Richard Skinner










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Random entries from my notebooks

exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (-7) Customer enters, gazes at all the shelves of books and asks: "Do you know what you've got?" Me: "Yes, but the doctor says I'm no longer infectious."

exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (-6) Middle-aged woman enters with large shaggy dog, and followed by middle-aged man, presumably her husband. She approaches the desk. "Is it all right to bring him in? He's house-trained and won't bite anyone." Me, in Groucho Marx voice: "That's fine lady, but the dog... (Customer chimes in, in unison:)... will have to wait outside."

exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (-5) Customer places a pile of books on the desk, and takes out his wallet. He pauses: "Can I give you a card?" Me: "Well, that's awfully nice of you, but it isn't actually my birthday." Customer looks confused as he hands over his credit card.

exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (-4) Customer: "Is your photocopier idiot-proof?" Me: "That depends on the idiot."

exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (-3) Customer: "Have you got any... er... fictional books?" Me: "No, all our books are entirely real."

"We are here on Earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don't know" (W.H. Auden)

exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (-2) Customer: "I'm looking for books by Jordan. Where can I find 'J'?" Me: "Between ''I' and 'K', Madam."

Does an internet pirate use an i-patch?

Exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (-1) Customer: "Where would I find cookery books?" Me: "They're in the basement." Customer: "Is that down the stairs?" Me: "Yeah - well, we tried keeping the basement on the first floor but it didn't really work ."

I've misplaced my book on Feng Shui [is this original or have I nicked it from somewhere?]

Was Malthus a John the Baptist to Darwin's Jesus? (er, this isn't meant as a joke)

Are badgers sett in their ways

Exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (0): Customer: "How much do you pay for Noddy books?" Me: "It depends on their condition and how rare they are." Customer: "What makes a book rare?" Me: "If there aren't many copies of it.

Sign on an out-of-use bus stop - note the capitalisation: "For buses to Crediton, Tiverton and Beyond, use the bus station".... 'Good morning bus driver, I'd like a return ticket to Beyond' 'No-one returns from the Beyond, sir'

"Once passion is spent, morality comes a little easier" (Alistair Cooke writing about Bertand Russell)

Exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (1): Customer: "Can you show me where to find Enid Blyton?" Me: "I'm terribly sorry, but she's dead."

"At the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not founded" (Wittgenstein, On Certainty p 253)
The linguistic ability of children: a young child Betsy knows had made a friendship bracelet which she wore on her ankle, but not knowing the word 'ankle' she described it as her 'foot wrist'.....
I can't eat all my mange-touts.

Overheard exchange between two academics: 1st academic: "Have you read the new book by Biggins?" 2nd academic: "Read it? Why, I haven't even lectured on it yet!" [with thanks to Simon Barrow]

You cannot legislate for altruism, since to do so introduces a new cost/benefit calculation, thus neutralising the altruistic nature of 'altruism'. It would be like using flash photography to take a picture of an interesting shadow.

John Maynard Smith's opinion of complexity theory: "Absolute fucking crap. But crap with good P.R." [quoted in Andrew Brown The Darwin Wars 1999, Simon & Shuster]

"The voyage of discovery consists not of seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes" [Proust - but from where? Presumably A la recherche..., but that doesn't narrow the field much]

"Well," said Mary, "I assume God knows what He's doing" - is this the Assumption of the Virgin Mary?

Exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (2): A customer is buying three books in 'The King's England' series by Arthur Mee. I look at them: "How typical of today's society - it's all Mee, Mee, Mee"

Is a bad actor is a good Taoist because he acts by not acting?

sport in the Bible: Jesus's injunction to "take up lacrosse and follow me"

The interaction of 'nature', 'nurture' and 'agency' is similar to the 'three body problem' in physics, with a similar impossibility of solving the equations.

Do Buddhists, when emailing, send detachments rather than attachments?

Exchanges in a second-hand bookshop (3): The time is 12.05 pm. A customer enters. Me: "Good morning!" Customer: "Good morning!" He looks at the clock and corrects himself. "Or rather, good afternoon!" Me: "You'll find pedantry in the reference section.

There is a sense in which we do not 'see' a similarity between, say, two faces which are similar. We see, through our visual system, face A, and we see, ditto, face B. But there isn't a third entity, 'a similarity, which we are also able to see through the action of light falling on our retinas having been reflected off this 'similarity'. When we 'see' a similarity, the 'similarity is not a third thing. The 'seeing' of a similarity is a comparison between two acts of actual, literal seeing. We discern a similarity, we infer a similarity, we deduce it, etc, but we don't literally see it. Now (to speculate), is there an analogy here between the above and the mind-brain relationship? The mind "is", and the brain "is" , but the two "is"es are different types of "is" in the same way that the two uses of "see" ('I see a face', and 'I see a similarity') are different. "The mind is" or "the mind exists" connotes a different type of "isness" or "existence" to that connoted by "the brain is" or "the brain exists". To explain the brain, then, is not the same as to explain the mind; and to explain the act of "seeing a face" is not the same as explaining the act of "seeing a similarity" (or indeed seeing a difference") [I suspect this thought came about from reading an assertion by Steven Pinker that the mind is simply what the brain does, and other writers who claim a mind/brain identity, which strikes me as absurd. I can change my mind, but I can't change my brain)

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