My love, unconditionally and lots of little bangs!

There are people in this world, who just wander about doing the stuff in front of them. You are most likely, one of these. Some may have grand plans, some may say they had a grand plan just after they got lucky and some are happy to tootle around the place, in an ever decreasing circle of mild mannered mediocrity. A few others, well, they don’t do things like that, they don’t plod along, in relatively straight lines. These others think, no not think, are wired to think, like the things that they end up, thinking about. Well, at least a small number of them, while the rest of us, are never exposed to the kind of thing that could have once upon a time, exposed our existential wiring.

My favourite person in the world (apart from my other half, now busy fuelling daisies) is one of the wired types and has absolutely no idea what the wiring works like. I have a good hypothesis, but every argument ends in a categorical failure to categorise. A staggering head full of wiring and a proper bloody nerd, but what they are a nerd in, is not Mathematics, nor Coding, nor Physics; for a change. Nor Philosophy, definitely not metaphysics nor psychology, nor any of the stuff buried under the amorphous catchall of Cognitive Science. They don’t do art, but love everything about it, they write poetry, hate reading and love language: the etymology is intriguing, but also the syntax, morphology, phonology and perhaps most tellingly, the cadence. Scarily, they live in all those worlds, and can do maths with one hand, while the other one is bored to death drawing on the desk or tapping out a 15/16 rhythm on any marginally percussive surface. They are my oldest friend, my deepest love (brains not hearts) and my enduring regret. I’m way too old to be around when they finally find the something, they are wired like.

My love is in a very bad place, hence reminiscing and writing. Having been pursued for several years by ingrates, I can only conclude the experience, as an institutional fear of Neurodiversity. They hate or more likely are frightened of, people who think differently to them. It’s very sad and typically caused by those who’s only goal is to fill their empty heads with power, or money, or (and I’m serious) the pain of other people. They have no interest in the essence of being a human, the sapience, they are in essence why I exist, they embody the condition of nosapience. My many peers poke fun at me when surrounded by mere pips, chattering about hits and links and that I should enter the age of the internet. Little do they know that I was (almost) in the room, when it was invented. Tim is smashing and arguably was in exactly the right place, at completely the wrong time, ‘thanks to Eywa’ one pip declared with a quick selfie.

I asked my love, to come and talk to a bunch of physicists who were struggling to get passed an injunction (mental not legal) in a big project, described by a grey brow grumpy old friend of mine, as “not the most creative of conglomerations”. I asked my love to come and just, honestly, this is what I said, “piss on their chips, micros and spuds” and handed over several pages of physics proposal that meant nothing to me. A challenge indeed. The first session was designed to break the ice and we placed an envelop on the desk at the front of everybody, addressed to ‘the right answer’.

We first asked the creative-ophobes to describe what they thought the universe was made of, in a way we could fathom. One said “for God’s sake” declaring many of them, felt their time was better placed elsewhere. In my accidentally echoing rebuke, I suggested banging your heads in the same way, against the same wall, again and again. One got up with a fluster. We had all the electronics that the world could imagine, but she picked up a dry marker. This was extreme improvisation in action, we (me and my love) were stood there in front of a large group of frustrated people that we believed, were wired to this stuff and we felt, quite rightly intimidated. Well I did, but the wired one beside me, picked up another marker.

A circle was drawn around a weird looking expression, with the question ‘is that always the same thing’? The comparatively old hirsute grey brow, stood up, glared at me and stropped out of the room. A more kindly-faced type explained how letters could assume any meaning in “this sort of advanced logic, that most people don’t get to see”. I wanted to cover my head and leave quietly.

Suddenly “cool” was shouted, “everyone hold up a blank piece of paper”, the room (unassumingly) loved the sudden absence of grey brow and instantly complied. Then bawled out like an offer you couldn’t refuse, came the verbal punch on the nose; “write down everything you’ve ever seen, that ringed thing, to mean or even could mean by mistake”. There were 19 different answers, all with something like “but I know what it means in this sense”.

So what if the term went from an axiom to an unknown? “Play the game, imagine that you don’t know what you already know and had to work it out”. Before even the sentence was finished the room lit up, full of, for the first time, laughter. Not sure if it was defiance for the old grey brow marching out or group exculpation for the ensuing rethink . We all laughed as people mentioned Lorenz, Dirac, Bethe and a load of names, a couple of non physicists had no idea about, other than catching an occasional bit of popular jargon.

We then played a game of theoretical physics, looking for stupid questions. What if all electrons, suddenly changed charge? How many positrons in a kilo of Phlegmatron based on it’s general level of repulsiveness? And then what if matter is empty and space is full? I thought this was just another bit of fun and cracked a joke that I’m sure wouldn’t have otherwise, created such an affront. They challenged each other to prove that matter was in fact empty and it was space that was full, because that was technically true, apparently. By this time, they were in ebullient mood and came up with all sorts of stuff for the physics equivalent of a knob joke, to a 2 minute explanation that only the 2 people in the room, giving the explanation, could have possibly repeated.

