27 July 2015

What does a little girl want with chess?

When I was about 6, my parents and I moved back to Gants Hill in East London after having been evacuated during the war. After we returned, we began regularly visiting my maternal grandparents’ house in Forest Gate. I believe that the incident I am about to describe happened soon after our return, and that this was my uncle Harry’s first meeting with me in the new context. I had never played chess and did not know anything about it. Uncle Harry* was captain of the Essex County chess team and played in tournaments. He also played postal chess with people in other countries.

On one occasion when I visited my grandparents’ house with my mother, Uncle Harry (who lived in the house) sat down with me and started to play chess with me. It took me a little time to get the hang of the rules, and I occasionally made moves which were not permissible. Uncle Harry allowed me to correct them and continue the game. From time to time I had to ask him to remind me what moves were possible for a particular piece.

Uncle Harry told me the rules for playing in tournaments. You had a certain amount of time to think about making your next move. If you touched any of your pieces, you then had to move that piece before the end of the allotted time, or lose the game.

After some time of this, my mother came and said she was wanting to go home, so I should stop playing and come with her. Uncle Harry did not demur or suggest quickly finishing the game. I went away looking forward to playing with him again the next time I came.

When I again visited my grandparents’ house, I immediately asked Uncle Harry to play chess with me. He was unresponsive at first, so I persisted, and he finally answered in a very rebuffing way, saying ‘what do little girls want with chess?’ I had been looking forward to playing chess so much that I burst into tears.

My grandfather, trying to console me, started to offer me books from his library which might appeal to me, climbing up his library stepladder to do so. I accepted the books and thanked him, but was still crying quietly. After we left, my mother took me to visit my father at the school where he was headmaster, to tell him that Uncle Harry had refused to play chess with me. I was treated by my parents as if I needed to be cheered up, to help me ‘get over it’, but neither my father nor my mother suggested getting me a chess set or a book explaining how the rules of chess worked.

Uncle Harry never played chess with me again.

It may be noted that the people involved in this incident – my parents, grandfather and Uncle Harry – all had very high IQs (over 160 at least) but appeared to be worried by the possibility of someone demonstrating an even higher IQ. In retrospect, I regard the incident as another illustration of the fact that people were usually threatened by my IQ and did not want me to have opportunity to show it.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.


* Harry Cleare, brother of Dorothy Green (née Cleare), my mother

04 June 2015

State pension: too little, and getting less

In 2011, I commented on the fact that the basic state pension is acknowledged to be well below the level of income needed to reach a minimum living standard.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s most recent report* on this, the annual cost of the ‘minimum basket of goods and services needed for an acceptable living standard’ for a single adult is now £10,155. The current full basic state pension, on the other hand, is £6,029 per annum – 40% below this minimum level.

The typical annual council tax alone takes up a sizeable proportion of the current state pension. A single pensioner living in even a modest home can easily spend over £1000 per annum on council tax, nearly 20% of his income, if forced to rely on the state pension.

Incidentally, the Rowntree Foundation report notes that the cost of the minimum basket has risen ‘by between a quarter and a third’ since 2008. If we assume that 33% is the more realistic figure, then the government’s CPI figure, which is one of the factors used to determine increases in the state pension, but which has risen only 19% over the same period, has severely understated the inflation faced by low-income pensioners, with the result that the annual pension has actually fallen in real terms since 2008.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.


* Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘A Minimum Income Standard for the UK in 2014’

05 May 2015

The continuation of the pensions swindle

Nicola Sturgeon
Ahead of the General Election, which is said to be more focused than ever on the votes of pensioners, I am again re-posting my comments from 2010 on The Great Pensions Swindle.

