The Nature of Reality: Are we living in a simulation?

Written by Radoslav Serafimov

“I think therefore I am.” This is possibly the most well-known argument that philosophy has produced in its entire existence. The one who vocalized this thought was the French philosopher René Descartes, who then went on to create something called the “brain in the jar” theory. The theory proposes that one’s consciousness is the only thing that truly exists and that the rest of the world is simply an illusion created by some malignant demon.

In 2003 another idea was proposed by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom called the Simulation theory. It is essentially Descartes’ idea of the brain in a jar, except that Bostrom attempted to prove why this could, in fact, be the reality of our existence as opposed to Descartes’ use of the idea as nothing more than a thought experiment. Bostrom’s argument boils down to these 3 propositions:

  1. “The probability of human-level civilizations that reaching a sufficiently advanced stage (that is, one capable of running high-level simulations) is very close to zero”, or
  2. “The probability of advanced civilizations being interested in running simulations of their evolutionary history, or variations thereof, is very close to zero”, or
  3. “The proportion of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to 100%.”

What Bostrom claims is that at least one of these unlikely-seeming possibilities is almost certainly true. What I am interested in exploring in this article is how the third possibility may come to pass.

The entire simulation theory is based on a few assumptions. Perhaps the most obtrusive of these is the idea that computers that are capable of simulating billions of fully functioning human minds as well as, well…an entire universe are even possible. This may seem absurd, but perhaps it isn’t quite as ludicrous as you might imagine. Let us take a moment to explore the technological feasibility of this idea.

Our technology has reached a level where we can map a human brain down to the neuron in about 45 minutes under an MRI scan. If the brain is the physical representation of the mind, then we could feasibly encode a functioning copy of a human brain. Let us also take a stroll down videogame memory lane. The first computer was invented in 1833. The first video game – Pong – came into being almost 140 years later, in 1972. Only 58 years later we have video games that look almost photorealistic and digital body doubles in movies that can fool a large part of the audience. Previously CGI artists struggled with something known as “the uncanny valley” – the human brain’s natural ability to detect something off about a human face. Even that has been surpassed in the likes of the new Star Wars movies that have revived and rejuvenated actors with great success, managing to even fool this unconscious part of our brains. At the same time, massive leaps are occurring in the fields of electronics and computing such as high-temperature superconductivity and quantum computing (both of which are topics complex enough to be deserving of their own articles).

Considering all of this, is it still inconceivable to imagine that we could eventually simulate an entire universe? It has been suggested that we wouldn’t even need to do that! We could approach the simulation from the perspective of a solipsist and simply simulate only what we are interacting with. In this very moment, I personally cannot verify the existence of say Alpha Centauri since I cannot directly observe it. So, there is no need to simulate it unless I take out a telescope and point it in the direction of Alpha Centauri. Even then, all that I would need to see is a static 2D projection of the star as opposed to a fully functioning, simulated star system.

Thus, it is perhaps feasible that such levels of technological advancement could be achieved. So why would anyone want to make them in the first place? Many reasons have been cited, such as ancestor simulations to explore and study a species’ past, entertainment and scientific experimentation or perhaps even to attempt to test out political campaigns and propaganda before deploying them in the “real world”.

Now we come to the crux of the matter – are we living in a simulation?

We have attempted to illustrate possible ways of achieving such a feat as simulating an entire world full of conscious beings as well as possible reasons for doing such a thing. Bostrom claims that if both of these conditions are satisfied (i.e. a capable posthuman civilization chooses to create so-called “ancestor” simulations to explore their past) it becomes almost certain that we do live in a simulation. This is because any ancestor simulation will eventually reach the point where they can create an ancestor simulation themselves and this would repeat ad infinitum, thus making it highly unlikely for us to exist in the original “real” world!

Now that I’ve hopefully freaked you out a little bit it comes time to ask – what does this mean for us? How does this change the way we live our lives? Well, economist Robert Hanson suggests that we should attempt to be entertaining to avoid being deleted in case the simulation’s purpose is entertainment. We should also probably avoid attempting to find out if we even live in a simulation since if we did it would probably end, and our lives would be forfeit.

Ultimately, most philosophers and scientists agree that Simulation theory is impossible to conclusively prove or disprove, though some have tried. So, we should live our lives as we would anyway, because whether you are flesh and blood or an advanced computer code, that is not what defines us as people, so we shouldn’t set too much store by it.

Redefining the outdoors

Written by: Catherine Bouchard

Exercise has always been a form of stress relief for me. From the weekend trips to the Pure Gym opposite my work in Manchester to the (very occasional) post lecture visit to the Stevie, working out is one of the few times in my life I can actually switch off, blast music and burn some excess anxiety. I know it’s probably just the side-effect of endorphins, but when I leave the gym I always feel more grounded, and relish the opportunity to recontextualise my life and reflect on how, after working out, my problems appear far more trivial than they had previously.

