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Come into the deep water

I beckon you from ocean shores on the other side of time
I have such wonders to show, it is a great mystery
All things will be made new, let the old things pass away
What are you afraid of?
Don’t you hear your DNA singing the Cosmic song of Truth?
Cast yourself off the shore into the deep waters of the self

Know you are timeless in me
What do you know?
I tell you what you know will only entangle you in this world
I am calling you to the stars, come claim your inheritance
Walk without fear in Love
Probabilities increasing and decreasing with the ebb and flow of your fear
Be free, come deeper deeper, you are no more
Deep calls out to deep
I AM ALL and you are in me, no more fear
YOU ARE ALL and I am in you, where fear was…

Eric Garza

5 November 2015

Make Love Not War

Dr Susan Block challenges and entices us to emulate our cousins the bonobos, with touching, affection and intimacy in the context of a culture under gentle female hegemony.

video preview of her book with great bonobo pix and Dr Susan’s inimitable style

“They’re not just doing it for procreation. They are engaging in sex for recreation and interpersonal communication, very much like humans, but without the pretense, hypocrisy and shame.”

4 November 2015

Changing language—changing paradigm

Gretchen Reynolds writes her NYTimes column under the headline, Does Exercise Slow the Aging Process?

Just a few years ago, the unchallenged wisdom was that nothing could affect the aging process, that it was a force of nature on a time scale of its own.

Even more impressive, the article describes a study about telomere length in blood cells drawn from people who do and don’t exercise. Just a few years ago, the medical wisdom was that human telomeres shortened in order to protect us from cancer, and it was just a curiosity that older people had shorter telomeres. Now it is well-known that longer telomeres portend longer life spans, and even conservative medical researchers are beginning to talk about telomeres as an aging clock.

— Read Gretchen Reynolds’s column

3 November 2015

“If you knew yourself for even one moment, if you could just glimpse your most beautiful face, maybe you wouldn’t slumber so deeply in that house of clay.”

— Rumi

2 November 2015

Dream from Quantumland

You stumbled, quite literally, into the photo studio, and now the magnificence of all that is on display seems beside the point. You can’t help but feel a little miffed that the very assiduity of your search made it more difficult not just for yourself, but for others to find it. You are used to objects and (above all) locations that stay put. Discovery should reward persistence and (especially) deliberation. You are baffled that the questions you asked have quite literally affected the answers you received. It was your racing that moved the goal post, and not in a helpful direction. Ultimately, it was your desire to be here that made the place so remote and so difficult to find. And it is not just for yourself that your desire has created difficulties. Who knows how many pilgrims are lost on the road? and you have only yourself to blame for their frustration. Your adopted community, your extended family, the people with whom you rightfully belong. Where are they?

You were hoping for a kind of self-selected elite, a place reserved for the few who wanted it enough to pursue a difficult quest. You wanted to be among people with passion and discretion, with a sensitivity to all that is refined and good. What you find instead is a random cross-section of humanity—so far (it seems) you are the only soul who was actively seeking this place. People don’t have any idea of their good fortune, of the inestimable treasure that they have inherited, through no virtue of their own. Their contempt for Valhalla baffles and infuriates you. They have no desire to be here. You are the only one with that desire, and, if the truth be told, your passion and the heartfelt appreciation that it engenders are evaporating even as you pay attention. The celebration has petered out, canceled for lack of interest before it could begin in earnest.

Perhaps you can teach them to care…

— Josh Mitteldorf

1 November 2015

Midsummer Night’s Dream

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy.
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

— Shakespeare

31 October 2015

Unity of Science

“Will it not turn out, with the further development of science, that the study of the universe and the study of consciousness will be inseparably linked, and that ultimate progress in the one will be impossible without progress in the other? After the development of a unified geometrical description of the weak, strong, electromagnetic, and gravitational interactions, will the next important step not be the development of a unified approach to our entire world, including the world of consciousness?”

Stanford Prof Andre Linde was the first to proposee the inflationary version of Big Bang cosmology.

