An uplifting news item, poem, thought or quotation each day.
Archive of past entries

21 November 2004

Don’t try to use time with maximal efficiency.
Seek instead to occupy each moment with your full presence.

-Josh Mitteldorf

20 November 2004

"To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich;
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with an open heart;
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the commonplace.
This is to be my symphony."

William Henry Channing

19 November 2004

For the last several years, neuroscientists at Caltech have been reading monkeys’ mental intentions with directly implanted electrodes in the brain. The output from the electrodes is connected to a computer screen, so the monkeys can control a video game directly from their brains, without movement of any kind. In a few weeks’ time, the monkeys learn to control these signals with great precision, just as babies learn hand-eye coordination.

People with spinal injuries and other forms of paralysis might benefit from this research shortly, regaining control over their environment via direct mental control of a computer.


18 November 2004

"In order to draw a limit to thinking, we should have to think both sides of this limit."

- Ludwig Wittgenstein

This sentence considered out of context has the inspiring quality of a Zen koan. But in context, it was an expression of modesty. In delimiting the goals of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), Wittgenstein adopts the conservative perspective that it is wasteful to attempt what may never be attained. A transcendental perspective, however, fully embraces the paradox.

"Always attempt the impossible in order to improve your work."

      This advice from no less a philosopher than Bette Davis.



17 November 2004

And Now the Extremely Good News

Everything listed below lies within the possibility space of humanity. In fact, most if not all of these items are possible within our lifetimes. They can be achieved either through technologies we have now or through technologies that are logically implied by the ones we have now.

Preserving and Nurturing the Biosphere

1. Methods of production that generate zero pollutants

3. Reversing of previous environmental damage

4. Human population levels with zero negative environmental impact

5. Preservation of natural habitat for all living species

Standards of Living

1. Eradication of hunger worldwide

3. Medical care for all

5. Total economic independence for individuals and groups who desire it

Indefinite Human Lifespan

1. Eradication of aging and infectious disease

4. Suspension of life not sustainable by current means

5. The transfer of human consciousness to new media


2. Continued blurring of line between work and play


2. Full immersion Virtual Reality to simulate any experience

(The above are selections gleaned from archives The Speculist web site.)

16 November 2004

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was a Jewish philosopher who was disavowed by the Jewish establishment of Amsterdam, with the equivalent of excommunication. Like most heretics, his sin was to find religion in his heart and in his relation to the world, rather than in the scriptures which he had been asked to accept on faith.

He reminds us to choose with care the people, the principles and the God to which we devote ourselves. For "all happiness or unhappiness solely depends upon the quality of the object to which we are attached by love"


15 November 2004

We associate space exploration with huge rockets that burn huge amounts of fuel. That’s because the exhaust coming out the back can’t really go very fast. Hydrogen-oxygen is the highest energy fuel combination that's cheap enough to burn in bulk, and it makes enough energy to create a jet of 8,000 miles per hour: not so great when you need to get your payload up to 25,000 miles per hour just to escape earth’s gravity.

So the European Space Agency’s SMART-1 rocket uses a different idea: much cheaper and more efficient, with exhaust velocities above 50,000 mph, and energy that comes from solar panels.  "There's no combustion," says Giuseppi Racca, "we split the atoms with electricity to get ions, accelerate them at high speed and eject them." 

The catch is that they work very gradually: the ion engine has taken a year in earth’s orbit, climbing in ever expanding circles.  Still, since there's no friction in space, the acceleration accumulates over time.  Today the space probe is scheduled to break away from Earth’s gravitational pull and enter orbit around the moon, which is its quarry.