Page 1

PORTSMOUTH POINT


T

PORTSMOUTH POINT

I Don’t Believe It! Aladdin Benali

4

Martyrdom and Modernism Isabel Stark

26

Religion Nicholas Graham

51

Why I Don’t Believe In Words Freya Derby

6

Christmas: Anything is Possible Harry Dry

28

Postmodernism and the Novel Melissa Smith

52

Hieroglyphs: A Quest for Meaning William Hall 7

Britten in Pace Julia Alsop 30

Belief and Perspective Benjamin Slader

54

Looking Through the Lens of History Henry Cunnison

Joni Mitchell Mark Richardson

34

Given Angela Carter

56

Dictionary Definition Fenella Johnson

35

Why Do We Read Horoscopes? Louisa Dassow

57

Why I Believe in Pope Francis Robert Bendell

36

Do Curses Really Exist? Alexander Quarrie-Jones

58

Belief and Sporting Success Zoe Rundle

38

Superstition Charlie Albuery

60

I’ll Take My Chances...Or Should I? Tom Harper 40

El Mito del Chupacabra Tom Harper

61

14

Medicine: An Act of Faith Rukmini Jagdish

42

Are Cults Harmless? Tim Bustin

62

18

Be Miserable: It’s Good for You Callum Cross

44

64

22

God, Man and Superman Fergus Houghton-Connell

Why Are Conspiracy Theories So Widespread? Gregory Walton-Green

66

24

It is. Katie Green

Believe It or Not . . .? John Sadden

67

25

L’Existentialisme Rhiannon Lasrado 48

Golden Gate Park Lottie Kent

Ideology William Wallace Are Science and Religion Irreconcilable? Daniel Rollins

8 9

10

Is Maths the Only Truth? Fergus Houghton-Connell 12 Global Warming: Science or Religion? William Bates What Teachers Believe Henry Ling and Kelvin Shiu Plato and Forms Zoe Dukoff-Gordon Religion: Ignorance or Neurosis? Thomas Penlington Faith is All You Need Marley Andrews

46 47

Editorial Team (Magazine and Blog) Daniel Rollins (Blog Editor) * Charlie Albuery * Julia Alsop * Marley Andrews * William Bates * Rosie Bell * Tim Bustin * Dodo Charles * Nathaniel Charles * Neil Chhabda * Zach Choppen * Callum Cross * Henry Cunnison * Louisa Dassow * Freya Derby * Harry Dry * Zoe Dukoff-Gordon * Nicholas Graham * Katie Green * Hattie Gould * Grace Gawn * William Hall * Tom Harper * Siena Hocking * Fergus Houghton-Connell * Fenella Johnson * Lottie Kent * Charlotte Knighton * Rhiannon Lasrado * Henry Ling * Annie Materna * Sophie Parekh * Thomas Penlington * Alexander Quarrie-Jones * Taylor Richardson * Maisie Riddle * Zoe Rundle * Benjamin Schofield * Sampad Sengupta * Kelvin Shiu * Benjamin Slader * Melissa Smith * Isabel Stark * Hugh Summers * Katherine Tobin * William Wallace * Gregory Walton-Green * Phoebe Warren * Ross Watkins * Sophie Whitehead Editor: James Burkinshaw Magazine Designer: Clara Feltham, The Graphic Design House

2

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

he editorial team has chosen to explore the topic of belief in this issue of Portsmouth Point, particularly apposite during the Christmas season (a time when, Harry Dry reminds us, anything can happen). Our beliefs help define who we are and take us to the deepest questions about the world within, around and beyond us. People have questioned the purpose of our existence for many thousands of years. William Hall explores the meaning of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Zoe Dukoff-Gordon explains the Forms of Plato and Daniel Rollins, Thomas Penlington and Marley Andrews investigate the sometimes problematic relationship between religion and science in the modern era: are they incompatible or complementary ways of understanding the nature of existence? Robert Bendell, an atheist, describes what Pope Francis means to him, while Isabel Stark, Julia Alsop and Mr Richardson uncover the role played by belief in the paintings of Lucas Cranach, the music of Benjamin Britten (who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this month) and the songs of Joni Mitchell. What do we mean by truth, anyway? Aladdin Benali and Freya Derby wonder whether language is a gateway or a barrier to finding the truth. Fergus Houghton-Connell asks if mathematics is the closest thing we have to a universal truth and considers the epistemology of German philosophers from Leibniz to Nietzsche. William Wallace and Henry Cunnison are interested in the ways in which we try to make sense of the world through ideological or historiographical systems, while Rhiannon Lasrado considers (in French) the appeal of existentialism as an anti-belief. Louisa Dassow and Tom Harper wonder whether it is all about fate or luck. Members of Hackers, PGS’ writers’ group, remind us, through their poems and short stories, of the paradoxical power of fictive truth, and Ben Slader plays with ideas of perspective in a series of inventive photographs. Melissa Smith reflects on the playful seriousness of novelists Milan Kundera and Italo Calvino in their attempts to capture the complexity of experience and belief in a post-modern world. As we navigate this age of (post)modernity, are we guided by science or faith? Rukmini Jagdish argues that faith lies at the heart of medicine; William Bates asks whether concerns about global warming result from science or faith. While Zoe Rundle investigates the role of self-belief in sport, Callum Cross finds evidence that being miserable is better for you. Charlie Albuery and Tim Bustin are troubled by the continuing appeal of superstition and cults, while Alex Quarrie-Jones wonders whether we really can be cursed and Tom Harper goes on the trail (in Spanish) of the terrifying “ bestia del Chupacabra”. On the fiftieth anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination, Gregory Walton-Green examines the enduring appeal of conspiracy theories. Finally, Mr Sadden stretches our credulity to the limit with a series of claims (following an exhaustive investigation of the PGS archives) that he asks us to find “true or false”. Our thanks to Mr Sadden, Mr Richardson, Mrs Kirby, Ms Burden, Mr Gamble, Mr Page and Mr Stone for their help in preparing this ‘Belief’ edition of Portsmouth Point. Thank you, also, to Mrs Carter, Dr Galliver, Mrs Morgan, Dr O’ Neil, Dr Richmond and Mr de Trafford for generously giving up the time to share their own beliefs, in conversation with Henry Ling and Kelvin Shiu, for this issue.

Editorial TEAM

PORTSMOUTH POINT Cover Image: Hands or Face by Benjamin Slader

The Editors December, 2013

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

3


I don't

Believe it!

I Don't believe it! Aladdin Benali YEAR 13

Ceci n’est pas une table

I

t is considered that truth and belief are almost diametrically opposed, that belief belongs in the realm of irrationality and emotion and truth are grounded in pure logic. Indeed, there are certain truths that are so self-evident as to be just common sense. But, when we claim that we know something is true, what do we actually mean by this term ‘truth’? Indeed, could it even be possible to understand the true nature of what we call ‘truth’? To what extent are our perceptions of truth and belief so divergent after all? The idea of truth may seem like an abstract concept that bears no relevance in everyday lives, and, to a certain extent, this is true; no one has to ask themselves what they mean by a ‘fact’ in daily conversation. But, apart from everyday conversation, the notion of ‘truth’ is central in determining the validity of any statement that claims to be meaningful, whether in art, philosophy or science. In the early 20th century, following the publication of Wittgenstein’s portentously named Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, many believed that they had finally found the answer to this elusive question. A group of logicians, philosophers, and scientists called the Vienna Circle, formulated the Principle of Verification, an attempt to unite philosophy under one ultimate principle of meaning. The prerequisites of the principle, expressed by A. J. Ayer in his book Language, Truth, and Logic are as follows: “I require of an empirical hypothesis not that it should be conclusively verifiable, but that some possible sense experience should be relevant to the determination of its truth or

4

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

falsehood. If a putative proposition fails to satisfy this principle, and is not a tautology, then I hold that it is metaphysical and that it is neither true nor false but literally senseless.” Here, Ayer is single-handedly denying the meaningfulness of Metaphysics, Ontology, Aesthetics, Theology, as well as much of Ethics, leaving only subjects that can make statements that can be proven by empirical evidence or logical deduction. Thus, a statement like “God exists outside of time and space” or even “Murder is bad” can be proven neither analytically nor synthetically and cannot be ‘true’ or ‘false’. On the other hand, an empirical statement, such as “the cat is on the mat”, is meaningful because it can be proven or disproven, and an analytic one, such as “This man is unmarried and therefore a bachelor”, is meaningful too (provided the premises are correct) as its validity is self-contained within the sentence so that it would be self-contradictory to claim otherwise. According to Verificationism, it is these meaningful statements whose truthfulness can be determined. For example, “The cat is on the mat” can be disproven by simply looking at the mat and observing the cat not sitting there. Although this simplistic dichotomy of meaningfulness and meaninglessness is somewhat appealing, Logical Positivism appears to be profoundly flawed. While some justification for a theory is certainly nice, one would at least expect the statement of the theory itself not to be self-refuting; however, the Verification Principle itself falls into this trap of self-contradiction. This is due to the fact that the statement “if something cannot be proven by sense experience and is not a tautology, then it meaningless” is

by definition meaningless, as the statement cannot be proven by parts look white because of the reflected light. Thus, observed these means of verification. colours do not provide any evidence for the ‘true’ nature of the Not only does this problem with verification profoundly affect table. But what about the texture? With the naked eye, one can the way we think about science but also drastically changes the see the grain, but otherwise the table looks smooth and even; way we think about ‘truth’. This is because it shows that any however, if we looked at it through a microscope, we should see statement claiming to provide the ultimate rule for philosophical roughness and all sorts of differences to the naked eye. Here our thought is not so ultimate after all, as each premise requires one confidence of empirical truth begins to desert us. OK, but surely or more preceding sets of established truths or premises for the shape is something of which we can be sure? However, anyone truth of the deduction to be confirmed. who has attempted to draw pictures of three-dimensional objects Even Descartes, in his disengaged reason, could not be will have observed that, depending on perspective, all shapes completely sceptical in this way. Indeed, in the famous statement appear different; diagonally, my desk appears a trapezium of Cartesianism, “I think therefore I am”, while doubting his shape; and from directly above and from the side, it would seem senses, Descartes could not justify his presupposition that logic to be merely a square. In this way, every single one of these was necessary in determining the truth. Hence, in one sense apparent ‘truths’ of sense perception can trickle away when or another, human thought has to start somewhere. If we were systematically doubted. absolutely sceptical, then, in doubting logic and our senses, we Surely the principles of logic and mathematics cannot be would be stuck in a very awkward position of absolute doubt; doubted so easily? This does seem to be the case; however, though, surely, if we conclude that logical thought ought not to be upon further scrutiny, while such a priori propositions cannot used in determining the truth, the conclusion that we, therefore, be logically doubted in the same way that empiricism can, the need to use something else would, ironically, be a logical blind belief involved in the method is even more evident. The deduction in itself and thus contradicting the established premise. philosopher David Hume uses the example of “7 + 5 = 12”. However, this deep method of thinking can very quickly Given that an ostensive proof of this may not be as reliable become unintelligible, so it is obvious that we as first thought, due to the problems in sense need to start somewhere. But, where do we start perception, any absolute claim to know this is our philosophical enquiry and how do we justify the case seems somewhat questionable. When what do where to start? This is one of the most important a mathematician may claim that it “just we actually asked, problems in Epistemology (the philosophy of feels right” or “could not be any other way”, mean by knowledge) because the justification cannot responses of inclination, feeling, and instinct. be in the conventional, analytic or synthetic It is clear, therefore, that both our acceptance this term sense and thus we need to justify the process of “reality” as “reality” and our knowledge of "Truth"? justification ad infinitum. Hence, it would mathematical “truths” are only beliefs. Indeed, seem that the selection of the rules that dictate the acceptance of a table existing and the validity a method of justification of all thought, the rules that we are of the statement ‘Murder is wrong’ are based, ultimately on the claiming are both ‘true’ and conducive to producing the ‘truth’, same basic ideas of human understanding. Thus, reason and are completely arbitrary. emotion are the same kind of truth and, therefore, more similar The crux of this problem, I believe, derives from the generally than it would appear upon prima facia. Hence if these two accepted dichotomy between reason and emotion. This cognitive processes are so related it would therefore seem that dichotomy is fallacious, that is to say that reason and emotion the idea that ‘truth’ and ‘belief’ are so divergent is indeed one are not diametrically opposed, but rather simply two sides of the that is equally problematic. same coin of our human understanding. Indeed, it is important Thus, the ‘belief’ that would conventionally be considered to show this in order to reject another false dichotomy – that unjustified, is just as arbitrarily selected as the ‘truth’. Therefore, between belief and rationality – and thus show that there is no the rules that dictate a method of justification of all thought ultimate essence or objective nature of ‘truth’. The fallaciousness need not rely on indirect self-evidence, that is, say, that of sense of the first dichotomy seems to be based on the fact that belief in perception and logic, but could very well be direct self-evidence sense perception and mathematical logic is not belief at all but like instinct or inclination. However, this presents us with a rather objective fact, and that to claim other truths like ‘Murder is problem, which is that, in general, there is more differentiation wrong’ is merely an emotionally based belief. amongst people between some self-evident beliefs and others. To demonstrate the inaccuracy of this dichotomy, I will use an For example, no one could deny that in all cases 5 + 7 = 12; example, from The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, of whereas, many more deny that, in all cases “murder is wrong”. one of truth claim that one would usually assert to pertain to the Thus, we are forced to conclude that, to each individual, truths former category of objective fact: “I am now sitting on a chair, like axioms of mathematics are of equal truth value to those of at a table of a certain shape … To the eye it is oblong, brown ethical maxims. and shiny, to the touch it is cool and hard; and when I touch it, it gives out a wooden sound.” The claimed basis of this ‘truth’ is the fact that sense perception is reliable. However, this could not be further from the ‘truth’. First, although I believe that the table is ‘really’ the same colour all over, the parts that reflect the light look much brighter than the other parts, and some

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

5


Why I don’t believe in

words

Hieroglyphs:

Freya Derby

YEAR 12

T

he problem is with philosophy. So much importance is placed on words when coming to terms with reality, but it’s a purpose that they’re not fit for. They just depict it. Just as a map, model or photograph of a city is not the city, in the same way neither is its name or any words used to describe it. This is a concept explored by Bertrand Russell and explained through the graphic novel Logicomix, which tells the story of “Russell’s quest for absolute certainty [and his] deep mistrust of ordinary everyday language.” ‘“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”’ 1 If we are to be master of words, as Humpty Dumpty puts it, we cannot limit our ideas and meanings to them. We do not think in words, but we speak aloud to clarify our thoughts, or to explain them. In John Wyndham’s Chocky, Matthew often cannot express some of the things that Chocky says to him, as she speaks not as a voice but as an idea or a thought. Lewis Carroll played with this again in ‘Jabberwocky’. Although most of the words are meaningless, the reader has a strange sense of understanding. On the other hand, my interpretation of “brillig” was “cold and foggy”, which I had assumed was Carroll’s intention (and this is how it was usually read), but Humpty Dumpty explains it to Alice as “four o'clock in the afternoon — the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.”, so maybe our understanding is far more subjective than we think. Or maybe it was a misreading on Humpty Dumpty’s part… '”In that case,” said the Dodo solemnly, rising to its feet, “I move that the meeting adjourn, for the immediate adoption

6

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

William Hall

YEAR 10

I

Bertrand Russell, as portrayed in Logicomix

of more energetic remedies — “ “Speak English!” said the Eaglet. ”I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and, what's more, I don't believe you do either!”’ 2 The fact is that words often make things less clear. The issue is particularly evident during debates. Words and sentences used to describe so many important concepts are so long and circumlocutory as to become completely meaningless, although I suspect that their purpose is really to distract from the flaws in an argument and increase the apparent credibility of the arguer by making you think they know what they’re talking about. Even if you do understand the words themselves, they can be so difficult to disentangle into something coherent that, by the time you have, you’ve already been drowned in a veritable minestrone of indigestible semantics. To me, most arguments could benefit from better observation of Occam’s Razor, Sturgeon’s Law or the KISS Principle (Keep it simple, stupid). ‘“It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”’

1

Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass 2

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland William Shakespeare, Macbeth 3

A Quest for Meaning

f you mention Egyptian hieroglyphs, most people will not be able to tell you much about them, apart from the fact that ‘They’re the Egyptian language from a long time ago’. That is indeed what they are, but, as you delve deeper into their history, there is much more to be unveiled. Only a small number of hieroglyphs have survived relative to the total number that once existed (dating back almost 4,000 years in some cases). Therefore, a lot of knowledge is shrouded in the mists of time and their origin isn’t known for sure. Scholars and historians believe that they derived from Sumerian or Cuneiform script. However, this is speculation; there is no direct evidence of a connection. ‘Cuneiform’ means ‘wedge shaped’, starting out as a system of pictographs; gradually, the complexity of these symbols was reduced and they became more abstract as the number of symbols in use grew smaller. Cuneiform script underwent considerable changes over a period of more than two millennia. During an excavation in the 1890s, hieroglyphic inscriptions were discovered, which have since been dated to around 3,200 BCE. Although Gerzean pottery from about 4,000 BCE, resembles Egyptian hieroglyphs, the first full sentence written in hieroglyphs so far discovered was found on a seal impression discovered in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen at Umm el-Qa'ab, dating from the Second Dynasty. Hieroglyphs consist of three types of glyphs: phonetic glyphs (including single-consonant characters that act like an alphabet), logographs (representing morphemes, the smallest unit in a language, e.g. “unbreakable” has three morphemes: un, break and able) and determinatives (which narrow down the meaning of logographic or phonetic words). After the Roman Empire conquered Egypt, hieroglyphics faded from popular use and the key to their meaning was gradually lost. By the time Napoleon's army invaded Egypt in 1798 CE and subsequently discovered the Rosetta Stone, the

system of hieroglyphs was a thorough mystery to Egyptians and non-Egyptians alike. Today, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt is considered by most scholars to be a dismal failure; however, the discovery of the famed Rosetta Stone is seen as monumental in the history of hieroglyphs. Upon examination of the black asphalt tablet, scholars determined that the same inscription was written in two forms of ancient Egyptian symbols: ancient hieroglyphics and demotic hieroglyphics. The latter form had been developed towards the end of the use of the more ancient language and utilised a cursive script. The most amazing facts about hieroglyphs contained on the Rosetta Stone was that they came with a Greek translation, which allowed modern scholars to begin piecing together an understanding of the wider system of hieroglyphs and their purpose. Throughout the history of their development, these ancient Egyptian symbols were utilized for a variety of purposes. It is well known that hieroglyphs were prominently displayed on pyramids and tombs of the royalty, playing an important role in conveying the history of the Egyptian nation and particularly the accomplishments and feats of the Egyptian pharaohs. Excavations of the pyramids have proven that hieroglyphs were also used on jewellery as well as nameplates for royalty, referred to as cartouches. Hieroglyphs were often for religious writings: recounting the acts of the gods, casting magic spells of protection, and performing many other sacred functions besides. For example, the famous Book of the Dead was not really a book but a collection of spells written on tomb walls, coffins (or papyrus that was placed in a tomb) and designed to help the soul reach the afterlife. We definitely don’t know everything there is to know about Egyptian hieroglyphs, and what we think we know is often speculative and not yet confirmed to be true. There is much more to be discovered and learned. Who knows what mysteries and secrets they still hold?

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

7


looking through

the Lens of History YEAR 13

I

8

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

When Belief Becomes A Threat William Wallace YEAR 13

Henry Cunnison

t may seem that there are at least as many approaches to history as there are historians. Not only do different writers seem to have conflicting arguments, but also different structures, uses of evidence and even vocabulary. For example, Robert Blake’s Disraeli and Richard Aldous’s The Lion and the Unicorn, although focusing on the same topics, bear little similarities to each other. Blake’s work is unmistakably a thorough biography, whereas Aldous writes in a style such that his book reads more like a novel than a history. However, it is still possible to group approaches into broad headings, perhaps the three most important academic forms being political, social and economic history, while the most widely read popular approach is military history. Different approaches may be taken within each of these fields (Blake and Aldous represent contrasting interpretations of political history) but they still provide the best broad categories to place historical texts under. Economic history is a relatively modern field. In the sense that economists used history to justify their conclusions, it has its roots in the origin of that subject. But it was only in the interwar period that it began to be recognised as a subject in its own right, largely due to the insistence of the London School of Economics: the Economic History Society was founded in 1926. Economic History tends to be more quantitative than the other approaches to history. As well as being studied in its own right, economic history is also vital for the development of economics; in the words of Paul Samuelson “that's the raw material out of which any of your conjectures or testings will come1.” Several economic historians have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, and the outgoing chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, is an expert on the economic history of the Great Depression. The modern field of social history emerged in the 1960s, and is often seen as the offspring of the Marxist Historians, Eric Hobsbawn, Christopher Hill and, above all, E P Thompson. 2 Currently, 29% of British history faculty members identify with Social History, making it the largest academic field. 3 Social history is very broad and contains many internal divisions, into areas such as the history of education or the history of the family.