30 October 2015

Math in Art

Turbulence consists of swirls and eddies at different scales. Smaller swirls can combine to make larger swirls, but not in any arbitrary way. From the physics of flow, Andrei Kolmogorov was able to derive (in 1941) the distribution of turbulent energy flow over different size eddies. The aggregate of smaller eddies have much less energy than their larger counterparts, and the energy is spectrum is proportional to the 5/3 power of the length scale.

Recently, mathematicians studying van Gogh’s paintings from the most troubled period of his life concluded that they embody Kolmogorov’s distribution of intensity over different scales. Here is a video about the subject.

29 October 2015

Moments of Faith

«Oui, j’entrevois le but et la raison du monde,
Où se mêlent pour nous dans une nuit profonde
Bien et mal, joie et peine, erreur et vérité:
La Nature fatale offre à la Liberté

Un problème; ici-bas le doute est une épreuve :
L’homme en face du mal doit décider, sans preuve,
Malgré l’obscurité qui lui voile le ciel,
Si l’idéal n’est pas plus vrai que le réel !»

— A proto-existentialist, Jean-Marie Guyaud was born on this day in 1851. From his brief life, he left us many philosophic essays, bequeathed to Emile Durkheim the concept of anomie, and published one short book of philosophic verse.

“Yes, I perceive the goal and reason of our plight,
A world in which is mingled in the depth of night
The bad and good, the pain and joy, the false and true:
All given us by Nature, that we might pursue

Our chosen path. There is but one dilemma: though
We must perforce wrest evil in this world below,
Though doubt and darkness veil our sky, we hold as real
Above reality, sustain our heart’s ideal.”

— translation by JJM

28 October 2015

If only it were true…

“One of the ways of stopping science would be only to do experiments in the region where you know the law. But experimenters search most diligently, and with the greatest effort, in exactly those places where it seems most likely that we can prove our theories wrong. In other words, we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible because only in that way can we find progress.”

— Richard Feynmann

I’m sorry to report from my own experience with the science community that experiments designed to check and possibly falsify fundamental theory are rare, and when they yield results that conflict with “what we know to be true”, the results are frequently questioned at peer review, and never see the light of publication.

I have worked in astrophysics and in evolutionary biology. Both fields tend to be top-heavy with theory because we can’t bring these sciences into the lab with experiments of our own design, and must rely on the experiments that nature has arranged for us. I have found that the problem of dogmatism and censorship is much worse in evolution, but it is not insignificant in astrophysics.

27 October 2015

Materialism

“Looking for the source of consciousness in the neural circuitry of the brain is like studying the transistors in a radio in order to discover why the news comes on at 8 every morning.”

~ paraphrased from a lecture by Stanislav Grof at SAND 2015

26 October 2015

For Dianne

Why do we dwell in a state of anxiety and restlessness, rather than peace and bliss and wonder? It is not our present circumstance, but fearful thoughts of the future…

And what is the provenance of our fear?

  • First is the way we were evolved. When our ancestors dwelt in a world of sabre-tooth tigers and tribal attacks and periodic insufficiencies of food, those that carried a wariness and an obsessive propensity for preparation had a survival advantage. Natural selection favored fear.
  • Second are the messages we get from our present culture. Everyone from the deodorant ads to the Dept of Homeland Security has learned to exploit our fears for fiancial and political advantage.

Of course, knowing all this does not deliver us immediately into a relaxed and joyful state of mind. But in the long run, our fears survive because we feed them with our beliefs. If we see through them, if we develop a habit of recognizing our fears and talking back to them, they will gradually languish and die, leaving us free to expand into the present.

— Josh Mitteldorf

25 October 2015

The Man Watching

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can't bear without a friend,
I can't love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it's with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers' sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

— Robert Bly, translating Rilke

24 October 2015

Toccata

Listen to Thomas Lanners play from the First Piano Sonata of
Ned Rorem, born this day in 1926

23 October 2015

Beware lest thou shouldst become thine enemy

“To fight the Empire is to be infected by its derangement. This is a paradox; whoever defeats a segment of the Empire becomes the Empire; it proliferates like a virus, imposing its form on its enemies. Thereby it becomes its enemies.”