A quiet nerdy type at the back of the room said, “no it’s right, we’re not mass in a soup of masslessness, we are the gap, the vacuum, exerting a force to divide spacetime itself”. It was like ping pong, as back came the ‘yes and’ improvisation of all sorts of things like “if the universe is like soup then mass is bubbles, pushing everything away from everything else”. Loads of laughing and stupid ideas went from Stretchy Cheese to Pokemon to the Matrix to an inanimate teddy bear with an experimentally provable personality. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even the proper on-the-spectrum types, because we mixed mathematics with metaphor and as my love declared at the end, “it’s because Mathematics is Metaphor and you speak both”.

A door burst open at the back of the long room and grump old grey brow, jumped out yelling an expression, that was subsequently explained as “fuckaye”. He’d shot out to switch on the recording equipment and had watched the whole thing. The familiar wail was engulfed in a cheer, a visceral buzz and a clap that dimmed into a doorway and a long narrow walk to the drinks that was eerily quiet.

One of the proper nerdy types came up after a few beers and said “you’re right, space is full of one dimensional particles and two dimension planes and we’re just a three dimensional gap in the middle of it all” or words to that effect. There were several empty wine bottles. “Look we’ve just worked it out” he said, pointing to the table cloth covered in felt penned weird shapes and equations now hanging on the wall, above their table. It was a gag I thought, but to be honest, I couldn’t have told the difference if it was, or it wasn’t.

My love said, that means of course that there wasn’t one big bang at the beginning of the universe, but bloody millions of little bangs like this, and blew bubbles into a Long Island Iced Tea until they frothed over the top and across the table. Out from a pocket came the envelop addressed to ‘the right answer’, still sealed. Handed over, it was slid open like an Oscar Ceremony Result. With a look of disbelief and a massive guffaw, it was turned toward the table, to reveal a hand written phrase “lots of little bangs”. Grey brow got up again, as if in disgust, pulled the table cloth off the wall and disappeared. He now has some lovely things to say about the role of creativity and a rediscovered love for abstraction in theoretical science.

I’m not kidding myself, we did not invent a new epoch in physics, we just came in, buggered about with a theory for creativity that we were fluent in and set the scene before, inviting a few people to play with their equal theoretical fluency: the stuff they knew really well. It was a bit of fun to blow out the cobwebs, and of course, my love asked a few bloody stupid questions, to make them appreciate the new space.

Some people, to their own inevitable detriment, take themselves far too seriously, but nevertheless, my love believes unconditionally that we’ve all got it in us, “you just need to know how to tease it out!”

Malcolm Gladwell, Eclectic Detective –
I have to admit to loving a few minutes with Gladwell every now and again. I hope I do that from a position of enjoying his writing rather than hanging my hat on his musings, but who knows. 

Pinker doesn’t half make some good points here, but there’s a little corner of me thinking that the shit sandwich technique (nice bread – pooh – nice bread) belies a little psychological greening. Envious that Gladwell hooked on to the social psychology when looking back it appears obvious that the psychologists missed a trick?

Freedom through constraints – Cognitive Edge

I’ve been looking forward you this. Constraint is a word that brings up imagery of wall, fence, rule, hurdle, limitation. Something fixed.

Freedom through constraints

At the most fundamental level there are no internal constraints, the thing does what the thing does. It’s embedded. There are constraints but they sit outside, or more likely at, the boundary of agency in this context. The boundary being the condition that gives the thing is edge. Typically where we place it’s proper noun: this thing.

Right next to it, out at the periphery of systemic behaviour, there are no external constraints: you can’t tell one thing from another thing. Where do they proper nouns go? There is agency, it is universally made of something, but mutated and entangled. Adding constraint ruffles, not combs.

I like to think of that as the connectedness of the constraints themselves, as alive, with their own agency. Even if only for a moment, a flash, a mutation, and it’s gone.

I need coffee, pens and some large sheets of paper.

Welcome To The Bollocksphere!

I hope it’s not just the cold talking … It’s like poetry bollocksphere, that is. A kindred spirit in another profession getting as pissed off as me, with all the vacuous gobshite that keeps people who know jack shit about the work lauding it over those who actually do the work.Cheered me up!

My Mid Life Crisis

I admit it, I’m in a bad mood.

It’s 30 degrees outside and somehow I am laid up with a vicious cold: streaming nose, throat lined with barbed wire, raging temperature, snorting my Olbas inhaler every five seconds.

Maybe that explains why, when I started catching up with the most recent news in the legal sphere, my blood pressure almost detonated the gauge.

