Friday, July 31, 2009

The Hidden Discipline of Familiarity

Everything is Waiting for You
by David Whyte

Everything is Waiting for You Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

[Thank you Prema!]

Thursday, July 30, 2009

No One But You

Shrink Rap Radio "The most important thing is to cut out the noise of your life and be quiet with yourself for a while. The thing that helped me [was to ask myself] How do I feel? What do I miss? What do I yearn for? What am I going to do with my one and only precious life that I know of? How do I want to spend it? Do I like the people I'm with now? How do I want to feel when I get up in the morning?

Most of the time we're all so busy completing tasks that we don't have any space to think about those things. And many, many people in history have sat down and done that -- whether you're van Gogh or just a regular guy -- and gone, You know, I don't want to live this life anymore, I want to live that life.

And it is, I think, important for everyone to take seriously. If you have a yearning, to take a pilgrimage away from the life you're living now to one that you think will be more fulfilling. You owe your life to no one but you."

~ Dennis Palumbo, discussing changing careers with Dr. Dave on Shrink Rap Radio (Episode #159 - Therapist to The Hollywood Stars). Explore Mr. Palumbo’s writing.

Shatner Does Palin

From The Late Show with Conan O’Brien (July 27, 2009)

Growing Questions

"The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one grew before."

~ Thorstein Veblen

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We Remember that We Forget

A Friend’s Umbrella
by Lawrence Raab, from The History of Forgetting

History of Forgetting Ralph Waldo Emerson, toward the end
of his life, found the names
of familiar objects escaping him.
He wanted to say something about a window,
or a table, or a book on a table.

But the word wasn't there,
although other words could still suggest
the shape of what he meant.
Then someone, his wife perhaps,

would understand: "Yes, window! I'm sorry,
is there a draft?" He'd nod.
She'd rise. Once a friend dropped by
to visit, shook out his umbrella
in the hall, remarked upon the rain.

Later the word umbrella
vanished and became
the thing that strangers take away.

Paper, pen, table, book:
was it possible for a man to think
without them? To know
that he was thinking? We remember
that we forget
, he'd written once,
before he started to forget.

Three times he was told
that Longfellow had died.

Without the past, the present
lay around him like the sea.
Or like a ship, becalmed,
upon the sea. He smiled

to think he was the captain then,
gazing off into whiteness,
waiting for the wind to rise.

[From The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Our Ideas of Success

“We are highly open to suggestion. So what I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t in fact what you wanted all along.”

Alain de Botton, from“A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success,”  TED Talks, July 2009

[Thanks Kit!]

To Experience the Delight and Awe that Scientists Feel

From PowellsBooks.Blog (July 20, 2009):

why-does-e Why Does E=mc2? is in some ways a simple book with a simple aim: we (Jeff Forshaw and Brian Cox) wanted to see whether we could actually derive E=mc2 in a way that any interested non-mathematical reader could understand. By derive, I mean follow a series of small steps that are well-motivated and hopefully obvious, or at least plausible, and arrive at the equation itself, assuming no prior knowledge and making the minimum possible number of assumptions. In other words, we behave exactly as we would in our professional life as research scientists, searching for equations that describe nature.

In doing this, we hope to do much more than simply present and describe the equation, however. If the reader follows the argument, we hope that he or she will experience the delight and awe that scientists feel when they explore nature and reveal its underlying simplicity and beauty. One often hears scientists describe equations as "beautiful," and we believe the best way to understand what this means is to actually see how the most iconic and simple equation of all came to be written down. We don't in fact follow Einstein's route to E=mc2, because we believe that 100 years of teaching and understanding has provided a more profound and transparent route to it — we aren't writing a history book.

There is an element of polemic in the book. We very firmly believe that science, which is synonymous with rational thought as far as we are concerned, is the route to a better future. Woolly thinking and superstition are rife, and we should strive to reduce their place in public discourse. By showing how something as useful and, as far as we can tell, correct, as E=mc2 emerges from simple thought processes that we believe are open to every interested reader, we hope to make our case for an increased respect for and use of the scientific method in everyday life.

collider We also describe what E, m, and c actually are. Why is the speed of light special? What is energy, and what is mass? The question of mass leads us to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where we both work. One of the key goals of this machine is to answer this question definitively for the first time. It is remarkable that Einstein could be led to the equation that describes how mass and energy can be interchanged freely, without actually knowing what mass is. Such is the wonder of physics!