Prior to going back home to St. Andrews, I had even fallen into a regular routine of going to the Thursday and Sunday spin classes at Revolve following encouragement from a friend. I will however, never make that 8am spin class. It finally felt like I was beginning to get my life on track and make healthier choices, which is a hard balance to find at university. However, when the gyms shut and the country entered lockdown I was left at a loss. I know this closure is nowhere near the biggest problem that people are currently facing, but nonetheless, for me it represented a loss of control and progress. Despite this, such a change to my routine has helped me to turn to the outdoors to find a new space for exercise.

When we are forced to remain inside our house, outside takes on a new meaning. It represents freedom: a change of scenery and pace. I’ve always loved walking, whether it’s the 25 minutes on the way to work to prepare my headspace for the day or wandering around a new city and falling in love with places I’d never heard of – from discovering Delirium in Belgium or finding the Strandbar Mitte in Berlin. This has got me in trouble at times, and on reflection my decision as a First Year to walk past the botanics on my way home to halls from Firewater in the middle of the Scottish Winter perhaps does not rank highly amongst the wisest of walks that I’ve gone on at University. 

That being said, I’ve never been the type to walk at home for fun – until lockdown. Trapped inside, I turned to walking as a source of discovery and adventure. I’ve lived in St. Andrews for two years and my family has for five, yet recently I’ve discovered places in St. Andrews that I’ve never been to, from the forest river walk to the Hallowhill duck pond. I even managed to make it to see the famous Swilcan Bridge on the Old Course (even if I had to google it to check its real name – shockingly not called “the old golf bridge”). 

Perhaps most surprisingly to me, is my decision to start running. Although I am definitely not a runner, I made it to the sixth week of the “Couch 2 5K” programme before giving up following a twisted knee. I’m proud I lasted for so long, and running the 2.6 challenge with the G-You team was something I never thought I’d be able to do, and doubt I would have attempted before lockdown. Additionally, I’ve been able to move my workouts from the gym to the garden at home, enticed by the opportunity to regain the tan I lost after leaving school in Thailand. 

One of the opportunities lockdown provides is the chance to take a break, and the free time to make serious lifestyle changes. Even doing half an hour of weight and resistance band exercises has helped me feel healthier and more proactive in making better lifestyle choices, giving me the opportunity to implement a routine that I am able to carry on when I return to university. 

It’s important to remember the severity of the crisis we currently face. We’ve never seen such uncertain times, and this can be overwhelming and terrifying for some people. It’s okay to move at your own pace, now more than ever. Whether you take the chance to get more active, or relax, it’s important to look after yourself. Lockdown has given me the chance to get more active and I know that when it is ultimately lifted, I won’t be able to wait to get back to university, forcing myself to go to that 5pm spin class in the Stevie.

Children of the Recession

How the 2008 recession shaped the politics of the 2010s.

Written by: Kim Mannion

The Iraq War, MP’s expenses scandal and a global financial crash…you would have been forgiven in 2010 for believing that, surely, the new decade in politics would be less eventful. As it turned out, you couldn’t have been more wrong. This financial crash was the final nail in the coffin of New Labour, who had dominated for the last decade, and passed on to the next one a huge decline in public trust in politicians with some of the biggest political stories of our generation. 

The Prime Minister at the time, Gordon Brown, told Laura Kuenssberg in an interview that he feels his government became the ‘subject of blame’ for the mess when it nationalised the banks. As a result, he feels, trust in government was affected as they ‘were now responsible for the problem’. His Chancellor, Alistair Darling, called it ‘an economic crisis which later transformed into a political one’, which seems like a fair description of the 2010s.

Incumbent governments around the world largely lost power in the years following the 2008 recession, and Britain was no exception. What voters remember most is who was in power during which failure – and Labour were the face of this one. What followed – five years of austerity under the Coalition Government, and five years more under the Conservatives alone  – would tire much of the public with the political class even more. Ordinary people around the country suffered as public spending was slashed. The perception was that the political establishment had been there to save the banks but it was not there for the people, and the people were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the whole system. 

