How do we decide who is, and is not, a Christian?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:13 pm

“That’s not very Christian!” is something we tend to hear when someone does something unkind or unloving. There’s an enormous range of shapes that Christianity takes in the world now, and the question in the title is a perplexing one for me. (I could replace that final word with Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon, Mason, Metalhead… but except on the last, I simply don’t know enough to speak, so I’ll stick with considering Christians.)

On the one hand, I tend to find ‘Is it _____ ?’ discussions tedious, where the gap is filled by ‘science’ or ‘art’ or ‘black metal’ or whatever. They turn on people’s individual definitions of those things, which can be quite divergent, so the debates tend to go around and around without reaching any worthwhile conclusions.

On the other hand, how we respond to people who claim to be Christians is coloured by our view of what it means to be Christian, and whose version of that we consider to be definitive – or, at least, most influential.

A complexifying factor is the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy. Very briefly, it stems from a story in which a newspaper report says that a Scotsman did something very bad, and a reader says ‘No true Scotsman’ would do such a thing. If a Christian does something evil, it’s much too convenient to simply define that person out: no ‘true Christian’ would do such a thing. The history of child sexual abuse by clergy uncovered in the recent Australian Royal Commission is just one example of bad things done by Christians, including pastors and priests.

If Christianity can never be represented by its worst adherents, but only by its charitable works and the best examples, it’s impossible to have a fair accounting of its net impact in the world.

At the other end of the spectrum, opponents of Christianity like Richard Dawkins might exclude or ignore all positive influences and impacts, and characterise Christianity only by its worst features and examples. Dawkins pays some lip service to more sophisticated theologies early in his book, but then defaults to treating all of Christianity as though it represented by its most literal and fundamentalist fringes.

There is a huge range of political views and beliefs in the church, from Christians like Jarrod McKenna, who builds homes for the homeless and refugees, and Father Rod Bowers who advocates for more humane policies, to the Michelle Bachmans of the world, who say that Donald Trump is the most godly president of our generation. Indeed, American evangelicalism has entirely embraced capitalism and wealth.

For most of these kinds of ‘club membership’ discussions I would be happy to accept people’s own self-identification as ‘in or out’. If someone decides they are a Christian, then they are, and I don’t have the right to gainsay them.

In this case, though, I’m going to suggest an alternative definition. It’s linked to something I think I’ve talked about in the past, either here on the blog or on Facebook, and certainly in conversations. While I think ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ (as represented on bracelets in the 90s) is dangerous because it is far too prone to projection, so that it becomes ‘What would I do?’ or ‘What would my pastor and the members of my church do?’, I think ‘What Did Jesus Do?’ is a pretty decent guide for living.

After all, Jesus is described as the ‘Christ’, and ‘Christian’ literally just means ‘follower of the Christ’. So, if someone claims to be a Christian, the test is simply ‘Do they do what Jesus did?’ And, I guess, do they refrain from doing what He did not?

Now, some of my atheist friends – and some of my theologian friends too, for that matter – might interject that the Gospels may have been subject to later tampering and interpolations, and were certainly a selection from among a range of documents at the time. They were also written some time after Jesus’ death, largely based on other accounts, both written and verbal. I acknowledge this, and yet… if we simply take what we have, and take it as a wisdom literature that informs our moral reasoning, not a creed that dictates it, the Jesus described in the four Gospels offers a way of life.

There are controversial sections where He says that he comes to bring division, and other difficult passages, but this is the story of a man who owned nothing more than the clothes he stood up in, and went around ministering to the poor and vulnerable and excluded in society. He reserved anger for the powerful, the wealthy and oppressors, and comforted those who were rejected by others in their society.

Read the Beatitudes, in Matthew 5, and the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. In fact, read all the Gospels… it doesn’t take all that long.

Then, if someone claims to be a Christian – and particularly if they want to make you do something or stop you from doing something because they are a Christian – just run the ‘What did Jesus do?’ ruler over them.


Peter Achinstein and Explaining As An Activity

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:58 pm

Achinstein notes that most accounts of scientific explanation have focused on the ‘product’ – the explanation itself, whether spoken or written – rather than on the act of explaining. He sets out to analyse explanation from the perspective of what human beings are doing when we explain.

An explanation is given by someone, with the purpose of helping someone else to understand. Achinstein explains it in slightly more technical language, but in brief he says that the purpose of an explanation is to have the audience know the correct answer to a question and know that it is a correct answer. We’ll leave aside the kinds of questions for which there is no correct answer, or many correct answers.

Achinstein describes explaining as an ‘illocutionary’ act. This is from a framework by Austin. Wikipedia sez: “In Austin’s framework, locution is what was said, illocution is what was meant, and perlocution is what happened as a result.”

Achinstein notes that the exact same sentence can be said with different intentions. An example he uses (I’ll paraphrase somewhat) is that when Dr Jones says “Bill ate spoiled meat”, he is giving an explanation of Bill’s stomach ache, and therefore the kind of illocutionary act he is undertaking is ‘explanation’. When Bill’s wife Jane says “Bill ate spoiled meat”, she is criticizing Bill’s dietary choices, so she is undertaking an illucutionary act of the kind ‘criticism’. This is true even though both people said the exact same words.

Achinstein suggests an ‘ordered pair’ approach, which can be described as (p, explaining q). ‘p’ is the explanation product itself – a sentence or proposition, and the second part of the brackets clarifies that someone said (or wrote) p in order to explain something, ‘q’. Dr Jones’ response might then be written as (“The reason that Bill has a stomach ache is that Bill ate spoiled meat”, explaining why Bill had a stomach ache).

By identifying what is going on in the explaining process, the explanation ‘product’ is clearer.

He considers the issue of evaluating explanations: a correct explanation may not be a good explanation in general terms, or it may not be a good explanation for a particular audience or a particular purpose. Achinstein talks about ‘instructions’ for explaining in a particular context.

Achinstein proposes the following criteria for the good-ness of an explanation:

  1. The audience does not already understand it
  2. There is a way to explain it that will allow the audience to know the correct answer and that it is a correct answer
  3. The audience is interested in the explanation
  4. It will be valuable for the audience to understand the explanation

There are a lot more details and issues, but the two key takeaways for me are (1) this approach is closer to my concerns with science teaching explanations than those of Hempel and Salmon because it centrally includes the explainer and the audience and (2) the challenges of teaching are with ensuring conditions (c) and (d) above – that our students are interested in the explanations we offer, and that the explanations we offer will be valuable for our students.

