Sunday, 30 June 2013

I Could Be Purple, I Could Be Anything You Like

Slight deviation from the theme.

OK, there was this:

And today is of course 30th June, so here i am:

This photo is, incidentally, a complete mess.  Sorry about that.  Anyway, yes, the blank signifier.

Today is also unusual in that i haven't made a video.  This is because a video made a week ago was scheduled for today.  Here it is:

Click to tweet: .  This deals with two common features of what might be called New Atheism or Dennett's atheism, and yes, i know Dennett is a philosopher.  I'm not saying either is a universal claim among the Brights.

The first is the proposition that theists lack belief in all other deities and are therefore atheist for all other deities.  This is not in fact how theists generally see things.  Roman religion assimilated Greek deities to their pantheon and the Greeks said the Egyptian gods were in fact their own in disguise, hiding from the titan Typhon.  That might be expected among polytheists.  However, a somewhat similar phenomenon occurs in henotheism and monotheism, in two different ways.  If one is inclusivist, one is likely to go with Ockham's Razor and see the idea of God as embodying many or all of the other deities, perhaps as a high god, similar to the idea that the planet Venus is the morning and evening stars or that electricity and magnetism are both real and both two manifestations of the the single underlying force of electromagnetism (and beyond that the electroweak interaction and so on).  Alternatively, one could go with a Zoroastrian-style approach and call the other deities demons or creations of the Devil - not something I'm keen on but the option is there.  Either way, we theists do in a sense believe in Thor, Luonnatar, Jumala, Ahura Mazda, whomever.

The second, and i need to go into more depth than i have here, is the claim that atheism is the lack of a belief in gods rather than the presence of the belief that there is no God.  There are a number of problems with this belief, but i'm reluctant to criticise them.  Academic philosophy defines it as the latter:  a specific belief that God does not exist.  The former claim would be rejected by academics in the relevant fields, with the odd exception of Daniel Dennett of course.  Dawkins and Hitchens, for instance, are not insiders in this respect, but this shouldn't lead to the rejection of the belief that they are mistaken.  I would say it makes more sense to see atheists of this ilk as attempting to produce some kind of "outsider art"-style approach to the established way of thinking which may also be manifest in other ways, and as such it's admirable in the same way as, say, Forteans are admirable, and i say that as a Fortean myself.  However, i want to get back to this subject later as i feel i've not given it justice here.

This has, as before, provoked a few responses.  I would like to follow up the issue of assumption versus positive assertion, but there's a more pressing issue, which is the conflict between polarised sides and the apparent desire to see the other in extreme terms while not addressing the issue of the common naivete of the approach of both sides.  This is in general a one-dimensional discussion and also a discussion not characterised by people listening particularly closely or respectfully to each other, as well as one focussing excessively on belief systems rather than practicalities and interpersonal dynamics.

Yesterday's video was a bit crap due to my fatigue, but is here:

Click to tweet: .  Right, some explanation here is in order.  This is A hogweed.  It may not be giant hogweed - Heracleum mantegazzianum - but common hogweed - Heracleum sphondylium - but i wouldn't want to risk finding out by touching it or eating it.  I suspect it's just a young specimen of giant hogweed which hasn't been destroyed yet.

Giant hogweed is an umbelliferous plant native to the Caucasus which is an invasive weed in Europe and North America.  The problem with it, healthwise, is that its sap causes severe blistering on the skin if it lands on it and the skin is exposed to daylight without it being removed.  It can also cause blindness if it gets into the eyes.  This is because, like many other umbellifers (also known as apiaceae), it contains psoralen, a chemical which causes DNA to break down in the presence of ultraviolet light.  It's also, unsurprisingly, carcinogenic and a mutagen.

I have personally experienced blistering from giant hogweed sap.  It caused a huge blister to appear on my hand which faded to a dark brown stain which lasted two or three years.  I still have a scar, which i show in the video, but it's probably only visible to me. The same happened to various friends of mine.

If you come into contact with giant hogweed sap, you should wash the area thoroughly with soap and water and avoid exposing it to light for three or four days.

However, psoralens are widespread in the apiaceae/umbelliferae, including celery, parsley, parsnips and fennel, and they have a therapeutic aspect in the treatment of the skin diseases psoriasis and eczema.  However, they do also increase the risk of skin cancer.  The treatment involving them is referred to as PUVA - Psoralen Ultra Violet A.

Oddly, although hogweed is dangerous, common hogweed at least is edible.  I personally wouldn't want to risk it.

I'm currently wondering, though, if it's unfamiliarity with hogweed which has led to the fear current in North America, because poison ivy and a whole load of other species seem pretty dangerous to me.  It's a risk, to be sure, but i walked about eight miles last weekend through several thickets of the stuff and was just careful not to let my skin come in contact with it.

The main problem with this video is that it's not a giant hogweed in it but a common hogweed.  Giant hogweed leaves are palmate and bigger.  Anyway, that's all for now:  see you tomorrow.