I note that at least one political leader has now explicitly recognised that there is something unprincipled about deferring the age of entitlement to the state pension. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister and Leader of the Scottish National Party, has argued that ‘it would be completely unacceptable for people in Scotland who have paid in to a state pension all of their lives to lose out’. Admittedly she is linking this to the egalitarian argument that Scottish people have a lower average life expectancy, and hence will lose out more – an argument that has been ridiculed by some commentators – but at least she appears to realise there is something wrong with a system into which people have paid on the basis of government promises, which are then abandoned retrospectively.

The unjust deferrals of the state pension age that have
already happened should be reversed.

I have a book entitled The Great Pensions Swindle* which, 40 years ago, made some useful points about the likely unreliability of state pensions. The following, however, is unrealistic:
The breaking point is not postponable indefinitely. The resistance to periodic increases in ‘social insurance’ contributions will begin all the sooner when the ‘contributors’ realise they are paying not insurance contributions but an income tax. (p.128)
In fact, no significant realisation arose that ‘National Insurance’ contributions were just a form of income tax, which increased the Government’s current spending money. Otherwise the book anticipates very much what has happened. What happens when a future generation decides it prefers to spend its money on what is fashionable at the time (overseas ‘aid’, social workers, ‘universities’, etc.) rather than providing a former generation with the pension it thought it was paying for? The pensions are ‘too expensive’; they are suddenly means-tested, and paid at ever later ages.
Not least, let it be clearly understood that ‘right’ (to the pension) and ‘contract’ are two more good words that have been made misnomers. A ‘right’ to a pension that a man acquires by saving for it is unambiguous. The ‘right’ a man has to an income when he can no longer work is of a different kind. The word has been re-defined to mean a moral right or claim on society. But transfers of income from one age-group, or class, or generation, to another represent decisions by one group, or class, or generation, to help another in time of need. No group, or class, or generation has a ‘right’ in any absolute sense. (p.129)
Retrospective legislation has become increasingly frequent, and by now no one seems to remember that there was ever anything against it. It used to be said that the individual had a right to know what was legally open to him (in taxation, etc.) so that he could plan his affairs to secure the best outcome in view of his own interests and priorities, as he conceived them to be.

The recent changes in the ages at which state pensions become payable is really an egregious example of retrospective legislation, and directly affects people in as bad a position as we are. If a company which offered pension schemes were suddenly to announce that all its pensions were to be paid two years later, those who had been paying into the schemes might well wish to sue it for breach of contract. When the government does the same thing, no legal redress is available. This has happened recently and seems likely to happen more, so that my junior colleagues’ pensions recede as one approaches them. The age at which one of them will start receiving her pension was first shifted from 60 to 62, then to 64, and then to 65. Another’s pension was shifted from 65 to 67, and seems likely to be further delayed to the age of 68.

Thus the state has already deprived us, who are trying to build up towards an adequate academic institutional environment, of seven years’ pension money, i.e. at least £42K at today’s pension rate.

There are several other examples of abandonment of principles, and I should be able to write about them at length because they are serious.
I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.


* Arthur Seldon, The Great Pensions Swindle, Tom Stacey Books, London, 1970.

01 May 2015

Jesus on feminism

Arthur Schopenhauer
(1788 - 1860)
copy of a letter to a philosopher

Someone recently suggested that I am more cynical about society than any other writer in recent history. Even Schopenhauer only observes that people are sadistic in certain ways, and in certain situations. But it appears that some two thousand years ago, somebody may have been comparably cynical about society, and open to the possibility that it is antagonistic to the individual.

In the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is credited with the idea that the valuations of society block the individual’s access to psychological advantages. This gives rise to the metaphor of the ‘strong man’, who wishes to deprive the individual of potential advantages. It is only by binding the strong man’s hands (so that he is unable to reward the individual by reinforcing his significance) that the individual is able to enter his house, and gain access to the treasures it contains.
Jesus said: ‘It is not possible for one to enter the house of the strong man and take it by force unless he bind his hands; then will he ransack his house.’ (saying 35)
There are other sayings in The Gospel of Thomas which convey the idea of devaluing society, describing it, for example, as a ‘corpse’.
Jesus said: ‘Whoever has known the world has found a corpse, and whoever has found a corpse, of him the world is not worthy.’ (saying 56)
Another of my unacceptable ideas also appears to be paralleled in The Gospel of Thomas. Most reactions to feminism argue either that women are inferior, or that they are equal to, but different from, men. When I was at school I could not identify at all with the attitudes of the girls around me, who were interested in marriage and boyfriends, and who were at pains to make themselves more ‘feminine’. I wrote the aphorism, ‘The female sex is a fictional concept’.

