catholic by birth; scientist by choice; sinner by merit. gaidhlig-speaking neuroscience student at oxford. likes to question everything! @di_macd

Why can't people just call me by my name?

This seems to have struck a chord with people - my frustrations with people who translate or ignore non-English names…


German Words Moving Abroad [xpost r/germany][2000x1347]


German Words Moving Abroad [xpost r/germany][2000x1347]

(via selchieproductions)

“We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.”

—   Voltaire

Anonymous said: Tell me about Scottish history! (In particular, your favourite parts of the parts that you think more people should know).

There is no such thing as Scotland.

Historically, at least, Scotland is a mish-mash of different peoples, languages and even governments, fused together by necessity.

I provided a nice long answer, but I’ve had to simplify alot, so apologies to any history experts who think its a little cartoonish.

 In 1138, David I ‘King of Scots’ fought the English at the Battle of the Standard leading an army made up of “Normans, Germans, English, Northumbrians and Cumbrians, men of Teviotdale and Lothian, Galwegians and Scots.” This battle was in Yorkshire, and it was as a result of the King of Scots desire to rule over the north of England. He had Cumbria already and wanted Northumbria too, so he just invaded whilst the English were in the middle of a civil war. We were beaten, but that’s not why I bring it up. That eyewitness account of the composition of the King of Scots’ forces is helpful in showing the disparate people that have created Scotland.

We’ll start with the last on the list – Scots. Historians think ‘Scot’ comes from a Latin word meaning pirate, which was used to refer to the Irish raiders who attacked the west coasts of Britain during the AD 500s and 600s. (Indeed, the Romans called Ireland Scotia!) These pirates were Celts and they spoke a language called Old Gaelic, which is the ancestor of the language I speak ‘gaidhlig.’ During the Dark Ages, these Scots settled all over the Western Seaboard of Britain, but especially in Argyll. They called it Dalriada, named after their home in Ireland. In the 700s the Kings of Dalriada shifted from Ireland to their new territory in Scotland, which had been colonized by thousands of these Old Gaelic speakers. At that time the north of Scotland was under the control of a mysterious people called the Picts, who we only know from stone engravings, their language having been lost. In 843AD King Kenneth MacAlpin of Dalriada is supposed to have conquered these Picts and hence became the first King of Alba, or King of Scots. No one knows if the Picts were killed in genocide, or by plagure, or if (I think more likely) they were just absorbed into the Scots’ population. So, at MacAlpins’ death Scotland consisted of a Kingdom, north of the River Forth, uniting the Gaelic-speaking Scots (henceforth, we’ll call ‘em Gaels) and the unknown-speaking Picts.

I’ll sketch where everyone else was at that time, working back the way on our list from Scots. First – Galwegians. They were settlers of Norse origin living on the south coast of Scotland, who picked up the Gaelic language from the Scots and came to be know as Gall-Gaels, or ‘Foreign Gaels.’ The intermixing of Gael and Gall (i.e. Norseman) happened all the time in medieval Scotland. For instance, the Gaelic for Hebrides is Innse Gall (‘Foreign Isles’) because in the middle ages this now most Gaelic of places was brimming with Norsemen. The clan MacDonald is descended from Norse-Gaelic warrior called Somerled – he wrested control of the north-west coast of Scotland as well as the Hebrides from the Earl of Orkney (a Norwegian – this is confusing isn’t it?!) and set up the Lordship of the Isles. The Lordship of the Isles persisted as in independent state (or thorn in the side) to the King of Scots until well into 15th century and indeed, was the only truly Gaelic state in Scotland, because as we shall see the King of Scots was quick to abandon his Gaelic roots during the Middle Ages…