Ideology :

“The Father of History”: Herodotus, c. 450 BC

Some aspects overlap with economic history, as well as political and military history. In the broadest terms it may be said to try to understand the lives of the ordinary people, rather than focusing on famous individuals. Political history can trace its legacy back to the great classical historians, who all tended to focus on the scheming of the great men of the time. It was, until the advent of social history, the most common approach towards the study of the past. It will, of course, overlap with aspects of military, economic and even social history. In mainstream bookshops, where there are sections dedicated to history, they are dominated by military history. While academic historians tend to focus on the effects that war has on societies, it is the work of amateur historians, who normally write more on the details of the battles and warfare, which reach the largest audience. Of course, good popular works will also consider the impact of war. Recent examples include the works of Antony Beevor and Sir Max Hastings on the World Wars. The origins of military history are in the works of Herodotus, the “father of history”, who recorded in the fifth century BC, in The Histories, the conflict between the Greek States and the Persian Empire. It is possible to approach history through only one of these “lenses”. Many historians have done so very successfully. However, truly great historians will combine aspects of all of these approaches in their work. Politics cannot be fully examined without considering society at the time and economics plays a key role in creating the environment in which society develops. Wars are best understood when their impact on society, the economy and politics are considered. Historians should also put aside their own beliefs when they research a topic. Their assessment should be based on the evidence, not their preconceptions.

Clarke, Conor (June 18, 2009). "An Interview With Paul Samuelson, Part Two" The Atlantic. Retrieved 15th October 2013. 2 Taylor, Miles (1997) The Beginnings of Modern British Social History? History Workshop Journal Issue 43. 3 Institute of Historical Research. 1

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”

S

o said President John F Kennedy, just months before his assassination in November, 1963. His words concern the simple proposition that principles can endure when man does not. Think back to the height of the Second World War, when the German war machine rolled across Europe, leaving a trail of fallen nations in its wake: a single island prevailed against adversity because it held true to the idea that all people have the same rights and liberties that no power can conquer. It is this very type of idea that Kennedy was referring to: the values that transcend the politics of petty politicians. Recent times, however, have seen a very different understanding of Kennedy’s words, as people now commit to a dangerously blinkered approach to different issues. I am, of course, speaking about political ideology. You need only observe events that have recently scarred our American cousins, namely the shutdown of their government which cost around $4 billion in economic output. Despite the fact that Congress, the Supreme Court and the voters have all approved President Obama’s healthcare reforms, a small faction of conservative congressmen were able to cause federal workers to be sent home without pay, by disrupting the funding of public services and national parks. So what drove these daring conservatives, better known as members of the Tea Party, to inflict such damage upon their own country? The simple answer is ideology. Many Americans are obsessed with freedom: it is ingrained in their beloved constitution, yet is completely

disingenuous in practice. The freedom that campaigners strove for, soldiers died for and many still believe in, is barely alight today in the United States. Whilst the likes of the Tea Party claim they are defending liberty by opposing measures, like Obamacare, that seek to improve social conditions, there are government agencies that spy on and invade the privacy of their citizens. At the height of the Cold War, we faced a threat from a nation where the authorities controlled every aspect of public life; the bastion of freedom we were once able to take pride in is now nothing more than a bleak reflection of failed ideology. Put simply, it is because politicians have failed to understand what freedom is actually about that they have stood in the way of vital social reforms as well as allowing unscrupulous security laws to be implemented. Perhaps less serious is the problem faced by the British Conservative Party, with regards to political ideology. Thirty years ago, we had a Prime Minister who completely dominated the political landscape and, thanks to those that have religiously adopted her ideological views, still does today. Critics of David Cameron claim that he lacks the sort of mettle that Margaret Thatcher was so known for - yet this notion is rooted not in whether Cameron is principled, but whether he is ideological, as the Prime Minister is indeed a pragmatist who is prepared to reach conciliation with opposition parties and his junior coalition partners, the Lib Dems. Just as the failure of ideological government can be seen when we compare the Tea Party and President Kennedy, so too can we observe the divide between today’s “Thatcherites” and the moderate Cameron. In the latter case, it is the Thatcherites who lay accusations against the Prime Minister that he is ‘conservative

in name only’: yet the interpretation of political ideas such as conservatism has evolved greatly since Robert Peel founded the modern Conservative Party in the 1830s. Political ideology is not only a threat to the stability of Mr Cameron’s leadership; it has led to an environment of bickering and gridlock in the United States Congress. In both countries, ideology undermines the prime responsibility of government: to act in the interests of the country not of ideologues.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

9


Science and religion

are

Science and Religion Daniel Rollins YEAR 13

irreconcilable?

I

n our modern society, science and religion are often set up as opposing ideas: rational, logical science on one side and unreasonable, old-fashioned religion on the other, unable to be reconciled. If you embrace science, you must relinquish all association with illogical religion; to choose religion you must throw all logic and reason to the wind and simply ignore the evidence. If you do try to accept both, you’re either mad or lack integrity. This dichotomy, popularised over the last two decades by “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss, not only presents a false picture of religion and faith but a distorted view of science. The OED defines science as “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world,” 1 limiting science to the natural and physical domain. This is not to devalue science at all; its proper domain includes everything from the unimaginably small world of particle physics to the magnificent movements of the stars and planets, the complex interactions between chemicals to the biological processes that keep us alive. Understanding the universe is a hugely important job and so vast that, in the words of the famous astronomer, Johannes Kepler, the, “human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.” Kepler is best known for showing that the planets did not orbit in a perfectly circular motion as Aristotelian metaphysics suggested but moved in an elliptical shape by examining the evidence of astronomical data and following where it took him rather than relying on abstract philosophical principles. This system of collecting, analysing and theorising from evidence is the basis of all modern science, yet the New Atheists, who claim to champion modern science, seem to be reverting back to its pre-enlightenment state by looking at scientific theories with the philosophical premise that, “there is no God”, instead of simply following the evidence where it leads. Atheist philosopher Anthony Flew changed his mind about God after half a century of being one of the most famous atheists in the world. In There Is A God, he explained that he changed his mind because he felt the picture of the universe he saw, “the laws of nature, life with its teleological organization, and the existence of the universe,”2 pointed to a creator. He claimed to have followed reason and came to believe in a god (not one of

10

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

any of the major world religions however.) The New Atheists take a different approach; rather than simply following science, they try to use, and sometimes distort, the science to support their initial premise: that there is no god. For example, in The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking admits that it is hard to explain why the, “universe and its laws appear to have a design that both is tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alternation.” He then also admits that this could lead some back to the idea of a “grand designer” (God, that is, not Kevin McCloud), but then triumphantly declares, “That is not the answer of modern science”3. He then goes on to explain how the “multiverse theory” set forth in some models of string theory allows an almost infinite number of parallel universes, each with different laws, so that, even if the chance of life is almost infinitely small, the multiverse has an almost infinite number of chances to get it “right” and therefore our universe needs no “designer”. This theory is an alternative, more “scientific”, explanation for how the universe is as it is than the idea of a creator. There are two main problems with Hawking’s argument: first, it does not provide a true alternative to a creator. Surely an omnipotent God who can create one universe could create many just as easily. Secondly, it is certainly not the “answer of modern science” either; while the multiverse theory is a very interesting idea in both physics and philosophy, it is currently only speculation within science as there is absolutely no proof of any of the nine models suggested. Some of these models are completely untestable and unfalsifiable and we are a long way off from being able to test the ones that can be tested. There are also some very strong voices from within the modern science that Professor Hawking claims to represent who reject the theory. This argument is barely scientific as it is not based on any empirical evidence but on scientific speculation and a philosophical premise. It therefore may be closer to ancient metaphysics than Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. The subtle mixing of modern theoretical physics with the premise that there is no God seems more reminiscent of Aristotle’s hypothesising about the flights of the planets, based on his abstract idea of “perfect motion”, than Kepler’s thorough analysis of astronomical data. While this is only one example of how the New Atheists turn to questionable scientific methods and arguments to try and disprove

God or at least present Him as an unnecessarily cumbersome addition to science, any attempt to do this may be doomed to the same fate. The New Atheists, despite their apparent esteem for (worship of?) science, do it a great disservice by mixing it with metaphysics and stretching it beyond its natural boundaries. C.S. Lewis, while not a scientist, puts it very clearly: “it is really a matter of common sense. Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, ‘Why is there a universe?’ ‘Why does it go on as it does?’ ‘Has it any meaning?’ would remain just as they were?”4 As any monotheistic God would be apart from and sovereign over the universe and “the physical and natural world”, direct scientific experimentation on this created world from within won’t provide evidence for God as it is existence itself that is the evidence. These questions therefore cannot be answered through experimentation or gathering of empirical evidence, their answers lie outside the domain of science. They are not scientific questions but questions of philosophy or even theology. While objective proof or disproof of God’s existence may not be found in science, if looked at from a theistic worldview science can reveal much about the God who created it, and is, therefore, a discipline to be taken very seriously. The Psalmist David writes in the Bible, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”5 : good science that reveals more about the heavens; the sky therefore takes on a spiritual significance for the Christian scientist, encouraging science rather than inhibiting it. God is not unscientific, the so called “god of the gaps” which fills up any holes in scientific understanding with the supernatural and can be squeezed out of existence by advancing scientific knowledge foreign to Christianity and the other major monotheistic religions. God, as creator of both the understood and mysterious, is not simply an explanation for the inexplicable but also the explanation for the explicable. Rather than finding God in what we don’t know, isn’t what we do know far more mysterious? How could a group of organisms made up originally of dead, unconscious matter, come to life and then consider how they came to consider how they come to be here? The consciousness and intelligence to the point of understanding even only a small part of how the universe works is better evidence

for belief in God than the “god of the gaps” and also allows and encourages scientific progress as the more we learn the greater the explanation needed for how we learnt it. Primitive pagan religions may have been based on explaining what we don’t understand with a god. Now, with modern science and Christian theology, it is a case of having to explain what we do understand with God! A common criticism of scientists who believe in God, made by the New Atheists, is that faith in a supernatural being undermines science, as it means not everything obeys the natural laws. However, faith that God is rational and created a rational, intelligible universe has been the basis of western science for 400 years. It is the same basis that allows the New Atheist scientists to continue to find patterns and develop theories but they only think of it as the laws of physics. Scientist Joseph Needham investigated why, despite starting early, scientific progress has stalled in China yet flourished in the West during the Enlightenment. He finally came, reluctantly, to the conclusion that it was because of the widespread belief in a rational creator in the West which made scientific laws comprehensible. This is not to say atheists cannot do science (many do so very successfully most of the time) but that the idea that a person cannot have both a faith in God and science is completely false. Science and religion are not therefore as opposed as the New Atheists try to make it seem with their suspicious reasoning. They can, in fact, be complementary. Science does not give any disproof or proof of God but, rather, gives faith colour and reveals the glory of its creator to a believer in God. Religion also gives science a rational base on which it can work, which comes from God’s rational character. Maybe, then, it is not such a surprise that the greatest scientist to ever live, Sir Isaac Newton, considered his theological works of superior importance to his famous and revolutionary laws of motion (no one else agrees, though: his theology is bizzare). So, is it a lack of integrity or madness that drives me from church on a Sunday to the lab on Monday? No. It is the desire to know more about the universe and, by extension, the God who made it. It is a privilege of the Christian scientist to be able to say, to quote Kepler again: “O God, I am thinking Thy thoughts after Thee.”

"Science." Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Eleventh ed (revised). Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. Print. 2 Anthony Flew, There Is A God: How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, New York: HarperOne, 2007 p.155 3 Hawking and Mlodinow. The Grand Design, London: Bantam Press, 2010, p. 164 4 Lewis, Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952 5 Psalm 19:1 (English Standard Version) 1

Bibliography Fletcher, A. (2005). Life, the Universe and Everything. fletchpub. Grath, A. a. (2007). The Dawkins Delusion. London: SPCK. Greene, B. (2011). The Hidden Reality. London: Allen Lane. Lennox, J. C. (2011). Gunning For God. Oxford: Lion Books. Lewis, C. S. (1952). Mere Christianity. London: Collins. Willson, A. (2012). If God Then What? Nottingham: IVP.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

11


Maths and truth

M

athematics is unquestionably important. Even those who loathed basic algebra at school must accept that Maths has immeasurable current uses. But, even throughout history, Maths has been pivotal for scientific discovery. The likes of Archimedes and Plato come to mind with their evolution of trigonometry and everyone should know about Pythagoras’ Theorem. Maths pre-dates all of the modern religions, too. Hinduism may date back to as far as 3,000 BC, but early Maths, used for counting and trading, can be traced back 35,000 BC. So is Maths the only truth? Throughout the Middle Ages, church attendance was deemed compulsory. The message was: if you don’t attend church, you will go to Hell. It was because of discoveries such as Galileo’s that the Earth revolved around the Sun and was not the centre of the Universe, that doubt began to be thrown upon the Church’s conception of Ultimate Truth. As these high-profile discoveries continued (with the help of ancient Greek trigonometry), church numbers dropped, slowly at first but, as we see nowadays, quite rapidly. Church attendance may hold the key. Between 2010

and 2011, attendance at Canterbury Cathedral dropped by 9.3% and, although last year the drop in attendance levelled out, it is clear that religious belief, at least in England, is becoming less widespread. Meanwhile, admissions to read Mathematics and various Sciences at universities across the country continue to climb in number, while the Government is offering large bursaries to entice students to become Maths teachers. Such bursaries aren’t available for students of Religious Studies, which makes one think: does the Government think Maths is more important than the study of religion? I will let you decide on that one. My next argument lies with proof. Every mathematical theorem has to be proved for it to be deemed correct. Whether it is Pythagoras’ Theorem (that in a right-angled triangle a2 + b2 = c2) or the infamous Fermat’s Last Theorem (that no three positive integers a, b and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than 2), all accepted theorems have been proved (in the case of Fermat’s Last Theorem, it took 358 years to prove it!). Meanwhile, is there any conclusive proof that Jesus existed? I’m not saying I don’t believe he existed, but do we have any photographs of him? Do have someone recording a video of him walking on water? More to the point, is there any reference to Jesus in any contemporary document from the era

the 'miracle of life ' can be explained scientifically

is Maths the only

Truth? he is supposed to have lived? When Constantine commissioned the compilation of what eventually became the New Testament, several centuries after the time Jesus is alleged to have lived, it is thought that up to twenty gospels were submitted, of which only four were selected, each of them written quite some time (up to half a century) after the time that Jesus is said to have died. So what was included in these rejected gospels? Did they cast doubt over Jesus’ deity and thus were excluded? Either way, there still is still an appreciable level of doubt as to the complete accuracy of the people and events described in the books of the Old and New Testaments. One of the major arguments for Jesus’ divinity made within the Gospels themselves is his performance of miracles. It is impossible to prove whether those did or did not occur over two millennia ago. However, the term ‘miracle’ is still thrown around a lot these days. I very much doubt that a divine being had anything to do with a shocking football result or a good exam result, in fact the ‘miracle of life’ can be explained scientifically, but there are a few occasions where miracles do appear to occur. The Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban militant. Even Maths can’t deny that the chances of surviving that were incredibly slim, yet somehow, she did. However, her longterm recovery had more to do with medical care made possible by both science and mathematics. There are also stories of paralysed pilgrims travelling to Lourdes and, having touched holy water, being able to walk again. Miracles do occur and perhaps there is a divine cause behind them. However, such evidence as there is tends to be anecdotal and therefore difficult to prove or disprove. Dan Brown’s extraordinarily popular Angels and Demons highlights the conflicts throughout history between the Catholic Church and Science. Although I’m not suggesting that secret organisations were set up to destroy the Church, as many of Brown’s fans might believe, there were certainly huge differences between the teachings of the Church regarding Truth and what Science tells us about the nature of reality. The main reason for the Church’s hostility to early scientists such as Galileo and Giordano Bruno is, most probably, that by calling into doubt the Bible’s description of the Creation and its suggestion that the sun moves around the Earth, Science threatens to undermine the Church’s claim to possess the Ultimate Truth. For example, whereas biblical literalists would have you believe that God created the Earth in seven days, scientists have used mathematics to demonstrate that the Big Bang Theory explains how a huge explosion created the Universe. Similarly, Darwin’s theory of evolution, a century and a half ago, contradicted the literalist belief that God created humans in a day (250 years after Galileo’s observations of the planets showed that the Earth was not in fact the centre of the Universe).

Fergus Houghton-Connell

YEAR 13

Thus, religious belief relies upon the idea of faith. Throughout history, armies have gone to war with the support of religions. The Spartans would only go to war if the signs from the gods were favourable; medieval popes and kings led Crusades to regain the “Holy Land” and, more recently, tensions and violence in the Gaza strip are influenced by differing religious beliefs going back many generations. So what would cause people to fight each other over religion? People believe so strongly that the truth they believe comes from a divine being and that anyone who disagrees them is not just wrong but going against God and therefore evil; therefore, they end up believing that the only way to protect truth is to attack and often destroy those they believe opposed to that divine truth. Maybe these senseless actions can only be explained by saying that there must be a God controlling people. Who knows? I’m afraid I will have to leave you with the conclusion that there is no one answer. Science may stake its claim in the creation of the Universe, but there is still much that Science can’t explain. Religion on the other hand can claim that only a God is responsible for miracles and other inexplicable events. Even if Science disproves everything Religion stands for, it is unlikely that people will suddenly stop believing in God, or that they’ll believe Science even. Science and Religion have coexisted (not always comfortably or peacefully) for a long time now, and I think they’ll both coexist for a long time to come.

Mathematical beauty in method: elegant proof of the Pythagorean theorem

Lourdes: the site of miracles? 12

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

13


Global warming

science or religion?

Global Warming

Science or Religion? William Bates YEAR 11

just because the climate is changing does not mean that humans are at fault

14

I

thas been estimated by the International Energy Agency that to reach the international target of halving Carbon Dioxide emissions by 2050 will cost over $45 trillion dollars above that of using fossil fuels. The reason for this is that many international governments believe that there is a ‘consensus’ that Carbon Dioxide is causing increases in the earth’s temperature. However, the economic consensus is that reducing emissions reduces economic growth. This is further compounded by the fact that almost

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

half of the world’s population relies on traditional biomass, agricultural residues, and dung for cooking and heating. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has stated that, in order to avoid a catastrophic disaster, CO2 emissions need to be cut by 60% worldwide. Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs) need energy to develop; this would double worldwide energy consumption. As demand is skyrocketing in the developing world, the only option is to de-carbonise energy production. Yet fossil fuels account for 85 percent of worldwide energy production for a very simple reason: they are the cheapest source of energy. Therefore, a carbon-free energy future is an expensive energy future. Making energy more expensive would be hugely destructive for the developing

world, for whom affordable energy is the basis of economic growth and the principle driver of human wellbeing. Given the enormous costs of green energy, you would presume that the scientific basis was absolutely irrefutable; but this is simply not the case. Lord Lawson of Blaby (Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer) ran a 2005 government enquiry, concluding that he was surprised how weak and uncertain the science was. Global warming takes place when the solar radiation travels to earth, is reflected back into space; some of it is trapped by greenhouse gases and therefore heats the planet. The anthropogenic (man-made) global warming theory states that humans are causing such a large amount of CO2 to be put into the atmosphere that it is causing a significant increase in world temperatures. If this were the case, we would see this in the ice core temperature reconstructions, but these show that there have been periods with up to ten times as much CO2 as today and lower temperatures. Dr Piers Corbyn, climate forecaster at Weather Action, has stated that “None of the major climate changes in the last thousand years can be explained by CO2” .Just because the climate is changing does not mean that humans are at fault; the climate has always changed, and changed without help from us humans. According to the theory of man-made global warming, industrialization should cause temperatures to rise. However, after the Second World War a large number of consumer goods began to be mass produced. Historians call this the post-war economic boom. The earth’s temperatures have risen by 0.5 degrees Celsius in the last hundred years, but this warming was mostly before 1940 when there was less industrial production. During the post-war economic boom, temperatures fell consistently for four decades. Professor Akasofu, director of the International Artic Research Centre, said that Carbon Dioxide levels began to increase exponentially after 1940 but, at the same time, temperatures began to fall. This led to scares of a coming Ice Age. The present trend of warming can be traced back over 200 years to the end of the Little Ice Age, which started in the 14th century; it became so cold that it was possible to hold fairs and skate on the frozen River Thames. Before this, there was a period in which temperatures were higher than they are today: the Medieval

Warm Period, which made Britain so warm that vineyards were growing in the north of England; it was also a period of great wealth. During the Bronze Age, there was a period known to geologists as the Holocene Maximum, when for over three centuries temperatures stayed much higher than they are today. Many leaflets from organizations such as Greenpeace use imagery of polar bears, but Professor Ian Clark of the Department of Earth Science , University of Ottawa, said “It (the Holocene Maximum) was much warmer than today; the polar bears obviously survived this period, they are very adaptable and warm periods pose no problem for them.” Many people cite Artic ice cap melting as a result of global warming and yet Greenland was much warmer 10,000 years ago and there was no large-scale melting event Carbon Dioxide is a very small part of the atmosphere as is measured in tens of parts per million. If you account for the fact that humans are responsible for only 2.5% of CO2, this figure becomes very small. Professor John Christy of the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama and an IPPC lead author stated that “Water vapour is a greenhouse gas, by far the most important greenhouse gas.” If greenhouse gases were responsible for warming, there would be the greatest increase in temperature in the troposphere, as this is where the greenhouse gases trap the escaping heat. This is where the rate of warming should be highest; however, most of the upper atmosphere has a lower rate of warming than that on the surface. This has been shown not only through satellite data but also by weather balloons. The UN IPCC is political, like all UN bodies; the final conclusions are politically driven. Many of the ‘top 2,500’ scientists attributed to the IPCC reports are, in fact, reviewers and governmental representatives. No scientists who contribute to the IPCC report are asked to agree with the conclusions of the report; many of them do not agree and are still put on the author list. Professor Richard Lindzen of M.I.T and the IPCC and Professor Paul Reiter have said that it is misleading to say that, if a large number of scientists say something, it is wrong to disagree; and that if someone hears this in science it is pure propaganda. The IPCC was founded after a report by the Met Office commissioned by Margaret Thatcher, who had previously closed Britain’s coal mines.

making energy more expensive would be hugely destructive for the developing world

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

15


Global warming

science or religion?