Philip K. Dick

22 October 2015

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

Poets don't grow old gracefully:
recall old lusts with Hardy
or clamour like Yeats for new.

'How are you?' people ask them, meaning
‘Goodness, you’re still alive.’
‘Are you still writing?’ signals
‘If so, you're quite forgotten.
I haven't seen any reviews,’
and ‘Aren’t you going gently yet
into your good night?’

Gower, his loins frozen by Venus,
piped of a king and his bounty of wine.
Did he who’d sung of every turn and twist
of love regret the arrow's sting he’d begged
Love's priest to tear from his heart
as he lay apart from his chaste wife?
Merlin the magus, besotted in old age
entombed in the rock by Nimue for his lust
must have been a poet too.
How else could he have cast such spells?

When David was old they brought him a virgin
hoping for a new Song of Solomon.
Help us all then Lady, Sappho’s own goddess,
to sing your song until the last bittersweet note.

Maureen Duffy, 82 years old today, is still writing and loving

21 October 2015

Original music from a composer reputed for derivative art

The Symphony #4 of Charles Ives (1874–1954) was written between 1910 and the mid-1920s (the second movement Comedy was the last to be composed, most likely in 1924). The symphony is notable for its multi-layered complexity—typically requiring two conductors in performance—and for its large and varied orchestration. His biographer, Jan Swafford, has called it "Ives's climactic masterpiece."

Listen to the opening (and watch Leopold Stokowski, 1965)

Charles Ives was born on this day in 1874

Watchman, tell us of the night,
what its signs of promise are.
Traveler, what a wondrous sight:
see that glory-beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
news of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes; it brings the day,
promised day of Israel.

Watchman, tell us of the night;
higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
see, it bursts o’er all the earth.

Watchman, tell us of the night,
for the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, shadows take their flight;
doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, you may go your way;
hasten to your quiet home.
Traveler, we rejoice today,
for Emmanuel has come!

— John Bowring

20 October 2015

Finding your intuition, and developing a faith in the results.

  1. Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed, and enter a state of light trance—similar to what you'd experience in prayer or meditation. The easiest way to do this is simply to breathe: in through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Breathe like this a few times… you’ll be in trance before you know it.
  2. Ask to receive. For example, you might tell yourself in your mind “I’m in touch with my highest intuitive self, and I am listening.”
  3. In your mind, ask a question of significance to you.
  4. Wait for the answer to arrive. Remember, you’re most likely to receive information via intuition or symbol. Be patient.
  5. When you are receiving clairaudiently, look for information such as: A still, small voice, A message that seems to come into your ear, A word flashing through your mind, A sense of being given information in language, even if you can’t understand the language, The voice of a guide or angel, telling you something, A song or music in your head.
  6. Remember that psychic information is subtle, and often symbolic.
  7. Once you’re done receiving information (take as little or as much time as you need) simply say “thank you” and come out of trance.
  8. You may not get all the pieces of the puzzle all at once. Come back later, and ask for more!
  9. Follow the guidance you receive! The more you can trust and act on the guidance, the more you will receive.
  10. When you finish a session, complete the process with grounding: eat lunch, get a coffee, garden, take a bath, go for a run, play with your dog, whatever works for you

— condensed and edited by JJM, from Sara Wiseman

19 October 2015

I have thought

I have known toxicity of reason—
That frequency of brainwaves that kills fright
and levity and grief, each in its season—
Benumbed by resolution to be right.

When I, surrounded by good-natured laughter
Seek in analysis, respite from mirth,
Considering this tendency thereafter
I wonder after all what reason’s worth…

Why not both joy and logic? I inquire,
But knowing all the while that just to ask
Defeats the liberation I desire,
Maintains my prison, bricked behind this mask…

Ah love—might love blaze path from head to heart?
Or is my balm in meditation's art?

