Safekeep heartbeat beacons

Portland Bill, Dorset

There’s something on the edge of awareness which draws me to Lighthouses.

I grew up in a bungalow just within the sound of the sea on a stormy night. I would lie in bed, snug and warm, listening to the roar of the ocean. Some nights a fog horn could be heard reproaching shipping too close to Lundy Island.

Night-time coastlines reveal safekeep heartbeat beacons. Unique in their warm glowing light that grows and fades, repeats and then pauses: disappearing before reassuring us once more.

If there is a guiding light at the end of life, I hope it’s a lighthouse.

On being a Nontheist Quaker


I am a scientist by profession and by trait. But what I would describe as a ‘real’ scientist: one that uses phenomenology to make sense of the world. By that I mean I look at what my experience tells me of what is there, both in terms of scientific understanding from within biology, chemistry, physics etc; but also my senses and what I learn from listening to those I trust. To me understanding reality means having a model of what you think is out there, and then tweeking that model with each new piece of experiential or experimental evidence. I have no truck those who dismiss anything which cannot be scientifically demonstrated as nonsense. We cannot fully and reductionistically demonstrate how consciousness works, but we know it is there. And I certainly don’t judge or dismiss anyone else for what model of reality they are using in their everyday life. I don’t live in their shoes.

For me, nature is Awesome. I’m a clinical embryologist by trade (assist nature in its task of making babies) but have a background in research cell & molecular biology. I know some of what goes on in each cell at an ultrastructural and molecular level. I don’t know a lot of what other cell biologists know, and I know that there’s a lot about it that no-one knows.

Early in my scientific career I thought we had it sussed. Knew how it all works. But as my understanding deepens and my experience grows I am just left in total awe. How something so intricate and complex ‘fell together’ in a molecular soup, if indeed that’s what happened, because that’s just too incredible to fathom. But also science is explaining the molecular pathways that turns a single cell into a living, breathing, thinking, loving being. But when you work with it, hold it in your hand (or pipette!) and then it comes in gurgling nine months later, it is the truest definition of Awesome.

And standing on a misty autumnal hillside breathing in creation, looking at it all around. Awesome.

And the experience of chance encounters and conversations that develop something synergistic, be it an idea or a understanding or just a feeling that is more than the participants could comprehend as individuals.

And when someone loved departs this life and leaves traces behind that are inexplicable.

And those moments in a Quaker Meeting for Worship where we are together and something tangible develops that is more than all of us.

And that we all have something inside to tap into, striving towards a more enlightened and worthwhile existence, if only we can find it and connect authentically with it.

I don’t feel my scientific reductionism can hold all of this Awesomeness. That is the leading edge of my current model of reality and the truth of what it comprises is beyond my ken, and thus could be anything. That is my agnosticism.