Fundamental Reality

From “Buddhism and Quantum Physics,” by Christian Thomas  Kohl, The Buddhist Channel (July 22, 2009):

Drawing Hands, a 1948 lithograph by M. C. Escher

If you don’t believe in a creator, nor in the laws of nature, nor in a permanent object, nor in an absolute subject, nor in both, nor in any of it, in what do you believe then? What remains that you can consider a fundamental reality? The answer is simple; it is so simple that we barely consider it being a philosophical statement: things depend upon other things. For instance, a thing is dependent upon its cause. There is no effect without a cause and no cause without an effect. There is no fire without fuel, no action without an actor and vice versa. Things are dependent upon other things; they are not identical with each other, nor do they break up into objective and subjective parts.

This Buddhist concept of reality is often met with disapproval and considered incomprehensible. But there are modern modes of thought with points of contact. For instance, there is a discussion in quantum physics about fundamental reality. What is fundamental in quantum physics: particles, waves, field of force, law of nature, mindsets or information? Quantum physics came to a result that is expressed by the key words of complementarity, interaction and entanglement.

According to these concepts there are no independent quantum objects, just complementary ones; they are at the same time waves and particles. Quantum objects interact with others, and they are entangled even when they are separated at a far distance. Without being observed philosophically, quantum physics has created a physical concept of reality. According to that concept, the fundamental reality is an interaction of systems that interact with other systems and with their own components.

Gary Larson, March 23, 1984

"Ohhhhhhh...Look at that, Schuster...Dogs are so cute when they try to comprehend quantum mechanics."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sailing Home

From Authors@Google (October 10, 2008):

Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer's Odyssey to Navigate Life's Perils “In Sailing Home, renowned Zen teacher Norman Fischer deftly incorporates Buddhist, Judaic, Christian, and popular thought, as well as his own unique and sympathetic understanding of life, in his reinterpretation of Odysseus's familiar wanderings as lessons that everyone can use. We see how to resist the seduction of the Sirens' song to stop sailing and give up; how to bide our time in a situation and wait for the right opportunity; and how to reassess our story and rediscover our purpose and identity if, like the Lotus-Eaters, we have forgotten the past. With meditations that yield personal revelations, illuminating anecdotes from Fischer's and his students' lives, and stories from many wisdom traditions, Sailing Home shows the way to greater purpose in your own life.”

“So this is the mystery and the pain of our lives: every one of us is exactly where we need to be, but we don’t know it. We’re looking for somewhere else to be. The spiritual odyssey, life’s deepest and most significant undertaking, involves a great effort and inevitably it leads us on through many disasters and troubles in the checkered course of our living and growing. And where to we end up? Back where we started from. Back to ourselves. Only now maybe with more wisdom.” ~ Norman Fischer 

Reverse Engineering of Religion

"...religions are an important natural phenomenon. We should study them with the same intensity that we study all the other important natural phenomena...Today's religions are brilliantly designed. They're immensely powerful social institutions and many of their features can be traced back to earlier features that we can really make sense of by reverse engineering. And, as with the cow, there's a mixture of evolutionary design, designed by natural selection itself, and intelligent design -- more or less intelligent design -- redesigned by human beings who are trying to redesign their religions."

~ Dan Dennett, from TED Talks (February 2006)

Mr. Dennet't’s book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon was reviewed by Leon Wieseltier in “The God Genome,” New York Times (February 19, 2006).

The Humor and Poetry and Drama

“I’m not scared that I don’t have a finished script, because I can very quickly find the humor and poetry and drama in situations. It’s there all the time in life.”

