Category Archives: Television

Updates & Next Year

It has been a while since I last blogged but it’s not because I did not have anything to say but rather there has been too much happening. I was abroad touring most of April and have yet to write up my account of China and S. Korea as well as Sweden. I hope to get to them soon as I have some interesting insights.

Then there was the outcome of the trial of Jim McCormick, the businessman who sold dowsing rods as bomb detectors on the day of my return to the UK. There is still more to come from that story over the coming months as Gary Bolton and others face the wrath of the law.

In the meantime, it has been exam period so that has been busy. I  have also been fitting in a bit of  TV here and there but increasingly I am finding that I have to turn down invitations – which is a good thing I guess. One thing I did do this week was Dara O’Briain’s Science Club – a popular BBC2 science show which was a great laugh. I will post nearer the broadcast date but here is a picture of me with this giant of a man – he really is – I look like his glove puppet in this pictureImage

I have just finished marking the final year exam papers for my undergraduate and aside from some project students and admin, I am nearly the completion of the 2012/13 academic year.

So what of next year? Well I am finally taking that sabbatical fellowship I was awarded last year by my wonderful University who have been incredibly supportive in my activities. I doubt another institution would have been so good – how many workers get to say that about their employers? I really cannot say how much I enjoy being at Bristol.

Even though I could just sit about on my backside, the reality is that I will be working harder than ever. I have a new book published by Penguin which is currently going through the edit stage but due out in the summer of 2014. I also have a controversial new grant starting in September which I will tell you more about then. There are various other seeds that have been planted but the one thing that I am most excited about is that I am making an independent documentary based on the content of “SuperSense” that will be filmed over the course of the next year. These are definitely unchartered waters but after years, I am finally been given the opportunity to do something that I want.

So hopefully I will be able to keep you posted with updates of the various events along the way – if I get the time.

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Lecture One “What’s Inside Your Head”

If you live outside the UK and want to see the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, they will be posted on the Ri site over the next few days. Here is the link to the first one.

What’s In Your Head

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Blind Every Time You Move Your Eyes

For those of you outside the UK, here is an excerpt from the first of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures explaining what happens each time you move your eyes. I’ll get back to regular blogging once I clear the backlog of chores.

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Trailer Teaser for the Lectures

I am not fully recovered yet – also getting over a darn cold but here is a teaser of the lectures which will be broadcast next week. They were sent to the BBC today for technical review so there’s no turning back now! YIKES!!!!

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Wellcome to My Charming World

This week the Wellcome Trust opened an exhibition in London called Miracles & Charms. It is actually two exhibits in one. The Miracle component, ‘Infinitas Gracias’ (Infinite Thank You)  is the first major display of Mexican votive paintings outside of Mexico. Votives are small paintings, usually executed on tin roof tiles or small plaques, depicting the moment of personal humility when an individual asks a saint for help and is delivered from disaster and sometimes death. Over a hundred votives dating from the 18th century are in the exhibition. They are usually displayed in Mexican churches as gestures of thanksgiving, replacing powerful doctrine-driven images of the saints with personal and direct pleas for help. The religious imagery depicted in these vernacular paintings is at the heart of famous works of art by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera were avid votive collectors

Votives are an intimate records of the tumultuous dramas of everyday life – lightning strikes, gunfights, motor accidents, ill-health and false imprisonment – in which saintly intervention was believed to have led to survival and reprieve.

Charming. If only they could do something to stop the carnage of the Mexican Drug Wars that is currently destroying the country. When I troll the web looking for unusual stories and items for this blog, I am often shocked by the amount of grisly footage of killings that is being posted by the gangs and vigilantes. For such a devout country, where is religion in all this horror?

'I thank our Lord Saint Francis of Assisi for saving us from drowning on 27 Oct 1962'

The other component of the exhibition is “Charmed Life” made up 1400 amulets assembled by the Edwardian amateur folklorist Edward Lovett. The artist Felicity Powell who put the exhibit together describes how these objects seem to retain an insistent sense that they might yet hold some hidden magic. Does that sound familiar?

The front feet of a mole are permanently curved for digging, and this curved appearance is so suggestive of cramp that these feet are carried as a cure for cramp.

