Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Musical Interlude: 2002, "Starwalkers"

2002, "Starwalkers" 

Musical Interlude: Loreena McKennitt, “Mummers Dance”

Loreena McKennitt, “Mummers Dance”

"A Look to the Heavens"

"Why do many galaxies appear as spirals? A striking example is M101, shown above, whose relatively close distance of about 27 million light years allows it to be studied in some detail. Recent evidence indicates that a close gravitational interaction with a neighboring galaxy created waves of high mass and condensed gas which continue to orbit the galaxy center. 
Click image for larger size.
These waves compress existing gas and cause star formation. One result is that M101, also called the Pinwheel Galaxy, has several extremely bright star-forming regions (called HII regions) spread across its spiral arms. M101 is so large that its immense gravity distorts smaller nearby galaxies."

The Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke, "Sunset"


"Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,
leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so helplessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs –
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Chet Raymo, “Things In Themselves, Myself Being Myself”

“Things In Themselves, Myself Being Myself”
by Chet Raymo

“One of the consistent themes of this blog has been the search for "the thing itself," that is, a knowledge of reality that is not mediated by accidents of history, culture, religion, politics, or personal foibles and prejudices. Impossible, of course. We are always to some extent prisoners of our limited perceptual apparatus and the hard and soft wiring of our brains. Nevertheless, "the thing itself" remains the elusive Holy Grail of human knowing.

Science is the most effective instrument we have yet devised to minimize the intrusiveness of cultural and personal prejudice. The goal of science is reliable consensus knowledge of the world out there, not necessarily "the thing itself," but as close to "the thing itself" as we can get. Mathematics, quantification, instrumentation, experiment, impersonal communication, peer review, and all the rest have been devised to strip away the filters of culture and biology. 

By its very nature, scientific knowing is limited to those aspects of the real that lend themselves to quantification and experiment. Which means whole realms of human experience- self-awareness, love, beauty, the apprehension of mystery- have been, so far, largely impermeable to scientific inquiry. Which leaves ample territory for artists to pursue their own quest for "the thing itself."

I have written here before about the photographer Edward Weston and his explicit search for "the thing itself," and the poet Wallace Stevens' "not ideas about the thing but the thing itself." Virginia Woolf is another artist who sought the thing itself- "it," she called it- especially in her novel "The Waves."  Woolf wanted to express "the fundamental things in human experience," unmediated, as far as possible, by the novelist's art. She wanted "to reach into the silence" and retrieve something fundamental and universal. The novel begins with elemental description:

"I see a ring," said Bernard, "hanging above me. It quivers and hangs in a loop of light."
"I see a slab of pale yellow," said Susan, "spreading away until it meets a purple stripe."
"I hear a sound," said Rhoda, "cheep, chirp; cheep, chirp; going up and down."
"I see a globe," said Neville, "hanging down in a drop against the enormous flanks of some hill."
"I see a crimson tassel," said Jinny, "twisted with gold threads."
"I hear something stamping," said Louis. "A great beast's foot is chained. It stamps, and stamps, and stamps."

This would not seem to be a promising beginning for a novel, but at least the novelist shows her cards. What follows will be the voices of six characters trying to articulate their unvarnished perceptions and inner feelings. We are taken deep into the inner and outer realities of Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny and Louis, searching for the thing itself. Recognizing that any apprehension of the real must be expressed in "flawed words and stubborn sounds," we end, as with Wallace Stevens, in silence. Or if not in silence, at least with many excrescences of the mind pared away. In his final soliloquy, Bernard says: "I have done with phrases. How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee-cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself. Do not come and worry me with your hints that it is time to shut the shop and be gone, I would willingly give all my money that you should not disturb me but let me sit on and on, silent, alone."

The paradox: As humans we inevitably perceive and describe, seeking the real, never knowing with certainty which of our words are merely echoes in the sounding chambers of our minds.”

"1,700 Foot Tidal Wave? 'Son, it's time to pray...'"

"1,700 Foot Tidal Wave? 'Son, it's time to pray...'" 
by Casey Kazan

"On the night of July 7th, 1958, the world’s largest wave in recorded history engorged Alaska's Lituya bay, located about 250 miles west of Juneau in the Gulf of Alaska. It was 1,700 feet, or 520 meters- almost twice the height of the Eiffel Tower. The tsunami was triggered by a magnitude 8.3 earthquake, which caused an enormous landslide along the Fairweather Fault. The resulting crash of rock into water caused the largest wall of water in human history. The deadly wave hurtled at jet speeds and wiped out everything within a four mile radius.

