Publish or perish
150 years ago today, Charles Darwin gave his first public
presentation of the Theory of Evolution to scientific amateurs at the
Linnaean Society of
London. He had been compiling observations and consolidating his
thoughts for at least 25 years, and The Origin of Species was
in preparation. But in June he received a paper by Russel Wallace,
entertaining some very similar ideas. At the encouragement of
friends, he decided to go on record with his thoughts in their
yet-preliminary state, so as not to be scooped.
Darwin’s presentation, loaded with factual detail, was received in
sleepy silence. The Linnean society's president Thomas Bell,
writing in his review of 1858, concluded the year had not been marked by
‘any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionise the
department of science’.
Article by Robin McKie from The Guardian
1 July 2008
The US is an outlier...
Last month a Univ of Michigan group released results from its
World Values Survey of
They asked people directly, “How happy are you?”, and compared
results with answers in years past.
In the 52 countries for which a substantial time series is available
(covering 17 years on average), this index rose in 40 countries and fell
in only 12.
Fully as important as the fact that happiness rose is the reason why.
In recent decades, low-income countries such as India and China have
experienced unprecedented rates of economic growth, dozens of
medium-income countries have democratized and there has been a sharp
rise of gender equality and tolerance of ethnic minorities and gays and
lesbians in developed societies.
In subsistence-level societies, happiness is closely linked with
in-group solidarity, religiosity and national pride. At higher levels of
economic security, free choice has the largest impact on happiness.
The largest recent increases on the subjective well-being index,
measuring both happiness and life-satisfaction, occurred in the Ukraine,
followed by Moldova, Slovenia, Nigeria, Turkey and Russia.
Press release by Diane Swanbrow of UMich
2 July 2008
Take a nap
In a Nature Neuroscience article, it was shown that a ninety minute
daytime nap helps speed up the process of long term memory
A second part of the study focused on skill acquisition and
consolidation. It was found that daytime sleep can shorten the
time ‘how to’ memory becomes immune to interference and forgetting.
Press release by Avi Karni and Maria Korman of University of Haifa
3 July 2008
Rebirth for America
As we celebrate America’s birthday, let us not focus on the
remarkable achievement of the Declaration of Independence to the
exclusion of the process that created it. The Fathers of the Republic
were men of defiance who trusted their own thinking, who balanced traditional values
with a willingness to experiment with something new. They risked
all they had in the hope of creating something better. They did it
in 1776, and we can do it today.
“Our three branches of government have become like an
unstable chair, a three-legged chair. The founders could not have
envisioned how much lobbyists and expensive media campaigns would corrupt the
political process. Giving us Americans legislative power will put the fourth leg on our stool and make it stable.”
— Mike Gravel
Philadelphia II website
“Americans are conditioned to see our present form of government as a
representative democracy. We’re almost incapable of understanding that
we live in a plutocracy, and that our Constitution was deliberately
constructed so that the nation is ruled by the wealthy.”
4 July 2008
Défense de penser
Philosophy will clip an angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine —
Unweave a rainbow.
~John Keats, from Lamia
5 July 2008
Perfunctory is the enemy of engagement
Confession: I caught myself yesterday working on today’s Daily
Inspiration in order to get it out of the way in anticipation of a busy
Sunday. Is this the relationship I want to have to inspiration?
‘Just showing up is 90% of success.’ …then perhaps this sort of success
is not for me. When I do things half-heartedly, it undermines my
self-respect and drains my life force.
Triage: Suppose I were to make a conscious choice about each of the
things I do half-heartedly. The board meetings where I don’t really
listen. The entertainment in the background. The movies that are sort of
OK. The social calls and family gatherings that I attend because I’m
expected to be there. The projects I feel I must complete because I
don’t want to disappoint people.
Suppose I were to decide for each of these activities (‘passivities’),
either to be fully present with my whole self or to skip them; to
participate fully or not at all.
Would there be time where I sat idly and did nothing at all? Doing
nothing with full awareness is called meditation.
I would make some people angry at me. I would feel
Maybe I’d get over it.
— Josh Mitteldorf
6 July 2008
Is it true that mystics live in a fantasy world of imagined reality?
Or is it the logical positivists who must exclude chunks of fundamental
reality in order to imagine that our world can be tamed by reason?