A BBC researcher called me this week to appear on national Morning television to discuss the exhibition as an expert of lucky charms. I was very tempted as this would have been great publicity for SuperSense but I declined the offer. I am now preparing for the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (which is why I have less time for posting blogs) and have moved on from my interest in supernatural thinking. I also have a new book coming out in the Spring so I want to shed the spooky scientist label that my interest in supernatural objects conjures up. However, I will be dropping into the exhibit when I am next in London on my way to the RI,  as it looks too good to miss.

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Filed under book publicity, Essentialism, supernatural, Television

Say It Again Sam

"Give me more awe, Bruce"

I will be away for a couple of weeks in the States so here is my post about my brief film star experience earlier this week.

Four of us turned up to begin filming a pilot on a freezing early March morning earlier this week in Leigh Woods near Bristol. Apparently, this is the norm in the film business so as to capture “the light.” The only thing I thought we would capture was frostbite. Still, I was motivated and excited to be on my first proper shoot. I even had some of the lingo of “piece to camera,” “cut-away” and other terms that I had picked up in my limited media experience though I expect that the director, cameraman and soundman were smirking each time I tried to sound familiar with the proceedings.

It’s funny but you know you are on a proper shoot when the camera is very big and there is a man holding a microphone boom. I have done a couple of tv interviews before but have always been a bit disappointed that the equipment looked a bit inadequate. Even “The One Show” episode that I recently recorded which is being broadcast in August later this year seemed a bit flimsy. However, the camera on the shoot in the woods was big and heavy. I was also suitably impressed when Mark the cameraman told that me it cost the same as a Porsche, was the latest in digital technology – better than 35mm, but most importantly, the same type of camera had been used to make my favourite sci-fi film in the last year, “District 9.” Now, I felt like a real actor.

I had spent the weekend rehearsing my lines. There were only six of them but they had to be absolutely tight. The first line was supposed to capture the viewer’s attention, “YOU – believe in the supernatural!”  It was to be delivered direct to camera (oh dear, there I go again) with a finger pointing accusingly at the imagined audience in very much the same way in the famous US army recruitment poster showing Uncle Sam pointing directly at you.

We went for a first take that seemed fine. I had set aside the whole morning as requested but figured that at this rate, we should be finished in half and hour. Three hours later, I was still jabbing my finger at the camera and telling it that it believes in the supernatural. This had now been shot from umpteen different angles, with umpteen different tones of voice, and another umpteen different facial expressions. And each time, I got further and further away from the sense of me speaking English. Have you ever noticed that if you say words over and over again, they seem to lose their meaning? In fact, they often don’t seem like real words at all. With each repetition, you begin to question whether you can still speak English, as the utterances become increasingly gobbledygook.

When words seem to become nonsense with repetition, it is a phenomenon called “semantic satiation.” It’s like gorging on the meaning triggered by the sound of the word until you can’t take anymore. The same happens with the written word. That’s why sentences can sometimes become harder to understand each time you read them. Words that you know must be real, cease to make sense and spookily become nonsense. In fact, repeating myself over and over again that morning had an increasingly corrosive effect on my sense of reality. I was ceasing to be Bruce, but rather a puppet caught in a tangle, having to repeat moments of time over and over again. I was becoming depersonalized.

Some actors play themselves over and over again. Humphrey Bogart was pretty much playing Humphrey Bogart in every film he made. I doubt he bothered trying to portray a different character and maybe that’s exactly what the studio wanted. But other great character actors, recognizable by first names alone, such Laurence, Bobbie, Johnny and Meryl can become someone entirely different. I am no expert in acting but after my brief experience this week, I have a newly found admiration for those people who can suddenly become someone else so convincingly. Maybe it’s easier with big budgets and big cameras to capture the best angle. You don’t have to repeat lines over and over again. But when you do – you can get a real sense of the self that becomes unreal. This is why so many novices freeze when a camera is stuck in their face and they are expected to “be normal.”

Anyway, I saw the final product yesterday and was absolutely thrilled. Mostly because the guy in the film seemed so unlike me. That’s the wonder of film.

And yes, I know….Humphrey Bogart never uttered those famous words, “Play it again, Sam.”

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Why… Oh Why …Oh Why???? – money methinks

Here is the Newsnight piece for non-UK visitors. Some really serious questions have to be asked. After all, lives have been lost over this scandal.

The BBC Newsnight team have just posted this article. It was very kind of them to describe me as “campaigning against these devices” as there have been many others involved. Still, it was nice anyway. I am going to be talking about these devices next month in New York.

Here is the CNN report from Dan Rivers in Thailand. – (thanks Techowiz)

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