I praise my destroyer.

The sea turtle’s revenge
is to dwell at equal measures
from the grave. Our cavernous brains won’t save us in the end,
though, heaven knows, they enhance the drama.
Despite passion’s rule, deep play
and wonders, worry hangs like a curtain of trembling beads
across every doorway.

But there was never a dull torment,
and it was grace to live
among the fruits of summer, to love by design,
and walk the startling Earth
for what seemed
an endless resurrection of days.

I praise life’s bright catastrophes
and all the ceremonies of grief.
I praise our real estate – a shadow and a grave.
I praise my destroyer,
and will continue praising
until hours run like mercury
through my fingers, hope flares a final time
in the last throes of innocence,
and all the coins of sense are spent.

Diane Ackerman

1 October 2008

Birth of a Great Soul

The world is only too full of wild-eyed idealists.   Gandhi continues to inspire us because he was a dreamer who stubbornly insisted on making his dreams into a reality, imposing his absolute vision of peace, tolerance and mercy on a world mad with greed and rent by violence.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

We admire him the more, knowing that neither leadership nor even discipline came easily to him.  Gandhi struggled not only with the garden variety of self-doubt that plagues the least and the best of us, but with paranoia and a compulsive narcissism that threatened both his sanity and his vision.  He conquered his neuroses because he loved his brothers.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  
         Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mahandes K. Gandhi, born this day in 1869.

2 October 2008

Invisible Cities

Whether Armilla is like this because it is unfinished or because it has been demolished, whether the cause is some enchantment or only a whim, I do not know. The fact remains that it has no walls, no ceilings, no floors: it has nothing that makes it seem a city except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be: a forest of pipes that end in taps, showers, spouts, overflows. Against the sky a lavabo's white stands out, or a bathtub, or some other porcelain, like late fruit still hanging from the boughs. You would think that the plumbers had finished their job and gone away before the bricklayers arrived; or else their hydraulic systems, indestructible, had survived a catastrophe, an earthquake, or the corrosion of termites.

Abandoned before or after it was inhabited, Armilla cannot be called deserted. At any hour, raising your eyes among the pipes, you are likely to glimpse a young woman, or many young women, slender, not tall of stature, luxuriating in the bathtubs or arching their backs under the showers suspended in the void, washing or drying or perfuming themselves, or combing their long hair at a mirror. In the sun, the threads of water fanning from the showers glisten, the jets of the taps, the spurts, the splashes, the sponges’ suds.

I have come to this explanation: the streams of water channeled in the pipes of Armilla have remained in the possession of nymphs and naiads. Accustomed to traveling along underground veins, they found it easy to enter the new aquatic realm, to burst from multiple fountains, to find new mirrors, new games, new ways of enjoying the water. Their invasion may have driven out the human beings, or Armilla may have been built by humans as a votive offering to win the favor of the nymphs, offended at the misuse of the waters. In any case, now they seem content, these maidens: in the morning you hear them singing.

Italo Calvino

3 October 2008

“It’s only money” 

Alice W. Ballard

4 October 2008

We live comfortably in the patches of reality where theory is tolerably successful, where reason is functional and predictability predominates. But any day an unexpected event may expel us from this Eden into the larger world of the incomprehensible.

It is then that our attitude will sustain or sink us. If we can revel in the mystery, keeping faith in our sights, then we will thrive and grow stronger.

— Josh Mitteldorf

5 October 2008

Ordinary feats of memory

It’s difficult to get a handle on just what a hundred trillion synapses can hold.  Our daily experience is all about fallibility, missed cues and failures to find names and facts at the moment we need them. 

Last week, I heard Martha Argerich sit down at the piano and play two piano concerti back to back, both big, complex and sometimes dissonant works, perhaps 20,000 notes, in order and precisely timed.  I think of this feat as comparable to the medieval religious scholars who would commit to memory the Bible.

If you manage your computer’s hard drive, or you’ve tried to attach files to emails, you’ve discovered that visual information is the most demanding for raw memory bit-power.  Last month, a study published by MIT psychologists demonstrated that our brains record the visual information around us in unexpectedly rich detail. 

