The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Science ...

Who is your favorite physicist? Most people don’t have one. Newton, Einstein, Maxwell, Hubble — great thinkers, but what’s the difference between them as human beings? They were all pretty nerdy, most likely.

Well, I happen to like modern science a whole lot, but up to now I never really thought much about who my favorite physicist would be. When you think about physics, you think about big abstract ideas, not about personalities and human struggles. But personalities and human struggles lie behind all that has been accomplished in our quest to understand the basic laws of the world that we inhabit and the universe that surrounds it. So here are some of my rough impressions regarding some noted physicists. I’m going to focus on the modern guys, as having seen them speaking on TV and read their words in magazines and knowing the times they live in, I have a better grounding in judging them as fellow travelers; versus say Marie Curie or Max Planck. This is not exactly going to be well researched, but for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts:

I have a lot of regard for Roger Penrose. Right now, he would have to be my favorite physicist  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Economics/Business ... Society ...

I just updated the Poverty 101 page on my site to reflect the recently released 2009 update of the poverty level for the USA. My chart shows compares the poverty rate with real GDP per capita, since 1959. What it shows is this: over the past two years, the poverty level has started to climb again, homing in on the levels reached after the recessions of 1981 and 1991. GDP per capita has also gone down due to the “Great Recession”; the decline has been greater than for any other economic downturn occurring on the chart (i.e., since 1959).

Over the past 30 years, real GDP per person has climbed quite a bit, while the poverty rate has stayed within a fixed range, 12 to 15% (14.3% in 2009). So, economic growth has not been shared with the poorest segment of our society during this time (versus the 1960s and early 70s, when the poverty rate went from 22% to 12%). But since 1980 (when Ronald Reagan was elected, when manufacturing jobs rapidly started going overseas, and when the Baby Boomers came into authority), the poor and near-poor immediately feel the impact whenever there is an economic downturn. It’s basically a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition for them.

There is an interesting article on the Smart Money web site questioning the relevance of the government’s GDP measure as an appropriate gauge for economic growth.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:03 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Web Site/Blog ...

I usually develop ideas for this blog at odd moments throughout the day, and try to jot a line or two down on paper before I forget what inspired me. Later on I find some time to further develop that initial thought, usually while sitting in front of a keyboard and wanting to type something. Once I actually start typing, I start thinking more and more, and then more ideas come out. Thus, many of my blog entries start with short notions but become fairly long essays.

However, tonight I am going to avoid long essays and just put out a bit of the raw, untreated mental effluent that often becomes the feedstock for this blog. This is going to be quite Twitter-like, but that’s what the youth of America seem to want today. OK, here goes.

1.) So what about karma? Many if not most Buddhists believe that the goodness or badness of what you do in this life will affect some future person who will “reincarnate” something of your former being (even if they don’t have any memory of it).  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:16 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

Morning glories in all of their glory on a September morn, near my apartment parking space.

The Buddha once taught a lesson by simply holding up a flower. That was one of his better lessons. The core teaching of Buddhism (the four noble truths) regards craving. Craving was said by the Buddha to be the cause of all suffering, and the cessation of craving can extinguish all suffering in this world. Sounds good, no?

Even though I am a loyal member of a Zen sangha, I disagree. Well, I partly disagree, anyway. Certainly, craving for material things and stimulating experiences and ego and comfort can cause much suffering; to both the person doing the craving, and all those who he or she will walk over to
satiate that craving. “Crave” implies an exaggerated, amped-up level of desire; gotta have it! Admittedly, craving is most of what is wrong with America today.

To crave something is to fixate the mind upon that thing, to ignore all else, to not balance out the goods and bads that come with any thing or experience. So, I certainly agree that materialistic or egotistical craving is a bad thing.

