Elizabeth’s Chatting With…Stephen Male
My guest this month is a Swanwicker and fellow member of Chudleigh Writers’ Circle. He is interested in the fundamentals of what we humans are. Do we have souls or spirits or are we biological machines? He believes that, while there are many answers to these questions found in the world’s religions, cults and philosophy, none seem to satisfy entirely. So he set out to explore the questions for himself. To chat with him is always fascinating, frequently challenging, but never dull. And his book, Modelling Mind, carries one of the most stunning book covers I have ever seen. I am delighted to be chatting today to Stephen Male.
Hello Stephen and welcome to the blog. Let’s start by taking you back to childhood. What was your favourite subject at school — and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?
Mathematics. I very much appreciated the certainty and predictability of a subject that had a “right” and in my case many “wrong” answers. I can’t say it was an easy subject and I certainly struggled at times, but it always had that allure of a stable and sure structure to work in.
My least favourite was English, but I think it was more caused by the appalling English teachers we had at my secondary modern school. I thought at the time, and for long after it must be me, but as I have spent more time writing, I can appreciate it was the extremely poor teachers and teaching I received. I had an excellent math teacher and useless English teachers and I guess this is the main reason we like and dislike subjects at school.
Of course, it is rather ironic now I spend most of my time writing that as a boy I didn’t like English. I very much regret that I didn’t receive a good early education in the basics of the English language. Also, in my book, Modelling Mind, I explain that, as biological creatures, we cannot have any certainty about most of our knowledge. There is almost always an element of doubt. We can believe things are credible or more credible than others, but we can hardly ever justify certainty. So my initial attraction to mathematics as a guide to all knowledge was somewhat ill-founded and misleading, but I claim the callowness of youth for my misapprehensions
How do you relax?
My main form of relaxation is reading. Mostly novels but also non-fiction, perhaps a 70/30 split. Over the years I have found the TV getting worse and worse and now it seems to me to be mostly trivial pap. Documentaries have ceased to be informative and inspiring and are now mostly sensationalist and focus too much on the presenter and not on the subject matter. A “celebrity” presenting a documentary ensures it is inevitably mostly about the celebrity, which is not supposed to be the focus of the programme. Even the news programmes have ceased to be straight reporting and are now increasingly the comment and opinions of the reporters and news anchors. I used to respect such news sources as the BBC, Financial Times and The Economist but they too are now mostly pushing their corporate “news line”, elite views and biases. The radio is no better. So, I mostly read and try for both relaxation and information.
If you could change one law, what would it be?
Politicians make far too many laws, and we are stuffed to the gills with legal and regulatory constraints. What is even worse is they never go back and repeal the laws they make; they just keep adding to them. So, my law would be that no new law can be passed unless 10 are repealed to make room for it. This way we might focus our politicians’ minds and stop them chasing after ever more virtue signalling headlines by passing too many ill-advised laws in too much of a hurry. Laws need to be well founded on facts, and not rushed though due to media/Twitter/Facebook ill-informed demands and pressure. When things are complicated, as most legislative matters are, there is a saying they should remember about not acting in haste: “Don’t just do something, stand there!”
If you could change one thing about yourself or your life so far, what would it be?
To be born the heir to a vast fortune. That would have ensured a good education and the luxury of time to investigate this fascinating life we all have. What does it all mean? Besides, I quite like the idea of being a “millionaire playboy!” The yacht in Monaco wouldn’t go amiss either.
Describe your ideal menu — and where would you like to eat it?
There are so many meals I have enjoyed around the world: Indian vegetarian curries, steaks in America, South Africa and Argentina, pasta in Italy, sushi and seafood in Japan and even some meals in the UK! But I suppose if pressed I would revert to my boyhood favourite of Fish ‘n Chips “from the shop”, wrapped in yesterday’s newspapers and eaten with salt, vinegar and tomato ketchup (preferably in glass bottles that needed vigorous shaking to get anything out at all). From the shop was always a childhood luxury, and so much better than my mother’s somewhat variable efforts.
What would be in your ‘Room 101’?
All those people who are negative about others. Those people who always look on the downside and who seem to seek out the most pessimistic interpretations of everything. Those who try to denigrate and pull down the rest of us who are trying and hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. They would have to stay in Room 101 until they admitted they are not perceptive, and they aren’t only “telling us for our own good”. They would have to admit the error of their ways and promise to be much more positive. Only then would I let them out on parole, with instant readmittance to Room 101 for repeat offenders.
If you could meet one person from history, who would it be — and why?
This is such a difficult question there are so many: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, William the Conqueror, Confucius, Buddha, Saint Augustine, Thomas Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell, Napoleon, The Duke of Wellington, Edmund Burke, Winston Churchill and … The list goes on and on. Could I have a series of dinner parties please? If not and I have to choose one, I suppose it would be Edmund Burke but please can Aristotle come too! With both or either I would discuss their views and philosophies, then explain as best I can our modern world and delight in their take on us now.
Watch a film, go to the theatre, read a book or talk to friends — which would you prefer?
It must be talk to friends. I would not mind a few others, even enemies, as well as people who do not know me. I suppose particularly new people I don’t know, preferably from completely different backgrounds and cultures. But talking to friends has a special delight and pleasure. Mind you while I’m waiting for them to arrive, and after they’ve gone, it would be reading a book.
Would you describe yourself as left-brain (analytical), right-brain (intuitive) or a mix of both?
I don’t really believe this rather simplistic idea of “left brain versus right brain”. Given the huge complexity of the brain let alone how it relates to the mind then it simply could not be so simplistic, or perhaps I should say simple minded. At best it may be a vast generalisation with at perhaps a grain of veracity.
But if the question is are you more analytical or intuitive then I would hope, and believe I am, analytical and intuitive. Like everyone else I have intuitions, the basis for which I offer an explanation in my book Modelling Mind. Then it is very important to analyse what if anything they mean. The problem with the question, as posed, is that you need both the unconscious intuition then the conscious analysis to challenge and build to you’re your own reasoned opinions. Unfortunately, many people who claim they are “right brain” types are often just too lazy to analyse and challenge their intuitions and use their supposed “right braininess” as a cop out, an excuse, for not thinking too much about difficult subjects.
What do you consider to be the successes in your life?
Coming from a working-class family, and as the first in my family ever to go to University, just achieving a first-class honours degree in electronic engineering in itself was a major leap from my background. Then later to achieve a Master of Business Administration post graduate degree solidly built on that success.
Later, in business as a Managing Director of a medium sized electronic system company of around 120 employees, steering it through the bankruptcy of our parent company without losing a single employee, is I consider a major achievement.
Later still in life, when I entered local politics at district and county then unitary level, the help I was able to give to individuals and local causes was a great source of satisfaction. Helping a young girl, stuck at home with ME, to receive proper home schooling, such that subsequently she went to University, was one case. Stopping land adjacent to an SSSI from being developed was another. I didn’t win all the causes I took up, but I did win more than I lost.
Now I’m retired and writing about who and what we are, the philosophy of mind, was immensely satisfying. Producing the Modelling Mind book and publishing it on Amazon is the latest high point in my life. I think these are the most profound questions we face, and to provide some insights and answers gives me a sense that I have contributed something and my life has been and continues to be worthwhile.