Oliva and her students showed subjects nearly 3,000 images, one at a time, for three seconds each. In tests the same day, they were shown pairs of images and asked to select the exact image they had seen earlier...

Subjects were tested with three types of pairings: two totally different objects; an object and a different example of the same type of object (e.g. two different remote controls); and an object and a slightly altered version (e.g. a cup that is either full or half-full).

Against all expectations, subjects’ recall rates on the three types of memory tests were 92 percent, 88 percent and 87 percent, respectively. “To give just one example, this means that after having seen thousands of objects, subjects didn't just remember which cabinet they had seen, but also that the cabinet door was slightly open,” Brady said.

Computer memory is now so cheap that storing vast libraries of information is routine.  The problem for programmers is to organize this data with multiple, independent indexing so that facts can be retrieved as they are relevant to a particular situation.  Apparently, our brains experience the same embarrassment of riches.

Article from MIT News Office
On-line demo

6 October 2008

Don’t waste time mourning — organize!

“If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean they can tie with mighty chains.”

Joe Hill, born this day in 1879, was an itinerant worker with charisma and a gift for song. 

They can only control us if we’re too ashamed to talk to one another.

7 October 2008

Nature is not the sum of its parts

‘The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe.  In fact, the more the elementary particle physicists tell us about the nature of the fundamental laws, the less relevance they seem to have to the very real problems of the rest of science, much less to those of society.’
P. W. Anderson, writing in Science Magazine 1972

The program of 19th century science was to break down complex systems into simple units, and understand the behavior of the whole in terms of its parts.  The defining example was thermodynamics: physicists succeeded in explaining some fundamental properties of gases based on molecules that behaved simply as tiny, hard spheres.

‘At each stage entirely new laws, concepts, and generalizations are necessary, requiring inspiration and creativity to just as great a degree as in the previous one.  Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry.’

With the computer revolution of the late 20th century came a hope that if we couldn’t understand large, complex things through analysis, perhaps we could at least simulate them with computer models.  But simulations are notoriously full of surprises, and there’s another level of surprises in the real world that do not appear in simulation.

Physicists have figured this out and modified their expectations accordingly, but the reductionist paradigm still asserts its tyranny in psychology and evolutionary biology.  Ironically, in both these fields, scientists who write of irreducible complexity are disdained as deficient in mathematical rigor.

Here is a technical article recently published, that starts with a classic simple system called the ‘Ising model’ and proves that the system contains surprises that cannot be predicted from the simple parts.  Here is a New Scientist article explaining the latter.

8 October 2008

Prayer for the Day of Atonement

It is up to us to hallow Creation, to respond to Life with the fullness of our lives.

It is up to us to meet the World, to embrace the Whole even as we wrestle with the parts.

It is up to us to repair the World and to bind our lives to Truth.

Therefore we bend the knees and shake off the stiffness that keeps us from the subtle graces of Life and the supple gestures of Love.

With reverence and thanksgiving, we accept our destiny and set ourselves the task of redemption.

Rami M Shapiro

9 October 2008

painting of Prasanna Kumar

Some random headlines from Science Daily

Compassion meditation may improve physical & emotional responses to psychological stress

Meditation can lower blood pressure

Mindfulness meditation slows progression of HIV

Relaxation response influences expression of stress-related genes

Compassion meditation changes the brain

Psychotherapists who practice Zen meditation are more effective

Cancer survivors more likely to use meditation  and relaxation

Meditation associated with increased grey matter in the brain

10 October 2008

Truth is within ourselves

TRUTH is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate’er you may believe.
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where truth abides in fullness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception—which is truth.
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Binds it, and makes all error: and, to KNOW,
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without.

Robert Browning (fr Paracelsus)

11 October 2008

acrylic by Lisa Ann Bonfiglio

Listening for that still, small voice

We seek guidance from an inspired place within, but as we listen for that still, small voice we also become hostage to our phobias and neuroses, which have learned to impersonate inspiration.

To be able to distinguish our highest callings from base distortions of our personality is an elevated form of self-knowledge.

Don’t imagine you can perform this feat of wisdom through thinking. When the gift of discrimination arrives, it is likely to operate beneath the level of conscious analysis.

