But I will leave the last word to my favourite tweet: “I wish I could adequately describe how happy I am that knitted molecular chains are an actual thing.”

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Candlemas-ology

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple, otherwise known as Candlemas. In the reading from Luke’s gospel, Simeon calls Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32; NRSV), hence presumably the practice in the western church of blessing the candles for use in the church throughout the year, and the name ‘Candlemas’.

Originally, the feast was a minor celebration. But in 541 AD, bubonic plague broke out in Constantinople, killing thousands. Emperor Justinian I, in consultation with the Patriarch of Constantinople, ordered a period of fasting and prayer throughout the Eastern Empire, culminating in processions and a prayer service asking for deliverance on Candlemas in 542, whereupon the plague ceased. In thanksgiving, Justinian elevated the feast to a more solemn celebration.

Sometime in my first couple of years at the Met Office, I went to a lecture on dendrochronology-palaeoecology. Dendrochronology is the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree-rings, which is then used to determine certain aspects of past ecologies. In areas where the climate is reasonably predictable, trees develop annual rings of different properties depending on weather, rain, temperature, soil acidity, plant nutrition, carbon dioxide concentration, and so on.

In 540 AD, there was a major eruption of the Rabaul caldera near Papua New Guinea, of roughly the same magnitude as Mount Pinatubo in 1991 or Krakatoa in 1883. These sort of events fling huge quantities of ash and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere (Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 pales into insignificance), and appear in the palaeoecology record as ash strata in ice cores and the narrow tree rings resulting from global cooling. The lecturer was relating the science to all sorts of historical events and art, the really fascinating stuff you can get to in science, but only after paying your dues by painstaking counting of gazillions of tree-rings to assemble large enough datasets. He considered the global cooling following the 540 eruption as one of the contributions to the outbreak of plague; cooling would have affected grain crops, leading to famine, greater trade in grain, and hence in rats and fleas, and reduced resistance to disease.

By 542, the atmosphere was recovering, the sun returning and harvests improving. The lecturer didn’t go as far as linking the return of the sun with Justinian’s establishment of the feast celebrating the light for revelation to the nations – that was something I realised after the lecture. Probably there was no such link, but I liked the idea.


This is a repost from my Mucknell Abbey blog. Well, it is Groundhog Day after all!

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Schrödinger’s Lazarus

The story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead is found only in John’s gospel (John 11:1-44; NRSV) Jesus heard Lazarus was ill, he dallied where he was for two days, he told the disciples Lazarus had died, he travelled to Bethany and found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, he spoke with Lazarus’ sisters Martha then Mary… “Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus … cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’”

And then I imagine there was a pause, the sort indulged in by Hollywood movie-makers, while everyone wondered whether Lazarus would come out.

In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger devised his famous thought experiment to pose the question, when does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states and become one or the other? Schrödinger’s cat sits in a sealed box, and its life or death depends on whether a radioactive particle decays, causing a Geiger counter tube to discharge, and through a relay to release a hammer that shatters a flask of Prussic acid. There is no way of knowing the state of the system without opening the box, and hence to the outside observer the cat is both living and dead, smeared out in equal parts. Once the box is opened, the observation takes place and the system collapses into one or the other state: decayed nucleus/dead cat or undecayed nucleus/living cat. However… the cat is also an observer, and would be aware of only one state; it would remember only being alive. Hence the paradox, which has attracted many interpretations.

To Lazarus, his state of being living or dead would be known to him, albeit perhaps a bit hazily. To Jesus, also, perhaps (discuss!). But to the other outside observers, what is the effect of Jesus’ command? What were they thinking and feeling at the moment of taking away the stone?

I suppose I’m trying to draw some parallels – between Jesus’ word and the laws of quantum physics; between the binding and vivifying effect of the word and the decay of the particle; and between the faith and hope of the people of Bethany and the uncertainty of the experiment observers – as an aslant aid to understanding the meaning of faith or hope. “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8: 24b-25; NRSV).

To stretch the already-straining parallels beyond breaking point, where am I in the system: the outside observer, the cat, or the Geiger counter (from Niels Bohr’s interpretation)? Asking the question – what is it possible for me to know of God? – is to put God in the box, whereas God has already let the poor cat let out of the bag through creation and incarnation. In any case, what am I to know anything more of God? It is for me to be known by God. And though (like the Paul of Romans 7:24 but unlike the cat), I might not know sometimes whether I am dead or alive, I am hopeful that God knows I am alive and delights in that.

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Science and heart

Last night, I heard Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, speak at Sheldon’s Friday Fringe about “The Church and Civil Partnerships”. He spoke about his own experience and the journeys that the state and the church have been on, the need for equality, but the pitfalls of trying to move too fast. He came across as genuine and tactically astute. If only he were still my MP, and the constituency boundary changes in 2010 hadn’t shifted Topsham and St Loyes out of Exeter and into East Devon!

He prefaced his talk with some science. It’s almost indisputable that hetero- or homosexuality are innate, rather than learned, and there is increasing evidence of a genetic basis. But people don’t believe what they believe because of the science. It’s the same with climate change. People think and make decisions with their hearts or emotions, rather than their heads, and are much happier to stay with outdated beliefs than to change their prejudices or their lifestyles.

Last Friday, I was the storyteller (cool name for blogger) at the first TEDxExeter, a festival of ideas worth spreading on the theme of “Sustainability and Our Interconnected World”. You’d have thought that an event about ideas would have been interesting, cerebral, perhaps even inspiring. But one of the most telling responses was the openness to the emotional and spiritual. For example:

  • @GeekDadGamer : The only framework I have to make sense of @TEDxExeter is a spiritual one. Not expected that, or the emotion.
  • @KirstiAfS : Reflecting on an inspiring day at #TEDxExeter & what engaged me most: personal stories (especially from childhood ) + passion. And Taiko!
  • @TPiMBWAcademic : @BandiMbubi Amazing speech, absolutely deserved the standing ovation! pure inspiration! tears in my eyes #MakingTheDifference #TEDxExeter

So, a question: how best can science be used to engage the heart and emotions?

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