The Argument for Faith

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Yesterday I talked about how society/the extended order is always evolving. This, I think, is linked to the ideas that Daniel J. Siegel explores regarding emotions in ‘The Neurobiology of We’.

His key argument is that our brains, our minds (which he considers two separate things) and our relationships with each other work in a kind of permanent feedback loop. Emotions, he argues can only be formed when we express our need for something (i.e. from a parent, a lover etc.) and they respond. At this point we integrate the need and the response into what we would call an emotion. Emotions by themselves can’t really exist. The danger here is that if we don’t have anyone to feedback to us, our brains can work overtime to second guess those responses and develop emotions – and if you think the worst, so depression can spiral out of control.

In the same way, societal systems, values and traditions can only develop when people interact and relationships develop implicitly around often unspoken acknowledgement that something feels right. A person has an idea, and shares the idea or acts on it. Only when he gets feedback from others on it can its worth be appreciated. The idea in and of itself is valueless.

Over time the weaker ideas die off, and the good ones are strengthened, developing into laws, traditions etc. So society evolves. More dangers exist when those with a conservative mindset fail to see the bigger picture, which is just as difficult as trying to plan society, and try to push back against the changes without fully appreciating what they are doing.

And it’s here that I think the concept of faith comes into play, because society is big and complex, far more than our somewhat irrational, anthropomorphic ideas about God. If we need some kind of faith, it’s in trusting society to sort itself out and not trying to interfere too much, if at all. If you can do that, then I believe magic happens, and things far greater than any of us could ever imagine will occur. But only if we let it.

Social Evolution

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I’ve mentioned already my love for the sheer magic of the extended order – the traditions and unspoken rules that we all obey, from the grand to the minutiae of specialists. One of the most exciting things around this is the idea that society is constantly evolving, ever changing.

Adam Smith and the great Scottish economists of the 1700s understood this and their ideas around economic evolution were taken up by Darwin, who applied them to the natural sciences and introduced them to the mainstream.

I think social media is a great case in point that demonstrates this. Just the other week I was having a discussion with some colleagues at work, and one made a passing comment about, ‘those people who invented social media…’.

This clanged about in my brain, and travelling back on the train it struck me that no-one invented social media. Various companies developed websites for specific purposes (rating other people at college, new ways for taxi drivers to communicate), and over time these sites grew and morphed and the users drove them in unexpected directions as the companies themselves struggled to keep up and develop the sites while keeping them commercially viable. At no stage did anyone sit down and think, “I know, I’ll invent social media today and it will be one of the greatest developments of the Internet of the 21st century!”

This never, ever happens, because nearly always the good things in life evolve over time, shaped by many people, not just the people that invented them. This is why socialism will always be doomed to fail. The extended order can never be controlled or predicted by individual minds, the great planners of the world will never second guess society.

I think there is a key aspect of life that explains this, that I’ll explore tomorrow.

It’s The Law!

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Continuing on from my brief excursion into Liberty on Saturday, there’s one further fundamental that I think is all important for a sensible, modern society; the Rule of Law.

Bizarrely, this is something that I’ve always understood as important, but yet only recently twigged that it was in fact the Rule of Law. For some unknown reason, what I thought was the Rule of Law, was in fact something completely different.

So, for my own sanity, if no-one else’s, the Rule of Law is simply the concept that all people are equal in the eyes of the law. No-one is above the law, or too important to not be tried if they are accused of wrongdoing, even if they are the one’s who uphold the laws themselves. All shall be treated the same, thus saving us from despotism, absolutism, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism.

I do worry that in recent years, certain people have weakened this concept in the UK, but generally I don’t think we’re in too bad a place. I feel that social media and poor reporting sometimes make it feel like some people are ‘getting away with it’, but I think there would be an awful hue and cry from the judiciary if this were the case, and I’ve not seen that yet.

On Liberty

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I suppose, before I get too far into this, I had better define what I understand liberty to mean. There are many types of liberty, some truer than others (mental, spiritual, political etc.), but for the purposes of this blog, I shall stick to the simple negative freedom of not being coerced by another person.

Following on from that, I adhere to the libertarian principle that this freedom from coercion is intimately linked to each person enjoying the positive right to a private domain (house, flat, accommodation etc.) within which he or she is protected from people who would not wish them well. This private domain is fundamental to modern life. It follows a fairly conservative line, I know, but it’s what I believe to be the bedrock of a free society.

Freedom from coercion is important for many reasons, not only fundamentally does it tie in with bigger concepts such as the extended order and how a free society operates, but it also resonates on a personal level. It means that a person is ‘stress free’ and so able to function properly on a day to day basis. Obviously, there are many other things in life that can cause stress, but in my experience, coercion of any kind, whether it be bullying by individuals or organised at a state level, can be one of the most stressful things a person can experience.

As we’ll see later, stress causes things to go wrong on all sorts of ways. Remove stress and we as humans can operate better, both individually and as part of a wider community.

How We Become We

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I’m listening to a fascinating audiobook at the moment which is so full of big ideas I’m sure I’ll be listening to it again and again in the coming months and years. It’s called ‘The Neurobiology of We’ by Dr Daniel J. Siegel M.D.

It’s more like a series of lectures in which he builds up a coherent argument based around relationships, the mind and the brain and how the three interact. He starts with exploring how memories are formed before moving on to look at how our character traits develop as children. This he uses as a foundation to explore what emotions are (and they are more complicated than you’d think) before topping it off with the most sensible and meaningful exploration of mindfulness I’ve seen in a long time, if ever.

