Jennifer Pike at Mansfield College Library

A couple of hours ago, Jennifer Pike (and the London Mozart Players) had performed Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” inside the Mansfield College library.

What’s not to like? I think Vivaldi was probably the best Baroque composer there ever was, and hearing the Four Seasons performed inside the hallowed halls of Mansfield was a real treat.

And, the icing on the cake was getting to see the table where I had toiled over my engineering problem sheets for a couple of years. Nostalgic.

Aphorisms

Inspired by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.

Only the foolish talk themselves to tatters. The wise knows that the truth needs no explication.

Distractions are a form of relaxation of the intellectually unemployed.

Being on the receiving end of an iniquity is, at most times, superior to the one on the giving end, at least morally so.

The only thing that sustains one through life is the realization of one’s own perfection.

Assessing the merit of an idea solely on its utility is the domain of the vulgar and the barbarous.

One could acquire all the privileges of a personality by saying less than he should, and working less than others would.

Charm is strictly the domain of the bourgeoisie.

To paraphrase Wilde: the only thing that stands in the way of the freedom and liberty of the masses is the benevolent dictator.

I had steadfastly refused to learn Stairway To Heaven because once I know it, its wonder dissipates and mystery completely robbed.

Some things are grotesquely Herculean in form, and shall never be attempted by anyone except those who harbour the perversion to have their temperance severely tested. Getting work done in the long summer days in Oxford is one of those things.

Work drives out thought. Industriousness, therefore, has its natural conclusion in stupidity.

Utility is orthogonal to aesthetics, and yet aesthetics is ultimately utility.

To live and to exist are two different things.

Someone will have to do the tedious and boring work so that you and I can meditate on being the perfect human.

Only the simplest of simpletons knows himself fully.

Oxford’s anachronism pleases me greatly. She should never try to fit into the 21st century.

Resolute cynicism as one grows older is a sign of arrested intellectual development.

The lack of originality is the norm, never the exception. Aren’t most people merely the duplicates of others?

The telltale signs of someone who has read Nietzsche for the first time: mockingly caustic and insufferably sententious.

To live hidden, evasion is insufficient and dissimulation is a necessity.

Indolence is rarely the trait of the ignoble. Avoidance of work is a stimulator of creativity, perhaps the greatest.

The inclinations of a group of individuals are not necessarily that of the aggregate of the individuals examined separately.

A man who is principled is inevitably prejudiced.

Construct your own myth, for mysterious origins arouse veneration and irresistible intrigue.

Herein lies the irreconcilability between self-actualization and happiness – discontent is the enabler of the former and simultaneously the destroyer of the latter.

Committing a crime can be easily forgiven, but having an original thought is an immortal sin.

I can forgive you if you take a thing that I own, but I won’t if you show me the thing that I don’t.

Self-preservation is a primeval behaviour, but the modern age has the man running headfirst to his destruction.

The modern form is vulgar because utility is its raison d’être, never its aesthetics.

Morality has got nothing to do with the truth, for the former is individual while the latter is universal.

Modern civilization is the refuge of the man from the indiscriminate savagery of Mother Nature.

Like muscles in the body, the mind is pliant and mutable; its malleability should therefore be exploited lest it gets beset by atrophy and emaciation.

Every thought is first interpreted, arranged and schematized, leading to the construction of one’s perception of reality. The breakdown of these inner schema changes the world view radically – moving either closer or further from the truth – depending on the severity of the disintegration, and subsequently, the reconstruction.

A reticent man can be turned loquacious by making him painfully aware that his shortcomings need to be indemnified for.

I am capable of respecting only the equivalents of Michelangelo, Newton, Tesla and Ramanujan. It is painful to live in a world which scoffs at such standards, one with a misplaced reverence to the mediocre and the shallow. Still, my yearning for the heroic ideal is ineradicable, as is my contempt for those who let their faculties slide the slope of cynical dissolution and their ambitions climb the ladder of excess and greed.

He who exalts the virtue of self-sacrifice is, almost unmistakably, the beneficiary of those sacrifices.

Those Who Turn Away

This poem beautifully explains why philosophy matters, and why it’s foolhardy to pursue a narrow, vocational skill with dubious utility.

Cowley Road, Oxford, circa 1997. Back: Suyash Agrawal. Middle (L-R): Ben Elliot, Dimitrie Culcer, Travis LeBlanc. Front: Me.

When I first read it in the December 2019 issue of Philosophy Now, it immediately reminded me of a conversation I had more than 20 years ago with Travis LeBlanc – in Oxford, no less – after I had disparaged the study of philosophy while trumpeting the extraordinary virtues of “useful” knowledge such as engineering. I was wrong.

