Health & Safety & The Fall of Humanity

healthandsafety

Hello!

This week sees the return of a couple of projects all aspiring writers should have a go at it, namely ‘The Show What You Wrote’ (TSWYW) and Newsjack’ – both on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Links here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/opportunities/the-show-what-you-wrote

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kvs8r

When I say the return, I mean that the deadline for TSWYW is this Friday, ready for recording later this year, and Newsjack series 10 starts accepting weekly submissions as of next Monday.

I was lucky enough to be invited down to comedy house in London and attend a briefing about Newsjack this week. I got to meet a lot of other writers and the producers, plus drink one free bottle of San Miguel (I could have had more but was busy listening) and then join a mass exodus to the pub (which seemed so right for a room full of writers, like we were all at home again somehow).

Anyway, today I’ve just submitted my sketches for TSWYW. Unlike Newsjack, I’ve not had any material on this show yet. The last series was the first I think, and nothing got in that time. It’s very different from writing topical jokes/sketches as each episode is based on a theme and they don’t want parody/spoof pieces. It’s one of those briefs that’s almost so broad you have to be very self disciplined to get something together for it. (For example, one of the new series episodes is simply called ‘Geography’, which can mean pretty much anything on the planet).

So today I thought I’d share with you one of my misses from the last series. I know why it didn’t get in. It was way too long, over ambitious and sprawling. I had adapted the idea from a spoof musical I started writing last year (still in the pipeline) and inserted a character who causes the fall of humanity through his fastidious health and safety inspections throughout history. Yeah, it was a bit ambitious, and is basically three sketches, so if they didn’t like one, that was my submission quota for that episode done.

Anyway, I’ve reproduced it below ‘as is’, without any editing or omissions. At the very least, if you are looking to write sketches for these shows, read this and use it as a way to know what they’re not looking for! That said, I still quite like some of the ideas in here, and any writing is good practice and worth doing. Every rejection is the next step to acceptance. (blurgh)

Enjoy! (Hopefully)

Health and Safety and The Fall of Humanity.

Brief Synopsis (sketches below).

A series of three separate but running sketches featuring health & safety inspector ‘Mr Nomad’, a man who values the prevention of minor injuries and inadequate lighting above all else, while simultaneously causing major catastrophic accidents that shape the future of Humanity. I would imagine him to sound like a mix of ‘Gordon Brittas’ and Kayvan Novak’s ‘Dufrais Constantinople’ character. We move from the genesis of the Zombie apocalypse, to the fall-out bunkers of a post-apocalyptic Earth, to the advanced genetic science labs of the future. Although presented in a series, each individual sketch could work stand-alone.

 

SKETCH 1 – Health & Safety & The Zombie Apocalypse.

 

Cast

V/O:                           Dramatic voice over introducing the sketch.

Mr Nomad:               Health & safety inspector. Pedant. Jobs-worth. Self satisfied.

Baron Zipman:         Owner of Zipman chemicals Co. Think Texan oil baron.

Sandra:                     Baron Zipman’s level headed secretary.

Alarm:                       Pre-recorded ‘warning alarm’ voice, female.

Supervisor:               Voice on telephone, inept supervisor.

INT. OFFICE.

V/O:                In the executive offices of Zipman Chemicals Co, Multi Billionaire owner Baron Zipman is about to find out he has failed a health & safety inspection.

Sandra:            Mr Zipman, I have a Mr Nomad here to see you, he’s from health & safety.

Zipman:           Health & safety? Pen pushing toe rags. Well, you better show him in.

Sandra:            He’s already here sir, it’s this man standing right next to me.

Nomad:           All I’m concerned with Mr Zipman is what’s written here in my report. I have to say, it makes for some very interesting reading.

Zipman:           Not if you can’t read Mr Nomad… not if you can’t read.

Nomad:           Allow me to summarise. Item 1! I was shocked to discover this particular breach in the testing laboratories where I am led to believe you are conducting highly volatile and sensitive chemical research on behalf of the military?

Zipman:           That’s right. What of it?

Nomad:           A desk, Mr Zipman, a metal desk.

Zipman:           So? We have lots of desks.

Nomad:           Yes but are they all, (BEAT / SWELL OF DRAMATIC MUSIC) 5 inches closer to the nearest fire exit than is permitted by regulations? Are they?

Zipman:           Oh god.

Nomad:           Indeed. Your staff could really hurt themselves on that. Right in the thigh.

Zipman:           Ok we’ll fix it. Sandra, memo to sector 3, make the testing lab 5 inches wider.

Nomad:           And that isn’t all. I refer you to item 2 regarding your staff canteen…

Zipman:           We have a canteen?

Sandra:            Yes sir, you had one installed in one of the decommissioned storage facilities where we used to keep the unstable compounds. You saved money by using the old storage tankers to hold soup.

Nomad:           And very nice it is to, it’s just a shame about the (BEAT/MUSIC) loose floor tiles! A slight trip is the gateway to a bad fall. I’m very disappointed.

Zipman:           I can assure you that we will sort it straight away. Is there anything else?

Nomad:           Let’s see, just one last little advisory note here, it seems that the containment unit for your prototype molecular mutation compound Zeta666 triple X has a critical flaw in the pressure fail-safe that could lead to leakage of raw materials into the vicinity of unprotected workers. Nothing major, sure it’s the kind of thing you deal with everyday.

Zipman:           Well thanks for mentioning it all the same. Could you please ask my Secretary to come in on your way out Mr Nomad?

Sandra:            I’m here Sir. I’ve been here all the time.

FOOTSTEPS – DOOR CLOSES

Zipman:           Right, now he’s gone, is there any way around this?

Sandra:            We could seal off sector 2.

Zipman:           Sector 2?

Sandra:            Where we keep the Zeta666 triple x compound.

Zipman:           What? I mean about the desk and the tiles.

Sandra:            We could just fix the tiles sir… and move the desk.

Zipman:           That’s why I hired you! See that gets done would you?

Sandra:            Very good Mr Zipman. While I’m at it, shall I have them look at that little matter of the faulty container?

Zipman:           What? Yes, whatever…

FOOTSTEPS OVER:

Sandra:            (under breath) Oh my God oh my god oh my god…

DOOR CLOSES. PHONE PICK UP

Sandra:            Hello, sector 2, it’s Sandra here. Just a quick one, you haven’t noticed any problems in the containment facility for the Zeta666 triple X compound, by any chance? Namely the pressure…

Supervisor:      (Phone filter) Well it’s quite hard to tell you see. When we put it in we made the pointer on the dial rather large and the warning display quite small.

Sandra:            What’s it indicating now?

Supervisor:      Green…

Sandra:            That’s good.

Supervisor:      … and amber… and red.  Covers them all really. Pointless.

Sandra:            Well does the container by any chance have large amounts of steam coming from it and is it leaking a kind of glowing green ooze?

STEAM HISSES, GURGLING LIQUID NOISES

Supervisor       As it happens…

Sandra:            We need the engineers down right away.

Supervisor:      No can do I’m afraid, the only two guys who can fix this have gone home.

Sandra:            Why?

Supervisor:      Well Steve, he tripped over in the Canteen, caught himself quite bad I hear, and Dave well…

Sandra:            Ran into a desk on level 3?

Supervisor:      Right in the thigh! How did you know? It’s a death trap this place I tell you.

WARNING SIREN/ALARM

Alarm:             WARNING. HIGH LEVELS OF CONTAMINATION DETECTED IN SECTOR 2. WARNING.

Supervisor:      (Phone Filter) What’s that now? Bloody drill again I expect. Oi lads! Stop playing in that slime, you Muppets.

SOUND OF ZOMBIES MOANS

Supervisor:      Lads? Lads? LADS!!! (screams)

 

SKETCH 2 – Health & Safety & The Nuclear Fall-Out.

 

Cast

V/O:                             Dramatic voice over introducing the sketch.

Mr Nomad:                 Health & safety inspector. Pedant. Jobs-worth. Self satisfied.

Heston Bramcake:      Heroic leader of the UK nuclear survivors.

Alarm:                         Pre-recorded ‘warning alarm’ voice, female.

 INT. NUCLEAR RESEARCH SITE

V/O:                Following the Zombie apocalypse, the few remaining humans retaliated with Nuclear weapons. In a devastated and baron world, they were forced into underground bunkers to avoid the toxic fallout. The leader of the UK survivors, Heston Bramcake, is just about to find out that his network of bunkers has failed it’s health & safety inspection.