The best you can do is to observe your own process, to refrain from taking sides in the debate, to watch yourself deciding.

— Josh Mitteldorf

12 October 2008

drawing by Kindred Gottlieb

Science and society

‘If medicine is to fulfill her great task, then she must enter the political and social life.  Do we not always find the diseases of the populace traceable to defects in society?’

Rudolf Virchow, born this day in 1821, was one of the fathers of scientific medicine.  He lived at a time when the rudiments of cell biology were just being discovered through the microscope, and was the first to figure out where cells always come from (other cells!).  He characterized the mechanisms of cancer and advocated tirelessly for socialized medicine.

Virchow helped put to rest persistent superstitions about diseases being caused by ‘humors’, but he missed the importance of bacteria, and consequently the role of hygiene in prevention.

     ‘The intervals between the great revolutions of mankind must be shortening.’

13 October 2008

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born|
            to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
             so comes love

— e e cummings, born this day in 1893

14 October 2008

Imagination = reality

Among many strange phenomena in quantum mechanics is the fact that there really is no distinction between a ‘real’ particle and an abstract, constructed combination which has the properties of a particle.  Some examples:

  • When Paul Dirac was developing the math that governed electrons, he found that it implied the existence of negative-energy electrons as well as positive-energy electrons.  His interpretation, a bit whimsical, was that what we call a ‘vacuum’ must be the state full to the brim with negative-energy electrons, but completely empty of positive-energy electrons.  Of course, you can add positive-energy electrons to the vacuum and that’s what we call an ‘electron’.  But the punch line is that you can also subtract negative-energy electrons (a state not quite full to the brim) and the result is called an ‘anti-electron’, or ‘positron’.  It was Dirac’s prediction that every particle has a corresponding anti-particle, and that turned out to be ‘true’.
  • In metals, there are not electrons but electron states.  All the electron states up to a certain energy level are filled.  If there’s a vacancy in one state, it’s called a ‘hole’, and it has all the properties of a positive charge.  The physics of holes is exactly what it would be if they were ‘real’, and these properties are essential to the design and engineering of computer chips.
  • Superconductors are materials in which rivers of electrons flow together.  But the quantum theory of electrons says that they are ‘fermions’, and they should never flow together — in fact they should avoid one another like hermits.  In the 1950’s, it was Leon Cooper who described how pairs of electrons could become tied together with sound waves, and everyone knows that two fermions make a ‘boson’, and bosons have the opposite property to fermions: that is, they do love to travel in rivers.*  This has become the BCS theory, now the standard theory of superconductivity.
  • In the 1970’s, Murray Gell-Mann (Happy birthday, 1929!) was playing with models for the properties of a proton in an atom-smasher, and came up with the idea that it behaved as if it were composed of three sub-particles, with charges +2/3, +2/3 and -1/3.  He treated the idea whimsically, and named the fantasy particles ‘quarks’, after a passage from James Joyce.  But soon physicists learned to think of quarks as quite real, and now we will state baldly that a proton is composed of two up quarks and a down quark.

Where all this is leading is to a practical quantum computer.  In the 1980’s, Frank Wilczek was playing with the laws of quantum mechanics in two dimensions, and came up with the fantasy that (in two dimensions) it would be possible for particles to exist that were part-way between a fermion and a boson.  Well, sure ’nuf, laboratory physicists figured out ways to confine electrons to a two-dimensional surface, and thus was born the  ‘fractional quantum Hall effect’.  Now there is hope that this phenomenon can be manipulated in a way that heralds the technology of quantum computing
New Scientist article on potential for quantum computing with 2-D anyons

*Particles of light are bosons, and a river of light particles is called a ‘laser’.

15 October 2008


Why scurry about looking for the truth? It vibrates in every thing and every not-thing, right off the tip of your nose.

Can you be still and see it in the mountain? the pine tree? yourself?

Don’t imagine that you’ll discover it by accumulating more knowledge...

Remain quiet. Discover the harmony in your own being. Embrace it.

If you can do this, you will gain everything, and the world will become healthy again.


Nothing in the realm of thoughts or ideologies is absolute. Lean on one for long, and it collapses. Because of this, there is nothing more futile and frustrating than relying on the mind...

