The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

As the years go by and I face my old age, the autumn seasons become an almost emotional experience for me. I can no longer look past the shortening days, the growing dark of night, the cooler air, the gusty winds, and the falling leaves from the trees. I now take note of every flower that might still be in bloom, no matter how limp or scrawny, since it might be the last flower for the season. As such, I got my camera out the other day to record this brave morning glory flower rising above the yellowing, dying vines below it.

I heard on the radio that Bruce Springsteen just celebrated his 68th birthday. Even though he’s still famous, and right now he is appearing 5 nights a week on Broadway (i.e., his sold-out play “Springsteen on Broadway“), he had some bittersweet, autumn-like reflections about his own about mortality. “It’s the one thing I miss about growing older,” he said. “I miss the beauty of that blank page and the endless possibilities.”

Yea, Bruce, I know what you mean. But hey — it’s not like the beauty is all gone forever. I’m gonna go Buddha on Bruce and offer this autumn flower to him (and to everyone who feels this way — which must be a whole lot of people, since Bruce still seems to be considered the spokesperson for his generation, at least the working class portion of it). The blank page may be closing, but . . . the flowers will still bloom, in their own good time.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:38 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, October 7, 2017
Philosophy ... Science ...

Between any two pure states there exists a reversible transformation. If one requires the transformation from the last axiom to be continuous, one separates quantum theory from the classical probabilistic one.

This is an interesting quote from an article about “Quantum Theory and Beyond”, and is found on the arXiv repository. “Continuous transformation” may seem like trivia to most people, but a big question about the universe and reality lies behind it. And that question is this: is reality discreet, digital and mosaic-like, as quantum physics implies (recall that the “quantum” in quantum physics is a set fixed unit of transaction, no lower value is possible)? Or is reality continuous — which requires infinity, given that you need an infinity of numbers to properly describe any variable in the state of a continuous system, and the number of different possible states of that system are also infinite.

So, is there infinity in the world? Does physics require or at least hint at the presence of infinity? Recall that I had previously discussed whether reality is ultimately cubist or continuous, about 11 years ago. If physics does require infinity (e.g., the inflation paradigm in cosmology has certain versions that require “eternal inflation” with an infinite number of universes), that could have some interesting metaphysical and even spiritual implications.

Or, by contrast, is the world just some arrangement of building blocks which you can’t break into, mosaic chips that you cannot see inside, cannot know what goes on within (sort of like a black hole), there cannot be any interact with smaller chips of the basic mosaic piece? Black holes suggest that this might be true (i.e., the theoretically infinite “singularity” within the black hole is completely cloaked from the universe, and might as well be thought to not exist, just as the “inner divisions” of a quanta are ultimately irrelevant). If so, then perhaps the boffins will eventually be the masters of the universe, since there is ultimately a limited number of things to know — perhaps that number is still quite staggering, but in theory anyway, it might ultimately be investigated and somehow understood. If that is true, this would be the end of metaphysics.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:08 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Health / Nutrition ... Personal Reflections ...

Have you heard of “nootropics“? I hadn’t, until recently. Actually, the term “nootropic” goes back to 1972; it basically means a drug or supplement that you can make your brain work better, especially with regard to cognitive functioning, e.g. alertness, memory, quick thinking, etc. In recent years, however, there has been a “nootropics movement”; this is one of those modern internet things, and not surprisingly it seems to have started in California’s Silicon Valley.

This phenomenon is also called “biohacking”, and generally involves young tech-savvy people who want to juice up their brainpower so as to get an edge over their fellow coders and software developers. And so, you can now find a series of web sites that focus on the use of nootropic supplements, and also some commerce sites that specialize in selling nootropic supplements.

One of the key concepts for the new nootropians (or bio-hackers, if you wish) is the “stack”. These folk don’t just settle on one particular substance as their main “nootropic”. Instead, they look for combinations of pills and supplements that will give them the most mental bang for the buck; they’re looking for synergy. One of the rudimentary “nootropics 101” combos is caffeine with L-theanine (through pills, of course, even though this combo comes naturally in green tea). The caffeine revs up your mind, while  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:01 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Health / Nutrition ...

I recently survived my second colonoscopy, and so I thought that I would share my experiences, so that they might help someone else going thru this (just as I myself was helped by the many people who have shared their own colonoscopy experiences on a wide variety of websites). I had my first one at age 53 and the results were “clean”. My second one should have taken place last year (ten years after . . . hmmm, wasn’t that a band that played at Woodstock? Just to show my age . . . ). But I dragged my feet. I finally got up the nerve to make the arrangements, so I was scheduled for September 11, just about 2 weeks before it would have been 11 years from my last one. The doctor didn’t reprimand me about that, as he was probably happy that it wasn’t even later (or that I did it at all — I know another guy around my age who has gone past his 10 year colonoscopy anniversary, and he has no intent to get one anytime soon).