Global Warming

Science or Religion?

The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, attributed to Henry Raeburn, 1790s

Climate scientists have a vested interest in creating panic among worldwide governments because then money will flow to climate science. Dr Roy Spencer (Weather Satellite Team Leader at NASA) has said “Climate scientists need there to be a problem in order to get funding”. There is one thing you shouldn’t say and that is that this might not be a problem. Professor Patrick Michaels of the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia said “the fact of the matter is that tens of thousands of jobs depend upon global warming; it’s a big business”. Global Warming has become a great industry in itself and without it a whole lot of scientists would be out of jobs. Nigel Calder, former editor of the New Scientist, has said that he

16

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

has seen and heard spitting fury at people who disagree with the global warming theory. Before George Bush Snr, climate science funding was around $170 million a year; by 1990, it was $2 billion a year. Indeed, global warming has stopped vital industrial progress in the developing world by increasing the cost of energy for the poorest countries. James Shikwati (Economist) said that ‘they (the environmentalists) have killed the African dream and the African dream is to develop’. The environmentalist movement is now the biggest force there is preventing development in LEDCs. Some campaigners claim that it does no harm to reduce CO2 even if global warming is not caused by CO2. This is called the precautionary principle. The indoor smoke caused by burning fuels such as animal dung commonly used in LEDCs is the deadliest form of pollution. Four million children under five die every year from indoor smoke in addition to cancer and lung disease. The lack of power in the third world means that it is difficult to store food and there is no heating or hot water. Africa has coal and oil but is only being given funding for solar power. A Kenyan public hospital powered by solar only has enough power to use either the lights or the refrigerator to store drugs but not both. However, the precautionary principle is true in the argument against global warming. In order to ‘combat global warming’ millions of people across the globe may have to be plunged into poverty for something of a tenuous benefit. Even if global warming is taking place, Danish statistician Bjørn Lomborg has calculated, we would save far more lives spending money on things such as HIV and AIDS than even the worst estimates of global warming would take. William Nordhaus of Yale University has estimated that 3°C of global warming would cost the world $22 trillion this century. To further reduce this would cost at least $34 trillion. Lord Monckton, former science advisor to PM Margaret Thatcher, said “The right response to the non-problem of global warming is to have the courage to do nothing” One of the key proponents of the global warming theory, Al Gore, used ice cores to (correctly) ‘prove’ a link between CO2 and temperature. However, what Al Gore failed to mention was that the link is the reverse. Changes in temperature lead changes in CO2 by over 800 years. Obviously carbon dioxide is not the cause of the warming; indeed, it could be shown that the warming is causing the carbon dioxide, which is a natural gas: animals produce 150 gigatons of CO2 per year and humans produce 6.5 gigatons per year. The sea produces even more; Professor Carl Wunch has said that the ocean is the major reservoir of CO2 and heating or cooling the ocean causes it to release or take in more carbon dioxide respectively. Oceans are so large that they take about 800 years to warm or cool; this time-lag means that, if a change in the sea is noted, it is normally a reaction to events hundreds of years ago.

If Carbon Dioxide is not responsible for global warming, what is? Edward Maunder, an 18th century physicist, noted that during the Little Ice Age, there were a very low number of solar sunspots (which indicate solar radiation). This became known as the ‘Maunder Minimum’. Cosmic ray particles create clouds when they meet water vapour. These cosmic rays do not get through as easily when the sun is more active and so fewer clouds are formed. Professor Nev Shaviv has found that the earth’s temperature increased after low levels of cosmic rays, which also coincided with high solar radiation levels. Most of the earth’s recent warming took place in the early 20th century, before industrialization, and mainly on the earth’s surface, the very opposite of the theory of global warming. Why, if the science is so uncertain, has global warming become an undisputed fact? The idea of global warming appealed to the kind of medieval anarchists who wanted to get rid of all cars and machines; this is because carbon dioxide is an emblem of industrialization. A founder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore (no relation to the famous astronomer), has said that the environmental movement is now the most influential political activist movement at a global level. He has said that the movement has always adopted extreme positions, such as a campaign by Greenpeace to ban chlorine (which is an element in the periodic table). Many communists and anti-capitalists joined green organizations after the fall of communism as they needed a vehicle with which to destroy capitalism. The initial supporters of global warming theories consisted of a bizarre coalition between extreme leftists and people on the right with a vested interest in reducing the power of coal. Besides, in the words of Lord Monckton: “If Britain was to close down altogether overnight, then China would take up the slack of carbon emissions in two years. If America closed down, just the growth in China's emissions would replace America's emissions in 12 years.” A movement about the environment has become an ideology. A political campaign has turned into a bureaucratic bandwagon. A media scare has become the defining idea of our generation. Nigel Calder (Former editor of New Scientist) has said that ‘the whole global warming business has become like a religion and people who disagree are called heretics’. Many scientists who do not agree with it have received death threats and have indeed been treated like medieval heretics. Remember: there is no global warming problem, there isn't going to be a global warming problem. Sit back and enjoy the sunshine.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

17


What teachers believe

happiness requires no belief in an afterlife or another world

Interviews by Henry Ling and Kelvin Shiu

YEAR 12

Science and religion:

What Teachers

believe 18

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

Dr O’Neil (Chemistry)

Mr de Trafford (Physics)

Do you feel that intelligent design should be taught in schools? Why? Why not? It is usually better to tackle unintelligent ideas head-on. I am sure that most science teachers could tear this to shreds in a minute or so. Could there be a creator behind the Big Bang or Evolution? Why? With regard to the Big Bang, there could be; whether this creator would resemble the rather geocentric deities seems unlikely. Evolution is an observed fact; if you mean Natural Selection as a scientific explanation for evolution, then to introduce a creator here is meaningless. Is it possible for someone or something to create something like our Earth, as is suggested by creationism? Any ideas are possible. Whether there is any meaningful evidence for them is quite another. Do you believe that science can solve all of the questions out there at some point? Science inevitably generates more questions than it answers. It is an eternal quest. This is what makes it both wonderful and beautiful. As for the existence of god (small g), I suggest that scientists have better things to do and more exciting avenues to explore than these rather uninteresting ideas generated by ignorant people long ago. Do you think we will ever find extra-terrestrial life somewhere in the universe? Why? If you mean extraterrestrial life then it seems likely that there will be other life forms out there. Whether we will ever be able to communicate is less likely. Space is big. What is the most important equation, formula or theory that helps in describing how the earth and life works? S = k log W

Do you feel that intelligent design should be taught in schools? Why? No it is a silly non-scientific way of trying to explain a well explained theory. Could there be a creator behind the Big Bang or Evolution? Why? I do not believe that Science can exclude the existence of a creator and there are points where science cannot explain more. Therefore you can have a creator behind the universe. You do not, however, need to say that a creator oversaw the whole of creation. Is it possible for someone or something to create something like our Earth, as is suggested by creationism? It seems an odd way to look at the Earth as a purely created object in its current form. Life is an ever-changing process and we are a stage in this ongoing evolution. Do you believe that science can solve all of the questions out there at some point? No. There are limits to the things that can be fully explained by science. We do however need to be open minded to the huge range of things science can show. Do you think we will ever find extra-terrestrial life somewhere in the universe? Why? I personally believe there are other forms of life out there, but I do not believe that they are likely to turn up here due to the huge scale and the issues of time and distance. What is the most important equation, formula or theory that helps in describing how the earth and life works? E=mc2

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

19


What teachers believe

Dr Galliver (History) Dr Galliver discusses his faith as a Roman Catholic and his loyalty to Portsmouth Football Club.

Dr Richmond (PRS)

Would you say you believe in Portsmouth Football Club? I have a loyalty to Portsmouth Football Club, a belief in the Church. The reasons for my loyalty to Pompey might seem perverse and are possibly a reflection of the inadequacies of my personality. If the club is doing well, I take pleasure in its success; if, as is more often the case at present, it is not doing well, it has nothing to do with me, it does not touch my inner being. I am, therefore, totally in control of what I take out of it.

Do you feel that intelligent design should be taught in schools? Why? I think intelligent design should be taught in RE lessons. Indeed, it is part of the A Level syllabus. I think it is wrong to teach ID as a scientifically credible hypothesis, but, rather, it is better to teach it as a design argument for the existence of God.

How would you compare that with your faith as a Roman Catholic? That is of a completely different order; it is a genuine act of faith. My relationship with God is the reverse of my relationship with Pompey. What goes well for me results from God acting through my life. Where things go wrong, it is down to me.

Does religion hold all the answers in the universe? For people of faith, yes, religion holds all the answers. Many questions, however, will remain unanswered until the afterlife, when God will reveal the mysteries of life (for example, the problem of suffering).

What draws you to Catholicism? I am a cradle Catholic, born into the religion. However, as I have grown, I have found that the Catholic religion helps me to make sense of my life. The big questions are answered for me: I believe that we live in a created universe and I know its creator because God became man. As a Catholic, I know Jesus through the Church, which is the Body of Christ. The Church is informed by the Holy Spirit and authenticates Scripture (which is why I am not a Protestant, incidentally); in fact, the tradition of the Church pre-dates the books of the New Testament. I have no problem with transubstantiation: Jesus is God and Man. He is as present to me during the act of communion as he was to his contemporaries. When dealing with any question, I genuinely try to sort it out by asking what Jesus would do.

Mrs Carter (PRS) Do you feel that intelligent design should be taught in schools? Why? I think intelligent design should be taught as an argument for the existence of God, as this allows for critical debate. For this reason it is in the exam syllabus. It, however, should not be taught as a scientifically credible hypothesis. Does religion hold all the answers in the universe? Often the questions are more important than the answers. There is mystery to life. I don’t think we will ever have all the answers. Do you believe we will ever find extraterrestrial life somewhere in the universe? Why? At the moment, I do not believe there is any evidence of extra-terrestrial life. What’s the most important reason for religion? It allows us to have a meta-physical, spiritual element to our lives. Increasingly, people need or want this element to their existence. Religion can form a basis for this, but it does not necessarily mean we have to belong to mainstream religions. Will the Earth ever stop believing in religion or scientific views? Why? No, both are important and will always remain. Science helps us understand the world we live in, religion/ spirituality gives us a way of understanding our inner being and challenging the way we think about things. Is belief a building block for life itself? Our beliefs and values give us a foundation for life itself.

Mrs Morgan (PRS) Do you feel that intelligent design should be taught in schools? Why? Absolutely! However, to teach this as part of Biology (as is the case in parts of the USA) is clearly oxymoronic. The Intelligent Design movement is a religious (and political) theory which should be taught in PRS. Does religion hold all the answers in the universe? As an atheist, I often find religious answers unsatisfactory. Having said that, I do not believe that the answers are there to be found. If we realise that there is no meaning in this meaningless world and no point to our existence, we can start to embrace life with passion and proper engagement. Do you believe we will ever find extra-terrestrial life somewhere in the universe? Why? I don't have a clue, but it would be fascinating. I'm really interested in alien cults and also in people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. What’s the most important reason for religion? If religion gives people comfort, then it seems wrong to say anything negative about that. Will the Earth ever stop believing in religion or science? Why? I hope not! There will always be a place for both and a place for debate, which is why I love teaching PRS so much! Is belief a building block for life itself? I'm sure that many people feel that it is, but an absence of belief can enrich rather than limit the human experience.

20

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

Do you believe we will ever find extra-terrestrial life somewhere in the universe? Why? No, I do not think there is any evidence at all for extraterrestial life. What is the most important reason for religion? Religion provides comfort, hope and a reason for being here on Earth. Will the Earth ever stop believing in religion or science? Why? I think religion and science will always remain. Science is progressing rapidly. But there will always be a place for religion as it touches people deeply in a way that science never will. Is belief a building block for life itself ? Yes. Science AND religion are both beliefs that help us understand our lives.

Do you see any parallels between Portsmouth FC and the Catholic Church as institutions? One of the Pompey chants is: “We will never die!” I certainly hope that is true. The first thing to say is that all institutions are deeply flawed; my belief in Original Sin is the crucial thing here. Regardless of umpteen bad popes and umpteen scandals, the institution of the Church remains the Body of Christ. He is what lasts and what still shines through. In that sense, the Church will never die. Pompey, maybe. I do believe that now that Pompey is owned by its supporters, now that it has ceased simply to be a product run for the benefit of wealthy businessmen, it more accurately reflects the Catholic Church as a body of believers.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

21


plato

and forms Zoe Dukoff-Gordon

YEAR 12

P

lato was a Greek philosopher who looked into the idea of forms and appearances. He had this idea that we live in a world of appearances but the real world is a world of ideals, which he calls forms. Forms are supposedly the source of knowledge and give an idea of what a thing is. They are unchanging, eternal concepts. For example you can have a beautiful landscape and a beautiful person- which are completely different beings yet both contain the concept of beauty, they can reveal the idea of ‘beauty’ but do not define it. Underlying all these images of beauty is the real ‘Form of Beauty.’ Plato believes the world we live in only contains images or shadows of the forms and the eternal forms exist in their own ‘world of forms.’ Plato believes the ‘world of forms’ is an unseen reality which is unchanging, immortal and eternal. In order to try and explain his concept, Plato created his analogy of the cave where certain images in his analogy represented parts of his theory of forms. In his theory he described people chained up in a cave far underground, facing a wall of the cave. There is a fire which produces shadows onto the wall of people carrying statues above their heads. One of the prisoners is freed and turns around and comes out of the cave, where he sees the sun which

22

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

is supporting life and the seasons of the year. Plato used the cave to represent the world we live in (the world of appearances) and the prisoners to represent the people trapped in the physical world and unable to see the reality of the world of Forms. In his theory, the chained-up prisoners can only see the shadows displayed on the wall of the cave. The shadows represent the illusions of forms in the physical world and explain how in the physical world we can only see shadows/ images of the forms. When the prisoner escapes and turns around, he sees people carrying statues on their heads. He then becomes confused as this kind of reality contradicts what he already knows and feels comfortable with. As he emerges from the cave and gets above ground, the prisoner slowly starts to see the sun and contemplates its light. The prisoner who escapes symbolises philosophers who look into the world more and try to discover true knowledge. The way the prisoner starts to see clearly represents a philosopher gradually learning to distinguish Forms from the images and copies of them in our world of appearances and beginning to understand reality. To Plato, a philosopher is someone who tries to escape the world of appearances and, with the mind, see the forms that lie behind appearances. A philosopher will try to find knowledge by using the five senses not just the mind.

sun gives life and allows us to see clearly, for Plato being good gives rise to all knowledge and makes things knowable to us. The implication Plato gives is that, without the knowledge of the form of good, one does not see clearly---the same as trying to see in the dark. From this, we can understand how the fire (which gave the shadows/illusions of the statues) represents the image and illusion of the form of good we have in our world of appearances. At the end of Plato’s analogy, he describes the freed prisoner going back to the cave and trying to enlighten the other prisoners on his discovery of reality and truth. The other prisoners are seen to not believe the freed prisoner and refuse to let him free anyone else. This last part of Plato’s analogy symbolises the way in which we are only comfortable with what we know. To us the idea that everything we have been taught and know is all just an illusion and isn’t true or real is frightening and takes us out of our comfort zone, so we discard the idea. We don’t want to believe our world is just illusory and is full of appearances. ‘There is nothing wrong with being ignorant as long as you are content.’ Plato would disagree with this statement. He would argue that, in order to retain true knowledge, you need to escape your comfort zone and try to look more deeply into the Socrates (left) and Plato (right) world. He argues you can only be content if you try to escape the world of appearances and, with the mind, see the forms that Plato believes a philosopher learns in a different way to normal lie behind appearances. Plato believes that humans do not learn human beings. Instead, our education and idea of learning, truth in our education. To Plato, our idea of learning is a matter according to Plato, is just a matter of remembering and recalling of remembering and recalling and we don’t look into the fuller the world of forms; the knowledge of these is in the soul. and deeper meaning, whereas a philosopher does; he or she Plato had a dualist view about the soul. He argues we have tries to find true knowledge and therefore true an immortal soul that observes and understands contentment, which Plato believes results from the forms before being incarnated into the body. use of the five senses as well as the mind. However, in the body the memories of the soul Plato Plato argues the soul is not physical and comes are dim, as the soul is hidden in the incarnation believes from the world of forms before it is implanted of the soul in the body. Plato’s evidence for this the ‘world in the body. It is aware of the imperfections of is the fact we have an innate knowledge and understanding of concepts such as truth, justice of forms’ is the visible world and is what enables us to gain true knowledge, by remembering what it learned or beauty- without being taught. This leads to an unseen in the world of forms. Yet Plato believes the Plato claiming we have an immortal soul. reality mind lies between the body and the soul and In Plato’s myth, the prisoner sees the sun is caught between the conflict of the two parts. and realises how it sustains all living things We, according to Plato, need to fight past the conflict by using in the world above the ground. This part of Plato’s analogy our senses to find true knowledge. Yet as this process is difficult represents the form of good and its contributions to our world and uncomfortable, Plato says only a few (i.e. philosophers) of appearances and in the world of forms (reality.) The form find the strength to do it. For Plato, once you strive to find of good, in Plato’s mind, is the highest form and illuminates true knowledge of the Forms and understand that our world is all the other forms and gives them their value. It is said to be only of appearances and not reality, you can find contentment; the most important form and is the source of all others. The ignorance and contentment are not compatible. sun, in Plato’s analogy, represents the form of good; just as the

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

23


religion

Ignorance or Neurosis? Thomas Penlington

R

year 13

eligion has captivated the minds of millions of people worldwide for centuries, leading to many acts of compassion. However, although it can be a force for good, in some situations it has been used by a minority for acts of violence, as well as leading to racial and social divides. The infinite number of religions available to the modern individual range from Christianity, Judaism and Islam to Buddhism and Shintoism. And this is only to scratch the surface; when you investigate further, you can find yourself immersed within an endless concoction of sub-sections within each religious belief, including Christian fundamentalism, creationism, kabbalah, Sufism, Wahhabism, to name but a few. I would agree that belief in a religion can provide direction and structure to someone’s life. For example, attending a Mosque and adapting your diet to suit the needs of your religion are harming no one and can help you focus mentally and physically. However, no matter what kind of benefits your religious belief may reap, the belief is still innately flawed and based on ignorance. In the 21st century, most of us live within modern societies whose social and political systems as well as infrastructure are based on scientific knowledge and practice. During the last four hundred years, the scientific community has driven our society forward to far greater benefit than religious institutions have. Benefits range from anaesthetic and aeroplanes to the Hadron collider and energyefficient technology. This illustrates why science is predominately turned to and favoured above religious belief. In developing practical solutions to the threats posed by climate change, for example, are you more likely to turn to science or religion? I would raise serious questions over devoting your life to a religion based upon flawed and often hypocritical manuscripts. For example, how can a Christian possibly enforce the religious command "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" (l Corinthians 11:14)? This trivial religious statement surely has no place within our modern society. Although this is an extreme example, it illustrates my point that religious belief is based upon manuscripts written several thousand years ago by individuals with values very different to our own. How many twenty-first century Christians truly follow every such teaching in the Bible and regard them as absolute laws? Logically when we consider all of the religions practised today, the multiple differing gods, ranging from the Christians’ God to the many Hindu gods and even the deities of Shintoism cannot all exist simultaneously; furthermore, there is no reason why the Christian God should be considered more real than the ancient Egyptian gods now considered mythical. How can a religion

24

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

faith is

ALL You Need Marley Andrews

YEAR 12

Part of the Isaiah Scroll, c.300 BC

expect, in the modern world, to place their faith in any one of these gods rather than another one, when each is equally unfounded? The sheer number of gods that people believe in, therefore, leads to a questioning of whether any one of them can exist, which, in turn, leads to a fundamental undermining of religion as a whole. In summary, religion is based upon ignorance. For a psychologist, the origin of religion would lie within the mind rather than as a physical or spiritual reality. Although many question the application of some of his theories in modern times, I agree with Sigmund Freud’s view of religion as a ‘universal obsessional neurosis’ and originating from an infantile need for a father figure; religious belief is simply the need for psychological reassurance. When a person is in a psychologically or perhaps physically vulnerable state, it seems part of human nature to turn to religion (particularly a superhuman god figure) to seek help and comfort; a personified god can allow a distressed individual to express their feelings. It is this psychological reassurance that forms the basis of religious belief. This mistaking a psychological need to pray or worship a god in times of suffering for religious truth is another example of the ignorance at the root of religion. In fact, not only was religion likened to a neurosis by Freud nearly a century ago, but more recently it has been accused by Richard Dawkins of causing delusional behaviour. In Is Religion Dangerous?, Keith Ward is in accordance with Dawkins that religion is a delusion and quotes the definition from the Oxford Companion to Mind: "a fixed, idiosyncratic belief, unusual in the culture to which the person belongs”. In conclusion, I believe the majority of religions do provide social structure and promote benevolent traits, such as compassion. However, I would argue that the ignorance underlying religious belief undermines the benevolent traits promoted by that same religious belief. Religious belief misleads individuals to place their faith in a spurious subject that could prevent them developing socially. It offers them false hope and leads to people placing their faith in a void.