I’ll be exploring a lot of the ideas in coming posts, but if you have an Audible account, it’s well worth checking out (although stick with it as it starts quite slowly; I almost wrote him off as a bit of a hippy before the serious science kicked in).

I’m still processing a lot of the ideas and trying to tie it in with my fledgling theories of society and liberty based on my readings of Hayek (in particular) and von Mises, but the links are definitely there. It’s a shame there’s no book version (that I’m aware of). Two key concepts that have really got my mind whirring are maximising complexity (which comes out of chaos theory) and his ideas of coherence and integration.

Darwin and Dadd

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Back in 2010, I took it upon myself to attempt, purely for fun, to adapt Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Wee Free Men’ into a screenplay. At some point during the process, around the point where Tiffany finds herself in a dream not too dissimilar to Richard Dadd’s incredible painting, “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”, I took the opportunity to print a copy of the painting to hang next to my desk.

The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke
by Richard Dadd

While mulling over the image, marvelling at the curious nature of the painting and the precision with which Dadd had placed everything, I noticed strange deformities in some of the Fairy’s depicted in the scene.

Two things in particular jumped out at me. If you take a look at the painting you’ll see the Fairy Feller, his axe held aloft waiting for the sign from the grey-haired Patriarch. It struck me that the heads of the fairies between the Feller and the Partriarch were particularly deformed; they almost looked like eyes. What’s more, the folds of one of the fairy’s cloak looked like a nose, and the Feller’s hat looked like a mouth.

I looked more closely and noted that the mound upon which Oberon and Titania stand (just above the Patriarch), looked like the curve of the top of a head, and the coat of the fairy to the left of the pinky-red cloaked fairy looks like an ear.

The Hidden Man

It must be a face, I concluded. Now that I could see it, it looked too prominent to be a coincidence. All I could see when I looked at the picture was the face, and wondered why I hadn’t noticed it before.

I threw the image into Photoshop and messed around with the levels a little and a few things started to bug me:

Firstly, the pinky-red cloak of the (female?) squashed head fairy, directly below the Patriarch’s beard, lacks detail (which doesn’t match the clothes of the rest of the Fairies).

Secondly, if her head is meant to be an eye, it doesn’t quite tie up with the head of her partner (the other ‘eye’).

Thirdly, what’s with her partner’s foot? He’s crossing his legs at a very awkward angle.

Fourthly, the hidden face is almost at the centre of the painting but not quite, it felt a little too far to the right and off balance.

Then I noticed the gold curve that stretches round the right hand side of the Patriarch’s hat.

And I saw it.

The Ape

The profile of an Ape!

What’s more, it’s the profile of an Ape overlaid over the profile of a man’s face, much like Apple’s Finder icon.

Suddenly, it all made sense.

The cloak is the smooth pink part of the Apes face.

The eyes don’t match as the Ape’s eye is looking to the right, and the man’s eye is looking forward.

The awkwardly placed foot of the partner makes up the Ape’s nose.

Man and Ape

When you put the outline of the Ape and the Man together it’s right, slap bang in the middle of the picture, thusly:

This got my brain whirring. Ape and Man… Evolution?

A small amount of research on the internet revealed Charles Darwin, father of the theory of Evolution, and Richard Dadd were contemporaries. I also found quite a few similarities between the two men.

Both travelled extensively in their early careers,

Both apparently suffered from Bi-polar disorder,

Both had strong links with Kent,

Dadd painted The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke between 1855 and 1864,

Darwin published Origin of the Species on the 22 November 1859.

So would Dadd, locked away in Bethlem in Beckenham, Kent, have known of Darwin’s ideas, perhaps even known Darwin, who, after all, lived a mere seven miles away in Downe?

Dadd painted The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke for one George Henry Hayden, the head steward at Bethlem Royal Hospital at the time.

A quick Google search revealed records of correspondence between George Henry Hayden and Charles Darwin at darwin-online.org.uk. While the contents of the letters remain unknown, it’s not the greatest leap of logic to think that Hayden knew Darwin, possibly treated him for his depression, and spoke to Dadd about Darwin and his theories. As a gift, Dadd hid the image of the man and the ape in the painting for Hayden. Perhaps the hidden man is Hayden?

Who knows?

Hello World

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By way of introduction, my name is Andy Coughlan and I’ve spent most of my adult life split between careers in IT and Digital Marketing, and, at various times, trying to ‘make it’ as a writer, musician and filmmaker. I’ve been reasonably successful on all of those fronts, even if I’m not a household name living in a luxurious countryside mansion.

I make award winning short films with reasonably well-known actors, run a great little Sci-Fi anthology with one of my oldest and closest friends, enjoy working in London as a Digital Product Manager (and the daily commute on Southeastern’s High Speed link), have played hundreds of gigs with some top class bands (all of whom could have been the next big thing), and spend most of my spare time either adapting my favourite books into screenplays or writing new ones.

I also love to tinker with the Interwebs and build fun little websites, mostly for my own amusement, but some with wider appeal, such as Plnnr and Scribomatic.

So that’s what you’ll find here; the outpourings of a mind struggling to make sense of all things creative, social, political, philosophical, and metaphysical. I have a deep interest in neuroscience and how that affects the way we deal with the world. Fair warning; I’m a libertarian (in the mould of Hayek and von Mises) and a firm believer in all things free (especially lunches – I’m usually available between 1 and 2!).