Five years of complaints about austerity would surely have given Labour the keys back into Number 10, had they not spent their time in opposition being blamed and reminded of the mess the recession had caused. The Tories constantly claimed harsh spending cuts were necessary to clear up the economic turmoil Labour had left them. The recession’s hangover was still being felt, as unemployment levels did not get back to that of before the crash until the end of 2015, having been at the highest level since 1995 at one point during the period. Labour would spend the rest of the decade on the Opposition benches, the target of constant jibes of economic incompetency – hammered home with the “there’s no money left” note appearing from David Cameron’s pocket constantly. Jeremy Corbyn’s radical 2019 election manifesto of huge public spending was met with skepticism from opposition and crucially, the electorate, in turn resulting in Labour’s worst general election performance since 1935. Many argue that voters just did not believe the party could deliver on such promises whilst responsibly handling the economy, with painful memories of the recession still in the back of their minds. 

Another thorn in the side of Jeremy Corbyn during the final election of the decade was Brexit, perhaps the biggest political story we will witness in our lifetimes, and one that many explained as undercurrents of distrust and resentment for the establishment reaching tipping point. Our whole political system and the very union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were challenged through the decade. Ultimately, Scotland rejected independence in 2014, but the movement and its voices grew louder and louder as the years went on, with the SNP consolidating the independence-supporting vote and becoming more successful than ever post-IndyRef. Bitter differences in opinion between the four nations over the EU and Brexit’s implications for Northern Ireland has amplified calls for a second independence referendum and a vote on Irish unification, leaving the future of the United Kingdom looking as uncertain as ever.

Brexit involved ordinary people forcing Westminster to make a huge constitutional change which the majority of those elected to it, including the Prime Minister at the time, did not want. Listening to what ‘the people’ wanted would become the political challenge dominating the last few years of the decade. Populist politicians such as Johnson and Farage, backed by unelected strategists like Dominic Cummings, built up a resentment of an image of bureaucrats in Brussels withholding massive power from our own nation. The influence Nigel Farage had over the politics of the 2010s, for someone who stood but failed to be elected as an MP seven times, is extraordinary. The high share of votes his party, UKIP, were winning at the turn of the decade partly pushed David Cameron to hold the EU referendum in the first place. Farage built his campaigns on the idea that he was ‘one of the people’, posing for photographs with pints in pubs to give himself a relevance to the average bloke, and crucially, to appear as far away from ‘metropolitan elites’ as possible, be they the politicians who bailed out the banks, or the bankers who the politicians were out for when they were not out for the people. 

Politicians have always been amongst the professionals least trusted by the public, but levels went from bad to worse after the recession. According to an Ipsos MORI poll, in 2006 just 8% of the public trusted politicians. By 2016, the year we voted for Brexit, this had fallen to a shocking 4%. There were a myriad of reasons why people chose to leave the European Union, but one reason widely agreed upon is to express contempt for the establishment and distrust in political institutions. The shambolic and dragged out attempts by parliament to ‘Get Brexit Done’ only created more public anger, polarisation between leavers and remainers and a further three years of political disharmony and spat. 

‘Quiet’ political periods require some trust in those elected, or at least respect. It is silly to suggest that all the events of the 2010s were triggered by the recession – there were many other factors. But the distrust built up in the period after is undeniable, and the public forced politicians into places they did not want to go and shook the establishment to its core. The outrage at being let down brought more people to the polls for the EU referendum than any vote since 1992. It’s a cliché but that decade really will go down in the history books as one in which the public really showed the establishment what they thought. 

Emergence: Complexity is Simple

Written by: Fuad Kehinde (Science Editor)

A lone ant would not survive in nature, a molecule of water isn’t a liquid and a single person can’t build a power plant. Emergence is when a lot of simple things come together to form something complicated. When adding many individual items together creates something that’s more than the sum of its parts. And often, what’s created can end up being independent of its individual parts.

Emergent properties are evident everywhere in our universe.  For example, in chemistry, we don’t consider a single molecule of water to be liquid. It doesn’t flow, it doesn’t get anything wet, it doesn’t have any of the properties that we see in all liquids. Therefore, a water molecule can’t be a liquid. However, what we perceive as a liquid is more the behaviour of a large collection of water molecules interacting with each other and in response to outside stimuli. The idea of an object being wet doesn’t make sense if a single molecule of water is on it. Being wet is what we observe when a lot of water molecules are on the object. So, to answer the age-old debate, it’s fair to conclude that water is NOT wet (on the molecular level at least).

Another example, the most fundamental particle of life, the cell. We consider cells to be alive, but they are themselves made up of materials that we consider “dead” i.e. proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and nucleic acids. The property of “alive” is not seen in any of the cell’s individual parts and yet it still emerges. Each part of a cell is simple in that they have limited functionality. There aren’t many rules that they need to follow and they’re easy to understand. But as a result of the interaction between these parts, you get the cell and thus the property that is life.