Note that (d) is not ‘the audience knows that it will be valuable to understand’. While that’s desirable, it is not essential, as long as the explainer knows it. But I would argue that it must be authentically in the interests of the audience (students, learners) to understand the explanation if we are to justify teaching it, and ‘valuable’ needs to mean something much more than passing an exam. The explanations we give in science teaching should transform worldviews and offer tangible benefits.


Eine Kleine Achinstein

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:54 pm

Just a little taste for you of the kind of stuff I’m reading at the moment. The sauv blanc helps, at least in moderation. 😉

If Q is an explanation-seeking question (e.g. ‘Why did Nero fiddle?’), and q is the indirect form of the question (e.g. ‘The reason that Nero fiddled is that______’), and if a person A is seeking to understand q, and if qI is the answer to q under a specific set of instructions, I (so, for example, it might be ‘Explain why Nero fiddled in terms of his mental state’ or ‘Explain why Nero fiddled in terms of historical factors obtaining in Rome at the time…’ and so on), then:

A understands qI only if (∃p)(p is an answer to Q that satisfies I, and A knows of p that it is a correct answer to Q, and p is a complete content-giving proposition with respect to Q). (Achinstein, 1983, p. 57)

∃ is the ‘existential quantifier, which means ‘there exists’, so ∃p means ‘there exists a proposition p such that…’

A ‘complete content-giving proposition’ is complex, but basically it means it contains everything relevant and nothing irrelevant to explaining Q.

Wesley Salmon, Statistical Relevance and Causal/Mechanical Explanation

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:49 pm

As you’ll know if you’ve been following along in this series of posts1 on the philosophy of explanation, or if you decide to go back and read them in chronological order before continuing to read this one, Wesley Salmon is a realist who has been working on the problems of explanation for some considerable time. He first advanced and then withdrew a ‘statistical-relevance (SR)’ approach to explanation, and later adopted what he called a ‘causal/mechanical’ approach. My aim here is to briefly explore both of these approaches and what they offer.

You’ll remember that Hempel advanced the ‘deductive-nomological (D-N)’ model for explanations when the causal laws that govern the scientific phenomena are deterministic: ‘if X happens then Y will definitely happen’. He also introduced the ‘inductive-statistical (I-S) model for when the laws are probabilistic (e.g. in quantum mechanics): ‘if A happens there is a 78% chance that B will happen’. Hempel insisted on a high probablity (close to 100% or 1.0) for explanations under the I-S approach. The main reason for this is that, if the probability is lower, A could presumably explain both the occurrence and non-occurrence of B. Say the probability is of B given A is .5, and A occurs, if B occurs we say ‘B happened because A’, but if B does not occur in some sense it also makes sense to explain this in terms of A, since there is a 50% chance that A will not lead to B.

There are also other helpful counter-examples. Jim (who is biologically male) did not become pregnant last year. Jim faithfully took birth control pills all year. Logically, we could say that Jim did not become pregnant because he took birth control pills, but our intuition tells us this is not a valid explanation. The birth control pills are not relevant to explaining the phenomenon. Similarly, being a lifelong smoker only yields about a 20% chance (probability of .2) of getting lung cancer, yet we consider that the smoking explains the cancer.

Similarly, the probability arguments can be complex. Someone who has pneumonia and is treated with penicillin has a higher probability of recovering than someone who does not have pneumonia. We would argue that the penicillin caused the recovery, or at least that it did so in conjunction with the immune system of the patient. (On the other hand, if we observe that taking Vitamin C correlates with recovering from the common cold after about a week we might consider that it is causal… until we realise that most people, Vitamin C or not, recover from the common cold in about a week.

Salmon suggested, therefore, that relevance is important in statistical cases. He also noted, as in the smoking example, that explanations for events with low probabilities can be explained, whereas Hempel’s approach insists on high probabilities.

Let’s go back the pneumonia patient, but add the information that there are penicillin-resistant strains of pneumonia. The simple argument that penicillin improves the odds of recovery is complicated by this new information, and the two classes of pneumonia patients initially – those treated with penicillin and those not – become four classes – those untreated who have the non-resistant strain, those treated who have the non-resistant strain, those untreated who have the resistant strain and those treated who have the resistant strain. In considering an individual patient’s likelihood of recovery, which of these quadrants s/he falls in is statistically relevant.

Salmon adds the additional criteria that (a) all relevant factors must be included and no irrelevant ones and (b) we must divide up our whole population of cases so that we look at an ‘objectively homogeneous’ class in trying to explain something. For example, in the case of our pneumonia patient, we can divde the population into four with two factors, and each of those four groups will be somewhat homogeneous (all members having the same characteristics). But there are potentially other relevant factors, like age, sex, obesity… the list is almost endless. In the end, while Salmon described objective homogeneity is an ideal, he conceded that practical problems mean it is unlikely to be actually useful in constructing and evaluating real explanations. He moved on to consider the important role of causality:

I no longer believe that the assemblage of relevant factors provides a complete explanation—or much of anything in the way of an explanation. We do, I believe, have a bona fide explanation of an event if we have a complete set of statistically relevant factors, the pertinent probability values, and causal explanations of the relevance relations. (Salmon, 1978)

His discussion of causation and explanation gets into Reichenbach’s ‘screening off principle’, conjunctive forks, interactive forks and other complexities that don’t really concern me for the moment.

The big contribution from Salmon to my project is (a) the very thorough overview his book ‘Four Decades of Scientific Explanation’ offers of Hempel’s work and the responses to it up until the late 1980s, (b) his realist approach in contrast to Hempel’s anti-realist approach and (c) the ways in which the statistical-relevance approach, despite shortcomings of its own, fixed some of the shortcomings of Hempel’s approach and led to other interesting work. He also enabled me to think carefully about which philosophers working in this field will need to be considered in depth in my book, for my purposes, and which can be mentioned in brief but not analysed in depth.

Next cab off the rank is Peter Achinstein, whose approach is less rigidly logical-philosophical and more directly focused on what human beings do when we explain. He calls it an ‘illocutionary’ approach, which is just a longer word for the process of giving and explanation and the ‘product’ of that explanation, whether it be written, spoken, animated etc. I’ll be reading Achinstein’s book over the next few days and will report in when I’ve done that.

  1. As you may have guessed, this series is in part a way of sharing the stuff I’m interested in and excited about with others, partly a way of taking notes for myself to remind me of some of the broader themes of what I’m reading… and partly just procrastination from writing the book I’m supposed to be writing about this stuff! I feel as though it’s worthwhile procrastination, though, because if I can explain it for a smart lay audience of my friends it will help me to better understand it for when I write about it more formally.


