Posts Tagged ‘science’

Tragedy Plus Time

Posted: June 12, 2015 in Comedy, Humour, Science, Stuff
Tags: , ,

#(T+t)=C  #TragedyPlusTime

You know you shouldn’t, but…

It is often said that the formula for Comedy is nothing greater than Tragedy Plus Time. So, following this morning’s fortuitous recording of the tragic beating of a six year old child by a member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, I decided to put this to the test.

In the interest of full disclosure and to remove an unwanted variable I should add that whilst I have since discovered the little Maisie suffered no long term effects from her ordeal, I was unaware of this at the time.


(for the experiment the acquisition of ‘C’ is defined as the production of Laughter where ‘C+’ is defined as Laughter plus an involuntary bodily function such as the excretion of a little bit of wee.)

I initially timed this out @ +0.1.2586 seconds.

I then waited exactly ten (0.10.0000) seconds before donning a white lab coat and watching the video again.

Acquiring ‘C’ @ +0.0.3572 seconds, and ‘C+’ @ +0.0.10892, soiling said lab coat.

Thanks for giving us a laugh, Maisie. I hope you got lots of sweets, and an Xbox.


Anvil Springstien.

‘Happy Earth Day’

Posted: April 23, 2015 in Science, Stuff
Tags: , , ,

It’s International Earth Day today. Good to know the planet has its own special day when it can sit back, relax, and look back on its great achievements and past glories.

I celebrated the occasion by watching a pod of minke whales migrate north to cooler climes for the summer. Wonderful to see. Really quite spectacular. Beautiful creatures on a beautiful planet.

Yes, the Earth is just great, isn’t it. What’s your favourite bit? Do you have an Attenborough moment? The forging of the Himalayas through plate tectonics? Its incredible deserts? Its huge rain-forests? Its thunderous volcanoes? Dinosaurs, maybe? Or perhaps just the sheer and seemingly endless abundance of life it sustains – including our hedonistic and murderous selves?

These are certainly a few of my all-time faves – but the best bit of the Earth for myself, the real biggie, the daddy, the big kahuna, the killer app’ that the Earth has provided us with… is the Moon.

Lunar eclipse October 8 2014 California Alfredo Garcia Jr mideclipse

The Earth spat out the Moon after a collision with a Mars-sized-planet not long after its own formation. Can you imagine the energy, the power, the destruction? Yup, the creation of the Moon was always going to be the highlight for me – but then I’m a boy and tend to go with the big energy stuff.

More Bruce & Arnie than Kenneth & Larry, if you follow my continental drift.

I don’t suppose we have an International Moon Day? I’ll have to check. I hope so as it’s a very important piece of rock and one that us ordinary folk should know more about.

Of course, most of us are merely aware that it controls the tides – well, maybe not that moron Bill O’Reilly at Fox News… hold on, I’ll find you the link. I think the fun starts at around 1:35:

…but hey, retards aside, who knew that it stops us from wobbling out of control and making us all very very dizzy indeed?

Who knew – and this is magic – that it is observed by us as being exactly the same size as our nearest star and that it perfectly covers this star during a total solar eclipse which allows us all to squint and go “Ooh!” and “Aaah!” and “Shit it’s cloudy again!“. That really is amazing isn’t it, and well worth the price of a few kids blinded by not following the statutory regulations concerning solar eclipses. Just like those ‘dog-shit’ kids, they’ve no-one to blame but themselves. Don’t look directly at the sun, don’t rub dog-shit in your eyes – it’s not rocket science, kids.

But I digress. Back to the Moon:

Who knew that it slows the spin of the Earth due to both gravitational attraction and tidal friction, which makes our days – and nights – grow longer over time. We only get a good night’s sleep because of the Moon – back in the day, a good night’s sleep would only have yielded you two or three hours shut-eye. Your proverbial eight hours is all down to the Moon tugging away, day in day out, or 24/7 – as the Moon now allows us to say.

And who knew that it took quite a few heavy hits for us as we were growing up – hits that might have killed us all off had the Moon not been there to take it full in the mush. Hits that could have stopped us in our evolutionary tracks – or at least had us running around screaming “Shit, man, that really stings!“. It really is our big brother/cousin/best friend/thick kid of the schoolyard, and is now seriously being suggested as a major cause of abiogenesis itself.

Yup, the good news is we may well owe our very existence to the Moon. It may well turn out that we are only here because of that big lump of rock in the sky – the bad news is it won’t be there forever: What? Sorry? You didn’t get the memo? The Moon is going. Okay, it’s not going anytime soon. I’ve no wish to start any panic-buying. However, it is moving away from us at the rate that our fingernails grow – so we better enjoy it, and celebrate it, and utilise it, whilst we can.