T

Detail from L'Estasi di Santa Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1652

he existence of God is a concept discussed numerous gods. I find the whole idea that religious believers and disputed every day by people all across should even have to try and justify or provide evidence for the the world --- religious and non-religious. existence of someone that they have devoted themselves to Atheists often argue that there is no physical really sad. Non-believers should accept that, as long as people evidence that God is there, so why should are part of a faith and are worshipping a god then in one anybody believe in his existence? Religious sense or another he must be there. They should stop trying believers then respond with arguments teleological (design) to undermine systems that have been there for thousands of and cosmological (first cause) among others. years longer than they have. These two arguments, in particular, often come There is a difference between scientific under great scrutiny due to seemingly being and religious truth and just because there i think the based on assumptions that God is the ‘uncaused may not necessary be definitive physical idea of cause’ or that the ‘universe is far too organised proof that God is there; it doesn’t mean to have come about by random chance’. When that he isn’t. I may not necessarily believe questioning studying this topic at GCSE, I did admittedly in God myself, but I think that the whole someone's criticise these theories somewhat due to their idea of questioning someone’s faith is faith is lack of evidence and how they seemed to be disrespectful and unnecessary. People disrespectful should just respect each other’s beliefs trying to think of anything to justify God’s existence. However, during a ridiculously late without demanding concrete evidence night revision session in May, overdosed on caffeine, I had a for the existence of their god. The chances are that, given thought: why should religious believers have to justify God’s the nature of God and religion, the only proof needed is existence in the first place? the spiritual one felt by each individual religious believer; I don’t think non-believers should have the right to tell it is not one that can be truly portrayed through a physical anybody of a religious faith that their God isn’t there or even medium. God is described as being holy, unworldly and to debate the concept. The whole point of a religion is that separate from us, so surely the mystery surrounding his you have faith in your God and your beliefs, right? Surely that existence only reinforces this idea rather than proving to be is all you need to have confidence in the existence of God, or a hindrance?

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

25


&

Martyrdom

Modernism Isabel Stark

Cranach the Elder’s Portrayal of Saints Genevieve and Apollonia

L

Saints Genevieve and Apollonia by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1506

26

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

ucas Cranach the Elder was a rarity; his style and subjects are still, today, as modern and as current as they were in the 1500s when these hallowed Renaissance masterpieces were born. Within these two panels (the reverse shutters of ‘The St Catherine Altarpiece’ in Dresden) we have two saints: Saint Genevieve of Paris and Saint Apollonia the patron saint of dentistry. The two have made sacrifices for their faith; Genevieve dedicated her whole life to Paris and its people, whereas Saint Apollonia, after having pain inflicted upon her in the name of Christianity, chose her faith over her life, dying a martyr. Genevieve’s skin and Apollonia’s collar have been painted with the same luminescent quality, which parallels the transcendent life each of these saints has attained through their sanctification. The black background lifts the saints out the picture, perhaps a subtle hint towards their being lifted from death and held in a state of veneration. The black and gold harvest wreaths are celebratory – typical of the 1500s. Within the early 16th century, there was the birth of harvest festivals, the celebration of a successful harvest and therefore of stability for the duration of the winter; the harvest was of central importance. These saints are, here, the embodiment of the harvest, their importance and glory shown by their representation of a vital and eternal yearly cycle. Saint Genevieve is depicted wearing a lavish green and gold medieval gown whereas Apollonia’s is all the more simple yet deep red with a wonderfully gradient collar (peach to cream) with heavy graphic lines striking in its own simplicity. The clothes, modern at the

time, are still that of an haute-couture collection with a gothic twist. Luella Bartley, perhaps, took inspiration from these two after a chance encounter at the National Gallery. Saint Genevieve had a long and important life within 5th century Paris; hence, her dress is the very pinnacle of luxurious medieval fashion. On the other hand, Saint Apollonia, despite being of a high position in society, had a short and humbling life during which she suffered immense brutality and committed the ultimate act- sacrificing her life for her faith. The colour and style of her dress parallel the nature of her life and death. These panels seem to celebrate the triumph of Saints Genevieve and Apollonia; however, it is just a miraculous guise for the darker story. Beneath the celebrations and festivity, Lucas Cranach the Elder has managed to show the hallowed pain and sadness of these two saints-- especially Apollonia, who was a virgin martyr. She is painted often (this being no exception) with a pair of pliers, which represent the suffering that she endured during the persecution of the Christians at Alexandria in 249 AD. Her teeth were extracted by her persecutors; after enduring such torture and, when given the choice to either be burned to death or denounce her faith, Apollonia asked for just a little freedom, upon which she leapt into the fire. The beautiful Apollonia’s suicide seems, here, the ultimate act of nobility. However (whether or not such saints’ lives are fictitious), should we still glorify such acts as hers?

The violence which surrounds these saints and martyrs has been artfully demonstrated in Michael Landy's ‘Saints Alive’ exhibition at The National Gallery. At the exhibition entrance, we are greeted by a marvellously large sculpture of the serene Apollonia, based on Cranach’s shutter panel. She looks ethereal, then an almighty crash! This is a kinetic sculpture. Her hands start to move, mechanical and noisy; she then begins to slam the pliers held against that delicate mouth. The brutality and the suffering are all too real. It perfectly demonstrates the savagery surrounding martyrdom. Is commemoration and veneration of such actions right? Martyrdom has always been a contentious issue. In the early centuries of Christianity, for example, many saw the glory certain individuals (in both real life and in the fictional form of saints’ lives) were gaining from a martyrdom that was often indistinguishable from suicide. Thus, so many decided to become a “martyr for the faith” that the Church had to momentarily stop veneration. In the modern world, an attraction to martyrdom has sometimes led to terrible massviolence, where religion and politics have become intertwined. What distinguishes Apollonia, from such individuals? It has been 1,800 years since the alleged death of Apollonia in Alexandria, Egypt. Today, Britain is ostensibly a Christian country, but the majority do not actively practise religion through attendance of church or bible reading. However, one does not have to be a Christian to be moved by the message of selflessness,

YEAR 12

even self-sacrifice, which surrounds these paintings. Saints still underpin many of our cultural traditions, such as the now over-commercialised St Valentine’s Day on 14th February; St Apollonia’s Feast Day takes place five days earlier, on 9th February. Her saint’s day, towards the end of winter just before the advent of spring, is a reminder of how precious life is - a vital reminder in an often cold and dangerous world. Saints such as Genevieve and Apollonia are still powerful symbols of moral and virtuous behaviour even in a predominantly secular society. This message outweighs the violence that surrounds many of their stories. There is a bravery, as well as a chivalry and romanticism which continues to appeal to many of us even in the modern world. Lucas Cranach the Elder presents Saints Genevieve and Apollonia as beautiful, capturing a snapshot of his own inner life and his opinion of these Saints and the roles they played within the society in which he lived. Five hundred years later, despite (or perhaps because of) our own lack of faith, we are still drawn to Cranach’s figures and what they represent.

five hundred years later, we are still drawn to cranach's figures Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

27


a time when anything is possible

Harry Dry

British soldiers playing football at the Front

YEAR 13

C

arol Nelson writes that “Christmas is a time when you get homesick even when you’re at home”, describing how at Christmas you appreciate the people surrounding you more; although you are with them, you wish to be even closer to them. If being surrounded by your loved ones at Christmas can make you feel homesick, the British, German, French and Belgian soldiers in the trenches during the First World War, who knew that they might never return home again, must have been feeling particularly alone. This makes the events I am about to recount even more astonishing and should help people believe that at Christmas-time anything is possible. The story starts at 8.45 on Christmas Eve, 1914, in Ypres Salient. It could be seen from the British trenches that the Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches; they could be heard singing “Stille nacht, heilige nacht”, translated by the few German speaking in the British trench as “Silent night, holy night”. The British impulsively applauded and replied with a chorus of “The First Noel,” which was, in turn, met with applause by the Germans. Christmas carols

28

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

continued, with the Germans singing followed by a British reply. German soldiers then motioned the English over, gesturing “if you don’t shoot us, then we won’t shoot you.” It became clear that they were trying to signal a truce. British officers, fearing treachery, ordered their men to be silent and to reply no more to the Germans. However, military commands could not contain the Christmas spirit. Ignoring their officers, British soldiers called back, asking the Germans to walk across No Man’s Land unarmed as a gesture of trust. Amazingly, a German officer began to walk out alone and without a weapon; he was met half way across No Man’s Land by an English captain. The captain returned, smoking a German cigar; he announced that there was to be no more fighting until December 26th, an order echoed by his German counterpart. As soon as the order was issued, groups of Germans were swiftly climbing out of their trenches into No Man’s Land to be greeted by British soldiers, shaking hands and wishing each other “Merry Christmas”. Germans who had family in Britain, France or Belgium were passing on letters for their relatives to “enemy soldiers” from those countries. Inspired by a Christmas spirit of generosity, men were soon exchanging badges, buttons, souvenirs, and food as gifts.

parapets by both sides in several places along the Ypres sector, Later that night, a bonfire was lit and more Christmas songs as if to acknowledge that many of the soldiers did not want to were sung around the fire. Promises were made to meet again do what they had to and that they realised that the men in the tomorrow. During the night the British worked on a football opposite trench were not the disgraceful savages portrayed by and challenged the Germans to a game on Christmas Day. the newspapers back home. Several games were played along No Man’s The Pope himself pleaded for an official Land that day, with apparently hundreds truce between the opposing governments from each side joining in. For the most part, Even after (Britain, France and Russia on one side, the truce ended at midnight on Christmas the truce Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Day. However, in certain locations it lasted was over, Empire on the other): “the guns may fall up until New Year’s Day. In the places where silent at least upon the night the angels the truce took place, nearly every soldier flags with the from each side, determined to preserve peace message “Merry sang.” However, this was instantly rejected by all of the governments involved. What for as long as possible, remained out of the Christmas” remains most amazing about this truce, trench and up in No Man’s Land until finally remained even ninety-nine years on, was that it summoned back by officers. didn’t grow out of any single initiative On December 26th, although fighting but independently and spontaneously. And it could only have began again in most places, there remained a legacy of mutual happened at Christmas time. respect, Christmas having reminded the soldiers from both sides This event should renew people’s belief in Christmas: a time that their “enemies” were just men like themselves, with homes, when anything is possible and when man’s spirit can triumph families, hopes, dreams and fears. Even after the truce was over, over adversity. flags with the message “Merry Christmas” remained raised on

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

29


Britten in Pace

The concert moved members of the audience to tears and there was silence for some time after the performance

Julia Alsop

YEAR 12

O

n 30th May, 1962, in Coventry Cathedral, recently rebuilt after being demolished by the Luftwaffe, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was premiered, conducted by the composer himself. The concert moved members of the audience to tears and there was silence for some time after the performance, not least due to the composer’s insistence on no applause. But what exactly was it in the music that left such an impact on the people at the premiere, and, indeed, in performances nowadays and why was Britten’s belief so fundamental and clear in the shaping of this composition? Music, as with other art forms, is a fusion of the whole being of the composer. Whether conscious or sub-conscious, the composer’s background, experiences and beliefs are concealed within his or her music. Musical analysis, along with understanding of the circumstances of its composition and influences, is, I feel, an integral part of enjoying a piece of music or, at least, having a great emotional understanding for the piece. Topically (since this month marks the one hundredth anniversary of his birth) this could not be clearer than in the case of Benjamin Britten, an adamant pacifist, as well as someone often marginalised by his society for his homosexual preferences (illegal, at that time). Edward Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was born in Lowestoft, a small town by the North Sea coast. He lived with his three siblings, father and mother, and it was his mother, Edith, with whom he was particularly close. She encouraged his music gifts with a strong love of music herself, with the intention that he would be the fourth “B” of great composers, after

Benjamin Britten

Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Britten was considered an enthusiastic and bright boy with a loving family, who excelled in mathematics at school. In every source of his childhood he seems to be recognized by all around him as being a “golden boy” or “the best brought-up little boy you could imagine”. It is noted, however, that there was a serious lack of support from a seemingly uncaring school music teacher, who paid little notice to the exceptional musical promise showed by Britten. However, as a result, the composer Frank Bridge, after hearing the young boy’s composition, became his mentor and teacher. It was at school that Britten already began to express antviolence beliefs and pacifist thoughts, angered at the number of Coventry Cathedral, after the bombing

30

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

31


Britten

in Pace

Peter Pears (left) and Benjamin Britten (right)

Culpa, an oratorio, to mark the dropping of the atomic bomb. corporal punishments given at school and disgusted by bullying He eventually wrote his War Requiem as a commission at the amongst boys. He wrote in his diary, ‘Atrocious bullying on all rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. Written to deliver a message sides, vulgarity and swearing… Boys, small and rather weak about the pain and conflict in the world, it conveys fully the are turned into sour and bitter boys and ruined for life.’ Indeed, darkness in so much of Britten’s music that listeners find so although Britten did not enjoy his time at Gresham’s School, he moving. The Russian soprano, Galina Vishneskaya, explained was certainly affected by the knowledge that a hundred boys that Britten has described his requiem as being a ‘call for peace’, from the school had been killed in combat during World War I. and indeed this is evident in his instrumentation alone. He Finishing school, Britten studied at the Royal College of Music, wrote the piece to contain three solo singers, a soprano, tenor winning numerous composition prizes, before gaining a job to and baritone, all of different nationalities as a profound way write the score for a documentary film for the GPO film unit. of trying to healing the scars of war: Peter Pears as the British It was here that Britten met W. H Auden, with whom he later tenor, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the German baritone and collaborated on various projects. However, more important was Galina Vishneskaya as the Russian soprano. the effect of Auden both on opening Britten’s However, Vishneskaya’s government would mind to his pacifistic beliefs and accepting not allow her to sing for the premiere of the his homosexuality. In 1937, Britten became Britten’s piece, cynically subverting the idealistic aims acquainted with Peter Pears, a tenor for whom life was of Britten’s composition. Britten wrote many pieces, but who also later clearly Britten used a tritone, the interval of an became his partner personally, as well as augmented fourth, between a C and an F professionally. founded on Britten and Pears moved to the USA in 1939, the principle sharp, throughout the requiem, as is seen in first movement between the soprano, alto, partly because his old mentor, Bridge, had of his strong the tenor and bass voices, whose parts for the enjoyed his time there, but also because Auden pacifist first six pages of the piece are made up only now lived there and because of the difficulty of such notes. This is a simple, but specific experienced by pacifists in Europe as World War beliefs and important, musical device in the creation II loomed. However, Pears and Britten moved of the ideological mood of the work. The tritone has, since the back to England in 1942, where they both became conscientious Middle Ages, been regarded as the “diabola in musica”, or devil objectors and members of the Peace Pledge Union. Britten was in music, and was banned within a lot of Christian worship, ultimately granted unconditional exemption from military considered too dissonant and dark. Since then, it has been service. He held the belief that his composition was the best associated with compositions exploring harsh, dark themes. action he could perform: ‘I believe sincerely that I can help my Clearly, Britten’s disgust at war is represented in the consistent fellow human beings best by continuing the work I am most use of the tritone throughout the War Requiem, mirroring the qualified to do by the nature of my gifts and training, i.e. the conflict and destruction of war. Three times throughout the creation or propagation of music.’ Having created a wealth of piece, including the end, a short choral section is used which compositions and received a life peerage, Britten died of heart involves the resolution of the dissonant tritone onto an F major failure in 1976, insisting that he be buried, in due course, next chord, representing the peace and the resolution which Britten to Peter Pears. so desired. Britten’s life was clearly founded on the principle of his strong An unusual adaptation is the inclusion of words from the poet, pacifist beliefs. Therefore, what could be more notable as a work Wilfred Owen, who had suffered shell shock during the First influenced by those beliefs than his War Requiem? Britten had World War and had eventually been killed, aged only twentywanted to compose a Requiem mass on a pacifist theme since five, just one week before the end of the war. Owen was, like the 1940s. He had previously considered one in response to Britten, an artist critical of war and so became an ideal pacifistic the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and he had written Mea

32

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

them. The sonnet form, I think, offers them the care and peace that they otherwise are not offered and contrasts with the request for peace in the words of the requiem; it is the prayer, previously unrequited, that Britten feels needs to be given. The In Paradisum is the final movement of the requiem mass for the dead, and it explains how the angels lead the dead to paradise where they may have eternal rest. It is the ultimate notion of yearning for peace for the dead, and I feel it only more touching that, amongst the wash of the words to this movement, sung with a choir of boys, a choir in eight parts, and the soprano soloist, the tenor and baritone soloists sing between them “Let us sleep now”, the final line of Owen’s Strange Meeting, a poem in which the speaker addresses the enemy that yesterday he “jabbed and killed”. Sung by the contrasting German and English soloists, it poignantly Peter Pears (right) and Benjamin Britten (left) conveys, on a human level, Britten’s desire for peace between nations. Britten’s War Requiem is the true embodiment and muse for Britten, who wrote in homage to Owen on the title representation of pacifism, and does, I believe, send a strong page of the score: “Above all I am not concerned with poetry. political and human message questioning why we feel the need My subject is war, and the pity of war. The poetry is in the to partake in wars and kill and harm other human beings. It pity… All a poet can do is warn.” Britten’s work was centred on raises questions still relevant today in a culture in which people war and its victims and the incorporation of the harsh words of still harm other people, and, whilst we haven’t eliminated these Owen in his pro defunctis mass truly represents Britten’s horror problems, one can perhaps hope that, through the power of at the pain of warfare. Benjamin Britten’s music, we can perhaps receive his message Britten used a large number of Owen’s poems in his work, but and share his belief. May many generations to come be as I’d like to focus on two in particular that he used to express the affected by Britten’s War Requiem as that audience in Coventry “pity of war”. The first movement, Requiem Aeternam, in which Cathedral on 30th May, 1962. the text requests from God eternal rest for the dead, features a tenor solo of Owen’s sonnet Anthem for Doomed Youth; a sonnet is perhaps an unusual choice of form for a poem evoking the horror of war, but the opening lines are savage in their anger: What passing-bells for these for who die as cattle? Sources: Britten, B. (1962). War Requiem, Op. 66. London: Boosey and Hawkes. Only the monstrous anger of guns Carpenter, H. (1992). Benjamin Britten: A Biography. New York: Scribner. The poem reflects how, in this war, the dead do not have bells Cooke, M. (1996). Britten, War Requiem. Cambridge: or choirs mourning their death and giving them peace, but the Cambridge University Press. unrelenting noise and monstrousness of the war that surrounds www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176833 Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

33


Joni Mitchell Joni Mitchell

Mr Mark Richardson

ENGLISH DEPARTMENT

O

ver the last few decades of Portsmouth Point, first with quill pen, later with trusty Imperial typewriter, currently with Nebulous on the iPad, I have been taking the opportunity to celebrate specific records, ones worthy of your interest. I hope that I have been able to inspire some to search for such records as Highway 61 Revisited or Talking Book, for instance. This time, I found myself with a problem. It wasn't about what to write on, it was how to write about it. Inspired by this issue’s theme of ‘Belief’, I had embarked on a quest to discover the ideal candidate for study, one which would combine my own thoughts on Belief with a suitable record. I succeeded (of course!) but it wasn't working. I had, by chance, just listened to Patti Smith’s Horses, and I wanted to share it with you. Oh, do listen to it, by the way; you will love it. But my logic for connecting it with Belief was too tortured, too threadbare, essential though it was, for it to be sustained, and then I suddenly realised that I was looking in the wrong direction: I needed to talk about someone else. And it was all thanks to Commercial Road in Portsmouth. To be honest, I don't visit Commercial Road very often, but there I was, wandering towards Primark or Marks and Spencer (you choose), when I became aware of a guitar starting up. It

34

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

was being played by a guy in a doorway. He was good. Boy, was he good. He was playing 'Sweet Home Alabama' really well, and then singing along too. Great voice. Really. Must have been in his fifties, but looked great, looked comfortable, somehow. He was playing because he enjoyed it. Yes, he was selling his wares too: the CDs at his feet were clearly meant to entice. But he was much better than any street musician I had heard. By the time I emerged from TK Maxx or Prada, he had moved from the songbook of Lynyrd Skynyrd to that of Carlos Santana, with 'Song of the Wind' from the album Caravanserai, a record that for me is a shoew-in for the 'Best Side One Ever on an LP' competition, and a song that is seriously challenging for any guitarist. And he nailed it. He was adding to it, too, not just repeating the original but soloing within the original soloing. What was he doing there? It was a weekday in Commercial Road! Surely he was better than this? I meant to go over and ask him to play something. But the car park ticket had expired and we couldn't wait. He was playing real good, for free. That last sentence isn't mine, though. It was written over forty years ago by Joni Mitchell, and it immediately made any attempt to write about Patti Smith redundant: I had to write about Joni. But then the problem. Which record? And that was a huge challenge. The song 'For Free' is to be found on Ladies of the

Canyon, but it's not a great album, despite the presence on it of songs such as 'Woodstock', 'The Circle Game' and 'Big Yellow Taxi', all very successful songs in their own right. But what about an album that is worth celebrating? Well, what about Blue? Released in the 'golden' year of 1971, a year of numerous classic albums such as Led Zeppelin 4, Imagine and What's Going On, it is rightly regarded as a glorious work, full of soul, depth, yearning, sweetness and sadness. 'Case of You' and the title track itself are two very fine performances indeed, and the whole album is permeated by loss and by love. But what about its successor, For The Roses, with its gathering intensity and symphonic style? Here, Joni begins to show her breadth and depth, with 'Judgement of the Moon and Stars' enveloping the listener in a sweeping and thrilling orchestral experience, her voice swooping and soaring. Not your thing? Well, the next album, Court and Spark, might suit you; it is her most commercially successful album, and the sequence of songs of 'Free Man in Paris', 'People's Parties' and 'Same Situation' is a sublime mix of sharp lyrics and achingly beautiful sounds. But there are several other Joni Mitchells to choose from: even by the time of Court and Spark, the mixture of folky songs, clever lyrics, jazz-inflected guitar tuning was showing her versatility. By her next She is a album, The Hissing of Summer fascinating Lawns, she was stretching artist. Her out into fresh places, the jazz becoming more lush, lyrics are an the use of Burundi drums art-form in becoming the soundtrack themselves to a powerful and insistent beat in her music. It's a personal favourite, although definitely not a view shared by many. Two other albums even further dented her appeal to the audience who wanted her to sing 'Woodstock' and 'Blue' to them, namely Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and Mingus. The former is stark and complex, its poetry more initially obscure, its musicality more extreme, causing many people to return it to the shop (not unlike Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, indeed). Mingus reflected her very personal connection with jazz, putting lyrics to jazz classics such as Mingus's tribute to Lester Young, Goodby Pork Pie Hat. It's a bravura performance, but perhaps not to the taste of many. Amidst such complexity and challenge, though, there is always Hejira, a far more accessible and rewarding collection of songs, showcasing her lyrics and musicality to striking effect. She is a fascinating artist. Her lyrics are an art-form in themselves, her voice a force of nature, pure, clear, with an amazing range, and she has striven to chart her own course, independent of those around her. Go visit her world. I have only touched upon a few albums: there are several more. Have a look round. Stay awhile. Listen to a voice that echoes the complexity and contradictory nature of identity, a voice that refused to conform and which often mocked itself, critical as well as being just so beautiful. And look out for For Free, too: it's a little masterpiece.