O Magnum Mysterium by
Tomas Luis de Victoria
7 July 2008
Science! True daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
—Edgar Allen Poe
Music and images in
8 July 2008
The beloved moves through the world.
Is the world.
Becomes the hundred things we love
Or the one and only thing or person
Refusing to incarnate in a final form,
As if to teach us to keep our eyes
Moving if we want to see the bird
Flitting from bush to tree:
There it is! No, there. No,
It's hidden now, you can't see it,
But you can hear its song.
Gregory Orr ~
9 July 2008
Transforming our weaknesses
“Reading is sometimes an ingenious device for
“Strength is born in the deep silence of long-suffering hearts; not amid joy.”
“Having once decided to achieve a certain task, achieve it at all costs of tedium and distaste.
The gain in self confidence of having accomplished a tiresome labor is immense.”
born this day in 1813, wrote books of aphorisms. He very much
wanted to be able to create larger literary constructions, but his
attention span and focus made this difficult. Perhaps if he were
alive today, he would be be diagnosed with ADD. He reworked his
personal struggles as universal truths, and wrote them down to inspire
As he hit his stride in later life, he created a
4-volume history of slavery which helped turn the world’s moral
10 July 2008
75 years ago this spring, Dorothy Day founded the
Catholic Worker movement.
Newly converted to Catholoicism, Day looked to her faith for guidance in
a life of service and peace. Catholic Worker houses operate today in 37 states and 10 countries
around the world. Without government support or salaried workers,
they provide food and shelter for all
those who need it.
An outspoken pacifist through WW II and Vietnam, Day expressed
contempt for churchmen who duped the faithful into accepting the “just
read an article by Colman McCarthy in The Nation
‘I have a hard enough job to curb the anger in my own
heart which i sometimes even wake up with — a giant to strive
with, an ugliness, a sorrow to me...As long as there is any resentment,
bitterness, lack of love in my own heart I am powerless. God must
‘Don’t call me a saint. I will not be dismissed
11 July 2008
Caladrius is a bird of which it is
related that, when it is carried into the presence of a sick person, if
the sick man is going to die, the bird turns away its head and never
looks at him; but if the sick man is to be saved the bird never loses
sight of him but is the cause of curing him of all his sickness. Like
unto this is the love of virtue. It never looks at any vile or base
thing, but rather clings always to pure and virtuous things and takes up
its abode in a noble heart; as the birds do in green woods on flowery
branches. And this Love shows itself more in adversity than in
prosperity; as light does, which shines most where the place is
— Leonardo da Vinci
12 July 2008
Healing touch works for patient and healer
I fancy myself a healer. When I visit friends who are
suffering, it is empowering for both of us if we imagine there is
something I can do, not with supplements or herbs or even advice, but with pure
The leap of faith is in believing that such a thing is possible,
rather than that I personally have this power. If there is such a
thing as healing touch, then probably it is a gift of which we all
partake in some lesser or greater measure, a strength that can be
cultured and developed with practice. I wish to believe that my
caring and my attention are valuable, my very presence is beneficial.
Is it such a large step from study of the
placebo effect to medical research that suggests that
prayer has a power to heal, even when it is remote and unannounced
to the patient?
This is a practice that benefits me as well as my friend, and deepens
the bond between us.
— Josh Mitteldorf
13 July 2008
Liberté, égalité, fraternité
“When work is a pleasure, life is a joy! When work is a duty, life is
— Maximilien Robespierre
14 Juillet 2008
“The climate...was the colorless, reductionist world of 19th century classical physics,
which by that time had strongly affected the outlook of western society in general. The living world did
not exist in any fundamental sense for classical physics: reality lay only in atoms, their
interactions, and certain forces that acted at a distance. The living
world, in all its complexity and beauty, was merely a secondary, highly
derived and complicated manifestation of atomic reality and, like
everything else in our direct experience, could (in principle) be
completely explained (away) in terms of the ever-jostling sea of tiny
atomic particles. The intuitive disparity between atomic
reality and the “biological reality” inherent in direct experience
became the dialectic that underlay the development of 20th century
— Carl Woese
realized 40 years ago that Archaea is a biological kingdom in its own
right, and was the first to propose
that life on earth began in the form of RNA, which served
as both enzyme (‘ribozyme’) and repository of genetic information.