Even cells are simple things that come together to form something more complex. Countless cells together form complex organisms like squirrels and people. But to go a step further, our brain is made entirely of cells and these cells work together in some way that we don’t yet understand to give us consciousness as an emergent property. We’re able to question ourselves, question why we are alive and even have existential crises all because of individual cells working together. The jump in capabilities there is truly hard to understand. 

As seen in cells, emergent properties can be incredibly powerful and can be capable of tasks far greater than you could predict from the individual part. This can be seen in computing. All modern computing is based on mechanisms called logic gates that only have two simple outputs, 1 and 0. Yes and No. Two outputs that give barely any information. And yet, they allow me to type this article on my laptop, they allow you to read this article on your phone and allow people to play games for the entirety of these lockdown restrictions. It is simply incredible how we can get so much use out of just 1’s and 0’s.

What I find to be the most fascinating aspect of emergence is the lack of importance of individuals. You can replace all the individual molecules in a water bottle with similar molecules or sometimes even completely different molecules and you can still get that property of “liquid”. When that property can exist, it can exist independently of all its individuals.

Consider what you see as your body. A system of organs, muscles, bones and your brain all working together to keep you alive. But every part of this system is made of cells, and most of your cells need to die and be replaced fairly frequently. In fact, during a 7-year period, most of the cells in your body must die and be replaced at least once. So, what you consider your body right now is merely a snapshot that will be completely erased and replaced in 7 years. All of the individual parts that make up the body can be replaced and yet it’s still our body. It doesn’t cease to be the same body as it was 7 years prior or it will be in 7 years. 

Where this separation between an emergent property and its individuals is most evident is in society. What exactly is a country? Is its population? The building and institutions that it creates? It’s flag or anthem? Maybe even the land it occupies? All these things are at most temporary, if not fleeting. New generations are born, older generations die, new history is created, land borders constantly change, buildings are torn down and rebuilt. That means the UK is more than the 67,861,743 people (June 6) that make it up. But that’s not to say that the individuals don’t matter, that we as UofG students don’t matter. The UK exists despite drastic changes in its parts, but it cannot exist without any of its parts. Without me or you in it, the UK as it is now, as what it means to all our friends and family, does not exist. The world goes on without us but is not the same without every single one of us.

Even knowledge itself is an emergent property within humanity. Like I said earlier, one person can’t build a nuclear reactor. It takes the experiences and insights of countless others and generations before us to make one building. One individual can’t acquire and possess all the knowledge needed alone. Different individuals with different abilities can create something that can do more than all of us. 

When I think about emergence, I see it as a new way to look at the world. The world is a bunch of simple things, practically powerless individuals, that work together to create things I perceive as beautiful and complex. The universe that seems so lonely is actually connected in ways that are difficult to understand. And considering all of this, the thought that I’m left with is that me, you and the entire universe are more than the sum of our parts.

Best Lockdown Reads.

Written by: Beth Littlejohn

So, you’ve exhausted every method of curbing lockdown boredom and are finally getting sick tik tok. You are actually thinking that you might read a book. But where to start? Here are some top picks of lockdown reading to get you started: 

  1. Normal People by Sally Rooney

I’m sure you have heard of Normal People by now, whether it is the book or the TV show. This cute romance story really has blown up and is so easy to get lost in during lockdown. While romance is the main attraction to this book there are several other topics that are included which make Normal People that little bit different. It gives an insight into the very real emotions surrounding starting university, relationships and finding your way in the world. I would recommend watching the TV show too. Only once you’ve read the book!

  1. The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary 

This is the easiest of lockdown reading and such a stress reliever. This book follows the story of a crazy living arrangement of two young professionals, avoiding paying extortionate rent in London. The inventive ways they get to know one another while having completely different schedules is so wholesome. Honestly, this book feels like a hug.  If lockdown is getting you down this is a guaranteed uplifter. 

  1. My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing. 

If love stories aren’t your thing then maybe this psychological thriller will be. This book is a total rush of adrenaline with such a fast pace. There are so many twists and turns, it will keep you reading all night. I don’t want to say too much because anything could be a spoiler. But its definitely not for the faint of heart. 

  1. Taking up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi. 

Maybe you’d prefer something non-fiction?  With the recent protests about Black Lives Matter this book is relevant now more than ever. Chelsea and Ore share personal hardships they faced as a young black woman in higher education and their effort to make university more accessible and welcoming to minorities. This book empowers black students and is a call for allyship. 

  1. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Sticking with the theme of justice. This short novel is usually on those 100 books to read before you die lists. It’s like a fairy tale for adults and says so much by saying so little. This book remains relevant to any circumstance where freedom is under attack as it has such progressive themes such as justice and equality. If your interests are in areas of politics and history then you should definitely give this a go.  