I don’t think that anyone likes the day before a colonoscopy, when you have to restrict yourself to a clear liquid diet and swallow down some vile stuff that will purge your guts of anything but clear liquid. In preparation for my first colonoscopy, I was advised to drink down two bottles of phospho soda diluted with ginger ale (about 3 hours apart). I wasn’t crazy about the taste, but I managed to get it down and it worked its magic just as expected.

But it worked only too good — in the evening, I started feeling very sick and weak, and I became dizzy and nauseous (even though there really wasn’t anything left in my stomach to throw up!). I tried to call the doctors office answering service to cancel the procedure, and I was one step away from calling EMS. But somehow I stuck to the fast and leveled out after a few hours. I managed to get some sleep, and even more important, I managed to get up the next day and recoup enough strength to go thru with the procedure. I got thru it OK, but the evening before was pretty much a nightmare. Only years later did I realize that I was experiencing dehydration — even though  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:43 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

There was some public debate recently as to whether America could continue its military presence in Afghanistan. President Trump decided to consult with his generals and then decided to keep us there and even add a few thousand troops. The idea is to shift away towards nation-building and re-focus on defeating terrorist threats to the West.

Various people are rather unhappy about US troops still being there after first being sent in late 2001 (following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack); they call it the “never ending war“. It made a fair amount of sense for US forces to root Al Qaeda out of its secure hiding spots in the Afghan mountains, right after we lost almost 3,000 lives from an Al Qaeda plot. However, a second phase of the Afghanistan mission eventually developed, focusing upon the pro-radical Islamic Taliban political / military movement in Afghanistan. This second phase focused both on degrading the Taliban’s military strength, and in denying its political strength by building an alternative nation-state more in keeping with western democratic traditions.

Unlike Al Qaeda, the Taliban, which had gained control of the Afghan national government, was and remains a home-grown movement focusing mostly on Afghanistan, versus international Islamic conquest as with radical group like Al Qaeda. The US under President Bush (the second) and then President Obama tried with some success to keep the Taliban from ruling Afghanistan. Doing so would help keep Al Qaeda or a similar radical Islamist movement (such as ISIS)  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:16 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, September 2, 2017
Religion ... Spirituality ... Zen ...

Many years ago, in a personal search for contemplative sanctity following a romantic break-up, I took up the study of Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist monk and author whose spiritual works became popular in the late 1940s, and remained a big part of the Roman Catholic book scene through the 50’s and 60’s. Merton’s life, and the many changes that both he and his thoughts and writings went through over the course of his life (which was ironically cut short at the age of 53 due to an accidental electrocution while attending a conference in Thailand), is a story in itself.

Merton began his adulthood as a well-educated “man of the world”, but then attempted to retreat from that world by immersing himself in the realm of Catholic monastic sanctity (he selected the Trappist tradition just because it seemed the most removed from erudite modernity). But ultimately he found his way back into the cosmopolitan intellectual scene, while remaining a full-fledged Trappist and Catholic priest (and also attempting to take on the life of a hermit!). When you become a Merton enthusiast (as I did) and really drill down into the details of his life, you can see that Merton needed to break a fair number of rules and guidelines in his tradition, and even his Church, in order to pull all of this off. When he died, he left the Trappists, the Church, and the world in general with a lot; but in order to do it, he also made a lot of compromises to his many commitments.

In the last decade of his life, Merton became increasingly interested in the Buddhist tradition, especially Zen Buddhism. His main contact and correspondent from the Zen world was the renowned Japanese Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki (although Merton had also communicated with Thich Nhat Hanh). Merton himself was a very capable scholar, and within a few years he felt himself qualified to write articles and books on Zen. His most famous work is “Zen and the Birds of Appetite” from 1968, although there is also a 1967 Merton book called “Mystics and Zen Masters” (I have read both books). In a nutshell, Merton was  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:21 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Current Affairs ... History ...

I’ve been pondering the terrible incident that took place earlier this month in Charlottesville, VA, when radical white nationalist groups (including neo-Nazis and the KKK) gathered to protest the planned removal of the monument statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. There are plenty of terrible things to say about the radical right (or “alt-right” in modern terms) and the violence that it fomented, violence which led to the death by automotive terrorism of a young woman who was part of the crowds that came to Charlottesville to counter-protest the radical right. And since there have been plenty of writers and commentators who have already expressed those things in ways that are much more cogent and eloquent than I can, I will pretty much leave untouched the tragic events that transpired in the home of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and in more recent times, writer William Faulkner and pop-singer Dave Matthews.

