The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Current Affairs ... Science ... Society ...

My Zen meditation group often uses a portion of its weekly sitting period to discuss a selected passage from a book that relates to Zen practice. I’ve been attending these weekly sittings now for almost 10 years, and at first I would diligently read the assigned piece and arrive ready to discuss it. But after a while, the book chapters seemed to blur together and the discussions become more and more anodyne. Most of the time, the discussions become something of a psychotherapy group session, and I usually find myself tuning out.

However, this past Sunday morning, one of the long-time sangha members said something that caught my attention. This person confessed that he sometimes wonders whether the human race is on its way to extinction due to its failure to adequately address climate change. His comment really didn’t have anything to do with the reading; it was just a feeling that this fellow wanted to share with the group, a feeling of bewilderment and regret and disappointment. Well, that’s the kind of stuff that gets shared during therapy group sessions!

But it struck me that he was enumerating an idea that has gained popularity of late amidst the liberal educated elite. Not long ago, a think tank report from an Australian policy group called “Breakthrough Center for Climate Restoration” suggested that climate change “threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life”. “David Spratt and Ian Dunlop have laid bare the unvarnished truth about the desperate situation humans, and our planet, are in, painting a disturbing picture of the real possibility that human life on earth may be on the way to extinction, in the most horrible way”.

Not surprisingly, this report “went viral” on Facebook and regular media, because it uses 2050 as a benchmark for much of its analysis. As a result, a currently trending “meme” is that climate change will wipe out human-kind by 2050.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:11 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, August 8, 2019
Politics ...

A few days ago (Aug 3), I posted some raw thoughts on the state of the Democratic Presidential candidate situation, and I opined that the odds of a brokered convention were fairly significant, although still less than 50-50 (I would say maybe 1 out of 3). And I thought that if the primary delegate system does break down in Milwaukee next July, Hilary Clinton would have a good shot of being the Chosen One. I felt that Michelle Obama was a bit too classy and maybe a bit too frail to take Trump on face-to-face; despite the buzz that she is getting, e.g. Michael Moore’s recent promotion of a Michelle Obama candidacy.

However, a few days later, I was discussing my theory about Hilary with my conservative Trump-supporting political friend at work, and he said that thinks it would be good if Michelle does not run.

Which got me thinking . . . hey, if a rabid Trump supporter says that Michelle’s staying on the sidelines would be good, then perhaps I was missing something in my previous analysis. I wrote my friend a response to his response, and I will share some of it next:  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:04 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, August 7, 2019
Brain / Mind ... Philosophy ...

The Nautilus web site is usually a good place to find deep and interesting thinkers at work. I came across a recent Nautilus post by Brian Gallagher regarding free will, where Mr. Gallagher wonders if neuroscience can help us to understand it. Free will is a very confounding topic that elicits a wide variety of opinion as to what it is, and even whether it exists or not. To what degree is “free will” a useful and accurate concept, given the realities of our bodies, brains and minds?

So, can neuroscience help us to get a better handle on free will? To date, there have been a variety of studies identifying brain structural features and flaws that affect mental states and human behavior. There is even evidence that brain lesions in various brain regions can predispose people to criminal behavior. Researchers found that crime-related lesions all fall within a unique, functionally connected brain network that is thought to be involved in moral decision making. A 2016 research paper noted that people who have behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia “develop immoral behaviors as a result of their disease despite the ability to explicitly state that their behavior is wrong.”

OK, but these situations are exceptional, and sometimes it’s the exceptions that prove the rule. So what is the rule? When our neural wiring isn’t out of whack, is our will “free”? Can neuroscience answer that? Well, not yet, but stay tuned. Mr. Gallagher tells us about a group of neuroscientists and philosophers who recently announced that they’ve received $7 million to study and define the nature of free will and whether humans have it, or to what degree they do.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:11 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, August 3, 2019
Politics ...

OK, I’ve fallen behind again with my blog. Problem is, I want to write some brilliant essay on a deep subject, and life keeps distracting me from it. Once upon a time, I could fight off those distractions and post something twice a week. But now I’m gettin’ old.

