Thursday, October 30, 2014

The difference between an inference and a conclusion

Tuesday, November 9, 2010, 15:13

Hey Guys,

Two very important type of questions you will get is based on conclusions and inferences, Now in an instant moment they will sound very familiar to you. But both these concepts are poles apart.

Now you may wonder as to why do we need to know literal differences in meaning for CLAT. Sorry to inform you guys, but CR in CLAT is tougher and more twisted than you think and this article might be the reason for your various wrong answers in practice papers.

Now the type of questions you will get will be either that you will be given a statement or passage and they will ask you “What is the inference?” or “what is the Conclusion?” that you arrive at.

Advice 1: ALWAYS READ THE PASSAGE FIRST. I am saying this again and again. Reading the options before will not only confuse you but if you consider yourself really smart will introduce bias in your thinking and you will mark the wrong answer.

Advice 2: Read ALL the options carefully. Do not read option A and decide this is the answer and mark it. Read all the options as there might just be a closer answer and that’s what the examiner wants from you.

Advice 3: Always keep a track of time while doing CR. Sometimes you do not realize and you lose so much time in CR that you have very less time for sections where you can score.

Now coming to Inference and Conclusion:

Now you must understand that from an inference is when you go from

SPECIFIC –> GENERAL

For example: Bidya and Rupali, two Indians were the only two people who adopted dogs from the International Home of Disabled Dogs run by Ms.Hallo.

Now an inference for this statement will be that: “Most girls are sympathetic towards disabled dogs.”

And Conclusion is when you go from
GENERAL –> SPECIFIC

For Example: Dr.AJ tried a chemical X on his two mice and they both turned blue due to blockage of the lungs and died.

The Conclusion would be:

I.) If chemical X is applied to any mouse he shall turn blue and die due to its inability to breathe.

To distinguish, the inference to this statement would be,

II.) “Chemicals can be harmful to Mice”

These are not CLAT level questions and not even very correct, but I used these examples to try and help you grasp what I am trying to say here.

I hope you have understood.

Also, One other important difference between Inferences and conclusions Is that:

Conclusions MAY be stated in the statement or passage itself. It is not necessary that it be so.

However inferences are NEVER stated in the passage.

Taking the above example of Dr.AJ –> If both the statements were given as options and the question was to figure out the inference then even though statement I sounds more correct, the inference will be statement II because statement I has SPECIFICS from the passage such as “Chemical X” and turn blue.

Do not keep these examples as a benchmark. These are not illustrative of clat questions but just few example to help you understand the concept.

Let us take an example from the exercise given earlier,

Recent advances in cataract surgery show that high-technology medicine is increasing the nation’s health care costs. Cataracts are a major cause of blindness, especially in elderly people. Fifteen years ago, cataract surgery was painful and not effective all the time. Due to new technology used in cataract surgery, the surgery now restores vision drastically and is not as expensive. These two factors have caused the number of cataract surgeries performed to increase, which has, in turn, driven up the total amount spent on cataract surgery.

Which one of the following can be inferred from the passage above?

a. Fifteen years ago, very few people had successful cataract surgery.

b. In the long term, the advantages of advanced medical technology will probably be out-weighed by the disadvantages.

c. The total amount spent on cataract surgery has increased because the increased number of people choosing to have the surgery more than offsets the decrease in cost per operation.

d. Fifteen years ago, cataract surgery was affordable for more people than it was last year.

I know that most of you will be immediately say that the answer is option a and you would be correct if they had asked for a conclusion,

But since they asked for inference your answer changes to c.

Option a states a clear fact as stated in the passage that 15 years ago very few people had successful surgery . But we “infer” from the passage that even though new technology which restores vision is cheaper due to its success rate obviously more people will undertake it because an added advantage is that its cheap. Hence the total amount of money spent on cataract surgery has increased.

Please keep these 2 factors in mind:

  1. Inference – Specific –> General
  2. Conclusion—General –> Specific

And Another important thing: PLEASE READ THE QUESTION ENTIRELY AND PROPERLY. Do not assume the question to be inference or conclusion. Be very careful before answering.

All your doubts are welcome. Hope this article helps you out.

All the Best,

Nishant Prasad,

The CLATGyan Team.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

29 Responses to “The difference between an inference and a conclusion”

  1. Zacarias said on Tuesday, November 9, 2010, 20:56

    nishant,
    i copy pasted an exersice on strong weak arguments and a few other questions…could u put up the answer keys 4 the same :)
    thanks :)

    Reply

  2. Nishant Prasad said on Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 9:55

    Where have you copy pasted it dude?

    Reply

  3. aditya said on Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 10:06

    thanx bhaiya
    it is really a helpful for clat aspirants
    again thanx bhaiya
    bhaiya can u provide us different field of g.k from which question can be asked

    Reply

  4. Mihir Narvilkar said on Monday, November 15, 2010, 1:19

    Hey thanks, this helped a lot!

    Reply

  5. Karthik said on Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 9:57

    @ Aditya – look at our GK tabs, compendiums, further reading material etc.

    Reply

  6. ankush thakur said on Friday, November 19, 2010, 17:10

    in cataract question
    why can’t option ‘b’ be the answer
    as u told dat inference = specific to general
    in option b it is talking in general dat no. of persons going for cataract surgery will inc. ( by advantages of course)

    plz help……………….

    Reply

    Adarsh Reply:

    OPTION B IS IRRERELEVANT

    Reply

  7. Dhruv Garg said on Saturday, November 20, 2010, 20:45

    PLz can someone help in strong and weak arguement type questions..as in general concept

    Reply

  8. abhay said on Tuesday, November 23, 2010, 1:41

    @dhruv

    yea :P

    Reply

  9. abhay said on Tuesday, November 23, 2010, 1:47

    assumptions whch are invalid—————— re-statement , negative statement as like
    statement—if i smoke i wil gain weight..
    assumption—if i dont smoke i wil not gain weight.. so these kind off assumptions are invalid……..

    assumptions—- whch are universal truths, and like if some is giving article in paper or giving advice to a perosn or restrctng somethg then there will be some effect..

    words like only , all can change the statement and assumption… :)

    Reply

  10. abhay said on Tuesday, November 23, 2010, 1:49

    @ assumptions whch are valid—are universal truths, and like if some is giving article in paper or giving advice to a perosn or restrctng somethg then there will be some effect.

    Reply

  11. rachana said on Thursday, December 9, 2010, 16:56

    hey in the cataract question why cant it be option b? :)

    Reply

  12. riS.aXe.Han said on Thursday, December 9, 2010, 23:56

    @rachana—well nishant will reply properly,,,,,but i feel that though both B & C can be inferred,,,the C option is more apt & to the point w.r.t. the paragraph,,,,it captures the essence of the para…
    :-)

    Reply

  13. Nishant Prasad said on Friday, December 10, 2010, 12:10

    Hey.
    Am sorry for the late reply..
    but it cannot be option b because that options is what i would say a very wild asssumption sort of..not an inference.
    To say that the advantages will weigh the disadvantages is an outrageous assumption..which may not at all be true or it might..
    Option C without stating any fact from the paragraph tells us what is happening. You can correctly “infer” it from the given statement.
    U cannot infer option b at all.. Its a blatant assumption of the future.
    Hope that answers your question

    Reply

  14. rachana said on Saturday, December 11, 2010, 18:50

    yes it does :) thank you!

