Category Archives: Science



They stand at the heart of that oddly adult Children’s Classic The Little Prince: The mighty Baobab trees.  The first I met, several in fact, bloomed wonderfully, grotesquely and inspiringly in the Kalahari, at the tourist camp in Botswana, Planet Baobab. The second was the sad sight of a fallen giant, the legendary Chapman’s baobab.  It tore apart and collapsed after the hottest day ever recorded in Botswana, for those Global Warming sceptics, on January 7th, 2016.  Much more to say on that, or Green’s baobab,  we sloshed over a kilometre to reach, through unusually waterlogged ground this February, with excellent rains this year in Botswana. But for the moment you can see some of the ideas, the Art and the ambition too around them in an article in Geographical Magazine, Just Click Here. It’s the start of a great adventure, and if you’re a traveller, a tree lover, indeed a tree hugger, or just like great stories, then do please Like, for more tales and blogs of the wonderful creatures.


The photo is of a very healthy Chapman’s baobab in 2014. The second picture is a drawing by the artist Arabella Caccia.

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Perhaps all is managing expectation and when I dreamt of a South African Safari it was certainly dreaming of the real wild. For that though you will have to go up to the Karoo or the Kruger National park and give its perhaps a couple of weeks. Instead, in the Southern Cape, and for a short visit, come the smaller Game Reserves, often in danger of carrying the label of a zoo. But which also allow you to get very close to some wonderful animals you might not even see in the real wild and taste something of the ‘Safari’ experience. One example is the two and a half thousand hectare reserve just above pretty Plettenberg bay. Plettenberg being a place worth a visit in itself, for its delicious golden beaches lapped by the warmer Indian Ocean, lunch at the eccentric Grand hotel, or some Rock n’ Roll among the young at the ‘Plett Rage’, when wealthier finishing students make for the beaches for a party.

Plett game reserve, in life’s weird synchronicities, was, until 2004, a grand farm where my companion Arabella had stayed with the owner for a local wedding. Now it has been converted by the new owner Leon de Kock into a somewhat faded, old colonial style residence, its grounds, little kloofs and water holes populated by bontebok, wildebeest, small herds of zebra, spring and many water buck, hippo, five lolloping giraffe and more. They have just taken in a group of Elephants from the neighbouring Knysna park, though these are Africans, not the smaller Knysna elephant indigenous to the region. At first, in learning the ropes, they lost many animal to cow ticks and tick fever, which must have been distressing, but now the animals seem to be flourishing.

For a start, in beginning to discover the Safari thing, among the endless tourist leaflets here advertising Monkey world, a wonderful bird park, a snake sanctuary, shark diving or the highest buggy jump On Earth, if you’re guaranteed ‘the big five’ raise an eyebrow. Those are the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot – Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Leopard and Buffalo – though by the end of it we decided it was time for a bit of linguistic social re-engineering and that the term ‘Game’ should be dropped altogether! But the point being that unless they have a caged animal, like the Cat Conservation centre we visited too, you will very rarely see the still plentiful Leopard. Like the roaming packs of wild baboon, Leopard sometimes come over the fence at Plett, sadly at the park recently taking one of the baby Giraffes, but Leopard are not creatures you should expect to get up close and personal with, or especially want to. It always fills me with anguish to see a Leopard prowling a human fence, though all those centres have some benefit in educating the public.

Plett have a little herd of African buffalo, those big horned beasts with such a determined nature that if you get on their wrong side they will start to circle like any predator and hunt you instead. We got close with our guide Kiviet, who had previously worked in Law Enforcement with Cape Conservation on the floral front, in one of the reserve’s open sided tour vehicles, to see the park’s two white rhino – interestingly it was meant to be ‘wide rhino’ from the shape of their mouths – couched in their dusty holes nearby too, their horns cut to deter poachers, one of which is pregnant.