So, carrying on, our men of Teviotdale and Lothian, as well as our English and Germans, and Northumbrians, are representatives of the Anglo-Saxon speaking people that lived in the south-east of Scotland when MacAlpin united the kingdom. They weren’t under his rule yet though. King Malcolm the second grabbed them in the 1000s, and they were added to the Kingdom of Scots. However, they had a far higher population than the Gaels, and being on the east-coast were richer as they had better trade links with Europe. Their language – a variety of Anglo-Saxon – came to dominate urban life and Gaelic was gradually relegated to the countryside, and then to the wild Highlands, and then just to the islands. The Anglo-Saxons’ language came to be called Scots as most Scots spoke it, while Gaelic was disparaged as Erse (‘Irish!’). It’s interesting to note that this Anglo-Saxon language is not a dialect of English – English and Scots in fact share a common ancestor in Old German: they divided apart while still in Europe and came to Britain with different tribes.

The Cumbrians mentioned refer to the Britons (Welsh-speaking Celts) who lived in the south of Scotland during the Dark Ages. Their most important kingdom was Strathclyde, built around the River Clyde, but they were quickly absorbed the new Scots kingdom, and their language was wiped out, so they don’t much concern us here.

The Normans, however, are the same Normans who conquered England in 1066. They carried on to Scotland and made the king swear an oath to recognize Wiliam as his overlord – this was the basis all the subsequent English claims to the Scottish throne. Even after the armies withdrew, many Norman knights stayed in Scotland, and became the feudal aristocracy. Other Norman and Breton knights were induced to move there later thanks to generous offers from the King of Scots. Under Queen Margaret and these knights, Scotland was slowly Francophied, and it abandoned Gaelic. The last Gaelic king of Scots was old macBeth. After that, Anglo-Normans dominated. Even William Wallace was of Norman stock!

And speaking of Wallace, historians agree that these multifarious peoples I detailed above created for themselves a united national identity during the Wars of Independence. At Stirling Bridge the spearmen most definitely did not shout “FREEDOM!” – Gaelic, Scots, French and Norse would have been heard; none of which, however, were the universal language. There was no united Scottish culture when the English invaded at the end of the 13th century – there was no such thing as Scotland.  Anthropologist Anthony Cohen says that Scottish identity did not arise from a unifying Scottish language but from the certainty that whoever the Scots were they were most definitely “not-English.” Thus, the Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland’s birth certificate, conceived national identity as ultimately that which was distinct from England. 

We started off with the Battle of the Standard, but that was the personal ambition of a feudal king - it wasn’t enough to create a nation.

But in 1314 at Bannockburn, under Robert the Bruce, a descendant of norman knights, we have Normans, and Anglo-Saxons (Scots?), and Gall-Gaels, and Norse, and Gaels fighting. And with that battle, and the many others, the lowland Scots become a nation. They become the Scots. And we have a Scotland…

But, interestingly, it’s from this century – the 14th century – that the Scots turn against the Lordship of the Isles, and against the Gaels. And from then on the Highland Line becomes a chasm and we have two Scotlands – Highland and Lowland.

But that I think is a story for another day.

Father Allan MacDonald of Eriskay

This was written for a historical society exhibition. It’s basically a short essay from which we took out good captions for photos etc. It’s far more breezy than my usual style, and lacking in any historical analysis. I had to write for an audience - namely, the religious and fact(as opposed to analysis)-loving average Eriskay person… 

(WARNING: You will notice I assume religious faith is a good thing. Again this is called ‘selling-out’ and is sometimes necessary when writing with someone else in mind)

Who was Father Allan, the man? Allan MacDonald - priest, poet, and folklorist - was born on the 25th October 1859 in the luxurious surroundings of Fort William Hotel. Despite having indeed been fortunate enough to obtain a room at the proverbial inn, from a young age his dream was to serve Christ as a member of the priesthood. At first, he studied at Blairs College, Aberdeenshire, and thence to Vallodolid in Spain where he undertook most of his training in the San Ambrosio College. 