COMPUTERS BEEPING/KEYBOARDS TAPPING

Bramcake:       So this is control. The hub of the operation. The satellites are out of commission but the old cable lines still work, well some of them anyway, enough to allow us to communicate with other survivor groups around the world. We have 50 men and women here, working day and night. Sharing scientific data, passing on medical advice, and sometimes just being that friendly voice to keep them all going. God knows they need a friendly voice in these dark times, eh Nomad?

Nomad:           It’s a bit stuffy in here.

Bramcake:       Yeah well, we ain’t exactly able to turn down the thermostat are we?

Nomad:           Why? Is it broken?

Bramcake:       It isn’t broken. It doesn’t exist. These places were never designed for long term use, so we got to make do.

Nomad:           But, doesn’t that mean people suffer from hot flushes and mild fainting?

Bramcake:       Occasionally. Though it’s hard to tell it apart from radiation poisoning. They’ve got bigger things to think about.

Nomad:           I’d say! Look at those chairs. There’s no way they’re getting the necessary lumber support, and is it just me, or are there no wrist-rests on any of these terminals? Repetitive strain injury is the enemy of productivity!

Bramcake:       Maybe you’re right. We’ll see what we can rustle up.

Nomad:           Right, good. See that you do.

Bramcake:       You know what Nomad? I thought having you come here was going to be a real pain in the arse, you know, health & safety in a post-nuclear fall-out shelter?! I mean c’mon! But you’re making some good points. We shouldn’t neglect the little things or they’ll come back and bite us on the… Nomad?

SOUND OF CLAXON/HORN

Nomad:           (Shouting) Ladies & gentlemen, this is a fire drill. If you would like to all calmly and steadily make your way to evacuation point A as indicated on the laminated maps I’ve left by the exit, thank you.

Bramcake:       Where are they all going?

Nomad:           Evacuation point A. I noticed you didn’t have any procedures in place so I took the liberty.

Bramcake:       There must be some mistake, this map shows the old car park, topside.

Nomad:           Yes, evacuation point A.

Bramcake:       But that passage is sealed…

Nomad:           Was sealed… and may I say, very low. There should be a good 5 inches clearance height but I’ll overlook that for now, as long as the drill goes well.

Bramcake:       But… if they follow that map and open the outer doors, we’re all going to die!

Nomad:           That’s the spirit. Realistic role play. Here you go, put this on.

Bramcake:       What’s this?

Nomad:           High vis. Go on. (Proud) You’re a warden now.

Bramcake:       You’re insane! I’ve got to stop them! Wait!

SOUNDS OF RUNNING FOOTSTEPS

Nomad:           Oh dear. Running in the corridors. Shame. Real shame.

WARNING SIREN/ALARM

Alarm:             WARNING. RADIOACTIVITY EXCEEDS SAFE LEVELS. LOCK DOWN, LOCK DOWN.

Nomad:           Bit loud that. Where’s my decibel counter?

 

SKETCH 3 – Health & Safety & Genetic Engineering

 

Cast

V/O:                            Dramatic voice over introducing the sketch.

Mr Nomad:                 Health & safety inspector. Pedant. Jobs-worth. Self satisfied.

Professor Scott:          Chief scientist & leader of the ‘Darwin Delta 1’ research facility.                                                   Female.

Alarm:                         Pre-recorded ‘warning alarm’ voice, female.

 

INT. SPACE STATION

V/O:                The year is 2115. The most advanced genetic engineering research centre ever to be built, Darwin Delta 1, orbits Second Earth by the light of a red-star. The station leader, Professor Scott, is about to find out it has failed a health & safety inspection.

SOUNDS OF AUTOMATIC DOOR & ORGANIC SQUELCH

Nomad:           So, Professor, what is the first thing you think I noticed when I walked in here?

Scott:               The Alien hybrid embryo in the transparent egg-sac?

Nomad:           The what?

Scott:               That pulsating slimy sphere over there – you see?

Nomad:           Well no. No I don’t see. And that’s the problem. Inadequate lighting Professor… Inadequate lighting.

Scott:               We have to keep the conditions in this room just so. It’s very important research into creating a genetically modified predator race I’m afraid.

Nomad:           I am afraid Professor! I’m afraid for the safety and well being of your staff trying to negotiate their way around a dimly lit facility! Darkness is the friend of twisted ankles you know. Are these the main lights?

