11 February 2007

Yoga is any exercise performed with attention to one’s body.  The quality of the attention is supportive, non-judgmental, and patient.  The exercise is traditionally derived from an ancient legacy of the Indian subcontinent.  But any exercise performed with this quality of attention can nurture body and mind in the yogic way; while exacting performance of the traditional asanas may devolve into mere calisthenics if they are rendered without mindfulness.

A wise and loving parent listens to a small child with rapt attention, taking in every detail of the child’s communication without necessarily believing the child’s expressions as literal truth.  It is the job of the parent to express faith in the child’s capacity for growth and change even when the child is anxious and may lack faith in himself.  The parent takes the long view, managing the child’s growth by offering a challenge appropriate for each day.  Implied in the parent’s attention is unlimited support and commitment for the indefinite future.  A yogi’s attention to his own body has just these qualities.

~ Josh Mitteldorf

10 February 2007

«La plus véritable marque d'être né avec de grandes qualités, c’est d’être né sans envie.»
François de la Rochefoucauld, 1613-1680

“The surest mark of greatness is absence of desire.”

This maxim is often translated “The truest sign of being born with great qualities is to be born without envy”  But the French ‘envie’ blends connotations of the English words ‘desire’ and ‘envy’.  It may be that there is this bit of implicit wisdom within the French lexicon, and thereby in the cultural subconscious: that desires are our most common form of folly; that ‘I want!’ is almost always delusional, in the sense that acquiring the object of our desires is seldom a satisfying experience.  

How long must we live before we internalize the truth that it is self-actualization that breeds happiness, rather than fulfillment of our desires?

9 February 2007

Let us chant our way
into the new
Let the
celestial sound
set the pitch
for future harmony

Holding on to nothing,
we dig deep into our heroic
nature and reveal ourselves
as ones who can change,
who can make the long journey
out of darkness into a grand

The past is gone,
a handful of hardened seeds
shaken by the hand of Creation
and scattered to the four corners
of endless time and space
The future is a thought form,
yet to be formed into an expression
which will dramatically unfold as
the rest of our lives

So, here we are in a new age,
a figment of linear time that is
truly a bit of Eternity on loan,
a seeming straight line in a
spiraling vortex of All That Is

We enter the present,
the Eternally Now,
through the portal
of our own intention,
and as we cut loose
from all that we think
we know, let us enter
true time and chant
our way forward,
back to the Source.

~ Elizabeth Cheatham

8 February 2007

John von Neumann believed in the power of mathematics to solve problems, and stretched mathematical thinking to new kinds of applications.  In the 1930’s and 40’s, there were mathematicians interested in the theory of computation, and engineers interested in constructing a physical computer.  Von Neumann bridged the gap, and is credited with having written the first computer program.  (He was working at the time on the Manhattan Project, and used the computer to calculate the course of a nuclear chain reaction.)

A broad theme ran through von Neumann’s work, connecting nuclear fission with life.  A chain reaction is a process by which the fission of a nucleus causes two more nuclei to fission.  A living cell divides into two daughter cells.  Von Neumann explored the mathematics of self-reproduction, wrote about the possibility of self-reproducing machine, both as a mathematical idea and as a practical possibility.  

Implicit in the concept of a self-reproducing machine are the ideas of change and evolution.  If a machine can copy itself, it can probably copy itself with small variations.  If any criterion is chosen for the ‘best’ of a small group of copies, then the progeny of a single self-reproducing machine could become ‘better’ with each generation.

 Living beings are, of course, self-reproducing machines.  Is it practical to build a self-reproducing machine that is much simpler than a living cell?  Is it a reasonable goal for the next thousand years of human technology?  Or for the next ten years?  

 The implications of this question are far-reaching.  For example, a computer that could design smarter computers would quickly turn out generations of computers with vastly greater intelligence than anything we have seen.  This is ‘The Singularity’.  Twenty-five years ago, Frank Tipler wrote of the implications of von Neumann machines for SETI.  He noted that a self-reproducing machine could efficiently explore an entire galaxy, seeking stars with energy and planets with raw materials, copying itself and moving on.  An entire galaxy could be covered with copies in a few hundred million years.  

So why aren’t they ubiquitous, these von Neumann machines of extraterrestrial origin?  Does that mean that there are no other civilizations anywhere in our galaxy (or at least that there aren’t any that are more than a few hundred million years old? (link to Tipler's 1982 article)

On his death, von Neumann left a box with instructions that it be sealed for 50 years.  His daughter Marina has the box, and today is the day it can be opened.

7 February 2007

Very few phenomena in astronomy are predicted before they are discovered.  Even though the raw material is simple – clouds of hydrogen and helium gas – the richness of phenomena that are observed continues to surprise us.  

Gamma rays are very high energy electromagnetic waves – light waves on steroids.  You can make gamma rays just by heating gas, but it has to get to several millions of degree, and where would such temperatures come from in space?  Gamma rays are produced in the nuclear reactions in the centers of stars, but they don’t get out of the star because there are thousands of kilometers of dense soup to pass through before they reach the surface.  Black holes are thought to be a good source of gamma rays because anything falling into a black hole goes very fast and gets very hot just before it disappears.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that it’s easy to degrade gamma rays into cascades of lower-energy light rays, but difficult to combine lots of lower-energy particles to make one gamma ray.

For all their energy, gamma rays don’t penetrate into the earth's atmosphere, so they have to be observed from orbiting instruments.  They are hard to ‘catch’ and even harder to focus.  So gamma ray astronomy is fairly new.  One observatory in Africa ‘observes’ gamma rays indirectly by looking for flashes of blue light from the sky that are produced when a gamma ray is stopped by the earth’s upper atmosphere.  If the blue flash is observed from at least two different angles, it is possible to compute the origin of the gamma ray that triggered it.

Last week comes word of three new types of gamma ray sources, sending the theorists scrambling for explanations.  One type comes from a cloud of gas surrounding a neutron star, which provides a natural source for the energy.  But even that phenomenon was not predicted in advance of the observations, and the other two types are more challenging and controversial.

Twin stars as one possible source
Gamma Ray Clouds as another

6 February 2007

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

~ e.e. cummings
listen to choral setting by Eric Whitacre

5 February 2007

Consider prosperity. The 50 percent deflation rate inherent in information technology and its growing purview is causing the decline of poverty. The poverty rate in Asia, according to the World Bank, declined by 50 percent over the past ten years due to information technology, and will decline at current rates by 90 percent in the next ten years. All areas of the world are being affected, including Africa which is now undergoing a rapid invasion of the Internet. Even Sub Saharan Africa had a 5% growth rate last year.

Ray Kurzweil, from response to Edge World Questions