It appears that two thousand years ago, somebody had the idea that women had the same potentialities as men, but could only realise them by adopting male psychology.
Simon Peter said to them: ‘Let Mary go out from among us, because women are not worthy of the Life.’
Jesus said: ‘See, I shall lead her, so that I will make her male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’ (saying 114)
I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

21 April 2015

State pension: still below the poverty line

I am re-posting this piece from 2011 as, despite any changes in the system since it was first published, the comments are as relevant as before.

From time to time someone complains that the state pension, together with the means-tested part, is becoming less and less adequate to cover the most obvious, basic costs of keeping physically alive.
A pension of £10,000 a year will barely cover the basics such as food, fuel and utility bills. It is below the minimum income standard set by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which estimates somebody needs at least £14,400 a year to escape poverty ... The full basic state pension is £97.65 a week [i.e. £5,078 per annum].
(Daily Mail, 30 March 2011.)
The fact that a means-tested supplement to the pension is available will never be any good to me, or to anyone who is here now, because we would not apply for a means-tested benefit even if we became eligible for it. One simply would never have anything to do with what could only be got by exposing oneself to scrutiny and ‘assessment’.

Throughout the four decades when I paid in voluntary contributions for myself, and encouraged everyone here to do the same, I did so because the eventual pension would be ‘as of right’ and not to any extent means-tested, even if what was paid out ‘as of right’ was at the whim of the government.

I see also from today's Mail that pensioners with savings who go into ‘care homes’ will find themselves paying more, to subsidise those who do not have to pay fees because they do not have savings. That is better, at any rate, than making all pensioners, whether they are in ‘care homes’ or not, pay a tax to the government to subsidise those who go into these ‘homes’, as was at one time suggested.

Making people pay for living in these prison-homes is all right if that is really what they choose for themselves, i.e. provided they cannot be forced to go into a state (or private) death camp against their will, but can be left alone to starve to death at home if they prefer. Unfortunately, I believe this is not the case, and pensioners can easily be ‘sectioned’, or the current equivalent thereof, by a couple of authorised medical sadists (doctors). Even if not legally coerced in this way, I doubt whether many in ‘care homes’ could be said to have chosen what they are being forced to undergo.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

11 April 2015

Still an ideological closed shop

In 2007, someone commented, on my colleague Dr Fabian Wadel’s blog, about one of my books which they had bought, and its apparent history: being presented to the library at the Institute of Education in London, then being immediately dumped on the used book market. The book (Advice to Clever Children) being to some extent about the real-life educational experiences of a high-IQ person, one might have thought the Institute of Education would consider it at least of empirical interest, but evidently not so.

The person who bought the book wrote that, having read it,
I can tell you that — if what you describe is true — any academic library would rather accept 10 complimentary copies of Mein Kampf than anything by Celia Green — an ideological closed shop after all.
At the time, I wrote on my own blog about the ‘ideological closed shop’ and about the way the commenter seemed to regard it as objectionable but unsurprising. It has always struck me as strange how many people accept radical features of the modern ideology — the restriction of liberties, the obvious bias of the academic establishment, the withdrawal of rights such as paid-for pension entitlements, and so on — as though there was nothing very shocking about them.

There seems to me to be a danger in being too ready to accept, even regretfully, a negative situation simply because it appears to derive legitimacy from being endorsed by those in power.

