science, barbarians & me

There was a little shop at the boarding school I was sent to where you could get your pens and paper and ink refills and stuff like that. They had a few secondhand books too and, on one visit to stock up on stationary I most likely didn’t need, my eye was caught by an interesting title: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I bought it – or, rather, my parents did, added to the end of term bill – and put it on the bookshelf to gather dust.

A year or two later – I must have been 18 or 19 and with time on my hands – I pulled that old book off the shelf and started to read. I loved it – philosophy, psychology, madness and bikes. What’s not to love? A couple of the bits in the book I’ve never forgotten. During a mountain hike, a break from the oppressive, pensive road trip, the author talks about the minute changes of view with each step, as leaves, stones and twigs appear, mutate and vanish. I thought that was kinda cool. And I remember long pages about quality.

Front cover of my edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
This is how my edition looks

A couple of years ago I bought another copy of the book; I can’t remember if I came across it in a charity shop or ordered it from an online bookseller which I no longer wish to frequent. It was owned by one Dianne Doubtfire, her name inscribed in the flyleaf. Anyway. That copy, too, sat another couple of years or more – squashed on shelves between more mind-improving matter, too seldom disturbed. But, as is the way with books and reading (am I the only one?), these things have their time and their calling.

And so a few days ago I pulled Zen and the Art off the bookshelf and 35 years later started reading it again. The book is as great as ever – probably more so since, with the intervening years, I kinda hope I’ve got a better capacity to understand and relate to what are often quite complex themes. Or maybe I just like to think that, whilst the reality is that my atrophying mind is struggling gleefully to deal with stuff that my 19 year-old brain digested like minestrone as appetiser.

Almost a third of the way through now and, more and more, the relevance to our lives today is becoming clear. Talking about how the scientific method takes us further from truth, he quotes:

In the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them there.

Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes.

Were an angel of the Lord to drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside…

If the types we have just expelled were the only types there were, the temple would never have come to be, any more than a forest can grow which consists of nothing but creepers … those who have found favour with the angel … are somewhat odd, uncommunicative, solitary fellows, really less like each other, in spite of these common characteristics, than the hosts of the rejected.

What has brought them to the temple … no single answer will cover … escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from … his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.

Albert Einstein 1918

Would Einstein have foreseen the takeover of science by huge, profit-driven corporations and their cronies and jokers? How his odd, solitary fellows would be marginalised and packed away in trunks whilst those more easily bought, directed, promoted and lauded.

It remains somewhat remarkable to me that, even with so much evidence ready and waiting, most of us are blind to it. Hidden in plain-sight perhaps, but truth is obscured or hidden or distorted, a daily sacrifice on the alter of profit. (Well – profit and power, but those two are cosy bedfellows in any case.)

So researchers are paid to come up with the answers that business wants and to hide those that might hinder sales. And policy-makers and watchdogs are schmoozed and financed and bamboozled into compliance. And mass manufacture of vaccines goes ahead on the back of big, juicy contracts even though they’ve not been tested. And woe betide the scientist or analyst who breaks from the all-pervading narrative – you don’t have to look far or particularly deeply to see censorship and exclusion in action, both in scientific debate as well as the public conversation.

Yes folks, it does take an enquiring mind – plus time and energy – PLUS the readiness to accept that official and mainstream might be peddling BS as ‘facts’, and manipulation as analysis. (A not-too-distant conversation with someone I know demonstrated it clearly – a suggestion that our beloved BBC might present falsehoods and fail to challenge homegrown propaganda met with fury. How the hell could I suggest such a thing?!)

So, dear reader, we are where we are. These things around me, in the books I read, often show up in my songs, so you can expect oblique references and the occasional call to arms! In fact, the latest song is called Wake Up (though it might change to What Next?) and you can hear a very early version at 36 minutes into last night’s Facebook live broadcast. (Please do ‘like’ my FB page too. Thanks.)

And if you’ve got this far, and not quite sure what I’m on about but wanting to know more, you could do worse that reading a bit from the Off-Guardian website, definitely follow the wonderful Craig Murray, and I often enjoy an occasional broadcast from the UK Column (although I do take some of their views with quite a pinch of salt!).

Thanks for reading. Cheers.

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