The wrong sports

sportsIn our schools, we teach children to play sports. Invariably, this means team sports. In Britain these might be soccer, rugby or cricket. In the US, perhaps football or baseball. These are precisely the wrong sports to teach our children. Continue reading

My new book is published!

Strange Thoughts Random MutteringsDo you know those newspaper columnists who cynically bundle together their previously-published articles and release them as a book? What a brilliant idea! I decided to do the same. Continue reading

Newton vs Einstein

newtonMy all-time favourite scientist was Isaac Newton. Newton was very clever. In fact he was a genius. He discovered lots of interesting and important things. Unfortunately, most of them turned out to be wrong. That doesn’t make him a bad scientist, of course. Finding wrong answers is an important way that science makes progress.

One of the reasons we know that Newton was a genius is that it took a very long time before anyone proved that he was wrong. Around 200 years, in fact. Then Albert Einstein (my second favourite scientist) showed that Newton was wrong, by coming up with some better explanations. Continue reading

Alien mathematics class

alienplanetIndulge me in a little thought experiment. Imagine a rocky planet a long way from here, orbiting a star rather similar to our own sun, at just the right distance for water to remain liquid. Let this planet have an atmosphere containing all the elements needed for interesting biochemistry to take place – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and so on. Now imagine that on this planet lives a single lifeform – one composed of trillions of tiny plant-like organisms amassed in one huge layer that covers the entire planet. This lifeform quietly converts the sun’s energy into food, and while it does so, it thinks. What kinds of thoughts might it ponder? Continue reading

Hopes and fears

charlestonThree items of news have caught my attention recently. The first is the decision by America’s Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage. Such a decision may have seemed impossible a couple of decades ago, and yet with hindsight it seems incredible that it took so long.

I know that not all readers of my blog will be in favour of this move, but we can all surely be thankful that we live in democratic countries where such decisions are made transparently and peacefully, according to the rule of law, and where open debate about them is possible. Continue reading

Counting on my fingers

tenfingersThe iPhone is perhaps the ultimate symbol of 21st-century technology. How peculiar then, that the Apple website gives its size in inches and its weight in ounces – units of measurement that the Victorians would have heartily approved of, over a century ago. How odd too, that in the United States, oil is measured in barrels, land in acres and temperature in Fahrenheit. Continue reading

Alternatives to faith

confidenceI wrote recently about how one of the valuable functions that religion fulfils is that it offers a powerful motivational force. If we believe that God (or luck, or some other supernatural notion) is on our side, then we are empowered to fearlessly take on life’s challenges. Continue reading