The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Friday, December 31, 2010
Brain / Mind ... Philosophy ... Science ...

I had an afterthought to my last post, about the E8 geometric-mathematical model as a possible matrix for the “complete theory of everything”. I noted that the authors seemed a bit paradoxical in citing what a confounding mess the current particle physics model was, versus their attitude that the E8 structure would make them feel all warm and fuzzy. My point was, why is E8 so good that they would lay down all their questions and just accept it as the final answer. Why couldn’t they at least ask the child-like question, “why E8?”.

In pondering that, I suppose that E8 has a certain beauty to it. Here is a link, if you want to see it. It looks like a bunch of points and lines arranged in circles, with some other intervening but repeating relationships that determine just where each thing stands. So yes, there is a certain artistic quality to it. Perhaps after many decades of relentless search, the physical theorist would be content to just say, I’ve found E8, the true blueprint to the world. It is beautiful, and I uncovered it. I have fulfilled my destiny.

But that still doesn’t satisfy the metaphysical sojourner in me. E8 is great, but why? Because it is beautiful, is that why? And what does it mean to be ‘beautiful’? Just what is it in us that sees the beautiful? The science people are telling us today that in our conscious experience of the world, we are not anything special. Human consciousness (and animal consciousness, if it exists) is just a function of all those forces and particles that E8 would explain. It’s just another one of the trillions of effects and emergences from the fundamental forces, just like neutron stars and pecan shells and Justin Beiber CDs are. And yet, without it, E8 has no beauty. Without a consciousness to perceive the beauty of E8 and all that emerges from it, does it all really exist? Are we sure that in E8, we have found “THE TRULY FUNDAMENTAL” in the Universe?? Or does the reason cited for thinking that thought point to something more?

Something to ponder for the New Year. And a Happy and Prosperous 2011 to All. And to All in this Beautiful Universe (E8 or not), a Good Night.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:46 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, December 27, 2010
Science ...

I recently read an article in Scientific American about particle physics (A Geometric Theory of Everything by Garrett Lisi and James Owen Weatherall). I’ve been vaguely aware of the “Standard Particle Model” for a few years now, and how it was a big scientific advance back in the 1970’s and 80’s. But I really didn’t know much about it.

This article helped to bring me up to speed. The big thing about the SPM is that is shows a lot of interesting relationships between the many different elementary particles that scientists have detected in their particle colliders over the past 50 years, including the standard atomic components electron, proton and neutron, the well-known photon which makes up light and magnetic attraction, and the spooky “anti-particles” that propel the Starship Enterprise (on Star Trek). There are plenty more particles than those, and the new CERN super-collider in Switzerland will soon find even more.

The Standard Model has shown its power by successfully predicting what the particle colliders will find. But there are still plenty of problems and gaps with it.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:07 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Current Affairs ... Society ...

Sometimes I just don’t notice what is going on in the world. I just found out about “flash mobs”, thanks to my friend Mary S. She sent me a link to a popular “flash event” that took place in a mall food court in Toronto, whereby a group of kids distributed around the food court did a rendition of Handel’s Messiah. I took a look afterwords on Wikipedia, only to find out that the flash mob idea has been around since 2004.

So let me get this straight. A group of people are organized and rehearse some dancing or singing or acting event, and then show up unexpectedly in a public area (on a street, in a park, at a mall, at a subway station, etc.) and do their thing for a few minutes. Members of the public who just happened to be milling about the area are surprised and often stop and watch, maybe even cheer or get involved somehow. But the most important thing is that someone is there recording all of this with a video camera. Because the critical thing about flash mobs is that they will be memorialized on You Tube or some other internet video platform, as to get thousands or maybe millions of viewings.

Maybe I’m just too old to appreciate all of this. It sounds a little silly to me  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:03 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Religion ...

There’s a nice little post on the Psychology Today site about why atheism can’t replace religion. The author makes a good case that atheism cannot slake a certain thirst within the deepest corners of the human psyche. Well, the atheist will probably claim that there are no such deep corners of the human psyche thirsting for ultimate meaning; or if there are, it’s just an incidental side-effect from the survival value gained from our ability to spot trends and patterns.

Personally, I agree that atheism will never replace religion, but for another reason: atheism is just another faith system. It works well for certain people, but for the masses, it does not meet the needs that religion meets any better (however unenlightened those needs might be), and thus isn’t worth the time and energy needed to make the intellectual change.

My question, however, is whether something totally different would do a better job in improving our society and our lives. What I propose is a form of agnosticism, but not just any old agnosticism. I embrace a form of hopeful and engaged agnosticism, an agnosticism that cares even as it admits to the possibility of ultimate emptiness.

I’ll have more to say on that in the future!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:30 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Current Affairs ... Society ...

Despite the fact that everyone is doing it, I’m staying away from Facebook and Twitter. There’s still something about the digital “social network” thing that gives me the creeps. Well, I just read an article on the British Guardian website telling me that I’m not the only one who feels that way. A writer named Oliver Burkeman says here that Facebook is a system of “quasi-friendship”. There’s a huge gap between what you read about a person on the Facebook “wall” or on Twitter, and with what their life is really like. The social network sites tell you about people’s successes, accomplishments and interesting experiences, but never discuss their doubts and fears. What you get on the Facebook wall is just what you’d expect from a wall, i.e. a two-dimensional poster image.

Well, my thanks to Mr. Burkeman for putting into words what bothers me about Facebook. I believe that the whole thing goes deeper than a lot of people just having fun with a web site; it seems to indicate the direction of the social tide in America and probably Britain and Europe too. This tide goes away from sharing and honest communications about our innermost selves. We are becoming more and more isolated by fears of vulnerability and exploitation, or by just “not having the time for it”.

Whatever the explanation, I don’t like what I see these days. There are probably plenty of “eternal students” and “nowhere men” on Facebook; but I don’t plan to be one of them!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:48 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Monday, December 13, 2010
Philosophy ... Photo ... Science ... Spirituality ...

I just got back from a weekend Zen retreat sponsored by Morning Star Zendo in Jersey City. The retreat was held at the Stella Maris center down along the Jersey coast, in Elberon. That was my first Zen “sesshin”, and I seem to have survived all the silence and meditative sittings. I also managed to do a little bit of reading and photo taking, and a bit of thinking here and there (but not too much; Zen is about living in the real world, not completely in the mind).

So, I posted some of my pics below; a few shots of the Atlantic and the shoreline at various times during the day, and also a shot from the “kinhin” line. That’s the walking meditation exercise done every half hour or so, as to break up all the sitting.

As to my reading and thinking — well, based on something I read about the Buddha, I came up with an idea about the nature of death. This is NOT what I would call a Buddhist idea; I enjoy Buddhism (and its focus on group meditation), but disagree with its doctrines in a variety of ways. Just to be fair, I disagree with ALL major religious doctrines in some way.

Anyway, here is my thought or theory or whatever about death. Death must ultimately submit to its own principle. That is, death must ultimately die. If true, it can ultimately mean two things; i.e., life triumphs, or death does. If death eventually kills everything, i.e. every form of life and motion and energy, then eventually there will be no death, as the universe will be dead. Death will have consumed itself, in a victorious fashion.

Many cosmologists anticipate that this will be the end-state of our own universe, the “heat death” scenario. But the cosmologists, now including Steven Hawking, also say that our universe is NOT the only universe out there. If it was the only universe and the whole of reality, then time began at the Big Bang / Big Inflation event, and does not go back ad infinitum.

However, the beginingless “multi-verse” is looking better and better these days, under the superstring-theory paradigms that are emerging in physics. If so, there was no beginning of time. The “multi-verse” has been happening forever. If so, then the principle of death has also been happening forever, I’d posit, given that death seems so fundamental to the nature of reality (e.g., the second law of thermodynamics and all that entropy stuff).

So then, if death has been going on forever, by now it should have killed everything. But guess what? It hasn’t.

If so, then life is the ultimate principle to reality. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the lives we know and enjoy will go on forever, but . . . something will. And whatever that something is, it will most likely be influenced by our lives in some way. Something of us will go on forever, one way or another.

So here are some pix to ponder that theory by.




◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:07 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Economics/Business ... Society ...

The US unemployment rate has gone up to 9.8%, and many economists admit that when you count everyone who needs a full time job but can’t find one, the rate is around 20%. Even worse, the slow rate of growth anticipated over the next few years will not bring this rate down significantly, not any time soon. So, it looks as if the USA is going to have a lot of excess workforce for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps it’s time to think outside of the box as to what to do about all those people. Maybe we need a major shift, an inspiring plan that the government can set into motion but will sustain itself with unleashed private energy and attention. We need something that will give all these idle people a means to make a living and have a decent life, and at the same time help solve some other problems, such as rising oil prices and global warming. We need to look around and ask, what is going unused that could be put to work in a way that can address these problems?

OK, I have a modest suggestion, even though it’s still pretty hazy. How about a government sponsored back-to-the-farm movement?  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:40 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Society ... Socrates Cafe ...

Last night the local Socrates Cafe group struggled over the nature of art. The specific question was whether “art” is confined to what artists do when practicing what is generally accepted as an “art form” (i.e., music, painting, sculpture, acting, etc.); or whether it is legitimate to say that “art” applies to other human endeavors, such as a doctor who is so good at what he does as to seem artistic.

One guy thought that using “art” to describe what doctors and scientists and even accountants do when they are at their best is a dilution and corruption of what is meant when we speak of an art. He said that true artists seek to play on the human soul in an evocative manner; they seek to convey something of the true essence of living to others, to make others appreciative of their being and the world around them. And accountants just don’t do that in balancing their books.

That all sounds pretty good. But I still disagree with the guy.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:16 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Current Affairs ... Public Policy ... Science ...

I’m still a bit ambivalent about the global warming debate. Just a few years ago, it seemed like Al Gore and the United Nations had won it; the human species was clearly headed for accelerated extinction because of rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, gases put there by modern civilization. The situation seemed so serious as to justify immediate, radical measures, including limits on development in the undeveloped nations, and reductions in standards of living in the developed ones.

Over the past few years, however, the vested interests that have the most to lose from such an approach have fought back, as you might expect. However bogus many of their arguments are, they have allowed other, more honest skeptics to be heard. And I believe that to be a good thing.

At this point, I myself have no doubt that greenhouse gases from human development have increased temperatures and will continue to do so; and that this will cause significant environmental effects, many of which will seriously effect certain inhabited areas. And yet I agree with some of the skeptics  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:21 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Science ... Spirituality ...

I wanted to share a thought that probably only occurs to you when you are get old. Well, it only occurred to me in recent years, as I am getting old. And that thought regards the winds. My thought – really a rhetorical question – is this: WHY does the wind blow so much in winter, and hardly at all during the summer? In winter it just makes you colder (and as an old guy, I don’t like to be cold). In summer, when it could do the most good (i.e., cool you down a bit), the winds hardly ever blow — at least where I live.

That’s just one of those things about the world where “serendipity” is lacking. Oh well, I guess you’ve just got to grit your teeth and pull up your collar and bear it all, until spring arrives once again.

Oh, one other interesting little observation from old age. Not from my old age, but from the old age of a Nobel Prize winning scientist. His name is Steven Weinberg,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:34 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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