Vestigial garages

In America, they say, garages are so big that people store cars in them! Here in England, of course, that hasn’t been the pattern for years. But though our garages are too small for cars, they’re great for tools and workbenches, making perfect male caves. My father-in-law wouldn’t know what to do without his.

We puzzle how the eye could have evolved by natural selection. What use was the first step along the evolutionary path to an eye? You just have to remember that evolution took twists and turns on its way to the present, and if your cave seems too good to be true, it may have originally evolved for quite another purpose.

[8 May 2014]

Conscious, unconscious

My life is driven by dual aims: to be conscious, and to be unconscious.

Oh how deeply I want to be conscious! I want to perceive, to understand everything. At heart I believe that if only my perception were complete, I would save my soul and save the world.

So I strive constantly to be hard-working and efficient to make time for those higher perceptions. But isn’t it curious how often my tactic for achieving efficiency is to try to make things unconscious! To get things done without a murmur and without an error, it’s all about  habits. The keys go there, the phone goes there, this and that and a thousand other schemes unthinking. My conscious self would have no chance of maintaining the required level of performance. To exalt my consciousness, I am constantly striving to shift the clutter of my life into the unconscious territory.

[30 December 2013]

Starbucks prices in Oxford and Geneva

A grande cappuccino costs £2.40 at Starbucks in Oxford, but on arrival in Geneva, I found the price here is £4.60 (6.80 Swiss francs).  Swiss prices are sky-high, and for a week or two, every time I bought anything in this city I had a painful sense of money slipping through my fingers.

Two weeks later, I had mostly stopped feeling the pain.

On the face of it, there’s irrationality here. Either I was irrational to be so disturbed by the high prices originally, or I am irrational to be so blasé about them now. Which is it, then?

And yet, maybe the deeper rationality consists precisely in being disturbed at first and less disturbed later. Changes in our environment may bring danger, and we must be vigilant in detecting and responding to them. Yet these costly cappuccinos will not break my bank account, and one must get through life. If you’re alert to everything, you’re alert to nothing.

[22 February 2014]

Oh I wish I were a number theorist

In a spectacular breakthrough, Yitang Zhang proved that there are infinitely many pairs of primes differing by at most 70 million.

This is the opening line of the advertisement for the upcoming LMS-CMI Research School on Bounded Gaps Between Primes.

[16 April 2014]