Fortunately Lituya Bay was virtually uninhabited, otherwise it would have caused unprecedented destruction, far greater than the tsunami that struck Thailand in 2004. At the time of the colossal wave, there were only three fishing boats anchored out in the bay and amazingly only one sank, with two people losing their lives. The other boats were able to surf the crest of the tsunami. The Science Channel and Dr George PC quoted one of the survivors Howard G. Ulrich in a recent article about the wave impact: Ulrich heard the sound of the enormous wave ripping through the land and obscuring the sky, he reportedly said to his 8-year-old child “Son…it’s time to pray.”

Can a similar tsunami strike the west coast of the U.S. again? Geological evidence makes it almost a certainty - the region is the heart of the world's most active sesmic zone: the Pacific Rim of Fire.

On January the 26th, 1700, sometime around 9 p.m. local time, the Juan de Fuca segment of the planet shifted- suddenly. It slipped some 60 feet eastward beneath the North American plate, and caused a monster magnitude 9 quake. It set in motion tsunamis that struck the coast of North America and traveled to the shores of Japan. Seismic research shows that these mega quakes occur every 400 to 500 years. Kim Olsen of San Diego State University (SDSU) and his team created a supercomputer-powered “virtual earthquake” program that allowed them to recreate such an event. This program encompassed the work of scientists from SDSU, San Diego Supercomputer Center at University of California/San Diego, and the U.S. Geological Survey. To ensure that the entire representation of what could happen is accurate, William Stephenson of the U.S. Geological Survey worked with Olsen and Andreas Geisselmeyer from Ulm University in Germany to create an accurate representation of the earth’s subsurface layering that area. This “velocity model” – the first of its kind – expressed how the structure will bend, reflect, and change in size and direction.

Their scenario depicted a rupture beginning in the north and propagating toward the south along the 600-mile long Cascadia Subduction Zone (an area where two tectonic plates move towards one another, forcing one to slide beneath the other). In their scenario, the ground moved about 1.5 feet per second in Seattle, nearly 6 inches per second in Tacoma, Olympia and Vancouver, and 3 inches in Portland, Oregon. “We also found that these high ground velocities were accompanied by significant low-frequency shaking, like what you feel in a roller coaster, that lasted as long as five minutes – and that’s a long time,” said Olsen. “One thing these studies will hopefully do is to raise awareness of the possibility of mega-thrust earthquakes happening at any given time in the Pacific Northwest,” Olsen added. “Because these events will tend to occur several hundred kilometers from major cities, the study also implies that the region could benefit from an early warning system that can allow time for protective actions before the brunt of the shaking starts.”

This is bad news for the North West for two reasons: one, because the combined long-duration shaking and high ground velocities raise the possibility that such an earthquake could inflict major damage on downtown Seattle; and two, areas like Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia sit on top of sediment filled geological basins, thus, amplifying the waves generated by major earthquakes. “The information from these simulations can also play a role in research into the hazards posed by large tsunamis," added Olsen, "which can originate from such mega-thrust earthquakes like the ones generated in the 2004 Sumatra-Andeman earthquake in Indonesia."

"The Grandeur Of Thought..."

"Surely there is grandeur in knowing that in the realm of thought, at least, you are without a chain; that you have the right to explore all heights and depth; that there are no walls nor fences, nor prohibited places, nor sacred corners in all the vast expanse of thought."
- Robert Green Ingersoll

"As Far As We Can Go..."

“The development of our cerebral cortex has been the greatest achievement of the evolutionary processes. Big deal. While allowing us the thrills of intellect or the pangs of self-consciousness, it is all too often overruled by our inner, instinctive brain - the one that tells us to react, not reflect, to run, rather than ruminate. Maybe we have gone as far as we can go and the next advance, whatever that may be - will be made by beings we create ourselves, using our own technology. Life forms we can design and program not to be ultimately governed and constricted by the rules of survival. Or perhaps that step forward had already been achieved on another planet by organisms that had a billion years head start on us. If these beings ever visited us, would we recognize what we were seeing? And upon catching sight of us, would they react in anything but horror at seeing such mindless, primitive, hideous creatures?”
- “Fox Mulder,” "The X-Files"

The Daily "Near You?"

Incline Village, Nevada, USA. Thanks for stopping by.


"Action trumps depression. Confronted with a situation in which our feelings of powerlessness are more than just feelings, we choose to fight the odds, as an existential statement. We bellow our savage war cry in the face of the Roman Legions. We swim against the tidal wave. We attack Goliath with a slingshot, and throw stones at a Sherman tank, and ravage ICBMs with our ball peen hammer. We actively reject the reality of our helplessness; and as we assert defiance, we fan the embers of humanity wherever they live within ourselves and our brothers and sisters."
-  Josh Mitteldorf
"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

- Dylan Thomas

"I Wonder..."

