Svartskerry: Part 5

See also: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Abigail was sitting outside, in the dark, on a slimy rock, smoking a battered cigarette. Occasionally she glanced off to one side, or up into the mysterious heights of the tower.

Sophie took a few hesitant steps towards her from the doorway..

“Evening.” Abigail muttered to her.

“Are you… alright?”

“I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”

“What was that about, back there? You had me terrified.”

“I told you. this place just fucks with your head.”

“I’ll leave you alone, then?”

Sophie would rather not have left Abigail alone. The place was bad enough if there were two of you.

“You don’t have to.”

“I won’t, then.”

And she sat down, next to her sister. The wind was a bit less fierce now, but the rock was almost too cold to bear.

“You really scared me back there, you know?”

“That was the fucking point, you wanker. I properly had you.”

Abigail suddenly stood up and stared up to the lighthouse.

“Do you want to come inside? It’s very cold out here.”

Abigail hesitated for a moment.

“Sure.” She said, quietly.

Sophie had already got both sleeping bags out, and she took off her boots and climbed into one. As she struggled to find a comfortable position on the cold floor, Abigail just kept pacing, back and forth and back and forth.

Sophie lay awake and stared up at the ceiling. The dull, fading, flickering light of the lamp cast bizarre shadows that took on the hideous shapes of mysterious monsters. And she could not think of anything but that strange sheet of paper, compelling her to put it down, and what Abigail had said she’d heard.

And she was on the boat, with Abigail taking her to this abandoned lighthouse that Alex Jamieson had been to a while back. And the sky was thick with heavy clouds. And the spray from the sea bit at her frozen face and fingers. Abigail wondered where the Skerry was, but it could not be seen and the land could not be seen and nothing could be seen for miles and miles and miles, save for the empty sea, fading seamlessly into the empty sky.

She woke up.

She stared for a while at the ceiling, making out shapes in the cracks. There was something important she needed to get to. She couldn’t remember what, but she was already late. She tried to move, but she was stuck where she was.

She woke up.

Somehow, she had got some sleep. She didn’t know how much. It was still dark outside, although the window was now light up in a deep blue, rather than black. The nights were not long up here at all.

But Abigail was gone. Her sleeping bag was empty, and totally undisturbed.



“The fuck’s it you want?” Abigail shouted back, apparently outside.

Sophie pulled her hood tight around her head and stepped out to join her in the roaring wind and spray.

Abigail had found a piece of flat ground and was pacing back and forth and back and forth, just like a couple of hours earlier, muttering something.


“Yes?” She seemed to have only partly emerged from her trance-like state. Only slightly.

“What’s going on?”

She stared, with a terrible stare, into Sophie’s eyes.

“I killed Alex Jamieson.”

“What do you mean? Isn’t he still alive.”

“No. I killed him.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Three weeks ago… I… we… we were drinking together. We’d been at The Ship and then we’d gone back to his place.

“It was stormy as fuck. a hundred times rougher than this. Nobody would take a boat out the size of the boat he had. Unless you were insane. But I said he should. I said he should.

“And of course by this point we’re both wankered. But he said he wouldn’t, but I called him a pussy if he wasn’t going to try and get over to Sutheray. At night, in that fucked up weather, pissed off his bollocks.

“And he fucking did it. I went home, I’d been joking the whole time. I didn’t think he’d do it. But the next morning he was gone. And the boat had turned over, and he was fucking gone.”

“What? Really?”

“For real.”

“You’ve been talking like he’s still alive the whole time. Why?”

“I didn’t want anyone to find out. I didn’t want it to be real. I killed a guy. Have you ever killed a guy?”

“You didn’t kill him. It was an accident. It’s horrible, but he was stupid to do what he did. You couldn’t have thought he’d do it. It’s not your fault.”

Sophie wrapped her arms around her sister, and held her, tight. Abigail was slightly taller, but Sophie was on marginally higher ground, and their heads fell onto each other’s shoulders.

And the Sun cast pink and purple and gold fingers across the clouds, shimmered on the sea, and lit up the world to the raucous screams of a thousand gannets.

Svartskerry: Part 4

See also: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5

When she was much younger, Sophie had been scared of the dark. The worst had been the long, winter nights, trapped between the desolate moors and the deep, black voe. As the Atlantic Wind howled in the windows, she would put on Radio 4, quietly, to keep her mind from whatever demons lurked out in the raging wind, and in the shadowy crevices of her room, as she struggled to get to sleep, or waited, wide-awake, staring at the bathroom light, through the gap where she’d left the door ajar, hoping nobody would realise and, assuming what she had carefully arranged to look accidental was, in fact, accidental, turn off the light or close the door or turn off the radio, plunging her into a terrible darkness, with no sound but the raging Wind. She would wait, pulling her duvet tight around her, for 7 AM, when Mum would switch on the lights and they’d get up and get dressed and have breakfast and Mum would drive her and Abigail to School. And eventually, the Sun would breach the dark Horizon, casting its golden rays over the worn-out, soggy Viking longship mural, before plunging back into that bleak and interminable Ginnungagap.

Of course, nobody could ever know. She could only imagine how everyone at school would laugh, and how Abigail would laugh, if they found out she spent every night in desperate fear of Nothing In Particular.

She’d grown up since. She knew none of it was based on reality, but then she knew that at the time as well, and that hadn’t stopped her mind from creating whatever it wanted. And even a few days before, in her flat in Glasgow, she would turn on her bedside lamp before turning off the main light, so she wouldn’t have to walk across the room in darkness.

Right now, on this lonely rock, harbouring such strange and unknown stories, the eerie shadows of the Simmer Dim were just as bad as those drawn-out midwinter nights. Every rock, every crack in the walls of the lighthouse became some lurking demon sent by those lost lighthouse-keepers to torment these intruders in their domain.

The cold had driven them back inside. Abigail had lit the hurricane lamp, and it cast eerie, flickering shadows on the walls, each one like some monster from the fringes of an ancient mappamundi.

She could run, but what would she be running from? There was nothing there. What self-respecting rational being would flee from nothing?