The four noble truths don’t stop with things and experiences, though. They push the concept all the way to life itself, to “existence” (and also “non-existence”). In that regard, I have to take exception. I think that it is natural to “crave existence”; I think that at heart, existence is good. There certainly are instances where it is noble to give up one’s life, one’s existence for the good of another (or many others, more likely). But those instances are relatively rare (thank goodness). In the 99.9% of the time when our existence does not get in the way of some greater good, I think it is good to “crave” one’s existence. It is even better if that craving leads us to a positive passion; e.g., the passion to be a musician, to be a writer, to raise one’s children well, to be a scientist, to start a successful business, to be an athlete, etc. Having a passion, at least a positive passion, can make life extremely rewarding.

But passion, even the most positive passion there is, can also make life extremely painful. To live to the fullest means risking and experiencing a lot of pain along the way. Perhaps it even means the pain of ultimate failure or rejection. The Buddha’s prescription to eliminate all suffering in life through the cessation of craving thus does not make sense to me, in this context. Buddhism seems to say to the aspiring young pianist or basketball player or science student that a calm apathetic life centered around meditation is best, as the enlightenment that it might bring will eventually overcome pain. Perhaps in a person’s later years, this makes sense (but even then, some may choose to “rage, rage against the dying of the light”).

But for young people, I would say: GO FOR IT. NO PAIN, NO GAIN. Leave the Buddhist navel-gazing (which I do most every day) for later in life, once all the pain you will experience can make more sense.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:51 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Economics/Business ... Society ... Socrates Cafe ...

At the local Socrates Cafe meeting, the group recently discussed whether honesty is still the best policy. Almost everyone made the point that 100% honesty is not possible. Fine, said the fellow who proposed the topic. But the real question, he said, is whether honesty should be the preferred policy, the general rule to which exceptions will sometimes occur . . .

That idea sounded good to me; if you couldn’t trust anything you heard from anyone, social life would break down; civilized society would eventually collapse. There could be no schools, no economy, no employers, no government, no organizations of any sort (other than bands of thieves who know what to expect of each other).

Someone replied that truth is a luxury of an affluent society; poor people have to lie. What else can you expect?  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:33 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Photo ... Society ...

I heard on the radio that it’s “Fashion Week” in New York City; which is some kind of publicity event to get people to buy fancy, expensive clothes, the kind they design and make so well in New York. I can’t get too excited about that; I’m just not a fashionable guy (neither can I afford that stuff!).

However, “fashion” is a strong sociological undercurrent, a reality of group-thinking which we are all influenced by. I think fashion is interesting, even if I don’t always agree with the latest fashion trends.

Take eye ware, for example. I’ve worn glasses most of my life (never wanted to fiddle with contact lenses; which themselves are a fashion). Other than allowing me to see things clearly, all I want in a pair of glasses is comfort and durability (and safety; I like the fact that a pair of glasses would come between my cornea and a rock flying thru the air).

But of course, there is a social effect called fashion that determines the shape and characteristics of the glasses that are available for purchase. Back in the 1970s and 80s, the fashion in eyeglasses went towards “aviators”, big lenses with a bar over the nosebridge. Then in the 1990s, it was round glasses; big round glasses. And then in the 2000’s it was small rectangular glasses.

So here’s a shot comparing the glasses I wore back in the 1990s, versus the pair I wear today. (I recently rounded up my old pairs as to donate them to the local Lions group for redistribution to the needy). Now, why do the four pairs of round glasses look so “unfashionable” today, when they were perfectly fine about 15 years ago? Just what re-wired our brains to think that the bottom pair has some quality that makes them superior to the four above it? Personally, I thought that the round glasses provided better vision field and more protection.

But, I don’t want to seem like a geek from the past. Like my dentist. I just visited my dentist for a check-up, and God bless him, he was wearing an old pair of big plastic aviators, like it was still 1987 or something. No Fashion Week for him!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:22 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Current Affairs ... Religion ...

My last post sort-of made the point that Nazism never really died. Back in the 1940s, Carl Jung noticed a similarity between the Nazis and Islam; today, the message of certain radical elements of Islam would no doubt be heartily approved by Adolph Hitler.

