1 July 2007

This Spring, I have been reading Extraordinary Knowing, by Lisby Mayer.  It is the first person account of an academic psychologist who is confronted with evidence for the ability of human minds to communicate directly with other minds, absent any physical conduit for information.  Being a good scientist, she pursued the evidence, did the background reading, and discovered that there has been a century of credible, if puzzlingly inconsistent, scientific experiment supporting the reality telepathy.  The subject has been shunted aside by the mainstream scientific community, because of widespread theoretical convictions that no such phenomena are possible.

I can read this book and think the evidence is undeniable, and yet I am a long way from transforming my outlook on the world as would be appropriate.  Intermittently, I have been trying the following exercise, asking myself:  What would change if I took this message to heart and believed it deeply?

Here is one dim and early conjecture:  I have long had an intuitive faith that my own actions and the events about me are unfolding toward some just and satisfying end – even as I recognize that I can't know what that end is, and I must recognize that it may or may not correspond to the goals that I am consciously pursuing.  There is now the possibility that this faith is more than a comforting delusion, or psychological palliative.  It may have a basis in physical reality. 

– Josh Mitteldorf

30 June 2007

How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays;
And their incessant labors see
Crowned from some single herb, or tree,
Whose short and narrow-verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all flowers and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose!

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear?
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow;
Society is all but rude
To this delicious solitude.

What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine, and curious peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.


Meanwhile, the mind, from pleasure less,
Witdraws into its happiness:
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

How well the skillful gardener drew
Of flowers and herbs, this dial new;
Where, from above, the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
And, as it works, the industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flow’rs!

from The Garden
by Andrew Marvell 1621-1678


29 June 2007

What we did for love...

What’s it worth to a woman to find Mr Right?  At last, science can tell us.  I will keep you in suspense no longer: the answer is 78.9 (±23.2) KJoules.  At least, that’s the answer if you happen to be a female iguana facing a lek.

A lek is where the boys hang out to strut their stuff, display their wares...and where girls come for a meet-and-greet.  Speed-dating, lizard style. 

The heart goes pitter-patter, with every pit and pat recorded for science on a heart-rate bio-log.   How much energy did the females expend?  When the data is gathered and the numbers are crunched comes the answer:  A lot.  Iguanas aren’t desperate to marry the first pair of pants that struts by.  The chemistry has to be just right.

Epistasis is a funny word.  It simply means the interaction among different genes.*  Those iguana girls are sniffing out combinations of genes that will work well with their own.

This is serious stuff.  The energy these girls spend sniffing and ogling could have been spent foraging, or preparing a nest to assure the brood’s survival.  “Choosy females also appear to face a reduced probability of survival if El Niño conditions occur in the year following breeding.”

And when the bride is wed and the brood is bred, and Mr and Mrs Iguana are home cuddling safe in bed, we can ask: Was it all worthwhile?  

You bet your bippy!

News article from Canadian Public Radio
High Costs of Female Choice in a Lekking Lizard from this month’s edition of the on-line journal PLOS One

* To you and me, it seems obvious that genes work together, so the fitness increment of any one gene depends in a complicated way on many other genes.  But because of the way that the science of population genetics was developed, evolutionary scientists tend to think of epistasis as the exception to the rule.

28 June 2007

The greatest violinist of the 19th century was Joseph Joachim, born this day in 1831.  As a boy of 12, he made his debut playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto, under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn.  He was the muse who inspired composers to create several of the great romantic works of the era.  

Johannes Brahms was friend to both Joachim and his wife, Amalie.  Joachim separated from Amalie over his accusation that she was having an affair with the music publisher Fritz Simrock.  Believing that she was falsely accused, Brahms wrote a sympathetic letter to Amalie.  During divorce proceedings, Amalie produced that letter as evidence in court, with the consequence that Joachim would not speak to Brahms for seven years.

Here is the peace offering, created by Brahms to rekindle the friendship he missed so much:

Listen to the second movement, Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello Op 102

27 June 2007

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature.”

~ Helen Keller, born this day in 1880

26 June 2007

Today the planet is the only proper “in group.”
Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
We cannot cure the world of sorrows, 
but we can choose to live in joy.

You must return with the bliss and integrate it.
The return is seeing the radiance is everywhere.
The world is a match for us.
We are a match for the world.
The spirit is the bouquet of nature. . . .

Sanctify the place you are in. Follow your bliss. . . .

~ from The Divine Manifestation is Ubiquitous by Joseph Campbell

25 June 2007

George Orwell, born this day in 1903, is eminently quotable.  He saw through ‘the way things are presented’ to ‘the way things are’, but rather than being overcome by shock and indignation, he found in his vision reason for hope.  He saw through news reports to a hidden political reality:

Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper. 

The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.

He saw through war:

All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

He saw through pomposity:

An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.

He held equal distance from religious fervor and antireligious fervor:

[Mankind] is not likely to salvage civilization unless he can evolve a system of good and evil which is independent of heaven and hell.

He was an embittered atheist, the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him.

He saw through despair:

Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.

Best, he saw through cynicism:

The high sentiments always win in the end....When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.”

Here’s a more surprising Orwell quote that speaks most directly to me today:

The main motive for nonattachment is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work.