Office of the Dean: St Andrew’s College, King George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 3TD
WITH MOST of the Staff and Fellows still on vacation, the College is mercifully quiescent, except for the racket induced each evening by the Festival Fringe performances going on in the Lecture Theatre. Normally the scene of serious disquisitions on Quantum Theory or the thought of Arthur Schopenhauer – it is now the forum for the bedlam induced by ‘New Comedy.’
I attended one of these performances – and will attend no more.
The ‘Comedian,’ a person of Sarf Lon’on extraction, regaled the youthful audience with an extraordinary series of ‘jokes’ relating to intimate body parts and even more intimate bodily functions. This was accompanied by a barrage of split infinitives, undeleted expletives, scatological allusions, continuous effing ’n blinding and scabrous adversions to contemporary society. I was glad to escape to a lecture on ‘The One’ by our Professor of Pneumatic Philosophy, Aeneas Mackenzie, which contained none of the above.
Based on a famous lecture given by Plato in Athens in 388BC that nobody understood, it was billed as ‘String Theology’ a ‘Unifying Synthesis of String theory with the Book of Genesis’ an ambitious marriage if ever there was One. Central to the argument was the Higgs Boson which apparently has been hiding in Switzerland since Peter Higgs of this University ‘saw’ it on the shores of Loch Ness all those years ago. How he ‘saw’ a particle a billionth of a millimetre in size and which exists for a billionth of a trillionth of a second is a mystery to me. What eyesight the man must have…
Anyway, The One turned out to be identical to - and indeed synonymous with - The Singularity, the entity, whatever it was that blew up as the ‘Big Bang.’ Now I’m a considerable fan of the Bang and will travel significant distances to hear exposition of its origin and consequences. One of which is the background radiation the Bang left behind and which appears on our TV screens as ‘interference.
Dr Harvey Cruikshank of the College was reported to me some years ago for not appearing in his laboratory. I found him in his rooms staring at his TV set which was not tuned to any Channel and was therefore exhibiting its usual untuned snowstorm.
“But it’s not interference,” he shouted, as I enquired why he’d been there for three days staring at it. “It’s information! It’s exactly the same as Robert Watson Watt famously said to the VHF engineers at the BBC who were moaning that aircraft ‘distorted’ their radio beam. That interference, that distortion gave rise to Radar – my TV set is telling me about the Bang ! It’s the best programme on Air!”
This led to eight TVs being set up in the physics lab all tuned to ‘interference’ while Big Alex the supercomputer analysed the snowstorm and came up with the The One, the Singularity, the ‘Primeval Atom’ which blew up to produce the Cosmos. All this excitement brought in the philosophers who now reckon that, remarkably, Plato also saw the Bang as the origin of the Cosmos and that the universe would expand until Zeus waved his Aegis or whatever he went about with - and signalled a contraction, shouting “That’s it!” in Greek “ Everyone back to square, or rather the, One.
Hence Aeneas Mackenzie’s lecture on The One which was delivered in his usual pyrotechnic style, his vocabulary, however, rendering his meaning impenetrable to all intellects save his own. It was accompanied by a TV screen showing an incessant snowstorm and garlanded with a laurel wreath as a tribute to its ‘cosmological penetration.’ Extraordinary.
I had to give the summing up and take the Q & A session at the end. I was asked by a Cambridge Don how one should regard The One in the light of Cruikshanks’s discovery and Aeneas’s lecture. Not entirely sure what The One actually was; I replied gravely and with due academic formality that, “It should be regarded with Reverence amixed with Awe…” - and ran for it.
[St. Andrews, an affiliate of the University of Edinburgh, is a research institution, specialising in the Humanities and the Physical sciences. Known to irreverent scholars as McAll Souls from its similarity to its Oxford cousin, it has no undergraduates; only Postgrads and Research Fellows who complement the permanent Academic Staff.
The Dean is assisted, and betimes thwarted, by the Bursar, the Prebendary and the Bedellus who sit on the ' Estaitis ', an ancient Scots word for Council, dating from the Foundation by Queen Mary in 1562.]