Salmon, W. (1978). “Why Ask ‘Why?’? An Inquiry Concerning Scientific Explanation”, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 51(6): 683–705. Reprinted in Salmon 1998: 125–141. doi:10.2307/3129654

Salmon, W. (1998).Causality and Explanation, New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/0195108647.001.0001

Realism and Anti-Realism in Philosophy of Science

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:40 am

There’ll be a much more detailed post shortly about Wesley Salmon’s ‘statistical-relevance’ theory of scientific explanation (a response and extension from Hempel’s ‘deductive-nomological’ and ‘inductive-stastical’ approaches, discussed in an earlier post). In the mean time, though, a quick discussion on realism and anti-realism.

The distinction is that realists accept that the unobservable entities that we use in our scientific explanations such as fields, atoms, electrons, photons and so on are real features of the universe. Anti-realists – and one prominent school within this camp is the instrumentalists – claim that these entities are useful rather than true. They serve their purpose in that they help us to provide explanations that work and theories that allow us to describe and predict observable phenomena, but they are not considered to be in any sense ‘real’. Hempel is an anti-realist, and constructs scientific explanations in terms of logical relations and laws. Salmon, on the other hand, is a realist1.

As a side note, Bas van Fraassen, another important figure in the philosophy of explanation (who, for various reasons, I will mention only in passing in my book) describes his position as ‘constructive empiricism’. While the anti-realist is an ‘atheist’ in terms of unobservable entities and makes the strong claim that they are not real, a constructive empiricist is ‘agnostic’: s/he neither knows nor cares whether they exist, and their reality is not a required feature of the approaches to explanation proposed by van Fraassen and those who follow him.

Salmon essentially uses two arguments in support of the reality of the unobservable. The first relates to extending the range of our senses. He talks about what he can see in a book with tiny print with and without his glasses, and notes that it would seem very odd to claim that the full stops on the page are not real when he has his glasses off but are real when he has his glasses on and can observe them. He then extends this, noting that the optics of a microscope are based on the exact same principles as the optics used in making his glasses, so it makes sense to consider the things that can be observed through a microscope to be real.

The argument then extends to telescopes and things like the moons of the planets in our solar system, which are not visible to the naked eye. The objection has been made by others that we could, in principle, travel to the moons of the planets and verify their existence with our senses but that we can’t (‘Fantastic Voyage’ aside) travel to the microscopic realm to check our observations in the same way.

In response to this, Salmon talks about a process by which a grid is designed at macroscale then shrunk and manufactured at microscopic scale and used for things like counting bacteria in a sample under a microscope. It seems quite silly to claim that, at the scale when we can no longer observe it directly with our unaided senses, such a grid loses its reality.

The final argument is based on the work of Jean Perrin, who started out observing Brownian motion (the way in which very small particles suspended in a fluid (gas or liquid) exhibit random movement, which is explained as being caused by collisions with the particles in the fluid, e.g. water molecules or nitrogen molecules in air). Brownian motion allows the direct observation (though usually aided by a microscope, because particles small enough to be bumped off course by a single molecule are pretty small) of the effects of molecules, although the molecules themselves cannot be seen. Perrin used Brownian motion to find the value of Avogadro’s Number, 6.02 x 1023, a very important number in chemistry that relates the molecular and macro scales.

The really interesting thing, though, is that Perrin then went on to find 13 different and independent ways to determine the value of Avogadro’s number, such as electroplating silver out of a solution and measuring the current used for a given mass of silver, radioactive decays and so on. The fact that a range of independent experiments, across a range of different branches of chemistry and physics, all yielded the same number (within experimental error) is at least pretty strong inferential empirical evidence for the reality of atoms, molecules and electrons.

When we get to photons and other entities at the level where quantum phenomena are dominant, it gets more complex still… things sometimes behave like particles and sometimes like waves. Are they ‘real’? They help us to create good – if complex (literally) – explanations.

I have to admit that, while in general I’m probably inclined toward realism, if I had to swear to it, hand on heart, constructive empiricism would be an attractive approach for me. Or is that just a copout?

There’s a good, if somewhat technical, introduction to some of the issues in explanation here: https://www.iep.utm.edu/explanat/ For me, it makes too much of the implications of this realist/anti-realist distinction, when I find other aspects of explanation more interesting and important, but nonetheless it does a nice job of sketching the last 70 years in the philosophy of this issue, since Hempel and Oppenheim’s seminal paper in 1948.

More Salmon shortly.

  1. Like many other terms in science and philosophy, ‘realist’ has a technical and an everyday meaning. In everyday parlance, a ‘realist’ is someone who takes the world as it is, as opposed to an ‘idealist’ who seeks to work as though the world follows – or ought to follow – some ideal order. It’s important to distinguish that sense of the term ‘realist’ from the technical meaning discussed in this post.


Carl Hempel and ‘Covering-Law’ Models of Explanation

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:27 am

As part of my on-going reading in the philosophy of explanation I’ve been focusing on the work of Carl Hempel, who talks about what Dray has described as ‘covering-law’ approaches to explicating explanation in science.

Together with Paul Oppenheim, in 1948 Hempel described ‘deductive-nomological (D-N)’ explanation in science: explanation in terms of scientific laws combined with initial conditions.

His 1965 work, which I’m reading now, expands this understanding to include ‘inductive-statistical (I-S)’ explanations, noting that some scientific laws are inherently statistical in character rather than deterministic. While Dray originally included only D-N explanations when coining the term ‘covering-law’, Hempel expands the term to include I-S explanations.

Hempel talks only about I-S explanations which make the probability of the outcome ‘practically certain’, or very close to 1, however I already know from reading David-Hillel Ruben that there also exist I-S explanations that explain outcomes with low probability, and even explanations that decrease the probability of the thing they explain.

The relevant chapter is about 130 pages long and includes a lot of defenses of this approach against a number of challenges, as well as expanding the discussion to include historical and other explanations as well as scientific ones.

Relevant to my interests, he also considers the ‘pragmatic’ features of an explanation given to an individual person, as well as the general explanations given in science. What is required to explain to an individual depends on characteristics such as the person’s existing knowledge and interests, whereas a general explanation does not depend on these things.

After finishing Hempel’s account, next step is to move on to Wesley Salmon… and then Peter Achinstein.


Broken Links

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:59 am

A little utility I run in the background of this WordPress site informed me there were 767 broken links in posts and 34 warnings. Probably unsurprising, since the blog has been up for something like 15 years and links come and go. I’ve removed all of them now, so some of the old posts may be missing links out to pictures or the things they were talking about, but the blog content is still there for what it’s worth.


Is a Fallacious Explanation an Explanation At All?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:58 am

It’s something I mentioned in passing in a blog post some time ago (I’ve been busy!), but I wanted to take up the question again, because I think it’s interesting.