Yes, it’s time to go back to the Moon.

Oh, and now we’ve finally discovered water on the Moon, when we get there we can break this water into its constituent parts, take the hydrogen, and make rocket fuel – no more of that ‘escape velocity’ nonsense. And that, kids, means we can go to Mars instead of killing one another. Now that is rocket science.

Brilliant, eh? An accretion disc 4.5 billion years ago pulls itself together due to its own gravity, gets hit by another great big rock which pukes out yet another big rock which, apart from helping us see at night, creates the conditions for us, 4.5 billion years later, to be able to slag each other off in badly spelled flame-wars on social media, or, alternatively, take the wife and four kids for a chance-of-a-lifetime holiday in the new Caliphate.

Of course in order to portray a balanced view I ought to mention that the Moon – and the Earth’n’all – were probably created a few thousand years ago in a poof of smoke by the sweet baby Jesus from inside a magic chocolate egg. Or maybe it was Allah, or Ogdoad, or Atum? One of those fuckers, anyway.

Now that we’ve taught the controversy you can click on the Google logo in your browser and – just before looking up the word ‘abiogenesis‘ – take a ten-second survey which will let you know (in that kind of ‘Chinese Calendar’ sort of a way) what ‘Earth Animal‘ you are associated with.

It transpires I’m a ‘Honey Badger‘. Bit chuffed with that – I like Honey Badgers.

Honey badger

Anyway, enough rambling, I only meant to say ‘Happy Earth Day’.

Happy Earth Day

Anvil Springstien.

Direct Link to Google’s ‘Earth Day’ Quiz:

Addendum: I was mindful that Google might well only have it’s ‘Earth Quiz’ up for the 24/48 hours or so that it took Earth Day to come and go. Well, I’ve just checked today (which is St Georges Day) and it’s still live. Let’s hope they keep it so.

‘meVo-deVo’  #1 – ‘Learn Something New Every Day’.
Change must come…

Good to be here even though I’m not really here at all. Well, I am at the moment, here I mean, writing this, tapping away at the keyboard, but by the time the photons begin their short voyage from this screen to their ultimate destruction on the retina of your eyes, I won’t be – here, that is. I’ll probably be out walking the dog or washing the dishes, or, quite possibly I could be dead. The one thing that is certain is that I’ll have changed. I won’t be the same person I was when I left this trail of ordered letters for you to find. I will have evolved in many ways – some more than others. My physical evolution will include mutations at the cellular level, most of which will be harmless, some of which may well be deadly. My fate possibly sealed in the short white moment between this paragraph and the next.

I will have changed personally, too. I will have learned a few things, and forgotten a few others, but hopefully the ledger of functioning neurons will remain steadily in the black, at least for a while yet.

Most of this newly accrued knowledge will be small stuff, not quite the detritus of learning but supporting stuff – additions to the scaffolding of my world-view. Occasionally though, something moves our comprehension along so significantly that it remains seared into the mind as datum points in our understanding of things. I’ve had this experience closing the last page of a Steinbeck novel, or reading Darwin’s insightful prose, or proving Young’s wave-theory of light to myself with a shoe-box and a light bulb, at night, alone, under the quilt, in the dark.

Similar to the way evolutionary biologists can trace the mutations in mitochondrial DNA to a single African female living approximately two hundred millennia ago, I can follow these datum points back through time to a specific moment in my life. A point of infinite density. A point of ignorance one might say. It was fourteen years ago, but as we’ve just qualified this post to be categorised and tagged under Science, as well as Humour, let’s call it ‘T=Zero hours’. A nano-second following ‘T=Zero hours’ I’d reached an event horizon – a point of no-return. A prime mover, the significance of which, though hardly in the league of Steinbeck, Darwin, or Young, was far from the mundane, for it was to totter a giant domino that, as it fell, would knock a switch that would release a steel ball that would run down a slope which would connect an electrical circuit that would roll the opening credits of a brand new story with the words: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

Okay, it didn’t do that, but it did herald an expansion of my own, admittedly insignificant universe. A new chapter in the scheme of all things me.

I recall it like it was yesterday – which it wasn’t, it was twelve hours before ‘T=Zero hrs’. Technically it was ‘T minus 00:12:00hrs’ or so, and I was in the kitchen Frontlining™ the kids – two girls, Seven and Eleven. I’m aware of the controversy surrounding the application of flea and tick treatments to young children, or indeed, naming them after prime numbers – and will attempt to tackle both issues in another article – for now suffice it to say it was approaching summer, there was a hosepipe ban, and they’d just been dropped off from a sleepover in Sunderland.

