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

6 February 2005


When I meditate, I resolve to put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and focus on my experience in the here and now. Solving problems and making plans, analysis of any kind are expressly forbidden.

Forbidden isnít really the right word. Rather they are just not the point of meditation. When I notice my mind is in one of these modes, I gently lift my attention out to the present moment, and recreate the self as witness.

The paradox is that there is no greater source of creative ideas in my life than meditation. After I forsake understanding does understanding take root. As I resolve to take planning off my agenda, it becomes clear to me what I need to do. My resolve to eschew problem solving allows solutions to pop into my head.

I used to think of the ideas generated in meditation as a forbidden fruit, a distraction from the pursuit of enlightenment. More recently, I have come to accept them as a gift from within, a golden egg that will continue to enrich me so long as I donít succumb to worry about where the eggs come from, but faithfully nurture the goose.

- Josh Mitteldorf

5 February 2005

Nelson Mandela spoke to a crowd of thousands in Trafalgar Square, London on Thursday, calling upon them to take on the end of world poverty as a realistic, achievable aspiration.

"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.

And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.  While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.

The steps that are needed from the developed nations are clear. The first is ensuring trade justice. The second is an end to the debt crisis for the poorest countries. The third is to deliver much more aid and make sure it is of the highest quality."

Mandelaís life story is well known, but always inspiring. His aspiration to end the racist dominance of Black South Africa by a small white minority was too threatening. In 1962, he was arrested and held as a political prisoner for 28 of his prime years. Most amazingly, when he emerged from prison in 1990, he carried no bitterness against his captors. He continued on to become the first president of a Black government, but insisted that tolerance and forgiveness be the new order.  An entire Black nation buried its anger and forgave the White colonists for a century of cruelty.

4 February 2005

Rubens Gomes is working to slow the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon while teaching community members how to use the resources in a mutually beneficial and sustainable way.  Gomes's program develops lines of alternative certified wood products, from musical instruments to furniture, using wood that is naturally felled in the rainforest.  Currently only 1/3 of this precious hardwood is extracted.  

The rainforest is a world resource of enormous value for its reservoir of biodiversity and its role as a carbon sink to forestall global warming. But as long as the land is more productive for indigenous people as marginal farm land, it will continue to be burned and cleared.  The benefit of Gomes's program is that it changes the economic equation locally, so that conservation is profitable.

Rubens Gomes was honored by the Ashoka Foundation in 2003.

3 February 2005

"The best education consists in immunizing people against systematic attempts at education." 
~ Paul Karl Feyerabend 1924-1994

The modern classroom is a battlefield between those who would indoctrinate with facts and those who would nurture the growth of thought, judgment and self-expression .  We think of the latter as modern ideas, but education as the promotion of individuality has always had its advocates:

"It must be remembered that the purpose of education is not to fill the minds of students with facts... it is to teach them to think, if that is possible, and always to think for themselves."
~ Robert Hutchins 1899-1977

"The function of education is to help you from childhood not to imitate anybody, but be yourself all the time."
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti 1895-1986

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."
~ Albert Einstein 1870-1955

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."
~ William Butler Yeats 1865-1939

"The true aim of everyone who aspires to be a teacher should be, not to impart his own opinions, but to kindle minds."
~ Frederick W Robertson 1816-1853

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." 
~ Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790

"We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves."
~ Galileo Galilei 1564-1642

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
~ Aristotle 384-322 BC

"If you would provide for a year, sow a seed. If you would provide for a decade, plant a tree. If you would provide for a century, educate the people." 
~ Kuan Tze 4th century BC

2 February 2005

Since the dawn of human history, those few people who thought about space at all stated the obvious: itís a smooth, continuous 3-dimensional theater, a passive, characterless blank slate given life only by the solid objects that inhabit it.

Einstein enriched this concept with the notion that space and time are closely linked: one manís space is another manís time. Later, he showed that space can be curved, and described gravity as warps in the geometry of space-time.

In the last decade, physicistsí view of space has taken a turn for the bizarre. String theory is a promising framework for uniting branches of physics that have seemed incompatible in the past. String theorists need to work with a world that is not 3-dimensional, but 10-dimensional. Why, then, do we only experience 3? The extra dimensions are knotted up in loops so small that theyíre dwarfed by the scale of a subatomic particle. If the extra dimensions form a Calabi-Yau shape of just the right kind, all the strings that can live on this shape will have the properties that we associate with all the known elementary particles.

In case you have an easy time imagining the image at left projected out into 7 dimensions, hold one more thing in your mind:  Calabi-Yau shapes are flat, as Yau proved in a brilliant theorem in 1977.

So let me get this straight: At every point, there are not 3 different directions you can move in, but 10. But for 7 of them, you canít get very far. 10-33 cm or so, before you find yourself tied up in knots, and essentially back where you started. But the shapes of these unfathomably tiny knots are what give rise to all the elementary particles in the particle physicistsí zoo. Science fiction couldnít get away with such lunacy.

1 February 2005

Esref Armagan is a Turkish artist.  35 years ago, as a boy in an impoverished section of Istanbul, he had no formal training in art, and little schooling.

Armagan has been sightless since birth.  He starts his paintings with a stylus, etching ridges that he can feel.  He applies colored paint with his fingers.  But how does he conceive of space, shape and color? Can the part of the brain that models the geometry of the world work pretty well even with no visual input?  What is it like to be Esref Armagan?

Biography. More paintings. New Scientist article.


31 January 2005

"I do not myself think that there is any superior rationality in being unhappy. The wise man will be as happy as circumstances permit, and if he finds the contemplation of the universe painful beyond a point, he will contemplate something else instead."

-Bertrand Russell,
The Conquest of Happiness