Pursue goallessness.

Blame only God.

Be happy with your dissatisfaction.

— Josh Mitteldorf

1 January 2012

Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope; perhaps one could never find sense in life without first experiencing its absurdity

— Vaclav Havel

2 January 2012

Ascent of Monadnock

Deep through the midcourse of morning
Is shadowed the base of the mountain;
Under the wings of stormcloud.
Only the top peak takes light.

I would climb up against shadow,
Leaving the lost past behind me;
I would move up through the darkness,
Breasting each crag till it pass.

I would come out where the rocks
Glow, shadeless granite beneath the broad sun.
Till my soul on the summit, set free there,
Breathes naked air, and pure light.

John Gould Fletcher, born this day in 1886

3 January 2012

Stem cells reverse aging in mice

The good news is that a single (intra-muscular) injections of stem cells made mice younger in every way.  They lived longer and appeared healthier and more active.  Strikingly, they regained mental agility and grew new brain cells, though the stem cells were in muscles.

The qualification is that these were mice that were genetically inclined to premature aging (progeria), and that lab mice are able to receive stem cells from other (younger) lab mice because they are inbred, so they are genetically nearly like clones.  For humans, this will require advances in IPS technology, which is a technique for turning an adult person’s own skin cells backwards into the stem cells from which they grew.

CTV News article
Original Journal article
Lab of Johnny Huard at Univ of Pittsburgh

4 January 2012

High-intensity exercise in short bursts

It’s been conventional medical advice since the 1970s that endurance exercise like jogging and long-distance swimming is the best thing you can do to lower risk of heart attacks and keep yourself healthy.  But in recent years, the physiology has been studied in greater detail, and recommendations are changing.

Short intervals of intense exercise not only makes you stronger but also change the insulin metabolism.  Many of the problems of aging are associated at a deep level with rising insulin resistance.  When this gets very bad it’s called ‘diabetes’, but at low levels, it’s called ‘normal aging’.

Insulin determines what the body does with incoming calories.  Insulin resistance causes more fat to be deposited, and the fat in turn causes insulin resistance to rise.  It’s a cycle we want to avoid.

Doug McGuff is a convincing spokesman for a program to break the cycle.  The good news is that it doesn’t take much time.  The bad news is that it requires exercising until it hurts.  His program includes working with weights as heavy as your muscles can handle, and bursts of anaerobic sprints that leave you sweating and panting.  Running, swimming, cycling, stationary bike or elliptical machines are good candidates.  The whole program can be completed in 3 twenty-minute sessions a week, but the sessions are painfully intense.

A low-carb diet combined with periods of fasting may be a place to start, as foundation for the program to improve insulin sensitivity.

Listen to Dr Mercola’s interview with Doug McGuff
or Read interview transcript

5 January 2012


Sandburg was just 26 years old when he wrote these words. 
Already he evinces a great deal of wisdom and maturity;
yet he seeks confidence to permit himself to act, at times,
with reckless abandon.

O Forces and Potentialities that circumscribe the destinies of men, move me always to know the right thing to do.  Let me always in my decisions and actions lean rather toward equanimity than ardor.  Grant me that I may not be rattled or lose my head in any clutter or confusion that may arise, and on the other hand, let me not be oblivious to the proper time for recklessness.

Give me a stout heart to face entrenched error, and a tender feeling for all the despised, rejected and forsaken of mankind.  Let me not be maudlin in my pity; let me feel my kinship with all men in such manner that I may sympathize in just measure with those on the pinnacles of opulence, and with those at the bottom of the pit.

Make me a good mixer among people, one who always passes along the Good Word.  Let me laugh in the right places; deliver me from mysticism; and lead me to think no man’s opinion final.  Provide that I be sensitive to criticism, yet proof against insult and badgering.  Give me a keen eye for the main chance, but give me to remember that I can take nothing hence.

Free me from grim resolves; teach me gently to fasten my attention on the thing at hand and proceed at it with patience, faith, and inward gaiety that wears out opposition.  Constrain me to common sense; keep me from trying to take anything that is nailed down; purge me of any desire that may project me into a stone wall; nevertheless, let me not forget that all great works are absurdities till done.  Let me reach for unknown stars that are beyond my grasp rather than clutch at baubles of custom and superstition.

May the potencies of song and laughter abide with me ever.  Assuage my toil with a lust for beauty, and with a forgetfulness of self that means a Higher Selfhood.  And above all, Eternal Giver of all Good, if I don’t accomplish what I plan, give me, I pray you, to smile at my losses, pick up the shattered ideal, and pass on to another try.