What I would like to ponder a bit further is the issue of removing statues, monuments and other symbols relating to the Civil War and the Confederate movement of the 1860s. In quite a few towns in the South and also further north, local community activism has led to the removal of Confederate flags along with a wide variety of statues and monuments relating to the Confederacy. The City Council of Charlottesville had recently approved the removal of Robert E. Lee and Traveler (his horse) from the downtown pedestal where they stood since 1924, although the actual removal has been delayed by a lawsuit. There doesn’t seem to be any set plan as to where the Charlottesville statue will wind up, but other cities have moved similar statues to museums.

Although I completely agree that General Lee and other tributes to the Confederacy need to be removed from pedestalled places of honor on public grounds, I do hope that these artifacts will be preserved and made available to the public, although in a context where the great sufferings that were at the heart of the conflict (i.e., the institution of slavery) can be balanced with the “southern pride” aspects of the rebellion. The terrible nature of slavery must remain at the forefront  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:17 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, August 18, 2017
Current Affairs ... Society ... Technology ...

I usually avoid offering “real time” commentary on significant national events, as my inner nature is more tortoise-like than hare-like. I try to wait a while and let things cool off, if possible, before making judgments. Given that I graduated from engineering school way back in 1975 (BS Industrial Engineering summa cum laude), and then at age 47 took a half year break from my working career for a rigorous software training program (Chubb Institute’s long-gone “Top Gun” program), I was immediately drawn to the story of James Damore, the former Google software engineer who wrote and distributed a letter questioning Google’s diversity policies.

As you probably know, Mr. Damore was subsequently cashiered from the “Googleplex”. I.e., he was fired for criticizing Google’s vigorous efforts to recruit and maintain female technical and engineering personnel (mostly software designers and coders). These efforts include hiring preferences favoring women over men, on-the-job support programs for women only, and mandatory training for male technical staff warning against both explicit and implicit (i.e. sub-conscious) negative actions and attitudes regarding female techies. What made it tricky for Google was that Damore cited a variety of scientific studies to support his argument that the predominance of male technical staff is “natural” and nothing much can or should be done about it.

Over the past week or so, there have been a whole lot of opinion pieces about Google’s firing Mr. Damore. People with liberal / Democratic party biases generally support Google, while those with conservative / GOP sympathies think that Google was wrong. Also, more men oppose Google’s decision and more women seem to support it. But of course, you can find plenty of cross-over individuals. However, on average . . . ah yes, “on average”. This is at the core of what got Damore in trouble.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:48 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Brain / Mind ... Health / Nutrition ... Personal Reflections ...

Every now and then I like to post some thoughts on how I’m adapting to old age (or sometimes not adapting too well). Perhaps something I say might be of help to someone else, just as I sometimes pick up a good tip or two from another blog or column on the web. (Unfortunately, there is so much junk to sift thru on the web these days before you find something valuable). So today I’m going to talk about sleep, or lack thereof.

Ah yes, sleep, a seemingly simple topic that is really very complex. Or at least when you start getting old like me. When I was young, sleep wasn’t much of an issue. It was once pretty easy to fall asleep whenever I chose to, and stay asleep as long as I needed to (usually 7 hours or so). When I was in college, I had a summer job on a railroad, which required me to occasionally work a night shift (or “3rd trick” as they called it). I had no trouble adjusting my sleep pattern as to fall asleep in the morning after getting home and getting up around what would be my usual supper time, feeling fully refreshed and ready for another night shift (or an adjustment back to normal daytime living).

Today I have a regular 7:30 to 4:30 job, but over the past 6 or 7 years, getting enough sleep every night has become harder and harder. I myself am a morning person, so I generally like to get up early (and thus I should get to bed early). As I got into my later 50s and now into the mid-60s, it has become harder and harder for me to sleep straight thru to the alarm clock — I started getting up too early. My problem is not on the evening side; I usually fall asleep pretty easily when I hit the pillow around 11 pm (but it should be 1030). The problems start sometime after 3 (and sometimes as early as 2:30 am), when I get up and then have trouble getting back to sleep. Basically, my problem is called  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:13 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, August 6, 2017
Photo ...

Just another Friday night at just another Italian restaurant in North Jersey. “A bottle of red, a bottle of white . . . ”

(Actually this is a very nice place, so let me give it a plug — Bazzarelli’s Restaurant in Moonachie, NJ)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:02 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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