Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Age of Stage Fright

Anxiety and the Rise of Civilisation

We all understand the concept of stage fright, that horrible nervousness that overcomes a person when they have to perform or speak in front of any kind of audience. It's a nervousness that can even come with physical side effects - sweating, dry mouth, stuttering, dizziness. Even such things as blurred vision or fainting. Of course, there's nothing physically wrong with the person. No disease or illness. Nevertheless the fear of performance, or perhaps the fear of the social consequences of a bad performance, can cause physical symptoms. Physical symptoms that can be difficult and even impossible at times to control.

Anyway, I would argue that the seeming epidemic of social anxiety that we have at the moment is in someways a manifestation of this. Kind of a constant stage fright. A prolonged or chronic version of the stage fright we would normally only expect to experience in extreme or unusual social circumstances.

The Age of Stage Fright
(The original is a 1809 work by Isaac Cruikshank depicting
King John's first appearance at the New Theatre, Covent Garden)

With the advent of social media in particular it often feels like we're constantly onstage. Constantly having to perform. It may sound silly, but if you have one or two hundred friends on Facebook that's the equivalent to a room full of people. In fact, I would have loved an audience that big when I used to play gigs with bands ..and even with half that number I still used to get quite nervous. On top of this social media is 24/7. You're always on call, the office is always open. At times you'd like to simply ignore people, but that's a social faux pas. Plus if you do that you feel guilty, or bad for the person you're ignoring, so either way it's a negative experience.

Now, of course, you could just not use social media. However, there's a huge pressure to be online, and sometimes it's essential for work, relationships and other things. Plus there are also huge benefits to using social media - I don't want this to be just another tech-bashing article. There are obvious positives that come from being online, and that come from being able to be online around the clock.

I do feel we underestimate and misunderstand the psychological effect it has on us though. To always be "performing" for an audience takes its toll. All your mistakes seen by all and recorded forever. The pressure is precisely similar to being onstage, and comes with the exact same feeling that any mistake or failing will be seen by everyone and remembered for the rest of your life. Or at least for the next few years at any rate.

In fact, a slightly trivial, but telling example of this came only the other day. I was at a football match with my brother and as the row we were sitting in was full of people we were tempted to leave by climbing over the empty seats in front of us. However, there were so many people with camera phones that any slip or fall would have potentially become some kind of embarrassing "viral" event. So we decided to just slowly and politely push our way through the crowd. Had we have been in the same situation just five or six years earlier we'd have just clambered over the seats without a second thought. Now though we're all too aware that there may be someone filming us.

I think it's a similar situation with work in the modern world. In earlier times people tended to do physical jobs that required little social interaction. If someone was working down a coalmine, or better still, out with nature in the fields, they were simply expected to do their job. It didn't so much matter how they looked, or how they spoke, or how shy or confident they were. They just had to do whatever it was they were doing.

Now however every job seems to have social requirements. Even people in very low paid work are expected to present themselves in a certain way. It's very hard to simply be oneself in most modern employment. You really have to tailor your very personality to fit the position. It's kinda soulless.

People will often throw the label "lazy" at the unemployed. However, I think it's much more the social pressure that hinders people. Lots of people, including myself, hate "performing" for other people. In fact, the word "workshy" is perhaps more accurate in its literal sense than in its common usage in this regard.

This is also maybe why the modern world - from politics and the media downwards - seems to be dominated by fakers. People who are comfortable adapting their personality to whatever situation they're in, and who simply say whatever other people want to hear. Though again, I would imagine even these super-driven or super-confident people feel the heavy burden of constantly keeping up a facade.

This is where I think much of our modern social anxiety comes from. We're constantly having to adapt our outward personality for the needs of work, our social lives and its extension into social media. It wears people down. I think this is why people with anxiety often don't want to leave their bed or bedroom - it's the only place they get privacy ..and even then they need to switch off the phone or the tablet to get it. It's the only place they can really be themselves.

