The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Art & Entertainment ... Religion ...

I’m at a point in life where I have almost nothing to do with television anymore. That’s quite a journey for a kid whose life revolved around the 7:30 – 10 PM TV prime time period 7 nights a week. I don’t remember spending a whole lot of time on homework in those days, because I had to get in my TV! Obviously I wasn’t the best of students (until the last 2 years of high school, when TV started losing some of its charm). About the only time I see any TV these days is when I’m visiting my brother on Friday nights. We go out to dinner, and then we hang out at his house for a while, usually with the TV on. But most of the time, nothing much of interest is on, it’s just sort of a background noise generator.

However, a few months ago, we decided to explore an interesting looking program icon for an HBO series entitled “The Young Pope”. The little blurb that popped up from the icon indicated that this was a fictional story about an American being elected Pope by the Roman Catholic Church. Given that my brother is still a fairly devout practicing Catholic and given that I am still a God-centric spiritualist who takes Jesus and his heritage (both Christian and Jewish) very seriously, we both gave the TV a lot more attention than usual on Friday nights.

Neither of us had done any research on The Young Pope, so we really didn’t know what to expect. Being an HBO show that was produced and released within the past year or so, we did not expect TYP to be another “Going My Way” (a sentimental 1944 movie about a Catholic priest played by Bing Crosby, with a follow up 1962 TV series with Gene Kelly). Actually though we were both probably hoping for something like  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:31 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 9, 2017
History ... Personal Reflections ... Religion ...

It’s just about time for the Winter Solstice. From now thru Dec. 12, the sun sets at 4:28 pm in my neck of the woods. The darkest day of the year is still two weeks away (Dec. 21), due to the fact that sunset and sunrise cycles are naturally out of synch. I.e., we reach the earliest sunset time this week, but the latest sunrise time doesn’t happen until the first week of January. Still, it’s the sunset time that affects me most, in terms of mood. These are the “darkest days” for me, the days that weigh most heavily upon the soul.

In keeping with that mood, let me quote a passage from Dag Hammarskjold, the former UN Secretary General from the 1950’s and early 1960s’s. Mr. Hammarskjold was a public figure, but he also had a deep spiritual life. So I am taking an entity from his book “Markings“, a collection of entries from of his own spiritual journal. Here is his entry for Oct. 12, 1958:

Day slowly bleeds to death
Through the wound made
When the sharp horizon’s edge
Ripped through the sky
Into its now empty veins
Seeps the darkness.
The corpse stiffens,
Embraced by the chill of night.

Over the dead one are lit
Some silent stars.

Ah yes, the silent stars twinkling throughout the long, cold night. Tiny sparks of hope in the long, vast, undefeatable blackness. It hurts all the more as I grow older. In the context of winter darkness and the fading light of the body (recall Dylan Thomas raging against the dying of the light), one can appreciate Christmas from a very different perspective in their later years. The usual childhood and young adult response to the holiday is the joy of getting and giving gifts, a time of gathering and celebration. But for an aging man at the start of winter,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:34 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Brain / Mind ... Science ...

I haven’t said much lately on one of my favorite topics, i.e. the nature of human consciousness. That’s because lately, there hasn’t been much new to say. I try to keep up with new developments in thinking about consciousness (thinking on the academic level, not the “woo-woo” stuff), but to be honest, most of what I see in the science press these days is just a rehash of arguments and positions that were available 10 years ago. It seems to me as though the understanding of consciousness by scientists and philosophers is in a holding pattern, like airplanes circling around above a fogged-in airport.

The neuroscientists keep trying to chip away at the problem with their experiments and empirical findings. I recently saw an article about a recent empirical study that seemed to support the theory that consciousness is “epi-phenomenal”, i.e. it doesn’t affect human behavior. It’s sort of a side-show, because the sub-conscious is where the real decisions are made, outside the light of awareness, in a computer-like fashion. The article is called What If Consciousness Doesn’t Drive the Mind?, by UCL Psychology Professor David A Oakley and Cardiff Neuropsychology Professor Peter Halligan. The study in question involves detailed brain activity scans comparing volitional movements of the arm with non-volitional and hypnotically induced movements.

What I found most interesting about the article was the following section title and paragraph:

What’s the point?

If the experience of consciousness does not confer any particular advantage, it’s not clear what its purpose is. But as a passive accompaniment to non-conscious processes, we don’t think that the phenomena of personal awareness has a purpose, in much the same way that rainbows do not. Rainbows simply result from the reflection, refraction and dispersion of sunlight through water droplets – none of which serves any particular purpose.

I found this to be an ironic example of where scientific reductionism can lead us. I.e., both consciousness and rainbows don’t have any purpose. But wait – most anyone with feelings who has viewed a rainbow can tell you  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:15 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, November 24, 2017
Personal Reflections ... Practical Advice ...

