Skip to content

OpenLearn Live: 22nd January 2016

Updated Friday 22nd January 2016

The philosopher who liked Berlin so much, it was virtually the only place he visited. Then more free learning through the day.

OpenLearn Live pulls free learning into the heart of your world. This page will be updated during the day.

Yesterday, we explored polonium, awaited the micro:bit and vaguely caught up with Inside Science

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

Sports stats & hospital deaths

Can all that data generated by modern sporting games allow statisticians to spot when the results are being rigged? Turns out, no, not so easily - and it's the same problem with trying to spot malicious doctors:

There can usually be an appeal to past data for an estimate of the probability of the unexpected adverse outcome were it true that no wrongdoing had taken place. In tennis most players have played most other players many times, and in a medical context hospitals keep meticulous records of serious incidents. Both these sources can provide perfectly legitimate estimates for probabilities. There is however no such data on which to base estimates for the probabilities of an adverse outcome in a hospital were any of the medical staff actually trying to harm the patients. It is an experiment which cannot be run. One cannot simply let a known murderer loose among the high dependency units to see how many patients are harmed.

Read the full article: Why don't statistics reveal when sports matches have been fixed?

Tolstoy on death

We're always keen to give a leg-up to new academic talent here on OpenLearn, so we're delighted to unveil a column from Leo Tolstoy, with his thoughts on death:

My life came to a standstill. I could breathe, eat, drink and sleep, and could not help breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping; but there was no life, because there were no desires the gratification of which I might find reasonable. If I wished for anything, I knew in advance that, whether I gratified my desire or not, nothing would come of it. If a fairy had come and had offered to carry out my wish, I should not have known what to say. If in moments of intoxication I had, not wishes, but habits of former desires, I knew in sober moments that was a deception, that there was nothing to wish for. I could not even wish to find out the truth, because I guess what it consisted in. The truth was that life was meaningless. It was as though I had just been living and walking along, and had come to an abyss, where I saw clearly that there was nothing ahead but perdition. And it was impossible to stop and go back, and impossible to shut my eyes, in order that I might not see that there was nothing ahead but suffering and imminent death, – complete annihilation.

Read the full article Tolstoy and the search for the meaning of life

An address in Berlin: Søren Kierkegaard

This week, as a tribute to David Bowie's period of creativity centred on Berlin, we've been hearing stories of other deep thinkers who came to Berlin to work. If you've missed any, here's a quick recap of who we've met so far:

Søren Kierkegaard Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Royal Library of Denmark - Kierkegaard Manuscripts We're rounding off the week with Søren Kierkegaard.

Born in Denmark, Kierkegaard was happy enough in Copenhagen. Indeed, he only left the country of his birth five times and, aside from a trip to Sweden, every time he left Denmark, he went to Berlin. This might make him sound like those people who always go to the same caravan park in Dorset the same week every year, but much as they're happy, so was Kierkegaard, as he found Berlin a place of fascination and inspiration.

His first trip came shortly after he had broken off his engagement to Regine Olsen in 1841. Overwintering in Prussia, Kierkegaard attended a number of lectures - including those of Schelling and Stahl. He also spent time with an enclave of Danish theology students who also were in the city. Shortly after his return to Denmark, he would publish Either/Or - a work inspired, in part, by the thriving Berlin theatre scene.

Across three further visits, Kierkegaard would draw inspiration from the lively nightlife and the provocative thinkers he found in the city. A century or so later, it would be the same mix which would attract David Bowie to a place which has moved through four nations since Kierkegaard's time, drawing similar inspirations for his own work.

Try our free course Introducing philosophy


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?