I'm not altogether sure what the solution to all this is though. Maybe over time people will just adapt. It's certainly not a natural situation for people now though. In fact, returning to stage fright itself, there was a time when people only experienced this at rare moments in their life - a wedding speech, a big interview, a performance in a play. It made sense that such huge important events would bring the eyes of our wider social circle, and with it nervous fits and butterflies in the stomach. It can't be good for people to be in that state, or a similar one constantly though.

I would guess that we'll probably have to change society in some way to allow people to relax more and let their hair down. Though again I'm not quite sure how.

People used to let their hair down on a night out, or at some other social event. Now though there are so many camera phones and so much is uploaded to social media that such events are just as fraught with the fear of embarrassment as a public speech or a job interview. People tend to be more concerned with how their night out "appears" to their wider social circle on social media than they are with how much fun they're actually having. Plus, your boss will probably see it all on social media too. As may your mam, your auntie, and everyone else. And, of course, anyone special you meet at some point in the future may see it if they decide to take a few minutes to scroll down your timeline.

Saying all this though, I do get the feeling that Facebook in particular is fading. In my experience people seem to be sharing less on there these days. Which I think is partly because people are starting to dislike the fact that so many people, from so many different parts of their social circle, can see things. For example, you don't necessarily want your parents, etc commenting on posts aimed at your work colleagues. So perhaps people are rebelling, or maybe just adapting to all this in some way.

It's definitely something that affects us all though. We may often say "we don't care what other people think of us", but we all do. In fact, we need to in order to establish boundaries and relationships with other people. It's an unavoidable part of operating in the social sphere.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Earth Agnostic: Curious World Maps

The following are just some maps that I thought were worth sharing. I originally used them for a few YouTube videos I made back in 2015, however, I never shared them on here. Having recently rediscovered them lying in a folder though I thought it was maybe worth giving them a re-airing.

This first one simply highlights how all the landmasses of the Earth seem to point south. I heard someone mention this strange fact quite a while ago and it struck me as quite odd. It's one of those strange things you only ever really notice when someone points it out to you.

(Gall-Peters projection with arrows
highlighting the southward pointing continents)

When you flip the map upside down the effect seems to become even more noticeable.

(Gall-Peters projection - upside down)

It just looks wrong upside down for some reason doesn't it.

Now still after all this time I have no idea why the landmasses seem to point south. Is there some reason for this? Or is it simply something random we're seeing in the map that isn't really as significant as it appears.

Of course, the Gall-Peters projection does seem to elongate the continents quite a bit (no doubt why I originally used it to illustrate the point). So maybe this south-pointing tendency isn't quite as pronounced in reality as it appears on the map. It's still rather odd though whichever map you use.

Also another noticeable thing is that at the northern extreme of the map the land is almost continuous (right across Russia, Canada and Alaska with just a few blips of ocean separating Greenland). However, at the southern extreme it's just the tips of the landmasses (if we discount Antarctica of course). We're all so familiar with the world map that we just seem to accept this weird land distribution, but when we look at the less familiar upside image it becomes impossible not to notice.

It reminds me a little of the land and water hemispheres of the Earth, which show that the Earth can be divided into two halves - one containing most of the landmasses and the other containing mainly water (with just Australia, New Zealand, the tip of South America, Indonesia and Antarctica disturbing an otherwise endless ocean).

The British Empire on the Azimuthal Equidistant Map

This next map kind of ties in with the first one in a way, and once again concerns the tips of the continents. I noticed that if you marked the British Empire on the world map then it seemed that Britain controlled most of the edge.

So if you view this image you'll see that Britain had possession of New Zealand, Australia, India and South Africa. Pretty much half the perimeter.

(The Anglo-Sphere on the Azimuthal Projection)

Now, of course, the anomaly here is that South America was never part of the British Empire. However, what were part of the British Empire, and still are part of Britain's overseas territories, are the Falkland Islands - right at the tip of South America. Quite interesting really, as it suddenly gives the Falklands a more strategic and valuable purpose.