Quiet your thinking. Stop analyzing, dividing, making distinctions between one thing and another. Simply see that you are at the center of the universe, and accept all things and beings as parts of your infinite body. When you perceive that an act done to another is done to yourself, you have understood the great truth.

— Lao Tzu, Hua Hu Ching, tr Brian Walker

16 October 2008


I love stories of geniuses who snub the establishment, yet in the end the establishment is forced to acknowledge their ideas.  Garrett Lisi is a Maui surf bum who has a vision of how all the known elementary particles fall into a spectacular symmetric pattern in 8 dimensions.

Watch his talk at the TED conference

17 October 2008

This morning I watched the deer
     with beautiful lips touching the tips
of the cranberries, setting their hooves down
     in the dampness carelessly, isn’t it after all
the carpet of their house, their home, whose roof
     is the sky?

Why, then, was I suddenly miserable?

Well, this is nothing much.
This is the heaviness of the body watching the swallows
     gliding just under that roof.

This is the wish that the deer would not lift their heads
     and leap away, leaving me there alone.
This is the wish to touch their faces, their brown wrists—
     to sing some sparkling poem into
the folds of their ears,

then walk with them,
over the hills
and over the hills

and into the impossible trees.

— Mary Oliver, fr Why I Wake Early

18 October 2008

The best loving partnerships demand of us not great sacrifice but great expansion.

 — Josh Mitteldorf

19 October 2008

Nature 1, Civilization 0

Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
“This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.”
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.

~ As You Like It, Act II Scene 1

20 October 2008

The Song

From somewhere
a calm musical note arrives.
You balance it on your tongue,
a single ripe grape,
’til your whole body glistens.
In the space between breaths
you apply it to any wound
and the wound heals.

Soon the nights will lengthen
you will lean into the year
humming like a saw.
You will fill the lamps with kerosene
knowing somewhere a line breaks,
a city goes black,
people dig for candles in the bottom drawer.
You will be ready.  You will use the song like a match.
It will fill your rooms
opening rooms of its own.
So you sing, I did not know
my house was this large.

Naomi Shihab Nye

21 October 2008

Healing cancer

Twentieth century science has taught us that cancer is a chance mutation that creates a monster within, a cell that no longer works for the body but steals the body’s resources so it can multiply wildly, eventually killing its creator with its selfishness.  All the standard cancer treatments are about killing cancer cells faster than they kill healthy cells in the body.

But a minority view in the medical world has been around for decades, recently producing promising new cures without the need for killing healthy cells.  I predict that the new view is taking over:

Dangerous errant cells, both of internal and external origin, are a common occurrence in the body, but the immune system eliminates them so efficiently that they never even rise to the level of pathology.  Cancer takes hold when the body tolerates invasion.  Many things can derail the immune system, allowing cancer to get a foothold, for example

  • age
  • AIDS
  • depression
  • obesity

Cancer is a systemic disease.  We are learning to treat it by supporting the immune system, by healing rather than by killing.

Here is the story of a Japanese researcher in Philadelphia who has found a powerful molecule that restores the response of  white cells to cancer when it has been switched off.

Here is a story I reported last year at Daily Inspiration about a Chinese researcher in North Carolina who imports white blood cells from a healthy individual to eliminate cancer.

22 October 2008

Ned Rorem at 85

Born this day in 1923, Ned Rorem writes jazzy, fresh and accessible music in the tradition of Copland.

Listen to Fandango from his chamber suite Bright Music.

23 October 2008


Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, born this day in 1632, played with glass rods in a hot flame, pulling on the ends, then sorting through the tiny spheres that dropped off, testing for optically accurate objectives.

“I’ve spent more time than many will believe looking through my microscopes, but I’ve done it with joy, and I’ve taken no notice of those who have asked, why take so much trouble with something so small?”

Van Leeuwenhoek sold draperies for a living.  Building microscopes and observing what was at their other end was always his hobby.  He reported having seen ‘animalcules’ in drops of rain water, and fibers in muscle tissue.  It would be another 200 years before it was discovered that van Leeuwenhoek’s microbes were paramount agents of disease and symbiosis, the foundation of every ecosystem.