Following ordination he was sent Oban as assistant priest. The people were fond of this young and popular priest yet, in 1884, he was transferred to Daliburgh parish which, at the time, was the poorest parish in the poorest diocese in all of Scotland. The people depended on him as an educated person to represent them in matters temporal as well as religious.  He laboured for ten happy but hardworking years in South Uist. However, A School in South Uist tells us it was always his desire to minister to and then die with “the simple fisher folk of Eriskay,” When, due to exhaustion, the Bishop relieved him of the burden of the St Peters, he crossed the sound to the island of Eriskay. An island he loved despite it being “bare of  barley!”

The impact he had on this little island at the edge of nowhere can hardly be exaggerated. But Fr Allan’s greatest legacy )of many) is - of course - the church, which stands imposingly alone atop the hill known as Cnoc na Sgrath.

Prior to Fr Allan’s arrival on the island, the people of Eriskay worshipped in a damp and smoky blackhouse, situated where the statue of Our Lady is now. The roof was full of holes and the visiting priest literally did have to walk on water in order to say mass. There were no seats, therefore the congregation all stood in cramped and crowded conditions. It was obvious to Fr Allan a new building was required, for how could he minister to his flock if the Chapel wasn’t even a worthy home for sheep?

Funds were needed and fast. This was mostly raised from subscriptions paid by Fr Allan’s rich friends plus, most importantly, the pious fisherman donated the takings from one catch a week to the appeal. On the designated day, the people gathered to pray for fruitful fishing, and it is claimed that these Church catches were far larger than the rest of the week’s. The faith of the Eriskay congregation was such that the construction of the church became a community endeavour, with sand being carried by the schoolchildren during their break and the men giving up their time to shift the large stones up the Rubha Ban.

The Church’s positioning on Cnoc na Sgrath was inspired in that it can be seen from all corners (of the populous part) of the island, as if it were a kind of beacon to the people, a physical focal point for the isle and also as a lighthouse shining to the sailors in the sound. Although some might argue it could just as easily be called a watchtower surveying the island!

As well as the Church, Fr Allan’s legacy to Eriskay includes the bringing of the telegraph line, which in turn led to telephone and electricity lines. He also led the people in the construction of a road out to Bun a’ Mhuilinn. This was the first road in Eriskay; “An Rathad Ard,” and it is still used today by walkers. With one road, people demanded more, a desire eventually manifesting itself in the causeway, built in 2000.  One could argue Fr Allan, in building the first road, sent us down the road of crossing the sound by causeway. I imagine he would be very pleased to see cars driving across the causeway, thinking of the days he spent by the fire at Taobh a’ Chaolais awaiting a boat to ferry him over to say mass.

Fr Allan was a community leader who loved his community. He loved their Gaidhlig language and his book, Gaelic Words And Expressions From South Uist, demonstrates the meticulous detail with which he recorded the fading Hebridean culture. His notebooks are a treasure trove of observations of the distinctive Eriskay way of life. As a priest he wanted his congregation to understand the message of God and, therefore, years before Vatican II, he decided to translate the mass into Gaidhlig. He composed many hymns which are still heard at mass to this day. 

As a collector of folklore Fr Allan was renowned throughout Scotland. However, being a generous man, when Anna Goodrich Freer visited him he quite happily gave her free-reign with his note-books. Years later she published his work under her own name. Fr Allan’s many friends were angered. Fr Allan was upset that people were arguing and, to the loss of Gaidhlig scholarship, he ceased collating folklore for fear of causing more controversy.

Fr Allan is easily the most celebrated person every to call themselves an Eirisgeach His impact is such that it would be remarkably difficult to find someone living on the island today who wasn’t aware who Fr Allan was, even if they were aware only that he built the Church. In his time, Fr Allan was regarded as a kind of father to the isle, ministering to all the needs of the people, be they spiritual, medical or social. But the nature of his work wore him out before his time. Fr Allan died of Acute Pneumonia in October 1905 when he was only 46 years old. In his short life he did more for the people of Eriskay than anyone ever had or will. Despite more than one hundred years having passed since his death, he lives on in St Michael’s his pride and joy, in the hymns sung and mass said every Sunday, and in the great Celtic Cross (erected by the people) which guards his grave. Finally, every summer the boats are blessed in Acarsaid Mhor, a tradition began by Fr Allan for which he received a special papal dispensation. The priest blesses the fishermen’s boats so they will have a safe year at sea, and Fr Allan, that lover of the “simple fisherfolk of Eriskay”, himself a great fisher of men, would be very proud to see that this unique tradition has continued for more than a century. A fitting legacy for a man who braved howling winds to cross the sound every Sunday to say mass.