~ Roy Andersson, from “Calling It as He Sees It, in Great Detail,” by Dave Kehr, New York Times Sunday Magazine (July 26, 2009)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Everything is Alive

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda, from Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon, translated by Stephen Mitchell

Now we will all count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fisherman in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could perhaps do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

As If It Were the Only One

Elias Canetti "There is no such thing as an ugly language. Today I hear every language as if it were the only one, and when I hear of one that is dying, it overwhelms me as though it were the death of the earth."

~ Elias Canetti

Friday, July 24, 2009

Maybe It’s Not Too Late to Grow Up

From Forever Young, and essay written and read by Kurt Anderson of Studio 360 (July 17, 2009):

"Waiting to get what you want is a definition of maturity. Demanding satisfaction right this instant is the definition of a seven year old. But instant satisfaction has been driving our economy and our culture for a while.

Send a message now! Get an answer now! Pick your airline seat now! Buy anything you want right now!

The web, cell phones, FedEx: they all indulge the impulsive child in every one of us.

Save? Why? For what?

Wait till I can afford it? No…Fooey!

Fuel efficient? Lame.

I don't mean to be a crank and I don't mean to condemn fun. I'm committed to rubber soles for life and I cherish The Simpsons. I'm even a convert to Twitter -- the official medium of back-of-the-class wisecracks.

Yes, the economic collapse had everything to do with credit policy and financial regulation. But I really, truly think that this forty-year-long celebration of our inner child helped lead us to the spree that we've just come off.

But with this crisis and now the rebuilding and reshaping of America we're required to do, we Boomers have maybe our last, best shot to suck it up and get serious and help straighten out the messes that we helped make. Maybe it's not too late to grow up a little.”

Equanimity Does Not Mean Fairness

justice “To practice equanimity is to understand that everything everybody ever does — I repeat, everything everybody ever does — is because at that moment, he or she feels that their action will improve their world. In other words he or she is just trying to be happy. The actions may be, and often are, tragically, catastrophically self-defeating, but that is the motivation at the moment of action. Equanimity, then, is a profound acceptance of each person's humanity. Fairness may be the result of equanimity, but it's not the practice of equanimity.”

~ Ken McLeod, from Rules for the Road

Try to Love the Questions

“Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Benign Contagion

[Thanks Kimberly!]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Little Out of Scale

Norman Fischer speaking with Vince Horn on Buddhist Geeks (Episode129 -- Buddhism May Need a Plan B):

BG ...twenty-five years ago nobody went to the gym. Now we've well established through research in our society that exercise is really important so there's a gym on every corner. Well, why isn't there a meditation hall on every corner? Haven’t we established the fact that some spiritual endeavor is just as important for inner health as exercise is for the body? So there ought to be meditation halls on every corner and people should know how important this is and feel like it makes sense to access it and pay for it so that there could be people to offer it.

I mean that there is tremendous spike in research on meditation. Just in last three or four years. It’s exponentially increased and all the research is always showing the same thing that meditation is actually a effective, that it really works, and that it has all kind of benefits. So people seem to believe in research and scientific data, but just talk to your friends who do this practice and that’s probably enough to convince you even without the scientific data.

...It's funny, you know? I'm gone do a retreat for the army for Norman Fischer      caregivers and chaplains. So the Army's going to spend fifty cents to pay me to do the retreat and then a million dollars to study the effects of the retreat over time.’s very expensive to conduct research. Very expensive. A million dollar research grant is not an unusual grant. A million dollar gift to a dharma center or for a teacher training or something like that is very, very rare. So it’s a little out of scale.

[The conversation continues in Episode 130 -- Buddhism and the Evolution of Religion. Check out Norman Fischer’s article, “Why We Need a Plan B,” in the summer issue of Buddhadharma.]

Wishing Well

“The better part of happiness is to wish to be what you are.”

~ Desiderius Erasmus

Ce Soir

Ce Soir is Montreal-based band Monogrenade's first music video. Directed by Christophe Collette, the video is entirely made in stop-motion.

See also Vidéomusique

[Thanks again JC!]

Ideas Come as Little Phrases or Images

From The Story from the Static: On Writing and Painting by Audrey Niffenegger:

I have spent most of my life feeling like a woman trying to listen to the radio in a thunderstorm. I am trying to get an idea, something I can turn into a picture, or a novel, and occasionally such a thing does whiz into my brain and it's my job to pick it out from all the static of daily life and find out if it means anything.

Before I can think very hard about this idea I have to figure out if it's a word The Letter, 2005thing or a picture thing. Ideas tend to come to me in the form of little phrases ("the time traveler's wife"; "self-portrait as Siamese twins") or as images (three women with long hair sitting together but refusing to speak to each other; a lady reading a book with a giant spider perched on her hat, also reading the book). These four ideas became a novel, a painting, a picture book, a tiny drawing. They could have taken other forms. I have to take each idea and turn it over in my head, trying it out to see what it does, to see how I can make it bigger and stronger. Mostly I am just trying to see, period. I'm trying to look at it, listen to it, attend to it; I'm trying to find out what it wants.

It takes me a long time to make things, and that's good. The more time I have, the more I can add and subtract, the better the thing will be.

My novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, began as a phrase that came to me while The Time Traveler's Wifedrawing. I could see the main character as an old woman, waiting for her time traveler. But was it a picture, or something else? The characters suddenly had names; as I went about my daily life they began to have personalities, desires, schemes. At this point I realized that a picture book wasn't going to work. Still images are always the present, and they don't capture the fluidity of time. I had the choice of trying to write a novel (which I'd never done) or make a movie (very expensive and requiring the help of other people). I began to write.

[More... ]

Monday, July 20, 2009

air and light and time and space

by Charles Bukowski

“—you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
some­thing has always been in the
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 chil­dren
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawl­ing up your
back while
the whole city trem­bles in earth­quake, bom­bard­ment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have noth­ing to do with it
and don’t create any­thing
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses

[Thanks JC!]

How Long Do You Think You’re Going to Live?

From The Week (July 24, 2009):

British Vogue July 2009 Julianne Moore doesn’t mind calling herself “middle-aged,” says Gaby Wood in British Vogue. “When people say, ‘I’m not middle-aged,’ you want to say, ‘Well, exactly how long do you think you’re going to live?’” the 48-year-old actress says. “It becomes so tedious after a while, this idea that everybody’s so focused on being young. Whenever you ask anybody, ‘Would you want to be 20 again?’ invariably they go, ‘No.’ You don’t want to repeat it—you want to be what you are.” In Moore’s case, youth was not only a time of personal confusion; it was a time when she couldn’t find work. “When I was auditioning for movies in the ’80s, I never got anything. They made a lot of movies about young people doing things, like St. Elmo’s Fire. I got my first movie role when I was 29, which was considered really old. I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone my age. It was horrible—so stupid and awkward—and I found it really oppressive. I was, like, I can’t do this anymore! What is the problem with telling people I’m 30, 31, 32?” She got her breakthrough in indie films, and her career took off after that. Moore’s now fully content with both her professional life and her personal one—she’s married, with two children—and the recent sudden death of friend Natasha Richardson helped put things in perspective. “I’m lucky to be 48, and not be … not here. I’m never going to be 48 again—48’s over after this year.”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I Want to be Good to Myself

