26 November 2006

Self-indulgence is an attempt to satisfy one’s cravings and desires indiscriminately, without self-knowledge and without regard to long-term consequences.

Self-aggrandizement is the pursuit of power over others, which offers a tenuous security and a substitutes for deeper, reciprocal human relationships.

Narcissism is yet more directly a cry for human contact. It derives from the loss of faith in what others can give to us.

True self-love is like the love of a mother, wise and caring, full with forgiveness and open-ended faith in our future. It is grounded in a recognition that one’s welfare is inextricably tied to the fates of others, and that the deepest satisfactions come from acts of caring, from learning, and from stretching toward new capabilities and experiences.

– Josh Mitteldorf

25 November 2006

Cosmologists have much to look forward to: the direct detection of dark matter and gravitational waves, the extraction of more secrets of the early universe, the discovery of the cosmic neutrino background, possibly an exploding black hole, understanding dark energy, decisive evidence for or against the existence of other dimensions of space, new forces of nature and the possibility of time travel; perhaps even nano-sized space probes. I could go on.

All this is exciting, but take a moment to think back 50 years and look forwards. None of the greatest discoveries in the astronomical sciences were foreseen. The transformation in the practice of science brought about by the web is barely 30 years old. No one predicted it. Pulsars, quasars, gamma-ray bursts, the standard model of particle physics, the isotropy of the microwave background, strings and dark energy were equally unexpected. None of these was predicted 50 years ago.

Perhaps scientists are as blinkered as the politicians and economists who failed to foresee the fall of the Iron Curtain and the climatic implications of industrialisation. Yet this myopia may not be a fault. Perhaps it is a touchstone. If you can foresee what is going to happen in your field over the next 50 years then maybe it is mined out, or lacking what it takes to attract the brightest minds. Nothing truly revolutionary is ever predicted because that is what makes it revolutionary.

~ John D Barrow
from a New Scientist forum on the next 50 years in science

24 November 2006

Baruch Spinoza, born this day in 1632, was the first to systematically deconstruct religion from a rational perspective.  But though he ruthlessly dismissed dogma, he preserved the mystical core of human experience.

We feel and know that we are eternal.

Concerning the human essence, time and mortality: Spinoza professed that we have an existence outside of time, though he rejected the simplistic notion of a life in heaven that resembles our life on earth. 

If we look to mens general opinion, we shall see that they are indeed conscious of the eternity of their mind, but that they confuse eternity with duration, and ascribe it to the imagination or the memory which they believe to remain after death.
– from the Ethics, part V

23 November 2006

an attitude
a stance that enhances 
my sense of wellbeing
from whence to find freeing

to joy
to abundance
to life

22 November 2006

FROM harmony, from heavenly harmony, 
    This universal frame began: 
  When nature underneath a heap 
    Of jarring atoms lay, 
  And could not heave her head, 
The tuneful voice was heard from high, 
   ‘Arise, ye more than dead!’
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry, 
  In order to their stations leap, 
    And Music’s power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony, 
    This universal frame began: 
    From harmony to harmony 
Through all the compass of the notes it ran, 
The diapason closing full in Man.

~ John Dryden
A Song for St Cecelias Day, 1687
(Cecelia is the Patron Saint of music, and today is her birthday)

21 November 2006

Last month, a project to compile a complete list of sea urchin genes was completed, and a report in last week’s Science magazine describes the result.

Despite the fact that the last common ancestor of sea urchins and humans lived over 250 million years ago, there is remarkable similarity in the two genomes, and remarkable sophistication in the sea urchin genome. 

Sea urchins have neither eyes nor noses, nor even a brain; yet there are 979 genes for proteins that sense light or chemicals in the environment – similar to the number in vertebrates.  Evidently these sensory abilities at the molecular level have been around a lot longer than the sense organs which we associate with them.  Sea urchins are rooted to the sea floor, and eat by scraping algae and bits of organic matter off the rocks under them.  They creep along, using tiny suction cups at the end of tiny tentacles.  Yet they make use of information to make the limited decisions available to them.

One of the principal messages from this story is that evolution has proceeded not by inventing new genes at each step, but more often by recycling old parts for new functions; building more and more sophisticated machinery, while relying principally on the set of parts already at hand. 

20 November 2006

“The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of bold projects and new ideas. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the great enterprises and ideals of American society.”

~ Robert F Kennedy, born this day in 1925