Ending today, was a fantastic series from BBC Radio 4 titled ‘A History of the World in 100 objects’. In conjunction with the British Museum; this programme explored objects which gave an account of human history through the objects we use. From objects such as the Olduvai axe, we see objects as enablers. While objects enable, innocation also broadens the scope of potential experiences. Beyond mere survival humanity becomes far more sophisticated; rituals and values emerge around sexuality, or the nature of our contact with others and our relationship with nature.
One thing I found particularly interesting is the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, which is also referenced in Hawking’s latest book ‘The Grand Design’; is that early mathematics came about as a system for administering resources such as paying workers or distributing and storing grain. Perhaps a contradiction in the human condition is the drive to consistency and organisation; against the ‘freeness’ of creativity by breaking said rules.
Creating systems, not just of theories, but of how we organise ourselves; is really a great human endeavour; whether one needs to keep the technology infrastructures working, or the support infrastructures or even the economy; the strive for consistency is one of the vital human impulses that allows for human survival, and things as mundane as keeping warm during colder months, or organising travel.
The objects towards the end of the series were particularly emotive and powerful. While most of the objects speak about the human past. Many reflected some of the battles ongoing against sexual and gender prejudice. The last two objects, a credit card, and solar panel; truly hit at the heart of the present day. The issues of scarcity and sustainability will likely be
objects that will define the immediate and distant future (if there is to be any of the latter) of humanity. It was a fascinating programe.
Some of you may be aware that we’ve not commented on current affairs very much these past fwe months. Well, the reason is; I’m busy with real life at the moment and it is not through want of trying that I’ve not posted about recent events. The recent events I mention are:
- The recent announcement of the Browne report, an educational policy dictum commissioned last year on the funding deficit of UK Higher Education.
- The various reactions to said report, which include: the 180′ made by the Liberal Democrats where they directly contradicted their election pledge. In true 18thC literary fashion, this is a case of the underdog who is corrupted by power against their former values.
- Related threats of serious funding cuts to UK academic funding, and the suggested tuition fee price hike for those who may be starting university courses over the next decade.
- The specific threat to the Humanities relating to the prospect of funding cuts. When academic funding is cut, departments in the humanities will almost certainly be under the axe first.
The short of it is: this is not a good time to be an intellectual.
With that primer, I thought I’d share a link. I like the examples given in this article of how certain ‘useful’ subjects have become suddenly obsolete. I can imagine courses in computer science, or technical ICT qualifications which can become easily obsolete within 5 years (with the emergence of say, new computer languages, greater innovations and more superior software and hardware releases). The renaissance/humanistic mindset is under threat by one of instrumental rationality. Lets just hope the music that comes out of this period is as uncomfortable and avant garde to reflect the time.
It has come to my knowledge that Philippa Foot has died. Foot’s philosophical career reflected a great sea change in the character of 20th Century philosophy. While I’m sure that many qualified persons will address the impact of her life and works; it should be pointed out that Foot, alongside the likes of Hursthouse and Anscombe were responsible for the revival of Aristotle’s moral theory in a time when taking Aristotle seriously was highly suspect. Foot was also known for her engagement in the philosophical question of ‘Why be moral?’ This is pertains to an issue of how one may try to convince a hypothetical amoralist to behaving alongside agreed ethical standards, and concerning the rationality of morality. This particular issue was greatly influential on one of my Ethics tutors at Bristol during my undergraduate years. Foot will perhaps most famously be known for the so-called ‘trolley problem’. Foot’s life should be remembered for an important contribution to 20thC Ethical philosophy.