1ST OCTOBER 2021
It’s October. How on earth did that happen? We just got to September and kept going, I guess. But suddenly there’s no denying it’s autumn. Earlier this week, it still felt like late summer here in Hebden Bridge. Then, at around 1pm on Wednesday, some switch was flipped, temperatures dropped, and a chill rain began to patter at the study window, accompanied by the tap and gurgle of the central heating system emerging from aestivation. It’ll be Christmas next, mark my words.
I’ve spent the last few months in deep research for my Darwin book, aided and abetted by the wonderful Obsidian app. I recently completed a chapter about Darwin’s religious views, and the first of a pair of chapters about the two decades it took him to get round to publishing his theory of evolution by means of natural selection. I used to think this was an extraordinary delay, but, at the rate I’m getting on with my Darwin book, twenty years is beginning to seem positively brisk.
Some stuff I thought worth sharing:
- Conversation with Massimo Pigliucci (video)
Despite his background in genetics and evolutionary biology, the philosopher Massimo Pigliucci hasn’t appeared much on my radar. I thought he came across as pretty interesting and engaging in this video, so I’ve added him to my watch list.
- Spirituality is a brain state we can all reach, religious or not
In the final chapter of my book On the Moor, I took great exception to the word ‘spiritual’ being used to describe the, to me, intensely physical sensation of connectedness with the universe that occasionally engulfs me. So I was intrigued by this article, which looks into the phenomenon from a neuroscientist’s perspective. (But, for the record, I still think the word spiritual misses the point entirely.)
- An interview with Barry Lopez
I only recently read the late Barry Lopez’s wonderful book Arctic Dreams. His final book, Horizon, sits near the top of my To Read pile. This December 2019 interview describes the background to Horizon, and includes some thoughtful ideas on writing.
- The idea that trees talk to co-operate is misleading
The romantic notion that trees, like humans, talk in order to co-operate could actually harm the cause of conservation, says plant ecologist Kathryn Flinn.
- Unfamiliar Territories (video)
A conversation between authors Ken Worpole and Patrick Wright. I very much enjoyed the latter’s The Sea View Has Me Again, and Worpole’s book sounds like one I ought to be looking into.
- Book Review: Tamed by Alice Roberts
I’m not just plugging this ‘deep dive’ book review by Eleanor Konik because it was me who tipped her off about Alice Roberts’ highly enjoyable book on domesticated species, Tamed. I read Tamed as research for my Darwin book. It was interesting to read the thoughts of someone interested in the same book for entirely different reasons, including speculative fiction world-building.
- Diary: Wild Beasts
A thoughtful piece by Fraser MacDonald about the politics of rewilding in Scotland. When 432 people own half of Scotland’s private rural land, rewilding can happen easily enough without local support. But disputes can also arise between different land-owners with different views on rewilding.
- Living the (Cretaceous) Dream
Author and naturalist Mark Cocker recently spent a week on the Yorkshire coast, appreciating creatures both great and small. (Like him, I also paid a recent visit to the fabulous gannetry at Bempton Cliffs.)
- Light pollution from street lamps linked to insect loss
Scientists say light pollution is a factor driving worrying declines in local insect populations. The full scientific paper is available here.
- Sir Clive Sinclair: Tireless inventor ahead of his time
The prolific inventor Sir Clive Sinclair has died. I first laid my grubby teenage mitts on a computer in 1981, when I borrowed my friend Carolyn’s Sinclair ZX-81 for a weekend. Within minutes, I knew I had to have one. I can honestly say the ZX-81, with its whole ‘1,000 bytes of memory’, was responsible for my subsequent 35-year career in I.T.
With so much online stuff clamouring for everyone’s attention, thanks for making time to read this newsletter. I have a couple of ideas in mind as to how I might improve the format, but if you have any suggestions of your own, please let me know.
Keep safe, and I’ll see you next time.