And where would she run to? There was at most a couple of hundred yards in any one direction, and then nothing but the relentless ocean, writhing and pounding and surging in the darkness.

There was nowhere to flee to, and nothing to flee from.

The book had been nothing more than a bad attempt at tacky, pseudo-Victorian fiction, left by Alex Jamieson, but she had definitely felt something. There was something strange about it.

She just sat there in silence, half terrified and half hating herself for being terrified.

Abigail had been silent too, up to this point, but now she started to sing.

She didn’t know the words to Chelsea Dagger, but that wasn’t stopping her.

She was quiet at first, but gradually crescendoed until she was belting out the chorus at full volume.

“Chelsea, Chelsea, I believe! Da-da-da-da-da-da-da! Da-da-da-da-da-da-da! Da-dada-da-da-dadadadada-Believe!

And now that dark and lonely rock didn’t seem quite so dark and didn’t seem quite so lonely.

Dadada-dadada-dadadadadadada! Dadada-dadada! Get my sister over here!”

She was standing up now, and she took Sophie’s hand and pulled her to her feet, spinning her round with surprising smoothness.

At once she was 17, and Abigail was 18, and they’d gone into town. Abigail had got her into Big Sam’s with a fake ID, and she was wankered on an embarrassingly small amount of vodka & Coke. And in that moment, on a sticky dance-floor in a club that, by a quirk of geography, had ended up as the hottest nightlife in over 100 miles, belting out trashy 90s and noughties anthems, she thought she had grown up, that that timid little girl had become a fully-fledged woman.

Sophie, who knew even less of the words, joined in. Surely there was no demon in all of Hell that could bear this raucous, tuneless and misremembered rendition of Chelsea Dagger.

And then Abigail stopped singing. Sophie stopped as well, and the darkness began to creep back around them.

“Did you hear that?”

Sophie had heard nothing.

“Did you hear it?”

“Did I hear what?”

“Like, someone shouting. Up in the tower. Did you hear it?”

“I didn’t hear anything.”

“It’ll be nothing. I’m just hearing things. This place fucks with your head. That’s why none of the lighthouse keepers could handle it. There’s nothing there.”

“Stop trying to scare me. There’s nothing there. I know there’s nothing there.”

“But I definitely heard someone shouting from up there. But like what I said, this place fucks with your head. And if you didn’t hear anything, then, it’s just that.”

Or it was whatever was in that bollocks that Alex Jamieson had written. There was something there, something lived here that didn’t want them there.

But that was absurd. There wasn’t. But either there was or Abigail was going insane, which was at least as terrifying.

Abigail went back outside, walking unusually fast but trying hard not to run.

Svartskerry: Part 3

See also: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5

“Go on.” Abigail commanded. “Read it to me. While we’ve still got daylight.”

Sophie squinted at the battered paper, as it flapped in the wind. She felt a bit dizzy as she looked down again to the surging sea.

“Can we go inside?” She asked. “It’ll be easier to read, and it won’t blow away.”

“Sure, whatever.”

Sophie was kind of relieved to step back inside, into that strange, decaying Crystal Palace. She wasn’t going to plunge however many feet into the writhing foam from in here.

She could read that semi-cursive scrawl much more easily, too, when she wasn’t struggling to keep the trailing strands of hair that had escaped her ponytail out of her face, and the wind wasn’t stinging her eyes.

“I was born in Liverpool, in the year 1859, the son of a sea captain. At the age of 18, I travelled to Manchester, to study Mathematics. Though I do not mean to boast, I proved to be rather adept in my studies. Some said I could go on to be one of the greatest mathematicians of my generation.”

“This is so fucking Alex Jamieson.” Abigail interrupted. “He’s always fancied himself as a writer.”

For some reason, Sophie didn’t want to keep reading. She felt something in her head, telling her to put the paper down, to get straight back on the boat and leave this Godforsaken place.

She kept going, nonetheless.

“That was until I met Elizabeth.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake! Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.”

“I first saw Elizabeth through the window of a cab as I was on my way to a lecture. She was the most wonderful creature I had ever set eyes on. Her blue eyes gleamed like sapphires fixed in her pure-white face.”

“That’s fucking terrible”

“I know, right? You want me to keep going?”

Somehow, Sophie really didn’t want to keep going. The paper seemed to have grown genuinely heavy, and her arms were getting tired. Every word she read seemed to add to this. The paper grew heavier and heavier, as if the meaning of the words had their own weight.

“Of course you keep going. This is fucking great.”

“I met her as she disembarked outside her house. It turned out she was none other than the daughter of Professor William Scott, one of the university’s foremost scholars of Mathematics, and that she would be at…”

Sophie’s hands were shaking now, and she was struggling to keep her eyes on the page. It was like staring into the Sun.

She couldn’t bear it any longer, and threw it to the floor.

“What’s up?” Abigail asked. “I mean, it’s shit, but it’s not that shit.”

“I don’t know. It’s just… it’s just… I’m tired, that’s all.”

“I’ll read it then.”

Sophie bent down and picked it up. Her movements became slower. Her hands were shaking. She fumbled with the pages, finding the place where Sophie had left off. She skimmed over the rest, clearly struggling to keep her eyes there.

“He asks her out. She says yes. He gets scared and fucks off up here.”

Abigail threw it to the ground.

“I’m not reading it all out loud, it’s too shit. It’s all just Alex Jamieson’s crap, anyway. It’s his fucking handwriting.”

“Wasn’t it, like, hard to read? Like you kept wanting to look away?”

“I know. It was shit, wasn’t it?”

“It was shit, I know, but wasn’t there something else? Like there was something in there that wanted you to stop reading?”

“No, it was just shit.”

“That’s probably right.”

It was stupid, it was definitely stupid. It was just something Alex Jamieson had written. There was nothing about it to suggest it was an authentic document, and if it was, someone would have already found it.

“Come on, Soph, you’ve got a degree in Physics. You know this is silly.”

“I know it’s silly. It’s just, it’s just, it was definitely there. I’m probably just making it up, but it was definitely there.”

“You’re just making it up. This place is fucking with you, or something like that. Let’s get downstairs.”