Now the final circled area, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is Hawaii. Now the fiftieth state of the USA. Although not quite on the outer perimeter line it seemed worth including at the time as it seems to have a lot of importance for some reason. Perhaps simply owing to it being the only large island group in that vast swathe of ocean. It's also very much part of the "Anglosphere". In fact, both Britain and the US had a huge interest and involvement in the governance of Hawaii long before it formally joined the USA. The British influence can be seen in the design of the Hawaiian flag.

(The flag of Hawaii containing the Union Jack)

Again, just like the previous map, I have no real explanation for this "British" perimeter, and it could likewise just be another random anomaly that seems to suggest something that isn't really there. Plus we, the British, did control a large part of the world anyway. So I guess countless other patterns could also be etched out on to the world map in that regard.

Either way though I do find both these maps quite interesting and thought-provoking.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

John Lennon: UFOs, Flat Earth and Conspiracy Culture

This is a theme I first wrote about a very long time ago. I remember reading biographies of John Lennon in my late teens and early twenties and being surprised and delighted to find that he seemed to be interested in many of the esoteric or fortean ideas that I myself was. It shouldn't have been surprising really as alternative ideas permeate the work of the Beatles. Meeting the Maharishi, Aleister Crowley appearing on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's, and so on and so forth.

Anyway, I've been reacquainted with the theme recently simply by virtue of the fact that I've been watching a lot of Beatles documentaries and footage on YouTube. Particularly stuff in regard to John's death. So I thought it would be an interesting topic to readdress. Plus my original articles on the theme aren't up online anymore ( they were pretty awful tbf xD ).

There's a fair bit I have to relay today, so I'll try to keep the writing short and trashy. I'll start with the UFO stuff, which is generally fairly well known. Then finish with the more recent flat earth stuff. Cramming everything else in between the two.

John Lennon and UFOs

Lennon claimed to have actually seen a UFO in New York in the summer of 1974. In the sleeve notes for the album Walls and Bridges he makes reference to it;
"On the 23rd Aug. 1974 at 9 o'clock I saw a UFO J.L."
He also speaks about it in the following radio interview, claiming that it was so close "I could have hit it with a brick if I'd have thrown a stone at it".

(Lennon speaking about the incident)

There are also references to UFOs in some of his songs.

In the song Out The Blue he states;
Like a U.F.O. you came to me
And blew away life's misery
And in the track Nobody Told Me he states;
Everybody's smoking and no one's getting high
Everybody's flying and never touch the sky
There's UFOs over New York and I ain't too surprised
The illusionist Uri Geller also claims that Lennon told him of an actual alien encounter in his Dakota apartment. Where he was accosted by bug-eyed men who gave him a strange metallic egg. An egg which Lennon then gave to Geller.


Now personally I'm of the opinion that Geller is a professional charlatan, so I think the story is completely fraudulent. Even from a credible source though such a story would be difficult to take seriously. Entertaining though nonetheless.

Religion, Esoterica and Other Alternative Ideas

I'll just rattle off some of the other topics Lennon was interested in here.

According to the book Lennon in America: 1971-1980 by Geoffery Giuliano, Lennon went through a Christian phase.
John became convinced he was receiving divine communication from the Lord. He called The 700 Club prayer line on several occasions to seek help for his failing eyesight, troubled marriage, and various addictions. Lennon even recorded a tune that he never especially liked, "Talking with Jesus," and was further inspired to compose several other unrecorded Christian songs, including a musical version of the Lord's Prayer, called simply "Amen."
Of course, it's worth bearing in mind that the book was published after Lennon's death so it's perhaps unfair to simply take all this on face value. Plus Lennon's sense of humour is often misread by people. I would guess that his interest in Christianity was sincere and heartfelt, but that writers such as this tend to bend things towards a less flattering lilt. Listening to Lennon speak he always comes across as brilliantly rational, so such portrayals seem a little misleading to me.

