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2011 marks 300 years since the birth of the great David Hume.  He was perhaps the greatest philosopher ever to write in the English language and on these grounds the ABC recently devoted four programs of The Philosopher’s Zone to his life and work.  You will find several references to him if you search for his name on this website. 

 

 

A pillar of the Scottish Enlightenment David Hume was, and continues to be, enormously influential.  Even those who were less sceptical of received beliefs than he was were persuaded by his moral philosophy.  

In many ways his ideas were formative in the development of Australia; as I have described elsewhere.

I still have A Treatise on Human Nature; An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding; The Natural History of Religion; and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion; from my time reading Philosophy at University; complete with my youthful underlining and marginal notes.

These stand alongside Darwin’s The Origin of Species, published 100 years later, as among the most important books ever written in English.  These seminal works joined Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, by the young Isaac Newton, first published in Latin in 1687; a century before Hume’s publications.

There were great intellectual and cultural strides during those intervening years.  Despite his differences with traditional theologians, Newton, like his slightly older contemporary French scientist and mathematician Pascal, still had one foot in theology.  Hume swept this mysticism away and set the scene for Darwin and the other great intellects of the 18th Century.

Thanks to Hume Darwin was able to become a true modern scientist and rationalist. But Hume’s influence did not stop there. His method of sceptical thought led on through Russell and Einstein to contemporary mathematics and science; including our understanding of subatomic physics and the wider Universe; and the computer and biological revolutions of our day.  I have described this process elsewhere on this website.

 

  

 

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Travel

In the footsteps of Marco Polo

 

 

 

 

Travels in Central Asia

 

In June 2018 we travelled to China before joining an organised tour in Central Asia that, except for a sojourn in the mountains, followed in the footsteps of Marco Polo along the Great Silk Road.

The term ‘silk road’ was first coined by a 19th century German historian and has stuck ever since to a series of somewhat flexible overland routes across Eurasia extending 11,000 km (7,000 m), a third of the way around the world, from Xi'an in China to the Mediterranean Sea.  It linked on ‘en route’ to the other great trade route that came from India, through modern Pakistan to Afghanistan, via one of five 'invasion routes' that included the Khyber pass and the Kabul River valley, that almost connects to the upper reaches of the Indus near Rawalpindi (and modern Islamabad). See our travels in Northern India for more information: Click Here... Today this whole network is called the Great Silk Road. 

The ancient silk road is by far the longest and oldest overland trade route in the world. Chinese silk has been found in the hair of Egyptian mummies that were embalmed around three thousand years ago, arriving there by some arcane series of trades.  But by Roman times, trade along the Silk Road was more organised, as the Roman historian Pliny wrote: 'so Roman women may expose their charms through transparent cloth'. Trade, often via India, grew after Genghis Khan conquered Central Asia and beyond in the 13th century.  Yet, hidden behind the veil of that great and feared Mongol Empire the existence of China was almost forgotten by medieval Europe, so many believed that silk originated in India. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The McKie Family

 

 

 

Introduction

 

 

This is the story of the McKie family down a path through the gardens of the past that led to where I'm standing.  Other paths converged and merged as the McKies met and wed and bred.  Where possible I've glimpsed backwards up those paths as far as records would allow. 

The setting is Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England and my path winds through a time when the gardens there flowered with exotic blooms and their seeds and nectar changed the entire world.  This was the blossoming of the late industrial and early scientific revolution and it flowered most brilliantly in Newcastle.

I've been to trace a couple of lines of ancestry back six generations to around the turn of the 19th century. Six generations ago, around the turn of the century, lived sixty-four individuals who each contributed a little less 1.6% of their genome to me, half of them on my mother's side and half on my father's.  Yet I can't name half a dozen of them.  But I do know one was called McKie.  So this is about his descendents; and the path they took; and some things a few of them contributed to Newcastle's fortunes; and who they met on the way.

In six generations, unless there is duplication due to copulating cousins, we all have 126 ancestors.  Over half of mine remain obscure to me but I know the majority had one thing in common, they lived in or around Newcastle upon Tyne.  Thus they contributed to the prosperity, fertility and skill of that blossoming town during the century and a half when the garden there was at its most fecund. So it's also a tale of one city.

My mother's family is the subject of a separate article on this website. 

 

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Opinions and Philosophy

The Meaning of Life

 

 

This essay is most of all about understanding; what we can know and what we think we do know. It is an outline originally written for my children and I have tried to avoid jargon or to assume the reader's in-depth familiarity with any of the subjects I touch on. I began it in 1997 when my youngest was still a small child and parts are still written in language I used with her then. I hope this makes it clear and easy to understand for my children and anyone else.

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