Today, Woese turns 80, and he remains an original thinker about the Big
Picture in biology.
15 July 2008
The sufficiency of one’s own approval
“Common experience shows how much rarer is moral courage than
physical bravery. A thousand men will march to the mouth of the cannon
where one man will dare espouse an unpopular cause . . . True courage
comes from a consciousness of the right attitude toward the
world, a faith in one’s purpose, and the sufficiency of one’s own
approval as justification for one’s own acts.”
— Clarence Darrow, Resist Not Evil
16 July 2008
The Creed of my Heart
The rose-lit clouds of morning; the sun-kissed
The orient streaks and flushes; the mingling
shades and lights;
The flow of the lonely river; the voice of its
The mists that rise from the meadows, lit up by
the sun’s first beam;—
They mingle and melt as I watch them; melt and
mingle and die.
The land is one with the water: the earth is one
with the sky.
The parts are as parts no longer: Nature is All
Her life is achieved, completed: her days of waiting are done.
—Edmond Gore Alexander
17 July 2008
The power of cooperation
“You are the crown of creation.”
— Grace Slick
“...that is, if you happen to be a termite.”
E. O. Wilson
Times article this week)
Social insects are arguably the most successful animal group ever to
appear in evolutionary history. They derive their power from
division of labor and a genetic program of behaviors that subjugate the
welfare of the individual for the benefit of the colony.
18 July 2008
A century before Rosa Parks
A black woman refused to give up her seat on a bus. She was
brutally attacked and thrown off...and she took the case to court.
It was the summer of 1854, and her name was
Here’s how the The New York Tribune reported the Jennings incident in a
February 1855 article: “She got upon one of the Company’s cars last
summer, on the Sabbath, to ride to church. The conductor undertook to
get her off, first alleging the car was full; when that was shown to be
false, he pretended the other passengers were displeased at her
presence; but (when) she insisted on her rights, he took hold of her by
force to expel her. She resisted. The conductor got her down on the
platform, jammed her bonnet, soiled her dress and injured her person.
Quite a crowd gathered, but she effectually resisted. Finally, after the
car had gone on further, with the aid of a policeman they succeeded in
Jennings sued the company, the driver, and the conductor. Messrs. Culver, Parker,
and Arthur represented her. Arthur was Chester A. Arthur, then a novice 21-year-old
lawyer and future President of the United States. This law firm was hired because it
had demonstrated some talent in the area of civil rights the year before.
Elizabeth Jennings claimed $500 worth of damage. The majority of the jury
wanted to give her the full amount, but, as the Tribune put it, "Some jury members
had peculiar notions as to colored people's rights." They eventually agreed to give
her $225, and the court added 10% plus her expenses.
Within a month of the Jennings decision, an African American
named Peter Porter was barred from an Eighth Avenue rail car. He too sued and the company
settled out of court. From then on, African Americans were allowed to ride on
New York rail cars on an equal basis.
19 July 2008
Separating fear from the apprehension of danger
All during my childhood, I had nightmares about nuclear holocaust.
The dreams were not all the same, but in each one there was a gathering
apprehension of distant missiles, followed by increasing certainty that
a missile was nigh. Then I would hear the explosion or see the
mushroom cloud and I would know that this moment was my last…just as I
awoke, heart pounding within my chest.
The dreams continued through adolescence and young adulthood, even as
some waking consciousness crept in: As the certainty of my doom
came upon me, I would remember, ‘The last time I experienced this, it
turned out I was dreaming. Could it be that this, too, is a
I matured. I learned to separate thoughts from the feelings
that accompany them, and learned to identify emotions with physical
sensations within me. One morning (I was 26), I dozed off
during deep relaxation following yoga asanas. I was in a dream of
nuclear terror, but simultaneously I was aware of lying safely on the
floor of my yoga room. I experienced terror as a physical sensation, a
mushrooming hollow within my chest that spread outward through my limbs.
I was overwhelmed with terror; I knew I was safe.
I have not since then had nightmares of nuclear annihilation.
— Josh Mitteldorf
20 July 2008
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust him.”
— Ernest Hemmingway, born this day in 1899
21 July 2008
«Le véritable voyage de découverte ne consiste pas à chercher de
nouveaux paysages, mais à avoir de nouveaux yeux.»