— Josh Mitteldorf

When I was in High School, I was all intellect, no sensitivity to my own body or emotional state. I knew I was unhappy and that there was something important missing, but I didn’t have a concept what it was; in part because I was convinced that I was my brain. I was aware of but one desire and one source of pain: I desperately wanted a girl (not just any girl) to love me*. And I carried a terror of death, from which I had learned to distract myself because it was so painful.

I had consciously put aside resolution of these two dilemmas until I could escape the confines of the parochial town in which I grew up. My first week at Harvard, there was a writing placement test for freshmen, at which I was introduced for the first time to e. e. cummings’s poem, since feeling is first. I read,

kisses are a better fate than wisdom…
for life’s not a paragraph
and death I think is no parenthesis

I fell in love with another freshman taking the same test and over the ensuing weeks experienced the predictable emotional catastrophe. Thus began a long journey of emotional liberation and self-awareness, with seeds of spiritual growth.

* It was 1966. I was 17, and they were girls, not women.

18 October 2015

The Giver of Stars

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

~ Amy Lowell ~

17 October 2015

Big step toward a quantum computer

The first quantum-logic device made from silicon has been unveiled by researchers in Australia and Japan. Their controlled-not (CNOT) gate, which is a fundamental component of a quantum computer, was made using conventional semiconductor manufacturing processes. The researchers now plan to scale up the technology to create a full-scale quantum-computer chip.

Quantum computers exploit the weird laws of quantum mechanics to perform some calculations much faster than conventional computers – at least in principle. The main challenge facing physicists trying to build quantum computers is how to preserve fragile quantum bits (qubits) of information, which tend to deteriorate rapidly in real-world devices.

Read more from Physics World

All you need to know about quantum computers is that they will change everything. A quantum computer is to today's computer as today's computer is to a mechanical adding machine of the 1960s. I believe our brains are quantum computers. —JJM

16 October 2015

Called to give light

Thou great star! What would be thy happiness if thou hadst not those for whom thou shinest!

For ten years hast thou climbed hither unto my cave: thou wouldst have wearied of thy light and of the journey, had it not been for me, mine eagle, and my serpent.

But we awaited thee every morning, took from thee thine overflow and blessed thee for it.

Lo! I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that hath gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it.

I would fain bestow and distribute, until the wise have once more become joyous in their folly, and the poor happy in their riches.

Therefore must I descend into the deep: as thou doest in the evening, when thou goest behind the sea, and givest light also to the nether-world, thou exuberant star!

Like thee must I GO DOWN, as men say, to whom I shall descend.

— from the opening of Thus Spake Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche, born this day in 1844

15 October 2015

Meditation guide

Awareness in the moment in itself is quite ordinary,

when you look into yourself in this way nakedly (without any discursive thoughts),

Since there is only this pure observing, there will be found a lucid clarity without anyone being there who is the observer;

Only a naked manifest awareness is present.

It is empty and immaculately pure, not being created by anything whatsoever.

It is authentic and unadulterated, without any duality of clarity and emptiness.

It is not permanent and yet it is not created by anything.

However, it is not a mere nothingness or something missing, because it is lucid and present.

— attributed to the 12th century mythical demigod Padmasambhasa, from the Buddhist guidebook called The Profound Teaching of Self-Liberation in the Primordial State of Peace and Oneness

14 October 2015

Love Reflected in Nature

OUR love is not a fading earthly flower;
Its wingèd seed dropped down from Paradise,
And nursed by day and night, by sun and shower,
Doth momently to fresher beauty rise;
To us the leafless autumn is not bare,
Nor winter’s rattling boughs lack lusty green,
Our summer hearts make summer’s fulness where
No leaf or bud or blossom may be seen:
For nature’s life in lover’s deep life doth lie,
Love—whose forgetfulness is beauty’s death,
Whose mystic key these cells of thou and I
Into the infinite freedom openeth,
And makes the body’s dark and narrow grate
The wide-flung leaves of heaven’s palace-gate.

— James Russell Lowell

13 October 2015

Do I have to?

