A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898...
A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898 painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Terry Pratchett’s series of Discworld books, one of the characters, Hwel, a dwarf, is a playwright, and writes plays which are obvious references to Shakespeare’s plays. Indeed some of the books themselves have themes based around Shakespeare’s plays.

Hwel is tormented by inspiration. He is a dwarf, and therefore by heredity a dour reclusive and unimaginative entity, but because of his mind is full of myriads of ideas, he is compelled to travel among humans and write his plays.

The witches (Jennifer Hunt, Suzanne Curtis, an...
The witches (Jennifer Hunt, Suzanne Curtis, and Sonja Lanzener) surround Macbeth (Remi Sandri) in this 2004 Alabama Shakespeare Festival production of the Shakespear masterpiece. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These ideas sleet through the Discworld universe impinging on and inflaming his dwarf brain. Hwel is also tormented by vivid dreams, which he then struggles to put down on paper. He is always dissatisfied with the result and is constantly revising and rewriting his plays.

Hwel is an excellent example of an inspired individual. His character is obviously a reference to Shakespeare, and many of his traits, such as his dissatisfaction with his inability to capture his ideas and concepts on paper, are traits found in many inspired individuals.

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Pratchett leaves the question of the source inspiration open. As above, they sleet through the Discworld universe impinging on the brains of all, especially those like Hwel, like neutrinos sleet through the material universe, only rarely interacting with other matter.

Everyone has ideas. Inspiration is a sort of high grade idea that has the wow factor and it is likely that simple ideas and inspiration have the same source. It is also obvious that ideas and inspiration actually spring from inside us, from inside our minds.

Inspiration (sculpture)
Inspiration (sculpture) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is probably not a particular part of the brain where ideas arise and inspiration is found, though some brain injuries result in people being unable to act voluntarily, these people however responding to instruction. (Caveat emptor: I’ve not been able to find an example of this on Google)

Inspiration seems to happen more frequently when a person is forced or required to look at a problem or issue from a different point of view, or when novel ideas are considered in conjunction with one another.

Think outside the box
Think outside the box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I sit here, wondering what I should type next, I am looking for inspiration to come to me. In my mind I consider a number of possibilities, which run through my mind one after another, quite quickly. Some seem to be more attractive than others and the rejects seem to fade or drop back into the background.

So, it turns out that I decided to write about what goes on in my head when I get an idea. I can only assume that similar happens to others when the undertake a similar activity like writing a blog, or a novel, or even a letter to a friend.

Thoughts in the Night, Dreams During the Day
Thoughts in the Night, Dreams During the Day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often, I find, one idea leads clearly and obviously to another. I write one sentence and soon find I’ve written a paragraph or two, and then I pause for thought and the process repeats. Eventually I end up with the full completed letter or blog post or whatever.

Inspiration is thinking outside the box. Terry Pratchett once said “I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it”. That’s true indeed, but the point of the “thinking outside the box” idea is to encourage people to discard conventional thinking and think in an unconventional manner. That’s easier said than done.

Schroedinger's Cat
Schroedinger’s Cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One way is to take conventional thinking and analyse it into facets or factors, and discard or reverse one of them. In a scientific but probabilistic setting, such as that of Schroedinger’s cat thought experiment, conventional thinking is that the cat must be either alive or dead. Thinking outside the box leads many people to consider that the cat is both alive and dead.

Some people seem to have success in deriving inspiration from a mind map or even a list of words. Some people have been known to use drugs or meditation to aid inspiration. It seems that the human mind is conservative and conventional in the most part, and that inspiration, when it doesn’t come freely, can be aided by persuading it to be more adventurous.

example mind map with Mapul
example mind map with Mapul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meditation and mind maps or whatever tool is used to free the mind for inspirational thinking may be necessary in some cases, but in many others inspiration comes without the need for such things. Some people, like the dwarf Hwel above can’t help being inspired and this, as in Hwel’s case, is not necessarily a comfortable feeling.

Inspiration come in small chunks, such as the decision to drop all plans and do something different from usual or huge blocks, such as Hwel’s and Shakespeare’s plays. As I said above, it does some to vary from person to person, and possibly from time to time. For instance, if I’ve done the same thing 20 to 30 times recently, I may be inspired to do something different, for a change.

weather symbol
weather symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you search on Google for “inspirational” you will find that many of the search results are for “inspirational quotes”. Most of these are in fact trite homilies, intended to list the spirits of those who need it, exhortations to remember and to treat friends and families well, and similar.

They are not inspirational in the sense that I have been using the word above. Nevertheless, the sheer number of such quotes appears to indicate that some people feel the need to post them in the hope that they will help others. Whether or not they actually help others is something that it would be hard to gauge. I sometimes wonder if only the people creating and posting these posts get any benefit from them.

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Some people are inspirational in that they persuade people to do things that they would otherwise not do. This could be good (Mahatma Gandhi) or bad (Adolf Hitler). A truly inspirational leader can change the world.

Inspirational leaders can be bad because their rhetoric and behaviours can override the sensibilities and consciences of their followers, which is particularly true of Hitler. Even the followers of good leaders can do evil at times, instituting pograms and wars against followers of other religions.

English: journey of people's crusade
English: journey of people’s crusade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Fighting Terrorism

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(Second post of Terrorists – this won’t become a theme. At least I will try not to make it a theme).

A terrorist is someone who kills people, often innocent bystanders in an attempt to force his or her views on others. Sometimes the terrorist is part of a persecuted minority, but often he or she is driven by religious fervour. His or her beliefs maybe include the concept of rewards after death and he or she will likely be prepared to lay down his or her life in the furtherance of his or her objectives.