Someone once said that the Nazis were especially pernicious because in order to effectively oppose them, you had to become Nazi-like yourself. Ironically, the radical Islamists are now inspiring Nazi-like behavior on the part of their opponents.

Yes, I am talking about Christian minister Terry Jones’ plan to burn a stack of Qurans this weekend as to commemorate the 9th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. Can’t he see the irony? Did they not show movies of Nazis burning books in public squares in the 1930s, when Rev. Jones was in elementary school? (They sure did show us those movies in history class when I was in school).

Further irony: the Quran says a lot about Jesus as a miracle worker and a mighty prophet of God, born of a virgin. OK, it does imply that Jesus was not “the Christ”, God’s Son. I’m just saying, Jesus is also going down in flames in the midst of this.

I can’t say that Christopher Hitchens is entirely wrong in all the negative things he says about God and faith. People really do become drunk with the notion of God and act like drunks, whether Nazis, Christians or Muslims. Including drunken bar fights, but on a political and international scale.

I’m also starting to see why the Buddhists stayed away from a “strongman God” concept throughout their history.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:17 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Psychology ... Religion ...

Last I heard, Carl Jung is still the psychologist-icon of choice for liberal Democrats. But perhaps they are forgetting that Jung had some views regarding Islam that might make Obama and Pelosi supporters squirm a bit. Here is something Jung said in 1939:

We do not know whether Hitler is going to found a new Islam. He is already on the way; he is like Mohammed. The emotion in Germany is Islamic; warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with wild god. That can be the historic future.

Jung was not a Jew, and does not mention the anti-Semitism that forms the common denominator between the Nazis and some schools of Islam. Nonetheless, rabid anti-Semitism is the sore thumb that sticks out from this quote.

Christopher Hitchens has an article in the September 2010 Atlantic making the point that anti-Semitism has been much more than a Nazi and Islamic fascination.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:59 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Philosophy ... Religion ... Science ...

Stephen Hawking once wrote that if science ever comes up with a unified field theory (i.e., the grand unification of relativistic gravity concepts with quantum particle mechanics), humankind will then “know the mind of God“. Now Hawking has a new book coming out (“The Grand Design“) that in effect says, “scratch that; there’s no God with a mind to be known”.

Back in the late 19th Century, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche got a lot of press by proclaiming God to be dead (in a book that he titled “The Gay Science”; the future irony was not apparent at the time, obviously). Now, more than a century later, Hawking is back with a science book even more “gay” (in the sense of being joyously self-confident), which buries philosophy as well as God! (Yep, philosophy is dead, per Hawking).

“Grand Design” will be released this Tuesday, and it will probably be many more months until I get around to reading it. But I have read some articles and excerpts and book reviews out in advance of the book, and I believe that I catch the general drift of Hawking’s argument.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:31 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, September 3, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Society ...

It’s difficult for me to appreciate just how important the cell phone has become. I must admit that I am often out-of-touch with the cultural mainstream. I have no idea who the young movies stars are these days. I don’t watch reality or talent-search TV shows, and I still remember Jimmy Carter as being a good President. I don’t have an iPad, and even worse, I never even bought an iPod! I got my first cell phone back in June (and I’m still pretty clumsy when using it). And as you might guess, my phone is the most basic model available, way behind all those sophisticated little devices that everyone stares at and and fiddles with during the “in-between moments” of life. I got it to use in case of emergency (and even then, I might not remember who to call or even remember what buttons to push!).

Being a bit more attuned to the ways of modern America, my brother showed me a little phone trick the other day, something I wasn’t aware of. I.e., that you can turn a cell phone off and on by holding down a certain button. I was previously under the impression that it had to be on all the time. Well, perhaps mine did, as the phone did not come back to life after being powered down, despite pushing and pushing the buttons.

So we drove over to a Verizon store  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:13 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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