Friday, 4 February 2011


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It is the drabbest day imaginable, with slow leaking rain, and frowning skies, and everything bleak and brown. But I have sunshine in my heart after my question yesterday, as the dear readers appeared to gather together and send a collective present through the ether. I am rather overwhelmed by the kindness.

I woke this morning to find the ladyships draped all over me in a symphony of black beauty, and a gentleman on the radio talking of consciousness. 'Why did this magical phenomenon emerge?' he asked. It is always nice to be hit with a huge ontological question before one's brain is quite in gear. I went from nought to sixty in ten seconds. Why did it, for heaven's sake? And why had I not attempted to find the answer before now? I am endlessly bashing on about not taking things for granted, and it seems I had been taking my own consciousness for granted all these many years.

The fellow, who turned out to be a psychologist called Nicholas Humphrey, went on to describe human consciousness as a sort of theatre. 'It's a magical mystery show,' he said, 'which we put on inside our own heads for our own edification and enlightenment.'

'We have spirit, we have a soul,' he said, with grave authority.

This interested me greatly. I am not religious, but I have always had a sneaking belief in the idea of the soul, even though that concept always seemed to me a most unscientific one. I believed in it in the way of: there is more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy. It seemed to me a useful shorthand for the ephemeral, the inexplicable, that hinterland of mystery that exists in the human condition. I think I thought of it like a philosophical meadow, just over the horizon, which one could never climb quite high enough to see, but felt certain was there.

Whether such an actual thing as the soul does exist, I think it is interesting as an idea. We might not be able to map it, or prove it with instruments, but we feel it. It is in things as variable as the ineffable affection for an old friend, or the songs of Nina Simone, or the way a landscape tugs at the heart.

The good professor had more to say:

'Trout live in rivers, and gorillas live in forests, and humans live in soul land.'

This was tremendous stuff. It seemed to slightly baffle Evan Davies, whose special subject is economics. Not much soul in that, I expect, although it must of course be done. Someone has to add up those damn numbers.

So now I have a new thing to ponder. It sounds a little outlandish, but my friend the physicist in New York insists that mathematics may be able to prove the existence of parallel universes, and that is science of the hardest kind. Let us not forget the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who said she could believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. As she so sagely remarked, it just takes a little practice.

Pictures of the day were actually taken in the rain. I had to go in very close to find the beauty, because everything looked so drowned and sad. Luckily, there is always the lichen, whatever the weather.

Mossy wall with beech leaf:

5th Feb 3

Entirely random stick:

5th Feb 4

An old, desiccated honeysuckle bud:


Young trees, rather splendidly austere:

5th Feb 6


5th Feb 7

(What next? Shall I be taking pictures of whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles, and warm woollen mittens?)

Excessive lichen alert:

5th Feb 8

5th Feb 8-1

5th Feb 9

There are people who say you can have too much of a good thing. I am not one of those people.

Another stark tree:

5th Feb 10

Hopeful philadelphus bud:

5th Feb 10-1

Raving beauties, whose loveliness no amount of weather can ever dim:

5th Feb 1

5th Feb 2

(I am not sure what gets me more in that last photograph: the narrowed, contemplative eyes, or the flying ear. If I did not know she was a dog, I would assume she was reciting Prufrock to herself in her head. Dare she eat a peach?)

Today's hill came out all blurred, but it is dark now, so I cannot take another, and I must let it stand. Very, very good for the battle against the perfection genie. Sometimes hills just are blurred, and it does not diminish their essential hilliness one bit:

5th Feb 12

Have a lovely Friday.

PS. If you are interested, you may hear Professor Humphrey here.


  1. There is a theory, which I think is fascinating and bizarre, that consciousness first arose sometime between when the Iliad was first composed and when the Odyssey was first composed (Homer not being the author, merely the recorder of both). If I recall correctly, this is because the style differs - the former refers often to instructions given by the gods as the motivation for action, while the latter does not. The idea is I think that before the advent of consciousness, people experienced the outcome of their own decision making processes (taking place in one side of the brain, which was separate from the other) as if they were receiving instructions - not having been conscious that they were thinking and considering.

    I have probably mangled the theory which I remember only dimly from my philosophy degree, so forgive me if so - I think the nexus of the theory of consciousness and theory of language is totally fascinating, and was just thinking yesterday that I really ought to read up on it again.
    If you're interested, the theorist is Julian Jaynes and the book is called something like the bicameral mind.

  2. Kate - so impressed I have such erudite readers. The Homer thing is FASCINATING. I am going to look up Julian Jaynes at once. I do remember vaguely a book called something like The Closing of the Bicameral Mind, but am not sure it is the same one.

    And do so agree that the intersection between language and consciousness is one of the most interesting subjects of all time. Prof Humphrey said a riveting thing about new babies: apparently scientists do not know at all how newborns experience the world. I often look at very small children with their gazing eyes and conclude they must be thinking deep thoughts, but of course they have no language yet to think with, and so their consciousness is radically different to my own and pretty much unimaginable to me.

  3. What a nice surprise. I used to know Nick Humphrey many years ago as the older brother of a college friend of mine. I was tongue-tied on a ferry to Ireland with him once (and very sea sick it has to be said) so didn't enter into esoteric conversation with him. I think he is right that there is more to us than the physical body and I would agree with a separate and distinct use of the words soul and spirit since I believe we have both. More than this I cannot propound in a comment box! But thank you for the link and I will look out his book.

  4. Lucille - this is one of the reasons I love the blogosphere. Juxtaposition of seasickness and venerable prof makes me laugh a lot.

  5. Tania, thank you very much for always determinedly looking for the beauty, even on a day when you have to look very hard.

    Your photos are always stunning and I really look forward to your posts. I subscribe to a number of blogs but there are those I read to keep up with the world, and those that I save til last as a treat. Yours is such a treat.

    Thank you!

  6. Claire - no, thank YOU. It is such a delightful thought to be considered a treat. :)

  7. I read your blog every day but the commenting has got a bit sidelined due to time constraints.

    We are being drowned here in Sri Lanka -with rains in a month which is usually dry as a bone! the rice harvest is ruined which is adding to the misery. Tanks overflowing,roads inundated, just water everywhere.

  8. Mystica - had actually been wondering if you were all right.You are such a regular visitor and I noticed your absence over the last few days. So sorry to hear about the terrible flooding. I am ashamed to say that between the news from Egypt and Queensland, the awful situation in Sri Lanka is hardly being reported at all, here. I do hope the rains stop and you can get back to some kind of normal living.

  9. Tania I know its an old book and fictional but have you ever read 'The Celestine Prophecy" it is all about appreciating the beauty of the world .. taking and giving back from it and nurturing your soul. I loved it, I loved your photos I love the colours of bleak winter the purple of the leaves with the lime green of lichen. xx


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