From a talk by Richard Dawkins on man’s perception of the universe:

It’s worth recalling Wittgenstein’s remark on the subject. “Tell me,” he asked a friend, “Why do people always say it was natural for man to assume that the Sun went round the Earth, rather than that the Earth was rotating?” His friend replied, “Well obviously because it just looks as though the Sun is going round the Earth”. And Wittgenstein replied, “Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?”

We are conditioned by who we are, and indeed by what we are, to see things a certain way. That doesn’t mean that we can’t perceive things in a different way (though, as Dawkins argues, that might sometimes be the case), but it does mean that we need to make an effort to avoid falling into the easy default. Often those defaults are handy (well that bottle of bleach might contain champagne, but I’m going to guess it’s just bleach), but many are not. Even more significant, most of our assumptions are unseen; we don’t even know that we’re assuming them. So why don’t you go home today and find something you’ve been taking for granted and challenge it? Unless it’s your wife, of course; I’m trying to challenge you, not get you killed.

The entire video is well worth watching:

Bonus! In a related video David Deutsch points out how untypical our place in the universe is. If we were in a typical place in the universe it would be pitch black; you wouldn’t see anything. If you were then to look at the nearest star at the exact moment it exploded in a supernova, you still wouldn’t see anything 🙂

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Shared Walls

A couple of nights ago I was woken by our neighbours having a domestic. Their bedroom is just the other side of our bedroom wall, but it still requires some volume to be heard. This, they provided.

I never ******* touched her!

You *******liar!

You’re *******mad!

You *******, you ******* ****** her!

This brought back fond memories of some neighbours when I was growing up. They were very amorous, so much so that among my small group of friends the man of the house was known as “Oh Steve”. I think his wife’s loyalties were divided though, as she seemed to be a fan of Marti Pellow; I’m not sure what else she could have meant when she shouted out “Wet, Wet, Wet!” one night.

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I spent two hours yesterday clearing a blocked drain outside our house. This involved ramming it with a copper tube to get gravel, scum and bits of who-knows-what out of it, using said tube to suck the water out, then reaching my arm in up to the shoulder to find the compacted mass of stone and soap (which it appears turns into concrete in drains) that had blocked it and pull it out. And it’s still not fully clear, but unless I work out how to evolve another joint between my wrist and elbow this is as good as it gets. Fortunately my father-in-law is a plumber, and so can hook me up with some sulphuric acid to clear the rest away.

Interestingly in the 2 days he’s been visiting to fit some new radiators for us we’ve had the blocked drain, a gutter spring holes, and an outside tap start dripping. I suspect he’s forgotten that we’re family, and is going round vandalizing things to generate more business.

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Yet another reason not to be a whale. I’m watching a documentary about spaceflight, including the challenges of, um, intimate relations in space. Among problems such as nausea there’s the practical issue of tending to float apart. The ‘we haven’t officially endorsed any solution but it we did this would be it’ solution is some sort of elasticated harness, which at the very least should be fun to get on.

You may be wanting to point out that whales are hardly ever found in space, and you’d be right. But they do exist in a near-zero gravity environment, and hence have similar problems. And their complete lack of elastic webbing means they’ve had to come up with an alternate approach, which is to have another whale swimming around to nudge the couple back into position as needed.

Now I don’t know about you, but I struggle to pee if there’s someone stood behind me, never mind having someone else along for the ride. And given that whales live in pods with other family members… well, no thanks.

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There’s a picture of Paris Hilton that’s become pretty common in the last few days, showing her in tears inside her car. It’s actually a pretty good shot, capturing the mood artistically I think, but the subject is not worth it. Go here to see that image, plus another from the same photographer. A pretty depressing look at where we are.

(HT: Pharyngula)