by Matthew Dickman, from All-American Poem

Marilyn Monroe took all her sleeping pills
to bed when she was thirty-six, and Marlon Brando’s daughter
hung in the Tahitian bedroom
of her mother’s house,
while Stanley Adams shot himself in the head.  Sometimes
you can look at the clouds or the trees
and they look nothing like clouds or trees or the sky or the ground.
The performance artist Kathy Change
set herself on fire while Bing Crosby’s sons shot themselves
out of the music industry forever.
I sometimes wonder about the inner lives of polar bears.  The French
philosopher Gilles Deleuze jumped
from an apartment window into the world
and then out of it.  Peg Entwistle, an actress with no lead roles, leaped from the “H” in the HOLLYWOOD sign
when everything looked black and white
and David O. Selznick was king, circa 1932.  Ernest Hemingway
put a shotgun to his head in Ketchum, Idaho
while his granddaughter, a model and actress, climbed the family tree
and overdosed on phenobarbital.  My brother opened thirteen fentanyl patches and stuck them on his body
until it wasn’t his body anymore.  I like
the way geese sound above the river.  I like
the little soaps you find in hotel bathrooms because they’re beautiful.
Sarah Kane hanged herself, Harold Pinter
brought her roses when she was still alive,
and Louis Lingg, the German anarchist, lit a cap of dynamite
in his own mouth
though it took six hours for him
to die, 1887.  Ludwig II of Bavaria drowned
and so did Hart Crane, John Berryman, and Virginia Woolf.  If you are
traveling, you should always bring a book to read, especially
on a train.  Andrew Martinez the nude activist, died
in prison, naked, a bag
around his head, while in 1815 the Polish aristocrat and writer
Jan Potocki shot himself with a silver bullet.
Sara Teasdale swallowed a bottle of blues
after drawing a hot bath,
in which dozens of Roman senators opened their veins beneath the water.
Larry Walters became famous
for flying in a Sears patio chair and forty-five helium-filled weather balloons.  He reached an altitude of 16,000 feet
and then he landed.  He was a man who flew.
He shot himself in the heart.  In the morning I get out of bed, I brush
my teeth, I wash my face, I get dressed in the clothes I like best.
I want to be good to myself.


KCRW Bookworm (June 25, 2009)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

There It Sits

H. L. Mencken “Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its chops.”

~ H. L. Mencken

Not Shying Away from Recessions

Economics professor Paul Zak in conversation with Krista Tippett on "The Science of Trust: Economics and Virtue," Speaking of Faith, July 9 2009:

"Economists talk of the cleansing effect of recessions. So recessions are necessary because they kind of cull out the companies that are not providing the best customer service, that are not making a profit, that are not providing some product or service that people need. And when those businesses go out of business, then those resources are redeployed to more important uses. The machines are reused; the people get different jobs. And so this keeps the economy kind of efficient. We don't want to kind of limp along and have high levels of inefficiency just because we love the name General Motors or love the name of some company if they can't kind of keep up with the herd. So competition drives that and that's an important part of maintaining efficiency.

But I think the same thing can happen in individual lives. I think as we get towards the end of every boom period, today or two years ago, the end of the 1990s and dot-com bubble, the end of the '80s and this kind of me generation, I think we do get out of whack because human beings are adaptable and we are watching what other humans are doing. We also become adaptable to this sort of yuppie, more stuff for me lifestyle.

I think, from a spiritual perspective, that recessions are also cleansing. So I think it's very important that we don't shy away from recessions and we don't try to outlaw them. I think we should say, 'Hey, there were excesses. This is how the excesses are corrected. And the excesses were both kind of on the macro level and even perhaps in my own life. Maybe I got a little over-excited about the extra bonuses I was getting and the bigger car. And now I want to sit down and reevaluate what's really important to me.' So I think there are great analogies between the micro and the macro, and we should embrace that.

Having said that, the stress issues are strong. One of the pieces of advice I like to give is: Turn off your TV. Don't listen to the pessimistic news every second of the day...

...Appropriate levels of stress are very good for human beings...There's sort of this misnomer that stress is bad. Too much stress is bad, but also too little stress is bad. So there's sort of this inverted U-curve...this sweet spot for stress that focuses your attention. So I think that when we're in that sweet spot, when we're focused, our memory's better and we're thinking clearly and we've got to figure out what to do next, that's actually very good for human beings and actually all other animals as well."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I Wasn’t Sure


Pink and White
by Deborah Garrison, from The Second Child

Peonies are the only flower I care for
and when I saw them from the window
yesterday, tumbled and heavy along
a fence, fully exploded, nodding
at the ground, hanging their heads but not
yet spoiled, I remembered
a summer (maybe seven years
ago, or was it ten?) I wasn't sure
our love would come again,
and here I am, almost

kissing the grass like that,
bursting and rich, cracked
all over like broken cake—
makes you cry but still sweet.

[Thanks Garrison!]

Arrive to a Place in the Middle

“I think this idea that we meet one person and you stay with them your whole life until you die, for me, is unrealistic. I’ve loved a lot of people at many different times in my life. And the love doesn’t stop when we’re not together. And I feel as though, I’ve come to a place in my life, where the climax isn’t watching the love arrive, it’s watching the love in full. Just like our life goes in a cycle, that song has a descension which is just as beautiful as the middle. And in fact, the metaphor that I gave was the same. It was, arrive to a place in the middle where you watch everything in its radiance, you watch the beauty, it unfolds like a flower. And then, you watch it descend. And there’s just as much beauty in watching something recede into the soil as there is watching it come back because that’s full. And I feel the same way about love. So I feel no loss when love leaves because it truly never goes anywhere, and I feel no joy when it sticks around because honestly I kind of like to sleep alone now and then.”

~ Melody Gardot, in conversation with Bob Edwards (July 11, 2009)

Mapping Algorithms

“I'm a composer, orchestrally-trained, and the inventor of the AlloSphere. With my visual artist colleagues, we map complex mathematical algorithms that unfold in time and space, visually and sonically. Our scientist colleagues are finding new patterns in the information. And our engineering colleagues are making one of the largest dynamically varying computers in the world for this kind of data exploration. I'm going to fly you into five research projects in the AlloSphere that are going to take you from biological macroscopic data all the way down to electron spin.”

~ Composer JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, founder of the Center for Research in Electronic Art Technology (CREATE)

Self-Ordering Systems

From Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life With Autism by Temple Grandin:

Thinking in Pictures “In high school I came to the conclusion that God was an ordering force that was in everything after Mr. Carlock explained the second law of thermodynamics, the law of physics that states the universe will gradually lose order and have increasing entropy. Entropy is the increase of disorder in a closed thermodynamic system. I found the idea of the universe becoming more and more disordered profoundly disturbing. To visualize how the second law worked, I imagined a model universe consisting of two rooms. This represented a closed thermodynamic system. One room was warm and the other was cold. This represented the state of maximum order. If a small window were opened between the rooms, the air would gradually mix until both rooms were lukewarm. The model was now in a state of maximum disorder, or entropy. The scientist James Clerk Maxwell proposed that order could be restored if a little man at the window opened and closed it to allow warm atoms to go to the one side and cold atoms to go to the other side. The only problem is that an outside energy source is required to operate the window. When I was a college sophomore, I called this ordering force God.

…I hated the second law of thermodynamics because I believed that the universe should be orderly. Over the years I have collected many articles about spontaneous order and pattern formation in nature. Susumu Ohno, a geneticist, has found classical music in slime and mouse genes. He converted the genetic code of four nucleotide bases in our DNA is not random, and when the order is played, it sounds like something by Bach or a Chopin nocturne. Patterns in flowers and leaf growth in plants develop in mathematical sequence of the Fibonacci numbers and the golden mean of the Greeks.

Patterns spontaneously arise in many purely physical systems. Convection patterns in heated fluids sometimes resemble a pattern of cells. Scientists at the University of California have discovered that silver atoms deposited on a platinum surface spontaneously form ordered patterns. The temperature of the platinum determines the type of pattern, and order can be created from random motion. A small change in temperature totally changes the pattern. At one temperature triangles are formed, and at another temperature hexagons form, and further heating of the surface makes the silver atoms revert to triangles in a different orientation. Another interesting finding is that everything in the universe, ranging from amino acids and bacteria to plants and shells, has handedness. The universe is full of self-ordering systems.”

*     *     *     *     *

Genome Music Demo
from Todd Baron


More audio clips at GarageBand

Friday, July 10, 2009

You’ll Probably Take a Lot of Wrong Turns

Alice Munro "It's not possible to advise a young writer because every young writer is so different. You might say, 'Read,' but a writer can read too much and be paralyzed. Or, 'Don't read, don't think, just write,' and the result could be a mountain of drivel. If you're going to be a writer you'll probably take a lot of wrong turns and then one day just end up writing something you have to write, then getting it better and better just because you want it to be better, and even when you get old and think 'There must be something else people do,' you won't quite be able to quit."