  1. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

In the midst of the pandemic I can’t think of a better time to read this book. Adam Kay the now comedian relays the struggle of medical school to bring him to his career as a junior doctor and then through the rankings in the hospital. He takes a light-hearted approach to the long hours and overtime, the inadequate wage, and the neglect of any sort of social life. We’ve come to realise that the NHS makes our world go round and this book puts a spotlight on this too.  

  1.  Vile bodies by Evelyn Waugh 

Not exactly the roaring 20s vibe you pictured for this year? Let’s take a step back to 1920’s London following the lives of the highflying young people of the city. With their cocktail parties, flashy cars, and fast paced lifestyles. If we had influencers in the 1920s this is what their life would be like. A literal British Gatsby and I’m here for it.  

  1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman 

Need something to laugh about? This book will have you crying with laughter. The main character Eleanor’s very literal way of viewing her life and any social interaction makes for some hilarious content. It’s clear this stemmed from some past emotional trauma. However, she eventually starts to open up once she meets an IT guy from her job and their unique friendship is very wholesome. 

  1. Soldier spy by Tom Marcus 

This is a true story of a front line MI5 agent, it goes into detail about the kind of work he was doing as an agent revealing many techniques the secret service uses to monitor, trace and track in their counter terrorism operations. It shows how his troubled past led him to being recruited. All round a very interesting read. 

  1. Throwback

Lastly, one thing I would totally recommend for lockdown reading is reliving memories. Was there a series of books everyone was reading when you were at school? What was your favourite book when you were a young adolescent? Dig them back out and read them again. Take yourself back to simpler times.  

Where to get these books? If you have a kindle or tablet, I’d recommend downloading e-books its generally cheaper and a more eco-friendly way of reading! But if not, then ask around friends and family if they have the book you are looking for or buy second-hand from amazon or eBay. Also, next time you are doing the food shopping browse the book section if the shop has one. Supermarkets usually do good deals on books such as 2 for £8 etc.  

Looking for more inspiration? Now is the perfect time to try new reading material but it none of these books take your fancy, I recommend downloading the ‘Goodreads’ app. You can filter the genres or authors you like the best and make lists of books you’ve read and would like to read. The app will tailor suggestions for your next read based on the stuff you like.

My Choice, My Cause.

Written by: Kate Collins 

The Head of Students for Choice’s ‘The Good Cause Project’ discusses the University of Glasgow’s FAQ discrepancies. 

**Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, miscarriage and abortion. 

It is upsetting that this article had to be written, but disturbingly necessary. The good cause policy, by definition, exists to make ‘appropriate allowances for unforeseen or unavoidable circumstances.’ Any fair-minded, anti-facist individual would assume that these allowances would take into account the extenuating circumstances that arise out of abortion, miscarriage, and emergency contraception. Clearly, the archaic faculty across UofG are not entirely fair-minded. There have been cases where students have been left unable to access deadline extensions and exam exemptions, whilst they go through the abortion process. Not only have students’ good cause claims been overlooked entirely but in some cases, the students were actually advised to drop out, when they approached the university with claims based on the aforementioned grounds. 

Upon hearing these stories, the Glasgow Students for Choice decided to try and identify the inconsistencies and weaknesses that lie within UofG’s Good Cause Policy. The Students for Choice emailed Robert Patridge – the Executive Director for Student and Academic Services – in the hope of achieving some clarity on the subject. The response was as follows ‘I am in no doubt that the circumstances you describe (Abortion, miscarriage and, in some cases, application of emergency contraception) would constitute ‘good cause.’’ The statement offered by Patridge directly contradicts the reality of the Good Cause Policy. A reality that consists of rejected claims, a negligent student support system, and an inconsistent cross-school programme.

Negligence of these issues isn’t surprising, it appears that the UofG support system was created to address a white cis-male crisis. This is not the first instance where student safety and wellbeing has been relegated to low priority. It would be easy to draw parallels with the recent on-campus sexual assaults; where the university failed to inform the students of the apparent threat to their safety, and later, in a bid to protect their reputation, merely increased campus security. This is the absolute bare minimum that could have been done to protect our students, and it should have been implemented instantaneously (not after backlash from the student body). What more could be done, you ask? Well, the university received an annual income of 626.5 million pounds across 2017-2018; money that could have been directed towards establishing a safe university bus route between student accommodation and campus, this would have been both a feasible and fiscally possible option. In this case, the University of Glasgow appears to have placed a price upon student safety. 