If an explanation that is offered is false or incorrect, does it constitute an explanation?

Our answer to this question, and the kind of thinking it takes to get to an answer, is likely to be helpful in thinking about the broader question ‘What is an explanation?’

Take an example: Chemtrails. People see the lines of cloud that are left in the sky when jet-powered planes fly over when certain atmospheric conditions apply.

(I thought about using vaccines and autism, but that debate is both disrespectful to people with autism, and tragic in terms of the unnecessarily dead or ill children it produces, so I thought I’d leave it aside. The considerations do apply to it, though.)

A scientific explanation involves the burning of jet fuel – a hydrocarbon similar to kerosene – in oxygen and the fact that the products are water vapor and carbon dioxide, and that the water vapor condenses into small droplets of liquid water if the surrounding atmosphere is cool enough, and that if the winds are slight at that altitude, these lines of vapor can remain for some time before the evaporate or disperse.

An alternative explanation considers that the government is dispersing chemicals using jet planes that are intended to (variously) pacify or sterilise the populace. This is often linked to comments like ‘I don’t remember seeing so many in the past’.

On that last one, a few minutes with statistics on the total numbers of flights occurring now compared to the past can be illuminating…

Part of the challenge in thinking through whether the latter explanation is an explanation is a potential confusion as to what phenomenon is being explained. Is the explanation tendered in order to explain the white lines we see in the sky, or to explain passivity and low birth rates among the populace?

If it’s the former – white lines in the sky – then there doesn’t seem to be a simple empirical way to distinguish between our two explanations: both ‘explain’ the white lines as some form of chemical substance (remember, water is a chemical substance) being released from jets. We might use logic and reason and the demonstrated inability of governments to keep secrets secret or maintain conspiracies in the long term, but that’s not something we can observe directly.

If we wanted to look at passivity and sterility, though, presumably water vapor would have no effect (since it already pervades the atmosphere and we breathe it out ourselves – check your breath on a cold day), while sinister chemicals would.

Since world population is still increasing and the atmosphere covers the whole world, sterility chemicals, if they’re being used, aren’t very effective. (Some variants have racist elements where the chemicals target particular races, but we’ll leave those where they belong.)

Protests are far from unknown either, so the passivity-inducing chemicals don’t seem much more effective. (Social media, on the other hand…)

Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a post about chemtrails: the topic is explanations. I am going to argue that an explanation must be true, accurate and correct, or at the very least to represent the best current state of knowledge in relation to the thing to be explained, in order to be an explanation.

The old definition of knowledge as ‘justified true belief’ is helpful here. That is, to be able to say that we know something, we must believe it, it must be true, and we must have adequate, relevant grounds for believing it.

If an explanation is intended to increase knowledge, and knowledge is justified true belief, then an explanation must be true.


Explanatory Power

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:50 pm

The last couple of posts have focused on explanations in science education, but this one pivots back to explanations in science.

There is a scheme, owed to Hempel, of 5 kinds of explanations in science and their relation to scientific laws, but that is a topic for another day.

In brief, a scientific theory – which is not the same thing as a scientific law – ought to have descriptive, predictive and explanatory power.

There are some laws which do not have explanatory power. Kepler’s Laws describe the motion of the planets accurately, but they are ’empirical’ laws, constructed based on observations. They do not include any explanation of the phenomena they describe and predict. It required gravitational theories from Newton and later Einstein to explain why the planets move as they do.

Indeed, it could be argued that laws – mathematical relationships between quantities – never have explanatory power. They explain what happens, but not why.

Scientific theories, however, explain what happens. That is what a scientific explanation is and is for.

Explanation in Science Education from a Constructivist Perspective

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:01 pm

When a teacher explains a concept to a student… and, before I continue I should note that the people in those roles may not be in them formally. Parent explaining to child, foreman explaining to new employee, doctor explaining to patient. These ideas are relevant to a very wide range of human activities.

Explanations in science education are different from everyday explanations in a number of features, but that’s probably not something we need to go into in great detail here. We would avoid explanations such as that the contrails of jets are really ‘chemtrails’ of drugs to pacify the populace, not so much because they are not scientific (they aren’t) but because the best available evidence doesn’t support them. It’s an interesting question whether a fallacious ‘explanation’ is an explanation at all, but that might be another post for another time.

OK, digressions aside, I’ll start again: When a teacher explains a concept to a student, that process was historically considered to be what we educational theorists might call ‘transmissive’. The metaphor is like a radio or TV transmission, where the signal that is sent is the same as the signal that is received. The concept is moved intact from the teacher’s mind to that of the student.

There’s a fair bit of evidence, argument and experience to suggest that that’s not … I was about to say ‘what really happens’, but a better way to put it is ‘an effective way to think about it’.

Rather, we tend to have a ‘constructivist’ image of learning 1. In brief, this means that students construct their own knowledge based on their experiences. Those experiences include, but by no means are limited to, the explanations and other experiences offered by their teachers. These in-school experiences are joined with the life experience of the phenomena being discussed: riding bicycles for physics, observing living things – and being living things themselves – for biology and so on.

From a constructivist perspective, then, there is no such thing as the ‘perfect explanation’ of a scientific concept, as a thing unto itself. An explanation is part of the process of explaining (see a post from a couple of days ago on the distinction) that occurs between teacher and student. The explanation provides structured experiences which are the ‘building materials’ from which the student actively constructs understanding.

The importance of the dynamic interaction – and the relationship which forms its context – is that each student is building on different conceptual ‘foundations’. Each has a different set of experiences, and each has made different meanings of them. By listening, drawing on feedback, giving feedback and re-constructing the explanation, the teacher ensures that the explanation offers the best possible materials for that particular student to use in constructing an understanding of the specific scientific concept to be learned.

  1. There are definitely a number of older posts about constructivism on this blog if you’re interested. The Search box on the right side of the page (scroll down a bit) will enable you to find them.


Explaining and Explanation in Science Education

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:12 am

It was a bit tricky to work out the best order in which to talk about this topic and another one – a constructivist approach to explanation – but I think I promised in the yesterday’s post that I’d talk about ‘explaining and explanation’ next, so let’s do that. But hopefully tomorrow’s post will cast some additional light on this if you’re patient.

Suzie tends to talk about the distinction between nouns and verbs in relationships: having an expectation of our partners, versus expecting something. I kinda see what she’s talking about, in that verbs are inherently more fluid and dynamic than nouns.

The distinction between explanation and explaining is similar, but explaining contains explanation. Let me try to make that a little clearer.

I should also note (this is not one of my more coherent posts in terms of structure!) that this distinction and approach, as well as the constructivist approach, is owed to the German colleagues I recently visited in Bremen, particularly Christoph Kulgemeyer.

