The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Monday, March 28, 2016
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

It’s early spring once again, time for the first-wave troop of bulb flowers (such as daffodils and crocuses) to put an end to the winter gloom. Another member of that little flower-army is the hyacinth, three of which just came into bloom out in front of my apartment house this weekend. These hyacinths turn out to have a rather bittersweet story behind them.

I’ve been renting in the same building now for over 20 years, and I’ve had a lot of neighbors come and go over the years. Two of the longer lasting ones have been Mr. R and Ms. P, who moved in to the apartment next to me back in 2006, i.e. about 10 years ago. They were both then in their early 60s and had just been married; second marriages for both, divorce for Mr. R and widowhood for Ms. P. Mr. R was something of a yeoman lawyer, a fellow who was gainfully employed but never got rich off of it. Ms. P, however, was something of a “lady of leisure”. Her biggest purpose in life seemed to be growing plants and flowers. During her years here with R, Ms. P put a lot of effort into planting a wide variety of decorative plants. Including these hyacinths.

From outward appearances, R and P were the perfect couple. I got to know them and even socialized with them a handful of times. They were both intelligent and cultured, very good conversationalists. Mr. R was from Massachusetts, and Ms. P was a British subject who had grown up in Africa. Years later, I had found out that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:19 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, March 26, 2016
Philosophy ... Science ...

In my recent blog essay on “Meaning and the Universe“, I concluded that the ultimate meaning of the Universe and the ultimate reason why it exists is “relationship”. I didn’t elaborate on precisely what I meant by “relationship”, or why I thought that it might be the ultimate and most fundamental character of the Universe. My friend Mary wrote a response asking that I elaborate on this. She said that she generally favors the idea and noted that most scientists don’t seem particularly interested in pondering the nature of relationship within the workings of the physical world. Mary noted perhaps one exception, the 20th Century Jesuit biologist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Bottom line, Mary asked for “further elaboration of [my] tho’t on this topic”.

OK, Mary, thanks for asking!! I can’t say that I’ve fully thought this out and that I am ready to write and defend a thesis on it. But your question did inspire me to do some more work on what has basically been just a rough, intuitive notion rattling around in the back of my head, something that seems to have developed over time from the various readings and study efforts that I have invested into scientific and philosophic topics. Footnote, I’m going to try to discuss “relationship” without mentioning the word “love”, even though there is a strong and obvious link between the two. Many people equate love and relationship, and “love makes the world go round”, so doesn’t that prove it? Well, maybe it does in one sense, but I’d like to take a more generalized, abstracted and careful look at the notion of relationship and how it relates to “being, in general”. But by the same token, I don’t want to get bogged down in the swamp of relational ontology and Martin Heidegger’s turgid discussions of “being” and “dasein”.

Actually, I can’t pin the “relationship notion” on any one topic or any particular set of facts or ideas from science. Roughly speaking, it seems to be the one thing that survives after applying the acid wash of critical philosophical reasoning and empirical scientific study to the “longings within” that we conscious creatures often have, longings for meaning and purpose in an existential sense. I.e., it seems to me to be the one thing that survives after you apply the standard atheist/positivist toolkit to debunk religious miracles, historical myths regarding  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:47 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Philosophy ... Science ... Spirituality ...

Long, long ago, humans trying to find their meaning in the greater order of things could take comfort in the Church-approved notion that the earth was the center of the cosmos. Copernicus and Galileo finally saw through that bit of wishful thinking, but for a few more centuries, the universe still seemed like a relatively cozy place. Only around 80 or 90 years ago did cosmologists figure out that the universe was vastly larger than anything we had previously imagined. The thousands of stars visible in the night sky turned out to only be a fraction of those in our Milky Way galaxy, and our Milky Way turned out to be but one of over one hundred-billion galaxies. And yet, at the same time, the universe turned out to be incredibly empty. All of the amazing things like stars and planets and galaxies were separated by huge, incomprehensible distances.

Our mythological sense of time turned out to be way off the mark too. The Bible deals in hundreds and thousands of years, but the universe turns out to be around 14 billion years old. Human-kind, and even the most elementary forms of life on earth, have occupied but a tiny fraction of that.

So, does the vastness of the cosmos prove that humans are basically meaningless on a universal scale, and that universe is obviously absent of an involved, intelligent and caring creator?

Many modern cosmologists embrace or are generally sympathetic with this viewpoint. For instance, physicist Steven Weinberg  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:11 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Politics ...

[UPDATED March 23, 2016]

For political junkies, it goes without saying that the 2016 Presidential candidate nomination process has been one of the most interesting and exciting political battles ever (well, at least since 1860). Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have provided real drama to a situation that one year ago looked pretty boring. Jeb Bush was the presumed inheritor of the GOP crown, and for Hilary Clinton the primary season was supposed to be a Democratic love fest, mostly just a warm up tour for the main event in autumn. Who would have thought that a socialist senator from Vermont (originally Brooklyn) could have made life so difficult for Clinton, and on the GOP side, that a Manhattan-based billionaire developer and “branding specialist” would actually be taken very seriously by a wave of disgruntled GOP (in)activists who are suddenly demanding change? Hmmmm, when national politics get infected by New York City characters, look out.

We’re now pretty deep into the primary season, and although Hilary’s eventual nomination seems like the better bet (so long as she doesn’t get lazy), the GOP side has been full of drama courtesy of Mr. Trump. Trump is now leading the delegate count, and the big question has become, can Trump garner the requisite 1237 delegates by the end of the primaries so as to avoid continued drama at the July convention in Cleveland? Is there any realistic scenario to stop him now?

I’ve been hashing this out lately with one of the other political groupies at work, and we both think that the signs point toward an ultimate Trump victory, but not without some cliff-hangers and an interesting if long-shot scenario that could stop Trump before July 18 (start date of the convention). Five states will be key to Trump’s ultimate fate:  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:25 pm       Read Comments (6) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
History ... Society ...

Every now and then I come across an historical speculation article that ponders the question of what would have happened had Germany had won the First World War. One of the more interesting of these articles appeared several years ago on the Guardian web site. The article raises an interesting and thought provoking question — was WW1 really about anything? Here’s a quote from the article:

[We are] likely to witness plenty of debate about . . . whether the war achieved anything. At present, argument about the war mainly consists of two mutually uncomprehending camps. On the one hand, there are those who, as Margaret MacMillan put it recently, think the war was “an unmitigated catastrophe in a sea of mud”. On the other, there are those who insist that it was nevertheless “about something”.

Hmmm. So what WAS World War 1 about? What is any war about? For most of history, wars were ultimately about a nation or tribe trying to increase its strength and economic well-being at the expense of some other nation or tribe; or conversely, trying to keep its strength and economic well-being from being taken away by some other nation or tribe.

Nonetheless, there is sometimes a “higher theory” behind a war. Often in the past, this has involved religion. The fight was for God! One group assumed that the other group had an improper and dangerous concept of what God is and what God demands of us, e.g. the Crusades or the many European Protestant-Catholic battles in the 16th and 17th Centuries (and yes, modern radical Islamic violence, with the current day poster-child being ISIS). Occasionally, one side assumes that its opponents entirely and wrongfully deny the existence of God, e.g. the 40 year “Cold War” which pitted the enlightened West against “Godless Communism” (let’s not forget that the war against Communism became pretty hot  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:27 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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