Abigail was quick to leave the wad of teabag-stained paper behind her on the floor and scamper round and down the rough and crumbling staircase and out of sight, but grabbing five cans of lager from the crate on the way and drinking heavily from the first, with the other four cradled precariously under her left arm. Sophie was glad to follow, and to leave behind that nightmarish, distorted greenhouse.

The shafts of light from the narrow windows, punctuating the staircase were getting fainter and redder as the sun went down. Sophie was struggling to find her footing, feeling blindly for each little foothold. She made it, though, and saw Abigail, sitting, curled up, against the wall, with three empty cans next to her.

“Good evening”, Abigail said to her, loudly and assuredly, standing up, and then sitting back down again almost immediately.

“Good evening”, Sophie muttered back. She collapsed to the floor next to Abigail, propped up against her shoulder.

“Hey, get the fuck off me.”

Abigail nudged Sophie off with her shoulder, and she sat back up.

“That sure was shit, wasn’t it?” Abigail eventually said.

Sophie grabbed the one remaining beer and took a big enough gulp that she felt sick.

“It was shit alright”, she sputtered back as soon as she was able.

“I feel like heading outside”, Abigail said. “You want to join me?”

“Sure”. Sophie was, as much as she would never admit to Abigail, desperate to get out of that accursed place. They both staggered to their feet and stumbled through the doorway into the biting wind.

The deep blue-grey of the clouds faded indeterminately into the black of the roaring sea, and, from far off in the murky distance, the light at Sulaness flashed, and flashed again, and flashed again.

Svartskerry: Part 2

See also: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

The heavy, rust-riddled door to the hut at the base of the tower had been left hanging open. Abigail was the first inside, dumping the crate of lager on the worn and uneven flagstones just inside. Sophie stopped just outside and looked in.

The room was bare, with the wind whistling out of a crumbling fireplace just to the right. There were two small, grimy windows. The once-whitewashed walls were streaked with bird crap.

“Are you sure this place won’t fall down on us?” Sophie said

“It’s been OK so far.”

“Does anyone know we’re here? You know, in case…”

“Alex Jamieson knows. He recommended the place to me. Didn’t spend the night, though.”

“Come on, we both know you’d rather die stranded out here than get rescued by Alex Jamieson.”

There was another door, opposite the fireplace, gaping into a cavernous darkness, pierced by a faint shaft of dusty light. Abigail seemed to have forgotten the grown-up poise she’d had on the boat, and gazed around the room in childish wonder, before walking quickly, with a sort of hop-skip in the middle, towards the doorway.

Sophie left her to it and wandered back down the rough and slippery steps onto the rock, pulling her hood back up around her face. She walked forwards, about 30 paces, and stopped abruptly, as the ground disappeared in front of her, leaving nothing but the waves, rising and falling against shattered slabs of rock.

She turned right and kept walking, keeping quite a way back from the edge. At this point, the furthest from the jetty where the boat was moored, the jagged edges gave way to a glistening sheet of rock, sloping into the writhing sea, that slid up and down the surface, pouring in and out of the rockpools.

Right at the top of the rocks, just where the earth broke off, there was a pod of seals, almost motionless. Sophie tentatively walked towards them. They remained still at first, and then one by one, their heads turned, they noticed her presence, and they fled, clumsily, to the safety of the sea, their heads bobbing on the waves.

“Hey! Soph!”

Sophie turned round and looked up. Abigail was standing on the narrow, ancient platform that ran around the edge of the light itself. Her bright blue coat stood out boldly against the grey of the lighthouse and the grey of the sky.

“Are you coming up or what?”

“Is it safe?”

“Should be! The view from here’s great!”

Sophie walked back over to the steps and slowly ascended. She’d have to do this at some point. She might as well get it over with. What could there actually be that would hurt her?

Warily, she stepped into the base of the tower.

This place had a strange feel to it. It was one of those places that just sort of feels like you’re not meant to be there. Almost like it sort of belonged to someone else, or something like that. This place had been abandoned to the fulmars and the gannets, and humans were no longer welcome.

She walked across, quickly, and straight through the door at the other side, before the fear that she felt could really get to her. Abigail had left it open, and it led to a staircase that spiralled into oblivion.

Egged on by the image in her head of Abigail’s face if she didn’t go up, she kept going. Up into the deep unknown.

Occasionally, there was a small window, usually with the glass broken, through which a dusty shaft of light poured, along with wind and rain and spray and the rasping shrieks of the birds.

She kept going up. What could there be that would hurt her? Abigail had gone up and seemed fine? And she was right. The building was unlikely to collapse after having stood for so long. She knew that. That was not what she feared.

Then what was it?

She kept going up, keeping her hands on the damp walls. The walls were solid. The walls were there. If she could feel something, then she knew she was still there, still real.

There were doorways, as well. Leading into empty rooms with rotten, wooden floors that even Abigail surely wouldn’t dare to test. She was foolhardy, but not suicidal.

Sophie was relieved when she saw light streaming down from the top of the stairs. She was still in darkness, but could see the light where she was headed. As she entered the pool of yellowish-white, she knew she had made it.

She stepped up into a shimmering realm of glass. She blinked in the light, as her eyes adjusted. There were four walls, each built of scratched and yellowish glass. On each side, there were the concentric rings of a Fresnel lens. The lamp’s mount was there in the centre, but the lamp itself had long gone.

“Hey! Soph!” Abigail shouted, through the glass.

Sophie looked round, and saw her face, distorted through the rough-edged prisms of the lenses. Abigail walked away, and then emerged from behind, inside the glass room.

“Come on. Get out here.” Abigail said, leading Sophie out through a little door onto the perilously-balanced balcony, overlooking jagged rocks and thundering waves.

“Look what Alex Jamieson’s left us”.

Abigail plunged her hand into her coat pocket, and retrieved a battered and stained, yellowish wad of folded paper.

“Grab a beer, and let’s read it while we’ve still got light.”

She walked round to the other side of the balcony, the side overlooking the rock rather than the sea, and returned with two cans of lager from the crate that she’d presumably somehow hauled up these stairs.