Scott:               Yes but I really wouldn’t…

CLICK OF LIGHT SWITCH

Nomad:           That’s better! I can see myself think again.

ORGANIC SQUELCHING GETS LOUDER

Scott:               My God. What have you done? It’s photo-sensitive you fool! It’s going to get out!

Nomad:           You’ll thank me when you see the reduction in minor injury referrals to the Med Lab. You and the rest of the inhabitants here. How many people are there here again?

Scott:               Thousands! Families! Children, babies! Oh no. If it gets to the babies it’ll have a host…

Nomad:           (serious) Babies? Where are the babies?

Scott:               The maternity ward is on the 5th deck. Right above us.

Nomad:           I though the 5th deck was catering?

Scott:               It’s a shared floor. Oh god it’s coming out!

Nomad:           This is terrible.

Scott:               I know! We need to do something!

Nomad:           I bet you they’re not correctly colour coding the cleaning equipment for medical & catering shared use. I’ll take them up some laminated reference charts.

Scott:               Quick, the waste airlock, we need to blast it out into Space, it’s our only hope. I’ll distract the creature while you open it up, it’s just down there, by the door. Hurry, there isn’t much time.

Nomad:           Here? By the door?

Scott:               Yes! Quick! Open the hatch! Pressurise the lock!

Nomad:           It’s a little close to the door, wouldn’t you say?

Scott:               What? I can’t hold it much longer…

Nomad:           One mo

SOUND OF TAPE MEASURE

Scott:               What are you doing? Are you measuring?

Nomad:           As I thought. This is very bad. An air lock within 5 inches of an access point? There’s nothing for it, it’s going to have to be immediate shutdown.

Scott:               But the other specimens will escape! This could be the end for humanity as we know it! I beg you, I implore you, I…

SCOTT IS CUT SHORT BY SOUND OF BEING EATEN

Nomad:           Oh dear. Someone’s going to have to clean that blood up. You could have a nasty slip. Looks like a blue cloth job to me, or is it the green mop? Best check my laminated reference chart, just to be sure.

Billboards of DOOM!

Do you remember that moment in school assemblies where the teacher would tell off the whole year group for the actions of one individual? It was usually because they didn’t know who the culprit was, so they hoped that by telling us all off the guilty party would be exposed. If so, do you remember that feeling of guilt or hysteria that would creep up your spine as it was happening, making you fear that you might just jump out of line and start screaming ‘it was me! It was me! I dunnit!’, even though you didn’t ‘dunnit’?

I’m guessing some or all of you have had that feeling at one time or another when in the midst of a group bollocking that had nothing to do with you. It’s almost as if our empathy goes into overdrive, so much so that we start doubting ourselves. ‘Maybe it was me who flooded the girls changing rooms, even though I’ve never been in them?’ Luckily for most of us those thoughts are superseded by logical reason and we resist the urge to surrender ourselves for no good reason.

Or maybe it’s just me. Either way, the reason this thought comes to mind was because when I decided to write today’s blog on the subject of a HMRC tax evasion billboard campaign, I got the same gut feeling. Even though I know I’ve done nothing wrong, having a set of two foot tall creepy eyes peering out at  you from behind some ripped spyhole atop the legend ‘WE’RE CLOSING IN ON UNDECLARED INCOME’ made me feel guilty is some way… I can’t think why.

I mean, just look at it (below). There’s nothing wrong with that is there? Why would the sight of giant disembodied eyes staring at you and accusing you of hiding money from the government cause anything but feelings of pleasant belonging and peace in the country you call home? Oh I know, because it’s insane.

Image

I first noticed these billboards on a recent trip from my house to the train station in Stoke. I live about 5 miles from the station. In that trip I saw four of these billboards, two of which were within 100 meters of each other.

Now, apart from the simple fact that it’s not very nice to traverse the streets of your home city while being followed around by an intense accusation, I couldn’t help but notice the irony of the campaign being so concentrated in Stoke-on-Trent. I concluded that there are two possible reasons for this:

Theory #1: Stoke-on-Trent is a major centre of undisclosed income in the UK.