Sometimes as Parents we are left with little choice.

Once bitten…

So there I was, in the kitchen, Frontlining™ the kids when one of our dogs – a border collie called Molly – popped her head through the door, and, seeing the Frontline Pipette®™ went to do a quick One-Eighty – she hated being Frontlined, she still does – it gives her a rash similar to the one it gave to Seven and Eleven.

However, before she could complete her escape I grabbed her and, pulling her face close to mine, said, in that kinda’ friendly aggressive sort of a way, “Your next Bitch!

Seven and Eleven laughed.

Molly bit me. On the nose. Badly.

Being due on stage at Newcastle’s ‘Chirpy Chappies Comedy Café’ in less than two hours, I ran to the hallway mirror to conduct triage and assess the damage. There was blood everywhere. My jugular, in an opposite manner to scrotal matter, had apparently migrated north over the years, up from my neck to my nose, and was now lying open, severed – the Cab’ Sauv’ of life pumping freely from between my fingers onto our hallway full-length-going-out-mirror. I looked like a cross between Coco the Clown and a Halal meat factory.

I panicked. I have a tendency to panic in such panicky situations. I envisaged having to wear a silver prosthetic nose like the 16thcentury astronomer Tycho Brahe, or Lee Marvin’s alter-character in the film Cat Balou. The panic subsided for a second as both pictures floated slowly, Homer Simpson like, through my mind. Lee Marvin, ‘hmmm, cool’. Tycho Brahe, ‘hmmm’, cooler’. He lost his nose in a duel to decide a question of science (if only he’d read Popper). He even had a pet Elk which died after falling down a flight of stairs, drunk – how cool is that! And it is suspected that he himself died from poisoning due to the mercury content of his false nose – proof in the maxim, if it was ever needed, that ‘all that glitters is not necessarily gold’ – or, indeed, silver, eh, Tycho?

My moment of anaesthetic reverie was ripped aside in an instant (“doh!) by my partner Jane, who was approaching rapidly, towel in hand, screaming, “Oh, my God? Oh my God? What have you done?” Indeed. What had I done.

Much less than I’d initially thought, apparently.

We stopped the blood-flow, and the panic, and Jane assured me that it wasn’t half as bad as it looked and that I wouldn’t have to endure the teasing and the finger-pointing that would accompany the joy of wearing a silver prosthetic nose and, still further, I wouldn’t even have to beg off work that evening?

“What? I can’t go to work looking like this! Are you mad, Woman?”

She grabbed her bag and five minutes later passed me a mirror.


In 1962 Arthur C Clarke penned the axiom that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. What I saw in that mirror was without doubt indistinguishable from magic. Gone was the blood, the welt, the wound. Gone. All gone. Totally, utterly, and absolutely gone. I would have bellowed the word ‘Witch!’ had I not suddenly remembered the continued presence of the couple from Sunderland who’d dropped off Seven and Eleven – they’d been sat in the living room throughout the screaming and the blood and the snot and the tears – no doubt awkwardly, and, by us, completely forgotten. They left at the same time as I left for work. I’d offered them comps’ on the door for ‘Chirpie Chappies’, but they’d shuffled and politely declined – preferring to return home to Sunderland. I’ve no idea why? I think of it as a form of Stockholm syndrome. They had that look of Christianity about them, and that’s a form of Stockholm syndrome, too.

Anyway, back to the magic. What got me on stage that night was something hitherto unknown, both to me, and, according to research done since by myself, to the heterosexual male population of the United Kingdom. This something, this alchemical substance that had taken nearly forty three trips around the Sun for me to discover, is known to its initiates – who are apparently legion – as ‘Concealer’.

Yeah, so, and?

Yes, yes, but how, I hear you ask, does my belated discovery of the magic of Concealer manage to gain ranking alongside those provided by Steinbeck and Darwin et al as pivotal moments in my understanding of things?

The simple answer is that it didn’t, it doesn’t, it wouldn’t, it couldn’t, it can’t and it won’t.

Let me be clear, I have no wish or desire to push the merits of Concealer, numerous though these are, above and beyond its actual value as a product that successfully hides or masks dermatological abnormalities or blemishes. I relate the above merely to describe the events just prior to ‘T=Zero hrs’.

