Everyday Creativity Christmas Newsletter: Not the Thought for the Day

December 21, 2022

I have a ridiculous aversion towards Thought For the Day, [TFTD], that worthy broadcast to the nation. However, in the spirit of reconciliation, I wish to overcome curmudgeonly feelings, and provide a ‘Not the Thought for the Day’ instead.

According the the BBC, Thought for the Day is ‘a daily scripted slot on the Today programme on BBC 4, offering reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news’

TFTD is broadcast at around 7:45 each Monday to Saturday morning. Nowadays lasting 2 minutes and 45 seconds.

There was an earlier version, five-minute religious sequence Ten to Eight (1965–1970) and, even before that, Lift Up Your Hearts, which was first broadcast five mornings a week on what was then the BBC Home Service, starting in 1939, two years before I arrived by stork-transit at East Glamorgan Hospital, in the charming township of Church Village in South Wales, on Christmas Eve 1941.

But I distract myself. TFTD has a prescribed structure and product. It begins with a selected item of news, often cunningly presented as nothing to do with religion, but everything to convey a cosy relationship between speaker and congregation, sorry audience.
The news item might be drawn from the news, or from sport, the arts, science or some other area of public life. As varied, in fact as my daily notes on everyday creativity.

I can do cosy but not in the same league as the TFTD presenters often drawn from the great and the good in national life. At first these were of the Christian faith, and male. Later innovations included those of other faiths, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. In time, even those of other genders were also allowed to broadcast.

My Everyday Event

The Gleam team arrived at my home this morning. They restore a semblance of order to the clutter of my weekly labours. I understand I may be guilty of self slut-shaming, but you get the idea.

A young newcomer was worked her way around me, as I watched the midday News. She was still clearing up debris, before deploying the Dyson, when she unearthed a book which I had mislaid under a few miscellaneous kitchen implements.

Wittgenstein’s Poker, I said. I’ve just finished it,

I like psychology. What goes on in the mind of a mass murderer. She said.
It’s about philosophy, I said. You can borrow it if you like.

To my surprise she said she’d like to.

If you like, you can borrow this one afterwards, I said, showing her my copy of Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, which was peeking out from another pile of reference books. The author’s one of the people in the book you just found,

It was open on the chapter on the ancient philosophers. To my surprise she began reading out aloud with obvious curiosity. In a way which showed she understood what she was reading.

I’m now waiting to find out what she makes of Wittgenstein’s poker…

See? Not Thought for the Day. Just an example of everyday creativity…


Wittgenstein’s Poker. More than just an Academic Fairy Tale

December 12, 2022

Wittgenstein’s Poker is a ‘serious’ treatment of ‘a ten-minute argument between two great philosophers’ . This is how the book describes itself on its cover, by English authors David Edmonds and John Eidinow.

After the first chapter, I already saw it as having features of a detective story. The meeting, which is presented as a critical incident, is described with evidence from interviews with the surviving witnesses. 

Readers are taken through the unfolding investigations into the background of the two main characters, two of the era’s most illustrious Austrians, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, at a time shortly after the defeat and death of their even more famous countryman Adolf Hitler.

Their monumental confrontation took place in a crumbling committee room in King’s College, Cambridge, in October 1946. Popper, a visiting speaker possibly encouraged by celebrity philosopher Bertrand  Russell, had arrived with his intention of demolishing the theories of the home favourite Wittgenstein. The verbal battle deteriorated into a possible assault as Wittgenstein seized a fireside poker and wielded it threateningly at Popper before stalking out of the room. Curiously, the location of the weapon, the famous poker, remains a mystery to this day.

The book, to me, is a fascinating read, partly justifying the claims on the cover, and meriting its niche success. The structure is unusual. As a thriller, it is unusual, with the famous ten minute poker-waving incident revealed at the start.

The remainder of the book delves more deeply into the history and upbringing of the two protagonists, and building up a psychological rather than a philosophical explanation of what might have contributed to the Tweedledum and Tweedledee fracas.

Wittgenstein and Popper were both brought up in Vienna, the former into the family of the wealthy business magnate, ‘second only to the Vienna branch’ of the Rothchilds. Popper, in contrast was born into middle class comfort of a family excluded from the highest social circle of Viennese Jews admitted into the opulent Wittgenstein Palais.

Their first encounter was a meeting at Cambridge at a serious debating society already dominated by the brilliant and charismatic Wittgenstein, and attended by the best known philosopher of his generation Bertrand Russell. 

We learn in the book that Popper arrived as guest speaker to discredit Wittgenstein’s contribution to philosophy, in the presence of Wittgenstein’s mentor Russell. The 

The authors, brilliant journalists by profession, had shown the skills of engaging the reader without dangerous misinterpretations of their subject. So, they offer the reader only glimpses of the core aspects of Wittgenstein’s own distaste for Russell’s work which took the unreadable book (Russell’s own comment) Principia Mathematica three volumes and nearly 2000 pages to reach completion. 

In contrast, Popper had reached prominence for his popular and influential work The Open Society and its Enemies, admired by, among others Bertrand Russell. 

Popper’s line of attack was intended to reduce Wittgenstein’s attention to language as only dealing with puzzles not core philosophical problems. Wittgenstein’s work is also a rejection of accepted philosophy including Russell’s but through series of statements which were themselves neatly described by the authors as ‘opaque to the lay reader, and not much more transparent to the specialist (p55).

Anyone finding this story fascinating, may be ready to try the magisterial biography of Wittgenstein by the philosopher Ray Monk. Edmonds and Eidenow certainly did, as their account of that fateful battle follows Monk rather closely.