Actually the evidence for this is plain to see. The reason we are so good at not disclosing income in this city is because we are so very careful not to spend it on anything (otherwise people would find out wouldn’t they?) That’s why we’ve allowed our several town centres to fall into commercial ruin, and why vast swathes of wasteland are waiting to be developed. That’s why so many of our community services are being cut to the bone or abolished all together – because we’re hiding income! Of course! It would be too obvious if we all started spending our secret stash on big houses, renovations, luxury items etc… So yeah HMRC, you might be onto something… OR:

Theory #2: Billboards (like most other real estate) are really cheap in Stoke-on-Trent.

But wait, maybe it’s because the HMRC like to boast about how many locations they have ‘hit’ around the country with this campaign, and by buying up space in all the really cheap areas of the country, they can make the figures seem more impressive?

If theory #2 is correct, does that mean that by trying to target ‘undeclared income’ with this campaign, while also looking to minimise costs, they are unfairly targeting those areas that already have very little income left to give (declared or otherwise), so they can save a bit of money? But then, why have the campaign in the first place? Isn’t that just costing money in order to make it ‘look like’ they are doing something about it?

If this campaign was targeted by severity then really, all of these billboards should be removed and used to form a massive wall enclosing the UK head offices of the likes of Vodafone, Amazon, Starbucks and the rest, let alone the ‘advisers’ who help them steal billions of pounds from the economy (Deloitte, for example).

But no, obviously all the missing money in this country is tied up in ‘cash in hand’ labourer jobs in the post-industrial north. If only Stoke would cough up, we’d all be better off – come up here and look for yourselves, see what you’re missing.

Whatever the reasons, isn’t it just massively unfair that the rest of us have to have our public spaces plastered in damning accusatory and pointless propaganda? Advertising is garish and brash enough as it is without adding Big Brother style iconography and fear to the mix.

I don’t want those feelings of guilt inside of me. Even if there was a real problem with undeclared income in this area (which I’m guessing, compared to high finance tax evasion, there isn’t) – what is a poster going to do about it, other than make everyone else’s life just that little bit more unpleasant?

Anyway – I write this in the hope that some of you may agree with me, and that some of you may well have some dealings with or influence over stupid ideas like this, and if so, may raise objections in the future. If more people in the planning stages spoke up and said ‘this is stupid’: maybe these things wouldn’t get passed in the first place.

I don’t want to walk in the suspicion and guilt of others. Life’s too short.

The Board Room Game.

Image

My desk sits in the square bowl of a test tube corridor that marches away from my line of sight into a corner I never get to turn. On each side of the passage there are adjacent doors where my advisors wait for the ping.

The room is stark bur brightly lit. My desk itself has shades of oak and brutal corners. There must be a way to receive the ping, so I guess there is a screen now. Maybe once it was a plastic inbox, or even a telephone; but now it is a screen. I figure this screen is to my right, at an angle, so that it doesn’t obscure my view of the corridor. There are no other computer parts. The screen is already connected through its conception in this place.

As I reckon it, I am dressed in a white shirt with black trousers and shoes. I suppose I am Mr Formal. My job is to be formal, reasoned, measured. Perhaps that is why my desk has no adornments or decoration. It is a bare room, waiting for the ping.

I don’t know what the other rooms look like. I’ve never been in to see them. When the time comes, those who are interested will flock out and channel down to the angular bell bottom suite. They will argue their case and I will listen and judge, maybe interrogate, maybe ignore. It all depends, as you will see.

The screen lights up (for it was otherwise dark and unreflective), and there is a proposition, a ping.

“Should I care about this?” it reads. It is accompanied by images of sneering men making decrees upon those less fortunate.

Should I care? I don’t know. I will wait to see who shows.

Doors start to open at various distances, but that is no issue. The occupants move at different speeds to compensate. Some are quick to my desk, others drag their feet. Whether they come from near or far is really not important.

I can never be sure which doors will open. They all get a copy of the same ping, the same question, the same relevant supporting information from banks below or above us (I’ve never been). Some may join later as the discourse develops, late to the game but spurred by some new concern or data, or they may not.

First at my desk, looking much like me (exactly like me) is Pandora. A pretty name for a man. We gave him that name. None of us really have names. He carries a can of worms that he hasn’t been able to put down since we discovered the particularly strange metaphor, and is permanently topped by a neon question mark. Other than that, he looks exactly like me, right down to the black shoes.

‘Is there something more to this?’ he asks.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well there’s what we’ve been told, and what we know already, but is there more we don’t know? Can we look further, deeper?’ he continues.