T=Zero hrs

I awoke the following morning at exactly ‘T=Zero hrs’. I know this as I recall glancing at the bedside clock as two excited children bounced into the room and then onto the bed – it said ‘T=0:00:00hrs’.

They cleaned, rather lovingly I might add, a rather sore parental nose, utilising a large bowl of exceptionally cold water and at least half a ton of cotton-wool balls before gently re-applying the magic of Concealer.

Seven and Eleven inspected the treated nasal area. Satisfied, they looked at one another, “What did Daddy learn today?” asked Eleven, “Daddy learned something new!” retorted Seven, before both chorusing loudly, “Learn Something New, Ev-er-ree Day. Young or Old, in Ev-er-ree Way, Learn Something New,  Ev-er-ree Day!”  They then ‘high-fived’ each other in that rather annoying affectation of American imperialism, before running off, giggling.

‘Learn something new, every day. Young or Old, in every way, learn something new, every day!’

I’d taught them that.

I found myself smiling, somewhat proudly.

Learn something new every day of your life. I’d inherited the phrase from my Granddad. It’s what he used to say to me when I was a kid: “Learn something new every day” he’d say. Not that he ever took his own advice, mind – he was eighty seven when he died – knew absolutely everything about nothing – or should that be nothing about everything? Either way he was a prime example of the Dunning Kruger effect whereby the exceptionally stupid not only fail to recognize their own incompetence, but suffer from an illusion of intellectual superiority. Think Sarah Palin, George ‘Dubya’ Bush, and the entire UK Cabinet. My Granddad, though poor and only just removed from Irish peasantry, was up there with the best of them. I once asked him what made the wind. “Where does the wind come from Granddad?” He thought about it for no more than a moment and said, quite confidently: “It’s the tree’s waving”.

The trees waving. It’s almost poetic, I know, but you wouldn’t want someone with this much cognitive bias to be operating on the tonsils of your youngest child, would you? We all regret that, now, of course.

I never corrected his nonsense, ever, even when I knew him to be wrong – not once, for he was a nice old man, really, and I loved him dearly. I suppose he was just one of these people who like dishing out advice that doesn’t really apply to them?

He’s in good company, of course; I saw the Queen of England do exactly this a few months back at the opening of the British parliament. She spoke about austerity and belt-tightening, cut-backs, and working harder for longer for less – all the while, on her head a hat worth three quarters of a billion quid. One diamond in it, the Cullinan II – two hundred million pounds sterling.

Still, some people are in a position to do more damage than others with their ignorance, and when all said and done it’s not a bad motto to live your life by, is it, ‘Learn something new every day’?  I found myself repeating it to my own kids fairly early on, like when they took their first faltering step from their mother’s arms into mine, or put the square peg in the square hole, or came home from their first day at school: “Learn something new every day”.  I’d been saying it to them ever since – hence their unadulterated glee at throwing it back at me.

I smiled again, but just briefly for it was then the epiphany hit me – ‘Shit! What if they ask me where the fucking wind comes from?

My smile subsided into almost instant melancholia. A rapidly deepening depression that had little to do with the encroaching chill from the water bowl they’d upset upon their retreat from the bedroom. No, this descent into the dark depths was due to the realization that this constant invocation to learning, so well parroted minutes before by Seven and Eleven, had been all but ignored by the very person demanding it – me.

I wasn’t following my own advice.  And it wasn’t just that I’d settled into adulthood, parenthood and middle-age, as one does, before becoming more and more right-wing whilst slowly turning into ones’ Dad – No. here I was, dishing out advice that I obviously felt didn’t apply to me.

I’d leapfrogged a whole generation, completely by-passing my Dad – whoever he was – and was turning directly into my Granddad.

I felt suddenly colder. Shameful. Sad. A solitary tear drove down my cheek only to hang precariously from my jaw line. It waited for the rest of itself to catch up until, heavy enough with sorrow, and guilt, it fell. As it fell I heard a loud, slow, booming tick – a tick so loud it shook the bed… then another, ‘BOOM’

I looked at the clock – it read, ‘T+0:00:02hrs’


Stay tuned for the next installment of ‘eVo deVo’ in:

‘eVo deVo’  #2  ‘The Wrath of Can – or was it Can’t?’.

Islamic Golden Age.

The many recent articles on the recent French liberation of the north Malian town of Timbuktu tell us that an estimated 2000 irreplaceable manuscripts on science, astronomy, algebra, optics, and the like, have reportedly been destroyed by the retreating Islamists of Ansar Dine.