She cracked one open herself, and handed the other to Sophie. She sat down on the balcony, opened up the paper, and began to read. Sophie read over her shoulder.

There was a name at the top, and a date:

“Josiah Rose, Assistant keeper of the lighthouse at Svartskerry, January 14th 1877”.

The Darkness

Entered in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2018

Nobody knew what was in The Darkness.

People had gone in, but nobody had ever come out.

People had experimented. There had been a clip shown on the News of someone plunging a big metal pole part way into it. When he pulled it away, it was severed perfectly cleanly, exactly on the line that The Darkness had reached.

Nobody knew what happened to the other end.

Both sides had deployed it repeatedly during The War, leaving patches of black oblivion on the sites of military bases, weapons factories and the occasional hospital, as the UN just sort of looked on.

Then it had started growing. Nobody knew why. Nobody knew how to stop it. Nobody knew very much about it at all, except that it was an extremely effective weapon.

That was about a week ago.

The Fox Inn had not yet been swallowed up. It had been there more than 400 years, and was still there now, a lonely outpost by the road that twisted and wormed across the brown and purple moors, 6 miles from where the nearest town had been.

It was a nice day, considering the circumstances, and Chris and Charlotte were sitting outside.

“How long do you reckon we’ve got?” Chris asked, knowing exactly what Charlotte was going to say.

“No idea.”


Charlotte took another gulp of 23-year-old Scotch.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get through all this.” She remarked.

“You can’t drink the whole pub, if that’s what you mean.”

“You don’t know how long we’ve got left. We could be here for weeks.”

“Fair. Have we got food?”

“We’ve got a whole kitchen with a big freezer full of pub crap.”


The Darkness was lurking in the valley, stretching out gloomy tendrils among the heather. There was definitely more of it than there had been in the morning.

“What’s it you do?” Chris asked, trying to make conversation as Charlotte topped up his glass of whisky. “I mean, when you’re not working here.”

“I’m a student. At least, I was until I graduated in June.”

“What did you study?”



“It would be if I’d got better than a 2:2.”

“I’m still impressed. I were never any good at Maths. I always hated it in school.”

The Sun was just touching the horizon, turning the moor a thousand shades of gold. There was darkness coming from above, and Darkness coming from below.

“You were probably just taught badly.” Charlotte replied. “Anyway, when you think about it, this whole thing’s worked out quite conveniently for me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Now nobody’s going to have to find out how badly I fucked up Uni,” she drunkenly slurred. “Enough about me. I don’t want to talk about me. Tell me what you did, before all this happened.”

“I were a carpenter, me. I actually did some of the work in here when they were doing this place up a few years back.”


“I’m not smart like you.”

Somewhere on the shrinking island of peat and heather and tough, brown grass, a grouse shrieked “Go back! Go back! Go back!” and then was silent.

“You know, this whisky’s the best I’ve ever drunk.” Chris said, to break the silence.

“It’s the most expensive we had. It seemed a shame to let it go to waste.”

“Hey, Charlotte?”


“Have you got any family?”

“Well, I did. I’ve not heard from my parents or my brother or my boyfriend or my nephew since I went out to work this morning.”

“Fuck, that’s rough. Sorry for bringing that up.”

“It’s fine. Did you have anyone?”

“Sort of. I mean, my wife left me 6 months ago. She took my 2 kids. I’ve not seen them for a week now. I’m assuming they’re gone. I mean, basically everyone’ll be gone now.”
Chris dug into the pockets of his fleece and fumbled a bit, taking out his phone, a set of keys, and his shiny, blue passport, and placing them in front of him on the table. Eventually, he got to his wallet.

He took out a picture of two small children, with cheesy smiles on their faces.

“Here they are,” Chris said, handing it across the table to Charlotte.

“They’re adorable.”

“Aren’t they just.”

“It just came so suddenly.” Charlotte said, out of nowhere. “This morning, it was a long way off. It was just something happening somewhere else. Then it took over everywhere. There was no way to know where it was going next.”

“It’s moving a lot slower now.”

Then there was no sound but the gurgling of a stream, flowing blindly into that deep Unknown.

“What do you think it feels like?” Charlotte asked.

“What does what feel like?”

“When it… you know… when it gets you.”

“I saw on the News a guy somewhere who’d lost his hand in it. He said he didn’t feel it when it was in there, but when he took it out of course it just felt like he’d had his hand cut off.”

“That’s fine, then, if we’re going all the way in.”

“Only if you stay totally still. I you move away from it at all when it’s coming over you, then…”

“That’s a point. You’d get bits of you cut off.”

“They made a big mistake when they used this shit in the War and they didn’t know what it were gonna do in the long run.”

“I don’t think that’s very controversial.”

The Darkness was advancing faster now, and from all sides. It had obscured the Moon, and was encroaching on the weathered walls of the inn.

“You’ve been great today,” Charlotte said, heaving herself unsteadily to her feet.

“You too.”

Leaning on each other, they staggered a few paces forward. Chris took a swig of whisky from the bottle, and passed it to Charlotte, who finished it off, before smashing it on the flagstones.



And, back-to-back, they faced The Darkness.

In defence of “muh feels”

For years now, a big feature of right-wing rhetoric has been to present the arguments of the Conservatives and/or Right-Libertarians as rational and evidence-based, while dismissing those of Liberals and the Left as emotive and irrational. To a lesser extent, similar arguments are used the other way, although this seems to occur mostly as an effort to turn Right-Wing rhetoric on its head. In general, there’s a tendency (which I’m not saying has any basis in reality) in popular political discourse to view the Right as pragmatic and the Left as emotive.

However, what I’m saying is that this dichotomy of “facts” versus “feelings” is not a sensible way to discuss Political Philosophy, and that any Political Philosophy must depend on a synthesis of the two.

The Is-Ought Gap

A big issue in ethics is the problem of how to derive moral facts (what ought to be) from natural facts (what is). David Hume just flat-out said it can’t be done and, like a lot of things David Hume said, it’s irritatingly difficult to argue with.