I was recently reminded of my 2007 post about this (‘Are my books ideological anathema?’) by the fact that it seemed to receive a large number of hits for some reason. My blog seems to attract increasing numbers of visitors these days. However, as I commented to an academic acquaintance this week,
although the number of hits on my blog has more than trebled since the blog piece was posted, the discrimination against us remains as entrenched as ever.

22 March 2015

Aldous Huxley, prophet of totalitarianism

Aldous Huxley
(1894 - 1963)
Aldous Huxley was an English novelist who is probably now best remembered for the science fiction work Brave New World, one of the first books to use the concept of totalitarianism, and predating Orwell’s 1984 by more than a decade.

Huxley moved to California in the 1930s, and during the 40s and 50s became associated with some of the mystical and counterculture movements based there, including Vedanta. He was interested in techniques such as meditation to achieve altered states of consciousness. For similar reasons he experimented with the drug mescaline, leading to the publication in 1954 of The Doors of Perception, a book that influenced a number of writers and artists.

I met Aldous Huxley on a number of occasions at the Society for Psychical Research in London, but only in rather social situations, such as lecture meetings and parties. Around that time some members of the SPR, including Professor H H Price, themselves took mescaline under medical supervision for experimental interest.

The meeting with Huxley which I remember most clearly was at an SPR lecture, probably one that was given by a particularly statusful person as I remember it was a bit of an occasion, although I do not recall the speaker. A lady who was leading Huxley around on account of his diminished eyesight, possibly his wife, brought him to be introduced to me. By that time I had an Oxford BLitt (postgraduate degree), but my way to academic appointments, research grants, and support of any kind, was being blocked.

Huxley treated me very politely, putting on a highly sophisticated act of Old Etonian charm. While I knew that such charm could be layered (i.e. potentially dishonest), I had the impression that in this case it was underlain by a genuine perception of my exceptionality.

Huxley seemed respectful and even deferential towards me. He appeared to take an interest in what I was saying about possible research into hallucinatory phenomena.

I had read very few of his books, although The Doors of Perception, about his mescaline experiences, was a topic of conversation at the SPR at the time. It would seem that he must have been interested in indications that there were higher levels of consciousness, and in ways of reaching out towards them.

The intense descriptions of jewel-like colours in The Doors of Perception may have been partly provoked by his problems with eyesight. I found the book vivid and interesting, probably because it was primarily a factual account of his own experiences and did not make much attempt to generalise theoretically.

Another of his books with which I was familiar was Time Must Have a Stop. It was on the bookshelf in Sir George Joy’s flat, and I often sat reading it while waiting for Sir George to cook the steak and Brussels sprouts for our dinner. What I remember from it suggests that Huxley was aware of the threatening nature of existing as a human being. For example, I remember the preoccupations of an elderly gentleman with his deteriorations as he grew older, and his attempts to make himself feel as if he was young again, until finally he collapsed in the bathroom with a heart attack and died. After that, the character’s role in the book involved descriptions of his experiences in the afterlife.

Huxley made attempts in Time Must Have a Stop to describe the feelings of being in the position of existing as a dead person, including the effort of connecting with the body of a medium and achieving communication via her with the world of the living. While these attempts may simply have been made in the service of entertainment – Huxley’s novels all seem to have an air of black humour about them – they may also have reflected a genuine interest in the theoretical possibilities of disembodied consciousness.

I suppose that a preoccupation with the meaning of existence, and how there might be access to anything beyond life, would account for Aldous Huxley’s occasional contacts with the London SPR while he was living in California. Although the SPR was not prestigious or noticeable among societies (by contrast with, say, the Royal Geographical Society), it was in effect a social club for upper-class people, so that Huxley would be fraternising with people of his own social class when he attended its functions.

I was disappointed that Huxley never gave me any financial support. This was all the more surprising considering his own high intelligence, and the fact that he seemed to have some independence of thought, and ideas of his own. He was in fact just as unsupportive as any of the other statusful people I was meeting at the SPR.