Those Who Turn Away

By Glen Reid, Royal Wootton Bassett

Talented thinkers through the ages:
Some fail, and some fail to try.
We focus on the former,
Yet no one asks the latter why. 
So who is the Worst Philosopher?
My brother John is a candidate strong.
And, no, I do not stereotype him,
So please don’t just say I’m wrong. 
A double first at Oxford,
Laser physics is his thing.
Science gives him answers:
Philosophy’s praises he does not sing.
Yes, he’s a Doctor of Philosophy,
Although on him the irony is lost.
He says rationality is his god.
Philosophy? “No return, there’s only cost.” 
His advice helped win a Nobel,
A successful professorial hit:
“Why sit and wait,
When you can get on with it?”
But thinking about thinking
And taking the measure of measure? – 
All best left to others;
Those circles give no pleasure. 
Science can help with consciousness
And what is meant by life,
But philosophy deserves distain:
“Who needs the angst and strife?” 
His dot-com career was fortunate,
Though he treats this view with scorn.
“The internet needed fibre optics.
Fast transmission, even if for porn” 
So the Worst Philosophers
Are not the ones who try,
But the ones who turn away
And do nothing but decry. 

The Raven Chronicles

Rebuilding the Electronics of an Epiphone Les Paul

Let me introduce you to Raven.

Raven’s an Epiphone Les Paul guitar which I had bought from a shop on London’s Denmark Street (“Tin Pan Alley”) in 1999. I had paid a princely sum of £249 , about three weeks’ worth of my student allowance at that time.

Epiphone Les Pauls are known as replicas of the “real” Les Pauls made by Gibson. Gibson Les Pauls are typically three to four times the price of comparable Epiphones. Why? Well, apart from the brand premium, Gibsons are usually made with better material under (purportedly) more stringent quality controls.

Still, replicas are no pushovers, and can easily hold their own especially when modded with the appropriate tweaks and upgrades.

And for this reason, it’s fairly common to see these “knockoffs” used by professionals both in the studio and on the stage.

The most famous Les Paul slinger of them all, Slash, would use a replica (i.e. not Gibson) Les Paul to play on Appetite For Destruction. Yes, the classic Sweet Child O’ Mine riff was played on a Les Paul knockoff!

Noel Gallagher played an Epiphone Les Paul in the early years of Oasis. He certainly used one to record Definitely Maybe, where he had played probably his best guitar solo in my opinion (Live Forever).

Raven: The Aging Songbird

Now at more than two decades old, Raven is showing copious signs of wear and tear.

As with most Les Pauls, Raven spots humbuckers in both neck and bridge positions, controllable via a two-way switch. Each of the humbuckers have its own tone and volume dials.

This configuration gives Les Pauls its trademark sound: thick, creamy tone with a singing sustain that lasts for ages.

Next: Fixing the pickup switch.

Baseline Anxiety

Inspired by a tweet by Zuby.

Through evolution, humans are hardwired to deal with physical threats and the scarcity of resources. We are conditioned to respond quickly to external stimuli for self-preservation.

When we see danger, we run, or we fight.

When we see food, we eat.

When we have the opportunity, we mate.

(Mating is a form of self-preservation – it ensures gene survival.)

Therefore, the mind is constantly on the lookout for dangers, resources, and opportunities to mate. We cannot let our guard down, lest we go hungry, get killed, or have our genes weeded out of existence.

And because of this, we are evolved to develop a level of Baseline Anxiety in our mind.

While this anxiety can be useful for reasons of self-preservation, it can be emotionally crippling.

After all, the human mind is engineered for survival, not happiness. Anxiety, fear, and pain are signals sent by the brain to the body to take action to ensure safety and continuity: to fight, flee, eat or mate.

The antidote to Baseline Anxiety is action. We perform physical activities to take our minds off physical threats and the danger of depleting resources.

Our ancestors kept the Baseline Anxiety at bay by keeping busy: hunting, farming, fighting.

In the modern times, physical activities have declined.

Legitimate threats are gone. (We are no longer chased by tigers for food.)

There’s no scarcity of resources. Almost nobody dies from hunger – at least in the developed world.

Unfortunately, however, our inherited Baseline Anxiety is still present.

Consequentially, our threshold for danger has become very low.

We get triggered by faux outrage on social media. We become worried at the very first sign of ill health. We ruminate over small things…

Something bad is always around the corner. Someone’s always out there to get us.

And because the mind has a baseline level of anxiety, it has developed a fixed capacity for worry.

We no longer have to fear dying from hunger, or getting mauled by a tiger. Our mind, therefore, looks for new sources for worry. So, we become conditioned to feel anxious over relatively petty things.

In the absence of strife, we have become soft and fragile.

The question is: How does one develop mental resilience in the time of abundance?