Unsurprisingly, and unlike the University of Edinburgh, the three examples of mitigating circumstances our university provides do not include sexual assault.  Although the Students for Choice survey is largely aimed at pregnancy-related claims, the Students for Choice do not intend to neglect experiences of sexual assault. The hope is that UofG will aim to replicate the positive achievements of other universities, like the University of Strathclyde which operates an anonymous counselling service called The Rosey Project. The Project offers a one-off drop-in counselling session, and long-term scheduled counselling. If UofG could implement a similar project, there would be tremendously positive repercussions.  

So, why are sexual assault, miscarriage, abortion, pregnancy, and emergency contraception not listed on the Good Cause FAQs? Robert Patridge, again, insisted that this was not a case of neglect and dismissal. Partridge encouraged students to speak to relevant faculty members on a case-by-case basis. Surely, this is an encompassing response? Unfortunately, this stance fails to take into account the discomfort students might feel disclosing sensitive information to their faculty leaders, and university in general. The university Good Cause FAQS would be an accessible and convenient platform for the university to illuminate useful links and guidance; the FAQS could include links to the Sandyford clinic and local crisis centres. Why haven’t UofG used their platform already? It’s hard to say, especially when they have incoming students as young as seventeen. It is important to remember that new students do not typically have extensive knowledge about the resources available to them or strong local support networks, this leaves them extremely isolated and vulnerable. The university has a duty of care to these students; the UofG absolutely should be held accountable for their students’ wellbeing and safety. 

So, where should I turn if I’m struggling with my decision, an assault, my mental health, or university work? The University Counsellors? Just one look at the extensive waiting list for the counselling services confirms why it is not a feasible or accessible option for students struggling with time-constrained cases, like abortion. The university has to do more, they need to fund their counselling services, address student well-being openly, and update official wellbeing policy. 

The Good Cause programme needs to be accessible, consistent, and transparent. Accessibility means updating the university website, which is currently relatively uninformative and disjointed, and consistency means implementing a policy across the entire university to prevent any disparity that exists cross-school (of which there is currently a LOT). Transparency is necessary to ensure students have the confidence that their stories will be heard, respected, and addressed, before the university can expect us to confide in them, and for this, UofG must take accountability. 

If you have any stories relevant to this cause, please check out the Glasgow Students for Choice survey on their Facebook page. Similarly, if you need any help or guidance the Glasgow Students for Choice are always available to discuss options and support students facing any crisis. 

Trips to the Past: Manchester, Catherine

During lockdown, with the prospect of travel seeming further away than ever before, a lot of us will be feeling an extra strong sense of wanderlust and nostalgia for our past trips and adventures. G You is happy to present a series of travel writings reminiscing on our community’s favourite and most meaningful trips to remind ourselves of the joys and growth travel can bring. To end the ‘Trips to the Past’ series, I reflect on how one city can begin to shape your life, with ‘Reflections on Manchester’.

Pulling into Manchester Piccadilly, the first thing you’ll notice is the shadow of Beetham Tower leaning over you. Asymmetric eyesore or testament to Northern design, the split of opinions on this hotel/apartments perfectly illustrates the little contradictions and contrasts that made me fall in love with Manchester when I moved there nearly three years ago.

It definitely wasn’t love at first sight – arriving the night before my job interview and trying to find my hotel on Portland Street in the dark at seventeen was probably one of my scariest inductions into adult life. Yet, within a few weeks of starting work, the city already felt familiar, defined by regular Friday night drinks at the Slug and Lettuce overlooking the river followed by the trek down Deansgate to Moon Under Water for food. 

My firsts are all in Manchester. First proper job, first flat, first festival. It’s hard to walk through the city and be reminded of a time when everything was new to me. Every corner of Manchester holds nostalgia, from various client offices to bars I’d frequent with my year group. But there’s always somewhere new to go in Manchester: my favourite from last summer being the member’s club in the Northern Quarter that just opened where the bartender will make you a bespoke cocktail if you charm him enough; credit to my mate for that one – definitely check out the Daisy if you ever find yourself about.

You never know what you’re going to find in Manchester. One of my favourite finds was the People’s History Museum, a museum dedicated to worker’s history and the spirit of protest in Manchester. Walking through this museum, I’m always struck by Manchester’s spirit of revolution which endures even today. During my summer internship, the Medlock Street roundabout across from my flat hosted a rave to protest, decked out with industrial speakers (I still have no idea what they were protesting). A night out in Manchester is always full of surprises, and many a night has ended dancing on the tables at the German beerhall Albert Schloss fuelled by free hotdogs and saxophone covers of Britney Spears.