How do you recognise a terrorist? With the current spate of Islamist inspired shootings and bombings many people are looking askance at people with dark skins, beards and who tend to wear a particular style of clothing. To say that this can be misleading is obvious.

Islamic Center of Washington DC
Islamic Center of Washington DC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The case of a Sikh student who was questioned by police when someone suspected that he was a terrorist merely because of his appearance and the wires of his earphones protruding from his bag is a good example. The person who reported him was obviously ignorant of the fact that Sihkism is a religion which is totally different from Islam. This is sad, but not surprising.

So how do you identify a terrorist then? It’s very hard indeed. The young white spotty youth who lives down the road and has taken to calling himself “Jusef” and dressing in Middle Eastern clothing is almost certainly more of a threat than anyone in the area with dark skin and a habit of fasting for a month at certain times of the year.

William Henry Quilliam (April 10, 1856 – 1932)...
William Henry Quilliam (April 10, 1856 – 1932), who changed his name to Abdullah Quilliam, was a 19th century convert from Christianity to Islam, noted for founding England’s first mosque and Islamic centre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The things that people have done in the name of religion have led to a call for religion to be banned. This obviously won’t work and it would drive religion underground and radicalise it. There are billions of people who do have a religion or belief which they base their life around who would not dream of using violence to further their religion.

Much of the tension between religious groups is the result of ignorance. There are probably as many texts in the Koran which promote peace and harmony as there are in the Christian Bible. There are also likely to be as many violent exhortations as to what to do to non-believers in the Bible as there are in the Koran. After the Bible and the Koran are related documents with the later Koran commenting on the earlier Biblical texts.

English: Handwritten Koran Nederlands: Koran. ...
English: Handwritten Koran Nederlands: Koran. Handgeschreven Koran in donkerbruine lederen band met overslag (afgebroken). Het eerste en laatste dubbele blad zijn versierd, evenals het dubbele blad middenin. . Handgeschreven koran Unknown language: Qoran seunoerat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How can we spot terrorists before they commit their crimes? How do we determine who is a harmless and friendly family man and who is plotting to blow us up? Certainly not be looking at the colour of the skin and the possession of a copy of the Koran. Not by checking if he or she visits the Mosque every week. Even if such a person seems surly and unfriendly, he or she might just be having a bad day. And we cannot decide based on their choice of clothing.

The only real way of detecting a terrorist in our midst is unfortunately by closely watching for them. Of course, we should have our suspicions first, otherwise we would need to track everyone who “looked like a Muslim”. This is unacceptable in a free society.

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We can get better understanding of Muslims and vice versa, by education. One proposal was that religion, all religions, be taught in schools. This is a good idea but will not work unless similar is done in Islamist states and countries, and that will never happen.

One big issue is the case of the alienated white teenager. A certain few will for one reason or another completely flip and commit murder, usually of their contemporaries, and sometimes at random. Any nominal motive would be attributed to anything from white supremacy, to political reason (usually nihilistic), or  to nothing significant.

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It seems that such teenagers are more and more and more being attracted to Islam and the violent side of that religion and we find that atrocities are sometimes being carried out by white boys who have converted to Islam.

I question whether the problem here lies with the religion or in the fact that these kids had easy access to guns and that their alienation was either not recognised or ignored. If they had not had the concept of Islamic jihad to adopt, would they not have found some other cause to espouse?

Arabic script. Eghra, Read. The first Quoranic...
Arabic script. Eghra, Read. The first Quoranic word, in order of arrival. (Letter Qaf eight times, letter ‘Alif sixteen times.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So how do we fight terrorism? Do we suspect our neighbours who have ties to the Middle East, or do we quarantine them, or even deport them? All these solutions are ineffective and some followers of Islam have lived here peacefully for generations. Do we force them to give up their culture and assimilate more closely into the community?

All these options have been tried in the past and historically have shown that these tactics are ineffective, not to mention brutal and demeaning. And that is without considering the case of the alienated white boy.

CCTV cameras
CCTV cameras (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Government would have us believe that the answer is for more surveillance of all citizens. This is certainly effective in some cases, but in the few cases which escape the notice of the authorities, the terrorists can cause untold damage and inflict a large number of deaths on many innocent people. And this still doesn’t really address the issue of the white teenager who typically acts alone and who quite often has no close ties to Islam.

Another option is for retaliatory military raids on the overt face of the organisation that the terrorists are connected with, but this will always happen after an atrocity and merely gives the organisation rhetorical weapons to justify their aims.

English: A payload surveillance camera made by...
English: A payload surveillance camera made by Controp and distributed to the U.S Government by ADI Technologies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is sad but I don’t believe that things will change until Islam changes. I have high hopes that it will as the adherents of Islam move into non-Moslem countries and integrate with the non-Moslem communities there. Then perhaps the more liberal ideas will filter back to the Moslem counties together with increased prosperity.

After all, the Christian religion mounted the largely ineffective Crusades against Moslems in the Middle East, admittedly as a result of an Islamist expansion and that crusading religious fervour eventually died out in Europe.

English: Saladin
English: Saladin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a pity that there is no real solution to the problem of terrorists. One can only hope that ultimately people will evolve to be more understanding of their neighbours and that xenophobia will diminish to almost nothing. Until then we will have to live with the inconveniences at airports and the much more significant internal spying of authorities on citizens.

Unfortunately, we will have to read in the papers of atrocities carried out by one group or other against unarmed people for some time to come. I can see no real effective solution.

Crusades Task Force icon
Crusades Task Force icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(I note that I have conflated “terrorist” with the fanatical Moslem activities that we have seen recently. Terrorists however come in all shapes and sizes, all religions. This was not intentional but shows how easy it is to slip into the habit of equating the one with the other).