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

12 June 2005

What I believe about aging:

  • Aging is a biological program, a form of progressive self-destruction that has been shaped by natural selected for its benefit to the population.
  • Biochemical interventions to slow aging are quite feasible. There are a small number of master switches that control the program, and we can learn to manipulate and even to thwart these as we have learned to modify other biological signals.
  • A cure for aging does not mean that people will live forever. It means that the mortality rate at advanced ages will not be significantly different from the mortality rate of 20-year-olds. Life expectancy could conceivably approach 1000 years. Counter-intuitively, the life expectancy at age 1000 may be greater than at birth.
  • Given the opportunity to delay aging with a medical intervention, many more people will choose it than currently choose to adopt the modest improvements in longevity that are currently afforded by diet and exercise programs.
  • A society in which people age more slowly will be a healthier society. People will benefit from exploring life’s options at a leisurely pace. We will no longer feel that a single wrong decision can "ruin our lives". We will take more risks. We will fret less over bad outcomes. We may enjoy a variety of career choices, serially. We will have more stake in the future, and more attachment to our communities. Perhaps it will transform our sense of what it is to be human in as profound a way as did the beginning of agriculture, or the industrial revolution.
  • The global imperative for lessening the birth rate will be even greater than presently, and perhaps will be more broadly appreciated.
  • This is not science fiction. It is almost certainly in our future; striking clinical advances may be available within the next decade or two.

-Josh Mitteldorf

11 June 2005

"Children often can forget their sins and ours as rapidly as hot water removes peanut butter from faces and hair. Seeing children's ability to change helps adults realize that change is possible for us as well. Watching how quickly children can give up anger and moods helps us loosen our grip on our own hurts and worries."

- Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer

10 June 2005

WHEN the breath of twilight blows to flame the misty skies,
All its vaporous sapphire, violet glow and silver gleam,
With their magic flood me through the gateway of the eyes;
I am one with the twilight's dream.

When the trees and skies and fields are one in dusky mood,
Every heart of man is rapt within the mother's breast:
Full of peace and sleep and dreams in the vasty quietude,
I am one with their hearts at rest.

From our immemorial joys of hearth and home and love
Stray'd away along the margin of the unknown tide,
All its reach of soundless calm can thrill me far above
Word or touch from the lips beside.

Aye, and deep and deep and deeper let me drink and draw
From the olden fountain more than light or peace or dream,
Such primaeval being as o'erfills the heart with awe,
Growing one with its silent stream.

George William Russell ('A. E.')

9 June 2005

It may be that you don’t spend a lot of your time wondering why the speed of light is as fast as it is, or the gravitaty is as weak as it is. But for physicists these are ultimate questions, necessary to explain the nature of the universe. It may be that someday physicists will come up with a theory so complete and that these fundamental constants of nature can be calculated from some simple idea; but for now the mystery has inspired some to entertain a controversial, intriguing possibility: Perhaps there are ‘many universes’ but only a few of them are ‘interesting’, while most are simple or too homogeneous. It is no accident that we live in an ‘interesting’ universe, because the boring ones don’t support enough complexity that life could ever evolve, so there's no one there to look at them.

The evidence for this hypothesis is that the world we know seems so sensitive to the physical constants. Were these constants just a bit different from what they are, there would be no stars, no chemistry – certainly no life.

One example: if the charge on each proton were just a bit bigger, then multiple neutrons and protons would not be able to stick together to form nuclei of different kinds of atoms. The whole universe would be made of hydrogen. No nuclear fusion; no stars; no chemical elements; probably, no life.

Another example: if the gravitational constant were just a bit weaker than it is, then no galaxies would ever form, and no stars would form out of the galaxies. Matter would remain pretty uniformly dispersed through the universe. No clumps. No stars or planets. How interesting is that? But if the gravitational constant were just a bit stronger than it is, then gas and stars in a galaxy would pull too hard on one another, would collide too frequently, and whole galaxies would collapse into black holes, perhaps too quickly for the stately pace of biological evolution that has engendered us.

Thin book on the subject: Just Six Numbers, by Martin Rees
And a thick one: The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, by John Barrow and Frank Tipler

"And that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space."
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

8 June 2005

"For me, music is always the language which permits one to converse with the Beyond"

Robert Schumann, born this day in 1809, is known as a composer of piano and chamber works, but he was also an early champion of the individual passion and expression that grew to be Romanticism. He had both a personal intensity that eventually burned itself out, and a generous spirit, delighting in the creations of other minds. He helped introduce to the world Chopin and Brahms.

7 June 2005

Since it is all too clear
It takes time to grasp it.
When you understand that it's foolish to look for fire with fire,
The meal is already cooked.

- Wu-men


6 June 2005

"Has the world ever been changed by anything save the thought and its magic vehicle the Word?"
Thomas Mann, born this day in 1875.

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."
said Henry David Thoreau, expressing a complementary (antagonistic?) sentiment.

Mann, the master of irony, said "A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a truth." 

What Mann might have said, but didn't, is that A truth is great in the degree that it absolutely excludes some possibility that we imagined might be true, but isn't.

That's also true.