platform

An arena where issues can be discussed and debated. These can be scientific, cultural, historical and/ or arts related among other ideas. We are looking at these issues from local, national and international perspectives alike.

WHEN IN DOUBT

TROUBLE IN 'PHYSICS-LAND'

When In Doubt

With the Cambridge’s facing descent on their tour of the Caribbean in March, it is clear that the issue of historical slavery has to be addressed and accounted for. As most of us know, people had to remove the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston with their own hands after countless attempts to petition it away were ignored. Also, it was disappointing to discover that the Tate Gallery  in London, after consultation with who knows who, decided to allow a mural painted by Rex Whistler in 1927 to remain in their restaurant even though elements of it were deemed as offensive. The panoramic mural entitled The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats features a vignette of a Black child being taken from their mother and enslaved. This surely is offensive so why are the people concerned trying to jump through hoops to keep it by having a contemporary piece made to act as a “dialogue” with it and also introducing “interpretive” material to explain it in context? This idea of having a dialogue with a piece like this is pointless, I wonder what can be said of any relevance? Why don’t they just remove it?

I am reminded of a visit to Cragside, a large country house in Northumberland, some years ago and being shocked to see an almost life-sized sculpture of a naked Black slave-girl complete with leg manacles standing in a niche at the bottom of a staircase. I was so affected by it that I left a comment asking if it could be removed. Years later in 2020, I sent an email to them asking them if it had been removed. I received a reply in which I was told “while this (the sculpture) is morally problematic for us today – we have a responsibility to accurately and inclusively portray history. However, we know that we need to do better”. I was also informed that they would not take objects off display but consider options to ensure that all visitors feel welcome and included. Although I am sympathetic to the dilemma places such as Cragside face in trying to retain the historical aspects related to the house, this is not “doing better” and it is not enough.

I researched this particular sculpture which is called either A Daughter of Eve or American Slave, it was bought by the wealthy industrialist and arms manufacturer William Armstrong from the 4th Marquess of Hertford, founder of The Wallace Collection. The sculptor was John Bell a highly respected artist of the period whose repertoire included sentimental figures; he often used images of slaves and there was an attempt to, both at the time and even today, perceive this as an anti-slavery statement. The title The Daughter of Eve, according to some interpretations, was intended to convey a belief that all races were equally created by God (but what about the other title it is known by – American Slave)?  I don’t buy this interpretation and, although this idea was popular in the Victorian era, it is unacceptable to consider slavery as a subject which falls neatly into the category of sentimental thus all of a sudden endowing it with some kind of worthiness. This seems rather like an excuse, no matter how much explaining away about the artist’s intentions or the intentions of the owner of the house William Armstrong, this piece is wrong on more than one level. The representative from Cragside told me “ there is no disputing that the depiction of the African woman is racially stereotyping, provocative and overly sexualised” However, this aside seems to have been swept away by the fact that Bell was attempting to mimic the classical nudes of ancient Greece and that Victorian attitudes towards women and race were different from the values we have today.

Again, this is not good enough, there are too many grey areas surrounding pieces such as this which was described to me by the person from Cragside as a piece with “a complicated history”.  I conclude, therefore, that instinct should be the guide rather than intellectual reasoning as to why these unpleasant relics of another age should have a prominent place in the world we inhabit today. My instinct tells me that they should not inhabit spaces where the public might encounter them without expecting to. A more satisfactory solution would be to gather together all these leftovers from the past and place them in a museum exclusively dedicated to this historical nightmare. Here they can be contextualised as they should be and then people can choose to see them if they wish to.

Trouble In 'Physics-Land'

A few days ago, early April 2022, Fermilab in Chicago announced that there was a problem with the Standard Model of particle physics. The problem was to do with the mass of a particle. The particle in question is called the W boson, which along with its ‘partner’ the Z boson is responsible for mediating the weak nuclear interaction. The two bosons are unique in that they have mass, unlike the gluon and photon which mediate the strong interaction and electromagnetic interaction respectively. This is because, unlike the gluon and photon, the bosons interact with the Higgs Field – everything that does this has mass. Once the Higgs Boson was discovered and its mass measured, at 125.35GeV, this gave physicists the opportunity to finally resolve the mass of the two bosons ( there are actually three as the W boson exists with two different charges, +e and -e). The W bosons mass was calculated, according to the Higgs mass and Standard Model, at 80,357+/-6 MeV; this was later confirmed by Atlas at the LHC at CERN, with a measurement of  80,370+/-19 MeV – still within the expected tolerance. The Fermilab Tevatron experiments, using quark – anti-quark collisions to produce millions of W bosons, has produced a measurement of 80,433+/-9 MeV. Although the difference is small, it is well outside allowable tolerances and throws the validity of the standard model into question. There are two possibilities. The first is that the standard model is flawed or , secondly, variables that were thought to have little effect are actually far more relevant than was first thought.
So what they thought was true, actually may not be. The moral of the story? We’re not as smart as we thought, don’t take things for granted or does most of the information that we are bombarded with really matter to our everyday lives?