Of course it did not help that I met him under the watchful eye of Rosalind Heywood, an influential person who was clearly hostile to me. However, one might have hoped that someone as insightful and upper-class as Huxley could have made up his own mind to act in my favour. Instead, he brushed me off by sending me a polite and carefully worded letter saying that it was very difficult to get support for this subject, and that the subject was not fashionable. He did not offer support himself. That was the last I heard from him.

I was told that, as Huxley was dying, his wife recited soothing words, as previously arranged with him, about how he ought to ‘let go beautifully’ and so forth, a method presumably informed by his ideas about consciousness and dying. Curiously, various senior members of the SPR, when discussing him after his death (I believe one or two senior BBC people were also present), were somewhat patronising about ‘poor Aldous’ and his concerns. They, unlike him – the implication seemed to be – were psychologically advanced, and hence not afraid of death or anxious about the meaning of life.

A propos the upper-class act of treating people of lower social standing with deference, and the way this was applied to me: although Huxley treated me in this manner, as did a number of other upper-class men I knew, at times it seemed that the rule broke down in relation to me, and the upper-class person (particularly if it was a female person) instead tried to convey that I was of no importance whatsoever. I noticed, for example, senior staff at the BBC giving an impression of tremendous interest in people of a lower social class than their own, while figuratively elbowing me aside, on several occasions when I was asked to take part in a programme.

Rosalind Heywood once criticised the way I talked to people, as not giving sufficient impression of being interested in them, in the upper-class fashion. She contrasted my approach unfavourably with that of Yehudi Menuhin, who apparently had a social act similar to that of Old Etonians. I do not think her complaint was meaningful, except as indicating her hostility towards me. In any case, I did not have the social prestige of a Huxley or a Menuhin to confer on others.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

01 March 2015

ESP and the circulation of the Daily Mirror

Slender, wiry, other-worldly, but with a manner that could be intimidating as well as endearing, Dame Ruth Railton ... is most likely to be remembered for founding the National Youth Orchestra in 1947 ...

... Those who endured her auditions [for the NYO] were apt to describe them as the most harrowing experiences of their lives ...

[After her husband Cecil King’s death, she] continued to attend NYO concerts ... laughing at any suggestion that she had ever intimidated anybody: a creative fantasist to the last.

(Guardian obituary, 1 March 2001)
Dame Ruth Railton
(1915 - 2001)
I met Ruth Railton on several occasions with her husband, Cecil Harmsworth King. From what she said about her dealings with the National Youth Orchestra, she struck me as someone who was identified with her ability to manipulate others. For example, she told me of a young musician who had tried to excuse himself from a rehearsal, saying he had an appointment with his psychiatrist. ‘You cannot have two psychiatrists,’ she told him, ‘I am your psychiatrist, and you must bring all your problems to me’ – an assertion which he apparently accepted without demur.

Dame Ruth appeared to believe that the members of her Youth Orchestra should live as cheaply as possible, and was said to turn down applicants who seemed to her to have the wrong attitude, in favour of others of a lower standard.

When I pointed out to her that we did not have adequate funding, she said that we should save money, as did the members of her Youth Orchestra, by sleeping on mattresses on the floor, thus saving the cost of bedsteads. As I and my associates already had bedsteads, this did not seem helpful advice towards expanding our operations.

A similar outlook was shown by Rosalind Heywood at about the same time. She was another extremely influential lady who stood in the way of my getting any money. When Eileen Garrett of the Parapsychology Foundation in New York had turned down my application for funding, she gave Rosalind Heywood a small amount of money earmarked for me which she said Rosalind could hand out if I had ‘acceptable’ needs.

I thought of some fundamental reference books which I did not own, and asked for those. ‘But you can always go into libraries to read books,’ Rosalind said.

‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘I do not own a bookcase of my own as I am living in digs, and I certainly need to have one,’ so I suggested that to Rosalind.