So until I get around to completing my next brilliant essay (and yes, that is sort of a joke), I’m gonna give in and treat this blog like a Twitter account (which I don’t have, and never will!). I.e., I’m going to lower my standards and post some raw stuff without much detail. Just to keep it from dying.

Here are my thoughts from the 2nd Democratic debates, last Tuesday and Wednesday. I actually wrote these for a friend of mine at work, someone who is also a wannabe political pundit (but a very conservative one, very much a supporter of Trump and his world). But I am now going to share them with whoever might be interested here, raw though they are — to wit:  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:00 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, June 8, 2019
History ... Politics ... Society ...

Not long ago, I was discussing the political situation in Europe with a small group of politically progressive people from my Zen group. We were lamenting the rise of nationalism in Britain and elsewhere, and we noted that the Euro Union project seemed doomed at this point. The dream of a “United States of Europe” had passed, and Europe is now separating into what it has been for most of the years since the end of the Roman Empire, an amalgamation of geographically small nations (with the exception of Russia, of course; but then again, the question of whether Russia should be considered part of Europe has always been confounding – in some ways it is, in a lot of ways it isn’t). One member of the group, one of the most progressive of the bunch, commented that perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing – perhaps smaller nations are better than a big empire-like state.

Smaller national boundaries arguably allow for preservation of localism and cultural uniqueness, and give citizens a greater sense of belonging and political empowerment. Supposedly more and more Europeans have been complaining about cumbersome mandates and inflexible policies issued by a distant bureaucratic elite in Brussels. And it might also be argued that smaller nations can’t do as much harm to the world economically and politically, since they would be roughly equal in terms of economic and military capacity.

Of course, throughout history this has not turned out to always be true; for many years, Germany has been a “powerhouse” in Europe despite not having any special geographic advantage, and has been able to reek havoc more than once in world history. And smaller but powerful states can form  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:04 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
History ... Religion ...

Last month was April, when the Christian celebration of Easter and the Jewish commemoration of Passover occur. On Good Friday, which was also the first evening of Passover, I was thinking about Jesus. If you know me or have read what I’ve said on this site about Jesus, you know that I subscribe to the view embraced by a number of important scholars that Jesus was an innovative, apocalyptic First Century Jew who gained a following based upon his belief that he had discovered God’s plan to redeem the tribes of Israel from the foreign domination and oppression that it had been living under for many centuries (during Jesus’ life, under the Roman Emperor Augustus).

According to Jesus, God was looking for a Jew who would inspire the commoners around him (and maybe even some of the Gentiles in the area) to live a highly ethical life involving the sharing of resources and equality; in return God would sweep away the Romans and even the corrupt upper-class Jews who were collaborating with them (including the Temple establishment, in which the Sauducees were prominent but even the Pharisees were represented). Once the oppressors were gone, God would appoint an earthly representative, a “Son of Man”, who would possess heavenly powers along with the authority to justly rule the good people who had earned their place. Jesus probably had an idea as to who could be appointed to the “Son of Man” role once the Kingdom had arrived — namely, himself.

I wondered that Friday evening, how did this fit in with the messianic expectations of the Jews, how did this relate to the Passover story of freedom from Egyptian oppression and slavery? OK, under Jesus’s plan, the Jews of Palestine would be set free from Roman oppression and taxation (and also from an overbearing and corrupt Temple establishment, the subject of Jesus’s demonstration outside the Temple against the coin traders). But Jesus’s theory was unlike the Exodus under Moses, as it did not involve the Jews rallying around a human leader as to start a secular nation, harking back to the kingships of Saul, David and Solomon. Under the messianic wishes of most Jews at the time, especially the rural traditionalist Jews, a day would come when they would once more rule themselves  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:03 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, May 16, 2019
Nature ... Photo ...

I don’t see many big moths like this around my place, not too often. But when you do see them, you never know where they will be. They sometimes find a place to land and just stay there for a while, motionless. I suppose that a moth would want to find a place where a bird couldn’t easily find it. For whatever reason, this moth figured that it was safe on the door frame under the porch. It stayed there for an hour or so, then it was gone. I hope that it had a good month or however long it lasted. Glad that we crossed paths.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:02 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Art & Entertainment ... Outer Space ... Spirituality ...

