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

6 November 2005

All voices of depression and despair, existential philosophy, capitalism and punk rock – don't they all come down to this?: 

I am alone.

All messages of hope and inspiration, great artists, transcendental philosophers and mystic poets, socialism, the world's great religions – all carry the message: 

I am part of something larger than my own mind.

Perhaps E. M. Forster was thinking kindred thoughts when he wrote the greatest two-word aphorism of the English language:

Only connect.

5 November 2005

J.B.S. Haldane, born this day in 1892 was a British scientist in the old style: a scholar and a thinker, a literate and broadly educated man who could write in an elegant style about culture and sociology as naturally as biology. Together with R.A. Fisher and Sewell Wright, he fashioned out of Darwinian evolution and Mendelian genetics the modern quantitative theory known as neo-Darwinism or population genetics.

In 1923, he wrote a remarkable prophesy, "Daedelus, or Science and the Future", in which he foretold many of the scientific and economic trends of the 20th century. Though petroleum was just beginning to be exploited, he looked ahead to a day when it would be exhausted, and the world would be choosing between nuclear and solar renewables (he favored solar). "Personally, I think that four hundred years hence the power question in England may be solved somewhat as follows: The country will be covered with rows of metallic windmills working electric motors which in their turn supply current at a very high voltage to great electric mains..." He goes on to predict the hydrogen economy which we now debate as a more imminent possibility: "At suitable distances, there will be great power stations where during windy weather the surplus power will be used for the electrolytic decomposition of water into oxygen and hydrogen. These gasses will be liquefied, and stored in vast vacuum jacketed reservoirs, probably sunk in the ground."

Here’s a utopian economic forecast – yet to be realized: "As industries become more and more closely interwoven, so that a dislocation of any one will paralyse a dozen others (and that is the position towards which we are rapidly moving), the ideal of the leaders of industry, under no matter what economic system, will be directed less and less to the indefinite increase of production in the intervals between such dislocations, and more and more to stable and regular production, even at the cost of reduction of profits and output while the industry is proceeding normally. It is quite possible that capitalism itself may demand that the control of certain key industries be handed over completely to the workers in those industries, simply in order to reduce the number of sporadic strikes in them."

His view of science and culture: "Now if we want poets to interpret physical science as Milton and Shelley did (Shelley and Keats were the last English poets who were at all up-to-date in their chemical knowledge), we must see that our possible poets are instructed, as their masters were, in science and economics. I am absolutely convinced that science is vastly more stimulating to the imagination than are the classics... Not until our poets are once more drawn from the educated classes (I speak as a scientist), will they appeal to the average man by showing him the beauty in his own life as Homer and Virgil appealed to the street urchins who scrawled their verses on the walls of Pompeii. And if we must educate our poets and artists in science, we must educate our masters, labour and capital, in art. Personally I believe that we may have good hopes of both."

Of his own field:  "I have tried to show why I believe that the biologist is the most romantic figure on earth at the present day. At first sight he seems to be just a poor little scrubby underpaid man, groping blindly amid the mazes of the ultra-microscopic, engaging in bitter and lifelong quarrels over the nephridia of flatworms, waking perhaps one morning to find that someone whose name he has never heard has demolished by a few crucial experiments the work which he had hoped would render him immortal. There is real tragedy in his life, but he knows that he has a responsibility which he dare not disclaim, and he is urged on, apart from all utilitarian considerations, by something or someone which he feels to be higher than himself."

full text

4 November 2005

Multiple Sclerosis strikes young men and women in their prime and gradually takes away their sensation and control, from the extremities inward. There has never been a cure for MS, and the treatments for managing the disease are not very satisfactory. This week, a promising new approach was reported. Though the ultimate cause of the disease is not known, it has long been understood that our nerves are protected by electrical insulating material, the myelin sheath. In MS, the body’s own immune system turns on the myelin sheath, which gradually loses its ability to protect the nerves.

"The new treatment, which uses a class of molecules called kynurenines, works by inhibiting the T-cells’ production of inflammatory molecules and prompting them to produce agents that "mop up" the molecules," according to a New Scientist article.

The treatment completely cures the version of MS that can be induced in laboratory mice. In the next year, we should know whether it is effective in humans.  The research came out of the lab of Lawrence Steinman at Stanford. Research article here.

3 November 2005

I draw sweet air
Deeply and long,
As pure as prayer,
As sweet as song.
Where lilies glow
And roses wreath,
Heart-joy I know
Is just to breathe.
Aye, so I think
By shore or sea,
As deep I drink
Of purity.
This brave machine,
Bare to the buff,
I keep ice-clean,
Breath is enough.

From mountain stream
To covert cool
The world, I deem,
Is wonderful;
The great, the small,
The smooth, the rough,
I love it all,--
Breath is enough.

~ Robert William Service


2 November 2005

Renegade scientist Rupert Sheldrake has been adducing scientific evidence for the paranormal for three decades. Many of his results – particularly in regard to telepathy – seem empirically compelling, were scientists not so thoroughly convinced that they were theoretically outrageous. Other ideas about biological fields are more mystical than scientific.

Sheldrake has become philosophical about the censorship in the science community, but continues to find an audience for his results and his theories apart from peer-reviewed journals.

Is he right about censorship?  Yes.  Is he right about telepathy?  I wish I knew.  

1 November 2005

RECONCILIATION ECOLOGY is the science of recreating livable habitats for threatened species, integrated with our cities and suburbs. For many species this can work well, with benefits for both them and us.

"We still have time to save most of the world's species. But to do it, we must stop trying to put an end to civilization and human enterprise. Instead, we need to work on the overwhelming bulk of the land — the places we humans use. We need to make them over so that they can support both us and other species. It won't be simple and it won't happen overnight. But it is practical, it is positive and it is backed by science."

-Michael Rosenzweig, Win-Win Ecology

31 October 2005

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run; 
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees, 
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 
And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
Until they think warm days will never cease; 
For Summer has o'erbrimm'd their honey cells.

from Ode to Autumn, by John Keats, born this day in 1795