This one is mostly for the guys, because it’s mostly about razors.  Once in a while I do a little product review here (unpaid, unsolicited), and today looks like a good day to talk about the cheaper variants of the high-end 5+ blade cartridge razors.

So let’s go to shaving world.  There are still a lot of options out there for guys who don’t use electric razors, guys like me who get out their hand-held razors and apply shave foam or gel or “shave butter” and then start scraping away.   (There seems to be something almost spiritual and craftsman-like about shaving by hand, something that you lose in the constant buzz of an electric razor.)  There don’t seem to be any “official statistics” on this, but a popular estimate is that about 25% of shaving men in the US use electrics, meaning that about 3 quarters of us non-bearded guys still use hand-held hedge clippers. 

There are various options for us manual shavers. You can still buy the old fashioned 2-edge “safety razor”; the blades are cheap and you get a close shave, but it’s also very easy to nick your face.  If you’re even more old-fashioned and are not squeamish about blood, you can still buy a “straight razor”, like the ones that some barbers still use (recall the strap on the side of the barber’s chair where the razor is stroked, so as to put a sharp edge on it). But unless you have the skills of a barber, it’s probably best not to mess with a straight. And then there are also disposable hand-held razors, but the handles are cheaply made and not all that comfortable and easy to control. From my perspective,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:03 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Society ...

I’m glad to hear that the Democrats had a good night last Tuesday (Election Day 2017), when they easily reclaimed the governorship of New Jersey and comfortably won what was expected to be a close governor’s race in Virginia. There were other local State and local elections where the Dems picked up seats in areas where the GOP had held sway for some time now, e.g. picking up legislative seats in Georgia and Virginia (including Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature). There were also mayoral race victories in St. Petersburg, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina (and even Fayetteville, NC, where ever that is!!). Democratic leaders seem jubilant; the Democratic leader in the Senate (Chuck Schumer) “smell[s] a wave coming”.

But this is still the minor leagues of national politics, and a lot of this “new blue wave” might be a short-term frustration response against Trump — I think that a lot of non-ideologue, middle-of-the-road Americans had hoped that Trump, who is quite different than your usual politico, could get a lot more done than the regular party hacks have been able to do in the past 5 or 10 years (which is not much). Trump got a lot of people’s hopes up with his bold rhetoric and unconventional manners, but 10 months into his Presidency, he doesn’t have a whole lot to show. And the more that you promise, the more quickly people notice that you aren’t delivering, and thus start getting antsy and frustrated.

And yet, the Democrats need to temper their celebrations with the realty that frustration can drive an election or two, but it is usually a short-term emotion. The bigger question is whether immediate disappointment with Trump will translate into longer term disillusionment that could tip undecideds into the Democratic column in the 2018 battle for control of the House, and the 2020 fight for the White House. The GOP hopes to regain its mojo through  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:29 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Photo ...

Autumn is definitely presenting itself outside my kitchen window.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:03 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, October 27, 2017
Current Affairs ... History ...

Every now and then I get interested in an obscure historical question, something that is only important to a handful of scholars and die-hard history buffs. My most recent point of interest regards the Hasmonean dynasty, which flourished in Judea and Israel during the second and first centuries BCE. Actually, the Hasmoneans do get some attention from Jewish people and from Bible readers, given that it is the subject of the two Books of the Maccabees. Albeit, those books are not officially recognized as a part of Hebrew Scripture, nor are they contained within the Protestant Bible. Only the Catholic Church includes “the Macs” in its Bible, where it goes almost entirely ignored and unread by most Catholics. “Maccabee” is Jewish for “the hammer”, which became a popular nickname for the original Hasmonean family leaders, especially Judah Maccabee. Judah was the son of Mattathias, who was the instigator of a Jewish revolt against the Seleucid empire in Syria; the Seleucids had controlled the land of Israel for several centuries.

As such, many Jews have at least heard about the Maccabees / Hasmoneans, given that they are the main characters behind the story of Hanukkah, the miracle that occurred after the Hasmonean Jewish forces re-took the Jerusalem Temple from the Seleucid Empire. The Temple needed to be ritually purified and re-dedicated, as the Seleucids had previously outlawed the Jewish Temple rituals (focused around animal sacrifice) and dedicated it instead to the Greek god Zeus. This occurred during the forced Hellenization of the Jews by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which started around BCE 175.

During the Jewish re-dedication process, a candelabra was to be kept burning day and night, but a problem arose – the Jews were low on fuel (the candles burned olive oil). There was only enough oil to keep the lights on for one day, but somehow, the candelabra managed to keep shining for eight days, until the Jews could scrounge up enough new oil. Since this all happened in late November and early December (relative to our Western calendar), modern Jews have adopted this previously minor historical commemoration as their alternative  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:55 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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
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