24 October 2008

No conflict

The Independent of London has a feature this week on habits and choices that are correlated with longevity.  We all know about austerity — losing weight, meditating, exercising like a fiend — but the surprise is how many things on the list are fun and enjoyable.   All are good for us now, and also in the long run.  Lifelong learning, eating chocolate, an active sex life, and strong ties to friends and family are all on the list.

The most powerful things you can do for your long-term health are congruent with a program of health, wellbeing and happiness in the present.

Article in the Independent                 My own web page on longevity

25 October 2008

So, you want to be more creative...

Make your appointment with the muse, and keep it religiously.  Do your part.

It’s true that the muse is temperamental, and she will test your faith. 
But she is not hostile or perverse.  She knows that she needs you,
and you can count on her to be moved by your constancy.

— Sara Glaser and Josh Mitteldorf

26 October 2008

Let the censorious whispers of the old be to us as worthless as the gold of fools.

Dominick Argento writes music that is ‘lyrical’, which is to say that he doesn’t torture singers with unsingable melodies, nor demand that listeners hear his works 30 times before their appeal becomes manifest. 

Argento the ‘Minnesota romantic’ has been a prof at the University of Minnesota for 50 years, and has a reputation that defies the stereotype of the temperamental artist.  He is friendly, devoted to his students, in love with the same wife for 40 years.  His music is passionate, fresh and accessible.

MPR Radio interview (2004)
Listen to two short movements from I Hate and I Love on the ancient poetry of Catullus:  One    Two    performed by the Dale Warland Singers.

Dominick Argento turns 81 today, and is still creating.

27 October 2008

A Course in Miracles

You are wholly lovely.  A perfect shaft of pure light.  Before your loveliness the stars stand transfixed, and bow to the power of your will.

Helen Schucman

28 October 2008

The White Deer

It’s even closer than our fingertips
what we long for
the aim of our travels
closer than our jugular

Shangri La lies languorously
always out of reach
its silver trays heaped high with
succulence its windows basking in
perennial sun

Darkness wraps the dearness of the
depth we fathom but not distance,
and the rhythm of it singing in our
eardrums brings it closer yet

Can’t call it can’t name it
with loss we advance toward it
less is often more
as we face the chalk snow always
falling across it and make

The face that was ours before birth
come alive in our eyes then our
nose and mouth and the rest
as if clouds were evaporating
leaving it clear

See the white deer standing so close
on the shore bending to drink then
standing still head held high
before leaping away
its reflection in the water writing in
silvery light our most secret name His
answer to our deepest call?

A moon lightens the picture
and where it was a moment ago
fills with light
I can’t explain why the journey takes us
to the place it does
only to find it’s our starting place

A ball of concentrated matter
tightens itself to a point
that speeds through space so fast
it goes nowhere is nowhere then is
all and we liken our destiny to its
fall but it doesn’t fall

I can’t explain why that tiny point soon
covers us over all or
why as we age we’ve gone
nowhere at all

The white deer bounds through the end of
faster than light can follow her
and comes up before us again to drink
our blood’s clear nectar

Sweet as a vapor trail
flicking its deer’s tail
as we also disappear to be more
tangible to ourselves after all

Closer in a mysterious visibility
to our initial caul

~ Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

29 October 2008

photo C C Lockwood

Widening our circle of compassion

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness.  This illusion imprisons us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.


30 October 2008


UVa Psychiatrist Ian Stevenson launched his career by questioning the assumption that adults cannot change.

He became best known for collecting stories of children who remember past lives.  Beginning in the 1960s, Stevenson made trips to India and Tibet, interviewing children and their parents, investigating facts about their past lives that they had no ordinary way of knowing.

These children supply names of towns and relatives, occupations and relationships, attitudes and emotions that, in hundreds of cases around the world, are unique to a single dead individual, often apparently unknown to their present families. But the fact is, the people the children remember did exist, the memories that the children claim can be checked against real lives and their alleged feats of identification verified – or contradicted – by a variety of witnesses.  (Tom Schroder, Old Souls)

Stories of prophetic dreams birthmarks that echo injuries from another life

Born on Halloween, 1918, Ian Stevenson passed into another life last year. 

31 October 2008

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design