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Oh, starboard your helm!

This time it could be the big one. Fire on the Amazon, fire in Siberia, a dome of heat above the American west and wildfire surging below – too often we close our minds to events that seem far away. But something may be stirring much closer to home. Scottish winters are warmer than they should be for this far north. Orkney has the same latitude as Leningrad or southern Greenland – yet its winters are very different. The reason is the warm water from the Gulf of Mexico – the Gulf Stream. It brings Orkney’s

The physics of the Wood of Hallaig

Time, the deer is in the Wood of Hallaig. Hallaig by Sorley MacLean is on one level about the clearance of people from the land of which they were a part. At another level it is a poem about the nature of Time. ‘Tha tìm, am fiadh, an coille Hallaig’ ‘Time, the deer is in the Wood of Hallaig.’ Tha bùird is tàirnean air an uinneig trom faca mi an Àird an Iar ’s tha mo ghaol aig Allt Hallaig ’na craoibh bheithe, ’s bha i riamh The window is nailed and boarded Through which I

Processes and objects

There are two fundamentally different ways of picturing the world around us. One is as a collection of objects – and we learn from our earliest moments that we are surrounded by things that we pick up or bump into. But an alternative approach is to see the world as formed out of processes – actions and experiences. We switch focus from the food we pick up to the process of eating, from the chairs we bump into to the process of exploring the room. In our modern material Western world, objects are to the fore,

Eddington’s universe

Whenever the poet George Mackay Brown reorganised his library, getting rid of some of the overspill, some books from younger years would always remain. There was the first Penguin book from 1935, a biography of Shelley by André Maurois; and Penguin number 3, Poet’s Pub by Eric Linklater. And there was also a book on cosmology, published in Pelican Books in 1940. The wartime paper is thin and the pages became dog-eared, but it was kept with care. In The Expanding Universe, Sir Arthur Eddington described the new picture of the cosmos. He described the measurement

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