4 June 2006

Now it’s more a recollection than an experience I can renew at will…When I was a boy, I used to be able to catch a whiff of cosmic wonder by focusing on the thought, 

This is what is

Of all the things that could exist, the worlds of possibility, what we see is what does exist.  I would stretch my mind to what logic would permit, and try to imagine all the phenomena that would not be – not now, not here, not anywhere ever.  And why restrict ourselves to logical worlds, anyway?   Who says the world has to obey laws?   What of all those chaotic conglomerate universes where rules don’t apply?

To formulate it in language from my mature self:   I had a deep intuition that existence is too essential a function to be reserved for some things and not others.   It must be that everything that can exist, does exist.

A few years ago, I came across an article by Max Tegmark asking the question whether this might literally be true.    

Is the physical world purely mathematical, or is mathematics merely a useful tool that approximately describes certain aspects of the physical world? More formally, is the physical world isomorphic to some mathematical structure?

Tegmark poses the question whether there is a difference between physical existence (PE) and mathematical existence.  

Then why should one set of initial conditions have PE when other similar ones do not? Why should the mathematical structure where the electron/proton mass ratio mp=me*1836 have PE when the one with mp=me*1996 does not? And why should a 3+1-dimensional manifold have PE when a 17+5-dimensional one does not?

Suppose we were to grant existence to all mathematical structures.   Could this explain the observe the world in which we find ourselves?   The key is in the phrase “in which we find ourselves.”   Which among those mathematical structures are capable of evolving living beings complex enough to be contemplating such questions?   Tegmark concludes we can’t rule out the possibility that all we know about physics and cosmology could be derivable from this one principle.

If the TOE proposed in this paper is indeed correct, then the search for the ultimate principles has ended in a slight anti-climax: finding the TOE was easy, but working out its experimental implications is probably difficult enough to keep physicists and mathematicians occupied for generations to come.

3 June 2006

One man's definition of love:

“If you look into someone’s face long enough, eventually you’re going to feel that you’re looking at yourself.”

~ Paul Auster

2 June 2006

Science is an Art

The history of the 20th century has a lot to do with the application of scientific analysis to the operation of business. Much of the progress in standard of living that is the best feature of modernity has come directly from the generation of more output with less work, and this has been realized by the application of scientific thinking to the subject of efficiency in the organization of human effort.

It was inevitable that the success of this enterprise be reflected back upon science itself. Science is a big business, and researchers have been under pressure to be ever more productive. We demand more and more knowledge for each dollar invested in scientific research. The result has often been to make the scientific establishment penny-wise and pound-foolish. Not to mention pig-headed.

It is inefficient to always be questioning known scientific facts, challenging them with alternative hypotheses and new experimental tests. It is a waste of time and money to do experiments where we know in advance what the answer must be. It is also absolutely essential for the conduct of scientific research.

from the New York Times Science Page this week:  

Anomalous findings are often dismissed in science, because researchers believe the experiment must have come out wrong or that it is not worth the effort of tracking down the cause. “It happens all the time in science,” Dr. [Thomas R.] Cech said. “You come to a fork in the road, and you know you may waste time if you wander down it, but there's a small chance you'll discover something totally new that others have bypassed.”

Scientists are working under management, and there is a powerful incentive to take the road more traveled by, to get your work done on time and under budget.

This week's subject is nothing less than the dogma that a gene is a segment of DNA, and each gene comes either from your father or mother, with equal likelihood. Gregor Mendel discovered the phenomenon 150 years ago, without having the tools to understand the molecular mechanism. Fifty years ago, Watson and Crick detailed the molecular mechanism, and since then it has been a done deal. No sense questioning what we already know.

New Scientist on non-Mendelian inheritance
Article in The Scientist
Original article in Nature by Minoo Rassoulzadegan et al

“These phenomena, which a geneticist notices as oddities of genetic crosses, are likely to be just a tip of the iceberg. They point to a much larger role of epigenetics in cellular differentiation and development,” says Amar Klar.

1 June 2006

“Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. 
We are collaborators in creation.” 

~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

31 May 2006

“This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun, and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men; go freely with the powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and mothers, of families: read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life: re-examine all you have been told at school or church, or in any books, and dismiss whatever insults your soul, and your flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

from the preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass,
Walt Whitman, born this day in 1819

30 May 2006

The Seed Market

Can you find another market like this?
with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?
for one seed
get a whole wilderness?
For one weak breath,
a divine wind?
You've been fearful
of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.
Now, your waterbead lets go
and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.
It no longer has the form it had,
but it's still water
The essence is the same.
This giving up is not a repenting.
It's a deep honoring of yourself.
When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry at once, quickly,
for God's sake!
Don't postpone it!
Existence has no better gift. 
No amount of searching 
will find this. 
A perfect falcon, for no reason 
has landed on your shoulder,
and become yours.

~ Jalal ad-Din Rumi, 1207-1273

29 May 2006

On November 22, 1963, the day he was assassinated in Dallas, John F. Kennedy was scheduled to give a speech in which he would have said:

We in this country, in this generation, are - by destiny rather than choice - the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of 'peace on earth, goodwill toward men.' That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago, 'except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.'.

from Thom Hartmann's review of Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words
Does it rankle our sensibilities to read biblical quotes from an American politician, because of all that has happened since 1963?
JFK, the last idealistic president, was born this day in 1917.