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

23 January 2005

"Happiness may be bound to causes and reasons, but joy is independent of external circumstance."
- Josh Mitteldorf

As I try to apply this principle, doubts arise:  "What about squalor and indigence?  What about torture?  Suppose I were a prisoner at Abu Ghraib.  Would I still be able to feel joy?"

But I am not a prisoner at Abu Ghraib. Torture is a trick of the mind, a hypothesis put forward to justify my present remoteness from joy.  Indeed it is true:  There is nothing in my present reality that precludes the experience of joy.

Joy is within me.  To feel joyous is a gift; yet I am not without resource.  I can open myself to joy.  I can seek within myself.  I can take joy as my mantra.

That would take courage.

22 January 2005

"Mysteries are those truths that are immediately accessible through direct experience, but which cannot be known through hearsay, theory, or rules of conduct."

-Stephen Nachmanovitch, from the essay Saving the Cat

21 January 2005

Ah, when to the heart of man
  Was it ever less than a treason 
To go with the drift of things,
  To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
  Of a love or a season?

-Robert Frost, "Reluctance"

20 January 2005

Amid the belligerence of the Reagan/Thatcher years, a grassroots movement for peace demanded to be heard. Against all odds, organizations in opposition to the nuclear arms race caught the conscience of the world, and forced the powerful military establishments in the US and USSR to back off an ever tenser race for missiles and bombs. Australian physician Helen Caldicott tells some of the story in her autobiography, A Desperate Passion. The Nobel Peace Prize of 1985 was awarded to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

19 January 2005

"We live in an indivisible world where the rich may no longer ignore the poor

"There's a new understanding at work. The last ten years have allowed us to see the global world in which we live more clearly. We've come to realize at least three things:

"First, we live in an indivisible world. Up until now, rich countries could live in ignorance of poor countries' needs. That's no longer possible...
"Secondly, the idea that developing countries will stay forever in their corner, unable to ever emerge from misery and good only for receiving the charity of rich countries, has been replaced by the certitude that with imaginative policies, they may become first world global players. China provides a clear example...
"Finally, in respect to security...being poor and living in a world perceived as unfair, that mistreats you, creates a greater tolerance for violence. Middle Eastern societies, for example, live with this perception and we may no longer ignore it.

"For, all these reasons, today is, in fact, a good time to seize the Millennial Declaration and obtain a serious commitment from the international community on these issues."

-Nobel Economist Amartya Sen, speaking this week from the UN Forum on Human Development in Paris.
(tr Leslie Thatcher) 

18 January 2005

In the 1970’s and 80’s, Ray Kurzweil founded three companies that grew to lead their respective fields in computer applications.  Kurzweil's computers could (1) read a printed page (OCR), (2) understand human speech, and (3) synthesize music. These are mature technologies now that were once visionary.

Kurzweil is still a visionary — some would say he’s earned the right. In a book called The Age of Spiritual Machines, he speculates about the experiences that may be available to our un-enhanced biological minds just a few decades down the road. He starts with the 

"The intelligence of machines—nonbiological entities—will exceed human intelligence early in this century. By intelligence, I include all the diverse and subtle ways in which humans are intelligent—including musical and artistic aptitude, creativity, physically moving through the world, and even responding to emotion. By 2019, a $1,000 computer will match the processing power of the human brain—about 20 million billion calculations per second. This level of processing power is a necessary but not sufficient condition for achieving human-level intelligence in a machine. Organizing these resources—the 'software' of intelligence—will take us to 2029, by which time your average personal computer will be equivalent to a thousand human brains."

Like any provocative thesis, this book has spawned a rejoinder by philosophers and scientists, called Are we spiritual machines? Optimistic in its own way, this latter book celebrates the mysteries of creative intelligence that is uniquely human.

17 January 2005

"The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration."
-Pearl S. Buck

"I love people. I love my family, my children . . . but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that's where you renew your springs that never dry up."
-Pearl S. Buck