‘You do not need a bookcase,’ she said. ‘You can always make bookshelves out of planks of wood supported by bricks.’

After some more of my suggestions had been turned down, I said, ‘Perhaps you could put the money in the Post Office Savings Bank, so that it will be accumulating interest until such time as money is released.’

These interactions had lasted over a period of months, and I suppose she felt that she had failed in driving me into doing something I did not want to do, in order to get the money, so at my proposal that the money should be invested, her patience gave way, and she sent me a cheque for the whole amount, which was, after all, not very large.

* * *

Looking back at my interactions with Cecil King and my attempts to obtain funding for the Institute of Psychophysical Research, I do not find it plausible that he had any interest in extrasensory perception or related areas of psychology other than in their possible effect on the circulation of the Daily Mirror, and the same may well have been true of his interest in the National Youth Orchestra.

Ruth Railton may have made him aware of extrasensory perception, and young musicians, as topics which could be effective in expanding the circulation of his newspapers, but I doubt whether her influence went beyond that.

On one occasion, when I was having lunch with Cecil King and Ruth Railton in Oxford, they expressed the belief that idealistic people such as university research workers and nurses should be paid as little as possible, since otherwise people whose primary motivation was not idealistic or altruistic might become research workers or nurses, and apparently it was important to prevent this.

Professing such an ideology might appear to be a good attitude for someone who had it in mind to gain influence over people who might do newsworthy things cheaply, such as myself.

To be consistent, one might have thought that Cecil King would also take the view that chairmen of publishing companies should not be rewarded by any increase in their salaries, or increased dividends on their shareholdings, if the circulation and hence the profits of their newspapers increased. However, he did not appear to notice any inconsistency in his outlook.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

24 February 2015

Cecil King and extrasensory perception

It was not until after he met [his future wife] Ruth that King went public on ESP [extrasensory perception] and began actively searching for promising research projects. The International Publishing Corporation (IPC) – as King’s empire was named in 1963 – gave seven-year covenants of £1,500 annually to the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and £5,000 to the Psychophysical Research Unit, founded by three young female Oxford graduates. ‘Mrs King is very right,’ wrote Sir George Joy of the SPR, after the three of them had visited the Unit, ‘when she says that if one is determined to pursue an objective, regardless of the means to carry it out, and willing to make any sacrifice that it involves – help comes from unexpected quarters – as in this case.’

‘CECIL KING GIVES £35,000 TO DREAM GIRLS’ was a Daily Express headline that caused both unease and mirth among King’s colleagues. The relationship with the young women quickly soured. To a blithe letter from the Unit’s Director, Celia Green, asking if he would like to finance a fund-raising tour of America (‘This might cost £2,000 to do properly’) King commented, ‘I have made many visits to the US, travelling “en prince”, but I never needed “£2,000”.’

‘Is she going round the bend?’ King enquired of Joy when he received what he reasonably described as a ‘preposterous’ letter with mingled demands and complaints. John Beloff, the Edinburgh University psychologist to whom IPC provided £1,000 annually to pay for an assistant, was professionally impeccable, but was unable to report anything very encouraging from their research into parapsychology.

(Ruth Dudley Edwards, Newspapermen, pp.318-319*)
The author of Newspapermen, a book about Cecil King and Hugh Cudlipp, here quotes derogatory remarks made in a controversial situation about a person still living (myself), without having made any attempt to hear that person’s point of view.

Cecil Harmsworth King
Cecil King was a newspaper magnate, and a significant figure in British post-war society. He was Chairman of International Publishing Corporation (now Time Inc. UK), which published the Daily Mirror among other newspapers.

King was our only significant financial supporter, and for a time sounded as though he might become a far more important one, enabling us to do full-scale experimental work which was our aim. He referred to his covenant of £5,000 a year as ‘priming the pumps’, when I pointed out that £5,000 would not go far in supporting research projects.