As an aside, in the continuing Syrian civil war we hear of similar actions during the brutal imposition of shariah by Islamist rebels in the northern town of Aleppo, birthplace of al Ma’arri, a 10th century poet who railed against Islam and religion in general; “Inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains.”. His statue, in his hometown, now stands broken and headless.

It should be noted with regards to Timbuktu, however, that no evidence of specific texts or manuscripts being burnt have materialised beyond a few piles of ashes and photographs of strewn protective storage covers for codices.

That theses works were perceived to be in danger, though, is sadly beyond doubt – and we can be thankful to the ingenuity and undoubted bravery of certain Malians who hid and smuggled whole collections of books from Jihadists, who, through purifying Islam from idolatry and heresy, are intent on returning the Ummah to what was recently described as The Golden Age of Islam.

It is a description of a period of Islamic history that we are hearing more and more of just recently, both from Islamists who use the phrase to inform us that only Islam can return us to such an obviously much needed period – and from their opponents, mostly secular, who insist that no such age could have ever existed, and cite the call from the pious which says that ‘only through Islam’ (and the imposition of the shariah) can we create a renaissance of this ‘Golden Age‘, as nothing more than the cry of the propagandist, or worse, the ignorant.

So was there a ‘Golden Age’? If so, when was it? Why did it come about, and, more importantly, what, or who, caused it to end? Furthermore, why would Islamists seek to destroy the libraries and cultural icons of present day Muslim communities, and will this destruction bring about a Second Golden Age of Islam?

To begin to understand this we first need to grasp the position that Timbuktu holds in this narrative;


Timbuktu, before its decline in the late 16th century, was seen as a commercial hub, a centre for slave trading, and a historic seat of Islamic learning. It was, and is, famous for its libraries, and well placed, geographically, for the preservation of texts and manuscripts.

It is for these libraries, and their unique method of construction, along with its significance to the spread of Islam in Africa, that has seen Timbuktu designated a UnescoWorld Heritage site since 1988.

Situated north of the Niger River on the southern rim of the Sahara desert, Timbuktu first came to prominence in the early decades of the 14th century with the rise of the Mali Empire (c. 1230 – c. 1600 CE). Changing economics placed it in an advantageous geographic and the trade routes now passing through it brought prosperity and imperial favour.

Soon its growing religious university (or madrasah) – as large as any in the known world – was to be become renowned throughout Islam.

Timbuktu experienced a rapid expansion during this period and by the mid 14th century could boast around 100,000 inhabitants – a full quarter of these as students, scholars, and scribes at the madrasah.

It is through these very scribes that Timbuktu would become equally famous for its production and trade in books – and books, throughout the medieval period, meant knowledge – and knowledge, in this era no less than our own, held the means of authority, dominance, and control.

It should be understood here that books were also thought to hold the pathway to God and Godliness. Books were the Philosophers Stone. The visible seat of temporal and spiritual power.

It is why, in the search for power, they were both collected and destroyed.

The libraries of the defeated have always made both good loot, and good kindling.

So is this latter then the reason the world may have witnessed the loss of irreplaceable books and manuscripts along with the destruction of historic Sufi shrines in Timbuktu?

Could this be Ansar Dines attempt to wipe out its opponents both physically and historically, as they march us toward a second Islamic Golden Age, or is this merely the vandalism of war?

In order to answer these important questions we need to take our leave of Timbuktu and look further into the history of Islam for interestingly, regardless of its great role in the dissemination of Islam in Africa, Timbuktu was not founded until the 12th century and therefore follows long in the wake of what can truly be described as an age of flourishing in Islamic thought.

This age of flourishing, this Golden Age, has its roots in an earlier century, a greater city, and another empire entirely.

The Abbasid Caliphate – Islam’s Golden Age.

Historians widely regard this period to be that of the Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258 CE) which was the third of the Islamic Caliphates and an empire that was to last for over half a millennia. This longevity has to be observed against a timeline of Islamic expansion that, since Mohammed to even more recent times, would see ‘Islamic’ empires and dynasties popping in and out of existence rather like soap suds. Literally in their hundreds.

Nevertheless, the relative stability of the third Caliphate over such a length of time created agriculture, trade, taxation, bureaucracy, and the building of cities and schools, and brought with it all the trappings of the imperial court. Intrinsic to this was the accumulation of knowledge – of culture, and of power. The accumulation of books.

Thus, as medieval Europe edged itself deeper into darkness, the Abbasid ‘Empire’ was to come across the known and available philosophies of the day. The philosophies of the Ancients. These were studied, copied, translated, and developed – and this study, this discourse, brought Islamic culture nearer to God, and its adherents therefore, closer to godliness.

