Having Fun with Crazy Ideas – 30 January 2018

Hugh with an admiring Harry Jackson

Well, Hugh Miller certainly had the members hanging on his every erudite word as he delivered his highly entertaining talk in characteristically unhurried, yet confident, style. Hugh, who was, for twenty years, head teacher in Grange Academy, Kilmarnock, spoke to the club on the theme ‘Having Fun with Crazy Ideas’. For Hugh, a big idea was a terrific excitement, especially if it promised to change the world in some way. By way of introduction to his theme he cited the example of economist/philosopher Amartya Sen who had the idea that famines are not caused solely by shortages of food but also by the absence of democratic processes. His idea was controversial at the time, but it turned out to be right, earning him a Nobel prize and a professorship at Cambridge University. More importantly, it changed everybody’s thinking on the best way to help when famine strikes.


Hugh then recalled an early, knee-trembling experience when, as a young physics teacher, he was asked to take a biology class (!) but it is hard to imagine him being fazed by such a thing. In his view, many of the most exciting ideas had been discovered in the sciences and he described an experiment from his first year teaching physics at Ayr Academy in which pupils discovered that an electric current could be induced to flow in a wire not connected to any battery or power source – something non-material was crossing empty space! How excited was Michael Faraday when he first saw that? How much of our present telecommunications would he have foreseen in that moment? More recently, exciting ideas tend to occur in the world of biology, where even now understanding is limited and much is still to be discovered.


According to Hugh, one of the hardest things to explain is how amazing coincidences crop up occasionally in everybody’s life. Hugh had tried to look out for these, and he described some really uncanny experiences of apparently unconnected events happening together. You mention somebody you haven’t seen for years then meet him or her the next day? How does that happen?


Hugh was pleased that Rotary had a good track record in spotting ideas worthy of support, at home and internationally. He hoped we would all continue to keep our eyes open for big ideas, not only because they promised to change a bit of the world but because they’re just great fun!


Hugh could no doubt have entertained us all with many other gripping but true tales from the world of scientific advancement but all good things come to an end and Paul Williams in his vote of thanks gave recognition to Hugh’s undoubted skill as a great communicator.