    Reply

  15. Aastha Bhansali said on Sunday, December 19, 2010, 18:42

    but the inference here is very SPECIFIC!!! :( I can’t get it Nishant… please explain.

    Reply

  16. Nishant Prasad said on Friday, December 24, 2010, 14:18

    @Aastha
    I understand what you are trying to say. But the point being when i say specific, i mean facts like option d. Option c is an inference from the statement. you can be sure about it from the information given but it is not directly or specifically stated in the information provided.

    Please ask further if this does not suffice.
    :)

    Reply

  17. Padmini said on Monday, December 27, 2010, 20:37

    It’s not as though a conclusion is a subset of an inference, then?

    Reply

  18. Nishant Prasad said on Tuesday, December 28, 2010, 15:04

    No there is no subset involved. They are two very different things.

    Reply

  19. shashank said on Monday, October 24, 2011, 23:30

    Dear nishant,Information you provided is very beneficial but the statement you added here “conclusion  is stated  in the statement ” contradict the descrption you provided .In fact I find inference are clearly stated in the statement. 

    Reply

  20. shru said on Monday, December 5, 2011, 14:13

    hey thanks!!! it was really very helpful… i always used to mess up with my inference concl. questions…. n never get the inference ques right… now this has helped me to understand the literal MEANING of inference… hope i’m able to crack further questions of same pattern.. :)

    Reply

  21. Devika Mehra said on Sunday, March 11, 2012, 19:16

    NIshant,
    So basically what you say is that inference is something which cannot be found in the passage anywhere but is a sort of an assumption or what we call it as we infer it and conclusion is what we can find int he passage and highlight it out?

    Reply

  22. anukshi said on Saturday, April 7, 2012, 13:56

    What is the difference berween an inference and an assumption,then?

    Reply

  23. shubhi said on Friday, January 4, 2013, 23:34

    Please keep these 2 factors in mind:
    Inference – Specific –> General
    Conclusion—General –> Specific

    where to apply these factors ??  ………:( 

    Reply

  24. Kaushiki said on Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 1:40

    How would option a be a conclusion ?

