Author Archives: pbgumby

About pbgumby

pbgumby is a fictional character. These are his opinions, formed during in long walks on Ilkley Moor.

Dark Grey Matter


In which the Scientific Establishment align themselves unwittingly with the Spanish Inquisition (and no-one expected that).

The search is on for dark matter. It’s a fascinating topic but (dum dum dum) is it doomed to failure? (Of course this is no reason not to look.)

The point is, Why should everything in the universe be accessible to human faculties? On the face of it this is ludicrously anthropocentric: Humankind has a Godlike gift of omniscience?

No, we don’t.

Our minds evolved to do a very specific and local job, and they do it well, but you’ve got your head in the clouds 🙂 if you think this necessarily implies we can figure out how everything works.

It’s well established, by Godel, that there are limits to what we can know in the field of pure mathematics, or, as I understand it, any axiomatic system. Why should it be any different when we look elsewhere? (A: Because it’s not an axiomatic system. Or is it?)

Godel’s limitations are limitations of the logic we can apply, but there there is also a more hands-on consideration: In a sense we’re fortunate (but that’s not the right word, it mixes up the cause and effect) we can deduce so much about the universe because some of its constituent parts emit electromagnetic radiation and we can work with that. But that’s only because we’ve evolved to work with it here on Earth. It’s the same stuff down-here and out-there so it’s bound to be accessible to some extent. Comprehending dark matter confers no evolutionary advantage so why should we be able to understand it? Looking at the Sun has blinded us.

The search for an understanding of dark matter is* anthropocentric, and directly analogous to the search for an epicyclic, geocentric model of the universe in the light of Galileo’s observations of the moons orbiting Jupiter (and not the Earth).

The Catholic Church in the early 17th century attempted to retain humankind at the centre of all things physical, similarly the Scientific Establishment of four centuries later is attempting to retain humankind at the centre of all things metaphysical.

A little humility please?

*possibly (but I had the wind in my sails, and didn’t want to qualify anything)

Think of a Number


There’s a bit of role play here. I would like you to join in. I think it enhances the effect.

Imagine you are standing with me here on the Moor admiring the views. Our thoughts turn to philosophical matters. I would like to put forward a proposition…

PBG: Think of a number between 1 and 10, and say it out loud.

(Go on. Join in)

You: …………..

(I wonder what you said.)

What I’d like to propose is that this is a demonstration of free will in its simplest form. You were asked to choose, and you chose. What could be simpler? Except, I submit that when you said it out loud, your choice was as much news to you as it was to me.

Consciousness is a spectator sport. All ‘decisions’ are made at a level below consciousness, they then appear in our minds. Sometimes only as a result of speaking them out loud as in the case above.

This leads us on to the further question: Was there any decision at any level? We need to think about the word decision and how we are going to define it but, as I see it, this sort of decision is at the same level as the decisions a spider makes when building its web. Consciousness is simply not an active participant.

I’d like to take this further and apply it to any conversation. Think of a recent conversation, about anything, it could be the weather, football, a film, a book, a coffee order, whatever. What could be more natural? More free? But again I submit that your conscious experience of that conversation and your part in it is that of a spectator: the thoughts you voice, your opinions, your choices, are unknown to you till you give voice to them.

Consciousness is a spectator sport.



A letter published in the Daily Mail on Thursday 1st March 2012 from Harry Simpson, in Northwich, Cheshire:

I’m sick of Melvyn Bragg, Hugh Grant, Joan Bakewell and Anne Robinson. I’m sick of Vince Cable, the entire Labour Shadow Cabinet and all the politicians. I’m sick of squatters and travellers, pop music, British food, the BBC, surveillance cameras, my rotten pension, terrorists, Anglican bishops and having no money, and I just want to die. My country, which I loved, is ruined. It will never be happy again. It is all self, self, self, moan, moan, moan. I cannot wait to get out and rest in peace.

I’m going to go ahead and assume the letter is genuine.