If running such a park as Platt is probably a rich man’s game anyhow, there is certainly the potential of money in the ‘Conservation’ business, in breeding and selling on animals to other parks. It is closely monitored by the Government Environmental agency Cape Conservation, but apparently one stud Buffalo went for close to a million pounds. Its darker side, as we learnt at the Cat Conservation centre, gazing at the slinking Lynx-like Caracal, the Servil cats, or the magnificent White lion showing off his huge, pearly teeth in the sunlight, is something called ‘Canned Hunting’. That is the breeding of Lion, the charging of fees to idealistic foreign students to nurture, study and rear them, but their eventual certain delivery to the gun and easy bullet of some macho moron, paying a premium to feel like a Man. Lion are certainly endangered, as are Rhino, while Cheetah nearly went extinct twice, so perhaps breeding and reintroduction programs are their best hope. Interestingly Elephant do not have a particular value to the breeding business because they are so destructive to the flora.

Plett have two Lions we got right up next to, lounging langerously in their 4 hectare enclosure, like the shy Cheetah in his, or the little group of sadly endangered orange-black wild dogs. You need a license to breed Lion officially, with strict rules for space, much better at Plett I thought than the small enclosures at the private Cat Conservation centre. They had thought the male Lion here sterilized but this time nature got through and the Lioness had four Cubs, moved on I know not where. Actually even the hunting aspect of conserving ‘Game’ is more complicated, since if the entire planet has become something of a zoo, even in the huge African parks culling is often necessary, especially of Elephant, and some argue that re-legalizing the controlled ivory trade would destroy the poaching market and bring in money to the parks. As important is destroying myths like that Asian belief in the aphrodisiac power of Rhino horn, no different to human nails. “Hunting has its place though”, said Tim from Edinburgh, who has given up his family Kitchen business in the UK to become a ranger, still in training, “but don’t get me started on Canned Hunting.” Tim had read the astonishingly violent and graphic Wibur Smith novel I’m reading at the moment, Elephant Song, indeed his knowledge of a Leopard’s attack may well have been lifted straight from its pages.  Smith not only tells a rollicking if very bloody tale but is famous for his research and no holds barred take on Africa. If even a half of it is still true perhaps you’d do well to stay somewhat shy of the real wild, human and animal.

Meanwhile, wild or not, we were on holiday and despite the sense of Windsor Safari Park in the UK, it was delightful to get so close to them all and from our balcony at Baroness lodge to have such lovely views of the twisting Tsitsikamma forest, the burnt orange browns from last year’s fires, and beyond a sweeping range of blue remembered hills, under clouds like Cape surf. The baby hippo raising its little head and flicking its ears in the cool water, the motionless crocodile, the elephant munching magistically not twenty yards away, the little heard of remarkably tame Inyala antelope hiding in the trees by the Lodge’s wooden walkway, or grazing the lawn at breakfast, were all inspiration for a bigger adventure, and to learn more both about the animals and the challenges we all face in trying to honor and conserve them. With the facilities at the Reception’s big lodge they might do something to encourage and sell Conservation studies and conferences here too.

As for the park, the people were warm and friendly and it is precisely for that reason they might be encouraged to raise their game in the hospitality stakes, or take on a bit of the ‘Gordon Ramsey’ makeover. Visits here are perhaps slightly cheaper than other reserves, but it is still a lot of money for your average guest if you are staying, and so a pity that it rests too much on its old colonial laurels: The cracked kettle, the chipped floors, the African artifacts slipping out of their odd frames on the walls, the dim lighting, the tatty Reader’s Digest library, the odd urgency over serving supper by a set time, the lack of choice on the menu, the limited wine list in the land of vines. It’s often my experience that when they say it’s all about the animals, as they do here, they forget we human animals have expectations too for a hard earned buck, and that things so easily done might be attended to with a bit more style for their own business.

Against that I’d set the charm of the roaring fires when it got chilly, the smiling waitresses who like their job, the splendid thunder box of a loo up three stairs and the plentiful breakfasts in the veranda by the pond, beyond the big King Kong gates, flowering with purple water lilies, bobbing with the odd terrapin, and bombarded with beautiful yellow weaver birds urgently stitching their grass nests into pendant purses, in the hope of a colorful future in our very competitive world. Occasionally a hippo wanders up for a dip in the damn and the Hippo road signs add to the charm. We even saw a zebra crossing. I suspect the stock-in trade here are the day visits from Plettenberg and two are really enough to take in the whole park, the best experience being one drive and one ride, on the gently strolling horses, a walk on horseback right among the animals being a different magical adventure in itself. Though families come for Christmas they might encourage longer stays at the lodges themselves, one or two nights are enough, by injecting a new passion and style into the hotelier side of business conservation, though it’s certainly a place to share the love of animals.

