Thursday, 19 February 2009

Cogito ergo sum?

You may be familiar with the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep on which the film Blade Runner was based. Its central theme explored the moral premise of whether androids - the replicants in the film - that had developed consciousness could be regarded as any less human than their creators. I immediately thought of this when I recently came across an article on Wikipedia regarding the China Brain thought experiment. The experiment postulates that consciousness need not be dependent on biological synaptic activity within a brain but could exist in a similarly organised structure with analogous interconnected synaptic elements. In fact in the thought experiment this synaptic activity is mimiced by the individual Chinese communicating to each other by telephone.

While the implications of this discovery were still taking root in my mind I got a call from my twin brother. James it transpired, was already familiar with the premise of non-biological consciousness from the work of Oxford Professor of Philosophy Nick Bostrom and put me onto a paper of his entitled Are You Living In A Computer Simulation. The paper has been around since at least 2001 but its implications are simultaneously profound and banal: profound in the sense that if you accept the proposal that we are individual elements in an ancestor simulation run by by an advanced post human society there are significant implications (for example, are the physics we observe in our universe 'real' or a limited representation of the truth); banal in the sense that it changes nothing about the way we live our lives now. Does it matter that we ourselves will never reach the post human stage: once we have consciousness, are we any less 'real' than Dick's replicants? It would be puerile for example to suggest that a person who was suffering could take consolation from the fact that their pain was simulated. Personally I am inclined to disbelieve the simulation argument. Not because of any rational rebuttal to Professor Bostrom but for the purely emotional and egotistical implication that do so would imply my existence was somehow less than the post human who created it. Truly I am like the publican who eyes the Pharisee askance: the ego and rational thought are poor bedfellows.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

"But I believe...

...Aang will save the world". I may have mentioned this before but I am mad for anime. In the hands of its principal exponents it is an art form. The renowned Studio Ghibli collection is unparalleled anywhere: Howl's Moving Castle, and the Castle of Cagliostro being among my favourites. Anime however, is not just a Japanese preserve. Nickelodeons excellent Avatar series The Legend Of Aang has taken me and my son Luca on our own odyssey. Its principal characters Aang, Sokka and Katara feel like part of our family now. As events have unfolded I have been moved from enmity to sympathy for Prince Zuko on his trajectory from royalty to outcast, from darkness to redemption; I have been enlightened by the zen-like tutelage of Iro his compassionate and wise uncle; and laughed my sides sore at the antics of Sokka. In its treatment of themes as diverse as friendship, loyalty, love, responsibility, evil and redemption it sets exemplary role models for developing children. Who said TV had to be bad for children?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The western as allegory

The opportunity to sit down together with Elissa and watch a movie in the evening is an infrequent pleasure in chez Connor. So when we do get the chance we tend to watch a movie we've bought in advance for just just such a moment. Sometimes I will choose the movie and sometime Elissa will. It so happened that last nights viewing choice was selected by Elissa: Seraphim Falls.

Essentially it's a pursuit thriller with Liam Neeson's Carver pursuing Pierce Brosnan's Gideon across a breathtaking Oregon landscape which excellent cinematography really brings to life. Carver is accompanied by a posse of men intent on killing Gideon for a reason that is only revealed much later in the film. The dialog is sparse and the action frenetic as Gideon endures one close encounter after another as he attempts to outrun his hunters. This is Western on a grand scale but what makes this film especially compelling is its alternative context - this is Western as allegory.

It is a story of a descent into Hell. The pursuit is relentlessly downwards: from the high mountain fastnesses where it begins, it proceeds first to the plains, then the scrublands and then ultimately to the desert - to Hell. The further downwards Gideon runs, the baser the people he encounters: the people in the mountain cabin are essentially good; the railway engineers, the hypocritical mormons he meets on the plains are worse; the bandits he meets in the scrublands worse still. Ultimately in the desert, where the film has its conclusion, he encounters the Devil in the guise of Angelica Huston's snake oil salesperson. Unfortunately this is also the weakest part of the film. Huston's role clumsily and unnecessarily signposts the allegory and mars what is otherwise a very fine film. I am assured too that once she was able to look beyond Pierce's handsome countenance, Elissa also appreciated this Icon films production. I recommend it.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Pass it on

I got a nice mail from the people at Macmillan today thanking me for my marathon efforts so I have posted it below so that all my sponsors can see what a contribution their money makes and how much it is appreciated. Thanks again.

Dear Mr Connor

May we begin by congratulating you for completing the Abingdon Marathon. Your fantastic achievement has also raised £402.13 (including Gift Aid) for Macmillan Cancer Support through the Just Giving Website. It is with the support of people like you that we can improve the lives of more and more people affected by cancer.