We have a duty to befriend
Those aspects of obedience
That stand outside of our house
And shout to our reason
“O please, O please,
Come out and play.”

Daniel Ladinsky, channeling Hafiz

12 October 2015

A brief history of science

The ancients imagined a universe ruled by grand purposes, and freely projected their own human experience onto the gods, whom they defined to be the entities whose purposes were served.

With Copernicus and Galileo began a movement toward laws without purpose. Humans and their world were dethroned from the center of all being, and observation was deemed a more reliable gauge of reality than pure thought. This trend was greatly aided by Newton, who proposed (and verified) reductionist laws which govern the behavior of each small part.

In the 19th Century, this movement reached its pinacle with a vision that reductionist science might indeed explain everything. Atoms were hypothesized, then observed. Atoms obey laws and interact with one another according to rules deduced by Newton and Maxwell. These interactions explain chemistry. Chemistry is the basis of biology. The reductionist vision was crowned by Darwin’s hypothesis that variation due to pure chance plus natural selection might account for the living world in its entirety.

So biology was to be explained by chemistry, chemistry by physics, and physics is governed by laws acting on myriad independent particles. Then, in the 20th Century, a funny thing happened. It was several years after the advent of quantum theory that “entanglement” was discovered to be part of the recipe. Particles are not independent. The equations of quantum mechanic are essentially holistic, and particles can be treated as independent only approximately, and under rather special conditions.

Scientists resisted this aspect of the new theory. Einstein led the charge. Arguments were made back and forth about entanglement of pairs of particles, but the larger horror was that entanglement would tie together not just twos and threes but all the particles in bulk matter. While the argument continued, physics proceeded to advance on the assumptions of reductionism. Experiments were performed on isolated particles, even though more and more extreme measures were required to isolate particles. The whole thing was made to work by the invocation of “randomness” in the form of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Everything that was not determined by local interactions among independent particles was deemed to be completely random, and every experiment had to be repeated many times in order to average over these random variations. There were a tiny numbers of exceptions where holism cannot be avoided and the quantum behavior of large numbers of particles revealed itself dramatically. First there was superconductivity, then superfluidity and then the laser. These are the only accepted examples of large numbers of particles entangled in a simple state.

And then there was cold fusion. Cold fusion has been observed in hundreds of laboratories around the world, and yet most physicists won’t even look at their data because they are so convinced that such a thing cannot be. Cold fusion is the fourth example of entangled quantum behavior that shows up in systems with large numbers of particles. But the state is not so simple as a laser or superconductivity, and therefore it is much more difficult to analyze. We don’t even have methods for approaching the problem.

In the 1980s and 90s, the question of entanglement was resolved by experiments expressly designed to detect it in particle pairs. The few physicists who think about foundations and fundamentals had to accept that pairs of particles were indeed entangled. The implication is that everything is entangled, and the reductionist paradigm in which biology is built on chemistry is built on physics is profoundly wrong.

But habits of thought have a life of their own. Discredited reductionism continues to dominate scientific analysis, not just in physics but in all the sciences. Part of the problem is that the proper equations of fully-entangled QM are absurdly complex, and admit of no solution with the largest conceivable computer. So the only progress we have made in solving quantum mechanical equations has been through application of reductionist approximations.

What now?

I believe that the next step is for science to open to the possibility that the holism built into quantum equations is actually what makes life possible. I predict that many of the special abilities that set living systems apart from ordinary organic chemistry will find explanations in terms of quantum behaviors. This includes some phenomena that have been denied for decades, despite repeated experimental confirmation, because scientists thought that they just could not be possible: stories of “spontaneous” healing, sensitivity of life to radio waves, telepathic communication, precognition and Lamarckian evolution. These ideas are dismissed in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence because they are uncomfortably close to the World Before Copernicus, the world of grand holistic purposes that Science left behind 500 years ago. But perhaps that’s not a good enough reason.

— Josh Mitteldorf

11 October 2015

Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest

How the largest movement in the world came into being, and why no one saw it coming.