    Reply

  25. Anonymous said on Sunday, October 13, 2013, 21:50

    pre-schoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets and do not have a sexual orientation.” One can almost see Ernie guffawing away at this – though, obviously, in a totally non-sexually orientated manner. It’s a coherent position. In a world where sex and sexual advertising is everywhere, Sesame Street is in the business of enchanting and educating children in that magical space – a commercial free zone. To use its icons in any campaign might seem to undermine its integrity. If you want subversive or sexualised puppets, then try Team America from the creators of South Park, a film which offers a full and free exploration of what puppets can do with almost all moving bodily parts. It’s possible that I have never quite laughed so much. This argument over the purity of Bert and Ernie is its own tribute to the huge success of Sesame Street over nearly 50 years. Those cartoon characters – or their puppet equivalents – which touch us at our most formative moments of early childhood will become part of the bedrock of our cultural belonging. You may or may not like Walt Disney, but the chances are both you and your children will have had an early brush with parental death through THAT scene in Bambi. More specifically, 1950s children who still know the strapline for Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men will have a vision of a drab, conservative but essentially decent post-war Britain, which both succoured them and gave them something to rebel against. Or perhaps I’m just talking about me. If you want a similar moment of Bert and Ernie cartoon subversion in 1960s Britain, you only have to go to the Oz obscenity trial, where the school kids’ edition of the satirical magazine (edited by 17-year-olds) gave the goodie-goodie Rupert Bear – with his trademark yellow check trousers – genitals. Children, it was saying, grow up. And have things to say about the society that bred them, in this case challenging attitudes to authority and sexuality. When it comes to Sesame Street, that idea is compounded by the fact that it has been a companion to many generations of children now. Some of those who later found themselves to be gay, or had friends who were, are surely entitled to find echoes of more mature relationships in the characters. Don’t tell me Kermit and Miss Piggy don’t sometimes remind you of certain dysfunctional heterosexual couples you’ve come across. If children’s cartoons are preparing us for life, then surely taking them with us into adulthood is a mark of their success rather than their failure. When it comes to my own children’s experience they – and I – hit gold early. More or less as soon as they could read, someone introduced us to Calvin and Hobbes. The comic strip by American Bill Waterson was syndicated in various newspapers. (It’s worth noting that mass-produced children’s cartoons first arrived at the end of the 19th Century as part of a newspaper war – the funnies section a kind of pre-runner to TV, a way to keep the kids quiet while the adults got on with adult business). In our house, however, we got the cartoon in annuals – the perfect way to immerse yourself into the alternative universe of Calvin, a precocious six-year-old with fire-cracker energy, and Hobbes, his soggy stuffed toy tiger, who, as soon are they are alone together, becomes his partner in crime and philosophising best friend. Their names – theologian and philosopher – were of course deliberate. While Calvin’s parents tear their hair out trying to handle this chaos of child dynamism, tiger and boy explore together the great existential questions of life, while still finding time to roll in the snow, torment a girl and travel through time and space. To this day my daughters, now in their 20s, keep an album by their bed. As, I happily admit, do I. In our family, when the going gets tough, the tough turn to Calvin and Hobbes. It was while writing this that I discovered that Bill Waterson gave up the cartoon in 1995 after only 10 years of creation. Until the end of time, there will only ever be 3,150 Calvin and Hobbes strips. Enough to secure immortality in my eyes. Which brings me to Jim Henson, puppeteer, producer, director and the mastermind behind the Muppets and deeply involved in Sesame Street, who died far too early from pneumonia at the age of 54 in 1990. A friend in New York told me a story that she heard just after his death. A little girl, aged five or six, was at the breakfast table and saw on the font page of the paper a picture of Kermit, marking the news. “Kermit? Why is Kermit in the paper?” she asked. Her parents, taking a deep breath and preparing themselves for the “early reference to death” conversation, replied: “Because the man who made Kermit has died.” She looked at the picture stricken for a moment. “Does that mean Kermit is dead?” “Oh no, darling. Kermit is still alive.” (What lies parents tell even as they strive for the truth.) “That’s OK then,” the child said, climbing off her stool and heading off into the rest of her life. Long after we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Kermit, like Bert and Ernie, will live on. Future generations can at least be sure of the frog’s sexual orientation. Miss Piggy will see to that. You can follow the Magazine on and on26 April 2013Last updated at 16:47 GMT A Point Of View: Bitcoin’s freedom promise Bitcoin – a currency free of banks – might have a powerful appeal. But John Gray wonders whether it could become a victim of its own success. Recent events on the small island of Cyprus were always going to have a large impact, but I doubt if anyone suspected the effect would be to boost the growth of a new kind of money. When the new Cypriot president announced in mid-March of this year that the bailout of the country’s banks would be funded by seizing a percentage from the accounts of all depositors, there was an outcry. The Cypriot parliament refused to support the policy, which was withdrawn and replaced by a levy on substantial deposits, limits on withdrawals and controls on capital leaving the country. European officials dismissed suggestions that seizing the assets of depositors would be any part of future bailouts. But the damage had been done. Within days of the Cypriot president’s announcement, the price of the digital currency Bitcoin began a rapid rise. Fleeing banks and the risk of governments seizing savings, people were switching into a currency that exists only in cyberspace. Cyber money of this kind has a powerful appeal. Traditional currencies such as the pound, the dollar and the euro are issued by central banks and – with the exception of the euro – each of them is backed by a national government. This may seem an advantage but nowadays currencies that are created and ultimately controlled by governments are less trusted than they used to be. While the policies that were adopted in the wake of the financial crash may have saved the world from a rerun of the 1930s, they also mean that money is steadily losing its value as a store of wealth. With near-zero interest rates, small savers are robbed as surely as they would have been if the original Cypriot plan had been implemented, just more slowly. Some try to find shelter in the stock market, but shares have not always given protection against rising prices, and many people can’t afford to put their capital at risk in this way. Some seek safety in gold, which functions more like a currency than a commodity and has the advantage of being a finite resource that cannot be created out of nothing like paper currencies. But while gold cannot be printed by governments, it has in practice been closely controlled by them. It has even been claimed that the price of gold has been manipulated, with some suggesting the current sell-off has been somehow orchestrated – an idea that may be mistaken but doesn’t seem quite so outlandish now that we know lending rates between banks were for a time rigged on an enormous scale. If you mistrust the financial system, it’s not obvious that gold can offer a way out. This is where Bitcoin – which some of its supporters describe as digital gold – comes in. First devised and launched in 2009 by a mysterious figure going under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto, the cyber-currency is set up to be independent of monetary authorities and banks. Using publicly available software that operates via a network of about 20,000 powerful computers, units of the cyber-currency are created by the application of a mathematical formula in a process known as “bitcoin mining”. An upper limit of units is built into the software. Unlike currencies controlled by governments, which can be issued in unlimited quantities, only about 21 million bitcoins can ever be mined. This means they can’t lose value by inflation as all forms of paper money have done over time. Just as important, Bitcoin users needn’t entrust their money to banks which will lend it out to others – at times recklessly. Equipped with cryptographic features that promise anonymity, this is a kind of money that seems immune to loss. The appeal of Bitcoin comes from the belief that it enables those who use it to step outside the shaky structures of global finance. But is this faith well-founded? The currency has been criticised as a tool of speculators and money-laundering and its value has oscillated wildly as a result of hacking. Some have condemned it as a Ponzi scheme or a speculative bubble, like the mania for tulip bulbs that raged for a few years in 17th Century Holland. Others have pointed out that since the supply cannot be increased beyond a predetermined point, Bitcoin could be more deflationary in its effects than gold. If it’s successful, the currency will be hoarded and become more valuable than productive economic assets. Yet if these are some of Bitcoin’s limitations, they are not the most fundamental. The true flaw of this and any other virtual currency is that it cannot deliver its users from the hazards and conflicts of the real human world. The emergence of Bitcoin confirms that money need not be created by government. Anything people come to view as money can serve some of money’s functions without any governmental authorisation. Cigarettes are widely used in prisons as a medium of exchange, and paper currencies have been accepted as money even when they no longer had government backing. After the first Gulf War in 1991, dinars that had been withdrawn by the government of Saddam Hussein were used in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Called “Swiss dinars” because they were printed with plates from Switzerland, this illicit currency was soon worth far more than the government-backed dinars Saddam was printing in vast quantities. Swiss dinars remained in use until a new national currency was established following the American-led invasion of 2003 in which Saddam was overthrown. A virtual currency such as Bitcoin attracts users because it’s not subject to any government. 