21 January 2007

Allow science to transport you to the threshold of mysticism.  Follow physics into speculative forms of matter, and extra dimensions of space beyond the three that we perceive.  Review statistical evidence for telepathic communication.  Learn enough quantum mechanics to appreciate the way it suggests the ubiquity of non-local causal influences.  Study enough biological evolution to focus on gaps in our theoretical understanding of the selective mechanisms that create unfathomable complexity.

Philosophers assert that the human brain can be completely modeled as a deterministic computing engine, but physicists know better.  Philosophers imagine that a physical ‘Theory of Everything’ will explain that the universe is a machine, but physicists realize the limitations of their science.

Meditate on the certainty that more exists than we can perceive.  Seek not glib answers, but relish the questions themselves, and let them be the foundry in which your faith is fashioned. 

– Josh Mitteldorf

20 January 2007

From The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

“One might think that nothing is easier to learn for modern man than discipline.  Does he not spend eight hours a day in a most disciplined way at a job that is strictly routinized?  The fact, however, is that modern man has exceedingly little self discipline outside of the sphere of work. This...is largely a reaction against the routinization of life...he has become distrustful of all discipline: of that enforced by irrational authority, as well as of rational discipline imposed by himself...

“How does one practice discipline?  It is essential that discipline should not be practiced like a rule imposed on oneself from the outside, but that it become an expression of one's own will; that it is felt as pleasant and that one slowly accustoms oneself to a kind of behavior which one would eventually miss, if one stopped practicing it...

“Concentration is by far more difficult to practice in our culture, in which everything seems to act against the ability to concentrate.  One must learn to be alone with oneself – and this ability is precisely a condition for the ability to love...[Here he describes a simple meditation technique] 

“Besides such exercises, one must learn to be concentrated in everything one does: in listening to music, in reading a book, in talking to a person, in seeing a view.  The activity at this moment must be all that maters, to which one is fully given over...To be concentrated in relation to others means primarily to be able to listen.”

Fromm goes on to describe the particular difficulties of loving in a secular, capitalist society:

“While a great deal of lip service is paid to the religious ideal of love of one’s neighbor, our relations are actually determined, at their best, by the principle of fairness.”  Implicitly, each is seeking his own private advantage, while allowing for a level playing field, and renouncing violence and coercion.  This is a far cry from love.  Some philosophers proclaim “the basic incompatibility between love and normal secular life within our society.  They arrive at the result that to speak of love today means only to participate in the general fraud; they claim that only a martyr or a mad person can love in the world of today, hence that all discussion of love is nothing but preaching.”

Fromm rejects such cynicism.  “‘Capitalism’ is in itself a complex and constantly changing structure which still permits of a good deal of non-conformity and personal latitude...People capable of love, under the present system, are necessarily the exceptions....The spirit of a production-centered, commodity-greedy society is such that only the non-conformist can defend himself successfully against it.  

“Those who are seriously concerned with love as the only rational answer to the problem of human existence must, then, arrive at the conclusion that important and radical changes in our social structures are necessary, if love is to become a social and not a highly individualistic, marginal phenomenon...To have faith in the possibility of love as a social and not aonly exceptional-individual phenomenon is a rational faith based on the insight into the very nature of man.”

19 January 2007

It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.”

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”

The ninety and nine are with dreams content 
But the hope of the world made new
Is the hundredth man who is grimly bent 
On making those dreams come true

Edgar Allen Poe was born this day in 1809

‘Infinity,’ like ‘God,’ ‘spirit,’ and some other expressions of which the equivalents exist in all languages, is by no means the expression of an idea, but of an effort at one. It stands for the possible attempt at an impossible conception. Man needed a term by which to point out the direction of this effort — the cloud behind which lay, forever invisible, the object of this attempt. A word, in fine, was demanded, by means of which one human being might put himself in relation at once with another human being and with a certain tendency of the human intellect. Out of this demand arose the word ‘Infinity;’ which is thus the representative but of the thought of a thought.
— from Poe’s essay Eureka, in which he anticipated some findings of 20th century cosmology

18 January 2007

“I want to illustrate a past…in which the power of individuals and unarmed people is colossal, in which the scale of change in the world and the collective imagination over the past few decades is staggering, in which the astonishing things that have taken place can brace us to enter that dark future with boldness.  To recognize the momentousness of what has happened is to apprehend what might happen.  Inside the word ‘emergency’ is the ‘emerge’…The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”

~from Hope in the Dark by Rebcca Solnit

17 January 2007

“The truth is that we live out our lives putting off all that can be put off; perhaps we all know deep down that we are immortal and that sooner or later all men will do and know all things.”

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) from Funes the Memorious (1964)

“Ultimately, everybody will find out everything” – wall sign at Googleplex

16 January 2007

Nature's unbounded son, he stands alone,
His heart unbiased, and his mind his own.

‘O mother, yet no mother! ’tis to you
My thanks for such distinguished claims are due;
You, unenslaved to Nature’s narrow laws,
Warm championess for freedom's sacred cause,
From all the dry devoirs of blood and line,
From ties maternal, moral, and divine,
Discharged my grasping soul; pushed me from shore,
And launched me into life without an oar.’

from The Bastard, by Richard Savage, born this day in 1697

15 January 2007

Zhang Jingjing is China’s most successful environmental advocate.  She faces the world’s most intransigent bureaucracy, and an economy rushing headlong into economic development, with no thought to long-term sustainability or even near-term public health.  Nevertheless, she has won substantial victories and, more important, established procedures for holding polluters accountable. 

Article in Seed magazine (scroll down or search for ‘Zhang’)
Interview in New Scientist