Uomo universale, homo universalis, Renaissance Man, "a universal man". Knowledge junkie. That’s me. Who is writing this stuff? Who is John Skoyles?
I went to school with a machine gun in my brain. I hated teachers. I was dyslexic. I pissed my pants and wetted the floor. When primary school year two came—they would not let me go up. Not ready, they said—“Mentally retarded”. Somehow my curiosity survived. I had to learn to break the rules. Spit out the educational crap. Keep the howitzers of my imagination ready.
After philosophy, I got into neuroscience, did a PhD (MRC funded at UCL), and tore up the academic rulebook. I wanted freedom—not a lobotomy or job slavery—the unspoken reality of an university career. In the UK, that is five minor admin tasks and three major, plus teaching and more teaching, office politics, and winebar networking. Murder the kid. Kill, the heart that questions. It is a big thing to ask but all agree. Nietzsche advised: spend one third of your hours on reading, another third on writing, and the last on thinking. I did that.
So since then I have swum 24|7|345 in the greatest knowledge flow that has ever existed. A sea bird flying above and swooping down on the flotsam. Neuroscience, anthropology, psychology—I read science without borders. I scan two hundred plus science journals and get a little intoxicated. This was my reality, my world, my endless hunting ground.
On the thirtieth of July 2008, I killed my father. Around 8.00 am he had perfect health. A few seconds later a massive hemorrhage had drank dry his brain. An abdominal aortic aneurysm had silently banged. A near perfect death—instant, sudden, unannounced.
He had no mother—she had died 16 hours after his birth. As a three-year-old, in Westminster Hospital, he was raped. Taken from home and strapped down into endless crying. Alone cot in a ward of TB coughing old men. No one explained. No one came. Every year afterward, he visited so he could be stripped naked in a cold theater for the curiosity of medical students. A specimen of surgical repair of congenial absent urethra. He did want to go into hospital.
Early that Spring his blood pressure dropped. But for his medical rape, he would have seen his doctor. But he feared white coats. I checked the Internet. Low blood pressure?—only a problem if there was dizziness and a risk of falls. He had no dizziness, he was reassured, no visit to the doctor, no diagnosis of a preventable abdominal aortic aneurysm. 60% of those with abdominal aortic aneurysms have low blood pressure (“Ruptured aneurysms of the thoracoabdominal aorta: a case series”, Rampoldi et al, 1995, Panminerva medica, 37(3):123-8). A routine feel of his abdomen could have saved his life.
Two days earlier I had murdered the future of hundreds of millions of children. I could have stopped the pain of hunger. I could have been a Schindler—but my lingering dyslexia stopped me. Reading everything I seen a new science of hunger. A science that exposed its raw evil. I could have made every human hate hunger like a sick smell in every nose if it existed for one child. In January 2008, the news was of biofuel hunger. A billion more empty stomachs. Who in the West really cared? It was merely news elsewhere not an evil smell up the nostril. Four pieces I found snapped together could make it that. (1) Children’s brain were energy guzzlers. (2) Children’s brain guzzled to feed brain synapses, and this happened in a way that linked to IQ. (3) Young humans but Neanderthals have a period of slow growth “childhood” that directly linked to this. (4) Hunter-gatherer humans pool food—a cooperation made possible by the new mental skills made possible by prolonged energy guzzling.
Put together they brewed a story that would stick in the mind and overturn the tolerance politics of starvation. What in past made us human? Here was a secret biology to who we are that once heard would make us pain at the thought of a hungry child.
Unexpected pieces fitted—it was—or at might be—a breakthrough—there is always a provisionalness in science. Children brain’s were more sensitive to drops in blood glucose than adults. Children were much more active than adults and adolescents but that was moderate exercise—they avoid prolonged strenuous activity. Originally, I identified the conflict between the child’s brain and their body muscle mass being over glucose. But other factors made prolonged strenuous exercise toxic to their brains: hyperthermia, lack of oxygen, dehydration, ammonia waste byproducts. The story picked up mass.
Here I could do something that could end child suffering. It reveal an unsung genesis to our brains. A new wisdom hidden behind everyone's life. And a debt each of us owed—to the past and in the present. We are all the children of ancient acts of food sharing. No sharing, no you. Here knowledge could would change how we understood ourselves and our link with fellow humans. However rich, non one could ever again let any child lack food—unless we were some kind of immoral psychopath.
I could do it. But I first needed to labor and work hard by myself. The science was buried and hidden. I had to keep turning over the heavy stones of knowledge. A sketch had to be build stone by stone into a strong invincible argument. Those stones were needles in a vast library haystack. I had to search like a lobe explorer in a vast new world. And then see as fresh what others had missed. I had to invent new ways of seeing the strange and odd as something obvious. Once in the library sitting at a desk, I looked up and saw not students swatting for exams but children emasculated, friends silently with me. On the tube, they sat in their hunger with me in the carriage. I was not alone. They were the true reality, not London, not the Spring of 2008. I crammed a lifetime into a few months and created 45,000 words backed by nearly 500 references.
But I faced a problem—I could not say what I had found too loudly. No one will read a paper that proclaims it is has discovered the origins of our species—for that was what it was. Ears would be closed, eyes shut. So I had to smuggle the theory into science as a review—"Human metabolic adaptations and prolonged expensive neurodevelopment: A review" —the facts I had uncovered I knew would be enough to speak by themselves and convince—the pieces of the theory spoke that—and the existence of a new morality. At 45,567 words, 10 figs, 445 refs, 9 appendixes, it was too long for a journal but Nature had started a preprint archive and posted it up. Fortunately, a top rank journal existed that would look at a shorter version and whose editor had provided a critical piece of the puzzle. The editor had found that brain development in terms of neuron and axons was highly conserved across brain evolution—but that an exception existed in synapse neurodevelopment. It would have been up her street. It was sent to seven people.
46 hours 30 minutes before my father's aneurysm burst I opened an email. Normally, a few reviewers say publish and a few not. And after resubmission making some changes the nays convert to yeses. They were uniform. They did not grasp it—I had argued too quietly. To avoid rejection, the theory had been down played and masked as a review. They had seen only review and missed the few comments where I specified my theory-that-dare-not-speak-its-name. There was my less than perfect English—the dyslexia that had blighted my life now tripped me over. My errors were an easy target. I had betrayed those who I could not fail—another person could have got it in, I had not. The hungry ones, the stunned, the life crippled, hey had been with me on my journey. They had helped me—now I could not protect them. It was like finding one could have stopped Zyklon B going to Auschwitz and finding a mishap had let it through. The mass killing—for that is the indifference of the rich world—would go on. In a few hours, my father was dead. The Gods had spoken.
|A vast bell is smashed—like
silence but so loud. My mother’s quiet words. “He is gone”, “you mean
“yes”. Silence has existed every since. Words are merely mumbles in a
distant world. I can still see I
limbs. But they are not: I am ambulated grey patch.
|Private 14504508 (1923-2008) photo just before D-Day|
I go on ten day retreats three times a year. Ten days of no words... In that stillness awareness opens. You—whatever that it is, if it is—does not have to be important or unimportant—all things are precious and just dust in the air. Nothing has a name. Nothing needs to be said.
The last retreat had focused on death: up at four am and meditation in a burial ground. On my return I hugged my father.
I visited my parents roughly every nine days. On each visit I gave my father a talk about my latest ideas. Now I cannot.So I am moving on. Decommissioning the machine gun in my brain. Making safe my howitzers. Hence this site.