In this way of thinking, an ‘explanation’ is a unit in itself. It might be given by speaking or writing, or by speaking in a video or using an animation or simulation, but the explanation is a contained unit of meaning that is designed to increase understanding on the part of someone else, and is somehow delivered.

Explaining is the much larger social and interpersonal, dynamic process within which the explanation is given. It includes the person giving the explanation and the person receiving it. The process of explaining includes feedback, which is crucial. The explanation (as a unit) is modified and re-presented on the basis of the feedback received.

As a teacher (and this includes anyone who understands a concept and is seeking to help someone else develop an understanding of it, not just someone with the formal role) we have to make assumptions about what our student (the person willing to try to develop an understanding of the new concept) already knows, what life experiences they have had, what they are interested in, and so on.

Now, this brings me to one really important distinction between explanations given ‘live’, in classrooms or any situation when human beings are in a room, so that immediate (verbal and non-verbal) feedback is available, versus explanations given in books, videos, games and so on. Kind of by definition, the latter are informed only by the explainer’s ‘best guess’ about the characteristics of the ‘typical’ audience member, and no revision or improvement of the explanation in response to immediate feedback is possible. Simply, this is an explanation largely shorn of the process of explaining.

I’m interested in the implications of this idea for my own research using interactive simulations – although that has all occurred in classrooms with live teachers – and in its implications for things like the ‘flipped classroom’, which rely to a very large extent on explanations given in videos.


Explanation in Science and in Science Education

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:56 pm

I feel kind of dumb in only really coming to realise this properly now, after working with and writing about explanations for well over a decade, but there is a basic qualitative difference between explanations in science and in science education. They are different kinds of things that have different purposes.

I think perhaps Treagust and Harrison’s interesting work from 1999 and 2000, which was some of the first I read, might have got me off on the wrong track. It talks about the differences between verbal explanations of concepts in, for example, scientific papers versus in science lessons, as well as the differences between these science teaching explanations and ‘everyday explanations’.

They are useful directions, but those three things are all the same kinds of things: verbal explanations, given from one person to another (or a group) with the goal of helping the latter develop a deeper understanding. They all involve, to one extent and in way way or another, teaching.

I’ve been reading David-Hillel Ruben’s ‘Explaining Explanation’ recently, and come to realise that the kinds of explanations he is talking about, when he reviews the work of Plato, Aristotle, Mill and Hempel & Oppenheimer, is not the same thing at all. These ‘explanations’ are the very foundations of science, and are much more like ‘the energy states of the valence shell electrons in sodium metal and chlorine gas explain the reaction between them (given that the activation energy is present)’. In other words, an explanation takes in the various laws or theories of science and explains why something happens as it does.

Now, a particular scientist may well give a verbal or written description of that explanation to another scientist, but that is what Ruben might call ‘an explication of an explanation’: it is not the explanation itself. The explanation is often causal – ‘this happens because this set of antecedent conditions and properties is met’.

Of course, Ruben’s book is academic philosophy, and the water gets very deep very quickly. Do causal explanations have to be determinate and certain or can they be probabilistic? Some explanations in quantum theory, for example, are not deterministic. Are all explanations necessarily causal?

There’s plenty to think about, but just realising that there are these two quite different senses in which ‘explanation’ is used is pretty important if I’m going to write a book on the topic! As it happens, this kind of scientific explanation will be a relatively minor facet of the book, since the focus is on explanation and explaining (and the next post in the series will talk a bit about why that distinction is useful) in science education. I want to know how teachers can create better explanations for the purposes of helping students to come to understand scientific concepts.

Why is this important? Not to boost Australia’s scores on international standardised tests! But because scientific concepts transform our perspective on the world, and empower our students to make positive changes.

Meta: Work In Progress

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:18 pm

This blog has been moribund for a while, but as I was casting around for a ‘way in’ to write the book I’m writing at the moment, it occurred to me that one way might be to think through things in blog posts. It offers an immediate, if small, audience for the work, and one that I can imagine while writing, but it’s not academic writing so I can be a bit more easy and casual with idioms and images, and with conventions of communication like referencing.

So, over the next few weeks, as the mood strikes and the muse pleases, I’ll kick around a few ideas about ‘Explanation and Explaining in Science and Science Education’ here on the blog. New posts are automatically notified on Twitter and (I think) Facebook: feel free to ignore if this doesn’t interest you.

Looking forward to it: definitely a ‘middle space’ between the ephemerality of Facebook posts and tweets and the permanence of a published book.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:26 pm

Metanao is the Greek verb that corresponds to the noun ‘metanoia’. The latter means a change of mind, view or perspective, and the former means the act of changing one’s perspective.

Suzie was looking for a name for her counseling and relationship education business, and this seems apt.


‘Keeping Focused’ on Research and Writing

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:12 pm

A colleague asked me to present a session at a forum yesterday for Higher Degree by Research (Masters by Research, Doctor of Education, Doctor of Philosophy) students. My first reaction was ‘Are you sure you have the right person?’ I tend not to perceive myself as particularly focused, and I imagine most of the people who know me best have a similar perception.

Sometimes the way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us differ, though: I was talking with a colleague at UQ a few years ago and started to say “I think of myself as a…” What I had in mind to say was “…mellow, laid-back sort of guy”, but she finished the sentence for me with “…high-energy person”. It made me think again…

So, yesterday I delivered perhaps the least focused presentation on ‘Keeping Focused’ ever.

It was from 2:15 to 3:00 in the afternoon and I knew the participants were likely to have been listening to talks with PowerPoint most of the day by that point, so I didn’t use that. I thought about the topic and the issues over the previous few days, then scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad on the train up from the Gold Coast to Brisbane. Spent some of the time talking to the groups, and some having them talk among themselves to share their own approaches.

Most of the other presenters will have shared their PowerPoint slides for students to use as notes or for people unable to attend, so I thought I’d use this blog post to summarise a few of the ideas I shared yesterday.

Preamble and Themes

Part of the challenge is that ‘focus’ may not mean what it used to, or at least not for everyone. In a more-complex and intensified world of work, taking a week to do nothing but write is a lot tougher. Even taking a couple of hours a day can be challenging. I was at the forum all day, listening to the presentations and enjoying them, but at the same time requesting data and calculating statistics about our School for a report, completing and submitting an Expression of Interest letter for a grant program, working on learning and teaching issues… and this is just a typical day.

The corollary is that what works for one person may not work for another. My own approach is to multitask. The research says we don’t do things as deeply when we do, but I do get a fair bit done. Others may organise their work differently, and find those whole weeks or couple of hours a day to work on research.

