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

13 March 2005

Sooner or later the thought arises: this moment is all that there is. 

Naturally enough, this discovery engenders an impulse to enshrine the moment, to create in it something transcendent and eternal. 

This wish stands as the only obstacle between the seeker and fully realized being.

-Josh Mitteldorf

12 March 2005

"Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. The days come and go like muffled and veiled figures sent from a distant friendly party, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

11 March 2005

Invented in 1840, the bicycle is the most efficient mode of human transportation. Equivalent human energy usage compares to about 3,000 miles per gallon.

There are about a billion bicycles in the world, half of them in China. The Netherlands is the only country in the world with more bicycles than people. Denmark and Germany also have almost one bicycle per person, but the Netherlands is the place where bicycling is best integrated into daily life.  35% of workers in Amsterdam commute daily on a bicycle, compared to 9% in New York City and <1% in Atlanta, according to the World Bank.

Traffic dangers dissuade many Americans from using their cycles more frequently, but actuarial statistics show that the longevity benefits from cycling exercise outweigh the risks by more than 20:1.

In cites of the developed world, bicycles are usually the fastest way to get around, followed by subways where available. Automobiles average speed, including parking, is slower than walking for trips less than about 1.5 miles.

10 March 2005


"The first great works of art we know, the paleolithic cave paintings at Altamira and Lascaux, made brilliant use of the three-dimensional surfaces that were the givens of the creative situation. The positioning and attitudes of the animals were suggested, even necessitated, by the bulges, folds, crevices, and jagged textures of the rock walls on which they were made. Some of the power of these paintings resides in the way the painters were ab le to create a mutual adaptation between the shapes of their spiritual imagination and the shapes of hard rock."

Stephen Nachmanovich, Free Play

9 March 2005

"Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: ‘Go over,’ he does not mean that we should cross to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.

"Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid of all your daily cares.

"Another said: I bet that is also a parable.

"The first said: You have won.

"The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.

"The first said: No, in reality; in parable you have lost."

- Franz Kafka

8 March 2005

"Then those people are right who say that Heaven and Hell are only state of mind?"

"Hush," said he sternly. "Do not blaspheme. Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains."

-C.S. LewisThe Great Divorce

7 March 2005

Evolution is a bootstrap process that builds complexity into life. But how much complexity was necessary just to start the process off? Could a chain of 10 nucleic acids begin to self-replicate, however inefficiently? How about 20 or 30? And what are the chances that such a molecule should arise, by chance, sometime, somewhere in the universe?

Seth Lloyd asks this question, and finds an intriguing coincidence: that the world may be just about big enough (and the quantum just about small enough) to make it likely that life could start sometime, somewhere in the universe.

Here’s an excerpt from a story by Paul Davies in this week’s New Scientist:

For 400 years, a deep dualism has lain at the heart of science. On the one hand the laws of physics are usually considered universal, absolute and eternal: for example, a force of 2 newtons acting on a 2-kilogram mass will cause it to accelerate by 1 metre per second per second, wherever and whenever in the universe the force is applied.

On the other hand, there is another factor in our description of the physical world: its states. These are not fixed in time. All the states of a physical system - whether we are talking about a hydrogen atom, a box full of gas or the recorded prices on the London stock market - are continually moving and changing in a variety of ways.

In our descriptions of how physical systems behave, these states are as important as the laws. After all, the laws act on the states to predict how the system will behave. A law without a state is like a traffic rule in a world with no cars: it doesn't have any application.

What the new paradigm suggests is that the laws of physics and the states of the real world might be interwoven at the deepest level. In other words, the laws of physics do not sit, immutable, above the real world, but are affected by it. “Any calculation requiring more than 10120 bits is simply a fantasy”

That sounds almost heretical, but some physicists - most notably John Wheeler - have long speculated that the laws of physics might not be fixed “from everlasting to everlasting”, to use his quaint expression. Most cosmologists treat the laws of physics as “given”, transcending the physical universe. Wheeler, however, insisted the laws are “mutable” and in some manner “congeal” into their present form as the universe expands from an initial infinitely dense state. In other words, the laws of physics might emerge continuously from the ferment of the hot big bang.

It seems Wheeler's ideas and the Landauer-Lloyd limit point in the same direction. And that means the entire theory of the very early universe could be back in the melting pot.