1 April 2007

Early results from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva offer our first glimpse of the constituent parts of a quark.  This was to be a crucial test, determining whether string theory might be viable, or whether the predicted Higgs boson plays the crucial role that is hoped for, or whether the 11-dimensional Brane World contains wormholes into our Universe.  

But physicists report results that support none of the conventional theories.  Much to their surprise, they found the first signs of intelligent life on a sub-nanometer scale.  Very Small Men and Women transmitted their frustration, having tried to raise our attention for over 10,000 years.  They are unhappy with the way we are deploying our protons and neutrons here on earth.  Each proton and neutron, they explain comprises three quarks, and each quark houses an entire miniature civilization.

Physicists at CERN promised the Very Small Men and Women that they would get word out, so that Earth's inhabitants would no longer waste protons or neutrons, and would regard each one with all requisite respect.


31 March 2007

Franz Joseph Haydn, born this day in 1732, invented musical forms that lasted intact through the first half of the 19th century, and remain the basis for much variation and elaboration today.  But writing music that was perfectly ‘in style’ was never Haydn’s way, for he loved humor and surprises.  

“Since God has given me a cheerful heart, He will forgive me for serving Him cheerfully.”

Hungarian Rondo, in a version for piano trio 

30 March 2007

“You are no doubt aware that the Almighty, desiring to lead us to perfection and to improve our state of society, has revealed to us laws which are to regulate our actions. These laws, however, presuppose an advanced state of intellectual culture. We must first form a conception of the Existence of the Creator according to our capabilities; that is, we must have a knowledge of Metaphysics. But this discipline can only be approached after the study of Physics: for the science of Physics borders on Metaphysics, and must even precede it.”

Long before the Renaissance, Moses Maimonides was the first Renaissance Man.  Born this day in 1135 in Spain, he wrote in Hebrew, in Arabic and in Greek; he lived in Morocco, in Egypt and the Holy Land; he was the greatest physician of his time; an authority on astrology, astronomy, and Biblical creation, before those fields were well separated.  He is best known as interpreter of Jewish texts.

Though the center of Maimonides’s work was theology, he approached religious truth through the study of science.  He espoused the doctrine that God is unknowable, so that the best that humans can do in conceiving him is to make negative statements, e.g., ‘God is without limit’ or ‘God contains no division.’  The word for this is Apophetic theology.  Maimonides anticipated Spinoza, five centuries after him.

The quote at the top of this page is from his Guide for the Perplexed, an explication of the Bible and ancient mystical texts.

You must accept the truth from whatever source it comes.

29 March 2007

They collect here every Thursday evening to distill their ideas ­ to distinguish science from superstition. At stake is Everything. Reality. Meaning. Their lives. They have lost any tolerance for ineffectual and embroidered attitudes, for mysticism or metaphysics. That is putting it too dispassionately. They hate mysticism and metaphysics, religion and faith. They loathe them. They want to separate out truth. They feel, I imagine, the near hysteria of sensing it just there, just beyond the nub of their fingers at the end of arms stretched to their limits.


In 1931 he is a young man of twenty-five years, his sharpest edges still hidden beneath the soft pulp of youth. He has just discovered his theorems. With pride and anxiety he brings with him this discovery. His almost, not-quite paradox, his twisted loop of reason, will be his assurance of immortality. An immortality of his soul or just his name? This question will be the subject of his madness. Can I assert that suprahuman longevity will apply only to his name? And barely even that. Even now that we live under the shadow of his discovery, his name is hardly known. His appellation denotes a theorem, he's an initial, not a man. Only here he is, a man in defense of his soul, in defense of truth, ready to alter the view of reality his friends have formulated on this marble table. He has come to tell the circle that they are wrong, and he can prove it.

...Gödel has come tonight to shatter their belief until all that's left are convincing pieces that when assembled erect a powerful monument to mathematics, but not an unassailable one ­ or at least not a complete one. Gödel will prove that some truths live outside of logic and that we can't get there from here. Some people ­ people who probably distrust mathematics ­ are quick to claim that they knew all along that some truths are beyond mathematics. But they just didn't. They didn't know it. They didn't prove it.

Gödel didn't believe that truth would elude us. He proved it would. He didn't invent a myth to conform to his prejudice of the world ­ at least not when it came to mathematics. He discovered his theorem as surely as if it was a rock he had dug up from the ground. He could pass it around the table and it would be as real as that rock. If anyone cared to, they could dig it up where he buried it and find it just the same. Look for it and you'll find it where he said it is, just off center from where you're staring. There are faint stars in the night sky that you can see but only if you look to the side of where they shine. They burn too weakly or are too far to be seen directly, even if you stare. But you can see them out of the corner of your eye because the cells on the periphery of your retina are more sensitive to light. Maybe truth is just like that. You can see it, but only out of the corner of your eye.

from A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, by Janna Levin

28 March 2007

“What lies beyond the veil, beyond what nature presents? When moved to a state of wonder by a striking vista with its light, color, and emotive quality, I know I am somehow encountering a part of myself. And, if nature serves as a catalyst for inner beings to express themselves, am I not compelled to go on a quest to encounter the full range of inhabitants across my interior continent?”

Josef Graf

27 March 2007

Nothing But Miracles
by Walt Whitman

WHY, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with anyone I love, or sleep in the bed at night with anyone I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim – the rocks – the motion of the waves – the ships with the men in them, What stranger miracles are there?


26 March 2007

In the mid-1950’s, Hal Taussig was a high school teacher.  “After 10 years of teaching, he took a sabbatical, and drove a VW Beetle all over Europe.  

“Back home, Taussig wrote a book about his adventure, Shoestring Sabbatical. It inspired an idea: a travel agency that would enable tourists to get to know a place intimately by staying at least two weeks in a rented cottage, apartment or farmhouse. With a $5,000 loan from a friend, Taussig launched Untours in 1975.”

Hal Taussig has made millions of dollars since then, but he has chosen not only to give away the bulk of his fortune, but to live simply and shun possessions.  He lives with his wife in a small row house, and hasn’t owned a car in 30 years.

“He directs the Untours Foundation, into which he pours all his profits – $5 million since 1992. The money is used to make low-interest loans to ventures and projects that help the needy and jobless – from a craft store in Hanoi to a home-health-care cooperative in Philadelphia.”

“If capitalism is good, it should be good for the poor,” Taussig declares. “I invest in entrepreneurial efforts to help poor people leverage themselves out of poverty.”

(quotes from an Article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer)

To me, the moral of this story is not that poverty is uplifting – certainly it is not – but that nothing is more beneficial to one’s sense of security and abundance than the voluntary choice to live beneath one’s means.