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

19 December 2004

Relinquish your privacy. Voluntarily open to others the details you find most embarrassing.  There are no shameful thoughts, only fears that borrow from secrecy the power to haunt you.  Your judgment of yourself may be unforgiving, but friends are understanding. Take pride in the way you have handled difficult situations.  Find courage to change those thoughts and habits that are unworthy of you.

It all begins in the light of open discussion. 

-Josh Mitteldorf

18 December 2004

"The world of everyday is nothing but an inverted magic act, lulling its audience into believing in the usual, familiar conceptions of space and time, while the astonishing truth of quantum reality lies carefully guarded by nature’s sleights of hand"

-Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos

What is he talking about?  Our usual notion of cause and effect was formalized by physicists (including Einstein, as late as 1915) as a foundational principle of physics: 

  • that physical influences can be classified as "cause" and "effect"
  • that the effect has to come after the cause, never before
  • that it's possible to isolate one object or system of objects from outside influences, and see what it does "by itself"

Quantum mechanics violates all three of these principles.  There is a broad and enduring web of connections that tie together far-flung parts of the cosmos.  David Bohm called this web the implicate order.  The only reason our "normal" view of the world works at all is that this web of influences is hidden behind a veil of quantum randomness, so that in objects of everyday size, the far-flung influences appear, on average, to cancel.  


17 December 2004

In many religious traditions, dreams are prophets of the future. To Freud, dreams were the "royal road to the subconscious," revealing secret desires too shameful to be expressed in waking life. But to Fritz Perls, originator of the Gestalt school of psychotherapy, dreams provide a script for personal growth. A favorite Gestalt activity is to act out scenes from a dream, repeating the performance with the self in every possible role. The idea is that we are not just ‘ourselves’ in our dreams, but every voice and every role. We are all of our dreams: the oppressor and the oppressed, the villain, the victim, the savior. By play-acting all these roles in turn, we give voice to the forces within us, and facilitate their integration in harmonious relationship.

"If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time." 
  - Marcel Proust

16 December 2004

Handel composed Messiah in a 24-day frenzy of musical inspiration in the summer of 1741 in which, in the composer’s own words, 'I did think I did see all Heaven before me - and the great God himself.' The 260-page manuscript came out without editing, just about as fast as his pen could write. ‘Whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it I know not.’

King George II attended the first performance in Dublin, and stood up upon hearing the words, ‘The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord’, and audiences emulate his gesture to this day.


15 December 2004

Several weeks ago, I celebrated the contribution of Project Gutenberg, making a great body of world literature freely available on the Web. Yesterday came news that Google is commited to finish the job. They have contracted with some of the great libraries of Europe and America to scan millions of volumes of history, literature and scholarship, all to be indexed and distributed free over coming years.

Several weeks ago, I marveled that monkeys with electrodes implanted in their brains were able to learn to make attached robotic arms do their bidding. This week, comes a report that not only has the technology been transferred to humans, but an interface has been devised based on EEG readings from the scalp, so no surgery is required and no electrodes need to be inside the brain. The feat was achieved with mutual adaptation: while the person was learning to control the software, the software was learning the style of the user’s brain waves, so each became adapted to the other. The promise for anyone who has lost use of hands and arms is now immediate.

14 December 2004

Benjamin Franklin, while still a young man recently transplanted to Philadelphia, set about a task of self-improvement.  He approached the project as he did everything else: with the attitude of an empiricist, experimenting, observing, modifying the approach, though the object of his observation was his own virtue. He came to realize that his most useful tool in this endeavor was not the strength of will, which failed him repeatedly, but rather the gradual formation of new habits, via the persistent repetition of his resolve, combined with the organization and discipline of a Virtues Notebook.  He began with temperance, because, he reasoned, intoxication interferes with all other discipline.  He deferred for the sake of accumulated strength those that seemed most difficult for his temperament: tranquility, chastity and humility.  Here is his famous list of precepts:

1. TEMPERANCE:  Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE.  Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER.  Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION.  Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY.  Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY.  Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY.  Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE.  Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION.  Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS.  Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11. TRANQUILLITY.  Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY.  Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY.  Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

from the Autobiography

13 December 2004

"The proverbial German phenomenon of the verb-at-the-end about which droll tales of absentminded professors who would begin a sentence, ramble on for an entire lecture, and then finish up by rattling off a string of verbs by which their audience, for whom the stack had long since lost its coherence, would be totally nonplussed, are told, is an excellent example of linguistic recursion."

-Douglas Hofstadter

In 1979, Hofstadter wrote a book that's impossible to describe - full of things you never suspected you'd find so fascinating.  It's about number theory and artificial intelligence and Baroque music and anything that refers to itself.  There are characters worthy of Lewis Carroll and dialog as sharp as Tom Stoppard.  It's funny, entertaining,  thought-provoking:  Godel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid