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
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!
* 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.”
Keller, born this day in 1880
26 June 2007
Today the planet is the only proper “in group.”
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:
He saw through war:
He saw through pomposity:
He held equal distance from religious fervor and antireligious fervor:
He saw through despair:
Best, he saw through cynicism:
Here’s a more surprising Orwell quote that speaks most directly to me today: