The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

Just a few days ago I posted some photos showing the gritty side of winter. Which is mostly what anyone living or working in an urban environment experiences. But sometimes quite by surprise, winter will show you a bit of breathtaking beauty. This morning I walked over to the local post office to mail my tax forms. My usual February ritual. The last few days have been a bit warmer by day, but still below freezing at night. So all the snow melts just enough to freeze up and slicken most every walking surface by sunrise. I slipped and barely caught myself several times today, cursing all the more this dreaded winter season.

But just before I got home, I saw something on the sidewalk that struck me as a work of art. At first I thought that it was man-made, given that my town is brimming with artsy people who would somehow figure out how to etch a fancy pattern in the sidewalk just for the sake of it. But no, on closer look, whatever I saw was clearly made of ice on flat piece of slate.

So I went inside and got my camera and went back to find this impromptu bit of natural ice sculpture, half expecting that I wouldn’t find it as it was just an illusion that would quickly melt away. Sort of like that line in the Pink Floyd song, “I turned to look but it was gone, I cannot put my finger on it now . . .” But no, surprisingly enough it was there in plain sight, just begging for a photo shoot. No one else was in the area, so I got down on my knees and took some shots.

Next is a detailed close-up shot, to help share my wonderment  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:18 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Religion ... Society ...

I came across some interesting observations recently about organized religion and it alleged antagonism towards the ancient myth of the “hero’s journey”. These observations are contained in a book called “Seeking Truth, Living With Doubt” by Steven Fortney and Marshall Onellion; a collaboration between a Buddhist high school teacher and an agnostic condensed matter physicist. Somewhere in the middle of the book, chapter 7 to be exact, the authors discuss the relationship of the “individual’s heroic journey” to the institutions of science, art, mysticism and institutional religion. They review the ancient theme of the hero who leaves his home turf for a long-term road trip in search of truth, beauty and meaning; i.e. your basic Joseph Campbell stuff. The classic example of course is Homer’s Odyssey, but as Campbell points out, the hero’s journey is a theme that runs throughout the course of human history, showing up in many different ways in different civilizations, in different eras both modern and ancient.

These fellows feel that art, science and mystical spiritualities (Buddhism, most notably) are generally good things for human-kind. Not surprisingly, they portray these institutions as being mostly favorable and supportive of the individual’s journey. But as to organized religion . . . well, they basically find that religious institutions, especially the “Levantine faiths” (i.e. Christianity, Judaism and Islam), are responsible for most of the pig-headedness and closed-mindedness in the world, both yesterday, today and presumably tomorrow. So obviously the traditional religions are not open very receptive to someone, however inspired she or he might be, who goes off on his or her own in search of wisdom. According to Fortney and Onellion, the fathers of the church, temple and mosque stubbornly assert that they have a lock on wisdom, and thus any attempt to gain wisdom outside of their standard doctrines and teachings is dangerous and deluded, an infidelity and heresy.

Here’s a taste of what Fortney and Onellion have to say on this: “The Levantine faiths disavow the individual journey as  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:30 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Food / Drink ... Technology ...

I haven’t been doing any deep thinking of late, just trying to survive a nasty winter season. But here are a few random, petty thoughts and observations that I wanted to share:

Why we call Chickens “chicken”

I was reading a recent article in Scientific American about chicken intelligence. Scientists are interested in animal intelligence, and some recent studies by Carolynn L. Smith indicate that the common chicken, which most people are familiar with as the white stuff inside their crispy KFC delights or sandwich spread or Sunday roast, isn’t as ‘bird-brained’ as we once thought. Despite their reputation as really stupid creatures, these ungamely game birds are showing some real thinking and problem solving abilities in scientific tests and observations (I had never been a fan of chickens myself, beyond what they could put on my dinner plate; nevertheless, as a vegetarian for the past 25 years, I’ve given them a break despite my low impression of them).

One thing that the SciAm authors note is that male chickens can be very wily in their use of vocalizations. Chickens don’t exactly use a symbolic language like we do, but they do have a variety of different noises (beyond the usual cluck-cluck and rooster crow) that mean something to other chickens. They have a peculiar noise  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:29 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, February 8, 2014
Photo ...

We’ve been having one of those winters here in New Jersey. Lots of cold, snow, wind and ice, much more than we usually get. (With all due sympathy for those of you up north and in the mid-west, who are getting it worse; and also to those in the south who had just a brief taste, but weren’t ready at all for it). Last week we had 8 inches of snow, then three days later another 4 inches with a freezing rainstorm on top of it, followed by a 15 degree cold wave. So here are 9 pics taken on my way to work this past Thursday, the day after the freezing rain. This is truly Newark in winter time.

First, a half-hearted, uninspired dawn at the train station.

Next, some razor barb wire, a cheery way to greet the new day.

And after that, long stretches of slippery, icy sidewalk  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:47 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Personal Reflections ... Politics ...

I’ve been following the rise and fall of New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie with particular interest. Chris Christie wouldn’t know me from Adam, but “big Chris” has been a part of my life for the past 4 or 5 years now.

It all goes back to 2008, when Christie was still the US Attorney for New Jersey. Big Chris had made a name for himself through a series of political corruption prosecutions, nailing a variety of local officials in Northern NJ for putting their hands out (often for a petty thousand or two). He started making noises about getting back into politics (he had previously been a Freeholder in Morris County under the Republican brand), by running against incumbent Governor John Corzine in the 2009 election. The State GOP eventually went along with him, and he made a spirited campaign against Corzine, who by then seemed bored and unenthusiastic about bare-knuckled New Jersey politics.

The well-off Corzine hoped that he could walk to a re-election by outspending Christie, but the local urban machines decided to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:14 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Philosophy ... Science ... Spirituality ... Zen ...

Despite being distracted by the frustrating computer set-up problems discussed in my last post, I have tried to keep up with science news, especially from the scientists and philosophers who ponder the nature of the universe and the nature of human consciousness. Over the past few years the biggest concept in consciousness studies has been Gulio Tononi’s “highly cross-integrated information” theory of consciousness; but now a new theory seems to be emerging, one that possibly builds on Tononi’s insights. The latest buzz revolves around cosmologist Max Tegmark and his “state of matter” theory of consciousness. I.e., that the brain hosting consciousness is in a unique and identifiable “state” , comparable in some ways to the various states of water, i.e. steam, liquid and ice. (Recall that over the past 60 or 70 years, quantum physics researchers have found that matter is not bound to the classic three states of gas, liquid and solid; a whole range of exotic matter states have been discovered, even though most of them exist only under extreme conditions for short periods; so why not a unique “conscious state” for brain neurons and the chemicals and electrical charges that zap around in them.)

As with Tononi, this is more of a way to view things, a means of approaching the problem, and not a mathematically formalized theorem; although it could lead to equations and formal notions that help describe and distinguish the brain when in a conscious state. And thus keep researchers and PhD candidates busy with experiments and doctoral theses, as has happened with Tononi’s theories.

Despite these clever scientific paradigms, which help specify what the characteristics are of a brain that is hosting a conscious self-awareness, they still don’t pin down just what the actual experience of  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:12 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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