29 July 2007

When I was a boy, I sought to win my parents’ love away from my brother by besting him at games, and occasionally by beating him physically.  When I was a teen, I sought to compensate for my social isolation by being smarter and knowing more than other students.  As an adult, I sought consciously to move away from competition, and to harness my talents in service to others.

Still, I am far from having broken the mental habit of comparison as a means of self-validation.  Ironically, I catch myself taking refuge in feelings of moral superiority, supported by these very acts of service. 

Of course, all my competitive behaviors are rooted in a compulsion to assure that I am good enough to be allowed into the company of those best able to sympathize with me and understand my interests.  (Many such people, as it turns out, are too busy for friendship, or too self-absorbed to be capable of intimacy.)

When will I give up the separation of comparison and competition and seek directly for essential relationship?  For the time being, the world of contests and achievements and competition and comparison is a safe and comfortable world, in which I know my place and have my bearings.  Love is more dangerous.

– Josh Mitteldorf

28 July 2007

As once the winged energy of delight
carried you over childhood’s dark abysses,
now beyond your own life build the great
arch of unimagined bridges.

Wonders happen if we can succeed
in passing through the harshest danger;
but only in a bright and purely granted
achievement can we realize the wonder.

To work with Things in the indescribable
relationship is not too hard for us;
the pattern grows more intricate and subtle,
and being swept along is not enough.

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out
until they span the chasm between two
contradictions...For the god
wants to know himself in you.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

27 July 2007

Ernö Dohnányi, Hungarian pianist and conductor, was born this day in 1877.  He is my personal favorite composer.  

Listen to two miniature gems from his Symphonic Minutes for orchestra (1933):

2-Rapsodia              5-Rondo

26 July 2007

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Carl Jung, born this day in 1875

25 July 2007

An article from Science magazine earlier this month reports on several billion-dollar experiments in Korea, Europe,  and the U.S. that are designed to detect some of the forms that ‘dark matter’ may take.  

Dark matter has been hypothesized to be part of the recipe for our universe, based on the fact that galaxies (and clusters of them) hang together better than we can account for based on the gravitational mass of their stars and gas.  Therefore there is something there that we do not see.  This problem wasn’t so severe when it was first noticed in the 1930’s, even through the 1970’s, because there were many forms the matter could take that were plausible.  (For example, ‘stars’ too small to shine, or massive neutrinos.)  But gradually our knowledge of the universe grew, and with it the constraints on the forms dark matter could take, until about a decade ago came the conclusion: it cannot be ‘baryonic matter’ (because if it were, there would be too much deuterium, more than we see, created in the first 3 minutes of the universe).  The trouble is, ‘baryonic matter’ is the only stable form of matter that we know.  

So astronomy is stuck with the deduction that most of the universe consists of some exotic form of matter we have never seen and interacts with our ordinary matter very weakly, if at all.  Hence the search with particle detectors and supercolliders for rare events that represent some new, exotic kinds of particles.

My prediction: they won’t find what they’re looking for.  Scientific progress rarely proceeds in straight lines, and speculative theories are rarely corroborated.  More frequently, experiment leads, and theory hustles to catch up.

So these experiments will be very worthwhile.  They will uncover new mysteries, new grist for the theoretical mill, and copious nourishment to feed our sense of wonder.  And when the resolution of the ‘dark matter’ problem finally arrives, it will describe a universe stranger and more unexpected than any of us is able to imagine at present. 

24 July 2007

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

Amelia Earhart, born this day in 1897

23 July 2007

He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds' song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came.

~ Robert Frost