My memories of Manchester are always intrinsically associated with work: the regular coffee runs to Hardman Street Pret, falling asleep on the tram to the 7am trains out of Piccadilly to Sheffield, Leeds or Chester. From my first time meeting a friend at Font (home of the £2 cocktail), my friends smuggling a Colin the Caterpillar cake into the Tampopo on the corner of Albert Square or dragging a friend to VIA for their first trip to Canal Street, my anecdotes all seem to centre around Manchester nowadays. I still remember one of my last nights out in Manchester before I left, hands raised high in Patron to a remix of Candi Staton’s ‘You Got the Love’, feeling like I was about to lose some integral part of what made me who I had become.

Manchester has the ability to make you feel like a completely different person. I’ve spent summer days sat in First Street Square watching families revel in the sun, children dwarfed by giant chess pieces. My free time seems to pass slower, in a weekend daze walking down Oxford Road to the gym and back, sitting out to watch the cricket on the big screen erected outside Home cinema, sipping on takeaway wine or Kraken rum from Gasworks. It’s just a different life to being a student in Glasgow, periods of stress broken up by an after-work cocktail at Menagerie or the Ivy. After exams, drinks are held at Duke’s 92 instead of Beer Bar, bouncers ready to chuck us out of the river side beer garden the second our celebrations get too rowdy. 

If I could go back and do my time in Manchester again, I wish I’d given it more. I don’t quite have the stamina for Manchester, never really making it to the 5am trips to Dive, the night after morning scran at the 24 hour Maccies on Regent Road, the afters at Mojo where all they’d play were football tunes. I got my first glimpses of Manchester’s soul in my year there, and my trips back helped show me Manchester’s depths. I’m not saying it’s my favourite place on earth, but nowhere else really measures up to Manchester’s spirit. After all, in the eternal words of Tony Wilson, “This is Manchester, we do things differently here.”

Cause of death: the system.

Written by: Amélie Davidson

George Floyd. Breanna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Samuel Dubose. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Santa Bland. Trayvon Martin. Walter Scott. Oscar Grant. Philando Castile. Terrence Crutcher. Aiyana Jones. Agatha Felix. Maurice Gordon. Tony McDade. 

These are the names of just some of the many lives lost to senseless acts of racism. For millions of people around the world, their greatest risk is not COVID-19. It is the colour of their skin. Enough is enough. It is time for change. 

Recently, the racial injustice that prevails in America, and throughout the world, has been highlighted with crowds filling the streets to protest yet another police killing of an unarmed black man. George Floyd, an African-American, died in Minneapolis after police officer Derek Chauvin was seen kneeling on his neck for several minutes during an arrest for allegedly using a fake $20 note. In the horrifying video, Floyd’s chilling final cries are heard: “I can’t breathe”. His murder has sent shockwaves across the world.

The systemic racism that led to George Floyd’s death is at our doorstep. Racism is a widespread problem in our society and we all have a role to play in confronting it—in ourselves, in our family, in our friends, in our neighbourhoods, in our world. Systemic racism is not just an American problem and the way that the UK looks at its past will now be a part of its future. 

Yes. Racism exists in 2020. And that is the first thing each and every one of us must acknowledge if we have got any hope of doing anything about it. The UK is not innocent and too often, we are blinded by the deep-rooted and pervasive nature of racism to realise that. Although no one is born racist, we are immediately born into this powerful and discriminatory system. Systemic racism and oppression exist at all levels in the UK; the media, education, healthcare, advertising, employment, the justice system. If you cannot see it, you are choosing not to look. Racism does not exist as a result of the system, it is the system.

Racism is built into every level of our society, in ways that might shock you. A survey for the Guardian (2018) found stark evidence of everyday racial bias in Britain, with ethnic minorities being three times more likely to be thrown out or denied entry to a restaurant, bar or club and 38% of people from ethnic minorities saying that they have been wrongly suspected of shoplifting. We live in a system which disproportionately suspects, arrests and imprisons black people. Black people account for 8% of deaths in custody, but only 3% of the total population. These stark findings show how racism is rife in modern Britain.

The 2nd of June saw millions of social media users take part in the #BlackoutTuesday movement online, filling Instagram and Twitter pages with black squares, and the sea of black squares on Instagram sent a powerful message. However, in order to begin to make inroads into tackling systemic racism, we must all do more. This is not just a trend on social media. 

We can no longer be complacent when it comes to our structural problems with racism. We must take the time to learn more about racism and discrimination to help dismantle systemic racism and take a stand against racial injustice. Listen. Read. Educate. Be a standing voice to those who need help. Each of us has a responsibility to identify and challenge racism and inequality in all that we do and wherever we see it. There is work to be done. There are protests taking place, petitions that need to be signed, and charities that need donations. How will you make a difference?

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” If we spread love as quickly as we spread hate and negativity, what an amazing world we would live in. 