Ethical Naturalism

An ethical naturalist could argue that objective morality still exists if you can decide on a goal that you’re trying to achieve, as follows:

p1: C is a morally desirable state of affairs.
p2: If A does B, then C will occur.
c: Therefore A should do B.

Here, premise 2 is entirely objective and naturalistic, and the premises entail the conclusion. The issue is with premise 1. This is a claim that C ought to be the case, and not a claim that clearly linked to any natural facts.

An example of a branch of ethics in this form is Utilitarianism, most famously proposed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. According to this ethical doctrine, the ultimate goal is maximising total happiness, and one ought to do things that can be expected to increase overall happiness, and avoid things that will decrease overall happiness. For example:

p1: Greater happiness is a morally desirable state of affairs.
p2: That homeless man there will gain more happiness having from the change in my pocket than I will.
c: Therefore I ought to give him the change in my pocket.

Here we clearly have one of the premises (p2) that is based on a (sort of) observable, measurable natural fact, and another (p1) that isn’t. However, p1 is necessary to link p2 to the conclusion.

The Categorical Imperative

Ethical naturalism, based on is not, however, the only approach to trying to create objective moral facts. Immanuel Kant argued that morality is based on a Categorical Imperative (an absolute statement of what you ought to do), as opposed to Ethical Naturalism’s Hypothetical Imperatives (statements of what you should do if you want to achieve a particular goal.

According to Kant, there is one rule that governs how you should behave:

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

Basically, this means you should only do things if it would make sense if everyone did them all the time, for example:

p1: You should only do things if it would make sense if everyone did them all the time.
p2: If everyone lied all the time, nobody would believe anything anyone said, and it would be impossible to communicate.
c: Therefore lying is wrong.

Kant is saying that actions in themselves have properties of goodness or badness, which derives from their relation to this principle, and have nothing to do with their consequences in any one particular case.

Ultimately, though, Kant’s principle succumbs to a similar problem to that of Consequentialist ethics, in that there isn’t an objective fact about the world from which you can derive the connection between Goodness and the Categorical Imperative. All Kant has done is asserted that the Categorical Imperative is equivalent to a moral fact and worked from there. Indeed, any other categorical imperative must have the same problem.

What we’re getting from this is that any attempt to derive a moral “ought” from a natural “is” fails. Either you’re already assuming a moral fact about the consequences of an action, or you’re assuming a moral fact about the action itself.

How Ideologies Work

The point here is that political ideologies are, in essence, sets of moral statements, just applied to governments rather than individuals. Either there is a goal (such as common ownership of the Means of Production) in mind, and policies are intended to move towards that, or there is a principle (such as the Non-Aggression Principle) that has to be followed at all times, and policies are judged based on their compliance with that. Justifying these principles, you might end up with more general principles, about rights or freedoms or living standards or military strength or something like that. In the end, though, you have to come back to something you can’t argue for based purely on natural facts – something fundamental, something basic. Without a basic principle like this, you’re trapped forever in a regress.

In general, the non-naturalistic content of an ideology can be expressed as a set of desired ends, and a set of principles that constrain the range of actions that can be used to achieve that end. Applying logical reasoning to empirical input can tell you what the initial conditions are, and what actions are likely to get you from the initial conditions to the desired outcome. However, they cannot tell you what the desired outcome is, or what methods should be rejected on ethical grounds.

This is where “feelings” (or “intuitions” or whatever you want to call them) come in. Feelings are what motivate us to act. Feelings are what tell us how the world should be. Without feelings, we would not act, we would simply observe. We would see the world, we might even make logical deductions. But we would have no impetus to interact with the world. In many ways, such a world sounds very appealing, but it’s not the world we inhabit. In the real world, we feel, and through those feelings we are active participants.

The Flat Earth Game

A particular hobby of mine is arguing about whether or not Earth is flat. I know I’m very unlikely to ever convince a Flat-Earther that Earth is approximately spherical and orbits the Sun, but I still like coming up with arguments for it.

An Introduction to Flat Earth Cosmology

According to the Flat Earth movement, Earth is a flat disk, with the North Pole at the centre, and an “Ice Wall” (known to most of the world as “Antarctica”) around the edge (a few Flat-Earthers claim there are more continents beyond the Ice Wall).

flat earth diagram The orbits of the Sun and Moon in the Flat Earth model

The Equator is a circle halfway between the North Pole and the Edge.

The Sun and Moon move around the Earth in circles in 24 hour cycles, moving directly above the Tropic of Cancer on the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer Solstice, the Tropic of Capricorn on the Southern Hemisphere’s Summer Solstice, and the Equator on the Equinoxes. At all other times the circle around which the Sun moves is between the Tropics, presumably according to the latitude at which the Sun is directly overhead on that particular day. This gives us a day/night cycle, since the Sun only illuminates a certain area of Earth at a time, like a spotlight.

The Moon does not reflect the light of the Sun, but gives off its own light. According to some Flat-Earthers, moonlight actually reduces the temperature of objects it falls on, as demonstrated in some highly questionable experiments on Youtube (Of course anyone who has any knowledge of anything about energy or light or anything like that will realise that this is almost certainly nonsense. What in fact appears to be happening is that areas in the “moonshade” aren’t as exposed to the sky, so don’t lose as much heat that way.).

This whole system is contained within a dome or “firmament”, made of glass, water, or some other, similar substance. The stars and planets are lights shining from the firmament.

In this universe, gravity is not a real force (there is simply a physical law that denser materials sink below less dense materials), and there is no such thing as Space (photos taken from Space are fake and astronauts are lying).

Missing the point of Flat Earth

Globe-Earthers arguing with Flat-Earthers often miss the point of the Flat Earth model, failing to realise that it operates within a very different paradigm to Proper Science. Here are some examples of common ways they do this:

Pictures of Earth from Space

This is a mistake often made by Globe-Earthers who are relatively new to the Flat Earth scene. You post a photograph of Earth from Space, claiming that picture proves Earth is round. The problem is that this assumes that whoever claims to have taken the photograph is basically trustworthy. The Flat Earth Movement, however, is characterised by a total distrust of mainstream scientific authorities, especially NASA, who are a key part of a huge conspiracy to hide the true shape of Earth for one of various reasons. Flat-Earthers generally claim any photograph of Earth from Space is “CGI” (and in fairness to them, most of them actually are composites).

