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

27 March 2005

One day in a hundred we awaken with a vision of where we’re going and a certainty about how to get there. Our gait is steady and assured. There is conviction in our voice, a firmness in our will.

Nine days in a hundred, we remember what it was like to have conviction and firmness. We muster the will to pursue what we know to be our inspired and true direction.

Ninety days in a hundred we rely upon habit. When the vision is obscure, when a chorus of internal voices confounds our resolve, we feel lost and uncertain. Continued progress depends on those routines we created on stronger days. We find our way in the darkness because the path is familiar. We do merely what we did yesterday and the day before.

When inspiration seems distant and even the memory of inspiration has faded, good habits serve us more reliably than internal discipline.

-Josh Mitteldorf

26 March 2005

Paul Erdos, born this day in 1913, was the 20th century's most prodigious mathematician, with over 1,000 publications to his name.  He filled his head with the relationships between numbers, with an ever-present view of the infinite, in all its subtle manifestations.  The short, insightful proof was his stock in trade.

Erdos was comfortable owning nothing, living nowhere.  He famously traveled from city to city, staying at the homes of other mathematicians for a few days at a time, working with his host, solving a problem, posing two more...and then moving on.  He had no salary, and gave away the speakers' honoraria and cash prizes which came his way.  He cared only for mathematical ideas, and was as generous with the credit for those ideas as he was with money. 


25 March 2005

"It can sometimes be a heartbreaking struggle for us to arrive at a place where we are no longer afraid of the child inside us.  We often fear that people won't take us seriously, or that they won't think us qualified enough.  For the sake of being accepted, we can forget our source and put on one of the rigid masks of professionalism or conformity that society is continually offering us.  The childlike part of us is the part that, like the Fool, simply does and says, without needing to qualify himself or strut his credentials."

- Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play

24 March 2005

The End of Life Vehicles Directive mandates that all cars sold in Europe starting next year be made of 85% recyclable materials, increasing to 95% by 2015.

23 March 2005

Erich Fromm was born this day in 1900, and lived long enough to organize against the nuclear arms race and advocate for an end to the Vietnam War.  Emerging from horrific experiences with Nazism in Germany and surviving McCarthyism in America, he maintained always an uplifting vision of the possibility for individual human realization within the context of a just and communitarian society.

"Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve."

"Man's main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality."

"One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often."

"Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies."

"Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before. Let your soul take you where you long to be...Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar, and you'll live as you've never lived before."

22 March 2005

There's a train moving along the track at 50 mph. Inside the train car, a man throws a ball forward at 50 mph. How fast is the ball moving?  The "obvious" answer is 100 mph. This seems to be a self-evident fact from pure logic, requiring no experiment to validate it. If you're already moving at velocity V1 and you add a velocity V2 then the resultant velocity is V1 + V2.

It cannot be otherwise, or so it seemed. But 100 years ago, Einstein was broad-minded enough to regard this as an experimental question, not a logical fact.  He proposed that velocities don't add the way numbers add...the result of adding two velocities is almost as large as the sum of the two numbers, but a little bit less.  The "little bit" is too small to measure for a ball thrown in a moving train, and that's why no one had noticed before Einstein.  But for satellites in Earth orbit, the difference is a tiny but measurable effect.  And in high-energy particles in physics experiments the difference becomes substantial, crucial for explaining the way atoms behave.

20th century science was punctuated by other bold proposals and discoveries.  How many other "facts" that we regard as logical necessity will turn out to be not just vulnerable but actually wrong?  Two lines are each perpendicular to a third line...therefore they are parallel to each other.  They never meet, right?  Could it be otherwise in some imaginary universe?  Could that imaginary universe be the one we live in? 

Asking questions like these lead to madness and obsession.  Except when it leads to new paradigms and new vistas of scientific insight.  How much time is wasted by crazy people dreaming of becoming the next Einstein?  How much worse off would we all be without such people?

21 March 2005

He takes the scent of the softening ground
Where the first green blade pricks through,
He takes the reddening maple bough
A-slant against the blue,
He takes the cheer of the robin's song
And the flash of the blue-bird's wing,
The joy of prisoners set free,
And of these He makes the spring.

from The Creator by Annie Johnson Flint