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Bitcoin embodies a kind of cyber-anarchism; the idea that the decentralised networks of the internet will enable the ideal of freedom from government, which has eluded so many revolutionaries in the past, to be finally realised. It’s a philosophy that shares the fatal illusion of anarchism in all its varieties, the notion that most human beings actually want freedom from government. Invading personal freedom in times of crisis isn’t always unpopular – far from it. Not only during the 20th Century but throughout history, human beings have turned to governments, and often to tyrants, for protection and security. The safety they are looking for may be just a mirage. That hasn’t stopped them wanting it. Believers in Bitcoin are confident that it can protect them not just from governments but also against humankind as a whole. Instead of relying on politicians and bankers, or the vagaries of democracy, Bitcoin’s users put their faith in the laws of mathematics. For them the cyber-currency is governed by an incorruptible formula that – like the eternal forms envisioned by Plato, immaterial abstract ideas standing outside of time – is untouched by human error and folly. The trouble is that unlike the tranquil spiritual ether imagined by the ancient Greek mystic, cyber-space is all too clearly a human artefact. A site of unceasing warfare – abounding in worms and viruses, vulnerable to attack and decay, and needing scarce resources and energy to operate – the virtual realm of the internet is a projection of the human world with all its conflicts. A virtual currency can’t escape the dangers of actual societies. Cyber money may have many practical uses and provide an alternative to banks. It can’t be a way out from history’s intractable dilemmas. How Bitcoin will develop cannot be known. Quite possibly it will crash and fail, be supplanted by rival virtual currencies or else shut down by governments because it is succeeding too well. Whatever happens, this will surely not be the last attempt to find freedom in cyberspace. While the freedom Bitcoin promises is an illusion, it’s one that will always have a grip on the human mind – the dream of finding some kind of talisman, a benevolent tyrant or a magical new technology, that can shelter us from power and crime and protect us from each other. You can follow the Magazine on and on21 September 2012Last updated at 17:04 GMT A Point Of View: Charity shop blues Are prices at second-hand shops rising? Writer Sarah Dunant thinks so – but is it the recession, the trend for vintage fashion, or a combination of the two? I’m wearing what I like to think is an interesting jacket bought from a charity shop near where I live. Much of what some would call my eccentric wardrobe derives from charity shops. People are divided on second-hand clothes. Some find it distasteful, wearing things that others have already worn. Personally, I’ve always loved the idea of something having been owned before me. But then, by temperament, I’m a historian and the sense of an object with a provenance somehow ties me more securely to both past and present. There’s also a less romantic reason. Like many women, I suspect, I like a bargain. When the human genome project is finished, I am sure they will find a bargain gene passing through generations. Although nurture will obviously play its part – my mother, born into most humble circumstances, never quite lost her fear of being poor. For her, getting value for money was close to an obsession. As with many young post-war housewives she made a profession out of being savvy about money. She would have made a splendid chancellor of the exchequer since early on she saw the folly of an economy built on selling endless credit to people who could never pay it back. “The bill will come in, darling, mark my words,” she used to say. I wonder if the grocer’s daughter within Margaret Thatcher ever rises to the surface to survey the chaos caused by her quasi-religious belief in home ownership. She – my mother, not Margaret Thatcher – was a devotee of charity shops. She even worked in one when she retired from teaching. When we come to write the history of British retail in the 20th Century, though the madness of designer labels will warrant a chapter (how future generations will mock the idea of spending three thousand quid on a handbag), the growth of the charity shop will be right up there. Making money out of second-hand clothes has a unique history. It was for centuries the preserve of Jewish communities throughout Europe. Excluded from land owning and any profession regulated by guilds (in effect all forms of production) they made the money that they were allowed to lend largely from forms of recycling such as pawnbroking and – almost as high on the list – second-hand clothes. ? Go back to Renaissance Venice, a city of astonishing wealth and equally astonishing poverty, and you find a thriving second-hand clothes industry, centred in Europe’s biggest – and for a long time the most accepted – Jewish ghetto. Rich women’s clothes in particular were a palpable form of status, with today’s fashion soon becoming yesterday’s has-been. Jewish merchants would buy, clean, repair, sometimes remake and then sell down the class chain. Or, in some cases, onto courtesans (another successful Venetian industry) – women out to copy upper class fashion but without the wherewithal to pay for it. By the 18th and 19th Centuries, across Europe and in an emerging America filled with Jewish immigrants, the rag trade – the phrase poetically summarises the journey from selling second-hand to making new – was big business. In 1851, social reformer Henry Mayhew’s devotes a section to Jewish clothes selling in the East End, one huge exchange run by a certain Mr Isaacs specialising in “the cast off apparel of the metropolis”. “The goods are sold wholesale and retail, for an old clothes merchant will buy either a single hat, or an entire wardrobe, or a sackful of shoes – I need not say pairs, for odd shoes are not rejected.” Mayhew, of course, represents the moment when Victorian England was becoming socially alarmed at the poverty brought by the Industrial Revolution and urban growth. As well as the Victorian obsession with cataloguing, there is a growing movement in philanthropy. It was the Salvation Army that first passed on donated clothes to the poor at knock-down prices. In some ways it was an extension of how charity has always worked – through and on behalf of the church. But once the idea of the retail charity was born, it didn’t take long for it to spread into secular hands. Two world wars saw the donating and selling of clothes to help address the poverty that followed them, both to those at home and abroad. The very first Oxfam shop opened its doors in Oxford in 1948, as a direct result of an appeal launched to help post-war Greece. The charity had been so overwhelmed by the success and flow of donations that it made the decision to go into retail market selling. Roll on 20 years and a tidal wave of baby boomers now had money in their youthful pockets. It was an era of unprecedented social mobility, when fashion was expanding from rationing and haute couture into mass market, and the emphasis on individual creativity was making the idea of vintage attractive. In the decades that followed, charity shops grew up everywhere, elbowing out the humble church jumble sale. Oh, what a wondrous thing that was – I can still feel the excitement, plunging my hands into musty piles of crimplene and nylon, in search of the elusive velvet or satin dress, cut on the bias for a woman out of a Scott Fitzgerald novel. Still, one couldn’t complain. This was a win-win situation. The profile of charity shops helped open our eyes to a wider world of need, while supplementing – at times substituting for – government money (from Oxfam and Save the Children to cancer and heart research and lifeboat charities). As we got richer, the global market got faster and clothes got cheaper, so we all had more to donate. Though there is nasty irony in the fact that our appetite for cheap clothes triggered exploitation in many of the countries where the charities we supported were working to address poverty and inequality. Then there were designer labels. Rich enough to buy them, were you really so cheap as to sell them on? Celebrity charity is its own business. For instance, next month sees an auction where celebrities donate autographed used shoes to support an innovative charity, Small Steps Project, targeting children in the developing world who live by picking rubbish (often barefoot themselves) off municipal waste tips. The juxtaposition is a provocative one, but it has to be better than a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes going into the bin. In an imperfect world, imperfect