‘Not before I’ve heard the others’ I reply as usual. And here they come.

The next, Pyrrho, has joined us. He is a lot like me, but his shoulders ride higher.

‘What difference does it make? I mean, to us. Will it affect us?’

‘Maybe’ replies Pandora, ‘we’d need to know more.’

‘Do we? Do we really? If we don’t know it, and it’s not apparent, then what’s the problem here? Other than those we go and find’ he persists.

Before Pandora can answer Lyssa has pushed through the others and slammed his hand down on my desk. He is my image, but red in the face and he rarely stops moving.

‘This pisses me off!’ he screams at me, and the others, ‘who do they think they are? They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it! We should do something, NOW!’

He circles around, hand over mouth and eyes bulging, but of course, he cannot decide what to do: only I can decide. Though he does scare me, I don’t like him. On rare occasion he has held me by the throat and forced me to consider no others. But usually, he goes back to his room and seethes quietly to himself.

‘We should get more information first’ suggests Pandora.

‘Why bother?’ intervenes Pyrrho.

‘Why wait!’ demands Lyssa.

Anyone else to the table? Not just now. They may come out and appeal soon, but it is time to make a decision. I address the lobby.

‘Okay everybody. Here’s what we’ll do. Go back to your rooms and watch your monitors. I’ll call up what we’ve got, and we’ll go from there.’

‘What’s the point?’ says Pyrrho, whose memory is long but selective, ‘it will be the same as always. The options will be many and unrealistic. They will deter us from our primary objectives. Lyssa will calm down eventually, as usual, and Pandora, well he’ll get his day when we have a moment to spare I’m sure. Why not make the decision then?’

‘Go back and watch your monitors’ I repeat, and they do.

Moments later we are all appraised and gathered once again.

‘Has anyone anything further to add? Now you’ve seen the options?’

A more sedate Lyssa steps up.

‘Maybe I overreacted before. I’ve been talking to my colleagues. I mean, we’re not happy about this, don’t get me wrong, but we don’t want to take the lead. Not just yet’.

A predictable response. I look to Pandora.

‘It is something we would like to look into further, but not at this time, not as a matter of priority.’

‘And what of you Pyrrho? As if I need to ask.’

‘Whatever’ he says.

We are all sick with guilt. I know they feel it because I feel it too. It rumbles in our stomachs which are otherwise devoid of contents. There is still time for this to change what happens next: unless we take our medicine.

‘Let’s see how we feel after this’ I suggest. On the desk there are four small misty plastic caps filled with a dose of elixir. It is hard to tell from the colour, being a deep plum purple, but I suspect it is strong in pragmatics.

We all pick up and pour down, and wait. It soothes the guilt somewhat, not entirely, but it bolsters our resolve. It has a hint of selfish determination followed by notes of possible future action.

‘I think we all know what we need to do Gentlemen’ I conclude, and obligingly the screen presents me with the preferred option written in bold type, enclosed in a shaded grey box. It reads:

“Stay the course. We can do more about this later.”

Underneath there is the a tick and a cross. I press the tick and the image flicks to black. The others recede back to their rooms.

Inside me the concoction stirs and repeats a little. Outside of me the television changes to the next news story as I drain another cup of tea and think about what I need to do today, how I can ‘stay the course’.

My screen flicks into action with the next proposition and we start again. This will happen a million times at a million moments today, but not all will make it ‘to the top’ otherwise we’d all be for it. We would crank to a grinding halt and make no further steps, for the choices of so many. And we can’t let that happen because, well, because we just can’t.

In search of the immaterial: A short discourse on the mind.

Image

Prior to the enlightenment movement of the late 17th and 18th Centuries (a movement towards rationalist logic, usually characterised by empirical research and reasoning) there was a place in philosophy (and science in general) for the concept of ‘immaterial substance’, or the soul if you prefer.

This view dates back to Aristotle (and beyond) and still persists today in some branches of philosophy, but to a much lesser degree than the alternative ‘mind-function identity theories’ that were popularised by scientific rationalists (in which all states of the human mind, our capacity for reason and such like, are equated purely to the physical function which performs them, and nothing else).

