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The logic of time

I think I’ve mentioned before that I am a bit of a horologist.  I love time pieces and in particular old time pieces, grandfather clocks being my favourite.  To avoid discrimination though, I’m not adverse to grandmother and granddaughter clocks, no misogynistic biases here.  I wonder why there are no grandson clocks, probably due to some hidden bygone feminist agenda.  I do love a wind up.

So why the love of clocks, well I’m sure some of it has to do with my propensity to logic.  Old clocks are mechanical, none of this new fangled electronic circuitry and consequently it is possible to see how they operate.  When a clock doesn’t work, there is always some logical reason why this is so, and a logical approach needed to fix it.

This then gives me the opportunity to investigate, explore the mechanics of the clock, work out how it ought to operate and set about repairing it.  In doing so I am often handling a mechanism that is over a hundred years old, in the case of my current project, nearly three hundred years old. 

There is a sense of wonderment in handling all the parts. Some appear quite rudimentary and yet other parts such as the cogs are precision pieces.  Many of the parts are made by hand but clearly some are made by machines albeit fairly crude ones.  How the makers managed the precision required to ensure that cogs mesh freely baffles me.  What is clear though is that the makers of the clocks were skilled artisans and possessed skills that I dare say have all but been lost over the years.

Messing around with clocks (I can’t say I do more than that) also allows me to delve into history.  The clock I’m currently tinkering with only has an hour hand, no minute or second hand.  Whilst the hours and half hours are clearly marked on the dial, where you would normally expect to see minutes, the hours are simply divided up into quarters.  A bit of social history, people didn’t have a need to know minutes, they were predominantly only concerned with the hour.

My pride and joy, a grandfather clock, dates to the 1830s. When I took it apart I found several dates and a name scratched into the back of the face plate.  The dates related to when it had been serviced and by whom.  I was servicing a clock that had been handled by someone over a hundred and fifty years previously. I bet they weren’t standing in a nice warm house drinking a hot cup of coffee contemplating how to service the clock. We take so much for granted and I guess the clocks allow me to reflect on what it was like when they were made and how lucky we are now. Although I do also wonder whether simple notions such as not having the need to concern ourselves with every minute might not be better for the soul.

“Truth” at the age of uncertainty


Research methods taught for undergraduate students is like asking a young person to eat their greens; fraught with difficulties.  The prospect of engaging with active research seems distant, and the philosophical concepts underneath it, seem convoluted and far too complex.  After all, at some point each of us struggled with inductive/deductive reasoning, whilst appreciating the difference between epistemology over methodology…and don’t get me stated on the ontology and if it is socially proscribed or not…minefield.  It is through time, and plenty of trial and error efforts, that a mechanism is developed to deliver complex information in any “palatable” format!

There are pedagogic arguments here, for and against, the development of disentangling theoretical conventions, especially to those who hear these concepts for the first time.  I feel a sense of deep history when I ask students “to observe” much like Popper argued in The Logic of Scientific Discovery when he builds up the connection between theory and observational testing. 

So, we try to come to terms with the conceptual challenges and piqued their understanding, only to be confronted with the way those concepts correlate to our understanding of reality.  This ability to vocalise social reality and conditions around us, is paramount, on demonstrating our understanding of social scientific enquiry.  This is quite a difficult process that we acquire slowly, painfully and possibly one of the reasons people find it frustrating.  In observational reality, notwithstanding experimentation, the subjectivity of reality makes us nervous as to the contentions we are about to make. 

A prime skill at higher education, among all of us who have read or are reading for a degree, is the ability to contextualise personal reality, utilising evidence logically and adapting them to theoretical conventions.  In this vein, whether we are talking about the environment, social deprivation, government accountability and so on, the process upon which we explore them follows the same conventions of scholarship and investigation.  The arguments constructed are evidence based and focused on the subject rather than the feelings we have on each matter. 

This is a position, academics contemplate when talking to an academic audience and then must transfer the same position in conversation or when talking to a lay audience.  The language may change ever so slightly, and we are mindful of the jargon that we may use but ultimately we represent the case for whatever issue, using the same processes, regardless of the audience. 

Academic opinion is not merely an expert opinion, it is a viewpoint, that if done following all academic conventions, should represent factual knowledge, up to date, with a degree of accuracy.  This is not a matter of opinion; it is a way of practice.  Which makes non-academic rebuttals problematic.  The current prevailing approach is to present everything as a matter of opinion, where each position is presented equally, regardless of the preparation, authority or knowledge embedded to each.  This balanced social approach has been exasperated with the onset of social media and the way we consume information.  The problem is when an academic who presents a theoretical model is confronted with an opinion that lacks knowledge or evidence.  The age-old problem of conflating knowledge with information.

This is aggravated when a climatologist is confronted by a climate change denier, a criminologist is faced with a law and order enthusiast (reminiscing the good-old days) or an economist presenting the argument for remain, shouted down by a journalist with little knowledge of finance.  We are at an interesting crossroad, after all the facts and figures at our fingertips, it seems the argument goes to whoever shouts the loudest. 

Popper K., (1959/2002), The Logic of Scientific Discovery, tr. from the German Routledge, London

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