The book also states that Lennon took an interest in the religion of Islam too.
John's latest spiritual diversion was a fascination with Islam. He adopted the Muslim tradition of fasting, glorifying Allah, and constantly thanking him for his many mercies. As usual, his conversion lasted only a few frantic, over-the-top days.
Again this sounds like a misreading of someone taking a genuine interest in something.

Lennon and Yoko also dabbled in astrology and used it to help make predictions about their business ventures. Business ventures that were becoming increasingly serious towards the end of Lennon's life. One wonders what plans they had for the coming years?

Interestingly, Lennon also took part in past-life regression sessions as well. He was supposedly regressed back successfully to some of his earlier lives. Including one where he had lived during the Crusades and another where he had lived as a Neanderthal hunter-gatherer in pre-history. Listening to Lennon speak about this in interviews though it appears it was something he went along with more out of politeness towards the practitioner than through genuine belief.

Lennon also enjoyed occult literature. One of his favourite books concerned the Spear of Destiny - the spear used to pierce the side of Christ at the Crucifixion. Again, from the above Lennon in America book;
..Lennon dove head-long into the wacky world of the occult. One of his favourite paperbacks addressed the Lost Spear of Destiny, the lance allegedly used to pierce the side of Christ at his crucifixion. Always fascinated by religious relics, John called on Green to try to divine the location of this coveted article.
Lennon had visions of playing the adventurer and taking a bus tour of southeastern Europe (thought to be the site of the relic) to search for it. When Green asked what he would do with the spear, John responded that he could do anything in the universe. He'd always had brilliant ideas for action, he said, but only lacked the mystical force necessary to put them into action.
Further evidence for this interest in the esoteric comes in Lennon's song Mind Games where he mentions the Holy Grail;
Some call it magic to search for the grail
Also, in regards conspiracy theories Lennon actually gave money to help fund the radio host Mae Brussell, whose work focused on the JFK assassination among other things. From Wikipedia;
An impressed John Lennon donated money so Krassner could afford to print Mae Brussell's work.

John Lennon and the Flat Earth

The links made online between Lennon and the flat earth all tend to stem from his song Watching the Wheels. It contains the following lines;
When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall

Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball?

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round

I really love to watch them roll

No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
It doesn't contain a direct reference stating the world is flat, however, it's easy to see why people would interpret it as so - no longer on the ball, no longer riding the merry-go-round. Again though, they're interpretations about a song made after the man's death, so it's maybe unfair to overstate any perceived connection.

Digging further though there are a few more interesting avenues to take this down. Firstly, John Lennon and Yoko Ono actually launched a hot air balloon in 1969. It was for a film tilted Apotheosis - meaning the elevation of someone to divine status. Some of the footage was also used in the video for the song Nobody Told Me. Of course, high altitude balloon footage is now a big feature in the flat earth scene. So it's interesting to speculate as to why Lennon and Yoko were so interested in getting a view from above the clouds.

(Apotheosis - John Lennon and Yoko Ono)

Also, Double Fantasy - the album containing the song Watching the Wheels - was released just three weeks before Lennon's death. In fact, Lennon's killer, Mark Chapman, actually recited lines from the song whilst in custody. Chapman also famously carried a copy of the novel The Catcher in the Rye whilst carrying out the murder. A book that has concurrent themes - such as the carousel which features at the end of the book. The imaginary "catcher" in the book also stops children from falling off the edge of a cliff. Something that perhaps has echoes of people being stopped from falling off the ends of the earth. In fact, the following documentary about Lennon's death is well worth watching in this regard. Though the tone of it seems a little creepy and disturbing.

Also, you could kind of say that the album cover for Season of Glass, Yoko Ono's first album following Lennon's death, has allusions to flat earth. It features the horizon, level water and what I'm guessing are John's blood-spattered glasses.