The first thing that happened is that I read the latest Better Case Management newsletter (does anyone else apart from me read the Better Case Management newsletters?). Now, I appreciate I may not be the target audience for this weighty tome – I get the impression it’s only aimed at Crown Court judges and civil servants – but issue 10 of the BCM (see link here) is a veritable masterclass in entering the Bollocksphere.

(There is actually a web page called the Bollocksphere, and very entertaining it is…

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People: peers, pain and power

People: peers, pain and power

David Halpern

One of the most fascinating and important areas in life is surely the fine line between wanting to help, and being wary of, those around us. It’s a tension woven deeply into policy and into our humanity.
Recently I had one of those afternoons where an accident of meetings seemed to tell this story especially well. We are working on an interesting health project with Nesta, the Health Foundation, Voluntary Voices, Newcastle University and PPL called Realising the Value. It is about supporting people, and those around them, to better manage their health – and to change the relationship between healthcare providers and the people and communities who interact with them.

As part of this project, I found myself on a panel at a Nesta-organised event on People Powered Health, alongside Edwin Fisher. Edwin works on peer-to-peer support groups and gave examples of groups from across the world, including China, the US and Latin America where people help each other to preserve health on their terms.

We considered how human-centric principles should be baked into the design of health services. Project RED in Boston, for example, uses iPads to explain better to those leaving hospital how to manage their medication and conditions – allowing more time and detail than a busy clinician may have. Those who experience this programme have reduced readmission rates – down by 30% in the 28 days after discharge.

But our panel discussion also left the bounds of healthcare institutions and considered Holt-Lunstad et al’s famous (2010) meta-analysis on social isolation. It found that social isolation has negative impacts on life-expectancy equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. A study published this week has found that stopping the membership of social groups (such as book clubs, faith communities or trade unions) during the transition to retirement is akin to all forms of quitting vigorous exercise in terms of mortality risk – with each one lost responsible for a loss of 10% on quality of life measures too.  

Social connections are crucial to health. These connections are a source of self-sustaining well-being that our traditional health system is yet to tap or recognise consistently. The benefits of having strong community ties will be explored during the course of the Realising the Valueprogramme, which has been designed to collect evidence on what good person and community-approaches to health and wellbeing look like.
After the session with Edwin, my day ended with a seemingly very different discussion in the Lords, hosted by Lord Lindsay and chaired by Prof Ragnar Lofstedt (from the Kings Centre for Risk Management). It was a small but impressive group, including figures such as Paul Slovicfamous for his work showing how people typically respond much more strongly to a single death or image, than to reports of thousands dying. He noted, for example, how donations for Syria that had flat-lined as the death toll had climbed through the 100,000s, but shot up 17-fold in response to the photo of Aylan Kurdi lying on a beach. It’s a statistic that itself seems to encapsulate something deep about the human condition, and how we evolved to think about those around us (our feelings don’t do numbers…), sometimes for good, and sometimes not. Cause for despair, or hope?

Let me conclude on a really interesting, and I thought uplifting, result that was presented at the Lords event. Molly Crockett, a researcher at Oxford, described an experiment comparing how much people would pay, or be prepared to profit from, getting an electric shock (what is it with psychologists?), versus a stranger getting the same shock. It turns out to be a rather elegant, if painful, test of an economic versus social psychological worldview. Most economic models would surely see this as a ‘no-brainer’: of course subjects would rather profit from a small pain administered to someone else than to themselves. But no: it turns out subjects strongly prefer profit from pain to themselves, not to others. Indeed, putting subjects into a brain scanner while the choices were made showed that there was no activity in brain’s pleasure centres associated with gain at another’s expense (unless, by the way, the gain flowed to a good cause – that’s a whole other conversation).
We have a deep desire to help and support each other, and certainly not to profit from the pain of others. We see this starkly in this lab experiment, but also strikingly across Realising the Value’spartner sites where BIT’s researchers are currently spending several weeks collecting insights. Yet, as the refugee donations example illustrates, as that link becomes more abstract, this desire can easily get lost. It is a key challenge for those in shaping healthcare, whether patients, relatives or clinicians, to build a system that can harness and foster this capacity to help ourselves and each other – of ‘realising the value’ that our common humanity and connection can bring.

Sign up to the Realising the Value newsletter to see our forthcoming March publication on behavioural factors in person- and community-centred approaches to health and wellbeing.

Awkwardness and a fag packet of profundity …

Please forgive me for presenting you with a slightly disturbing image. A bunch of middle class old men, sitting around a table, touching themselves.

“Oh Yes! I’m good. Good boy. There she is. Go sweety. Oh Yes. Yes. That’s it. Right there. Baby. Oh baby. Yes. Me. Love me. Come on. There there. I got it. OOOHHH!”