One major technological achievement which hastened this godly rush was the importation of paper making from China. The significance of the paper-mill to book production was as great as steam was to the Industrial Revolution.

Cheaper, faster, and better quality book production, allied with other advances of the Abbasid dynasty, created a revolution in the dissemination of knowledge and information, and led to a vast increase in philosophical and scientific debate that must parallel much of our own experience with the Internet.

It produced, amongst many others, these giants in the history of natural philosophy:

Al Kindi (801-873 CE). Regarded as the Father of Islamic Philosophy for introducing Greek thought to the Arabic world. A founding philosopher of Baghdad’s ‘House of Wisdom’, and instrumental in introducing Indian numerals to the Arabic and European worlds.

Al Farabi (872-950 CE). Musician, logician, alchemist, philosopher. Of whom Maimonides was to call ‘The Second Master’, Aristotle being ‘The First’.

Al Rawandi (827-911 CE). Freethinker and vociferous critic of religion, heretic, and possibly an atheist, who championed the primacy of intellectual thought over that of revealed religion.

Al Razi (865-925 CE). Persian polymath, physician, philosopher, and alchemist. Celebrated as the greatest physician of his day.

Al Ma’arri (925-1058). Mentioned briefly, earlier. Poet and rationalist, whose satirical criticism of Islam and religion in general was lauded in the salons of Baghdad.

Avicenna (980-1037 CE). The most famous of all the philosopher scientists of the Abbasid Caliphate. His books on medicine were standard texts throughout medieval Europe.

Averroes (1126-1198 CE). A product of the Al Andalus Caliphate. Known as the link between ancient Greece and a Europe emerging from the slumber of darkness. A man who Aquinas called ‘The Commentator’ in reference to his influential works on Aristotle, and regarded as a significant figure in the European Renaissance.

Theirs was a world moving forward at a significant pace – the thirst for knowledge bolstered by patronage and a belief that God intended this knowledge to be found, to be discovered – the unfolding of which revealing nothing less than the splendour of creation.

Science becomes Haram.

It is in this context that one of the most influential characters in Islamic history al Ghazali (1058-1111 CE) enters the narrative, for it was his thesis, ‘The Incoherence of the Philosophers‘ (11th century, obviously) which positioned, for the first time, Hellenistic science as being anti-Islamic, and is posited by many as beginning the decline of scientific understanding in the Abbasid Caliphate.

In ‘The Incoherence’, al Ghazali tackles the Aristotelian position developed by al Farabi and Avicenna with specific reference, amongst other things, to causality (creation), the nature (or otherwise) of a concerned and interventionist God, and the (heavenly) re-composition of tissue after death.

Not only did he take issue with the logic employed to attain such neoplatonic views that questioned the above, he further argues that such positions, being unfounded, should submit unquestioningly to religious revelation.

Put simply, al Ghazali’s stance is that if there exist natural laws then God is not omnipotent. To study the limits of natural laws in any metaphysical way is to suggest such, and is therefore heretical.

This is the Islamic philosopher that Weinberg refers to in his famous polemic regarding accommodationism (Beyond Belief 2006) where he informs us that al Ghazali rejected the very notion of laws of nature as these would “put Gods hands in chains”.

Al Ghazali’s philosophical position, allied with his political strength, underscores the end of a discursive interpretation of the Koran – of ‘God’ – and marks a shift toward literalism. His standing as a Muslim jurist allowed him to append a fatwa to the ‘The Incoherence’ stating that the teaching of any metaphysics which challenged such revelation to be blasphemous and the work of unbelievers or apostates – the penalty for such, then as now, being death.

It is of worth repeating here that the effect this has on the rest of the ‘natural philosophy’ of the time can only be fully understood when one comprehends that up to this moment all philosophy, all study  – all science – exists, in a very real sense, simply to move one closer to God, both literally and metaphorically.

Much like later medieval Europe, all knowledge, all progress, was for the greater glory of God.

Individuals, of course, do not exist in a vacuum, and in order to place al Ghazali’s mindset into some perspective, it is at least of worth to note that the first crusade was to begin in 1096 (ending in 1099) when he was thirty eight years old and probably at the height of his influence and power.

This followed the establishment of the first state funded religious schools by another Persian, Nizan al Mulk (1018-1092 CE). The most prestigious of these, al Nizamiya of Baghdad (founded 1065 CE) saw al Ghazali appointed professor there for a number of years from the age of thirty three.