Trips to the Past: Yosemite, Olivia

During lockdown, with the prospect of travel seeming further away than ever before, a lot of us will be feeling an extra strong sense of wanderlust and nostalgia for our past trips and adventures. G You is happy to present a series of travel writings reminiscing on our community’s favourite and most meaningful trips to remind ourselves of the joys and growth travel can bring. Our next ‘Trip To The Past’ is on a Gap Year in Yosemite, by Olivia Swarthout.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” is what I tell people about my choice to take a gap year. After all, who could regret the choice to spend four months interning in Yosemite National Park, one of of the most beautiful places on planet earth? What better place to spend your spring than living among 3000-foot granite cliffs, towering sequoias, rippling fields of orange poppies? The park offered endless possibilities for excitement, and living with five other women in employee housing, in a tight-knit community that drew nature lovers from across the country, I was never without company for my next adventure – whether it was cross-country skiing or midnight hiking or jumping into icy rivers.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it?

It sounds nice to me too, two years on – so nice that I have to remember to temper my nostalgia and yearning for that time of my life with the recognition that things were not always so perfect as they seem in the pictures on Facebook and the stories I tell people.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have an incredible time in Yosemite. I did all the things I described and more – jumped into rivers, played Dungeons and Dragons with a group of wildland firefighters, watched sunsets from the tops of mountains, shared dinners and brunches and mid-hike sandwiches with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met – and I’ll cherish those memories forever. But now, two years on, my reflections back on that period of my life tend to exclude the ups and downs of my considerably less glamorous, not-seen-on-instagram day-to-day living.

I tend to fondly think back on the brunches I’d share with my friends, not on the fear I felt about food and the body issues that often made me think more about my own appearance than the astonishing beauty around me. I can no longer idealise the Park Service as an unproblematic institution that serves a higher cause when racism, harassment, and discrimination still often go unchallenged among visitors and employees. I rave about how wonderful it was to be disconnected from the internet and social media, but my inability and unwillingness to properly communicate put immense pressure on my relationship with my boyfriend, already strained by the 9,000 kilometers my travels had put between us.

Though my weekends were filled with all manner of characteristic mountain-frolicking and forest-adventuring under the California sun, my weekdays were spent under the cold glow of fluorescent office lighting in the Yosemite National Park Archives, a windowless, climate-controlled room that sometimes felt far-removed from the history and natural beauty it existed to preserve. My job as an archives technician gave me incredible insights into the history of the park, and the collections were an endless source of fascination in the form of artifacts, photos, and documents that told the story of the park from an angle few people had the privilege to experience. From the literally priceless paintings to the tailfin of Yosemite’s infamous “weed plane” (look it up), I was surrounded by centuries of history given physical form. But I had been hired mainly to work on the ongoing digitization of Yosemite’s collection of 20,000 photos, which meant countless hours of scanning and typing into spreadsheets: the torpor and repetition of days spent in front of a computer began to wear on me.

Without a car and 45 minutes away from both the park itself and the nearest town (Mariposa, population 2,000), in a house with no cell phone service and only intermittent wifi, by late April a two-hour road trip to Fresno to see ​Avengers: Age of Ultron ​and eat at a restaurant that wasn’t terrible felt like as much of a treat as the stunning natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada.

I’m not trying to cast my time in Yosemite in a negative light, of course. On the contrary, I still consider myself beyond lucky to have spent that spring in California, to have made the friends I made and seen the things I saw. It was wonderful. But knee-deep in stress, maths homework, and exhaustion, as I’ve so often been over the past two years of university, it’s tempting to think that if I could just get away from my current life, displace myself geographically, return to that perfect past, all my problems would fade away – forgetting that even then, my life was characterized by worry and struggle.

I’m writing this to remind myself that when I’m halfway through the semester browsing cheap last-minute flights to places I’ve never been, dreaming of how my stress will melt away as I step off the plane, I’m still going to be the same person with the same problems when I get there, and I’m certainly going to be when I get back. Though travel is healthy and beneficial for so many reasons, it’s important not to see my problems as symptoms of my current circumstances and location. In truth, the tools I need for self-improvement are always within me, and my journey is just a matter of learning to use them rather than avoid my issues altogether or hope they go away.

I don’t live in the mountains any more. I don’t run through waterfalls and fields of flowers every weekend. I don’t live in a house with animal bones and flowers and foot-long sugar pine cones adorning the walls. In fact, it may shock you to hear that my life has gotten considerably more boring over the past several months. But I like to think that I’m more stable, more mature, less argumentative, less selfish, more self-aware and better-equipped to handle my problems than I was two years ago, and maybe that’s more important.