Awkward, but a typical extract from the minutes of the gentleman’s club that is the ubiquitous think tank, or as I prefer to call them the Think Wank. Every corner of life has one. A charitable bunch of old duffers, who were once in charge of shit that no longer matters, getting together to explain to the world how incredibly clever they still are. What’s that you say? Is the corner of the world where the old duffers ply their trade, a world of sweetness and light? “No!” Did the old duffers actually succeed with their ideas when they were in positions of power? Pardon! “No?”

Oh dear! What on earth makes the kindly old fucks think that what they know about their world, has any bearing on the world the rest of us now inhabit. That is apart from the shit we inherited from them when they left their leadershippy jobs. Sorry again, I’m being really sweary and unkind but there’s a good reason.

Commissioned to provide Feedback

I was recently invited to a meeting of executives from a venerable national institution. £100000000 worth of people sat about doing jack shit for a whole day. I know this, because I also gave away a day of my own life to this dysfunctional swathe of hopelessness. It seems that the Think Wank had highjacked the meeting to tell people about the progress the nation had made on their latest wheeze. To be clear, what that means is, asking the executives to send in information about what they had done, in order to present it back to the executives, to prove that the Think Wank had in fact, a purpose. “What?”

The room was like the first conciliation meeting of the person who shat on the sandwich and the person who had to eat, said sandwich. Awkward.


But apparently, the executive team meeting is always the same, no matter what’s on the agenda. Nobody saying what they really think, sitting passively while a corporate line-toeing twonk, bangs on about some subject they don’t really understand or care about. On this particular occasion we had a lanky smiler, talking about innovation. Before the first grin of over-white teeth had faded away, it was clear to everyone that he knew nothing about innovation. Awkward.

The other subject was about how splendidly leadershippy the answer to all their problems was. On this occasion ‘fuck me’, seems like a better exclamation than ‘awkward’. There didn’t appear to be any conscious awareness that innovation and leadership are completely incompatible. Beyond of course, that the former is the only known antidote, to the latter.

A smooth exmilitary type from further west – the sort who’d seen it all before through a haze of exotic tobacco – quietly explained to me that the dopey old farts had created a set of new rules. I can’t be explicit because you’ll easily work out the name of the company and that’s not going to be helpful. I was there to observe proceedings and to give the big boss some “impartial strategic advice”. The Think Wank, consisting of past and present leadershippers, had arranged for some of the executives to present on how the world was now doing just what they said it should. I spoke to one of the fairly pointless army of fluffers (facilitators that had been employed to stand around the edges of the room, looking suitably scared stiff of everyone in it), who explained that most of the room had taken the new rules and sprayed them like a deodorant over the same old shit they’d always done. Don’t believe for one minute that the Think Wank, did not know this.

At one point, one of the upper echelon leadershippers (a rather fearsome lady who I quite liked) asked everyone to stand up. Aargh … tehn … shun. And then – posing questions that didn’t really have any answers about what everyone knew about the new rules – instructed the room to sit back down again in order of most stupid through to most socially inept. Awkward. Don’t be the last one standing that’s not the point of the game. The game was to quietly allow everybody to agree that the Think Wank are useless, without actually saying so.

There was a fabulous interlude when the aspiring future Think Wankers, the B-listers in the room, were empowered to stand up amidst their peers and announce their commitment to the cause with a succession of increasingly sickly pseudo-religious platitudes. They got their name on the minutes. The sick in my mouth, albeit equally meaningful, wasn’t afforded a mention.

One of the fluffers said that most of the problems could be solved if we blew up the room, right there and then. He was willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good of humanity. That same sentiment proved popular amongst almost everyone I spoke to, for the rest of the day. I had some rotten coffee and nice cake and we started again and again. At some un-noteworthy point and just before the last semblance of humanity was about to drain from my soul, I exited. Leaning against the wall outside, I sighed deeply and the security man asked if I was alright. I nodded and then he read my mind. Apparently, a group of normal people gather in a room and piss themselves laughing, watching it all on the security cameras, “better than gogglebox that is” he said.


On the way home amidst some British Rail wine, I concluded that someone should pay and typed up an invoice equivalent to giving away a day of my life. I wrote my feedback on the back of a fag packet and threw it away. The big boss, having seen the utter astonishment on my face and now fiercely gripping a fag packet of profundity, called me the following day and apologised. Awkward!

Uncovering The Secret History Of Myers-Briggs – Digg

Well worth the long read, even with the absence of a conclusion on either side of the imaginary dichotomy!

PS The results of MBTI can be replicated for free in your kitchen. Grab with your right hand as much custard as you can hold. In your left hand place an old fish. While concentrating on not dropping any custard, rate on a scale from ‘short’ up to ‘loud’, the relative smelliness of the fish. The resulting Custard to Smelly Fish Ratio can reveal amazing things about you. Send your CSFR to me, written on some high denomination currency and I’ll write back with an explanation. Don’t laugh, it’s equally valid as MBTI.