Pictures of the “curvature” from high altitudes

Another common Globe-Earth argument is to show a picture of Earth from, for example, a weather balloon, and claim that the curvature of the Earth is visible in it. This is distinct from the “photograph from space” argument, since Flat-Earthers agree that the photographs are taken from an altitude it is actually possible to reach.

The Flat-Earth response is generally that the apparent curvature results from the nature of the camera lens. In this case, they’re actually often right. At the altitudes reached by weather balloons, the visible curvature of the Earth is still very small. It’s well-known that wide-angle lenses result in a seemingly curved horizon, even at low elevations, and this is often the result of most of the “curvature” you see on photographs from GoPros on weather balloons. For example, in this video of a weather balloon launch, you can see the horizon bending all over the place due to lens effects as the balloon goes up.

“Where’s the Ice Wall?”

If you ask a Flat-Earther this, they’ll probably show you a picture of an Antarctic ice shelf meeting the sea, and tell you that’s the Ice Wall. This leads to a very silly argument, since the photo does not illustrate anything except that Antarctica exists, which neither side actually denies. The Flat-Earthers just have the peculiar habit of calling its coastline the “Ice Wall” (As an aside, Flat-Earthers often claim that the Antarctic Treaty says nobody’s allowed to visit Antarctica. This is bollocks).

“Why are the other planets round?”

This one particularly annoys me, because people who ask this have clearly not even tried to understand the Flat Earth model. Possibly the most fundamental tenet of the Flat Earth movement (even more important than the claim that Earth is flat) is the rejection of the Copernican principle (the idea that Earth is not the centre of the Universe). The idea that Earth should be spherical because the other planets are spherical already assumes that the other planets are a bit like Earth, and a basically heliocentric understanding of Earth’s position in the universe, which is not a part of Flat Earth cosmology.

The Flat Earth Game

The key mistake Globe-Earthers make in Flat Earth arguments is approaching the question from within the mainstream scientific paradigm. Earth is not the centre of the Universe, the laws of physics are applicable everywhere and at any scale, scientific authorities are usually trustworthy, etc.

The problem is that Flat-Earthers don’t play by these rules. In order to have a good argument with a Flat-Earther, a Globe-Earther needs to argue within the Flat Earth paradigm. They need to play by the rules of the Flat Earth Game.

In this game, the only experimental evidence that is allowed is that from experiments that you (or others amateurs) are able to perform yourself. Things you can personally observe. Anything that you’ve just learnt in school, or read about, is not acceptable evidence that Earth is round.

Good evidence that the Flat Earth model is wrong

Here are some pieces of evidence that the Flat Earth model is incorrect that are acceptable within the rules of the Flat Earth Game. Flat-Earthers generally struggle to challenge these without just getting things wrong.

Things disappearing over the horizon

One of the earliest ways people have shown that the surface of Earth is curved is by watching distant ships. You will notice that, as a ship moves away, the hull disappears first, and the mast is the last part visible on the horizon.

<a title="By Anton [CC BY-SA 2.5
)], from Wikimedia Commons” href=””&gt;Shiphorp
A ship partly obscured by the horizon
By Anton [CC BY-SA 2.5 (, from Wikimedia Commons

This is difficult to explain on a Flat Earth, but makes perfect sense on a globe.

Another example, that is very easy to observe, is a sunset. The bottom of the sun is very clearly the first part that ceases to be visible, and then the top. If you watch a sunset through a filter that removes glare (I probably don’t need to tell you this, but don’t look at the sun without a filter), you will see that the angular size of the Sun (how much of the sky it takes up) changes very little.

Time Lapse SunsetA time lapse of a sunset, showing the sun being obscured by the horizon.
By Odd Høydalsvik,

This is totally at odds with the Flat Earth model’s version, where the Sun recedes into the distance.

On a related note, in the Flat Earth model, you should be able to use a telescope to see the Sun at night. I have yet to see anyone try it.

Stars in the Southern Hemisphere

In the Southern Hemisphere, the stars appear to move in circular paths around a central point (the South Celestial Pole).

Star trail and aurora over Mount Wellington, TasmaniaStar trails seen from Mount Wellington, Tasmania
By Shu1188 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons

In the Flat Earth model, all the stars move around the North Pole.

Also, in the Flat Earth model, places in the Southern Hemisphere are a very long way apart, so you shouldn’t be able to see the same stars from Australia as from Argentina. You can, which shows a deep flaw in the Flat Earth model.

Flight paths and shipping routes in the Southern Hemisphere

A trend we’re seeing here is that the Flat Earth model works much better in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere.

perth joburg flight The route of a flight from Perth to Johannesburg, which makes sense on a globe, but would bend weirdly outwards on a flat Earth
Screenshot from

In the Northern Hemisphere, flights and shipping routes are explained quite well. Great circles (the shortest paths between points along the surface of a sphere) on the Northern Hemisphere of a globe become straight lines on the Azimuthal Equidistant Projection used by the Flat Earth model. In the Southern Hemisphere, however, it’s a very different story. The great circles routes followed by ships and planes end up curved outwards towards the Edge, while if they were following straight lines on a flat earth, they would travel towards the Centre and then back out.

Long summer days in the Southern Hemisphere

The Flat Earth model, with the sun close to the Centre in the Northern summer and closer to the Edge in the Southern summer, works quite well for explaining varying day lengths in the Northern Hemisphere. However, it falls apart in the Southern Hemisphere. To explain the varying day lengths in the Southern Hemisphere, the patch of light cast by the Sun has to take on a very odd shape indeed. The argument Flat-Earthers tend to use here is that it reflects off the firmament, but that’s a total fudge, and would lead to times when, in the Southern Hemisphere, there appear to be 2 Suns – a real one and a reflected one.