(Season of Glass - Yoko Ono)

Again though, this is all just idle speculation, and it would only be fair to leave the last words on the topic to Lennon himself. When asked by Rolling Stone magazine what the song Watching the Wheels was about he replied;
The whole universe is a wheel, right? Wheels going round and round. They’re my own wheels, mainly, but, you know, watching meself is like watching everybody else. And I watch meself through my child too.

John Lennon and Yoko Woko

Finally, to round things off, I'll provide a few quotes from one of John Lennon's final interviews. It was conducted by Playboy magazine and shows how truly awake John and Yoko were at the time.
ONO: "It's a hard realization. These days, the society prefers single people. The encouragements are to divorce or separate or be single or gay... whatever. Corporations want singles-- they work harder if they don't have family ties. They don't have to worry about being home in the evenings or on the weekends. There's not much room for emotions about family or personal relationships. You know, the whole thing they say to women approaching 30 that if you don't have a baby in the next few years, you're going to be in trouble, you'll never be a mother, so you'll never be fulfilled in that way and..."
LENNON: "Only Yoko was 73 when she had Sean."
ONO: "So instead of the society discouraging children, since they are important for society, it should encourage them. It's the responsibility of everybody. But it is hard. A woman has to deny what she has, her womb, if she wants to make it. It seems that only the privileged classes can have families. Nowadays, maybe it's only the McCartneys and the Lennons or something."
LENNON: "Everybody else becomes a worker/consumer." 
ONO: "And then Big Brother will decide. I hate to use the term Big Brother..."
LENNON: "Too late. They've got it on tape." (laughs)
ONO: "But, finally, the society..."
LENNON: "Big Sister-- wait till she comes!"
ONO: "The society will do away with the roles of men and women. Babies will be born in test tubes and incubators..."
LENNON: "Then it's Aldous Huxley."

The full interview can be found here;

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Atlantis: Are We There Yet?

I recently read A Brief History of Atlantis: Plato's Ideal State by Stephen P. Kershaw. It was a really enjoyable read, so I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Atlantis topic. Though if you're an Atlantis enthusiast be warned it does tend to err on the side of mainstream academia. The book provides a quite comprehensive overview of everything that's been written on the topic of Atlantis since its first mention by Plato in his works Timaeus and Critias. The information re ancient sources is particularly excellent. I'll share a few of the bits I found especially curious below.

First up is the following piece of information concerning the Carthaginians. It comes from a work titled On Marvellous Things Heard, once commonly attributed to Aristotle, but now thought to be pseudonymous. The passage states that the Carthaginians knew of an island out in the Atlantic ocean, but kept their knowledge hidden through fear of competition.
"in the sea outside the Pillars of Heracles they say that a desert island was found by the Carthaginians, having woods of all kinds and navigable rivers, remarkable for all other kinds of fruits, and a few days' voyage away; as the Carthaginians frequented it often owing to its prosperity, and some even lived there, the chief of the Carthaginians announced that they would punish with death any who proposed to sail there, and that they massacred all the inhabitants, that they might not tell the story, and that a crowd might not resort to the island, and get possession of it, and take away the prosperity of the Carthaginians"
This mystery island would be alluring to Atlantis-hunters for obvious reason, however, it caught my eye as the idea seems to tally with flat earth ideas of hidden land ..and the power in knowing (or not knowing) the extent of the terrain. It seems to give a historic example of the extent to which some people will go to keep others in the dark.

Another interesting snippet from the book concerns the god Atlas, said to be the first king of Atlantis. Not to be confused with the more commonly known Atlas, the Titan from Greek myth who was condemned to hold the sky above his head for eternity. Though it would seem both these gods are just variations on a theme.
"A further euhemeristic interpretation explains that Atlas [king of Atlantis] perfected the science of astronomy and was the first to publish the doctrine of the sphere, which is the 'reality' behind the myth of Atlas supporting the world on his shoulders."
Euhemerism is an approach to history which presumes that myths are garbled or embellished versions of real historical events. In the notes the book then offers the further information;
"Diodorus says that Atlas 'discovered the spherical nature of the stars'; numerous ancient writers refers to Atlas as the discover of astronomy."
It's probably also worth mentioning that the name Atlantis is said to mean belonging to Atlas or effectively the Island of Atlas. However, I wonder if maybe the history is all a little garbled. Perhaps the word Atlas/Atlantis once had a more general meaning. We have the English word atlas, simply meaning a collection of maps. Now it's said that this word derives from the myth of Atlas holding the world aloft, but maybe it's the other way round.