goodness is better than none. Whether it’s by donating or buying, we feel we have done something. And given that charity shops largely live on donations, excluded from corporation tax, with zero VAT rating, tax relief on giving and a healthy force of volunteers doing much of the selling, many charities are successful businesses which offer paid employment to others higher up the chain. However, as an early vinyl copy of Bob Dylan I recently found in a second-hand shop would have it, “the times they are a-changing.” That great national credit bill that my mother railed against finally got delivered, and she was right. We couldn’t pay. The protracted recession has hit everyone, everywhere, and nowhere more than retail. There are High Streets in Britain where charity shops are about the only things standing. Why not? It’s tough for everyone and charities, like all businesses, must adapt. Except there’s something else going on here. A young friend recently arrived home from abroad to start full-time study in London. With hiked tuition fees and little paid work around, she’s on a strict budget and, like thousand of other students, went charity shopping for winter clothes. “Wow,” she said, as she pulled a slightly tatty cardigan coat out of her bag. “It’s great, but it cost ?12! What’s happened to charity shops while I’ve been away?” It’s a good question. I can’t be the only one who has noticed it. While prices were always dependent on postcode, over the past 18 months they seem to have taken a hike everywhere. I don’t have hard figures, but I have experiential evidence, both from buying across a number of shops and seeing what prices get put onto the things I take in. ? Of course there are reasons. Supply and demand. A country in recession is donating less (there are always appeals for more clothes). For those – like myself – who patronise charity shops partly as fashion choice, this rise is roughly on a par with how much everything has gone up. Undoubtedly there is also more demand. Here comes the tricky bit. Although one of the achievements of charity shops is the way they eliminated the stigma of poverty attached to those early Salvation Army places (the rich donating to the poor) by attracting everyone, the fact is increasing numbers of people hit by the recession now “need” as opposed to “choose” second-hand retail as a way of life. Maybe I’m not the right customer any more. God knows I’ve got enough clothes. Or maybe there’s an argument for saying that at such a moment charity shops should be thinking of holding or dropping prices, even at the risk of reducing profits for the good causes concerned. I know what my mother would say to all this. I can even hear her tone. “Charity begins at home, darling.” Strange how since she’s been dead, I find myself listening to her more.22 March 2013Last updated at 17:36 GMT A Point of View: Chess and 18th Century artificial intelligence An 18th Century automaton that could beat human chess opponents seemingly marked the arrival of artificial intelligence. But what turned out to be an elaborate hoax had its own sense of genius, says Adam Gopnik. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the Turk. That sounds, I know, like a very 19th Century remark. “Have you been thinking about the Turk?” one bearded British statesman might have asked another in the 1860s, with an eye to the Sublime Porte and Russian designs on it, and all the rest. No, The Turk I have in mind is both older and newer than that – I mean the famous 18th Century chess-playing automaton, recently and brilliantly reconstructed in California. And the reason I have been thinking about it is that – well, there are several reasons, one folded into the next, beginning with the candidates’ tournament for the world chess championship, being held in London this week, and enclosing, at the end, my own 18-year-old son’s departure for college. If you haven’t heard of it before, I should explain what the Turk is, or was. There’s a very good book by Tom Standage all about it. The Turk first appeared in Vienna in 1770 as a chess-playing machine – a mechanical figure of a bearded man dressed in Turkish clothing, seated above a cabinet with a chessboard on top. The operator, a man named Johann Maelzel, would assemble a paying audience, open the doors of the lower cabinet and show an impressively whirring clockwork mechanism that filled the inner compartments beneath the seated figure. Then he would close the cabinet, and invite a challenger to play chess. The automaton – the robot, as we would say now – would gaze at the opponent’s move, ponder, then raise its mechanical arm and make a stiff but certain move of its own. The thing was a sensation. Before it was destroyed by fire in New York in the 1850s, it played games with everyone from Benjamin Franklin to, by legend at least, Napoleon Bonaparte. Artificial intelligence, the 18th Century thought, had arrived, wearing a fez and ticking away like Captain Hook’s crocodile. I should rush to say that, of course, the thing was a fraud, or rather, a trick – a clever magician’s illusion. A sliding sled on well-lubricated castors had been fitted inside the lower cabinet and the only real ingenuity was that this let a hidden chess player glide easily, and silently, into a prone position inside. There was just a lot more room to hide in the cabinet than all that clockwork machinery suggested. Now, the Turk fascinates me for several reasons. First, because it displays an odd, haunting hole in human reasoning. Common sense should have told the people who watched and challenged it that for the Turk to have really been a chess-playing machine, it would have had to have been the latest in a long sequence of such machines. For there to be a mechanical Turk who played chess, there would have had to have been, 10 years before, a mechanical Greek who played draughts. It’s true that the late 18th Century was a great age of automatons, machines that could make programmed looms weave and mechanical birds sing – although always the same song, or tapestry, over and over. But the deeper truth that chess-playing was an entirely different kind of creative activity seemed as obscure to them as it seems obvious to us now. But in large part, I think people were fooled because they were looking, as we always seem to do, for the beautiful and elegant solution to a problem, even when the cynical and ugly one is right. The great-grandfather of computer science, Charles Babbage, saw the Turk and though he realised that it was probably a magic trick, he also asked himself what exactly would be required to produce a beautiful solution. What kind of machine would you need to build if you could build a machine to play chess? And his “difference engine” – the first computer – rose in part from his desire to believe that there was a beautiful solution to the problem, even if the one before him was not it. We always want not just the right solution to a mystery, we want a beautiful solution. And when we meet a mysterious thing, we are always inclined to believe that it must therefore conceal an inner beauty. When we see an impregnable tower, we immediately are sure that there must be a princess inside. Doubtless there are many things that seem obscure to us – the origins of the Universe, the nature of consciousness, the possibility of time travel – that will seem obvious in the future. But the solutions to their obscurity, too, will undoubtedly be clunky and ugly and more ingenious than sublime. The solution to the problem of consciousness will involve, so to speak, sliding sleds and hidden chess players. But there is another aspect of the thing that haunts me, too. Though some sought a beautiful solution when a cynical one was called for, plenty of people – Edgar Allen Poe, for instance – realised that the Turk had to be, must be, a cabinet with a chess player inside. What seems to have stumped these people was not the ugliness of the solution, but the singularity of the implied chess player. Where would you find a midget chess genius that could fit, they wondered. Or could the operator be using fiendishly well-trained children? Even if you accepted the idea of an adult player, who could it be, this hidden inscrutable master? It turns out that the chess players who operated the Turk from inside were just chess players, an ever-changing sequence of strong but not star players, who needed the work badly enough to be willing to spend a week or a month inside its smoky innards. Maelzel picked up chess players on the run, wherever he happened to be, as Chuck Berry used to hire back-up bands on the road. So the inventor’s real genius was not to build a chess-playing machine. It was to be the first to notice that, in the modern world, there is more mastery available than you might think; that exceptional talent is usually available, and will often work cheap. And there lies what I think of now as the asymmetry of mastery – the mystery of mastery, a truth that is for some reason extremely hard for us to grasp. We over-rate masters and under-rate mastery. That simplest solution was the hardest, partly because they underestimated the space inside the cabinet, but also because they overestimated just how good the chess player had to be. We always over-estimate the space between the uniquely good and the very good. That inept footballer we whistle at in despair is a better football player than we have ever seen or ever will meet. The few people who do grasp that though there are only a few absolute masters, there are many, many masters right below them looking for work tend, like Maelzel, to profit greatly from it. The greatest managers in any sport are those who know you can stand down the talent, and find more to fill the bench. It is the manager who is willing to bench Beckham, rather than he who worships his bend, who tends to have the most sporting success. And what of the handful of true, undisputed, top masters? What makes