OpenLearn Live is the area where we discover links between your world and the world of free learning. This page will be updated during the day, and you can also follow us on Twitter.
- I was born on Christmas Day: John IV Laskaris
- A good death
- A bad death
- The myth of Star Wars
- On iPlayer now: All In The Mind
If you thought we got Tim Hunt out of our system yesterday, bad news - we're returning to him now. In the latest edition of our BBC/OU coproduction All In The Mind - which has just arrived on iPlayer - Claudia Hammond talks to Alexander Kumar, who has been to the Antarctic to explore how a trip to Mars might affect human psychology. And how do recovery colleges bring a new approach to managing mental health?
Continuing our celebration of Star Wars, Sara Haslam explores the role myth plays in the trilogy of trilogies:
The pleasures and satisfactions of tropes and themes familiar from childhood go some way to account for the die-hard quality of fans’ devotion. Fairy tales are about conflicts with parents; about growing up. Male protagonists often undertake a quest, while female protagonists are abused at home, or driven out by hostile older women (in the main). Some tales employ both male and female lead characters. In Hansel and Gretel, say, a brother and sister are exiled and unable to find their way home after suffering the effects of a weak father. Sound familiar? Star Wars injects a further twist by separating them.
From real-life matters of death to its fictional counterpart. Have you ever wondered what a scientist would make of Agatha Christie's plots? Wonder no more, as Deborah Blum explores the poisoning at the heart of the first Poirot book:
The crime comes one summer morning when the household is awakened by “the most alarming sounds” coming from Mrs. Inglethorp’s locked bedroom. When the door is broken down, the woman is found to be suffering from horrible convulsions, one of which “lifted her from the bed, until she appeared to rest upon her head and her heels, with her body arched in a most extraordinary manner.” She dies shortly later and, triggered in part by those terrifying spasms, a criminal investigation is launched.
The body which provides guidance to health professionals, NICE, has suggested a new approach for those caring for people at the end of their lives. BBC News reports:
Patients must be treated with respect and compassion, it said, and doctors should avoid making "snap decisions" about whether someone was dying.
The guidance is designed to address misuse of the previous system, the Liverpool Care Pathway.
Charities welcomed the new guidelines - but warned more investment was needed.
Helping people through their final days is hugely challenging. The OU has a course, Death And Dying, which explores the ways societies around the world and across history have dealt with the dying, and those who live on.
You can try an extract of that course here on OpenLearn, for free:
In some cultures, or groups within a culture, there is an attempt to integrate the fact of mortality into the centre of living so that members are actively encouraged to see death as normal and to face the fact that each of us will die. In others there is a tendency to combat or deny the fact of death, to the extent that life becomes an exercise in keeping thoughts of death at bay.
Yet it remains true that some ways of life and systems of belief do actively prepare people to acknowledge the reality of death whilst others encourage denial of that reality. Mostly we find ourselves somewhere between the two, shifting back and forth according to situation, time, place, company, age and so on. It is almost as though denial and affirmation of death form two ends or poles of a continuum along which we move. To highlight the process, this section describes an example of what it is like at each end.
This week, we're exploring the stories of people who happened to be born on the same day - December 25th. Yesterday, we met Robert Ripley, of Believe It Or Not fame. Today, we're going further back into history, to meet John IV Laskaris.
John was born on Christmas Day, 1250. In case you're wondering, yes, by 1250 it was well-established that the 25th December was the day marking Christ's birthday. He was born into the family that ruled the Nicean Empire, a still relatively new entity that had formed as part of the crumbling Byzantine Empire.
His reign wasn't a happy one. He ascended at the age of seven, with the decisions originally taken by his regent George Mouzalon. Mouzalon didn't last long - aware that his position was under threat, he offered to resign straight away. The nobles refused to accept his resignation, but this was just to wrong-foot him.
At a memorial service for John's father, Theodore II, Latin mercenaries working at the behest of Mouzalon's rivals staged a riot, invaded the monastery and murdered George and his brothers.
Michael Palaiologos, who led the nobles, installed himself first as regent and then, over-reaching his job description a little, proclaimed himself as a joint emperor.
A shared throne is an unhappy throne - and, on John's 11th birthday, Michael (now Michael VIII) had him blinded. This would count as one of the worst Christmases ever, and the ruthlessness of Michael has earned him a place in the game Assassin's Creed.
Deprived of sight, John was deemed incapable of remaining emperor, and was thrown into exile. He disappeared from the record for a while - he resurfaced living as a monk and in 1290, he was visited by one of Michael's sons, seeking forgiveness for his father's actions.