You can argue convincingly, based purely on things that you or other amateurs can observe, that the Flat Earth model is incorrect. That is not, however, to say that I know with certainty that it is round. My position is that, given the evidence at my disposal – things disappearing over the horizon, the apparent symmetry of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, the implausibility of a vast, international conspiracy to hide the true shape of the Earth, etc. – the Globe model has far greater explanatory power, and is simpler and more satisfying. These advantages are so great that you would need very convincing evidence to persuade me that Earth is flat, and I’ve yet to see any evidence like that.

Svartskerry: Part 1

See also: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

“How much do you know about what happened at Svartskerry?” Abigail asked, casually stepping off the pier into the little dinghy, bobbing in the murky harbour.

“I don’t know anything except it’s meant to be haunted.” Replied Sophie, tentatively stumbling onboard and quickly sitting down.

Abigail started the engine, and the boat began to pull away.

“It’s haunted as fuck. There’s a pretty cool story behind it as well.”

“Go on.”

“You see what happened was, while the lighthouse was still working, there were two people living there, right? There was the lighthouse-keeper, and his assistant. Now the lighthouse keeper was pretty standard, right? He was just a guy who’d used to be in the Merchant Navy. But his assistant was more interesting. The thing with his assistant is nobody knows who he was. The name he was calling himself was almost certainly fake, and he never told anyone his real name. But he didn’t t in at all. He was very well-spoken, obviously educated. Going off his accent, he was English. But he barely spoke to anyone. He kept himself to himself, and nobody knows how or why he ended up out here at all, working at the lighthouse. I guess they were just desperate for people to work there and didn’t ask many questions.”

“Then what?”

The boat roared through the voe, cutting through the bluegreen-brown waves, as the village became nothing more than a series of white specks beneath the lowering clouds.

Sophie would never admit it to Abigail, but she was starting to feel seasick.

“What’s that, Sophie? You want me to slow down?” Abigail taunted, over the hum of the engine and the roar of the waves against the bow.

“No, keep going. What happened to these lighthouse-keepers?”

The boat turned round a towering, grey headland, and into the open sea. Abigail, standing proudly, feet wide apart, at the helm, with the raging sea breeze whipping cold and salty spray across her face, turned her head back towards Sophie.

“So what happened was the two of them had been working there for a couple of years right? And one winter a storm blew up. You seen the storms out here? Waves 60 feet high crashing against the lighthouse, wind so strong it’s hard to stay standing. etc. etc. So anyway, the light’s on in the lighthouse one of these stormy nights, and in the morning it just stays on. And all day into the next night and the next day, until it starts to run out of fuel. So of course the lighthouse-keepers were meant to put the light out in the morning and light it at night and keep it topped up with fuel, so now people knew something was up.
“The problem was the sea was very rough, and there was no chance of landing a boat there, so they couldn’t get anyone to the lighthouse for a few days. When the sea had calmed down a bit and they got a chance, There was nobody there.

“They looked all over the lighthouse, but they didn’t find any traces of anyone. No bodies, nothing. Sort of a Marie Celeste kind of thing. The strangest part, though, was that the boat that they’d had moored at the jetty was still there. If the boat had been gone, you could have said they left in that, but it was still there. It was still tied up to the jetty. It didn’t look like there was any way they could have left, but there they weren’t.”

The shore was now nothing more than a black stripe on the horizon, beneath the brooding clouds. Abigail laughed as the little boat lurched up and down and up and down, bounding over the choppy water. Sophie tried to bury her head in her coat in an effort to keep of the frigid wind and biting spray.

“A few lighthouse keepers came and went, but none of them could handle it. The place was abandoned in the ’30s.”

Before long, their destination came into view – a mass of black slabs of rock, rising up from the water, and a dirty-white column piercing the menacing sky. Abigail turned off the engine, and the boat just bobbed, silently, as the waves rolled around it. She stepped up to the bow and stood there, like Washington Crossing the Delaware, as she surveyed the rugged skerry, looking for a landing site.

The rocks on the near side of the island had been beaten into a precariously balanced arch, and Sophie became briefly mesmerised by the waves rising up, crashing around inside it, foam racing up into the crevices of the layered rock and then back out. In and out and up and down and in and out…

“Hey! Sophie!” Abigail shouted.

Sophie lifted up her head and looked over to where Abigail was pointing. She couldn’t help but smile as she noticed a big, blubbery seal roll over and slide and drag itself off the rocks into the dark water.

Abigail returned to the helm, and the engine sputtered back into life. She began slowly steering the boat round the skerry, eventually pulling up alongside the rusty remains of an old iron jetty.

She vaulted up onto the bent metal platform. Sophie, eager to stand on firm ground again, tried to stand up.

“Hold on a moment, will you?” Abigail reprimanded her, as she secured the boat to a post, caked in rust, and did the same at the other end.

Sophie took her hand and heaved herself up, staggering onto the uneven surface. Abigail leapt back into the boat and pulled out a carrier bag full of food, a crate of lager, two sleeping bags and a hurricane lamp, passing them up to Sophie.

Slowly and cautiously, to avoid slipping on the rocks that gleamed with rain and spray, the two adventurers scrambled up towards the windswept lighthouse.

The assumptions inherent in all science

Science is very important. If it wasn’t for science, we wouldn’t know very much at all. Science, in a very broad sense (learning about the world from repeated empirical observations) has presumably been going on at least as long as humans have existed, and probably earlier. More formal, rigorous approaches have been developing as civilisation has become more advanced, culminating in what’s now known as The Scientific Method™.

The Scientific Method™ is often considered to be pretty much infallible with regard to determining facts about how the universe works. You make observations. You make a hypothesis to explain them. You use that hypothesis to make testable predictions. You do experiments to check whether the predictions are correct. If the predictions are wrong, you make a new hypothesis. If they’re right, and you can repeat the experiment and get the same results, then you’ve got a theory, and after a while, if nobody can prove it wrong, everyone just sort of accepts that it’s right.

But we’re still actually dealing with a fuckload of assumptions, that we have no real justification for, but we kind of have to stick with if we’re going to be able to do science.

Assumption 1: My senses present the world to me in a way that has some relation to the way the world is

I’ll admit, this one is a bit silly. The problem is, though, it’s very difficult to disprove. Descartes tried it, but just ended up digging himself into a massive hole with an argument about an Evil Demon that’s putting ideas into my mind and couldn’t really get out of it without some very dodgy reasoning.