Well, I wonder about a lot of things, maybe you do too. Maybe it's just me, too stupid to get the "big picture", but I wonder... I wonder why there are 48 million people living in poverty in this country, when a few have millions, even billions of dollars, while children go hungry at night all over this country. I wonder why there's millions of homeless, living in tent camps, families sleeping in cars, under bridges and in alleys, 200,000 homeless veterans, while a few have $50 million walled estates. Who NEEDS 18 bedrooms? 

I wonder- in horrified amazement- at the false flag operations they use to start wars in which our kids, but not theirs, die, for the incredible profits the "defense" industry generates. I wonder why that doesn't bother them at all, slaughtering literally millions of people, including our own troops, for profit, and why we keep believing their lies, again and again. I wonder why we so proudly watch as our children march off and die in wars for "freedom and democracy," and "honor their service", clutching tightly the old comforting fables of "Mom, the flag and apple pie" that never really existed. Maybe we're too frightened to know and admit, even secretly to ourselves, that there's no honor in dying for Exxon/Mobil and the rest, though that's the real reason for it.

I wonder how the game got so rigged, how millions of American jobs got "outsourced" overseas so their already incredible profits and shareholder dividends can be even greater than they already are, resulting in such pain and misery, foreclosures and hardship, 23.5 % true unemployment, the truly tragic human cost of their wealth, all so they can get richer than they already, obscenely, are.

I wonder why we put up with the fairy tale that we have "democracy", and why we put up with those spineless, cheap little whores we call "politicians", who gleefully dance as their Money Masters pull their strings for their own benefit. 

I wonder why we keep taking it and taking it, like a beaten dog whimpering in the corner. We are many, they are few...

Why? I don't know. But I do know it's about money. Always money, because money gives power and privilege, and control of the game. I wonder how the "Elite" sleep at night, and have no conscience at all, arrogant beyond description and full of self-righteous belief that they're "entitled", "deserving" of all they have, that they're "better" than the rest of us. And I wonder how it got this way,  and wonder where it's going, and how it must and will all end, and have no real answers... do you?

Meanwhile, I know who our real enemies are, and as General Patton said, "May God have mercy on my enemies, because I won't." And on this little blog, my only means of addressing all this, neither will I... Paulo Coellho wrote, "We shall love our adversaries, but not make alliances with them. They are placed in our way to test our sword, and deserve the respect of our fight." And so we shall...  ;-)
- CP

"We Live, As We Dream..."

"Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems I am trying to tell you a dream- making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams... no, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence- that which makes its truth, its meaning- its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream- alone..."
- Joseph Conrad, “Heart of Darkness “

"Beginning With A Line From Neruda"

"Beginning With A Line From Neruda"
By Gary Corseri

"Puedo escribir versos mas tristes esta noche."
("Tonight I can write sadder verses.")
- Neruda

"Because the moon has disappeared from grief.
Because the children weep for their parents.
Because memories are whitewashed" and stolen.
Because words have lost their meaning.
Because I have lived through this before.
Because, I assure you, this does not end well.

Neither Nature nor Nurture can save us.
Because we have murdered Nature.

Because we are peasants in a land of thieves.
Because we are beyond consolation.
Because beauty is sold into whoredom.
Because the coin of the realm is a slug.
Because we pray, but have forgotten how.
Because we "find," but dare no longer seek.
Because we enslave- others and ourselves.

Bowing to fools, we shackle the wise.
The Children of Light flutter- and depart,
Leaving their questions in the quivering air:
"Why bring us into this pinwheel of sorrows?
Wasn't it better not to be born?"

Graphic: Guernica, "Arms Raised"

"How It Really Is, And Always Will Be"

The Economy: “SIPC Insurance Scam from Fraud Street- Professor Laurence Kotlikoff”

“SIPC Insurance Scam from Fraud Street- 
Professor Laurence Kotlikoff”
by Greg Hunter’s USAWatchdog. 

