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The Great Global Treasure Hunt

Back in 1979, Kit Williams published a book entitled Masquerade. In it were cryptic clues to the whereabouts of a golden jewelled hare brooch worth £5000 at the time, buried somewhere in the United Kingdom. Three years, lots of false starts and angry landowners (whose fields had been dug up by treasure hunters) later, the brooch was found. The discovery was mired in controversy, and the experiment was not repeated.

Yesterday a clean, tidy 21st Century version was launched: The Great Global Treasure Hunt on Google Earth.  Clues provided in the book will lead to numbers, which can eventually be put together into latitude and longitude co-ordinates for the location of a 50, 000 Euro treasure trove on Google Earth. No digging of any kind will be required on the surface of the real Earth, but the successful treasure seeker will win a prize of 50,000 Euros.  In every way it seems like the clean, environmentally friendly, digital successor to its 1970s predecessor.

I was only 7 when Masquerade was published, and have dim recollections of the bearded Kit Williams being interviewed on the news and tales of people digging up fields where they shouldn’t in their quest for the treasure. At the time I was more interested in the kinds of tales in the magazine pictured below than I was in the quest for a golden brooch.


Maybe its my early years in the company of World of Wonder which made me sit up and take notice at the words below by the creator of The Great Global Tresure Hunt, Dedopulos.  He says that some clues in the book may be spurious in terms of finding the treasure, but:

May just take you to some beautiful or amazing part of the planet which I feel you should know about. I must confess, I will feel bereft if this quest does not engender, among the participants, a sense of wonder at this amazing world.

As a preacher and a Christian I am all for engendering a sense of wonder in this amazing world. That said, my view of that wonder has changed since the days when I had my head stuck in World of Wonder. These days I would see every flash of wonder as a clue on the trail to the greatest treasure of all.

…of tweets and texts

Just like many others, I find myself this morning juggling several jobs at once.  On the one hand, I have a sermon to write about how we relate to each other, based on Ecclesiastes 4. On the other hand, I am considering a request to address an international gathering of aid workers on shaping the future whilst maintaining their Christian distinctiveness.  Meanwhile, in the background my twitter feed occasionally trills with updates from the Google #bigtentuk meeting today. Under discussion there are issues of privacy, ownership and innovation.

So, with Solomon’s ancient words about the nature of human relationships before me, and my mind turning to issues of shaping the future, I find myself confronted with this, from the former CEO of Google at this morning’s gathering:

innovation occurs when people question the dominant zeitgeist

Yes, yes, yes – and thank you Eric Schmidt! It is moments like this which remind me why I prefer to prepare my sermons against a background of digital noise, rather than in an air of monastic silence.

There is a question, though, which I would like to pass on from King Solomon to the gathering in that BigTent in Watford. Isn’t there a point at which the innovators who have shaped the zeitgeist end up defending it, since their investment in it is so high? (Ecclesiastes 4 v.4)

I suspect that even Google’s admirably sunny mission statement “don’t be evil” gets put to the test when competitive sharks are in the water…

Making sense of the universe

As you will be aware, it was my intention yesterday to write something about Stephen Hawking’s address to the Google Zeitgeist gathering for 2011.  His talk had been heavily trailed in the global press, and there are plenty of juicy bits to talk about.  As you will also be aware, I lost my nerve and talked instead about Stephen Wragg’s quirky art project which chronicles the spread of unauthorised painted pedestrian figures.

This is often the reaction of preachers to a man with an intellect as finely honed and an argument as aggressively atheist as Hawkings’.  We either avoid it like an open manhole cover in the pavement, or we dismiss it as the realm of the hopelessly cerebral which is of no interest to us lesser mortals. Neither is a particularly worthy response, I believe. It is better, surely, to identify those areas where we agree, and those elements of his argument (insofar as we understand it) where we might wish to challenge him?  Note that there is no reason why we should not challenge him, rather than the other way round.

There were two phrases in the pre-interview with Hawking with which we might find broad agreement.  Challenged on how we should live our lives in a universe where he believes we have found ourselves by chance, his answer was that we should ‘seek the greatest value of our action’. This is not a million miles from Jesus’ teaching.  He also said that ‘science is beautiful’, citing examples like the double helix.  This would fit neatly into a Christian view of a complex and created universe.

However, when he then went on to say that science is beautiful when it ‘makes simple explanations’ and lost me before the rest of the sentence was over I feel he may have undermined his own argument. Can a thing be beautiful when words obscure it from view? I appreciate the elegance of the universe at both a microscopic and an interplanetary level  because I see it as the handiwork of a creative genius. The beauty is in the thing itself, not the explanation of it.

He also suggested that the universe is governed by a degree of logic far greater than I see around me. If you visit the Google Zeitgeist website you will find that their analytics of the year 2010 suggest that human beings are more concerned with networking and Ipads than they are with the beauty of double helices or the possibility of an underlying mathematical formula to the universe!

Stephen Hawking is a courageous and brilliant man whose refusal to be limited by his physical disability is an inspiration. He can be courageous and brilliant without being right, though.

Moldovan Eurovision band Zdob şi Zdub have now become famous for their pointy hats. They told the press that these hats gave them ‘contact with the cosmic spheres’. Presumably this was to no avail, since it did not help them to win the competition when the time came for the votes to be counted! Intellectual genius is a crowning glory to human endeavour, but the point where it’s true worth is seen is yet to come

Image: justwilliam1959

A celebration of individuality

I was all set to write a piece today on Stephen Hawking’s address to Google Zeitgeist later on about his quest for the ‘M formula’ which will explain the universe without any need for reference to God. He will talk about the additional 7 dimensions of which most of us have not heard, and the fact that many of the unviverse’s particles have invisible and hitherto unproven twins. Is your head hurting yet?

In the meantime, my attention was drawn to the work of Stephen Wragg, as he records the different depictions of pedestrian signs on the pavements of the UK. Not only are these signs ‘unofficial’, but they depict the individuality of every painter who has painted them. In fact, in some instances the paint has been applied so thickly that the word ‘sculpted’ might be more appropriate.

Don’t you think their quirky and unnecessary individuality suggest something about our human identity? Surely a universe produced by pure mathematics would have a little more uniformity about it? Just sayin…


Richard Littledale

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