David Clement-Davies stayed at Plett Game Reserve at 50% cost, in return for coverage. For information about staying at Plett or daily drives and two hour horse Safaris go to   The photo shows the Lion and Lioness at Plett.

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The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead — his eyes are closed.”

Not the words of Professor Brian Cox, who just gave his charming and brilliant TV lecture at the Royal Society on The Science of Dr Who, but the words of the scientist at the heart of his physics, and the Dr’s too, Albert Einstein. Cox’s programme, including inserts of his mistaken entrance into The Tardis, in confusion over BBC make-up and his witty interaction with Matt Smith’s Dr, was both beautiful and filled with rapt awe, that sings out of Cox’s endlessly clear and accessible voice. A hugely popular voice, much enjoying the show too, not unreasonable for a former small-time rock musician, but never a populist or dumbed down either.

Beginning with Michael Faraday’s nineteenth century lecture at the Royal Society on the chemistry of candle light, he asked the question of whether Time Travel is possible. With the use of celebrity entrances, doing experiments explaining the point and wave movements of light, the spectrometry of elements, with Charles Dance squirting colourful, flaring things into flame, and the relationship between Space and Time, viewer and viewed, he effortlessly opened the box on Relativity. So proving future time travel possible, in fact always happening, in small ways, depending how fast you are travelling, since we move in relative space and time to one another. But clearly mapping the issue of travelling into the past, since the Cone of the Future is defined by the Universe’s ultimate speed limit, the big no-no, travelling faster than the speed of light itself.

He also ventured towards the Dr’s great opponents, Aliens, discussing the paradox that in an infinite Universe we should be being visited by Aliens all the time. They might have brought in a Sontaran or a Cyber Man, but on the other hand it would have been creaky, and Cox went back to wonder instead, to the journey of imagination, when he described how far the radio waves have travelled into the Universe, since the first broadcast of Dr Who in 1963; beyond the reaches of the Milky Way.

Of course we all travel back in time in our heads, through the physical notes that Faraday left of that lecture, through memory too and the accumulation of knowledge, the discarding of what is proved false. What we leave behind too, when we are gone. But Cox always has his eyes clearly set on the future, and the future of teaching science too. So, grasping that ultimate ‘speed limit’, he explained what happens when you touch the edge of the Future Cone. You only can if space-time-bending matter implodes, a Red Dwarf, creating a Black Hole. Of course a Black Hole, in the very smart and very modern reality behind the poetry of Dr Who, is what powers The Tardis, The Eye Of Harmony.

Cox’s words were beginning to sing, filled with harmonies, as he described both the reality and beauty of the Eye of Harmony, a point in time always frozen for the viewer, where you get very strung out indeed, if you are passing beyond that Event Horizon yourself, until you are crushed to a point of Infinite Mass. But as to traveling back in time, he also explained how no one knows if it is possible, because it might theoretically be possible to bend that entire and limited Future Cone around on itself and change the current map of physics, so effectively coming up behind yourself, and everything else, though never in this case up your own backside.

It left open the continuous possibility of wonder and discovery, worthy of all that poetry and imagination in Dr Who. So to a quiet nod to that Universe engine inside the Tardis, something bigger on the inside than outside, like the Human mind itself, with an eye on the limits of reality and discovery, but still in Einstein’s world of open-eyed awe. It was brilliant from start to finish, and unites what the BBC does best, passion and invention, with the time travel of creativity. Another thing it did was stress what is behind the Dr’s character itself, the freedom and courage of imaginative creativity and extraordinary adventure. We need more of this, but perhaps the excellence of Dr Who leads the way.



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OK, it was a publicity stunt to support Australian ‘end of the world’ celebrations, but if the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard can talk of the Mayan Calendar on tv, it has certainly got into the mainstream. So here are the Phoenix Ark End of World Celebrations! The thriller The Godhead Game, by David Clement-Davies, will be completely free for Kindle download at the ‘end of the world’ itself, December 21st, 22nd and the 23rd, as a delicious stocking filler, now it’s virtually snowing again of Phoenix’s blog.