Judging from the reaction on Twitter and facebook the standard response to this is a dismissive sneer. I don’t think that’s “appropriate”.

For me a key passage is this:

…having no money, and I just want to die. My country, which I loved, is ruined.

For whatever reason, this man has just written to the paper wishing he was dead. He has love in his heart, but what he loved is gone. To dismiss this is arrogant, unthinking, and uncaring in the extreme. Sick, in fact. His concerns are clearly genuine, and deeply felt, but instead of being addressed they are ignored, contemptuously.

I suggest we should listen to people like Harry, take on board their concerns, and address them positively and constructively because if we did the country he loved would be a better place for all of us.

Exposing Reactionary Opinion


From the Comments at the Reading the Riots article in the Guardian. This is just about perfect so I thought I’d leave it without further comment.

5 December 2011 9:35AM

I used to work in both primary and secondary schools in poor parts of London. Since the riots I have reflected on the things I observed there. There are a couple of incidents that I think are relevant. In one school a child – about 10 years old- was being restless and disruptive in the classroom. I could see in his face and behaviour that he was full of anger. I said to him- ‘you seem full of anger and in my experience anger is always there for a reason. If you want to talk about it come and see me’. At lunch that day he came and sat next to me. He told me that his parents were beating him with a belt on a regular basis.

In another school I was a Cover Supervisor. A 12- year old child decided to shout out swear words randomly as I was trying to speak. I asked him to come outside and gave him a similar speech- ‘In my experience when someone acts as you did, it is because they are in pain, and don’t know how to share it. Normally it’s about something happening at home- I won’t pry but if you want me to get you help I will.’ I expected him to snigger or shrug, but he didn’t, he started crying.

I recount these incidents to display something well known in psychotherapy- that our actions, especially anti-social ones, often tell the story that our mouths cannot.

On these occasions I got lucky- those particular children were reachable. With some children such an approach doesn’t work. The pain and hate they hold is longstanding and appears to have become part of their personality. These are the children you find turning to crime.

5 December 2011 10:19AM

You sound helluva naive. What about greed, envy, maliciousness? No wonder discipline in schools is so bad.

5 December 2011 10:07AM

what about them.. pray tell..

are they your specialism?

But sarcasm aside..

what exactly are you saying: that those rioters were born to riot? That they were born greedy and malicious? That the fact that most of them came from the poorest parts of London, and were considered to have special needs by their school is irrelevant?

Let’s be totally clear- to seek the cause of something in order to minimize the chance of it occurring again- is not to excuse or condone it.



I spend (too) much of my time being grumpy with minor celebrities on Twitter. It’s not trolling. Honest. I genuinely hold these opinions, it’s just that they seem to be different from everyone else’s. Today’s argument, OK minor difference of opinion, was with David Quantick and Richard Herring and it involved Tim Brooke-Taylor and a Union Jack waistcoat.

Basically David Quantick, @quantick, RTed the following, originally from Richard Herring:

RT hooray for that! @UKComedyNews: Goodies and ISIHAC star Tim Brooke-Taylor awarded an OBE

Now I think the honours system stinks (and I’ve just noticed an opportunity to title this post Gong Pong, but that’s poor) so I Tweeted what I hoped was a simultaneously bad-tempered but good-natured Reply along the lines of Tim Brooke-Taylor = Good. Gongs = Bad.

This got us into a brief to and fro, during which I learned that Richard Herring used to partner Stewart Lee, so I Tweeted him directly

Would you accept a gong? If Yes then FFS don’t tell Stewart 🙂

He replied that he thought it was unlikely ever to come up, but this dodges the issue.

Incidentally I also learned, initially via a dead link in Wikipedia but subsequently here  and here, that Tim Brooke-Taylor’s grandfather, the Reverend(!) Francis William Pawson, played centre forward for England. Twice. Scoring on his debut in a friendly against Northern Ireland. Anyway, back to the heated debate: @quantick made the amusing point, he is a comedy writer after all, that


which is kind of disarming, but the point remains:

Why are gongs revered, even by the irreverent?