Carl Sandburg, born this day in 1878

Sandburg’s first book of (mostly) verse was printed in his professor’s basement and self-published.
It was called Reckless Ecstasy.

6 January 2012

The Seventh Precept

This is the seventh in an occasional series of meditations and comments on the Fourteen Precepts of Thich Nhat Hahn.

Thich has offered us an immense challenge.  These precepts are undeniably good, but humanly impossible; thus he asks us to transcend ourselves, not just as individuals but as members of a world community.  We take his challenge seriously because of the example he has set in a life of principled activism and engaged Buddhism.

Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Learn to practice breathing in order to regain composure of body and mind, to practice mindfulness, and to develop concentration and understanding.

- #7 of Thich Naht Hahn’s 14 Precepts

We live immersed in an environment cluttered with ads, propaganda, warnings, appeals, messages, entertainment all competing for our attention.  Inevitably, we become addicted to the high level of stimulus, and silence becomes uncomfortable.  There is a backlog of fear and guilt, situations unconfronted, ideas unassimilated, stories we have told ourselves that don’t quite fit.  When there is respite from the noise and the circus, the first thing that happens is that these suppressed fears and discomforts are laid bare, and we feel anxious.

The second thing that happens is peace.  It is our reward for resisting distraction, for culturing patience, reflectiveness and focused attention.

7 January 2012

What are you seeking when you return to this page? Is it a return to the mystery and wonder with which you regarded the world when you were an small child? Or is it a bit of stimulus, a distraction from something uncomfortable that’s going on within?

You already know that your expectations frame and limit your experience.  It is possible that you have already been offered the opportunity for the experience of transcendence that you so earnestly wish, but it was at a time you were distracted, or incredulous or, most likely, paralyzed by its strange unfamiliarity.

Perhaps the best thing I can offer you is a token, a ceremonial reassurance which, like Dumbo’s feather, supports your confidence that you can have that ultimate adventure.

You can look the world square in the face, you can tolerate fear and uncertainty, you can embrace bizarrely unexpected truths and float the edifice of your knowledge on the ethereal foundation of unknowability. 

— Josh Mitteldorf

8 January 2012

Medical research: simple hypotheses in complex biology

The truth is, our stories about causation are shadowed by all sorts of mental shortcuts. Most of the time, these shortcuts work well enough. They allow us to hit fastballs, discover the law of gravity, and design wondrous technologies. However, when it comes to reasoning about complex systems—say, the human body—these shortcuts go from being slickly efficient to outright misleading...

here’s the bad news: The reliance on correlations has entered an age of diminishing returns. At least two major factors contribute to this trend. First, all of the easy causes have been found, which means that scientists are now forced to search for ever-subtler correlations, mining that mountain of facts for the tiniest of associations. Is that a new cause? Or just a statistical mistake? The line is getting finer; science is getting harder. Second—and this is the biggy—searching for correlations is a terrible way of dealing with the primary subject of much modern research: those complex networks at the center of life. While correlations help us track the relationship between independent measurements, such as the link between smoking and cancer, they are much less effective at making sense of systems in which the variables cannot be isolated. Such situations require that we understand every interaction before we can reliably understand any of them. Given the byzantine nature of biology, this can often be a daunting hurdle...

we live in a world in which everything is knotted together, an impregnable tangle of causes and effects. Even when a system is dissected into its basic parts, those parts are still influenced by a whirligig of forces we can’t understand or haven’t considered or don’t think matter.

— Jonah Lehrer in Wired 
The article uses links between cholesterol and heart disease, herniated disks and back pain as two major examples of ways that scientists and multi-billion dollar drug companies are deceived by the illusion of simple causes.

9 January 2012

On firm ground

Have I not thought, for years, what it would be
worthy to do, and then gone off, barefoot and with a silver pail,
to gather blueberries,
thus coming, as I think, upon a right answer?

Mary Oliver

10 January 2012

One of the great intellectuals of a century ago counsels us
on the Limits of the Intellect.

Intellectualism’s edge is broken; it can only approximate to reality, and its logic is inapplicable to our inner life, which spurns its vetoes and mocks at its impossibilities. Every bit of us at every moment is part and parcel of a wider self, it quivers along various radii like the wind-rose of a compass, and the actual in it is continuously one with possibilities not yet in our present sight. And just as we are co-conscious with our own momentary margin, may not we ourselves form the margin of some more really central self in things which is co-conscious with the whole of us? May not you and I be confluent in a higher consciousness, and confluently active there, though we now know it not?