Dictionary definition Fenella Johnson

YEAR 9

T

he fingers of the man hunched over the computer scramble for words as he rests them against the well-worn keyboard, weary face illuminated by the dull shine of the screen. For once, the staccato Morse code pounding of the keys has stopped. He is stuck ---a rare occurrence. Not finishing makes him anxious. He likes the words ordered in lines in his mind, neat and nice and in place. But this one is refusing to fit in: Belief: noun, three syllables, six letters. Meaning? He thought it would be obvious to define this one. Something believed, an opinion or conviction: ‘a belief that the earth is flat’. He can see the sentence now typed up neat, the definition in black. Font size 11, Times New Roman. He looks out the window, at the spangled stars and, below, the people scuttling like ants. As a child, he’d never had many friends. He’d never played with the boys in his neighbourhood, because he had liked the comforts of letters, turning pages and silence more than other people’s company. His mother, who listened devotedly to Oprah Winfrey every Saturday night and sang along to The Spice Girls, had shrugged and said ‘Children will be children’ and his father had shrugged too and offered to ask one of his friends from church if their son would like to come round to play. For a long time, he’d believed that he wasn’t part of their family and he’d been adopted by non-magical people and Dumbledore would turn up to rescue him or Gandalf (it depended what he’d been reading).He’d believed in the worlds of Narnia and Father Christmas, although his mother had punctured that bubble when he was seven, scoffing that only babies believed in Santa. His father had tried to cover it up by telling him that Christmas was a time for rejoicing and Jesus loved everyone. He studies what he has written once more, and adds another sentence, fingers slipping in their eagerness: Meaning: 1.Something believed; an opinion or conviction, e.g. ’a belief that the earth is flat’; 2. Confidence; faith; trust, e.g. ‘child's belief in his parents’. It fits perfectly, below ‘belfry’ and above ‘belittle’.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

35


he has the potential to change the world

why I believe in

Pope Francis Pope Francis blesses a man with neurofibromatosis.

Robert Bendell YEAR 13

A

s an atheist empiricist who for the last five years has held the Catholic Church in contempt, I believe in Pope Francis. I believe him not only to be the best Pope in living memory, I honestly think that he is the best head of state currently in power-not because the state he leads is particularly modern, but rather because of the enormously modernising approach he is taking. He is moving the Church from policies two hundred years behind the times to only thirty. But he is facing opposition. He recently stated that God “has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! Even the atheists, Everyone!” The Vatican later published a ‘clarifying’ notice that outright contradicted this. However, the Pope continues attempting to change the Church’s image; very recently, he created an instantly world-famous image by kissing the head of a man with neurofibromatosis. This may only be an image, but images can change things. They matter. Contrast this with the outright extravagance of Pope Benedict, his predecessor, whenever he appeared in public, and we have a clear change of direction. While the previous incumbent wished to appear above us, Pope Francis wants to appear to be one of us. One thing that must be remembered about the Vatican is that there, almost more than anywhere else, rituals and symbols

36

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

matter. They define the direction of the Church. One of the most famous accounts of the reign of Alexander VI (the murdering, orgy-encouraging scandalous Pope) comes from his master of ceremonies, and the constant obsession with detail is clearly held not just by the narrator but by every person there. Something as simple as the order decided during a procession fills pages of the work, because every person there knew that it meant something. Using this obsession with the minutiae of rituals, Pope Francis made his intentions clear from the very start. When he came onto the balcony after being elected Pope, he was wearing a simple white cassock, very different from the red, ermine-trimmed cape used by all of his predecessors. He also rejected the traditional golden cross and opted instead for an iron one that he had possessed before being chosen for the Papacy. When he took the name ‘Francis’, he made it clear that this was in honour of Francis of Assisi; he stated that this decision had come to him when another of the cardinals whispered to him during the conclave ‘Don’t forget the poor.’ This concern for the poor has expressed itself in his lack of opulence. He elected not to use the Papal palace, instead remaining in an apartment in the Vatican Guest House. He then removed the bonuses given both to the Papal staff and the cardinals serving on the board of supervisors for the Vatican Bank, giving the money to charity instead.

Less than ten days after his inauguration, the Pope chose to wash the feet of twelve juvenile delinquents- two of them were Muslims, and two of them were women. This was the first time known in history that a pope washed the feet of a woman. He told them, with his normal modesty, that this was to show he was at their service. He also told them to help each other, and that they must never give up hope. The Vatican Bank was, and is, one of the most secretive in the world. However, shortly after the new Pope’s inauguration, the bank pledged to become more transparent. To aid in this process the Pope has appointed a commission to advise him on reform. Until now, allegations of corruption and money laundering have plagued the bank-and the murders of people connected to it have raised suspicions further. However, Francis’ commission should help move the institution to a fairer and more moral system, hopefully ensuring that the Vatican itself will become less corrupt. Pope Francis is still, of course, a strong Catholic; he is absolutely pro-life, anti-contraception and strongly against questioning Catholic dogma. However, he stated recently that the church has ‘locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules’. This seems to be an indication that he will now be focusing on the things he has specifically attacked: poverty, violence, and corruption, instead of vague issues that seem to place the Catholic Church and society at odds with one another. On this, I cannot stress admiration

for him enough. My disenchantment with the Catholic Church comes less from our opposing views --it condemns my religion, my sexuality and the fact that I do not wish to have children-and more from the sheer hypocrisy of their current system. The Church attacks corruption, and yet is ruled by an institution (the Vatican) widely held to be corrupt. It claims that Western society is sexually deviant and yet the Church is mired in accusations of not only child abuse by individual priests but a mass cover-up by senior clergy. It claims that we should all donate to charity, and yet is an institution of astounding wealth, exemplified by the extravagant spending of the last pope, Benedict XVI. However, I believe Pope Francis has the potential to change this. He seems to bring a realistic and practical perspective to these problems, which even Catholics agree have hitherto presented a serious challenge to the credibility of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis’ words and actions could be the start to something extraordinary; a Church with one billion members undoubtedly has the potential to change the world, for better or for worse. I believe that the current Pope is our best chance at changing it for the better. I hope that, in a few years’ time, I will be willing to say the same thing of him that he said of the original Francis: ‘He brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history.’

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

37


why belief is

At the Heart Zoe Rundle

year 13

of S porting S uccess

...the mental side of sport is just as important as the physical aspect. ...

T

here are many aspects which contribute to a triumphant sporting performance. Some argue that fitness is the most important of these while others may say that our technical skills underpin success. However, few will argue that our mental approach towards a sporting competition is the vital determinant, if a victorious outcome is desired. This is something which is often neglected and it is amazing how powerful our mentality can be in influencing a performance. Our minds are responsible for any negative thoughts we experience prior to competing

38

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

Mesh marvels: a pair of Michael Jordan’s lucky UNC shorts

Jennifer Ennis

and, even before we begin an activity, a number of reasons can often be found for failure. Tiredness, anxiety, doubt, stress, lack of practice and even bad weather are factors which can lower our expectations. Essentially, when we don't use our minds in a positive way, we can find ourselves performing badly. Therefore, it is easy to experience failure more often than success. By changing our outlook as we approach a match, our performance levels can change significantly. Whether setting goals or maintaining a positive attitude, our response to committing errors and enhancing self-belief all aid a successful outcome.

The mental aspect of a sports performance even affects the best in the business and this was most obvious at the 2011 World Athletics Championships. Usain Bolt, arguably the most famous sportsman in the world, crumbled under the pressure as millions watched on. After making the final in Daegu, Bolt missed his chance of taking the gold as he clearly started before the gun was fired. Perhaps the fact that this was the only major title which he was yet to win made him feel the pressure and doubts started to creep into his mind as a result. If this occurs, it is hard to eliminate these thoughts and they can simply take over, creating a negative image in the mind. There are several techniques which are commonly used in order to strengthen the mental aspect of sport. Imagery is one used frequently and it can be defined as using the multiple senses to create or recreate experiences in one's mind. It is often used the day before an event and the effectiveness of mental rehearsal can be increased significantly if the images created are vivid. This is because they are then more likely to be interpreted by the brain as identical to the actual event; therefore, good imagery can create extremely lifelike pictures through the use of timing, perspective and multiple senses. With these images in mind, sportsmen and sportswomen can also increase their level of confidence. More simple approaches can also be tried, for example selftalk, which refers to the thoughts and words which athletes say to themselves usually in their heads to help them focus. Self-talk phrases can be used alongside other techniques to facilitate their effectiveness or to direct attention towards a specific task so that focus is improved. For example, a netball shooter may say the

words "smooth shot" before releasing the ball in order to stay relaxed. Furthermore, a baseball player may think "contact point" as they hit the ball so that they stay calm as they perform the skill. The manner in which the words are interpreted by the individual impacts the effectiveness of self-talk phrases and research has suggested that positive self-talk can improve performance. The ability to bombard the mind with one positive phrase is such a simple yet effective psychological skill available to any athlete. Pre-performance routines are the third main technique which individuals use in order to have a healthy mind when competing. The routines refer to the actions and behaviours athletes use to prepare for a game or performance. Pre-game routines include the warm-up as well as actions that performers will regularly do, mentally and physically, before they compete. Frequently, these routines may incorporate other common techniques such as imagery and self-talk, for example, dribbling by basketball players at the foul line or golfers practicing their swing before they hit the ball. These routines help to develop consistency and predictability for the player and allow the muscles and mind to develop better motor control. This third technique, pre-performance routines, for overcoming mental struggle can be linked to superstition. Superstition is the belief that one event leads to the cause of another without any natural process linking the two events. So, for example, a tennis player may bounce the ball a certain number of times before they serve; Serena Williams is one who does this, bouncing the ball five times before a first serve. Michael Jordan was another who was incredibly superstitious; while leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships during his legendary career, the fivetime MVP wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform in every game. Jordan led UNC to the NCAA Championships in 1982 and believed the mesh marvels brought him luck. In order to cover his lucky pair, Jordan began wearing longer shorts, which inspired a trend in the NBA. Superstition can often increase confidence in performers and it is a frequent element of a player's pre-match routine. Therefore, it is clear that the mental side of sport is just as important as the physical aspect. Various sports scientists argue that many races and matches are won before they've even started. If you have the correct mental attitude, you are more likely to have a more successful result, whereas if you experience negative thoughts then they can get stuck in your mind and significantly affect your performance. Therefore, even though it is an aspect which is largely neglected in sport, it is one that is, nonetheless, important.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

39


I’ll take my

chances... Tom Harper

year 13

or should I?

“G

ood luck”, “That was lucky”, “It’s bad luck”. For an abstract concept which occurs beyond one’s control, without regard to one’s will, intention or desired result, luck appears to have had a remarkable effect on the way we, as human beings, have functioned and still do today. Ranging from the rolling of dice in a casino to the fear of someone ‘jinxing’ a performance, or indeed from buying a lottery ticket to hoping that the train arrives on time, luck permeates every aspect of modern society. As a result, a wide variety of global cultures have their own take on the ‘luck’ factor: with Irish people wandering the countryside searching for four-leaf clovers and native Americans stringing up ‘dream-catchers’ above their beds. However this poses the question: what exactly is luck, if anything at all, and should we as a developed society really be putting so much faith into something that happens regardless of one’s wishes? Should we really ‘take our chances’ when it comes to a principle of uncertainty, or should we ignore them? To find out, it is necessary to explore the different variations of luck that we as human beings subconsciously employ every day, and consider whether or not there is such a thing as being ‘lucky’. The first way in which one can interpret luck is as an essence. Over the past few thousand years there has existed a series of spiritual or supernatural beliefs regarding fortune, and, although these beliefs vary widely from one to another, there is general agreement that luck can be influenced through spiritual means by performing certain rituals, avoiding certain circumstances or obtaining certain objects. Nowadays this most commonly takes the form of superstition, with picking up pennies being considered as ‘good’ (both in the lucky and financial sense) and opening an umbrella indoors being seen as ‘bad’ (as well as impractical). Mesoamerican religions, such as those of the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas, featured particularly strong beliefs regarding the relationship between rituals and the gods, which could, in a similar sense to the Abrahamic religions, be called luck or providence. In these cultures, human sacrifice (both of willing volunteers and captured enemies), as well as self-sacrifice by means of bloodletting, could possibly be seen as a way to propitiate the gods and earn favour for the city offering the sacrifice. The Christian church, in its early development, accommodated many traditional practices, including the acceptance of omens and carrying out of ritual sacrifices in order to divine the will

40

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

of a ‘supreme being’ or to influence divine favouritism. Echoes of the more archaic take on fortune can still be felt today, as, although we may not pray to the household gods for luck as the Romans did, we still arguably devote ourselves to it through mottos and ‘paraphernalia’. For example, during the Middle Ages, blacksmithing was considered as a ‘lucky’ profession, so is it any wonder that the horseshoe is still perceived as an embodiment of fortune? Furthermore, ever since humans started to count, numerology has been applied by various cultures to fortune telling and psychic reading, with the number 7 being considered ‘lucky’ (for example, the Japanese ‘Seven Gods of Fortune’) and the number 13 being considered ‘unlucky’ (due to its association with the Last Supper, featuring Jesus and 12 disciples, one of whom betrayed him). Thus, in one sense, luck is not a determining factor but a form of tradition, in which the faith of our ancestors has inspired us to believe in similar, if developed, principles of fortune. The second form of luck is (perhaps wrongly) considered more ‘practical’. This view holds that “luck is probability taken seriously” and takes the rationalist approach that luck includes the application of the rules of probability and an avoidance of unscientific beliefs. In other words, a believer in luck is someone who follows “post hoc ergo propter hoc” logic that because two events are connected sequentially, they are connected causally as well. The most obvious example of this is the gambler’s fallacy, otherwise known as the Monte Carlo fallacy or the fallacy of the maturity of chances. This concerns the mistaken belief that, if something happens more frequently than normal during some period, then it will happen less frequently in the future (presumably as a means of balancing nature). This fallacy can arise in many practical situations although it is most strongly associated with gambling, where such mistakes are common among players. A good example of this can be found with the simple tossing of a coin. With a fair coin, the outcomes in different tosses are statistically independent and the probability of getting heads on a single toss is exactly 1⁄2. It follows that the probability of getting two heads in two tosses is 1⁄4 and the probability of getting three heads in three tosses is 1⁄8. Now suppose that we have just tossed four heads in a row, so that, if the next coin toss were also to come up heads, it would complete a run of five successive heads. Since the probability of a run of five successive heads is only 1⁄32, one might believe that this next flip was less likely to be heads than to be tails. However, this is not correct, and is a manifestation of the gambler's fallacy; the event of 5 heads in a row and the event of "first 4 heads, then a tails" are equally likely, each having probability 1⁄32.

When applying this concept to modern society, it is not difficult to see that, however absurd it may be, we are all subject to it in one way or another. Many people believe that by continuously buying scratch-cards they are bound to win the lottery eventually; those who win consecutive rounds of poker are considered by their recently less-wealthy peers as ‘lucky’; and even those who are struck by lightning more than once are considered unlucky’. Hence, on another level, luck is the attempt to spot a pattern or predict a sequence based on previous occurrences. However, the most prominent and indeed relevant interpretation of luck is as a lack of control. This view incorporates phenomena that are chance happenings and where there is no uncertainty involved, or where such uncertainty is irrelevant. Within this framework one can differentiate between three different types of luck. The first is constitutional, which entails luck that concerns factors that cannot be changed. For example, you may refer to

that you weren’t with us at that New Year’s party where Labyrinth surprisingly turned up...”. Regardless, the connecting factor of these forms of luck is that there is no controllable variable. All three recognise luck as an abstraction that is used as an excuse to explain a chain of events or an eventuality, and so are in contrast to the previous two variations in terms of denying any matter of certainty. Therefore the final and most accurate way in which we can perceive luck is as a scapegoat. Throughout this article, I have identified various forms of luck that can, in turn, be applied to a variety of situations; it is fortune’s very complexity that can be seen to defy its existence. Luck can be seen both as the following of previous patterns as well as the prediction of new ones, and so one might argue that to be ‘lucky’ is both to conform to convention whilst also to defy it. Here is where the notion of fortune falls apart. Dirty Harry’s comment of “Do you feel lucky, punk?” henceforth becomes

your friend who has a pool, tennis court and indoor gymnasium as ‘lucky’ due to their wealth; however, their being born into a rich family had nothing to do with fortune. The same goes for a person’s genetic constitution or indeed the current state of the weather. The second is circumstantial, which involves luck made up of factors that are brought about haphazardly. No matter how lucky my sister insists that I am due to my discovery of an abandoned £10 note in the local station, this was simply due to a random chain of events that eventually resulted in my pocket being ever so slightly fuller. More examples can be found with accidents or running into an old friend. The third is ignorant, which concerns luck with factors that no one knows about and so can only be identified through hindsight. For example, you may have been told by friends or family at some point in your life “Cor, it was lucky you booked that table when you did or else we would have had to wait for hours!” or indeed “It was just unlucky

irrelevant as luck is no sure-fire way to guarantee the realisation of our ambitions, and so in one sense it is not worth the faith we occasionally put into it. However this assessment can be taken too far. In personality psychology, people reliably differ from each other depending on four key aspects: belief in luck, rejection of luck, being lucky and being unlucky. People who believe in good luck are more optimistic, more satisfied with their lives, and have better moods. If ‘good’ and ‘bad’ events occur at random to everyone, believers in good luck will experience a net gain in their fortunes, and vice versa for believers in bad luck. This is clearly likely to be selfreinforcing. Thus a belief in good luck may actually be good for you in spite of it not existing. That’s fortunate, isn’t it?