The philosophical establishment seems to have largely given up at trying to rigorously prove that there’s not a Cartesian Evil Demon. Instead, we’ve got things like George Edward Moore’s argument:

  • p1: *holds up hand* “Here is a hand”
  • p2: *holds up other hand* “Here is another hand”
  • Therefore external objects exist.

Or Wittgenstein’s argument that we can’t disprove global skepticism but we still shouldn’t take it seriously because then we wouldn’t be able to do any philosophy or science or anything really.

Of course, if we don’t know whether there is an external world at all, we can’t do science, so we just assume that our senses are basically reliable (barring known exceptions such as optical illusions, dreams, intoxication etc., and with the help of scientific instruments).

Assumption 2: Induction works

Science is based on the idea that, if something’s happened lots in the past, it’s going to happen again in the future. That’s how you make predictions from a hypothesis. Karl Popper tried to say science doesn’t use induction, but if you’ve ever actually studied science you’ll know that it totally does. That’s why you repeat an experiment lots of times, and the more times you repeat it and get the same result the more seriously that result is taken.

The problem here is that, as pointed out by David Hume, 18th Century Scotland’s greatest troll, there’s no way to know that induction actually works. The fact that the sun has risen every day in the past is not a good reason to believe that it will rise tomorrow. Much like global skepticism, this turns out to be very difficult to argue with. I could say induction has always worked in the past, but that would be circular.

Again, we kind of have to stick with this assumption, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do science.

Assumption 3: The Cosmological Principle

The Cosmological Principle is the idea that the universe is basically the same wherever you’re looking from. There are no particularly privileged viewpoints. Essentially, it can be viewed as a spatial analogue of the induction principle. According to the induction principle, a physical law that has been observed in the past will also hold in the future. Similarly, according to the Cosmological Principle, a physical law in one part of the universe also holds everywhere else.

Much like induction, this is essential to make predictions about distant parts of the universe, but it is also subject to a similar problem. Empirical evidence of the Cosmological Principle consists of the fact that the universe looks roughly isotropic and homogeneous from Earth, and then the generalisation from that to the idea that it looks isotropic and homogeneous from everywhere because Earth isn’t special. This is clearly circular. We have no good reason to use the Cosmological Principle, but we kind of have to in order to study the universe.

Assumption 4: Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor is the well-known idea that a scientific theory should not use more concepts than are necessary to explain what it explains. You should prefer simpler theories. This isn’t especially critical, and is generally overridden when a more complicated theory has greater explanatory power than a simpler one. However, it is still used to choose which of two theories to prefer, all other things being equal.

But there’s no reason to believe simplicity leads to truth. It’s just a rule of thumb, nothing more. It’s used largely arbitrarily, because we need some way of distinguishing between theories and choosing which to investigate. It’s another unjustified assumption that we need for science to work.


We need these assumptions. Sure, science is not totally justified, but we still need science. Without science, we wouldn’t be able to know anything. As Wittgenstein pointed out, if we were to take this kind of skepticism seriously, it would end up getting silly. We wouldn’t be able to function. So we need to assume things. Maybe somewhere else, there are some aliens that have developed a scientific method with different, but similarly arbitrary, assumptions, and come to different conclusions that still work. But we can’t do away with arbitrary epistemological assumptions altogether and expect to have a functional civilisation.

The Chain Gang

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

In the distance, a bevy of snare drums beat a harsh and unrelenting tattoo.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

The crowd of onlookers pushed forward against the barrier in front of the pothole-ridden road, each excited breath forming a wisp of water vapour in the crisp, clear winter air.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

Two children darted among the forest of legs, trying to get a better view of the spectacle that was to come, their enthusiastic shouts piercing through the cold above the sharp and ever-approaching beat of the drums.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

A dead-eyed soldier watched the crowd carefully, pacing back and forth in heavy boots, her rifle angled towards the ground.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

Then the grim procession began to come into view. A stern-faced officer goose-stepped at its head, a row of medals on chest, glinting in the low, pale Sun against the dark-green wool of his dress uniform. The tassels on his epaulettes swung in time to the beats of his brightly-polished boots against the rough tarmac.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

Next came the drummers, in a perfect row, each in an identical, maroon beret. The sticks became a blur, vibrating in that beat that just kept going and going.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

It was only then that I saw the prisoners. Each shaven head, bruised and bloody, staring at the manacled feet of the next. They shuffled steadily forwards, occasionally prodded back into line by a rifle-butt.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

And a murmur spread among the crowd, growing to a roar, and becoming a low, steady boo. An incomprehensible shout pierced the monotone every few seconds. Coherence was soon lost, and the air began to writhe with jeers and shrieks and rotting projectiles, as the pathetic chain-gang passed, headed for the train that would take them away to the far-flung North.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

One of the wretched train glanced up, away from the shabby road surface, before catching the eye of one of the ever-vigilant guards and fixing his eyes sheepishly on the ground once more. But in that moment, that one, fleeting moment, I saw, among his gaunt and emaciated features, his eyes. Startling, bright-green eyes.

I had seen those eyes before. You would never forget eyes like that. I couldn’t quite pin down what it was about them, but there was something extraordinary.

I had seen them before, on a wet April afternoon, just outside the station. He had been muttering something. Nobody caught what it was that he said, but that was beside the point. He had breached Protocol.

Within seconds, he was lying on the shiny-wet flagstones with a black boot on his back and blood pouring out of his nose. As he was dragged away, silent, accepting a terrible fate that he must have known, accepting the prospect of suffering that I could not imagine, that was the moment I noticed the eyes.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

And now he was heading back to the station, back to the place where his life had disappeared forever, then to the wild and distant North.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN!”

The others would have been similar. Maybe they had taken too long to answer questions. Maybe they had admitted to an attraction that had turned out not to be reciprocated. Maybe they had greeted somebody who they had not known well enough. Anyway, they were Enemies of Society and had to be removed.

“taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tararataTANTAN! taraTAN taraTAN tara…”