Wednesday, 11 September 2013


It seems like you're spending
A lot of your time
Running around in a tiz';
And I can't remember
When I last saw your smile,
But it's something I'm starting to miss.
And from the outside
It's quite hard to tell why,
Or who you are trying to please.
So come on, my love,
Let's go live in a meadow
And study the birds and the bees.

And I know that it feels
Like you've something to prove,
But trust me when I say that you don't.
We just build all these doubts up
Inside our minds 'til
They seem like they're real when they're not.
And there's an Ancient Greek concept
Known as ataraxia;
The ideal of being freed from disturbance.
So come on, my darling,
Let's get Epicurean
In a garden, surrounded by plants.

'Cause there's a million heartaches
That can clog up our brains,
And thus keep us awake all the night.
And when we lose track
Of what matters in life,
It can be easy to give up the fight.
But our time here is finite,
And cosmically speaking
We're basically already dead.
So let's head out to the forest,
Leave our worries behind,
And live for each other instead.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Pray for Rain

It's hot in here
'Cause you are the sun
And you beat down on me
And everyone

You make me sweat
And run for shade
But come the end of the day
I'll miss you when you're gone

So each night I sit alone
I sit and count the stars
I sit and count my blessings
And I wait for dawn

And I feel your kiss
How it dries my lips
How it leaves me gasping for
Some kind of release

And though I pray for you
That you should never fade
More than everything else
I pray for rain

So each night that we're together
I sit and count my scars
I trace regret across the starlit skies
And pray the night will never end

You are the sun
I'm just a shadow
And as you climb high in the sky
You chase me away

Thursday, 24 May 2012


I saw a Jay today. The bird in question had a large chunk of stale bread in its beak, far too large to swallow. I watched it fly into a nearby tree in order to scrape the chunk of bread against a branch, breaking it into much smaller pieces as it did so.

As a simple creature prone to biting off more than he can chew, I was struck by the wonderful sophistication of this act. This was, to my mind, a remarkable display of intelligence. By total contrast, I have also seen a seagull attempt to swallow a Cornish pasty whole. Which is, even for a bird, pretty stupid.

I'm very interested in the way that we think about intelligence. And in particular the idea that intelligence is at least as much about identifying one's own limitations as it is about overcoming them. The experience of finitude and limitation as the condition that gives birth to innovation and imagination.

 We have to know that something is a problem before we can possibly attempt to solve it. The jay, whether by experience or deduction, knew that it couldn't swallow the bread whole. It's first experience was of its own physical limitations in relation to what it wanted to achieve, after which the problem was clear and the solution identifiable.

I suspect that a lot of what we might want to call "instrumental intelligence" functions in the same way. This first instance is an experience of finitude. The exercise of intelligence is the attempt to overcome this finitude.

I think that the experience of finitude or limitation is in some way fundamental to much of what we might want to call intelligence, instrumental or otherwise. To realise that we need to work together on something, I perhaps need first to realise that I cannot do it alone. To write poetry, we perhaps first need to live inside the boundaries of language and experience its limitations. To know what constitutes justice, we must perhaps first experience or witness injustice.

In any given moment we are "thrown" in the world, within a history, a culture and a concrete physical setting. As long as we are unaware of that into which we are thrown, of that which we are given, our thoughts and actions are likely to be constrained by it. To act only in the ways which are given to us is to act without the exercise of intelligence. The exercise of intelligence is, perhaps, the capacity to work with what is given in order to transcend this initial situation. This begins with some experience, conscious or otherwise, of oneself as finite and limited by that which is given, and the desire or drive to overcome this.

This is, necessarily, a partial and perspectival characterisation of a complex and pervasive phenomenon (and one which risks placing far too much emphasis on innovation and creativity against general cognitive capacity, if taken in a very general sense and not considered in relation to particular situations and examples). But I do think it is a model that allows us to incorporate and understand the place of two particular aspects of intelligence that I think are very valuable.