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

41


Medicine:

traditional values held on to so strongly, it is very difficult to reshape them by allowing organisations such as Sughavazhvu to introduce changes to these beliefs that have been held for generations. Such approaches can so easily be seen as an unwelcome intrusion. From talking to many villagers and hearing their views, it seemed that there was a strong reluctance to attend health clinics and receive treatments because of other preferred options such as religion and ‘alternative medicine’ – typified by the village holy man. Notwithstanding the strength of these beliefs, in the interests of health promotion it is clear that they needed adapting and that the benefits of wellbeing and good lifestyle needed to be

an act of faith

Rukmini Jagdish YEAR 13

W

hile sitting in a GP’s surgery, I watched the doctor attend to coughs, colds, broken hips, backaches, a seemingly never-ending procession of ailments. What struck me most was an underlying common denominator – the sense of trust that the patients had in the doctor. It comes with the profession, I think; this implicit faith in a doctor. This interesting relationship appeared to engender the utmost confidence in the doctor, thus allowing patients to freely share innermost secrets and fears and hand over their bodies into the doctor’s care. And this leads me to the main theme: belief. Belief need not solely have religious connotations, although it does lead to the idea of faith - not always in a deity but perhaps in a person such as a doctor. From this stems hope and confidence. Viewed from a social scientific perspective, I would say that humans have a natural disposition to trust and to judge trustworthiness, clearly shown here towards a medical practitioner. Before I began devoting every second of my holidays to medical work experience, I doubt whether I had even considered belief to be a vital factor in medicine. Yet, with time, this idea has begun to take shape and, on multiple occasions, I have witnessed the importance of trust and faith and the central position that they occupy in medicine. I was surprised to find how much of an influence the doctor-patient relationship had on the practice of medicine. An example of this was when I visited India

42

in the summer. I undertook an attachment with a non-governmental public health organisation, Sughavazhvu Healthcare, in rural South India. Sughavazhvu is based in the region of Thanjavur which comprises many different villages, each with their own beliefs and customs; one could call it a microcosm of India as a whole. Observing medical practice in hospitals and surgeries in the UK highlighted to me the real differences and challenges faced by Sughavazhvu regarding healthcare. The culture of health is often overlooked and overtaken by the sheer need for survival. By this, I mean that, when providing healthcare, one has to go beyond mere medications and the patient’s body. There are so many other external factors involved such as their living situation, economic situation and cultural background. Indeed, I only began considering the roles that tradition and culture play in the reception of treatment after watching the various struggles involved in the conflict between modern medicine and traditional approaches. From my experiences in the UK, possession of sound health is seen by most as a number one priority and asset. A perceived or actual health problem would lead most people to do everything in their power to talk to the right people and sort it out. While this is part of normal health culture in the West, I felt that this was lacking in rural Thanjavur. In the rural communities that I visited, there seemed to be so many reasons for not going to the doctor, whether it was led by a preference for free government resources or possibly even a social stigma towards ill-health. What was evident was that their attitudes were shaped by their belief systems. With

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

Children in Sughavazhvu, South India (photograph by author)

trust and faith occupy a central position in medicine

conveyed, particularly as health risks such as coronary heart disease and hypertension, are on the rise in South Asians. According to the British Medical Journal, 12-17% of rural Indian adults have high blood pressure. The ‘silent’ characteristics of these conditions do not help when encouraging people to visit the doctor, as it is not obvious that there is a problem that needs sorting. However, the main barrier, I realised, was fear. Once again, that idea of trust came into the picture. Maybe it was fear of getting involved in something that was foreign and possibly

untrustworthy or anxiety about being cheated of money. Such anxieties when combined with attitudes towards disease as a source of stigma clearly exert a hugely negative force that inhibits the uptake of health promotion efforts. A vivid and abiding memory of mine was of crouching in a small mud hut with a group of healthcare workers explaining to a mother that her child had severe anaemia and desperately needed iron tablets. Even at a hugely subsidised price, she refused to buy them and I could see she was tormented by a mixture of fear, mistrust and misunderstanding. The solution is not easy or simple, I feel. Clearly, it is challenging to promote health and medicine among thousands of villagers who are not interested in the idea whatsoever. One could say an attitude change was needed. Despite the inherent frustrations that I saw at first hand, I would definitely say that this was the most fascinating part of my experiences and I was inspired. Sughavazhvu used different methods so as to build trust and faith in modern medicine, simultaneously respecting the cultural values of the villagers. This is mainly done through education, so that patients fully understand their condition and the treatment prescribed. This has been most effective as the patients do not feel they are blindly following the doctor; as they understand the situation, they can be part of the decision- making process. Trust is very much part of the equation. Furthermore, to increase the practice of visiting the doctor, a member of each community is employed at each village clinic to work alongside the physician as a Health Extension Worker. By associating someone familiar with something so alien a sense of confidence is created, as villagers are shown that it is safe to use the help of Sughavazhvu clinics and that they can be trusted. Although there is still a long way to go to transform the traditionalist mindset, things are heading in the right direction and belief systems are changing village by village. This has led me to think about medicine as a whole. In my eyes, medicine itself is actually a belief system, as many decisions and choices come down to the beliefs of those involved, affecting the ways in which health and medicine are approached. After viewing how disease is combatted in the field of public health, I realised that the methods differed significantly compared to the methods used in Western medicine. Everything is on a much larger scale, aiming to help thousands of people who all have similar health conditions. Furthermore, I found from my work experience that Western disease-based models involve treatment of problems, whereas in public health, medicine was mainly founded upon prevention and changing the lifestyle of people. It was intriguing to hear that there are varied impressions of public health even within the medical profession with public health doctors often being disparagingly referred to as “drain sniffers”, yet I am finding myself more and more attracted to this side of medicine. Once again, we are in the realm of beliefs. Some are convinced that concentrating on the eradication of disease is the best way to revolutionize health and wellbeing; others believe that developing a robust system of health promotion is the way forward.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

43


Be miserable:

By being miserable you will waste less energy on smiling

It’s Good For You Callum Cross Heaven knows I’m miserable now

B

eing miserable is a part of life. It can be hard for some people to accept it, but it’s true. No one is ever happy 100% of the time. Whether it is too much work that gets you down or personal matters, something will make you unhappy. I, for one, embrace the miserable side of life. Like most British people, I like to complain when I get the opportunity and you can’t complain if you’re always happy. Although you could argue that there are numerous psychological and social benefits to being a happy person, as miserable people tend to be a little bit worse at socialising than the outgoing happy kind, I don’t think you can categorically say that being happy all the time is a good thing. Happy feelings are hard to quantify and are subjective, so you can only compare what’s good to what’s bad and what’s happy to what’s sad. I would argue that, if there is nothing wrong in your life, you get less satisfaction from the good things. This is based on the theory of diminishing marginal returns. The last polo in your packet is more valuable than the first because, when you’ve just opened the pack you have plenty to spare. So, if this kind of economic model works for things like food, it must surely comply with feelings. If I have fewer happy experiences, the ones that do take place mean that much more; after all, “without the downs you can’t have any ups”. In terms of more physiological benefits, it could be argued that being miserable is better for your health. There are numerous medical reports from universities in the US that

44

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

offer conflicting views on this topic; half believe that it takes more effort to smile than to frown and the other half disagree. A popular quote is “It takes 62 muscles to frown and 3 times less to smile”. However, after doing some research, I found that there are approximately 53 named facial muscles and about 30 that have any function, so really that debunks the “62-muscles to frown” theory. Further digging around showed that there is a common conclusion between a handful of reputable US research departments that only 12 muscles are used for a smile and 11 to frown; therefore, it is less effort to frown and even less to show no facial emotion at all. By being miserable you will waste less energy on smiling, which could effectively increase life expectancy (though even I will admit that it’s probably a negligible amount). My second health-related point concerns heart rate. When someone is happy and elated, they can notice their own heart rate increasing. In contrast, being generally miserable has no effect on heart rate. As many of you will know, there is a direct correlation between heart rate and life expectancy. A hummingbird’s heart rate is often between 500 and 600 BPM; in contrast, a human has a heart rate of 70 BPM. Due to this high heart rate, a hummingbird seldom lives longer than 2 years, whereas a human is expected to live for 70 years or more. Surely, then, happiness leads to high heart rate leads to shorter life. Now obviously there is a need for a regular increase in heart rate, normally found via exercise, to make sure your body

YEAR 13

doesn’t get too comfortable. It is shown that even 30 seconds of intense exercise per week can make one live longer. As miserable people are less often associated with getting out and doing things, you might wonder where that brief but necessary increase in heart rate might come from. Well, I have two theories. Firstly, there is a way that one can remain thoroughly miserable and increase his or her heart rate for short periods of time: debate politics with someone who has an alternative viewpoint to yours (which you know is wrong, no matter what they say). I am very opinionated and that inevitably leads to multiple arguments with many, many people - so often that I find it tiring. Some people might think that it sounds ridiculous but, when you’re passionate about something and someone else opposes that theory, you defend your idea to the hilt, which can often increase your heart rate, especially once you start shouting in genuine anger. My other theory actually does involve exercise but requires a modicum of talent (although perhaps not in my case) and a musical instrument. My current playlists are full of 90s alternative rock and some grunge, neither of them genres known for their cheery lyric topics and uplifting outlook on life. Their expression of miserable feelings is very productive and it all happens because they are not happy with something or everything. Playing guitar for one hour will burn 150 calories, on average; now that’s not loads but, when you really get into it, your heart rate can rocket. So, really, it’s a good way of unleashing anger and hatred (which may possibly have

Student at His Desk (1633) by Pieter Codde

arisen from the political debate I mentioned earlier) and, if you are enthusiastic about music you may end up writing a masterpiece. The only downside to this theory is that it only applies to a few specific genres, but how can you not like 90s Alt. Rock? Just to clarify: I’m not saying that you should hate everything all the time; all I’m trying to say is that there is nothing wrong with being miserable at all.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

45


God,

man and superman optimism and pessimism in German philosophy Fergus Houghton-Connell

YEAR 13

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz

W

hen considering famous German philosophers, one can easily think of Karl Marx and his Communist Manifesto. Even Nazism can be seen as a philosophy or a way of life. Each was very influential (disastrously so) in determining the course of twentieth century history. But there is more to the history of German philosophy than Marxism and Nazism. Before fleeing Nazi persecution, Berthold Brecht tried to alter the consciousness of German audiences by enacting his theory of alienation through his radical and philosophical approach to theatre. In the nineteenth century, Arthur Schopenhauer unwittingly foreshadowed the existential horror of the next century with his pessimistic philosophy, most notably ‘Is the glass half full or half empty?’ However, all of the writers I have mentioned were heirs to a long-standing history of German philosophy, including three especially notable thinkers: Immanuel Kant, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Friedrich Nietzsche. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant stated, “It always remains a scandal of philosophy and universal human reason that the existence of things outside us ... should have to be assumed merely on faith, and that if it occurs to anyone to doubt it, we

46

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

Immanuel Kant

Friedrich Nietzsche

should be unable to answer him with a satisfactory proof.” Although Kant’s idea of “things outside us” is ambiguous, these “things” are presented as equating to “God” (not the God of religion but a word to describe things beyond our empirical experience). Kant is questioning how people can say there is a God without any conclusive proof that he exists, with the only answer being that they have faith in this ‘outside thing’. However Kant himself argues that God can be proven to exist because he is an idea and that is the reason he exists, to be an idea. Therefore, God does exist because someone thought of him; he exists in the form of a thought or an idea. Kant further argues, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." Kant argues that God must exist because of the idea of a God makes people feel happier and encourages them to behave in a more morally correct way. Here Nietzsche comes into play. He proposed the idea of the Übermensch; an ideal of a ‘Superman’ that humans strive to be. Whereas Kant argues that we need to create the concept of God to behave as moral beings, Nietzsche sees man himself as potentially godlike: “man is something that shall be overcome” In other words, to become the ‘Superman’ an individual must overcome his humanity, lose such “weaknesses” (in Nietzche’s view) as compassion. For Nietsche, the Ubermensch will be the

new human and humans will be the new apes, a laughingstock. Nietzche argues that the ‘Superman’ is essential to human evolution (he was writing in the era of Darwin), the next step in the evolution chain. In fact, he notes,“The Übermensch shall be the meaning of the earth”. Thus humans will replace God in providing meaning. For Nietzche, there is no objective meaning (as has traditionally been represented by God) but only subjective meaning (constructed by each individual who has attained the status of Ubermensch). He is therefore taking Kant’s argument that it would be necessary to invent a God (in order to create meaning and morality) and going far beyond it, talking of the “death of God” (i.e. replacing God with man). Much of Nietzche’s writing is ambiguous in its meaning (including what exactly he means by the term “Ubermensch”); however, Nietzsche is clear that one day, a ‘Superman’ shall overthrow the human race (and the concept of God). Both Nietzche and Kant were writing over a century after the influential philosopher and mathematician, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Although he spent half of his time working on Mathematics, his contribution to Philosophy is unquestionably important. Some of his arguments are quite simple: “If a proposition is true, then its negation is false and vice versa”. But, more interestingly, he, like many philosophers at the time, established logical reasoning to seek to demonstrate the existence of God. Like Kant (and unlike Nietzche) sees the concept of God as necessary for any action or existence to have meaning: “There must be a sufficient reason (often known only to God) for anything to exist, for any event to occur, for any truth to obtain”. Here Leibniz is arguing that there must be a reason or explanation for everything; however, he is also saying that those reasons are often beyond the power of humans to understand or rationalize; only God can know or understand. Therefore, rather like Kant, Leibniz seems to be suggesting that we need God in order to give life meaning. His conclusion is very optimistic: “God assuredly always chooses the best”, Leibniz argues that by definition God must always choose the best outcome so that whatever happens in any situation is always the best possible outcome regardless of the selection of events, even if we cannot see it because of our human limitations. Leibniz later tackled the ‘problem of evil’, which is that if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, how can there still be suffering and injustice in the world? His response was to say that our Universe was the best possible one that God could have created and we only think that certain outcomes are painful or evil because we do not have the conceptual sophistication (unlike God) to make sense of it. Thus Leibniz, Kant and Nietzsche all create philosophical systems of great complexity and integrity. Both Leibniz and Kant believe that a concept of God is necessary for us to make sense of life and (as Kant argues) for us to behave morally. Nietzsche could also be said to see the need for God; however, in his case, the only god is one located within man released through the concept of the Übermensch”, freeing each individual to create his own meaning and to construct his own moral framework. Nietzche’s theory is liberating but also full of danger; it could be seen as a philosophy that is optimistic in terms of human potential, but also very pessimistic particularly compared to the rational philosophies of Leibniz and Kant. As we can see, German philosophers are preoccupied with the deepest questions of meaning and morality, debating among themselves whether the source of both is human, superhuman or divine.

It is. Katie Green

YEAR 9

It is a leap, It is a fall, It is faith before trust. It is jumping through the dark and knowing someone will catch you. It is what makes seas toss, And winds howl. It is what drives us, And keeps us anchored. It is everything. It is nothing. You can not see it, Only feel it and know it is there. It is not the same. For each person it varies. In science, in logic, In religion, in the unexplainable. It is what everyone needs. It is our brightest light, Shining through despair. It is hope.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

47


L’existentialisme

L’existentialisme Rhiannon Lasrado

YEAR 12

L

' homme n'est rien d'autre que ce qu'il fait de lui-même » Jean-Paul Sartre L’existentialisme est l’étude de l’existence et les questions qui l’entourent. Pourquoi existons-nous? Est-ce que la vie a une signification? Une raison d'être? La philosophie est née après la révolution industrielle. Alors que le monde occidental commençait une nouvelle ère et le Christianisme dimunuait rapidement en popularité, une nouvelle philosophie était inaugurée. Les noms comme de Beauvoir, Camus et Sartre sont célèbres autour du monde parce que c'est grâce à eux que l’existentialisme n’est pas simplemement devenu une philosophie cohérente mais aussi une culture populaire en France dans le vingtième siècle bien que d'autres noms comme Kierkegaard avait écrit sur l’existentialisme auparavant. Il figure dans la littérature, le cinéma et autres aspects de la culture, tout en cherchant à répondre aux questions auxquelles le répertoire conceptuel de la pensée ancienne et moderne ne pouvait jamais répondre. En tant qu'êtres humains, nous essayons de donner un sens à tout presque instinctivement. La philosophie, cependant, est fondée sur l’idée que la vie est sans signification et nous devons l’accepter et trouver notre propre importance pour être épanouis. Au début, c’est bouleversant cependant une partie fondamentale de l’existentialisme est que la vie est absurde ; en d’autres termes, on ne peut pas comprendre la vie. L’absurdité est décrite souvent comme une juxtaposition d’un monde irrationnel avec le désir humain qu'il n'en soit pas ainsi. Un existentialiste dirait que nous

48

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

devons embrasser l’absurdité pour mener une vie vraiment heureuse. Ce processus est long - il est caractérisé par l’anxiété et l’esseulement – comme on commence à réaliser que personne ne peut aider à donner un sens à la vie sauf soi-même. Néanmoins, avec cette réalisation, vient une liberté immense. Les existentialistes décrivent les limitations de notre liberté en utilisant la facticité. Les facteurs, comme l’âge, le lieu de naissance et le patrimoine génétique sont parmi ceux qui dictent notre facticité. Par exemple, il est illogique de dire « je suis complètement libre donc je peux avoir vingt ans » quand, en fait, on a quarante ans. Sartre a inventé l’expression l’existence précède l’essence – une croyance centrale dans l’existentialisme – dans laquelle l’essence est le signifiant de ce que quelque chose est. Il dit essentiellement que nous sommes complètement libres et indéterminés, nous sommes liés seulement par nos choix précédents. Le fait que nous choisissons ce que nous sommes indique que nous n’étions jamais quelque chose à l'origine. En utilisant cette logique, les humains ne peuvent pas être définis parce que leur existence est ce qui permet à une signification d'être trouvée. Ni la nature ni les influences extérieures ne façonnent notre essence ou identité parce que exister est créer ces choses. Chaque individu doit rejeter toute philosophie, science ou religion qui essaie de donner un sens à l’existence pour vivre authentiquement. Le philosophe Nietzsche, un précurseur de l’existentialisme, a expliqué cette nécessité en remarquant que, alors que la religion donne un sens à la vie, le sens n’est pas révélé à nous. Donc, il a encouragé les

Playing chess with Death (The Seventh Seal, 1957)

En tant qu' Êtres humains, nous essayons de donner un sens À tout presque instinctivement

individus à rejeter la religion parce que bien qu’on doive trouver sa propre signification, son propre but, ceci reste à notre portée. L’existentialisme est une philosophie énormément personnelle – les réponses aux questions peuvent être trouvées en nous-mêmes et sans aide et donc, il prospère sur l’effondrement de normalités ou philosophies qu'il décrit comme un phénomène normal parce que tout est absurde et relatif à l'individu. Il est important de noter que les existentialistes ne rejettent pas toutes les irrationalités mais ils pensent qu'utiliser l’intellect seul pour expliquer l’existence fournit un aperçu limité et insuffisant. Il y a beaucoup de problèmes avec l’existentialisme, aussi bien qu'avec d'autres philosophies et religions. Camus voyait le suicide comme un problème dans la philosophie lorsqu'il a dit que le suicide était le seul problème philosophique vraiment sérieux. Il n’y a pas de raison de continuer à vivre si la vie est sans signification, ainsi rendant l’existence éphémère et futile. Camus a décidé finalement que le suicide est un gaspillage de la liberté qui vient avec l’existence sans signification et que choisir de vivre vaut la peine. Aussi, les existentialistes ont été accusés de la promotion de l’absurdité au point où ce justifie les mesures immorales. Si la vie est sans signification, importe-il si assassine autrui ? Sartre a rejeté cette idée en disant que nous devons collectivement respecter la liberté d’autres. Puis, l’existentialisme n’aborde pas la question de la création. Le fait que l’univers existe doit lui donner un sens, sans que l’univers ne le cherche. Les croyances contradictoires peuvent se trouver dans une religion théiste car elles ont tendance à proposer que le divin a créé le monde, nous quittant en nous dotant d'importance. La loi naturelle de St Thomas Aquinas défie directement « l’existence précède l’essence » de Sartre parce qu’elle postule que tous les humains ont un but

Simone de Beauvoir

– faire le bien par la protection de la vie humaine, la reproduction et la connaissance de Dieu. En plus, les catholiques croient que nous existons dans l’esprit de Dieu avant l’existence. En fait, à cause des raisons, Pape Pius XII a condamne l’existentialisme en prétendant qu’il promeut le nihilisme. Pour finir, l’existentialisme est intrigant et soulève quelques bons points en ce qui concerne la présentation de l’existence dans d'autres philosophies et religions. Pour moi, il est facile de voir comment on nous dit que la vie est déterminée sans une explication. Aussi la croyance que nous sommes libres de créer notre propre but nous donne une autonomie extrême comme souvent, les gens eux-mêmes rejettent vite sur la base des choses qui ne doivent pas limiter l’existence. L’effet que l’existentialisme a eu sur la culture du vingtième siècle est monumental et celuici est important parce qu'une philosophie relativement inconnue a déclenché tout un mouvement, symbolisée par les parisiens fumant et buvant du café dans les petits bistrots. Cependant, l’existentialisme n'est en aucune façon englobant. Plusieurs choses restent sans réponses, comme l’origine de l’univers et la réponse philosophique au suicide. Toutefois, l’existentialisme est une philosophie originale, accompagnée d‘un mouvement qui était quintessentiel dans la France du vingtième siècle.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

