19 March 2006

A pianist’s fingers dance over the keyboard in a burst of velocity.  He can’t be consciously telling each finger what to do; much of the process has to be automatic.  And yet, if it were all automatic, there would be no expression, no music.  The art of piano practice is to separate out the technique, to rehearse it over and over until it becomes reflexive, while retaining an overarching conscious control, so that the hands can be gently and subtly guided in the moment of performance.

The fantasies in our subconscious affect the course of our lives in a way that is subtle in each moment, but which controls our destiny over the long haul.  To control our dreams is to choose our destiny.  But dreaming, like piano playing, is a process that is largely automatic.  Try to control it with a heavy hand, and the spirit is lost.

We can train ourselves to dream, guided by a vision that we choose consciously.  Just as a pianist trains his hands to play faster than he can will the notes, while retaining an overarching control – so we can train our imaginations to dream in directions that are healthy and fruitful for us and for those we love.

~ Josh Mitteldorf

18 March 2006

Could I climb to the highest place in Athens, I would lift my voice and proclaim, "Fellow citizens, why do you turn and scrape every stone to gather wealth and take so little care of your children to whom one day you must relinquish it all." 

~ Socrates 

17 March 2006

Exuberant is existence, time a husk.
When the moment cracks open, ecstasy leaps out and devours space;
love goes mad with the blessings, like my words give.

~ Daniel Ladinsky, translating Rumi

16 March 2006

As world population increases and land use becomes more intense, two of humanity's irreducible needs are for energy and fresh water. The oceans can be turned into a limitless supply of fresh water, but up until now, this has required a prohibitive amount of energy. Either the salt water is boiled and recondensed (which requires heat) or else it is forced through a reverse-osmosis filter under high pressure (which requires mechanical energy).

A new process promises a solution to this dilemma. The key idea is efficient recycling of energy right within the process. Salt water enters the system through a cold pipe, which is used to condense water vapor, forming droplets of fresh water and simultaneously warming the water in the pipe. Then the salt water is heated further (you need an independent energy source here), and evaporated through a semiporous membrane, to form the water vapor for condensation.

The Memstill Corporation is a Dutch partnership that promises to commercialize the process this year.

15 March 2006

Now, unless persuaded by searching music 
Which suddenly opens the portals of the mind, 
We guess no angels, 
And are contented to be blind. 

Let us blow silver horns in the twilight, 
And lift our hearts to the yellow star in the green, 
To find perhaps, if, while the dew is rising, 
Clear things may not be seen. 

~ Conrad Aiken, 'Miracles'

14 March 2006

“The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day: what you think becomes what you do, and what you do is who you become.”

~ Heraclitus

13 March 2006

Joseph Priestley, born this day in 1733, is remembered in chemistry classes everywhere as the “discoverer of oxygen”. But the foundational science of chemistry as it came to be understood in the 19th century was unknown to Priestley, and so his understanding of his experiments may seem quaint to us today. 

Priestley heated a sample of “red calx”, which we now know to be mercuric oxide. He collected the gas that came off, and noticed that it supported an extra-bright candle flame, and that a mouse confined in a bell jar of this gas lasted longer than in a bell jar of ordinary air.  It was already known that if you burn a candle in a closed jar of air, the air that comes off would suffocate a mouse. This was called “phlogisticated air”, because the understanding of the time was that the flame had added phlogiston to air. 

Following this logic, Priestley decided that ordinary atmospheric air must have some phlogiston in it already – probably due to a long history of natural, open-air fires. He reasoned that the product he had created must have less phlogiston in it – that’s why it had opposite properties to “phlogisticated air”, so he dubbed his creation “dephlogisticated air”.  The word “oxygen” was used by a contemporary scientist, Antoine Lavoisier, who did not believe in phlogiston.

“Dr. Priestley had that freedom of mind, and that independence of dogma and of preconceived notions, by which men are so often bowed down and carried forward from fallacy to fallacy, their eyes not being opened to see what that fallacy is... for Dr Priestley made his great discoveries mainly in consequence of his having a mind which could be easily moved from what it had held to the reception of new thoughts and notions; and I will venture to say that all his discoveries followed from the facility with which he could leave a preconceived idea.”  (from remarks by Michael Faraday on the centenary of Priestley's birth)

When he was not busy with experiments on gases, Priestley was making King George III angry with pamphlets promoting democracy, and offending leaders of the Presbyterian church, where he was a minister, by exposing The History of the Corruptions of Christianity and becoming a Unitarian.

“Absurdity supported by power will never be able to stand its ground against the efforts of reason.”