Of Scotland’s annual education budget, which amounts to a whooping £7.9 billion, only £5.6 million are spent on things related to the promotion and teaching of the Gaelic language.


Sure, Gaelic is only spoken by a little less than 2% of the Scottish population, but as we actually do amount to 2% of the population, one would think we’d at least get 2% of said budget, rather than the 0.07% of it that we’re currently getting.

People always complain about Gaelic Medium Education and how our children are getting more money than other children; this, however, is far from the truth. Each year the government invests £1385 in every child in GME - i.e. a child who gets their education through the medium of Scottish Gaelic - whereas non-GME schools get £3556 per child and year to spend on their education.

The SNP has said that it plans on changing this, but I remain highly unconvinced as to whether or not this is something they will really try to change, as they won’t even bother putting a Gaelic translation on our upcoming independence referendum answer sheets as ‘it’d cost to much’.

Sometimes I feel like Gaelic is little more than a way for the government to attract tourists to our country (ceilidhs!stunning islands!kilts!bagpipes!capercaillie!julie fowlis!) while they’re actively making sure that people who want to use their language as something more than a tourist gimmick are completely ignored … 

The money Dr Alasdair Allan is spending in his new post as Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages on forcing an obligatory Scottish text on every Higher English pupil (just after we all having been forced to study a Scottish topic in history), and on inventing some daft new course called ‘Scottish Studies’, would be better spent on making it more rewarding for young Gaels to go into teaching as opposed to the media, or on supporting Gaidhlig classes throughout the country, or maybe on giving important companies in his own constituency the right to benefit from RET…

A long sentence I know, but a proper commitment from the Scottish government on improving the status of Gaidhlig has to be explicity tied into improving the Western Isles economy. Our last gaidhealtachd will die between being denied fishing rights in our own waters and having our only forward-looking industry (namely, Arnish renewable technologies) gathering dust despite the Scots gov’s supposed desire to become green! 

Turning Gaidhlig into a toy language to be studied (i.e. learning ‘ciamar a tha thu’) as part of some vapid Scottish studies Int 2 course is the road to extinction. Isn’t the SNP’s attempts to Scottishize the curriculum reminscent of Michael Gove’s attempts in England to turn History GSCSE into ‘Our-National-Story Indoctrinating’ class…

…I love Scotland, I’ll vote YES in the referendum, but the way the SNP gov is treating Gaidhlig and the Western Isles makes me worry we’ll be worse off post indepedence…

a-curious-creature said: Have you heard of Merlin Donald? We had a very interesting lecture and tutorial on his work today, focusing on memetic culture, and the general consensus was 'why hasn't anyone thought of this before?' I haven't made up my mind yet- another lecture next week, and we're relating back to Dreyfus, Gehlen, Herder etc., but the central idea that homo erectus must have had something to facilitate a co-operative society and form a basis for the development of language is intuitively convincing.

Yes I have! And for the benefit of those who haven’t I’ll rehash his ideas below.

Merlin Donald gave us an interesting picture of how the mind could have evolved, and showed how the interplay of culture and biology sculpted it over the last 500,000 or so years. I wouldn’t call it an empirical theory as such, but the ideas are well-worth examining.

He divides human cognitive evolution into four great epochs.