the unique virtuoso unique is, in truth, rarely virtuosity as we have defined it, but instead some strange idiosyncratic vibration of his or her own. Bob Dylan started off as a bad performer, and then spent 10,000 hours practising. But he did not become a better performer. He became Bob Dylan. And it should be said that those who possess ultimate mastery, the great born masters, as Bobby Fischer and Michael Jackson conspire to remind us, have hollow lives of surpassing unhappiness, as if the needed space for a soul was replaced by whirring clockwork. Perhaps our children sense this truth as they struggle to master things. My own son, who was once a decent chess player, now plays guitar and very well indeed. Not long ago he went to a party with me where a jazz combo had been dressed by the party-givers in ridiculous 1920s-style clothing. He pointed to a guitarist up there in his ludicrous spats and Gatsby hat, forced for money to clock ticky-tacky chords, and said, “Dad, that man is a much better guitar player than anyone I have ever played with.” That is the sad mystery of mastery, the one that we struggle to explain to our kids. It is very hard to do a difficult thing, it is very important to learn to do a difficult thing, and once you have learned to do it, you will always discover that there is someone else who does it better. The only consolation is that, often as not, those who do it best of all, are, one way or another, quite hollow inside. This seems like sage, if sober, wisdom to expect our children to master. You can follow the Magazine on and on15 March 2013Last updated at 17:15 GMT A Point of View: Crowd-sourcing comets Astronomers in the 17th Century understood the value of sharing information in order to plot the path of comets. Now modern science is using the internet to follow their example, says historian Lisa Jardine. On three consecutive nights this week I was one of the many amateur stargazers across the northern hemisphere scanning the skies for a brand new comet, unromantically named C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs, which has just become visible over Britain. Judging from posts on comet Pan-Starrs’ Facebook page (in 2013 a comet has its own social network complete with “likes”, comments and shares), I am not alone in having been thwarted by the weather. Happily, a second comet – comet ISON – is set to pass between the Earth and Sun in the autumn, and astronomers expect that it will shine brightly enough to be visible even during the day. Perhaps then I will get my view of a fiercely blazing celestial body with a glowing tail. In earlier times, a succession of comets was greeted with less equanimity than today. When two comets passed over London in quick succession in 1680-81 there were many who were more superstitiously fearful that they were harbingers of doom. Spectacular comets had appeared in the night sky in 1664 and 1665. Had not these presaged the visitation of the plague on London and the Great Fire the following year? In early November 1680, a comet appeared, so bright that it was visible by daylight, and was tracked heading steadily in the direction of the Sun until the end of the month. In mid-December, another comet appeared in the early morning sky, this time heading away from the sun. Its tail was particularly long and spectacular. The diarist John Evelyn held the properly scientific view that comets “appear from natural causes”. “Yet”, he added in his diary entry for 12 December 1680, “they may be warnings from God, as they commonly are forerunners of his animadversions.” The scientific members of the Royal Society – of whom Evelyn was one – put aside superstition and busied themselves with due professional diligence observing and plotting the trajectory of the first, and then the second comet. Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton charted and recorded its nightly positions. Edmund Halley, on his way to Rome on Royal Society business, observed its progress across the night sky with Cassini at the Paris Observatory. Meanwhile, astronomers across Europe also watched and plotted, collaborating with their British counterparts by sending in their calculations to the Royal Society for collation with their own results in an early example of something like crowd-sourced data collection. At the Royal Observatory in Greenwich – established by Charles II in 1675 – the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed was appointed by the king to produce better star charts to increase the accuracy of navigation at sea. He assiduously followed the progress of the comets night after night. Flamsteed would spend more than 40 years assembling meticulous records for his star catalogue, which would eventually triple the number of entries in the previously used sky atlas. In spring 1681, after close study of the data he had compiled, Flamsteed proposed that the two comets observed in November and December of 1680 were not two comets at all, but rather one comet travelling first towards the Sun and then sharply away from it. Newton disagreed. “To make ye comets of November and December but one is to make that one paradoxical,” he told Flamsteed. Sometime between the spring of 1681 and the autumn of 1684, however, Newton changed his mind. As obstinately as he had opposed Flamsteed’s suggestion, he was now convinced that it had indeed been a single comet that had rounded the sun in a tight, hairpin turn in November and December 1680. And he proposed that comets, like planets, moved around the sun in large, closed elliptical orbits under the influence of the new force he was in the process of formulating mathematically – what we now call gravity. As the revolutionary theory of gravitational attraction took shape, the comet of 1680 became an important test case in Newton’s argument. Characteristically, however, Newton refused to give Flamsteed any credit for having been the first to propose to him that comets moved under the influence of a central, attracting force. So Flamsteed was furious when he learned in 1685 that Newton had got hold of all his data, in order “to determine ye lines described by ye comets of 1664 and 1680 according to ye principles of motion observed by ye planets”. Flamsteed’s observations had been obtained by dubious means by Edmund Halley, who was once Flamsteed’s assistant at the Greenwich Observatory. Halley was now a pivotal figure of the Royal Society and the fact-checker and financial backer for the preparation of Newton’s ground-breaking book, Principia Mathematica. The scientific community-wide collaborative observations of the 1680 comet, including Flamsteed’s purloined data, were subsequently printed as important evidence in Newton’s Principia in 1687. There Newton established (among other things) the inverse-square law of gravitational attraction. Twenty years later, Flamsteed would again obstruct scientific progress by refusing to publish his by now huge amount of accumulated data, in the form of star charts for the use of sea captains. Declaring that he was unwilling to risk his reputation by releasing unverified data, he kept the incomplete records locked up securely at Greenwich. Newton maintained that Flamsteed was a public servant, and therefore his work was public property, but to no avail. So in 1712, Newton, by now president of the Royal Society, together with the indefatigable Halley, again obtained the data by subterfuge, and published a pirated edition of a new star catalogue. Undeterred, Flamsteed managed to retrieve 300 of the 400 copies printed and destroy them. His own star catalogue, the Historia Coelestis Britannica, was eventually published posthumously by his wife and co-observer at the Observatory, Margaret Flamsteed, in 1725. The enthusiastic collaboration among the wider community of 17th Century astronomers, across nations and continents, continuing to exchange astronomical observations even when their countries were at war with one another, is in stark contrast to Flamsteed’s relentless withholding. His refusal to release his valuable data, and his insistence that his work was his personal intellectual property, slowed progress on an important scientific project. By contrast, the sharing of data among European astronomers who took part in the tracking of the 1680 comet looks surprisingly modern. It is directly comparable with the current drive, particularly within the scientific community, towards open data and data-sharing. Elegantly echoing the activities of these early, ground-breaking astronomers, what we now refer to as “crowd-sourcing” has recently been shown to be able to determine the trajectory of a comet as spectacular as the one observed in 1680. In October 2007, Comet 17P/Holmes briefly became the brightest object in the solar system, arousing the interest of amateur astronomers worldwide. Using search engines, Dustin Lang from Princeton University and David Hogg at the Max-Planck-Institute in Germany gathered more than 2,000 images of the comet from all kinds of online sources. They ran the pictures through , which can recognise images of the sky and measure star patterns, and identified more than 1,000 that had captured the progress of Comet Holmes. They were then able to superimpose a large number of the comet images, and to arrange them as a sequence by carefully aligning the stars. Many of the images were time-stamped, so that when they were superimposed the comet’s precise path across the sky was clearly visible. Finally, Lang and Hogg compared their orbital data with observed information from Nasa’s Space Laboratory in California, and found a close match. “You can do high-quality quantitative astrophysics with images of unknown provenance on the web,” Lang and Hogg conclude. “Is it possible to build from these images a true sky survey? We expect the answer is ‘yes’.” It is to be hoped that long-running, ill-tempered quarrels over data, like that between Newton and Flamsteed, are a thing of the past. And that it is the collegial and good-natured collaborations among the astronomers of Europe in the final decades of the 17th Century that will in future serve as a model for the global teamwork that underpins so much of today’s scientific activity. There is some anxiety currently in the academic community, especially in the humanities, over government insistence that publicly funded research must in future be open access. I declare myself to be a strong advocate for collaboration and sharing of data in all fields of intellectual endeavour. There may be transitional difficulties. But we are, in the end, all part of a common quest for greater knowledge and understanding. You can follow the Magazine on and on23 August 2013Last updated at 16:37 GMT A Point of View: Democracy and Islamic law Should a nation be defined by language and territory, by ruling party or by faith, asks Roger Scruton. To understand what is happening in the Middle East today we must look back to the end of World War I. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had been destroyed, and from the ruins emerged a collection of nation states. These nation states – including Austria, Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia – were not arbitrary creations. Their boundaries reflected long-standing divisions of language, religion, culture and ethnicity. And although the whole arrangement collapsed within two decades, this was in part because of the rise of Nazism and communism, both ideologies of conquest. Today we take the nation states of central Europe for granted. They are settled political entities, each with a government elected by the citizens who live on its soil. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, so too did the Ottoman Empire, whose territories embraced the whole of the Middle East and North Africa. The victorious allies divided up the Ottoman Empire into small territorial states. But very few of these have enjoyed more than a temporary spasm of democracy. Many have been governed by clans, sects, families or the military, usually assisted, as in Syria, by the violent suppression of every group that challenges the ruling power. People often explain the relative absence of democracy in the Middle East by arguing that the carving up of the region into territories bears no relation to the pre-existing loyalties of the people. In a few cases it worked. Ataturk, general of the Turkish army, was able to defend the Turkish-speaking heart of the empire and turn it into a modern state on the European model. Elsewhere, many people identified themselves primarily in religious rather than national terms. Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, told his followers that bringing together the world’s Muslims in a supra-national Islamic State, a Caliphate, should be a top priority. The result of imposing national boundaries on people who define themselves in religious terms is the kind of chaos we have witnessed in Iraq, where Sunni and Shia fight for dominance, or the even greater chaos that we now witness in Syria, where a minority Islamic sect, the Alawites, has maintained a monopoly of social power since the rise of the Assad family. By contrast Europeans are more inclined to define ourselves in national terms. In any conflict it is the nation that must be defended. And if God once ordered otherwise, then it is time he changed his mind. Such an idea is anathema to Islam, which is based on the belief that God has laid down an eternal law and it is up to us to submit to it: that is what the word Islam means: submission. Sunni Islam was the official faith of the Ottomans, and no other form of Islam was formally recognised. Toleration was extended to the various Christian sects, to Zoroastrians and to Jews. But the official story over several centuries was that the empire was ruled by Sharia, the holy law of Islam, augmented by a civil code and by the domestic law of the various permitted sects. Ataturk abolished the Sultanate and established a new civil code, based on European precedents. And he drew up a constitution that expressly severed all connection with Islamic law, forbade Islamic forms of dress, outlawed polygamy, imposed a secular system of education, and enjoined allegiance to the Turkish homeland as the primary duty of every Turk. In any crisis, when loyalty is at stake, you are to identify yourself first of all as a Turk, and only then as a Muslim. And he allowed the sale of alcohol, so that the Turkish people could drink to their new condition in the way that he preferred. Ataturk remade Turkey as a comparatively open and prosperous country that could turn a proud face to the modern world. For he made it into a nation, defined by language and territory rather than by party or faith. Universal adult suffrage for both sexes was introduced into Turkey in 1933. And the country continues to be governed by a legal system that derives its authority from human legislators rather than divine revelation. At the same time its population is almost entirely Muslim, and experiences the inevitable nostalgia for the pure and beautiful way of life invoked in the Koran. There is therefore tension between the secular state and the religious feelings of the people. Ataturk was aware of this tension, and appointed the army as the guardian of the Secular Constitution. He imposed a system of education for army officers that would make them instinctive opponents of the obscurantism of the clerics. The army was to be the advocate of progress and modernity, which would place patriotism above piety in the hearts of the people. In obedience to its appointed role, the Turkish army has several times stepped in to uphold Ataturk’s vision. It took over in 1980, when the Soviet Union was actively trying to subvert Turkish democracy and nationalists and leftists were fighting it out in the streets. The army has also made its presence felt in recent years, when the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has taken a step back towards the old Islamic values. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party is nominally secular. But he is a man of the people and a sincere Muslim, who believes that the Koran contains the divinely inspired and uniquely valid guide to human life. He is not happy with a constitution that puts patriotism above piety, and which makes the army, rather than the mosque, into the guardian of social order. He has put a large number of leading army officers on trial on charges of subversion, some of them now jailed for life. The trials have been denounced as a travesty of justice; but those who say this are likely to be accused of subversion themselves. Journalists opposed to Erdogan’s policies have a remarkable tendency to end up in jail. Newspapers that criticise the prime minister find themselves suddenly confronted with crippling tax demands or massive fines. And popular protests are put down with whatever force may be required. In Turkey, opposition is now becoming dangerous. The Turkish case vividly illustrates the point that democracy, freedom and human rights are not one thing but three. Erdogan has a large following. He has three times won an election with a substantial majority. But the elementary freedoms that we take for granted have been rather jeopardised than enhanced by this. The Egyptian example is even more pertinent. The Muslim Brotherhood has always sought to be a mass movement, seeking to establish itself by popular support. But its most influential leader, Sayyid Qutb, denounced the whole idea of the secular state as a kind of blasphemy, an attempt to usurp the will of God by passing laws that have a merely human authority. Qutb was executed by President Nasser, who came to power in a military coup. And ever since then the Muslim Brotherhood and the Army have played against each other. The Brotherhood aims for a populist government and won an election that it took to authorise the remaking of Egypt as an Islamic Republic. The posters waved by Morsi’s supporters did not advocate democracy or human rights. They said: “All of us are with the Sharia.” The army replied by saying no, only some of us are. So why cannot a modern state govern itself by Islamic law? This is a controversial issue about which there are many learned views. Here, for what it is worth, is mine. The original schools of Islamic jurisprudence, which arose in the wake of the Prophet’s reign in Medina, permitted jurists to adapt the law to the changing needs of society, by a process of reflection known as ijtihad, or effort. But this seems to have been brought to an end during the 8th Century, when it was maintained by the then dominant theological school that all important matters had been settled and that the “gate of ijtihad is closed”. Trying to introduce Sharia today therefore runs the risk of imposing on people a system of law designed for the government of a long since vanished community and unable to adapt to the changing circumstances of human life. To put the point in a nutshell – secular law adapts, religious law merely endures. Moreover, precisely because Sharia has not adapted, nobody really knows what it says. Does it tell us to stone adulterers to death? Some say yes, some say no. Does it tell us that investing money at interest is in every case forbidden? Some say yes, some say no. When God makes the laws, the laws become as mysterious as God is. When we make the laws, and make them for our purposes, we can be certain what they mean. The only question then is “who are we?” What way of defining ourselves reconciles democratic elections with real opposition and individual rights? That, to my mind, is the most important question facing the West today. It is important because, as I shall argue next week, we too are giving the wrong answer. You can follow the Magazine on and on7 September 2012Last updated at 15:42 GMT A Point Of View: Does the sex debate exclude men? Sex is everywhere