The first of these is the idea of play. Play is a phenomenon that appeals to many who discuss the nature of creativity and intelligence. It is also something that is, to the best of my knowledge, an important part of how we learn and of how intelligent creatures interact with one another. I feel that it fits in nicely with what I have been discussing here as it seems to me that one of the definitive features of anything we might characterise as play is that it occurs against the background of some set of limitations or constraints. These limitations can take the form of some finite set of entities (a ball against and a wall, for example), within a set of rules that define a game, or at least within some particular setting (such as in games of make-believe, wherein we imagine ourselves and play-out scenarios in some particular situation). But the play itself, to some extent at least, exists in exploring the possibilities presented by and manifestable within these constraints. We need the paint and the canvas to work with and against before we can create the painting. Play, as an aspect of intelligence, is precisely the play that occurs with our own finitude.

Secondly, and far more overtly, I think that the experience of finitude is integral to learning. In particular the kind of learning that we achieve through trial and error, as opposed to the mere accumulation and memorisation of "knowledge". We learn far more if we are allowed, and if we allow ourselves, to make mistakes. To try and fail is perhaps the most explicit experience of finitude most of us have in our day-to-day lives. It is to run up against the limitations of our own capacities and understanding, to take a leap and then fall short. But in falling short we come to experience our limitations first hand, and to understand them better. We learn. We can then take this experience into account when we next come to make a leap into the unknown. Once again, this ability to learn from experience and, in particular, from our own and other people's mistakes is, for me, a key aspect of intelligence.

So even if it doesn't work as a definition, I think that there might be at least something to be said of thinking about intelligence this way; as the experience of and attempt to overcome our own finitude.

Either way, I reckon that jay was on to something.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


Really want to get this whole PhD thing over and done with, so lately I've been pushing myself to act like some kind of ultra-efficient philosophy machine.

But I'm not a philosophy machine.

I'm David.

I'm frequently dazed, quite nervous, worried about almost everything, chemically altered, a bit posh without any of the obvious benefits, somewhat lazy, obsessed with bread and playing ukulele, and usually quite tired.

All of which is probably better than being a philosophy machine in many ways, and I will almost certainly be healthier and happier (and less likely to do minor structural damage to the buildings I live in) the sooner I come to terms with this.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

There's a hair in my pie...

There's a hair in my pie, and I don't think it's mine.

I wonder how it got there, this poor forlorn hair;
Whether it longs for its home, and those that it left behind;
And whether its owner has enough left to spare;
As these cold winter months start to pass...

I wonder if my hair gets misplaced too,
And to whom it presents itself;
What lives they might live and what they might make,
Of the poor forlorn hair that they find.

I wonder if they will think of me,
And how I feel the cold...

Mostly however, I stare at my pie,
And hope that there aren't any more...

Monday, 31 October 2011


Samhain was a festival marking the transition between the longer, brighter days of Summer and the darker, colder nights of winter. Associated with it is the thought that the walls between this world and the next are at their thinnest. It was a time for taking stock, and preparing for what is ahead.

Halloween seems mostly to be an excuse to either eat too much chocolate or drink too much booze (depending on age/preference).

I'm voting in favour of abandoning Halloween in favour of adopting the Mexican Day of the Dead; a holiday that somehow manages to combine Samhain's sense of spirituality, Halloween's tendency towards boozey excess and, to top it off, an excellent visual aesthetic to boot. What more could anyone want?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Sunday morning...

I ventured to briefly leave the house a minute ago, only to find myself walking past what appeared to be a condom full of excrement (which, for full effect, had of course been stepped in by someone too).

The only semi-reasonable explanation of this I can come up with is that somebody might have been walking their dog, only to realise that they were unequipped to deal with a canine call of nature. Desperately searching for a solution, they fished in their pocket and produced something which - at least conceivably - could possibly have served to contain the doggy doings.

When push came to shove, however, (if you'll pardon the unpleasant imagery this might conjure up) they discovered that their makeshift rubber shitsack was not really up to the job, leaving it splayed on the pavement behind them, attempting to suppress their gag reflex and trying not to think about the unfortunate soul who would inevitably step in to the mess they had left behind.

Needless to say I do not intend to leave the house again today.