I don’t keep up with movies, but when something really interesting comes along (interesting to me, anyway), I eventually read enough about it to inspire me to see it. So, when the movie Interstellar came out in 2014, I didn’t rush to the theaters, although I did read a few articles about it. On the surface, Interstellar is a sci-fi tale about a near-future earth where climate change has pushed our modern industrial-scientific civilization to the verge of collapse, where the whole human race could go extinct. Why? Because the planet can no longer produce enough food and maintain the kind of atmosphere that we need. The clock is ticking to figure out how to find a new home for humankind, somewhere out there amidst the stars — out there in the “interstellar void”.

But how would we even get off the earth anymore? In the movie, our technology infrastructure is slowly collapsing; however, there is still just enough left to secretly re-create what NASA and the Soviet space program were doing during the last few decades of the 20th century. Also, there is some research going on about harnessing and manipulating gravity as a whole new way of moving millions or even billions of people out of our solar system – i.e., of opening up the interstellar realm for the future of humankind!

OK, so far so good, it’s an adequate backdrop for an interesting story; but there is a problem, in that the space technology of the late 20th century can get you into orbit, maybe even out to the moon and beyond to the planets; but it clearly cannot cross the huge void between our planet and even the closest neighboring star system. And as to manipulating gravity as a force, we’re not even close yet to understanding how Einsteinian relativity, our best description of gravity and time-space, resolves itself with quantum physics. For that, a “deus ex machina” is needed, something extraordinary  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:15 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Personal Reflections ... Science ... Zen ...

I’ve been trying to grok the “Bell’s Spaceship Paradox” lately. Unless you REALLY know your special and general relativity, that one can really get your head spinning !! It’s a mental experiment meant to show that your intuition can be confounded by space-time relativity in more ways than you thought.

PART ONE — THE PARADOX

Bell’s Spaceship Paradox starts off with two spaceships that have equivalent weight and configuration. They will blast off and accelerate away from you, the observer, in your “frame at rest”. You have a ruler, which you use to measure the lengths of the ships and the distance between them just before they leave. Each ship has the same kind of rocket firing, and feels exactly the same force for the same length of time.

Oh, and the rockets are moving longitudinally away from you along the same line, one in front of the other. They are not side-by-side, they are moving in line. This is an important detail that isn’t always made clear in the layman’s explanations of this problem that you find on the web. Anyway, you have to imagine that the thrust from the lead rocket somehow does not affect the rocket behind it. Well, we can imagine some futuristic arrangement where that might be possible.

These rockets can go really, really fast, approaching the speed of light. And you know that weird things happen at that point. Basically, the two ships start out  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:46 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, April 13, 2019
Art & Entertainment ... Music ...

My brother plays drums in a rock cover band, and sometimes he tells me about what his band goes thru when they try to learn a new song and get it ready for a show. To me, it seems a lot more complicated than I would have thought. To the casual observer, you have the song in your mind and you just pick up guitars and sticks and imitate it. Since I’ve gone to some of my brother’s shows, I guess that I qualify as a casual observer.

Like my brother, I’m still a rock fan, so I still listen on the radio to the local FM rock stations (what few of them are left). The most serious station that I can pick up is WDHA-FM. (I realize that the internet can bring you any station in the world, but to an old guy like me that seems to be cheating; and then there’s Sirius, but buying your FM radio just doesn’t seem right to me — hey, the commercials seem like part of the experience).

So I’ve been listening to WDHA for over 20 years now. Since WNEW-FM died in 1999, DHA has been the standard for defining what rock is and isn’t. However, in recent years, I’ve come to disagree with some of their trends. In a nutshell, the style of music that they play has been inching towards rap and hip-hop, a white version thereof. At first they slipped in some hybridized tunes with rap-scat elements, by bands such as Linkin Park and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. But after a while, the standards of “hard rock” started changing,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:59 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
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