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new
landscapes but having new eyes”
— Marcel Proust
22 July 2008
Art as deliverance from alienation
«Celui qui, souvent, a choisi son destin d'artiste parce qu'il se sentait différent
apprend bien vite qu'il ne nourrira son art, et sa différence,
qu'en avouant sa ressemblance avec tous.»
“Often he who has chosen the fate of the artist because he felt
himself to be different soon realizes that he can maintain neither his
art nor his difference unless he admits that he is like the others.”
— Albert Camus,
acceptance speech, 1957
23 July 2008
Laughter and irony
«C’est quelque chose, le rire : c’est le dédain et la compréhension mêlés, et
en somme la plus haute manière de voir la vie.»
“Consider laughter: it can be disdain; it can be misapprehension;
but at its best, it is the highest attitude toward life.”
— Gustave Flaubert
Ironie: Lassen Sie sich nicht von ihr beherrschen, besonders nicht in unschöpferischen Momenten.
In schöpferischen versuchen Sie es, sich ihrer zu bedienen, als eines Mittels mehr, das Leben zu fassen.
Rein gebraucht, ist sie auch rein, und man muß sich ihrer nicht schämen;
und fühlen Sie sich ihr zu vertraut, fürchten Sie die wachsende Vertraulichkeit mit ihr,
dann wenden Sie sich an große und ernste Gegenstände, vor denen sie klein und hilflos wird.
Suchen Sie die Tiefe der Dinge: dort steigt Ironie nie hinab, —
und wenn Sie 50 an den Rand des Großen führen, erproben Sie gleichzeitig,
ob diese Auffassungsart einer Notwendigkeit Ihres Wesens entspringt.
Denn unter dem Einfluß ernster Dinge wird sie entweder von Ihnen abfallen (wenn sie etwas Zufälliges ist),
oder aber sie wird (so sie wirklich eingeboren Ihnen zugehört) erstarken zu einem ernsten Werkzeug und sich
einordnen in die Reihe der Mittel, mit denen Sie Ihre Kunst werden bilden müssen.
Irony: Don’t let yourself be controlled by it, especially during uncreative moments.
When you are fully creative, try to use it as one more way to take hold of life. Used purely, it too is pure,
and one needn’t be ashamed of it;
but if you feel yourself becoming too familiar with it, if you are afraid of this growing familiarity, then turn to great and serious objects,
before which it becomes small and helpless.
Search into the depths of things: there, irony never descends - and when you arrive at the edge of greatness,
find out whether this way of perceiving the world arises from a necessity of your being.
For under the influence of serious things it will either fall away from you (if it is something accidental),
or else (if it is really innate and belongs to you) it will grow strong,
and become a serious tool and take its place among the instruments with which you can form your art.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
24 July 2008
The Wisdom of Fear
Anything worth doing will always have some fear attached to it. For
example, having a baby, getting married, changing careers-all of these
life changes can bring up deep fears. It helps to remember that this
type of fear is good. It is your way of questioning whether you really
want the new life these changes will bring. It is also a potent reminder
that releasing and grieving the past is a necessary part of moving into
Fear has a way of throwing us off balance, making us feel uncertain and
insecure, but it is not meant to discourage us. Its purpose is to notify
us that we are at the edge of our comfort zone, poised in between the
old life and a new one. Whenever we face our fear, we overcome an inner
obstacle and move into new and life-enhancing territory, both inside and
out. The more we learn to respect and even welcome fear, the more we
will be able to hear its wisdom, wisdom that will let us know that the
time has come to move forward, or not. While comfort with fear is a
contradiction in terms, we can learn to honor our fear, recognizing its
arrival, listening to its intelligence, and respecting it as a harbinger
of transformation. Indeed, it informs us that the change we are
contemplating is significant, enabling us to approach it with the proper
archives of the Daily Om
25 July 2008
What does it take to remind us that the familiar is not
Humans have an uncanny ability to domesticate everything they touch.
Eventually, even the strangest things become absorbed into the routine of the daily mind
with its steady geographies of endurance, anxiety and contentment. Only seldom does the haze lift, and we glimpse for a second, the amazing plenitude of being here. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is suffering or threat that awakens us.