If people are slightly confused about when the world stops, in terms of the Mayan Calendar anyway, it is because that 13th Ba’aktun cycle of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, one of several calendars, but counting time in terms of thousands of days, is related to the Mayan’s practice of divination and counting linked to the cycle of seasons, and of course solstices, but also an apparent prophecy of darkness related to something called the Tortuguerro stela, or stone, in Honduras. But the solstice always varies around the 21st and 22nd of December, tipping us back to life and the sun, while something exists called the Lounsbury Calculation too, that questions the precise date of the Long Count’s end.

It is all explained in The Godhead Game, a story that starts with an end of the world warning and a threatening email to an FBI system’s man in Washington, since we are all now ‘net’ connected, inviting him to change his life forever, while his brother is simultaneously kidnapped from a World Cup football match in Brazil. If writers try to look into ‘truth’, or even prophecy events, some fictional events have already come true (though the novel is set in 2014) with the re-election of President Obama. Hopefully other elements will not come true, namely what the thriller is also about, the murderous conflict over Iran and a hunt for nuclear secrets, that might really bring an end to everything!

Otherwise it is a philosophical investigation of ‘Apocalypse’ ideas, which in Ancient Greek really means a revelation, of science versus faith, and a romp through history, to tell a good story, with some kind of lasting message. That is perhaps what ‘new agers’ see in any Mayan Prophecy, not that it is the end of the world, but the end of one world and the dawn of another kind of awareness in Mankind’s consciousness. If we all evolved out of nature such a thing is surely possible. Namely what is really being seen right around the planet now, that to survive we have to start waking up to each other, and the enormous power for creativity or destruction that we all possess and somehow start to do things differently. Quite apart from the fact that every single second is the end of the world for someone dying on the planet, and the beginning for someone else being born into its bizarre and amazing mystery. Perhaps too that old ideas of religion have to be put away, and yet a ‘spiritual’ language has to be rewritten, not destroyed by the truths and marvels of higher science, which can help us all be fully human and find out what it is we truly value in ourselves and each other.

For the link for an END OF THE WORLD FREE DOWNLOAD, on 21st, 22nd and 23rd December just CLICK HERE

Happy Christmas or whatever festival, atheist hols, Solstice and a very happy future to everyone.


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Fukayama, what do you do with a journalist whose nose for sniffing out truth might have been a tad bunged up by taking out his own Super Injunction? You have the all compassionate BBC slash the budgets and behind the scenes talent, then give us ANDREW MARR’S HISTORY OF THE WORLD. BBC 1, Yesteryear. “And God divided the waters and made the Heaven and the Earth and Adam, Eve and possibly Transexuals, to dwell therein, or in Middlesex, and saw that it was Good, and Man made the BBC and CGI and Andrew Marr’s History and everyone saw that it was awful and turned off.”

Except that it is so side splittingly funny, it is almost worth watching. With terrifyingly tacky historical reconstructions, to match Mr Marr’s up to the minute journalese and ‘just like Eastenders’ comparisons, including an ‘Out of Africa’ moment and a CGI sequence stolen straight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – mind the exciting drop – we got big-turning-points-in-astonishing-but-troubled Human History, as wise Mr Marr bestrode the plastic world like a colossal twit.

So we SAW the Mother of Mankind, from whom we are extraordinarily all genetically descended, except the poor Sub Saharans, not a bad bit actually, then nasty Neolithics hunting down cranially challenged Neanderthals (although, hush, scientists argue about it, and Mr Marr proves elegant Neanderthals are still among us). Then ‘Caveman wos here’ handprints in France, with not one thrill of real wonder because reconstruction kills wonder, to the 11,000 year old equivalent of the Cat’s Eye – you got it, woman invents the animal-bone knitting needle. Thus giving us domestic sewing, fitted clothes, and why Commissioning editors despise the public and love those dinky little symbols at Ralph Lauren. On to Anatolia and, yes it must be, underfloor-overheating Ancestor Worship. Do you ever get the feeling you are being stitched up? Mr Marr, the tapes and the production crew should all be immediately buried in the Leicester car park where they just dug up Richard III, who was a GOOD KING.

