Monday, January 21, 2013

Sanity Dependent on Initial Conditions

The ever-constructive Dim Post takes a look at Garth McVicar's latest mad rant while me and others are reduced to vivid expletives. Danyl points to lead poisoning which, as it goes, has a much larger body of evidence to support than anything spouting from McVicar's fundament.

Here's what QI has to say about lead poisoning, and who the real villain is (edited for relevance):
Stephen Fry: Which human being in history has done the most damage to the environment?

Panel: Various wrong guesses.

Stephen Fry: Thomas Midgely.  He discovered by chance that iodine added to kerosene reduced knocking in cars. So he decided that although it slightly reduced it, "slightly" wasn't enough; he wanted completely to reduce it. So he tried every single chemical in the periodic table until he came up with lead. And as a result, all motor cars for seventy-odd years put lead in their petrol, creating billions and billions of dollars worth of . . . And millions of tonnes of lead into the atmosphere. Harming millions, probably, of people.
What's so bad about lead then? QI has quite a lot to say on the matter, including a recent episode featuring doomed explorers and how lead will make people do completely stupid things, such as:

No-one knows why in 1845 Sir John Franklin led an expedition of 128 men to the Arctic to discover the Northwest Passage, carrying a sled-load of button polish, handkerchiefs, curtain rods and a writing desk. We do know that 35 rescue parties over several decades were sent out to discover what had happened. Eventually, in the 1980s they discovered that they were eating canned food, but the cans used lead-solder. They thus suffered from mass delusions caused by lead poisoning. We do not know why they did it, but we know they did, and no-one from the expedition came back alive.
So, if your environment is poisoning you, can you be still held responsible when bad things happen? Or, as Nick Cave said in O'Malley's Bar, "If I have no free will, how can I be morally culpable I wonder?" The Atlantic had a long form look at this last year with The Brain On Trial.

In the meantime, someone should check Garth McVicar for lead poisoning.