It is in this context then that the philosophies of Plato, of Aristotle (and in consequence, those of the Islamic Neo-Platonists themselves) were to be cast aside not simply because of the non-belief of these ‘infidels’ – but because the very way these infidels thought was now heretical.

In many ways the very same infidels – the same heretics who were knocking at the door of the Levant.

To think like the enemy is to become ‘The Enemy’.

To think like the infidel is to become ‘The Infidel’.’

From this moment on to speculate regarding philosophy is to risk heresy.

Obviously, and as is usual, it is slightly more complicated than that – al Ghazali is much more than the one dimensional description that brevity here allows.

For example he believed in the application of the scientific method when it came to obvious geometric and mathematical proofs, proofs that were ‘self-evident’, and there is no doubt that he encouraged research and comprehension

Indeed there are some who would argue that his thesis was a defence of ‘hard’ science through his ‘separation’ of it from the more metaphysical philosophy with which it was grouped – the Arabic term, ‘falsafa’, meaning ‘philosophy’, included what we would now separately call science, philosophy, logic, theology, and mathematics.

However, regardless of whether his thesis was an early precursor to the non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) debate, it remains true, I feel, that following the success of al Ghazali’s ideas there were now only two ways to become closer to God – mysticism (he was later to become a Sufi), and the literal application of the received word of God – and this latter route, for many, involved the study of just one book, the Quran.

Philosophical responses to al Ghazali’s thesis were not well received, apparently. I believe that it is in the context of the above that this reception can be understood.

Timbuktu, it should be noted, would have been a few tents on the edge of a river at this time. Four centuries into the future when its own university was copying texts they would have been mainly Quranic scripts. Philosophical and scientific debate and scholarship had ended. The Islamic Golden Age a distant memory. Timbuktu, unlike Baghdad, would produce no ‘House of Wisdom’.

Kinship and Beyond.

Baghdad, on the other hand, was the most important city of this ‘golden age’, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, and the backdrop to the lives of al Ghazali and most of the great philosopher scientists of the day.

Arts, architecture, engineering, economics, mathematics, astronomy, and chemistry all advanced in this era in what was, by far, the most important city in the world.

It was founded in 762 CE following the defeat of the Umayyad, and the growing dominance of Persia by the Abbasid. It quickly became the largest and richest city in history – and as has been said, a renowned centre of learning.

The rise of Baghdad under the Abbasids is a significant historic moment as in it we see the move from tribal (Arabic) to pan-tribal imperial design. Moving the Islamic capital from Damascus, east to Baghdad, wasn’t just a consequence of the decline of the Arabic Umayyid  – who went west to found the caliphate of al Andalus – or, as you might imagine, the final and ignominious defeat of a 400 year old Persian Empire – it was more than that – for it never destroyed the Persian Empire, it never enslaved it, instead it incorporated it.

This can be seen in the ethnicity of both al Ghazali and Nizan al Mulk, and indeed in the Abbasid adoption of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence – a legal system based on the teachings of yet another Persian, Abu Hanifa (699-767 CE). The status of these people – and of the aforementioned – as some of the greatest men in the history of Islam could not have occurred under the previous Caliphates where relations were based on extended kinship/tribal affiliations.

End of the Golden Age – The Fall of Baghdad.

Baghdad fell to the Mongols in 1258 CE, which signals the end of the Abbasid Caliphate and the death of the Arabic/Persian/Islamic Empire, or ‘Golden Age’.

As a nice coda to this age they rolled the Caliph in a carpet and trampled him to death to avoid spilling royal blood onto the earth. Inventive as it may seem it solved the problem of the spilling of royal blood, this being the harbinger of bad luck.

Of course, another Islamic ‘age’ (that was to last a further 600 years) was beginning to form in Anatolia with the coming together of various tribes that would eventually create the Ottoman state in 1299 CE, and not forgetting the earlier rise of the Seljuk whose expansion was seen as the motivation for the crusades and which produced, to the detriment of those very crusaders, the great Saladin, founder of the Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty (1174 – 1341 CE), but even though science was still practised in these ’empires’ and the ones to follow (science and medicine under the Ayyubid, and mathematics under the Ossman’s, for example) the so called ‘Golden Age‘ had passed, never to return.

Why this passing occurred is both complex and open to interpretation – but as I’ve suggested above with regards to al Ghazali, the pressures are many and obvious: over-extension, delegation of power to the regions with the creation of Emir’s, then decline, a competing caliphate in al Andalus, the imminent rise of the Seljuk Turks, the Crusades, and constant internecine warfare and politics – the Ayyubids failed to come to the aid of Baghdad when faced with the Mongol siege, and they were to pay for it.