~ Alice Munro

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

What We Don’t Do

Alan Bean

“My life for the last twenty-eight years is tied up with this like it was for eighteen years being an astronaut or eight years before that being a Navy pilot. I believe in doing what you can, cause I’ll be gone in another ten or fifteen years. Your listeners need to think about this, they’re only going to be here once. Sometimes we think there’s other people around that will make up for what we don’t do. Sure they can.  They can mow a lawn. They can drive a car. They can take a job and write an article or something. But they cannot do what’s in the heart of each of your listeners. And if they don’t do it, it will never be done again until time ends. Who knows when that is?”

~ Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, from “Moon Artist,” PRI’s The World, July 8, 2009.

That’s How It Felt to Walk on the Moon, painting by Alan Bean

Monday, July 06, 2009

You, the Living

Therefore rejoice, oh thou living one, blest in thy love-lighted homestead,
Ere the dark Lethe's sad wave wetteth thy fugitive foot.

~ Goethe, from Roman Elegies

You, The Living
(A film about the grandeur of existing)
by Roy Andersson

“Man is the fascination of man, in big things and small. Life itself bears witness to this. Art confirms it. Spectacular and dramatic events and destinies captivate us. But so does sitting at a street café and watching people wordlessly go by. As compelling as Delacroix's passionate depictions of battle scenes are the paintings by Millet or van Gogh of peasants at work, of a pair taking an afternoon nap in the shade of a haystack, or a family sitting in a kitchen eating potatoes -- pictures that are so precise, empathetic and carefully executed as to give you the feeling that there is nothing more important to relate than this.”

Something Held Me Back

I Was Always Leaving
by Jean Nordhaus

I was always leaving, I was
about to get up and go, I was
on my way, not sure where.
Somewhere else. Not here.
Nothing here was good enough.

It would be better there, where I
was going. Not sure how or why.
The dome I cowered under
would be raised, and I would be released
into my true life. I would meet there

the ones I was destined to meet.
They would make an opening for me
among the flutes and boulders,
and I would be taken up. That this
might be a form of death

did not occur to me. I only know
that something held me back,
a doubt, a debt, a face I could not
leave behind. When the door
fell open, I did not go through.

From American Life in Poetry: Column 224

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Round-the-Clock Denial

“American popular culture is our eternal present, our illusion of deathlessness. We don’t really mourn the death of a pop-culture icon. We use his extinction to resurrect his life. In America, the death of an American star is really the occasion for a garrulous, obsessive, round-the-clock denial of death.”

~ From “How Constant Change Killed Michael Jackson," by Lee Siegel, The Daily Beast (July 5, 2009)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

On a Morning in Early Summer

Photo by Andrea Mohin/The New York TimesThe Sun
by Mary Oliver

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone -- 
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance --
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love --
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed --
or have you too
turned from this world --

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

[Thanks JC and Kit!]

Thursday, July 02, 2009

An Unreal Life

Hermann Hesse "There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself."

~ Hermann Hesse

Humane Societies

From Ecce Homo (Behold Humanity) by Xavier Le Pichon:

Xavier Le Pichon Physical pain, like fear, are mechanisms of alarm that play a decisive role in the process of decision necessary for the survival of the individual, among animals as well as humans. They also play an important role at the community level. Beyond physical pain, there is the inner suffering. For example, the rupture, due to death or departure, of a relation of very strong dependence between two individuals, may lead to grief consumption or even death. Human societies integrate in their structure in an organic way the fragility and vulnerability manifested in this whole vast world of suffering and death. This is why they are called humane. In the French language the word “humain” is used to denote someone who is both human and humane. That is, he is sensitive to the suffering of his neighbor and tries to alleviate that suffering. In the same way, a society is humane in the degree that it takes care of the lives of those who suffer most without either rejecting or marginalizing them.

…Our humanity is not an attribute that we have received once and forever with our conception. It is a potentiality that we have to discover within us and progressively develop or destroy through our confrontation with the different experiences of suffering that will meet us throughout our life.