“Renowned economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff says SIPC (Securities Investor Protection Corporation) is an insurance scam from Fraud Street. Dr. Kotlikoff contends, “If you look at the history of their response as it’s been discovered, they (SIPC) have been fighting tooth and nail never to pay a dollar. So, the situation is not that we don’t have any insurance for your brokerage account, it’s far worse. There’s a Ponzi scheme discovered every four days, according to a recent New York Times article. So, they can declare a fraud very easily.” As an example, Dr. Kotlikoff gives someone who lost $2 million and is expecting to get back at least the SIPC insurance claim of $500,000, the maximum payout. Instead of getting money back, SIPC expects money back from you! Dr. Kotlikoff explains, “So, you are at double jeopardy here. It’s not just that you can get totally screwed by a brokerage firm, which is happening every four days because a Ponzi scheme is being discovered, you can also be at great jeopardy by SIPC itself.” Meaning, SIPC cannot only deny your claim, but it can sue you for any profits you made beyond your original investment if there are losses because of a fraudulent brokerage. Dr. Kotlikoff adds, “So, they are running a complete insurance scam. It’s a disgrace. There is a bill in front of Congress that would correct this, but so far, members of Congress have not pushed it through.”

Dr. Kotlikoff goes on to say, “Earning a decent return on your investments is not being a winner; it’s just having a normal economic life. That’s what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to save and invest and enjoy the returns of your investments.  So, to be labeled a ‘winner’ and not be labeled a victim, and be told that your remaining balance is totally uninsured, and you have to pay back everything you took out over the last six years is disgraceful. It’s also very, very dangerous.  Right now, nobody should have a brokerage account. They should close them immediately and not spend your money for six years. If you spend your money they can sue you for every dollar of return, and that can be far beyond what you put in because of compound interest. This is called a ‘net equity clawback,’and it’s a disgrace.”

Are any brokerages safe?  Dr. Kotlikoff says, “You are not safe in any of these companies. You don’t know exactly what they are doing. You don’t know if they are taking your securities and borrowing against them. You may have signed something with fine print that allows them to hypothecate your securities, and then they could borrow money and put on a big bet... now, they lost all the money and the brokerage goes under. That could be called a Ponzi scheme... anything can be called a Ponzi scheme. Anybody who has a brokerage account should move their money out and contact their member of Congress and get them to pass this bill because it’s not going to be safe for anybody at any point in time to invest in a brokerage account unless this is changed. The bill is called “Restoring Main Street Investor Protection and Confidence Act.” SIPC has been engaged in such fraud that even the Securities and Exchange Commission has sued SIPC to get them to pay off the legitimate claims of the Stanford victims, the second largest Ponzi scheme after Madoff.”

Dr. Kotlikoff goes on to warn of massive and ongoing Wall Street fraud. Dr. Kotlikoff says, “Every day we are reading about a big bank being fined billions of dollars. Recently, Bank of America had a $16 billion fine the bank had to pay for selling fraudulent securities. They know they are selling you snake oil, and they are getting away with it, and nobody is going to jail. I call Wall Street, at this point, Fraud Street, and one of the biggest rackets is the SIPC brokerage account insurance–it’s not really insurance. A fraud occurs and Wall Street, through SIPC, says we owe you nothing, and they sue you to get paid back. That’s what we call an insurance scam. Wall Street, through SIPC, has been running a massive insurance scam. In many ways, you could say SIPC is running its own Ponzi scheme.”

Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with Boston University economics professor Laurence Kotlikoffand creator of”

Satire: “Female G.O.P. Senators Propose Earning Seventy-one Per Cent As Much As Male Colleagues”

“Female G.O.P. Senators Propose Earning 
Seventy-one Per Cent As Much As Male Colleagues”
by Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)— “Two days after voting against the Paycheck Fairness Act, a law that would help women to obtain equal pay, the four female Republicans in the United States Senate co-sponsored a bill that would slash their salaries to seventy-one per cent of what their male colleagues earn.

The senators—Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)—said that the best way to take a stand against big government’s intrusive attempts to mandate equal pay for women was to take a twenty-nine-per-cent pay cut themselves. “The days of the federal government forcing us to earn as much as male senators are over,” Ayotte said. “We will not stop fighting until we make twenty-nine per cent less.”

Fischer said that after voting down paycheck equity for women across America, the female Republican senators realized that they themselves were “burdened by the tyranny of equal pay” in the U.S. Senate. “All we are asking for is the same freedom from equal pay that other American women enjoy,” Ayotte said. Though the bill was just proposed on Wednesday morning, Murkowski said that it already has the unanimous support of male Republicans in the Senate.”

Ebola: “U.S. Government Likely To Respond to Ebola Pandemic With Military Force, Martial Law and Forced Vaccines”

“U.S. Government Likely To Respond to Ebola Pandemic 
With Military Force, Martial Law and Forced Vaccines”
by Mike Adams

“The U.S. government is putting plans in place right now to invoke extreme emergency actions across the USA in response to an anticipated Ebola outbreak sweeping through U.S. cities. Late last week, the U.S. State Department ordered 160,000 Ebola hazmat suits in anticipation of an outbreak, and President Obama has already called upon the Pentagon to dispatch troops and supplies to Africa.