To put it in more accessible language, the prevailing theories (that have undoubtedly been of use to science) is that we are merely a bag of bones and matter, nothing more, whereas dualists (as coined by Rene Descartes and following in the Aristotelian tradition) believe there is an unseen, (as yet) immeasurable quality to our being that works in conjunction with the body but is a distinct entity.

One of the features of the enlightenment and subsequent thinking is that it allows for atheism and the absence of a deity, indeed this is a prerequisite for much of the work it achieved. Prior to this it was not only a cultural assumption that had to be built into theories, it was often enforceable by law and punishment.

Due to this there has been a kind of conflation between the notion of the immaterial soul and the existence of deities in subsequent discourse. To believe one, the assumption goes, is to believe the other. Furthermore, to believe in the notion of deity, one is usually assumed to be prescribing to one of the many cultural doctrines that have formed around this concept. So, it follows in our culture for example, to believe in the immaterial, is to believe in a deity (or deities), and to believe in deities is to believe in the ‘God’ from the Christian tradition and to ascribe to the teachings and laws of the Bible.

This makes having a sensible debate on the issue of the immaterial soul rather hard to have, as the existence or otherwise of a God and the cultural implications (perceived or otherwise) that these beliefs have caused are contentious issues.

The trajectory of logical empirical thinking is to ‘reduce’ (reductionism). So for the functions of the mind responsible for high-reasoning and creative thinking (key areas of study for philosophy as these abilities seem to mark us out from other biological life), a reductionist can simply scan a human, ask them to make a series of reasoned or creative decisions, and identify areas of electrical activity in the brain that appear to correspond. The hope of such endeavour is that we can then make statements such as “when the human mind is reasoning about x, the brain state y is evoked, therefore, reasoning about x is the same thing as brain state y” and so on.

As a result, we have the ‘demystification’ of the human condition. Identity matches are catalogued, described and reproduced as reference for further study. As science continues to advance, the ability to trace these states down to smaller and more specific conditions increases. In theory, we should eventually have a blueprint for a human mind and be able to understand from scientific methods alone, all we are thinking, feeling and how we view the world.

The problem is, we haven’t arrived at this unified theory, and many would argue, each layer of reduction reveals such complex interrelations between all the component parts, that in fact, it becomes harder and harder to comprehend the whole in any useful way.

I will try and demonstrate what I mean with a little diagram.

M

/          \

A1                           A2

/\                            /\

A1(a)     A1(b)             A2(a)  A2(b)

/\             /\                    /\         /\

A1(a)x /A1(a)y    A1(b)x /A1(b)y  A2(a)x/A2(a)y  A2(b)x/A2(b)y

Okay, so my mathematic conventions may not be strict here, but hopefully it should follow. If we say M = mind (the thing we are trying to look for a unified theory of), and A1 and A2 represent such a simple binary decision matrix for an action-decision, such as ‘Shall I go for a walk?’.

So it could follow along these lines:

A1 = I will go for a walk. where

A1(a) = Is it cold? And A1(b) = Is it warm?

A1(a)x = Do I need a jacket or A1(a)y = Don’t I need a jacket?

A1(b)x = Do I need sunscreen or A1(b)y = Don’t I need sunscreen?

Where:

A2 =  I won’t go for a walk and

A2(a) = Should I go later today? And A2(b) = Should I cancel the idea?

A2(a)x =  Do I have anything else to do later today? And A2(a)y = Is the rest of the day free?

A2(b)x = Does not going for a walk make me feel good? And A2(b)y = Does not going make me feel bad?

And so on. Now the point of this little diagram is to demonstrate that even with a massive simplification of a basic decision tree like this, it is hard to see how identifying each mind state involved with each variable in isolation is of much use to anyone. If I spent my life studying the part of the mind that is responsible for A2(a)x (Do I have anything else to do today) – I am not going to be much closer to understanding what it is to be ‘M’ having decided to go for a walk.

Okay, so perhaps we don’t want to be looking in isolation then, no, we need to understand how each component relates to those above and below it in the chain of reasoning. But remember that this is a ridiculously simple rendering of a decision that pays no attention to multiple factors that could be considered. For the sake of demonstration I have manufactured a binary example, but in reality, we would be checking (consciously or not) a whole series of considerations, each leading to the unified ‘M’, and each with their own multiple conditions. On top of all that, our decisions seem to be modified by moods and emotions, which can alter states of thinking for none rational reasons and lead to unexpected outcomes – where do they come into the picture?