Suzie is doing a Master of Counselling program at the moment, and studying Solution Focused Therapy. One of the precepts of that approach is “If it’s working, do more of it. If it’s not, try something else.” My own approach to ‘focus’ seems to be working – I’m getting the publications out, getting the grants, all that stuff. So the test of an approach is empirical: does it work?

Who knows whether another approach might make me even more productive, but I also feel ‘productive’ enough for my purposes… and I enjoy my life, which is also a criterion!

This is part of the point and the argument: it’s hard to establish efficiency and effectiveness without deciding on the goals. What do you want to do with your research? What are your career and life goals? If you want to be a career researcher – PhD, postdoc, fellowships, research-only profile – then you need to be focused on research and writing to the exclusion of other things. If, on the other hand, you plan for something more like my career, which tries to balance teaching, research and service to the profession and community, multitasking may also work.

It also relates to the way different people’s minds work. Some can simply sit down and write (which partly relates to being immersed in the literature and the project to the exclusion of other things). I find that I need to load the ideas into my subconscious and then go off and do other things while they ‘cook’, then when the time is right the writing tends to be easy.

So, in all of this, ‘know thyself’ is important. I can talk about what I do and what works for me, and why, but finding out what works for you is the goal.

Day Scale

At the scale of focusing every day, I’d suggest the following:

  • manage email and social media in a way that works for you: for me, it’s helpful to respond to email as it comes in. For others, leaving it to the end of the day or other strategies work better
  • reference as you go: leaving referencing until the end is incredibly inefficient. Use EndNote or another referencing package if it works for you – I don’t
  • take weekends, or at least a day off a week (it needn’t be a weekend day if that works better with your life and those of the people you want to hang out with): being so hardcore at work that you work every day is a recipe for burnout. Not always easy, particularly for those working full time and studying part time.
  • attend to your physical health: your brain is in a body, and your body needs care. Don’t say “I’m too busy to exercise”, say “I’m too busy not to”. It might only be walking the dog, but getting the blood flowing gets it flowing to your brain.

Thesis (or Project) Scale

At the scale of a PhD thesis, or a research project:

  • work-life balance is key: the stats correlating PhDs and divorces are worrying. Finding ways to focus on work enough for your purposes but also have a life and relationships and friends will make your life better and your career more robust and resilient.
  • do something on your research at least several times a week. Keep it ‘top of mind’. Leaving it months means it takes a long time to get back up to speed. Even if it’s just writing an informal summary, or reading a paper of two, do something regularly.
  • focus on goals, not regimens: think about where you’re headed, rather than blocking out 2 hours a day or 2 days a week (participants’ mileage varied on this, and regimens did work for some)

Career Scale

People will advise you – as they have advised me throughout my career – to focus on having one clear, identified research program and focusing on that. I haven’t done that – I’ve followed the things I find interesting, and it seems to be working OK. (With some exceptions… I think I’ve been slower to be promoted than I’d have liked, for a variety of reasons: one of the trade-offs… But not inevitable.)

Something I learned from one of my own doctoral students in the past, Mark Hirschkorn, is ‘first do what is worth doing, then figure out how to get rewarded for it’. The times when I’ve tended to struggle and be depressed and unproductive in my work have happened when I’ve bought into other people’s reward systems, and tailored my work to that, rather than to what I thought was worthwhile and interesting work. Conversely, when I focus on the ‘good stuff’, the rewards seem to flow. Parker Palmer’s (highly recommended) ‘The Courage To Teach’ talks about how, when we teach out of who we are and do the work that nourishes our own spirit, it also nourishes our work.

I hope these bits and pieces might be useful to colleagues at all stages of their research careers. I certainly don’t hold myself up as an example… but I’ve thought a bit about how and why I do what I do… and it works for me. This is written as much as anything to encourage you to do the same kind of thinking about yourself and your own goals.


Your Ten (or more) Commandments

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:57 am

I posed this question on Facebook last week:

What would be your personal 10 Commandments? Create your own list of rules for living.

Here are a few of the responses I particularly liked:

David Jewell:

1. Love thy neighbor as thyself.
2. (See #1)
3. (See #2)

Lachlann Murray:

Just one. Don’t be a dickhead.

Michelle Hill:

Be Kind
Be respectful
Be happy

My first attempt:

1. Find the shared humanity in everyone – that means not owning people, not demonising, not stereotyping.
2. Don’t rape anyone – get enthusiastic consent and enjoy!
3. Recognise that we share this planet with 7 billion humans and trillions of other living things. Don’t take more than your share and live in ways that make it better.
4. You only get one go around, don’t waste it all working – remember to rest.
5. Give respect to everyone, seek to earn respect from everyone.
6. Don’t kill – heal, give life.
7. Don’t betray your partner sexually* – embrace, build, enjoy.
8. Don’t steal – give, share.
9. Don’t lie – seek the truth in everything.
10. Understand what you need in your life materially and don’t stress about getting more than that.

*Whatever agreements you have made, whether or not that includes exclusivity.

The order is a bit weird here because I’ve tried for the parallel – I’d move 2 and 7 closer together and 3 and 10. I don’t think these are exhaustive, but I think they’re better…

Bill and Ted:

1. Be excellent to each other
2. Party on, dudes!

Anthony Bishop:

Number 1: No rules, only heuristics.

Jennifer Nixon:

Be authentic
Be kind whenever possible
Be the change you want to see in the world
Remember that other people’s shit is not your shit
Love more than you think
Celebrate as much as possible

Alex Senior couldn’t stop at 10…:

1: First, do no harm.
2: Empathise.
3: Proportionality in all things
4: Make the best decision you can, with the information you have at the time according to your highest principles.
5: Be prepared to examine your reasoning
6: Take ownership of your decisions
7: Those that have the capacity, have the responsibility.
8: When faced with untenable alternatives, look to your imperative.
9: Entropy will get us in the end. There is freedom in the transience of all things.
10: Be informed.
11: Communicate to your audience. Be transparent and honest in your dealings, with very limited exception.
12: Be judicious when exercising power. More often than not it is better to stay the hand.
13: Think long and hard before you embark on a course of action that removes another’s freedom of choice.
14: Have greater expectations of yourself than you have of others. Only you can benchmark yourself, do so honestly.
15: To truly connect with others, to truely love others, you must give of yourself freely. You must give others unconditional faith and credit, until proven otherwise. Expect that in doing this some people will take advantage of you.
16: The experience of yourself and others is unique and valuable. There is always something to be learnt from others. Respect the dignity of life.