Originally, hominids could only think in ‘episodic’ terms. This is the sort of thinking we see in great apes, and dolphins, and octopus. Their behaviour consists of short-term responses to the environment, lived entirely in the present. Remember though that in Donald’s terminology thinking refers only to conscious thought. So these hominids would still have been driven by instinct to act in the long term (like swallows instinctively migrating), but would never consciously have sat down and thought: we need to leave some of those berries on that bush so it’ll be there next year.

The second epoch is the one you’re talking about. The word Donald uses is ‘mimetic’, not memetic though. (I can understand the confusion, memes are all about culture too!) He says the worldview of Homo Erectus was qualitatively different to that of the hominids that went before. In a way, if we accept that real consciousness requires a self persisting over time and with an awareness of itself doing that, then this Mimetic stage is Donald’s origin of consciousness.  Erectus led a social life but I think the distinction is that, while chimps instinctively hunt together, Donald imagined Erectus communicating with each other and handing traditions down the generations in order to uphold the society. He says that this wasn’t based on language, as you know, but on facial expressions, signing, mimicry etc. Information could be exchanged, but slowly, and this is why it ‘took’ Erectus 400,000 years to discover fire.

Donald talks up the symbolic capabilities of the mimetic stage. There’s this lovely quote where he says its “The Great Homind Escape From The Nervous System.” He literally does view Erectus as inventing culture, and it is during this period we see the first crude bone sculptures etc. The crucial point is that mimesis allows skills to be transferred, so they can be ‘inherited’ in a non-biological fashion, as learned behaviour rather than instincts. Again, I think he’s emphasising the conscious nature of mimetic communication because, well, its vastly inferior in its precision to the instinctive bee dances!

So, after mimesis, comes mythic thought. And here lies the origin of true language, he says. He claims from analysis of 20th century hunter-gatherer tribes that the first use of language was in crafting a group identity through storytelling and mythologizing – creating a mental model of man’s place in the universe. I think this is a dodgy assumption. Okay, hunter-gatherer tribes are highly-verbal and have an advanced oral culture, as did all pre-literate peoples. That doesn’t imply, however, that that was langauge’s original use. Why would you go from basic mimesis used in practical situations to using words to tell complex stories? I’d’ve thought the selective advantage went to the tribe who used language to educate their kids better in stone use, or to work together in hunting, or to plan their future movements. Most theories of language origins seems to focus on those kinds of factors – e.g. fostered in-group cohesion by allowing hunters to plan strategies together and thus bring home more food.

Donald’s fourth stage is theoretic thought, in the last 30,000 years or so, and this is the sort that he associates with the development of bows and arrows, ceramics etc. To me, this seems the more pragmantic kind of thinking – the ability to communicate intuitive ideas about physics etc. In a way, I can buy his idea of storytelling before technology – I mean storytelling is useful in that you can communicate directions, and it is obviously crucial to creating a group’s identity in history.

Merlin Donald’s ideas rest however on a non-biological model of the brain. For him, once the mimetic threshold was passed in Erectus, humans had the cognitive ability to do anything: it just took the slow development of society to wake it up. But brain size had been expanding up to 100,000 years ago. There were gross changes in neurobiology, to which any account of psychological evolution must be connected.

Language origins research was famously banned in the 19th century by the linguistic society of Paris on the charge of being nothing more than idle speculation. Mimesis seems intuitively sensible, but to my mind it doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with generative grammar models of language (and hence language origins). The crucial thing in generative grammar is the combinatorial nature of language and the arbitratiness of the sign. Facial expressions etc are neither combinatorial (they aren’t made up of discrete units that can only combined following specific rules) nor are they arbitrary (their meanings aren’t learned as an arbitraty relationship, they are instinctive, and indeed, seen in chimps and bonobos). Donald’s transition to mythic thinking emphasized ‘content’, rather than grammar. If we accept that grammar is what is selected for, then development of grammar is independent of what ‘content’ is up to. We are left with two options. Chomsky’s idea that grammar ability emerged from a general increase in overall cognitive function – (distinct from Donald’s ideas of higher cognitive functioning stemming from cooperation caused by language use). Or we take Pinker and Bloom’s language organ: whereby genetic mutations give rise to specific module of the mind that provides us with a language faculty. This has always struck me as a bit of a hopeful monster – language use is dependent on one random lucky mutation in one person. Think about it – if a mutation gave rise to language in one person, who’s he meant to talk to and accrue the benefits of language?! This is why Donald’s theories that emphasize social factors are worth listening to, and, are indeed, intuitively convincing.