I am tiring myself and you, I know, by vainly seeking to describe by concepts and words what I say at the same time exceeds either conceptualization or verbalization. As long as one continues talking, intellectualism remains in undisturbed possession of the field. The return to life can’t come about by talking. It is an act; to make you return to life, I must set an example for your imitation, I must deafen you to talk, or to the importance of talk, by showing you, as Bergson does, that the concepts we talk with are made for purposes of practice and not for purposes of insight. Or I must point, point to the mere that of life, and you by inner sympathy must fill out the what for yourselves. The minds of some of you, I know, will absolutely refuse to do so, refuse to think in non-conceptualized terms. I myself absolutely refused to do so for years together, even after I knew that the denial of manyness-in-oneness by intellectualism must be false, for the same reality does perform the most various functions at once. But I hoped ever for a revised intellectualist way around the difficulty, and it was only after reading Bergson that I saw that to continue using the intellectualist method was itself the fault. I saw that philosophy had been on a false scent ever since the days of Socrates and Plato, and that an intellectual answer to the intellectualist’s difficulty will never come, and that the real way out of them, far from consisting in the discovery of such an answer, consists in simply closing one’s ears to the question.

— from A Pluralistic Universe, by William James, born this day in 1842

11 January 2012

Meditation is

At its core, meditation is a blossoming of spirit – an individual reply to a call from within. Unlike the more familiar ways in which we normally think and act, meditation asks us to take a seat and quiet ourselves. Then it whispers to us about how to be creative in life, about what is true and not true, about how to heal and how to mourn, and about the joys that come from simply being, rather than wanting and trying.

— Rolf Sovik (Moving Inward: The Journey to Meditation)

12 January 2012

Courage to follow your path

“When you know what you’re supposed to be doing, it’s somebody else's job to kill you”

Bernice Johnson Reagon, freedom-fighter, performer, composer.
        (quoted by Sharon Salzburg in Faith: Trusting your Deepest Experience)

13 January 2012


If you don’t mind having to go without things, it’s a fine life!

— Lionel Bart  (listen)

14 January 2012

How our reality is created

For most of us, most of the time, autonomy and self-direction are illusions.  Our beliefs are shaped by social context, even more so than our opinions.  It is not so hard to disagree with our peers, or to have a different opinion about how to behave; far harder is to embrace a different version of the ‘facts’.  Having basic beliefs that are independent of our peers makes communication and sociality difficult, and our loneliness is difficult to tolerate.

Politicians know this  Ad agencies know this.  Sociopaths know this.  Maybe you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, but you can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time, using acting skills and scientific studies that gauge the effectiveness of different techniques.

It is always worthwhile to become sensitive to our inner lights, to get to know ourselves well enough to listen to our inner voices.  If you override your inner voice because you think the sources you read or the experts or your friends understand more than you do, then it should be a conscious choice.

— Josh Mitteldorf

15 January 2012

Tiny amounts of alcohol can extend a worm’s life span

Steven Clarke at UCLA was looking to measure the effect of cholesterol on a worm’s health.  To get the cholesterol into them, they dissolved it in a tiny amount of alcohol, and added it to the worms’ medium.  They were careful enough to control the experiments with a group of worms that were treated exactly the same, except for the cholesterol.

Surprise! The worms* lived twice as long, whether they got the cholesterol or no.  Clarke turned his experiment around, and started studying alcohol instead of cholesterol. 

The amount of alcohol didn’t seem to matter, as long as it was large enough to be detectable and small enough not to poison the worm.  Any concentration between 0.005% and 0.4% had the same effect.  That in itself is strange - a tiny amount of alcohol or 80 times as much have exactly the same effect.

The take-home message is about poisons, and challenges to the body in general.  Many kinds of challenges stimulate the body to over-compensate, so we’re better off with the challenge than without it.  (Maybe the brain works the same way.)

PhysOrg article    Original research article.

* These were laboratory roundworms, C. elegans, that had already been induced into a semi-dormant state of high resistance to stress and extra long life - meaning 10 days.

16 January 2012


The texture is dreamy, the melody leaps up and down alternately, barely hanging together as a single line. 

Listen to Alexander Scriabin’s Prelude Op 16 #1, performed by pianist Evgeny Zarafiants.