In practice, King behaved as though his small covenant had bought us as cheap labour.

We were effectively obliged to take on a mass card-guessing experiment, part of which King wanted conducted via the Mirror. It was an operation I would never have chosen to do, and considered futile. As it was a large-scale experiment, there were an enormous number of score sheets to be marked, which required research assistants. (When Dr Charles McCreery, then a young Oxford graduate, first made contact with me, he saw the front room of my house populated by groups of girls marking score sheets and questionnaires in relation to this project.) Research assistants do not work for nothing, and the covenant money did not go far in paying for them.

Since we were forced to do the experiment, I tried to improve the shining hour and make the operation a bit less futile, by thinking of a prediction simple enough to be tested in such circumstances. As it happened, the prediction I made (that deviation from chance would be correlated with birth order) proved successful.

Newspapermen quotes King’s response to our suggestion about organising a fund-raising tour in America, in imitation of a similar tour undertaken by Professor Alister Hardy. King’s reaction seems indicative of his personality, which (as the book shows) could be dismissive and irrational. A fund-raising tour around American universities and lecture halls, undertaken by two or three researchers, is a different matter from a single individual taking a business trip across the Atlantic.

Our correspondence with King was generally vetted by Sir George Joy, who acted as our intermediary with him. The author of the book asserts blandly that it was ‘reasonable’ of King to describe one of our letters as preposterous, a judgment made without full awareness of the facts.

* Newspapermen: Hugh Cudlipp, Cecil Harmsworth King and the Glory Days of Fleet Street, Pimlico, London, 2004.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

05 February 2015

Why I cannot write long books


Sir George Joy KBE CMG
(1896 - 1974)
Professor H.H. Price, my DPhil supervisor, when saying that I had an alpha mind, also said that I could say more in one page than most people would say in three. In this context he recognised the brevity of my writing as indicating the high quality of my thinking; but this brevity was generally a drawback, which made fulfilling academic requirements even more burdensome than it would otherwise have been.

My book The Human Evasion perhaps illustrates this brevity at its most extreme. In that case a few people seem to have regarded the brevity as a merit. R.H. Ward said in his Foreword to the book, ‘Few books, long or short, are great ones; this book is short and among those few.’ Sir George Joy described it as ‘a great book’.

One of the aphorisms in my book The Decline and Fall of Science states, ‘I cannot write long books; I leave that for those who have nothing to say’.

It was hard work for me to produce a postgraduate thesis of the expected length, even though I had plenty of ideas, and covered the topic exhaustively and in great analytical detail. By contrast, most DPhil theses contain far fewer ideas, but manage to spin their material out to great length.

Professor Price’s recognition of the quality of my writing did not lead him to suggest to the faculty that it had gone on long enough, when I was still far short of the average length. The bookbinding firm in Oxford to whom I eventually took the thesis in for binding commented on its shortness and the difficulty of finding a hardcover binding that was small enough. Perhaps, of course, they were trying to undermine me, as people often did.

A good deal of academic writing has the opposite characteristic to mine, as the reader has to plough through a lot of waffle to discover the point, or points, if any, of the piece of writing.

When people started to do nominal research in the area of lucid dreams, some years after the publication of my book Lucid Dreams, Dr Keith Hearne acknowledged my priority in this field at the beginning of his own book on the subject. I cannot remember whether it was here or elsewhere that he referred to my book as a ‘little book’. As in the case of my thesis, I had managed to say a lot in a very short space in Lucid Dreams, but this only made it possible to belittle it, rather than its conciseness being regarded as an achievement.

The same problem arose in connection with the speed at which I worked. When I was at school, the fact that I could take exams and get very high marks in them at very short notice was taken as indicating overwork on my part, or ‘pushing’ by my parents. I expect it was taken as a contributory reason for rejecting my DPhil thesis, and awarding it only a BLitt, that I had spent only four years on it, while commuting between Oxford and London to work half the week at the Society for Psychical Research.