49


L’existentialisme

Albert Camus

Existentialism

“M

would say that we must embrace the absurdity in order to lead an is nothing else but what he truly authentic lives. This process is a long one, characterised makes of himself.” by anxiety and forlornness, as you begin to realise that nobody Jean-Paul Sartre can help make sense of life but yourself. However, with this Existentialism is the study realisation comes immense freedom. Existentialists describe the of our existence and the limitations of this freedom using facticity. Factors such as age, questions that surround it. birthplace and genetic heritage are among those that make up Why do we exist? Does life have meaning? What is the point? our facticity. For example, it is illogical to say, “I am completely The philosophy arose following the Industrial Revolution. As free so I am able to be 20 years old” when you the Western world entered a new era and are in fact 40. Christianity rapidly fell in popularity, a Sartre coined the expression “existence new philosophy was welcomed. Names like as humans precedes essence” – a central belief within Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Jeanwe almost existentialism – in which essence is the signifier Paul Sartre are renowned around the world as instinctively of what something is. It essentially dictates that it is thanks to them that existentialism not only we are completely free and undetermined, only became a respected philosophy but also part of try to give bound by our previous choices. The fact that a popular culture within France in the twentieth meaning to we choose to be what we are indicates that we century, although others, such as Soren everything were never anything in the first place. Using Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote of this logic, humans can’t be defined because existentialism as early as the nineteenth century. their existence is what enables meaning to be found. Neither It features in literature, cinema and other aspects of culture, all nature nor nurture shapes our essence or identity because to while seeking to answer the questions that the conceptual repertoire exist is to create these things. of ancient and modern thought never could. Each individual must reject the attempts of philosophy, As humans, we almost instinctively try to give meaning to science or religion to make sense of existence in order to everything. The philosophy, however, is founded on the idea live authentically. The philosopher Nietzsche, a precursor that life is meaningless and we must accept this and find our own to existentialism, explained the necessity in this by observing significance in order to be fulfilled. At first, this is unsettling; that while religion does give life meaning, it is not revealed however, a fundamental part of existentialism is that life is to us. He urged individuals to reject religion because while absurd; in other words life can’t be made sense of. Absurdity you have to find your own meaning, your own purpose, it is often described as the juxtaposition of an irrational world is kept within your reach. Existentialism is a tremendously with the human desire for it to not be that way. An existentialist

50

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

personal philosophy – the answers to its questions can only be found within oneself and so it thrives upon the collapse of “normalities”, or philosophies stating what is normal, because all is absurd and relative to the individual. It’s important to note that existentialists don’t reject all rationality but they think using intellect alone to explain existence provides a limited and inadequate insight into it. There are several problems with existentialism, as well as several counter-philosophies and religions. Camus saw suicide as a problem within the philosophy as he notably said “Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy”. There is no point in continuing to live if life is meaningless, thus rendering existence ephemeral and futile. However, Camus eventually decided that suicide was a waste of the freedom that comes with a meaningless existence and that to choose to live is a choice worth making. Existentialists have also been accused of promoting absurdity to the point where it may justify the most immoral acts. If life is pointless, does it matter if you go on a killing rampage? Sartre rejected this idea, saying that we must collectively respect the freedom of others. Then, existentialism does not address the issue of creation. The fact that the universe exists must give it some significance, without it having sought it first. Contradictory beliefs can be found in any theistic religion, as they tend to propose that the world was created by the divine, endowing us all with purpose. St Thomas Aquinas’ Natural Law directly challenges Sartre’s “existence precedes essence” as it postulates that all humans have a purpose – to do good by preserving human life, reproducing and knowing God. In addition, Catholics believe that we exist in God’s mind before existence. In fact, for these reasons, Pope Pius XII condemned existentialism, claiming that it promotes nihilism. To conclude, existentialism is intriguing and raises several good points regarding the presentation of existence in other philosophies and religions. To me, it is easy to see how we are told that life is purposeful without an explanation. Moreover, the belief that we are free to create our purpose is incredibly empowering, as often people are quick to dismiss themselves based upon things that needn’t necessarily limit their existence. The effect existentialism had upon twentieth century culture is monumental and this in itself is significant because a relatively unknown philosophy triggered an entire movement, symbolised by Parisians chain smoking and drinking coffee in small cafes. However, existentialism is by no means all encompassing. Several things remain unanswered, such as the origin of the universe and the philosophical response to suicide. Nevertheless, existentialism is an original philosophy, accompanied by a movement that was quintessential of 20th century France.

R eligion Nicholas Graham YEAR 11

The chains that bind us. The scriptures that govern us. Control us. Amen. The guiding flame In a world of darkness. The words that lead us In our quest for perfection. The quest to become complete. The cold prison bars, Shackles of superstition, They bar our progress. A path of knowledge, Of learning and enlightenment, The freedom of choice over destiny, Making a path for ourselves. The journey to the final goal. Fetters or freedom, Your opinion - no right or wrong. Your choice to make, A free choice.

Sources: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/existentialism/#ExiPreEss Panza, C and Gale, G. 2008. Existentialism For Dummies. Wiley Publishing Inc.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

51


I

magine a novel, if you will. What is it that you see? The well-flicked, collated mass of pages sitting comfortably on the bedside table? Or perhaps the unstirred, classic volumes lining the shelves in the attic, yellowing with antiquity and collecting dust in their seams? Ubiquitous in nature, novels can be found across the world in every crevice of life and existence. They follow us throughout our lives, from the battered, fantastical works lying on a child’s bedroom floor to the pencilscratched ‘serious’ prose cluttering an English student’s satchel. Love them or hate them, there is rarely a time in life where our paths do not cross. In any case, there are varying opinions on what truly constitutes a 'novel', which has continued to enthral throughout its three-hundred-or-so-year history. The Oxford English Dictionary deems it vaguely: ‘A fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism’. Etymologically speaking, the word ‘novel’ derives from the Italian novella, meaning ‘new’ or ‘news’, and, to stretch back

52

Postmodernism and the

novel

Milan Kundera

Visiones del Quijote by Octavio Ocampo

Italo Calvino

further than this, the Latin novus, of the same definition. Whilst no longer new to us as a concept, the novel is, in many respects, undergoing a constant reinvention of form. This being said, for several hundred years authors were wary of straying from the traditional in terms of narrative structure. It is far easier, after all, to construct a unified experience for the reader based on a conventional plot line and logical sequence of cause and effect. By conventional plot line I do not mean the substance of the plot itself, but rather the timeline it follows and the form it takes in the filling of its pages. There came a time, however, when this structure began to be questioned, and the ‘movement’ of postmodernism began to rear its head, wiping the literary slate clean of its established mode of thought. In order to do so, two of the greatest postmodern writers of the twentieth century, Italo Calvino and Milan Kundera, returned to the roots of the novel, in particular a seventeenth-century work often seen to mark the transition from medieval Romance to modern novel: Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes. So influential was Don Quixote on Calvino and Kundera as they began to push

the boundaries of the novel’s widely accepted form (in many cases destroying it entirely) that Cervantes himself could be seen as a proto-post-modernist. It is on Kundera and Calvino that I wish to focus my attention. In an interview with The Paris Review in 1983, Milan Kundera described his purpose in writing The Book of Laughter and Forgetting as ‘to rid the novel of the automatism of novelistic technique’. This revolutionary work, a ‘novel in the form of variations’ (as described by Kundera himself), takes form in the way of seven separate parts, each with chapters of their own, exploring separate thoughts in themselves, linked together not by plot but by the overarching themes of laughter and forgetting, as the title would suggest. In a similar way, Italo Calvino aims to subvert the conventional narrative form throughout many of his novels in the disbanding of the plotline into a non-consecutive (and at times seemingly unconnected at all) series of episodes. In his experimental work, If on a winter’s night a traveller, Calvino begins with the metafictitious quest of the protagonist to find the completed translation of a

book of the same name. Each chapter begins afresh with the beginning of a new novel all together, as it would appear, with each beginning taking an aspect of the last in a continuation of a connected theme. The novel is therefore presented in the varying styles of ten different novels in themselves. In his essay on ‘Multiplicity’ in Six Memos for the Next Millennium (the basis of six lectures he was due to present at Harvard University the following year, as part of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures), Calvino justifies his decision that only in the presenting of his work as such was he able to capture ‘the essence of what a novel is’, which according to him is the ability ‘to unite density of invention and expression with a sense of infinite possibilities’. Kundera gave a similar explanation for the structure of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, as well as his later work The Unbearable Lightness of Being (written in the same disjointed manner), explaining that if he had written seven isolated novels he ‘wouldn’t have been able to capture the “complexity of human existence in the modern world” in a single book’. In this way, both authors utilise their writing as a method of exploring

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

Melissa Smith YEAR 13

deeper into the human condition, as opposed to a scratching of its surface in a traditional narrative structure. Both agree that only through such a style can we arrive at the truth of our existence. In my opinion, this line of thought holds validity. Much like the work of Theatre of the Absurd playwrights, such as Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett, the novels of Kundera and Calvino serve to represent what we cannot necessarily observe in a more realist and traditional piece. In the separation of reality and fiction and the removal of the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’, the reader is able to see clearer into the writer’s philosophy. In a comparable way to the Absurdist plays, the novels demonstrate ‘a network of connections between the events, the people, and the things of the world’, as Calvino discusses in ‘Multiplicity’. There is a word in Italian which holds no literal meaning in our own language. ‘Icastico’, as mentioned by Calvino in his essay on ‘Exactitude’, means ‘an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images’. It is this idea that Calvino and Kundera hold firm to in their writing, in the way that they both strive to condense what needs to be said into what has to be said (and therefore in as few words as possible). ‘The art of condensation’ is something that Kundera has espoused in several interviews during his lifetime, and it is this technique (along with the experimentation with structure) which has allowed the two authors to create maximum meaning in an almost poetic stripping of prosaic word. Kundera stated that his purpose in writing was ‘to rid the novel of the automatism of novelistic technique’. In my opinion it is this sentiment, expressed by many a postmodernist novelist, that allows for the continuing regeneration of the ‘new’ to keep spinning. If it were not for such freedom of expression and thought in literary genre, the most burgeoning questions of our generation might never be expressed. A novel, after all, can never answer the questions that escape the reader’s lips but pose them in their thoughts. Hence, the narrative structure we have accustomed ourselves to and believed in over time becomes redundant, and thus we find ourselves in a form of literary purgatory, further from apparent meaning, yet closer to that elusive notion of truth that we seek.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

53


belief and

Captions

B

elief occurs when the information we gain is perceived to be true; the evidence behind these claims is very rarely questioned. The framework in which ideas and concepts are presented to us can make them seem unquestionably real, yet when the facts are truly considered we realise that actually these concepts lack all logical backing. This concept can be easily demonstrated through the medium of “trick” or “illusion” photography. In each of these examples, the individual components are entirely feasible, yet their combination could not logically occur, forcing us to consider their validity - as we should with information on a day-to-day basis. For example: 1.) The photo on the left may appear real at first, but, when looked at closely, is clearly an impossibility. It is in fact a blurred combination of two distinct photographs, merged to create an optical illusion. 2.) The photo below also has the impression of being real, as the scenario itself is feasible, yet the scales have clearly been altered. It, too, is the accumulation of multiple photographs, with the scales being inversed to create an impossibility. Belief is a concept forced upon us from birth, where the trust in our parents is all that keeps us alive and the information they give us is all that we know. However, as we grow and develop as free-thinking individuals, I challenge you to go beyond what you’re told and question whether you believe what others do. Look for facts, not opinions, and draw your own conclusions. After all, the most fundamental aspect of our school days is learning how to think, not what to think.

P erspecti v e Benjamin Slader YEAR 13

Captions

Captions

54

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

55


why do we read

Given

Horoscopes? Louisa Dassow

Mrs Angela Carter

DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES

I’ll give you my life; I’ll give you my story. Wary and frightened, I’ll try to orientate myself as I tumble into that journey. I need to feel anchored, to gain an understanding, to be understood. When ready, we share trust, become part of the fragility of another’s story. Interwoven strands of hope, fear, love, intrinsic to who we are, pull tight. Then there comes, on a wave of gentleness, an offering of acceptance, resounding in the deepest part of our being, an unravelling, a re-forming of our given story. It’s hard living within a fictional reality, hard to illuminate someone else’s story. But what depth of love we show, if we are willing to try. Struggling, we endeavour to decipher the fragments unfolding before us, as truths are silenced in our minds, protecting beliefs.

56

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

But why must we stem the flowing contradictions that nurture our existence? Are these not the pillars of our beliefs, our values? We strive to build on these truths, wherever we find them, then seek to secure a foundation on which to base our lives. Losing something of ourselves, we wander through our experiences, unknowingly guided towards the path our journey is destined to take, harbouring a desire to understand. We challenge the new story we are stepping into. A residue seems to hold us, captured momentarily, the familiar comforting as we strive for answers to questions as yet unspoken. Falteringly, we accept that change is often loss, but necessary, Or we could lose everything. Often joy illuminates the journey, A glimpse of mirrored understanding jumps from the page, Ready to be told, to narrate unknown futures, tempering excitement with uncertainty. We give reverence to past history; nurturing a deepening resilience, we carve hope in stories untold. Only then, holding tight, do we listen for and hear the tale of how our future will present itself.

I

YEAR 12

was born on the 28th August 1997 and that means that I am a Virgo with a Cancer moon sign. At the moment the moon is in a sensitive zone in my chart and is challenged by “serious Saturn and retrograde Mercury”. This could mean anything, but one astrologer believes that today I will be unable to focus on important tasks whilst another claims that I will be rushed off my feet with meetings and offers me a “Free Psychic Love Reading” for good measure. It’s startling that, having only clicked a relatively small number of astrology sites, I have been asked for my credit card details. On one of the websites I found, Pet Horoscopes; it would appear that my Sagittarius dog is a coward who likes adventure. The word “horoscope” derives from Ancient Greek and can be loosely translated to mean “observer of the hours”. However, astrology did not necessarily originate from Greece; it has been recorded as early as 3000 BC by the Chaldean people of Babylon. The names of our modern-day horoscopes are derived from the Babylonian names; for example, the sign of the crab (Cancer) was originally the sign of the “Crayfish”. The first ever horoscope written in an English newspaper was in the Sunday Express and it was written solely for Princess Margaret in 1930, paving the way for star-sign horoscopes in the media. The astrologist R.H.Naylor predicted that the Princess’ life would be “eventful” and forecast that there would be “events of tremendous importance” which would affect her and the whole Royal Family in her seventh year. In 1936, the Duke of Windsor abdicated, pushing Margaret and her older sister Elizabeth into the public spotlight as the new king's daughters. Naylor was given the first-ever weekly astrology column and, after a couple of years of basing it on birth dates, he swapped to star signs. Soon after Naylor got his column, every

Signs of the zodiac

national newspaper had its own version and horoscopes began to take hold of Britain. Now people regularly turn to the horoscope in the newspaper; some use horoscopes to guide their actions for the day and are reliant upon their astrologists. In a University of Wales study of 34,000 teenagers, it was found that nearly as many 13-15 year olds believed in horoscopes as believed in God. Astrology has become something akin to a religion in parallel with the decline of Christian belief in Britain; in times of hardship, like the recent credit-crunch, the popularity of horoscopes has soared. Human beings have always wanted to foretell the future and horoscopes fulfil a psychological need to anticipate what will happen beyond the present. Horoscopes cannot be proven or disproven; it all depends on individual interpretation and I would argue that there are a number of frauds who take advantage of this blind belief. However, that doesn't make all horoscopes false, I may not seek out my horoscope regularly but I will still read it. If I could find one true astrologist, then all my problems would be solved: I would know exactly what numbers to pick on the lottery and I would be happily married to a Capricorn. Horoscopes offer a sense of hope and their long history spanning several millennia suggests that there is an element of truth underlying it all, otherwise it wouldn't have survived to this day.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

57


do curses Really Exist?

Death of George Reeves, the first TV Superman

Alexander Quarrie-Jones YEAR 13

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble”

58

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

I

believe it’s rather apt to be writing an article on curses on Halloween, as surely it is the culmination of all things macabre, superstitious and mystical. The phrase most closely linked to Halloween, “trick or treat”, contains the implied threat of a ‘trick’, laying a string of bad fortune or a curse down on the denier of the treat. Admittedly, in my limited experience of trick-or-treating, the so-called ‘trick’ is more of a bluff; so as long as you look dashing/handsome/ adorable/respectable/etc, you’re pretty sure of getting the treat. But, there are certain curses which are viewed in a much more serious light. The quotation above originates in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Many die-hard thespians still believe that, since Shakespeare used ancient spells to create the chanting of the witches, the play itself carries with it a curse: that anyone involved in a production of Macbeth will be hampered by a string of misfortune and failure unless they refer to it as ‘the Scottish play’. Like any decent curse, it has an equally strange or ritualistic remedy. This can be viewed much better than I can explain it in an episode of the third series of Blackadder, the one with the actors (just go watch it and you’ll see what I mean). An easier remedy might be to leave a room, knock three times, be invited in and then quote a line from Hamlet. Ironically, there is probably more misfortune surrounding Hamlet, as more people have died on stage during its performance than during performances of Macbeth. However, the theatre profession still refers to ‘the Scottish play’ not ‘the Danish play’.

Opening Tutankhamen’s tomb, 1922

More contemporary curses are visible in almost every medium; in sports, there was the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ which apparently came about after the extremely successful Boston Red Sox baseball team sold their best player, Babe Ruth. It would be another 86 years before the Red Sox won the World Series. In marketing, the ‘Curse of Gillette’ revolves around any sporting star who advertises Gillette shaving, virtually guaranteeing plenty of bad fortune heading their way; the most recent examples are Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. In film, the ‘Superman Curse’ claims that anyone acting in a Superman film has bad luck wished upon them. Even though one could claim that it’s all coincidental, 5 out of the 7 actors who’ve played Superman (including George Reeves in the 1950s and Christopher Reeve in the 1980s) have died due to some complication arising just after playing the character. Even the actor who played him as a baby in the 1978 film died of solvent abuse at the age of 14. However, in more recent times the curse appears to affect the films’ ratings rather than the actors, as neither Superman Returns nor Man of Steel performed as well as had been hoped for at the box office. Possibly the most recognisable form of curse is that of the cursed object. The curses generally pertain to anyone taking an item from a sacred place or being given an item from one. The ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ is the most well-known example; it was believed that all those who removed bodies, treasure and scrolls from the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs, had a curse invoked upon them. The only way that it could be reversed was for every ‘stolen’ item to be replaced within the tomb. This curse has been heavily

popularised due to its partial credibility since many of the leading figures involved in one high-profile excavation, that of the tomb of Tutankhamen, in 1922, died shortly afterwards. However, there have been scientific explanations, such as the theory that aerial pathogens, rather than ancient curses, caused the deaths. Finally, one of the most notorious curses comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island’: the Black Spot. The concept originates from the Caribbean pirates who would mark a traitorous or untrustworthy pirate with an Ace of Spades. The receiver would then know they were marked for death. In Treasure Island, this is elaborated upon by the pirates who blacken one side of paper while writing a death message on the other. Unlike the other curses I have outlined, the Black Spot was inescapable. If you were marked, then your fate was sealed --- or so it seems. The only character in Treasure Island ever to escape the Black Spot was Long John Silver who claimed that, since his those cursing him had used a page from a Bible, the curse was inverted to affect them instead. Whether you are cursed or not is not the central issue; rather, do you choose to believe that you are cursed or not? Can a curse constitute an actual spiritual binding rite or is it just a paranoid delusion (incidentally, don’t read too much about curses, otherwise you do get very paranoid!).

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

59


Superstition

Por Extraño Que Parezca

– El Mito del Chupacabra Tom Harper

Charlie Albuery

YEAR 13

YEAR 12

F

ull disclosure before we begin: I originally intended to approach this article as I do most, tear something down with words, ruthlessly lampoon something hoping to mildly amuse the majority of you, offending a small minority in the process. However, if I took that approach to superstition, what would there be to say? My whole article could be boiled down to: ‘Don’t do silly things because of bizarre arbitrary guidelines you’ve set yourself, based upon little to no reason.’ But that’s boring – and if there’s one thing I’m trying not to be for the next few hundred words its boring. So stick with me, here we go. The philosopher Blaise Pascal once issued this famous quotation regarding the existence of God: ‘Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.’ In essence, one might as well believe because in that way you lose nothing, but by not believing (in the small chance the belief in question is real) the consequences may be great. Now, I don’t know about you, but personally, I’m relatively happy with my mother’s back unbroken and the seven years of moderate luck stretching before me aren’t a particularly grim concept, so, following Blaise Pascal’s sound logic, I should become superstitious. So, largely (although not entirely) due to his incredibly cool name, we’ll roll with Blaise for a moment, shall we? Let’s consider what life would be like were I, and all of you by extension of course (as I am one hell of a trendsetter), to immediately begin to follow a life-system based upon a hastily

60

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

arranged amalgam of the world’s most popular superstitions. Actually, no, that will never work; some are simply too ridiculous for us to follow. Allow me a moment to discount some of my biggest superstition-based bugbears. First up –I am a hay-fever sufferer (and not a quiet one) and from around mid-June through to late August the phrase I hear most often is ‘God Bless You’. Whatever belief system you happen to follow, this is irritating. If you say ‘God Bless You’ and don’t believe in God then your words are empty and you are, at that point, essentially, wasting oxygen. If, however, you do believe in God and say ‘God “Bless You!” Bless You’, then (a) you’re invoking your Lord’s name in vain and (b) what does that say about the Big Man Upstairs’ priorities? There are global poverty, starvation and disease to deal with! Yet you’re trying to waste his time on me because I have the sniffles? Just... just... don’t! Especially because I am immediately obliged to thank you for your impromptu blessing, to which the most common reply is ‘No worries’ or ‘It’s all-right’; at this point we’ve used THREE SENTENCES to discuss a sneeze, a function we all understand and should treat with total indifference. From now on, I want to sneeze and hear either ‘Oh, he sneezed, no comment’ or total, blissful, silence. Secondly – Rabbit’s feet... come on, seriously? Even assuming, for a moment, that the left hind foot of a rabbit does give good luck to its wearer, that still doesn’t make it a reasonable thing to do! Wearing the skins of 101 dalmatians would have made Cruella DeVille both warm and fashionable and yet everybody hated her for wearing a piece of an animal to further her own cause. Thirdly (and finally) – When we see stars in space, due to their distance from us and the speed of light, we are seeing those stars thousands of years in the past, and that ‘shooting star’, that symbol of hope and dreams? That’s what happens when a star dies. When you wish upon a star, that star is dead, and so are your dreams. Oh, I appear to have ended up more focusing on the negatives here. I was trying so hard to be positive about superstitions, but things like horoscopes seem so illogical to me. Well that’s us Virgos, I guess, always being over-critical.

