I grew up listening to Radio 4 and still, from habit, turn it on in the morning. The constant diet of Fabian filth usually irritates me into turning it off within minutes but not this morning. There was a bland piece by what sounded like (but wasn't) some breathless intern desperate to make her name. That's just the house style at the BBC these days; every presenter has morphed into a Blue Peterite of the 1970s talking down to an audience of children. I listened in rather the same spirit as someone trying not to look at a car crash.
Her theme was "serendipity" and I cannot say she did not educate me at all. She interviewed a poetry professor from SOAS, who told her that "Serendip" was the Persian name for the island now known as Sri Lanka and that the connection with our modern use of the word is an ancient fable of which the moral, to the Persians, is that good may come of the worst events.
Then she spoke with a professor, his name hardly matters, engaged in the study of luck; the William HIll Professor of Chance at the University of Dudley, for all I know. He suggested that serendipity will be manufactured on an industrial scale by the application of information technology. He said that the NSA's computers in America are capable of processing so much data that (and I paraphrase loosely) it's closer to everything than a lot. Soon they will have the ability to ask for "anything interesting connecting X with Y" or even just "about X" and find information previously inaccessible in any practical fashion.
He sounded indecently excited about this. I was also interested in the thought because, while the NSA's SuperStasi ambitions are old news, it occured to me that the "peacetime" applications of such "military" technology might be immensely valuable. The most likely answer to the Needham question, after all, is that China's then peaceful security provided less incentive for technological advance than the insecurity of Europe's warring states. How wonderful if the outcome of the NSA's wickedness was - accidentally -a great leap forward! A leap in human knowledge, not of the quotidien activities of hundreds of millions of innocents (and a few dangerous nut-jobs) but of stuff that really matters.
One positive thought over breakfast, I find, is good for the health.
So much, so BBC, but here's the creepily funny part. Our breathless intern journalist and psychologist asked if such an 'engine' could process the data of her own life in order to detect, explain and even promote serendipity. Our professor of chance laughed and answered that, by comparison with the data being processed by the NSA, the facts of her life were relatively trivial, so yes. I actually felt hurt for her at this monumental insult, but she seemed very relaxed.
Statism, so often, arises from just such a lack of imagination. Even someone as active online as me does not share a googolth of his thoughts on the 'net. Nor is even the worst internet nerd sharing most of his human interaction in any readily recordable form. We are all - even BBC presenters - far more than the data we present for external analysis. Only someone who thinks that a human life can be reduced to facts, and that they in turn can be adequately analysed by wise and well-equipped masters, would say such a bizarre thing to a fellow human.
It only remains to be asked why anyone forms such a view, given that they are blessed with the same brain, heart and spirit as the rest of us. Perhaps their desperate quest for equality-by-violent-force is shaped by the secret fear that they really do lack something wonderful enjoyed by their fellow-men? Perhaps they are just not equipped by nature to know it's not mere money or power?
There you go, Aleks. Serendipity. I listened to a show out of curiousity as to just how condescending one woman could be, and obtained an insight into the cold, dark, empty souls of British statists.