Terrence Deacon’s ideas, however, allow us to rescue Donald’s emphasis on ‘content.’ For Deacon the crucial part of language is its symbolic capacity. He would differ from Donald though in that he sees symbolic learning as existing in great apes – in the episodic, as well as mimetic stages! He thinks symbolic learning is just a version of indexical learning. This is borne out by the way chimps have been taught to associate arbitrary signs and symbols with the real world. This looks scarily like behaviourism so we have to ask ourselves are the chimps associating the idea of the banana with the token, or are they associating the token with the tasty reward? For Deacon, what’s special about language is the way the symbols are referred indexically to each other, rather than out there in the world. This could maybe be incorporated into the idea of a mythic stage, of a language system developing independent of the world.

Finally Deacon skewers Pinker and Bloom. The fact there is a universal grammar underlying all languages is an observable fact. Therefore, these linguistic universals must have a biological origin, namely a language organ. Deacon says instread that language and the brain co-evolved. Language is an evolving system, remember, so Deacon says that the languages or grammars best at getting themselves into human brains (the easiest to learn) were naturally better adapted and so proliferated. As the brain changed, selective pressure on grammar changed. Today, humans are fairly similar in neurological makeup, so languages are basically the same at a basic level. In this way, Deacon envisages that the means of communication best at getting themselves transmitted in brains spread among populations, and the brains best at transmitting these forms of communication, due to the advantage it conferred, had greater reproductive success. In this way, language evolved to be easy for the child’s brain to learn, and the child’s brain evolved to be good at learning language. Deacon’s work is good for Merlin Donald in that it focusses on language as a cultural artefact, ever-changing, and sculpting the brain, rather that being a fixed mental organ.

So, yeah, that was good to get off my chest. What do you study? Linguistics? Anthropology?

A Mulefa. Despite how bizarre this thing looks, its a great example of evolutionary symbiosis. The mulefa benefits by using the seed pods as wheels, while the tree benefits as the mulefa wear the pods down til they break scattering their seed. Note that the world of the mulefa has roads made by volcanic lava flow - i.e. the symbiosis could only arise in that kind of environment, because wheels are only useful if they have something flat to roll on.
Examples of symbiosis in our world include:
- Humans and their stomach bacteria (or stomach bacteria and their humans!)
- Reef fish and their cleaner fish (or cleaner fish and their reef fish)
- Ants and their domesticated aphids (or aphids and their domesticated ants)
- Bees and their flowers. (or flowers and their bees)
- Eukaryotic cells and their mitochondria (or mitochondria and their eukaryotic cells)
- Paramecia and their cilia (or cilia and their paramecia)
- lichen!!!
Mulefa don’t seem so crazy after all…

raptorific said: It's interesting that you mentioned creation vs. evolution, (although, point of order, that quote is from the Declaration of Independence), because Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, meaning he believes the universe was created, but continued from that point without intervention from the creating being. I like the idea of "created" because it works as saying that what's important is equal OPPORTUNITY rather than literal equality, meaning everyone should start life with the same doors open to them.

Well, most theories of justice (John Rawls and friends) imagine that this whole idea of equality of opportunity is indeed something created by humanity. We confer equality of opportunity on each other, so that kind of equality is only real because we believe it so. Its like the role of President of the US, there’s no real thing called a President, but by virtue of a general perception (whether you voted for him or not) Obama accrues this identity president. So the idea of giving each other equality of opportunity stems from a social aggreement among people to treat other people as objects in of themselves, with freedoms rights etc. Thats the basis of social contract theory.

