5. Why Gorillas have a large brain


So here’s the answer to the central question…

Big brains are related to strong social bonds, high levels of intelligence, intense parenting, long periods of learning, and ability to deal with volatile environments. Exactly which one was the initial force driving the human brain expansion is unknown. In comparison to the great apes, early hominids lived in more open and dry areas, which made it difficult to escape from predators and find water. Thus, the brain size expansion may be related to the ability to cope with volatile environments, as some people believe. But, there is no definite answer yet.

Evolutionary biologist Jianzhi Zhang, The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Detail from his study in the journal Genetics, December 2003

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1. The Magpie


In which our hero learns something about the acquisition of knowledge

“[…] the magpie was originally a maggot pie, not because it had anything to do with either maggots or meat pies, but because this pied, this black-and-white crow, was still earlier named a Margaret Pie: just as the sparrow was dubbed Philip, the redbreast Robin and some tits Tom.  Margaret and its associated nicknames seem to have been particularly fruitful in this field of linguistics, for it was also from that name that the owl came to be called a madge.”

I Am a Cat Soseki Natsume (1905-6: 3-453)

So Madonna shares something with the owl? Continue reading

9. The Priest


In which our hero duels with the dangers of thinking in straight lines

“God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world”

Pippa’s Song Robert Browning in Pippa Passes 1841

A building out of all proportion loomed on the urban horizon. A massively ugly church made all of brick and completely out of scale with everything around it. Some kind of hubristic madness designed to remind the ordinary citizen of the immense power of God. Continue reading

6. The Naysayer


How a presentation of life with those who say no causes pause for thought

“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.”

Tony Blair, Mail on Sunday, 2 October 1994

Three doors down was an august stone building and Oldman was propelled by the inclement weather through the revolving door. Inside, a cool hall, two ordinary storeys high, a classical boxed ceiling held aloft by sturdy marble pillars. Or maybe they were painted, trompe l’oeil fashion. He tapped one: the dull bell of cast iron responded.

Pretence in a bank? Worrying. Continue reading

7. The Child


Where a child becomes the teacher and our hero learns a thing or two about how we know what we know

“Mosquitos ruin a safari”

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, David Allen (2001)

How come I am on a day trip to Brighton? he mused. Another in his situation might think that he had died and gone to heaven; yet another that he was in limbo or entering purgatory; because for Oldman, this had become a private hell, but he doubted that the local Tourist Board would want to know that. Continue reading

2. The Tutor


In which our hero discovers that learning can be a discomforting affair

“Should he be held to be just a layman, or does he have some art?”

The Sophist Plato (c 427 BCE – c 347 BCE), translated by Lesley Brown (2005: 221d)

– Whatever is well-said by another, is mine, says Seneca.⁠1 Continue reading

3. Dame Fortune


Where a chance encounter helps our hero understand the nature of risk

“The bourgeois prefers comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to the deathly inner consuming fire.”

Der Steppenwolf Hermann Hesse 1927

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Attributed to Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Younger⁠1

The pub interior was a welcome respite from the cold sea air outside, for it was one of those wet blowy Winter days. The red lamps were low and the log fire crackled, all very cosy and just the sort of atmosphere his soul needed. Continue reading

10. The Observer


Where, finally cleansed of Comfort, our hero learns how even the observer can disturb our reality 

When he came to, a true silence had descended. In the half-light he registered that the crowd had gone home and that the pulpit was now empty. The church stood immemorial, vast, enclosed, sombre. He made for the large double doors at the end of the building and pulled the handle. It did not budge. Continue reading

4. The Shopkeeper


When our hero stumbles into a cacophony of order and learns the limits of taxonomy

“A rising tide lifts all the boats” President J F Kennedy Frankfurt (June 1963)⁠1


Down to the right, a narrow panorama of the water’s edge was framed by the two last buildings on either side of the street and promised more. He turned that way and went down the narrow pavement towards the beckoning vision.

At the end he was hit by rain, cold wind, peeling paint, rust, dilapidation, a promenade. Yet cooler now. What madness was this? Continue reading