Earlier this summer, Obama signed a curious executive order that claims to grant federal officers the lawful right to arrest and quarantine anyone who shows symptoms of an infection. Full details of this executive order are explained in this 11-part Natural News article series covering Ebola truths the government isn't publicly advertising.

What else might the government do in a viral pandemic outbreak that threatens U.S. cities? Full details of the spectrum of options are revealed in Episode Four of my FREE online course Pandemic Preparedness, available now at There, you'll learn:

• Why Homeland Security does not want to admit to national vulnerabilities to biological weapons
• How government doesn't want the public to panic and lose trust in government
• Why the CDC seeks to create as much fear and panic as possible in order to enrich pharmaceutical interests
• Why government is primarily interested in the survival of government, not the survival of the citizens
• The U.S. government already has plans in place to survive massive pandemics: deep underground bunkers already exist for high-level officials
• Extensive plans are already in place for national emergency actions: confiscation of resources, quarantine of citizens, martial law, etc.
• Why quarantines will be enforced at gunpoint with lethal force
• Because most citizens are not prepared, they will become part of the crisis and create a crisis burden on government
• How government becomes a threat by mandating experimental vaccines
• History has proven that we can't trust the safety of government-promoted vaccines
• Scientific fraud has been openly admitted by a top CDC scientist
• If an Ebola vaccine is made available, it will be an experimental vaccine that's not tested for long-term safety
• The vaccine industry already has absolute legal immunity and zero liability from the harm caused by their products
• There are strategies you can use in almost any scenario to increase your odds of survival, even under a medical dictatorship
• Why you need to survive so that you can contribute to the rebuilding of society after the pandemic
• How WE (humans) caused the pandemics! We are the cause of the planetary imbalances that lead to viral outbreaks

Learn all these details and more at the FREE online Pandemic Preparedness course at"

Musical Interlude: Vangelis, “Continuum”

Vangelis, “Continuum” 

"Chromaradio: Choosing Your Own Musical Interludes"

"Our purpose is to offer a wide range of music selections that fit any style. Ranging between Greek and international mainstream hits, New Age, the sounds of nature, smooth jazz, Soul and Christmas. You just click on the icon representing the stream you want to listen. A pop-up window with flash player will appear to your screen. Music will play automatically. If not you can click on the icons below. A file will be downloaded to your windows,mac os or linux based PC. Double click the downloaded file (for example playlist-1.asx.asf) and your player will start play the stream. For mobile devices click on the mobile icon. Popular compatible players: i-tunes , real player , vlc, winamp , wmp. Chromaradio offers you high quality,remastered audio streams at 128Kbps MP3 or 32Kbs AAC+.

You will like this :-)

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Massive stars, abrasive winds, mountains of dust, and energetic light sculpt one of the largest and most picturesque regions of star formation in the Local Group of Galaxies. Known as N11, the region is visible on the upper right of many images of its home galaxy, the Milky Way neighbor known as the Large Magellanic Clouds (LMC). 
Click image for larger size.
The above image was taken for scientific purposes by the Hubble Space Telescope and reprocessed for artistry by an amateur to win the Hubble's Hidden Treasures competition. Although the section imaged above is known as NGC 1763, the entire N11 emission nebula is second in LMC size only to 30 Doradus. Studying the stars in N11 has shown that it actually houses three successive generations of star formation. Compact globules of dark dust housing emerging young stars are also visible around the image.”

"An Exquisite Balance..."

“It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas… If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you… On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones.”
- Carl Sagan
Unless, of course, your ideas come pre-packaged and are digested without thought...

In which case, the expected reaction to unpleasantries is easy to predict...
lol, yeah...

"We Are Free..."

“The worst that could happen to us is that we have to die, and since that is already our unalterable fate, we are free; those who have lost everything no longer have anything to fear.”

“Death is our eternal companion. It is always to our left, an arm’s length behind us. Death is the only wise adviser that a warrior has. Whenever he feels that everything is going wrong and he’s about to be annihilated, he can turn to his death and ask if that is so. His death will tell him that he is wrong, that nothing really matters outside its touch. His death will tell him, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.’”
- Carlos Castaneda

Chet Raymo, “Stretching The Imagination”

“Stretching The Imagination”
by Chet Raymo

“Professor, that stuff you spoke of in class this morning- about the beginning of the universe..."


"Well, you know how you said that the universe began 14 billion years ago as an infinitely small point...?"