Thus this kind of equality is independent of wherever humanity came from. It stems from the rules governing the interactions between people all over the world.

However, I have to admit, I have little time for this kind of theorizing. Social contract theory imagines this tacit aggreement to treat others equally somehow spontaneously arising from ingroup interaction back in the prehistoric. John Rawls actually uses the metaphor of a bunch of cavemen sitting down together by the fire and hammering out this contract to treat others equally.

However, I ask the question where does this willingness to treat others equally come from? The social contract isn’t so much a social aggreement, but a set of behaviours that were selected for within evolutionary time. I believe that there is an genetic predisposition within humanity to treat other people we perceive as humans as objects in of themselves - that is, the Golden Rule was selected for by natural selection. I’ve blogged about this before, in far more eloquent fashion and with supporting experimental evidence, so I’ll refer anyone interested to this essay:

My only gripe with what I wrote there is that after reading Terrence Deacon’s work on language coevolution, I would tend to see moral codes as undergoing a kind of memetic evolution to best fit in with human nature. That is, the behavioural codes that are best adapted to being expressed within the context of natural human behaviour are more likely to survive than those that aren’t so (e.g. the attempt to create new family relations rules in the kibbutz). I think, then, you can rescue social contract theory and say that there is a human predisposition to treat people we perceive as being human as objects of moral concern, and that moral codes that encourage such behaviour (i.e. golden rule within the group of people we consider human) such as Christianity, Islam, Humanism are more likely to survive in what I guess I must call the meme pool. 

And after that longwinded rant, I must say I agree with you. We should strive to allow all people to start life with the same doors open to them - especially in education. But that doesn’t imply we ought to force them to walk through those doors!

P.S. I know Jefferson was a Deist. I think that kind of Deism is rather dodgy position though. Its the whole idea of a clockwork universe, whereby everything that happens is predermined in the systems (ie. Universe’s) initial conditions. And that therefore, if we knew the initial conditions, holding the laws of physics are constant, then we can know the future. This is one of those bland statements testosorone fuelled physicists (e.g. Brian Cox) like to make when they wanna sound profound. Yeah, if we knew every detail of how the quarks etc interacted we could know how to predict a heart attack, but we’ll never know because that kind of computing power is physically unattainable. (more points of interaction than there are atoms in universe). So instead of spouting truisms, these physicists should be helping develop imaging technology so squishy biologists can study the heart, or they should be put their differential equations to good use in statistical analyses of heart attack incidence. 

Union and the Gaels

Good news everyone! I got second place in the Trinity College, Cambridge essay competition. =] I wrote an essay arguing that post-1707, the effective northern border of the United Kingdom was the Highland Line. Because of the trouble and disorder caused by this lack of control over half of Scotland, Scotland did not benefit economically or socially from union in the first 40 years. Only after 1745, when the union government consolidated control over the highlands, could Scotland truly benefit, look to the colonies, and enter her Age of Improvement. Thus came the Enlightenment and the birth of modernity and industry. But this came at a price: the destruction of the Gaels’ social structure, way of life, language and culture, in order to keep order and prevent any more attacks on the Hannoverian status quo. My argument then was that in order for Scotland and Britain itself to become the dominant economic and military power on the face of the earth, Gaidhlig had to be destroyed and Gaeldom as an entity distinct from Protestant Britain had to be eliminated. For imperialism to appear, first the government had to secure Britain as an island. We can thus see that the British Empire (which historians agree was an endeavour dominated by lowland Scots and educated Englishment) was born in the murder of the first aboriginal people - the Gaels of north-West Scotland…

One day the British would do away with every indigenous Tasmanian - they got plenty of practice with the slaughter and clearance of the glens.

[I may well post this essay but its very long and far less overtly-political - I had to tone it down and focus on the economics cos, well, its Cambridge…]