For example, we have older map collections which use the word "atlantis" - with the word being used in the same sense as the word atlas. Such as the following, which is the title page of a map collection by the cartographer Johannes Janssonius. It dates from the 17th century.

(Atlantis Majoris - Johannes Janssonius)

So in this case it would seem that the word atlantis is simply Latin for atlas. In this reading Atlantis would simply be the map - or in effect the known world. So Atlantis is the world - the very world held up by the figure (perhaps symbolic, rather than mythological figure) of Atlas.

With this reasoning Atlantis, far from being a lost or unknown land, would, quite ironically, be the very much mapped and known land we're standing upon. There in plain sight all along.

Of course orthodox history would forbid us from thinking that such a word usage could precede Plato's tale. Or rather that Plato's tale could be a much more recent invention (perhaps why it isn't mentioned by Herodotus, etc). Fortunately though I don't feel such constraints. It's my general view that most if not all ancient Greek and Roman texts date from within the last one thousand years - i.e. they are from the medieval period and onward.

For example, take the following from the book A History of the World in Twelve Maps by Jerry Brotton, which ties in with the current theme quite nicely;
"After its completion, Ptolemy's Geography disappeared for a thousand years. No original copies from Ptolemy's own time have survived, and it only reappeared in thirteenth-century Byzantium.."
Then further down;
"Turning to Ptolemy's biography to try to understand the significance of his book offers little help. Virtually nothing is known about his life. There is no autobiography, no statue, not even an account written by a contemporary."
It's hard to have confidence in such "ancient" dating when the texts are so recent, and that's assuming the text dates are correct.

Also, if Atlantis is simply the "known world" then the myth becomes even more similar to the Biblical flood myth, and the flood in the Gilgamesh epic. A topic touched upon in A Brief History of Atlantis. In fact, one final thing from the book that I should mention before I finish concerns this. It mentions the flood story in the Epic of Atrahasis - an Akkadian epic which gives an account of the great flood which has overlaps with that in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The tale states that the gods deem men too noisy and that it would be better to eradicate them. However, after the flood it's decided that mankind can remain, but that population numbers must be kept down to keep the noise within acceptable limits...
"..when they find out Atrahasis has survived, they decide that the noise will remain within limits, invent childbirth and infant mortality, and establish celibate priestesses and high priestesses in order to cut down childbirth."
The idea that celibacy in religion would be linked to population control is something that I found quite fascinating. The celibacy in the Catholic Church is something that I've always found quite bizarre. Maybe the origins of that too are in population management. Though their general resistance to birth control and contraceptives would suggest otherwise. Again though, this obsession with population control is something that seems to have its parallels in today's society.

Welcome to Atlantis.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Dragons, Birds and Dinosaurs

In this post I'm going to be looking at the similarities between birds and dinosaurs. These similarities have been noted since the 19th century, so it's not a new idea. However, I would go a little further and suggest that something is quite askew with our current thinking about "dinosaurs", and that perhaps mainstream science is a little confused on the topic.

Firstly we'll just look at body shape. If we consider dinosaurs like the T-Rex or raptors we can notice that the shape and angles of their bodies are very bird-like. In fact, the only place we tend to see this body shape in modern day nature is in flying creatures like birds, and it makes perfect sense. When birds fly the head is naturally out in front of the body, the wings horizontal to the ground.

(Dinosaurs and birds - comparative body angles)

It's also worth noting how strangely small the dinosaur arms are. It's hard to imagine what purpose such tiny arms could have in nature.