Now the purpose of this isn’t to ‘set the bar’ or turn away in defeat from nature’s complexity. This approach (as I mentioned) has led to some broad and specific advancements in science and psychology. What I am attempting to demonstrate it that as an absolute approach to understanding what it is to be mindful, to be of a mind, it is inadequate.

It strikes me that when considering the mind, we need to be expansive rather than reductive, in order to make sense of it, find out it’s limitations and abilities, and appreciate the holistic functions it has so brilliantly evolved. If we compare this to something that we do understand fully, like a television (because we invented it), it might make more sense. After all, a TV is nothing more than a series of lights being triggered in a particular pattern and order, repeatedly, to give the impression of a unified set of images. The show on the TV may be the most informative and life changing documentary ever to be broadcast. I am unlikely to get much from it if I am concentrating on one specific diode, relating to one specific pixel, in one corner of the screen. Indeed, learning that that one pixel goes from green to red to blue, isn’t going to tell me anything about the show.

But TVs aren’t like human minds are they, because a TV, without charge or signal, is just a vessel waiting to be activated by a force from somewhere else. To all intents and purposes, a force we can’t usually see, that carries information useless to anything but the device designed to receive it. We would find the notion of a TV operating without the added element of a signal to be ridiculous, and in comparison to the operations of the human mind, it is simple to the point of primitive.

What then if we replace the TV with a computer? Much the same in basics, but with added complex functionality. The reason I mention this is because one of the prevailing reductionist theories of mind is the ‘Computational Theory of Mind’ (CPM) – in which, as per my diagram above, the hope is to find the ‘programme’ behind our mental states in such a way that  is useful to the sciences. But as I have hopefully raised here, there are at least two problems:

1.            The programme of reduction in the time given:

A simple analogy should work here. You sit two people down in front of two identical computers and ask each to make use of it. One (the reductionist), proceeds to dismantle the facia, remove the motherboard and study the component parts. The other, the expansionist, switches it on and starts experimenting with the buttons and functions that have so obviously been presented for such use.

Now, in time, the reductionist may emerge with a detailed knowledge of the machine, down to the last microchip, but in the end, they are still going to have to switch it on and use it as intended to find out the rest. In the time given is important here, because when it comes to the human mind, the most complex computer we know of, if we give too much time over to the reductionist and neglect the expansionist, we may be missing valuable insight.

2. The implication of outside force.

What strikes me about the CPM and the whole notion of an ‘inner-language’ of thought, is that it leads logically to an agent, capable of using the mind in the way we would use the computer. Yes we can explain where the energy comes from to power it (we are after all, just walking furnaces of sorts), but that wouldn’t be enough to explain a computer. A power source is just one thing, we also need a useful functionality and an operator for it to mean anything. Now, I’m not going into design theory here, I’m sure the brain has evolved, but we do end up with a causal circularity between what is the programme, what is the programmer, and who is using it.

I’m not saying that proves anything, but if the reductionist programme is going to insist on using the computer analogy as a basis for theories, does it not have to solve this problem?

Dualism on the other hand, could explain this problem. As I said before, we would find it absurd for a TV to work without having a signal to contextualise the functions. And for the computer, if the programmer is evolution, the agent using this programme could be the immaterial substance. Drop a TV on an island isolated from the rest of humanity but within range of a transmission tower. Give it an incorporated power source and make it constantly ‘on’. Would we believe that the inhabitants of this island (presuming they don’t yet understand about frequency transmissions or TVs) would be wrong or stupid  to come up with the theory of a designer and a source substance? The fact that we don’t yet understand the spatial-temporal (or even dimensional) source of this agent, doesn’t imply it isn’t there.

Neither does it prove it is there, but the point of all this is to open up some more ideas and thoughts on the subject. I am not one for absolutism in theory, and I find that assumptions against dualism have crept in to modern philosophy and culture to a degree where we may be in danger of ‘taking the computer apart’ without even switching it on.

As with all things a balanced approach is preferable. We should perhaps give as much credence to those looking to expand our minds by exploring its functions (through meditation and spiritual practice for example) as those looking to reduce it to component parts. In the end it is all part of our thirst for knowledge and each is useful.

Thanks for reading. I would be happy to respond to any arguments or thoughts on these ideas.