Yes, that appears to be the case. An explosion from a point of infinite energy. Space and time expanding from nothing. Matter coalescing from cooling radiation. Stars, galaxies...

"To tell the truth, I'm having a hard time believing it. I mean, the idea that everything that exists today, the billions and billions of galaxies, stars and planets, life, everything, was contained within something no bigger than a pinprick. I mean, come you really expect me to swallow that?"

You will recall that I listed some pretty convincing evidence: The galaxies are racing apart, as from a primordial explosion; the amount of hydrogen and helium in the universe is just what theory predicts for a Big Bang beginning; and, not least, we see the flash of the Big Bang in every direction of space, with precisely the predicted spectrum.

"Yeah, I know. I understand most of that stuff. But I keep coming back to the idea of the whole universe contained within a pinprick. I mean, it's impossible to imagine."

It is difficult to imagine, I'll grant you. But not impossible. Mathematically, it can be described exactly. Mathematics is a big help to the imagination.

"It sounds impossible."

Let me tell you a story. More than 2,000 years ago in Alexandria, Egypt, there were two fellows, named Eratosthenes and Aristarchus. They were excellent mathematicians. Eratosthenes was a geographer. He imagined that the Earth was a sphere. He figured out how to measure the size of the sphere by using shadows cast by the Sun at Alexandria and another place down the valley of the Nile. He used some mathematics that at the time was pretty advanced stuff- geometry, trig.

He calculated the size of the Earth and got it nearly dead-on, without ever leaving Alexandria. That's what I mean about mathematics being an aid to the imagination. Then Aristarchus used the size of the Earth to figure out the sizes and distances of the Sun and the Moon. He observed eclipses of the Moon, and measured the time it takes the moon to move through the shadow of the Earth. Then he did some high-powered mathematics with circles and triangles. According to his calculations, the Sun is many times bigger than the Earth.

Aristarchus told his fellow Alexandrians about his discovery. If the Earth is the size of a grape, he may have said, then the Sun is the size of a melon. They laughed. Any fool can see that the Sun is tiny compared to the vast, wide Earth. Why, for heaven's sake, one can cover up the Sun with the tip of one's little finger, but travel across the Earth for weeks without ever leaving Egypt. The Sun bigger than the Earth? No way, it was simply impossible to imagine.

"But. .."

And Aristarchus got one crucial observation wrong, through no fault of his own. In fact, the relative sizes of the Earth and Sun are more like a grape and a washing machine, something every school child accepts today. The moral of the story is- the "impossible" can turn out to be true.

"But the whole universe contained within a pinprick? It violates common sense."

Einstein once said that common sense is the collection of prejudices we acquire by age 18. I'm not telling you to believe the Big Bang if you don't want to, but keep your options open. One generation's impossibility often turns out to be the next generation's common sense.

"You're asking me to take it on faith?"

Yes, on faith. But not on blind faith. As we saw this morning in class, there is impressive observational evidence. The calculations are based on Einstein's general theory of relativity, which has many important successes to its credit. Then there's the record of success by the successors of Eratosthenes and Aristarchus. Just think of all the scientific discoveries that were thought to be nonsense in their time. The Earth going around the Sun. The evolution of life over bilions of years. Continents drifting and colliding. A chemical blueprint for a human being in the DNA of a single microscopic cell. And besides, it's a wonderful, wonderful story- a universe unfolding from a mathematical point!

"Yeah, it's an wonderful story, all right. But..."


"But I still don't believe it."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Daily "Near You?"

Reading, United Kingdom. Thanks for stopping by.


"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. 
Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be 
strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved."
- Helen Keller

Psychology: "If You're Busy, You're Doing Something Wrong: The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers"

"If You're Busy, You're Doing Something Wrong:
The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers"
by Cal Newport

"The Berlin Study: In the early 1990s, a trio of psychologists descended on the Universität der Künste, a historic arts academy in the heart of West Berlin. They came to study the violinists. As described in their subsequent publication in Psychological Review, the researchers asked the academy's music professors to help them identify a set of stand out violin players - the students who the professors believed would go onto careers as professional performers. We'll call this group the elite players.

For a point of comparison, they also selected a group of students from the school's education department. These were students who were on track to become music teachers. They were serious about violin, but as their professors explained, their ability was not in the same league as the first group. We'll call this group the average players.

The three researchers subjected their subjects to a series of in-depth interviews. They then gave them diaries which divided each 24-hour period into 50 minute chunks, and sent them home to keep a careful log of how they spent their time. Flush with data, the researchers went to work trying to answer a fundamental question: Why are the elite players better than the average players? The obvious guess is that the elite players are more dedicated to their craft. That is, they're willing to put in the long,Tiger Mom-style hours required to get good, while the average players are off goofing around and enjoying life. The data, as it turns out, had a different story to tell...