(The tiny arms of a dinosaur)

However, the similarity to birds doesn't end with the body shape. Dinosaurs, like birds, also often have hollow bones. Likewise they often have air sacs too. These are pockets of air within the body and are also common to birds.

There have been several reasons put forward for the presence of air sacs in dinosaurs - to increase respiratory capacity, to help improve balance and manoeuvrability, to act as part of a cooling mechanism. However, the most obvious reason in my opinion for hollow bones and air sacs would be to lower density. A useful and important aspect of achieving flight. Again the fact that birds have these features too would lend weight to this argument.

So when looking at the skeletons of creatures like the T-Rex I would speculate that they're either simply misidentified varieties of the wider bird species, or alternately that these are indeed "dinosaurs", just dinosaurs that are missing their wings for some unknown reason. Perhaps the material which the wings were made of was more prone to decomposition?

Also, of course, it has to be stated that often dinosaur skeletons are "reconstructed" from just a handful of bone finds. So it's also entirely possible that the inferences made from these few bone fragments about the wider "projected" skeletons are just plain wrong.

Dragons in Mythology

It also occurs to me how superficially similar the "dinosaur" is to the dragons we have in our various mythologies. It's almost like we dismissed dragons as myth with the rise of reason, but then we resurrected the archetype in a way that was more palatable to our post-enlightenment tastes.

(Saint George Killing the Dragon,
c. 1430-1435 - Bernat Martorell)

As a child it was always easy to confuse the two. Dragon and dinosaur toys always looked so similar. In fact, the only real difference between say a dragon and a T-Rex was the lack of wings. Quite interesting given the bird-like body shape of the T-Rex.

Of course, a T-Rex with wings would to all intents and purposes be a dragon. Minus the fire-breathing that is :)

So it seems you can follow the magical route and consider the idea that perhaps dragons were real after all. Or you can go down the more mundane route and simply re-brand all these "bird-like" dinosaurs as simply misidentified varieties of the bird fraternity. The much loved T-Rex and Velociraptors of Jurassic Park and wider popular culture may have to go though.

Then again, who really knows.

Curved Perspective - The Great Switcheroo

I'm mainly blogging today to share a video I recently watched which I think is well worth sharing. It concerns a topic I've touched upon on here before, namely the idea that our vision is curved. I last posted about it well over a year ago when I reviewed and shared some information from the book Space-Perception and the Philosophy of Science by Patrick A. Heelan.

The links for those articles;

Hyperbolic Perspective: The Visual Dome You Experience

Hyperbolic Perspective: Bedroom in Arles

Anyway, the video in question is tilted The Great Switcheroo and was uploaded by the YouTuber Vortexpuppy (aka Gav from Beyond the Imaginary Curve). The video is a discussion/presentation where Gav explains some of his thoughts on perspective and mathematics. I can't vouch entirely for the mathematics and views contained within the video as it would require me to pretend that I entirely understand everything, when in fact I'm still in the process of learning about it all at the moment. Everything in the video does seem to tally with my own previous thinking on the topic though, especially with regard to perspective.

In fact, as an aside, I think this is often a problem with things of this nature. People who don't entirely understand something like this tend to fall into two categories - people who pretend they understand it all, and people who happily admit they don't, but who because of that lack of understanding feel they can't ever understand it, and that it's simply beyond them. Fortunately I have the honesty to admit that I don't understand things, but also the arrogance to believe I will at some point in the future :)

(Flat Earth - The Great Switcheroo)

A link to the Perspective Appearances and Representations PDF from the video.

Sharing this video also gives me a chance to talk about mathematics in general, as I said I would in my last post.

Often when the average person sees a blackboard full of complex equations it just looks like gobbledygook to them. It looks like another language, and in many ways that's exactly what it is. People see it and assume that the maths and the concepts underlying the maths are simply beyond them. That they're not intelligent enough to ever grasp such an understanding. However, it's not so much the maths, or the concepts, it's more that they simply do not understand the language.

It's like seeing a blackboard full of Chinese - that too looks like gobbledygook to people not familiar with that language. However, Chinese children understand it with perfect ease, just like you understand the English words you're now reading with equal ease. You're perfectly capable of learning Chinese, after all you've managed to learn English without trouble. It's just that it takes time. You can't expect to look at something and instantly understand it straight away.

(Mathematical equations)

("It's all Chinese to me")

Anyhow, I often wonder if mathematics really needs to be so foreign and confusing. Would it not be possible to write maths in a way that is less opaque? In a way that removes some of the language barriers and that makes it much more intuitive for people.

Just to give a simple example;

If you show people the following equation most will find it fairly easy to understand;

2 + ? = 5

However, if you show people the following equation they often run in fear;

2 + x = 5

Now both these equations are exactly the same, however, one makes perfect sense in plain English and the other seems a little bizarre when read in plain English.

When we read "2 + ? = 5" we read "two plus question mark equals five". We all know that the question mark symbol signifies a question, an unknown. So it's easy for us to understand that 2 plus "an unknown number" equals 5, and that the answer is therefore 3.

However, when we read "2 + x = 5" we read "two plus x equals five". In English this makes no sense, and it's what leads people to find it so confusing. People are used to seeing the "x" symbol represent a letter in a word. Now all of a sudden it means something else entirely - in this case an unknown number.

People who can get their head around this substitution ("ah! okay, so in this case "x" represents an unknown number, right I see, I get it now") will be able to cope and make progress. However, people who get stuck on this will have a hard time going any further with algebra. In fact, even people who have a natural aptitude for this type of thing often have to take a breather and remind themselves what everything means. A "question mark" is simpler for everyone, not just the lesser able.

I actually have quite vivid recollections of trying to explain this substitution to other children at school. Fortunately I was always quite comfortable with maths, however I remember some of my friends really struggling. I can remember saying to them;
"Listen, "x" is just a question mark really - it just symbolises a number we don't know."
And they'd always reply;
"Yeah, but why is it an "x" , I don't get why it's an "x" ?"
They'd always assume that there was some profound reason why an "x" was chosen (or a "y", or an "a", or whatever other symbol, etc). Again I'd try to demystify things and say;
"It's just because that's what the first people doing these equations decided to use, and now that's what everyone else uses too - they could have used anything, it doesn't really matter."
But they'd dismiss me, I was just a child with no authority, obviously these really intelligent mathematicians must have chosen these symbols for some reason. It can't just have been a random selection.

Of course, the teachers would never help on this matter. They'd ask the teacher the same question;
"But why is it an "x" ?"
And instead of saying;
"No real reason really - any symbol would do the job, we just use "x" because that's what somebody randomly chose a long time ago."
They'd just go off into some funk about the x axis on a graph and its relation to the y and z axes, which would just baffle the child even more. Missing the real gist of their question.

In reflection I think it's probably anathema for mathematicians and teachers to speak about maths as blithely as I do. I think they like to treat our maths forefathers with a kind of worshipful reverence. Of course, these great minds of the past are absolutely worthy of our respect and appreciation, however at the same time simplicity is beautiful, and it's always worth reminding ourselves that all these great minds were just men no different to you or I.

Returning to our beautifully simple and literal "question mark" the obvious problem is what to do when there are multiple unknown values in an equation.

It's okay for 2 + ? = 5, but what if we have;

a + b = c

In that case ? + ? = ? doesn't really do the job. We'd need three different question mark symbols. So we've hit a bit of brick wall in our attempts to make our equations more easy to understand. Though I don't see why it should be beyond our ingenuity to have a range of question mark symbols specifically for multiple unknowns.

It's things such as this that I'd like to look at and discuss in the future. Obviously it's quite an ambitious, and perhaps completely fruitless task. I definitely feel it's an interesting avenue of thought to follow though :)