Macmillan provides practical, medical, emotional and financial support and we push for better cancer care. It’s not only patients who live with cancer, we also help carers, families and communities; providing practical support, such as precious time off for a carer, or a simple lift to a hospital. We guide people through the system, fund nurses and other specialist health care professionals and build cancer care centres.

We share information and give emotional support, though our CancerLine, website, support groups and trained professionals. Our Macmillan Grant and benefits advice help people cope with the financial impact cancer can have. We are also a force for change, listening to people affected by cancer and working together to fight inequality and improve cancer care. We believe everyone with cancer should receive the same level of care regardless of whom they are and where they live.

We can’t do any of this without your support. You have helped change lives.

Once again, please accept our warmest thanks for your valuable support.

Yours sincerely

Victoria Morgan

Supporter Services Assistant (Monday - Wednesday)

( Tel: 0207 840 5092


Visit the Macmillan website at

Macmillan Cancer Support improves the lives of people affected by cancer. We provide practical, medical, emotional and financial support and push for better cancer care. Cancer affects us all. We can all help. We are Macmillan Cancer Support.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

A child is born

Announcing the birth of my heir, Sebastian James Connor, born 27th December 2008 at 11:29 and weighing in at a sprightly 6 lbs 8 ozs. Here he is fresh from his birth throes.

His mother Elissa has now firmly established her earth mother credentials with a completely natural birth - no palliative medicines, not even a piece of bark to bite down on! Honey, I salute you!

What I have seen of the little fellow's temprament so far has led me to expect great things. Last night he slept soundly and whenever he is discomfited he can be easily placated by picking him up. I am twice blessed! Even if several kill-joys have told me not to put the pot on: you know who you are.

His long, athletic limbs lead me to believe that the Connor gene is dominant in this incarnation but the Soave mouth is clearly in evidence and he has my mothers nose (on second thoughts the nose may be the inevitable consequence of his tempestuous journey down the birth canal and will probably rectify itself). Every child is indeed a miracle.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The Finish Line

Well…it’s over. My race is run. 10 months of training culminated in 3 hours 30 minutes and 38 seconds of effort. How did it feel? I want to do it again! Does that seem a long time to be running? Perhaps I’m glorifying my reflections but it seemed to fly past. There was pain certainly, and disappointment: at mile 14 I developed a pain in my left hip joint that stayed with me and intensified for the remainder of the race. At the time I thought it was bad luck, an unfortunate injury that would steal from me the faster time that I was owed but, on consideration, my time reflects accurately where my running is – no more, no less. In the marathon you have to pay your dues. Some people get cramps, others hit the wall, but one way or the other, if you don’t prepare properly you will get bitten. More miles on the road; cross training to strengthen my core; both these things may have prevented my injury. The marathon is a harsh teacher. There were lots of pluses to take from the day too of course, but perhaps the biggest is that I know my running still has room for improvement.

Finally, I want to thank all those who sponsored my run or wished me luck. The encouragement you gave helped ease the miles as they ticked by. We did a good thing together: we raised over £320 for charity. And Emil was right - if you want to experience something run a marathon. Happy running!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The waiting game

My wife Elissa is 29 weeks pregnant at the moment but in her pre-impregnated state was no stranger to running herself. In fact, as she often likes to remind me, her running pedigree is a lot more distinguished than mine stretching back, as it does, over twenty years. She doesn’t say so exactly, but I think it frustrates her sometimes to see me lacing up and leaving our family behind when her own exercise ambitions await our new arrival. And I can sympathise with how she feels. My marathon has had a lengthy gestation period of its own. I signed up and began training in early February and the process will eventually come to fruition in less than two weeks time. The big day has been a shadow on the horizon for a long time now and I’ve run that race so many times in my head that it exhausts me to think of it. The French have an excellent term for it: the idee fixe. A fixed idea, an obsession that dominates all other thoughts. For too long now my primary concerns have been for training, nutrition and recovery and the minutiae of everday life has been lost. To Elissa certainly, it has become boring. The obsession of self: it’s wearing, especially for me! But…when I cross the finish line what then? When the cheering has ended, the blisters have healed and my medal rests in some forgotten drawer, what then? I hope I will feel like a runner and not a one-race johnny: that it is a beginning and not an end. I hope that running – second nature to me now – will assume its proper priority in my life. I hope that when Elissa pulls her lycra back on she will be mindful of the immortal tag line from Highlander: There can only be one! ...You know I'm joking Honey