17 January 2012

Cold fusion

I’ve written most recently in December about an Italian public demonstration of cold fusion.  There are too many reputable scientists reporting unexplained bursts of energy to dismiss this as a hoax or a mistake.  The effect may not be well-enough understood to be replicable, but persistent anomalies are well worth funding and investigating, even if it were just basic science that were at stake.  But it’s so much more — the future of carbon-based energy, the basis of a global prosperity, the

There is now a theory on the table (Widom-Larsen) that claims to explain the effect within the confines of known physics.  There is an Italian inventor who has demonstrated a commercial unit that generated half a million watts over a period of many hours.  And, as of last week, there is a NASA scientist who has released a video and a blog describing his research into LENR (low-energy nuclear reactions).

It is probable that when Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman originally reported the phenomenon in 1989, they jumped too quickly to the conclusion that deuterium was being fused to form helium.  It now seems more likely that neutrons are being added to metal atoms (e.g. nickel) to form heavier nuclei and release energy.  This is fusion, but not of the kind that takes place in the sun.  The energy released is not quite as large, and the fuel not quite so cheap or common, but still the promise is a historic milestone.

18 January 2012


In the last of his 40 years, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a treatise on science and philosophy in which he anticipated the main themes of Big Bang cosmology, and some modern ideas about properties of the universe that we can deduce just from the fact that it supports our existence (the Anthropic Principle).  He deduced or intuited the expansion of the universe (not discovered until the 1930s) and the fact that ‘nebulae’ were really star clusters like the Milky Way (not discovered until the 1920s). Written in 1848, Eureka is an exposition of natural religion, an entertainment that clearly has a profoundly serious and scholarly intent.

Whether we reach the idea of absolute Unity as the source of All Things, from a consideration of Simplicity as the most probable characteristic of the original action of God; – whether we arrive at it from an inspection of the universality of relation in the gravitating phaenomena; – or whether we attain it as a result of the mutual corroboration afforded by both processes; - still, the idea itself, if entertained at all, is entertained in inseparable connection with another idea – that of the condition of the Universe of Stars as we now perceive it – that is to say, a condition of immeasurable diffusion through space. Now a connection between these two ideas – unity and diffusion – cannot be established unless through the entertainment of a third idea – that of radiation. Absolute Unity being taken as a centre, then the existing Universe of Stars is the result of radiation from that centre.

Here is a selection of quotes that anticipate 20th century science.
Here is a remarkable essay by a 14-year-old French fan of Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe was born this day in 1809.

19 January 2012

Atlantis of the Pacific

The Yonaguni ruins, under the ocean near Japan, are apparently remnants of a city that predates recorded history, and was probably destroyed when the ice melted and the sea rose after the last ice age, more than 10,000 years ago.

If this analysis is correct, Yonaguni is twice as old as the Pyramids of Egypt.

20 January 2012

When it becomes clear that no one else shares your level of passion,
you are where you belong.

— Placido Domingo, born this day in 1941

Listen to Domingo sing Nessun Dorma, from Puccini’s Turnadot.

21 January 2012

Are you important?

The truth is that you are crucially, irreplaceably important,
but not for the reason you believe.

— Josh Mitteldorf

22 January 2012

On the Uncountable Nature of Things

Thus, not the thing held in memory, but this:
The fruit tree with its scars, thin torqued branches;
The high burnished sheen of morning light
Across its trunk; the knuckle-web of ancient knots,

The swift, laboring insistence of insects—
Within, the pulse of slow growth in sap-dark cores,
And the future waiting latent in fragile cells:
The last, terse verses of curled leaves hanging in air—
And the dry, tender arc of the fruitless branch.

Yes: the tree's spine conditioned by uncountable
Days of rain and drought: all fleeting coordinates set
Against a variable sky—recounting faithfully
The thing as it is—transient, provisional, changing
Constantly in latitude—a refugee not unlike
Us in this realm of exacting, but unpredictable, time.

And only once a branch laden with perfect
Fruit—only once daybreak weighed out perfectly by
The new bronze of figs, not things in memory,
But as they are here: the roar and plough of daylight,
The perfect, wild cacophony of the present—
Each breath measured and distinct in a universe ruled

By particulars—each moment a universe:
As when under night heat, passion sparks—unique,
New in time, and hands, obedient, divine,
As Desire dilates eye—pulse the blue-veined breast,
Touch driving, forging the hungering flesh:
To the far edge of each moment’s uncharted edge—

For the flesh too is earth, desire storm to the marrow—
Still—the dream of simplicity in the midst of motion:
Recollection demanding a final tallying of accounts,
The mind, loyal clerk, driven each moment to decide—
Even as the tree’s wood is split and sweat still graces
The crevices of the body, which moment to weigh in,
For memory’s sake, on the mobile scales of becoming.