Heather Stathopottermus:

Add value, respect (all) humans, treasure life, be kind, be grateful, take care of the planet, don’t be an arsehole, be inspirational in your own niche, leave things better than you found them, and finally, don’t tolerate fucked up shit in others (it’s the same as doing it yourself).

Ryan Bishop asked “Can we rephrase these to be ‘do’ statements rather than ‘don’t’ statements?” I responded “I tried to add the ‘do’ bit in my list but keep the flavour, but we could probably dispense with the “thou shalt nots” entirely.” Harry Kanasa made the counterpoint: “Short, sharp, and punchy is the key to getting anyone to follow rules. ‘Don’t rape’ beats ‘only engage in consensual sex’ on all counts.”

Anthony Johnson added his list:

1: Be happy with what you have
2: Like ALL of my jokes :0}
3: Forgive idiots as they don’t know they are idiots
4: Don’t drink too much as you will get drunk and have a hangover for a week :0{
5: Believe in something. I believe in aliens :0}
6: Don’t piss your wife off. It’s not worth it
7: Learn to walk away from FACEBOOK sometimes
8: Start your own religion up and take over the world :0}
9: forget 8 I lost it for a moment :0}
10: Just remember when the aliens come, I told you they would :0}


It’s Alliivvve!!!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:12 pm

Hmm – my last post in this blog was in early February this year, about 9 months ago. At that point I was tired of blogging and blogging was tired of me. I declared it dead…

But, as for Mark Twain, rumors of its death may have been exaggerated. A few ideas have come to me recently for which it seems like this is a better medium than Facebook, Twitter or a web forum. These are longer-form pieces and ideas, to which I want to have permanent access.

Facebook does immediacy well, but it also does ephemerality well… or durability very poorly, depending on your purposes.

So there’ll be a few more posts here: probably not daily, maybe not even weekly, but some. I think the links to Facebook and Twitter still work to alert my friends of new content, and I hope you’ll find the new content interesting.

If you want your comments to be durable, post them here, if you want them to be ephemeral, post them on Facebook or Twitter.


Requiem for a Dead Medium

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:33 am

I guess this Bravus blog has been dead for a while now – there have been occasional intimations of life every few months, but it’s functionally moribund.

People are talking about blogging as a dead medium, and I guess it is… I know I don’t get the urge to write them any more, and I seldom read them.

I suspect it’s the instant gratification of social media that has done the murder: if I have an idea I will usually pop it on Twitter if it’s short or Facebook if it’s a little longer (and being aware of the slightly different audiences on those two media) and get instant reactions, rather than write a longer piece like a blog post.

The blog has been useful to keep around for the instances when (a) I know I’ve written something more detailed on a topic and want to link that to a Facebook or Twitter discussion or (b) I want to write something longer and with more detail than Facebook is well adapted for, or that I think I might want to access again in future. I’ll probably keep it open for those reasons, but post rarely.

I’ll also keep it open as an archive: it contains a couple of thousand posts chronicling my thoughts and reactions across almost a decade, and as such I think it’s a useful ‘externalised memory’ to have available for myself and others.

Thanks to all those who read it in the past, and who dig into it in the present and future, or who I send here with links – reading is the ‘third moment of ethnography’ that makes the writing worth doing.

But I guess this is really ‘vale’ to the Bravus Blog – may it requiescat in pace.


Extremely Progressive Valley

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:21 pm

Cassie and I saw upcoming Melbourne band Ne Obliviscaris at Brisbane progfest in 2010, and I reviewed that show here http://www.bravus.com.au/blog/?p=1959. When we saw that they are touring their new album and playing in Brisbane, we made plans. Just for fun, we decided to do a shared review of the gig, like the one Alex and I did of Soundwave in 2011 http://www.bravus.com.au/blog/?p=2246. Incidentally, if this review makes you want to see Ne Obliviscaris for yourself, they’re playing at Soundwave in 2015.

The Brightside
(the venue)


I’ve been to most of the rock venues in Brisbane, The Brightside in Fortitude Valley was a new one for me. It’s a fairly new venue, in a space that has held a number of others over the years. It’s next to a club housed in a deconsecrated small church, and reports suggest it may also be a former church, or possibly church hall. It’s the right shape… Here’s a short review of the venue http://www.au.timeout.com/brisbane/music/venues/963/the-brightside. There’s an excellent little open air bar outdoors, which made for a much more enjoyable wait for the show than the more usual line in the street. This was a pretty small extreme metal show, so the line wouldn’t have been huge anyway, but waiting with a beer until most had headed inside was even mellower. Good range of craft beers and ciders available, along with some truly preposterous cocktails.


$10 preposterous cocktails O.0 An example of one of these cocktails is the Heart-shaped Box – a combo of vanilla-infused vodka, lemon and strawberry compote topped off with lemonade and a heart-shaped lollipop.


Inside, as a venue, it’s great. There are (comfy looking) booths along the walls but you need to get in early, and most of the space is for standing, but there are balconies at about head height along both sides overlooking the main floor. Cassie and I grabbed a spot on the rail on the balcony, and stayed there all night, with a great view and above the fray. Sound mix was fantastic, too, with the acoustics of the venue better than a lot of the local rooms.

From our perspective, we could have done with just a touch more security presence. I’m all for unobtrusive security not messing with the flow of an extreme metal gig, and too much is arguably worse than too little, but incidents like one dickhead getting right up into the bands’ faces video recording them on his phone, with the flash light on shining in their faces, and not being stopped kind of damaged the gig for the majority of the more-considerate punters. Some idiot was also back-chatting the band which is ok to an extent, but this same idiot was then standing on tables and running around the venue with no one to reign him in. There was an energetic pit, which is fine, though there were one or two inevitable minor injuries, but I think Cassie was concerned about the crowd surfing. I’ll let her talk about it, if she wants to.


I am far too empathetic to stand back and watch as someone falls. There was this weedy looking guy who kept crowd surfing and kept getting his upper body dipped towards the ground. I was even more nervous when the extremely good looking guitarist from Beyond Creation, who was a lot larger than the weedy guy, jumped onto the crowd. Dad said his band’s singer was looking worried too. Usually this stuff would not be so hard to watch as the crowd is VERY packed in and so there is a small chance of someone actually hurting themselves but as Dad said above the crowd was a bit sparse.

Halcyon Prophecy


Local support was symphonic metal band ‘Halcyon Prophecy’ https://www.facebook.com/HalcyonProphecy. They were technically astonishing and had a great dynamic range and variety of songs. The singer had excellent stage presence, and handled a supportive but too-noisy idiot in the crowd with grace and humor. Vocal style involved too much scream and too little clean or growl for our particular tastes, but the skill and beauty of the music was impressive. (Though the drummer did tend to overly rely on one particular ride cymbal on every song – mix it up, dude!) I suspect we’ll hear more of these guys.