Desde hace muchos años la industria del entretenimiento aquí en Inglaterra así como en los Estados Unidos se ha estado aprovechando de una variedad de mitos como ‘Bigfoot’ para que sus películas sean más fascinantes y sus productos cinematográficos sigan siendo vendidos. Sin embargo, es importante que reconozcamos que estas historias de monstruos y maldiciones no solamente se limitan a esta cultura. Al contrario, el mundo hispanohablante está lleno de leyendas y supersticiones, y me parece que la más interesante es su creencia en la bestia del ‘Chupacabra’. Aunque hoy en día solemos explotar este mito a través de dibujos animados como ‘Scooby Doo y el Monstruo de México’, existe mucha gente latinoamericana que todavía tiene miedo a la criatura. Tenemos que preguntarnos: ¿Qué es el Chupacabra? Su nombre proviene de su hábito de atacar y beber la sangre del ganado, especialmente la de las cabras, y aunque las descripciones físicas varían hay el acuerdo general que es una bestia pesada (¡el tamaño de un oso pequeño!) con una fila de espinas dorsales que van desde el cuello hasta la base de la cola. Los primeros ataques denunciados ocurrieron en marzo de 1955 en Puerto de Rico durante los cuales ocho ovejas fueron descubiertos muertos, cada uno con tres heridas punzantes en el área del pecho y completamente desangrado. Unos meses después un testigo presencial, Madelyne Tolentino, dijo haber visto a la criatura matando a unos 150 animales y mascotas. Como resultado muchas localidades sudamericanas como Moca han tenido que vivir con miedo del ‘Vampiro de Moca’ y su sed de asesinato. Habiendo dicho eso, la mayoría de la evidencia sobre la existencia del Chupacabra se carece, y por eso hay una gran variedad de explicaciones para estas ocurrencias. Una investigación de cinco años realizada por Benjamín Radford concluyó que la descripción dada por Toletino fue basada en el monstruo ‘Sil’ en la película de ciencia-ficción de terror Especies. Hay otra gente que opina que tales matanzas fueron cometidas por una secta satánica, y desde el punto de vista del resto del mundo este mito es muy similar a la leyenda de ‘Los hombres lobo’ que domina la cultura occidental. No obstante, en septiembre de este año dos avistamientos se han reportados alrededor de Mississippi, y así a pesar de una gama de explicaciones científicas actualmente el mito del Chupacabra todavía aterroriza al mundo hispano. Por lo tanto, ¿Cómo podemos concluir? Ed Lavandera describe a los Chupacabras como el “Bigfoot de la cultura latina” que “simboliza el miedo de algo que no existe” y personalmente estoy de acuerdo con esa opinión. Dudo que la criatura sea un ser físico, sino más bien una forma de publicidad, porque si este mito no existiera, no habría tantos libros y camisetas anunciándolo. Pero cuando tenemos en cuenta la popularidad de los monstruos y matadores en este país, ¿Podemos culpar a su creación? Me parece que no.

Believe it or Not: The Myth of the Chupacabra For many years the entertainment industry here in England and in the United States has been taking advantage of a variety of myths such as 'Bigfoot ' so that their films are more fascinating and their junk continues to be sold. However, it is important to recognize that these stories of monsters and curses are not only limited to this culture. On the contrary, the Spanish-speaking world is full of legends and superstitions, and I think the most intriguing is their belief in the beast of 'Chupacabra'. Although today we tend to exploit this myth through things like 'Scooby Doo and the Monster of Mexico', there are many people in Latin America who are still afraid the creature. We have to ask ourselves: What is the Chupacabra? Its name originates from its habit of attacking and drinking the blood of livestock, especially goats, and, although physical descriptions vary, there is general agreement that it is a heavy beast (the size of a small bear!) with a row of spines reaching from the neck to the base of the tail. The first reported attacks occurred in March 1955 in Puerto Rico during which eight sheep were discovered dead, each with three puncture wounds in the chest area and completely drained of blood. A few months later, an eyewitness, Madelyne Tolentino, reported seeing the creature killing about 150 animals and pets. As a result, many South-American towns such as Moca have been living in fear of the 'Vampire of Moca' and its thirst for murder. Having said this, most of the evidence concerning the existence of the Chupacabra is lacking and so there are a variety of explanations for these occurrences. A five-year investigation by Benjamin Radford concluded that the description given by Toletino was based on the monster 'Sil' in the sci-fi horror 'Species'. There are other people who think that such killings were committed by a satanic cult. From the point of view of the rest of the world, this myth is very similar to the legend of werewolves that dominates Western culture. However, in September this year, two sightings have been reported around Mississippi, and so, despite a range of current scientific explanations, the Chupacabra myth is still terrorizing the Hispanic world. So what can we conclude? Ed Lavandera describes the Chupacabra as the "Bigfoot of Latino culture" that "symbolizes the fear of something that does not exist" and personally I agree. I doubt that the creature is a physical being, but, rather, a form of advertising, because, if this myth had not existed, there would not have been as many books and T-shirts advertising it. However, when you consider the popularity of books and films about monsters and murderers in this country, can we blame its creators for its creation?

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

61


are

cults harmless?

Tim Bustin

YEAR 13

R

ather than attempt to answer that impossibly over-asked question “Where is the boundary between a cult and a religion?”, I thought it would be more interesting to explore three high-profile groups who seem to fit the definition of cult fairly definitively.

The People’s Temple “If you want me to be your God, I will be your God” Jim Jones What started off as a group based in Christian ideas and focused (in a rather controversial way) on fighting racial inequality and poverty, eventually led to one of the largest cases of mass suicide in history. Jim Jones, the founder, started his services in Indiana, preaching about respecting all people no matter what creed, race or other differentiating factor. He moved his group to California after strong disagreements with many within the community in Indiana. Touring the country every year in buses, holding services which according to ex-members were enthralling, following the structure and style of black Pentecostal churches, the charismatic Jones built a church with hundreds of followers, white and black. Jones asked members to donate their money to the church, eventually persuading many to sell their houses and give every penny they had to him. In return, he used the money to look after his followers and built homes for the elderly among them – ever seeming to be making steps to remove poverty. Essentially, The People’s Temple was communism disguised as religion. Jim Jones performed false miracles of healing, using actors to convince his followers that what he preached was truth. As membership grew, and the organisation grew in its control over members, he eventually moved the entire group to Guyana, in South America, because the area had topped a list of nine safest places to be in a nuclear war. It was here that “Jonestown” was built. Building properly started in 1977, and the population was over 900 by late 1978. However, whilst many saw this place as an escape from the oppression of America or a chance for a fresh start (a new “New World”), soon claims of abuse started to come out. US Congressman Leo Ryan decided to visit Jonestown to

62

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

investigate, and, when he arrived, discovered that many People’s Temple members wanted to leave with him; they were trapped in Jonestown, surrounded by jungle, isolated from the rest of the world and unable to leave. However, the congressman, three reporters and one defector from the group were gunned down by members loyal to Jones, who had panicked. That evening, 18th November 1978, he ordered the entire population of Jonestown to drink a specially concocted juice mixed with cyanide. Many of those who refused were gunned down. Babies and small children too young to understand or commit the act themselves were bottle-fed or force-fed. With the exception of 9/11, this was the greatest loss of American lives in history by a deliberate act outside of war time. Westboro Baptist Church Made up almost entirely of one family, the Westboro Baptist Church believes that America is a doomed nation. This view comes partially from their hatred of the legalisation of homosexuality under American law. Members often misuse bible quotations to support their extreme ideas. The day-to-day leader of the church (and daughter of the founder) says that the Commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” implies that homosexual acts are also condemned. They also believe that everything that happens is down to God’s will; therefore, a soldier killed in battle would be, in the view of Westboro Baptist Church, part of God’s judgement on the nation. The church controversially pickets the funerals of dead soldiers, often using young children to hold signs, with slogans such as “God is your enemy”, “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “Fag troops” – sometimes with crude accompanying picture. Some members seriously believe that Obama is the Antichrist referred to in the 'Book of Revelation'. The group was founded by Pastor Fred Phelps and the 40 members are mostly his children and grandchildren. I would strongly recommend watching Louis Theroux’s documentary America’s Most Hated Family, as it’s difficult to explain just how strange and horrific this group is in writing.

Marshall Applewhite’s final broadcast

Jim Jones preaching

to members of Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate I thought I’d save the strangest till last. Judging by what you have already read, you must be wondering what on earth could be less sane than Jonestown or the Phelps Family. Well, Heaven’s Gate is defined by Wikipedia as a “UFO religion doomsday cult” (yep, no idea either). Founded in 1970, the group believed that in order to reach “the next level” they had to leave behind all human aspects of themselves – possessions, jobs, emotions (so, they weren’t allowed to see their families), even sexuality (some had been castrated) – that the body was only a vessel. Their leader, Marshall Applewhite, thought that a space craft was trailing comet Hale-Bopp (on March 19th/20th 1997) and that, if they committed suicide (or, as they saw it, left their human bodies behind), they would be able to board the craft and reach a "level of existence above human".

The 39 members who committed suicide did so by taking cyanide and arsenic, as well as alcohol, phenobarbital (a sedative) and hydrocodone (a painkiller) – they also wore plastic bags around their heads, to induce asphyxiation. They all wore identical clothing, with armbands saying “Heaven’s Gate Away Team”. Each also had $5.75, as an interplanetary toll. One of the deceased was the brother of the actress who played Uhura in the original Star Trek series, and the group had Alien Abduction insurance. Before dying, the members of the cult each recorded videos, all of them with basically the same message: “We are happy”. These are just three examples of some very strange and worryingly sinister, cults. It is always possible to argue that, if joining what could be defined as a cult is what makes a person happy, then who are we to say otherwise? However, when acts such as mass suicide (Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate) or bigoted hate (Westboro Baptist Church) result from such beliefs, tolerance seems a luxury we cannot afford.

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

63


why are

conspiracy theories so widespread? Gregory Walton-Green

YEAR 13

I

n recent years, conspiracy theories have often been ridiculed in public, which has seemed to lead to even stronger belief on the part of those who do believe them. The fact that there have been secret societies and government cover ups has been proven in a few cases, feeding more conspiracy theories. Indeed, conspiracy theories have become a feature of 20th and 21st Century society. But why do so many people believe in conspiracy theories? In this essay I will attempt to shed some light on a subject that is often viewed with derision, as well as offering a few examples of different types of conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories are as much founded on disbelief as belief: they stem from an inability to accept the “official”, mainstream or obvious, explanation of events, formulating an alternative hypothesis based on the following assumptions identified by Daniel Pipes in his essay 'Dealing with Middle Eastern Conspiracy theories': "appearances deceive; conspiracies drive history; nothing is haphazard; the enemy always gains; power, fame, money, and sex account for all." As well as paranoia, the desire for superiority drives conspiracy theories: those who accept the common version of events are seen as brainwashed cattle, whereas the believers of the conspiracy congratulate themselves on having pierced the illusion created by the manipulative group in control, often a government. The manipulation of ego is demonstrated on Truthism.com (a website that expands on David Icke’s theories about “Reptilians”, alien overlords that control Earth and its society) with exceptional clarity: “You have an ego, but you cannot turn it off. So, in this particular instance, you can use your ego in either one of two ways:

64

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

76% of Americans still believe there was a conspiracy

1.) Reject the information on this website due to the fact that you do not want to feel like you've been lied to your entire life. or 2.) Accept the information on this website, and then use it to make yourself feel superior to other human beings.” Truthism.com is an example of a “superconspiracy theory”, in which multiple conspiracies are seen to be interconnected and all ultimately driven by a ruling force, which manipulates lesser conspirators. It uses arguments similar to those in The Matrix (in fact it even refers to our world as “The Matrix” and “The Virtual Realm”), to convince the reader that their “conventional worldview” is false, cajoling the reader into believing the website by labelling any resistance to its ideas as “stubbornness” and a result of their “indoctrination” by “the ruling elite.” Truthism. com denies that it contains conspiracy theories, since it believes the reader will equate that with falsity, but its denial does not negate the fact that it is a conspiracy theory, whether true or not, as it seeks to explain an event or situation by accusing an organised group of a plot. Truthism.com makes use of philosophical reasoning to demonstrate logically that we cannot be sure of the world around us, in an attempt to convince the reader of the supposed fallacy of his or her “belief system”. Truthism overtly asks us to use our “free will” and logic to learn “what is real”, denying the truth of other “belief systems” as “indoctrination”, but it fails to recognise that it asks people to make a huge leap of faith with minimal evidence. The ideas posited in Reptilian-based conspiracy theories (e.g that the universe is a pentagon and the sun is a cube) cannot be said to be any more probable than the

conventional view. It is also filled with fallacies, such as “according to science… aliens do not exist”, using this as an example of how the “Reptilians” preserve their control by using science to hide their existence. In actuality, many renowned scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, have stated their belief in some form of extraterrestrial life existing. The conspiracies concerning Reptilians are an example of one of the least useful forms of conspiracy, as it is logically incoherent and, due to its absurdity and overgeneralisation, cannot lead to discovery of useful information regarding events such as government cover ups. The numerous theories and widespread belief that there was some secret organisation behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy can be seen to have resulted from shock. Such an unexpected event involving such a popular and powerful figure was not easy to take for many of the public, and so some tried to draw some meaning from it. Polls taken during the week after the death of JFK revealed that 52% believed “some group or element” to be behind the assassination, showing that the feeling there was a conspiracy was not generated by inconsistencies in the explanation of events or government actions, but the very shock of the assassination itself. In 2009, a poll revealed that the belief in a conspiracy surrounding JFK’s murder is still strong, as 76% of people polled by CBS news believed that there was some sort of conspiracy to kill Kennedy. It is estimated that around 1,000 books have been written about his assassination, and that the vast majority have doubts about the official version of events presented in the Warren Commission and are favourable towards the view that a conspiracy took place. The fact that public belief in a conspiracy is higher now than

immediately after his death could simply be a result of a longer time for conspiracy theories to spread, or due to the fact that more details surrounding his assassination have come to light. Other conspiracies that can be included in the same category, formed due to a single shocking event, include those postulated about the untimely death of Princess Diana and the attack on the World Trade Centre on the 11th September 2001. All these events led to high emotions, shown by people openly weeping Conspiracies of this type, that focus on a singular event have often proved to be true, and are much more credible than “superconspiracies”. Although many conspiracy theories are spurious, there are some that can be useful since they lead to the revealing of valuable information, and they can help us to be freethinking individuals and not simply to believe everything we are told. In the same vein, we shouldn’t be too quick to believe in conspiracy theories, as people can quickly become sucked into paranoia and end up asking ridiculous questions on internet forums such as “Am I a reptilian hybrid?” Conspiracy theories can be seen to reflect the need of the human mind to classify and order what we perceive, drawing meaning from the “haphazard”. The process of the human mind making sense out of the meaningless is demonstrated by how ancient cultures imagined that constellations of stars formed figures and shapes from mythology. Although it is natural to want to make sense of the injustices of life, sometimes things just happen, without any subterranean alien reptiles controlling our governments!

Po r t s m o u t h

Po i n t

www.pgs.org.uk

65


believe it or Mr John Sadden

SCHOOL ARCHIVIST Twelve of these statements are true. Which do you believe? 1 - Portsmouth Grammar School opened in 1732. 2 - Richard Wilson, the actor who played court physician Gaius in the BBC drama Merlin, qualifies as an Old Portmuthian, having spent one term at the school in 1947. 3 - The school is built on the site of a bakery built by King Alfred to supply his navy with bread. 4 - According to his diary, Charles Austen, Jane Austen’s brother, joined the Royal Navy because of an overwhelming sense of shame following his expulsion from PGS. 5 - William Shakespeare is a distinguished Old Portmuthian. 6 - One of the actors who played a Teletubby, but who currently earns her living as a stunt double, is an Old Portmuthian. 7 - The school made national news following a pupils’ mutiny in 1958. 8 - The artist Grayson Perry taught Ceramics at PGS for two terms in 1982-3, but was fired. 9 - Blu-tak was invented by an Old Portmuthian who had been inspired by the properties of used chewing gum. 10 - The drug Viagra was discovered by an Old Portmuthian, by accident. 11 - Sherlock Holmes’ creator’s secretary taught at PGS. 12 - Bloaters were introduced as headgear for sixth-formers in the early 1960s. 13 - Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, conducted much of his background research at PGS. 14 - The original Portsmouth Point was an obelisk that was eroded by sea winds, having been made from limestone by a company that was under contract to use marble. 15 - James Clavell once directed a film featuring another Old Portmuthian. 16 - In 1919 the PGS Senior Prefect was a pupil of restricted growth. 17 - One PGS teacher played in an FA Cup final. 18 - Two OPs have been awarded Oscars. 19 - Three OPs have been awarded the Victoria Cross. 20 - The Olympic hurdler Alan Pascoe OP mounted the winner’s rostrum at the Commonwealth Games in 1974 sporting a PGS scarf. 21 - When Samuel Pepys visited Portsmouth in 1661 he described Portsmouth Grammar School as “a beacon of hope in a poor, beggarly place”.

66

p o r t s m o u t h p o i n t . b l o g s p o t . co m

year 12

Today I was sulky and excellent: after an evening argument I walked to Elk Glen Lake,

22 - 130 Old Portmuthians are known to have died in the First World War. 23 - In 1823 a disillusioned group of nuns from St James’s Priory established a breakaway order in premises in the High Street. The site is now occupied by the Headmaster’s study. 24 - A relative of actress Helena Bonham Carter served as a governor of PGS. 25 - Television presenter Fred Dinenage, whose daughter Caroline is a local MP, is an Old Portmuthian. 26 - A cousin of Brian Blessed taught Drama at PGS in the 1980s. 27 - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle played cricket against the school first XI at Hilsea. 28 - Arthur Fage, a famous aerodynamicist renowned for his research into the theory and practical engineering of airscrews, was an Old Portmuthian. 29 - The director of the film Shakespeare in Love once worked, briefly, as the PGS archivist. 30 - Charles Dickens visited the site of PGS and based some of his characters on the colourful and eccentric personalities he met here. 31 - The originator of the Mercury Music Prize played drums in an OP band. 32 - The current Doctor Who, Matt Smith, is a direct descendant of another doctor, none other than PGS founder William Smith.

for the third time to see that fragile green gob of water. With my limbs spilt over a bench, I let my lower lip jut like a soft pink shelf - the filigree veins showing stubborn and sable as if it were a bulbous looking glass for the black buckthorn overhead. In the Japanese Tea Gardens the thickening, reddish light was mottling the slow pond like carmined spittle from a dying sun that once burnt gold. (But now just lights the Dutchman’s Pipe as the day’s wrinkles deepen.) It reminded me: I’ve lived a while now, and my own river-blood has borne the crimson pulp of revolving leaves, for years, through mountain mouths

1. Untrue. PGS was “established” in 1732 when William Smith died, but the school did not open until 1750. 2. Richard Wilson’s character Victor Meldrew’s catchphrase was “I don’t believe it!” Neither should you. 3. A half-baked lie. 4. Tosh 5. True. Captain William Shakespeare (without the e) was a pioneering explorer, cartographer, diplomat and spy, and is a hero in Saudi Arabia. 6. Utter tosh. 7. True! 8.Total tosh. 9. Nobody believed that one, surely? 10. True. Its creation is attributed to Dr Ian Osterloh. 11. True. His name was Arthur Wood. 12 Boaters, not bloaters! 13. Kipling’s experiences in Portsmouth provided inspiration, but they were nothing to do with PGS or The Jungle Book. 14. Rubbish. 15. Plausible, but untrue. 16. True. His name was John White. 17. True, Norman Pares in 1879. 18. Tosh. 19. True. 20. Untrue. Alan Pascoe went to Southern Grammar School. 21. Plausible but untrue. 22. True. 23. Balderdash! 24. True – John Bonham Carter served as a governor in the 1890s, and was a generous donor. 25. Don’t believe Wikipedia. Ever. 26. Unmitigated tosh. 27. True. 28. Plausible, but untrue. Fage was brought up in Portsmouth, but did not attend PGS. 29. Yet more utter tosh. 30. True. Some characters in Nicholas Nickleby are believed to have been inspired by performers at the Portsmouth Theatre which stood on the site of the school, and which Dickens visited in his research. 31. True – Jon Webster established the award in 1992. 32. Poppycock. If you believe this you’ll believe anything.

NOT...?

Lottie Kent

(Semilunar valves) down under that artery-red Bridge down into the heart’s sweating valley. But in that cleavage where the Redwood leaves have fallen - waltzed whetted and cold onto the water’s shifting skin to quietly clot into a soft uvula will it not all one day stop? Life’s a sanguine cadence, interrupted.


Portsmouth Point, Belief - Autumn 2013  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you