~ Ellen Hinsey

23 January 2012

Thanks once again to

Lest we be inured to the miraculous

“There is nothing which God hath established in a constant cause of nature, and which therefore is done everyday, but would seem a miracle, and exercise our admiration, if it were done but once.”

— John Donne, born this day in 1572

24 January 2012

Is it time for Science to move on from materialism?

[Materialism, as a] frame was so narrow and rigid that it was difficult to find a place in it for many concepts of our language that had always belonged to its very substance, for instance, the concept of mind, of the human soul or of life. Mind could be introduced into the general picture only as a kind of mirror of the material world.

—Werner Heisenberg

Today we live in the 21st century, and it seems that we are still stuck with this narrow and rigid view of the things. As Rupert Sheldrake puts it in his new book, published this week, The Science Delusion: ‘The belief system that governs conventional scientific thinking is an act of faith, grounded in a 19th-century ideology.’

That’s provocative rhetoric. Science an act of faith? Science a belief system? But then how else to explain the grip of the mechanistic, physicalist, purposeless cosmology? As Heisenberg explained, physicists among themselves have long stopped thinking of atoms as things. They exist as potentialities or possibilities, not objects or facts. And yet, materialism persists.

Heisenberg recommended staying in touch with reality as we experience it, which is to say holding a place for conceptions of mind and soul

— from Mark Vernon writing on Materialism in The Guardian

25 January 2012

Autistic memory without the autism

We associate total recall with autism, various forms of cognitive impairment and personality distortions.  But there are people who have a photographic (really videographic) recall of their entire lives, who are otherwise healthy. (The ability does, however, seem to be associated with modest OCD-like symptoms.)

“It’s like putting in a DVD and it queues up at a certain place. I’m there again. So I’m looking out from my eyes, and seeing things visually as I would have that day. I’m right there.
– Mary Lou Henner
60 Minutes Story Part 1

Do the rest of us have abilities like this latent in our brains?
60 Minutes Story Part 2

26 January 2012

Electric stimulation of the brain enhances memory, learning, and attention
and perhaps treats depression as well

A small electric current run between broad sponge-pads placed on the two temples seems to have a measurable benefit for brain performance and mood.

Wikipedia article
Medical Express article
Review article from a neuropsychology journal on techniques and benefits
Listen to a 6-minute BBC news article

(Meanwhile, the Defense Dept is looking into it for all the wrong reasons.)

27 January 2012

“Of course there is no formula for success except perhaps an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings...Most people ask for happiness on condition. Happiness can only be felt if you don’t set any condition.”

Artur Rubinstein, born this day in 1887

Listen to Rubinstein playing de Falla’s Sabre Dance.  Watch the way his hands leap in the air and come down on the right chords.  Piano teachers frown on this kind of technique, but it’s fun to do and dramatic for the audience.

Listen to Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, a rich, large-scale piece developing several themes and ranging over a diversity of moods.

28 January 2012

Science and beyond

Hurl yourself at the great mysteries and paradoxes. 

Deploy the full range of your powers of observation; plumb the depths of your analytic mind; stretch the scope of your imagination.

A few mysteries will yield to your full-court onslaught; from the others, you will come to respect and appreciate the reality of the unknowable.

— Josh Mitteldorf

29 January 2012

Coffee, but not cafeine, may slow aging and protect against dementia

Impaired insulin sensitivity is one of the most reliable markers of aging.  As we get older, we gradually poison ourselves with sugar, as the metabolism loses its ability to control blood sugar in response to insulin (which is dispatched for that purpose).

Dr Giulio Maria Pasinetti of Mt Sinai Hospital has been experimenting with diabetes in a mouse model, and finds that coffee extracts (not cafeine) help to preserve insulin sensitivity. Especially noticeable was the way coffee helps to preserve sugar metabolism in the brain.

Press Release

Article from Life Extension Foundation, fingering chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid as probable beneficial agents (but beware that they’re interested in selling you supplements containing these substances).  The article includes a bibliography.

30 January 2012

Let us delight in licking the blade of the Now.

– Shambala prayer

31 January 2012

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design