So to reconstructed women on Tigris bank, suddenly pondering simpleton grass-eaters, to invent the SEED and AGRICULTURE. Eureka. The heavens shattered, lighting broke and they really did give three minutes to little round stone wall and woman watching single seed sprout. ‘I shall pedal the window box franchise and move to Hollywood’. The tears of laughter started to burst like the banks of the badly reconstructed Yellow River. ‘And you know, there really is evidence there was once a big world Flood?’ Never! Thence to Egypt and Man invents writing, LAW and the whipped tomb raider. Not all those boring Pharaohs, but what its like down there at street reporting level.

If Mr Marr is one of us though, or one of them, he makes the study of history completely pointless, by engaging in modern relativisms so extreme we should have stayed up the trees. Which is why, like travel writing, you should never give history to journalists, but only Sirs Kenneth Clarke, or perhaps David Attenborough, although at least Sir David defiantly sticks to what he knows and loves so deeply. Like that time Andrew hung out for a night in an Indian slum, he should remember his giving us the experience ‘as they experience it’ is just not the same, since he is always about to be whisked back to White City. David Ike was right, TV is evil. Then TV journalism these days is just a chance to climb The Shard in public, visit expensive Shanghai hotels or become a National Treasure.

It is hard to entirely dislike Andrew Marr though and don’t fear, in an hour, Civilisation had arrived and we reached The Minoans. Phew. But this is top scoop, so we learn the hot-off-the-press news that Sir Arthur Evans’s Super Injunction was breached, and he really rebuilt in 1920’s Voguish Art Deco, while the Mayans might have had a dark side too. No Minotaurs or Labyrinthine clichés here though, heavens no, but Andrew squatting by real stones, with truly authentic scientific evidence of blood sacrifice, a warning from history, and then a wailing, knife wielding priestess warning from TV land, only worthy of Up Pompei.

Of course archaeology and science wins the day with pre-history, but history is not a science but art, itself an act of civilising, and this was not it. Who can wait for the joys to come? As every cut-n-past moment is pulled out of the Lady Bird books, to bring us ancient Greece, Alexander The Great, awful Empires, but why the present Queen is the pinnacle of all human life, God Bless you Maam.

David Clement-Davies


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Have they been reading The Godhead Game, or have they really discovered the Godhead Particle?! With all the thrill at CERN yesterday, discovering proof of the Higgs Boson, weary eyed scientists, reminding us of the astonishment of everything, are all cordially invited to read the new ‘thriller of the century’, about the Mayan end of the world, this year, 2012. The clock is ticking! Many of its themes are science ‘versus’ faith, or some kind of spirit, and a stranger understanding of ‘reality’ and each other, so if the ‘God Damn’ particle was misnamed, as one scientist said irritably, perhaps it is all about language. But to get the language right, this admittedly is a shameless plug. The Godhead Game by David Clement-Davies, available from or Click here

We could not find a picture of said particle, or is it wave or particle? But instead, and in the spirit of enquiry, adventure and a good read, we offer this:

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Also available on Utube at

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The real Guilt Trip in the penultimate programme in hyper talented hypnotist Derren Brown’s new series ‘The Experiments’ became watching the thing at all. There were times when it was all stitched together in such a jolly japes way, like those murder mystery weekends you pay for, you either thought the victim, Jody, had to be an actor and the whole thing staged, or he was so ridiculously stupid for not twigging something was up. Especially when the actors around him were swapping plates at dinner, to make him think his memory was playing tricks on him. It’s a vital legal point to talk about guilt and to highlight that thousands every year confess to crimes they have not committed. The sadness of that in real life has much to say about society and the human condition, but it is also one of the reasons for the vital principles of British justice to allow a defence in any circumstance, and one of the reasons for Miranda Rights in the US too, so you do not actually incriminate yourself. Yet again though, seriousness was swapped for entertainment, in all the creaky piano music, the splattered blood and the procession down to the garden to lay the victim on the lawn at night. Again, no new ground was broken, because if Brown has proved hypnosis and suggestion are very real, starting with that remarkable show on ‘The Assassin’, where do you actually go from there? In this case familiarity with the subject is the enemy of an illusionist’s art. It was vaguely moving to see the release from it at the end, when Jody was confessing to a crime he did not commit, the fact that he was safe and didn’t bear a grudge, but it felt strangely empty too. It is a culture that has spread with programmes like Big Brother, or to an earlier generation with ‘You’ve Been Framed’, but people actually love to be involved, perhaps because it lets them experience extremes of emotion they just do not touch normally.