Decoding the Patterns of the Elite: We can start by disproving the assumption that the elite players dedicate more hours to music. The time diaries revealed that both groups spent, on average, the same number of hours on music per week (around 50). The difference was in how they spent this time. The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice - the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability. This might not be surprising, as the importance of deliberate practice had been replicated and reported many times (c.f., Gladwell). But the researchers weren't done.

They also studied how the students scheduled their work. The average players, they discovered, spread their work throughout the day. A graph included in the paper, which shows the average time spent working versus the waking hours of the day, is essentially flat. The elite players, by contrast, consolidated their work into two well-defined periods. When you plot the average time spent working versus the hours of the day for these players, there are two prominent peaks: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In fact, the more elite the player, the more pronounced the peaks. For the best of the best - the subset of the elites who the professors thought would go on to play in one of Germany's two best professional orchestras - there was essentially no deviation from a rigid two-sessions a day schedule. This isolation of work from leisure had pronounced effects in other areas of the players' lives.

Consider, for example, sleep: the elite players slept an hour more per night than the average players. Also consider relaxation. The researchers asked the players to estimate how much time they dedicated each week to leisure activities - an important indicator of their subjective feeling of relaxation. By this metric, the elite players were significantly more relaxed than the average players, and the best of the best were the most relaxed of all.

Hard Work is Different than Hard to Do Work: To summarize these results: The average players are working just as many hours as the elite players (around 50 hours a week spent on music), but they're not dedicating these hours to the right type of work (spending almost 3 times less hours than the elites on crucial deliberate practice), and furthermore, they spread this work haphazardly throughout the day. So even though they're not doing more work than the elite players, they end up sleeping less and feeling more stressed. Not to mention that they remain worse at the violin.

I've seen this same phenomenon time and again in my study of high achievers. It came up so often in my study of top students, for example, that I even coined a name for it: the paradox of the relaxed Rhodes Scholar. This study sheds some light on this paradox. It provides empirical evidence that there's a difference between hard work and hard to do work: Hard work is deliberate practice. It's not fun while you're doing it, but you don't have to do too much of it in any one day (the elite players spent, on average, 3.5 hours per day engaged in deliberate practice, broken into two sessions). It also provides you measurable progress in a skill, which generates a strong sense of contentment and motivation. Therefore, although hard work is hard, it's not draining and it can fit nicely into a relaxed and enjoyable day. Hard to do work, by contrast, is draining. It has you running around all day in a state of false busyness that leaves you, like the average players from the Berlin study, feeling tired and stressed. It also, as we just learned, has very little to do with real accomplishment.

This analysis leads to an important conclusion. Whether you're a student or well along in your career, if your goal is to build a remarkable life, then busyness and exhaustion should be your enemy. If you're chronically stressed and up late working, you're doing something wrong. You're the average players from the Universität der Künste - not the elite. You've built a life around hard to do work, not hard work. The solution suggested by this research, as well as my own, is as simple as it is startling: Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you're done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day."

The Poet: William Stafford, "Ask Me"

"Ask Me"
by William Stafford

"Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden, and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say."

“Salt Is Not the Enemy. Guess What Actually Ruins Your Health Instead?”

“Salt Is Not the Enemy. 
Guess What Actually Ruins Your Health Instead?”
By Lynn Stuart Parramore

“Just the other day I purchased a bag of roasted peanuts, sensing my mouth water in ancipation of the salty goodness. Wrong! I had accidentally bought the unsalted version. Folks, there are few things less tasty than an unsalted peanut, unless it's unsalted grits (yep, I'm southern). The reason I was subjected to such a monstrosity is that for years, the medical profession has been telling us that salt is bad and will cause high blood pressure and other health woes if we don't watch our intake.

But is that really true? A new study in the "American Journal of Cardiology" was conducted by Saint Luke's cardiologist James O'Keefe of the Mid-America Heart Institute and James DiNicolantonio, also of the Mid-America Heart Institute. The researchers found that sugar, not salt, is the true enemy of heart health.

O'Keefe stated that "the number one demon in our diet that's making us sick and overweight and depressed and unhealthy is sugar, added sugar." The reason he gave is that sugar makes us hungry all the time and tends to boost our craving for more sweets. "If I could say one of the simple things people can radically do to improve their health is to don't eat anything with added sugar,” O'Keefe said.

