Monthly Archives: May 2010

Richard Gregory-A Personal Tribute

Richard Gregory was a great man. I had the privilege to call him my friend and mentor. Today we celebrated his life with his self-styled FUNeral, where friends and colleagues came to Bristol to celebrate his life and intellectual legacy.

He was not as famous as Dawkins or Hawkings, but for those in the know, he was an intellectual giant who will forever be associated with the likes of Helmholtz and James as someone who addressed the big questions.  I discovered today that my supervisor, Jan Atkinson was supervised by Stuart Anstis who was supervised by Richard Gregory who in turn was supervised by Bertrand Russell. That is the wonder and fulfillment of pursuing a scientific career.

I tweeted from his funeral today which seemed to raise an eyebrow or two as some thought it was inappropriate but knowing Richard as I did, and I met with him every week to just chew the fat, he would have thought that this was “Amazing” which was his catchphrase. He was the eternal child of a man who never grew up and loved life to the full. He did not regret dying, but regretted not finding out the answers to the questions that kept him so alive.

Here are my last pictures of Richard and Me.

Dan gave a lovely recorded eulogy at the FUNeral

Richard setting the youngster to rights with wisdom

My Last Picture of Richard & Me- He's in the Flipping Face Urn


Filed under General Thoughts

Crossbow Cannibal

Stephen Griffiths - "The Crossbow Cannibal"

Stephen Griffiths, who is charged with the murder of three prostitutes in West Yorkshire appeared in Bradford court today and gave his name as “the crossbow cannibal.” Apparently he was caught on CCTV murdering his last victim by firing a crossbow bolt into her head.  The 40-year-old psychology student who was supposedly doing a Ph.D. on serial killers was noted for being an oddball by neighbours and a bit of a loner. He was said to be fascinated by another Bradford killer, Peter Sutcliffe  who rampaged on a murder spree in West Yorkshire killing 13 women between 1975 and 1980.

From what I understand, Griffiths’ victims were dismembered which makes me wonder whether his self-appointed title of crossbow cannibal is a reference to what he got up to once he had killed the women.  Watch this space as they as we learn more details about these horrific crimes. I expect that Griffiths may have eaten parts of his victims so I am curious to know if he believed he could imbibe his victim’s vitality or essence as I describe in SuperSense.

UPDATE: It has just been announced that Griffiths has been jailed for life after admitting the murder of three women. Here you can watch his confession on a police video. True to his name. he also claims that cooked and ate one of his victims and eating parts of another raw. In the interview, he ends by saying that he has no time for the human race – the human race on the other hand has all the time for Stephen Griffiths… god that sounded like a cheezy one liner that one might hear on CSI!


Filed under General Thoughts, In the News

Losing One’s Marbles in the Mind

I discovered this interesting news item from Belgium about a 72-year-old man who is obsessed with his marble run.

I like it for two reasons. First, I am increasingly interested in obsessive-compulsive behaviours and second, I kinda relate to his preoccupation. I think that there is something very captivating about watching marbles race round a track and then end up on a conveyor belt to start the race all over again.

Playful Penguin Race

When my eldest was young, she had a “Playful Penguins” race track which she absolutely adored. The little plastic penguins had wheels on the bottom and would race round the track to be picked up by the motorized staircase and taken to the top again. In truth, I think I played with it more than her.

There is something fascinating about moving toys that seem to come alive – something that developmental psychologists have known for some time. It would appear that babies are attracted to such toys (and in some instances find them frightening). I expect it is because these seemingly non-living things appear life-like. Whenever we experience a violation of our expectation, we are naturally curious. This is exactly the principle that infant researchers use to discover what expectations infants hold.

Anyway, there is something captivating about marble runs and one the masters of these, is the sculptor and artist, George Rhoads who designs those wonderful perpetual motion marble runs that you sometimes find in airports or science museums. Maybe its the rhythm of the movements or marveling at the ingenuity of his design or simply the seemingly perpetual continuity of movements that do it. In any event, I find them peaceful in an otherwise unpredictable world.