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After the brilliance of the first in the hypnotist Derren Brown’s new series ‘The Experiments’, he rather shot himself in the foot with Remote Control. Under the guise of a new Game Show he got the audience, wearing white face masks to make them anonymous and part of the snarling crowd, to vote on whether a victim should experience nice or nasty events, in a filmed evening, using actors around him he did not know about. It is perfectly true they voted to take him straight down the nasty path, to the point of losing his job, having his TV smashed, being arrested and then kidnapped. That led to a staged escape and a car accident, although by then the victim had been supplanted by an actor, so it was just shock effect.

But firstly it was little surprise, since in the studio setting, and with continuous encouragement from Brown, they were constantly given permission to push the ‘drama’. You imagine too that they assumed that in the long run the victim would be protected from real harm, as in fact he was. But more importantly, just like the TV evangelist programme, when a theatre was filmed at a different angle to look fuller than it was, there were moments when the either-or votes may have gone in favour of the bad over good turn of events, but you were not told by how much, unless it was 80% for the bad right at the start. 60-40 was not so terrible for the human race, at one point, especially when being encouraged.

It was all rather distasteful in the end, however shocking it was a producer invaded his house and was encouraged to smash his TV with a base-ball bat. It was the show itself that set up the pretence he had lost his job. It taught us nothing new about crowd behaviour, human cruelty, or manipulation and indeed Brown is making a deal of money out of it. He has great talent, but is best when he pushes the envelope with more serious programmes like the one on ‘The Assassin’ and links to real cases like Robert Kennedy. Not only did this audience feel under Remote Control though, but the wider audience too, and for the sake of what TV is constantly about, entertainment. The medium is the message!


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Before we go over the top about Derren Brown’s ‘The Experiments’ and the last blog, perhaps a pause about the purpose and potential trickery of TV. Of course the viewer did not know about potential complicity and had to take Brown’s commentary as Gospel. Then there is editing. It worked against him in his programme about Faith Healers, when, for the purpose of a big or startling result, a US theatre was filmed at an angle to suggest an audience was far larger than it was. That is not to attack what he was saying, or revealing under hidden camera, simply the pressure for showmanship and the big story. We are all programme literate enough for that always to work against programme makers, which means that even through the lens of the camera we have an advanced capacity to sense what is real.

What was so impressive about ‘The Assassin’ was the clinical way it was approached, with subtitles explaining what was potentially happening to the subject. The use of a lie detector test too, and infra-red imaging to show the physical reality, over the mental, as subjects immersed themselves in freezing water, as Brown tried to choose his best candidate. You would have to be paranoid or a very big conspiracy theorist to believe the lot was faked for the camera. So it does underscore the possible reality of famous movies like The Manchurian Candidate or the Bourne series. But does that say anything very startling about society? We know that we are manipulated all the time, from adverts, to the positioning of products in supermarkets, advised by psychology experts, to control patterns of shopping. Newspaper proprietors know enough about the power of the press to affect politics. We know enough about history to know that crowds, individuals, whoever, can be manipulated by propaganda, made to believe virtually anything, and to act in terrible ways. Indeed, it is the power of belief that can become so frightening.

But it is that startling idea that you can so control the unconscious, to act so out of a normal pattern, and then make the subject completely forget it again too. Perhaps Brown’s point is that under the surface, ‘normality’ is a questionable thing anyway, the savage beast that lurks below the fronts of civilisation. Then, of course, there is the equally important phenomenon of the brain, its power to alter its own reality, or certainly perception of external reality, and how isolating that can be. Brown is also a great exploder of fakes, but we would love to know what he thinks about things like telepathy, premonition and also Jung’s idea of the Universal Unconscious.

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