It could happen that one evening, you are busy with many things, netted into your role and the phone rings. Someone you love is suddenly in the grip of an illness that could end their life within hours. It only takes a few seconds to receive that news. Yet, when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. All you know has just been rendered unsure and dangerous.
You realise that the ground has turned into quicksand. Now it seems to you that even mountains are suspended on strings.
26 July 2008
Jenny Lake at dawn
Help me finish this one...
What do you call a skeptic who has lost his faith in atheism?
— Josh Mitteldorf
27 July 2008
Egalitarian sharing is our destiny
“Say that a man has been hunting. He must not come home and announce
like a braggart, ‘I have killed a big one in the bush!’ He must
first sit down in silence until I or someone else comes up to his fire
and asks, ‘What did you see today?’ He replies quietly,
‘Ah, I’m no good for hunting. I saw nothing at all…maybe just a
tiny one.’ Then I smile to myself because I now know that he has
killed something big.’ The jesting continues when they go to
retrieve the dead animal: ‘You mean to say you have dragged us all the
way out here to make us cart home your pile of bones? Oh, if I had
known it was this thin, I wouldn’t have come. People, to think I
gave up a nice day in the shade for this. At home we may be hungry
but at least we have nice cool water to drink.’
“When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as a
chief or a big man, and he thinks the rest of us as his servants or
inferiors. We can’t accept this. We refuse one who boasts,
for someday his pride will make him kill somebody. So we always
speak of his meat as worthless. In this way we cool his heart and
make him gentle.”
— from an account by
Richard Lee of the !Kung San tribe in the Kalahari Desert of
Southern Africa, as recounted by
Sloan Wilson in his new book
Evolution for Everyone.
Wilson makes a case that egalitarian cooperation is what
distinguishes human societies from the great apes, who socialize in
dominance groups. He cites other tribes with strong sharing
imperatives, where each member is valued equally, and all food is shared
without regard to its origin.
Humans have become exquisitely adapted for close cooperation, for
reading each other’s intentions and emotions, for shunning or punishing
those who cheat or take more than their share. Cooperation, not
intelligence, is the source of our breakout as the most successful
Historically, it is the most democratic cultures that have
flourished. Social forces within each nation or tribe lead toward
authoritarian regimes with strong dominance; but when groups become
repressive, they fall behind in the competition with more egalitarian
tribes or nations, and thus is democracy maintained and advanced.
28 July 2008
Improvisation for Angular Momentum
Perhaps the death mother like the birth mother
does not desert us but comes to tend
and produce us, to make room for us
and bear us tenderly, considerately,
through the gates, to see us through,
to ease our pains, quell our cries,
to hover over and nestle us, to deliver
us into the greatest, most enduring
peace, all the way past the bother of
beyond the finework of frailty,
the mishmash house of the coming & going,
the eddies and curlicues
29 July 2008
“Jesus taught no theology whatever…there is no warrant in his
teaching for the setting up of any form of ecclesiasticism, of any
hierarchy of officials or system or ritual... All through his public
life he was at war with the ecclesiastics and other religious officials
of his own country…
“Jesus…made a special point of discouraging the laying of emphasis upon
outer observances; and, indeed, upon hard-and-fast rules and regulations
of every kind. What he insisted upon was a certain spirit in one's
conduct, and he was careful to teach principles only, knowing that when
the spirit is right, details will take care of themselves; and that, in
fact, ‘the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.’”
— Emmet Fox, born this day in 1876, emulated Jesus in devising
his own religious thought.
30 July 2008
Start by listening...
“I’ve learned that practical solutions to extreme poverty can only
come from listening to poor people themselves.”
— Paul Polak is a retired
psychiatrist who has devoted himself to the problems of poverty in the
third world. He develops small, ‘obvious’ solutions and finds
ways to reproduce them sustainably.
Interview in Smithsonian magazine.
Virtually all ‘dollar-a-day’ people in rural areas own their own
houses. But the walls are made of mud and wattle, usually there's a
thatched roof, and the floor is a mixture of dung and clay. The house
has no value. You can't sell it and, even more critically, you can't go
to a bank and use it [as collateral] for a loan. But for $100 you can
build a 20-square-meter house—a skeleton of eight beams and a good roof
that they can add bricks or cinder blocks to. Then they can go to the
bank and borrow against it.
31 July 2008