Which brings me back to marbles and the mind. I am currently reading Douglas Hofstadter’s prize-winning book, “I am a Strange Loop,” in which he argues that the sense of self is an epiphenomenon emerging from a self-recursive system. As an example of an epiphenomenon, he describes how he once picked up a stack of envelopes and was convinced that there was a marble buried deep within. In fact the hard, round lump was generated by the overlapping flaps of the many envelopes that gave an illusion that there was something solid.

I have been enjoying the book and Hofstadter’s use of metaphor and analogy (which he argues are some of the primary processes in thought) until it delved into Gödel’s recursive mathematics. Unfortunately my eyes just glazed over but I get the gist of what he is saying. Hofstadter argues that what holds true for mathematics, also holds true for the representational systems of the brain. The brain generates patterns that give rise to epiphenomena generate an illusion of self.

Suffice to say, researching the illusion of one’s own mind is not easy going and I may be losing my own marbles. I’ll keep you posted.


Filed under General Thoughts

Psychic Possession of Money

Nancy Marks wants to possess your money

They say that money is the root of evil and one psychic has taken this message literally. Nancy Marks, a psychic from Lafayette, Colorado, was arrested for fraud after telling clients their “money [was] evil” and that she’d take their cursed cash so “the money would suffer” instead. Marks made at least $290,000 using this scam.

Apparently she told clients that Vigo the Caprathian was exercising demonic possession over their bank accounts. Well frankly, if people are that gullible then they probably deserve to be ripped off. There again, Nancy does look particularly menacing so I wonder what level of persuasion was used. She is alleged to have told one victim that if she did not pay up then something terrible would befall her mother.


Filed under In the News

May the Force Be With You

"You have the right to dance around naked"

With the summer solstice fast approaching, last week we learned that the Pagan Police Association had been granted official recognition by the Home Office as a ‘diversity group’ that gives them the same status as gay, black, disabled and other minority groups within the police force. The upshot of this recognition is that they we be entitled to take time off to celebrate their religious festivals like any other religious group.

Currently the association, co-founded by Andy Pardy, have around 500 members but I wonder if their numbers will swell if word gets out that they can have the summer solstice and Halloween as holidays. However, as Andy points out, “”Officers can, for the first time, apply for leave on the festival dates relevant to their path, and allow them to work on other dates such as Christmas which bear no relevance to them.”

I did  point out in an earlier post that there are potentially so many holidays that it could become a logistic nightmare and that in my opinion, the police force should be secular. But something else occurred to me. If I am not mistaken, officers working public holidays (which include the Christian ones such as Christmas and Easter) are entitled to overtime. So a pagan police officer would be paid overtime for working Christmas. We also recently learned that police officers’ overtime has doubled in the last 10 years despite record recruitment. I think that this is one that the new government should look at very closely with the axe about to fall very heavily on public spending. Just a thought.

Anyway, back to the pagan police – Radio 5 wanted me to go on air to join a panel to discuss the issue but I declined. I think it is an open and shut case as it were. If they recognise religious groups within the police force, then the pagans have as much right as anyone else I guess. However, I wonder if the Home Office will also recognize officers who worship the great spaghetti monster in the sky.


Filed under General Thoughts, In the News

Boring…hmmm yes please

How was it for you?

Yawning is the simultaneous inhalation of air, accompanied  by the widening of the mouth followed by the exhalation of breath and best served up with a big vocalization. It is a peculiar behaviour with no obvious function. Theories about excess build up of carbon dioxide turned out to be wrong and so it is not clear why we do it. Moreover, yawning is one of those contagious behaviours such as laughing that trigger the same behaviour in others. Interestingly, contagious yawning in not that common in young children and those with autism spectrum disorder have been reported not to show contagious yawning. So yawning is a peculiar behaviour, triggered by a number of possible situations and seems to have some cultural component linked to automatic empathy.

But I bet we would all be yawning more if we were being treated for depression with Clomipramine. This antidepressant produces an unusual side effect in about 1 in 20 patients who experience an orgasm while yawning. Now that’s one side effect that I doubt the drug companies are going to be sued for. After all we have all thought about it during a boring lecture when we feel the need to yawn.