This period also saw greater control of the Mediterranean Sea by the Europeans (through advances in construction, navigation, and the use of sail) – and the trade and wealth this developed allowed the funding of Christian military expeditions.

These pressures were telling on the Abbasid’s within 150 years, so it is easy to see how a philosophy that strengthens the central bond of unity against a perceived enemy – a unity no longer based on kinship, or extended kinship, but one that is now pan tribal – could come to the fore. That central bond of unity was Islam.

In Conclusion.

Islam’s ‘Golden Age‘ was indeed an era of flourishing by any standards, and should be recognised as such. Though present day claims by fundamentalist Islamists as to its cause are much more than simply overstated. I would propose that history shows us the very reverse is true: Islamism, Quranic literalism both in law and education, and the consequent denial of classical philosophy, rather than the progenitor of an Islamic Golden Age, was the very cause of its demise and strangled the opportunity of an Islamic Enlightenment.

It remains the cause of backwardness in Islam to this day, and is echoed in the social and educational policies of its states and, indeed, even in the names of its revolutionary organisations sworn to attain another Islamic ‘Golden Age’. For example Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and the Maghreb, which literally translates as Western Education is Forbidden.

Would this forbidden education include Chemistry, Algebra, or Algorithms, I wonder?

Would it be forbidden to teach the location of Betelgeuse, Vega, or Rigel? All products of the previous ‘Golden Age’ of Islam.

But back to Baghdad, briefly, and to a quick point of interest.

It’s fate was to be captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1534 CE from where it went into still further decline as the axis of economic and political power had long since shifted north and west with the fall, again to the Ossman’s, of Constantinople in 1453 CE.

It is of interest to imagine that, just as we are taught that Plato travelled to Florence in the shock wave of the advance of the Ottoman Empire into Constantinople, so too did he earlier travel to Timbuktu in front of the Mongol torching of the libraries and hospitals of Baghdad.

I would think it is safe to assume, with the massive trade in books of value that went on, that most of the books and manuscripts in Timbuktu are from the bureaucracies of the latter empires, such as the Mali and Songhai, but they are only now beginning to be digitised and translated, and it would be wonderful to peruse any earlier codices on astrology/astronomy and alchemy/chemistry.

It remains saddening to think, however small the possibility, that these beautifully translated works of the ancients and other scholars may now be lying in ashes in Timbuktu – but informative too, that even following the passing of the so called ‘Golden Age’, the books and manuscripts of the Ancients, and their Abbasid counterparts and interpreters, were still valued, stored, copied, read, and sold – both after the ‘Golden Age’, and up to the present day.

Strange (and somewhat awkwardly comforting) to think that, equally, with Timbuktu’s aforesaid fame for its trade in books, they may have long been safely ensconced in the Bodleian at Oxford, or in a box in a cupboard in Cambridge, or even in some dusty corner at the Royal Society.

The rise of Islam during this period is of immense interest and importance and is ignored to our detriment. It shows us much in the transmission and preservation of power, wealth, and knowledge. More to this it allows us an insight into how society moves through various stages of affiliation, from those based on family (kinship), through tribal (extended kinship), religious (pan or trans-tribal) association, its use in the growth and maintenance of empire, and even, through contrast, the geographic development (or otherwise) of later individualism and its relation, both to the advancement of science, and to the modern nation state.

Islam did indeed have its Golden Age. Knowledge of which provides us with a powerful narrative of both its wonders, and of its decline into a celebration of the philosophy of ignorance.

An ignorance that shows us that Islamism can no more return us to a Golden Age than it can advance the status and welfare of women, or children, or dogs. Understanding why this is, is an important weapon in the fight against irrationality and unreason.

It is how we can comprehend conservative Islam, Wahhabism, and Salafism. It explains why Muslim heritage and history – our heritage, our history, may have been burnt in Timbuktu, or is being destroyed as we speak, in Syria.

To deny history in this struggle is as disgraceful an action as those who seek to re-write it by hacking wiki pages or deliberately lying in order to portray a better (or worse) picture for specific political or ideological ends.

To allow value judgements because of your dislike (or support) of religion to affect your analysis of history will give you nothing but darkness, ignorance, and hysteria.

It will not allow you to observe the development of knowledge through history

It will not get you to a clearer and closer approximation of the truth.

It will not permit you to counter extraordinary claims with competent and verifiable knowledge.

Only a dispassionate observation of the available data will do that.

Only the application of science will do that.

Anvil Springstien.