We are part of a movement that is greater and deeper and broader than we ourselves know or can know. It is non-violent. It is grass roots. It has no central ideology. A male vertebrate is not in charge…. This is the first non-ideological movement in the history of humanity. This movement is humanity’s immune response to resist and heal political infection, ecological disease, and economic corruption caused by ideologies. It is up to us to decide how we will be, who we will be. This is the movement we are building.

— Watch Paul Hawken

10 October 2015

Grand Larceny

Quand nature forma d’un art industrieus

Quand nature forma d’un art industrieus
Cette beauté divine à nulle autre seconde,
Elle prit dans des feux qui font tousjours la ronde
Par le cercle estoilé, pour en faire ses yeux.

Elle mit le croissant sur son front gracieus,
Elle emprunta les rais du grand flambeau du monde,
Afin d’en colorer sa belle tresse blonde :
Bref, elle butina tout le tresor des Cieux.

Elle prit au zéfirs leur odorante haleine,
Les perles à la mer, à la terre l’ebene,
Les roses et les lis, et la belle en orna.

Se faut-il estonner si cest larronnesse
Vole ainsi tant de coeurs, et desrobe sans cesse ?
Nature de larçins toute la façonna.

Claude Gaspar Bachet de MEZIRIAC, born this day in 1581


In her fair foundry, Nature forges art:
Divinity of beauty knows no peer.
The orbs of stars and planets we hold dear
Have burned their disks upon our eyes and heart.

A crest of crescent moon adorns her hairs;
She harvests rays of flaming earth to print
Upon her flowing braids their golden tint,
And shamelessly these pilfered treasures wears.

She borrows zephyr’s fragrance from the breeze,
From sea, its pearls, from earth, its ebonies,
Spring roses and the lilies of the fall—

Why then be we surprised by her largesse?
She stole our very hearts, so might we guess:
By larceny has Nature fashioned all.

— translation by JJM

9 October 2015

Worth striving for, if striving would help.

Subtle awareness of the truth of the universe should not be regarded as an achievement.

To think in terms of ‘achieving’ it is to place it outside your own nature. This is erroneous and misleading.

Your nature and the integral nature of the universe are one and the same:
Indescribable, but eternally present; unreachable, but always in evidence
Simply open yourself to this.

— Lao Tsze, from the Hua Hu Jing, tr Brian Browne Walker

8 October 2015

Sentenced to Life

Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though
Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
And when I walk the mile to town, I show
The right technique for wading through deep clay.
A sad man, sorrier than he can say.

But surely not so guilty he should die
Each day from knowing that his race is run:
My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
As if I could be true to everyone
At once, and all the damage that was done

Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
I might have met my death believing this,
But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
I see things with a whole new emphasis.

My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish, each a little finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories as perfect as plain song.

Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.

Even my memories are clearly seen:
Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
There’d be no recollection I could trust.

Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will and testament—

As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind.

— Clive James, born this day in 1939

7 October 2015

A metaphysics of abstraction

The idea of spacetime does more than teach us to rethink the meaning of past and future. It also introduces us to the idea of a mathematical universe. Spacetime is a purely mathematical structure in the sense that it has no properties at all except mathematical properties, for example the number four, its number of dimensions. In my book Our Mathematical Universe, I argue that not only spacetime, but indeed our entire external physical reality, is a mathematical structure, which is by definition an abstract, immutable entity existing outside of space and time.

read more from Max Tegmark, reviewing his own book for Nautil.us

Max Tegmark is one of the most creatively brilliant physicists of our time, and I admire and respect him enormously. But this idea—about which Tegmark has been writing more than 20 years— strikes me as reductio ad absurdum of the dogma of physicalism, a doctrine which refuses acknowledgment to the thought and experience and consciousness that is our primal nature and the basis of all knowledge. The core of what he is saying is that it is meaningless to distinguish between what exists and what is logically possible. There is no ‘it might have been otherwise’, no ‘best (or worst) of all possible worlds’. There is only mathematical possibility. This view is an especially stark contrast with that of Lawrence Krauss, cited a few days back. —JJM

6 October 2015

How to be a successful author

«Celui qui se sera étudié lui-même sera bien avancé dans la connaissance des autres.»