So how did salt get fingered as the culprit? Back in 2001, the National Institutes of Health published an oft-cited study called the DASH-sodium study, which found that participants who consumed less sodium than the control group ended up with lower blood pressure. That study put salt on the hit list for America's dietary guidelines. But it turns out that other studies have failed to produce the same result.

Some experts are now suggesting that cutting back on salt is actually bad for your health. They propose that your body needs sodium, and if it is deprived, the kidney secretes an enzyme called renin that can lead to hypertension. Some studies have found that low sodium levels may actually boost the chance of heart failure. In 2011, Scientific American went full-throttle with an article defending salt and suggesting that hypersensitivity to salt among some elderly individuals and African Americans has unduly cast a shadow on something that is no problem for most of us.

At the very least, it seems fair to say that the eat-less-salt argument is controversial, and that the link between salt and heart disease does not appear to be as strong as American public health officials may have believed. Unless we have some special sensitivity, we may not need to consign ourselves to the hell of unsalted peanuts. Thank goodness.”

"How It Really Is"

“’Dr. Strangelove’ vs. ISIS”

“’Dr. Strangelove’ vs. ISIS”
by Barry Levinson

“In the past there have been films about the absurdity of war and political madness. The Marx Brothers explored it in the brilliant “Duck Soup.” “The Mouse that Roared” looked at a country declaring war on the United States in order to get foreign aid; “Dr. Strangelove” showed the Cold War danger of blowing up the world with comedic precision. Satire has always been a method for us to explore our faults and false expectations of world order. But satire in the movies might be dead now, replaced by daily satire that is for real. We live in a world of complete and utter madness. And nothing highlights this absurdism like the current conflict with the Islamic State, or what is called ISIS or ISIL.

We hear reports that this may be the most dangerous threat the United States has ever faced. I won't minimize that statement. I can only question the absurdity of this premise. We have a military budget that exceeds $445 billion a year. We have the largest air force in the world. Second largest to the Air Force is our navy. We have battleships, aircraft carriers, stealth bombers, stealth fighter planes; we have tanks, drones, armored personal carriers and vast amounts of other weapons of war. So the premise, if you were making a satire of this situation, would be that the United States cannot defeat an army of 30,000 religious zealots who ride around in pickup trucks with guns on the back. Too illogical for a movie? It all goes back to the old Mark Twain statement, "The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to be credible." Of course the moderate Muslims could go to war against the Muslim extremists, but that wouldn't be in the world of absurdity.

I know religious zealots are dangerous. They always have been. Perhaps they always will be. But now with 24-hour news, this group has become all-consuming, and ISIS provides the videos. Are we supposed to watch a beheading every few weeks? They certainly can provide that. They do it simply for attention. This is part of the new absurdist warfare. And it plays well on cable news. Then we respond by interviewing ex-generals or other important military personnel who lay out potential strategy. Some of these thoughts might actually be worthwhile, but then again, you do have the enemy listening. It would be comparable to discussing the logistics of a possible D-Day attack on the air prior to the invasion. But this is somewhat of a TV war being played out. We openly say what we won't do: "No boots on the ground." Now the enemy knows a lot more than they should be entitled to know. But we, the TV audience, know more, and that's good television, supposedly. Can you imagine if we informed the Germans during World War II that we weren't going to invade Europe for two years, just to give them a heads up?

You can picture a scene at ISIS headquarters, in a tent, somewhere in the desert with a satellite dish tuned in to CNN. "No boots on the ground! Great! We attack [fill in the blank] tomorrow. No resistance! Will there be air strikes?" (A commercial comes on.) "We will have to wait until the commercial break is over."

We have experts saying this will be a long war, which must excite CNN. They can stop producing some of those silly alternative programs they were doing to drum up an audience. A long-time war that can play out nightly with an enemy that plays for the camera. This is a bonanza of TV dollars waiting to be made. A long war! And how convenient to tell the enemy that the group will have a long life of influence. At some point the beheadings will lose their impact, as disgusting as that sounds, and will be replaced by something even more vile and disgusting. The visual must always increase the voltage or interest will wane. Real, thoughtful solutions may take a backseat. Boring. We are about to enter a real TV war with an enemy that loves to be on video.

It was only a matter of time before some began to exploit TV for its propaganda. Hitler understood pomp and circumstance, but he didn't have the world of TV back then. He did understand the importance of uniforms, and colors, and parades, and fiery rhetoric. And he understood the importance of symbols and armbands. This group plays up their brutality, their arrogance, their invincibility. They have black and white flags, too. It looks cool.

This is to be the reality version of "Game of Thrones." Expect a long run.”
Dr. Strangelove, “Major Kong Rides the Bomb”