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Filed under General Thoughts

Speaking in Tongues

I came across this ABC report while looking for items on speaking in tongues – the peculiar practice of talking gibberish that is popular among Pentecostal Christians. Speaking in tongues or “glossolalia” appears to be another example where individuals seek an altered state – which they interpret was evidence of the holy spirit.

The study is now a bit dated and I wonder if there has been any follow-up, but Andrew Neuberg (the “God – spotter neuroscientist) reported back in 2006 that speaking in tongues is associated with increased emotional arousal and reduced frontal activity compared to praying in English. The news reports seem to make alot out of this difference (that’s the media for you) but I am not really too surprised. Speaking in English in a meaningful way (even praying!)y requires effortful thinking whereas talking gibberish clearly doesn’t and if you like talking gibberish, then no wonder your arousal centres are activated. Still, I thought it was interesting…. or should I say, “Plehu, bhat, plehu, gibita kalis”


Filed under Research

Sex and Death WTF NSFW

Yes I pinched your image but I am promoting your mag

Well it was only a matter of time before some genius thought of combining two of the main obsessions of adolescent boys, girls and corpses, into a magazine. It’s been going for some time from what I can gather, though I do note that some commentators on various blogs claim it is a hoax. Well if it is then, it is a very elaborate and expensive one as these are impressive cover shoots.

If only it were not so life-like

I don’t believe it is a fake – sex and death are primary interests to many humans – why else are you here and if you want to guarantee site traffic to your posting then abbreviations such as ‘WTF’ and ‘NSFW’ signal that it is likely to be sex and death that is covered. Some of the biggest sites such as have been working this winning combination for some time and it may not have escaped your notice that my humble site also addresses sex and death on a regular basis. I like to think of sex and death as ‘entrances and exits’ – I even gave a public lecture on this once to make the point that these inevitable facts of life are replete with superstition, beliefs and all manner of irrationality. In short, fertile ground for someone interested in the unbelievable. Well that’s my professional explanation. There again, it just might be the juvenile adolescent boy inside me who refuses to grow old.


Filed under General Thoughts

Mr Rogers is ‘Evil’ According to Fox News

Mr Rogers famous sweaterMr Rogers is an American institution. For decades he wrote and hosted a benign children’s television show where he delivered a simple message about self-esteem and the difficulties of growing up. He dealt with children’s emotions and anxieties and re-assured them that they were “special.” Now he is being accused by Fox News of being evil because he delivered a false message and now a whole generation of children have grown up into adults who expect success in life even if then have not earned it.

The Fox analysis is based on the comments of a finance professor from Louisiana State University, who was complaining about the fact that more and more students where asking for their papers to be regraded to a higher level. Prof. Don Chance said, “They felt so entitled, and it just hit me. We can blame Mr. Rogers.” In contrast, his Asian students who didn’t watch Mr Rogers saw their B’s and C’s as an indication that they must work harder. He wishes more parents would offer kids this perspective: “The world owes you nothing. You have to work and compete. If you want to be special, you’ll have to prove it.”

I have a lot of sympathy for this but equally, the finance professor does not know what he is talking about. Asian students have a totally different mindset to their Western counterparts and its nothing to do with Mr. Rogers. I have the same students coming to my door in the UK asking for the same re-evaluation. They have never seen Mr Rogers either or endured the whole self-esteem ethos that is so prevalent in the US.

I think that there is something wrong in the way that we have created a culture of evaluation where targets have to be met. As soon as you set a target, you get inevitable grade inflation. In fact, grade inflation is one of my major concerns as it is distorting the whole of the educational system. Every year, schools are churning out more and more students with top grades and we are no longer able to distinguish between the very best and the mediocre. And of course, a student who has been getting A’s at school finds it difficult to accept when they get a low grade at University.

It’s not Mr Rogers to blame but I do agree with the gist of the piece. Or maybe I am turning into a grumpy old professor too.


Filed under General Thoughts, In the News