Ditto, I loved the music not so much the singing. I have never liked screaming again because I am too empathetic and I imagine that it would really hurt your throat to do it for a lengthy amount of time as this guy was doing.

Beyond Creation


Progressive death metal band Beyond Creation is from Montreal, Canada https://www.facebook.com/BeyondCreationOfficial http://beyondcreation.bandcamp.com/album/earthborn-evolution. It’s complex, dense music, but not as ‘tech-death’ speedy as their town-mates Beneath the Massacre – but Montreal must have a hell of an extreme metal scene.

Singer and rhythm guitarist Simon Girard plays an 8-string with fanned frets http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanned_fret_guitars, lead guitarist Kevin Chartre an 8-string with standard frets and – here’s the real point of distinction – bassist Dominic ‘Forest’ Lapointe plays a 6-string bass with no frets. The fretless sound, along with lots of two-handed tapping and sliding, gives the band a distinctive sound (Cassie: sounded a bit like those ‘thong xylophones’, kinda like a boing-ing sound). Drummer Phillipe Boucher anchors it with complex blast beats and a great variety of tempos.

It’s heavy, intense, but also groovy, complex music, and just mesmerising to watch and listen to. One song in French – as the names hint, these guys are not from the English-speaking enclave in Montreal – and great banter between the songs. A cute touch, in a show in which the bands obviously respected each other and enjoyed each others’ company – was a birthday cake with one candle coming out mid set for Kevin Chartre’s 25th. I’ll definitely be acquiring their albums and checking them out: in some ways I think the complexity of the music will be more accessible in recorded form, but it was definitely a very enjoyable live show. As with both other bands on the bill tonight, the technical chops are mind-blowing, but it’s the way they’re used musically and in the context of complex compositions that’s impressive, not just mindless shredding.


This band was fascinating to watch (not just because of the very attractive 25 year old guitarist :P). The speed and agility with which they played was astounding. The technicality in the songs was breathtaking. I will definitely steal the album Dad gets and listen to it as well.

My only gripe is that this band was trying to force a scary, dangerous mosh pit which is really not what I came to the show to see. As I am a people watcher I find that the aggressiveness of the mosh pit detracts from the beautiful-ness of the music played.

Side note: If you read this Cadmann, I think you would really enjoy this band.


With a bit more experience with metal shows, I’d suggest that the pit is less dangerous and violent than it looks. It’s all good fun, and there are lots of watchful people who will pick someone up the moment they fall, and make sure no-one gets badly hurt. As already noted, the relative sparseness of the crowd on the floor made it look worse because physics – more distance available in which to build up momentum between collisions.

Ne Obliviscaris


I was blown away by this band http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ne_Obliviscaris_%28band%29 last time I saw them, and again over the past couple of weeks by their new album, Citadel, released this month. It’s complex, progressive, beautiful extreme music, which is very much my thing, and I put them right up there with Opeth, Agalloch and Ihsahn in my pantheon of extreme beautiful music. So I was very keen, and waiting with anticipation for the set. Since we last saw them, violinist and clean vocalist Tim Charles has grown his hair a bit, so he looks a bit less like an accountant, but he’s still, in Cassie’s words, ‘adorable'(He pokes his tongue at the crowd and does everything on stage with a massive smile on his face). Extreme (he does a range of growls and screams) vocalist Xenoyr (Marc Campbell to his mum, or very possibly his mad scientist creator) is as strange and intense as ever, and does a fantastic job of bringing both the music and the presence. (Cassie: I would love to see what his personality is like off stage, because he seems so aloof and uninterested, but something someone in the crowd said made him smile and I think he could have a very different off-stage persona). The band has two lefties, stage left, in headless bass player (um, I mean, his bass is headless, not him!) Cygnus (Brendan Brown) and lead guitarist Benjamin Baret, and right-handed guitarist Matt Klavins stands stage right, with the singers and drummer centre stage. Drummer Daniel Presland still looks like a rugby player, which is kind of an incongruous note in an extreme metal band, but is absolutely killer. Like Carcass’ Ken Owens, he can do the double-kick blast but still lay down a solid beat on the 1, which makes it easier to headbang and keeps it heavy.

Lots of complexity and variety in the compositions, lots of light and shade, lots of melody. The heavy breaks are cool because they’re not all the same, and have a complex variety. It’s also not as simple as ‘this is a heavy bit, this is a light bit’ – the band use all the tools available in their considerable toolkit in rich combinations. Apparently one of the compositions from their previous album, Portal of I, has been added to the repertoire of the Melbourne Conservatorium, which surprises me not at all.


My favourite part of Ne Obliviscaris was the more melodic breaks. Last time we went, the violin was only a backing to the music, this time the breaks were just the violin with a guitar backing. I trained in violin when I was younger but had no sense of timing so it was incredible for me to see the technical playing that I couldn’t really pick up with the rest of the band playing.

Footnote: One of our sports at gigs is spotting band t-shirts (other than for the bands playing). I think the list for me was Carcass, Opeth, Meshuggah, Moonsorrow, and Cassie said she saw an Iron Maiden (I’m wondering whether I can formulate a new law that it’s physically impossible to go to any metal show ever without seeing an Iron Maiden t-shirt).


Year of the Beefcake (Phase Two)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:53 pm

So, it’s a year since I started losing weight. I’ve lost close to 30 kg, and kept it off for a couple of months.

That means I’m going to stop counting every kilojoule every day of my life. I’ve learned a lot about how to eat well and be healthy, and I think I can maintain that without the tool now. I’ll keep an eye on the scales, and if I start to gain weight I’ll reconsider.

I’m currently walking an average of about 60 km a week – several recent weeks have been over 100 km. I hit 3000 total km walked last week. I’ll keep on walking, though perhaps a little less.

The next phase, now that the weight is off and the habits of healthy eating and plenty of exercise are established, is to build some lean muscle. I’m actually quite skinny in the arms now, because I’ve been on low calories and low activity for a long time.

So the plan includes:

  1. Pushups every day – as many as I can do in a single set, no reps. Hope to build up to 100 a day. May add situps or crunches if it gets too easy.
  2. Gym twice a week – starting with whole body, but perhaps a new PT session to develop ‘upper body day’ and ‘lower body day’ later as it builds up.
  3. A balanced diet, but less carbs and more protein.

Lean muscle mass cranks up the metabolism and makes it easier to keep the weight off… and I guess makes me feel good.

I won’t subject you to shirtless photos, but I might kick out some measurements on Facebook now and then…