in modern society – but why are women doing all the talking about it, asks Sarah Dunant. I was 18 in America, au pairing before university. It was 1969 and the world was changing. Everyone was reading John Updike’s novel Couples about middle-class swingers, and lots of couples were trying to emulate them. In my Californian family, the doctor husband was working hardest on it. I, deeply fond of his wife and kids, was watching from the sidelines. But when he got caught with her best friend and his wife stormed out of the house to stay with her mother, I was left holding the fort. Home from work the next evening he asked my advice on how to reconcile with her. I was flattered, though a little uncomfortable. Later there was a knock on my door. “I need to talk some more,” he said. I opened it to find him naked outside. The first thing to tell you is that nothing happened. Well, when I say nothing, nothing I could have him in court for now. The combination of my evident physical terror and desperate fast-talking persuaded him that maybe I wasn’t worth the effort. Next morning as I breakfasted the kids, he nodded at me on his way out. I doubt he gave it much thought. I, of course, was devastated. Not so much at the horror of what had been avoided, as at the guilt I felt. Had I somehow provoked it? Should I tell his wife? What would she think of me? Alone in a foreign country with no e-mails or cheap phone calls, I swapped frantic letters with my best friend and kept it to myself. A few months later I came home and got on with my life. I was lucky, 1969 was the cusp of a major societal shift. Post-the contraceptive pill, with emerging feminism and economic independence, women were about to challenge all kinds of conventions about sexual behaviour, and this nasty encounter could be fashioned into a cautionary tale as a thread in the sexual tapestry which I would weave for myself. I’ve thought about that night in California a lot over the last few weeks as once again the snake pit of policing sexual behaviour and the conflict between men and women’s perceptions of it have become news, such as the would-be US senator who claimed that after what he called “legitimate rape” women’s bodies protect them from pregnancy, and George Galloway’s assertion that what Julian Assange did or didn’t do in bed in Sweden was simply bad sexual etiquette. Meanwhile, a story about a young woman in thrall to a certain Mr Grey who gives her sexual pleasure by causing her pain is being bought by millions of women, at the same time as others are calling for it to be publicly burnt. The proverbial Martian arriving to study contemporary sexual behaviour might find him/ her/ itself most confused. All one can say is welcome to the human race. The story of how men and women negotiate doing the one thing necessary to continue their existence, is a complex and often painful one. For those incensed that our legal system still drags its feet when it comes to taking sexual violence against women seriously, history offers a sobering perspective. You don’t have to go back far to find a time when rape was an acceptable last resort of courtship. Historians now combing court records in 15th-17th Century Europe (themselves asking new questions about sex and sexuality) find that while Juliet’s father might bully his daughter into his choice of husband, if that didn’t work he could always get the suitor to finish off the job for him. Once the threshold was crossed, the young woman was used goods and marriage was the only option. As such, this was merely an extension of a deeper view of women imbedded not just in law but also in the religious culture that informed it. Many may shiver at fundamentalist Islam’s view of women now, but for centuries Christianity peddled an equally fertile line in misogyny. Women, basically, were the problem. Such was their irresistible temptation to men, that for the well-being of society they had to be controlled. Either through flesh and blood marriage or to the only other man who would do – Christ in a convent. This notion of women goes right back to Eve and that rosy-cheeked apple. Imagine, if you will, another narrative – a garden of Eden where Adam says: “Hey Eve, you know we’re not allowed to eat that. Put it back.” Alas no. The fact that Adam succumbs is Eve’s fault and within the blink of a theological eye forbidden knowledge becomes linked to sex. Its impact on policing sexual behaviour was immense. For centuries European women of good families would have wedding chests in their bedroom painted with cautionary tales of female obedience. High on the list was the Rape of the Sabine Women: the story of how out of their – what shall we call it – “stoical availability”? came the Roman people. So just for a second let’s be dazzled by how far we have come in the West. Because it is dazzling. And in so short a time. It is less than 50 years since reliable contraception took away the fear and stigma of sex for women, allowing them into the workforce as serious earners and consumers whose desires (in all senses of that word) had to be taken into account by the market. The result was indeed a sexual revolution. At the risk of my children putting their fingers in their ears shouting “Too much information”, I should clarify a little. It has not all been great. Sex – to state the obvious – is not a rational pursuit. For all our cultural and scientific progress, close the bedroom door and what goes on inside is largely animal. It transcends thinking. Sometimes it transgresses it. That is what is so wonderful and so terrifying about it. It even manages to defy the market. You can make yourself the most attractive human being on the planet but it won’t guarantee sexual satisfaction. Brad and Angelina don’t necessarily do it any better than anyone else. The rule is there are no rules. You can have good sex with someone you don’t love and – what a kick in the teeth for romance – when you do find “the one”, the earth may not move, or eventually sex will become so ordinary you run the risk of desire from outside ripping both of you apart. So where does that leave us? For years now it has been women who have made the cultural running when it comes to really talking about sex. Feminism spawned a huge debate about all such things. From the uncompromising idea that all intercourse is close to rape because it is about subjugation, to those like Camille Paglia or Katie Roiphe who took modern women to task for not taking enough responsibility for their own behaviour: if we are to own our desire and be equal players in this dangerous game – we have to careful how and when we chose to paint ourselves as victims. Then there is the power of fantasy. The director of a charity for victims of domestic abuse recently called for Fifty Shades of Grey to be burnt, claiming it portrayed female abuse in ways not dissimilar to the crimes of Fred West. Except this is fiction and the heroine in the novel is getting pleasure out of the pain. Submission and domination is an age-old business. For many years it was a national joke that some men in power (judges, politicians, businessmen) might seek out a dominatrix to allow them to experience lack of control. Could it be that something similar is happening to women now they have a greater footprint on the world? Or, if masochism has always been a component of sex, that women can now play with the idea more confidently. Maybe it’s simpler. With sex still the number one way to sell us most things, but modern life giving us little time to explore it, maybe the fact that Mr Grey, loaded in all manner of ways, puts so much attention into pleasuring both of them is the secret. One thing I do know. If these novels had been written by and for men highlighting the S rather than the M and outselling Antony Beevor and footballers’ biographies there would be any army of women commentating on it. And that, I suppose, is what worries me. Where are the heavy-weight male voices debating contemporary sexuality? It’s difficult – getting men to talk honestly about sex. Not the nudge-nudge in the pub, or the throw-away gags of comedians, but serious questioning. We accept that in the aftermath of feminism growing up male can be hard: but where are the big public conversations about men’s sexuality. The impact of pornography. How far has our desire changed theirs? Is their line between what is and is not acceptable different from ours? Such admissions will not necessarily be politically correct. Sex often isn’t. It doesn’t help that when men do open their mouths on the larger stage, they are firmly shot down. Both George Galloway and our now ex-Justice Secretary Ken Clarke might have been ill advised in their remarks about sexual behaviour and the law, but like it or not, they thought something needed saying, only to be met by a storm of female outrage that effectively stifled all debate. Yes, we have a long way to go. But we can’t do it without the views of men. For me there’d be one exception. After I’d written this I decided to look up that Californian doctor on the internet. What I found is that a man of the same name, age and place of work was stuck off the medical register 15 years ago for negligence and involuntary manslaughter. I am still working out how I feel about that.29 June 2012Last updated at 17:06 GMT A Point of View: Don

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  26. darshan said on Friday, February 7, 2014, 9:26

    hey ,thnx a lot for distinguishing the both,til i thought they wer same ,bt can any one say me why option d cant be considered??

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  27. aam aadmi said on Monday, March 10, 2014, 13:03

    Thank you so much! it helped to solve mah cet Qs

    Reply

  28. Anand said on Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 18:17

    Thanks, it helped me to understand the concept in a better way.

    Reply

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