12 March 2006

Acquiescing in Winter

Winter’s insult is nothing man was meant to endure
Willingly. If we do not wield blade and shovel,
If we raise nor down nor wool in our own defense,
How then is God to know our will?

Accepting what we cannot change is wisdom’s
Prescription for melancholy; and though Rage, rage
be our lot, yet is it a more lively Be than serenity.

The peace of the sage does no one service.

And if the dark snow has not yet seen
The fullness of our rebellion,
How then can we claim credit for the spring?

~ Josh Mitteldorf

11 March 2006

"With a comedian's sense of timing, an unrestrained zany streak, and an infectious love of every genre of music, McFerrin created a new kind of concert - not a 'performance' but a communal sharing and celebration of music."

Bobby McFerrin is 56 today.

Bobby McFerrin and Yoyo Ma perform a Bach duet
Bobby McFerrin and Yoyo Ma having a good time

10 March 2006

Cosmologists use astronomical measurement to study the structure of the universe on the largest scale.  Just in the last eight years, they've come up with a surprising result: in addition to the stars and dust and gases that we can see, our universe contains two kinds of matter that are different from anything ever observed in an experiment on earth.  One kind has positive gravity, and has been called "dark matter"; the other kind has negative gravity and is called "dark energy".

I think it's safe to say that this conclusion is sufficiently preposterous that staid scientists would not take it seriously, except that the same conclusion has come from two completely independent lines of reasoning, based on very different experiments.  One experiment measures the "Hubble curve": how fast are the most distant galaxies that we can see rushing away from us?  The second experiment measures the "cosmic microwave inhomogeneities": these are tiny changes in brightness of the uniform glow left over from the Big Bang, as we point our radio telescopes in different directions in the sky.

No one predicted that the universe was going to turn out to be made (mostly) of two new, hitherto unknown kinds of matter.  But quite predictably, particle physicists have had a field day proposing Theories of Everything that include all known elementary particles + two new ones with the right properties.

...and just this week comes an alternative explanation that doesn't need any new elementary particles.  Instead, it's an iconoclastic proposal about how quantum mechanics and general relativity interact.  Black holes are not so black.  The universe is full of "dark energy stars". And they may, for all we know, have just the right properties to supply both the dark energy and the dark matter that have been observed. 

(If you feel completely unqualified to judge which radical take on the rules of reality is 'least implausible', you may be comforted by the fact that some of the smartest physicists in the world can't agree, either.)

New Scientist article about the proposal of George Chapline and Robert Laughlin
Rebuttal in a blog by String Theorist Lubos Motl.

9 March 2006

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.

~ Howard Aiken (computer pioneer, born this day in 1900)

8 March 2006

“Sanely applied, advertising could remake the world.”

Stuart Chase, born this day in 1888, brought deep, original thinking and respect for the individual human to an unaccustomed audience of economists.

"On a chilly autumn day in 1911, Stuart Chase entered the Boston Public Library and, finding a seat in the economics section, composed a personal credo. On the eve of his twenty-third year, he wrote of his inner drive:

So many are the roads and lanes and byways that branch from this open portal. I look back and see the straight, calm thoroughfare that has led me here. I look forward and stand dazed and blinded before the myriad ways that lead to ultimate darkness or light. Now I must choose my own path... from among the many and follow it in all faith and trust until experience bids me seek another. The world always turns aside to let one pass who knows where he is going."

7 March 2006

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old customs made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court!
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons difference; as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winters wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
This is no flattery; these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.
Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
I would not change it.

~ Shakespeare, As You Like It 

6 March 2006

Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course? 
Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?

~Lao Tsze, Daode Jing tr J. Legge