— citation de Denis Diderot, né cette journée en 1713

“He who studies his own mind will advance well in the understanding of others’.”

or maybe it means, “He who studies himself will be studied by others.”

or perhaps, “If you want people to read your book, you’d best begin by doing a lot of reading yourself.”

— Denis Diderot, born this day in 1713

5 October 2015

In denial about mysteries

From one stage of our being to the next,
We pass unconscious o’er a slender bridge
That crumbles down behind us. Looking back,
We see the other shore, the gulf between,
And, marveling how we won to where we stand,
Content ourselves to call the builder, “Chance”.
          — James Russell Lowell

Science looks for its keys under the street lamp, and studies those phenomena that are reliably reproducible. But sometime during the 19th Century, the community of Science took a further step: They declared that all phenomena in our world are reliably reproducible, and therefore any one-off happenings must be mistakes.

Of course, this is dogma, not science, and it has had the effect of blinding the scientific community to some of the most interesting phenomena and events in history, merely because they do not fit in with established theory and they cannot be replicated.

  • Thousands of people in Phoenix, AZ (1997) and Stephenville, TX (2008) report seeing a huge UFO.
  • Pons & Fleischmann report a cold fusion cell melted through the lab desk on which it stood and gouged a hole in the concrete floor.
  • Many hundreds of experiments with telepathy and remote viewing report compelling stories that are unique and cannot be precisely replicated.
  • Remarkable incidences of spontaneous remission and faith healing and homeopathic cures.

How is science to expand and grow and learn new things when it wears such blinders?

Einstein said that “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible.”

It follows we should not be surprised when some aspects of the world are not comprehensible, and we should be open-minded when we hear of strange phenomena which are not yet comprehensible.

— Josh Mitteldorf

4 October 2015

Unicorns, Perpetual Motion Machines, and Physical Theories of Everything

We know of no theory that both makes contact with the empirical world, and is absolutely and always true. (I don’t envisage this changing anytime soon, string theorists’ hopes notwithstanding.) Despite this, theoretical physicists have devoted considerable energy to chasing exactly this kind of theory. So, what is going on? Is a universal theory a legitimate goal, or will scientific truth always be scale-dependent?

Read more from Lawrence Krauss writing for Nautilus

3 October 2015

Blessings for Molly

Yes, there will be times when you will have to fight.
We cannot spare you that. But then, there might
be times when you can hardly breathe for laughing.
There might be frogs in ponds to wonder at, and bumblebees
and opportunities to disappear your toes in sinking sands.
Later on, there might be days when chestnut trees are still and fat
beside a river, or the motorway. There might be beer
in paper cups, and people throwing frisbees in the park.
You might come cold and tired from work, to find
that someone’s run a bath. You might see hawthorne
in an English hedgerow; catch an urban dawn
or go to bed quite drunk, with arms around you,
might feed a private hedgehog by the door one night.
There might be snowfall, bonfires, dragonfiles, a hug.
And yes, there will be rain but then, there might
be rainbows. We’ll be with you. You will be…

Jo Bell

2 October 2015

Kindness wasn’t invented by humans

The most striking thing happened as I began reading Lori Gruen’s book, Entangled Empathy: An Alternative Ethic for Our Relationships with Animals. I was sitting on the porch when a baby white-throated sparrow flew inside. Attempting to escape, the sparrow repeatedly dashed itself against the screens, head down in exhaustion. I tried to lead it to the open door. No luck. But then a male cardinal appeared outside. It hovered, went first to one side of the screen, then the other; held tight one moment, moved softly the next. Flying against the screen, it guided the captive bird, gradually, from side to side, up and down—all the while outside the porch—and led it to the open air. For twenty minutes I watched a bird save another not of its brood, and I thought: now that is empathy.

read more at Boston Review

1 October 2015

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